The sun was rising, and the heat of the sun was starting to scorch the earth once more. Discussions about the vote Shen Qiao had cast last night were starting to boil over as well. While Shen Qiao had been lost in dreamland, gossipy netizens of the esports circle had already sent him up the trending topics list.
The call was still connected. Shen Qiao was completely awake by now. With his phone connected to wifi, he started to load up Weibo.
A flurry of notifications cascaded across his screen. His private messages and comments notifications were all in the three-digits range, and the number of likes he'd received simply read '999+'—
Once his cell phone finally calmed down, Shen Qiao laid eyes on the Weibo landing page and felt a tremor run through his heart.
He took a deep breath and opened his own Weibo page. The latest post had been made after he cast that vote:
[I just voted in the 'What do you think the ship name for Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao should be?' poll. You should cast a vote too!]
Shen Qiao calmly stared at this message for a few seconds. Then he calmly got up and went to the window. Then he calmly opened the curtains with a—
The view from DG's third floor was pretty nice. A large red cotton tree stood right outside the dorms. Its bristly trunk was quite dark. The younger spines on the trunk were still sharp while the older ones had already become worn and rounded down with age.
Underneath the tree, a lush green lawn sprawled out. Even if a gardener didn't regularly tend to the lawn, the grass would stay green and healthy all year in the weather of Hua City. The only difference between having a gardener and not having one for that field would be in how unbridled the grass grew.
However, right now, these weren't the details that drew Shen Qiao's attention.
He gazed out the window with only one thought passing through his mind:
Would all my problems go away if I just jumped from here right now?
On the other end of the line, Lu Zhe could tell from that deathly silence that Shen Qiao had received a devastating blow to his own sense of self-respect. Then, hearing the sound of curtains being ripped open, Lu Zhe could more or less guess what Shen Qiao was thinking. Lu Zhe didn't say anything else to embarrass him even further.
He only said, "Just kidding. I was only teasing you. Not all that many people have seen it, actually. It's not too late to delete it now."
As he spoke, his cell phone lit up with a few more red dots—alerts telling him that new messages were spilling in from various friends.
Shen Qiao had received a timely reminder from Lu Zhe. He thought, in hindsight:
Before killing yourself, you should destroy the evidence first.
He picked up his cell phone and instantly went to delete the incriminating post. At just that moment, another idea rose in the sea of his mind:
Should I also say I was hacked?
That moment of hesitation didn't stop him from getting rid of the post from last night first. After making sure no other bizarre posts had popped up on his Weibo page, Shen Qiao started to feel like maybe he hadn't completely disgraced himself. He could at least take a peek at his private messages now…
Before he even opened up any of his new messages, he could already see from the previews that the very first one read:
[You online? You're trending, bro.]
Shen Qiao stared.
Clinging to the last shreds of hope, he tapped open the trending topics list. He prodded the screen of his phone so forcefully that a loud BAP sounded out.
His years-old cell phone didn't react. It stayed on the current page without showing any hints of moving, as though innocently gazing up at him.
Shen Qiao tapped the screen again.
The trending topics list loaded and loaded. Finally, Shen Qiao was able to scroll down. He skimmed past the top ten, not catching sight of his name there. After letting out a sigh of relief, he started scrolling unhurriedly—until he found himself claiming the glory of the 40th trending spot.
Shen Qiao glanced at the call that was still in progress. Then he took a screenshot of the trending topics list and expressionlessly sent it to Lu Zhe. Through gritted teeth, he quietly squeezed out one question:
"This is what you call 'not all that many people'?"
Even through the phone, Lu Zhe could hear the sound of Shen Qiao's glass heart cracking bit by bit. He did his very, very best to hold in his laughter. He replied, crisply, "It's all fake, the attention is manufactured. If anyone asks, tell them you were hacked. If anyone asks again, tell them they won't be capable of asking a third time."
As long as Shen Qiao didn't admit to anything even under threat of death, this matter would pass as though it simply didn't exist. After all, human beings possessed the wonderfully unique trait of sticking their heads in the sand and pretending their problems didn't exist. That was a trait they shouldn't give up on now.
