Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices. And I'd like to add that Lucasfilm tm. owns Dr. Henry Jones (Jr. & Sr.) and Marion Ravenwood.
This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
GROSS FACTOR/CLIFFHANGER DISCLAIMER:
If you've got a weak stomach and can't handle bugs, bats, blood or broken bones you might not want to read this story. While I don't think it's too terribly violent there are a few places where the "ick factor" takes center stage. Also, if you hate cliff-hangers don't read the epilogue. Stop at the end of chapter nine and you'll be very happy. Otherwise you're welcome to endure a preview of the final story in what has become a trilogy. Welcome to UberMadness...
JUST IN CASE I MISSED ANYTHING DISCLAIMER:
Do NOT open back panel; no user serviceable parts inside. Use in a well ventilated area. Pencils, scrap paper, and batteries not included. Can not be read by magnetic strip readers. If surface dulls, dust with a damp cloth and allow to dry; do NOT use abrasive cleaners. If nausea persists blame it on Pestilence and consult your doctor or contact your local poison control center. Some assembly required. No dolphins were injured in the creation of this document and the contents are 100% biodegradable. Reader of this document assumes all property/personal damage inflicted upon themselves and/or other individuals/objects in the past/present/future. Please move completely across each row, filling in each and every available seat to make room for everyone. Do not look directly at the sun, as this may cause permanent retinal damage. FCC compliance is required before operating this unit, please consult the User's Manual for further instructions. Complies with TM-071074, and 18D-PMTRE-DR. The moving platform is traveling at the same speed as your vehicle. No smoking please...please stand clear of the doors...The Audience Is Listening...THX. Life shouldn't be taken too seriously- you're not getting out alive.
This story takes place six months after IS THERE A DOCTOR ON THE DIG. My thanks to everyone who asked...um... demanded that I write its sequel. A very special thanks is extended to several people who really went beyond the call of duty and friendship to help me out on this. I'd like to thank PirateSka the editor with the belaying pin (and pen) who feels no qualms about stringing me up to the mizzenmast. I'd also like to thank Lisa Stevens who helped with the editing and more than that, gave this Yankee a crash course on Southernisms. She also provided some insight that made me take this story a bit more seriously. The Lab Crew (aka, the world's first honorary MacBatties) Lisa, Louis, Jenn, Robin and Stan as well as Lisa's roommate Laura provided a wealth of information on all things Southern. All regional gripes can be directed to them. On a final note-the original airing of THE XENA SCROLLS opened with the date 1942. Obviously the Xenastaff had the opportunity to realize (as I did) that the area was occupied by Germany at the time. For the rerun of THE XENA SCROLLS they changed the date to 1940. While that is nifty and all, and would certainly make my life easier-I've decided to stick with the original date (1942) and not rewrite everything.
FAN FICTION COVER:
The graphic below is a fan fiction cover for this story created by Barron Chugg. To view a larger version of the cover or read 'Barron's Comments' about this story, please click on the graphic.
Janice glanced one more time from the neat stack of papers on her desk to the rows of students anxiously awaiting her comments. She smiled, taking in the variety of expressions ranging from eager to nervous. The classroom was comfortably warm in spite of the cold weather outside. Hard to believe it was winter already. Her first term as a professor of archeology was almost over.
"All in all, I'd have to say I'm impressed," she began, resting her hip on the corner of the wooden desk. "I might have had my doubts at the beginning of the term, but all of you have worked hard and shown a lot of promise. Every one of you has a shot at a career in archeology, if indeed that is what you decide to do.
"As you all know, these term papers are one third of your grades. I'm happy to report that no one sank below 'C' level." She smiled at the sigh of relief that swept through the room. "Several papers in particular were outstanding. Miss Sandsmark's ambitious plan for restoration of the Sphinx was superbly executed and engagingly written. If I were a financial backer you could certainly count on my support. Mr. Mulder's outlandish dissertation on Stonehenge and alien abduction is well supported by actual findings that, with minimal mental gymnastics and a couple glasses of brandy," she paused until the snickering silenced, "even began to make sense. Finally, Miss Silver's paper on archeology and ethics was top notch. Those were the 'A's' this time around..."
A murmur spread through the class as the students filed toward Janice's desk to retrieve their papers. When everyone had returned to their seats, the chatter continued punctuated by several snickers. "Something amusing, Mr. Raimi?" Janice asked evenly. She had done little but spar with the obnoxious student since the first week. Janice glanced down at her desk. One paper remained: his.
He shrugged his shoulders. "I just find it interesting that you gave an 'A' to a paper on ethics," he said.
Janice picked up his paper and smiled. She'd been waiting all semester for this discussion. While she'd hoped a brighter student would broach the subject, it was a topic that was long overdue. "Interesting because...?" Janice prompted as she casually walked to the young man's desk in the back row.
"Interesting in light of who your father was, Dr. Covington," he replied confidently. Several students whispered angrily to the young man, telling him to keep quiet, but Janice waved her hand silencing them.
"It's alright. I expected someone to ask sooner or later. I just thought it might have been mentioned by someone a little more engaged in the subject matter," she said as she put the rejected term paper on his desk. "Don't look so surprised, Mr. Raimi. The paper you plagiarized was actually written by a classmate of mine years ago who had in fact copied my paper. The least you could have done was include some updated information in light of recent discoveries. Surely you didn't expect to cheat on the topic of Xena and actually get away with it? Did you?" She arched her eyebrow at the young man now blushing bright crimson.
"But you said no one got below a 'C'."
"That's because I'm not grading it. At this point, even if you pass the final, your grade for this course will be an incomplete until you write a term paper on your own. I strongly suggest you stick with your chosen subject material. If you switch now I'll be quite disappointed. I hope you'll teach me something about Xena that I do not already know." She smiled as her words sank into the brash student. He'd gambled and lost. That happened in archeology. "But I believe you were interested in my father...?"
"No, ma'am," he muttered, staring at his desk.
"Oh, show a little backbone, Mr. Raimi. You tried something stupid, you got caught, now move on. It isn't the end of the world."
"Was that Harry Covington's philosophy?" another male voice asked tentatively.
She nodded. "In a way it was, Mr. Wellman. My father took his chances. He risked prison and far worse for what he believed in." She let her gaze travel around the lecture hall. "I won't say that what he did was right, or proper. I think we all know it was not. But for a moment consider this. You've just made the find of your career. A hunch has paid off, you uncover a partial scroll and some unrelated jewelry and pottery shards. Museums are not interested. In fact, no one seems to be interested. The pottery and jewelry are of little consequence but private collectors are willing to pay top dollar. So you sell. Now you've got money to continue your research for another year." She strolled back to the front of the class, all eyes riveted on her as she spoke. "That was how it began. My father always went to the establishment first, giving the museums first crack before selling to private collectors. Until, that is, his reputation became so dark that no respectable academician would be caught dead talking to him. 'Harry the Grave Robber' was not an unfair description of my father. While it does not excuse his actions, I think his motivation deserves mention. He was obsessed with Xena. No two ways about it. He wanted more than anything to see where the trail of the scrolls ended. Not for personal gain, mind you, but to complete an unwritten chapter in archeology. Sometimes we don't notice when our search for facts and evidence blinds us to other aspects of the science. My father lived most of his life over that edge and I'll admit that he passed his obsession on to me. I have been most fortunate in being able to further his work without having to resort to his methods." She shrugged. "Are there any more questions on this subject before we move on?" she asked, scanning the attentive faces. "Yes, Miss Sandsmark?"
"The items that your father sold-were all the artifacts inconsequential? Or are there some that you feel are a great loss to the scientific world?"
Janice smiled sadly, considering the question. "Three items my father sold to collectors are devastating losses to the scientific community. One was a ceremonial mask belonging to Queen Ephiny of the Amazons, another is the Dagger of Helios and finally, what I believe is a gauntlet of Hercules. I'm currently working on... yes, Mr. Raimi? You look like you're about to bust a gut."
"That's impossible," the brash student sputtered. "Hercules is just a myth..."
"This time last year Xena was just a myth, too," another student shot back at him.
"Well said, Miss Ennis," Janice added before glancing up at the wall clock. She checked the time against her pocket watch then addressed her students once more. "Since this is our last formal session, I'll let you leave now if there are no more questions. Remember, I have extended office hours for the rest of the week, be prompt for the final and for God's sake, don't forget that it isn't in here, but at the lecture hall across campus in the English building. Don't try anything stupid, my assistant Linda will be monitoring the exam and she knows all the tricks. Good luck to everyone." The students murmured words of appreciation and thanks as they made their way out of the lecture hall. Several students lagged behind, asking questions and quietly chatting with Janice until students from the next class began to enter.
A half-hour later, Janice Covington made her way up the stairs of the archeology building to her office. After only a few months, the small sanctuary had become a second home and a refuge from the university establishment. She and Fiona Cyrene had worked well together, not that Janice had ever had any doubts that they would. They shared a passion for archeology and were kindred spirits on many levels, but there were complementary differences too. Fiona was a seasoned pro at teaching and found Janice's brash honesty amusing. Willing to share her teaching expertise, she helped the younger woman plan her lectures and assignments. In turn, she found some degree of protection from her association with Janice, or rather, Janice's lover, Melinda Pappas. As in the grand tradition of other institutions, a network of men less than accepting of female equals ran the univerisity. The archeology department was not the only 'boy's club' on campus, but the men of the department were more outspoken then most. As the only two female professors, Janice and Fiona were under constant scrutiny and frequently challenged. The men remained essentially cautious, however, and most of the jibes were subtle.
Doctors Covington and Cyrene were qualified, talented and more importantly, assets to the department. Being the newest addition Janice was on the lowest rung, but she also had the most powerful friends. The archeology department had fared quite well over the years, especially in light of the war effort. The reason was no mystery. More than a powerful patron, Melinda Pappas was one woman whom every member of the archeology staff either respected or adored. There was one reason, and one reason only that the archeology building was not officially called the Pappas School of Archeology. Melinda had said 'no'.
Everyone knew where the money for the renovations had come, and the new name had been on the plans during the three years of construction and remodeling. But with the finishing touches completed just as Janice Covington had joined the faculty, Melinda had decided not to put her father's name on the building. Fiona had understood her reasoning. Janice might not have cared what people thought about her situation with the Southerner, but Melinda did. Most people who didn't know Janice assumed that she had gotten the job because of Melinda, and many had suspected her of taking advantage of the wealthy heiress. While she had been very proud of her father, Melinda refused to make things additionally difficult for her lover. She had said 'no' and it had been final.
For her part, Janice had adjusted to her unique position in the academic food chain for the most part. As long as it hadn't affected her relationship with her students, she had taken the innuendo and rumor in stride. From the outset, she had proven her desire to teach had been her primary reason for being there. She had made it clear that her popularity had been of little concern as long as detractors had stayed out of her way. Then slowly, with a determination that was second nature, and using the force of her personality as well as ability, she had won over most of the archeology department.
"Hey, Mic," Janice said cheerfully as she stepped into the cozy office while trying to juggle the maps, book and papers that she carried. Giving up, she dumped them unceremoniously on the desk.
"Good day to you, too, Yank," Fiona replied with a smile, her thick Irish brogue unchanged despite her years in the States. "Isn't it grand that you survived your last class 'thout getting lynched or burned at the stake, now. I've not seen you looking this happy since your glorious scrolls headed back to New Jersey."
