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1939

Nick set down his fork and took a long drink of his wine instead.

"Well, go on. I won't eat a bite until you tell us who got what."

Jay cleared his throat and took the glass away from Nick, nodding.

"Best to get it over with, good news or bad. We're proud regardless."

"The cast list wasn't supposed to be up till after the Christmas recess," explained Pam, reluctantly, through a mouthful of pie. She'd commandeered her dessert for eating first, in spite of Sylvie's backside-stinging gesture of protest. Daisy had arranged via telephone for the confection to be sent up from Pam's favorite New York bakery in the wake of her weekend trip there with the girls.

"Instead, Jacqueline typed up enough copies for everybody, rejects included, and had her stage manager shove them under our dormitory doors at three in the morning. We stared at the goddamned list and argued about it the whole way up here," said Sylvie. She took a crinkled, blueberry-goo smudged piece of paper out of her lap, and then glanced conspiratorially at Pam. "I think the train conductor wanted to kick us off in Hartford. We really ought to be happier, having gotten away with the lions' share of substantial roles."

"Let's see," said Nick, plucking the piece of paper from Sylvie's proffered grasp. "Hamlet, to be presented by Wellesley Shakespeare Society in April, date to be announced, directed by Jacqueline Broadhead—that may bode ill, I suppose, if she lives up to her name—and . . . " He trailed off and reached for his glass; this time, Jay, leaning over Nick's shoulder to read the creased notice, didn't stop him. "Pam, you didn't say anything about reading for the lead. I thought you two had read for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in auditions. Your studies come first."

"We had," said Pam, "but I guess Jacqueline has a bent sense of humor." She picked up her wine and swilled it, eyes rolling up to scrutinize the ceiling. "I get all the lines," she said, taking a swallow, "and Sylvie gets the emotional burden."

"Horatio's lines aren't as small an undertaking as you seem to think," Sylvie told Pam, and stole a bite of her pie. "I'd like to see you try wrangling Isabella around that stage when she's in full-on Ophelia madness. You know it's gonna be bad."

Bad enough even without casting lovers in the relationship that's really at the heart of the play, Nick thought, but kept his mouth shut. He raised his glass to them instead.

Jay clinked his glass against Nick's, and then against Sylvie's and Pam's.

"Congratulations are in order, but I don't want you getting too stressed and exhausted before spring-term finals," he said, and drank. "Promise us you'll pace yourselves."

"That might not be possible," Pam said. "Jacqueline has some odd ideas."

Nick raised an eyebrow, his head already swimming. "And what are those?"

"She wants to start rehearsing at the end," said Sylvie. "Work backwards."

"That might just be a sound way to go about it," said Jay, reasonably. "An old friend of mine used to say that you should start where the rope's most tangled. The events of that final scene are as tangled as it gets, never mind the text."

Nick glanced at him, half smiling. "I didn't know you had opinions on Shakespeare."

Sylvie threw one of her gloves at Nick; Pam restrained her from throwing the other.

"I have opinions on a great many more things than I had at the time you met me," Jay said, setting the paper down. "Let it be enough. What's there to argue about?"

"Jacqi thinks we'll be too soft with each other," Pam scoffed. "She told us to go home and do some research over the holidays. And before you ask, yes, she knows. Damned near everybody does. What I want to know is, what's the difference whether it's love between men or love between women or love between anything else? It all looks the same to me. She must have meant something different."

"Oh, I know what she meant," said Nick, grimly. "Did you tell her about us?"

Pam blinked, but Sylvie's expression seemed to indicate that she'd caught on.

"I told her we were going to my uncle's place in Boston," said Pam. "Why?"

"Half the campus subscribes to the Globe because of Nick's column, sweetie," said Sylvie. "More than half of those have society parents for whom the East Coast rumor mill is de rigueur. Do you understand where this is going?"

Pam, apparently fed up, had made a courageous start on emptying her wine glass. As Sylvie posed her question, let it hang on the air between them, Pam's glass came sharply down, and red wine splashed vivid, bloody violet across her cheek.

"Then you've got to read it for us," she said soberly. "A private audience."

"What do you mean?" Jay asked. "The entire play? Let's at least eat first."

"No, not the whole thing," Sylvie said. "The offending article. The scene."

I refuse to be sober for this, Nick thought, and tucked into his casserole.

