WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 45

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Once the cameras moved away, Old Wo looked at Shen Qiao from one corner of the rest area and sighed while cradling his thermos. "What a big mosquito."

Shen Qiao said nothing.

Lu Zhe's little joke almost had Shen Qiao quaking and laughing with anger in his heart.

Even an excuse like 'I just had my wisdom teeth removed' would have been better than some nonsense about a mosquito. What kind of mosquito was sharp-eyed enough to pick such a perfect spot to bite, right where it could be covered up by a face mask?

Qian Bao took in Shen Qiao's expression, then turned to Lu Zhe and disdainfully spat, "Ugh."

Er-Hua instantly echoed, "Ugh."

But Lu Zhe didn't pay them any mind. His eyes were still curved with a smile, forming crescents of mirth, and he focused his attention solely on Shen Qiao.

Shen Qiao felt that scorchingly hot gaze on him. He kept his own gaze fixed on the large projector in the room, which Coach Fang was using to play some gameplay highlights of the team they would be facing momentarily. Shen Qiao struck Lu Zhe's arm with his elbow and whispered, "Pay attention."

Lu Zhe knew when to get serious. He took Shen Qiao's advice and good-naturedly shifted his gaze to the projected screen. The giddiness on his face retreated as he lifted his gaze to the highlights that they'd already reviewed countless times. The dancing mirth in his dark eyes was replaced by an earnest look of concentration.

When the game was due to start—

A staff member came to inform the team. The five players of DG got up and started filing out along with their coach and analysts. Shen Qiao, walking at the very back of the procession, gazed at Lu Zhe's back and detected the faint, almost negligible scent of cedarwood in the air, suppressed by the pheromone-control bracelet Lu Zhe wore for the match.

Possessed by some inexplicable urge, Shen Qiao suddenly called out, "Lu Zhe."

Lu Zhe turned back to look at him. The gentle lights inside the room spilled across Lu Zhe's bangs and face, casting intoxicating shadows across his warm, doting eyes.

Shen Qiao's throat bobbed. As though propelled onwards by some invisible force, he opened his mouth again and blurted out, "After the international tournament ends, let's…"

After the international tournament ends, let's be together again.

A burst of noise sounded out from the stage. The commentator's enthusiastic introductions were ringing out through the sound system. Although the speakers had distorted the words themselves into something unintelligible, the crowd was already shrieking with excitement. The door to the rest area was open, and all that noise flooded in, drowning out the rest of Shen Qiao's words.

With that interruption, Shen Qiao abruptly cut himself off. He suddenly realized that this wasn't the time or place to be saying something like that. He could have thrown Lu Zhe completely off his game with those words.

However, even though Shen Qiao stopped himself short, Lu Zhe seemed to see right through him. The corners of his eyes crinkled. Although the lower half of his face was covered, there was no doubt that he was smiling.

He stopped in his step and reached out to softly tousle Shen Qiao's hair, then lightly acknowledged Shen Qiao's half-unspoken words with a nod.

It was like he'd heard everything Shen Qiao wanted to say.

And that nod was practically answering—

Okay.

Shen Qiao suddenly felt like an immense weight had been lifted off his shoulders. When he started moving again, his steps even felt lighter. He all but floated out to his own seat on stage, where he took a deep breath. After staring blankly at his monitor for a few seconds, he patted himself on the cheeks a few times and placed his focus on the match ahead of them.

The local commentators chattered on in Korean to get the spectators pumped up. Under the supervision of the referees, the players and coaches from both teams started setting up their equipment.

With Old Wo and the others gazing expectantly at him, waiting for his obligatory pre-game 'speech', Lu Zhe glanced at the cameras surrounding them and flashed a cheery smile.

"Let's be quick," he said. "I'm in a rush to get off work."

His teammates let out a unanimous, "Bleh."

If the cameras hadn't been fixed on them, they all would have turned to Shen Qiao with looks of concern.

But Lu Zhe wasn't about to let those three get away with going over the top. He instantly added, "What's that supposed to mean? Our fans have come from so far away to support us. Shouldn't we be considerate of them and finish things up quickly so they have time to shop for souvenirs?"

