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“You like him, don’t you?”

 

“What?” Wylan took his eyes off from what he was looking at to glance at his friend. “Who?”

 

Kuwei gestured to the tall, lanky boy lounging on top of one of the greenroom tables, flipping through the pages of his fat script. “Jesper. It’s okay, we all have a thing for the leading man at least some point during the rehearsal process. It happens to the best of us.”

 

“I don’t have a thing for anyone,” Wylan insisted, though he could feel his cheeks heating. “I was just wondering why he isn’t rehearsing with everyone else right now. I thought Galileo of all people would have plenty of things to do,” he huffed, referring to Jesper’s character with just a hint of jealousy. Wylan was perfectly fine with his role as a tech, but sometimes he wondered what it was like to be an actor. To be treated a little more like he was actually useful. Kaz always grumbled that they as techs were the ones who kept the shows moving, but no one ever seemed to really notice. Not that Wylan really cared. It was nice not to have the attention sometimes.

 

“Uh huh,” Kuwei said, entirely not convinced. “And that’s definitely not the reason why you suddenly decided to sign up for tech this year, despite being ‘so busy’ with band.”

 

“Because my dad made me quit!” Wylan hissed. “You know that.” He was still a little hurt by his father’s punishment, to be honest. He knew he should be focusing on his studies, but music was his everything. Maybe he was only interested in tech of all things to fill the void that band left because of a certain actor, but that was beside the point.

 

And it helped that Kuwei was there with him, too. Even if he was insufferable, like right now.

 

“Mr. Haskell asked Jesper to practice his lines while he and Alina run an ensemble number and Zoya does vocals with people that don’t include him,” Kuwei explained. “You should ask him if he needs help .”.

 

“What—with running lines?” Wylan sputtered. “Kuwei, you know —” that he couldn’t read. Kuwei and Kaz were the only people he’d ever told.

 

“You know the show better than anyone here,” Kuwei whispered, patting him on the shoulder. “You’ll be able to handle it.” And then he smiled and went to go help Kaz with something.

 

Leaving Wylan alone in the greenroom with him.

 

Jesper clearly didn’t want to be there. He was looking at his script, but Wylan could hear him humming a particular song. He wondered if Jesper felt left out.

 

Taking a deep breath, heart thumping, Wylan strode towards him.

 

“Um.”

 

Jesper looked up from his script from his spot on top of the table, visible frustration written on his expression. Wylan suddenly wanted to sink into the floor.

 

Then his gaze softened slightly with recognition. “You’re one of the new tech guys, right?”

 

Wylan looked down at the ground. “Yeah.”

 

“Huh.” He glanced at the script, then back at Wylan. “What do you need?”

 

“Um… I was wondering…” Oh god, just breathe, just say it. “...if you wanted help with running your lines?”

 

Jesper groaned, and Wylan’s stomach clenched. “Did Haskell send you to make sure I stayed on task? God, he thinks I’m lazy just like everyone else. I care about this show more than anyone else does,” Jesper grumbled.

 

“N-no, it wasn’t him, I swear,” Wylan said quickly. “I was just wondering if you needed help. It’s easier when someone’s doing it with you, right?”

 

Jesper smiled. “Yeah, it is. Personally I think I’m pretty good with my lines…” Wylan’s heart sank. “But I wouldn’t mind going over them again with a cute guy.”

 

Wylan’s face burned. He knew that Jesper was openly bi—hell, that was part of the reason why he admired him so much; Wylan didn’t think he’d ever have that kind of confidence—but he wasn’t expecting something so direct. Was he being serious?

 

“Oh, um, well, sure,” Wylan sputtered, wincing at how he stumbled over his words. “Should I just…”

 

“Yeah, here,” Jesper said, handing him his tattered script. It was obviously well loved; the paper cover was close to tearing off completely, and the whole book was littered with notes and highlights and sticky notes and crude doodles. Wylan could see this belonged to an actor who cared. “Could you start at my first cue? It should be the first sticky note, on page 5.”

 

Wylan didn’t need to even open the script to know where that was, but he opened to the first sticky note like Jesper suggested.

 

Wylan quickly ran through the scenes in his head. After Kaz, their stage manager, had found out that Wylan couldn’t read and therefore couldn’t note cues, he hadn’t really been mad, at least not in the way that Wylan had feared terribly. He’d just scolded Wylan for not telling him earlier and sent him an illegally recorded bootleg of another high school’s production of We Will Rock You, the exact same one that they were doing.

 

“It’s not perfect,” Kaz had told him, “but it was the only one that I could find. Study up.”

 

And Wylan did. He went home and watched the video, noting every line and appearance in his head. And then he watched it again. And again, until the entire script was ingrained in his mind.

 

Even now he could hear the characters’ voices. It was a mediocre performance, really; as expected of a high school production, but now it was Wylan’s whole world.

 

In his best imitation of the high school girl in the bootleg, Wylan gave Jesper his first cue, even though it pained him to say it. It really was the cheesiest thing ever; Wylan’s face was red. This was honestly kind of a terrible show.

 

But Jesper responded with perfect enthusiasm. “ Hey, you!

 

His voice was completely different than the boy’s in the bootleg, but Wylan immediately decided he preferred Jesper’s version of the character better. He was nothing like the scraggly white Galileo in the recording who couldn’t carry a note for the life of him and was so obviously casted as the lead because he was one of the only boys in the cast.

 

Compared to him, Jesper exuded confidence. He said his lines with just the right amount of genuine emotion, as if he genuinely loved this show and agreed with every word that his character said. It would have almost been funny if Jesper didn’t sound so serious it gave Wylan chills. When Jesper spoke, Wylan felt without a doubt that he was this character.

 

Wylan kept his eyes on the unintelligible words in front of him so Jesper couldn’t see his blush, but he was too into his performance to notice anyways. While Wylan shamefully mumbled poorly-written words, Jesper shouted out his lines with passion. He really was talented at this.

