WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 26

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[If the two of you have got the balls, turn on the camera!]

[What are you sneakily eating? We want to take a look!]

[Is Captain Lu being forced to do fanservice again today? It's too obvious!]

[DG's higher-ups really don't need to do this. They use the same tricks every time they stream. You guys can't bully our Daddy Zhe just because he has a good temperament, y'know?]

[Something's not right. Am I the only one who feels like the script for their camaraderie is kinda gay? Other alphas aren't like this with each other, are they?]

……

Shen Qiao chose Kennen as his champion before cutting over to the stream to glance at the bullet comments. He crunched a piece of black chocolate between his teeth, but didn't give any other audible response. He acted like he hadn't seen the request to turn on his camera at all.

Lu Zhe stared at a fleck of chocolate that clung to the corner of Shen Qiao's lips. Shen Qiao didn't seem to notice its presence at all. Finally, after a long while, Lu Zhe couldn't resist any longer. He lifted a hand and roughly scrubbed it away with his thumb.

Shen Qiao froze, stunned by the force of that touch. He subconsciously glanced away from his monitor and looked towards Lu Zhe. Fire lashed out from his eyes, which plainly asked:

What're you doing now?

Lu Zhe sucked that nearly-melted piece of sweetness into his mouth. The tip of his tongue peeked out and swept over his lower lip, leaving behind a wet sheen that made his thin lips look a few shades redder.

That sort of action, paired with his natural siren-like charm and beauty, was exactly as seductive as he wanted it to be.

The one who'd set out to deliberately provoke a response from Shen Qiao put on a blank, innocent look. His low voice was laden with a smile as he asked, "What? I bought it myself, and I'm not allowed to have a taste?"

Shen Qiao was silent.

The real question is, was it really the chocolate that you were trying to taste?

The champion selection phase ended, and the game began to load. In front of the monitor, Shen Qiao suddenly quirked the corners of his lips into a smile that could only come as a reaction to a certain provocation.

He met Lu Zhe's deep gaze with a meaningful look of his own. Not too urgently, and not too slowly, he uttered a single word:

"Really?"

Then he added, "Then, how's the taste?"

Lu Zhe huffed a laugh through his nose. His gaze fell upon Shen Qiao's lips, and he crinkled the corners of his eyes like a wily fox. A smile naturally came over his face as well as he gave a loaded answer:

"It wasn't enough. I couldn't tell. How about I have another taste?"

Shen Qiao calmly drew a cool breath.

Mysteriously, his desire for victory surged in that moment. It suddenly felt like he would be admitting defeat if he let Lu Zhe have the last word now. It felt like surrendering in the early stages of a match. And so, after taking a moment to compose himself, he leaned back in his chair.

His tone of voice became slow and lazy, like that of a leopard who'd already eaten its fill. Even now, with a prey animal delivering itself to the leopard's den, that sated beast was only interested in lazily dozing off.

"Sure," he said. "Come."

At that point, the viewers in the bullet comments who could only hear this exchange without seeing anything all started to scratch their heads in frustration and disbelief.

[? I understood everything before now. What's this last part supposed to mean?]

[Dog Lu, you be good and tell us exactly what you ate.]

[I've been a fan of Daddy Zhe for three years now, and his way of speaking today really just isn't right. It sounds especially… um, what's the word… salacious!]

[Has our wolf cub been corrupted and turned yellow by the bad influence of Mr. Lu? Wahhhhh, Mama won't let this happen!]

……

Big-Mouthed Zhou hurriedly marched into the training room. Before he even stepped past the threshold, his voice drifted in: "You guys—"

But his words were abruptly cut off when he caught sight of how close Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao had their heads bowed together. In that moment, he instantly forgot what he had been about to say.

After choking on absolutely nothing, Big-Mouthed Zhou set his pained look of disapproval on them. "You two are doing… what exactly?"

Although he spoke slowly and gave them plenty of opportunities to make a tactful excuse, his true thoughts were written plainly on his face:

You pair of AA dogs! What are you doing in the sacred training room?! IN BROAD DAYLIGHT?!

Lu Zhe lifted his head. He had a piece of chocolate between his teeth. He flashed a smile that wasn't really a smile at all, then took the piece of chocolate into his mouth.

Hearing Big-Mouthed Zhou's voice get weaker and weaker, Lu Zhe bit into the chocolate and let the sweet filling flood his mouth. Then he slowly asked, "As you can see, we're sharing some chocolate—want a piece, Manager Zhou?"

Big-Mouthed Zhou fell silent.

Those two had been sitting that close… just to share some chocolate? Now, why did he have a hard time believing that?

