While everyone is away on a field trip to the mountains, Deputy Chief Da Qing holds down the fort. Lao Li is there, but he's just puttering around cooking every so often when he's in, which is a delight, but not exactly maximum security backup or anything.
It's supposed to be an easy gig. The bad guys are in the mountains, just like SID is, trying to find the Hallow everybody's after. If there's any action, it's going to be there. Right?
Da Qing is so nice to those lazy colleagues of his. He doesn't even complain once of the ordeal he goes through because of their dumb idea to leave the SID abandoned. Well, he tells Zhao Yunlan plenty. But Zhao Yunlan's become a pro at gulping whatever's in his hands and nodding, actual thoughts faraway as he smiles broad, while Da Qing leans against him and laments.
When Zhao Yunlan gets back, even though he tries his best to pull his gaze from somewhere far away, and pats at Da Qing in an attempt at comfort when Da Qing pounces and curls up and starts ranting... Da Qing can tell something's up.
"Are you even listening?" Da Qing hisses, blinking up at Zhao Yunlan and ready to start swatting if the man doesn't stop his little act of paying attention when really totally out of it.
"It's a lot... Back up though," he starts, finally snapping back into something able to focus. "What do you mean zombies were here too?"
"What I mean," Da Qing starts, sitting up as tall as he can, "is what I mean. You all left, then zombies attacked the SID. Turns out it wasn't just a countryside problem."
"And you handled them?" Zhao Yunlan is blinking incredulously, as if Da Qing didn't raise him, and protect him from many a mouse and scary bird and mean human. "Did you have to fight?"
How dare he ask that. Like he's trying to downplay Da Qing's heroics and valor. Did he have to fight--
Not exactly, but that's not the point. The point is he emerged, victorious, and the whole team's got him to thank that their offices aren't covered in rotting flesh that fell off and claimed as the haunted's natural habitat (yeah Wang Zheng has an office there but its different -- zombies trying to kill are NOT guest material, helpful ghosts who understand paperwork and bureaucracy better than he ever will are honored friends). Da Qing belatedly wonders if the next night he sees Wang Zheng, if he can do anything for her. He heard she remembered some things. And he's been there -- then forgotten again, as it goes -- and it's never been an easy time.
"The night after you left me, I decided to stay at the SID for the night since everyone was out. I didn't have to, but as Deputy Chief I figured it was necessary--"
"Get to the point." Da Qing does swat at him.
"That night there were these awful noises. I got up from where I'd settled in, and started investigating. Just in case it was another shadow guy, or one of Lin Jing's experiment's playing some audio or something." Da Qing's fur stands on edge, just thinking about all this, morphed back into cat form now, since Zhao Yunlan tolerates a lot more when he's like this. "I turn into the main room, and what do I see? A corpse! Just standing there, wobbling on his rotted out legs, groaning that gross sound I heard from the office!"
Zhao Yunlan's lips are pursed, keeping himself from running them, but Da Qing knows the guy is already thinking maybe this was a nightmare from food too close before sleeping. Still, they're both leaders of the SID, they're supposed to listen to accounts of the abnormal and consider them. So he keeps listening, a respectfully attentive audience.
"I immediately lunge -- which maybe in hindsight I could've done something else, I don't know. I'd just woken up. Anyway, the zombie's head flies off."
"...Where's the head now?"
"Oh, I threw it in the trash. I think it got taken already. Or else we'd still smell it."
"The trash... at the SID?"
"Well, yeah, where else was I going to throw it away? Anyway, it was wild how weak this zombie was! You don't expect a guy's head to fly off from one lunge, it was like he was made out of paper! But it felt really gross to touch, it was definitely a corpse. I called Lao Li once the head came off -- the whole thing stopped moving then, so that's good? And he helped clean up the floor." He also diligently, kindly, stayed the rest of the night with Da Qing. "But there was only one zombie, odd. I figured there'd be more, since we're a big target for people right now. Maybe they got... really really lost?"
Da Qing doesn't think about human norms, maybe, strictly, as much as he should, given he's got to live among them. He's seen Zhao Yunlan from birth till now, and still the big eyes and dropped jaw just seem like entertainment at his adventurous ordeal, maybe concern for the SID floor -- which Da Qing shared in the moment, but Lao Li really helped make the stench completely disappear. So he doesn't exactly think about proper human body disposal. Not that it should even matter, right? Zombies aren't exactly a regular situation.
"Did the trashman see the body..." Zhao Yunlan's scrunching his eyes and forehead now, hand slapped over his face instead of continuing to thoughtlessly pet Da Qing. "The ministry is gonna chew us out if a civilian saw it."
Perhaps worse, or better, than a civilian finding out and calling the government in a panic -- so the government can call SID and remind them DISCRETION MATTERS -- instead they get a visit from a cop in the homicide department. So the news jumped laterally instead of up to their bosses, at least.