 

Soon, they were almost finished with the entire show. They only went so fast because Jesper made almost no mistakes, nothing for Wylan to correct. He really had been right about knowing his lines. Mr. Haskell had no idea how wonderful Jesper really was.

 

Then: “ Scaramouche! Look! The axe! The axe is hidden! ” Jesper said with complete confidence.

 

But Wylan knew better. “ The axe is hidden in the stone,” he corrected him.

 

“Augh! Right, sorry,” Jesper said. “I’m still rusty with this scene; we haven’t even blocked it yet.”

 

“It’s fine,” Wylan reassured him. Really, he was almost perfect, aside from a few mistakes here and there. He gave him the next cue—a direct quote from a Queen song. This entire show was just a jukebox musical using Queen songs, but even in the script they’d never let you forget it.

 

“Look… something. Wait, don’t tell me,” Jesper insisted, pressing his fist to his chin. “Look… look…” 

 

Finally he gave in. “Sorry. Tell me what it is, Wylan.”

 

This was the first time Wylan had to feed him an entire line. “ Look, an instrument—a musical instrument .”

 

“Right!” Jesper exclaimed. “A musical instrument... because the axe is an instrument, duh. Here, lemme see—”

 

Before Wylan could instinctively snatch the script away, Jesper’s hand was already enclosed on it. Shit. He’d been so caught up in admiring Jesper’s sheer enthusiasm for this show that he’d forgotten to flip to the right parts in the script.

 

“Hey, we’re at the end of the show, not at this scene…” Jesper mumbled, looking at the spot where Wylan had stopped.

 

Wylan couldn’t breathe. This was it. This was when Jesper found out everything, when he realized that Wylan was just a moron who couldn’t read and lost any smidgen of respect he’d gained for him. He’d thought they’d maybe have at least a bit of a chance, but he’d blown it the second they even began to interact.

Jesper gasped. “You… you didn’t even need to look at the script. You memorized the entire show,” he realized, a huge smile beginning to spread across his face. Wylan had studied every smile he’d seen from Jesper, but it was nothing like this one, full of wonder, like a child at Christmas. Despite his fear, Wylan’s heart practically melted. “That’s so cool! Dude, I’ve never met anyone who loves this show as much as I do. You’re amazing.

 

He thought. He thought that Wylan liked the show.

 

Jesper continued to ramble, unable to contain his excitement. “I mean… man, I know this show is awfully written, but I love it, despite everything. I mean, it’s We Will Rock You! It’s a Queen musical, for god’s sake! It’s everything I could have ever wanted. I can’t believe you like it too. Everyone I know just makes fun of it.”

 

He was looking at Wylan with such genuine admiration, he felt guilty. Like something wasn’t right. This boy, this actor who Wylan had looked up to since he’d first seen him in that musical freshman year, thought he was the amazing one.

 

It was a lot like when his father praised him for doing well in his classes, when really Wylan had stayed up all night listening to an audiobook so he understood the curriculum. And it hurt, because it felt so good to hear his approval. Not very many people called Wylan amazing.

 

“You like Queen, right?” Jesper asked. “That’s why you love this musical. That’s why I love this musical. Queen’s my favorite band, by the way,” he said as if it weren’t already obvious, gesturing to his shirt. Jesper was the most flamboyant dresser Wylan had ever seen. Some days it was a silly t-shirt and jeans, some days an androgynous outfit, little things that broke traditional gender roles like nail polish (and one time a skirt), some days something from his extensive collection of flannels. And his clothing was always aggressively colorful, often clashing but always carefully put together.

 

It was part of the reason Wylan admired him so much. Jesper always stood out in a crowd, and even when he was wearing the strangest things, it always looked good on him.

 

Today he was wearing one of his usual red flannels, and under it, a shirt with a logo on it. Wylan couldn’t read the words on it, but you didn’t have to read it to know what it was. It was a Queen shirt, with the cover of their album A Night at the Opera. 

 

Wylan had listened to Queen before—really, everyone should have—especially now since he was involved in this show, and he enjoyed some of their music, but he really wouldn’t call himself a fan. Certainly not a fan like Jesper was.

 

So he felt like a fraud when he said, “Yeah.”

 

Yes! ” Jesper whisper-shouted, like he’d won a game instead of finding out that a random tech liked the same band that he did. “Dude, you are literally the coolest. We’re automatically friends now. Wait, what’s your name again?”

 

Friends. Friends. They were friends, over something that was sort of a lie. Wylan’s heart swelled with happiness.

 

“Wylan,” he mumbled.

 

“Wylan. I’m Jesper,” he said, as if he needed any introduction. “Okay, when I need to run lines again, I’m coming to you.”

 

“I don’t even know if you need to,” Wylan pointed out. “You know this show inside out.”

 

“So do you!” Jesper said with a smile. “Still, there’s this one scene, and we’re not done with the show just yet. Can you run it with me one more time?”

 

“Sure!”

Chapter Text

Jesper had everything he could have ever wanted.

 

Okay, that wasn’t completely true. There were still… a lot of not so great things in Jesper’s life currently. But he was just so happy with how things were going lately. 

 

Every day he woke up with the stunning realization that he was doing what he had always wanted. Sometimes he went through days in complete disbelief, like one morning he’d wake up and realize it was all just a dream.

 

It might not seem like much, but to Jesper it was everything. He was playing his dream role, the lead, in his favorite musical ever. He had wonderful friends, and he got to work alongside them every afternoon after school.

 

He’d waited so long for a moment like this. Theatre had been Jesper’s world for years, but it wasn’t every day he got to take center stage in the lead role. Black kids like him were usually destined to play side characters; it had been something he had just accepted for a while. There had been points in time when he’d doubted his talents, that maybe he was just no good, not desirable enough to be onstage. Other kids had voice lessons, more experience, roles just handed to them; once you played the lead once, you seemed to receive it again and again. Jesper had to work twice as hard to work his way up the ranks.

