Part 2 of 4
by Anne Azel
Disclaimer: The character of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.
My thanks to the many readers who have been so supportive of this series. You are the best! Thanks also to Lisa and Inga, my patient and hard working beta readers. The stories in this series interrelate and should be read in the order they are posted.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction, please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
The dream was always the same. It recalled the nauseating feeling of drug-induced disorientation, as body and mind tried to function efficiently in a cotton wool existence. The dream brought back the memories of how the hot spots of pain became a positive, reminding her that she was still alive and part of a physical world. The pain was, on days when she was too weak and drugged to open her eyes, her only link with reality.
She woke with a started, the sweat dripping and her heart pounding. The dream faded and her mind shifted to those long days of recovery. When she was able to communicate rationally again, the doctor had asked her how she had survived the torture. How had she not broken? It was so easy, all I did was focus on the one thing I had left undone, she thought. The only thing left to live for - revenge. I couldnt die you see, not until I got revenge. Once I knew this, survival was easy. I would never talk because to do so would have resulted in immediate execution. I didnt break and I didnt die and now Ive earned my revenge.
But she didnt say this. The doctor would have said she was still medically unfit if she had. No, instead she had responded that she tried to do her duty and not betray her fellow soldiers. For this, they had given her a medal for valor. She never wore it on her regimentals. It would be a lie.
Her head shifted and she looked out the window. The sun was just starting to bring colour to the night sky. Worship the sun god when he rises on the eastern horizon of heaven. Where the hell had that come from? Cheops. She had read it off the walls in that mastaba. What had she said? - that it was verses from the Book of the Dead.
There it was again, the light knocking on her door. It was Cheops. Years ago, they had decided on a signal knock, two short, one long, so that Willy would know who was there and not over react. Willy rolled out of bed and walked over to the door, opening it without concern. Cheops stood there holding a breakfast tray.
"It is still dark so Im safe under the banner of truce, right?"
Willy nodded too weak and confused from her drug induced dreams to think straight. Cheops slipped into the room placing the tray on the vanity. Then she came back and took the doorknob out from under Willys hand and closed the door. "Hey, are you sick? You have a fever. Youre all sweaty. Come and lie down again, okay," she whispered, gently leading the warrior over to the bed, as a mother would lead a child.
Willy allowed herself to be pushed down on the bed. She felt like she was watching from far away as Cheops fluffed the pillow and helped her settle back. She disappeared into the bathroom and returned with a damp, cool cloth to wipe Willys face. "There. Is that better? What is it, Will? You know that you can trust me to keep your secret. What happened?"
The cool cloth felt so good. The smell of coffee too, seemed wonderful. Willys eyes drifted over to the tray. Cheops smiled and went and got the tray and placed it on the bedside table. She poured Willy a cup of black coffee and passed it to her. Their fingers touched as Cheops reached out to steady Willys shaking hands that grasped the cup.
Connected suddenly with her lost soulmate, Willy blurted out what she had no intention of sharing with Cheops. "I was tortured, drugs and electrodes, for a long time. I get dreams sometimes." Cheops nodded and waited. "The drugs, they still sometimes cause a rush and I get kinda - sick."
Again Cheops nodded. "Here, I brought you some rolls and fruit for breakfast. Try and eat, okay." She took the cup from Willys hands and offered her a basket of freshly baked, warm sweet rolls. Willy took one and tore off half, offering it to Cheops. The archaeologist looked surprised and then smiled softly taking the bread. "Thanks."
"It wont work.," Willy informed her.
Cheops looked up startled. "What wont?"
"Trying to show me youre sorry."
Cheops felt the anger boil up like magma from deep inside her. Who the hell did Will think she was, dumping the responsibility of fate on her! Shed lost a child too and a foot. And Will had walked out on her, left her to face her grief and pain alone in the hospital! It should be Will who was sorry! She swallowed; anger was not going to make the situation better. Will was not rational, that was clear.
"I love you, Will."
"No, dont say it. Dont even think it."
Tears welled in Cheops eyes. She got up and softly let herself out.
They took the mini-bus to Sakkara right after breakfast. From long experience at running this tour, Cheops knew better than to start her lecture this early in the morning. She left her charges to digest their breakfast in sleepy contemplation of the desert landscape.
It was Betty who broke the morning quiet by bouncing to the front of the bus to ask about the tall, conical shaped structures that she had seen in backyards. "Hey, Cheops. What is that in peoples backyards?" asked Betty pointing to one of the unusual structures as they slipped past in the bus. They were about twenty feet tall and had holes in rows around the cone from the top to about half way down.
"Those are pigeon roosts. Pigeon meat is highly prized as a delicacy in Egypt," explained Cheops.
"They eat pigeons! Like ya find in Central Park!?"
Cheops nodded with a smile. "It is a tender, white meat. Really, it is very nice."
"Did ya hear that Abe?! When we get home, Im getting you a net and well export frozen pigeon dinners to Egypt." Everybody laughed.
"Oh yeah, Im gonna sell New York pigeons to Egypt! They got so much pollution in them, theyd combust if you tried to cook em!" protested Abe.
"Hey, America could use them as a new secret weapon!" suggested Bob, " Do they eat pigeon in Iraq?"
Betty ignored him. "There is money and fame in this, Im telling you Abe," Betty teased. "The mayor will give you a medal for getting rid of the darn things!" The bus laughed at the interplay between the New York couple, and now, more awake than before, they started to talk amongst themselves.
Bob leaned over and balanced himself with one arm on Cheops seat. " Listen, Im sorry about last night, Cheops," he said casually with a smile. "I got a little pie-eyed at dinner."
