Jing He would have loved to take a quick glance at his appearance before he went over but his mother already urged him to go and greet him so he only put on the mask and quietly walked behind her.
When they arrived at the waiting room, Qiu Ling was already sitting there with a steaming cup of tea in front of him. He was clad in an ink-black robe, his black hair flowing freely down his back and some strands even hanging down his shoulder in front.
Jing He lightly gaped at his appearance. From the moment he first saw him, he had felt that Longjun was imposing, even a little frightening at first. Later on, he had thought of him as an impressive man whose natural good looks were accentuated by the fact that he knew how to present himself. Now … he suddenly felt that Longjun had always held back.
The dark color set off his strong body with the broad chest and wide shoulders. He seemed dependable and secure but also strangely wild as if one should be careful with their actions or one would get burned.
It made him feel strangely restless to see him like this and he had to lower his head to clear his thoughts.
Qiu Ling looked up at the steps and unwittingly stood up when he saw Jing He enter behind the Heavenly Empress. His gaze was glued to him from the very first moment, taking in the way the robe he had prepared fit him perfectly, hugging his slender body and showing off the best spots through the embroidery and sparkling crystals. Next, he noticed how for the first time, apparently, his beloved’s face was not framed by his long hair. It was just a pity … Just a pity he already wore that mask. While beautiful, it could not compare to his actual face at all.
Bai Fen stood to the side, giving those two the chance to ogle at each other all they wanted. While Longjun wasn’t holding back at all and her son pretended not to have done anything, she had still noticed that quick glance at the beginning and how his eyes always seemed to wander back.
Watching this embarrassing act, Bai Fen almost wanted to laugh out loud. Why was her son so shy? He really was making his own life troublesome! Why couldn’t he just admit that he thought the dragon king was handsome and worth a few more looks? Then he wouldn’t need to sneak around like this and make his actions seem even more suspicious.
She finally cleared her throat to gain the attention of those two lovebirds but only one of them reacted. Bai Fen’s lips twitched but she didn’t bother trying to make Qiu Ling look over as well. As long as her son listened, it would be good enough.
“The festival will start early in the morning. If you go over now, it won’t be as crowded yet so you’ll have the chance to stroll around unhindered. You should use that opportunity.” Also, knowing her husband, he would soon find out that his precious son had left and come to make a fuss. She had to make sure that Jing He was gone by that time or her silly son might have second thoughts again.
“Yes, mother.” Jing He nodded and then turned to Longjun, his gaze complicated. “Longjun …”
“Mn.” Qiu Ling picked up the mask from the table and put it on before stepping closer. He looked Jing He up and down again before reaching out. “You look beautiful.”
Below the mask, Jing He flushed red but he still reached out and took Longjun’s hand.
Qiu Ling pulled him up against his chest, not caring at all that the Heavenly Empress was still standing next to them. “How about I take you over there? It might not be good if we were seen beforehand.”
“That …” Jing He glanced at his mother, embarrassed. How could he let that happen in front of her?
Bai Fen just turned away when she saw her son’s look and opened the door to the courtyard. “Ah, you should leave through the courtyard.” With that, she turned around again and left the room.
Jing He wanted to say something but Qiu Ling already leaned in closer, distracting him.
“This …” Jing He lowered his gaze again before glancing at the courtyard. “I don’t think there’s a gate in the back …”
“Then I guess we’ll have to fly out. Should I …?” He motioned toward Jing He, making him feel even more self-conscious.
Jing He lightly cleared his throat and took a small step back, fleeing from Qiu Ling’s embrace. “I think I can do it on my own.”
“What a pity.”
Jing He glanced up, unable to believe that the dragon king had said that out loud. The man in question didn’t seem bothered by that at all. He just motioned outside and then took Jing He’s hand without asking. Jing He hesitated for a moment but after another look from Qiu Ling, he followed him into the courtyard.
The two of them pushed off the ground, still holding each other’s hands, flew over the roof, and landed outside. Qiu Ling pulled Jing He closer, his fingers brushing over his masked cheek.
Jing He reciprocated his gaze. “What for?”
“For accompanying me today and …” He brushed over the mask that fit Jing He’s face just as well as he had imagined and could not help but smile. “Thank you for accepting my gift. It means a lot to me to see you wearing it.”
Jing He lowered his eyelids, feeling relieved that he had still decided to wear the mask after all. Otherwise, Longjun really would have felt slighted. “It is a given. I can see that a lot of effort has gone into it.”
“Mn.” Qiu Ling continued to look at him, not really able to come up with anything else to say. This was exactly how he had envisioned Jing He to look in that robe and mask. He was still blown away now that he really saw it.
Jing He looked up, his gaze lost. “Longjun?”
Qiu Ling slightly opened his mouth, unsure if he should say what he was thinking. In the end, he still couldn’t come up with anything else, and not speaking up seemed wrong as well. “You’re beautiful.”
Jing He kept quiet, unsure how to react as well.
Qiu Ling gulped and then forcibly pulled his gaze away, turning to look in the other direction. “We should probably go and mingle with everybody else now.”
“Mn.” Jing He followed him, his gaze brushing over his hand that was still held in Qiu Ling’s. It felt warm from his touch, quite comfortable. He knew he should take it back but he couldn’t help but want to indulge once again.
How often had he done this in the past few weeks and months? How had he needed so long to realize that his feelings for this man were different from before? Did he really believe that he would be able to extricate himself from this? Wasn’t he already lost?
Qiu Ling looked over his shoulder, catching a glimpse of Jing He’s gaze that seemed strange but without seeing his face, it was hard to say if he had been interpreting too much into it. He turned back to the front, wondering if he had said anything wrong. He … probably shouldn’t have?
Finally, Jing He sped up his steps until he walked beside this man, the white and black robe brushing against each other. For months now, he had hovered between feeling attracted to this man and denying it to himself to the point where he would almost believe it himself.
What use was there in that? He might as well be honest with himself. Even if it might not work out in the end, he owed himself this much, did he not? And today … At least for today, he could still indulge in it. After all, nobody would recognize them, no? After all, that was what this mask was for.
Yes, for once, he wore an actual mask that might allow him to be free instead of the one he usually used that only confined him. Why should he not make use of that?