Dinner proceeded as a quiet, plate-scraping affair with the pie devoured first, and very little of the main course actually touched. They finished the first bottle of wine and, to Nick's approval and Jay's misgiving, Pam went to fetch a second from the cellar.

"For the road," she explained, hefting the dusty thing up on her shoulder as she returned to the dining room. She pointed the corkscrew at Jay's nose. "Let's do this in the parlor. Just to mix it up, you're reading Horatio, and he's—" she indicated Nick with a jerk of her chin "—reading your sweet prince. Objections?"

Let me count the ways, Nick thought, but he wiped his mouth, stood up somewhat unsteadily, and offered Jay his arm. "If seeing it read out will help you with rehearsing, I see no harm in the attempt," he said, and led them out.

Nick was glad not to have to drag his Complete Works down off the library shelf upstairs; both of the girls had brought home their small hardback reading copies of the play. They situated themselves on the Chesterfield, full glasses of wine in hand, while he and Jay knelt on the Peshawar rug and frowned at their books.

"Do we just . . . start?" Jay murmured, flipping pages to the end. "Where?"

"He is justly served," said Pam, her voice deep and enfeebled all at once. "It is a poison temper'd by himself. Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet: mine and my father's death come not upon thee, nor thine on me."

Nick shimmied down so that he lay half on the rug and half across Jay's lap. He held up his book so that it didn't clash with Jay's, and, tapping Jay's wrist with one corner of the front cover, whispered, "Laertes just died, Horatio. That's our cue."

Jay moved his book aside, the better to scrutinize Nick's face. The shock and vague confusion there, at least, Jay didn't have to fake. Nick could work with that.

"Heaven make thee free of it!" he called earnestly in Pam's direction, letting the dizziness of sinking back down in Jay's lap serve as a foil to Jay's arms closing around him, book almost dropped, in fierce startlement. He'd done this once at Yale as part of a variety show, only they'd really hammed things up (pun most definitely intended, at least at the time). The words flooded back unbidden, or at least the important ones did; he dropped his book, as well as the lines that had always seemed superfluous. "I follow thee. I am dead, Horatio. You that look pale and tremble at this chance, had I but time—O, I could tell you—" at this, he touched Jay's cheek, tracing upward first (faint blue echo in his memory: Daisy, blonde and pale, emerging into rain) "—but let it be. Horatio, I am dead; thou livest. Report me and my cause—"

What tripped him wasn't the sound of Jay's voice as he began to speak, or even the fact that Jay had some seconds earlier let his own book drop harmlessly to the rug (a quick study out of long years' habit: Nick should have known), but the tears, one two and three in quick succession, that fell from above and gilded Nick's own cheek.

"Never believe it," Jay gritted out, entirely too convincing for the good of any soul present. "I am more an antique Roman than a Dane. Here's yet some liquor left—"

He reached for the closest wine glass on the coffee table, Sylvie's, and one of the girls, Nick had no way of knowing which, took a stuttering breath and then held it.

"As thou'rt a man, give me the cup," Nick demanded, urgently, finding he didn't need to feign difficulty breathing. "Let go; by heaven, I'll have't," he said, managing to wrest it away, and drank it down. Jay gaped, all tears and outrage, and Nick forged on, letting the glass fall, "O good Horatio, what a wounded name, things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me. If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart—"

He couldn't have prevented Jay from kissing him even if he'd wanted to, and he didn't.

 

1966

"They did what?" replied Andy, absently, scratching his forehead as he read.

"You heard me," repeated Red, sighing heavily. "They transferred Biedermann."

"Then I'm down a Hamlet," Andy said, snapping his script shut. "What do we do?"

"At this point, I'd say we have two options," said Red, grinning wryly. "We call off the show, which nobody but the guards are going to come see anyhow, or you pull an Orson Welles, which will come as no shock to anybody, and play the lead as well as direct." He gestured expansively. "Besides, you've got excellent rapport with Horatio."

Andy considered this, removing his spectacles, and nodded. "You're right. I do."

There's a sadness in you this spring, Andy, Red thought, and did it ever occur to you that directing the tragedy to end all tragedies may not be the best way to cope?

"We should run the last scene in private," Andy continued. "Before the others get here. That's the worst part of it, and the most crucial. I want reassurance."

Yes, you do, and I'd give it if you'd just let me, Red thought. "All right," he said. "We've got time, half an hour at least. What line do we start on?"

