“Jealous? Me? Hah!” Ningguang guffaws at the ridiculous remark Beidou throws at her. She takes a short puff of her pipe and blows it towards the captain’s direction, purposely causing her to back away from the smoke.
“Come on, Ning. It’s literally written all over ya’ face. J-E-A-L-O-U-S-Y.” Beidou snickers as she puts a finger up and writes down the letters carefully in a way that just causes Ningguang to become even more annoyed.
It feels like each letter is a pin that has been stuck on her head, stabbing her inflated pride.
“As much as I don’t mind you being a fool around my presence, this is just nonsense talk.” Ningguang shakes her head as she leans her hip against the edge of her desk. As calm as she tries to be, she slowly taps out the ashes on the small tray.
“Hey! I may not be the sharpest person around here but I ain’t that dumb! This is Yelan and Keqing we’re talking about!”
“Can you please watch your mouth? You bark like a damn mutt with that volume of your voice.” Ningguang clicks her tongue and receives a cheeky eye roll from the captain.
“Oh, don’t ya’ dare just avoid the topic with ya’ nasty insults, Tianquan. I can see through ya’ with my single eye!” Beidou points at her own eye with a big grin. Ningguang turns red, not out of embarrassment, but because she is really about to explode and smack the damn pirate away with her pipe.
But she knows Beidou will continue to berate her until she breaks. It’s useless to fight against the energetic captain when it’s almost the end of the day and she longs for the silky, soft sheets of her bed. But not yet as she still needs to entertain the rambunctious Beidou. After all, it’s been a few months since they have seen each other.
“Fine. Maybe I am. And so what? Why is that of any importance to you?” Ningguang hisses at her with an irritated stare. Much to her dismay, Beidou bursts out of laughter and starts smacking the arm of the chair she is sitting on.
“No fucking way! The great Eminence herself, the Tianquan, is a goddamn fool in love!” Beidou chortles as she holds her stomach with one arm and leans her head down, trying to take deep breaths from her belly laugh. Ningguang feels her face become hotter than the Sumeru heat.
She already wants to bury herself a hundred feet under along with her precious Jade Chamber.
“Answer the question, Beidou! I don’t have time for your bullshit.” Ningguang allows herself to let loose and cuss at her beloved friend. There won’t be anyone nearby that will catch her temper getting out of control.
Even if someone does, it’s just going to be one of her assistants and they know to keep their mouth shut.
“I-I’m so sorry, Ning! It’s just… hoo-wow! I never laughed that hard in a long while!” Beidou catches her breath and tries to hold in her laughter. Ningguang can already see from her twitching smiling lips that she really wants to tease the living hell out of her predicament.
But Beidou decides to be a decent human being for once and spares her.
“No shame in that, Ning! I mean, it just confirms that ya’ actually feel human emotions-“
“ Beidou .” Ningguang cuts in like a razor sharp blade, impatient and tired of Beidou. To be honest, she is really not in the mood to fire back so she will have to tolerate this losing game for tonight. Just this once.
“Okay, fine! But seriously, what got ya’ panties all bunched up? Yelan is ya’ close friend, no? Surely she is just being friendly with the Yuheng.” Despite the crass words, Beidou questions with genuine concern that catches the Tianquan off-guard. She stays silent, flipping through her disordered thoughts to say the most appropriate answer.
But that is a good question. Why is she acting like this? Is it because Yelan is her ex girlfriend and seeing her be friendly with another woman shows she has not moved on?
Ningguang almost laughs at the illogical thought. That’s just impossible since she has seen Yelan flirt with other women but Ningguang didn’t care. In fact, she encouraged her friend to find someone good for her.
So is it the Yuheng then? Is that where her irrational feelings lie? Is it really Keqing that is causing her to act like a petulant child?
Ningguang’s face becomes even redder than usual and she actually has to put her pipe down and summon her fan instead. Beidou catches sight of her flustered state, failing to hide a smirk when she watches her fanning her face.
“Well? Mora for ya’ thoughts?” Beidou leans her elbows against her knees and rubs her chin. Ningguang only gives her a glare.
“Yes, I know and trust Yelan to not do anything. But… she isn’t just being friendly with the Yuheng, Captain. She’s been following her around like a lost dog.” Ningguang huffs out as she starts pacing back and forth in front of her desk.