 

But then Mr. Haskell announced that their drama club was putting on a production of We Will Rock You , a jukebox musical with a soundtrack consisting entirely of songs by Queen. And that was when Jesper knew he had to play the lead. Queen was his favorite band and honestly the only thing that occupied his mind most days. He had basically all of their songs memorized, knew all the little facts and tidbits about the band members. Hell, Freddie Mercury was partially responsible for Jesper coming to terms with his sexuality. It didn’t matter that the plot of We Will Rock You was kind of terrible and technically had nothing to do with the band, or if the way it used their songs was borderline disrespectful; Jesper had to be in it, because it was a combination of two of his favorite things in the world.

 

He’d spent weeks preparing his audition. He studied everything he could find about the musical on the internet, watched bootlegs, listened to the soundtrack (even though it was nowhere near as good as the original songs). His ma and da got sick of him belting the same song over and over again in his room.

 

Jesper had been in productions before at his high school, either as an ensemble member or a supporting role. Since he was an upperclassman now and one of the few boys actually interested in auditioning, he was sure he’d have a chance, and Nina and Inej backed him up. Still, he had some doubts even as he delivered the most spectacular audition in the history of his career. 

 

His friends weren’t at all surprised when they saw Jesper’s name at the top of the cast list. Jesper was. He’d had to read it over at least three times to truly believe it. After all the times he’d been let down by countless directors, it almost felt like he didn’t deserve a lead role, despite how hard he worked, despite everything his friends and family told him.

 

So Jesper vowed he’d work to deserve it. He was going to deliver the best performance of We Will Rock You the world had ever seen, terrible writing and all.

 

He’d eaten up the script the second he’d gotten his hands on it. Jesper loved it, every line and part ever written. Really, it hadn’t taken long for him to memorize it and all of his lines, fueled by his love for this crazy show.

 

Rehearsal was always something Jesper looked forward to every day, but as he got more and more invested in this show, it became the only reason why he wanted to come to school. Sitting here now in his last class of the day, he couldn’t help but count down the minutes until school was over and he’d be able to go to rehearsal. 

 

Jesper was actually pretty good at math, but it wasn’t something that he was at all interested in. He preferred his thoughts to be occupied by theatre, which was why he was currently looking over the lines he messed up on yesterday instead of doing schoolwork. Not like his teacher gave a shit anyways.

 

A couple of kids sitting across from him were whispering and glancing at his hands, and Jesper knew immediately they were talking about him. He’d painted his nails red today. Nothing too big, but still noticeable enough, apparently. Generally he tried to stick with the theatre crowd when he was at school, but in class, gossip was unavoidable. It wasn’t a secret that Jesper was bisexual; hell, pretty much everyone knew, but around these kids he tried not to give them too many reminders. Most of the time, when he wanted to wear feminine things to school, he’d change into it later for rehearsal or when he was just hanging out with his friends. Today he didn’t give a shit, and now he was paying for it.

 

Whatever. It didn’t matter. They could whisper about his nails all they wanted, Jesper didn’t care.

 

Still, as the bell finally rang and Jesper hurried out the door, he heard a muttered word from one of those kids beside him, followed by giggles that were quickly silenced when Jesper shot them a glance. It was an ugly word, something that scraped against his ears and rhymed with “maggot”.

 

It shouldn’t have bothered him as much as it did, but he’d been doing pretty good up until now. He thought he’d be able to last the entire day without any remarks about how he dressed. 

 

His foul mood only lasted the walk to the theater, however, because there was almost nothing that could ruin rehearsal for Jesper. He would forget all about this and be Galileo for the next few hours, and he was going to have a grand time.

 

Sailing in through the doors, Jesper greeted his castmates with a dramatic shout.

 

Heyyyy , bitches!”

 

This earned some laughter from a few kids from the ensemble, and a few other “Heyy”s in response from more daring castmates. Nina and Inej cackled loudly.

 

You know. Like theatre kids. They did this all the time.

 

“I hate you,” Nina said as Jesper set his bag down next to hers. 

 

“Aw, I love you too,” Jesper cooed as she shoved him playfully.

 

Inej glanced at Jesper’s hands. “I like your nails,” she commented, and Jesper beamed at her. 

 

“Thank you!”

 

Sometimes it felt like Inej could read his mind. She always knew what would make him feel better.

 

Scanning the greenroom, Jesper kept his eyes out for a particular ginger-haired boy. He had no clue what the techs did or where they went sometimes.

 

“What are you looking for?” Inej asked, noticing his wandering eyes. 

 

“One of the techs.”

 

Nina looked up from her Pop-Tart with a wicked smile on her face. “Ooh, who?”

 

“It is not like that,” Jesper insisted, glaring at her smug face. “One of the new guys. Wylan.”

 

“Oh, the baby!” Nina and Inej exclaimed at the same time.

 

Jesper stared at them. “The what?”

 

“The kid that looks, like, twelve? He’s adorable. He doesn’t seem to know what the hell he’s doing half the time. I’m surprised Kaz hasn’t eaten him alive by now,” Nina explained.

 

“He’s super sheltered. We all keep forgetting he’s not a freshman,” Inej clarified. “Sweet, though.”

 

“Wylan’s not a baby. He’s brilliant,” Jesper protested. “Did you know he memorized the whole script?”

 

“Did he?” Nina asked, not entirely convinced. “He’s as big of a nerd as you are!”

 

Inej asked, “How’d he do it?”

 

“I don’t know. But it’s great; he likes Queen too! He’s super cool! You guys should talk to him sometime,” Jesper insisted.

 

“Okay,” Inej said.