"Moslems do not drink, Mr. Scott. It is not advisable to over indulge; you would not want the people to think less of you," answered Cheops neutrally. A shadow fell over them and Willy pushed Bobs arm aside as she slipped into the seat beside Cheops.
Bob gave her a dirty look and then went back to reading his gaming magazine.
"Having trouble making up your mind if you are my protector or executioner, arent you?" remarked Cheops dryly.
"Shut up," came the soft growl. The rest of the trip was made in silence.
"This was the first of the great pyramids to be built," explained Cheops to her tour group, as they stood outside the entrance to Sakkara. "The Step pyramid of King Zoser was built around 2650 B.C. and really is a series of mastaba built one on top of the other, each level a little smaller than the last."
"As well as the age of this site, and the vision of creating such a structure, this site is significant because you can see here the outer structures around the pyramid. These structures, at most of the other sites, are no longer visible or have been destroyed. Here at Sakkara however, you can see the walls and some of the out buildings quite clearly."
Willy, standing in the background, looked up at the rubble structure of the step pyramid and then off in the distance where the pyramids of Giza could still be seen towering on the horizon. It was impressive. Willy had never taken an interest in archaeology in the heady days of her affair with Cheops. She wished now that she had learned more. Cheops had never pried into her work, knowing that a lot of what Willy did was classified information. In return, Willy had never expressed an interest in Cheops work.
What had they talked about in those days of love? Not very much really. A lot of time had been spent with the kids and the private time had mostly been devoted to love making. Willy had been very self interested and focused on her own work and needs. Cheops had always been willing to understand and co-operate with the soldiers timetable. Id do it better now, Cheops. My priorities have changed a lot. Too bad you are not going to live long enough to know that.
They walked down the long hall of columns that led to the inner court yard, in the centre of which stood the step pyramid of Sakkara. Cheops showed them the ritual pit around which the pharaoh had to run seven times to prove himself fit enough to continue to rule. She also showed them the private shrine where only the high priests and pharaoh could go to make the necessary sacrifices to the gods.
She walked them up the narrow, steep stairs of the parapet and showed them the deep pit that was a shaft leading to underground treasure rooms. She was very aware of Willy standing near by and made sure that she was always facing her. One push from here and Will would have achieved the end she wanted and could easily say that Cheops had lost her balance because of her prosthesis.
She could feel the tautness of her muscles and her palms sweated with the strain. Outwardly, however, she was smiling and relaxed. This cat and mouse game that Will was insisting on, was nerve-wracking in the extreme. But that was what Will wanted, - revenge.
Cheops found her own heart hardening. She had experienced a greater loss than Will and had to live with the guilt of having been the one who had taken the children to Deir El-Bahari.
It was clear now that Will was not the person she had known. Will had been a soldier, yes, but she had been so very honourable. It had been that old fashioned sense of duty and honour that had first attracted Cheops to the warrior. This woman had no sense of what was morally right. Somehow the torture and drugs had warped her mind and killed that beautiful soul that she had known.
She had to forget that this was the person she had once loved. There was only bad blood between them now. If it came to a decision of kill or be killed, Cheops knew that she had to be ready. She was not going to let Will take her life. Like Will, she too was a survivor, but she had survived intact; Will hadnt. She must not forget that.
They moved on to look at some beautiful frescos in one of the back rooms of a small temple before Cheops gave them some free time to walk around and take photographs. For safety, she attached herself to the Brants and discussed health food recipes with them. Willy went off scowling in the other direction.
Willy wandered about aimlessly. She kinda wished that she had brought a camera. Funny, she had been in a lot of countries but had never really taken an interest before. It had always been the enemy that occupied her interests - understanding him, defeating him. Now she was a civilian, retired on a medical pension, and it was like she was seeing the world for the first time.
She sat down in a small patch of shade and rubbed her head. "Hey, Ive got your banana," came the flat voice of Betty. Will looked up to find the New Yorkers standing in front of her. How had they got that close with out her awareness?! Damn, Im sicker than I thought!
"Betty, maybe she dont like bananas!" protested Abe.
"You stay out of this, you are only a male, and dont know nothin but how the Mets are doin. Here," insisted Betty, with rough kindness, pushing the banana at Willy.
Willy took it and smiled. "Thanks." She really had no idea how to handle Betty.
Betty took this acceptance speech on the part of Willy as an excuse to sit down. "Abe and I had two sons who fought in the Gulf War. Josh, our youngest, was a P.O.W. for three days but then he got lucky and escaped."
Will smiled ruefully. "I didnt get lucky." Then she added to try and change the subject, "You and Abe been married long?" She waited for an answer as she peeled the banana.
"Fifty years! Can you imagine that?" Abe beamed, petting Bettys shoulder affectionately.
Bettys round face lit up with love. "It hasnt been so bad. Of course, he promised me minks and diamonds and Im still waitin for them!" The two older lovers laughed. "You got someone special in your life?"
"Thats a shame because there is nothin quite like the bond between two people that were meant to be together," observed Betty, giving Abe a poke. Abe rolled his eyes good naturedly.
"Shes told me this so often, Ive started to believe it!" joked Abe and Willy laughed.
"Marriages dont seem to last nowadays," Will observed, as she looked moodily after Cheops, who was walking some distance away with the Brants. Bettys sharp eyes noted the glance and she smiled softly.
"People think marriage is about sex and love. Well, it aint about neither. You can have sex with anyone..."
"Well, you can Abe! And as for love, well you fall in and out of love all your life, one way or another."
"Listen to her," scoffed Abe.
Willy smiled. "So what is marriage then, if it isnt based on love and sex?"
