A Very Misheard Christmas


It was freezing and hostile outside, but the interior of the Fourth Wall Holiday Lodge was toasty and – for the most part – cheerful. Various characters reclined in the comfortably poofy armchairs as a fire crackled merrily in the hearth and the Christmas lights twinkled.

The halls were decked with boughs of holly, and every original character had donned his or her respective gay apparel – with the notable exception of Alvaro, who was sulking in the only corner free of mistletoe, wearing his very unseasonal t-shirt and jeans.

"Guys," Ren said at length. "Shouldn't we be doing something?"

"What are you talking about?" Kathy asked, looking up from her game of checkers. "I'm having fun already! Weren't we just waiting for the intro cut to get started?"

Her opponent, a scowling redheaded boy, rolled his eyes. "We already had the intro cut, dumbass. You were too busy trying to work out why you had to move and capture diagonally with your 'pawns'." He punctuated the last word with heavily sarcastic air quotes.

"Put a sock in it, Damien," Ren sighed from his armchair. "You haven't even debuted in the story yet, so you should be grateful we let you in at all."

"Hey, I haven't appeared yet either," said the athletic-looking teenager who was leaning nonchalantly on the doorframe, seemingly unsure whether to join in.

Ren frowned. "Who are you, again?"

The stranger waved a hand casually. "You wouldn't know me, dude. I'm from the other story. Spike Hunter, at your service."

Kathy let out a strange little squeal, toppling the checkerboard as she leapt to her feet. Ignoring the swearing Damien, she dashed over to Spike. "Are you really? Oh my gosh, it's really you! I'm your biggest fan ever! I have posters of you all over my bedroom!"

Spike raised his hands in an effort to calm the excitable blonde down. "Whoa, whoa. Easy there, kid. There'll be plenty of chances to fangirl when I-"

"Hey, Hunter! No spoilers!" Alvaro cut in from his corner, giving Spike a glare that would melt polar ice caps. "Or do I have to come over there and punch the bleep out of you?" He paused, his glare morphing into a confused frown. "Hey, who the bleep is censoring me?"

"Sorry, Alvaro," Ren said. "This is meant to be an all-ages fic, so you can't go running your mouth like you normally do."

"Bleep," said Alvaro sullenly, folding his arms.

"Would you chill out a little, please?" Ren asked. "This is meant to be a Christmas party."

"Who died and made you king?" Alvaro asked.

"I wouldn't say it like that, really," Ren said weakly. "The author just said that I'm the most 'mature' of the group, so I was meant to keep everyone in line."

"Which is funny," Karl put in as he returned from the kitchen, ginger beer in hand, "because I'm pretty sure you're the youngest one here. You're fourteen, right?"

"Yes," Ren admitted, "but I turn fifteen on Sunday! That's three days away in fic time."

"Knowing the author, that could be anywhere from two to forty chapters away," Cole chuckled, popping another beer. "But you'd still be the baby even then. Hey, sound off, people. I'm twenty-one. What about you all?"

"I'm sixteen," Karl said, finding a spare armchair and dropping into it with a fwump. "Just to save time, so are Alvaro, Damien, Kathy and Spike, I believe."

"Seventeen, dude," Spike corrected him. "Seriously, I didn't think there was a teenager alive that didn't know that."

"Just because you're the Justin Bieber of this fanon," Alvaro snorted. "And for your information, I had no idea either. Nor do I give a flying bleep. Agh, would you bleeping people stop bleeping doing that?"

"I'm fifteen," Chaz said, finally working his way out of the gag Kathy had put on him with an artful flick of his head. His arms were still bound to the kitchen stool, though. "I'm a better Pokémon Trainer than any of you, though."

"Come on, little man," Cole laughed. "You want to go up against my cousin here? If we're going to start doing the fandom equivalent of comparing bleep sizes, we're all game over here. Can you top being Champion of the Hoenn League?"

"I'd kick your bleep any day!" Chaz insisted, struggling with the cord that kept his arms tied.

"Guys, guys!" Ren said, waving his arms in a gently placatory gesture. "There'll be no Pokémon battles here. No one-upping, no fisticuffs or any of that junk. How many times do I have to remind you people that it's Christmas?"

