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The Anniversary

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The rain earlier had left the autumn air crisp, clear, and refreshingly cool. If Luo Fei closed his eyes, he could almost believe he was in France or Germany—not in Shanghai and not on the roof of his apartment building. But he would not close his eyes because at this moment he was watching Luo Fusheng sparring with a boxing dummy.

Luo Fusheng hopped and danced, weaving in and out as if the dummy would punch back, and struck: one-two, right-left, left-right, a damaging jab, a broken rib (if the dummy had ribs). He had been practicing for some time now and had taken off his shirt. His singlet clung to his firm chest and his skin was damp with perspiration. He shook his hair from his eyes and delivered another decisive blow to his inanimate opponent. Luo Fei, sitting on the ledge of the roof and smoking a cigar, appreciated the view.

Today was, in fact, the first anniversary of their meeting. Exactly one year ago Qin Xiaoman had disturbed Luo Fei in the middle of an experiment, pounding on his door and, when he opened it, had dragged an unconscious, injured man into his flat and deposited him on Luo Fei's bed. Her explanation was excited and hard to follow. Luo Fei's immediate attention was on preventing the man from bleeding all over his bedcovers. They'd undressed the man, re-bandaged his vicious stab wound, and made him comfortable. And, somehow, after that night Luo Fusheng had never left.

Luo Fusheng did not remember today was their anniversary, but Luo Fei wasn't surprised. Aside from being unconscious when he arrived, shortly after that he'd suffered from a bad fever which had robbed him of his sense of time for a while. Had Luo Fusheng remembered the anniversary, he would have—Luo Fei was certain—commemorated the date in some surprisingly romantic way. A gift of a wristwatch or tie pin. A tin of candy. A homemade meal conjured from Wang Susu's servant. Some gesture incongruous with Luo Fusheng's tough look and his past as a lieutenant in a notorious Dongjiang crime family, the Hong clan.

Luo Fei blew a stream of smoke into the late afternoon air. Luo Fusheng, panting and drenched with sweat, unwrapped his knuckles and reached for his shirt, slinging it across his shoulders like a towel. Luo Fei pursed his lips slightly; it was a shirt of fine fabric, tailored for Luo Fusheng in a light blue that was very attractive on him.

Not that there was much that wasn't attractive on him, Luo Fei reflected. Luo Fusheng was possibly the handsomest man Luo Fei had ever seen—he was tall and fit, of athletic build, with chiseled cheekbones, a straight nose, rosy, expressive lips, and large eyes full of passion and intelligence. On a different man his facial features might be considered soft or feminine; on Luo Fusheng they complemented his masculinity.

Luo Fusheng was attractive for more than his physical looks, however. He was strong and loyal, quick-thinking, generous, caring, and protective. He was also, beyond any question, the best and most attentive lover Luo Fei had ever known.

Luo Fusheng wandered over and sat down next to Luo Fei. Luo Fei held out his cigar on offer, but Luo Fusheng declined. He shrugged into his shirt and left it unbuttoned, rolled his shoulders and tilted his head from side to side.

"You haven't changed your mind about tomorrow, I take it," Luo Fei said, allowing a note of disapproval into his voice.

"No." Luo Fusheng patted Luo Fei's back, smiling.

Tomorrow Luo Fusheng would be repairing stairs in Wang Susu's cousin's poor home. Why the state of that woman's house should be of any concern to Luo Fusheng was beyond Luo Fei's comprehension. The cousin was a small-minded woman, provincial in every way, and Luo Fei was not in the least bit sorry when she moved out of the Sullivan Apartments. He suspected that Luo Fusheng was helping the cousin in order to stay in Wang Susu's good graces, having failed to find a new tenant for their landlady after they had inadvertently caused a previous tenant (whose room was directly beneath their bedroom) to move out.

Keeping Wang Susu happy was one thing; devoting a day to repairing stairs for her cousin was quite another. And that the day happened to coincide with the anniversary of their first, introductory exchange of words, and was a day when Luo Fei didn't have any planned work commitments, added to Luo Fei's irritation at Luo Fusheng's insistence.

Stubborn. That was another quality Luo Fei could add to the list of Luo Fusheng's attributes.

Luo Fusheng stood up and stretched his arms, rolling his shoulders again. He patted Luo Fei's shoulder, turning the pat into an affectionate rub. "I'm going to wash up before dinner." There was a slight invitation in his eyes—there always was—but Luo Fei tipped his head and said, "I'll come down later." Luo Fusheng accepted this amiably and strolled across the roof to the stairwell. Luo Fei watched him meditatively.

To some extent, he knew everything about Luo Fusheng that he needed to. First, Luo Fusheng was an ex-crime lieutenant. Second, Luo Fusheng was thoroughly and inexplicably besotted with him. These two statements should have been irreconcilable, and perhaps that was why Luo Fusheng's past kept haunting Luo Fei's curiosity.

Luo Fei finished his cigar and wandered downstairs. Tonight they took dinner in the common room with the other tenants and Wang Susu. Qin Xiaoman, their neighbor and Luo Fei's policewoman partner, was not in attendance because she was visiting her aunt. The meal was hearty and the mood lively. Luo Fusheng, the darling of the Sullivan Apartments, spun a few entertaining—if highly improbable—tales.

After dinner they retired to their flat and lounged in the leather chairs. Luo Fei read a new monograph about undetectable poisons, and Luo Fusheng read the evening newspaper. After a while in the relaxed silence, Luo Fusheng said, "Oh, I forgot to mention earlier. The tailor's bill arrived today, and I think he made a mistake. The bill was for three suits but four jackets."

Luo Fei calmly glanced past the book he gripped. Luo Fusheng turned a page of the newspaper.

"I'll speak to him," Luo Fei said carelessly.

Luo Fusheng nodded, reading, then shot Luo Fei an adorably cross look. "I don't know why you need three new suits. You have a closet full of them."

Luo Fei turned his attention to his book. "There was a shipment of new fabric from Europe, very distinctive," he said easily.

"Very expensive," Luo Fusheng grumbled.

"And I don't need three new suits," Luo Fei continued. "One of them is for you." He looked up from his book. Luo Fusheng frowned at him. Luo Fei waved a hand to ward off his objections. "As the bill is paid from our combined income, there should be no question of indebtedness." Owing money (or a perceived owing of money) was a sore subject for Luo Fusheng.

"But I don't need another suit, any more than you do," Luo Fusheng argued.

Luo Fei regarded him lazily. "I didn't order it because you need it," he said, raising one eyebrow. He had ordered it because as soon as he saw the color—a rich, deep, dark blue—he imagined how stunning Luo Fusheng would look in it.

Luo Fusheng interpreted his raised eyebrow and blushed even while he grinned cockily. "Well, I guess it's too late to do anything about it now. But," he added, frowning again, "it's going to play havoc with our budget this month."

Luo Fusheng was the self-appointed keeper of their household budget, a role Luo Fei felt was unnecessary because his bank assets were more than enough to sustain them comfortably. But after a couple of months of increasingly critical observations about Luo Fei's cavalier attitude toward bills and expenses, Luo Fusheng had insisted on taking on the responsibility. Luo Fei was more than happy to let him deal with invoices and cheques and visits to the bank. And, admittedly, his desk now lacked the clutter of intrusive financial papers.

Luo Fusheng discarded the newspaper on the floor and rose, pausing to stretch within Luo Fei's field of vision. He started unbuttoning his shirt on his way to the bedroom. Luo Fei's eyes followed him. He drummed his fingers on the covers of the book. It was ridiculous to fall for such blatant flaunting, he told himself, returning his attention to his book.

After he'd read the same paragraph five times over and still couldn't make any sense of it, he got up and went to the bedroom. Luo Fusheng lay on the mattress, bedcovers folded aside. He was completely naked and propped on a pillow with his hands clasped behind his head. And he was already half-hard. Luo Fei swallowed as carnal desire rushed through him, threatening his self-control.

Far from feeling shy about exposing himself to Luo Fei, Luo Fusheng reveled in it: stretching and spreading and arching his body, welcoming every conceivable touch or taste. He was as beautifully sculpted as any ancient European statue or mythological heroic prince, but was not at all vain. Instead, he had once apologized for his "blemishes," the numerous scars marking his skin. Luo Fei knew every one of these scars intimately by now, and had accurately identified the instruments of death that had caused several of the prominent ones.

Luo Fei stood and stared for longer than he intended, and Luo Fusheng noticed. His eyes smiled with mischief. Luo Fei shook himself out of his reverie and paced the room, undressing.

"What if I'm not in the mood tonight?" he asked with a sniff, though as soon as he took off his trousers Luo Fusheng would see how rhetorical the question was.

"Then I'll handle myself," Luo Fusheng replied easily, with a little laugh. "And you can watch me, if you want."

Luo Fei, not facing him, bit the inside of his lower lip. His fingers tremored as he unfastened his trousers.

"Or..." Luo Fusheng said from the bed behind him.

Luo Fei paused. "Or?"

Luo Fusheng's voice was low and smooth like a cat's purr in a sunny window. "Or you can watch me until you do me."

Luo Fei stripped bare, folded his trousers over a chair, and turned around, balling his hands into fists at his sides. He was thoroughly aroused already—so fast, so easy it was for Luo Fusheng to affect him like this—and raging inside with heat and lust.

Luo Fusheng's smirk widened into a delighted grin. "Oh, Princess," he chuckled. He opened his legs wide in invitation and touched his prick, tugging as it swelled.

Luo Fei cleared his throat. "No," he said.

"No?" Luo Fusheng's hand stopped moving and he frowned, giving Luo Fei a wide-eyed, chastising look.

"No, I mean..." Luo Fei took a breath and stared at him, at his strong body, his taut muscles, the deep blush of his arousal. Luo Fei's gaze lingered until he met Luo Fusheng's eyes. "I want..." Luo Fei said haltingly, his cheeks burning.

"Ohhh," Luo Fusheng interjected. He let go of himself and extended his arms, reaching out. "Well, you come here now. You don't have to say it," he murmured soothingly. "I know."

Luo Fei went to the bed and sank into his understanding embrace, feeling vaguely foolish about it all. Luo Fusheng was the last person on earth to be judgmental or critical of him. He always welcomed whatever they did together with sincere, adoring enthusiasm. This should have made it easier for Luo Fei to express his desires—it did not. In an obscure way, it made Luo Fei feel as though he was taking advantage of Luo Fusheng's attraction to him.

