The hotel where Shi Jin was staying was quite far from the restaurant where Lian Jun was going to have dinner. When Lian Jun was about to hang up the phone and said he had arrived at the restaurant, Shi Jin still had about twenty minutes of driving to go.
Shi Jin was very anxious and sat uncomfortably in his seat.
Seeing that he kept looking out the window with a very restless expression, Xiang Aoting couldn't help but ask, "Is having dinner with Lian Jun really that important?"
Shi Jin snapped out of his thoughts, turned his head to look at Xiang Aoting, and nodded seriously, "Yes, it's very important."
This was a matter of life and death. After speaking, he continued to watch the road outside the window, praying that there would be no traffic jams or red lights along the way, while closely monitoring the progress bar in his mind.
As Lian Jun approached the location of the dinner, his progress bar continued to climb. By the time he hung up the phone, it had surpassed the 900 mark and was stuck at 910, a number that was not quite dangerous but definitely not safe.
Xiao Si was so nervous that it was nearly going to crash. Shi Jin was also anxious and wanted to call Number Two to remind him to be careful of Lian Jun's safety, but was afraid that his call would distract him, so he had to grit his teeth and endure.
"Why did an old friend suddenly invite Lian Jun to dinner? Does a lot of people in B City know about Lian Jun being in B City?" Shi Jin couldn't help but ask Xiao Si in his mind.
Xiao Si replied, "Not many people know about it. The decision to come to B City with the baby was made at the last minute, and it was only after the officials' request for mission assistance that we decided to stay until after the new year. Only a few people know about it."
"That's strange," Shi Jin frowned, trying to piece together the information he had just learned from Lian Jun. "According to Lian Jun, this dinner was not planned in advance, but was a last-minute invitation. How coincidental that an old friend happened to send an invitation while Lian Jun was in B City."
Xiao Si could only offer comfort, "Don't worry, Jin Jin. Whatever you can think of, the baby can think of too. He knows what he's doing."
"He wouldn't have only brought Number Two if he knew better. He should have brought Number One, Three, Five, and Nine as well!" Shi Jin was getting angrier as he spoke, and he couldn't help but reach out and scratch at the car window, wishing he could fly to Lian Jun's side.
Xiang Aoting watched Shi Jin's reaction to his answer and became even more certain of his suspicions. He gritted his teeth and accelerated the car.
Two minutes later, Lian Jun's progress bar increased again, reaching 940. Shi Jin guessed that Lian Jun had already met with his old friend. Fortunately, the progress bar didn't increase any further, which made Shi Jin breathe a sigh of relief.
The car sped along and after more than ten minutes, Xiang Aoting stopped in front of a century-old restaurant where Shi Jin quickly unbuckled his seatbelt and jumped out of the car, ignoring Xiang Aoting's calls from behind.
The restaurant was not big, and Shi Jin rushed in and grabbed a passing waiter, asking for the location of Lian Jun's private room on the third floor. He immediately headed to the stairs, taking two steps at a time.
Xiao Si was trying to comfort him, "Don't rush, Jin Jin. The progress bar is still at 940 and hasn't gone up. Slow down, don't fall."
"I won't fall," Shi Jin replied, and he quickly arrived on the third floor. He turned his head and checked the numbers on the private rooms near the stairs, then decisively headed towards the left corridor.
As he walked along, he looked around and finally stopped at the second-to-last room on the left side of the corridor, Room 308. He didn't go in directly, but instead discreetly glanced at the two adjacent rooms that seemed to be empty.
He frowned slightly as he recalled the lively scene in the lobby on the first floor of the restaurant. Only then did he raise his hand and knock on the door.
Number Two opened the door and was not surprised to see Shi Jin, but his expression was a bit strange, as if he had something to say but was holding back.
"Why do you look like that? Where's Young Master Jun?" Shi Jin asked as he squeezed into the room. When he saw that there was no one at the round table, his heart sank.
Then he heard Number Two explain, "Young Master Jun is in the suite, and Mr. Chen, Young Master Jun's friend, is also there. You..."
As soon as the first words left his mouth, Shi Jin headed straight for the inner room without any regard for politeness. He pushed open the door and froze when he saw Shi Weichong looking up from his seat by the window.
