See Part 1 for disclaimers.
Joxer, of course, was delusional.
Joel was filled with conflicting feelings of joy and dread as he and his newfound victim stepped onto the beach that lead to the four-star resort that housed the ex-castaways. He was thankful for the darkness that surrounded them. A few tourists strolled along the coastline and he kept a wary eye out for anyone who might recognize him.
"Why don't you take the lead for awhile, Joxer?" Joel offered. "We're heading for that building up there." He motioned toward the brightly lit hotel.
"This is where we'll find the lovely ladies?" Joxer asked as he marched ahead of his companion.
The bumbling Greek rubbed his hands together. "I can't wait to get a piece of this action!"
"It'll be like nothing you've ever experienced," Joel told him. "I can promise you that." His lips curled into a diabolic grin.
Soozin was the last castaway to succumb to sleep. There had been a brief discussion as to Rich's whereabouts during dinner, but the majority of the castaways came to the quick conclusion that they didn't care where he had disappeared to; especially since Gabrielle seemed capable of feeding them. Soo, of course, figured that Rich was up to no good, but decided that the newest arrivals to Rattana were more of a threat to her winning the Survivor title than a fat, oft-naked, gay guy, so she elected to stay at the camp in order to keep an eye on the wounded warrior and the bad-ass bard.
Jenna had graciously donated her blanket to Xena and Gabrielle so that they could keep warm during the night. Both Colleen and Sean offered to share their cover with Jenna, who jumped at the chance to cuddle with the cute co-ed. Sean was only disappointed for as long as it took him to realize that two hot babes were going to be sleeping together right next to him. Life on the island didn't get much better than that.
Without discussion, both Gabrielle and Xena had chosen to feign sleep until the others were unconscious. In an uncharacteristic move, Xena was the first to break the silence.
"What are you thinking, Gabrielle?" she asked quietly.
The bard turned to look at her partner. "How did you know that I was awake?"
"From the way you were breathing."
Xena rolled onto her side to get a better view of her friend. "So what's going through your head?"
"To be honest," Gabrielle replied, "I've been hoping to find that someone had slipped me some henbane and not only had today been one major hallucination, but so had the past year. Or should I say, past 26 years?"
The warrior smiled. "Now that would be a most welcome revelation."
"You feel that way too?"
"Well," Xena answered, "I wouldn't want to give up having Eve..."
"Of course not," Gabrielle said sincerely.
"But the rest of it..." Xena paused as visions of the deaths of Eli and Joxer and more than half of the Greek Pantheon; of waking from an icy sleep to find that her baby daughter had been taken away from her forever; of splitting Gabrielle's skull open with her own chakram flashed before her eyes. "The rest of it I wish was a work of fiction. Though what kind of sick bastard would produce such trash is beyond me."
"I don't feel like a fictional character, Xena." Gabrielle whispered sadly.
The warrior reached over and began to gently play with the bard's earlobe. "You're as real as anything, Gabrielle. We both are."
"But sometimes it feels like we're different people," the Amazon stated. "I mean, deep down, we are always us, but sometimes..." She searched for the right words. "Sometimes I feel compelled to do things that are totally out of character."
"That's just human nature."
"No, Xena. It's deeper than that." She became even more reflective. "It happens to you too, you know."
"You have always had an antagonistic relationship with Ares," Gabrielle relayed after a moment's pause. "But lately it seems that you've begun to warm up to him."
"Warm up to him?" Xena repeated, unbelieving.
"That's ridiculous," the warrior scoffed.
"How do you think I've felt?" Gabrielle asked, a hint of sadness in her voice.
"Gabrielle..." the warrior smiled warmly. "Ares means nothing to me."
"You said you felt something for him in Amphipolis."
"I was teasing."
"You say that," the bard spoke honestly. "But I know you, Xena. Your attitude towards him has changed."
"He saved your life, Gabrielle. And Eve's."
"Only after causing our deaths." Gabrielle added. "And only because he knew it would put him in your good favor."
"Did you ever stop to think that he may have regrets about those actions?" asked Xena.
"No." Gabrielle replied firmly. "And neither would you prior to this past year."
"People change." The warrior stated. "Gods can too."
"If only you had been as open-minded when Hope was born," the bard stated wistfully.
Xena swallowed hard. "Gabrielle..."
"It's okay, Xena. I just want you to see how contradictory your behavior has been lately." Gabrielle sighed. "I mean, don't you ever feel like you're doing something that you would never, ever do?"
"I live in the moment, not in the past."
"And that's why you've forgiven yourself for the atrocities you committed before we met?" Gabrielle asked sarcastically, knowing full well that Xena still carried every ounce of guilt she'd ever accumulated. "Besides, your feelings toward Ares began to change long before he saved Eve and me."
"Maybe my so-called contradictory behavior was caused by my pregnancy," offered Xena. "Hormones can play havoc with a woman's emotions."
"The miracle pregnancy that you automatically deemed good as opposed to my miracle pregnancy that was automatically deemed evil?" Gabrielle was not so much angry as desperately trying to make her point. "You never even questioned Michael's god. You just accepted everything. Xena, Pawn of the Gods. Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?" Her companion's expression was now unreadable. "That isn't like you, Xena. You have defied the gods your entire life. Since when do you do their dirty work?"
Xena remained still as a stone.
"Why have our lives taken a turn towards utter inconsistency?" the bard asked gently. "Hades, remember the time Joxer was cut by the poisoned sword of Apollo and I had to get him to the mandrake tree for the antidote? We got lost because I couldn't figure out which way was north!"
"You know which way is north, Gabrielle." Xena broke her silence. "You're an excellent tracker."
"That's my point." The bard exclaimed. "You and I have gone from one end of the spectrum to another and back in the blink of an eye. One week, I'm a more than competent fighter. The next week, some average foe has bested me within seconds and has a knife to my throat. Just like one week you're telling me that I'm the best thing in your life and the next week you're having erotic dreams about Ares."
"I'm not the only one that talks in her sleep, Xena."
A wave of remorse overcame the warrior. "Oh, Gabrielle. I'm so sorry."
"It's all right." The bard smiled. "Don't you see? It all makes sense now. Somehow, someone is trying to make us do things that are totally out of character. They are trying to destroy us. The real us."
"The real us?"
"We're too fabulous to be imaginary," concluded Gabrielle.
Xena smiled, relieved to hear her friend say what she knew in her heart to be true. "What's the plan then?"
"First, we're going to stick by each other no matter what." Gabrielle said. "No more lusting after bad boys..."
Xena cut her off. "That part is just for me, right?"
Gabrielle laughed. "Right."
"Thought so," grinned the warrior.
"Second," the bard continued. "Whenever we feel like we're doing something that we'd never do, we'll just think of each other and our life together. We'll remember our past and who we are and what we will and will not do."
"Stay true to ourselves."
"You're always so much more concise than me."
Xena shrugged slightly. "I have many skills."
"Yeah, yeah." Gabrielle smiled.
"What's third?" asked Xena.
"Third, we try to figure out who sent us here and why."
"How do you propose we do that?"
"Well, someone is sure to drop a clue eventually. You know how villains usually are... Sloppy." Gabrielle considered their situation. "Maybe we've already been given a lead..."
"No, something that Aphrodite said." The bard recalled. "She told me that I had to concentrate on that which was most important to me."
"And that is?"
Gabrielle chuckled softly. "You, silly."
Xena fell into thought for a moment. "Maybe the authors of this story aren't villains after all."
"No," the warrior replied. "Maybe they're trying to help us."
Gabrielle pondered this notion. "I guess... You could be right."
"Maybe we just have to stay true to ourselves from now on."
"Could it be that simple?" asked the bard.
"Well, if it were that simple, we'd have been whisked back to Greece at this point, don't you think?"
"Yes, I suppose... But maybe we have to prove that we're going to stick to our resolve."
"Then prove it we shall," proclaimed the tired warrior.
Gabrielle gently wiped a strand of hair away from Xena's face. "But if I find out that Ares has something to do with this..."
"I know." Xena lay down on her back. "I'll hold him while you take out your aggression."
"Now that sounds like my Warrior Princess." Gabrielle beamed, resting her weary head on Xena's inviting shoulder.
For the first time in a long time, Joel rested comfortably in a real bed. His return to the resort went much easier than anticipated. Joxer proved to be the perfect diversion as he marched into the lounge area and broke into his Joxer the Mighty theme song (Meg's brothel version). So fixated on the warbling Greek were the stunned vacationers, Joel was able to sneak back to his room without another soul seeing him.
Joxer, on the other hand, hadn't fared so well.
"That oughtta hold him for awhile," said Gretchen as she stood back and admired her handiwork.
Joxer was buried in the sand; his head the only thing visible above the surface of the beach. Stacey and Ramona had graciously donated their cosmetic cases to Gretchen's cause as Sonja ran a 500-foot extension cord from the now empty cabana bar to their patch of punishment. It had taken barely 15 minutes for Gretchen to turn the warrior wannabe into a reasonable facsimile of Miss Tammy Faye Bakker after a three-day bender. His endless weeping only added to the effect.
