The Xena Scrolls was just the beginning. Is there a Doctor on the Dig? by Bat Morda Book 2 Covington Sextology The story that put a mediocre bard on the map.

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.

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.

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...Por favor mantengase alejado de las puertas... The Audience Is Listening...THX. Life shouldn’t be taken too seriously- you’re not getting out alive.

This story takes place three weeks after the episode THE XENA SCROLLS.

Is There A Doctor On The Dig?
Bat Morda
Email Twitter @BatMorda


Chapter 1: Student Bodies

“Dr. Covington, how many sites have uncovered physical evidence of Xena the Warrior Princess?”

Janice Covington smiled patiently. The eager anthropology and archeology students were in no short supply since the discovery of the Xena Scrolls. Word traveled quickly, and only two weeks back in the states already saw the now famed archeologist guest lecturing in the very halls that had once defiled the name of her father.

She paced a moment, forcing herself to appear relaxed in gray pumps that were anything but relaxing. “Seven sites have revealed hard evidence thus far, it is possible I may uncover more.” Before turning to the next upraised hand, Janice paused a moment to enjoy the lovely blue eyes of the petite blond that had asked the question. “Thank you for your question.” She added softly, noting the bashful blush of the young co-ed as she sat down.

“And where are these artifacts now?” A young man asked, before being called upon. Janice turned to him, irritated, just as the class bell sounded.

“I’m sorry that is all the good doctor has time for now,” said Professor Solon as he quickly scribbled on the black board. “Chapters four through six for next time, have your questions ready.” As the students filed out, many paused to shake Dr. Covington’s hand and congratulate her on her discovery.

Janice accepted the attention graciously, all the while counting the minutes until she could get home and change out of the uncomfortable skirt and pantyhose. Still, this was a part of archeology too; the schmoozing and connection making that funded research projects in a manner more appropriate than Harry Covington’s.

“It was a wonderful talk Doctor,” the pretty blond said, when she reached the front of the line.

“Thank you.…”

“Flora, my name’s Flora Gates.” The woman gushed, forgetting to let go of Janice’s hand.

Janice didn’t mind, and let her hold it. “Well then, thank you Flora Gates.”

Other people behind the student were beginning to push so she continued in a rush. “If you ever take research students on your digs… well… here’s my number, I’d be interested.” The last was said with an inflection Janice knew was unmistakable.

“We’ll see about that.” She replied accepting the phone number with a gleam in her eye.

Janice crossed the campus parking lot quickly, easily locating her beat up Ford pickup truck. “How ya doin’ Argo?” She called to the large dog sitting behind the wheel. Argo stuck her head out the door, greeting Dr. Covington with a sloppy kiss. “Okay, okay girl.” Janice laughed. “Now move over, you know you can’t drive.”

“Dr. Covington!” A familiar voice shouted from nearby.

Janice grimaced as she turned around, she knew that voice. “What is it Sal?” She asked, forcing herself to remain patient.

Salvador Monious gasped for air, the short run across parking lot having taxed his limited physical resources. The museum curator, Sal Monious was a necessary friend, even if he was incorrigible, unreliable and completely self serving. “There’s a problem,” he gasped, “the scrolls that Jack Kleinman was returning from New Jersey,” he gasped again, this time leaning on Janice’s truck. “They’ve been intercepted. Someone matching the description of Dr. Callisandra Leesto picked them up…”

“Cal…” Janice muttered under her breath, furious. “Wait a minute. I told you to get those scrolls picked up personally. Are you saying you had Jack, the idiot mail them?!”

Sal clearly looked nervous and uncomfortable. “Well it’s cheaper that way. With the money we saved we could do a much nicer display in the museum.”

“If you get your display at all.” Janice retorted.

“Well I was hoping you’d help us get them back.” He looked around to see if anyone was listening. “I was hoping the museum wouldn’t have to hear about the mix up. I’d be willing to personally finance the recovery of the scrolls, if you’d keep it quiet.”

Janice smiled, “Oh you’ll finance it alright, and don’t worry about keeping it quiet. I don’t want to let anyone know I trusted you to get something important done right.”

“I’d be willing to pay as much as…” As if on cue an ominous growl issued from Argo’s throat. Ninety five pounds of canine hostility were a bit much for the befuddled curator. “Whatever it costs, of course.” Instantly the dog went back to contented panting.

Nodding, Janice opened the door to her truck. “Good. I’ll call you tonight with what I need. I’ll leave first thing in the morning.” Fumbling in her pocket, Janice extracted three items. Her keys, which she put into the ignition and started up the truck. As she backed up, out of sight of the curator she handed Argo a dog biscuit. “Good work girl.”

The third item, the phone number of Flora Gates, Janice held briefly. With a sigh she put it back in her pocket. “Maybe another time Flora,” she whispered under her breath. Argo cocked her head quizzically, but remained silent.

No sooner had Janice returned home and deposited her mail, when a knock sounded on her front door. Kicking off her pumps she quickly poured herself a scotch, and headed to the door. “Just a minute…Mel, what are you doing here?” There she was, standing at her front door, Melinda Pappas: Descendent of Xena. Janice downed her whiskey in one gulp. “At the airport in Macedonia you said you had to go, things to do.” Janice hoped that the supreme hurt she felt was not apparent in her voice.

“And that’s just what I did. I rushed straight home, put my affairs in order, got the next plane out of South Carolina, and well,” she shrugged in a manner Janice found totally disarming, “here I am.”

Stunned, Janice turned around and headed for the living room intent on another drink. Taking that as a signal to make herself at home Mel entered the tiny house, returning for two trips to get all of her luggage. Janice’ mind was swimming. At first repulsed by the wealthy southern aristocrat, then intrigued by the descendant of Xena, Melinda Pappas had occupied the archeologist’s thoughts frequently since they parted company. Frequently, to Janice’ surprise, while she was in bed. Janice didn’t usually find herself attracted to dark haired women taller than herself, but there was no denying Melinda Pappas was magnificently attractive.

“And I must say, why Janice I've never seen you looking so fem… Oh, my!” Mel gasped, as Argo padded out of the kitchen, “what on earth is that?”

“That,” Janice explained as she made her single whiskey a double, “is a she and her name is Argo.”

“Oh, I get it,” Mel smiled, “after Xena’s horse. So what kind of dog is she?”

“She’s Golden Retriever and Alsatian.”

“Funny,” Mel commented, “looks like Retriever and German Shepherd to me.”

With that a low rumble erupted from the dog’s throat and her hackles went up. She began to advance menacingly on the visitor. Mel quickly ducked behind Janice who quieted the dog with a hand signal. “Argo prefers the term Alsatian, which is the same thing as German Shepherd. She’s as upset about the war as anyone else.”

“My mistake,” Mel said with a slight curtsey to the dog who wagged her tail forgivingly.

“You said Xena’s horse was named Argo. How do you know that?” Janice asked, handing Mel a glass of ginger ale.

“Why I’m sure we saw it in one of the scrolls…” Mel started to look off into the distance.

“It was not on any of the scrolls that we got the opportunity to read.” Janice was still furious that her stupid mix up had wrecked this much havoc in the world of priceless antiquities. She well knew what Dr. Cal Leesto would do to them. They would be auctioned off to the highest bidder and sent to all four corners of the globe, never to see the light of research.

“Well you know Janice, I’ve been having the oddest dreams since that thing happened out there in Macedonia. Almost like I’m reliving Xena’s dreams, it’s so strange.” Melinda watched Janice’s sad nod and was instantly sorry she brought it up. She remembered what Xena had said to the archeologist while in possession of her body, and the tremors of emotion she had felt at the sight of Gabrielle’s descendant. Still, Janice Covington seemed to cling to the belief that the bard was excess baggage in the lore of Xena and less than worthy of historical note. Melinda wasn’t sure how she would do it, but she had to do something to change the doctor’s mind.

“So, what’s our first adventure?” She asked in an attempt to change the subject.

“Tomorrow I’m leaving to go after the scrolls, they’ve been stolen by a doctor unethical enough to make my dad look saintly. You, should head back home.”

“Now you stop right there, Dr. Janice Covington, I took care of my business back home so we could be partners. Don’t think for a moment that I’ll calmly sit here and let y’all walk off… now iffin you’re going after the scrolls, then I’m a-goin’ with you.” To make her point she sat down on the couch, crossed her legs, took a sip of soda and glared at Janice with a look intended to make clear that she’d just made herself quite at home. To complete the picture Argo walked over and laid down on the floor, resting her head on Mel’s foot.

“Oh, I get it.” Janice observed, “two against one. Fine. Stay. If you don’t mind I’m going to take a bath and go to bed.” With that, Janice took off her jacket, casually tossed it across the arm of the living room chair and stalked off towards the bathroom.

“Okay, so her manners need work.” Mel muttered to Argo as she scratched the dog behind her big floppy ears. But she has potential.” Sipping her drink Melinda began a casual survey of the doctor’s living room. The furnishings were sparse, antique but well cared for. The main living room was dominated by book shelves that went from floor to ceiling. Book after book about history, archeology, science and mythology were everywhere. Several stacks of books rested on the huge oak desk near the fire place and several more stacks were on the floor nearby.

Something on the desk caught Mel’s eye. Almost transfixed she reached out and picked up a piece of tattered leather. A torn section of forearm bracer, bronze meatal work still nailed to the outer surface. “My bracer…” Mel whispered slipping the cuff on and noting the perfect fit despite the age of the cracked garment. Also on the table was a worn notebook,  several strips of leather thong and a metal hair clasp. Melinda sat down quickly as the rush of memory made her head swim. In a flash of memory she could see the metal clasp in Gabrielle’s hand as the bard fixed her hair. Then she saw the leather thong in her own hand as she clumsily tried to return the favor the bard, her love. A whining brought her out of her reverie and she looked down into soft brown eyes, looking back, worried. “It’s okay Argo, I’m alright.”

Still unsure, the dog nudged Melinda out of the chair, away from the artifacts. “You’re right, I should just get some sleep.” Absently she touched the notebook and hair things. Then embarrassed, she blushed as she thought about the dreams she hoped she would encounter. Dreams she’d had every night since leaving Macedonia.

Picking up her lightest bag, Mel looked for the guest bedroom. Finding a door she thought was correct, she tested the handle. It was unlocked so she opened it. There, looking more than a little annoyed, was Dr. Janice Covington naked in a bathtub, smoking.

“Do you mind?” Janice asked, making no attempt to cover her quite exposed body.

“Um… well. I’m so sorry Janice. Y’all didn’t tell me where your spare bedroom is.” Mel did her best to look anywhere but at the naked, muscular form of the relining archeologist.