Luo Fusheng wrapped his powerful arms around Luo Fei, hugging him and nuzzling him with soft kisses. "My beautiful Luo Fei," he whispered against Luo Fei's cheek, his lips warm and moist. He always called Luo Fei 'beautiful.' It was the most ridiculous and most endearing aspect of his infatuation.

Luo Fei subsided into his coaxing caresses and draped on top of him. Luo Fusheng brushed his lips against Luo Fei's beard. The round tin of imported unguent was close to hand by the pillows—further evidence that Luo Fusheng had spread himself on the bed with a different purpose in mind. A subtle whiff of the unguent's pleasant scent drifted as Luo Fusheng opened it. He smoothed his hands down Luo Fei's back, kneaded his backside, and gently, patiently, and expertly readied him, all the while dropping sweet kisses on Luo Fei's cheeks and neck and shoulders.

When Luo Fei's need for him was too great, he captured Luo Fusheng's lips in a demanding kiss before wriggling off of him and positioning himself face down to be taken. Luo Fusheng stroked his sides and back, teased his straining cock with a glancing touch of slick fingertips, and held his hips firmly as he entered. There was always the initial shock and resistance, but Luo Fusheng never pushed before Luo Fei's body allowed. And when he did, it was the most thrilling and exquisite moment: pain and pleasure chasing each other in an endless loop. Then Luo Fusheng pushed deeper, full and hot, and it was all pleasure.

Now Luo Fei could release his hesitations, his self-consciousness, his objections to his own desires, and expel everything in one low, long groan against the pillow. He knew exactly what he wanted. Communicating it, however... He pressed back a few times in a harsh rhythm, and Luo Fusheng grunted under his breath. Clutching Luo Fei's hips, Luo Fusheng pulled him back, sliding his thighs and knees between Luo Fei's legs until he was angled upright with Luo Fei pinned to his lap.

It was not the position Luo Fei had wanted—he hadn't wanted his own body so exposed—but Luo Fusheng rocked his hips and greedily ran his hands over Luo Fei and it all felt so good, so strong and caring, that Luo Fei drowned in the sensations. Luo Fusheng was in him and held him and kissed his skin and whispered silly nothings against his ear.

Luo Fusheng's hand, slippery with unguent and sweat, enveloped his throbbing shaft. Luo Fei covered Luo Fusheng's fingers with his own, holding on as Luo Fusheng rubbed and squeezed and jerked him to a forceful climatic rush. Luo Fei came hard, thrashing, gasping, and Luo Fusheng slowed his hand.

The first time Luo Fusheng had fucked him, Luo Fei had asked that he not release while inside. In the months since, Luo Fei had reconsidered because Luo Fusheng was unlike all previous lovers in every way and had—subconsciously or intentionally—unfettered Luo Fei's inhibitions. Luo Fei hadn't found an easy way to tell him, however, and he waited for the time when Luo Fusheng would lose control and forget to pull out. Luo Fusheng never did.

While Luo Fei's shudders faded into orgasmic oblivion, Luo Fusheng carefully eased him bodily to the mattress. He thrust a few times, slow and wonderful, and pulled out, his thick, hot come landing like crisscross lashes across Luo Fei's lower back. Luo Fusheng fell heavily onto the bed beside him and soothingly caressed Luo Fei's backside. They drifted down from the high together until Luo Fusheng kissed Luo Fei's shoulder and said, "I'll get our bath ready."

This was part of their ritual, no matter which erotic act they enjoyed in bed. Luo Fusheng drew a nice, hot bath and they shared the tub, Luo Fei fitting neatly between Luo Fusheng's legs and leaning against his chest. Sometimes, sleepy, they bathed quickly so they could return to collapse onto the bed. Tonight they were lazy, wedged together in the steamy water until it cooled.

Exactly one year ago tonight, Luo Fei thought with a private smile, I could not have imagined any of this.

Luo Fusheng brushed his cheek against Luo Fei's. "What's that smile for?" he murmured, happy.

"I was imagining the look on Wang Susu's cousin's face if she knew what her stair-repairer had been up to a few short hours before reporting to work."

It was the kind of risqué tease that appealed to Luo Fusheng's baser side. Instead of a chuckle, however, Luo Fusheng sighed, squeezed his arms around Luo Fei's midriff, and kissed the nape of his neck.

"Off to bed with us," he said. At Luo Fei's obscure noise of protest, he added, "You've reminded me that I have to get up early tomorrow. Come on."

Luo Fei suffered himself to be hoisted to his feet, wrapped in towels and scrubbed dry, and Luo Fusheng would've carried him to bed had Luo Fei wished it. They settled under the bedcovers and Luo Fusheng edged closer, worming his way to nestle against Luo Fei's chest. In defiance of Luo Fei's periodic complaints about Luo Fusheng not respecting the appropriate division of the bed, Luo Fusheng was an unapologetic snuggler. Luo Fei petted his hair, switched off the bedside lamp, and closed his eyes.

The strong scent of coffee woke him. It was early morning, bright and chilly. Luo Fei, alone in the bed, got up and threw on his bathrobe and stalked into the living room.

"Stop that right this instant!"

Luo Fusheng, on the verge of doing something irreparably damaging to Luo Fei's coffee brewer, froze in mid-action. He lowered his hands, setting the cup of ground coffee beans and glass of water on the table. He was already groomed and dressed for physical labor: jeans tucked into work boots, an old white shirt and suspenders.

Luo Fei tied his robe closed and strode to the table, undoing the mess and adjusting the brewer's components correctly. Luo Fusheng hovered at his side, watching. He was fascinated by the contraption and he liked coffee: two strong temptations.

"I wanted to bring you a cup before I left," he murmured sulkily.

"You clogged it the last time," Luo Fei reminded him. He handed him the glass. "Triple the amount of water. Or just fill the jug over there and bring it."

Luo Fusheng brought the jug, still pouting, and Luo Fei relented. "I keep promising to show you how to work it properly," Luo Fei said with a sigh. "I will, I will."

They stood and watched the brewing commence for a moment, and Luo Fei slid a sidelong glance at Luo Fusheng. "I don't have anything else to do today, why don't I show you now? After this finishes brewing, we can take it apart and I'll explain each piece as we clean it and put it back together."

Luo Fusheng narrowed his eyes and quirked one eyebrow. "Nice try," he said. He ran his thumbs under his suspenders. "I promised her I'd repair the stairs, and that's what I'm gonna do. I know you don't like her, but she's all by herself. If I can help, why shouldn't I?"

Luo Fei shrugged. "Since you insist, it's no concern of mine. Just don't fall through the broken staircase and break your neck," he added in an undertone.

Luo Fusheng hugged him from behind and kissed his cheek. "I'll be careful."

They drank their coffees sitting in the leather chairs. Luo Fusheng had already fetched the morning newspaper and they shared it, passing the pages across. The paper contained the normal daily announcements of misery, violent politics, and relentless scandal: nothing to pique Luo Fei's interest.

When Luo Fusheng finished his coffee, he rose and handed Luo Fei the rest of the newspaper. "I'll come home for dinner even if the job isn't finished. How does that sound?"

"You do what you want," Luo Fei sniffed, pretending to be engrossed in a headline about foreign agitators in Manchuria.

Luo Fusheng bent forward and kissed the top of his head. He rubbed Luo Fei's shoulder. "I'll be back for dinner. I promise."

Luo Fei touched his hand and lightly squeezed his fingers. "All right."

Luo Fusheng let go, took his weathered old suede jacket from a peg on the wall, and left.

Luo Fei finished reading the newspaper disinterestedly. He'd decided what to do today, and if Luo Fusheng later objected, well, too bad.


The train ride to Dongjiang took slightly under two hours, crossing swampy mudflats before entering more solid, green country. The morning train wasn't crowded and the main Dongjiang train station was rather sleepy and empty. Luo Fei had never been to the city before, and he strolled its streets with an observant visitor's eyes.

Where Shanghai was vivid, teeming, and colorful, Dongjiang was prissy, lazy, and garish, like the homely younger sister to a favored daughter. The fashionable people wore styles two years out-of-date and the unfashionable simply looked tired and dull. The police patrols were more prominent than in Shanghai, and there was a noticeable, pervasive tension around the place. Dongjiang was a city with long-standing, unresolved problems hidden behind its overly bright façades, lending to an overall feel of artificiality.

Luo Fei wandered to the docks first to view the location of many of Luo Fusheng's formative experiences, so he imagined. It was busy, quite similar to the docks of Shanghai though much smaller, and Luo Fei nosed around the warehouses until he attracted the attention of some unsavory types. He pretended to be a lost tourist seeking the red-light district, and a jovial bald man with a horrific gashing scar across his face pointed him in the direction of Mei Gao Mei, Dongjiang's famous nightclub-cum-brothel.

If the docks were Luo Fusheng's former playground, Mei Gao Mei was his former home, and Luo Fei entered it slowly, examining every detail with intense curiosity. It was not yet noon, and a male visitor at that hour meant only one thing. Politely pulling away from the grasping girls in powder and rouge, he asked to see Sister Shuang. The girls receded, disappointed, and a matronly woman in a black and white dress came out from a back room.

"That's me," she said, looking him over haughtily. "Who are you?"

Luo Fei regarded her placidly, taking in her made-up face, the uncertain fear in her eyes, and the bravado in her stance. He produced a name card from his vest pocket and presented it to her. Her fear mixed with confusion as she read it silently.

"Perhaps we may speak in private?" he asked, indicating the row of curious, half-clad spectators with a sweep of his walking stick.

"Sure." She nodded and strutted to the back room, gesturing for him to sit on a red upholstered sofa which had seen better days. He sat stiffly on it, folding his hands over the knob of his walking stick, and she eased into a wooden chair behind a desk.

"What do you want?" She came straight to the point. "I don't know anyone in Shanghai."

Luo Fei had spent the train ride thinking of how to broach his subject of interest. "About a year ago," he began, "a man claiming to be a surviving member of the Hong clan arrived in Shanghai and was detained by authorities." Luo Fei was privately amused by this description of Luo Fusheng recuperating in his bedroom, watched over by Qin Xiaoman and himself. "He gave his name as Luo Fusheng, and I'm tying up loose ends connected to the case, to close the file, so to speak."