"Good analogy." Janice grinned back. "I didn't want to keep them on exhibit for so long in the first place. I swear it was like an open invitation to Leesto to pay a visit." She shook her head, relieved once again that the original scrolls were safely out of reach of her rival. "As for the class, they finally brought up 'Harry the Grave Robber.' Took 'em long enough to get to it, though."
Fiona put down the paper she'd been reading. "The bairns are just being polite because you're new, luv. Give it a few more terms and they'll be grilling you about your Da the first week." She paused a moment then shrugged. "'Though 'tis surprised I am no one's asked you about the fair Melinda. Lord knows it's the favorite topic in the faculty pub."
"So that's why there's always a weird hush whenever I walk in." Janice chuckled. "Damn, Mel's my favorite topic of conversation too. Sorry I'm missing out. About the students though, do you think they would... talk about me and Mel?"
"To your face?" Fiona asked. "Not if they know what's good for them. Seriously though, Dean Palmer his own self made it clear to the faculty that the private life of the department's most revered deity is strictly personal and not for the casual consumption of the students... regardless of how poor her taste in women surely is."
"Oh, that's rich," Janice said laughing out loud. "The same could be said for your research assistant."
Fiona frowned briefly at the jibe. "And since we're speaking of assistants, that rascal Linda was here abducting your beast."
Janice glanced at the couch between both women's desks where Argo usually slept. "Took her for a walk? Or to the house?"
Fiona laughed, "Depends. Is Mel home and does she have your car keys?"
Janice opened her desk drawer. "Keys are here, Argo must be, too."
"I'd be a mite more worried about Linda absconding with Mel than Argo, luv."
"Nah," Janice grinned, "Linda still finds me intimidating. Mel on the other hand..."
"Oh, so you've noticed her fondness for your assistant, have you now?" Fiona asked, mildly surprised.
"Really, Fi, I'm not as thick as everyone says I am. Hell, she's at the house often enough, grading papers. I see her and Mel stealing glances."
"And you're not worried, then?" Fiona asked as she returned to the papers she was grading.
"Nope," Janice replied, leaning back in her chair and studying her office mate. "Everyone is crazy about Mel, she can't help it. Hell, Fi, I've seen you staring glassy-eyed at her more than once. Don't think I haven't noticed Mel looking at you either." With her freckles disappearing beneath the blush of her cheeks, Fiona was speechless. "Oh for chrissakes, Fi, don't worry about it. It happens. Besides, I know there's more to you than a surging mass of hormones. With Linda that's debatable. I mean, she has the hots for Flora, too. Frankly I don't know when she finds time to do research."
The red-haired archeologist's eyes shot up, brilliant grey blazing, "Linda and Flora, you say?"
Janice shrugged. "I wouldn't worry about it. Flora is crazy about you, you know that. Linda is harmless, she's just crazy about... well, women. Pandora doesn't call her 'little wolf' for nothing."
Fiona's reply was cut short by the large dog bounding into the office, followed by an out of breath young woman. Argo nudged the Irish woman in passing then went to her mistress, showering her in wet sloppy greetings.
"I swear... I don't know where... that dog gets her... energy." The newcomer panted, taking a seat on the couch.
"Ah, she's gotten soft this term," Janice countered, "like Mommie-ain't that right, girl?" she added to the dog, scratching her affectionately behind the ears.
"Y'all must be looking forward to getting back out on the road," Linda observed with a smooth Southern accent when her breathing returned to normal.
"Anything to be escaping this climate," Fiona muttered as she continued to grade her paper, occasionally looking at the newcomer with icy detachment.
"Oh, like you're in for a treat," Janice chuckled to her colleague. "Ireland is going to be as cold and miserable as it is here this time of year."
"Aye, perhaps," Fiona agreed, "but at least I'll be understood when I speak."
All three women shared a laugh punctuated by the thump of the big dog's tail pounding on the side of Janice's sturdy desk. "So where did you take her?" she asked her assistant.
Linda shrugged, noting that Janice's office mate was looking at her with a decidedly cold expression. "I finished grading the multiple-guess tests from the Archaeology of Archaic Greece class. They're ready for you. Argo was restless so we took a stroll over to the south building. Apparently, the home economics department is also getting in on the bet and they're all for you..."
"Bet?" Fiona asked.
Janice nodded. "Yeah, I can't believe you haven't heard. Apparently there is some debate as to whether I'll be asked to teach next term. Half of Archeology wants me out..."
"Sure'n I know which half," Fiona muttered.
"... most of Phys. Ed. would like to see me gone..."
"Well, luv, Argo does have a fine habit of stealing balls on the tennis courts, now..."
"So now Home Economics has entered the fray?" Janice asked her assistant.
She nodded, smiling. "Part of it is the war effort, part is having another female professor in archeology. Not takin' anything away from you, Dr. Cyrene, but everyone assumed that because you were Irish, and obviously brilliant, that's why you're here. With Dr. Covington it's different. She's a Yankee. It takes a long time before you realize that she is indeed smart. And let's face it, she doesn't have the most cordial disposition. Many women are thinkin' that if she can make her way doing what she wants, then so can they."
Fiona laughed heartily at the other woman's remark, her prior aloofness lifting like a fog. "Ah, but you're right then, Janice. Linda is most intimidated by you."
Janice took out a small note pad and scribbled a few words. "I'm making a note to see that you never get a raise," she said gruffly to her assistant. "Furthermore, I'm going to tell Mel to stop flirting with you and Fi knows you've got the hots for Flora. Cordial disposition, my ass."
"Linda, luv, you just saw our own Janice writing. Run tell the English department that she is in truth literate and maybe they'll come on board for her, too," Fiona quipped, starting another laughing fest until a sour-looking man entered the office. Argo padded over to greet him by efficiently poking him in the crotch with her nose. His expression shifted from sour to sour and uncomfortable. Janice called Argo over, giving the dour man a break. "Good to see you, Dean Palmer. Argo thinks so, too."
"Dr. Covington, Dr. Cyrene, Miss Robertson," he replied nodding to all three. His eyes lingered a moment on the young assistant who quickly got the message and stood.
"Ah, excuse me, y'all. I've got... things to do. I'll see you later, Dr. Covington." She paused as she headed for the door. "Afternoon, Dr. Cyrene."
"You don't need Argo to leave as well, do you, Dean?" Janice teased when her assistant was gone.
"Charming to the last, Dr. Covington," he said without smiling. "I regret that this is not strictly a social call. An archeologist of some note, Dr. Jones, is visiting the university. There is a dinner tonight at my home to welcome him. It is the wish of this department that you and Miss Pappas attend."
"Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. is it?" Fiona asked aloud.
"Yes. The entire archeology department is expected to be there. You are invited as well, Dr. Cyrene," he said with formality.
"'Tis kind of you to remember me," she muttered sarcastically.
"Indy," Janice said to herself. "I'll be damned."
Dean Palmer cleared his throat until he had Janice's attention once more. "It would be appreciated if... Miss Argo... had other plans for the evening."
"Of course. Look, Dean, I'm still sick about that vase..." Janice glanced bashfully at the companion who sat obediently at her feet.
"Quite alright, Dr. Covington, I'll see you tonight. Dinner is at seven, drinks are served at six, please be prompt." He nodded respectfully at both women then departed.
"I was hoping his visit would be in response to last weeks dynamite demonstration," Fiona said with a sigh.
Janice rolled her eyes. "I don't think he's heard about that yet. Besides, learning the proper handling of explosives is essential in archeology."
"If'in ya say so, Janice. In truth, I never had to attend these things until you showed up, luv," Fiona continued.
"Well, I hate to suffer alone," Janice replied. "I guess I'd better get home and warn Mel. I'll see you tonight."
Janice frowned as she pulled up the familiar road to her home. Small patches of soggy snow still clung fiercely to the ground. She reminded herself once again about the warmer temperatures and sunshine that promised to meet her on the other side of the planet. She fully considered the wet weather-be it humid and hot, or soggy and cold-the hardest adjustment she'd had to make in the past six months. As she neared the white mansion, an unfamiliar car drove away. It passed her as she slowed her truck to give room and she saw a vaguely familiar woman behind the wheel. Shrugging her shoulders, she let it pass and parked her truck next to Mel's Auburn.
Smiling as the warmth and familiarity of her home washed over her, she took off her coat and heels, putting both in the closet just inside the entry way. Sounds of activity greeted her ears, as well as the delightful smells of Pandora's cooking so she headed to the kitchen. As she suspected, the large room was bustling with activity. Three of Pandora's children were engaged in some sort of game and immediately stopped when Argo padded into their midst. Squealing with delight, the children, with dog in tow, headed for the back porch. Linda stood near Mel, sipping coffee from a delicate cup as Janice approached. "How did you beat me home?"
"Got a ride from Professor Rainey." Linda shrugged.
"I hear we've got plans for the evening?" Mel asked, greeting Janice with a brief kiss. The archeologist was momentarily mezmerized by her lover's warm presence and startling beauty. Even after six months her pulse doubled every time she got anywhere near the statuesque woman.
Melinda Pappas was tall, certainly, over six feet in heels. Still at times she carried herself with a clumsy vunurability that made Janice felt like a giant. Her dark raven tresses were neatly packed into a bun she wore on the back of her head. Dressed in a smart blue dress that set off the bright azure of her eyes, she looked like she'd been out shopping. Janice allowed herself a silent chuckle at the thought. While to all the world Melinda Pappas appeared to be ornament material, destined to decorate the arm of some wealthy businessman, she was highly intelligent as well and surprisingly stubborn. She'd been out shopping all right, but for expedition equipment, not jewelry. Wanting nothing more than to get lost in the brilliant blue of Mel's eyes, Janice tore her gaze away with effort as she regarded her assistant once more.
"You were listening outside the door," Janice said to Linda as she accepted a steaming cup of coffee from her lover. Suddenly her eyes went wide, the pieces falling into place. "Prof. Rainey-the geologist?" she asked, incredulous. That was the name she needed to go with the face of the woman she'd passed on her drive in.
"Charming woman. I don't know why I haven't met her before." Mel observed.
"Is there a single woman on campus you're not chasing?" Janice asked, staring at Linda in disbelief.
"Little Wolf learned it from Big Wolf iffn you ask me," Pandora muttered as she pulled a fresh pecan pie from the oven.
"I don't recall asking," Janice grumbled, distracted by the pie.
"You never do." Pandora quipped, "Consider it a bonus."
"Mel, you really should see about the help..." Janice grumbled, feigning offense.
"You reap what you sow, Janice Covington. Treat people like family and that's just what y'all are going to get. A family." Mel smiled, happy with the family that had been forged in the past six months. "So, what is this dinner I keep hearing about?"
Janice shrugged, taking the steaming piece of pecan pie Pandora offered her. "Indiana Jones is visiting the campus for some reason. Dean Palmer is throwing a dinner party in his honor tonight," she continued, blowing briefly on the forkful of pie before popping it into her mouth. "He wants us to attend," she ennunciated clearly around the mouthful of food.
"Dinner?" Pandora asked, taking Janice's pie plate away. "You shouldn't spoil your appetite then."
"No!" Janice protested as Pandora put the plate back on the counter.
"It'll be here for you when you get back, if Little Wolf doesn't eat it," Pandora mused, herding the others out of the kitchen. "You two go on and get ready for your dinner. Little Wolf, you make yourself at home, dinner will be ready shortly."
