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But a bitter kiss will bring him to his knees

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Luo Fusheng is seventeen when the Hong family makes the mistake of kidnapping a kid from a rich family named Luo Fei.

Normally, it wouldn’t be in any way Fusheng’s problem – he is still young and kept away from the most of political movements of the Hong family, preferring to test his luck in casual brawls with rival gangs, but this situation is different.

“He just sits there, quietly,” one of the men says, in a worried whisper and Luo Fusheng is curious. He rather assumed spoiled brats of dignitaries panicked and cried when faced with any inconvenience,  ready to either threaten the kidnappers with their family’s connections or snivel for their lives.

“He also told me to ask my wife why she wants to leave me,” adds the other and Fusheng is truly curious now because that was an odd thing to say, especially for a hostage.

“I know she wasn’t very happy lately, but if a random kid knows that, then maybe..” Luo Fusheng tunes the rest out and moves towards the room where the kid was supposed to be tied up – he really wants to see this hostage for himself, maybe terrify him a little, put some fear of Fusheng into him.

He opens the door without knocking and is met with a pair of bored eyes, staring straight at him. The boy inside the room is tied up and left sitting on a chair, but Luo Fusheng wonders if he could pose any threat even not restrained – he looks very thin and rather weak. His fancy clothes only add to the picture of a rich brat.

However, his eyes are interesting -  they seem to take Luo Fusheng in quickly, noticing numerous details, and there is a spark of curiosity in them.

The hostage looks slightly older than Luo Fusheng, and now that Fusheng looks closely, he is rather pretty, in the innocent ,young heir kind of way. Except for the fact that he is definitely not as terrified as he should be.

“I heard you are giving some couples counselling,” Fusheng teases, sauntering into the room, kicking the door closed and trying to look as menacing as possible, with his signature grin firmly on his face.

The hostage remains quiet, but now has the audacity to look unimpressed.

“You do know that we can return you to your parents without some interesting bits?” Luo Fusheng asks casually, and the other boy smirks at him, not bothering to hide his condescending. Not the reaction he expected.

He’s annoying, Luo Fusheng decides.

And then, the hostage finally speaks.

“I don’t think my father is going to pay anything, so you might as well let me go,” he says, and to Fusheng’s disappointment, he doesn’t sound anything close to begging for his life. 

“And if I don’t?”

The other boy’s smirk grows wider. This smile suits him somehow, destroying the innocent impression altogether.

“Then I shall reassume my ‘couples counselling’, as you called it, until you grow so tired of it you set me free of your own free will,” he says and yeah, Luo Fusheng is truly annoyed with him now. He should have some dignity as a hostage and at least pretend to be intimidated.

“Do you know who I am?” Luo Fusheng asks incredulously, because really, maybe the boy doesn’t understand the severity of the situation.

“Not really, but I’m going to guess the boss’s adopted kid? You walked in as if you own the place, and have the general air of a young spoiled master so you must be in a high position. At the same time you are younger than me, so it’s very unlikely that you’ve earned this position with your own, err… criminal merit, so to say, so the boss’s protégée sounds the most likely,” the boy states proudly, and Fusheng is too surprised to get properly angry.

“How did you…?” he starts and stops himself, because this is not a good time to be awed by a hostage.

“I notice things,” the boy tells him with a cocky smile and Luo Fusheng is once again reminded of the fact that he does not like this kid. Even if he is kinda pretty and the challenge painted on his features does things to Fusheng’s insides.

To assert some dominance, Luo Fusheng comes closer and leans to look down on the tied boy, who welcomes it with a snort.

“You are too cute to be properly intimidating, you are aware of that?” the hostage asks and Luo Fusheng doesn’t like the amused note in his voice at all. Then the meaning of the words reaches him and he has half the mind to strike the hostage, though it seems a bit unfair to hit a person who can’t hit back.

“I’m not cute,” he grumbles, and the boy in the chair laughs out loud.

“Yes, you are manly and scary,” he agrees without a hint of sincerity and Luo Fusheng reaches for a knife hidden in his boot. He doesn’t want to seriously harm the other, just make him at least slightly more respectful.

The boy regards the knife calmly and then raises an eyebrow at Fusheng, as if he is disappointed with Fusheng’s actions.

Now it is clear why the other guys were so off-kilter, this kid is strange, Luo Fusheng decides.

“Why aren’t you bothered?” he asks and the other boy’s smile disappears.

“If your father is an important judge, you get used to him having enemies. And if your father is as honourable as mine is, you also quickly realize he won’t compromise his morals to save you. So I don’t think any rescue for me is coming,” he replies and for the first time since Fusheng came into the room, there is a trace of vulnerability on his face.

Maybe his cockiness is just a mask, a shield to protect himself from the terrifying realization that his own father will not fight for him.

When he was alive, Luo Fusheng’s father wasn’t exactly the warmest but he definitely wouldn’t allow any harm to come to his kid. That much Fusheng is sure of.

“What’s your name?” he asks, and the boy blinks at him.

“I didn’t kidnap you, ok? I don’t know the business too well,” Luo Fusheng admits and looks away in embarrassment, ready for the teasing. None comes.

