Hours later, Li Yundong sauntered into Room 502 carrying several air-tight containers in a plastic bag. It was already late afternoon, and Zhou Qin appeared to be taking a nap.
He shut the door quietly and stepped into the room.
He paused near the door, wondering if he should wake Zhou Qin or just let her sleep. He could leave the containers here and include a note to Uncle Zhou or something. She and Uncle Zhou could share the food for dinner later. He was pretty sure there were microwave ovens somewhere in the hospital, so reheating the food wouldn't be a problem at all.
In the midst of his indecision, Zhou Qin roused and opened her eyes.
Glad that Zhou Qin had made the decision for him, Li Yundong smiled and moved across the room towards the bed.
"Hey. Sorry for the wait," Li Yundong said. "I've got your lunch right here." He raised the plastic bag in his hand to show her the containers.
Zhou Qin stared at him, her eyes wide with disbelief.
Li Yundong chuckled. "What, you didn't think I'd actually do it?" He smirked. "I'm a man of my word, Zhou Qin."
So when I say I'm gonna help you stand up, that's exactly what I'm gonna do, he added silently. And I'm damn well gonna make it happen. Just you wait.
Zhou Qin blushed and looked away.
Li Yundong set the containers down on the table and then opened each one. Then, he grabbed a bowl from the cabinet and filled it with rice.
"Here you go."
Li Yundong placed the rice bowl beside the containers.
Zhou Qin slowly turned away from the window. Li Yundong watched with bated breath as her eyes scanned over each container.
At least she wasn't scowling, which was a good sign.
Li Yundong cleared his throat. "These are just a few simple dishes and might not be up to your usual tastes. I kinda prepared them in a hurry and… Well, I didn't have time to make something better, so… I hope you don't mind."
Instead of answering, Zhou Qin kept staring at the containers like she was trying to decide whether or not she should eat them.
Li Yundong cleared his throat again. "And I'm sure you can recognize a few of these dishes." He pointed at the container containing the stir-fried lotus with chicken. "I made this one too when you visited my apartment the other day."
After what felt like forever, Zhou Qin reached for the chopsticks.
"Wait, hold on a sec."
Li Yundong quickly stood up and adjusted the hospital bed's height so that it was easier for her to eat.
"There. All done. Eat up."
Zhou Qin gave him a tiny smile and reached for a piece of pork rib with her chopsticks.
She was smiling now.
Perhaps she wouldn't kick him out of the room later if he brought up her treatment options.
Li Yundong sat down in the chair beside the bed to watch her eat.
About a minute later, Zhou Qin started sniffing and crying.
Li Yundong was up on his feet in an instant. "Hey, what's the matter?" He glanced at the containers and then cringed. "Does the food really taste that horrible?"
"Pfft! Haha!" Zhou Qin spewed an entire mouthful of food over the blanket and bedspread.
Li Yundong stood helplessly beside the bed. "Um..."
"Great. Now my blanket is dirty." Zhou Qin shot him a glare. "This is your fault!"
"H- Hey! I wasn't the one who spit all over it," Li Yundong sputtered.
"It's your fault that I laughed!"
"Hey! That's not fair! I—" Li Yundong held his tongue and hung his head with a sigh. "Okay. Fine. Blame it on me. It's my fault."
It was the undeniable truth. It was his fault that Zhou Qin ended up like this, his fault that she lost everything, his fault that she nearly lost her life.
Everything was his fault.
Li Yundong sat down and tried not to let his guilt show. He forced out a tight smile and said, "Hurry up and eat, okay? Don't let the food get cold."
Zhou Qin stared at him for a moment, then went back to her food.
The meal went by in silence after that. While watching her eat, Li Yundong allowed his mind to drift away. Once in a while, though, he would catch Zhou Qin stealing glances at him. And every time he did, he gave her a smile before returning to his thoughts.
He kept replaying the discussion he had with Zi Yuan last night, where they had spent hours working out the details of how he could use the Jindan's Aura to heal Zhou Qin's spinal damage. Zi Yuan seem a bit reluctant when he begged her to divulge the key to activating the Jindan's Aura. But in the end, she relented after Li Yundong had given her his word that he would never activate the Aura other than when he was giving Zhou Qin the treatment.
As it turned out, the secret to activating the Jindan's Aura lies in the speed of his Qi flow; once the speed of his Qi flow surpasses a certain threshold, the Jindan Aura will be activated and his body will start glowing.
Li Yundong remembered wanting to smack himself in the head for not figuring it out sooner. For one, the explanation made complete sense, not to mention it fit all the facts—such as why the Jindan's Aura was activated when he was wounded or when he was angry.
It was obvious now that he thought about it.
Both of those phenomena would lead to a surge in Qi flow: the increased blood flow to open wounds is driven by an increase in Qi flow; similarly, the rate of Qi circulation will also increase when a person becomes angry.
After the revelation, Zi Yuan had sat him down on the floor of the living room and forced him to practice maintaining his Qi flow at a constant speed. In particular, Zi Yuan wanted him to practice restraint. He could try increasing the speed of his Qi flow, but only by so much. Overdoing it, in Zi Yuan's own words, would lead to disastrous consequences.
