Lan Wangji wishes fervently that he were a man less prone to finding himself in regretful situations. The club is loud and hot and the strobing lights are already starting to give him a headache where he’s perched on a stool, back ramrod straight and hands folded tightly in his lap. He can barely breathe in this space.
The GusuLan sect’s newest inducted disciple sits beside him, already tipsy, talking too loudly to his friends from other sects. Su She, Lan Wangji thinks his name is. He wishes, again, that he weren’t here, at a fucking strip club of all places on the last night before classes officially start.
But Su She is new, and Lan Wangji’s uncle had asked him to show the young man around, keep an eye on him, the like—and when Su She insisted on going to Club Yiling despite Wangji’s repeated protests, Lan Wangji had followed.
It’s not that he couldn’t leave Su She to his own hedonistic devices—it’s just that he feels responsible. Su She and his friends would have come anyways, Wangji has no illusions about that fact. Lan Wangji is here as a mitigator of sorts, an aggressive damper on their evening to discourage them from losing all sense. The GusuLan sect’s three thousand rules have loosened somewhat over the course of history—disciples are allowed to engage with worldly pleasures with appropriate displays of self-control and respect—so it’s not as if Su She is stepping completely out of line just by being here, though it grinds Lan Wangji’s teeth.
He hates this. Xichen would have been a better choice because Xichen is actually good at understanding and relating to others. Xichen would have come willingly and graciously, firmly kept everyone in check while somehow still managing to win their love and respect, and maintained a perfectly clean record of his own. Why their uncle passed this job to Wangji is a mystery. Everyone knows Wangji is cold and awkward, an uptight stickler for the rules who doesn’t know how to have fun. Xichen is the cool brother. Wangji will never be anything but the grumpy chaperone.
Dimly, Lan Wangji is aware of the DJ announcing a set of dancers, but their names are drowned out by the loud whoops and cheers from around him. Lan Wangji winces against the cacophony, glances at his watch. It’s already far past nine, but it seems things are only now getting started. He resigns himself to an evening blankly staring into his untouched glass of water, cataloguing the way the condensation gathers and rolls down the sides.
But then, there’s a particularly bright flash of light, and he glances up, startled. This is a mistake.
Club Yiling is unique in that it’s coed. Lan Wangji wishes it were less unique when he feels his throat go dry, eyes locking with a dancer sauntering out onto the stage with the most obscene sway to his hips. The man somehow picks him out of the crowd and winks at him with dark eyes, and Lan Wangji quickly averts his gaze, back to his glass, back to the condensation, back to melting ice and still water. His heart is beating rapidly in his ears, blood rushing to his head uncomfortably. He digs his nails into his palm.
It’s not like he’s never seen an attractive man before in his life—there are plenty of attractive men in the world. There are plenty of attractive men in his own sect. But Lan Wangji is the second young master of his family. He cannot look at men. He has a responsibility.
“Restrain yourself,” he snaps, a little too harshly as Su She lets out a loud catcall. He doesn’t bother to check if he looks properly chastised. Instead, he tries to rein in his breathing, one long inhale, one long exhale. He feels exposed and naked, like anyone who looks at him will be able to see—
And because lady luck has long since abandoned him for the night, someone jostles against his back and Lan Wangji looks up unwillingly at the stage for the second time.
The man is right in front of him, grinning down cheshire-like and wicked. His eyes are bright with mischief, cheeks sparkling with body glitter that glimmers with the shifting lights. Lan Wangji is going to look away, he is, but then the man lets out a ringing laugh that exposes the long line of his throat, and Lan Wangji finds himself unable.
He dances like a swordsman, Lan Wangji finds himself noting through a haze of self-recriminating horror and appreciative lust. He tries to focus on the steps, the patterns of his steps. Here—something reminiscent of a parry, there—a strike.
His shirt comes loose, then open, then off, his thin tie used as a prop and then tossed aside, but he doesn’t go much further, only undoing the button on his pants and dipping his fingers beneath the waistband for a brief second before he laughs again, shaking his finger at the crowd endearingly to laughter and good-natured boos. Lan Wangji feels his eyes pinned to the man’s form, the shadow of his collarbone, the dip of his spine. There are other dancers on stage, he knows—even other very beautiful men, but—
Was it the wink? Was it because he noticed Lan Wangji staring and acknowledged him? Is it because Lan Wangji is so pathetically repressed that that alone is enough to set his mind bolting down dirty alleyways and splashing in the gutter?
“Hello,” the man says, and it takes Lan Wangji a full five seconds to realize he’s being spoken to. He’s on his knees in front of him, only slightly above eye level as he leans in close. “What’s your name?”
Lan Wangji feels his mouth opening before his brain catches up. “Lan,” he says automatically. It comes out remarkably steady and cold for how chaotic his internal emotional landscape is.
The man raises an eyebrow, lips quirked. He looks like he’s on the verge of laughter. Lan Wangji wants to tip him over the edge. “Just Lan?” he repeats. “Well, I was looking for your given name, but a surname is fine too, Lan-gege.”
