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After the hug was over, Lian Jun urged Shi Jin to take the bear costume off, worrying he would get heatstroke. Shi Jin, however, insisted on it, and took lots of photos with Lian Jun, to make up for those missing in his childhood. Only afterward did he run to the kitchen and take off the costume, washing his face while he was there.
Wearing a whole body costume in this climate was really too much. Shi Jin only had it on for a little while, but his hair and clothes were soaked with sweat. Despite being hot and uncomfortable, when he recalled the happiness on Lian Jun’s face, he thought it was more than worth it.
“Eh, to make your child happy, at least this much is a given.” Shi Jin sighed with satisfaction, feeling that he was a great “father.”
Xiao Si: <Sniff.>
Helpless, Shi Jin coaxed it, “Don’t cry. I know you’re worked up about your Darling’s birthday, but you’ve been crying for so long—be careful not to short-circuit yourself.”
Xiao Si began to hiccup, and its sobbing intensified.
Shi Jin looked to the sky and let out a long sigh. Deciding to let it be, he returned to the outdoor area.
Everyone else was already there. Lian Jun sat in front of the cake, opening presents.
“Why haven’t you cut the cake yet?” Shi Jin asked as he approached, rubbing his sweaty hair with a towel.
Gua Two turned to him and winked evocatively. “Obviously we’re waiting for you, mister confectioner.”
Shi Jin rolled his eyes at him with a smile and looked at Lian Jun. Suddenly, the image of the other man closing his eyes and kissing him flashed through his mind, and he unconsciously paused.
—No good, that picture had too much impact, he was still overwhelmed.
“Shi Jin, come here.” Lian Jun’s voice sounded just in time.
He didn’t know if it was his imagination, but today, Lian Jun’s voice seemed to be extraordinarily smooth and pleasant to listen to.
Shi Jin wiped his ears with a towel and resumed walking. “Why haven’t you cut the cake yet—are you really waiting for me?”
When he came close enough, Lian Jun took his hand and answered, “Of course I’m waiting for you.” Still holding Shi Jin’s hand, he picked up the knife with the other and cut the top layer of the cake.
Excited, Gua Six whipped out a camera and took pictures like crazy. He pushed Gua Two out of the lens, as he was obstructing the view.
Gua Two: “……”
“It actually has layers. How long did it take you to make?” Lian Jun glanced at Shi Jin, squeezing his hand.
Lian Jun’s hand was chilly. It should be comfortable to hold in such hot weather, yet Shi Jin felt his palms sweat. He let go, and to make his action inconspicuous, wiped the sweat on his neck with a towel. “Not long, everyone helped me a lot.”
Lian Jun looked at the soaked shirt sticking to his body and frowned. He reached out and helped him pull it away from the skin, sending Gua Six a glance.
It took Gua Six but a second to understand. He nodded and walked a bit further away, then made a call.
Distracted by his clothes being pulled, Shi Jin didn’t notice their silent exchange. He turned his head to look behind him. Feeling the sea breeze in the gap, cooling his heated skin, he narrowed his eyes with comfort and said thank you to Lian Jun.
Once the cake was cut, everyone gathered to get a piece and began to chat in warm atmosphere.
Five minutes later, Gua Six came up to Shi Jin, holding a clean set of clothes, and said, “Change into it, you’ll be more comfortable.”
Shi Jin blinked in surprise, then felt touched. “You’re so nice, Brother Six.”
“You should say this to Jun-shao, it was he who asked me to bring you fresh clothes. There’s a small bathroom at the back of the kitchen, you can wash there. Your sweat is almost dry, but it must be sticky and uncomfortable,” Gua Six replied, not passing an opportunity to help Lian Jun earn brownie points.
Stunned, Shi Jin turned to look at Lian Jun, who talked with the people surrounding him, a cake plate resting on his knees. His hands gripped the clothes tighter. He thanked Gua Six and went to the kitchen.
