Lan Wangji had never spent time alone with Jiang Wanyin without Wei Ying or Nie Huaisang also being there.
Today, Lan Wangji is, in a manner of speaking, alone with Jiang Wanyin.
Well, if you don’t count the more than half a dozen very enthusiastic dogs of various shapes and sizes around them, that is.
This is how it happened –
Wangji spent his Saturday morning in the library as usual, helping Lan Fei research about different festivals and special events in Yunmeng. Lan Fei had an appointment with a local historian. Wangji offered to come with her as well, but she saw how he had his homework open in one notebook and his research notes in another, side by side in front of him, and called it a day, telling him he needs to take a break, or at least to have the time to focus on his schoolwork first. So Lan Fei left, and Wangji finished his schoolwork faster with his attention undivided.
He was having a peaceful walk home when he heard someone shouting.
That voice was familiar.
“Oreo, come back here, you little- Hey, Lan Wangji, on your left!”
Wangji stepped aside just in time to avoid colliding with a black and white blur breezing right past him, leash flying behind it and all.
“What are you doing? Catch him!”
Lan Wangji would admit to being both annoyed and caught off guard at being ordered around so brusquely, but he did lunge forward to grab the dog’s leash. Only when his hand grasped it did he notice that the leash had a broken clasp. That explained things.
Then, he looked at Oreo, who looked up at him with wide eyes, as if trying to assess this stranger who just stopped him on his journey to freedom. Lan Wangji didn’t have much knowledge of dog breeds, but Oreo is obviously a dalmatian mix. That explained the name. He looked like cookies-and-cream ice cream.
He turned to hand over the leash, expecting to see perhaps a slightly out of breath Jiang Wanyin.
Jiang Wanyin was indeed slightly out of breath, but he also was surrounded by a bunch of dogs, both hands full holding the leashes of said dogs.
“Thanks.” Jiang Wanyin said, somehow still able to accept Oreo’s leash. He frowned at the broken clasp. “I knew it. This thing’s too old. We really need another donation drive.”
“You are welcome.” Wangji replied, looking down at some of the dogs who came forward to sniff at him. On instinct, he reached out to pet one, then realized what he was doing and caught himself.
Of course Jiang Wanyin caught it, though. “Go ahead and pet them. It’s fine.” he said, almost absently as he’s busy figuring out a workaround for the broken leash. “We encourage people to pet the dogs, actually. Shows them that the shelter dogs are friendly. Makes them consider adopting.”
Wangji nodded, and leaned down to pet a big and fluffy mutt, who excitedly licked at his fingers. The other dogs came closer, as if sensing that there is a human willing to give them pets.
He looked around. “Nie Huaisang?” he asked, knowing from countless anecdotes that his childhood friend almost never missed his volunteer duties. Huaisang had mentioned once that he and Jiang Wanyin always walked the dogs together.
“He’s not around today. Got an art club thing.” Jiang Wanyin replied, and then groaned. He looked up at Lan Wangji. “Hey, you got a minute?”
Wangji was not very close to Jiang Wanyin, or to dogs in general. But he had finished his homework, and he had plenty of time to spare for the afternoon. He nodded.
“Can you hold this for a bit? I need both hands to tie this thing properly.”
Wangji accepted the handle with four leashes connected to it. The dogs crowd him closer, but they looked so happy and excited he couldn’t bring himself to complain, so he simply tried to pet them as best as he could.
“Dammit, Oreo, this leash is bust.” he heard Jiang Wanyin say.
Almost without thinking about it again, Wangji replied. “I can walk with you. To the shelter.”
It was the cute dogs. They had that effect. That, and Wangji was sorely missing his pet rabbits in Cloud Recesses.
Jiang Wanyin looked just about as shocked as Wangji felt, raising an eyebrow. “You’re serious? It’s still a couple blocks away.”
It was too late to back down now. “Mn. I am free for the afternoon.”
“Oh. Uh. Okay, thanks, I guess.”
So now Lan Wangji is walking dogs together with Jiang Wanyin. It is one of those things he never would have thought he would be doing in his life, and he would wager that Jiang Wanyin thought the same.
