Four days after they took their third bow – Wei Wuxian laughing, Lan Wangji’s eyes softly curved, kneeling in the dusky orange light of the mountain path where the urge to be married had overtaken them – Wei Wuxian twitches awake when something grazes his stomach.
He blinks, makes a little noise half into the pillow, and Lan Wangji shifts, withdrawing his arm from between them. “Shh.” He brushes Wei Wuxian’s hair back. “Go back to sleep.”
Wei Wuxian blinks harder, his sleep-blurred brain slowly churning to awareness. It clicks into place slowly: the placement of Lan Wangji’s arm, the light prickle of a touch that woke him. And then he laughs. “Lan Zhan,” he says, his tongue clumsy and content, “did you elbow me?”
Lan Wangji looks so mournful that Wei Wuxian has to laugh, wiggle closer to wrap him in his arms. This sweet, sweet man. His husband. Wei Wuxian could be easily convinced, right now, to be elbowed awake every day for the rest of his life.
“I startled you,” Lan Wangji says into the top of Wei Wuxian’s head.
Wei Wuxian’s heart bursts in his chest. “You didn’t.” He plants a firm kiss against Lan Wangji’s throat. “It tickled a little, that’s all.”
The morning drifts into a doze from there, the two of them trading lazy kisses as Wei Wuxian makes the luxuriously slow climb to full awareness. He doesn’t think about it again until Lan Wangji’s finger brushes that same spot, smiles a little when he shivers. It’s a light touch, bright and hot like a splash of citrus. His stomach jumps inward a little at the feel of it.
It tickles. He knows he said that before. But it’s like Jiang-shushu always said. His mouth is much faster than the rest of him. And his memory is a faulty puzzle box, these days. Sometimes even when he flicks the right switch, it takes hours to pop open.
So it isn’t until later, standing in line at a street vendor, that Wei Wuxian realizes why the thought fits oddly into his head. He’s never been ticklish before.
It’s a little late, perhaps, to be noticing new things about this body. But in Wei Wuxian’s defense, he’s been a little busy these last few months.
And to be fair to himself, Wei Wuxian had passed thirteen years as a spirit. Many of those years, he’d held only passing awareness of his surroundings. So it followed, then, that inhabiting a body again would feel a little— intense, altogether. He’d noticed, at the very least, that Mo Xuanyu's body was undoubtedly more sensitive to injuries than his own. When he’d been stabbed at Jinlintai, he’d passed out from the pain long before he’d felt the dizzy whirl of blood loss. When back in his first life Jiang Cheng stabbed him in the same place, he ran errands on the way home. Marked difference, altogether.
Pain is pain, though. Wei Wuxian can chart whole segments of his life by pain. He’d never made a habit of cataloging softer sensations. And it’s not as if he can lay each of his bodies side by side and see which one feels more keenly.
But if the impossible was enough to daunt Wei Wuxian—well, several things would have gone differently. The point is, there’s more to this body than its limits. A little prodding is in order.
So later that night, tucked into their room at the warm, rickety inn as an autumn storm lashes at the roof above, Wei Wuxian rests his wrist on the bedside table and dips one finger, gently, into the golden wax pooled around the candle.
“Be careful.” Lan Wangji is seated across the room, composing a letter to his brother. His eyes barely flick upward as he writes.
“Don’t worry, er-gege, it doesn’t hurt,” Wei Wuxian says, automatically. Though in truth, he doesn’t know if this counts as hurt: there’s an initial sear, just a soft echo of a burn, then cool smoothness when the wax sets.
He almost doesn’t explain himself. Lan Wangji isn’t looking at him, still. But Wei Wuxian is coming to understand his husband, little by little. He doesn’t have to be looking to be listening.
“You know, Lan Zhan,” he muses. “I think things might feel a little different in this body.”
Lan Wangji still isn’t looking, but his brush slows. “In what way?”
“Well, remember when you elbowed me this morning?” Wei Wuxian pauses just long enough to smile at the creeping flush against his husband’s exposed ears. He’s so easily embarrassed, sometimes. If Wei Wuxian was less comfortable on the bed, he’d cross the room and fling himself across Lan Wangji’s back. “It made me realize, I don’t think I’ve ever been ticklish before! Jiang Chang used to poke my stomach all the time when we were kids and he was trying to grab something from me, and that never tickled, I don’t think? Not that it stopped him, though. He was much cuter then, but still stubborn as an ox.”
