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at the end of the day, i have you to hold me close

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An Zhe slowly blinked his eyes, his body still numb from oversleeping.

He hasn’t completely pulled his consciousness away from that messy dream, afterimages flashing before his eyes every time he took a breath. He chased after what he had seen in his slumber: humongous insects, a city caged inside gigantic walls, a field of roses, and a man.

Who was that man?

An Zhe can faintly remember his silhouette; broad shoulders that gave him a sense of security, arms that would always protect him when needed, eyes a dazzling green that can enslave him for eternity.

An Zhe suddenly felt like he lost something. But what was it?

His mind wandered for a bit, but he still couldn’t remember anything about the man in his dreams. He only felt that he was a bit familiar.

Sighing, he tossed the matter to the back of his mind as he routinely moved to get up, wash up and go down to have breakfast with his older brother, An Ze.

An Ze smiled at him when he saw him enter the dining room; his smile was like a gentle radiance touching upon An Zhe’s disgruntled soul. “You’re awake? Come and eat with me.”

An Zhe, feeling relaxed all over, nodded and sat down, immediately reaching out for the potato soup that was still steaming hot. His older brother issued a timely reminder of “Careful, it’s hot!” before assisting him with his bowl.

His older brother works as a freelance photographer, a carefree young man who knows nothing of cruelty and is the depiction of a kind soul. He used to travel to a lot of places, coming home with gifts and souvenirs for his beloved younger brother; then he’d show him the photos he took, every single one of them. That was until the accident happened. He had been taking care of An Zhe ever since their parents passed away all those years ago, and An Zhe sees him as nothing short of his protector. An Ze spoils him and loves him, especially since they both know that An Zhe’s health is not at all normal.

The doctors said he had a weak heart, so he shouldn’t get too excited or upset, else he risked suffering from a heart attack. Because of this, An Ze took it upon himself to keep an eye on An Zhe; he stops him from being too exhausted, too angry or too—

He took it as if An Zhe, his precious little brother, was porcelain that could shatter if he wasn’t careful.

An Zhe honestly had no problems with the way his older brother takes care of him. Some older relatives used to say that An Ze was keeping the little one from making friends, but if you ask An Zhe, he preferred staying at home and reading books or tending to his small garden in the backyard. He didn’t like crowds, or loud music, or the smell of alcohol and cigarettes that people his age are going crazy about.

He’s already 20 years old, but he was more and more like a child the older he got; ignorant and innocent, truly an adorable human being.

An Zhe blew on the soup, and for a second, he thought he saw another man sitting across him. There was a flash of black, but then it disappeared like a mirage so fast that he didn’t have time to react before a cold hand reached out to pinch his cheek.

“Pay attention when you’re eating,” a low, metallic voice sounded near his ear.

An Zhe looked over. It was Lu Feng.

Who was Lu Feng? He’s been in the family ever since An Zhe can remember walking. His father had brought the little kid back then and introduced him as the son of his friend who had recently passed away. Her mother… she couldn’t be mentioned. Her mental health deteriorated so much she couldn’t even remember her own name. Thus, the kid named Lu Feng started to live with An Zhe’s family.

An Zhe’s nose felt itchy.

“I am paying attention,” he says, stubborn. “Don’t pinch my cheek. It hurts.”

Lu Feng doesn’t speak anymore. He only raises a sharp eyebrow, a smile in his eyes, before greeting An Ze ‘good morning’. He doesn’t even look at An Zhe again while he scooped mushroom soup into his bowl, earning a glare from the little guy beside him.

An Zhe grew those mushrooms himself. He wanted to take care of them because he once saw pictures of the little fungi on the internet, and he thought they were cute. But this cruel man named Lu Feng always asked for mushroom soup during his birthday every year.

An Zhe could only let go of his anger.

That’s right, today is Lu Feng’s birthday. This man was older than him by a few years, but he’s always incredibly childish when he’s with An Zhe. He would tease him all the time, and An Zhe can do nothing but seethe with anger quietly. He would pout and ignore Lu Feng, but the other man would just laugh at his misery.

Lu Feng, according to An Zhe’s analysis, was a bully. And he unfortunately only likes to bully An Zhe. Otherwise, he would have done the same to his older brother, but he didn’t.

