Chapter 1: Overture
“Attention everyone, s'il vous plaît , little lovelies,” Madam Yu claps her hands, her loud heels click and echo around the primarily empty room. Most of the extras and dancers, the newer ones, are still brave enough to tease her. “I am not French, Madam Yu—”
“Shut up, my dear. For this is France, after all, and it would be impolite not to speak it.” Madam Yu has completely transformed her wardrobe since landing this important supervisory role in this opera that her darling adopted son has brought all the way to France. After all, for much of the world who enters Paris’ famous Opera House, this will be their first encounter with Chinese culture. She knows better than anyone how important it is to make a lovely first impression. The opera is gorgeous, the theme having been composed by her son and adopted son. It had already captivated much of Asia on their tours over the past two years, but bringing it to Europe would truly be the boost that her career would need. Already, two of her children are well-known throughout Asia, but if this could be the tour that brings her son Jiang Cheng to stardom, it will truly be a success. “As you know well, tomorrow we will be previewing the opera to the entire former cast and its managers. If they are not impressed, we do not perform again. So rest well tonight. Do not wander about after curfew, for your own good.”
Beneath the stage among the rest of the orchestra, a man clad all in black nudges a violinist’s shoulder. “Do you listen to her crap every day without saying anything?” His voice is raspy, unfamiliar, but Nie Huaisang has never been one to shy away from a stranger.
“Madam Yu wants what’s best for us. She knows what she’s doing.”
“If she knew what she was doing, you wouldn’t be seated in the back. Your violin sounds superior compared to that ass in the front, Wen Chao.”
Nie Huaisang snickers, “I know, but ever since I accidentally tripped her last week, I've been in the back. She cannot place me in the front. What is your instrument? I don't remember seeing you on our tour last fall..."
“Oh no, I do not play. I’ve never been taught.” The stranger replies, placing a cold hand on Nie Huaisang’s violin to lower it. “I work primarily… behind the scenes. I’ve seen every performance in this opera house in the past decade. You should be up front. You tell her that if you aren’t the lead violinist, the owners will not be impressed. Wen Chao is only there because his father through a hissyfit and made Madam Yu bring him.”
“I can hardly sit here without almost fainting.” He admits bashfully, looking to the face of his chatty companion. There is something off about the coloring of his face, but he can’t quite name it, and it would be rude to point it out. “It is too risky to place such a nervous person as myself in such a position.”
“You don’t take risks from time to time?” The figure stands. “Suit yourself. But the owners will not be impressed with the performance tomorrow unless Wen Chao is gone. Good luck on the journey home.”
“Who is talking while I’m talking?? Do you still want a job?” Madam Yu’s heels click across the stage, her ridiculous gown dragging against the ground like she’s some kind of prima donna . “You!” Nie Huaisang knows she’s pointing at him without actually having to see it; his eyes are on the ground. “Why do you have so much to say? Why are you interrupting my daughter’s rehearsal? Do you think you can sing better than her?"
“No, I’m not sure I can sing at all, ma’am.”
“Exactly! So keep your mouth shut!”
Somewhere in the echoing, large theatre, someone laughs. “Do you find this funny, you fool?”
“No, Madam, I didn’t—”
“Come up here! I’ll make you sing the entire opera in front of everyone!”
The doors leading to the lavish lobby burst open and in struts Wei Wuxian alongside his brother. Both are dressed in handsome suits that were surely just purchased while on one of their many tours throughout Paris when everyone else was hard at work. “Madam Yu! Why are you singling out this poor shy man?”
“I was going to do more than that! He is incredibly disrespectful. He will jeopardize this entire endeavor with his shyness, too! Why must we have him among our orchestra?” Madam Yu puts a hand on her hip and narrows her eyes at her adopted son. "And where have you been? Do you take any of this seriously? Why don't we go back to China now before you ridicule our entire family!"
“We'll sound like a circus if Wen Chao doesn't pull it together. You too, Jin Zixuan. Your voice shakes way too much to be taken seriously."
There are several giggles on the stage, and Madam Yu turns to fiercely glare at Wei Wuxian. “And why don't you rehearse? At our performance in Japan, you forgot your lines!"
"Aren't rehearsals for the understudies? I wrote the entire thing, I don't need to practice." Wei Wuxian sits in one of the front rows. “Isn’t this theatre grand? Our show will finally be performed in Europe. Soon, the whole world will enjoy our opera!” He smiles widely. "What's more is, I was told that two members of Chinese nobility will be in attendance at our premiere. I don't care about any of these stuffed shirts, it's our own people we should impress."
"We should strive to impress everyone! Impressing means patrons, Wei Ying!" She climbs down from the stage and grabs him by the arm. "Now, get up here and practice! You had that cold on the ship and your voice hasn't completely recovered. You need to warm up!"
"I'll warm up later!" Wei Wuxian says with a laugh, eyes shifting towards the ceiling for the briefest of moments. "Now that I think of it, my understudy could use a lot of work. He croaked twice in his last performance. And Wen Chao!" He points out the red-faced man in the front row of the orchestra. "Why are you sounding so poorly? Even your father would have to admit that you sound abysmal."
"Y-Yes, Master Wei! It's just that..."
"Just what?" Wei Wuxian sits on the side of the stage, legs swinging as if he is five years old. "You're nervous? We're all nervous, Wen Chao. This is the first time I've been to France. When I walk down the street, people look at me with surprise or distaste now, but when they see my opera next week, we're all going to become world famous. I'll be invited to dine with the same stuffed-shirts who refuse service to me. And I'll be able to laugh in their faces! So stop being nervous! If we're going to be successful, we can't be nervous."
