If only it was that simple. Countless reasons went through his head, but none could fully explain what had transpired. A part of him wished it was a dream. A dazed dream that happened to come to life. Even in his imaginative worst case, he could never have come up with such a scenario.
They were certainly not doing their job that had been handed down by their Boss, Professor Shen; who, despite everything, had been very patient with his lack of skills. Guo Chang Cheng knew who was truly at fault, or did he? He couldn’t tell or explain without delving into the mind of the ticking time bomb sitting next to him. The Puppeteer, at times, resembles more of a Black Bear than a human. Could he possess Yashou genetics? Guo couldn’t even ask him if he wanted to.
Chu Ge had been quite odd lately. In a more stoically violent way than usual, especially towards the Wolf and himself. Xiao Guo had tried not to step on the landmine, but given their partnership, there was no way he could avoid the precarious field forever.
Today was no different. But all seemed to be lost, when Old Chu decided instead of shaking him senseless as he usually does when he’s angry, he would resort to another form of torture. Or was it harassment? Bullying?
Whatever it was, it was more embarrassing than Guo could describe or even think of. How could he explain the real reason why they were distracted enough for their witness to disappear?
Nor could he lie. He’s horrible at it!
Guo didn’t know why, but even though it’s summer, the room felt unnaturally cold. Unsure if it’s from his growing anxiety, or the full force of the two powerful men who seem to have sucked the warmth from the room with their presence. It was already difficult to breathe when Professor Shen was in one of his dark moods, which rarely occurred. But now, with the combination of the Wolf's dark scrutiny, there's no way he could absorb enough oxygen to stay alert.
Everyone except for Jing had gathered at SID to regroup after their failed missions. All except Zhao and the Professor, of course, given they had retrieved Professor Rounan from her home. With Jing’s efforts, they had secured her in a safe location.
At present, their composed well-dressed Boss sat behind his desk, while the Wolf had the nerve to sit on the table’s edge, paying no heed to his station. Earlier, Zhao was about to light up his cigarette, but the Professor threatened to kick him out if he dared to smoke in the building. Without anything to occupy himself with during their recount of today’s events, the Wolf whipped out a lollipop and popped it in his mouth with a smile instead.
Where did he get that? Guo wondered for a second, before he realized Da Qing had finished recounting why he lost his target. But his reasoning was more acceptable as he was followed by someone else, an unknown infatuated feline, a fan stalker of sorts according to Da Qing. Her interference had allowed Wang to slip away during his confrontation. As for Chu and Guo, that’s a different story.
Professor and the Wolf had, by now, silently turned their attention on the partners, Guo and Chu, once they accepted Da Qing’s explanation. Stomach churning, as his profuse sweating continued to bead, the stammering Guo tried to explain,“We..we….”
“The blame is on me,” Chu Ge abruptly spoke. “I was occupied. We lost her at the store.”
Shocked by his admission, Guo’s jaw dropped. Nervously, the gaping mouse turned to the Puppeteer, who gave him a warning glance, then shook his head -- a clear gesture for him to remain silent, or punishment will come.
“How is that possible when it’s both of you?” Zhao Yunlan asked, shifting his body, with his legs crossed. His head tilted in a relaxed manner, belying the suspicion underneath. The Wolf, with his all-knowing gaze, “Please don’t tell me you took my…”
“I said it was my fault,” Chu Ge continued with his stern blank expression, and smoothly lied, “I had to use the men’s room. Qian was trying on clothes, so we thought we had enough time. It was my error.”
“Oh? So Guo wasn’t with her?” the quick-witted Zhao caught the Puppeteer’s error and persisted, “Where was he? Did you drag the mouse--”
“Enough,” Professor Shen cut off the Wolf’s sentence. His face hardened, darker than before. “Everyone return to your posts and report back if they return to their home. You are all dismissed.”
Hearing those fortunate words, Guo apologized excessively before he quickly escaped, nearly crashing into Da Qing, who had reached the door before him. Once he stepped out of SID, he realized Chu Ge would be coming with him. Flushing from the knowledge, Xiao Guo ran as fast as his feet could take him, despite knowing they’ll inevitably end up at the same place.
