Shen Wenjun was dumbstruck. Then his body, of its own volition, sent all the blood in his veins surging into his cheeks, causing his whole face to turn red.
After saying his piece, Xie Han stopped talking and lowered his head. He didn't meet Shen Wenjun's gaze. He just continued eating like nothing was out of the ordinary. For a while, the only sound that could be heard in the room was the soft clinking of his metal fork against a ceramic plate.
The silence lasted for half a minute.
Shen Wenjun felt like his ears were ringing. This was far more shocking to him than any criminal's detailed confession of a gruesome crime.
He'd completely lost his grip.
Shen Wenjun's heart was racing erratically. He was extremely confident in his ability to interrogate suspects, yet he couldn't voice a single question now.
Xie Han had planned on marrying him? That was very weird, wasn't it? They'd been good friends since their schoolyard days. They were like brothers. If they got married… if they got married…
Although absolutely nothing had changed yet, at that moment in time, Shen Wenjun already felt like his whole world had been turned upside down.
Xie Han started to speak again, but his words were laden with ambiguity.
"I originally thought, we're already thirty. You haven't married, and I haven't either. We've been cohabitating peacefully, so we're quite compatible in that regard. Wouldn't we be suitable marriage candidates for each other?"
Shen Wenjun felt his heart twisting itself into knots. He couldn't find a way to refute Xie Han's logic. His pulse just raced faster and faster and faster.
Xie Han then said, "But I didn't expect Teng Rui to suddenly appear. You don't like alphas, but fated alphas are a different matter, right? Since this is how things turned out, I couldn't possibly ask you to marry me."
What was that supposed to mean?
Shen Wenjun's mind went blank. He forgot all the things he'd wanted to say. Only one question remained in his mind.
Was Xie Han saying he no longer planned on proposing?
Shen Wenjun finally opened his mouth. "You…"
He only managed to get one word out before Xie Han's phone started ringing.
Xie Han took the call. "Hello? Oh. Got it. Mm… I'll head out right now."
He got up and said to Shen Wenjun, "I'm being called back to work. I have to hurry over."
Shen Wenjun could only stare as Xie Han took his leave, abandoning their half-finished conversation.
This sort of unfinished business was unbearable.
As a result, Shen Wenjun couldn't even concentrate when he went to work that day. He didn't even have the presence of mind to scold Teng Rui.
No matter how he tried to convince himself to calm down, he couldn't get the question 'Xie Han planned on proposing to me?' out of his mind. Did Xie Han intend to propose solely because they were the same age and familiar with each other? Would it have been a proposal of social and financial convenience only? Or were there underlying emotions and impulses at play here?
Xie Han had left him with those few words, making him mull over the problem all by himself without an answer sheet to refer to.
He ate lunch at the cafeteria.
His colleagues were discussing the recent murder case and jokingly quizzing Teng Rui on which clauses of the law were relevant to that case.
Teng Rui enthusiastically answered, giving the correct answers for the very first time. As a result, he earned himself a rousing round of applause. He felt a little embarrassed, and sheepishly turned to check for Shen Wenjun's reaction.
Shen Wenjun hadn't taken notice of their goings-on at all. He was still spacing out. He was so out of it, in fact, that more than one person asked him if he was ill.
"No," he answered curtly.
Although he was only able to do the bare minimum at work.
Teng Rui had been keeping in touch with Shen Wenjun's big brother over the past few days, trying to find a roundabout way to get closer to Shen Wenjun.
He discreetly typed out a message to Shen Wenhao.
Professor Shen doesn't seem to be in a very good mood today. What can I do to cheer him up? Could I buy a snack that he likes? Do you know what he likes?
Five minutes later, he received a response from Shen Wenhao which only said that Shen Wenjun really liked a certain type of bread from a certain bakery.
Shen Wenhao also wrote, How's it going? Have you gotten closer to Little Jun's heart lately?
Teng Rui couldn't help but feel dejected. He could only say he hadn't made any progress, even though Xie Han hadn't shown up at their office for a few days. It was perplexing… earlier, Teng Rui had wondered if Shen Wenjun and Xie Han weren't too close to each other.
Shen Wenhao messaged again.