“I’m Luo Fei. My father is gathering evidence to put your leader in jail,” the boy says instead, and without his airs of arrogance he seems really nice all of a sudden.

“I’m Luo Fusheng and I am, as you’ve said, the boss’s adopted child,” he admits, and a small smile appears on Luo Fei’s face.

“Nice to meet you, Luo Fusheng,” Luo Fei replies, and Fusheng briefly wonders if they have the same character in the name – it would be like a sign from heavens, or something. He opens his mouth to ask, when he notices Luo Fei’s gaze fixed on the knife he is still holding.

“Do you really want to send some pieces of me to my father? It won’t work, obviously, might make my mother sad though…” here, Luo Fei trails off, looking up at Fusheng, who now really regrets not asking about the situation before coming here. Is the Hong family ready to kill him if Luo senior doesn’t pay? The Hongs are rather ruthless in business, but Fusheng is pretty sure they have never harmed kids before, and Luo Fei looks like he might be nineteen at best.

“I don’t think we are going to kill you,” Luo Fusheng confesses, and Luo Fei quirks and eyebrow at him.

“We probably want your dad to get rid of the evidence?” he is just grasping for straws, but if Luo Fei’s father is a judge then it makes sense, right?

“He won’t. So what do you plan to do with me? You won’t keep me here forever, so will I be thrown into the river or something?” The perspective somehow terrifies Fusheng. The Hongs wouldn’t do that… would they?

“Do you have any couples counselling for me?” he asks instead, and Luo Fei takes the change of topic – he looks Fusheng up and down, and for no good reason Luo Fusheng feels flustered by the attention.

“Does the Hong family have a daughter?” Luo Fei asks, and that is a very good guess – Luo Fusheng is impressed despite himself. He says as much to the hostage, and Luo Fei nods.

“I think you will be set to marry her at some point, to bring you and the Hong family even closer, and she might know that – add to that your cute face, your big brown eyes and your self-assured smile, and you’ve got yourself a young fiancée waiting to spend her life with you,” Luo Fei announces, and Fusheng’s mind skips over the bits about Hong Lan and concentrates on:

“You think I’m cute? This is the second time you’ve said that,” he points out with a smile, and Luo Fei looks away, probably feeling bashful over his own words.

“I notice things,” he repeats, still not looking at Fusheng, and Luo Fusheng cannot help but smile even wider. He knows he is good looking, the girls are already paying attention to him, so it is not a surprise, but it still feels good to be able to fluster Luo Fei, who seemed to have the upper hand in their conversation since the very beginning. It is some kind of a payback.

“Well, if your dad doesn’t pay, you can always join us,” Luo Fusheng offers, magnanimously, and Luo Fei snorts in reply.

“I don’t think so. You are criminals.” And just like that, any positive feelings Luo Fusheng might have had for the other boy evaporate.

“So you‘d rather be dead than to join us, is that what you are going to say next?” he jeers, but Luo Fei meets his gaze with a calm resolve.

“Yes.”

Even though he is still angry, there is something moving about this fierce confidence, so Luo Fusheng takes a step back. What does one say in the face of such calmness?

“Any last wishes?” he aims for it to be a joke, but Luo Fei gets a contemplative look on his face.

“A kiss would be nice.”

Luo Fusheng’s mind comes to a halt.

What?

“Mister Luo with his good looks and abundant charm has probably had many kisses in his life, but I was too busy with my studies, it would be a shame to die without having received at least one… And we’ve already established that I do not mind your appearance,” Luo Fei elaborates, seemingly growing more confident in his request with every word.

Luo Fusheng is very, very lost.  

“Unless, of course, Mister Luo would rather not?” There is a clear challenge in Luo Fei’s voice, his cocky smile making a reappearance on his face.

Luo Fusheng panics a bit. Of course, he could refuse, but then Luo Fei would assume that Luo Fusheng hadn’t, in fact, kissed anyone before, and would undoubtedly tease him about it. It would hurt even more because it would be true. There wasn’t anyone Luo Fusheng liked well enough to kiss so far, and Luo Fei is… Luo Fei is easy on the eyes, to put it mildly. And there is basically no chance of them ever meeting again, no matter what fate awaits the hostage.

With all the confidence he can muster, Luo Fusheng says:

“Sure, why not.”

It’s a game of chicken and he is not going to back down – he takes a step forward and rests his hands on both sides of Luo Fei’s hips, trying to unnerve him with the proximity. It seems to do the trick, because Luo Fei swallows visibly, his eyes trained on Luo Fusheng’s lips.

For a moment, they both stay still, waiting for the other to retreat. None of them does.

So finally, gathering all his courage, Luo Fusheng leans in.

The first press of lips is a bit awkward – with his hands tied behind his back, Luo Fei has very limited number of positions he can assume, but Luo Fusheng is determined to convince him that he knows what he is doing.

So he presses harder, his hands curling into fists, all of his attention on the movement of the lips beneath his.

After a moment, Luo Fei gets it and responds.

