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A Simple Question
This fucking asshole.
The despicable way Zuo Yang tried to strike what he considered Lian Jun’s vulnerability pissed Shi Jin off. He couldn’t help but taunt, “Are you jealous?”
His words were clearly enunciated and delivered with great verve, and they immediately attracted attention. Some people were already surreptitiously paying attention to their group. After Shi Jin’s question, they stared openly, not wanting to miss the fun.
The malicious smile on Zuo Yang’s face froze then was replaced by a frown. “What did you say?”
Pointedly wearing the same ‘oh, so it’s like this, I knew it’ expression Zuo Yang sported earlier, Shi Jin said loudly, “I said, you’re jealous of me—of my youth, of me being able to stay by Jun-shao’s side. Do you have a crush on Jun-shao? If not, why do you act like a spoiled little princess wanting to attract the attention of the boy she likes? You’re harassing him every day, deliberately being ambiguous. You say he’s pretty, you seem way too much interested in the people who liked him in the past, and now you’re trying to make him drive me away. This isn’t normal, you know. You even had to anchor your ship next to ours, and so close—I dare you to say this isn’t because you want Jun-shao to notice you. You say young people’s love is scary, but I think an old geezer trying to rob the cradle is much more disgusting. Stop strutting around trying to show off to Jun-shao, you’re annoying.”
Everyone was struck dumb at his impeccable (if a bit askew) logic. Even Gua One and the other members of Annihilation turned to gape at Shi Jin, as if he suddenly grew another head.
Lian Jun was about to pull Shi Jin behind him, but seeing the teenager not only didn’t suffer but even bit back, he withdrew his raised hand. Playing along, he said to Zuo Yang, “I’m sorry, I never noticed your feelings. If I knew, yesterday I would’ve aimed somewhere else.”
Gua One and others: “……” Jun-shao, you’ve changed. You would’ve never said this before.
“Pff.” Lu Shan, watching the excitement from the side, suddenly laughed out loud and deliberately clapped a few times. “What a great show! It turns out Nine Eagles was trying so hard to expand because its boss’s chasing the most unattainable person in the underworld. Zuo Yang, as your elder, let me advise you: for the sake of your important bits, abandon this unrealistic idea—and anyway, ‘empress of the underworld’ dramas went out of style years ago.”
The expressions of all the other underworld bosses watching became strange.
After yesterday’s meeting, Zuo Yang had been officially interviewed because of the whole “emperor of the underworld” thing. Today, Lu Shan said he was playing “empress of the underworld,” implying Lian Jun as the emperor, and Zuo Yang wanted to become his “empress” but wasn’t qualified to even dream of the position.
As expected of the leader of one of the oldest underworld organizations—her taunting skills were truly first-class.
Any other time, her words would make the other leaders uncomfortable. The people of the underworld were, after all, proud and unfettered, and as such didn’t like the talk of “emperors” emerging in their midst, especially when referring to Lian Jun. That said, after the news about Pegasus, they were so happy to see Zuo Yang suffer they ignored the minor annoyance.
So, though no one else spoke, the air on the deck was gleeful.
Zuo Yang’s face turned ugly as soon as Shi Jin began to speak, then Lian Jun and Lu Shan joined in on the onslaught. When they “suddenly realized” he “liked Lian Jun,” he was so livid he itched to take out his gun and start shooting at the crowd.
However, he managed to endure—this was the government ship, he couldn’t begin a random massacre. Suddenly, he felt oddly calm despite being extremely angry. He looked around, pausing on Shi Jin to sneer, then took something out of his inner pocket. He threw it in Lian Jun’s direction, saying in cold voice, “Luckily for you, I’m willing to overlook your nonsense. Take a good look at what’s inside, and we’ll see how long it takes for you to grovel before me.”
The thing thrown was small, white, and looked somewhat dazzling in the strong midday sunlight.
Shi Jin, who stood in front of Lian Jun’s wheelchair, grabbed it in the air. It was a rectangular cardboard box, not much bigger than a matchbox, and he inquisitively turned it in his hands. Since the progress bar didn’t rise, he determined it should be safe and handed it to Lian Jun.
