Li Yundong opened the door slightly, careful not to make any noise. Keeping the door ajar with one hand, he leaned forward and peeked in through the gap. The hush inside room 502 told him that his decision not to knock was the right call. It was still fairly early in the morning, and he didn't want to risk disturbing Zhou Qin if she was asleep. It turned out that his concerns were unfounded; Zhou Qin was very much awake.
She was still in bed though, and she appeared to be alone—there were no signs of Uncle Zhou anywhere in the room. A laptop lay open in front of her on the overbed table. She was staring intently at the screen, her lips curved into a small smile that he knew he wouldn't have noticed if it weren't for the light emitted from the laptop's screen. She wasn't typing or moving her fingers, so he guessed that she was either reading or watching a movie—the former more likely than the latter since she wasn't wearing headphones and the room was quiet.
Li Yundong allowed his eyes to linger on her expression, which, much to his relief, was no longer filled with despair. The coldness and apathy were gone as well. Although subtle, her smile was there, especially in her eyes.
For the first time since his first visit, she actually seemed alive; her spirit had returned.
Zi Yuan had repeatedly mentioned to him how difficult it is to heal what's on the inside. And he agreed. After all, not even a magical pill could cure emotional pain, or bring someone out of deep depression. Emotional healing is, for the most part, dependent on the patients themselves and how much support they have.
The fact that Zhou Qin was smiling when she was all alone in her room was tremendous progress.
But still, he couldn't help but wonder where the heck Uncle Zhou was. Former deputy governor or not, leaving a potentially suicidal girl alone in the room was a pretty dumb thing to do.
"Good morning!" Li Yundong swung the door open and strode in. "Well, well, well. Looks like somebody is in a good mood today."
Zhou Qin turned away from the laptop screen and met his gaze, the smile on her lips vanishing almost instantly. The micro expression caught Li Yundong off-guard, but then her next words dispelled any worries he had.
"Well, I was in a good mood," Zhou Qin said with a pause, raising a brow. "Until now."
"Huh?" Li Yundong feigned a crestfallen look. "So you're saying that my presence ruined your good mood?" He let out a dramatic sigh. "Well. In that case, I better go."
Li Yundong turned around and headed for the door.
Zhou Qin's disgruntled voice sounded the moment he reached the door. "Are you really—ugh! Fine! Go away then!"
Li Yundong reached for the door handle, then paused. "Hey… I'm really gonna leave, you know? Last chance to beg me to stay," he teased, turning his head around.
Much to his surprise, Zhou Qin answered with a taunting smirk and a stubborn arch of her brow.
"See yourself out."
Li Yundong chuckled. One heck of a stubborn girl, that one. He opened the door and walked out of the room.
Outside, Li Yundong lingered at the corridor for a few seconds. Well, he could wait around for a few minutes and then go back in, but where was the fun in that?
Li Yundong smirked and crept towards Room 503.
Let's see if I can surprise her a little...
All four beds of Room 503 were occupied, but the patients appeared to be asleep. He heaved a small sigh of relief. This would certainly make things easier.
Li Yundong moved past the beds quickly and crept towards the end of the room. There was a connecting door which he knew would open into Room 502. He reached the door in no time and opened it slightly to take a peek. The connecting door was positioned behind and to the left of Zhou Qin's bed, so he knew she couldn't see him unless she had anticipated his actions. At the moment, Zhou Qin's head was turned the opposite way, towards the right side of the bed, where the main door was. It was as though she was expecting him to walk through the door any minute.
After a while, Zhou Qin let out a half-suppressed laugh.
"I bet you'll come in soon," Zhou Qin mumbled to herself.
Li Yundong smiled to himself.
Sorry, Zhou Qin... I'm not as predictable as you think I am.
Zhou Qin was staring at the laptop screen again, though she would glance towards the main door once every few seconds.
Li Yundong kept watching her through the gap, noting with amusement the changes in her facial expressions: from smugness to curiosity; to annoyance; then to disappointment. Even though he could only see the left half of her face, he still found it easy to read her emotions.
Li Yundong nearly laughed when he heard Zhou Qin's sulky growl. She turned her head and stared at the main door. Seconds later, she crossed her arms and let out a frustrated huff.
Looks like the joke's on you, Zhou Qin...
When she started freaking out and screaming at the door, Li Yundong decided that it was time for him to show himself lest she wake up the entire hospital.
"Hey!" Zhou Qin all but yelled at the main door.
Li Yundong stepped into the room, shutting the connecting door quietly behind him. Then, he slinked towards Zhou Qin's bed.
