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Part 1



One early morning he walks past Neal’s dressing room and Cruz calls him in to help lace up Neal’s corset. Cruz is pushing Neal around, twisting the corset that’s loosely tied around his midsection. “This has to fit,” she says, frowning at Neal’s ribs as if they’ve personally offended her. Neal sways and clutches at his chest.

“Peter, help, I’m being suffocated – ”

“Drama queen,” Cruz mutters. “Peter, just give those laces a tug and see if you can’t get it to stretch just a bit more.”

“It won’t stretch,” Neal protests, shying away from Peter. “My ribs are going to crack first!”

Cruz glares at him until he stands still. Peter swallows and wraps the cords of the corset around his hands. Neal holds onto the doorframe, and Peter pulls. It feels shockingly intimate. Neal gasping with every move Peter makes, his body rocking back against Peter’s hands. He gets the corset to tighten but it’s obviously too small. Neal’s breath comes fast and shallow, straining the fabric with every movement.

“Damn. I was hoping that would work. We’re going to need to get a new one made,” she says, and Peter hastily undoes the knot in the back of the corset. Neal sags against him gratefully, his breath coming in exaggerated gasps.

“Go see Jones,” he says, giving Neal a shove out the door. “He’ll take you to the tailor.” Neal nods and goes to search out Peter’s right-hand man, who will hopefully be able to keep Neal out of trouble long enough to get him to the tailor’s and back in one piece. Cruz watches Neal leave with an unpleasant expression on her face.

“Why do you hate him so much?”

She sighs and runs her hands over the boning in the discarded corset. “I don’t. Not really. It’s just – well. I saw him on stage, back before his fall from grace. I was new to London, and his was the first show I saw. And he was – amazing. Refined, and beautiful. Inspiring,” she says, with a self-deprecating smirk. “It’s hard to see him now in person. Out of character, out of costume, and just…”

“Human,” Peter adds. With faults and foibles, irritating quirks, imperfections.

“Annoying,” Cruz says pointedly, before sitting up straight and getting back to work. “I don’t have time to play the audience for his one-man show, that’s all. Now if you don’t mind, Peter, I’ve really got quite a lot of work to do.” He nods and leaves her to her work.

The first time he’d met Will, he’d been woefully underwhelmed. He’d wanted to meet someone who had all of the best characteristics of the plays he’d written, of kings and princes and villains, to be smart and charismatic and eloquent.

And the real William Shakespeare is simply not like that. He’s constantly behind on his rent, paranoid to a fault, and he never can seem to stop chewing on his quills. He’s perceptive and insightful, with an undeniable gift – but he’s also forgetful and frustrating and occasionally, very hard to work with. Peter loves him as a colleague. Admires him as a man. But when he sees his finished products up on stage, he pretends he doesn’t know who the playwright is.

It’s…it’s not quite the same, with Neal. Because – because as slick and controlled as he is on stage, as easily as he lies, as expertly as he pretends – Peter likes him so much better when he’s tired, and sweaty, dressed in old clothes. When he’s honest.



Ruiz is a bastard. Always has been, always will be. An infuriating thorn in Peter’s side. And now the master of the revels has passed over the Globe for the upcoming performance for the queen, and given it to Ruiz. Goddamn Ruiz, who preferred bloodshed to poetry, who wouldn’t know art if Peter beat him over the head with it. Which he has often been tempted to do.

His life doth truly sucketh.

“You look like someone ran over your dog,” Neal says, sitting next to him with a worried look. “Wait – nothing’s happened to Satchmeaux, has it?”

“No,” Peter says with a weary sigh. “The dog’s fine.”

“Hmm,” Neal says, tapping his finger on his chin. “Then what is it?”

“Money,” he says. “Or rather – a lack of money.” Neal’s staring at the official letter Peter’s been crumpling in his hand all morning, the royal seal clearly visible, so Peter quickly files it away. Neal’s eyes narrow but he doesn’t bring it up. Just sighs and bumps his shoulder against Peter’s, a casual, easy movement. And for some reason Peter stiffens and moves away. Checks to make sure no one is watching them.