"Friendship and forgiveness. Ya gotta know in your heart that your partner wants the best for you no matter how short they might fall from meeting that goal. Ya gotta forgive them for bein human. Course rich people are humans too, I always used to remind my boys. No harm in looking for a partner at the full end of the trough!"
Willy laughed whole heartedly and popped the last of her banana into her mouth. "Thanks, for the banana and the advise."
"Betty mothers everyone," observed Abe happily. "Our boys adore her. In fact, they paid for this anniversary trip!"
"Nice kids," observed Willy.
"They done good, both of them. Abe, hes always wanted to see the pyramids. I wasnt sure about coming to these foreign parts. Ya know a lot of these foreigner dont like Americans. There were two terrible terrorist attacks in the last few years, right here!"
Willy paled and the banana peel slipped from her fingers. She bent to pick it up to cover her gut reaction. The older couple did not seem to notice. "I said to John, hes my oldest, if anything happens to us, sell the house and kill the cat."
"What?!" exclaimed Willy, completely taken by surprise.
"Bootsy, my poor baby, would be miserable without us. Weve had her for fifteen years. The boys are good, but they wouldnt spoil her like I do. No, Id want her put down so Id know her life had been good."
"Good," snorted Abe, "If the house was burning, shed save the cat before shed look for me!"
Betty batted him playfully. "So why would I run into a burning building to save someone that should be smart enough to get out themselves?!"
The three of them laughed and then walked over to join the rest of the group in the court yard so that they could walk out together and meet their bus. Cheops saw Will laughing with the Laytons, that amazing flash of white that transformed the hard lines of Wills face into sparkling beauty.
She felt a pang of jealousy very deep in her gut and turned away. "This way, ladies and gentlemen; we will be going to a lovely cafe by the Nile where they bake the bread fresh for you in a village wood-burning oven. Well have a nice break, then hurry to the airport to catch our flight. From here, we will be flying 300 miles up the Nile Valley to the city of Luxor."
Obediently, her small party trooped back to the bus. Willy turned to get a last glimpse of Sakkara and beyond it, across the miles of barren desert, the three tall pyramids of Giza on the horizon. "The ancient Egyptians called Sakkara, the Stairway to the Sky," observed Cheops from behind her. Willy nodded and got on the bus without a word. Cheops face hardened in anger as she limped up into the bus.
She had thought that it would be very unpleasant. The three pairs of tourists took their seats on the plane and that meant Cheops had to sit beside Will. She knew that Will had trained originally as a jet pilot with the R.A.F. "Do you still fly?" she asked to break the cold silence.
"No. Im not even allowed to drive at the moment."
"What were you talking to the Laytons about?" she asked, surprising herself at her jealous need to know.
Cheops sighed in frustration and gave her attention to the safety video. After it was over, it was Willy who made the effort to start a conversation, much to Cheops surprise.
"Id do it differently now," she said looking out the window.
"Id be more caring. I just wanted you to know before..."
"Yeah, I know," cut in Cheops bitterly. "Still tying up the loose ends."
"I wish Id taken a greater interest in your work. The last couple of days, Ive learned a lot," Will stated, ignoring Cheops tone. "Its interesting stuff. That Rameses was a great warrior, huh?"
"Yes, Rameses the second, many of the pharaohs were."
Willy looked out the window at the ribbon of green that stretched along the Nile surrounded by the sand of the desert. "Militarily, a fairly good place to defend," Willy observed.
Cheops tried not to smile. "Yes, its isolation from surrounding empires allowed it to have long periods of great political stability. And the spring floods guaranteed refertilized farm lands. Life was good in the Nile Valley."
"You tell good stories. You make the history come alive."
"Thanks. You look better. Are you feeling better?"
"Yes, more clear headed. Betty keeps feeding me bananas," Willy laughed.
"You have a beautiful smile," Cheops found herself saying, despite her resolve to treat this woman as ruthlessly as she was being treated. "When you feel better, you dont want to kill me, do you?"
"Yes, I do!" came the snarl, as ice blue eyes snapped up and took aim.
"No, you dont," came the quick response, as green eyes fired back a challenge. "What if it is only the drugs, Willy? What if you really regret this course of action after the drugs have completely worked through your system."
"I know what Im doing!"
No, you dont, thought Cheops. If you kill me Will, it will kill what you are deep inside. I dont want to die and I dont want you to have to live with the guilt of the revenge you took against me while under the influence of drugs.
Cheops decided to change tactics while she had the stoic woman talking. "Why did you bury the children together?"
"They would have been soulmates. He died protecting her. It is what he would have wanted."
"Yes. I agree."
"Planes losing altitude," remarked Willy, turning to look out the window and abruptly ending their conversation. There was doubt there, Cheops reasoned. I just have to be patient and not lose my temper with her. There is still protectiveness and now there is doubt. Im making headway but will it be in time to save my life- and hers?
A new mini bus met them at Luxor and took them to the three story boat that would take them slowly up the Nile to the Aswan Dam. Cheops wondered how far she would get. When would Will decide that she had got her moneys worth and want her revenge? Well, at least she is interested in the archaeology. If she had been bored, I might have been dead already!
They were settled into their teak and brass rooms on the second floor and left to familiarize themselves with the ship. Most by-passed the bar and dining room on the third floor and went to the open upper deck to read, watch the Nile boats or swim in the small pool. Bob left his father talking to the Laytons and Brants and went back down to the bar. Willy went down to the main floor where the crew quarters were and talked to some of the sailors who had served in the Egyptian armed forces and spoke some English. It was there that she met the children.
They were two pairs of huge, dark brown eyes looking out of tan faces, lean with hunger and exhaustion. They sat timidly on sacks of grain watching every move made by the adults around the table. The sailors were uncomfortable sitting and talking with a woman. Will was at ease. As a woman, in an area of the military that rarely accepted females, she was used to male company.
