The world was a blur: streaks of green, ochre, white, and grey which would suddenly come into focus as grass, stone, clouds, and buildings, then melt again as Tsang Ting Fung took the next curve. Yau Bong Chiu, behind him, tightened his hold on A-Fung's waist. The sharp throb of the motorcycle and the rush of morning air were exhilarating.
They sped through the New Territories under huge, billowing, racing clouds. The air was moist and cool, with a hint of rain, but so far their luck had held.
"It's almost ten," A-Fung said when they stopped for a break in one of the characterless suburban markets. "Should we head back?"
"Let's keep going," Yau Bong Chiu replied, and A-Fung grinned at him.
On they sped, going farther until the apartment blocks thinned out and they passed fields and villages. They could keep going like this forever, Yau Bong Chiu thought, through the border and overland across the whole of China, the rest of Asia, Europe, not stopping until they hit the Atlantic Ocean. It was impossible, of course, but as they flew past the old stone village walls, the daydream seemed within reach: just he and A-Fung alone together, crossing the world, and Hong Kong's ghost community could police itself for a while.
He laughed from the sheer sensation of freedom and leaned into the curve as A-Fung took a wide turn. After a few kilometers the road condition deteriorated, and A-Fung slowed the bike. They'd passed a group of houses a few minutes ago, but it was hard to tell what was ahead, and the road was not inviting. A-Fung pulled off to the side and stopped on a smooth patch of dirt in front of a crumbling stone gate. They got off and looked around.
"I don't think we can go much further," A-Fung said, taking off his helmet. "I don't like this road. We could double back and look for another main road."
Yau Bong Chiu set his helmet on the seat and rubbed his lower back, stretching. The grass around the gate was overgrown, but there was a distinct dirt trail leading away from the road, into a shade of trees. It was quiet here, no one around. A weathered sign dangling from the gate held the name of a temple.
"Want to look around?" he asked. "Take a break?"
A-Fung smiled. "Sure." He wheeled the motorcycle behind the gate and secured a plastic blanket over it in case it rained. He took off his gloves and unzipped his jacket as they reached the path. They followed it through the trees until they reached a small, weather-beaten temple. New lanterns flapped in the breeze, which carried the pungent scent of incense. A-Fung knelt before the altar while Yau Bong Chiu wandered down the path aimlessly.
He turned back and paused to watch A-Fung for a while. There was something very appealing about him like this: quiet and thoughtful, oblivious to being watched. His hair was mussed from the helmet, and he wore a short, light motorcycle jacket over his tee shirt. Just as A-Fung stood up, Yau Bong Chiu tasted rain in the air. The heavens opened up, drenching them in a late morning shower. A-Fung smiled ironically, and Yau Bong Chiu, feeling the empty silence around them, gave in to the intense urge he had to kiss him, closing the distance with a few steps and sliding his arms around him.
A-Fung didn't hesitate but wrapped his arms around Yau Bong Chiu and returned the kiss. They stood, embraced, in the rain, lips touching softly. A gust of cold air blew through them and rattled the lanterns hanging in the temple.
A-Fung stepped back, hands resting on Yau Bong Chiu's hips, looking goofy with a giddy smile. He parted his lips to say something -- probably something embarrassing, Yau Bong Chiu thought -- but froze when he looked past Yau Bong Chiu. His eyes widened and his smile faded.
Yau Bong Chiu glanced back, already sensing the ghost but unable to tell if it were malevolent or not. She hovered a short distance away, watching them. She was dressed plainly in a traditional-style white jacket and pants, and her long, fine hair was pulled back loosely, but she was beautiful. Delicate and serene. Yau Bong Chiu felt no malice from her, only curiosity. He smiled at her, wanting to reassure her. She shrank a little, smiling shyly.
"Wow, she's pretty," A-Fung said quietly. Yau Bong Chiu raised an eyebrow and glanced sidelong at him. The ghost had heard. She drifted farther away, into the trees.
They both took a step to follow her. Yau Bong Chiu paused and looked A-Fung over. A-Fung shrugged a little. Yau Bong Chiu grinned.
"Well, she is very pretty. Wouldn't hurt to find out what she's doing here."
A-Fung grinned back. "And who knows, she may need our help."
But her path through the trees was difficult to follow, and they could only catch fleeting glimpses of her white clothes. Finally, she vanished into cold mist rising in the rain, and they gave up. Drenched and cold, they returned to the temple.
An old man was hanging a lantern that had been blown down. Spotting them, he stepped forward and waved them closer.
"Good morning! Welcome! It's nice to see you," he greeted. "Are you tourists?" he asked with a hopeful smile, switching to Mandarin.
"No," A-Fung replied in Cantonese. "We're just out for a ride and stopped for a break."
"Ah." The man didn't entirely hide his disappointment but said, "You're welcome, anyway. Please take a look around. If you don't want to leave any offerings today, we gladly accept cash donations. For temple upkeep." He nodded toward a wooden bowl just inside the shelter of the temple's roof.
