The relationship between Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao would practically become the biggest esports story of the year. For a while, it would be even more talked about than DG's second consecutive world championship win. Gaming media sites became like dogs who'd just seen a particularly tasty bone; they dug up all the information on Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao that they could find.
Their shippers, regardless of whether they supported WolfDog or LuShen or otherwise, all rejoiced together on various forums after Lu Zhe's announcement. A pinned thread that once warned shippers to celebrate privately, without shoving their ship in the actual players' faces, had now been amended with a new note—
It's real! Our ship is real! Sisters, you won't regret investing your feels here!
Of course, these were the positive reactions. When the news came out, there were some dissatisfied voices as well. Fans who only followed the team for their gameplay couldn't resist chiding the players on the team's official Weibo, saying that the HQ was supposed to be a workplace and that players needed to take themselves seriously. They weren't supposed to transform their place of work into some sort of party house or den of lust.
But, naturally, while there were single-minded fans who believed two people being together automatically meant these two people were having wild sex at the HQ every day… there were plenty of more level-headed fans willing to step up and shut them down.
In general, most people gave their blessings.
But to Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao, these things weren't all that important.
After all the hurt and suffering they'd endured in the Lu family, words from these outsiders were painless attacks against them. It was only because they were currently in the off-season that fans had so much time to worry about their personal lives, anyway. Once the regular season started up again, fans would return to focusing on the game.
As long as they continued to win, the team would be able to shut everyone up.
For trolls, even if DG won, they would have to jinx their futures and nitpick at every little mistake that the players made during the tournament games.
For fans, as long as the team could win, even if they ran a five-DPS team, even if they ran a perfectly boring lineup, they wouldn't care—they would still see their favorite players as gods.
Of course, there were also some people who were genuinely unbiased.
Shen Qiao understood all this, so when Lu Zhe talked about getting a marriage license in his livestream, he just smiled from off to the side. He didn't bother to check the reaction in the bullet comments. He only cared about Lu Zhe. If Lu Zhe was happy announcing it this way, then Shen Qiao was happy to let him be happy.
But he never could have imagined that Lu Zhe would read a few comments, clap his hands once, and say—
"Alright, no time like the present. We'll do it today.
"I'll end this stream here and get my license now. Goodbye, everyone."
Shen Qiao blinked.
He turned to look at Lu Zhe, thinking Lu Zhe must have been joking. But he watched as Lu Zhe turned off his streaming equipment.
Then Lu Zhe looked up just in time to see Manager Zhou passing through the training room. He called out, "Manager Zhou, Qiaoqiao and I are taking some time off."
Manager Zhou looked at him. "For a date?"
Shen Qiao was about to say something, but Lu Zhe spoke first.
"No. To get our marriage license."
Manager Zhou was speechless.
Old Wo and the viewers in his still-ongoing livestream all jumped.
Gender didn't matter much in a world with alphas, betas, and omegas, and there was no law prohibiting two alphas from getting married. But this sudden declaration still came as a surprise.
Shen Qiao stared at Lu Zhe for a moment longer, then tried to do some damage control. "He's joking, Manager Zhou. I have an appointment with my doctor this afternoon, so I'll need to step out for a while."
Manager Zhou calmed down a little. He touched a hand to his chest, feeling his racing heart, and said, "Ah… alright, approved. Go ahead. There's nothing planned today, and the game update isn't until tomorrow anyway."
As he watched Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao get up to leave, Old Wo turned back to his own stream and conspiratorially whispered to his fans—
"Let's make a bet. Let's bet on whether or not Captain Lu will really get his marriage license today."
The bullet comments filled up with exclamation marks.
[Reported! Professional player caught encouraging gambling! But I'll bet all my savings on this! I'll bet on yes!]
[Captain Lu loves messing with people, and you seriously believe him? I'll bet on no way. How could getting a marriage license be such a casual thing?]
Zheng Zhizhuo happened to be watching Old Wo's livestream. After seeing that comment, he had to shake his head.
"They're in love. What's casual about that?"
Outside the HQ, it was a brilliant day.
It was clearly the middle of winter, but the day's sunlight was particularly bright on the evergreen pines nearby. Shen Qiao could detect the scent of those trees all around him, growing slightly denser with time.
And the scent got closer and closer. Shen Qiao stuck one hand in his pocket and turned to see Lu Zhe approaching, with a black cap pulled down low over his eyes. The shadow that fell across his beautiful face almost hid it entirely, shrouding him in mystery.
The curve of his eyes, and the emotion hidden in his gaze, seemed all the more intense.
If any passersby caught sight of his eyes, they surely would have done a double take, captivated by that gaze that could pierce straight through to one's heart.
Shen Qiao looked Lu Zhe up and down, taking in his outfit and raising his brows. "Captain Lu, are you dressed like this because you want to set a fire in some little meimei's heart?"
