Perhaps due to the voting incident that had sent him spiraling into depression, Shen Qiao didn't go online for quite a long while. Every morning, he would get up and visit the swimming pool like clockwork. Then he would head to the training room and practice until two or three in the morning.
But he wouldn't queue up for ranked games. He played only random matches in which he could rampage wildly on the battlefield.
Lu Zhe stayed with him every night. While queuing for his own games, he would glance over at Shen Qiao's screen. And every single time, Shen Qiao was either mired in a 1v5 bloodbath or on his way to mire himself in a 1v5 bloodbath.
The increased ferocity of his performance in the rift allowed DG to easily steamroll their opponents in their next five tournament matches, winning each best-of-three game in a clean 2-0 sweep. Shen Qiao took the title of MVP in four of those ten matches, putting him in the spotlight with Lu Zhe, who'd claimed the same number of MVP titles. The other two MVP titles had gone to Qian Bao.
This unbridled performance… puffed up all of DG's fans and had them rampaging through the esports community, savagely full of themselves.
Unfortunately, the man who was making a name for himself—Shen Qiao—refused to participate in all post-game interviews. He seemed to be making a bold declaration: every day his fans refused to forget about the voting incident was another day he would refuse to appear in the public eye.
And because of that, he also planned to bunk off the rest of his allocated streaming hours for June.
Near the end of the month, Manager Zhou reviewed the whole team's streaming hours. When he saw the twenty-four hours that Shen Qiao still owed, he started to feel a little unwell from head to toe.
Manager Zhou had learned from Lu Zhe why Shen Qiao was reluctant to stream. But those streaming hours were a part of his contract. In his office, Manager Zhou scratched at his hair which was thinning more and more every day. He ultimately decided to give Shen Qiao a gentle, tactful reminder in the most roundabout way possible.
One morning, as Shen Qiao prepared to head out to the swimming pool with his gym bag in tow, he was stopped at the top of the stairs by Manager Zhou.
"Wolfy, ah… good morning. Wanna grab breakfast together?"
Shen Qiao paused just before starting down the stairs. He stuck one hand in his pocket and glanced back at Manager Zhou, before casually answering, "I just had some bread in my room. Not hungry."
Which meant 'no'.
Manager Zhou could see that Shen Qiao was going to disappear from sight in just another few steps. He was frantic. Before he thought through what he wanted to say, he hastily blurted something, anything out to make Shen Qiao stay:
Shen Qiao patiently stopped again. This time, he could tell that Manager Zhou had something he wanted to say.
Manager Zhou couldn't think of anything he could say that sounded urgent. He had no way of steering them towards the subject of livestreaming. Then, suddenly, he spotted the floor number '2' hanging on the wall.
He vigorously clapped his hands together once!
Shen Qiao's mind had filled up with a befuddled fog due to Manager Zhou's weird behavior. Manager Zhou wasn't getting to the point, and his spontaneous actions were completely inexplicable. Before using up the last of his patience, Shen Qiao decided to try to get to the bottom of what Manager Zhou wanted.
Manager Zhou finally managed to squeeze out a few words. He lifted his hand and pointed to the floor number on the wall, asking Shen Qiao, "Take a look at this number. You know what that looks like?"
The corners of Shen Qiao's lips twitched. He echoed, without any rise or fall in his tone, "What does it look like."
Manager Zhou spoke his mind: "Doesn't it look like a logo?"
Shen Qiao had no idea what to say to that.
Who could have expected Manager Zhou to answer his own question with another question? Even without a partner to bounce off of, he continued his little comedy routine on his own: "It's just like the logo of the 'Two Fish' livestream channel!"
Expressionlessly, Shen Qiao rejected that allegation: "Are you nearsighted? I don't think it looks like that at all. If there isn't anything else, I'll be on my way."
This time, he didn't give Manager Zhou any other opportunities to speak. He took wide strides down the steps, disappearing like a gust of wind in no time at all.
As he watched Shen Qiao make his 'ignorant' escape, Manager Zhou could only wring his hands and sigh.
And so, after returning from the pool that day, Shen Qiao continued to run into Manager Zhou at all sorts of turns.
At lunch, Manager Zhou carried his plate over and sat down in front of Shen Qiao. He took out his cell phone and said, "I just bought this new phone recently, and I heard the camera is extremely good. Very crisp, very clear. And it comes with some photo retouching functions too. Lots of internet famous celebrities use it to livestream, or so I hear. I don't know if it's true or not, but…
"Wolfy, why don't you try it out for me when you get a chance to stream?"
