Lu Zhe was having a blast teasing Shen Qiao and that support player from Team BLX. In the corner of his eye, he saw someone's hand knock at the edge of his desk. The sound was muffled through his high-end noise-cancelling headphones. It was a polite signal that someone had something to say to him.
The smile on his lips didn't falter, and he didn't look back before he said, "I'm busy."
Big-Mouthed Zhou stretched his neck out, like a stupid, big-headed goose trying to surreptitiously sneak a peek at the game on Lu Zhe's monitor. Using his excellent sight which tested at a precise 5.3 during every vision exam, he took in the ID of the account Lu Zhe was using. Then his neck shrank back, and he looked Lu Zhe over with a complicated expression.
Five minutes later—
Lu Zhe regrettably watched as the other team forfeited again. He let out a slow breath and started to ponder over how he could provoke Shen Qiao into saying a few more words.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.
Big-Mouthed Zhou must have been feeling unbearably lonely. This time, he knocked at the corner of Lu Zhe's desk with much more force.
His efforts were finally rewarded with a miserly glare from his team's captain. The captain's irritation and impatience were obvious in the quirk of his lips.
"Please state your business in fifteen words or less," Lu Zhe said.
Big-Mouthed Zhou kept his big mouth shut.
After a while, he could help but blurt out, "Are you a devil or…?"
Lu Zhe smiled slightly and announced, "You have ten words left."
Big-Mouthed Zhou couldn't resist courting disaster. He was standing at the edge of an enticing cliff, and he had no choice but to spread his wings and fly. "Is there a story to your ID?"
Lu Zhe remained unmoved. "Three."
Big-Mouthed Zhou fell silent again.
Lu Zhe's eyes were warm, but Big-Mouthed Zhou could feel the cold blades of wind stirring beneath that warmth. Big-Mouthed Zhou did his best to suppress his instinctive fear and squeezed out his last three words: "I… Shen Qiao…"
Next to them, Qian Bao was doing eye exercises while queuing up for a game. While massaging her temples, she interjected, "Wrong! You… are Big-Mouthed Zhou!"
Big-Mouthed Zhou was rendered speechless.
Lu Zhe also said nothing.
Then he let out a light laugh and primly drummed his fingers against the surface of his desk. He flashed a smile which made him look so handsome that anyone would believe he'd do very well if he switched professions and started working at a nightclub.
To Big-Mouthed Zhou, he said, "Congratulations, Manager Zhou. You have once again successfully lowered my tolerance of you."
Big-Mouthed Zhou started to panic as soon as he heard Lu Zhe call him 'manager' so sincerely. Although he was a beta, who wouldn't be affected by an alpha's pheromones, he still felt stifled by Lu Zhe's smile. It seemed to make the very air around them heavier and denser, pressing down on him until his knees felt weak.
He cleared his throat and carefully met Lu Zhe's gaze. After studying Lu Zhe's reaction for a moment, he said, "The club wants me to try to recruit Shen Qiao."
Hearing that, even Old Wo and Er-Hua pushed aside their headsets, each exposing one ear to listen in—
Every professional player in the LPL knew Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao didn't get along. The reason remained unclear, but their animosity had reached the point where they couldn't stand to hear each other's name. Their reactions were cold or fierce, like Lu Zhe's just now.
Recruiting Shen Qiao as their top laner… would Lu Zhe agree?
Half an hour after Lele left, Shen Qiao went to wash his face, then returned to the training room to continue practicing as a jungler. When he took a phone call, and heard what the call was about, he cast his gaze down on the black keyboard in front of him. A bead of water that had yet to be wiped away began to trickle down his brow, tracing a path past the corner of his eye, and dripping onto his desk along with his words.
His eyelashes quivered faintly. Then, as though coming out of a reverie, Shen Qiao furrowed his brows. A rare hint of unease crept into his raspy voice. Perhaps because he had unintentionally spoken too politely a moment ago, he chose his words slowly and carefully before he continued, "I appreciate your generosity, but… I don't think I should consider Team DG."