“Why don’t you go down and mingle with the actors for a bit?” Neal asks. “You know the Chamberlain’s Men excel at distraction. And they’re working on a really delightful scene right now.”

“No thanks,” he sighs. “The Men delight not me.”

Neal raises an eyebrow.

“That’s not what I meant,” he says with a groan. Neal holds his hands up and shrugs, stands up and backs away with a smug grin. “That is not what I meant,” he grumbles, leaving his papers alone and following Neal down the steps. They brush past Will, who’s unusually preoccupied with the page in front of him.



“I’ve changed your last song,” Will announces triumphantly, spectacles perched precariously on the tip of his nose. Peter fights down the urge to push them back up. Neal, however, can’t help himself, and he reaches out to adjust Will’s glasses for him. He stares at them both cross-eyed with surprise for a moment.

“When’s the last time you slept?” Peter asks carefully.

“I’ll sleep when I pass out from exhaustion,” he replies dismissively. “Now, look, I’ve made it longer, and better, and it – you’ll love it,” he says, shoving the papers at Neal. “Go on, give it a read!” Neal holds the pages up carefully and starts to scan them. “Read it out loud, by all that’s holy,” Will exclaims with an exaggerated eye-roll. “I need to know if what I wrote is gibberish or brilliance, and I won’t know that until I hear it spoken!”

Neal rolls his eyes. “You writers and your neuroses. Just go back to work and I’ll come back in a few hours with it properly prepared, alright?”

“Oh, go on, give it a read.” Will is bouncing around on the balls of his feet like a child and Peter wants to know what it is that’s got him so excited. It must be something special.

“No, really, I’m quite busy,” Neal says, despite the fact that he and Peter had been arguing about what Peter should buy El for their upcoming anniversary for nearly half an hour (Peter wanted to get her a new desk, Neal insisting a new gown would be more appropriate). And then Neal actually starts to walk away. Will looks a bit hurt and Peter’s not feeling that great about it himself. He grabs Neal’s wrist, the papers still in Neal’s hand crinkling as his fingers tighten into a fist.

“Read it,” he orders, putting his hands on his hips and doing his best to look intimidating. Because he’d hired Neal to do a job, and part of that job involves keeping the playwright happy.

“I can’t,” Neal whispers to him in an angry aside.

“Is my handwriting so bad?” Will reaches for the papers. Neal doesn’t release them.

“I’m sure the lettering is fine.” And then Neal fidgets. Not something Peter’s ever seen him do before. “It’s just that – ” he’s fidgeting and blushing and Will keeps shifting his weight urgently, waiting for Neal to explain himself, and Peter’s distracted enough by Will’s apparently deteriorating mental health that he doesn’t figure it out. “I don’t know how,” he says in a quiet, angry voice, his face heating to a dark red. “I didn’t – I don’t know how,” he repeats, jaw clenched and eyes downturned. Peter’s never really seen him angry before. So desperately ashamed.

“Ah,” Will says, looking understandably uncomfortable. “That’s – well. That’s a bit different.”

“How on earth have you learned your lines thus far?” Peter interrupts.

“Moz – you met him, the other night.” Right. The small, nervous man who’d been hanging around outside the theatre, the one Jones had chased away before Neal had explained who he was. Neal’s still staring at the pages in his hands, as if by sheer force of will he can make himself understand what’s writ on them.

“That’s quite a gift,” Will says softly. “To have a friend so loyal, and a mind so quick.” Neal looks up at him – shattered surprise masking some of his hurt. And Peter’s reminded again that his absentminded friend is one of the smartest men he knows. To be able to see into the heart of Neal’s shame and treat it so delicately. “Peter, you shall have the honor of reading my immortal words to my new favorite leading lady – don’t tell the other leading ladies that, though,” he says quickly, “Gertrude’s got a mean right hook. But it’s – you’ll love it, Neal, you really will,” he says, looking fondly down at his haphazard words scrawled across the page.

