It Could Be Worse (2nd Season)

BLOOPERS!

By Sulia Serafine

[A Protector of the Small fanfic set in an alternate universe; all credit goes to Tamora Pierce. I'm broke, so you can't sue me. Any other copyrighted things that don't belong to me in here in fact belong to other very businesslike people. Could you believe that? I guess that's why I'm broke.

BAD LANGUAGE (I. E. cursing, swearing…)! E-mail me at silverwlng@aol.com okay? And you know the drill: titles or subjects of emails are fanfiction.net, s.serafine, or icbw.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I'm still accepting people into the mailing list. That means you'll be told when the next episode is posted, as well as other tidbits of information about the series whenever I put them online. ALSO: Every now and then, as a pledge, I'll send everyone bonus material, such as drawings of ICBW characters and little random facts about ICBW.

Rating: kinda PG-13. Mostly weird humor.

~~

Episode 1: Take a Break

(Scene: Passenger area of the ferry across the Great Inland Sea)

The ferry was very quiet that time around. The crowds went on the early morning ferries, not the ones during lunch like the vacationing officers were. Faleron was peacefully sleeping on one bench. His hat was tipped over his eyes. Cleon and Neal had borrowed Faleron's deck of cards to play a game of Blackjack. That left Keladry to get some food from the line in the center of the passenger area. She came back and gave some bags of chips and bottled drinks to the card players. Then she sat across from Joren, who was fiddling with his portable database.

The muted light from the dull gray sky disappointed her. She expected bright and sunny weather for their embarking on a splendid month at Seastone Resort. It's only the first day. It'll get better by tomorrow, she thought optimistically. She took a sip of her bottled water and tried to peer at what Joren was doing.

He looked up when he sensed her curious eyes. She sat back again and wordlessly held out some food for him from her tray. He rolled his eyes and accepted the offering.

"We're on a ferry in the Great Inland Sea and you're giving me an freaking apple. Déjà vu."

"Just eat it," she goaded. "By the way, what are you looking at?"

He held the screen away from her, but took a bite of the apple. "None of your business. Why don't you go play cards or something, huh?"

She set down her bottle and glared at him. "Maybe I don't feel like playing cards."

"Tough luck," he snapped and took another bite. "Go."

Keladry folded her arms. She was on vacation, right? That meant she could do things and say things that she normally couldn't, or wouldn't… right? Perhaps it would be best to get a feel for it and start right then.

"Well, maybe I don't feel like being told what to do by a egotistical blonde asshole," she retorted. "Sometimes you just make me sick."

"That's not what you said last night," he said loud enough for everyone around to hear him.

Cleon and Neal exchanged wide-eyed looks. Faleron removed his hat from his face and sat up, also quite shocked. Keladry blushed beet red. She held up her hand and looked off set toward the director, who had choked on his donut.

"He is so lying."

Cleon cringed. "Are you sure, Kel? There, um… is a curious… 'mark' on your neck."

Her slap echoed in the air around them.

~~

Episode 2: Best Friend

(Scene: Cave at Seastone Restone)

Cleon tilted his head back when he felt a drop of water on his head. He frowned when another hit his forehead. He stepped to the side and nudged Faleron with his flashlight.

"Hey, look at this. Wow, here I thought this place would be boring. Guess I was wrong, huh?" he chuckled and leaned slightly over the rail to look at miniature glowing lakes beyond the rail, all raised above the ground level they were standing on. He could barely spot the planted lights below that caused the water to radiate such a pleasant glow. When he realized Faleron was not looking, he cleared his throat. "I wish I had come down here with ya when you went the first week. This place is cool to hang out in. Why is it slightly warmer in here?"

Faleron didn't talk. He only leaned his back on the secure metal rail and looked at his watch. The guide wouldn't call for everyone to proceed for another ten minutes. Low tide lasted for a while, but there was still a certain time everyone had to be off shore during the night.

When he didn't reply, Cleon tried to lighten the mood and jokingly flashed the beam at Faleron's face. The shorter young man turned away, his face set in a serious and temperamental expression. The taller man didn't know what to do. He fiddled with his flashlight for a few seconds, then looked up and said, "Are you mad at me?"

This time, Fal did respond-- just not verbally. He turned, stared at Cleon for about fifteen seconds, then turned away again.

"Was it because… I was late getting here?" Cleon said with uncertainty. He was truly confused about his friend's attitude.

Faleron spun around. "No. I was just surprised you showed up at all."

"What's that supposed to mean? I said that I'd show up, and… I did," Cleon said with a wave of his hands. "I mean, here I am! What the hell…?"

"I'll tell you what hell is! Hell is coming home to an empty hotel room and having to slave over the stove for a dinner that isn't even eaten! It's vacuuming the carpet around the bed and putting a mint on the pillow and— do you even care?" He burst into tears. "I am so unappreciated! Do you even know—"

Cleon held up his hands, face pale. "Whoa, dude. You're starting to channel the spirits of disgruntled hotel maids."

Faleron blinked. He put a hand to his forehead. His other hand rested on his stomach. "I think you're right."

"Dude, did you eat those mushrooms in Lalasa's bag?"

