afters

Not Judas. Not Jesus.


Israel, 1972

 

***

They weren’t betrayer and betrayed. They weren’t murderer and martyr. They weren’t Judas and Jesus.

They were just themselves, Carl and Ted.

***

 

This was a mistake.

Not the kind you made and forgot about a day, a week, a month later. But the kind that changed your life.

For ever and ever and ever.

If he were smart, he’d throw his shit in his bag and beg a ride from one of the crew. Back to the Tel Aviv airport, back to the civilized world where things worked as they should: water from a tap, a bed with a real mattress, a roof above his head.

No more day heat that sucked every drop of moisture from his body. No more night chills, the desert being surprisingly cold after the sun dropped behind the hills. No lighting quick takes that only seemed okay when he saw the rushes. No more sand, sand, goddamn sand.

And best of all? No more blue-eyed Texans who made him want crazy impossible things, while asking for nothing in return.

Fucked if he did, fucked if he didn’t.

Carl chuckled because that was the crux of it. The issue that was behind every decision, every move he’d made in the last two weeks; guiding, pushing him in a direction he didn’t want to go. And there was no getting around it.

He rubbed his hot forearm on his hot forehead, wishing he could rub away the bone-deep certainty that even if he did say screw it to the union, to Norman, to his career, he’d get on that bus and then get right off again because leaving the production meant leaving Ted and he was pretty sure he couldn’t do it. Maybe two weeks ago he could’ve, but not anymore…

He turned over. The tent flap was half open and he could see the crew going at it like ants, illuminated by the big set lights. They were getting ready for the marketplace scene and were already a day behind. Even Norman was there and Carl knew he should be out there, not laying on sleeping bag feeling sorry for himself, because every hand helped.

But he didn’t move. Because he was tired, weary, and he was still staring at the way the ever-constant wind played with the tent flap, pushing it to and fro, making a pattern on the dark when a shadow cut the light. Getting bigger as it came nearer and his heart, his traitorous heart, jerked and began to beat faster.

And then again, even harder, when Ted slipped in with a soft, “There you are.”

He’d stripped down for the manual labor and was wearing jeans that were getting more ripped every day and nothing else. Even with the chill, even in the low light, his skin glowed glossy slick. He dropped to kneel next to his bedroll and began to rummage through his knapsack. “Norman’s freaking out,” he said without turning around. “Bob tried to move that big column thing and it tipped over and smashed a couple mirrors.”

He pulled out a shirt from the tangle and held it up to the light. The long muscles of his back moved as well, folding and bleeding into each other, bisected by the valley of his spine, a dark line that ended at his waistband. “It was cool, the pieces of mirror reflecting the stars. Beautiful. Yvonne, of course, starting talking about the cosmos and how we were looking at a never-ending spiral of stars and power and heavenly light. That was beautiful, too.” He shook out the shirt, and then stilled and turned to look at Carl. His expression changed. “Hey. Are you okay?”

“Yeah.”

“High?”

“No.”

“Just tired?”

Carl nodded.

Ted dropped the shirt and reached for the lantern and matches. He lit it, waiting for the hiss and pop, the green glow, then turned it down to a comfortable level. Then he crawled the short distance to Carl’s side and stroked his cheek, rubbing his thumb across his mustache and lower lip. “Yeah, it was a tough day. All that emotion.” He leaned down, still on all fours like an animal, and nuzzled Carl’s cheek. He smelled of heat and sweat. “I should have checked on you, though. Made sure you were okay.”

“I’m cool.”

But Ted went on as if he hadn’t spoken. “It’s the dry air. You’re not used to it, being from Virginia and all. I bet you’ve lost twenty pounds in the last week, and baby, you don’t have twenty pounds to lose.” He skated his hands inside Carl’s shirt to stroke his ribs, humming something tuneless under his breath like he always did when they were alone together, when he was in the mood for love.

Carl wanted to object, wanted to say that he was the elder, he should be the one reassuring, comforting. But Ted lay down next to him and his body was like a magnet, stopping all the words Carl would say as he helplessly rolled into him.

And he wasn’t okay. The further in they got along with the story, the more he realized he wasn’t prepared for what was coming, what was building in his own soul. Even though he was hardly new to this, there were times that he felt like a newborn baby, vulnerable to exposure of every kind.

He might have made a mistake.

