The drizzle outside was still unrelenting. It was like the heavens were suffering from an incurable cold that day—sometimes dripping snot, sometimes not. But no matter what, the skies never fully cleared up. From dawn to dusk, not even a faint ray of sunlight pierced the clouds.
Shen Qiao stood by the sinks outside the hospital restrooms. He lifted his hands to trigger the faucet, then cupped some cold water in his palms to splash over his face.
After repeating that motion several times, he lifted his head and looked at his reflection in the mirror—
The man reflected back at him looked the same as ever. His brows were strong and dark, and his jawline was as sharp as the blade of a knife.
The only difference between his usual appearance and his current appearance was the redness in his eyes. That redness spread even to the corners of his eyes. It was an image which would make passersby think of the bits of tomato peeking out from the edges of rolled pancakes from street food stalls. There was no telling, at a glance, what that redness truly indicated.
Shen Qiao didn't like looking so vulnerable. He pressed his hands firmly to the corners of his eyes and thought of Manager Zhou and Old Wo, who were sitting with Lu Zhe now while Lu Zhe was hooked up to an IV drip. Shen Qiao took a few deep breaths, willing the frenetic pounding of his heart to calm down.
He braced both hands against the edge of the sink and lowered his head. After standing there for a while longer, he finally turned and made his way back to Lu Zhe's hospital room.
The sound of Manager Zhou's usual prattling was absent from the hospital room. Through the slightly ajar door, Shen Qiao only heard the sound of Lu Zhe's voice. It seemed Lu Zhe was on the phone with someone. As Shen Qiao started to push open the door to the room, he heard—
"You don't have to worry about this matter. I'm fine… hm? Qiaoqiao is fine too… why do you want Qiaoqiao's phone number? He's your big brother's wife now, you know. Lu Qianshuang, you'd better learn to behave appropriately with him."
Shen Qiao, just outside the door, was silent.
He drew back his hand and suddenly got the feeling that it wasn't quite appropriate to enter at that moment.
He remembered Lu Qianshuang. She was Lu Zhe's little sister, and she was a pretty interesting girl. Back in school, after learning Lu Zhe was interested in Shen Qiao, she'd always gone out of her way to run over and peek at Shen Qiao when their classes had physical education at the same time.
For a while, a lot of people assumed Shen Qiao had even gained some fans from younger grades.
Then, when they all got a chance to eat together, Lu Qianshuang had grinned at the two of them and said, "I thought my big, dumb wooden block of a brother would never get into a relationship in school. I never imagined, I never really imagined…
"But, Qiaoqiao-gege, you have to be careful. My brother has lots of evil tricks up his sleeve. You can't let yourself be fooled by him."
Every time Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao bumped into Lu Qianshuang when they were together, she would look at them with a look of sage understanding and joy. Her happy gaze would drift back and forth between the two of them, filling up the air with a sort of energy that Shen Qiao couldn't quite decipher.
If it weren't for what happened later…
Shen Qiao pulled himself out of his memories. He took a few steps back and moved away from the hospital room door, taking a seat on the long bench in the hallway instead. A few measures of frustration rose in his heart. He reached for his cigarettes out of habit, then remembered smoking was prohibited inside the hospital. He thumped his palm against his thigh, then dropped his hand to his side.
His expression went blank and stayed that way for a long while. His thoughts drifted aimlessly. Outside, the rain continued to beat down on the roof and windows, painting spiderwebs of water trails over the glass. In the end, Shen Qiao's thoughts returned to the events that had transpired at the venue.
The first words Lu Zhe had said to that beta surfaced in Shen Qiao's mind again.
Did Lu Chengzhen send you?
Back then, too many things had been happening at once. Chaos was everywhere, throwing Shen Qiao completely off his rhythm. Now that he was sitting in a quiet hospital corridor, he could calmly reflect upon the images imprinted upon his memory.
Why had Lu Zhe been so certain that the assailant had been sent by Lu Chengzhen?
And judging by the beta's reaction…
Lu Zhe had most likely been right.
Shen Qiao let his mind go blank. His gaze drifted along the long, straight seams in the white square tiles that paved the hospital corridor. He turned that name over in his heart, again and again—
That was the source of anguish for both Shen Jinyi and Su Qiongpei. It was also the point at which Shen Qiao's life and Lu Zhe's life intertwined in a jumbled mess.