"It's not that, Master Wei..." Wen Chao slams his violin down on his chair, and Wei Wuxian is surprised it hasn't broken. "It's just that my rosin keeps going missing! Every single day! I must've bought six new containers since we arrived! Someone is doing this on purpose just to try and make me fail when it comes time for my solo!"
Pursing his lips, Wei Wuxian looks among the orchestra. "Is that true? Is anyone stealing from Wen Chao to make him fail?"
"No, Master Wei!" Everyone replies almost at once, and he doesn't have the energy to scare anyone into confessing. "Alright then. No more messing around. Do what Madam Yu says and get a good night's rest for tomorrow. I'll be on my way."
"Where are you going, exactly?" Madam Yu asks with a huff.
"To drink! Good luck."
"Wangji, I have the most wonderful news," Lan Xichen walks up the cobblestone path to the greenhouse adjacent to the manor that the brothers inherited from their deceased parents. The greenhouse is where his younger brother spends most of his time; be it to read, to tend to the herbs and flowers, or to be alone (his favorite activity of all). "Wangji, what are you—?"
Lan Wangji looks up from the plant in his lap, almost guiltily. "I forgot my glasses in the house, and I wanted to see if this plant matches the classifications in this book." He nods to the book in his other hand.
Lan Xichen smiles. "I see. As I was saying, a dear friend of mine from the Paris Opera House has just informed me that a famous Chinese opera will be performed next week, and I've bought us tickets. We'll be seated in the best location in the entire building, in Box 5!"
"If I recall correctly... isn't Box 5 always left empty?" Lan Wangji asks, setting the plant to the side.
"There weren't any other boxes left in the balcony, and so I spoke with the owner, who made an exception. It must be some sort of romantic tradition, and isn't a big deal. Anyway, will you attend? I wanted to, when we were in China last year, but I never found the time. I think it would be good for you to get out of the manor every once in a while."
The idea of being seated in a loud, crowded room for several hours sounds, to be honest, like a nightmare, but considering the unusual performance, Lan Wangji must admit that he finds it promising. "I will."
"Wonderful. You remember Meng Yao? He will be attending with us, as will Uncle. Is there anyone you want to bring?"
"Is this intended to be a joke?" Lan Wangji replies evenly. Needless to say, he doesn't have any friends in Europe, and he didn't have any friends currently in China, either. The only friend he'd ever had was in childhood, a young boy named...
"The opera is written by two brothers from Yunmeng, or so it's advertised. Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng. Wei Wuxian almost sounds familiar, like that friend of yours from childhood?"
"Wei Ying." Lan Wangji offers.
"Indeed! But I am sure it's not the same person. After all, Wei Ying was an orphan and quite poor. If he managed to become a famous librettist from the disadvantage he was in, I would be even more impressed."
Gazing out the window at the fallen snow, Lan Wangji smiles softly.
Chapter 2: Think of Me
The opera reaches the public, and a certain voice brings Lan Wangji back to the past.
TW: mentions of an abusive parent
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The theatre is steadily filling up, and the previously quiet building is filled with life and laughter. There are people of high importance seated up in the balcony, and to make matters worse, Madam Yu caught word that an British ambassador is in attendance. Their chances of visiting America were at a firm zero thanks to the Chinese Exclusion Act and far worse racism, and anything west of the east coast sounding like backwater country. It’d probably be a waste of money to make all the effort to go to America anyway. Staying in Europe is fine by him. Up in the typically empty Box 5, the Chinese nobility are getting seated. Wei Wuxian closes the curtain and sighs deeply. He’s already in costume, and if he didn’t feel so violently ill, he’d be more than ready for this performance. The preview last week went swimmingly, despite how jealous the former actors were. But today is more important, today , Opera Ghost is being revealed to the west, and if it doesn’t become an immediate hit, all of the blame will be on Wei Wuxian.
“You said it yourself, being nervous does no good. If you’re not going to be confident, it’ll bring everyone else down.” Jiang Cheng pulls him away from the curtain. “You okay? You look awful.”
“Thanks a lot.” Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes playfully. “I think… it’s just that… ugh.”
“Wei Wuxian, you’d better spit it out, because we don’t have a lot of—”
“This is our premiere in Europe… I would really prefer to watch the performance and not be the one to perform, just for tonight. How can I see how it goes if I’m not the one watching it?”
“What, I don’t exist or something?”
“You’re the conductor! What good will you be?” Massaging his temples, Wei Wuxian comes to a decision. “We’ll send out Xue Yang. He’ll do just as good.”
“You kidding? He’s really a hit-or-miss. If he fails…”
“He won’t fail.” Wei Wuxian climbs out of his costume. “Give this to him. If something goes wrong, I’ll do something about it.”
He has to wait through much of the first act to hear his understudy actually perform, and he chews his nails during the entirety of waiting. But other than waiting, the first act goes smoothly. His sister and the thorn in his side, Jin Zixuan, have flawless performances and the set doesn’t fall apart. Jiang Cheng manages the orchestra, and even Wen Chao is OK, but his solo is yet to come.
And then it’s time. Xue Yang flashes a quick smirk in Wei Wuxian’s direction and begins without a hitch, Wen Chao following along just as flawlessly. And then, about forty seconds in, it happens. A string on Wen Chao’s violin snaps, and then a part of the inner curtain (for a scene in act II) falls right onto Xue Yang!
