A dull thud sounded out through the livestream.
[That scared the hell out of me.]
[You got hit, didn't ya, Dog Lu? Your time is up.]
[If I remember correctly, Dog Lu has the sort of mic that sits close to his mouth. What kind of action would be so loud in a mic that's right next to his mouth? Everyone, let's put our heads together and think.]
[Dog Lu! Are you or are you not bullying Wolfy while we can't see?!]
[Wolf Cub, don't be scared! Turn on the camera and let us take a look! We'll avenge you!]
Shen Qiao had already realized that he might have been too rough just then. He lifted a hand and pressed a thumb to the corner of his own mouth, then turned and glanced at the bullet comments streaming across the screen. He cast the monitor a disinterested frown, and he didn't say a word.
Lu Zhe, after speaking, also took note of the inflammatory netizen comments in the chat. He lifted a hand and ran his fingers over his lips a few times before letting out a light laugh.
"Couldn't I have bumped my mic while taking a drink of water?" he reasoned. "I urge you all to calm down a little. What if your nonsense gets Qiaoqiao's streaming room banned? I'll be memorizing each and every one of your IDs and banning you from my fan groups one by one if that happens.
"Alright, alright. Stop guessing now. Hurry up and get some sleep. All your fantasies will come true in your dreams."
Nearly as soon as his words fell, Lu Zhe quit out of the stream and took off his headset. He swiftly turned off his computer and got up to return to the dorms with Shen Qiao, walking shoulder-to-shoulder.
Neither of them spoke along the way, but there was an inexplicable sense of comfort flowing between them.
In the dead of night, many deeply buried secrets and feelings began to rise. Seeds that had been sown many years ago started to bud and flower, emitting a fragrant scent that was deeply reminiscent of the past.
The light, cool scent of mint drifted through the air, like a leafy vine tentatively searching for something. It was quickly blanketed by the thicker scent of snow-capped cedarwood trees. The refreshing scent of snow seemed to descend in sheets, filling the air and earth.
Shen Qiao glanced over out of the corner of his eye—
He detected another wave of Lu Zhe's pheromones rising through the air. If Lu Zhe hadn't been willfully controlling his pheromones as of late, Shen Qiao might even have forgotten how similar they were to the man himself. His pheromones were just like him—strong and all-consuming, powerful enough to pressure a person into feeling as though there were no escape.
Shen Qiao's body reacted more quickly than his rationality. His pulse began to quicken. His blood thrummed in his veins, causing even his temples to jump and twitch. His lungs seemed to stop working. The intense, stifling sensation of choking coursed through him. It felt as though all the bones in his four limbs lost their strength.
It was as terrifying as being pulled under a riptide.
Shen Qiao subconsciously slowed his breathing. The conditioned response of fear wracked his body, but he didn't want to run and hide.
Unlike all the times before now, he took the initiative to meet Lu Zhe's pheromones with his own. Although he didn't force out a stronger wave than any previous time, it was enough to make sweat bead at the sides of his brow.
Truth be told, the pain now wasn't nearly as bad as it once had been. It was just that the instincts a body had developed were hard to correct. Shen Qiao had never been the type to sweat easily, but in that air-conditioned hallway in the middle of the night, his short-sleeved shirt grew damp enough to stick to his skin.
Lu Zhe quickly realized that his own feelings were on full display, and he didn't miss the change in Shen Qiao either. But even with the physical reaction that came over him, Shen Qiao was still letting his own pheromones intertwine with Lu Zhe's. That in and of itself was enough to fill Lu Zhe's heart with delight.
He never thought he would be so easily fulfilled, with just a simple reaction from Shen Qiao.
Lu Zhe took out a pack of tissues from his own pocket, intending to help Shen Qiao wipe his sweat. When he lifted his hand, he slowed his movements and reached out very, very carefully, as though preparing to touch a brittle treasure that could shatter at any moment.
He suppressed his own overbearing pheromones as he moved to dab the pure white tissue against Shen Qiao's temples.
