slow yield to fast

Tang Fan is not yet particularly panicked about his present predicament.

Well, there is some panic. The hour has drawn quite a ways out, after all. Xue Ling is very late. It is a hitch to the plan, but not a hitch that Tang Fan did not expect might indeed end up hitching. And so, however off course from better case scenarios, it is still too early in the gambit to be more than merely nervous as to its apparent derailment. That Xue Ling has not been thrown into the cell with them is a very good and promising sign that things have not degraded beyond a point and hope of recovery.

Xue Ling is a good man, at that, and capable. Sui Zhou would not trust him as far and with as much as he does if he was not.

So, no. Tang Fan is not panicking. Not yet. He might, however, be feeling some manner of panicked about Sui Zhou. Just as sunset has unspooled to twilight, it has become clear as the stilled night that Sui Zhou is really, actually, terribly hurt. Tang Fan has been watching, because there has been little else to watch — and nothing he has wanted to watch more, regardless — how Sui Zhou has been holding himself. How he favours sides intermittently, one over the other, rotational. How he flinches down and in. How he’s become slow and inelegant with caution.

Sui Zhou had said he had only a matter of days left; that they would have him killed soon enough. There is cause enough, Tang Fan thinks, seeing him now, to fear that he will not last even that long. He’s carved from jade only to skin shallow; there is only so much that runs deeper in him that he can then bleed.

The night is cold. Even with his robes back — by thanks of Sui Zhou, who had retrieved them for him shortly after the loss of their theft — Tang Fan is shivering. There is little else to cover himself with but straw, and he— anyway. He has Sui Zhou at his side, who is frighteningly warm, and that is enough. He can manage.

“Come here.” Sui Zhou’s voice is a thready rasp, pitched low enough to keep between the two of them. Tang Fan startles, though, nonetheless, as though he’s been shouted at.

Tang Fan clears his throat, and tries to set his jaw against the chatter of his teeth. “I’m fine,” he insists, indignant. “I am all right.” His voice sounds sturdy, at least to his ears. He thinks he’s coming off as rather convincing.

Sui Zhou sighs out, as though he has nothing better to be concerned about at their present moment than Tang Fan’s— discomfort. “Tang Fan.” It’s quieter, but by no means is it gentler, how he says his name. It pricks like ice at Tang Fan’s nape. “You’re shaking.”

Tang Fan grimaces. He opens his mouth to— it doesn’t matter what he opens his mouth to do, because Sui Zhou moves at his side, slap-sudden. All Tang Fan manages is a choked out squeak of affront as he’s grabbed by the arms and hauled over, heavy, against Sui Zhou’s chest. The recoiling consequence is that he’s close enough to hear Sui Zhou’s shrill hiss when they collide; to feel it shudder through Sui Zhou’s chest when his whipped open back slats against the wall for the purchase needed to balance their coupled weights.

“Sui Zhou!” he hisses, brow knotting.

“Be still,” Sui Zhou admonishes him, terse with fresh-bloomed pain.

Tang Fan huffs his acquiescence, curling his hands where they’ve been pinned between their bellies to stave off the reflexive urge to shove out and squirm away. Even in his current state, Sui Zhou would overpower him like it was nothing, anyway. All his struggle would serve would be to hurt Sui Zhou more, and Tang Fan doesn’t want that. Sui Zhou is hurting enough.

Sui Zhou is so warm. Too warm. It bleeds into Tang Fan’s skin until he’s burning flare-hot in every place they’re touching; sinks cold like a kicked stone to thud leadenly along the floor of him. He tries to tuck his face into Sui Zhou’s shoulder without moving either of them too much. He closes his eyes. He tries to quiet his head, narrow himself down past even their breaths, to wash the sounds of their surrounds out that he might chance on some sleep.

It works, for a while. Time drifts. Tang Fan thinks he drifts, too. The rise-fall of Sui Zhou’s chest against his shoulder is rhythmic; the thrum of his pulse in Sui Zhou’s throat against his forehead is soothing. But the dead of night makes the world inordinately louder, and so, eventually, when the more fortunate of them have fallen asleep, Tang Fan is left helpless to hear things that carry further, through the hollowness. The shush-scuff of straw; the hitching breaths.

