aria: ([slings & arrows] vex not his ghost)
valinor spider party ([personal profile] aria) wrote2009-07-12 01:22 pm

people you've just met

Today I bring unsolicited DVD commentary for And Count Myself a King of Infinite Space. It is only thinly masquerading as DVD commentary, though, and when it grows up it mostly wants to be an essay about Billy Tallent. Right now, though, it mostly exists in demonstration of the fact that I have watched both Slings & Arrows and Hard Core Logo enough that I can meta about both of them with reasonable intelligence.

I ... really don't know how this story came into being. I do know it had very little to do with "I think others of Paul Gross and Callum Keith Rennie's characters should hang out," because honestly if that was my motivation I would write a ridiculous ficlet about Newbie and Chris Cutter watching curling together or something. I think it had something to do with a specific image. I watched Hard Core Logo and promptly went looking for all the fic; somewhat to my surprise, I found more than one featuring ghost!Joe, and somewhere in there I had the idle thought that in a universe where Billy is being literally haunted, he might find it helpful to commiserate with Geoffrey Tennant. This in turn made me start thinking through the somewhat ridiculous thematic parallels, and then this whole fic just tumbled out unstoppably.

Ghost!Joe did still make it in, but only barely.

New Burbage, 1998: Geoffrey's been out in the world for six months, and he still hasn't decided whether he'd glad or not. He can't go to Yong's; he can't go to the neighborhood Ellen lives; he can't go to the neighborhood Oliver lives either, although that's easy, since Oliver lives in a tarted-up house practically on top of the Rose, and there's no way Geoffrey is going anywhere near the Festival. He could probably go down to the river, Oliver's Ganges North, except that he hears Oliver in his head and he still suspects the police might try to preemptively arrest him again so he doesn't do anything untoward to the swans.

Probably he should move away. Out of New Burbage, out of Ontario, to somewhere no one knows him or cares, where he might be free. But Geoffrey thinks of being away from Ellen, away from Oliver, someplace no one's heard of them, and he thinks no, without them he will melt, thaw, resolve himself into a dew, and he stays frozen in the same place he's been for fifteen fucking years.

A lot of this fic followed the wonderful formula of "Type. Reread what's written. Realize that my subconscious has apparently been working away at this, because I never thought of it before but I think it's true." In this case, I was surprised to discover that there really is a specific reason that Geoffrey's still in New Burbage despite his obvious avoidance of the Festival, and it has to do with the fact that even before Oliver starts haunting him, the past has its claws in him (or possibly the other way around) and he has no idea how to move on.

This is something the actual show resolves at the end of s3, and I made sure to set up the resolution and then make poor Geoffrey wait seven years for it. The important point, though, is that if you do know Slings & Arrows, then you know these things can and will be fixed eventually.

The doctors give him a note that says he'll be a good boy, but no one wants to rent to him. He tries the fan card once or twice, but it doesn't work, and for nearly a solid month he's back in the clinic every evening, apologizing to Janice the receptionist while she wearily rings to see if they have a free room.

Then he meets Cheryl. She's in the aisle of a grocery store, the run-down co-op he knows Oliver and Ellen would never think to go to. She gets a look of awe on her face, like she's seeing Geoffrey examining a head of lettuce and overlaying it with Yorick's skull; that's how he sees her, notices her knowing him. Part of Geoffrey wants to run from that look, but the rest of him hears her say the words I'll give you the room for free and he's so grateful he nearly weeps.

She has a house converted and forced into the feel of an apartment by the sheer commercialism of the town, but it's the material backlash against New-Burbage-the-gift-shop, filled with paintings and clutter and playbooks crammed into all the bookshelves. "The, um, the only thing," Cheryl says, when Geoffrey drags in his weary bones and thrift store clothes and the suitcased remnants of another life, "is I've got to rent it out to a few other people too. It's most of my income, Geoffrey."

"I can pay," Geoffrey tells her, sinking onto the couch. He likes the idea of stuffing all his old playbooks in with the ones on her shelves. "I haven't been spending much money recently, you know."

Oh, Geoffrey at of the beginning of s1! I am not quite sure what to do with him; is it his house that all those people are partying in? Probably -- after all, Oliver can find him in the phone book. On the other hand, it's a place you never see again; presumably he's living there for all of s1 and once he moves in with Ellen in s2 he gives it away, but Geoffrey also carries around with him this aura of homelessness; he's someone who's going to rent a place, and he's tethered to the Festival, not to a piece of property.

Cheryl, incidentally, is the name I am tentatively sure is actually correct for the woman who's Geoffrey's stage manager at the Theatre Sans Argent. I really loved her, all of the three or four times we saw her, worrying about the theatre and getting excited and kind of hating Geoffrey's crazy but liking him anyway and basically putting up with him. I'm glad I got to do something with her, although I'm not sure I did enough.

"Oh, no, no," Cheryl assures him. She's comfortably round, cheerful-faced, wears bright colors. By six months, Geoffrey's paying half the rent he should, but he's paying. "I just thought you should know, we're going to have other people in the house sometimes. Sometimes actors."

The people in the touring studio productions at the Festival. Geoffrey knows.

"It's fine," he tells her. "I'm fine with people." Now.



The first few boarders they have are completely unmemorable. A man writing a book about the Festival; Geoffrey avoids him as much as possible. Four girls, young and waifish and full of energy and enthusiasm, part of the dance troupe that's presumably performing in one of the Festival's black box theatres. And then.

The day he comes, Cheryl's out. She's scouting warehouses for a feasible space for the theatre she and Geoffrey are considering. For Geoffrey it's mostly still somewhere beyond a pipe dream, more like a half-drunken suggestion he's liable to make over the beer he downs to get through Cheryl's late-night-news and hockey-watching habit. But even if the idea still seems a little alcohol-fuzzed to him, he likes it. People are more likely to rent a space to Cheryl; Geoffrey stays home, reading through their extensive play collection, dreaming up low-budget set designs.

When the doorbell rings, he answers it. He doesn't want to. He hates people. But he has to live in the world, so Geoffrey opens the door.

