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Gratitude【感恩】

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Of course I forgive — I've seen how you live
Like a phoenix, you rise from the ashes
You pick up the pieces
And the ghosts in the attic, they never quite leave

 

 

Mo Xuanyu has soft hands. Or rather, Wei Wuxian corrects himself, had.

For one who had been studying cultivation, Mo Xuanyu’s hands are delicate and soft, uncalloused and unscarred and unstained from ink.

Even Lan Wangji's hands, smooth and well cared-for, are calloused at the the tips of his fingers from countless hours of practice on the guqin, rough at the palms from clutching at his sword, and prickle at Wuxian’s skin when Wangji runs them down his (Mo Xuanyu’s) ribs and flank and settle them at his (Mo Xuanyu’s) waist.

Wangji’s hands are regal and speak of years of hard work and discipline on top of prowess, and Wuxian had always appreciated them from afar, even before they ever gripped his own, dry and safe and sure, before they ever cupped his cheeks to bring Wuxian’s face close for a kiss, before they ever opened his body up and made him gasp and cry —

Wuxian had always loved Wangji’s hands, long before he had realized he loved Wangji himself.

Wuxian’s hands, from what he remembered of them, had always been a mess of a thing. First, dirty and bloody from clawing himself out of death’s jaws on a daily basis, then messy and calloused and fickle the way that boys’ hands just are, then stained with ink and blood and blood.

It is always Wangji’s hand on his arm or shoulder or the small of his back, grounding and firm, that pulls him away from that ledge and back to now.

Mo Xuanyu’s hands, though, are soft and delicate like a courtesan’s, and speak little about the life he had lived unlike Wangji’s or Wuxian’s own. But his grip is strong, and his fingers quick and precise. Like his underdeveloped but reasonably worthy golden core, it is a blank canvas Wuxian can work with.

But most importantly, when his fingers slot between Wangji’s, Wangji’s long fingers pressing against the back of his hand and Wangji’s grip pulsing gently which sends warmth up his body as his husband looks down at him with soft, adoring eyes — Wuxian wouldn’t have minded even if it weren’t, if this was all he got to have.

***

The missing six centimeters, of course, are the most obvious change.

The Yiling Patriarch had been for so many years a looming figure, someone larger than life, that Wuxian could have shown up as he had been and disappointed them anyway.

This is the great Yiling Patriarch? some of the foolish ones boast to his face, This tiny shrimp of a thing who I can hack down in one swing of my sword?

But hubris, Wuxian knows, has made even greater men fall to their knees and so he lets them laugh until more often than not, Wangji’s dark expression and a single word chastens into submission. On the rare occasion, it is Wuxian himself who, with a soft whistle of his flute which summons a hoard of fierce corpses, makes them cower with the understanding that it not the body that makes Wuxian so powerful and feared.

Not that Wuxian cares to cower anyone. If Wuxian is doing any summoning, it is because he and Wangji have more pressing problems than a handful of arrogant cultivators who don’t know their place.

It is also not the strangers that bother him.

When all the juniors — Jingyi and Sizhui and finally, finally Jin Ling — spring up past him like bamboo shoots, thin and lanky and awkward before they finally fill out, Wuxian huffs and whines, pretending to throw a fit each time. Secretly, though, he is prideful of his boys, his heart full of joy that they have all grown so well.

That doesn’t mean he does not pout, though, when Jin Ling is smirking down at him rather than scowling up, finally finding the one annoyance that would pierce through Wuxian’s overly lax and cheerful persona. Or that he doesn’t feel a throb in his temple when he sees Jiang Cheng’s smug but proud paternal smile, a long-delayed retribution for the single centimeter he’s always had on Jiang Cheng growing up finally delivered.

But when he has to stand on his tiptoes to kiss his husband, always just missing by a bit and finding the lower corner of Wangji’s mouth, and pulls back to find Wangji dazed and red at the tip of his ears after all this time — well, Wuxian finds that he does not really mind.

***

He occasionally hears from whispers of whispers that inhabiting Mo Xuanyu’s body is the reason the Yiling Patriarch is now a cut-sleeve.

As though it were a type of sickness that poisoned the body and seeped into the soul.

