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Slippery Slopes

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“Excuse me, gentlemen. I have to be… anywhere but here.”


As an irritated Alejandro stalks out of economy class, Noah turns to Owen, who shrugs. “I wonder why Al is so cranky?”


“Pretty sure it has nothing to do with our highly sophisticated conversation,” Noah says sarcastically. He and Alejandro have an unspoken (though heavily implied via cheeky insults) understanding that they are one another’s reprieve from the other (intense, immature, insane) contestants. That doesn’t mean Noah won’t stoop to joining in on Owen’s disgusting jokes. The guy’s surprisingly fun to hang out with. Noah doesn’t need to have an IQ of 180 to gather that, from how often he’s caught Alejandro glaring at the big guy, they have drastically different opinions on the matter.


Noah stands up. “I’m gonna wash off this nose milk. Try not to liquify your tongue while I’m gone.”


“Aye-aye, captain!” Owen salutes, knocking peppers into Heather’s face.




Slipping out before he can get caught up in that mess, Noah soon finds himself in front of the confessional. He can hear a familiar voice inside.


“—many more episodes are there?” Alejandro mutters a curse in Spanish, and Noah stands outside the door awkwardly. Alejandro doesn’t know he’s there, and he feels weird about listening in, but something in the back of his brain tells him to eavesdrop. Despite admiring his teammate’s intelligence, skills, and maybe looks (though it’s not like he would admit it), he still has a faint suspicion that Alejandro is hiding something. It started in Germany— he knew Alejandro threw the challenge, and he knew he was involved with Leshawna’s elimination, he’s just not sure how. 


Which has made it easy for him to ignore that gut feeling. Even easier when Alejandro, though putting on a kind and charming face for the rest of the plane, isn’t afraid to laugh at their fellow contestants when it’s just the two of them. 


He’s spared from having to make a decision when a shaking intern taps him on the shoulder. “Excuse me?”


“Yeah?” Noah says, leading the man away from the confessional. He doesn’t need Alejandro getting any misconceptions about why he was standing outside. “What’s up?”


The poor guy looks terrified. “Have you seen Chris?”


“No, why? You late for the six o’clock shark feeding?”


“Shark feeding?! I just have to deliver some papers! But he gets angry when we go into his private quarters without permission… oh God, is that where the sharks are?”


Noah sighs. “No, that was a joke. But I’ll bring the papers back there if you snag me some snacks from first class.”


“Deal!” the intern shoves the papers at him and sags in relief. Noah puts a hand on the man’s shoulder and lowers his voice.


“As soon as the plane lands, get off. I’m serious, you keep interning for Chris, and you’ll end up being picked out of shark teeth by the guy hired to take your place.”


The man pales, and sprints away.


Noah rolls his eyes. Weak.


When he pushes back the curtain that leads to Chris’ quarters, there’s no sight of the host. There is, however, a room off to the side that, from the half-open door, appears to contain a desk. Noah enters, figuring it’s the best place to drop off the papers, which say something about Ancient Rome. Once he’s inside, wall to wall monitors and a large computer tell him it’s the editing room. That, and the embossed gold plate on the door that reads EDITING ROOM. Noah is able to pry it off with a little work, and stick it in his pocket. It might fetch him some cash if he doesn’t win this thing.


Noah goes to set the papers on the desk, when the computer screen catches his eyes. It’s been left on, and while he’s extremely tempted to put his superb hacking skills to use, he’s a bit afraid of what he’d find on Chris’ computer. The man might be into some weird stuff.


The computer desktop is a mess. How Chris finds anything, Noah doesn’t know, because the thing’s littered with files. They’re overlapping enough that he can’t read any of the names, except that of a video, which is highlighted:




Before he quite knows what he’s doing, Noah is closing the door, lowering the volume of the computer, and pressing play. He watches, brow furrowing, as the video flashes through several of Alejandro’s confessionals.


“The president of Cody’s fan club doesn’t know a thing about me. No one does. And I intend to keep it that way. Because compared to me? Heather’s a saint!”


“Bridgette was expendable. They all are. Some will prove to be more… challenging than others.  But one by one— they’ll all go down.” 