Oh Jesus, is the first thing he thinks. Guitar case, long-fingered hands, touch of jewelry, beat-up leather jacket, spiky blond hair, and the crowning touch, a slightly-too-pretty face with exactly the air of haunted defiance that's impossible to fake. The man's breath puffs momentarily silver in the cold autumn air, and Geoffrey's still standing there, speechless at the door while the chill creeps into the house. He's never wanted anyone but Ellen in his life, but for a split second he's rocked to the core by -- by --

Recognition. I wasn't actually tempted to ship Geoffrey and Billy, because while there is probably a time and a place for that, and whatever and wherever it is, I am so there, this was not it. This particular story is a lot about them really honestly loving Joe and Oliver and being completely incapable of dealing with the way Joe and Oliver love them back; in that context, if Billy and Geoffrey became involved sexually, it would be ... dishonest to those feelings, I think.

This is also the part where I kind of keyboard a little and mention that I really, really love Billy Tallent. I also felt a little funny writing him from Geoffrey's POV, because a lot of Geoffrey's assessments of him (especially the pre-context ones) are not mine at all, although I have seen plenty readings of Billy that are similar to Geoffrey's. Poor Billy, I really just love him for the meta and multifacetedness and the way I get a different damn reading of him every time I watch HCL.

"Hi," Geoffrey says, and tries an ill-fitting smile. Basil will want to give him a write-up for poor performance. "Can I help you?"

"Yeah. Billy Tallent," the man says, and there's something strangely symmetrical in the cadence of it, like Geoffrey's name through a funhouse mirror, covered in glamour. Or it could just be a name. Geoffrey's not entirely comfortable with the diagnosis of sanity they've given him yet. Billy Tallent shifts his grip on the guitar case and holds out a hand, which Geoffrey takes, again a beat too late.

"Geoffrey Tennant," Geoffrey says, and identifies the symmetry of the cadence for what it is: both of them say their names like they expect to be recognized.

Billy Tallent blinks, once, the smallest of signifiers, but Geoffrey catches it regardless: Billy, at least, knows his name. But he just shakes Geoffrey's hand, quick, wanting as little contact as Geoffrey does. "I hear you've got rooms?"

Billy almost certainly never heard of Geoffrey prior to arriving in New Burbage; I'm pretty sure Billy gives fuck-all about live theatre, especially Shakespeare. Billy's actually been in town a couple of days already, staying at a motel or something, and has heard of Geoffrey via various gossipy rumors about his breakdown and subsequent re-release into society. This mostly makes it into the narrative later, albeit via a hunch of Geoffrey's.

It occurs to me now that I never do give a good in-text reason for why the hell Billy's in New Burbage. I think I may have had a vague idea that Joe bullied him into it, back when ghost!Joe was actually a significantly functional part of the story (and, what, psychic or something? like Joe would know and/or care that Geoffrey might be psychologically helpful) -- but maybe Jenifur were playing in Buffalo, and Billy fucked off to the first convenient decent-sized not-Toronto place across the border? I really have no idea! I don't think it really matters, but it was still sloppy of me.

"That's right." Geoffrey clears his throat and shuffles aside awkwardly to let Billy in. "We're used to actors and, uh, musicians being in and out quickly, so it's only a little up front and we rent by the week. You can move in today if you like it."

Billy takes a step inside, gives the cluttered front room a cursory once-over, and says, "Sounds great. How much?"


Cheryl acts normal over dinner, while Billy orders in from Yong's and retreats to his new room, but as soon as he's gone, she turns to Geoffrey with huge eyes and says, "Oh my God, Geoffrey, Billy Tallent!"

Geoffrey leans his chair back on two legs and finishes off the last microwaved waffle. "Stage name?" he guesses.

Cheryl has suds halfway up her arms. She looks as blank as though Geoffrey has suddenly proposed something outrageous enough to be worthy of Darren Nichols. "Geoffrey," she says, very slowly and carefully, "Billy Tallent. I know you've been out of the world and I know you don't listen to music, but you've heard of Jenifur, right? The band?"

"Some of us don't even listen to the radio," Geoffrey says unconcernedly, leaning further back. He wonders if one of the chair legs will break.

"Okay," Cheryl says, shaking her head in despair. "What about Hard Core Logo?" Geoffrey shrugs eloquently. She sighs. "Geoffrey, I know you don't listen to the radio, but you do watch the news sometimes, right?"

"Only with you," Geoffrey says wryly.

That draws a laugh from her, and Cheryl turns back to the dishes. Geoffrey cautiously brings the chair's front legs back down to the floor, wondering if they're done here, if it's time for him to resume his note-taking in the margins of a Stoppard anthology he bought used over the weekend, when Cheryl suddenly goes still, epiphany-still. The chair legs come down with a thump, but Geoffrey doesn't get up; waits. "I just remembered," Cheryl says, apparently to a chipped and soapy mug that probably says ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE or something equally obnoxious, "it happened in, um, the fall of '96. You wouldn't have been watching the news."

This was just a really awesome bit of synchronicity. My basic dating-things-fictionally rule is to look up release date and assume that's the year of the main story events unless it's otherwise specified -- which means HCL happened in 1996 (although I guess the intertitles in the post-film credits suggest a year or two has passed) and if s1 Slings & Arrows is 2003, seven years previously makes it, pretty neatly, also 1996. Maybe I've messed with the timelines a bit, but as little as to make no difference, and I kind of adore the idea of their lives falling apart within a few months of each other.

Geoffrey swallows a half-hysterical chuckle. "No," he agrees. "What happened?"

Cheryl shrugs. "His last band broke up. There was a death and big mess, and there's this documentary of it and everything. Kind of a big deal for about a year. He was in the States, though, that's the Jenifur thing. Did he say what he was doing up here?"

"No," Geoffrey says, standing. "I didn't ask. And now I'm going to write some notes and not listen to your horrible gossip." He presses a friendly kiss to her hair, and leaves her laughing again behind him. Christ. Let people live their lives. But Cheryl means well, and nearly five months in the same house as Geoffrey haven't quite trained her out of a fascination with drama, even though by now she's more than comfortable yelling at him for not putting his dishes away.


Uncounted hours later, Geoffrey's eyes are aching, his image reflected back at him from the window against the dark outside, and he's too full of ideas to slow his brain enough for sleep. Too few months ago, this would mean lying on his back in his bed, staring at the white ceiling until all of the blank spaces were filled with Oliver and Ellen fucking, until he fell into restless sleep, all his muscles aching with tense exhaustion. Now he has a whole house and town and world to banish his bad dreams. He crawls out of bed and wanders downstairs.