Sister Shuang's mask dropped immediately and she leaned across the desk. "Luo Fusheng? Is he alive?" she asked with widened eyes and kind concern. This was a woman who obviously cared about Luo Fusheng, and Luo Fei was tempted to tell her the truth and assuage her worries. But he had to be careful with his information. Luo Fusheng had left his past behind and had never expressed regret at doing so. He was no longer a crime lieutenant, but a valued consultant to the police. Renewing old ties to friends in Dongjiang was not, Luo Fei decided, in Luo Fusheng's best interest.

"I'm afraid I can't answer that," Luo Fei hedged, looking apologetic, as if he had no idea whether Luo Fusheng was alive or dead. "What can you tell me about him?"

Sister Shuang sat back and shrugged in resigned disappointment. "What do you want to know?"

"I'm simply curious." Inspiration came. "The man may have given a false name, trying to claim dubious glory for himself. What kind of man was the real Luo Fusheng?"

A tender smile crossed Sister Shuang's thickly painted lips. "He was a brawler. Trouble was never far from that boy." She noticed his look and shook her head. "Not what you're thinking. He didn't fight for fighting's sake, not like so many others. He defended himself, defended his friends, defended his family. And he was good at it."

She opened a drawer and pulled out a small metal flask and two mismatched ceramic tea cups. She filled one with a colorless, strong wine and held up the flask in offer. Luo Fei politely declined. Sister Shuang gulped her cup in one swallow and refilled it, and put away the flask.

"You're a cop so you won't believe me, but Luo Fusheng was a good man," she said. "The most generous heart in all of Dongjiang. Even when he did things that seemed selfish, if you looked closer, you'd find out he did them because he was trying to help someone else. Or thought he was. He could be misled sometimes." She took a sip from the cup.

"Can't we all?" Luo Fei said quietly. "Does he still have family here? The Luos—"

"No," Sister Shuang said flatly, flashing him a severe look. "He was orphaned. Boss Hong raised him up as his own son after Fusheng's daddy was killed."

Luo Fei frowned. "Killed? When was this?"

Sister Shuang took another drink. "Let me think. It was Fusheng's sixth birthday. His father was shot and killed, right in front of the boy, if I didn't mistake his nightmares. It was the same time Xia Anni was killed, and everyone said Luo Qingeng killed her but I don't know the truth about that." She drained the cup and set it aside. "All that is old Dongjiang business. Why would you need to know?"

Luo Fei was profoundly disturbed by this story. Luo Fusheng had witnessed his father's violent murder on his sixth birthday. The nightmares... He roused himself and gave her a small smile. "Oh, no need. Is anyone from the Hong family still around?"

She shook her head. "No, not anymore. Lan-Lan, Old Hong's daughter, was spared, but Lin Qikai took her away to safety. Almost a year ago now."

Luo Fei drummed his fingers over his walking stick and stood up. "You've been most helpful." He paused, looking down at her sad, mourning expression. "I, ah, wish I could bring you the news about Luo Fusheng you wanted to hear."

She shook her head. "It's better off this way," she said. "If he was alive he'd come back here to avenge his foster father and he'd get killed for his troubles. Dongjiang is no place for a young man with a good heart."

At this emphatic pronouncement, Luo Fei took his leave and escaped Mei Gao Mei's faded, depressing interior to the relative welcome of the bright streets outside. He toured the main streets, unimpressed, and finally waltzed into the police headquarters with all the confidence of a Shanghai professional inspecting a provincial backwater.

The police station was busier than he expected, though almost everyone hurrying about wore a police uniform. He watched the bustle for a while, then approached a sullen man on desk duty, presented his card, and gave him the same explanation for his visit that he'd given Sister Shuang. At the mention of Luo Fusheng's name, the sullen man sat up and narrowed his eyes. "Wait here," he instructed, taking Luo Fei's card with him as he disappeared into another office. Luo Fei adopted an innocuous smile and waited and observed until the man returned and led him to the chief commissioner's office.

Within ten seconds of meeting him, Luo Fei had assessed Commissioner Xu as exactly the type of small, oily, greedy man Luo Fei loved to bring down when given the chance. Commissioner Xu's front was arrogance—what cause did Shanghai have to meddle in Dongjiang affairs?—but his eyes betrayed his rapacious interest and his voice wheedled as he questioned Luo Fei's purpose. Luo Fei, instantly on guard, sat relaxed and conveyed boredom and gave short, noncommittal answers, acting for all the world as if he'd been sent here to close a file and found the whole endeavor tedious and beneath his talents.

Then Commissioner Xu, smarter than he looked, put him on edge by remarking, "I knew the name Luo Fei was familiar. Was it ten or eleven years ago that you brought down the Captain? How strange that a great detective like yourself is handling such unworthy matters like this one."

Luo Fei flicked an imaginary mote of dust from his jacket sleeve. "I talked back to my superior," he said. This was true more often than not, and Luo Fei let Commissioner Xu draw his own conclusions. It worked, and Commissioner Xu snickered.

"Well, then, what do you want to know about that violent criminal, Luo Fusheng? I could tell you the number of men he murdered if we had an accurate count, but Old Hong was too good at covering up those things."

Luo Fei raised his eyebrows. "So you don't have a police file on Luo Fusheng?"

Commissioner Xu's eyes went cold. "No, we don't. But I can tell you he ran an unlicensed brothel, led the gangs down at the docks, imported guns and opium for Boss Hong—" This last accusation was certainly a lie because the Hongs famously never traded in opium. "—And, as I said, murdered countless men."

"You know rather a lot about him, despite not having a file on him," Luo Fei commented.

"I tried for years..." Commissioner Xu growled, his anger rising. "Had it not been for my son..." He stopped short, recollecting himself.

"Your son?" Luo Fei prompted lazily.

"They were childhood friends," Commissioner Xu snapped. "With the Lin boy. Bad influences, the pair of them. My boy..." His anger was back, directed at his absent son, and Luo Fei could add an uncontrollable temper to his list of Commissioner Xu's character flaws.

He did not extend his meeting with Commissioner Xu longer than he needed to. He left the police station and stopped for a pleasant afternoon meal at a busy restaurant near the train station. He glanced about at the décor of framed cinema posters and worn wooden benches and could imagine Luo Fusheng eating here, slurping a bowl of noodles and washing it down with a bottle of beer. In general, though, Luo Fei felt closing the door on Dongjiang was the best thing for the both of them. He'd satisfied his curiosity about Luo Fusheng's past, and was saddened but not surprised by the tragedy it held.

He read the Dongjiang newspaper while he waited at the station for the next train to Shanghai. Commissioner Xu was a recurring leading man in the notices of the day, always in glowing terms, and the thanks expressed to the Dongjiang police force seemed excessive. Another name peppering the news stories was Lin Daoshan, the local tycoon.

The train ride back to Shanghai was uneventful, the scenery uninspiring, and Luo Fei dozed. Upon arrival, he walked home, mulling over his impressions of Dongjiang and what he was going to say to Luo Fusheng. Not mentioning the trip was an appealing option, but it would be a lie of omission, and Luo Fei had never lied to Luo Fusheng. He suspected he wouldn't be able to, not without Luo Fusheng catching him. Honesty was the best course, and at least he could provide some updates on Luo Fusheng's friends, Sister Shuang, Hong Lan, and Lin Qikai.

It was almost time for dinner when Luo Fei reached the Sullivan Apartments. Weary and dusty from his travels, he had time for a quick wash and change of clothes, always listening for the door opening and one of Luo Fusheng's cheerful greetings. But Luo Fusheng was late, and Luo Fei muttered under his breath as he went downstairs to the common room, cursing Wang Susu's cousin and her broken stairs.

After dinner—still no Luo Fusheng—Luo Fei retired to the roof to smoke a cigar. He perched on the ledge at an angle to watch the street below, scanning the crowds for Luo Fusheng's familiar, bounding stride. It was dusk and the neon lights cast their multihued glow. The cacophony of voices and languages rose from the street in the chilly air as the sky darkened to night.

Luo Fei stubbed out his cigar, wet the burnt end with his fingers, and tucked the remainder into his vest pocket. He scurried downstairs, stopping at the flat to check for Luo Fusheng and, finding it empty, he grabbed his jacket and walking stick. He interrupted Wang Susu's gossipy salon, acquired the cousin's address and set off.

The cousin lived on a short, narrow street of shikumen linking a main thoroughfare to a commercial row of warehouses. It was a poor but tidy area, and Luo Fei found the cousin's home without difficulty.

She was startled to see him, so startled she momentarily forgot their mutual dislike and politely invited him in for tea. Luo Fei entered, half-expecting Luo Fusheng to wander forward, wiping his hands and bragging about the fine work he'd done repairing the stairs. These Luo Fei examined in passing, and indeed, Luo Fusheng's handiwork was admirable. The cousin agreed, praising Luo Fusheng for his labor and "quiet manners."

"He finished mid-afternoon," she told him, surprised by his questions.

"But that was hours ago," Luo Fei countered. This didn't make sense. "Where did he go?"

The cousin pulled herself up and frowned. "How would I know? He finished the job, we had a cup of tea together, and he left."

Luo Fei impatiently tapped his walking stick on the floor. "Yes, yes, but did you see where he went? Which direction?"

Her cold look became frostier at his questioning, then suddenly changed entirely. She remembered something. Luo Fei marshaled all of his self-restraint to keep from grabbing her and shaking the words out of her.

"No," she said at last. "I didn't see which direction. But I did see him stop and talk to a man. I was going out to post a letter and the two of them were standing by the gate, talking." She paused, thinking, and her small, puzzled frown worried Luo Fei.

"Yes?" he prompted.

"I thought it was strange. I assumed the other man was asking directions, because Luo Fusheng didn't seem to know him. But he was a policeman. Why wouldn't a policeman know where he was?"

"A policeman? Could you tell from which authority?" Luo Fei's mind was spinning, at a loss for any reasonable answers.

She scowled at him. "From the local authority, of course. French Concession police."