 

Jesper didn’t know why what they said about Wylan bothered him so much, but it didn’t matter, because soon Mr. Haskell was calling them into the theater to do some warmups and run one of the numbers. Jesper wouldn’t consider himself the most talented dancer in the world—it took him a little longer to master moves—but once he had the number down, he put every ounce of passion he had into it. He loved the thrill of constantly moving, being in sync with the music, the completed feeling of finishing a number. Besides, Inej was the dance captain and a brilliant teacher, so she usually made sure Jesper got every part correct. And Nina was honestly worse, so Jesper really shouldn’t complain.

 

Then the ensemble went to practice something else, and Jesper was left with Inej, Nina, and a senior named Matthias as Mr. Haskell blocked a new scene between the villains. Jesper didn’t know Matthias very well, and he honestly didn’t know how a huge jock had landed such a large role as Nina’s sidekick in his first musical, but he seemed to be a fairly good actor. Nina wouldn’t admit it, but it was obvious they both had terrible crushes on each other. Everyone in the cast loved to watch them dance around each other like a married couple. 

 

Jesper wouldn’t cast anyone else as the main villain. Nina had a powerful voice and the evil flair that fit perfectly in her role. Jesper couldn’t be happier to perform alongside his best friends; every time he saw them he couldn’t help but be proud.

 

Today, though, she didn’t seem into the role at all, which was completely unlike her. Jesper had seen Nina thrust herself into any character, embodying their entire personality with enthusiasm. But her heart didn’t seem to be in the scene, because she delivered her lines completely deadpan, annoyed with everything Mr. Haskell suggested. Even Matthias seemed to struggle to work with what she was giving him.

 

Then, even though she was literally looking directly at her script, Nina delivered a line wrong. Mr. Haskell, politely, corrected her.

 

Nina huffed. “God, that’s so cheesy. Fine—”

 

“Why is she acting like this?” Jesper whispered to Inej, who was sitting next to him in the audience, watching this go down.

 

“Nina kind of hates her role,” Inej responded. “I don’t really blame her, I guess. She’s really just in this show for the experience.”

 

“She hates it? But she’s literally playing the villain!” Jesper exclaimed in the most hushed tone he could muster. “I thought she liked those kinds of roles.”

 

“I think she does. Just this musical... kind of sucks, Jesper,” Inej admitted.

 

“No, it doesn’t! It’s a Queen musical,” Jesper protested, a little hurt by her tone and the almost patronizing way it sounded.

 

“Admit it, Jesper. The writing is terrible. A dystopian future story where all music is banned? That’s—it doesn’t make any sense at all. Like, you can just tell a boomer wrote it. You know, phone bad, old music good.”

 

She was right, but Jesper didn’t like thinking about who wrote it. It made him feel a little gross, reminded him of those other, older Queen fans that were also racist and homophobic. “But—don’t you think it’s cool? We get to sing Queen songs onstage?”

 

Inej shrugged. “Yeah, I guess, but even then, it’s almost a little disrespectful. Like, they couldn’t even figure out where to put ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.”

 

Which was a crime. At the end of the show, everything is pretty much resolved, but then at the last second before curtain call, the lead goes and asks the audience if they “want ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’”. After all of the references to it throughout the show, it doesn’t even become a key part of the story, just an afterthought to make all of the Queen fanatics happy that they didn’t leave the song out. Jesper did hate it; “Bohemian Rhapsody” was iconic. It didn’t deserve to be shoved to the end like that.

 

“Yeah, I guess,” Jesper echoed, though he still felt shitty for agreeing. He didn’t know what it was—Nina’s attitude, or the nonchalant way Inej was acting about it, but his day was turning out to be worse and worse. Even rehearsal couldn’t make him feel better. “You know what—I’m gonna practice my lines some more,” he said, getting up from his seat.

 

Inej looked surprised. “Oh. Okay. Have fun,” she said, smiling and giving him a little wave. Jesper just nodded and walked out.

 

He found the greenroom mostly empty, which was nice. Quiet. Good for Jesper to sit with his thoughts alone. Everyone else was likely out doing something, except—

 

Wylan was standing in the corner, staring down at something on his phone, tapping his foot along to something playing in his earbuds. He looked so at peace; he hadn’t even seen Jesper come in. Jesper watched him for a few moments before striding up to the sophomore.

 

“Hey.”

 

Wylan nearly jumped out of his skin, which was hilariously adorable to Jesper. “Oh. Hi.”

 

“Are you free? I was wondering…” Jesper held up his script and waved it at him. “...if you wanted to run lines with me again? Oh, wait, you don’t even need this!” He grinned.

 

Wylan flushed. “Oh, no, I’m not doing anything,” he said quickly. “I’d love to.”

 

They started from the top again, moving quickly through the show just like the day before. And just like that, Jesper felt a lot better. Wylan wasn’t one for acting, but still he put more enthusiasm into delivering Jesper’s cues than Nina ever did. It was refreshing, to finally work with someone who actually cared about what Jesper loved.

 

He still continued to be surprised with how much Wylan knew about the show. He didn’t think anyone had the passion to memorize a show like Jesper did. The thought of it filled him with so much happiness he almost wanted to dance.

 

“My friends think you’re a baby,” Jesper blurted the next time Wylan corrected him on something.

 

Wylan frowned. “I know. They think I’m naive, that I don’t know anything. It doesn’t help that I look like a freshman… I know I’m sheltered, but I’m not stupid, ” he huffed.

 

Jesper immediately felt bad for mentioning it. He’d never seen Wylan so upset before. “Hey, no, of course you’re not. You memorized this entire show, for god’s sake! You’re crazy talented!”

 

Wylan smiled at him, but he looked wistful. “I don’t understand why you of all people would think that,” he admitted.

 

“What? What do you mean?”

 

Wylan’s cheeks were red as cherries. “I mean, you… you’re Jesper, ” he said. “I’m nowhere near as talented as you.” 

 

“Stop. Please,” Jesper said. “You can’t just say you’re not talented when you know We Will Rock You better than I do. You’re amazing! And I’m not just saying it to make you feel better, I swear.”

