When Li Yundong stumbled into Apartment 20A, he saw Ruan Hongling lounging comfortably on his couch, clearly making herself at home.
"What is she doing here?" Li Yundong looked towards Zi Yuan, who had just walked through the front door.
Zi Yuan closed the door gently and moved past Li Yundong without answering the question.
"You didn't run into any problems, I hope?" Zi Yuan said.
Ruan Hongling stood up from the couch and greeted Zi Yuan with a bow. "No Elder Sister. They're both fully intact and ready for you inside the Tianyi Pond."
Yeah. Very good. Just fantastic. By all means, ignore a man inside his own home, treat him like he's invisible, coz that's such a polite thing to do.
Li Yundong trudged along the doorway and set down his travel backpack on the floor beside the couch. He didn't put it on the couch; that thing looked so raggedly and dirty that he'd had qualms about bringing it into the apartment in the first place.
He pulled out the Fan of Seven Treasures from the backpack and lay it beside the backpack.
To his surprise, Ruan Hongling suddenly ran over and yanked up his backpack by its straps.
Then, she tossed it out onto the balcony.
Ruan Hongling shut the sliding door and walked back towards the couch. The girl's face was scrunched up like she had just opened a bag of rotten fish.
"What?" Ruan Hongling gritted out.
"Why'd you put the bag outside?" Li Yundong pointed at the balcony.
Ruan Hongling rolled her eyes. "I just cleaned the apartment two days ago. That thing is just gonna make the floor dirty again."
Li Yundong stared at the girl for a moment, then turned to look at Zi Yuan.
"I asked Hongling to stop by from time to time for some upkeep." Zi Yuan smiled, then turned towards Ruan Hongling. "Thank you, Hongling."
Ruan Hongling snorted. "Well. I'm happy to do it as long as Elder Sister Zi Yuan is the one who asked." Ruan Hongling gave Li Yundong a sidelong glance. "And as long as somebody doesn't go off the deep end and start telling me to stay out of his business."
Li Yundong flinched at the jab, but then he remembered the reason he'd said those words to Ruan Hongling—she had picked up his phone without his permission and pranked Su Chan.
That memory eased the guilt a little.
"Hongling…" Zi Yuan's warning tone pulled him out of his thoughts. "We just got back. So be nice and don't start a fight."
Ruan Hongling stuck out her tongue at Zi Yuan, then plopped down on the couch.
Li Yundong sighed and glanced around the living room.
He had to admit that Ruan Hongling had done a superb job in keeping the apartment clean. He'd been away for two months, yet the place didn't seem dusty at all. The floor had clearly been mopped. While Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling were having a whispered conversation, Li Yundong padded towards the kitchen.
He stopped in front of the fridge and opened it. The fridge had been restocked with fresh fruits and vegetables. He closed the fridge's door and opened the freezer on top. Stacks of frozen meat—poultry, fish, and beef—filled the shelves.
The conversation in the living room halted the moment Li Yundong walked out of the kitchen. Li Yundong stepped over the Fan of Seven Treasures' bulky form and went around the couch to stand in front of the coffee table.
The two women from the Zhengyi School stared at him curiously.
Li Yundong focused his gaze on Ruan Hongling.
"Thank you for cleaning the apartment." He jerked his head towards the kitchen. "And for restocking the fridge." He cleared his throat. "I really appreciate it."
Li Yundong nearly smirked when he saw Ruan Hongling's jaw slackening. He stole a glance at Zi Yuan, who seemed rather amused at their exchange.
Li Yundong returned his eyes to Ruan Hongling, who appeared to be struggling with her words. This time, Li Yundong really did smirk: there's my olive branch, take it or leave it.
After what felt like forever, Ruan Hongling cleared her throat. "Y- You're welcome."
From the corner of his eyes, Li Yundong could make out a satisfied smile spreading across Zi Yuan's features.
Suddenly, a devious glint formed in Ruan Hongling's eyes.
"Why don't you could cook for us again?" Ruan Hongling said triumphantly. "To repay me for all this." She waved a hand across the room.
Zi Yuan's smile instantly turned into a glare.
"Well!" Li Yundong released a loud chuckle. "That's not gonna be a problem." He himself had to eat anyway. It wouldn't be that much harder to cook for three.
My princess… Wherever you are, I hope you're eating well…
"You know… You might be obnoxious, annoying and—Oww!"
"Hongling…" Zi Yuan said. "Be nice."
Li Yundong regarded Ruan Hongling with a raised brow.
Ruan Hongling cleared her throat. "But I have to admit that you're a decent cook."
Li Yundong smirked.
"Still not as good as Elder Zi Yuan though…"
Li Yundong burst out laughing. "Okay, okay. I get it." He stopped laughing and shook his head. Truly, this girl sucked at giving compliments. "Thanks again." He looked straight at Ruan Hongling, then waved a hand across the apartment. "I can't even imagine the mess I'd come home to if you hadn't helped me keep the place clean."
Ruan Hongling shrugged dismissively.
