Boom Boom Boom
The irritating sound continued to make his head throb, an added bonus to his already damaged skull. It wouldn’t stop no matter tong he waited -- for the nuisance continued to repeat the same rhythm. Fast at first, but slower for a while. Until the steady pattern persisted for an unknown unimaginable reason.
The Beast in slumber finally rose, despite the pain the movements incited.
Why me? He had endured enough of humanity's punishment. Even when he was injured with barely enough energy to get out of bed, the universe was determined to give him a hard time. Due to his job, it was frowned upon to consume humans at will. But the tenacious knocking may break his resolves.
Barely clothed saved for his boxers, Chu stood before the opened door, ready to strangle the uninvited visitor who dared to venture upon his floor.
Yet the Puppeteer, Lao Chu, one of the most fierce Dingxing of the underworld, remained still. Speechless, before the intruder. The innocent Guo Chang Cheng had awoken the hibernating beast, the Black Bear who should've been left at peace. The lone mouse, the would-be-prey to many but not to some -- depending on who you ask -- stood before Chu with wide-eyed awe expression, followed by a gulp?
His eyes brightened with the purity of a child, but the blush was brighter than a ripened peach. After a long pause to collect himself, Xiao Guo smiled sheepishly, “Chu Ge.”
“Brat, what are you doing here?” Lao Chu snarled out of habit. How did he find out where I hibernate?
The large man expected the usual cowering fear, but all those reservations were held back for unknown reasons when the once timid mouse decided to barge into his apartment with groceries and a gym bag in tow.
“Chu Ge, you need to lie down! Why are you home when you should be at the hospital. The Doctors wanted you to rest for at least a week. Please, rest while I prepare your congee. I know you like meat, so I brought organs to steam. It could go with the congee...I also got…. ”
Maybe he was too tired. Or maybe he did succumb to brain damage from the impact. Whatever it was, unknown the reason may be, Lao Chu did not care. Nor did he shout, or speak. Dumbfounded, the Black Bear was mute, as he watched his nagging Mouse force a large man such as himself under the covers.
The stream of scattered instructions persisted even when Guo headed to the kitchen.
With a defeated grunt, the Black Bear did not leave his bed. At least the knocking sound was gone, Lao Chu told himself before he went back to sleep.
College parties were never his norm, even when he was studying as a student. Professor Shen rarely participated in any activities unless it was mandatory.
But now, duty called, for there’s no recourse when this is where the UnSub often hunted for its Prey. All the victims are healthy young men of Dragon University, but what made them more special was the fact that they were from the prominent Engineering Department. Students of Professor Rounan. Because of the fact that she was incapacitated since the killings started, she was promptly taken off the suspect list. However, it did not mean she was not involved with the case. Once her conditioned stabilized, they could question the Professor as to her companion’s whereabouts.
In the meantime, they could not allow another body to show up when they were close to catching the culprit. Especially when the witness had also gone missing, all under Shen Wei’s watch. As of now, Professor Shen could not answer to his Superior of his failures to perform his duties. Given he was preoccupied and emotionally involved, when he should not be.
All the more reason for him to follow through on the case without the distraction that continued to plague him this week. He had a plan, at least that was what he thought until the female students were surrounding him like bees to a honeycomb. From the moment Shen entered the college party venue, he could barely take a step without a crowd surrounding him. Intoxicated as they were, they did not pay heed to their difference in status. The suffocating crowd continued to block his path, forcing drinks into his hands, and telling him how they were willing to offer themselves for the night!
Flustered from the unwanted attention, Professor Shen thought the situation couldn’t get any worse when a drunken female flung herself on his person. Within seconds, her small body was snatched away. Shen Wei caught the eye of the man who could have been his Knight if he didn’t have the eyes of the Wolf.
“I apologize, but the Professor is taken. And I don’t share what’s mine,” the unabashed Wolf announced, causing the small crowd to turn silent longer than they should, as they tried to rationalize the true meaning of the declaration from an unknown rival in their path. If it was a female, they could still fight, thrash, reject. But this man, a sex symbol in his own right who carried himself above others, exuded a sense of masculinity far different from those present. For this Wolf could defy even the most objecting mind.
