Jing He looked at Qiu Ling, not sure what to say to this. This was the most personal Qiu Ling had ever been with him. It made him feel even more so that he needed to be careful with his words. If he failed to find the right ones, would that affect their relationship negatively? He didn’t want that to happen.
Thinking for a moment, he didn’t speak up at all. Right now, Qiu Ling probably wasn’t looking for that. He was willing to share this part of his past but he was also somebody who valued strength. If he said something, then that might make Qiu Ling feel as if he was seen as weak. He wouldn’t like that. Instead of that, it was better to give him the silent reassurance that he understood. Thus, he reached out, brushing Qiu Ling’s arms.
Qiu Ling looked at him, smiling gently. To be honest, what he was saying wasn’t wrong. Among the people who had been in his life back then, Jinde was the one he missed the most.
He lightly furrowed his brows when he thought of that and felt that maybe he should try and clarify. After all, it probably sounded strange. “I’m not sure if it makes sense to you if I say it like this. Honestly, it might seem … callous to miss somebody else more than your own parents. But Jinde was … he was probably more of a parental figure than my actual parents.”
Jing He nodded. To be honest, he had gotten this the first time around. He understood why Qiu Ling would feel the need to clarify though. After all, Qiu Ling had met his parents and knew how their relationship was. Of course, he might think that because of how close he and his parents seemed, he would not be able to understand.
It was normal to think like that but he still wanted him to know that — no matter how much their life experiences differed — he would always understand him. He hesitated for a moment longer and finally, grabbed more tightly onto his arm. “To be honest, I do understand. A blood relationship doesn’t necessarily make for a close connection. That still needs to be cultivated independently and with one person that can be easier than with another one.”
Qiu Ling could hear from Jing He’s voice that there was something more to what he was saying. He tilted his head, giving him a deep look to try and figure out what was going through Jing He’s mind.
Jing He was somebody who would always try to see things from the other person’s perspective but doing so often required one to think about his own situation. In his case, he wasn’t close to many people, only his parents and uncle. Other than them, he didn’t think that he had ever regularly seen anyone around Jing He. Well, maybe those two guards at the gate of the palace but that could hardly be counted as a personal relationship. Other than greetings and inquiries regarding his safety, they never even talked. So Jing He actually didn’t have anyone.
Qiu Ling’s brows slightly furrowed, making Jing He worry whether he had said the wrong thing. Had he sounded too judgmental? He panicked and held more tightly onto Qiu Ling’s arm. “Anyway, he must’ve been a very special person.”
Qiu Ling nodded but he wouldn’t let go of the thought he had just had. Considering that there were so few people in Jing He’s life, he could only compare how he felt about each of them if he wanted to relate to him. And maybe this was his own bias speaking but felt that there was a big difference between these people. “You father … he’s smothering you, isn’t he?”
Jing He’s eyes widened but he didn’t say anything. He hesitated for a moment before finally shaking his head. “What would make you think so?”
Qiu Ling gave a hum, thinking back to what had happened in the past six years. “You know, I might be a bit overbearing and impatient and I didn’t go about wooing you in a way that any of the gods would have, but nonetheless, your father’s reaction to some of those … episodes were a bit over-the-top, don’t you think so?” He really couldn’t say it any other way. This was already the nicest way to put it. In fact, he felt that the Heavenly Emperor was completely crazy for how he treated him.
Anyway, he was the king of the dragon race even if he sometimes liked to pretend he wasn’t. In other words: He was the one heading the allies of the gods in the war against the demons and it was best not to piss him off.
It was alright not to be thrilled that he was going after his son but that was where it should end. Banning him from the Nine Heavens, having Jing He tightly guarded so that he couldn’t see him, and yelling at his face, that was going too far. But the Heavenly Emperor had done all that.
Surely, it wasn’t because he was an incompetent ruler. The title of Heavenly Emperor might be hereditary but that also meant that a lot more attention would be paid to raising one’s child into the heir apparent. And in the worst case, you could just have another child, right? So, yes, the Heavenly Emperor should be a good ruler in general. It was just that he tended to overreact where it concerned his son.
Actually, Qiu Ling understood the sentiment all too well. Wasn’t he the same? He worried about Jing He constantly. Every small frown, every absentminded gaze would make him wonder if there was something wrong. But his approach to making things right was apologizing for whatever faux-pas he had just committed, giving gifts to divert his attention, or soothing him with words.
The Heavenly Emperor, on the other hand, was trying to ensure that Jing He couldn’t be hurt in the first place. As for how to do that? It was by keeping him away from anyone and anything.
Yes, Jing He liked it quiet but the Heavenly Emperor’s attitude had likely influenced that. Anyway, just look at how compliant his beloved usually was! Qiu Ling wasn’t an idiot even though he was quite talented at playing the fool. He could see right through him: Jing He was trying to please.
Whether it was his parents, his uncle, or him, he always wanted to make it just right for everyone. That was a problem as long as the other person didn’t take a step back to ensure that whatever he said and did was really what he wanted.
