"The only good ex is an ex who plays dead."
This voice was exactly the same as the voice Lu Zhe had heard last night. If he had to pick out some differences, he would say it lacked the tinny interference from the gaming mic and had more of a rasp. From the cigarettes, perhaps.
Paired with that faint, almost undetectable scent of mint, it was an icily erotic voice.
Those words were clearly harsh at best and cruel at worst, but they brought a smile to Lu Zhe's lips. He practically glowed, as though someone had whispered sweet nothings in his ear. His pupils dilated just slightly. A flash of light passed through his eyes. In that moment, his expression became even warmer and more tender.
He leaned a little closer to Shen Qiao.
The deep, subtle scent of cedarwood suddenly flared and grew more intense. It flooded the air in an almost suffocating manner, and Shen Qiao didn't rein in his own pheromones either. Inevitably, their scents collided and intertwined.
Shen Qiao abruptly stopped breathing. He felt a fleeting brush of warmth against the corners of his lips. It was Lu Zhe's breath, ghosting over his skin.
Even though Lu Zhe was acting like he could have boldly kissed Shen Qiao right there, out in the open, Shen Qiao didn't back away. His eyes only filled with a deeper shade of scorn. Just as he parted his lips, about to say something else, Lu Zhe interrupted.
With his face still unacceptably close to Shen Qiao's, Lu Zhe smiled and asked, "Is that so?"
And after a beat, he unhurriedly added, "My coffin lid must not have been nailed down tight enough."
As he spoke, he suddenly reached out and filched the cigarette from between Shen Qiao's fingertips. He tossed the cigarette into a nearby trash can, then turned back to Shen Qiao and crossed his arms. He was still smiling warmly, but he clearly looked like he needed a beating at least ten times more than Shen Qiao.
Shen Qiao pursed his lips, looking every bit like he was ready to throw a punch any second now.
Lu Zhe waited.
But after a moment, the other party turned to leave, only spitting out a curt farewell: "You're sick."
As he watched Shen Qiao depart, Lu Zhe's expression underwent a subtle change. A lively, reddish light, reminiscent of autumn, flickered at the corners of his eyes, which seemed to brim over with intent. His lips quirked into a faint smile, and his mood—as a whole—seemed suddenly brighter.
"Please take out your prescription."
There was a long promenade on the ground floor of the hospital. The pharmacy at the western end wasn't as crowded as the pharmacies at public hospitals. There was also no impersonal machine that would call out a patient's name when their turn was up.
Instead, Shen Qiao was met by a kind, warm pharmacist who sat in a service window. She greeted him politely, demonstrating customer service skills that left nothing to be desired.
Shen Qiao slid over his prescription. Before long, a few boxes of medicine and a plastic bag were pushed out from the other side of the window. The pharmacist's pleasant voice sounded out again:
"Please make sure everything is right."
Shen Qiao only answered with a curt and shallow nod. He rubbed his fingers over the mouth of the plastic bag to work it open, then tossed the medicine inside. Just as he turned to stuff the bag into his backpack, his wrist was caught.
He turned halfway and saw Lu Zhe, who must have caught up to him at some point. His brows furrowed, and his voice became even harsher than before:
"Did you leave your brain at home today?"
After becoming professional esports players, the two of them had encountered each other numerous times—during competitions and otherwise. But Lu Zhe had never gone out of his way to make himself such a pain in the ass before.
And his timing was spectacularly bad. Shen Qiao was just about to lose his position as the starting top laner on his team, and he'd just learned his medical condition could persist for the rest of his life… his mood was basically at rock bottom. He was like a musket stuffed full of gunpowder, ready to explode with just one spark.
Lu Zhe ignored Shen Qiao's words and tried to sneak a peek at the medicine inside the plastic bag. But Shen Qiao gripped it tight, refusing to let Lu Zhe have a look. Lu Zhe gave up for the time being and turned to study Shen Qiao's face instead.
"You're still not well?"
