9: Great Big Crocodile Tears

Dr. Renard blinked owlishly as his eyes adjusted to the dark. He looked at the bell hop he had knocked out: an unlucky twenty-some year old whose hands and wrists were now bound with rope and a piece of duct tape was slapped over his mouth. Troy looked at Renard, nodded curtly, and then tapped the watch on his wrist. After several seconds Troy's skeletal form transformed into a semblance of his original human form.

Renard had given him the hologram watch when he discovered that the robot body he was making for Troy was going to be much later than he'd been hoping and the watch would at least appease Troy long enough to keep his whining at bay for at least a little while.

For a few seconds, Renard stalled in the open door to the maintenance closet, lit only faintly by a beam of moonlight. Troy just stood there, blinking, and waiting patiently. Eventually, Renard pulled the door shut with a click and then finished fixing the buttons on the front of his stolen red and gold bell hop's uniform; he also briefly glanced at the ancient brass bird cage he held in his hand. He scurried down the hall and shot cursory glances everywhere, making sure that doors were shut and that he wasn't being watched very closely as he rolled up the long sleeve of his jacket and activated his invisibility device.

As soon as he heard bat noises, Renard turned off his invisibility and held up the bird cage, opening the tiny door. The clueless bat flew inside and Renard flipped the tiny door closed again; helplessly, the bat flapped around crazily, somersaulting a few times as it became utterly disoriented and upset. Gently, Renard stroked the side of the cage and murmured soothingly, eventually calming the bat down and directing its gaze at him. Two crimson eyes stared up at him and he smiled.

"Well done," he told Kate the vampire, digging a packet out of his pocket and slipping it through the cage bars. "It's goat blood. Maybe not as tasty to you as human blood, but I can't have you attacking anyone else right this-"

Before he could even finish talking, the bat rushed at the packet, digging her fangs into it and draining it in seconds with loud slurping noises. Renard couldn't help a small smile as he watched the bat settle against the wall of the cage and look up at him hopefully with wide, expecting eyes. Suppressing a chuckle, Renard started off down the hallway back towards the supply closet...

Owen looked down at his foot tall pile of fluffy golden waffles and just stared at them. He felt extremely weird and couldn't help fingering the bite mark on the palm of his hand. Last night, a crazy bat had swooped into his bedroom and just randomly bit his hand. After that, he'd felt a bit woozy and fainted...

First the incident with the raccoon and now this...

He was beginning to have as much bad luck with animals as DJ had been during third season. But a bite from a bat shouldn't be causing him to lose his appetite. He always had an appetite and he had the strongest stomach out of everyone he knew.

"Hey Owen!" Geoff said, giving him a friendly slap on the shoulder; Owen just shrugged his shoulders and gave a long, low sigh in response. "Is something wrong, buddy?"

As soon as he saw Owen's uneaten waffles, his eyes grew wide. "This is your third or fourth plate...right?"

"It's my first," Owen replied sadly, frowning at him.

"Holy crap." Geoff frowned. "I've never seen you this depressed before."

"I only ate two or three helpings of fondue cheese at my mom's welcome home party last time Izzy broke up with me..." Owen confessed, poking at his food with the prongs of his fork. "Mom was worried. I wasn't able to eat normally for three whole weeks. I even...lost some weight..."

By this point, Geoff's jaw was hanging down so far it could be touching the floor. The reaction didn't make Owen feel any better and he frowned, twirling the fork and looking at one of the walls with longing. Food danced in his mind's eye, but he couldn't-he just couldn't- get himself to eat. When he looked up, Geoff held up a fork with a waffle dangling on it and was clasping a bottle of maple syrup like a weapon. He looked the most serious he ever had in his life and he was a laid back, party kind of dude.

That was enough to lodge a huge lump in Owen's throat.

"Come on, this isn't right!" Geoff cried, dangling the food in Owen's face. "It isn't natural! Eat, Owen. Eat for your family, your friends, your fans! Your country. You can't let the folks back home see you like this..."

Geoff's words ignited a huge surge of patriotic pride in Owen's chest. With a huge grin, he swiped the waffle and finished it off in a large, triumphant bite that only he was capable of. Then he speared the rest of the waffles with his fork and ignored the way his intestines twisted with nervous anxiety in his stomach and his peculiar lack of appetite and ate them all. Geoff was clapping enthusiastically as Owen executed a salute.

"For Canada!" he trumpeted.

"That's so beautiful!" Geoff sniffed, a tear in the corner of one of his eyes. "That's true patriotism, bra..."

