“I don’t understand. He does not qualify...”
“Half the department should not qualify, but here we are, Dixing, Haixing…Yashou. Mingling in a precariously harmonious tale,” the Director answered.
As long as he could remember, his father had always been a man who behaved within reason. As the head of Xingdu Bureau, the highest level of Dragon City, he rose to his station with hard work and perseverance. The Bureau oversees many other Departments, such as SID for example. Although he was not known to be prejudiced of others’ past, given the many questionable recruits, Shen Wei still couldn’t grasp why this particular man was chosen.
“But why do I have to recruit him myself?” Shen tried to deflect, “There are Chu and Zhu..”
“He’ll be in your department you’re in charge of, who else is worth the task?”
“But Sir…,” Shen Wei tried again.
“May I remind you, for the past year Dragon City has been under siege by an invisible force,” the Director said absently, though his tone underlined his frustration. “To the naked eye, the calm mirror of the pond is only an illusion. What lies beneath, we do not yet know, nor do we have enough manpower or talent to fight the monsters that lurk under the surface. We need this man, the only link to the other side.” Always indifferent, rarely did the Director show his impatience. His gaze narrowed at Shen’s clenched fist. “Son, trust me. He’s what your department needs. Unless you are taking my words in vain?”
“No! I would do as you ask.” Shen Wei lowered his head respectively, yet, a feeling of unease still grows. Dreading what may become of his Department if such a character was to accept the position. “But this man is elusive, it will take me some time to locate and convince him.”
“Seven days, you have seven days to convince him to join SID,” the Director instructed decisively. Shen Wei wanted to argue further, but they had already lost two members from his team so far. As a leader, Shen was unable to protect those under his care. What’s more, he was under restraints of his own, which prevented him from doing more than he could. If only he was not bound by his promise.
Immoral. Depraved. There was nothing the Wolf of Dragon city wouldn’t do, short of murder, but who knows the extent of this man’s malicious past. This criminal mastermind may be what they need to win the war, but at what price? More importantly, how could Professor Shen convince him to join, when the man himself could easily get what he wants.
Still, from his experience, every man has his price. Shen Wei only needs to find out what the Wolf desires and all would fall into place.
12:00 am, Special Investigation Department
Early is on time. On time is late. If one was to be late, then why bother showing up at all? Respecting commitment to others is a virtue. An essential trait of a leader. A foundation that set the standard for others. Ever since Professor Shen acquired his position five years ago, not once did he arrive on time. For that reason, even though SID official hours should begin at 12 a.m., everyone was always early, sometimes even before Shen Wei himself. Without him asking, they knew.
However, this was the first incident of Professor Shen, their leader, arriving exactly at 12 am.
“Professor Shen! Thank goodness you’re finally here,” Guo Chang Cheng abruptly drew opened the front door of SID. Sweating profusely, with an expression of one who has seen the Devil himself, nervousness shook his body.
“What happened?” Shen asked calmly as he stepped into the building, paying no heed to the young intern’s distress.
Little Guo had always been the skittish type. From spilled milk or burnt rice, the poor boy never cease to blame himself for all the less fortunate natural phenomenon. His list of phobias the past few months had probably exponentiated, given all of what he had seen. A personality trait that Old Chu continued to question on a daily basis. Why did the higher-ups deliver such an intern? The boy had a tendency to faint at the mere sight of blood, dead bodies, or even his own reflection. What’s even more astounding to the team, is why this young man hadn’t yet resigned from his post weeks ago.
“Som-Someone broke in,” Guo Chang Cheng stammered, his face turned paler if that was even possible.
“Broke in?” Shen Wei stopped in his tracks as they reached the central office, turning back to the anxious Guo. “How is that possible?” He asked in disbelief. “We have a shield, security measures...”
“I don’t know how he got in...but-but...”
“Where is Old Chu? Lin Jing? Everyone?” Professor Shen questioned, as there were no others present. The usual bustling members who often argued among themselves were a common sight at this time.
“They’re out in the field after we received a report of a murder on campus. Jing and Chu Ge are investigating the crime scene. Sister Hong is visiting her uncle. They told me to wait for you. But as soon as they left...”
“What was stolen?” Professor Shen finally asked.
“Nothing was stolen,” Guo answered, though his anxious tone remained.
Shen’s brows lifted slightly at the answer. “If nothing is stolen, why are you in a panic?”
“Be-Because he’s still he-here,” Guo answered sheepishly with his head lowered. “He’s in your office.”
Professor Shen didn’t need to ask who “he” was.
Previous Day, Courthouse Jail
“Pray tell, do we have a deal?” Zhao Yunlan breathed with a stroke of wicked touched from his tone. The sordid bargain from Satan himself could not have been more obvious.