"Sure, sure. Anything you say, degenerate," Qian Bao said.

Coach Fang could only listen on from behind them, shaking his head the whole time. He didn't interrupt until they'd all logged in and entered the picks and bans phase. It was only then that he spoke up, reminding them, "We're starting."

The LMS league had been declining in power in recent years. They were trapped between the two other fierce and formidable Asian leagues, and it was a constant struggle for them to stay alive. There weren't any particularly outstanding players or teams in the entire league.

To a team like DG, the seeded teams of the LMS league weren't especially fierce contenders. As long as DG didn't make any mistakes in the picks and bans phase or any grievous errors during the match, their victory was all but assured.

Twenty-three minutes into the match, DG pushed their way towards the enemy team's base and ended the game in one fell swoop.

This was the outcome everyone had expected. None of the winning players showed signs of obvious joy on their faces. Tomorrow's match against a team from Korea's LCK was going to be the true highlight of the international tournament, after all.

Shen Qiao was packing up his peripherals when Coach Fang called out to him.

"Shen Qiao, it's your turn to do the post-game interview, isn't it?"

Typically, the players of DG took turns doing the post-game interview. They'd made some exceptions when Shen Qiao first joined the team, of course, because fans were extremely curious about him back then. So the team had purposefully ushered him into the spotlight.

Lu Zhe took his keyboard and whispered, "Go on, I'll help you pack up."

Shen Qiao nodded and followed one of the staff members to the spot where the post-game interview was to be conducted. It was only when Shen Qiao arrived that he discovered one of the other players, from the LMS league team, was also there. This player was a male omega. He was pretty in a delicate way, and not too tall. As expected of an omega, he looked rather gentle and unaggressive.

He took the initiative to greet Shen Qiao with a smile and a nod. "Wolfy, hello! I'm the top laner who just faced off against you, Hank. We met once the year before last year. You were still with BLX at the time, remember?"

Shen Qiao had a faint memory of that. He nodded, but he wasn't wholly focused on the other party's self-introduction.

He was distracted by a faint floral scent. It was so faint that it was almost undetectable.

The scent was a bit like that of a rose, but also like that of the yueji flower. Shen Qiao couldn't totally pinpoint exactly what the scent was, but he could follow it to its source with his keen sense of smell, which all alphas possessed.

It wasn't long before he discovered that these were actually the pheromones emitted by the other player…

Shen Qiao's expression changed slightly. His gaze instinctively darted down to check for the pheromone-suppression bracelet that the other party should have been wearing. A quick glance showed him that the other player was indeed wearing his bracelet, and that faint trace of a floral scent had completely vanished by now.

It was there one second, gone the next. Just like Shen Qiao had imagined it.

Shen Qiao furrowed his brows tightly and looked towards the presenter who stood between him and Hank. He realized right away that the presenter was just an ordinary beta, one who was unable to detect pheromones in the air.

Just then, the interview began.

"Today, we'll be speaking to Hank and Wolfy! First, we'd like to thank both teams for showing us an exciting display today…"

As Shen Qiao listened to the presenter's voice, he could only do his best to regulate his breathing and write off the scent he'd detected as a figment of his imagination.

He shifted his gaze to the front rows of the stands for a moment. The cold expression on his face started to fade as he regained his calm, settling into a cooler, more reserved look that made him look exceptionally handsome.

The presenter had shifted the focus onto Hank. "How did you feel when facing off against Wolfy in the top lane today?"

Hank took the microphone. Light danced through his smiling eyes. Either intentionally or not, he glanced at Shen Qiao. When he spoke, there was a cheerful lilt in his voice that seemed to imply his mood wasn't one bit soured by his team's loss.

"He's really way too awesome!" Hank enthused. "I felt a ton of pressure going up against him. I chose Vladimir today, the champion Wolfy used in a national tournament match before, but I really couldn't handle it. He had me under his control the whole time…"

With every few words he spoke, he glanced at Shen Qiao again.