She hadn't noticed him yet since she was still staring at the main door.
"Hey!!!" Zhou Qin yelled again.
Li Yundong stopped when he was a few feet away from the bed.
"Looking for someone?"
There was a loud yelp as Zhou Qin whipped her head around to face him.
Li Yundong stared down at her with a grin.
"Y- You... H- How did you... But..." Zhou Qin looked towards the main door, then back at him again. She gaped at him for a second. "Are you a ghost or something? How did you get in here?"
Li Yundong chuckled and pointed at the connecting door behind the bed.
Zhou Qin cleared her throat and tried to look poised.
"H- How long have you... um... I mean…"
Li Yundong smirked. Her Ice Queen act might have fooled him if her voice didn't sound so flustered.
"I was watching you the whole time," he said with a straight face.
Zhou Qin stared him, her mortification written all over her face in the form of a deep blush which extended all the way to the tip of her ears.
"Y- You idiot!" Zhou Qin reached for a pillow, then smacked him with it. "I- I hate you! Argh! Leave! I don't wanna see your face!"
Li Yundong burst into laughter. At the same time, he raised his forearm to shield himself against another onslaught of pillow strikes.
"Leave, leave, leave! Argh!" Zhou Qin kept smacking him with the pillow.
Li Yundong backed away two steps so that he was out of the pillow's striking range. "Yeah? You really want me to leave?"
Zhou Qin opened her mouth like she was about to start shouting at him again. Then, her mouth clicked shut and she lowered the pillow back down.
Li Yundong knew full well that she didn't really want him to leave, but he just couldn't help messing with her a little. If nothing else, their friendly banter could help prevent her from wallowing in depressive thoughts.
Li Yundong schooled his features and gave her a serious look. "Not gonna say anything to get me to stay? Hmm. You hate me. I get it. Oh well. Guess it can't be helped then. I shall take my leave now. See ya!"
The pillow flew towards him before he could even walk away. Li Yundong caught the pillow with one hand and laughed.
"Argh! Just go! Leave! And don't come back!"
After a few more laughs, Li Yundong decided to stop his teasing lest he give her an aneurysm.
"Alright, alright, settle down," he said, tossing the pillow back onto the bed. "I was just messing with you. Why would I come all the way here and then leave without spending at least one hour here? That's just silly."
Not to mention a complete waste of cab fare.
Li Yundong approached the bed again and lowered his backpack to the floor. Then, he took a seat in the chair beside the bed.
"What were you reading just now?" he said, jerking his chin towards the laptop. "You were smiling to yourself."
Zhou Qin shot him a dirty look. "The university forums, what else?" Suddenly, Zhou Qin's eyes glinted with delight. "You have a performance tonight, right? For the freshmen's welcoming dinner party?"
"Yeah," Li Yundong said with a wry smile. "I kinda got roped into it."
Feng Na. That clever and manipulative little bitch. One of these days he was going to prank her right back.
"There are a lot of threads on the forum where people tried to guess what your performance is going to be," Zhou Qin commented, staring at the screen for a moment. Then, she shot him a hopeful look. "Will you tell me what it is?"
"Sure," Li Yundong said with a smile. "Well, I'm supposed to be a"—He did air quotes—"guest star for a stage play."
"A stage play..." Zhou Qin paused in thought. "Ah. Chinese Paladin, right?"
Li Yundong nodded. "Yeah. We're supposed to act out a scene from that series."
"Which character are you…" Zhou Qin's eyes grew wide and round. "Wait a minute... Are you playing Li Xiaoyao?"
"As if!" Li Yundong laughed out loud. "I would've turned them down right away if they asked me to play Li Xiaoyao." He paused to look at Zhou Qin. "I'm the master swordsman."
"Oh." Understanding flashed in Zhou Qin's eyes. "I guess that makes sense..."
Zhou Qin slumped against the bed. She looked utterly crestfallen. "The play seems promising... Too bad I can't be there to watch it."
"Who says you can't?"
Zhou Qin whipped her head around so quickly that Li Yundong was starting to wonder if she would suffer from whiplash.
She stared back at him, her eyes wide and hopeful.
Li Yundong shrugged. "I can bring you to the event if you want."
Joy shone through Zhou Qin's eyes. "Really?" Then, the light in her eyes dimmed slightly. "But will that trouble you?"
Li Yundong stared at her in disbelief. Trouble? He would've laughed at how ridiculous that sounded if he wasn't so overwhelmed by incredulity. She must be joking, right?
What was this little "trouble" compared to what she'd done for him?
