Chapter 223 A Glimmer of Hope
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.
The first thing Zhou Qin felt was the heat spreading over her scalp. Heat. That was the only way she could describe it. This warm, tingly feeling that felt as if it originated from the top part of her head, right at the center.
Before she could examine the sensation further, the heat spread down to her neck and began stretching into her body like tiny tentacles.
It was a strange and foreign sensation, and she knew she would've freaked out if it didn't make her feel so comfortable and relaxed. After a while, she started to feel warm all over, like there was this stream of hot gas circulating inside her body from head to toe.
One particularly intense wave nearly made her scream, but she held it in since she didn't want to embarrass herself further in front of Li Yundong.
Eventually, the comfortable warmth turned into pinprick sensations in her upper body. This pinprick sensation felt rather familiar, though she couldn't quite put her finger on it until minutes later. It was the same itchy feeling she would get whenever she went for a run after a long period of inactivity. Whatever Li Yundong was doing, it was definitely improving her blood circulation. Although she still couldn't feel anything in her lower body, she could feel the pinprick sensation in her upper body growing more and more intense with time.
At one point, the sensation became ticklish to the point that she felt an urge to laugh and twitch her body around. Again, not wanting to embarrass herself further, Zhou Qin held it in and tried everything in her power to remain still.
Just when Zhou Qin was about to congratulate herself for her ability to keep any embarrassing reactions to herself, she felt a sharp and painful throb in her spine. She let out a loud and unladylike squeal.
"Um... I think it hurts a little…"
"Hang on, okay? It won't last," Li Yundong said soothingly. "It'll be gone soon. Just stay still and keep your breathing even."
Zhou Qin bit down on her bottom lip and waited it out. Thankfully, it didn't take long before the pain on her spine turned into a dull, persistent throb. The location of the pain did strike out to her...
Almost as if...
Zhou Qin suddenly tensed up when realization washed over her. The pain just now was on her spine.
Could it be that—
"Yes, that's your blood flowing around the area of the blood clot," Li Yundong said as though reading her mind. "It's nothing to worry about, okay? You need to breathe, though."
It hit her then that she'd been holding her breath without knowing it.
She slowly exhaled and pulled in a deep breath.
This had to be another one of Li Yundong's supernatural powers. It had to be.
For the first time in days, Zhou Qin could see a glimmer of hope in her bleak and wretched life, the life that she'd tried to throw away once.
If Li Yundong could perform countless supernatural acts, then he might be able to cure her condition and help her stand up again. After all, what was the word of a doctor compared to that of a man who could summon a bolt of lightning from the sky?
Zhou Qin opened her eyes and looked down at her legs. Then, she did something she'd been trying to do in vain ever since she woke up: move her toe.
Her left toe. It twitched. The movement was small, but it was there. The joy Zhou Qin felt right then nearly moved her to tears. She turned her head around, wanting to share this triumphant moment with Li Yundong.
Li Yundong turned her head with his fingers so that she was facing forward again. "Don't get too excited now," he said sternly. "Deep, even breaths. I'll let you know when I'm done."
Zhou Qin settled back into the wheelchair and let her thoughts wander.
Finally, she had some hope, and again, it was all because of Li Yundong.
From the moment he came into her life, that was what he had been doing—giving her hope. It was like he was her guardian angel or something.
Then, a small, morbid part of herself started wondering what would happen once she was cured. Would he ignore her again? Would he stop caring and worrying about her? Zhou Qin wasn't a fool. She knew that he was only here out of guilt, or worst, pity.
But what if she get never got better? Would he keep coming back if she never got better? Would he feel indebted to her, and then offer to take care of her forever—
Quit being so pathetic, Zhou Qin.
She felt disgusted with herself for even considering that.
God, those pain meds must have really messed with her mind.
She opened her eyes again despite Li Yundong's warning. Then, with one hand, she pinched her left thigh, hard. More pinprick sensations popped into her consciousness. Her lips curved into a tiny smile.
She was healing.
A quick glance at the clock made Li Yundong aware that an hour had passed since he began the treatment. Time to wrap things up. He didn't know how much Zhou Qin's body could take in one day, so he didn't dare to take things too far. In fact, giving a one-hour session was already stretching it. Last night, Zi Yuan recommended the session to last 30 minutes, tops. The only reason Li Yundong had kept going was because Zhou Qin had apparently felt so comfortable that she'd dozed off a few times during the session.
