Orientation . . .
"May I please have everyone's attention? Everyone . . . ?" Fred tried to get the attention of the unruly, yet beautifully sculpted, mob. "No one's listening!" He threw up his hands in exasperation.
"HEY!" The crowd quieted at the forceful shout. "Let the man speak!" Once everyone was silent, Gene nodded for Fred to continue.
"Thank you, Gene!"
"Any time, Fred." Fred was about to begin what he'd been trying to say for the past fifteen minutes, or so, when a particularly burly contestant piped up.
"Waitaminute! You two know each other?"
"Why, yes. We've done business on a number of times. What of it?" Fred replied indignantly.
"That's hardly fair to the rest of us! You'll want him to win!" Others voiced their agreement to the complaint. Gene rolled his eyes.
"Of course I do! He owes me money!" As the crowd roared with laughter, Gene hid his face in embarrassment. "Really, though, I'm only the master of ceremonies and take no part in judging. Besides, how many of you have I not done business with, one way or another?" The group settled down again, seeing his logic. Satisfied, Fred started again with what he'd been trying to say.
"First of all, I'd like to welcome you all to this year's Chipper-Dale pageant! I see a lot of new faces as well as familiar ones. For those of you who've done this before, I liked to ask you to help out the newbies, for we are a bit understaffed this year and won't have personal attendants for everyone this time around." Fred let them groan for a bit before continuing. "Also, I would like everyone, who hasn't already, to get a coach to help out. For those of you aren't able to get one, I offer my services. Unfortunately, I am a very busy man and will have very little time to help any of you. So, if you are unable to attain a coach, then I suggest getting a friend or relative to help, even if they are as new to this as you are. Trust me, they would still be an immense help. Don't forget, however, to register your coaches! Otherwise they won't be let in!"
"Now, does everyone have their little bag that you got at registration?" Fred up a similar bag. "Inside you'll find your pageant guidebook, your contestant number, and your initiation outfit for this year, plus a few little goodies. Everyone please take out your guidebook. You, and your coach, need to read it! A few things have changed since last year and we need everyone up to date. Now take out your number. From here on in, you are all required to were your number at all times! Except when bathing, of course." Fred winked. "Place it around your upper left arm, with the number facing out and, of course, right-side up. Go ahead, right now!" Fred watched the men put on their number. The band itself resembled a hair scrunchie, blood red in color and made of fine velvet. A white plastic disc displayed the number, the same dark red as the velvet. There were 112 contestants, which was all well and good. Only ten would make it to the semi-finals, and only five to the finals. Plus, there will be drop-outs and disqualifications along the way, so 112 wasn't really that bad. In fact, the last year they had 198!
Gene frowned. He hadn't looked at his number until now. If he hadn't known better, he would have thought Fred had something to do with him being assigned 69. Sighing, he put the band on, the elastic stretching to fit his arm comfortably.
"Well, well. I didn't think anyone could top my number, but it looks like I'm wrong." A sly silky-smooth voice spoke to Gene's left. He looked up to see a too familiar face grinning back at him. From his position, Gene could see his number: 1.
"Harry McDougall." Gene's voice fairly dripped with disdain.
"The one and only!" Harry sauntered closer to Gene, ignoring the other man's distaste. His hair was pulled back in a loose braid, a hot pink ribbon tied around the end. He was dressed casually in a tight white t-shirt tucked into equally tight jeans of a color that rivaled his hair. Gene, on the other hand, was wearing his usual outfit. Harry frowned inwardly, wondering if the man even owned anything else.
"What are you doing here?"
"The same thing you are, I imagine." Harry purred, poking Gene's chest playfully. Gene roughly swatted his hand away. Before things could process, or regress depending on your point of view, Fred began speaking again.
"Now that that's taken care of, take out your initiation outfit. I haven't seen this year's design yet, but I know there should be animal ears and a tail with each outfit. Depending on which animal you have will determine which group you will be in. The four animals are rabbit, cat, fox, and mouse. Don't look at me like that, it wasn't my decision." Fred had seen the exchange between Gene and Harry and he didn't like it, to say the least. He didn't know who the other man was, but he seemed to be upsetting Gene. Suffice it to say, Fred's mood dropped, the exuberance in his voice dropping perceptively.
Gene barely noted the change in Fred's tone, as he was too busy trying to dig out his, ugh, "outfit" and keep an eye on Harry out of the corner of his eye. Harry, however, was too busy rooting around in his own bag to bother with Gene just then. Gene decided he wasn't a threat, at the moment, and turned his attention to finding what he was looking for. When he did, Harry was the furthest thing from his mind. Inside the clear package was a white headband with long floppy ears, a white shirt collar with a dark red bow tie, white wrist cuffs, ankle cuffs, and a powderpuff tail attached to a scrap of black cloth. Gene frowned. What the hell??
