THE BALLAD OF JILTED JOHN by Moon71
Summary: After confronting his troubled past in New York, Eiri faces a worse crisis still – writer's block. Can a flame reviewer provide the solution?
Timeline: After the end of the anime, directly after Bad Luck's National Tour.
Rating: Dunno. T, maybe? Not much sex, a bit of sugar, a bit of bad language… but I restrained myself and didn't describe Shu-chan's stage costume. I figured anyone into Yaoi or slash had to have a fertile enough imagination to fill in the gaps…
Disclaimer: Gravitation isn't mine. Jilted John isn't either, he's the property of Graham Fellows, bless him. Love To Review Japan is technically mine, but how much do you want to bet there's a site out there with that name?
JILTED JOHN: This is not, I repeat not a songfic. Anyone mental enough to write a story to a song called Gordon is a Moron needs psychiatric help worse than Eiri. For those not old enough or daft enough to remember this classic song, Gordon is a Moron was a song back in the '70s sung by Jilted John, a.k.a comedian, musician and actor Graham Fellows. It could either be called the funniest, or the stupidest, song of the decade. It basically charts the misery of teenager John, whose girlfriend dumps him for Gordon. Why this story suddenly grew out of my efforts one afternoon to remember the words to that song I have no idea, but here it is!!! (If anyone cares, I'll track down the lyrics again and post them at the end – they're true poetry, and they really seem to sum up 70's-80's teenage life in London… that or else I'm getting old…
THE STORY: Whatever the truth, I am so glad to post this. It's one of my personal favourites because it was in my head for ages. I couldn't get it right until I decided to set it after the anime ends – because Gravitation really does have a beginning, middle and end for me, and because its so character driven, I can't help being conscious of where Shuichi and Eiri are at in their relationship when I write a story.
ANIME AND MANGA: As I'm sure I've said before, I tend to follow the anime timeline. However, where the two formats meet I always refer to the manga too, and for Mizuki, who features heavily in this story, it goes without saying all the info came from the manga. I've always been fond of her, with her patient but rather cheeky attitude to Eiri and her kindness to Shuichi, and as with some of the other female characters, I was sorry she dropped out of sight in the later books.
LAST OF ALL: To all who reviewed the last part of "Orange Dress" – I will try to reply to you individually rather than clutter this up with my babble!
OH, AND BY THE WAY… I've now posted all my Grav stories on my LJ too, and will try to do so at the same time as on GB and FF from now on, so if anyone prefers to chat to me there feel free – it's open to everyone at the moment.
Eiri slammed the cup back into its saucer and glared across the table at his editor. "What?"
Mizuki just continued to stare at him for a long moment with that odd frown on her face. "Yuki-san, are you quite sure you're completely better?"
Eiri stiffened slightly. "Besides that overnight stay in hospital when my ulcer started playing up, I don't actually recall saying I'd been ill."
"No, but while you suddenly …" she cleared her throat delicately, "went away, Shindou-san said…"
"You should know better than to listen to anything Shuichi says," Eiri cut in irritably. "Besides, you of all people know this wouldn't be the first time I've skipped town before a deadline…"
"It's the first time you've done so since you met Shindou-san… actually I did wonder…"
Eiri folded his arms across his chest – a gesture Mizuki should recognise by now as signifying that line of conversation was over. "If you've got a problem with the manuscript just say so," he snapped.
It was interesting to note just how well he and Mizuki had gotten to know one another. She was one of very, very few female acquaintances he had not slept with at some time – unlike previous female editors, who had usually not lasted long, she was not easy to distract or misdirect. At first he had been deceived by her sweet fluffiness; not long after she had become his editor he had wanted an extension on a deadline, and when she had refused he put his hand on her knee, letting it stray up her thigh. But all she had done was give him a playfully admonishing look which made him feel less the Casanova of Tokyo than a naughty little boy, and brought his deadline forward by one week. After that he settled for showing his true surly, disrespectful self, but that didn't faze her either. And so the war of nerves went on, with Mizuki's pretty smiles and Eiri's sour words, becoming the closest thing to friendship Eiri had experienced in his adult life – until the arrival of Shuichi.