"If it's Christmas, shouldn't we be doing more Christmas-type things?" came a voice from the door. "All I see is a whole lot of Trainers sitting around doing nothing."

"Bella!" Ren exclaimed with evident relief. "You made it."

"Sorry I'm late, guys," Bella said, smiling sweetly. "I got caught up with my manager. The guy just wouldn't let me go!"

"You can take over as 'responsible person' now," Ren said. "I can't believe the author left me, of all people, in charge of this lot."

"Wait, wait, wait!" Karl cut in, looking from Ren to Bella and back again. "Ren, you know Bella Bianchi?"

"Uhh . . . kinda, yeah," Ren said uncertainly as Bella hung her coat on a hook by the door and took a seat next to Ren's. "We've met once or twice."

"That's . . . that's big, man. I'm sorry, Miss Bianchi, but I'm kind of a big fan," Karl explained bashfully.

"That's quite all right," Bella said. "Any friend of Ren's is a friend of mine."

"Oh, please!" Damien snorted, abandoning the scattered checkers pieces and heading for one of the doors that led out of the main room. "I thought this was meant to be a cast party, not some kind of soap opera. When everybody's done drooling over the celebrities, I'll be in the kitchen making eggnog."

"Eggnog!" Cole exclaimed, leaping from his chair. "That's what I was forgetting!" He raced quickly after the redhead and disappeared from sight.

There was a short silence following his departure, but at length Kathy spoke up. "What's eggnog, anyway?"

"No idea," Alvaro said. "I think it's some American thing. I'm pretty sure it's alcoholic too, both of which are valid reasons that the author wouldn't know either. It's heavily associated with Christmas, though."

"So, is everybody here?" Bella asked, glancing around the room.

"Who's supposed to be here?" Ren added. "I think it's only Pokémon Trainers right now, though the spirits should be turning up in a couple of hours."

"So it's only humans, only Trainers, only original characters," Karl said, counting them off on his fingers. "Is anybody missing?"

"Yeah, what about that chick with the really long, stupid name?" Alvaro offered.

"Oh, you mean Alicia Melodia Fantasia Darkbladia?" Cole asked, popping his head back through the door from the kitchen. "Yeah, she turned up, but she was really – and I mean really – annoying, so I locked her in the second bathroom. Don't open it."

Ren frowned. "Shouldn't we have heard something by now?"

"Pfft. I didn't even have to lock the door – that was just for good measure. She was too busy adoring herself in the mirror. From what I hear, that'll keep her occupied for another few hours. Bleeping Mary Sues," Cole mumbled as he retreated back into the kitchen.

"So, how about we get started?" Bella suggested.

"I'm game, but get started with what?" Karl asked. "Did we have plans?"

"I hooked up SingStar to the TV!" Ren suggested brightly. Upon seeing the looks on the faces of just about everyone else in the room, his smile dropped slightly. "Bad suggestion?"

"No bleep," Alvaro said. "Besides, there's two professional singers in the room. How many of us would stand a chance?"

"True," Ren admitted. "Still, it's there as a last resort. Anybody have any other ideas?"

"Should we do the present swap first?" Bella suggested. "I know it's only Christmas Eve right now, but we're only a few hours off."

"Sounds like a plan," Ren said. "Let me rescue Damien and Cole from the kitchen, and we'll do that. Afterwards, maybe we can do the FAQ!"

A couple of minutes later, the whole group was congregated on the floor around the large Christmas tree in the corner. Under the tree was quite a colourful assortment of packages in varying shapes and sizes.

"I'm first!" Kathy said brightly, seizing a bright pink parcel from under the tree and thrusting it into Alvaro's hands.

He looked at it askance, as if worrying it might explode. Hesitantly, he pulled the ribbon off and tore open the paper, showing a flash of blue. "A . . . T-shirt?" he said. "You actually had me worried it was going to be something weird."

"Look on the front!" she exclaimed.

Frowning, Alvaro did so. The second he saw what the design was, he bleeped loudly and made to throw the shirt at Kathy. He caught himself just in time, though, gripping the shirt tightly and grinding it into the floorboards in his effort to control himself.

"In the spirit of Christmas and non-canon hijinks," he said tightly, "I'm not going to kill you for giving me a Spike Hunter t-shirt."