Thinking of this, An Zhe felt like sulking even more.

“Ge, it’s your birthday today. Happy birthday! Do you have any plans?” An Ze was the first to speak again. He was done eating, and his arms were placed on top of the table, fingers clasped together.

Lu Feng didn’t spare him a glance as he spoke. “Nothing.”

“Nothing?” An Ze glanced at his little brother; An Zhe returned his gaze, eyes full of innocence he was almost tempted to squish his little brother’s cheeks to mush.

For a moment, An Ze didn’t say anything. He pursed his lips, thinking.

Lu Feng has been with them for years, thus, he had celebrated his birthday in the An family’s home every time. Previously, this occasion ends up with the three of them preparing a simple meal that could end up with An Zhe and Lu Feng fighting over what soup they would cook: mushroom or potato. In the end, both sides compromised by having both on the table, just like today.

An Ze thought, ‘Is today going to be the same?’

To tell the truth, he had something to do today. His college professor had contacted him for a project that would take him away from home for at least a week. Of course, he wasn’t worried about his brother. Although he did dote on him very much, he could still depend on Lu Feng for this task. But on the other hand, his brother…

Suddenly, An Ze got an idea.

“An Zhe, gege has something to ask of you today,” he slowly began. “Dr. Polly Joan contacted me and I can’t join today’s celebration because I have an urgent project I need to work on with Dr. Ji. Can you accompany Lu Feng-ge for today?”

He obviously saw his brother’s expressionless face change. He looked very nervous, his eyes darting to his brother immediately. In comparison, Lu Feng looked like he was suddenly glowing; he radiated happiness all over. Of course, An Ze knew what this meant.

He wasn’t blind; he knew Lu Feng held affection deeper than the sea for his younger brother.

At first, he was worried about what would happen next. Lu Feng, although he was respectful and loyal to their family, he was still only a personal bodyguard their father had appointed to An Zhe before they died. An Ze was also worried about his brother’s reaction. So he continued to watch, all these years, and he knew he wasn’t wrong.

But what surprised him was that Lu Feng didn’t even give the slightest hints to his younger brother. Yes, he teased him and his eyes were gentler when he’s talking to An Zhe, but never once had he mentioned his true feelings. He buried them deep, keeping a fine line of “master” and “humble servant” between the two of them.

An Zhe… well, he may say he dislikes the dishonest Lu Feng who would trick him in some days, but An Ze knew his brother’s heart like the back of his hand. If An Zhe truly disliked him, he wouldn’t bother with him anymore. But on the contrary, An Zhe was always seeking for Lu Feng’s care. When he was younger, he would always ask where the older man was, and although this kind of routine dwindled over the years, An Ze could still see it in his little brother’s eyes.

An Zhe likes Lu Feng as well. Maybe he doesn’t realize it yet, but the feeling was there.

With this discovery, An Ze’s heart was finally at ease.

To him, it didn’t matter whether Lu Feng was just a common man working for their family. He has been with them for years; he’s practically part of their home now. Besides that, An Zhe’s heart is more important than what other people might say once this issue is spread. His brother deserves the world, and if that is a man named Lu Feng, An Ze would do anything to ensure his brother ends up happy.

“I’m really sorry, didi,” An Ze coaxed, although he could practically see the twinkle in his little brother’s eyes. He could only inwardly sigh and continue saying, “Both of you can go to the amusement park or the mall today. Have a good day outside and head back home after. Gege will be gone for three days, so you must listen to Feng-ge here, do you understand, An Zhe?”

An Zhe felt like he was sitting on coal.

He thought today was going to be the same, but apparently, his older brother made plans in advance and couldn’t join them. An Zhe doesn’t blame his older brother in any way, though, because he knows how much An Ze values his career in photography. So, in the end, he simply nods and casts a quick glance towards Lu Feng.

Contrary to his expectation of the other man being ready to protest, Lu Feng gave him a small smile instead, rubbed his head and then continued eating his mushroom soup as if nothing happened.

Knitting his eyebrows close, An Zhe felt annoyed; now his hair is messed up!

 

Their first stop was a fancy cafe.