“Professor Shen?! Is he telling the truth? Are you taken?” a brave soul finally spoke among the crowd; a short-statured girl with wide-eyed astonishment, of neither positive nor negative intent.
“I-I…” it was now Shen’s turn to be taken by surprise, as his burning cheeks grew hotter.
Heated from both anger and embarrassment, Professor Shen stared back at Zhao accusingly, but the Wolf leaned to the side and whispered, “Say I'm your boyfriend, or they’ll never give up.”’
“You can’t be serious?” Shen objected, but even he was aware the crowd had become more agitated.
“Is he really your boyfriend?” another asked.
“How long have you been together?”
Zhao swung his arm around Shen’s shoulders familiarly. “That’s difficult to answer,” the conniving Wolf answered. “Your Professor insists it was our first kiss, but I kept telling him it’s the moment we met. To tell you the truth, since the first time we first set our sights on each other, we have never been a day without the other by our side.”
“Did he say kiss?”
“They've already kissed?”
“No, no, no….That can’t be true!”
“Stop talking nonsense!” Blushing fiercely from the crowd's reaction, Shen tried to push him again, but Zhao caught him by the waist, and pulled him closer.
Breath warm on his ear, the Wolf enticed further, “As a free man, you are fair game to these vultures. If you’re taken, they won’t pester you anymore.”
“I can’t lie easily like you do,” Shen fired back, but he couldn’t shake off the man without making it into an even bigger scene among the students. All eyes were on them, and for the first time in his adult life, Professor Shen couldn’t face the students. What would they think of him now?
“If you can’t lie,” Zhao leaned forward, his Devil’s Dog eyes darkened, “we can demonstrate…,”
“Don’t you dare!” Professor Shen tried to pull away, “Yunlan! No...”
Suddenly, a high pitched scream broke their continued struggle, for the noise was so loud the room almost exploded with the combined force of all the female students surrounding them. Frozen from the intensity, Shen turned to see what was wrong, but it was not because of a fire or fight, or murder on site. The screamed was due to excitement. Excitement? What?
“Look at Professor Shen blushing!”
“He called him by his name!”
“Professor Shen's never blushed before!”
“I told you he’s not always the stoic type.”
“He just needed to find the right person.”
“His boyfriend is so handsome...No wonder he won’t look at anyone at school.”
“Oh please Mister, do kiss for us, we want to witness it.”
“Yes! We won’t believe you until you do.”
“Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” the drunken crowd began to chant.
At that moment, Shen Wei was reminded of the old saying -- A woman’s mind changes like the tide without warning -- this was a prime example of that. These kids, are they aware they have delivered him to the Wolf’s den? Zhao Yunlan, without missing a second beat, took the opportunity from a rare distraction to grab the back of his neck and seize his lips before he could protest.
Initially, the Professor was caught off guard, but the crowd broke into another roar of high pitched scream. The blatant demonstration was nothing like their first. For Shen, it was a searing kiss of self-consciousness, which quickly turned to anger.
With his reputation in tatters, the furious Professor Shen did not hold back when he pushed Zhao off him, followed by a right hook to his jaw.
The crowd exploded in another round of gasps and cries. Ignoring the reaction from their audiences, Professor Shen stormed off from the college bar. It didn't take long for Zhao to chase him down and grab his arm. Shen returned with a piercing glare that could burn leather.
“You look like you're prepared to strike me again,” Zhao commented in an offended tone. “May I remind that you just violated my terms,” the shameless Wolf accused.
“You violated mine first!” Shen snapped, snatching his arm back and waving toward the establishment behind them. “We’re in public, in full view of the Engineering students, among others. By morning, word will get around, and everyone will know.”
“They’re drunken kids who could barely stand or remember the last half hour. It’ll be nothing but a rumor without proof.”
“What if Xiao Guo had arrived?”
“He wouldn’t,” Zhao answered confidently, as he rubbed his reddened jawline with a smirk.
“How would you….” Professor Shen paused when saw the mischief in those eyes grow. “What have you done to Xiao Guo?”
“Little Pinocchio is currently nursing the Master Puppeteer. Since he was the cause of your field agent’s near death experience, he readily agreed to pay his dues. Unlike Professor Shen, who is avoiding his. But it doesn’t matter, as you seem to be short on staff, I’m willing to work for you on my day off.”