Andy got up from his seat at the secondhand schoolroom desk, leaving his script where it sat. Of course he'd know the play, just like he knew the words to La Traviata and Le Nozze de Figaro forward and backward. "Laertes," he said, and then quoted while he got himself in position on the floor, kneeling, "Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet: mine and my father's death come not upon thee, nor thine on me."

On auto-pilot after three months of hard rehearsals, Red advanced the few meager steps separating them and fell to his knees beside Andy, ignoring the pain as his kneecaps collided with concrete. "Andy," he breathed, choking the whisper back just in time for his friend to deliver Hamlet's first condemned utterance.

"I am dead, Horatio," said Andy, with a kind of wide-eyed wonder, framing Red's face without quite touching him. "You that look pale and tremble at this chance, that are but mutes or audience to this act, had I but time—as this fell sergeant, death, is strict in his arrest—" at that, an unexpected bitter laugh, but with an undertone of undeniable triumph "—O, I could tell you—but let it be. Horatio, I am dead; thou livest. Report me and my cause aright to the unsatisfied."

Without thinking, Red took hold of Andy's hands, which hadn't quite managed to get clear of his peripheral vision. He brought them somberly to his chest, unlike how he'd rehearsed so many times with Biedermann—just holding them at arms' length, in that case—and inhaled shakily. "Never believe it. I am more an antique Roman than a Dane," he said, locking eyes with Andy. They were both well past the hilarity of the Warden making them cut all references to liquor. In the early weeks of rehearsal, none of them had been able to keep from laughing themselves silly.

"O good Horatio, what a wounded name, things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!" Andy lamented, knee-walking a few inches closer, only to falter without warning and collapse awkwardly in Red's willing arms. Red sank backward into a sitting position, dragging Andy with him, which had the unintended consequence of falling onto his back with Andy sprawled on top of him. Still, it was live theater, as Andy always said: you went with it. "If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart," said Andy, too convincingly breathless, his eyes wide and urgently unblinking, "absent thee from felicity a while, and in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain to tell my story."

A thousand times, I would, Red thought, taking Andy's face in both hands, the awkwardness of it be damned. Andy dropped the warlike noise line and Osric and everything else; in that moment, the harsh sounds of their breaths and the crush of Andy's weight all down the length of Red's body was too much, too much.

"O, I die, Horatio," Andy murmured, not loud enough for any audience in the world to hear. "The potent poison quite o'er-crows my spirit—"

Too much indeed: his head drooped, then, falling so that the corners of their mouths touched. Red was shocked by it, electrified, but he couldn't say a word. He pressed one palm to the back of Andy's head, realizing that, in this improvisation, the rest of Hamlet's lines would not come. The prince was dead; long live Fortinbras.

"Now cracks a noble heart," Red said gently in Andy's ear, stroking the unexpected softness of his hair. "Good night, sweet prince. Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

"Scene," Andy said, tensing, but he didn't move, mouth warm against Red's neck.

"We've got to work on your fall," said Red, but he didn't move, either. Not yet.

 

1991

"For the record," said Billy, raising his hand uninvited, "letting you direct this scene for our group project is one of the stupidest decisions Mr. Oger has ever made."

"It's this or a five-thousand word essay," Snuffy reminded him. "Take it or leave it."

Hoping for a chance at adding to Billy's admirable smart-assery, Joey raised his hand, too, but Snuffy called on him before he had the chance to speak his piece anyway.

"You can't type-cast us," he said firmly. "Billy's obviously Hamlet; the whole fucking school is always watching him, glass of fashion and all that shit. I'm the sidekick, the one with the notebook, everybody's Horatio. Turn everything on its head."

"Is that your way of saying your ego's not big enough to just point-blank ask to be cast as Hamlet?" Snuffy asked, folding his arms across his chest. "Classy, Trotta."

"He's right," said Billy, abruptly, jarring Joey out of his rapidly mounting fury. "Put me outside my comfort zone. Take away the spotlight. Besides, Joey's never in it."

"He's in it when anyone mentions his dad," Snuffy pointed out. "And I guess being the don of New Jersey's premier Mafia family is kind of like being a king—"

"Shut your mouth right now," Joey snapped, but Billy had a hand on his shoulder.

"Can we just give this subversive casting a try? Where do you want us to start?"

