Qiu Ling watched quietly as Jing He drank, satisfied that he had managed to convince him in the end. He didn’t say anything and even turned away to look into the distance, not wanting to make him self-conscious.
He knew that he shouldn’t push Jing He too much but he wanted him to open up just a little, to try new things, and … trust him. Yes, that was probably what this was really about. He wanted his trust.
For six years, he had tried his best to make Jing He fall in love with him. He was sure that he had managed to achieve that goal but it was not enough just yet. If he truly wanted to get married, then he needed to further establish the trust between them and then go further from there, letting the Heavenly Emperor gain the same impression. For that, he couldn’t be too outrageous but not too timid either.
It was a delicate task and one he wasn’t sure he was up to. Usually, he would not doubt himself but when it came to Jing He, he feared that he would mess up. There might not be a need to worry but the risk was just too high. He just couldn’t imagine life without him.
For a moment, Qiu Ling’s thoughts wandered to the kind of life he imagined with Jing He. He had never dared to think of too much. Since the day his parents died, he had only ever dared to take one step after the other, trying to plan ahead only a little. Even after meeting Jing He, he had only ever thought until their wedding, never further than that.
Grabbing the flask of wine again and filling his cup again, Qiu Ling gave a hum. “Let me tell you something.”
Jing He had still been focused on the wine, slowly taking another sip, but he looked up when Qiu Ling spoke. There had been something about his tone that made him forget what he had thought about previously. “What is it?”
Qiu Ling still didn’t look at him but there was a hint of nostalgia on his face. That and … maybe some pain? Jing He couldn’t quite put his finger on it but it worried him. He clasped the cup in his hands, wondering if he should say more but he also didn’t know where to start with nothing to go off.
Qiu Ling didn’t need him to say anything either. Since Jing He was willing to listen, he was happy to go ahead. “We dragons grow up faster than the gods. You … you know that, of course.” He raised his brows and glanced at Jing He, feeling that he should clarify that point. He wasn’t looking down on him, after all.
Jing He nodded in a daze. “Yes, it is about a fourth of the time the gods need.”
“Mn.” Qiu Ling nodded, this time continuing to look at Jing He. “I guess five hundred years are not short by any stretch of the imagination but sometimes, it doesn’t feel that way. Now that I’m this old, each year passes by one after the other and it seems like not too much happens. Looking back at a stretch of time, I always feel that it has gone by so fast and that is more so the longer ago that time was.
“When I think back to my youth now, it seems that it was gone in the blink of an eye. And I feel that … I missed out on so much.” He turned away and raised the cup in his hands, looking at it oddly. “Looking at how I grew up, I guess I should have shared my first cup of wine with my father but it never happened. By the time, he was long dead.”
Jing He felt that he suddenly understood why Qiu Ling had looked the way he did before. He hesitated but then inched slightly closer, taking care not to spill any of the wine. “Who did you share it with?”
Qiu Ling turned back to him and raised his brows. “Nobody.”
Jing He looked at his expression and then down at the cup in his own hands. If it was him … he would have never tried but he could see Qiu Ling doing it. Still, he wanted to know more. He looked back up, his expression curious. “How did that happen? I mean … why did you decide to try?”
Qiu Ling watched his face and then reached out, his fingertips brushing over Jing He’s cheek, his thumb caressing the skin beneath the corner of his eye. He liked that look in his eyes that told him that Jing He had taken a genuine interest in his life, that he wanted to know more, as much as he was willing to tell him.
Jing He flushed and tilted his head to the side, raising the cup to take another sip.
Qiu Ling retracted his hand but not without brushing through Jing He’s hair again. “I guess I was curious or maybe I just felt alone. I had been living on my own for a long time. You remember how I told you last year that I was out in the wilderness for a long time?”
Jing He nodded. “Yes. You seemed to have learned a lot in that time. I … was impressed.” He lowered his head, his cheeks flushing. He seldom praised Qiu Ling out loud like this, even though he often thought such things. Now, it just seemed suitable.
Qiu Ling nodded. “I did. I’m not sure but I guess I made it sound like it was some kind of conscious decision I made. The truth is that I had nowhere to go. My parents were dead and I had no other relatives. It seemed … awkward to return to the capital so I just roamed about, hoping to find … something.
“I sure learned a lot at that time and I don’t regret it but I will admit that the longer I stayed out there, the more I missed having a regular life. I … I was young.” He raised his brows again, finding it hard now to imagine himself like that. “In that time, I became an adult and then I still stayed alone for many, many years, hardly noticing how the years passed by until I finally couldn’t take it any longer.”
Jing He watched his expression and then shifted again until he sat directly next to Qiu Ling. He looked up at the side of his face, his eyes questioning.
Qiu Ling turned to him, slightly surprised that Jing He was getting close on his own. His gaze lowered to the cup that was still held in Jing He’s hands but then he dismissed the thought that had unwittingly come up. No, that couldn’t be. That wine hardly contained any alcohol and Jing He hadn’t even finished the first cup.
Mn, most likely, Jing He was just trying to comfort him still. Yes, that had to be it. Reassuring himself this way, Qiu Ling focused on what he had been saying. “I had been traveling here and there in the recent years and, of course, I would also come by some towns and cities every now and then. At that time, I had arrived further in the north and I could see the silhouette of a well-known city in the distance.
“I hesitated for a long time but finally went there. It was … new. It had been hundreds of years since I last stepped into a place like that. I wasn’t used to being around people anymore and even then, I couldn’t help but stay away. It didn’t help that I had absolutely nothing to my name.”
“Ah?” Jing He blinked his eyes in surprise. He had not expected to hear this but after thinking for a moment, it made sense. “Living away from anyone else, there probably wasn’t a need for much.”
Qiu Ling nodded. “Indeed. At the very least, there was no need for money. The few things I did need, I would trade. And there really wasn’t much. I mean, you’ve also seen that I am able to do a lot of things myself. Food was hunted and a lot of clothes made by myself. At most, I would get some fabric to work with and some thread. As for anything else … I had no need for it.
“Although … I did start hoarding things if I am honest.” He raised his brows and gave Jing He a slightly lost look. “It might sound odd but I think it gave me a sense of security because as long as there was enough I had gathered over time, I would always have something to trade when necessary. Strangely enough, I guess I couldn’t be considered poor even without any money.” He gave a chuckle and drank the rest of the wine in his cup, picking up the flask again. He hesitated after pouring himself one but still raised it toward Jing He. “Do you want some more?”
Jing He hesitated but then still raised his cup to his lips, drinking the rest of the wine before extending his hands toward Qiu Ling so he could fill his cup. Anyway, he didn’t feel drunk and he just wanted for them to continue like this, sharing stories about their past while making new memories for the future.