“And what if I choose you?”
You’re gratified to see your chancellor rendered speechless, at least for a moment. “My liege—” But his expression goes hard and armored. “My liege, the continuation of the royal line is not a matter for jest.”
That heatless, reasonable tone tests your temper every time. You’d wanted to shock him, in truth, but like hell you’d admit it now.
It’s hard to look assured while sitting on a bed, your hair rumpled, your muscles wobbly from two days of disuse. Only pride and wrath hold your shoulders back and your spine straight. “I’m perfectly serious,” you say, folding your hands with mock primness even as you seethe internally. “My reasons are three. First, to sacrifice an innocent stranger to such sordid business would be unvirtuous and unbecoming of a ruler. Second, to seek a suitable candidate would cost time and energy, at a juncture when both are of the essence. And third, to reveal my secrets to an additional individual would be a senseless risk to take, in light of the recent betrayal, when your discretion is assured.”
Wu Zixu looks like he regrets ever teaching you rhetoric. “Absurd,” he snaps.
You cock your head. “Should I not trust your discretion?”
“My discretion is not the problem. ”
“What’s the problem, then?” you challenge. “Is it too much of an indignity?” You hold out a gaunt, scabbed arm, real bitterness entering your smirk. “I’m aware I’m less than appetizing, but you’re the one who insists that the greater good outweighs personal sentiment. What hypocrisy, Chancellor.”
He stares at you, eyes hot with fury and disbelief. A vicious thrill chases through you. He can’t counter, because he knows you have cold, inhuman reason on your side.
He should learn what it’s like.
Wu Zixu has taught you enough lessons; you want to teach him one, for once. You reach up and yank open your shirt. Your hand is steady and shameless—nothing he hasn’t seen before, under more abject conditions.
“Well?” you demand.
You did not, in fact, expect him to start undressing.
He unbuckles his vambraces and lets them fall. You hardly hear them clunk against the floorboards, through the roaring in your ears.
He unfastens his belt, methodically coils it around one hand, and all the while you sit there frozen and dumbfounded. He shrugs off his surcoat. He tosses it across the foot of the bed. Standing, up close, he towers over you. You stare up into his face, at his flat, unreadable expression. He can’t be serious. You know him. You just wanted to make him squirm. You open your mouth—
But he immediately stops, before you even speak.
Already, the tension is leaving his shoulders. He’s relieved . He’s—
Realization goes through you like a fire arrow.
He was trying to scare you.
How dare he? How fucking dare he—as if you were still the fearful girl-child, to be cowed into line.
But that’s what you are in his eyes, aren’t you? That’s what you’ll always be, no matter how many years go by, no matter what title you bear. He calls you his liege, but he condescends to you like a wayward pupil, to be upbraided and undermined.
You know what he wants to happen next. He’ll righteously lecture you on the conduct proper to a ruler. You’ll both get dressed. You’ll forget this ever happened.
You would sooner eat broken glass.
He thinks he’s won. He expects you to be the one to back down. Right now, with the flames of wrath licking at your heart, you know that there is nothing you wouldn’t do to spite him.
You reach out and grab him through his trousers.
He makes a choked sound of shock. “ Are you out of your mind —”
You squeeze down, not very forcefully—your heart hammers so rapidly that you’re starting to feel faint. Up until this point in your life, you have not had occasion to think about your chancellor’s dick, yet here you are. It fills your hand, but even now, he’s barely half-hard. He hadn’t taken you seriously at all.
He glares at you. You glare back. You’ll leave him a route of retreat, but you can’t bring yourself to do it graciously. “I understand if you’re not up to the task,” you say. “I can make allowances for the common affliction of older men.”
“Your minister believes that this is generally considered to be a collaborative venture. Your minister expects my liege to contribute a certain amount of diligence,” he grits out.
How unfortunate that both of you are stubborn bastards. You retort, “Take it out, then.”
He merely folds his arms and looks at you.
“Be that way,” you hiss. Before you can lose your nerve, you reach into his trousers.
The heat of his skin is a shock, the silkenness a contrast with the scrape of his hair. All his hair is that cool hoarfrost white, down to his eyelashes. You’d known that in theory.
You count your dubious blessings; if not for all the blood you’ve lost lately, you’d be scarlet as you draw out his cock. Part of you is aghast that you’re doing this. Part of you is aghast that you’re doing this to him . Wu Zixu is many things to you, mentor, minister, guardian, but not— this. As far as you were concerned he sprang into the world fully dressed and glowering; your imagination has thoroughly failed to prepare you for the encounter you’ve recklessly thrown yourself into.
You stroke him slowly and deliberately so your fingertips won’t shake. Defiantly, you make yourself look up at his face.
