Qiu Ling had been closely watching Jing He’s expression to make sure that he was feeling well. Now seeing this small smile on his lips that he loved so much, he couldn’t help but smile in return.
This was what he wanted to see: Jing He comfortable and happy. Not weighed down by any worries he might have. In that regard … he should probably make sure that there was nothing for Jing He to worry about.
He would’ve liked to reach out and take Jing He’s hand but since he was still holding the painting that wasn’t really a possibility. Also, maybe it would be better to keep some distance between them so that Jing He wouldn’t feel threatened. “You know, I like you very much.”
Jing He looked up from the painting, not sure what to think about this. He surely hadn’t expected the dragon king to suddenly confess his feelings again. And he couldn’t help but shift on the spot, not sure what he should say in response. Should he tell him that he also liked him? But that seemed a little too bold.
Before Jing He could make up his mind, Qiu Ling already cleared his throat and continued. “I liked you from the moment I first saw you back at your father’s birthday banquet. That day … my mind was filled with you. I wasn’t thinking about anything else anymore. I was just … You know, it was as if I was bespelled.”
Jing He lowered his head, really wanting to hide behind the scroll of paper. It wasn’t the first time that the dragon king had confessed his feelings to him but this time, it somehow felt different.
Maybe it was because, in any other situation, the way he was lying in bed would have been compromising. Right now, there was an excuse but still, he felt that there was something wrong about allowing this. It made this confession different from the others somehow.
Also, his words were a little different. It wasn’t just that he was telling him how he felt. He was looking back at that first meeting of theirs which seemed to be more than usual.
Qiu Ling did notice that Jing He’s thoughts seemed to be wandering at the side but he still continued on. “For dragons, it isn’t strange to fall in love suddenly. For us, it can go that fast. One glance, one moment of hearing the other person speak, a whiff of their scent, a faint touch, … any of those can be enough to completely seal the deal for us.
“I know that it is different for the gods. And, well, I won’t pretend that there aren’t dragons that need long as well. Certainly, there are. But obviously, I’m not one of them.
“I … was immediately smitten with you. And since that day, nothing has changed.” He turned to look at Jing He, still not making any effort to touch him. Right now, he felt that if he tried, it would scare him.
“Jing He, I know that you’re different. You’re somebody who needs a lot of time to get comfortable with others. I can see that. I can also understand it. When it comes to anyone but you, I will admit that I am also not that kind of person. I don’t strike up friendships easily or build trust quickly. I’m not like that.
“It is just that on that day, I had the distinct feeling of fate unraveling in front of my eyes. As long as I live, I will never forget that moment. I will never forget you and I want you to know that my heart will never change.
“Nonetheless, I know that you will need time. I’ve said this before but I just want to say it again: No matter what, if you feel that I’m going too far at any time, you can tell me. I will back off. Not completely but enough to give you the space that you need.
“I don’t want to overwhelm you … being in this type of situation. I want you to be happy more than anything else. Call me selfish but I also want to work toward my own happiness. And I only see that with you at my side.”
Jing He stared at him, unable to find the words to respond. If this wasn’t a love confession, then he had never heard one. The dragon king was so clear in what he wanted and what he expected of his future. He was willing to wait but he still worked toward that goal. That kind of courage … he envied that. And at the same time, it flattered him. Because that goal was him.
As unlikely as it seemed, somehow, the dragon king had set his sights on him and he wasn’t a man to back off. He just wasn’t. And yet … Jing He wasn’t sure if he could give him that. “My father …”
This time, Qiu Ling leaned closer and really reached out, cupping Jing He’s cheeks and making him look up after he had just wanted to lower his head. “I know. I know that your father is against this and I know that you care a great deal about his feelings.
“That is part of the reason why I am willing to wait. I don’t want to force you and your family apart. They are important to you so they are important to me. I will try to win over your father with time. So don’t think about it. There’s no need to worry. Convincing him will be my task and I’m sure that I am up for it.”
Even though the dragon king said not to worry, Jing He couldn’t help it. “Father can be a very … obstinate man.” He didn’t want to talk badly about him but his father was as stubborn as an ox. And he had an irascible temper.