With minimum polite courtesy, he thanked her and left, striding quickly to the main boulevard and hailing a rickshaw to take him to the police headquarters. He nearly bumped into Detective Superintendent Savoy on his way in.

"What are you doing here?" Detective Superintendent Savoy asked. "You said you weren't working on anything."

"What are you doing with Luo Fusheng?" Luo Fei demanded. Louder than he intended, because several officers turned and stared. Detective Superintendent Savoy frowned and took him aside.

"What are you talking about? I'm not doing anything with Luo Fusheng."

Luo Fei searched his face and recognized his confusion. A chill wound like ivy around Luo Fei's spine and shot tendrils up the back of his neck and into his skull. He hurriedly laid out the facts.

"He promised me he'd be home for dinner. Promised," Luo Fei stressed, knowing he was speaking too fast and repeating himself. "Luo Fusheng doesn't break his promises. Not to me. Never to me. He's never—"

"Luo Fei." Detective Superintendent Savoy spoke quietly, kindly, and rested a reassuring hand on Luo Fei's upper arm. "I understand. I agree it's not like Luo Fusheng to break a promise or go off without sending word."

Calmed by Detective Superintendent Savoy's serious consideration, Luo Fei took a deep breath. "Could someone in another station be working with him? Or..." Luo Fei arched one eyebrow. "Could they have arrested him? Some misunderstanding? Some overzealous officer pursuing a petty, negligent infraction..."

Detective Superintendent Savoy's look darkened. "I'll make some calls and find out." He paused. "But you might want to go check for yourself."

It was a sad commentary that Detective Superintendent Savoy could not rely on receiving truthful answers from his colleagues, but it was the reality of the current state of policing in the Concession. Luo Fei agreed, adding, "May I borrow Benjamin?"

"You ask as if I have some say in the matter," Detective Superintendent Savoy grumbled, turning toward his office. "As soon as you ask him for help, he'll drop everything and go whether I agree to it or not."

Luo Fei couldn't deny this and hurried down to the morgue, repeated his plight to Benjamin with less repetition, and had barely sketched out the next steps before Benjamin was up and heading for the door. "There should be a motorcar free," he said. "Detective Ye returned it this evening."

They drove from outpost to outpost, Luo Fei trying everything from feigned disinterest to threats of bodily harm, depending on the reception he received. No station in the French Concession held Luo Fusheng. That raised the alarming possibility of the involvement of another authority—where Luo Fei would have no influence and no jurisdiction. He trusted Wang Susu's cousin's account of a French Concession officer, however, because she had seemed so certain.

It was very late when they returned to headquarters. Detective Superintendent Savoy's telephone calls had proven fruitless. Benjamin sat down by the superintendent's desk, and Luo Fei paced in front of the windows. After watching him for a while, Detective Superintendent Savoy said, "It might not be a real policeman."

He voiced the fear Luo Fei had harbored from the very start but had wanted to be mere fancy.

"Or," Benjamin said gravely, "a real policeman, but working for someone else."

Luo Fei stopped pacing and stared at him. "Why do you say that?"

Benjamin looked at Detective Superintendent Savoy before speaking. Detective Superintendent Savoy nodded with a sigh and answered, "We all know that as soon as we uncover one pocket of corruption, another forms in its place. How many of our people—" He gestured toward the office beyond his door. "—are on someone else's payroll?"

Luo Fei stood very still and tapped his chin, thinking, reviewing every case Luo Fusheng had worked on. He was so deep in his thoughts that he didn't hear Benjamin's plea at first.

"Hm?" Luo Fei focused on him.

"I said, it's after midnight. Go home. You've been out searching for hours. Maybe he's come back."

This was a cheery, welcome thought, and Luo Fei grasped at it. Benjamin drove him to the Sullivan Apartments, made him promise to get some sleep, and Luo Fei took the stairs two at a time.

As soon as Luo Fei opened the door to their flat, he knew Luo Fusheng was not home. There was a cold emptiness to the place, and everything was as he'd left it, undisturbed. No sounds. No warmth. Luo Fei tossed his walking stick to the corner; it clattered and rolled to a stop under his desk. He pressed his back against the wall and sank to the floor, folding his arms over his bent knees.

Why? How? These were the simple questions, the start of every investigation. He should be able to think them through logically, begin to piece together the answers. But every thought he had unraveled into images of Luo Fusheng.

What had they last said to each other? He couldn't recall. Oh, there had been that silly argument about the coffee brewer. He could see, in vivid, haunting detail, Luo Fusheng's sulky pout at being forbidden to touch the contraption. As if the stupid object had mattered. Why had it mattered?

Luo Fei lowered his head, squeezing his eyes shut. In what other ways had he abused Luo Fusheng's devotion and good will, he asked himself viciously. Ridiculing him for keeping a household budget. Pretending he disliked Luo Fusheng using him as a pillow when nothing could be further from the truth. Silently resenting him for forgetting the anniversary of their introduction instead of simply informing him of the significance of the date. And oh, of course, holding on to his own reticence about their bedroom life rather than communicating his needs. Rather than trusting Luo Fusheng the way Luo Fusheng trusted him.

Around and around, his guilt and worry and fear chased each other, dogs snapping at each other's tails. He was too exhausted, too anxious to sleep—He slept anyway, crumpled on the floor in his clothes.

When Luo Fei opened his eyes, weak light from the window pooled on the floor in front of him. He blinked a few times, feeling stiff and grimy and hollow inside. He could not think like this, and he needed to think. Having mentally flayed himself the night before, to no useful purpose, he needed to set emotion aside.

He rose from the floor, steadying himself with a hand on the wall, and staggered to the bathroom. He showered—wincing at the sight of the bathtub for the pleasurable memories it held—and trimmed his beard and entered the bedroom to dress in clean clothes. He studiously avoided looking at the empty bed, and paused only for a moment when he saw Luo Fusheng's suits hanging in the wardrobe. He touched one dangling sleeve before reaching for his own jacket.

He did not make coffee, but went downstairs and forced a small breakfast into his system. Wang Susu watched him with concern but said nothing. After eating, he went outside into the cold morning air and walked to police headquarters.

Why? How?

The why was the more important question, Luo Fei decided. Why Luo Fusheng? He could not think of a single case where Luo Fusheng would've provoked more enmity than himself. He considered the possibility that Luo Fusheng's disappearance was an attack directed at him. A means to an end. But if so, it lacked the details of such revenge crimes: no nemesis stepped forward, no taunting message delivered.

No, it was more likely that Luo Fusheng himself was the target. Except what enemies did Luo Fusheng have? None.

In Shanghai.

Luo Fei halted in his steps. An amah jostled against him as she passed and cursed him for stopping. Around him Rue Massenet burbled with people.

Dongjiang.

The only other place Luo Fusheng could have enemies was in Dongjiang.

Luo Fei squeezed his eyes shut and flinched as if punched. Yesterday he'd been in Dongjiang, asking about Luo Fusheng.

It was improbable that the culprit was Sister Shuang. Her worry and concern for Luo Fusheng were genuine. That left Commissioner Xu, and Luo Fei would put nothing past that greasy little man. After Luo Fei's visit, there would have been plenty of time to reach Shanghai by motorcar. Or—worse thought, but highly likely, given the involvement of a French Concession policeman—plenty of time to reach an associate in Shanghai by telephone.

Now that he had the who, the how became more important, and the why could wait for later. Luo Fei opened his eyes and hurried to headquarters. Why did Qin Xiaoman have to visit her aunt at this particular moment, he thought bitterly. Why now, when he needed her courage and wits.

He and Detective Superintendent Savoy arrived at the same time, climbing the front steps together, Luo Fei vibrating to present his conclusion, gather resources, make a plan. Detective Superintendent Savoy insisted he wait until they were in his office.

"Now then," he said, sitting heavily at his desk. He looked haggard.

Luo Fei took a seat across from him and presented the facts: his visit to Dongjiang, his conversations with Sister Shuang and Commissioner Xu, his assessment of Commissioner Xu's character.

"He must have an associate working for the police here," Luo Fei concluded. "And who knows what else he's involved in? I tell you, that man cannot be trusted."

Detective Superintendent Savoy frowned at Luo Fei and chose his words carefully. "What, exactly, were you looking for in Dongjiang? You were not sent there on official business, and do you know the mess you've made by barging in and flashing your Shanghai credentials—"

"I did not barge in," Luo Fei interrupted. They stared at each other across the desk. "You've already spoken to Commissioner Xu."

"'Spoken' is a relative term. I listened to him defend the independence of Dongjiang authority, complain about you, accuse me of incompetence, disparage the entirety of the Shanghai police, and threaten to report me to my superiors." Detective Superintendent Savoy rubbed a hand over his eyes.

"He's much worse in person," Luo Fei commented, and Detective Superintendent Savoy shot him a dark look.

"Why?" he asked. "Why did you go there?"

Luo Fei glanced down at his hands folded over his lap. He did not have a good answer to this question. He'd been curious about Luo Fusheng's past, but there were other ways of finding information. He'd thought Luo Fusheng would be annoyed that he went there, but provoking Luo Fusheng was not the main reason, either.

"I don't know," he admitted quietly. "It was a rash decision. It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Detective Superintendent Savoy's look softened. He was not used to Luo Fei being contrite.

"Okay, well," he said, "as things stand now, I can't authorize a full-force dragnet. Detective Ye and a few others have volunteered to help you. But you'll have to be smart about it. Systematic."

"May I borrow Benjamin again?"

Detective Superintendent Savoy winced. "I wish I could spare him, but there was a triple homicide this morning."

Luo Fei perked up. "Oh?"

"Yes, but it can't be related—Luo Fei!" Detective Superintendent Savoy called after him as Luo Fei swept out of his office and headed to the morgue.

Benjamin was at work on one of the bodies, deep in concentration, and did not acknowledge Luo Fei's entrance until he stood back and lowered his cloth face mask. "Stab wound," Benjamin informed him. "And whoever did it knew what they were doing. A major artery on the left leg."

"May I see?" Luo Fei stepped past two shrouded bodies on slabs to join Benjamin at the examining table. The dead man was young and rough-looking, his hair shaved short.

"A recent prisoner." Luo Fei pointed at the tell-tale haircut and took the magnifying glass Benjamin offered him. He bent over the lethal cut in the youth's leg, studied it carefully, and straightened. His hand shook and he pressed the magnifying glass into Benjamin's hand. Benjamin watched him warily.

