After Hours at the Watchfire

By: Blue

Summary: Random insanity. What the characters do during their off-time. Mostly, it's whining about people like me.

Rating: G

Disclaimer: I don't own them, but, hey, as soon as that deal with Zin goes through…

Spoilers: not really any for any of the actual eps, but lots for various fanfics.

Author's Note: Yes, there really is a virtual season of Tracker, if you're interested. It can be found at the unofficial Tracker website:

Feedback: Better than Fek-Maln. Feed me, feed me!!!

After Hours at the Watchfire

Mel looked up from her conversation with Jonas as the front door opened. "Right back," she murmured to Jonas, walking over to the suited man who had just walked in. Jonas' head vanished behind a newspaper. "Evening, Zin. You look… pretty horrible, actually."

The Vardian closed his eyes and nodded. He opened his eyes again and shook his head, his expression pained. "That fanfic writer… what does she call herself, Mel? Oh, right. She… calls herself Mel. You know the one?"

Mel nodded. "Yeah. Sweet young woman, generally. Some angst, but mostly just character pieces." She poured him a drink. "What did she do to you?" she asked, frowning. Must have been something pretty horrible judging by Zin's current state, but she could hardly imagine 'the other Mel', as she thought of the fanfic writer, doing anything quite that horrible to anyone, not even Zin.

Zin's voice was a whisper as he explained, "Disney songs. It was… horrible, Mel."

Mel stared at him with wide eyes. "Disney songs?" she repeated, her body trembling with suppressed laughter.

Zin nodded bitterly. "You get Michelle Branch, I get the Lion King. Most evil person in two systems, and she gives me… a Disney songfic. What did I ever do to her, I ask?"

Jonas looked up from his paper. "It was actually a pretty good fic. I'd say the songs suited you quite well."

Zin ignore the human. Mel chuckled, topping off Zin's drink. The fact that he would probably be trying to take over the world with Disney songs in his head for the next week made her feel that he had earned the right to get well and truly drunk, even if it was pretty funny. She made a mental note to check out the other Mel's new fic as soon as she closed down for the night.

"Hell, Zin, if you weren't such an evil bastard, I'd almost feel sorry for you," she told him gently, actually meaning it.

"Thanks so much," Zin sighed, raising his glass to her in a mock-toast.

"Hey at least you rate consideration from fanfic authors," Nestov pointed out, shaking his head. "When's the last time I was even mentioned in a fanfic?"

"Past Comes Back to Haunt Us," Jess provided cheerfully.

"Yeah, so the last time I'm mentioned and it never even gets finished." Nestov shook his head.

"Gee, thanks for reminding me," Jess muttered. "I was shaping up to be a major player in that fic…"

"Hey, you may only be a bit player, but you're still in more fics than I am!" Nestov reminded her. "I mean, Blue was considering having Gwen put the fear of the gods into me in Old Friends, but it ended up on the cutting-room floor…"

"Could you two argue somewhere else?" Zin demanded. "After the day I have had, listening to you two snipping at each other is not my idea of a relaxing evening!"

"He's right, you know," Jonas agreed. "I get about as much air-time as Nestov, and I'm more plot-device than character, but no one sees me complaining." He gave a gentle smile and an absent shrug before returning his attention to the paper he was reading.

"Don't know what you two are whining about anyway," Cole added, walking down the stairs. "Or, you, Zin. You want tough? Have you people seen what the fanfic writers put Mel and I through? Angst, UST, not-so-unresolved sexual tension… More angst…"

"Public humiliation," Mel chimed in. "Compromising positions…"

"Even if some of those positions are… kind of fun," Cole added under his breath to Zin. "Did you know that this species has a book…"

The Vardian laughed and shook his head at the once-clueless Cirronian. The fanfic writers may have been evil incarnate, but they were definitely having a positive effect on him.

"Hey, did the intergalactic locker-room talk start without me?" Vic Bruno asked, walking into the Watchfire.

"My friend, the locker-room talk does not become intergalactic until you arrive," Zin pointed out, offering him a stool.

"Cool." Vic grinned. "So, what's this week's topic?"

"Compromising positions," Cole told him, smiling widely.

"Hey, Blue put me into one of those!" Vic noted, grinning.