On one hand, he had a leash for four dogs at once. They were three big ones and a very tiny one. On his other hand, there’s just one, a leash of a pitbull wearing – stay with him – bunny ears.
(The pitbull drew his attention when he really – properly – looked at all the dogs. The pink-and-white knitted hat with bunny ears were the most eyecatching, followed by the vicious-looking face of the brown dog wearing it.)
(Jiang Wanyin must have noticed him staring, because he tilts his chin at the dog. “That’s Madame Flopsy. She gets cranky without the ears. Used to wear a headband, she got really upset when she lost it, so Huaisang knitted her the snood.” Then he seemed to remember something. “You’re a rabbit person, right? Here, she’s yours.”)
(Wangji had no choice but to accept. Madame Flopsy sniffed at him when he tried to lightly tug at her leash, then she huffed, and kept walking, basically ignoring him.)
Madame Flopsy is a snob, Lan Wangji thinks. But he can respect her aesthetic.
Meanwhile, Jiang Wanyin is holding on to Oreo with her broken leash, along with the rest of the other dogs.
The silence… is fine. It is a bit awkward. They never really interacted much, just the two of them.
Fine. It is a lot awkward.
It must have been too much for Jiang Wanyin to tough it out, as he’s the first to break the silence.
“So. Uh. You came from the library?”
“Mn. Finished early.”
That’s the end of that, then. Dammit, what can they talk about?
Lan Wangji absently watches Madame Flopsy’s bunny ears bob left and right before he comes up with something.
“The dogs.” he says. “Who names them?”
“Huh. Well… no one in particular. If they’re left in the shelter by an owner, they keep their name. If they’re strays, or born in the shelter… we all take turns, or it’s more like… whoever’s taking care of them at the time will usually suggest a name and the team decide if it’s fine or not. They’re usually okay as long as it’s not, like, an unlucky name or something.”
“Huaisang named Madame Flopsy.”
Lan Wangji nods. Somehow, he already knew that.
“One of the employees named Oreo. Those other four with you are Baobao, Dogzilla, Boots and Puptart.”
“Baobao is the small one?”
“No, that’s Dogzilla. Baobao is the three-legged one.”
“Boots is the one wearing boots.”
“Yeah. Puptart was named that because someone left him in the shelter entrance as a puppy, like, days old, in a box of pop tarts. Not even a blanket, those bastards.”
There is genuine outrage on the other’s voice, and Lan Wangji could not fault him for it. A box of pop tarts is small, even for a days old puppy. And there was no excuse to not wrap the poor thing in a blanket, or at least a towel.
Then Jiang Wanyin proceeds to talk about how Dogzilla is always itching to fight dogs five times his size. Why Boots always wears boots. How Baobao lost one of his legs. Then he talks about Oreo, and then the other dogs they’re walking. Like how Soup the dog was named something else at first but they changed it to Soup because that’s what she responds to, because that’s what she hears during mealtimes, because she won’t eat food unless it has soup.
Lan Wangji listens. Out of the Jiang brothers, he’d always thought that Jiang Wanyin was the quiet one. Not as quiet as Wangji is, of course, but he just wasn’t one to talk a person’s ears off, unlike Wei Ying, who could, and would talk for as long as you let him.
That afternoon, Lan Wangji discovers that Jiang Wanyin can be just as talkative as Wei Ying is when talking about cultivation, or Nie Huaisang when talking about gossip. You just had to give him the right topic to talk about.
He doesn’t complain, though. Walking the dogs and hearing stories about them is a welcome change from the endless cycle of schoolwork, cultivation training and sect duties. It’s calming, even. He is starting to see why Jiang Wanyin and Nie Huaisang do this regularly.
He almost feels sad when they get to the shelter, and he has to hand the leashes back to Jiang Wanyin, who thanks him in that curt, blunt way he does everything.
Then Madame Flopsy bumps her nose against his knee before she saunters back to Jiang Wanyin’s side.
Jiang Wanyin snorts, chuckling. “She thinks you’re okay.” he says, before disappearing with his small army of dogs.
Lan Wangji wouldn’t be able to say how exactly, but that felt like an accomplishment.
baobao is inspired by my own dog. he lost one of his legs at birth. but now he’s healthy and runs really fast and his legs are super strong. baobao is ripped.