Impulsively, the prideful Professor turned his head to decline, but he made the error of looking straight into the Wolf’s eyes. Zhao’s dark pupils grew, as reflective lights hit the irises, their golden lining glowed. Time ceased. Gazes locked. The lenses of the eyes are windows to our souls. The subtle flame behind its depth, flickered like candle light, which could seize rationality if one were to gaze too long.
And he did, at that moment. Gazing into the Wolf’s soul. Entrapped within those mystical lost eyes.
Delirious from those spellbinding lenses, words which could not be his own escaped before Shen realized, “Yes. We have a deal.”
The Wolf’s eyes widened. He immediately pulled him closer, but Shen once again wrestled himself away from the hungry Wolf. Zhao Yunlan snarled, “You just agreed seconds ago!”
With his composure returned, the Professor replied coldly, “I did. And I will uphold my part of the agreement, once you start working for SID. Our deal only starts when you officially join my team. Under my employ, with the proper initiation.”
“Who would have thought Professor Shen is such a tease. And here I thought we could seal the bargain with a kiss,” the taunting man laughed. “If you want to rely on a technicality, then so be it. Fine, we’ll do it your way. So when shall I start?”
“Tomorrow, 1 am at SID’s office. The lawyer outside will make your arrangements,” Shen answered quickly, as he turned to leave.
“You’ll regret making me wait,” Zhao warned from behind him. His steps paused, but only momentarily, because Professor Shen continued without a backward glance at the Wolf in the cell.
With a slight smile pulling at the corner of his cheek, Professor Shen’s voice echoed through the hall, “I doubt it.”
“I’m sorry, Professor Shen! I couldn’t make him leave,” the mousy Guo continued to apologize as they entered his office.
Lo and behold, the smirking Wolf was sitting with his crossed legs on top of the large desk. It was no wondered Guo Chang Cheng was in such a fright. The act was as bright as day. The insult was deliberate, to anger the one who will soon hold his reins. However, this is only a reminder that a stray will need to be disciplined or he will not know his place.
Without taking his eyes off the man across the room, Shen Wei said to Guo, “It’s not your fault. You’re up against the Wolf after all.”
“Wo-Wolf?!” the intern stammered as he took a step back, “He’s….he’s Zhao-Zhao...”
“Leave us,” the Professor ordered before Guo could succumb to another fainting spell.
Regret was never in his vocabulary, although if Shen was punctual, none of this would have happened. The Professor had initially planned to warn the staff before Zhao’s arrival, but the universe was not on his side today. All his subordinates are gone, save Little Guo, who did nothing but give the Wolf an opportunity to mark his territory upon his arrival. But truth be told, a part of Shen had thought Zhao Yunlan would disappear after being released. His actions were as unpredictable as the man himself. When had he become such an enigma? What was more unsettling was not his early arrival, but that Shen Wei was relieved to see him again.
“You’re early,” the Professor said, after the intern left and closed the door. Shen approached the desk.
“Better to start our day early, don’t you think?” Zhao queried with his head tilted slightly to the side, regarding Shen with the narrowed slit of his eyes. “Besides you still owe me my dues.”
“Pardon? I owe you nothing,” the Professor informed. “You have not solved any cases, nor proven your worth.”
“Haven’t I? Your place is easier to break into than my last bank heist. How can SID, the most feared department of Dragon City, be so easily infiltrated?” Zhao disputed with a laugh. Lifting a paper pad in his hand, he threw it on the desk. “While I made myself at home here, I wrote a list of extra measures you should consider to make this place more secure. I suggest you fortify the locks on the roof windows, the basement still has a few....Where are you going?”
Shen Wei was halfway to the door when Zhao blocked his path. As expected, this man doesn’t like to be ignored. A wolf may be a wolf, but he’s still a dog regardless.
“I thought you wanted to prove your skills? We’re heading to the latest crime scene. Guo Chang Cheng, who you have met, our new intern will provide you the information on the latest incident. I heard you were a great private ‘detective’ not too long ago, before you lost your touch. I’m sure you do remember the proper procedure to solve a case.”
“Are you complimenting or insulting me?” Zhao growled under his breath.
“Neither,” Professor Shen shrugged with indifference, “I have no judgment until you show yourself an asset to my team. The Wolf of Dragon City, is he by name only?”
“Poking fun at the beast,” Zhao snickered at the provocation. He took a step closer, his face mere inches away. “You got a lot of nerve.”
