Man, this was fun. I've learned my lesson - multi-parting is definitely the way to go on FFN. Big thanks to all reviewers and readers.
As you've now seen, this wasn't exactly yuri. But it wasn't exactly yuri parody either. I consider it sort of a shot across the bow.
Thing is, although I generally dislike slash, what I really dislike is lazy slash. (Sorry, Mio, I'm saying "lazy".) If you're gonna stick two same-sex characters together and not call it a PWP, you have to actually face the fact that they're not gay in canon. There have to be consequences when you change that in your story. The K-ON! section of FFN is overwhelmingly dominated by yuri. That's not a huge surprise, since the only eligible bachelor is Ritsu's little brother... but there are four important things to remember.
One, whether we see them date or not, most people are straight. You've probably heard the famous "one person in ten is gay" statistic. That's actually way off, it's just been shouted so long people buy it; the real figure varies from 2 to 5 percent in most places. But even if it were one in ten, the chance that, say, both Mio and Ritsu were gay would be just 1 percent. The whole band, as seen in many yuri fics? 0.001 percent. If your story requires that big a leap, you'd better justify it... or write well enough to make up for it.
Two, even if you consider it a grave injustice, the fact is that gay relationships are not instantly approved of by everyone on Earth. Moreover, straight people who approve in principle are still likely to be somewhat freaked out in practice. Mio in my story isn't "homophobic" - she overreacts wildly, because she's Mio, but her feelings themselves are normal. The abnormal thing would be for none of the characters to react that way.
Three, K-ON! is set in Japan. Man, if you think the western world isn't accepting and tolerant enough, don't move there. Yes, Japan is famous for all kinds of weird perversions in hentai and such, but that's the underbelly of their culture and they're not proud of it. Japanese society is very structured - the language reflects this - and judgmental of exceptions. If Mio and Ritsu got together, they would have an uphill battle ahead, especially after high school. (In high school, girl/girl relationships are called "Class S" and are actually to some extent normal, but they're seen as a kind of practice; you're expected to outgrow them.) I'm not an expert, so don't quote me, but that's my understanding.
And four, slash fandom has had a huge, annoying blind spot ever since the term was coined (it seems to have come from the slash in "Kirk/Spock"). People of the same gender can make very close, longtime friendships. It happens, dammit. You probably have at least one such friend yourself. And most of those friendships are not right on the edge of turning into romances. Even if Mio and Ritsu were both gay, that still wouldn't mean they were destined to be a couple.
None of this makes it impossible to write good K-ON! yuri. On the contrary, there's quite a bit out there. I even named Lil and Rai after two FFN authors whose Mio/Ritsu stories I've enjoyed. (The characters aren't based on them; it's just a shoutout.) And it would be silly not to recognize the yuri subtext in the series. Kakifly cast Mio and Ritsu as Romeo and Juliet; he had Azusa make Valentine's chocolates for Mio; he's the one who put the goggles on Mugi. Yuri fic for these characters is not a crazy idea.
No, all I'm saying is that you have to work at it. Mio's afraid of paper cuts; how much more would the idea of dating Ritsu in public terrify her? How do the girls usually react to Mugi's fantasies? Why would a gay Ritsu get so shy and thoughtful over what she thought was a boy's confession to her? A good yuri story doesn't ignore these things, it addresses them.
The flip side of the coin in my story is Azusa. (It probably looks like I pulled a fast one in that last chapter, but I had it in mind all along. There were hints.) She's dating a girl all right, but it's not Yui or Mio, and she doesn't want to make a big issue of it - she'd have answered if anyone asked, but no one did. She lets Mio's slighting remarks pass because she's realistic enough to expect them; it takes several days' worth to exhaust her patience. She won't hold a grudge either, but things will certainly be awkward between them for a while. And poor Mio now has to reconcile her shock and worry for Azusa with her guilt for never asking or even wondering about her friend's personal life.
That's a bit closer to what "yuri" looks like in the real world. You don't see it coming and you're not automatically comfortable with it, whatever your social politics. I'm neither defending nor condemning the real world here - I'd just like to see more of it in K-ON! fics. It's where we live, ain't it?
But the main reason I wrote this wasn't to make a point. I just love writing for these characters. Fun, fun series.
Some shorter notes:
- I mentioned that Lil and Rai were named after two FFN authors. Those two are Little Donkey (formerly Lil-Donkey) and RaiStorm. Check 'em out if you haven't already. In particular, Little Donkey's "Chances Are" is one of the most poignant fics I've ever read - slash or not.
