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red strings of fated pond-bathing

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The apartment was far too warm, and Hua Chang reached up to rub between his brows, letting out a deep sigh. He looked at the canvas before him, considering painting over it all in broad strokes of red. It looked terrible. He let out a groan, slumping down. Inspiration had been sparse lately, and it was annoying. 

A bark to his left brought him out of his self-pity, and he saw his weimaraner E’ming  bouncing up and down on the window ledge, barking at something outside. E’ming’s tails was wagging rapidly. Clearly he had seen something he liked outside. Maybe it was a cat or something. He did love chasing those.  

“Hey! Shut up!” Hua Cheng called sharply, and the dog turned and lolled his tongue out, looking at Hua Cheng with his one eye. The other was covered in scaring. It had been, when Hua Cheng found him three years ago. Something had tugged at his chest, and after having taken the starved puppy to the vet he had to bring him home. Hua Cheng had never planned to get a dog, but it was impossible to give E’ming away. Hua Cheng refused to admit that it was the similarities with their one-eyedness, but deep down he knew that was the main reason.

E’ming wasn’t discouraged in his excitement from Hua Cheng’s scolding, but jumped down from the bench under the window, rushing to the door. On the way he grabbed the red leash from the hook, barking with it in his mouth. Hua Cheng was about to tell him that it was long until it was time for a walk, but then he looked back at the painting. It really looked awful, and he was getting nowhere with it.

“Fine,” he said, putting the brush aggressively into the jar next to the paint and then stood. E’ming realised he had won, and started bouncing in place, the barking increasing. Something fond filled Hua Cheng’s chest. He had grown so much bigger and healthier, than the scrawny thing Hua Cheng had found whimpering in that alley. It wasn’t an excuse for all this noise though. 

“Hey, I said shut it, or we won’t go,” he threatened. E’ming let out a disappointed whimper and laid down, placing his paws over his eye and snoot. Pathetic. “Yeah yeah, you don’t have to be so dramatic,” Hua Cheng pointed out, pulling on his shoes before he took the leash from E’ming. He hooked it to the red collar and made sure it all sat okay, before he stood. He didn’t have that much paint on him, so he supposed it would be fine to be seen outside. He didn’t care much anyway. Hua Cheng reached out to open the door, and as soon as it was cracked, E’ming rushed it, tugging Hua Cheng along with him.

“Hey!” Hua Cheng called, trying to keep up with his sprinting dog. What had gotten into him? E’ming was often excited, but never like this. “Stop this! E’ming!” he called, but the dog acted like possessed, rushing out of the apartment building and into the neighbouring park. Had he seen a rabbit or something? 

“E’ming!” Hua Cheng tried again, tugging the leash. E’ming relented a little but continued to tug, his head turning left and right as if searching. Hua Cheng had just managed to catch his breath, when E’ming seemed to spot what he was searching for and rushed forward again. Hua Cheng, who was not at all prepared, stumbled forward to try to catch his balance, only to catch someone else instead. 

Somehow, E’ming had tugged him so sharply forwards that he had collided with someone, who he had instinctively grabbed onto as he tumbled forward. The other person let out a surprised yelp, and then lost his balance too, falling backwards. Hua Cheng saw it all happen as if in slow motion, the face of the incredibly handsome stranger turning from surprise into shock, as they both fell into the water of a shallow pond. 

Fuck.

Hua Cheng scrambled to get up, his body pressed against the stranger's smaller frame. His long brown hair floated out in the water, his golden eyes blinking slowly up at him. He had a straight nose, handsome eyebrows and pink soft looking lips. He looked like an angel, and was definitely the most beautiful man Hua Cheng had ever seen.

Fuck. Fuck. 

“Shit!” Hua Cheng exclaimed, and then fell down again as he tried to stand. Something was wrapped around his legs, tangling him together with the wet man laying underneath him. “Hold on I’ll-”

“Oh, ah,” the man said, trying to push himself up from the water so as not to drown. Hua Cheng scrambled, finally managing to tug the red leash off his legs. He glared at it, and then as he sat on his knees in the pond, sent a glare to the side. There standing next to the pond, fully dry, stood two dogs who were both wearing red leashes. E’ming, and a white long haired dog which was about the same size as E’ming. They were looking curiously at their owners, as if it wasn’t their fault they were completely soaked in the first place. 

Hua Cheng turned back to the other man, seeing he had now sat up. He blinked at Hua Cheng, and then a flush spread over his cheeks.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

“Are you okay?” he asked, as if it wasn’t Hua Cheng and his mutt who had barreled into him and pushed him into a pond! “You’re not hurt are you?”

“No, Gege I’m fine,” Hua Cheng assured, and the man blinked in surprise and then smiled. Hua Cheng felt his heart stutter at the sight. Woah. “Are you okay?” he asked, standing up and extending a hand. The man took it, and Hua Cheng helped pull him up. His white and beige clothes were completely soiled. 

“I’m okay, just very wet,” he said with a little laugh, looking down at himself. “I don’t think they'll accept me on the subway like this though.” He frowned, and Hua Cheng nodded, sending another glare at E’ming, who was now busy getting to know the other dog. Hua Cheng took the two steps necessary to step out of the pond, and then helped pull the other man out. Water rushed off them, creating puddles under their feet.