“There is no spare bedroom sweetheart, take the bed or the couch. It makes no difference to me.”

“Pardon me.” Mel said, backing out of the bathroom. She paused for a moment down the hall to get her bearings. She felt warm and flustered after her encounter. “Must be the dreams.” She muttered to herself.

Deciding to take the couch she headed back into the living room. The couch however was now occupied by Argo, who did not look like she was in any mood to move. In fact, with her head down the dog would only follow Mel’s “get down” gestures with her eyes, declining to even lift her head. “Well I’ll just let Janice deal with you then.” Mel decided, turning her back on the dog and heading to the bedroom. Again she felt dizzy as soon as she walked into the room. Mel closed her eyes a moment trying to figure out what it was. There was a very comforting smell to this room. She looked at the dresser and saw a bowl of lavender buds. There was also a faint scent of leather to the room as well. On a nightstand by one side of the bed was an old tiffany lamp with a dragon fly design and several books. Melinda paused to read the spines. “The Past Life Experience, Genetic Memory, Know Your Other Selves, Lifetimes From Beyond The Grave, and Regression Therapy. Pretty out there stuff Dr. Covington.” Feeling a bit like an intruder she got into bed on the opposite side.

Settled in between the sheets, she was ready to drift off to sleep when Janice strolled in. Dressed in nothing but a man’s long sleeved shirt, Mel was startled by the racing of her pulse. She tried looking at the floor but bare feet led to strong calves attached to muscular thighs and shirt tails that rode up to a delicate hip. “Well you said it didn’t matter where, and the dog was on the couch,” she stammered as Janice walked around to the other side of the bed. Melinda was sure she’d faint as she pulled the covers back.

“Mel, this is my house. I’m not about to sleep on the couch. You’re fine here. I don’t bite.” Then, with a wicked grin added, “unless you ask really nicely.”

“Why that is right neighborly of you Doctor Covington.” Mel shot back with equal sarcasm, “G’night.”

“G’night Miss Pappas.” Janice replied with a wry grin.

From the moment Gabrielle put the ambrosia to my lips and I regained consciousness I don’t think I'd ever felt such joy. I’m sure I smiled more in those next few hours than I had in my entire adult life up to that point. I suppose I should have felt some sadness. After all, the changes I’d made in my life were not enough to keep me out of Tartarus, but I didn’t care. The thought that I may never see the Elysian Fields mattered little. In life I was reunited with Gabrielle and next to that, the Elysian Fields paled in comparison.

When you think of the dead, the dead can hear your thoughts.” While I can attest to the accuracy of that statement, it does not in any way imply the impact of hearing the thoughts of the living from the other side. Even in her profound sadness Gabrielle was a source of comfort and support for me. Her unwillingness to give me up added fuel to the fire of my resolve. While there was nothing I could do from the other side to return the kindness, reunited with my body I could and would rectify that situation.

After saying our goodbyes to Autolycus we retired for the night to the Amazon village. We did not know of Velaska’s condition and celebrated that our troubles were, for the moment, over. Ephiny insisted that Gabrielle and I stay in her home while she stayed at a friend’s with her son. Her hut was away from the main body of the village and for that I was grateful. I tried to meet the curious stares of the other amazon’s with good grace but I was still unused the sensations of life from death and tired quickly. Gabrielle stayed in the main lodge a while longer than I. Knowing her she thanked every one who supported her for their loyalty, further endearing herself in their hearts.

I wandered around Ephiny’s house for a bit feeling oddly nervous.               Something had happened between me and Gabrielle and every fiber in my being hoped that things would go forward, not back. In Autolycus’s body I responded to the sound of the bard’s voice with a passion that could not be curbed. I had to speak to her, reassure her. Since my death, her thoughts of love and devotion had wrapped around my soul like a warm blanket. I knew well the things she wanted to tell me but couldn’t and her thoughts mirrored the beating of my own heart. I suppose that was why I kissed her. Something I had dreamt about doing in life but lacked the courage fo follow through. Knowing now how she felt, I couldn’t stop myself. And her lips, her lips were every bit as soft and responsive as I’d remembered. I did not think I could ever feel that close to anyone, that was until I entered her body.

Although that experience was brief, and consumed by the fight with Valaska, I felt a connection to Gabrielle I doubted I’d ever be able to duplicate. Doubted, but I was determined to try. So there I stood, leaning against a window listening to the sounds of night, watching the moon and feeling every bit as nervous as a newlywed on her wedding night.

I felt Gabrielle’s presence by the door before I heard her. “Sorry that took so long,” she said as she entered carrying a cluttered tray.

“Answer a lot of questions?” I asked as she put the tray down on the table. I couldn’t keep from smiling at her, my heart brimming with the joy of seeing her with my own eyes.

“Not a lot of questions, just the same ones repeatedly.” She replied handing me a steaming mug. I inhaled the steam, relaxing in the fragrance of the special amazon mead, spiced with cinnamon and cloves. Gabrielle took a sip from her own mug and then came to stand near me by the window.

“I missed you so much Xena,” she said quietly. I put my mug down and wrapped my arms around her, holding her close. Since my return it was all I could do not to touch her constantly. I think she felt the same, since until the moment I retired for the night she hadn’t left my side since I woke up.

“Me too.” I said tightly, trying for the hundredth time that night not to cry.

She tipped her head up and looked at me. Slowly, I lowered my head and gently covered her lips with my own. Sadly that sweet kiss was broken by the huge grin that spread across my face. I opened my eyes to see Gabrielle smiling too.

“Much better without the moustache.” She commented, immeasurably alleviating my nervousness.

“I’m glad you think so too.” I murmured.

She stepped away from me and her cheeks began to flush pink. “What is it?” I asked.

She chuckled and answered. “I’d like to get this stuff off,” she said indicating her amazon outfit, “but I’m not the one that put it on…”

“Say no more my princess, I’m here to serve.” I replied, moving to help her with the armor.

“Ah, that’s ‘Queen’ Xena. I’m Queen now,” she countered with mild reproach.

“That’s right.” I agreed, slipping the bracers from her arms. “You outrank me now.”

She giggled at that as I stooped to take off her boots. “Your oversight can be forgiven,” she replied regally, “as long as it doesn’t happen again.” I felt her hand on the top of my head gently caressing my hair as I worked on the laces. I sighed in pleasure as I gently caressed her thigh and calf before pulling off the boot.

“I will endeavor to remember,” I said as I removed the other boot. Stepping behind Gabrielle I unhooked the clasps that held her top in place. Before I could touch her however she slipped on a sleeping shift and eased out of her skirt. I didn’t mind, for us it was no longer a matter of if but when. We embraced again then she slipped behind me and began to undo my armor. “I didn’t think Amazon Queens had to do that.” I said.

“This queen is not about to let anyone else do it. Face it, you’re stuck with me Xena.” The words were like a sirens song to my ears. Gabrielle’s voice became more serious when she asked how I was feeling. I seriously considered the question for a moment.

“I don’t know how one is supposed to feel after a resurrection, but I feel fine. A little stiff maybe, but who wouldn't be after spending time in a sarcophagus?”

“I thought as much.” She replied after helping me out of my leathers. “Ephiny gave me some mint oil to sooth the soreness. Lay down on the bed and I’ll rub it in.” After getting my boots off I laid down as instructed. I heard Gabrielle take something off the tray as she moved to the bed. I smiled anew as I felt her comforting weight settle on my backside. I could feel her doing something then heard the sounds as she rubbed her hands together. Next I felt the delicious sensation of warmth and softness as she rubbed the oil into the skin of my back.

For long minutes she massaged my upper back and arms then began to work her way downward providing each area of my body with thorough attention. I was in a state of supreme bliss as I felt her shift and work on my lower back and backside. In time she began to move lower and massage my legs and feet. “Gabrielle, that feels wonderful,” I murmured.

“Yes, yes it does.” She replied, “roll over and let’s do the other side.” I complied and looked up into shining green eyes as she straddled my hips. “I meant what I said about never dying again,” she said conversationally as she poured a small amount of oil into her hands.

“Good. I meant what I said about not dying,” I replied as she rubbed her hands together. I watched her as she lowered her hands to my chest gently massaged my shoulders and arms before moving to my breasts. While her touch was not overtly sexual it was intensely sensual and I felt myself begin to melt under her strong hands. She continued to work, focusing on my body, working the healing oil into the skin of my stomach and legs. When she was done her touch became softer, simply exploring the contours of my body. I watched her for a time, looked at her as she looked at me. It was when I felt the wetness from her body as she moved against me that I had to act.

I didn’t consider asking if it was alright, if it was what she wanted. We had shared enough since my death to know exactly how we felt and that this was what had to be, for both of us. I began to run my hands over the tops of her thighs, lightly trailing my fingers down the inside as she continued to explore my body with her hands. She gasped in pleasure then looked down at me, green eyes hungry.

I began to trace the contours of her body from the outside of her shift. Delighting in the slide of the smooth cloth against her skin, happy at her response. Slowly she lowered herself to my waiting mouth and we shared a kiss that deepened as our smoldering desire ignited into an inferno. Her tongue was like velvet as she sought out the secrets of my mouth. I held nothing back form her, how could I? She shared her body and mind with me without reservation. I wanted her to know me as intimately as I knew her.

I feathered kisses down the length of her throat, delighting in the feel of a heartbeat that I knew so well. “Yes.” she panted and I could feel the vibrations through her throat against my lips. It was wonderful. Holding her tightly, I rolled over. Supporting my weight with my arms I looked down into what was easily the most radiant face I’d ever seen. Eyes beaming, she smiled up at me and traced a gentle finger down my cheek. Slowly I lowered myself until my lips were just inches from Gabrielle’s. With a smile we both uttered the words “I love you” at the same time. We shared a laugh at that, then desire claiming us once more continued the utterances of love without using words. The reality of making love to Gabrielle far surpassed even my wildest fantasies. To me, she was perfect in every way. With a slow deliberate touch I eased the sleeping shift over her head, sighing happily as I felt her warm skin against my own.

With strong hands she held my head over her breast as my tongue wreaked havoc with her nipple, even as her body writhed beneath mine. I noticed a small area of skin, so white it was almost translucent. “What’s this?” I asked.

“Where the ambrosia landed” she replied through heavy breaths as I slowly moved against her. When I kissed that white patch of skin she cried out in pleasure, fingertips grazing across my back. I could feel the dampness increase on my thigh as it rested between her legs. Feeling her excitement building, I eased my body down, her thighs spreading wide to accommodate my broad shoulders. Her hands trailed lightly over my back, coming to rest again against my head. She removed them briefly as she watched me lower my lips to her center then threw her head back into the pillow with a groan of “yessssss” as I began to feast. She was so soft, warm and wet and I could feel every movement I made reverberate through her entire body. I lapped at her softly and gently until she began to buck against my face driving me deeper and harder. As my tongue caressed then consumed her swollen bud I heard her cry of rapture. The trust and connection I felt at her loss of control was indeed akin to the connection I felt inside her body.