 

“Thank you,” Wylan mumbled. “Do you… think I’m a baby?”

 

“No, god,” Jesper huffed. “That’s weird. I mean, nice, I guess, but I’d fucking hate if anyone said that about me.”

 

Wylan nodded. “I don’t know. I mean, it was fine at first. They didn’t say it in a mean way, more like they wanted to take care of me. It was… really nice to be liked. To be cared for,” he admitted, smiling sadly to himself. “But they think I can’t do anything, like I can’t take care of myself, or something. I feel like they don’t really know me. Only Kuwei and Kaz treat me like a normal person.”

 

That sounded… really sad. If Kaz was one of the only people treating Wylan normally, something was very wrong. Jesper didn’t trust that guy with anyone.

 

“Well, I don’t know you that well either,” Jesper admitted. “But I do know that you have a crazy good memory, and you like Queen, and you’re cool enough to put up with my obsession with this show.”

 

Wylan giggled, and this time there was a genuine smile on his face.

 

And you’re cute,” Jesper added, because of course he had to make things clear. “And not in like, a baby way. In an attractive way. If you know what I mean.”

 

Wylan’s cheeks pinked, and he looked down, obviously understanding exactly what he meant. “Anyways, um, I think you’ve pretty much got this down. You’ve improved a lot from yesterday.”

 

The encouragement made Jesper beam. “Thank you! I wanted to make sure I had that scene down,” he said, thinking for a moment. “Hm, well, maybe you could help me practice a song? I dunno, just see if I’m good or something. I haven’t gotten the chance to sing ‘Under Pressure’ that much with Inej yet.” Maybe he did just want to show off and belt at the top of his lungs, but that was beside the point.

 

Wylan nodded. “Sure. Or, uh, you know what…” He got up from the spot where they were sitting on the table to make his way to the piano in the middle of the greenroom. Jesper was immediately intrigued.

 

“Can you hand me the script?” Wylan asked, and Jesper obliged. “Find me the song you want.”

 

Jesper flipped to the musical half of the script, finding “Under Pressure” almost immediately, handing it to Wylan. It was supposed to be a duet between the leads; Jesper knew he would have the time of his life singing onstage along with Inej. 

 

Then, after a few test notes, Jesper heard the familiar bassline at the beginning of “Under Pressure”. Wylan looked completely at home right on that piano bench, a serene expression on his face that Jesper had never seen before. This boy just kept surprising him.

 

Finding his place in the song, Jesper began to sing along with Wylan’s accompaniment, excitement fizzing inside him as he tapped his feet to the beat. All of the frustration and hurt he’d felt earlier that day seemed to melt away. Jesper sang Inej’s part, too, when he could. He wasn’t even trying to be accurate at this point, just having fun.

 

Then, around the “give love” part where Jesper literally could not sing both parts at once, Wylan joined in. He was quiet, hesitant at first, but when he saw Jesper’s shocked grin and silent encouragement, his vocals rose in power to match Jesper’s enthusiasm.

 

Jesper had never heard Wylan sing before. It was almost difficult for him to concentrate on himself, because Wylan’s voice was so clear and wonderful it could rival many of the actors in the show. He complemented Jesper’s perfectly, getting the harmonies just right as if he’d been meant for this role all along.

 

Everyone in the theater could probably hear them, but Jesper didn’t care. He threw all of his passion into every note, voice sailing out across the room. They finished with such power that Jesper thought it was a crime that no one was clapping.

 

“Dude,” he breathed. “That was amazing! I didn’t know you could sing—I didn’t know you could play the piano, either!”

 

Wylan blushed again. “Sorry. I forgot to warm up. That wasn’t my best.”

 

“Warmups, whatever,” Jesper said. “ Wasn’t your best? You were fantastic! You should be in the musical!”

 

Wylan looked down at the piano. “I don’t know. My dad thinks that’s a waste of time. I don’t know how I feel about being the center of attention.”

 

Jesper could admit, he didn’t seem like the type to enjoy that sort of thing, but he felt like this was talent wasted. “Well, you don’t necessarily have to be. Technically we all share the stage. You could sing in the ensemble!”

 

Wylan shrugged. “Maybe.”

 

Jesper patted his shoulder. “Well, think on it. You have all up until next year. But you already performed in front of me, so I think you’d be just fine onstage.”

 

Wylan’s shy little smile returned. It really was kind of adorable. “Okay. I’ll think about it.”

Chapter Text

“Honestly, I’m disappointed in this cast and the lack of energy you all have. You guys need to get it together, or we’re not going to have a show by opening night.”

 

Jesper sighed as the cast was dismissed for the night, pushing back his chair and grabbing his things. His face ached from all of the makeup he’d rubbed off his cheeks, and he felt fatigued from all of the time spent running about the stage. It really had been a shitty rehearsal.

 

He glanced over at Nina and Inej, who were whispering to each other, their chairs pushed together. Jesper caught a little bit of what they were saying: “fucking hate this show,” and “he can cut me, I don’t even care.” This made Jesper feel even more rotten inside, so he tuned it out.

 

Jesper knew Mr. Haskell was just being dramatic, scaring the cast into behaving, but those ending words really got to him. What if everyone didn’t get their shit together? He’d heard what Nina said loud and clear. Nobody really cared about this show, except him. Jesper felt like the only one out of the entire cast who was putting all of his effort into his performance, and now Mr. Haskell was making all of them take the blame.

 

He’d even told him earlier: “Jesper, you have too much energy in the ensemble numbers. Calm down; you’ll stand out from everyone else.”

 

That particular note made Jesper burn with shame and anger. It wasn’t his fault he genuinely enjoyed dancing to his favorite songs. He couldn’t control how excited he got. If anything, everyone else was to blame for not showing enough energy.