Once, Wuxian had wondered the same himself, but in his heart, he had always known. If it were a sickness, it was the type that had first infected him when was he was caught crossing Cloud Recesses’ border after curfew under the moonlight, fifteen and too brash and arrogant and innocent. The type that had continued spreading as he was trapped in a cave with a hundred-year old slain monster of legend that even a fever could not burn away.

Now, Wuxian laughs and laughs and laughs until he sees a tenseness in Wangji’s jaw that he has to chase away with kisses and a teasing smile.

“Lan er-gege,” he says, soothing, “Was it this body who had kissed you back at the night hunt Lanling? Who had thrown flowers at you? Who had carried you on its back and insisted on laying its head in your lap?”

It is true that Wuxian’s soul is dark and poisoned at its core, but it is not the love he has for Wangji that makes it so. Rather, it is Wangji’s love, Wangji’s devotion to him that saves him every day.

“Wei Ying is Wei Ying,” Wangji says, too earnest, palm resting heavy over Wuxian’s heart.

“Yes. Wei Ying is Wei Ying,” Wuxian agrees easily, moving Wangji’s hand up to cusp at his cheek. “I’m here.”

Wangji pulls Wuxian into his lap, arms wrapping tightly around his waist and burying his face into the crook of Wuxian’s neck. Wangji does not tremor, for he is stronger than that, but Wuxian knows what he is searching for with his ear just near enough to Wuxian’s heart to hear the steady thumping rhythm of alive, alive, alive.

Wuxian’s body had been turned to dust, when he had died. It was not a body that Wangji had waiting for thirteen years, Wuxian knows. But it is this body, now, that hosts the soul Wangji had been searching for, this body which allows Wangji to hold Wuxian every night, that he kisses and makes love to. That allows Wuxian to kiss Wangji back, to love him, to be here with him.

“I’m here, Lan Zhan,” Wuxian says, untying the white headband around Wangji’s forehead and kissing the delicate skin just beneath. “I love you. I will love you a thousand lifetimes, no matter what I look like. Even when you’re sick of me, I won’t leave you.”

Wangji looks up at him, eyes brimming with emotion and — it never fails to catch Wuxian off guard how much Wangji feels.

“Don’t say anything,” he says, voice wavering as he presses a finger over Wangji’s lips. Wangji’s reticence, Wuxian knows, is by choice and not for a lack of skill in eloquence. For Wuxian, whose words were light and casually tossed around, the honesty and lyricism of Wangji’s devotion to him when spoken aloud is always overwhelming. “Kiss me.”

Wangji does. He kisses Wuxian like a drowning man needs air, devours him like a starving man needs food, kisses Wuxian like it’s the first and last and only chance he’ll have, with such tenderness and passion that Wuxian can feel tears prickle at the corner of his eyes.

For Wuxian, who is of many words but is not always good with them, and Wangji, who is of few, the only kind of honesty they need is sometimes best communicated through through heat, through touch, through the only way two people could become one.

“I’m here,” Wangji says, “You’re here.” And it’s the last thing either of them say for a while, as they let their hands and bodies reassure each other of this truth.

***

“Your smile suits his face,” Jin Ling says one night, out of the blue, while Wuxian and Wangji are out supervising the juniors on a night hunt. Soon, much sooner than Wuxian wants, that will no longer be needed when they come of age.

Wuxian tilts his head up slightly towards Jin Ling. He looks askance in Jin Ling’s direction to let him know he is listening, but for once lets the silence settle between them until Jin Ling is ready to talk.

“I spent most of my childhood in Yunmeng. But when I was in Lanling, Mo Xuanyu would play with me and read to me when no one else would.”

When Mo Xuanyu had sacrificed his soul to summon the vengeful spirit of the Yiling Patriarch to eradicate the Mo family, it had been so easy to assume that there was no one left in the world who he loved or who had loved him.

How selfish and remiss, Wuxian realizes, it had been to dismiss that he might have loved Jin Ling as much as Wuxian does.

“He was always good to me,” Jin Ling confesses, red-eyed and shame-faced. “And later I was so– unkind.”