Lian Jun took it but didn’t intend to open it in public. “Go back,” he said.
So Shi Jin pushed his wheelchair and headed for their quarters under the curious gazes of everyone on deck.
Gua Two endured until they arrived in a more deserted part of the ship then turned to Shi Jin and said, “Youngster, your mouth is simply a lethal weapon. I really thought we would have to fight Nine Eagles then and there—how the hell did you come up with all that trash-talk? You actually said Zuo Yang has a crush on Jun-shao… Cough, absolutely brilliant. The bastard has probably never been so mad in his life.”
Shi Jin acted humble, flattering the other perpetrator instead, “No, no, it’s all thanks to Jun-shao’s guidance.”
A quiet “Hmm” came from the direction of the wheelchair.
Shi Jin’s heart trembled at this quiet sound, and he immediately changed his reply, “In fact, I hadn’t planned to say all that, I just wanted to piss Zuo Yang off and see if he could be provoked into moving his ship away. I can’t help but think he stopped next to ours because he’s plotting something.”
This wasn’t him jumping at shadows. He used the time while Lian Jun attended the morning meeting to study the data Xiao Si gave him. The results would’ve shocked him if he hadn’t already suspected something similar: though Nine Eagles’ ship looked like a civilian vessel, it was just on the surface—it was so heavily modified it was practically a warship.
The situation was too wrong. So, when Zuo Yang took cheap shots at Lian Jun, he couldn’t stop himself from trying to provoke the man.
Gua Two didn’t expect to hear such an explanation. He couldn’t help but poke Shi Jin’s forehead, muttering, “Huh, how come you suddenly don’t look as silly as usual? You’re quite sharp.”
Shi Jin slapped his hand away, contemptuously rolling his eyes.
“Stop, stop, don’t bully me, watch where you’re going,” Gua Two surrendered with a laugh. Since neither Lian Jun nor Gua One objected to the current topic, he continued lightly, “Don’t worry about Nine Eagles’ ship being too close, Gua Five is keeping an eye on it. And our ship is not too bad—even if Zuo Yang is scheming something, he won’t necessarily succeed.”
Shi Jin immediately caught the underlying meaning and asked, surprised, “Our ship is modified?” He’d lived there for a few days, after all, but never noticed anything out of the ordinary.
Gua Two only smirked—the answer to this question was self-evident.
After returning to their quarters, Lian Jun put the white box on the table.
Gua One cautiously took off the lid, peered inside, and frowned. He found a clean plastic box in a cabinet and poured out the contents.
Patter, ten bloodstained human nails fell into the box. The scene was creepy and sickening and made their skin crawl.
Shi Jin had never seen anything like it and looked away, face scrunched. He swallowed, then forced himself to look into the box again. “Are these… Long Shi’s nails?”
“Most likely.” Lian Jun reached out and put the cover on the box, saying to Gua Two, “Take it back to our ship and let Uncle… Let Gua Five find someone to check if they’re Long Shi’s.”
Gua Two nodded. “Do you want me to hide this from Uncle Long?” He asked.
Lian Jun thought about it and shook his head. “No, he has the right to know.”
Gua Two nodded again and picked up the plastic box.
Shi Jin hastily grabbed the empty cardboard one. “I’m going to burn this, it’s disgusting.”
The cardboard box was no longer of any use, so no one was going to stop him. Lian Jun even said thoughtfully, “If you don’t like it, you can let Gua One handle it.”
“No, it’s fine,” the teenager shook his head. He borrowed a cigarette lighter from Gua Two then went straight to the trash can, squatted, and struck the lighter.
Everyone simply thought he was nauseated by the nails and wanted to get rid of it quickly and stopped paying attention to him. Shi Jin pretended to be clumsy and dropped the box into the trash can then put his hand inside to fish it out. He put out the small fire before it did anything more than singe the box and, forcing himself to overcome revulsion, touched the still damp blood staining the inside. “Can you use this as a medium?” He asked in his mind.
