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"We're looking to adopt a dog," Feng Xin tells the chirpy looking girl in green at the counter of the animal shelter where Mu Qing used to work.

"He's looking for a dog," Mu Qing corrects from beside him. He's standing with his arms crossed beside Feng Xin, avoiding the direct gaze of his former colleague.

"Aw. You're getting a pet together. That's so cute, Qingqing!" the girl replies, voice lilting and sweet. The flinch on Mu Qing's face at the nickname is not subtle at all.

"He is getting a dog," Mu Qing repeats, "I'm supervising." A pause. "Also, I'm older than you, Shi Qingxuan, please stop calling me that." He sounds exasperated but not upset. Feng Xin remembers this as an oft-mentioned after-work complaint.

"But Qingqing," Shi Qingxuan pouts, "It just means I like you."

The sound that escapes Mu Qing's mouth could be called a growl. Feng Xin grins and slings an arm around his boyfriend's shoulders. "Let her be, Qingqing," he mimics, "it just means she likes you."

"Fuck you," Mu Qing mutters out the corner of his mouth.

"We can schedule that in for later," Feng Xin replies, low enough that only Mu Qing can hear. Mu Qing's face, always a little more expressive than his words are, colours.

"The dog," Mu Qing reminds them pointedly, glaring at nothing in particular. Shi Qingxuan laughs when Feng Xin does but leads them to where the animals for adoption are placed.

Mu Qing quit working at shelter a month ago, and is at a veterinary clinic now, doing his degree in veterinary science on the side. He's happy. Or at least, that's what Feng Xin hopes. Mu Qing is hard to understand at the best of times, even for Feng Xin, who is arguably the current reigning expert in decoding him. And when it comes to the softer emotions he prefers to hide, he can be a complete cipher.

There was a cat Mu Qing talked about sometimes, an orange and brown one, old enough that her fur was flecked with white. She had been found abandoned on the side of the road, malnourished and dirty and Mu Qing had tended to her in the aftermath. He had brought her up again recently, a wondering question that was quickly brushed aside. Feng Xin hadn't pried, instead he had talked about getting a pet, casually bringing up the shelter. And maybe Mu Qing can guess why – Feng Xin isn't difficult to figure out, but he had gone along with the excursion, almost indulgent.

"That one looks like you," Mu Qing says as they walk past a particularly grumpy looking bulldog. "He has the same angry eyebrows. You should get him." Feng Xin glares but Mu Qing continues, blithely ignoring him. "Or maybe that one. He's loud, just like you." He's standing next to a yipping chihuahua now, a grin playing on his mouth and a part of Feng Xin melts. There's something precious about this side of Mu Qing, soft and playful and bright. He doesn't let anyone see it often, not even Feng Xin sometimes.

Feng Xin laughs quietly, takes quick steps forward and winds an arm around Mu Qing's waist, hand low on his hip. "You can be loud too, given the right circumstances," he says, voice teasing. Mu Qing rolls his eyes. "You have such a crude sense of humour," he mutters. But when Feng Xin laughs again, the look on Mu Qing's face is very far from irritated.

"We could get this one," Feng Xin suggests a little while later, pointing out a silver haired terrier. "Her hair is just like yours." He tugs on Mu Qing's ponytail with its silver dyed ends, expecting a smack, but Mu Qing's attention has already wandered away.

"Oh, she's still here?" There's a tender kind of pain in his voice. He pulls away from Feng Xin, walking to a cage right in the corner of the room. The creature that is in it lets out a little plaintive "meow" when Mu Qing draws near. "Oh," Mu Qing murmurs. "Hello there."

Shi Qingxuan leans in to open the cage and Mu Qing reaches in, arms coming out filled with an orange cat, fur flecked with white and Feng Xin understands. "You could-" Shi Qingxuan starts saying something that is quickly interrupted by Mu Qing.

"He doesn't want a cat." Feng Xin pretends he isn't straining to hear the harshly whispered words. It hurts a little that after four years of being together, Mu Qing sometimes still makes assumptions of what Feng Xin might want or feel without talking to him about it. He wants to spin to Mu Qing and start a fight about it like he would have when he was younger, yell his hurt and use it to wound in return. But he's older now and he's learnt to be gentler with the jagged thoughts that circle in Mu Qing's head.

