It's all a-bustle backstage as Lt. Irving watches the preparations. He's quietly proud of the work he's organised, and of the men who volunteered their free time to entertain and edify the rest of the crew. Everything's flowing smoothly like the little fob watches he's entrusted with. Hartnell has the table of props all laid out and he double-checks each item as as he walks along the table, a thumbs-up to Irving when he sees him.
“Good man,” Irving says with a smile as he passes by, checking that all his actors are within sight.
Someone's missing, Irving realises, a sigh escaping his lips. Gibson, all gangly limbs and gingery curls, is nowhere to be seen. He catches sight of Jopson, busy adjusting Young's dress, missing the private joke that's just cracked the boy up with tears of laughter.
Irving tries to keep the irritation from his voice, “Jopson, have you seen your second? I know he won't be on until later, but I do need everyone in sight.”
Jopson shrugs. “He was busy whispering with Mr. Hickey a short while ago, then he rushed off.” He pauses, and points. “There's Hickey now. Better ask him, sir.”
Irving leaves them to their frocks and headscarves and makes a bee-line for Hickey, who's loitering by the props table, eyes fixed on the shiniest items.
Irving comes up behind him, just as Hickey adopts his most insouciant pose. “Mr. Hickey, I gather you're the last man to see Gibson, where is he?”
“Lt. Irving, I was just looking for you,” Hickey starts, a hand idly brushing the edges of the table. “Mr. Gibson's had a bit of a turn. Can't work out which end to put over the seat.”
Irving flinches a little, nausea creeping into his voice. “Was it something he ate?”
“Nah,” Hickey shrugs. “Stage fright, I hear it's called.”
“You mean he's not going to do it?” Irving's mind is racing, searching for a solution. “We've been preparing this for a while, I can't expect someone to step in unprepared.”
“I'll do it. How hard can it be?” Hickey answers nonchalantly. “I mean, I've been hanging around watching, haven't I?”
“I've seen you lurking in the shadows, and disappearing when it's time to tidy up, Mr. Hickey,” Irving tries to tamper down his sarcasm. “However, unless Mr. Gibson miraculously recovers in time, I shall take you up on your offer. Thank you. Mr. Hartnell, can you find a robe for Hickey, please?” His attention is on a hundred other things by now, and he hurries away.
“Certainly, sir,” Hartnell pats Hickey on the shoulder, taking a small bag of coins from his hand and placing it back with the other props. “You don't need that yet.”
“Better count them, Hartnell,” Hickey whispers, adding with a dramatic wink. “You can't trust me.”
As Hartnell drags him over to the costumes, Fitzjames swoops over, looking Hickey up and down with a warm smile.
“It appears my antagonist has been replaced. Short notice, but you have the right hair colour. Good luck, Mr. Hickey,” Fitzjames offers his hand, which Hickey accepts.
“I'm looking forward to it, I hope I'm a worthy adversary,” Hickey says with a mysterious smile.
“You'll do fine. We all know the story, don't we? Just follow Lt. Irving's narration, and trust in the Lord for the rest,” Fitzjames' laugh is easy and confident as he pats Hickey on the shoulder.
Hartnell's been rubbing his chin during the conversation, and now he speaks up. “I might need to find a small crate or something. We don't want Hickey to have to tiptoe during the Garden scene.”
Fitzjames' eyes widen as he laughs, his hair tossing around as shakes his head. “We certainly can't have our audience laughing at a moment like that, can we, Hickey?
“I don't know. We could make a comedy of it all. Perhaps have you in a hole opposite me?” Hickey's testing how far he can push it, a small smirk threatening to form over his face.
Young has drifted over to join them, bold enough to try some cheek. “I saw a circus performer on stilts once. Perhaps Commander Fitzjames could try it?”
By now, Fitzjames is struggling to keep his composure. “Gentlemen,” he wheezes, between laughs. “I believe this conversation should be for a very different play. And for God's sake, don't let Lt. Irving hear you say such terrible things."
Hickey shrugs philosophically, taking out a pouch of tobacco. “I wouldn't mind going to hell if it meant a bit of fun, and a few more men dressed as women.”
Young gasps and blushes so Fitzjames places a protective hand across his shoulders. “Please don't speak about my mother like that, Mr. Hickey.”
The controlled chaos soon settles down to a smoothly run play, with Irving buzzing to and fro, full of nervous energy as he watches from the wings, ready to narrate each scene.
Backstage, Hickey balances on a crate, swaying to and fro, as though willing it to collapse or tip over, but Hartnell's made a solid choice. Fitzjames stands near, his face close enough for Hickey to kiss if he wishes.
“Would you prefer left or right cheek?” Hickey asks, seemingly out of the blue.
“Left is away from the audience,” Fitzjames says as he walks around Hickey. “It would look strange from that angle.”
“Let me see,” Hickey says lightly, as he equally lightly touches his lips to Fitzjames' left cheek. “I see what you mean. Swap round.”
Fitzjames gracefully moves around, and Hickey moves in to barely graze Fitzjames's skin, repeating his words, “I see what you mean. Swap round.”
Fitzjames answers this with a laugh, nodding to a figure behind Hickey. “We have an audience.”
Hickey glances around, a smirk crawling over his face. “Don't be jealous. He's not your husband, Jopson.”
Jopson adjusts the long cloth wrapped over his head and says airily as he peeks out the curtain to the play's action, “I have several husbands, some of us have better things to do than hang around.”
A few minutes later, Hickey's smoking another cigarette, watching the audience. He smirks as Fitzjames points at several men as he declares for each, That man is not your husband. Sgt. Tozer doesn't react when he is called out, but Hickey sees Crozier smile slightly when he is pointed to, and when Lt. Little is pointed at, the man positively squirms in his seat. Hickey glances over at Jopson, his head held high and defiant all the time.
Soon enough, Hickey returns to the stage, climbing onto the crate hidden by Hartnell's crafted rocks. Face to face with Fitzjames, he waits, half-cloaked in shadow, sensing the tension from the audience. From the corner of his eye, Hickey sees Irving's staring at them with some sort of holy desire.
Close by, Private Heather and some Marines wait for the signal, faces lit in a soft glow of lamplight.
Hickey leans in, and brushes past Fitzjames' cheek, down to his lips. The kiss is a shock, and Hickey can feel Fitzjames gasp, his mouth opening just enough for Hickey to slip his tongue in, followed by a steadying hand on Fitzjames' jaw.
Hickey's expecting to be dragged away by the Roman soldiers instead, but each second drags on. He drops his other hand and grasps at Fitzjames' robe, feeling his prick react and twitch through the thin fabric as he rubs. Fitzjames hasn't pulled away yet, his prick is stiffening under Hickey's fingers, his tongue is pushing against Hickey's.
Any moment now, Hickey's going to be strung up, just like Judas, but he doesn't care. Jesus' own prick is doing the job of betraying him.