<I think so. I’ll give it a try,> Xiao Si said. Shi Jin felt his finger become numb, and the blood on his fingertip disappeared.
He shuddered at the impression that Long Shi’s blood was in his body.
Then, he finally burned the box. He dropped the lighter on the table, rushed into the bathroom, and meticulously washed his hands over and over again until he didn’t feel sick anymore.
He came out of the bathroom and sat next to Lian Jun, who touched his reddened hands and frowned. “Since you hate it this much, why did you have to touch it? You could’ve just left it there, it’s not as if I minded it.”
“No, it was best to deal with it right away, just in case,” Shi Jin answered, trying not to look shifty, and promptly changed the topic: “What are we going to do? Zuo Yang just proved Long Shi is in his hands. How will we respond?”
“We’ll keep ignoring him,” Lian Jun said. “If we don’t do anything, it’s highly likely that next time, Zuo Yang won’t be able to resist bringing Long Shi out to show me. It’ll give us the opportunity to grab him.”
Shi Jin nodded to show his understanding, a little reassured.
At the afternoon meeting, Zuo Yang kept glancing at Lian Jun with a “come and beg me, c’mon, why aren’t you begging me yet” expression. The faces of the other leaders present in the conference room kept twitching. At some point, they even began to wonder if Zuo Yang really did have designs on Lian Jun.
Lian Jun was concentrated on the meeting and ignored Zuo Yang’s eye signals. With a few precise sentences, he picked out several “pawn” organizations Nine Eagles was secretly cultivating from the long list of illegal criminal organizations and gave reasons why they should be targets of the government’s suppression the coming year.
Zuo Yang’s attention gradually shifted to that, and his expression slowly turned ugly. Finally, when Lian Jun pointed out his sixth pawn, he cursed under his breath, picked up the documents he’d pushed aside, and began to think of a way to keep the rest.
This afternoon, Nine Eagles suffered heavy losses. The other underworld bosses found some clues from Lian Jun and Zuo Yang’s occasional exchanges. They paid closer attention to the organizations mentioned and discovered all of them were “bedbugs” similar to Pegasus. The looks they sent Zuo Yang became more and more unfriendly.
Everyone could see it—most of the illegal organizations vetoed by Lian Jun should have a connection with Nine Eagles. Sure enough, Zuo Yang really had a burning ambition to become emperor of the underworld!
After the meeting, Zuo Yang glared at Lian Jun for a long time before leaving the government ship. Lian Jun, of course, continued to ignore him, refusing to acknowledge him with even a short glance.
The other leaders caught all this, and two feelings wrestled in their chests. They were happy to see Nine Eagles’ leader having a bad time, but at the same time, they felt strange. Why? Because, from a certain point of view, Zuo Yang really was acting like he was in love with Lian Jun and hated him because his love was unrequited…
After dinner, Xiao Si’s attempt to locate Long Shi bore results. He was indeed on the Nine Eagles’ ship, but in a very unexpected place: confined in Zuo Yang’s quarters.
Shi Jin marked Long Shi’s position on the scan of Nine Eagles’ ship Xiao Si made earlier. His brows furrowed. “Are you sure that’s Zuo Yang’s cabin?”
<There’s only one cabin of that size and with this high level of security—it must belong to Nine Eagles’ leader,> Xiao Si replied, confident in the results.
Frustrated, Shi Jin collapsed on the bed. “That’s it, we’re done—the plan to sneak in and snatch Long Shi is definitely not going to work. It’s impossible even with your buffs. Zuo Yang’s cabin is too deep in, I’d never get that far.”
Xiao Si seized the opportunity to interject, <I don’t recommend you sneak in anyway, it’s too dangerous. Darling would never agree.>
“I know it’s dangerous, but I just can’t help thinking…” Shi Jin looked at the ceiling, staring as if in a trance. After a long time, he exhaled and threw his forearm over his eyes. “No, I can’t. Being concerned is fine, but I shouldn’t lose my head. Let’s see what Zuo Yang will do first—Lian Jun said he wouldn’t be able to endure and will bring Long Shi out to parade him before us. We just need a little patience.”
