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    Fu Luoyin assumed he had heard Lin Shuicheng's head hitting something with a loud thud, and now, fearing that he had injured his head, all his anger dissipated in an instant, leaving him unable to be fierce anymore.

    He quickly reached out to touch Lin Shuicheng's head but found him unharmed, save for a hairline crack on his phone.

    Gently embracing Lin Shuicheng tightly, he stroked and patted the nape of his neck near the roots of his hair, attempting to soothe him.

    Leaning against Fu's embrace, Lin Shuicheng gradually stopped trembling. It was as if all his strength had been drained, leaving him like a smoldering ember in the wind, barely clinging to life.

    In a soft voice, Fu asked, "What's wrong, Lin Shuicheng?"

    He reached out to caress Lin Shuicheng's slightly reddened eyelids. "Are you uncomfortable from the alcohol? Or is there something else?"

    Lin Shuicheng's skin felt cool, and his usually shimmering peach blossom eyes appeared exhausted and devoid of spirit, tugging at Fu's heartstrings with a sharp pang of pain.

    After a long while, he heard Lin Shuicheng whisper, "I want to go home."

    His voice was hoarse but, at least, he was speaking.

    Fu Luoyin continued to hold him closely, soothing him softly, "Then let's go home, shall I accompany you? Huh? Don't tell me you don't want me to come with you. It's almost New Year, what will I do if you leave?"

    Lin Shuicheng didn't react at all, but Fu Luoyin continued talking to himself, softly murmuring in his deep voice right next to his ear.

    He guessed that Lin Shuicheng might be homesick. The Quantum Analysis Department was closed, and it was almost New Year's; with his brother alone in the hospital, Lin Shuicheng suddenly found himself with nothing to do, and he might be more vulnerable than usual.

    He was trying to divert Lin Shuicheng's attention and soothe his emotions.

    He wasn't very good at comforting others. Throughout his life, he had never needed to comfort anyone or been consoled himself. He acted on instinct, like when he was a child and loved cats, picking them up and petting them regardless of their wishes. As he grew older and accepted that cats and dogs disliked him, he would stroke a cat if he could, but if not, he would simply watch from afar. When he saw a stray kitten, he would still take care of it, but no longer overly cling to it.

    Nowadays, apart from Su Yu and his childhood friends, few people knew that he still liked cats.

    Just as he gradually realized that there were some things he could never have.

    But Lin Shuicheng couldn't be one of those things.

    Lin Shuicheng's voice was also low: "I can't get tickets for Winter Camphor City, the roads are closed..."

    "I know, but there must be other ways, right?" Fu Luoyin said softly. "I'm having someone look into it. Even if there's a storm, it'll pass eventually. Do you want me to go home with you?"

    Lin Shuicheng didn't respond.

    Fu Luoyin held him close, chuckling softly into his ear. "Is it inappropriate for me to say this, Lin Shuicheng? I've never celebrated New Year's before. Honestly, I don't know how people usually do it. If you're alone, shall we just spend it together this year? The base's way of celebrating is giving the lab mice an extra meal and extending the patrol time. If you'd like, we can also take a cable car tour around the magnetic levitation loop or try the vacuum simulation chamber. But I don't find them particularly enjoyable. Are you interested?"

    Lin Shuicheng remained silent.

    Fu Luoyin continued to embrace him, patting his back. "Drinking without eating, then feeling terrible after—there's no such thing as being a top student like that," he said in a softer tone. "You've been hospitalized twice due to overwork and anemia during your college project… How can you not take care of yourself, Lin Shuicheng? You need someone by your side."

    Lin Shuicheng lowered his gaze.

    Fu Luoyin smiled again. "I guess… I still know you better than you think. I'm slowly learning about your past, Lin Shuicheng. Otherwise, if someone asks if you were my partner before, I wouldn't be able to say a word except that you're a great scientist. They'd think I'm bragging. I'd have to mention how incredible you are—caring for cats, cooking, and effortlessly helping the Su family secure business deals…"

    He exhaled gently. "Lin Shuicheng, when something's bothering you, tell me."

