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one step forward, two steps back

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one step forward, two steps back

*

Lang Qiao wasn’t the part of the Main Criminal Investigation Unit for nothing.

Over the years of working together with Captain Luo and the rest, she had learned a lot from them and honed her own special set of skills. She was rather quick on the uptake—if she wasn’t distracted by the thought of food and that’s the only reason why she had been distracted to not nitpick at her Imperial Father’s words.

When he had given them those invitations of matchmaking under the guise of friendship outing, his words now play on Lang Qiao’s mind: you single dogs.

Now, it could just be that it was merely a passing statement. After all, even as playful as old Luo wasn’t one for trivialities like this but there was something in his eyes that said that those words were not carelessly thrown in the wind nor did he not mean it.

Lang Qiao turns those words over and over in her head. Being a civil servant had its own perks and perils but they worked on a daily basis from eight in the morning till five in the afternoon and sometimes even going overtime. So where would Imperial Father find the time too date? Save from the people in their department, she had never seen him out with anybody else.

“Psst,” She calls to Xiao Haiyang and possibly her partner-in-crime and the most suitable candidate for deducing their captain’s (possibly) partner. “Do you think Captain’s dating anyone?”

Xiao Haiyang turns to her, a questioning look visible on his face underneath the glasses. “These days, even with the cases we handle, he has been unusually cheery and something that one would not notice if they looked properly. Sometimes a fancy car waits for him outside the Bureau and one time I caught him calling someone and laughing on the phone.”

Lang Qiao’s interest perks up.

“Deputy Captain is already dating someone,” Xiao Haiyang continues and she remembers the chaos when the department had found out—it was quite memorable after all. Deputy Captain Tao had been cursing them to hell and back after being subjected to being their wallet for the rest of the night full of drinks and food. “Why wouldn’t Captain Luo be on the same boat?”

Lang Qiao nods. Just as she suspected. “So who do you think it is?”

Xiao Haiyang merely shrugs. “Xiao-Qiao-jiejie why are you so curious about this?”

“Have you ever seen him with anybody? Ever?” Xiao Haiyang shakes his head and she nods. “Exactly! Plus, this is our duty as subordinates of the Great Captain Luo! We need to find out and see if that person is suitable for our captain.”

“Is it?” Xiao Haiyang deadpans.

Lang Qiao, like the elder she is, nods seriously. “Of course! Aren’t you curious as well? If his partner doesn’t deserve him, it’s up to us to tell our poor and helpless captain.”

Xiao Haiyang sighs before he massages his temples and pulls the rim of his glasses. “I remember seeing a woman with Captain Luo once. She looked older than him but no less sophisticated.”

Lang Qiao snickers, finding this information really good. “So Captain Luo likes older women?”

Just then, their ‘poor and helpless captain’ arrives at the Bureau carrying two bags of food. Lang Qiao energetically grabs the food, momentarily forgetting about the goal she had set for herself.

After all, food comes first, everything else can follow up later.

*

For her interest in Captain Luo’s dating history, Lang Qiao forgets about all of this due to another case being placed in their hands. They don’t usually get a lot of cases—last year seemed to be the exception with one case propping up after the last—so they were once again bustling with energy.

It’s not until she sees President Fei that she manages to remember it once again.

According to what she had managed to piece together and had seen, President Fei was actually pretty close with both Deputy Captain Tao and Captain Luo. They worked together on several cases and President Fei was even comfortable in Captain Luo’s previous apartment. He should be able to give them at least a hint of who the mysterious person their captain is dating.

Like a Pavlovian response, whenever President Fei arrives at the Bureau, they would remember the smell of exquisite and taste of the expensive food. Naturally, when President Fei arrives with take-out bags in his hand bearing a logo of one of the most expensive restaurants in the city, the response only heightens.

He hands the bags to her with one remaining bag for himself. Lang Qiao beams at the smell of tantalizing food. Captain Luo didn’t bring them any breakfast today and looked rather put-off and annoyed. Smiling, Lang Qiao looks at President Fei, “What is President Fei doing here?”

“Is Captain Luo around?”

