Vachon slouched down a long, windowless hall under florescent lights, tired and grumpy, his hands wedged into the pockets of his jeans. What a rotten, pointless, embarrassing day! Finally reaching the door labeled "Recurring Canonical Characters" in gilt letters, he nudged it open with his shoulder and headed straight for the break-room fridge.
"There's fresh — well, warm, anyway — in the insulated pitcher on the counter, Javier," Fleur informed him.
"Thanks." He barely glanced at Detective Knight's sister as he filled and downed a mug of steaming human blood, knowing she would look as she always did, half buried under the ever-changing pile of library books and papers with which she occupied herself in the months — sometimes years — between stories calling for her. Pouring a second mug, he leaned against the counter and took in the lounge. Fleur indeed sat in her customary chair, casual in sweatshirt and jeans, balancing some boring-looking hardbacked tome on her knees. Janette, gowned in red and gold, reclined in the adjoining armchair, perusing the New York Times. An assortment of other newspapers from around the world lay discarded at her feet, and her heavy earrings rested in a dish by the reading lamp on the end-table. The lounge was not quite big enough to comfortably accommodate all the qualifying characters at once, but that was rarely a problem.
"It isn't fair!" Vachon suddenly burst out.
"What is not fair?" Janette asked politely, folding the final section of the Times.
"That you guys just— that I—" He didn't know how to express it.
"Bad day on the fic list?" Fleur asked with sympathy. "Let me guess — you spent an entire shift making love to Tracy Vetter for no emotionally established reason in no logically explained manner, and you need an aspirin and a shower?"
"What I need is a road-trip on my bike — alone! Sharpened pine skewers, can't anyone write a story like that anymore?"
The outburst settled uncomfortably into silence. Vachon felt Janette's fathomless eyes on him, but stared everywhere else in the room in order to avoid the commitment of meeting them. He could hear a radio playing softly behind the door to the deck, but the reversible sign hanging from the handle displayed its "Daytime: Humans Only" side. No escape for him.
"You would like a break, hmmm? A vacation?" Janette asked acidly. "Be careful what you wish for. You think we enjoy sitting here, day after day, week after week, hoping against hope for a call to the fiction list? And when it finally comes, it's a cameo, a walk on, a toss-off line to prove yourself shallow and justify the writer in ignoring you for the rest of her story?"
"We'd trade you any day, Javier." Fleur sounded grave. "I know it bothers you when they write you like some kind of 'lost boy' rather than the five-century-old man you are, but at least they still write you. At least they still believe in your place in the story. It's all right for me — I was barely in two episodes, after all — but haven't you thought about what this treatment of Janette presages for all of us?"
"What are you talking about?" Vachon rarely shared scripts with the original characters, and so did not always have the latest perspective on how things were going in that department. He had not seen the inside of Knight's loft in months.
"If I vanish from the fandom's imagination," Janette enunciated, "think about what vanishes with me. I am the intermediate vampire, accepting of my reality but not unduly enamored of its darkest demons, as Natalie is the intermediate human, accepting of her reality but not impervious to vampiric temptation. Without me, the whole delicate structure tips."
"You're not the only one who can fill that bill." Vachon spread his hands. The role had been awarded to him in her absence, after all.
Janette let that pass. "Centuries of Nicolas's experience and evolution lie within his love for me; lose that, and lose the Nicolas who changes through time. I must be there to maintain the balance that maintains the story's motion! And I am not the only one fading."
"In other words, Javier," Fleur set aside her book, "Janette's case is just the most advanced. If she goes, we all go, one by one, until only my brother and Natalie — or Lucien, depending which faction prevails — remain, and then, quickly, almost immediately, the story will truly stop. Not like before, after cancellation, when we all just moved into quarters adjacent to the fiction list. No, this would be it, the end, finito. When the story is resolved, the story dies — do you see? — and only question-generating multiplicity prevents resolution. Believe me," she sighed. "I've had a lot of unoccupied time in which to work this out since Amy finished writing Fireweed. I have statistics, if you're interested."
"But you're dressed for a second-season plot," Vachon observed to Janette. "Surely things haven't reached such an extreme point if they're still writing second-season stories for you?"
Janette smoothed her gown's red velvet fabric. "There are still the occasional good ones, I admit — and I take comfort in them, to be sure — but... take today, for example. I came on just long enough to say some rather absurd things to Nicolas, my lines specifically designed to drive him into Doctor Lambert's arms. Now, I do not begrudge Natalie the attention, and I understand the necessity of these scenes, but for goodness sakes! They're all I'm called on to do anymore! Where's the challenge? The character development? I used to prod Nicolas to examine his position, his actions; I used to speak for the community! Without that, what's my contribution to the story, really? I feel demoted, devalued. And, yes, I am worried about that next fateful step — vanishing entirely."