Kathy looked a little hurt, but Spike himself was laughing hysterically. "Come on, dude. You know you want me all over your body."

The silence that followed was truly awkward. The author thought cicadas would probably be superfluous, but he dropped a few outside the window anyway. (They froze to death. Cicadas don't do winter very well.)

"Uh . . . here, blondie," Alvaro said, trying to pretend nothing had been said as he tossed her a present wrapped in green paper. "Happy Christmas or something."

Kathy tore into it excitedly. "Ooh, chocolates! My favourite kind, too!"

"That's surprisingly thoughtful of you, Alvaro," Karl said with a knowing grin. "How did you happen to know what her favourite chocolates were, by the way? I'm pretty sure that never came up in the fic."

"I-it was a lucky guess," Alvaro said, folding his arms and looking away. "Chocolates are supposed to be good presents, right?"

"Ooh! Ooh! Kathy, did you get me something?" Chaz exclaimed excitedly. He was still tied to his stool, but had been dragged over to the tree to take part.

"Huh?" Kathy said. There was a blissful expression on her face as she examined the chocolate box. Her face fell when she realised who had addressed her, though. "Oh, Chaz. Yeah, I did get you something."

"Really!" Chaz seemed genuinely surprised. "What is it? Have you finally realised how awesome I am?"

"Eh, not so much," Kathy said. "It's in the purple box."

Chaz craned his neck as best he could from his position. "I can't see a purple box!"

Bella quickly rifled through the pile of presents. "He's right, Kathy. There isn't one?"

"Really?" Kathy asked, the picture of wide-eyed innocence. "But it's right there, see?" she said, pointing at a definitely vacant spot. "It's a box of all the bleeps I give about what Chaz says! I collected them all from the last year to give to him now."

The silence that followed was almost as awkward as the one Spike had created just a couple of minutes earlier, if that was even possible.

"That's harsh, Kathy," Ren said eventually.

"Totally unlike you," Alvaro agreed. "But big ups, seriously. Actually, I vote we lock the little bleep in the bathroom with the Mary Sue. It'd be good punishment for both of them."

Twenty seconds later, it was done, though not without much protesting on Chaz's part. Thankfully for the other partygoers, the doors at the Fourth Wall Holiday Lodge were pretty much soundproof.

"You and your ridiculous Champion paycheck," Karl chuckled, shaking his head as he unwrapped a pair of shiny, blue and white sneakers. "Wicked shoes, though. These things kick bleep!"

"I didn't know what to get you," Ren said apologetically. "Actually, everyone else got clothes and things as well. Between everybody here, you probably have a full, accessorised outfit."

"Who got the underwear, then?" Spike wondered aloud, prompting another uncomfortable silence.

The rest of the present-swapping went down without further incident. As it turned out, Kathy had bought Spike Hunter shirts for everybody . . . as had Spike Hunter himself. "Nothing like having a hot guy's face on your chest all day!" he said, winking in the general direction of Bella and Kathy.

"Alvaro . . ." Ren said warningly, seeing the dark-haired boy clenching his fists and grinding his teeth.

"Next time he does that, the son of a beep is getting a knuckle sandwich," Alvaro growled.

"To be honest with you, I think you're going to have to race me to it," Ren muttered as he watched Spike guffawing loudly at his own joke.

Bella, ever fashionable and practical, had bought everybody accessories that matched her own customary gold and black colour scheme – an elaborate hairpin and bracelet for Kathy and a variety of belts, wallets and watches for the boys. Cole had given Ren a limited edition Premier Ball, and Karl had bought the reigning Champion a fancy new badge case emblazoned with a Mightyena logo.

With the presents handed out, the group trooped into the kitchen by mutual agreement. The table was loaded with mince pies, ham, turkey, Christmas pudding and other unspecified Yuletide fare that the author couldn't be bothered researching. Either way, it was good stuff.

The food brought with it a general air of contentment and relaxation that alleviated the last of the awkward tension that had been hanging in the air since the start of the evening. Once everybody had finished – amid much friendly discussion and banter – they made their way back to the lounge area and arrayed themselves around the room once more.