Yau Bong Chiu looked around, arching an eyebrow. "You don't get many donations, do you?"
"No," the man sighed. He looked them both over and asked, "Are you here to see the ghost?"
A-Fung stopped short and exchanged a look with Yau Bong Chiu, who masked his surprise. "Ghost?"
The man straightened some altar offerings. "Sure. This temple is haunted, didn't you know? A beautiful young maiden. Most people who come here want to see the ghost. Tourists, mainly."
"Have you seen her?" A-Fung asked, helping the man pick up some flower petals that had scattered on the floor.
"Oh, no! Never." The man scratched his head. "Very few people have seen her, to tell you the truth. But the tourists don't seem to mind." He stood up as straight as his crooked old body would allow and said, "We don't serve food here, but I can offer you some tea if you want to wait out the rain."
"Thank you," A-Fung said.
A tiny one-room building off to the side of the temple was the keeper's office. He invited them inside and cleared off a rickety folding table and offered them two mismatched plastic chairs. In one corner was a small, cluttered desk with an old computer taking up most of the space. The man plugged in an electric kettle and set out the tea, pot, and three cups.
He followed Yau Bong Chiu's gaze to the computer and wheezed out a chuckle. "I'm responsible for the temple's website," he announced proudly. "We're looking for volunteers to translate it into Japanese and Korean. Good for the tourist business." He shook some tea into the pot and looked at them. "I don't suppose either of you--?"
"Sorry," said A-Fung, sharing a smile with Yau Bong Chiu, who clenched his jaw to keep from laughing.
While they waited for the tea to steep, Yau Bong Chiu said casually, "Tell us about the ghost." He was curious about her and about who had seen her, although he hoped she wasn't a hate-filled ghost. She'd seemed so lovely and shy, it was hard to imagine her bothering people, but as he knew only too well, some ghosts were not what they seemed.
The old man rummaged around the desk and pulled out a stack of pamphlets rubber-banded together. He blew dust off the top one and set them on the table.
"This tells the whole, sad story," he said, tapping at the stack. "A professor from the university researched it and wrote this for us." When Yau Bong Chiu reached for a pamphlet, the man covered the stack with his hand. "Only $7 a copy."
Yau Bong Chiu pointedly drew his hand away, and rolled his eyes when he saw A-Fung bring out his wallet. The man handed A-Fung a pamphlet and Yau Bong Chiu looked at it over his shoulder, noticing the price in dollars and renminbi neatly printed above a faded picture of the temple looking much more impressive than it was.
"Hey, it says $5 here," Yau Bong Chiu pointed out.
"Inflation," the old man sniffed. "Have some tea?"
It was late afternoon by the time they returned home. Yau Bong Chiu was pleasantly tired and sprawled on the sofa with the temple pamphlet to read about the maiden ghost. He hadn't finished the first paragraph before he was being gently shaken awake by A-Fung. The flat smelled of delicious spicy vegetables.
"Come eat before it gets cold," A-Fung nagged, and Yau Bong Chiu, happy and sleepy, smiled at him and held his arm. He pulled A-Fung into a soft kiss that lingered much longer than he'd intended. A-Fung crouched next to the sofa.
"Mmm, that's the second time today you've done that," he said, stroking Yau Bong Chiu's throat with his thumb.
"I hope that's not a complaint," Yau Bong Chiu murmured, running his hand along A-Fung's forearm.
"No. I'm just wondering..." A-Fung paused and grinned. "Who are you and what have you done with A-Chiu?"
Yau Bong Chiu narrowed his eyes and lightly punched his shoulder. "Goof."
A-Fung chuckled. "Ah, okay, now that's my A-Chiu. Come on, dinner's getting cold."
Yau Bong Chiu was lazy the rest of the evening and had half-forgotten about the temple and its ghost by the time they went to bed. A-Fung slid into his arms, warm and heavy and not too sleepy. Then: kissing, caressing, peeling A-Fung out of his pajamas, tasting his skin, heating to the touch of his hands. Moving and gliding together until tired, they lay side-by-side, naked and wet and cooling.
Yau Bong Chiu drifted for a while until A-Fung yawned and said musingly, "Do you think we should do it?"
Drowsy, Yau Bong Chiu got out of bed and picked up his nightclothes from the floor. "Do what?"
A-Fung yawned again. "You know. 'Do it' do it."
Yau Bong Chiu stopped halfway to the bathroom. He looked back, but A-Fung was an indistinct dark shape on the bed under a mess of pale sheets. In the pause, A-Fung said, "I mean, should we fu--"
"Yeah. I get what you mean," Yau Bong Chiu cut him off, a little more curtly than necessary. He stared at the dark shape. He hadn't really thought about it... No, that was untrue. He had thought about it. He had thought about it a lot, but in a circular I-am-not-thinking-about-this way. As if trying not to think about it would prevent A-Fung from thinking about it and raising the subject. Of course that didn't work, he thought ruefully.
The dark shape sat up. "Oh. I shouldn't have asked, should I?" A-Fung said in a voice that made Yau Bong Chiu inwardly flinch.