Snuffy stared blankly at Billy, and then spent a minute flipping through his script.

"He is justly served; it is a poison temper'd by himself," read Snuffy, mechanically. "Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet: mine and my father's death come not upon thee, nor thine on me." He cleared his throat and scratched the side of his nose.

Joey scooted forward, on hands and knees, and then doubled forward, both hands clutched about his middle. The intended effect on Billy was perfect; he knew Joey tended to do that when he was feeling sick, so the abruptness of it actually hit Billy's gut instinct before it hit his sense of dramatic improvisation. Kind of scary, really.

"Heaven make thee free of it! I follow thee," Joey said faintly, letting his eyes flick briefly to Snuffy's. "I am dead, Horatio," he said, scrambling for Billy's hand, but no need: Billy was already there, offering it, holding him. "Wretched queen, adieu!" he said, squeezing his eyes shut. His mother's image, or what he remembered of her, flashed briefly across the static behind his eyes. "You that look pale and tremble at this chance, that are but—" he forgot what came next, but it was easy enough to gloss over the line-drop with a ragged gasp "—had I but time—as this fell sergeant, death, is strict in—O, I could tell you—but let it be. Horatio, I am dead—"

"Never believe it!" pleaded Billy, drawing Joey up and into his arms. No need to hold back, not with Snuffy and the rest of their closest friends in the know. "I am more an antique Roman than a Dane: here's yet some liquor left."

"As thou'rt a man," said Joey, imagining that the words took incalculable effort, "give me the cup. Let go; by heaven, I'll have't." He sank down on his back so that Billy had him under the arms, struggling to haul him back up. "O good Horatio, what a wounded name, things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me. If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, absent thee from felicity a while—"

Billy broke down and kissed him far sooner than Joey would have liked, almost executing the gesture upside-down, and Joey was sure he'd have a huge crick in his neck by the time they finished. He knew they could never do that in English class without getting expelled, but he wondered vaguely if that was what Billy wanted: get both of them tossed out so that they could finally just start working, make their way in the world, belong to each other rather than to fathers or to mothers or to teachers with expectations far higher than seemed realistic. Joey twisted so that they were at least kissing sideways, throwing one arm desperately around Billy's neck.

"I can't," Billy said, breaking character. "Can't think about losing you, I just—"

"You're not going to lose him," sighed Snuffy, rolling his eyes. "From the top!"

"It's okay," said Joey, with a weary smile. "Lay off on the kissing, all right?"

"I'll try," Billy agreed. "Maybe I'll close your eyes instead. What about that?"

 

2003

Aziraphale stared moodily into his wine as Crowley sighed and waved off the telly.

"It was quite an excellent production," he said. "Would they had done it on stage."

"He got to do it live in plenty of other arrangements," said Crowley, setting his wine down on the coffee table so he could count productions off on his fingers. "Title role when he was a mere sixth-former at Edinburgh Fringe, Laertes opposite O'Toole at the National Theatre in sixty-three, on tour in the title role again in seventy-nine, up to and including a performance at the Kronborg in Helsingør—"

"I had no idea you'd followed Jacobi's career with such interest, my dear," said Aziraphale, attempting to feign nonchalance (and failing rather appallingly). "That brings us up to the filming of what we've just seen, no doubt."

Crowley nodded, retrieving his wine. "Nineteen eighty. Almost makes me feel old."

"Don't be ridiculous," said Aziraphale, polishing off his wine. "We can't be made to feel old." He fished through the agitated murk of his thoughts for words he knew would suit the purpose. "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

"Then that must go for you and me as well, eh?"

Aziraphale watched Crowley take a cautious sip.

"I'll have you know that's not funny," he said.

"Of course not," agreed Crowley, drunkenly. "It's only the best-known bloodbath in all of Western literature and performance art, unless you count anything by Tarantino—"

"Leave it to you to gloss over the point," Aziraphale sniffed. "You've missed it."

