DG and their new teammates became more and more of a cohesive team.
In their game against BIG, Zheng Zhizhuo masterfully used the champion Jax in the jungle, absolutely dominating the opponent's jungler and giving DG's fans hope even in Lu Zhe's absence.
Ultimately, DG defeated BIG with a score of 2-1.
After that match, Zheng Zhizhuo was chosen by the tournament organizers for the post-game interview. It would be his first appearance in an interview since he joined the team.
"When you and Moon first came to the team, netizens were concerned you wouldn't be able to get used to the rhythm of the first-string team. But based on Moon's performance last week and your performance this week, do you feel like you've started to find your groove?"
Zheng Zhizhuo smiled, showing off his pointy canines. "It's actually because the gege and jiejie of the first-string team have been taking good care of us. Regardless of whether or not we can get in the groove, I think we still have a lot of work to do. I think there's a lot I can still improve on."
The fans in the audience who saw his shy, charming smile also beamed back at him. Some waved their banners of support while others loudly cheered, "Good luck, didi! You can do it!"
Their fans had all listened to the team's voice chat recordings from their previous games, and they knew that Qian Bao liked to call their new junglers 'didi' during games.
The most silent player in these recordings was always Shen Qiao. Typically, his voice could only be heard during team fights, and even then, he only spoke up to curtly say, "Group up."
The most talkative, on the other hand, was Old Wo. Old Wo would cry out for Er-Hua's help whenever he charged in, whether or not it was a fight they could win. Er-Hua would sometimes get sick of Old Wo's voice and snap at him.
Overall, it was Qian Bao's voice that made the most lasting impression on their fans. She would always be calling out—
"Didi! Come save me! Look my way, didi!"
"Didi, come help me get this kill."
"Didi, your jiejie is coming!"
Some of the more playful netizens had already created a pack of reaction memes, which were used so widely that some people were sick of seeing the word 'didi' already. At the same time, a more deviant subset of fans had already started to ship Qian Bao and the two new kids.
There was no doubt to them that Qian Bao would be the dominant party. Although her temperament was gentle and warm, and her personality wasn't overly aggressive, she was still an alpha.
Of course, none of DG's players knew anything about this sort of fan activity.
Manager Zhou sat aside by himself, muttering under his breath while listening to Zheng Zhizhuo's interview. "There are seven games left in this stage, and we're in the same group as BLX, so we'll play BLX one more time in the last game… the current score…"
Coach Fang wandered over and glanced at the tournament schedule on Manager Zhou's phone. He chimed in, "BLX currently has the highest score, right? Besides losing to us last time, they've been going strong."
Manager Zhou nodded. "Yes, they're currently first in Group A."
"WTG, COCO, and BIG are the top three in Group B?" Coach Fang asked.
Manager hummed indecisively. "More or less, but the team in fourth is right on their tail. We'll have to wait to see how things shake out in the end, but—wait, why should we worry about them? We're not even done playing our own games yet."
Nearby, on the sofa—
Shen Qiao looked a little worn out. This game against BIG hadn't taken place in Hua City. DG had flown out to a more northern city a few days ago, where the climate was more dry and stifling. Shen Qiao practically wilted whenever he wasn't training or playing in official matches. He was unable to get his spirits up in an environment like that.
Plus, the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures in that city was too great. The air conditioning inside made him even more uncomfortable.
At the moment, he was curled up on the couch, too tired to even play minesweeper to unwind.
Lu Zhe was sitting next to him. He'd originally wanted to ask Shen Qiao if he wanted to head out for a night walk, to see the sights. But after he spent ages scrolling through his phone to find some local points of interest, he felt a weight on his shoulder.
Shen Qiao hadn't been in a very comfortable position at first. In his drowsy state, he'd tipped sideways almost subconsciously. His head drooped lower and lower, until he wound up leaning against Lu Zhe's shoulder.
But when his head hit Lu Zhe's shoulder, Shen Qiao came back to his senses—
His drowsiness quickly vanished. He straightened up again and planned on messing around on his phone for a while, but his head was instantly pressed back to Lu Zhe's shoulder by one of Lu Zhe's hands.
"Sleepy?" Lu Zhe asked warmly.
Shen Qiao was close enough to detect the not too heavy, yet not too light, scent of Lu Zhe's cedarwood pheromones. Lately, he always felt relaxed when he breathed in that scent. Drowsiness came over him again. He left his head there on Lu Zhe's shoulder and closed his eyes.
"Just a little," he murmured quietly. "Tell me if any cameras come over here."
