Jing He stared at Qiu Ling, his heart racing. He didn’t know what to say. By now, he should be used to his love confessions that didn’t bother with their customs at all. But the truth was that no matter how many times it happened, it still affected him very much. Well, maybe this was normal. After all, he wasn’t just a random person but the man he liked. If there was ever a day when he wouldn’t feel like this anymore, that would be much stranger.
Jing He had no words so he could only turn away and try to push the topic back to safer territory. “You’ve told me about the time when you were living outside. What was it like in the capital though? I’ve never been to the dragon realm so I don’t know much about it.”
Qiu Ling looked at him and didn’t insist on pursuing the topic. Instead, he gave Jing He’s question serious consideration. “What was it like? It’s difficult for me to compare. Anyway, I will admit that my knowledge of the Nine Heavens also isn’t that deep. Most likely, I know less about this place than you know about the dragon realm.”
Jing He looked back at him, his cheeks faintly flushed. “I can’t imagine that.” In any case, in his mind, what was there that Qiu Ling didn’t know or couldn’t do? So to him, this sounded like an understatement.
Qiu Ling gave him a subtle look. Anyway, it had shown pretty clearly that he didn’t know much about the gods when they first met. It was a wonder that Jing He was still able to trust in his abilities. Had his recent behavior overshadowed that original impression this much?
If so, that wasn’t bad. He couldn’t wait to erase that idiocy from Jing He’s memory. If he had known that he was the prim and proper type who could be won over with his original personality, he wouldn’t have bothered pretending in front of him. Unfortunately, it was too late for that now so he could only try and make up for it. Since he was given another opportunity right now, he would make use of it.
“Well, living there … I think that my experience also can’t compare to that of others. My father held an important position in court and while weren’t related, it was clear that my predecessor had fond feelings for me. I guess in the whole palace or even in the capital, I was that child that nobody wanted to cross. It showed in how others treated me.”
Jing He wasn’t completely sure what to make of this. They had talked about a similar topic back then, both noting that because of their status, people’s behavior always needed you to be considered twice. But he wasn’t sure how things compared between now and then.
Anyway, Qiu Ling himself hadn’t had an official position and since those weren’t inherited in the dragon realm, he also wasn’t sure how serious people would take cultivating a relationship for a faint future possibility. In the end, his curiosity actually won for once. “How so?”
Seeing as they were just telling each other stories, Qiu Ling finally decided not to bother about politeness and lay straight down, propping his head up with one hand and giving Jing He a lazy look.
He looked relaxed, uninhibited. Seeing him like this, Jing He folded and refolded his hands in his lap several times, a strange feeling in his chest. Qiu Ling was … he was a really good-looking man. It wasn’t like he didn’t usually notice but right now, it was even more obvious as if this kind of pose was just made for him.
Qiu Ling pretended not to see his tangled expression and just focused on the question he had asked him. “Well, I guess people were letting me get away with a lot of things. I was … a naughty child.”
His lips curved up and Jing He couldn’t help but continue to stare at him in a daze. Qiu Ling was often showing expressions that he himself would never dare to show in public or even in private, really. But to Qiu Ling, they seemed to be second nature. Lazing around like this, giving that kind of smile, it made for a beautiful picture. In fact, it was so beautiful that after gazing at him for a moment, Jing He finally had to look away, nestling at his sleeves to occupy his hands with something.
Qiu Ling once again noticed that there was something off about Jing He’s behavior but he didn’t pursue the matter. Jing He always played by the rules. Hearing him say something like this had to give him some kind of feeling. It was better not to dwell on it too much and just continue talking.
“Honestly, the only person who tried to hold me accountable was my father. Unfortunately for him, the king usually got in the way. No matter what their relationship was, he always loved children.
“I think I had a special place in his heart.” His gaze softened once again and he couldn’t help but sigh. “To think that he has long been dead, not even his soul left …” He shook his head, some pain in his gaze. Even if he wanted to, it couldn’t be hidden. Losing this person that way … even though they hadn’t had any contact in those years since his parents’ death, it still pained him.