In the next instant—
A slap sounded out. Lu Zhe looked down and found that his own wrist had been caught in Shen Qiao's hold.
Shen Qiao's scorchingly hot palm was wrapped around Lu Zhe's wrist. The thin layer of sweat that had gathered there started to seep into Lu Zhe's skin.
Before Lu Zhe could open his mouth to say anything, Shen Qiao had already reassumed his usual demeanor. He looked up with a smile that wasn't quite a smile in his dark brown eyes. Those eyes glittered with light, filled up with a wild and unbridled sort of energy.
A provocative, challenging smile filled Shen Qiao's eyes, which gazed unblinkingly at Lu Zhe.
Then, he asked several questions in quick succession:
"Tell me honestly, you really didn't secretly get some glandular surgery?
"Why do I feel like you're exhausted after just letting out some pheromones, Lu Zhe?
"When did you become so weak?"
Lu Zhe was speechless.
He was so dumbfounded that his smile dropped off his face.
Lu Zhe had already been standing near the wall. Since he was allowing Shen Qiao to grip his wrist without letting go, he decided to scoot back into a corner. He tugged his own wrist forward, causing Shen Qiao to take another two steps closer to him before he could react.
Lu Zhe smoothly lifted his other hand and laid it against Shen Qiao's hip.
From a distance, it would appear as though he were holding the other person in his embrace.
Shen Qiao instinctively used his elbow to block Lu Zhe's move, more out of habit than anything.
Lu Zhe didn't tussle with him. He simply used his left hand, which had been knocked away, to take the tissue from his right hand. Then he continued to help Shen Qiao wipe away his sweat. With a smile curving his lips, he softly and warmly answered Shen Qiao's provocations:
"That's right, I'm weak. What will you do with me?"
Shen Qiao turned his head away. He always felt like Lu Zhe's words were charged with a hard-to-define sense of ambiguity and affection. He wasn't accustomed to the sensation of being trapped in someone else's embrace, but strangely enough… he could clearly sense, from Lu Zhe's actions, how much Lu Zhe actually treasured him.
Alphas were fiercely competitive by nature. None of them would easily admit they were weak. It was one thing for Lu Zhe to say something like that, but he even went out of his way to suppress his pheromones some more.
Like a tamed beast.
Like a proud, mighty predator, obediently retracting its claws and lowering its head.
Lu Zhe was afraid Shen Qiao would realize he'd already learned of what happened in Shen Qiao's past. While carefully wiping the sweat from Shen Qiao's forehead, Lu Zhe donned a joking tone and teased, "Why are you sweating so much, anyway? What kind of thing did you think about to get yourself this worked up?"
Shen Qiao's throat bobbed, and he easily sidestepped any mention of the past. "Nothing. It's just hot."
It was impossible to tell from Lu Zhe's expression whether he believed that or not. He simply echoed, "Nothing?"
The smile in his eyes deepened as he added, "But I've been thinking of something."
He slowly drew closer to Shen Qiao, studying the sharp and well-defined planes of his facial features. Light shadows danced across Shen Qiao's face as Lu Zhe neared and murmured something in an unhurried, enchanting voice:
"Last night, I dreamt you took the initiative to kiss me. But my dreams were much sweeter than the little peck you gave me just now. Shall we try again?"
Shen Qiao shot him a scathing look and put on a feigned look of interest. "Be specific. Let me learn from the details."
Lu Zhe huffed a laugh.
That sound wasn't too high or too low. It echoed slightly in the hall.
The corners of Lu Zhe's eyes crinkled and quirked up like a pair of lively, thriving fish, encapsulating the deep lakes of his irises. The waves that rippled through his eyes were soft and warm, enticing enough to lure in all living beings.
"Let me think… mm, first you took the initiative to kiss me right here, pressing your lips to mine. Then you pried open my—"
"Stop." Shen Qiao found that he was still incapable of listening to this sort of thing with a straight face.
Lu Zhe raised his eyebrows. "Hm? Weren't you the one who wanted to hear it?"
