After greeting the person on duty at the clubhouse, Shi Jin walked out with a bowl of steaming dumplings and headed towards the only military jeep parked at the entrance.
Seeing Shi Jin, Xiang Aoting pushed open the door and got out of the car, standing by the side and watching him approach.
Shi Jin stopped two steps away from Xiang Aoting and handed him the dumplings, saying, "Here, eat up. This is the perfect time for a midnight snack. I made these dumplings myself. They've been cooked once before, so they might not taste as good as the first batch, but you can still enjoy them."
Upon seeing the paper bowl in his hand, Xiang Aoting paused and reached out to take it from him, placing it on the hood of the car. As he unwrapped his chopsticks, he remarked, "I didn't know you could make dumplings."
"It's not that hard," Shi Jin replied, his hands in his pockets. He watched as Xiang Aoting picked up a dumpling without any hesitation and popped it into his mouth. Unable to resist teasing him, Shi Jin asked, "Aren't you afraid I put laxatives in them?"
Xiang Aoting swallowed the dumpling without any resentment and asked, "Would you?"
"Of course," replied Shi Jin sincerely and honestly. "I used to think you were very fierce and I was angry when you came home and said I was too fat, telling me to exercise. I thought of many pranks to play on you, but you never came home, so I never got to use any of them."
These were all the thoughts of the original owner, so Shi Jin spoke without any pressure.
Before everything was torn apart, the original owner faced this least friendly fourth brother with both a desire to be close and a fear of being close. The original owner was just an ordinary boy, and having a brother like Xiang Aoting who could fly fighter jets fulfilled all of the original owner's fantasies of having a hero.
Unfortunately, this hero occasionally played the role of a villain in front of the original owner.
Upon hearing this, Xiang Aoting remained silent, lowered his head, and picked up another dumpling to stuff into his mouth. He appeared indifferent, but his slightly anxious movements and the soup that accidentally splashed onto his clothes revealed his inner turmoil.
"Do you know about that deal?" Shi Jin asked.
Xiang Aoting coughed and turned his head to the side, swallowing the dumpling before wiping the soup off his clothes. He looked down at the plump dumplings soaking in the broth and suddenly remembered the first time he met this younger brother, Shi Jin.
It was in the grand but lifeless mansion where Shi Xingrui resided in M country. At that time, Shi Jin had just lost his mother and was less than a year old. He was chubby and white, held in the arms of Shi Xingrui. When Xiang Aoting entered the room, the baby suddenly flashed him a silly smile.
Children are innocent, this was something Xiang Aoting learned during his time in the military.
"I didn't know," Xiang Aoting suddenly felt unable to face it, feeling the dumplings he had just eaten stuck in his throat, making him feel uncomfortable. "But I guessed some things. I joined the best army, followed the best instructor, and got the best resources. All of this happened after every time I saw you... I don't know how Shi Xingrui did it, I just hated the feeling of using connections. The military is a place where strength speaks, and most people look down on those who use connections."
Shi Jin suddenly realized, "So that's why you came to see me less and less. Every time I asked, you had a bunch of training and tasks that you couldn't avoid."
Xiang Aoting didn't say yes or no, stirred the soup in his bowl, and asked, "Xiao Jin, do you hate us?"
"When I didn't know the truth, I didn't hate them. Once I knew, I hated them. But you're different. I don't hate you," replied Shi Jin.
Xiang Aoting's hand holding the chopsticks stiffened. He turned his head to look at Shi Jin and asked in a strained voice, "Why am I different?"
Shi Jin remembered the original owner's thoughts at the end of his life and sighed softly in his heart. He replied, "Because you're a hero. Heroes can make mistakes occasionally, as long as their hearts are always righteous."
Xiang Aoting put down his chopsticks and lowered his head, leaning on the car hood for a while before speaking in a hoarse voice, "I'm sorry. I probably need to disappoint you... No one is righteous. From the moment everyone stepped back into that house with false emotions, no one was righteous anymore."