Upon hearing Lu Zhe's threatening suggestions, Shen Qiao felt the gloom in his heart disperse. For some inexplicable reason, he suddenly reached a moment of clarity.
Immediately afterwards, he started to think all this was simply laughable. He couldn't believe he'd wasted a precious morning that he could have spent lazing around in bed, just to worry about this instead.
Shouldn't he have acted in his usual style and simply faced all of this without blinking an eye? Shouldn't he be bold enough to admit to it if someone were bold enough to ask him about this?
Panicking out of sheer embarrassment…
That was an overreaction. It made him seem too worked up about this.
Once he'd thought things through, Shen Qiao walked back to his bed. He said a few more cursory words before hanging up on Lu Zhe. Originally, he'd wanted to sleep some more. But after lying there for a long while, he didn't feel the slightest bit of sleepiness come over him. In the end, after checking the time, he decided to head to the pool to make up the workout he'd missed the other day.
After washing up, the youth threw on a pair of jeans and a short-sleeved shirt. He chucked his swimwear into a backpack, had a piece of chocolate, then headed out the door.
At that point in time, Lu Zhe was in the cafeteria. The two of them just so happened to miss each other. They didn't meet up again until noon that day, in the training room.
Qian Bao and Er-Hua seemed completely unperturbed by the passing storm. As usual, they were locked in a fierce competition over which one of them could arrive at the training room the latest. It felt as though they saw arriving earlier than the day before as some sort of massive defeat.
But, that day, Shen Qiao was the one who slipped into the training room only five minutes before practice was due to begin.
Those two 'Nationally Ranked S-Grade Sleepyheads' simultaneously cast a glance at Shen Qiao. Immediately afterwards, Er-Hua seemed to think of something. With a somewhat pensive expression, he opened his mouth and said to Shen Qiao:
"Daddy Wolf, I have a question I'd like to ask you."
Shen Qiao had spent too much time decompressing at the pool. He'd rushed to the cafeteria after getting back, catching the tail end of lunch service at the HQ. Now, in the training room, he was indulging in his habit of going to the fridge to reward himself with a piece of chocolate before practice began. Thus, at the time, he wasn't paying attention to the expression on Er-Hua's face.
Lu Zhe was sitting in his own seat. Hearing Er-Hua's words, he instinctively glanced over. Then, he lifted his own brows with a meaningful expression.
Just as Er-Hua started to think Lu Zhe was about to threaten him into shutting his mouth, Lu Zhe lowered his gaze again.
Er-Hua mulled over what that expression from Lu Zhe had actually meant.
Unfortunately, that was like searching for a needle in the deep sea of a man's heart. Er-Hua simply had no clue.
When Shen Qiao hummed his acknowledgement, indicating that Er-Hua should ask his question, Er-Hua still ultimately unleashed his own thirst for knowledge and asked away:
"Well, it's like this. When I got up this morning, I scrolled around on Weibo and just so happened to see a trending topic—"
Shen Qiao froze in the middle of opening the refrigerator door. His hand stilled on the cool edge of the door, and a heavy thunk sounded out in his heart.
Er-Hua paused for a second, then finished his question:
"Can you guess what that topic was?"
Shen Qiao was silent.
He figured there was an 80% chance he knew exactly what Er-Hua was hinting at.
Shen Qiao leaned down to rummage through his box of chocolates. He found a piece with a blueberry filling and tossed it into his mouth. He gave a casual, leisurely answer: "You want to ask about the weird ship poll I voted in last night, right? My hand slipped, I accidentally misclicked."
He felt like this excuse was more believable than being hacked.
Paired with his casual tone and the bored, disdainful look in his eye… it was perfect! In terms of both logic and delivery, his excuse was perfect! Bulletproof!
Shen Qiao savored the taste of the blueberry filling as it melted on his tongue, melding with the rich taste of the chocolate. He was perfectly satisfied with his own explanation. Inwardly, he nodded his approval like a little chick pecking at rice.