Luo Fusheng doesn’t really have anyone to compare to, but he thinks they do well for the first time. After the initial confusion they find their rhythm and it gets really pleasant. Now it makes sense why people in love kiss so often, Luo Fusheng decides.

He moves even closer, practically pressing Luo Fei to the chair and continues kissing him, enjoying the warmth of the other’s lips.

We could just stay like this, Luo Fusheng thinks.

And then promptly runs out of air.

He leans back, his breathing laboured and with a smile straining his lips. His heart is hammering in his chest, and when he looks at Luo Fei, the other boy looks as dazed as Luo Fusheng feels. So, that’s Fusheng’s win, then.

However, before Fusheng can make any comment, Luo Fei says: “I apologize,” and pushes himself off the chair, making Fusheng lose his balance and fall to the ground from the sudden impact.

It takes a moment for Fusheng’s mind to register that Luo Fei’s hands are no longer tied up.

Luo Fei doesn’t waste a moment and runs out of the room, Fusheng’s own knife in his hand. He must’ve let it slip from his grasp while he was distracted by the kiss.

Luo Fusheng doesn’t give the chase – it is embarrassing as it is that Fusheng got played like that by a hostage, if he runs after him then everyone in the Hong mansion would know HOW exactly Luo Fei managed to distract him.

If they catch him, then great.

If they don’t then that’s on them.

Luo Fusheng stays on the floor, looking up at the ceiling, feeling used and miserable.

Damn that Luo Fei.

*

“Do you really think this is a good idea?” Ben Jieming whispers urgently behind Luo Fei, and he cannot stop himself from rolling his eyes.

“My ideas are always good,” he whispers back and adjusts the collar of his coat. He has to look like a normal gentleman who is seeking a night of pleasure in the club, not like a policeman on the stakeout, so his disguise must be impeccable.

Judgmental, panicked silence tells him that Ben Jieming does not agree with that statement.

“Superintendent Savoy-“ he starts, but Luo Fei is ready.

“- told us we shouldn’t follow the suspect into Nanshi, but this is more of a suggestion than an order. Besides, we’re doing that in our free time, outside of uniforms,” he cuts in, and turns to look at his friend’s panicked face.

Even in his best suit, Ben Jieming looks uncomfortable to say the least. It seems as if Luo Fei is taking him to a brothel or something – the poor man projects the reluctance of a schoolboy being led astray and, fine, Luo Fei had certainly done that to him enough times to recognize it, but it is not what they are doing now. Tonight they are gathering intel. It’s for a good cause!

“It’s going to be fine! No one knows us here and they certainly don’t know we are cops. Just look around a little, talk to people, see if they know anything about Tao Guang and that’s it,” he reassures and pats Ben Jieming’s arm.

His partner doesn’t look convinced, but nods either way. Truly, he’s the best friend Luo Fei could ask for.

They enter the Golden Peacock with the airs of young men ready to spend a lot of money to unwind and have a good time, and they are lead to a table with no problem. There is a band playing on the stage and there are couples dancing in the front. 

A pleasant buzzle of a party envelops them, so Luo Fei allows himself to relax and look at the menu at leisure.

His mistake, because the second he turns to desserts, there is a hand on his arm and someone’s lips right next to his ear:

“Well, looks who’s there,” that someone says, each exhale smelling of alcohol, and Luo Fei sees Ben Jieming opposite him tense, but he minutely shakes his head.

He knows that voice, probably.

He turns a bit and stares right into the doe-eyes of Luo Fusheng.

He’s changed a bit in these three years since Luo Fei’s kidnapping – got taller and lost some baby fat from his cheeks, but his eyes are the same. Even if they are very clearly clouded with alcohol.

“Xiao Sheng! Didn’t expect to see you here!” He says cheerfully, and the young man’s eyes narrow.

“Don’t call me that,” he growls, slightly slurring.

Luo Fei risks a look at Jieming who is just staring at the two of them in quiet panic. Ah, yes, that would be it for ‘no one knows us here’.

“My apologies, Mister Luo. What brings you here?” Luo Fei amends and adds a fake, courteous smile to it, just in case. It does nothing to appease Luo Fusheng, whose hand on Luo Fei’s arm tightens painfully.

“I am simply wondering what is French Concession police doing here, in Nanshi?” he whispers with a smile that is dripping with a quiet threat. Well, he’s certainly grown up, not an innocent, easily- flustered kid anymore, that’s for sure. Still, Luo Fei has dealt with worse.

“Oh my, there is police here?” he asks, feigning surprise and Luo Fusheng behind him snorts.

Then, he snaps his finger at a waiter, who hurriedly brings him a chair.

Like a lord at his court, Luo Fusheng sits down, practically lounging in his throne, and turns back to stare at Luo Fei with a grin bordering on manic.

He still hasn’t acknowledged Ben Jieming’s presence, his whole attention focused on Luo Fei.

“After our last meeting I was rather interested in what happened to you,” Luo Fusheng says, and then accepts a glass of champagne from the waiter. Luo Fei cannot recall him ordering it – Luo Fusheng must be a returning customer, and an important one at that – the staff obeys his wishes in terrified silence.

