AU: James Nicholls/Scott Fitzgerald
*Wow, this is the longest chapter I ever had to write.
*Drunk Fitzgerald is happy and sad and makes dirty jokes.
*Many thanks to Nata, who unintentionally inspired me for this plot.
*Also posted on AO3.
The walk back home ends up being simply a walk back home, because Jim would not allow Scott to step a foot in his apartment. And of course, that was exactly why Scott wanted to walk Jim back home. Well, that and to spend more time with him. However, Jim stands between Scott and the door to his apartment.
“It’s not like I would care if your place is messy,” Scott says.
“Who says my apartment is untidy?” Jim raises one of his eyebrows as if offended. “I allowed you to walk me back home because you insisted, Mr. Fitzgerald. Now go socialize with your friends.”
Scott huffs out a laugh and throws his hands up as if surrendering and reluctantly agrees to leave. He was simply curious. He wanted to see where Jim lives and more so, how he lives. “At least now I know where you live,” he mutters.
“And I’m pretty certain that I can find where you live by simply asking a passerby in Paris, what with all your parties and friends you have,” Jim says with his voice playful.
Scott can’t help but laugh, happy to see Jim’s mood better than other days. “Well, I’ll see you later then. And thanks for spending the time with me this afternoon. And the talk… and everything else,” Scott’s voice wavered as he thought of the conversation at the café.
“And I also thank you, Scott, for everything. I have to admit, I haven’t talked with anyone for this long in quite a long time. We definitely haven’t known each other for long, but… I feel comfortable with you. And… I only hope that our meetings will continue in the future,” Jim fails to meet Scott’s eyes as he struggles to find the right word for their so called meetings. Friendship? Love? An affair?
The atmosphere that was filled with liveliness, all of a sudden, becomes an awkward silence and surrounds the both of them. For a short moment, their eyes turn to gaze on everything but each other.
“I really must get going now,” Scott’s hand reaches out and Jim mistakes it for a handshake and reaches out his hand just the same. But to his surprise, Scott’s hand lingers over his cheek for a moment, so close from feeling the warmth of his reddened face, only to have it lowered to give a gentle squeeze on the shoulder instead. Embarrassed, Jim quickly withdraws his hand.
“See you again soon, Jim,” Scott throws him a gentle smile and turns to go down the stairs.
As Jim hears the sound of Scott’s footsteps fading away, he turns around to rest his head on the door, or more like butt his head on it in frustration. He regrets being hesitant. Oh, and of course, he had to mix up the sign of affection for a mere handshake!
“Jim Nicholls, you fool,” Jim mutters to himself.
Jim stares at the ceiling in the dark without being able to fall asleep. It’s been five days since he’s seen Scott, not that he’s counting days. He’s not sure if he should be worried or angry, or not care about it at all. He’s been to the park every day since their last “meeting,” but Scott was nowhere to be seen. Of course, he didn’t go to the park to meet Scott. He goes to the park every day anyways to find peace away from his nightmares.
Nightmares. Surprisingly, Jim hasn’t had nightmares for nearly a week now. He thinks it’s because he’s been distracted with other thoughts. Thoughts other than war and death. Jim is thankful for this distraction and only wants this distraction to continue.
Jim thinks about Scott. Maybe he’s busy. This afternoon, he almost had the urge to ask about Scott to his neighbor downstairs, a middle-aged British woman who enjoys gossips more than anything else. Of course, he didn’t. He must be busy with his writings.
Jim knows he’s over thinking, that he’s over reacting, but it’s been so long, so long since he’s felt anything like this. This feeling that delights him also scares him. He’s not sure if he should push it away before it gets any deeper or reach out and grab onto it. He’s just not sure and not being able to hear from Scott, without any other means of communication besides Scott’s surprise visits to the park, doesn’t help at all.
With a deep sigh, Scott forces his eyes shut.
“It is an honor to ride beside you. Let everyman make himself, his king, his country, and his fallen comrades proud. Be brave!”
