Upon hearing those words from Lu Zhe, Shen Qiao abruptly stopped drying his own hair. It seemed almost like crystals of water from his dark hair were dripping into his eyes, which filled up with a sparkling hint of mirth. The light in his eyes was like a crystal clear stream, carving a path through the mountains.
He studied Lu Zhe with a half-amused smile on his lips. His voice carried an upwards lilt as he echoed, "You'll… sleep with me?"
Lu Zhe didn't repeat himself. He stepped into Shen Qiao's room without pause. As he turned to close the door behind himself, he instinctively glanced past Shen Qiao to take in the sight of the room. Unsurprisingly, the place had returned to its original state in the time since Lu Zhe helped tidy up. Shen Qiao's things were thrown all over the place again, turning the room into a messy doghouse.
When Shen Qiao noticed Lu Zhe's intent to venture deeper into the room, he stepped up and blocked Lu Zhe's way.
"Don't try to start anything," he warned. There was a hint of a threat in the way his handsome brows jumped up.
The result of letting Lu Zhe into his room—
Well, they were both alphas. Shen Qiao couldn't be bothered to pretend he didn't know there were implications to letting Lu Zhe in.
Lu Zhe knew exactly what Shen Qiao meant, too. His gaze landed on Shen Qiao's arms, where a few reddened streaks from scratching were still plainly visible. He caught Shen Qiao's arm with his right hand and studied the scratches a little more closely. After Shen Qiao's shower, it seemed those marks had become even more irritated—they were practically swollen. Lu Zhe frowned at the sight.
Shen Qiao tugged at his own arm. Seeing that Lu Zhe seemed intent on ignoring his warning, Shen Qiao lowered his voice and cautioned, "Lu Zhe."
Lu Zhe didn't rush to answer him. He only smiled and lifted his gaze. The corners of his eyes crinkled, like the branches of a willow tree, hanging over a riverbank in spring.
When Lu Zhe parted his lips to speak, Shen Qiao couldn't help but glance at the faint scab on Lu Zhe's lips. It was still there, still visible, and still utterly captivating.
"Earlier, when you went to your room," Lu Zhe started. "What did you promise me?"
Hearing that reminder, Shen Qiao suddenly remembered that he had indeed forgotten something. He tried to tug his arm back again and curtly answered, "I got it. I'll put on my medicine in a while. Alright?"
But Lu Zhe instantly saw right through him. "You're just saying that to placate me. You don't intend to apply the ointment at all, do you?"
He knew, because…
Back when they were in school, Lu Zhe had seen Shen Qiao afflicted by his allergies. In the half a month after that allergic reaction, Lu Zhe occasionally saw Shen Qiao around, and he would always notice that Shen Qiao's scratches hadn't gone away. One time, while waiting in line at the cafeteria, he'd even heard one of Shen Qiao's friends joke—
"Shen-ge, when are you going to introduce your partner to us? The 'medals of honor' this person has scratched onto your arms have been visible to the whole school for half a month. They should come out and reveal themselves, shouldn't they?"
But Shen Qiao only crinkled his eyes and casually answered, "Keep waiting. You'll see one day."
Lu Zhe had listened in for a while. Finally, he couldn't resist asking Shen Qiao, "You aren't using your medicine?"
Shen Qiao scoffed and turned back to face him. "No need. It'll get better in a day or two."
Now, in the present, things were still the same.
Shen Qiao realized right away that Lu Zhe had called his bluff. He decided to stop trying to argue, and he started trying to justify his own aversion to the medicine instead. "The ointment is so sticky, and it just rubs off all over the bed. Slathering it on is a waste. I'll get better in a few days, anyway."
Lu Zhe found the prescribed ointment that Shen Qiao had carelessly tossed onto a chair. He pushed past Shen Qiao and moved through the room, without bothering to try to reason with Shen Qiao. He straightforwardly declared, "That's why I'm going to help you apply the ointment. Once it dries, you can go to sleep—the timing will be perfect. You can dry your hair in the meantime."
Shen Qiao, who suddenly had his evening perfectly planned out for him, was silent.
He held his tongue for a while, but in the end couldn't resist speaking up again. He huffed a laugh of anger and snapped, "Alright, fine, Daddy Lu. I'll put on the ointment, and I'll dry my hair. Okay? But don't try to change the subject. You're not sleeping here tonight."