Gabrielle and I would be forever connected and we both knew it, and rejoiced in that knowledge. That night she opened up feelings in me I didn’t know I had. I suppose she’d been doing it all along. First she taught me the true meaning of friendship, then a deeper understanding of love. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for Gabrielle, nothing we wouldn’t do for each other. And that night, that perfect night with the moon shining in the window we did everything

Chapter 2: The Fear of Flying

“Come on Mel, wake up!” A not so gentle hand shook Melinda Pappas’ shoulder.

“Wha… what?” she asked, groggy.

“The big adventure, remember? If you want to help me get the scrolls back, be ready to go in one hour.” Janice was about to return to her packing then looked at Melinda critically. “Are you okay? You look kind of disoriented.” Janice stood across the bed form Mel, dressed in her khaki pants and an undershirt over her bra. Mel gazed at her relaxed muscular form then glanced down at the bed covers, embarrassed.

“I… I was having a dream.” Melinda replied with a blush.

“Sounded like a good one.” Janice smiled as she began to rummage through her drawer for a shirt.

“Yes, um, well. So, where are we off to?”

Janice shrugged into a khaki shirt, tucking it into the waist of her pants then extracted a revolver from her sock drawer. After checking to make sure it was loaded, she spun it skillfully once then dropped it into it’s holster. “The airport. I called Sal Monious, a friend from the museum last night. He’s arranged air passage for us to take us part way to Cal’s island retreat. I’m sure that where she’s taken the scrolls. We’ll take a boat the rest of the way.” Rummaging through her closet Janice tossed a small bag onto the bed, as well as an unusual looking pack. Next came the bullwhip and a box of extra bullets.

“You could wait until I get up, couldn’t you?” Mel asked, a tad irritated as things from the closet began to rain down on her.

“I’m sorry sweetheart, but we don’t have much time,” Janice replied with a grin. “What were you planning to wear?”

“Well I’ve got this lovely lavender skirt and a cream blouse…” Her words died at the unflinchingly critical look she received form the archeologist. “I take it you think that is inappropriate?”

“Very.” Janice replied, her voice softening. “We’re probably going to be on the run. You’ll need something a bit more… practical.” Then a gleam came to her eye that Mel knew was unmistakably like her ancestor Gabrielle. Returning to her closet she said, “I’ve got just what you need.”

“I don’t know Janice, I feel sort of funny. It isn’t very flattering.” Mel looked at herself dubiously in the archaeologists full length mirror behind her bedroom door. She wore Harry Covington’s boots, khaki pants, one of Janice’s shirts with her own lace camisole underneath and Harry’s jacket. Her hair was down, in a loose ponytail like Janice’s and looking at her reflection Mel felt a bit freakish.

“You look fine Mel, the camisole is a bit overdone but trust me, where we’re going no one is going to pay the least bit of attention to our looks. I’m glad you’re the same size as pop. Besides, you remember what happened to your suit the last time.”

“Yes I do.” Mel agreed remembering how Xena had ruined her thirty-five dollar skirt. “But I don’t intend to be possessed by Xena again.”

“You never know.” Janice smiled.

“Oh, all right you win. What next.”

Janice whistled and Argo bounded up onto the bed. She then slung the unusual pack over the dogs head and tightened the straps. The dog now wore two small saddle bags. Janice packed them with some ammunition and a few other items. “Anything you need to take of value- let Argo carry it. She is the only thing I can guarantee will make it back in one piece. Otherwise I’ll carry any stuff you need in my pack. But if it isn’t on you or Argo, be prepared to loose it. I’m going to get my notebook.” When Janice left the room Mel quickly opened her small bag. Before changing her mind she extracted a small velvet pouch and a scroll case and put the two items into the bottom of one of Argo’s bags.

“It’s a secret Argo,” Mel whispered, “don’t let Janice see them, not yet.” When Janice returned she handed Mel a few other items to pack int the dog’s pouch. Then she put her notebook, more bullets and a few other things into her own satchel. Getting a backpack out of the closet she packed some blankets, a few tins of food and several containers of water. A spare canteen she put in the on the other side of the dog’s pack and one more in her satchel. It took a few minutes of arguing but Janice reluctantly agreed to carry Melinda’s makeup and a few other items.

“I guess we’re ready to go.” Janice said as she checked Argo’s packs to make sure the weight was distributed evenly.

“Not quite.” Melinda disagreed leaving the room a moment. She returned a moment later with the jacket Janice had discarded the night before. “You forgot to hang this up. It’s bad luck to leave home with clothes lying about.” She tossed it to her friend noticing something flutter out of the pocket.

“Who is Flora Gates?” Mel asked as Janice hung up the jacket next to the matching skirt.

“Give me that.” Janice replied hotly, taking the piece of notebook paper from Melinda.

Outside Mel continued, “Well…”

“She’s a student, she wants to go one of my digs, okay?” Janice muttered as she loaded their gear into the back of the truck.

“Funny,” Mel commented, as a frowning Janice held the passenger door “I’ve never seen the ‘o’ in Flora written as a heart before.”

“It’s none of your business.” Janice argued as she drove to the nearby base of the Army Air Corp.

“Don’t be silly,” Mel smiled and lightly touched Janice’s thigh (a gesture not lost on the archeologist), “a little harmless girl talk won’t kill you.”

“I suck at girl talk.”

“Which is why you should practice. What are we doing here?” Mel asked as they slowed to a stop at the guard gate. An attractive sentry leaned over smiling at the two of them.

“Glad to see you’ve made some friends that don’t have fleas, Dr. Covington. Sergeant Ore is expecting you.”

“Thanks Private Maleus.” Janice nodded as she drove past the gate.

“Where did you cultivate military connections?” Mel asked as they approached a large transport plane on the tarmac.

“Friday night poker.” Janice explained. “I join a group of guys when I’m in town and we play. We don’t bet money though. Usually it’s favors.”

“Oh, my!” Mel said, shocked.

“Not those types of favors.” Janice assured her with a chuckle. “Greg is the chief mechanic so I’ll make him fix my truck, or I’ll have to help his kids with their homework. That kind of thing. So anyway, he looses real big to me about three years ago. I needed a flight to a dig sight. It’s not easy to find a carrier that’ll take the dog, so anyway it turns out his crew has to drop some supplies not too far from where I’m going- so it works out.”

“And the government doesn’t mind?” Melinda asked intrigued,  as the three of them strolled over to the giant cargo plane.

“I thought when the war started there would be trouble for sure.” Janice nodded, “First trip we made during the war was real hush-hush. But it turned out that the previous troops sent out had sustained heavy losses, but every one from our trip was fine. Now they’re convinced Argo is good luck and we don’t have any problems. Not a single soldier that has ridden on a plane with Argo has been killed in battle.

“That is lucky.” Mel agreed.

“Nope.” Janice lit a cigar. “It’s no more luck than curses.”

A group of several GI’s hurried over to join them. One of the men circled Janice in a rough embrace. “Good to see you Jan.”

“Greg, this is Melinda Pappas. Melinda, this is Sergeant Greg Ore, the only man alive who can call me Jan and keep all of his teeth.”

“It’s a pleasure Sergeant.” Melinda said, shaking the man’s hand warmly.

“No ma’am, the pleasure’s all mine. It’s so rare that I get to meet a… friend of Janice’s.” With a smile frozen on her face Janice sharply elbowed the big man in the ribs. When he looked at her in alarm she glared at him.

“What?” he asked defensively, “I thought…”

“I think we should be boarding.” Janice cut him off and headed up the ramp.

Inside the cavernous plane a number of army troops were already seated and ready for takeoff. Argo quickly made her rounds, licking faces and receiving the warm words and attentions of the G.I.s. A short distance away, between several large mounds of cargo, another seating area had been cleared. Sergeant Ore ushered them to the area nodding to Mel. “This is the first class section.”

“Why are we separated from the troops?” Mel whispered to Janice.

The Sergeant chuckled. “They’ve work to do ma’am, and there is no denying that you and Janice would be a bit of a distraction.” Melinda blushed, flattered.

“Besides, it’s quieter back here.” Janice added. “Okay Greg,” she continued, handing him her keys. “You can use the truck, just make sure it ends up in one piece at my house, and there is some candy in the glove box for Gabriel.”

After shaking Mel’s hand one last time he gave Janice an official salute and crisply spun on his heel, leaving them. Almost immediately the low rumble of the C46 engines could be heard. Janice whistled and Argo bounded over, curling up at Mel’s feet.

“Why didn’t I see her in Macedonia?” Mel shouted to be heard over the growing roar of the plane.

“She wasn’t there. Greg’s kid, Gabriel, was sick with phenomena. Gabriel adores Argo so I left her with him while he recovered. It worked too, in no time he was talking her for walks.” It wasn’t hard to see the growing panic on Melinda’s face as the plane positioned itself for takeoff. “You don’t like planes, do you?”

“I’m terrified of them.” Mel confessed in a squeak.

Janice reached out and took Mel's hand squeezing it reassuringly. “Well, you’re being very brave.”

“Ohmigod!” Mel gasped as the plane began to pick up speed. Letting go of Janice’s hand she grabbed the smaller woman’s arm, burrowing her head in the archeologist’s shoulder to keep from screaming.

“It’s okay Mel, we’re almost airborne.” Janice murmured into the taller woman’s ear, as she put a comforting arm around her shoulders.

Almost as soon as it started the plane leveled out, the noise level went down dramatically and the ride softened. They were on their way. Mel didn’t let go of Janice right away, nor did the smaller woman release her comforting hold. Eventually however, Melinda Pappas regained her composure and with cheeks crimson from embarrassment, pulled away. “I’m sorry about that,” she muttered, wishing she were wearing a skirt to straighten.

“It’s okay Mel, really. We’ve all got things we’re insecure about.” Janice rummaged into her pack and pulled out two blankets. One she handed to Mel, the other she rolled out on the floor of the cargo plane. “We’ve got a few hours until lunch, I suggest you try to sleep.”

“But I only just woke up.”

“From here on out Melinda Pappas take my advice, you’ll sleep whenever you can, you eat whenever you can.”

“Does the same go for relieving myself?” She asked sarcastically.