She lost everything.
His incredulity must have shown on his face because Zhou Qin's expression suddenly became wary. "What?"
Li Yundong cleared his throat and schooled his features. "Nonsense. It's no trouble at all." He smiled. "I'd be happy to take you to the event. Besides, I think it might do you some good to go out for a bit." He waved his hand casually. "Anyway. Enough of that. What say I give you another massage?"
Zhou Qin broke into a grin. "Right now?"
Li Yundong nodded and got up to help Zhou Qin into the wheelchair.
Fifteen minutes into the massage, Li Yundong decided to start a conversation to prevent Zhou Qin from dozing off like last time; it was important for her to remain upright throughout the massage for better Qi flow.
"Is it a coincidence that you're the only patient in this room?" he asked even though he already had an inkling of the answer.
"No." Zhou Qin chuckled. "No, it isn't." Zhou Qin's tone was gentle and relaxed. "I booked the whole room."
Li Yundong sensed that she had more to say, so he waited silently for her to continue.
"I don't like sharing the room with other patients," Zhou Qin continued seconds later.
"I see," Li Yundong said.
So she covered the fees for the other three beds as well.
Li Yundong sighed inwardly. The reason she hadn't been assigned to a VIP suite was no mystery to him at this point.
"Apparently, the VIP suites are fully booked," Zhou Qin said, then let out a contemptuous snort. "But I know that's just rubbish. The VIP suites are never fully booked."
Li Yundong kept quiet and deactivated the Jindan's Aura at his fingertips. Perhaps venturing into this topic during the massage was a bad idea; his guilt could easily cause him to lose focus.
"That's just how it is with these people," Zhou Qin said in a voice that almost sounded robotic. "It doesn't even matter that we can afford the VIP suites. Zhou Keqiang was brought down because of corruption allegations." She chuckled darkly. "When a government official is suspected of corruption, all those who are closely associated with them will also be put under investigation. His allies, especially the ones with their own dirty secrets to hide, will start severing ties with him out of fear. Pull away before they themselves become the target of investigation, if you catch my drift." Zhou Qin sighed. "Not that they have anything against me personally, of course. Denying me access to their VIP suites is just their way of making a statement. They're trying to protect themselves."
Li Yundong had figured as much. That was why he didn't like politics, where the line between friend and foe doesn't even exist. Friend could become foe—and vice versa—in literally a blink of an eye.
It also didn't escape Li Yundong that Zhou Qin had addressed her father by name. Perhaps it made sense now why Uncle Zhou wasn't here in the room. Did Zhou Qin kick him out?
Li Yundong sighed and gave Zhou Qin's shoulder a firm grip.
"You will stand again, Zhou Qin. You will."
Zhou Qin turned her head around and stared up at him.
Li Yundong gave her a meaningful nod. The look of gratitude in her eyes was a sign that the double meaning behind his words was not lost on her.
And he would make it happen. He would help her stand up again, both literally and figuratively.
Li Yundong smiled at her. "Face the front."
Zhou Qin complied, and Li Yundong began the massage again.
Li Yundong was still surprised by the treatment's effectiveness even though he'd been expected it. Yesterday's session only lasted for an hour, yet he could already tell—based on the Qi-flow pattern in her spine—that the blood clot was nearly gone. He wasn't sure how much the Jindan's Aura had healed her damaged nervous tissues, but he figured it couldn't be that far behind.
Like yesterday, Li Yundong ended the treatment at the one-hour mark.
"How are you feeling," he asked. "Can you feel anything in your legs?"
"N- No..." Zhou Qin said a bit too quickly.
Li Yundong frowned. "Are you sure?"
Zhou Qin was looking at anywhere but him. "Yeah..."
Not even a little bit of sensation? That's just impossible... Unless...
Suspicion crept up his spine.
Keeping his face neutral, Li Yundong crouched down and pinched Zhou Qin's foot, watching Zhou Qin's expression closely as he did. He started off with light pinches, but whenever he increased the pressure slightly, he could see Zhou Qin's brows furrowing.
Li Yundong sighed inwardly and stood back up.
Zhou Qin was lying, and he knew damn well why.
That was one dangerous territory that he had no intention of crossing into.
"What time do you want to leave for uni?" Li Yundong asked in an attempt to change the subject.
"Huh?" Zhou Qin looked as though she had just recovered from a daze. "Oh, you mean..." Her eyes widened slightly. "Wait, you were actually serious about bringing me to the dinner party?"
Li Yundong smiled. "Of course."