Lu Zhe hummed his acknowledgement and lightly tousled Shen Qiao's hair. "Sleep. I'll tell you if anything comes up."
Shen Qiao rested his eyes for a while before he suddenly remembered that he was leaning on Lu Zhe's injured side. He couldn't help but ask, "Is your arm a bit better?"
Before flying out for their game against BIG, Lu Zhe had already gotten his stitches removed. The doctor had said that he was healing well, without any problems, but Lu Zhe would still need to continue applying medicine for a few more days. He'd been racing back and forth with the team for the past while, keeping busy off the field. It was hard to say whether that hectic schedule would affect his recovery.
The more Shen Qiao thought about this, the more he worried. His drowsiness dissipated yet again. He decided to sit up, staring down at the bandages still wrapped around Lu Zhe's arm, like he could tell how Lu Zhe was healing with just one look.
Lu Zhe saw that Shen Qiao was getting alert again. He couldn't help but laugh. "Weren't you just about to sleep?"
Shen Qiao shook his head. "Forget it. I'll sleep when we get back. What are you looking at?"
He glanced at the screen of Lu Zhe's phone, which Lu Zhe had yet to lock.
Lu Zhe's smile reached his eyes. He showed Shen Qiao the page on his phone. "I wanted to ask if you felt like going out, but since you looked so sleepy, I figured it was best to forget it. Want to play a game instead? I just downloaded one. I heard you can play co-op with two people."
Usually, Shen Qiao wasn't interested in this sort of thing. But since it was Lu Zhe who asked, he simply answered, "Let's take a look."
Lu Zhe grabbed a laptop from nearby and logged into Steam. Shen Qiao could see that it wasn't all that convenient for Lu Zhe to navigate the keyboard and mouse with just one working hand, so he took the laptop and moved the cursor around.
"Which game is it?"
Lu Zhe lifted a hand and pointed.
Shen Qiao loaded up the game and quickly skimmed through the instructions. It just looked like a simple little cooking-type game. He couldn't help but glance at Lu Zhe with a bit of skepticism. "Are you sure you need two people to play this game?"
Lu Zhe thought back to the reviews and comments he'd seen about the game online. "I… think so?"
Shen Qiao looked at the task list of the first level again. He assumed the difficulty might increase later, so he started a round in two-player mode while holding the laptop. It was no trouble at all to clear the first level by himself, with just two hands.
Lu Zhe watched on in silence.
He observed for a while and noticed that Shen Qiao got the timing down perfectly. Whether it was preparing dishes according to recipes, finding ingredients, washing plates, serving meals, or collecting bills… Shen Qiao could do it all, without any help from Lu Zhe.
It wasn't until Shen Qiao hit the sixth level that he encountered a little crisis. Three stars was the best result one could achieve, and Shen Qiao missed out on that by a hair.
Shen Qiao stared at the monitor, seriously reflecting upon the mistakes in his moves during the last level.
Lu Zhe finally couldn't hold his silence any longer. He cleared his throat and tentatively asked, "Qiaoqiao, did you forget… that you're in two-player mode?"
Shen Qiao didn't turn to look at him. "Doesn't this just test your ability to make your left and right hands work together? Plus your sense of timing… just wait, let me think about this. I can figure out a way to get past this level."
Lu Zhe fell silent again.
After a moment, he asked, "May I please ask for the opportunity to experience the game a tiny bit?"
Shen Qiao surfaced from his deep thoughts and gave Lu Zhe a serious look. After a few seconds, he reluctantly conceded, "Fine. Then… you can wash the dishes."
Lu Zhe nearly laughed himself to tears. "Well, thanks."
Half an hour later, Old Wo and a few others went out with Manager Zhou to participate in a half-hour interview for the team. They had to give game journalists and the media something to talk about.
After all, it was starting to look like DG was raring to go again. The media had to prepare two versions of their reports, for the season's two possible outcomes—
If DG did well in the summer tournament, the media could clip out inspirational moments and rave about how DG struggled ever since the spring tournament. They could emphasize DG's challenges and misfortunes, then laud their indomitable spirit for carrying them through the summer.
If DG didn't do well, the media would also start narrating their story from the spring tournament. They would sprinkle melancholy into their reports, painting a sympathetic picture of Team DG.
The players on the team knew very well that the media would prepare these two angles, so during their interview, the more stable Qian Bao, Er-Hua, and Manager Zhou took the lead and gave them some good material. Old Wo only had to chime in every now and then.
