Lu Feng watched the man he had been tailing for the past week exit the building. He had watched him enter it two hours ago, looking exhausted, stressed, and high-strung. Kind of how Lu Feng felt, to be perfectly honest.
Now the man looked blissfully relaxed, his shoulders dropped with the lack of tension, his gait loose and casual. He was no longer gritting his teeth, and he was blinking hazily as he rubbed at his eyes. Lu Feng’s jaw clenched with envy. It’s partly because he wanted to feel just as rested and relaxed as the man clearly looked.
Pushing himself off the wall, Lu Feng made a beeline for him from across the street. Just as he was about to approach, the man turned away, bringing the phone up to his ear.
He paused ten feet away, turning to casually lean against the wall. His curiosity won over the immediate desire to apprehend the man.
“Yeah, I just finished.” The man laughed, “I don’t know how he does it, he has magic hands or a magic body or something.”
Lu Feng grimaced. He knew exactly who this man was talking about, and it made something ugly inside him grow with each flippant comment. He had personally run into An Zhe many times.
The first time, he was moving into the building. Lu Feng had been tailing someone for a client, following a tip off about a drug deal happening on the roof, and had maybe been a bit cruel in his rush when he pushed past An Zhe to get there.
Unfortunately, he had missed the drop off. Not even five minutes later, on his way back down, he came across An Zhe who was still collecting the papers and books that had spilled out of the boxes Lu Feng had knocked out of his arms. He had dropped down beside him and helped him collect the rest. He even helped him move the rest of his stuff from a beat-up car parked in the back alleyway. They had exchanged names awkwardly, but Lu Feng was not talkative, and apparently neither was An Zhe.
He didn’t ask what he was doing here. Most people in this building had very specific occupations that a private investigator like him did not need to know of. When he learned An Zhe was moving into an apartment on the third floor, it solidified his decision to not ask.
That was Du Sai’s floor.
Looking at An Zhe’s smooth, pale skin, and delicate thin frame, he could see why he’d be working here. It just seemed… unfortunate. Realistically, An Zhe was extremely pretty. He had large, dark eyes and full pouty lips. He was always looking away, peering up at him through the curve of his thick lashes. He seemed young. He looked like his life should just be starting, not wherever he is now, stuck in a rundown apartment with a job like that.
He listened to the man yabber away on his phone about how relaxed he felt. A part of him felt guilty. Wasn’t he also as bad as this person right now? He had caught himself staring at An Zhe a couple times. He couldn’t help but notice his long elegant fingers — and when they shook hands, Lu Feng noticed his palms were smooth and cool.
He also caught An Zhe watching him with his dark eyes, unafraid. It was like he would catch himself staring, and then look away out of politeness. But he would always end up staring at him again in some way, like Lu Feng was something fascinating rather than one of the most hated people in this district.
Many thought of Lu Feng as an unofficial snitch. Most did not trust him.
He had never met any of Du Sai's sex workers, with the way they carefully never brought any work home. The one time a jealous spouse had hired him to track down who their lover was cheating on them with, he had found it especially difficult to find much on Du Sai’s people.
They seemed to work spread out throughout the city, and it was hard to pinpoint any of them. They all avoided him, ducking around corners or avoiding eye contact, careful to avoid any kind of authority figure. But An Zhe had returning customers, and it seemed like he worked out of his very own apartment. He didn’t even try to be discreet, his working hours seemed to run during the day rather than the night.
Lu Feng had watched the endless stream of clients with disgust, and a little bit of something else. Something ugly and jealous. Some of the clients were women, but most were men.
The first time he realised a client had stayed with An Zhe for a full four-and-a-half hours, he was sure he would find his dead body left behind in his home. He didn’t know of many sex workers who worked such long hours per client. But when he knocked on the door, An Zhe answered and seemed… fine.
His messy hair and rumpled clothes made it clear what he had been up to. An Zhe was blinking blearily up at him, stifling a yawn. He seemed confused, and also tired. Lu Feng quickly scanned him for any warning signs, anything to indicate he should do something right now, call it in to report it officially, or chase after the man who had just left all happy and satisfied.
But there was nothing damning. He couldn’t see any bruises or injuries. An Zhe didn’t seem to be in distress or in any pain. He had no visible injuries. He asked if An Zhe was okay, if he needed any help, but the young man just cocked his head and stared back with his watchful dark eyes.
“I’m okay.” He had said. Then, “Are you? Do you need to eat something? I have soup on the stove.” He stepped back and gestured behind him, pushing the door further, waving towards the small kitchen just a few steps away from the entryway of the apartment, visible from here.
Lu Feng had taken one look at the messy bed tucked in the corner of the bachelor pad, and backed away. He had said something generic, apologizing for disturbing him, before booking it out of the apartment building.
It bothered him that An Zhe had invited him in so easily. He wondered if An Zhe invited everyone in so easily like that. Perhaps that was why he was so popular, despite how new he was. It irked him. That kind of attitude will likely get him killed one of these days.
He snaps out of his thoughts when he realises the man he had been tailing had wandered off in the opposite direction, practically a full block away now. Hesitating for a second, he’s torn between chasing after him, or going up to check on An Zhe.
The choice isn’t as hard as it should’ve been.
When An Zhe answers his door, Lu Feng is so distracted by how cute he is in his frilly apron, that he doesn’t say anything at first.