“He got called in earlier.” Lang Qiao tuts diligently, giving all information to the person who feeds her. Before she could turn around, she suddenly remembers, gathers her courage before she asks, “President Fei, you’re close with Captain Luo, right?”

A small smile emerges from his lips, amusement clearly evident in his eyes. He looked like someone who was enjoying an inside joke of his own. “Why do you ask?”

“Have you seen a woman around Captain Luo? Older? Xiao Haiyang says she looks sophisticated and elegant.”

“Oh,” Just then, Lang Qiao couldn’t read President Fei’s expression. A moment passes before he smiles, amused. “That was Madam Mu Xiaoqing.”

Mu Xiaoqing! Finally, Lang Qiao has a name!

Beaming, Lang Qiao was about to thank President Fei profusely when the man of the hour enters, raising a brow when he sees both of them. President Fei remains unbothered, merely smiling softly at Captain Luo, looking as amused as he was earlier when Lang Qiao had asked him the question.

Lang Qiao looks at both of them and for some reason, she feels like she’s intruding on something watching as both men have a silent conversation with their eyes.

Just as she was about to speak up, Captain Luo turns to her, arching a brow and smiling so fakely at Lang Qiao “Imperial Princess, what are you still doing here? Am I really starving you that you won’t share the food with the others?”

He then turns to President Fei, “And you, what are you doing here?”

President Fei merely raises the remaining bag on his hand. “You didn’t eat breakfast.”

Captain Luo looks at the bag in her hand and rolls his eyes. “Ah, so you’ve brought food for the children too.”

Like they were sharing an inside joke, Fei Du smiles. “It’s more like a bribe.”

Without waiting for a reply, Captain Luo leaves, immediately going to his office. Without a word and in a practice motion, President Fei follows. Lang Qiao, like the responsible adult that she is, pokes her tongue at Captain Luo before she turns her back to distribute President Fei’s amazing grace.

If she wasn’t distracted by the food, she would’ve asked exactly how President Fei knew that the captain didn’t have breakfast. If she wasn’t distracted, she would’ve seen President Fei’s hand on her captain’s back, pressing softly that it seems unintentional. If she wasn’t tempted by the food, she would’ve seen her captain throw President Fei a knowing look, pinching him on the sides of his waist.

If she looked at his office for a moment, she would’ve seen the soft looks and lingering touches, Captain Luo capturing President Fei’s hand for a moment and pressing a soft kiss to the side of his palm, muttering thank you.

Alas, Lang Qiao was too focused on the primary love of her life to even notice that what she wanted to know was right in front of her.

*

“Xiao Haiyang, I got it! I got a name!”

“You really managed to find out?”

“Of course! I’m Imperial Father’s favorite princess, after all! According to my trusted source, the woman that the Captain is dating is named Mu Xiaoqing. Now let’s go and look for her to see if she deserves our righteous father.”

*

Unfortunately, Lang Qiao couldn’t use the perks of being a policewoman to know if this Mu Xiaoqing—Captain Luo’s alleged lover—was deserving for her captain. It was one thing to get the background of a civilian during investigations and it was another to get it for a personal reason so she had no choice but to observe Captain Luo for the following days.

Today, he placed a bag of food on Lang Qiao’s table before she could even greet him and demand for the food, a hand busy on pressing his phone against his ear.

Curious, Lang Qiao pretend she’s doing something while listening on the captain’s conversation. “Comrade Mu Xiaoqing wants to eat out?”

At the mention of Captain Luo’s lover, Lang Qiao perks up.

“It’s Friday?” Captain Luo’s mouth moves faster than light speed as he curses over and over again. “Where?”

The person on the other line, Lang Qiao supposes its Captain Luo’s lover, says the name of a restaurant that has Captain Luo cursing again. “Isn’t that a Michelin restaurant? Does Comrade Mu Xiaoqing know who’s going to pay for dinner? Isn’t she a bit spoiled?”

Oh? Lang Qiao mentally writes the information down. Apparently, Mu Xiaoqing was someone who wanted to eat at an expensive restaurant. Captain Luo also mentioned that she was a bit spoiled. A rich princess?

“Fine.” Captain Luo huffs. “Are you already at work? Don’t forget to eat lunch again.”

