WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 14

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"Daddy Qiao! How'd you do that?! A come-from-behind solo kill on Jayce!"

Old Wo, unhurriedly farming and minding his own business, howled his praises through their team's voice channel.

Lu Zhe survived by a thread, with just a sliver of HP left. He wore a smile in his voice as he said, "This is a debt that can never be repaid. Qiaoqiao, I owe you my life."

While they spoke, Shen Qiao took down Jarvan IV as well. Then he teamed up with Old Wo to beat the shit out of Lucian. Leona circled around at a distance, but couldn't find an opportunity to slip in and save her teammates. In the end, she turned and hurried away without joining the fray.

Shen Qiao turned and started heading into the enemy's jungle to farm some creeps. A lazy, insolent remark drifted into the voice channel.

"No need," he said. "It's not good to repay kindness with malice."

Their other teammates all laughed, but Lu Zhe continued on as though he hadn't heard anything at all. He followed after Shen Qiao without touching any of the monsters in the jungle. He only continued to chirp in Shen Qiao's ear, with that good-natured smile in his voice—

"Qiaoqiao, do you want these krugs?"

"Qiaoqiao, I'll guard the red buff for you. Come on over after you get the blue one."

Qian Bao coughed softly into her mic and pointedly said, "Ahem."

Lu Zhe's warm and gentle voice suddenly cooled. He intoned, emotionlessly, "I dunno what that's supposed to mean. Everything that's mine is Qiaoqiao's. The rest of you, don't even think about running wild in the jungle."

"When you decide to be someone's dog," Qian Bao muttered, "you really go all out."

"Captain," Er-Hua said. "Don't you think you've changed too much, too fast?"

Lu Zhe didn't seem to think there was anything inappropriate about his over-the-top show of favoring Shen Qiao at all. Rather than seeing it as shameful behavior, he seemed rather proud of himself. He boastfully replied:

"Don't ask. If you ask, my only answer is I love being Qiaoqiao's dog."

As he listened to Lu Zhe banter with his teammates, Shen Qiao continued to farm in the jungle. He seemed completely unperturbed, but there was an imperceptible hitch in his breathing. He snuck a glance at the windows of the training room and found that they were open, which left him feeling somewhat bewildered—

Strange.

Fresh air was circulating through the room.

So why did he feel like he was getting hotter and hotter?

……

During the team fight in which they established an advantage over their opponents, Shen Qiao, Old Wo, and LeBlanc each took a kill. Team DG quickly caught up to the gap that had been opened by BLX earlier in the match.

But BLX wouldn't just watch them take flight. In front of an ocean dragon spawn, they dragged DG into another team fight.

Shen Qiao led the charge. He quickly became the target of all their enemies' attacks; his death was only a matter of time. When his character avatar grayed out, Lu Zhe, Qian Bao, Old Wo, and Er-Hua retaliated. By the time all members of the two teams had flung their abilities at each other, Er-Hua had fallen in battle.

In exchange, DG had claimed the lives of Jayce, Lucian, and Leona.

Two for three. Plus, DG slew the dragon as well.

Lu Zhe tsked softly. "This round was a loss."

After a moment, he continued, "Qiaoqiao. Next time, hide behind me. Let Er-Hua and Old Wo take the lead, then you go reap the rewards."

Shen Qiao was in the middle of changing his gear. Hearing those words, he mulled it over for a while. In the end, he couldn't resist voicing some doubt: "…Old Wo can take the lead?"

Old Wo let out a sorrowful sigh. "Sending Er-Hua in with his Titan to hook an enemy, that's something I can understand. But sending me and my frail, delicate little Kai'Sa in to lead the charge? Are you serious?"

He was a poor, squishy AD! He was a backline baobao that needed his whole team to diligently protect him!

Lu Zhe headed off in the direction of Baron Nashor. He surveyed the area with Er-Hua while idly giving out his commands: "First, when our opponents group up, you rush over—"

"Then I die?" Old Wo interrupted.

"You're so smart," Lu Zhe praised approvingly.

Old Wo fell silent and thought, Fucker.

"Captain Lu, you dog," Old Wo berated. "What good is it going to do you if I die?"

Lu Zhe answered in an extraordinarily serious and earnest tone: "According to our post-game statistics, our win rate in matches where you sacrifice yourself early is greater than ninety percent. In short—sacrificing you to appease the gods grants us boundless might."

Old Wo huffed indignantly. "A thousand curses upon you and your granddaddy. A thousand. You hear me?"

"Shouldn't you feel honored?" Lu Zhe retorted. "No one else can fulfill this unique role of yours."

As Team DG bantered, Team BLX discovered their plans to take down Baron Nashor. BLX slowly began to congregate near the river. Before Old Wo could fire back another insult, Lu Zhe fluidly issued his next order:

"Don't engage yet. Use the Baron to lure them in, then find a chance to strike."