He could doubt as much as he wanted, but Big-Mouthed Zhou had no evidence that Lu Zhe was deceiving him. He could only swallow down his suspicions and mumble a response: "No… no thanks."

Shen Qiao cast an unflustered glance in his direction, not showing the slightest bit of unease. He only let out a small sigh of relief in his heart.

Luckily, he and Lu Zhe had been at least half-joking when they flung their provocations at each other just now. They hadn't really planned on doing anything scandalous in front of their teammates, while the door to the training room was wide open and all.

Just before Manager Zhou's entrance, Lu Zhe had scooted closer to Shen Qiao. Instantly, Shen Qiao had felt a sort of pressure bearing down on him. He'd instinctively reached into the box of chocolates and picked out a piece at random, pressing it to Lu Zhe's lips and asking, with a smile:

"This should be enough for you to really get a taste, right?"

Lu Zhe, who had suddenly been hand-fed a piece of chocolate by the object of his affections, obviously couldn't not eat it. But, at the same time, he felt like it would be a bit of a pity if he did just accept the chocolate. Ultimately, he did open his mouth and take the chocolate between his lips. As he bit into it, the corners of his eyes tipped up with a smile. He flashed that grin at Shen Qiao, as though teasing him for being able to flirt but not act, for being all bark and no bite.

Shen Qiao felt like he'd been burned by that smile. He yanked back his hand like he'd been electrocuted. Just as he tried to think of a way to save his dignity, Manager Zhou came in.

After all that, Lu Zhe calmly finished his chocolate under Big-Mouthed Zhou's scrutiny. Of course, he didn't forget to give Shen Qiao his deadpan feedback: "Not as sweet as the last piece."

Shen Qiao snorted at that bullshit—a piece of chocolate with a filling, not as sweet as a crumb of dark chocolate? Only Lu Zhe would be able to shamelessly say something as stupid as that.

Shen Qiao's expression provoked a smile from Lu Zhe. The corners of his lips twitched before he turned to Manager Zhou, who hadn't said much in the long minutes since making his entrance. In a rare show of graciousness, Lu Zhe gave him a reminder:

"What were you about to say?"

Big-Mouthed Zhou suddenly found his way back to the main point he'd come to discuss. He clapped his hands and said, "Ah, right! You two, messing around, nearly made me forget—"

"Pay attention to your word choice," Lu Zhe interrupted. "I'm so conscientious. I wouldn't mess around with just anyone."

Shen Qiao nodded in apparent agreement.

Big-Mouthed Zhou was silent for a moment.

He took a deep breath, then decided to quickly get straight to the point. Otherwise, he was going to be angered into an early grave by Lu Zhe.

"The new team uniforms are here!" he announced. "The photographer I arranged for will be coming in at half past noon. All of you, keep your eye on the clock and get together at the right time. We're taking new official team photos!"

Lu Zhe was a little surprised. He'd just seen the mock-up of the design when he left the main office earlier that morning. He hadn't imagined the actual uniforms would be produced so quickly. "Didn't they just finalize the design?"

Hearing that question, Manager Zhou puffed up with pride. He haughtily declared, "In a great show of foresight, I already…"

At that point, he suddenly trailed off when he remembered Shen Qiao was in the room. He abruptly changed course and continued, "Ahem, in any case, I planned ahead. Don't forget the time for the photoshoot now—Old Wo, are you listening to me?"

Big-Mouthed Zhou raised his voice during the final part of his speech, shouting over at the headphones-wearing Old Wo.

Without lifting his head, Old Wo dragged out his vowels and drawled, "I know, I knoooooow."

His half-hearted response gave rise to another wave of doubt in Big-Mouthed Zhou's heart. He suspiciously moved forward a few steps. "You didn't even look at me. Did you really hear? How about you repeat it to me?"

Old Wo was silent.

Contempt flashed through his eyes. After a pause, he answered, "I didn't look at you because I'm afraid of looking in your direction. If I look up, I might see something I'm not supposed to see."

Manager Zhou instantly understood. He couldn't have agreed more strongly with that sentiment.

After passing on his message to these three old masters, Manager Zhou started worrying about Qian Bao and Er-Hua, who'd yet to arrive at the training room. Just as he got ready to head out and find them, he passed by Lu Zhe's desk and glanced at the box of chocolates sitting there. On his way past, he opened his mouth and issued a warning:

"Be a little frugal when you're poor, Daddy Lu. Doesn't Dove taste just as good?"

Lu Zhe said nothing.

Shen Qiao glanced over at him with a trace of suspicion in his eyes.

Poor? What did that have to do with Lu Zhe?

Suddenly, Shen Qiao remembered what he'd heard from the kids in the second-string team at the cafeteria that morning—

Could Lu Zhe have been getting up early these days because he'd run into some financial problems? Had he encountered something that required him to spend a lot of money?