"Stop crying, baby!" Stacey yelled at him. "Your mascara is running!"
"A girl can never wear too much blue eye shadow, you know." Sonja taunted.
"He makes Dame Edna and the Widow Twanky look like runway models for Isaac Mizrahi," quipped Ramona.
"Who?" The clueless Sonja and Stacey asked in unison.
"Karl Lagerfeld?" the chemist offered. Neither woman blinked. "Versace?" Still no hint of recognition in their eyes. "Jaclyn Smith?"
"Oh yeah!" laughed Stacey. "Kmart!"
"His eyelids are like two tiny blue light specials!" snorted Sonja.
"Bwahahaha!" Stacey rolled on the ground in hysterics.
Ramona, concerned for Stacey and Sonja's mental well-being, searched for some sign of sanity. She found it in Gretchen's arched eyebrow.
"Let's finish this and get out of here," said their fearless leader who was silently chastising herself for using the last of her duct tape to cover Joxer's mouth. "We might all be better off if I shut the two of them up," she admitted to herself. "To go one day without Stacey's incessant whining and Sonja's insipid versions of Kumbaya and Red River Valley would be like tasting the nectar of the gods..."
Not one to dwell on what could have been, Gretchen set to work on painting a bright red frown where Joxer's mouth should be. "We're going to leave you with some entertainment," she spoke directly to her captive as Ramona placed a pair of headphones over Joxer's ears.
"In a couple hours, the tide will come in and you will be electrocuted. If you're lucky, someone will find you before then," Gretchen stated matter-of-factly. She put a cap on the borrowed tube of lipstick that she was holding and stood. "Ramona? Would you?" she nodded toward the nearby boombox.
"It would be my pleasure," the chemist replied as she pushed the play and repeat buttons on the CD player. The volume was so high that strains of Phranc's version of I Enjoy Being a Girl emanated from the tiny speakers affixed to Joxer's head for all to hear.
"Do you really think he'll fry?" asked a suddenly concerned Sonja.
"Nah," Gretchen replied as they turned their backs on the petrified man in make-up. "The tide won't reach this far..."
"But..." Stacey began to complain.
"But he doesn't know that," Gretchen's lips twisted into a smirk that would make Callisto proud. "And anticipation is its own reward..."
"Huh?" Stacey said quietly.
Sonja shrugged and made a mental note to not piss Gretchen off as the four women headed back to the resort.
Rich found himself reclining next to a large, triangle-shaped swimming pool. He let out a sigh of relief and smiled, closing his eyes and basking in the warmth of the midday sun. His quiet reverie was broken by the feel of two strong, oil-covered hands gently massaging his left foot. Rich opened his eyes and blinked a few times, hoping the vision before him wasn't a mirage.
"G'day, mate," stated actor Russell Crowe. A light sheen of sweat graced his tan forehead. He was clad in full Gladiator gear. "I reckon your feet are fair tired following the walkabout you've been on." He rubbed a particularly sensitive part of Rich's foot.
"Oh God, yes!" The corporate trainer blurted. Russell's eyes twinkled with mischievous delight as he carried on with his ministrations.
"Would you like a drink, Richard?" asked an approaching Jon Bon Jovi. He was dressed in a pair of black lycra shorts and a mesh tank top.
"What?" Rich had only caught the last word of Jon's question, so enraptured was he by the touch of the Kiwi-born Crowe.
"Can I get you a drink?"
Rich's beauty-starved eyes swept hungrily over the singer's well-defined muscles. "Uh..."
"He don't want a drink," a swim trunk-wearing Brad Pitt laughed and patted Rich on the shoulder. "He wants to go swimming with the guys..."
"Dude, yeah!" cheered a Speedo-wearing Keanu Reeves, who covered his head instinctively as Brad did a cannonball into the pool next to where he stood.
Good gravy... thought Rich. I must have died and gone to Hunk Heaven. A warm stream of drool began to run down the side of his chin.
"Let me get that for you, my Lord," offered the Academy Award winning Crowe. No one was more surprised (or aroused) than Rich when the actor leaned forward and began lapping up the spittle with his tongue.
His tongue... Rich closed his eyes and sighed inwardly. His small... dry... quick... tongue... How peculiar...
The well-paid inspirational speaker felt as if his world was shifting around him. He opened his eyes slowly, the surrounding forest coming into focus. He blinked a few times and found that he was lying on the ground, the light of early dawn peeking through the trees above him. A large komodo dragon, perched firmly next to him on a flat rock, rhythmically flicked its tongue at the tiny sand fleas that had decided to make a home in his scruffy beard. Rich turned his head a fraction of an inch to come eye to eye with the offending creature.
"Aiiiiiiiiiiiiiyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeee!!!" he squealed and jumped to his feet. The critter scurried away, its fear nearly matching that of the day it was assaulted by a rampaging Sharon Stone.
"Where the hell...?" Rich tried to get a bearing on his location as he looked around, scratching his flea-bitten chin. His hand moved unconsciously to the spot on his neck where a powerful tranquilizer had been injected hours earlier.
What's the last thing you remember, Rich? he wondered to himself. Following Colleen into the woods and then... And then what? He was at a total loss. Then visions of K-Y jelly flittered before his eyes and he remembered everything: Colleen, the strange snow...and Burnett.
Rich began to seethe at the Aussie's double cross. But like any good corporate consultant, he decided to follow the money. I need to remain calm. Burnett didn't know about Colleen and the snow or how Xena and Gabe got on the island.... Maybe Burnett is... is... fallible?
Rich gasped. Something...or someone...on the island had more power than Burnett!
"And if I want the money and Gabe... I've got to figure out who or what it is."
Rich headed deeper into the jungle.
The Survivor yacht pulled up to its secret port, readying for the day's reward challenge. Jeff Probst, the game show's host, motored to the shore in a small boat. He hopped out and took off into the thick foliage. Only the camera crew followed.
Probst was headed toward the Survivor camp when two long hands grabbed him from behind, delivering a quick nerve pinch that knocked him unconscious. Mezzo and godconnie stepped from behind the bushes as the cameramen scattered into the woods.
"OK, I'm gonna zap you," said Mezzo to godconnie.
"Zap me? What for? I thought you were going to be Probst."
"Can't. No dimples," said Mezzo. "Now, stand still and let me zap you." Mezzo reached into her back pocket where she kept a small notebook.
"What? You can't, like, zap some dimples onto yourself?" asked the
incredulous godconnie. "I don't want to be Probst. He's allÉsmarmy and hairy. I don't like him."
Probst began to regain consciousness. Mezzo rolled her eyes at godconnie and began scribbling in her notebook. Ropes and a gag suddenly appeared on the man. Mezzo turned her attention back to her fellow goddess.
"I haven't gotten far enough into my powers to conjure up dimples! They're complex and, well, I just can't do it," said Mezzo.
"You mean you don't want to do it. You don't want to be Probst," accused godconnie.
"Oh, please. I have green eyes. He has brownÉlike you. I don't have dimples. He has dimplesÉlike you. Turning you into Probst is easier on my zapping powers," explained a surprisingly patient Mezzo who, indeed, had no wish to be Probst. "Besides," she added mischievously, switching into woo-the-Scorpio mode (as godconnie was born under the sign of Scorpio). "How could even a fabulous goddess like me re-create dimples like yours?"
"Well..." mused godconnie, turning to look at the gagged Probst. "You do have a point."
Mezzo rolled her eyes and muttered. "Scorpios. Just flatter their egos andÉ"
"What did you say?" asked godconnie, narrowing her eyes at Mezzo.
"Wormhole," said Mezzo. "I hope a wormhole doesn't open up and eat Probst. Now stand still."
Mezzo squinted, concentrated, scrunched and wiggled her fingers. She picked up her pen and began scribbling in the notebook. The fan fic goddess increased her writing speed until sparks flew out in jagged, green and purple streams of light that leapt from the paper to surround godconnie. In an instant, gc looked just like Probst.
"Mwafdafu?!" exclaimed a bug-eyed Probst from behind his gag.
godconnie looked down at her own body only to find it transformed.
"My breasts! They're gone!"
"Yes, but look on the bright side," Mezzo offered. "You've always wondered what it would be like to have abs of steel like ROC's and Probst's ain't that shabby."
godconnie lifted her shirt to verify Mezzo's claim. "Is that a treasure trail?" gc gasped upon seeing the line of hair leading from her bellybutton down into her trousers.
The green-eyed goddess suppressed a giggle. "Just wait until you see what it leads to."
"You didn't!" Dark eyes glared at her.
Mezzo shrugged, "I had to make you convincing."
"B...b...but..." the dimpled darling stammered. "Nobody's going to see me naked!"
"Hey, Probst is a red-blooded, American boy," the writer explained. "And you're going to be surrounded by beautiful women... Certain things must happen in order to maintain the illusion."
"Certain things must happen?" gc repeated. "What are you talk..."
Mezzo raised one perfect eyebrow as godconnie realized all too well what she was talking about.
"Oh nononononono!" the sultry Scorpio waved her hands in protest. "That is not going to happen!"
