Despite the Heavenly Empress’s best efforts, nothing really changed after that day. Well, save for the fact that Jing He was now closing the doors to his actual sleeping chamber each night to make sure that something like what had happened that morning wouldn’t occur again. But other than that, he was still just as conflicted about his relationship with the dragon king.
Even even though his mother’s words had made him think a little, just that alone wouldn’t be able to undo years of trying to conform to what his parents expected of him and what he deemed to be the right way to behave as the crown prince of the Nine Heavens. It would’ve been a wonder if she had been able to make him change his mind that easily. Really, if that was possible, she wouldn’t have been worrying about her son in the first place.
Despite the fact that nothing had changed, things weren’t that obvious at first. Even though Jing He didn’t sleep well and was anxious most of the time, he did his utmost to hide his tiredness, pretending that everything was alright. But Qiu Ling who had spent almost every day with him for the past four years was naturally able to catch on after a while. Seeing that Jing He seemed to neither sleep well nor eat well, he also became anxious.
If he tried to silently inquire, Jing He would always pretend that everything was alright and that he didn’t understand what the dragon king was talking about. He would always thank him for his concern but he didn’t admit to anything because he didn’t want to seem any less than perfect in front of the man he loved. Unfortunately, these inquiries added to his own worries and worsened his state further, making Qiu Ling panic in return.
No matter how the dragon king thought about it, he just didn’t know what to do so. Fretting by himself for quite some time, Qiu Ling finally decided that he just couldn’t go on like this anymore. As usual, he barged into An Bai’s study, cutting right to the chase. “What do you know about Jing He’s current situation?” This guy had been going regularly to see his beloved before so he should definitely know what was up, right?
An Bai’s brows twitched. “His Highness.” He knew that it was likely of no use but he couldn’t help but stress the Son of Heaven’s title again. Naturally, Qiu Ling just raised his brows at him, clearly not getting it. An Bai sighed and motioned at the chair on the other side of his table. “Why don’t you have a seat and tell me what happened, Your Majesty? That way, I might be able to help you.”
While An Bai’s reprimand might’ve gone over Qiu Ling’s head, he immediately rushed over and plopped down in the chair to speak about his grievances when he was invited to do so. “He looks like he hasn’t been able to sleep well in quite some time already. And recently, he’s hardly eating while I’m there. I’m afraid it’s not any better while I’m not.”
An Bai slowly nodded and waited for his king to say more but Qiu Ling was already looking at him with an expectant expression, clearly thinking that he would be able to gain some kind of insight just from that.
An Bai took a faint breath, trying to tell himself that he shouldn’t have expected anything else. In any case, his king had always been like this. There really was no reason to expect him to suddenly be different. In any case, he could still make a few assumptions. “I guess this will be the same issue as what happened the last time. In fact, I would assume that this is merely a continuation from then, instead of anything new. The herbs that Your Majesty brought over the last time shouldn’t have helped much.”
Qiu Ling furrowed his brows when he was reminded of that. “Yes, what kind of herbs did you give me? Are you sure they’re working?”
An Bai ignored the accusation in his words and just gave a straightforward answer. “The herbs shouldn’t be the problem. The problem is that His Highness probably has some troubles recently that he is unable to come to terms with. While the herbs that I gave you can alleviate the symptoms, they can’t eradicate the root of the problem. And that is what would need to happen for His Highness to go back to his usual self.”
“Then what am I supposed to do?”
For a moment, An Bai also didn’t quite know what to answer. After all, the right answer would completely depend on what exactly the problem with the crown prince was. But how was he supposed to know that? In any case, after the last time when things had gone wrong, he hadn’t really returned to the Nine Heavens and had instead stayed in the dragon realm.
Even though he felt that his king had reacted quite excessively, he also wouldn’t challenge his authority. After all, he was his king. Further than that, even though he had no partner of his own, he was well aware of just how important falling in love was to a dragon. Naturally, His Majesty wouldn’t want other men to be around His Highness too much before they hadn’t gotten married. He was willing to accept that. But because of this, he also wasn’t that aware of what was going on with the crown prince. Previously, he might have at least been able to make a few guesses. Now, that was completely impossible.
Qiu Ling turned anxious when he realized that An Bai wasn’t answering. “What is it? Is it that bad?” That shouldn’t be, right? In any case, the God of Medicine had already taken a look at him before and determined that he just wasn’t well-rested enough. So this should be simple to solve, right? On second thought though … His beloved should have enough time to rest. Was there something that was keeping him from it? Qiu Ling fell into deep thought when he noticed this problem. He felt like the solution to this situation might be close by.