"Not really," said Crowley, standing up, and offered Aziraphale his hand. "The real tragedy lies in the failures of communication, the isolation between family members, the mistaken assumptions with regard to who bears whom genuine affection. Love, even, if you like." He got them out in the open and stood Aziraphale in front of the coffee table, and then placed himself opposite Aziraphale. "For my money, what we're seeing is a brilliant young man who, in addition to being deeply grieved by his father's death, isn't free to openly love whom he'd like. Don't look at me like that, angel. I'll prove it. First of all, those so-called love letters . . . " Crowley wrinkled his nose. "You can't tell me the prince would write like that if his heart was in it. No, he's desperately afraid of displeasing his mother, so off he goes writing trite nothings to the girl Mummy so dearly hopes he'll marry. Meanwhile, she and his uncle can't even get it right when it comes to with what friends—or, as the case actually stands, friend—he keeps the closest counsel. So, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern go to it. Do you follow?"

Aziraphale's brow had knit so fiercely, and without his express consent, that the muscles of his forehead actually hurt. "I think so. Now, if only our actor of the hour had been free to carry that stroking of Horatio's cheek to its logical . . . "

Crowley cleared his throat and straightened, eyes closed, his swift nervous hands clenched on his lapels. "I'll demonstrate, shall I? Line: Laertes, his very last. Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet: mine and my father's death come not upon thee, nor thine on me." He opened his eyes and gestured toward the floor, indicating that Aziraphale should kneel. That being accomplished, Crowley knelt, too, reaching urgently for Aziraphale's shoulders, using them to steady himself. He blinked, having lost his sunglasses some time ago, half-lidded and uncertain.

"Heaven make thee free of it," prompted Aziraphale, under his breath. "I follow thee."

"I am dead, Horatio," Crowley muttered, sagging nearly to boneless weight, giving Aziraphale little choice but to catch him by the elbows and hold him up. "Wretched queen, adieu! You that look pale and tremble at this chance, that are but mutes or audience to this act, had I but time—as this fell sergeant, death, is strict in his arrest—" at that, Crowley seemed to falter with some genuine remembrance, some recollection that drew his bright eyes wide in something like terror "—O, I could tell you . . . " The trail-off, Aziraphale hadn't been expecting, no more than he'd expected Crowley to take that moment and stroke his cheek with all of the sincerity they'd just seen, no, perhaps more. He laughed, short and wistful. "But let it be, Horatio. I am dead; thou livest. Report me and my cause aright to the unsatisfied."

He remembers the lines, thought Aziraphale, amazed, every word, as clearly as I do.

Instinctively, he covered Crowley's hand with his own and pressed it more fully to his cheek, inclining his head to the gesture so that his lips brushed Crowley's palm. He ignored the way Crowley jumped, tried for the briefest instant to turn away. "Never believe it," said Aziraphale, with quiet resolve, and reached for Crowley's glass on the coffee table. "I am more an antique Roman than a Dane: here's yet some liquor left."

And Crowley was terrified, then; Aziraphale wouldn't have known the look if he hadn't seen it so lately (Almost exactly a year ago, he thought), if he hadn't had to bear it before the world contained in that tiny Tokyo restaurant had gone black—

"As thou'rt a man," Crowley hissed, shaking him, "give me the cup: let go! By heaven, I'll have't." His expression softened again, yellow eyes flickering, and said with pitch-perfect regret, "O good Horatio, what a wounded name, things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me. If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, absent thee from felicity awhile, and in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain to tell my story."

Aziraphale closed his eyes. March afar off, and shot within. "What warlike noise is this?" he murmured on Crowley's behalf, and then, on Osric's, "Young Fortinbras, with conquest come from Poland, to the ambassadors of England gives this warlike volley."

Crowley sucked in an unnecessary breath and wound both arms around Aziraphale's neck, hanging on him now without reserve, gasping warmth into Aziraphale's collar.

"O, I die, Horatio," he muttered, faint laughter rising again in his throat, manic and strange. "The potent poison quite o'er-crows my spirit. I cannot live to hear the news from England, but I do prophesy the election lights on Fortinbras: he has my dying voice. So tell him, with the occurrents, more and less, which have solicited." He tightened his hold, abruptly let go, and trusted with perfect, inebriated insistence that Aziraphale would catch him, cradle him, turn his face up so that they stared hazily at one another as if for the very first time. He ran his fingertips across Aziraphale's lower lip, the gesture exquisite in its excess, and said, "The rest is silence."

Dies, thought Aziraphale, unable to turn off the stage directions embedded in his recollection courtesy of many centuries' rereading, and caught hold of Crowley's hand as it fell limply away. "Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince, and—"

"Stop," Crowley said, but he didn't open his eyes. "See under point, not missed."