“Your Darling is such a nice guy,” Shi Jin couldn’t help exclaiming as he washed.
Xiao Si started hiccupping again, and its wails became louder and louder.
Shi Jin: “……”
Lian Jun, who didn’t like eating sweets, stuffed himself full of cake on his birthday.
Shi Jin, who didn’t play real mahjong for a long time, finally got an occasion to do it and occupied himself with it with zest.
And so, everyone was happy… But unfortunately, some had to pay the price for their happiness—to make up for his missing lessons, Shi Jin had to suffer through evening remedial classes.
They were scheduled from 7:00 to 9:30 after supper, so they ended a bit late. Lian Jun, worried about Shi Jin tiring himself out too much, wanted to cancel the massage sessions until he was done with the remedial classes.
Shi Jin objected to his proposal, feeling that the maintenance of Lian Jun’s legs couldn’t fall behind even a day. He put a great effort into trying to convince Lian Jun, and finally got him to agree. However, taking into consideration the hour, he shortened the time, just massaging Lian Jun’s legs before going to bed.
And so, Shi Jin, who’d suffered a loss but thought he won the prize, said with satisfaction, “Yes, just like that, Jun-shao, you have to be positive and look forward in life.”
Lian Jun, who actually got all the benefits but looked as if he had no choice but to concede: “Mhm.”
Xiao Si: <……> Fine, sometimes Shi Jin’s stupidity is not a bad thing.
That evening, Shi Jin knocked on Lian Jun’s door after finishing the remedial lessons.
Because it wouldn’t be a full massage, the massage table was temporarily abandoned. As it was late and Lian Jun would rest immediately after, he simply got into the bed so he wouldn’t have to move later.
Shi Jin had no objections. Once Lian Jun laid down, he lifted the hem of the nightgown and began to rub his calf.
After kneading, kneading, and kneading, Shi Jin eyed the bed, his arms aching a bit. The width of the bed made changing sides inconvenient, unlike the massage table. If he continued to stand and lean over, it would be harder and harder for him to massage properly.
Lian Jun soon understood his predicament and thoughtfully suggested, “Just come up on the bed. It’s late—the earlier you finish, the earlier you can rest.”
Shi Jin hesitated. “No, but I haven’t washed yet.”
“It’s fine, I don’t mind.” Not only were Lian Jun’s words kind, he even reached a hand to help Shi Jin up.
Shi Jin was touched—sure enough, Lian Jun really was nice. He obediently climbed onto the other side of the bed, sitting on the quilt that was pulled off earlier, and continued the massage.
He never realized the problem he’d just encountered could be solved by Lian Jun turning over or moving to the other side. There was no need for Shi Jin to get on the bed at all.
But he climbed up and now, it was impossible to climb down again.
Lian Jun watched Shi Jin sit on his bed, completely focused on his legs, and his lips curved slightly.
By the end, Lian Jun seemed to have fallen asleep. Shi Jin carefully crawled off the bed. When he straightened and was about to leave, he felt a cold hand grab his own.
He stopped and glanced back.
Lian Jun, who he thought was asleep, opened his eyes, leaning slightly sideways. Seeing Shi Jin look back at him, he gave the teenager a smile—not too obvious, but definitely a smile. “Thank you for your hard work,” he said.
That smile melted Shi Jin’s heart. He felt as if he gained an unexpected but wonderful return for something he’d never needed to be paid back for. He turned back, squeezed Lian Jun’s hand, and stooped down to give him a gentle hug. Then he squatted down and looked at his face, happy: “Your smile is beautiful, you should smile more… Now sleep, goodnight, Jun-shao.”
Lian Jun carefully engraved Shi Jin’s expression into his memory. He closed his eyes and responded in a low voice, “Goodnight, Shi Jin.”
