WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 18

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Nearby, Qian Bao was just completing some of her assigned streaming hours before the month's end. When she heard Lu Zhe's words, she hastily covered the mic of her headset and shot him a despairing look.

"Captain, I'm streaming here. You tell me. If my viewers ask me for our address to report us to the authorities, what am I supposed to say?"

Old Wo, who was still salty about being denied a serving of huangmen chicken, chimed in at that point: "Don't worry. We'll take the initiative to turn him over to the morality committee. Everyone here is responsible for protesting this lewd dog's behavior."

Lu Zhe shifted his attention away from Shen Qiao and looked at his traitorous teammates. He smiled serenely at them, as though freely admitting that he was indeed Team DG's lewdest and most immoral member.

Er-Hua had just returned from picking up his takeout at the front door. As he passed Qian Bao with a puzzled look on his face, he said:

"I suddenly remembered a rumor I saw on a forum a while back. It was something about you two dissing each other. Something like, 'Obsessed with kills. Lone wolf.'"

"Oh, oh!" Old Wo exclaimed. He seemed to recall the same thing and recited, "'Command's mediocre. Shitty jungler.'"

Er-Hua had recited Lu Zhe's critique of Shen Qiao, and Old Wo had dredged up Shen Qiao's rebuttal about Lu Zhe.

Many fans in the esports circle knew about this mutual exchange of verbal blows. At first, rumors of those condemnations were only spread by the friends of the two parties involved. But then sharp-eyed fans took note of the way Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao interacted whenever they met at various tournaments, and the credibility of those rumors soared. The story spread like wildfire.

By now, at least half the fans in the esports industry were silently convinced that Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao hated each other's guts.

Qian Bao, Er-Hua, and Old Wo now turned to the two implicated parties in unison, all keen to know whether these old rumors were true or false.

Shen Qiao lifted his eyebrows, just a little.

Lu Zhe's smile grew a little wider. He laced his fingers together and folded his hands over one knee, leaning back and relaxing in his black-and-red gaming chair. He began, cheerfully:

"About that…"

……

That was something that had happened during the second term of their first year of high school.

Yun City's First High was hosting a sports competition in the scorching, mid-June heat. The new campus was located by the ocean, but the salty sea breeze that gusted over the running track was still boiling hot. The synthetic track was scorched to the point of releasing a dense, malodorous stench.

Because Lu Zhe staunchly refused to participate in any track and field events, from the dashes to the long jump—

The sports committee ultimately drafted him into the basketball team to even out their numbers.

Lu Zhe was an alpha, anyway. He had been born gifted, with athleticism and physical prowess that placed him at the top of his age group in any sport. As long as he understood the basics of basketball, he would have no problem participating in an intramural competition within his grade.

At first, Lu Zhe was just a substitute who had to show up to make sure his team had enough members. His job was to sit on the bench, where his handsome face was sure to entice spectators to cheer for Class A of the science track. He didn't have to lift a finger as he watched his class win their way into the finals.

Shockingly, the other team that reached the final round was Class C of the humanities track. They had more omegas than any other team in the tournament.

But they climbed their way up the ladder because of one legendary figure among them—

Shen Qiao.

Everyone knew that a nearly unprecedented tie had occurred that year at Yun City's First High. In the poll for the most handsome boy of Year 1, the two alphas who'd entered the school that year received the exact same number of votes.

One of them had received the highest high school college entrance exam scores in their whole city. He was beautiful, and his pheromones were strong. The top student of First High—Lu Zhe.

The other was so handsome that his fans could overlook his devastatingly awful grades—Shen Qiao.

After browsing their school forums and gawking at the unedited photos of these two alphas, half the omegas at their school instantly became diehard fans of their faces. The other half eagerly awaited the day when the two alphas would clash; they were keen to find out who would come out on top.

Unfortunately, for the entire first term of their first year, one of them attended class in Building 2, and the other was stuck in Building 5. They basically didn't have any opportunities to cross paths in their daily lives.

And when the second term of their first year came around, they had to choose their track—science or humanities. After that, their paths diverged even more.

Until now.

