The temperature by the door gradually rose. The ice-cold scent of mint continued to fluctuate wildly—sometimes mild, sometimes intense. When it flared up, it was instantly engulfed by that heavy cedarwood scent that invaded every molecule in the air.
The room became like a forest. Densely packed cedarwood trees shed their needle-like spines, which rained down on the tender leaves of the mint plants growing below. The delicate sprigs of mint had no way of dodging the onslaught. Those cedarwood needles and their scent touched every crease and crevice of the mint plants. There was no running, no hiding. The mint could only succumb to the unbridled assault of cedarwood, giving itself over to the reality of being smothered in that scent.
In this battle of pheromones, the scent of mint was utterly crushed.
As was its owner.
When Lu Zhe first bore down on him, Shen Qiao had still been able to put up a brazen fight. He grabbed Lu Zhe's nape, trying to make himself seem bigger and more predatory, as though to claim dominance in this bout.
Lu Zhe had been all smiles at first. He seemed to welcome Shen Qiao's attempt to take control with open arms. Shen Qiao didn't realize until he'd already engaged Lu Zhe in this battle that this was a trap laid out by Lu Zhe—now that Shen Qiao had drawn near, Lu Zhe wouldn't even let him think about retreating.
This cunning person was really too sly. He could even lay a trap with his pheromones.
Perhaps Shen Qiao had grown accustomed to Lu Zhe's milder pheromones simply because Lu Zhe had deliberately suppressed them for so long. That had enticed Shen Qiao to lash out with his own pheromones, thinking this was a battle he could win. After he let his mint-scented pheromones rage against Lu Zhe, he prepared to withdraw—only to have Lu Zhe tear away the restraints on his own pheromones!
As that storm of cedarwood crashed over Shen Qiao, Lu Zhe seized control once more. Not only did he keep his visitor there in his arms, he gave Shen Qiao a warm, enthusiastic 'greeting'.
Shen Qiao didn't want to give in at first. He held his breath like he planned on competing with Lu Zhe over whose lung capacity was more formidable…
Then, when he really forgot to breathe, he accidentally choked on air—
Shen Qiao started to cough.
Lu Zhe released him and lifted a hand to hit the light switch on the wall. A pale, white light flowed down from above. Even though Shen Qiao lifted an arm to shield his face from the sudden burst of light, Lu Zhe could still plainly see the flush of red on his face.
He shifted the hand he'd placed at Shen Qiao's nape and patted Shen Qiao on the back instead. His voice was warm and gentle, but still laced with a teasing lilt, as he began to speak.
"You can even choke on air?" he asked. "Shall I teach you how to breathe?"
Shen Qiao, detecting that hint of playful mockery in Lu Zhe's tone, dropped his hands and shot Lu Zhe a fierce glare—
Shen Qiao didn't realize how seductive that glassy, wet sheen in his eyes could be. After that coughing fit, the corners of Shen Qiao's eyes had even gone a little red. It instantly made Lu Zhe think of the autumn he'd spent in the north, where the mountains had been blanketed by vibrantly red maple leaves. The sight of Shen Qiao in this state instantly stole Lu Zhe's breath away.
In that moment, Shen Qiao was like a little wolf cub, growling and swiping his paws through the air in an attempt to look as vicious as possible. But he only succeeded in making onlookers wonder how they could tease him more, to make him even more adorable.
Once he caught his breath, Shen Qiao schooled his expression back into a blank and calm state. He tried to regain some of his dignity by saying, "To err is human. Even our Captain Lu gives up his head once in a while when we play practice games. There's no difference between that and this. Nothing out of the ordinary."
This was just a little mistake.
Hearing those words, Lu Zhe instantly thought back to their last practice match against WTG.
His eyes narrowed slightly.
Shen Qiao suddenly felt his hair stand up on end. He felt an inexplicable wave of danger.
Before Shen Qiao could back away, Lu Zhe's pheromones flared to even greater intensities. That scent filled the air, making it so that every breath Shen Qiao took was laced with cedarwood. It was almost suffocating.