Luo Fei marched over to the other corpses and lifted the shrouds. One was a bony, middle-aged man, also with a prisoner's shaved head. He had been stabbed in the neck. Not a large cut, but accurately aimed. Luo Fei turned to the last corpse and inhaled sharply. He was a portly, bald man with an ugly, gashing scar across his face. It was the dock worker who'd pointed Luo Fei toward Mei Gao Mei in Dongjiang yesterday. He had also been stabbed in the leg—more than once—and finally in the neck, the deadly blow.

"What is it?" Benjamin asked.

Luo Fei, staring at the Dongjiang dock worker, took a breath before answering. "I've conducted studies on different knife wounds to identify the marks they make. As a matter of course, I studied the marks made by Luo Fusheng's knife." Luo Fei gestured at the bodies. "These men were all killed by that knife. They were all killed by Luo Fusheng."

With confirmation that Luo Fusheng's disappearance was connected with the triple homicide, Detective Superintendent Savoy gave his blessing to pursue the case. Luo Fei hunched over reports and case files with Detective Ye while Benjamin completed his coroner's reports.

Luo Fei really missed Qin Xiaoman now—he could use her insights. He could also use her gentle hand on his shoulder, reassuring him, believing in him, and determined to see this through. She was the only person who knew about the relationship between him and Luo Fusheng. Only she would understand why he stopped speaking mid-sentence or repeated something he just said as images played in his mind: seeing Luo Fusheng surrounded by the dead men, lashing out at them with his knife, blood spattering as he fought them. How many more thugs had there been?

"This might be something," Detective Ye broke into Luo Fei's latest grotesque reverie. He pushed a folder across the table. "That kid in the morgue? He was arrested last year in the French Concession. Released two weeks ago." He tapped the table with his pen. "Last month, one of his arresting officers was shot in Nandao. This is the report on his death. Ruled an accident," he added with a disgusted sneer.

Luo Fei picked up the folder but was having trouble focusing on the words. He frowned as names and dates swam before his eyes.

Blood spraying across Luo Fusheng's shirt and face. Flash of a knife blade. A policeman's cape.

Luo Fei squinted at the file. "I... I don't..."

Detective Ye watched him, frowning, and toyed with his pen. "Are you all right? Take a break. Get some air."

Luo Fei shook the procession of horror pictures from his mind. He sat up, clear and sharp, and read the file. "The surviving partner is an Officer Yang. Do we know anything about him?"

Detective Ye thumbed through a stack of folders. "Yang... Oh, here's something. A commendation report." He passed a file to Luo Fei.

Luo Fei scanned the pages, searching. "There," he said triumphantly, slamming the folder onto the table. "A connection to Dongjiang. This report mentions that before Officer Yang joined the police, he was a security guard at a department store for several years. A store that was owned at that time by Lin Daoshan, the Dongjiang business magnate."

They found Officer Yang at his station, and he was all smiles and pretense, amenable to helping his fellow officers in any way. Luo Fei and Detective Ye didn't tip him off as they escorted him to headquarters, where Luo Fei had arranged for Wang Susu's cousin to be present. He had to give her credit for wanting to help find Luo Fusheng. As they entered the building, there she was, sitting by a desk. They passed by, and she took a long look at Officer Yang and nodded firmly. Detective Ye gripped Officer Yang's elbow and steered him into the interrogation room.

Officer Yang was a weak, stupid, greedy man who broke under Detective Ye's relentless questioning. Luo Fei stood back—he could not trust himself around this man, whom they needed alive and conscious until they found Luo Fusheng.

He was beholden to Lin Daoshan, Officer Yang confessed, because he had been caught stealing from the department store years ago. Instead of bringing him to justice, Lin Daoshan's friend had suggested the disgraced security guard enter the Shanghai police force.

"It's useful to have a connection with the police, the friend said." Officer Yang wiped a hand across his face. "Sometimes I sent word when there was a crackdown on smuggling contraband. Or when one of the gangs here set its sights on Dongjiang. This was the first time they asked me to round someone up. They told me he was a dangerous criminal! A murderer!"

Luo Fei pushed off from the wall, charging at Officer Yang. Detective Ye grabbed him before he could reach the man and hauled him back.

"Where?" Luo Fei shouted, struggling to break free from Detective Ye. "Where is he?"

Officer Yang wrung his hands and flinched. "I don't know where they took him. I only had to convince him to come with me until I got him to the delivery truck. They were waiting for him. They took him."

"Where?" Luo Fei shouted again, though he saw from Officer Yang's face he would get no answer. He stopped fighting Detective Ye's restraint. "Is there any address you have? Any place you've used in the past in connection with these men?"

Officer Yang gave an address, shaking his head. "I don't know if they took him there. They could've taken him to Dongjiang. They didn't tell me anything!"

Luo Fei paced back to the wall and crossed his arms. "And who is Lin Daoshan's friend? Who have you been passing information to?" He already knew, but they needed Officer Yang to state it.

"Xu Ruian," Officer Yang mumbled. "Dongjiang's police commissioner."

That was all Luo Fei needed to hear, but Detective Ye, fists on his hips, narrowed his eyes at Officer Yang.

"That address he just gave," he said to Luo Fei. "That's in Nandao."

They didn't have jurisdiction in Nandao but, on the other hand, the supposed authorities there were impotent at best. However, that wasn't why Detective Ye had drawn Luo Fei's attention.

Luo Fei examined Officer Yang as if he were a particularly ugly insect. "Nandao. Where your partner was shot to death last month."

Officer Yang covered his face with his hands. "He followed me. Why did he have to follow me?" he moaned. Then he looked up at them, nervous, eyes wide. "It wasn't me! I swear. It was the gang. I...looked the other way, I admit that. But I didn't shoot him!"

Detective Ye handcuffed Officer Yang. Right now, Luo Fei didn't much care if he was telling the truth about his partner. They had to get to Nandao before the trail went cold.

Benjamin drove them, Detective Ye sitting restlessly in the backseat. They arrived at the address just after noon, under a bright, cold sky. The brick building was squeezed between two thrumming factories. A faded, painted sign above the wooden door proclaimed it to be a commercial transportation office. The door was locked and there were no windows on the ground floor. While Detective Ye pounded on the door and tried to kick it open, Luo Fei and Benjamin ran through a next-door filature, past workers hunched over a long row of machinery. They dodged a woman carrying a large basket as they burst through the back door into a tight alleyway stinking of rotting fish.

The back door to the brick building had a grimy window. Benjamin tried the door and kicked at it fruitlessly. Luo Fei took off his jacket, wrapped it around his arm, and threw his strength into ramming his elbow into the glass. It shattered and he reached inside and freed the lock.

They entered a dark, abandoned office. They could hear Detective Ye pounding at the front. Benjamin cautiously went to let him inside. There was nothing on the ground floor except for a desk covered in dust and a pile of empty baskets.

"People have been here recently." Luo Fei pointed to the shoe prints and scuff marks on the dusty floor. They led to a wooden staircase going up.

As they climbed the stairs, Luo Fei tried to hold on to hope that Luo Fusheng would be there, perhaps nursing a minor wound and surrounded by more bodies of thugs who'd vainly tried to capture him. But the place was too quiet and held the same emptiness as their apartment last night. He was disappointed but not surprised to find the top floor as deserted as below. A filthy skylight lit the space in grey murkiness.

They searched for clues around more baskets and some large wooden crates stacked against the wall. Nothing but packing straw inside the crates.

"Where next?" Detective Ye asked, wiping his brow with his forearm. "Dongjiang? We have Officer Yang's statement about Commissioner Xu. That should be enough..." He trailed off, because they all knew it wouldn't be enough. Not against someone with connections and a powerful backer like Lin Daoshan.

Luo Fei was about to answer when something half-wedged under one of the crates caught his eye. He crouched for a better look and reached for it. His fingers trembled as he worked it out from under the crate.

"This," he said quietly, with difficulty, "is Luo Fusheng's knife." He held it up and passed it to Benjamin. "The murder weapon, I think you'll find, for the three men in your morgue," he added, staring at the crate.

"There's dried blood on it," Benjamin murmured, sounding apologetic for noticing.

Luo Fei could not look away from the crate. There was something... He tilted his head and saw it. "Wait," he said, for Detective Ye and Benjamin had already turned toward the stairs.

Luo Fei reached out and touched the wood with his fingertips. "West Gate. It's carved here. West Gate."

Detective Ye made an impatient noise of disbelief but Benjamin leaned over Luo Fei's shoulder and touched the same spot.

"He's right," he said, straightening. "It's small but it's there. You can almost read it even in this light."

"That's not too far from here," said Detective Ye, and they rushed down the stairs and out to the motorcar.

Luo Fei sat in the backseat this time, contemplating Luo Fusheng's knife, which Benjamin had pressed back into his hand. The carved words hadn't been stained with blood, so the blood was already dry when Luo Fusheng made them. He had found the time and managed to conceal what he was doing. But the most important point was that he had his knife after killing the three men in the morgue. That suggested two incidents, separated from each other: the killing of the men, and the captivity among the crates. And at some time during the captivity he had lost the knife, or it had been taken from him.

No, Luo Fei thought. Not lost. He'd left it there. If it had been taken from him, his captor would still have it. If he had lost it in a fight, how could it have ended up tucked under a crate? Luo Fusheng had left it there for Luo Fei.

Luo Fei swallowed hard and turned his head to stare blankly at the window.

He knew I would look for him. He knew I would follow the trail. Luo Fusheng...

Luo Fei gripped the knife handle so tightly his knuckles turned white.

When they reached the West Gate area, they realized it could mean anything. "Where do we even start?" Detective Ye groaned, waving his hands at the warren of streets outside the motorcar.

Luo Fei frowned and took a slow breath. Luo Fusheng would leave the best clue that he could.

"We start at the exact spot of the old West Gate and fan out from there," he said. "Anything that looks amiss... Anything could be a clue."

As they stepped out of the car onto the busy ring road with its storefronts, factories, and entrances to longtangs, Luo Fei feared it was hopeless. Too many buildings, too many people, too much time passing. He stood still, closed his eyes, and tried to clear his mind. He wished Qin Xiaoman was at his side, thinking through Luo Fusheng's message more rationally than he could right now.

