Sat, 31 Oct 1998
House of Unruly Fishcarosue@centurytel.net

OK, as most people know, there has been a LONG delay between the posting of Chapter 40 and Chapter 41 of Neon Hearts. A REALLY long delay. A really, really, REALLY...oh, never mind. You get the idea.

So the following is kinda sorta an explanation. But you have to use your imagination just a tad:


SC: As Long As There's Light From A Neon Moon

Neon Nurse

 

"When the sun goes down on my side of town
That lonesome feelin' comes to my door
And the whole world turns...blue.
There's a run-down bar 'cross the railroad tracks
I got a table for two way in the back
Where I sit alone and think o' losin' you.
I spend most every night beneath the light of a neon moon."

The mournful jukebox tune wafted from behind old-fashioned bat-wing doors, and in the growing twilight shadows, the world outside did indeed seem to be tinted blue. The Subreality Cafe had assumed the appearance of a country roadhouse, architectural neo-descendant of Miss Kitty's Long Branch Saloon. The single huge cottonwood beside the weather-beaten building muttered to itself as a fitful breeze stirred its heart shaped leaves.

Remy LeBeau, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof, ambled through the dusty dirt parking lot--'W'y a parkin' lot? Who drives 'round here?'--kicking rocks into the dips and ruts. It was partly a game, partly a way to further slow his approach. He'd felt somehow COMPELLED to come tonight, but that compulsion was only minimally stronger than his urge to set his feet towards ANY other destination. He'd been left alone too long to have much faith in Subreality's version of the resurrection.

"Now if you lose your one and only
There's always room here for the lonely
To watch your broken dreams
Dance in and out of the beams of a neon moon."

But here he was, and now he merely needed to gain admittance. With a well-practiced boyish grin, he flapped his duster disarmingly at the Bouncer, ready to try to sweet-talk his way in.

Amazingly, it didn't even earn him a glance from that beleaguered worthy. The Bouncer's attention was currently fully occupied with turning away a small indignant group of would-be Cafe-ers.

"This isn't fair!" an auburn-haired girl was huffing earnestly. She had a face so innocent it would make teddy bears look sordid by comparison. "I mean, not intending to be HARSH--"

"Go on, Will, harsh 'im," encouraged her extremely indignant blonde friend. She folded her arms and glared at the Bouncer, evidently only waiting for her companion to have a fair turn before she cut loose with the heavy artillery.

"Okay--okay, I just will!" Squaring her slim shoulders, the first girl continued, "It's not like we aren't fics ourselves! Well, somewhere, at least...maybe not HERE. But STILL!"

"Erratically, and yet well, spoken," concurred the sole adult of the group, a tweed-clad man with gold-rimmed glasses who at least LOOKED like a librarian.

"This franchise has outlets in most universes," the Bouncer reminded them, his not quite smothered sigh revealing how often he said these exact words. "They aren't all called the Subreality Cafe, but I understand you can find 'em--"

"That's not the POINT," the sprightly blonde argued, looking as though she would enjoy presenting another sort of point to this obstacle. "We WANTED to go to some universe where we could take the night OFF from creepy things."

"And so you came HERE?" The Bouncer's dubious frown was a definite hint the group was on the front porch of Creepy R' Us.

"That's exactly what *I* said!" a third girl pouted.

"There ISN'T a Barbie's Malibu Dream House universe, Cordelia," the blonde said, with an oddly affectionate sneer. "At least I hope not."

"You wouldn't know if there's a Baywatch-verse?" a dark-haired boy asked the Bouncer with casual hope. "Hey, a guy can dream, right?" he added, after getting dirty looks from all three of the females present. The other young fellow in the group wiped the temporary look of interest off his face before the auburn-haired girl could see it.

The blonde turned back to the Bouncer to explain their visit. "I figured there'd be plenty of locals here whose job it is to handle Evil, so we could...you know, just kick back?"

"She's been having rather a trying time lately...well, we all have, really, and, you see, er, ahem...." The librarian's voice trailed off in a confusion of stammers, one of his most irritating traits.