"How are you going to stop it?" Mezzo asked, thoroughly enjoying her fellow goddess' discomfort. "Especially when you look into those emerald eyes of the battlin' bard?" she teased.
A lone bead of sweat ran down gc's chiseled back. "Well, I whispered in her ear earlier and nothing happened."
"But Gabrielle was frozen then," Mezzo grinned. "And you weren't a man."
gc gulped. Hard.
"Go get 'em, tiger!" Mezzo slapped her apprehensive co-author on the rump.
"I will get you for this," the brown-eyed beauty said menacingly.
"Not if I finish the fanfic before you get the opportunity to retaliate," Mezzo taunted.
"Fat chance," gc grumbled as she walked away.
Mezzo's smile faded as godconnie disappeared from view. "I am in so much trouble."
"Mmmfff!!!" The real Probst struggled to call for help.
"Quiet!" shouted Mezzo. "Or I'll turn you from a rooster to a hen in no time flat!"
Over the years, Gabrielle had gotten used to rising with the sun. It was a rare occasion, however, that she would wake before her partner. Today had been one of those exceptional days. Knowing that the other camp inhabitants were incapable of finding their own food, she quietly made her way into the jungle. When she arrived back at camp an hour-and-a-half later holding two freshly killed wild pheasants by their necks, she noticed the Warrior Princess sitting apart from the others, polishing her chakram. Rob Tapert sat solemnly at the opposite end of camp, watching Xena's every move.
"No freakin' way!" Soozin blared when she spied the large birds dangling from the bard's strong hands. "Where in the hell did ya find those things?" she asked as Gabrielle came closer. "Hey, old man!" she yelled to Rudy. "Lookit what Blondie brought fer us!"
"Holy shit," the elderly sailor mumbled as he took the fowl from the Amazon. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," Gabrielle smiled adorably. Rudy felt his ancient homophobic walls begin to crumble.
What da hell's wrong wit me? he shook the thought from his head. "I don't care if ya are da cutest thing I ever did see," he said aloud. "I still ain't gonna acknowledge yer presence after we leave dis island."
Gabrielle wrinkled her brow as Rudy marched away. "Did I do something to offend him?" she asked Soozin.
"Naw..." Soo drawled. "He just don't like fags."
"Oh, sorry. Queers." Soozin could be politically correct if she had to. Gabrielle was still at a loss. "Ya know..." Soo urged. "Gays, dykes, lezbos."
"Lesbos?" Finally a word the bard recognized. "You mean he doesn't like lesbians?"
"There ya go!" Soo said affirmatively.
"Because homosexuality is an affront to God er somethin'," replied the truck driver.
Gabrielle snorted. "Oh please! Most of the gods I know sleep with their own siblings, regardless of gender!"
"Well, that might be the case in the screwed-up world you come from, honey, but we ain't in ancient Greece no more."
"No, I guess we aren't, are we?" Gabrielle became thoughtful. "So there are no lesbians in this world?"
"What do I look like, the host of some After School Special or somethin'?" complained Soo. "Yah, we still got folks who are queer and bi. It's just..."
"Bi?" the bard interrupted.
"Sexual. Attracted to both guys and gals."
"You Greeks sure don't know much about the different types of sexualities, do ya?" taunted Soo.
"I guess we never saw the need to categorize such things," the Amazon said honestly. "Love is love."
Soo chuckled. "You keep tellin' yourself that, Blondie."
Gabrielle was just about to launch into a lengthy debate that she was destined to win when she noticed Colleen and Kelly helping an unsteady Sean return to camp. The young man's swollen nose was bandaged and both eyes were black.
"What happened to him?" she asked.
"I gotta tell ya," Soo beamed. "It was a thing o' beauty. Ol' Dr. Sean asked your girlfriend if he could check the bump on her head."
"And?" Gabrielle couldn't believe that Xena would react so violently to such an innocent request.
"And then he offered to give her a breast exam."
Gabrielle glared at the injured man. Soozin could have sworn she heard a low growl coming from the bard.
"Gabrielle!" Xena called from her perch away from camp. The Amazon took a deep breath and released it, then went to her companion.
"Hey," said Xena.
"Hey," Gabrielle replied.
"My fist had a run-in with Sean's face."
"MmmÉ" nodded the blonde as she sat next to her friend. "He's lucky I wasn't here."
Xena chuckled softly. "My little bad ass." Gabrielle blushed and elbowed the warrior. "That was quite the bounty you came back with, Gabrielle."
"I learned from the best."
"I wouldn't have thought that pheasants were indigenous to this particular environment."
"You're trying to apply logic to this place, Xena?"
"Oh yeah," the warrior smiled. "Still recovering from a head wound."
"You already used that excuse last night," the bard joked. "Come up with something different."
Xena shrugged. "The Island Goddesses made me say it." Her eyes twinkled with mischief.
"Ugh!" Gabrielle bellowed and buried her head in her hands, trying not to smile.
"Omigod!" Jenna yelped as she ran past the warrior women toward the castaways' living quarters. "Jeff is coming and my hair is a mess!"
Gabrielle looked up at Xena. "Jeff?"
"Just what we need," the dark-haired woman lamented. "Someone else to deal with."
For the first time since they landed on the island, Xena and Gabrielle witnessed the Survivor contestants showing enthusiasm over something besides food.
Jenna, Kelly and Soo began fighting over who was going to run the Bowie knife through their hair first. Rudy abandoned his post at the Rattana kitchen and stood at attention. Sean stumbled around in an injury-induced stupor (though no one could tell the difference between this and his general, everyday stupor). Even Gervase joined the land of the conscious. The only person who maintained their relaxed manner was Colleen. She had long ago accepted the fact that she would never win a challenge and had ceased to care.
"Maybe we should go see what all the fuss is about," Xena suggested.
"I suppose..." Gabrielle reluctantly agreed.
godconnie, disguised as Jeff Probst, slowly approached the Survivor campsite. She was determined not to embarrass herself in front of her audience. "Just because I'm in a man's body, it doesn't mean I have no control," she thought. "Men aren't really slaves to their libidos, right?"
Just then, she got her first up-close-and-personal glimpse of the bard and warrior in motion as they came closer. Briefly holding her breath, she commanded herself to internally repeat the following, "Xena will kill me. Xena will kill me. Xena will kill me."
Jenna, barely covered by her pink bikini, bounded up to godconnie and angled her butt for better viewing.
"So, Jeff," Jenna said flirtatiously. "See anything you like?"
gc cleared her throat and concentrated on the numerous scabby flea bites covering the girl's thighs. "Uh, your butt is looking lovelier than ever, Jenna."
"You really think so?" Jenna began to cry. "Oh, Jeff. You don't know how much that means to me!" She wrapped her hands over gc's shoulder and began jumping up and down. godconnie closed her eyes and pictured a shirtless Ted Raimi.
"Get your stinkin' paws off him, Jenna!" Soo roared. "You ain't gettin' no special treatment just 'cause yer not ashamed ta shake yer titties in his face."
Jenna stopped her bouncing. She bit her lower lip and tried to hold back the tears. She was successful for a full five seconds - a record for her.
godconnie turned to face the crowd that had gathered around her.
"Listen up," she said in Probst's most professional voice. "It's time for today's reward challenge..."
"Excuse me," Gabrielle spoke as she and Xena made their way to the front of the group.
gc inwardly squealed like a frightened piglet. "Yes?"
"Can you explain what is going on here?" inquired the bard.
The fanfic author remembered that she was supposed to be surprised by the Greek women's presence. "Who are you?" She focused with all of her might on a small blemish that graced the blonde's chin.
"My name is Gabrielle," she said to the strange man who had yet to look her in the eye. "And this is Xena."
godconnie realized that she was coming off badly so she thrust her muscular arm out to embrace the even more muscular arm of Xena.
"The name is Probst. Jeff Probst." gc looked up into the bluest eyes she had ever seen. She began to drown in the cerulean pools.
"Oh God," gc squeaked as she felt an unfamiliar tightening in her khakis. I'm a Gab fan! she thought. Xena can't be having this kind of effect... gc lost all rational thought as their eyes connected again. She choked back her despair. "Could you excuse me for a moment?"
"Sure," the warrior replied suspiciously.
godconnie turned and ran into the nearby forest. Leaning against a tree, she began to pray to any god that would listen to save her from her testosterone hell.
"What's he doing, Xena?" the bard asked.
"I have no idea, Gabrielle, but something isn't quite right about him."
"Do you think it's Ares?"
"No," the warrior answered. "But he's not who he says he is."
"Probst is always sportin' a boner after talkin' to Jenna and Colleen," Soozin interjected. "He probably took one look at you guys and had to go jerk off."
"Ewwwwww!!!!!!" Colleen groaned and covered her eyes.
Jenna began to pout. "Poor, sweet Jeff," she thought. "I wonder if I should go help him out?"
A bewildered Gabrielle looked from Soo to her partner. "What language is she speaking, Xena?" the bard whispered.
Xena shook her head. "No clue."
"Probst is a pansy!" grumbled Rudy.
Tapert, who had been eerily quiet all morning, turned to the ex-Navy Seal. "I like you."
