WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 54

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In the years since esports became more mainstream, players had only suffered attacks from angry netizens. It wasn't unheard of for a professional esports player to be forced into retirement by foul-mouthed haters. But who had ever heard of someone launching an offline, in-person attack against an esports player before?

DG's fans weren't the only ones shocked by the news. The whole esports world was shaken!

In that moment, all fans—national and international, regardless of which team they supported—were consumed by a feeling of rage over this event.

Today, Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao were the targets. But what about next time? Would another player from another team be targeted next?

Was this a grudge that spawned from their personal lives? Or was this an irrational attack by a crazy fan?

All fans were eager to hear the results of the investigation into the matter.

Furthermore, the teams that were present at the stadium at the time—WTG, BIG, and COCO—were even more shaken up. They'd never imagined that the simple act of traveling abroad for a tournament could harbor so many hidden dangers.

They had been right there in the stadium. They were, naturally, among the first to hear the news.

They were the first to hear that Lu Zhe's arm had been injured.

No one knew what the situation was, exactly. No one knew whether or not DG would be able to continue playing that night.

……

At the stadium, in WTG's rest area—

Among all the WTG players, Paopao was the one most familiar with Lu Zhe. He'd messaged Lu Zhe as soon as he heard the news, but as expected, he received no reply.

Back home, at BLX's headquarters—

When Lele heard the news, the team just so happened to be taking a break from training. He gave their coach a heads up, then slipped outside to call Shen Qiao.

But after the phone buzzed for a long while, there was no answer.

Lele called two or three times in a row until he finally had to switch over to a messaging app. To Shen Qiao, he wrote:

Qiao-ge, are you and Lu Zhe okay?

I called you a few times, but you didn't pick up. I hope you're both safe. If there's anything at all I can do to help, be sure to tell me.

After that, Lele put away his phone and returned to the training room. Mo Mo, who sat next to him, instantly asked, "How is it?"

The training room fell silent. All the other players glanced over. Even the coaches who were adjusting their training plan paused what they were doing to listen in. It was obvious everyone was very concerned about the matter.

Among them, Xu Xiao was the one who stuck his neck out the farthest from his desk. He wanted to hear the news more than anyone else.

Lele shook his head. His expression was a bit pinched. "Qiao-ge didn't take my calls. He's probably still busy. The statement from the league officials didn't say anything about his condition or Lu Zhe's condition. I can't exactly just guess."

Mo Mo sighed. His eyes darkened with gloom.

The mood in the training room plummeted for a while.

Many other teams were feeling the same thing in that moment.

Until another half hour passed—

Team DG released an official statement on the matter, detailing the incident and its outcome:

Currently, the police are treating this as an incident of a fanatical fan lashing out after failing in his pursuit of his idol. Our club will continue following any further developments in this case. We will be doing everything in our power to protect our players' personal rights, and we hope similar tragedies will not occur in the future.

Additionally, Lu Zhe's forearm has been injured. He is unable to participate in the finals of the international tournament. After much discussion and consideration, Team DG has decided to withdraw from the international tournament. At this point, we would like to offer our sincerest apologies to our dedicated fans. Thank you all for your continued support!

……

With the release of that official statement, the comments section became a sea of cries.

[Please, please, please don't let anything happen to our Captain Lu! Let him recover soon! We'll miss the international finals, but what about the summer tournament? What about the world championships? The team of my heart shouldn't fall in a place like this! Sob.jpg Sob.jpg Sob.jpg]

[I hope Lu Zhe will be safe! Please get well soon! We'll wait for you forever! Praying.jpg]

[Fish had an emergency earlier this year, and now Lu Zhe's arm is hurt? Is our DG really going to be in trouble this year? When is this streak of bad luck going to end?]

[I won't allow it! I'm still waiting for Lu Zhe to bring back a second world championship trophy for our LPL! He can't stop here!]

