Outside, Qiu Ling’s gaze had been trained on the door. He wanted to see Jing He, he wanted to make sure that he was not in any imminent danger. But he knew he had to wait. Right now, he did not have the status to demand entry. And his relationship with Jing He wasn’t close enough as that he would have been any help in there either.
He was … nothing at the moment and the day that would change seemed to be far off. Thinking of that pained him. But it couldn’t compare to the pain he had felt when he saw Jing He lying in his arms, looking fragile as if he could break even by a slightly stronger breeze.
When the door opened, he immediately stared at Bai Fen, hoping to get some kind of good news. The Heavenly Empress looked back and closed the door again, not saying anything. The silence stretched on, making Qiu Ling even more anxious.
Finally, Bai Fen sighed. “He is awake but still weak and I don’t think he will be able to stay like this for long. He needs a lot of rest and some nourishment just like the God of Medicine said.”
Qiu Ling slightly furrowed his brows but there was only worry contained in his gaze, no resentment. “Would it be better I left?”
Bai Fen hesitated but then shook her head. “On the contrary, I think spending a bit of time with Longjun would help Jing He. Although …” She walked a little further away from the door and lowered her voice. In any case, the formation inside that prevented people from outside to casually listen in on conversations that were had there didn’t work in the other direction. And while her son was sick, he was still a trueborn god and a talented one at that. Some precautions might be necessary.
“Longjun, my son is prone to overthinking things.”
Qiu Ling faintly raised his brows but nodded. To be honest, he wasn’t that surprised. At the very least, not in regard to the message contained in those words. What did surprise him was that the Heavenly Empress would bring that up.
Seeing that Qiu Ling stayed quite calm made Bai Fen worry less. “Well, he also isn’t experienced in matters of the heart. Before this, things were rather clear-cut. He knew your intentions. Now though, you have changed. He will have some doubts. So … this will bother him a bit.
“Don’t take it to heart. Just … be yourself.” Whatever that meant in his case. She didn’t want to dictate his interactions with Jing He so she didn’t demand him to go either way but she at least wanted to let him know this much. Having said her piece, she inclined her head. “You can go in when you are ready. Please be a bit mindful. Jing He would probably not like to be seen this way so the curtains are closed. Now, if you will excuse me.”
Qiu Ling also inclined his head, bidding her farewell. Then, he turned to look at Jing He’s palace. His beloved … really wasn’t doing well. If there was anything he could do to help him, he would naturally do so. The problem was that he was at a bit of a loss. Bai Fen hadn’t said much and she certainly wasn’t the type to give away everything but he felt like there was more truth contained in her words than she had led on. The main point should be … Jing He overthinking his changed behavior?
Qiu Ling wasn’t completely sure of this conjecture and he didn’t know how to make sure either but he felt that it should be true. In any case, Jing He had collapsed after he had mentioned being friends, hadn’t he? Maybe at that moment, he had indeed thought too much and that had over-strained his already burdened body. The question was how to ease his mind.
Qiu Ling sighed faintly and then went over to the door to the bedroom that had been closed after Bai Fen left the room. He didn’t have a plan yet but he also couldn’t make Jing He wait too long or it would just make him worry more. So, unfortunately, he couldn’t just stand there and wait for inspiration.
He raised his hand and lightly knocked, his thoughts still churning. He couldn’t change his tune too fast or it would make Jing He wonder if his mother had said anything. Thus, he had to tread carefully now. Any change needed to clearly come from him and be explained in words and actions. First of all, he still needed to be a bit more distant as he had been the days before. “Your Highness …” He did not say more than this, hoping that the address could communicate the distance while his hesitation to speak further showed his tangled heart.
Inside the room, Jing He listened to that voice with a racing heartbeat. “Please, come in.”
Qiu Ling opened the door and went inside with slow steps. His heart was pounding heavily while his gaze stuck to the bed with the curtains drawn close. Just how bad was Jing He really doing? He wanted to ask but didn’t dare to.
Jing He couldn’t help but speak up to fill the silence. In any case, this situation was rather embarrassing. “I’m sorry for not getting up to greet you. Please, have a seat.”
“Mn.” Qiu Ling barely managed to get out a hum and sat down on the other side of the curtain. His gaze was still trained on the little he could see of Jing He. He hesitated for a moment longer but finally couldn’t hold back any more. “You … How do you feel?”
“A bit better. Thank you for … your help earlier.”
