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Shi Jin couldn’t bear it. He turned the tablet off and rushed to Lian Jun’s study.
Lian Jun was dealing with official documents, but the moment Shi Jin staggered in, without the tablet and looking as if he didn’t know what hit him, he put down the file and moved his wheelchair from behind the desk. Grabbing the teenager’s hand, he asked, “What’s wrong?”
Shi Jin’s head spun with all kinds of thoughts. He didn’t notice his hand was captured, but he unconsciously tightened back. His thoughts were thousands of miles away. He pulled Lian Jun toward the sofa and said, “I hope I’m thinking too much… You read these files too, right? I have a theory; please help me see if it makes sense.” He needed someone’s help, a second opinion, or he would suffocate. Not only was Lian Jun the one who helped him find the information in the first place, but he was also smart and knew his family’s situation. Asking him was the best choice.
Lian Jun glanced at his hand and obediently slid his wheelchair beside the sofa, letting out an affirming hum.
They sat by the coffee table. Lian Jun poured Shi Jin a cup of warm water and lit a light incense.
The water and the subtle scent slowly permeating the air helped Shi Jin’s feverish mind settle down. He sorted out his thoughts, carefully explained his speculation and the reasons for it to Lian Jun, then watched the other man expectantly.
After Lian Jun heard him out, he pondered for a moment. He looked at the teenager and said, “Your theory is reasonable. I’ll ask someone to check the details of Xiang Qing’s miscarriage and to find out more about Shi Xingrui’s life, to see if someone… some man from his past looked similar to you and your mother.” Lian Jun frowned as he said that, apparently not liking the direction this was going.
“Women too, just in case. After all, I might be wrong, and the person on Shi Xingrui’s mind was a woman,” Shi Jin added.
Lian Jun nodded. Seeing the teenager’s tense expression didn’t ease, he soothed in a gentle voice, “Checking will take some time. Try to relax and rest, don’t think too much—the resentments of the previous generation have nothing to do with you. Whatever happens, whatever you want to do, you have me. I’ll take care of everything, so don’t be afraid.”
You have me.
The confidence and domineering aura Lian Jun exuded when he said his last sentence awed Shi Jin. The other man appeared powerful and dependable as if nothing could shake him. Shi Jin poked Xiao Si: “Is this the underworld boss’ aura? ‘You have me…’ Suddenly, I want to kneel and worship him as the big boss!”
<……> Xiao Si began to seriously worry about recovering Shi Jin’s lost IQ and EQ.
Lian Jun saw the younger man looking at himself with worshipful eyes. He leaned a little closer and whispered, “Shi Jin?”
Shi Jin woke from his irrelevant thoughts. He glanced to the side at Lian Jun, who was so close, and took in his beautiful face. The longer he looked, the more convinced he was that Lian Jun was truly a good baby. A sudden impulse overcame him and made him throw his arms around the other man’s body, pat him on the back, and say, “I know I have you, and you have to remember you have me too! Lian Jun, you have to do your best to get better and live for a long time—I will help you!” Help you get rid of your progress bar, so you won’t be in danger of dying at a moment’s notice!
The temperature on the island was high, and both of them dressed lightly. Shi Jin only wore a loose tank top, so when he hugged Lian Jun, the man almost instantly felt his body temperature.
The previous hugs were brief, and there was a barrier of thick clothes. Unlike them, this was much more intimate.
Lian Jun’s heart jumped. He instinctively stiffened at the touch, but soon relaxed. Feeling Shi Jin’s comfortable warmth, he didn’t hesitate to hug back, pulling the teenager closer. He glanced at the head resting on his shoulder, and hair behind Shi Jin’s ear tickled the tip of his nose. His expression gradually eased. “I will,” he said softly.
Of course, he had to live for a long time—there was no way he’d let the dear, dear person in his arms belong to someone else.
Shi Jin was going to let go after a few seconds. When he realized what he’d done, he worried Lian Jun would be angry. He never expected Lian Jun to hug him too. What’s more, even when Shi Jin loosened his hold, preparing to step away, the other man wasn’t willing to release him.