Shen Qiao gazed down into his serving of stir-fried eggs and tomatoes. He exclusively picked at the eggs that had been served up by the cafeteria auntie's slotted spoon. Without lifting his head, he answered, "Mm, sure. Then you go ahead and wait."
Manager Zhou fell silent.
He could wait, sure. But the streaming platform that they had a contract with, and Shen Qiao's fans, certainly couldn't wait.
Manager Zhou wanted to say more, but Lu Zhe chose that moment to approach with a serving of fried rice. He sat down next to Shen Qiao and looked at Manager Zhou with a smile in his eyes. Then he looked at the person next to him. Very quickly, he got the general idea of what was going on.
Lu Zhe's lips quirked into a smile, and he ignored the pleading look Manager Zhou tried to send his way. He picked up his chopsticks and diligently plucked out every piece of tomato, which Shen Qiao hadn't even touched, from Shen Qiao's dish to place them in his own bowl.
Seeing that Shen Qiao had already fished out all the egg, Lu Zhe asked, "How about I go get you another serving?"
Shen Qiao had already started picking at a serving of stir-fried beef. Hearing Lu Zhe's offer, he simply declined, "No need."
Gorging on delicious things all at once was no fun at all.
That was the case for candy. It was the case for chocolate. And it was the case for the eggs in stir-fried eggs and tomatoes as well.
Manager Zhou, seeing that Lu Zhe wasn't there to help, let out a long sigh. He scrolled through his phone while slurping up his own noodles. After a while, he suddenly spoke again:
"Ai! Help me with some math. Three times seven is twenty-one, right?"
Lu Zhe curtly hummed an affirmative.
Undeterred, Manager Zhou calmly continued, "Then three times eight…?"
Quick, someone say twenty-four! That way, he could casually mention, right in front of Lu Zhe, that Shen Qiao still owed twenty-four streaming hours that month!
Lu Zhe couldn't be bothered to pay attention to someone who hadn't even memorized their basic multiplication table.
Shen Qiao didn't make any noise at all.
Manager Zhou very, very patiently repeated himself:
"Three times eight."
"Three times eight…"
Shen Qiao calmly lifted his head and looked at Manager Zhou. "Are you trying to do math or are you trying to curse someone?"1
Manager Zhou blinked, confused.
Lu Zhe couldn't hold in a laugh. He saw that Manager Zhou's face was starting to take on some color, and he finally shook his head to offer a compromise:
"Alright, how about this? I'll stream for him?"
Once those words came out, two people looked at him at once.
Shen Qiao was somewhat stunned, because he'd heard someone say that Lu Zhe's new contract had a very relaxed clause about his streaming hours. Besides team streams, which he was obligated to help promote, he didn't usually have to stream on his own. He might log a few hours when his fans reminded him, or he might just forget about it entirely.
Manager Zhou stared at Lu Zhe for a while, then stared at Shen Qiao for a while. He didn't know what to say.
Lu Zhe raised his eyebrows. "What? Doesn't the streaming platform benefit in the end, if I stream for him?"
That was true.
Lu Zhe had over a million followers on Weibo alone. You would have to add up every other DG member's Weibo followers to reach that count.
And because he was good-looking, because he played well, and because he spoke freely and wildly, fans really liked watching his livestreams. But they could usually only hear him chime in through another DG member's stream; that was the only way they could satisfy their ears.
Big-Mouthed Zhou couldn't think of a way to refuse.
Finally, he could only flap a hand and say, "Forget it, you two sort it out yourselves. I'll just take this as Shen Qiao's confirmation—that he'll remember to make up the twenty-four hours."
Lu Zhe nodded. "There are still a few days left. No rush."
Once Manager Zhou finished eating and took his leave—
Shen Qiao looked away from the manager's extraordinarily flashy suit and turned his attention to Lu Zhe. He slowly, slowly narrowed his eyes.
Lu Zhe had just finished his fried rice. He got up and bought two sports drinks from a nearby vending machine. When he returned, he passed Shen Qiao one that wasn't iced while unscrewing the cap of his own bottle, which was cold enough to sweat with condensation.
Smiling, he asked, "What, feeling some regret? You want to do your own stream after all?"
