As soon as those words fell from Shen Qiao's lips, Lu Zhe's gaze fell to the crook of Shen Qiao's neck.
Though they were both alphas, Shen Qiao's physique was stronger and more fearsome than that of most other alphas. Perhaps that was because he liked to swim in his free time. He'd built up an excellent figure—
The muscles of his neck and shoulders were sleek and smooth, subtly hinting at the strength hiding within his body. At such a close distance, Lu Zhe could practically see his pulse beating out a rhythm beneath the dip between his pronounced collarbones.
A beat. Then another. And another. Strong and vigorous, full of vitality.
There was also the familiar scent of mint, sometimes faint and sometimes thick. It was clearly a symptom of his faulty pheromones, but it felt like nothing short of a fierce provocation.
Whether it was through his looks or his disposition, Shen Qiao radiated the aura of a powerful wolf. The obvious leader of his pack.
He was perfect. He was exactly what triggered Lu Zhe's instinct to conquer.
Lu Zhe instantly recalled that day a few years ago, when he'd pinned Shen Qiao down in an alleyway at the side of the road. When he'd sunk his teeth into the nape of Shen Qiao's neck, breaking skin.
It had been a gloomy, rainy day. The rain dripped into every crevice of the city, wetting Shen Qiao's short and somewhat messy hair. Shen Qiao's fingers were curled against the shallow gaps between the bricks of the wall in front of him. He only exposed that pale, snow-like neck of his. When Lu Zhe bit down, he could distinctly hear a muffled groan rising from the back of Shen Qiao's throat.
That groan… it was like he was in pain, but doing his best to endure it.
The young Lu Zhe, who'd yet to learn anything of restraint, bit down harder. He increased the force of his bite, like he wanted to brand Shen Qiao's skin with an everlasting mark.
Water droplets trickled down from the strands of hair that tickled the nape of Shen Qiao's neck. They slid down to the corners of Lu Zhe's lips. Those beads of rainwater, slightly warmed by Shen Qiao's body heat, tasted almost like tears.
Right in front of Shen Qiao's eyes, Lu Zhe suddenly smiled. One corner of his mouth quirked into a lopsided grin, exposing a few measures of slyness.
Lu Zhe pressed a hand to Shen Qiao's shoulder and held him in place. He lifted his other hand slowly and smoothed his thumb over the corner of his own mouth, where Shen Qiao's heated breath had fallen. He rubbed that spot as though soothing away an itch, then fiercely dragged his thumb over his lips—
Instantly, with the brush of that finger, a gorgeous flush of color surged into his lower lip.
"What do you think?"
Lu Zhe drawled those words slowly, lazily. It obviously should have been a relaxing tone of voice, but it inexplicably sent a chill down Shen Qiao's spine.
Although Lu Zhe's smile was warm and gentle, his dark pupils only emitted a faint ray of light. His eyes were as dark as bottomless whirlpools. They could suck in a person's soul and shred it to pieces, or drag a person into the depths of hell with him.
"Do I only want to mark you again?" he asked.
No, that wasn't all.
"I want to leave an everlasting mark," he said.
As he spoke, Lu Zhe lowered the hand he'd brought to the corner of his lips. Perhaps by accident, his middle finger brushed the fabric of Shen Qiao's abdomen on its way down. It was no more than a ghost of a touch, like a dragonfly skimming over the still waters of a pond. It was the sort of feather-light touch that made one's skin numb with a phantom itch, and it was undoubtedly revenge for the words Shen Qiao had breathed against Lu Zhe's lips.
"I want that place…" Lu Zhe spoke slowly. His boundless smile spread to his eyes. "…to fill up with the taste of me, to remember only the shape of me.
"No matter how you cry, no matter how you beg, I won't let you go."
As Lu Zhe's words fell between them, Shen Qiao's throat bobbed. The hairs on his arms bristled, standing up in response to the menacing tint of Lu Zhe's voice. His instincts and rationality were shouting out in unison, telling him the same thing—
Stay away from that alpha!
Shen Qiao remained locked in place, all his limbs paralyzed. His pheromones were smothered by the thick scent of cedarwood that rolled off Lu Zhe. He was completely, utterly surrounded. A bone-piercing chill seemed to engulf him. He couldn't even draw half a breath through his nose or mouth, as though suffocating in despair.