Ted took his hand and interlaced their fingers, palms together—black, white, black, white. “What’s wrong? Is Josh giving you shit again?”

“No.”

“Because you know him—he’s just trying to keep it honest. Herod was a real bastard.”

“I know.”

“It’s the shoot tomorrow, isn’t it?”

Carl said nothing, but Ted nodded anyway.

“Yeah. Listen…” He let go and pushed, onto Carl, chest to chest, hips to hips—a weight that shouldn’t be so great, but was. “I talked to Norman today about being on the set when you do your thing and he said I could operate the camera. First time ever.” He kissed Carl’s neck, speaking into his collarbone, “Won’t that be amazing?”

His accent had thickened like it always did when he forgot he was Jesus, like it had in their beginning, Carl unable to not tease and call him, ‘Tex.’ Getting an armful of warm skin and sleek muscle when Ted tackled him to the worn floorboards of the stage. They hadn’t been fucking at the time, but that night they’d gone out for a beer to talk about the production and he’d watched Ted across the tiny table, the hazy lights making rainbows in his hair and he’d thought, even back then, ‘I wonder…?’

He wasn’t sure what Ted had thought. He’d never had the courage to ask.

“Well?”

Sudden need spiked and he answered by pulling Ted up by his thick hair and kissing him, enveloping kisses like he was giving mouth-to-mouth, like he was promising— No, asking for time to take it back, the future that was to come.

“Baby,” Ted murmured into his mouth, “c’mon. What is it?”

He only kissed harder, moaning now, rolling Ted to his back, ignoring the open flap, ignoring the way he felt so large and violent holding Ted, small but not fragile, cradling his head against the dirty tent floor.

And he would’ve kept going, but Ted pushed him up and away, caressing his cheek, saying, “Hey, do you feel like taking a walk? I want to show you something.”

Carl hesitated, then nodded and rolled off. Ted jumped to his feet and took his hand, pulling him up, his strength as surprising as ever.

He started to turn away, but Ted hooked his fingers under his waistband and yanked, pulling his head down for a fierce kiss. Then they separated.

“It’s gonna be dark,” Ted muttered, gathering up blankets. “Get the flashlight that Bob is always carrying around.” As Carl bent to slip out of the tent, he added, “Better bring your coat—it’ll be cold.”

***

The walk was probably not as long as it felt. Past the crew, past Norman who only nodded and said, “Watch out for scorpions and snakes.” Then past the set lights and over a hill and down another. Until they reached a broad plateau full of shadows. It took him a minute to get it that it was another site, another ruin.

“What is this?” The place was small, maybe forty feet square. He could see where the columns used to be and all about were big blocks of stone of different heights. Every place he’d visited in Israel was ancient but this place seemed older than them all, unbearably quiet, unbearably sad.

“According to Mike it’s an old temple. Look at it.” Ted left his bag and the flashlight on a block, and strode to the center, twirling, arms out, head back, raising a small cloud of dust. He’d put on his tie-dyed shirt, the one he’d used for the bus-ride scene, but even so, even with his faded jeans and sneakers, he looked as if he’d just stepped out of history. “Man, you can practically feel the energy of the place.”

Carl sat down next to the flashlight. “Is it okay to be here?”

“You worry too much, but, yeah…” Ted let his arms fall and came back to where Carl was sitting. “Yeah, it’s okay. I asked Norman.” He moved between his knees and cradled his face. “What’s wrong?” he asked for the third time.

“Nothing.”

Ted frowned and clambered onto his lap, knees on either side of his hips, scooting forward until their groins met. He hugged him and when he didn’t respond, he held on tighter until he could do nothing but return his embrace.

“Then prove it,” Ted whispered.

Instead of answering, he rubbed his beard against Ted’s collarbone because that always made him shiver, made him arch.

“Ah,” Ted moaned on a long sigh, tossing his head back. “You feel so good. I’ve been waiting for this all day. Been waiting for you.”

“Me too.”

“Wait—” Without rising, Ted reached a long arm to dig around in his bag. He brought out a blanket and shook it open, spreading it behind them. “Now,” he said as he settled back into Carl’s arms, “where were we?”

‘Kissing,’ he wanted to say, because Ted’s mouth was on his again and he loved it too much to stop even though… “This is wrong.”