The session had gone exceedingly well as far as he could tell.
Other than that brief pain in her spine, Zhou Qin had suffered no other major discomfort. It was actually a good thing that she could still experience pain in the spinal area, since it indicated the presence of functioning nervous tissues.
Last night, he and Zi Yuan had tried to come up with an alternative solution, one that wouldn't involve the use of the Jindan's Aura—acupuncture.
In principle, acupuncture would work too, since it would give the same effect as Qi control. The whole idea behind acupuncture is also to stimulate and speed up the patient's Qi flow. The only difference is how the speeding-up effect is achieved—by stimulating the patient's acupoints with needles instead of moving Qi with the mind. However, the downside to using acupuncture to treat Zhou Qin's condition was that there was no guarantee that the acquired increase in Qi-flow speed would be significant enough to do away with the blood clot. Even if it could, there was no telling how long it would take for the effects of the treatment to be noticeable—there were other factors determining the treatment duration, such as the strength of Zhou Qin's Qi, etc. After the idea of acupuncture was put forth, Zi Yuan did a rough estimation of the required treatment time if acupuncture were used. The result wasn't optimistic at all: decades.
The idea of using acupuncture was immediately discarded after that.
Zi Yuan did try to come up with other alternatives, but in the end, she conceded. They had to use the Jindan's Aura. Zhou Qin's condition was just too severe for other alternatives to work.
The last remnants of Li Yundong's Zhenqi seeped through his fingertips and flowed back to his Vital Orb. When the golden glow in his fingertips disappeared, he removed his hand from Zhou Qin's head. He turned the wheelchair around until Zhou Qin was facing him, then crouched down.
"How do you feel?" he asked.
Zhou Qin slowly opened her eyes and smiled. "Like my body is warm all over."
Li Yundong returned her smile. "Good. You're supposed to feel like that." He rose to his feet and grabbed the wheelchair's handles. "Come on. Let's get you back to bed."
Li Yundong pushed the wheelchair towards the bed. When Zhou Qin leaned away from the backrest, Li Yundong noticed that her hospital gown was drenched in sweat. Several strands of her hair were plastered against her neck, which was also covered in sweat.
Li Yundong stepped forward and hooked one arm under her legs while his other arm supported her back. Zhou Qin's arms went around his neck automatically when he lifted her up. Once Zhou Qin was settled in bed, Li Yundong went into the bathroom to grab a dry towel.
"You need to get changed and dry your sweat," Li Yundong said, handing her the towel.
Zhou Qin stared blankly at him.
Li Yundong placed the towel on the bed. "Seriously, you need to dry your sweat," he said sternly. "Right now, the pores of your skin are expanded. If you don't dry your sweat quickly, a small portion of the water in your sweat will seep into your skin and enter your meridians. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, that's bad for your health and can cause rheumatic diseases."
"I- It's not that..." Zhou Qin muttered.
She was blushing heavily.
"Then what is it?"
"I- I don't think I can reach my back..."
"Oh. Well…" He jerked his thumb at the door. "I could go get Uncle Zhou..."
Zhou Qin's scowl made Li Yundong swallow the rest of his words. Okay. Zhou Qin had unresolved daddy issues. Got it.
Li Yundong cleared his throat.
"I could ask for a nurse?" he offered.
Zhou Qin looked away without answering and grabbed the towel from the mattress.
Zhou Qin winced when she reached behind and tried to wipe her back on her own.
After about ten seconds of watching her futile attempts, Li Yundong couldn't take it anymore.
He rolled his eyes and walked over to the bed.
"Give me the towel," he demanded firmly.
Zhou Qin stilled her hand movements and stared at him with wide eyes. A rosy tint dusted her cheeks.
"Give it here," he said sternly. "I'll do it for you."
When Zhou Qin still didn't move, he rolled his eyes and grabbed the towel from her hands.
"Stubborn girl," he muttered under his breath and began drying the sweat on her neck and back. "You'll be suffering from joint pain like a ninety-year-old by the time you're done."
Zhou Qin giggled, much to Li Yundong's annoyance.
Right. How could he forget? This stubborn girl would rather crawl on the floor rather than ask the nurses for help to get a glass of water.
A minute later, Li Yundong handed the towel back to Zhou Qin. "You can wipe your chest on your own," he said, pointing at the front of her hospital gown.
Zhou Qin blushed and took the towel from his hand. Seconds later, Zhou Qin still wasn't moving.