- The Indigo Girls! Not only does the title of this fic refer to them - and the classic Dylan song "Tangled Up in Blue", of course - but each chapter is named after one of their songs (except the last one, which gets the title of their first live album). They're famous these days as lesbian activists, but you wouldn't know it from most of their music; I'd already been a fan for years when I found out. Their guitar skill and harmonies are unrivaled, and unlike most bands, they're still making music that stands up to their early hits. Check 'em out. Rites of Passage is a good album to start with.
- Tegan and Sara are Canadian twins (their last name's Quin), and as with the Indigo Girls, I was a fan before I knew they were gay - right from their first album, in fact. Their quality's a bit uneven and their voices take getting used to, but when they're good, they're GOOD. My first T&S concert had a crowd much like the one ATT got in Chapter 1; it was my first encounter with the fact that lesbians were a real thing and not some sort of urban legend. (That said, whoever called ATT a Japanese Tegan and Sara in my story was strange - their music's nothing alike.)
- One more music reference: "Hirasawa's Haremites" is kind of a weird joke on Herman's Hermits.
- Ritsu's friend Renge hails from Ouran High School Host Club. In her first appearance, she filmed a ridiculous video casting the host club as delinquents. The "NO, Thank You" end theme is exactly what would happen if she got her hands on After-School Tea Time. I love the song, but the girls are just so out of character as bored, punky students. (By the way, am I the only one who's always seen the end themes as music videos?)
That about wraps it up for "Tangled Up in Indigo." I originally wasn't gonna write more K-ON! for a while; this story and my short one, "Her Love is a Stapler", were gonna be my contribution to the fandom, and then I'd hit some others. But the response to "Indigo" has been nothing short of amazing - I'd be nuts not to do more. And not only is Season 2 almost over, but we're sadly about to lose the manga too, since Kakifly isn't continuing into the girls' university years. It'll be up to us to keep the fandom going.
So rest assured, I'll definitely be writing more for this series. Not necessarily immediately, but I've already got a few ideas. And I still have other series targeted, which is what my poll is about. I don't promise to go in order of what gets the most votes, but I'll certainly keep the results in mind. Feel free to PM me if you have a suggestion that's not listed.
Thanks very much for reading; hope you had as much fun with "Indigo" as I did. And now, here's what we're all really here for... the omake!
TANGLED UP IN INDIA
"You're never, ever buying the tickets again," Ritsu declared.
"Stop saying that!" cried Mio. "You've said it fifteen times!"
"I refuse to take the chance that any of us might forget."
"Give her a break," said Azusa. "She's already apologized."
"Oh yeah, can't forget that. She apologized. As long as you apologize, it's okay to buy us all tickets to New Delhi instead of San Francisco."
"Accidents will hap- Ah! Thank you," said Tsumugi to their waiter. The curry had arrived.
The girls had managed to get tickets on a later flight to the States, but they had a few hours to wait. It was long enough for a little dinner and plenty of bickering. They'd found a wide variety of curry places nearby, and they were sitting in one now, frustrated and overheating. There was an unspoken agreement that when it was time to head back, they wouldn't be too proud to accept Tsumugi's offer of a private jet ride.
The only one staying perky was, of course, Yui. "I think this is fun!" she said. "It's like a vacation! This is my very first time on another continent!"
"It's your first time on a continent, period," noted Azusa.
"Oo, you know what else, Yui?" added Ritsu, still looking at Mio. "It's also your first time on the wrong continent!"
"Shut up! Just shut up!" Mio was burning with anger and shame.
"Come on, Ritsu," said Azusa. "Just drop it."
Ritsu gave her a nasty look. "Don't you ever get tired of currying favour?"
Azusa was about to retort, but then had a thought. She took a bite of her food. "No," she told Ritsu, "but I do favour this curry."
There was a brief pause. Then both girls started laughing, as did Yui and Tsumugi.
"Sorry," said Ritsu. "I'm just worried about our curr-eers. Turning up late isn't very curr-teous." More laughter.
The drummer turned to Mio, who was clearly struggling not to smile. "I'll let it go this time," Ritsu told her. "Just don't make this a re-curr-ing habit."
"Azu-nyan, be careful!" exclaimed Yui.
"This place! I heard that curry-osity killed the cat!"
Everyone laughed at that one - even Mio, losing her battle. "Not bad," said Ritsu, and Yui glowed at the rare compliment.
"I've learned my lesson," said Mio. "No more ordering tickets online. Next time I'll have them sent by curr-ier."
"Admitting your flaws takes curr-age," replied Azusa.
Ritsu added, "Just don't screw up again, or it's curr-tains for you!"
Everyone looked; the sound had come from Tsumugi. She was on the edge of her seat, hands clasped in excitement. She had to be part of this. She had to.
But... "Um! Uh..." Nothing was coming. Why wasn't anything coming?
"Don't rush yourself," said Ritsu.
The rich girl clutched at her head as if trying to shake an idea out.