“How?” Ted murmured, kissing him with short-lived kisses. “How is it wrong?”

“It’s sacrilegious.”

Ted stopped kissing and leaned back so he could take off his shirt. He tossed it aside, then reached for Carl’s. “No, it’s not. It’s life. It all happened before. It’s gonna happen again. Lift up.” He tugged and Carl raised his arms.

The first wash of air was too cold and he shivered, from his shoulders down, his turn to arch into Ted.

Who only smiled and kissed him again and again, this time harder, deeper, even as he was falling, pushing Carl onto the blanket, to loom over him, all right angles of pale skin.

Ted gazed down and in the yellow glow of the flashlight, his hair was gold, his pupils a clear, eerie green and Carl remembered a story his granddad had told about a white woman that had lived east of Roanoke.

Her husband had left town one day with a young neighbor girl he’d gotten pregnant and it had driven the woman crazy. She’d sent her kids to her sister’s in town and took to sitting out on the porch, calling out to the passersby, demanding to know if they’d seen her man. Eventually she’d died of grief and the neighbors told how it took days to find her, out by her dried-up well, propped against the stones as if resting. Her eyes, they’d said, had turned from sky blue to pure green, a sure sign that she wasn’t right in the head.

Carl’s daddy had always scoffed and said that even if it were true, it wasn’t nothing more than a body’s reaction to death and not to listen to his granddad. But Carl hadn’t been able to help picturing her—small, fair skin and fair hair, dead eyes that shifted from blue to green and back again.

Ted cocked his head, his gaze somehow sharpening. “You’re worrying again. Remember what the man said, ‘Don’t be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.’

His voice had taken on his Jesus tone, velvet-wrapped steel that understood all and gave everything except where he was concerned and Carl wanted to mock, decry, fight. But he couldn’t. Wouldn’t.

But he could do something else, so he pulled Ted down and made his kisses sweet, made his arms gentle, because the last thing he wanted to do was hurt this man. For ever and ever and ever…

Ted undressed them. First Carl, removing his jeans and briefs slowly, as if revealing something precious and rare, occasionally bending down to kiss what he’d uncovered. Then himself, rising to stand spread-eagle over Carl, then slipping out of his jeans, one leg, then the other. A sight that was surely a blasphemy, here in this place that had been made for worship.

But…

It was also the sexiest thing he’d ever seen and his heart was beating too hard, pounding out a tempo that echoed in his ears.

When Ted tried to kneel, he quickly sat up and wrapped his arms around Ted’s knees, holding him in place. Kissing his thighs first, open-mouthed like he was starving, then his cock, doing nothing really, but Ted whimpered as if he’d never felt anything so good, trying to grab hold of his too-short hair, finally pleading, “C’mon, let me down. Let me—”

And Carl did. Let him slither down his chest to straddle him again.

“Christ, you feel so good,” Ted whispered again, rubbing his cock against Carl’s “So good. I brought the stuff. It’s in my knapsack.”

The ‘stuff’ was a small jar of Vaseline. Purchased back in LA because one of the set designers had been to Israel and spent the whole time with chapped lips. She’d gone around the day before they’d left, telling everyone to run to the store while they could. Carl had found himself more than a little grateful, especially in times like this and one-handed, he found the jar, not wanting to let go of Ted for a second. Still one handed— because practice had made perfect—he popped the lid off with his thumb, and asked, “Me or you?”

“You. Definitely you,” Ted answered, taking the jar and holding it out. Then dropping it when Carl had dipped one finger, then two, humming into his neck.

The last time they’d made love, not twenty-four hours ago, they’d been hasty, hurrying because they’d only had a twenty-minute break which really meant ten. They’d been careless—he’d been careless—too rough and when Ted had returned to the set, he’d walked too carefully. According to Ted when he’d asked about later on, the pain was nothing, over so quickly he hadn’t really noticed it. And yeah, Carl knew that Ted could handle pain like no one else, but there wasn’t gonna be anymore more of that and he whispered, “I’ll make it good for you, baby. Better than the last time.”

“Don’t. That didn’t matter—I told you.”

“Still…” He was careful when he reached between Ted’s thighs, careful when he found his place and gently pushed, breached. One finger at first, gauging Ted’s reactions, his sighs shallow at first, then deep and breathy. So two, waiting again for the moment when Ted screwed his eyes shut as if he were in pain, the moment he tipped his head back, showing his long, long neck.