"West Gate," he muttered, opening his eyes. And there, before him, across the crowded street, was a sign: West Gate Laundry. With barely a glance at the people and traffic around him, Luo Fei strode across the street.

"Luo Fei!" He heard Benjamin call out behind him. He didn't respond and didn't stop.

Unusually for a laundry in the middle of the day, West Gate Laundry was closed. A hastily written placard on the door claimed, Family emergency. Open tomorrow. The windows were shuttered. Luo Fei tried the door handle, then pressed his shoulder to the door and was about to give it a shove when Benjamin said, "Let me." He steered Luo Fei to one side. As he braced himself against the door, he said, "Why didn't you bring your picklock?"

Luo Fei tried to peer inside through gaps in the shutters. "I...I wasn't thinking clearly this morning."

"Of course," Benjamin said softly, giving him a concerned look. "I'm sorry." He took a deep breath. "Here goes."

Benjamin was a sturdy man, but the door might have been old and in poor shape, because it gave way after only one mighty push, muffled by the loud sounds of machines, sloshing water and whistling steam. The overwhelming smell of laundry soap assailed them.

They approached the rear of the shop in silence, and Luo Fei regretted not fetching Detective Ye to join them; neither he nor Benjamin carried weapons. He remembered Luo Fusheng's knife in his trousers pocket and fished it out and clutched it.

The scene when they reached the back of the laundry was oddly surreal: one large brute, a machete hanging from his belt, operated a steam press while a second large brute sat on a stool with a deck of cards in one hand and did card tricks. Luo Fusheng was not visible within the narrow view between racks of clothing, and Luo Fei had a moment of doubt.

"You should stop playing with that thing," the second large brute advised the first. "You could burn yourself."

"I want my shirt to look nice for my girl tonight," the first brute defended himself. "I'm taking her to the pictures."

"It's dark in the movie palace," the second brute snorted. "What difference does it make if your shirt is pressed or not?"

The first brute lifted the top of the press to arrange his shirt and was about to reply when a sound—half-moan, half-gargle—distracted them. Luo Fei edged forward, craning his neck to see. On the floor in a corner was Luo Fusheng. He was alive. Relieved, Luo Fei let out the breath he'd been holding and stared, taking a closer look.

Luo Fusheng's hands were bound behind his back and his ankles were tied together. Oddly, he was barefoot, and the soles of his feet were scraped and brown with dried blood and dirt. Blood stains and spatters covered his clothes, but Luo Fei believed most of these were from the three men he'd killed. His shirt was ripped and hanging open beneath his tattered suede jacket. His hair was dark, matted with blood.

His face... Luo Fei willed himself not to look away. He had to assess the severity of situation.

Luo Fusheng's face was covered with bruises and cuts, some still oozing blood. He had been beaten repeatedly. One eye was swollen shut. That his nose was not broken was a minor miracle.

Luo Fusheng's head drooped and his uninjured eye closed. Benjamin shifted behind Luo Fei, and they exchanged a grim look. The odds were...not good, but Luo Fei was damned if he was going to let Luo Fusheng suffer on that floor any longer. He had the knife. It would have to be enough.

He nodded at Benjamin. Benjamin returned the nod. They silently counted down from three, and together pushed the racks of clothes at the brutes. The second brute stumbled from his stool, cards flying, and reached for the knife slung from his belt. Luo Fei slashed at him with Luo Fusheng's blade, winging the man's arm. Blood sprayed in the air. Benjamin caught the man as he lost his footing and forced his arms back, hurriedly binding his wrists with cloth—a necktie, judging by its lurid pattern.

The first brute leapt back and brandished his machete. Luo Fei did not feel confident, especially when the machete came swiping at him, expertly controlled. Luo Fei ducked it, but the man had him on the defensive, slowly backing up.

Suddenly there was clatter from the front of the shop. "Luo Fei!" Detective Ye's voice rang out above the laundry machinery. This was the disruption Luo Fei needed. The brute paused, glancing toward the commotion, and Luo Fei aimed a high kick at the man's stomach. It was not the strongest kick, but it was enough to shock him momentarily. Red with rage, he faced Luo Fei, who held the knife out and barreled toward him with an animal snarl, releasing all of his hatred and fury. If he was going to get chopped to death saving Luo Fusheng, he was going out in a frenzied, bloody mess.

But he was not alone. Benjamin and Detective Ye lent their strength to his attack and they forced the brute back against the steam press he had been working earlier. It was the best accident they could have wished. The brute's arm was shoved against the scalding heat and he instantly let go of his machete, crying out in agonizing pain. Luo Fei slammed the top of the press down, trapping his arm. The man's screams filled the small space.

Detective Ye carried handcuffs and he replaced Benjamin's makeshift bonds on the card-trick brute with more effective metal. Benjamin watched over the machete brute, though the man had passed out from the pain. Luo Fei straightened, pushed the hair back from his face, caught his breath, and turned to Luo Fusheng. He knelt down and sawed through the ropes with the knife.

"Luo Fei..."

Luo Fei froze and stared into Luo Fusheng's eyes. (Eye.) Luo Fusheng was conscious. His lips worked, trying to speak again. He gave up and simply smiled.

He smiled.

Luo Fei swallowed hard and went back to work, cutting the ropes.

He and Benjamin carried Luo Fusheng from the laundry while Detective Ye stayed to watch their prisoners. The ropes used on Luo Fusheng were put to better use securing the brutes until back-up arrived.

At the motorcar, they laid Luo Fusheng out across the backseat, and Luo Fei climbed in with him to make sure he didn't roll around while Benjamin drove to the hospital. Luo Fei cursed the traffic, the people on the streets who wouldn't move out of the way. He cursed Benjamin's driving, and Benjamin ignored him. He cursed the brutes who had tortured Luo Fusheng. And he cursed Xu Ruian and Lin Daoshan, and in graphic detail laid out the horrific fates he wished upon them.

He didn't stop cursing until Luo Fusheng was resting safely in a hospital bed, dressed in patient's pyjamas. A slight but determined nurse pushed him out of the room and told him not to come back until visiting hours. Luo Fei tried to dart around her, but she pushed him back again and threatened to have him escorted from the building. Luo Fei sank onto a wooden bench in the corridor, drained of energy.

Luo Fusheng is alive. That's all that matters.

The next twelve days passed in a blur. Luo Fei's life revolved around hospital visiting hours, returning home to wash up and change clothes, and going to police headquarters to tie up the loose ends of the case.

Lin Daoshan's and Xu Ruian's downfall was their own doing in the end. Xu Ruian had arranged for Luo Fusheng's kidnapping. The intention was to deliver him to Dongjiang so Xu Ruian could oversee Luo Fusheng's murder personally. Had he not involved the wretched Officer Yang, his lethal plot may well have succeeded.

But Officer Yang served two masters, and he informed Lin Daoshan of Xu Ruian's plan. Lin Daoshan sent his own brutes to Shanghai, and they intercepted the delivery van. In the melee, Luo Fusheng killed three of Xu Ruian's men; a fourth escaped, whereabouts unknown. Luo Fusheng was hit on the head in the fight and his wooziness made it simple for Lin Daoshan's men to capture him and take him to the deserted brick building while they awaited their orders. They moved him to the laundry—a front for a notorious local gang—in anticipation of the kill order. They had planned to frame the murder on someone local.

Luo Fei listened dispassionately to the confessions of Officer Yang and the two brutes from the laundry. The how of the case was convoluted, but fit with the facts. The why of the case was more elusive until Dongjiang police headquarters was raided to capture Xu Ruian and an appalling discovery was made: his wife, kept in captivity for two decades. She revealed Xia Anni's true murderer—Xu Ruian—and in so doing, the identity of Luo Qingeng's murderer—Lin Daoshan—fell into place. Both men had plotted to murder Luo Fusheng, believing that as a six-year-old he had witnessed everything, and that without Boss Hong to control him, he would expose their ancient crimes.

"Old Dongjiang business, as Sister Shuang called it," Luo Fei said disgustedly to Detective Superintendent Savoy, leaving the red tape of the case in his hands. Luo Fei wanted nothing to do with Dongjiang ever again.

After stopping at the apartment to wash, trim his beard, and change clothes, he hailed a rickshaw to the hospital. He ducked into a nearby shop first to buy a bag of pan-fried dumplings, and wandered up to Luo Fusheng's room just a few minutes into visiting hours. The last of the visiting hours, Luo Fei thought with a smile, because Luo Fusheng would be discharged from the hospital tomorrow.

He opened the door to Luo Fusheng's room and stopped short. Qin Xiaoman was bent over Luo Fusheng, who had unbuttoned his pyjama top and was displaying his bare chest in a manner Luo Fei was tempted to call unseemly.

"Qin Xiaoman," Luo Fei said from the doorway. "You've returned."

Qin Xiaoman turned around and grinned at him in greeting. "I came here as soon as Benjamin told me what happened."

"I was showing her my new scar," Luo Fusheng said brightly, buttoning up his pyjama top.

Qin Xiaoman sat down in the chair next to the bed—the chair Luo Fei regarded as his own—and asked, "Is it true you smashed a man's arm in a steam press?"

Luo Fei strolled over to the bed and handed the bag of dumplings to Luo Fusheng, who greedily opened it and popped one into his mouth.

"He did," Luo Fusheng said around a mouthful of dumpling. "I'm sorry I missed that. I was out of it at the time."

There was only one chair in the room—Luo Fei had insisted Luo Fusheng be given a private room, expense be damned—and Luo Fei hesitated. He could sit on the foot of the bed, and he very much wanted to, but he was not prepared for that closeness yet. He went over to the window and perched against the windowsill.

Qin Xiaoman recounted, for Luo Fusheng's benefit, the times she had seen Luo Fei in action. Luo Fei arched an eyebrow. She made him sound downright savage. Luo Fusheng, however, listened raptly, and gave Qin Xiaoman a sketchy account of Luo Fei rescuing him, all in glowing terms. Luo Fei examined his fingernails and clenched his jaw.

"But why did you leave your knife behind, under the crate?" she asked.

