"Congratulations to Team DG on their victory! The LPL division has awarded five points so far. Of those five points, DG has won two. Teams WTG, BIG, and COCO have each won one. And the showdowns between WTG, BIG, and COCO have yet to take place. Which teams will make it to the finals this year? We'll have to wait and see!"
Multi-colored lights swept across the stage where the five members of Team DG were situated. The piercingly bright, white lights of the stadium also flooded down on the stage, illuminating those five alphas and highlighting their exceedingly handsome features. Underneath the spotlight, the five of them looked every bit like a wildly popular idol group.
The cheers in the stadium peaked, growing louder and shriller!
From the rows closest to the stage, a male spectator's voice rang out and cried, "Shen Qiao, let me have your babies!"
In today's match against XHG, Shen Qiao put on such a stellar show with the champion Mordekaiser that the opposing top laner practically felt numb all over. To make matters worse for XHG, they made the mistake of not banning Elise in the first round of the picks and bans stage. Coach Fang had instantly instructed Lu Zhe to lock in Elise when their turn to pick came up—
Qian Bao and Old Wo were clearly DG's two main sources of DPS, but Shen Qiao also effectively used Mordekaiser to rampage down the top lane. His astonishing display had fans sending countless exclamation marks through the bullet comments of the livestream.
Hearing that shrieked confession from the crowd, many eyes instinctively turned in that direction. Lu Zhe, however, only lifted a hand and nudged Shen Qiao behind himself. He grinned and teased, "What, you want to accept another interview?"
Shen Qiao quirked the corners of his lips as well. He didn't pay any attention to the fan's loud confession, instead following Old Wo and the others backstage to leave Lu Zhe to do the post-game interview.
When they saw him take the stage that day, the tournament organizers had originally wanted to interview Shen Qiao again. They'd planned on riding the buzz around him and asking about his recovery, partly to offer the fans some reassurance about Shen Qiao's condition. But the whole team had rejected that idea.
Lu Zhe had been glued to Shen Qiao's side ever since they arrived at the stadium that day. He took an overprotective stance, acting like a human-shaped pheromone detector. Whenever he sensed an omega within fifty meters of them, he pulled Shen Qiao away in the other direction. Any onlookers would have thought they were carefully navigating a minefield.
Even if the event organizers had learned their lesson about putting players from opposing teams on the stage at the same time for post-game interviews, Lu Zhe couldn't get over the shadow of the previous day's events so easily. He couldn't completely eradicate the tradition of a post-game interview, but how could he possibly push Shen Qiao into that situation again?
Old Wo and the others had also heard from Manager Zhou that Shen Qiao couldn't get too close to an omega's pheromones for a while. Maybe they had been influenced by Lu Zhe's overprotective nature too. For whatever reason, they all instinctively surrounded Shen Qiao, until he wound up completely enveloped in a circle of his teammates.
Shen Qiao was silent.
His teammates were squeezed so tightly around him that he could barely set his foot down to take a step forward. He was practically trapped in place. After a while, he looked at each of them in turn, meeting each of their worried gazes. Then, finally, he slowly asked, "What are you doing?"
Old Wo was the first to answer. "We're worried about some omega staff member accidentally getting too close and aggravating your condition again, aren't we? Ah, no need to thank us. Just call me the selfless Lei Feng."
Er-Hua could see that Shen Qiao had been rendered speechless again. He thought about backing off to give Shen Qiao some space, but he first made sure to push the blame for their overbearing behavior onto Old Wo. "Everyone knows stupidity is contagious. I'm just going with the flow here."
Qian Bao laughed and waved a hand at Shen Qiao. "Man, it's obviously because Captain Lu was so tense earlier, treating everyone and everything like an enemy. He made us worry too. But a bunch of alphas like us, crowded so close together… it is a bit weird, huh?"
Shen Qiao looked at them again. Then he looked at the staff members around them, all of whom were cautiously scooting closer with expressions that clearly said they were worried they would need to intervene in some sort of brawl. For a moment, Shen Qiao wasn't sure what to say.
At that moment, a voice from the stage sounded out.
"Anyone with eyes could see that Wolfy played exceptionally well today. We even just heard someone call out that they wanted to have his babies. Captain Lu, can we hear how you feel about all this?"
A roaring cheer rippled through the crowd. Everyone could tell that today's post-game interview would be extremely charged. Although it was obvious that the interviewer was pointedly guiding the questions in a certain direction, the spectators were still eager to hear Lu Zhe talk about how Shen Qiao played. Their inexplicable excitement was palpable.
Before long, Lu Zhe's voice was transmitted through the speakers in the stadium. There was a bit of a crackle in the audio feed, but that did nothing to lessen the alluring charm of his voice. Anyone who heard that voice would feel like it could practically get their ears pregnant.