"We heard." Nestov nodded his approval. "So, how did you explain the lack of bruises?"

"And it's official. I am getting less action than anyone else in the fandom," Zin sighed. He walked over to the jukebox and punched up a song, making a mental note to kill everyone present if word ever got back to his subordinates that he listened to Enya to unwind.

"Hey, at least they don't make you keep pushing Cole away every time things start getting fun," Mel pointed out.

"Shh!!!" Zin hissed frantically, drawing his finger across his throat several times. "The last thing I need is someone hearing you say that to me and deciding that it would be a good idea to… you know with Daggon and I…"

Zin shivered and shook his head as he sat back down, draining his glass at the thought. Mel dutifully refilled it, smiling to herself. If she got him drunk enough, there was no telling what they could talk him into. Karoke was right up there in Mel's mind for some reason.

Cole glanced at Zin, looking disturbed, and moved a few seats down. Zin shared the Tracker's distress at the idea and just shivered again.

"Wouldn't be very in-character at this point, would it?" Cole asked, brightening.

Zin rolled his eyes. "With our luck, they'll turn it into back-story." His voice became mocking. "The touching tale of how the poor, heartbroken Cirronian fled for comfort into the arms of his best friend… And how it got all NC-17 and slash-y from there," he added, grimacing. "Which I'm sure would lead to some sort of touching reconciliation in the present. 'Touching' of course being the operative word…"

Hell, except for the NC-17 and the slash, Blue had pretty much decided that things had gone down in precisely that way. Why she kept trying to turn him into an almost good-guy was beyond him, but she persevered. The sad part was that he was half starting to believe in the tragic, conflicted anti-hero bit himself…

"Ew," Vic contributed.

Zin nodded his agreement. "Nothing personal, Daggon, but you are not my type."

Cole shook his head, wondering if he should tell Zin exactly what plans Blue had made for the Vardian's love-life. It definitely promised to be interesting and fun for the readers. He decided that sometimes ignorance really was bliss. Zin would get the memo soon enough, or read Morning After and guess. Either way, Cole planned on being very far away when it happened.

"That's okay, Zin. You aren't mine," Cole pointed out mildly, dismissing the thought. "Between being, oh, evil incarnate and… male."

Vic laughed and shook his head. "I guarantee it, guys. Once we go into reruns on Sci-Fi, it is going to happen!"

Zin scoffed and shook his head. "Probably, yes. I'd better start drinking now. Mel, could you?"

"Yeah." Mel nodded and refilled his glass again. Oh, yeah. Karoke for sure. Maybe even some Disney songs once the old teddy-bear loosened up a bit. He was nowhere near as evil as he liked to portray himself and Mel had seen enough flashbacks from Blue to know it. "Vic's probably right you know," she added apologetically, topping off her own glass at the thought.

"I wonder what makes him think he's safe?" Zin remarked quietly, his smile turning evil. "Mel's current paramour and her jealous ex… Ooh, the possibilities!" He laughed and took a long drink.

"Um, yeah, like Cole's my type?" Vic asked.

Cole glanced at Vic for a moment, his expression befuddled, before looking at Mel. "And you were complaining about Fluffy Cat? At least no one's going to write you into a relationship with Jess…"

"Eww!" Jess contributed, earning herself a glare from Mel. "I mean, nothing personal, Mel," she added, shrugging. "You just… you're not my type."

"Oh, like you're mine?" Mel scoffed.

Vic shook his head. "Well, I'm sorry, Cole, buddy, but there is no way I'm cooperating in any kind of slash-y happenings between the two of us."

"Yeah, well, so long as they leave me alone," Nestov piped up. "Hey, I knew being unpopular had some advantages!"

"Wouldn't count on it," Jess said, smiling wickedly. "You ever seen some of the X-Files fanfic out there? Alex Krychek and Fox Mulder are, apparently, quite the item…"

"She's right," Jonas contributed quietly, his face never emerging from behind his paper.

Cole and Nestov stared at each other for a moment, before firmly stating, "No!" in unison.

Jess shook her head. "Not much we can do if the writers decide to make it so. Next it'll be Vic here and Zin."

Vic and Zin stared at each other, eyes wide and faces pale.

"They… wouldn't?" Vic whispered, swallowing hard.

