Rong Zhouzhong sat next to Xiang Aoting in the end, sandwiching Chen Qing between him and Shi Weichong. At this point, Lian Jun's reunion dinner could be considered to be completely ruined.
After making sure that Lian Jun was basically safe, Shi Jin saw that it was time to call it a night. He was very tactful and quieted down. He even returned Xiang Aoting's down jacket to him and then made an excuse to go get more utensils for the brothers, leaving the private room alone to find Number Two.
Number Two leaned against the edge of the round table. When he saw Shi Jin approach with a serious expression, he raised his eyebrows and asked, "What's wrong? Did your brothers bully you?"
"No," Shi Jin leaned in close to him and lowered his voice, "When I went to pick him up just now, I noticed that there seemed to be people in several of the surrounding private rooms, but the waiters said that the second and third floors were empty today. I thought it was a bit strange, so we should be more careful."
Number Two's eyes flickered and he said, "There really is no one on the second or third floor today. Mr. Chen considered Young Master Jun's special status, so he booked the entire second and third floors in advance. Which private room did you see people in? How did you find out?"
Shi Jin felt that Number Two's reaction was a bit off, he was too calm.
He looked at him suspiciously and replied, "It seems like both rooms next door have people in them. Just now, I was playing around and took off my brother's hat and scarf in the hallway. Then I heard some muffled voices coming from the supposedly empty private room..."
As he spoke, he saw Number Two's expression becoming increasingly strange, gradually realizing what was going on.
He grabbed Number Two's clothes, lowered his voice and gritted his teeth, "Did you know that there are people in the two private rooms next door?"
"I know," Number Two touched his nose, looking like he wanted to laugh but held it in. He pointed to the ground, "The people sitting in the lobby on the first floor are all officials. Otherwise, how could Young Master Jun agree to let you come? So relax, eat and drink, even if the sky falls, there's someone tall to hold it up.
"By the way, why are all your brothers are here? Did you call them? And when you were praising your brothers earlier, was it because you sensed that Mr. Chen was not right and did it on purpose? You're too sharp, how did you get so smart?"
"...No, I was just having fun," Shi Jin squeezed out a sentence from between his teeth, feeling relieved when Number Two let go of him. Suddenly, he felt exhausted and shouted in his heart at Xiao Si, "I think I'm just a fool."
There was a brief silence, and Xiao Si comforted him, "It's okay, I'm even more foolish than you."
Shi Jin: ".........."
With his cutlery in hand, Shi Jin returned to the room feeling hopeless. He slumped down next to Lian Jun and remained silent, completely dejected.
"What's wrong?" Lian Jun asked.
Shi Jin glanced at him and then at Chen Qing before shaking his head. He silently moved his chair closer to Xiang Aoting's side, deciding to temporarily cut off ties with Lian Jun for a few minutes to ease his turbulent emotions.
Lian Jun noticed the distance between them and didn't ask any further questions. He rang the bell and called for Number Two to bring the menu. He added a few dishes, including a mini version of the roasted lamb that Shi Jin had mentioned wanting to try - roasted lamb chops.
Shi Jin was already deeply immersed in self-loathing and didn't pay attention to the dishes that Lian Jun had ordered. Xiang Aoting noticed the change in Shi Jin's mood and was pleased that he and Lian Jun were 'keeping their distance'. He reached over and moved some utensils towards Shi Jin, asking, "Are you hungry?"
Shi Jin shook his head and looked up at him, asking softly, "Fourth Brother, did I seem really foolish when I introduced you guys earlier?"
If only he had known that Lian Jun was already prepared for this trip, he wouldn't have caused such a scene. He should have just sat there and enjoyed the free meal.
In the end, it all boiled down to one simple truth: he was still too young.
Upon seeing that Shi Jin had a downcast expression, his eyes and brows softened. Xiang Aoting was just about to comfort him when Rong Zhouzhong, who was sitting next to him, spoke up in a strange tone: "When will you stop being foolish? Some people may have grown to be eighteen years old, but their intelligence is still stuck ten years ago. It's impossible for you to not be foolish in this lifetime. How old are you and still trying to show off your older brothers? Aren't you embarrassed?"