“Hm,” Lan Wangji says, in his tone reserved specifically for when Wei Wuxian is talking about Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji loves him too much to stop him. “Was today the first you’ve noticed?”
He asks without judgment, but Wei Wuxian still laughs. “Kind of?” he says. “I could tell poor Mo Xuanyu had a much lower pain threshold than I used to, of course.”
“Hm,” Lan Wangji says again, softer. “And other sensations?”
Wei Wuxian wriggles up from his slouch. “Lan Zhan ,” he says primly, “you know I don’t have a point of comparison, there. Your Wei Ying was an innocent before you came along.”
“I was not thinking about sex,” Lan Wangji says reprovingly, as if he is not always thinking about sex. Just this morning, he pinned Wei Wuxian to the thin wall of their room and kissed him until sparks swam across his vision. What was that about, Wei Wuxian had gasped. You were biting your lip , Lan Wangji had replied, as if this explained everything.
Lan Wangji meets the sparkle of Wei Wuxian’s laughter with dignity, as always. And he amends, “Pain and pleasure are not the only sensations.”
Wei Wuxian’s smile blooms wider. His cheeks pinch with it. “Well, yes,” he concedes. “But I don’t know! I’ve just never spent that much time thinking about what feels like what. So maybe Mo Xuanyu’s body is more receptive than mine was. Or maybe I’m just noticing these things now that we have all this glorious free time.” The straw mattress sinks with his weight as he melts back down to the bed. “Requires more research, I think”
Lan Wangji’s quiet, for a while. And when his attention drifts back to the desk, Wei Wuxian assumes, for a moment, that he’s returning to his letter.
Then, in one smooth motion, Lan Wangji stands from the desk – the letter visibly half-finished, the ink and brush still in his hands.
Wei Wuxian shifts a little toward him, ready to sit up, but Lan Wangji’s level gaze is a steady hand on his stomach. He waits, more or less still, as Lan Wangji settles at the edge of the bed, sets the inkpot next to the candle and the brush balanced against its open mouth.
“What are you—” Wei Wuxian starts, the laugh already on his tongue.
“Shh,” Lan Wangji says. And Wei Wuxian jerks still.
It’s a little cool today, in this town tucked into the crook of the mountain range. Wei Wuxian is still partially dressed, planned to stay that way until Lan Wangji joined him in bed: he’s wearing black trousers and one of Lan Wangji’s white shifts, a short garment that hits him at the waist and ties shut. Lan Wangji keeps one hand on the table, ensuring the brush doesn’t roll away. But with the other, he reaches to Wei Wuxian, fingers brushing his ribs as they slide through the knots of the ties, and he unwraps the shift.
Wei Wuxian draws in a breath. It feels less disruptive than a shiver. “What’s this, now,” he says on the exhale.
Lan Wangji’s eyes, almost imperceptibly, flick down Wei Wuxian’s bare chest. “More research,” he says. And with one delicate tap, he dips the brush into the ink.
The brush touches his stomach. And his skin goes up in a shower of sparks.
Wei Wuxian gasps. The ink is cold - the goosebumps pour across him in waves, down his arms, prickling up his scalp. Lan Wangji rests the brush where it is for a moment, just above his navel, but the feel of it is a full-body shiver. Ice, twined with the barest current of warmth.
Mo Xuanyu, you’ve been holding out on me , Wei Wuxian manages to think. Then the brush starts to move, and all conscious thought goes elsewhere for a while.
Eventually, Wei Wuxian manages to grasp a few words. “What—” He has to move to a whisper, conscious of the way his stomach bobs under Lan Wangji’s hands. “What are you writing?”
Lan Wangji paints the next stroke down his rippled skin. “Nothing legible if you cannot hold still.”
Wei Wuxian’s diaphragm shivers with the effort to hold steady. “Have mercy, er-gege. I’m doing my best.”
“Is it cold?” Lan Wangji asks.
“Uh-huh,” Wei Wuxian breathes. “Don’t stop, though.”
He can’t quite see Lan Wangji’s face from where he’s lying, but Wei Wuxian hears the curve of his lips in his reply. “That was not in question.”