“Actually, yes. I can’t guarantee the next meal, or the next night of uneventful sleep. Dr. Leesto is dangerous, and her thugs are dangerous. Smythe was a pansy compared to her.” Janice stretched out on her blanket, Argo laying down next to her and resting her large head on the archeologist’s abdomen.

Mel stretched out on her blanket as well, but before Janice could tip her hat over her eyes, asked another question. “It sounds like you know this Dr. Leesto pretty well?”

Janice absently stroked Argo’s back and looked at the ceiling of the cargo plane. “We went to school together. A long time ago we were even friends. But then she discovered that life for her was much easier if she stayed on the side lines, then try to steal my discoveries and research as I made them. We’ve been battling over Xena sites for years.”

“When did you see her last?” Mel asked, leaning up on an elbow.

“A year ago,” Janice sighed, seething, “when she shot Argo.” Mel looked with alarm to the dog dozing lazily on her mistress. “She lost a lot of blood, she almost didn’t make it, but two Air Corps Surgeons volunteered their time after coming off of twelve hour shifts to assist the vet who was treating her. She pulled through.” Janice smiled warmly at the dog, “I had discovered some artifacts from Xena’s days as a warlord.”

“And Dr. Leesto got the artifacts?” Mel asked gently.

Janice nodded. “Yes, but I managed to get Argo out.”

“But what if she tries to hurt Argo again?”

Janice studied Mel’s face for a moment before answering, then lowered her hat over her face, “I’ll kill her first.”

Armor can be a lot of things. It’s a protective skin, but can become a cage if it isn’t designed properly. It can inspire fear, terror or hope depending upon who wears it. Ultimately it isn’t the clothes though, but the deeds that defines the individual. “So who designed your armor?” Gabrielle asked one day, seemingly out of nowhere. We hadn’t been traveling together for very long, so I suppose I was a little surprised by the frankness of the question.

“I did,” I answered, “why?”

Gabrielle continued to walk alongside Argo and glanced up at me from time to time. We were riding through territory my army had captured years before so I guess I was already on edge.

“It’s just that it suits you so well. I mean, you look incredible in it.” Gabrielle continued to walk along, as if she’d just said it was a nice day. At that point I hadn’t fully realized that was just how she was: completely honest about just about everything.

“I see. So you’re saying I look incredible?”

When she looked up the next time I noticed a blush to her cheeks. Gods it was hard to keep a straight face. “What I mean,” Gabrielle tried to explain, “is that… well, black is definitely your color. I mean your hair, it brings out your eyes, the leather. It all goes together to create a striking image. Then the bronze of your breast plate, it sets off your skin quite nicely. It’s good for storytelling. The only real point of color on you is your eyes, it’s very dramatic.”

“So you’ve spent a lot of time looking at me?” I asked plainly enough.

“I, ah. Well… um. Bards have to be observant. It’s a point of professional pride, so of course I’ve had to look at you.”


“So did you wear the same type of thing when you were a war lord or was it different?”

I stopped Argo and had a look around. I knew the terrain, knew where we were, not far from a cave I’d used in the past. “Well Gabrielle, if you’re that interested I could show you.” We were heading to the next town in no particular hurry, and perhaps I was feeling overindulgent. I extended my hand, and after a half hearted refusal, Gabrielle joined me on Argo’s back. I smiled as her arms circled my waist, and felt the weight of her head as she leaned against my back. When Gabrielle rode with me, unable to see my face from her vantage point, I allowed myself a self satisfied smirk as I felt her arms tighten when Argo took off.

It was a pleasant distraction. With Gabrielle against me, chattering away about the country side, it was more difficult to see the surrounding landscape as I had the last time I was here; riding at the head of an army, leaving the land  burnt and bleeding in my wake. I found the cave without any trouble and helped Gabrielle down before dismounting. I lit a torch and headed into the cave. It was as I remembered, some equipment still littered the cave floor, swords, spears; nothing worth anything. My men that had died had been remembered according to custom so there were no bodies. Making my way to a secluded tunnel I found the alcove where I’d hidden the trunk. Gabrielle held the torch while I pulled it out.

“What’s this?” She asked, looking at the nondescript trunk.

“Some supplies I stowed here when my army came through. As I remember, I had a spare set of armor in this trunk.”

“Really?” She asked moving close as I opened the lid. Smiling indulgently I tossed the lid aside and sure enough, everything was as I’d left it. Things from my past that were no longer mine, belongings of a person I no longer was.

“Oh,” Gabrielle breathed as she reverently lifted out the wire frame of my breast plate. Compared to what I now wore, it was terribly ineffective.

Gabrielle looked at me shyly, I knew that look. She was debating whether she should ask me something. “What?” I offered.

“Would you put it on?” I hadn’t expected that. I must have frowned because she moved away a little and looked uncertain. “I’m sorry,” she gushed. “If it brings back bad memories or something, I understand…”

Now I felt bad, I guess coming from her the question made sense, and I had showed her this in the first place. “It’s alright,” I assured her, “they’re just clothes- right?”

She nodded and sat down on a rock, ready to watch. I sighed. I’d gotten myself into this mess, might as well make the most of it. I stole glances out of the corner of my eye as I undressed. Gabrielle’s attention was riveted. I don’t think she blinked as I slipped my bracers off, unhooked my armor and shrugged out of my leathers. Her eyes roamed over my body, she studied my arms, legs, watched my hands. I wondered what she thought. Did she look upon me as infamous? An oddity? Or as a woman hungry for another? I had to keep my wits about me. It would have been so easy to turn this simple stunt into a seduction, but that was not who I was. At least not anymore.

It was strange putting the old armor on. It felt heavy, bulky, oppressive. When I turned around to face Gabrielle, she jumped. “That’s… ah, different.” She finally said.

“That’s vague.” I replied.

“It doesn’t suit you Xena.” She explained. “It’s dark, and trust me I didn’t think your wardrobe could get any darker. The cape and everything, it takes away from the beauty of your body, it’s strength. And those shoulder thingies… I guess what I mean is that you don’t need to wear something to be fearful. You don’t need to wear something powerful to be strong. And you don’t need to wear something flashy,” she nodded at the chain mail on my hands, “ to be breathtakingly beautiful. It’s like your armor now let’s the real you come to the surface, while this suit, um… buries it.”

I suppose it was way back then that I first felt the tremors of something very special for Gabrielle

Chapter 3: Campfire Girls

Mel woke with a start, then sighed. A bit of air turbulence had drawn her from the land of Xena, back into her own life. She looked over at Janice who was breathing steadily, her hand resting on Argo’s head. Not knowing what time it was, she had no idea how long she’d been asleep. She heard a footstep nearby and instantly Janice was sitting, hat perched back on her head, wide awake.

“Lunch time Dr. Covington.” A young man said as he carefully approached.

“Thanks.” Janice replied accepting the sandwiches and bottles of pop from the Corporal.

He inclined his head in a silent question and Janice smiled. “Sure, go ahead. Argo, say thanks for lunch. He dropped to his knees and played with the dog for a few moments.

“There’s an extra sandwich for Argo.” He said shyly, “roast beef.”

“What’s your name soldier?” Janice asked.

“Purdy.” The man replied.

“Then thank you Corporal Purdy. That’s very kind of you.” He stood and brushed himself off before heading back to his unit.

“Thank you Doctor Covington, Argo is good luck, I can feel it.”

Mel ate in silence for a few moments while Janice fed Argo her sandwich. “Why don’t you believe in luck?” She finally asked.

“I’m a scientist Melinda, there’s no room for luck in science.”

“My daddy was a scientist too Janice, but he kept a rabbit’s foot in his pocket until the day he died.”

“I don’t think that rabbit was very lucky.” Janice replied with a wry grin.

“But look at Xena,” Mel decided to try a different tactic, “she was mighty lucky the day Gabrielle strolled into her life.”

Janice shrugged. “She made the most of an bad situation if you ask me. And Gabrielle didn’t exactly ‘stroll’ into Xena’s life. Xena rescued her then Gabrielle wouldn’t leave her alone.”

Mel crossed her arms, defiant. “Are you saying that Xena: Destroyer of Nations couldn’t get rid of a single bard if she’d wanted to? If Joxer had been the one Xena rescued I’d wager that she wouldn’t have let him follow her.”

“So what’s your point?” Janice asked around a mouthful of sandwich.

“I’m just curious as to why you’re not the least bit curious about the author of the Xena scrolls. Understanding how Gabrielle fit into Xena’s life would shed a lot of insight into exactly who Xena was. Xena can’t be solely defined by her deeds…”

“Maybe so. But we don’t know for sure that Gabrielle was in fact the bard who wrote the scrolls.” Janice ate half of her sandwich, putting the rest in her satchel for later.

“I do.” Mel replied quietly.

Janice did not appear to have heard the comment. Instead she unfolded a well worn map on the cargo floor in front of them. “This is where we’re going.” She said pointing to an area on the island shore. “We then hike over to this cove.” She pointed to another spot, a number of miles from the military base.

“Why don’t we just get picked up at the base?”

“Because smugglers are not welcome on military bases.” Janice replied quietly.

“We’re traveling with pirates…” Janice quickly covered Mel’s mouth with her hand.

“Not so loud okay?” Releasing Mel she added, with a nod toward the other passengers, “they don’t ask, and I don’t tell.”

Mel looked dumbfounded, “you have an interesting group of friends Dr. Covington.”

“I wouldn’t exactly call them friends. They work for hire, and I make sure they are paid well enough to make me a resource worth keeping around. I’ve known the captain for a couple of years, but as for the rest,” Janice shrugged her shoulders, “complete ruffians. I wouldn’t turn your back on them if I were you.”

Mel nodded, understanding. “So when do we rendezvous with them?”

“Assuming they got my message, the day after tomorrow. It’ll be dusk when we land, we’ll hike a few miles away from the base in the dark, then set up camp. We’ll hike the rest of the way tomorrow and hopefully see Aires tomorrow night or the next morning.”

“Is his name really Ares?” Mel asked dubiously.

“No it’s his sign. He’s really into astrology.” After thinking a moment Janice asked Mel what her sign was.

“Well if your friend is really into astrology, won’t he be able to tell?” Mel teased, azure eyes sparkling. “Besides, I don’t think astrology is terribly scientific, I’m surprised you even know your sign.”

Janice grinned back. “This poorly aspected Cancer with Gemini rising doesn’t follow it but I dated someone who did. I’m afraid I picked up more than I care to admit.”

Mel was intrigued, “What was his name?” She asked.

Green eyes flashed under the brim of the archaeologists hat, “Jane Celesta.” Inwardly Janice smiled. Mel was clearly surprised by her admission but fought valiantly to keep the surprise from her features. The slight movement of the eyes and the dilation of pupils set in brilliant blue the only visible signs.