It was only after Lu Zhe withdrew his pheromones that Shen Qiao realized the palms of his hands, hanging at his sides, were slick with sweat.
He lowered his head and subconsciously furrowed his brow. Loathing and disgust filled his eyes, until Lu Zhe touched his fingertips to his chin and lifted his head.
"Weren't you so brave when you offered me your throat just now?" Lu Zhe asked, smiling. "What, have you gotten scared already? I haven't even made a move."
Shen Qiao drew a slow breath, filling his lungs with fresh air and dispelling the strong scent of cedarwood that he had taken in earlier. Then he finally lifted his gaze and fixed Lu Zhe with a condescending glare. His tone bore an effortlessly mocking lilt as he sneered—
"Scared?" Shen Qiao scoffed through his nose. "You disgust me. If you're going to bite me, bite me. If you're not, fuck off. You're all bark. When it comes to really making a move, you won't."
At those words, Lu Zhe stifled a laugh. He pressed his forehead to Shen Qiao's, and Shen Qiao didn't push him away—maybe he didn't want to cause a scene and draw attention from the people in the training room, or maybe he just couldn't be bothered to shove Lu Zhe off. For a moment, the two of them stood as close as they would have when they were still lovers.
Lu Zhe stayed right there for a moment, leaning against Shen Qiao. His voice softened, giving the false impression that he was comforting the other party.
"Didn't I say?" he asked. "I want to bite you. But…"
Lu Zhe slowed his words and unhurriedly continued, "I remember how aggressive you used to get when you smelled my pheromones. Why are you so docile now?"
Saying that, Lu Zhe pulled back and put some distance between them of his own accord. He lifted a hand and tousled Shen Qiao's hair, then ducked aside before Shen Qiao could retaliate. He looked Shen Qiao up and down with a cheeky grin, then threw out a casual critique like a pervy old lecher—
"I liked you better when you were fierce. Sweet little kittens aren't my type."
With that, Lu Zhe turned and started heading downstairs. It was like all the dark and heated words they'd exchanged were nothing more than an illusion.
The smile Lu Zhe had worn was gone now.
Only a deep, heavy darkness remained in his eyes.
Alphas couldn't be marked. Years ago, when Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao were together, Lu Zhe had used his mark to leave his pheromones under Shen Qiao's skin. But Shen Qiao didn't change.
He wasn't like an omega who'd been marked by an alpha. An omega would have developed feelings of dependence and subservience; their knees would have gone soft and weak.
Historically speaking, it wasn't unheard of for one alpha to bite another after winning a fight for dominance. An alpha could pierce another's pheromone secretion glands and inject their own pheromones. But alphas were inherently incompatible. The injected pheromones would eventually be expelled. At most, they would elicit shocks of intense pain in the body that fought and rejected the foreign pheromones.
Shen Qiao's reaction just now… something was very wrong about it.
If Lu Zhe remembered correctly, Shen Qiao's pheromones were just as strong as his own.
In other words, when Lu Zhe released his own pheromones, Shen Qiao should have done the same to protect himself, even if only through instinct. Even if Shen Qiao lost in the end, he shouldn't have accepted defeat right from the start.
Lu Zhe thought back to the last few times he'd been in close proximity to Shen Qiao. He thought of the other man's lack of a reaction.
That was a sort of tenseness, a sort of resignation that the old Shen Qiao, from before their breakup, never would have shown.
For some reason, an inexplicable anger suddenly surged in Lu Zhe's heart.
Back in the hall.
Shen Qiao tilted his head and watched until Lu Zhe's figure disappeared down the stairs. He narrowed his eyes, which flooded with a sharply critical look—but it was hard to determine who that criticism was directed towards.
After a while, he put one hand in his pocket and made his way to the bathroom. Upon emerging, he headed back to the door of the training room, but suddenly realized that the cigarettes in his pocket were gone again.
He turned back around and went downstairs.
By the time he returned to the training room, a new figure had appeared.
"Alright, now that everyone's here, let me make an announcement. Earlier, in preparation for the worst case scenario, I had our second-string top laner come join you for a few training sessions. I also scheduled a practice match against BLX—
"But now that you're here, Shen Qiao, I want you in tonight's practice match. It's a good chance for you to familiarize yourself with our team, and our opponents will be your old team. You understand them. How are you feeling? You're up to playing tonight, right?"