Da Qing answers the door, looks the woman in uniform up and down, glad the SID doesn't go for things like that, and asks her if they're transferring a case to the SID. "I -- oh this is the Special Investigations Department?"
Da Qing leans against the doorway. "Yes. There's a sign." He nods his head to the plaque by the entrance, and the bigger sign inside on the wall that's probably within her line of vision.
"Well, you're transferring a case then? Not sure why else you'd be here."
"Oh." He's already antsy to slam the door, she's not even prepared with a file to hand over or anything. "There was a body found a block from here, this area was designated for investigation."
"A body huh?" Da Qing crosses his arms, settling in. "Anything strange about it? The SID only handles special cases, as I'm sure you're aware."
It's about then that Zhao Yunlan's manages to 1. notice someone is at the door, 2. it’s an officer, 3. fling himself from his desk at lightning speed, 4. hear Da Qing mentioning a body.
"Hello! Zhao Yunlan," he's inserting a hand out between them for the lady, big charismatic smile stretching his face to a degree that Da Qing thinks would be painful if he did it, but just looks relaxed as ever on Zhao Yunlan. "I'm the Chief. I overheard as I came over. You're asking about a body?"
The officer nods, but now at least she's dumbfounded by their leader instead of Da Qing, maybe he can slink off now -- "The body was found a block from here, it was decomposed for years though, we suspect someone dug up a corpse and then moved it. Just stopping by to keep you informed."
Zhao Yunlan's got a hand at Da Qing's back, to keep him from bolting. "I heard. The body has been identified and is part of an ongoing SID investigation. Your department no longer has jurisdiction. I'm glad you came," he's smiling warmly but his words are a menace, "it saves me a trip and an email. Inform your boss that the case is ours now and close your end out. If there's any problems, your boss can email me. Now," Zhao Yunlan is tugging Da Qing back from the doorway, about to slam it shut. "Have a good day!"
Da Qing blinks at him, frown already forming, once the door's closed and it's just the two of them again. "What do you mean, our case? We have another case?"
"No! It's the zombie you handled! Or, well, kind of our case? Zombies are our responsibility I guess. If they're anyone's. Not that we've got a case filed yet. Hopefully that'll keep things at bay for a while." Zhao Yunlan hasn't let go of him yet though.
"No," Da Qing starts, but Zhao Yunlan's already putting all his weight into dragging Da Qing to a desk with a computer.
"Write a report. Please. On the zombie thing. So we've got a file if the ministry comes digging. Don't mention the body got thrown in the trash, it's in custody now so I'll handle it from here."
"Make Lao Li help you write if it makes you feel better about it." Da Qing is going to take Zhao Yunlan's bed tonight and curl up on the pillow and make the man sleep on the floor. And he wouldn't make Lao Li suffer through a field report, and Zhao Yunlan's getting his dinner stolen from his plate for even suggesting such a thing.
About an hour later, the Black Cloak Envoy is up in Zhao Yunlan's office. It must be on the down low, because Da Qing doesn't hear they're expecting him, the blinds are closed, the door is only barely ajar, but Da Qing was prowling along anyway looking for more intruders (of the mice variety this time instead of the very inconvenient zombie kind).
"--sorry about that," he hears the deep voice of the Black Cloak Envoy say, "I don't think any group was intending to attack the SID this past week. I fought some zombies recently, both of us had confrontations on the mountain. I may have teleported one." There is a heavy sigh, the envoy deeply regretful he may have made even the slightest of messes. "I will check and make sure this hasn't happened elsewhere. I assure you it won't happen again."
Da Qing's head makes a thump as Zhao Yunlan moves to open the door now that the Black Cloaked Envoy has dematerialized away. "Oh, hey." But he doesn't apologize, instead Zhao Yunlan's already onto the next thing. "Did you hear that?"
"Yeah, secret visit, zombie’s his fault," Da Qing replies as Chief Zhao picks him up. "Didn't realize we had to worry about Black Cloak Envoy mistakes, on top of everything else lately. He could've given me a warning to expect that kinda thing."
But Zhao Yunlan's got a complex expression warping his face, and Da Qing thinks maybe he still hasn't heard everything about the mess from the mountain yet. "He could definitely. Be telling us a lot more than he is."
Da Qing leans into Zhao Yunlan's chest, starting to forgive the clumsiness of him while he's petting Da Qing like this. "I'm guessing zombies aren't the only unexpected things we'll be running into. Guy that mysterious, who knows what's next."
"I think. We need to go get dessert. For getting through this whole mess."
Da Qing leans harder into him, content to get more warmth, and nods furiously. "And then some extra, since things are always a long way from over."
"Story of our lives."
Da Qing would know. His is so long, and unending, he can't recall it all anymore. If things ended he'd think he'd remember. He thinks about this kid all grown up, carrying him now, and the ridiculous faces of these people he works with as they pass them by. And he doesn't know if he'd ever want things to be over. Better that they stay like this, busy with messes together, as long as they can.