"Look, if it wasn't a special night, I'd make an exception. I've been given the power of playing favorites by a LOT of Writers. I could even get you in on a technicality if it was a Summers night. But--"

"This is the fourth time we've come here!" interrupted the blonde indignantly, stamping her foot. "Don't you people have ANY nights that aren't special nights?"

"It's a business. If you book the place, you get the place, what can I tell you?" The six wanderers drew together, their combined accusing look creating a powerful blow of guilt. "Listen, this IS the SC--if you wait an hour, it'll probably be a DIFFERENT special night. You might have better luck then."

Sensing his chance to sneak by unnoticed was almost past, Gambit assayed a silent sideways glide. But the Bouncer instantly turned his direction. Gambit upped the wattage on his grin, preparing to wheedle. To his surprise, after an instant's assessment, the man said, "Go on in."

This was such a shock the Cajun stood frozen. The group from Beyond the Borders gasped in outrage. "You 'member me, den?" was all Gambit could think of to say, adding a flirty wink almost as an afterthought.[1]

"Not until just this second," replied the long-suffering Bouncer. "But if you're here, then you're probably SUPPOSED to be here."

"So we're chopped liver?" The blonde spokeswoman leapt right back into the argument. "How do you know WE aren't here because we're supposed to be?"

The Bouncer sighed. "That could be true. But if it is, I'd be keeping you out for your own good."

"Crummy band tonight?" asked the youth with red curly hair wisely, as one professional to another.

The Bouncer shook his head. "Rumor has it that you guys might be one of the reasons this particular group is needing to have a special night in the first place. Making it NOT a good place to kick back at the moment." Doubt finally began to edge out indignation on the faces glaring at the Bouncer. "Frankly, I'll be surprised if we get through the night without- - -"

"A bloodbath?" Now it was the blonde's turn to share professional speculations.

"Worse. An angst-fest."

Nothing more needed to be said. The six friends backed off as one and formed a huddle, then began to walk away. Snippets of conversation drifted behind them.

"The Star Trek bunch?"

"Too crowded."

"Xena-verse?"

"Too much fighting."

"Magic School Bus?"

"WHAT!?!"

"Well, I've always wanted to meet Miss Frizzle...."

"You're weird, Will."

"X-Files?"

"Creepy stuff again."

"Look, we would ALL enjoy the Baywatch-verse. A nice picnic on the beach...come on. It would be--OW!"

Back at the Cafe's entrance, Gambit eyed the Bouncer warily. "W'at night IS dis, homme?"

"Neon Fic night. Walk right in."

Gambit shook his head. To think he could be home this minute, sipping Southern Comfort and watching the World Wrestling Federation....

"I think of two young lovers, runnin' wild and free
I close my eyes and sometimes see
You in the shadows of this smoke filled room."

Inside, what could have been a scarred wooden dance floor was filled with scattered tables, most of them hosting just three or four people engaged in idle conversation. More characters were standing around in small groups, plainly killing time. Gambit was a bit startled to see he was already present, chatting with Ororo and Logan at the bar, putting on an elaborate show of being completely unaware of Rogue, sitting two tables over. On the other hand, that sort of thing was only to be expected at the Subreality Cafe.

He walked towards himself, a half-smile on his face, trying for maximum cool. This intention was blown out of the water, however, when he and the other him suddenly seemed to leap out at each other, blurring into a Siamese twin smear. Being the one unhampered by a bar at his back, the most recently arrived Gambit leapt away.

Freed, the two shocked duplicates stared for a moment, then said, almost in unison, "W'at de hell was DAT?"

The bored assemblage was now looking on with great interest, any diversion being welcome. "Ooh, a new power, Remy?" Jean asked, and Scott chimed in, as he scanned the room, "Maybe a new weapon, or villain?"

The Major behind the bar cleared his throat before offering his diffident theory. "I've seen this sort of thing before, actually. Quite likely your Writer isn't sure whether the characters in question are two genuine variants, or the same one from different times in the same storyline."

