Jing He didn’t know what to say or what to do with his hands. Even figuring out what he thought about this was hard enough. As a result, he could only continue to gaze at Qiu Ling in the mirror, wondering absentmindedly if all of this might just be a dream. It couldn’t be real, could it?
Qiu Ling slowly smiled and then leaned down, their cheeks almost touching. “I’m done. You look … especially stunning today. Or maybe it’s that I’m even more in love with you today than I was yesterday so I can’t help but feel that you are even more breathtaking.”
Jing He’s breath hitched. He wanted to turn to look at Qiu Ling but with how close he already was, he was afraid of accidentally touching him. He didn’t want to seem like he had done it on purpose, after all.
Qiu Ling slowly raised his brows and then tilted his head, his breath brushing over Jing He’s cheek. “You know, with our outing yesterday having been cut short, I was thinking we could do something else tomorrow. No wine involved this time, I promise! So, what do you think?”
Jing He lowered his head, his heart racing in his chest. “That … sounds like a lovely idea.” Although he wasn’t sure if he would be able to take it if this was how Qiu Ling would behave. Why did he feel like he was suddenly even more … daring than usually? Really, had it always been like this? Right now, he had trouble figuring it out.
Qiu Ling gave a hum. “Good. I’ve already planned it all so you just need to get up in time so we can be on our way. It’ll have to be a bit earlier though.”
Jing He finally dared to raise his head again but still didn’t look at Qiu Ling’s face, instead looking down at the hand that was resting on the edge of the dressing table. “Earlier?”
“Mn. I hope you won’t mind.”
Jing He shook his head but he was unsure what exactly to make of that. “How much earlier may I expect your visit then?”
Qiu Ling kept quiet for a moment before reaching up and brushing through Jing He’s hair. “Well, if it’s alright with you, then I’ll come and get you while it is still dark. Maybe an hour or two before sunrise?”
At this, Jing He finally raised his gaze as well, trying to gauge Qiu Ling’s expression. It seemed … rather neutral as if there were no deeper thoughts behind this invitation. For Jing He though, this was something he couldn’t easily decide on. Even if these were officially the early morning hours, it would still look like they were meeting up at night. For what reason would they do that? Surely, if anybody knew, they would feel that there could only be some … unsavory things going on.
“That early …” He didn’t think it was a good idea but he couldn’t bring himself to say no either. Not to mention … Heaven help him but he wanted to know what Qiu Ling had planned and if it included something that others may not know about, he wasn’t sure if he could say no to that either.
Qiu Ling looked at him, not sure what Jing He was thinking. After looking at him, he had already lowered his head again, masking his gaze and the emotions contained in it. “Too early? Well, I suppose we could also meet up later but then we’d need to stay out longer as well. Would it be alright to return after it turned dark outside?”
They had done that before so he felt like it shouldn’t be too outrageous. But then again, the Heavenly Emperor had thrown a fit after it happened the last time, and … well, he didn’t want for that to happen again. And neither would Jing He, most likely.
Jing He indeed couldn’t help but worry about the fallout of doing that. Either way, his father was one part but there were also other people. As long as they were seen together at such a time, it would have an impact for sure. If they weren’t though … “Have you decided where to go yet?”
Qiu Ling nodded and reached out, taking Jing He’s left hand into his. “There is a beautiful spot just a few li outside the city. I would like to take you there.”
“Outside the city …” So they would have to pass through the city to get there unless it was close to his own palace.
Qiu Ling nodded. “Yes. I thought that would be perfect for making up for yesterday. So, which one should it be? The morning or the evening? Personally, I’d suggest going early on. That … doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that I want to see you again as soon as possible and is just based on which timing would make for the most beautiful scenery, of course.” He gave his beloved a look that strongly suggested that that was nonsense.
Jing He caught that gaze and felt compelled to nod. “Alright.” He knew he shouldn’t but being faced with a question that only left two options and then the dragon king’s insistence … he told himself that he couldn’t very well refuse.
Of course, he knew that this reason was simply a pretense. He wanted this and he was being willful when he accepted it. There was nothing more to it. But as long as he was able to find even just one justification he could give as to why he was doing this other than because of his feelings for Qiu Ling, then that was enough.
Qiu Ling’s lips curved up and he gave a satisfied hum. “Good. Then I’ll come and get you tonight. Don’t worry about preparing anything. I’ll bring everything that is necessary just like yesterday.” He looked his beloved up and down and then reached out, grabbing onto the hem of his sleeve and rubbing the fabric. “Well, maybe you’d like to consider what to wear upfront. It’ll still be a bit colder at night so wearing an extra layer might be good.”
Jing He looked at him, not sure what to make of that. Qiu Ling was a dragon and he was a god. Did they really need to worry about the weather? He still nodded though as if he hadn’t noticed. “I will do that then.”
Qiu Ling gave another hum while he continued to hold onto his sleeve, rubbing it absentmindedly. “Of course, you could also leave that extra layer be and shrink into my arms when you get cold. I’d gladly warm you up with my own body heat.”
Jing He stared blankly at him in response. Today … Qiu Ling seemed different. Of course, he was usually flirting with him. He had dialed it back slightly over the past year — probably because he had been afraid to overstimulate him — but this had never stopped since the day they met. He had never been this aggressive in making his feelings known though.
Jing He lowered his gaze and finally couldn’t help but speak up. “Did I really not say anything wrong yesterday?” This was the only explanation he could find. If he had behaved indecently, maybe that had emboldened Qiu Ling?
Qiu Ling faintly raised a brow but then caught on when he saw how Jing He once again flushed in embarrassment. He lightly shook his head and then switched from rubbing his sleeve to holding his right hand as well. “Nothing of the like. You only asked me to tell you stories from my youth. Ah, it can sure make a man feel old to think of the far past.”
Jing He observed his expression but wasn’t sure what to make of it. Was he joking or was he being serious? Sometimes, it was hard to tell.
Qiu Ling leaned down until their faces were only a few fingers’ widths apart. “You actually fell asleep in the middle. So maybe my storytelling isn’t very interesting.”
“No, that’s not it!” Jing He hurriedly shook his head. In fact, he wasn’t completely clear on the last minutes before he dozed off but he was sure that it couldn’t have been that. He loved listening to Qiu Ling telling him more about himself.
Qiu Ling chuckled. “Yes, I didn’t think so either. Anyway, as I said before: You really were cute. That was … a side I hadn’t seen of you before. I am happy to have finally gotten the opportunity. It sure makes me want to explore further though.”
Jing He unwittingly lowered his eyelids, his gaze somehow landing on Qiu Ling’s lips while trying to evade his gaze. His heart beat faster once again and he gulped, trying to get rid of that restless feeling. Unfortunately, with the man he loved holding his hands and standing this close, there was simply no way for him to calm down. Especially not when he continuously whispered such words to him.