“You can imagine my surprise when it turned out that after your father’s death you became a cop. Why not a judge like him?” Luo Fusheng continues and for the first time this evening, Luo Fei feels uncomfortable. This is far too much information to be in the possession of a member of the Hong family.

“Didn’t like the Hongs going legitimate?” Luo Fusheng teases, and it is hard not to glare at him in this moment, so Luo Fei doesn’t fight the urge.

“Among other things. I am also good at my current job. I notice things,” he retorts, purposely quoting himself from three years ago.

It does its job because Luo Fusheng loses his mobster bearings immediately and blinks at him in stunned silence, his ears growing slightly red.

So he still remembers every bit of that meeting, Luo Fei notices with satisfaction.

He is distracted from Luo Fusheng’s attempt to get himself back into the mobster mindset by Ben Jieming’s desperate looks thrown his way. When he looks at him, his partner opens up a menu and points the finger of his left hand towards the dancefloor.

Luo Fei immediately sees him - Tao Guang, dancing with some girl, right by their table. Perfect, now it would be easy to keep an eye on him!

Luo Fei moves his chair a bit, so that he has a better view of the dancefloor, when Luo Fusheng rudely reminds him of his presence.

“You know, I often wondered how exactly I would pay you back for our last meeting,” the man says, with a dangerous glint in his eye and Luo Fei doesn’t have the time to react when Luo Fusheng gets up from his chair and bellows:

“Lao Tao! Have you met my friend? He’s from the French Concession Police department!”

Tao Guang freezes, then looks at Luo Fei’s face and starts to run, abandoning his partner without much ado.

There is no point in chasing him, they cannot arrest him in Nanshi and even if they could, they have no evidence of his crime. What is worse, now the suspect knows their faces.

“Enjoy your evening!” Luo Fusheng says cheerfully and leaves their table, his champagne flute in his hand and an air of general satisfaction around him.

“Now we will have to inform Superintendent Savoy,” Ben Jieming says morosely and Luo Fei barely stops himself from screaming in frustration.

“I know,” he grumbles and looks back at the dancefloor, hoping to find Tao Guang’s partner at least and maybe question her.

When he spots her, she is giggling at something a very familiar young man tells her, both of them on the other side of the dancefloor, their gazes resting on Luo Fei and Ben Jieming’s table.

Luo Fusheng’s devilish smile grows wider when he notices Luo Fei looking.

Damn that Luo Fusheng, Luo Fei thinks darkly and gets up to leave.

*

Ever since the Hong family started to work for the government, semi-officially, life got a bit easier. Aside from the International Settlement and the French Concession where different laws and powers prevail, Shanghai turned into a wonderful ground to do business. Of course, sometimes some overly-ambitious cop or a reporter tries to ‘unveil the truth’ but they either are caught by Hong men, or reported as Communists.

The only real problem that remains are the other groups, but that’s where Luo Fusheng comes in – he is very good at dealing with anyone looking for a fight. At this point, he is rather well-known on the streets of Shanghai, and very few would dare to cross him.

Which is why he blinks in surprise when the attendant at the opera house informs him nervously that his usual box has been commandeered by someone already.

“But it is my box,” he informs the attendant dumbly, trying to process this unusual way of questioning his authority. This isn’t someone trying to mess with Hongs, this is someone trying to mess with him, personally.

“I told that to the gentleman who took it, but he refused to move,” the man replies apologetically, and Fusheng decides to concentrate all of his anger on this unknown challenger.

He leaves the attendant without a word and strides to his usual box, his fists ready, when he spots a familiar mop of hair.

The man still hasn’t turned to face him, his gaze seemingly trained on the stage, but Luo Fusheng is sure that he recognizes him nonetheless.

“This is my seat, officer Luo,” he says loudly, and as if on cue, Luo Fei turns towards him with a cold, pleasant smile, the one that doesn’t reach his eyes.

“I am well-aware, Mister Luo,” the policeman replies and though his tone is mocking, there is something off about it.

“I assume you come here looking for a fight, then?” Here, Luo Fei gets up from the Fusheng’s usual seat and turns to face Fusheng.

“No. I just want your attention.” For some reason, these words make Fusheng’s insides jump. Luo Fei comes a bit closer and Luo Fusheng’s mind wonders if he is going to be kissed again, and that is a stupid thing to think about at the moment, but somehow the idea takes root and Luo Fusheng stares, unmoving, until Luo Fei finally stops in front of him.

“I need to talk to you.”

Talk. Right, Luo Fusheng can do talking. But not without a fight.

“I am not in charge of the talks within the family,” he says, just to be contrary, but this time, Luo Fei doesn’t take the bait.

“I need to talk to you. Specifically.” Luo Fusheng doesn’t bother to hide his surprise. There is the usual scuffle of the performers arriving on the stage and his mind is still reeling from the fact that apparently Luo Fei wants something from him, and Fusheng’s mind just goes with:

“Can we still watch the opera though?”

Luo Fei’s eyebrows shoot up but to Luo Fusheng’s amazement, he nods.