The two Gambits looked each other over with mixed suspicion and speculation. Xavier and Rogue, sitting at different tables, each looked suddenly dubious. As a temporary solution, both Remys went to opposite sides of the room.

"No telling how many tears I've sat here and cried,
Or how many lies that I've lied,
Tellin' my poor heart, 'she'll come back someday.'"
But I'll be all right,
As long as there's light from a neon moon."

Before the group could settle back into comfortable conversational patterns, a hulking grey-furred being spoke in a carrying voice. "Not that I'm trying to perpetuate my personal stereotype, but are we currently waiting for any event in parTICular, before we begin?" No one else spoke, but these words brought out a general sense of agreement in the crowd, expressed in murmurs and shifting postures.

"Do you think anyone else is coming?" Cassie Cantrell whispered to Hank McCoy, who was, as always, by her side.

Hank glanced at his alter ego, McCoy of the AoA, and thought he could do without some of the crowd already present. But no one, especially not Her, ever seemed to ask his preferences.... McCoy's tiny private entourage, two sulking females [2], were sitting at his left and right, making him a boundary line preventing the chick fight of the century. Either sarcastically or unconsciously, McCoy was emulating the finger-steepling gesture Hank had picked up from Xavier in his early years, and it somehow made HIM look quite evilly sardonic.

"I think it's safe to start," Hank said, with a nod to Cassie. "Shall we begin the official portion of our little get-together?" he said more loudly, addressing the crowd. Everyone looked up politely--even McCoy pretended to. "My dear, the floor is yours."

Cassie cleared her throat, glanced at her many-times-rewritten notes, and began. "Well, we all know that it's been, um...a while...since we had anything new happen officially in the story." A few heads nodded. "Since I'm a writer myself, some of us thought it might be good for morale for me to...kind of explain what sorts of things might be behind the problem."

McCoy gestured with an index finger, and Cassie gave him a startled, uncertain nod. "As a writer, then, do you consider over a YEAR to be equal to 'a while'?"

"Um...."

"Your point being?" Hank interrupted, barely managing not to growl.

"I came for the same reason everyone else did--we were drawn here by Forces Beyond Our Control. But the idea of being patted on the head and told everything is just fine--even by such a lovely little cat's paw as Ms. Cantrell--"

Now a faint growl did edge into Hank's voice. "Perhaps, then, you'd rather not stay."

"Hank, it's okay," Cassie murmured, trying to forestall an unanticipated action scene. "He's just...doing his job." This statement caused dubious blinking in two furry faces, and others around the room as well. "We all have our Writer-given roles, is what I mean," Cassie staggered on. "He's the one who's...angry at life, Fate, whatever, and he gets the lines expressing that. If it wasn't him, it would have to be someone else, like maybe Logan, or Bishop." She smiled depreciatingly. "Can't have a story without conflict."

"So that's why I get to kick back and take it easy, for a change," Logan said, popping the cap from another Dos Equis. "Thanks, bub."

"So charmed to oblige," McCoy sneered, having recovered from his momentary shock. "The fact remains that we have been abandoned. Any suggestion to the contrary is just wishful thinking. And perhaps not just OUR wishful thinking," he added, with a glance off screen.

"Dis a t'eological debate, den, ami?" one of the Gambits asked.

Picking up the thread, Hank added, "Can we presume to know the mind of our Creator?" He smirked--there was no other word for it. "Or are you an atheist in this regard, McCoy?"

McCoy accepted the challenge with a wicked smile. "Alas, logic prohibits. Though perhaps I can consider myself an apostate?"

"Look, Cassie was gonna tell us somethin' about why we aren't getting written, an' Ah for one want to hear it." Rogue in any universe was not someone to cross, and McCoy yielded the floor with no further ado.