“Do you want to come in? You seem a little… tired.” An Zhe asked hesitantly. He blinked up at Lu Feng’s furrowed eyebrows, reaching out to smooth over them with delicate fingers. “I just made dinner. You could have some with me.” He offers quietly, flashing a rare shy smile.
Lu Feng doesn’t know what comes over him, maybe it’s the lack of sleep catching up to him. Or that for a second he imagines this could’ve been his life, coming to a home after work to freshly cooked dinner and kind eyes. He thinks about his cold and lifeless apartment, with his empty fridge and pantry.
He follows An Zhe into his home.
Dinner turns out to be a thick creamy potato soup. It’s filling, warming Lu Feng up from the inside out. He hasn’t had a freshly-made hot meal like this in a long time.
“Was... work okay today?” Lu Feng asks, stiltedly.
An Zhe nods, chewing on a mouthful of potato. He swallows. “Usually it’s not bad. Today was an easy session.”
Lu Feng carefully does not let his scowl show.
“Actually…” An Zhe licks his lips nervously, his hands fidgeting in his lap. “I was going to offer you, um, a free trial.”
… What? Alarms start going off inside his head. Extreme alarm because he doesn’t immediately say no.
“I know it sounds weird!” An Zhe immediately says, defensively. He puts his spoon down. “I just think you could benefit from it. It’s a natural antidepressant, and it helps relieve anxiety.”
He stares at An Zhe, his brain absolutely not computing what he was offering.
“-and you honestly just look like… you don’t sleep very well.” An Zhe says hesitantly. He reaches over and brushes a finger gently over the dark circles under Lu Feng’s eyes.
“What exactly are you offering?” Lu Feng asks hoarsely.
Standing up, An Zhe gestures to the bed. “I could just show you?”
He’s on auto-pilot, following An Zhe to his bed. An Zhe toes his slippers off, and climbs into bed. He looks up expectantly, patting the space beside him.
“Get comfortable and lie down.”
He doesn’t look like he’s trying to proposition him the way he expected. He looks comfortable in his large fluffy sweater and sweatpants.
Lu Feng complies, taking his belt and jacket off. Then he carefully seats himself beside An Zhe, and slowly lowers himself.
An Zhe waits for him to lie still, then he tucks himself into Lu Feng’s chest. He curls up into him, his head resting on his shoulder, and his arm curling over Lu Feng’s stomach.
He lies there for several tense seconds. An Zhe shifts, stretching comfortably against him, his body warm and pliant. He yawns sleepily, his breath hot against Lu Feng’s neck.
“What exactly is your job?” Lu Feng asks stiffly.
“Professional cuddler.” He feels more than hears An Zhe’s mumble into his shoulder.
Lu Feng huffs out a shocked laugh. The tension in his muscle melts away, his body relaxing. His other arm curls over An Zhe’s back, finally embracing him with both arms. He tucks his face against An Zhe’s barely scented hair, breathing in the understated sweetness that wasn’t overpowering.
“So you get paid to… cuddle people?”
An Zhe drags a hand down his arm, tangling their fingers together.
“Usually I start with some hand holding. Sometimes people just want to have someone to talk to. I’ve had a person who just wanted someone to brush their hair for them. Really it’s up to each individual.”
He looks up at Lu Feng, his cheek pressing into his chest. His eyes are dark and wide, genuine with open curiosity.
“What do you want?” An Zhe asks, blinking up at him.
He looks down at the young man in his arms. His belly is full, and his entire body feels warm. He doesn’t remember the last time he’s held someone this way, or had someone hold him back like this. An Zhe is close enough for Lu Feng to examine the curve of his eyelashes. He doesn’t know what he wants. No one who mattered has ever asked him that.
He closes his eyes and tightens his hold, his hand squeezing An Zhe’s. He focuses on inhaling and exhaling deeply, his muscles relaxing.
“This.” He admits, his heart full from the kindness returned to him in the sliver of indulgence he allowed himself that day. “And if I could sleep through at least a solid four hours, that would be nice too.” He chuckles to himself.
An Zhe hums into his neck. “Then let’s do that.”
As if by magic, the last of Lu Feng’s guard crumbles easily in the comforting and constant presence of An Zhe. He drifts off to sleep, his exhaustion tugging him into a deep slumber.
He sleeps so well that he doesn’t wake up until the middle of the night, and it’s due to An Zhe getting up from the bed.
His groggy attempts to get up are waved away by a sleep-rumpled An Zhe who looks irritated for once.
“Shh. Go back to sleep.” He says quietly, pushing Lu Feng back down.
Staring, he watches An Zhe move to put dishes away in the darkness. Then he takes out thicker blankets from a drawer under the bed, before clambering back on. He quickly gets back under the sheets, tucking the blankets over both of them. As soon as he returns to Lu Feng’s arms, snuggling in tight again, Lu Feng feels himself relax.
“Who knew you were so cuddly…” An Zhe mumbles into his chest. “Go back to sleep. No work tomorrow.” He slurs, already drifting off.
He tucks his face into An Zhe’s hair. He didn’t know he was cuddly either.
Really, he should get up right now. He should already have his shoes and jacket back on, and should be heading home. But his cold empty apartment seems so far away, and there was nothing waiting for him there. He squeezes An Zhe a little tighter. Shutting his eyes, he lets himself drift back to sleep. He’ll deal with this in the morning.