 

2008

"Easier to be played upon than a pipe," Wainwright read dubiously. "Gay."

"Actually," said Cartwright, thoughtfully, "there might be somethin' to that."

"Reallypreshyatifye'dshutit," said Walker. "Weain'trehearsinRos'an'Guilnow."

"Heh," said Doris under her breath, flipping happily through her script. "Will you look at that, boys? Says here I get to go mad and die of drownin'. Very poetical, I'd say."

Nicholas, on the other hand, wanted to claw his eyes out and forget the whole lark.

"Let's go back to the whole gay thing, though," said Fisher. "Andy may be onto something. We could present a socially progressive reading, as it were, something avant garde to put our humble fundraiser am-drams on the map."

"S'notgonnabehardgiventhosetwo," Walker pointed out, and Saxon barked agreement.

Nicholas ignored them and said, "Can we just read through the final scene, please?"

Danny, engrossed in his script, hadn't said a word, but he looked up and nodded.

It was a train-wreck, of course. Doris took Gertrude opposite Fisher's reluctant Claudius; meanwhile, the Turners made for an overzealous Laertes and a thoroughly lackluster Osric. Standing in as an extra, along with the Andys, Walker (set to play history's most incomprehensible Polonius) chewed the scenery around them, muttering stuff that was only half nonsense in everyone's ears by way of commentary (Doris, as per usual, cracked up every time). However, things got suitably serious after Gertrude and Polonius went down. Laertes even managed to dial his venom down to resigned despair; Turner must have tapped into his inner Nobody tells me nothing.

"He is justly served; it is a poison temper'd by himself. Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet: mine and my father's death come not upon thee, nor thine on me." With that, he slumped on the floor, the baton-turned-rapier rolling free of his grasp.

"Heaven make thee free of it," sighed Nicholas, annoyed at himself for needing the script. "I follow thee. I am dead, Horatio," he said softly, and saw Danny respond with a look of perfect, heartbreaking despair. "Wretched queen, adieu! You that look pale and tremble at this chance, that are but mutes or audience to this act, had I but time—as this fell sergeant, death, is strict in his arrest—"

"Sounds like he's describin' himself all them months ago," Cartwright snickered.

"Sergeant Angel of Death," Wainwright intoned. "Once a wanker, always—"

"Oishuddit," said Walker, thwacking the back of Wainwright's head with his script.

Nicholas continued gratefully. "O, I could tell you—but let it be. Horatio, I am dead;
Thou livest. Report me and my cause aright to the unsatisfied," he breathed, finding it ridiculously easy to turn on the same performance he'd given in actually terrifying circumstances. As before, he stumbled and dropped neatly to his knees.

The difference was, this time, Danny fell to his knees, too, and caught him.

"Never believe it!" Danny pleaded, urgently tapping Nicholas's cheek until he feigned coming to. As Nicholas opened his eyes, Danny gave him that heartbreaking smile he must have seen a hundred times. "I am more an antique Roman than a Dane—"

"Well, that explains a lot," Wainwright whispered loudly. "Sure you ain't Greek?"

This time, Walker hit him hard enough to elicit an actual exclamation of pain.

"Thanks, Bob," Cartwright whispered from behind them. "Now comes the good part."

Nicholas dropped the lines rendered nonsensical by the interruption and got straight to it. "O good Horatio, what a wounded name, things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!" Danny was squeezing Nicholas's hand hard enough to cut off circulation, but it hardly mattered; if they could do this now, then they could do it even better after five weeks of rehearsal and show those hacks up the road what Shakespeare was really supposed to look like. "If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, absent thee from felicity a while, and in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain to tell my story." He jumped when somebody, probably Wainwright, drop-kicked a bin in order to produce timely sound effects. "What warlike noise is this?"

"Young Fortinbras, with conquest come from Poland, to the ambassadors of England gives this warlike volley," said Turner-as-Osric, and saluted smartly.

Nicholas might have broken character to tell him the line was well delivered, if not for the fact that Danny had silently begun to cry. He levered himself up in Danny's arms so that he was no longer reclined, ineptly brushing the tears off Danny's face.

"Too soon for this, yeah?" he asked, pressing their foreheads together.

"Yeah," agreed Danny, with a self-deprecating laugh. "Maybe just a bit."