You’d braced yourself for disgust; none greets you. You’d expected anger, and certainly, he’s angry. But mostly, he looks at you like—like you’re a cat who’s gotten itself stuck halfway up a tree. He’s concerned , curse him. Curse him. Even his disgust would have stabbed you less mortally than his concern.
“I take responsibility for my poor handling of this matter,” he begins, and you know his pride and temper, you know how much concession costs him, and if he says anything more you’re going to utterly lose it. “As your elder, it was my duty to—”
You take him into your mouth.
You glare up at Wu Zixu. At least you’ve shut him up for the moment. It’s really not unpleasant, the taste, the warm bulk, but neither do you have much of an idea of what you do next, other than refraining from biting down, as tempting as the prospect may be. You experiment with how deep you can take him, but not too far—you’ll probably set him off again if you choke. So you instead back off and carefully suck —
The sound that he makes shoots straight to your groin.
It’s like climbing too high up a tree and feeling the branch give way beneath your feet. It’s like running too far onto a frozen lake and plunging through the ice. At first you’re too stunned to even react. Right up until this very moment, right through everything you’ve done so far, you had not thought you were actually sexually interested in Wu Zixu.
He’s the closest thing you have to a father these days. He’s twice your age and fucking insufferable. He would die for you but never without giving you a lecture first. His smile can make your day, and you wish that remembering that fact nowadays didn’t so often make you quietly sad.
And you can do this to him. You can bend down and put your mouth back on him and make him struggle in vain for composure. He tries to fight back the hoarse gasps he makes now, the way he hadn’t the first time. He hadn’t realized either, then.
It motivates you to get better.
You were always a diligent student. You experiment, firmer, lighter, spellbound by the clench of his muscles in reaction. You figure out how and where to apply your tongue. When you toy at his slit, he cries out between gritted teeth; his hand goes to your shoulder, but he can’t bring himself to push you away. A warmth spreads from his touch. You press your thighs together, feeling the deepening ache between them.
When you pull back, he’s flushed and almost painfully hard. You wrap your hand loosely around his cock, feeling the jump of his pulse under the hot, taut skin. You look up.
“Do your job, old man.”
Wu Zixu reaches out and wipes the corner of your mouth with a calloused thumb. The tingling sensation lingers even when he pulls away. He gets down on his knees, in a way akin to surrender. “My liege, move forward.”
He understands you may not take well to another’s body on yours. With you on the bed, him in front of you, he gives you as much space as you choose.
As if you’d let him get away. You wrap yourself around him, nestling your face in his broad shoulder.
A belated shyness hits you, when you feel his hand slip between your legs. You’re gaining a better idea of what you subjected him to, you admit to yourself, your arms tightening around him. It doesn’t come easily to either of you, giving yourself to another’s hands.
But you trust his hands, which have stabbed you and saved you. What his touch lacks in artfulness, it has in care and intent. You buck against his fingers sliding into you, the pressure of the heel of his hand, your panting breath dampening the fabric at his shoulder. And then you feel his cock at your entrance, pressing in.
He moves steadily, relentlessly, one hand braced against your back in recognition of your current state, saving you as much exertion as he can, the other providing sweet pressure against your clit. You gasp against him, fingers digging into his white hair, a bow arching toward full draw. Then, the release.
You shudder through the aftershocks, even as he approaches his own. A heaviness is settling over you; your body is belatedly taking stock of the tribulations of two days ago, the dead sleep to the exclusion of food and water since then, the endeavors you just insisted on putting it through. The world fades from the edges in, but you cling to him for as long as you can.
Before you drift away, you think you hear him exhale, against your hair, “Ah-Yu.”
When you wake, you’re tucked in bed and less sticky than you expected. Wu Zixu sits at your bedside, fully dressed again, arms crossed, glowering in your direction—but you’ve experienced his actual ire enough times to know that this time it’s not in fact aimed at you.
“How do you feel?” he asks.
“A little sore. Mostly here, to be honest.” You rub the hinge of your jaw, and delight in his expression. “But I’m fine, really. Please don’t feel obligated to off yourself or something.”
“You may rest assured,” he says darkly. “I expect you to rest this evening; I’ll take over things with the ambassador.”
“I don’t recall this level of concern when you used to drag me out of bed before dawn for sword practice.”
He gives you a long look. “I’m glad your spirits are as high as I’ve ever seen them.”
You smile a little at that, idly flinging out your arm so it bumps against his. The smile he returns is a thin, spare thing, but a smile nonetheless.
Around you, palace life goes on, footsteps in the hallway, voices in the courtyard. Soon enough, you’ll be dragged back into its currents, called upon to make the next move in your deadly game.
But until then, you rest satisfied.