[Fanatical fans aren't real fans, okay? Don't you know you need to do everything in moderation? I can't believe this sort of foul energy has polluted my beloved esports circle!]

……

Esports players and other teams shared DG's official statement to their own accounts. They all called upon fans to show concern for the players' health, emphatically discouraging followers of the industry from acting out in such violent ways. At the same time, they also wished Lu Zhe a speedy recovery.

Meanwhile.

DG's officials and the league officials were all wrapped up in an emergency meeting.

The reason was simple—

At the start of the season, DG had only submitted a roster with five people. Lu Zhe was injured now, and according to the doctor's judgment, he wouldn't be able to play or train regularly for the rest of the regular season or the duration of the summer tournament.

Then, what about the summer tournament playoffs? What about the world championships?

Would DG withdraw?

If Lu Zhe had been suffering from an old wound or an occupational injury, DG could have grit their teeth and conceded defeat. The problem was that an attack of this nature had never been launched on a professional esports player before, and Lu Zhe had gotten hurt at the venue. No matter what, the event organizers would have to explain themselves.

Why had they allowed a non-employee to pose as a staff member and slip into the venue, even getting backstage?

How did the organizers intend to prevent similar things from happening in the future? How did they intend to guarantee the players' safety?

DG's officials, officials from the league, organizers of the international tournament, and heads of security from the venue all had to have it out with each other. Plus, they had to continue pressuring the local police for answers in their investigation.

At the hospital—

Big-Mouthed Zhou watched Lu Zhe for a while as Lu Zhe had his wound treated and got a tetanus shot. Then he walked over to a window with his cell phone, taking call after call after call. He talked until his lips felt blistered, and even then the calls just kept coming in, keeping him busy beyond belief.

Shen Qiao stayed right by Lu Zhe's side. He was clearly in a terrible state, but whenever the doctor made a request, he was the first to get up and do it.

Upon seeing Shen Qiao get up to head downstairs for Lu Zhe's medicine, Qian Bao spoke up from her spot by the door.

"How about I go?" she suggested. "You just stay here with Captain Lu."

Old Wo and Er-Hua also backed up that idea. The two of them usually couldn't get enough of bantering with each other and cracking jokes, but they couldn't even squeeze out a fart under these circumstances. They could only nod along with Qian Bao's suggestion.

But Shen Qiao shook his head, trying to head out without saying a word.

He didn't stop until Lu Zhe called out from behind him.

"Qiaoqiao."

Qian Bao heaved a silent sigh, then quickly grabbed the prescription slip from Shen Qiao's hand. She turned and left right away. Even if her heart was strong, she couldn't handle facing her teammates in the hospital over and over again. It was just too heart-wrenching.

Old Wo and Er-Hua had also been getting restless. They instinctively followed her out.

No one spoke until they reached the elevator. It was only after Qian Bao hit the down button that Old Wo sullenly muttered, "What the hell is going on here… if I see that bastard…"

"You'll beat him up and be forced to retire?" Er-Hua interjected from the side.

Old Wo was silent for a moment. "…do you have to sass me at a time like this?"

Er-Hua shook his head and earnestly said, "If you're going to wail on him, make sure you bring me along."

Just as Old Wo was getting choked up, Qian Bao smoothed out the crinkled edges of the prescription slip and whispered, "That's enough. All of DG throwing their careers away to get revenge on one piece of trash… you think that's worth it? Calm down a bit."

Once the other two quieted down, Qian Bao couldn't help but heave a sigh and continue, "Back when we visited Fish in the hospital, I was already thinking I never wanted to visit another teammate in the hospital again. Who could have known…"

Old Wo thought back to the sight of Fish lying in a hospital bed. He twisted his head to the side and spat out a curse, seemingly aimed at no one in particular.

Er-Hua patted him on the shoulder and lowered his head. He had no words of reassurance to offer.

Finally, the elevator arrived at the ground floor with a ding.

