People say a lot of things about the full moon. He's heard it all; beautiful, mysterious, distant. Some folklore described the moon as the sovereign of beasts and monsters. Once, somewhere, he read that under the influence of the full moon, men would catch strange diseases that stole their reason and turned them crazy.
He first met Shih-nah on a run-down pier, her hair and face backlit in the moonlight, her black dress draping her in shadows, and her gun glistening from the light reflected off the rolling waves. Lang stared down the barrel of the gun and Lang Zi says, "A wolf's fangs are not only deadly, but beautiful."
"Relax," said Lang. He cursed himself for leaving his badge behind. "I'm on your side. I wouldn't dream of lying to a beautiful woman like you."
She did not put down the gun. "Prove it. If you want my trust, you'll have to earn it."
Years later, the irony hits him like a brick and the moon seems to him like a creature with many faces and phases, an entity with many names, and syllables that wax and wane. There was an ebb and flow to the waves and Lang couldn't fight it. It occurred to him that he'll only ever know one side of the moon and maybe this was one of those regrets that he'll take to the grave.
This was their first ever stake-out together. They sat together in a cafe on a street corner with a good view of the intersection. The walls were glass and there were magazines at every table. Over the top of the magazine that Lang had picked up to look less conspicuous while waiting for the target, he read the cover of hers.
"J-14?" he said. His eyebrow jumped up his forehead. "Do you read it for the horoscopes?"
Casually turning the page, Shih-nah said, "Look who's talking."
Well, Lang couldn't help it if there had only been Vogue magazines left on the rack, and maybe it wasn't so bad to have these glossy pictures of beautiful women pouting at him and showing off their well-dressed assets. Lang let out a low whistle.
"Some of them are fifteen."
And Shih-nah took the wind right out of his sails.
Moments later, the target walked in through the doors. Secretly, Lang was glad to start working so that he could stop looking at the pictures in the magazine and wondering if so-and-so girl was as old as she looked or if he was looking through a high school yearbook. Shih-nah smiled like she was suppressing a laugh and Lang wondered if her teeth had always looked so sharp and predatorial. He liked it, and maybe that was proof of his idiocy.
He noticed that she started following him. He'd eat his lunch and reach for a napkin before realizing that she'd already brought a stack for him. He'd research a case, suddenly realizing that he needed more reference material, and out of the blue she would hand him exactly what he needed.
"It's like you read my mind," said Lang when he took the file. Shih-nah smiled her toothy smile.
"That's because I did read your mind."
Pretty soon, Lang learned exactly what he could expect from Shih-na. He learned the curves of her writing, the sound of her footsteps, the pause in the moments that it took for a document to pass from her hands to his. Their partnership became a wordless exchange. Working together became as natural as breathing and it started to feel like they had known each other all their lives.
There were rumours, but Lang ignored them. Shih-nah put it best.
"When a secretary does her job as well as I do, it's because she's competent, not because she's a free ride."
Lang laughed when he heard that.
For the first week of June, Lang visited his hometown. It was a tradition for him to visit every year during the summer. That year, his men followed him, and naturally, this included Shih-nah. Before they left for Zheng Fa, Lang lined up his men and told them, "Men, it is with no small amount of anger that I tell you that my hometown is one of the poorest in the country. I can tell you personally that the people in my hometown are strong and proud. It is an unspoken rule to refuse help of any kind, but they've never had the heart to impose the same rule on their children."
At that moment, Lang unveiled giant, clear garbage bags full of candy of every size, shape and colour. The men cheered and whooped and Lang smiled. "You have no idea how much happiness something so small can bring," said Lang with a coin-sized toffee in his hand.
Just then, Shih-nah pushed a cart full of toys into the room, followed by a line of agents pushing their own carts. Lang blinked in surprise.
"From the local toy drive," said Shih-nah with her wolfish grin.
The room erupted into cheers. At that moment, Lang couldn't have frowned even if he had pinned his lips to his chin. If he'd been a different sort of man, he would have hugged Shih-nah, but being who he was, he only nodded in approval.
If he'd touched her, would some quirk of the shoulder or some tic in her arms have given her away? Would there have been a shock, a tremor, a hint of the things to come?
Is sincerity a means for trust or for deceit?
Interpol agents were in a position of power and they had the means to abuse it. Occasionally, the men on top of the pecking order handed down reports of suspicious activity from Lang's men. Lang was put in charge of investigating. He'd read the report, fire off a dozen questions at the accused man, and then he'd rip up the report and tell the men upstairs that his subordinates were clean.
"Do you really trust us that much?" questioned Shih-nah.
Lang shrugged. "Do you even need to ask?"
She smiled another of her big white smiles. "Well. I'm honoured."
It happened once, and only once, but Lang received a report on Shih-nah. His eyes widened. He scowled. He didn't even bother reading past her name at the top. Without a word, he tore it clean in half. Shih-nah, who had unwittingly brought the report to him, asked, "What's wrong?"
Lang growled. "Nothing. The higher-ups are fucking stupid."
They were stupid. He was stupid.
Stupid stupid stupid fucking stupid.
The first seed of doubt was planted when Lang found Shih-nah waiting alone in his office. She sat on the desk with her legs crossed and facing the open window. Against the night sky, Lang remarked how translucent she appeared. There was something haunting about her, something that wedged the memory of that night firmly into his mind.