When Lu Zhe didn't smile, his pitch black eyes shone in a way that made others feel as though he could see straight through to their soul. Combined with his exquisitely beautiful facial features, his gaze could make anyone's heart race. People who were captivated by him often couldn't tell whether they were stricken by his beauty or by fear.
Shen Qiao lifted his gaze and stared directly at Lu Zhe as he jammed the bag of medicine into his backpack. After zipping up the zipper, he let his eyelids droop lower again. He answered, in a cold and indifferent tone:
"None of your business. Get out of my way. Don't mess with me today."
Shen Qiao's aggression made Lu Zhe smile once more. The expression bloomed across his face like a flower, making onlookers think that his piercing gaze from a moment ago had only been an illusion.
Gently, he asked, "How is it none of my business?"
Then, as though feeling those words weren't strong enough, Lu Zhe smiled wide enough to crinkle the corners of his eyes and added, "That isn't what you used to say in bed."
The two of them were still standing in front of the prescription pick-up window. Through the transparent glass, the beta pharmacist stared at the two of them with a flabbergasted look on her face. She could clearly sense that the tension between them was as sharp as knives. It felt like the two alphas in front of her would start fighting at any second, but the words they were saying to each other…
Did all alphas fight like this these days?
But no one noticed the look of increasing horror on her face. After flinging out that obscene line, Lu Zhe seemed to think of something. He lifted a hand to pat Shen Qiao on the head, only to have Shen Qiao duck away. Lu Zhe's hand ultimately landed on Shen Qiao's shoulder.
As though he hadn't noticed Shen Qiao's attempt to dodge at all, Lu Zhe continued, still speaking in that warm and gentle tone of his, "Don't smoke when you take your meds."
It was already afternoon by the time Shen Qiao returned to his team's headquarters. As soon as he entered the training room, he noticed there was an extra computer. And there was an extra person as well.
The coach, seeing Shen Qiao return right on time, coughed pointedly and said, "Qiao, ah… this is our new reserve player. Xu Xiao. He's also a top laner. He'll be participating in team trainings from now on, so take good care of him."
Just as Shen Qiao lifted his gaze, he caught a whiff of the deep, rich pheromones emanating through the room. It was reminiscent of the scent of the cork of a red wine bottle—oak, with a hint of wine.
It was true after all that alphas were generally incompatible.
Shen Qiao greeted the newcomer with a nod. He didn't seem to catch the coach's hidden meaning, the implication that Shen Qiao was to become a substitute for Xu Xiao. The coach's face betrayed a trace of surprise when Shen Qiao simply went to his usual seat and booted up his machine.
Xu Xiao fixed his gaze on Shen Qiao. He looked quite healthy and fit, and his smile was wicked. He was like a hyena stalking its prey, and his expression inexplicably caused those around him to shiver.
Lele glanced at this temperamental newcomer. Then he glanced at Shen Qiao. A haze of worry clouded his eyes.
The coach didn't say much in the end, simply clapping once to indicate the start of the day's training—
Practice would run until midnight.
At ten in the evening, they wrapped up their training games and proceeded to review for the next two hours. Afterwards, the mid laner went downstairs for a midnight snack, the AD went to grab a shower, and the new top laner wandered off with the coach. Only Shen Qiao and Lele remained in the training room.
Lele took off his headset and asked Shen Qiao, "Qiao-ge, wanna queue up together?"
Shen Qiao nodded. He turned halfway to look at Lele. The light of his monitor spilled over his profile, illuminating the razor-sharp curve of his jawline. Lazily, he asked, "I'll train up my alt?"
Lele had originally wanted to work on ranking up their main accounts, but after hearing Shen Qiao's request, he thought about it for a while and nodded. "Sure, then I'll help you with your alt for a bit. Let's run a double jungle—"
Shen Qiao interjected, haphazardly, "Teamwork?"
Lele smiled, then quickly looked around the room. After confirming they were the only two people left in the training room, he seemed to think of something he wanted to say. After a moment, he started, "Qiao-ge…"
Shen Qiao took a moment to glance at him again. "Speak."