Shen Qiao tensed, and Lu Zhe instantly drew close again—
"There's a difference," Lu Zhe said.
Then, he uttered the final words that either of them would speak for the next fifteen minutes—
"Qiaoqiao, let me teach you the difference between the ordinary and a mistake."
In the neighboring room.
Qian Bao was wearing headphones and listening to music while she played a game. She was tackling a stage that she hadn't been able to get past no matter how many times she tried. At a critical moment, her hand trembled, and she placed a character in the wrong spot. Once again, the round ended in failure.
Without even quitting out of the game, she stared at her own hand which had trembled so suddenly. A deeply thoughtful look came over her face.
Am I getting tenosynovitis?
Very quickly, she detected a scent that crept into her room and made her blood run cold. She instantly tore off her headphones and looked towards the wall, identifying the source of the scent.
Qian Bao furrowed her brow and stared at the wall for a long while. The inane questions drifted out of the sea of her mind, popping like bubbles. New bubbles carrying new thoughts drifted in to replace them.
Has Lu Zhe finally gone mad with repressed lust?
Or has he gone into rut again?
Why are his salacious pheromones raging out of control this late at night?
Qian Bao's mind filled up with questions, but she did understand that an alpha gone wild couldn't normally control their pheromones. Ultimately, she could only sigh and wrap her single self up in her little blanket before grabbing her phone to send Lu Zhe a text:
Captain, it's way too hot, you should turn on the AC. If you can't do that, at least switch on the ventilation fan, 'kay?
Shen Qiao also felt way too hot.
He'd really run out of options. He bit down, hard, and heard a sharp inhale.
Lu Zhe backed away and brushed a thumb over the corner of his own lips. The tip of his tongue, which had been bitten by Shen Qiao, swept over the roof of his mouth. A stinging sensation spread from the spot that had been bitten.
Though he was clearly hurting, Lu Zhe was all smiles. His eyes were full of mirth and mischief. After he took a moment to breathe, he gazed at this little wolf cub that had been rendered breathless by him.
"Qiaoqiao, now you can tell me—was it perfectly ordinary for you to choke up, or was it a mistake?"
Shen Qiao's throat still itched. When he heard Lu Zhe's words, he closed his eyes for a while and forcibly resisted the urge to cough again. He turned his head away and thought of how he could leave this tiger's den. His mind was filled with unending regret over his decision to seek out this old beast in the middle of the night.
Lu Zhe could tell that Shen Qiao was genuinely annoyed now. He stopped teasing and donned a serious expression.
"You wanted to ask what Big-Mouthed Zhou talked to me about, right? Now you're going to leave, without even asking?"
Shen Qiao slapped away the arms Lu Zhe tried to wrap around his waist. Harshly, he snapped, "Like hell I'll ask."
Lu Zhe had originally been more or less fulfilled. He'd genuinely wanted to coax Shen Qiao into a better mood. But seeing Shen Qiao's irritable state only made Lu Zhe want to tease him again.
He did his best to hold back those urges, but his beautiful, peach-blossom eyes crinkled with a smile. His tone was both a little whiny and vengeful as he said, "How can you be so heartless? You plan on running away after taking advantage of me?"
Shen Qiao gave him a blank, expressionless look. His thin, pale lips were reddened and kiss-swollen now; they were more eye-catching than ever. Although he clearly didn't say a single word, the message in his eyes was clear:
Who exactly took advantage of whom?
Lu Zhe flashed him a winning smile and tried to hold Shen Qiao again, more insistent with each attempt. When Shen Qiao finally couldn't be bothered to struggle anymore, Lu Zhe lowered his head to the crook of Shen Qiao's neck and breathed in that familiar scent, like a little animal seeking comfort in the scent of an old companion.
Before Shen Qiao's patience could thoroughly run dry, Lu Zhe lazily answered Shen Qiao's unasked question: "Don't worry, I wasn't scolded. And this matter will be resolved very quickly."
Shen Qiao studied him for a few seconds, as though to gauge whether or not he was lying. Lu Zhe was just about to offer him some more words of reassurance when he saw Shen Qiao's gaze shift down.
