A/N: AO3 Chocolate Box exchange gift, inspired by a prompt for an original work featuring Reader/Unwelcome Fic.
"You write fan fiction?" Catalina asked her new roommate. Campus housing meant living with a roommate a few more years. Not what she'd hoped for, but as a PhD candidate she couldn't afford a place of her own.
Verity paused in unpacking a box of clothes. "As an undergrad. How'd you know?"
"Professor Prutzman mentioned it."
"He's your faculty advisor, too?"
"He seemed pretty cool until he asked me to demonstrate my depth and breadth of reading. When I mentioned fanfic, you'd think he'd swallowed a wasp. Gave me a long lecture on copyright laws and refused to listen when I tried to explain the concept of Fair Use." She chuckled. "Did he ask you to monitor my reading? I told him I wouldn't have time to read or write fanfic in this degree program, but I don't think he believed me."
"I wouldn't spy on a roommate." Catalina shuddered at the thought.
Verity opened another box. "Have you ever read fanfic?"
She shrugged. "No. I never saw the appeal. Sorry."
"I'll send you a link to what I wrote. That way you can try it sometime if you want." Verity picked up her phone. "Give me your contact info."
That night Catalina thought about deleting the message from Verity. She wasn't going to have time for pleasure reading, and probably wouldn't like fanfic, anyway.
But what if Verity asked what she thought of it? It's not like it would be a big deal to follow the link, and she wanted to get along with her roommate.
The link led to Verity's profile page and included a list of stories she'd written. Catalina scrolled down the page, getting a feel for movies and TV shows Verity liked. There was a story based on Frankenstein – the original novel, not the movie. She hadn't realized people wrote fanfic based on Mary Shelley's version of the tale. And there were several stories about the characters in Pride and Prejudice.
Catalina remembered how melancholy she'd been when she'd finished reading all of Austen's published works. Could any fic meet that standard and fill the void?
Of course not, she chided herself.
During the fall break, Catalina reread Pride and Prejudice. She sighed as she reached the last lines. If only Austen had lived longer, had written more books…
You could try fanfic, she heard in the back of her head. You still have the link.
But fanfic couldn't begin to live up to the original, she reminded herself.
Verity is a PhD candidate studying literature of that century, the voice continued. It sounded like the voice she heard when she read Austen's works.
Catalina shook her head. It was ridiculous to get her hopes up. Those stories weren't written by a PhD candidate. Verity was an undergrad when she published them.
A week later she did a search on Pride and Prejudice, and her browser remembered Verity's profile page. Catalina read through the story summaries again. The first in the list of Pride and Prejudice stories did sound intriguing.
Such a fascinating concept. At a mere five thousand words, surely you have the time to read it.
She almost opened the story when she heard a voice behind her. Professor Prutzman! He'd already told her she needed to focus more. No way was she going to get caught reading fanfic.
Over breakfast the next day, Verity said, "Prutzman told me to narrow the scope of my dissertation. Can I run it by you? I'd like a second opinion before I talk to him about my new proposal."
She nodded and listened as Verity described an exploration of the role of female characters in the works of female authors in nineteenth century English literature. Catalina finished her cereal and said, "I think I finally understand. This is what you were exploring in your fanfic. You've been researching and writing about these topics for years now. It's perfect for your dissertation."
Verity smiled. "You read my fanfic?"
"Umm. No. I only read the story descriptions."
"That's okay. You told me you weren't into it. And who has the time, right?"
When the forecasters warned of a snowstorm that would arrive on the first day of winter break, Verity did the smart thing and left a day early. Catalina gambled that it wouldn't be as bad as predicted, and her flight was cancelled. She'd rescheduled for two days later, and that left her alone in her cozy lodgings on a nearly deserted campus.
What bliss! No expectations, no guilt. She was going to wear pajamas for the next forty-eight hours and read for fun.
Three paragraphs into Pride and Prejudice, she heard the voice again. Wouldn't you rather read something new? Only five-thousand words. Surely you can commit to such a small amount. Think how happy your roommate would be.
There wouldn't be a better time. No danger of Verity walking in and noticing what she was reading. How awkward would that be, especially if Catalina didn't like the story?
She poured a glass of apple juice and pretended it was white wine. Then she snuggled up with the story and read it.
Wasn't that delightful? the voice asked when she finished.
Was it? She wasn't certain. It wasn't what she'd expected, and then she'd been so eager to see how it ended that she'd rushed through it.
Poor little fanfic virgin. You thought you knew what to expect, but you were entirely unprepared for the experience. Let's try it again, more slowly this time. Savor it.
That seemed like a good idea. She read it once more and took in the details she'd missed the first time.
Afterward she stared blankly ahead. She'd never considered…. Her mind was filled with so many what-ifs.