The audience laughs, instead of gasping in shock or anything of the sort. The person with the biggest reaction is Wen Chao. “That is it !” His fit can be heard from anywhere in the theatre. “I quit, I’m through! To the Opera Ghost, you can play your tricks on someone else!”
The audience laughed again, and the owner and Madam Yu were quick to take the stage. “We will take a brief intermission and resume… ah… in five minutes.”
Jiang Cheng motions Wei Wuxian towards the stage as the lights go dim.
"I have had enough, I quit!" Wen Chao throws a fit backstage during the intermission as the owner and Madam Yu follow him around, blocking any of the set from being damaged during his outburst. "Someone really is out to get me, and now they're after Xue Yang too! Don't you agree??"
Xue Yang smirks at him. "It's clearly Wei Wuxian's doing. He wanted his grand entrance to be showstopping, literally showstopping." The stagehands are helping him undress from the elaborate costume, and he occasionally kicks at them to hurry them up.
"It's no matter. If it is Wei Wuxian, or a ghost, or someone else, someone is out to get me. I'll go mad if I stay here another day! To hell with this production! I won't work here another day!"
"You're overreacting, you fool," Madam Yu scorns him. "It's happened twice."
"Twice? This shit always happens! And so long as it happens, this—" He points to himself, "isn't happening! When I find who has been meddling, I'll slit their throat, Wei Wuxian or anyone else!"
“Goodness, that was frightening,” Lan Xichen remarks once the curtains have closed. Meng Yao has just returned to his seat and squints towards the stage. “Did I miss the rest of Act I? What happened?”
“The strangest thing… part of the set fell onto the lead, Christian—”
“I believe he is the understudy, as a matter of fact.” Lan QiRen chimes in. “What a disaster.”
“Oh, dear… well, I certainly hope everyone is alright.” Meng Yao smiles. “Lan Wangji, why do you look so focused? The second act hasn’t begun yet.”
“He is terribly near-sighted, Meng Yao, you’ll have to forgive him.” Lan Xichen pats his brother’s arm. “This is the only show I’ve been able to drag him to this year. For his sake, at the very least, I hope the second act and anything onward runs much more smoothly.”
“Ahh, yes, for his sake. Look, it’s resuming now. Who is that young man that took the lead’s place? He is quite stunning, isn’t he?” Meng Yao whispers, but Lan Wangji pays him no mind once the music resumes. The singer adorns snowy white robes, a large, silver headpiece atop of their head. The robes are at least six feet long in the back, and their hair is delicately pinned back in an intricate design.
Gazing out at the pale audience in this frightening, intimidating country, in one of the most important opera houses in all of the world, Wei Wuxian swallows hard before parting his lips and begins to sing.
Now, the audience seems less humorous and is now completely stunned.
Way up in Box 5, Lan Wangji almost stands up when he recognizes the voice. Lan Xichen glances at him, a look of amusement in his eyes. "He sounds much more lovely than the previous, doesn't he Wangji?"
"Recall those days, look back on all those times, think of the things we'll never do.." Wei Wuxian's smooth voice echoes throughout the theatre, and the new violinist who took his place enhances the performance. But the lyrics are what really speaks to Lan Wangji. It is as if Wei Wuxian is speaking directly to him through the music!
Rolling fields. Warm summer mornings by the river, that teasing smile, the way it said his name…
"There will never be a day when I won't think of you!"
The solo reaches its instrumental and the audience bursts into applause and cheers for the first time. Can it be…? Lan Wangji is the first to stand among everyone, offering polite applause, but soon exits Box 5 and heads towards the stairs, mind entranced. It seems so long ago…
But it was only thirteen years ago, wasn’t it? How young and innocent we were!
As he hurries down the stairs, heading God knows where, Lan Wangji wonders if Wei Wuxian even remembers him. He didn’t have the greatest memory at fifteen, and it’s doubtful that he’s improved. But Lan Wangji never stopped thinking about him.
Yes, Lan Xichen was under the impression that the last he’d met Wei Ying was at the age of nine, but they’d crossed paths once more six years after that, and it was truly what he needed at that point of his life. He’d become an orphan not long after that, but the time before was far worse due to his father's alcoholism and madness, and had it not been for Wei Wuxian’s cheerfulness and company, how would he have gotten through such a dark time?
“Can I help you, Viscount ? ” A member of staff stops him at the bottom of the stairs, and Lan Wangji stands still only long enough to ask, “Where is Wei Wuxian’s dressing room located?”
Yes, his mother died when he was only six years old, and it would seem that his father’s spirit and zest for life died with her. He soon turned to alcohol for comfort, turning him into a bitter, abusive man. He still lived with his two sons in France up until recently, when he finally died of alcohol poisoning. He occupied a small suite in the manor, but only Lan Xichen was brave and patient enough to care for their father on a daily basis, as not even a servant would dare test the man’s wrath. Eventually, his father demanded that only Lan Xichen was to visit with him.
Though, had it not been for his father’s awful temper, Lan Wangji would never have met Wei Wuxian for the second time.
A windy spring morning, the latest outburst of Qingheng-jun evident through the stinging of his face. Pushing the doors open, he ignores the frantic, pleading calls of his brother to come back and runs across the courtyard without a second thought. He hates Gusu in a way he never thought possible. Why couldn’t they go abroad already? Another day in Gusu meant another day enduring his father’s temper in their close quarters, but at least when they went to France he’d have the excuse of attending boarding school.