Lu Zhe lifted a hand to take Shen Qiao's wrist, leading him towards the HQ's parking garage. "What little meimei? I only have eyes for a little didi."
Shen Qiao was led into the garage, where he saw two of Lu Zhe's cars. One was a relatively plain Audi, and the other was a sports car that Shen Qiao had only seen in esports tabloids once or twice. If he remembered correctly, Lu Zhe had bought it last year.
"Call me gege," Shen Qiao corrected.
They'd already stepped into the darker underground parking lot, but Lu Zhe's eyes didn't dim. In fact, they only seemed to shine more brightly. He grinned and said to Shen Qiao—
"Gege, will you marry me today?"
Shen Qiao could hear past that teasing lilt in his voice and see beyond the impish smile in his eyes. He could hear the earnestness in that question. After he gazed at Lu Zhe for a few seconds, he answered—
But Lu Zhe did actually take Shen Qiao to the hospital first, because it was time for Shen Qiao to have his glands checked again.
Lu Zhe had originally wanted to accompany him to his appointment, but Shen Qiao said no.
Because Shen Qiao had already been facing this alone for more than ten years. He already knew what the best and worst case scenarios were. If today's appointment resulted in the worst case scenario, why did he have to make Lu Zhe face it too?
That would only snuff out Lu Zhe's hope.
Shen Qiao calmly went in for his appointment. He was prepared for any outcome.
Lu Zhe waited for him outside.
While Lu Zhe waited, Lu Qianshuang gave him a video call. Lu Zhe took a look at his phone, and accepted it as a voice call. He made his way out of the hospital before he greeted her.
"What is it?"
Lu Qianshuang's voice was a little wobbly as she spoke. "Ge, you know how I was sending you a package a few days ago? Well, Mom… saw it and said… she wants to talk to you about something. But you've blocked her, so she wanted me to do her a favor and asked me to ask you if she could talk to you for a bit."
Lu Zhe didn't give his sister a hard time. He was quiet for a few seconds, but ultimately said, "Sure. Give her the phone."
A sound like rustling fabric came over the line.
After that, there was the more noticeable sound of the phone changing hands.
Su Qiongpei's voice rang out from the other end, with an obvious note of caution. "Hello? Little Zhe, it's me."
Lu Zhe curtly hummed his acknowledgement. He let the silence linger for a while before he said, "Mom, what do you want?"
He knew Su Qiongpei had ulterior motives here, so he cut straight to the point. There was no patience or warmth in his tone of voice.
Su Qiongpei was quiet for a moment before she let out a soft laugh. Her voice was as gentle and warm as ever. "It's nothing much. I just heard from your sister that you seem to have won another very impressive tournament. I wanted to congratulate you."
"Thank you," Lu Zhe answered politely.
Su Qiongpei seemed to know that there was no warmth left between her and this son of hers. After another pause, she continued, "I… don't worry, I'm not calling to ask you for anything. I just wanted to tell you and Qianshuang that the head of the Sheng family from the neighboring province has asked to marry me. I agreed, and the wedding is being planned—"
Lu Zhe squeezed the phone tighter. His brows subconsciously furrowed.
But Su Qiongpei didn't give him a chance to interrupt. She quickly continued, "I'll have a new family, and the situation with the Sheng family is complicated. You know it would be inconvenient for me to take your sister with me, so it's a good thing you're all grown up and very capable now, and Qianshuang is heading off to college too. I'll regularly send her living expenses and pay her tuition, of course. Sheng… well, he isn't that stingy…"
Lu Zhe couldn't resist. He had to interject, "I'll take care of Qianshuang. You just worry about integrating into your new husband's family. I heard that the heir of the Sheng family is already seventeen years old. As the stepmother, you'll have to work hard to earn this family's approval."
Su Qiongpei seemed to be hurt by his words. She was quiet for such a long time that Lu Zhe began to think she'd ended the call. It was only after a long while that she said very, very quietly, "Isn't this better for all of us?
"You don't want to be my son, and I don't want to face your resentment anymore. And I don't want to fear this conflict between us as I get older… you know I can't live without an alpha, and I also know you'll never leave that boy. So we should stop torturing each other."
Lu Zhe took several deep breaths when he heard those words from her—'torturing each other'. His face contorted into a cold sneer, but because his mood was fluctuating wildly, he ultimately decided not to say anything about that.
"You're right," he said. "Mom, in my whole life, this is the most sensible thing I've ever heard you say."
After hanging up, Lu Zhe stayed in the shadow of the large hospital building for a long while, until the familiar scent of mint approached from behind him. Shen Qiao stuck his head closer and took a peek at Lu Zhe's face, making a surprised sound before Lu Zhe could adjust his expression.
"What's wrong?" Shen Qiao asked.
Lu Zhe scrubbed his hands over his face and answered that it was nothing. He reached for the report Shen Qiao had gotten from his doctor, intending to take a look, but Shen Qiao swiftly lifted the papers high above his head, holding them out of Lu Zhe's reach. When Lu Zhe got up on his tiptoes to try to grab them, Shen Qiao suddenly lifted his other hand to the back of Lu Zhe's head and pulled him closer—embracing him.