Wuxian knows, understands, the way that a well-loved child might take affection for granted, the way a child bullied by his peers might turn that aggression against someone even more vulnerable than himself. Children so easily swallow the ignorance and prejudice and hate of those around them, regurgitating it without a reference to the harm it might wrought. Wuxian had spent two lifetimes now letting such words roll like water off his back, but he can imagine all too easily the pain Mo Xuanyu had pooling his stomach when hearing those kinds of words from a beloved nephew.

And then—

Jin Ling had mourned too many people in his short life. His parents, whom he had never known; respect for an uncle, who betrayed his family and his deepest trust. Wuxian wonders how long Jin Ling has also mourned Mo Xuanyu, the uncle who was gone yet also not; how hard it was to do so when his face still smiled and spoke to Jin Ling so often.

“I can read to you, Jin Ling,” Wuxian offers, cheeky, unsure how to comfort him.

“You–!” Jin Ling huffs and scowls. “I am not a child.” Yet, if he weren't, he wouldn't be here with Wuxian, needing his and Wangji's extra protection and education still.

But Wuxian knows better, knows with painful first-hand experience that age is more than a number and maturity is more than talent or power.

Wuxian looks at him, serious and solemn. “I know, Sect Leader Jin,” he says after a pause, and Jin Ling's eyes widen in surprise. “I know you are not a child. But I wish I had been here to read to you, to see you grow up.”

There are many things Wuxian has wished for in regards to Jin Ling, so many hopes and regrets that such a simple wish could not ever fit onto any list. He says with it all the knowledge that Jin Ling will always be angry with him, a little, for things that have happened, and the things he will never be able to properly apologize for or change or amend. But Wuxian says it right now anyway because it is true and he wants to.

“I also wish you could have Mo Xuanyu here with you right now,” he says, not because he does not want to be here, but because he always wishes for Jin Ling to have everything he could want.

Jin Ling looks like he is about to protest, and Wuxian shakes his head and continues. “I have loved you since before you were born. I loved you since before I named you, and I loved you before you were a passing thought in your mother’s mind.” Jin Ling is red in the face now. “Jin Rulan — you are not a child anymore. But I will always be your uncle.”

Jin Ling's shoulders quiver, and for a moment, Wuxian wonders if he will burst out into a fit of anger, a protective mechanism Jin Ling has always relied on when he did not know how to react. But instead, Jin Ling straightens up his shoulders and bows to Wuxian.

It is the first time Wuxian has seen the top of his head for many months now.

“Thank you, uncle. I know.” Jin Ling's voice is steady if a bit huskier than normal. Wuxian had once taught him that the hardest things to say were ‘I'm sorry’ and ‘thank you’, but Jin Ling is here, saying one of them to him now, and calling him uncle finally after all this time.

“And you did—” Jin Ling chokes, “You did see me grow up.”

That is how Wangji, Sizhui, and Jingyi finds them — teary-eyed and clutching at each other.

On the way back, Jin Ling, embarrassed to be caught crying in front of his friends, walks behind the two with Wuxian and Wangji as Sizhui and Jingyi chatter at the front of their party, leading the way home. After a while, he leans towards Wuxian and clarifies his earlier statement.

“Uncle Xuanyu always smiled small and serene. Not unlike Auntie Qin Su. But when you smile… it’s like the sun.”

Wuxian beams up at Jin Ling, but for a moment looks to the side and catches Wangji's eye.

“Happiness is a good look on hi– on you. Not that I approve of the cut-sleeve lifestyle!” Jin Ling scowls and feigns annoyance, rushing forward to join Sizhui and Jingyi. “B-but it’s still a good thing. Keeps you from making more trouble,” he stutters out before turning around to join in on whatever topic of conversation his friends had started.

With Jin Ling gone, Wuxian turns his entire body in attention to his husband. He finds Wangji looking back at him, quizzical but with his usual serene kindness.

“I’ll tell you when we get home,” Wuxian says, hooking his ring finger and pinky into Wangji’s palm, and Wangji tightens his grip reflexively. Wangji nods, understanding.

On the way home, Wangji listens too attentively as he always does to Wuxian’s chatter about inane things that come out of his mouth before they even filter through his brain. And if Wuxian’s shoulders are lighter with a forgiveness he had not known he even wanted, Wangji knows him too well to mention it aloud.