Er-Hua was silent for a few seconds.
Then, almost as though in a daze, he said, "Ah, so that vote really was fake? I was going to say, Daddy Wolf, you don't look like the sort that would cast a vote in a poll with such weird content."
Shen Qiao silently thought, What do you mean 'weird content'? How is it weird? Wouldn't any self-respecting alpha take this matter seriously and assert their superiority?
But outwardly, Shen Qiao kept his impassive expression plastered to his face. He seemed content to tacitly accept Er-Hua's interpretation, simultaneously using it as a means of clearing his name of this 'infamous' behavior.
A moment later, Er-Hua spoke again:
"But, actually, that wasn't what I wanted to ask. What I really wanted to ask was—if you didn't go into that topic, how did you see the poll?
"To put it plainly, Daddy Wolf, why did you… in the middle of the night, instead of going to sleep… suddenly feel inspired to look into the ship of you and Captain Lu?"
Shen Qiao fell silent.
This was a high-level attack. A deadly blow.
At that moment, only one reaction meme could have captured Shen Qiao's state of mind: I'mNotHere.jpg
A bizarre, heavy silence descended upon the training room.
Lu Zhe couldn't hide the smile at the corners of his lips no matter how hard he tried. He sat in his gaming chair, all prim and proper, with one fist pressed to his lips, like he was thinking deeply on some matter. In truth, it was only to cover up the upwards curve of his lips.
Old Wo conveniently hid his own silent laughter while drinking from his cup. Qian Bao 'accidentally' dropped a pen under her desk and bent down, either to search for it or to hide her own amusement.
Shen Qiao clearly had his back turned to them all, but it was like he could see out of the back of his head. He rolled his eyes and lifted his head to gaze up at the ceiling. After swallowing the sweetness in his mouth, he gave a monotone and emotionless response:
"If you want to laugh, just laugh out loud."
Hastily, someone explained, "Ai, no, no. It's not that. Wolf Cub, you've misunderstood."
"Yeah. Are we the sort of people who would laugh?"
But, finally, there was someone who couldn't hold it in any longer: "Pfft—hahahahaha!"
Unbridled laughter echoed through the training room, trampling over Shen Qiao's frail alpha heart.
It wasn't until Coach Fang entered the training room that everyone finally diverted their attention away from the matter of that trending topic.
"Although we won yesterday's match with relative ease, as per tradition, we'll still review the games and see if we can find any room for improvement."
At that point, Coach Fang paused and glanced over at Shen Qiao. He seemed to think of something, and when he opened his mouth again, he said:
"Oh, that's right. Shen Qiao, there's something I want to ask you. About last night—"
Shen Qiao's nerves were currently pulled taut, and he only grew tenser every time he heard anything about 'last night' or 'Weibo' or 'trending' or some such. After being subjected to his teammates' teasing, his mood had taken a turn from 'slightly ashamed and hopeful that no one would bring it up again' to 'total despair'.
Before Coach Fang even finished asking his question, Shen Qiao flatly answered, "The vote is real. The trending topic is also real.
"I just think I can 'gong'. Is that so wrong?"
Coach Fang was silent.
A question mark could practically be seen rising from the top of his head.
After a few seconds of silence, he asked, "What nonsense are you talking about? What trending topic? What 'gong'?
"I was thinking about how you chose Kennen last night. When you first came to our team, you were asked to provide a list of the champions you're proficient with. You only told me that you could play any DPS champion, but that doesn't give me anything to work with.
"After thinking about it, I still want you to give me a list of the champions you're best at—preferably with names, gear, runes, and skills."
Shen Qiao said nothing.
He… still… really… wanted… to… die.
He could see Qian Bao and Old Wo starting to laugh again. Lu Zhe, sensing that his neighbor was close to exploding, cast a warning glance over at them, cautioning each and every one of them to rein it in a bit.
Couldn't they see that his little wolf was shy?
Qiaoqiao: Please end me quickly.