Shen Qiao was the treasured, indomitable alpha of Class C. He had somehow been roped into championing their class at the basketball tournament, and it now fell upon his shoulders to bring glory to his peers.

When the final match-up in the first-years' basketball tournament was announced, students flocked to the basketball court and packed the bleachers to the gills. All the little reporters from the school paper held their cameras up high, eager to catch a shot of the school's two most handsome alphas in the same frame. They would finally get a chance to see which one of those pretty faces could put up a good fight.

The sports committee member from Class A joked with Lu Zhe before the match: "The whole school wants to see you two face off. How about you take the court in the first half?"

Lu Zhe wore a warm, friendly smile. He looked towards a certain figure on the other team. Shen Qiao was dressed in a light blue jersey, holding a basketball under one arm. That was a figure which seemed to glisten and glow under the sun.

Lu Zhe nodded happily.

"Sure. I want to play against him too."

As he spoke, Lu Zhe crinkled the corners of his eyes at Shen Qiao's back, as though he were gazing directly into the sun on a scorchingly hot day.

……

Before the match.

Lu Zhe stood in front of Shen Qiao. A wave of shrill, unprovoked shrieks rippled through the crowd. As though he didn't think anything of the game or his opponent, Lu Zhe smiled at Shen Qiao and lazily uttered his name—

"Shen Qiao," he said, with that pleasant smile warming his tone. "I'm very glad to meet you."

Shen Qiao lifted his gaze and glanced at Lu Zhe like he was doing him a favor. After a long moment, he half-heartedly responded—

"Oh. It's you. Aren't you the sub that's just here to even out the teams?"

The spectators had clearly already deemed them fated rivals. But with those dismissive words from Shen Qiao, it seemed almost like Lu Zhe had been judged unworthy of standing against him.

Lu Zhe, inexplicably, felt a bit amused. He cocked his head to the side, revealing the short bunch of hair tied up at the back of his head. Lightly, but proudly, he answered, "Whether or not I'm 'just a sub' is something you'll see for yourself soon enough."

Shen Qiao hummed through his nose, perhaps not taking Lu Zhe seriously at all.

Very quickly, Lu Zhe saw what made Shen Qiao a legend. Whether it was jumping or passing or dunking—Shen Qiao was like a bolt of lightning on the basketball court. Class A dedicated two alphas to blocking him, but they couldn't hold him back.

The scent of mint was only light at first, not too irritating or provocative. But gradually, those pheromones seemed to spread to every corner of the court.

BANG!

One of Shen Qiao's shots hit the backboard and missed the hoop. The big, tall members of Class A stole the rebound. Just as they took the ball into their possession, Lu Zhe suddenly signaled to them from a distance.

In an instant, before Shen Qiao could intercept, the ball sailed across the court and flew into Lu Zhe's hands.

Lu Zhe deftly caught the ball. He was standing a ways away from the three-point line. He crouched down just a little, lifted the ball over his head in both hands, and jumped—

The basketball soared towards the hoop, carving a beautiful, parabolic arc through the air. Lu Zhe turned and flashed a smile at Shen Qiao as soon as he landed. That warm, gentle smile could no longer hide his innate, alpha instincts. It was tinged with an intense, provocative edge.

A sharp whistle came from the referee at just that moment.

"Three points!"

Shen Qiao lifted the hem of his jersey with one hand, wiping at the sweat on his face while exposing a sliver of his abs. He answered Lu Zhe's smile with a quirk of his own lips. A bolt of genuine excitement flashed through his eyes, as though he were a lion who'd just woken from a nap, ready to hunt!

……

After the match.

Class A won over Class C by a margin of three points.

School was due to let out early because of the sports competition. Some of the students from Class A felt a sense of camaraderie towards Shen Qiao after seeing his fierce performance on the court. They struck up a conversation with him after the game, intending to befriend him:

"Shen Qiao, do you play League? Wanna hit up a net cafe and play with us after school?"

Shen Qiao was just in the middle of instructing everyone in Class C to take their own chairs back to their classroom. When he heard those words, he glanced over. Sweat still glistened on his throat in wet, shimmery rivulets that drew Lu Zhe's attention.