It still takes Tang Fan a long yawn of a moment to realise that it’s not just— people turning over, huddling together, drifting on the edge of sleeping and waking. But— that. It’s—

Tang Fan stiffens, sucking in a breath, sharp. Sui Zhou’s breath stalls, too, his attention stirred by the stutter in their settling pace.

He knows how sought pleasure sounds between men. And he is not— by no means is Tang Fan— unversed. Nor does he consider himself prudish. Any semblance of preciousness that might have been left from his youth was promptly ushered out of him by living in one of the dormitories during his term at Hanlin Academy. But this is— this is.

Tang Fan fists at his robes, burrowing his face all the more tightly into Sui Zhou’s neck. He tries to take a steadying breath. Tries to wash back out of his head all of the sounds save the ones most immediate. There is a child in here, he can’t help but find himself thinking, foolishly aghast, as his head reels through the recollective realisation. The little boy, who had to be all but pried from Sui Zhou’s side as the sun sunk low enough to snuff all light out that would, slung higher, stream through and in, elucidative. He is over towards the stairs, or was, at least, as last left. With some of the other older men that Sui Zhou had beckoned over and spoke with, too low-voiced for even Tang Fan to hear so close-by.

Are they truly south enough for the so-called Southern Customs, he wonders tangentially, then— he feels his heart skip and his chest seize around the catch of his breath. There is a child in here. He does not know how old the boy is except that he looks too young. Surely— but— no. Sui Zhou would not stand for any such things. And Tang Fan has seen in his stay that Sui Zhou is listened to, that he is followed how and whenever he leads.

Sui Zhou is— Sui Zhou is in here, too, Tang Fan thinks. Even the ring of it in his own head resounds as almost hysterical. How many times has Sui Zhou been held captive witness to— to this, these little undeniable sounds of, of hands meeting blind? People seeking some sort of anchor in the dark where it is easier for release, maybe, to convince them that holding on for another day is worthwhile?

Does he mind? Does he care, or— has he… himself?

And, well. It’s impossible, for Tang Fan, to get the lariat around the neck of his wild-running thoughts, to haul them back once they’ve grown their legs and gotten their momentum. Impossible not to think about Sui Zhou, and this, all of this, in various shades of exact. He should not think about it. He can’t not think about it. Can’t divert his mind from the course of turning over and over whether anyone has truly and so intimately touched Sui Zhou in any of all the nights and days he has been in Ji’an’s prison. If he has taken in hand, or been taken in hand. If anyone has seen to his hurts as much as any of his needs; if he has let any one of them even close enough to try.

Tang Fan tries to tuck his hot-flushed face down, further, to bury himself within the scratchy collar of Sui Zhou’s shirt. Even the roar of his blood in his ears isn’t loud enough, though, to drown the jagged sounds out that prick at his skin and spark dry fire in his chest.

Sui Zhou stirs, again, against him. Tang Fan feels the spanning rise of his chest as he takes a shaky, shallow breath. He turns his head, his exhale brushing out against Tang Fan’s hair, and when the rest of his body shifts, ever minutely, to accommodate it, Tang Fan feels— oh. He’s hard. Of course he is— he is hard, and getting harder, and he doesn’t think that Sui Zhou will be able to not feel the swell of his cock as it snubs against his abdomen, even through the tangle of their limbs and all of Tang Fan’s skirts.

Tang Fan’s gasp rips wet out of his mouth, flattening out against Sui Zhou’s neck. It tastes like the answer to a question Sui Zhou hasn’t even asked him yet. May not even ask him at all.

What— what does he think Sui Zhou will ask? What does he want Sui Zhou to ask? It would be a dangerous thought to have, perhaps, if he could get his hands around any one thought he’s now having. Catch the splintering of himself and shape it back down into the bounds of his skin.

Sui Zhou’s hand brushes his hip; closes down, firm, fingers hooking into his belt, when Tang Fan squirms in his lap. Be still, he remembers. A difficult enough direction for him to hold adherent to at the best of times, let alone now, when he is at his most conscious of what his body feels, where it touches, how it rests. He does not like being bound down within his own borders. It’s stifling. It suffocates him.

The flinch of Sui Zhou’s fingers feels like the stroke of a lash; the trace of a pet. It is not conducive to Tang Fan’s stillness. Nor is the shake of Sui Zhou’s breath as it again gusts through his hair; the nudge of his nose as he finds the shell of Tang Fan’s ear.

