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Edited by Bet from Betwixted Translations
Rong Zhouzhong sat down next to Xiang Aoting, sandwiching Chen Qing between them and Shi Weichong. At this point, the “Lian Jun having lunch with his old friend” scenario was completely ruined.
When he confirmed Lian Jun was more or less safe, Shi Jin decided enough is enough and stopped making a ruckus. He returned Xiang Aoting’s jacket and, on the pretext of getting tableware for his brothers, left the inner room and found Gua Two.
Gua Two was leaning against the round table in the outer room. When he noticed Shi Jin’s serious expression, he raised his eyebrows and asked, “What’s wrong? Were you bullied by your brothers?”
“No.” Shi Jin moved closer to him and lowered his voice. “When I went to pick up my brother, I noticed there were people in the nearby rooms. The problem is, the waiter said the second and third floors are empty today. I think it’s weird; we’d better pay more attention.”
Gua Two’s eyes flashed. He said, “The rooms are supposed to be empty. Mr. Chen said considering Jun-shao’s special identity, he booked those two floors in advance. In which room did you see someone? How did you find them?”
Shi Jin thought his reaction was wrong—the man was too calm. He looked at him suspiciously, then continued, “There should be people in both rooms neighboring this one. I was playing with my third brother in the corridor a moment ago, and I heard some muffled voices…”
During his explanation, Gua Two’s expression became more and more strange. He trailed off as he realized something and grabbed Gua Two’s clothes. He said, grinding his teeth: “You know there are people in the empty rooms?”
“I do.” Gua Two scratched his nose, looking as if he was trying not to smile. He pointed down. “All the guests on the first floor are the government people. Do you think Jun-shao would allow you to come otherwise? So relax, eat, drink—the sky hasn’t fallen yet. By the way, why are your brothers here? Did you call them? And you even boasted about them so much. Did you do that because you knew there was something not right about Mr. Chen? Huh, you’re sharp.”
“…No, I was just having fun boasting,” Shi Jin forced out through clenched teeth, letting go of him. He suddenly became tired. “I feel like a complete fool,” he confessed to Xiao Si.
Xiao Si was silent for a moment, then comforted him weakly, <It’s fine, I’m more stupid than you.>
Shi Jin: “…”
Feeling as if his life had no meaning, he took the tableware to the inner room and dropped into his chair not speaking, looking like a wilted plant.
“What’s wrong?” Lian Jun asked.
Shi Jin glanced at him then at Chen Qing and shook his head. He moved his chair over to Xiang Aoting, deciding to separate from Lian Jun for now. He felt his mood was fluctuating today, and he needed some time to calm down.
Lian Jun looked at the widening distance between two of them and his eyes narrowed, but he didn’t ask. He rang the bell and asked Gua Two to bring the menu again, ordering a few more dishes. Among them was a roasted lamb shoulder—the “kiddie version” of the roasted whole lamb Shi Jin once wanted to eat.
Unfortunately, Shi Jin was immersed in an abyss of self-loathing and did not notice Lian Jun’s new order.
Xiang Aoting, who detected the change in Shi Jin’s mood, was satisfied with this “estrangement.” He helped move his tableware a little further and asked, “Hungry?”
Shi Jin shook his head, looked up at him and asked quietly, “Fourth Brother, was I very silly when I introduced you?” I knew Lian Jun must have prepared, so why did I make a scene? I should’ve sat there, chowed down my food, and behaved myself.
Long story short, he was still too inexperienced.
Xiang Aoting’s expression softened. When he opened his mouth to comfort him, Rong Zhouzhong sitting next to him grumbled, “When are you not silly? When someone grows up to eighteen, but their IQ stays the same as ten years ago, it’s impossible not to be silly. They will always be silly. Aren’t you embarrassed showing off your brothers like that when you’re already an adult?” This last sentence was almost inadible, barely a shape on his lips.
Shi Jin became angry from embarrassment. He glowered at his third brother, raising his fist.