“Good Archons, what's with ya’ and comparin’’ people to dogs?” Beidou whispers under her breath and thankfully, Ningguang didn’t hear it as she is too busy dealing with her rampant emotions.
“But surely you must be misunderstandin’ it? Why don’t ya’ stop makin’ speculations and ask them directly-”
“Absolutely not. I don’t want to come off nosy.” Ningguang says through gritted teeth.
“Oh please, being nosy is basically ya’ thing! Come on, just be normal and do it.” Beidou snorts when she sees the defeated look on her face. A rare sight to witness. She can brag about winning an argument against Ningguang another time. Ningguang looks like she is about to scurry away and hide away forever from how embarrassed she is acting.
“I suppose you’re right.” Ningguang rubs her temple and lets out a quiet sigh.
“Good! Now that’s settled, let’s go visit Xinyue Kiosk. I’ve heard of this new item on their menu.” Beidou stands up and pulls out a paper slip of an advertisement.
Ningguang releases a short laugh and shakes her head.
“I’ll pass this time, Captain. I need my beauty sleep.”
The next day comes and the stubborn, buzzing feeling is still stuck in her heart. It seems to worsen when she sees Yelan visit the Yuehai Pavilion with a bag in hand. Usually, she will be happy to see her friend come home to the harbour in a healthy state rather than all bloodied up and smiling brightly. Just the thought of that state of Yelan sends a shiver down her spine.
But she knows why she is here. Yelan rarely brings gifts to anyone and even if she does, she doesn’t do it personally and sends one of her subordinates to do it for her. That’s because the agent likes to surprise people with the unexpected, just like how she enjoys it as well.
“Oh greetings, Lady Ningguang.” Yelan automatically bows and Ningguang only nods her head at her.
Of course, they may be close friends but they always try to keep the formalities and a respectable distance between each other. It would do no good for Yelan to receive too much attention for being one of the Tianquan’s friends, given how secretive and enigmatic Yelan wishes to be. Besides, it's just basic manners to regard Ningguang as someone of great importance.
“What brings you here? Are you here to report something?” Ningguang walks side by side with her and enters the building. They see fellow employees greet them with reverence and Ningguang only gives them a tight smile.
“Nothing to report, my Lady. I’m simply here to have a meeting with the Yuheng.” Again? Ningguang bites down the sassy word from shooting out of her tingly lips. She can’t help feeling slightly irked about it when this is literally her third time meeting Keqing in one week!
Instead, she only hums and carefully observes Yelan’s face. Of course, she is unable to read her stoic expression. As expected of the intelligence officer, that poker face just comes on naturally. But she wants to see if she can pick up any micro expressions. It can be either a twitch of her mouth or a change in those emerald eyes, Ningguang can spot them with a keen eye.
“Well, you two seem to be getting along well. Do you mind sharing with me what your business is with her?” Ningguang knows Yelan will spill anything to her if she asks, whether they are relevant intel or not. She doesn’t even need to demand it because she knows Yelan has no choice but to accept the Tianquan’s reque-
“My apologies. I’m afraid I cannot share any details about my client’s business with me. I hope you understand, Lady Ningguang.” Yelan’s words struck her like a cold splash of water. She stops dead in her tracks and looks incredulously at the agent. Yelan stops walking as well and looks back at her friend with an innocent tilt of her head.
“Pardon?” Ningguang is stunned and Yelan only blinks at her, equally(?) confused.
Even when Yelan is talking with the other Qixing members, she always informs Ningguang about it. Especially with the whole Tianshu fiasco that happened recently, Ningguang ordered Yelan to keep a close watch on any of the Qixing employees and their close circles. It may be a breach of privacy to them but to Ningguang, it is for the sake of the new Liyue they strive to achieve, fully knowing her friends and her enemies in detail has always been her forte.
She remembers Keqing’s disdain for it as she expressed how “distrustful” she is of her colleagues. But Ningguang fired back with a response:
“Do you think you have the right to criticise me when you don’t trust your own secretaries to pick up your work? Isn’t that counterproductive to your work as a Yuheng? You really should rely on people more.”
And Keqing only glared at her before marching off.
“I usually tell you but Keq- Lady Keqing said I must keep this a private matter from anyone, even from you.” Yelan sends an apologetic smile that doesn’t reach her eyes. Ningguang squints at her, curiousity and annoyance sparking in her chest.