It was a conversation with a terrible atmosphere. The two speakers were analyzing their own or other people's inner thoughts, and they both ended up hearing some unwanted information.
Suddenly, Shi Jin didn't want to continue anymore and asked, "What do you want to tell me? I need to go back and take a shower. Just say it."
Upon hearing this, Xiang Aoting lowered his head to compose himself, stood up, faced him, and carefully examined his appearance. He forced a smile and said, "I heard you were injured, so I came to see you... It's too late and cold outside. Go in first."
This was clearly not what Xiang Aoting had intended to say. Shi Jin looked at him trying to maintain his composure and didn't want to dwell on it any longer. After all, he had already said what the original owner wanted to say. So he nodded at Xiang Aoting and turned to walk towards the club's entrance.
After a few steps, he suddenly heard Xiang Aoting calling out to him from behind. He stopped and turned around to look.
"If you're willing, I'll always be your brother," Xiang Aoting said with a slightly awkward smile. "Of course, if you don't want to, it's okay... Xiao Jin, I'm sorry."
"It's me who should thank you," even if it was just for the rescue in the original plot.
Without saying another word, Shi Jin turned around and continued walking towards the door. Once inside, he glanced out through the semi-transparent printed glass door and saw Xiang Aoting turn around and pick up the bowl of dumplings. He lowered his eyes and suppressed his emotions before walking towards the elevator without looking back.
After taking a shower and coming out of the room, Shi Jin noticed a new text message on his phone from Rong Zhouzhong. The message was still short and unfriendly: Little brat, did you not watch my performance on the Spring Festival Gala?
With his hair still half-wet, Shi Jin scrolled through the message and remembered that Rong Zhouzhong was always verbally abusive and had a history of such behavior. He replied with a few taps of his fingers: Yeah, didn't want to watch it, big brat.
Then he deleted all the message records and didn't bother to read any subsequent messages from Rong Zhouzhong. He rolled up in his blanket and fell into a deep sleep.
After more than ten hours of flying, the group landed in a coastal city in M country. Shi Jin nervously watched his progress bar, but breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that it hadn't increased and had even decreased slightly.
"No increase, no increase. It seems that Ruihang is no longer your deadly factors. And leaving B city has reduced your deadly factors a bit," Xiao Si cheered happily.
Shi Jin was also very happy, looking at his progress bar that had dropped to 490, he let out a contented sigh and said, "It's been so long since I've felt so relaxed and safe. Leaving B city is really a happy thing."
"Exactly, exactly," Xiao Si echoed.
As Shi Jin's body leaned against the car pillow, he thought about the progress bar that hadn't changed since he had torn his face with Shi Weichong. He pondered the survival factors he had fought for from Shi Weichong and others, and drifted off into a daze. Finally, he shook his head and pushed those thoughts aside.
Why bother thinking about it? He was safe now.
With that in mind, he pulled a piece of candy out of his pocket and handed it to Lian Jun, who was sitting next to him. "Here, have a candy after waking up. It'll make your day better," he said.
Lian Jun, whose face had turned wan from the flight, glanced at him and took the candy from his hand. He ate it, then leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes to rest.
Satisfied, Shi Jin put away his hand and took out his phone to play mahjong.
In the front seat, Number Two silently withdrew his gaze from the rearview mirror and popped a lollipop into his mouth.
The car drove all the way to a private port, where they boarded a medium-sized cruise ship that was docked at the port. Shi Jin looked around in amazement and exclaimed, "I thought we were going to take a helicopter to the island. I didn't expect to take a boat."
"There is a flight route, but Young Master Jun's body probably can't handle it. So we decided to take a boat. Everyone can have a good sleep on the ship," Number Two replied, glancing at Shi Jin's curious expression. He couldn't help but ask, "You used to be a rich young master, haven't you seen a cruise ship before?"
"Uh... of course I have, but I was obsessed with studying and couldn't get away. I've never taken a cruise ship for leisure," Shi Jin tried to salvage his image.
