Qiu Ling felt apprehensive when he rushed to the Nine Heavens the next morning before it had even dawned. He knew that he had overstepped yesterday and while he had left before Jing He could refuse his next visit, he wasn’t sure if his beloved would have calmed down by now. Maybe by the time he appeared in front of his door, Jing He would decisively send him on his way again.
Just thinking of that, he gulped. He wasn’t afraid of anything more than this: to be rejected by the person he loved, to not be given the chance to prove to him that he was worthy of him.
All these years, he had worked tirelessly, using his charm, using some calculation, and even some underhanded tricks to get Jing He to like him back bit by bit. He had made progress but he also knew that he had always been on thin ice. From one moment to the next, it could all be over.
He arrived at the capital of the Nine Heavens and slowed down for a moment, his heart beating madly as he made the rest of his way over to Jing He’s palace. He stopped in front of the door to the garden as usual but then hesitated.
He had overstepped more than once but yesterday, Jing He had reacted somewhat differently. He hadn’t chastised him much, only weakly protested at first, but then asked him to leave, even seeming as if he wanted to protest future visits. That absolutely wasn’t the outcome he wanted to see.
Qiu Ling turned around and looked over the garden that Jing He meticulously took care of and the pavilion where they had often sat in the days when they just got to know each other. Nowadays, they were inside more often, maybe because Jing He was afraid to have those outrageous things be seen or heard by others.
Thinking about it now, Jing He was all about appearances. But unlike him who was hiding his true self from others for fear of being ostracized, Jing He … well, he wasn’t entirely sure, to be honest. It was likely a mixture of wanting to do what his parents wanted and following the expectations his people put on him that he had turned into his own expectations over time. He hated not being up to par.
But their whole relationship went against that. So often in the past, their behavior had passed those bounds, and Jing He was bound to feel conflicted about that. In fact, his breakdown in the previous year had likely also been because of that even if he wouldn’t say that out loud.
Naturally, Qiu Ling was worried about causing such a situation again. He loved Jing He. Even if he had gone against his wishes in the past, he also wanted him to be free of worry. If he could do something to make him feel more comfortable with this … he would do it, yes. Even if it slowed down their progress again, he would do it.
He closed his eyes and made up his resolve before finally knocking on the door. For his beloved, he could wait. A day, a year, a millennium, if need be, he could give all of that time to him as long as he was able to win him over in the end.
Inside, Jing He turned toward the door, his lips parting but no sound coming from his throat. He had gotten up early, remembering Qiu Ling’s words from the previous day but he wasn’t sure how to face him.
What expression had he made yesterday as Qiu Ling kissed him? He didn’t know. And this ignorance scared him. What if it had been unsightly? What if — maybe even deep down only — Qiu Ling judged him for it? What if in the future, he would come to consider him easy because of this?
Now, it was almost the middle of the night still and Qiu Ling was knocking on the door. How could he simply answer? How could he let him in at such a time? It would absolutely look like an invitation to a tryst.
Outside, Qiu Ling looked at the door with a complicated expression. He didn’t know for sure whether Jing He was up but, honestly, he expected him to be. He was the type of person who would have sent a message at least if he truly didn’t dare to meet him today.
Unfortunately, that knowledge was useless right now. He couldn’t force him to come out and there were still two guards on the other side of the palace. If he started to talk, they would hear and he didn’t think that Jing He would appreciate them hearing any of the things he currently had to say.
Qiu Ling hesitated and finally simply knocked again. Surely, Jing He would open sooner or later. In the worst case, he’d simply stand here until sunrise.
Jing He got to his feet at that knock. After another moment of hesitation, he slowly walked over, taking one step after the other, questioning his own morals with each of them. Finally, he still reached the door and opened it, his gaze directly meeting Qiu Ling’s.
He was so familiar with this man, he knew instinctively where to look to catch his eyes. He also knew that if he were to stumble, he would securely land in those strong arms and be pressed up against that muscular chest. Right now, he really would have liked that. Surely, that would have made the chaotic thoughts in his mind stop or calm down at least. After all, Qiu Ling usually had that kind of effect on him. In his arms, he had always felt secure.
Qiu Ling had no idea what was going through his mind but seeing Jing He’s careful look, he knew that he needed to think thrice about his next step. He hesitated for a moment but then stepped closer, passing the doorstep as he did.
There was hardly a gap between their bodies but neither of them pulled back. Jing He simply looked up at Qiu Ling, waiting for what was to come, while Qiu Ling scrutinized his expression for any hints.
When he found nothing, Qiu Ling followed the plan he had just come up with. “I’m sorry about yesterday. I hope our outing today is still on despite that?” He held up his hand, hoping that Jing He would put his on top.
Jing He glanced at that hand before looking back up at Qiu Ling. He didn’t know what to say but he still couldn’t see any traces of derision so he finally reached up.
His fingers fit snugly against Qiu Ling’s and the dragon king closed his hand around them, gently brushing them with his thumb.
“It isn’t that far so you do not need to worry. Now, shall I lead the way?” Usually, he would have offered to carry him but right now, he was afraid to overdo it. No, for now, it was better to play it safe.
Jing He noticed and worried a little but he still nodded in the end.
Qiu Ling gave a hum before he turned, pushing off the ground and flying in the other direction from where they had gone yesterday.
He gave no indication as to where they were going so Jing He could only quietly close the door behind them and follow him, his gaze glued to the figure of the man ahead of him.