Whatever. He'd take that as a win.
He stretched his arms above his head and then ran his hand through his hair—
He grunted when his fingers got tangled up in his hair.
"Goddamn shampoo didn't even work," he mumbled, giving his fingers a few more tugs before they came loose from his messy strands.
Even now, his hair still smelled a little funny.
He looked up to find Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling studying him. Zi Yuan had a look of amusement on her face, whereas Ruan Hongling looked like she was trying to hold back her laughter.
Li Yundong let his eyes wandered down his body for a moment, wincing at what he saw.
Ruan Hongling burst into laughter right then. "Pfft! Hahaha! You look like you just stepped out of a forest after spending years in it!"
Li Yundong smiled wryly. He couldn't even disagree with Ruan Hongling on that one. He did look like a beast from the wilderness.
Li Yundong sighed. Guess it was time for another shower.
For the first time in two months, Li Yundong allowed himself to really study his own reflection in the mirror.
He looked leaner now. The muscles of his deltoids and abs looked so much more defined than before. Granted, he didn't look like the next Mr. Olympia, but he looked a lot better than he used to—if those six-pack abs were any indication. More importantly, he could feel the explosive strength underneath his skin, like he could actually support the weight of the sky if it ever came crashing down on him.
With a satisfied smile, Li Yundong grabbed his razor blade and spent the next fifteen minutes shaving off the beard that he'd grown during the past two months. Once he was done, he grabbed a clean set of clothes from the shelf beside the counter and got dressed. He had tossed his clothes—the clothes he'd worn back from his Tibetan trip—straight into the trash can before stepping into the shower earlier. Those clothes were ruined, so there was no point in keeping them.
Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling were still sitting in the living room when he got out.
He stopped beside the couch and studied Zi Yuan for a moment.
"Aren't you going back to freshen up as well?" he asked.
Indeed, it boggled his mind how Zi Yuan still seemed so put together even after their long journey home.
Zi Yuan rose from the couch and smiled. "Later."
Li Yundong shot her a funny look. "Seriously? After that train ride?" He shuddered at the memory of that dreadful train ride where they had to share space with God knows how many people. China's population size was a force to be reckoned with—a force that could squeeze you until you turn into a flat piece of paper if you let it.
"I really don't get you at all." Zi Yuan shook her head in amusement. "You could reach Tibet on foot without a single word of complaint, yet you're acting all grumpy after a relatively comfortable train ride."
Li Yundong grunted in response. It was best not to let Zi Yuan know just how much he had complained and grumbled over the course of his trip to Tibet.
Zi Yuan flicked her hand: a stool near the dining table floated across the room and landed beside the couch.
Li Yundong stared at the stool, then at Zi Yuan.
On the other end of the couch, he could hear Ruan Hongling giggling.
Li Yundong narrowed his eyes. "Why?"
"Because you still look like someone who had spent ten years out in the wilderness," Zi Yuan said dryly. "You need a haircut."
Li Yundong kept staring at Zi Yuan until the implication of her words hit him. "Wait. Are you going to give me a haircut?"
He glanced back and forth between Zi Yuan and Ruan Hongling. The latter had stopped giggling.
"Of course," Zi Yuan said. "Now sit."
Li Yundong raised his palms. "Oh, no. No thanks." He shook his head. "I'll just go get one on my own tomorrow."
Zi Yuan rolled her eyes, then waved her hand once again. Li Yundong yelped when he levitated off the floor.
His butt landed on the stool's surface.
The next thing he knew, Zi Yuan was using an old tablecloth—where did she even find that thing?—as a makeshift barber cape.
Li Yundong turned his head around to look at Zi Yuan. "Hey… You sure you know how to do this?"
Zi Yuan smirked but said nothing.
"Okay, you know what? Let's not do this at all." Li Yundong reached up to untie the tablecloth around his neck. "I can just—"
His butt hit the surface of the stool once again when Zi Yuan's hand pressed down on his shoulder with a shocking amount of strength.
Oh, wait. He was one too.
"Oh, come on!" Li Yundong yelled.
Ruan Hongling burst into giggles.
"Just sit still," Zi Yuan said. "I'll be done soon."
Zi Yuan held up her palm. Li Yundong watched in horror as a pair of scissors flew from Ruan Hongling's backpack on the coffee table and landed on her palm.
"B- But what if you mess up my hair and I'm forced to shave it all off?" Li Yundong protested. Yes, it was true that he'd read and understood the Mahamudra Tantra and all. But that didn't mean he wanted to become an actual Buddhist monk. "I haven't gone bald since…" Li Yundong froze. "Hey, come to think of it… I've never been bald in my life!"
Zi Yuan arched a brow. "Oh? Is that the hairstyle you want, then? Hmm. Okay. That can be easily remedied." Zi Yuan turned towards Ruan Hongling. "Hongling, go get the electric head shaver from—"
"Okay! Okay!" Li Yundong said. "Just…" Li Yundong sighed. "Just cut it short. No shaving. Alright?"
Zi Yuan smirked. "Sit still."