His heart beats strong and despite all the men and horses riding alongside him, all he can hear is his own breathing. He can see the tip of his sword shaking as his hand starts trembling uncontrollably. He sees the machine guns so close, right in front of him. Men around him fall from their horses lifeless by the time they reach the ground. His lips are dry. It’s going to be okay, he told himself. It’s going to be okay, he told Joey. The sound of the machine guns being fired is frighteningly loud and close. And all of a sudden, pain spreads through his leg, his body. He can’t see the Germans with machine guns anymore. Instead, he sees the clear sky. Such a beautiful day, he thinks. His voice is ragged and he whimpers in pain. He’s scared. And he’s ashamed of his fear. Jamie wanted us to be brave. He wanted me to be brave, he tells himself. And despite the searing pain and the creeping cold, his heart becomes heavy with dread. It wasn’t fear. It was more than that. Jamie. He was leading right beside him. Jamie. Everything hurts and he has trouble breathing. The clear sky blurs. The sound of gun shots never stops. It never stops.
Jim wakes in the dark drenched in his own tears and sweat. The sound of the machine guns was still ringing loudly in his ears. His body trembles in fear. It never stops. The war may have been over, but it never let Jim out of its grasp, never. And he has to live through it every day for the rest of his life. He lets out a sob as sharp pains spread through his leg. The gun shots. They’re peculiarly loud tonight. Jim winces as he buries his face on his hands. He can’t go back to sleep with this noise and pain.
Jim raises his head from his hand as he realizes, all of a sudden, the noise is gone. It usually fades away in time, but never all at once, especially when the noise was as loud as tonight. And he jumps as he hears a voice grumbling and whining.
“Jim… let me in… why are you… open the door…”
If Jim’s not mistaken that voice belongs to Scott. And his voice is coming from the door outside. And slowly, Jim realizes that the loud noise wasn’t a remnant of his nightmare, but the sound of someone banging on his door. With a cringe, Jim reaches for his pocket watch placed next to his pillow to check the time. It’s four in the bloody morning!
Jim gets up from his bed and carefully sets his feet on the floor, not to worsen his pain anymore, and walks to the door. He can still hear Scott mumbling something incoherently. As he opens the door, Scott loses his balance and falls. He must have been sitting on the ground, leaning on the door. Jim doesn’t know how to react to this. Clearly Scott drank too much tonight. The smell of strong alcohol and cigarette fills Jim’s nose. He tries to frown, but for some reason, his lips keep curling upwards.
“What are you doing here in this late of an hour?”
Still spread out on the floor, Scott stares at Jim for the longest time without speaking a word and gives him the sweetest, brightest smile. “I miss… you. Missed… have been missing… you,” Scott mumbles again as he struggles to get up from the floor.
With a sigh, Jim helps Scott up and carries, actually more like drags, him inside the apartment. Well, damn it, Jim curses. There is no place for Scott to lie down. Unfortunately, the bedroom was the only option.
Jim neither thought it necessary to have a spare room nor decent furniture for the small apartment. His apartment consisted only of a small kitchen and a bedroom. A coffee table with a chair, a dresser and a bed were the only furniture he had. Jim honestly never thought this place would have visitors one day.
Jim bites his lips and holds back his moan as the pain spreads through his leg carrying Scott into the bedroom who was now heavily leaning on him. As he places Scott on the bed, Jim sits on the edge to rub his now numb leg.
“Damn it, I’m sorry. I forgot… your leg.”
At the sound of Scott’s voice, Jim turns to meet his surprisingly bright eyes, eyes almost too bright for a drunken man. With a groan, Scott sits up and places his hands on Jim’s leg. Jim can see the smile on Scott’s face as he accidentally lets out a gasp. He knows he should stop him, tell him that he can take care of it himself, but he can’t. He can’t, because Scott’s gentle hands, rubbing and pressing the part of his leg where Jim’s hands were before, actually take away his pain. And it feels good to have the pain go away.
After a few minutes in silence, Scott finally moves his hands from Jim’s leg and leans heavily on the bedside wall.
“Thank you,” Jim says quietly. Scott simply fixes his eyes on him.
“Come on, you can ask me.”
Scott’s voice is raspy unlike his usual smooth voice. And Jim realizes that Scott looks awfully tired tonight. His eyes were red and his face was no longer the usual playful face of Scott’s. Jim forces out a smile and chides him.
“Scott, what were you thinking coming to my house at this ungodly hour? And you’re drunk.”
“I’m not drunk. If I was drunk, I wouldn’t be sitting here just talking you. I would do much more, especially now that we’re in bed together,” Scott answers with a smirk.
Jim’s eyes widen and suddenly he’s not sure if it’s the room temperature that’s rising or just his face. He turns to glare at Scott’s grinning face.
“Are you usually this vulgar to people close to you or is this the drunken you talking? Also if you’re not drunk as you say so, how come you can’t even walk on your own?” Jim crosses his arms as he questions the other man.