He shifted his head a bit on Lian Jun’s shoulder and breathed in the light scent of his shower gel. He couldn’t help but nudge Xiao Si again: “Did he fall asleep? Why isn’t he moving?”
Xiao Si replied, thoughtfully gazing into the distance, <He didn’t, but he’s probably very tired. Darling grew up in Annihilation and was taught to always be on his guard because danger was always a hair’s breadth away. Likely, he’s never been hugged like this. JinJin, Darling’s life is lacking warmth, you have to treat him with more affection.>
Shi Jin imagined a pitiable, lonely child, struggling to survive in a criminal organization, and his heart instantly softened. He tightened his embrace again, inwardly letting out a sigh—if Lian Jun needed a hug, then he’d let him hug as long as he wanted. Lian Jun is so pitiful. Nobody ever hugged him properly, poor thing.
These movements didn’t escape Lian Jun’s notice. He turned his head a bit and dropped a light kiss on hair behind Shi Jin’s ear, the corners of his mouth rising up in a smile. This silly boy—who knows what his mind made up this time.
After lunch, Shi Jin finally got his wish and took Lian Jun outside.
The afternoon sun was intense. Afraid that Lian Jun couldn’t withstand the heat, Shi Jin pushed the wheelchair along a bluestone path. He passed flowerbeds and clumps of trees, went up a small hill near one end of the island, and found a pavilion with the best view. There, under the shade of trees, he and Lian Jun played board games—Shi Jin hadn’t forgotten he wanted to make up for Lian Jun’s lost childhood.
The pavilion was a simple construction made of wood, with strings of seashell chimes hanging along the edges. They jingled every time wind blew, their sound crisp and sweet.
There was the Monopoly game board in front of the two, with cards, money, houses, and hotels. The snacks Shi Jin brought were also close at hand. They chatted as they played. Occasionally, when the seashell chimes jingled, they simultaneously turned to look at them, then glanced at each other and laughed. The afternoon passed just like that.
When the glow of sunset turned the clouds on the horizon orange, Shi Jin stretched lazily and laid on the cluttered table, sighing with satisfaction. “Holiday life is great…”
Lian Jun reached out to poke his forehead. “You spent the whole afternoon with me, weren’t you bored?”
Surprised at the touch, Shi Jin didn’t react for a moment, then looked up at Lian Jun and shook his head. “No, I like playing Monopoly, it’s fun. Do you feel bored, Jun-shao?”
“No, it’s good to relax like this.” Lian Jun poked his forehead again, in a good mood since he made sure the teenager really wasn’t bored.
Not caring about his little actions anymore, Shi Jin immediately suggested, “Then tomorrow, let’s go out and play.”
Lian Jun supported his cheek on his hand and nodded. “All right.”
Shi Jin’s eyes brightened. Since Lian Jun seemed to be in a good mood, he asked experimentally, “Why don’t we come out every weekend? Working without breaks is exhausting, we should pay attention to balancing work and rest.”
The corners of Lian Jun’s mouth went up, and he nodded again. “Whatever you want.”
Shi Jin couldn’t help sighing.
That answer meant agreement, right? It felt a bit weird, though, as if an adult spoiled a child.
Xiao Si: <……> An adult spoiling a child, huh?/you say?
Although Lian Jun’s response was odd, it didn’t diminish Shi Jin’s delight. He immediately began planning out every weekend in foreseeable future, beaming with enthusiasm.
Time flew, accompanied by the gentle tinkling of wind chimes. On a certain day in late March, Shi Jin skipped classes—with Mr. Feng’s consent but without Lian Jun’s knowledge.
“You have to make up the lessons you’ll miss today, you can’t fall behind in your studies,” Mr. Feng said, looking stern.
Shi Jin hurried to promise, “I know. A few days with additional class in the evening will do, right? You can arrange it, Teacher.”
Mr. Feng’s face looked a bit better. “Yes, this will do.”