"She has a home, Pandora. Archaeological Method and Theory II doesn't have their final until Thursday, so until then she's off the hook workwise," Janice protested.
"Now, Janice, be nice," Mel countered. "She is tutoring the children tonight. It isn't university work and if 'Dora wants to fix her dinner, you leave her be. Now let's go upstairs and get ready for that dinner party."
Janice considered another protest until she realized the woman of her dreams had just invited her upstairs to their bedroom. Pandora smiled as she watched them head for the stairs. Her knowing eyes glittered as she turned back to Janice's assistant. "Take a lesson, Little Wolf," she said softly. "When you find your soulmate everything changes. Big Wolf has an angry streak, but anywhere near Melinda and she's as tame as a sleepin' puppy."
"What time is it?" Janice asked as she turned the 1938 Auburn up the driveway to the dean's house.
Mel smiled as she reached into Janice's pocket, extracting Harry Covington's pocket watch. "It's twenty to seven. We're not as late as I thought we'd be."
Janice grinned wickedly. "That's because I'm not finished with you yet."
Blushing, Mel got out of the car and together the two climbed the steps to the dean's home.
Once inside, it took only moments before the dean greeted them. "Miss Pappas, how good to see you. Come, meet Dr. Jones." Melinda smiled warmly at the stodgy dean as he whisked her into the academic throng.
"I'll get us drinks," Janice muttered to the space vacated by her lover.
"At least I rated a 'hello'," Fiona quipped from behind Janice's shoulder. "Come on, luv, let's get something to drink." Janice spent several minutes in Fiona's company, exchanging pleasantries with her colleagues before going to look for Melinda.
"I'm sure you'll be quite impressed with Dr. Jones, Miss Pappas. Ah, here he is now." Mel was gently led into the living room near a fireplace that dominated the room with its crackling warmth. "Dr. Jones, I'd like to introduce you to Miss Melinda Pappas, Dr. Melvin Pappas' daughter. Miss Pappas, Dr. Henry Jones, Jr."
The tall man turned his gaze from the fire to the blazing blue eyes of Melinda Pappas. He smiled a smile charming in its lopsidedness, flashing brilliant white teeth. "Miss Pappas, it's a pleasure," he said briefly, bringing her hand to his lips and kissing her knuckles softly.
"Why, the pleasure's all mine, Dr. Jones. I've heard a lot about you." Melinda smiled as Henry Jones gracefully released her hand.
"If y'all will excuse me," the dean butted in, "I've got to see to the other guests." With a curt nod, he quietly withdrew from the room.
"Do y'all get the impression Dean Palmer is fixin' to play match-maker?" Melinda wondered out loud. She studied the dashing archeologist with interest. He was certainly handsome, a small scar on his chin only adding to his rugged appeal. He wore glasses and although suave, there was a shyness about this man that was almost palpable.
"Perhaps," he agreed. "I don't suppose you're available?"
"She isn't." A voice said evenly from the doorway.
Indiana Jones turned and his eyes narrowed slightly as he forced a smile. "Janice. Or I suppose it's Dr. Covington now. Dean Palmer told me I could expect the pleasure of your company."
Janice smiled as she crossed the living room. It was dimly lit, most of the light coming from the fireplace. It was warm, but her hands trembled slightly as she handed one of the two glasses she carried to her lover. "Your drink, Melinda," she said softly with a smile then turned to face Indiana Jones. "You mean the good Dean warned you I'd be here?"
Jones looked down at her coldly. Mel could see from the exchange that there was an intense bitterness between them. A bitterness that suggested more history between the two than she'd been told. "Look, Janice, I've got no quarrel with you. What happened between you and Marion is ancient history as far as I'm concerned..."
"That's big of you," Janice quipped.
"...in fact, you're the reason I'm here in the first place," he continued, ignoring the jibe. "I've got something for you from my father," he finished quietly, glancing towards the door, wary of eavesdroppers.
"Your father?" she asked, her voice instantly warming. "Is he still doing Grail research?"
Indy shrugged uncomfortably. "Not as much as he used to. But he found something he wanted me to give you. I don't have it with me, I'm sure that..." He nodded pointedly to the open doorway.
"I know," Janice nodded understanding. "I'm sure Leesto has bought off some of the staff, but I don't know which ones. What about tomorrow night?" she asked. He nodded, agreeing.
"Splendid." Mel beamed. "Then you simply must come over for dinner then."
He looked at Mel, his expression perplexed. "Both of us?" he asked, nodding at Janice.
Dean Palmer entered the living room, joined by several professors. "I hate to interrupt," he said, "but dinner is served."
"Great, I'm starved," Janice replied and headed for the doorway.
"Please, Dr. Covington, allow me." An earnest young man said, rushing up to Janice and offering his arm. Janice forced a smile to her face that drew a giggle from Melinda. "Thank you Dr. Byron," Janice said as she took his arm and allowed herself to be escorted to the dining room.
"Dinner at your house?" Indy asked as he extended his arm to Mel.
"Janice and I are partners. I specialize in the syntax of ancient languages," Mel explained, gracefully linking her arm in his. She saw his nod of understanding, then she added, "and we live together."
At that his eyes widened in comprehension and amazement. They had reached the dining table so there was little he could say or do but whisper as he pulled out the heiress' chair, "I don't know how she does it."
"It's just as well, Dr. Jones," Mel replied, smiling, as she took her seat.
Dean Palmer was seated at the head of the table, Jones on his right with Melinda next to him. Janice sat next to Melinda, pleased that the placecards with their names were, for once, side by side. Not that it mattered much. The majority of the dinner conversation took place between the dean, Indy, Mel and the two professors that sat across from them. Janice was seated next to Prof. Higgins, her most vocal detractor in the department. Fiona was on the other side of the table, towards the end, too far away to contribute much in the way of assistance to Janice in her conversation with the stodgy Professor. To make her evening complete, the hopelessly infatuated William Byron sat across from her, staring at her with unabashed adoration.
Determined to have something to show for the evening, Janice drank steadily once she noticed Higgins matching her glass for glass. If nothing else, she could guarantee him a headache in the morning. She ate her food, pleased that stuffed grape leaves had been included in the meal. While Janice had a healthy appreciation for pork roast, blackeyed peas, fried okra and sweet potato pie, lately neither she nor Mel could get their fill of Greek food. Doing her best to ignore Higgins, she listened with interest to the conversation at the head of the table.
"I met your father when he became Dean of the University of South Carolina," Dr. Jones was saying. "I must admit I'm surprised you settled here in North Carolina."
"After Daddy died it was hard for me to stay in that house. There was so much of him everywhere. So much of his decline," Mel said, drawing a measure of comfort from Janice's gentle hand caressing her thigh under the table. "I finally decided to go to Macedonia and help Dr. Covington with her research. When that finished, it seemed practical to move up here. I've always loved the house on Franklin Street. It has a lot of good memories. I'd often visit Mother here when I had breaks while I was attending Vanderbilt."
"Dr. Pappas spent a great deal of time at our university as well," Dean Palmer continued. "In fact the new archeology building..." Before he could catch himself he saw annoyance flash across Melinda's eyes, "...is affectionately known as Pappas Hall." He smiled weakly at Melinda, hoping his recovery had met with her approval.
Indiana smiled. He'd heard enough about campus politics to realize what had just happened. "I know Melvin Pappas wouldn't want a building named after him-a discovery maybe, but not a building. If students call it that on their own, I'm sure that would suit him fine."
"I couldn't agree more, Dr. Jones," Melinda said.
"So, Miss Pappas, what are your plans for the winter break?" Prof. Montgomery asked from his position across from Dr. Jones.
Mel glanced sidelong at Janice before answering, not caring if the other professors picked up on the unconscious gesture or not. It wasn't as if everyone didn't already know that she shared her house with the archeologist. As for the rest, to some degree she enjoyed the speculation. "I think some traveling is in order," she said casually. "I'm looking forward to Christmas in a warmer climate."
"Visiting your Mother, perhaps?" Mrs. Montgomery asked.
Melinda smiled. Eunice Montgomery had almost overpowering maternal instincts. "Well, I doubt it. Mother is in New York and that most definitely is not a warmer climate. Not to mention being New York." Several guests laughed at that, giving Janice a break from the ramblings of her conversation partner, Edward Higgins.
"... mark my words, Dr. Covington," Higgins droned on in his most patronizing tone of voice, ignoring the laughter at Mel's comment, "women will tire of the workplace soon enough. It isn't easy earning a living. They will realize this and be grateful of the position in society they left."
"Bullshit," Janice retorted, then blushed when several others at the table snapped their heads in her direction at her outburst. "Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but I'm telling you, give it twenty or thirty years and you're going to have a full scale sexual revolution on your hands. You can't expect to ask women to play 'Rosie the Riveter,' working their asses off in factories, then go back to their former lives as if nothing ever happened..."
"It's worked for thousands of years, why argue with success?" the old man said beaming. Higgins looked around the table. Eunice Montgomery was flushed and fanning herself at the eruption of Janice's colorful language. Melinda Pappas was shaking her head sadly and the archeologist's other ally Fiona Cyrene was trying hard not to laugh outloud. Even the love struck Byron looked embarrassed.
"Actually, Edward, old boy, I think Dr. Covington's research has proved that we simply don't know enough about the role of women in antiquity to make that kind of statement." Janice smiled at Prof. Simpson who sat next to Prof. Byron. Simpson was a dapper man, his white hair crisply cut, his clothes impeccable. He was one of the most senior men in the department and a staunch ally as well. "Personally, Janice, I owe you and Xena a debt of gratitude. The requests are tallied, and enrollment for Archeology Laboratory has more than doubled."
"Xena has nothing to do with the enrollment of your classes, Thomas," Higgins sneered.
"Doesn't she though? Archeology Laboratory is a pre-requisite to Janice's Archaeological Method and Theory class. From what I hear, your Archaeology of Archaic Greece class is already full and you've been asked to teach Archaeological Field Techniques." He lifted his wine glass and toasted his colleague as the others around the table followed suit.
"I hope the students supply their own dynamite," Fiona quipped under her breath.
Dean Palmer frowned at the Irishwoman as he picked up his own glass. "Yes, Dr. Covington, congratulations. I had wanted to discuss it with you privately of course." He paused to glare at Prof. Simpson, who just smiled mischievously. "But if you're interested, the classes are yours to teach."
Not trusting herself to speak in her somewhat inebriated condition, Janice smiled and nodded, her grin intensifying as she felt Mel's affectionate squeeze on her thigh.
"That's wonderful, Dr. Covington," William Byron added. "My Egyptology class is taught right across the hall from the Archeology Lab."
"That's great." Janice replied without enthusiasm, visions of mysterious flowers adorning her desk filling her head. Something about Byron bugged her, beyond his fervid crush.
"As I understand it," Prof. Simpson continued, clearly enjoying Byron's enthusiasm and Higgins' discomfort, "enrollment for the department has set record highs. Students majoring in English, engineering, biology, physical education and even home economics are taking the general anthropology and archeology classes. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if we started to see campus wide defections..."
"Thomas, please!" Prof. Higgins protested. "Don't encourage her. One show of flashy scrolls and women all over campus get a romanticized idea about archeology. It takes a discipline and dedication that women just aren't suited for. I don't care how they teach it up North, we shouldn't encourage our young ladies to study subjects where they will always be woefully inadequate. The farier sex is physically not up to it."