He cleared his throat. "No. No, it's okay. I'm surprised, that's all. I didn't think-- I didn't expect..." He trailed off, wincing and wishing he knew what to say. "Um, can we talk about this later?"
"Sure," A-Fung said easily, sliding back beneath the sheets.
Yau Bong Chiu had meant they could talk about it later that night, but when he returned to bed, A-Fung didn't say anything and Yau Bong Chiu still didn't know what to say. A-Fung curled up beside him and gave him a goodnight kiss, and after a while, Yau Bong Chiu slept.
He woke up even less ready to talk about it, but thankfully A-Fung never mentioned it, and the day progressed normally until soon after sunset, when their fight practice was interrupted by an urgent call from Central dispatch.
They arrived on the scene -- a hole-in-the-wall club on a steep side street off of Hollywood Road -- to find two beat cops standing outside with a nervous young man and a small crowd of onlookers. From inside the club they could hear crashes and breaking glass and a man shouting.
"Are you the special unit they sent?" one of the cops asked skeptically, looking them over.
"What's the trouble?" A-Fung asked.
"This one says it's a ghost," the cop said, jerking his head at the young man.
The young man, skinny and pale beneath spiky, red-streaked hair and trendy clothes, looked at them in mute appeal. A-Fung gestured him closer and they stood away from the cops.
"It's Darrin, I know it is," the man said miserably. He was speaking to them both, but his gaze kept resting on Yau Bong Chiu, which Yau Bong Chiu found off-putting. He rested his hands on his hips and turned his attention to the club, letting A-Fung do the questioning.
"Andy's friend. Andy owns the place," the man explained. Turning to Yau Bong Chiu, he added, "I'm Lik-Chung. I'm the bartender." Yau Bong Chiu nodded in response to his tentative smile.
There was a loud crash and a louder shout from inside the club. A bottle of green liqueur flew out the open door, hovered for a moment, then flew back to crash against the exterior. Lik-Chung flinched and stepped closer.
"It's all because of Yuki," he moaned, twisting his arms together. "I told Andy to be careful--"
"How did Darrin die?" Yau Bong Chiu cut in, the noises from inside telling him they'd better hurry. He pulled on his ghost gloves.
Lik-Chung hesitated. "An accident... food poisoning or something." Yau Bong Chiu raised an eyebrow at him and Lik-Chung nodded resignedly. "Okay, he overdosed. But it was an accident. He was partying and took too many pills with booze. Andy cried for a week..." His voice trailed off as Yau Bong Chiu and A-Fung stalked off, entering the club.
Broken glass crunched underfoot and the place stank of beer and sweet liqueurs. One of the hanging lamps swayed low, ripped from the ceiling and dangling from its cord. Barstools lay on their side, and standing behind the bar, wrapping a towel around his forearm, was a tall man with short-cropped hair and chiseled good looks, aged forty or so.
"Oooo," A-Fung murmured to Yau Bong Chiu. "He looks just like that actor, you know the one."
"He does not," countered Yau Bong Chiu, although he had to admit there was a slight resemblance.
"Who are you?" the man asked irritably. Blood seeped into the towel as he tightened it around his arm.
"You're Andy?" Yau Bong Chiu asked. The man nodded.
A-Fung went over to the bar. "Are you hurt badly?" He pulled out his cell phone, but Andy shook his head.
"I'll be fine. It's nothing." He took a longer look at them and asked again, "Who are you?"
A-Fung pocketed his phone and pulled out his ID. Andy read it closely, without comment.
"We need to speak to Darrin," A-Fung told him gently.
Andy flashed them a look, as if he were about to argue, but instead he shook his head again. "I think he left," he sighed.
Yau Bong Chiu walked around the club and checked the back, down a narrow hallway that led to a toilet and an office. Crates of bottles and boxes of crisps packets were stacked at the end of the hallway next to a back door that emerged onto an alley flooded with bright white security lights. No ghost here, and he couldn't sense it lingering around.
He came back shaking his head at A-Fung, who nodded once in agreement: he couldn't feel or see the ghost, either.
"Think he could come back?" A-Fung asked Yau Bong Chiu, and Andy burst out, "Shit, I hope not! Look at all this damage. It's going to cost me a fortune."
Yau Bong Chiu watched him, considering. He didn't quite believe Andy's only concern was the cost of repairs.
"Who's Yuki?" he asked coolly.
Andy gave him a suspicious, narrow-eyed look. "You've been talking to Lik-Chung."
"He seemed very worried," A-Fung remarked, picking up some pictures broken in their frames which had been torn from the walls. He shook the glass shards out into an ash can and stacked the pictures neatly on top of the bar counter.
"Yuki's... a friend. Comes to the bar sometimes. Lik-Chung imagines things," Andy said evasively.
"Like ghosts?" Yau Bong Chiu asked, smirking. Andy frowned at him, but glanced away.
After a few more questions met with silence, it was clear that they weren't going to get more out of him. Besides, Darrin could be gone for good by now, so they left the club. The beat cops had cleared away the gawkers. Only Lik-Chung waited for them outside.
