At an old-fashioned grilled fish shop—
Steam was still rising from the grilled fish that had just been served to a neighboring table. The lights that hung above every table illuminated the various side dishes, making them glisten.
Fresh leaves of lettuce. Snow white, thinly sliced tofu. Golden-brown baked potatoes. A full table of sides surrounded the fish, forming a varied array of colorful foods that were fragrant enough to make any diner salivate.
Shen Qiao got up and headed to the restroom. He checked their table number before he left, planning to pay their bill in advance on the way.
Lu Zhe watched him as he moved farther and farther away. Then he picked up Shen Qiao's bowl and chopsticks and helped scald them in hot tea to clean them. He moved a little clumsily, using only his uninjured arm.
Lu Qianshuang rarely ever saw her brother moving so awkwardly. She couldn't help but offer, "I… I'll do it, okay? Your arm is still recovering?"
Lu Zhe offered his own bowl and chopsticks to her as well. "Mm."
That was all he said. He didn't want to talk more about the matter. His dark eyes tracked Lu Qianshuang's moments for a while, before he suddenly asked, "Isn't school still in session? What are you doing out here?"
Lu Qianshuang should have just finished her college entrance exams. She should have been waiting at home for her college admissions results. Why had she suddenly come out to Hua City?
If it hadn't been for her phone call, Lu Zhe wouldn't have imagined she'd be in town at all.
Upon hearing that question, Lu Qianshuang looked over her shoulder to make sure Shen Qiao hadn't returned. She started prodding at the empty dishes with her chopsticks, looking a bit dejected and depressed.
"You haven't been home lately, so you probably don't even know… the old man's company seems to have run into some trouble. He was taken away for the investigation some time ago, and Mom has been crying all day and night over it.
"Plus, just a while back, an omega showed up at our place, holding a baby, saying the kid was the old man's spawn. She demanded financial support from us and refused to leave without money… everything's just a mess. I couldn't really stand it anymore, so I left.
"You aren't there to see it, so you don't know, but Mom and that woman got into a huge fight. Ugh, and now Mom is taking it out on everyone. She's always yelling at the staff, and she even berated me for no reason yesterday. I really couldn't stay in that chaotic place any longer, so I told her I was going on a graduation trip with my classmates…
"And that's how it is."
Lu Zhe's expression was bland. He didn't look all that surprised to hear all this. After listening to Lu Qianshuang's story, he lowered his gaze to the table. His lashes swept over his cheeks, casting shadows and catching the light from the overhead lamp.
After a while, he said, "Don't bring this up to Qiaoqiao."
"I know, I know, you've told me a hundred times—" After scalding the dishes and chopsticks, she started listing all the warnings Lu Zhe had repeatedly issued her, ticking them off on her fingers. "Don't let Qiaoqiao know about our troubles at home, don't let my pheromones out in front of him, don't disrupt his life…"
Once she finished, she propped her head up on her hands and heaved a heavy sigh. "Ge, you're such a nag. You're worse than Mom."
Lu Zhe smiled serenely and gently asked, "Would you like a spanking?"
Lu Qianshuang pushed Lu Zhe's bowl and chopsticks back to his side of the table and stuck her tongue out at him. Then, she seriously warned, "Please remember to maintain your image when you're outside. Otherwise, if passersby see you, tomorrow's headlines are all going to be about DG's captain bullying a weak girl."
Lu Zhe let out a mild laugh and reminded her, "Read less of that nonsense when you're online. It lowers your IQ."
After saying that, something else occurred to him, and he changed the topic. "You just came out here on a whim? Where are you going to stay?"
Lu Qianshuang blinked and stated, like it should have been obvious, "I'll be staying at a hotel, of course. And I have some friends out here already, so I'll sign up for some sightseeing tours with them. What, did you think I was going to come bug you every day?
"I know what you're like. You taking me out and keeping me company for one day is already a miracle that I should offer thanks and incense to Buddha for. I'm very aware of the limits to how much I can bother you."