"It's okay," said Azusa, getting worried. "You don't have to -"
Too late. Desperation had seized Tsumugi. She grabbed her bowl and yelled "CURRY FIGHT!"
By the time it was all over, Tsumugi owed the restaurant three thousand dollars, Yui had to be treated for second-degree burns, and all five girls were banned from New Delhi until 2018.
TANGLED UP IN VERTIGO
"Hey Jun. How was -"
"I've figured you out!"
"You're not the real Azusa at all! You're an impostor!"
"You're just an actress who was trained to seduce me! And it worked, I admit it! But now I've seen through your veil of lies! What do you have to say for yourself, Azusa-clone?"
"Oh, my dearest Azusa number 2! I can't stay mad, even if you are a fake! Let us embrace near this high window and - NOOOO! Fake Azusa! Fake Azusaaaaa!"
"...Okay, so the local theatre company is doing a production of Vertigo. I'm going to audition. How was my performance?"
"It made me dizzy."
TANGLED UP IN ICHIGO
"Hey Ichigo!" Ritsu called out. "How would you like to play drums with a world-famous rock group?"
Her former classmate gave her a puzzled look. "Aren't you the drummer?"
"Well, yeah, usually. But I can't play tonight. See, I just found out I have tennis elbow. Tennis elbow cancer. Got me in both arms. Ebola virus too."
"Those things don't sound temporary."
"...Oh, fine. I just don't want to wear these super-frilly clothes Mio dug out. And it's only Chapter 2, so you just know things are gonna get even weirder from here."
"So whattaya say? You're a real princess type. This would be right up your alley!"
"...I'd rather not," she answered, twirling a lock of her hair around her finger.
Ritsu sighed. "You suck, Ichigo."
TANGLED UP IN ICHIGO 100%
(Insert the previous scene. Make sure you get all of it.)
TANGLED UP IN ICHIGO MASHIMARO
Don't call us cute!
Fluffy fluffy! The strawberry girls are coming!
"See?" yelled Ritsu, pointing at the TV screen. "They blatantly ripped off two of our songs and the imagery from the 'Listen!' video! We oughta sue!"
"It's just a few words," countered Azusa. "We'd have no case. And there's a more serious problem."
"Oh yeah? What?"
"If we protest this show, we're admitting we've watched it."
"Yeah," said Azusa. "I'm in no hurry to look like a pedophile either."
SHUFFLED UP IN INDIGO
Mio swung the chair with all her might. It hit the test dummy straight and true, knocking it across the hall, but not actually breaking it.
"Excellent!" said Lisianthus, princess of the gods. "You're a quick learner, Mio."
"Thanks, Sia. I appreciate your taking the time to teach me this."
"No problem. Beating someone with a chair without doing major damage is an important skill for any young girl. I hope it helps you defeat your love rivals!"
"Love rivals?" Mio made a face. "You're the harem girl, not me."
"Really? You have your man all to yourself?"
"Er... not exactly. I do slice-of-life. It's set at an all-girl school."
Sia gasped, one hand over her mouth.
"I... I haven't even seen a man for half a season," finished Mio, looking down.
Tears welling up in her eyes, Sia hugged Mio. "You poor dear."
TANGLED UP IN BLUER THAN INDIGO
"This manga is wonderful!" gushed Tsumugi as she returned Ritsu's Ai Yori Aoshi tankobon.
"Heh. You don't have to say that again every time you borrow a volume, y'know."
"It's so touching! I never would have taken you for a romance fan, Ricchan!"
"Shhh!" The drummer looked around nervously. "It's... it's sort of a new interest. A guy I met in the States recommended this one to me. Indirectly. Kinda."
"Well, it was a good choice. May I borrow the next volume?"
Ritsu raised an eyebrow. "Uh, Mugi? That's the last one."
"What? Why would it end at volume 17?"
"Beats me, but didn't you notice how it tied everything up? Kaoru and Aoi finally went public and got married. The story's over."
Tsumugi's face filled with dismay. "You... you mean Tina and Mayu never realize their love for each other?"
"...Did you really take that step to adulthood you were talking about, Mugi?""
TANGLED UP IN INIGO
The swordsman glared coldly at Azusa. "My name is Inigo Montoya," he declared. "You killed my father. Prepare to die."
Azusa sighed. "I explained this already. Ritsu called me a six-stringer the other day because I play guitar. You misheard and thought I had six fingers. I'm not the person you're after."
"My name is Inigo Montoya," he repeated. "You killed my father. Prepare to die."
"Count them!" Azusa held up a hand. "One, two, three, four, five!"
"My name is... what? Let me see that." The swordsman grabbed her hand and performed a manual recount. "Cuatro... cinco. Oh. Sorry," he said, blushing. "My mistake."
"Forget it. Good luck killing Bill or whatever."