“Irene. I didn’t expect DJ to bond with my handiwork, but the symbol I painted on her is holding up well. His confidence is blooming! Which is tragic— and delicious.”


“Not allowed on my team? And no merge on the horizon? Bye-bye. Nothing personal.”


Noah stops the video right after the Alejandro onscreen bursts into malicious laughter. He should be smug, his suspicions having been proven correct. But as he slips out of Chris’ quarters, and into the now-empty confessional, disappointment blooms in his chest.


“I should’ve known guys that handsome and smart were secretly evil,” he grumbles to himself as he wipes his chest with wet paper towels. “Of course he’s a jerk! I thought we were getting along just swimmingly but nooo, he’s been trying to gain my trust to ultimately betray it this whole time. Ugh. Heaven forbid I meet a guy on this show that’s actually bearable to be around! And charismatic, and makes funny jokes, and does cool gymnastics stuff, and has smoldering cheekbones, and— aw, crap, this is recording, isn’t it?”


The confessional camera doesn’t answer, but Noah knows the answer anyways. 


He facepalms.


When he gets back to economy class, Alejandro is nowhere to be found. Heather is complaining about the stench of Courtney’s guano mixture, which Gwen has fully submerged her hand in. Sierra is still typing into a pizza box— that girl has problems— while Cody chats with Tyler and Owen.


“Attention, helpless competitors!” Chris’s voice crows over the PA. “We’ve been denied permission to land, so you’re gonna have to jump! And an intern already stole a parachute and disappeared into the night, so we’re one short! You might wanna light a pepper under your butts or they’ll be scraping you off the Big Ben!”


Of course, Noah and Owen end up being the last ones to the door. Noah ends up sandwiched between Owen’s large back and a heavy parachute pack. When they land, they don’t splatter, but Noah is seriously considering getting some x-rays taken when he’s done with this stupid show.


He’s really starting to regret helping that intern. He didn't even get any snacks out of the deal.


By the time they file into the bus, Noah’s head is pounding enough that Heather notices it before him. “Wait, where’s Alejandro?”


Chris prattles on about anything but the answer to that question. Noah’s mind starts to wander. He’s quickly snapped out of his thoughts when Owen starts wailing about Jack the Ripper killing Alejandro. 


“Quiet down,” Noah hisses, placing a hand over Owen’s mouth, before jerking it away. “Eugh! How many of those peppers did you eat?”


“Well, I think there were about thirteen yellow ones, twenty green ones—”


Noah wipes his tingling hand on his cargo shorts. “Rhetorical question. Do me a favor and remind me not to touch my face— and explain what’s going on with Ale— I mean, Jack the Ripper. I kinda zoned out.”


“We’re supposed to track him down for this challenge, but he’s hunting us too!” Owen shudders. “Poor Al already got taken.”


The panic that flares in Noah’s chest is embarrassing. He has to remind himself that the actual Jack the Ripper is dead, Chris probably wouldn’t kill them off just for a midseason challenge (Noah has his doubts about the finale), and that Alejandro is scheming, slimy, and Noah should not be worrying about him.


He’s able to keep his mind off his missing teammate for the next half hour. They leave the bus, assemble outside the Tower of London, and Chris explains the challenge. Noah is wondering if he can use the piece of gold in his shoe as some kind of bribe when the song bell dings.


He really hates this show. At least Tyler loses rock-paper-scissors.


While the unfortunate boy approaches the guard, Noah’s thoughts go back to Alejandro. He’s not exactly pleased that his friend is such a sneak, but he can’t help but be impressed. Alejandro has orchestrated the eliminations of, what, three people so far? Possibly four, as new suspicions have cropped up surrounding Harold’s departure. Causing so much damage and yet nobody being the wiser takes a lot of brainpower, and that’s one quality Noah can appreciate. Unfortunately, it belongs to the guy who’s probably gonna get him shoved off of a plane.


Noah shakes his head. That’ll only happen if they lose, and as the only person on their team not missing, biting a sock, or failing at making fart jokes, it’s up to him to get them through the challenge.


He marches up to Tyler. “You lost rock-paper-scissors fair and square. Stop throwing the game!”