Shen Qiao had originally planned on speeding through this interview and getting it done as quickly as possible. When he felt that gaze constantly drifting over to him, he couldn't help but subconsciously glance back. And when his gaze fell upon the other player, he detected that floral scent in the air again, wafting towards him.

He didn't know if it was because it was his 'sensitive' time now, but Shen Qiao practically felt his skin start to itch wherever the floral scent touched him.

When that old itch arose, Shen Qiao was at least finally able to confirm that the scent wasn't only a figment of his imagination. The other party, despite wearing a pheromone-inhibiting bracelet, was still emitting pheromones.

If the bracelet couldn't fully suppress his pheromones…

There was only one possible explanation.

This player Hank was about to go into heat.

How had he passed the pre-game medical exam and made his way on stage to play in the match? Had he used some sort of drug?

Shen Qiao did everything in his power to resist the urge to scratch at his own arms. His searching gaze fell upon the other player, and he debated over whether or not he should speak up about the obvious issue.

Although he was an alpha, he knew enough about how omegas lived to know that omegas were still treated unfairly in some aspects of life. Maybe the other party had some reason for having to play in this match no matter what, so Shen Qiao really didn't have any intentions of reporting this to the tournament officials.

He was just a little worried. In a setting like this, an omega going into heat would have a huge impact on the whole stadium.

But there was something Shen Qiao didn't know—

When Shen Qiao met Hank's gaze, the director of the live program deliberately zoomed in, deliberately lingered…

And deliberately made the atmosphere seem a little 'strange'.

Meanwhile, backstage.

Lu Zhe had been leaning casually against a wall, watching the broadcast of the interview on one of the big screens. When that lasting shot of Shen Qiao and Hank, locking eyes, remained on the screen for too long, Lu Zhe gradually straightened. His eyes darkened, losing all traces of the humor and mirth that usually filled them.

Sensing that Lu Zhe wasn't in a very good mood, Old Wo, Er-Hua, and Qian Bao all exchanged looks with one another, communicating with their eyes.

What's going on?

Wolf Cub is seriously super, super ballsy.

That's our Daddy Wolf! Just look at our Captain Lu, swallowing raw vinegar…

While the three of them exchanged these meaningful looks, Lu Zhe suddenly started making his way towards the stage without uttering a single word. He looked like he was determined to march straight onto the stage.

All his other teammates jumped with alarm. Er-Hua was the one who managed to find his voice first, tentatively calling out, "Captain?"

Old Wo cleared his throat and gave Lu Zhe a pointed look as he advised, "Don't be too hasty, we should resolve private matters in private. There's no need to rush out there now. Wolfy could just be paying that guy some respect while he speaks. That's probably the only reason he looked over. This just looks wonky because of the camera director."

Qian Bao nodded repeatedly to back up Old Wo's words.

Lu Zhe, however, glanced towards the stage again. He could see a visible swath of red appearing at the nape of Shen Qiao's neck, and Shen Qiao's complexion was quickly turning worse and worse. Lu Zhe didn't have time to explain before he started for the stage again, quickening his pace.

His silver team jacket fluttered around him like a gust of wind.

All three of his teammates, left behind, were stunned speechless.

Then, something shocked them even more—

They could only watch as Lu Zhe coldly spoke a few words to the staff members organizing the interview. Before long, he followed one of those staff members directly onto the stage. The presenter who was conducting the interview reacted quickly, hastily wrapping things up—

"Thank you both for your time!"

But Lu Zhe was faster than anyone. He instantly shed his own jacket and draped it over Shen Qiao's head, in full view of the stadium full of spectators. He didn't spare a single glance for the other player being interviewed before bowing his head to whisper to Shen Qiao.

"Is everything okay?" he asked, with an insuppressible hint of anxiety in his tone.

Shen Qiao's allergic reaction had already caused rashes to appear all over his body. He shook his head and wanted to say something, but Lu Zhe had already started leading him off the stage.

As soon as they stepped away from the cameras, Lu Zhe instantly called out—

"Is there a doctor here?"

 

Author's Notes:

Wahhh, hurry up and be together again! (anxiously waiting)

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Chapter 45

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