The wind bites at his face but he does not stop until he reaches the river, sinking to his knees just in front of the water. He can see his reflection faintly; a bruise has formed, jarring and obvious and he hates his reflection. He splashes his face with water and then sits back. Why can’t Father just die already?
Before he can scold himself for such a question, he hears a familiar laugh behind him. “Lan- Lan Zhan? Your clothes are a mess!”
He stands up quickly, smoothing the dirt from the front of his pants. “Wei Ying?”
“Who would’ve thought we’d see each other again!” Wei Ying had grown up over the past six years. He looked almost like a young man now, dressed in finer clothes instead of the rags he’d worn as a child. This must mean that he found employment in a well-off family.
“You look well, Wei Ying.” He salutes properly, glancing towards the carriage nearby that Wei Ying is traveling with. “You are employed with the Jiang family?”
“In a way,” Wei Ying says with a wink. “At least, it’s what they tell everyone. I haven’t worked a day since I was nine years old. Mr. Jiang has been very good to me.”
“You were adopted?”
“Uh-huh! Not long after we met. What have you been up to?”
“The same as usual.” Another boy of their general age is approaching, and Lan Wangji looks away.
“How did you get that—” He reaches up to touch Lan Wangji’s face and is gently swatted away. “Ah— I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—”
“Wei Ying! Who are you talking to?” The boy approaches and his unfriendly voice intimidates Lan Wangji. “It better be someone who can repair this wheel!”
Wei Ying laughs. “Lan Zhan, our wheel got stuck in the mud and then broke completely! Are there any people around here who can fix it?”
He shakes his head. “But… my home is not far from here. I’m sure there is a spare wheel, and one of our servants can repair your carriage.”
Wei Ying wouldn’t think of protesting, but Jiang Cheng, his brother, was hesitant. “You know this guy, Wei Ying?”
“Yeah! His dad is the Count!”
Jiang Cheng narrows his eyes. “You are Lan Xichen?”
He shakes his head. “I am Lan Zhan. I do not have a curtesy name yet.”
“Huh. Well, why don’t you take me and Wei Ying back to your property, and send back a carriage for my mother and sister? That way, if you’re a total scam, they will at least be protected.”
“Lan Zhan’s not a scam, Jiang Cheng! He’s loaded.”
When the house came into sight, Jiang Cheng didn’t look as tense, but he still let Wei Ying do all the talking. “Does your mean old uncle still live here, too, Lan Zhan?” Wei Ying asks as they enter the courtyard. Jiang Cheng sees the outer building where the carriages are kept and makes a beeline for it, leaving the boys to their conversation.
“Sometimes. He frequents Europe.”
“So you live here with your brother and father, then? No friendly relatives?” Wei Ying gazes up at the large home and whistles lowly. “Which one is your room?”
“My brother is hardly unpleasant to live with, Wei Ying.” He reprimands him, then points to the upper left corner of the house. “Up there.”
“Is there a nice view? Back in Yunmeng with the Jiang’s, I still share a room with Jiang Cheng because Madam Yu’s mother is currently living in the room I was supposed to have. And Jiang Cheng lives on the side with the view.”
For every word that Lan Zhan speaks, Wei Ying speaks twenty more. It’s part of what Lan Zhan had always liked about him. He didn’t feel pressured to talk or come up with a conversation, Wei Ying did that for him and didn’t mind that he didn’t talk much.
Jiang Cheng and a servant are now seated at the front of one of the Lans’ carriages. “I’ll be back with Mom and Yanli. Don’t you dare get into any trouble while I’m gone.”
“As if! Take your time, though. Lan Zhan and I are just gonna catch up.”
Once the carriage disappeared from sight, Lan Wangji realized how exposed they were by standing in the courtyard. “Do you remember when I told you about the rabbits?” Lan Wangji asks, hoping that rabbits are still enough to entertain Wei Ying, enough to keep him out of his father’s sight.
“You still have them? I’d love to see them! Are they this way?”
Lan Wangji heaved a sigh of relief before hurrying after Wei Ying, who’d already burst into a sprint.
Wei Ying looked adorable in the enclosure surrounded by the rabbits, and his laughter was contagious. Lan Wangji had forgotten what it felt like to be so carefree, to live in the moment and not think at all about the future— not about his father, who could come searching for him at any moment, not about what’s to come when they leave for Europe, none of it matters. Until Wei Ying stares at him for longer than socially acceptable and asks in a small voice, “Did your father throw another teacup at you?”
With a slight roll of his eyes, Lan Wangji nodded. “This time, it is because I was not my brother, whom he wanted to see.”
“What an idiot.” Wei Ying sprawled back in the grass and sighed. “Anyway, it’s bleeding a little. What part of the house is your father in? We’ll make sure to avoid it while I patch it up for you.”
“No, you don’t have to do that.”
“I want to. You don’t deserve to have to tip-toe around your own house just so that drunkard doesn’t throw a fit.” Wei Ying pulled a handkerchief from his sleeve and pressed it against Lan Wangji’s cheek. “I’m sure you don’t want to talk about it. You probably think about it all the time. Want to talk about something else?”
Without delay, Lan Wangji nods. “What… have you been up to recently?”
“I’m glad you asked! One of my interests recently is music. I’m not a great songwriter, but we saw a theatre performance the other day. The music was incredible, and then it came to me. I think I want to write some sort of theatrical production myself. I’ll… start with something small, like a little play, but someday, I want to do something big.”
“How big?” Once Wei Ying lowers the handkerchief, Lan Wangji holds onto it.
“Like… an opera, big. I’ll make sure to include you, Lan Zhan! One day when I’m famous, you have to make sure to come and watch the performances.”