Neal thanks him and Peter takes the papers. “Come back as soon as you’re ready, I can’t wait to hear it,” Will says before scurrying away to do something else foolish and impossible and brilliant. Or maybe (hopefully) to get some goddamn sleep.

They sit down on the Peter’s bench and Peter starts to read. Neal just stares straight ahead, as stiff as if he were tightly laced into a corset already, his body practically vibrating with tension.

“There's fennel for you, and columbines: there's rue for you; and here's some for me – ”

“I’m not stupid.” Neal’s interruption is fierce and hurt and Peter winces at how young Neal sounds.

“I know.”

“It’s just that no one ever taught me, not that I can’t learn. There’s a difference,” and the defiance in his voice clearly demonstrates how fragile that distinction is. How important. “I can do my job,” he whispers, still staring straight ahead. “Please. I can still do this job.”

Peter looks at the words scrawled onto the page in front of him and knows that there’s a world of difference between being able to read them and being able to bring them to life. Peter knows the mechanics, but Neal knows the art. “You’re not stupid.”

He waits while Neal unbends from his rigid pose. Waits while he collects himself.

“There’s fennel for you,” Neal says, and Peter turns back to the page. “And columbines.”

“There’s rue for you and here’s some for me, we may call it herb grace o’ Sundays.” He looks over when Neal doesn’t repeat the next part of the line and realizes how close they’re sitting. Neal’s face is inches away. He leans back but there’s – there’s a breath of a moment caught between them when Neal’s eyes flicker to his lips.

“You’re a good man,” Neal says as he moves a few inches down the bench, as though repeating a mantra, as though he’s reminding himself of something.

“So are you.”

Neal’s smile is quick and fake. “There’s rue for you,” he parrots.

“And here’s some for me.”



They eat lunch together most days. Neal will talk him into treating (or just steal his purse and use his money anyway) and Peter will grumble and pretend that he minds. It’s better than eating lunch alone. And he can bear to part with a few shillings, Neal can’t.

Most days they eat lunch out on the street, sitting squished together on a bench or a low wall. Today they’re outside a church, leaning against the iron railing, snacking on fresh fruit.

“This really is the best city in the world,” Neal muses as they watch the crowd go by. Beggars and carriages, guards and pickpockets, a busy swirl of language and necessity. The street preacher who’d scared away their first Ophelia wanders past, ranting loudly.

“Just don’t pay him any attention.”

“I don’t know,” Neal says thoughtfully. “I caught his sermon on sodomy a few weeks ago. I think I learned some new tricks. He’s very descriptive.”

“You’re a madman,” Peter replies, trying not to think about what tricks Neal may or may not know.

“And you hired me,” Neal says primly. “So what does that make you?”

“Desperate.” Neal laughs, and then fidgets. Peter can’t tell if the slight blush on his cheeks is due to the heat of the day, or the new dye the wardrobe mistress had been trying to match to his skin tone, or something else entirely. He’s not the best at interpreting subtle emotions so he just elbows Neal hard in the side. “What’s going on?”

“Moz – my friend who’s been helping me read? He’s out of town,” Neal says, biting his lip and staring at the apple core in his hand. “And Will changed the order of my second scene. So I don’t know any of the cue lines anymore.” His blush has grown fiercer, as has the stubborn set of his jaw. “And I was. I was wondering if possibly if you’re not busy and your wife doesn’t mind, if you could read the script with me? Maybe? Or not. Sometime later.”

He really should say no. “Come over for dinner,” is what comes out of his mouth instead.

It will be lovely. He knows it will be. Neal’s a charmer, eloquent and intelligent and Peter doesn’t know how he’s ever going to be able to get Neal out of his life once he’s made himself at home there. And he wouldn’t worry, but it’s just that – that there’s something unnatural, something – something dangerous about how perfectly they fit together. Something that he knows he should be wary of.