I kind of made the title less subtle at the end because I felt like it, but it's basically contained here: Geoffrey has a whole house and town and world, but he can't banish the bad dreams. I kind of love some of Hamlet's lines of their sheer applicability to Geoffrey. (And equally to Billy in this instance, but I think he would loathe being bound into a nutshell. That statement scans at a lot of levels, wow.)

There's a light on in the front room. Geoffrey stops in the doorway. Billy Tallent, he sees, curled up on the couch like a kid, reading one of Cheryl's playbooks one-handed, the other holding a cigarette. The strange familiarity-unfamiliarity of the tableau catches for a moment in Geoffrey's chest, and he retreats to the kitchen for a beer. He stands in front of the open refrigerator for too long, listening to the white hum, before heading back out.

I am sure there have been too many late nights where Geoffrey's shuffled out of bed to find Ellen on the couch, smoking and going over her lines. I'm really delighted with the way that Geoffrey can variously identify with Billy and project both Ellen and Oliver on him at certain points, but I like the Ellen-projection most. So maybe subconsciously I did want to ship them a little.

I also have this kind of ridiculous habit of giving poor CKR's characters mild substance abuse to telegraph emotions. With RayK, it's coffee. With Billy, it's cigarettes.

Billy has evidently heard him moving around, because when Geoffrey passes through the living room doorway, their eyes catch. Geoffrey pauses. "Hey."

"Hi," Billy says, leaning back, his eyes narrow: studied laziness. "Can't sleep?"

"No," Geoffrey admits, taking the implied invitation and coming into the room. He settles into an armchair, uncapping his beer and taking a long swallow. Mellows him out on hockey nights, does a world of good for insomnia too. He looks up at Billy. Billy's watching him inscrutably. "Can't read anymore either. It feels like my eyeballs will fall out."

Billy snorts softly, fumbling in his pocket and pulling out his pack of cigarettes. He lights up another, not looking away from Geoffrey. "I thought maybe Shakespeare would put me to sleep."

"Not if it's done right," Geoffrey says automatically.

"Maybe," Billy returns, an abstracted noise. He's going through his smoke fast, like he needs it to calm down, and he still hasn't looked away. But he's not really looking at Geoffrey, not right at Geoffrey, and Geoffrey gets it, one of those stupid fucking jolts he shouldn't have to need; actors are selfish people is a bullshit excuse. He's no good at hiding at the best of times, especially not like this, too tired and with the beginnings of a buzz, and Billy sees it, sees the moment Geoffrey realizes. He gives a bitter little chuckle. "Fuck that, don't worry about it," he says. Third cigarette. "Tell me about Shakespeare or something."

I don't quite know how I feel about this bit. I knew there had to be some point, fairly early on, when Geoffrey starts figuring out some of the specific nature of Billy's fucked-up-ness, if not the underlying causes, and react as well as possible. I also needed to mention that Billy's stopped drinking again; the point is that he might still be ridiculously screwed up but he is at some level coping. Just as Geoffrey's happy ending kind of necessitates Oliver being gone for real, Billy's probably better off without Joe around. But I don't know how well any of that came through here, and it's definitely not a fault of Geoffrey's POV because there's no way Billy would've been any more cognizant of it.

Geoffrey mostly wants to go throw his beer away. He makes a meaningless gesture and starts to rise.

"Fuck, or something," Billy says, harshly, and Geoffrey sits back down with a thump, pulled in by the shocking gravity of momentary honesty. Billy flicks ash onto the sofa. "Actors. What do actors do when they can't sleep?"

Heh. In a different fic, this would be a signal to start the foreplay.

Instead, here's a thing about Billy, something Geoffrey's been very conscious of: he acts. This isn't particularly weird and it doesn't strike me as duplicitous in any way, because in HCL when Billy says things that are calculated, he's pretty obviously saying them for a camera. Unlike the other guys, who for various reasons don't have any motivation to not be perfectly candid, Billy has this other thing to go back to and is concerned about the future and his self-image. This doesn't make him a liar, just pretty damn smart for the first forty minutes or so; what it does mean, though, is that any genuine naked honesty from him is basically a two-by-four. For the record, I do think that in the space of time during which Billy thought the Jenifur gig had fallen through and he agreed to stay on with Joe indefinitely, he really did mean it; that's part of why the reversal is so awful to me. Because when Billy means something, he means it, so that even people like Geoffrey Tennant get sucked into the gravity well of belief.

Drink. Run lines. "Sleep with each other," Geoffrey says, the third thought coming out of his mouth when he'd meant the second one to. Damn it all.

"Musicians too," Billy says, and looks at him narrowly, like he's caught on that Geoffrey's indulging the small talk and has a polite stranglehold on the neck of his beer bottle. "Bet you figured that one."

"There are certain assumptions," Geoffrey admits. He feels the surreal precipice opening up in his mind don'ttalkaboutEllen and for a moment he sees it reflected in Billy's face, sees the echo of a moment torn out and empty, passionless. Geoffrey raises his beer reflexively and aborts the motion. "What else?" he asks, helpless.

Billy looks at him for a long moment. Tilts his head back, breathes out smoke. "Word games," he says. "Say a movie, take the last letter, say another starting with that one, keep going until you can't remember anymore with Rs and Es and Ss."

Do lots of movie titles end in Rs and Es and Ss? I have no idea, but I do have a vague recollection of trying to play this game somewhere in the distant road-tripping past and getting fed up with those letters pretty quickly.

I love the movie-title-game bits of HCL to death. There's no real reason to carry it over to this fic, though, except because I like it and because it means Billy's still being honest.

"I don't know very many," Geoffrey says.

"Fuck," Billy says, looking back over at Geoffrey. There's the faintest twitch of a smile about his lips. "Try anyway."


In the morning Billy wants to look at rehearsal spaces with them. Cheryl agrees with every appearance of nonchalance, but over their communal eggs and toast she gives Billy so many curious sideways looks that he finally snaps, "Ask it."

"Where's the rest of Jenifur?" she asks, with reflexive obedience. Something about Billy Tallent goes straight to the hindbrain. Geoffrey grins into his orange juice.

"Writing," Billy says, smooth and practiced. "We're done with the last tour, and we don't start recording until next month. I don't write; I get vacation time."

"And you miss Canada?" Cheryl asks, like she already knows the answer.

"Yeah," Billy says, giving it to her with the perfect easy smile. Geoffrey finishes his eggs and ignores Polonius muttering in his head.