Actually, it was An Zhe who suddenly ran up towards the establishment as soon as he saw the word ‘cakes’ on the signboard outside. Lu Feng could only helplessly smile, his heart brimming with care and indulgence for his little ancestor.

Today, like An Ze had suggested, Lu Feng would be spending his birthday with An Zhe.

It was a first for both of them, so it had been very awkward at first as they walked down the streets, one in front and one trailing behind like a dropping tail. They didn’t take a car either, since their home was near various kinds of shops anyway.

Lu Feng walked without care, his head held high as if he was some soldier marching to war. An Zhe, on the other hand… He looked at Lu Feng’s back with apprehension.

For some reason, his heart was uneasy, like it was going to jump out of his body any time soon. He gingerly rubbed his palms together, trying to calm down. For a second, he had a vision of the same back walking away from him in a world too far away for him to reach. That same back that held enormous responsibility and the air around the man who seemed to carry the world on his shoulders… An Zhe felt like he had seen it all before.

In his mind, he felt like if this back disappeared from his sight one more time, he would never feel complete until the day he died.

When that thought struck his mind, An Zhe subconsciously stops and stays rooted in place. It wasn’t until he felt someone grab his wrist in a secure hold that he was jolted back to the present. He looks up and meets Lu Feng’s emerald orbs, a hint of concern in them.

“What’s wrong?” He asked, and An Zhe could only shake his head because he doesn’t even know what was wrong himself.

It was then that his distracted mind caught sight of the signboard behind Lu Feng. The world seemed to be okay all of a sudden and An Zhe showed a bright smile. As such, he was presently sitting in his chair like an overexcited kid, while Lu Feng lined up to the counter to buy a slice of the cake An Zhe had pointed to when they entered the cafe.

It was almost like it was An Zhe’s birthday, instead of Lu Feng’s.

“Here.” Lu Feng placed down a small plate in front of An Zhe.

On it, there was a single slice of a dark chocolate cake with strawberry pieces on top. An Zhe’s eyes shone and he giggled, sending Lu Feng’s heart into an erratic state for a split second.

“What did you get for yourself?” An Zhe asked, eyeing the small thing in front of Lu Feng. “A cupcake? Why not a cake? Today’s your birthday, so shouldn’t you celebrate it with a cake?”

What Lu Feng had ordered was indeed one single cupcake with green frostings that resemble grass, and there was a tiny yellow flower on top of the grass, as well as… a mushroom with a red cap with white dots on it.

The key point that An Zhe was able to grasp was: there was still a mushroom.

What is this tricky man and his love for mushrooms? Did he want to become one? An Zhe couldn’t understand it, and Lu Feng didn’t explain it to him either, so he could only let go of this and begin eating his cake.

To call it delicious would be an understatement.

Because they always stay at home when they celebrated birthdays before, An Zhe could only taste his older brother’s home-baked cakes. Those were delicious too, but this one slice that Lu Feng had brought for him tasted especially sweet and heavenly. The dark chocolate tasted a little bitter, but somehow it reminded him of the soil that he used to cultivate in his garden. It smelled wonderful; very rich and flavorful. He popped a strawberry into his mouth and immediately smiled; the little fruit was tasty and fresh and An Zhe liked it very much. He couldn’t stop himself from sucking on the spoon, conflicted over wanting to eat more and not wanting to eat too much.

“Do you like it?” Lu Feng suddenly asked.

“What?” He wasn’t paying attention; An Zhe didn’t know what question Lu Feng had asked him but seeing the playful curve of his lips, An Zhe deduced he was being teased again.

Un,” he said vaguely, looking away from the man’s piercing gaze. “It’s very sweet.”

Out of the corner of his eye, An Zhe saw the older man reach out a hand across the table. He wanted to move away out of instinct, but for some reason, he didn’t. He remained seated there, eyes locked on the spoon he gripped on his hand.

Lu Feng’s thumb landed on his lips, and An Zhe felt a shiver go down his spine from that touch alone. Then the thumb moved and swiped across to the corner of his lips, wiping off something, before the familiar warmth finally left. An Zhe followed the thumb and traced it back to its owner, who rather shamelessly licked the chocolate icing on his thumb.

Boom! An Zhe’s face went red as a tomato.