As though afraid the caller could shake his resolve, Shen Qiao interrupted and stiffly added, "Thank you. No. Goodbye."
The dial tone sounded.
Big-Mouthed Zhou stared at his cell phone, shocked. After a moment, he looked up at Lu Zhe, who was now standing next to him in the hallway outside the training room with his arms crossed. Still stunned, Big-Mouthed Zhou said, "Has some other team made him an offer? Why would he hang up before even hearing our salary and benefits package?
"What do you think of his refusal? 'Thank you. No. Goodbye.' This cadence, these three responses… did he mistake me for a scam caller? Ah, this is no good. I have to call him back and try again…"
Lu Zhe stayed by an open window in the hall and listened to the entire call. He kept his face turned to the window, gazing outside the whole time. A lock of stray hair fell over his ear, and the lights of the corridor cast a soft glow over his jawline. His eyes, which gazed out the window, were deep and dark. He radiated a sense of cold and warmth at the same time, like a walking contradiction.
While making the first call, Big-Mouthed Zhou had taken in the look on Lu Zhe's face. He could tell from Lu Zhe's expression and posture that he was completely disinterested in the outcome of that call, but Big-Mouthed Zhou didn't mind that.
Truthfully, when Lu Zhe didn't immediately shoot down his suggestion, Big-Mouthed Zhou had already been shocked to the core.
There had been an odd sort of aggression in Lu Zhe's reaction, making Big-Mouthed Zhou fear he'd spoken too rashly. But in the end, Lu Zhe had simply said, "You can try."
Big-Mouthed Zhou had blinked, thinking Lu Zhe was using some sort of reverse psychology to threaten him. He'd been prepared to go back to their higher-ups to try to convince them to forget about Shen Qiao. But Big-Mouthed Zhou was sure that Shen Qiao was better than Team DG's second string players, and since Shen Qiao was just acting as a benchwarmer now, surely his salary and his penalty fee for breaking his contract with his current team wouldn't be astronomically high.
On the other hand, LoL wasn't a single-player game. Teamwork was of the utmost importance. Recruiting a slightly shitty top laner would have been better than recruiting someone with a deep grudge against Lu Zhe.
Because Lu Zhe was the most formidable jungler in the LPL. Last year, he'd led Team DG to victories in the Summer Tournament and the World Championship. He was still widely regarded as the league's top jungler.
To put it bluntly, Lu Zhe was the core of Team DG that the club had to keep no matter what. His requests were even more important than the demands of their owners.
"There's no need to call again." Lu Zhe finally turned around. He glanced at the screen of Big-Mouthed Zhou's cell phone. He stated matter-of-factly, "If you call, he won't answer."
Big-Mouthed Zhou could sense there was a hidden meaning in those words. "Why? Because the two of you are on bad terms?"
Lu Zhe didn't answer. In fact, he suddenly changed the subject. "I need a day off tomorrow."
Big-Mouthed Zhou stared at him.
"Reason?" Big-Mouthed Zhou prompted.
Lu Zhe gave him a deeply meaningful look. Slowly, the corners of his lips quirked. "To find DG a new top laner."
Big-Mouthed Zhou calmly met his gaze. He studied Lu Zhe for a long moment before he coldly answered, "Rejected. I have reason to believe you plan to slack off and—"
Lu Zhe turned around without listening to another word. He waved over his shoulder and cheerfully replied, "Thank you, Manager Zhou."
A somewhat broken voice wobbled out from behind him: "When you need me, I'm Manager Zhou. When you don't, I'm just a big mouth. You alphas are really a bunch of heartless cheats."
The next day.
When a knock sounded at Shen Qiao's door, he wasn't totally awake yet.
The thick curtains blocked out the dazzling sun. Inside, the room was dark and gloomy, just the right atmosphere for sleep. Shen Qiao's eyelids drooped dispiritedly, and he exuded exhaustion and listlessness as he answered the door. Even his voice was still half-asleep when he mumbled, "…what is it?"
