Shen Qiao was enveloped by that soft, refreshing cedarwood scent. Finally, he was being drawn away from the floral scent that had assaulted his senses. But the itch on his neck, arms, and face lasted, making him want to scratch himself all over.
He could only force himself to focus on something, anything else. He lifted his head and gazed at the player Hank from beneath the veil of Lu Zhe's jacket.
If he'd had any doubt earlier, that was gone now. With Lu Zhe's arrival, Shen Qiao became sure of one thing—
This other player was deliberately pushing his pheromones in Shen Qiao's direction.
With every word Hank spoke, Shen Qiao had felt a stronger burst of those pheromones wafting towards him. The floral scent kept trying to trigger a response from his own glands.
It was common knowledge that alphas could be influenced by an omega's pheromones. An omega's pheromones could create an extremely powerful sense of desire within an alpha, practically causing the alpha to lose the ability for rational thought and driving them mad with the impulse to mark the omega.
Shen Qiao had come to the realization that this was a targeted assault because of the diffusion of the omega's pheromones. Based on the severity of his own allergic reaction, he could tell that the omega was emitting large amounts of pheromones. If the omega hadn't specifically been targeting him, then those pheromones would have been detected by the spectators in the front row of the audience a long time ago.
Shen Qiao was the only one in the whole stadium who seemed to be affected. It was obvious that the other party was directly aiming his pheromones at Shen Qiao.
"Don't move…" Lu Zhe urged. He could see that Shen Qiao was trying to rub his itching arm against the cool wall as they passed. He pulled Shen Qiao into his own arms. Obvious anxiety swam through his eyes as he reached for his phone with his other hand, gripping so tightly that his knuckles turned white.
Just now, he'd received word that there was no doctor at the stadium who was available to deal with a pheromone-related emergency. So Lu Zhe had called for a car, preparing to take Shen Qiao to a hospital right away.
Shen Qiao's gaze returned to Lu Zhe. His brows were tightly drawn, and his voice was extremely soft, giving off the wrong idea that he wanted to be pampered and spoiled.
"It itches," he mumbled.
Lu Zhe's heart was in such a panic that he practically half-carried Shen Qiao towards the exit backstage. He tried to keep his voice calm and soothing, but he couldn't fully suppress a tremor as he said, "Bear with it, be good. I called a driver. We'll go to the hospital right now. Do you have your medicine with you?"
Shen Qiao nodded. "In my bag."
His condition was so severe at that moment that there was no telling whether his usual medicine would have any effect. It wouldn't kick in right away, and it might not even temporarily inhibit the intensity of Shen Qiao's allergic reaction. But Lu Zhe had no choice but to try anything and everything to help. He immediately called Manager Zhou as they continued making their way out of the stadium, asking for Shen Qiao's bag and medicine to be brought to them.
Very soon after that—
Shen Qiao and Lu Zhe followed a staff member out of the stadium. Lu Zhe accompanied Shen Qiao all the way to the team's car and opened the door to usher him inside. Manager Zhou rushed out to meet them, with a bottle of water and Shen Qiao's medicine. Lu Zhe quickly exchanged a few words with him and, after a short conversation, they all piled into the car.
Lu Zhe's eyes took in the red rash on Shen Qiao's throat, which looked so much redder and more severe under the lights in the car. There were a few streaks across that rash too, obvious signs of scratching.
Shen Qiao's condition wasn't good at all. His breathing was growing more uneven, and he had thrown aside the jacket that Lu Zhe had draped over him. Lu Zhe didn't know if Shen Qiao was starting to become delirious. He was worried sick, but he didn't dare get too close.
"Qiaoqiao," Lu Zhe whispered lightly. He brought the water closer and said, "Have some medicine first."
Manager Zhou, who'd climbed into the front seat, checked with the driver to see how long it would take to get to the nearest hospital. Then he looked back to check on Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao. It was obvious to him that Lu Zhe wanted to get closer to Shen Qiao, but didn't dare.
