Chapter 23

The Filler Chapter

The Space Bar Brew Pub, somewhere in the multiverse...

Somewhere in the vast reaches of the multiverse, there is a bar. It is both everywhere and nowhere, and only a certain type of fictional character can find their way into its smoke-filled rooms. These are the forgotten, the misused, the out of character... In other words, this is the place where the bad-fic stand-ins go to get stinking drunk and complain about their jobs.

The corner table of the Space Bar Brew Pub had been reserved for the Yu-Gi-Ho* stand-ins since Seto Kiaba became part-owner of the bar, so it was no surprise to find the usual suspects slumped around said table, commiserating their lot in life (and fanfic, though when you're a stand-in that's pretty much the same thing). They all looked up from their drinks when a new person sauntered over to their table and dropped into one of the few unoccupied chairs.

"Guys, I am so sober right now! You have no idea." Mia Valnetine flipped her long blonde hair back over her shoulder and waved urgently at a passing waiter. "I need a drink." She thought back to the bad-fic she'd just co-starred in and changed her mind. "Scratch that. I need all the drinks. I think I'll have bathtub gin - as in, bring me a bathtub full of gin."

"Bad one, eh, Mia?" Jou-E slid an untouched shot glass across the table to her and watched as she downed it like spring water.

"You don't want to know. I'll be bleaching my brain when I get home."

There had been sex scenes. Sex scenes involving descriptions that had twisted anatomy around like some kind of naked Rubik's Cube. So, not only sex scenes that were not sexy, but that were also very confusing.

"Oh. One of those." He shuddered.

"Authors who don't realize that 'real sex' does not have to involve penetration should not be allowed to write about it." Mia slumped in her chair. "Also, my wardrobe was insane. G-strings do not belong on breasts."

They all took a moment to picture that.

"The less said about it, the better," opined a voice from what, at first glance, appeared to be an empty chair. Only upon closer inspection was it possible to notice the transparent outline of a male figure perched there. He was a dead-ringer for Tristan, if Tristan was nigh-invisible and doing his best to drink his body weight in alcohol.

"Tristain is right," said Mia, slapping the table with her palm. "Less talking, more drinking."

A waiter materialized with a tray of multicolored drinks. Everyone got a glass, except for the shortest figure at the table who received a 'tsk-ing' noise and a headshake of disapproval before the waiter shimmered off again.

The non-drinker, who appeared to be made entirely of hair and attitude, grumbled, "I need a freakin' drink, too, you know."

"You're, like, twelve."

"I only look twelve. I've always looked twelve, and I'll look twelve when I'm freakin' fifty." He had the gravely voice of a sixty-year-old, four-pack-a-day smoker.

"Still not givin' ya a drink, Sourpatch Kid," Tristain said.

"Oh, whatever. Then gimme a freakin' cookie." If he couldn't drown his cares in alcohol, he'd smother them in sugar.

Jou-E passed him the plate of snickerdoodles. "I dunno what you're so grumpy about, Mockuba. It's not like you're in the bad-fic that much."

"You think that makes it any easier?" Tristain, who arguably was in fewer bad-fics than all of them put together, knocked back another shot. "It just means that when we do turn up in the bad-fic, it's really bad."

Mockuba saluted him with a snickerdoodle before stuffing the entire cookie in his mouth. Around his mouthful of cinnamon-flavored mush, he mumbled, "Preach it, bro."

"Yeah, okay, I'll give ya that one." Jou-E picked at a sticky ring of some kind of liquor on the table top. It was eating through the varnish. "But the rest of the time, you haveta admit you guys've got it pretty sweet."

"Really." Tristain sneered. "My social life consists of reading mail addressed to 'Occupant'. I can't get a date because no one wants to go out with the nigh-invisible man. And my name sounds like something you need Ultra-Strength Tide to get out in the wash."

"At least your name is just the result of bad spelling," Jou-E said. He held a lot of resentment for the fact that his name had come about due to authors who could spell, but chose to spell his name weird anyway, for reasons.