Jing He turned back to him when Qiu Ling finished speaking, his gaze turning careful. “His soul … Was that in the war before?” He only knew a little about that time. Anyway, he didn’t have much contact outside of his parents and uncle and neither of the three would talk about war with him. They probably felt that he was too fragile to burden him with that.
Before today, he hadn’t minded that. Anyway, he didn’t think that it fit his reputation to care about these things. It was best not to get in contact with such topics. And yes, to be honest, he might also be a bit afraid of what he would hear. War, that was an abstract concept to him. If he knew more, that would change and all the fates of those involved in the battles would become much more real to him.
He hadn’t been ready for that. But now, he regretted that he hadn’t shown more interest. It had played an important part in Qiu Ling’s life, so he should know. This was something he needed to make up for in the future.
Qiu Ling nodded. “Yes, back then, the demons had somehow gotten their hands on the soul-devouring dagger. Jinde, he … managed to kill demon king Jian Heng but in the process, he was cut.
“At first, nobody was aware. It wasn’t more than a scratch and it had been subtle when it happened from all I’ve heard. Also, Jinde was always the type of person who would put his people first. There was chaos at that time. Many had died and whether it was the gods or the dragons, they needed to find back to their normal lives step by step. A dying king and a rush to find a new one were the last things they needed.
“By the time that anybody noticed, Jinde had almost reached the end of his life.” Qiu Ling took a deep breath and then slowly exhaled, trying to keep his emotions under control. He didn’t want to negatively influence Jing He. His mental state had been fragile for a while, and while things had gotten better in the last year, he still didn’t trust the peace. No, it was better to be more careful. “Well, I wasn’t there at the time. When I returned to the capital, he was dead already, the dragon realm having been without a king for a while. It was his old advisers who kept things going, waiting for … well, somebody to take over his position but at that time, everyone was still mourning him. Me included.”
Jing He hesitated for a moment but then turned around and reached out, taking the hand that had been resting on the blanket. “That … I am very sorry. It must have been difficult not being able to say goodbye.”
Qiu Ling looked at his eyes and then couldn’t help but sit up, leaning closer toward him. “It was. It’s one of the things I regret most in my life and I will admit that I am angry. At … at my father, probably, although I can’t say for sure. Still, I can’t help but think that maybe things would’ve ended differently if he had been so blind. They always fought well together so if he was there, maybe the demon king never would have had the opportunity to cut him. But anyway, it can’t be changed.” He leaned even closer and then reached out, pulling Jing He into his arms.
After hesitating for a moment, he put a hand on his back and gently rubbed up and down as if to soothe the person in his arms. “You know, I’m still sad when I think about it. How about comforting me for a while?”
Jing He was still holding onto Qiu Ling’s other hand. Now, he was so close. There wasn’t any space separating them. He had no idea what to do and could only continue to hold onto that hand, letting the other man hold him.
Hearing his words, his eyes widened though. Comfort him? Ah, he would love to do that! It was just that he wasn’t sure how to do so. He had never needed to comfort anyone. Anyway, if you weren’t close to even a single person, then who would you comfort? With his life like this, that was a skill he didn’t have.
He didn’t want to give up the opportunity. Instead, he remembered all those times when Qiu Ling had comforted him in the last year. Finally, he let go of his hand and reached up, inching closer and putting his hands on Qiu Ling’s back as well.
He only rested them on his back lightly, not wanting to overdo it. Feeling no rejection from Qiu Ling, he leaned even closer, his hands wandering up from his lower back to just below his shoulder blades.
Hugging him like this, even though this was supposed to comfort Qiu Ling, it gave Jing He a different feeling. Yes, this close, the only thing going through his mind was how Qiu Ling’s arms were just as strong as he remembered, how his shoulders were wide, giving him a sense of security, and how the hair brushing against his fingers was surprisingly soft.
Somehow, looking at it like this, it seemed that the person who was comforted was not Qiu Ling but himself.