Rudy sneered. "Don't tell me you go both ways too."
"What?!" Tapert was aghast.
"Someone shoot me now," the elderly man said to no one in particular.
"Anybody got a gun?" Colleen quizzed the surrounding camera crew.
"Take a chill pill, Dimples!" the Goddess of Love chided from behind. "You act as if you've never been a man before!"
"What?!" gc twirled to see the scantily clad vision. "I never have been a man before!"
Aphrodite chuckled. "That's right!" She waved a delicate hand at gc. "You mortals never remember your past lives!"
"Did ancient Greeks even believe in reincarnation?" the beffudled fanfic writer asked herself.
"Who are you calling 'ancient,' Stud?" pouted the offended goddess.
"Not you, of course." gc covered her faux pas nicely.
Aphrodite's face lit up with a gigantic smile. "Didn't think so, Handsome." She crinkled her nose and twinkled her eyes in a seductive manner.
godconnie stopped breathing for a moment.
"Uh..." gc said as her lungs began to fill again. "Could you maybe try to be less...s...s...sexy?"
The jungle rang with the most glorious laughter that ever existed.
"Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!" Aphrodite grabbed her side and doubled over. "Who knew that laughter could be so painful?"
"Wait," gc said with concern. "Gods don't feel pain."
"Ow," the goddess straightened up. "Yeah, you're right." She stretched her arms and leaned from side to side. "What's that about?"
"I don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know?" Aphrodite questioned. "You're writing this!"
"Yeah, but I'd never want to hurt you," gc said shyly. "You're the Goddess of Love and all."
"So sweet," the goddess smiled. "Well then, what gives?"
godconnie had a thought. "What if you're losing your powers? I mean, Ares is mortal now, right?" She appeared to be wrestling with some kind of twisted RenPics-like logic. "Does your world really need love now that war has been eradicated?"
Aphrodite's eyes grew wide. "You have got to be kidding me!" She shouted in disbelief. "The world will always need love!!!"
"Okay! Okay!" the writer acquiesced. "Sorry."
"Jeez Louise," the goddess began to pace. "Don't freak me out like that, okay?"
"I'm not trying to upset you, Aphrodite, but something is certainly amiss," godconnie said seriously. "I mean... Maybe you should do something to prove that you've still got it."
"Oh, I've got it all right!"
"If you say so..."
Aphrodite stopped in her tracks. "Listen, Little Miss Smartypants..." She put her hands on her shapely hips. "I can handle anything your mortal imagination can come up with!"
"You think so?" A plan began to take shape in the writer's mind.
"Name your poison," the goddess commanded.
"Seriously?" gc scuffed the ground with her foot and lowered her gaze.
"Oh, don't play coy with me now," the blonde said, shaking her head.
"Could you change the lower half of my body back to that of a female?" the Scorpio asked meekly.
"Whatever floats your boat," Aphrodite nodded and part of gc's body became hers again. "Weirdo," the goddess mumbled under her breath.
"I heard that."
"Whatever..." Aphrodite made a 'W' with her fingers.
"Ah..." gc did a tiny wiggle dance and sighed happily, moderately comfortable again. "Sweet relief."
"So," Aphrodite interrupted. "Do I still have it or what?"
"It appears that you do," the writer responded. "Still, that doesn't explain why your side was aching."
"This is true," the blonde agreed.
"Are you sure it's not possible that someone is tapping into your powers?" godconnie asked. "Leeching off of you in this time of Olympian weakness?"
"What kind of person would do such a thing?"
"Oh my god!" gc proclaimed, having a revelation. "What if it's the Archangel Michael and his giant shaft of light?!" She began to speak quickly. "He could have easily suckered some poor, innocent sap into doing some weird mojo on you! I mean, if he can convince the Warrior Princess to become his religious assassin, he could pretty much talk anyone into doing just about anything, right?"
"Whoa there, cowgirl!" Aphrodite requested. "Back up a bit. Who is this Michael and just how big is his shaft?" she asked, half concerned, half turned on.
"What?" the writer had been lost in thought. "Oh, Michael is the head lackey for Eli's God of Love."
"God of LOVE?!!!" the goddess fumed. "That's what he calls himself?"
"It's what the Elijians call him," confirmed gc.
"Oooooooooooooooh..." the goddess whined and stomped her foot. "Could my summer get any worse?"
"Hey," the writer stated cautiously. "You don't think Michael got to Mezzo, do you?"
"What would make you suggest that?"
"Well, she's been boasting about her burgeoning zapping powers," the dark-haired woman explained. "She's the one that turned me into Probst."
"Ouch!" the goddess said in disgust. "She did this to you?"
godconnie nodded. "At first, I attributed her newfound powers to her Willow Rosenberg fixation..."
"Willow!" Aphrodite broke in with a happy squeal. "Aren't she and Tara just the cutest?"
"Adorable," godconnie agreed.
"Joss is awesome!" the goddess chirped.
"You're preaching to the choir, sister!"
"I hope he pens another Aliens script," Aphrodite continued. "I'm dying to see Sigourney and Winona get it on!"
"You and me both..." gc stopped. "Hey, wait a minute. We're supposed to be talking about Mezzo and her magic spells."
"My bad!" the goddess shrugged.
"Aren't you the least bit concerned about what's going on?"
"I'm definintely not liking this whole pain thing," Aphrodited admitted. "And I am so not down with the concept of a self-proclaimed God of Love. But... I really don't think Mezzo would do anything to hurt me."
"What if she's been touched by Michael's shaft?"
Aphrodite raised one eyebrow and paused for effect. "Do you honestly think that Mezzo would let any guy's shaft get near her?" she deadpanned.
"You have a point there."
"You might be right about her wanting to be the next Big Bad, but I just don't see her using her powers for evil."
"Hello?!!!" gc thrust her arms out. "She turned me into Jeff 'Anal' Probst!!!"
Aphrodite cringed. "That is pretty vile," she agreed. "Did she explain why she did it?"
"Something about us needing to do damage control during the reward challenge. She thought Probst would be the best instrument for that. She then claimed it would be easier to transform me because I already have brown eyes and dimples."
"Sucker!" laughed Aphrodite.
"I could change you back if you want," the goddess quickly offered.
"I wish you could," gc looked back at the antsy castaways who were pacing up and down the beach. "But I still have a job to do."
"So dedicated," the blonde put an appreciative hand on Faux-Probst's shoulder.
Suddenly, there was a gleam in the fanfic author's eye. "Is there any way we could give Mezzo a dose of her own medicine?"
"That depends on what you have in mind," said the equitable goddess.
"Would you change part of her anatomy?" asked a hopeful gc.
The goddess threw her head back and sighed. "Can't you think of something more original?"
"But this is the perfect way to get even," the writer begged. "Plus, it'll guarantee that she never messes with me again."
"Fine," the blonde gave in. "What do you want me to do? Oh! I know! I could make her the first female Centaur!"
"Ick!" godconnie shook her head. "Centaurs give me the creeps!"
"What about a mermaid?" the goddess questioned. "Mermaids aren't creepy."
"No, but the mere thought of them causes me to have flashbacks to Married With Fishsticks." gc shivered. "Please don't make me go there again."
"You're right." Even Aphrodite hated that particular moment in time. "Sorry. What would you suggest then?"
"Well..." gc said in a conspiratorial manner. "Mezzo has this thing about Ares' boobies."
"She thinks they are too fleshy, too hairy," the writer explained. "They make her want to retch."
"What is she, nuts?" the blonde bombshell asked, disbelieving. "I mean, I know he's my bro and all, but he is fine with a capital 'F'!"
"Some people just don't appreciate true beauty," stated gc.
"I know," the dark-haired woman said sympathetically. "Maybe we could teach her a lesson or two?"
The goddess nodded. "One fleshy, hairy-chested fanfic writer coming up!" She began to snap her fingers, an act that would cause her to vanish.
"Aphrodite!" gc yelled before the goddess could disappear.
"Thank you," the writer said sincerely. "And be careful."
The goddess smiled. "Always, Cutie." And, with a wink and a snap, Aphrodite was gone.
Fifteen seconds later, the island reverberated with Mezzo's tortured howl.
"Heh," godconnie chuckled. "Score one for the Scorpio."
"Who da hell is he talkin' to?" Rudy asked as he craned his neck to view Probst engaging in an animated conversation with thin air.
"Maybe he's rehearsing his lines," Jenna suggested.
"Or he could be conversing with the talking rats," submitted Sean.
Talking rats? thought Tapert. What a novel idea! Why, if I can get the studio to finance a Xena movie, I know exactly where I'd put a talking rat! His eyes lowered to the unsuspecting warrior's cleavage, his imagination took over from there...
A good-sized brown rodent popped it's head out above the
top of Xena's copper armor.
"Hey, Xena!" the rat called, sniffing the air that smelled
suspisciously like warrior sweat.
"Do you ever miss Gabrielle?" he asked in his nasal rat
"Sometimes," the warrior said flatly. "But not so
much when I'm with you."
"Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh..." the rat snorted
Tapert's attention was snapped back to reality as he felt the jolt from Gabrielle's open palm to his forehead.
"Ouch!" the redhead exclaimed. "What did you do that for?" He rubbed his sensitive noggin.
"I didn't like the way you were looking at my friend," she responded, a hint of danger in her voice.
"You're a total bitch, you know that?" he whined.
The Amazon sucked in her amazing abs. "Oh, am I?"
"Uh..." The TV exec realized that this well-built woman could beat the living daylights out of him without breaking a sweat. "Just kidding," he giggled nervously.
"I don't think you were," she said firmly, her nose just millimeters from his.
Tapert tried to hold her stare, but didn't last ten seconds. He gulped and ran away like the terrified uber nerd that he was.
"I thought as much," the bard snarled under her breath.
"Hey," Soo yelled. "Looks like Probst is comin' our way."
Gabrielle turned to see the peculiar man walking back toward camp.
"Sorry about the delay," godconnie said to the gathering throng. "We were experiencing some technical difficulties."
"So that's what ya call it, Jeff?" Soo snorted.
"Uh," the writer had no interest in interacting with the truck driver. "Yeah."
"I bet yer girlfriend don't take too kindly to those kinds o' technical difficulties, eh Jeff?" Soo continued.
"Or his boyfriend," murmured Kelly.
"All right!" gc said resolutely and gave them both the evil eye. "It's time for this week's reward challenge." The castaways moved in closer; a strange silence hovered over them. "As has been the case since your two tribes merged, today's challenge is an individual one. This means that only one of you can win."
"Sonofabitch!" Rudy, knowing he didn't stand a chance, shook his head and walked away.
"Now this island is well known for two things: rainbows and coconuts," the writer hoped like Hades that her listeners were buying this bull.
Colleen started to giggle. godconnie cleared her throat and the comely co-ed bit her lip.
"Today's challenge will incorporate both of those things..."
"Excuse me," spoke the bard. gc closed her eyes and collected her thoughts. "Sorry to interrupt again, but are we contestants in this game now?"
The woman-trapped-in-a-sleazy-man's-body looked at each non-castaway and appeared to make a decision.
"Seeing as how one of our regular contestants, Richard Hatch, is currently under medical supervision, we will allow one of you to take his place."
"Hey," Sean said. "Rich isn't here."
"Who's Rich?" asked Gervase.
"What kind o' medical supervision is he under?" questioned the tenacious trucker, Soo.
"I'm not privvy to that particular information," gc improvised. "Mr. Burnett is taking care of it."
"Yah!" Soozin chortled. "I'll bet he is!"
"Rich and Mark have an understanding," Kelly added. "Rich is under and Mark is standing."
"Ha!" roared Soo. "That's a good one!"
"Christ on a cracker!" barked Rudy as he returned to the fold. "Can't you two dames shut yer yaps?"
"Ahhh-bviously not, Grandpa!" snapped Soozin.
"Please," godconnie was beginning to feel an anxiety attack coming on. "I beg of you, just do this reward challenge and then you can go back to your regularly scheduled bitchfest."
Soo and Kelly looked at each other and shrugged. Kelly nodded her head in approval.
"Thank you," gc sighed inwardly. "Now..." she looked back at the bard. "As for the three of you... We flipped a coin earlier and decided that Xena would be the one to participate in this competition."
"Wait a galdarned minute!" Tapert interjected. "I didn't see you flip the coin, so how do I know you're telling the truth?"
"You don't," godconnie said coldly. She noticed this caused a small grin to grace the Amazon's face.
"I demand that you flip the coin here!" the redhead bawled.
"I've never heard of a three-sided coin anyway!" he looked desperately at Rudy. "Have you?"
"You're as bad as these damn women!" was the Navy Seal's response.
"Calm down, Mr. Tapert," the woman masquerading as the host said.
"How do you know my name?" the TV exec inquired.
"You're legendary in the world of television, of course," gc lied.
"Of course," Tapert agreed. "Sorry about that. I just get a little out of sorts at times when I think my vision isn't being respected."
"Believe me," the author said honestly. "I know all about your vision."
"Does that mean you'll let me compete?"
"But!" gc put a finger to Tapert's thin, dry lips.
"Hush," the dimpled dramatist directed. "This challenge is very dangerous and there's no way we can, in good conscience, risk injuring one of the greatest visionaries of this, or any, generation."
"Ugh," groaned the bard.
godconnie was pained by the fact that she had momentarily let her heroine down, but she knew that it was for the greater good.
"You're a good man, Jeff," Tapert smiled and patted gc on the back.
The fanfic writer turned her attention back to the crowd. "Okay, Mr. Tapert and Ga..." she turned to the bard. "Gabrielle, is it?"
"Mmm," the disgusted Amazon barely made a sound.
"Mr. Tapert and Gabrielle will stay here while the rest of you follow me to the challenge site."
A few of the castaways grumbled, but they obediently followed their leader into the jungle. Xena, of course, didn't budge.
"You better get going, Xena," Gabrielle said.
"I don't recall signing up to play a game," the warrior responded.
"Xena..." the Amazon reminded. "This might be our ticket out of here. Just go along with it, okay?"
The raven-haired woman looked at Tapert then back to her friend. "Will things be okay here, Gabrielle?"
"I think I can handle Big Red," the bard assured her partner.
"Try not to hurt him," the warrior whispered.
"I won't," Gabrielle said quietly. "But I may scare him just a bit."
Xena grinned and put her hand to Gabrielle's cheek. "Be back soon, 'kay?"
The bard returned the warrior's smile. Rob flinched, as had become a habit when seeing the closeness of the two women. Xena gave him a piercing look for good measure and headed in the direction of the other castaways.
Gabrielle took a moment to admire her departing friend and then directed her attention towards the partially plucked pheasants.
"Why don't you help me with these, Tapert?" she asked as she knelt down beside the lifeless birds, trying her best to be civil.
"Look Renee," the man said seriously. "I know how you and Lucy love to joke around, but, honestly, you've gone too far this time."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes, shook her head, and focused on the task at hand.
"You've done a marvelous job with the set and the actors," he continued. "I'm not so sure about the ethics involved with whatever kind of drug you used to get me here though..."
"Xena and I didn't bring you here, Tapert," the bard informed him.
"Xena and I! Xena and I!" he aped. "You do realize that I can kill your character off at any moment, don't you?"
The blonde stopped removing feathers from her fallen prey and looked up at the self-important TV executive. "Are you threatening me?"
"Are you going to put an end to this game?"
"Believe me," she said solemnly. "If I could put an end to this insanity, I would."
"Dammit, Renee!" Tapert whined. "What is this about? Do you want more screen time? Fine. You got it. Now go tell Lucy that it's 'game over' and we're going home!"
Gabrielle stood to face her antagonist. "I don't know who this Renee is that you speak of, but she must be a stronger woman than me to put up with such relentless stupidity."
"I fail to see the humor in this."
"So much for your vision then," she said condescendingly.
"Oh, that's it!" he scoffed. "You think you can do a better job than me! You want to direct again!" He laughed to himself. "Well, fine. I'll give you another episode."
Internally, his thoughts weren't so gracious. Another episode with a stolen plot that's a logistical nightmare. He smirked. "Can we leave this godforsaken place now?"
The Amazon looked around them. "I don't see anyone keeping you here."
"I'm not leaving without my wife," declared the redhead.
"I don't know what to tell you, Tapert."
"I'm going to go find Lucy," he stated defiantly and took off toward the nearby jungle.
"Happy trails..." the bard mumbled half-heartedly and returned to cleaning her catch.
Xena remained a few paces behind godconnie and the ragtag Survivor contestants as they made their way toward the day's reward challenge area. Her mind was filled with conflicting thoughts and feelings.
For years, the warrior had followed her gut instinct, rarely taking time to contemplate the ramifications of her actions.
Act, don't react, was the philosophy she had always tried to impose upon Gabrielle, whose response was usually a droll, "At times, perhaps, but an unexamined life isn't worth living." And while Xena understood that her personal modus operandi had served her well in most situations and would continue to do so, she could no longer deny the fact that her blind focus on 'results' had caused her to nearly lose the one thing that was most important to her.
The warrior's miracle pregnancy and the responsibilities, as well as the fatal mistakes that came with it, had been so traumatic on so many levels that the complexities were hard to fathom. One thing was absolutely certain - had Gabrielle been an average person, their partnership would have not only been ended, but obliterated beyond all recognition. The bard, however, was an extraordinary woman with the capacity to forgive the most heinous crimes committed against her.
But how can she carry on as if nothing happened? Xena asked herself. I killed her. Killed her... The image of the fatally wounded bard lying in a pool of her own blood played over and over in the warrior's mind. How do I make up for that? 'Sorry I sliced your head open, Gabrielle, but it was the only way'? She scoffed at her own feeble excuse. There were a hundred different things I could have done... So what caused me to aim for her head?
Just then, two small, exotic-looking insects - one with the face of RenPics staff writer, Roberto Orci, the other with the face of his partner, Alex Kurtzman - began buzzing furiously around the dark woman's head. In a flash, Xena had captured them in the palm of her hand.
