The following day, Li Yundong decided to skip all his classes to visit Zhou Qin again at the hospital. He left the apartment early and decided to buy some fruits to take with him to the hospital this time. After a quick trip to the grocery store, he hailed a cab and told the driver to take him to First People's Hospital.
He had decided to put his Running Man duties on hold today; the nurses probably wouldn't take kindly to visitors walking around the ward looking all sweaty and disgusting.
When the cab stopped at the traffic lights near First People's Hospital, something caught Li Yundong's eye. Well, that might be able to cheer her up…
He wasn't sure if the hospital would allow it though.
When the lights turned green, Li Yundong made a split-second decision.
"Sir..." Li Yundong pointed out of the window. "Can you drop me off at that shop, please?"
"The pet store?"
"Yeah," Li Yundong said, pulling out several bills.
Twenty minutes later, Li Yundong strode into First People's Hospital with a bag of fruits and a small cage housing a pair of cute little hamsters. Admittedly, the hamster idea was a hit-and-miss. During his previous visit, Li Yundong got the impression that Zhou Qin didn't enjoy the company of her father very much, so he thought he'd find something to help keep her company. Well, at worst, the hamsters could help keep her mind occupied and distract her from her circumstances; at best, they might even cheer her up a little.
In a feat of stealth that would make even Su Chan proud, Li Yundong managed to smuggle the cage to the fifth floor of the regular wards.
Alas, his grand plan was foiled when the hamsters decided it was a good time to start squeaking while he was trying to walk past the fifth floor's reception desk.
"Hey! What's that thing you're carrying young man?"
Li Yundong cringed and came to a halt.
The receptionist, an overweight woman, suddenly stepped around the counter and blocked his path.
Li Yundong tried to shift the cage away from the woman's grasp but he was too late. The woman yanked away the cloth that he'd used to cover the cage and gasped at what she saw.
And no, it wasn't exactly the aww-would-you-take-a-look-at-these-little-cuties type of gasp.
"Tsk! This is a hospital, young man! No pets are allowed here!"
Li Yundong put on his most charming smile. "Oh, come on. They're harmless!"
The obese nurse glared at him.
"Not. Allowed," she growled. "Hospital regulations."
Li Yundong's smile faltered.
His charms, it would seem, left much to be desired.
Okay... Plan B, then.
Li Yundong sighed and feigned a contrite look. "Alright, Ma'am. I'm so sorry about this. I didn't know the rules. But…" He glanced around a few times. "Where should I leave the cage while I visit my friend?"
"Well that's your problem, young man," said the nurse. "So you deal with it. Just don't let me see that thing anywhere on this floor, you hear me?"
Li Yundong smiled. "Yes, Ma'am."
Li Yundong backed away from the reception counter and slowly moved towards the staircase.
Li Yundong descended the stairs until he reached the landing between the fourth and fifth floor. At the landing, he crouched down and opened the packet of seeds that he'd bought at the pet store. He poured a copious amount of seeds into the cage and then watched the hamsters munch on them.
That should keep them quiet for a while...
He couldn't help but smile when he saw the hamsters' cheek pouches, which reminded him of Su Chan. He rose to his feet and climbed up the stairs again. When he reached the fifth floor, he peeked out from the staircase.
The fat receptionist was sitting behind the counter, staring at her phone.
Li Yundong smirked and hid himself behind the wall. Once the coast was clear, he mobilized his Zhenqi and watched the hamster cage float towards the ceiling. Seconds later, the cage stopped moving and hovered about half an inch below the ceiling. Li Yundong stared at the cage for a moment to make sure that it was stable—and that it wasn't raining hamster poop.
Once he was satisfied with his inspection, he stepped away from the staircase and started walking back towards the reception desk with confident strides.
The cage floated soundlessly along the ceiling.
The fat nurse raised her gaze from her phone as soon as she saw his approach. She stood up and stepped around the counter once again. The woman gave him a once-over.