Shi Qingxuan moves away, huffing a sigh that Feng Xin can hear from where he's standing and when she comes closer to him, he asks, without fanfare, "How do I adopt that one?"

Shi Qingxuan lets out a little high pitched squeak that she quickly stifles when Feng Xin's eyes widen, darting in Mu Qing's direction. "You wanna adopt Lady Marmalade?"

Mu Qing never told him the cat's name. Feng Xin sees why.

"Yes," Feng Xin says, ignoring the name. He glances over at where Mu Qing is cooing at the cat. "Don't tell him."

"I won't. I'm a great secret keeper. I will keep this secret on the pain of death." Shi Qingxuan salutes him. Feng Xin coughs nervously. "That won't be necessary." The strength of Shi Qingxuan's sheer enthusiasm might terrify him a little.

He's about to ask what the next steps should be when Mu Qing comes up to them, the cat lying placidly in his arms. "What are you talking about?"

"Just about how beautiful your boyfriend thinks you are," Shi Qingxuan replies with nary a blink.

When Mu Qing casts suspicious eyes on him, Feng Xin clears his throat and looks away and hopes it translates into embarrassment. He's never been able to lie with a straight face.

Naturally it doesn't work. "I know you're hiding something," Mu Qing says blandly.

The response falls out of Feng Xin's mouth on instinct. "You know I do think you're the most beautiful right?" It's so earnest it should make him cringe but Mu Qing's face twists in a way that Feng Xin knows he's pleased. If they were alone, he would lean into Mu Qing's space and say increasingly cheesy things until an actual smile lights on Mu Qing's face. And then he would lean in even closer and kiss the smile right off his face.

"I do," Mu Qing replies, so quiet. And Feng Xin has a single moment to admire the soft look on his face before he narrows his eyes. "But I still know you're hiding something." Before he wouldn't have said that, before he would have kept his suspicions to himself, letting them grow roots and become something bigger and more harmful than they ever were. Before is not now. There's something grounding about this change.

"Let's adopt this cat, Qing-er," Feng Xin says on a whim, voice hushed, forgetting about surprises and secrecy. Things that Mu Qing hates anyway.

"You don't want a cat," Mu Qing says, confused but with enough conviction that Feng Xin laughs.

"Sweetheart, I never said that."

"You said you wanted a dog."


"So? So you don't get to do this and then regret it later and resent me and use it to guilt trip me!"

There's a pause, and Feng Xin hears a rushing in his ears that is familiar; rage and frustration and the cutting sting of being misunderstood by the person he loves best. He breathes, deep and steady and attempts to find words that don't cause pain. But Mu Qing speaks first.

"That wasn't fair, was it? I'm accusing you of things you haven't done. You didn't do that and you might never."

Feng Xin attempts a smile at Mu Qing's chagrin. "Therapy helps you, huh?"

Mu Qing just looks at him.

Feng Xin sighs. "I can't believe we're almost fighting over getting a fucking cat," he mutters, running a hand through his hair.

"If we didn't fight, would we be us?" Mu Qing's voice is tinny in his attempt to joke. Then, "I'm sorry, love."

"You're so fucking stupid. I wanted to come here for you, so you could see the place you loved so much. I don't care what pet we get, just as long as it makes you smile. You're the animal lover, I just love you." Feng Xin lets out a breath. "I just wanted to make you happy."

Mu Qing's face opens up in shock, and his arms tighten around the cat enough that she makes an unhappy noise. "I really want to kiss you," he tells Feng Xin, uncharacteristically direct. "But we'll squash her and I don't want to do that."

Shi Qingxuan's voice breaks the stalemate. Feng Xin had entirely forgotten she existed. "Let me just take Lady Marmalade from you, and then you can kiss your boyfriend and then I have the papers right here and we can get started." She waves the documents in Mu Qing's stunned face, gently scoops up the cat and walks out of the room.

Feng Xin blinks at the speed and opens his mouth to make a comment about weird people but Mu Qing reaches out and pulls him in and he forgets about everyone else.