Shi Jin couldn’t help but smile. He stayed next to the bed, staring at Lian Jun’s sleeping face for until the numbness in his legs woke him up. He blinked, wondering in passing why he suddenly wanted to watch Lian Jun sleep. His mood was still strangely warmand buoyant. He helped Lian Jun pull up the quilt, got up, and quietly stepped out of the room, not forgetting to turn off the lights before leaving.
Once the door closed, Lian Jun opened his eyes in the dark room. He pulled off the quilt Shi Jin tucked in and took a look at the hand he’d held, sighing softly. Silly boy, when on earth will he understand?
Is it because he’s too young?
He thought that must be it, put down his hand, and this time really fell asleep.
Time continued to pass. On the last day of Shi Jin’s remedial classes, the official notice came—the date and place of the conference had been decided upon. According to the calculations, if they wanted to arrive at the coordinates sent by the officials on time, they had to leave at least three days in advance.
It was already the end of March, and the conference was scheduled for mid-April. Lian Jun, as the suppressing force of the government, had to be there before the leaders of other organizations, so the departure time was pushed forward another two days.
As such, they had less than ten days to get ready.
The pleasant holiday ended without warning. Everyone snapped back into the right state of mind and bustled about, preparing for the voyage.
As a “student,” Shi Jin was only allowed to watch.
At the island’s small airport, planes landed and took off every day. The piles of cargo unloaded from them were transported to a large ship, which replaced the medium-sized one they came on.
During another break between classes, Shi Jin leaned on the windowsill in the large study, watching the bustle in the distant harbor. He thought about Lian Jun’s static progress bar, and couldn’t help but sigh.
I only hope it stays this way.
“Why are you sighing?” Asked Lian Jun, who Shi Jin didn’t know when had appeared at his side. He followed the teenager’s gaze to the busy harbor. “Do you want to go down and have a look?”
Shi Jin returned to himself and shook his head. “No. I don’t know anything. If I go, I’ll only trouble everyone.”
Lian Jun didn’t try to persuade him, merely watching the ship with him. After a moment, he changed the topic: “We nearly finished investigating Shi Xingrui’s life, the report will be transmitted in a few days. However, there isn’t much information about Xiang Qing’s abortion, it was too long ago—the investigation didn’t make much progress and will probably take more time.”
It took Shi Jin a few seconds to absorb his words, then he nodded to show he understood. Suddenly, he realized that since Lian Jun’s birthday, he never once thought about Shi Xingrui and his family matters. Every day, his mind was occupied with either studying or planning where to go with Lian Jun on the weekend or with playing—nothing serious.
Sure enough, holidays made people regress.
He deeply reflected on his behavior and looked at the two progress bars in his mind, one stable at 490 and the other at 500. Pondering what he knew of the plot, he turned his eyes back to the ship in the harbor and sank into thought—the remaining value of the bars would probably be troublesome to reduce.
Lian Jun didn’t say anything, quietly accompanying him by the window. He had a faraway look in his eyes, and it was unknown what he thought about.
Once the evening classes over and done with, the massages returned to their previous time.
When today’s session ended, Shi Jin sent Lian Jun to the bathroom. After they said goodnight, he paused in front of the closed bathroom door, took a look at the time, and another at the neatly made bed. Suddenly, his heart felt a bit empty. He heaved a sigh and said to Xiao Si, “Today, I can’t watch Lian Jun until he falls asleep—maybe he will secretly keep working late again.”
Xiao Si, who’d already regained its spirits, suggested thoughtfully, <You know, your room is just opposite Darling’s. You can easily visit and urge him to sleep.>
Shi Jin’s heart instantly stopped feeling empty. Looking as if he’d been enlightened, he said, “That’s right, I can go and check in on him. ‘Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,’ as they say. Yes, that’s it, I’ll do that.”
Xiao Si immediately expressed enthusiastic support for this decision.
At 10:30 that evening, Shi Jin, wearing sleeveless t-shirt and shorts as pajamas, stood in front of Lian Jun’s door. He raised a hand but hesitated: “Xiao Si, if Lian Jun has already gone to bed, would my knocking wake him up?”