Cassie threw her a grateful look. She cleared her throat and began again with what was clearly a well-rehearsed piece. "Well, as you all probably know, She has some health problems that keep Her from being as active as She used to be. So that cuts into Her writing time--"

"That IS an elegant little pathogen She's harboring--wish I'd invented it." McCoy ignored the murmurs of annoyance from the group at large. "Of course, *I* could cure it as well--too bad I'm only fictional."

"We're indulging in cheap irony now?" Xavier asked coolly, and the subject was abruptly changed as if by an unseen hand.

"What She needs a clone," Bobby joked.

"They aren't really up to that yet, in Her universe," Betsy reminded him. "Pity, and all that."

"Getting the Dr. Pepper mix right in the vat would be next to impossible anyway," McCoy added, mock-sorrowfully. [3]

"ANYway--" Cassie caught the group's attention again, and stopped for a moment, shocked by that success. A little giddy, she went on. "She was already having deadline trouble when some bad stuff happened summer before last. A lot of little annoying things, and then you know Her dad died--"

McCoy interrupted again. "She's said herself they weren't close."

"That don't matter, son." A quiet voice spoke into the hush, and Cassie smiled at her own daddy. "Sometimes it's even worse then. There's always a chance of gettin' things straightened out, while both parties are warm an' walkin' around." McCoy scowled at this, but didn't reply. "Didn't ya ever notice how many warm, fatherly types we got 'round here?" Carl Cantrell added.

"Or mentors? Or the occurrence of a bit more nurturing than is common between males in our line of work?" Hank chimed in.

"Father figures," Carl nodded, agreeing with his potential son-in-law, "ever' one."

McCoy's eyes narrowed. "Let's take a line from that video Her current maternal obsession watches incessantly: 'Perhaps we shouldn't talk too much about FAMILY.'" [4]

"Why not, boss?" Fatale spoke up. "Her family is another thing that takes up way too much of Her time."

"Because he's SENSITIVE about it, you stupid refugee from a Jell-O mold!" Karen half-snarled.

"That is NOT--" McCoy stopped himself, took a deep breath and continued. "I merely think it's a pointless direction for discussion because it's sentimental pop psychology DRIVEL!"

"Yeah, right, whatever," Karen muttered, but subsided.

"Jukebox plays on, drink by drink
And the words of every sad song
seem to say what I think
That this hurt inside of me ain't never gonna end."

"Ah have a question, Cassie," Rogue said. "All this stuff that happened, is it ovah now? Can She get back to writin'?"

"I...really can't say for sure," Cassie said slowly. "Besides, as I understand it, Real Life is a lot like fiction. Things can be perfectly fine, and then out of nowhere--BOOM!" Nearly everyone present nodded at this, being tediously familiar with the phenomenon.

Cassie hesitated a moment, to see whether there would be any further questions, then doggedly returned to the notes of her prepared remarks. "I know I speak for us all when I say we would love nothing better than for the story to get rolling again. But we have to keep in mind that as long as there's a net, and archives, we'll all still be around. So we really aren't so bad off." No one spoke, and more than one individual seemed to actually be finding at least some merit in her assertion. "I believe we should remember there are others in an unhappier situation than we are." She paused and looked at the crowd, searching pretty much in vain for a sign they were anticipating where she was going.

"Like, the mainstreams?" Jubilee suggested a little nervously. Some fics didn't even like to THINK about THAT situation.

"Um, no, that's not who I was thinking of, but good point." No one seemed to have a clue about what she was going to say next, so Cassie plugged on. "I was thinking of...the readers. I mean, we've got the Cafe for socializing, She at least knows the general long term storyline--but the poor readers are just stuck, waiting for new chapters that never come!"

A reflective silence greeted this remark. It was almost immediately interrupted by McCoy's acerbic response. "Do you know, my dear, I am coming to believe you and the big blue Boy Scout really ARE very well suited to each other." Ignoring Hank's glare, and not even noticing the equally annoyed expressions of the face of his two female companions, McCoy went on. "The poor wittle readers are out there frolicking about, enjoying their REAL lives, where something new happens to them every single day--bu t lucky us, WE have this hole in the wall to entertain ourselves in?!"