Geoff was just about to encourage Owen to go up and get more waffles when two loud angry voices drifted into the cafeteria. Both Geoff and Owen instantly turned their attention towards the caf entrance and Alejandro entered, looking like he was about to erupt like a volcano, with Jose following at his heels and yelling loud and fast in Spanish.

Owen blinked and frowned. The only times he'd seen Al that furious were when he was called "Al" and in the finale of World Tour when he'd been competing with Heather.

It was a classic case of sibling rivalry...making Owen glad that he was an only child on one of those few rare occasions in his life. Otherwise, he'd always wanted a younger brother to have eating contests with that looked up to him and who he could tell all about his experiences on Total Drama. Part of Owen wondered if Al had touching moments like that with Jose...?

Jose was pretty much just an older, more tolerable version of Al...only much better looking, with a better sense of fashion, and a six pack rivaled only by Justin's...Not that Owen would know.

The arguing brothers reached a table and once Jose sat down, Al raised his arms in frustration and stormed off towards the front counter. Jose muttered angrily in Spanish as he folded his arms and rested his head on the table.

"I wonder what's up with them..." Geoff mused, verbally stating what they were both pondering.

"What's up with him?" Cody asked, joining Geoff and Owen at their table.

It was a miracle since it was one of those rare times he didn't have Sierra clutching his arm or drooling all over his face.

"We don't know," Owen said. "It just sounded like a bunch of gibberish..."

"I'm gonna go see if he's okay," Cody said, then narrowed his eyes at Owen. "Normally I'd let you take that"-he gestured at his waffle-"but I really want something good to eat today before Sierra forces me to eat anymore food..." He cringed. "...shaped like me."

"Is she a good cook?" Owen asked.

"She's great!" Cody gasped, his eyes shining. "She makes cookies better than my grandma's..."

"Then what's the problem?" Geoff echoed with a shrug. "She's really into you and she seems like a good gal. I think you're being too harsh on her-"

"I'm gonna go see what's up with him now," Cody said dismissively, closing any further opportunity for more conversation and crooking his thumb in Jose's direction.

Cody sighed as he turned his back to Owen and Geoff, casting one last worried glance at his food. He straightened his back as he wandered over towards where Jose was sitting. The guy was fairly new to Total Drama and Cody felt sorry for him having somebody like Al as a younger brother. Al might say that Jose was the bane of his existence, but Cody couldn't imagine that anybody was worse than Alejandro...

"Hey!" he said, summoning the full extent of his cool and charismatic prowess. "What's up?"

Jose sat up and raised one of his eyebrows skeptically. "Hola. Estoy bien-Oh, sorry, I was still thinking in Spanish!" Jose said with a nervous laugh.

The guy's laugh was infectious and Cody found himself laughing along with him.

"Oh...I was just having an argument with Alejandro," Jose said with a casual shrug. "Typical sibling stuff. You know?"

"I'm an only child, but I can't imagine how terrible it is to have him as a brother..." Cody cringed. "No offense."

"None taken," Jose replied with a frown. "I hate Alejandro. He's the worst little brother on the face of the planet and I'm sorry for what you and the others had to go through when he was on the show. He's always been absolutely despicable if you know what I mean. Started with stealing cookies then worked up to being Mom's favorite and blaming me..." He looked away. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't burden you with all of this..."

Cody raised an eyebrow. "You're not. I hate Alejandro, too. I really d-"

Suddenly, Cody was interrupted by the sound of someone audibly clearing their throat. When he turned around, he found his heart hammering in his chest: Al loomed over him like a dark mountain, his arms folded and a ferocious glower on his face...Were those golden flecks in his eyes?

Like pretty much everybody else on the show, Cody hated Alejandro, but that didn't mean he wasn't scared by him. Al let out a low guttural growl and Cody felt an immense wave of fear crash down on him like a huge ocean wave of icicles. Shivering involuntarily, Cody ducked out from Alejandro and started to back away, but Al blocked any further progress by him by holding out one of his arms.

"Making alliances, are we?" he asked Jose, gritting his teeth. "You were just calling me a 'despicable bastard' and now, here you are, going ahead and forging alliances with the other contestants' absolute hatred of me...?"

The anger in Al's voice made Cody's heartbeat rocket up farther and he actually wished that Sierra were here right now...

Jose flicked a look at Cody and then rolled his eyes. "I'm not letting you walk all over me!" he yelled, choosing his words carefully. "I know you found a way to get rid of Kate...I just know it."

Kate...? Cody frowned. They're arguing over...the intern?