"Not over the Reconstruction yet, are we?" Janice asked acidly. "Well, up North spending a day in 110 degree heat is a cake walk compared to child birth. And Lord knows raising children doesn't take any discipline or dedication," she added sarcastically.
"My point exactly," Higgins smiled triumphantly apparently immune to sarcasam./ "Child-rearing is what women are suited for and it betters society as a whole if they stick with it."
"Are you saying you want me to raise the next generation, Prof. Higgins?" Janice asked sweetly as she finished off another glass of wine.
He gazed back, his inebriation evident on his features. "Well, I don't think we have to worry about you getting married and having children, now do we?"
Without the smile fading from her face Janice replied, "Who said anything about getting married?" From there the dinner conversation went steadily downhill.
Janice and Mel rode back to their house on Franklin Street in silence. Mel insisted on driving due to the sheer volume of alcohol Janice had consumed. Prof. Higgins, unconscious, had to be dragged to his car by Indiana Jones and William Byron. The stodgy man had matched Janice drink for drink. That fact alone was enough reason in Mel's mind to fish the car keys from the pocket of her lover's coat when they readied themselves to leave. The fact that Janice was still conscious was nothing short of amazing.
"You've gotten really good at driving," Janice commented as they pulled up to the white mansion. "'Bout time you were able to enjoy your Auburn."
"I'm surprised you're able to tell, Janice," Mel replied, amusement tugging at the edges of her voice.
"I'm drunk, Mel, not dead," Janice said grinning. "And not too drunk if that's worrying you."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Mel replied primly as she opened her door and walked around the car to help Janice out.
"You don't?" Janice said, feigning surprise. "You mean if I told you that I wanted you naked in my arms, writhing in ecstasy and doing things to you that Higgins swears I'll burn in hell for, you'd be surprised?"
"No, Janice," Mel said smiling, "I'd be amazed. You drank at least two bottles of wine by yourself, not to mention the Irish whiskey and brandy. I think Higgins is in a coma."
"Higgins maybe, but I learned how to hold my liquor at a young age. Only one person I've ever met can drink me under the table," Janice said as she stumbled through the front door. "Besides, I can think of little else after what you pulled tonight."
"What did I do?" Mel asked, genuinely surprised.
"Sitting there, being beautiful, intelligent. Your voice making my pulse race. Touching me under the table. Leaning close when you asked me to pass you the asparagus. Reaching to get the butter. I saw you sipping your wine, Melinda, and I was jealous. The blood from those grapes clinging to your succulent mouth. I thought of little else all evening except getting you back here."
Mel leaned against the side of the coat closet. Janice's words pulsed through her, making her own body react. It took a moment to remember why she was there. Glancing down she saw her coat in one hand and a hanger in another. "You are a charmer," she said, trying to sound as casual as possible as she hung her coat.
"Well, you did say I'm charming when inebri... inbrie... drunk. But I mean it, Melinda. I've never felt things... good things, wonderful things the way I do when I'm with you. In your arms, Melinda Pappas, all my rage and fury quiets down until there is nothing left but a sense of completeness. Would it be too forward to say I'm madly in love with you? God, I hope you're not married."
"As a matter of fact I do have an understanding with a certain dashing young archeologist. Rather impetuous and obstinate, and a Yankee no less, but completely lovable..." Mel said laughing as she climbed the stairs. It was all she could do to keep from taking Janice right there in the entryway. When she reached the top, she looked back down at Janice who was still navigating the first three steps. "Janice, if you can climb those stairs by yourself, I'll be the one to do things to you that will guarantee me an eternity in hell."
At her words, Janice's head snapped up and with a determined glint to her vibrant green eyes proceeded to march up the stairs. With a light laugh, Mel grabbed Janice as she reached the top step, and sweeping her up into her arms, carried her into the bedroom.
"Am I the only one who knows how strong you really are?" Janice asked as she was carried to bed.
"Yes, and you're not going to tell anyone," Mel replied, her voice husky, eyes smoldering with passion. She covered Janice's lips with her own, rendering conversation irrelevant.
Pandora glanced up from the dishes she was washing as she heard Janice and Mel come home. Unable to avoid their conversation in the absolute quiet of the house she smiled as she heard Janice march up the grand staircase. "If you two wind up in hell," she muttered, "there's going to be a mess of disappointed folks in heaven."
Janice held Mel tenderly as their breathing slowly returned to normal. As much as she loved it when Mel held her, this was her favorite position: Mel's body stretched out on top of hers, an elegant leg draped between her own, a crown of silky chestnut hair tucked under her chin. She loved the feel of Mel's heartbeat through her skin as their warm bodies rested together. Mel let her feel everything: powerful, tender, giving and especially, loving. Particularly now, as she continued to grapple with university politics, with Mel she felt grounded. Janice smiled to herself. She suspected Mel felt the same way. No longer just a pampered socialite, since Janice moved in Mel had not only learned to drive but began to shoulder many of the responsibilities of planning their upcoming expidition. However their outward duties might change and evolve, together, like this, they were blissfully equal, and wildly passionate in their mutual devotion.
"I don't know how you do it," Mel whispered softly into Janice's chest, her warm breath sending a chill across perspiration-slick skin.
"Do what?" Janice mumbled dreamily.
"You drink like a fish, enough to send a man twice your size home unconscious, then love me with the passion of an Amazon and the tenderness of a bard."
"Hey!" Janice laughed. "Leave my ancestors out of this." Mel propped herself up on her elbows and gazed down at her lover. "Nooo," Janice groaned and gathered Mel in her arms, pulling her close once again. "I need you close, love," she murmured into soft dark locks. "Mel, it's like... with you, I've finally gotten it right. You touch me, or hell, just look at me and I'm helpless to do anything but respond."
Mel nodded against Janice's chest. She understood. "And that helplessness, it doesn't scare you?"
Janice was quiet, so quiet in fact that Mel thought she'd fallen asleep. When she spoke it was softly, and as clearly as her inebriated state would allow. "Not any more. In an odd way it makes me feel powerful. All I can feel is you, your touch, your kiss, and how much I love you. Everything else shrinks, becomes invisible, until all that is left is shimmering clarity. The only thing that scares me, Melinda, is the thought of you not being in my life. I'll never be able to stop loving you, Mel. I know that. Please don't go anywhere."
Mel smiled at Janice's open honesty, which forced several tears that were brimming in her eyes to fall and splash on her lover's skin.
"What's wrong?" Janice asked, pulling Mel's face up to look at her.
"I love you so much, Janice," Mel sobbed, "and you say the sweetest things."
"Yeah, well," Janice grinned, "I am related to one hell of a bard."
...Loving Xena may have been effortless, but living with her wasn't. It is not easy to be the companion of someone who carries the weight of her past upon her shoulders. Make no mistake, Xena was a violent person and had been responsible for unspeakable deeds. I'll admit that at first I had a rather romanticized idea of who exactly 'Xena: Warrior Princess' was. That didn't last long, however. Darkness clung to her like a shroud and in the beginning she had little rest from the battles she fought with her inner demons. In the weeks and months that followed, she grew. And while it might have not been obvious to the casual observer, she changed. At first I sensed these changes as they happened. The changes in Xena seemed so clear to me. What I couldn't see then were the changes in myself, but Xena did. Later, when I could feel myself grow and change, I was unable to see the changes in Xena as clearly.
The road Xena traveled was a hard one. Not only was it physically dangerous, it was emotionally demanding as well. Murderous thugs, thieves and bandits were the rule, not the exception. When we weren't fighting those, Xena continued to do battle with a host of enemies known only to her. She demanded so much of herself, and allowed herself little room to make the mistakes that as human beings we all make every day. Sometimes I simply couldn't keep up.
I left her once to attend try-outs at the Academy of Performing Bards in Athens. At the time I thought I just wanted to see if I could make it into the Academy. Looking back, I think I needed to know that I could succeed at something without Xena. While I loved her more than life itself, it was difficult to remain in her company and not feel woefully inadequate. The second time I left her was because of those very feelings. I'd frozen during an ambush and realized I could have gotten us killed. I felt like more of a liability than an asset to Xena and figured I'd leave her for her own good. I didn't know that she was already in love with me at that point. That experience taught me that Xena was my home. I missed her so much it was palpable. If only I'd remembered that lesson.
I left Xena again when I married Perdicus. Years later we spent many an hour around the campfire discussing that one. I did love Perdicus, he was my closest childhood friend, and he needed me. While it is difficult to travel with someone with an army of inner demons, it is even more difficult when they've honed self-sufficiently to a razor's edge. I never doubted Xena cared for me, even loved me. But she never really did anything to let me know she needed me. Granted, there was that incident in the temple at Thessaly, but I was dead at the time and didn't hear about Xena's outburst until years later when we were reunited with Hippocrates. So, I left to marry Perdicus.
Xena did her share of leaving, too, although she would be quick to point out that it was not the same thing. In the early days, she frequently left me at any near by village while she went off to atone for her past mis-deeds. It made sense. In the early days I wouldn't have been able to handle myself in battle (not that it made getting left behind any less painful). Later, she would occasionally leave me when she simply needed to travel faster than I could on foot, or with both of us on Argo.
Then, of course, there was her death. I remember the healer's house. She simply gave up and a small part of me was angry about that for quite some time. But she returned and I was convinced that would be the most painful episode I'd ever need to endure with my warrior. Gods, was I wrong. The single most painful trial I ever endured with Xena could be summed up in one word: Ulysses. How I wanted to strangle Homer for writing about that man. I suppose that's unfair, but at the time that's how I felt. The incident with Ulysses was really only the beginning of a series of events that would test the strength of the love that bound Xena and myself together.
We hadn't been lovers all that long when we met the King of Ithaca. Handsome, strong, confident, disarmingly charming. A part of me hated him instantly. One look at him and I knew we'd be competing for a prize I thought I'd already won. Discovering my disdain for sea travel didn't help matters. While I was used to any variety of male company falling for my lover in a big way, seeing Xena respond was new. This wasn't Marcus whom she'd known long before she'd ever met me, or Hercules who helped her take the first step toward redemption. This was a man she met after we'd embarked on our life together. While there had never been any grand proclamation about our relationship, she knew the depth of my feelings. At least I thought she did. Granted, she ultimately pushed Ulysses away but I was never sure if she did it primarily for my benefit or Penolope's. A haunting uncertainty remained as we sailed from Ithaca. I couldn't stop wondering that if Penolope had been dead, would she have expected the three of us to work out some sort of arrangement? I was not about to share her with Ulysses, regardless if he'd been willing to share her with me.
I tried to talk to her about it, but the timing for us at that time was just plain bad. So little time had passed from when we got back to Greece to when we encountered the Horde. That only served to add to my hurt and confusion. As much as I loved Xena with every fiber of my being, I did not like the Warrior Princess when it came time to interact with her for an extended amount of time. Certainly the 'warrior' had shown up often enough. Every time some drunk sot in a tavern put a hand on me, or we faced the warlord of the week-any number of conditions would bring out flashes of Xena's former self. This, however, was different. The coldness in her eyes and distance of her heart were almost more than I could handle. After much soul searching and consideration I decided that the time had come for me to take some time away from my love.
Needless to say, Xena didn't take it well. Her reasons hurt all the more. It wasn't because she needed me, would miss me, couldn't live without me. Xena's practical mind did not speak of such thoughts, even if she felt them. Instead it was where would I go and how would I get there safely and when would I return. What I couldn't know at the time was that I was stepping into a carefully laid trap by one whose feelings for Xena ran almost as deep as my own. Forcing myself not to cry, I told Xena that I loved her but was going home.