Professor Shen cracked an unlikely smile at the reaction. Adjusting his glasses, he leaned to one side of Zhao’s ear. “The hunt has not yet started,” Shen Wei reminded the Wolf. With a defiant tone, his voice lowered. “Are you sure you’re the only beast in the forest?”
Shen Wei was everything Zhao Yunlan wasn’t.
His usual target had always been the uninhibited kind, easily seduced to meet his needs. Given his appetite, he was never the type who was patient. A willing partner is much more appealing than to seek those who desire more than a one night stand.
Why did he desire such a steadfast man? Zhao Yunlan still couldn’t explain it. Their paths have crossed on a few occasions, but unlike the dance of the Bull and the Matador, both kept their distance. Until the moment the tune of trumpets resonated, the battle was initiated. The Professor was the last person Zhao Yunlan expected when he appeared before his cell. Yet, the opportunity was too tempting for him to let slide. Especially when the Matador unsheathed his sword, the reflective blade taunting the already battered Bull to attack.
Like a well-dressed Knight of the arena, Professor Shen exudes the embodiment of a flawless gentleman. The perfection no other in his presence could exceed. From his pressed suit, folded ties, clean-cut hair and smooth skin, to his old style glasses, this unblemished beauty had captured his interest from day one. The Professor aroused something in Zhao that he couldn’t explain. The drive to possess, to tarnish this diamond of first water, was of a primal nature.
Zhao had always been a man who captured the audience, not the other way around. However, this was not due to jealousy of one’s birthright. Zhao was a proud man, who accepts who he was. Without conscience or morals, despite what others told him otherwise. Although he had accepted the position on a whim, Zhao was not the kind of person who would slack off on the job. His reputation was on the line if he did. The more challenging the case, the more intrigued he was.
The first day at SID was eventful, as one would expect of a Department that only takes the most challenging cases. He met the team at the crime scene, the whole lot of them. A mixture of all species, save the technical expert and the timid mouse, the rest pretended to be Haixing to fit into their surroundings. Da Qing the cat was the worst, with an attitude of a spoiled feline.
Chu Shu Zhi, whom they called Old Chu, was distrustful of any outsider save the young intern. The Wolf’s reputation must have preceded him, because Chu had taken a protective stance around the skittish intern whenever Zhao was near. Which did nothing to keep him from getting closer to Little Guo. Always putting his arms around the frail man and whispering in his ears, just to fire the other man up.
On the other hand, he got along better with Lin Jing, their technology expert, who was the most useful when it came to gathering technical intel. A female student was murdered not too long ago, and all evidence indicated that it was done by a Dixing. With the evidence gathered and the witness questioned at the cracked of dawn, there was no doubt the first witness to the crime, Li Qian, was the most suspicious. Her nervous twitch and unfocused eyes were telltale signs that she saw more than she lead them to believe. But, when Zhao wanted to ask further, Professor Shen was taken in by her vulnerability. Going as far as allowing her to leave when Zhao wanted to force the stubborn girl to reveal more than she was willing to give.
When they returned to the Department, Zhao was further aggravated by the overly attentiveness of the colleagues who had taken upon themselves to show him the ‘ropes’. From Lin Jing’s latest inventions to the Intern’s report writing, Zhao began to have his suspicions that these were deliberate orders from their boss. Who was able to dodge all his attempts to get the two of them alone. His patience finally snapped when the damn cat started to instruct him on the proper way of how he wanted his fish prepared.
There is nothing that kills one’s amorous mood quicker than pestering staff at his heels. So Zhao had to get rid of them. First, he sent Da Qing away to a hidden hole-in-the-wall fried fish stand owned by one his friends, with a promise he could eat his fill on Zhao’s dime. The cat took the bait faster than he could draw money from his wallet. With Lin Jing, he was rather difficult to persuade. The boy’s office was already his home, until Zhao found out his interest in the latest crime novel still unreleased to the public. As it so happened, the reclusive author still owed Zhao a favor. With a note and address in hand, the overly excited tech was out of sight within minutes.
At first glance, one would think Old Chu would be the most difficult to deceive. But it only took a few words from Zhao to Guo Chang Cheng, inviting him to have breakfast at his place, for Chu to take the bait. Nearly shoving him off the shy boy, Chu dragged the flustered intern out of the office so fast, Little Guo barely had time to grab his bag.
With the office empty, save for the sounds of the bustling streets, the Wolf went to hunt for his elusive Professor. Barging into the office, Zhao shut the door behind him. Before the Professor could react, Zhao had already made his way to his desk.
“Are you done with your games?” Zhao demanded to know. The wide-eyed Professor did not answer, nor did he deny the accusation. “You’re still trying to evade?” Zhao asked in frustration as he pushed himself back. “We had a deal, and I worked all day with your people without complaint.”