Lu Zhe took one look at Shen Qiao's expression and knew that his imagination was running wild. He gave Shen Qiao a somewhat helpless look and quickly said, "It's not what you're thinking. Don't listen to Big-Mouthed Zhou's nonsense."

Shen Qiao nodded. Whether he believed that or not was unclear, but he did turn back to his monitor to continue playing his game.

The people in the bullet comments were still asking about what had happened earlier, but Shen Qiao didn't give them any answers. While they guessed and theorized, he finished playing two rounds, then ended the stream.

He turned and asked Lu Zhe, "Lunch?"

They had their photoshoot later, which obviously wouldn't be something that they could get over and done with in a short span of time. It would be best to eat lunch before meeting up with the others.

At that hour, it was too hard to get food delivered in a timely manner. They could only go to the cafeteria.

Lu Zhe had been in the middle of queueing up for another game. Hearing Shen Qiao's suggestion, he decided to quit out of the queue. Right before leaving, he paused and thought for a moment before picking up the box of Godiva chocolates and placing it on Shen Qiao's desk again.

Shen Qiao caught that movement with a glance. He decided to pick up the box and toss it into the refrigerator to save for later.

Lu Zhe thought of Shen Qiao's astronomical candy consumption levels as of late; he seriously doubted whether or not it would really be necessary to refrigerate those leftovers. They could very well be polished off that day, with Shen Qiao grabbing a few pieces between each match.

Shen Qiao recognized and deciphered his doubt in an instant. Expressionlessly, he said, "I like it when they're cold."

Lu Zhe didn't think much of that; Shen Qiao could do as he pleased.

At the cafeteria, they ordered and got ready to pay. But when Lu Zhe got ready to pay for his own serving, he realized Shen Qiao had actually already paid for them both.

Lu Zhe froze for a moment before a smile surfaced in his eyes.

He suddenly felt like spending that huge sum of money, without letting the relevant persons know anything about it, had been very worth it after all.

……

Lu Zhe's good mood climbed to a peak when he saw Shen Qiao don a uniform identical to his own.

Qian Bao saw right through him. She pursed her lips and ridiculed, "Captain Lu is so worked up over team uniforms. How are you even going to survive when you start wearing matching couple's outfits?"

Lu Zhe heard, but acted like he didn't. The smile on his face didn't falter for an instant. While they took their official team promo photos and videos, he always managed to drift over to Shen Qiao, displacing the little teammates who had been assigned to stand there.

His teammates were all speechless.

Shen Qiao didn't actually like having Lu Zhe hanging over him in front of everyone else. During a break between photos, he glared at Lu Zhe several times. But that beast was not only thick-skinned, but hard-headed as well. Not only did he not back off, he even smiled more dazzlingly at Shen Qiao.

Shen Qiao was so rattled by that smile that he lost the ability to tell up from down, east from west. He decided to let Lu Zhe do as he pleased.

The troublesome photoshoot wound up lasting until five in the afternoon. When the players were released, every one of them looked more tired than the last. It was like someone had scooped out all their innards, leaving them hollow.

Old Wo sighed. "That's why I always say I hate photoshoots more than anything…"

Er-Hua was also nearly lifeless. "The stylist blew on my hair for two whole hours. But the problem is I seriously can't tell the difference in the before and after."

Qian Bao was pretty happy with her hair and makeup, but having to stand in front of a camera for so long still left her feeling a bit uncomfortable. She ran around and hopped up and down a bit to get her blood flowing again.

Upon returning to the training room—

The five players each went through their own pre-training routines. Old Wo went to pour himself some water. Er-Hua sprawled in his chair and meditated to clear his mind. Lu Zhe and Qian Bao turned on their computers right away.

Shen Qiao went to the refrigerator. He took out a gift-wrapped bar of dark chocolate, but suddenly stopped in the middle of unwrapping it, as though stricken by some thought. He ultimately went about it a bit more delicately, only peeling back a little corner of the wrapping to break off a small piece of chocolate. Then he wrapped the bar back up and stuck it back into the fridge.

The sweet, strong taste of chocolate melted slowly on his tongue. Shen Qiao wasn't willing to bite into it, as though simply letting the piece melt on his tongue would allow him to savor it for a while longer.

"Shen Qiao?" Coach Fang called out, somewhat puzzled. He'd started announcing their individual drills for the day as soon as he entered the training room, and was a little surprised to find that Shen Qiao wasn't at his desk.

Shen Qiao swallowed the sweetness on his tongue. "Coming."

 

Author's Notes:

Now that he knows you're poor, he's hesitant to even finish the chocolate you gave him. Dog Lu, you'd better treat him well!

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