Qian Bao took the lead and stepped inside. When she saw that the other two were seriously down in the dumps, she thought for a moment, then added, "Don't let Wolf Cub see the two of you like this. From what I can see, he's the one who's suffering the most from Captain Lu's injury."

Shen Qiao and Lu Zhe had a special relationship, after all. And they had both been on the scene. No matter what, if one of them got hurt, it was sure to be the other who felt the most guilt and anguish.

Er-Hua answered on Old Wo's behalf.

"We know."

……

Inside the observation room.

Lu Zhe's wound had already been dressed, and he'd just received his tetanus shot. He was simply waiting for time to pass now, while being held for observation.

He looked at Shen Qiao, who was still sitting silently at his side. Lu Zhe didn't want him to remain mired in that dark state of guilt and self-loathing. He softly called out, "Qiaoqiao."

Shen Qiao looked at him, then finally spoke the first words he'd uttered since arriving at the hospital. "Thirsty? Or do you want to use the restroom?"

Lu Zhe glanced at his own bandaged right arm and huffed a dry laugh. He'd just hurt one arm. Anyone who didn't know would have thought he'd broken both arms.

He patted the chair next to him. "Sit."

Shen Qiao hesitated for a moment.

Lu Zhe sighed softly and glanced at the spot on his arm where he'd just received a shot. There was a slight bump there, and a little bit of redness. He whispered, "The needle hurt a lot."

Shen Qiao instantly grew more anxious. He carefully settled down next to Lu Zhe and looked at that small wound, frowning. His expression clearly said he wanted to help relieve Lu Zhe's pain, but he didn't know how to start.

"Then… what should I do?" he asked.

Lu Zhe quirked the corners of his lips and lifted his left hand, bringing it closer to Shen Qiao. "Blow on it for me?"

Shen Qiao actually lifted his hands and cupped Lu Zhe's wrist, like he was holding something precious. With a tenderness he'd never shown before, he bowed his head and blew gently on that small wound.

He was clearly already being very careful and gentle, but he was still trembling.

When Lu Zhe sensed Shen Qiao's trepidation and felt his cool breath ghost over his skin, he couldn't help the feeling of softness that spread through his chest.

Just like that, Shen Qiao blew a few more times before finally lifting his head to check Lu Zhe's reaction, to see if his pain had lessened at all.

Lu Zhe met Shen Qiao's gaze. He couldn't resist, then, reaching out and pulling Shen Qiao into his arms.

The nurse wasn't there at the moment. The two of them were alone in that small room, but Shen Qiao still wasn't used to acting this way in public places. He instinctively wanted to push away, but Lu Zhe whispered, "I just want to hold you for a while. Is that okay?"

Shen Qiao instantly stopped moving.

He turned his head to the side and detected the scent of cedarwood at the crook of Lu Zhe's neck. For some reason, his own eyes started to feel sore. He couldn't help but squeeze them shut.

At just that moment, Lu Zhe spoke again.

"Don't feel bad, and don't blame yourself. Okay? The thing I'm most grateful for today is that you weren't hurt."

Just imagining the same wound on Shen Qiao's body was almost enough to drive Lu Zhe crazy.

Shen Qiao wasn't like him. If Lu Zhe quit the esports world, he could find another profession with his background. But Shen Qiao only had esports. It was a road he had paved for himself years ago, by staking his life on it. Lu Zhe couldn't bear the thought of anyone trampling over Shen Qiao's dreams.

"Don't say anything else," Shen Qiao said through gritted teeth. His voice was already a little choked up.

Ever since he saw Lu Zhe's wound, Shen Qiao had been filled with regret. He couldn't stop thinking—

Why didn't I finish the other guy off sooner?

When the beta first ran away, what if Shen Qiao had immediately called the staff at the venue instead of giving chase? If he hadn't been so reckless, would things have been different?

Although the doctor had said Lu Zhe's wound was only superficial, Shen Qiao still worried that Lu Zhe wouldn't recover well. Shen Qiao worried that his own actions would drag down their whole team. He even started to regret coming to DG in the first place.