They went to the dining hall closest to the villa where Gua Six was already waiting. When he saw Shi Jin, he greeted him warmly. “The kitchen is waiting for you, and the ingredients were prepared—you can make whatever you wish. If you don’t know where something is, ask the others, they’ll show you.”
Shi Jin made an OK sign and hurried to the kitchen.
Mr. Feng watched him go, his stern expression slowly easing. He glanced at the various decorations and costumes scattered around the dining hall with a complicated mood.
Gua Six noticed and leaned over to say, “Xiao Jin is a good boy, you shouldn’t be so hard on him.”
Mr. Feng glanced at him but didn’t reply. He turned and left.
In his study, Lian Jun looked at the hour. Seeing it was almost time for Shi Jin’s break, he put down the documents he was reading and slid out from behind the desk. He took out a bottle of chilled juice from the small refrigerator and put it on the coffee table next to a fruit platter.
When he finished the preparations, it was a minute to the recess. Lian Jun returned to the desk and picked up the papers.
The minute passed quickly but this time, he didn’t hear the usual knocking. He glanced at the door, thought that maybe Shi Jin went to the bathroom, and looked at the documents again.
Another few minutes passed but the knock still didn’t come. Finally, Lian Jun couldn’t sit still. He dropped the file he was holding and went outside the door, then looked in the direction of the smaller study. He found that Mr. Feng, who was supposed to be on break, had moved a chair in front of its door and was looking over the curriculum.
“Teacher?” Puzzled, Lian Jun glanced at the door behind him.
Mr. Feng emerged from his preoccupation. He saw the direction of Lian Jun’s gaze and explained, “I forgot to tell you, I arranged a small exam for Shi Jin. It’s for all of the subjects, so he’ll have fewer breaks today. I thought he would be nervous if I observed him, so I went outside.”
So it’s because he has an exam.
Lian Jun’s eyebrows wrinkled, but he nodded and said, “Then come and sit in my study, Teacher, you shouldn’t have to wait outside the door.”
“No, I’ll stay here, just in case.” Mr. Feng waved his hand and said with a completely straight face, “What if Shi Jin wanted to sneak out to check the textbooks?”
Lian Jun instantly came to the teenager’s defense: “Shi Jin wouldn’t cheat.”
“You don’t understand.” Mr. Feng shook his head, looking as if he had seen it all when it came to students. “Some poor students wouldn’t stop for anything to pass their exams.”
Lian Jun wanted to say that Shi Jin wasn’t exactly a poor student but then thought about the young man’s usual temperament and closed his mouth.
And so, Lian Jun was successfully deceived. When it was time for the next recess, Shi Jin stopped what he was doing, took off his apron, and hurried back to the villa. He managed to knock on the door to Lian Jun’s study right on time.
Lian Jun opened the door right away. First, he observed the teenager’s mood—it seemed good, so he shouldn’t have failed the exam. As he relaxed, he noticed a sweet smell coming from Shi Jin and something which looked suspiciously similar to icing on his hand.
“You were eating during the test?” This was his first reaction.
“Uh… Yeah!” Shi Jin froze for a second then nodded hurriedly. He put a pitiful expression on his face and sighed. “It took such a long time, my brain felt sluggish. Eating something sweet is a good way to replenish energy.”
“It’s not a big exam, you shouldn’t worry too much,” Lian Jun reassured him. He took his hand and wiped the icing on it then gestured to the sofa. “Rest for a while, the kitchen just delivered a fresh fruit platter. Mr. Feng said the exam will take the whole day. Are you tired?”
Shi Jin discreetly let out a sigh of relief and sat down. He stuffed a piece of chilled fruit in his mouth to disguise his expression and replied, “No, it’s actually easier than lessons. At least there is no homework.”
Seeing him eating so busily, Lian Jun frowned. He leaned over and touched his head, then turned away to take out more snacks.
Shi Jin raised a hand to his hair. Lately, he felt that Lian Jun seemed to like to touch him. Then, he remembered what Xiao Si said about the man’s life lacking warmth and put it out of his mind.