Rong Zhouzhong sent him a glare in return and ignored him.
Xiang Aoting, sandwiched between them, was both feeling helpless and wanted to laugh—it was way too long since he saw this scene of friendly brothers’ fight.
This meal was, ultimately, Lian Jun’s affair and the three older brothers barged in uninvited. So, while they waited for food to be served, Shi Weichong asked the waiter to set the table in the outer room, on the pretext of having family matters to discuss.
When Shi Jin followed, Lian Jun did not stop him. He simply asked Gua Two to let the waiter take all the extra dishes to Shi Weichong’s table.
The bustling inner room became quiet. Lian Jun personally poured Chen Qing a cup of tea and set it on the table before the other man. He turned toward him and said, “Shi Jin’s sense of danger is extremely keen.”
Chen Qing’s heart missed a beat when he heard the word “danger.” He reached for the hot tea Lian Jun poured him, and answered dully, “Re-really? He seems young. Is he your new subordinate?”
“Yes, he grew quickly.” Lian Jun leaned back in his wheelchair and ladled himself another bowl of soup. He stirred it slowly and seemed to casually chit-chat. “Shi Jin has a sense of propriety, and is well-behaved. Usually, he would never be that rude meeting someone for the first time.”
As Chen Qing listened, beads of sweat appeared on his forehead.
They have known each other for many years. While Chen Qing wouldn’t say he knew Lian Jun completely, he prided himself on it being at least seventy percent. Lian Jun never said meaningless nonsense on inappropriate occasions, but now, out of the blue, he praised his new subordinate. What’s more, he implied this subordinate, who made a spectacle of himself, was usually polite and kept a low profile. When coupled with the previous sentence, “Shi Jin’s sense of danger is extremely keen,” Chen Qing understood Lian Jun’s meaning almost immediately—there’s something wrong about you, and not only I, but even my new follower noticed it. So, before I tear off your mask of friendliness, you’d better seize the opportunity to confess.
“Lian Jun…” Chen Qing wanted to say something, but his mouth opened and closed without a word. Suddenly drained of energy, he collapsed in his chair and a bitter smile appeared on his face. “Lian Jun, you’re still so… I remember you didn’t drink soup before.”
“People change.” Lian Jun looked at him. “Is the pot of lucky bamboo I sent you that year growing well?”
Surprised, Chen Qing had to puzzle out the code he hadn’t heard for a long time. After a moment, his eyes turned red, and he raised a hand to wipe his face. He made up his mind, straightened and looked into Lian Jun’s eyes. “It’s fine, it sprouted three new shots. Unfortunately, a cat scratched one, and my wife moved the other two to a new pot. I don’t know whether it can be saved.”
What this meant was: ‘Since we parted ways, my family gained three new members, one was injured and the other two caught. My wife was the injured one, and it was my two children who were caught. Please save them.’
Lian Jun raised his eyebrows, seeing Chen Qing’s eyes filled with anxiety and hope. He nodded and replied mildly, “It will be saved. Have some soup, it’s very good today.”
When he heard this promise, Chen Qing’s tense body relaxed, and he was torn between a smile and tears. It was like the stone that had been pressing on his heart for a long time had loosened a little. He thanked Lian Jun silently and changed the topic.
The atmosphere in the outer room was tense.
Shi Jin sat alone, and his three brothers sat opposite. The table between them was filled with all kinds of delicacies whose appetizing smell filled the air, but no one moved their chopsticks. With them seated like this, it looked like a joint court hearing.
Shi Weichong got straight to the point. “Xiao Jin, we came today because we wanted to talk to both you and Lian Jun.”
Shi Jin had guessed Shi Weichong and Rong Zhouzhong were summoned by Xiang Aoting, but he didn’t know the reason. Seeing Shi Weichong’s expression was grave, his scalp tingled. “What do you want to talk about?”
“About your future.” Shi Weichong answered. His brows wrinkled, and he continued in all earnestness, “Lian Jun said it’s up to you to decide whether you leave or stay. Xiao Jin, I hope you will return home with me.”