“I'm not!” Tyler exclaims through a mouthful of cotton. “You try taking off a dude's pantyhose with your teeth!”


“Uh, dude? No one said you had to use your teeth.”


Tyler groans and starts spitting out lint. 


“Great,” Noah pinches the bridge of his nose as Team Amazon races into the tower. “I suppose we could just follow them, but we’d probably get disqualified for not finding the clue. Ugh.”


Owen throws an arm around Noah. “Aww, little buddy, I know you’re worried about Al, but we’ll get to see him after this challenge!”


“I’m definitely missing him for multiple reasons,” Noah mutters darkly. Owen just giggles.


“Oh, and I have a pretty good guess as to what those reasons are.”


“What?” Noah says, but Tyler is throwing a sock at him before he can give a more concrete response. 


“That’s the last one, and no clue!”


“Man, this stinks,” Owen says. 


Tyler nods. “And the challenge isn’t going well either!”


“It has to be here somewhere,” Noah says, rummaging through the pile of clothes. “Let’s see… A pen in his pants pocket, lint in his socks, that's it. No clue. And no way am I searching his boxers.”


Owen shrugs, the guard’s hat nearly sliding off his head. “Maybe we could find another guy to strip?”


Noah scowls. He knows that’s not the answer. The clue should be on the guard— or, in the guard’s clothes, but there’s nothing.


Alejandro would have a solution, a little voice in his brain says. 


“We’ve looked through everything,” Noah says. Owen nods, and Noah can’t help but feel like the answer is staring him in the face. “Everything except his underwear—”


“—and his hat!” Owen gasps, sliding the thing off. He pulls out a paper. “There’s a clue in here!”


Noah glares at him. 


“Funny, right? Heh.”


Noah keeps glaring.


“I say. Pip pip.”


“Enough with the accent,” Noah snatches the clue out of Owen’s hands and reads it. “Pull taut atop a southern spire— okay, let’s head to the southern part of the building, and go as high as we can.”


“Sounds good!” Tyler says, immediately sprinting off to the north.


“Dude, you’re going the wrong way!” Noah calls. He can just imagine Alejandro watching them and laughing. He grits his teeth— he is not letting them lose this challenge.


Once they’ve reined in Tyler, the boys set off into the tower. It’s dim, gloomy, and totally giving Noah the creeps, especially when he hears people screaming in the distance.


“That didn’t sound good,” Owen murmurs, as the trio climbs what turns out to be the final set of stairs.


Noah opens the door. “What’s not good for them is good for us. Or, really really bad,” he says, as he spies the torture rack, and Chef waiting next to it. “Let me guess, if we want the next clue, we have to—”


“—tie someone down, and start pullin’!” Chef chuckles, before disappearing into the shadows. Great. Because this place couldn’t get any creepier.


Noah crosses his arms. “Are we going to have to play rock-paper-scissors again to figure out who's getting stretched?” 


“Ha! I'm flexible to the extreme, bro.” Tyler wraps himself into some ungodly shape. “Sweaty Moksha yoga. Woohoo!”


As Tyler patters off to the rack, Noah turns to make a snarky comment to Alejandro, before remembering that he’s missing. 


And, according to him, worse than Heather, Noah reminds himself, so you should not actually be friends with the guy that’s almost certainly using you!


Noah turns to Owen. “Quick, tie him down before Alejandro shows up and makes me do it just because I'm shorter.” He doesn’t really believe Alejandro would do that instead of capitalizing off of Tyler’s freakish skills, but whatever it takes to convince himself the guy is duplicitous. 


“Why don’t you like Al?” Owen says. “He’s great.”


“I don’t trust the guy. He's like an eel, dipped in grease, swimming in motor oil.”


Owen starts chaining Tyler. “Dirty?”


“Slippery,” Noah says. “Think about it. He's like Heather, only with social skills.”


Noah grabs the wheel, but then Tyler starts screaming, and they have to calm him down before they get started. Noah actually feels bad for him once he starts cranking. There’s nothing to do but keep stretching. And distract himself by overanalyzing every interaction he’s ever had with Alejandro.


