Even late at night, the lights on one side of the cafeteria would always be lit, left on specifically for esports players.
Everyone knew these kids often trained until three or four in the morning, so the HQ's cafeteria remained open until 1:00 AM every night. One or two cooks would stay late just to make sure that the players had something to eat when they got hungry for a midnight snack. It wouldn't do for them to randomly order takeout and upset their stomachs with bad food.
Currently, Qian Bao was standing by the orders window with the new kids from the second-string team. She held a snack menu in her hand and ordered over a dozen things in one breath—lamb skewers, beef skewers, chicken wings, duck chins, and on and on and on. Once she was finished, she shoved the menu into Zheng Zhizhuo's hand.
The two kids hadn't originally wanted anything to eat, but when Qian Bao insistently placed the menu in front of them, they could only lower their gazes and take a look.
The cook taking Qian Bao's order scribbled everything down and peered out through the window to ask, "You want that spicy?"
"Of course!" Qian Bao instinctively answered. "Lethally spicy."
After saying that, she suddenly remembered their last team hot pot trip and quickly added, "Actually, wait. I need some of that to be not spicy… ah, can you two handle spicy stuff?"
Zheng Zhizhuo and his little buddy glanced at each other. They both nodded.
One of them came from a family in a region that was famous for its spicy food. The other was used to traveling all over the place and experiencing new things with his family, so he'd grown accustomed to eating anything and everything.
Qian Bao took in their answers, then turned back to the cook and held up one hand with all five fingers raised. "Okay, so out of what I just ordered, make five of the skewers not spicy."
"Who can't handle spice?" Zhao Yue asked curiously.
Qian Bao jerked her right thumb over her shoulder, gesturing for the new kids to look over at their other teammates, who'd already settled at a table. She thought back to their hot pot dinner again and deliberately adopted a secretive tone.
"You guys wanna guess?"
At that time, Old Wo had already shuffled over to check on them. He hadn't overheard their conversation, so he only asked, "Did you order congee?"
Qian Bao slowly shook her head and seriously declared, "Skewers are the best. Why would I order congee?"
Old Wo stopped behind the two kids and, using the height advantage that came naturally to alphas, peered over their shoulders at the menu. Then he raised his voice and called out to the cook, "Add a serving of seafood congee."
After making his order, he shot Qian Bao a disapproving look and righteously chided, "It's not good for the body to eat skewers so late at night. Obviously it's best to have some light congee, to soothe your stomach."
That was how one preserved their good health, after all.
Qian Bao expressionlessly gave him a thumbs up. "Only you, man. Only you."
She had every faith that Old Wo could continue to watch over the team's health even if Manager Zhou retired one day.
Zheng Zhizhuo and Zhao Yue were still in the middle of whispering about who could be the teammate who couldn't handle spicy food.
"It couldn't be Captain Lu, right? He looks like the type that would get red in the face when he eats spicy food."
"Did you forget? Captain Lu ate with us that one time, when he came to give the second-string team some guidance. He ate the same thing as we did for lunch. Seemed like he could handle spicy food just fine."
"That's true. You pay a lot more attention to Captain Lu than I do… then it's Flower-ge? It's definitely not Wolfy-ge, anyway. You can tell just by looking at him that he's a real man. He looks like he can really handle a lot of spice."
As they spoke, Zheng Zhizhuo suddenly turned and looked towards the table where Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao were sitting together. He didn't know if it was just his imagination, but he always got the feeling that these two alphas were… closer than other alphas tended to be with each other.
When Zheng Zhizhuo looked over, Lu Zhe had his cell phone out, propped up horizontally on the table, like he was watching a video. It was just then that Shen Qiao suddenly reached over from the other side and helped him hold up his phone.
The two alphas each wrote a ring on their pinky finger, one silver and one gold, very similar in every way except color. The rings seemed almost like reflections. Just looking at them gave one a sense that these two people were on very good terms.
Neither of them withdrew their hand. They held the phone together and watched something, until Lu Zhe smiled and turned to Shen Qiao, lips moving. Shen Qiao shook his head slightly at whatever Lu Zhe said. When he opened his own mouth to speak, he turned and tilted his head in Lu Zhe's direction.