He thought silently for a minute. "… You know, that would explain a lot… "

~~

Episode 3: Home For A While

(Scene: Morning of departure from Seastone Resort)

"Where are they? And I thought everybody was worried that Neal and I were going to be late," Cleon complained. He drank his orange juice greedily, savoring the flavor and the pulpy content. His roommate was asleep aside him, cheek pressed against the tabletop and limbs as loosely hanging as a puppet's without its strings.

Lalasa, sitting on her beloved's lap, only shrugged and blissfully smiled up at Roald, who blushed and shyly smiled back. Numair was trying to get his coffee just right. Half an hour ago, he'd lectured a waitress on the different varieties of coffee and the way to get it just right with added milk, cream, and sugar. Of course, no one had any idea what the Councilman was talking about, and he was ignored.

Faleron realized he was the only normal person in the group right then, with his best friend now closing in on his third glass of O.J. He stood up. "I'll go get them."

When he got to the room, no one answered his knock or his intercom call. Maybe they were both still asleep, though he doubted that was a possibility. Last time he had roomed with the mostly impassive, mostly rude special operative, Joren had woken up at every little thing. Sometimes, the blonde went out on midnight walks and ended up sleeping somewhere else more remote.

Just break into their room. It's a measly hotel lock. No biggie.

He did just that and hoped no camera was watching him.

Inside, he found both beds unmade. He tripped on three shoes, two that had to have belonged to Joren, and one belonging to Kel. The light from the bathroom was on. Were they both in there? He couldn't hear anything, but the hum of the air conditioning.

Tiptoeing, Faleron entered the bathroom. He saw the toilet with both lid and seat up. He saw towels carelessly fallen onto the floor from their perch next to the bathtub. He saw Keladry and Joren asleep in the bathtub. He saw--

Wait.

He ogled at the sight of them. He paused, just long enough for the director offstage to worry. Then he stripped off his shirt and climbed in, settling himself on top of Keladry and Joren. Immediately, Keladry squeaked and flailed around.

"CUT!" the director yelled. "King, what are you doing?"

Joren growled from the bottom of the pile. "Yes, King, what the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Faleron, get off!" Kel shrieked.

The former thief snorted. "Oh, please, Kel. As if your fantasies don't include yourself with two half naked guys in a bathtub."

"It most certainly does not!" she cried.

Cleon let out a loud wolf-whistle. "You're blushing, babe! You know what that means!"

Keladry screamed at the top of her lungs. The director covered his ears and sighed.

~~

Episode 4: Prodigy Wannabe

(Scene: Lerant's Apartment)

"Hey! Ice Cream Pants!" Cleon shouted as soon as Faleron entered Lerant's apartment. The redhead jumped over the couch he was sitting on to stagger to the door. He excitedly extracted a crumpled piece of paper from his pants pocket and handed it to the confused former thief.

Merric stood by, smiling slightly, still taking in the whole scene. He pretended not to notice the odd greeting Cleon had given his cousin, and figured it was some inside joke. The Riders were all crowded around the holo screen, everyone either eating flame broiled burgers or the salad that Fianola had made. All of them seemed to be avidly cheering for one team or another, often arguing with each other who was going to win.

Faleron tried to flatten out the paper against the wall. "What the hell is this?"

Cleon, abashed, rocked back and forth impatiently on his heels. "I got really bored today at the station, waiting for Chief Whiteford to give me a crappy job, so I got to thinking about Kalasin... and next thing I knew, I was writing a poem for her." He bit his lip and tried to read over his best friend's shoulder. "So...? What do you think?"

The shorter man frowned. He wandered off the set and whispered into the director's ear. He pointed to the paper in his hand and made some more gestures. The director also made a face and took the paper from him. He groaned.

"Um, Cleon?"

"Yes?"

"This is supposed to be a poem with the word sunrise in it."

"And it's not?"

"It's an advertisement for Tropicana Orange Juice."

"Mmm… orange juice."

The director rolled his eyes. "Thank you, Homer Simpson."

~~

Episode 5: A Date and a Convict

(Scene: Faleron's apartment building)

She strolled, well actually she stalked, through the rotating doors in front of the lobby, curtly nodded to the man at the desk, and stopped in front of the wall with the list of residents and a button besides each name.

She eventually spotted 'King' and pressed the button. "Hey, it's me."

There was a bit of static before she received a reply. "Good morning to you, too, Officer. I'll tell the other fellows that you're here. Come on up."

She stepped back and pivoted on her foot, ready to turn and stride over to the elevator. Before her eyes left the wall of residents, she noticed something else. A sticker resembling dice was placed on the Faleron's nameplate. The corner of her eyes crinkled, having felt it was a pleasant little thing to see in the midst of her stressful state.

When Keladry arrived at Faleron's door, she could hear her friends' presence.

"Why don't you come over here and I can tell you where to stick it!"

"Oh, shut your pie-hole!"

"Oh yeah? —Wait… shut my what?"

"Just shut up! Give me the Easy-Cheez, damn it!"

There was a light scuffle. And then the unmistakable thump of a body colliding with the floor. Keladry couldn't help it. She blushed and backed away from the door. The director frowned.

"Is something wrong, Mindelan?"