“I’m not drunk. I just got tired from walking all the way to your place, that’s all,” Scott shamelessly throws a smile to Jim who was now staring at him incredulously.
“Well, why are you here then, Scott, instead of going home?”
Scott grabs his heart dramatically and cries out, “ouch”. Jim smiles and shakes his head at the man’s reaction. He can tell something’s amiss about Scott tonight, but he’s not sure whether or not he should ask about it.
Carefully, Jim moves to sit next to Scott, who’s been silently watching him. Their shoulders touch. As Jim turns his head to meet the other man’s eyes, he has to hold his breath realizing just how close Scott’s face is to his, only mere inches away. Scott’s breath tickles his face and Jim lightly coughs as the smell of alcohol becomes stronger being so close to him. Jim turns his gaze away as he sees Scott’s tongue flicker out to wet his dry lips.
“I came here because I don’t feel at home at my own house anymore,” Scott says with a heavy sigh as he rubs his face with his hand. “I can’t stay home without pleading and begging Zelda not to… not to go crazy. Last night, she suddenly thought it was a good idea to burn all her old clothes in the bathtub. There’s no stopping her these days. I can’t get anything done there. Every minute I spend at home I lose hope, Jim. I lose hope that eventually everything will get better. It only gets worse and worse. I’m not sure how long both of us endure this kind of pain.”
Scott blankly stares down at his hands. “There are so much of her in my works. I mean, how can you not? How can you not write about someone who never leaves your heart, who constantly remains there? Zelda keeps all the letters, you know, at home. She never throws any of the letters away. And for some foolish reason, I decided to go through some of the letters today. And I… I felt so much… so much of everything. Look at me now. Look at me! I’m not happy. I’m not satisfied. I feel… empty inside. And I know I shouldn’t. I have a lovely wife and a loving child and I have friends. I have everything. But do I really have everything? Do I? It wasn’t like this, Jim. It was never like this. And I fear that I’ll never be able to make her happy. I fear… I fear I do not feel for her as I felt for her in the past.”
Jim winces in pain as Scott hides his face under his hands to swallow his sobs. He carefully places his hand on Scott’s shaking shoulders. He damns himself for not beingable to think of any wise words for consolation. After much hesitation, Jim lowers his hand to Scott’s back and gently rubs it up and down, hoping this would bring at least a small comfort to him.
“Scott, I… I honestly don’t know what to say. And I’m not the best person to be giving you advice. I’m a coward, Scott, I really am. I ran away. Instead of facing my fears and my pain and trying to move on like many others who came back from war, I ran, because I didn’t want to let go. Because I was too scared to face this world without… without that person I cared for so much. And I came to Paris holding onto everything that I should have let go. And those memories, they were my only companion ever since I came here. They visit me every night. They show me the battles. They show me the faces of my friends who died so young. They show me how I was shot. They show me how the person I love fell. And they tell me to stay. Whenever I try to get up from my bed, whenever I try to eat, whenever I try to go out, they tell me to stay, to stay where I was years ago. They tell me not to change. They tell me and I listen. And I don’t eat and I don’t go out. I lock myself up, I hide myself in these sheets, and I stay,” Jim clears his throat trying to keep his emotions away. He forces out a smile as Scott finally looks up from his hands to face Jim.
“It’s been so long, since I had someone near me, someone to help me out to the world that I was too afraid to face. And I honestly thought I would die eventually swallowed by those memories. And then, something unexpected happened just about a week ago. I met someone and I felt something. It was an incredible feeling. I felt something that I haven’t felt for years that made me realize that I’m still alive and breathing in this world that I was left to live.”
Jim holds Scott’s hands, wet with his tears. He still doesn’t really know what he’s saying and why he’s saying all this nonsense, but it hurts to see Scott like this and he really wants the hurt to stop.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is… You shouldn’t hold onto something of the past. You have to let go and the sooner you accept the change, the better. I know better than anyone else that it hurts. It hurts to let go of the past, especially when it was so much brighter and happier than now, and you worry that by letting it go, you’re going to forget it all, but no. You can still remember it and honor it without grasping onto it like that’s your only way to survive this world. If you don’t let go, even those good memories become tainted and they become poisonous to you. It will only hurt you in the end, Scott. You have to let go of what needs to be gone, even if it’s something you love so dearly. And this applies to me as much as it does to you.”
