WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 22

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Shen Qiao gave Lu Zhe a blank look. Just as he was about to answer, a quiet voice came from the side:

"You only won a practice match, and you're already trying to take advantage of your teammates? Do you plan on ascending to heaven once you win an official game?"

The two of them turned and found the long-forgotten Coach Fang standing beside them with his arms crossed. He was looking down on Lu Zhe with a cold, apathetic expression on his face.

Lu Zhe's smile froze in place. After a moment, he helplessly asked, "Coach, it isn't good to eavesdrop on your players' private conversations, is it?"

Coach Fang flashed that very professional and very fake smile of his. "…I just happened to be standing here. My sincerest apologies. But rather than your choice in a future spouse, I'm more interested in discussing the first kill you handed over just now."

Lu Zhe fell silent.

He let out a long sigh, then settled against the back of his chair as though in resignation. His handsome face was calm and tranquil. "Go ahead, discuss away. My heart is already dead anyway."

Shen Qiao turned back to his own computer monitor. As he listened to Coach Fang tear into Lu Zhe during a review of his mistakes throughout the practice match, his lips curved up just the slightest bit.

But he quickly evened them out again.

……

After Coach Fang chewed them out one by one during their individual post-game reviews, the five members of DG were thoroughly wiped out.

They could only take a small amount of comfort in the thought that WTG's players were probably even more miserable than them right now.

Qian Bao was lazing dispiritedly in her chair, half-paralyzed. She finally reached for her cell phone after a while, wanting to order some takeout. But then she remembered Big-Mouthed Zhou's naggy reminders and hesitated for a moment. After a while, an idea seemed to strike. She turned to Lu Zhe and asked in the sweetest voice she could muster:

"Captain, don't you feel a bit hungry?"

The moment Lu Zhe heard that, he knew what she was getting at.

Takeout was frowned upon, but going out to grab a midnight snack would be fine.

Lu Zhe didn't rush to answer right away. He only curled his fingers and lightly knocked on Shen Qiao's desk a few times. "Knock-knock."

Shen Qiao pulled off his headset again. He was playing minesweeper to unwind, and he kept his attention on his own computer screen. But he did twitch his ears slightly, to indicate that Lu Zhe should speak if he had something to say.

The little twitch of those pale white ears… it was really, inexplicably, cute.

Lu Zhe thought back to the moments right after their practice match, when Shen Qiao had taken off his headset and rubbed at his own reddened ears. They had been reminiscent of the vibrant red wildberries that grew from the crevices in a sheer mountain cliff. It was as though a light pinch could cause them to burst, spilling a rich, fresh trickle of juice.

Shen Qiao was just about to mark a mine with a flag when he felt a light scratch at his earlobe. The barely-there touch left a faint itch in its wake.

His index finger had already clicked down on his mouse, but that little disruption had caused him to forget which cell he wanted to mark. He moved his mouse away in the end, then shot a fiercely impatient glare to his side—

"What do you want?"

His tone carried a menacing edge, as if he wouldn't easily forgive this interruption if Lu Zhe couldn't come up with a good explanation for his actions.

Lu Zhe's own tone of voice remained relaxed, with an obvious smile softening his words. It was the sort of voice that would have easily been misconstrued as doting. "Hungry? I'll take you out for a midnight snack."

But Shen Qiao wasn't going to let him off the hook so easily. "What does touching my ear have to do with a midnight snack?"

"Ah," Lu Zhe breathed softly. He innocently batted his dark eyes and seemed to think for a moment before he answered, "They were the ones that twitched so cutely and lit a fire in me. I couldn't help myself, could I?"

Shen Qiao blinked, speechless with bafflement.

On the other side of their desks, Old Wo and Er-Hua had started getting ready to turn off their machines as soon as Qian Bao proposed going out to eat. Hearing Lu Zhe's objectionable speech drift across the room, they both stopped what they were doing and uttered, "Hmm?"

"Obscene," Old Wo admonished.

"Hooligan," Er-Hua accused.

Qian Bao considered her words for a second, then chimed in: "You old brute."

Shen Qiao inexplicably got the feeling that he was being treated like a virginal maiden who was being catcalled by a vile lecher on the street. Before he could personally settle the score with Lu Zhe, the other man smiled good-naturedly and softened his voice even more, like he had no intention of fighting back against those accusations.

