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fic: I Never Went Away

Title: I Never Went Away
Author: fengirl88
Fandom: Merrily We Roll Along (Sondheim/Furth)
Characters: Charley Kringas, Evelyn Kringas, Franklin Shepard, Mary Flynn, OCs
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: none
Wordcount: 1200
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine, and nor is the song.
Summary: He still thinks about Frank every day; the difference is, now he knows he's doing it. Before, he hadn't thought there was anything wrong in remembering.
A/N: A somewhat less angsty sequel to Good Thing Going; thanks to [personal profile] kalypso for encouraging me to write this one. Additional notes at the end of the fic.

The Englishman sings his melancholy little song, and Charley listens and remembers...

Until the last few months, he hadn't been anywhere like this for years: a smoky, dingy Greenwich Village dive, everyone crowded so close together that the woman in the fur coat at the next table is practically in his lap. He could almost have mistaken it for the Upstairs Room at the Downtown Club where he and Frank put on their first show twenty years ago, though he knows that was a few blocks away.

Not an auspicious setting for a wedding, that, even before he and Mary had met Beth's parents, frozen-faced with disapproval. “If there's any truth at all that we end up like our parents, you're in very big trouble,” Mary told Frank, and she was right. But Beth was pregnant, and Frank thought he was in love with her, and you can't reason with a man in love. They'd stood by and watched while Frank made the wrong choice, the first of so many wrong choices.

To leave the past behind me... He's been trying to do that himself, to make a new start, though it's not easy. He still thinks about Frank every day; the difference is, now he knows he's doing it. Before, he hadn't thought there was anything wrong in remembering.

Going back into therapy isn't exactly going to help him to forget. But the marriage guidance counsellor said he should go, and he's trying everything he knows.

“You know I can't fix your marriage, Charley,” Dr Berg said. He didn't seem surprised to see Charley back again.

“I know,” he said, and he does. But he also knows there's something here that he needs, wherever it's going to take him.

I went on trains and boats and planes, where love could never find me...

He doesn't know what it means to think of what he feels for Frank as love. Not in that way. He'd always known he loved Frank as a friend, but when Evelyn challenged him about it he didn't know what to say.

The idea of crossing a continent, or an ocean, to escape from his feelings makes no sense to him, though he knows from Oliver that's what the Englishman has done. These days, the longest journey Charley takes is from New Rochelle to the city and back, and it feels like visiting another world.

I never went away from you, I never went away...

He'll be late home tonight, and Evelyn won't say anything, because they're being careful around one another. She wants to be pleased for him that the work's going better, but he's not sure she really is. She still thinks he's hung up on Frank, that he won't ever break free from the past, any more than Mary has.

Whenever I would lose my way, without a star to guide me...

There's nothing to guide him now but the voice in his head that says Go on. That, and his work, because he's finally writing again, after months of being blocked. Writing words for someone else's music, which he swore he'd never do, after Frank, but which makes him feel alive. Writing a new show with Oliver Guy.

The kid's a force of nature, got to hand it to him. Charley had gone to see his revue and yes, it was half-assed and parts of it were terrible, but the music... If the boy had a good librettist to work with, there was no knowing what he might do.

Charley hadn't said that to him, of course; he wasn't about to get involved. He'd been cautiously encouraging, even as he felt mean for not saying more. But he hardly had to say anything: the merest hint of praise made the kid light up like the Fourth of July. Before Charley knew where he was, he'd agreed to let Oliver play him more of his music. One long afternoon later, with the neighbors pounding the wall of Oliver's fifth-floor walk-up, Charley was hooked.

It's not like working with Frank; nothing could be. Not even like working with the ghost of Frank. Oliver's young and keen and a damn good musician, and that's where it ends. But it feels good to have someone to share ideas with again, someone who hears his words in a different way. To be making a pattern and a rhythm together.

His agent doesn't like it, but he can go fuck himself. One good thing about all those years of Franklin Shepard, Inc., is that Charley can afford to experiment off-Broadway if he wants. He's earned the right not to give a rat's ass whether the new show is a hit. It's exhilarating, the freedom that comes from collaborating with someone who doesn't care about anything except making the best work they can.

Working on the new show is the thing that makes him want to get up in the mornings. Everything else is still messed up and painfully entangled, but the give and take of writing a song can make him forget all that for a while, or find a shape for it that makes it hurt less.

I tried to get away from you, the Englishman sings, to find myself a new love...

He doesn't think that will happen for him, even if he and Evelyn don't stay together. There'll always be a part of him that can't give up on Frank, can't let go, even though they'll probably never meet again, never be friends again.

But things can change, he knows, in ways you don't expect. He hadn't thought he and Mary would be back in touch again, and yet they are, ever since she wrote to him about Frank and he wrote back.

They haven't seen each other yet – she's been travelling in Europe, said she needed a change of scene. Maybe she and the Englishman crossed on their separate journeys, each of them looking for the same thing. She's due back in New York next month, and they're talking about getting together again.

He wonders if she'd like the Englishman's song, or if it'd be too close to the bone for her. It almost is for Charley, but there's a sharp pleasure in hearing that defeat given such a perfect form.

The song ends with a wistful piano postlude, and Oliver lets out a long breath.

“God, that's beautiful,” he says. “If I could write something that good –”

“You will,” Charley says. “I know you will.”

You should hear the kid's music, he'd written to Mary. It's kind of old-fashioned, but I like it. He's really got something.

Oliver whoops and cheers, and the Englishman bows slightly, acknowledging the applause. The glance that passes between him and Oliver makes Charley think it probably wasn't a woman he came to New York to forget. It tells him something he didn't know about Oliver, too, though that doesn't exactly come as a surprise.

Charley wonders if the Englishman will find what he's looking for, with Oliver or with someone else here: a different face, a warm embrace. He wishes the guy luck. New beginnings are possible, after all, even if you carry the past with you.


This is not RPF in the usual sense, but there are some similarities between characters and events in the story and real people and events:

The melancholy Englishman's song is Richard Rodney Bennett's "I Never Went Away"; there's no recording of RRB singing it on YouTube but it is on Spotify. I've borrowed the song and the fact of his move to New York in 1979, which some accounts say was prompted by the end of a long relationship. Bennett's obituary in the Guardian newspaper is here.

Charley's experience of working with Oliver Guy bears some similarities to Stephen Sondheim's account of how he emerged from the gloom that followed the failure of Merrily We Roll Along, though I had forgotten about this until after I wrote the fic:

"And, luckily, you know, my self-pity lasted just long enough for me to go downtown and see a play called Twelve Dreams by a young writer and director called James Lapine, and we wrote Sunday in the Park with George and I was writing again...

James had worked off-Broadway... and I got into that atmosphere, I mean, the minute we were working at Playwrights' Horizons I was just having a good time, and I'd made enough money from the other shows that I wasn't starving in a fifth-floor walk-up, and therefore I had the wherewithal to write something as experimental as Sunday in the Park with George."

(Interview with Graham Norton, BBC Radio, 24 November 2012)

Also posted at http://fengirl88.dreamwidth.org/104415.html with comment count unavailable comments.


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