"Nah!" Zin said quickly, laughing uncomfortably. "Why would they, after all, right?" he asked, seeming comforted by that.

"Because they're fanfic writers and all fanfic writers are evil," Cole said. "All of them. They are worse than Zin here."

Zin nodded, acknowledging this. Raising his glass in a silent toast to that admirably insidious race, he intoned, "Never trust a fanfic writer. Sorry."

"I mean, what is it with them and angst anyway?" Cole continued, shaking his head in frustration. "I mean, yes, I miss my wife and daughter, I do, but do they have to keep reminding me?"

"They enjoy angst." Zin shrugged and took another sip of his drink, his expression reflecting distaste. "Angst and, for some reason, slash…"

"Is that a human thing, Mel?" Cole asked. "Slash, I mean?"

"How the hell would I know?" Mel shrugged. "I wasn't even wired for Internet until you came along," she pointed out. "I mean, yeah, I've got a history, but the writers never bothered to give me a life to go along with it."

"Hey, have you seen my life?" Vic laughed. "I wake up in the morning, it's 'hey, who am I getting shot, beat up, or otherwise folded spindled and mutilated by today, guys?' Yeah, that's fun…" Vic shook his head and drained his glass.

"You're still in more fics than I am."

"You want to trade jobs, Nestov?" Vic asked, shaking his head. "Did you see what Blue did to me in chapter 1 of Training Day?"

"Nah, he was too busy reading chapter 8," Jess told him, winking. "How did you explain the lack of bruising to Maria?"

"What makes you think it got to that point? Mel, can I get another beer?" He frowned. "Why are you all staring?"

"You didn't score?" Nestov asked, staring.

Vic's muttered response was inaudible.

Except to Zin. The Vardian smiled widely, chuckling. "What was that, Vic? I don't think we all quite heard you…"

"Blue… hasn't… decided… yet!" Vic growled, shaking his head in disgust. "God, I hate her."

"Don't let her hear you say that," Zin warned quickly, his eyes wide as he glanced around the darkened bar.

"What's she going to do? Let another Vardian beat me up?" Vic asked. "It's not like she can kill me…"

"She's thinking of killing me," Cole said in a low voice, turning every head in the bar.

"What?" Mel gasped, staring. "Can she do that?"

Zin nodded. "It's something called angstfic. She's had this one on the back burners for months now as a one-shot, AU kind of thing. Guess she was sick of torturing Daggon, because he's dead before it starts, leaving you and Vic here to pick up the pieces."

"She wouldn't!" Mel protested.

"Why not?" Cole asked. "She's done everything else to us. Obviously the unrequited love stopped being angst-ridden enough for her, because she decided that it would be more interesting to kill me ten years down the road."

"I'll kill her," Mel announced grimly, shaking her head.

"Oh, it gets better," Zin assured her, smiling and shaking his head. He had heard the whole story from Cole the night Blue had conceived the fic in question. The Cirronian had gotten badly drunk and poured his heart out to the Vardian.

"What?" Mel snarled.

Zin decided that it was in his own best interest to withhold certain of the more upsetting details from Mel, but he could not help but tell her, "Daggon's death leaves you a single mother." Zin glanced up at Jonas, who generally played as active a role in these after-hours chats as he did in most eps and fics. The human attorney had actually been unusually talkative today. "See the paper when you're done?"

Jonas nodded silently.

"And to think I was complaining about Fluffy Cat and the compromising positions," Mel muttered, shaking her head.

"I told you, some of those can be fun," Cole said, grinning. "Valium agrees with you, Mel." His smile widened. "And you really do look quite lovely in silk…"

Mel closed her eyes and shook her head. "Nestov, if you're still leering at me when I open my eyes, I'm going to claw yours out," she threatened. "Understand?"

"I just… don't recall ever seeing you in silk," Nestov managed, his voice wavering. Aware that not leering would be an impossibility at this point, he simply turned his back to her instead.

"Oh, she looks quite distracting," Cole assured him.

"Why are you still calling it that?" Jess asked, curious. "I mean, how long have you been on this planet that you still can't find a better word for randy than 'distracted'?" She shook her head in disgust.

"Blame the writers," Cole suggested, sighing. "Me, I don't get it either. And while we're on the subject, why am I still talking and acting like a three-year-old when I'm supposed to be the smartest guy on the planet?" He shook his head. "And if I am so smart, why haven't I bagged Mel yet?"