"I didn't, on purpose," Luo Fusheng said, rustling in the bag for another dumpling. Luo Fei looked up sharply. "I managed to get my hands free of the ropes. I was carving a message for Luo Fei on the crate when one of the goons came to get me. He saw me and kicked my hands and the knife dropped. I kicked him back and we scuffled a bit before the other goon came to help. I didn't see where it went, and they dragged me away."

Luo Fei suppressed a shiver. The odds of finding the knife the way he did were unimaginable. And if he hadn't spotted the knife, would he have noticed Luo Fusheng's message carved on the crate? Luo Fusheng had believed so, to have carved it in the first place. Luo Fei wasn't so certain.

He stared straight ahead, shaking out of his trance when Luo Fusheng said in a worshipful tone, "How he guessed it was the laundry I'll never know. It could've been any one of a thousand places."

"Absurd," Luo Fei cut in. "The laundry was closed in the middle of a busy day. Obviously something was amiss."

Visiting hours were nearly over. Qin Xiaoman rose, gave Luo Fei an apologetic look, and said, "I've stayed longer than I meant to. I should go now." She smiled at Luo Fusheng. "I'll see you soon."

After she left, Luo Fusheng held out the bag. "There's one left if you want it."

Luo Fei declined, moving to sit in the chair. "You're coming home tomorrow," he announced.

"Finally!" Luo Fusheng chewed on the dumpling and swallowed. "I feel fine. Just a little banged up is all."

"It could've been very much worse," Luo Fei agreed. "Xu Ruian and Lin Daoshan were both intent on killing you."

Luo Fusheng frowned. "I don't understand why they thought they needed to. I barely remember that day." He rolled the empty bag in his hands and held it in his fists.

"Stupid, cowardly murderers can never rest with their crimes. They'll always fear discovery." Luo Fei checked his pocket watch and swore at the time. "I have to go soon, before that evil nurse comes and kicks me out."

Luo Fusheng tossed the rolled-up bag aside and grinned lopsidedly. "She's not evil. She's cute. I think she likes me."

Of course she likes you, Luo Fei thought, managing not to roll his eyes.

"I'm glad I'm going home tomorrow." Luo Fusheng reached over and touched Luo Fei's hand. "I want to sleep in our bed." His fingertips moved over Luo Fei's knuckles.

Luo Fei met his eyes and glanced away. He turned his hand and gently squeezed Luo Fusheng's fingers. "Yes," he said quietly. "Tomorrow."

Luo Fusheng's return to the Sullivan Apartments was a heralded event. Wang Susu hung a banner across the stairwell landing: Welcome home, it said in English. There was a tenants' party in the common room with booze and cakes and bamboo baskets of Luo Fusheng's favorite steamed buns. Wang Susu turned on the radio and everyone indulged in social dancing, laughing, and celebrating until evening.

"He's tired," Qin Xiaoman remarked, elbowing Luo Fei, who stood in one corner, watching the festivities. "Take him upstairs."

Luo Fusheng hid his tiredness well behind his smiles. He held Wang Susu's hand and twirled her in a funny dance step.

"A while longer," Luo Fei said. "They've all missed him."

"You missed him most of all," Qin Xiaoman said with a frown. "Luo Fei. You can't pretend you didn't. And even if you try, Benjamin told me how you barely spent more than half an hour here every day, and how you slept at police headquarters when you weren't at the hospital."

"Benjamin's turned into a gossip," Luo Fei muttered, watching Luo Fusheng and Wang Susu in a slow, couple's dance.

Qin Xiaoman made a noise of frustration. "Whatever your problem is, all I know is, look at him." She tilted her head at Luo Fusheng. "He wants to go upstairs with you."

She was right. Luo Fusheng's eyes met his every time the dance steps turned him toward Luo Fei. When the song ended, Luo Fei pushed off from the wall and made a show of worrying about Luo Fusheng's stitches. Luo Fusheng made the rounds, thanking everyone for their concern, and they left while the party continued under its own alcohol-injected power.

Upstairs in the apartment, Luo Fei ran a hot bath and shepherded Luo Fusheng into it, leaving him to wash alone while Luo Fei paced about, tidying things, turning down the bedcovers, pulling the curtains. He changed into his bedclothes and bathrobe and returned to help Luo Fusheng dry off, bundling him into his pyjamas and getting him settled in the bed. He went through the apartment and turned off the lights, and finally came to bed, sliding under the blankets and switching off the bedside lamp.

"Luo Fei," Luo Fusheng said with a weary sigh. "What's wrong? I'm fine. I was in the hospital longer than I needed to be, and you know it. Is it the cut? It's nothing. Thirteen stitches. It's tiny."

Luo Fei felt him shift onto his side, felt his hand slide down Luo Fei's pyjama sleeve. Luo Fusheng softly kissed Luo Fei's cheek. "My beautiful princess saved me," he murmured.

"No," Luo Fei said flatly.

"Yes, you did."

"No." Luo Fei picked at the blanket and frowned. "I caused this. If it hadn't been for me, none of this would've happened. If I hadn't gone to Dongjiang and asked about you, Xu Ruian and Lin Daoshan wouldn't have figured out you were alive and in Shanghai."

Luo Fusheng was silent for a moment. "Why did you go to Dongjiang?"

Luo Fei let go of the blanket and gestured restlessly. "I don't know. I was curious, of course. I wanted to know more about your past."

"Anything you want to know about my past, you can ask me." Luo Fusheng touched Luo Fei's arm again.

"I know." Luo Fei's fingers worried at the blanket again. "I...I made a reckless decision. I was—"

"Hush," Luo Fusheng said soothingly, stroking Luo Fei's arm. "You were curious and you wanted to figure things out for yourself. My past was a mystery to you."

Luo Fei took a breath. "Yes, I suppose that's part of it." He paused and Luo Fusheng slid closer, combing through Luo Fei's hair and gently twisting strands of it around his fingers.

"But there was another part," Luo Fei admitted. "I was annoyed. It was the anniversary of our first meeting, and I had nothing to do, and you wanted to spend it repairing stairs." Hearing this aloud, he cringed. Why had any of it mattered?

Luo Fusheng's fingers stopped. "Our...our anniversary? It's been a year already..." he mused. "I didn't know. I didn't know what the date was."

"I know you didn't," Luo Fei said helplessly. "That's why this is all so stupid. So pointless. I was so confident, marching into Dongjiang, meeting that awful man. So sure nothing could touch us. Nothing could touch you. Fusheng... I never, ever wanted anything to touch you."

Luo Fusheng was very still and said nothing for a long moment. Luo Fei let go of the blanket and curled his hands into fists to keep from pulling on it again. Then Luo Fusheng snuggled against him with a soft sigh and curved his arm around Luo Fei's waist. Luo Fei enveloped him in a gentle, loose embrace.

"My past was bound to catch up with me sooner or later," Luo Fusheng said quietly. "I'm glad it happened sooner, and that Xu Ruian and Lin Daoshan can pay for their crimes."

"Luo Fusheng," Luo Fei whispered, resting his cheek against Luo Fusheng's hair and closing his eyes.

In the morning, Luo Fei had plans for their quiet day at home. He woke up before Luo Fusheng and laid out the new clothes from the tailor. He'd arranged for their morning rice to be sent up and he carried the tray into the bedroom, along with a newspaper.

Luo Fusheng was awake and sitting up in bed, unbuttoning his pyjama top. He eyed the tray and said, "Set that down for later."

Luo Fei stood uncertainly. "You're not hungry?"

Luo Fusheng leaned across the bed, running his hands over the mattress, and looked up at him through his long, dark eyelashes. "Set that down for later and come back to bed," he murmured.

Luo Fei swallowed. "You're barely out of the hospital," he pointed out.

Luo Fusheng simply gazed at him, and Luo Fei could not resist that look, not any longer, not anymore. He set the tray down on top of the dresser, stripped, and climbed into bed. Luo Fusheng grinned and wriggled out of his pyjamas and they clasped each other close, enjoying the feel of warm skin and adoring kisses.

After rolling about happily for a while, they gentled, and Luo Fei pulled back to look Luo Fusheng over, to delight in his beautiful body.

"I have a few more blemishes," Luo Fusheng mumbled self-consciously.

Luo Fei kissed the nastiest of these: an old gunshot wound. Next he kissed the knife scar that had brought them together a year ago. He methodically kissed each scar and Luo Fusheng stretched out before him in welcome. When Luo Fei was done, he planted a warm kiss on Luo Fusheng's belly and met his eyes.

"You are handsome because of your scars, not despite them."

Luo Fusheng's eyes widened and he smiled slowly. "You think I'm handsome?"

Luo Fei slid up his body, rubbing against his arousal. He regarded him heavy-lidded and said, "If you haven't figured that out in over a year, you could not have been paying much attention."

Luo Fusheng chuckled and his hands danced down Luo Fei's back. "Okay, but you've never said it before."

Luo Fei was aware of this and other oversights. "Then I'll say it now. You're the handsomest man I've ever met."

Luo Fusheng swallowed, staring into his eyes. "Ah-Fei. Make love to me. And don't give me that just out of the hospital nonsense."

Luo Fei kissed him tenderly. "Yes," he said, brushing his lips along Luo Fusheng's cheekbone. "No nonsense now."

They made love slowly, savoring the shared pleasure of their bodies moving as one. Luo Fei was guided by Luo Fusheng's rhythm—careful because Luo Fusheng was just out of the hospital—and stroked him to climax before surrendering to his own. They bathed together afterward and, wrapped in bathrobes, they lounged on the bed with the tray of cold morning rice. It was almost noon by now.

Luo Fusheng's eyes strayed to the clothes Luo Fei had laid out. "Those are from the tailor?" he asked around a bite of rice.

"Yes." Luo Fei shook the newspaper out and folded it to the next page. He peered at the clothes over his eyeglasses and slid his gaze toward Luo Fusheng.

Luo Fusheng set down his chopsticks and rice bowl and got out of bed. He inspected the deep blue suit. "This is for me?"

"Yes." Luo Fei folded the newspaper and set it aside.

"It's a nice color." Luo Fusheng smiled at him over his shoulder.

"What do you think of the jacket?" Luo Fei asked mildly.