"You're leaving me again?" she asked incredulous.
That stung. "No, Xena," I explained. "I'm spending some time away from you. I need to think, sort things out. I'll only be gone a month at the most. I don't think that's the same as leaving you."
"Why can't you sort things out with me?" she asked.
There was no attempt made to hide the irritation she felt. The fact that a part of my heart was breaking while she was only annoyed hurt all the more. "Because I love you Xena, but life with you allows little introspection. I can't sort things out between one crisis and the next. A few weeks is all I ask. You'll never know I'm gone." She nodded unconsciously in agreement and at that moment my anger got the better of me. "Think you can keep from falling in love that long?" I asked.
"Are you still on that?" she demanded. "I never said I loved him." She looked away from me then glanced back. The Warrior Princess had returned. "Perhaps this will be good for us," she said coldly. "Maybe you can grow up a little."
"You mean sleep around?!" I demanded, furious.
"Might do you some good," she answered casually.
"Well, maybe I'll just do that," I said, my voice surprisingly calm. "I'll meet you in Thebes at the next full moon. Basilio's Inn."
"I can hardly wait," I heard her reply as I turned to go.
Since my home was Xena and I'd chosen to leave, I went to my home away from home: the Amazons. I'd thought of going to Poteidaia, but knew I needed to be surrounded by people that would understand the depth of my pain, even if I didn't understand it myself. The Amazons would. My birth family wouldn't.
As I'd hoped, Ephiny and the others sympathized and comforted me in my anguish. Solari especially gave me the distraction I needed to get Xena out of my blood, if only for a short time. We became lovers. She knew that I did not, could not, love her, but she didn't need me to. As a friend, and as someone who loved her queen, she offered me the physical distraction that kept me from languishing in a pit of sorrow. I never forgot that kindness and we remained close friends for years. She understood my need to get back at Xena, perhaps better than I did. In fact, the Amazons in general seemed to better understand what was happening between Xena and myself, than I. While no one said anything negative about the Warrior Princess in front of me, it became quite clear that there was something about Xena that put these women on edge.
I tried to put that out of my mind as I learned the ways of my adopted people and assisted Ephiny in her duties as queen. It was a lot to learn, and that kept me busy. I also got acquainted with my centaur nephew, Xenan Gabris Phantes. The following weeks passed quickly, but the emptiness I felt without Xena did not diminish in the slightest.
One morning, as Ephiny, Xenan, Solari and I ate breakfast, a scout came running into camp. Bleeding from a crossbow bolt that had pierced her shoulder, she reported that Xena rode at the head of a small army under the banner of Ares, sacking everything in her path. The look I saw on Ephiny's face was plain, unadulterated fear. I was too shocked to believe anything at first. Furiously I tried to think what could have happened to Xena to bring the Warrior Princess back to the surface so soon. She reverted to her old self in that surrounded garrison out of desperation. Something serious must have happened to bring the savage back. She was approaching from the north, which meant she was coming from the direction of Poteidaia. I wondered if she'd been trying to find me.
The rest of the day was spent planning. I couldn't help but overhear the occasional murmerings of frightened Amazons as they set about their appointed tasks. Some acted like it was the end of the world. How could I have known at the time that was in fact what they feared. I wracked my brain trying to figure out what must have happened to put Xena back in the service of Ares. Nothing made sense, but that didn't change the facts. 'Xena: Destroyer of Nations' was headed our way. That night Ephiny and I stayed up talking. She knew the situation was next to hopeless, but her determination and bravery never faltered. "We have to issue a challenge," I said. "Me against her, one on one."
"You're crazy, Gabrielle," Ephiny laughed. "This is Xena we're talking about."
"I know," I replied. "Xena who loves me..."
"But she's riding for Ares now."
"She's still Xena. If she weren't, Ares wouldn't want her."
"That's out of the question," Ephiny replied then brought her fist down on the table, hard. "Gods, I should have seen this coming."
"Seen what? That maybe Xena and I are not as perfect for each other as everyone thinks we are?" I stood and paced the small hut, furious. I couldn't help but feel that I'd failed Xena in some way. If I'd had the strength to work through my problems at her side, then this never would have happened.
"No, Gabrielle," Ephiny said in a voice surprisingly gentle. "If anything, this proves how much you two belong together. You've been a mess since you've been here, and Xena obviously has gone crazy without you. Maybe seeing you across a battlefield is just what she needs to knock some sense into that thick head of hers."
I turned at that, unable to keep the hope from my features. Somehow it had to work-I could feel it. "I think it's the right thing to do," I said softly. Ephiny just smiled at me sadly, and nodded.
The challenge was issued and sure enough, she accepted. All but a few Amazons were scattered to the trees. I trusted Xena to show up, but suspected an ambush as well. We'd readied a clearing for the contest, well away from the Amazon village. "You're a fool, Ephiny," Xena said dryly as she gracefully dismounted Argo.
"Is it foolish to save lives, Xena?" Ephiny replied. "You beat the Amazon queen and you will find no resistance here. By our laws, as an Amazon yourself, you will be the new queen."
Xena's eyes narrowed in fury. "Don't ever call me Amazon again," she hissed. "Pick your weapon."
Ephiny shook her head. "It isn't my place to choose. The Amazon queen will fight you, and she will choose the weapons."
Understanding and fury replaced Xena's look of confusion as I stepped out from behind a large tree with my staff. "Gabrielle?" she whispered, several emotions warring for dominance in her features. She was shocked, relieved and angry all at once.
"It's me, Xena," I said. "What are you doing?"
In moments, the confusion was gone and cold fury gained dominance in her eyes and voice. "I'm taking prime hunting ground, that's what I'm doing. Give up now, Gabrielle, and I'll let you live."
"This isn't you, Xena," I pleaded as I readied my staff.
"I'm as much Xena as you are Gabrielle," she replied as she took the staff Ephiny offered her.
"What happened to you?" I asked, then realized it was the wrong way to start the conversation. Even against the Horde, her eyes were not this cold. Something other than the woman I loved was in possession of Xena's mind. She lunged at me and I was barely able to parry the blow. The crack of wood striking wood was deafening as the vibrations reverberated through my hands and arms. The force of that one blow alone was almost enough to make me drop my staff. I parried a couple more times then swung at her in desperation. I don't know who was more surprised, her or me when my staff reached it's mark. I had hit her solidly in the ribs. She smiled, the feral smile I'd seen her give to numerous opponents, usually just before they lost consciousness or worse.
"Nice shot, bard."
"Xena, stop it," I tried again. "Something happened. Tell me." She came at me with such fury I could only react, thinking was out of the question. I vaguely felt the wood of her staff hitting my shoulder, dislocating my arm then knocking the staff from my hands before she struck me in my gut, driving the air from my lungs and me to my knees. I looked up at her and tried one last time.
"Xena talk to me," I gasped. "I love you. Don't kill me like this..."
Guess Who's Coming To Dinner
Janice awoke with a start, waking Mel, who rested peacefully on her chest. "What is it?" Mel asked. "Bad dream?"
Janice looked confused for a moment, then gingerly touched her head. It was a hangover all right. "Ah, bad dream, and how. Do you know anything about Xena trying to kill Gabrielle with a quarterstaff?"
"Xena... trying to kill Gabrielle... with a staff?" Mel asked dubiously.
"It was so real, in my dream," Janice muttered, almost as if she was talking to herself. "Something happened... after Ulysses... Gabrielle went to the Amazons and Xena rode at the head of Ares' army."
Mel smiled and gently touched her lover's cheek. "Remember, love, you drank two bottles of wine, ate six stuffed grape leaves, had some whiskey and brandy. Not to mention a conversation with one Dr. Jones whom I suspect you don't like very much. And had to fend off the flirtatious advances of one Dr. Byron all evening. Frankly, I'm surprised you didn't dream that Xena was a bard and Gabrielle wandered the countryside sacking villages."
Nodding, Janice hoped that Mel was right, that her dream had been a work of fiction, not a memory. "Did we see a mention of an Amazon named Solari in any of the scrolls?" she asked, easing from underneath the quilt of their bed.
Melinda thought a moment then nodded. "Yes. I think she was Ephiny's second in command. She supported Gabrielle against Velasca. Why?"
"Any mention of her and Gabrielle as lovers?" Janice pressed.
Melinda's eyes narrowed slightly, "Are you saying as in an affair, Janice Covington?" Getting out of bed, Mel stormed off in the direction of the bathroom. Pausing at the bathroom door, she turned to glare at her lover. "Think about it, Janice, if you cheated on Xena, would you write about it?" With that she withdrew, slamming the bathroom door behind her.
Janice shut her eyes tightly as the sound of the slamming door continued to reverberate in her aching head. Argo hopped up on the bed and nudged her a couple of times, clearly concerned. Petting her absently, Janice rested her head against the soft fur of the dog's face. "This is not going to be a good day," she whispered.
"Blast it," Fiona said in greeting as Janice entered their office, squinting against the sunlight coming in from the window.
"Nice to see you, too," she growled, collapsing in her chair.
"I just lost a five dollar bet with Simpson. Higgins didn't make it in today. I figured neither would you," Fiona explained.
"Yeah, well, I hope he feels every bit as wonderful as I do right now."
"I'm sure he does. Where did you learn to drink like that, luv?" Fiona asked, mercifully adjusting the window blinds to cut down on the sunlight streaming into the office.
"An old flame," Janice replied. "But, Fi, I've gone all morning without throwing up, and if we talk about her, I will."
Fiona laughed. "Not to worry, my friend. I've got a class to teach, and you have desperate students to console. See you later."
Like clockwork, the students showed up for their appointments. For the most part the questions were genuine and sincere, not just fishing for test questions. By late afternoon, she even began to feel human. It didn't last long.
"Hello, Dr. Covington," Prof. Byron said cheerily from her doorway. Janice looked up and with a resolve she didn't know she had, forced herself to smile. Sure enough, he was holding flowers.
"Dr. Byron," she replied. "Going to a funeral?"
He laughed, an empty sound that paled in comparison to Mel's laughter. "Er, no. These are for you." Janice's smile didn't budge.
"Ah, thanks," she said, accepting the flowers. Sadly she realized that William Byron was probably the only member of the department that did not know she lived with Melinda Pappas. She suspected it was because he was so annoying, no one would talk to him. Finally settling on an empty glass for the flowers, she poured some water from Argo's drinking bowl, then deposited the bouquet. Argo watched the scene with interest, never moving from her place on the couch. When she finally yawned, displaying an array of sharp white teeth, Prof. Byron flinched nervously.
"I think Argo likes me," he said.
Janice glanced over at the big dog. Argo looked as bored with Byron's company as she was. "Maybe, it's hard to tell. If she doesn't attack you, it's a good sign."
"I was wondering if you'd be interested in joining me for a cup of coffee. We could continue the fascinating discussion we started last night." He stood there smiling, occasionally blinking, waiting for Janice's answer.
It took a moment for Janice to realize that he'd stopped speaking. "Right. Coffee." She bided her time as she checked her appointment list. Unfortunately, she was finished for the day and didn't have any reason not to accept the young man's offer. She raised her head, preparing to accept her fate when she saw a familiar face in the doorway, just behind Prof. Byron.
"Mr. Raimi, can I help you?" Janice asked, hoping she'd kept most of the relief from her voice.