But a short reprieve is better than nothing. At least that’s what he tried to convince himself of.
“What did you do to my staff?” the Professor asked abruptly once the crew departed save the Wolf, who had by now settled himself on the couch.
“What are you talking about? They’re your staff, not mine,” Zhao Yunlan countered, with a forged innocent look.
“You’ve been here barely a week, and they’ve been behaving out of character. Either they are distracted or not following through with their tasks. Now both have lost their targets, which rarely occurs with their skills.”
“As well trained as a person can be, they’re still human.” Zhao shrugged dismissively. “Professor Shen can’t possibly expect them to be perfect.”
Shen stood from his seat and made his way towards Zhao. “I’m not asking for perfection, but accountability. Lao Chu never lied before until today,” he pointed out.
“You’re right, the man needs to learn how to lie better,” Zhao agreed with a serious tone. “With practice, it would serve him well for his future indiscretions.”
Professor Shen heaved a heavy sigh, as he briefly closed his eyes in frustration, squeezing the arch of his nose to ease the growing migraine. His energy had already drained from the turn of events, fully aware that the conversation was going nowhere. The difficult Wolf wouldn’t focus on the real matter at hand, because he simply didn’t want to. Forcing a dog to follow simple orders would require more training, he concluded.
When Professor Shen raised his gaze, he caught the leering eyes of the brazen Wolf, who then patted the couch.
The invitation was clear.
Despite his instinct to step back, Shen held his ground. “You can't be serious?”
“Come, I won’t bite,” Zhao patted the couch again, this time, his smile broadened even more before adding, “Of course, unless you desire a little nip instead. I am at your service.”
Shen’s eyes twitched at the provocation of the Dog who dared to command his Master. However, even he knew the best way to take off a bandage is to be quick about it. So in his better judgement, he made his way towards Zhao, who due to his excitement, looked quite youthful for his age. For a short instant, Shen swore he could see wolf ears and a tail wagging with enthusiasm.
Once he reached the predator, Shen refused to sit down. Remaining standing before the man who continues to haunt his days, the Professor’s impatient tone broke, “Get it over with.”
“What are you referring to?” the Wolf asked innocently, seeming to enjoy dragging out the uncomfortable situation whenever he could. At Shen’s narrowed irritated expression, Zhao’s eyes lit up with mischief. “Oh...by chance, do you mean our belated kiss?” the provoking man continued to tease.
Refusing to play his game, Shen Wei didn’t utter a response. However, the Wolf took his silence as agreement and pulled him down on the couch. Quickly closing in, Zhao ushered him to the far side of the couch, leaving no room to escape. The Professor steeled himself for the dog’s bite, but Zhao did something astonishing. He swung his body around and lied down on the couch, with his head resting on Shen’s lap.
Speechless, Shen stared down at the man who returned his baffled expression with a mischievous grin.
“Did I see disapointment in your eyes?”
“What are you doing?” Shen asked impatiently.
“Let me sleep here.”
Blinking once, twice. Puzzled from the request, Shen scowled, “You can’t expect me to sit here while you…”
Zhao purposely yawned then closed his eyes. “I can, and you know I can. I could trade my daily kiss for another compensation of equal or lesser value. It’s part of my condition. Besides, neither of us are in the mood for a passionate embrace given the circumstances. And…We probably still have quite some time before the crew returns. Why not take a break? You’re as tired as I am,” Zhao explained his irrefutable logic.
Still, the hesitant Professor couldn’t understand why the man needed him for his nap. There are more comfortable ways to rest. A kiss would be quicker, and less burdensome. Shen was about to push him off when the Wolf opened his eyes. “Unless…,” Zhao paused, he reached for Shen’s shoulder and lifted himself up. His face was mere inches away. “You were eager for my...”
“Fine,” Shen, with a hand on Zhao’s chest, quickly pressed him down. Half cursing from his pride for falling into the trap so easily, yet, he would rather die than admit defeat.
“Really?” his smirk grew in surprise. The opportunistic Wolf covered the hand on his chest, but Shen snatched it back, scornfully.