"Is Andy okay?" he asked, addressing Yau Bong Chiu.
Yau Bong Chiu found his stare unnerving, but he forced himself from recoiling and replied, "He's got a cut on his arm, but says he's fine. Maybe you should go see if he needs any help," he added, hoping Lik-Chung would hurry into the club.
Lik-Chung hung back, but glanced nervously at the club's door. A-Fung said, "It's okay. Darrin's not in there now. You can go inside."
Lik-Chung chewed on his lip before making up his mind. Casting another soft stare at Yau Bong Chiu, he said, "Thank you for your help, Officer--?"
Yau Bong Chiu ignored the question and smiled perfunctorily and walked back to the car. A-Fung caught up with him and said in a low voice close to his ear, "Ooo, I think he likes you. I better watch my step."
Yau Bong Chiu drummed his fingers on the car. "What are you babbling about?"
"Lik-Chung." A-Fung slid into the driver's seat and gestured for the keys. "He couldn't keep his eyes off of you. Not that I can blame him..." He caught the keys Yau Bong Chiu tossed at him.
"Yeah, well, he can keep his eyes to himself," Yau Bong Chiu muttered, settling into the passenger seat. "I thought it was pretty rude to stare like that." After a pause, he frowned over at A-Fung. "Wait. You sound like you enjoyed that. Didn't it bother you?"
"Nah, I thought it was cute," A-Fung said. "Especially when you were giving him the evil death glare in return, poor kid."
Yau Bong Chiu blinked at him. "'Evil death glare'?"
A-Fung raised his eyebrows and flashed him an infuriating smile. "Mm-hm. If you were an anime character, you'd have laser beams coming out of your eyes. Slice robots in half with them. It'd be kind of cool, actually."
Yau Bong Chiu blinked again. "You are completely crazy. You know that, right?"
"You say that all the time, so I guess it must be true."
A-Fung let him off at Danielle's building, and Yau Bong Chiu went up to her flat, collecting her mail. He had agreed to water her plants while she was visiting her parents in Australia. She had invited him along, polite and nonchalant, observing that he probably hadn't taken a vacation in years. In fact, with no family to visit and no friends to travel with, he had never taken a vacation, but he'd refused, citing the workload and saying it would be unfair to A-Fung to leave him to handle Special Unit 2002 by himself. Danielle hadn't pressed; she never did.
Yau Bong Chiu wandered through the flat, water pitcher in one hand and her handwritten instructions in the other. It was a nice, clean, comfortable place, friendly and inviting. When he finished with the plants, he sat down on the living room floor and watched the night clouds and city lights from the balcony door.
Were all relationships so complicated? He loved Danielle and liked going out with her, spending time with her, having fun or staying in for a quiet night. But he also loved A-Fung, and being with A-Fung was so simple. Even with all the stuff they did... or thought about doing... or deliberately didn't think about doing. It all just happened so easily.
He hugged his knees and gazed blankly at a slow blinking tower light in the distance. If anything was complicated here, it was because he made it that way. He held back with Danielle, and felt bad for it, which made him hold back even more. Danielle had once said he couldn't mix his life with her and his life with A-Fung. He hadn't considered this a problem at the time -- more like an answer -- but the further along things developed with A-Fung, the more he reconsidered. Was it wrong to love a girl who loved him back, yet keep part of himself locked away from her? Was it selfish to love two people and want to be loved by them both?
All those years growing up to be alone, these were never the problems he thought he'd have to face. All the stuff Paper Chan had taught him, everything he'd learned at the police academy and on the job -- none of it helped him here, now.
"Why do we have to love people, anyway?" he muttered, catching sight of his miserable reflection in the glass.
Something in the glass shifted: a passing light, he thought at first, but no. It was in the reflection. A pale shape hovering. A ghost dressed in white. The beautiful maiden from the old temple.
Yau Bong Chiu slowly sat up, watching her blurred, faint reflection waver. "Little sister," he called to her calmly. "You're far from home. Can I help you?"
He turned to look at her, but the flat was empty. He turned back to the reflection, but she was gone.
The next few days were unremarkable. The beautiful maiden didn't reappear, A-Fung didn't raise any topics Yau Bong Chiu wanted to avoid, and the troublesome ghosts kept their troubles small. Yau Bong Chiu gladly set aside his questions about love and relationships and poured his energy into training, policing ghosts, and hanging out with A-Fung. They took another motorcycle ride, this time a thrilling, hair-raising zigzag on Lamma Island where Yau Bong Chiu held on so tightly, he half-expected to see permanent dents in A-Fung's waist.
One evening he had just returned from watering Danielle's plants, welcomed home by the tantalizing aroma of prawns with ginger and garlic, when both of their mobiles rang: a call to work. A-Fung answered and Yau Bong Chiu let his go to voicemail so he could pluck a few prawns out of the pan. No sense in letting them go to waste.