Lu Zhe leaned down to grab the bag with the ointment inside. He couldn't resist the impulse to tidy up the mess on the desk while he was there. As he cleaned, he asked, "Why?"
"Don't play dumb," Shen Qiao said.
Lu Zhe turned around with the medicine in one hand and Shen Qiao's jacket, which had been haphazardly thrown over the table, in the other. He smiled and teasingly asked, "Are you afraid I'll do something to you?"
As he spoke, he crossed the distance between them and approached Shen Qiao. His eyes, crinkled with mirth, met Shen Qiao's with barely any distance between them. They were close enough that their breath fell on each other's faces.
They were close enough to kiss.
Shen Qiao had opened his mouth to say something, but the words died on his tongue. He suddenly stopped, and he even held his breath, subconsciously worried Lu Zhe would start some 'suggestive' nonsense.
But when Lu Zhe noticed Shen Qiao had stopped breathing, he only let out a soft laugh that vibrated lightly through his chest. "Move a bit. You're blocking the way to the closet."
Shen Qiao said nothing.
He pursed his lips and took a step to the side, with a hint of annoyance rising to his face.
Lu Zhe hung up the coat for him, then opened the bag in his hand to take out the unopened box of medicine from within. He read the instructions as he moved to stand before Shen Qiao again. Once he was finished, he tore open the packaging, took out some of the cotton swabs from inside, and set everything on the table next to him.
"We have a game tomorrow," he said to Shen Qiao. "More than anyone else, I want to see you take the field and play. Now, give me your hand."
Those words were far more reassuring than, I won't do anything to you.
Shen Qiao was lured in by those words. He subconsciously extended the arm that he'd scratched. Lu Zhe dipped a cotton swab into the ointment and started to apply it to the wounds Shen Qiao had left with his nails. The hot sting of those wounds soon turned cool as the soothing ointment was spread over them.
The irritating itchiness that seemed like it would never go away really did subside a little, with the application of the medicine.
Lu Zhe focused on helping Shen Qiao apply the ointment. His long, curled lashes swept low over his eyes, hiding the spark of humor that usually resided there. His lips weren't curved into their usual smile, either, as a look of concentration overtook Lu Zhe's expression. But that didn't dim his attractiveness in the slightest.
As Shen Qiao watched him concentrate from such a close distance, he felt his own heart beat a little harder, a little faster.
It was like he couldn't tame the wild deer flailing around in his head.
He suddenly realized he'd been staring at Lu Zhe for too long. As he averted his gaze, he slowly mumbled, "I'm just worried… that I'll do something to you."
After treating the wounds on both of Shen Qiao's arms, Lu Zhe set aside the used cotton swab and picked up a new one. He squeezed out some more ointment and gently lifted Shen Qiao's chin with his left hand, using his right hand to start swabbing at the wounds on Shen Qiao's neck.
He lifted his gaze to glance at Shen Qiao, who had made such a bold declaration. Then, with an unbridled smile, he breezily answered, "Alright."
Lu Zhe lifted his brows, like an invitation, and like a provocation. "You can do anything you want to me."
As soon as Lu Zhe said that, Shen Qiao instantly felt like he couldn't just do nothing now. Or he wouldn't be a man.
That left him caught between a rock and a hard place—
If he wanted to show his desire for Lu Zhe's body, while they had a game tomorrow… that wouldn't be appropriate.
But to say he didn't desire Lu Zhe… well, he wasn't a eunuch.
Lu Zhe seemed oblivious to the little conflict raging in Shen Qiao's mind. Once he finished applying ointment to all the wounds he could see, he started to remove Shen Qiao's short-sleeved shirt. But Shen Qiao was quick to act; he lashed out with one hand and grabbed Lu Zhe's hand, stopping him short.
"What are you panicking for?" Lu Zhe said, speaking calmly as though nothing were out of the ordinary here. "I just want to see if you're hurt anywhere else."
Shen Qiao stared at him without any trace of a smile on his face. He didn't say a word.
The two of them remained frozen in that position for a while. After the stalemate stretched on for a long moment, Lu Zhe relented first. "Alright, forget it. You can apply the rest yourself later. Let's go, I'll help you dry your hair."
It was obvious that Lu Zhe himself couldn't guarantee he wouldn't do anything to Shen Qiao, if he really got him out of his clothes.
