The rain stopped in the middle of the night.
By noon of the next day, the members of Team DG had gotten out of bed. They were getting ready to head out of the hotel and make their way to the airport to go home. The blazingly bright sun hung high in the sky outside. The sky was so clear that it was like the previous day's heavy rainfall hadn't happened at all. Only glittering dewdrops remained on the green leaves of nearby bushes and shrubs.
Perhaps Lu Zhe, compared to the last time he and Shen Qiao shared a bed, was just as eager to keep Shen Qiao in his arms, but lacked the physical strength to do so with his injured arm. In the morning, when Shen Qiao woke, he found it much easier to extricate himself from Lu Zhe's embrace.
Once again, Shen Qiao hadn't managed to sleep with his head on the pillow that night. Lu Zhe had been dead set on going to sleep with his arm around Shen Qiao, pillowed under his neck. Shen Qiao couldn't get comfortable in that position no matter what, and he wound up gradually squirming down bit by bit, lower and lower, until he wound up curled up in the middle of the bed again.
Shen Qiao sat up from the center of the bed and threw off the covers. He turned to take in the sight of the still-sleeping Lu Zhe, whose brows were faintly furrowed in a way that they rarely were. Lu Zhe's injured arm was hanging off the other side of the bed, and his left arm was stretched out across the snow-white sheets. The covers had pooled at his waist, revealing his light blue pajama shirt, which had the top two buttons undone.
A dim lamp was lit on the nightstand. Fearing Lu Zhe would need to get up for something in the middle of the night, Shen Qiao had adjusted that lamp to the lowest setting and kept it on all night. The blackout curtains in the room were still drawn shut. At the moment, that lamp was the only source of light in the hotel room.
That soft, hazy light illuminated the beautiful features of Lu Zhe's face, shadowed by his loose bangs.
A long shadow fell beneath his sharp jawline, sweeping over the curve of his neck. Only a sliver of titillating skin was visible above his collarbone.
Lu Zhe had always been paler than Shen Qiao, and he'd never been fond of many outdoor activities. These days, he worked and played in front of a computer monitor. That visible sliver of skin was so pale now that it looked almost translucent.
It made Shen Qiao think of the white jade that could be found in luxury jewelry stores.
But softer. Much softer than white jade. One had to wonder what it would feel like, to bite down right there.
Shen Qiao stared at Lu Zhe for a long while before climbing out from under the covers and rolling out of bed. He stepped into his slippers and started making his way to the bathroom, but stopped halfway—
He turned and made his way back to the bed, grabbing the covers to tuck Lu Zhe in properly. He pulled the covers all the way up to Lu Zhe's neck and even made sure to tuck in the corners.
Lu Zhe hadn't been sleeping too deeply. He instinctively reached out with one hand, but the person beside him was long gone.
Only the sound of the faucet, being wrenched on in the bathroom, sounded out.
More than forty minutes later—
Shen Qiao brushed his teeth after showering. He came out with some water droplets still clinging to his skin. Right away, he saw that Lu Zhe had already changed into his team uniform. Lu Zhe was sitting at the edge of the bed, looking down at his phone. Shen Qiao wasn't surprised to see him up. His voice was a little low and raspy as he asked, "I'll turn on the light?"
Lu Zhe lifted his head to look at him. His expression didn't change much at first, but his warm, familiar smile was already lighting up his face when he looked up.
"Okay," he said.
It didn't seem like Lu Zhe was deliberately putting on a smile, and it was really just a very small smile. But it was obvious, with just one glance, that he was truly happy.
It was like a spring breeze had drifted through his world, inspiring a field of little flowers to bloom from the cold, hard ground—
One or two blooms would have been unremarkable, but this was like tens of thousands of vibrant flowers bursting forth in an instant. A veritable miracle of spring.
Shen Qiao had been in a fairly mellow mood, but seeing Lu Zhe like this filled Shen Qiao's eyes with some warmth and softness as well. He leaned against the nearby wall and hugged his arms in front of his chest. "Did something good happen?"
Lu Zhe stood up. The smile on his lips grew wider, and his dark eyes seemed to glisten even more brightly in the light. He moved to Shen Qiao's side as he said, "Waking up and seeing you in my room is a very good thing, to me."
Shen Qiao looked away and lazily retorted, "So sweet. Did you just eat candy?"
Lu Zhe stopped beside him and breathed a low laugh. "Aren't you my candy?"