They talked of weaponry and the Gulf War. Will carefully bringing the conversation around to transportation systems along the river and security procedure. After her mission, she would need to get out of the area quickly. She wasnt about to rot away in an Egyptian prison. One of the men turned and gruffly said something to the oldest child. Without a word, she slid from her place and scurried off.
"They are your children?" asked Willy.
"No. Parents die. Deir El-Bahari. Mother, she no good woman. Daddy, he European." The man frowned and pretended he was drinking from a bottle. "No good. He work as foreman on site. Mother, she bring lunch and very bad people they kill so many that day."
Will looked out the porthole and tried to push the emotions back . She nodded her understanding. "Why are they here?"
The big burly man frowned. "Mother, she cousin once of my aunt. She ask, I help. They hid here. Work for crew. They have place to sleep and food to eat. Better than street for them."
The little girl returned with a basket of oranges. The man gave her one and then offered the rest around. The little girl returned to her perch and peeled and shared the orange with her brother.
Will watched them. Small figures in the shadows. Like spirits left wandering after death had passed by. "I want them."
Cheops went up to the bridge and made contact with the tour agency to let them know that they had arrived safely and that everything was going well.
It was later in the afternoon, after seeing to all the ships paper work, that Cheops headed back to her room to shower and change before dinner. She had just unlocked her door when an arm slammed into her back and sent her sprawling into her room.
The girl sat on one bed and her brother on the other. She was afraid but was trying not to show it. Abutti had told her that the woman was going to care for them. The woman had paid Abutti money. Abutti had said the woman was kind and to be good and obedient. She was a farid though. She did not understand what the strange European wanted with them. Europeans, like her father, were infidels.
The woman had said her name was Willy. She had said other things too and Amand had smiled and nodded but she did not really understand. She watched the woman intently as she showed them the bathroom and gestured that they were each to have a bed. Then the woman pretended she was eating. Amand smiled and nodded but the woman did not seem pleased. She looked angry.
She pulled back when the tall, dark woman reached out her hand, but all the woman did was give her a sad smile and pat her hair. Then she went and got some clothes out and disappeared into the bathroom.
Willy refreshed up and slipped into beige slacks and an R.A.F. t-shirt. She was just running a comb through her hair when she heard a thump against her wall. Then another. Loud voices, not quite discernable, came from the room beside hers. Cheops room!
Willy took off at a dead run and barely stopped to open Cheops door before she rushed in. Bob was on the floor looking rather ill and Cheops was deathly white and panting hard as she leaned against the bulkhead. Willy took in the situation in one glance and advanced on the prone son with murder in her eyes.
"Will!" Willy stopped and looked over at Cheops. "Dont hurt him. Just get him out of here!" she asked.
Willy nodded, picked Bob up by the collar and dragged him out of the room, kicking the door closed with her foot. From outside, Cheops heard a number of thumps. A short time later, a soft knock came at the door, two short, one long.
Shakily, Cheops made her way to the door and opened it. Will stood there, looking worried. "You alright?"
Cheops nodded, tears in her eyes. "Can we have a truce for a bit?" Her nerves were now giving way to shock. Bob had been drunk and obnoxious and Cheops had got bounced off the wall several times before she had been able to get her balance by bracing herself in the corner and using one of the chokes Will had taught her to end Bobs clumsy attentions. Will stepped in and scooped her up in her arms, using her foot again to close the door. She carried Cheops over to the bed and carefully lowered her down.
"Hey, you did good. Told you, you didnt need my help," whispered Willy, kneeling beside the bed because Cheops had hold of her and wasnt letting go. They stayed that way for some time; then Will pulled back. She could feel the drugs starting to wave through her system again and taste the chemical smell at the back of her mouth. Time to get out of here. Without a word she stood up and left.
Amand told her small brother not to cry as they listened to the fight next door, eyes wide with fright. Her brother wanted to run back to the hold. Amand explained that they didnt belong to Abutti anymore, but to this strange European woman.
After a while, the tall woman returned looking very angry. The two children sat very still and quiet. The woman seemed to have forgotten them. She sat down on the sofa and buried her head in her hands. Amand wondered if she had been hurt.
Pulling away from her brother, who was trying to stop her, she softly walked over to her new master and pulled gently on her sleeve. The dark head came up and Amand gasped as the full force of those blue eyes met hers. She has the evil eye! And now I am cursed! But the woman called Willy smiled and gave her a quick hug.
The woman talked to her in a soft deep voice that was very nice. Again, she pretended to be eating. Amand nodded seriously knowing not to smile this time. This seemed to please the woman, who smiled softly and hugged her. Then the woman left them. Amand explained to her brother that she thought the woman had said she was going to eat and then she would bring them scrapes. Her brother moved over and sat close to her on the couch while they waited.
Cheops did not show up for dinner. Neither did Bob. After a beautifully served meal, the guests aboard the ship took their coffee up on deck to watch the sun set red over the Nile. Willy pulled Aaron aside. "Youve got to talk to your son," she informed him seriously. "Hes been drinking and hes hit on Cheops a few times."
The old man laughed. "Chip off the old block! I was pretty wild when I was young too!"
Willys face hardened into marble lines of anger. "Let me be a little clearer. Bob stays away from Cheops or that chip of yours is going to be ground to dust, beneath my heel."
"You threatening my boy!" the old man demanded. "Nothin wrong with Bobby, I tell people. Hes just got more wild oats to sow than most."
"No, Im not threatening anyone. Im making you a guaranteed promise," Willy hissed and Aaron drew back in fear. "Keep that idiot away from Cheops!"