 

He shook those thoughts away. Jesper knew he was getting unreasonably bitter towards the rest of the cast, but his love for the show piled on with the fact that even Mr. Haskell couldn’t handle his own energy really got to him. He just wanted opening night to happen already. He couldn’t stand all of this stress.

 

Heading towards the door, Jesper called out a goodbye to the rest of the cast, and several members gave their own exhausted, but friendly responses. At least they were trying.

 

“Jesper!” He heard a familiar voice call after him just as the door was closing. Jesper held the door for him.

 

“Hey, Wylan,” Jesper said wearily as they fell side by side on their way through the hallway. He hadn’t had a whole lot of lines to rehearse lately, but he and Wylan still hung out during rehearsal occasionally when he had the time, which was growing smaller and smaller as they moved closer to opening night.

 

Even as a tech, Wylan looked just as exhausted as the actors. Jesper knew it was just as much of a taxing role.

 

“Mr. Haskell sure was mad,” Wylan breathed, and Jesper could see the fear in his eyes. He knew that feeling. As an underclassman, he’d been just as terrified of those tech week speeches, but he’d heard so many by now that he’d become desensitized to them.

 

“He’ll be fine. He’s just scaring us into doing well,” Jesper reassured him. “You know. Drama teachers, being dramatic.”

 

“I guess so,” Wylan said, huffing a little laugh.

 

“How’s tech week faring for you?” Jesper asked.

 

“It’s alright,” Wylan replied, though Jesper could still see the fatigue written on his face. “Hectic.”

 

“That’s tech week for you. You feel like death.”

 

Wylan looked at him with concern in his eyes. “You feel like death?”

 

Jesper shrugged. “Well, it’s tech week. We all feel like death.” They reached the end of their little trek to their parking lot, and Jesper let Wylan sit down at one of the benches by the bus stop. “You got someone to pick you up?” He didn’t look like the type to drive.

 

“My dad’ll be coming soon,” Wylan said, watching the rest of the cast drive away or get picked up by their own parents.

 

“I can wait with you,” Jesper offered. “I’m my own ride.”

 

Wylan flushed a little. “If you want. You don’t have to.”

 

Jesper shrugged. “Just for a bit. I’m not in much of a hurry to get home.” He settled onto the bench next to Wylan, the metal cold from the night air.

 

They sat in silence for a few seconds before Wylan said, “I didn’t like what Mr. Haskell said about you.”

 

“What—oh, you mean the dancing thing? It’s fine,” Jesper sighed, trying not to let the bitterness leak into his voice. “He’s just mad ‘cause I get way too excited about the numbers.”

 

“But that’s not a bad thing,” Wylan protested. “I like seeing you dance up there.”

 

“Thanks,” Jesper said, flashing him a grin. “But he’s right. I do stand out a little too much. Ensemble numbers, you’re supposed to all look more or less the same.”

 

“Maybe it’s not you that has to give less energy,” Wylan pointed out. “Maybe it’s everyone else that needs to put in more energy.”

 

Jesper knew he was right. He’d been telling himself the same thing earlier, and thinking about it again made him angry all over again at the cast and how little everyone cared about the show. But it was nice to hear that someone else agreed with him. “Yeah, but it’s easier for him to tell me to have less energy than it is to tell everyone else to have more.”

 

“I guess that’s true.”

 

Jesper looked over at Wylan. It was weird. Around his own friends, Jesper might have been more reluctant to spill everything, but Wylan just seemed so easy to talk to. Like he’d listen to anything Jesper ranted about.

 

“It’s just—” Jesper began, and then stopped, struggling to convey how he was truly feeling. Wylan looked at him expectantly. “I dunno, this all fucking sucks so bad.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I mean—nobody likes this show, Wylan,” Jesper admitted. “And I know it shouldn’t bother me so much, but it does for some reason, because I just love it so much—and I really shouldn’t, I don’t know why I like it so much, it’s just… important to me.”

 

Wylan nodded. “It’s okay to like it, though.”

 

“Yeah, but no one else does. No one gives a shit. I put my heart and soul into this show, and no one else does. Not that I expect them to, but it really… hurts to see people not give it their all. Like they’re shitting on the show. Shitting on me.

 

“I understand that,” Wylan said, and Jesper could see in his eyes that he really meant it.

 

“I feel like my performance doesn’t matter to them. Because in the end, no matter how good I am, this is still a shitty show, apparently,” Jesper grumbled.

 

“That’s not true,” Wylan protested, awkwardly resting a hand on Jesper’s shoulder. “Your performance still shines through, no matter how bad the show might be. I know that… you’re the best actor I’ve ever seen, no matter who you play.”

 

Despite himself, Jesper couldn’t let this opportunity go to waste. “I’m the best actor you’ve ever seen?”

 

Wylan flushed. “Well—yeah. Why else would you have gotten the lead role?”

 

Jesper snorted. “Because I’m the only person who actually tried. Mr. Haskell wouldn’t normally cast a black guy as the lead unless he was desperate.”

 

“Well—” Wylan obviously didn’t know how to respond to that. “I still think you’re a really good actor, though.”

 

“Thanks.” 

 

They fell into silence again, Wylan’s cheeks red as cherries. Jesper wasn’t sure why his dad was taking so long.

 

“You know what I’m really scared of, though?”

 

“What?”

 

Jesper wouldn’t have told this to anyone else, but Wylan, he trusted. “That no one’s gonna cheer for Bo Rhap.” Bohemian Rhapsody. That stupid fucking song.

 

“Oh. Well… I’m sure that’s pretty unlikely,” Wylan reassured him.

 

“I don’t know,” Jesper said. “But nobody fucking likes this show. What if they just flat out don’t respond when I ask them to cheer for the song? What am I supposed to do then? Stand there like an idiot? Sing anyways? That’d be so pathetic, god… and with this show, it’s bound to happen.”

 

“I’ll cheer for you.”

 

Jesper huffed a little laugh. “Would you? From the wings? That might be even more pathetic.”