Polonius, of course, giving his endless lines of advice about being dishonest and shrewdly political. It's not very fair of Geoffrey to think that, though -- for one thing, Polonius is a transparent failboat and Billy's nothing if not layers of opaque. Also, at this point, none of Billy's practiced answers are particularly about looking good or ingratiating himself to anyone; they're a defense mechanism.

Billy goes outside for a smoke while Cheryl and Geoffrey do the dishes in a quick, cursory way, and they all head out in Cheryl's old clunker to look for warehouse rehearsal space.


Two days of looking. Cheryl decides Billy's their good luck charm. Geoffrey thinks the guy they convince to rent out to them must have a screw loose or really want the money: they're too fucking motley for respectable. Cheryl on her own might be a convincingly responsible tenant, but with Geoffrey and Billy ranged behind her, messy-haired and unshaven in their too-soft dark threadbare clothes, it's a miracle it only takes them two days.

Why yes, I am fond of the fact that Paul Gross apparently woke up one morning and went, "You know what, that two-days-of-stubble look works damn well for CKR; I'm going to try it too!" Also I am way too charmed by the image of the two of them following this earnest cheerful woman around, looking entirely disreputable.

"Could I practice in here?" Billy asks while Cheryl's off signing the papers, he and Geoffrey standing alone in the respectably large concrete space. He gestures to the space at large, trailing a line of smoke from his hand. "Acoustic is fine for a while, but I brought my amp, and --"

"Sure," Geoffrey says. "Cheryl's insane anyway. I don't know what I want to stage. I don't know who would let me direct them. We're the penniless theatre, Christ, theatre sans argent, we'd be a fucking hit in Montreal ..."

Foreshadowing. I think that whenever I write something that takes place pre-canon, I can't resist dropping little signposts like this so the audience remember where the canon will eventually go.

Billy shrugs loosely but offers no opinion. Geoffrey can guess. Billy spent most of yesterday playing downstairs, while Geoffrey came up with and crumpled away more set designs, took notes, watched his hands shake because what is he doing, God, what makes him want to do theatre again? But he knows the answer. And he thinks he might know Billy's answer too, to the unasked question, is all this fucking stupidity even worth it, because in the evening Geoffrey went out and stopped by the record store, learned a bit about Jenifur, and then came home to Billy in the front room, so totally absorbed in his music that he didn't even register Geoffrey coming in. Geoffrey knows the score and the balance, the way sometimes, impossibly, art can be made within the system. Knows how nice it is to stay there, in the warm.

This is important. Because Geoffrey is all about the artistic integrity, pretty much to the exclusion of all else, and quite honestly he's completely unequipped to make the corrupt commercialized places give the sort of artistic integrity he needs -- but sometimes art can be made within the system. Before Geoffrey left and Oliver started just going through the motions, they managed it -- Oliver in his coffin says to Geoffrey, "I think ... I moved people," and I'm sure that's true. Geoffrey during Slings & Arrows proper manages it too, with Hamlet and then with Macbeth, until at the beginning of s3 it gets too big and isn't about the art anymore. Geoffrey can't sustain it, but he knows how nice it is to be making art in a clean and sanctioned space instead of in a dirty warehouse with no one coming to your shows.

Which brings me to the Billy Hollywood charge. It's kind of easy to take it as written, Billy the smooth-talking sell-out, but I think that's a reading that ... takes Joe on faith, maybe. It's great to get caught up in Joe's notions of never selling out (which may or may not have to do with artistic integrity or fear of success or ... I'm really not sure; ironically I find Billy much easier to parse) but it's also nice to know where your next paycheck is coming from and not accidentally lose the whole night's revenue to hookers, y'know? So Billy is making an effort at being a sane adult; I suspect this is equivalent to selling out in Joe's world, but, um, Joe and the real world are not good friends. Whether or not Jenifur is all corrupt commercialism and no artistic integrity, we never get any answer at all; they're just successful.

And the main thing is, Billy loves the music. I'm entirely firm on this point: whatever else he's doing or whatever shit is going on, Billy still wants and loves the music. That's what Geoffrey recognizes here; that's the real artistic integrity, and a point of connection even if they never actually talk about it.

He slouches against the wall next to Billy. "I guess we're stuck here," he says, meaning until Cheryl's done with the papers, meaning ... he doesn't know.

Billy shrugs again, lighting another smoke off the end of the old one. It's a strangely Ellen gesture, kicking Geoffrey back into quiet spaces outside the stage door, in the back lot where the suits hadn't bothered to come through and tart it up for the guests: Ellen, leaning on the metal frame of the door, going nervously through a whole carton of fags in the brief space between run-through and the first trickling-in of the opening night crowd, evening settling in around them and the smoke melting into the strange-colored sky.

"Gone somewhere?" Billy asks softly, and Geoffrey is in a downstairs theatre, musty, mid-afternoon sunlight coming in through the high-up windows. Billy's watching him with a strange momentary flare in his eyes, and his fingers, half-curled in front of his mouth with the smoke a thin line between them, are suddenly shockingly graceful. Musician's fingers.

"Remembering," Geoffrey says, and Billy just nods, watching him with a quiet kinetic stillness Geoffrey's never seen anywhere else. It's fucking magic, draws the words out of him into the well of Billy's gravity, even though between his brain and his mouth they lose something. "But yours are American."

Billy understands anyway, pulls off a little and regards the cigarette between his fingertips like it means something. "It's fucking stupid. They cost more." He twists sideways and stubs it out against the concrete wall. "But it doesn't ... What do they call it. A sense-memory thing."

"Yeah," Geoffrey says wryly. He knows exactly what Billy means.

I opened a blank Word document and this was the first scene I wrote. This is one of those fun moments when Billy's Ellen but Billy's also Geoffrey and Joe is Ellen. That's not confusing at all, right? I also have this weird fondness for the notion that Joe and Ellen smoke the same brand of Canadian cigarettes, so Billy stocked up on a completely different kind while in LA, and both he and Geoffrey are quietly fervently grateful of the difference.


The next few days, he's brainstorming with Cheryl about cheap advertising, their first production, whether she's sure she wants to be a stage manager. She's sure. She's excited. Geoffrey gets excited too.