"You'll pay for this, Tapert!" croaked the Orci bug almost imperceptibly as the warrior crushed the life out of him.
"Oh my God! She killed Orci!," the Kurtzman bug yelped. "You bast..." He was squashed before he could get the last syllable out.
Tapert... she repeated internally.
Xena's concentration was broken by a small hand being waving in front of her face.
"Yesssss?" the warrior exhaled, remarkably controlling her temper.
"Sorry, Xena," Colleen apologized. "You looked like you were out of it for a moment. I thought it might be a repercussion from the bump on your head."
"No," she said thoughtfully. "It's a repercussion from something much more serious."
"Do you need to rest?" asked the co-ed.
"No. I need to make things right," the blue-eyed beauty said firmly.
"Can I help?"
"Yes. You can show me the way to this reward challenge." Xena smiled warmly at the sweet girl who reminded her a bit of Gabrielle when they first met.
"Right this way, milady!" giggled Colleen as she gestured to the path ahead of them.
Rob Tapert was a man on a mission. He was used to getting his way and, as far as he was concerned, today would be no different. He was wrong, of course, but he didn't know that yet.
He had followed the same jungle passage that Xena and the Survivor contestants had taken earlier, but thanks to the magic of Mezzo who had figured out how to return her own voluptuous she-breasts in a matter of minutes, it was now impossible for him to reach his desired destination.
After passing the same large mandrake plant for the third time, the self-proclaimed genius realized that he was inexplicably going in circles.
"Sonofamotherlovingbacchae!!!" the irritated executive grumbled loudly. "How can I be going in circles if the path is straight?"
"Forward, never straight," uttered a melodic, disembodied voice.
"Huh?" Tapert looked around him with a start. "Who said that?"
He was answered with silence.
"Show yourself!" he bellowed.
"I was going north the entire time! There is no possible way that I could end up where I started!"
"It's not like I don't know which way is north! You... You... Blasted pranksters!"
"You're trying to drive me insane, aren't you?!"
Not even a peep.
The executive decided that if he stood perfectly still and concentrated fully, he would, with his exceptional intellect and hearing, decipher where the mysterious voice had come from.
Tapert whirled around to face a seemingly empty jungle. "Who's there?"
"Over here!" a decidedly male voice whispered. Tapert's eyes wandered down to where a scruffy, young blonde man was crouching behind a large palm tree. "Come closer," the blonde implored quietly.
Tapert creeped a few inches nearer.
"I've got something for you," the stranger informed him.
"What could you possibly have for me?" Tapert asked suspisciously.
"A person-to-person call..."
"You have a phone?!" the redhead asked excitedly. This was the most promising news he'd heard in two days.
"Right here..." said the young man as he reached behind him and pulled out a sea shell.
"What the?" Tapert furrowed his rusty brow at the ridiculously offered item.
"Don't keep 'em waiting! It's long distance!" A seemingly sincere smile graced the lad's face as he thrust the crustacean towards the executive.
"Oh hell..." reasoned Tapert. "Nothing else in this place makes sense, so why can't a sea shell be a telephone?" He reached out to take the object from the blonde.
"Hello?" Rob spoke into the hollow shell.
"Hahahahahahahahaha!!!" The stranger howled. Tapert's chapped lips drew into a viscious snarl as it dawned on him that he'd been played for a fool.
"Good Lord, man!" blurted the blonde. "It's a sea shell, not a phone! Any moron can tell the difference!"
"Arrrgh!" yelled the usually more articulate producer.
The towhead continued to chortle.
In an uncharacteristic bout of violence, the executive hurled the shell at the giggling stranger. Luckily for the blonde, and for Tapert's bank account, Rob threw like Joxer. His trajectory was a foot off the mark.
"Whoa there, buddy!" the now sober fair-haired man reprimanded. "Fly off the handle much?"
"Who are you?!!" Tapert demanded.
"The name's Greg," the blonde presented his hand. "Greg Buis."
Rob blatantly ignored the offered appendage.
"I was voted off of the island a couple nights ago," added the young man. "I'm supposed to be kicking it back at the resort, but I thought I might try to catch some unsupervised lovin' with Colleen... Or Jenna." He thought for a moment. "Or Rich."
"You're one of those Survivors?"
"Was. Yep. Now I'm one of the jury," he laughed at himself even though he'd said nothing funny. "How'd you like to depend on me for a million dollar payday?"
Tapert, having determined that Greg was of no use to him, walked away without a word.
"Hey!" the blonde whined. "Where are you going?"
"I'm looking for my wife."
The ex-castaway ran to catch up. "Can I come too?"
"Pleeeeeeeease!!!" Greg pleaded.
"Are you daft?"
"Yes, I am, actually. Can I come?"
"I'm surrounded by lunatics!" Tapert stopped and spoke to the sky.
"Whaddaya got against lunatics, Skippy?" asked Greg.
"The name is Tapert," the redhead said seriously as he resumed walking.
"Whaddaya got against lunatics, Tippy?" Greg prodded; falling in step with the exasperated producer.
"Don't you have some chicks to bang?" asked a disgusted Tapert.
"Your wife is a chick, isn't she?"
"How dare you?!!!" Tapert's hands were wrung around the blonde's neck in an instant.
"Grrrg! Uggg! Kakkk!" Greg struggled for a few seconds until he got the upper hand on his older attacker. Grabbing Tapert's wrists and wresting his hands free of their chokehold, the Survivor kicked his assailant's feet out from under him and knocked him to the ground.
"You don't play well with others, do you?" asked Greg as he straddled the out-of-breath executive, pinning his arms to the ground.
"Get off of me, you pansy!" Tapert's complexion began to turn redder than usual.
"Now that isn't very PC of you," chastised Greg.
"PC, my ass!"
"I'll beat your ass!" the blonde teased. "You'd like that, wouldn't you, Topper?"
"Get off!" Tapert wailed.
"I'm trying!" Greg replied, half-joking.
"You're working for Renee, aren't you?!" accused the harried executive.
"Renee? Who's Renee?"
"You know damn well!"
"Refresh my memory, Topo Giggio." Greg dug his knees into Tapert's sides.
"Ack!" the redhead's ribs ached. "O'Connor! Renee O'Connor!"
Greg released his grip on Tapert's sides. "The guy who played Archie Bunker?"
"I thought he was dead," the blonde scrunched his face in confusion.
"Not Carroll O'Connor, you stooge!" Tapert huffed. "Renee O'Connor! Small, compact, blonde, vengeful actress..."
"Renee O'Connor... Renee O'Connor..." Greg repeated to himself, trying to jog his own memory. As his mind wandered, he loosened his grip on Tapert's wrists. "Oh! I know! She's the really hot chick on Xena: Lesbian Princess!"
The anger that had been broiling inside of Tapert for the past 48 hours finally congealed. His freckled fist met the bottom of Greg's chin before either of them knew what was happening. The blonde fell backward and landed with a resounding thud.
Rob Tapert froze in fear and amazement. Had he really just knocked a guy out? One that was 20 years his junior? Apparently so, he thought proudly as he sat up to take stock of the situation.
The now confident redhead stood and brushed the dirt off of his hands and clothes. "Where was I?" he asked himself. "Oh yes, going to find Lucy."
With that, Tapert headed off into the brush.
After a lengthy walk in the sweltering midday heat, godconnie and her followers finally arrived at the reward challenge area.
The fanfic writer was quickly losing patience with her ill-behaved charges. In fact, if she heard one more grumble from Rudy or one more crude joke from Kelly or Soo she thought her Probst-sized cranium would explode.
"All right, Survivors, listen up," she once again repeated the phrase she'd heard the show's real host use many, many times. "You'll notice that a large section of the jungle has been cleared in order to..."
"Uh..." Colleen interrupted. "Youse guys actually cut down trees for this challenge?"
"Yes, Colleen, we did," gc said firmly. "If you look u..."
"But that's not right," the co-ed broke in again. "You can't go around destroying nature just so we can participate in some stupid reward challenge!"
"We can and we did," gc wondered why she always wrote herself into such precarious situations.
"Well, I'm sitting this challenge out in protest! Tree killer!" The cuddly cutie folded her arms in darling defiance.
The writer knew she had to get herself out of this predicament quickly.
"The trees were diseased and dying. We'll replant as soon as we finish shooting," godconnie rambled off the top of her head.
"For real?" asked Colleen.
"Pinky swear!" gc held her hand in the air, the smallest finger extended. She nearly gasped out loud when she noticed how hairy her knuckle was, but then she remembered that she was not in her own body. Entirely.
"All right then," Colleen conceded. "Count me in!"
"As I was saying..." gc continued. "If you look up, you will see 80 multi-colored coconuts suspended from overhanging branches that extend from the trees that line the perimeter of our playing field." She made quotation marks with her fingers as she said the word, "field," and hoped that she had overexplained enough to continue to pass as the windbag Probst.
"There are ten coconuts per Survivor," the writer explained as if she were talking to a group of 4-year-olds. "They are hung randomly. As you can also see, there is what essentially amounts to a circus net stretched 10 feet below the coconuts. It is there in case you lose your balance and fall."