Shen Qiao straightened up and pushed Lu Zhe back a little with the palm of his hand against his chest. He urged Lu Zhe towards the bathroom, indicating with his actions for Lu Zhe to quickly wash up. His voice was still a lazy drawl, but he couldn't fully contain the hint of delight that leaked out.
"Cut it out," he warned. Then, in that lazy drawl of his, he added, "Gege, I won't eat your bait."
Lu Zhe had originally been willing to go along with Shen Qiao's motions and head into the bathroom. But hearing that call of 'gege', he abruptly stopped and turned, narrowing his eyes and fixing his gaze on Shen Qiao. With a hint of a warning in his own voice, he answered, "I heard that loud and clear, didi."
Shen Qiao huffed a laugh. "Get lost."
Lu Zhe reached out, wanting to pull Shen Qiao into his embrace, but Shen Qiao stopped him short and slipped away. Shen Qiao didn't stop until he'd put a few steps of distance between them. The corners of his lips were quirked into a grin as he reminded, "If you don't hurry up, Manager Zhou will come knocking to nag at you."
Before heading into the bathroom, Lu Zhe pointed back at him with his left hand and left a final warning. "Alright. Then I'll have to figure out exactly what you like to 'eat' next time."
Shen Qiao could hear the implication in his tone, but he wasn't the slightest bit frazzled. He opened Lu Zhe's suitcase again and helped him put in the pajamas he'd worn the night before. Casually, he called out, "I think there's a saying that fits you especially well.
"You're all bark, no bite."
In the bathroom—
Lu Zhe looked at the toothbrush that sat on a cup of water. Toothpaste had already been squeezed onto the bristles. With a smile in his eyes, Lu Zhe picked up the toothbrush, then picked up the cup and sipped in a mouthful of water. After rinsing and spitting it out, he called out leisurely, "Go on."
He lifted his gaze and studied his own reflection in the mirror. In that moment, it seemed that the ferocious beast he kept locked up within was raging in his dark eyes.
However, when he lowered his lashes, blocking most of those intense emotions from view, his voice was slow and calm as he continued, "Don't ever hold back, Qiaoqiao. I won't ask much of you. I'll be satisfied if you just stay this wild for a month or so."
Shen Qiao fell silent.
He carefully reflected upon his 'win-rate' from the times he and Lu Zhe had put their hands on each other, and he thought back to the recent morning they'd mutually given each other a 'hand'. Ultimately, he decided to stay silent.
After a few seconds, he did mutter under his breath, "It's not like you can beat me."
There was no telling who would be the one to push the other down.
After all, in terms of fighting ability, Shen Qiao was far ahead of Lu Zhe.
But Lu Zhe's pheromones were stronger than Shen Qiao's, and unlike Shen Qiao, who was careful to restrain his pheromones in an altercation, Lu Zhe was opportunistic and let his pheromones run rampant.
As a result, Shen Qiao's 'win-rate' was more like forty percent.
"Do you guys have everything? You didn't forget your papers, did you? Check again. Make sure you haven't left anything at the hotel. Don't make the driver turn around halfway. I won't care if one of you realizes you lost your visa."
Manager Zhou prattled on and on while standing outside the car door. It was only when he noticed that the five alphas gathered in front of him were getting impatient that he stepped aside and let them climb in one by one.
Lu Zhe let Shen Qiao climb in first. While their other teammates got in, Lu Zhe hung back and asked Manager Zhou, "I thought we had flights for tonight. Why did we move them up to afternoon tickets? Did we get results from the investigation?"
Manager Zhou furrowed his brow, clearly conflicted. He wasn't sure whether or not he should give Lu Zhe new information that had yet to be confirmed.
After a few seconds, he resisted the urge to blurt everything out and simply said, "Forget it. Nothing's for sure yet. It'd be bad if I misspoke now."
Lu Zhe lifted an eyebrow, but he didn't ask again.
As soon as the plane landed, Manager Zhou grabbed his carry-on luggage and began to move through the airport. He took out his phone and switched it back on.
He only took one look at his messages before he froze in place.
Qian Bao turned back to look at him. Seeing how tense he looked, she instantly guessed the cause. She couldn't help but stop as well, holding onto her luggage cart as she nervously asked, "How… how is it?"
Old Wo had been complaining to Er-Hua about how much his neck hurt after sleeping on the plane. Upon hearing Qian Bao's question, the two of them also stopped and turned back in unison.
After Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao looked over as well, Manager Zhou calmly lifted his head and gazed back at all the players. He opened his mouth and gravely announced, "The league has made their decision."