Li Yundong sighed. "What's wrong?"
Zhou Qin was red to the tip of her ears. "Oh, come on! I can't do it with you watching me!"
Li Yundong gave her an incredulous look. "Just do it under the blanket, silly."
Zhou Qin snatched the blanket and then pulled it over her head. Seconds later, she peeked out from the top of the blanket. "T- Turn around."
"You know I don't have X-ray vision, right?" he deadpanned.
"Argh! I don't care! Just turn around, dammit!"
A pillow flew out from under the blanket and hit him square in the face.
"Okay. Okay. I'll turn around, geez."
Li Yundong tossed the pillow back onto the bed and then turned around.
After a while, Li Yundong cleared his throat loudly. "Are you done yet?"
"No," came Zhou Qin's muffled reply.
"What's taking you so long?" Li Yundong paused and waited for Zhou Qin's reply. When none came, he sighed. "Look, just ask for a nurse if you're having trouble."
Li Yundong frowned. Was she slurring her words? He turned around slightly and saw the blanket wiggling. Right. Not done yet. He turned around again.
At the five-minute mark, Li Yundong's patience was finally wearing thin. What the hell's taking her so long? Had she dozed off or something? He held his breath and waited for a few seconds. He didn't hear any movements behind him.
Maybe she's messing with me again. Nobody needs five frigging minutes to dry their own sweat.
Li Yundong sighed and slowly turned back around.
Zhou Qin's head and body remained hidden under the blanket, but she wasn't moving at all. Together, her body and the blanket formed an unmoving lump on the bed. Concern spread across Li Yundong's chest. Asleep?
Li Yundong walked over and shook Zhou Qin's ankle. "Hey, Zhou Qin?"
He shook her leg once more, then waited for a few seconds. Again, no reaction.
Then, he wanted to smack himself.
Of course she wouldn't feel it if he touched her ankle; she was paralyzed from the waist down!
He stared at the motionless heap on the bed. Why not just let her sleep? Seconds later, he dispelled the idea. Better check to make sure she's alright. She could be unconscious for all he knew.
He stepped forward and poked the blanket a few times. "Hey, Zhou Qin…"
There was a gasp. The blanket lowered to reveal Zhou Qin's frazzled but angry scowl. Li Yundong raised his palms and backed away a few steps. "Whoa, whoa... Relax. It's just me..."
Zhou Qin blinked several times. She looked utterly confused now.
Li Yundong laughed out loud. "You fell asleep, didn't you?"
A dark scowl replaced the look of confusion on Zhou Qin's face.
"S- Shut up!"
The blanket lifted slightly. Then, something flew out of the blanket. Li Yundong's hand reached out instinctively to grab it. It was the towel he gave Zhou Qin earlier to dry her sweat.
Li Yundong folded the slightly damp towel and placed it at the foot of the bed.
"You know what's funny?" he said in a flat tone. "Just now you were so embarrassed that you forced me to turn around even though you were completely hidden under the blanket. And yet you just threw the towel at me. The same towel, I might add, that you used to wipe your body." Li Yundong raised a brow at her. "I really don't get you at all, Zhou Qin."
The deep blush on Zhou Qin's face made him laugh again.
"What, not so shy now after your catnap?"
"Shut!" Zhou Qin grabbed a pillow. "Up!"
The pillow flew towards him.
Li Yundong caught the pillow with one hand. "Tsk, tsk! You like to throw things around when you're mad, don't you…" Li Yundong feigned a reprimanding look. "You must be a nightmare as a child."
Zhou Qin snorted haughtily. "That's none of your business."
"True," Li Yundong said, nodding as he placed the pillow back onto the bed. "But it becomes my business if you make a habit of throwing objects at me. One of these days it won't be a pillow that you throw at me, but a knife. I might lose an eye." Li Yundong covered one eye. "I don't think the pirate look suits me at all."
Zhou Qin was still glaring at him, though her eyes now shone with amusement.
Li Yundong sighed contently.
He'd given her the massage and, dare he say it, cheered her up a little. Mission accomplished. At least for today.
"Well. I guess I should head back now," Li Yundong said with a smile. "Somebody here was so exhausted that she dozed off in the middle of drying her sweat."
Zhou Qin opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by the sound of someone clearing their throat.
Li Yundong whirled around and saw Uncle Zhou's head poking in through the gap of the half-open door.
Li Yundong smiled at the man. "You're back just in time Uncle Zhou. I was just about to leave."