"I've got my term paper, if you want it," he replied sullenly, easing past the now irritated Prof.
"Of course. Dr. Byron, I'm sorry. It'll take me a while to go over this with Mr. Raimi. I wouldn't want to keep you waiting." She smiled, confident that she'd avoided his company for another day.
"No problem," he replied. "I'll wait outside. We'll leave when you're ready." With that he turned and closed the office door behind him.
Janice shook her head in frustration then turned her head to her student. "Have a seat, Mr. Raimi. I'm glad you decided to take me up on my offer."
The young man sat next to Argo on the couch, absently petting the big dog a few times. "I was wondering, if... ah... you wouldn't mind reading it now."
Janice glanced toward the door. She wanted more than anything to avoid Dr. Byron as long as possible, still she wouldn't do it at the expense of a student. "You know ethically I can't grade this in front of you, Mr. Raimi. The department chair would have my head..."
"Oh, I'm not suggesting an official grade ma'am. Just an idea... a suggestion." Smiling Janice found it hard to believe that this polite young man was the brash combatitive student who'd glared at her from the back row all semester. What the hell, she thought. It was a stupid rule anyway. Besides, she decided, gambling was a part of archeology-'bout time this boy took a chance and won. "Very well," she said taking a red pencil from her drawer. "Nothing official, I'm just giving this a once over. I'll go over it again with the others when I assign final grades."
Janice studied her student out of the corner of her eye as she read his work. She jotted a few notes down on the paper, as well as several comments in a notebook of her own. "You've been up all night, Mr. Raimi," she commented as she read. "Care to tell me why?"
He fidgeted a few moments before answering. "I have to fly back to California right after finals. Daddy was transferred. I don't know if I'll be back next term."
Janice put the paper down and looked at him squarely. "Transferring to another university?" she asked.
"No ma'am." He shook his head. "Enlisting."
"If that's true, then why bother with this paper at all?" Janice asked, eyeing him critically.
He looked at his shoes for a few moments before answering. "You were right, Dr. Covington. What I did was stupid. Stupid and unnecessary. I actually love archeology. The research I did for my paper is the sort of thing I do for fun anyway."
"Then why the plagiarism?" Janice asked as she returned to the man's term paper.
He cleared his throat before answering. "I... I resented you as a teacher," he said quietly.
"Because I'm a woman?" Janice inquired.
The young man nodded, his cheeks blushing crimson. "My Daddy has some rather strong opinions about women, especially ones that teach. He swore up and down that you were only here because some other professor must be sweet on you. He said I shouldn't worry about your class, that you wouldn't know enough about the subject to grade us anyway." Janice studied him for a few more moments before returning to her reading. "Dr. Covington, I didn't know you wrote that paper," he continued. "I chose it because it was written better than any of the others I'd read. You really do know what you're talking about."
"Nice of you to notice," Janice said as she put the paper down and leaned back in her chair. Crossing her arms, she studied the young man again, taking note of his tie, his freshly shaved face, and clean clothes. "Do you mind if I smoke?" she asked, opening her desk drawer. Startled, he shook his head. "Thanks," she said, reaching behind her and opening the window. "Mr. Raimi," she continued as she lit the small cigar and blew a few smoke rings, "half of the population of this planet is women. If you were on a dig site, would you ignore fifty percent of your discoveries? Of course you wouldn't. You'd make the most of whatever you found. I don't know what your father's problem is, but I'd hate to see it passed down to you. Women are a fact of life, Mr. Raimi. There isn't any place you can hide to avoid them. They won't always do what you want or be what you expect. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about."
He smiled. "You're not like the other women who teach here, Dr. Covington."
"How so?" she asked as she made a few more notations on his paper.
He shrugged. "You're very honest and direct. Not very Southern." He thought a few moments more. "And fearless. I think that's why a lot of women look up to you."
Janice laughed at that. "Actually, Fred, I'm hungover. Granted, it looks a lot like fearless, but there are subtle differences." She paused, making up her mind. "I'll give you some free advice. There is a simple reason that so many women are enrolling in my classes." Several thoughts flashed through her mind but she managed to keep the smile from her lips as she spoke. "I don't treat them any differently than the men. I expect as much, not less, from them and I'm demanding, not patronizing. If you've any interest in being popular with the women on campus, don't treat them like 'women', treat them like human beings. You'll get razzed by your friends, but you'll have dates on Saturday nights."
He blushed again. Dating advice was the last thing he expected when he'd come to turn in his paper. In fact, everything about this encounter was not what he'd expected. "Why did you go into archeology?" he asked quietly. "Was it your father?"
Taking a long drag from her cigar, she held the smoke in her mouth for a moment before slowly exhaling. "Yes and no. My father taught me about the seedy side of archeology. He was driven, obsessed even, with finding out the truth about Xena." She shook her head. "Archeology isn't about truth, philosophy is. Archeology is about facts. Originally I entered the profession because it was what I knew, what I loved, what I felt a part of. Lately it's because I've developed a respect for the past. A genuine affection for people centuries dead, a passion for events that happened long ago. I want facts Fred, and the truth."
"But you just said archeology wasn't about truth," her student asked, perplexed.
"I also come from an unconventional line of archeologists," Janice replied. "Pop wanted the truth, not necessarily facts. I want both. Understanding the facts gives one a picture of the truth, just be ready for that truth to change from time to time." She smiled and blew a small puff of smoke towards his face. He blinked, startled, then noticed he'd been holding his breath. "Here, Fred, have a cigar." She fished one out of her drawer and lit it as he tentatively puffed. "You did a hell of a job on this paper. I'd say it's in the 'B' range. Let's face it, you did rush it. Work on it over the break and send it back to me. Let's see if we can get it up to an A. If you come back next term, it couldn't hurt. Right?"
He beamed as he stood, extending his hand. "Thank you, Dr. Covington," he said, shaking her hand firmly.
"Any time, Mr. Raimi," she replied, smiling as he departed. Thoughtfully, she put out her cigar and glanced at her pocket watch. She'd taken a while with her student, hopefully long enough to bore Prof. Byron into leaving. With a chuckle at the flowers perched in the drinking glass, she grabbed her keys and headed for the door. "Let's go, Argo."
"Not trying to sneak away are you?" Byron's voice echoed across the near deserted hallway from where he'd been gazing out the third story window. There was something mildly taunting in his voice that set Janice on edge.
She sighed, resigned to her fate. "Not at all, Dr. Byron, coffee it is."
"I'd appreciate it if you'd call me William," he encouraged quietly as they headed down the stairs. "As long as there aren't any students around."
"Fine," Janice replied, her opinion of the eager young man sinking another notch. "Pretentious and boring," she thought as they walked across campus. There was little about the man that held her interest and she failed to see why he'd chosen her for this misplaced crush. He was only slightly taller than her, with pale blond hair and light brown eyes. His build was slim, and she doubted he'd done much field work. He did not look the sort of man who could handle days on end at 110-degree heat. His speech was crisp and clipped, betraying his New England upbringing. Maybe it was the Yankee thing she decided. Like Fiona Cyrene, they were outsiders in the land of Dixie. Surely, she reasoned, he could find more suitable company from the faculty of the Home Economics department.
As they entered the small cafe Janice noticed several female heads turn in their direction. Looking objectively at her companion she supposed he was handsome. Not that she would have found him particularly attractive even if she were remotely interested in men. No, she found the dark sculpted features of Melinda Pappas much more captivating. In comparison, William Byron was rather vague.
"Do you mind if I call you Jan?" he asked as they were seated at a small table by the window.
"Yes," Janice answered flatly without thinking. He blinked at her in surprise. "I hate being called Jan," she explained when it appeared a simple answer was too much for the young professor. Idly she wondered if he was trying to bait her, or just thick.
"Pity," he replied, smiling, as he gazed at Janice, "Jan is such a lovely name."
"If you say so, Bill," she said as she glanced out the window, noting his frown out of the corner of her eye.
After a moment's reflection he laughed. "Touche."
Something on the floor caught Janice's eye. She gazed down noting a discarded newspaper. It had taken all of her effort to simply make it to the university in one piece. She'd not picked up a paper. She leaned over in her chair and picked it up off of the floor. The headline, as usual, was about the war. British forces had just defeated the German troops at el Alamein in Egypt. The Suez Canal was still under Allied control for now. It was another article however that caught her eye. Theft in Athens, the headline read. Authorities were puzzled by the modest heist.
"Pity about the drawings," William commented, taking note of where her eyes rested on the paper.
"What happened?" she asked.
He shrugged, watching her carefully as he answered. "I read that article this morning. Apparently someone broke in to the Acropolis museum in Athens and made off with a number of large drawings. The drawings were ancient renderings of a number of friezes, statues, that sort of thing. Not a total loss though."
"Why do you say that?" Janice asked, folding the paper and setting it aside. She'd read the article when she got home.
"Several of the drawings were of antiquities currently housed in museums all over the world. I didn't pay it much notice. It had little to do with Egypt after all."
Janice nodded, making a mental note to research the topic further. It might be a coincidence, then again it might not. When the waitress arrived, William ordered coffee for them both. After a consious effort, Janice found herself warming to her companion. He was trying so hard to impress her, it was difficult not to be flattered. The waitress returned shortly thereafter and smiled warmly at Janice as she poured her coffee.
"So what are your plans for winter break?" William asked, drawing Janice's eyes away from the departing form of their waitress.
"Oh, I don't know," she replied casually. "Might do some traveling. I miss California, maybe I'll spend some time in Hollywood. It would be nice to get out of the cold."
"Ah, a warm climate Yankee," he said smiling, sipping his coffee. "I'm surprised you're not going on some expedition or other." He nodded pointedly at the folded paper she had adopted. "Perhaps something in Greece? Several members of the department are doing just that, research during break."
"That's true," Janice agreed. "I know Fi is heading to Ireland and I think Dr. Scully is heading to New Mexico. Chaco Canyon, I believe." She chose her next words carefully, wondering briefly if this eager young man could be a plant of Leesto's. "While Greece is lovely this time of year, it is occupied by Germany at the moment. Contrary to my reputation, I don't travel into war zones lightly."
"Well, you were in Macedonia six months ago," he countered, studying her intently.
"And I wasn't happy about it," she replied. "Had I not been on the verge of discovering the scrolls, I'd have been well away from there. Now that their discovery is ready for the history books, the legwork completed, I've earned some time off to write to my heart's content. Now, my good man, is the time to publish." She toasted him with her coffee and hoped she'd been believable. Then again he seemed too young and idealistic to be of much use to Leesto. The pup would probably have fallen for her too. "So, William. What are your plans for break?" she asked.
"I plan to pay a surprise visit to an old friend," he answered smiling, as he launched into a detailed description of all he wanted to do and see during his time off. With a little luck, she decided, he'd carry the entire conversation by himself.
Indiana Jones pulled up to the white mansion on Franklin Street, grateful the dean had insisted he use his car while in town. His eyes widened in appreciation of the immaculate black Auburn in the parkway next to a new truck. It was easy to envision the two women who lived inside as living representations of their cars. Melinda Pappas could very easily be a 1938 Auburn while Janice Covington was every bit a pick-up truck. Pandora, a large black woman with smiling eyes, greeted him at the door. She took his hat and coat and led him through the entryway to the living room where Melinda stood waiting. "So good of you to come, Dr. Jones. I'm sorry but Janice isn't home yet. May I get you a drink?"