With a look of "I must be an idiot to believe you," Number Two stepped onto the deck and suddenly thought of something. "Do you get seasick? It'll take a while to get to the island, so if you do, you should take some motion sickness medicine now."
Shi Jin seriously pondered the question and confidently replied, "No, I don't get seasick. I have good balance. I heard that only people with poor balance get seasick."
Number Two raised an eyebrow at his response and stopped trying to persuade him. Instead, he led him to the cabin.
Ten minutes later, the cruise ship set sail, and Shi Jin was left feeling hopeless as he collapsed onto the couch in the lounge, feeling like the whole world was spinning.
"This isn't scientific," Shi Jin moaned, barely holding back the urge to vomit.
Xiao Si felt sorry for Shi Jin, "You probably have never been on a boat before, so you're not used to it. Let me give you a buff to make you feel better. You look so uncomfortable."
After a few minutes, Shi Jin gradually caught his breath and was extremely grateful to Xiao Si for helping him out. After thanking it, he took out his tablet and opened the mahjong app.
When Number Two came back with the motion sickness medicine, he saw Shi Jin, who was previously feeling terrible, now happily playing mahjong.
"Mahjong can even cure motion sickness?" he said incredulously.
Uncle Long, who had followed them, glanced at the lively Shi Jin and gave Number Two a disdainful look before putting his hands in his coat pocket and walking away.
"It was Young Master Jun who sent you here, why are you rolling your eyes at me?" Number Two felt it was ridiculous, he glanced at the ecstatic Shi Jin and then at the motion sickness medicine in his hand. He grumpily threw the medicine into the trash and left.
During dinner, the cruise ship briefly stopped for a break. Shi Jin eagerly set up the table on the deck when he saw the sun setting, and then pushed Lian Jun up.
Lian Jun had taken a nap on the ship and felt much better. In a good temper, he let Shi Jin do as he pleased and followed him to the deck. When he saw the "candlelit dinner" set up in the middle, his eyes flickered and he turned to Shi Jin behind him and asked, "Did you arrange this?"
"No, I had someone else do it. The air on the sea is good, but it's too hot in the afternoon when the sun is out. It's much more pleasant to come out now that the sun has set and enjoy the breeze outside."
As they talked, Shi Jin settled Lian Jun at the dining table and took a seat beside him. He pulled over the utensils from the kitchen, which were placed opposite Lian Jun's seat, and lifted the covers off the food. "Originally, they were going to serve us a traditional Western meal, dish by dish, but I couldn't stand the slowness of it. So, I had them switch it to a fresh seafood feast. Don't worry, they only use ingredients approved by Uncle Long, so it's safe to eat," he said.
Lian Jun's lips curved up as he picked up his chopsticks. "You're considerate as always. How's your studying going?" he asked.
Shi Jin's smile instantly faded as he pretended not to hear the question, lowering his head to eat.
As Lian Jun saw that he had finally stopped laughing so foolishly, he felt somewhat satisfied and stopped teasing him. They ate their exquisite dinner in the cool night breeze.
After finishing their meal in peace, the table was cleared and the night had completely fallen. The cruise ship set sail again, with stars scattered across the sky as if they were within reach.
"It's been so long since I've seen such a beautiful starry sky," Shi Jin exclaimed, slouching in his chair. The sea breeze blew and the boat swayed, making him feel intoxicated by the beauty.
Lian Jun leaned back in his wheelchair, also gazing up at the stars with a calm expression. He propped his head up with his hand, looking relaxed and casual.
The whole world seemed to have quieted down, with only the sound of the wind and waves in their ears. As the night wind blew, Shi Jin turned his head to look at Lian Jun. His gaze followed the rhythm of the wind, sweeping over Lian Jun's black hair and robe corners that were lifted by the wind.
Slowly, his eyes moved down, secretly glancing at the clothes inside Lian Jun's robe, sneaking a peek at the hem of the clothes that were blown open by the wind.
"What are you looking at?" A clear and gentle voice asked slowly.