So this was what they wanted to talk about.
Shi Jin relaxed a little, but still refused categorically. “Big Brother, I’m sorry but I don’t want to go back.”
“Xiao Jin.” Shi Weichong radiated disapproval. “I thought we’d cleared up that misunderstanding.”
Shi Jin had long wanted to have a good talk with those of his brothers he had ruled out as murderers. Now that the opportunity had arisen, he sorted his thoughts and said seriously, “Big Brother, Third Brother, Fourth Brother, because I did misunderstood you before, I acted wilfully and it made you worry. For that, I’m sorry. I will not lie to you: at first, I didn’t want to go back because I suspected you but now, I simply want to stay in Nightlight—I like it there very much.”
The three older men frowned in unison.
“After all, our family is different from the ordinary families.” Shi Jin signed and continued to explain, “Each of you has his own life and career, and his own relatives to take care of. If I came back with you, it would make it awkward all around. And to return to that big, empty house, live there alone, go to school alone, and wait for you to contact me from time to time… No, I’m not blaming you, I simply want you to understand I prefer my present life to the one I used to lead. I can learn a lot while staying with Lian Jun. Gua One and others do their best to teach me and I like them very much. You think it’s worse than going to the university, but it’s not, I’m just learning different things… I’m an adult already—trust me, okay?”
Shi Weichong’s eyebrows knitted in a deep frown, and Xiang Aoting tensed up; even Rong Zhouzhong’s expression said ‘Are you daft?’ They didn’t have to speak out loud for Shi Jin to know their answer: No, it’s not okay. Would any normal older brother agree with his sibling joining the gang and “studying” in their bullshit “university”? Are you delirious?
Xiang Aoting shook his head. “Xiao Jin, this isn’t about us trusting you. Staying with Lian Jun is not safe—you may end up in danger at any time.”
“Have you even thought about your future? This is a path of no return,” added Shi Weichong.
“I know, I have thought things through,” Shi Jin replied firmly, looking them in the eyes. “And I want to stay, even if it’s dangerous. Fourth Brother, if I said flying a fighter is dangerous, would you retire and transfer to a safer unit?”
Xiang Aoting frowned and did not answer.
Shi Jin turned toward Rong Zhouzhong. “Third Brother, if I said being a celebrity is dangerous, because you are harassed by stalker fans and omnipresent paparazzi, and I’d like you to become an ordinary person again, would you agree?”
Rong Zhouzhong sneered. “It seems you still have a death wish. What the hell is this analogy? And if you dare to call me such a moronic thing like ‘celebrity’ one more time, I will twist your head off.”
Shi Jin: “…”
He decided to ignore him and looked at his eldest brother again.
Shi Weichong raised a hand, interrupting his prepared question. The expression in his eyes was complicated, as if he was just getting to know Shi Jin again. “I understand what you mean. Although I could argument until I’m hoarse that the dangers you might face while following Lian Jun and the dangers the other occupations face are fundamentally different, you probably won’t listen anyway. I will ask you just one question: do you really have to stay with him?”
“Yes.” There was no hesitation in Shi Jin’s voice. He lauded his brothers a little. “And I believe it’s not true I’m on a path of no return—I have you to fall back on, don’t I?”
This flattery was exactly on point. Shi Weichong and Xiang Aoting’s expression relaxed almost immediately. Though Rong Zhouzhong snorted, his scowl eased a little, and he did not refute this statement either.
“Why must it be Lian Jun?” Shi Weichong asked.
Because of his progress bar, the touchy little goblin it is.
That was Shi Jin’s instinctive answer, but he obviously couldn’t blurt that out. So, he put a sincere expression on his face and said with feeling, “Because he is great, I want to follow him. Brother, agree with me this once, this is something I really want to do.”
Shi Weichong fell silent. After a long moment, he asked, “Do you like Lian Jun that much? That even a threat to your life can’t deter you?”