Lu Chengzhen had kept Su Qiongpei hooked while simultaneously thirsting for the power and status of the Shen family. Abandoning all his pride and dignity, he'd fiercely and ardently pursued Shen Jinyi.
When he was ten years old, Shen Qiao had attended a formal banquet with Shen Jinyi. And it was there that he heard many of the wealthy denizens of Yun City whispering about that story.
Shen Jinyi had been a proud child. After she was won over by Lu Chengzhen, everyone thought she would be on her way to a happy life and a beautiful marriage.
No one could have imagined…
That was her first stumble, which would lead her into a muddy quagmire.
After they married, Lu Chengzhen gradually picked up every shred of the dignity and pride he'd discarded while pursuing Shen Jinyi.
Upon learning of Shen Jinyi's hereditary mental illness, Lu Chengzhen actually stopped her from receiving any more medication. Intentionally or not, he made her condition worsen, and he made her show her worst sides in front of him.
Upon learning Shen Jinyi was unable to have children, Lu Chengzhen adamantly declared his desire to have a child. As a result, his proud beta wife went out and adopted a child to bring home.
As Shen Jinyi's condition worsened yet again, Sai'na just so happened to complete their research on a new medicine—but they'd yet to take that drug into clinical trials. The drug was supposedly capable of influencing the secondary sex of a person who had yet to present.
And at just that time, Lu Chengzhen—perhaps deliberately, perhaps not—just so happened to mention to Shen Jinyi that it would be wonderful if their child was an omega. A certain powerful family they knew had just welcomed an alpha daughter, and this would have been the perfect opportunity to arrange a marriage that would bring their two families together.
Female alphas were relatively rare among alphas, and they exhibited different characteristics at birth; thus, they were the only one of the six secondary sexes that could be differentiated right away. News of the child's birth had circulated quickly through the upper echelons of Yun City.
Shen Jinyi had been frequently ill ever since her marriage. She didn't want others to know she was living poorly, and she didn't want Lu Chengzhen to look down on her. Possessed by some inexplicable rationale, she got a dose of omega pheromones from Lu Chengzhen and decided to administer the drug to Shen Qiao.
…all these details, Shen Qiao had only learned when Shen Jinyi was on her deathbed. It was only then, when she was nearing the end of her life, that she told him the story in bits and pieces.
All the doctors and nurses treating Shen Jinyi at the time had been hired by Lu Chengzhen, and they were all experienced professionals who'd seen many similar patients in the past. None of them paid any attention to Shen Jinyi. It was only Shen Qiao who remembered everything she said.
It was just like his memories of a time three years before that, after Shen Jinyi injected him with omega pheromones. Shen Qiao had developed a high fever which kept him in bed for three days and nights. She'd stayed at his bedside the whole time, crying and apologizing to him. Shen Qiao remembered all that perfectly clearly as well.
The only difference was that when Shen Qiao had been younger, he'd always felt bad for Shen Jinyi. She seemed so miserable in her awful marriage to Lu Chengzhen. Shen Qiao felt so bad for her that he always thought he had to protect her. He always thought that he would be her guardian when he grew up, and that he would let her know—she would always have a son to take care of her.
Shen Qiao had been a precocious child, quick to mature. Even at that young age, he'd felt like he needed to take responsibility and do something to help Shen Jinyi.
He only stayed at Shen Jinyi's side, in her hospital room, because he had no other choice. If he didn't stay there under the guise of keeping her company, he would have been sent back to that abhorrent room where he was subjected to torturous aversion therapy practices that made him vomit and shake.
When he finally heard Shen Jinyi's full story at that time, he only gazed at her with cold eyes. He only felt she was both hateful… and pitiful.
"…I know. I need some more time to gather evidence regarding Sai'na. The most important thing right now is—can you find someone abroad to get that guy who attacked us to change his tune and identify Lu Chengzhen? That…"
Shen Qiao came back to his senses when he heard that voice drift into his ears.
He looked up just in time to see Lu Zhe walk out of his hospital room. Lu Zhe had his phone tucked between his ear and his right shoulder, his bandaged arm. In his other hand, he held the IV bag.