Her head jerked in his direction. "Eheh… No, no. It's nothing. For a moment there, I was just thinking that—oh, never mind." She rolled her eyes. "Whoever thought it was a smart idea to put Easy-Cheez in the script?"

"Oh?" Cleon said as he opened the door and grinned at her. "I know what you were thinking of! Bad Kel! Dirty mind! Only you and Joren do kinky things like that!"

Everywhere around the set, people winced as they heard the unmistakable sound of the flat of Keladry Mindelan's palm on Cleon Kennan's cheek.

Neal clucked his tongue. "Kennan, you have got to learn when to keep that big mouth of yours shut."

~~

Episode 6: Emerging

(Scene: Pool hall, Keladry's birthday)

"This seat taken?" an unfamiliar voice spoke.

"Go ahead," she answered without looking. She turned and a wave of apprehension coursed through her body, making her hair stand on end.

The man next to her looked about Neal's age. His shirtsleeves were rolled up to the elbow and his earthy red tie was loosened around his neck. "Who are they playing against?"

She blinked. "Oh, uh..." Her mind searched for the name. Yellow and forest green uniforms could only mean... "Springdale."

He pointed his finger casually at the screen, noting the statistics running along the bottom. "I think Springdale's doing fine, being the Underdog and all."

"They've got Frederick Apollo for their pitcher. Good guy," she commented, while drumming her fingers on the bar top. She secretly hoped he didn't think that she was bored. That would be rude.

"But the Knights have Leonard Raynelle. He's their powerhouse hitter."

The two strangers began a well-developed conversation on baseball. Keladry hardly ever watched the game. Most of her knowledge came from the Riders when they invited her to watch sports with them upstairs. She couldn't believe all that was paying off. She was actually having an ordinary talk with a man she didn't know.

"I'm sorry," she said suddenly. She'd stopped in the middle of a comparison of the experienced players and the new rookies. "I don't even know your name."

"It's Irons. Liam Irons. At your service."

There was a cry of outrage on the other side of the scene. Joren stomped over, face red. His fists clenched at his sides as he approached Liam and tapped him on the shoulder. The other man turned around, took one look at Joren, and fought hard not to laugh.

"Yes?"

The blond biker growled. "That, sir, is MY gag! The James Bond gag was so my gag ever since the first season's bloopers! That's it! Let's take this outside where I can kick your lily ass!"

Faleron waltzed up. He cleared his throat. "Boys, boys! There's an easier way to settle this."

Keladry peeked over her shoulder. She nervously croaked, "There is?"

"Why, of course!

Five minutes later:

The spotlight shined on a blank spot on the set. Faleron smiled at his audience while sporting a sports suit and a cheesy smile. He gestured toward the spotlight in one hand while holding a microphone up to his mouth in the other. "Our first contestant, please!"

Liam strutted into the limelight, wearing black slacks and a black turtleneck. He struck a pose, with his hands on his hips. Off to the side, Cleon held up a sign, prompting the audience to make sounds of wonder and awe.

"Ooh! Ahh!" they appropriately murmured.

"Mr. Irons comes all the way to us from Tusaine! He enjoys killing, deceiving, and doing his employer's will. Let's give it up for Liam Irons, ladies and gentleman!"

There was a loud round of applause. Liam bowed graciously and moved over to the side. The spotlight followed him. Another one appeared where Liam had been standing. Faleron made another grand gesture with his arms.

"Contestant number two! Joren Stone!"

Joren came into the light, also wearing an all-black ensemble. He sported a black leather jacket, a black shirt, and tight black jeans. He folded his arms and glared at the audience.

"Mr. Stone originally hails from the Yamanis, where his parents were brutally murdered and where he was psychologically and emotionally damaged! A big round of applause for Mr. Stone!"

Joren walked over to where Liam was standing. The two men glared at each other. Before either could throw witty retorts at the other, Lalasa emerged from the edge of the set, wearing a silver sequin leotard and bunny ears. She handed an envelope to Faleron, who gave her a strange look.

"And the winner is…" Faleron frowned. He scratched his head. "Raoul Goldenlake?"

A whoop came from somewhere in the darkened crowd. Raoul pushed his way through and took the microphone from Faleron. He wiped away an imaginary tear and waved to the audience.

"Thank you! Thank you! Being older than both these amateurs has allowed me to experience far more adventures and James-Bond-like situations than these two will ever know! Aw, I always knew I had more in common with Sean Connery than anyone else!"

Joren and Liam, both extremely outraged and flabbergasted, stalked off the stage. Raoul snorted.

"Drama queens…"

~~

Episode 7: A Letter To You

(Scene: The Alpheus restaurant)

"Uuuggghhh," Roald groaned as he started to come to.

"Come on... This way."

They stumbled to the bathroom. Faleron got Roald seated up on top of the counter. Then he cupped his hands under a faucet, waiting for the sensors to turn it on. When it did, he filled his hands with water and splashed it into Roald's face.

"Ah!" Roald cried as his eyes fully opened and he sputtered the water that had gotten into his mouth. "What... What? Why am I so tired?" Even after being doused with water, he leaned back on the mirror and closed his eyes again.

"Don't go to sleep! Wake up! Tell me what happened!" Faleron urged.