“Mn. Front row…”
Wei Ying smiles widely at Lan Wangji and promises with words that Lan Wangji will never forget, “Of course! I can’t wait for you to see it.”
More updates next week! Thank you for your support! :)
Chapter 3: Angel of Music
Who is the stranger clad in black at the gala? Why does he wear a mask over his face? Where did he come from?
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“How will you do it?”
“What, make this opera? I write it. It’s not hard, Lan Zhan.”
“You do not have any experience as a librettist.”
“And I don’t need it!” The two are seated on the roof of the stable and if Lan Xichen could see them, he’d undoubtedly shake his head. The Jiang’s are staying in the manor overnight and will be on their way in the morning. It becomes clear to Wei Ying that he probably won’t see Lan Zhan again after this, since he is going abroad. Hence, he tells Lan Zhan about a secret that he’s kept from everyone except for his adopted father, who probably doesn’t remember hearing about it. “When I was young, before my parents died— and- and this is probably one of the only things I remember about them, my mother said that I had a gift.”
“She didn’t specify what. She only said that once she died, this gift would come of use to me. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But also back then, she used to tell me stories before I went to bed. The most common one was about this, this ‘Angel of Music’ who could inspire and magnify the talents of the mere mortals attempting music. My parents were always into the supernatural, and I’m not exactly a skeptical myself… so I think it’s no coincidence that she mentioned the gift so often with the Angel of Music. It could be crazy, but what if…? What if I actually do have some sort of guardian, sent by my parents to help me?... You’re looking at me like I’m crazy, Lan Zhan.”
Wei WuXian leans back with an arm tucked under his head. “I guess I’ll find out of it’s real once I start writing music and performing it. You’ll believe me if I tell you it’s true, right?”
“Of course… with proof.”
“What kind of fool do you take me for? I wouldn’t lie about something like this. If I say it, you can be assured it’s true.”
“Mn.” Lan Zhan leaned back against the roof beside him. Wei Ying looked up at the endless starry sky above them, but Lan Zhan couldn’t look away. It is then that Wei Ying uttered words that Lan Zhan could never forget. “Lan Zhan… you’re really great. I like you.”
The crowd’s roaring applause still rings in his ears as the curtain closes for the final time, and Wei Wuxian turns back to the cast behind him and flashes a warm smile. His sister smiles back at him, and even Madam Yu looks somewhat pleased. The lights were blinding, the noise deafening, and it really is all too much. He’s never been so overwhelmed. He places a hand against his pounding heart. Lan Zhan...
“One down, thirty two to go. Yanli, you were fantastic! This was your best performance yet.” Her mother takes her hands and squeezes them gently. “And that Young Master Jin hasn’t stopped staring at you, either…” Of course, Madam Yu hadn’t even acknowledged Wei Wuxian after the performance. She expects him to be perfect every time, because he knows what will happen if he doesn’t do well. She won’t be proud of him for “doing the bare minimum” or “what [he] is supposed to do”. In fact, she’s probably never been proud of him at all, even after he brought this opera halfway across the world.
Clutching his chest, he disappears through the curtains off into the darkness of the lower orchestra to find Jiang Cheng.
On stage, Madam Yu and Yanli’s conversation continues. “Ah, you mustn’t say such things around A-Xian, you know how he gets when he and I…”
“He’s already gone, why should I care? Isn’t he selfish? He should be out there thanking the audience like his brother is!”
Yanli turns, surprised to see that Wei Wuxian is indeed missing already. “He has been acting strangely recently, hasn’t he? I’m sure it’s just nerves. A lot of pressure is on him right now…”
Still, Madam Yu is unconvinced that Wei Wuxian is capable of such emotions. “There will be a gala held tonight as the ownership of the theatre is changing. He will be expected, no, required to attend. How will that reflect on the rest of us if he doesn’t?”
Yanli nods. “I will talk to him. Don’t worry, Mother.”
It takes a little bit longer than expected to find her brother, and in the end he is in quite the unexpected place; a small chapel that is in one of the most obscure places of the upper half of the opera house. Judging by the dust, it isn’t frequented, and there’s really no reason for him to be in here, considering his lack of religion. “Have you been hiding here the whole time, A-Xian? You were perfect out there. You should be greeting your new horde of adoring fans!”
Wei Wuxian smiles as always, rising to his feet. “And what about yours? You were far better than me, although that Jin guy was a little flat.”
“Well, anyone would sound flat compared to your voice A-Xian. I only wish I knew your secret.”
“My secret? Hmm… what if it was… the Angel of Music?” He says with a wink as he heads for the door, but Yanli’s grip on his hand keeps him from going anywhere. “Sister, don’t you have a date with Young Master Jin? Why are you worrying about me?”
“What do you mean, Angel of Music? And A-Xian, I’m not the only one who’s worried. Won’t you sit and talk to me?”
“You want to hear about the Angel of Music? Why, he’s in the Opera, isn’t he? Christian’s character—”
“Christian is you , A-Xian, and his story is based upon—”
“Well, of course he isn’t real… or is he? For, perhaps it’s my imagination, but when I sing, I can sense the Angel himself…” He takes a step towards her, a look of mischief in his eyes. “Why, he just might be here in this room, calling me softly: Wei Ying, Christian, Wei Ying, Christian! One and the same!”
“A-Xian, enough with the teasing… you’re talking in riddles.”
“This isn’t like you to behave so strangely. Have you fallen ill?” She moves to rest the back of her hand against his forehead, but he gently moves her hand away. “He’s with me even now, Yanli.”