The two of them locked eyes for a moment, and both froze.
Lu Zhe was the first to let out a breath. To the person on the phone, he said, "Something came up over here. I'll call you back later."
Shen Qiao got up and took the IV bag from Lu Zhe, holding it high for him. Lu Zhe put his phone back into his pocket and smiled.
At nearly the same time, the two of them said—
"Why were you gone for so long?"
"Do you need to use the restroom?"
Once those words were out, they both froze for another moment. Again, it was Lu Zhe who reacted first. He smiled faintly and softly said, "I saw that it'd been a while since you stepped out. I was a bit worried, so I wanted to go look for you."
Lu Zhe knew he was still under the influence of the shadows of the recent attack against them, but he couldn't do anything about that. He couldn't help but worry about Shen Qiao, running into trouble again, whenever Shen Qiao left his sight for more than a few minutes.
Hearing those words, Shen Qiao felt his heart begin to ache. He also lowered his voice and said, "I'm fine."
He lifted his chin, gesturing for Lu Zhe to head back to his hospital room first. When he followed Lu Zhe back in and looked around, he found that Old Wo was no longer there. It was only then that he remembered the others had messaged him earlier, asking if he wanted to grab dinner with them. Shen Qiao had declined.
In that case, the others probably wouldn't be back for a while.
For the time being, only Shen Qiao and Lu Zhe would be in that hospital room.
Lu Zhe's wound wasn't actually serious enough to require hospitalization, but the club had spared no expense in getting him the highest quality of treatment. He was given a private VIP room even for the simple task of getting an IV drip, and the room was quite comfortable. The hospital bed was equipped with a foldable writing desk, and the curtains were a soothing shade of pink.
But Shen Qiao still hated hospital rooms.
He hung the IV bag back up, then took a seat by the hospital bed. He fixed his gaze to the slowly dripping liquid, as though keeping his eyes on it would make it drip faster.
Lu Zhe sat down at the edge of the bed and took in the sight of Shen Qiao, gazing up at that IV drip. He carefully studied every facet of Shen Qiao's features. His gaze traveled from Shen Qiao's forehead to his brows, then lower—to his cheekbones, his pale lips, his chin.
He always got the feeling that he could look at Shen Qiao a million times and never get tired of the sight of him.
Shen Qiao sensed that burning gaze on him. His own heart rate sped up a little. If Lu Zhe kept looking at him like that, it was likely the two of them would be faced with the arduous task of restraining themselves again.
This was still a hospital, after all.
Shen Qiao met Lu Zhe's gaze and suddenly recalled what he'd heard in the hall a few minutes earlier. He brought up the matter of his own volition and asked, "Who were you on the phone with just now?"
The smile that had filled Lu Zhe's eyes dimmed a little, and his jaw tightened somewhat. "No one in particular. You don't know them."
He'd been contacting people with connections to the Shen family.
Ever since he started college, Lu Zhe had been keeping in touch with various members of the Shen family. If there was anyone in the world who hated Lu Chengzhen as much as Lu Zhe, it was the Shen family.
Although the Shen family had fallen from grace, a starving camel was still larger than a horse. Their old contacts and resources were still in place.
Unfortunately, the Shen family's hatred of Lu Chengzhen also extended to Su Qiongpei and Lu Zhe himself. As a result, Lu Zhe couldn't contact them directly. He had to go through a middleman for everything; it was all quite a hassle.
Lu Zhe didn't know how much of that call Shen Qiao had overheard, but he didn't want to drag Shen Qiao into the frustrating matters of the Lu family again. He lifted a hand to Shen Qiao's neck and pulled him closer, unable to resist the urge to kiss him on the lips.
Shen Qiao didn't ask again for the time being. He lifted one of his own hands and set it on Lu Zhe's thigh, supporting his own weight.
His palm bore down on something hard, something hard enough to make his hand hurt a bit.
Lu Zhe was suddenly reminded, by Shen Qiao's actions, of the gift he'd prepared but had yet to give. A smile returned to his eyes, and he asked, "Did you just feel something?"
Shen Qiao blinked inquisitively.
Lu Zhe deliberately teased him, "Do you like this sort of… hard thing?"
Shen Qiao was even more baffled now.