“It happens,” is what Sui Zhou murmurs, gruff. It’s an awkward thing, Tang Fan finds, as though Sui Zhou is trying his best to— something. Salve some presumed humiliation, perhaps. Tang Fan is not— he does not know what he is, but he knows what he is not.

“I know that,” Tang Fan huffs, haught. He feels immediately, intensely contrite for it, yet— not quite enough that he moves to make any sort of apology.

Sui Zhou’s next inhale catches, stung-rough. His breath sounds as though it is shallowing even more, like it won’t sink in and stick behind his ribs. Tang Fan feels the faint work of his throat against his face as he swallows.

“Pay it no mind, then.” Oh, if only that could be done with the same ease with which it’s said! Before Tang Fan can peak at the zenith of his resurging crossness, though, Sui Zhou adds in, “Take care of it. If you need to.”

Take care of it— if he needs to, as if no-one will be paying him any attention. Tang Fan— tenses. He does not mean to, he cannot help but to, and he chastises himself as the jar of it jostles Sui Zhou. “I— sorry,” he stammers, whispered, as if the rear up of his regret should be a secret for its giving here and not otherwise. “I. I’ve.”

It is different. At least in the dormitories, it was— it is different. Sui Zhou must know that it is different. His fingers pet at the ******all of Tang Fan’s back. The contact is assuring. It does not feel entirely deliberate.

“No-one else pays it mind.” Sui Zhou swallows again, rougher. His voice is fraying dry, now. “Not here.”

If no-one else pays it mind, does that not mean Sui Zhou, too? The thought jolts through Tang Fan, white-hot. He’s less concerned about what any here might think of him; he doesn’t have to go home and live with them, after. He does with Sui Zhou. He will with Sui Zhou. Because he has not forgotten that they are here, and they should not be, and they will be leaving. Eventually, if not together.

None of that, though, is what he manages to get down from his head and out through his mouth. “Can you help me?” is what whips out; a strained whisper. He can’t be certain what help he is asking for, what could even be left in the space Sui Zhou hasn’t already bent himself back to breaking point to reach into and give out. Between Sui Zhou, and the wall, and the straw, and the way Sui Zhou has angled him into his lap, Tang Fan is hidden as much as anyone could be, even if, in the hiding, his discomfort at being seen has been made plain as the lapsed day. But— maybe Sui Zhou will have— some idea.

Sui Zhou’s other hand finds his thigh, and then they both, together, find his shoulders, and then Tang Fan is tipped back, arched enough to catch a snatch of the shape of Sui Zhou’s face in the dark. The bow of his head, low and listing; the downcast of his eyes to somewhere indeterminable. Sui Zhou shuffles closer, hewing into the stone, until his cheek is resting burrowed against the wall, his back flush to the corner. His breath comes very suddenly, sharply, sorely; a harsh rush. As he straightens, Tang Fan hears the way it scrapes him along the surface of the stone; feels the twinging shudder feed up into the backs of his thighs from Sui Zhou’s lap.

Like this, he can turn himself just that fraction of an inch more, further, until he can hide that sliver of a scrap of himself that’s left out if he curls close. If he noses in tighter to Sui Zhou’s neck; if he hooks his knee over his hip. It can’t be comfortable. It’s barely comfortable for him, so it must be worse, then, for Sui Zhou, for how he has to angle to accomplish it. Panic rearises to cut through the shame-hot churn of Tang Fan’s rebuilding arousal when Sui Zhou’s next inhale catches sodden, sob-wet. Before he can react to it, though, Sui Zhou’s arm, the one that has not wenched into the pin between the juddering fan of his ribs and the brickwork, threads around his waist and ties him in place.

“Be still,” he whispers. So Tang Fan lowers his face back to Sui Zhou’s shoulder proper and stops there, as bid. His forehead feels fever-hot where it is brushing the sweat-dampened column of Sui Zhou’s neck. His own breath tastes damp where it’s sitting thick in his mouth.

“You’re fine,” Sui Zhou tells him, after a while. It feels as if it has been a while, with only the drum of his heart and the run of his blood to listen to in the meantime. Seconds and minutes and hours and Tang Fan has still not worked a hand between their legs to palm himself beneath the heavy pleat of his skirts because he is afraid of the moment breaking; he is afraid of the sound Sui Zhou might make.

