Back at his palace, Jing He quietly walked inside. Yi Zan didn’t seem to have returned yet or if he had, then he was outside with Qiang Wei, keeping watch over there. Jing He didn’t think too much about it. Either way, he was happy to be alone. The only company he would have liked right now was Qiu Ling.
He put An Xin down on the table and walked to the window with a sigh. He didn’t open it. If he did, he would probably alarm the guards outside. He really would have liked to be able to look up at the sky though.
Soon, it should turn dark and the stars would light up the world. He liked that time and maybe it would have helped him calm down as well. Now, he could only find another way to pass the time until Qiu Ling came to see him.
He hesitated for a while and then walked over to his study. Just as he had done before his trial, he kept the doors in his palace open, making it feel more spacious. It also allowed him to keep an eye on the door to the garden. If Qiu Ling came in, he would see him at once.
The little flame heart noticed that he left. It lay on the table for a moment, its tail swishing from side to side. Finally, it jumped down onto one of the chairs, further down to the ground, and then hastily followed him over.
Jing He stopped in his steps and bend down, picking An Xin up again. “You don’t want to be alone?” He rubbed its head and smiled faintly. “Well, me neither. But I’m afraid I’ll still have to wait until he comes to see me. Most likely, it won’t happen today.” He sighed again and then put An Xin on top of the brazier, igniting it so the little flame heart would have it warmer. “Well, let’s wait patiently. Tomorrow is another day.”
He sat down at his desk and took out a scroll of paper, ground some ink, and finally picked up a brush. Dipping the tip into the ink, he slowly started to paint, the black lines flowing together to form the likeness of a handsome face.
Jing He stared blankly at those eyes, feeling as if he could see the real gaze that had often caught his behind them. So many years had passed since he met Qiu Ling for the first time. By now, he couldn’t be more familiar with this man. If he wanted to, he could probably paint him in a hundred different ways and there would still be gestures or emotions he knew that hadn’t been pinned on paper yet.
Jing He put the brush aside and waited for the ink to dry before he picked up the scroll. He missed him. It might sound odd, considering that to him, it felt as if he had merely fallen asleep that afternoon and then woken up minutes later. By now, only a few hours seemed to have passed. And yet, he longed to look into Qiu Ling’s eyes, to maybe fall into his embrace even if it was only for a moment. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible.
He reached up, his fingers brushing over the painted cheek in a way he would never dare to do in real life. “Just what happened really on that battlefield? Who did you lose? How … how are you doing now?” He would have liked to get an answer but just like touching the real him, it simply wasn’t possible. Not now, at least. But in the future …
Jing He lowered the scroll of paper and looked at the door to the garden on the other side of the palace instead. He really would have liked to see Qiu Ling. Not just to put his own mind at ease but also to maybe just … be there for him. If they could talk about this and he could maybe say a few words of comfort … would that not help? He sighed again and put the scroll down again, getting to his feet.
As soon as Jing He stood, the little flame heart raised its head, looking at him curiously.
Jing He smiled and picked the scroll up again, showing the painting to An Xin. “You might know since he was the one who brought you here but this is the person I am waiting for.”
An Xin stared at the scroll and its eyes narrowed. It really didn’t like that person. It thought for a bit and the fur around its snout crinkled. Finally, it sneezed a tiny fireball at the scroll.
Jing He stared blankly as his painting went up in flames and hurriedly threw it into the brazier before the fire could touch his skin. His gaze, as he looked at the flame heart, was helpless. “I guess I see what my father meant earlier.” He shook his head but didn’t say more.
Anyway, he would have burned it himself. He couldn’t let this lie around in his palace after all in case his father came and found it and he would feel guilty for carrying such an obvious painting of Qiu Ling in a spatial ring or bracelet. Maybe in the future, that type of thing could be done but certainly not now.
He stepped to the side and opened the window a crack, looking up at the sky that had indeed turned dark by now. After closing it again, he looked at An Xin. “It’s time to sleep. Do you want to come along?”
The little flame heart rolled on the flames of the brazier, extinguishing them, and then got to its feet, clearly waiting for Jing He to pick it up.
Jing He reached out but then hesitated. Finally, he went to get a rag before he carefully picked An Xin up. “I’ll have to be careful with you. Otherwise, I’ll have those soot marks all over me. In the future, we’ll have to pay more attention to that.”
With that, he carried An Xin back to the chest he had prepared earlier in the day and took off his outer robe. He couldn’t help but glance at the door to the garden once again, still hoping that Qiu Ling might come. In the end, he could only slip into bed though, trying not to think too much.