“You can just sit with me,” Luo Fusheng presses on, because if he is going to do stupid things then he can at least commit.

“You are very kind,” Luo Fei replies politely and moves back to retake the seat, Luo Fusheng following him in silence and sitting down on the seat next to him.

They both sit and watch the performance begin, but soon Fusheng realizes he cannot concentrate – why is Luo Fei here? How did he know to look for him in an opera house? During their two, rather hostile interactions there was no mention of their hobbies. So did he ask somebody? Did he have Fusheng followed? Did he follow him personally?

The opera begins in the earnest and no answers present themsleves.

Though the performers do their best, Fusheng is constantly distracted by his companion – on his right, Luo Fei watches the stage in silent contemplation but though to the casual onlooker he seems engrossed in the play, Luo Fusheng knows how his face looks like when he is truly paying attention to every detail.

Today, Luo Fei is distracted. And now that Fusheng abandons the pretence of watching the stage, he notices that the police officer next to him is rather tired – his complexion seems ashen and there are bags underneath his eyes.

When the show concludes, they both remain in the box, Luo Fusheng waving the attendant away.

“We can talk now. How can I help the French Concession Police?” he starts light-heartedly and Luo Fei smiles faintly at his words.

“I don’t think you can help the law in anyway, Mister Luo, but you can certainly help me.”

Oh? A private plea?

“Let’s hear it then. But I don’t do charity,” Fusheng says, fully aware of the fact that if Luo Fei truly had someone following him, he would know that this isn’t true. There are some cases he cannot help but get involved in, though he can hardly imagine Luo Fei needing his help in any of the areas people usually sought help with when asking Luo Fusheng.

“We can discuss the price later then. I need you to help me locate the Captain.”

Luo Fusheng leans back in his seat, thinking. He hasn’t heard much about the Captain – he seemed to be mostly active in the French Concession and even there seemed more like an urban legend.

“Why me?”

Luo Fei’s expression grows grim.

“You are the only member of a crime syndicate I know.”

“Why not other policemen?”

Here, Luo Fei fidgets in his seat. He looks truly uncomfortable now and Luo Fusheng feels the rush of getting an upper-hand – ever since their first, ill-fated meeting, he’s been so angry at himself for getting played like a fiddle and now this small victory makes his blood sing.

He smiles widely and teases:

“What, did you get banned from investigating? Are you turning vigilante?” he says, and from the way Luo Fei tenses he realizes he has hit the jackpot.

The uptight, ‘I will never join you, you criminals,’ police officer is going rogue and asking for Luo Fusheng’s help!

“You are!” he crows, excitedly, and too late realizes his mistake – Luo Fei gets up from his seat, his eyes hard like steel.

“I apologize for the lapse in my judgment. I don’t need anything from you,” the officer says, no trace of his usual playfulness left.

Luo Fusheng scrambles to say something that won’t sound like an apology, but will stay Luo Fei in his tracks, yet comes up with nothing.

He catches Luo Fei’s writs in his hand, because if he can get Luo Fei to owe him a favour then maybe he will be able to stop feeling embarrassed about the fact that his seventeen years-old self got played and developed a slight obsession with the boy who kissed him.

“Let go. Nothing to talk about, it was my mistake,” Luo Fei says and for the first time since that meeting three years ago, he sounds truly hostile.

Scrambling for words, Luo Fusheng lets go.

He watches the police officer leave and tries to convince himself that getting involved with his business would not be a good idea either way.

*

It is two months after his sister’s funeral and Luo Fei still doesn’t know what to do with himself. He is no longer a police officer, his investigation has turned too dangerous to be backed up by the institution without any political repercussions, and though the Captain is in prison and barely alive at that, Luo Fei doesn’t want to come back to the force.

In the end, he was left alone with this fight.

Because of the politics. Because the Captain’s revenge started to involve other people, because the other officers feared that aiding Luo Fei would put their own families at risk. They were probably right – being an orphan with only his younger sister as his remaining relative, after losing her Luo Fei had nothing left to lose. In his need to catch the man, he got careless. Even Ben Jieming, though loyal to a fault, told him that there was difference between diligent and suicidal.

It doesn’t matter now. The Captain is gone, and so is Luo Fei’s sister.

Leaving Luo Fei here, in this apartment, wondering what now.

He has enough money inherited from both of his parents, but it’s not the money that concerns him. Without anything to occupy his mind with, he will go crazy.

Wang Susu, Luo Fei’s new landlady has suggested not quite subtly that maybe he should look for a wife.

The mere notion is hilarious to entertain.

Not seeing any good answers in his flat, Luo Fei leaves Sullivan’s Apartments and goes for a walk. Not that it will help him much, but at least it is not sitting in one place.

Besides, the doctor told him to move as much as possible, so that his leg has a chance to regain the muscle it lost while he was hospitalized. Being too close to the explosion had some consequences.

He takes the cane with him just in case – he wants to be able to walk without it, but it wouldn’t hurt to have it today.