“I can’t.” Tang Fan thinks he only thinks it, but he must say it, too, or at least shape it against the scratchy collar of Sui Zhou’s shirt and the flushed swipe of his skin with his lips in such a way that Sui Zhou can read if not hear it.

Sui Zhou moves against him, again. His head swings from the wall, sags into the crook of Tang Fan’s own shoulder, and then the drag of his caught arm fights out to follow. Sui Zhou’s hand finds his thigh, flattens down, fingers fanning out, and Tang Fan is holding his breath so tightly and so direly he doesn’t think he’s ever going to be able to get the claw marks out of his throat. It feels like another question, too; irresolute in its in-between, easily recanted back across the distance silence leaves.

“Yes,” Tang Fan gasps out in answer to it, what he thinks it is, whatever it is it might be. “Yes. Please, yes.” He does not, especially, want to beg, but it’s all too late for him and for that.

Sui Zhou does not leave him long to suffer it, at least. His hand slides further up Tang Fan’s thigh, methodical; finds the high-rise slit in his outer robes and dips underneath, inside. Sui Zhou’s face turns towards his, coming to rest within the hinge where Tang Fan’s own neck meets his shoulder, and Tang Fan bites at Sui Zhou’s shirt to gag his whine when Sui Zhou’s palm closes over the bulge of his cock. His hand is so broad. His grip is so strong. Tang Fan does not often consider himself all that ******all a man, he does not think, not in any respects, but here, he is engulfed, surrounded and submerged to drown.

He has touched and been touched before, but it is always different, with someone, and with Sui Zhou, it is different. He does not indulge, but he does not neglect. He has set himself to this, it seems, and so Tang Fan is thoroughly attended to. Sui Zhou’s breath is damp, hot as a brand set over coals. His loose hair has fallen forward, shrouding Tang Fan all the more from the pry of other eyes, now, like a bride’s modest veil.

Tang Fan takes a breath, and then reels, dizzied, as Sui Zhou’s thumb hooks in his waistband, easing it down enough to free his cock, to make room for Sui Zhou’s hand to press between the leaf of cotton and Tang Fan’s quivering belly to fist his shaft. Tang Fan doesn’t breathe after that, not for the few short short seconds it takes for his chest to set itself ablaze, for his eyes to water, for his spend to spill messily over Sui Zhou’s fingers when his calloused thumb rubs over his slit.

He would be embarrassed elsewhere but here. He can only feel relief, can only feel the animal impulse to give back, to take more. To make Sui Zhou feel good. He tongues Sui Zhou’s spit-sodden shirt from his mouth and fumbles, gasping and clumsy with his release, between their bodies, searching. Tang Fan finds his way as far as Sui Zhou’s hip before Sui Zhou wipes his hand clean on the trailing hem of his middle robe and catches him at the wrist, halting him.

“Tang Fan,” Sui Zhou breathes out. He does not stop him, though, when he trails his fingers lower, tentative, tracing the crease of his thigh across and into his lap, and— ah.

“Ah,” Tang Fan manages. His face flushes hot with his thought-wayward embarras******ent; a slap-shrill counterpoint to the cold chill sweeping down his back. He feels, distantly, how Sui Zhou tucks him back into his trousers and readjusts his skirts into the pool of his lap. He feels Sui Zhou tense when he closes his hand around Sui Zhou’s cock, heavy and huge and all too much to fit his grip around yet still so soft between his legs. He feels Sui Zhou’s hips twitch into the friction, an aborted rut of motion, but he otherwise does not stir, not even when Tang Fan gives out a rousing knead for good measure.

“It’s not,” Sui Zhou starts. Stops. He lifts his face from Tang Fan’s shoulder, but does not meet Tang Fan’s eyes. “You,” he finishes shortly.

“Ah,” Tang Fan manages again. He wonders what it could be, then, if not him. If it is new, if it is a hurt, or something else unconsidered. He thinks to ask, for a moment, but cuts the impulse off at its impasse. It’s rather an intimate thing, after all. It might be best left aside to be forgotten about later.