It was at this point that Mizuki would normally give him one of those pretty little girl's smiles and begin the complicated task of soothing his ego while steering him towards her point of view – bending the integrity of art to fit the needs of commercial reality. But instead she simply looked down at the manuscript before her on the table, then up at Eiri once more. "Are you… quite sure about this scene at the end between Mayu and Maiko?"
Eiri narrowed his eyes defensively. "You evidently aren't…"
Mizuki frowned and turned to the page in question, which was now decorated with copious notes in red pencil. "So you think after everything Maiko has been through, and after Mayu has stood by her throughout, it's quite in keeping with the tone of your story for Mayu to suddenly lose her temper and shout at Maiko to… ah… "get a life"?"
Eiri opened his mouth to speak, then found he did not quite have an answer. At least not one he could explain to Mizuki, a woman who knew little or nothing of the recent upheavals in his life besides that he had suddenly disappeared and then reappeared a month or so later, using the excuse of following Shuichi on Bad Luck's Japanese tour to avoid a meeting to discuss his latest unfinished manuscript. The travelling will inspire me, he had written in a brief email to her, blaming a long period of silence after that on the lack of an internet connection.
Eiri sank back sullenly into his chair and picked up his coffee cup once more, only half listening as she began to hold forth on her general impressions of the story and how it might be improved. If only she knew, he reflected wearily, just how lucky she was the damned thing still existed at all…
"Hey, Yuki, my new stage costume's just arrived! Would you like me to model it for you?"
"Fuck off and die, you pointless little brat."
There was a time when a response like that from his lover would provoke a huge storm of tears and angry recriminations from Shindou Shuichi. Now all he did was cluck sympathetically and move around the desk to begin rubbing Eiri's aching shoulders. "Poor Yuki… still got writer's block…?"
Eiri nodded helplessly and closed his eyes, unable to stop himself melting into Shuichi's strong, soothing hands. "It's as if… as if…"
He hesitated, wondering at the sudden impulse to confide in the young vocalist. He had never discussed his writing with Shuichi; had never, if he was honest, thought him capable of understanding. After all, his lyrics, while never remotely as bad as Eiri had once made out, were not exactly Homeric hymns.
But maybe that reticence was a mistake. Shuichi might never be a great lyricist, but it didn't matter, because all he wanted to say was said in the language of music – a tonal, mathematical language which had nothing to do with the written word. It had been easy at first to dismiss Shuichi as one of a thousand talent-free wannabe pop stars; even when he had heard his voice he could dismiss it as instinct. But not when he listened to his music – not when he watched him composing. Eiri had made the usual mistake of a man who lived with and thought in words – he had mistaken a lack of verbal eloquence for a lack of ability. Yet he had seen musicians interviewed – had even talked to a few of Tohma's cohorts over the years. They might not be as articulate as writers were when discussing their art, but that did not mean their efforts were any less premeditated, even calculated. Shuichi… was an artist. That deserved some consideration.
Eiri glanced once more over the page displayed on his computer screen before heaving a deep sigh and removing his spectacles. "It's as if this was written by someone else," he said finally. "These characters are strangers to me. I can't remember why I made them the way they are. It's as if they're talking to each other, but not to me…"
Shuichi was very quiet for a moment. He even withdrew his hands. "I understand that, Eiri," he said very softly. He still used Eiri's given name only very rarely, and then only when they were alone, though Eiri had never actually said he couldn't use it. Eiri supposed that to Shuichi he had been and always would be "Yuki" – the name had taken on its own identity since Shuichi had entered his life, almost losing its original tragic symbolism. But more than that, he suspected that Shuichi, in his own quirky way, reserved "Eiri" as a special treat; an affirmation of his right to use it. "When you… when you went to New York… I could still sing, but it was as if the song wasn't mine anymore. Sakuma-san understood it before I did. I kept telling myself everything was all right, and everyone accepted that, except him. When I realised the truth, I think that was when I lost my voice…"
In spite of himself, Eiri felt a lump gathering in his throat. "But you got your voice back…" he murmured.