"Oh, my!" Gene heard the smile return to Fred's voice and looked up to see the other man holding a similar package. "This is too much!" Fred was indeed grinning from ear to ear as he held up each piece in turn, looking at them with rapt amazement. "Okay, you should all have a headband with ears," he held up his, with cat ears, and placed it on his head, "shirt collar with a bow tie," he held up the collar before putting it on, "wrist and ankle cuffs," these he sets aside after holding them up, "and this lovely little bikini tail combo!" this last he held up above his head, the cat tail trailing down in front of his arm and the bikini "hiding" in his hand. There were several reactions to this, some negative, some impartial, some delighted, and the rest were too shocked or stunned to form an opinion yet.
"So, what'd you get?" Harry asked conversationally.
"I'm a rabbit." Gene groaned, frowning. A friggin rabbit! What are they trying to do? Turn me into some PlayGirl bunny boy?!?
"Then you better watch out, 'cause I'm a fox!" Harry winked at him, teeth nipping the air playfully. Gene wasn't sure if it was an actual threat or if he was just trying to get his goat. Or worse . . . flirting.
"And here to model each of the suits are the lovely Yamato, Taichi, Daisuke, and Ken! Let's give them a hand!" Fred started clapping, as did most everyone else, as the four college students (two grads and two under-grads) looking for quick buck came out. A tall, lanky blonde was first, wearing the fox ears and fluffy tail. After him was a brunette wearing the same rabbit ensemble Gene had. Next was another brunette grinning nervously and wearing cat ears and tail. Last was a tall, lanky, indigo haired, pale young man wearing the mouse ears and tail. While the blonde seemed completely comfortable with being gawked at, and the two brunette's blushed and only slightly uncomfortable, the last seemed completely embarrassed and uncomfortable. Kind of fitting for a mouse. Still, as uncomfortable as he was, he still managed a smile. A small smile.
Once all four young men were present, they each turned around, showing the contestants exactly what to expect. The bikinis seemed to disappeared in the back, save for the tail, while only covering enough in the front to keep from being scandalous. The four impromptu models suffered catcalls, whistles, and propositions, among other things, from many of the contestants. It was all in fun, though, for they knew all too well that they would soon be on the receiving end of such treatment.
"Thank you, gentlemen! That was splendid! You can pick up your payment at the front desk." Fred said, starting another round of applause for their performance. "Now everyone, please settle down! Not an easy task, I know, but please try to restrain yourselves." The talking and laughter that followed after the young men's departure started to die down as the men gradually returned their attention to Fred. "Now, if you find something is missing, say your guide book or a piece of your costume, or even if something has happened to your number, just go to the front desk and the young ladies there will help you out. The groups I previously mentioned are fox, rabbit, cat, and mouse. Fox is group one, rabbit is two, cat is three, and mouse is four. Groups one and two will be housed on the second floor and groups three and four and the third. The fourth floor is staff and fifth is my office and quarters. The first floor is administration offices, practice rooms, and the dining hall, which is were we are now. The pageant hall is in, pardon me, is the second wing. There is a map inside your guide book, so as long as you have it with you, you should be able to find your way around well enough."
"Practice begins tomorrow at eight, right after breakfast. Don't be late. The instructor's a hard-ass, but she's good at what she does. On a side-note, I suggest you don't flirt with her or you might end up with some broken bones . . . or worse. The schedule is right after the map in your guide book. I suggest you memorize both. Any questions? No? Good. If you do have any questions later on, there is a number right above the schedule you can call for answers. This concludes Orientation. I suggest you all get your affairs in order, get your coaches and register them at the front desk, and move into your quarters. There are staff members on each floor to direct you to your rooms and help you settle in. Well, that's it! Good luck everyone!"
As the crowd began to disperse, Fred made his way to the place he last saw Gene. As he approached the red-haired vision, he saw that he was talking to the man he had seen him with earlier. If one could call it talking, that is. Gene seemed to bristle at every word the other man said.
"Gene! There you are! It's so good to see you again!" Fred had no qualms about interrupting the obviously uncomfortable conversation.
"Huh? Oh, hi Fred. Nice to see you t-ERK!" Fred enveloped Gene in a classic bear hug, cutting off more than Gene's sentence.