But, then— it feels tragic, of a sudden, to him, then, that he and Sui Zhou have not yet kissed. It feels remiss. And— and, if there is to be nothing else, well. Sui Zhou’s face is quite close. He is still not meeting Tang Fan’s eyes save for some scant stolen glances, but he has not pushed himself back further, or moved Tang Fan away. It leaves not that far of a distance to cross, for Tang Fan, to bring their mouths together. He has to duck his head, which he is unused to, but Sui Zhou’s lips are warm against his, if chapped dry. His beard, grown out unkempt, scratches roughly at his chin. His moustache tickles his top lip.

Sui Zhou does not shy away from the touch of his mouth. Tang Fan may be just a little lost and stun-drunk in the gravity of that, that allowance, that it seems only right and fair and the way of things to lick between Sui Zhou’s parted teeth when he pants out. He deepens the slide of their mouths until it’s slick-wet and crudely filthy, until every sound is shiver-loud where it echoes back through his ears.

He does not know how long they kiss; how long Sui Zhou not only lets Tang Fan kiss him, but kisses Tang Fan himself, sucking on his tongue and biting at his bottom lip until Tang Fan feels bruised and bereft when they part for proper breath. Tang Fan does not come back for another turn at more, though it is a close thing, for how grave his want is to do just that. Kissing Sui Zhou is a more than pleasant distraction from anything else vying for his attention, but he can relent that it is not a very fair one. He tucks his face back into Sui Zhou’s neck, instead, then, to stave off the swell of desire driving down through him anew.

Sui Zhou’s hand curls over his nape, fingers lacing in through the dampened fall of his hair. Tang Fan closes his eyes as he is pressed down, firm, held in still check. He takes a steadying breath, then another. He lets the discordant sound of Sui Zhou’s shallow panting and the kick of his pulse against his lips fill out his head, subsuming the space until there is no room for thought to fester.

It is not a surprise that he’s slept enough to wake. It is a surprise that he has slept well, that he has slept soundly, and that the waking comes stirred, first, to the scuffle of noise, then startle-to-sudden. Tang Fan’s eyes snap open, then squeeze narrow, shielding the fuzzy blur of his vision against the lance of the streaming sunlight.

It’s well past dawnbreak. Most of the men seem to be earlier risers than him. Sui Zhou does not look like he has slept at all. If he’s snatched rest for more than a blink and a breath, it has been brief; bare.

“You should get up,” is what Sui Zhou says, into his hair. Then, “They’re here. For you.” Tang Fan supposes that yes, he should, and that yes, they most likely are, if they are yet remaining hopeful. He should— they should— but there is no time for it. There is no time for anything that he needs there to be time for, here.

“I won’t be long,” Tang Fan tells him, hushed, while he still has a moment to do so and keep it safe. Because he must say something. “Quick as can be. And then I’ll be back for you, Sui Zhou. You must still be here when I’m back for you.”

“I will be,” Tang Fan thinks he hears, hopes he hears, close to his ear. The lock clicks; he gathers his soiled skirts and his— his everything, into his hands, and crouches to right himself.

“You’ve promised,” Tang Fan presses urgently. His knees are shaking, and not, he thinks, singularly with the effort of keeping himself mid-aloft. He thinks of his hairpins, tucked away in the lining of his outer robe. He does not reach for them. Sui Zhou is clearly not being left well enough alone to rot, in here, and— well. Better to stay safe in the bad than run the risk of meaning better but making worse.

There is no time for it. Tang Fan needs to do his utmost to ensure there will be time for it later.

“I’ve promised,” Sui Zhou agrees. Good man. Good man, who keeps his bonds. Tang Fan can finish standing, now, carrying that. He can look away. He can move on forward, and race his best to come back with help of actual use. He can do that much. He can do his best. And then— the rest. Yes.


For the most part, the strong take advantage of the weak, the slow yield to the fast, and that is all. The strong beat the weak. The clumsy yield to the deft. In every case, the victor relies on the natural ability he is born with.

太极拳论, 武禹襄

“Southern Customs” as used here is a shorthand for homosexual relationships, many of which were between men of unequal ages, and, as reflective of the time, often pederastic. The southern region spoken about being foremost for this was Fujian, which is a bit further south than Jiangxi, where Ji’an is.

Thank you as always to my S & J, who tolerated this both in its half-done chatfic rendition plus this slightly tidier redux.


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