“Your hands are cold.” The room itself seems to grow colder and it does indeed feel strangely, as if someone unseen truly is among them. Her mother warned her against believing the tales of the opera house being haunted, saying that it’ll destroy her nerves. But perhaps Wei Wuxian had fallen victim to such fallacy? “And your face is white as snow… are you truly falling ill? Perhaps you shouldn’t attend the gala. You should get some rest…”
“Rest or not, he’s all around me, Yanli. And perhaps, if you don’t hurry onto your date, I’ll send him after you, too—”
“A-Xian, you’re frightening me.”
“Frightening your own sister?” Jiang Cheng stands at the door, a concerned look in his eyes that he masks with criticism. “You’ve really gone mad from all that alcohol, haven’t you, you drunken fool? Yanli, go ahead to your dinner, I’ll take care of Wei Wuxian.”
“You must forgive my brother’s absence, Monsieur Andre, he has fallen ill.” Jiang Cheng says from his seat at the long gala table not thirty minutes later, clenching his fist under the table.
“Hopefully it won’t affect his performance tomorrow night,” The owner replies. “He truly was incredible. I think, with a bit of our help, this show could be a true success.”
“Your help?” Jiang Cheng raises an eyebrow.
“In my layman’s opinion, Monsieur Andre, the show seems to already be a great success. It’s all anyone’s talking about out on the streets!” Meng Yao, who is seated beside the owner himself, chimes in. “You won’t have trouble selling the show.”
“For now, but do you know what would really send the show over the top? A bit of professional advice! Most of the cast does well… but you know… perhaps we could substitute a few side characters for some of our well-trained actors? None of the main characters, of course, we wouldn’t want to upstage your program.”
Jiang Cheng stares at the man, wide-eyed, wishing that Wei Wuxian was here to give him the proper answer. This man is asking for an answer that Jiang Cheng really isn’t qualified to give.
“That, and just one teensy-weensy cast change. Miss Yanli is talented, but she’s just too quiet and reserved for the role she’s been given! I’ve been speaking with one of the understudies, and I feel that Miss Lingjiao would be an excellent substitution! Her talent, her beauty, and her comfortability on the stage could truly assist the sub-plot. What do you say, Conductor?”
“I… I really must say that it’s—”
“It’s out of the question.” A man seated at the end of the table speaks up, one that nobody had really noticed before. Clad all in black with an obscure mask covering the upper half of his face, he strikes fear in the hearts of the other attendants of the gala, save for the owner and Meng Yao. “Ah, I was wondering if you were going to attend. Unfortunately, Monsieur, your opinion on this situation is unneeded.” The owner says with a smile as he raises his glass of wine, though Jiang Cheng notices that his hand shakes a little.
“Who is this?” Jiang Cheng starts to stand, but Madam Yu pulls him back into his seat and shakes her head, whispering, “Haven’t you heard about that ghost that haunts the theatre? It’s just some trickster. Do not get them involved with us!”
Ignoring the mother and son’s hushed conversation about him, the stranger continues, “If the young lady is not left in her casted role, it won’t be this opera failing that you’ll have to worry about.”
“Is that so, O.G.?” While everyone had turned to look at the owner while he made his response, the stranger had vanished from his seat, reappearing at the owner’s side as if he were a ghost! “Yes, that’s exactly so. The young lady keeps her role and you keep the conditions of your affair with Miss Lingjiao out of my opera house.”
“ Your opera house ? You— you—!” The man’s face is dangerously red, and the gala is in uproar over the new rumor of an affair between one of the understudies and the owner; with the understudy using him for her own selfish gains! Jiang Cheng looks around, but he can never quite keep his eye on the stranger, for he is in constant motion.
“ That’s enough !” The owner slams his fist down on the table, and all at once the lights go dim. When the lighting resumes, the stranger— no, the ghost — is gone. But in the chaos, Lan Xichen, who was in attendance with Meng Yao, did not notice that his little brother had slipped away as well.
Do you want to be something great?
The voice came to him at just nineteen years old, its owner nothing more than a cloud of black smoke. He stared at the entity, wide eyed when he noticed it holding his discarded sheet music. Are you willing to do what it takes to make this opera a success? I can help you .
Wei Wuxian gulped, feeling himself drawn and pulled towards the entity. To be a success? To accomplish something in his otherwise dreary life? To escape from the abuse of his adopted mother and gain a bit of freedom? It’s what he’s been trying to do for the past three years. “Who… who are you?” He spoke, voice just above a whisper, his feet still carrying him towards the entity which has only grown in size, its scentless smoke covering a third of the room.
I am your Angel of Music.
“Angel of… music?” There seemed to be a face amidst all of the smoke, but the room was becoming too foggy to see. He could hardly see his hands in front of him. “But…how? Why...?” He had to be dreaming. What his parents told him, those were just stories! Stories like that can’t come true! His heart pounds in his chest, but not from fear. Rather, from excitement. He could never be afraid of something that his parents sent just for him.
Don’t you want to do something great? I will help you take your opera all over the world for nothing in return. Nothing except…
In the morning, Jiang Cheng wakes to the extremely loud noise of someone playing the previously-abandoned pipe organ that his parents were gifted by European visitors some years ago. It was kept in the basement of the house, and no one would be brave enough to go down there with all its leaking water and rats. The song is unfamiliar, sounding nothing like what Wei Wuxian had been working on all these months. It’s almost… intoxicating.