Lu Zhe didn't look much more anxious than usual, but his expression was extremely serious.
Shen Qiao's hand tightened around the bar of the suitcase he held.
Manager Zhou didn't keep everyone waiting for long. While Old Wo urged him to hurry up with the news and claimed his heart wouldn't be able to take the suspense, Manager Zhou tried to speak calmly—but couldn't contain a jolt of excitement in his tone.
"They agreed to let us add a replacement to our starting line-up!"
Old Wo whooped twice and abandoned his luggage, spontaneously flinging his arms around Er-Hua's shoulders and hugging him tight.
Er-Hua was baffled.
His own excitement was completely smothered out by Old Wo's hug. "Calm down, dude. I'm not into AA romance."
He was obviously in a good mood too, but as a result of Old Wo's sudden proximity, Er-Hua's own pheromones started to seep out. The light scent of lime filled up the air, and Old Wo instantly jumped back until he was half a meter away.
"My bad, my bad!" Old Wo exclaimed. "Ah, it's just because our team's dynamic is all weird—"
Saying that, he and Er-Hua simultaneously turned to look at their team's two worst offenders in gross displays of affection. But neither Shen Qiao nor Lu Zhe seemed particularly affected by their accusatory gazes or Manager Zhou's news.
"The transfer window is closed right now, so we can only pull up a second-string player or a rookie," Shen Qiao said. "You know more about them. How are they doing?"
Lu Zhe thought for a few seconds. "Our rookies are pretty average right now, and they would probably collapse under the pressure of suddenly being called up to the big leagues. That isn't an option.
"As for the second-string team, they just started playing their own tournament. I don't know if we should call up their jungler right away. It would be that kid Zhao Yue, who plays under the ID 'Moon'. You remember him?
"Oh, that's right. There's also 'June', who used to play jungler before transferring to the top lane."
Shen Qiao recognized the ID right away. "That's Zheng Zhizhuo, right?"
Lu Zhe nodded. He was pretty sure Shen Qiao had only spoken to the second-string players once, so he couldn't help but ask, "You're familiar with him?"
Shen Qiao straightforwardly answered, "We're not really close, but I seem to remember he was my fan."
After all, when Shen Qiao ate with the second-string team that one time, this kid had looked at him with a fiery gaze that was hard to ignore. Even though the kid hadn't said much to him, Shen Qiao would have had a hard time not noticing him.
Lu Zhe pursed his lips for a second and glanced at Shen Qiao. "You're quite alluring, didi."
Shen Qiao glanced back at him out of the corner of his eye. He flashed an unrestrained smile and retorted, "Do you smell that?"
Lu Zhe made an inquisitive noise.
"The scent of your pheromones seems to have turned sour."
Lu Zhe scoffed. Seeing Old Wo and the others coming closer, he didn't continue his banter with Shen Qiao.
As soon as they returned to DG's headquarters, they found the coach of the second-string team waiting in the lobby with two other people. Those two just so happened to be the players Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao had just discussed—Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo.
Shen Qiao was a little surprised to see them both. He looked towards Manager Zhou, wondering if he and Lu Zhe were both in poor enough shape that Manager Zhou had prepared a replacement for him too.
But Manager Zhou quickly said, "Just in case, the second-string team will be transferring all their players with experience playing as junglers to us. They specialize in different champions, and they'll allow us some more flexibility. This is Zhao Yue, and this is Zheng Zhizhuo. Gege and jiejie of the first string, why don't you introduce yourselves?"
Although both kids were over 1.7 meters tall, their faces were clearly much more tender and innocent. Their bright eyes drifted back and forth between the five players of the first-string team, filled with smiles that they couldn't suppress.
Zheng Zhizhou was thrilled by the prospect of getting to play with Shen Qiao. He wanted to call out a greeting, but forced himself to hold it in.
Next to him, Zhao Yue looked at Lu Zhe and discreetly clenched his fists to calm himself. He hadn't imagined that he would receive Lu Zhe's guidance and advice so soon. He had to keep taking deep breaths to keep himself calm.
Lu Zhe noticed where Zheng Zhizhou was looking. He lifted his brows.
Meanwhile, Shen Qiao noticed Zhao Yue was staring directly at Lu Zhe. The smile dropped off his face, and he thought—
It seemed a certain someone wasn't any less alluring than him.
Gege shouldn't make fun of didi, you're both in the same boat. ╭(╯^╰)╮
The summer tournament arc is about to begin! Let's go!