Vachon sat heavily at the end of the couch. "This is kinda out of my league," he admitted. "Have you talked to Knight about this? Or old dragon breath?"
"You rang?" Lacroix observed with early third-season levity as he stepped through the door, then shook his head as if to clear it. "My apologies. It is difficult to extricate myself from 'lite' mode. Stories like the one in which I just performed make me wish they had left me staked for dead — at least the demon of Nicholas's nightmares had a little dignity."
"I understand that they've run out of rooms over at the Mary Sue dormitory again," Fleur said. "If you like, you could go drain a dozen or two in order to restore your normal temperament before your next call."
"Perhaps I will." Lacroix bowed slightly in her direction, then went to the cupboard to extract his favorite Michelangelo-print mug and fill it from the insulated pot. "But may I inquire what you were discussing as I arrived?"
"The ladies seem to think that the fans are on the verge of forgetting Janette."
Lacroix froze. "What?" Suddenly, he seemed all second-season Lacroix, and progressing rapidly toward first.
"It's true," Fleur confirmed, sorting through some files among her books. "Janette's percentage involvement in stories never recovered from her absence in the third season, but the breadth of depiction in her remaining appearances has been contracting severely lately. She's pretty much down to administrative tasks as Natalie's rival. The project work has almost completely dried up for her, and most writers seem to be discouraging her from trying new things or extending in unexplored directions. Many seem to want to turn her into a neck-of-the-week, with that week terminating in 1228." Fleur handed Lacroix a manila folder.
Thumbing through the contents, Lacroix appropriated the center of the couch, ignoring Vachon. After a moment, Lacroix looked up at Fleur and raised an eyebrow. "Impressive work."
"Is it this for which you called the meeting tonight?"
"What meeting?" Vachon interrupted.
Janette frowned. "Detective Vetter was supposed to tell you about it."
"Uh, Tracy is, uh, probably a little tired of my company at the moment. She left that last story as fast as she could. You know, canonically she told me that it would never work between us, right? In stories set after 'Ashes to Ashes,' she'd rather just put it all behind her and move on."
"Practical girl," Janette approved under her breath. "Well, Fleur asked everyone to come by tonight to plot a plan of action. Nicolas and Natalie's current story lets out last — as usual — so when they get here, we can begin."
"Not to be too selfish or anything, here, but does this really affect all of us?" Vachon demanded. "Sorry, Janette, but come on — how can this possibly have an impact on, say, me? Or Urs?"
Lacroix coldly handed him a paper-clipped packet from Fleur's manila folder: "The Anti-Janette: Urs and Diminishing Complexity in Forever Knight."
Before Vachon could read it, however, Fleur crossed the room and exchanged the packet for a spiral-bound booklet. "The report on Natalie makes the point most clearly of all."
Curious, but unconvinced, Vachon settled back in the corner of the couch and began reading. It took a while to get the hang of Fleur's heavily-annotated style — did she really have to cite every episode supporting any given point? and how was he supposed to remember all those soupy acronyms? — but once he did, he found himself both enthralled and appalled. Apparently, an active, multifaceted, challenging Janette in a story promoted an active, multifaceted, challenging Natalie. No Janette — or, worst of all, a flat, one-dimensional Janette — increasingly coincided with wishy-washy, dependent Natalies unable to advance thematic content in any direction more dynamic than "romantic love conquers all." But why is this a problem? he wondered. Isn't that one of the oldest and most resonant storytelling themes? As the other recurring canonical characters trickled in from their various appearances, Vachon, riveted, turned the page to Fleur's conclusion and did not even care that Schanke was reading over his shoulder.
A list. Sheets and sheets, columns to a page, in tiny print. Vachon's mind reeled. That many! That many other series, just in this genre alone, that could fill the need for "romantic love conquers all" fanfic scenarios. They would all be out of work! Why come all the way to Forever Knight when you can just pop over to Beauty and the Beast, Highlander, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek in all its incarnations, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that unabashed imitator Angel, Roswell, Roar, Early Edition, The X-Files, Now and Again... and the list just rolled on. And on.
"I coulda told you this," Schanke said.