"Sure," he said with a noncommittal nod. Then, he added, "I'm on Ionia. You?"

"We're all on Ionia!"

"Yeah! We'll finally have a full team of five today. Let me tell you, our Lu-ge is wicked good at playing jungler, and he's an awesome commander too! You'll have it easy when you team up with us!"

Hearing that, Shen Qiao naturally glanced at Lu Zhe again. Lu Zhe met his gaze with a friendly smile.

Then, when they assembled at the net cafe—

Shen Qiao pointedly took a look at Lu Zhe's rank. Platinum I.

A second later, Shen Qiao—who was still brooding over his loss on the basketball court—deliberately turned his own computer monitor towards Lu Zhe.

Lu Zhe inadvertently glanced over and saw—

Diamond III.

Shen Qiao cleared his throat and asked, as though to confirm what he'd heard, "I heard I'll have it easy, teaming up with you?"

Lu Zhe was silent.

He forcibly held his civilized persona together and answered, "Who said that? I'll be the one who gets to take it easy."

Ten minutes into the game—

Lu Zhe coldly ordered, through the mic of his headset: "Stop chasing that one, you've strayed too far. We're all ready over here. Group up, now!"

Shen Qiao only gave a perfunctory response: "I'll win us the upper hand. If you four can't beat those three on your own, you're way too useless."

As soon as those words fell from his lips, Shen Qiao's champion Tryndamere ran into the opposing team's AD and support. They flung their attacks at him and took him down before he even had a chance to activate his life-saving, five-second ult.

Elsewhere, his teammates hadn't racked up enough experience to hold their own against the enemy. Their formation was shattered, and the four of them were obliterated by three of the enemy players.

All five of their computer monitors dimmed to a gray screen of death.

A heavy, grim silence descended. Finally, Lu Zhe smiled coldly and echoed, "The upper hand?"

Shen Qiao's lips quirked. He countered, simply, "Ready?"

Lu Zhe took a deep breath. "I know why you're a top laner—

"You're addicted to kills. Destined to live as a lone wolf."

"Hah?" Shen Qiao huffed, indignant. He own voice was laden with mockery as he sneered, "You're a mediocre commander, and you want to blame it on me? Let's not even talk about your shitty jungling. How many kills have you given away? Where are you and your 3-7 track record getting that much confidence?"

Their other three teammates protested—

"Calm… calm down!"

……

"Strange," Er-Hua mumbled to himself while shoveling a spoonful of pork belly bibimbap into his mouth. "This is obviously a tale of mutual verbal assault. Why do I feel like I've just been subjected to a gross show of PDA?"

Lu Zhe was just about to say that his feelings were completely on point. Unfortunately, their conversation just so happened to be overheard by Big-Mouthed Zhou, who marched over to lecture him:

"Behave yourself, Daddy Lu. I know it's that time of month for you, but you really can't make a move on Wolfy here! Even rabbits know not to eat the grass next to their dens. Alphas should know—

"AA has no future!"

Er-Hua, hearing that, nearly choked on his food. Qian Bao scooted far, far away in her chair, staring at Lu Zhe with horror in her eyes. Across from them, Old Wo clicked his tongue and sighed.

"Savage," he muttered.

The corners of Lu Zhe's slightly elongated eyes curved up. An almost imperceptible hint of mirth flashed through his dark pupils. To Big-Mouthed Zhou, he said, "Since you were so kind as to call me 'daddy', Daddy will teach you a lesson today."

Big-Mouthed Zhou blinked.

"Every beast has a predator, but Daddy can top them all."

Big-Mouthed Zhou was speechless.

Old Wo and the others were all silent as well.

At that point, Shen Qiao suddenly let out a short, abrupt laugh. He lightly clicked the buttons of his mouse and glanced over at Lu Zhe with a veiled smile and a touch of mischief in his eyes.

Lu Zhe had originally been pissed and jealous, but after meeting Shen Qiao's gaze for just a few seconds, the ballooning rage in his chest dispersed in an instant, as though someone had popped it with a needle.

In the end, he even flashed a genuine smile and amicably asked the other party:

"Am I right, Daddy Qiao?"

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