"Oh, sure," Shuichi said brightly, coming around to face Eiri. As the writer pushed away from his desk, Shuichi slid comfortably into his lap. "You gave me my voice back. Do you know, the first thing I said was "Yuki"?"
"You told me," Eiri replied in a gruffer tone. About a hundred times, he added silently. "But you said the songs didn't seem yours anymore. How do you feel now?"
"Oh, they're all mine, now!" Shuichi laughed happily. "The funny thing is, Sakuma-san was the one who made them mine again! I didn't understand at the time – he snubbed me, you see, and that was when I lost my voice. I thought he hated me – I really thought things couldn't get any worse, and I didn't understand how he could be so unkind when he knew you'd… well, but anyway, afterwards, he showed me how to find the music all over again, and I realised that he hadn't done that to be unkind, he'd done it because he was trying to tell me the truth, when no-one else was." Shuichi looked down into Eiri's eyes and sighed. "I guess that doesn't make any sense…"
Eiri stared at him for a long moment, unable to answer. "Well, as a matter of fact…"
"Wait a minute," Shuichi cried, leaping up with an ominously bright expression, "I was telling Hiro about how it – I mean, I didn't actually tell him you had writer's block, but I said I wanted to be able to help you, and he said maybe if you talked to me about the story, it might help you to get the ideas right. See, sometimes when I can't find the words for my songs, I just play the tune to Hiro and he helps me to try and find the words that really fit… he always reads so much, its like he knows a hundred different words for anything… how about if I read what you've written so far – " Shuichi reached out to pick up the printout lying beside Eiri's laptop.
"No!" Feeling a sudden jolt of panic, Eiri rapidly grabbed Shuichi's hand before it could close upon the manuscript. "I mean, come on, you damned brat – I wouldn't want you overtaxing your brain… trying to read a book without pictures…"
"Yuki!" Shuichi cried indignantly.
"Anyway," Eiri said, slipping his arms around the protesting boy, "I'd much sooner see that stage costume of yours… I want to make sure none of these rampant Kyushu fangirls are going to be seeing parts of you only I'm allowed to see…"
Shuichi giggled as he ducked out of Eiri's embrace, bouncing off to get changed. As soon as he was out of the room, Eiri picked up the manuscript, shoved it into his attaché case and locked it. There was absolutely no way Shuichi was going to read that – at least, not before it was fixed.
And to think it had been such an easy story to write! From start to finish the words had flowed out of him like water breaking through a damn, violent and unstoppable. No writer's block, no sudden errors ruining the progress of the plot, no difficult scenes to stumble over. It had kept him awake those days and nights after he and Shuichi had been publicly "outed" and Shuichi had temporarily moved out of Eiri's flat to avoid the press; it had fed off him, drained him dry, like an embryonic child sapping the life out of its parent as it struggled to grow. It was this novel, as much as the press harassment and poor Shuichi himself, who had shouldered so much of the blame, which had ultimately put him in hospital, both the cause of the visible symptoms and a symptom of the greater sickness. Like Mozart or Gershwin or Van Gogh or a hundred other artists who had either worked themselves to death or been driven mad by their art, Eiri had begun to wonder if his muse would finally eat him alive before it was finally completed.
But that was the greatest irony of all, the secret truth not even Shuichi – or Mizuki, who was still persistently emailing him for progress reports – realised. The damned story was finished, at least in a draft form. Normally he would either hand the manuscript straight over to his editor in its raw form, or, if he was actually ahead of himself, sit back and do the first edit himself. This manuscript had been abandoned new born but undeniably whole when Tohma had rushed Eiri to hospital. And that was the last time he had even looked at it until the reckoning in New York.