Number Two followed behind him and whispered, "Your older brother, Shi Weichong, is also here."
Shi Jin: "..."
What was going on and why was Shi Weichong here?
"Little Sixth," came a voice from behind. It was Xiang Aoting, who had been left behind at the restaurant and had caught up with them.
Lian Jun turned his head at the sound of the door opening. He scanned Shi Jin quickly to make sure he was okay before turning his attention to Xiang Aoting, nodding in greeting.
The only stranger in the private room also looked towards the door. His gaze shifted between Shi Jin and Xiang Aoting before settling on Xiang Aoting, whose demeanor was noticeably different. He tightly gripped his teacup, furrowed his brow, and his eyes were filled with unease, but he didn't say a word.
The atmosphere inexplicably became tense. Shi Jin, Xiang Aoting, and Number Two stood at the door, while Shi Weichong, Lian Jun, and the thin man sat inside. The six of them stared at each other, but no one spoke for a while.
Xiao Si excitedly reminded them, "The progress bar has dropped! It's back to 900, just after Xiang Aoting arrived."
Shi Jin was taken aback and turned his head to look at Xiang Aoting. His gaze swept over Xiang Aoting's stylish yet ordinary black down jacket, which was customized for military use with insignias on the sleeves and chest.
Feeling lucky, Shi Jin suddenly turned around and grabbed Xiang Aoting's shoulder, pulling down the zipper of his jacket while intentionally speaking loudly, "Fourth Brother, is this customized down jacket that you wear specifically for flying fighter jets especially warm? Let me try it on."
"What are you talking about? This is just an ordinary down jacket," Auting frowned, but did not stop Shi Jin's actions. He cooperated by taking off his jacket and even scolded him, "I told you to change your clothes before going out, but you refused. Now you know it's cold. Don't be so impulsive in the future."
Xiao Si happily reminded him again, "It's gone down again! Your progress bar is now at 890. You're really amazing, Jin Jin!"
It was indeed effective!
Shi Jin's heart was lifted and he felt a sense of relief.
From his observations, there must be some bad people lurking in this restaurant. Previously, Lian Jun's progress bar had been stuck at 940 without any increase. Now, he realized that it was probably because the people lying in wait did not expect Shi Weichong to be here as well. They also did not expect him to know Lian Jun and sit in the same room as him.
They were now hesitant to make a move. With the arrival of the government representative, Xiang Aoting, the people lying in wait were probably even more intimidated!
For the first time, Shi Jin found his older brothers from the Shi family so adorable. He didn't mind the heat and took off Xiang Aoting's down jacket to wrap around himself like a ball, running over to sit next to Lian Jun.
He even moved the chair closer to him and greeted the thin man across from them with a friendly smile, "Hello, I'm Shi Jin, Young Master Jun's... um, the person who relies on Young Master Jun for a living now. I heard you're Young Master Jun's friend? Nice to meet you, nice to meet you. I'm happy to make your acquaintance."
As soon as Shi Jin finished his introduction, Shi Weichong slammed his cup on the table with a black face. Shi Aoting also looked displeased, but Lian Jun remained expressionless and turned his head to look closely at Shi Jin, who was sitting very close to him.
The thin man was also stunned by Shi Jin's self-introduction. Sensing that something was off in the room, he looked at Lian Jun and, seeing that he did not refute Shi Jin's words, he awkwardly forced out a stiff smile and replied, "Hello, I'm Chen Qing, an...old acquaintance of Lian Jun's."
Old acquaintance? Lian Jun had called this Chen Qing an old friend, yet he chose to use the somewhat distant term 'old acquaintance'... Shi Jin's mind started turning, but he maintained a friendly demeanor and introduced Chen Qing to his brothers, saying, "This is my elder brother, Shi Weichong, the new CEO of Ruihang. You've heard of Ruihang, right? That super powerful foreign company? My elder brother is amazing, he's really good at making money."
As soon as those words were spoken, Shi Weichong's tense demeanor seemed to relax.
He looked at Shi Jin with a look of being moved in his eyes.
Chen Qing, on the other hand, was struggling to keep up with Shi Jin's enthusiasm. He mumbled a response and looked even more uneasy.