"Hey!" Mel protested, glaring. "Bagged me?" she demanded.

"I mean that in the most sensitive and enlightened way possible," Cole assured her absently.

"Blue let you get her that once," Zin pointed out.

"Yeah, good for Blue. But what about the Virtual Season? Have you seen what they're doing to me there? Her worse than the others, I swear to you…"

Zin stared at Cole, affronted. "I'm sorry, but until they make you spend at least half a season stuck in an underground vault, do not complain to me about a little unresolved sexual tension!"

"Yeah, like that compares to spending two episodes as a chick?" Cole scoffed.

"But, dude, you got to hang out with strippers!" Nestov pointed out, clearly jealous.

"I had PMS!" He shook his head. "And I never did get to strip…" he added with a little sigh.

"At least you didn't get smacked halfway across the room by a hormonal Cirronian," Vic laughed, shaking his head. "And, once again, my only role in a fic is to get damaged."

"That's not entirely true," Zin told him. "You also did that thing you're so good at where you completely fail to get the point…"

"Yeah, buddy, thanks for reminding me." Vic sighed and shook his head. "Mel?"

"More beer, yeah, Vic." Mel grinned and nodded, drawing him up a fresh beer. "You know, I'm not exactly having a great time with the Virtual Season either, Cole," she pointed out. "I mean, there's the angst and confusion and the breaking and entering…"

"Breaking and exiting, Mel," Cole corrected her, grinning.

Mel growled at him. "Hey, buddy, you just try and remember who saved your butt when you went up against Sudor."

"Which time?" Cole asked.

"The… second time. In the Virtual Season."

"Oh." Cole nodded. "By the way, thank you for healing me like that, Mel." He grinned. "And thank you for all those makeup tips."

Mel made a face at the reminder of that particularly insane interlude in their lives. "No problem. Who else could use something… alcoholic?" she asked, aware that every hand in the bar was already up by the time she had finished the question. "Right. Must be a good week for the plot-bunnies," she muttered, pouring fresh drinks for everyone except Cole. Since Blue, who Mel swore could be more evil that Zin at times, had for some insane reason decided to make him a recovering alcoholic, they both agreed that it was wiser not to let him drink.

"You know," Jonas said quietly, folding his paper and rising to join the others. He handed the paper absently to Zin. "These fanfic writers are the only thing keeping us out of limbo until we rerun on the Sci-Fi channel. I think we should be grateful. "

"You can afford to say that, though," Cole pointed out. "The ones who don't like you ignore you." He sighed. "Not that being Mister Popular ever spared me any pain…" he added bitterly.

"Don't start," Vic suggested. "All the angst in the world--"

"Hey, I got beaten up in Training Day, too," Cole reminded him. "Remember? Tiny little wisp of a girl? Threw me across a train-yard, broke some ribs, punctured a lung, internal bleeding… So much damage that I couldn't heal myself? Ringing any bells, Vicky?" Cole sighed and stared into his coffee, scooping in a few more spoonfuls of sugar. "Mel, do we have any ice-cream?"

"Yeah, Cole." Mel nodded sympathetically. "I'll go get you some." She walked slowly towards her walk-in freezer, hoping that she would not have to climb over any bodies to reach the cookies and cream this week.

After Mel had left, Vic patted Cole's shoulder. "Yeah, so Training Day was tough on us both. But no amount of abuse offsets the fact that I will always be the ex. You and Mel have gotten physical three time on"

"Twice," Cole corrected him. "They pulled down all the NC-17 fic, remember? Besides, in More Than She Seems we only got… metaphysical."

"Didn't see you complaining at the time," Zin pointed out, grinning.

"I'm not saying that it wasn't nice," Cole said, shrugging. "I mean, Mel was a complete innocent which made the entire experience…"

"Out of this world," Vic suggested, grinning.

Cole grinned and nodded. "But… that kind of scene is the exception. Even in that fic, how much time was spent in angst and confusion? Hell of a lot more than was spent becoming one with Mel."