    Lin Shuicheng responded with a soft "Mm."

    Gently extracting himself from Fu Luoyin's arms, he looked intently into his eyes.

    "I'm really okay, Fu Luoyin. I just got drunk and felt a bit homesick. My phone accidentally fell," Lin Shuicheng explained. "I'm fine, thank you so much, Fu Luoyin. Really, thank you. You should go back; I'll be fine after a nap."

    Fu Luoyin watched as Lin Shuicheng climbed up and sat on the bed, unable to resist frowning.

    Fu Luoyin also stood up. He glanced at Lin Shuicheng, and in that moment, he felt his anger return, his voice tinged with coldness, "I'll watch over you while you sleep."

    Lin Shuicheng looked up at him and saw Fu Luoyin drag a sofa from the corner to the door, positioning it with his back to Lin Shuicheng. He then sat down and said stiffly, "Sleep with peace of mind."

    There was an innate sense of security that Fu Luoyin exuded, possibly due to his military background in the Eighth District. Strangely, it didn't carry the same intimidating presence that he gave others. Lin Shuicheng had never been afraid of him.

    Fu Luoyin pondered for a moment and realized that indeed, only Lin Shuicheng had never feared him. In the past, when they were together, Lin Shuicheng would ignore him when he wanted to, and tease him when he pleased.

    Just as he sat down, he turned around to look at Lin Shuicheng and found that he had already fallen asleep, still clutching the blanket without covering himself.

    Adjusting the temperature with his phone, Fu Luoyin then saw a message from Su Yu, "Minus Two, where did you go? Your favorite udon is on the cheese udon noodles. Have you seen your wife? My mom wanted to toast her, but now she can't find her."

    "You think about eating all day," Fu Luoyin replied, "Lin Shuicheng is sleeping. There's something important I need to ask you, keep it confidential for now."

    Su Yu: "What's going on?"

    He quickly picked up on the key point in Fu Luoyin's message and teased, "How do you always know when your wife is sleeping! You must be following him around all day!"

    Fu Luoyin didn't respond to that, instead asking, "Did you notice anything about Lin Shuicheng's state today? You've been spending more time with him than I have lately."

    Su Yu was confused. "What do you mean?"

    "He's not acting like himself." After a moment of contemplation, Fu Luoyin typed and sent the message, "Lin Shuicheng's behavior is reminiscent of depression. I have experience with patients at home. Tell me what you've observed. I'll look into it right away."

    Exhausted, Lin Shuicheng wasn't sure if he had fallen asleep or not.

    He thought he had, because he dreamt of that gray city once again. Yet, he also felt like he hadn't slept, as he vividly witnessed the room gradually dimming. He saw Fu Luoyin sitting on a single sofa with his back turned, his spine straight and head slightly lowered as he looked at his phone, which emitted a faint glow.

    Half-asleep and half-awake, Lin Shuicheng reconstructed his body. When he regained some strength, he opened his eyes.

    Fu Luoyin sat on the sofa with his legs crossed, leaning slightly to prop his head up. This allowed Lin Shuicheng to catch a glimpse of half his profile, his expression stern.

    Lin Shuicheng sat up in bed.

    Fu Luoyin said, "You're awake. Get ready and let's go out for dinner. If you keep neglecting meals like this, I'll send you to the hospital for nutrient drips."

    Lin Shuicheng managed a weak smile before getting out of bed to freshen up in the bathroom.

    When he emerged, Fu Luoyin was standing with his back to him, holding a bouquet of eternal flowers and earnestly trying to stuff them into a vase in his room. The bouquet was large, while the vase was small, but he persistently attempted to fit all the flowers inside, though his efforts proved fruitless.