Willy went down the stairs two at a time and entered the dinning hall again. "Hey, can you make up a few plates of food for the children and Ill need to take a plate to Cheops too," she asked one of the waiters that she had met on the lower deck earlier that day. He nodded and disappeared into the kitchen. A short time later, he returned with plates of lamb and vegetables, a coffee urn and honey cakes on a huge tray.
"Thanks, put it on my tab." Willy smiled and carefully carried the tray down a floor and along the hall to her room. She gave her new friends a smile, and left some of the plates of food for them. The rest she took to Cheops room. She knocked softly, two short, one long, and waited. Cheops answered wearing only a thin nighty of raw cotton. Willys eyes traveled up and down. She liked what she saw. Okay, admit it, youve still got a thing for Malone! It doesnt matter. It doesnt change anything.
"I needed to talk to you," she stated abruptly.
Willy sighed. "For Gods sakes Malone, yes, truce! Damn it!"
"Malone; you havent called me that since...since before you went away. You always called me by my surname, remember?"
Willy looked uncomfortable. "So what? Im a soldier. Thats how we usually address each other."
"I know. But you never called civilians by their last name, only your military buddies and me. It made me feel that you accepted me into your life. It was a cute term of endearment."
"It was not!"
Cheops smiled and took the tray of food. It was a large tray for the amount of food on it. "Come in. What do you need to talk about?"
Willy looked around the small, beautiful stateroom and, rejecting the couch, she went and sat in one of two green leather arm chairs. Cheops took the other, balancing the tray on the small end table. "Well?"
Willy looked at her hands, then out the window, then cleared her throat and went back looking at her hands.
Cheops waited patiently and quietly ate her meal. Oh Boy! What ever this is, Willy is really upset about it. She only gets this tongue tied when it is something really personal! I hope she didnt do anything to Bob!
"Ahhh, there are these kids. You know, street kids. Nubians. Mixed race actually. Their dad was a European. Their parents were killed at Deir El-Bahari. He was a foreman of a repair crew and she had gone to take him lunch. They got caught in the cross fire."
"Go on," encouraged Cheops.
"Theyre in my room."
"What?!" exclaimed Cheops, pushing her meal away.
"Theyve been working on the ship for scraps. No one wants them. Theyre just kids, Cheops!"
"You are telling me that they are stowaways."
"Well, not exactly. I mean most of the crew knew that they were on board"
"Let me guess, the owners and the captain dont!"
Willy gave a sheepish smile.
Cheops smiled back. "Okay, Will, what do you want?"
"I want you to talk to the captain so that I can buy passage for them. Then tomorrow, well buy them clothes and..."
Cheops took Wills hands. "Will, these are not our children. You cant just take them."
The face went hard, the voice soft and deadly. "Yes, I can." For a long time there were only the harbour sounds, dull and far away.
"Lets go see them," Cheops said and Willy smiled.
"Give me a chance to change," Cheops said. She reached for the clothes that she had left draped over a chair then realized that Will was not leaving. Okay, I can handle this, she thought, glad now that she had sent a message in the afternoon to a University colleague back in Leeds to contact her aboard the ship. He had, she knew, dealt with psychoses in military personnel returning from combat zones.
She was going to need all the help she could get. It wasnt just her own life at stake but Willys and now two children. Willy did not seem to see anything unusual in planning murder and adoption at the same time. Will wasnt fit to be any childs guardian in her present state of mind.
The problem was, how to make Will realize that without making her angry!
Cheops slipped out of her nighty and picked up a pair of lace panties to put on. She didnt look at Will but she knew Will was looking at her. How would Will react to seeing her prosthesis for the first time? Will, whose own body was so physically beautiful and fit, had always loved sports and outdoor activity. Could she still find her attractive, when the last 30 cm. of her right leg was artificial? She could sense Wills eyes on her. She wondered insecurely if Will was looking at her body or her prothesis. Cheops straightened her shoulders; either way, this was who she was and she had to hope that she could rekindle in Will memories of the deep attraction that had once existed between them.
She glanced over at Will. She was definitely looking at her! What Cheops saw burning in those remarkable eyes made her throb with need. For the first time, Cheops began to feel real hope that she could find her old lover again. Your soul isnt really dead, is it Will? You just buried it really deep, so the pain wouldnt rip you apart.
Cheops didnt bother with a bra. She slipped on an over sized T-shirt and a pair of slacks, then she turned to meet Wills eyes. Will rose slowly, like a panther stretching out its long limbs. She moved over to stand right in front of Cheops. "This wont work either," she muttered in a voice rough with desire.
"Yes, it will," Cheops responded softly, as she wrapped her arms around her warriors neck and kissed her with all the passion that had been building over the last two years. Will lifted her and put her up against the bulkhead, their kisses becoming more hungry and searching. When they finally came up for breath, Will was leaning into her and Cheops had wrapped her legs around the waist of her ex-lover. They looked into each others eyes, each realizing that they had gone a lot farther than they had meant to.
Cheops untangled herself from her lover and Will, once she was sure that Cheops had her balance, pulled back. "Wed better go see the kids, Malone. I tried to talk to them, but I dont think we communicated very well."
Cheops nodded but the two of them didnt move. Will bent her head and kissed Cheops once more. "I dont have a bed."
"Yes, you do," Cheops promised and they kissed again.
They went to Wills room where two small, wide eyed children sat on the floor looking well fed but bewildered. Cheops smiled broadly, sat on the floor and started chatting away to the older girl and her younger brother. Willy waited, not too patiently, behind.
"They are orphans, Will!"
"Thats what I told you."
"They look half starved! Theyve been sleeping down in the storage compartments and helping out the crew for board and food."
"I told you that too!"
"The girls name is Amand and the boys Zahi."