Lu Zhe's sudden bout of pervertedness was enough to make Shen Qiao blush to the tips of his ears. He obviously knew that Lu Zhe wasn't talking about that, and yet he still couldn't help but stare at Lu Zhe with wide eyes, looking every bit like a startled little household pet.
Lu Zhe was so amused by Shen Qiao's reaction that he had to laugh, hard enough that his shoulders started to shake. After a long while, he finally pulled out a blue suede box from his pants pocket and opened it for Shen Qiao, revealing the golden ring inside.
Then, he took out another—a silver ring this time.
Gold and silver glinted in the light, like the sun and moon meeting by chance in the early morning sun. Like the golden winds of autumn embracing a droplet of dew.
Lu Zhe watched Shen Qiao's reaction as he smiled and said, "I bought these in a hurry, there was no time to customize them. I could only choose from what they had. The gold is for you—next time, I'll get you something even better."
Shen Qiao stared at that golden ring. Although it was made in a rather plain style, it had its own charm to it. It was simple and low-key, but one could clearly tell it had been crafted with care.
He suddenly realized how cunning Lu Zhe was.
Rings were clearly tokens of possession and affection. The two of them had yet to talk about making their relationship public. If anyone saw them wearing these things, their imaginations would surely run wild.
Shen Qiao noticed something carved on the inside of that golden band. He picked it up and took a closer look, upon which he realized it was an English phrase.
Lu Zhe's voice drifted directly into his ear, carrying a pulse of cedarwood through the air. "Do you know what 'mint' represents in the language of flowers?"
Shen Qiao looked at him. A smile had surfaced in his eyes, but he didn't let Lu Zhe trick him into answering.
Lu Zhe's voice continued to flow, regardless. It filled up the room like the soft, melodic notes of a piano, sounding out in a quiet practice room on a late summer afternoon. It was a pleasant, soothing voice, full of emotion.
"Love me again," he murmured.
May we connect again, may you love me once more.
The fierce red blush in Shen Qiao's ears hadn't gone down in the slightest. He mumbled a sound of acknowledgement, feigning calm, and reached for Lu Zhe's silver ring. He found a single line of words engraved there as well. "What does yours say?"
Lu Zhe pulled him closer and kissed him. His voice was still warm and gentle, but tinged with an amused sort of helplessness, as he said, "Qiaoqiao, don't be spoiled. You're making me say everything.
"Let me give you a hint. What does cedarwood symbolize?"
Shen Qiao thought for a moment—
Noble. Stable. Indomitable.
But the answer Lu Zhe was hinting at didn't seem to be that simple.
He quietly studied the English, slowly reading out the sentence on Lu Zhe's ring in his mind: Be faithful in love.
Shen Qiao lowered his head and took out his cell phone, loading up Baidu to look up the phrase. He silently thought he would have to brush up on his English one day, when he had time.
Then, he saw one line on the screen: I will be faithful in love.
Lu Zhe saw the changes that came over Shen Qiao's expression. When he saw Shen Qiao's blush burn even brighter, he held back a laugh and asked, "Did you find the meaning?"
Shen Qiao said nothing.
Lu Zhe knew he was shy. After enjoying the furrow between Shen Qiao's brows for a while, he opened his mouth to give the answer. But it was just then that he heard Shen Qiao speak—
"I will devote myself to my love until my dying day."
Lu Zhe raised his brows in surprise, then pried, "Who's your love?"
When Shen Qiao fell silent again, Lu Zhe couldn't resist any longer. He tugged Shen Qiao back in by the collar of his team jacket, and he kissed him once more. The affection of his kiss was laced with his strong, dominant desires. It was like he would never let go, until Shen Qiao gave him an answer.
Shen Qiao didn't dare push Lu Zhe too hard, for fear of hurting him. He could only push half-heartedly, but he was still afraid someone would walk in at any minute. His heart was starting to race. He could only gasp out a single word through the small gap between their lips. With his face still burning, and his eyes closed tight, he whispered—
Lu Zhe smiled and released him, then pecked him on the lips again and said, "Mm. Always remember—
"I am your love."
Happy Valentine's Day!
Today is a day for sugar and sugar only, so! We'll allow Lu Chengzhen to live for one more day.
As long as you ship WolfDog, we're all sisters today!