"Oh, thank God for that," said Doris, unabashedly relieved. "Come the line about flights of angels singin' him to his rest, I was going to bust a gut!"

 

2011

"Keep in mind that this is your last chance to protest," Lestrade reminded the small, surly circle of which he had somehow—willingly, even, and God only knew why—become a part. "Even then, your objections won't be sufficient to put a stop to this exercise, so think twice before you bother. Any takers?"

"Sir," said Donovan, "this is the most ridiculous team-building effort in the history of ever, and we've got two people here who aren't even officially on the team."

"They're around far too often, though, which means they ought to suffer through this with the rest of us," Anderson added. "In fact, I think they should go first."

Lestrade nodded, taking in both John's and Sherlock's gobsmacked expressions with carefully concealed delight. "I think you just might be right about that," he said. "Oi, you two. Stop gawping like fish and pick up your scripts. Turn to page four. I don't care who reads which part, as long as you both read with feeling."

Sherlock retrieved the script from under his chair and tilted his head at Lestrade.

"Whatever makes you think I need it?" he asked, tossing the packet aside in John's lap. "I'll be happy to recite whichever part John feels least comfortable taking on. He'll never choose such over-the-top melodrama as the prince; in which case—"

"Hamlet," said John, smiling thinly at Lestrade. "I'll read for Hamlet."

"In which case," said Donovan, smugly chiding Sherlock, "you were wrong."

"For that," said Lestrade, "you get to read Laertes so they can get started."

Donovan cleared her throat. "He is justly served . . . blah . . . Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet: mine and my father's death come not upon thee, nor thine on me." She muttered something under her breath, but Lestrade didn't catch it.

Before he could consider reading her the riot act, Sherlock rose to his feet, his expression all innocent, astonished urgency, and spun to John's side. He crouched in front of John's chair, both hands on John's shoulders, and gazed anxiously up at him.

John took a weary breath, not quite in-character, and began. "I am dead, Horatio," he said, and Lestrade realized that his failure to respond to Donovan's contributing prompt was intentional defiance. "You that look pale and tremble at this chance, that are but mutes or audience to this act, had I but time—" he paused, clearly affected, his eyes skipping crazily ahead "—O, I could tell you, but let it be. Horatio, I am dead; thou livest. Report me and my cause aright to the unsatisfied."

"Never believe it," said Sherlock, and every eye in the room was on him as he leaned in closer still. "I am more an antique Roman than a Dane: here's yet some liquor left."

"As thou'rt a man, give me the cup," John said, and Lestrade fought the impulse to laugh. It was the same exasperation he'd heard leveled at Sherlock on countless occasions, only this time the undercurrent of fondness had an undeniably wistful demeanor. "Let go; by heaven, I'll have't. O good Horatio, what a wounded name, things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me. If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, absent thee from felicity a while, and in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain to tell my story." John made reading from the script in his lap seem effortless; his eye contact with Sherlock rarely faltered. He had stared down death—

Bowed in profile, Sherlock was shaking his head, both hands pressed to John's chest.

In one succinct gesture, as if planned, John touched Sherlock's cheek, lifted his head.

Lestrade noted with satisfaction that Donovan and Anderson were absolutely riveted.

"The potent poison quite o'er-crows my spirit: I cannot live to hear the news from England," said John, quietly, and Sherlock closed his eyes. "But I do prophesy the election lights on Fortinbras; he has my dying voice. So tell him, with the occurrents, more and less, which have solicited." John took a ragged breath, and Sherlock reacted as if he'd touched a live wire. "And the rest is . . . "

Lestrade knew that none of it had been planned—staff workshops were, by design, kept secret from participants—but watching Sherlock impart the remainder of his lines in a whisper, for John's close-cupped ear alone, gave him more than just pause.

Donovan and Anderson, stock-still in their chairs but for a tremor, had chills.

 

2013

"Abed, that's a fuckton of expensive cameras," said Troy, staring at the circle of them he'd set up to surround them in the front room of their apartment. "You only own, like, two of those. There's no way Pierce's money is covering your program, our rent, and that much equipment. Where did the rest come from?"

"Professor Simmons let me sign them out of the AV Lab," Abed replied, adjusting the focus on the last of the six, and then stepped into the circle beside Troy, scripts in hand. "I don't think he's actually supposed to do that, but I did him a favor by saying I'd film his production without asking for a fee as long as he let me turn it into an experiment on camera angles in live theater. I'll need the data for that documentary project I'm supposed to hand in at the end of spring semester."