"For the millionth time, I'm being honest when I say I did nothing!" Alejandro yelled.

"You kissed Rio," Jose declared, narrowing his eyes.

He said it loud enough that everybody else in the caf was staring at them. A group of the female contestants happened to be entering at that particular moment. Before Jose or Alejandro could make any more cutting remarks to each other, the girls were watching, wide-eyed as Heather rushed at Rio and slapped her across the face. While everyone was staring at the fight about to break out, Cody used it as a chance to escape being caught between Jose and his brother.

He ran over towards Geoff and Owen and hid behind Owen's massive girth in a futile attempt to keep Sierra from finding him for a few more scant, precious seconds. Curiosity getting the better of him, Cody peered around Owen at the growing tension between Heather and Rio.

"Leave her alone, Heather!" LaShawna said, standing next to Rio.

"Thanks..." Rio turned towards LaShawna and gave her a grateful smile, playing the innocent victim.

LaShawna was joined by Sierra, Gwen, Izzy, and Lindsay. Lindsay shook her head at Heather, her face a mask of disappointment. Surprisingly, Bridgette stood next to Heather, her arms folded, glaring at Rio. All of the girls looked at her, flabbergasted.

"Bridgette...?" LaShawna raised an eyebrow.

"You're on my side...?" Heather was just as surprised.

"Rio tried to take my boyfriend, too," Bridgette confided, frowning as her eyes became glints of steel.

Now the girls looked between Rio and Bridgette. It was easy to declare Heather the bad guy, but since it was Bridgette, possibly the nicest and friendliest girl on Total Drama, that was aligning herself with Heather against Rio...it was hard to discern who was right and who was wrong.

"I would've slapped her, too," Bridgette continued, her glare intensifying.

Rio was expressionless as she reached up to gingerly touch the bright red hand print on her cheek. The tension in the room just kept mounting. Another few seconds passed and then LaShawna turned and shot a questioning look at Jose and Alejandro from across the room. "Get your butts over here!" she commanded, gesturing.

The two brothers glared at each other before walking over towards the group. Jose folded his arms and looked at Rio, his eyebrows raised.

"Okay," LaShawna said, playing the role of mediator. "You go first, Jose."

"Alejandro kissed my girlfriend," he said bluntly.

Some of the girls started muttering to each other and nodding, affirming his story with gossip and other past events. Heather's eyes widened and she looked at Alejandro; when he looked at her, his own eyes widened and he furrowed his brows, his eyes pleading. The look was extremely unexpected from him since he tried not to show his emotion on his face in the presence of others. Heather looked away from him, squeezing her eyes shut.

"I willingly kissed Alejandro," Rio admitted, her eyes welling up with tears; she shot a pleading look at Bridgette. "But you all know how deceptively charming he is! Por favor, I feel guilty, extremely guilty, and..." She sniffed. "...I am so sorry, Jose...mi amor de mi vida."

Jose's eyes widened and he gasped. A lot of the girls were swayed by Rio's words, even LaShawna had her hand over her heart. Biting her lip, Bridgette shot a look at Heather, her eyebrows knitting as she revealed the full extent of her indecision.

"That's not how it went..." Alejandro said, looking directly at Heather. "I didn't kiss Rio-"

Heather shook her head and closed her eyes, turning and walking out of the room. Alejandro watched her go, trembling, and with a face contorted in sadness and anger.

"This has been a long time coming!"

LaShawna reached out and slapped Al so hard across the face he was seeing stars. He stumbled out of the room, barely able to stand on his feet. All of the girls in the room, minus Rio, were glaring heatedly at him. One after the other gave him a huge slap across the face; Sierra gave him two or three especially vicious thwacks, howling with animalistic rage. They all turned, muttering and angry, and went off to sit at different tables.

Cody watched as Al retreated, feeling his own cheeks burn as if he'd been the one that was slapped. Fury hath no rage like that of an angry woman. That was the exact moment he found himself swept up under Sierra's arm like an article of carry-on luggage. Next to her, she had her arm draped around Rio's shoulders and was trying to comfort her as she frowned and looked sad.

When Sierra wasn't looking, Rio shot a look at him and winked.

That was enough to start piquing Cody's suspicion.

Chris smirked as the front doors of the Tierra Inn shot open.

A redhead bell hop looked overwhelmed as he had to drag a luggage rack stacked with at least eighteen different suitcases. There were actually beads of sweat on his forehead as he scowled and struggled. This just increased Chris' insanely good mood even more. He absentmindedly scratched at his arm, trying, with a moderate level of difficulty, to forget the dream he'd had last night about being attacked by an intern turned vampire. Strange thing was he had a very irritating mosquito bite on his arm and that same intern had gone mysteriously missing since just last night...

