In the training room, Lele split a pair of disposable chopsticks and rubbed the separated sticks together a few times. He didn't notice the fine particles that fell onto his pants.
A serving of guantangbao sat on the table, still piping hot. Lele could have drooled from the scent that rose with the steam, but he was actually a bit distracted—
His mind drifted to the conversation he'd had with Lu Zhe outside the front doors of their HQ.
"Qiao-ge is resting, he probably won't come down for a while. If you have something urgent you need to talk to him about, why don't I take a message?" Lele suggested. He flashed a disarming smile, masking the curiosity in his words.
But that excessively beautiful man only shook his head. He wore an exceptionally understanding look. A soft smile touched his dark eyes. His voice was warm and gentle as he said, "No problem. I'll wait a while."
Lu Zhe's intense pheromones, however, had already betrayed his true feelings. That deep and dangerous scent was like a silent, hidden threat. It was unnoticeable, at first. But when one drew closer, the cold became obvious. It was a clear sign that Lu Zhe's warmth was only a mask.
In the training room, Lele thought back on Shen Qiao's reactions every time he heard Lu Zhe's name. Lele still thought, in his heart, that it wasn't appropriate to make Lu Zhe wait like that. He slapped his chopsticks down on the table and got up, making his way out of the training room and heading upstairs.
A teammate was lured in by the delicious scent of Lele's guantangbao. Seeing him take off, abandoning his food, that teammate called out at his back, "Lele, how about you let your ge taste test the baozi from this place? Free of charge!"
Lele's voice drifted back from the corridor: "Your services won't be necessary. This is one sweet burden I can carry myself!"
Auntie Zou, a member of the janitorial staff, was mopping the dormitory floors. She pushed a mop from one end of the hall to the other. When Lele sprinted up the stairs, he nearly trampled over the mop in his haste. It was only when Auntie Zou called out "AI AI AI!" in warning that Lele managed to grab hold of the railing by the stairs and yank himself to a halt.
After mopping up the pile of filth by the stairs, Auntie Zou turned to Lele and gave him a heavily accented scolding:
"Young fellas should do everything with composure. Where are you going with your ass on fire?"
Lele let out a forced laugh and looked past her at the glossy, sparkling floors that were reflectively clean. He lifted one leg up high, like a red-crowned crane, but still hesitated. In the end, he put his foot down and stayed in place, unable to bring himself to taint the freshly mopped hallway. To the auntie, he said, "Zou-yi, is Qiao-ge in?"
"Dunno where he ran off to, but he weren't in his room," Auntie Zou answered as she continued to mop, without lifting her head again.
Lele was somewhat surprised.
He lingered there for a moment before turning and heading back downstairs. Had he missed Shen Qiao while he was busy ordering takeout?
If Shen Qiao had just left the building, wouldn't he have had a 100% chance of running into Lu Zhe?
When that thought occurred to him, Lele barreled back downstairs, taking the steps two at a time. If he intervened too late, then he might only be able to help take care of Lu Zhe's corpse.
On the second floor, Lele subconsciously glanced at the window and saw their new teammate Xu Xiao standing there. Xu Xiao was holding up his phone, like he was taking a picture of something outside. He snapped a shot quickly and stuffed his phone back into his pocket.
For a split second, Lele intuitively felt like there was something off about Xu Xiao's behavior. But his mind was still consumed with worry for what might happen if Shen Qiao ran into Lu Zhe. Without hesitating any longer, he rushed down to the ground floor.
One minute earlier. At the entrance of the HQ.
Shen Qiao heard Lu Zhe ask, "Will you save me?"
Lazily, Shen Qiao answered, "Find a doctor. I can't help you."
Lu Zhe's voiced dripped into his ear like honey. It was cloyingly sweet. "The doctor said you're my medicine."
Shen Qiao's wild eyes flashed. He breathed a soundless laugh. Just as he was about to voice a snide retort, he saw a figure making its way towards them from the building. He tensed and pressed back harder with the elbow he was using to hold Lu Zhe at bay. Impatiently, he warned, "Let go."
Lu Zhe's only answer was to tighten his hold on Shen Qiao and pull him closer.
Before the arm around his throat became suffocating, Shen Qiao reflexively angled his elbow and jabbed it into Lu Zhe's abdomen. A sharp pain lanced through Lu Zhe's stomach, catching him off guard. He let go, bowing his back as he sucked in a gasp.
Shen Qiao had already regained his composure. He stood to the side calmly, casually, with one hand stuck in his pocket. He looked over and found Lu Zhe's beautiful brows furrowed. Lu Zhe's face was scrunched up with pain. Shen Qiao looked away again, feeling somewhat uneasy and annoyed.
Had he used too much force? Or had he jabbed Lu Zhe in the wrong place, after not having fought with him for so long?
After a few seconds of self-doubt, Shen Qiao's tone changed. He sounded almost apologetic now, uttering an inordinately civil and polite few words to Lu Zhe: "Don't ask me to go to Team DG. You'll regret it."
Lu Zhe was still doubled over. His eyebrows were tightly knit. After listening to Shen Qiao's words, he seemed to have to struggle to squeeze out just one word of his own: "I…"
Shen Qiao could instantly tell something wasn't right. He quickly drew near again, wanting to reach out and help Lu Zhe straighten up so he could see if everything was okay. "Hey, are you alright? You—"
The second Shen Qiao approached, Lu Zhe suddenly straightened. He moved swiftly, like a bolt of lightning. When Shen Qiao reached out with his right hand, Lu Zhe caught his wrist and swiftly yanked Shen Qiao forward a step. He moved behind Shen Qiao again in a flash, forcing Shen Qiao's arm down and pinning his wrist to his back.
When Shen Qiao tried to elbow him again with his left arm, Lu Zhe deftly dodged just in time and used his own free hand to grasp Shen Qiao's jaw.