"Anyone who wants to have his babies will have to get in line," Lu Zhe answered unhurriedly. "I haven't had my turn yet."
When those words fell, a chorus of shrieks that nearly collapsed the stadium erupted from the crowd.
There was no telling how many of those shrieks were in reaction to the pure feelings of camaraderie between teammates and how many of them were from shippers. In any case, the stadium was suddenly as loud and raucous as a party on New Year's Eve.
Even though Shen Qiao was backstage at this point, surrounded by his teammates, he did his best to keep his expression calm to avoid being caught on any of the cameras getting backstage footage. He didn't want to incite another wave of online posts and comments about him and Lu Zhe fucking around and not focusing on the tournament.
He held in his reaction as much as he could. He held it in and held it in, firmly refusing to let his lips curve into any sort of smile. But the tips of his ears still turned red.
The interviewer wasn't done with Lu Zhe yet. In a surprising show of boldness, that interviewer went on to ask, "Captain Lu, it seems you like the wolf cub a lot?"
Old Wo turned and looked towards the stage. Then, he couldn't help but glance back at Shen Qiao. His whole face was contorted into a fearful look that seemed to say—
Am I going to have to listen to an on-stage confession today?
Er-Hua and Qian Bao both looked taken aback as well.
However, no one's reaction was as dramatic as Manager Zhou's!
Manager Zhou had been chatting with Coach Fang off to the side. He'd just untwisted the cap of a bottle of mineral water and taken a sip. When he heard that question, his mouth turned into a fountain, spraying water everywhere!
He choked and started coughing violently, instantly turning alarmingly red. After shooting a baffled and bewildered look towards the stage, he hurriedly flagged down one of the backstage crew members and asked, fluently speaking the local language, "Who's the interviewer today? How could they ask a question like that?"
Before Lu Zhe even answered, Manager Zhou's heart was already beating wildly in his chest. This was clearly a matter that involved Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao, but Manager Zhou was panicking like it involved him personally. He was practically praying in his heart—
Please, Lu Zhe, please think of your manager! Think of everything your manager did for Shen Qiao yesterday. Think of all the negotiating he had to do with that LMS team. Don't make any trouble for him!
Your manager just wants a few more days of peace and quiet!
Shen Qiao could sense Manager Zhou's spiking anxiety. He found himself holding his breath as well. He glanced down the walkway to the stage, wondering what kind of answer would come.
Even Shen Qiao himself couldn't guess whether Lu Zhe would confirm it or deny it.
The former would have been the straightforward answer, but it would inevitably distract some of their fans from the tournament and lead them to focus on Lu Zhe's and Shen Qiao's personal lives instead. The latter answer… well, the chances of hearing a denial were low.
As the audience waited in suspense, Lu Zhe finally spoke again. But he didn't directly answer the question. Instead, he brought up a seemingly unrelated matter—
"Did you see his quad kill in today's match?"
The interviewer didn't know why Lu Zhe had suddenly brought this up, but nodded along nonetheless and took the cue to praise Shen Qiao. "It was an astonishing wave of four kills. If I remember correctly, that was in the twenty-ninth minute, during a team fight surrounding Baron Nashor."
Lu Zhe smiled and cheerfully continued, "Just think about the sort of man who can execute a play like that. Who could possibly not like a man like that?"
The interviewer paused, realizing no one could refute those words.
Another wave of screams rippled through the audience, interspersed with various cheers—
"No one can resist a man like that!"
"Wolfy is the best!"
"DG is awesome!"
"Ahhhhhhh, I love you guys!"
With the crowd in such high spirits, Lu Zhe wrapped up the post-game interview and completed his work for the day. He made his way offstage, heading towards the team's rest area.
"You guys are…?"
Lu Zhe's smile froze on his face at the sight of his teammates, clustered around in a baffling formation. They were like three dragons protecting a priceless treasure.
Earlier, they had all been so enthralled by the contents of Lu Zhe's interview that they failed to notice the strangeness of their own positions. It was only now that they realized they still had Shen Qiao trapped inside a little circle.
And the staff members who'd thought they would have to mediate a fight between alphas had those four members of Team DG surrounded. One circle enveloped another, like a set of matryoshka dolls.
Manager Zhou had also been completely focused on the interview. Now, hearing Lu Zhe's inquisitive voice, he also looked over at where Shen Qiao was surrounded. He let out a helpless laugh and waved all the staff members away.
"Don't just stand there," he called out to the players. "Let's go, let's head back to the hotel."