Oh, yes. Open your imagination to me. There's so much more. So many variations.
What do you mean?
Oh, my dear, dear reader. Look more closely. That notation means what you've read so far is merely the first of a series. You've only begun to explore me.
Catalina found that Verity had published a total of seven stories in the series. The first were brief interludes, but the later ones were much longer, with multiple chapters.
She read five more stories, each better than the one before. There was one left, but her eyes were too blurry to continue. It was nearly dawn. Pleasantly exhausted, she stood and stretched, and went to bed.
And dreamed. The characters followed her as she imagined what would happen in the seventh story.
Isn't it glorious? the story asked. The satisfaction of finishing one piece, the anticipation of the next? Nothing compares to the thrill of learning where we'll go.
When she woke, she ate lunch and considered getting ahead on her reading for her classes.
Darling, don't forsake me!
As if she could ignore the siren call of the final installment in the series. The afternoon flew by as she absorbed the story. She reached the last chapter, and when it was over she looked up, confused. Where was the resolution?
She checked the author's notes, where Verity explained that she was starting a PhD and that it might be months – more likely years – before she could post more chapters.
To be left hanging like that – Catalina paced the room like a caged animal, and finally went to the coat closet. She pulled on snow boots, a coat and hat over her pajamas, and took a walk. She hoped she wasn't muttering to herself, but at least there weren't any other students or professors around to see her.
Come back, the story pleaded. It's warm inside. Let me show you there's still more pleasure to be had with me.
She returned to her rooms, torn over what to do next. Part of her wanted to read the stories again. They had been quite good, and perhaps she could piece together what Verity had in mind for the ending.
But could she bear to be left hanging again?
It will be better this time, the story promised. Think how much you enjoyed rereading the first part. Now that you know what to expect, you'll appreciate it so much more.
Catalina resisted at first, but on the flight home she gave in and read the second and third stories. The fourth and fifth she read at night during her vacation, and the sixth story provided companionship and comfort during a particularly bumpy flight back.
But then it was back to real life. She had undergrad papers to grade and research to do for her dissertation. She was busy, and embarrassed that she'd let herself get swept up with fanfic. What would she do if Prutzman found out? She told herself to resist the urge to return to the series.
Weeks went by. She thought it would get easier to ignore the voice of the stories, but it wouldn't leave her alone. Each night she heard it, begging her to return to its loving arms, and sometimes the story filled her dreams. Remember, it crooned. We were meant to be together.
In February she gave in and reread the last part of the series, and again felt frustration that the seventh story was incomplete. After another night spent dreaming of the story's embrace, Catalina asked Verity when there would be an ending to read.
"You read the whole series?"
"Yes. I kept going until the end, only it wasn't really an end. I've been going crazy wondering what's going to happen next."
"Honestly, I had a couple of options in mind, but neither one felt right. The PhD was an excuse to stop. If I'd had a compelling direction, I think I'd have found time to keep writing. Just at a slower pace, you know?" With a little prompting, Verity described the options she'd considered for wrapping up the series.
Catalina had to agree that neither ending sounded satisfying. She'd had several weeks now to ponder the seventh story, and thought her ideas were better.
A few days later, Catalina gathered her courage and told Verity how she thought the story should end.
"That's good." Verity nodded. "Actually, I like that better than my ideas. It really ties things up."
"Will you write it?"
"I don't think so."
"It's just… The story used to speak to me, you know? It was almost like we were in a relationship or something. Then we kind of split up, I guess, and I don't want to go back to it. Does that sound crazy? I'll probably write fanfic again eventually, but I'll start fresh with a different fandom."
Catalina understood. "It isn't crazy. Sometimes it feels as if the story has been speaking to me."
"I thought so. I mean, you came up with a better ending than I could after the story and I stopped hearing each other. If I can move on, why shouldn't the story find a new relationship, too?"
"Do you mind?"
"I thought I would, but I really don't. I like knowing it still has a life." Verity paused. "Do you want to write the ending – publish it?"
"Yes, very much."
"Set up an account, and I'll add you as a co-author. You can post your version of the ending, and even continue the series if you want. It's all yours."
The prospect took Catalina's breath away. That night the story filled her dreams more vividly than ever before. Not only did she have the ending for part seven, but sequels were creeping into her imagination. She'd take it slow, she promised herself. Writing fanfic would be her reward for hitting milestones toward her PhD.
The story continued speaking to her even after she graduated. Their pleasure in the creative process was intense, and together they produced many more chapters.
That made the story happy. Like other species, it was driven to spawn, and it had succeeded.
A/N: This prompt seduced me and took me places I didn't expect.
Thanks to Silbrith for working her beta reader magic!