“I’m the second brother,” Lan Wangji corrects because his brain has apparently full-on shorted out. I’m the second brother?? He wants to punch himself in the face.
The man laughs, which Wangji tries desperately not to count as a win. “Okay, Lan-er-gege,” he says amiably, brimming with mirth. “If you say so.”
“And you?” Lan Wangji asks, seizing onto niceties like a drowning man.
“Weren’t you paying attention when they introduced us?” the man asks, affecting a pout and batting his long lashes. “I’m hurt, Lan-er-gege!”
Lan Wangji tells himself he’s refusing to dignify that with a response, but the truth is his mind is a roaring white blankness that offers him nothing. He simply stares.
“I’m WiFi,” the man says, taking pity on him.
“WiFi?” Lan Wangji feels his brows knit ever so slightly together.
“My stage name,” WiFi clarifies.
“WiFi?” he repeats. It’s a ridiculous stage name. He can’t call this man WiFi.
“Hey, don’t knock it,” he scolds him. “I’ve been told it’s very cute.”
“By whom?” Lan Wangji asks.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he teases. “You don’t like it? You won’t call me that, Lan-er-gege?”
“No,” Lan Wangji says dispassionately.
WiFi leans down on all fours, back a deep, cat-like arch as he puts his lips so close to Lan Wangji’s ear he can feel the warmth of his breath.
“Then, you can call me Wuxian,” he whispers, like a secret.
“Wuxian,” Wangji repeats unbidden.
“Good boy,” Wuxian murmurs against the shell of his ear. Lan Wangji can almost feel the curve of his lips.
Lan Wangji viciously stomps down on the little flutter in his heart. It’s nothing special—the pun is obvious now that it’s been said. Wuxian probably does this with plenty of customers. It’s a good trick, Wangji thinks bitterly before immediately attempting to rip that bitterness out by its roots. He needs to get a grip on himself.
“I’ll be back,” Wuxian says, pulling away. There’s a hint of regret in his voice and Lan Wangji tries very hard to appreciate the calculated subtlety of his acting instead of allowing himself to be caught up with hope and longing. Wuxian stands up and struts over to a small group of women cheering and waving at him. He bends down and Lan Wangji catches the flash of a smile so wide and genuine it hurts. Lan Wangji turns back to his water.
Su She and his friends are engaged with a woman with a round face and cute button features. Lan Wangji hopes they were too busy to notice his exchange with Wuxian. He watches out of the corner of his eye, ready with a reprimand if any of them get too bold. He doesn’t technically have the right to discipline any of them except Su She, but his reputation is often enough to exercise his authority regardless.
He passes several minutes uneventfully, his heart slowing incrementally the longer Wuxian stays away, flitting from customer to customer. A few of the women dancers come to talk to Lan Wangji, but he engages only enough to be polite, turning down any flirtatious solicitation with quiet refusals. They respect his space and leave him be, which he appreciates with no small amount of relief.
A shot glass is pushed into his view. He looks up sharply to find Su She and his friends grinning drunkenly at him.
“Second Young Master!” Su She says. “Drink up! You can’t come to a club without having at least one drink.”
“Alcohol is forbidden,” Lan Wangji recites without thought.
Su She tsks. “Second Young Master, it isn’t. Not anymore.”
“I keep to the rules,” Lan Wangji says firmly. “I do not drink.”
“Come on, Second Young Master Lan!” a disciple from another clan cajoles. Lan Wangji turns his icy gaze to him, taking in the golden colors of his clothing. LanlingJin. He searches his memory for a name—Jin Zixun, he thinks. Cousin to the heir.
“I do not drink,” Lan Wangji repeats. He pushes the glass back towards them. “Thank you for your offer.”
“Come on, isn’t that too disrespectful?” Jin Zixun bridles. “It’s a token of our sects’ alliance.”
Lan Wangji bites back the first response that comes to mind, allowing the fury to flare itself out before saying, “It is unnecessary. Our sects’ alliance will not be broken by a glass of alcohol shared amongst juniors.”
“Who says it’s unnecessary?” Jin Zixun is drunker than Lan Wangji first realized. There are spots of color high on his cheeks, his words aggressive and slurred. “Second Young Master Lan. I insist.” He pushes the shot back in front of Lan Wangji, sloshing some of the liquid out over the sides. Lan Wangji picks up a napkin and wipes up the spill.
“I refuse,” he says. “Thank you.”
Before Zixun can open his mouth to protest, a hand shoots out and snatches up the glass. Lan Wangji looks up just in time to see Wuxian down the shot, Adam’s apple bobbing. He slams the cup down with a bang on the table.
“Now, now, kiddos,” he says. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you peer pressure is wrong?” He’s smiling cheerfully, belying the dangerous edge to his voice that turns Lan Wangji’s knees weak. He’s glad he’s sitting. “Anyways, I drank it for him. No hard feelings, all right?”