Not only did her words unsettled her, that slip up causes her to feel suspicious of Yelan’s intentions. How close are they that they dropped formalities with each other?
Additionally, it is unlike Yelan to cause a mistake, knowing how eloquent and wise she is. Her jealousy that has been slowly festering in her heart before suddenly bursts painfully.
“Alright then.” Ningguang sounds rigid and restrained that she is sure Yelan easily picks it up. But she doesn’t make a comment about it and only shoots her a polite smile.
They stop in front of the Yuheng’s office and while Ningguang bids her farewell, she doesn’t actually leave them be and begins to entertain the other employees nearby. She orders them to let her stay with them and talk as if she isn’t there, but that’s obviously difficult when they are in the presence of their boss.
Yelan may be an expert at eavesdropping from conducting covert operations, but even Ningguang is an expert herself.
She sees Yelan knock on the door and not even a few seconds passed before Keqing opened the door. Ningguang’s brow twitches at the bright smile on the Yuheng’s face.
Why are you so enthusiastic to see her? You never look at me that way. Ningguang hides the frown behind her fan as she makes a sidelong glance at them.
“Yelan. You’re as punctual as usual.” Keqing closes the door behind her and crosses her arms. An easy smile stretches her lips and Ningguang feels so fucking envious that it isn’t directed at her.
“Of course. Wouldn’t want to waste your time, knowing how much you hate that.” Yelan seems too casual and too knowledgeable about Keqing. That shouldn’t be surprising since Yelan keeps tabs on everyone, even on Keqing and Ganyu, and knows how to handle them.
But Keqing chuckles . Is she kidding? She fucking chuckles at her words when there isn’t even anything funny about it! Ningguang knows that Keqing is not one to laugh or allow herself to relax during work hours. She usually gets straight to work with her relentless and cold nature, not wanting to waste time with frivolities.
Ningguang shakes her head (unknowingly startling the employees around her) as she realises she may be overthinking this. Maybe she is thinking too hard and being too unreasonable. She has to gather more intel about this. Clearly, Beidou’s advice didn’t work at all.
“I brought your favourite, Lady Keqing. Let's go eat at Yuehai Pavilion while we talk business.”
“Good idea.” Keqing nods before they start walking away from Ningguang’s vicinity.
Once they turn the corner of the corridor, she excuses herself and quickly follows them.
As silly as she is about this trivial matter, she cannot ignore this problem. Sure, she may have important things to do like signing papers as always and sitting in her Jade Chamber, drinking tea and chatting with her secretaries. But this is way more important than her duty as the Tianquan.
She has already ordered her secretaries to pick up her work for today. Thankfully, she didn’t have any appointments so she is not really needed.
Therefore, she has put a lot of effort in this mission she has put herself on. She is actually wearing a disguise that her secretaries helped her on. To cover her signature silk white hair, she wears a wig with short, black hair and brown contacts to hide her scarlet eyes. She even removed her makeup to get rid of her fierce look. When she looked at the mirror, she was quite satisfied with how she looked as she adorned a simple Liyuean clothing. She had to make sure to wear stockings as well to hide that glaring red tattoo.
So yes, she has put an unnecessary amount of effort into this but her shame already flew out the window long ago when it got replaced with that green feeling.
But if anyone ever finds out, especially Yelan and Keqing, she might have to file for early retirement and disappear off of the face of Teyvat.
She spots Yelan and Keqing at the Yuehai Pavilion, sitting at a table and enjoying their lunch. While Ningguang busies herself with a garden near their table, holding a watering can in hand, she notices that the food Yelan brought are none other than Golden Shrimp Balls.
Of course it is! Why would I expect anything else? Ningguang rolls her eyes and adjusts her glasses. Either Yelan researched about her favourite food beforehand or-
“I see that your taste has not changed at all since we were children, Lady Keqing.” Yelan winks at her and sips her tea, legs crossed and elbows propped up on the table.
Are they childhood friends? I never heard of that intel before.
“Oh, yeah. Of course it didn’t. These are too delicious to not let go.” Keqing picks up a piece with her chopstick and waves it around in front of her. Yelan chuckles and looks down at her own plate. Except the only difference is that it has chilli flakes sprinkled on it.