Xiao Si hurriedly chimed in, fully endorsing what he said, and urged him to abandon the risky plan.
Unexpectedly, when it was almost time to sleep, Lian Jun knocked on his door.
Shi Jin had just finished his shower. He opened the door and asked, surprised, “Jun-shao? Did something happen?”
Lian Jun glanced at his still dripping hair and motioned him inside. “Tomorrow is the last day of the conference. We made a bet, remember? I came to ask about your answer.”
Shi Jin was taken aback. “Is the bet still valid? I mean, Old Ghost came out with everything on his own. I thought it was long expired.”
“Of course it’s valid.” Lian Jun closed the door then slid into the bathroom to take the hairdryer. He plugged it into the socket at the head of the bed and beckoned to Shi Jin, who stood in the middle of the cabin like a fool, “Come here and sit. You should quickly dry your hair after a bath, or you’ll catch a cold. It’s best to be careful.”
“Isn’t that what I told you on the island?” Shi Jin wanted to laugh. He obediently sat down and reached out, hand open: “Let me do it myself, you’ll get your hands wet.”
Lian Jun eyed him silently. He moved his wheelchair closer, put one hand on the teenager’s shoulder, and pulled him forward, switching the hairdryer on with the other. It was quite obvious he didn’t agree.
Shi Jin let himself be pulled and felt the hand on his shoulder move to the top of his head then gently push it down. He knew he wouldn’t be able to dissuade Lian Jun, so he conceded: “All right, all right. I blow-dried your hair once, you’re going to blow-dry my hair now, so we’re even.” He bowed his head lower, to make it more convenient to dry.
“We’re not.” Lian Jun pushed his hand in his hair, gently massaging his scalp with the tips of his fingers. Moving the hairdryer, he asked, “So what’s your answer?”
What a simple question.
Shi Jin set his hands on his knees. Because his head was lowered, he could only see Lian Jun’s jaw and neck. Unconsciously, his eyes became glued to them. “My guess is, the reason Phantom arrived at the meeting place earlier than usual this year was to observe us, find a chance to talk to us and ask us for help.”
Lian Jun’s fingertips brushed his ear. “You’re only half-right.”
“Huh? Only half?” Shi Jin couldn’t help but look up.
Lian Jun wasn’t prepared for that, and the hand he held on the side of the teenager’s head slipped and landed on his face. His other hand hurriedly pulled the hairdryer away to avoid hitting him.
They stared at each other. Lian Jun hadn’t managed to hide the warmth in his eyes in time, and Shi Jin was stunned again.
“Don’t move.” Lian Jun took advantage of the situation to pinch Shi Jin’s face and pushed his head down again. “Phantom came early not only to observe us but also to observe the authorities. The same with their purpose: Old Ghost not only wanted to ask us for help but was hoping to get a connection with the officials through us. Strictly speaking, even asking for help was secondary—what he really wanted was to use us to convey his determination to leave the underworld and get the government’s support. However, he’s doomed to not get it. The officials don’t need a second Annihilation because it’s not easy to control.”
Shi Jin’s head was pushed a little further this time and almost bumped Lian Jun’s arms. His eyes fell on Lian Jun’s legs, outlined by the robe. He remembered how they felt when he massaged them and couldn’t help but reach out and knead them gently, replying, “It seems my answer is really only half-right, not comprehensive enough. Since this is the case, how should we decide the bet’s results?”
Lian Jun’s movements paused for a second, but he quickly continued moving the hairdryer, ignoring Shi Jin’s unruly hands. The ear peeking from the messy hair drew his attention, and he couldn’t resist leaning closer. “Let’s make it a draw, and change the stakes: we will both fulfill the other’s one request. What do you think?”
His warm breath caressed Shi Jin’s ear, utterly different from the hairdryer’s hot air. Somehow, it felt intimate.
Shi Jin instinctively shivered, feeling goosebumps all over, and couldn’t help but turn his head. “This is fine. So, the bet is settled?”