    Only one rose was fresh; Fu Luoyin covered his nose and mouth with a handkerchief, sneezing violently as he struggled to insert it into the vase after a long while. The delicate vase was under pressure beyond its capacity, teetering on the edge. Fu Luoyin then placed a crystal ashtray beneath it to stabilize it and prevent it from toppling over.

    After stuffing the flowers, Fu Luoyin turned around to see Lin Shuicheng. Unable to resist, he sneezed again—his appearance was rather disheveled, his sneezing unceasing, and his eyes began to redden. He wiped his face, glanced at Lin Shuicheng, then hastily left the room, "I have something else to attend to, I'll be going first."

    In the hotel lobby, there was an automated medication dispenser. Fu Luoyin rushed down to purchase an antihistamine and a bottle of water. After taking two pills, he gradually felt the discomfort in his throat subside.

    The atmosphere at the evening banquet was more relaxed than during the day, due to the open dance floor and lounge areas. People, both acquaintances and strangers, mingled and shared drinks.

    Yan Zi brought Su Yu along and pulled Lin Shuicheng aside to express their gratitude for quite some time. Lin Shuicheng also joined in, sipping a bit of alcohol.

    He had never enjoyed drinking as a social obligation, but today, the alcohol brought a subtle sense of relief. The floating sensation it induced was distinct from depression, and it momentarily freed him from his anxiety.

    Lin Shuicheng ordered a cocktail for himself and sat alone in a corner, savoring it slowly after Su Yu and Yan Zi left.

    Before long, a young and attractive woman approached, smiling as she asked, "Teacher Little Lin, would you do me the honor of joining me for a seat?"

    Lin Shuicheng lifted his gaze, recognizing her slightly.

    "I'm Fu Xue, and I'm also Luoyin's older sister." Fu Xue extended her hand, smiling politely. "Teacher Little Lin has been busy lately and isn't taking on any projects. But since we've met, why not get to know each other as friends and relatives, rather than in a business context? Luoyin is like a child I've watched grow up. Since you're with him, would you like to join us for a chat?"

    Fu Xue was slightly nervous, her hand holding the cup slightly sweaty.

    Lin Shuicheng had an innate aura about him, perhaps due to his striking appearance or the unique aloofness of a scientist, giving off an air of being unapproachable.

    But now, she had no choice but to step forward. Everything that happened at this birthday party had already made their small circle feel a serious threat – not only the relationship between Fu Luoyin and Xia Ran, but also the secondary corporate powers outside the core circle of Star City.

    If it weren't for Lin Shuicheng, Yangfeng Nanotechnology could have potentially formed a great collaboration with the Lu Shengwen Group, indirectly pushing the Su family out of the clinical market. However, with Lin Shuicheng's entrance, the situation immediately shifted. Fu Xue had already spoken, leaving no room for retreat – they had truly offended the Su family in the open!

    Su Yu and Xia Ran were already at odds, making it unrealistic to approach the issue from Su Yu's side. Instead, directly seeking out Lin Shuicheng might leave some room for softened words.

    As for Xia Ran and Bai Yiyi, they were genuinely panicked. Regardless of Lin Shuicheng's excellence or Fu Luoyin's attitude towards him, both had stirred a deep sense of crisis within them. They were anxious and eager to uncover the truth about Lin Shuicheng. After much deliberation, they asked Fu Xue to invite Lin Shuicheng over, emphasizing beforehand that it would only be a casual discussion, nothing provocative.

    Lin Shuicheng looked at her for a moment before smiling, narrowing his eyes.

    Fu Xue expected him to decline, but to her surprise, he replied softly, "Sure."

    As the two left their booth, Dong Shuoye caught sight of them from the other side and raised an eyebrow.

    Lowering his head, he sent a message to Fu Luoyin: "Where are you? Your sister-in-law has been taken by Fu Xue to join Xia Ran's table for drinks. Hurry up and come over."


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