Xiao Si assured him hurriedly, <I just checked—Darling isn’t sleeping, he’s reading documents!>
What!? He’s still working at this hour!?
Shi Jin frowned and firmly knocked at the door.
It opened quickly, revealing Lian Jun dressed in a nightgown and looking ready to sleep. However, Shi Jin peered behind him and saw a stack of files and turned on laptop on the table by the window.
He threw Lian Jun an accusing look.
Immediately understanding what the expression in his eyes meant, Lian Jun explained, “I’m really about to go to sleep. Why aren’t you sleeping yet?”
“I’m about to sleep too, I just wanted to check in on you before I did,” Shi Jin replied, stepping around the wheelchair to grab the handles and pushing it beside the bed without asking its occupant’s opinion. “Sleep. You get up so early every day—you need to go to bed early too to get the proper amount of sleep.”
Lian Jun eyed him. “I’m still in the middle of reading a document. It’s urgent, I need to deal with it right now.”
Shi Jin stared at him for a few seconds. After making sure he wasn’t lying, he turned to the table and asked, “Which one is it? Get in the bed, I’ll bring it to you.”
Since Shi Jin was this determined, Lian Jun named the file he needed and obediently settled in the bed, leaning against the headboard.
Soon, the situation turned into Lian Jun reading the file in bed, and Shi Jin sitting next to the bed, quietly playing mahjong on his phone, not disturbing each other. Once Lian Jun finished reviewing the document and notified his subordinates of his approval, Shi Jin ended the game, helped Lian Jun put the file on the table, then stared at him until he laid down.
“Goodnight.” His eyebrows wrinkled, Shi Jin helped Lian Jun tuck in the quilt.
Lian Jun grabbed his hand, asking, “Are you angry?”
His question surprised the teenager, and it took him a moment to answer. He shook his head. “I’m not… But you should stop working so late, it affects your quality of sleep.”
“Today was an accident,” Lian Jun replied, squeezing his hand. Seeing that Shi Jin didn’t frown, apparently already accustomed to this degree of physical contact, his heartbeat quickened a little. He couldn’t help but look deep into Shi Jin’s eyes and say implicitly, “I also want to quickly get better. Then, it would be me watching you falling asleep… I’m sorry, I can’t properly take care of you yet.”
However, Shi Jin didn’t understand the deeper meaning of his words—he only knew that Lian Jun was sorry, and his expression eased. He crouched down to face Lian Jun, stuffed the other man’s hand back under the quilt, and comforted, “Don’t worry, you’ll surely get well. You look much better than before already. It’s not that I want to tell you how to organize your day, I’m just worried… Anyway, once you’re healthy, you can supervise my sleep instead—I’m waiting.” His eyes were full of encouragement.
…So he didn’t notice the other meaning of that sentence at all.
Lian Jun looked at Shi Jin’s earnest expression, feeling both helpless and funny. This person, somehow, misinterpreted the ambiguous atmosphere, speech, and behavior every time. Yet, strangely enough, it didn’t make others angry, only caused them to think he was silly, silly but—cute.
“All right, wait for me,” Lian Jun nodded. He sat up and leaned over to give Shi Jin a hug, then laid down again, pulling up the quilt. “Goodnight, see you tomorrow.”
Shi Jin was used to his hugs, so he simply returned his goodnight, got up, turned off the lights, and stepped out of the room.
In a blink of an eye, ten days passed. One day in early April, Lian Jun with Shi Jin pushing his wheelchair boarded the ship, alongside Gua One and the others. They were ready to leave the island.
“Next time we come, the year will be ending, or maybe it will be next year already.” Shi Jin leaned on the railing, watching Crescent Bay Island disappear in the distance, a little reluctant to leave.