"You didn't think you could get away without a hug, now, did you?" Fred teased as he released Gene from his grip. It been so long since he'd held the Outlaw in his arms, even briefly, and he regretted having to let go so soon.
"I guess not . . . eh-heh . . ." Gene replied with a nervous smile. Although he had been getting used to Fred's hugs, being hugged in front of Harry . . . well, that was downright embarrassing!
"So . . . who's your friend?" The change in tone as Fred said those last three words surprised Gene, leaving him to wonder what reason Fred had to . . . dislike Harry, without even knowing who he was.
"Harry McDougall, Mr. Lou." Harry took the opportunity to introduce himself, taking Fred's hand and shaking it, completely ignoring the animosity evident in the other man's voice. "I must say, it is a pleasure to me you!"
"Yes . . . well . . . likewise." Fred gently pulled his hand back, keeping his tone even and cold. Harry clearly read the threat in his eyes. It seemed that Fred had a tenuous claim on Gene and he wasn't about to give it up, as small as it was. What an interesting development . . . yes indeed . . .
"Well, as much as I'd like to stay and chat, I must be going! Ta!" Harry excused himself, letting Fred think he'd won. This time. "Oh, and Gene? Tell Melfina I said hi." The last was said with a purr and a wink and then he was gone. Gene fumed. The nerve of that guy!
"My, what a pleasant fellow." Distaste was still evident in Fred's voice, but it soon disappeared as he turned back toward the object of his affection. "Just forget about him, Gene. He's not worth your time." Fred said, noting the frustration in Gene's face as he still stared in the direction Harry left in.
"Yeah, you're right." Gene rubbed the back of his neck as he turned back to Fred, still irritated from Harry's little visit, but calming down now that the source was gone. He even managed a smile.
"Listen, Gene. To say I was surprised to see your name on the roster would be an understatement. I know you need the money to pay back your debt, but this will be far from easy. Are you sure you want to go through with this?" Fred's concern was more than that of friend, but completely sincere. He knew Gene better than the outlaw figured. This was something that could traumatize a man if he wasn't completely prepared. This was by no means the Miss Universe Scholarship Program by any leaps of the imagination. This was more like Beef Cakes on Parade. Fred wasn't sure if Gene could handle that.
Gene was floored. The worried look in Fred's face surprised him, making him wonder if he had just bitten off more than he could chew. He'd already committed himself, however, so he wasn't about to back out now. He was in this till the end, come hell or high water. That didn't mean his palms didn't start to sweat just then, either.
"Yes, I'm sure." Gene barely managed to reply without stuttering. He suddenly didn't feel too well and hoped Fred hadn't noticed.
"Alright. You've obviously made your decision and are sticking to it. That's what I like about you Gene. You never back down from a challenge!" Fred smiled, sensing his friend's unease.
"I thought it was because I'm so damn sexy." Gene smirked, trying to play off his nervousness.
"Well, that too!" Fred saw through the ruse, but played along anyway. The two men laughed at the little joke, maybe more than they should have. Neither cared, however, and their only witnesses were Fred's two personal bodyguards, who kept a respectable distance away.
"Gene, I uh, want you to know that you can count on me if you need to. Here," Fred handed Gene a business card with a single telephone number one it, "this is for my private line. You can reach me at any time with this number. If you need any help, anything, even to just talk, just give me a call. I'll be there for you." Fred played with his ear nervously, not sure how Gene would react, waiting for a response.
Gene looked the card over. There were no other markings, not anything on the card besides the number. No one would know what it was for without calling the number.
"Thanks, Fred. I appreciate this." Gene smiled as he shoved the card into a pocket. Fred sighed with relief, smiling brightly.
"Oh, it's my pleasure!" Fred waved it off as if it was no big deal. "Well, I better not keep you much longer. After all, we both have a lot to do before tomorrow morning."
"I'll see you later, then."
"Yes, later, I guess." Before he could help himself, Fred drew Gene into another hug, one far gentler than before. Taken off guard, Gene didn't know what else to do but to return the embrace. After a moment, Fred managed to pull himself away. With one more farewell, Fred managed to make his leave. Gene watched him leave, too stunned for words.
A/N: And so it begins . . . ^^ I know nothing about pageants except what I learned from Miss Congeniality! ^^;; So, I'm making this up as I go along. :P As you may have noticed, there was a cameo appearance by a few Digimon characters. ^^ Hey, they'd been begging for me to put them in a fic, so voila! They're in a fic. ^_~ There may be some other random cameos of other series' characters throughout this fic, so consider yourself forewarned. ^^;;