When Jiang Cheng opens his door, there is a large book of sheet music outside his door, wrapped in a red ribbon. In Wei Wuxian’s handwriting atop of the first line of music, reads, “ Opera Ghost"— and the music that’s going to take us all across the world.
Next time, lwj and wwx reunite
probs gonna post that on like Saturday, it's already done
thank you for reading!
Most of the itchy powder is off of his face by the time someone knocks on the door. “Come in,” he replies absentmindedly, assuming that it isn’t a crazed fan due to this being only their premiere. “You may have done something right for once.” A stagehand who carries in a bouquet of flowers almost larger than herself and places them on the sofa as there isn’t a vase large enough. “The opera house has earned two more patronages. The owners are quite pleased about it.”
“So the show lives another day. Who are those from?”
“I don’t know, actually. There’s no card alongside it. It chased away an admirer who was just about to knock at your door, so I suppose it has served its purpose.” With a deep frown, she gathers the empty wine bottles from various surfaces in the room.
“I suppose it was one of the gentlemen in Box 5. It wasn’t one of the nobility, just some vagabond that the Count totes around as he pleases.”
“If someone of such high social stature associates with him, he must not be as bad as you think.”
“What do you know, anyway?” After tossing the bottles into a bin in the corner, she sighs. “After that first song, your performance was sloppy, distracted. The audience may not have known any better, but everyone who knows you did. Why do you not take this more seriously? You’re the one that created all of this, who brought us all here. Why should you want it to fail?”
Wei Wuxian refuses to answer, instead studying his reflection in the wide mirror quite closely. “If you weren’t a stage-hand, Wen Qing, what would you have done with your life?”
“You’re asking a woman this question?”
“Pretend the world was good and fair, then! What would you be?”
“Wei Wuxian, why do you ask such questions? You’re brother’s worried about you.”
is worried? As if…”
“He says all you do is drink and sleep these days. You’re paler and thinner. You have proven time and again to be extremely talented, and yet you refuse to use it. Is there something bothering you?”
“Thank you, Wen Qing, but I’m fine, and I’d like to be alone.” It’s like talking to a brick wall, just as Jiang Cheng described. Wen Qing shakes her head at his stubbornness and leaves the room, only to nearly collide with yet another admirer with nothing to show for his efforts. No bouquet, no presents, just…. “Sir, the primo uomo will not be accepting any visitors this evening. You would, quite frankly, be better off talking to the Opera Ghost.” With a nod, Wen Qing leaves the poor man in the busy hallway and finds her way back to the rest of the group.
But this man does not leave. In fact, he walks right in, because he’s too nervous to wait any longer and his brother is already suspicious as to why he is taking so long.
“Wen Qing, I thought I told you to…” Wei Wuxian trails off, eyes widening at the sight of Lan Wangji. “Lan Zhan…? You’re… you…”
“I did promise.” Lan Wangji shuts the door gently. “I must apologize. I did not hear of your opera before now. I… I haven’t been in China since Father…”
“Oh, never mind that!” Wei Wuxian smiles, pulling Lan Wangji into a seat beside him. “What did you think? Minus the… malfunction early on, of course.”
“It was lovely. You wrote all the music yourself?”
“Jiang Cheng composed the tunes, I wrote the words and everything else.”
“The people spoke of it with high approval. Congratulations, Wei Ying.”
“Thank you. I worked on it for three years, and we started performing it five years ago. This is supposed to feel like I’ve reached the top of the world with this opera, right? As high as I can go, but…”
“It’s been five years of performances and I’ve never had the time to write another opera because I’m always performing in this one. But if I were to take a hiatus, the whole thing would fall apart. Have you seen my understudy?”
“He was… average.” Lan Wangji admits.
“Average, yes! I don’t want my show to be seen as average! I take too much pride in it to put it in the hands of someone else.” He rests his head against the vanity and groans. “And there’s talks of bringing the tour to England directly after our final Paris showing… I just don’t know. I’m tired, I want to go home and sleep and write and put the show on a hiatus for a year or so…”
“Why not go on a hiatus, then?”
“Madam Yu would actually kill me, as would all of the agents trying to sell this show. They’re going to work me to death.” After a pause, Wei Wuxian changes the subject. “Anyway, I’m glad to see you again, Lan Zhan. How long are you in Paris for?”
“For the foreseeable future. Brother is content living in the nearby countryside and I have no reason to return alone.”
“You’ll come to more of our shows, then? At least with you here, I’ll feel more motivated to perform.”
“Mn… Wei Ying.”
“Yeah?” Wei Wuxian lifts his head and smiles slightly at Lan Wangji, but it is clear that he is tired in a way that rest alone could not help. He’s been overworking himself for years and living a highly unhealthy lifestyle for far too long. Lan Wangji fears— no, refuses— the idea of allowing one of the world’s most brightest stars to go out against its own will.
“My brother wanted to go to a proper dinner after the gala, but to be honest, I’d rather not attend alone as he is bringing along a friend. Would you…” His nerves fail him and he struggles to finish his sentence, charming Wei Wuxian all the more. “I’m sure you haven’t eaten today, so… would you be interested in… that is…”
Wei Wuxian laughs, rising to his feet. “You want me to go to dinner with you and your family? I’d love to, it’s just… I’m not able to stay out that long. I’m sorry, it’s just how things are here. But say, I’ve ordered wine. Would you stay a while to catch up?”
Lan Wangji nods quickly. “Yes.”