The last sentence was spoken in a low voice, almost just muttered under his breath.
Shi Jin became angry and embarrassed, glaring at him and raising his fist.
Rong Zhouzhong gave him a cold stare and ignored him.
Xiang Aoting was caught in the middle, feeling helpless but also wanting to laugh - it had been too long since he had seen this kind of scene between brothers, playfully fighting and getting along with each other.
Today's meal was hosted by Lian Jun, so the Shi brothers came uninvited. While waiting for the dishes to arrive, Shi Weichong tactfully used the excuse of having something to discuss with his brothers and called a waiter to set up another table in the outer room. He took his brothers with him and left.
Shi Jin followed suit, and Lian Jun didn't stop them. He just instructed Number Two to have the additional dishes sent to Shi Weichong's table later.
The lively private room quickly became deserted. Lian Jun personally poured a cup of tea for Chen Qing and placed it in front of him, then said abruptly, "Shi Jin has a particularly keen sense of danger."
As soon as Chen Qing heard the word 'danger', his heart skipped a beat. He took the hot tea that Lian Jun handed him and nervously replied, "Really? He doesn't look very old. Is he a new recruit you hired?"
"Yes, he's grown very quickly," Lian Jun said, leaning back in his wheelchair and scooping himself a bowl of soup. He stirred it slowly and spoke casually, "Shi Jin knows how to behave and is very thoughtful. He never acts too rudely towards someone he's meeting for the first time."
As Chen Qing listened, he felt sweat slowly forming on his forehead.
The two had known each other for many years, and Chen Qing considered himself to have at least a five-point understanding of Lian Jun, if not seven. Lian Jun never spoke meaningless words in inappropriate situations, but now he suddenly praised a newly acquired subordinate and emphasized that this subordinate, who had previously been very high-profile, was actually very tactful in daily life.
Combined with the earlier statement that 'Shi Jin is particularly sensitive to danger', Chen Qing almost immediately understood Lian Jun's meaning - 'I know something's not right with you, and not just me, even my new subordinate can see it. So, before I tear off the last shred of my affection for you, you better take the opportunity to confess.'
"Lian Jun..." Chen Qing opened his mouth, wanting to say something, but then closed it again. He seemed to have lost all his energy and slumped in his chair, letting out a bitter laugh. "Lian Jun, you're still the same... I remember you never used to drink soup."
"People change," Lian Jun finally looked up at him and asked, "Is the lucky bamboo I gave you still growing well?"
Chen Qing was taken aback, chewing on the long-forgotten code word. His eyes glazed over for a moment, then suddenly turned red.
He wiped his face and sat up straight, staring at Lian Jun's eyes. "It's doing well. It grew three new shoots, but unfortunately, one was scratched by a cat. The other two were moved to a new pot by my wife, and I don't know if they'll survive."
The meaning of his words translated was: "Since we parted, I have gained three new family members. One of them was injured, and the other two were captured. My wife was the one who was injured, and my child was the one who was captured. Please save them."
Seeing Chen Qing anxiously looking at him, Lian Jun furrowed his brows and nodded at him. He replied in a gentle tone, "They'll survive. Have some soup. It's good today."
Chen Qing's body suddenly relaxed when he received the promise. A mixed expression of wanting to cry and laugh appeared on his face. It was as if a stone that had been weighing on his heart for a long time had finally been lifted. He quietly thanked Lian Jun and changed the subject.
Meanwhile, the atmosphere at the dinner table of the Shi brothers in the other room was far from peaceful.
Sitting alone on one side was Shi Jin, while his three older brothers sat across from him. In the middle were various delicious dishes, but no one touched their chopsticks. The atmosphere was like a trial in court.
Shi Weichong got straight to the point and said, "Xiao Jin, we came here this time to talk to you and Lian Jun about something."
Shi Jin had already guessed that Shi Weichong and Xiang Aoting had probably called Rong Zhouzhong over, but he didn't know why they had come. Seeing Shi Weichong's serious expression, he couldn't help but feel a little nervous and asked, "What do you want to talk about?"