“Gege can come to my place if he wants to, to dry off,” Hua Cheng offered, a little surprised by himself. He never had people over, and especially not strangers. Still, he was sort of responsible for this and… well he wasn’t opposed to getting to know the man better. He was just so beautiful, and he seemed like a very kind person. “I live just next to the park.”

“Really?” the man asked as he blinked up at Hua Cheng with hope laced into his voice. “Ah, that would be so nice of you! I don’t want to impose though.”

“It’s the least I can do after E’ming made me push you in,” Hua Cheng said, walking over to his dog. ”Useless, bad E’ming.” E’ming didn’t look sorry in the least, and Hua Cheng clenched his jaw. “Trash dog.”

“E’ming, is that his name?” the man asked, and Hua Cheng hummed and nodded, making sure to hold E’ming on a short leash. E’ming didn’t seem inclined to run away now, but rather walked happily by his side as Hua Cheng showed the way to his apartment. The man followed, his own dog walking obediently by his side. “He’s very pretty.”

“He’s useless trash,” Hua Cheng said sharply, but there was no bite to it. “I’m really sorry Gege, he usually behaves better than that but he was as if obsessed once I opened the door to head out.”

“No worries!” the man said, smiling softly. He was so pretty. “Things like this happen to me almost all the time, so there’s nothing to worry about really. I’m just so grateful you want to help me out. It would have been awful walking all the way home like this.”

“So Gege collides with people like regularly?” Hua Cheng asked, and the man laughed, shaking his head. 

“Not necessarily that, but I do tend to have a lot of bad luck,” he admitted, his cheeks coloring. “I’m sorry, I never got your name?”

“Oh, you can call me San Lang,” Hua Cheng said boldly, and saw the other man nod. “What about Gege, does he want to tell me his name?”

“Ah, I’m Xie Lian!” he said, smiling widely. “And this is Ruoye.” He motioned to his dog, who was walking side by side with E’ming, seeming very content. 

“He seems like a very well behaved dog,” Hua Cheng said, sending another glare towards E’ming. Xie Lian laughed, and it made something bubble in Hua Cheng’s chest, something he wasn’t sure if he had ever felt before. 

“Ruoye is a very good boy, but he has his moments,” Xie Lian admitted. They had reached Hua Cheng’s building now, and he pushed open the door, leading Xie Lian up the stairs to his door. He opened it and unclipped the leash, seeing Xie Lian do the same. Hua Cheng took it and hung it up with his. Hanging together, it was almost impossible to tell them apart.

“I’ll get some towels,” Hua Cheng said, seeing the dogs move further into the apartment together. He darted into the bathroom and pulled out two towels, handing one over to Xie Lian who gratefully took it and started to dry out his hair. Hua Cheng did the same, and then left the hallway to check on the dogs. They had jumped up on the bench below the window, and were now lunging together. It was far too cute, not that Hua Cheng had any intentions of voicing it. E’ming looked up at him, and looked far too pleased with himself.

“Useless trash,” Hua Cheng mumbled, and then pushed into his bedroom to quickly change into something dry. He hurried back to the hallways once he was done, finding Xie Lian having removed his shoes and standing on the towel, still dripping.

“Sorry!” he said, looking sheepishly down at the towel and then back up at Hua Cheng again. “I was dripping all over the floor. I tried to dry off my clothes but ah, it didn’t help much.”

“Does Gege want to borrow some clothes?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian looked up at him with wide eyes. “I can put his clothes in the dryer.”

“San Lang is far too kind,” Xie Lian said, looking a little stunned. “That would be very nice. Thank you.”

“I’ll go grab something,” Hua Cheng said, turning back through the apartment to retrieve the clothes. He pulled together a set, and then returned and motioned Xie Lian into the bathroom. His cheeks were slightly flushed as he thanked Hua Cheng for the clothes and hurried into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. Hua Cheng turned back to the living room, but then stopped in the middle of the floor. He had no idea what to do now. He never had guests? What did people do when they had guests? 

“San Lang?” Xie Lian called, and Hua Cheng whirled around, coming face to face with the sight of Xie Lian having pulled his long hair up into a bun, wearing Hua Cheng’s too big red sweater and black sweatpants. He looked incredibly cute. Hua Cheng had to fight the impulse of clutching his heart. “Thank you so much for these! They’re so comfortable!” 

“It was nothing Gege,” he assured, but Xie Lian got something determined in his gaze as he set his jaw a little. Oh. That was kind of hot. 

Wow what was happening to Hua Cheng today.

“To me it was!” Xie Lian argued. “And I- I’m not very good, but maybe I could cook for San Lang, as a thank you?” he asked, and Hua Cheng felt completely stumped.

He couldn’t remember a single instance when someone had cooked for him. The thought that this angel wanted to make him something warm bloom in his chest, too powerful to word at this moment. 

“Oh… of course Gege can cook,” he said, swallowing and he turned to show Xie Lian to the kitchen. “This San Lang would be honored to taste Gege’s cooking.”
“Ah, San Lang you’re too much,” Xie Lian said, but when Hua Cheng turned he was smiling sweetly with a blush on his cheeks. Hua Cheng felt his cheeks color too. The swirling emotions in his chest seemed to blossom, leaving him a little breathless.

Suddenly, an urge to paint this moment filed his chest.