Spike Hunter begged leave to put on one of his own CDs. Alvaro was vocally opposed to the suggestion, but Kathy was louder and the rest of the group decided to humour her. Soon enough, the familiar strains of 'All I Want For Christmas Is Me' floated softly through the background, and it was almost relaxing.

"Seeing as we're all here," Cole said, taking another sip of his as-yet-alien eggnog, "we might as well take advantage of the fact that there's no fourth wall. Anybody got a suggestion?"

"We could answer questions from readers!" Kathy said excitedly, clapping her hands. "I always wanted to do something like that!"

Ren shrugged. "If you guys want to, I'm game. I've got a list of questions here that the author made up in an attempt to make these fics look more popular than they actually are."

A murmur of general assent ran around the room, so Ren nodded and took out a sheet of paper. "Right, then. I reckon we should go around and answer one each so that we all get a go. Obviously, some characters will be able to answer certain questions, while others won't. Here goes. Oh, one from a mister_enchilada in Springfield: 'Dear Damien, who the bleep are you and why are you here?' Uh, I guess that one's for you, Damien. No spoilers now, okay?"

Damien snorted. "So I'm meant to tell you who I am without giving any plot details away? Sure, that'll work. Ugh, fine. Remember in Chapter 26, when Skyla asked Ren when the last time he lost a battle was? And Ren mentioned this guy who showed up at his hotel room before the Conference to battle him? Yeah, that's me, bleeps. I kicked his bleep, too. You wanna know our win-loss record? Heh, I'll spare him the embarrassment. It's pathetic. I should be Champion, not him."

"You'd need all eight Gym badges first, though," Ren grumbled. "Moving on . . . next question comes from BooyaNaco in Middleton. 'Dear Ren, how are you such a hit with the ladies? Most of your supporting cast is female. It's crazy! And you're just a kid! Is it the Champion thing? It's the Champion thing, isn't it?' I, uh . . ."

"You are a bit of a player," Karl said with a shrug.

"Oh, come on!" Ren said, though he seemed a little pink. "How many girls do you see in this room? Two! And one's not even from the same fic!"

"Yes, but the rest are canon characters or missing," Bella reminded him. "Vila went back to Qirfa to spend the holidays with her family, and Roxanne, Winona and Skyla are all canon characters. Not to mention Cecilia, Elly and Salinthia from the world of dreams side of things . . . who I don't know about in-canon, but whatever."

"You've got quite the harem going on there, man," Karl chuckled. "I'm starting to think the author only put me and Cole in so there'd be a bit more balance! Man, how funny would that be?"

"Next question is from dragonite9001 in Johto," Ren said, cutting Karl off before he could say anything else incriminating. "He – or she, no idea – says 'Dear Alvaro, you're obviously going to end up with Kathy at the end of the story, so why don't you two just make out already? It's going to be painful to watch you stumble over each other for the next hundred chapters.'" Ren raised an eyebrow at his counterpart, who was blinking slowly, as if unable to comprehend what was going on.

Alvaro snapped out of it quickly enough, though. "Not going to happen EVER!" he insisted. "This isn't a bleeping romance, people. We're a comedy! Sure, we're not a family-rated comedy, but that's just because I like to hit things and swear at people! Or was it the other way around? But for bleep's sake, there will be no bleeping makeouts if I have anything to say about it!"

He glanced around in confusion. "Blondie, back me up here, will you?"

Kathy blinked. "Oh! Right. Um, yes. I mean no. That is, uh . . . not happening. Definitely not happening ever. There's no way I'd ever even think about having feelings for that kind of guy."

"Okay, guys!" Bella said, raising her hands to calm everybody down. "The author just woke up and realised he wrote seven and a half pages of out-of-character fic between two and four in the morning. In the interests of comedy, nothing from that period will be changed, but we're going to steer things in a slightly more sensible direction from now on. Ren, the next question?"

"Oh, right," Ren said, checking his list. "The next one . . . um. I don't think I'm even allowed to read this one out."

"Lemme see," Karl said, leaning over to peer at the paper. He winced. "Ooh . . . Okay, who told the yaoi fangirls they could send in questions? I don't think that's even anatomically possible. We'll give that one a miss, I think."

"Probably a good idea," Ren agreed. "Next one's for Alvaro."