He shook his head in the end and decided not to spy any longer. He turned back around in his seat and took out his phone, making a few calls while keeping his voice very low.
Shen Qiao was bleary and a little dizzy. He subconsciously scratched at his skin where the itch was the worst, and his mind felt like it was full of a fog. Perhaps that was why he instinctively tried to twist away from the scent of cedarwood, which carried him back to memories of terror.
And yet, at the same time, he felt nostalgia rise whenever he caught a waft of that scent. He couldn't help but mumble, "Lu Zhe…"
The scent of cedarwood diminished. At the same time, a wave of warmth drew closer to Shen Qiao's body. That warmth passed over Shen Qiao's lips as well. In his deliriousness, he tasted a burst of bitterness on his tongue and realized belatedly that Lu Zhe wanted to feed him his medicine with some water.
Then he heard that soft voice, burning with tenderness, whisper in his ear, "I'm here. Don't be afraid. I'm right here…"
Shen Qiao didn't know if his senses were sharpened by the bitter taste on his tongue, or if he was called back to his senses by Lu Zhe's voice. He leaned against Lu Zhe's shoulder for a moment, then whispered in a faint voice, "Your pheromones smell so bad."
Lu Zhe hummed a sound of acknowledgement. Even after leaving the stadium, he hadn't removed the pheromone-inhibiting bracelet around his wrist. He'd noticed the way Shen Qiao had thrown aside his jacket, after all. Back when he'd rushed out to Shen Qiao on stage, he'd used his jacket as an emergency measure to block out the omega's pheromones. But now, impressing his own pheromones on Shen Qiao would only be exacerbating the situation.
Because… Shen Qiao had a psychological aversion to his pheromones.
He dotingly stroked Shen Qiao's head and echoed, "You're right. This scent really is too awful."
Lu Zhe had never, in his whole life, hated his secondary sex as much as he did now. He couldn't help but think that everything would have been perfect if only he'd been a beta. Then he wouldn't give off such a foul scent, and he wouldn't have been so helpless when his beloved was ill and in obvious need of help.
Shen Qiao took those words in. His lips twitched with a silent smile. Then he lifted a hand to Lu Zhe's nape and tilted his own head up to murmur, in his hoarse and raspy voice—
"But I like it."
Lu Zhe ducked his head and kissed Shen Qiao's hair. Even if Shen Qiao said he liked the scent of Lu Zhe's pheromones, Lu Zhe still kept them tightly controlled and suppressed.
Shen Qiao was getting a little irritated by the itch that still plagued him. He lifted a hand to scratch at the rashes, but Lu Zhe quickly captured that hand.
Lu Zhe's voice was soft and faintly amused. His breath passed through his lips like wind, like a puffy cloud in the sky that could soothe away any ill. "Don't scratch," he urged. "If you keep scratching, you'll make it look worse."
Shen Qiao's throat bobbed. As though lured in by the sound of Lu Zhe's voice, he suddenly blurted out an invitation—
"Mark me. Lu Zhe, I feel awful. I can't stand it. Mark me. If you mark me, it'll be like before."
Lu Zhe knew Shen Qiao was talking about the time when they had been lovers. As they walked home from school one day, Lu Zhe had pressed Shen Qiao against the wall in an alley where no one could see them, and he had bit down fiercely on Shen Qiao's pheromone secretion glands.
At that time, Lu Zhe hadn't truly known the consequences of his actions. He had acted purely on instinct. He'd wanted the whole world to know that Shen Qiao was his and his alone. It was only later that he realized he'd inadvertently helped alleviate Shen Qiao's allergy to omega pheromones.
Lu Zhe had accompanied Shen Qiao to the hospital for his next regular exam. He wound up seeing Shen Qiao with his test results, being scolded fiercely by the pretty doctor who oversaw his treatment.