When he had first returned, he had simply felt too fragile, too shell-shocked to look at it. He had lied to Mizuki, insisting it was only half finished. But the long hours of travelling, or of hanging about in hotel rooms while Shuichi rehearsed, not even needing to trouble himself with housework or the pestering of his family (beyond the occasional visit by Tohma, ostensibly to boost Bad Luck's morale on their tour), inevitably created the right atmosphere for reading and editing, and Eiri had finally printed off the novel chapter by chapter and begun to read.
And what he read horrified him.
On the surface it was, if he did say so himself, vintage Yuki Eiri. The setting was not, for once, Japan's imperial past, but rather amidst the rebirth of the country as a technological giant. The heroine was a young woman called Maiko (named, in a perverse moment, in honour of Shuichi's little sister, who despite her brother's best attempts to keep her at bay, had appeared several times at Eiri's flat to declare herself his greatest fan.) At the tender age of seventeen, Maiko, wealthy but sheltered, was seduced by a handsome but cold-hearted fortune hunter who threw her over without a second thought when her matriarchal mother refused to bargain a settlement and instead cut her off without a single yen. Too proud to throw herself on her parents' mercy and too ashamed to go home without their forgiveness, Maiko threw herself into the expanding world of the electronics industry, moving from Japan to the USA as she ruthlessly climbed the corporate ladder.
Various sub-plots of industrial espionage and backstabbing and the shadow of the Yakuza gave the novel its necessary excitement, violence and character deaths. But at the core of it was not Maiko's success, or the trials and tribulations of the life of high powered female executive in an alien and often chauvinistic world. Rather, it was the one thing that not only formed her character but made it impossible for her to be happy – the memory of the lover who had betrayed her. Throughout the novel, and against the sensible advice of her stalwart friend Mayu, Maiko almost deliberately picked out the worst possible men to share her life with - adulterers, gamblers, alcoholics and criminals, all of them unwilling or unable to commit to any sort of lasting relationship.
Such was Maiko's background, laid down in the first few chapters. But the story really began when she met the son of one of her business rivals at a corporate function. Omi was young, handsome and sensitive, uninterested by the executive life, preferring to pursue a career in the visual arts. In spite of Maiko's cold reluctance, Omi fell instantly in love with her and persisted in his courtship even when Maiko rebuffed him time after time. Finally, however, after seeing how resolutely Omi defended both his choice of career and Maiko herself, who his own father dismissed as a corporate slut who had slept her way to the top and accused of using Omi to get a foothold in his company, Maiko began to realise just what a strong and ultimately remarkable person Omi was. After a few chapters of romance and self discovery on Maiko's part, Omi asked Maiko to marry him.
And that was where Eiri now found himself running straight into a brick wall. The ending seemed to be simple enough – he could see it, even as he wrote it, being described as "vintage Yuki Eiri" by the critics. The notes were comprehensive, the scenes roughly written; it only remained to connect the final scenes together. Maiko would of course not marry Omi; after much angsting over the past and the future, when the day of the wedding came round, Maiko would board a flight back to Japan to commit herself to the unhappy sterility of a marriage arranged by her mother to a pompous, conservative aristocrat as a condition for being accepted back into the family.
The reasons behind her decision would of course be clear enough. She could not let go of the past. Her first love had to remain her only love. To give him up was to let go of so much pain and unhappiness that had become a part of her life, part of her very consciousness. The idea of replacing that pain and that loneliness with warmth and happiness and… love… was just too vast a change to endure. To allow herself to love Omi, to admit that Omi was a better man than the man who had thrown her over was to admit that he had never been worthy, that he had used her and made a fool of her. It was to admit to her own bad judgement, her self delusion and ultimate humiliation.