Li Yundong smiled and showed her the bag of fruits he was carrying.
"You've dealt with it?" asked the woman, her eyes narrowing.
"Yup," Li Yundong said, flashing another smile. "Hospital regulations, right?"
The woman stared at something behind him. "It's not inside the backpack, is it?"
"Nope," said Li Yundong, patting cloth-covered Fan of Seven Treasures. "The backpack's already full, Ma'am. There's no more room to fit the cage."
The woman's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "And what is that long thing in the bag?"
Li Yundong waved his hand nonchalantly. "Oh. That's just something from a science project." He smiled. "I'm an engineering student, you see."
The woman kept staring at his backpack.
Li Yundong ignored the woman and focused instead on maintaining perfect control of his Zhenqi.
Seconds later, the woman stepped away and moved back towards the counter.
Li Yundong hid a smirk and moved quickly towards Room 502.
All hail Qi Kinesis.
Zhou Qin was having her breakfast when Li Yundong entered. Li Yundong stood quietly at the doorway and watched Zhou Qin make a quick work of her porridge. Uncle Zhou was standing beside Zhou Qin's bed, looking down at Zhou Qin with affectionate but sad eyes. Perhaps Uncle Zhou did love his daughter dearly, just that he had done a shit job showing it all these years.
Li Yundong sighed inwardly, trying his best not to dwell on how f*cked up this whole situation was.
Uncle Zhou was the one who noticed him first. Li Yundong greeted the man with a nod and stepped into the room. After closing the door quietly, he walked towards Zhou Qin's bed.
He'd barely taken two steps before Zhou Qin dropped her spoon and whipped her head around to look at him. For a moment there, he thought he saw delight in Zhou Qin's eyes before they were once again filled with coldness.
Li Yundong refused to be deterred by the icy glare, so he kept walking.
Uncle Zhou suddenly cleared his throat and said, "I have something to take care of. Why don't you guys talk?"
Li Yundong nodded at Uncle Zhou again when they passed each other.
When he reached Zhou Qin's bed, he placed the bag of fruits on the cabinet.
"Meet your new friends," Li Yundong said, showing Zhou Qin the cage.
When Zhou Qin showed no reaction, Li Yundong placed the cage beside the fruits and lowered his backpack to the floor.
"How are you feeling today, Zhou Qin?" he said, then cringed inwardly at how lame he sounded.
Of course she's feeling like crap, you moron.
"Why are you here?" Zhou Qin said icily. "Didn't I tell you not to come anymore?"
Li Yundong clenched his fists until he felt his nails digging into his palms.
"I'm here because I care about you," he said with a smile. "You're my friend."
"Friend?" Zhou Qin laughed derisively. "I still have friends?"
"Of course you do," Li Yundong said, picking up a paring knife. He pulled out an apple from the plastic bag. "You have me and Su Chan. We're both your friends."
When Zhou Qin didn't respond, Li Yundong began peeling the apple while silently watching her.
When half of the apple's skin had come off, Zhou Qin laughed darkly again. "And are you sure you still want to be my friend? Right now, people are avoiding me like the plague!"
Li Yundong stilled the peeling motion of his hands and looked at Zhou Qin. Moments later, he sighed and resumed peeling. "You'll always be my friend, Zhou Qin. I've said this once, but I'll say it again. I won't abandon you even when everyone else in the world shuns you." The last strip of the apple's skin came off. Li Yundong put the knife away and stared at Zhou Qin. "And besides, do you actually think I'm capable of leaving you alone knowing that… knowing that I'm partially responsible for your current situation?" He sighed heavily. "I'd be no different from He Shao if I do that."
He heard a little gasp, which made him look up. That was when he saw the softening of Zhou Qin's expression. But the look was gone as soon as their eyes met. Before he knew it, Zhou Qin's icy mask was back in full force.