Roald shrugged weakly. He sniffed. "I... I was listening to them like you said. And," he yawned. "I wanted to get the taste out of my mouth from the food. So I drank my whole glass of water. Man, that stuff tastes like dishwater. Must be my affected taste buds."

"Roald, I ate the food and drank the water. It doesn't taste like dishwater."

"Well maybe they got lazy back there and ran my glass under a faucet."

Faleron rubbed his chin. "It must be that horribly suspicious fellow whom Keladry is here with. That terribly, terribly deceptive man who really works for Enishi, but none of us finds out until episodes later. Yes, yes. It's his fault. I don't know why, but I'm sure I'll remember in five seconds."

Five seconds later:

"Line!"

"His name is Liam," Roald yawned. "Should I recite the whole thing for you?"

The director threw his hands up in the air. "Argh! CUT!"

Faleron snorted. "It's not my fault the man is so uninteresting that I can't remember his name. If anyone needs me, I'll be in my trailer."

"Drama queens," the director groaned. "I'm surrounded by drama queens!"

~~

Episode 8: Welcome to the Killing Grounds Part I

(Scene: Hattie's house)

"Get over here and pick your clothes."

In another universe, they could be in a department store. Paxton could have been a father, insisting to his son to buy clothing for the new school year. Instead, they were choosing their disguises for an operation that might cost them their lives. Joren went to the closest rack and started looking for sizes that fit him. Most of the items on the cart were darkly colored. Paxton started on a similar cart, occasionally picking out something like a red alligator skin jacket. Joren wrinkled his nose at the choices and kept his own selections simple and dark.

Hattie noticed and intervened. She went through the clothing he had already picked and learned his size. Without informing Joren of her idea, she also began selecting clothing and replacing Joren's stack of clothes. Twenty minutes later, Joren examined his stack and noticed most of his picks were gone. Hattie smiled and patted the table. "You still need a jacket."

"I'm not wearing this stuff."

Paxton was at the metal cabinets, unlocking them with a key from who-knows-where. He reached in and pulled out a wig, plopping it onto his head and looking at himself through the mirror. He began to nod his head and sing.

" I'm Paxton and my afro suits me—don't have to clean it, just wash it once.  All the girls like it 'cause its fluffy—I really like it, 'cause I don't have to brush—"

"…Uh, Pax?"

The elder man snatched off the wig and whirled around. "Yes?"

Joren blinked. "Nothing."

(Author: The tune is actually from the short scene "Nabeshin's Vacation" from Excel Saga episode 5. Yay for Nabeshin!)

~~

Episode 9: Welcome to the Killing Grounds Part II

(Scene: Coram's apartment)

"Grab that last container and start splashing the living room," Joren ordered.

"Right," Coram nodded. He handed his things to Kimmy, who was still sobbing pitifully. He ran past his coffee table and started dousing the kitchen, with its easily burning wooden cupboards. He spotted something large and black behind his couch. Joren went behind the couch and started to drag one of the two black things forth.

Coram squinted in the dim moonlight. When he recognized the large objects that Joren was dragging toward the bedrooms, he gasped. "Ye stole cadavers from the hospital? Are ye out of yer mind?!"

The cadavers were meant to help new surgeons learn their practice. Tonight, they were meant to help give new life to two people Joren wanted to see free of it all. Joren wiped the sweat off his brow. He grunted as he lifted the corners of the body bag again. "Get the other end!"

"I'm not touchin' any corpse!" Coram cried.

"You won't have to! I will," Joren snapped. "Now get on the other end!"

Coram moved toward the opposite end. As he bent down to touch the bag, he gulped. Then unexpectedly, he fainted. His body hit the floor with a thud.

Joren went over and nudged him with his shoe.

"Joren! Don't do that!"

The undercover operative shrugged. "I just wanted to see if he was alive."

The director was close to tearing his hair out. "Someone get the smelling salts! Coram fainted again!"

While random aides and assistants rushed about in panic, Joren continued to nudge the unconscious body with his foot. He smiled.

~~

Episode 10: An Interlude

(Scene: Keladry's apartment)

"Liam, it's been too long!" she greeted. Keladry stepped aside, so he could enter. If his intercom greeting had been received with confusion, she didn't show it. (In fact, a delightful shiver had gone up her spine, but she wouldn't let anyone know that. The thought of it being delightfully scary thrilled and embarrassed her.)

He dutifully offered her the flowers. "I hope you like them."

Kel took them into her arms and caressed the soft petals. "Yellow roses?"

They went inside so Kel could put the flowers in some water. While she did this, he walked around the living room with his hands clasped behind him, examining her home. He smiled at her from the sofa, where he finally decided to recline.

"Yellow is for sunshine and sunshine reminds me of you," he said after a few seconds. "Red is awfully trite. I would never give red roses to a woman. It would be an insult to her radiance." He chuckled. "Yellow sunshine is radiant, isn't it? It wakes up the world every single day."

Elsewhere on the set, fanboys waiting for filming to finish for the day all looked down at the bouquets of red roses in their hands and cried. They fled the set before Keladry could see them, flinging their gifts every which way.

Fianola picked one up, assuming it was for her. "Ooh! I have an admirer!"

Yuki beside her started to laugh and couldn't make herself stop.

~~

Episode 11: Cupid, Take a Hike!