Lu Zhe settled down for a moment. His hands fell to his sides, and he ultimately wrapped his arms around Shen Qiao's waist. In that place where no one passed, the two of them hugged for a while before Shen Qiao heard Lu Zhe's smile-laden voice ring out in his ear.
"What, it's only been a little while since we last saw each other, and you already miss me?"
Shen Qiao ignored his teasing and simply sighed, frankly answering, "Yes."
Lu Zhe tilted his head, brushing his lips over Shen Qiao's throat. He did his best to push that call he'd just taken to the back of his mind, then asked in a low murmur, "How are your test results?"
"Everything's fine now," Shen Qiao answered calmly.
Lu Zhe didn't react for a moment. "Huh?"
Shen Qiao released him, pulling out of the hug. He pushed the stack of test results into Lu Zhe's chest, taking a few steps back and saying, "See for yourself."
Lu Zhe focused his attention on the papers in his hands, but he couldn't make heads or tails of them. After a while, he looked up and saw that Shen Qiao had backed up a few steps. He quickly followed along and said, "I don't understand. Explain it to me."
Shen Qiao breathed a laugh. Under the radiant sunlight, his relaxed brows made him look relaxed all over.
"The explanation is… I'm all better now."
He still spoke in the same lazy drawl as always, but the smile in his eyes couldn't be suppressed.
Lu Zhe remained frozen for a moment. Shen Qiao saw that he wasn't moving any closer, so he stepped up to Lu Zhe again and bared his throat. "Don't believe me? Why don't you take a bite and see for yourself?"
Suddenly, Lu Zhe fiercely embraced him again.
This time, the two of them weren't standing in the shadows anymore. Shen Qiao couldn't help but look around and blush a little. He cleared his throat, wanting to say something, but he suddenly felt that Lu Zhe's head, buried against his shoulder, was trembling faintly.
Shen Qiao smothered out the idea of pushing Lu Zhe away. He lowered his voice and asked, "What's wrong? This is a good thing, but it's not a big enough deal to cry over, right? Didn't you say we were going to get our marriage licenses? You're not going to cry at the Civil Affairs Bureau too, are you?"
When Lu Zhe heard him bring up the marriage licenses, he took a deep breath and lifted his head.
"What did you say?"
Shen Qiao gazed into his smiling eyes and repeated, "Marriage. Licenses. What? The promise you made in front of millions of netizens is suddenly no good anymore?"
Lu Zhe squeezed his eyes shut for a second, blinking away the fine mist that had started to gather there. Then he lifted a hand to his coat pocket, and—
The next instant.
Like magic, Lu Zhe produced two household registration booklets from his pocket. One was the registration Shen Qiao had gotten when he was adopted by Shen Jinyi, and one was the one Lu Zhe had from Su Qiongpei.
A smile returned to Lu Zhe's lips as he said, "Look at these booklets and tell me one more time—are you really ready to get our licenses today? Because I am."
Shen Qiao had originally been teasing him, and he was a bit surprised to see that Lu Zhe had actually prepared everything. He couldn't help but think back to all the trips they had taken recently, wondering when Lu Zhe had managed to go home to get their booklets.
He must have had Lu Qianshuang mail them over, right?
Their pasts with the Lu family flashed through his mind. All the hatred and pain from back then seemed to be shrouded in a veil, as though they were all things that had happened a long time ago. Shen Qiao returned to his senses. He wore the same smile as Lu Zhe as he straightened up and reached out to take the booklets, thumbing through them.
"Yes," he said to Lu Zhe. "I'm ready. The Civil Affairs Bureau isn't closed yet. Let's go, today."
Lu Zhe heard the seriousness in that carefree tone of his. He added, "If you get this marriage license with me, in this life and the next and the next, you'll be mine."
Shen Qiao almost wanted to laugh when he heard that, wondering how one license could bind them for three lifetimes.
But then he thought back to the gloomy expression Lu Zhe had been wearing when Shen Qiao emerged from the hospital.
Shen Qiao could understand.
Once, they had both walked through some unpleasant times. Lu Zhe promised to make him happy every day from now on, and on the day they got back together, their happiness had smothered out the past.
And now, today.
Lu Zhe had been a little unhappy, so Shen Qiao didn't mind using a happy occasion to overwhelm all the bad things that may have been lingering on his mind.
He wanted to give those same feelings of joy back to Lu Zhe.
He smiled and shoved the booklets back into Lu Zhe's hands. "Okay. It's all yours, and I'm yours too."
Those booklets only contained a few cold, emotionless pages of content.
No one could know what was in store for those booklets in the future, but they had already gone through so many twists and turns in life.
And now, two marriage licenses symbolizing happiness and joy would take over the role of recording the future—and the stories of the future would all be happy and bright.