The hour is late, and much of the Opera House is silent. The only trace of movement can be caught in the mirror’s reflection; Wei Wuxian gently stroking through Lan Wangji’s long, flowing hair as his breaths return to normal. Only after a long while does he speak. “Lan Zhan…”
“I shouldn’t— I shouldn’t have said all of—” But he can’t look down at Lan Wangji with a straight face for more than a few seconds until he’s leaning down to kiss him again, slowly and just as deep as before. Then, he pulls himself away. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have taken advantage of your drunkenness. You should go.”
“I’m not drunk, Wei Ying.”
“Let me up.”
Lan Wangji helps him to his feet, watches in disdain as Wei Ying puts on a robe. “Again, I’m sorry about that. If you’re brother isn’t here, I’ll pay for—”
“I’m more concerned about you.”
“About me?” Wei Ying sits down in front of the mirror and sighs as he combs through his hair. As if, just thirty minutes ago after his fifth shot of alcohol, he hadn't wept in Lan Wangji's arms about all of his woes, about a life he knew wouldn't last much longer at its current pace and his fears as a result of that. “I’ll be alright. I’m sending out Xue Yang again tomorrow.”
“Even after what happened?”
“It was an accident. I’m not really concerned about his well-being.”
Lan Wangji buttons up his shirt and swings his legs over the side of the couch. “And what about the Opera Ghost?”
“What do you mean?”
“The manager was trying to persuade Jiang Cheng into allowing another young woman to take your sister’s role. And at that time, an unfamiliar man appeared— who they called the “Opera Ghost”, who said—”
“No one is going to take Yanli’s role. It was written for her, besides. Lan Zhan, everything will be fine. I’ll perform again another time, and I’ll write to you when I do, so you won’t have to waste your time coming at any other time.”
Lan Wangji gazes at Wei Wuxian’s reflection in the mirror as he asks, “Why did you miss the gala? It was announced that I…”
“That you what?” There’s a string of kiss marks running down Wei Wuxian’s shoulder that are so, so distracting. He just wants to reach out and— “Lan Zhan, what?”
“I decided to become a patron for the duration of your opera.”
“Are… are you serious?”
“Mn… it was announced upstairs, during the gala.”
“You’re not just saying this, you’re not doing it out of pity, you… you actually liked it?”
“It was better than some of the other shows Brother dragged me to in the past. It had heart. It was intriguing, captivating, especially that one song…”
“Let me guess, ‘Opera Ghost’? It’s what everyone says.”
“No, the song you sang when you first went onstage. I thought it was lovely.”
Something changed in Wei Wuxian’s eyes. “Too bad I didn’t write that one then.”
“No… Lan Zhan, I’m sorry, but I think it’s time for you to go. I’m really tired, and I’m not much of a companion in this state.”
“Where do you sleep?”
“I’ll go there on my own. It was great seeing you, Lan Zhan. Maybe I’ll see you again soon.” It was as if a wall had closed up over Wei Wuxian, and he could no longer break through. But what did tonight mean? Why… why did Wei Wuxian initiate this if he didn’t want anything in return?
Lan Wangji is confused, maybe a little bit hurt at the sudden rejection. He bids him goodnight and leaves the room in silence.
But after Lan Wangji left the room, he decided to try and find his brother and inform him that he wouldn’t be going to dinner with him, but a strange feeling suddenly cast over him, as if he was being watched. This portion of the opera house is quite eerie while empty, he understands, but it is something more than that. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees someone in black cross the hall behind him, but when he turns, there is no one there. As he walks towards Wei Wuxian’s dressing room once again, there is something different. The door is locked, and an unfamiliar voice speaks from within. “Is the Angel of Music not strict? Are my rules not to be followed by insolent boys?”
‘Angel of Music’ ? Lan Wangji twists the doorknob again, but it’s no use.
“My soul was weak, forgive me…” Wei Wuxian’s voice is strained, tired… “It won’t happen again, I was just… I haven’t seen Lan Zhan in years. It won’t happen again, of course, but I had to get him out of here somehow…”
“Of course, but a promise is a promise.”
“I understand… and it all might be worth it if… if I could only see you.”
“You will know me. Look to the mirror!”
Lan Wangji knocks thrice on the door. “Wei Ying?” Who is this controlling man? Why do you let him order you around? You’re twenty-eight years old! The room is dead silent. Lan Wangji’s insides twist with dread. “Wei Ying!”
Just then, the door unlocks and Lan Wangji falls inside, having been holding onto the handle the way he was. The room is empty. The large bouquet of roses that had been on the couch is discarded onto the floor. His shoes sit beside the vanity. There must be some sort of secret passage ! But no matter where he looks, the walls are sealed tightly. They’re made of bricks, after all, and bricks cannot be easily moved. There is no evidence of another person having entered this room in Lan Wangji’s brief absence except for an unfamiliar black glove.
“Excuse me, sir?”
Lan Wangji almost jumps out of his seat, but when he turns around to see a young boy standing there. His voice doesn’t match the one he heard behind the door. “Your brother searches for you upstairs. He has decided to attend the gala upstairs and requests your attendance, as you will be the new patron.”
“Tell him I cannot.”
“He is on his way down here, sir, so you can tell him yourself.” The boy bows slightly, and after a quick glance around the room, scurries away. Frowning, Lan Wangji leaves a card in one of the vanity drawers and leaves the room, closing the door softly behind him. As expected, his brother, accompanied by Meng Yao, is coming down the stairs. “There you are! I’ve been looking everywhere for you. What’s the matter? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
they didn't do the do, btw. they just had a sad but good time. later chapters will reveal how this could happen despite being apart for so many years.