"Any of us could, Detective, if we'd thought it through," Captain Cohen agreed. "As we, as a story, lose our complexity, we lose our ability to address unique needs, and when finally we address only the one simplest, broadest, most common need of all, well — poof! There we go. Doctor Lambert and Detective Knight—"
"Nicholas and I," Lacroix corrected.
"—will survive in imaginations, but the rest of us could indeed cease to exist in any recognizable form."
"Is everyone here except Knight and Lambert?" Stonetree asked, bringing in two lawn chairs from the deck, one under each arm.
"Yes," Fleur answered, patting Bourbon reassuringly on the shoulder before turning to address the big captain. Bourbon had technically appeared in more episodes than she had, but the former musketeer remained uncomfortable with the other recurring characters and tended to board with the guest stars. His reticence reminded her poignantly of her special status; no matter how they wrote her — human or vampire, intelligent or vapid, a teenager infatuated with Lacroix or André's mother — she was the hero's sister. Unlike all the others' relations to Nicolas, hers would never be questioned and could never change, outside the most blatant alternate universe. It was a responsibility. "Everyone else is here. I'd send someone to fetch them, but you know what it usually means when they're the last ones in a story. If it's not necessary to intrude, I'd rather not."
"Usually I'd agree," Stonetree said. "But as quiet as the list is these days, the eastern time zones still tick toward dawn while the west slides into sleep, and any of us could be called into a story at any moment. I think we all need to hear this together. Maybe you should go get them yourself."
Fleur nodded tensely. "Keep Divia away from her father while I'm gone, okay?" She threaded through the crowd and slipped into the hallway, the sounds of Reese and Screed arguing over last year's Stanley Cup championship fading as she closed the door and strode away.
Just about to open the story, Fleur felt the knob turn under her hand. Nick held the door as Natalie stepped through. The coroner's face looked ashen above her peach third-season suit, but she waved away Fleur's gesture of concern even as she refused to take Nick's arm.
"I'm fine. It just takes a moment to recover from a story where they make me a vampire." Natalie leaned against the wall and breathed a sigh of relief as Nick locked the story behind them. "How are you, Fleur? Did you get a story today?"
"No, but thanks for asking. Um, we're just about ready to start the meeting—"
"And we're late!" Nick realized. "I'm sorry, Fleur. The author had us lose track of time. Nat... are you up to this?"
"I'm fine, I said." Natalie smiled, sincerely but hollowly. "Look, could you give me just a bit of a head start? Long enough to stop by the washroom, comb my hair, you know?"
"Absolutely," Nick said.
"Do you want me to come with you?" Fleur offered. There was more here than the letter of the request; Fleur had done the mortal-vampire-mortal transition more than once herself.
"No, really, I'm fine." Natalie's smile started to crack.
"We'll catch up." Nick squeezed Fleur's shoulder. They stood silently until the coroner turned the corner.
"What was that all about?" Fleur asked softly, starting slowly back down the hall.
"Like you wrote in your report, the predominance of romance-only plots is wearing her down a bit. Now, don't get me wrong — I love romance!"
"You fall in love almost twice an episode."
Nick flashed her a brief grin, but sobered immediately. "I can hardly remember the last time Natalie got a story featuring her forensic pathology solving the case or convicting the criminal. She's starting to feel that some fans don't really want her, Natalie, but just any warm-blooded woman to pair off with... whoever. And of course the less complex she is in a story, the less complex I am — it's a damaging cycle."
"But there's something else," Fleur prompted, taking her brother's arm.
Nick sighed. "Don't put this in your study, okay? What's really getting her down is the assumption that we're in love. So many stories are starting at that assumption, skipping all the work and pleasure of having us actually fall in love, that there's no basis, no substance, when the stories plunge us in. It's a strain on her, going cold from platonic friendship to romantic passion, and swallowing that this is how some see her — an existence centering solely on me. So many seemingly don't grasp how she really does love her job and her research and her political party and... Rot third season!"
"Familiar sentiment. Did you read all my research?"
"Everything you gave me. That's a very dangerous trend you've identified. I feel terrible that I hadn't noted it myself. I'll have to apologize to Janette — and Natalie — after we attack the problem."
"Do you know a way, then, Nicolas? I'm at my wit's end. Only the fans themselves can save us, and they're just not listening! I whisper into a hundred imaginations before one even considers writing me a story."
"On the dark side of cancellation, there's just one way to ensure they hear us, face to face." Sweeping open the break-room door, Nick addressed the assembled recurring canonical characters. "So who's ready for an FKFic-L War?"
— End —