"That ghost is back," A-Fung sighed, hanging up. He turned off the stove, waited for Yau Bong Chiu to snag one last prawn, then covered the pan. "At Andy's bar in Central."
"Where?" Yau Bong Chiu asked around prawn.
"You know." A-Fung nudged him with his elbow. "The place with the kid who wants to be your boyfriend."
Yau Bong Chiu shot him a look. He'd thought he'd heard the last of that. Well, if A-Fung wanted to tease him, two could play that game.
"You should watch out. Maybe I'll take him up on the offer."
A-Fung smiled, pulling their coats and gear from the closet. "You won't do that."
"Yeah? You never know. Maybe I'm tired of all your jokes and teasing, and in the market for someone new."
"No," said A-Fung. He handed Yau Bong Chiu his black overcoat and belt.
"How can you be so sure? You're awfully confident."
"No." A-Fung shook his head, fastening his belt. Yau Bong Chiu stood and watched him until A-Fung looked up. "You really want to know why?"
Seeing A-Fung's wide-eyed, open, honest look, Yau Bong Chiu was tempted to say no. A-Fung took his silence for a yes.
"It's the way you look at me sometimes," he said softly. "Tells me everything I need to know."
Startled not so much by A-Fung's reply but the idea that A-Fung could see into him, perhaps more accurately than he could see into himself, Yau Bong Chiu froze for a moment. A-Fung touched his cheek, fingers warm and reassuring and smelling of garlic.
He relaxed a little. "No evil death glare?"
"Not recently, no," A-Fung said, and kissed him lightly.
Yau Bong Chiu narrowed his eyes. "'Recently'? What does that mean?" But A-Fung was halfway out the door.
They arrived on the scene, which was more chaotic and crowded than last time. A young woman ran out of the club as A-Fung and Yau Bong Chiu were approaching. A-Fung tried to stop her, but she sped past and down the hill. An ambulance waited by the entrance. Two medics came out, carrying Andy on a stretcher. A-Fung shot Yau Bong Chiu a worried look. Yau Bong Chiu pulled his gloves on, sparing a moment to watch the medics with Andy: he was alive.
They entered the club cautiously, finding tables and barstools upended and broken bottles and glasses covering the floor. Lik-Chung was huddled behind the bar, trembling and covering his head. A-Fung bent down to help him up and escort him to the door, and Yau Bong Chiu faced the ghost, who hovered angrily in one corner.
"Darrin?" he asked. Sometimes saying their names caught ghosts off-guard, got them to calm down. Not with Darrin. He flew to the ceiling and ripped the hanging lamps out of the plaster, throwing them to the floor in front of Yau Bong Chiu. Yau Bong Chiu hurled a vial of unveiling drops at him to halve his power.
Darrin was hateful and angry, but he was not a good fighter. Yau Bong Chiu effortlessly ducked his punches and dodged his lunges until he reached the best angle for a powerful kick. Darrin rolled backwards, where A-Fung was waiting. A-Fung caught him easily with a wide kick and knockout punch. The ghost skidded to the floor with a howl and glared at them.
Yau Bong Chiu unholstered his gun. "You won't be reincarnated," he said, releasing the safety.
Yau Bong Chiu shot A-Fung a look. "We only have a couple of minutes," he said.
"Why are you doing this?" A-Fung asked Darrin. "If you're trying to hurt Andy, you already did that. We saw them putting him into an ambulance."
Darrin shivered and shook his head vigorously. "No! I didn't mean to. But how could he? How could Andy be like that? How could he just forget about me?" he said, anger and despair in his voice.
"Lik-Chung told us Andy cried for a week after you died," A-Fung said. "That doesn't sound like he forgot you."
"He did?" Darrin asked in a pathetic voice.
A-Fung nodded. Darrin shrank for a moment, and Yau Bong Chiu hoped he'd go on his own, but seconds later Darrin rose up, raging, "Then it's Yuki's fault! I know it is! I'm gonna kill that little Japanese bitch. And anyone else who stands in my way."
He lunged at A-Fung, who scrambled back. Yau Bong Chiu aimed the gun, felt the pinch of the blood needle, and fired. Darrin's ghost dissipated forever.
"Jealous ghosts are so unreasonable," A-Fung complained, taking off his gloves. "Did he expect Andy to be alone for the rest of his life? A-Chiu?"
Yau Bong Chiu holstered his gun and stood very still. There was a mirror behind the bar, now shattered into hundreds of fragments, and in the reflection he saw her again: blurred and faint, but unmistakably the beautiful maiden ghost. He slowly nodded at her, and A-Fung followed his gaze.
"Oh!" he whispered. "What's she doing here?"
Yau Bong Chiu shook his head, watching her. It reminded him of the first time they had seen her, how he had longed to get a better look. He took one careful step closer to the bar, glass crunching under his boot. The maiden flickered in the mirror and vanished.
"Damn," he cursed softly. A-Fung went to the bar, looking around as if she could still be there.
"Let's file our report and go home," Yau Bong Chiu said. "I'm hungry."
"Hey, look at this." A-Fung waved him over.