"About whether you should stay or leave," Shi Weichong replied, his brow furrowed and his tone serious. "Lian Jun said it's up to you to decide, Xiao Jin, and I hope you'll come back home with me."
So that was what they wanted to talk about.
Shi Jin relaxed a little, but still firmly refused, "Big brother, I'm sorry, but I don't want to go back."
"Xiao Jin," Shi Weichong's face showed disapproval as he spoke, "I thought we had cleared up the misunderstanding."
Shi Jin had been wanting to have a good talk with his brothers who had already been cleared of suspicion of being the murderer.
Seeing that the timing was right, he carefully organized his words and said, "Big Brother, Third Brother, Fourth Brother, I did have some misunderstandings about you before, and I was too stubborn during this time, causing you to worry about me. I don't want to deceive you, in the past, I didn't want to go home because of some of you, but now I don't want to go home because I want to stay in Nightfall, I like it here."
Shi Weichong and the other two brothers frowned at the same time.
"Our family's situation is different from ordinary families," Shi Jin continued to explain with a sigh. "You all have your own lives and careers, and you have your own relatives to take care of. My identity is awkward. If I go back with you, it's just going back to that empty big house, going to school alone, waiting for you to contact me occasionally when you have time...
"I'm not blaming you for anything, I just want you to understand that I prefer my current life compared to the previous lifestyle. Staying with Lian Jun, I can still learn a lot, it's not worse than studying in school. They are all teaching me with great care, and I really like them. You can think of me as studying for university at Lian Jun's place, just learning something different... I'm already an adult, can you trust me this once, okay?"
With a furrowed brow, Shi Weichong looked at Xiang Aoting with a tense expression. Even Rong Zhouzhong had a look on his face that seemed to say, "What nonsense are you saying?"
They silently conveyed their answer to Shi Jin - it's not okay, how could it be okay? How could an older brother agree to let his younger brother go to the underworld to attend some bullshit "university"? Did he want to live a miserable life?
Shaking his head, Xiang Aoting said, "Xiao Jin, this isn't about trust or distrust. It's about you staying by Lian Jun's side and potentially encountering dangerous situations at any moment."
Shi Weichong added, "Xiao Jin, have you thought about your future? You're cutting off your own path."
"I know, I've thought about it," Shi Jin looked at them and replied firmly, "but even if it's dangerous, I want to stay. Fourth brother, if I told you now that flying a fighter jet is very dangerous and I want you to choose a safer and gentler department, would you be willing?"
Xiang Aoting frowned and said nothing.
Shi Jin then turned to Rong Zhouzhong and asked, "Third brother, if I said being a idol is very dangerous, constantly being harassed by paparazzi and fans, and I want you to live a normal life or retire behind the scenes, would you be willing?"
Rong Zhouzhong sneered, "If you want to court death, go ahead. Don't compare me to anything, and don't put the title of 'idol' on me, or I'll twist your head off."
Shi Jin: "..."
Ignoring him, Shi Jin turned to Shi Weichong.
Shi Weichong raised his hand to interrupt the question that was about to come out of his mouth. His expression was complex, as if he had just known him again.
He said, "I understand what you mean. Although I have ten thousand ways to tell you the danger of staying by Lian Jun's side, which is fundamentally different from the danger that other professions may encounter, you probably won't listen. I will only ask you one question now, do you really have to stay by Lian Jun's side?"
"Yes." Shi Jin answered without hesitation, and even flattered, "I also believe that I will not have no way out. You are my way out."
This flattery was quite on point. Shi Weichong and Xiang Aoting's expressions immediately eased, and even Rong Zhouzhong slightly relaxed his eyebrows and eyes. He sneered and did not refute his words.
"Why must it be Lian Jun?" Shi Weichong asked.
Of course it's because of that annoying little devil, the progress bar.
Shi Jin said that in his heart, but he ended up expressing his true feelings and spoke with sincerity, "Because he's a good person, and I want to follow him. Brother, please let me do this one thing, I just want to do something I really want to do."