“And what sign was Jane Celesta?” Mel asked calmly.

“Leo.” Janice replied, “Friendliest sign of the zodiac.”

Mel was a little taken aback. “And Jane was friendly?”

Janice shrugged, “for awhile, but the fact that she had Aquarius rising I think messed things up. Either that or the fact that I walked in on her with one of my colleagues.”

“I see.”

“Do you Mel?” Janice asked almost shyly.

Now it was Me’s turn to smile, with what she hoped was reassurance, “Of course. Leo’s aren’t your cup of tea.”

Janice grinned back not completely convinced, “you don’t find it…” she searched for the right word, “deviant?”

Mel leaned over and clasped the archeologist’s hand warmly, “it’s true that I don’t know you very well Janice, but nothing about you strikes me as deviant. Hostile, stubborn and insecure maybe. And while I find it remarkable that you found anyone to put up with you romantically… I am sorry it didn’t work out.”

Janice beamed. Complimented, insulted and reassured all at once. Melinda Pappas was quickly becoming too good to be true. “Mel,” she laughed warmly, “you’re a class act, I grant you that…”

“Why thank you.” Mel replied primly.

“But don’t misunderstand, I have no problems finding romantic companionship.” A prideful gleam crept into the archaeologist’s eyes.

“And why is that?” Mel asked with feigned indifference.

“Because I know how to show a lady a good time.”

Mel couldn’t have kept the blush that crept to her cheeks away if she’d tried. She wasn’t sure if Janice was just bragging or giving her an invitation. More importantly she was undecided as to which she wanted. More and more she felt the line between herself and her ancient ancestor blurring, and it was difficult to keep her own feelings and those of Xena separate. Unsure why, she suspected that in time the power of the warrior’s dreams would subside and she’d be able to put them into perspective in her own life. Perhaps because the alternative, her own personality being consumed by that of a centuries dead warrior was too frightening to accept.

In time Janice put her maps away and again reclined to sleep. Mel decided not to follow suit. Another visit from Xena was not what she needed at the moment. Gently removing the notebook from where it lay at the archaeologist’s side she read through the well worn pages. Most of the passages were about Xena. Notes written in the doctor’s careful hand about discoveries, theories and speculation about the warrior princess’ life. There were some sketches, dig sites mostly but a few drawings of how Janice guessed the warrior princess looked. She smiled at the notes from the recent events in Macedonia. She found a brief description of herself as well as Janice’s first impressions. She frowned at the notation spoiled southern belle written in the margin. “We’ll see about that,” she thought. Then, turning the next page her breath caught in her throat at the sketch of her. Rather it was a sketch of Xena wearing her face. Hair down, eyes sparkling and confident, it could never be a drawing of her. That quiet grace was something Melinda Pappas only dreamed about, back when her dreams were her own.

Mel found the landing of the C46 even more traumatic than take off. Argo leaned against her, providing what comfort she could, and Janice was surprisingly understanding. She waited patiently at the hatch of the plane until Mel was recovered enough leave. A short ride later they were at the edge of the base making their way down a narrow trail on the sparsely populated island.

“I don’t see why we aren’t using flash lights or torches or something. We’re just blindly walking off into a dark forest.” Mel complained as she realized that Janice was indeed about to head out into the dark.

“It’s a full moon Mel, there is plenty of light to see. Besides,” Janice stressed as she shouldered her heavy pack, “when you use a flash light, you tend not to notice anything out of the light’s illumination. I don’t think the island is quite that safe. Just follow me,” she urged, “you’ll be fine.”

With a sigh Mel started out on the trail after the doctor and her dog. In time her eyes did indeed adjust to the moonlit surroundings. The tropical plants were bathed in a pale blue light. Janice silently followed Argo, machete out and occasionally hacking obtrusive flora out of her way. In time they were at the edge of a cliff overlooking the indigo ocean. Carefully navigating the switchbacks that headed down to the beach, Janice occasionally offered a hand to Mel, helping her over the most treacherous parts. Argo seemed unaware of any danger, staying about twenty five feet in front of her mistress, occasionally stopping and waiting for her to catch up. Once down on the beach the quickly made their way to a secluded spot in the cliffs, shielded by rock on three sides.

“This feels like another world.” Mel said quietly as Janice shrugged out of her pack.

“It is.” Janice replied as she set to making up camp. “We’re safe from the tide, there’s usually plenty of fire wood over there, and we can risk a small fire.”

“What about animals?” Mel asked as she considered heading over to collect some wood.

Janice smiled, reading her thoughts. “Take Argo with you, there probably isn’t much on this island bigger than her and she won’t let anything sneak up on you. If we’re lucky she’ll even catch dinner.” Mel nodded, none too sure of herself, headed out into the woods. Janice gazed after her as she left letting her eyes drift over the raven haired woman’s graceful form. “Stop it Janice!” she scolded herself as her thoughts began to wander.

By the time Mel returned, arms full of fire wood, Janice had made a small stone circle for the fire and laid out their blankets, one on each side of the circle. In no time she had a small fire blazing it’s light casting a warm glow on the camp site. “What, no rabbits?” Janice asked Argo as the big dog curled up on the sand in the space between the blankets. “Lazy!”

“Does she really hunt for you?” Mel asked, suspecting the archeologist of playing with her.

“Sometimes.” Janice replied and rummaged in her bag for a tin of food. “Do you like sardines?” She asked peeling back the lid on a tin of the small fish. The grimace on Mel’s face was all the answer she needed. With a sigh she extracted the other half of her sandwich from her satchel and tossed it to Mel. “I’ve also got some crackers or canned hash if you want.” She also took out of tin of dog food and opened it for Argo. After hurriedly eating her meager dinner Janice stood and motioned for Argo and Mel to stay put. “I’m just going to have a look around- stay here.” Mel ate her sandwich in silence, trying to put together all the mis-matched pieces of Janice Covington that she’d seen thus far into a cohesive image. She wasn’t having much luck.

About twenty minutes later Janice quietly reemerged by the edge of the firelight. She held a ripe pineapple in her arm, and wore a look of smug satisfaction. “I love pineapple” Mel laughed, happy at the surprise. In moments both women were feasting on the juicy fruit. A quick walk to the break water after and they were washing the sticky juice from their arms and faces. Mel stood, stretching her back and gazed out at the horizon. The full moon overhead shone down brightly, illuminating the ocean with a soft glow. The sky was clear and stars shown brightly on the other side of the sky. Simply put, it was one of the most beautiful sights Melinda Pappas had ever seen.

“Is this what life is like for you Janice Covington? Moving from one adventure to the next, living in a world of surreal beauty?”

Janice followed Mel’s gaze out over the ocean. “Sometimes,” she replied thoughtfully, “but I’ve spend nights on this island, with rain pouring down in buckets, nothing but mud and wet sand. Nights on end with no fire, no food and no guarantee I’d ever get home again.”

“Yet you continue…” Mel smiled down at her friend as they walked back to camp.

“As my pop said, Covington’s are too dumb to quit. A find or a clue and the rush from a discovery make all the cold wet nights worth it.”

Mel and Janice sat down together on Mel’s blanket as Janice fed more wood into the fire. Enjoying the sounds of the night and each other’s company, Mel began to feel as if she were in another world. “So the misery is worth it?” She finally asked. “But what about the loneliness? No Flora Gates or Jane Celesta to share the misery.”

Janice cocked her head quizzically at the question. “Not while I’m working,” she replied honestly.“Well not very often,” she added with a grin. “I like to think I inherited my father’s appreciation of women. But I haven’t had any better luck than he had at keeping one around. He did love my mother though.” She added softly, then brightening asked, “so what about you Mel? I take it you’re not married?”

Mel gazed into the fire and shook her head. “Oh no, not even close. There was a story my daddy used to tell me. About how long ago people had four legs and two heads, then the gods threw down thunderbolts separating them so they had two legs and one head. He used to tell me to search out the other half of my soul, not to settle for less. And the truth is, I never have. I always liked that story, he said his grandmother told it to him. To think that out there, some where is someone with two legs and one head: the other half of my soul.”

Janice smiled as she gazed into the fire, her own thoughts years distant. “Your father told me that story too.” She shook her head with a laugh, “I was hung over, Diana had broken my heart in seventeen places. God I was young then. Anyway your dad was visiting the campus and had agreed to go over some of my research at lunch. I must have looked like hell because he instantly knew what was wrong. An unusual man your father, he said to me ‘she’s not worth it’ and proceeded to tell me that story. Didn’t even phase him that I was hung over because of a woman. I always liked him, and respected him.”

Mel smiled at the memory of her father, pleased that he had gotten along so well with her new friend. “Have you always been attracted to women?” She asked quietly, gazing at the orange hue Janice’s hair had taken on in the fire light.

Janice fidgeted with the fire. Mel thought she might not have heard the question when she finally answered, “I don’t know. I guess so. I mean, I never really thought about it. My dad did the best he could as a parent. But I’ve been told that moving from dig to dig was an unusual way for a young girl to grow up. Dad taught me how to handle a revolver when I was ten, and I started to learn to use the bullwhip then too. I pitched in as a digger, smuggled goods from one country to the next… I guess I grew up as one of the guys. I had a hard time adjusting to collage, the routine, the safety of it. It was all so foreign to me. I really had no interest in dating any of the men, they all seemed so… I don’t know… uninteresting. Diana was in my anthropology class and well…” She blushed slightly.

“Life got interesting?” Mel offered.

“You could say that.” Janice agreed, turning back to look at Mel, shy smile on her face. She was not prepared for the brilliance of the blue eyes gazing gently at her. The expression on Mel’s face was unreadable, there was a strength and hunger in her gaze that Janice wouldn’t have associated with Melinda Pappas. Feeling the color rise to her cheeks as her pulse doubled she glanced around the camp site, looking anywhere but at her companion. “Well, um, it’s getting late Mel. Why don’t you get some sleep. We’ve got another eight miles to hike in the morning.” Taken aback by the sudden change in Janice’s mood, Mel was instantly sorry she’d pried into the archaeologists personal life.          

“Janice.” Mel said putting a restraining hand on Janice’s arm as she tried to get up from the blanket. “If I’ve said anything that has upset you, I’m truly sorry.”

“You’re fine Mel.” Janice said, forcing a cocky grin to her face. “But we do need to get some sleep.” Mel let go but continued to look critically at her rugged companion as she stretched out on her own blanket and readied herself for sleep.

“I don’t believe you, you know.” Mel said, as Janice tipped her hat over her face.

“That’s your prerogative.” Janice replied, and in moments was feigning sleep.

