The weather in Hua City was getting warmer each day. It wasn't even May yet, but middays were already starting to feel like summer.
At noon on a Saturday, Lu Zhe came downstairs in a black tank top and a patterned, unbuttoned jacket. He ran into a yawning Er-Hua who was just coming back with a bag of takeout.
"Going back to school again, Captain?" Er-Hua asked in passing.
Lu Zhe nodded. "Mm."
He was a senior that year, and he was due to defend his dissertation and attend his graduation ceremony in June. Lately, the university had been contacting him about a lot of paperwork and procedures that needed to be done before his graduation. And so, as long as he attended their daily practices, Lu Zhe could just check in with Big-Mouthed Zhou and get time off from the team.
That day, he needed to turn in a hard copy of the final draft of his dissertation to his academic advisor. Then he would have to drop by the airport to pick someone up.
Er-Hua nodded. Before he passed Lu Zhe, he suddenly thought of something and snuck a glance at Lu Zhe's expression. Hesitantly, he opened his mouth again:
"That's right, it seems Shen Qiao… will be arriving today."
After several rounds of haggling between their two clubs, Team BLX had received a satisfactory offer and happily parted ways with Shen Qiao. Over the past few days, Big-Mouthed Zhou had made Team DG clean up a table in their training room, getting it spick and span for Shen Qiao's arrival. Now they only had to wait for Shen Qiao to arrive with all his belongings. The official announcement about the trade had already been drafted.
At Er-Hua's words, a flicker of amusement passed through Lu Zhe's dark eyes. He nodded once and said, "I know."
Then, he added, "I won't be late."
Er-Hua could hear the mischief in Lu Zhe's voice. This guy was clearly conspiring to do something that would make headlines. Tentatively, Er-Hua ventured, "…that'd be bad, right?"
He gave it some more thought, then decided he had to at least try to dissuade Lu Zhe—
"Captain, you can't fight in our HQ."
Lu Zhe raised his eyebrows, as though he truly hadn't been aware of this little bump in the road until now. He blinked slowly at Er-Hua, then asked in the sincerest voice:
"What about fighting in bed?"
Er-Hua deadpanned, "Not even fighting in bed. Big-Mouthed Zhou would lose his mind."
"Oh," Lu Zhe said. The mirth in his eyes faded, replaced by a dispirited look. Finally, he answered, "Got it."
As he made his way to the door, Lu Zhe added, "Don't worry. If he doesn't seduce me, I won't touch him."
Er-Hua was left standing in place. Inexplicably, he felt an even deeper sense of unease.
Every so often, a deep rumbling passed overhead at the airport. At the exit, a girl with a cashmere coat draped over her shoulders and a small bag slung across her body was leaning against the handle of her suitcase. She lifted herself up on her tiptoes once in a while, peering down the escalator and into the lobby.
Until her cell phone rang.
"Hello? Ge, I don't see you. Are you here?"
The person on the other end of the line unhurriedly answered, "Underground parking, B1. Take the escalator near you. I'm in a rush. If you don't arrive in three minutes, I'm leaving."
The young lady hurried along in a huff, dragging her suitcase along and harshly berating the caller: "Even a Didi driver would wait five minutes!"
"Mm. That's what you should use next time, because I won't come pick you up again, Lu Qianshuang."
Lu Qianshuang fell silent.
She eyed the moving escalator under her feet and threatened, "Alright, Lu Zhe. You leave, right now. Or you're a coward."
"Don't snitch if I leave," Lue Zhe said, thoroughly unthreatened.
Lu Qianshuang scoffed fiercely. "I will! I'll totally snitch. Not only will I tell Mom and Dad, I'll tell all your fans. The valiant and beautiful Emperor Zhe in their hearts is the type of manwhore who'll even abandon his own precious meimei at the side of the road!"
The two of them bickered fiercely over the phone until Lu Qianshuang arrived at the underground parking lot. Panting heavily, she dragged her suitcase along towards the car with Lu Zhe's license plate.
While Lu Zhe helped her load her suitcase into the car, she climbed into the back seat and started fanning herself with her hands. Mumbling to herself, she complained, "Hua City is way too hot, isn't it? It's not even summer yet. If I come here for college, won't I be dried up into a piece of salted fish jerky?"
Lu Zhe climbed back into the driver's seat. While putting on his seatbelt, he answered her with a rare word of agreement:
"Mm. It's best if you don't come. Saves me some trouble."
Lu Qianshuang instantly changed her mind. "Alright, I'm officially pinning all my hopes on going to college in Hua City. See how you like that!"