Everybody in the Nine Heavens knew. Jing He was pretty sure that even in the dragon realm, people were talking about it. So really, he didn’t think that the dragon king’s chances were good. Especially since his father had talked badly about him behind his back quite often already. Not that he would dare to tell that to the dragon king.
Qiu Ling’s lips quirked up in a smile and he pulled back a little. “I know, and he doesn’t like me. He really doesn’t like me. He thinks I’m … too old, too vain, just not suitable for his perfect son.”
Jing He had just wanted to lower his gaze again but at these words, he couldn’t help but stare up at Qiu Ling because this was pretty much precisely what his father had told him.
Qiu Ling raised his brows at him. “You think I wouldn’t know? Oh, I am very much aware. But … well, if I want something, I want it. I can be just as obstinate as your father in that regard.
“And to be honest, he isn’t completely wrong. In terms of age … I am not quite happy to admit it but I am quite a bit older than you. I am not sure if you have a problem with that?”
It only vaguely sounded like a question but Jing He still felt compelled to answer. “Longjun … doesn’t strike me as old but rather as very experienced. That … Is that not a positive quality to have?”
Qiu Ling looked at him and, for a moment, he had this feeling that maybe, in Jing He’s eyes, it really was. In fact, maybe it wasn’t just a positive quality but a desirable one.
On the other hand, when Jing He thought about this, he couldn’t help but feel that maybe his own age would be more of a problem. With the dragon king’s age, with his wealth of experience both as a person and as a ruler of a realm, wouldn’t he look down on him?
His fingers clutched the blanket beneath the painting and for a fleeting moment, some of his emotions showed on his face. “It hasn’t been that long since I came of age. Longjun … might feel that I am nothing more but a child.” For once, he looked directly at his eyes, wishing to see something that would convince him of the contrary.
And, well, he didn’t need to look for long. The dragon king’s gaze bore into his, completely captivating. And there was not the slightest hint of any derision or mockery. No, this man just looked at him as if … he wanted him very much. It clearly wasn’t the gaze of a man who thought of the other person as a child.
Jing He gulped, suddenly not knowing what to do with his hands. He also didn’t know where to look but somehow, he couldn’t tear his gaze away. It was held captive, completely at the mercy of the dragon king’s eyes.
Qiu Ling continued to look at him and then finally grabbed his chin, tilting his head up. “You know, I’ve never once thought of you like that. You are … for sure quite a few years younger than me but I don’t think that that is bad. You strike me as somebody who has seen much more than others his age.
“Tell me, in the years while you grew up, you probably did quite a lot to make sure that you were prepared for your future role, isn’t that so? Even though you only counted as a child until a few years ago, I don’t think your mind is still like that. It probably hasn’t been for quite some time.
“Sometimes, it isn’t really the number of the years we’ve lived that decides who we are and what we are seen as but the experiences we’ve made in those years. And even though I don’t know that much about your life, I have the distinct feeling that there is a lot more to you than one might originally think.”
Qiu Ling let go of his chin but used his fingers to brush back Jing He’s hair, his gaze wandering over his face and the satiny strands framing it. “Also, your father might have a point with saying that I am a vain person as well. Looking at a beautiful young person, do you really think I would have a problem with that?”
Jing He’s cheeks immediately flushed red when he heard that but this time, he managed to tear his gaze away and looked down. “Longjun is flattering me.”
Qiu Ling shook his head and plucked the painting from his fingers, holding it up in the air and giving a smile. “I’m not. You know, I’ve seen quite a few beauties in my life. I even grew up at a time when the so-called greatest beauty of the dragon race was still alive. In my eyes, he can’t compare to you.
“In my eyes, you are the most beautiful, the most desirable. There is no question about that. You are leaving all of them far behind you. Very, very far behind you. And I will admit that that causes a certain pride in me. Which … might seem laughable to you but just the idea that, in the future, I will be able to introduce this kind of beauty as my spouse fills me with satisfaction.”
Jing He kept quiet at that but, in his heart, he was also filled with satisfaction. This kind of praise coming from the dragon king’s lips was something he could listen to all day.
In his heart of hearts, he didn’t think he was any less vain than Qiu Ling. In fact, he was probably even more so, not that he would ever let the dragon king find out about that.