On the mirror was a patch of frost, and someone had written four alphabet letters with their finger: Y-U-K-I. They just had time to read it before the frost melted away. A-Fung looked at Yau Bong Chiu.
"I think she was trying to tell us something. Maybe we should find Yuki."
Yau Bong Chiu frowned at the splintered mirror. He didn't think the maiden ghost was after Yuki, and Darrin was gone. They could check with the hospital on Andy's condition when they filed their report. Nevertheless, he could feel the mystery here, and wanted answers, too.
"I think Yuki's safe for now. Let's leave it until tomorrow. Besides," he added, "I want to find out about this maiden ghost."
By the time their reports were filed and they'd come home and had dinner, it was late into the night. Yau Bong Chiu got ready for bed and spent another half-hour looking for the temple pamphlet before finding it stuffed inside one of A-Fung's manga as a bookmark. He took it to bed, intending to read it before going to sleep, but in his drowsiness he was readily distracted by A-Fung crawling into bed and curling up with him. He let the pamphlet fall to the floor and didn't pick it up again until the morning, while A-Fung was in the shower.
"Seven bucks for this?" he muttered when he had finished. He tossed it onto the nightstand.
A-Fung padded out from the bathroom, towel hooked around his waist, wet and steamy and rubbing water from his hair. He sat down on the edge of the bed. "What did you find out?"
It took Yau Bong Chiu a moment to recall the pamphlet. This was ridiculous, he told himself. He'd seen A-Fung come out of the shower before. He'd seen A-Fung naked lots of times. It was completely ridiculous for A-Fung to be having this effect on him now.
"Uh, not much. It's kind of vague. They don't even know her name."
A-Fung leaned back and reached across him for the pamphlet. Yau Bong Chiu swallowed hard, staring at him, noticing the beads of water left on his skin and the dark lines of morning beard above his lips and on his chin. Propped on one elbow, A-Fung opened the pamphlet and read, his brow furrowed in concentration and his eyes almost hidden beneath his eyelashes.
"'Her betrothed, jealous of her beauty, is said to have strangled her in the grove behind the temple,'" A-Fung read aloud. "Jealous ghosts again," he tsked. "Poor thing. I wonder why she didn't move on."
A-Fung looked up at him. Yau Bong Chiu took a steadying breath -- his heart was beating as fast as if they had never done this before -- and sat up, pulling off his nightclothes. A-Fung stared him wide-eyed for half a beat before smiling crookedly, peeling the towel from his waist, and sliding over him.
Yau Bong Chiu kissed him hard, slightly desperate, but now that A-Fung was in his arms, pressed along the length of him, the urgency abated a little. The kiss changed from hard to slow, delicious, savoring. Eddies of heat uncoiled in Yau Bong Chiu's skin where A-Fung touched. He stroked and held him and moved with him, wanting him. With every breath, every cell, every heartbeat, he wanted him. Like this, like anything, whatever, however, he didn't care, because it was so, so easy.
And now, he even wanted to tell A-Fung that, let him know so there could be no misunderstanding. He would breathe the words into A-Fung's ear. Say, "I want you. Completely. We can do anything." And watch, feel, taste A-Fung's reaction.
He never got the words out. A-Fung had been kissing his neck, and just when Yau Bong Chiu started to speak was when A-Fung had moved to his earlobe, gently sucking it while licking around his earring. In the inventory of weird A-Fung things, this was possibly the weirdest: something Yau Bong Chiu never would have thought about in a million years, something that seemed kind of gross and bizarre. In reality, the first time A-Fung had done it, it had sent a shock through Yau Bong Chiu like nothing he'd ever experienced. He had begun wearing a small hoop earring to bed, in fact, to provide the temptation.
Now A-Fung touched his teeth to the skin around the hoop, and Yau Bong Chiu writhed and grasped him, scattered fragments of thought bursting into glorious nothingness. A-Fung's restless hand formed a firm, solid fist. Overwhelming heat, the frenzied drumming of his pulse. Slippery, but he held on. They held on together. A-Fung rocked the earring with his tongue. Nowhere for their heat to go but out.
Ages later, A-Fung said, "We'll both have to shower now. I hope there's enough hot water." He sprawled lazily on the bed.
Yau Bong Chiu stretched next to him, pulling himself out of a light doze. "Take a cold one," he suggested, kissing A-Fung's cheek.
"Me?" A-Fung arched an eyebrow at him. "I don't think I'm the one who needs a cold shower."
Yau Bong Chiu smiled at him sleepily. A-Fung kissed his smile and said, "You know what? We should both take a cold shower. Save the hot water for laundry."
Yau Bong Chiu wrinkled his nose but couldn't dispute the practicality. He settled on his back and used A-Fung's upper arm as a narrow pillow.
"Hey. What you asked before, you know." He tilted his head for a look at A-Fung. "About us. I guess, um, yeah."
A-Fung gazed at him steadily, silent and serious, for a long moment. Then he smiled softly and said, "That was the vaguest way of saying 'yes' you could think of, wasn't it?"