"At least you look like you're old enough to date," Mockuba grumped from beneath his enormous mop of hair. His eyes were two glaring points of gray in the darkness.

Tristain leveled a transparent frown at him. "Isn't it past your bedtime, 'kid'?"

Mockuba glanced pointedly at the bright sunlight clearly visible through the nearest window, gave Tristain a glare that should've set his hair on fire, and then aggressively ate a cookie at him. "Still not a kid, jerkwad."

Tristain made a point of savoring his next drink as smugly as possible.

"Say, where's your big brother?" Mia interrupted their by-play. "I know he's in more of the bad-fic than most of us, but he's usually in here at least a few times a week, and I don't remember seeing him in awhile."

"He's working." Mockuba sighed. "He's always working, lately. It's like the bad-fics are showing up faster and faster... or they're overlapping more or something."

"Oh, fabulous." Tristain tossed back something that, from the smell, could be used to remove paint. "That probably means we're in for another batch of clones showing up."

Everyone groaned.

When the workload got to be too much for the regular stand-ins to handle, "clones" showed up to take over some of the bad-fic roles. They were stand-ins for the stand-ins (who were standing in for the fictives, who were standing in for the originals), copies of copies of copies... And rather than going back to the originals when making these newest copies the fic-verse always made copies of the most recent copies. And just like a Xeroxed image that had been run through the copier a few too many times, there was always some data loss.

The original stand-ins had a running theory that eventually the clones would be so degraded they'd start a zombie apocalypse.

"I'm not deal enough to drunk with this," slurred a voice from the tabletop.

Having made that announcement, the final member of their group raised her head up off the table just long enough to snag a glass of something clear that smelled as if it could dissolve concrete. She downed it in one long swallow, then slammed the glass upside down on the table and slumped back down. Well accustomed to this behavior, no one paid her any mind.

"I'm going to drink until either my internal organs stage a coup or I achieve sweet, sweet unconsciousness, which ever comes first," Mia announced.

"Sounds like a plan."

She, Jou-E, and Tristain all clinked their glasses together. The brunette with her head on the table limply flopped one hand in solidarity.

Mockuba sulked. "At least you can all get drunk."

"Have another cookie," Jou-E said, and poured the kid a glass of milk to go with the snickerdoodles.

"No, dammit!" Mockuba snapped. "If I have to deal with being twelve-ish forever on top of being stuck with you losers for friends, I want the hard stuff."

Jou-E stared at him for a long moment. Finally, he nodded. "Hey, waiter! Bring us an order of triple-chocolate cheesecake brownies!"

"Make it a double," said Mia, and knocked back another shot.

The girl with her head on the table held up three fingers.

"Fine," Jou-E said, and tripled their order. "But you guys better be picking up part of the tab, this time."

o0o

Some time later...

"You think you can drink me under the table, hon?" Mia laughed.

The brunette snorted and cut a huge chunk of triple-chocolate cheesecake brownie for herself. "A twelve-year-old could drink you under the table."

("No, I can't," Mockuba grumbled. "No one will let me!")

"Oh, it's on."

"Waiter!"

o0o

Sometime even later, there were two girls with their heads on the table. Both of them had chocolate smeared around their mouths and the kind of blood-alcohol levels that qualified their breath as flammable.

Tristain and Jou-E were playing a game of tic-tac-toe on a paper napkin. Mockuba had wandered over to the arcade game in the corner and was taking out his pent-up frustrations by slaughtering digital aliens.

Jou-E groaned as he lost yet another game. "Say, have you seen Ryouchan's yami lately? He's usually three sheets to the wind by now, but..."

"Nah. I haven't seen him in awhile, actually. In fact, I think I've seen Kiaba more than I've seen him." Tristain fished a fresh napkin from the dispenser and drew a grid on it. "Best three out of five?"

"You think maybe we should be worried about the guy?" Jou-E scrawled an 'x' in the center of the new game grid.

"Eh."

"You could care less, huh?"