(Scene: Carnival)

When Kalasin returned, she smiled at Cleon for the first time that night. "I'm ready for that haunted house now. Aren't you?"

Cleon couldn't believe his eyes or ears at first. He was about to leap up into the air and yell 'yahoo' for all the carnival to hear, but he restrained himself and simply nodded. He crossed his fingers behind his back as they started walking and whispered a tiny 'thank you' to Faleron, wherever the poker professional was.

The haunted house was one of the best that Cleon had been in for a long time. They got into the first car of a set of five. Kalasin actually laughed good-naturedly at the child who sat behind her when the child had pointed and exclaimed how pretty she was.

Cleon turned around. "You're darn right about that, kid!"

Needless to say, she blushed.

The carts jerked forward. Black wooden doors opened, and the sound effects of ghouls and goblins took surrounded them. It was as cheesy as could be. They passed into different rooms of the haunted house. Animatronics and actors played out supposedly scary and mysterious scenes.

Ghosts created by lasers flew over their heads. Chandeliers shook and the roasted pig on the table mechanically came to life. Possessed dolls asked creepily if the cart riders would play with them and claws reached out desperately from holes in the walls.

Kalasin suddenly reached out for the bar in front of her and gripped it lightly when the carts took an unexpected, jerky turn and rolled quickly down into the basement of the house. Halfway down the ramp, the cart stopped. It happened so quickly that the lap bar loosened, sending both the carts riders tumbling over the front and onto the track. They groaned.

Neal and Roald whistled from their scene on the opposite side of the set.

"That looks painful."

"And embarrassing," Neal added. "Shall we point and laugh?"

"We shall." The started to guffaw with laughter, slapping their thighs and pointing to the humiliated couple. Cleon sat up and gave them the finger. Then Kalasin slapped him for his other hand, wandering places it shouldn't.

~~

Episode 12: Chase

(Scene: The Royal Costume Shop)

~~

"This is Keladry Mindelan, First Class, District T1. Please leave a message at the sound of the beep. (beep)"

"Hey, Kel! It's Lalasa. Roald and I just wanted to wish you a Happy Holiday from here In Copper City. I know… you're probably out with your boyfriend or something, but do me a favor and wish the rest of the boys Happy Holiday for us, okay?  Make a wish on the brightest star you see! Don't forget! Take care and see you soon. Bye!"

The automated answering machine recorded the message. A tiny red light began blinking on it. The machine would go unanswered for the rest of the holiday, since its owner was currently out performing her duties. Keladry spent most of the day sleeping, preparing herself for the full night shift that would cause her to stand sentinel with Major Ulliver Linden at The Royal Costume Shop.

Coffee was her greatest weapon. That and cherry flavored caffeine gum that lost its flavor after a mere five minutes. She feared drowsiness the most out of the whole arrangement. The likelihood of attack on one of the most celebrated days of the year seemed next to none.

"Would you like some?" She offered one of her thermoses to Ulliver.

He glanced warily at the coffee. "I don't drink coffee."

"CUT!" the director shouted. "Ulliver! In this scene, you drink coffee! You like coffee!"

The actor frowned. "But I really don't."

Keladry rolled her eyes. "Well, couldn't you just swallow some and drink something else afterwards to wash away the taste."

"No, it's not the taste that bothers me."

"Is it the caffeine?" the director asked, fed up and very impatient. He called over his shoulder again. "Someone get me Decaf!"

Ulliver shook his head. "It's not that either."

Keladry was close to snarling at him. She had been working way too hard to have a scene messed up likes this for no good reason. She leaned toward him. "Well, what's wrong then?"

He blushed. "I'd rather not tell you. It's… a guy thing."

"Oh please. Spare me the 'guy' comments and tell me what it is."

The actor reluctantly cupped his hands around her ear and whispered to her. Her face scrunched up. She jerked away.

"Are you kidding me? That's the most stupid superstition I've ever heard! I mean, shrinking—"

"It's true!" he protested.

"No it's not!"

He snorted. "How would you know? Do you have a—"

"Don't finish that sentence if you value your life."

~~

Episode 13: A Letter to You Part II

(Scene: Academy flashback, cafeteria)

When they arrived at their table again, another teenage boy whom Keladry had never seen before was sitting across from Neal. Owen sat beside his roommate, so that caused her to set down her tray and sit beside this new stranger.

She kept quiet while Owen greeted the newcomer. He was about Keladry's height, with blond hair that stuck up in soft spikes in the front. She couldn't help but glance nervously at the archaic black tattoo pattern on one of his temples. It was very distracting.

"Oh! Zell, I want you to meet Keladry," Neal said, gesturing toward her. "Kel, this is the guy I was talking about during Combat. He's in your grade, too."

The tattooed boy offered his hand to her. She shook it. His grip was definitely stronger than hers, but maybe it was because she wasn't used to the feel of gloves on hands. Zell wore black sparring gloves with the fingers cut off. His presence indubitably intimidated her.

"So! You're the cute girl! Oh, geez, guys, did you say she was only fourteen? Dang it! I just turned eighteen a week ago…" He sighed. "If you weren't jailbait, this training stuff would have been so much fun."

Keladry's hand itched to slap him. But she thought better of it and slapped Neal instead.