Once the break ended, Shi Jin entered the smaller study while Lian Jun watched. Once the older man returned to his own study, he sneaked out again, going straight to the dining hall’s kitchen.
At lunchtime Shi Jin, afraid that Lian Jun would be able to discover some clues if they went to the dining hall, convinced him to have lunch in the villa, under the pretext he was too tired because of the exam.
And so, with such skullduggery, the day passed. In the late afternoon, Shi Jin’s handmade cake was finally done, and Gua One and the others finished decorating the dining hall.
“All right, I’ll go get Jun-shao, you keep an eye on the rest of the dishes,” Shi Jin said to Gua Two as he took off his apron. He wiped off the cream on his hands and headed to the villa.
Gua Two confirmed. He watched the teenager leave, then looked at the others and heaved a deep sigh. “With all of Shi Jin’s actions, Jun-shao would have to fall even if he was made of stone.”
Everyone present glanced at him and tacitly ignored his baiting, scattering to take care of the dishes as Shi Jin asked instead.
Afraid the smell of cream on him was too intense and would make Lian Jun suspicious, after Shi Jin returned, he came out of the smaller study immediately, as if he’d finished the exam early. He opened Lian Jun’s study’s door and blurted, “Jun-shao, I got some ink on me, I’m going to wash,” then slammed it shut and rushed to his room, leaving Mr. Feng behind.
As expected, when Lian Jun heard Shi Jin’s voice, he immediately went out, but there was already no trace of the teenager in the corridor. He turned his gaze to Mr. Feng.
The old man picked up the slack, saying with a disgusted expression, “I said he was a bad student—he made so many mistakes on the test. Then, when I was correcting his papers, he spilled my bottle of ink, getting it all over his clothes.”
After a moment of silence, Lian Jun asked, “What brand of ink is it? I’ll tell the logistics department to send you a box.”
Does he mean Shi Jin can spill ink whenever he wants to since he will help him compensate for it anyway?
Mr. Feng glared at Lian Jun angrily and choked out, “You’re spoiling him!” Then he stomped off in a huff.
Lian Jun, like a fatuous, self-indulgent ruler who turned a deaf ear to his loyal minister’s earnest advice, replied calmly at his back, “He’s my man, of course, I have to spoil him.”
Following the plan, once Shi Jin finished his shower, he pushed Lian Jun to the dining hall for “dinner.”
Lian Jun, worried he was in a low spirit because of the exam, said, “Actually, we don’t have to go out, we can eat on the terrace.”
“No, we already had lunch in the villa. The day is almost over, we shouldn’t spend it all inside. Besides, the evening breeze is nice,” Shi Jin replied. Once they arrived at the dining hall, he asked, “Jun-shao, today I want to sit at the outdoor area, close to the sea. Can we?”
Lian Jun naturally agreed. “Of course.”
Shi Jin thereupon moved the wheelchair in that direction, turning it so Lian Jun was facing the sea. “Let’s sit at that table there then.”
Since the sun hadn’t set yet and it was still bright, naturally, the lights in the dining hall weren’t on. Lian Jun didn’t doubt anything and obediently let Shi Jin push him to the edge of the outdoor area. Once they settled down, he didn’t forget to praise the teenager’s choice of place—the view was truly splendid.
Shi Jin, pleased, sat opposite him, ordered the same dishes as him as usual, and chatted while they ate. He waited until the sun went down and the sky darkened, then put on a confused expression. “Why aren’t the lights coming on, is there a power failure?”
Lian Jun was also doubtful. He raised a hand, ready to call somebody to ask.
Shi Jin stopped him and got up. “Don’t call anyone, I’ll go take a look. It’s just as well, I wanted to go to the bathroom anyway.”
Lian Jun lowered his hand and nodded then watched him enter the dining hall.
The sea breeze gently blew as the dusk gave way to night. Lian Jun waited a long time, but the teenager didn’t return. Just as he was about to make inquiries, the lights in the dining hall suddenly turned on. The lines of small, colorful lights winded around the outdoor area, lighting up at uniform speed, finally converging over the umbrella shading Lian Jun’s table. There was a snap, and a large number of dim lights lit up inside and around the umbrella, making it a world of its own, small but breathtakingly beautiful.