I suppose it was only fitting that days after Perdicus’ death the rains started. I don’t remember when Gabrielle and I had been so completely miserable. I was still grappling with all the ramifications of her marriage and Gabrielle was in mourning. I guess I was mourning too, only I’d been at it longer. Darkness had settled itself around me like a shroud from the moment I saw him propose to her. The highs and lows of the next few days were as exhausting as any battle I’d ever fought. Hopeful that she’d say no, then guilty that I wanted her to say no so badly. I gave her my support in an attempt to remain neutral. I didn’t her want to stay with me for my sake alone. And the joy I felt when she told me she was going to tell him no- I almost confessed my love right then. But then she said yes. She said yes right in the middle of a battle when the ox had thrown down his sword, a move that could have killed them both.

I was tired. This was not the first time that Gabrielle had surprised me so suddenly, in a matter of seconds making me wonder if I truly knew her at all. She’d left me twice before, once to go home, once to go to Athens. Each time I told myself that I was better for it. I knew I was lying, but it was the only consolation I could find on a path that had suddenly become very empty. Then she came back, each time a stronger person; a more devoted person. With each of those events I felt more reassured about the depth of her feelings for me. Against my better judgement, hope grew that one day her feelings might run as deep as mine. All of that was shattered with her marriage. She wouldn’t be coming back.

She originally left him to follow me, to be with me, and she didn’t even know me then. He abruptly left her at Troy. Perhaps he thought I might not give her up without a fight. But something changed, coming to her as a pathetic wretch, appealing to the generosity of Gabrielle’s nature. That was not something I could do battle with, and without a fight he won. Then he died and I murdered his murderer.

As soon as the rain started she wanted to leave Poteidaia. I thought she might be better off staying in her family’s house, feeling their support, but she would have none of it. She wanted distance from the pain, and while I was as spent as she was, only I could take her away. I can only guess as to what went on in her mind as we walked mile after mile in the soggy silence. She was still struggling with her anger and hatred for Callisto, now obsolete since I’d killed her. I’m sure she was angry about having Perdicus for so short a time and I’ve no doubt she missed him as well. Perhaps she was angry with me, for being able to save her but not her love. If she blamed me for his death she never said so. I suppose at the time I was too consumed with my own pain to provide the comfort and support she wanted. Maybe that made her angry too. All I know is that night, when the cold and the wet made us ache to our core, she was ready to explode.

I had found a small cave after a full day of walking. I was ready to stop, I didn’t care if she was ready or not. There was room for Argo by the entrance, she’d have shelter from the worst of the storm. There was room inside for a small fire, I could stand up without hitting my head on the ceiling but it was close. I took my sword off immediately since there would not have been room to draw it from my back.

“I don’t want to stop.” Gabrielle said flatly from the entrance to the cave.

I shrugged. “Argo and I are tired, we all need to rest.”

“The Warrior Princess tired?” She shot back. “I find that hard to believe.”

“It happens,” I replied not trying to hide the exhaustion in my voice. “Gabrielle, you could walk a thousand miles tonight and you’d be hurting just as much. Please come here, dry off and get some rest.” Mutely she complied.

It was cold in the cave. Fortunately Argo’s saddle bag had kept our shifts dry. I took off my armor, setting it near the fire to dry as Gabrielle watched me silently, her eyes burning like embers. I put my blanket against a smooth angled rock and sat down. There wasn’t room for both of us to sleep stretched out, but the rock would do. “You should get out of those wet clothes Gabrielle.” I suggested gently.

“I can take care of myself!” She shouted, furious, “Why are you always trying to mother me?”

I was on my feet in an instant. Tired and spent as I was I did not have the energy to endure her tirade just because she was hurting. “I’m not trying to mother you Gabrielle. I’m your friend and I’m telling you that being miserable is not going to make your grief any more pure. I’m not saying anything you wouldn’t say to me if our places were switched.”

With that she flew at me, crying. Fists rained down on my arms and chest as she shouted incoherently. I stood there and took it for a few moments until I’d had enough. I could feel my own anger building; she was hitting me hard. I grabbed her arms and pulled her roughly to my chest tightening my grip as she struggled. Finally she stopped trying to hit me and just cried, her cold arms encircling me. She didn’t protest as I eased her to the cave floor by the fire. She didn’t say a word as I positioned myself against the rock wall and straddled her with my legs. There were no objections as I removed her sodden clothes and helped her into a dry shift. Then I wrapped the other blanket around her icy body and pulled her close. She continued to cry rough sobs against my chest as I held her. Finally she quieted, her hand absently touching my arm.

“Thank you Xena.” She breathed into my skin.

I squeezed her reassuringly. “I’m here for you Gabrielle.” I said quietly into her hair.

“I know.” She sighed, “and that’s part of my problem. You’ve never let me down Xena. And I know that isn’t true of me.”

What could I say? She was telling the truth. I don’t know what was going through her mind. Tonight was so different for her than a couple of nights ago. Instead of laying in a soft bed full of warmth and passion she was huddled in a cold cave with a reformed warlord. I was surprised by the feel of her hand moving up my arm to my neck. I looked down, startled by the smoky desire in the eyes looking back at me. I felt devastated. Here was a look I’d longed for so long to see, and now I was seeing it for all the wrong reasons. Gabrielle was hurting, hurting so badly that she was desperate for a distraction, any distraction. Gently she touched my face with her cold fingers, tracing the line of my cheek and jaw.

“I’m sorry for the times I’ve let you down Xena.” She said as she brushed my lips with her fingers. “I don’t deserve you.” She whispered as her hand moved to the back of my neck, drawing my head down. She was cold in my arms but her lips were warm as they sought out mine. I was helpless to refuse her desire for comfort, but when her tongue brushed against my teeth seeking greater intimacy I gently pulled back. Another second and I knew I would be taking advantage of one person I had ever truly loved. I tightened my arms around her once again willing her to feel warm and safe. Resting my cheek on the top of her head I softly told her to sleep. In time she did. I stayed up that night knowing that I might not ever have the opportunity to hold her this way again. It might have been the exhaustion, but for me at that time it was enough and during those few hours, surrounded by soggy misery, I was happy

Chapter 4: Beyond The Sea

Janice rolled her head for the hundredth time to gaze a Mel. She found the raven haired beauty utterly captivating and felt certain she’d never tire of watching her sleep. Her eyes darted back and forth in dream, her features relaxed. Argo was curled up next to her, and for that Janice was grateful. Argo had kept her warm on many a cold night and she’d been worried about Mel’s tolerance for the chill night air. “Still,”  she reasoned to herself, “it was her decision to come.” She wondered again why the obviously pampered woman would choose such a hard path. With a shrug she reminded herself that it was none of her business, everyone lived and learned by their own mistakes. Being charming, gentle and magnificently beautiful was no protection against that. As the thunder of waves crashing on the beach subsided, Janice decided it was time to get up.

As soon as she moved the dog’s eyes opened, watching her mistress intently. “It’s okay girl, stay with Mel. I’ll be right back.” Janice whispered and gave the dog the visual command to stay, then headed a short distance beyond the rocks to relieve herself.

Mel awoke to the smell of coffee filling her senses. She opened her eyes to stars still hanging in the sky above her, with Janice Covington sitting on the other side of a rekindled fire sipping from a steaming mug. “What time is it?” Mel asked, very groggy.

Janice looked at the sky briefly before answering. “It’s still a couple of hours before dawn. We’ve got a long hike ahead of us this morning.”

“But the moon is gone- how will we see?” Mel asked, forcing herself to sit up. She gratefully accepted the enameled mug that Janice offered her, noting how warm the archaeologists hands felt against her own cold fingers.

“We’ll be walking along the beach. By the time we have to climb to the next cove the sun will be up.”

Janice was impressed that Mel refrained from complaining as they got ready to go. The archeologist’s daughter seemed to be made of sterner stuff than she had first suspected. They made good time walking the length of the shoreline several miles to the next huge rock outcrop. An enormous basalt formation jutted some distance out into the water, there was no way around it- they’d have to go over.

“Now what?” Mel asked as they reached the base of the basalt formation. It was not strictly vertical, but still very steep.

Janice called Argo and extracted something form one of her packs. After making the dog sit down in front of her she proceeded to put leather booties on the dog’s feet, securing them with strips of leather thong. “We climb.” Janice replied matter of factly.
From her own pack she extracted two pairs of leather gloves and handed one to Mel. “The basalt is sharp. Argo cut her foot on it last time. Watch where you put your hands, and try not to bump you knees and you’ll be fine.”

Mel eyed the rock cliff dubiously. “How can Argo…?”

Janice smiled, “Argo. Up!” She pointed to the crest of the rock. The dog ran back and forth a couple of times looking for the best place to begin. Then she began to bound up the rock face. There was enough slope for the dog to climb by scrambling over the rock in a zig- zagging pattern “We follow the dog.” Janice explained. She headed up the rock next with Mel following her. Several times she paused in her ascent to make sure Melinda Pappas was making progress. Argo reached the top in about ten minutes, it took the humans over twice as long.

Janice shrugged out of her pack and offered a canteen of water to Mel as soon as she joined her at the top. “Let me take a look at that.” Janice said, and Mel was not sure what she was talking about. Then following the archaeologist’s line of sight looked down to her leg, a small patch of blood seeping through the knee of her pants.

“I didn’t realize I even cut myself.” Mel said now feeling the pain from her knee.

“This rock is sharp, there is a lot of obsidian in it.” Janice explained as she untucked Mel’s pantleg from her boot and eased the material over her knee. The scrape was shallow but long. After pulling a battered first aid kit from her pack, Janice cleaned the wound with some water then wrapped a length of gauze around it. Mel was surprised by the archaeologist gentle hands. She suspected that if Janice had the same scrape on her own leg, she’d ignore it. Finally she said as much.

Janice rocked back on her heels and smiled. “This isn’t strictly for your benefit sweetheart. These smugglers are really touchy. They see blood and they think you’re injured and helpless. I can control Aires to some extent but I don’t know how unbalanced his crew this time out is. Last time I showed up on his ship with a bleeding cut on my shoulder- I had to eventually break a guys arm to get him to leave me alone. We’ll have a cabin on board, when we get there I suggest you stay put until we get to Cal’s island. It’ll be a boring two days, but believe me that’s a lot nicer than excitement on that ship.” Finishing with Mel’s injury she put the first aid kit back in her pack and prepared to descend the other side of the rock wall. Unsure why, Mel was a little let down by the doctor’s explanation. Janice noticed the sullen silence and smiled to herself as she followed Argo down the cliff.