"Let's go," Lu Zhe offered. "I'll treat you to a late-night bite."

Shen Qiao lifted a hand to turn off his computer monitor. He didn't know if it was just an illusion, but he kept getting the sensation of a slight… itch at the spot where Lu Zhe had touched him earlier. As he walked out of the training room behind Lu Zhe, he couldn't resist tugging at his earlobe with his own hand again.

Lu Zhe turned and caught that action. He found it a little amusing, and he stopped to wait for Shen Qiao to catch up. "It'll turn red again if you keep rubbing it."

Shen Qiao shot him an irritated look and thought, Yeah, and it's all thanks to you.

Lu Zhe read his expression perfectly; he could tell exactly what Shen Qiao was thinking. His smile deepened, making his whole face look a little more brilliant and gorgeous.

"How was I supposed to know your ears were so sensitive?" he asked softly.

Shen Qiao glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. His lips twitched with a humorless smile that wasn't quite a smile at all, and he huffed through his nose before taking a few steps forward and stopping right in front of Lu Zhe. His eyebrows arched, the outer edges tipping up like the trembling wings of a hawk ready to take flight. A light flashed through his pupils, a light brighter than any of the stars in the sky.

Lu Zhe subconsciously slowed his breathing.

Shen Qiao leaned forward without warning, like a large feline who'd invaded Lu Zhe's territory without making a sound. The faint scent of mint filled the air, acting as a stark reminder of the fact that Shen Qiao was indeed a powerful carnivore.

Lu Zhe could once again hear a husky rasp in Shen Qiao's voice, perhaps because Shen Qiao had deliberately lowered and deepened his voice before speaking. His words ghosted hotly over Lu Zhe's ears:

"Oh? You didn't know?"

Shen Qiao imbued those words with obvious skepticism. It was clearly a question, and one which bore a bit of derisive sarcasm at that.

Lu Zhe met his gaze and, before long, started to smile as well. It was a smile that reached his eyes, filling his dark pupils with warmth. He looked upon Shen Qiao as anyone would look upon a precious gem.

"Should I know?" he countered.

Lu Zhe's smile was unwavering. He put on an act of thinking over his own question for a few seconds before his eyes flashed. In an excessively cordial tone, he continued:

"Perhaps my memory isn't as good as it once was. Shall we conduct a little experiment and find out?

"This time, I definitely won't forget."

He spoke as though making a solemn vow.

The corners of Shen Qiao's lips twitched. He shot only two words back at Lu Zhe:

"Fuck off."

At just that time, Old Wo impatiently called up to them from downstairs: "Daddy Lu, Daddy #2, are you guys ready or not? You're not doing something shameful in the training room while we're not paying attention, are you?"

Shen Qiao instantly marched away from the training room and made his way down the stairs. His footsteps were heavier than usual, creating an echo in the stairwell.

Lu Zhe fell a few steps behind him. He was still smiling as he matched Shen Qiao's pace, unhurriedly following along. Downstairs, he calmly asked Old Wo, "What are you imagining? Do you really think your daddy could get anything done, in such a short span of time?"

Old Wo had to respect Lu Zhe's ability to turn literally anything into a perverted remark. "Daddy's got a point with that bullshit. Your son misspoke carelessly."

Er-Hua had been so thoroughly grossed out by these proceedings that he couldn't stop rubbing his own arms. Qian Bao took the lead and headed out of the HQ first, as though she could put some distance between them and act like she wasn't associated with this gaggle of idiots.

……

There was a little road across the street from DG's headquarters, with shops that specialized in late-night meals. Hua City's denizens were all accustomed to having some skewers or a bit of liquor after work to unwind, so nightlife flourished throughout the whole city. Even at this late hour, the streets were full of people.

Lu Zhe and the others ultimately decided on a hotpot shop that advertised tripe as their specialty.

At that time of night, half the tables at the hotpot shop were already closed, but the staff still greeted the team very warmly when they arrived. They were led over to a table with a nice view. While they walked through the restaurant, Lu Zhe turned back to Shen Qiao—

"Have you been out here before? They prepare their tripe very well. I've been to countless hotpot shops in Hua City, and the tripe here is more tender than anywhere else."