What had he meant in Egypt, when cheering his team across the scorching desert?


In Japan, when playfully arguing with Noah about who knew the language better?


In Germany, when he snuck Noah a cookie from first class as a silent apology for throwing the challenge?


In France, when laughing at Tyler while pressed against Noah’s side?


In the Amazon, when Noah still been shivering once the fire was going, and Alejandro wrapped his arm around him?


In Newfoundland, when he’d not only helped Noah onto the boat, but later wriggled his way in between Owen and Noah so that they could be partners for the challenge?


And what had he meant in Jamaica, when he’d leaned down and whispered to Noah, “This show has been hell, but I am truly lucky to have met you.”


“He’s definitely been manipulating me,” Noah mutters to himself. Something wooden clicks into place, and a drawer swings open. “The clue!”


Owen cheers, and picks it up. “If your teammate can still use their feet, bring them down for something to eat. Awesome, it’s a kitchen!”


“Banquet hall,” Noah corrects. “We passed one on the way up. Come on!”


As they run down the stairs and through the hallway, Noah tries to figure out who exactly Alejandro has gotten eliminated.


Bridgette’s clumsy, but she’s not stupid, he probably got her stuck to that pole somehow. Possibly Harold, because he was absolutely behind Leshawna’s elimination. Noah’s still kicking himself for not realizing the implications of that sooner. He painted DJ’s fish, and I could’ve sworn the longboard track was messed up after he and Tyler—


“Hey, Noah, know what’s hilarious?” Owen asks.


Wait a minute.


Noah freezes. “We forgot Tyler!”


“How is that hilarious?”




Owen and Noah look at each other, before turning around and sprinting back upstairs.


“That was definitely Tyler, right?” Owen pants.


“Yeah, but we’ve only been gone a minute, what could’ve happened?” Noah pushes the door open. “Sorry dude, but you got so good at being quiet, that—”


The torture rack lies empty.


“NO! TYLER!!!”


Owen clutches his head. “Holy fuck, what are we gonna do? Wait, I’m making the footage unairable, aren’t I?”


The cameraman nods at him.


“Ah, shit. I mean crap!”


Noah would've laughed at Owen’s blunders, if he hadn’t gotten so used to them by now. He’s certain that, with how much of Owen’s potty-mouth doesn't make the final cut, the fans have a skewed perception of how ‘innocent’ their favorite contestant really is. Whatever. If they’re watching reality TV and expecting it to actually reflect reality, they’re stupid enough that Noah doesn’t particularly care how he comes across. To them, or anyone else, really.


Except maybe a certain eel…


Noah grabs Owen’s wrist. “Come on, big guy! We’re still here, and we’ve got a challenge to win. Do you want Heather eating all the first class snacks for the next few days?”


“No way!” Owen pounds a fist into his palm. “Let’s fucking do this!”


Noah points at the cameraman.




They sprint to the banquet hall, Noah barely keeping up with Owen’s enthusiastic strides. Once they enter, Noah’s eyes slide right past the treasure chest on the table, and directly to the army of corgis. 


They’re. So. Cute.


Owen sees the look on his face. “Noah, the clue. I’ll deal with the dogs.”


“Right,” Noah says, tearing his eyes away from the corgis. They’ve started growling, which is less cute. Noah is suddenly grateful that Owen knows him well enough to recognize when he’s about to start baby-talking dogs, and as fluffy as those corgis are, they have a challenge to complete. “I’ll look through the chest.”


It’s not long before he’s holding a bejeweled egg, with a paper sticking out of it. “Ah, I got it! I got the clue!”


“You call that an attack?” Owen chuckles. “Hey Noah, check it! A fur coat for animal lovers!”


Noah rolls his eyes. Partially because the joke sucks, and partially because fur coats remind him of when he was four and one of his older sisters teased him about crying over 101 Dalmatians, and that's not a memory he wants to relive. He flips open the paper. 


“The Ripper's most natural place has two levels that make up the space.” Noah furrows his brow. He’s smart, he should know this, but his brain is too clouded by Tyler’s disappearance and Cruella de Vil and what unclear yet surely deceitful motive Alejandro had when he briefly rested his head on Noah’s shoulder during the flight to Jamaica. “Psh, sure. Easy peasy…”


“Double decker bus?” Owen suggests, trying to shake off a dog.