“How spicy is that?” Keqing raises a brow before she takes a bite on her shrimp ball. Yelan puts her cup down and looks at her plate with delight.
“Very. Strong enough to burn your tongue off.” Yelan laughs when Keqing scrunches her nose at her. They seem close enough to make jokes.
Is this really about business? Ningguang’s head is buzzing with annoyance. She looks back at the silk flowers and realises she has watered them too much. She sighs at the thought of herself getting worked up over this.
“Oh Keqing. Stay still for me, dear .” Ningguang whips her head back with widened eyes upon hearing the sweet title and spots Yelan reaching out with her gloved hand. Keqing does as she says and jolts when she wipes off the crumbs from the corner of her lip with her thumb.
What Yelan does next almost causes Ningguang to snap when she brings up that very same thumb and licks off the crumb. But Keqing doesn’t seem fazed by this and continues eating.
Ningguang almost abandoned her undercover mission when the thought of marching to them to tell Yelan to get her hands off of her Yuheng invaded her mind. She tries to stay calm, breathing slowly through her nose before exhaling it out.
Archons above, Ningguang. Just relax. Yelan is just like that. Keqing didn’t even react so maybe it’s just nothing…. Maybe.
“So have you ordered them? The one I told you about?” Keqing’s voice immediately dampens the lighthearted atmosphere, one that Ningguang recognizes as her business voice. It eases her nerves slightly to hear something familiar for once.
“Of course. I must say, Lady Yuheng, you have good taste in such things. It’s truly one of a kind. Can you spare some intel where you found it?” Of course, Yelan is always willing to learn anything new. Ningguang furrows her brows at their cryptic words.
“Well, since you helped me with this. I suppose I can share it with you.” Keqing beckons Yelan closer and the older woman turns her head. Keqing covers her mouth and whispers. Ningguang sees a look of amusement twinkling in her emerald eyes.
“Oh my! No wonder it had an exquisite visual to it.” Yelan nods her head and leans back on her seat. Keqing only nods her head, a flush of red colouring her cheeks.
“Y-yeah. Again, thank you for helping. This means a lot.” Keqing smiles at her, all golden and cheerful that it surprises Ningguang for the umpteenth time. The sunlight hits her rosy cheeks just right and the summer breeze brushes her bangs away softly like a tender hand.
Keqing is magnificent when she smiles. Ningguang catches herself being enamoured by her beauty that it takes a second for her to snap out of it.
Right. Flowers. Focus.
When she turns around to check in the flowers, she is surprised to see someone she should have expected to come.
Ganyu walks up to the garden patch she is tending to and crouches to smell the bush of red.
“So nice.” Ganyu sighs softly before staring up at Ningguang, who realises she is still in disguise and has prepared for a fake name.
But then words die out when she realises her voice is too recognizable and Ganyu is too intelligent to not notice that.
“Are you a new worker here?” Ningguang nods, biting her lips and fiddling with the watering can.
“Oh my. I didn’t see any file about a recent application that passed through me. Our last hire in the Pavilion was like three months ago and I talked to him. Are you sure you’re a new hire here? Are you a gardener? One of Madame Ping’s helpers? Or perhaps you are a-“
“Ganyu.” Ningguang finally interrupts and that stern voice causes the adeptus to jump.
“Shh!” Ningguang grabs her shoulder and covers her mouth. She looks over to Yelan and Keqing, seeing that they are too busy laughing about something. She feels the tightness in her chest release.
“Don’t say anything. Forget that I was here and I’ll give you an explanation.” After receiving an eager nod, Ningguang pulls away from the secretary and apologises.
“So… is there a reason why you’re wearing an interesting getup, miss?” Ganyu regards her with her sunset eyes, scanning her appearance with a small smile. Ningguang can tell that she is dying to giggle at her boss, usually showered with gold and jewellery, looking like a commoner.
“Let’s just say I’m here to spy on someone. But I cannot say anything more.”
“I assume you’re watching those two.” Ganyu looks over her shoulder. Ningguang sighs again. Of course, she can’t hide anything from her.
“Please Ganyu, if you tell anyone-“
“I won’t! You have my word. We can even sign a contract about this.” Ganyu flashes a reassuring smile and Ningguang knows she will keep her word. She just doesn’t want to keep this interaction going any longer or else suspicion will rise, wondering what the esteemed secretary is doing with a random person.
