The hospital room was heating up.
Shen Qiao and Lu Zhe were both in their prime, burning with the passion of youth. Even if they hadn't harbored any feelings for each other, they would have had to take some time to calm down in the mornings. But now that their hearts sang out together, even the sound of their breathing seemed to be charged with desire.
After being kissed by Lu Zhe a few times, Shen Qiao started to think it'd been a waste to splash cold water over his face just a short while ago.
He scooted his chair a little farther away from Lu Zhe and looked towards the door, trying to think back to the phone call Lu Zhe had made earlier. He had to distract himself and think of something else in order to calm down. The redness ringing his eyes had already started to fade.
Lu Zhe had clearly been affected by their physicality as well, but he only adjusted his blankets and casually covered himself up. His gaze refused to stray from Shen Qiao's body, only drifting to take in the sight of the gold ring on Shen Qiao's pinky finger.
He had slipped that on for Shen Qiao while they kissed.
It was beautiful.
The golden color was warm and glowing. Although the style of the ring was rather simple, it was still an eye-catching thing.
Shen Qiao could sense that Lu Zhe's gaze was growing more wanton. Even though he was trying to think about things that would quell his desire, he couldn't fully smother out the flames in his eyes. He had to turn to Lu Zhe with a warning—
Lu Zhe's eyes lit up with a smile that blossomed like the flowers budding on the branches of a peach tree. A look of innocence filled his gaze, like he had no earthly idea what Shen Qiao was talking about.
"In what way am I not controlling myself?" he teased. "You're half a meter away from me. What could I possibly do to you?"
Shen Qiao couldn't sit still any longer. He grabbed his team jacket and draped it over his arm, getting up and getting ready to leave.
When Lu Zhe realized Shen Qiao intended to leave his sight again, he instantly softened his attitude and warmly said, "Okay, okay, okay. I won't stare at you anymore. Sit down, don't go."
Shen Qiao did stop, glancing back at Lu Zhe. "Weren't you going to make a call? It just so happens I missed some calls from friends earlier. I didn't see them before. I'll go out and return those calls now."
It was also a good opportunity for the two of them to cool off separately for a while. Now wasn't the time to be raising their 'proud flags' again. It would have been inopportune if Manager Zhou, Old Wo, and the others came back and caught an eyeful of Shen Qiao and Lu Zhe eyeing each other lustfully.
The team was still in a difficult position, after all. Lu Zhe's hand was injured, and they didn't have any substitutes on their roster for the season. It was still unclear what they would do about the summer tournament once they got home.
As for the finals of the tournament taking place that night—
After DG dropped out, LCK gave up a point. The LPL was one step closer to defeat.
Shen Qiao knew Lu Zhe had suddenly confessed in order to take his mind off the bad things that had happened earlier, but… there were some burdens that Shen Qiao couldn't allow Lu Zhe to carry alone.
From the moment Shen Jinyi took him from that orphanage, Shen Qiao's fate had been sealed. He could never escape this twisted family.
But that was fine. He was no longer afraid, even if he had to face an armed force without any of his own armor.
Since Lu Chengzhen had also treated Lu Zhe horribly, there was no reason for Shen Qiao to be courteous any longer.
Lu Zhe thought of the matter they hadn't finished discussing earlier. He knew he had to get serious, because it was only a matter of time before the debacle involving Lu Chengzhen would come to a head.
However, he couldn't resist making one final request. "Kiss me again, then I'll let you go."
Shen Qiao had already put one hand on the handle of the hospital room door. When he heard Lu Zhe's request, he looked back and swept his gaze down to Lu Zhe's blanket-covered lap. With a hint of a mocking tone in his voice, he said, "If I kiss you again, will I have to make a trip to the bathroom for you? Will I have to lend you a 'hand'?"
Lu Zhe couldn't help but huff a low, quiet laugh at his teasing. His shoulders trembled slightly. Then he met Shen Qiao's gaze and said, in an extraordinary show of shamelessness, "Come closer. Then I'll answer you."
As if Shen Qiao would fall for a trick like that. He opened the door, then closed it behind himself, answering Lu Zhe's request with the sound of the shutting door.
Lu Zhe, left behind in the hospital room, laughed for a long while.
Shen Qiao hadn't actually thought about how he would respond to the calls and messages his friends had left him.
He didn't know exactly what was going on with Team DG, after all. He could only wait to hear the news from the officials. As for Lu Zhe's condition… he was fine, and once he recovered, he would be able to continue his esports career. But it was undeniable that he wouldn't be able to participate in the summer tournament that year.
Shen Qiao loaded up his chat with Lele and stared at Lele's messages for a long while. In the end, he wound up exiting the chat without saying anything.
Standing by a small window in the hallway, Shen Qiao gazed out at the rain that still drizzled down, illuminated by the glow of the streetlights. He scrolled through his address book after a while, then finally made a call—to a contact listed as Shen Fenghai.