Billy mostly keeps out of their way; he'll turn up for breakfast, then vanish to their new rehearsal space like it's now an assumed part of his rent. Geoffrey finds himself finding ways to talk with him, small moments of quiet on the stairs, another too-late night playing the movie game. (Geoffrey runs out of ideas in about five minutes and starts naming Shakespeare plays. Billy makes a loud buzzer noise, obnoxious prick that he is, and he won't shut up until Geoffrey punches him in the arm. Then Billy laughs, a bright honest sound that catches in Geoffrey's chest again.) There's something about Billy that Geoffrey hasn't had in two years -- longer, maybe. Everything he remembers now about Ellen and Oliver feel like lies. The idea of someone understanding him, unassumed and demanding nothing but a return of attention, twists inside Geoffrey into some strange shape resembling joy.

I don't want to say "This is the point where they start to get better" because this is a fic about hope more than change, and they don't really start to get better, but there is a ... thaw here. Geoffrey's allowing himself to be genuinely happy in someone's company. They're finding ways to communicate. Because of course if someone started making the obnoxious buzzer noise at Geoffrey, Geoffrey's first reaction would be to shut them up verbally -- if he punches Billy's arm, that's the childish reaction, it's contact and it's connection. This is Billy allowing himself to be genuinely happy in someone's company too.

He realizes, almost a week into Billy's stay, that he needs to know.

He goes back to the record store, and asks after Hard Core Logo. The clerk gets very excited and needs to be calmed the hell down before he's directed to the video store on the corner, the clerk calling after him, "And we have all their albums here!"

Geoffrey rolls his eyes and rents the documentary. He takes it home to the quiet empty house and settles in. For an explanation, that's all; not enlightenment. And after the first few minutes of quiet skepticism -- Christ, will those bongos play through the entire thing? and the music does nothing for him -- Geoffrey suddenly finds himself interested. Interested, because Billy is a complete lack of surprise, subtly whoring himself for the camera, sideways glances and half-smiles and the faintest edge of fuck-you attitude, a perfect performance just shy of perfection, things Geoffrey already knows -- and then there's Joe. Jesus Christ. Joe, completely unstudied, completely caught up in this thing and catching Geoffrey up with him. Joe, with a little tilt to his head, asking the camera, "So what, are you playing us off against each other? So that would make you kind of a cunt, wouldn't it?" and on Cheryl's ridiculous beat-up floral sofa Geoffrey barks out a laugh of astonished joy.

I think I probably fell in love with Joe at about the point where he makes eye contact with the camera and gives this astonishingly sweet little smile right before the first gig, although it may have instead been the point at which he and Billy time-travel at the tiki bar and Joe will not let up on the adorable friendly razzing ("Ohh, my life is just so complex!" <3) Both of those are before the bit quoted above, but I strongly suspect Joe's complete perceptive honesty in that moment would hook Geoffrey utterly.

It isn't ... what he'd expected. Despite the music, despite the obvious patchwork lie that makes up the final cut, there is something raw and honest about this damn film, something -- something Geoffrey overused and abused, applied with indiscriminate disaster to his own life, something Shakespearean. Geoffrey catches onto it, catches on somewhere during a lonely stretch of highway and thinks, Ah: Pipefitter is your rustic clown, John your honest fool; and Billy is somewhere in a warehouse, rehearsing guitar riffs and grinding his way down to nothing, which makes him impossible to cast, because Geoffrey doesn't know the play. Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, wrong, wrong, Billy's still breathing.

You know Pipe would be a great gravedigger. And I'd love to see John as Feste.

At the end Geoffrey sits through the white noise hum of the credits, wondering how the hell Billy and Joe ended up with scripts for completely different plays.

He switches off the TV and thinks about inevitability, the point of no return. Was it only tragedy at the bitter end, a strange caricature of Desdemona realizing Othello no longer loved her and smothering herself with her own pillow? Had they been damned from the start, Hamlet called in from L.A. and forced back into a parody of family? Or -- God, it isn't a play, it's some mindfucking director rearranging the scenes and prodding the action and ruining lives. Geoffrey knows that story.

Now that I think about it, though, if HCL is Othello, Bruce is Iago, and Othello, rather than smothering Desdemona, just goes straight for the falling-on-his-sword. Which is pretty funny because in this particular universe Desdemona's a hussy and sleeping with Cassio anyway.

Okay, so maybe I like the broader-strokes Hamlet analogy better.

The real point, though, is that in the delightful and nearly endless kaleidoscope of parallels I can draw between Geoffrey's situation and the general situation in HCL, the director is the villain. I love that -- Geoffrey can, right there, neatly slot himself into Joe's place (in fact, he even admits to Ellen that he wanted to slit his throat onstage "but you're not allowed to do that in front of subscribers," oh Geoffrey, so this is not as out there as it kind of sounds) and blame Bruce for the whole thing. It's not a point-for-point parallel, but Geoffrey suggests more than once that he thinks Oliver fucked him over in the service of good theatre -- and what, really, is the object of telling Joe about Billy leaving if not good theatre? It works.

He wants to tell Billy. He wants to get off the couch and bring the cassette with him, go to Billy's rehearsal space, push his way through the smokescreen and unplug Billy's amp and say, I know this, I know it. You and fucking Ellen, God.

If he tells Billy, he suspects Billy will punch him. Honesty begetting honesty.

It's possible Billy will just look at him, a long slow measured look, flick ash onto Geoffrey's boots, and not care. That's Geoffrey's other guess, and the possibility is strangely abhorrent. His nascent director wants a reaction.

This is possibly the point at which I realized that Geoffrey's also terrified that one day he'll turn into Oliver. I find it a negligible possibility but I think it probably still scans in the show.

Christ, he should just tell Billy to bunk somewhere else; if he doesn't get a little fucking perspective it'll be Billy blowing out his brain on camera next.

So Geoffrey says nothing.


Billy knows anyway.

This is another thing I didn't telegraph properly. Does Billy know because, absent-minded crazy that Geoffrey is, he left the cassette sitting on top of the TV? Does Billy know because he's primed for that tiny change of atmosphere that signals someone suddenly Knowing Everything? I think it's the latter, but since it's not Billy's POV we don't know and Geoffrey never tries to find out.

Geoffrey's still the only one home when Billy arrives, his hair a little damp despite the chill in the air outside. He stops in the doorway, looking for a moment at Geoffrey sitting on the couch with the Stoppard anthology, and sets his guitar case aside. "So."

"Hi," Geoffrey says, looking up and raising his eyebrows.

"Hi," Billy mimics, high-pitched, petulant, and the déjà-vu Geoffrey feels for once has nothing to do with Ellen and everything to do with Billy's own camera-captured life. Billy fumbles in his jeans for his lighter, curses, and collapses into the armchair. "You fucking watched it."