His grip was somewhat tight. With the way they were pressed together, there was barely a scant sliver of space between them.
Shen Qiao heard the person behind him gnashing his teeth, like a beast ready to devour him whole, skin and bones and all.
"Regret?" Lu Zhe echoed. "My deepest regret in all my twenty-one years is letting you leave me. Back then, I should have done whatever it took to keep you. Even if you wound up hating me—"
The front doors to the HQ were thrown open. The person who had called out sounded a bit breathless, but still raised their voice to protest, "Captain Lu, this is Team BLX's headquarters. Do you think it's appropriate for you to pick a fight right here?"
Lu Zhe abruptly fell silent.
Shen Qiao twisted his right wrist, which was starting to go numb in Lu Zhe's punishingly tight grip. Lu Zhe seemed unwilling to let him go, but after a few seconds, the two of them parted.
Lu Zhe's expression settled back into its usual calm, mild state. It was almost like all those heated words Shen Qiao had just heard were mere illusions.
Lele eyed Lu Zhe warily as he made his way over to Shen Qiao. "Qiao-ge, you alright?"
Shen Qiao experimentally moved his arm this way and that, then nodded. Lele turned back to Lu Zhe with a complex expression on his face. He never would have guessed that the seemingly gentle and refined Lu Zhe would be the aggressor.
"Captain Lu," he started again. "Although I don't know what sort of grudge you have against Qiao-ge, I do know we have surveillance cameras out here. If we report you for coming to us and picking a fight, you would be prohibited from playing—"
"We weren't fighting," Shen Qiao suddenly interrupted.
Lele looked at Shen Qiao with obvious shock in his eyes after his words were cut off. Then he realized Shen Qiao was also a participant in this fight; he must not have wanted word to get out. Lele tried to give Shen Qiao a loaded look, to convey that he was only making empty threats.
But Shen Qiao didn't meet his gaze. He only looked towards Lu Zhe. After a long while, he asked, "Do you really want me to join Team DG?"
Lu Zhe's dark eyes were fixed on him. A faint glimmer passed through his pupils, and he answered with a resolute nod.
Shen Qiao breathed out deeply. He looked away and lowered his gaze to a spot on the ground before him. Dispassionately, he said, "Then bring someone from DG to talk to our bosses next time."
Next to him, Lele's mind was suddenly flooded by question marks.
Had his eyes deceived him?
How could these two fight so fiercely one minute and talk so calmly about switching teams the next?
His face was full of bafflement as he watched Shen Qiao turn and head back into their HQ. Lu Zhe, having received the answer he wanted, also turned and walked away in the other direction.
Lele was silent.
He caught up to Shen Qiao in quick, long strides. He obviously wanted to say something. But he stopped himself. But he still obviously wanted to speak. He was bottling something up so tightly that he looked like he was about to suffocate.
Shen Qiao didn't seem to be in a very good mood. He didn't notice Lele's agonized expression. He sat down in front of his own computer in the training room and fell deep into thought, remaining silent. Swept along by the solemn atmosphere, Lele sat down and remained silent as well.
But it wasn't long before Lele exploded, shattering that silence: "What the fuck! Who ate all my guantangbao? You monsters didn't leave me a single bite! Are you even human?!"
Laughter sounded through the room.
From the laughter, Lele tracked down the ringleader of this villainous criminal enterprise—their AD, Mo Mo. He demanded compensation, commanding his scoundrel of a teammate to order him another serving of takeout. After a second's pause, he amended, "Two! Two servings! Qiao-ge didn't get to eat either!"
"Our bottom lane CP is over as of today! In the future, go ask your top laner Qiao-ge for assistance." Mo Mo clicked his tongue, but was forced to grab his phone and order some more takeout.
As soon as those words came out, everyone in the room realized they weren't exactly accurate—
BLX's future top laner was Xu Xiao. Not Shen Qiao.
The whole room fell silent. Only Xu Xiao grinned to himself, as though oblivious to the fact that anything was wrong.
Gradually, the sounds of clacking keyboards and clicking mice filled the room. Training proceeded uninterrupted for half an hour, until their manager came in and said, "Shen Qiao."
Everyone looked towards the door to the training room.
The manager frowned and asked, "Did you just fight with Lu Zhe outside?"
Shen Qiao's first reaction was to look at Lele.
Lele shook his head. He mouthed to Shen Qiao, silently trying to tell him that the surveillance cameras outside had been broken for the past two weeks. Then, suddenly, Lele seemed to think of something. Something that made him turn sharply to stare at Xu Xiao.
Shen Qiao took off his headset and turned to their manager. He still wore a disinterested and unflustered look, and his answer was simple and curt: "We weren't fighting—"
"If you weren't fighting, what were you doing?!" Big-Mouthed Zhou demanded, back at Team DG's headquarters. He was looking at Lu Zhe with a pained expression, and perhaps deeply regretting having given Lu Zhe a day off. He'd never imagined Lu Zhe would actually get into a proper brawl.
Lu Zhe reached for his phone and unhurriedly looked up the incident his manager was talking about. It didn't take him long to find the relevant posts exposing the 'fight'.
Right there on his screen was a photo of him standing behind Shen Qiao, with his arm wrapped around Shen Qiao's throat.
Lu Zhe took a moment to appreciate the photo before he tapped a few things on his phone.
Big-Mouthed Zhou noticed the subtle movements and hastily called out, "Ai, ai, ai! Freeze! Don't you dare add fuel to the fire!"
Lu Zhe quirked the corners of his lips and flashed a victorious smile. He passed his phone over to Big-Mouthed Zhou and said, "Too late."
He'd shared that post, and added a comment:
@DG-ZHE: [photo] Not fighting. Flirting.