Lang Qiao stops, arching a brow. What rich princess would forget to eat? They would be missing such joy in life.

“I told you it wouldn’t be fixed so easily. Take my car, I’ll just walk. It’s near the Bureau anyway.”

His lover must’ve said with something that made Captain Luo indignant because when Captain Luo replies, his tone is gruff but the warmth in it makes Lang Qiao startle slightly. “If not me, then who else would spoil you?”

Lang Qiao looks at Captain Luo’s door, feeling a bit conflicted. On one hand, it was clear on his tone that the captain cared so much for his lover but on the other, Lang Qiao couldn’t help but pity him. He had to pay for the food that was probably a year worth of salary, gave up his car for his lover and even then, he still has to pamper her.

Lang Qiao shakes his head. Poor Captain Luo.

“What’s with you now?”

Lang Qiao looks at Xiao Haiyang before an idea forms in her head. “Are you busy tonight?”

Xiao Haiyang pauses, blinking owlishly at her. He looks down before shaking his head. Lang Qiao raises a brow, confused. Why did Xiao Haiyang refuse to meet her gaze?

Shrugging, Lang Qiao puts the thought on the back of her head before she nods. “Good! We’re going undercover!”

Xiao Haiyang looks at her abruptly before blinking. For some reason, he deflates. “For a case?”

Lang Qiao nods. “A very important case.”

The day passes by in a silent blur. They don’t have anything much to do in the Bureau these days and there’s only a couple of small cases popping up every now and then. As soon as the clock strikes five, Captain Luo—ever punctual—grabs his coat and prepares to leave.

Lang Qiao watches him go until the doors of the Bureau before she grabs a black cap and a mask, throwing Xiao Haiyang another pair. During the day, she went and brought a pair of ordinary clothes that’s easy to blend in the crowd. Urging Xiao Haiyang to hurry up, she places the cap on her hair, tying it up in a ponytail and covering her face with the black mask.

Xiao Haiyang follows behind her. The mask pulled down on his chin and the same plain black cap on his head. Hastily, they run to the doors of the City Bureau just in time to see Captain Luo turn to the right corner. Following close behind, Lang Qiao pulls Xiao Haiyang next to her.

They follow a good distance from the captain but it seems like the captain’s skills were nothing to scoff at. Once, he turned almost catching both of them following him if not for Lang Qiao’s quick reflexes. She grabs Xiao Haiyang, blocking the captain from seeing her and pulling Xiao Haiyang close to her body.

Captain Luo looks around before he walks again and stops in front of an exquisite and classy restaurant. Lang Qiao has heard of this restaurant before but her average salary would never let her pay for even just one food in this restaurant. Lang Qiao sees Captain Luo stop before two people—one who looks like a carbon copy of the captain but only older and one woman who smiles brightly and looks elegant.

Lang Qiao’s eyes widen. They’re already on the process of meeting the parents?! Captain Luo must be really serious!

“You two…”

Lang Qiao startles and immediately looks back. President Fei stands before them, looking as elegant as ever. His brown coat drapes on his shoulders making him look like the CEO he really was.

“President Fei!” Lang Qiao greets, smiling at him. She gently lets go of Xiao Haiyang, who seemed to turn silent and stiff in her arms. “What are you doing here?”

When President Fei smiles, it’s like looking at someone who knows the depthless world, who knows the secrets of the universe and with it, hidden words that he was not allowed to say. He was like an untouchable beauty and the way his peach blossom eyes curved said words that Lang Qiao did not know how to interpret.

“Eating.”

Lang Qiao nods. That’s right. President Fei was world’s away from average policewoman salary like hers. He could probably afford eating here every day. “We followed Captain Luo to find out who he was dating. We didn’t know it was this serious!”

President Fei hums. Using this as an indication to continue, Lang Qiao shakes her head, looking mournfully at the direction of the restaurant. “They’re already meeting the parents. Captain Luo must really love her a lot but I heard she’s really a spoiled princess. Ah, our poor captain.”

Poor Captain Luo, in more ways than one.

“That’s right!” Lang Qiao turns to President Fei. “If you see Captain Luo, please do not tell him about this!”