Zhou Qin's face broke into a grin, then she sobered up. "I'll need time to get dressed..."
"Take all the time you need," Li Yundong said, pushing the wheelchair back towards the bed. "I'll come back here... say... around mid-afternoon? Then we can leave together."
When Zhou Qin nodded, Li Yundong thought that this was the most excited she seemed in days.
Zhou Qin was all dolled up when Li Yundong arrived around four-thirty in the afternoon. Uncle Zhou was present this time, fussing over Zhou Qin's wheelchair.
"Good afternoon, Uncle Zhou," Li Yundong said as he strode into the room. As soon as the words left his mouth, Zhou Qin stopped glaring at Uncle Zhou and smiled at him instead.
"Is it time to go already?" Zhou Qin asked breathlessly.
Li Yundong could tell that she was excited, so he grinned at her. "Yeah. I have to be there early." He chuckled wryly. "Feng Na would have my head if I don't show up at least an hour earlier." Li Yundong glanced around the room. "What about you? Are you ready? I've got a cab waiting outside."
Zhou Qin nodded. "Yeah, I'm ready."
"You'll take care of her?"
Li Yundong gave Uncle Zhou a nod. "I will, sir."
Zhou Qin suddenly cleared her throat. "Come on. Let's just go."
"Don't worry, Uncle Zhou. I'll keep an eye on her." Li Yundong gave Uncle Zhou a reassuring smile. "Let's just hope that she'll enjoy herself at the event."
And that nothing untoward happens.
He kept that thought to himself.
Ten minutes later, Li Yundong pushed Zhou Qin out of the room. They took the elevator down to the ground floor, and then headed out. Outside the hospital building, he helped Zhou Qin into the cab while the driver folded the wheelchair before stowing it into the trunk. Minutes later, the cab pulled away the hospital and drove towards Tiannan University.
The journey from the campus gates to the grand hall was awkward to say the least. As he pushed the wheelchair through the compound, Li Yundong had to glare at a few students to stop them from gawking at Zhou Qin. At one point, Li Yundong wanted to ask Zhou Qin if she felt uncomfortable with all the stares and whispers. However, his concerns were allayed when he leaned forward and saw Zhou Qin's expression.
Zhou Qin looked completely unfazed.
Li Yundong smiled to himself. Who was he kidding. This was Zhou Qin, not some damsel in distress. Of course she'd be able to handle it.
When passing by the academic building, they ran into Feng Na.
"Oh, hey! There you are, Li Yun—" Feng Na came to a sudden halt, her eyes widening in shock. A second later, Feng Na was rushing over towards them. "Oh my God! Zhou Qin? What happened?"
Li Yundong observed the interaction closely. From the corner of his eyes, he saw Cheng Cheng heading towards them as well.
Zhou Qin smiled tightly. "Hello, Feng Na-xuejie." (T/N: Xuejie is an honorific used to address a female senior; it is only used in an academic setting or in a setting where some kind of learning is involved; it is essentially a female senpai but in a narrower context)
"Are you alright?" Feng Na said in a tone of concern.
"I'm okay now," Zhou Qin answered. "It's just a small injury. I'm already recovering."
Li Yundong suppressed a snort. Yeah. Keep acting tough why don't you?
He wanted to chastise Zhou Qin for playing down her injuries, but then he remembered how effective his treatment was and decided to keep his mouth shut. Chances are that she would make a full recovery after a few more treatment sessions.
Feng Na opened her mouth to say something but was cut off abruptly by Cheng Cheng's arrival.
"Hey, Li Yundong! I was worried that you wouldn't show, but—" Cheng Cheng gasped. "Zhou Qin! What the—"
Li Yundong cleared his throat harshly, then gave Cheng Cheng a pointed look followed by a subtle headshake.
Thankfully, Cheng Cheng got the hint and schooled her features into a cheerful smile.
"So you showed up, Li Yundong," Cheng Cheng said in a jovial tone. "I was telling Nana earlier that you might stand us up today." Cheng Cheng chuckled. "Looks like I was wrong."
Feng Na nodded at him approvingly. "Not bad, Li Yundong. Looks like you really are a man of your word."
Grateful that the topic had been steered towards safer topic, Li Yundong laughed. "And ruin your perfect scheme?" Li Yundong smirked. "No way."
"Scheme?" Feng Na feigned a look of horror. "Whatever did you mean?"
Li Yundong laughed again. "You know damn well wha—"
"Li Yundong," a familiar voice sounded behind him.
Li Yundong swiveled around and jumped slightly in surprise.
"Hey... What are you doing here?"