Shi Jin seemed to be bewitched, honestly replying, "I'm checking if you're wearing pants. With the wind blowing like this, if you're not wearing pants, I should be able to see your legs."
Lian Jun: "..."
Shi Jin, belatedly realizing his mistake: "..."
Xiao Si who had been watching the whole time: "..."
The warm and soothing atmosphere was instantly shattered, and cruel reality set in.
Shi Jin stiffened and met Lian Jun's gaze. He tried to salvage the situation, "No...what I meant was, I'm just curious why you always wear robes and nothing else. Is it to look cool? But I have to admit, you do look good in them..." He even added some flattery.
However, Lian Jun didn't take it as flattery. He lowered his head and looked at Shi Jin expressionlessly, covering his legs with a thin blanket. He replied, "For people with poor mobility like me, these long robes are easier to put on and take off. There are no complicated buttons or zippers, which saves a lot of time." With that, he turned his wheelchair and left without looking back.
Shi Jin was left speechless by this simple answer.
Xiao Si couldn't believe it, "Jin Jin, you actually thought that Lian Jun dressed like this to look cool? You're so shallow!"
Shi Jin covered his knees and bowed his head in shame. He had watched too much anime and his thoughts had started to wander.
In the early hours of the morning, the cruise ship docked at the island port. Shi Jin was sleeping like a log, so Number One and the others didn't bother waking him up. They went ahead and made arrangements on the island.
When Shi Jin finally woke up and walked out of his cabin, the sun had already risen and the ship was almost empty. Only Number Two was still waiting in the lounge to take him to the island.
The gentle sea breeze blew as Shi Jin walked onto the deck. He looked at the beautiful crescent-shaped island surrounded by the blue sea in the distance and couldn't help but whistle in admiration. "This place is so beautiful. What's parked over there in the bay, jet skis?"
Number Two exclaimed, "Your have sharp eyes, indeed they're jet skis. After we finish packing up, I'll take you to play. There are so many fun things to do on this island, so enjoy yourself. From now until the end of March, if there are no unexpected events, this month will be our vacation, and we can play to our heart's content."
Shi Jin's attention was brought back by Number Two's words, and he asked, "Only until the end of March? Do we have any activities in April?"
"No, we don't have any activities. We have to attend a meeting organised by the government for official organizations like us. Every April, the government re-registers the status of all major legal organizations in the country, and then discusses the matter of cleaning up illegal organizations with the leaders of these organizations. Young Master Jun needs to help sit in and supervise, otherwise some people won't listen." Number Two explained as he led him off the boat.
Shi Jin followed him and asked, "Where is the meeting place? Is it in the country?"
"No, it's on the high seas. There's a large cruise ship that's specifically used for official meetings. Everyone has to go there. You know, people in our line of work may be considered a legal organization on paper, but we're all still worried that the authorities will take advantage of the meeting to round us all up. So we never dare to gather on land."
Shi Jin nodded in understanding and glanced at the progress bar in his mind that had retreated to 500 when Chen Qing was rescued. He mentally crossed out the April meeting with a big red X.
The private island owned by Lian Jun was called Crescent Bay, named after the small bay surrounded by small islands. As it was a private island surrounded by the sea, there was no need to worry about surprise attacks. Therefore, everyone's demeanor became more relaxed after arriving on the island, unlike when they were in B City and Y Province where they had to be cautious at all times.
The accommodation for everyone is a group of buildings located in the center of the island. The entire complex includes three large villas, an observation deck, one large and one small swimming pool, three restaurants with different styles and their own independent kitchens, a training center, a shooting range, a multi-purpose building, a tennis court, a basketball court, and a multimedia entertainment building.
As they walked, Shi Jin felt like a country bumpkin who had just arrived in the city. He listened to Number Two's explanations while admiring the beautiful buildings around him. In his heart, he silently sighed, "The happiness of the wealthy is truly unimaginable for ordinary people. Compared to the Flower Fruit Orchard and the clubhouse in B City, this place we're staying in is like heaven!"