***

Wuxian’s messy but functional scrawl has a new lyrical tilt, indiscernible to anyone but those who had known him the best. Even those who had read the Yiling Patriarch's numerous writings would be unlikely to notice the difference, yet Wuxian has seen the quirk in Lan Qiren's eyebrow when he’s looked at a new script Wuxian has written and there is a postscript on a returned letter from Jiang Cheng commenting on how his handwriting has finally shown some improvement.

Wuxian now, without thinking, walks with a new lightness and poise that Jiang Fengmian had never asked of him and Yu Ziyuan had never managed to beat into him.

His grip on chopsticks is so unquestionably textbook that even the younger Gusu Lan teachers point to him for the most junior disciplines to mimic, much to Lan Qiren's consternation.

It seems as though even with its original owner departed, Mo Xuanyu's body was haunted with the memory of a level of elegance it had become accustomed to.

Wuxian does not mind, likes it for the most part, even if it is not really him. Mo Xuanyu's body had unconscious quirks that leaned towards grace rather than chaos, and Wuxian is always greedy to find ways to make himself a more acceptable and accepted partner for Wangji.

There are also many things he dislikes.

He had taken for granted so many unconscious reflexes and strengths of his previous body. He tires faster, is quick to flush with alcohol. He shivers easily in cooler temperatures that had never bothered him before; once Wangji noticed, he began carrying extra clothes and blankets for Wuxian in their travel pouch. And scratches and bruises and cuts and scrapes that were easy for him to ignore before became insufferable and slow to heal.

Once, he overhears Jingyi remark to Sizhui how shocking it was to discover that the fearsome Yiling Patriarch was such a crybaby about minor wounds.

For a moment, Wuxian’s age had caught up with him and he’d had half a mind to march over and tell Jingyi off for the disrespect— when Sizhui remarks, not unkindly, that it it weren’t for Senior Wei’s guidance and protection on night hunts, Jingyi’s soul would have already departed his body many times over and it would be unlikely that anyone would try to return Jingyi’s soul to his own body much less someone else’s.

Jingyi sputters and flusters red, and Wuxian was never more sure than then that he and Wangji had raised such a good boy.

Another time, he had asked Wangji, flush with a fever that he had not felt since being trapped in Xuanwu’s cave decades ago, which body Wangji liked better.

“Definitely the old body, right? Such a handsome face, none of the girls could resist my charm,” Wuxian says, delirious with fever, but still finds it in him to smile cheekily up at Wangji, looking for and finding that unhappy twist of his husband's mouth.

“Rest. Don’t talk anymore,” Wangji says, replacing the cooling moist towel on his forehead with a new warm one.

“This face and body isn’t so bad though, is it?” Wuxian continues anyway. “I know you like it that I’m smaller than you now.” His eyes are too heavy, but he can feel Wangji pause, the air still for a moment before he goes back to tending to Wuxian’s fever.

“Ah, I can’t decide which would hurt my feelings more,” Wuxian slurs. “That you like someone else’s body more than mine, or that you don’t find me as attractive as you used to… how horrible.”

Beside him, Wangji huffs in amusement.

“Every day… I promised we could do it every day…. I cannot service you today, Lan er-gege.” Wuxian turns his head and the moist towel falls off his forehead. “This body is so weak… useless.” They had gotten caught in a rainstorm on the way back from night hunting in Lanling, and Wuxian had shivered and fallen ill by the time they had arrived back to Gusu.

Wuxian played outside in the rain with Jiang Cheng all the time, growing up. This body really was useless.

“Mmm. Rest,” Wangji says again, putting the towel back on his forehead.

Wuxian uses all his strength to crack open his eyes. Wangji’s face is tense and worried, more so than Wuxian remembers Wangji ever being even in Xuanwu’s cave.

“Sing for me, Lan Zhan?” he croaks out. He wants — Wangji knows what he wants, but Wuxian wants the song and he wants Wangji to not look like that.

— like he isn’t strong enough, like he might leave Wangji now, here, surrounded by the best medicine in the world and his husband’s tireless care, when he was able to survive a fever on top of a hundred-years fabled monster and a burn wound and no food or water for days on end.