"When exactly do you plan on letting go of me?" Shen Qiao asked.
Lu Zhe didn't answer right away.
He buried his head in the crook of Shen Qiao's neck and petulantly tightened his embrace. "Not gonna let go."
Shen Qiao took a deep breath. "You want me to stand here all night without sleeping?"
Lu Zhe was silent for a few more seconds before a thought suddenly seemed to occur to him. His voice was trembling lightly, with barely contained laughter, when he playfully asked, "Then why don't you just sleep here?"
Shen Qiao shot him a look out of the corner of his eye. "I'd advise you to drink some water and sober up if you really think—"
"If you don't refuse," Lu Zhe said, "I'll take it as a yes."
"I refuse," Shen Qiao stated.
Lu Zhe stifled a laugh and shook his head. He really did want Shen Qiao to stay, but…
They were both alphas, so Lu Zhe understood that squeezing into one bed, when they both had intentions towards each other, would inevitably result in sparks flying and inciting… something.
And the day after tomorrow, DG would be flying out for an international tournament. This really wasn't an optimal time to start anything.
Lu Zhe sighed mournfully in his heart, then started to act all pitiful. He tried to stretch out this tender, affectionate moment just a little longer. "Even if Big-Mouthed Zhou didn't get on my case, BLX's fans have definitely already torn me to shreds online. Doesn't your heart ache for me at all?"
Shen Qiao wanted to remain cold and indifferent. A snide rebuttal was already at the tip of his tongue. But when he thought of those vile netizens who surely would be talking shit about Lu Zhe, he couldn't help but cave and grant Lu Zhe one last reprieve.
"Just… five more minutes."
Lu Zhe held him, and he truly stuck to just five more minutes.
The two of them didn't speak during those five minutes, but the air seemed to warm up bit by bit.
Shen Qiao gradually started to feel a little restless and trapped. He cleared his throat and nudged Lu Zhe with his elbows, indicating that it was time to let go.
Lu Zhe smiled and brought his lips to Shen Qiao's ear. His low, deep voice flowed directly into Shen Qiao's ear, like music from a cello, reverberating through a large auditorium. It was a soothing, relaxing voice that asked—
"I'll give you something nice if you let me hold you for a while longer. Okay?"
Shen Qiao raised his eyebrows.
Lu Zhe tilted his head, exposing the curve of his slender neck and the spot from which the scent of cedarwood emanated.
"I'll let you bite me now," he said to Shen Qiao. "Do you want to?"
His voice deepened as he spoke, becoming like that of a demon luring a mortal into the abyss with the bait of one's deepest desires.
"Do you want to try it? Marking me?"
Shen Qiao's breathing grew much, much more shallow.
Lu Zhe saw the way Shen Qiao's gaze lingered on his throat. He gently guided Shen Qiao's head closer, leading him towards his own nape and drawing Shen Qiao towards his destination.
"Go ahead," he murmured invitingly.
Shen Qiao lowered his head as though in a trance. His throat bobbed when he swallowed nervously.
Just as his lips were about to brush the spot where Lu Zhe's glands were located, Shen Qiao suddenly shook his head and lifted a hand to push at Lu Zhe's shoulder.
His breathing had already been disrupted by Lu Zhe's words. With his last shreds of restraint, he could only utter, "No…"
He lifted his gaze and met Lu Zhe's eyes, then even took the initiative to step back as he shook his head. "It'll hurt. Forget it."
He could still remember, even now, the pain he had felt when he'd been marked by Lu Zhe.
Alpha pheromones were inherently, physiologically incompatible.
When Lu Zhe heard the reason for Shen Qiao's refusal, a flash of surprise crossed his eyes. He thought—
Is that it?
Shen Qiao refused… just because he was afraid of hurting Lu Zhe? That was the only reason he'd always resisted his instincts and desires?
When that realization struck, Lu Zhe couldn't have hidden the smile in his eyes even if his life depended on it. He pulled Shen Qiao close again, unable to resist the urge to kiss him once more. He whispered—
"Qiaoqiao, how could I possibly like you so, so much?"