"You're too careless!" she berated. "You know very well that your glands are underdeveloped, and yet you allowed another alpha to inject their pheromones into your glands? Do you know how overpowering an alpha's pheromones are? This foreign pheromone could permanently damage your glands. You may have to undergo surgery…"
Lu Zhe, listening outside, broke into a cold sweat.
He was consumed by unease and remorse. When Shen Qiao emerged from the doctor's room with his new prescription, Lu Zhe trudged after him, beset by guilt. He could only mutter ashamedly, "I'm sorry."
Shen Qiao suddenly stopped in front of him. With one hand in his pocket, he turned back and raised his sharp eyebrows at Lu Zhe. He scoffed like nothing was out of the ordinary at all, and calmly asked, "What is there to apologize for? Isn't this something we both consented to? It's not like you forced me."
Lu Zhe gazed deeply into Shen Qiao's eyes. He didn't find any hint of regret there, which meant Shen Qiao knew exactly what he had done and what he had wanted.
But no matter how Shen Qiao felt, back then or in the present—
Lu Zhe still regretted his own actions.
From that time on, Lu Zhe had held firm to a resolute decision. Until Shen Qiao's condition improved, Lu Zhe would never again do anything to hurt him.
He would rather be marked by Shen Qiao instead.
Lu Zhe lifted a hand and carded his fingers through Shen Qiao's hair. He sighed softly and helplessly answered, "No."
His voice was full of patience as he slowly added, "Bear with it for a while longer. We'll be at the hospital soon, okay?"
But Shen Qiao seemed to have been possessed by stubbornness. He repeated himself in his hoarse voice. His breath spilled over the crook of Lu Zhe's neck, as though infecting Lu Zhe with the itch of his own allergies—
Lu Zhe's eyes darkened. A deep storm brewed in his gaze, threatening to spill out at any second. It seemed as though he was almost ready to get angry, and his tone when he responded wasn't as steady as before. But still, he gave the same answer—
"No, Qiaoqiao. Be good, okay?"
Lu Zhe lowered his head and kissed Shen Qiao's ear. It was only a soft brush of his lips, a gentle touch full of pity. Lu Zhe was clearly the one who was in good health, but if Manager Zhou turned and looked back at them now, he would have discovered that Lu Zhe seemed to be in an even more fragile state than Shen Qiao. It was like the slightest provocation could have caused Lu Zhe to shatter.
His voice was filled with so much anguish that it was trembling. His words came out almost like a plea.
Shen Qiao's throat bobbed again, and finally he relented.
It was at that moment that the car stopped. Manager Zhou instantly opened the door in the front, letting in a gust of air that carried the strong scent of disinfectant. Lu Zhe breathed a sigh of relief and helped Shen Qiao out of the car.
After going through the emergency room and getting Shen Qiao treated—
Everything was progressing smoothly at the hospital.
Once Shen Qiao was settled in a hospital room, attached to an IV drip, Lu Zhe took a seat next to him to keep him company. Seeing that Shen Qiao was resting peacefully with his eyes closed, Manager Zhou moved to the door and waved at Lu Zhe.
Lu Zhe kissed Shen Qiao's forehead and swept his bangs out of his eyes before getting up and following Manager Zhou into the hallway. Upon stepping out of the hospital room, he carefully closed the door without making a sound.
Manager Zhou instantly started to speak—
"This is what they told me. They said the other player didn't think he would go into heat today, so he lost control when he was on stage and affected our wolf cub. Their side wants to talk to us about a way to compensate us…"
The tenderness in Lu Zhe's eyes vanished completely, leaving only a cold sheen of ice in its wake.
Even his voice was filled with a poised, icy air—
"He did it on purpose."
Lu Zhe didn't venture his own suspicions. His dark, void-like gaze fell upon a spot in the distance, and he coldly continued, "I don't care if he's a crazed fan, or if it was something else—
"I want him out of the industry. He doesn't deserve to stand on this field."