"Hello, Amand, Zahi." Willy smiled.
"Okay, Ill talk to the captain. But Will, you understand that Ill have to notify the police and theyll have to do a search for relatives to take them."
Willy nodded her head seriously. Cheops turned and explained things to the two children, who smiled broadly and hugged Cheops and Will. Will met Cheops eyes with her own. For the first time, they were that soft sea blue that she loved. "Tell the children, its time for bed," Will ordered. Cheops complied. She thought she knew what her warrior wanted and she wanted it desperately too.
The children were coaxed to take turns showering and then they were given fresh R.A.F. t-shirts. Willy combed their wet hair as Cheops explained to them that they would be in the next room and that tomorrow they would no longer be stowaways but paid guests. Wills hand shook. She was drained and the drugs were once again causing her joints to ache and her thoughts to be sluggish.
It was the girl who responded. In broken English she said, "You are so kind. You are so kind. My brother also, we thank you!" The women wished the children good night and tucked them into their new beds.
"They are not very old, Will," worried Cheops.
"No. Amand would be maybe eight or nine, Zahi, maybe five or six," responded Willy holding the door open for Cheops to pass through into her room.
Willy closed the door and leaned against it. Cheops turned in surprise. "I appreciate your help on this, Cheops, but I need to tell you that it is not going to make any difference to your fate."
Cheops limped forward until she was right in front of Willy. She searched deep into those remarkable eyes, realizing that the pupils looked dilated again. "You still love me, even if it is buried under a layer of hate. I will reach you again," she said reaching up to caress Wills face.
Her hand was brushed away, sharply. "Give me the key. Ill be back later to sleep in the other twin bed," ordered Will coldly.
Cheops nodded. Will had changed again and this woman was not to be pushed. "Here," she said, pulling the key from her pocket and handing it over at arms length. Will took the key and left without another word.
She strode along the hall and up two flights of stairs to the open deck. There, in the dark, she paced, until, hours later, she was too tired to walk any longer. Then she headed back down to Cheops cabin.
She stripped down and lay on the bed, enjoying the quiet and darkness. Why had she protected Cheops from Bob? It made no sense to do so. Maybe it was because something was not quite right about Bob Scott. He gave her the creeps! Maybe that was why. Or maybe Cheops was right, she was having trouble deciding if she was her former lovers protector or executioner. Were the drugs still distorting her frame of reality? No, she was being rational. It was rational to save Cheops from being raped by Bob so that she could kill her later. Wasnt it?
It was also logical that she should find Malone still physically attractive. You could hate someone and still be turned on by them, couldnt you? That was rational anyway. She could hear Malones gentle breathing. How many nights had she laid in bed with that woman, after they had made love, and let her soft breathing lead her to sleep?
She had wanted to die after she had left Egypt but she hadnt. Instead, she had been captured by terrorists and tortured and humiliated for months. At first, she had closed her mind to the pain and abuse by imagining the summer of love she had shared with Cheops and their children. But the fantasies had always ended in a horrifying pool of blood. Later, she stopped trying to hold on to the memories of what had been and fostered instead visions of what her life had become- hate. Hate for her torturers, hate for Cheops, hate for life itself. At her lowest point, she remembered the one single reason it go on- revenge. After that it was easier.
Will rolled on to her back and stared at the ceiling; the best thing was not to try and think, just react. If she started now to doubt her whole reason for surviving, she was not sure if she could hold it together. All that pain, humiliation, torture; what was the point of having survived if there was no revenge?!
Willy, groaning in her sleep, woke Cheops from her own troubled slumbers. She switched on her reading light and sat up. Will was lying naked on the bed. Cheops heart pounded as her eyes slowly drifted over the warriors magnificent body. Then her gut twisted into a knot, as she saw the deep scars from the electrodes. "Oh God!" she whispered softy and sat up, reaching for her prosthesis so that she could slip from her bed to go to the one she loved.
She checked herself just in time. If she touched Will now or even woke her from her nightmare, God knows what she would do! Cheops bit her lip. How could she help Will without endangering her own life? She leaned back against the bulkhead and tucked the stump of her amputated foot under her other knee. "A long time ago, a great king arose in the north. He brought prosperity and stability to the Upper Nile and then in a series of brilliant military manoeuvres, he over powered the weaker kings of the Lower Nile and united Egypt for the first time. He was Narmer and this is his story..."
Slowly, the moans grew softer and Wills stiff, jerky movements eased until she was in a deep relaxed sleep. Her breathing became regular and her face softened into classically beautiful lines.
"And so by using King Narmers tablet, we were able to look deep into the past and know of the pharaohs achievements. That simple scribe had made the mighty pharaoh immortal," Cheops concluded an hour later. Then she slipped back into her bed, turned off the light and slept deeply. When she woke, Will had already gone.
Cheops dressed quickly and went immediately to the captain. An hours heated discussion and the exchange of money and Cheops had managed to change the childrens designation from stowaways to first class passengers.
She found Will and the two children playing ping-pong on the top deck. The Brants and the Laytons were also there rooting, for the children in their bid to defeat Willy. Willy caught the ball in her hand without so much as looking, when she saw Cheops coming up the stairs with her uneven gait. Everyone turned and looked at her as she made her way over to the table.
"Well?" asked Will, real worry in her voice.
"Everything is settled. The children are now booked into your cabin and you into mine," Cheops smiled.
"Yes!" cried Will, wrapping Cheops in her arms and spinning her around.
"It is okay dokay?" asked Amand nervously.
Will suddenly realized what she was doing and put Cheops back down again, taking a step away.
"Thanks, Malone," she said formally. Cheops nodded coldly and saved her smile to give to the children as she explained to them that all was well.
