Lu Zhe heard a push notification sound out from his phone while he listened to Manager Zhou prattle on about the team's schedule for the days after the international tournament. Lu Zhe's first instinct was to take out his phone and put it into silent mode, but when his gaze swept over the screen, he paused.
On the screen, the following notification had appeared:
The streamer you follow, Wolfy, has started a livestream~! Come watch~!
Lu Zhe lifted a hand and gestured for Manager Zhou to pause whatever he was saying. He fished some earbuds out of his team jacket's pocket and connected them to his phone. After putting in just the left earbud and loading up Shen Qiao's stream, he gestured for Manager Zhou to continue.
Manager Zhou didn't care about that interruption. He simply picked up right where he'd left off and went on, "Next week, once you guys fly back, I'll check your schedules again. You'll have three days until your next match, so we've decided to have you play in an exhibition match for a friend of one of the bosses. The contract has been agreed upon by both sides already, and…"
Lu Zhe wore a refreshing smile that made people feel like they were being bathed in a cool springtime breeze. Upon hearing Manager Zhou's words, Lu Zhe mulled it over for a few seconds, then lightly shook his head. "The schedule for this international tournament has been tight in recent years. We're fine with playing a casual match just for some publicity, but—
"If our official channels announce this match, they'll definitely be in for a ton of verbal abuse. Fans will take this to mean that we aren't focusing on preparations for the summer tournament, and they'll think we players don't have any sense of professionalism.
"Furthermore, they'll see the club as opportunistic as well. I'd advise you to contact the other party and renegotiate the contract. Either change the time of the match, or…"
Lu Zhe trailed off halfway through his sentence.
His attention had been stolen away by the lazy drawl that came through his earbuds. That familiar, husky voice sounded even more sensual when it flowed directly into Lu Zhe's ears.
"I'd recommend this chocolate to everyone."
"Or?" Manager Zhou, who was right in front of Lu Zhe, prompted after staring at Lu Zhe for a while. He had no idea why Lu Zhe suddenly stopped speaking for such a long time.
Lu Zhe came back to his senses, summoned by the sound of Manager Zhou's voice. The corners of his lips were curving up, higher and higher. He blinked slowly, then cleared his throat and continued, "Ah, that's right. I was saying, either have the other party reschedule, or get people from our second string team to—"
But Lu Zhe's words suddenly trailed off yet again. Because at just that moment, he heard a curt yet excited little declaration through his earbuds.
"They're from the person I like."
Lu Zhe was successfully rendered completely speechless by that out-of-the-blue confession.
Fortunately, even though Lu Zhe had stopped mid-sentence again, Manager Zhou had heard enough to understand him this time.
On the one hand, Manager Zhou felt Lu Zhe did have a point. On the other hand, he had no idea how to talk to the higher-ups about changing their plans at this juncture. While Manager Zhou dithered over his options, Lu Zhe had already pressed one hand to his ear and glanced back in the direction of the room he'd just left.
His eyes practically had stars in them. Absent-mindedly, he asked Manager Zhou, "Is there anything else?"
He couldn't wait to get back and have Shen Qiao repeat those words to his face.
But Manager Zhou really did have something else to discuss. "Yeah—about what you were just saying. The publicity team has already put up promotional ads for that friendly exhibition match, and the five of you are featured."
Lu Zhe was silent.
He let out a soft sigh and narrowed his eyes as he gave Manager Zhou, who seemed to have an innate gift for causing trouble for him, a thorough once-over. After a moment, he plastered on a feigned smile and asked, "Do you think I'm in charge of the official Weibo account?"
What exactly was Manager Zhou keeping him here for? Did he expect Lu Zhe to delete those promotional posts himself?
"Oi," Manager Zhou protested. "Your attitude—"
He cut himself off there and shooed Lu Zhe away like he was waving away a fly. "Alright, alright, alright. I won't keep old Daddy Lu around any longer. Go back to whatever you're busy with."
Inside the room—
Shen Qiao had yet to discover that his own words had been heard by the person who he least wanted to hear them. He was unhurriedly choosing a champion for his practice game and still relishing in the pleasure of having sneakily stirred up a bit of a commotion.
At just that time, a notification popped up from his livestream—
The streamer WOWSnailShell has entered your stream!
Shen Qiao raised his eyebrows and pulled his headphones down just a little. He glanced over at Old Wo, who sat not too far away. The two of them were clearly sitting right next to each other in the same room. So why had Old Wo come barging into his streaming room?
Old Wo felt Shen Qiao's gaze on him and turned to face him with a grin. "It's nothing, it's nothing. I was just trying it out to see if I could enter your stream on my main."
Shen Qiao blinked. In a somewhat hesitant tone, he asked, "Your main? What do you mean?"