This… this man was truly evil! How dare he make such… such ambiguous actions! An Zhe wanted nothing more than to split open his skull and examine his thoughts, but also, he thought Lu Feng wouldn’t look so handsome anymore if he no longer had a head. Thus, he calmed down in some way or another.

However, this wolf named Lu Feng truly wasn’t satisfied. “You’re right, it does taste sweet,” he even commented with laughter in his voice.

An Zhe… An Zhe really wanted to hit him!

Seeing how fast An Zhe was breathing, Lu Feng finally decided to stop and appease his little ancestor. He handed him a glass of cranberry juice, then turned towards his mushroom cupcake which he ate very carefully, like he was savoring every bit of it.

An Zhe didn’t know Lu Feng liked sweets, so he asked him, but the man only said, “I like the little mushroom.”

What kind of answer was that?

Although dissatisfied, An Zhe decided to enjoy his cake rather than trouble himself with the man in front of him. He ate with relish, even wanting to lick the plate after he was finished.Seeing he was done, Lu Feng wiped away the icing that stained the corner of his lips and licked it from his thumb once more; this time, An Zhe didn’t react so strongly.

Rather, he was trying so hard to ignore the man’s actions, or else he would collapse on the spot because of how fast his heart was beating.

An Zhe hated Lu Feng.

Or at least that’s what he tells himself at times when this man would do nothing but tease and bully him. He wanted to bite him whenever he came too close, or pinch him whenever his hand wandered to rub An Zhe’s head into a messy nest. However, sometimes he could also feel something else.

He didn’t understand what it was, but it felt like he was waiting for something to be given to him by this man. It was like Lu Feng held a puzzle piece in his hand, and that piece is the only one missing from An Zhe’s life.

He was yearning. He truly didn’t understand that, but it described what he felt for Lu Feng.

He was yearning for this man’s loving warmth, for this man’s gentle and doting gaze, for this man’s arms to hold him close… It felt embarrassing to admit he liked him, so he doesn’t. He continues to say he doesn’t understand, even though he already does.

“Do you have a birthday gift for me?”

An Zhe looked up in confusion. “Gift? Is it necessary? But we haven’t given gifts before.”

“Well, I want one now.” Lu Feng leaned back on his chair, looking extremely hot that it gave An Zhe an itch in his heart. The man looked majestic even in his everyday clothes; these common clothing couldn’t hide away his sharpness and intellect. It was like he resembled a blade that was temporarily put back on its sheath, harmless, but only when not provoked.

“Okay,” An Zhe said with difficulty. For some reason his throat felt dry. “What… what do you want as your birthday gift?”

Suddenly leaning forward, Lu Feng set his eyes on the other man, then he whispered two simple words, “Birthday kiss.”

An Zhe blinked his eyes innocently. “Eh?”

“Birthday kiss.” Lu Feng repeats as he points to his lips.

Like a volcano about to erupt, heat slowly rose to An Zhe’s face when he realized what Lu Feng was asking. He wants… a birthday kiss? From who? From An Zhe? Ah, that made the little fellow dizzier than he already felt. Right now, he could almost swear that the top of his head was giving off smoke!

But at the same time… as Lu Feng watched the changes of his expression carefully, An Zhe had a thought in his mind. For some reason he didn’t want to acknowledge yet, his heart was agreeing to this ‘gift’. He wanted to kiss Lu Feng, as much as the other man wanted to kiss him, too… hopefully.

His mind burning with the stray thought that he suddenly gripped onto, An Zhe looked all around the cafe first before he timidly stood up from his seat and moved to the empty chair beside Lu Feng. He was even slightly trembling, but he couldn’t stop himself from feeling elated.

He was going to do it! He was going to kiss Lu Feng!

“Happy birthday,” he whispers beneath his breath as he tilts his chin up, placing a peck of his love on the other man’s smiling lips. When he moved away, the corners of Lu Feng’s eyes were even visibly crinkled with joy.

“Yes,” Lu Feng whispered back to him, drawing closer, “Happy birthday to me.”

Suddenly abandoning the confidence he had mustered up until this point, An Zhe turned tail and abruptly stood up. Throwing down the words ‘Let’s go to the mall!’ as if his mouth was on fire, he ran away and left Lu Feng hanging.