“I do not require your assistance,” Shen Wei answered coldly, returning to his usual unapproachable self.
“You could barely take two steps without being accosted by drunken felines in heat at these parties,” Zhao argued. “Besides, you require the little mouse’s help, but not mine?
“Yours is conditional.”
Zhao chuckled lightly, taking a purposeful step back with his hands raised, in what seems like a surrendering gesture before they lowered to his sides. “As you may recall, I’ve already collected today. There are no other conditions to fulfill.”
“Why would you do that?” Shen asked with a slight hint of hesitancy.
“Why else? It’s not only you who wants to know the answers.”
Zhao Yunlan thought he had made progress, but things had turned for the worst the past few days. Somehow, their contract obligation, which was previously his advantage, had become a barrier. Every time he got close to his Professor, the man coldly rejected him, not just physically but emotionally. It was like attempting to make out with a statue.
Unwavering, Zhao had resorted to other means, from inviting him out to a drink to staying in his office, but nothing seemed to faze the emotionally-ironclad man. To him, it was still a mystery why the shift was so sudden. What had he done to garner such indifference?
Due to Shen’s reservation, Zhao gave a rare sigh before taking an unusually serious tone, “By our calculation, she'll strike again tonight. Her body counts have increased in numbers, with shorter resting periods between each kill. Instead of letting your distaste for my presence get in the way of capturing our UnSub, you should put some trust in me.”
“We’re partners from this day onwards. When it comes to partnership, without trust, we can never succeed. Neither you nor I can accept failures. That, we have in common. I’m your ally the moment I step into your Department. I will work beside you, and I am not a man who gives his word out easily.”
Still, Shen Wei didn’t buy the declaration without skepticism. “Maybe you have forgotten, your alliance is due to our agreement. How can a partnership be true when there are conditions?”
“That’s beside the point,” Zhao smiled brightly at the Professor’s attempt to amend their agreement. “Professor Shen, with your worldly experience, it’s unlikely a kiss or two could distract you from your work,” Zhao replied, without hiding his challenging tone. “A little pleasure now and then should not deter us from doing our job. Think of it as mental training for both of us.”
“Training?” Professor Shen echoed.
“Like reading subtle cues. Anticipating the others thoughts and actions. The physical act helps us understand each other. The closer we are, the better our partnership will be. Enhancing our ability to solve cases.”
Despite Zhao’s logic, his dark aura remained. Silent at first, Shen’s eyes seemed to reach a conclusion. “Do you do this with everyone you partner with?” the Professor asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you mix business and pleasure for all your cases?”
“Hell no! That would be crazy. I don’t have the time for that,” Zhao dismissed the thought immediately. “Imagine the hassle to get rid of them once the case is done. Why would I bring such trouble...”
A scream cut off his sentence before Zhao could finish. Both men’s alerted eyes caught the other. Zhao cursed under his breath as they ran toward the source, which was a few complexes down the street from the party venue. A few short turns, and they made it to the scene, as a young disheveled woman passed them in a panic.
They were too late. On the ground, another victim aged beyond recognition laid on the floor of the alley. His youthful clothes were a dead giveaway that he was not an elderly man.
Taking a few steps closer, a shadow was revealed at the corner of his eye. Zhao pulled out his gun as he whipped around and aimed it at the red-clad figure, but she was already one step ahead. Charging forward, she barely touched him, when Shen pulled him aside. The girl’s bare hand gripped the Professor’s throat instead.
Zhao blanched at the realization that Shen Wei had taken his place!
Chapter 4.5 "The Lost Child"
Chapter 5.5 "The General"
Author's Note: It's been awhile, I know I'm delayed. Life has been so heck this month with real-life issues, especially now that Butters(my corgi) can't use his back legs anymore. *sniff sniff* So I have to make arrangement for his care while I work. Hopefully, by June, everything will calm down, and I can post more chapters this summer because I'll be starting classes and only working part-time.
The next chapter will be a little treat for those who love Qi Heng and Boli. I miss my Barbarian and his skittish Scholar and can't wait to post their chapter! Thank everyone for your support always! Have a great Easter! (#^-^#)