They'd noticed that Shen Qiao wasn't in a very good state that evening, so they'd let him off the hook. As a result, when they got back to the players' rest area, they could hear voices drifting out from the lounge…
"You… did you not put out the fire just now?"
"I was trying to make sure your dish didn't burn, wasn't I?"
"Didn't we agree before we started that I would be responsible for cooking, and you would be responsible for washing the dishes and putting out fires?"
"Then, let's try again?"
"No. It'd be better if I did it myself. I'll push myself to my limits, you get out of the way."
"Your hand speed isn't enough, you definitely won't pass this level."
"My hand speed isn't enough? Gege, do you want to 1v1 me in the rift?"
Qian Bao's hand froze on the door handle. When she heard this commotion from inside, she turned back to Old Wo and Er-Hua with an uncertain look in her eyes. "Are my ears malfunctioning? Or… are Wolf Cub and Captain Lu fighting in there?"
Old Wo was a curious creature by nature. He instantly moved past Qian Bao and pushed open the door, barging into the lounge. They found the two kids, Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo, huddled together in one corner of the room. The kids cast a helpless look in their direction, pointing at the two other players who were about to start a 1v1 against each other.
The kids were just fans who happened to be in the same room as their idols, after all. They didn't have the guts to try to break up their idols' dispute.
Old Wo curiously approached Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao. "What's going on here? How can Captain Lu 1v1 anyone in his current state? What, is Wolf Cub going to play with just one hand too? Are you both going to give up on using the mouse and just throw skills at each other with one hand?"
Lu Zhe said nothing.
Shen Qiao was silent as well.
They both tried to picture that at the same time, then gave up on their plans to battle it out.
Er-Hua peered at their laptop monitor from not too far away. With a sort of admiration in his tone, he said, "Huh. You guys are playing Breakup Kitchen?"
Lu Zhe blinked and asked, "What kitchen?"
Qian Bao was the first to answer. "Oh, I know all about that. This game is pretty popular right now. I heard that all the couples who play it together end up fighting and breaking up, so people started calling it Breakup Kitchen."
Shen Qiao didn't want to admit that he'd been taking the game too seriously. He cleared his throat and hastily closed the window. "It's not that serious."
Lu Zhe smiled at him, then nodded his agreement.
Manager Zhou saw that they were just fooling around, so he didn't pay the matter any more mind. He clapped his hands and said, "Check your stuff. If you're all packed, let's head back to the hotel. The car is already waiting outside."
Before long, the players of Team DG filed out through their designated exit. Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao trailed behind the pack again.
After walking in silence for a moment, they both spoke up at the same time—
"Want to grab something nice to eat?"
"How's your hand?"
After their words fell, they both stopped for a moment. Then Lu Zhe smiled and answered first.
"Hand's fine," he said, before lifting his brows to indicate that it was Shen Qiao's turn to answer now.
Shen Qiao also nodded in response to the suggestion of getting something to eat. "Sure."
Lu Zhe studied him for a moment, then suddenly laughed.
Shen Qiao blinked, a little confused.
Lu Zhe shook his head. "I shouldn't have said that your hand speed isn't good enough. I only meant that the two-player mode is really hard for one person, but—forget about that. It's my bad for saying the wrong thing."
Shen Qiao took in that very earnest apology and felt a little embarrassed. "Don't say that," he mumbled. "I was the one who took it too seriously…"
That was actually why, besides LoL, the game he loved the most was minesweeper. It was a single-player game where he wouldn't ever have to rely on anyone else or worry about anyone else's interference. Win or lose, it all came down to one player.
After thinking for a moment longer, he added, "Next time, when your hand is better, let's try that game again."
"Hm?" Lu Zhe hummed. "Why should we wait for my hand to get better?"
Shen Qiao seriously said, "In case you piss me off again and I want to 1v1 you, we can take it to the rift and fight it out."
Lu Zhe laughed softly and teased, "Why are you so childish?"
"I'll give you one more chance to answer," Shen Qiao menaced.
Lu Zhe cheerfully changed his answer without a moment's hesitation. "What I meant to say was, why are you so cute? Why are you so alluring?"
Shen Qiao scoffed. "You don't need to call me 'cute'. Just the second half of your statement is fine—but since you sensibly gave such a good answer, I can give you a kiss."
"Take it or leave it."
"Qiaoqiao, if we play by the rule of exchanging a kiss for a compliment, you already owe me lots and lots of kisses. When are you going to make up the rest?"
"Depends on your behavior."
You two flirty kids! This is just playground flirting! You're in love! I see straight through you! (Big Bird sees everything!)