They had not been on the sandy beach for long when a small boat appeared around the side of the cove. Argo noticed it immediately and barked. “Right on time.” Janice smiled and motioned for Mel to join her as she walked over to meet the boat. Once in the shallow surf, one of the two men in the boat hopped out and guided the boat to shore. Janice grasped the man’s offered hand. “Aires, good to see you,” she glanced to the man still in the boat, “you too Toby.” The boatman smiled and waved in greeting as Aires approached Mel.

“I got word you’d have a guest, Doctor Covington. I didn’t know she’d be so radiant.” With that he smoothly brought Mel’s hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles softly.

Janice rolled her eyes skyward and stepped in between Mel and the Captain. “Don’t even think about it,” she warned. Mel took a moment to study the captain. He was handsome black man, with dark rugged features and well defined muscles. Very athletic. His companion in the boat, however, was anything but. Simply put, he was the largest man Mel had ever seen. He had a bald head covered by an ornate tattoo, handlebar moustache and bright blue eyes. He also had a friendly smile and reminded Mel of an enormous teddy bear.

“I am Captain Aires,” Aires said ignoring Janice’s warning. “And in the boat is Tobias Eule, but we call him Toby. He can’t talk so don't think him anti-social.”

“Nice to meet you.” Mel replied from behind Janice’s shoulder with a nod to the captain and the man in the boat.

“Glad to see Argo recovered.” Aires said, finally looking at Janice.

“Better than new.” Janice confirmed, as she shouldered her pack and headed for the boat. Reaching the boat, Janice extracted a pouch and handed it to Aires. He counted the money carefully then nodded. After helping Mel into the boat Janice whistled for Argo who easily leapt into the small wooden craft. Janice climbed in next after stowing her gear to the back of the boat, behind Mel.

The boat ride to The Gauntlet was uneventful. Mel listened quietly as Janice and Aires caught up on each other’s lives, noting with interest how she interacted with the man. The warm friendliness Janice had exhibited with Greg Ore was missing. Everything about her was no nonsense and formidable. Finally Aires leaned over and Mel could just barely hear him ask, “What’s the deal with you and the beauty? Are you and she…”

Janice whispered back , “You’ll live longer if you assume as much.” He laughed openly at that.

“Always one for understatement Doc. Okay, I’ll tell the men to keep away from your… companion.” He smiled at Mel and winked. Returning his attention to Janice he was serious once more, “Silvus is still on board, I’d give him wide berth if I were you. He still hasn’t forgiven you for destroying his arm the way you did.”

Janice nodded, “I’ll make every effort to avoid him. I hope he’s smart and does the same.”

It didn’t take long for the small row boat to reach the cargo ship. After a confirming hand signal from the Captain, the small craft and it’s occupants were brought on board. A number of men hung over the side of the ship, hooting and calling to the new arrivals as the boat was hoisted up. However, Mel noted with satisfaction, as soon as the boat was secured and the occupants standing on the main deck of the ship, the whistles and cat-calls silenced. In fact, most of the men quickly found something else to occupy their attention.

Mel followed Argo and Janice below decks to their cabin. Once inside, Janice propped her pack against the wall and surveyed the room. Argo bounded up on to the bed, the piece of furniture that dominated the small cabin, and stood patiently as Janice removed her pack. There was a crate that served as a table or dresser with a large enameled bowl resting on top. An old mirror hung on the wall, and several pegs were present near by for hanging clothes. On the floor next to the crate was a large container of water with a lid. Sitting on the bed next to Argo, Janice began to unlace her boots. “The water is clean,” Janice said conversationally as she removed a boot and wiggled her toes, “Aires knows better than to put me in a room without clean sheets and clean water. I can’t vouch for anything else though.”

“I get the impression you don’t really like the captain?” Mel asked as she studied her reflection in the mirror. She didn’t think she’d ever seen herself so… rumpled looking.

“Oh, I like him fine.” Janice replied, watching with interest as Mel studied her reflection, “I just don’t trust him. Hell, I know enough about his business to know that you don’t survive by making loyalty a high priority.” Mel nodded, distracted, and Janice shook her head. “See something interesting Mel?”

Mel turned with a start to see brilliant green eyes watching her. “I… well… I was just thinking that this attire is more comfortable than I would have expected. Except for the boots that is, my feet are killing me.”

Janice was on her feet and getting the first aid kit out again. “You’ve done a lot of walking today, you might have blisters.” She motioned for Argo to get off the bed, when the dog complied she motioned for Mel to take a seat. Sitting on the floor of the cabin, Janice began to unlace her right boot. Mel watched as Janice’s skillful fingers made quick work of the boot lace. She began to feel her pulse speed up as the room seemed to shrink.

“You don’t have to do that Janice.” Mel shyly protested as the first boot was eased off her foot. The gentle attention of her friend was making Mel’s heart race, that was disquieting enough, but the other sensations that joined in were downright distracting.

“Don’t be silly.” Janice replied, intent on her task. “If you’ve got blisters you can’t walk,” she smiled up into clear blue eyes, “and don’t think for a moment that I’m going to carry you.” Almost as an afterthought Janice looked up, “you’re not particularly shy about your feet are you?”

Mel wanted to run. “Ah… not especially…”

Janice nodded. “Good, ‘cause there is little room in archeology for modesty.”

Mel looked up at the ceiling, startled to see another mirror attached there. It was long and ran the same direction as the bed. Gazing up, she could see Janice’s reflection as she removed her sock and began to gently massage her foot, looking for hot-spots or blisters. It felt wonderful, almost too good. “Janice, why is there a mirror on the ceiling?” She finally asked to distract herself as the second boot was unlaced.

“This is Aires’ cabin. I stay in it when I’m onboard. And no, not with him.” Janice was silent once more, as if the owner of the cabin was explanation enough for the mirror.

“He said something on the row boat, about you and me…”

Janice looked up from her task and shrugged. “I’m sorry you had to hear that, repulsive as you might find it. You’ll be safer if they think you’re sleeping with me. If nothing else, they respect Argo, so it’d be stupid for either of us to be in a room without her.” After seeing the other woman’s mollified expression she added, “Don’t worry, I think I’ll be able to restrain myself. You’ll be safe here.”

“What do you mean by that?” Mel asked, annoyed at the comment.

“I’m just saying I won’t try anything.” Janice replied innocently.

“I’m not good enough? Is that what you’re saying?!” Mel shot back hotly getting more miffed at the archaeologists assumptions the more she thought about it.

“Are you saying you want me to try something Mel Pappas?” Janice asked softly.

“I’m asking why I should assume that you wouldn’t…” Mel retorted, removing her foot from Janice’s grasp. Mel wasn’t sure what bothered her more. That Janice assumed she thought sexual intimacies with her would be repulsive or that the archeologist wasn’t the least bit interested in her.

Janice smiled at the forcefulness of the question. “Well for starters Mel, you aren’t my type. Anymore than I’m yours I suspect. I mean business partner, maybe, but lover? Nah.” Not entirely convinced about what she was saying, even as she said it, Janice was determined to keep her attraction from the spoiled southerner. She didn’t want to face the inevitable rejection or make Mel uncomfortable with her. It had happened too often in the past.

Genuinely stung by the archeologist’s dismissal, Mel turned away. “I’m gratified to hear it. That must say something for my degree of sophistication and maturity,” she shot back hotly. “And just so you know, you’re not my type either.”

“I know, I’m not a man.” Janice shrugged.

“It goes way beyond gender.” Mel said icily.

“What do you mean by that?” Janice demanded.

She never got her answer. A loud knock sounded on the door. “What is it?!” Janice shouted, angry.

“Cap’n wants to see you on deck. Another ship is headed to intercept us.” Said the voice on the other side of the door.

“Great, just great.” Janice said as she began to put her own boots back on. Moments later she was heading out the door glaring at Mel and Argo sternly. “You two stay here.”

As soon as Janice left Argo began to pace back and forth in front of the door. Finally sitting down she looked at Mel and began to paw at the closed door. “She said to stay here.” Mel reminded the dog. The whining became louder and the pawing more forceful. Making up her mind Mel put her own boots back on. “I’m telling her it’s your fault.” She said opening the door and followed the dog.

Janice stood deep in conversation with Captain Aires, looking out to sea with a pair of battered binoculars when they arrived on deck. “Is it Leesto?” Aires asked after Janice had studied the approaching ship for several long minutes.

“Nope.” Janice replied when she was sure. “They’re smugglers plain and simple. What‘re you hauling?”

“That is not for you to know Covington.” Aires replied with a smile.

Janice shrugged. “Well I don’t think you’re going to be able to out run them.”

“Then we will fight them.”

“Oh, wonderful.” Janice muttered. “Might as well shut down your engines now. Make ‘em think twice about approaching.” Just then Janice felt a familiar wet nose nudge her hand, “I thought I told you…”

“Argo insisted.” Mel supplied crisply when Janice leveled a glare in her direction.

Several men snickered near by. “What’s so funny?” Janice demanded advancing on the snickering sailor.

“No hard feelings Doc,” the young man said with a smile, catching his breath, “I can’t control my wife either.” Several more men laughed at the comment.

“Very funny.” Janice agreed grinning.

“Who’s the whore this week Jan?” Another voice asked, void of humor. “Does she come when you eat her?”

Janice spun at the sound, instantly finding the source of the comment. “How’s the arm Silvus?” She asked, taking a cigar out of her pocket and lighting it.

His only response was a growl as he began to descend the stairs that led to the deck. Instinctively the men began to back up, giving the adversaries plenty of room. Janice stood her ground, calmly inhaling the smoke from her cigar, thin trails of gray curling from her nose and mouth. Casually she took the cigar out of her mouth and puffed several perfect smoke rings, chewing on the cigar once again when Silvus reached the deck.

 Silvus was a mountain of a man, not so much muscled as thick. He had no neck to speak of and was dressed in filthy clothes that hung off of him like greasy rags. Janice checked on the proximity of the approaching ship, an idea forming in her mind. She turned her back to Silvus and began to take off her jacket. She walked over to Mel who was standing next to Aires and handed it to her.

“I’ll take care of these smugglers for you.” She whispered to Aires as she began to unhitch her gunbelt, “but you’ll have to protect Mel and Argo from Silvus.”

Aires nodded as Mel accepted the archaeologist gun belt. “What are you fixin’ to do?” she asked.

Janice smiled taking out her cigar. “I’m going to pick a fight with him and loose.” She turned back to Aires, “When I go overboard, start a brawl, will ya?” Absently she reached down and scratched Argo behind the ears. “You stay out of this.” She whispered fiercely to the dog. Taking Mel’s hand she put it around the dog’s collar. “Keep her out of this,” she said to Mel, “and when the fighting really starts, get below decks and lock the door.” After a quick wink she turned back to face Silvus.