Luo Fusheng held it up. It was made of tan suede and was, to the best of their tailor's abilities, an exact and faithful copy of Luo Fusheng's old one, which was riddled with tears and holes and stains and other regrettable artifacts of the violence in his life. This one was new and clean and whole.

Luo Fusheng ran his hand over it. "You had this made. For me."

"I viewed it as a sort of anniversary gift." Luo Fei regretted the words—though true—as soon as they left his mouth because Luo Fusheng shot him a sorrowful look.

"I didn't get a gift for you."

Luo Fei almost didn't reply. These were not the sort of words he was used to saying. But then he thought, What does it matter?

"Fusheng. You are the gift. Every day. Every night. The gift for me is you."

Luo Fusheng blushed, reverently set the jacket aside, and climbed onto the bed, pushing the newspaper out of the way so he could straddle Luo Fei's lap. He cupped Luo Fei's face in his hands and kissed him long and slow and deep.

"Princess," he sighed happily when he drew back from the kiss. He rubbed their noses together and grinned. "But I'm going to get you a gift, anyway."

Luo Fei readjusted his glasses and smirked. "I figured you would." He ran his hands down Luo Fusheng's back. "And now, I was thinking, I could show you how to use the coffee brewer."

Luo Fusheng's eyes lit up with enthusiasm.

The rest of the day was quiet contentment: taking apart the coffee brewer and the trial and error of putting it back together; strolling to the barber's shop so they could both get their hair trimmed; eating at Luo Fusheng's favorite noodle shop; retiring to the roof to share a cigar and watch the city under a cold, clear sunset sky. They comfortably passed the evening reading the newspaper and discussing a curious, unsolved crime story which had caught their attention.

When they went to bed, Luo Fusheng didn't bother with pyjamas and Luo Fei, his blood stirring, followed his cue. They embraced and kissed, hunger and desire building. Luo Fei edged back before the point of no return. Luo Fusheng caressed his chest.

"I'm fine," he insisted.

"It's not that," Luo Fei said quietly. He glanced down at the mattress between them. "I wanted to say...now, before it's too late...I'm sorry."

"What for?"

Luo Fei looked up and Luo Fusheng searched his face.

"For going to Dongjiang?" Luo Fusheng asked. "I told you, my past was going to find me at some point. That's out of the way now."

"No. It's not that." Luo Fei frowned and shifted onto his back. "I haven't been very fair to you, and I'm sorry. I must've tried your patience. I know I'm not the easiest person to live with..."

Luo Fusheng chuckled. Luo Fei stared at him. Luo Fusheng regained his composure, though his smile broke through. "Sorry," he mumbled, and he slid against Luo Fei, hooking one leg around him and brushing his fingertips against Luo Fei's beard. Luo Fei loosely embraced him.

"I've lived with you for a year," Luo Fusheng said, gently amused. "You think I don't know what you're like?"

Luo Fei's brow knit. "What am I like?" he asked, curious about Luo Fusheng's answer.

Luo Fusheng swept his palm across Luo Fei's chest. "Well, you can be prickly. And stubborn. And brusque. And sometimes you keep things bottled up." He kissed Luo Fei's neck and continued, "But you're also smart. And brave. And good. And you care about things deeply. And you're passionate." He kissed again, licking Luo Fei's pulse point. "I like the way you are."

Luo Fei didn't know what to say to all of this. "You do?" he said at last.

"You know I do. If you don't know that, you could not have been paying much attention." Luo Fusheng rubbed against him, aroused. "If there's one thing I would change..."

"What?" Luo Fei asked, meeting his eyes.

Luo Fusheng smiled and kept rubbing. It was distracting. "Be a little bossy. When we're like this."

Luo Fei furrowed his brow. "Bossy?"

"Yeah." Luo Fusheng smoothed his hand down Luo Fei's chest and abdomen, resting it tantalizingly just above Luo Fei's prick. "Boss me a little. Tell me what you want me to do."

Luo Fei licked his lips. "I want you to do whatever you want to do."

Luo Fusheng tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. "No. Luo Fei..." he murmured and pressed his lips to Luo Fei's cheek. "I know you want things. I just don't always know what they are. You have to tell me. Or show me."

Luo Fei's face flushed with heat. "I..." he began, and winced. "But what about you? You should be...bossy...too."

Luo Fusheng chuckled again. "I already am." His steady, aroused rubbing became even more distracting. Luo Fei focused, with difficulty, to speak before the words would disappear.

"No, you're not. You've never bossed me around. You're the most generous and unselfish bed companion..." The words evaporated because Luo Fusheng's hand moved lower, to stroke his stiffening cock.

Luo Fusheng licked the line of his throat. "I'm stealthily bossy."

"What..." Luo Fei cleared his throat as Luo Fusheng's hand swirled and cupped and squeezed. "...does that mean?"

"It means I always manage to get what I want," Luo Fusheng said against Luo Fei's neck, giving it a soft bite. "So don't you worry about me. You let me know what you want."

Luo Fei closed his eyes. Luo Fusheng's stroking and words and the weight of his body were all too much at once. Everything he desired... All he had to do was ask.

Luo Fusheng drew back slightly and loosened his grip. "Do you trust me?" he whispered, worried. Luo Fei opened his eyes and rested his hand on Luo Fusheng's cheek.

"Yes. Yes, of course," Luo Fei said, scanning his face. "Of course I trust you. It's trusting myself that's the difficulty."

Luo Fusheng let him go to cover his hand and hold it. "You don't have to hide anything from me." He kissed Luo Fei's fingers. "My treasure." He kissed Luo Fei tenderly.

The kiss unraveled Luo Fei and he pulled Luo Fusheng into another, deeper kiss, and then another. Their bodies moved and pressed together as they kissed and caressed. Luo Fei gazed into Luo Fusheng's eyes. "I want you," he said and paused. "I want you to, as you say, 'do' me." He quirked his lips.

Luo Fusheng's eyes lit with desire. "Oh, yeah." He kissed Luo Fei again and reached across the bed for the tin of unguent on the bedside table. While he carefully readied Luo Fei, he nuzzled and kissed him and slid his body against Luo Fei's. Luo Fei thrilled with anticipation and cupped his face to give him a deep, hungry kiss. "Now."

He rolled over to brace himself, face down. Luo Fusheng fit behind him and began to press inside. Luo Fei said, "Wait. There's something..." He swallowed.

"Yeah?" Luo Fusheng prompted uncertainly.

Cheeks burning, body begging for erotic satisfaction, Luo Fei took a breath and released it. "This time, don't pull out at the point of completion."

Luo Fusheng rubbed soft circles over Luo Fei's back. "Are you sure? You said—"

"I know. I want to try. Please."

Luo Fusheng inhaled sharply and Luo Fei felt his body tremble. "All right. Whatever you want, you let me know," Luo Fusheng said, his voice low and soothing.

Luo Fei arched back and Luo Fusheng pushed deeper, bringing the perfect moment of pain and pleasure until all was pleasure, hot and full. Luo Fei gripped the pillows and moaned, his body wound in sensation.

Luo Fusheng stroked his sides and held his hips, rocking very carefully. Luo Fei needed more. "Could you..." He stopped, bit the inside of his lip, and said, "I want you to cover me. Press me down somewhat."

Luo Fusheng made a throaty noise and slid forward, covering Luo Fei's back. His strong arms and hands and powerful body held Luo Fei and gently pressed. He thrust in a slow, cherishing rhythm. Luo Fei jerked his hips once and murmured, "I need...I want more."

Luo Fusheng stopped and groaned against the nape of Luo Fei's neck. "Ohhhh, you want it a little rough, don't you?"

Luo Fei, fingers digging into the pillow, said breathlessly, "Yes."

Luo Fusheng pressed against him, deliciously heavy and hot and sweaty, and pumped his hips, working up to a faster, harder rhythm. Luo Fei's senses sparked and he writhed within the welcome, protective confinement of Luo Fusheng's embrace. His moans were uncontrollable now as every thrust shot him with exquisite, sharp delight. Luo Fusheng, understanding, pounded him furiously.

"I need you," Luo Fusheng panted against his neck. "I need to feel you before I can let go. I need you to give me everything."

Luo Fei shuddered fiercely, mindless with unbearable pleasure, and touched his straining cock, pulling on it until all the sensations ripped through him and he came. He arced back against Luo Fusheng. Luo Fusheng wonderfully tightened his hold and rammed him harder until the moment of release. The strange, hot, thick flood filled him as Luo Fusheng slowed, gliding, shaking.

He withdrew especially cautiously, tender with every touch, and collapsed onto the mattress. Luo Fei sank to the bed, throbbing blissfully everywhere. Luo Fusheng rested his hand on Luo Fei's backside and rubbed gently.

"Is it...all right?" he asked and kissed Luo Fei's shoulder.

Luo Fei slowly smiled at him, heavy-lidded, deliriously spent and lethargic. "Yes. Perfect." With effort he moved his hand and touched Luo Fusheng's cheek. Luo Fusheng matched his smile.

It was some time before they could move, leave the bed, and have their bath together. After the bath, they crawled into bed and Luo Fei gathered Luo Fusheng close, offering himself as a pillow. Luo Fusheng settled comfortably against him. Luo Fei combed his fingers through Luo Fusheng's hair.

"Fusheng," Luo Fei said quietly, feeling if he didn't say this now, he might not later. "The time you were missing was less than a day. It felt like an eternity. I couldn't stand it." He kissed Luo Fusheng's brow. "I wanted you to know that."

Luo Fusheng kissed his chest. "There's...something...something I want you to know, too." He hesitated, swallowed, and kissed again. "I...I want..." He lifted his head and gazed into Luo Fei's eyes.

"What do you want?" Luo Fei asked quietly, and his heart beat faster.

Luo Fusheng's smile was unexpectedly shy. "I want to spend the rest of my life with you."

Luo Fei couldn't answer, couldn't speak, for a long moment. He met Luo Fusheng's gaze evenly until Luo Fusheng's smile widened, confident. Luo Fei took a breath to calm his heart and combed a lock of hair back from Luo Fusheng's forehead.

"Well, then," he said. "We'll have to ensure that you have a very long life."

Luo Fusheng grinned, kissed the tip of Luo Fei's nose, and snuggled in his arms. Luo Fei switched off the bedside lamp and closed his eyes, thoroughly contented in love.