President Fei’s lips curl in amusement. “Sure.”

“Thanks, President Fei!” Lang Qiao beams before she drags Xiao Haiyang away, still shaking her head. “Ah, poor Captain Luo.”

If she wasn’t so distracted in muttering poor captain under her breath, she might’ve noticed that the car Fei Du arrived in was their beloved poor captain’s car.

The following morning, Deputy Captain Tao Ran looks at the gloom in the office and Lang Qiao, who was usually chatty and cheerful was sitting on her desk, frowning. He shares a look with Xiao Haiyang, asking her why their usual Imperial Princess who was bubbly was looking like she had lost a lover.

Xiao Haiyang shrugs.

Sighing, Tao Ran bumps Lang Qiao softly, making the other look up at him. “What’s with you?”

“Deputy Captain,” Lang Qiao frowns. “Is Captain Luo’s lover really that spoiled?”

“Captain Luo’s what?!” If he was drinking anything, Deputy Captain Tao Ran would’ve choked.

“His lover,” Lang Qiao says. “Do you not know that he has one?”

Before Deputy Captain Tao Ran can answer her however, Captain Luo arrives, Lang Qiao couldn’t help but throw him a pitiful look as he hands her their daily food blessings.

Luo Wenzhou, surprised at Lang Qiao’s expression, smacks her with a folder in a practiced manner. “What’s wrong with you now?”

“Captain,” Lang Qiao frowns, sympathetic. “I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t bring us food.”

Captain Luo’s brows furrow. It makes him look older than he is and Lang Qiao feels her heart weep. “What are you going on about now?”

“Aren’t you broke from pampering Madam Mu Xiaoqing, Captain?” Lang Qiao replies, looking forlorn. “It’s okay, Captain. This Imperial Princess won’t hold a grudge if you aren’t able to buy us anything.”

This time, Deputy Captain Tao does choke. “Madam Mu Xiaoqing?”

“What nonsense are you talking about now?!” Captain Luo smacks her in the forehead, enough that the pain shook her slightly. “Comrade Mu Xiaoqing is your Empress Dowager!”

At this, Deputy Captain Tao’s laughter could be heard even on the next department.

Empress Dowager… Captain Luo’s mother?!

“She looks really young.” Lang Qiao comments, remembering the cheery smile and flawless face. “I just thought older women were your type.”

For some reason, Deputy Captain Tao laughs even more.

Captain Luo massages his temples, looking at Lang Qiao like he’s contemplating on whether to throw her off a cliff or not. “What makes you think it’s even a woman?”

Ah.

Not a woman.

What?!

“Is it Deputy Captain Tao?” Lang Qiao couldn’t even sort out her thoughts and immediately blurted out the thing that instantly came to mind.

“Your Deputy Captain is the straightest pole I’ve ever seen.” Captain Luo deadpans before he smacks her again with a folder. Lang Qiao looks at him in betrayal. Why does he always have a folder in his hands? “Lang Big Eyes, do you have that much free time now?”

“It’s not Deputy Captain Tao?” Lang Qiao doesn’t even acknowledge the second part of Captain Luo’s statement. “Is it Xiao Haiyang?”

“Do you want child services to call me?”

At this, Deputy Captain Tao throws him a look, arching his brow. “Really.”

Captain Luo rolls his eyes. “If you have that much free time for nonsense, then look over our previous cases and give me a reflection. 500 characters or more!”

“Imperial Father, that’s dictatorship!”

Captain Luo ignores her, a laughing Tao Ran following close behind. Stomping her foot, Lang Qiao grabs the food that Captain Luo brought, eating it with vengeance.

After a while, Lang Qiao pauses.

If it’s not Deputy Captain Tao… then who is it?

*

“Captain, tell me. Who is it?”

“Where’s your 500-character reflection?”

“Did you meet them on Tinder?”

“No.”

“Is it someone from the Bureau?”

“Do you think I would date colleagues? That’s messy.”

“Ehh, then who is it? You don’t go out much. You’re like an old man.”

“If you don’t give it to me in the next five seconds, there would be no food for you for the rest of the month.”