"Yes," Geoffrey admits.

"I know about you," Billy says, with the deliberate anger of long rehearsal, and something clicks into place in Geoffrey's head. Someone curious about Billy will almost certainly end up watching the documentary, and then ...

Billy thinks Geoffrey's insanity somehow weights things more evenly. Geoffrey knows Billy's train-wreck of an open secret, but Billy knows Geoffrey's too. Geoffrey thinks perhaps he likes that.

"I could try to give you details," Geoffrey says, and is surprised to find that he means it. He's not sure he can, not sure he could force the words out, not without everything catching in his throat and setting off a crying jag at the very least, but he means it. Five hundred eyewitnesses aren't equal to one good camera lens, and it isn't fair, the way the editing claims to know Billy inside-out.

I was a little surprised too, not least because he knows that Billy decided to stay at his house because he was trying desperately for an advantage, and Geoffrey understands that. That's quite level-headed of him. It's also important that Geoffrey thought he was figuring Billy out before he saw the film, but now that he has, he's seen the manipulation of the story and he's ready to read between the lines and get a firsthand account. And it isn't fair, the way the editing paints Billy, but more on that in a bit.

This was also a scene in which it would've been very easy for either of them to completely lose it, and we even have Geoffrey canonically weeping so it wouldn't've been a big emotional cheat, but two of my writing ground rules are "Don't have a character cry if there's another way for them to express pain" and "Don't let anyone actually say the words 'I love you'." Both of those rules can be dropped if the narrative earns it, but not taking the easy or obvious route usually makes the story a lot stronger.

That, and Billy Tallent would get the fuck out of the room rather than crying in front of Geoffrey, so there's that.

"That's very fucking sweet of you," Billy snaps. His hands are shaking; he grips white-knuckled at the knees of his jeans. "No; ask. Go on, ask it, whatever it is. Everyone's got something. Let's hear your angle."

Geoffrey's breath catches on pain. Billy has the same look on his face that he had when he first introduced himself, bracing for the inevitable, and somehow in that space all the haunted defiance spills out into the open. It's the opposite of a shield. Geoffrey wonders how he can bear it. Geoffrey wonders how in hell the filmmakers managed to get their documentary on the market. Geoffrey wonders if Billy knew how to hide from the camera or if the pain on his face is something that was born after the last split second of the camera rolling.

Briefly he considers asking Billy how that child custody battle turned out, like there's a multiple choice sheet for the hurtful things he's allowed to ask and he wants to choose the least damaging option. Then the other options present themselves too, in a neat row, pre-scripted: Is it true, what John said to Mary? I'm glad you got away. Were you going to tell him you were going? How dare you leave Joe like that. Have you seen it? Have you seen Joe die? How have you managed to keep from killing Bruce for telling? The last question almost fights its way out, Geoffrey's own bias clawing at his throat, but it's inadequate, all of it is so completely inadequate, the empty accusations and offerings.

I think this covers the majority of the immediate reactions to HCL. It probably covers most of the things that people say to Billy, too -- and I think Billy probably hates the I'm glad you got away much more than the How dare you leave Joe because he'd put on a good face but I'm sure he blames himself in part for Joe's death. He's expecting any of the things that go through Geoffrey's head to be said aloud, but Geoffrey says something completely different -- because Geoffrey isn't a fan or a groupie or a reporter or some random opinionated schmuck on the street: he's someone who's lived with Billy for a week or two, stayed up too late with him and gone warehouse-hunting with him and eaten meals with him. They're friends.

"Two years ago," he says, the perfect parallel falling like lead between them, "I was in love with an actress. Ellen Fanshaw. Ellen. I wanted ... She was perfect. I would have done anything to be with her." He doesn't think he can say it, but he does, the words coming smooth, easy, emotion at perfect pitch, and he says them to Billy, to Billy, each word a more precise accusation than any of the tired words he's sure Billy's heard a thousand times before. Billy's gone very still. He's staring back at Geoffrey, neither of them looking away, but it isn't a pissing match, no hollow contest. Geoffrey's terrified. "And I don't know. I don't know if she didn't love me. I don't know if she didn't love me enough. I asked her to marry me, and. The next night, she slept with Oliver. Our director." Geoffrey laughs, involuntary mirthless frightened, a sound halfway to tears. Billy's riveted. "He was my best friend. I don't know ... He was gay, he always said he was gay, and fuck, maybe it was -- was substitution, maybe he knew he'd lose us, I don't know. It wasn't about the play. It was just ... I couldn't. I didn't know where the fuck to go."

Every single one of these words is about Joe and Billy as much as it's about Geoffrey and Oliver and Ellen, but even though I can see all the subtext written in fiery letters just behind the actual words, I don't know how well it's conveyed. I hope it's understandably frightening anyway; Geoffrey's stripping both of them bare, and he has no idea where they're going to end up.

He runs out of words, abruptly. Doesn't know where the fuck to go.

"I heard you tried to kill a swan," Billy says. His voice is absolutely entirely flat.

"Better than killing yourself," Geoffrey says, and the terror ratchets up into horrified embarrassment.

To his shock, Billy barks out a laugh. "Yeah," he says. "Fuck. Fuck," and runs a shaking hand over his face. "Fuck, Geoffrey, okay. So who are you in this beautiful metaphor? Are you me or ..."

That's the really fun part! Geoffrey is Billy and Joe. Because, on the one hand, he asked Ellen to marry him and she promptly slept with Oliver -- which is a lot like Joe's grand plans to re-form and tour more and write new songs with Billy, whereupon Billy promptly went back to Jenifur: Geoffrey's on that side of the betrayal. On the other hand, Oliver demanded things of him that he didn't know how to give, and was very probably in love with him, and fucked Geoffrey's mind because he didn't know how to deal with things like human emotion -- sound familiar? Geoffrey also completely understands where Billy's coming from here.

Hey look, that's where my subtext in fiery letters got to.

"It's not a metaphor, it's my goddamn life," Geoffrey says, and suddenly he's laughing too, because God, God, how did this happen? He leans forward, laughing in breathless gasps, more than half sobbing now, and he hears that Billy's joined him, two overgrown boys sitting in a perfectly respectable house having hysterics. Geoffrey's knee touches Billy's where they've both slumped out enough to get their legs in the way of everything, and it doesn't calm Geoffrey down but the warmth off Billy's body is soothing, something wonderful, a point of connection.