In fact, Qiu Ling was also aware that, as long as he didn’t care about the fall-out, they could have already gotten married. Jing He just wasn’t the type who could say no. If he pressured him just a bit, he could seal the deal. After that, what could the Heavenly Emperor do?
But that wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted Jing He to agree willingly. That was why, even after six years, he still wasn’t pressuring him further and instead waited somewhat patiently for the day when Jing He’s heart was overflowing with love to the point where he himself wouldn’t care about what that old man of his said. Then, they could get married.
Either way, the problem was that the other side wasn’t playing fair. While he was trying hard not to take advantage of Jing He’s compliance, the Heavenly Emperor had clearly gotten much too comfortable with his son always doing as he said. He never stopped to think about what Jing He wanted or how he’d feel. That was why, while the Heavenly Empress and the God of War knew that something was wrong with Jing He last year, the Heavenly Emperor had only found out several days after he had reached the worst point. What kind of father was he?
Qiu Ling felt righteous indignation just thinking about it and he was happy to have brought it up. Looking at Jing He’s expression though, he seemed startled. He probably didn’t want to admit how overbearing his father was. After all, he never talked badly about anyone and his father was even close to him. How could he do it?
Qiu Ling was of half a mind to just let the topic go and pretend that he hadn’t figured it out but then, he decided against it.
Just now, he had opened up and told Jing He about himself as a child. And they had already known each other for six years. If things continued the way they had so far, then in another year or two, they would get married. There shouldn’t be a reason to hold everything back.
Yes, he didn’t want to make him feel … vulnerable, like he had to admit to something that he didn’t want to. But he wanted to give him the chance to do so. He wanted to give him the chance to feel … safe, comfortable enough to tell him about his life. Certainly, that shouldn’t be too much, right?
Arriving at that conclusion, Qiu Ling didn’t ponder any further. He sighed faintly and then leaned closer, giving Jing He a deep look. “Remember the time when we had our first outing? That day, you told me that your family was worried about your safety. You said that your father was always warning you about other people because, well, he was worried about you and didn’t think that others had good intentions.”
Jing He naturally remembered that day. It had meant a lot to him to open up about that. In hindsight, maybe he shouldn’t have. He didn’t want Qiu Ling to think less of his father. These two were the most important men in his life. He just wished that they could get along. While it was difficult to make his father see just how good of a man Qiu Ling was, he still hoped that Qiu Ling would be able to realize his father wasn’t bad.
Qiu Ling nodded when he saw his expression and then reached up to rub his cheek. “I understand that. You know the dragons aren’t that vulnerable even as children. So, of course, we treat our children somewhat differently. After knowing more about the gods, I’m not surprised that your father is worried about your safety. Anyway, you are his only child. Of course, he wants to keep you safe. He is worried about you, just as he should, and he is going to great lengths to ensure that you stay safe.
“But just because it’s understandable, that doesn’t mean that it can’t hurt you. Your father … he is indeed a bit overbearing, isn’t he? Even though it is ultimately meant to protect you, he might be going too far every now and then to the point where it has a negative effect on you. But because you are his son, you might not be comfortable speaking up about it. Am I right?”
Jing He looked at Qiu Ling with wide eyes, not sure how he had gotten himself into this situation. He didn’t like to say anything that could be perceived as bad about another person. But now, Qiu Ling was asking this directly. He didn’t dare to just not answer. After all, wouldn’t that be taken as refusing to let Qiu Ling in? How could he do that to the man he loved?
With a heavy heart, he finally nodded. “He doesn’t mean anything bad. But yes, sometimes, I am feeling a little smothered. I wish he would just … take a small step back. Not much, just a little. For example, what about you? Clearly, I don’t need to be worried about you. I think my father should be able to see that. I … I feel that it is a pity that he doesn’t.” His cheeks flushed when he said so and he had to lower his gaze, unable to look Qiu Ling in the eye.
Saying this was akin to condoning whatever Qiu Ling had done in the past, wasn’t it? Every time he had overstepped … He seemed to be saying that it hadn’t actually put his reputation in jeopardy, that he was willing to accept it if it came from him. He truly was shameless for uttering something like this out loud but, Heaven help him, he meant every single word.
Qiu Ling looked at Jing He’s flushed face that was pretty close to him at that moment, and felt that somehow, the Heavenly Emperor being prejudiced against him was the one time where he wasn’t going too far. After all, his intentions weren’t pure. If the man wasn’t the slightest bit wary of him when he had asked his son to marry him right in front of his face, then that would be strange.
Well, these considerations naturally couldn’t be said out loud in front of Jing He. Instead, he felt that this was the right time to reassure him.
He reached up and brushed back his hair, giving him another smile. “Don’t worry about it. I’m not thinking too much about it. Anyway, I know that it’s not really … against me, personally. He is just protecting you.
“Anyway, I can see that he loves you very much. Yes, it would be nice if he was giving the two of us a bit more freedom but we can’t have everything. I will just have to work hard to convince him of myself. Someday in the future, he won’t be saying anything against this anymore. And then …” He didn’t speak any further. Instead, he grabbed Jing He’s hand and played with his fingers, his smile deepening. What he was thinking of was pretty obvious.