"What happened to me is none of your business," Zhou Qin said in a sharp tone. "It was my choice. Mine. Get it? Mine. It's got nothing to do with you, so get over yourself." Zhou Qin suddenly looked away with a humorless chuckle. "Oh, I see what this is about. You're just here to see me suffer, aren't you? You're here to mock me with your presence."
Li Yundong stared at the woman, aghast that she'd think so little of him.
Then it hit him.
She was doing this on purpose to push him away.
He ignored her rant and walked towards the bed with the peeled apple.
"Here, have an apple."
"I don't want an apple!"
Li Yundong tried not to flinch when he saw the angry look in Zhou Qin's eyes. He smiled instead.
"What would you like then?"
Zhou Qin's brows knitted together. Her expression no longer seemed aloof; rather, it seemed conflicted, like she couldn't quite decide what she wanted to feel. Then, he noticed the quick dark of her eyes towards the exit before they returned to her hands, which were clenching the blanket.
"I want..." Zhou Qin suddenly pointed at the bag of fruits at the cabinet. "I want a... I want a banana!"
Li Yundong bit the inside of his cheek to stifle a laugh. He'd never seen Zhou Qin act like this before. His next thought, however, flushed out every last ounce of mirth he'd been feeling: she'd never been crippled before, too.
Li Yundong banished his morbid thoughts and reached for the plastic bag for a banana. He peeled the banana and held it out for Zhou Qin.
"Here you go—"
The banana flew across the room when Zhou Qin slapped it away.
"I want a pear!"
You're not going to scare me away so easily, Zhou Qin...
"Sure," Li Yundong said with a smile. "A pear it is then."
"I take mine without the skin!" Zhou Qin snapped.
Li Yundong chuckled. "Fine. I'll peel it for you."
Minutes later, Li Yundong passed a peeled pear to Zhou Qin. This time, he held it tighter so that Zhou Qin couldn't slap it away.
Zhou Qin took the pear, and then hurled it away.
"I want a banana!" Zhou Qin snapped.
Li Yundong watched the fruit hit the door with a loud thud before rolling to a stop on the floor. Suddenly, the door swung open.
"What's with all the noise in here—" A nurse paused at the door and let out a gasp. "Oh, for God's sake! Look at this mess!"
Li Yundong cringed when he saw the murderous look the nurse was giving him.
"Ugh! Young people these days! So irresponsible!" The nurse stormed off, muttering something about the cleaning staff.
Li Yundong stared at the door, which the angry nurse had forgotten to close on her way out.
"See? Can't take it anymore, can you? I bet I'm too difficult for you to handle," said Zhou Qin snidely. "Leave then! Leave and don't come back! I don't want to see your face ever again!"
Li Yundong looked away from the door and took out another banana from the plastic bag.
Zhou Qin snatched the banana from his hand and hurled it across the room once more. The poor banana joined the pear at the door's threshold.
Li Yundong chuckled wryly.
"You know you could've just asked if you want me to feed you."
Zhou Qin's mouth went agape.
Li Yundong smirked. "So? Shall I feed you then?"
Zhou Qin's mouth clicked shut.
"Get over yourself!" Zhou Qin screamed hysterically. "Who asked you to feed me?!"
"Oh for f*ck's sake! Shut up, you crazy bitch!" someone from the neighboring room yelled. "Do you know what time it is? It's 6AM in the morning! People are trying to sleep, dammit!"
"You shut up!!" Zhou Qin roared. "I can yell all I want and there's nothing you can do about it!"
The voice in the other room quieted down, much to Li Yundong's surprise.
Li Yundong stared at Zhou Qin in wonder.
"Damn... Never knew there's a tigress living inside you," he remarked.
Zhou Qin sneered. "Now you know what a crazy and unreasonable bitch I am. Are you disgusted with me now?" She laughed darkly. "I bet you are." She pointed at the door. "Leave!"
Li Yundong smiled and reached for the plastic bag once again.