Old Wo, who had been cut off, choked back his snide retorts and mentally cast out a reaction meme:

Aggrieved.jpg

……

When they saw Team DG getting ready to attack Baron Nashor, Team BLX couldn't resist using a few of their abilities to cause a small interference.

Lu Zhe's concentration was unwavering. As soon as he saw the enemy attacks flying their way, he dodged aside with his blind monk. His teammates were perfectly in sync with him, scattering at just the right time. They all skittered behind Baron Nashor, enticing their opponents to come closer.

It was practically written over their faces—

Come attack the Baron. We're waiting to steal your kill.

BLX's Mo Mo saw through their ploy and didn't allow his teammates to engage the neutral monster. They only exchanged some blows with Team DG, interfering with each other. BLX methodically took down DG's wards and got their own wards in place, circling Baron Nashor and occasionally taking a swipe at the monster.

DG didn't go on the offense. They continued to skulk in the shadows.

Once BLX finished tearing down DG's wards, they started to attack Baron Nashor in earnest while the enemy watched on.

When the Baron's HP fell to seventy percent, Er-Hua suddenly launched an attack from the side and hooked Galio. A streak of red was instantly enveloped by a sea of blue.

Shen Qiao and the others swiftly ganged up on the fallen Galio—

The other members of BLX wanted to rescue their teammate, but they were caught between Baron Nashor's acid missile and Team DG's attack.

Galio fell in combat.

The four surviving members of BLX started to retreat, working together to cover and protect one another. But they retreated directly into the net DG had cast!

Shen Qiao drew closer from the side, suddenly jumping into the crowd of BLX's champions. He became the focus of all their attacks. Just before he could be felled by the enemy Leona, he cast Divine Judgement—

Granting him invulnerability!

Lu Zhe, Old Wo, and Qian Bao surged up in unison. Old Wo's big skills were all up and ready. His Kai'sa charged in and went wild!

After a fierce fight, the system announced—

"Triple Kill!"

By the time his teammates took down three of their enemies, Shen Qiao's invulnerability had worn off. His champion Kayle flapped her wings unhurriedly and descended, returning to join her allies.

Lu Zhe eyed that golden angel and sighed softly. "Damn."

Qian Bao had just claimed a kill. Her adrenaline was still pumping, coursing through her veins. She was still on high-alert, and she instinctively asked, "What is it?"

"I'm moved," Lu Zhe said. "My heart just skipped a beat."

His teammates fell silent.

Shen Qiao couldn't stand it anymore. He grit his teeth and spat out two words: "Shut up."

……

After taking out their opponents, DG handily took down Baron Nashor. Then they rallied their troops and pushed onwards towards BLX's base.

As an explosion took down BLX's mid-lane tower, Er-Hua expressed some hesitation. "They've respawned already. Should we hold back a bit?"

Shen Qiao hummed his acknowledgement, but continued pushing on ahead.

"Yes, we should exercise caution," Lu Zhe said.

Then he took his blink monk into a 1v1, seeking a solo kill.

Old Wo also mumbled something about staying cautious and stable, even as he moved on ahead with Kai'Sa to support Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao on their killing spree. Then he stopped outside the enemy's base, flinging his abilities at the champions who'd just respawned.

Half a minute later, Qian Bao also chimed in through the voice channel: "Alright, sure. Let's stabilize—"

As she spoke, her champion LeBlanc idled by the enemy inhibitor. The red inhibitor crystal started to glow, then shattered.

Qian Bao paused for a second, then suddenly exclaimed, "Fuck stability, let's go all out."

Er-Hua was silent.

He shouldn't have said anything!

Coach Fang, who'd watched the whole match go down, wore a complicated expression on his face.

He silently cast a glance at Shen Qiao before sweeping his gaze over Lu Zhe, Qian Bao, and Old Wo. He could practically see one word printed on all four of their faces:

Brazen.

Coach Fang fell deep into thought. When Fish had been part of Team DG, they'd been a fairly normal and steady team of five. But now, with the introduction of this man Shen Qiao—

They'd become wild dogs, unleashed.

……

The second match began.

Shen Qiao's Kayle was banned right from the start, so he chose Lucian as his champion for the top lane. He faced off against Xu Xiao alone and took him down, then teamed up with Lu Zhe later to slay Xu Xiao again. DG continued to play well, demolishing the enemy base at the twenty-eight minute mark.

Old Wo was so thrilled that tears welled up in the corners of his eyes. "Papa Er! Your skills are sick, Papa Er. How about in the future, I'll attack the turrets while you and Daddy Lu handle the enemy?"

In the third match, Shen Qiao was fiercely targeted by the enemy in the top lane. Qian Bao, in the mid lane, struggled against an enemy tank. In the bottom lane, BLX used Rakan and Xayah to take care of Old Wo and Er-Hua.