Lu Zhe nodded, readily agreeing with her assessment. But then he remembered that they were still brother and sister, after all. He added, "Do you have enough money on you?"
Lu Qianshuang instantly grinned when she heard him ask that. She shook her head happily and said, "If you're asking, then of course I don't have enough! Thank you, gege! Aiya, my brother really is the best brother in the world!"
Lu Zhe was completely unaffected by her attempts to suck up to him. He just took out his phone and sent her some money through WeChat, while sternly telling her, "I'll drop you off at the hotel later. Don't book one that's too bad. Even when you're staying indoors, you have to be careful of your safety. Who are the friends you're going out with later? Are they all omegas?"
Lu Qianshuang hummed and answered, "There's omegas and betas, but don't worry, I'll be careful! I'm always safe, and I've gone out by myself loads of time already."
Lu Zhe nodded and didn't bother adding anything else. He looked down the aisle and peered outside, wondering where Shen Qiao had gone. Shen Qiao had been gone for a while already, and he'd yet to return.
Could this guy have snuck outside for a cigarette?
Lu Zhe's attention was focused on the exit, but he continued to chat idly with Lu Qianshuang about their family. "Don't get too involved in these family affairs. If Mom complains to you, just listen with deaf ears. Don't do anything extra."
"Well, yeah. She was the one who brought us into the Lu family, anyway. We do get more spending money, but every day is such a drag. If she likes Old Man Lu, that's her business, but I don't like him. I don't care about Mom's business. She's not willing to listen to our advice."
Lu Zhe smiled absently. "You think she likes Lu Chengzhen? What she likes is his money and status."
Lu Qianshuang picked up her filled cup and sipped the warm barley tea. As the taste hit her lips, she suddenly thought of something and said, "Ah, I just remembered something. A while back, I think I saw Mom looking at those hospitals that specialize in surgery for omegas. She… wouldn't be thinking about getting her mark removed, right?"
Lu Zhe immediately guessed at their mother's motivations for this. His expression darkened.
Lu Chengzhen was in trouble now, and Lu Zhe knew exactly what Su Qiongpei was like. She was the type who always relied on a powerful alpha. Lu Zhe didn't believe for a second that this person would suddenly learn to be independent, so the reason she wanted her mark removed could only be that…
Lu Zhe's eyes were filled with unveiled disgust. He muttered under his breath, "Psycho."
Lu Qianshuang's expression wasn't much kinder than his. After a long while, she lifted a hand and covered her face. "Ah, why does Mom always do such shameful and embarrassing things? Does she really intend to meet some stranger and have us call him 'Dad' in the future?"
Lu Zhe let out a soft breath when he saw their server approaching with a platter of grilled fish. He cut off their conversation there. "Let's not worry about her. She can do whatever she wants."
Lu Qianshuang had long since grown accustomed to the dark side of their family. She had developed into a bright and bold person, and she stayed that way as long as she didn't peer too deeply into the dark. When the fish arrived, she immediately gave it her full attention.
"Wow!" She picked up her chopsticks, but refrained from digging in right away. "Why hasn't Qiaoqiao-gege come back yet?"
Shen Qiao idled outside the store for a while.
Originally, he'd wanted to light up a cigarette, but there were quite a lot of people outside the shop. The restaurant was popular enough that a row of waiting patrons sat outside. In the end, Shen Qiao put his cigarettes away again.
A few people waiting outside looked to be around his age. They glanced over at his face several times, with shades of curiosity and hesitation in their eyes. They looked at Shen Qiao's casual clothes, seemingly debating with themselves over whether or not they should come up to confirm his identity.
Shen Qiao didn't pay any attention to their prying gazes until someone took the initiative to approach him, asking, "Hey, it's… you're Wolf Cub, right? You're definitely Wolf Cub. Did you come out to eat? Can I get a photo with Daddy Wolf?"
Shen Qiao glanced at the group of guys. After a long while, he nodded.
Soon, he saw more and more people scooting over, intending to ask for pictures. Shen Qiao figured that the people inside had probably finished chatting already, so he politely refused the remaining fans' requests and made his way back inside.