The sound of the hair dryer filled up the room. Shen Qiao sat in a chair with his head bowed, playing minesweeper on his phone while Lu Zhe slowly carded his fingers through Shen Qiao's hair. Bit by bit, Lu Zhe worked the damp locks of Shen Qiao's hair this way and that, letting the hot air blow each strand dry.
Occasionally, a droplet of water would land on Shen Qiao's cell phone screen, blurring the image. When Shen Qiao lifted a finger to wipe at those droplets, the blur would only stretch and smear.
After playing one round, Shen Qiao didn't start another. He simply locked the screen, but the suddenly darkened screen just so happened to reflect the image of Lu Zhe behind him. Shen Qiao could see exactly how dedicated Lu Zhe looked as he concentrated on drying Shen Qiao's hair.
Lu Zhe glanced down at just that moment, catching sight of the darkened screen. He was just about to ask why Shen Qiao had stopped playing when Shen Qiao set his phone aside, face-down. Then, Shen Qiao lazily leaned his head back, tipping back far enough that he actually moved past the chair and pressed his head to Lu Zhe's body.
Lu Zhe let Shen Qiao lean against him. He alternated between cold air and hot air, blowing Shen Qiao's hair for a while longer before finally shutting off the hair dryer once he felt that Shen Qiao's hair was no longer damp. Then, he leaned down and kissed Shen Qiao's chin.
The two of them had gotten along in a comfortable silence for the past few minutes. It felt like the air around them was lighter, like their bodies and minds were completely at peace.
Shen Qiao didn't try to dodge Lu Zhe's kiss. He let Lu Zhe do as he pleased, until he suddenly thought of something and blurted out, "Aren't you graduating soon?"
Lu Zhe basically hadn't gone back to school at all as of late, because of all the team practices and tournaments that had been taking up his time. When Shen Qiao asked that question, Lu Zhe suddenly thought of the time off he'd asked for and of the dissertation defense period he had coming up.
He smiled and answered, "Yeah. I have to defend my dissertation when I get back, and I'll have to attend my graduation ceremony."
At that, he suddenly added, "Do you want to come with me?"
Shen Qiao hadn't gone to college, and he definitely hadn't ever gotten a chance to visit a university campus. When he heard Lu Zhe extend that invitation, he instinctively tried to imagine what an event like that would be like. But he couldn't picture it at all, which left him feeling a little uneasy.
As a result, he sounded a bit hesitant when he answered, "I'd… better not?"
Upon hearing that unsure refusal, Lu Zhe lowered his head and nosed at the crook of Shen Qiao's neck. Not too insistently, but not too lightly, he made a firm and almost petulant-sounding request—
"Come with me. Everyone else will have their parents or their partners there. I'll have nothing."
Shen Qiao had been feeling pretty relaxed, but Lu Zhe's movements and words suddenly got him feeling hot all over again. He brusquely lifted a hand and pushed Lu Zhe aside, getting up and making his way to the bed.
"Go to sleep," he said. "Enough talk."
Lu Zhe had already taken a shower in his own room. He'd come to Shen Qiao's room prepared to sleep, so he naturally followed Shen Qiao to the bed.
Shen Qiao tugged the covers up over his head and firmly stated, "I'm sleeping now."
Lu Zhe tugged at the covers, but Shen Qiao didn't give an inch. Helpless, Lu Zhe could only laugh and tease, "You're so wrapped up in all the covers. What am I going to use tonight?"
Shen Qiao was quiet for a few seconds before he reluctantly relaxed his grip on the blankets.
Lu Zhe lay down next to him and glanced over at the thermostat to check the temperature inside the room. Then he boldly scooted closer to Shen Qiao, because Shen Qiao had set the air conditioning as low as it would go.
Just as Lu Zhe was about to wrap his arms around Shen Qiao, he felt Shen Qiao lift a hand and prod his collarbone with one finger.
"That's enough," Shen Qiao said. "Go to sleep."
Lu Zhe smiled as he looked at him, trying to bargain. "What about the graduation ceremony?"
Shen Qiao closed his eyes and grit out a curt response through his teeth—
"Will you go as my parent?" Lu Zhe continued. "Or as my partner?"
Shen Qiao didn't answer right away.
He opened his eyes and expressionlessly reached out to turn off the lights. As darkness blanketed the room, he curtly snapped—
"I'll go as your daddy."
Qiaoqiao… what will you do if Dog Lu wants you to be his daddy in other places too?