Lian Jun stopped in mid-turn and glanced at the colorful lights surrounding him. Faintly realizing what was happening, he looked towards the door.
Illuminated by the radiance of what resembled a galaxy of stars, a plush bear in a chef’s costume came out of the dining hall, pushing a serving trolley with a small, three-layered birthday cake. It was surrounded by many gift boxes, big and small, in the middle of which stood a cartoon figurine singing “Happy Birthday.” It was both funny and endearing.
Lian Jun’s eyes seemed to be filled with brilliant starlight. He turned his wheelchair toward the bear, his expression infinitely gentle.
The trolley stopped in front of him. The bear didn’t speak, but reached out a paw and began to insert birthday candles in the cake. While he was doing that, his other paw grabbed the gift boxes and stuffed it in Lian Jun’s arms. It looked hilarious.
Lian Jun smiled. He soon found all of the boxes were marked with a number, and asked, “From everyone?”
The bear nodded. Once he finished inserting the candles, he crouched down and started to adjust the height of the trolley. Bit by bit, the cake was lowered to the height where it would be convenient for Lian Jun to blow out the candles.
Lian Jun then discovered that the cake which looked beautiful from the distance was actually a bit crude. What’s more, the words Happy Birthday on top were obviously written in Shi Jin’s hand, not by a professional confectioner.
Lian Jun’s heart beat faster. He recalled Shi Jin’s “exam” today and the sweet scent he smelled from him, and looked at the bear who’d already stood up. Reaching out to catch his paw, he asked, “Did you make it?”
“It’s-time-to-make-a-wish. Blow-the-candles-out,” the bear answered in a mechanized-sounding voice—Shi Jin’s voice.
Hearing it, Lian Jun melted. He didn’t make a wish but blew out the candles directly. Abruptly, he rose from his wheelchair and threw his arms around the stunned plush bear, then closed his eyes and dropped a gentle kiss on the black nose.
Shi Jin was so shocked his eyes nearly popped out through the holes on the headgear. He watched Lian Jun come nearer and nearer, close his eyes, and softly kiss the bear’s nose, and his heart began to thump wildly as if it was going to jump out from his chest. Its loud beating was the only sound he could hear.
Gua Two, who held cold sparklers, ready to step through the door, quickly retracted his foot and blocked the companions waiting behind him.
Gua Nine stood the furthest away. He asked, puzzled, “What are you doing? Didn’t you say that once Jun-shao blows out the candles, we should come out and liven up the atmosphere?”
Gua One, who also saw what happened, stepped back, replying, “If we go out now, we won’t liven up the atmosphere but kill it. Gua Three.”
Gua Three didn’t have to ask what the other man meant. He took out his walkie-talkie and said into it, “Start setting off the fireworks.”
A moment later, a large number of fireworks flew up from the beach and exploded with a loud bang. Gorgeous lights covered the sky, illuminating the whole seaside.
Hearing the sound, Lian Jun straightened. He looked at the fireworks continuing to rise from the beach, and his smile became more and more obvious. He glanced at the plush bear, which seemed to be completely frozen, leaned over, and hugged him again. Stroking the bear’s head, he whispered, “Thank you, I love it.”
Inside the costume, Shi Jin felt the sweat on his forehead—he didn’t know whether because of the heat or because of his pounding heart. It took him a long moment to relax and return Lian Jun’s hug, gently patting his back. Inwardly, he poked Xiao Si, his voice dreamlike, “Lian Jun seems to like the bear costume, good, but why didn’t he make a wish? Do you think it was because my cake was too ugly? Or maybe because it was handmade and as such not worth his wish?”
Xiao Si, who was about to squeal and gush out, was choked by these words. It kept silent for a second, then bawled, <JinJin, I’m so sorry, it’s all my fault. I’ll try my best to get your IQ back, I promise! Waah waah waaaaah…>
Shi Jin: “……”
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