"And this is my fourth brother, Xiang Aoting. He's also super amazing. He's in the military and can fly fighter jets, hehehe." Shi Jin reached out and pulled Xiang Aoting towards him, introducing him proudly.
Xiang Aoting's expression softened as he followed Shi Jin's lead and sat down next to him. He even nodded politely towards Chen Qing.
The atmosphere suddenly became much more relaxed.
With everyone now acquainted, Number Two was tactful enough to prepare to leave. He wasn't like Shi Jin, who had the backing of an older brother and could sit next to Lian Jun without a care in the world.
"Wait, don't close the door yet," Xiang Aoting stopped him and said, "Our third brother will be here soon, he'll be here in a moment."
Shi Jin was stunned, then he almost laughed out loud - even Rong Zhouzhong was coming? This was really, really good news! With Rong Zhouzhong's reputation, no matter who was hiding in the restaurant today, they would have to think twice before taking action.
"Are you happy?" Lian Jun suddenly spoke, this was the first thing he said since Shi Jin came in.
"Happy," Shi Jin straightened his head and looked at Chen Qing with a big smile. He deliberately spoke loudly, "Mr. Chen, my third brother is coming soon. Do you know who my third brother is? You must know him, he's Rong Zhouzhong. He is the one who excels in film, television, and music, winning awards left and right. He is extremely handsome and has an enormous fan base! Have you watched his movies? You must have, right?"
"I, I've watched them. Your brothers are very talented," Chen Qing's forehead broke out in a slight sweat. After forcing a smile, he suddenly stood up and apologized to Lian Jun, "Excuse me, Lian Jun. I need to use the restroom."
Lian Jun seemed completely oblivious to his discomfort and nodded, letting him go.
As Shi Jin watched him leave, his gaze was alert and unwavering, not relaxing for a moment, until he could no longer see the man's figure before retracting his gaze.
"Shi Jin." Lian Jun called out to him.
Shi Jin snapped out of his thoughts, turned his head to look at Lian Jun, with an expression that said: Why are you calling me? I'm perfectly normal, I don't have any ulterior motives, I'm just a friendly person who likes to show off my older brothers.
Lian Jun looked at him straight for a few seconds, then didn't say anything more, retracting his gaze and pouring him a cup of tea, asking, "How was the mission? Did you encounter any danger?"
"Yes!" Shi Jin answered with a clear and confident voice, immediately attracting the attention of everyone in the room.
Shi Weichong frowned and asked, "What mission? Xiao Jin, you went on another mission?"
As he spoke, he even shifted his gaze to Xiang Aoting, his eyes questioning. Xiang Aoting nodded and explained, "We've been on a mission together these past few days, an official one that's classified, so I couldn't tell you about it."
Shi Weichong's expression immediately darkened as he coldly glanced at Lian Jun and asked, "Xiao Jin, did you encounter any danger?"
"I ran into a pervert!" Shi Jin's mind was clearly elsewhere as he picked up his tea cup and downed it in one gulp.
Suddenly standing up, he said, "You guys chat, I'm going to pick up Third Brother. His face is too attention-catching and there is paparazzi all over B City. I'll go cover for him." With that, he left without giving anyone a chance to react.
Shi Weichong who was waiting for the rest of the story: "..."
Lian Jun signaled for Number Two to follow Shi Jin, then put down his tea cup and asked, "You came all this way today for a reason. What is it?"
He was not foolish enough to believe in chance encounters with acquaintances while out for a meal.
Shi Weichong withdrew his gaze and carefully examined his appearance. He recalled what Xiang Aoting had told him on the phone and how he had just seen Shi Jin being very guarded towards Chen Qing, sticking up for him and asserting his dominance. Suppressing his emotions, he carefully chose his words and spoke as gently as possible, "I hope you will voluntarily let Xiao Jin leave. He is only eighteen years old and cannot afford to neglect his studies."
"It's impossible," Lian Jun refused bluntly, without any room for negotiation. "Unless Shi Jin himself requests to leave, I will not force him to do anything he doesn't want to do."
"You are misleading him," Shi Weichong rebuked.