When he was ready, they fumbled together, not graceful at all no matter how many times they’d done it, Carl guiding his cock while Ted sat down, both moving too fast to make it work and Ted growled, “Wait, wait—

Fluid like water, he rolled them until his was on his back and Carl was on top again. In him, again. In and in, until Ted grimaced even as he was smiling, mumbling, “Yeah, that’s it… So beautiful… You’re so beautiful…”

Losing his words in a gasp that was also a groan, but Carl couldn’t hear anyway, too focused on the now, only the now ’cause that’s all that mattered—

And he thought he had it, thought it was okay, until Ted arched up, head back, crying out with such pleasure that his will broke free, slamming against some inner barrier that burst apart and the memories that he’d imprisoned came tumbling out…

…of the first read-through, still stunned by his luck, trying not to mess up because the movie would reach so many more people than the stage production ever would. Amazed by the kid from Texas who wasn’t really a kid, by the voice that matched his knowing blue gaze but not his size…

…of singing for what felt like the thousandth time, ‘You want me to do it?’ feeling as if it were the first because Ted was always there, statue-still, listening and listening…

…then just this afternoon, when he was so damn tired and his throat hurt and he couldn’t hit the notes the way Andrew wanted, the ‘You’ll be lost, you’ll be sorry when I’m gone,’ taking on a new meaning because he’d already started on thinking about the future, once they were done with the desert, once the desert was done with them…

As if they were really Judas Iscariot and Jesus, twin opposites who knew their fused road was about to fork—all written, all foretold. And there was nothing, nothing they could do about it…

He made some noise, some protest deep in his throat and Ted opened eyes, going from blissed-out to somber in a heartbeat. He caught his breath and reached for Carl’s arms, stroking from elbow to wrist, whispering, “No, it’s just us. I know it’s messing with your head, but you’re not him. We’re not them. You won’t ever betray me. I promise. I promise.

An impossible thing, that promise, but Carl just asked, “How do you know?”

Ted’s expression altered and he thought, ‘this is what he’ll look like during the crucifixion scene—in a world of pain but somehow at peace because he’s doing what his daddy wants and now he can let go.’ “How,” he demanded again, the word bleeding into something like a plea.

Ted just shrugged. “I don’t know how I know. I just know it’s true.” And then, like magic, he came back from the place of pain and murmured sweetly, “C’mon, beautiful, make me feel it.”

Behind him— No—above him—the sky was a rich field of stars, heavy and ominous and old, and it came to him that in star terms, the years between the real Judas’s life and his own were a mere twinkle. That for the stars, it was only this afternoon when Judas found Jesus praying in the garden and kissed him, saying without saying, ‘Him.’

But they weren’t stars. They were men, and hundreds of years had passed between then and now and he still had time to fix things. He still had time and maybe this hadn’t been a mistake. So he gathered Ted’s legs up, one after the other, wrapping them around his waist, and thrust again, making it good for them both, murmuring with as much love as he could, “I will. I will…”

***

His arm was tingling and he flexed his fingers, not gently enough. Ted stirred. And turned on his side, his movements stiff from sleep. He smiled and said, “Hey,” without opening his eyes.

“Hey.”

“That was amazing.”

“Yeah.”

“For you, too?”

“Saw the stars.”

Ted grinned and opened his eyes. “And the moon and the sun?” He edged closer, slipping his leg between Carl's, resting his head on Carl’s bicep. “Me too.” He closed his eyes again.

Carl waited a moment, then whispered, “So you’ll be behind the camera tomorrow?”

“With you all the way, baby.”

“Good.”

Ted began to stroke his back, humming, then singing softly in his rough tenor, ‘…feeling small. When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all…’

And Carl thought he should remind him that just two days ago his voice had given up and they’d had to move onto the next non-Jesus scene. And about Andrew’s rule on, ‘No bloody extraneous singing. Save it for the studio!’

But it felt too good, Ted serenading him, so he settled back, the ancient stone underneath, the bright stars up above. And Ted—not Jesus—warm in his arms.

 

 


fin.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Story notes:
Carl/Ted
Jesus Christ Superstar, RPF
3,400+ words
Takes place during the filming of Jesus Christ Superstar
All characters belong to people and organizations that are not me.