"Hey, it beats a moldy old underground lab," Karen pointed out. "Speaking of holes in walls."

"Plus, the lot of you are all part of a HUGE story arc, one of the largest in X-fic. Whereas I've had ONE. PALTRY. TEN. PAGE. STORY."

"And an appearance in the CFAN awards story, too, don't forget," Cassie pointed out, in a pretty much doomed attempt to cheer him up.

"If that's the sort of thing I have to look forward to, perhaps I'm better off Unwritten," McCoy snarled, remembering the awards fiasco all too well.

"No arguments here," Hank muttered under his breath. The fact this guy existed at all made him more than a little uneasy about what future path Neon Hearts might be taking.

Cassie fumbled with her note cards, then laid them firmly down on the table. "You know, being a fic really isn't that different from being a Person in Real Life. You can't change the rules, stuff is always happening that you don't like--and you never asked to be a part of it all in the first place." She was deliberately staring straight at McCoy. "And all I can think to say is...either way, we have to make the best of what happens, as much as we can. If we want to be happy."

Sadly, McCoy's expression did not suddenly alter in a way that indicated conversion to the side of sweetness, light and all things good. Rather, he looked as if he was thinking Cassie could be a gold medal contender in the Self-Deluded Olympics. She conceded the staring match first, picking up her note cards to shuffle them clumsily in exactly the way Gambit did not. "Well, end of sermon," she said lightly to the group, in a voice that slightly cracked from tension. Then added, "Hey, what's THIS?" in an entirely different voice.

Cassie pulled a neon lemon yellow 3 x 5 card out of the stack. "THIS wasn't here bef--oh, my!" Her mouth dropped open as she scanned the straggly lines that were almost but not quite like actual human handwriting.

"What is it, Cassie? Can you read it?" Hank asked, speaking for the crowd.

"Yes...just barely," she answered, frowning in concentration. "It's from...Her." There was a moment of very low key pandemonium, as all those present, even McCoy, joined in urging her to read it aloud.

Dear Characters,

This is a bit of a deus ex machina, I know--so sue me. Thought you'd like to hear genuine, OFFICIAL confirmation that work has begun again on Neon Hearts, and a few others just for fun. Sorry for the long delay; please never think I stopped caring about you all. I hope you'll be happy about the fact you're on the top of the priority list again. Just remember, "We'll be all right, as long as there's light from that neon moon!"

Love,

Susan the Neon Nurse

P. S. McCoy, don't MAKE me come over there and smack you. Keep in mind there's always another award show coming along....

"I wonder if that was intended as a threat or promise," he rumbled broodingly as he rose to get out of the way of those clearing the dance floor of tables for some general and well-overdue merry-making.

Hank and Cassie stepped clear as well. "Beautiful job, my dear," Hank told her.

But Cassie looked more bemused than triumphant. "I wonder if we'll be really glad the story got going again in a few chapters, once things are in full-fledged crisis mode?"

"Better to get the hard part over and done with, don't you think?" Hank answered. "We'll just have to make the best of it, and try to be happy--a very wise person recently said." Cassie buried her face in his chest, and hugged him hard. "So what do you say--shall we stick around and dance a bit?"

"Might as well." Hank thought he could see secret knowledge glimmer in Cassie's laughing eyes. "Consider it a warm-up for Chapter 41."


[1] See 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Fan', the author's first SC story. I think you can find it on Kielle's Mary Sue page.

[2] Fatale is canonical in both Marvel and Neon Hearts. Karen is from 'Signs That Might Be Omens', archived at fine sites also hosting Neon Hearts--there's one near YOU!

[3] You aren't dim for not getting this reference--it's a family joke.

[4] 'Babe', which I have seen at least 12,042 times. And of course Michael is the maternal obsession.

("Neon Moon" is a real song, and it was a big country hit for the famous duo Brooks and Dunn, in case you didn't know. And wanted to. And now you know whether you wanted to or not. I'll be quiet now.)


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