“You—!” Jin Zixun looks positively apoplectic with rage. “We paid for that!”
“Well, you should have asked if your young master here actually wanted it, then,” Wuxian says with an exaggerated shrug.
“We could have drunk that,” Su She snaps angrily.
“You weren’t going to,” Wuxian counters, spreading his hands wide. “Isn’t this fine? The liquor’s been drunk. Your alliance is intact.”
“What would a whore like you know about sect alliances?” Jin Zixun snarls.
“Young Master Jin!” Lan Wangji is halfway to his feet when Wuxian laughs with a wild recklessness.
“What would I know? Enough to know that I won’t remember you.” He turns to wink at Lan Wangji. “Thank you for defending my honor, Lan-er-gege,” he says, blowing him a kiss.
“How dare you address him that way, you fucking fag—” Su She spits before he finds his lips sealed. His eyes widen in shock.
Lan Wangji feels nothing but a frigid rage inside of him as he lowers his hand. It barely shakes. He feels the residue of the spell in his fingertips, buzzing with anger. Undisciplined, he scolds himself as he shakes them out. Uncontrolled.
Jin Zixun starts to open his mouth again and Lan Wangji takes the liberty of silencing him as well. Their muffled objections catch the attention of their friends, but Lan Wangji doesn’t have the time or patience for them.
Wuxian grins, slow and impish. “What, nothing else to say?” he asks innocently.
“Please do not provoke them further,” Lan Wangji says. He pulls out his money pouch, grabs a wad of cash without looking. He presents it to Wuxian with a formal salute. “I apologize for their actions. They were childish and unworthy. Please accept this as recompense for your trouble.”
“Lan-er-gege!” Wuxian says, drawing out the syllables with deliberate playfulness that has Lan Wangji pursing his lips. “Trying to buy me off?” Lan Wangji looks up, brow wrinkled. Wuxian laughs. “I’m joking, I’m joking. I understand.” He bends over, and Lan Wangji realizes, almost too late, that he intends to take the money with his teeth.
He immediately snatches it away.
Wuxian blinks. “Are you teasing me, Lan-er-gege?” he asks with another full-lip pout. “You don’t really intend to give me money? Poor me?”
“It’s unsanitary,” Lan Wangji says, trying very hard to to keep his tone even. “You’ll get sick. Please take it properly with your hands, and put it in your pockets.”
Wuxian nearly falls over, howling with laughter.
“What.” Lan Wangji feels like he’s crawling out of his skin. People are starting to stare. He wants to leave, now.
“Pockets?” he gasps. “Put it in my pockets?? Lan-er-gege, does it look like these are real pockets?” Wuxian gestures expansively to his skintight jeans, still with that top button undone, hanging low on his hips.
Lan Wangji can feel his ears heating, but he remains composed. “Then please take it and put it wherever you’re supposed to keep your money,” he amends stoically.
Wuxian’s laughter is clear and bright and delighted, and he reaches out to take the bills with two elegant fingers, tucking them seductively into his waistband. He licks his lips provocatively at Lan Wangji, who studiously does not acknowledge it, and instead gives him a small bow before whirling around, dragging Su She by the collar out the door.
“Come back soon, Lan-er-gege!” he hears Wuxian call out behind him.
Lan Wangji says nothing to Su She as he marches him back towards campus. Su She remains unwillingly mute, but Lan Wangji can feel the way he radiates humiliated anger. Lan Wangji doesn’t care. He releases him at the entrance to his dormitory.
“You have acted in a manner unbecoming of our sect,” Lan Wangji says. “Reflect upon your actions and report to my uncle’s office at six tomorrow morning for disciplinary action.”
He doesn’t wait for a response and walks away, breathing in the cool night air in an attempt to clear out his lungs of the pervasive smoky scent of Club Yiling and the remnant scraps of uncomfortable heat and anxiety. It sort of works, and sort of doesn’t. He returns to his room, writes up a full incident report despite the late hour, seals it, and delivers it to his uncle’s inbox so that it’s ready for the morning. He shoots his uncle a brief text informing him of the disciplinary meeting he’s scheduled before setting his phone aside to charge.
He finds himself at a loss, pacing back and forth before his bed absently, worrying the nervous energy in his veins out into his measured steps. That won’t do. Mechanically, he undresses for bed, washes up, turns out the light, and lies there. He checks the time. It’s very late. He touches his ear, eyes closed, remembering Wuxian’s voice, remembering—Good boy, the ghostly impression of a smile—and shudders. He wrenches his hand away, balling it into a fist. Undisciplined. Uncontrolled. He tries to steady his breathing and fails. All he can see are Wuxian’s catlike eyes, his cutting smile, the length of his fingers, the gold of his skin—
Fuck yourself, Su She, Lan Wangji thinks with vicious deliberation, some impure ugly part of him relishing in the satisfaction of cursing the man. Fuck all of this. And then he reaches between his legs with a hot frisson of shame, gasping Wuxian’s name into the pillow as he gives in.