“It’s a fair trade,” the Professor answered coldly, but all the Wolf did was smile back. He remained that way far longer than necessary for someone who said he wanted a nap. “You said you will be sleeping,” Shen accused impatiently.
“How could I sleep when I have such beauty beside me?” the shameless words he spoke, unbelievable, ignited a wave of smothering anger in Shen Wei.
“If that’s the case, then get off.”
“Alright, alright....I’ll sleep,” Zhao obediently closed his eyes this time.
Astonishingly, the restless man fell into slumber far quicker than Shen had anticipated. It only took a few minutes for a soft snore to be heard. The Professor was relieved he was no longer on constant guard, but at the same time, Shen realized there was nothing to do but watch Zhao sleep.
A kiss would have been much easier. The quiet solitude which had always been his own. Now taken, by an unknown.
Throughout his existence, he had stayed away from everyone, which may explain why, when it comes to this Wolf, he felt unsettled. Zhao Yunlan was right. Shen had avoided relationships of all kinds, even physical contact with others rarely occurred. Attachment, he had rationalized, is a burden that would only do more harm than good. His adoptive father had taught him so, and he took in every word from the elder who saved his life without question.
Yet, the Professor couldn’t ignore the man who now lay on his lap. For every breath Zhao took and every sound he made, Shen’s heart was heavily weighed. Listening, feeling, and touched by this untamed beast; knowing full well he was just his feast.
The Professor smiled bitterly from the sordidness of his reality. Shen knew it was all a game to this wild selfish Wolf. A conquest is only desirable when the reward is hard to achieve. Once it is obtained, no feelings will remain.
But why? Why, even knowing all of this...His heart still beat, jumped, and dropped, for the presence of this man, who could make him stopped.
The Mouse scurried to Li Qian’s apartment while unaware of the Bear who had been following him at a steady pace. In his hurry, however, Xiao Guo had forgotten all his training of what staking-out a place was supposed to involve. Instead, he entered the witness’ apartment with barely a knock, taking no heed to the door that should be locked. Frozen in the entrance, because the woman who was in the apartment was not Li Qian, but the missing Wang Yike. For a minuscule moment, Guo wondered if he entered the wrong suspect’s place, until common sense returned.
“Wh-what are you doing here?” he asked in shock. But Wang, who looked more like a thief than a visitor, grabbed the nearest object and threw it at him. Protectively, his hands flew up to avoid the impact, but in an instant, his body was pulled back by an unknown force. Slamming against a muscular body so hard, Guo almost fell forward from the impact, but a powerful arm secured his waist.
“Chu-Chu Ge?” he gazed up at his Senior in surprise.
Lao Chu, without a word, gathered Guo in his arms and turned him against the wall. Guo couldn’t see, but he felt the impact of the attack from Wang, who had thrown a porcelain vase against Lao Chu’s head. Still unfazed, Chu turned around but Wang had already taken the opportunity to pass them down the hall. The angry Puppeteer was about to give chase, but Guo held on to his arm.
“Chu Ge! You’re hurt!”
“So what? We can’t let her run away,” Lao Chu growled. Guo stubbornly held on to the Bear with all his might, but the Bear dragged him towards the stairs.
“But...But...you’re bleeding, you have to see a doctor! My aunt said head injuries could kill you if left untreated.”
“I’m a Dingxing, not a fragile Haixing like you. It takes more than a hit to kill me. Now let me go!”
“No, we have to it check out!” he tried to yank Lao Chu from giving chase, but his unbalanced posture made him slip. Guo fell forward against Chu, and the clumsy mouse offset the bear enough to make him miss his footing on top of the stairs. Causing the large man to fall, rolling down the flight of stairs, until he reached the bottom with a sound of cracking bones rung in the air.
Mortified of what he had done, Guo hurried down the steps to Lao Chu’s side. This time, the Puppeteer was barely able to return to consciousness.
“Chu Ge? I’m sorry, are you alright? Chu Ge? Please wake up!”
But there was no response, except for the sound of the moaning Bear, who had fallen into the abyss.
Back at SID...
Covering the sleeping Shen with his leather jacket, Zhao couldn’t help but notice how delicate his features were. His Professor was defenseless, it almost made him smile.