Jim swallows the hurt and the bitterness. He feels foolish. It was a terrible advice coming from a terrible person, because really, Jim was the most stubborn in following this advice. He simply blocked it out for the past few years until he became a living dead who lives not in the present but trapped in the past, until he met Scott.
“Thank you,” Jim wakes from his thoughts as he once again sees Scott’s tired face smiling back at him. He looks exhausted, Jim thinks as he watches the other man wipe the tears off his face.
“You really need get some sleep, Scott,” and Scott nods in agreement. And that’s when Jim realizes that Scott’s still fully dressed in his nice suit. God, he must have been uncomfortable. And Jim blames himself for not knowing this earlier when he was carrying him into the bedroom.
Without thinking further, Jim urges Scott to undress. Oh, and the dirty look Scott gave him afterwards. This surely must be the drunken Scott, because sober Scott, though always playful, has never been indecent, yet.
Jim opens his dresser to find a set of more comfortable clothes for Scott to sleep in. Scott is nearly the same height and size as him, so there will be no problem with the clothes fitting.
Jim feels just as emotionally drained as Scott. And he knows that the exhaustion comes from showing his hurt to Scott. To uncover a wound that’s been covered for so long. However, in the long run, it’s better to have the wound properly fixed than cover it up.
As he sits on the edge of the bed waiting for Scott to undress, he simply lets his gaze fall wherever, which happens to end on Scott’s hands. Jim’s eyes follow the movement as Scott takes his jacket off, unties his tie, unbuttons his shirt, and unbuckles his belt and-
Jim blinks in confusion as Scott’s hands simply stay on the belt buckle instead of undoing it. One of his hands trails all the way up to Scott’s lips and finally Jim’s eyes focus not on his hand, but on Scott. And there’s that playful smirk again.
“Now what was it you said about being vulgar? Jim, at least try to hide your darkest desires. You’re too obvious right now,” Scott giggles his voice hoarse from crying.
Jim rolls his eyes, “Scott, if you don’t hurry up and change, I’ll hurry up and kick you out my apartment.”
Now that Scott let everything out by means of getting drunk and breaking into Jim’s apartment at four in the morning, Scott face does seem to have lighten up a bit, although he still looked awfully tired. And Jim can’t help but smile as he witnessed the transition of sad drunk Scott becoming a happy drunk Scott. Jim makes sure that Scott is comfortably settled on his bed before turning to head out to the kitchen.
“Where are you going?” Scott asks from behind.
“I’m going to make some coffee,” Jim replies gently.
“You’re not going to sleep?” Scott sits up from the bed with a cringe on his face.
“Well, I’m afraid I can’t. I don’t have a spare bed or a sofa-“
“Jim, just stop and come over here. I know you’re just as exhausted as I am. It’s your bed! You have all the right to sleep here more than me. Now come before I drag you, and don’t’ think I can’t because I can’t walk so straight right now,” and Scott giggles once more.
Jim stands still in the middle of the room for few long seconds not sure if this is a good idea or not. Finally with a deep sigh, Jim carefully walks towards the bed. The bed was too small for two grown men. Jim shakes his head as Scott pats on the other half of the bed with a bright smile on his face. Once again, their shoulders touch as they lay in bed together. The presence of someone else in bed surprisingly brings comfort to his mind. It’s been so long, so long, he thinks.
“Scott, is your wife at home?”
“She was out partying with some people last night, but I’m pretty sure she’s home by now.”
“Scott, I wasn’t telling you to end your relationship right away with your wife. If there’s a space for making it right, to fix it, you should. Ending your marriage should be the last option, alright? I don’t want you to break what you have with your wife.”
“It’s already broken, Jim.”
Scott’s words were being drawled as he falls asleep. And Jim decides to not go any further with the discussion at least for now. As Jim finally closes his tired eyes to get some sleep, this time Scott mutters something close to his ears.
“We are all writing our stories as we live. We have comedies and we have tragedies. The beauty of such stories, Jim, is that we are healed through sharing our stories. Now you and I know that we are not alone in this world. Actually, it’s quite the opposite, isn’t it? Your tragedy and mine connect us together and we no longer feel disconnected from the world. At least I don’t feel so isolated now, because of you. So once again, thank you.”
Scott’s voice is pleasant to listen to and his words are comforting to Jim though he’s not sure if he’s understood every word as he drifts off to sleep. He feels a warm hand touch his cheek and he smiles at the strange, but familiar gesture.