Old Wo shrugged. After exiting out of Shen Qiao's stream, he pressed the mute button on his own stream and said, "You don't know? My alts have all been banned from your streaming room."
While Shen Qiao was frozen by astonishment, Er-Hua raised his hand from the other side of the room, suddenly reinvigorated from his state of nearly dozing off. "Mine too! Qian Bao's has been banned too. I'm pretty sure Fish's alt is the only one that was spared from these diabolical activities."
Qian Bao was the sort of person who could take five showers in one day during the summer; she wasn't in the room at the moment. But based on the certainty in Er-Hua's tone, there was no doubt that he was speaking the truth.
Shen Qiao was deeply confused. When had he blocked all these accounts of his teammates at DG?
The mods in his stream were accustomed to slacking off and playing dead, unless a sensitive subject came up, or unless Shen Qiao personally told them to take action. Could his mods have heard that he was on bad terms with Lu Zhe, when he was still playing for BLX? Had they banned each and every one of DG's accounts on sight when they visited his room?
But Old Wo and Er-Hua had both said it was their alts that had been banned. Based on account names alone, Shen Qiao himself probably wouldn't even have been able to identify the real owners. Could his mods really have so precisely identified which accounts they thought they needed to ban?
Shen Qiao thought about it for a while before he ventured his most plausible guess: "You guys used to use your alts to talk shit in my stream?"
Old Wo laughed and shook his head. Just as he was about to speak, his gaze traveled over to the door to the room, where Lu Zhe had just reappeared. Old Wo jerked his chin towards Lu Zhe and said, "You should ask Captain Lu about that. This is all his masterful work."
Shen Qiao was even more confused now.
He took a look at his computer monitor, which showed the game's loading screen. The bullet comments of his stream had already filled up with question marks. He hit mute on his own mic, then turned in his chair to face Lu Zhe, who was just starting to approach.
Lu Zhe had originally entered the room with a bright and winning smile on his lips. But when he got halfway to Shen Qiao's desk, he overheard what Shen Qiao and Old Wo were talking about, and he wound up freezing in place for a split second.
Shen Qiao had folded his arms. His team jacket was draped over the back of his gaming chair. He leaned back in that chair and jerked his chin at Lu Zhe, with a quirk to his lips that wasn't quite a smile. He slowly began, "I heard from our teammates that their alts have all been banned from my stream. Do you know anything about that?"
Lu Zhe lifted a fist to the corner of his own mouth, hiding his expression as he coughed like there was an itch in his throat.
"This, ah… it's a long story."
Shen Qiao turned back to his computer and saw that he'd already loaded into a game. He could tell there really was a story here, so he nodded at Lu Zhe and said, "Alright. Wait for me to finish this ranked match while you make up your story."
After saying that, he spun his chair back around and focused on choosing his starting equipment. He set out once he was ready, happily marching off to assault the enemy.
Lu Zhe walked the rest of the way to Shen Qiao's desk and stopped behind his chair. He watched Shen Qiao play for a while before he glanced over at Old Wo.
Old Wo could vaguely sense that he'd crossed some line and said something he wasn't supposed to say. He didn't dare bring up his viewers' requests to get Lu Zhe in frame. He focused solely on entertaining his fans in a loud, booming voice.
After standing behind Shen Qiao for a while, Lu Zhe lifted a hand and toyed with Shen Qiao's hair and headphones. He leaned down and whispered in Shen Qiao's ear, "I don't plan on making anything up. I won't lie to you."
Shen Qiao tilted his head away, not letting Lu Zhe break his focus. He only uttered a curt hum of acknowledgement. His eyes didn't stray from the game. But he'd been so effectively riled up by Lu Zhe's flirtatious little moves that he instantly charged ahead and offed four of his low-health opponents.
Lu Zhe didn't try to distract him again. He quietly watched for the next twenty minutes, until Shen Qiao claimed victory.
Shen Qiao quit out of the game, skimmed his stats, then unmuted his mic to tell his fans, "Today's stream will end here. I'll see you again next time. Bye-bye."
[What happened? You had a fight with Dog Lu? But why do you have to take it out on us, your lovely wives, if you had a fight with him?]
[I just got out of Old Wo's stream. I sort of get the feeling Dog Lu is hiding something… he's doomed! Wolf Cub, hurry up and ditch him. Run away with me!]
[Captain Lu, what is it that you can't tell us through the screen? Why does your business have to cut into our live time with Wolfy?]
[You brainless women are all too much. You spend every day playing 'wifey' to our Wolf. Don't you get sick of it?]
[Bye-bye, husband! Don't forget to come visit us tomorrow!]
[You haven't even been streaming for half an hour. Tell me seriously. You don't really think this is okay, do you?]