Even Ganyu is not immune to fame, as her status as an adeptus and the Qixing’s secretary.
“No need. Now please excuse me.” Ningguang abruptly says as she glances back at the table and sees the pair leaving.
“Of course! Uhm.. uh- Have fun spying- and she’s gone.” Ganyu awkwardly waves the disguised Tianquan, watching her tail Yelan and Keqing.
I may not be an expert but… she’s quite terrible at hiding.
They stop at Mingxing Jewellery and while it isn’t surprising to see Keqing stop there to do some shopping, Yelan seems way more touchy with her than before.
And perhaps the Yuheng is playing dumb or just that oblivious, but she is not fazed by it at all. And that only infuriates the Tianquan ever further.
As she stands at the red staircase right beside the store and peeks her head from the corner, she sees the agent brushing arms with the Yuheng. Yelan leans against her shoulder, hushed whispers and chuckles irritate her heated ears.
“This colour looks good on you, Lady Keqing.” Yelan picks up something that Ningguang can’t quite catch but she assumes it is an earring as she presents it to Keqing’s ear.
“Oh, really? Ningguang also said the same thing.” The mention of her name almost causes her to slip from a step. But she braces herself against the wall and keeps herself composed.
“Oh my. I suppose great minds think alike then.” Yelan boasts as she places the accessory on Keqing’s hand.
“Wow, I see that your ego is still intact. I remember how much you bragged about you getting ahead of me in your studies.” Keqing shakes her head but an adorable smile stretches her lips. Ningguang feels the stubborn emotion intensifies again. Archons, she really is jealous.
“You also have an ego yourself, Lady Keqing. Still working yourself to the bone?”
“Oh please, I am working on it. I don’t need you as well to nag me.”
“I am not nagging! I am simply expressing concern.”
And so they fall into endless bickering while they browse through the items. Ningguang continues to observe, learning of their friendship from childhood and how they just started catching up with each other recently. It is nice to see the heartwarming interaction, it still bothers her that Yelan never mentioned her close relation with the Yuheng before.
Did she purposely hide it from her or did she forget about it? Yelan isn’t one to forget things easily so she has no other choice but to think the latter.
“Oh right, we completely forgot why we came here in the first place.” Keqing immediately tries to fish something out of her pocket and hands out a sack of mora to the owner Xingxi. They exchange knowing looks before Xingxi brings out a tiny red box with a golden sigil engraved on the cover and hands it out.
Curious. She wonders about the great importance of this mystery item.
“I must say, you have spent a lot of mora on this.” Xingxi emphasises as she taps the sack of mora with her palm.
“Of course. It was imported from Fontaine and I was correct to trust you all with the delivery.” Keqing opens the box and a wide smile stretches her lips, red flush covering her cheeks. Yelan also nods as they admire the item inside.
“Wonderful. It seems to be in peak condition. Well, I suppose my job here is done.” Yelan pats Keqing’s head with a grin and wink, causing Keqing to blush and nod meekly. Ningguang clenches her fist and glares at the agent.
“Yes, we are done with our meeting. You may go now. Aren’t you busy yourself?” Keqing walks away from the shop with Yelan.
“Yes but I don’t mind taking some work off to help a friend out. I hope whoever receives this gift will be delighted.”
Ningguang isn’t even focusing on the conversation anymore when Yelan continues to pat her hair before sliding her gloved fingers down to tenderly combing through her pigtails. She is seething at this point. She is so close to interrupting them and ripping her Yuheng away from Yelan’s affectionate hands. She recognises that flirty disposition. The way Yelan looks at her with curious sharp eyes and slight smirk. The way her hand doesn’t want to stop touching the Yuheng.
A squeeze on her shoulder before her palm runs down her bicep and draws a single finger on the hard skin. Then Ningguang’s breath hitches when Yelan takes her hand and squeezes it tightly.
It’s too intimate. She is being too affectionate with her. Ningguang bristles with magma hot anger, knuckles turning white and her jaw tightening as irrationality takes a suffocating hold of her consciousness.
“Please, take care of her .” Ningguang furrows her brows at Yelan’s words, trying to figure out what she is talking about. Who is being gifted? Why are they being serious about this?