 

Wylan’s face reddened. “Yeah, I would. Even though it’s probably not going to happen. You deserve it.”

 

Jesper smiled wearily. “Thank you, Wylan.”

 

Wylan shifted uncomfortably. “Sure.”

 

Their conversation was cut off when a very expensive-looking car pulled up in front of the benches. Wylan immediately stiffened, fumbling for his things.

 

“That yours?” Jesper said, his eyes widening.

 

“Yeah. Um. Bye,” Wylan said awkwardly, stumbling to his feet as he scurried to the car, seemingly in a hurry. Jesper couldn’t very clearly see who was driving, but he wasn’t sure if that was really his father.

 

“Bye,” Jesper said back, giving him a little wave, but Wylan was already inside and they were driving away.

 

That kid was strange, but Jesper supposed he liked him for it.

Chapter Text

Wylan’s first opening night went fairly smoothly. Or at least, smoothly in terms of an opening night. If something this stressful was considered “good”, he didn’t want to know what “bad” looked like. 

 

There were a lot of new things he had to learn, like strange traditions and superstitions that the cast seemed to live and die by. The techs seemed to take it less seriously, but seeing Jesper, Nina, and Inej obsessively go through this complicated clapping routine made Wylan’s mind whirl. Mr. Haskell made this intimidating speech that Wylan figured was supposed to be motivating or something, but it stressed him out more than anything else. Not that he would be onstage anyways; he didn’t understand how Jesper could do it every night.

 

Speaking of Jesper, he was fantastic. Despite his previous fears of We Will Rock You being unpopular, the audience seemed to love him. There was something electrifying about the way he performed, how he seemed to conjure energy out of thin air. Even Nina and much of the cast, who clearly weren’t interested in the show at all, seemed energized with him around.

 

The week of performances seemed to fly by, and Wylan fell into a rhythm with each night. He was always running around backstage, but when he had the time he stood in the wings just outside of the audience’s sight, watching Jesper deliver his lines with a mix of awe and anxiety at how people might react.

 

Kuwei caught him staring multiple times. “Stop staring at him like an audience member,” he teased, but there was love in his remark. “He’ll be fine. It’s not like you’ve seen this fifty million times by now. I don’t know how you two aren’t sick of it already.”

 

The morning of their second to last performance, Wylan was scribbling notes in Chemistry when he overheard a couple of his classmates gossiping.

 

“Did you see the video of Joost’s promposal to Anya?”

 

Wylan immediately knew what they were talking about; Joost played Brit in their production. He was a shy junior who seemed a little too obsessed with growing out the tiny hints of a mustache on his lips, but everyone knew about the little crush he had on his fellow castmate Anya, who played Oz. Their characters were supposed to be love interests, but neither of them had spoken about it until a few days ago.

 

“I did! So cute. I didn’t know how well Joost could sing!”

 

That sounded good, Wylan thought. Maybe it was the promposal that was getting them more revenue.

 

“They’re pretty talented,” one of the girls admitted. “Too bad the show is trash, though. I almost left during intermission, the writing was so bad.”

 

“Really?” the other asked. “I haven’t seen it yet. I hear Jesper is fantastic, though.”

 

“He is,” the girl agreed. “I saw it with Madeline. But you know why he’s so good.”

 

“Well, yeah,” the other girl shrugged, looking a little uncomfortable. She leaned in close. “Because he’s… y’know…”

 

And that was when Wylan decided to stop listening. Frustration boiled inside him as he struggled to concentrate on the work in front of him. He knew exactly what they were trying to say—that Jesper was so wonderful onstage as a male actor because he was bisexual. Joost probably got a pass because he looked (and likely was) a straight boy, but Jesper’s shining confidence in his sexuality that had made Wylan admire him so much in the first place only made him more vulnerable to comments like these.

 

He managed to calm down a little once he focused on the equations and formulas that he loved working with so much, but then as everyone was leaving class Wylan caught another comment about Jesper, this time from one of the boys.

 

“—just so annoying. Like yeah, he’s good, but he should just calm down. No need to shove your agenda on us like that.”

 

The other boys sniggered, and Wylan felt anger flare up inside him all over again. He stepped in front of the group of kids, blocking them from the door, his heart racing.

 

“Jesper is not annoying,” Wylan said, his voice sounding frustratingly small in front of the other boys. “And that has nothing to do with his sexuality.”

 

They shoved him aside, snickering to themselves. “Whatever, man,” one of them said. “It was just a joke.”

 

It could have gone worse.

 

But before Wylan knew it, closing night was upon them. He honestly couldn’t believe he’d made his way through all of those performances. He was sure he would have melted at even the sight of the audience, and he wasn’t even an actor.

 

Still, Jesper’s confidence that had been racing through him the entire week was beginning to fizzle out. He didn’t really show it at first, but Wylan could see the stress in his eyes as he looked out across the crowd beginning to trickle into the theater.

 

“Man, I’m gonna miss this show,” Jesper sighed.

 

“Me, too,” Wylan agreed, and he realized that he meant it. A year ago he would have never imagined being a part of a production, even just as a stagehand. But maybe he could get used to this.

 

“One minute till places!” Kaz barked, and they both jumped. Wylan and Jesper each called out a “thank you, one,” for good luck, and then Jesper smiled at him.

 

“See you,” he whispered, giving Wylan a little wave before running off to his place, and Wylan made his way to his, heart thumping with anticipation. Hopefully everything would be alright. The gossip from the day before had rattled him, but last night’s show had been fine. Wylan prayed for a smooth closing night.

 

It was not as smooth as he had hoped for.

 

Well, sort of. Everyone onstage seemed to be doing fine; it was just the audience tonight that was discouraging. Their school must have finally gotten the hint that the show was bad, because significantly less people showed up tonight, other than the usual parents. 