"Well, thats fine news, isnt it, Jean?" beamed Betty.
"Its wonderful news!"
"Look, Im a lawyer and if there is anything I can do to help with the paper work, well just ask," Bill Brant offered.
"Thanks," said Will now grinning again with delight.
"Can the children come with us on the tour today?" asked Jean, patting down Zahis thick crop of hair in a motherly way.
"Yes, of course, Will has paid for their tour! If everyone is ready, we will see Luxor this morning and Karnak this afternoon. I think that is our bus pulling up now." The group moved down the stairs, Cheops doing a little hop as she brought her artificial foot down each step. Will carried two giggling children over each shoulder as she galloped down the stairs ahead of everyone else.
"Youve made her very happy. I would have not have thought her the motherly type," Jean observed walking along slowly with Cheops.
"Will is a wonderful mother," defended Cheops automatically.
Jean looked surprised. "She has other children?"
There was no avoiding this issue. "Will and I both lost children in the massacre at Deir El-Bahari," she said, her voice tight with the effort of controlling her emotions. " It is nothing we like talking about."
Jean looked truly distressed. "Im so sorry," she said and wrapped an arm around Cheops and gave her a quick hug. Downstairs, they found the Scotts had joined the group. Will had a murderous look on her face.
Aaron Scott turned as Cheops dropped off the last step. "There was nothin about kids on this trip!" he complained to Cheops.
"There was nothing in the tour description that said there couldnt be children either," observed Cheops happily. "The childrens trip has been paid for and so far they have been very well behaved. But I understand your concern, Aaron, Im sure you have had your fill of children over the years." Her eyes strayed to Bob. "Ill make sure Will keeps them well away from you."
Will smiled. Malone always could slit your throat verbally and you wouldnt notice until you turned around and your head fell off! The party, smiling and giving each other knowing looks behind the Scotts back, proceeded down the gang plank and up the stone stairs that lined the river bank to get on the bus.
The bite to Cheops seemingly friendly remark had not been lost on Bob. He was, too, smarting from the slapping he had got from Will yesterday. He closed his eyes and felt the fire of desire growing in him. Desire and hate, side by side, became a burning need. He smiled. He was not a man not to have the last laugh.
Luxor sat at the edge of the road back-dropped by the city of Luxor. At first sight, the tour group was not impressed. They got off the bus some distance away and Cheops limped over to get their tickets. Willy played tag with the two children a little distance away from the others. "Now she smiles," observed Betty as she stood beside Jean watching the lone woman come alive as she played with the children.
"I dont know what happened, but both Cheops and Willy lost children at Deir El-Bahari," explained Jean.
"The day of the massacre?!" Betty asked in shock.
"I think so."
"So thats what ended their...that explains why they both seem so sad at times," said Betty, censoring her remarks in case Jean and Bill were not accepting of gay couples. Salt Lake City was not known for its liberal views.
"Everyone ready," called Cheops and then said something in Egyptian that brought the two children to her side. Willy scowled and followed at a distance. Betty shook her head. Watching the two women, reminded her of her old Ford on a wintry day. It kept turning over but there just wasnt a big enough spark for ignition.
As always they had to line up for a security check. Each person went through a metal detector and bags were searched by the tourist police. Every effort was being made to make sure that there would not be another terrorist attack. Once they entered the site and took the stairs down into the outer court, the full impact of Luxor left them speechless. Cheops smiled; she had seen this reaction many times before. To their left was the Avenue of the Sphinxes. At one time rows of Sphinx lined a ceremonial road that joined Karnak to Luxor. Sadly, the city had grown over most of it. In some homes, the sphinx were still there, used for tables and chairs! Only a half mile remained of this impressive walkway now but it still never failed to fill the visitor with awe at the majesty that was ancient Egypt.
To the right stood the main gates to the temple of Luxor, towering over head. On each side of the entrance stood the two colossal statues of Rameses II. The base alone on which each figure stood was taller than a man. "Ladies and gentlemen, meet Rameses the Second, the conqueror," announced Cheops dramatically, and then waited for her group to take pictures of the gate and walk down the Avenue.
She explained to Amand and Zahi, in Egyptian, the significance of the site and then led them over to one of the sphinx. Carefully, she lifted Zahi up on the back of one of the mythical creatures and then offered Amand a leg up. Suddenly, strong arms swung Amand up and onto the sphinx.
"Thanks," said Cheops. "I wanted to get their photo. Why dont you get in the picture too? The police can use it for evidence at my inquest," suggested the archaeologist, cheekily.
An eyebrow went up. "Sure," agreed Willy ghoulishly. "Youre in rare form today. First, you nail Aaron and then me."
"You might not have realized this, Willy, but I am a reluctant player in this little game of yours," came the response from behind the camera.
"Like I care, Malone," responded Willy, turning to lift the two children down again after the photo.
"You do care," observed Cheops. "You just wont let yourself believe it. You owe me a favour and since I might not have much time left, Id like to claim it right now."
Willy went still. The intense, blue eyes locked on Cheops. "What do you want?"
"The four of us to spend the day together as a family," dared Cheops.
Anger flowed from Will like a storm surge hitting the shore. "Bitch!"
"Your debt. My terms," responded Cheops, holding her ground.
"It wont work, Malone," Will growled.
"It is working," smiled Cheops. "Agreed?"
"Like you said, I owe you a debt that needs to be paid quickly. Just dont believe this illusion, Malone. There is only one thing left between us."
Will swung Zahi up onto her shoulders so he could see above the crowds. He giggled happily down at his sister who held onto Cheops hand possessively. As a family, they walked back to the main gates and joined the other. Betty and Jean were beaming knowingly. Aaron, Abe and Bill were discussing the Republicans chances in the upcoming elections and Bob was standing in the shadows watching quietly, a feverish light shining in his dark eyes.