Eventually they calm down. "Oh God," Geoffrey says, wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand. "Fuck. I needed that."

"Yeah, good for you," Billy says, and he almost manages to hit angry but when Geoffrey looks at him, his face is shockingly free of tension. Just tired. "You've already heard my confession. With soundtrack."

"I have not," Geoffrey says, and he does hit indignant. "You know what's there? Some good interviews, a breakdown, and a hell of a lot of editing. I can do that for free, greatest hits of Geoffrey Tennant. Come on, Billy."

This. It's important that Billy hear it, because he's been bothered enough by people whose only context is the documentary that he's bought into it too and half-believes that it's the truth. That Geoffrey tells him otherwise is a necessary thing. Despite that, though, he's not about to tell Geoffrey how it really was -- in part because he's not sure himself anymore, but certainly also in part because he's not anything like ready to start being healthy about it.

"Fucker," Billy tells him, not even trying for angry this time. He's not looking at Geoffrey now, though, and after a moment he pulls himself to his feet. "I'm glad to be your fucking therapist, but if we're skipping the part where you're a hypocritical jackass out to judge me, which, thank you for not doing that, I think I'm ordering in again and going to bed."

Geoffrey holds up his hands and leans back in the armchair, giving Billy plenty of room. "Fine, go right ahead."


That night, Geoffrey dreams that he wakes up to see Joe Dick standing at the foot of his bed. That's how he knows it's a dream -- all right, the fact that it's Joe Dick standing at the foot of his bed is a good clue, but it's also pitch dark and he can see Joe standing there, clear blue eyes and backwards baseball cap and a shapeless dark coat that's quite a bit like the one Geoffrey likes to wear.

Say hello to ghost!Joe! Oliver's haunting of Geoffrey is literal in the series proper, so I like the idea that Joe's haunting of Billy is literal too. Since it's Geoffrey's narration, though, we don't know whether Billy can actually see Joe; I think in the original concept I decided that he could, but if that's so, he's a more politely-timed ghost than Oliver, or Billy's damn good at ignoring him. If this took place post-series S&A, I'd almost certainly make the haunting obvious and then Billy and Geoffrey could bond over the deeply weird shit that happens to them; as is, it's pretty much ambiguous, which I like just fine, and Geoffrey has to be convinced that he's just dreaming about Joe, because otherwise he's less sane than he thought.

Since it's a dream, Geoffrey just sits up in bed, sleepily, and says, "He's down the hall."

Joe spits at the carpet. Geoffrey can't figure out if it's contempt or just a weird automatic habit, and supposes it doesn't really matter. "I know that," Joe says. "Fuckhead. I wanted to see you."

"Okay," Geoffrey agrees. "Hi."

Joe gives him a long thoughtful look. Geoffrey slumps back down onto his pillow and wonders, in a disconnected 2AM way, whether there's a hole through Joe's head. The angle's such that he can't tell. He supposes that doesn't really matter either. "They're not fucking writing," Joe says finally. "Look up the tour schedule."

I suppose Geoffrey could've worked that out subconsciously, but I like it better if Joe knows and tells him. Because, like Oliver will with Geoffrey, even though Joe's dead he's sure as hell not through trying to manage Billy's life.

Geoffrey blinks and yawns. He's sure that when he wakes up the conversation isn't going to make much sense, but he tells Joe, reasonably, "I think you gave up the right to make him choose you when you put that gun to your head."

To his surprise, Joe actually takes off the baseball cap and ruffles his ridiculous Mohawk, looking mildly abashed. "Fuck, don't blame me," he says. "Stupid fucker doesn't know how to let go."

"You don't want him to," Geoffrey says dryly.

Also, by the way, true of Geoffrey and Oliver. But I do give Joe some credit for, among the posthumous attempt to interfere with Billy, also being aware that he was kind of a dumbass for killing himself. Oliver's fairly honest about his own faults once he's dead, so I imagine Joe's found at least a modicum of self-awareness too.

Joe looks up and gives him a grin, this totally sweet shit-eating grin. "Two-way street, baby."

"Mm," Geoffrey agrees. A small niggling part of his mind is nervous about the coherent thread they're following, about the way Joe hasn't turned into Ellen or Oliver yet, about how Geoffrey's still comfortably in bed instead of in a dress onstage playing Ophelia backwards. The rest of him is sleepy and fascinated, and likes that there's a coherent thread. "Was John telling the truth?" Maybe it's easier to ask questions to a ghost.

"No," Joe says, flat, loud enough to give Geoffrey the little jolt of adrenaline that usually signals nightmare. Again, no Oliver, no Ellen, no running or screaming or drowning. Just Geoffrey in bed with a bright-as-day dead punk rocker standing in his bedroom, radiating anger. "He didn't -- Fuck. I don't have to explain it to you. Just check the fucking schedule." He turns, jamming his hands into his coat pockets, and storms off through the wall.

Okay, was John telling the truth.

Over a couple of obsessive rewatches, I've developed a fairly coherent (although subject to change) Theory of Billy. Unfortunately I don't have a coherent Theory of Joe, and maybe it's a kind of chicken-and-egg thing about having coherent theories for both of them and having a coherent theory about what happened that one time John mentioned, but I really don't know. Or I haven't decided, I guess. Considering that the plausible range of options is as wildly broad as "Billy and Joe fooled around sexually all the time and John was confused about the nature of the argument" to "holy fuck, Joe raped Billy, that is really Not Okay" it's really damn difficult to decide on something. A comment of Hugh Dillon's in the DVD commentary combined with my overwhelming earnest desire to believe the best of people skews me towards the kindest possible interpretation, but I really don't know.

I think what I can be at least a little comfortable with and also believe is something along the lines of: Billy and Joe did fool around sometimes, but Joe invested it with more than Billy was really comfortable with, and the more time went on and the more Joe stayed basically stuck at lovesick angry sixteen, the more Billy wasn't okay with it. The night John was talking about, they did have a fight (about Joe's fucked-up drug habit, Billy tells Geoffrey in the next scene, and that at least jives in terms of John saying that in the morning Billy flushed Joe's stash). Joe tried to smooth it over with sex (which means I really know fuckall about what to do with the line about it being a bet or a dare -- damn it, John, why do you have to give us so many weird and contradictory options, you total nut?); Billy enjoyed it at the time, but in the morning the argument wasn't solved and was worse, and Billy was angry with Joe for being so stupid and obvious in his attempt at manipulation, and it was no good at all. I'm not sure I like this particular interpretation much, but it works for this story: Joe didn't really hurt Billy, but Billy couldn't deal with it anyway.