"Ow! What did you do that for?!"

"I know you put him up to it!" She growled. "CUT!"

The director stood in the back, banging his head against the wall.

~~

Episode 14: Gravedigger

(Scene: racetrack)

The sound of revving engines and tires squeaking of pavement was almost like music to his ears. The adrenalin and excitement he received whenever he came here had never truly left him. He saw that now. It didn't feel wrong. After five years, it felt soothing. It was second nature.

Joren went inside the same parking garage as the first night he'd ever raced and discovered that his usual corner had remained untouched. He parked in the shadows. A few other men and women noticed him. They were mechanics or riders, and none of them had ever seen him before. Amazingly, they didn't eye him like competition, though they gazed at him with large frightened eyes like rabbits on the run.

"'Scuse me."

Joren took off his helmet. He gave the stranger a once over. A teenage boy, in racing gear… multiple ear piercings and bleached hair. How typical, Joren thought. "What?"

 "You're 'im, aren't ya?" the boy asked, in a corrupted Port Legann accent which, uncorrupted, made anyone who spoke it seem sophisticated—even the pierced punk. Unfortunately, the boy didn't know how to use his accent well.

It threw Joren off. He shrugged and started to walk past. The boy jogged after him, keeping one step behind. "Go away, kid."

"T'is you! I thought it was! I mean… everyone knows the Jackal by 'is 'elmet, but I know about 'is ride, too! And you're 'im, aren't ya? Tommy told me I was out of my bleedin' mind when I pointed you out and said you were 'im," he grinned and chuckled, overcome with excitement. Joren stopped and turned around.

Joren stopped and turned around. "I can't understand a word you're saying. That has to be the worst attempt at an accent I've ever heard."

The boy blushed. "But, Mr. King taught me."

From the director's side, the man in question stood up. "Yeah, Stone! What's wrong with my teaching?"

"It sucks."

"You want to take this outside! Come on! I'll fight you!"

"Boys! Settle down!" the director ordered them. They backed off. They continued to snarl and bare their teeth. It reminded the poor director of mad dogs.

The young boy actor whose accent was horrible decided to speak his mind. "Why not let them have a go? I'd bet ten on the blondie!"

Joren turned to the boy, eyes twitching. "What did you call me?"

"Eep."

~~

Episode 15: Seems Like

(Scene: Keladry's kitchen)

He sent his heart out to her, just like he had when he first met her. Jokes and witty comments may have been absent this time, but Keladry could still feel his sincerity. She let out a deep shuddering breath.

"Liam broke up with me." She paused.  "What's that thing you and Cleon say? No biggie?"

Neal gaped at her. "How can you say that?! Kel, this is a big deal!"

"No, it isn't. We're not dating anymore. End of story."

"I hate it when you do this. Okay, fine. When you're ready to talk I'll be down the hall."

He started for the door. Kel glanced at the microwave.

"Don't you want lunch?"

He looked back at her and sighed. "There you go, just ignoring the subject again. You only hear what your perfectionist self wants to hear. Don't worry about me. Worry about yourself."

She listened for the door to close behind him. Then she removed the food from the microwave and sat down to eat. It felt eerie being alone that day. She was accustomed to eating with Liam during the week and with her friends during the weekends. To wash away her insecurity, she turned on the Holoscreen and watched the news.

The dead boy that Liam had mentioned in the graveyard was in the news. The DJPF had still not found the hit-and-run driver who recklessly killed him.

"How sad," she murmured, a little more emotionless than she'd intended. Keladry blinked rapidly and concentrated on her food again.

After she finished lunch and set her dishes in the automatic dishwasher, she entered her living room and planned on a whole afternoon of watching news reports. She passed her answering machine, which had a blinking red light in the corner of it. Keladry frowned and pressed the button.

" ¿Quieres tomar algo? (pause) Do you want something to drink?"

"Sí, quiero una cerveza. (pause) Yes, I'd like a beer."

"You see? Spanish is easy! Now for just $25.95, you can own the extension pack AND a free cassette player! Limited offer! Call now while supplies last!"

Keladry frowned. "I think we have the wrong tape."

~~

Episode 16: Bide Your Time

(Scene: Liam's car)

"…ignore him like the rest of us?

"Yes," Liam murmured, leaning closer toward the mini speaker set up in his car. "Why not?"

"If I were as good as you, I'd care about everyone, too—"

He turned off the speaker after that. His hand tightened around the steering wheel.

"Not everyone. You can't care about everyone because they'll make you choose a side sooner or later," he muttered bitterly. "It will be me you choose, Keladry Mindelan! Or else there will be hell to pay! Just you wait, Kel Mindelan, just you wait! You'll be crying but your tears will be too late!"

Keladry frowned. She poked Cleon in the side. "Is he singing that thing from My Fair Lady? The song that Eliza Dolittle sings?"

"I think he is. Hey! Want to see if he'll do the other song?" Cleon started dancing around her. "The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plains!"

"Uh…"

~~

Episode 17: Gone

(Scene: Streets of Tusaine)

"Why not? We have steady jobs that don't require us to race around to disarm a bomb or risk our lives. We've become mundane and boring! Bor-ing," she pronounced each syllable loud and clear so he could not mistake it.