Wei Wuxian laughs in exhale, the way Lan Wangji might. Before Lan Wangji, Wei Wuxian never would have thought he’d like being bossed around. But it’s a heady feeling, no matter how often they play this game. It thrills and settles Wei Wuxian all at once.
The brush dips lower now, ghosting his lower dantian, and the strain of holding still is a sweet ache. It’s almost too much. He’s had a lot of ‘almost too much’ since he told Lan Wangji that he loved him - he’s greedy for it now, loves feeling the edges of it under his fingers. But this is the first time he’s had it like this, lying open to the room, tipped up to face Lan Wangji and the ceiling and the patter of rain above. Barely touched. Overcrowded with the feeling of it.
He’s not used to lying still on his back like this, either. He could certainly get used to it. But he would have associated this more, before today, with Wen Qing and her needles. Which was far from this pleasant, but not entirely bad itself. He never liked the needles, but he could play that up with her, as a joke. A joke she’d never actually laugh at. But if she rolled her eyes at him, at least he was distracting her.
Don’t tell me when you’re doing it, he remembers moaning, once. His eyes were squeezed shut, the cave floor smooth and cold at his back. Just tell when you’re done .
In this memory, though, she pauses. I am done , she’d said. You didn’t feel that?
And back in the present, in this inn tucked into the crook of a mountain range, Wei Wuxian says, “Oh.”
The brush stutters to a halt. And the icy-warm shivers pool where the brush does, nestled against his stomach.
“What is it?” Lan Wangji asks.
Wei Wuxian nearly feels guilty, for a moment. But it’s a strange, quicksilver thing, recalling his first life - rapid rolling free associations, like tipping a jug of sand. You need to push just the right way to pour it out. And Lan Wangji has a habit of ensuring that every part of him is touched.
So he remembers, lying here, that repeated use of resentful energy dulls sensation over time. Wen Qing’s theory. Though by the time she told him, he already had an idea that it was true. In all of his sharpest memories, he doesn’t feel much at all.
The brush doesn’t move, but neither does Wei Wuxian. One of Lan Wangji’s hands comes to rest on his thigh.
“Ah, Lan Zhan,” Wei Wuxian says. Warm where Lan Wangji is touching him, chilled where he’s not. It’s hilariously improbable to be here some days, under his husband’s palms. After what he let go. After what Mo Xuanyu gave up. And here he is in Mo Xuanyu’s skin, feeling for both of them.
Wei Wuxian breathes in the tangle of it. And then he smiles.
“I still don’t want you to stop,” he says.
Lan Wangji’s thumb rubs along the outer edge of Wei Wuxian’s thigh, a firm press. Wei Wuxian wonders sometimes how he does that - knows when Wei Wuxian wants it gentle and when he wants to be pinned.
“Keep still,” he says. And he lifts the brush.
Wei Wuxian has never been good at holding one thing in his head at once. Jiang-shushu once said he wasn’t built for it. But the knot in his chest loosens, and the steady flow of his own blood is a current, tugging him under. The room narrows to the drift of Lan Wangji’s brush. The cool lick of the ink. The sun-warm weight of Lan Wangji’s hand.
By the time Lan Wangji takes his hand, eases him up as gently as he would from sleep, the world is softly blurred.
“Wei Ying?” Lan Wangji says.
Wei Wuxian blinks into the low light. His tongue feels pleasantly heavy in his mouth. “I’m here,” he says, nonsensically.
It takes him a moment to recognize Lan Wangji’s soft huff as laughter. “You can look.”
Wei Wuxian’s still a little fuzzy as he bends over, his mind sluggishly drawing itself back into the room. He takes in the perfect rectangle of Lan Wangji’s elegant calligraphy, painted down his stomach, slowly. It looks almost like the shape of a talisman. But rather than intricate spellwork, Lan Wangji has written a simple sentence. Wei Ying is beautiful like this .
Wei Wuxian throws his head back and laughs, reels Lan Wangji in carefully so as not to smudge his work. Lan Wangji’s hands take his face carefully as their lips meet, and Wei Wuxian sighs into it, leans into the cradle of his calluses and the strong lines of his palms. The pads of his fingers are a little rough, sandpaper kisses across Wei Wuxian’s cheeks. He wants to know the feel of them in his sleep. He can’t wait.
“Write me something else,” Wei Wuxian says, when they break apart.
This close, Wei Wuxian can feel Lan Wangji’s smile curved against his own. “Alright.”