Mel emerged from the freezer with a tub of ice-cream and two spoons. "Didn't see you complaining at the time," she pointed out. "He's right, though, that fic was not fun. Yeah, the last few pages were very nice, but the physical symptoms of my… condition were pure hell. I felt like crap, Cole was alternately depressed and confused, not to mentioned freaked out once he did figure out what was wrong with me. Jess was depressed, I nearly tore Vic's head off…"

"Hey, that had another one of those 'Vic totally misses the point' moments, didn't it?" Zin asked cheerfully.

"No one asked for your input!" Vic told him. "You weren't even in the fic!"

Mel shook her head and handed Cole a spoon, keeping one for herself and murmuring to him about bubble-baths. Cole grinned and nodded before digging into his ice-cream. Both ignored Zin and Vic. They would probably be at it well into the evening, arguing until they were both drunk enough to decide to make up with a nice, non slash-y, hug. Jess or Nestov would occasionally contribute to keep the 'dialog' going, but otherwise they just sat back and enjoyed the show.

"I mean, what I'm worried about," Jess told Nestov, "is that even if, by some miracle, a second season does happen, we're just going to be footnotes. If that. Not so much as a 'gee, now that Jess is happily married in London we shall need a new bartender'. You know?" she asked Nestov. "Doesn't help that Blue replaced me with that Gwen person…"

"Gwen's scary," Vic contributed.

"Oh!" Jonas scoffed, shaking his head. "She's a dear child…"

"She threatened me!" Vic protested.

"Only after you threatened me," Cole pointed out. "And it was not just in that fic. How did you put it in Eye of the Storm? Something about… hunting me down and shooting me, wasn't it?"

Vic shrugged. "Yeah. How out of character was that?"

"Not that out of character, actually," Mel said, shrugging. "You tend to be protective where I'm concerned."

"Another 'Vic totally misses the point' moment in that ep, wasn't there?" Zin asked quietly.

Nestov nodded. Vic just glared.

"You know what I don't get?" Mel asked, absently feeding a spoonful of ice-cream to Cole.

"What's that?" Zin asked, watching the display in disgust. It was so sickeningly sweet… like something a fanfic writer would have them do.

"How can you actually run a bar this size with only two people working it ever. I think I saw more than just me and Jess in, like, one episode."

"Oh, yeah." Jess smiled, her eyes becoming dreamy, her gaze traveling to Cole. "Trust…" She shook herself. "Well, with that crowd, we needed more bartenders, Mel, especially after you started throwing back shots. At least they fixed the bartender thing in the Virtual Season." She shrugged.

"And in the Virtual Season you are once again getting more air-time than I am," Nestov complained. "I was in, what, one scene? And as a voice over the telephone. Well, that and hitting on Cole…"

Zin cleared his throat loudly. "Excuse me? Guy stuck in Vault!"

Vic chuckled and shook his head. "Sorry, guys, I do not see what you're complaining about. I've been mentioned twice in the Virtual Season. First time, I get smacked across the room by Cole here. Second time, Mel nearly tears my head off." He laughed and shook his head again. "God, my job is a joke." He reached into an inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a day-planner. "Have you people seen this?"

Jess reached across the bar and plucked it from his hand. "7am, shower. 7:30am, breakfast. 8am, get shot. 8:15am, go to hospital. 9:30am, fight with Mel. 10am, totally miss the point. 11am, totally miss the point. Noon, have the difference between Nodulians and Orsusians explained to me, finally getting the point. 1pm, lunch with Mar. 1:30pm, get in an argument with Mar over my sudden secrecy. 2pm, get beat up by Vardian… Wow." Jess looked up at the others. "It goes on like that until 9 when he fades to black with Maria."

"Busy day," Nestov contributed.

"Still feel bad about being unpopular?" Vic asked him, writing explain lack of bruising to Maria for Tuesday night.

"Feeling better about it…" Nestov assured him quietly.

Vic smirked. "Cole, what's yours look like?"

Cole tried to look innocent as Jess snatched it up off the bar. What had he left it there for? Stupid fanfic writers…

"Send flowers to Fluffy Cat?" Jess read, grinning.

Mel stared at Cole with wide eyes. Her mouth moving soundlessly as she struggled to come up with a suitable response to that. Cole kept looking innocent. It had always worked in the past, after all. They all looked up as an envelope was shoved under the bar door.

"Who's it for?" Zin asked in a low, nervous voice.