Shen Qiao really hadn't visited the area around DG's headquarters much in the past. If Lu Zhe hadn't taken the initiative to invite him, Shen Qiao wouldn't have gone out of his way to wander around this neighborhood. He spent most of his free time working out at the city's swimming pools.

He listened silently as Lu Zhe talked about the shop's specialties. Old Wo and the others had gone ahead. They were already seated with the menu and order form, but they didn't even seem to read the entries before grabbing a pencil and speedily ordering just about everything on the first page.

Lu Zhe suddenly seemed to remember something. He asked, first and foremost: "Spicy butter base?"

"Yeah," Qian Bao said, nodding. "The usual. Spicy as fuck."

Lu Zhe glanced over at Shen Qiao. "Then we'll take one with a tomato base too."

Qian Bao perked up, curious. "The wolf cub can't handle spice?"

Shen Qiao hesitated for a second, then said, "I can."

Lu Zhe, however, refused to change his mind. "I don't feel like having anything spicy. I've been burning up lately."

"Yeah, sounds about right," Old Wo said. "Daddy Lu's speech has been a bit rough as of late."

Er-Hua gave him a look of sincere doubt. "Are you sure it isn't just more perverted?"

After being reprimanded by a smile from Lu Zhe, Er-Hua quietly shrank down in his seat and started looking through the dishes Old Wo had ordered.

"We need three plates of the high-end fatty beef! Two isn't enough, I'm telling you!"

Qian Bao was almost speechless. "Are the two of you bottomless pits? We're five alphas, not fifty! Hurry up and finish ordering—"

Old Wo cheerfully marked off all the things he, Er-Hua, and Qian Bao liked. Then he passed the order form over to Shen Qiao. "Don't worry, it's not like I'm paying for it. Order whatever you like best."

Lu Zhe, who would be paying, smiled serenely and told Old Wo, "Go ahead, order. Order as much as you want. If you can't finish, I'll have them pack up the leftovers, and you can have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next week."

Old Wo fell silent.

After saying that, Lu Zhe turned and saw Shen Qiao hesitating with the pencil, like he wasn't sure if he should order or not. In a much softer, warmer tone of voice, Lu Zhe told him, "Don't worry, order what you want. If you can't finish, I'll consider it part of Old Wo's leftovers too."

"Are you my daddy or my stepdaddy?" Old Wo complained.

"Could this be the legendary 'double standard' at play?" Er-Hua mused.

Shen Qiao maintained his calm composure and only ordered a serving of cream-filled steamed buns before passing the order form to Lu Zhe.

Lu Zhe skimmed through their choices before passing their order to the server. A smile touched his eyes.

Shen Qiao didn't want to listen to any of his ridicule. He got up and headed towards the condiments station. "I'll mix the dipping sauces."

Lu Zhe followed him over. While Shen Qiao poured vinegar into a bowl, Lu Zhe bit back a laugh and teased, "Qiaoqiao, my little friend. How old are you this year?"

"Shut up," Shen Qiao said.

Lu Zhe couldn't fully contain a laugh. His shoulders even shook with it. When he saw that Shen Qiao was close to boiling over with rage, he glanced into the bowl and gently reminded, "If you keep pouring, you'll have a bowl full of vinegar."

Shen Qiao tensed his wrist and righted the bottle.

Then, Lu Zhe suddenly poked him in the shoulder.

Shen Qiao didn't bother looking over at him. He didn't pay any attention to Lu Zhe at all.

But Lu Zhe persisted. He prodded Shen Qiao again and, still smiling, said, "Gege will give you a lollipop, okay?"

As soon as Shen Qiao heard that, he knew this guy was up to something. He turned to tell Lu Zhe to cut the crap, but as soon as he looked back, something hard hit his lips.

Shen Qiao pursed his lips and tasted a faint sweetness spread across them. He glanced down and found that, at some point, Lu Zhe had produced a lychee-flavored lollipop.

Shen Qiao set down the dipping sauce bowl and took the stick of the lollipop to pop the hard piece of candy into his mouth. He raised his eyebrows at Lu Zhe, silently asking where he got the thing.

Lu Zhe only smiled and asked:

"You tell me first. Is gege's lollipop sweet or not?"

 

Author's Notes:

Are you happy, being treated to Lu Zhe-gege's lollipop?

The spring tournament started today! The opening match was amazing! Definitely worth a watch! (That's right, I'm just here to promote the LPL!)

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