"If I break a hip, Probst," Rudy threatened. "I'm suing you and Burnett and CBS!"
Not to be pulled into yet another minor squabble with a castaway, godconnie continued her spiel.
"There are rope ladders leading up the length of eight trees - one for each of you. From there on out, you will see more rope ladders and smaller nets strung horizontally in a web-like pattern between the outer trees."
By now, Sean looked like the proverbial deer caught in headlights. Coconuts, rope ladders, and nets? he thought to himself. Why, that's just impossible!
"Your assignment," gc proceeded. "Is to make your way up and across, gathering one of each color coconut."
The pseudo-host paused for dramatic effect.
"The catch, however," she explained. "Is that, even though there are ten colors per Survivor, you are only allowed to collect the ones that represent the colors found in a rainbow."
At that moment, a small vessel burst inside of Sean's head. Luckily, it was of no use to him.
"If you should return to me with too many colors, not enough colors, or the wrong colors..." she droned on as only Probst would. "...you will be eliminated."
"Yo, dude," Gervase spoke up.
"Once this challenge is over, can I have the circus net?"
"Whatever for?" asked gc.
"It's like a king-sized hammock times infinity!"
godconnie closed her eyes for a moment and wished she were back home in Ohio.
"The first contestant to return to me with the correct number and correctly colored coconuts wins." She looked around at the ragged bunch. "Any questions?"
"I have one," announced Xena.
"Do we have to climb the ladders?"
"Are you saying that you don't wish to participate?" The author hoped this wasn't true.
"No, I'm asking if it is against the rules to gather the coconuts without climbing the ladders."
"Uh..." gc knew that Xena had more moves than a topless dancer in a Zalman King movie. "No, it's not against the rules. You can get the coconuts any way you want."
"But you can't take them off of other contestants," the writer quickly added.
"Once the coconut is in a contestant's possession, it must remain there."
"How are we supposed to know which colors are in the rainbow, fer Chrissakes?" Rudy growled.
"Water to drink and fire to live..." gc broke into rhyme. "The colors you seek are Roy G. Biv,"
"What da hell?" asked the old sailor.
"Water to drink and fire to live. The colors you seek are Roy G. Biv," gc repeated, enunciating every word.
Rudy turned to Gervase. "I got no clue what he's yappin' about!"
"Me neither, man," the youngster agreed.
"It's a poem and a clue!" the writer yelled. "Like the ones you find in your tree mail!"
"We didn't get any tree mail this time," stated Colleen. "Are you sure this is on the up and up, Jeff?"
"I'm positive, Colleen." gc chastised herself for agreeing to write such a sharp-witted co-ed.
"So we're supposed to carry a bunch o' loose coconuts while climbing on ladders?" asked the ever-observant Soozin.
"I'm glad you brought that up," said gc. "Hanging on a hook at the bottom of each tree is a burlap sack with each contestant's name on it. Find your name and take the sack. When I say 'go,' start climbing."
The castaways took a few moments to find their respective sacks. Eventually, they were set to compete.
"Survivors ready?" gc asked. "Go!"
And they were off.
godconnie cringed at the sight of Sean accidentally swinging his ladder into a tree. That's a little less skin on the good doctor's right forearm, she thought.
Jenna was determined to win this particular reward challenge. It'll be so nice to have a... Her train of thought was derailed when she realized that Jeff hadn't explained what they would win. Poor, overworked Jeff, she thought. He deserves a reward of his own...
The young mother of twins was unable to postulate any further because Sean, who was now swinging wildly out of control, collided with her mid-air, sending them both hurtling toward the circus net.
"Do you mind?" Gervase barked at the two of them as they landed perilously close to his supine form. "I'm trying to get some rest here!"
It was at this point that gc noticed that Xena hadn't even begun to compete. Instead, the warrior was walking around the perimeter, seemingly gauging the action above her.
Come on, Xena, the writer begged internally. You're supposed to win this one!
Gabrielle had been enjoying her time alone at camp. She was nearly finished cleaning the pheasants when the ground started trembling. Fifteen feet away, the sand began to rise and then fall. The bard's eyes widened in preparation for something big. And bad.
"Or really weird," she considered and decided to remain seated.
A large, rectangular-shaped metal box ascended slowly, coming to a gentle halt as it reached its full height above ground. After a brief pause, what seemed to be doors in the front of the box slid open. Gabrielle gripped the camp knife she'd been using and rested her other hand on the sai that was nestled against her left boot.
An average-looking man in his mid-forties stepped out of the box. He was wearing khaki slacks and a light blue shirt.
"G'day," he said to the wary Amazon as he walked toward her. "Do you mind if I take a seat?"
She eyed him suspisciously, not answering.
"I'll take that as a 'yes,'" he smiled and sat across from her.
The man spoke with an accent that was different from the other Survivors' yet it was familiar to Gabrielle's ears. She had heard comparable inflections during her years of travel and even Xena slipped into similar speech patterns when she was tired.
"Are you Greek?" the bard asked.
"No, mate," he tapped himself on the chest. "I'm a red-blooded Aussie!"
"You know..." he began to sing. "I come from the land Down Under!"
The hair stood on the back of Gabrielle's neck. "You... You were sent from Tartarus, weren't you?"
"I don't know Tartarus from a hole in the ground," he said seriously.
"Funny," she replied, appreciating the irony. After a beat, the bard stiffened. "You're not a demon from Hell, are you?"
"There are some folks who would call me that, I suppose," he smiled again. "But, no, I'm not a demon."
"Are you a god?"
At that, the stranger seemed to lose himself in fantasy.
"Hello?" the bard prodded him back to reality.
"I'm a god in the industry," he informed her.
"The entertainment industry. Reality television is my specialty," he bragged.
"Television?" the bard's ears perked up. "What do you do in television?"
"I'm the executive producer of Survivor," he said proudly.
"Reallllllllllllllly?" the blonde drawled, the wheels in her mind spinning furiously. "Would you mind answering a few questions for me?"
"I was going to ask you the same thing," he replied. "How about a little give and take?"
"I'm game," said the more relaxed bard.
"Mark, by the way," the man extended his hand.
The Amazon took it. "Gabrielle."
Back at the reward challenge, Sean had managed to fall seven times without collecting a single coconut in the span of four minutes.
Soozin and Colleen were tied with three coconuts each, but Soo's bounty included a black coconut while Colleen's included a pink one. Neither color could be found in a rainbow.
Jenna was consumed with guilt after clumsily smashing her first coconut into a tree, thus causing a hairline fracture. When the milk began leaking out, she was sure she had injured the poor, defenseless creature. Forgetting about her earlier desire to win the challenge, she swore on her own life that she would nurse the hair-covered pod back to health.
godconnie was thrilled when Xena finally took custody of the burlap sack that had her name printed on it. Still, the warrior did nothing but watch the Survivors scurry overhead.
"Xena," the fanfic writer tried to get her attention.
The warrior put her index finger up to her lips as if to say, "Hush."
In the blink of an eye, Rudy tripped and plummeted head first into the circus net. A split second later, Xena grabbed her chakram and whisked it into the air. It ricocheted from tree to tree. Every so often, a rope was sliced and a coconut would fall into her waiting bag.
gc was startled, not only by the sheer mathematic genius it took to master such a feat, but by the fact that each coconut was small enough to squeeze through the holes in the circus net. And, to top it all off, they fell in colored order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.
Xena walked over to godconnie. "You're going to catch flies if you don't shut that," she nodded toward gc's open mouth.
"That was the most amazing thing I have ever seen in my life," the author gushed.
"Haven't seen much, have you?" the warrior said, unimpressed. She handed the bulky sack to gc. "I think you can call the others off now."
godconnie nodded her head in wondrous agreement.
After informing Xena of her prize and directing the contestants back toward camp, godconnie returned to the hidden cave that she had been sharing with Mezzo while on the island. She paused in the entranceway when she spotted the green-eyed beauty rifling through the massive rough draft of their fanfic, muttering to herself.
"I can't believe she wanted to bring Joxer into this story," Mezzo grumbled quietly. "And who gives a flying fig about Joel or Greg or..."
"S'up?" gc interrupted.
"Probst! Ack!" screeched a startled Mezzo.
"Where?!" godconnie looked around her in alarm. It took a few seconds before it occurred to her that she still looked like the Survivor host. "No! Wait! It's me, gc!"
"How do I know that for sure?" asked Mezzo as she made a crucifix with two pencils and held them out to ward off any evil that might come her way.
"You made me!"
"But how do I know you're the one I made?"
gc rolled her eyes. "I dunno. Ask me a question that only I would know the answer to."
"Okay... How many toes was Gabrielle born with?"
Mezzo squinted and pondered the answer.
"She had six toes on her right foot, five on the left," the dimpled writer proclaimed. "You know I'm right!"
"Yes," the wary woman considered. "But how do I know that Probst doesn't know that too?"
"Why I oughtta!" godconnie lunged for her co-conspirator who nonchalantly stepped out of the way.
"Come on," gc begged. "Turn me back into me."