The gentle tune of wangxian lulls him to sleep, and he is unconscious before Wangji finishes the song.

When Wuxian wakes up, he is exhausted, sore, but his fever is broken and Wangji’s arm is draped over his waist, breathing evenly. The sun peeks out over the eastern horizon.

He sits up suddenly, but almost falls over, dizzy and weak, and Wangji is there immediately, propping him up.

“Be careful,” Wangji says.

“Let’s open the window. I want to see the sunrise,” Wuxian says.

Wangji carries him to the window nook and props the screen open. Wuxian’s muscles are all feeble, useless, and he mumbles in annoyance into Wangji’s shoulder, eyes turned away from the glare of the rising sun. The morning air is crisp and refreshing against his face for the first time in days, rather than cold and sharp.

“I like the body that allows Wei Ying to be with me,” Wangji says suddenly, and Wuxian lift his head to look up at him, surprised and half-remembering fevered thoughts he had voiced.

“I like the body that studied in Gusu with me so long ago, and the one that had pulled off my forehead ribbon during the archery contest —” Wuxian flushes — “I liked the body that laid on my lap in Xuanwu’s cave. And I liked the body from the Dafan Mountain who had played our song on a poorly made flute. I like the one I married.”

Wangji looks at him, face too soft and earnest, and Wuxian can feel tears pooling at the corner of his eyes.

“This is no fair, Er-gege,” Wuxian says as the tears start falling down his cheeks, and Wangji shushes him, stroking down his arm, before he continues.

“I like this body — the body that was sick three days ago, the one I nursed back to health, and the one laying against me right now. I like the Wei Ying that is here.”

Wuxian is a sobbing, hysterical mess. “It’s so early, Lan Zhan! I’m sick, I’m vulnerable, how can you be like this!” he cries, and Wangji bundles him in his arms, kissing his at temple, uncaring about the stickiness of his hair. Wuxian feels like he’s never been more gross, weaker than at this moment, and yet —

“I love you, Wei Ying,” Wangji says, whispers really, holding Wuxian’s shaking frame too tightly with one hand and stroking his messy, sticky hair with the other. “I have loved you and I will love you, every you.”

Wangji holds him until he stops shaking, until his breathing is even and not wracked with sobs, and the tear tracks are dry on his cheeks.

“I need a bath,” Wuxian says, finally, voice even but exhausted.

Wangji hums, picks him up like he’s lighter than a feather, and bridal carries him to the baths.

And if Wuxian claims he doesn’t struggle, doesn’t even protest at all when Wangji sets him into the tub and whispers into his ear “You’ve always been smaller than me,” with a smirk because he has been so, so sick, then — well, who’s to be the wiser?

***

In his eagerness of youth, Wuxian also had forgotten how slow it was to build up one’s physical stamina and golden core.

His training in Yunmeng had been a rush of competitive play and boyish mischief mixed with long days under Madam Yu’s watchful eyes, but rarely ever felt like work.

Unfortunately, improving the body Mo Xuanyu had left him was turning out to be just that.

Lan Qiren had, with some reluctance, offered to let Wuxian conduct training for some of the junior sect disciples, but they all soon discovered that even those who were brave enough to take on the challenge of sparring with Yiling Patriarch had developed a subconscious fright of accidentally hitting Hanguang-Jun's husband.

Which is how he Wuxian finds himself in a secluded part of Cloud Recesses doing core-strengthening meditation with only Wangji for company.

“Second Master Lan, I'm so bored,” Wuxian complains soon enough, dropping out of his pose and immediately throwing himself onto Wangji. Wangji barely budges, but the combined impact of their weights knocks some spring petals loose from the tree they had been under and frightens away all the rabbits that had begun to gather around around Wangji.

“Mm,” Wangji acknowledges, plucking a stray petal out of his hair as Wuxian rights himself.

“This is boring. I want to do something fun.”

“What would you want to do?” Wangji asks, setting aside some very official-looking documents he had been reading.

Wuxian sighs. The truth was that no one is forcing him to do this. But aside from being a matter of pride, one matter always weighed heavily on his mind.