The call connected, but neither party spoke at first. Until finally, the other party said, "I received some information about Sai'na recently. Were you the one who sent it? Have you changed your mind?"
Shen Qiao hesitated for a few seconds before he answered, "It wasn't me… but I did change my mind."
Shen Fenghai's voice was naturally deep, filled with the robustness of maturity, but he lowered his voice even more now. He spoke with a sense of familiarity that seemed foreign to him. "What your mother did to you back then… I've come to understand a little more of it. She was a strong-willed person, and everything she did, she did to the extreme…"
Shen Qiao interrupted, "I didn't call to talk about that."
After a pause in the conversation, Shen Qiao straightforwardly continued, "You once asked me if I could give you any information on Lu Chengzhen, so you could seek justice for the Shen family. Back then, I refused. What I want to ask now is… do you still want justice?"
Shen Fenghai could hear the shift in Shen Qiao's tone. He huffed a laugh, then sighed. "Of course. In all these years, I've never given up."
Shen Qiao had no interest in digging into the meaning of that sigh. He coldly asked, "If I provide you with the information you want, how sure are you that you'll succeed? I need reassurances."
The man on the other end of the line didn't answer directly. Instead, he said, "You're playing abroad right now, aren't you? Why don't we meet up and have a chat once you get back? You called me your uncle for so many years, after all. Setting aside everything that happened with your mother, you should at least grant me this request, right?"
Shen Qiao's gaze fell upon one of the bushes under the streetlights outside. The leaves were laden with raindrops which caught and reflected the golden glow of the nearby lights. It was clearly a dark night, but those droplets seemed to illuminate the dark.
He thought for a while, then said, "I'm sorry. I don't think this can wait until I get home."
With just a curt 'sorry', he rejected the other party's request.
"Did something happen?" Shen Fenghai asked, his voice filling up with obvious concern.
"Lu Chengzhen hired someone to attack me and Lu Zhe," Shen Qiao answered succinctly. Though he only spoke a few words, those words were loaded with information.
The line went quiet for a few seconds.
"You and that kid are…" Shen Fenghai cut himself off there, realizing that it wasn't suitable to talk about this sort of thing over the phone. He changed tracks and scornfully said, "Has Lu Chengzhen gone mad after discovering his own flesh and blood son has betrayed him? Or has he gotten one of his mistresses pregnant again?"
Shen Qiao's expression was indifferent, and his tone was unaffected as he said, "I don't care about that."
The uncle of the Shen family laughed helplessly. "Alright, then let's get back to the point—
"You don't want anything to do with the Shen family anymore, so you may not know these details, but I recently arranged a marriage with the daughter of the Ye family. Their family is involved in biotech as well. I'll spare you the details, but the important thing is their main competitor is Sai'na.
"Also, Lu Chengzhen has gotten too deeply involved with some people these days. Things are going to be shuffled up soon. He's sided with the wrong people, and he's still desperate to continue sucking up to bigger fish in the industry. If we play our cards right, it should be no problem to send him to jail for a few years.
"I do have a question for you, though… where did you get the information that you're offering me? You haven't ever had anything to do with his business."
Shen Qiao drew back his gaze and stared down at the windowsill in front of him.
He obviously hadn't gone out of his way to look for this sort of information.
All the intel he had had come from Shen Jinyi, in the final moments of her life, when she oscillated between delirium and clarity. At that time, her eyes had only been filled with bitterness and loathing. She harbored nothing but hatred for Lu Chengzhen, and there was no way she would let the man who'd lowered her to this point escape unscathed.
Lu Chengzhen had constantly hovered around Shen Jinyi in those last days of her life. He rarely spoke to anyone, and when he did, he only ever asked if Shen Jinyi had left anything for him.
It was only years later that Lu Chengzhen relaxed his guard, and subsequently made a huge mistake.
Maybe the assailant Lu Chengzhen had sent hadn't been set on killing Lu Zhe or Shen Qiao. Maybe that had only been intended as a warning, so…
But Shen Qiao couldn't be bothered to try to guess the truth.
Lu Chengzhen had shown his hand. He'd launched an attack, and Shen Qiao would answer in kind. He had no reason to hold back anymore.
For years, Shen Qiao had kept this sensitive information to himself, due to his hatred for Shen Jinyi. He hadn't wanted to fulfill her wishes of bringing Lu Chengzhen down, and thus he hadn't handed that information over to anyone. But now, it was time to put the past to good use. This ill-fated marriage between Shen Jinyi and Lu Chengzhen was destined to reach a gruesome end.
Shen Qiao didn't ultimately answer Shen Fenghai's question. He only said, "Give me a secure email address—there are many components to the information I have. There's a video, related to me. If necessary, I can also act as a witness."
"There's no need to send me that video," Shen Fenghai said. "The sins of the older generation shouldn't taint the younger generation. Even if you send it to me, I won't use it."
Shen Qiao listened and remained silent for a long while.