Yau Bong Chiu gave him a mock glare. He tugged a lock of Yau Bong Chiu's hair. "Me, too," he said. "I mean, yes."
Yau Bong Chiu raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"
"Oh, yeah," A-Fung said with a grin. "I think about it a lot. I don't even know what to think about it half the time, but I figure there's got to be something to it if so many people do it, you know? And with you... well, I can't think of anything I wouldn't want do with you. There probably is something, but I don't know what it is."
Yau Bong Chiu chewed on the inside of his lip, unsure how to ask. "With me or to me?" he managed unsatisfactorily.
"I'm asking... When you think about this, what are you thinking?" He rose up on one arm and looked into A-Fung's eyes. "Who's doing what?"
"Oh," A-Fung said easily. "That doesn't matter. Either way."
Although Yau Bong Chiu should have predicted that A-Fung would give him an unexpected answer, he hadn't, and he didn't know how to respond to this.
"Mmm." A-Fung nodded and stretched his arms out. He reached for Yau Bong Chiu and pulled him into soft kiss. "There's no hurry, is there? Or is there?"
Yau Bong Chiu rubbed a fingertip over the stubble on A-Fung's chin. "Cold shower," he ordered.
A-Fung chuckled and scooted off the bed, and Yau Bong Chiu flopped back on the mattress, staring at the ceiling. Either way? There was no hurry, none at all. Except -- now he was going to be thinking about it. A lot.
The door to Andy's club was open and the drizzling afternoon provided the only light inside. Lik-Chung swept broken glass into a plastic bucket and looked up as they entered. There were dark circles under his eyes as if he hadn't slept, and the smile he gave Yau Bong Chiu was shy and uncertain.
"Any news about Andy?" A-Fung asked.
"He has lots of stitches, but he's already feeling a bit better. The hospital said he could come home as early as tomorrow if he takes it easy." Lik-Chung looked around the bar. "He won't, though, if he comes back here. I'm trying to clean up the worst of it." He hesitated. "Is Darrin really gone?" he asked Yau Bong Chiu.
Yau Bong Chiu locked his jaw and nodded, glancing away from Lik-Chung's admiring stare. Lik-Chung sighed. "Poor Darrin. He never did believe how much Andy loved him. I watched him flirt with every guy who came in here, just to wind him up. I thought Andy's heart would break into a thousand pieces, but he always took him back, treated him like gold."
"We want to talk to Yuki," Yau Bong Chiu said, not particularly interested in these lurid details. Andy was free of Darrin now, for better or worse.
"Tying up loose ends," A-Fung put in.
Lik-Chung nodded and went back to the office. He came back tapping a PDA. Borrowing A-Fung's pen, he wrote out an address on a serviette. Yau Bong Chiu watched reflections in the broken mirror, wondering if the beautiful maiden would appear and vaguely disappointed when she didn't.
Yuki lived in a fancy gated high rise guarded by a politely mistrustful doorman who scrutinized their ID cards and asked a bunch of questions before grudgingly buzzing the flat and letting them go up. The flat was on an upper floor, small but spectacular, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a breathtaking view. Speaking softly and shyly, Yuki invited them to sit and offered them tea, serving it with delicate, graceful hands and careful movements. Though dressed in loose jeans and a faded pullover, and wearing only the lightest, most natural make-up, Yuki was stunningly beautiful. Yau Bong Chiu tore his gaze to the view to keep from staring.
"You're a friend of Andy's, aren't you?" A-Fung asked, accepting a cup of tea. "You were there yesterday, at the club? You ran away."
Yuki hesitated, then nodded. "How is Andy?" The softest of whispers.
Yau Bong Chiu turned his teacup in his fingers. "He'll be fine. May be home as early as tomorrow."
Yuki nodded, relieved, then abruptly crumpled to the floor, crying. Yau Bong Chiu winced. A-Fung knelt on the floor, saying soothingly, "It's all right. Andy's all right. There's no need to cry."
Yau Bong Chiu took a breath. "We know," he said quietly. "While your doorman was quizzing us, I noticed the tenant list on his desk. Hayashi Yukihito. We know you're a man."
Yuki sat up, wiping her eyes and sniffing. "It's Yuki," she corrected softly. "And I'm..." She sighed and shrugged. "Does it matter?"
Unbidden, Yau Bong Chiu's thoughts jolted back to A-Fung's, "either way." He set down his teacup and glanced away.
"It doesn't matter to Andy, does it?" A-Fung asked sympathetically. "That's why you love him so much."
Yuki had tears in her eyes, but she smiled. "Yes. I'd always thought about getting an operation. I got a good job in international finance and worked hard and saved everything I could. Then my company transferred me here, and I met Andy. Most men I meet, I'm a woman, and I keep it that way, never getting too close. Andy was different. He was hurting, grieving, so lonely. I couldn't keep the distance between us. I thought he'd be disgusted, but he... He says he doesn't care. He just wants me to be happy, to be who I am." Yuki wiped her eyes and swallowed. "So I'm trying to figure that out."