Shi Jin: “…Eh?”
Rong Zhouzhong straightened in his chair, and his expression became ugly. “What did you say, Eldest Brother? Who? Who likes whom? Who does this little bastard, who hasn’t even grown hair yet, likes?”
Shi Jin was befuddled. He stared at Shi Weichong, who was gazing at him mournfully like one would watch a teenager who strayed off the right path. What what they implied hit home, and he choked from shock. He snapped his head toward the door to the inner room to check if it was closed properly. After confirming it was, he breathed a sigh of relief. He lowered his voice, “Big Brother, what are you talking about? I, I just admire Jun-shao. Admire, got it? He’s amazing. In the future, I want to become someone like him. You, you… Your thinking is too narrow!”
Shi Weichong was taken aback. He sent Xiang Aoting a dubious glance then fixed his stare on Shi Jin and asked, “Don’t you like Lian Jun?”
Shi Jin wanted to cry. “Why don’t you say I like you instead?” Although Lian Jun is a great person, has a good character, and you can’t find any flaws in him, but… His life is still hanging by a thread, who would think about liking or disliking!
“Don’t say stupid things!” Shi Weichong rebuked. Finally convinced they put two and two together and made five, he confirmed one more time, “Do you really merely admire Lian Jun?”
Shi Jin nodded so hard his head was about to fall off.
“Why do you care so much about him then?” Xiang Aoting couldn’t help but ask.
“He’s my boss. If he dies, I will lose my livelihood. Of course, I care about him,” Shi Jin said in a matter-of-fact tone. He looked at Xiang Aoting resentfully, his expression saying, ‘So you are this kind of person, I misjudged you.’ He didn’t even need to think about it—this misunderstanding was absolutely Xiang Aoting’s fault!
Xiang Aoting avoided his stare, looking a little sheepish.
Rong Zhouzhong slowly leaned back in his chair, his eyes gliding over the faces of the three people. His expression returned to normal, and he pulled the corners of his mouth up in an unclear smile. “You guys sure can act out a great drama. Why don’t you follow me into the entertainment world? I guarantee you will make the headlines every day.”
Shi Weichong was silent for a long time. Finally, he choked out, “So, in the end, what is it you want to do? You want to become a mob boss, like Lian Jun?”
“He isn’t a mob boss, Big Brother. We are a legal organization, we do honest business,” Shi Jin refuted. Then he continued, keeping a straight face, “You guys are a president of an international company, a superstar, and a fighter pilot. Why can’t I be a national hero who helped a boss of an underworld organization wash clean? This is a laudable goal, so you shouldn’t kill a young man’s dream.”
Shi Weichong & Xiang Aoting: “…”
Rong Zhouzhong looked at him as if he was mentally handicapped and sneered, “A young man’s dream? A hallucination, more like.”
Shi Jin glowered at him again and raised his fist. Rong Zhouzhong’s face turned black, and he kicked him under the table.
When Lian Jun and Chen Qing finished their meal and came out, the three brothers had disappeared, leaving only Shi Jin in the outer room. Shi Jin’s expression was a little weird, and his eyes were wandering around. One could tell at a glance that something was wrong.
Lian Jun raised his eyebrows. “Where are your brothers?”
“They had something to do and left,” answered Shi Jin, not bearing to look him in the eye. Thinking about Shi Weichong and Lian Jun’s “honest talk,” he felt so embarrassed he wished the ground to open and swallow him whole. He wanted to explain, but did not know how to start.
When Lian Jun saw the teenager refused to look at him, his frown turned deeper, but for the moment, he said nothing. Gesturing for Shi Jin to keep up, he moved his wheelchair and sent Chen Qing out of the restaurant.
The meeting ended with no dangerous surprises. After the men got in the car and left the restaurant grounds, Lian Jun’s progress bar fell back to 500, which meant he was completely safe.