Meanwhile, An Bai was pondering exactly the same question. In the end, there was only one conjecture that he could arrive at: This had to be related to his king. He didn’t want to pretend that His Majesty was always the center of everything happening around His Highness but this was something that before hadn’t happened before. And the only thing around the crown prince that was changing were definitely things in relation to His Majesty. Considering that His Majesty had made a show of learning how to play an instrument to show off in front of him just a short while ago, he could imagine that there might be some kind of correlation between His Majesty’s recent behavior and the crown prince’s restless mind.
An Bai gave Qiu Ling a complicated look, not quite sure how to approach this. Clearly, he would be unhappy hearing about this. But then again, he would also be unhappy if he didn’t get an answer. Thinking about his response for a moment longer, An Bai finally cleared his throat. “Your Majesty, I don’t want to be presumptuous but let me ask you … Is it possible that recently, you’ve been a bit more demanding with His Highness?”
Qiu Ling looked at him, not quite sure what he meant. “Demanding? I’ve never been demanding with him. My beloved is allowed to do whatever he wants to. In fact, I’ll even help him achieve whatever that is.” Yes, he definitely did not expect his beloved to do anything.
An Bai gave a faint smile in response. “That isn’t quite what I mean. I mean in your relationship with His Highness. Could it be that you have been showing more how much he means to you recently? Have you taken any new steps in winning him over?”
Qiu Ling tilted his head, not quite sure how to answer that. In the past four years, he had definitely done quite a lot to win his beloved over. Whether he had gotten any more direct … “Oh well, I might’ve said a thing or two but it shouldn’t have been that outrageous.” In any case, he had been pretty outrageous from the very beginning. He didn’t think that it should have anything to do with that.
An Bai had different thoughts on the matter though. “Your Majesty, I’m afraid that this might actually be what is behind all of this. I can’t say if you were successful at what you were trying to do but it could be that His Highness has been pondering this matter a little too much recently.
“You can’t forget that while there are his own feelings, on the one hand, he also has to take some other things into consideration like his parents’ opinion or what the gods as a race would think if this union. Considering what type of person His Highness is, it could be that this is stressing him out quite a bit. Naturally, he wouldn’t admit to that either in front of you or the Heavenly Emperor so it is likely to go undetected. He would pretend that nothing is the matter so nobody will feel that he is overstepping any bounds. All to try and safeguard his reputation.”
Qiu Ling uncharacteristically turned silent. To be honest … he could imagine that An Bai was right. His beloved definitely was the type of person that would worry about something like this. The problem was: What to do now?
“If what you say is true, then what am I supposed to do? It’s not like I can bring it up. If I did, he would be mortified.”
An Bai gave a faint smile. His king actually understood that the Son of Heaven would be mortified. That was quite good. “Maybe it would be better to not bring it up then and just give him a bit of space to breathe. Currently, you’re running over to the Nine Heavens almost every day. With you being around him half of the time and other things demanding his attention for the rest of the time, he probably doesn’t have the opportunity to just relax by himself and think things through. Considering that he was a pretty solitary person, that must have taken its toll on him. If you can, then maybe it would be best for His Highness if you find some kind of excuse to not go over as often or cut your visits a little short. Just for the time being. When he is starting to do better again, there will not be a reason to continue to do so.”
Qiu Ling put on a troubled expression. “But what if he misunderstands? I’ve been chasing him for four years. If I suddenly start to pull back … wouldn’t he think that my feelings might be changing? I don’t want him to think that I’ve suddenly given up. Then everything else I’ve done for these years would’ve been in vain.”
An Bai nodded. He could imagine that this was a problem. “Well, I think that you don’t have to worry about this as long as you have a good excuse. Just think a bit about what is currently going on in the dragon realm. It should be something that he can verify with other sources so he won’t feel like it is just an excuse.
“Also, maybe bring this up slowly. Tell him beforehand that you will be a little busier in the upcoming weeks and tell him that you will try your best to make time for him but that he shouldn’t be …” An Bai gave a wry smile when he realized what he was about to say but finally, he still went ahead. “That he shouldn’t be sad not to be able to see you in case you don’t manage.” In any case, this was definitely what his king would do. There was no reason to pretend that it was any different.
Qiu Ling slowly nodded. “Very well. I’ll do it. This is the right thing for Jing He.” He inclined his head toward An Bai and then got up, not bothering about him any longer before he stormed out.
Yes, for Jing He, he was willing to take a step back. He wasn’t happy about it but it was definitely something that he had to do. Otherwise … Well, he definitely couldn’t just watch how his beloved silently suffered. No, that just wouldn’t do.