"I don't really understand a word you just said, but okay," said Troy, with a firm nod, and took one of the scripts away from Abed. "Let's do this."

"I'll read Horatio, and you'll read Hamlet," said Abed, flipping pages, and indicated that Troy should do the same. "We're going to start at the point right after Laertes—"

"Why do I get the most lines? You know I'm not good at this Shakespeare stuff, and that's when I'm reading it to myself. You read Hamlet. It makes more sense."

"That's exactly why I won't read him," said Abed. "Type-casting. Everyone would expect that. If you think about it, if we were actually in this production, it would make far more sense for me to play Horatio. I'm the one with the cameras, the one who's always telling the story. You, on the other hand, were Prom King and a football star in high school. Do you remember that line where Ophelia calls Hamlet the glass of fashion and the mold of form? That's what she meant."

"I still don't understand, but you're usually right when there are big words involved," Troy sighed, resigned. "Can we just get this over with?"

Abed tilted his head, experiencing a touch of that niggling unease that he'd learned to label guilt. "We don't have to do this if you really don't want to. I'll find someone else, and I won't think any less of you. Pretend it's the Dreamatorium."

"You'd better not think any less of me," said Troy, and leaned up to kiss him. "Start."

Abed glanced at the page, a second all he needed to get into character for Laertes. "He is justly served; it is a poison temper'd by himself. Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet: mine and my father's death come not upon thee, nor thine on me."

"Heaven make thee free of it," said Troy, glancing up from the paper to fix Abed with an expression of disarming, sorrowful astonishment. "I follow thee," he said, and turned his face away; when he finally glanced back, Abed wasn't Laertes anymore. "I am dead, Horatio," he said, allowing the sparest note of panic to enter his voice, and dropped the wretched queen line (whether out of nerves or on purpose, Abed couldn't be sure). "You that look pale and tremble at this chance, that are but mutes or audience to this act, had I but time—as this fell sergeant, death, is strict in his arrest—O, I could tell you—" he choked a little, nothing over the top, and staggered toward Abed; an arm around Troy's waist, around Hamlet's waist, was in order "—but let it be. Horatio, I am dead; thou livest." He glared straight into the camera that was just over Abed's right shoulder. "Report me and my cause aright to the unsatisfied."

"Never believe it: I am more an antique Roman than a Dane," said Abed, softly, and stroked Troy's cheek with all of the finality and regret he could muster. He ran his thumb along Troy's lower lip, imagining it slick with blood; they didn't have a cup, so he'd improvise. "Here's yet some liquor left," he breathed, and leaned in for a kiss.

"That only works in Romeo and Juliet," said Troy, breathlessly, dropping his script in response to Abed's hands slipping up and under his shirt, "except when it doesn't, because, hello, even I remember that from high school English—" He whimpered in response to Abed running both thumbs across his nipples, tilting his head so that Abed could have better access to his neck. "We're not—finishing this scene—are we?"

"Nope," said Abed, too overwhelmed with wanting Troy to think of anything else.

Troy was maddening and brilliant when he stopped thinking and started trusting, and he didn't even seem to realize it. Abed bit and sucked at the spot on Troy's neck one more time for good measure, and then tugged him down on their admittedly dusty rug. It had been a going-away present from Abed's dad, one of the few relics that had belonged to Abed's grandfather in Gaza that the family had left. He thought briefly of Annie's courting quilt and finally understood, kissed Troy on the mouth, deeper this time, as Troy unfastened Abed's jeans with practiced ease.

It wasn't until they were both naked and, at least on Troy's part, about two seconds from coming that Abed remembered the cameras. He abandoned delivering what had apparently been a pretty fantastic blow-job and covered Troy's body with his own, rocking him, shielding them both. Troy finished, clinging, and Abed wasn't far behind.

They breathed harshly in the abrupt silence, sweat-damp foreheads pressed together.

"Um, Abed," said Troy, gravely, "I think we just accidentally made a sex tape."

"Actually," Abed admitted with hesitation, "we've done that a few times already."

"Sweet!" exclaimed Troy, and kissed Abed's cheek. "Can we watch them?"

 

 

 

Addendum I: Defying Augury

 

Addendum II: Wear Your Rue