Li Yundong took the practice session seriously because he himself knew just how risky the treatment was—the Jindan's Aura could easily ruin Zhou Qin's body if he lost control for just a fraction of a second. Then again, the risk was worth it; unlike with surgery, Zhou Qin's recovery was pretty much guaranteed as long as he did everything right.
Once he had mastered the speed of his Qi flow, Zi Yuan took the training session to the next level: localized speed maintenance. In other words, he had to maintain the speed of his Qi flow through a certain part of his body—like his hands, for instance. The training made logical sense since it would allow him to activate the Jindan's Aura only at a certain part of his body.
The whole practice session took hours to complete.
Li Yundong shook himself out of his reverie when he could no longer hear the sound of moving chopsticks.
Zhou Qin had finished her meal and was now staring at him.
Li Yundong smiled and stood up from chair.
Li Yundong could feel Zhou Qin's eyes on him as he worked on clearing away the food containers. Then, when he was cleaning Zhou Qin's blanket and bedspread, he finally mustered his courage to bring up the subject of her treatment.
"Say, Zhou Qin... Why don't I give you a massage?"
As soon as the question was out, he noticed the tightening of Zhou Qin's fingers around the blanket. He winced internally and cursed himself for his impatience. Zhou Qin was silent for a long time, so Li Yundong stole a glance at her.
Zhou Qin was staring back at him with indecision in her eyes, and it was all Li Yundong could do not to retract his question and claim that it was only a joke.
Li Yundong cleared his throat and decided to try again.
"It's not gonna hurt at all," he said lamely. "It's just something to help improve your blood circulation."
After what felt like forever, Zhou Qin gave him the briefest of nods.
Li Yundong nearly did a fist pump right then and there. He smiled at Zhou Qin and folded the wash cloth in his hands. "Just give me a moment, okay? I'll be right back."
He went into the bathroom to deal with the cloth.
When he returned, Zhou Qin still had a hesitant look on her face. Before Li Yundong had the chance to reassure her again, she opened her mouth to speak.
"How should I... Um..." Zhou Qin said shyly. "Should I lay down on my stomach... or?"
Li Yundong paused beside the bed. Right. That was probably how things are done in a massage parlor. Then again, Li Yundong had a different kind of massage in mind.
"No. Not really..." Li Yundong trailed off and glanced around the room for a moment. Getting her into a meditative posture wasn't option, so he would have to settle for the next best thing.
Li Yundong walked over to the wheelchair and then pushed it over towards the bed. Zhou Qin seemed to have gotten the hint as well since she suddenly lifted the blanket off her body and shifted closer to the edge of the bed.
Several awkward moments passed with Zhou Qin eyeing the wheelchair warily. "Um... You're gonna have to help me into the..." She pointed at the wheelchair.
"Sure." Li Yundong moved closer to the edge of the bed and then lifted Zhou Qin off the mattress.
Zhou Qin's arms went around his neck instantly.
Only then did Li Yundong realize that she was trembling.
Li Yundong frowned and stared down at her. "Are you okay? Does this hurt?"
Zhou Qin shook her head gently.
"But you're shaking."
"I- It's nothing," Zhou Qin stammered. "Just..." She cleared her throat and pointed at the wheelchair.
Li Yundong nodded and slowly lowered her into the wheelchair.
He heard a sigh when Zhou Qin removed her arms around his neck.
As he stood up, he caught a glimpsed of Zhou Qin's worried expression.
"Don't be scared," he consoled. "It's just a simple head massage."
She looked up at him warily. "Will it hurt?"
"Of course not." Li Yundong smiled. "Like I said, it's going to help improve your blood circulation. It's meant to help you feel more comfortable."
"Don't worry," he said. "Just leave it to me."
Li Yundong positioned himself behind the wheelchair and pushed it towards the center of the room where it was less cluttered and more airy.
"Just close your eyes and relax, okay?" Li Yundong said. "It's not gonna hurt. I promise."
A second later, Li Yundong could see Zhou Qin's tensed shoulders relaxing as she let out a long sigh. "That's it... Just relax," he said soothingly, then glanced over at the door. Uncle Zhou had left with his friend and probably wouldn't return for a while. He didn't know when the nurses would come to do their rounds, but he figured it wouldn't be a problem even if they got interrupted; it was perfectly safe to stop the massage and then pick up where he left off.
"Um... Li Yundong?" came Zhou Qin's tentative voice. "Aren't you going to begin?"
"Just a sec, okay? Just a sec..." Li Yundong lowered his hands, using the wheelchair to keep them from view.
After that, he closed his eyes and increased the speed of his Qi flow near his fingertips. When he opened his eyes seconds later, there was a golden glow coating his fingertips.
"Alright... I'm gonna start now," Li Yundong said. "You ready?"
Zhou Qin nodded.
"Now keep your eyes closed."
Li Yundong brought his glowing fingertips to the top of Zhou Qin's head.