He glanced down and gaped at the bag for a second or two. "Oh, shucks..." He looked up from the bag towards Zhou Qin and feigned a crestfallen look. "We've run out of bananas." He let out a dramatic sigh and shook his head. "Tsk, tsk. Fruit hawkers these days. You'd think they have larger combs of bananas to offer. I mean, look at this shit!" He pulled out the stem of the empty comb and shook it a few times. "Two bananas per comb? Tsk, tsk! Ridiculous." He tossed the stem into the bag. "You'd think a bunch of monkeys robbed their stall or something."
There was a giggle.
Zhou Qin's face was turned away from him, but he could see that her shoulders were trembling.
Seconds later, Zhou Qin cleared her throat. "Leave."
"Nope," Li Yundong said cheekily. "How about an apple?"
Zhou Qin let out a low growl. Li Yundong pretended he didn't notice the glare on her face.
"Hmm? An apple?" he asked innocently. "They taste good."
There was another low growl. "Peaches!"
Li Yundong gave her a wry smile. "Peaches aren't in season, your highness."
A challenging glint formed in Zhou Qin's eyes. Li Yundong thought he even saw a smirk somewhere.
"I. Don't. Care," Zhou Qin said. "Get me peaches. Or get lost!"
Li Yundong smiled. "Ah... Very clever." He wagged his finger at her. "This is your way of trying to make me leave the room. But... Nope! Ain't gonna happen."
He reached into the bag and pulled out another apple, then began peeling its skin.
"I- I said peaches!"
Li Yundong shrugged and kept peeling the apple.
"Are you deaf?! I said peaches, not apples! Peaches!"
Li Yundong put the knife away and then raised the peeled apple to his lips. "Did I say that this is for you?" he asked in an innocent tone, then bit into the apple.
The corners of Zhou Qin's mouth lifted. Li Yundong could tell that she was struggling to hold back her smile.
"Tsk! What's with these complaints about noises, eh?!" There was a series of heavy footsteps. "Seriously, you people! No respect for hospital policy at all—"
Somebody appeared at the doorway. It was the fat nurse from the reception desk. She was standing at the door with her arms akimbo.
Li Yundong quickly stepped forward to block her view of the hamster cage.
"You!" said the fat nurse, glaring at Li Yundong. "Someone complained to me about a noisy troublemaker, so it was you!"
The fat nurse took a step into the room. Oh, shit...
"No! Don't come in, Ma'am!"
"Don't you Ma'am me, you insolent troublemak—"
There was a loud yelp followed by a crash. The fat nurse had slipped on the banana and fallen flat on her back. One of her shoes, which was sent flying into the air during the fall, crashed down onto the poor woman's face.
Li Yundong could still feel the residual quakes resulting from Miss Roly-Poly's fall.
Li Yundong hurried towards the door to help the poor woman up, smirking when he heard the giggles coming from Zhou Qin's bed.
Once the fat nurse was up on her feet, Li Yundong stole a glance at the bed and saw Zhou Qin reaching behind her back for her pillow. A second later, Zhou Qin buried her face into the pillow, her shoulders shaking violently.
That was when Li Yundong started laughing too.
"You bastard!" yelled the nurse. "Explain this mess, now!"
Li Yundong's hand shot out to still the fat nurse when he saw that she was about to start jumping around again.
"Don't, Ma'am. Please, don't. Otherwise you'll slip and fall again."
And the people downstairs will be having ceiling dust together with their porridge, he added silently.
Despite being muffled by the pillow, it was clear that Zhou Qin's giggles had turned into full-blown laughs.
The fat nurse wagged her finger in front of Li Yundong's face.
"You... You people!" She stomped her foot. "Just you wait!"
The fat nurse turned around and stormed off.
Li Yundong laughed and shut the door.
When Li Yundong was cleaning up the mess, he caught Zhou Qin staring at him. When he glanced over, Zhou Qin quickly averted her gaze as though she was embarrassed to be caught staring. However, before he could comment, Zhou Qin was glaring at him again.
It amused him a little that Zhou Qin thought she could actually scare him away with these deliberate tantrums.