Standing in the lobby of the Tierra Inn was Courtney, her now long brunette hair sprawling around her shoulders. She wore a pair of expensive blue sunglasses with in-set rhinestones and a golden dress, her hands perched on her hips.

"Nice to see you, Courtney," Chris said, coming forward to shake her hand. "The lawyers aren't here, are they?"

Courtney laughed merrily and lowered her sunglasses. "Oh...I became rich off of my autobiography!" Courtney gushed. "Those days are behind us...No need to dig up the past. Truly, Chris. You think I would stoop so low...?"

"Yes," Chris muttered.

"What?"

"Nothing." She might have been feigning maturity, but Chris knew better. Pissing off Courtney meant dealing with her lawyers and her lawyers were a force to be reckoned with.

"I thought so!" She shot him a megawatt movie-star smile, revealing that she was using teeth whitener. Chris had to give her some props on that, considering that he used it, too. And, boy, did it make teeth shine so much it made women swoon and dentists drool.

"I'm getting paid for doing this, right?" Courtney said, sliding her sunglasses back into place.

"Of course," Chris replied, smiling.

Suddenly, the door behind Courtney flew open again and another figure sailed into the lobby of the Tierra Inn. Justin, with a smile even wider and brighter than Courtney's, appeared by her side and as soon as he'd arrived, he was clasping Courtney around the waist and making out with her. The display made one of Chris' eyes twitch and behind him, the bell hop was making disgusted, gagging noises.

Things just got worse a second later when Justin pulled away and started rubbing noses with Courtney, sputtering a slew of baby names and cooing at her.

Clenching his fists, the bell hop whispered under his breath, so low that nobody else could hear him: "Aphrodite!"

The contestants that had lost the last challenge filed into the warehouse, looking disgruntled, anxious, and otherwise. Owen kept staring fixedly at his arm and next to him, Izzy was crooning at the piranha still clinging to her arm. But now she had one more animal friend than Bitey: a rather angry squirrel was perched on her shoulder and glaring at Duncan, shooting him "I've got my eyes on you" gestures.

Chris stood in front of them, arms folded behind his back. He gestured at one of the nearby camera men and the pitch black warehouse was suddenly flooded with light. All of the contestants gasped and looked utterly horrified. The interns running the cameras started rolling and zoomed in directly on their facial expressions.

:Episode 3:

"This is your challenge!" Chris gestured at the obstacle course.

There was a series of six lines of five foot tall hurdles. Beyond that, Sasquatchanawkwa was patrolling back and forth with a wicked looking scythe, the sickle end glinting dangerously in the flourescent light. Beyond the Sasquatch were hot tubs sizzling and crackling with loose sparks of electricity. Behind the hot tubs, finally, were six metal tubs filled with chocolate pudding. Over each one was a suspended person, tied securely with rope. Justin was suspended over one, Courtney the next, then Trent, Blainely, and after them Alejandro and...Kate the intern, who had been found.

Justin and Courtney were flirting, looking bizarrely ill at ease, but the rest looked extremely pissed off and frazzled. Out of all of them, Kate was thrashing and struggling the most, her eyes full of hatred. A few times she spouted cuss words.

As soon as Gwen saw Trent, she felt her heart drop to the bottom of her chest. He looked over at her and was wearing a sheepish smile, which dredged up at least half a million painful memories. Her cheeks burned as she turned her face away; she shuffled her feet in an attempt to keep her reeling mind preoccupied. Flustered, she shot a venomous glare at the camera that was trying to hone in on her reaction to seeing Trent. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Duncan looking...jealous?

He was watching Courtney and Justin with such an attentive eye that Gwen could feel herself wondering if Duncan still...had feelings for Courtney?

"You have to save your damsel in distress before they fall into the chocolate pudding," Chris said, smirking. "And you have to do it under five minutes. If your damsel isn't rescued in time, or you finish last, you and your partner are eliminated!"

"No voting...?" Duncan raised an eyebrow.

"No voting," Chris affirmed. "This way's more fun. Now...Gwen your 'damsel' to save is Trent, Duncan's is Courtney, Owen's is Justin, Izzy's is Blainely, Lindsay's is Alejandro, and Tyler's is Kate."

Duncan and Gwen frowned. Of course, only Chris would make a challenge like this and know exactly what strings to pull to make it as dramatic as possible...