"You've probably already seen Fish's retirement notice from this morning. I still think Team DG is pretty good. You and Lu Zhe, just what exactly—"
"Retirement notice?" Shen Qiao interrupted, looking somewhat stunned.
Lele gave him an incredulous look. "You didn't know? You haven't checked your phone all day?"
Shen Qiao obviously hadn't been in the mood to check his phone all day. He only hummed a vague response before prompting, "What happened?"
Lele sighed. "Ai, it seems he's down with something that isn't easy to cure. He had to be resuscitated a few times. It's a serious condition."
Shen Qiao stared at the queue timer on his computer monitor, rendered speechless by surprise.
Lele watched him for a while, then realized his own question had yet to be answered. He asked, once again, "When you said you wouldn't go to Team DG, was that because of Lu Zhe?"
Shen Qiao remained deeply submerged in his thoughts for a few seconds before he answered, "Not entirely."
He'd also believed Fish would be fine. Who could have imagined that in just one night…
"Then you really do have a grudge against him?" Lele pried cautiously, his gossipy nature rising to the surface.
Hearing that, Shen Qiao instinctively reached for his cigarettes. But when his fingers brushed the box, he heard an echo of the parting words Lu Zhe had said to him when they ran into each other at the hospital:
Don't smoke when you take your meds.
He stroked his fingertips over the box, then took out a cigarette. But he didn't light it, only holding it between his fingers as he suddenly said:
"Actually, he's my brother."
Lele let out a startled squawk. All sorts of outlandish tabloid stories about the rich and famous suddenly flew through his mind, until he managed to collect his thoughts enough to speak again. "Whoa! Are you guys half-brothers? You don't look anything alike. Was he the sort of kid your parents always held up as the golden, shining example of excellence? Is that why you grew up hating him?"
Shen Qiao gave him a blank stare, as though he could barely comprehend Lele's stupidity. After a moment, he tsked and sighed. "You'll really believe anything…"
After a moment, Shen Qiao spoke again:
"What if I told you he's my ex-boyfriend?"
As he spoke, Shen Qiao jerked his chin at Lele, as though daring him to come up with some convoluted backstory for that.
Lele's smile gradually disappeared, and he fell silent.
This alpha was really way too good at lying.
After scrubbing his hands over his own face, Lele calmed himself down and declared, "Qiao-ge, you won't be mooching a single drop of health off my Starchild tonight. Don't even think about it."
Shen Qiao snickered.
At the same time—
A sound rang out through their headsets, and the two of them entered the champion selection screen at the same time. When Shen Qiao saw he'd been assigned to play as a top laner, he raised an eyebrow and began to type:
Lu Zhe came out of the bathroom, drying his hands with some paper towels. He tossed out the towels before his gaze returned to his computer monitor. A game was starting.
His eyes fell to the username of the account that had just sent a message.
Lu Zhe had just gotten tired of queueing for ages on his main, and his meimei had been begging him to help her with her alt. When he queued up with her account to help her rank up, he'd never imagined he would be met with such a joyous coincidence.
Back in Team BLX's training room, Shen Qiao received a quick response from the player who'd been assigned to play jungler.
[StandUpLittleO: Little gege, I'm a super leet jungler! How about you give me a chance? UwU]
[StandUpLittleO: Let me use my hands to treasure and pleasure… oh, wait, it's 'let me use my hands to make your dreams come true'. Okay?]
Shen Qiao stared at the screen.
Lele, with his mic right next to his mouth, whispered to Shen Qiao, "Qiao-ge, you need to seriously reflect on why you always attract the perverts."
PS - 'Let me use my hands to make your dreams come true' is one of the jungler champion Lee Sin's voice lines.
In the English version of LoL, that voice line is actually 'Your will, my hands.' But I stuck with a more direct translation of the Chinese voice line here since Lu Zhe seemed to need it for… reasons.