"I'll get it," Jonas offered, rising and retrieving the envelope. "Nestov," he announced, handing it over.

With shaking hands, Nestov accepted the envelope, broke the wax seal and pulled out a single sheet of blue-dyed parchment, neatly folded in half. "It's from… her," he whispered.

"What's Blue want with you?" Jess asked.

Nestov read slowly. "She's thinking of letting Gwen intimidate me again." He read on. "Oh, and there's a PS that, since it takes place during the first season, Vic totally fails to get the point."

Vic groaned and shook his head. "Typical."

"What about the rest of us?" Mel asked.

"Um…" Nestov read for a moment. "Jonas has his cursory token appearance. Jess is still in London."

"Damn," she muttered.

"Mel is… alternately the supportive partner and the devil's advocate. And… Cole." Nestov sighed and handed him the paper.

"More angst," Cole grumbled, reading the paper and spooning more ice-cream into his mouth. "Oh, yay."

"What's it say?" Mel asked, trying to read it upside-down but failing.

"Cole is faced with the hardest moral decision he's ever made, yadda yadda, no-win situation, yadda yadda, unwanted memories, yadda yadda, forced to face his old-friend-turned-nemesis, blah blah blah…" Cole shook his head and dropped the paper onto the bar. "I think I'd rather get the flu again."

"I'm in it?" Zin asked, grinning. "No Disney songs?" he added quickly.

"No Disney songs, but it does say you'll be singing in the shower," Cole told him absently.

Everyone stared at Zin with wide eyes and Zin stared at Cole, horrified.

"That was a joke, Zin," the Cirronian told him, smiling faintly.

"That is not funny!" Zin protested, giving Mel a grateful nod as she topped off his drink.

Cole shrugged, looking up. "There's another envelope," he whispered, pointing.

Jonas sighed and rose to retrieve it. "Zin." He handed it off.

Zin's hands were shaking worse than Nestov's as he broke the seal and pulled out the trademark piece of blue parchment. The message was short, but managed to strike fear into the Vardian's heart. "It says… She liked Mel's piece so much that she's considering doing some 'Zin-fic' of her own." He sighed as he continued reading. "It also says to meet her for dinner at 8 tomorrow so she can… get to know the 'real Zin'. Whatever that means." He shrugged dismissively.

"Oh, you poor guy," Vic sighed.

"What?" Zin asked nervously, aware that Vic, Mel, and Cole were all regarding him sympathetically.

"Oh, we've all been there," Vic assured him.

"She's decided she likes you," Mel explained.

Vic nodded and patted his shoulder. "She also likes to hurt the ones she loves."

"But… she was so nice to me in Old Friends!" Zin protested. "And she got me out of the Vault right away in Morning After."

"That was then," Jess said, shrugging.

"What's she going to do? Give me an attack of conscience?" he scoffed.

Mel started giggling.

"Mel, be nice," Cole told her gently. "He hasn't been in enough fanfic to understand…"

"Understand what?" Zin asked suspiciously.

"That they can do anything they want to us," Cole said quietly. "We can't fight it. All we can do is beg abjectly and… hope."

Mel nodded apologetically and Jess contributed, "On the upside, fanfic writers tend to have short attention spans. Easily side-tracked by fresh plot-bunnies."

"What is a… plot-bunny?" Cole asked.

Jess shrugged. "Hard to describe."

"They're where most fanfic writers get their ideas," Jonas said. "They look cute. Until their jaws lock. They're like a pitbull that way."

"And… who do their jaws lock on?" Cole asked uncertainly.

"The writers," Jonas explained. "Then they start gnawing away at any resistance they happen to meet. On the up-side, though, Jess is right. Fanfic writers are often distracted by fresh plot-bunnies. Not sure why, but sometimes it puts the old plot out of their heads altogether."

"The rest of the time it just goes on a back burner," Jess added, nodding. "I mean, plot bunnies put Tabula Rosa on the back burner for months. I think Blue's all-time record on a successful hold is… just over 13 months."

(Unnoticed by the regulars, a small group of women sit at a corner table, observing. A pale young woman with black hair to match her black turtleneck and slacks absently tells the others, "15, actually." Having cleared that up, she resumes scratching out notes on blue-dyed parchment with a blue quill-pen. Most of the other women are more modernly equipped with notebooks or laptops, but it is VR, so it does not really matter much how the story ideas are noted down. No, seriously. They could do them as interpretive dance for all the difference it would make in the grand scheme of things.