"Oh, joy," the dark-haired boy in the corner grumbled. "Fine. Hit me with it."

"It's from lemonadevaporeon in Helensville, who asks 'Alvaro, why do you swear so much? It makes the fic difficult to read and it sounds like the author's just using it as an excuse for profanity.'"

"I can't speak for the author," Alvaro said, "but I swear because I bleeping feel like it. It's not like I swear all the time, either – mostly just when I'm bleeped off. If you don't like it, or you're too much of a little bleep to handle a little language, don't read the bleeping fic."

"Is your fic really that full of swearing?" Ren asked curiously.

"He swears like a sailor sometimes," Kathy said. "Honestly, it gets annoying for me too sometimes."

"I told you, you don't have to put up with me if you don't want to!" Alvaro said. "If you can't handle travelling with me, just leave!"

"I promised your mom I'd stick with you, remember?" Kathy snapped. "And besides, I happen to find you somewhat interesting despite your foul mouth."

Karl suppressed a laugh. "Oh, the UST is killing me. I think I'm gonna have to agree with that letter we had earlier – would you two just hook up already?"

"Not happening!" Alvaro and Kathy insisted simultaneously. They shared a surprised glance, then each folded their arms and glared in opposite directions.

"You can really tell they come from a comedy fic, can't you?" Bella said quietly to Ren.

He nodded in agreement. "Sometimes I wish I could be so carefree."

"Cheer up, cuz!" Cole said, slapping him heartily on the back. "It's Christmas! Drink some eggnog or something!"

"Uh . . . I'll pass on that, thanks," Ren said hurriedly, scanning his sheet of paper. "Oh, look at that. I think we're out of questions."

"Does that mean the party's over?" Spike asked. "Because I can still go all night, you know?"

Ren blinked, but chose to ignore the second half of the pop star's comment. "The party can carry on," he said, "but the fic will be ending in a minute. Nobody wants to read pages and pages of us all playing charades, singing Christmas carols and pulling crackers."

"Fair enough," Alvaro said. "So we're off the clock soon?"

"Yeah, but you have to stick around," Ren said. "The spirits are meant to be turning up in an hour or two, and I want you all to meet them."

"We don't have many opportunities for out-of-character stuff like this, do we?" Kathy mused. "I don't know about anyone else, but I had a lot of fun!"

There was a general murmur of agreement in the room. "I guess it's all right," Alvaro said, accepting a mug of eggnog from Damien.

"I for one have had a wonderful time," Bella said with a smile. "It's lovely to meet you all, I have to say, even though I won't remember any of you once I go back to canon."

"Reckon we can get together and do this again some other time?" Karl suggested. "Like Easter, or even New Year's?"

"I don't see why not," Ren said. "It's all down to the author's whim, of course, but I think he had just as much fun writing this as we did participating in it. That said, it's just about time for us to end this. Anybody want to say anything to the readers before I sign off?"

"Yeah," Alvaro said, standing up and speaking to a non-existent camera. "You lot better read my fic," he said, jabbing a finger at the location he perceived the audience to be. "It's a comedy, so you don't have to hurt your little brains to read it."

"Insulting your potential readers isn't the best way to go about it, Al," Kathy said disapprovingly. "I'm sorry about him. But still, yes! We're only new, so we don't have many people reading!"

"Anybody else?" Ren asked. There was silence around the room. "I'd plug my own fic myself, but that seems a bit self-serving, so I'll leave it at that. So let me just finish up by saying Merry Christmas to all you guys reading, on behalf of the author and all of us here at the Fourth Wall Holiday Lodge, as well as the canon characters and the OCs who couldn't make it. And, uh, happy Hanukkah? I think that's right . . . Anyway, season's greetings to you all, regardless of religious affiliation. Stay safe these holidays. Eat, drink, and be merry! Most of all, have fun! I know we have."

As the lights went down, the Fourth Wall Holiday Lodge burst into life once more, igniting a party that promised to last well into the morning.

~~~

Ren, Bella, Karl, Cole and Damien appear in Champion Game, while Kathy, Alvaro and Spike hail from Something's Got To Give. The questions used are fictitious, as are their askers, and all characters present belong to me.