"What are you doing here?" said Lang. He walked up next to her.
Shih-nah turned. Lang thought he saw a look of melancholy and sadness, but maybe he saw wrong. Shih-na smiled. "Waiting for you," was her reply.
Suddenly, her arms were wrapped around his neck. She reached under his vest and he could feel her bare arms snaking around his shoulders, skin-on-skin. Her hot breath was on his neck.
This was Shih-nah, beautiful, smart Shih-nah. He trusted her. He admired her. He respected her.
He felt sick.
Lang violently pulled away and Shih-nah was thrown to the floor. She sat up and rubbed her bruised knees, saying nothing. Lang couldn't see her face.
"This," he said, "never happened."
It came out as an order. Shih-nah followed it as she did all his other orders.
The next morning, nothing between them had changed. They still walked the same rhythm and worked together as flawlessly as before. Lang became aware of the little things like the way she stirred sugar in his coffee, the eyes that watched him through designer sunglasses, and the smile she gave when she said, "I've already done that for you."
The moon hid itself well enough; why couldn't she do the same?
It's so close he smells the gun powder.
He thinks he's been waiting for this moment a long time but he's only realized it now, and waiting for something is not the same as preparing for it.
His arms are wrapped around her and Shih-nah is so surprised that she's forgotten to break free from an injured man.
Did her mask slip for a second?
He's glad she's okay.
The bullet fucking hurts.
They sat in a police car. Lang accepted first aid but refused to let anyone else escort Shih-nah to the detention centre. She sat quietly with her hands cuffed in front of her. Lang found silence unbearable in a situation like this, so he started drumming his fingers on the window.
But for some really stupid reason, he really wanted to know. So he asked her.
"Shih-nah. What's your real name?"
At this, she laughed. "You should know," said Shih-nah, "that traitors have no names. They are merely traitors."
And that is the stark truth. Shih-nah never existed. Shih-nah was dead from the start. The woman who breathed in time with him and laughed and chatted with him over steaming coffee was dead before she ever lived. He could try and dig up her real name, and he certainly had the resources, but there wasn't any point to it if she did not tell him herself. Lang understood that the only thing left to do was to move on.
But when they arrived at the detention centre and Shih-nah was just about to enter her cell, Lang made the mistake of looking her in the eye. After catching his gaze, she quickly looked away. Who's to tell what was a mask and what wasn't?
The first time he visited her, it all went to hell. Going there was one of the dumbest things he could have ever done in his life, but he went anyway. Shih-nah didn't bother making it easy for him and she didn't even say hi first.
"I'm in love with you, you know."
It was a lie. Of course it was a lie. Lang knew he had a soft spot for women, but he won't break anyone out of jail, not for a traitor. Not for a woman who did not exist.
"You're quite the catch. It surprises me that you haven't found a woman yet."
She pressed her palms against the glass now, leaning forward as far as she could without touching her nose to the glass. When she spoke, her breath fogged the glass like mist veiling the moon.
"You," she said, "are the kindest man I have ever known."
There it was.
Big, toothy, and white.
Lang suddenly shot up from his seat. He banged on the glass, saying, "You are not Shih-nah, you are not Shih-nah, you are not Shih-nah," until the guards came to take him away.
The second time he visited her, he found closure.
The first thing that he noticed was that she had lost weight. Well, that hardly mattered, did it?
"Sorry," she said. "I'm a horrible woman, aren't I."
Lang said nothing.
"Did you hear about my execution date?"
His throat felt dry. Lang swallowed, but the sides of his mouth were itchy. "No," said Lang. "I didn't."
The silence that followed felt like it was choking him. He forced the words through his windpipe.
"Do you," said Lang, "need something... anything... done?"
For some reason, she held her hand up to her mouth and started giggling. Soon, she had burst into laughter. "Look at you," she said. "There's no date for the execution yet, it's only been what, a month? You're too sweet." And she laughed and laughed.
Lang wasn't sure why, but with just a look at Shih-nah laughing and laughing, he knew that there was nothing else for him to do; he would only hurt them both. Lang got up. She stopped laughing.
"I fell in love with one woman, but I took a bullet for another." Lang took off his sunglasses now. Perhaps Shih-nah could see the truth better in his eyes. "Do you understand?"
Shih-nah didn't look him in the eye. "I understand. You're a big idiot."
And Lang couldn't argue with that.
When the time came, she gave her last request.
"Let me see the moon."
She didn't dare hope, and she had no way of knowing, but maybe he was looking at it too, and if this was their only connection then maybe it was enough.
So, long story short,
Lang : I trust you, Shih-nah.
Shih-nah : Thanks. Do you want to make out?
Lang : Eww, no.
Shih-nah : Okay. Do you want to have an ambiguous relationship, then?
Lang : !!! Do I ever!
Shih-nah : lulz, I'm a traitor.
Lang : Oh dang, a bullet.
Shih-nah : lulz lulz lulz
Lang : ):
Shih-nah : ... ):
So yes. This was an ambiguous story about Lang and Shih-nah... I don't know if I managed it right, Shih-nah became a weird mix of Shih-nah/Callisto/OOC.
But anyway, thanks for reading. Please review (or not) as you see fit :)