"Why are you glaring at me?" Li Yundong said, walking back towards the bed. "Ah. You want more fruits?"
Zhou Qin's glare turned murderous. "I want peaches!"
"Oh," Li Yundong said casually, then took out another apple from the bag and began peeling.
Halfway through peeling the apple, Li Yundong saw the look of disbelief that Zhou Qin was giving him.
"Why won't you just leave me alone?"
Li Yundong shrugged and went back to peeling.
Peel, peel, peel... Peel—
Something soft hit him square in the face. He dropped the knife instinctively and reached up to grab the object. It was Zhou Qin's pillow.
Li Yundong chuckled and put the pillow away.
"I didn't know you have a habit of throwing things when you're angry."
He looked up and saw Zhou Qin's fuming face.
"Ta-da! A perfectly peeled apple." Li Yundong held out the apple to her.
"What, is this another one of your jokes?" Zhou Qin released a dark chuckle as her eyes slid shut. "You're just gonna make fun of me and say that you peeled it for yourself."
Li Yundong sighed inwardly.
Admittedly, he was starting to feel a little out of his league here. How was he ever going to convince Zhou Qin to let him help her if he couldn't even get her to accept a piece of fruit from him?
Don't give up, a small voice inside his head whispered. Just keep trying.
Li Yundong stepped forward and brought the apple to her mouth. Zhou Qin's eyes shot open the moment Li Yundong touched the apple's surface to her lips.
"You're not going to scare me away, Zhou Qin," Li Yundong said gently. "I'm not here to make fun of you, or to see you suffer. I'm here because I want to help you stand up again, do you understand?"
Zhou Qin's lips parted slightly. Her eyes widened just a tad and turned slightly glassy. Through the sheen of unshed tears in her eyes, Li Yundong could make out the shock and surprise in them.
When Zhou Qin failed to come up with a reply, Li Yundong smiled and waved the apple in front of her face. "You don't want this apple?" He feigned a crestfallen look. "What a waste. Well. Guess I'll eat it—"
Zhou Qin snatched the apple from his hand with a speed that surprised even him. Then, Li Yundong watched her take a large bite into the fruit.
There was a sharp hiss. The next thing he knew, Zhou Qin was wincing and covering her mouth with her hand.
"Hey, hey..." Li Yundong stepped forward and reached for the apple. "See? You bit your tongue, didn't you? You need to slow down."
Zhou Qin moved the apple out of his reach, then took another bite.
This time, however, the bite was accompanied with a sob.
Something tugged inside Li Yundong's chest at that moment. The floodgates had opened, and Zhou Qin began sobbing like there was no tomorrow.
For minutes, Li Yundong stood beside Zhou Qin's bed and watched her devour the apple while her cheeks became awash with tears.
Li Yundong balled his fists at his sides as he fought his own demons.
Was this really the way of the Heavens, punishing a man by making his friends suffer? Was punishing him with the Heavenly Thunder not enough? The Heavens had to drag in his friends too? What kind of f*cked up nonsense was that?
The more Li Yundong thought about it, the more ridiculous it seemed. By some twisted Heavenly logic, the person who killed an evil man ended up suffering a punishment even more severe than the one suffered by the evil man. He Shao had been punished by death for his wrongdoings. And Li Yundong, like He Shao, would be facing death by the Heavenly Thunder for his crime. The only difference was that Li Yundong had to watch his friends suffer first before facing that. How absurd was that?
Zhou Qin's sobs echoed in the room, filling Li Yundong's heart with guilt, remorse, anger, and everything in between.
Some time later, he heard Zhou Qin's muddled voice between the crunching of apple.
"Li Yundong... I hate you. I hate you. I hate you..."
Good. She should hate him. She should despise him. Hating him was a good sign. Hating him meant that she was feeling something rather than feeling nothing at all like a person who'd given up all hope.
Li Yundong would allow her to hate him as much as she wanted, knowing that her hatred of him could never surpass his hatred of himself.