Lu Feng… well, at least he got his kiss, so he was not at all upset. In fact, he felt that An Zhe was rather cute when he panicked, and his lips tasted sweeter after that realization.

Licking his lips, he followed An Zhe out of the cafe.

 

Their second stop was a shopping district.

Usually, An Zhe would have disliked going to places with many people, but today was especially different. Aside from the fact that it was Lu Feng’s birthday, a strange thought had been on his  mind ever since that time in the cafe.

Doesn’t this seem… like a date?

To be fair, he’s not really sure what a ‘date’ meant. He watched romance movies before and searched about it online, but studying was different from personally experiencing it. According to those articles that he read and from the movies he used as references in his mind, today was indeed like a date.

He analyzed it again and again and came to the same conclusion every time.

First, they were together for the first time. An Ze was usually there to act as their bridge, yet the atmosphere between them had been gradually warming up at a speed visible to the naked eye even with his older brother missing from the picture. Earlier, one had walked in front and one followed behind; this time, Lu Feng made sure they were walking shoulder to shoulder, their hands brushing past each other every now and then.

Second, they had visited a place that had a lot of couples as customers. He didn’t notice it at the time because he was too absorbed with the fact that he gets to eat cake, but most customers were probably couples in that cafe. Most… except for them? And now… now, Lu Feng was going to take him to a shopping district.

He didn’t know what kind of shopping Lu Feng usually does. In fact, seeing him wear casual clothes today came as a surprise, too. All year round, this man would wear a black suit and black gloves, looking like a secret agent from those movies An Ze had banned him from watching out of fear he would imitate the violence depicted.

So today, An Zhe felt genuinely out of sorts when Lu Feng led him into a small shop with an English name plastered in front of the shop; he didn’t recognize that word.

The interior of the shop was very homely. An Zhe relaxed immediately, and he began to look around to admire the things that were new to him.

The room was very bright, and rows upon rows of shelves full of cute items and clothes racks were arranged accordingly. There were human-sized teddy bears set to the side, looking extremely cuddly An Zhe was tempted to settle down in their midst and sleep. There were hats and headbands with animals on top of one shelf and fun glasses with all sorts of accessories. The other side of the store focused more on the clothes.

An Zhe particularly eyed a hoodie with some sort of cute drawing in the middle; he wanted it.

Lu Feng, on the other hand, only quietly led him to the back where they were greeted by a young man with a beautiful face. He was sitting on a reclining chair with a book and a pen in his hand. Silver-framed glasses perched on his nose, making him look extremely scholarly. When he noticed there were people nearby, he looked up, and An Zhe realized he really was a very good-looking person.

The man smiled and addressed Lu Feng first, “Sir! What brings you to the shop today?”

“Where’s the owner?” He avoided the question and asked right back, raising an eyebrow. “You’re babysitting the shop again?”

“Boss Shaw said he needs to fetch some orders that arrived yesterday,” the youth shrugged and closed his book. Finally, noticing An Zhe who had instinctively hidden behind Lu Feng, he said brightly, “And who’s this? The young master you were talking about?”

“An Zhe.” Lu Feng introduced, direct and concise.

“I’m Poet,” the beautiful youth said. “Enjoy your… date.”

An Zhe’s heart gave off a loud thud.

Without replying, Lu Feng steered An Zhe back to the shelves, humming a soft ‘ un ’ before leading him to look at the displayed items. An Zhe watched as Lu Feng scanned the items before them and followed his every movement as he picked up a headband with cat ears. He handed this to An Zhe.

“Here,” the older man said, even helping him put it on when An Zhe didn’t take it at first.

When Lu Feng stepped back to admire the results, An Zhe brought up a hand and gingerly touched the soft ears attached to the headband. It felt smooth to touch, so he enjoyed fiddling with it for quite some time before he noticed that Lu Feng was still looking at him attentively.

“What is it?” An Zhe asked anxiously. He was afraid Lu Feng was mad at him because he left him in the, but he didn’t say this earlier. He only observed Lu Feng’s side profile when they walked towards this place. “Do I look funny?”

“No.” He truly was a man of few words.

A few seconds later, he spoke again, “Can I have another birthday gift?”

An Zhe narrowed his eyes.