Further, if she was going to allow herself to love Omi, she would have to open her heart to another person for the first time in years. They might make mutual friends, start to go out with other couples. Others who had always thought her unreachable would suddenly see her as accessible – as human like themselves, no longer too cold and too transient to be loved. Old friends she had frozen out of her life might begin to draw in towards this new warmth, forcing her to acknowledge that she had never really been alone, even when she had thought herself at her most self-sufficient – they had been waiting there, arms open, ready to catch her if she fell. Responsibilities came with that. Demands. She could no longer just walk away when it all became too much.
When Eiri had read the manuscript again, he had been horrified by just how much of his own life – of his own heart and soul – he had poured into it. It was disturbing enough to find himself relating to the ill-treated heroine, instead of one of the more usual brooding, difficult but dangerously compelling anti-heroes his female readership routinely fell in love with. Shuichi too was terrifyingly easy to identify, fixing him in his intention never to let his lover read this story in any form. But more insidious were characters such as Mayu, who seemed a sinister fusion of Mika and Tohma. And yet Eiri could swear when he had created the characters he had had no such ideas in mind. Idiot interviewers often asked him if this character or that was based on any particular person, but they knew nothing – the characters were like children, formed of a fusion of data. He did not need to borrow them from the world outside.
And as he read, the characters themselves began to annoy him. Instead of seeming a tragic victim of passion and deceit, trading love for power, Maiko seemed like a spoilt, whining, pretentious little cow. Omi seemed indefensibly stupid, not to mention so cloyingly sweet he would give Eiri's readers diabetes. But if he became less of a pushover, if Maiko's mother became less of a hardarsed bitch, if her arranged fiancée became less of a stuffed shirt – if, in summary, there was any prospect of Maiko finding happiness – then the ending would simply not work. And it had to end that way, because…
It was detestable, but it was true. Eiri was impaled on his own sword. He had become his own cliché.
The ending would not work because then it would not be "vintage Yuki Eiri."
Of course he did not always end his novels unhappily.
Well. Not absolutely always.
All right, there had only been one novel, completed just after Shuichi had blundered into his life, where he had suddenly had a change of heart and let his hero and heroine escape to a happy new life away from the family feud which threatened to tear them apart. But the story had easily allowed for the change, and besides, it had been easily justified – to kill them both off would make it too much of a Romeo and Juliet ending. This time, it would not be so simple.
And yet, as Eiri sat in that hotel room in Kyushu and heard Shuichi singing joyfully to himself as he changed into his new costume, the whole thing suddenly smacked of hypocrisy. Reluctant as he was to admit it, it really did seem that he and Shuichi were happy, and would continue to be so for at least the near future. And even if they weren't – if for whatever reason, inconceivable for now, they were to part, Eiri simply could not see his life snapping back to what it had been before Shuichi had appeared. The pattern was broken. Whatever he would be without Shuichi, he would not be the man Shuichi had met that night in the park.
"Yuuuuuu-kiiiiiiiiiii!" Shuichi called melodiously from the dressing-room, "I'm redddd-yyyyyyyyyyy…"
Eiri could not help a small shiver of anticipation as he pulled himself to his feet. The fact that he was actually getting excited over seeing his boyfriend – boyfriend??!! – in some stupid outlandish stage costume only served to hammer home the reality that he was experiencing the very happiness he had insisted Maiko could not have. "Come on then, idiot, I haven't got all day," he said testily, slamming shut his laptop before it could mock him any further.
Shuichi sprang into the room, giving Eiri a graceful twirl. "How do you like me, Eiri-chan?" he purred.
Eiri felt his eyes bulge in his sockets. "Absolutely, positively, undeniably no goddamned way are you appearing in public in that," he exploded when his voice came back to him.
"But Yuki….!" Shuichi wailed in dismay.
"But Yuki nothing! You look like you're going to a bondage party! Come on, we're going to see that psycho manager of yours!" Yuki snatched up one of the complimentary bathrobes from the bed and threw it at Shuichi. "But put that on first!"
TBC: Jilted John to the rescue?