He nodded, looking around the elegantly furnished living room. "Sure, but please, call me Indy. I hear the word 'doctor' and think of my dad. I'm not old enough to be him yet. I'd like bourbon if you've got it."
Melinda laughed. "I think you saw from Janice's little display last night that there isn't an alcoholic beverage known to man that we don't have on hand. I don't know what's keeping her, she must have gotten tied up at the university."
Indy walked to the small bar where Melinda prepared their drinks: a tall glass of sweet iced tea for herself in addition to his bourbon. "It happens to me all the time. This is her first term teaching, isn't it?"
"Yes. I don't think she's ready to admit it, but she loves it. She's so passionate about it. But you know Janice; she's passionate about everything."
"I suppose," he agreed. "How long have you known her?"
Mel smiled, a slight blush coloring her cheeks. "A little over six months. But, truly, it feels like I've known her for a lifetime."
He nodded and walked over to the fireplace. Janice Covington and her passionate nature were not his favorite topics of discussion. Still, there was no reason to vent his personal bias about Janice to her lover, so he tried a new topic instead. "Are these Xena's?" he asked, studying the breastplate and staff that were mounted over the fireplace.
"The breastplate belonged to Xena, the staff belonged to a bard named Gabrielle."
"I'm surprised they aren't in the university's museum. Aren't you worried about someone trying to steal them?" he asked, noting the secure mountings that held the artifacts to the wall.
Melinda shook her head, handing her guest his drink. "We were paid a visit this summer by a thug of Leesto's. Argo bit off three of the man's fingers and took a chunk out of his thigh. No one's tried since. Pandora, that'd be Pandora Booth my housekeeper, and her family stay here when we're gone. Janice thinks they're safer here than they would be in a museum." She stood next to her guest admiring the ancient artifacts.
"They're unlike anything I've ever seen," he commented. "What time frame do you place them in?" he asked peering closely at the detail work of Xena's breast plate.
Mel smiled as she sipped her drink. Indiana Jones certainly had the 'bug' as she called it. An absolute fascination with anything older than their country. "Well, we've run into a bit of trouble placing Xena's exact time frame. We'll need some more evidence to be sure, but if the scrolls are accurate, a lot of other scholars are going to have to rewrite their history books." Her attention was diverted by voices at the front door. Inwardly she gave a sigh of relief. Janice was home at last.
"Hello, Indy." A icy voice called from the doorway to the living room. Melinda started, seeing a woman she didn't recognize. The woman was short, Janice's size with dark hair that curled at the ends. She was pretty, and judging from the expression on her face, furious.
"Marion!" Indy exclaimed in surprise, "What are you doing here?"
"Oh, I'll bet you're surprised to see me. 'Stay in DC,' you said. 'It'd be a boring trip.' I can see that you're quite bored..."
"Marion, please." Indy cut in, gesturing to Mel. "This is Melinda Pappas, and it isn't what you think."
"Going to see an old colleague?" Her voice rose in fury as she stormed into the room. "Funny, you've never mentioned this particular colleague before." She quickly looked Mel up and down. "She's beautiful. Can't imagine why you've kept her a secret." She shook her head as her voice tightened with emotion. "Indiana, I've told you how I feel about people who cheat. I've been there, on the receiving end of it, and I'm not going there again..."
"Ah, hi. Marion is it?" Melinda said rushing over with her hand extended, "I'm afraid this has been a terrible misunderstanding..."
"Hello, Marion," a new voice said from the entryway.
Marion spun at the sound to face the source of the voice. "Janice Covington," she said, smiling without a trace of amusement in her voice. "It's been a long time."
Janice shrugged. "Not long enough for you I'd expect."
"You got that right. But still, there's something I've wanted to say to you for some time..." She walked over to where Janice stood, waiting. In an instant her fist came up, striking Janice across the jaw with a solid right cross. Spinning from the impact, Janice landed face down on the hardwood floor. Mel rushed to Janice's side as Indy shook his head and rolled his eyes. It was going to be one of those evenings.
"I take it you're still mad?" Janice asked quietly when she rolled over to a seated position, gingerly touching her bleeding lip.
"Still mad?" Marion seethed. "You have no idea how long it took me to get mad in the first place. For months, Janice, I believed you, believed your reasons and your cowardice. I was so ready to take the blame for it all. I invested two years of my life with you, two years that you disregarded in an instant..."
With Mel's help, Janice stood and glared back at Marion. "I never expected you to take the blame for anything." she said. "I did, however, expect you to shoulder some of the responsibility for why it didn't work. And I did not disregard our two years together in an instant..."
"Like hell you didn't!" Marion shouted. "You waited until you were fully entrenched with Tiffany before cutting me loose. You were cheating on me for months!"
"It wasn't as if we had any kind of understanding, Marion. You didn't want that, remember?" Janice shook her head sadly. This had probably been one of the worst days of her life. "I'm not proud of what I did. You're right, it was wrong. I was selfish and treated you unfairly, I'm sorry."
Mel rushed back to the bar to get a napkin to staunch the flow of blood from her lover's lip. Her eyes narrowed in anger at the sound of Marion's next words: "I regret nothing like the day I met you, Janice Covington. You were the worst thing to ever happen in my life."
"I thought your Uncle Albert had that distinction," Janice asked, apparently unaffected by the coldness of her former lover's words.
"It's one thing to be hurt by someone you hate," Marion shot back livid, "quite another to be destroyed by someone you love."
"Destroyed, my ass," Janice replied, taking the napkin that Mel offered. "If it means that much to you, go ahead, take another swing,"
Marion's fist was halfway to Janice's face when Mel caught her arm in a vise-like grip. "Those lips are mine." Mel said quietly, her eyes like ice, "and you've damaged them enough for one evening." Marion's eyes widened in surprise at the quiet threat threaded through the taller woman's voice. The fight left Marion Ravenwood and was replaced by fear as Melinda Pappas released her grip.
Pandora rushed into the room with a wet towel and delicately dabbed at Janice's bleeding face. "Dinner is ready," she announced to the awkward foursome. "I've set another place." She nodded in Marion's direction. "Take your seats, just give me a minute with Miz Covington." When no one moved Pandora spoke again, "Mr. Jones, you have business here. Miz Ravenwood, the car that brought you drove off. Unless you want to walk back to town in the cold, you'll stay and have some pot roast." Too shocked to do otherwise, Indy and Marion headed through the indicated doorway. Mel headed toward Janice, but the black woman shook her head. "Seat your guests Melinda. I'll bring Miz Wolf in shortly." Mel nodded and followed her guests.
"Waf ub at ab out?" Janice asked around a mouthful of towel.
"Hush, child. They needs to settle down. There's too much anger with you and Miz Marion in the same room. Let her make peace with Melinda." Janice nodded, looking glum, getting a chuckle from Pandora.
"Waf?" Janice asked accusingly.
Pandora threw an affectionate arm around her charge and led her to the dining room. "You sure have a way with women, Janice Covington."
Seated at the table, Marion glanced at Indy and Melinda. "I'm sorry, Miss Pappas," she said formally. "I didn't realize, you and Janice... I owe you an apology too, Indy."
"I'm not the one you should apologize to," Mel said primly taking her seat across from Indy. Janice and Marion would be sitting across from each other. "Out of striking distance," Mel hoped.
"Marion," Indy said, his voice gentle. "My dad had some papers he wanted me to give to Janice. I knew it'd only upset you, which is why I didn't mention it. How did you find me anyway?"
Marion glanced at him with a wry smile. "You left your itinerary at my place, you big oaf. I knew you were at the university so I just called the dean. He was very helpful." The smile left her face and the laughter faded from her voice as Janice entered the dining room, towel still held next to her face. With a neutral glance at Marion, she took the seat between Mel and Indy.
"Now that you're here, Indy, what was it you wanted me to see?" she said as clearly as she could, wincing from the pain of using her mouth.
"Right," he said nodding as he reached into the pocket of his trousers. "This." He handed Janice a folded piece of paper. She unfolded it as Indy explained, "This is a rubbing from a sarcophagus belonging to Sir Glenford of Nottingham. He fought in the First Crusade and traveled through Greece. He eventually made his way to the Scottish Highlands where he died. A contact of my father's included this in some other information he requested involving the Grail."
Janice studied the paper as Mel looked over her shoulder. "Do you mind, Janice?" Mel asked gently.
"Sure," Janice agreed, handing the paper over. "You read it."
Mel adjusted her glasses and in a rich voice read the text. "And the Knight, though he shone with the virtues of Christendom, did not wear his beliefs like a badge or a shroud. Instead he delighted the Clan with tales of their own history that he had heard long ago on his travels. Telling stories of the Children of Solari he endeared himself to them and was considered a MacGab of their own blood. So rich was his vision of the Warrior Princess and Bard it seemed to all impossible that the gentle Knight was not of their blood as well. The MacGabbers cared for his injuries which were many, laying him to rest when the Lord called him home, in the honored tomb of their family." Mel blinked when she was finished. "That's what it says all right, only it doesn't make much sense. And that's the second time today I've heard mention of Solari," she said frowning at Janice.
Janice shook her head, puzzled. "First Crusade," she murmured, thinking. "That would be 1096 to 1099. It was proclaimed by Urban II to aid the Greeks against the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor, among other things."
"Right," Indy agreed. "Nicaea in Anatolia was captured in June of 1097. Antioch in Syera was captured in June 1098, Jerusalem in July 1099."
"So this knight was in Greece and heard the stories of the Children of Solari. Any idea what that means?" she asked.
Indy pulled another folded piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to Janice. "My father wondered about that as well. At first he thought it might be related to the Grail. These are his notes," he said handing the papers over.
"What about the Clan MacGab?" she asked as she began to read the elder Jones' notes.
Indiana shook his head. "Dad didn't find out much about them. It's a family name centered around a remote part of the Scottish Highlands. There is a crest and specific tartans associated with the Clan but he didn't find out much more. I guess they kept pretty much to themselves."
"Perhaps eventual descendants of Xena and Gabrielle's family?" Melinda wondered.
Janice nodded as she glanced through the notes quickly. The elder Jones' writing was clean and readable. "It says here that 'Children of Solari' was a name given to a specific Amazon tribe. I would guess it's the tribe that Gabrielle belonged to. I suppose it would make sense. That tribe knew the stories of their Bard-Queen. If Solari had a number of children and they were especially good story tellers and passed the stories down, they could pick up a name like that." She read further, her eyes widening in surprise, "It also says here that the Children of Solari are pictured on a temple frieze. Your father made a note to contact the curator at the Acropolis museum at Athens."
Indiana Jones nodded. "He did. Apparently the actual frieze has long since been destroyed, but the original plans for that particular frieze still exist. They are at the museum."
"Plans," Janice repeated. "You mean as in drawings?"
Hours later Janice Covington sat at her desk in the cozy study brooding. She held two halves of a Celtic medallion in her hand. Absently she studied the intricate detail then gazed off into space.
"Am I interrupting anything?" Melinda asked from the doorway.
Janice glanced up, her breath catching in her throat. Melinda stood, framed by the doorway in nothing save for a black slip. One thing was for certain, Janice Covington never got used to the sheer beauty of Melinda Pappas. Every time she laid eyes on her statuesque lover she had to remind herself that she was not, in fact, dreaming.
"No, Mel. Come on in, I was just thinking," Janice replied with a smile.
Mel gracefully walked into the room, and rested her hip on Janice's desk.