But Neal’s tense expression relaxes into a smile, so Peter shoves his uncertainty aside, and starts planning what they can make for dinner.

“Thank you,” Neal says, nibbling on the last of his apple, staring down at their boots. He knocks his foot against Peter’s and Peter kicks him back.

He feels like a schoolchild. A schoolchild and a romantic lead and a clown all rolled into one. I like him, he realizes, as they head back to work.

The sun’s hot and the scent of London streets is nearly overwhelming and Neal’s bright smile draws an instant answer from his lips. He promises himself that he will be careful (he recognizes it for a lie but leaves it alone).

They get to write their own stories; he gets to create his own ending. He likes Neal’s smile. Likes his smile and his blush and his hands. Neal can come over for dinner.



Neal and Elizabeth get on like a house on fire. Which is a likely outcome, as they’re both busy in the kitchen, knives and candles and fire flashing through the air. They banished him to the stool in the corner after he cut his hand whilst chopping onion. He watches them cook with Satchmeaux curled around his feet, script open in his lap, playing with the bookmark Neal had made for him out of a piece of scratch paper he’d been using to practice his letters. They’re up to G, and the letter circles around the edges of the flower’s sharp petals, A’s fill their centers, the letter B decorated with wings and legs perches on the heart of the flower, preparing to fly away.

“Good my lord,” Neal says, bending in a pretty curtsy before pouring them all some more wine. “How does your honor for this many a day?”

Peter flips the page and reads Hamlet’s part. “I humbly thank you; well, well, well.”

“What, exactly, is this scene about?” El interrupts.

“It’s about young, silly love,” Peter says, stretching his legs out and nearly tripping Neal in the process. Neal stumbles against the counter. “And going through a messy break up.

“It’s – it’s not quite that,” Neal says, a pretty frown on his face. “It’s – Ophelia and Hamlet are in love. And she’s just been told to end the relationship, for Hamlet’s sake. So she does it, because she thinks it’s in his best interest, and she loves him enough to want to protect him, even if it means that she’ll lose him. Only Hamlet’s too wrapped up in his schemes to even speak to her. But he – I think he still feels it.” El’s stopped cooking to listen. “I mean, how can he not be hurt? He thought Ophelia was the one, and here she is, leaving him when he needs her most. So he lashes out.”

“It’s quite an intense scene,” Peter interjects. “He tries to make it so she’ll never come back to him. It’s better for both of them that way,” he says, and he’s not as quick with his words as Neal but he knows what he wants to say. “Better that she leaves then, and not get hurt later on.”

“Things are never that simple,” Neal replies softly.

No. Not in life, and thus, not in the play. Dinner’s nearly finished and the room’s full of heat from the fire and the scent of meat and spices. Satchmeaux’s sound asleep and Elizabeth’s still sipping at her wine. “I can’t wait to see the play,” she says.

Peter’s kind of looking forward to it being over.

After dinner El goes up to their bedroom to work and he and Neal settle in on the couch to keep running lines. “I did love you once,” Peter says, a comfortable echo of Burbage’s reading filling his voice.

“Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so,” Neal answers in a quiet voice. It would never carry onstage, but it works, here. Brave and confused.

“You should not have believed me,” Peter continues. “I loved you not.”

And the echo’s grown uncomfortable. Literally too close to home, sitting on his couch in his living room, his wife a floor away, Neal’s delicate face in a frown of concentration. “I was the more deceived.”

Peter closes his script. “It’s late. And we’ve gone over all of the new material. Perhaps we should call it a night?”