Shen Qiao took a deep breath. "I just suddenly thought…"
Lu Zhe hummed inquisitively.
"You just said I kissed you in a dream."
"So?" Lu Zhe prompted.
"The me in your dreams is still me," Shen Qiao said. "What he can do, I can also do. If he kissed you, that counts as me kissing you."
Lu Zhe blinked, uncomprehendingly.
Shen Qiao calmly took a step back, spotting his chance to escape. He slipped away, moving towards his own room like a gust of wind, but he didn't forget to throw back one more line:
"We'll meet again in your dreams. Who knows? Maybe if you're lucky, you'll get another taste in those dreams. Good night."
Lu Zhe, who remained motionless in place, stared after the quickly disappearing Shen Qiao. Once Shen Qiao was gone, Lu Zhe murmured something under his breath:
"If he's so sensitive now, how will we manage in the future?"
Perhaps because of the words Lu Zhe had spoken, Shen Qiao's mind filled up with all sorts of blush-inducing images when he tried to fall asleep that night. As soon as he closed his eyes, he could once again hear the breath of that voice in his ears.
And there was Lu Zhe's face, which was even prettier than any omega's. It had shown a faint red tint, and his mirthful eyes had gleamed with warmth. That face was enough to make Shen Qiao toss and turn all night.
He listened to the sound of the air conditioner for a long while, shifting restlessly under the thin blanket covering him. Much later, he muttered a dark curse under his breath and scratched a hand through his hair in frustration. He threw off the blanket and climbed out of bed, stepping into his slippers and marching out towards the bathroom.
Running water sounded out for a long time.
The person behind the frosted glass shower door lifted his head, exposing his throat. Thin rivulets of water cascaded down his jaw, running down his throat to pool at the dips of his clavicle before slowly dripping down lower and lower.
And beneath the sound of running water came the sound of increasingly rapid, frantic breathing.
Half an hour later—
Shen Qiao, wrapped in a bath towel, emerged from the shower and returned to sit at the side of his bed. Droplets of water continued to drip from his still-wet dark hair, trickling down his spine. His shoulder blades were dimly lit by the illuminated cell phone that sat on his bed.
He laced his fingers together and lowered his head, closing his eyes and hunching forward in a bold and imposing way. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking about, but in the room that was filled only by the sound of the air conditioner, he let out a short laugh.
Then, he lazily leaned back and propped himself up with one hand on the bed. He reached out to the nightstand with his other hand, grabbing a blister pack of pills. With a faint series of crinkling noises, he popped out a few of the tablets.
He lifted his hand and tossed the pills into his mouth, swallowing them dry. He couldn't be bothered to fetch himself some water. The pills left a gross, bitter taste on his tongue and in his throat, but he just lay down in bed.
It had been years since he started smoking after the breakup. And he took his medicine whenever he could remember it. When he forgot, he just pushed it to the back of his mind. No one was checking whether he was taking his pills or not, and it didn't matter much whether or not his condition improved.
Besides gaming, he couldn't get himself interested in anything.
He lived like a walking corpse.
He suddenly, desperately wanted to get better.
When he heard Lu Zhe speak of how brilliant he used to be, he suddenly wanted very badly to become brilliant again. He wanted to do his best to glow and shine, to make it so that Lu Zhe could only ever see his radiance.
He wanted to become the brightest sun in Lu Zhe's sky. He wanted to be intense and everlasting, not just a fleeting shooting star that was there one moment and gone the next.
Shen Qiao thought to himself, Have I become greedy?
He didn't know.
The only thing he was sure of was that he wanted to mark Lu Zhe—
That desire, which had once been suppressed through various means, had finally burst forth like a torrential flood after being pushed down and buried for so long. Every cell in his body sang and roared with that desire, chorusing—
Make him yours. And become his.
Time hadn't dulled the memories of what had once existed between them. It was only that Shen Qiao hadn't allowed himself to turn back and look upon that past until now.
When he did look, he found Lu Zhe standing in the same place as always, waiting for him.
And he'd waited for a very, very long time.