“I will. I promise you that.” Keqing firmly says with confidence and finality that it surprises the agent. But she breaks out of it in a second and laughs at her serious friend.
“I have no doubt about it. I will see you next time, Lady Keqing.” Yelan bows her head and waves her hand as she walks away in a nonchalant fashion. Keqing thanks Yelan again before she swiftly runs back to the direction of the Yuijing Terrace.
Ningguang shakes her head and turns away from the sight. The image of her Yuheng’s blushing face is ingrained in her mind like a tattoo. When she is about to leave, she feels a hand grip her shoulder and pull her back.
“And who might you be, stranger? I noticed you have been following us since this early afternoon back at Yuehai Pavilion. Don’t think I didn’t see you making a friendly chat with the General Secretary.” Yelan’s graceful yet cold voice causes her to freeze up on her tracks.
Shit! My cover is blown. Ningguang attempts to even out her breathing and turn her face away from the agent. Yelan tries to lean her neck forward and take a closer look. But Ningguang’s lack of compliance is probably only making her raise more suspicions.
“Come on now, show yourself Ning. I know that’s you.” Yelan sounds exasperated as if she has known this secret for a long time. Wait… Yelan knew all along??
Ningguang jerks her head around and stares back at the agent with a dumbfounded expression. Yelan only smirks at her and teases the artificial strands of the wig with her fingers.
“You have some explaining to do, my Lady. Did I not tell you that this was supposed to be a secret?” Yelan’s dangerous eyes pierces her own and she almost shivers at the sight. But as the Tianquan, she can’t let herself waver and give in easily.
“Seriously, you are terrible at covert operations. You should do what you do best, staying at your golden palace and sitting on your behind all day.” She knows that Yelan is teasing yet she can’t help but feel offended by her brutal remark.
“Now, would you mind telling me why you followed us?” Yelan steps away and crosses her arms, not letting Ningguang off. Of course, other than Keqing and Beidou, Yelan is more knowledgeable at knowing how to handle the Tianquan.
“How about you answer my question from earlier first and I’ll answer yours. Is that not a fair trade with you?” Ningguang snickers as she enjoys the sight of Yelan’s eyebrow twitching at her words.
“Of course we have to do it your way.” Yelan mumbles with an exaggerated roll of her eyes.
“Answer the question, Yelan.” She receives silence afterwards as Yelan shuts her lips and looks away.
“I’m sorry but like I said, the Yuheng wishes for this to be kept a secret. Surely you have some decency to respect that?” Now Yelan is just insulting her. Ningguang swears she is about to see red right now. She feels like there is smoke coming out of her ears from how hot she feels.
She knows they will only go back and forth with this, given how difficult it is to change Yelan’s mind. Besides, she doesn’t want to start an argument in the middle of the boulevard of Feiyun Slope that is bustling with life.
“Look, I even made a contract with her regarding the transaction we have made just now.” That finally forces Ningguang to give up and she only groans, rubbing her forehead to push away the buzzing annoyance.
“A contract? Really ? Just what in the Teyvat are you two doing?” Ningguang dislikes the unknown for it brings forth fear and uncertainty, easily slipping into her soft heart and wears her down like poison. The ambiguity of Yelan’s relationship with the Yuheng is something she is scared to find out.
What if they were more than just friends? What if the blooming emotions she feels for the Yuheng is one-sided? What if Keqing actually hates her? Will she really suffer through utter disappointment and humiliation? Just the thought of it causes her heart to plummet to her feet.
“Lady Ningguang, I promise you it shouldn’t be any of your concern. Do not fret too much about it and go home. I can forget about all of this.” Yelan’s harsh front slowly melts into worry upon seeing how pale Ningguang looks.
“Are you.. perhaps worried that I might steal your Yuheng away?” Ningguang only clicks her tongue at her when Yelan guesses correctly,
Although, that shouldn’t be surprising since she could have just sent her usual people to spy on them. But he had to do it herself, to see it with her own eyes. This was more complicated and personal than just simply gathering intel.
This is about her damn crush on the Yuheng, Keqing.