 

“I’ve never seen such a tough crowd,” Jesper grumbled to Wylan backstage during intermission. “Even our matinees aren’t this bad. They didn’t even laugh at my joke! That was the funniest one in the whole show, next to the Britney Spears one! But nooo, they’ll laugh when I get super into character. Because apparently that’s more funny to them.”

 

“The sex joke?” Wylan asked, trying to calm Jesper down. He really didn’t want the show to end on a bad note.

 

“Yeah, the ‘you didn’t keep your socks on’ one. Come on! That’s hilarious! I laughed at that joke.”

 

“You laugh at everything,” Wylan pointed out, but not in a mean way, and when he heard Jesper snicker he felt a little better.

 

“That’s true,” Jesper admitted. “I dunno. Closing night is just supposed to be our best night. I guess everyone decided We Will Rock You actually sucks.”

 

“It doesn’t,” Wylan reassured him. “And even if it does, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you like it, and that you’re having a good time up there. Don’t let them get to you.”

 

Jesper smiled at him. It wasn’t one of his full ones, the ones where he showed all his teeth and smiled like he couldn’t care less about what people thought of his smile, but it was still a genuine one, a quieter, gentler smile that made Wylan feel a little warmer inside. “Thanks, Wylan.”

 

“Sure.”

 

Despite the tough crowd, Jesper kept his usual energy throughout the rest of the second act, to Wylan’s relief. 

 

“Thank god this is the last time we’ll have to do all this,” Kuwei sighed as he stood beside Wylan in the wings.

 

“Aren’t you going to miss it?” Wylan whispered, eyes still fixated on the stage. The show was nearly finished. Just one more number…

 

Kuwei shrugged. “Yeah, a little. I’m just mostly glad I’ll finally have more time to myself.”

 

Wylan could see that. He hadn’t expected how much rehearsals would take up his free time. But doing tech had given him a safe place to hang out rather than at home. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to let that go.

 

As they watched, the cast began to take their bows. Wylan felt his heart thumping with anticipation. Each member received some polite applause, but what he was really worried about was what came next.

 

As the last ensemble members took their bows and the crowd hushed, Jesper strode up to the center of the stage.

 

“Hey, guys! Do you want ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’?”

 

His voice echoed through the auditorium. Someone coughed. Somewhere up in the front, Wylan heard familiar cheers from a couple he recognized from previous shows that week, a tall black woman who clapped with unashamed enthusiasm, and a freckled man with eyes like Jesper’s.

 

‘Do you want Bohemian Rhapsody? ’” someone mocked.

 

“No one cares!” another voice yelled from the back of the auditorium, and Wylan’s heart sank as he heard laughs ripple across the crowd.

 

Jesper was still smiling, looking out across the audience, but Wylan could see fear in his eyes.

 

Wylan was cupping his hands around his mouth to cheer for his friend, but before he could muster up the courage he heard Jesper’s voice ring out across the crowd.

 

“Well, too bad!” There was a wicked smile stretched across Jesper’s face, like he had gotten in trouble for something but he was proud of what he did. “I wasn’t actually asking for your input. I want ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.” 

 

The orchestra must have taken this as their cue, because to Wylan’s relief, he heard the piano begin to play. He felt his heart swell with pride. In the end, it wasn’t about what the audience or what everyone else thought. It was about Jesper.

 

What matters is that you like it, and that you’re having a good time up there. And it did look like Jesper was having a good time. There wasn’t any shame in the way he danced and sang so freely.

 

“Wow,” Kuwei said. “I was really hoping he was going to run offstage and we would never have to hear that stupid fucking song ever again.”

 

“It’s not stupid,” Wylan murmured.

 

Kuwei scoffed. “Sorry, I’m sick of it.” He glanced over at Wylan. “What the hell? You look like you’re about to cry.”

 

Wylan punched him in the arm. “Shut up, I want to watch.”

 

Kuwei quieted and they stood there side by side in the wings in silent awe as Jesper and their friends put on a wonderful show one last time. Even the less enthusiastic of the cast seemed to give their all, perhaps energized by the way that Jesper insisted the show go on. Kuwei was right; everyone was sick of this number, because of how disgustingly long it was and how often Mr. Haskell insisted they run it so they could get everything just right. But something about this time felt different to Wylan, and he could see everyone else felt the same.

 

Eyes bright, Jesper took his final place in the show, standing on a tall platform looking across the whole cast, Inej by his side.

 

“Any way the wind blows…”

 

Maybe Jesper was supposed to look up, but instead his eyes locked on Wylan. He smiled at him.

 

The last notes of the song faded out, and Wylan almost didn’t want to look at the crowd, but to his shock he heard… polite applause. His gaze shot over to the audience.

 

The couple in the front row who had cheered for Jesper earlier were on their feet, smiling at the cast like this was their proudest moment. But to Wylan’s surprise it wasn’t just them who were standing, it was most of the front row. And then some of the second row. And the third. Mostly parents, as far as Wylan could see, but some students, too, people he didn’t know.

 

A standing ovation. Not a complete one—Wylan could definitely see plenty of people, mostly in the back, still sitting down, some not even applauding at all (and he was pretty sure that some of them were doing it ironically)—but people were still standing. For Jesper. For all of them.

 

And for me, too, Wylan realized with a burst of pride. He’d felt like more of a bystander, but he was involved in this show, too. He’d helped Jesper with his lines and he’d put set pieces in the right places and helped with props and given Jesper support when he needed it most. Until now, he hadn’t realized how important everyone’s role was in the show.

 

The rest of the cast didn’t know how to react. Even Jesper looked stunned, but then he started bowing, and then everyone else followed after him, completely awkwardly and out of turn, but they all looked so happy and breathless that they didn’t seem to really care that they were taking their bows all over again. Wylan heard a few enthusiastic shouts from the crowd, unsure if they were mocking or genuine, but he didn’t care. This was one of the best responses they’d gotten all week.

 

“Wow,” Kuwei breathed. “I guess I don’t hate that song as much as I thought.”