Coach Fang held a board under one arm and nodded towards Shen Qiao as he spoke, giving him a cursory welcome to the team.
The coach was a very ordinary-looking man with a very square face. He didn't emit any pheromones, either. He was a beta, and as a retired pro esports player, he had a good understanding of all the tactics employed by various domestic teams.
Shen Qiao nodded back.
Lu Zhe, who had been waiting for Shen Qiao's return all this time, suddenly called out, "When is the match?"
"Eight," Coach Fang answered.
Lu Zhe turned to Shen Qiao. That harmless, gentle expression had returned to his face. He waved Shen Qiao over and said, "We have lots of time. Come eat, the takeout is getting cold."
Shen Qiao looked back at him. Then he took a seat at his desk without saying a word, and picked up a box of takeout to eat.
The five players of Team DG logged into a private server dedicated to tonight's practice match. They chatted while testing out their equipment.
"Little Wolfy," Old Wo called out. "How about you sneak me some inside info on which champions Mo Mo has been practicing? Let's dedicate our first ban to him."
Mo Mo was the core of Team BLX. His strong and stable playstyle had attracted many fans. He worked extremely well with Lele, and he was internationally renowned as one of the strongest ADs.
The rest of Team BLX essentially played to match Mo Mo's flow and rhythm. When Mo Mo got in the groove, that was the signal for the whole team to move.
Shen Qiao thought for a while, then answered, "Too many."
Mo Mo could play any AD champion, after all.
Old Wo let out a disgruntled huff, then nodded at their coach with a haughty air. "Old Fang, let's be generous. Give me five extra bans."
Coach Fang slapped Old Wo's desk with his noteboard. With a look of contempt, he ordered, "Grow up."
Er-Hua laughed heartily. "Why don't you beg me, and maybe I'll consider giving you the ban I saved for Lele? I heard he's mostly been playing Soraka these days."
Qian Bao propped her chin up on one hand and joined their conversation. "That's right. And after you finish begging Er-Hua, you two can both beg Little Wolfy and Captain Lu to help you choose your champions. You'll be crying for your daddy on the field, anyway. In fact, why don't you just play on your knees tonight?"
Indignantly, Old Wo retorted, "Just listen to yourself! What kind of unseemly talk is that?"
Then, in the next second, he feigned shyness and joked, "You'll embarrass me!"
And then, a second after that, Old Wo immediately added into his mic, "Wolfy-ge, Daddy Wolf, what do you think? Do I need to pay my respects to you when we get online?"
"…that isn't necessary," Shen Qiao said. "Let's choose our AD first."
After saying that, Shen Qiao glanced at the time. They still had five minutes before the start of the match. Out of habit, he reached into his pocket for the pack of cigarettes he'd just bought.
He wouldn't light up indoors, but he wanted to take one out and let it dangle from his lips. The scent alone could soothe him.
As soon as his fingers slipped into his pocket and brushed the edge of the pack, he heard Lu Zhe speak up from next to him.
Lu Zhe's voice still carried that faintly smiling, inexplicably vague tone.
After a moment, he added, "Come here for a sec."
Shen Qiao turned and glanced over at Lu Zhe. Originally, he hadn't planned on answering, but he saw Lu Zhe winding the cord of his headphones around his fingers. Shen Qiao wondered if there was something wrong with his headset.
In the end, he scooted his chair over.
As soon as Shen Qiao drew close enough, Lu Zhe suddenly reached out and grabbed him by the nape. He pulled Shen Qiao closer, pressing him down against his shoulder.
The faint scent of cedarwood rose.
It wasn't the fierce, confrontational burst of pheromones that Lu Zhe had emitted earlier. This wave was carefully measured and controlled. It was light and restrained.
It felt like comfort.
Lu Zhe didn't say anything. He only shifted his hand higher up Shen Qiao's nape. His fingers slid through Shen Qiao's hair again and again, stroking it, petting it.
Coach Fang glanced over.
Lu Zhe flashed a smile at him, then muted his own mic. With his other hand, he covered Shen Qiao's mic and tilted his head to whisper:
"What do you need cigarettes for?
"Isn't my scent more addictive?"
Before a match, breathe in your laogong's scent. After a match, _________. Please fill in the blank.