"I think everything will work out now," A-Fung said. "The ghost that came after Andy, he's gone now. He won't be coming back. And I think, well, I think if you visited Andy at the hospital, he'd really like that."
Yuki smiled brightly. Even teary eyed, Yuki was gorgeous. Male or female, didn't matter.
Yau Bong Chiu smiled back. "Thank you for your time. And for the tea."
In the lift down to the lobby, A-Fung remarked, "Poor thing. Finally meeting the guy of your dreams, and to have some jealous ghost show up and throw things around. Yuki must have panicked from fright yesterday. I wonder..."
"I was just wondering why the temple maiden sent us here, that's all."
Yau Bong Chiu watched A-Fung's blurred reflection in the polished finish of the lift's door. "I think I know why."
They weren't able to take another day off until the following week, but the delay had brought better weather, and when they rode out to the New Territories again, it was a cool, sunny day. They were in no hurry -- no guarantee that the maiden would appear for them again -- and stopped for lunch along the way and took a few detours for the simple fun of zipping along the secondary roads. It was late afternoon by the time they reached the crumbling gate and followed the overgrown path to the temple. Incense floated in the soft breeze, but the keeper was nowhere in sight, so they wandered past the temple and into the grove where the maiden had met her death many years before.
It was quiet here. Peaceful. Yau Bong Chiu took a deep breath and looked up at the sky through the trees. He listened to the birdsongs and the rustling of wind in the trees. "I think I can understand why she stayed, despite what happened here."
"It's nice here, isn't it?" said a low voice much like a woman's.
She stood close by, distinct and substantial, her long hair loose and flowing. She was even more beautiful than he'd remembered.
"Little..." Yau Bong Chiu smiled. "What should I call you?"
She smiled back. "I'd like it if you would call me 'sister'."
"All right, little sister. And yes, it is very nice here."
A-Fung had been staring at her, too. He closed his mouth and blinked a few times. "Wow."
She laughed softly, shyly, lowering her gaze. When she turned her head, Yau Bong Chiu saw red strangulation marks on her neck beneath the mandarin collar of her jacket.
A-Fung grinned -- was he actually flirting with a ghost? -- and said, "We spoke to Yuki. I think everything is going to work out for them. Thanks to you."
The maiden smiled at him, but not without a hint of sadness. Yau Bong Chiu brushed off a fallen log and sat down on it, moving aside to make room for A-Fung.
"Little sister," he said. "We'll help you if we can. What do you want?"
The ghost shrank a little to look them over. "I want someone to know the truth. My secret. But I think you already know it."
A-Fung nodded, and Yau Bong Chiu said, "Meeting Yuki made us guess. You fell in love..." She nodded. "... and he found out you weren't a woman." She nodded again, mournfully, her shape wavering for a moment.
A-Fung pulled the temple pamphlet from his jacket and uncreased it. "You know about the story they tell? They say he was your betrothed, but--"
The ghost drew herself up, face contorting in anguish. "That was my biggest mistake. I fooled myself into thinking it could work. That we could live together and he would never find out. I was so desperately in love. I made myself believe anything."
She drifted, fading, then swirled back, substantial again. "I think, in the end, that was why he did it. Not because my body wasn't a woman's, but because I had lied to him for so long. He lost his mind, and do you know? He cried over my body for hours afterwards. It was because of him that the truth was hidden, and the legend of the beautiful temple maiden sprung up. He regretted what he did, I know he did. I watched him grieve all those lonely years."
"You couldn't leave him," Yau Bong Chiu said quietly.
She looked at him steadily. "No. Of course I couldn't." Though she didn't say it aloud, Yau Bong Chiu heard her question: Could you leave him?
A-Fung folded the pamphlet and stuck it into his pocket. "Little sister, we're honored that you told us your story." She smiled sweetly at him.
"If I may ask, though," said Yau Bong Chiu, "why us?"
Her ghostly eyes glittered as she answered. "I saw you two. In the rain that day. Very naughty to steal a kiss on temple grounds," she teased, but her manner was serious. She said to Yau Bong Chiu, "I saw the way you looked at him. And I saw the way he looks at you. I thought if anyone could listen to my story and not judge me too harshly, it would be you."
She wavered again, speaking slower and softer. "But I didn't know how hard it would be to follow you. I didn't realize how busy you were, and how long I'd have to wait. It's made me so tired," she said, fading until the sunlit air gleamed clear.
"Little sister," A-Fung called softly, once. He sat back, biting his lip. "Do you think she's moved on?"
Yau Bong Chiu opened his senses to the peaceful calm here. "I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if the beautiful temple maiden reappears sometime, drawing a new stream of tourists."
He stood and helped A-Fung up and held his hand while they watched the air where she had been. As they walked back to the motorcycle, A-Fung stopped and placed the crumpled temple pamphlet he'd been carrying into the donation bowl.
"This place is welcome to its legend," he said. Then he paused, and added $20 to the bowl.
Yau Bong Chiu shook his head slightly and reached for his hand.
"Come on. Let's go home."