Lian Jun didn't budge, "On the contrary, I think Shi Jin has become more and more outstanding since he stayed with me."
This was indeed true. Shi Weichong couldn't refute it and his expression turned ugly.
"Do you know that Xiao Jin has feelings towards you?" Xiang Aoting suddenly spoke up, his gaze towards Lian Jun was scrutinizing.
Shi Weichong didn't expect Xiang Aoting to directly bring up their suspicions in front of the person involved. He furrowed his brows and hesitated for a moment, but ultimately didn't stop Xiang Aoting and handed over the right to speak to him.
Lian Jun was clearly stunned for a moment, but quickly suppressed his emotions and asked back, "What does it matter if I know or not? Regardless of whether this so-called 'feelings' are your misunderstanding or not, let's talk about the objective situation. Shi Jin is already an adult and an independent individual. You ask me to let him go, but I have never forced him to stay by my side."
"He's only eighteen years old and his thoughts are not yet mature. He's easily influenced by those around him and by superficial appearances," emphasized Xiang Aoting.
Lian Jun disagreed with him: "Shi Jin is already an adult. I think he knows what he's doing."
"Then do you know what you're doing? Are you using a young man's vague feelings to try to tie him to your side?" Shi Weichong couldn't help but question, speaking very harshly and losing his calm decisiveness in the business world, becoming a bit flustered.
Lian Jun's attitude turned cold upon hearing this and said, "Mr. Shi, I'll say it again. As long as Shi Jin doesn't want to leave, no one can make him leave my side."
Neither side backed down, and the atmosphere became tense.
No one spoke, and the room was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop.
After a long silence, Xiang Aoting spoke again, his tone serious: "Lian Jun, Shi Jin has the opportunity to experience a normal life, where he can study, grow, fall in love, and start a family under the sun, instead of crawling through gunfire and bombs. I know you want to lead Annihilation towards the light, and you want your subordinates to experience a normal life, but why do you have to drag someone who should be living under the sun into your world during the darkest moment before Annihilation welcomes the light?
"Shi Jin is only eighteen years old. This time, he was only taken advantage of by a pervert and got his hand scratched by glass. But what about the next time? I don't want my little brother to die in some unknown place at some unknown time. Lian Jun, Shi Jin cares about you, can't you care about him a little too?"
The fingers that Lian Jun placed on the armrest of his wheelchair trembled slightly, then slowly tightened. However, there was no reaction on his face. His eyelids drooped, blocking the emotions in his eyes and all the pressure and emotions that surged towards him from the outside.
"'Annihilation' is my world," he spoke, his voice completely cold. "Since Shi Jin has stepped in, no one else can pull him out. He will live until the light comes, for sure."
Shi Jin stared at Chen Qing as he entered the restroom, then deliberately walked back and forth in the corridor, pretending to wait for someone while having Xiao Si scan the surroundings of the private rooms.
Xiao Si worked silently and finally came to a conclusion - all the seemingly empty private rooms around Room 308 were hiding people, and there were quite a few of them.
Shi Jin frowned, quickly calculating in his mind.
Surrounded by too many people lying in wait, he knew that trying to fight back would only end in defeat. It was too late to call for reinforcements from the club, so they had to come up with a way to scare off these people and prevent them from attacking.
Lost in thought, a figure suddenly appeared at the corner of the stairs. Seeing Shi Jin blocking the entrance, he stopped and looked over, his voice muffled by a mask: "What are you doing standing here like a fool? Dressed like a bear, are you stupid?"
When Shi Jin stopped in his tracks and turned to look at the person approaching, he noticed that Chen Qing had already returned to the private room.
With a sense of certainty, he flashed a brilliant, almost terrifying smile at the newcomer and bounded up the stairs, shouting at the top of his lungs, "Third Brother, you're here! I heard your latest movie just broke box office records. Congratulations! On my way here, I even heard someone praising your acting, saying that your portrayal of this character was a major breakthrough and was played...mmph!"
Rong Zhouzhong rushed forward and covered Shi Jin's mouth with force. He took a quick glance at the lobby that had heard his commotion and dragged Shi Jin a few steps up the stairs.
He angrily removed his mask and said, "You little brat, are you doing this on purpose? What are you shouting for? You'll attract people here. Today, we can forget about having a good meal!"