Zheng Zhizhuo refocused his attention on his companion and thoughtfully mused, "But if it really is Wolfy-ge who can't handle spicy food, then he's kinda got some real… gap moe appeal."
Zhao Yue blinked.
He looked at his little buddy with a horrified expression, wondering how anyone could use the words 'gap moe' to describe a powerful alpha.
Qian Bao heard that last sentence and snapped her fingers, pointing at Zheng Zhizhuo. "Bingo! You got it right."
Zheng Zhizhuo's eyes went wide with surprise, and his eyes lit up as well, as though he'd just discovered his idol had a weak point which only made him cuter.
Zhao Yue was also a bit surprised. He looked over at the table where Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao were sitting, and he studied them for a while before turning back to Qian Bao and Old Wo. "Really? I seriously wouldn't have been able to tell by looking at him."
"Yeah, who would have thought?" Old Wo said. "Last time we had hot pot together, Daddy Wolf took just one bite of meat from our spicy pot and… guess what happened?"
Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo fixed their expectant gazes on him, eagerly awaiting an answer.
Old Wo clapped his hands together and revealed, "It was so spicy that he cried, didn't he?"
Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo both jumped in alarm.
They tried to picture Shen Qiao being brought to tears by spicy food, but they were foiled by the limits of their imagination. They had never seen such a thing, after all. But because they couldn't totally picture it, they became even more curious after hearing Old Wo's claims.
Old Wo was in the middle of talking to the cook again, asking to add mushrooms, corn, eggplant, and other vegetables to his congee, as well as some grilled fish and other side dishes to his order. He looked over and saw the two kids looking at him. "What, don't believe me?"
Zheng Zhizhuo rubbed his chin. "It's not that. It's just I've never seen anything like it."
Zhao Yue nodded his agreement.
Old Wo put down the menu and stretched his back. He looked in Lu Zhe's direction and shook his head. "Can't help you with that. I can't afford to rile up our two daddies."
Zheng Zhizhuo and Zhao Yue were still a bit confused. Although they often watched the first-string team's practices, the second-string team was usually busy with their own training. The two teams didn't train in the same building either, and besides running into each other at the cafeteria sometimes, they rarely interacted. They weren't much more familiar with the first-string team's players than the average fan.
But they didn't get a chance to ask for more details. Qian Bao was already pushing some beer and sodas into their arms and telling them, "Bring these over to the table first. Oh, that's right, are you guys of age yet? If not, you're gonna have to stick to Coke."
Lu Zhe was watching a clip of that night's game with Shen Qiao.
The game had been broadcast live, and more than an hour had passed since the end of the game. News of DG's miserable defeat was already trending on Weibo, and some people had already cut together highlight reels of DG's plays. It was already perfectly possible to watch a summary of DG's worst failures from that night in a condensed, three-minute clip.
"I ran in blind during that bout, and I was way out of position. This one was my mistake," Shen Qiao was saying.
"June's Olaf was in a bad place," Lu Zhe said, "and Er-Hua used champions that are mostly good for protecting the AD today. That prevented him from engaging the enemy too much. The coach originally wanted to go with that sort of champion to boost the bottom lane's defenses, but now that I think about it, Er-Hua might have done better with Thresh. After all, we made things difficult for June."
"No, the mistake here really was mine. I went too deep into the jungle. We wouldn't have suffered a complete wipeout if I'd been more careful."
Er-Hua was sitting near them with his head propped up on one hand. He wasn't a picky eater, so he was fine with having some of whatever his teammates ordered. He was also watching some clips from the game on his own.
When heard the conversation between Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao, he sighed. "Ai, we all made a lot of mistakes today. Don't try to shoulder the blame all by yourself, alright? Let's all be happy and have a delicious midnight snack. If you want someone to scold you, Coach Fang will take care of that tomorrow."
Lu Zhe laughed and swiped a finger over the screen, closing the video. "You have a point."
Shen Qiao pulled back his hand and let Lu Zhe put away his phone. Just then, the two new kids came over to their table, and the conversation naturally turned towards which barbecue dishes at the cafeteria were most delicious at night.