"Janice, you're not thinking. You're brooding." She glanced at the newspaper folded to a specific article on the desk. "What are you brooding about?"
Janice snorted, shaking her head sadly. "I don't know, Mel. Xena, me, the shitty things I've done and the mistakes I've made. And wondering what in blazes happened to Xena and Gabrielle after they died, and how their descendants ended up in Scotland."
Melinda was quiet for several long moments before drawing a gentle finger along her lover's cheek. "Janice," she whispered. "I've drawn you a bath. Would you please come and take it? The newspaper article will be here in the morning. The rubbing and Dr. Jones' notes will be here, and Xena and Gabrielle will still have a mystery for you to solve. For tonight I want to talk with the woman I love and see if I can get some sense into her think head without causing bodily harm." She reached for Janice's hand to lead the woman from the study. "Tonight, when you got home, Argo wasn't with you. Where was she?"
Taking Mel's hand in hers, Janice brought it to her lips and kissed the palm softly, wincing at the throbbing of her painfully swollen lip. "I sent her out back with Pandora."
Mel's eyes widened in understanding. "You heard Marion's voice from the front door, and knew she was here, didn't you? You knew she'd attack you."
Janice shook her head. "I didn't know that for sure, but I knew if Marion did she'd be justified."
"I don't see it that way," Mel replied flatly.
Janice cast her eyes to the floor, unable to look at her lover. "Everything she said was true, Mel, all of it."
Mel smiled as she drew Janice's face up with a gentle hand under her chin. "You can tell me about it while you're in the tub."
Following Mel to the bathroom Janice felt utterly spent. Sensing her exhaustion, Mel helped her lover out of her clothes, talking a few moments to massage her knotted shoulders. "All in all, I reckon dinner went rather well," Mel commented as Janice lowered herself into the steaming bath water.
"If 'rather well' means that no one was killed, I suppose so. The pot roast was good though." She sat motionless as Melinda soaped up a wash cloth and used it to caress her back.
"When was the last time you saw Marion?" Mel asked quietly.
"About six years ago," Janice replied. An involuntary sigh escaped her lips as Mel rinsed the soap from her back. Her body began to relax, urging her mind to follow suit. "Marion and I met when we were teenagers. Our fathers were on the same dig in Egypt. Abner Ravenwood was independent enough that associating with Harry the Grave Robber didn't bother him too much. He and my dad were kindred spirits. Pop looking for the Scrolls, Abner searching for the Ark of the Covenant. Marion and I became good friends. A couple of years later we got reacquainted in California, at Berkley. Abner was teaching, Pop was selling some artifacts. I enrolled in collage with Marion."
"But I thought Diana was your first." Mel asked as she gently washed Janice's arms.
Janice nodded, saying, "She was. Marion um... consoled me when that fell apart. We spent a lot of time together as friends, and well, things changed. We were together for two years until that too fell apart."
"What about her Uncle Albert?" Mel asked, tenderly caressing Janice's breasts with the soapy washcloth.
"Abner's brother, Albert," Janice said with a grimace. "He was a violent man. Drank too much and got into fights. He'd never hit Marion if Abner was around, but Abner wasn't always around. He was there in Egypt for a time. The bastard even took a swing at me."
"So that's why Marion solves her problems with her fists?"
Janice shook her head. "Our break-up was rather long and drawn out. What can I say, it was messy. It didn't have to be. Certainly not as messy as it was, and that was my fault. I was more interested in protecting Tiffany and myself and left her hanging out to dry. Marion has every reason to hate me."
"Perhaps," Mel agreed as she shifted to wash Janice's neck. "But we all make mistakes. It's not as if you were a crazed warlord burning the countryside."
Janice shook her head. "It's not as if I've done the good Xena has done either, Melinda."
"You're good for me, Janice," Mel said moving into her lover's field of vision so she could look directly into her vibrant green eyes. "Don't underestimate that. I know you, Janice. I suspect that when things fell apart with Tiffany, you didn't repeat your mistakes. I'll wager that you've still not repeated them. Janice, you're the sort of person who learns from her mis-steps sometimes. Okay, so you haven't discovered the connection between drinking and hangovers, but in other areas I see you go forward, not back. Let this guilt go. As you can see, Marion survived. True, she's still got strong feelings for you but that's just the way you are. I've yet to meet someone who doesn't adore you or... ah... strongly dislike you."
"Thanks, Mel, you say the sweetest things," Janice said as she made a small splash in her lover's direction. "But give me a break, I've only been drunk twice in the time I've known you. Last night and when you took the bullet out of my arm." Janice splashed again, this time getting Mel wet.
"Don't even think about it," Melinda warned. "What I don't understand is how you ever ended up with anyone named Tiffany..."
"What? Who me?" Janice asked innocently as she splashed again, more forcefully this time.
In seconds, howls of laugher and splashing echoed through the big house. Pandora paused from where she stood letting herself out at the front door. "I'm glad I just washed towels," she murmured as she closed the door softly behind her.
...Xena stared down at me, her eyes cold, her expression unreadable. She put the end of her staff onto the ground near where I sat helpless on my hands and knees. Taking a step back from me she spoke to one of her captains. "Organize a hunting party. We'll need dried meat for the campaign. And get some men to build an enclosure. These Amazons are going to be our guests for a while. I want them to have suitable accommodations."
"Why don't we just take them back to the village?" one man asked.
"Holding Amazons in their own village? Don't be stupid." She cast her gaze to Ephiny and slowly sauntered over. "Don't be foolish yourself, Ephiny. I've ordered my men to shoot the first Amazon that makes a bird call," she drawled. "Anything happens to any of my men and it'll be two Amazons who suffer for each of my men injured. You cooperate with me and I might not burn the village on my way out of town."
Xena walked by me again, without saying a word. She did look at me though, I honestly don't think she could help it. She barked several more orders to her men: telling them where to make camp, how to set up the watches. She explained that the Amazons travel through the trees and ordered effective defensive measures. There was no doubt about it, this was Xena the warlord.
"Ares said to kill the bard right away," one of her men commented.
"Are you questioning my orders, Piros?" Xena asked in a deceptively light voice. "You don't think food for the men and a secure enclosure for the prisoners are good ideas?"
After meeting those cold blue eyes he shook his head emphatically. "Yes, Princess, they are good ideas. No, Princess, I am not questioning your orders."
"That's good, Piros," Xena purred. "Because nothing upsets me quite like disobedience. And nothing angers Amazons quite like killing their queen. It wouldn't do to throw away our most powerful bargaining chip, now would it?" The terrified soldier bowed deeply then hurried to join his detachment.
I sat tied up with the other Amazons for the rest of the day. The pain from my dislocated shoulder was agonizing, even after Ephiny had set it. She slammed her open palm against my back with surprising speed and force. Before I could react the shoulder joint was back where it belonged and I was on the ground, sobbing. My legs were tied to the line of other Amazons but I scarcely noticed.With surprising speed a large cage was constructed before our very eyes. When it was finished, we were unceremoniously ushered inside. After that, the makings of a war camp materialized around the wooded glen where we were held captive. Tents were erected, fires built, training exercises took place. It was clear that Xena intended to stay for a few days, training her troops, gathering supplies for her army. Whenever she was in my line of vision, I watched her. I put everything I had into those unflinching stares, trying to glimpse the woman I loved. Sometimes she returned the eye contact, sometimes not. When she looked at me, I felt cold to my very core. The face was Xena's, but those eyes weren't. She had the eyes of a cold blooded killer.
The hunters were successful and began pulling a variety of game from the rich Amazon hunting grounds. These men were competent and skilled. They behaved with disciplined efficiency, splitting tasks among themselves and working together. I shuddered to think how they would perform in battle. By nightfall they'd divided into teams of watches, patrolling the perimeter of the camp, watching those of us in the cage and scanning the treetops for signs of other Amazons. Things looked pretty bleak.
"Any ideas?" Ephiny asked me quietly.
I shook my head. I had none. "I don't know what's happened to her. If I could talk to her, maybe I could do something."
"I think she knows it," Ephiny agreed. "You've seen how she's been avoiding you. Not really looking at you. It's as if she's trying to pretend that you're not here. I'm sorry, Gabrielle, but if she plans to attack, the Amazons and Centaurs will fight her."
"I know," I whispered. "Somehow I've got to get through to her before she makes that mistake."
Around midnight I stood looking out beyond the bars of my cage to the mostly still camp beyond. There was no moon, the only light came from fires scattered around the camp. As a precaution we'd decided to keep watches of our own, not trusting Xena or her guards. Everyone else was asleep, and the guards posted around the cage were silent in their duties. I looked around at my companions, they were all ready to die in battle against the woman who held my heart. How I didn't hear her approach I don't know, but when I looked up, there she was.
"Xena!" I whispered.
"Gabrielle," she replied looking at me appraisingly. "How's the arm?"
The sound of my name rolling off her tongue, like a caress, did the same thing to me it always did. I felt my knees getting weak and pulse doubling. "It hurts. Ephiny set it," I replied unable to tear my eyes away from hers. I knew the love I felt for her was evident on my face, but there was nothing I could do about it. "You don't have to do this," I said pressing myself against the bars of my cage to get as close to my love as I could.
She shrugged. "Perhaps it's my destiny."
I shook my head defiantly, "It doesn't have to be. You've proven that time and again. Whatever pain you suffered at the hands of Ulysses, it doesn't have to make you... this."
She looked away for a moment before turning back to me. She put her hands on the bars of my cage and pulled her body close. Eyes of ice blue bore into mine as she spoke and I realized why she struck fear into the hearts of so many. "This isn't about Ulysses, Gabrielle. Or Ares for that matter. Rage is who I am. I can wear that rage on the outside and satisfy the fury, or I can keep it locked within, screaming until my mind is deaf from the din. I thought I could change my calling, Gabrielle. But I can't. But I guess you know that, now. So, what were you doing here? You said you were going home."
"Xena," I said, covering her hands with my own. "You were my home, you are my home. Since the day I met you. I could not stand around and watch you with Ulysses, anymore than you could watch me marry Perdicus. I know you sent him away for my benefit, but that didn't erase the hurt of you loving him."
Her hands flinched under mine but she didn't move them. "I did watch you marry Perdicus," she growled.
"Right," I agreed. "But you weren't planning to hang around and watch us raise a family, now were you? Xena, I was hurting, that's why I needed to leave. But that does not mean I stopped loving you, I'm not that strong. You have my heart, Xena, and you always will. If this is what you choose to do with it," I said indicating the cage, "I can't stop you. But it doesn't change how I feel. I really thought your feelings for me ran as deep."
Her beautiful blue eyes were so cold as they stared down at me. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, Gabrielle," she said as she withdrew her hands from beneath mine. "You were most... diverting, make no mistake about that. But the time for diversions is past. If you push me to kill you, I will, and without hesitation. I suggest you remember that."
"Xena, find the courage to admit you've made a mistake," I pleaded as she turned and walked away.
"That didn't go well," Ephiny commented from behind me.
I nodded, trying to fight back tears.
"Get some sleep, Gabrielle." She said gently. "Solari and I will keep watch. I've seen movement in the trees. I think our sisters are going to try to get us some... help."
"It's too dangerous!" I whispered fiercely, drawing the attention of a guard.
"Just sleep, Gabrielle," Ephiny said, with a quick glance to the guard. Her tone was unmistakable. In my current state of mind I was a liability, not an asset. So, with my heart heavy I curled up on the forest floor and in time, slept.
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