Shen Qiao scoffed. His whole face silently said, What kind of internationally-renowned comedian are you? He jerked his chin at the bottle Lu Zhe had brought him and asked, "Why didn't you get me a cold one?"
Lu Zhe squeezed the bottle in his own hand. He must have thought of something, because he twisted the cap back on a moment later and grinned. "You aren't in good health. You shouldn't drink too many cold things."
Shen Qiao rolled his eyes at Lu Zhe. To him, drinks that weren't iced, in the middle of summer, had no soul.
Lu Zhe placed his own bottle down on the table and scooted closer to Shen Qiao. With a shameless grin, he teased, "How about you give me a kiss, and I'll let you have a gulp?"
Shen Qiao lifted a hand and pushed him away. He swept his legs around the cafeteria bench and got up, making his way to the vending machine in long strides to buy his own drink with his cell phone.
However, when he reached the machine…
All the iced sports drinks were sold out.
Lu Zhe followed and stopped behind him. He held the two sports drinks in his hands—the iced and opened one in his right hand, the unchilled one in his left hand. With a touch of smugness in his tone, he issued a challenge:
"Made up your mind? What's your choice?"
Shen Qiao said nothing.
He calmed turned around—
And swiftly snatched the iced drink out of Lu Zhe's hold, turning and bolting as soon as it was in his grasp.
Lu Zhe wasn't the slightest bit surprised. He stayed in place, watching Shen Qiao make his hasty getaway like a flurry of wind. A bit of helplessness entered his tone as he called out, "Alright, come on. You just finished eating, and you're running?"
Light flashed through Shen Qiao's eyes. His lips curved up as he shot back, "If a dog were chasing you, wouldn't you run?"
Lu Zhe huffed an indignant laugh and lifted a hand to point after him. "Qiaoqiao, you're finished."
Then, he added, "I'll let you beg for forgiveness during the stream."
Shen Qiao easily unscrewed the cap of the bottle and took a long gulp right in front of Lu Zhe. He let out a long, satisfied breath once he was finished, then said without the slightest hint of fear, "Not gonna stream. Gonna ditch."
That night. 11:00 PM.
After tearing into the players one by one with critical analyses of the mistakes they made during practice, Coach Fang reminded them all to review some more of BLX's games, as well as games featuring international teams. Their next opponent would be BLX, and rumor had it Xu Xiao was meshing very well with his new team.
Plus, on the 7th of the next month, an international tournament would begin.
When the time came, DG would have to prepare to play two tournaments at once. It couldn't be denied that their schedule would be tight.
Once Coach Fang left, Lu Zhe pulled up some recent streams from BLX's players. But then he seemed to think of something. He turned to Shen Qiao, who sat beside him, and said:
"That's right. Come sign into your account here. I can muddle through four or five hours for you now."
Shen Qiao glanced at him and hesitated for a moment.
"Forget it," he said.
But Lu Zhe lifted a hand and dragged Shen Qiao's chair over, impatiently urging him, "Hurry up."
Shen Qiao could tell that Lu Zhe had already made up his mind. While typing in his username and password, he sternly cautioned, "Don't talk any nonsense."
Lu Zhe huffed a soft laugh. "I'm helping you stream to save you from paying a penalty fee, and you're still nitpicking—why don't you write me a script, and I'll just read off that?"
Shen Qiao stopped talking.
Soon, the livestream room opened and viewers flooded in.
[Oh? The wolf is done playing hooky?]
[God damn, we've been waiting for you for so long.]
[Laogong, how about you explain to me what's going on with you and Lu Zhe?]
[Hello? You there? Still remember when you were trending?]
[I was just about to say I would have to go join Team Lu Zhe if you didn't show up soon. I guess you do still love me!]
[Wolf Cubby, Mama loves you!]
Lu Zhe quickly skimmed the bullet comments. Not wanting the fans to get the wrong idea, he cleared his throat and thoughtfully conveyed their feelings to Shen Qiao on their behalf: "Qiaoqiao, your wives say they miss you."
Shen Qiao had started up another game. "Cut the nonsense."
[Dog Lu! Why is it you!]
[Fuck! I've exited and reentered the room three times already… what's going on?! Why is Lu Zhe streaming from Wolf Cub's room? Explain!]
[Sisters, have we… started to ship something real?]
[Who would've thunk! I managed to run into my laogong in Wolf Cub's room! But my heart… it isn't happy at all!]