Geoffrey sinks back down in bed, squeezing his eyes closed. Quiet.

He doesn't fall back -- doesn't -- his dream doesn't change -- it doesn't change for a while. And finally it does.


In the morning Billy looks as wrung-out as Geoffrey feels. Cheryl notices, and anxiously gives both of them extra coffee before going off to scout out interest in a horrendously low-budget theatre troupe. (She takes their final case of beer with her, on Geoffrey quiet suggestion from the previous evening. If Billy notices, he doesn't say.) They're left alone in the house.

Geoffrey picks at the remains of his toast. "Jenifur's not done touring yet," he says.

Billy slumps, like his strings have been cut. "Jesus fuck," he says, muffled, into his arms. He looks up enough to direct a glare at Geoffrey. "Yeah. Yeah, okay, they're not." He lifts his head enough to deliver the rest with conviction. "But I'm not out, I am not out, I just need a little fucking break."

This is as close as I get to saying that Joe really is haunting Billy. Because if Billy's been pretty much fine and functioning and touring with Jenifur with a year or two, why the sudden quiet edge of breakdown? I think he needed to go somewhere quiet and anonymous before any of his bandmates noticed him yelling at his invisible dead best friend. Billy's just good at keeping quiet about it when there are other people in the room.

Geoffrey just nods and passes him the coffee pot. Billy drinks the coffee in silence.

"Shit, Geoffrey," he says finally, addressing the words to his mug. It's another kitschy one from the festival, but at least it's not misquoting Polonius as wisdom. I COULD BE BOUNDED IN A NUTSHELL AND COUNT MYSELF A KING OF INFINITE SPACE, it says, which as usual is missing the punch line and therefore the point, but Geoffrey can tolerate it, even if sometimes it gets what a piece of work is a man stuck in his head. Billy wraps his long musician's fingers around the words. "You and John," he says. "The crazies have all the goddamn answers."

"Maybe," Geoffrey says. "I doubt it."

Billy's head snaps up. He stares at Geoffrey for a long moment, but this time Geoffrey doesn't feel even a little afraid of the scrutiny. "The fight was about the fucking coke," he says. "And I don't know why they didn't cut that out of the fucking film."

Geoffrey reaches out and fiddles with his napkin. Something to do with his hands. "Because the people like a good villain," he says. "With good motivation. And the people want characters. The man behind the camera isn't a character, and wanting a reaction -- that's the director's motivation. Christ, Billy, it doesn't matter that it's a documentary. It's a story, and in a story you're not allowed to be a fucked-up human like the rest of us."

This is the part where I am perhaps a little obvious in my impatience with anyone who wants to vilify either Billy or Joe. They're both just, as Geoffrey says, fucked-up people, and neither of them are really equipped to give the other what he needs. HCL really is edited in such a way that Billy comes off as the one in the wrong, which I think is absolute rubbish, and mostly makes me paranoid about Bruce the Fictional Director. Whether or not Joe would've killed himself if Bruce hadn't interfered is pretty much academic, but the point is that (from where I'm standing; it's definitely debatable) Billy didn't tell Joe that the Jenifur gig was back on because he wanted Joe to have a good last show before breaking the news, whereas Bruce was actively interfering with his own documentary and trying to get a reaction out of Joe. Geoffrey automatically assumes that Bruce is the villain of the piece, and I think I'm inclined to agree with him.

"Maybe," is all Billy says.

They clean up breakfast together. They keep running into each other, entirely on purpose, in each other's space, warmth, connection, even if the connection is an elbow in the ribs, both of them grinning at each other. Afterwards they head out onto the front porch, lean on the railing, watching the intermittent passing cars. Billy smokes a solitary fag, unhurried and contemplative.

"If it's a story," Billy says, "this is the part where we admit we love them anyway. That it's all okay, and --" he pauses, takes a drag, blows out a steady stream of smoke in demonstration, "-- we're okay now to let it go."

Geoffrey thinks about loving Ellen. Then Geoffrey thinks about loving Oliver. He huffs out a laugh.

"Not a fucking chance," he says, and leans hard on Billy, who leans back, warmth, connection, okay.

Fahye said to me that the only kind of ending Billy Tallent can ever engender is irresolution. My immediate response to that was, "That's because he's not allowed a happy ending but we're reluctant to kill him," and in some ways all these things are true, but ... this was really also me trying my damndest to give Billy ... not a happy ending, but a possibility.

Because, of course, neither Geoffrey nor Billy are anything like ready to say that they love Joe or Oliver anyway, that it's all okay, and that they can let it go. They can't. From the point when Geoffrey jumps off the stage into Ophelia's grave to the point where he can stand in front of an empty chair and say "I love you," to a vanished Oliver, nearly an entire decade passes. But the point is that Geoffrey does do it; it takes him nine years, but eventually he's able to say it and let go. I think, crazy aside, Geoffrey's a much more stable person than Billy, so it's possible Billy won't ever get to that point. But the potential is there, and I think that's the best ending he can get.
carrieann: (no damsels in distress)

[personal profile] carrieann 2009-08-23 04:27 am (UTC)(link)
I have this whole dating-things thing, so I had to stick HCL in the dvd player, dang you. 1min42sec in: "In October 1995, Joe Dick organized a benefit concert of punk legend Bucky Haight." But close enough!

(Sorta random: did you realize (I don't know how much time had passed between you watching S&A and HCL) that the funeral guy is the same guy who played Bucky Haight?)

Anyway, very good commentary! I love hearing about the thought process, and the deeper parts of a story.

[identity profile] 2013-06-09 10:20 pm (UTC)(link)
Hi, so I just found this in a Slings & Arrows fic binge, and it's wonderful. I haven't watched HCL yet, but I'm about to, so I'm sure I'll have more thoughts then. My one question, though, is isn't Geoffery living in Toronto at the beginning of S&A? Oliver says there are three Geoffery Tenants in Toronto, so I assumed that is where Theatre Sans Argant was based. Is the implication in this fic that Cheryl and Geoffery moved? Because you say early on that you think that's where he's living until he moves in with Ellen, but I got the impression that he'd moved to Toronto post-asylum (or maybe it was in Toronto, since that's the nearest big city) and he basically ditched his lfie there to return to New Burbage.

Not that it really matters four years post-fic....