Shen Qiao didn't spare a glance for the chaotic chatter in the bullet comments. He ended the stream right away.
Seeing that, Lu Zhe unhurriedly spoke from behind him—
"Wanna go out for dinner? There's a pretty good restaurant around here, a chain. I've been to one of the other locations with Old Wo and the others before. I'm sure the taste will be decent here too."
Shen Qiao understood that Lu Zhe didn't want to get into his 'long story' here. He didn't argue, simply getting up and following Lu Zhe out.
The halls of the hotel were carpeted, and both Shen Qiao and Lu Zhe were wearing sneakers. They made almost no noise at all as they moved down the hallway, and it wasn't until they reached the elevators that Shen Qiao heard Lu Zhe begin to speak—
"I borrowed their accounts to watch your streams before."
Shen Qiao walked into the elevator with one hand in his pocket. He cast a sidelong glance at Lu Zhe and asked, "Why didn't you use your own account? Or are you trying to say you used their accounts to diss me in my streams?"
Lu Zhe brushed his thumb over his nose. A helpless sort of look appeared in the crease of his brows.
"All my accounts had already been banned by you," he said.
Shen Qiao's eyes went totally blank and expressionless for a moment.
He instinctively retorted, "That's impossible…"
He definitely would have recognized Lu Zhe's main account, just like he'd instantly recognized Old Wo when Old Wo had entered his stream with his main account that day. It was absolutely impossible that Shen Qiao wouldn't have recognized Lu Zhe's main, if Lu Zhe had joined one of his livestreams.
Lu Zhe gazed at him with a good-natured grin. His eyes were full of tenderness and affection. He planted one hand against the mirrored wall at the back of the elevator, behind Shen Qiao, and teasingly prompted, "Think about it. In your streams, besides people who diss you, what kind of people do you ban? Hm?"
Shen Qiao reflexively answered, "People who probe at sensitive topics."
Lu Zhe huffed out a breath through his nose. It was unclear whether that was a laugh or a scoff, but it was obvious that Shen Qiao's answer had been incorrect.
Shen Qiao thought back carefully, combing through his memories of his streams from before he and Lu Zhe reunited. He thought of all the off-color or inappropriate remarks he'd seen. Lu Zhe had some sense of propriety; he surely wouldn't make completely inappropriate remarks in Shen Qiao's livestream room.
Since he hadn't been blocked for trash talk or inappropriate speech, what had he been blocked for?
Lu Zhe glanced at the camera in the elevator. He didn't stray too close to Shen Qiao, and he even pulled back a little of his own accord. He leaned against the wall on the other side of the elevator, but kept his gaze fixed on Shen Qiao's profile, waiting for him to think back and find the correct answer.
Shen Qiao's brow subconsciously furrowed, like he was devoting all his brain cells to contemplating this matter. The look of deep, painstaking thought on his face was going a long way to brightening Lu Zhe's mood.
As the elevator neared the ground floor, Lu Zhe couldn't resist taking a step closer to Shen Qiao. He poked the dip between Shen Qiao's brows and said, "I meant to point this out sooner. You always furrow your brow over nothing."
Shen Qiao instinctively ducked away once he'd been poked once by the tip of Lu Zhe's finger. As the elevator dinged and opened its doors on the ground floor, he stepped out and decided to give up on trying to find an answer.
"Can't think of anything," he said. "Just tell me."
Lu Zhe gave him a mysterious look as he took in Shen Qiao's self-righteous expression. "My hints aren't free, you know."
Shen Qiao didn't even think about it before rummaging through his pocket and fishing out a crumpled fifty-cent bill that had probably been through the washer a few times. He slapped it against Lu Zhe's chest and said, "Here."
Lu Zhe stared.
He huffed a laugh and took the fifty-cent bill, irritably stating, "It has something to do with smoking. Think some more on your own. If you can't remember, then forget it."
Shen Qiao blinked.
He reluctantly forced himself to rack his brain again. "Smoking? You advertised cigarettes in my streaming room? But you don't like smoking… then you said something about quitting. Quitting smoking? Why would you get banned for that? Unless you said something… wait, I remember."
Shen Qiao fished up a faint memory from the very fringes of his mind.
It seemed whenever he snuck a cigarette while streaming, there was always some asshole who loved to curse him with a string of ill wishes. That guy would always be thrown onto the blacklist shortly after he surfaced.
Shen Qiao huffed a laugh. A look of amusement came over his face as he looked Lu Zhe up and down. His tone was mild as he guessed, "The one who predicted I would get bronchitis, lung cancer, coronary heart disease, and angina. That was you?"
Lu Zhe was silent.
The sound of wind whistling through tender blades of grass passed through his heart.
Captain Lu, why don't you get on your knees if you have something to confess?