He looked at Lalasa with a worried face. "You're missing that exciting, night club life, aren't you?"

Her stomach twisted itself in a knot due to her guilt. "Sometimes. But I'd rather be here with you. Really, I would. Especially after that stupid fight we had months ago. I'm glad to be settled!"

He blushed. "Can we use another word besides 'settled'?"

"Why? Because it reminds you of marriage?" she taunted.

His whole face was now red and she knew it wasn't from the frosty winds.

Lalasa giggled. She leaned toward him and planted a quick kiss on his nose. He smiled shyly at her like a boy on his first date. He still amazed her with an attitude she could only describe as Roald-ness.

His expression changed. "Isn't that Stone? With a rifle?!"

Joren put a finger to his lips. "Shh! Be vewy, vewy quiet! I'm huntin' wabbit!"

Lalasa couldn't help it. She burst out laughing at his Elmer Fudd impression. Roald grinned. He patted Joren on the shoulder.

"Whoa! I didn't think you'd actually do it!"

"You owe me twenty, Jasson. Cough it up."

The director was close to tearing his hair out. "You people are going to make me get white hairs!"

"As if you don't have them right now," Joren retorted.

The director, horrified, ran away in search of a mirror.

~~

Episode 18: Shades of Gray

(Scene: Keladry's reminiscing)

A sly smile crept onto Keladry's face. It had been disconcerting then, but how she wished he would say it again to her now. He was less burdened then. He was more at peace with the lot that Heaven had given him.

So what does that tell me about him now? That he wants to shoot himself because it hurts so badly? Her inner hope was nearly dashed to pieces, but she willed herself to remain strong. For him.

Two hours passed by. She discovered that she cared very little for the Tkaa Project, which she had been assigned to look for. Dozens of officers were working on it, she reasoned. They did not need a perfectionist like her who only bumbled around, like her partner claimed. No, her attention was demanded by something else. Someone else.

It was at his apartment door that she finally stopped to rest. Fully aware that he was not at home, she still leaned up against his door, pressing her forehead to the cool surface. Would it be too sentimental to say that she suddenly smelled his scent there? Keladry had never been that mushy or romantic, but it felt so right.

"I love you, Joren Stone," she said to the empty air around her.

She paused. Then she frowned. "CUT!"

The director leapt up from his chair. "What is it now? That was perfect! Absolutely perfect!"

Keladry folded her arms across her chest and glared at him. "So you're telling me all of a sudden, she's willing to admit that some guy who wouldn't give a rat's ass about her is 'the one'?" She scoffed. "Ha! This is some pretty messed up stuff, sir! I say we bring in a new writer!"

The director flinched. "Um… sure, if you have a death wish."

"Huh?"

All of a sudden, Keladry found herself in the middle of a field, surrounded by cute and cuddly creatures, which cooed at her and frolicked in the flowers. She screamed.

Elsewhere, a sadistic writer started to laugh. The characters of the story all shuddered.

~~

Episode 19: Breaking

(Scene: DJPF Station, Tusaine Branch)

"They have a reason to be there. They're the legislative ones. After that whole Immortals mess, I'd be suspicious toward 'hush-hush' science projects, too." He held up one finger. "Don't forget, the Council funds that department. I'd be worried about my investment, too, if I were them." He sneezed.

"Whoa, are you getting sick?"

Neal glared at him. "If I do, I'm going to blame it on you. I've barely been off the disabled list! I don't need to be sick right now!"

The redhead chuckled. "It's the cold weather, man. We're Tortallians. We're too used to warmth in the winter. This place up north… it's…"

"Aggravating," Neal finished. He turned, and pushed off from the back of Cleon's chair with both feet —causing the redhead to brace himself against the desk.

"Hey!"

"I'm going to buy some chicken soup in one of those Styrofoam cups from downstairs. Want some?"

His companion's fingers darted dexterously over the keyboard. He focused on the screen. "No, I'm cool. I think I'm going to make some calls to the Council. You know, play the detective and private investigator like Dick Tracy."

Neal stood up and rolled his eyes. There was a certain element of mirth absent from his friend's features. He didn't wish to be biased, but after seeing Cleon act like a clown so many times, he found it hard to believe the sharpshooter was serious. Neal was tempted to demand his real identity. Surely, the man seated there was an imposter.

He settled for an agreeable nod of the head and started for the door. "Yeah. Sure. Whatever you say, Dick."

From behind him, Cleon started laughing. He laughed so hard that he leaned his forehead down on the desk and tried to muffle his laughter, but he couldn't.

"What's so funny? Was it because the script made me call you Dick?"

Cleon wiped a tear from his eye. "That and the toilet paper trailing from your shoe."

Neal blushed deep red and looked down. "Oh."

~~

Episode 20: Genius Arrives, Fashionably Late

(Scene: Keladry's apartment)

"Here's to the higher things, then," he said fleetingly. He should have brought some more of that wine so he could have toasted to the statement. In the end, he swung up his legs onto the couch and slipped into a peaceful nap.

Twenty minutes later, the doorbell rang. Thom opened his eyes immediately. He sat up and smoothed the wrinkles on his shirt. He was going to make a good impression—one of confidence and mystery. The last thing he wanted to look like was a slob.