Shi Jin breathed a big sigh of relief. He looked sideways at Lian Jun sitting next to him and hesitated, unsure whether to say anything. Finally, he decided the earlier he explained the better, and opened, “Um, Jun-shao, did my brothers talk to you today…?”
Lian Jun’s fingers lying on his knee twitched. He moved his gaze away from the view behind the car window to Shi Jin and signaled Gua Two, who was driving, to raise the partition wall. Only after determining they were isolated and won’t be heard, he said, “We did talk about something. Why do you ask?”
Shi Jin was going to suffocate—Lian Jun must have guessed what he’s going to talk about or he wouldn’t have raised the partition wall!
He had never been more mortified in any his lives: his older brothers followed him to meet his boss, said Shi Jin had designs on him, and used this supposition to negotiate with him to let Shi Jin go. And now Shi Jin had to bite the bullet and explain to the man that no, he did not like him that way.
So, in the end, are you my brothers or my enemies?!
“…I’m sorry!” Shi Jin bowed his head and apologized. Though he was embarrassed, he still had to explain. “My eldest brother was talking nonsense. Jun-shao, I assure you, I’m completely loyal to you and wouldn’t dare to disrespect you like that! Believe me!”
Lian Jun stopped tapping on his knees and folded his hands on his abdomen. He replied with a short hum and looked out of the window again.
Shi Jin waited, waited, and waited. When nothing else followed, he peered at Lian Jun and asked, “Aren’t you going to say anything, Jun-shao?”
“What do you want me to say?” Lian Jun didn’t turn to look at him, presenting him an indifferent profile. “That your way of respecting me is forcing me to drink soup at dinner, calling me ‘darling’ when you are drunk, and hugging me before leaving for a mission? Shi Jin, were you ever not disrespectful to me?”
Shi Jin was speechless—he really did all this.
After he stopped talking, Lian Jun finally looked at him and asked, “Do you have anything else to say?”
Shi Jin pleaded his case tearfully, “Jun-shao, I do care about you.”
“Mm.” Lian Jun nodded and turned his head away. “Then I will care about you too.”
Shi Jin: “…”
Xiao Si asked weakly, <Is Darling angry?>
Shi Jin leaned back in silence. He looked at Lian Jun’s perfect profile and contemplated the vicissitudes of life. “Do you think the answer to this question may be ‘no’?”
Xiao Si kept silent, but what it thought in its heart was, Impossible.
The moment he returned to the club, Lian Jun summoned Gua One and the rest of his subordinates to give them three orders: trace the whereabouts of Chen Qing’s family, find out who was lying in ambush in the restaurant today, and rescue Chen Qing’s family as soon as possible.
Only then did Shi Jin know Chen Qing didn’t invite Lian Jun out of his own initiative, but was forced to. Before the meeting happened, he was under the enemy’s control, and in the restaurant he was wearing a wire and didn’t dare to talk freely.
If Lian Jun and Chen Qing didn’t have a secret code for communication from earlier times, it might’ve been impossible for Chen Qing to let Lian Jun know the truth.
Shi Jin frowned, understanding now why Chen Qing was so nervous the whole time. His heart was a little heavy—the enemy could not only dig up Lian Jun’s old friend but also use him to bring Lian Jun down. It seemed Annihilation’s current opponents were quite industrious.
“…And Gua Nine is in charge of information gathering. Get moving, there isn’t much time.” Lian Jun finished briefing his people, signaling them to act as soon as possible.
Gua One and the others scattered to take care of their respective tasks.
When Shi Jin emerged from his rumination, only he and Lian Jun were left in the study. He asked timidly, “Jun-shao, what about me?”
“You will accompany me,” replied Lian Jun, moving his wheelchair towards the door. He stopped when he was passing next to Shi Jin and added, “Have a good rest, and remember to go to the infirmary to take care of your hands.” Then he left straight away.
Shi Jin watched him leave. He glanced at the injuries on his hands, which changed from red and swollen to purple, a little confused—just now, Lian Jun did not seem to be angry at all.
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