Lu Zhe's champion, Camille, couldn't do much in the early minutes of the game. He could only watch on as BLX established their dominance quickly at the start of the third match. Although he did his best to hold the reins until the end, DG's base still fell to BLX at the thirty-seven minute mark.

Team DG's final results—

Two wins. One loss.

Coach Fang held them all back and reviewed their plays one by one.

"Let's start from the first match…"

……

12:30 AM.

After Coach Fang's aggressive post-game review concluded, Qian Bao stretched and decided to grab a shower before coming back to solo queue. Er-Hua and Old Wo decided to queue up together and stream for a while. Shen Qiao remained in his seat, queueing up for another practice game by himself.

Lu Zhe had left his seat. No one really knew where he'd gone.

Shen Qiao glanced over at that vacant seat next to him. The faint scent of cedarwood seemed to linger in the air. The scent was just like its owner; even after the man himself had left, an unignorable mark of his presence remained.

Shen Qiao suddenly remembered the words Lu Zhe had spoken to him before their practice games that night—

What do you need cigarettes for?

Isn't my scent more addictive?

Shen Qiao refocused his gaze on his computer monitor. He snuck his hand into his pocket and felt around for his cigarettes again.

He thought, Addictive? Of course it's addictive.

That cedarwood scent was so addictive that the loss of it, after their separation, had driven Shen Qiao to become a heavy smoker.

But he didn't say anything, and he didn't take out his cigarettes again. He turned his attention back to the game and queued up.

Outside the training room, in the bathroom at the end of the hall—

With his sleek black cell phone pressed to his ear, Lu Zhe let his voice drift out through the open window: "Have you left yet?"

A prideful female voice rang out from the other end of the line: "You just can't wait for me to leave, can you, Lu Zhe? Dream on!"

After a moment, she added, "Oh, that's right. Have you ranked up the account I asked you to help me with earlier? I want to play with my friends."

Lu Zhe irritability replied, "I'm confiscating that account. You're not allowed to log in for now."

The other party began to fume and rage. "What? Why?! I worked hard to get that account up to silver! Give it back to—"

"Lu Qianshuang," Lu Zhe suddenly interrupted. He paused for a brief moment, then continued, "Let me ask you a question. When I was away for my college entrance exams in my third year of high school, did Shen Jinyi do something to Shen Qiao?"

Lu Qianshuang hesitated for a moment before she whispered an answer:

"She moved out to the guest house around then, and then her illness got even more severe. Private doctors came and went all the time, and Papa—ah, I mean, Old Lu wouldn't let us go see. Mom wouldn't let me get close to Qiaoqiao-gege either…"

At that point, a hint of anxiousness worked its way into her tone. "What's going on with Qiaoqiao-gege? I don't think anyone's touched the place where Shen Jinyi was living. How about I go back and take a look around?"

Lu Zhe's dark pupils flashed with a sharp, intense sort of focus. In the end, he casually said, "It's nothing."

Then, taking on a more serious tone, he emphasized, "Qiaoqiao is fine. You go have fun. I'll be borrowing your account for a while longer."

Although he spoke so calmly, the bathroom suddenly filled up with the rich and dense scent of cedarwood.

Lu Zhe hung up after that. Upon exiting the bathroom, he made his way to the manager's office in wide strides. He pushed open the door and declared—

"Manager Zhou, I need to take a day off tomorrow. Family matters. I'll be back tomorrow night at the earliest."

Big-Mouthed Zhou, hearing Lu Zhe address him so seriously, instantly froze.

After a long while, he managed to utter a sound of acknowledgement: "Oh."

Lu Zhe thought for a moment, then added, "If Qiaoqiao asks…"

He paused again. A moment later, he smiled and shook his head.

"Forget it. He won't ask."

……

4:00 AM.

Old Wo, Er-Hua, and Qian Bao had all gone to sleep. The people at their team HQ also urged Shen Qiao to get some rest soon. Before he left the training room, Shen Qiao cast a glance at the seat next to him. It had remained empty all this time.

At some point, without his notice, the scent of cedarwood had completely dispersed.

He stared for a long while, before finally turning to head to his own room to sleep.

Shen Qiao didn't know if it was because he'd moved to a new HQ, but he didn't sleep well that night. The next day, he got up at around ten in the morning and returned to his computer to continue practicing.

However, a whole day passed. Lu Zhe didn't return.

Shen Qiao heard Old Wo asking Manager Zhou about it, but only a curt and dismissive answer was given—

Lu Zhe had taken a vacation.

At nine in the morning on the third day—

Shen Qiao got up early and walked past Manager Zhou's office, as though nothing were wrong.

Half an hour later, he emerged from the training room and walked past Manager Zhou's office again.

And half an hour after that, he did it again. Manager Zhou finally couldn't contain his curiosity any longer. He gave Shen Qiao a bewildered look and asked—

"Shen Qiao, is there something you want to talk to me about?"

 

Author's Notes:

Shen Qiao, admit it. You miss him.

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