Lu Zhe didn't entertain her with a response. He looked down at the cell phone mounted by the steering wheel and asked, "Did you book a hotel? Give me the address. I'll drop you off. I'm busy today, so go look at your future campus yourself."
Lu Qianshuang abruptly stopped fanning herself. Suddenly curious and a little astonished, she grabbed the headrest in front of her and leaned closer to the front row to ask, "What are you in such a rush for?"
Lu Zhe didn't answer. He obviously had no intentions of offering an explanation.
Lu Qianshuang sullenly settled in the back seat again. She muttered complaints and curses about Lu Zhe under her breath while taking out her cell phone to browse around. After a while, she suddenly sat bolt upright again and stared into the front row.
"Qiaoqiao-gege is going to DG?"
Lu Zhe kept his eyes on the road, but his attention wavered for a moment. "Where did you see that? The official announcement?"
Lu Qianshuang watched Lu Zhe's expression like a hawk. After confirming the answer for herself, she spaced out for a few seconds before asking, "So… he's at Team DG's headquarters right now?"
After another few seconds, she continued, "Does that mean you've gotten back together with him?"
Lu Zhe was focused on driving. A light up ahead turned red, and he slowly pulled to a stop while maintaining an appropriate amount of space between his car and the car in front of him. With his mind elsewhere, he accidentally spoke the truth:
"…it's only a matter of time."
As soon as he gave that answer, Lu Zhe realized he'd made a mistake.
He was just about to change his answer when he looked back and saw that Lu Qianshuang's face, which bore a familial resemblance to his own, was brimming over with excitement. In the sweetest voice she could muster, she asked, "Gege, can I go to your HQ and visit him?"
"No," Lu Zhe answered coldly.
Lu Qianshuang wailed a protest. "But I haven't seen Qiaoqiao-gege in ages!"
"If gege can see him, then meimei can see him too."
Lu Zhe slowly curved his lips into a cold smile. He glanced at his passenger through the rearview mirror and slowly, menacingly said, "…Lu Qianshuang, do you want to die?"
An alpha would never allow anyone else to get close to their prey.
Lu Qianshuang pouted, but she could tell Lu Zhe was resolute. She averted her spirited gaze and swiftly devised a plan, though she didn't show any hint of her machinations on her face. She simply propped her cheek up on one hand and watched the sights passing outside the window.
After a long while, the person in the back seat suddenly spoke up again:
"You don't want me to see him because I look too much like Mom, and you're afraid he'll remember the disgusting things that happened at home again. Right?"
At the same time.
The person Lu Qianshuang spoke of was getting ready to leave Team BLX's headquarters.
Lele stood behind Shen Qiao, giving him a long-winded lecture: "Qiao-ge, I want to meet you on the battlefield again. So even if someone provokes you, control yourself. You have to control yourself. At most, challenge them to a 1v1 in the rift. But do not, under any circumstances, get into a fight…"
"Keep it simple," Shen Qiao said. "You can just say you don't want me to fight with Lu Zhe."
"I'm glad you understand," Lele said.
Shen Qiao recalled his last two meetings with Lu Zhe—
Lu Zhe had become stronger, and he'd become more perverted.
Shen Qiao really couldn't guarantee that he wouldn't beat the shit out of Lu Zhe if Lu Zhe continued to act like that.
He thought silently for a while before he finally answered, "I'll do my best."
Lele watched him anxiously, like a doting mother about to send her only son off into the real world.
Shen Qiao instinctively turned away; Lele's sincere concern was almost enough to make him nauseous. Lele couldn't tell what Shen Qiao was feeling. He followed Shen Qiao's line of sight and asked, uncomprehendingly, "Did you forget something?"
Just then, Shen Qiao shifted his gaze again and noticed Xu Xiao coming out of the building, appearing behind him. He nodded.
Raising his voice, Shen Qiao lazily called out, "Xu Xiao, when we meet again in the rift, you won't cry in the jungle, will you?"
Xu Xiao snorted. He shot Shen Qiao a taunting leer and jerked his chin at him. "That's what I should be saying to a miserable mutt like you."
Shen Qiao narrowed his eyes.
The scent of mint, which was typically so light, suddenly became sharp and strong in the next instant. It billowed past Lele and flooded towards Xu Xiao in torrents.
Even though it was only a wave of pheromones, Lele felt the hairs at the nape of his neck stand up. He instinctively took a step back.