Shi Jin struggled and continued to howl, "What's there to be afraid of? This hundred year-old restaurant isn't doing well today. The private rooms on the second and third floors are all empty. What's wrong with me howling a bit? If you act well in movies, can't I praise you? You're the best actor, Rong Zhouzhong, and I love you so much!"
"You little rascal...shut your mouth!" Rong Zhouzhong looked around the private room with caution, relieved that no one had heard the commotion and ran out.
He felt a mix of complex emotions from the praise he received, feeling both like floating but also like beating someone up. He grabbed Shi Jin's shoulder and covered his mouth, dragging him along while growling, "You better keep quiet! Show me which private room our brothers are in!"
Shi Jin pointed to the private room where Lian Jun was located. Suddenly, he twisted his hand at a tricky angle and snatched the hat and scarf off Rong Zhouzhong's face, fully exposing him. Taking advantage of Rong Zhouzhong's stunned state, Shi Jin broke free from his restraints and stuffed the hat and scarf into his own clothes.
He said with a serious tone, "Third Brother, do you know how valuable your personal belongings are? Give me these two items. I've promised to get some 'souvenirs' for two of your fans. They offered me a high price of tens of thousands for them."
Rong Zhouzhong was furious and reached out to grab him, threatening, "If you dare to sell them, I'll break your legs!"
"I won't!" Shi Jin pulled his leg and ran towards the private room, taunting him as he went, "I'm going to sell them, anyway you can't beat me."
"You little brat, you're asking for death! Don't run, give me back my things!" Rong Zhouzhong chased after him, his expression twisted with anger, completely losing his perfect and aloof image.
Shi Jin ignored him, turning his head and entering the private room, asking Xiao Si, "Has the progress bar dropped?"
"It has, it has. After Rong Zhouzhong showed his face, it dropped straight to 600. The baby should be safe now!" Xiao Si answered excitedly.
Rong Zhouzhong's destructive power was indeed great!
Shi Jin clenched his fist and shouted "YES!" like a gust of wind, he swept past Number Two who was guarding outside, pushed open the door to the inside, and sat down next to Lian Jun. Then he turned his head and stuffed his scarf and hat into Rong Zhouzhong's chest as he chased after him, muttering 'stingy'.
He then grabbed Rong Zhouzhong's arm and proudly introduced him to Chen Qing, who had already returned, saying, "Mr. Chen, this is my third brother Rong Zhouzhong. Isn't he even more handsome in person than on TV? Let me tell you, his acting skills are amazing, definitely not like those haters who say he's just a pretty face. Do you want his autograph? This is the signature of a future internationally renowned award-winning actor, it's sure to appreciate in value. Let me have my brother sign one for you!"
Rong Zhouzhong who was about to unleash his 18 techniques of cursing at his younger brother: "..."
Chen Qing clearly recognized Rong Zhouzhong. Thinking of Rong Zhouzhong's influence, he felt uneasy but forced a smile and nodded in greeting. "Hello, I've heard of your name for a long time and I really like your performance in <Besieged>."
"Cough, really." Rong Zhouzhong quickly withdrew his hand and adjusted his expression.
He then threw the scarf and hat in his arms to Xiang Aoting beside him. He straightened his clothes that were messed up by Shi Jin's rubbing and extended his hand to Chen Qing with a reserved tone.
"Thank you for your support. If you really want a signature, for the sake of my younger brother, I can make an exception and sign a few more for you."
Chen Qing: "..." No, I was just being polite.
Xiao Si exclaimed in a low voice, "Jin Jin, your progress bar has dropped to 790!"
Shi Jin was taken aback and his emotions became complicated. He looked at Rong Zhouzhong, who had suddenly become serious and handsome, and thought for a moment. Tentatively, he complimented him, "Third Brother, can you also sign for me? I think your handwriting is especially beautiful."
Rong Zhouzhong withdrew his hand from Chen Qing's grasp, turned his head, and looked at Shi Jin with a sinister expression. He smiled insincerely, "Do you want me to sign it so you can sell it for money? Forget it, I will never sign anything for you in my entire life."
Shi Jin: "..."