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air and ash and vapor

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The first time Lleywn sits on a stool on a stage alone with only his guitar, spotlight fixed on him so that he can't see anyone else out in the dim room, and the cigarette smoke making what he can see hazy enough that it all looks like a dream besides, he has a brief and almost terrifying moment of waiting for Mike to count them in before he remembers: Mike's not here.

Mike's gone. Mike's dead. Mike jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

Mike jumped off the bridge in Llewyn's winter coat, taking with him their partnership, their unfinished arrangements, and Llewyn's defense against the cold air. It hadn't mattered at the time; there had been other things to think about, and winter was nearly over anyway, but now the weather's about to change again, and he -

He misses Mike, but that's neither here nor there right now, and he needs to play this set if he wants to give going solo any sort of shot at all. But the feeling clings to him through all of "The Girl I Left Behind" and when he's finished with that song, he decides he can't stand to do "Fare Thee Well" tonight because it needs Mike, so he moves on to "Scarborough Fair".


"I can do solo," he tells Mel.

Mel looks at him for a long moment, his gaze steady. He's wearing the same suit he wore to Mike's funeral and Llewyn has to look away, out the window over Mel's shoulder. "I can do solo," he says again. "Come on, Mel."

"Okay, kid," Mel says. "I'll keep you on as a solo act. For now."


The recording studio is only Llewyn, his guitar, and the tech behind the desk. He's got one day, because that's what Mel said they could afford.

The actual recording is fine; it goes smoothly. The rest of the time it's too quiet and oddly lonely in the booth, and at one point he turns to ask Mike a question, only to remember Mike's not there. There's a painful throb in his chest and he fusses with the strap of his guitar, annoyed, until the feeling passes.


The next show he plays solo is a shitty dive bar with a stage the size of a suitcase, with space only for Llewyn, his guitar, and the mic. As he tunes up, he thinks that even if he and Mike ever had to play a gig like this, there wouldn't be room for both of them up here even if they stood nose-to-nose. There's less space than the time they were drunk and shared his nephew's bed, much to Joy's disapproval.

Llewyn remembers waking up sweating, with a pounding headache and his arm around Mike's waist, and is suddenly so tired it nearly hurts. The ache throbs through every one of his bones. Then there's a clatter out in the venue, a waitress dropping a serving tray or something, and that wakes him up again a little. Enough for him to remember that he and Mike won't ever have to play a room like this because Mike's gone, and it's only Llewyn now, and the harmony he hears in some choruses is only in his head.


Pappi offers to let him split the basket at the Gaslight one cold night and Llewyn's kind of offended, but then again, he needs the money since he hasn't gotten anything from Mel yet. The crowd is almost all familiar faces. He figures a lot of performers like that sort of thing, but these people had all seen Timlin & Davis, and it feels to Llewyn like they keep looking for Mike on stage as he tunes up, their eyes sliding to the right of Llewyn where the empty space is. The resentment he feels is uncomfortable and creeping; it makes him want to hunch in on himself. He wishes it was darker in here, and thankfully, the lights drop a little lower as he leans towards the mic and says, "This one I learned in the Merchant Marine, but funnily enough, it's not about the sea."

He sits by Pappi at the bar afterward with a coffee cup of whiskey. The act on stage is a duo, two women, sisters in strapless dresses. They open with "Wildwood Flower". Llewyn tips his cup from side to side, watching the liquid run back and forth.

"How you doin', man?" Pappi asks over the music. He doesn't look at Llewyn, though, his eyes on the stage and the sisters with their bare shoulders.

"I'm alright," Llewyn says. He turns the cup by the handle, one half turn, then another.

"You find someone to take Mikey's place up there yet?"

Llewyn's talked to Pappi enough that he knows Pappi's a crude sort of guy, but that doesn't mean his right hand doesn't curl into a fist that he wants to put through Pappi's face solely for letting those words come out of his mouth. Mike's in a box in a cemetery back in Jersey where his folks are from and here's this dago suggesting he should be replaced, fuck.

"No," he says, instead of landing his right hook on Pappi's ugly jaw. "I'm doing a solo thing now, you didn't get that?"

"Thought you were just passing a little time mourning, you know? Looking for a partner." Pappi moves away then, sliding behind the bar and pouring himself a drink into yet another of the thousand coffee cups around this place. Llewyn finishes his whiskey and doesn't answer, because Pappi doesn't know anything about his grief. He wants to leave, but he can't leave until Pappi pays him, and he still needs to find a couch to crash on for the night. The Gorfeins are here, though, and they're usually a good bet. Their apartment is nice and they don't mind when he eats their food, and their cat is an okay sort of cat. Mike had a cat once who was a complete asshole and scratched everyone who wasn't Mike, who stared at Llewyn in disdain, always with his claws out, like Llewyn wasn't good enough for his owner.

He needs to stop wondering about Mike's old cat. Pappi's not behind the bar anymore, so Llewyn glances around quickly to make sure no one is looking, then reaches over for the whiskey bottle tucked beneath and pours himself another while he waits.