The overpowering scent of mint was enough to chill a person to the bone. Drowning in that scent was like drowning in a lake of -10°C water. Anyone's ears and nostrils that were flooded by that bitter cold would shiver and freeze. Lele stepped back in time, leaving Xu Xiao to bear the brunt of the assault.
For a second, Xu Xiao couldn't breathe. He was powerless against the icy cold that whipped through him, freezing him in place.
Until he met Shen Qiao's eyes—
Suddenly, Xu Xiao felt his own knees shaking. At some point, sweat had soaked through the back of his shirt. He felt like he was being watched by a real, wild wolf.
Just as Xu Xiao flailed out a hand, trying to grab hold of something for support, the crushing wave of pheromones around Shen Qiao suddenly dissipated. The scent of mint settled, once more becoming so faint that it was almost imperceptible. A cold look of ridicule and disdain remained in Shen Qiao's eyes.
Shen Qiao charitably let Xu Xiao off the hook without completely disgracing him, but Xu Xiao already felt sufficiently humiliated. His pheromones couldn't even match Shen Qiao's. This person hadn't let him go because they were evenly matched; Shen Qiao had let him go because Xu Xiao simply wasn't worth his time.
Without any concern for how he looked, Shen Qiao turned and left the building. He stepped out into the sunlight and tipped his head back to gaze at the sky. The sun spilled over him, highlighting the gorgeous contours of his throat.
Lele looked out at him from inside. In that moment, he could see it again—the spirited youth who'd just come to BLX.
Half an hour later.
"This is Qian Bao, mid laner. The ones over there are Old Wo and Er-Hua. How about you sit between them?" Big-Mouthed Zhou suggested as he led Shen Qiao through the training room and made the necessary introductions.
The five large desks in Team DG's training room were arranged in a circle. Each player's monitor was pointed in a different direction, to make sure they wouldn't interfere in one another's streams.
Originally, the five members of Team DG had been arranged like so: Old Wo, Er-Hua, Qian Bao, Lu Zhe, and Fish. But after thinking about it for a while, Big-Mouthed Zhou had decided they couldn't have that. In order to avoid conflict, it would be best not to have Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao sit next to each other. He'd ultimately decided to split up their two bottom laners and have Shen Qiao sit between them.
Old Wo and Er-Hua exchanged a look. Before they could say anything, footsteps sounded behind Shen Qiao. The newcomer's cedarwood scent arrived before his voice:
"Moving this and that, how troublesome can you get?" Lu Zhe griped. "He'll sit next to me."
Everyone turned to the door just in time to see Lu Zhe arrive, still twirling his car keys.
Big-Mouthed Zhou choked on nothing in particular. Just as he was about to say something, Shen Qiao—who had been silent until then—casually answered, "Fine."
Hearing that, Lu Zhe flashed a dazzling smile.
All the others in the room had been a little on edge. After seeing the two of them exchange a few civil words, they released a sigh of relief.
Lu Zhe took a seat in front of his own computer. As though to prove to everyone that he could get along with Shen Qiao, he took out his cell phone and asked Shen Qiao a perfectly harmless, friendly question:
"Have you eaten? Do you want to get some takeout together?"
Shen Qiao wanted to refuse, but he noticed how everyone around them looked on with obvious worry in their eyes. And he remembered Lele's repeated warnings to not get into a fight. He swallowed almost imperceptibly, then finally gave an answer:
At that, Big-Mouthed Zhou was overjoyed. He'd just finished showing Shen Qiao around the HQ, so he hurriedly urged, "Go ahead and get a feel for your station first."
When Shen Qiao sat down in front of his computer, Lu Zhe started reading out a few menu items:
"Braised beef noodles, Yangzhou fried rice, and… what else do you want?"
Shen Qiao took in his words and thought quietly for a moment before he said, "A serving of fried rice is enough."
Lu Zhe paused. Not only did his hand freeze, he looked up and glanced over at Shen Qiao as well.
"You're eating so little?"
"It's a normal amount of food."
Lu Zhe, however, lightly quirked his lips.
"Eat a little more—"
As he spoke, Lu Zhe leaned his upper body closer. Before Shen Qiao could utter another refusal, Lu Zhe lowered his voice and whispered with a touch of mirth:
"You don't eat enough. What if you get too full, too fast, when I feed you something else?"
Shen Qiao was silent.
He couldn't help but think that he might have some real trouble following Lele's advice.
Big Bird and Big Pervert Lu once again wish everyone a happy new year!
The author is 早更鸟, where 鸟 means bird. Thus, the nickname 大鸟, which means big bird! (This chapter was originally released on New Year's Day.)