He banished the majority of his fears and pressed down on the intercom button. "Mindelan residence. All fiends welcome."

"Cute," was the sarcastic reply. "Open the damn door."

Thom did so. As soon as the door had slid open a crack, Liam's fingers curled around the edge of it and tried to push it the rest of the way through. The door remained stuck in place. There was a curse from the other side of the door and Liam tried to force it open. Thom smirked.

"Prop defect!" he called to the director.

"No! No! I can get this!" Liam insisted, putting his strength to use. The door still did not budge. There was another curse. Then, the barrel of a small handgun was stuck through the crack and pointed at Thom. "Screw it! I can do the scene like this!"

Thom doubled over with laughter. The director sighed.

"Just give me five minutes! I can get this stupid door open!" Liam shouted.

"Looks like someone wants to prove his manliness," Faleron commented.

The director rolled his eyes. "Or the lack thereof."

~~

Episode 21: When I Was Young

(Scene: Pool hall)

Within another half an hour, the party was in full swing. Neal had started a surprisingly goofy game of building a house of cards on one of the pool tables. The pool players accidentally knocked the card houses over with their cues as they passed by. And though the pool hall did not really contain space to dance, a few officers and civilians did so anyway. The rest of the guests sat at the bar, conversing with each other.

Keladry wasn't much in the mood for building a house of cards with Neal and Owen (their team was winning; the little structure was 3 levels high while Ulliver and Wolset were at two levels). She also didn't feel inclined to dance by herself (Joren dance with her? Phsaw) and she usually never danced anyway.

"Ha! I can dance! Who says I can't? Get over here Mindelan! You, over there! Put on some tango music!" Joren yelled. He grabbed his partner by the wrist and dragged her to the space cleared away for the impromptu dance floor. The lights were turned off.

Then, a spotlight fell on the couple. Joren had now changed clothing to that of a black tuxedo. Keladry was still in her normal clothes, but she had no idea what was going on. She glanced around her frantically, wondering why everyone was now shaking maracas and tambourines.

"Sir!" she called nervously to the director.

"Mmph! Mmmppphhh!" the director tried to say. He was gagged and bound to his chair with heavy corded rope.

The music began playing. Another spotlight shined down on three singers behind three microphone stands: Buri, Raoul, and Flyndon. The three singers started dancing along as they sang in Spanish. They all had roses tucked behind their ears and wore red sequin dresses.

"Has everyone gone insane?" Keladry screamed as Joren began to lead her into a tango that she awkwardly kept up with. She tried to escape his grasp, but then he would simply twirl them around and make her loose her footing. "WAH!"

Then Liam, also dressed to kill, cut in. He shoved Joren away and began to lead Kel in a frighteningly faster dance, making sure to dip her down toward the floor. Keladry was getting nauseous from all the twirling and spinning. She couldn't coordinate her own movements and was consequently dragged and pushed as they danced.

"Someone must have spiked the punch!" Keladry cried, feeling herself spun away from Liam, just in time to be caught by someone else.

Ulliver put his hands on her waist and lifted her up into the air, still turning and turning. Keladry flailed her arms and screamed again. She was grateful when he finally put her down. But then he had her sweep around the whole perimeter of the dance floor, while he winked at all the other people in the room.

"Kill me! Kill me now!" Keladry begged. "Goddess! Please! Strike me down!"

Her dance partner picked her up in his arms. She didn't even fight it any more. She welcomed her ultimate disaster. And she also welcomed the moment when she realized that she was hallucinating from a spiked drink.

"AH!" she shrieked as she was tossed up in the air. She shut her eyes tight. Then, she fell into someone else's arms. Kel reluctantly opened on eye and looked. Then she opened both and stared wide-eyed at her newest dance partner. "Zell?"

The one-time guest star wiggled his eyebrows suggestively at her. He would have spoken something, but he was holding a red rose between his teeth. He set her feet down and began leading her into the most seductive of dances, pressing his body close and swaying her around slowly, dipping her even more slowly and taking care to guide his hands to her waist.

Then all at once, all her dance partners went onto the floor again. They surrounded Keladry, who was literally having a panic attack, and hoisted her up onto their shoulders. As she looked up and discovered a camera staring straight down at her, her face turned red and she bellowed, "SULIA SERAFINE! I'M GOING TO KILL YOU!"

The director, hopped forward, still sitting tied and gagged in his chair. He fell over and landed on his side. The gag came loose, and he was able to speak. "I quit! I freaking quit!"

Sulia walked onto the set. She glanced down at her director, then at her cast. The group of men was still tossing Keladry up in the air over and over again. But she still didn't find it as amusing as seeing the Raoul, Buri, and Flyndon all dressed up in sequin dresses and shaking their butts for the camera.

"Oh, my. Maybe I shouldn't have asked Cleon to think of the last blooper."

~~

Author's notes: Ta da! I hope you laughed very hard for this season's bloopers! Season 2 is now officially ended! And for those of you who were waiting, I am working fervently on The Gift, Episode 5. It is more than halfway done, and a lot bigger than episodes of that series have been in the past! Hope you find it in you to review and tell me what a weird blooper collection this has been… Until next time! Ciao!