The dishes that Qian Bao ordered first were delivered one by one. By the time Old Wo's congee was served up, their table was packed. They were barely able to fit all the bowls and plates.
At first, Shen Qiao didn't realize that Qian Bao had specifically ordered some non-spicy skewers for him, because there were too few that weren't spicy. All the skewers were placed together, anyway, and with the sauce on them, they all looked pretty similar. They were mostly all slathered in chili pepper, making the skewers look like a mountain of red.
Shen Qiao couldn't be bothered to go out of his way to order something just for himself, so he picked up a beef skewer at random.
Zheng Zhizhuo and Zhao Yue couldn't help but track his movements with their eyes.
Shen Qiao blinked.
Lu Zhe, sitting next to him, crinkled the corners of his eyes and said to the two kids, "I've been meaning to ask. Why have you two been staring at him?"
Old Wo, Er-Hua, and Qian Bao all instinctively scooted their chairs farther away from the table in unison. Their alpha instincts correctly interpreted and translated Lu Zhe's words, exposing their true meaning—
Why are you two staring at my man?
Of course, the two kids had no idea what was going on. They looked at their gege and jiejie, confused by their abrupt actions.
After a moment…
Zheng Zhizhuo cleared his throat. He wasn't bold enough to say that he wanted to see his idol's face while eating spicy food, so he simply skirted the subject and said, "I… I just wanted to ask, Wolfy-ge, are you free later? Can we queue up together?"
Shen Qiao didn't give it much thought. While still holding the bamboo skewer, he simply nodded and said, "Sure."
After a moment, he asked, "Ranked?"
Zheng Zhizhuo knew what Shen Qiao enjoyed and quickly added, "ARAM is fine too, any game mode is fine, really. It's totally up to you."
Zhao Yue wasn't as talkative, but he wasn't the slow type either. He shifted his gaze away from Shen Qiao and looked at Lu Zhe. In order to keep up with the conversation and show that he was also a loyal fan, he carefully ventured, "Captain Lu, do you have time later? I'd like to review the game…"
Lu Zhe looked at Shen Qiao and crinkled his eyes again. Originally, he'd wanted to tell Shen Qiao that there were skewers that weren't spicy, but now—for some reason—he gave up on that and simply replied to Zhao Yue.
Shen Qiao, completely unaware of the shift in the mood of everyone around him, carelessly bit into the skewer he was holding.
In the next instant—
A fiery spiciness engulfed the tip of his tongue!
He stopped chewing abruptly and decided to simply swallow his mouthful whole. That horrid burning sensation slid all the way down, into his stomach.
Lu Zhe studied Shen Qiao's profile for a while. He saw the redness that rose in Shen Qiao's cheeks, as well as the fine sheen of sweat that started to shine on the nape of Shen Qiao's neck.
Shen Qiao looked at the skewer in his hand. He thought he'd hidden his reaction quite well, and he braced himself to finish the rest of the skewer in the same fashion. But then he heard Lu Zhe sigh next to him, sounding a little helpless.
Immediately after that, a hand reached out from beside him and took the skewer away from him.
Lu Zhe placed the skewer in the plate in front of himself. He always got the feeling that, if he didn't do this for Shen Qiao, then Shen Qiao would force himself to eat spicy food, even if it upset his stomach.
Turning to Qian Bao, Lu Zhe asked, "Didn't you order anything that isn't spicy?"
Qian Bao carefully searched through the skewers. "I did. Look, here they are."
Lu Zhe piled those non-spicy skewers onto Shen Qiao's plate. "This is what you're supposed to eat."
Shen Qiao inexplicably felt like Lu Zhe's tone was the sort you would use when trying to comfort a child. Even though his mouth was still burning, he petulantly insisted, "I can eat anything."
Lu Zhe looked at him with a smile and slowly said, "Sure, you can eat anything—then, tomorrow, Manager Zhou will take one look at the state of your mouth and tell me to show some restraint again."
Shen Qiao tensed.
Qian Bao, Old Wo, and Er-Hua said in unison, "Geh."
Zheng Zhizhuo and Zhao Yue were both beyond confused.
Starting to be inhumane again, Dog Lu?