Tristain looked thoughtful. "Well... I suppose I could care less. But that would require, like, taking classes in caring less, which frankly sounds like more effort than I care to exert, so... No, actually. I could not care less."

"...Yeah, me neither."

Just as Tristain went to scrawl an 'o' on the napkin, several dour guys in fancy robes wandered by. One of them bumped into the table, causing the girls to mumble slurred curses and Tristain and Jou-E to grab their drinks to keep them from spilling all over their napkin gameboard.

"Hey, watch where you're goin'!" Jou-E yelped.

"Pray forgive my trespass, good sir," said the clumsy robed dude.

Tristain squinted at him. "Who are you guys?"

"The Spanish Inquisition."

"Huh." Tristain blinked. "Did not expect that."

Clumsy Robed Dude shrugged. "Nobody ever does."

He and the rest of the Robe Brigade wandered off muttering something about Spam.

o0o

Sometime even later...

"Do you have any other silly straws?" Mockuba asked the waiter, taking a pause from drinking his chocolate milkshake through, yes, a very loopy straw. "This one isn't silly enough."

"Sorry, sir, but no. Would a mildy comedic spoon suffice?"

Mockuba squinted at him. "How am I supposed to drink through a spoon?"

"It's a milkshake, sir. You could utilize the spoon to eat it."

Jou-E was starting at Mockuba in confusion. "Where'd you even get a milkshake?"

"I ordered out."

"And they let you have outside food in here because... why, again?"

"I'm Seto Kiaba's brother." There were perks to being related to one of the owners.

"Oh, yeah." Jou-E thought about it for a moment. "Next time, order me one, too."

o0o

No one knew why there was a juke box in the brew pub, but there was and someone had put money in and started the thing playing. Tristain was massaging his aching temples and listening to Jou-E massacre the Village People.

"Nacho nacho man, I want to be a nacho man!" Jou-E sang with a great deal of enthusiasm and volume, if very little actual talent.

"Oh my god, you're an idiot."

Tristain tried to look to Mia for help, but she and Te'A (the brunette drinker, who claimed that the odd spelling was her "Klingon name") had drifted over to one of the booths by the windows. They were eating a meal with stand-ins for the cast of some show he didn't recognize (the older media guys tended to hang out in the Space Bar a lot, since their pool of fic - good or bad - was much smaller). Their meal looked delicious, which probably meant that that long-haired Spencer guy was on duty in the kitchen today.

"No, you're right," Jou-E said, drawing Tristain's attention back to their disagreement. "That doesn't sound quite right. Hm. How about... 'Taco taco man, I want to be a taco man'?"

"It's 'macho man,' you waste of oxygen."

"Noooo... That's crazy talk."

"It's how the actual song goes!" Tristain flung a hand at the juke box. "Just listen to the damn lyrics!"

Jou-E tilted his head in a listening pose, tapping his fingers on the table in time with the beat. "Okay, I got it." Triumphantly, he sang, "Nacho taco man, I want to be a naco man!"

Tristain threw a snickerdoodle at him.

o0o

Meanwhile, in the window booth...

"You know what the most powerful thing in the universe is?" The questioner was a lanky, dark haired man wearing a fireman's uniform from the 1970s.

Te'A growled. "If you say 'friendship,' I swear to Cthulu, I will stab you in the eye. With. Your. Spinal. Cord." (She had really embraced the whole 'Klingon' thing.)

"Hey, now!" He raised a hand to ward off her agression. "It's just a philosophical inquiry, not a declaration of war."

"Sorry." Te'A slumped in her seat. "It's a knee-jerk reaction, these days."

"She has to make a lot of 'friendship speeches'," Mia explained, handing Te'A a glass of something colored an acidic green. It smoked faintly.

"So. Many. Speeches." Downing the drink, Te'A waved a hand. "And those are still better than the ones where I'm some bitchy 'other woman' whose only excuse for being in the fic is to break up the slash pairing."

"Ugh," said the stockier blond man sitting next to the philosopher. "That's happened to my wife a time or two."