“I’ll find out, one way or another, Captain.”

*

Lang Qiao does—and for some reason, it feels like something she should’ve seen in the first place.

The case was supposed to be an easy one. It was supposed to be wrapped up immediately. The murderer jailed behind bars and the whole investigation team going home to get more than five hours rest. Instead, they’re in the hospital, waiting for someone to come out and tell them what the situation was.

Captain Luo was stabbed in three different places and he was losing a lot of blood before they came to the scene. Lang Qiao felt like she was blanking as she looks at Captain Luo who was carried by the stretcher.

Deputy Captain Tao calls someone before he calls Captain Luo’s parents. Lang Qiao was too focused on calming down to hear any of Deputy Captain Tao’s words. Captain Luo had told Deputy Captain Tao something before he lost consciousness but Lang Qiao couldn’t even remember what is was.

She was only brought back to reality when Xiao Haiyang places a hand on her shoulder, grounding her. Lang Qiao tries to breathe evenly, feeling the solid ground as the minutes pass by.

Surprisingly, the first one to arrive at the hospital wasn’t Captain Luo’s parents.

It was President Fei.

Lang Qiao looks at him, confusion evident in her features. She was about to ask what he was doing here when he merely turns to Deputy Captain Tao, not an inch of emotion visible on his face. “What happened?”

“He was lightly stabbed.”

“Lightly stabbed.” President Fei repeats the words and Lang Qiao feels a chill running down her spine at the coldness of President Fei’s words. When he smiled, he looked like an elegant young master who couldn’t hurt a fly but right now, his face was devoid of emotion and Lang Qiao feels like she’s staring at an abyss.

“That’s what he told me to tell you.” Deputy Captain Tao replies, looking at President Fei meaningfully. The words so you don’t worry sits still in the air but all of them can hear it.

Why would President Fei worry for Captain Luo?

“And the real situation?”

Deputy Captain Tao’s forehead creases. “He was stabbed in three different places. I still don’t know how deep but it should be pretty deep to match up the amount of blood loss. He was still conscious, although barely, when he arrived. It shouldn’t really be life-threatening.”

What Deputy Captain Tao said was technically correct but Lang Qiao remembers seeing Captain Luo sitting down on the pool of his blood. The red was a contrast to Captain Luo’s pale skin and even now, she can still see the blood tickling down on the floor.

When Captain Luo’s mother—Mu Xiaoqing, Lang Qiao’s unnecessary brain says—she immediately goes to Fei Du and that’s—

It’s something Lang Qiao didn’t even consider. After all, she had been there when Captain Luo was hostile to Fei Du when he first visited the Bureau, fining him with a parking ticket and bickering with him non-stop.

She was there when they first cooperated together and back then, she was only thinking that no matter how compatible their way of thinking was, there was no way these two were going to work harmoniously.

When Fei Du went to work at the Bureau, she thought that Captain Luo, at most, tolerated him as a co-worker.

But when she begins to consider the other things—

Captain Luo had said they went to investigate Lover’s Lane together.

President Fei bringing them food when Captain Luo didn’t.

President Fei being comfortable in Captain Luo’s apartment.

Captain Luo and President Fei’s bickering that seemed too fond and too warm for enemies.

The way Captain Luo looked at President Fei on the ambulance last year, as if President Fei was his lifeline and if President Fei stopped breathing right there, he would too.

Oh.

For some reason, Lang Qiao doesn’t feel as surprised as she should be. It felt like something that was already there, just waiting to be acknowledged. She looks at Fei Du, who smiles at Luo Wenzhou’s mother but clenches his fist when he looks at the direction of the emergency ward.

Lang Qiao looks at him and she manages to smile in spite of the situation.

Captain Luo really lucked out, huh.

 

 

 

(Of course, when President Fei visits the Bureau again, two months after Captain Luo’s accident, bringing food again, Lang Qiao couldn’t help but remember the words she said, “President Fei, you’re…”

Fei Du hums and the smile he shows her is nothing but amusement. “The spoiled rich princess being pampered by your Captain.”

“Ah,” Lang Qiao laughs nervously. Goddamnit. You two really deserve each other!)