If he hadn't come…

"Are you thinking that it would have been better if you never came to DG?" Lu Zhe asked. He'd heard Shen Qiao's breathing growing quicker and more shallow. It was obvious Shen Qiao was thinking of something unpleasant, and Lu Zhe couldn't help but speak up to interrupt his thoughts.

Shen Qiao didn't answer. But his breath hitched for a moment, and that moment of silence was as good as an affirmative answer.

Lu Zhe carded his fingers through Shen Qiao's hair and tipped his head to kiss Shen Qiao's temple. "Don't think like that. Being able to play on the same team as you, being this close to you again, is what makes me the luckiest man in the world. I'll get better, don't worry.

"And don't be afraid to stay by my side. Okay?"

Shen Qiao kept his eyes tightly squeezed shut, but hot tears still managed to roll out, dripping from the corners of his eyes to Lu Zhe's shoulder and throat.

Lu Zhe's voice became even softer and warmer. It was like he was afraid of startling Shen Qiao, while wanting to comfort him at the same time. He slowly murmured, "You might not know this, but if it weren't for you, I wouldn't have come here. I wouldn't have become an esports player.

"I'm here because I want to win championships with you. I want to share this one-of-a-kind glory with you. I want to be a part of your life. I want to make you happy, each and every day."

Shen Qiao nodded wildly and haphazardly, pressing his face harder against Lu Zhe's shoulder. He was willing to agree to any of Lu Zhe's requests at that point, just to stop Lu Zhe from seeing him completely lose his composure. He was already incapable of controlling his tears.

At that point, Lu Zhe was starting to think that there might be nothing that could make Shen Qiao happy on that day.

Perhaps for Shen Qiao, that day was completely beyond saving.

But Lu Zhe didn't want to leave Shen Qiao in such a bad state. He started again, lightly asking, "Qiaoqiao, do you remember what you said we would do at the end of the international tournament?"

Shen Qiao was already close to inconsolable. Now, with Lu Zhe suddenly reminding him that this was the day he'd intended to confess, he couldn't help but think—why did such a thing have to happen today?

Everything could have been so good.

He nodded, then shook his head, suddenly feeling like there was no way he could utter those words now.

Lu Zhe sensed that shift in his movements. A warm and doting smile filled up his eyes.

"Ah," he murmured, sighing remorsefully. "Wasn't today also the day I was supposed to finally shed my status of being single?"

Shen Qiao lifted a hand and clutched the hem of Lu Zhe's shirt, unsure of what he should say.

Lu Zhe continued, "Can patients ask for special privileges? Can they make a wish?"

Shen Qiao pulled himself together and suppressed the despair threatening to make him collapse. He rubbed the tears from his eyes and looked up at Lu Zhe. Originally, he'd wanted to be the one to confess his feelings first. But after a long while, he could only utter one word.

"Okay."

What it meant was simply—

Okay. Whatever it is, whatever you ask for, I'll promise it to you.

Lu Zhe leaned in closer and kissed the corners of Shen Qiao's eyes. Then he looked around at their surroundings, and he knew this confession in a hospital room would leave a deep impact on both of their hearts.

Softly, he said, "I like you. I want to be with you again. Okay?"

Hearing those words, Shen Qiao felt his lashes tremble. Another wave of heat spilled down from his eyes.

He closed his eyes again, then rasped in a hoarse voice, "Okay."

He then opened his eyes once more. Those dark brown eyes were clear and shiny with the gleam of tears, and they were focused solely on Lu Zhe.

His voice was clearly trembling. Even his lips were quivering. But Shen Qiao still adamantly declared—

"Today is the first day we're together again."

And for the rest of his life, he would never let go again.

 

Author's Notes:

It's clearly a happy chapter, but my heart is aching so bad that I want to cry. QAQ

They've had such a hard road!

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