“Oh, I must have ruffled your feathers too much. My apologies, I usually don’t get that clingy with anyone. But after finding out that you were tailing us, I purposely got all friendly in order to force you out of your silly spying operation. But I underestimated your self-control. You held out more than I expect-”
“What? W-what do you mean by that?” Ningguang is utterly shocked. Did her own intelligence officer really trick her? Did she really almost fall for such a trap and let her emotions get a hold of her insecurity?
It would have been a disaster if she had lost her temper and forced Keqing out of there. She is glad that she did stay hidden but even so, she feels betrayed by Yelan.
“How could you do that knowing…” Ningguang’s words die out and she just shakes her head. Yelan only flashes an apologetic smile that is genuine this time.
Ningguang relaxes, feeling her worries about Yelan finding interest in the Yuheng disappear. Now she doesn’t need to worry about her own ex-girlfriend stealing the Yuheng away.
“I'm really sorry. Truly, I am. It was awful of me to use your emotions like that. I just wanted you to stop hiding and just confess to her already.” Yelan teases one more time and Ningguang frowns at her words. But she accepts the apology anyway as she feels the atmosphere between them lighten up.
“Alright. I will forgive you. I need to go home.” Ningguang says with a breathy and tired voice. She needs to go back to the Jade Chamber and have her late lunch.
“Excellent. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some business to attend to.” Yelan pats her shoulder before briskly walking past her, probably off to go back to Yanshang Teahouse.
Ningguang scratches her scalp, feeling the wig becoming an uncomfortable tight fit around her head.
She needs to get out of this damned disguise.
The Tianquan returns home as the sun is setting and dresses herself up in her comfortable silk robes, feeling relief and cleanliness overcome her spirit. Her mind has somewhat calmed after Yelan’s reassurance. But she can’t get rid of that nagging curiosity that is currently drilling her head.
Who is the person Keqing is gifting to? She contemplated ordering one of her secretaries to gather information about it but then she backs up on the thought and feels guilty for breaching the Yuheng's privacy. Yelan is right, she needs to show more respect to Keqing.
Just as Ningguang was about to let herself relax and enjoy her dinner, she hears Baishi’s voice resounding in the chamber.
“Lady Ningguang, The Yuheng is here to speak with you.” The mention of the Yuheng’s abrupt visit causes Ningguang to shoot out of her seat.
Before she could recollect herself, she sees Keqing walk in with that very same red box in hand. Ningguang’s entire face flushes hot at the realisation.
W-wait, why does she have…
“Ningguang, I’m sorry for my abrupt visit.” Keqing rubs the back of her neck and places the box at the table opposite from Ningguang’s end. The Tianquan stares at it, feeling that rush of nervousness and excitement clinging onto her chest.
“Do not worry, little Yuheng. Your presence is very much welcomed here.” Ningguang gives a small smile, knowing she is coming off too kind and gentle than usual. Keqing raises a brow at her odd behaviour but continues onward.
“Well, uhh… I want to give this to you. Don’t repay me though.” Keqing tries to sound nonchalant but the tremble of her voice betrays her emotions. She clears her throat and slides the box forward.
Ningguang reaches for it and grazes her fingers around the velvet material carefully, seeing that it’s indeed a ring box. Ningguang shoots her a look, silently asking if she can open it as she puts her thumb between the gap of the opening. Keqing nods her head with a sheepish smile.
When Ningguang collects her composure and opens it, she feels her eyes sting and her lips shake.
A glaze lily ring sits upon its velvet cushion that has cut out a small sapphire gem at the center of the white and blue petals. Ningguang can only let out a short laugh, wondering if her eyes are deceiving her.
“Is-Is this not that ring I told you about when we went to Fontaine for a business travel and…” Ningguang plucks it out and inspects it closely as if she is looking at a mora coin.
“And we stumbled upon that jewellery shop specializing in designing jewellery for their clients and you told me how you would love it if… someone special got you one. Yeah, I commissioned a design for you.” Keqing finishes for her with an awkward laugh, not knowing how to react at Ningguang’s disbelief.
“I even had to ask Baishi for help about what your ring size is and consulted Yelan on what you personally like.” Ah. So that’s why they were being talking often these days, Ningguang assumes.
“She suggested a gift that is predictable and simple yet thoughtful and touching. I know how much you like the glaze lilies at the Yujing Terrace and… that flower does suit you the best.” Keqing walks up to her and carefully takes the ring from her grasp.
Ningguang looks at her fondly.