"This is all we have in our living quarters, but there are other entertainment options on the island. When you get a map of the island, you can take the island tour bus and explore on your own. Just remember to have Number Six make you a pass." Number Two finished his explanation and led Shi Jin into the largest villa in the middle.
Shi Jin snapped out of his thoughts and asked, "Who is Number Six?"
Number Two suddenly remembered that Shi Jin had not met Number Six yet. So he explained, "Number Six is the administrator of this island. He comes every winter to take care of things on the island and keep Young Master Jun company during the winter. But because Young Master Jun stayed in B City for a while this year, Number Six came later than usual and arrived after us. He's a mild-mannered person and good at logistics. I'll introduce you to him when we see him."
Shi Jin nodded in understanding and followed Number Two through the warmly decorated villa hall, up the wooden stairs to the second floor.
The second floor of the villa was spacious, with two large master bedrooms with great views, two study rooms, a small living room, and a comfortable terrace with a lounge chair and a swing.
Number Two led Shi Jin into one of the master bedrooms and casually pointed to the wardrobe, saying, "Your new clothes are in there. Take a look around the room and if there's anything missing, give me a call. I have other things to attend to." With that, he turned to leave.
Shi Jin quickly stopped him and asked, "Do you live next door? It seems like there are only two rooms on this floor. Where do the others live, and what about Young Master Jun?"
Subconsciously, he had already assumed that Number Two was his neighbor. Although his first sentence sounded like a question, his tone was very certain.
As Soon as Number Two turned his head to look at him, he fell into an eerie silence for a moment before saying, "No one lives on the third floor or the first floor of this villa. I live in the villa on your left-hand side. If you shout for me on this terrace, I can hear you in my own room. There will only be one roommate on your side, and it's not me."
Shi Jin was taken aback and asked in confusion, "Then who is it, Number Nine?"
Number One, Number Three, and Number Five usually lived closer to Lian Jun because they always needed to help him with things. He instinctively excluded them.
Number Two gave him a deep look and deliberately teased him, "It's not Number Nine. You'll know when you see the person later. Go and pack your things first. I really have to go now, and there are other things to attend to." With that, he turned around and walked towards the door.
As Shi Jin watched him leave, he briefly wondered about his neighbor's situation before quickly pushing it out of his mind. He happily bounced onto the fluffy bed and rolled over, enjoying the beautiful view of the sea outside the window.
"This really is paradise," he sighed contentedly. Remembering that he hadn't seen Lian Jun since waking up, he checked the time and realized that breakfast had already passed. He quickly pulled out his phone and called Lian Jun, asking, "Young Master Jun, where are you? Did you have a good breakfast?"
"Did you get off the ship?" Lian Jun asked, with the sound of water in the background.
"Yes, I just got off. Number Two just took me to my room to unpack. Where are you? If you haven't had breakfast yet, I can come find you now," Shi Jin replied.
After a moment of silence, the sound of a door opening came from the other side. Then, the door on this side was pushed open and Lian Jun appeared at the doorway, holding a phone in his hand. He said, "I'm here. You--"
Shi Jin was startled and twisted his body, staring at the door with wide eyes.
The two of them stared at each other.
Lian Jun closed his mouth and looked at Shi Jin, who was lying on the bed with his clothes rolled up due to rolling around, revealing his waist. He decisively lowered his eyes, stepped back, closed the door again, and picked up his phone. "Get dressed and let's go to the restaurant for breakfast."
Shi Jin looked at the door, then at his phone. He jumped up from the bed like a carp and ran to the door in three or two steps, pulling it open and asking, "Young Master Jun, why did you come so fast? Could it be that you..."
As Lian Jun watched him with his crooked clothes, he turned around and decisively returned to his own room. He slammed the door in front of Shi Jin and picked up his phone again, saying, "Come out when you're dressed properly. What kind of appearance is that?"
Shi Jin glanced at the door in front of him, then turned back to look at his own room behind him. He silently changed his question into a statement, "So you're the one living next door to me." This was probably the closest they had ever lived to each other.