Lian Jun sat beside him, also looking at the island. His gaze paused on every place he and Shi Jin visited together. “If you like, we can come a little earlier this year. By then, I should be better and able to go fishing with you.”
Shi Jin spent the whole holiday studying or accompanying Lian Jun. Though he had fun, unfortunately, he didn’t have the opportunity to try any of the more time-consuming activities.
The young man smiled and said, “That would be perfect. Jun-shao, you have to work hard to make your body healthy, or that will be a lie.”
Seeing his smile, Lian Jun felt relieved. He smiled in reply: “I will never lie to you, I promise.”
Gua One and Gua Two stood on the small platform behind the bridge, leaning against the railing and watching Lian Jun and Shi Jin chat on the deck. They looked at each other for a few seconds. Finally, Gua Two broke the silence: “Just when is Jun-shao going to make his move? Shouldn’t it be about time? I feel that the atmosphere between them changed a lot.”
In the past, Shi Jin would never dare to behave so casually in front of Lian Jun, let alone be bold enough to manage him like this.
“Shi Jin is too stupid, this slow approach seems to be the most effective.” Though Gua One’s words were impolite, his expression was much milder than usual. He paused then added, “These days, Jun-shao often smiles.”
Gua Two looked down and also caught sight of the smile Lian Jun gave Shi Jin. He was dazed for a moment, then sighed, “His temperament is getting milder and warmer… Normally, I’d say it’s a good thing, but the conference is about to start.”
The usual severe expression instantly returned to Gua One’s face. “Jun-shao has everything under control.”
“I know, but I’m worried those people will notice something,” Gua Two said. As he recalled the previous conferences, the look in his eyes slowly turned icy. He whispered, “I just hope there will be no idiots this year, or we will have to suffer through another clean-up.”
“In our line of work, there’s never a shortage of idiots,” coldly replied Gua One, his expression scornful. He didn’t expect this year’s conference to pass peacefully.
Two days into the voyage, Lian Jun’s progress bar rose to 600. Shi Jin’s also rose, to 500—not much, but still.
Shi Jin let out a sigh. “It was affected by Lian Jun. Obviously, the meeting of the underworld bosses is dangerous.”
Xiao Si appeased, <Don’t be afraid, JinJin, Darling will protect you.>
However, Shi Jin wasn’t comforted—on the contrary, his mood became even darker.
Yes, we all think everything will be fine because even if something happens, Lian Jun will definitely find a way to protect us. But who is going to protect Lian Jun? Lian Jun is just a mortal, not a god. His body is flesh and blood. Who will protect him?
One day later, on the evening of the third day, the government ship finally appeared on the horizon.
It was huge and looked like a civilian ship, not a military vessel. It didn’t look very threatening, contrary to Shi Jin’s expectations.
Gua One ordered their own ship to stop and scan the sea with radar. Only after making sure there were no hidden threats did he contact the official side. Then, he sent Gua Two and Gua Five, along with a small group of people, to board the government ship. Officially, it was to arrange their accommodation, but in fact, it was to assess the situation.
The hour was too late, and the rest of the Annihilation forces would move tomorrow. As Shi Jin stood outside, observing the bustle on the lower deck, he found that the temperature dropped more than he expected, and he had to zip up his thick coat. Looking at the pitch-black sea, he asked the system, “Xiao Si, in this cold, if someone falls into the sea, how long do you think could they last?”
Xiao Si shivered. <Are you trying to set a Death Flag for yourself, JinJin?>
Shi Jin’s face stiffened—indeed, asking such a question was practically a textbook Death Flag. His mind instantly produced way too many scenarios where he ended up falling into the water. He swallowed and asked, “Is there a buff you can give me if I really fall in?”
Xiao Si thought it over. <Mermaid buff? I can turn you into a fish temporarily.>
…Turn into a fish?
For a moment, Shi Jin’s expression distorted. He very, very carefully backed away from the railing, deciding to stay away from the deck from now on.
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