Noah raises his eyebrows. He hadn’t even read the second line yet, but Owen’s guess fit perfectly. “Yeah… So there is a brain in there! You've been holding out on me.”


He ambles out of the room, pleased that not all shocking revelations about teammates had to be negative. Behind him, Owen shouts something about wieners, while trying to detach the last couple dogs. Noah takes a few more steps before remembering that this is exactly how they lost Tyler. 


Noah jogs back into the dining hall, where Owen is scooping corgis into a sack. “Dude, what are you doing?”


“I was thinking we could use them to catch the Ripper!” Owen says proudly. Noah wants to argue, because that can’t be comfortable for the dogs, but they’re losing precious minutes. The girls— sorry Cody, the Amazons have been one step ahead of them this whole time, and as Noah has quickly learned not to underestimate his teammates, he’s not gonna make the same mistake with his opponents.


At least with Alejandro, I’ve got the whole ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ thing covered, Noah thinks as they run outside.


Once they reach the bus, they slow to a tiptoe, looking at one another cautiously. Owen steps inside first, which Noah has no issues with.


He’s less happy with the arrangement when a hand clamps over his mouth and drags him upward before he can even scream. But there’s plenty of that when the Ripper drops down and shoves him into the driver’s box. “Aaaaaah!”


Noah feels like screaming again when Owen’s rescue mission gets off to a terrible start. He knew he should’ve said something about bringing the corgis along. Of course, as soon as he has that thought, the dogs turn on the Ripper, and Owen snatches him up in the sack.


“Ha ha, got ya!”


Noah grins. “All right, Owen!”


He stops grinning when Owen’s stink fills the air, and instead holds the driver’s door shut. It’s not until Owen has opened all the bus windows— and kept a firm hand on the sack, another one of Noah’s suggestions— that the boys exit the vehicle triumphantly. 


Courtney and Gwen run up to them, panting. They’re carrying a sack that may not contain Jack the Ripper, but it certainly has someone inside.


“Wait, if we caught the Ripper, who did you guys catch?” Owen asks.


Courtney sighs. “Well, we—”


“Don’t say!” Gwen says. “It’s embarrassing. But also, I want to see everyone’s faces once we get back on the plane.”


“Fair enough,” Courtney says. A camerawoman touches her earpiece and waves to the kids.


“Hey, Chris got permission to land a couple miles away, so we’re gonna drive you there, okay?”


The teenagers tiredly affirm her, and file back onto the bus. Owen and Courtney swap stories about the challenge, while Gwen moodily stares out of a window. She looks upset, which is the opposite of how Noah’s feeling, because they won the challenge, and one of the corgis is sitting on his lap and letting him pet it. Even knowing about Eel-lejandro can’t ruin that.


The four board the plane, and after it takes off, make their way to the designated hallway. Chris and Chef stand by a monitor showing various rooms in the tower.


Did they see the whole thing? Noah wonders. Not about Chris and Chef, because of course they had, but about the captured contestants who stand to the sides of the room.


Owen breathes a sigh of relief. “Sweet. Everybody's okay!”


Noah’s eyes land on Alejandro, and he gulps. His teammate isn’t glaring daggers, but swords, at Noah. He’s never seen him this angry looking— not even with Owen.


“—were so stupid to be worried,” Heather nervously laughs.


Alejandro is practically glaring spears at this point. “But it was reassuring to see some were concerned.”


“You were watching... everything?” Noah winces at Alejandro’s angry nod. Great. Just because he’d figured out the guy was a phony didn’t mean Alejandro had to know he knew. “Wow, that's awkward.”


“Like an eel dipped in grease,” Alejandro spits. He must really be angry to be letting his act drop this much in front of the others.


Noah opens his mouth, searching for some sort of deflection, when Alejandro marches up to him.


“Spare me,” he hisses. He’s so close, and Noah has never noticed just how venomous those green eyes are. “Don’t insult my intelligence by giving me some weak excuse, I know what I heard.”