Mo Xuanyu had been nearly a decade younger than he and Wangji but without strengthening his cultivation base, this body would age more rapidly than Wangji's own. More than anything else, Wangji deserves every second of Wuxian's love that he can squeeze out of his second chance.

Wuxian blinks and looks up, realizing that Wangji has been patiently waiting for him to respond.

“Ah, Hanguang-Jun,” Wuxian says, “spar with me.”

Wangji tilts his head, a little nod of affirmation that Wuxian has become better at reading over the past year, and sets aside his papers in a neat pile, out of the way. As he stands, he pulls Wuxian up with him.

Wuxian dusts off his own clothes and walks several paces so they have enough space. He’s pretty sure what they’re about to get back to is as close to unsanctioned fighting within the Cloud Recesses as Wangji is going to allow.

“I’m not holding back,” Wuxian yells, light and almost carefree, and Wangji nods solemnly from the other side, the only person in the world who can distinguish Wuxian’s effervescence from his frivolousness.

With a light touch, Wuxian lunges forward and Wangji side steps easily, dodging a kick. Wuxian lands on both feet and without missing a beat, pushes forward again, his punch missing Wangji by a few cun.

Wuxian turns out around where he stops a couple paces away, huffing to catch his breath. Still, he can feel a smile on his face that’s also reflected in the tiny quirk of his husband’s lips.

Wangji dodges each jab and kick with an airy ease as Wuxian chases after him with the same rhythm they’d first found over the rooftops of the Cloud Recesses at fifteen. This time though, there’s no Emporer’s Smile in Wuxian’s hands and no Bichen in Wangji’s, and it is in Wuxian’s blood that the thrill of the chase pounds.

It’s not an unfamiliar dance for either of them.

But after a couple of rounds, Wuxian’s legs begin to feel an itching burn, and he begins to stumble when he lands. Wangji, though, doesn’t even have a hair astray.

Still, Wuxian is nothing if not a sore loser and resourceful beyond his own means, and on the next lunge, he trips a little, throwing his whole weight into the fall.

He can feel the moment Wangji makes the split-second decision to catch him.

“Ha!” he shouts, turning around in the air and kicking Wangji’s legs out from under him. Wangji’s eyes widen a fraction of an inch as he falls on top of Wuxian in an ungraceful pile.

“Oof,” Wuxian huffs out, wind knocked out of him with all of husband’s weight pressed on top of him, and smiles cheekily when Wangji props himself up on his elbows, leaving only a breathe’s worth of space between them.

“I won,” Wuxian announces triumphantly.

“Mm,” Wangji acknowledges. “Did you.”

“Hanguang-Jun,” Wuxian mock scolds, “how can you lose so easily? What would the juniors of your sect say if they heard their unbeatable Hanguang-Jun fell for such a petty trick by the Yiling Patriarch.”

“Who said I lost?”

Wuxian reaches to cup Wangji’s face with both his hands, and tilts his head up to press a kiss to the tip of Wangji’s nose.

“I won,” Wuxian says again.

In one fluid motion, Wangji rises to his feet, hoisting Wuxian up in his arms as though he were as light as a bird. Wuxian feigns a struggle for a half-second like he does every Wangji carries him like this, before resting his head in the crook of Wangji’s neck, pressing his hand right over Wangji’s heart to steady himself.

“I never lose when you win,” Wangji says, always too earnest.

“How can you say these kinds of things so easily. You never warn me…” Wuxian half-heartedly complains. He’s sticky and slightly sleepy, and all he wants is to be coddled and pampered by his ever-doting husband right now.

“I never lose when it’s you,” Wangji says again, nudging opening the door to the jingshi with his foot and without his usual grace, and sets Wuxian down on their bed.

“You have to comfort me when you say these things, Er-gege,” Wuxian says, dragging Wangji down by by the lapels of his outer clothes. “Otherwise, my heart can’t take it.”

“Mm,” Wangji agrees, and leans down to kiss Wuxian with eagerness and warmth.

Wuxian’s new body might not be strong like his previous body, might be have smaller hands, might be delicate and fine-boned…

But it had everything Wuxian needed to hold, to carry the weight of Wangji’s heart. And that’s more than enough.