[I heard Daddy Lu is streaming here! I'm here, I'm here! Eh? Did he change his name? The room account isn't right either?]
Lu Zhe lightly explained, "He didn't log enough hours this month, and he's too ashamed to face you all. So, that's the situation. It's as you all can see."
Shen Qiao, on the surface, was focused wholeheartedly on his game. But he was discreetly listening in on what Lu Zhe was saying. As soon as he heard Lu Zhe sell him out, he instantly shot back, "Who says I'm ashamed?"
Lu Zhe laughed. "Alright, my mistake. He just doesn't want to stream."
Then, he started to answer fan comments in earnest:
"…that's right, I'm watching recordings of BLX's players right now… is it boring? It's alright, I'll be here to chat with you guys for a while. What would you like to talk about?"
[Dog Lu, you weren't like this before.]
[Dog Lu, you weren't like this before. +1]
[I'm crying, seriously. When Lu Zhe does his own streams, he basically ignores us, but he treats Wolfy's fans so warmly… F.]
[That means, in order to make my laogong treat me well, I have to go be Wolfy's fan. Is that right?]
[Being Dog Lu's fan is just too hard, isn't it?]
Lu Zhe thought for a moment. Since it was Shen Qiao's streaming room, he decided to talk about a little something relating to Shen Qiao.
"Let me tell you guys a bit about the old Qiaoqiao—
"That's right, let's visit the time when I just met him. I guess you could say we really met for the first time on a basketball court."
Lu Zhe spent half an hour recounting that basketball game. Afterwards, he told the viewers some more little stories from Shen Qiao's past. He talked about how popular and brilliant Shen Qiao was back then, and he also interspersed his walk down memory lane with occasional analyses of what he was seeing on the game tapes.
Just like that, time slowly dragged on until two in the morning.
Old Wo and the others said they were completely stuffed with PDA by then. They turned off their monitors and went to sleep. In the end, only Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao remained in the training room.
"Why were there rumors of discord between us? Mm… because of some stuff I can't tell you."
[Why do I feel like Dog Lu is especially warm and soft when he talks about Wolf Cub?]
[DO YOU LIKE HIM!]
[I've already written tens of thousands of words of bittersweetness in my head. Breaking up and making up again… breaking up and making up again… an epic romance.]
Lu Zhe glanced at the contents of the bullet comments again. He had to smile at these baseless guesses that were right on the money. Then, he suddenly saw another question:
[Which part of Wolf Cub's body do you think is the sexiest?]
Lu Zhe slowly, unhurriedly read that question out loud.
The bullet comments instantly filled up with string after string of excited exclamation marks.
Shen Qiao pulled off his headset and knocked on Lu Zhe's desk. "Time to go to sleep."
As he spoke, his eyes drifted shiftily from side to side. It was obvious that he didn't want Lu Zhe to answer this weird question, but he couldn't just boldly shut Lu Zhe up either. Lu Zhe was helping him stream, after all.
[If you want to sleep, go sleep. Why do you need to get Lu Zhe to go with you? Could it be that you two…]
[I have a very bold idea.]
Shen Qiao glanced at the bullet comments. He couldn't be bothered to address the junk that was brewing in their brains, so he turned back to Lu Zhe and met his gaze.
The corners of Lu Zhe's lips quirked up. He pointed at his own lips with a strong implication shining in his eyes.
Shen Qiao was silent.
Their gazes clashed like a silent crossing of swords. Finally, Lu Zhe looked away first. Not too slowly and not too quickly, he parted his lips to speak—
At just that moment!
Shen Qiao lifted a hand and turned Lu Zhe's head back to him. He pressed in and touched their lips together. Rather than a kiss, it was more like a ferocious mouth-first headbutt.
But Lu Zhe grinned. Perhaps out of pain, or out of something else entirely, he swept his tongue over his lips and left behind a darker sheen of moisture.
In the next second, he slowly gave his answer:
"Which parts of him are sexy…? I'm the only one who needs to know that."
1. In Chinese, when you say two numbers right next to each other (for example, "three eight") the 'times' is implied. So saying "three eight" is the same as saying "three times eight". Three and eight in Chinese are 三 (san) and 八 (ba), and 三八 together means 'stupid'. So here, Manager Zhou is just repeating "Sanba… sanba…" over and over again, making it sound like he's insulting/cursing someone.