This evening finds him in Nanshi, in a rather unassuming restaurant that serves surprisingly nice dumplings. Luo Fei is steadily making his way through his portion, when someone clears their throat behind him.

He doesn’t have to feign his surprise to see that it’s Luo Fusheng. There is something eager and shy at the same time on the man’s face, and Luo Fei quirks an eyebrow at him in question.

“May I join you?” Luo Fusheng says and he sounds… hesitant.

“Be my quest.”

Luo Fusheng sits down at the seat opposite Luo Fei and orders, his eyes barely leaving Luo Fei. Curious.

“Why are you here?” Luo Fei asks and Luo Fusheng startles.

“I come here for the food. I wasn’t expecting you to be here.”

Here, Luo Fei cannot help but smile his usual, self-assured smile.

“And then you saw my handsome face and decided to say hello, I’m flattered,” he says, his tone light, but instead of getting defensive, Luo Fusheng blinks at him, as if not fully understanding the words.

Alright, so Luo Fei is a bit lost now.

“I thought you are angry with me,” Luo Fusheng says quietly, and yes, Luo Fei must have missed something.

“Why should I? Obviously, I very much judge your life choices and career, and if it was up to me you would have been arrested a few times already, but it’s not personal, it’s just my work ethic,” he says slowly, still aiming for light-hearted but it does nothing to make Luo Fusheng relax.

“You wanted my help back then and I didn’t… And then I read the news and thought...” It’s Luo Fei’s turn to blink. It takes him a moment to recall what the other might mean.

“Mister Luo, that was long ago and it was a horrible idea.” Luo Fusheng’s expression falls even more, but Luo Fei soldiers on.

“At best I would have had compromised my position as an officer of the law by owning a favour to a known criminal. At worst I would have put you in danger and had the whole Hong family up in arms to get me and my fellow officers.  It was a desperate, stupid idea born of weeks of fruitless investigation,” he says with conviction, and to drive the point home, he adds:

“I had no reason to come to you. After all, we know each other, Mister Luo, but it doesn’t mean we are friends.”

It does the trick, because the man gets up with his whole body language screaming violence and for a second there, Luo Fei wonders if he is going to be punched. The moment passes however, and Luo Fusheng leaves the restaurant in purposeful, angry strides, not even looking behind him.

It’s better this way.

Luo Fei is not an officer anymore but he knows better than to befriend criminals.

He does regret the hurt visible in Luo Fusheng’s eyes nonetheless.

*

Luo Fusheng is feeling good. The girls around him giggle and praise him, and it’s nice to have people fawn at him a bit.

Someone’s kind hand passes him another bottle and he accepts his with a happy cheer, echoed by the rest of the people present.

These are the people that matter. Not some stupid, stiff police officers who throw Luo Fusheng’s good intentions away with a disdainful smile.

“Ah Fu-ge, you should just forget him, it’s been months!” Lan Lan whines next to his ear, and oh, yes, she is here too. She probably came here with him, though Fusheng is not clear on the details. He came here to have a good time and she followed him, most probably. She has been doing that for some time.

Unbidden, Luo Fei’s prediction from years ago echoes in Luo Fusheng’s mind. Is Hong Lan in love with him? Why would she be? He’s given her no reason to like him. Even Luo Fei doesn’t like him. Only these nice, colourful people giving him drinks like him.

“I hate it when you are like that!” Lan Lan screams and it hurts his ears.

“I am mostly like that though!” He replies cheerfully, trying his best to smile at her. He absent-mindedly notices that there seem to be tears in her eyes now, and he even tries to sit upright to do something about it, but he gets distracted by another glass someone helpfully provides for him.

He moves to take it, ignoring Hong Lan’s loud protests to his right, when there is a tap on his arm.

“Excuse me, I’m looking for the owner of this… fine establishment, and I was informed that would be you?”

For a moment, Luo Fusheng doesn’t turn around. He knows this voice and this voice had told him that they are not friends and frankly, he doesn’t want them to be friends at all, so he doesn’t have to acknowledge the voice, right?

“Heavens, Luo Fusheng? What have you done to yourself?” The voice asks and that is so uncalled for that Luo Fusheng jumps to his feet, practically falling back onto the sofa in an uncoordinated mess, scaring Hong Lan who is still seated on it.

He manages on his second try however, and whirls to glare at Luo Fei who by all accounts shouldn’t be here.

“Why would you care?” he spits out because Luo Fei has no right to act all high and mighty when he has said very clearly that he wants nothing to do with Luo Fusheng.

Instead of acting properly admonished, Luo Fei sighs and gives him a look that borders on pitying.

Luo Fusheng hates it and hates him.

“I think I will come back some other time, when you are in a better shape…” Luo Fei starts, still very clearly judging Luo Fusheng for everything and yeah, sure, he is free to go and never come back, except Luo Fusheng’s body acts on its own and his hand lands on Luo Fei’s wrist before he can stop it.

“It’s you!” Hong Lan hisses venomously and stands up to also look at Luo Fei, and really, this is only between him and the officer, so he waves his free hand at Lan Lan.

“I will handle it,” he tells her, and only now notices that the party around them has come to a halt, the room around them quiet and still, all the party-goers observing the exchange with interest.