“Oh, Keqing…” Keqing stops her with a finger pressed against her lips. For once, Ningguang obeys her.
“A geo vision holder constructed this piece and he was able to make it resonate a bright light whenever you activate your powers. I will spare you the details about it later but I notice that you always play with your golden rocks when you’re in deep thought. I thought that if you wear a ring that causes it to shine when it detects geo resonance, you would like it’s beauty even more.” Keqing gently grabs Ningguang’s bare right hand and smooths her thumb over the old callouses adorning her palm and fingers.
“Keqing, this is…” Ningguang activates her vision and lets a single tiny rock manifest in between them. Just as Keqing says, the gem of the ring starts to glow a blue light that makes the flower shine even brighter.
“Do you want to hear the cheesy part?” Keqing slides it at her right ring finger and Ningguang stares at her with longing.
“Of course. Recite whatever you have prepared for me.” Ningguang’s tone carries a teasing lilt and a crooked smile pulls her lips. Keqing is embarrassed but she is distracted by her gentle expression to even argue back against her words.
“Alright. I want to be more than friends, Ningguang. You may be the most annoying person I have ever known but at the same time… you are warm-hearted and considerate when you try to be.” Keqing steps closer and interlocks her fingers with Ningguang’s, almost shivering at the feeling the cool metal of the ring.
The Tianquan, for the first time in her life, feels immense happiness flooding her senses. She is enamoured by this side of Keqing. Forthright and brave. A quality that she has always admired on her.
“I would say sorry about the petty fights I start with you but we both know that won’t ever stop.”
“Of course not. I will continue to be insufferable.” Ningguang regains her composure as a chuckle leaves her lips easily. She loops her arm around the Yuheng’s waist and rests her cheek against her forehead.
“I expected as much. Nevertheless, I like you.” Keqing murmurs softly but it is so crystal clear that it burns Ningguang greatly. It takes a few seconds for Ningguang to respond back, still trying to take in her words.
“So you don’t actually hate me?” She says it like it is a joke, hoping to see a flustered reaction from her Yuheng.
But she didn’t get that desired result. Instead, she got something better.
“Never. I will never.” Keqing’s words is refreshing. As if she has been granted fresh water under the summer heat. It startled her. It rattles her heart in a way that she is afraid it will fall out and Keqing will steal it away from her.
Even if she did do that, Ningguang isn’t going to stop her.
But Keqing doesn’t take. Instead, she holds her face tenderly and presses their heads together.
“Do you like me?” It’s a foolish question from her foolish Yuheng. But she laughs against her face, rubbing her cheek against hers and cradling her closer.
“Yes, yes! Of course I do.” Ningguang whispers with bubbled laughter that makes it sound like she’s drunk.
Keqing blushes madly at her giddy expression and couldn’t help but laugh with her.
“By the way, I tailed you and Yelan today.” Ningguang turns her body to face her lover. Keqing perks up and jerks her head towards her, confusion painting her expression.
“Are you serious?” Keqing turns on her back against the bed and raises a brow. Surprisingly, she isn’t that upset.
“Very serious, little Yuheng.” Ningguang loops purple locks around her curled finger before bringing it up to her lips. Keqing rolls her eyes.
“Huh… no wonder something felt off when Yelan was being awfully enthusiastic than usual. I guess she was trying to distract me. She was never like that before.” Keqing laughs as she throws an arm over her eyes. Ningguang only shrugs and lays her head against her chin on her shoulder.
“But wait.. did you like disguise yourself?”
“Yes.” Ningguang shuts her eyes, finally feeling that embarrassment settle in way too late. Archons, why did she even let herself do that?
“So like… uhh- why did you do it?” Keqing flashes a cocky smirk that looks like she is on the verge of teasing her. But Ningguang only snorts and shakes her head.
“Simple. I was jealous. Yelan was my ex and I thought she was flirting with you.” Ningguang watches Keqing’s expression turn from amusement drop into pure horror.
“Wait WHAT?!” Keqing shoots up from bed.
“We’ll talk about it tomorrow. Goodnight, Keqing.” Ningguang groans and smacks her bicep, telling her to lay back down.
Keqing relents with a doubtful look before cuddling back together under the blanket.
Safe to say that Keqing barely managed to fall asleep while Ningguang slept like a newborn baby.