***

“You still have freckles,” Wangji says, once, in between biting blooming red peony patterns into his shoulders.

“H-huh?” Wuxian gasps out, grasping the bedsheets in front of him, and then he’s distracted by a stutter in Wangji’s thrust, the sharp jut of Wangji’s hip pressing into him.

Wangji repeats himself later, lightly tracing the pale dots on his back as though he were connecting constellations between them, and Wuxian squirms under his feather-light ticklish touch.

“Still, mm?” Wuxian says.

To say the Wuxian of youth was unaware his looks and charms would be an outright lie. He was well aware of the handsomeness of his features, took a certain vanity in taking care of himself. But there were also things he just never took stock in, might have known once about himself but let it fade into the background of his memories and the blurriness of time.

“When did you notice my old body had freckles, Lan Zhan?” Wuxian throws a coy glance over his shoulder, looking Wangji in the eyes with a mischievous smile. Wangji’s expression is almost unreadable, but Wuxian finds a continued delight in being able to make the man who sleeps in his bed every night still turn red at the tip of his ears.

He thinks about all the times that they had seen each other without their shirts on, back then. The week in the cave, where Wangji had laid Wuxian’s head in his lap and nursed him for days at a time, comes to mind as the most obvious.

“Was it—?”

“The cold springs,” Wangji cuts him off. “When we were fifteen.”

“The cold springs? Lan Zhan, I—”

Wuxian chokes back a sudden rush of emotion. He turns over and cradles Wangji’s face in his hands, ghosting kisses over his lips.

Every once in a while, his husband still surprises him with the length and depth of his devotion to him. And in return, once in a while, Wuxian — even with the terribleness of his memory — manages to surprise the both of them in little details he’d so greedily hoarded about Wangji over the years, things only a lover would know or cherish or even think about.

—the way he took his tea, still does after all these years, the flick of his wrist with the pen when Wangji punctuated the end of a sentence, the golden glow of his skin illuminated by a small fire fighting to extinguish the darkness.

Wangji curls an arm over his ribs to pull him closer, and continues to trace the freckles that faded down his back.

Mo Xuanyu, Wuxian thinks, probably hated these freckles that have only grown darker since Wuxian began inhabiting this body, thought them blemishes against his otherwise fair and unflawed pale skin, now lightly bronzed with the hours Wuxian has spent under the sun.

His hair, even more wavy than Wuxian’s own from before, is now a freely wild mess that Wangji helps him comb out every evening after he washes it.

Sometimes Wuxian wonders what Mo Xuanyu would think about what what the Yiling Patriarch has done with his body, if he’d ever thought about it at all. But as Wangji’s hands slide down lower and lower, grasping onto the fleshy part of his hip, the starkness of the memory lighting a new passion in the both of them, Wuxian finds that he really doesn’t care.

The only person Wuxian has to please in this life, after all, is his husband.

***

Thin scars and scabs, purpling bruises, and ink stains bloom on his hands and up his arms, and again are healed within the blink of an eye.

Soon, the soft tips of his fingers become hardened to Wuxian’s work, and sometimes his occasional carelessness. Day after day, practice after practice, Suibian’s hilt rubs his palms raw until the day they don’t. Slowly but surely, Wuxian’s new golden core begins to grow.

Wangji finds something new about his body every night, a new spot to bite down on that will make him moan, how a certain angle a twist of his hips will make Wuxian shudder with tears in his eyes. But in turn, every night Wuxian learns these things about his husband’s body as well.

Perhaps it is not the body Wuxian had known, but with every new scar, every step, every kiss and shuddered breath, every morning waking up to the face of the man he loves, it is the body Wuxian comes to know.

And with every day that Wangji loves and honors him in this body, it becomes a little less the one that belonged to Mo Xuanyu and a little more his.

His to live in, to work and teach in, to love his husband in and for his husband to love him back. Wuxian knows that the delicate red thread that links their pinkies and weaves their souls together does not also tie them to any mortal body. Yet, it is these mortal bodies their souls are in, here and now, that allow them to love each other as they are.

In the here and now, and for the many months and years to come in this lifetime.

And every day, Wuxian brims with gratitude for that.