“My office,” he tells Luo Fei, who is looking at his hand with obvious curiosity.

Not waiting for a reaction, and once again turning deaf to Hong Lan’s protests, Luo Fusheng drags his sudden guest to his office.

His head is ringing a bit, but he is in a perfect condition. He can have this talk right now and then move on with his life without Luo Fei in it.

He closes the door behind him, freeing the other man's hand on his way.

He drops down on the chair behind his desk, levelling Luo Fei with a look.

“What do you want?” Luo Fusheng drawls and as usual, Luo Fei doesn’t look very impressed.

Damn the man.

“I came here to ask about one of your ex-showgirls. After leaving this place she came to work in the French Concession and disappeared. I need information about her private life, her friends, maybe interview some of your workers-“

“- Oh, now you need my help?” Fusheng interjects, plastering his best, arrogant smirk on his face.

“I thought that you cared about your girls enough to want to help on your own,” Luo Fei says, and Luo Fusheng sees red.

“You don’t know anything about me! I am just a criminal, right? So pay me for my help!” he exclaims, and he really doesn’t know why he says it, all he knows is that he is hurt and drunk, and he wants Luo Fei to react somehow.

As usual, he cannot predict Luo Fei.

“What is your price?”

Luo Fusheng hasn’t thought that far. He rather assumed Luo Fei would get angry and leave, or will probably see the error of his ways and apologize for disregarding Luo Fusheng’s good intentions the last time they’ve seen each other, he didn’t count on Luo Fei agreeing.

“What price can a police officer pay?” he asks out loud, a bit lost, and Luo Fei chuckles silently at Fusheng’s confusion.

“I’m a private detective now. I will even give you my card once you sober up,” Luo Fei replies and oh. Oh.

“But I still refuse to commit crimes more serious than jaywalking and trespassing,” the man adds with a wink.

And Luo Fusheng has a brilliant, wonderful idea. If Luo Fei refuses to be friends with him, then fine, they don’t have to be friends at all!

“I will tell you everything about…” here he waves the hand at Luo Fei, who helpfully supplies the name ‘Han Mei’, “ yes, Han Mei and I will order my girls to tell you everything they know, but in exchange I want…” here, Luo Fusheng stops himself.

Does he want it like that? Like a transaction?

He looks at Luo Fei, who is still standing in front of his desk with a small, condescending smirk on his face, and decides that yes – he does want it, if only to make the detective lose his composure.

“In exchange I want a kiss,” Luo Fusheng says, with a smirk of his own, and watches as Luo Fei’s amusement changes into something else.

What, however, Luo Fusheng is not sure.

“And I want it paid in advance!” he adds, hastily, and Luo Fei smiles again, but this time there is something genuine in it.

“Seems reasonable,” the officer, no, the detective, says, and Luo Fusheng’s heart speeds up.

“I just worry if you are going to remember my payment come tomorrow,” he adds and it almost sounds like flirting, and that’s much more than Luo Fusheng signed up for.

“I won’t forget.” It comes off much more serious and sincere than he intended, but thankfully Luo Fei doesn’t comment and leans over the desk.

“If you say so…”

And then there are soft, familiar lips on his own and Luo Fusheng can think of nothing else.

*

The gang war is hardly a place for a private detective, but somehow Luo Fei finds himself in the middle of one, trying to hide both from the Hongs and the Hus – he is here only to investigate the house of the victim, he didn’t think the two gangs would fight over it openly, right in the daylight. Well, that at least provided a motive for the murder – reporter Feng Yuxiang must have uncovered something sensational if both gangs were willing fight for it right now, throwing caution to the wind.

Luo Fei is hidden in the closet in the bedroom and listening to the shouts, hoping that they take this dispute outside soon. Or at least before anyone decides to wonder where is the envelope with the photos they are all battling for.

Luo Fei feels its weight in the pocket of his coat and hopes he won’t have to die with it. Qin Xiaoman would kill him if he dies here, right after he told her, repeatedly, that there was no risk involved in looking at the crime scene again, and that she should go back to the station and fill in the reports.

So, dying right now would be very inconvenient to Luo Fei’s reputation.

Just as he contemplates just making a run for it and escaping through the window, someone stumbles into the room, their breathing laboured and their steps heavy. Wounded, then.

And then Luo Fei hears it:

“Ah, shit, Lan Lan will kill me.”

Luo Fusheng. Of course it’s Luo Fusheng, because nothing can go right today.

Luo Fei waits for a moment to hear if Fusheng is being followed, but the sounds of the brawl have moved downstairs.

Feeling a bit stupid for doing so, Luo Fei leaves the safety of the wardrobe and takes in the room.

Its empty, aside from Luo Fusheng’s prone form sitting on the floor, his back against the wall. He looks a bit pale and is pressing on a wound on his leg. He hasn’t noticed Luo Fei yet.

Wondering what exactly possesses him to do that, Luo Fei approaches him, his finger on his mouth in a silent plea for Fusheng to remain quiet.