Neal gets up in a hurry, smoothing his clothes and hair, peering out the window. The streetlights have been lit, the moon long since taken the sun’s place. “Thank you for having me,” he says with a smile, his hand a bit outstretched as if he can’t figure out whether to shake Peter’s hand or wave or – or something else entirely. Peter stares at the scar on his palm and doesn’t respond. “You have a lovely home.” His fingers falter and he picks up his script, holds it in front of him like a shield. Peter realizes he’s holding his the same way.

He shows Neal out the door and watches him walk down the street. Wonders what home Neal came from and what home he’s going back to that inspired such a melancholy farewell. Peter’s grateful for his nice home and beautiful wife and comfortable life. He worked for them. Earned them. And Neal hasn’t. He reminds himself of that as Neal’s slim figure is obscured by the heavy fog, walking home alone, before he goes upstairs to his wife.



Two days later he’s about to leave when he walks past the open door of Neal’s dressing room and sees John in there speaking with him. It’s a parody of their first scene together. Older brother, obedient sister. A parody because John has no business telling Neal what to do, a parody because Neal is more angry than obedient. He looks ready to snap, his hands in fists at his side, his jaw clenched. Peter’s ashamed to say it’s…it’s not an unattractive look on him.

John leaves when he sees Peter approaching, brushing past him in the hallway. “What was that about?” he asks, leaning slowly against the wall a few feet away from Neal, giving him space and time to collect himself.

“A warning,” Neal says, taking a deep breath and uncurling his hands, lacing them in front of him.

“A warning about what?” Peter asks with a frown, looking Neal over to see if he’s stuffed anything valuable in his pockets.

Neal’s voice, when he answers, is tense, deeper than Peter’s heard before – it sounds more like Neal and less like an act. Sounds…hurt. “I feel like Hamlet,” Neal says, swallowing hard and stepping back. “Everyone’s giving me the cold shoulder. Even Moz – they’re all telling me I’d better leave you alone. That – that I’m dangerous to you.”

Neal doesn’t look like a threat. Not someone that Peter needs defending from. But the danger has never been from Neal’s strength, not his allure nor his flirtations. The threat has always been Peter forgetting why he needs to resist.

“John thinks I’m trying to use you,” Neal says quietly. “For money, or job security.” He shrugs, a small shift of bare shoulders, Peter’s doing his best not to stare.

“So if you’re Hamlet, does that make me Ophelia?” he asks, in a lame attempt to try and move the conversation back to lighter ground.

Neal smiles at him. And it’s maybe the saddest smile he’s ever seen. “No,” Neal whispers. “I fear I am Hamlet and Ophelia, all in one. Mad and alone. And living a one-sided love story,” he says, looking at Peter like a hungry child being denied the one thing he wants. And Peter wants to interrupt, wants to leave, he doesn’t want to be playing a part in a tragedy. “I am Hamlet and Ophelia both,” Neal says. “And you should go home to your wife.”

Not all of acting is pretending. Not all of it is lying. At its best it is about being revealing truth and pain and the honesty. And Neal knows, better than most actors Peter’s seen, how to open himself up. How to shove his pain and fear and his impossible vulnerability out on stage. And now Peter is his audience of one, and Neal is baring his soul, and Peter is – Peter is going to leave him, and go home to his wife.


Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

(no subject)

Date: 2010-07-06 02:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] afiawri.livejournal.com
I'm impressed that you've managed to characterize Cruz more thoroughly in one scene than the show does in any three.

And that corset scene was unexpectedly hot. <3

(no subject)

Date: 2010-07-24 04:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hoosierbitch.livejournal.com
D'aw! Thanks!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-12-03 06:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] coffeethyme4me.livejournal.com
This is just incredible. It breaks my heart. It's beautiful. I'm so sorry I missed it. You have a rare talent. I wish I could see you direct something.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-01-17 05:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hoosierbitch.livejournal.com
Thank you so, so much. If Romeo & Juliet looks like it's shaping up to be any good, I'll make sure to get a good recording of it. :-)

(no subject)

Date: 2011-01-17 10:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] coffeethyme4me.livejournal.com
Wonderful!!!

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