“And I’ve heard enough of your confessionals to know my description was entirely accurate,” Noah shoots back. 


Alejandro’s eyes harden, and he stalks away.


Heather looks between him and Noah searchingly, but whatever information she’s trying to glean, Noah doubts she finds. “Can you people hurry up and put the Amazons in first class already?”


“I think you mean Team Chris,” Noah says, dumping their prize out of the sack. “We caught The Ripper-type guy!”


The man sits up, revealing himself to be elderly, with tufts of white hair.


“Okay, we’re doing a Scooby-Doo gag here,” Chris says. “Say ‘Old Man Jenkins’ on three, and I'll make sure the next flight isn't extra bumpy, got it? Cool. One, two, three!”


“Old Man Jenkins?!” everyone gasps dutifully, Noah included. Considering it’s nigh dawn, all he wants to do is have a turbulence-free slumber.


Chris rips off what turns out to be an old man mask. This time, everyone’s exclamations are genuine. “Ezekiel?!”


Noah ignores Chef’s explanation as he works on subtly inching behind Owen. It’s not that he can’t further handle an angry Alejandro. He just prefers to take the easy road, and simply not.


Gwen was right to wait for everyone to be present before revealing Duncan, because Noah is sure his jaw drops when he's unveiled. Seriously, the last time he saw the guy, he was getting dumped out of the plane somewhere over Egypt. The fact that he somehow got all the way to London only to be captured by Gwen and Courtney is both mind boggling and hilarious.


“Team I Am So Suh-Moking Hot, you’ve got first class tonight, and as a bonus prize, Duncan’s on your team now! Ladies, head on over to the elimination room.”


Team Amazon and Chris exit, with Duncan, Alejandro, and Tyler soon meandering into first class. Once they leave, Owen turns to Noah. “Are you alright?”


“What?” Noah asks. “I’m fine. We won, let’s make like Garfield.”




“You eat, I sleep.”


“It’s not that that isn’t tempting,” Owen frowns, “but— what about you and Alejandro? He looked like he was gonna strangle you! And he’s such a nice guy, I’ve never seen him so scary…”


“You know how sometimes Heather acts nice, but she’s still actually mean and is just trying to get what she wants in order to win?”


“Uh, duh. She’s not very good at it.”


“Yeah, but Alejandro is. He’s been faking it this whole time. What you just saw, when he was angry? That’s the real Alejandro.”


“But how did you figure that out?” Owen asks. So Noah launches into an explanation of the confessionals, and orchestrated eliminations, and by the time he’s finished, Owen is gaping at him. “Holy shit! He really is good.”


Noah nods. “So we need to keep our eyes and ears peeled. And stick together. Alejandro is probably already getting Duncan on his side. Pretty sure the guy hates me, but you two are cool, so see if you can sway him.”


“I’ll try my best, but no promises. You know I’m not great at convincing people.”


“I’m not exactly Mr. Charm either,” Noah rolls his eyes. “That title belongs to Alejandro, unfortunately.”


Owen shrugs. “I guess so. Hey, what about Tyler?”


“What about him?”


“Whose side will he choose?”


“Who knows? It’s Tyler. And as nice of a guy he is, the only thing he’s really good for on this team is a vote.” Noah pinches the bridge of his nose. “Dammit, I was really hoping to coast through this season, but nooo. Stupid necessary strategizing. Stupid Alejandro.”


Owen chuckles nervously. “You know, it’s kind of funny…”




“Oh, it’s just,” Owen rubs the back of his neck, “I always figured you had a crush on Alejandro.”


Noah stares at him for a moment, before bursting into laughter.


“What’d I say?”


“A crush on Alejandro— mmpht! That’s the best joke you’ve made all night!”


“I’m not joking!” Owen protests. Noah just shakes his head.


“You’d better be, otherwise, I’d have to reevaluate my perception of your intelligence, and I’ve had enough of that for one night.”


Owen follows him toward first class. “I just think you aren’t in touch with your feelings.”


“My feelings are fine, thanks,” Noah says, rolling his eyes. He stops Owen just before they push past the curtain into first class. “Hey, remember— and I’m dead serious—”




“Beware of eels.”