"Only a time or two?" Mia looked skeptical. "I mean, I can totally see you guys as a pairing-"

"Oh, yeah. Me and Johnny get that a lot. Usually, though, the fanficcers just write her out of the universe - or kill her off-screen."

Te'A turned a beseeching look ceiling-ward. "We should all be so lucky as to die off-screen."

Everyone at the table nodded and clinked their glasses together. They sat in silence for a bit, picking at the multiple tapas plates in the center of their table.

A loud crash from across the room made everyone turn to peer at the Yu-Gi-Ho corner. Jou-E was on his back half-underneath the table with Tristain flailing at him with a laminated menu, and the shattered remains of a tray's worth of cookies and broken glass sparkling all around him on the floor.

"Should we go break that up?" Johnny's blond friend asked.

"Nah," said Te'A. "They're probably just arguing about song lyrics again."

"Oh, man..." Johnny groaned. "Thank goodness Chet's not here." He turned to his partner. "You know how he gets about stuff like that."

His partner smirked. "I feel like I should point out that the pot is remarking on the kettle's color."

Johnny opened his mouth to object, but a loud "bing-bong-boooop" cut through the noise of the bar, followed by a distorted voice announcing over the PA system that Squad 51 was being called out for a hurt/comfort fic.

"Duty calls, ladies." The two men sprang to their feet and headed for the door. "Enjoy the tapas!"

Mia saluted them with a pig's ear on a toothpick. It seemed appropriate.

o0o

Eventually, even Tristain's liver needed a break. He and Jou-E left the girls (and Mockuba) to their own devices and headed for Jou-E's house, where they retreated to his bedroom and played drunken video-games for a couple of hours. When that lost its charm, they flipped through some comics for a bit.

Finally, Jou-E put down the manga he'd been paging through and gazed across the cramped space between his bed and the portable TV at Tristain, who had slid down the wall until he was flat on the floor. His own manga lay abandoned on his chest.

Jou-E exhaled loudly and attempted to follow Tristain's example. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough room and he ended up contorted into a pretzel shape with his back on the floor and most of his legs up on the bed.

He sighed again. "Man, I'm bored."

"Yeah. Me, too." Tristain didn't bother to remove his gaze from the

ceiling, where it had been fixed for the last several minutes.

Jou-E thought he must be staring at the water stain in the shape of Texas (if Texas had half-melted and then attempted to mate with Italy). "So... What do you wanna do now?"

"I dunno. What do you wanna do?"

"I dunno."

They lay there in silence for a few minutes. Jou-E twisted around so he could reach one foot and picked at the end of his sock.

"Dude. Stop that. It's gross."

"Well, I'm bored!"

"So, let's do something."

"Okay."

"Okay, then."

A few more minutes passed.

"What do you wanna do?"

"I dunno. What do you wanna do?"

"I dunno." Jou-E's stomach growled. "Guess I could eat."

"You can always eat."

"Yeah, but I'm apparently actually hungry this time."

"So let's get something to eat."

"Okay." Jou-E picked at his sock some more. "What do you wanna get?"

"I dunno. What do you wanna get?"

Jou-E squinted at him. "Have you swallowed a parrot?"

Clearly on autopilot, Tristain said, "I dunno, have you swallowed a-" before it registered what Jou-E had asked. He shook himself. "Sorry. I think I'm still a little sloshed."

"You drank a distillery. You're still a lot sloshed."

"Probably." He sighed. "Pizza?"

"Pizza."

o0o

* Not a typo. (Or, at least, not my typo. I've seen that particular spelling in far too many fic summaries.)

Virtual snickerdoodles for anyone who recognized the stealth crossover cameos (and cheesecake brownies to anyone who spots the callbacks to ye olde Sporking Room from the LJ days).

Do you know how hard it is to write actual filler? Almost as hard as writing Mary Sue description, that's how hard. Ugh. Also, I've seen chapters that were actually relevant in some way (either through character development or plot advancement) called "filler" and have no idea why. What definition for "filler" is fandom using? Because it's not the one publishers use.