What gift? He already gave him one! Wasn’t that… kiss… wasn’t that a birthday gift? An Zhe felt like he was being taken advantage of, but his heart was particularly soft for this man that he always cursed in his mind but loved in his heart. So, like a meek wife, he nodded his head.

“Good,” Lu Feng smiled. “Then go ahead and poke both your cheeks and follow what I say…”

Confused, An Zhe brought up two hands and used his fingers to poke his right and left cheek. Lu Feng nodded in approval, seeing him so obedient.

“Okay, say ‘I am cute’,” the green-eyed man instructed.

With a straight face, An Zhe echoed, “I am… cute.”

After that, Lu Feng did something certainly unspeakable and out of the blue. He laughed out loud, reaching over to pinch An Zhe’s cheek and said, “Yes, you are,” his voice overflowing with love and care.

An Zhe’s face turned as red as a toadstool mushroom’s cap.

Due to his embarrassment, he found it difficult to respond. He immediately turned away and patted his warm cheeks. That man named Lu Feng really is an old fox, so full of tricks!

Even the Poet who was listening in from the back of the shop felt shivers down his spine. This Sir is indeed very weird! It was just like what Boss Shaw said! He shook his head and continued reading his book, no longer paying attention to the lovebirds who were too busy in their own world.

On the other hand, Lu Feng continued to drag An Zhe around the shop, putting on all sorts of accessories on him and asking him to pose every now and then. To others, this might seem really tiring and pointless, but An Zhe felt that he was soaring. His footsteps were light as he followed Lu Feng around, eyes full of joy the more they played around.

In the end, after more than an hour, they finally bid farewell to Poet and exited the shop. An Zhe had been empty-handed when they arrived, but when they left he was already carrying a large black panther stuffed toy in his arms. The large green eyes stared up at An Zhe, making him inwardly giggle, because in his mind, a man’s face immediately popped up.

The sun was already dipping low, painting the sky in various shades of orange, yellow and red. When the wind blew, An Zhe shivered slightly; he used a hand to rub up and down his arm in order to keep himself from suddenly getting cold. It was then Lu Feng pulled out something from the bag he was carrying and forcibly made An Zhe wear it over his head.

After fixing his appearance and combing down his hair, An Zhe realized it was the hoodie he saw earlier. He stared at the little cartoon drawing in the middle; it was yet another mushroom. This time, it even had a happy face and arms that carried a little flower.

Lu Feng gave him a small smile when their eyes met, and then he was dragging An Zhe by the wrist towards their last destination for today: the amusement park.

 

An Zhe didn’t know when it had become like that, but by the time they arrived in front of the amusement park’s entrance, their fingers were already intertwined. The spaces between An Zhe’s fingers strangely felt like the perfect fit for Lu Feng’s; it was like their hands were molded together, locked in a tight hold that signified their unspoken claim over each other.

The amusement park was large, but it looked extremely barren at this time of the day. It was nearing 6 o’clock, and most guests were either leaving or having dinner in the park’s restaurant. Although there were only a few people walking around, however, the entire area was brightly lit with blinking lights, all differing in colors, shapes and sizes.

It reminded An Zhe of that time when his older brother An Ze and Lu Feng took him to a countryside villa where they marvelled at a thousand fireflies floating around the huge tree in the courtyard when night had fallen. Back then, An Zhe had wanted to catch one with his bare hands, unsuccessful no matter how many times he tried. He sulked all night in his room, but it didn’t last for long. Before midnight, Lu Feng had handed him a bottle full of fireflies.

Scrunching up his brows, he glanced at Lu Feng who had walked away to purchase tickets for a Ferris wheel ride. As people walked past the space between them, An Zhe couldn’t stop himself from thinking, At that time, why did you give me that?

Was it because he felt like it was his duty to accomplish An Zhe’s unfulfilled wishes as his “humble servant,” or was it because he simply wanted to do that, to give An Zhe what he wants without asking for anything in return?

Somehow, his eyes felt like it was stinging.

Blinking away the forming tears, An Zhe saw another hallucination; he saw Lu Feng standing in a crowd, but this crowd looked at him with eyes full of anger and disdain. And Lu Feng… his Lu Feng, he stood there with a blank expression, like a lifeless body left to wander the world. He looked cold, desolate, and lonely.