Cheops showed them the white alabaster statue of the sitting pharaoh and his wife. She explained that it was probably some other poor pharaohs statue but that Rameses was the worlds worst graffiti artist. He had during his reign written his name over the top of many other pharaohs names! She showed then the beautiful and graceful hieroglyphs of King Setys rule and below it, in big messy symbols, the boasts of his son, Rameses the Second.
"Sety was the philosopher-artist and his son the warrior and propaganda master supreme," explained Cheops with a laugh! "I guess if you are going to be a warrior pharaoh you are likely to be very concerned about protecting your after life."
"How long ago did Sety live?" asked Bill, taking notes for his travel journal while his wife handled the family camera.
"In and around 1280 B.C.," Cheops replied and led her group on to see the standing wall of Ramses statues and the inner sanctum where the sacrificial table still sat. Here the high walls were still roofed in massive slabs of limestone and the walls were blackened by thousands of night fires. They followed Cheops through the rows of towering columns and she pointed out the Greek style and the Egyptian lotus leaf capitols.
It was a tired and hot group that headed back to the bus to return to the ship for lunch. "Lunch will be served in half an hour and then, at two, well head over to Karnak," Cheops explained.
"Not me," grumbled Aaron. "Ive seen all I need to see of temples. Im staying here this afternoon."
"Are you sure, Mr. Scott? Karnak is an amazing site," Cheops said encouragingly..
"Said I was staying here," repeated the stubborn man.
"Ill stay with my father," offered Bob, playing the dutiful son.
"Fine, just as long as you dont mind missing the site," agreed Cheops, just as glad to get rid of them. With that, people disappeared to freshen up before lunch.
"We need to get the kids some better clothes," remarked Willy, rubbing her temple.
"Yes, thats my job," stated Cheops and when Willy looked up sharply, she added., "Im the bargainer and I speak the lingo. Ill take the kids out right after lunch to the market down the street. Why dont you have a nap, then?"
"Im fine," snapped Willy defensively.
"Its going to be a long afternoon, Will," Cheops responded softly. "Try and get some rest. The kids are going to need you. It will be a long day for them too."
Will nodded moodily. She wasnt feeling well. The chemical taste was back in her mouth and her head ached but she was not going to admit that to Malone. She would start that crap again about her not being rational because of the drugs.
"I said Ill see to the kids in their room and you can have the bathroom first, okay?"
"Yeah, okay," Will agreed gruffly and patted the two dark heads before using her key to enter Cheops room. The bathroom smelt of the two of them; spice and sweet, warm herbs. Images of them showering together came uninvited to her mind. She had loved Malone from the moment she first saw her. She had thought that love would have lasted forever. Memories came flooding back.
"My God, you are sexy!" Malone had gasped as she had entered their bedroom and seen Will dressed in her regimentals for the first time. Will laughed and sided stepped the grasping arms.
"Dont even think about touching me! My commanding officer would blow a gasket if I showed up with strawberry bond hair on my shoulder or lipstick on my collar. Hell, a crease in my jacket would probably get me court-martialled!"
"Hmmm, those medals. What are they for?" asked Cheops looking at the three ribbons with their decorative metal discs.
"Actions beyond the call of duty," answered Will vaguely. "You look beautiful. Just my luck to have to go to this damn evening on one of the rare nights when the kids are staying over at a friends."
"Hmmm. What are the little bars of colour?"
"Service ribbons. Places overseas were I served," Will explained, her eyes following the curves of Malones body. "Take your clothes off."
"Please." Cheops smiled in surprise but followed the instructions, slowly undoing her shirt and letting it trail to the floor. Then she unzipped her shorts, watching Wills eyes following every move. The shorts dropped to a puddle around her feet and she stepped out of them. Then the bra went and she lifted her arms through her hair, letting Willy enjoy the view of her upturned breasts before she let her hair tumble golden over them. Her hands slid down her body and under her lace panties. The underwear fell in a gentle cloud leaving her completely exposed to her warrior.
Wills mouth curled softly in a knowing look and her eyes sparkled with devilment. One eyebrow went up. "There is some body oil warming in the bathroom. Would you mind getting it, please," requested Will. Cheops trotted to the bathroom and returned with the sweet oil bottle that had been soaking in hot water in the sink. Clearly, her warrior had planned this love game well ahead of time.
"Now, lie on the bed and pour some of the oil right there," purred her lover stroking a line down between Cheops breasts with the tip of her finger. Cheops had shivered with excitement at the touch and giving Will a challenging look, she had gone over and laid down.
Will moved to the side of the bed and nodded and Cheops had poured a small pool of warm, fragrant oil were she had been instructed. "Now take your hands and rub the oil over your breasts. Play with yourself while I watch. Close your eyes and imagine me running my hands over your lines and planes. Feel my warmth and my need."
A small moan came from Cheops as she pleasured herself at the bidding of her lover. Lips dropped to whisper just above hers. "When I come home tonight, I am going to make love to you until the morning sunrise wraps the two of us in a pink blanket of love. Feel me in you, Malone. All evening the scent of you will be haunting my thoughts." Their lips had touched in the softest, whisper of a kiss before Will had left.
Will smiled at the memory. Her return that night had been everything that she had imagined and more. And as they had lain in the pink of the desert sunrise, Will had slipped a simple gold band onto Cheops finger. "I love you. This ring is a pledge to you of my life, my soul and my love."
I wonder what happened to the ring? Will pushed the thoughts out of her mind. She could feel her thoughts getting slow and sluggish. Maybe she would just lie down for a few minutes before lunch.
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