Feeling punchy, Blue scribbles out another note, neatly folds the paper and slips in into an envelope, sealing it with blue wax and stamping it with a sigil in the form of a raven. She writes Zin's name on it and holds it up. It vanishes from her hands only to reappear moments later, slid under the front door of the Watchfire.)

The regulars stare at it anxiously.

"The muses must be keeping her up again," Jonas remarked, rising.

"What are… muses?" Cole asked as Jonas retrieved the envelope and handed it off to Zin.

"Another method of gaining inspiration," Jess explained quietly, her attention on Zin.

The all watched the Vardian expectantly as he read the slip of paper, his face going white at the short message: You will sing in the shower, just not in that fic.

He started to crumple the paper in his hand, then saw the PS. Love triangle anyone? it inquired cheerfully. Scowling and making a mental note to have Blue's food poisoned tomorrow night, he balled up the slip of paper.

"What's it say?" Jess asked.

"Yeah." Vic nodded, curious.

"It says… never trust a fanfic writer." He sighed deeply and used his telekinesis to float the ball of parchment across the bar and into a trashcan. "Thank you, Mel," he said as she poured him another drink. He comforted himself that Blue could not possibly be serious about wanting him to sing in the shower. Could she?

(Unnoticed in the corner, Blue is encouraging one of the other fanfic writers with a chant of "do it do it do it!!!" Shrugging, Fluffy Cat pulls out her pink, poofy quill pen and starts writing. Blue leans over Fluffy Cat's shoulder and her eyes widen as she reads the contents of the note.

"Oh, sweet!" Blue practically purrs, giggling and rubbing her hands together.

Fluffy Cat smiles at her. "Thought you'd like that," she says, adding a quick post-script that earns another giggle from Blue. "Well, it's true," she points out, stuffing it into an envelope and holding it up. It promptly vanishes from her hand.)

A pink envelope slid under the door, eliciting a groan from Mel. Cole smiled widely and hurried to retrieve it, his smile widening at his name written on the front in Fluffy Cat's trade-mark cat-ligraphy. He ripped open the envelope and smiled as he unfolded the pink sheet of paper, dotted with red hearts. The top margin of the paper bore the writing 'From the desk of Fluffy Cat', between a pair of cherubs. Cole smiled and scanned the note.

You know that table in the far corner, Cole? You and Mel will be getting a LOT of use out of it pretty shortly.. PS, looking quite hot tonight...

Cole glanced at the table in question, his smile widening as he tucked the slip of paper into his back pocket. Certainly sounded like a lot of fun. Not that he would expect anything less from Fluffy Cat.

"What's it say?" Mel asked uneasily.

"Oh, nothing."

Cole smiled reassuringly and retrieved his day planner. He added 'and a box of chocolates' to the item reminding him to get flowers for a certain fanfic author, then resumed his place behind the bar with a smug smile that made Mel incredibly nervous. If equally eager… Shaking her head, she leaned her elbows on the bar in front of Zin, who still looked quite shaken by his own note.

(Back at the table, Blue is deep in conversation with another fanfic writer. A girl about Blue's age, her pretty brown hair pulled back into a lose pony-tail, dressed in jeans and an IU sweatshirt is quietly outlining her latest idea. Blue smiles and nods, looking absolutely intrigued by what the other writer is saying. Her eyes are missing the devious glint they usually have during conversations with Fluffy Cat, but she's obviously quite eager to see this fic get written. She speaks for a few moments and then the other writer speaks again, occasionally nodding or shaking her head for emphasis. Satisfied with the plot, she then plugs her laptop into a printer and feeds in a sheet of stationary. As her note prints out, she writes a name on a matching envelope. She folds the stationary, places it into the envelope and holds it up. It promptly vanishes from her hand.)

As Mel opened her mouth to try and offer some reassurance to Zin, a pale blue envelope slid under the front door, her own name printed on it. She actually felt a bit relieved. It was from the other Mel. How bad could it be? The other Mel was such a sweet young woman, after all. Shrugging philosophically, she walked to retrieve it as the others looked on. Pink envelopes and cerulean blue ones just made her nervous. The pale-blue envelopes with their matching cloud-spattered stationary usually came as something of a relief, so she opened it without preamble.