An Zhe didn’t want him to be lonely. He wants to be by his side. To always be someone Lu Feng can depend on, the one who can hold him down when he feels like he’s floating through an endless void.

If he is cold, An Zhe will give him warmth. If he is desolate, he will fill him with his love. If he is lonely, then An Zhe will be with him. Forever. It’s a promise, one that he will never break.

His body suddenly moved on its own, and before An Zhe could think of stopping, he had already reached out to take hold of Lu Feng’s hand once again. The older man looked at him with surprise, eyes blinking confusedly. Blessing him with an honest smile, An Zhe interlaced their fingers.

“I don’t want to get lost,” he says. I don’t want to lose you.

Lu Feng’s grip on his hand tightened, and the man seemed to smile quietly. “Okay, then don’t let go of my hand.”

The line was quite short, so it didn't take long for them before they got on the ferris wheel. An Zhe settled down first, followed by Lu Feng, who had been designated to carry the stuffed toy this time. They sat across each other and for a moment, the carriage was completely quiet.

An Zhe could hear his heart beating loudly, so he tried to breathe in and out to steady himself. Lu Feng chuckled as he watched him, but he didn’t say anything else.

When the ride finally took off, An Zhe had already spent a great deal of looking outside. He had begun reflecting on his actions today. From the moment he woke up, to the moment he grabbed Lu Feng’s hand voluntarily, he already knew something was not right.

First, his dream. So vivid, so realistic. It was almost like he had really lived through that time. A time of chaos and doom, of restlessness and conflict. He remembers the smell of smoke and war, of blood and dust. And then… and then the eternal peace that the shade of green brought to him; it was the color of Lu Feng’s eyes.

During breakfast, he had a brief glimpse of seeing Lu Feng eat mushroom soup in front of him, even before the man had shown himself in the dining room. On the way to the cafe, he had also felt that nagging feeling of deja vu. This was triggered by the view of Lu Feng’s back as he walked in front of him. That image overlapped with the one he saw in his dream, of Lu Feng walking away to head off to fulfill a duty he may never come back from. An Zhe felt indescribable pain when he imagined never seeing this man again.

And now, it was that vision of Lu Feng’s solitary figure.

An Zhe truly couldn’t explain all of this.

Were his dream and visions really just those? He couldn’t understand it. Why did he feel like he had already known Lu Feng way before this lifetime? Why was it that he couldn’t stop himself from wanting to be by this man’s side?

He was clearly dishonest. He would play tricks on him. He would tease him endlessly. He would always pinch his cheeks and ruffle his hair. He would always smile whenever he found An Zhe doing something amusing. He would always eat the mushrooms he grew in the backyard. He would always be near him, protecting him, looking at him.

He was always there.

Right from the start, Lu Feng has always been there.

“What are you thinking about?” Lu Feng’s question jolts An Zhe back to reality.

He looks over, shaking his head. “Nothing. It is my first time riding the Ferris wheel.”

Lu Feng beckons him over, and An Zhe moves carefully to his side. Without saying anything else, Lu Feng wrapped an arm around his little ancestor’s shoulders and pulled him close to his body. He seemed to inhale deeply, his breath shaky and his voice was hoarse when he spoke right next to An Zhe’s sensitive ear.

“What should I do with you?”

What do you want to do?

An Zhe kept his silence. Instead, he hugged Lu Feng like he was holding a large child, patting his back in a rhythmic pattern. Pat, pat, pat. Each time his soft palms landed on the man’s sturdy back, he could feel his rapid heartbeat. An Zhe wanted to laugh; his heart was beating as fast as Lu Feng’s as well.

“An Zhe, I…”

Boom! An Zhe jumped from his seat.

The loud fireworks had exploded in the sky right when Lu Feng was about to say something. Because An Zhe had been paying close attention to the serenity of their carriage and listening to their hearts beating as one, he was greatly unprepared when the loud sound broke through the silence.

Immediately, he felt his whole world turn sideways. His breathing became erratic and his heart felt like it was going to burst out of his chest. He couldn’t hear anything except for the roar in his ears. Desperate for protection, he clung to Lu Feng’s clothes, and the man didn’t fail him. Lu Feng held him down and comforted him.

