Jing He slightly shivered but it was not because it was cold outside. Instead, this reaction stemmed from a coldness that permeated his heart. He had the vague feeling that after tonight, he would not be able to go back to how things had been before.
Well, maybe it had long been too late for that. If he was honest with himself, then maybe he had already started to think about this man differently quite some time ago. Maybe since the festival when he had seen them with different eyes. And each day he looked at him with this different gaze was another day he was pulled deeper into the quagmire.
There was no way for him to escape any longer. Not if Longjun insisted to come by and spend time with him. He was unable to extricate himself just by his own effort. In the end, he might be too weak-willed to do so or maybe … maybe he didn’t want to do so either.
Jing He sighed lightly and then turned back to Qiu Ling. Anyway, there was nothing he could do right now. Since he had already agreed to accompany the dragon king on a short stroll, he could only do so and he owed him his attention for that period of time.
Qiu Ling had been observing Jing He the whole time since he stepped out of his palace. Seeing his attention return to him, he gave a slight smile. This kind of stroll where nobody was around but the two of them with everything being quiet had more benefits than just getting away from some Heavenly Emperor’s influence for a while. He should probably make use of that.
Qiu Ling thought for a while and then looked at the robe that Jing He was wearing, his lips curling up a little further. “The last time we were able to spend a little more time together was the day I took you out of the capital to have a picnic. Do you remember?”
Jing He’s heart pounded fiercely and he nodded. “How could I not? Longjun was patiently answering my questions that day. I truly felt enlightened about some characteristics of the dragon race that eluded me before. Longjun has opened my eyes.”
“I was happy to do so. I was … Even more happy that you shared something personal with me that day.”
Jing He looked at him with confusion. “Longjun is referring to …?”
“Well, weren’t we talking about your favorite color? It might not seem like much but I’ve noticed that Your Highness seldom shares any details about your life.”
Jing He stopped in his tracks and looked away. “I hope Longjun doesn’t feel that I am being distant on purpose.” Well, he had been but not because his conversational partner had been the dragon king. That was a misunderstanding he couldn’t let happen.
Qiu Ling took his other hand and held them tightly, taking a moment to gaze at Jing He’s face. “It’s not so much being distant as it might be being careful, isn’t it?”
Jing He glanced up before lowering his gaze to their hands. He should probably take them back or tell him that he was once again going too far. But with what they were currently talking about, he didn’t feel like that was a good idea.
“Your Highness doesn’t need to feel as if that is something bad. In fact, I think that it is very understandable. You have a high position. Never mind that the demons would likely want to find out more to be able to use that against you and the gods somehow, even in the Nine Heavens themselves, there might be people who are not necessarily on your side. It’s good to be a little more careful.”
Jing He hesitated but finally still spoke up. “I’m surprised that Longjun of all people would say that. With everything I’ve heard so far about the dragon race and everything I’ve seen Longjun do, I would be unable to describe you as anything but a courageous man. You certainly wouldn’t be afraid of something like that. It should seem ridiculous to you.”
“It doesn’t. Maybe a few years ago it would have but things have changed since then.”
Jing He couldn’t help but glance up, confusion written in his gaze once again. “I’m afraid I don’t understand. Did something happen in the dragon realm?” It shouldn’t have though. Even if the dragon king hadn’t mentioned it, Scholar An Bai should have and they had never come to talk about anything that could be called big enough to make the dragon king change his mind about something like this.
Qiu Ling shook his head and raised Jing He’s hands, brushing his fingers with his thump. “Not in the dragon realm. Instead, it happened in the Nine Heavens. You see, the only reason a man wouldn’t be afraid is because he has nothing to lose. As soon as you find that one thing or that one person you want to protect at all costs, you would necessarily develop a sense of fear. So you being more careful actually puts my mind at ease.”
Jing He’s breath caught in his throat and he was unable to respond. He knew he should. He should tell him that he had a good sense of humor to diffuse the tension in the air or maybe tell him that his words were really too beautiful to hear if he wanted to reject him or maybe even that — if he understood right — he was honored if he wanted to encourage him. Saying nothing was the worst thing to do.
Unfortunately, he really couldn’t change it. The words crossed his mind but his body wouldn’t listen to his command to actually say even a single one of them. To be fair, he didn’t know which one he wanted to say either.
The silence between them stretched out, making Jing He nervous. Before, hadn’t he always known how to react to something? How come he was often rendered speechless in front of the dragon king?
Meanwhile, Qiu Ling was quite happy when he saw his beloved like this. Of course, he didn’t think that Jing He might be in an intense struggle over how he should react. Instead, he was completely sure that his beloved had been so touched by his beautiful words that he just didn’t find the words to reciprocate.
With that in mind, Qiu Ling only felt that there was no need for his beloved to say anything. He already understood his heart without words. That really was too beautiful when thinking about it. Now, all that was left was to convince that old man. Come to think of it … “Since we’re already speaking about that day … I haven’t forgotten what else you told me.”
At these words, Jing He couldn’t help but look up. What else had he said? Right now, he really couldn’t remember. His mind was a jumbled mess.
Qiu Ling saw the confusion in his beloved’s eyes and attributed it to his entranced state. “You told me that your father was against our relationship.” He looked up at the sky, taking a deep breath. Ah, it felt good to finally say ‘our relationship’ out loud. Now, it really couldn’t be long anymore until they got married, could it?
Jing He’s lips parted and this time, he tried to take back his hands.
Naturally, Qiu Ling wouldn’t let him. Instead, he looked back at him and even stepped closer, putting an arm around Jing He’s waist again. “There’s no need to fret. We’re alone right now. Nobody can see so he won’t find out. I just want you to know that I won’t give up just because of that. I’ll find a way to make your father accept this. I promise you that.”
Jing He stopped struggling and closed his eyes. He would make him change his mind … It was such a beautiful thought. A man that would fight for the right to marry him to this degree, who would dare to stand up to his father … Wasn’t this the fulfillment of all his dreams? Then again, such words could be said easily. “My father can be very … persistent after he has made up his mind. Longjun shouldn’t think that it is so easy. In fact, Longjun would probably do better finding another person. Focusing on me, hasn’t it only ever brought you trouble?”
“Trouble?” Qiu Ling’s eyes narrowed with some humor. “So Your Highness would regard a purpose in life as trouble?”
Jing He glanced up, trying to figure out if this person was being serious. Seeing his expression or at least what he could make out in the pale moonlight, it didn’t seem that way. He sighed and shook his head. It seemed he had thought too much just now. It was just empty words, after all. “I’m serious, Longjun. Between a god and a dragon, there are just too many differences. Also, with our positions … No, I think it would be best if you gave up.”
Qiu Ling reached up and brushed back Jing He’s hair. “Did your father tell you to say that? Because if that is the case, you don’t have to say the rest. Whatever obstacles there are, I’m willing to overcome them. If I wasn’t, I truly wouldn’t be worthy of you. Didn’t I already say so the other day?”
Jing He didn’t know what to say. This person … There really was nothing he could say or do to make him give up. This kind of unflinching persistence … it was a little admirable, a little enviable.
It was also completely infuriating because it left him with no way to refute or push him back. He could only surrender himself and see where it led.
Jing He looked up and gave a slight smile. “I’ve heard. But was that really what Longjun came here to do?”
Qiu Ling shook his head and then took Jing He’s hand again. “I came to spend a few romantic hours with you. Or, well, not necessarily. It can be whatever you want it to be. Just as I promised. Although … I won’t lie. Naturally, I would prefer it if this was romantic to you.”