Lele looked at him with an extraordinarily complex expression. "Someone's looking for you."
Shen Qiao lazily lifted his eyebrows, indicating that Lele could continue.
"DG's Lu Zhe," Lele said. As soon as he made that announcement, he hastily added, "Did you do something to… provoke him lately? Why's he looking for you at our place?"
Shen Qiao's expression went blank for an instant.
Then he straightened and snapped, "Don't know. I'm going back to sleep. Don't knock on my door before practice."
Staring at the closed door, Lele asked, "Then you're not going to see him?"
Through the door, Shen Qiao's muffled voice said, "Tell him to fuck off."
Lele was silent.
Shen Qiao leaned against his door for a while, until he heard Lele's footsteps retreating down the hall. After Lele left, Shen Qiao felt inexplicably antsy. He couldn't shake off that sensation, and he instinctively started looking for his cigarettes. He rummaged through his nightstand and desk drawers, but ultimately only found three boxes—all empty.
He was out of cigarettes.
Though his drowsiness was completely dispelled by now, he sat in bed for a few more minutes. Then, when he figured Lu Zhe must have already left, he washed up, put on a hoodie and light blue jeans, and headed downstairs.
As soon as he set foot outside their HQ's main doors, Shen Qiao felt that something was wrong. He faltered in his step. By the time he reacted and glanced to the left, a figure cloaked in the scent of cedarwood had already come up behind him.
Lu Zhe's voice was full of obvious mirth. An intimate murmur fell upon Shen Qiao's ears, ghosting over his pale skin:
"Hiding, huh? Okay, keep hiding. If you can, keep hiding from me for the rest of our lives."
Shen Qiao tensed for a second.
But he thought he covered it up pretty well. He didn't dignify Lu Zhe's words with an answer, and he didn't turn around to face the figure behind him. He only said, "What do you want?"
Lu Zhe laughed. His breath grazed that same spot behind Shen Qiao's ear again. Just as Shen Qiao prepared to take a step forward, to put some distance between them, Lu Zhe threw an arm around his shoulders and held him back. Shen Qiao reflexively crooked his right arm to jab his elbow into Lu Zhe's gut, but being in such close proximity to Lu Zhe made him lose his intensity and aggression. In the end, he only tensed and resisted being pulled back.
At the same time, Lu Zhe spoke again. He was even closer now. His breath washed over Shen Qiao's ear as he said, "I heard a rumor that you don't want to come to DG?"
Shen Qiao scoffed. "Have some faith. You don't need to call it a 'rumor'."
"Oh," Lu Zhe said.
Then, he continued, "Even if you don't want to come, I'll make you come."
Shen Qiao was silent for a moment. He eyed the planters in front of the building, taking in the intermingling red and yellow flowers. Then, he repeated the accusation he'd spat when they ran into each other at the hospital:
"Lu Zhe, are you sick in the head?"
Lu Zhe laughed again. Because the two of them stood so close to each other, Shen Qiao could distinctly feel the faint rumbling of Lu Zhe's chest.
After laughing for a long while, Lu Zhe calmed and answered, "Yes."
The scent of cedarwood intensified and bore down on Shen Qiao. It was like the branches of a cedar tree laden with snow had finally collapsed under the weight, spilling a large enough load of needles to bury Shen Qiao. Lu Zhe's tone was clearly warm and gentle, but Shen Qiao felt an icy cold seep into his bones.
"I'm sick," Lu Zhe murmured. "I was sick when I agreed to break up with you, and I haven't recovered in all these years. I'm almost beyond saving."
Lu Zhe quieted for a few seconds, then suddenly lowered his voice and called out, "Qiaoqiao."
Hearing this nickname, Shen Qiao couldn't contain a reaction. The little finger of his left hand instinctively twitched.
His eyes were half-lidded when he heard Lu Zhe ask, cheekily, "Will you save me?"
The three refusals of the doctor Bian Que — Can't be saved. Wait for death. Next.
Does everyone like the spoiled and bratty and perverted Captain Lu?!?!?!