He does, though the shock on his face and the rapid blinking suggest that he suspects Luo Fei of being just a hallucination. He’s adorable, but this is really not the time.

Luo Fei gets down and crawls towards the other man, trying to assess the damage. He is not a medic, but having been friends with Ben Jieming for so many years it would be hard not to pick up a thing or two.

The wound doesn’t look lethal, but it bleeds a lot, which means that Luo Fusheng is growing too weak to move with every minute that passes.

Luo Fei has nothing on him that he can use as bandage, so without much ado, he takes off the sheets from the bed, preservation of the crime scene be damned – the gangs have ruined it already. He tears the fabric, wincing at the loud sound, but the fighting downstairs doesn’t stop in its intensity, so maybe no one noticed.

Luo Fusheng remains quiet while Luo Fei treats his wound, just following his movements with his innocent, wide eyes.

For some inexplicable reason, Luo Fei feels hot when put under such unblinking scrutiny.

Then, Luo Fusheng seemingly realizes that Luo Fei is not, in fact, a figment of his imagination, and his expression grows thunderous.

“Why are you here?” Luo Fusheng whispers furiously, and Luo Fei flicks him on the forehead to keep it down.

“Right now I’m saving your life, please stop resisting,” he whispers back and pointedly ties the bandage on the wound into a nice knot. “Now, they are very busy downstairs and that’s our chance to leave, but in your state you are going to make a lot of ruckus so in a moment I will go to another room and cause some mayhem – use the window and leave,” he continues, and Luo Fusheng shakes his head almost immediately.

“My people are here and I-“

“-will be a liability they have to protect. You are hurt and you are the boss’s second, you will be their priority.”

Luo Fusheng sits there for a moment in mutinous silence, but then a small smirk makes its way on his lips.

“You know plenty about me, Detective Luo,” he says slowly, his voice dripping with satisfaction and this is really, really, not the time.

“Much more than I would like. Now, please try not to die on your way down.”

Luo Fusheng rolls his eyes in reply, and yeah, the brat will be fine, Luo Fei decides.

He gets up and tiptoes to the room furthest from the bedroom, closing the door behind him quietly. It still isn’t much in terms of safety – the house is not that big and if anyone tries to find Luo Fei on this floor, they would likely succeed. So they only way is to make some noise, escape from the window and hope for the best.

Not the most fool-proof plan Luo Fei has ever had, but he had also had worse. Not many.

He enters the second bedroom and looks around for anything that would make for a nice distraction. Unfortunately, short of making the whole bookcase fall down, there is not much to be done… Then again, if he pushes the bookcase down, it will block the door at least a bit, giving Luo Fei some additional time to escape.

He opens the window to have a clear way out and listens for any sounds that would suggest that Luo Fusheng has been caught.

The brawl downstairs seems less energetic, probably only a few of the most furious warriors still standing, the rest wounded or worse.

No better moment than now.

Luo Fei pulls the shelves towards him and despite its weight and Luo Fei’s rather pathetic strength, after a few tugs the furniture falls down with a resounding crash, Luo Fei barely getting away from it in time.

The noise on the ground floor ceases and Luo Fei runs towards the window.

He jumps down without much thinking and lands in the middle of the garden.

This, he didn’t take into account, but at least he managed to land in something more friendly than roses. That would have been painful.

There are shouts from the second bedroom, and Luo Fei tails it out of the gate as fast as possible. He manages to reach the corner of the street when someone catches his elbow and tugs him back.

Luo Fei screams in surprise and is ready to give at least some verbal lashing to his assailant, when he notices the familiar smirk on the man sitting on a motorcycle.

“Get on and hold on tightly!” Luo Fusheng says and the moment Luo Fei obeys, the machine starts with a loud growl and off they go.

Luo Fei is not sure where he is being taken and doesn’t have the presence of mind to wonder, he is more concerned with not falling off. Whoever allowed Luo Fusheng to drive anything should reconsider their judgment. Or maybe get arrested for endangering the citizens of Shanghai.

Finally, the hellish journey is over and Luo Fei is allowed to get off the damned machine. When he looks around, he realizes he is outside his own apartment complex.

There is no one behind them, no imminent danger, so all the pent up adrenaline rushes to him all at once and he turns towards Luo Fusheng, still sitting on his bike and shouts:

“What were you thinking?!”

Luo Fusheng doesn’t look very bothered with Luo Fei’s frustration. In fact, the bastard smiles even wider.

“I saved your life,” he replies, radiating perfect contentment and this won’t do.

“No! I saved your life, you almost ruined my hard work!” Luo Fei exclaims and Luo Fusheng’s grin turns dopey.

“You could just say thank you, like a normal person,” the brat retorts and Luo Fei is done.

“Thank you,” he drawls angrily, leaning down and catching Luo Fusheng’s collar with both hands.

He yanks Fusheng closer, planting a frustrated, furious kiss on his smiling lips.

Luo Fusheng has the audacity to taste happy.

Damn that Luo Fusheng, Luo Fei thinks, and a moment later, melts into the kiss.

Maybe he feels a bit happy too. Only a bit.