Old Wo, Er-Hua, and Qian Bao all looked a little embarrassed. They quickly looked away, acting like nothing had happened here. They scattered to find their bags or thermoses, or drifted away just to stare absently at the ceiling.
Lu Zhe successfully extricated Shen Qiao from that little circle and led him outside the stadium first. He thought back to the scene he'd just stumbled upon and asked, "Were you planning to take them on, 3v1?"
Shen Qiao calmly played along and answered, "No, they were planning to gang up against me."
Lu Zhe also continued to play along, serenely adding, "Well, that's fine. As long as they haven't all fallen for you."
Shen Qiao fell silent.
After a brief pause, he suddenly said, "I thought of a story."
Lu Zhe hummed inquisitively.
"Once upon a time," Shen Qiao started, "two pigs in the forest set their sights on each other. They admired each other's beauty every day, and every day they worried about what would happen if the other were to be snatched away."
Lu Zhe laughed out loud. All the stars in the sky seemed to have fallen into his eyes, glittering brightly. He scooted closer to Shen Qiao and whispered, "Even if you turn into a pig, you'll still be the most attractive pig in my eyes."
"Can I not just be a person?" Shen Qiao asked seriously.
Lu Zhe was so amused by Shen Qiao that he couldn't stop smiling. As they made their way out of the stadium, his lips remained curved all the while.
It was strange. The summer heat was still stifling, to the point that Shen Qiao almost couldn't stand it. But when he saw Lu Zhe smiling so brightly, Shen Qiao felt like he could have stopped right there and stared at him for a long, long time.
He felt like he'd poured some ice cold cola directly into his heart. A rolling, bubbling sensation rose in his chest.
Shen Qiao didn't realize that his own lips had curved into a smile as well. It was only after getting into the car and gazing out the window that he touched his face and thought—
When did my face get so sore?
Lu Zhe noticed Shen Qiao's movements. He thought Shen Qiao was having another allergic reaction, and instantly scooted closer to ask, "What's wrong?"
Shen Qiao shook his head. His gaze fell upon the neon lights passing outside as the car sailed down the streets of a shopping district. He noticed a certain luxury watch store along the way. An idea rose to the forefront of his mind.
Lu Zhe followed his gaze and looked out the window as well. In that moment, he caught sight of a luxury jewelry shop outside, famous for their rings. An idea rose in his mind as well, but he quickly dismissed it. Shen Qiao wasn't the type to be so direct about something like that, was he? Lu Zhe swiftly pulled his gaze away from that shop.
After a while, he lightly reminded, "If BIG and COCO each get one more point, the finals of the international tournament will be the day after tomorrow."
Shen Qiao pretended not to catch the deeper meaning in those words. He nodded and said, "Mm. They've played well in the past. We'll just have to see how the LCK teams perform tomorrow."
Lu Zhe took in those calm words and thought to himself, Was I wrong? Did I make a mistake when I guessed Qiaoqiao's meaning earlier? After the end of the tournament, didn't he want…
After dwelling on it for a few seconds, Lu Zhe reached a decision.
If the mountain wouldn't move for him, he would move the mountain.
On the morning of the next day, Lu Zhe got up at half past eight. After giving Manager Zhou a heads up, he left the hotel.
Shen Qiao wandered into the gaming room at nine and glanced at Manager Zhou. "I want to go out for a bit."
Manager Zhou had just approved a two-hour absence for Lu Zhe. Seeing Shen Qiao approach him now, he naturally assumed he understood what was going on here. "Are you going to the hospital? Lu Zhe already asked for time off just now. If he's going with you, I won't go—"
Shen Qiao blinked, freezing up for a moment. "No, it's not…"
He didn't need to go to the hospital again. As long as nothing out of the ordinary happened, he could just continue taking his prescribed medication.
But had Lu Zhe really taken time off to go out? Where did he go? What was he doing? He hadn't gone out for the same reason Shen Qiao wanted to go out, right?
All these questions circled around in Shen Qiao's mind until Manager Zhou spoke again.
"Then what do you want to go out to do?" Manager Zhou asked.
"Wanna buy something," Shen Qiao answered vaguely.
Manager Zhou studied him for a moment, then naturally asked, "Something for a friend?"
"No," Shen Qiao said.
Manager Zhou couldn't be bothered to ask anything else. "You guys can be responsible for yourselves. Go quickly and come back quickly too. Regular training starts at one in the afternoon, sharp."
Shen Qiao nodded and slipped out of the hotel.
Half an hour later, at the east side of the shopping district, Lu Zhe left a certain luxury store with two ring boxes.
Another ten minutes after that, Shen Qiao emerged from the west of the shopping district and hailed a taxi. He was carrying two gift-wrapped watch boxes.
Countdown to the confession begins now—