“There are still many eyes at the office,” Shen said calmly, but not without turning away from Zhao’s heated glare.
“Eyes you intentionally placed on me!” the Wolf growled again. “You have no plans to follow your end, do you?”
“I told you, I’m a man of my word,” the Professor reminded, his lashes lifting to meet Zhao’s before adding, “but a deal is not without restrictions.”
“For someone who rarely bargains, you sure know how to make your demands. So that’s why you tried to stall the other night?” Zhao chuckled at the realization the Bull was dancing along to the Matador’s tune. “I assume you had everything figured out?”
“A contract,” Shen paused carefully, “should have a set of rules, guidelines before it can be properly implemented.”
“Rules? Guidelines? I was not aware that besides Genetics and Biology, Professor Shen also has a degree in Law,” Zhao quipped. “But it wouldn’t surprise me if you do, given your taste in fashion. Sleeve garters? How archaic are you?”
Ignoring the jibe, Shen Wei glanced up at Zhao, “Do you accept my terms?”
“Why not?” Zhao shrugged as he made his way around the desk. With himself settled against the edge of the desk, his arms crossed facing the Professor. Relieved the negotiation was finally on the table, his voice softened, “I don’t mind the rules, it will make the game more interesting.”
In fact, Zhao Yunlan was elated with the new development. Whether it’s society or everyday life, rules and restrictions are imposed by those who want to maintain control. The desire for control stems from one's fear. The battle hadn’t started, but the Professor’s weakness was obvious. Given his position and status, he had more to lose. Zhao’s unchallenged demeanor must have taken Shen off guard because the man continued to study him wordlessly. A habit he never failed to noticed from the Professor.
“Let’s hear the rules you want to impose,” Zhao said nonchalantly, before adding his words of warning, “But be aware, for every restriction you place on our agreement, I may have demands of my own. So choose wisely.”
“First, no one can know about our agreement. While you are under my employ, we have to maintain a professional appearance in front of the team.”
“I have no problem with that,” Zhao agreed with a smile, “a private man myself, I don’t like meddling roaches on my turf. What else?”
“Second, we have to be alone, when we... you-you…,” the flustered man trailed off. Having suddenly lost all his composure from mere seconds before, Shen lowered his gaze.
“When I collect?” Zhao added helpfully with an amuse smile. Encouraged by the sight of the subtly clenched fists of Professor Shen’s, the Wolf pushed himself from the edge of the desk. His hand laid over the top leather chair, leaning closer, his voice rasped, “Don’t be shy, I am not the kind who shares. I prefer to reserve your blushes for myself. Like now, they’re the colors of…”
“Third,” Shen cut him off mid-sentence. Barely able to maintain eye contact under the Wolf’s intense gaze, he gulped, “Third, you can’t go further than we agreed to.”
“Now that, I will not comply with,” Zhao replied dismissively. “If both partners are willing, why can’t we go with the flow?” he asked darkly.
“The deal was once a day,” the Professor argued feebly.
“Yes, but if there’s no resistance, why should I stop?” Zhao persisted. Although he knew the reason, he couldn’t help but tease, “Aaaah…Are you afraid you can’t restrain yourself?”
“Preposterous!” Professor Shen quickly denied,the fury in his eyes returned at the suggestion.
“There’s no reason why we can’t go further than a kiss,” Zhao continued to argue. Not to frighten his prey, his body moved steadily, closing in a few inches more. With casual ease, his other hand smoothly held the opposite corner of the chair, “As I said in the cell, I do not force others. But I won’t stop if you won’t. Unless you’ve already fallen….”
“Not in this lifetime!” the prideful Professor asserted, still unaware of the shortened proximity between their banters.
“Then,” Zhao’s voice lowered, his tender tone was belied with a dangerous glint from his eyes, “there shouldn’t be such a rule,” he declared, his head tilted ever so slightly, before the oblivious man. “Is there anymore decrees Professor Shen, because I already sent everyone away. Now that we’re alone, I believe it’s time for my meal.”
Shen’s mouth opened, then instantly closed. His doe-eyes widened the moment the Professor realized he had been tactically entrapped during their quarrel. Surprised at the turns of events, his instinct caused him to rise, but a hungry Wolf was an unmovable Wolf. Without missing a heartbeat, Zhao seized the Professor’s protesting lips.
Unfortunately for Zhao Yunlan, his bad luck had returned. A groan barely escaped, when the phone rang.
Author's Note: Due to the holiday and RL, this chapter was delayed. While my editor thinks I'm a bit cruel to my readers, I reminded her that this is only the beginning. Everything in life has to be earn, even a kiss.