Shen Wei isn't in his office. Isn't still lingering in the lecture hall, seriously answering time-consuming questions from adoring students. Out of lollipops, Zhao Yunlan gnaws thoughtfully on his thumb. There is no screaming, no running, no darkening of the skies. So probably whatever is keeping Shen Wei isn't Hei Pao Shi stuff. Maybe he just decided to head home already? It's not like he knew Zhao Yunlan would be able to wrap things up early and come looking for him.
"Where is he? The market's going to be running out of fresh fish!" Da Qing, tagging along so he can 'help' Shen Wei shop for dinner, pops up from behind the fish tank.
"You tell me, cat. What does your nose say?"
Da Qing sniffs disdainfully. "That you wear too much aftershave."
Zhao Yunlan scoffs. "Not accepting opinions on that from someone covered in his own spit."
Da Qing gets into the bickering spirit, bouncing over to wave a finger at Zhao Yunlan. "Hey, I'll have you know that cat spit is extremely hygienic."
"Yes, yes, just—" Zhao Yunlan grabs Da Qing by the shoulders and shoves him a step back. "Get your hygienic spit out of my face."
"Hm." Da Qing makes a distracted face, sniffing the air again. He looks at Zhao Yunlan, stricken. "He brought food! And he didn't come by with lunch for us?"
"Some people have to work through lunch, you lazy cat," Zhao Yunlan says, amused by Da Qing's theatrics. "Come on. Can you track him or not?"
"He…left with the food?" Da Qing's expression changes to something hopeful. "Maybe he was going to bring it to us!"
Zhao Yunlan shoos Da Qing ahead, Da Qing's nose following a scent trail that is apparently pork baozi with carrot but no onion. And also Shen Wei, though that is clearly second in importance compared with whatever is going on with food that was not delivered to the cat, but is being carried around campus.
By the time they've crossed two sunny lawns and a busy parking lot, Zhao Yunlan has gotten into the spirit of mystery-solving. Is Shen Wei having a picnic with his grad students? Is there a staff potluck? Is the university hosting a home cooking competition? Because Shen Wei would absolutely win if he entered a cooking competition, Zhao Yunlan has no doubts about it.
Around the next corner, Da Qing comes to a screeching halt. Literally. "What is that?" he says. Zhao Yunlan can almost see the outline of puffed-up fur around Da Qing, and that gives him half a second's worried adrenaline rush.
Then he catches up, and bursts into laughter. Of course Da Qing is hugely offended by this betrayal. "Baobei, you didn't tell me you'd made a new friend on campus!"
Shen Wei is looking sheepishly at them from where he's crouching by the red brick wall, holding half a baozi. The other half is in the process of being consumed by an adorable, floppy-eared black puppy. "She was following people with food all around campus. I was worried someone was going to run her over, so—" Shen Wei is interrupted by a wet nose shoved hopefully against his hand. He offers the little pup what's left of the baozi, and she takes it surprisingly gently. Getting a proper look at the dog's teeth and paws, Zhao Yunlan revises his opinion of her age—not a puppy at all, just a very small dog with soft features and soulful dark eyes.
"So you've been bribing her to stay here?" Zhao Yunlan squats down next to Shen Wei, and the little dog doesn't even flinch, just continues her happy munching.
"Something like that," Shen Wei admits.
Moving his hand slowly toward her, Zhao Yunlan gets a curious sniff once the dog has gulped down her treat. Taking it for an invitation, he scratches behind a silky ear, which gets her wagging tail to speed up.
"Be careful," Da Qing growls. "You don't know where that's been! It's probably got fleas!"
Shen Wei was probably already planning on petting the dog, but Zhao Yunlan snickers at the deliberate way in which Shen Wei strokes her soft little head immediately after Da Qing's warning.
Da Qing hisses.
The puppy ignores him in favor of prancing around to lick Shen Wei's hand, black tail a blur.
Zhao Yunlan feels his heart squeeze—not just at how cute the little dog is, though she is certainly adorable enough to induce a few heart attacks. But it's at once so familiar and so distant—the memory of being right here on campus watching the most beautiful man he'd ever seen pet Da Qing's round body. Of being unable to resist getting close to him, even before asking his name.
Just as Zhao Yunlan has been almost completely unable to resist Shen Wei in any way since. It feels funny to find himself back here, exchanging glances over black fur. Only now they know so much more of each other than the layers of names and identities they had to work through to get here.
For example, Zhao Yunlan knows that the edge of Shen Wei's wistful smile is one of guilt. Of pleasure at having helped mingled with the conviction that he should have been able to do more. It's extremely Shen Wei.
Zhao Yunlan sits back on his heels. "So, is she lost, you think?"
Shen Wei shakes his head. "I've asked around, and the students helped. Nobody has heard of anyone looking for a dog around here. Not on campus, not in the neighborhood, and not on the local internet."
Zhao Yunlan feels such a rush of love at Shen Wei's thorough investigation, and at his unique way of not quite grasping how anything online works. He knows he's grinning.
"Should turn it in to the pound," Da Qing mutters darkly. "Before anyone catches anything from it."
"Well. That settles it, then."
Shen Wei looks at him, a sweetly familiar crease of confusion between his brows.
"We're taking her home."
Da Qing splutters.
"We are?" Shen Wei blinks. The dog snuffles a few crumbs off the ground by their feet. Zhao Yunlan sneaks another pet in. She really has incredibly silky fur, and doesn't immediately shed all over like Da Qing.
"Well. The cat may have a point. We should probably take her to a vet, first."
"That was not my point!" Da Qing screeches.
"They can make sure we're not accidentally stealing her, too."
"Why would anyone steal a dog?!" Da Qing splutters, and Zhao Yunlan continues to ignore him.
"But if nobody's looking for Xiao Hei here—well."
"Xiao Hei?" Shen Wei says, a little dubiously. Immediately, the dog looks up at him, head cocked.
"See!" Zhao Yunlan crows. "She likes it."
Shen Wei's expression is one of wry amusement, but he scratches Xiao Hei behind an ear and doesn't disagree.
"Seriously though," Zhao Yunlan says, dusting his hands off as he stands. "She needs a home, and every home needs a dog."
Da Qing makes a noise of pure incoherent rage.
"And can you think of a better home than ours for a little stray who loves your cooking?" Zhao Yunlan grins down at Shen Wei, who glows with happiness as he scoops the unresisting Xiao Hei into his arms and stands.
"It's true," Shen Wei says. "I've had very good luck with strays I've fed after finding them in the streets."
Zhao Yunlan laughs at the fond tease, and presses a quick kiss to Shen Wei's cheek. It earns him a blush, and a surprise lick on the chin from a wriggling Xiao Hei. He wraps an arm around Shen Wei's waist, and slings the other around Da Qing's neck, ignoring the cat's protests to bask in the joy of the moment. "I think I'm the lucky one," Zhao Yunlan tells them, and Xiao Hei barks in excited agreement.