The note was short and unusually cryptic coming from the other Mel: Next time you drive out of town with Cole, pack his thermal undies. He's going to need them. Oh, and... how do you feel about angst/romance?

"Oh, bloody hell," Mel whispered, staring. Angst/romance? She hated angst/romance. "She's obviously been hanging out with Blue for too long…"

"What's it say?" Cole asked.

Mel crumpled it up before Cole saw the angst/romance bit. He hated that genre as much as she did. And the cold? So cold she was alluding to thermal undies? "Um, nothing important, Cole…" she assured him with a little shrug.

Jess appeared at Cole's side before he could question her further. "Cole, come on, I need your help over here," she said, grabbing his arm and tugging. "They don't believe me about…" her voice faded as she pulled Cole away, leaving Mel and Zin alone.

The others quickly became absorbed in a discussion of their most recent fics and what various writers had planned for them in the future. The discussion was punctuated by laughs, groans, and occasional, good-natured shouts. Sometimes, the sympathy of the others was the only thing that kept them sane in the face of some of the things that had been thrown at them by the writers. There was loud laughter from everyone and then Vic's voice could be clearly heard over all the rest.

"Whoa, wait a minute! Back up, Cole. Her face ends up where?" the human Detective laughed.

Mel's expression became pained, and she was suddenly glad to be in any company other than that of Cole. She hazarded a glance in his direction and saw that he was carrying on the tale at the encouragement of the others, especially the instigator Jess. Even if mention of her head ending up somewhere out of the ordinary had not been enough to tell her exactly what he was talking about, she would have known. Cole had that fond, cheerfully reminiscent look that he only got when talking about Fluffy Cat's latest compromising position, or, as Fluffy herself put it, 'encounter'. Although Mel would never have admitted it, she usually enjoyed them quite a bit, too. She sighed as she watched Cole speaking. Well, we'll always have New Orleans, she thought, shrugging. Or, almost have New Orleans…

"Was it really that bad?" she asked Zin, pouring herself another drink. She needed one thinking about New Orleans. "Blue's note?"

"Pretty bad," Zin agreed, nodding. Love triangle, easy. Have one of the other participants killed, problem solved. The shower, though…

"I'm sorry." Mel patted his hand reassuringly.

"How do you and Cole put up with it?" he asked, shaking his head.

"You get used to it." Mel shrugged. "I mean, you may not like it, but it's not exactly like you have a choice, either. You know, like… taxes."

Zin chuckled at the analogy. "The only two sure things in this uncertain life are fanfic and taxes," he paraphrased. With a grin he added, "And if your accountant happens to be a guy you broke out of prison on tax-evasion and embezzlement, the tax issue kind of… stops being one."

Mel laughed and nodded. "Borrow him this year?" she asked.

Zin smiled indulgently and shrugged. "What the hell? I'll send him your way around tax-time." There was a short silence and then Zin said, "Hey, I finally got my new Enya CD from Amazon."

Mel grinned. "Cool. It's good, you'll like it. Took them long enough, though." She frowned, trying to recall when he had ordered it. She was relatively certain that it had been shortly after his arrival on Earth.

"Well, there was this whole hassle with my mailing address. First it was my human host's home, then it was my penthouse, then it was the Vault, then it was Varda, and then my new penthouse, but when Lana filled out the change of address for me, she forgot to call UPS. Messed horribly with the shipping time."

Mel nodded. "I can imagine."

Zin shrugged. "But what's a bad guy to do, right?" Another pale-blue envelope slid under the door with Zin's name printed neatly on it. Sighing philosophically, he rose and retrieved it. He was drunk enough by now that the other Mel could have had him singing the Disney songs and he probably would not much have minded. He quickly scanned the memo, frowning uncertainly. He was not sure exactly what it meant, but it did not sound fun. He looked up at Mel, his expression curious. "Who is 'Nicholas Knight'?"

Mel shrugged. "Never heard of him."

"Hmm. Ever heard of a… crossover?"

"Don't think so." Mel shook her head. "Want another drink?"

Zin nodded and read over the memo again, adding, "Better make it a double."

The End