Shi Weichong remained silent for a while before asking, "Do you really like Lian Jun that much? You're willing to give up even your life for him?"
Shi Jin was taken aback, "...Huh?"
Rong Zhouzhong suddenly sat up, his expression turning ugly as he asked, "What did you say? Who likes who? This little brat hasn't even grown all his fur yet, how can you say he likes someone?"
Shi Jin was completely confused as he looked at Shi Weichong's pained expression, as if he were looking at a lost teenager. Suddenly, he realized what Shi Weichong was talking about and almost choked on his breath. He quickly turned to check that the door to the room was securely closed before letting out a sigh of relief.
Lowering his voice, he explained, "Brother, what are you talking about? Like or dislike? I, I just admire Young Master Jun, do you know that? I just want to become as powerful as him. You, you... your thinking is too narrow-minded!"
Shi Weichong was taken aback for a moment, then frowned and glanced at Xiang Aoting before fixing his gaze on Shi Jin. He asked, "You don't like Lian Jun?"
Shi Jin was in a state of collapse and retorted, "You might as well say that I like you?"
Although Lian Jun was indeed good-looking, had a good personality, and treated people well in every way, but... his life was still hanging by a thread, so what was the point of talking about liking or not liking!
"Nonsense!" Shi Weichong frowned and scolded, finally realizing that everyone seemed to have made a mistake. He confirmed again, "You really just admire Lian Jun?"
Shi Jin nodded so vigorously it was as if he wanted to twist his neck off.
Unable to hold back any longer, Xiang Aoting asked, "Then why do you care so much about him?"
"He's my boss. If he dies, I'll have nowhere to eat, so of course I care about him," Shi Jin replied matter-of-factly. After answering, he looked at Xiang Aoting with a pained expression that seemed to say, 'So this is the kind of person you were, I thought I knew you better than this'.
There was no doubt in his mind that Xiang Aoting was the one who caused this misunderstanding today.
Xiang Aoting awkwardly avoided his gaze, looking slightly embarrassed.
Meanwhile, Rong Zhouzhong leaned back in his chair, his gaze sliding over the faces of everyone present. His expression returned to normal, and he pulled up the corners of his mouth, letting out a laugh that was both ambiguous and meaningful. "You guys really know how to have fun every day. Why don't you all come with me and join the entertainment industry? I guarantee you'll be on the front page every day."
Shi Weichong remained silent, then was silent for a while longer, until he finally blurted out, "So what you're saying is that you want to become a gang leader like Lian Jun?"
"What gang leader? Big brother, we're a legitimate organization doing legitimate business," Shi Jin earnestly refuted, his face stern as he countered, "You guys can be bosses and celebrities and fly planes, but I can't aspire to help a legal violent organization's leader wash away their past and become a hero behind the scenes for the good of the country? How can you stifle a young person's dreams like this?"
Shi Weichong and Xiang Aoting: "..."
Rong Zhouzhong looked at him like he was looking at an idiot, laughing out loud, "No, that's not a dream, that's a delusion."
Shi Jin glared at him again and raised his fist. Rong Zhouzhong's face turned black and he kicked him under the table.
After Lian Jun finished his meal and came out with Chen Qing, there was only Shi Jin left in the room. Shi Weichong and the others had disappeared without a trace. Moreover, Shi Jin's expression was a bit strange, his eyes flickering and not quite right.
Lian Jun furrowed his brows and asked, "Where are your brothers?"
"They had something to attend to," Shi Jin replied, remembering the conversation between Lian Jun and Shi Weichong before he left. He felt so embarrassed that he couldn't even look Lian Jun in the eye. He wanted to explain, but didn't know how to start.
Seeing that Shi Jin wasn't looking at him, Lian Jun's brows furrowed even tighter. He didn't say anything for the time being, but gestured for Shi Jin to follow him.
He wheeled his wheelchair and accompanied Chen Qing out of the restaurant. The dinner ended without incident, and as everyone got into the car to leave the restaurant, Lian Jun's progress bar quickly dropped back down by 500, indicating complete safety.