As the swordsman departed, Azusa made a mental note to put the word out that Ritsu was secretly a one-armed man.
TANGLED UP IN INTEGRAL
Ui's brow furrowed in frustration. No good... in fifteen minutes of work, she hadn't made a dent in this calculus problem. It was time to call in the expert. "Big sister!" she shouted.
Yui was there in seconds. She'd been hoping for that shout. Neither of the Hirasawa girls knew exactly why Yui had shown such aptitude for math of all things, but it gave her the chance to act like a big sister for once, and she was loving every second of it. "What is it? Show me show me show me! Show me thy problem, young madam, and I shall resolve it!"
Ui grinned at her tutor's enthusiasm. She too was loving this; it was wonderful to finally play the part of younger sister, even if it was only a walk-on. "It's this one," she said, pointing. "The integral of secant. I've tried lots of -"
"Oh, that one! You need a trick to make it work. See, you multiply by tangent plus secant over itself..."
Ui was startled. "But that's so messy! At least right now it's simple."
"Yeah, but watch!" Yui wrote a few more lines.
"Ohhh," said Ui as the point became clear. "I get it. The top becomes the derivative of the bottom."
Yui grinned. "Isn't it neat how that works out? I figured it out myself, but the teacher said most people need a hint. I am your hinter!"
"Thanks!" Ui patted her on the head; Yui purred. Somehow neither of them saw it as out of place. "You're so smart, big sister. I don't know what I'd do without you."
"You'd fail!" said Yui cheerfully.
Ui laughed. From anyone else, that would be either an insult or a careless slip, not to mention bragging. Only her sister could have said it not just without meaning offense, but without the possibility of offense ever crossing her mind.
As Yui wrote out the last lines, Ui marvelled again at how the solution worked. "I guess it's a bit like cooking with eggs," she mused. "They're simple and neat, but until you break their shells, you can't accomplish anything with them."
Yui stopped cold in mid-integration. She looked up at Ui, her eyes welling up with tears.
"Big sister? What's wrong?"
"You..." Yui struggled to speak. "You BREAK them?"
TANGLED UP IN WENDIGO
Ritsu dashed into After-School Tea Time's studio and slammed the door behind her. "Hide! You've all got to hide, quick!"
Tsumugi, wide-eyed with horror, cried, "Why, Ritsu? What terrible monster are you running from?"
"Yui!" whispered Ritsu, going pale. "Because she didn't get any of your tea and treats on the trip, her starvation has consumed her! She's become the wendigo! Only the flesh of the living can satisfy her cannibalistic madness!"
"Oh no!" Tsumugi hid behind the drum set, joined a moment later by Ritsu and Azusa.
Something began pounding at the door. After a few seconds, it turned the knob, then crashed the door wide open. Out of the darkness, waving her arms wildly and gnashing her teeth, the thing that had once been Yui emerged. It made a beeline for the one girl who hadn't concealed herself... Mio.
It came closer. Closer.
Mio sipped her tea.
"I can't look!" cried Ritsu, apparently not worried about her cover.
The Yui-creature was now right in front of Mio. With its enhanced, animalistic sense of smell, it took a tremendous sniff.
It sniffed again.
Disappointed, the beast turned away. "Not fat enough," it growled.
Mio turned to Ritsu. "Are we done with this now?"
"Shhh!" hissed Ritsu from hiding. "It'll come for me!"
The Yui-monster was in fact inspecting a plate of cupcakes.
"Let me guess," said Mio. "This is an attempt to cheer me up about gaining weight on the trip, right?"
"Maybe," said Ritsu. She stood up, as did the other two, nodding supportively.
"And this struck you as a good plan," continued Mio, "despite the fact that it hinged on Yui's acting talent?"
"She's not so b..." Ritsu trailed off, staring at the 'wendigo'. "Yui, why the hell are you wearing vampire fangs?"
"Grr! I'm a warthog!" she explained.
The drummer facepalmed. But Mio wasn't done. "Did it also not occur to you," she said, clenching both fists, "that it might be prudent to make sure I actually HAD gained weight on the trip?"
"What was I supposed to do, stick you on a scale? Mugi said you probably had."
Tsumugi flailed her arms. "R-Ritsu asked if you looked a bit chubby! All I did was say yes! I mean..."
A vein popped out on Mio's forehead.
Ritsu and Tsumugi pointed. "It was Azusa's idea!"
"Hey!" the rhythm guitarist protested. "I never said we should actually do it. I just said it would be funny."
"That was like daring me!" countered Ritsu.
Before Mio could respond, a cupcake appeared at her side. She turned, very slowly, to see Yui handing it to her.
"Donph worry abouph it," said Yui, munching on another one herself. "We... mmmm!... we don't care if you're fat."
There were no survivors.