It was Shen Fenghai who spoke again first. "You… and that boy. Take care, both of you. I occasionally watch your games. They're pretty interesting."
Shen Qiao hummed his acknowledgement.
On the other end of the line, Shen Fenghai fell silent again, even though it seemed he had more he wanted to say. After a long pause, he finally said, "These past few years, for New Year's, have you—"
Shen Qiao heard footsteps behind him. He turned and found it was Manager Zhou, Old Wo, and the others coming up, with Manager Zhou holding a takeout box of food. They looked like they wanted to approach Shen Qiao and say something, but didn't know what to say.
Manager Zhou ultimately lifted the box in his hands and said, "Hungry? Hurry up and come eat with Lu Zhe."
Shen Qiao took that as an excuse to quickly end his phone call. "I…"
Shen Fenghai could tell that Shen Qiao truly didn't want anything to do with the Shen family. He didn't try to keep Shen Qiao on the line, and only said, "You have things to take care of over there. Go ahead, then."
Lu Zhe had just had the IV needle removed from his hand. He was splitting a pair of chopsticks for Shen Qiao when he looked up and saw Shen Qiao enter the room. At that, he lifted his hand, which still had a piece of gauze attached to the back, and beckoned Shen Qiao closer.
Once Shen Qiao sat down next to him, he handed over the chopsticks and asked Manager Zhou, "How are things?"
Manager Zhou sighed. "The officials are still in a meeting. Our side wants to keep fighting. Since these are special circumstances, they want to see if they can add a substitute to our roster. See if we can get one of our second string players to tide us over in the jungle."
Lu Zhe would be fully recovered by the time of the world championship tournament, after all. If they let their chances to qualify for that tournament slip through their fingers, it would be too much of a shame.
Lu Zhe nodded. He didn't rush to start eating. Instead, he looked towards Qian Bao and the others with a serious look on his face.
They'd all been teammates for two years now, and they all knew how to read one another. The other members of Team DG understood what Lu Zhe wanted to say right away. Old Wo hastily took a few steps back while Er-Hua gave him a meaningful look, warning him to be careful of Shen Qiao, who stood next to him.
Qian Bao outright said, "The two of you don't need to say anything else. We'll wait to hear the results, whatever they are. We're all on the same team."
When Fish wound up in the hospital earlier that year, the team had already prepared to end this season on a bad note.
Lu Zhe heard Qian Bao's words, and his smile slipped off his face. He knew there was nothing they could do against the decisions of the league officials.
All they could do was wait.
After Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao ate, the team headed back to the hotel and caught up with the live broadcast of the international tournament finals.
DG had originally been set to face off against an average team. The other teams in the finals were all fierce opponents.
Besides WTG, who picked up a point, the other two LPL teams both lost their games. One got played in the picks and bans stage while the other dragged their match out to forty minutes, only to suffer a defeat in the end.
The international tournament came to a dreary end that night.
Perhaps the gloomy clouds outside the window had enveloped the entire LPL.
That night, at 10:03 PM—
Shen Qiao was packing up his things for their departure in the morning. He suddenly remembered that Lu Zhe had stolen the chance to confess first, and as a result, the gift Shen Qiao had prepared had yet to be given. He picked up those boxes, then went out to knock on Lu Zhe's door.
After a short while, Lu Zhe opened the door. His left arm was damp. When he saw Shen Qiao, he smiled and asked, "What's up?"
Shen Qiao handed him the gift bag in his hands, with a brand name printed across the front: Van Cleef & Arpels.
Lu Zhe froze for a minute. That brand wasn't cheap.
He lifted his brows and smiled again. "This is the gift you prepared for me?"
Lu Zhe had just known that Shen Qiao wouldn't have forgotten what he'd promised.
Shen Qiao nodded. His tone was casual in a very obviously forced way as he said, "Saw it when I was out a few days ago. Thought it would suit you."
Lu Zhe lifted his brows again and finally reached out to take the gift, though his hands weren't in the best condition to open the present at that moment.
But Shen Qiao noticed the water still staining Lu Zhe's left hand, and he guessed right away that Lu Zhe would have some trouble by himself that night. Lu Zhe probably hadn't even finished packing yet. So, instead of giving him the gift, Shen Qiao kept it in his own hand and walked past Lu Zhe to enter his room, asking, "You haven't packed yet, right?"
Lu Zhe closed the door and followed him in. He only said, "I'll manage."
There was a right and wrong time to be roguish.
But, even knowing that, Lu Zhe—or at least his alpha instincts—still roared in protest at the thought of actually letting someone else see his vulnerabilities.
Shen Qiao glanced around the room. It was neat and tidy, but Lu Zhe really hadn't started packing yet. Turning back to Lu Zhe, Shen Qiao eyed his injured arm for a while, then suddenly asked—
"Do you need a hand in the bath?"
I'll reveal what kind of watch it is next time, hehehe! You guys go ahead and guess.