“It’s okay, I’m here,” was what he kept repeating to An Zhe.

Finally, he swiftly cupped An Zhe’s face with his large hands, and he looked deeply into the little fellow’s eyes. There was fear in them, and maybe something else. An Zhe was looking at him like he was a drowning man waiting for salvation. His eyes were wide and moist, and his chest heaved up and down rapidly.

Whispering an apology, Lu Feng captured An Zhe’s lips with his own.

The kiss was gentle and shallow, delicate as the first snow falling in winter and cautious as a butterfly’s touch. Still trembling, An Zhe covered Lu Feng’s hands with his own as his eyelids fluttered close. Lu Feng moved closer, deepening the kiss. An Zhe took in a deep breath and felt himself calming, letting the rush of emotions overwhelm him completely.

Lu Feng hugged him tighter as if wanting their bodies to merge; An Zhe didn’t resist at all. He put his arms around Lu Feng’s neck and tilted his chin up. Lu Feng seemed to understand what he wanted, so he calmed down as well.

This kiss was both poison and cure to An Zhe’s system. At that moment, he felt the heavy feeling in his heart go away, disappearing like smoke, and be replaced with immeasurable happiness. However, it was too good that he couldn’t stop. He cried, and he couldn’t stop that, too.

I like you. I know now, I like you so much it hurts.

In the background, blueish-green fireworks popped off and dazzled the sky with its beautiful colors. It looked so beautiful and enchanting; it was almost similar to the Northern Lights. However, two people weren’t able to see this bewitching sight.

In the Ferris wheel carriage that had stopped at the peak, two halves of a soul finally came together as one.

 

On the way home, An Zhe was carried by Lu Feng on his back.

The little fellow wrapped his slender arms around the older man’s neck and buried his face on his shoulder, mentally counting each step he took. The stuffed toy was made to cling to his neck as well, like a little kitten climbing up a tree.

After An Zhe had gotten a shock because of the fireworks, and on top of kissing Lu Feng until he was robbed of his strength, it was inevitable for An Zhe to be unable to walk on his own. He got off the carriage unstably, his knees so weak he had to hold onto Lu Feng so he won’t stumble. In the end, Lu Feng decided to carry him, laughingly calling him as light as a feather, before messing up his hair once again.

But An Zhe didn’t get angry at this. Instead, he felt himself blush.

The silence stretched between them, but it didn’t feel uncomfortable.

An Zhe found himself admiring the full moon, its silver light casting a gentle illumination on their surroundings. At this moment, there was only Lu Feng and him, their shadows cast on the pavement as if a fleeting proof of their existence in this world.

Then, he remembered a line from his childhood, his older brother’s voice echoing in his ears.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil.” He recited it quietly, but then he realized he was telling this to Lu Feng. “For you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Lu Feng chuckled lowly. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. I shall dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.”

“You know it, too.” An Zhe tilts his head, completely at ease with his position on Lu Feng’s back. “Did my older brother recite that to you as well?”

Lu Feng hums in agreement. “There’s more.”

“What is it?”

“You are my present, my beginning and end,” Lu Feng says seriously. He doesn’t look back to An Zhe’s curious gaze; instead, he keeps his eyes on the path, his face expressionless as ever.

An Zhe thought about it. “Is that a line from a poem, too?”

Lu Feng didn’t answer. An Zhe waited.

Once again, the peaceful silence settled between the two.

However, when An Zhe finally thought Lu Feng wouldn’t answer to his question, the other man opened his mouth again and said, “No, I am saying that to you.”

An Zhe felt that his heart was soft. He nuzzled against the crook of Lu Feng’s neck and mumbled softly, “It is a good line. I like it.”

He could hear the rumble of Lu Feng’s laughter. It seemed so far away, and then he realized he was getting sleepy. He held onto Lu Feng tighter and let out a very contented sigh.

It looks like he finally found what he was looking for. He’s not going to gently walk alone into that good night anymore, when that time comes.

He repeated Lu Feng’s words over and over in his mind as he slipped into a deep slumber. He felt that what Lu Feng said was true.

They will be each other’s present, their beginning and their end.

I am not scared , An Zhe doesn’t say. Because at the end of the day, I have you to hold me close.