Lian Jun leaned sideways in just the right moment for Shi Jin to end up in his arms, the teenager’s cheek against his chest.
It was close enough for Shi Jin to hear the other man’s heartbeat. He was a little dazed.
As if everything was normal, Lian Jun lowered the hairdryer and, without changing his position, touched Shi Jin’s hair. “All right, it’s dry,” he said. Then, he moved the “groping hand” on his knees away and backed up his wheelchair.
Maintaining his leaning posture, Shi Jin looked up at him.
“It’s getting late, you should go to sleep.” Lian Jun didn’t stay much longer. He set the hairdryer on the table and left. It seemed he really came over just to talk about the bet.
Shi Jin watched him in a daze until the sound of the closing door woke him up. He rubbed his face and ear which had stuck to Lian Jun’s chest, took a look at the hairdryer, and said, confused, “Why do I feel that Lian Jun was a little weird just now…”
Delighted, Xiao Si promptly asked, <Strange how?>
“Somehow, I feel…” Shi Jin unconsciously moved the hand which kneaded Lian Jun’s legs a moment ago and shook his head. “I don’t know… Oh, forget it, let’s sleep, it’s already late.” And he simply got in bed, closed his eyes, and fell asleep.
Xiao Si nearly crashed. It hated it didn’t have a physical body so it could drag him out of bed and force him to keep thinking.
By breakfast time the next day, the results of the fingernail identification arrived—they were indeed Long Shi’s nails. The person who brought them was Uncle Long, who now sported dark circles under his eyes.
Lian Jun’s forehead wrinkled in a slight frown. “Uncle Long, you didn’t have to get involved in this, I’d understand.”
The doctor looked haggard, but his voice was resolute. “It was me who taught him—I’m also guilty. Jun-shao, you were kind and didn’t hold me accountable, but it doesn’t mean I can keep running away from this. We were father and son for more than twenty years. Now, it’s time to sever our relationship.”
Since this was his attitude, Lian Jun persuaded him no more and acquiesced to his presence.
When the morning meeting began, Uncle Long didn’t listen to Gua One’s suggestion to take a rest in the cabin but instead accompanied Shi Jin on deck. He watched Zuo Yang, sitting opposite Lian Jun, with a complicated expression on his face. It was hard to tell what he was thinking.
Shi Jin wanted to comfort him but didn’t know what to say, and looked visibly tangled.
Probably noticing his expression, Uncle Long suddenly broke the silence: “I picked Long Shi up in a moment of sympathy. His father was a drug dealer, and his mother an alcoholic—they weren’t good people and died early. I was afraid Long Shi would follow in their footsteps, so I’ve been very strict with him.”
Shi Jin turned to him, listening in silence.
“He was a withdrawn, unsociable child. The previous leader advised me to send him to an orphanage belonging to Annihilation and let him grow up with the other children, but I was afraid he would be bullied and refused. Now that I think about it, his suggestion was correct—growing up without interacting with their peers really isn’t good for children’s development.” Uncle Long sighed, raised his hand, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Maybe I was too strict with him. That’s why, when he first met Jun-shao, he got those ideas… I’m sorry, Shi Jin.”
Shi Jin asked, confused, “Why are you apologizing to me?”
Uncle Long lowered his hand and glanced towards the conference room, where Lian Jun observed the other leaders as they argued. He said, his voice dropping to almost a whisper, “Because if I never gave Long Shi the chance to get close to Jun-shao, Jun-shao would’ve never become like this. He used to be very gentle and often smiled. If the Jun-shao you met was still the Jun-shao of that year, you would…”
Gentle Lian Jun, who often smiled?
The picture of Lian Jun helping him dry his hair last night flashed through Shi Jin’s mind, and the hum of the hairdryer seemed to echo in his ears again. He couldn’t help but raise his hands to rub them, asking, “I would what?”
Uncle Long glanced at him and wanted to say something, but swallowed his words. He said instead, “You would be smarter.” You wouldn’t be stupid for so long, blind to the feelings Jun-shao has for you.
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