Normal courting methods won't work on him. Lots of alphas pursue him. I remember people from his office trying to win him over in the past. I think someone even quit after being rejected.
Shen Wenhao's idle gossip was like a sharp knife stabbing into Teng Rui's heart. Even the outstanding prosecutors at this office couldn't win Shen Wenjun over. He… how could he possibly beat them?
Teng Rui mustered up his courage once more and asked, "Laoshi, can I treat you to dinner? Detective Xie seems very busy these days. I haven't seen you go out together for a while."
Shen Wenjun didn't reject him right away. Instead, he asked, "Do you have a lot of free time right now?"
Teng Rui panickedly shook his head. "I… I'd planned on going back to my dorm to study if you turned me down."
"Then come somewhere with me right now," Shen Wenjun said.
Teng Rui was equal parts excited and terrified. But even if his laoshi took him to another grisly crime scene, he wouldn't throw up. He would be cool and collected! He would act like a mature and reliable alpha!
But Shen Wenjun actually took him to a neighboring country. They drove for a full two and a half hours before stopping outside a house in the countryside.
Shen Wenjun climbed out of the car first and ordered, "Unload the trunk."
The trunk had been packed with a few bags of rice and a few containers of oil. Nothing precious, but fairly heavy.
Teng Rui thought back and remembered a worker's comp case he'd glimpsed while flipping through case files. It was a case Shen Wenjun had recently handled. The settlement wasn't a substantial amount—only 20,000 yuan.
Compared to the major cases Shen Wenjun worked, this one was like a single drop of water in the sea.
Out here, Shen Wenjun wasn't at all like the Shen Wenjun who lectured at H Law. He was incomparably kind and warm to the senior citizens and children he talked to. He even spoke to them in a strange, rural dialect.
Shen Wenjun clearly seemed very relaxed in this environment, but Teng Rui could sense a hard-to-describe sort of earnestness emanating from him.
He was beautiful. Shen-laoshi was gorgeous when he smiled. Teng Rui was thoroughly bewitched. But Shen Wenjun's kindness and sincerity, more than his appearance, were what made Teng Rui's heart race.
Shen Wenjun seemed to notice Teng Rui's gaze. He glanced over, making Teng Rui blush to the tips of his ears.
Then it was time to drive back to the city.
"I can get back by myself!" Teng Rui offered of his own volition.
Shen Wenjun snapped, "We're too far out this time. I'll drive you back to the city. You can get off at the subway station and make your way back to school from there."
Night quietly fell.
Streetlights illuminated the two sides of the road.
Shen Wenjun thought back to the last time he'd made that trip. He'd gone with Xie Han.
His gaze flickered to the rearview mirror. Teng Rui was sitting stiffly in the backseat, almost like a monk. It was like he feared the slightest imperfection in his posture would be enough to incur Shen Wenjun's disgust.
The alpha's pheromones filled up the car.
It was a pleasing scent. More pleasing to Shen Wenjun's nose than any perfume in the world.
"Your work hasn't been a complete disaster lately," Shen Wenjun began, "and I can tell you've been diligently studying your books. But I hope you'll continue working hard for the sake of becoming a competent practitioner of the law. Not for me."
Teng Rui was thrilled. This was the first time he'd ever received Shen Wenjun's approval. He was overjoyed. He hadn't even been this happy when his college entrance exam results came out.
His first instinct was to grab his cell phone and type out a text to Shen Wenhao.
Shen-laoshi praised me! Does this mean I have a chance with him?
Just as he sent that text, he heard Shen Wenjun speak up again.
"Truth be told, you aren't that bad. You're just a bit dim, but everyone was young once… I always scold you, I always insult you. I didn't expect you to stick around for so long, and you don't make many mistakes these days."
Teng Rui's joy was just starting to bloom.
"But," Shen Wenjun continued, "I still want you to resign. Don't come back to the office starting tomorrow."
Originally, he'd planned on ignoring Teng Rui's presence. But now, it was becoming apparent that Teng Rui's presence in his life would destroy the stability between him and Xie Han.
Shen Wenjun didn't even need to weigh his options.
Even if Teng Rui's pheromones smelled better, Xie Han was far more important to him.