“Oh, it’s …” Qiu Ling was afraid to say the wrong thing so he could only go about it a little more conservatively. “It’s nothing. I’m glad I could help.”
They both fell silent. Jing He felt awkward. He couldn’t stand the silence between them but he also didn’t know what to say.
Qiu Ling very much had the same problem. In his mind, he felt like he heard the words of the Heavenly Empress again. ‘Just be yourself.’ What an easy thing to say for her. He didn’t even know who he himself was any longer. That knowledge … it had long fled him. There was only the mess left that he had created himself.
Where to start? How to explain himself? How to make sure there would be no room to misunderstand? He didn’t have an answer to either of these questions.
Even though, he knew one thing for sure: He loved Jing He. He wanted him to be happy and … healthy, of course. Whether he needed to take a step back or not for that, he couldn’t say for sure. But he wanted him to know.
A bold idea flashed through his mind. He wasn’t sure if it was right to follow through but he only hesitated for a moment. Then, he stood up at once and stepped forward, grabbing the curtain that separated them and lifted it to reveal his beloved’s figure.
Jing He averted his face in a hurry, afraid to let him see. If it was up to him, nobody would be able to even take a glance at this appearance of his as it was right now, much less the man he loved. In front of this man, he only wanted to reveal his perfect, beautiful side, not … this. Not the ugly truth of what lay beneath. “This … this isn’t appropriate.”
Qiu Ling had expected this protest but he didn’t heed the words. Instead, he reached out and cupped Jing He’s cheek as carefully as he could, looking at him with eyes that he hoped would be able to convey his innermost feelings. “I was afraid. Seeing you like that really made me afraid. I’ve never … felt so helpless in my whole life.”
“It’s not your fault.” Qiu Ling sat down right on the edge of Jing He’s bed and grabbed his hands. “You … you should probably rest for now, so I won’t take up too much of your time. Just … I want you to know that I’m here. I’ll always stay at your side. You can … depend on me, regardless of what happens.”
“I …” The words failed Jing He in response. He looked at his hands that were held in Qiu Ling’s, a sense of security washing over him. Yes, he would very much like to depend on him. He wanted to allow his weakness to overpower him, to follow through with his innermost desires and fall into that man’s arms, not because he had fallen unconscious but because he wanted to enjoy the feeling.
Wrapped in his warmth and listening to his heartbeat, he might be able to truly calm down and sleep without worry. Although he had to admit that he did not want to miss out on the time with Qiu Ling either. He wanted to spend every moment with him.
Qiu Ling had been watching him closely and while he didn’t know what Jing He was thinking, he could see that he was somewhat tense. Had his words not been enough? He wanted to reassure him but he didn’t quite know how. Had he ever done something to make Jing He utterly relax in his company?
Thinking back, there seemed to have been the time when Jing He played for him but that was out of the question in his current condition. Then … His eyes widened faintly when he remembered another moment: Back when he had taken him out for a moonlight stroll and then taken that boat together, Jing He had actually fallen asleep in his arms.
He couldn’t be sure that it would work but Qiu Ling still reached out and put an arm around his shoulders, pulling Jing He up against his chest into a gentle embrace. His fingers even slid into his hair as if it was the natural thing to do.
“I love you.” He had just wanted to hold him but being like this, he finally couldn’t hold back the words that automatically entered his mind. He could only give an explanation afterward to make sure this wouldn’t turn awkward. “I know you don’t want me to say such things, you think it’s inappropriate but it’s the truth. I love you. Since the moment I first saw you I’ve been in love with you. Whether you reciprocate my feelings or not I will never stop loving you. And I will try to make you fall in love with me.
“I’m sure that … one day, we’ll be married and then you won’t be able to say that it’s inappropriate. Holding you like this, making sure that you’re alright, that you’re not lacking in anything … it’ll be … as if it was supposed to be. Nobody will say anything against it.”
Jing He pressed his eyes shut and grabbed tightly onto Qiu Ling’s robe. Ah, how he longed for this future that the dragon king described … He couldn’t imagine that it would ever come true and even if it did, he wasn’t sure if it would work out. His heart squeezed painfully when he thought of that and maybe it was because he was weakened already but he couldn’t help but voice those doubts for once. “Aren’t you afraid … that we’ll be like Tian and Xing? A pair of star-crossed lovers that will just bring misfortune to each other?”
Qiu Ling chuckled and turned his head until his lips almost touched Jing He’s skin, his breath already caressing him. “You just imagined us as lovers. Does this mean I have a chance?”