Shi Jin breathed a sigh of relief and glanced at Lian Jun sitting next to him. After hesitating for a moment, he decided it was better to explain things sooner rather than later.
So he took the initiative to start a conversation, saying, "Um, Young Master Jun, I heard my older brother talked to you about something today...?"
Lian Jun's fingers, which had been resting on his knee, twitched. He withdrew his gaze from the window and turned to look at Shi Jin. He signaled to Number Two, who was driving, to raise the partition to ensure complete privacy before responding, "Yes, we did talk about something. What do you want to say?"
Shi Jin felt like he was suffocating - Lian Jun had already guessed what he wanted to say, and now he had even raised the partition!
It was the most awkward moment he had ever experienced. His own brother had gone to his boss and accused him of having ulterior motives, even using it as a bargaining chip. Now he had to face his boss and explain that he had no ill intentions towards him.
What a pig of a brother!
"...I'm sorry!" Shi Jin apologized, though embarrassed. "My older brother was talking nonsense. I assure you, Young Master Jun, that I am loyal to you and have no disrespectful thoughts towards you. Please believe me!"
Lian Jun's hand, which had been resting on his knee, paused for a moment before slowly folding and resting on his stomach. He turned his head to look out the window and gave a low response.
Shi Jin waited, and waited some more, but there was no response from Lian Jun. He looked up at him and tentatively asked, "Young Master Jun, aren't you going to say anything?"
"What should I say?" Lian Jun still didn't look at him, a hint of indifference on his profile. He countered, "Are you talking about your lack of respect for me, like forcing me to drink soup during meals, calling me 'baby' when you're drunk, or taking advantage of me before missions? Shi Jin, when you say you had no disrespectful thoughts toward me, did you include those?"
Shi Jin had nothing to say. He had indeed done all of those things.
This time, Shi Jin remained silent. Lian Jun turned his head to look at him and asked, "Do you have anything else to say?"
Shi Jin opened his mouth, tears in his eyes as he tried to explain, "Young Master Jun, I was just concerned about you."
"Hmm." Lian Jun nodded, turning her head back to look out the window. "Well, I'll be concerned about you too."
Shi Jin: "..."
Xiao Si weakly spoke up, "Is my baby angry?"
As Shi Jin leaned back in his chair, he gazed at Lian Jun's perfect profile, feeling a world of weariness. He asked in response, "Do you think the answer to this question could be negative?"
Xiao Si remained silent, answering in its heart: "No way."
Upon returning to the club, Lian Jun immediately summoned all of his subordinates and gave them an order - to spare no effort in tracking down Chen Qing's family and finding out who the attackers at the restaurant were. They had to rescue Chen Qing's family as soon as possible.
It was only then that Shi Jin learned that Chen Qing had been forced to meet with Lian Jun and had been under constant surveillance. He had even worn a wire during the entire meeting and dared not speak freely.
If it weren't for the secret code between Lian Jun and Chen Qing, Chen Qing might not have been able to tell Lian Jun the truth. As he listened, Shi Jin furrowed his brow and finally understood why Chen Qing had been so uneasy the whole time.
He felt a sinking feeling in his heart - to think that someone could dig up a friend of Lian Jun's and use that friend to set a trap for him. Whoever was behind this attempt to harm Lian Jun seemed to have a lot of power.
"...Number Nine is responsible for gathering information. Disperse now, and make the most of the remaining time," Lian Jun ordered, gesturing for everyone to act quickly.
The Numbers all acknowledged his command and left to carry out their respective tasks.
Shi Jin snapped out of his thoughts and realized that he and Lian Jun were the only ones left in the study. He asked in confusion, "What about me, Young Master Jun? What should I do?"
"Follow me," Lian Jun replied, sliding his wheelchair and preparing to leave. As he passed by Shi Jin, he paused and added, "Rest well and make sure to have your injuries checked at the medical room."
With that, he left. As Shi Jin watched him leave, he couldn't help but glance down at the bruised and swollen mark on his hand. He felt conflicted - now that he looked back, it seemed like Lian Jun wasn't even angry.