"I don't recall asking you to return my blinding cleavage," she said pointedly.
"And yet you managed..."
"I have many skills."
"Heh," godconnie laughed to herself after hearing that last line, knowing full well that Mezzo had tired of Xena's favorite phrase years ago.
"Egad! I can't believe you got me to say that!" Mezzo squealed.
"Give me my body back or I'll make you quote Meg next!"
"Fine!" The emerald-eyed fanfic goddess pulled her notebook from her back pocket and began writing vigorously with one of her pencils. In a burst of small yellow and red lightning bolts, godconnie returned to her own glorious self. "Happy now?"
"Oh yes," the Scorpio sighed dreamily as she cupped her breasts.
"Okay," Mezzo confessed. "You're really grossing me out there."
godconnie cleared her throat as she came to her senses. "Just making sure everything was back in the right place."
"So what's next?" gc asked merrily.
"How about we finish this monster of a story?" suggested Mezzo.
"Oh yeah!" exclaimed godconnie. "I got this awesome idea for a clash between Tapert and Gretchen! I was going to have him accidentally end up at the resort and..."
"Absolutely not!" Mezzo cut her off abruptly. "We have already strayed from our initial goal. There will be no more straying."
"No 'buts' about it. This was supposed to be a short story!"
godconnie decided it would be best not to argue with a woman who could trap her in someone else's body. "What was our initial goal, by the way?"
"To show Xena and Gabrielle that they belong together, no matter what The Powers That Be try to make them do," stated Mezzo. "And to teach Tapert that he needs to start respecting the canon of the show as well as the relationship between the warrior and the bard."
"That's right!" said gc. "I knew it was something like that."
"So why don't you help me get these notes in order?" asked a moderately exasperated Mezzo as she motioned toward the seemingly endless stacks of paper lying around their makeshift jungle office.
"Aiiiiight, Boo," godconnie replied casually in her best Original Cindy voice.
Mezzo took a calming breath and wondered, once again, how she got herself into this crazy writing partnership in the first place.
A magnificent smell wafted through the air as the reward challenge competitors approached their campsite.
"Holy Mother o' Gawd," Soo drawled. "Is that roasted pheasant?"
Xena's pride began to swell when she spotted Gabrielle kneeling beside the spit she had constructed while the rest of them were away.
In a fit of unbridled happiness, Jenna ran toward Gabrielle, who managed to stand just as the castaway dropped to her knees and wrapped her arms around the bard's legs.
"I love you so much!" Jenna cried and pressed her cheek to Gabrielle's stomach. The Amazon froze in place, unsure of the meaning behind the young woman's words and actions.
Jenna felt something cold and metallic-tap her on the shoulder. "Yeah?" she turned slowly, only to realize that the tip of Xena's blade was just inches from her throat. Her eyes doubled in size as she looked from the dour warrior to the rigid bard. "Oh God," she gulped and released her grip. "This isn't what it looks like! I... I just wanted to thank Gabrielle for providing such a wonderful meal!"
"Get up," Xena commanded. Jenna obeyed. "Say, 'Thank you, Gabrielle.'"
"Th... Thank you, Gabrielle."
"You're welcome," the bard smiled sweetly.
"Now go away," instructed the warrior. Jenna made a beeline for the other side of camp.
"That wasn't very nice, Xena," Gabrielle gently scolded.
"S'pose not," she said wryly as she returned her sword to its scabbard. "But I'm so good at being bad."
The bard chuckled. "Tell me about it."
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked a good-natured Xena as they walked toward the delicate waves that were lapping the shore.
"I was just agreeing with you," the bard replied impishly.
"And to think I had a story to share with you when I returned," Xena teased.
"Funny," Gabrielle returned playfully. "I had a story to share with you as well."
"Realllllly?" the warrior stretched the word out for effect.
"Yep," quipped the bard.
Xena pursed her lips and nodded as they fell into a jovial, competitive silence. Gabrielle was the first to break.
"I had the most amazing experience!" she gushed.
Xena grinned at the bard's lack of willpower when it came to refraining from spinning a tale.
"This man appeared from below the earth," the Amazon continued. "He said he was the executive producer of Survivor and he had the most remarkable God Complex I have ever witnessed. Now I know why Tapert is so deluded," she added. "It's required in his profession!"
"This man who rose from the Underworld was mortal?" asked a now very interested Xena.
"Definitely mortal," Gabrielle assured her. "And definitely insane."
The bard moved closer to her partner in a conspiratorial manner. "He believes he controls everything on this island including the weather," whispered the blonde.
"That sea storm sure came out of nowhere when we tried to make our escape," stated Xena.
"Only someone with the power of Poseiden could have done something like that," reasoned the bard incorrectly, having no comprehension of modern science or technology. "This guy... He's no god. You should have seen him break into a sweat when I mentioned Tapert's name."
"Tapert's name made him nervous?"
Gabrielle nodded. "He said that Tapert wouldn't know how to produce a consistent season of television if he were handed exact instructions that had been written by the most gifted scribes in the universe."
Xena smiled, imagining that to be true.
"He thinks that Tapert's presence is going to ruin his 'baby.'"
"So he had no idea that Tapert was here?" asked the warrior.
"Not a clue."
"Did he know that we were here?"
"He did," the blonde nodded. "Said he'd seen us on his television monitors. Whatever that means. But he didn't know why we were here," explained Gabrielle. "That's why he came to talk to me."
"What did you tell him?"
"I was hoping he might be able to help us, Xena," said the bard. "I told him that someone here suggested we were being taught a lesson by a higher power."
"And he said?"
"He said there is no higher power than him," she snorted. "Then his eyes glazed over as if he were remembering some traumatic event. I really feared for his mental health."
"You're sure he wasn't a god?" the warrior asked again. "You know how they like to play games."
"I'm positive," the bard assured her. "He kept slapping at the sand fleas that were nipping his ankles and it looked as though he were beginning to break out in hives."
"What else did you talk about?"
"Well, I asked him if he was familiar with the term, 'fan fiction,' and he said he'd dabbled in a bit of 'slash' in his Trekkie days, but had given it up when he realized his true calling," offered Gabrielle. "I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, so I asked him to define 'fan fiction,' and he said that sometimes the fans of a particular television show will be so taken with the characters that they will begin writing their own stories about them."
"So if what Colleen says is true," reasoned the warrior. "These goddesses that are trying to 'educate' us are also fans?"
"And if they're fans, that means they like us, right?"
"I would certainly hope so," the blonde agreed.
"So we were right to assume that they are trying to help us," Xena postulated.
"Good call on your part," complimented the bard.
"And if what your 'friend' said about Tapert is true," the warrior rationalized. "He can't be very popular with the fans."
"Personally, I can't see how he would be popular with anybody," stated Gabrielle.
"This could be as much about exacting revenge upon him as showing us how blind we've been," concluded Xena.
Gabrielle contemplated their situation. "Should we go along with this then as we'd planned? Just go with the flow?"
"Is it in our nature to go with the flow?"
"Then I say we keep a very watchful eye out for these goddesses."
"And if we find them?"
"When we find them," emphasized Xena. "They better have a good explanation for what they've done, no matter how noble their intentions."
Just then, a loud disagreement erupted around the distant fire.
"You cannot have two legs!" Soozin barked at Kelly.
"I can have whatever I can take!" retorted the river guide.
"I told ya we shoulda voted her off da island when we had da chance!" Rudy growled.
"Take my leg," offered Colleen.
"Why do ya always gotta be so sweet?" asked an angry Soo.
"I just thought it would stop the arguing..."
"You just thought it would make us like you more so we'd keep you around longer!"
"No!" exclaimed the generally sweet-natured co-ed. "Fine! I'll keep my leg!"
"Give it to me!" screeched Kelly.
"You leave my girl alone!" yelled a wide-awake Gervase, surprising everyone.
"How have they managed to survive for more than a fortnight without killing each other?" Gabrielle asked Xena as they watched the once peaceful dinner turn into a brawl.
"Lucky for us, I don't care."
"Don't you want to hear my story?" asked the warrior.
"Of course I do," the bard turned away from the now insignificant battle behind them.
"Well..." the brunette smiled. "We had a reward challenge and a certain Warrior Princess came out on top."
"Now there's a shocker," joked Gabrielle. "What did you win?"
"I won a catered dinner and a relaxing dip in a hot tub," she gently taunted. "I'm to show up at Probst's yacht before nightfall."
"Probst?" The Amazon crinkled her nose. "That sounds more like a punishment than a reward."
"I don't have to share the food or the hot tub with him, Gabrielle."
"Thank the gods."
"I do, however, get to take someone with me..." Xena raised a suggestive eyebrow.
"Gee," the bard played innocent. "Whomever will you choose?"
"Kelly seems awfully hungry," the warrior nodded back toward camp. "And a nice, relaxing soak in a tub might do her a world of good."
Xena grinned. "What do you say we make our way to our reward?"
"I'd love to," replied a beaming Gabrielle as she wrapped her hand around her partner's forearm and headed in the direction indicated on the handwritten map that godconnie had given to Xena.