When Qiu Ling came back to the Nine Heavens the next day, he was prepared. Walking into the palace, he immediately took out a scroll of paper, waving it in the air. He didn’t forget to first make sure that Jing He was alright. “How are you doing today?”
Jing He had been sitting in his study, brooding over a half-finished painting, but immediately got up when he heard steps outside. “You came by. And don’t worry, I am well.” He couldn’t help but look at what Qiu Ling was holding, quite curious what this might be about. Of course, he didn’t need to wait long to find out.
Qiu Ling walked over to him, happily motioning at the paper in his hands. “I thought a lot about our conversation yesterday and I’ve come to the conclusion that my suggestion was a really good one albeit it lacked a few details. So I used the time in the evening to come up with those and made a list. Here, have a look!”
Jing He was startled but still accepted the list. Yesterday’s conversation … Why couldn’t he remember what Qiu Ling meant? They had spent the whole day together as usual, but there wasn’t anything particular about yesterday that stood out to him.
He unfurled the scroll and took a look at what was written down. As soon as he did, he blanked before his thoughts managed to catch up and he realized just what was going on: That so-called ‘suggestion’ was the notion of them taking a trip together. And Qiu Ling had indeed taken the time of finding some spots that might be worth visiting. But this list … he really didn’t know what to make of it.
Jing He’s expression turned complicated. This list had points such as ‘a moonlight stroll at the banks of the East Sea’, ‘camping in the Northwestern Heaven’s twilight forest’, or ‘a visit to one of the picturesque towns at the Southern Heaven’s border to the dragon realm like Huangjin Yang’. Taking these points for themselves, they didn’t seem all that bad but when thinking about it closer, it became apparent that this was not something that could be done.
Visiting the East Sea wasn’t a problem. This was where the goddess Hui Jin reigned, who was a very sensible person. In fact, this could probably be called a diplomatic visit if he was to go. Surely, they could stay at her palace and nobody would find that there was anything wrong with it. But having a moonlight stroll at the banks of the sea … that would cause people to have some thoughts.
In the same vein, how could they go camping anywhere? Doing so would require them to sleep outside, likely without anybody accompanying them, making people have some doubts about what was going on in that forest. It didn’t help that the twilight forest was a place where even in the day, you usually couldn’t see much. This was hardly a place anyone would visit for sightseeing. Unless you were searching for something specific or going to hunt, what reason was there to go? He was afraid that people would think of something nefarious such as wanting to do things that should not be seen.
As for the picturesque towns in the Southern Heaven … While that sounded good in theory, Qiu Ling had suggested Huangjin Yang town out of all the ones available, which was a spot famously visited by young lovers. If they really went there, that would be akin to acknowledging that they were in that kind of relationship. How could they do that?
He figured that maybe these were just some of the ideas but then, no matter which one he looked at, there was one part about it or another that disqualified it from being feasible with their current relationship. It was a pity, really.
It seemed as if Qiu Ling had looked for spots both in the Nine Heavens and the dragon realm, even going so far as to look up a few in the spiritual beasts’ territory, and had come up with a whole tour through the immortal realms that they could do together. The sentiment was very much appreciated but, unfortunately, each and every spot was much too ambiguous.
Well, some actually weren’t that ambiguous. They were outright outrageous. For example, the last point of his list was the hot spring he had teased him about just yesterday. It was one in the dragon realm, and while he didn’t have any further information on the place, Jing He didn’t believe that visiting a hot spring together could be done with their relationship.
Superficially, they were just two important people of their races that got along well. Taking trips together without official business to attend to might raise some eyebrows but could still be accepted. But, in their case, there was more to this, wasn’t there?
Qiu Ling was his suitor. He had made that clear when he asked him to get married in front of all the people that had visited his father’s birthday banquet six years ago. And since it had been that kind of occasion, there had been many people and many of them in important positions.
So really, it was not a secret that Qiu Ling was trying to woo him. If they dared to go somewhere together, they would be under scrutiny, every word and action indicating just how far their relationship had gotten. And visiting a hot spring with a suitor that he was not yet engaged to … that would invite all kinds of rumors, none of them good for his reputation.
Jing He knew that all too well. But even though that was the case, he still couldn’t help but feel just as tempted as he had yesterday. He couldn’t help himself. This was the man he loved. If he could, he would’ve given himself to him.
It was just that this didn’t seem right. No official relationship had been established between them, there was no active engagement, no wedding date set, nothing. It just didn’t seem right to do this kind of tour together. No, even after becoming engaged, it still seemed too early. If these were the kinds of places they visited, it would be more appropriate to wait until after they were married.
Although, at least some might be possible before that. For example, after the engagement was set, a visit to the East Sea wouldn’t be problematic. With Jin Hui’s reputation, this would be innocent enough. Even that moonlight stroll was appropriate if precautions were taken like having somebody follow with some distance.
Qiu Ling looked at him, a faint curve to one side of the lips. With time, his brows rose though and that smile vanished. Actually, he had just wanted to tease Jing He. So why did his beloved suddenly look as if he was seriously considering this? A while ago, he would’ve been ecstatic about this, not thinking about it further. But now, he couldn’t help but become worried.
Don’t get him wrong, he still was ecstatic that Jing He seemed to be considering it. After all, this meant that they had come much further in this relationship than he would’ve thought he’d get to see anytime soon with how much emphasis Jing He put on showing appropriate behavior. But he had also seen last year just how much it could impact Jing He if he didn’t clearly consider his actions.
This list, he had figured that it was a good way to reassure him once again that he was still just as much in love with him as he had been the day they met. But now, it seemed that he had done not just that but had also put Jing He in a troublesome situation.
Now, his beloved was clearly pondering if this was something that could be done and that … well, the answer to that was clearly no because he had chosen such outrageous spots that it wouldn’t be deemed appropriate by any of the gods. And this was a problem because Jing He would not want to show inappropriate behavior but he also wouldn’t want to disappoint him if he went by what had happened so far.
He gulped, feeling like kicking himself. Why exactly had he done this again? Going out and having a trip together was something that he would like to do but he should have put some normal places in there so Jing He actually had a chance to say yes to some of them. Just why hadn’t he done that?
Well, no matter what the reason was, it was too late to worry about that now. He could only try to deflect.
Leaning to the side, Qiu Ling folded his hands behind his back and took a few steps, showing a thoughtful expression. “I wrote a long list of places in case you wanted to spend some more time outside. If it’s too much, I would also be happy with just visiting one or two. You know, I still think that the hot springs over in the dragon realm are a very good idea. Visiting is … beneficial for health, isn’t it?” He looked at him, showing the most innocent expression he could muster.
Jing He looked up, and somehow, deep down, he felt the urge to say yes. No, not just that. He wanted to say yes and then put down the list, reach out to take Qiu Ling’s hand, and ask him to take him there right this instant.
After they had arrived, after some time had been spent there, after they finally returned, they could still deal with the fall-out by then. That … was definitely what he wished for. Especially so since after his reputation had been ruined, what other way out would there be other than to have the two of them get married?