Just as he passed the register at the front of the shop, he ran into Lu Zhe, who had started making his way out.
"What's up?" Shen Qiao asked.
"I was wondering why you were gone so long, wasn't I?" Lu Zhe answered. "The food is getting cold. Did you go out to smoke? You don't smell like smoke."
Lu Zhe took a whiff of the air between them, blinking at Shen Qiao in confusion.
Shen Qiao moved back towards their table with him and lazily answered, "You guys had stuff to talk about, right?"
Lu Zhe froze for a second, then grinned again as he was reminded of how considerate Shen Qiao could be.
The grilled fish was cooked in a decadent sauce. The resulting taste was delicious and full of soul, even though the dish they ordered wasn't spicy. It was no wonder this shop was popular.
Lu Zhe got a call from Manager Zhou halfway through their meal and had to step out for a moment to find a quiet place. That left Shen Qiao and Lu Qianshuang alone, facing each other.
The two chatted for a while. Shen Qiao learned that Lu Qianshuang had traveled here by herself, so he exchanged contact information with her, telling her that she could get in touch with him if she needed anything.
Lu Qianshuang beamed. It was one of those big smiles that showed off practically all her teeth and made her squint her eyes shut. "I will, I will!"
After thinking about it for a moment, Lu Qianshuang decided to try her luck. She asked, "After the summer tournament is over, can I ask to play some games with you, Qiaoqiao-gege?"
Shen Qiao nodded. "Send me your ID. I'll add you when I get back."
Lu Qianshuang put down her chopsticks and immediately started to send her in-game ID to Shen Qiao over WeChat. "My brother helped me rank up this account before," she muttered, "but he still hasn't given it back to me. I'll have to ask him about it later."
Shen Qiao looked at her phone and thought for a second before he asked, "You're traveling by yourself. Do you have enough money?"
Lu Qianshuang stopped typing halfway through her message and looked up. After a few seconds, she finally reacted and exclaimed, "I have enough, totally enough! Definitely don't send me any money, my brother would scold me!"
Shen Qiao raised his eyebrows and, while transferring her some funds, he said, "Just don't tell him."
Lu Qianshuang blinked. "Huh…?"
Shen Qiao finished typing in his password and self-righteously said, "What's his is his, what's mine is mine. Accept it."
Lu Qianshuang stared at her own cell phone screen, which showed the sum Shen Qiao had just sent her. She felt like a sitting duck, helpless to do anything while money rained down on her from the heavens. She was stunned speechless for a long while.
Until Lu Zhe returned from taking his call.
Lu Qianshuang remained dumbstruck for a while longer. In the end, she still lowered her head and discreetly sent Lu Zhe a screenshot of the amount Shen Qiao had just transferred to her. "This… what do I do about this? I didn't ask for this, I swear!"
Lu Zhe glanced at his phone. The corners of his lips tipped up into a smile. Finally, he answered, "If he wants to give it to you, just accept it."
Upon receiving Lu Zhe's permission, Lu Qianshuang abandoned all pretenses of being unwilling to accept the money. She wholeheartedly rejoiced in suddenly striking it rich.
Then she suddenly remembered something and said, "Oh, that's right. I haven't sent you my ID yet."
Shen Qiao looked down and saw the server and ID she sent over—
Ionia server. StandUpLittleO.
Shen Qiao blinked.
He stared at his cell phone for a long, long time. Afterwards, he slowly turned to Lu Zhe, who had sat back down next to him.
Lu Zhe didn't know that his little sister had just inadvertently sold him out. After being stared at by Shen Qiao for a while, he smiled over at him and asked, "What is it?"
Shen Qiao pursed his lips.
"I suddenly saw a very familiar ID. I'm wondering if you've seen it before."
"Hm?" Lu Zhe hummed.
Shen Qiao stuck his phone in front of Lu Zhe's face and looked at him with a sharp smile. "So? Do you recognize it?"
Lu Zhe was rendered speechless.
Our Lu Zhe is just one sock puppet account in another in another in another…