He stood on the deck ten feet from Janice, one hand holding a baseball bat with an iron spike in it. His other arm hung loosely at an odd angle from his body. It appeared to have been broken in several places and set incorrectly. While the fist still clenched reflexively, the arm looked almost useless. The two began to circle each other when to Mel’s horror the sailor’s began to place bets on the outcome. Most bets were in the archaeologist favor. After all she’d bested the big man last time.

With a roar he swung at Janice who sidestepped the blow easily. Her knee came up into his gut her fists down on the back of his neck. He didn’t appear to have felt it. Twisting back around he took another swing, this time missing Janice by only a whisper. In a flash her whip was out and the tip coiled around the base of the bat. With a hard yank she pulled it from his grasp and sent the weapon sailing overboard. Silvus charged, his meaty fist jabbing at Janice’s head. She ducked and slipped behind the big man. “So,” he asked turning to face her, “do you come when she sticks her fingers in your hot, wet…uh” Janice’s leg connected with his knee and he went down to the deck with a thud. Just as fast he was back up again and forcing Janice to the ships railing.

“As a matter of fact, I do… repeatedly.” She grinned after taking another puff from her cigar. This time however she did not move when a badly thrown fist sailed at her mid section. She took the force of the blow, acting like it hurt more than it did. She could hear voices on the other ship now, as the other smuggling crew bet on the outcome of the fight. Another minute and they’d be close enough.

Mel was startled by Argo’s growl when Silvus’ fist connected with her mistress’ belly. “No, girl.” Mel said, struggling to keep the big dog from joining the fight. She struggled again as another punch from Silvus had Janice landing on deck, hard. With a triumphant roar he kicked the prone woman in the ribs then picked up her struggling body and threw it overboard. Janice’s worn hat fluttered to the deck as her body sailed overboard and into the sea below.

“That dumb ass.” Aires muttered as he shoved Mel. “If you know what’s smart, you’ll get going now!” With a yell of his own he struck the nearest crewman. In minutes the entire deck of the ship was engulfed in a brawl.

Janice hit the water and swam down, as far and as fast as she could. When she finally surfaced for air she was right next to the hull of the approaching ship. She looked up to see the faces of the smugglers either looking at the brawl on the Gauntlet or scanning the water for signs of her body. Fortunately they were scanning the water where her body had landed, not where she was. Cautiously she moved to the side of the ship away from the The Gauntlet and flicking her bullwhip onto a deck rail, began to climb up the side of the ship. She stayed quiet and careful, easing her dripping body onto the cargo ship.

As she hoped, all of the crew on deck were at the rail watching the brawl. As silently as her wet clothes allowed, she slipped below decks. Janice had recognized the ship as Remember Nothing from on board the The Gauntlet, and while it wasn’t something Aires needed to know, Janice had a score to settle. The independent thugs that operated the pirate vessel had stolen a prize find from her in the past. Now it was payback time. She startled one crewman on the stairs leading into the belly of the ship. He was silenced with a wet boot landing solidly on his nose. Not bothering to step over the body, she continued down the stairs to the deck below.

Cautiously she checked the open cabins until she found that of the Captain. He was studying himself in a mirror, shaving.

“You know, some day your vanity is going to get you in a heap of trouble.” Janice said quietly as she leaned on his table. Her hand and wrist relaxed, holding her bullwhip.

He spun around at her words, his eyes flashing. “Jan? Why, how good to see you. I don’t suppose you’ve brought me another present?” He shrugged, answering his own question, “Dr. Leesto was so happy with the last one. Xena’s breastplate wasn’t it?”

“You remembered Captain Crunch, I’m flattered.”

“If you don’t mind Jan, it’s Krykus, Captain Krykus.” He looked closely at the dripping archeologist, “What, no mutt? Oh, did she not make it?” He asked with feigned sincerity.

In a flash the bullwhip was out and wrapped around the throat of the captain. Janice yanked down hard and with a thud his chin connected with the table top. “That’s for Argo.” Jan hissed as she shoved his unconscious body to the floor. Quickly rummaging through his room. It didn’t take long for her to find what she was looking for. “So predictable,” she muttered, retrieving her whip as she left.

Almost as soon as it began the fighting began to subside. Aires noted with concern that the other smuggling ship was getting painfully close. Much longer and they’d be able to board. Already they had cut their engines and were drifting toward the The Gauntlet. Soon he’d give the signal to gun the engines and try to move away, whether Janice Covington was on board his ship or not. He dabbed at his bloodied nose gently as he approached Mel Pappas, who was looking forlornly at the ocean where Janice had landed. “Any sign of her?” He asked gently.

Startled out of her thoughts she replied quickly, “no, not yet.” Mel gingerly fingered the brim of Janice’s hat, that Argo had retrieved from the deck as soon as the fighting started. Both woman and dog seemed only vaguely aware of what went on around them, both human and canine eyes riveted to the ocean below.

He joined in her visual search of the waters. “Well I can give her another five minutes, but if there isn’t a sign of her by then, we’ll have to go. I can’t risk being boarded.”

Mel nodded absently, there wasn’t much she could say to argue with the captain. If she didn’t even know how to articulate her own feelings for the complicated archeologist, how could she explain them to another?

As if sensing her confusion Aires changed the subject. “As long as we’re waiting, why not tell me when you were born?”

Janice quickly positioned the sticks of dynamite in the main hold of the cargo ship, shaking her head at what ever priceless antiquities she was about to destroy. “Not so fast Covington” a seething voice rasped from the doorway.

Krykus stood leaning against the doorway, his revolver pointed at Janice, his neck red and blistered from the burn of the bullwhip. “Nice nap?” Janice asked, gaging the distance between Krykus and the door.

“It’s over Jan. You’ve been good for business in the past but it’s over. I’ll have to make sure that barge that brought you out here pays for dealing with your kind of scum.”

“That’s no way to talk about a lady.” Janice smirked.

“You’re no lady.”

Janice shrugged, he was right after all, and dove for the door. A shaky hand followed her movement and the revolver fired. Janice yelped in pain as she rolled to her feet and kicked up at Krykus. A commotion sounded above them on deck as excited voices responded to the gun shot. The momentary distraction was enough to divert Krykus’ eyes for the second Janice needed to land another kick, this time hitting her mark. The gun sailed from the captain’s hand and skittered across the deck. She brought her foot back again, this time landing a blow to the captain’s groin. He doubled over and instantly she was on her feet winching in pain as she stood.

She cast a quick glance down to her arm. A swelling stain of red was quickly seeping through her shirt, she’d been shot in the left bicep. Her eyes narrowed in fury. As Krykus surged across the floor in search of his gun, Janice sprang over his prone body reaching the gun first. Quickly cocking the gun she aimed at his arm and fired. Voices now filled the stairs leading into the hold. Passing the gun to her left hand she roughly hauled Krykus into a sitting position and kept the gun barrel at the base of his skull. Several men entered the room and froze at the sight of their bleeding captain, held at gun point by a very angry woman, dripping blood and water.

“Not so fast boys,” Janice growled.

“Listen to her,” Krykus pleaded.

“You threw the gun to Leesto that she used to shoot my dog. Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you where you sit.” She seethed.

“You can have the cargo, take it.” The men in the doorway nodded their agreement.

“Oh, like I believe you.” Janice shook her head. She jabbed the gun barrel into his neck for emphasis. “Light a cigarette.” She commanded, keeping her eyes on his men.

With shaky fingers Krykus removed a battered pack of cigarettes from his pocket and with trembling hands brought one to his lips. He had some trouble with the matches, but got it lit.

“Now give it to me.” Janice said evenly after he took a tentative puff. Not able to see what Janice intended, he handed the cigarette to her. Next he noticed the eyes of his crew men go wide as they turned and ran from the cargo hold as fast as they could. “Wha…?” He snapped his head around at the sizzling sound that came from near his ear. Janice stood, a stick of dynamite in her hand, the fuse burning.

“You’re insane!” He screamed as he struggled to his feet and ran for the door.

“No, just pissed.” She replied as she followed after. Partway up the stairs she paused for a moment, letting the fuse burn down further before throwing it into the cargo hold. She didn’t see anyone in the stairwell, and suspected that there was a flurry of activity on deck namely getting the lifeboats lowered. She had just reached open deck when she felt rather than heard the first tremors of the explosion. With a mad dash for the railing she leaped from the deck of Remember Nothing, hitting the water with the added force of the explosion.

“What was that?” Mel Pappas asked when she heard the first shot ring out from the approaching ship.

Aires studied the approaching vessel. He shouted to a near by crew man. “Ready the engines. We get out of here, now. Full speed, on my mark.” The man nodded, and began to shout orders to other people. Soon the The Gauntlet was buzzing with organized activity. Then another shout sounded and Aires hit the rail impatiently. “What could she be doing over there?” He ordered the engines fired when he saw people streaming over the other ships deck, jumping into the water and frantically lowering lifeboats. When the answering roar of the The Gauntlet’s engines did not sound in his ears, he hurried down into the bowels of his ship to rectify the situation.

Mel was not sure what was happening, but she did know that something had happened on the other ship. She didn’t get much of a chance to ponder the though because an explosion from deep within the approaching smuggling vessel erupted, sending debris smoke everywhere. It was several more minutes before the The Gauntlet’s engines roared and the boat began to pull away from the wreckage of the other ship.

It was at that moment that Mel realized that no one intended to wait for Janice, if in fact she’d survived the plunge she’d taken. Her eyes began to well with tears as she looked down forlornly. As she did however, she noticed a dark figure clinging to the hull of the The Gauntlet like a fly on a wall. Mel’s tears of sorrow turned to joy as she saw Janice struggle to climb up the ship, her tenuous hold on her bullwhip the only thing keeping her out of the water.

Mel grabbed at a passing crewman, relieved to see that it was Toby, the silent man she’d sat near in the rowboat. “Janice, she’s down there!” Mel said, pointing. He looked over the rail, as he craned his neck Mel noticed several scars on his neck. Pulling back, he motioned for Mel to stay where she was and pointed to Argo as well. Instinctively she put her hand on the dog’s collar. He grabbed a nearby life ring and tossed it down to Janice, hitting her in the head with it. Tobias’ eyes darted around the ship as he hauled Janice up. The look of worry on her face reminded Mel about what Janice had said earlier. That, coupled with the image of an enraged Silvus made Mel very nervous. “I hope she’s okay.” She muttered to which the big man nodded. “If she’s hurt, we can’t let any one know, can we?” Toby spared a glance for the striking woman and shook his head emphatically. Mel nodded. “that’s what I was afraid of,” she murmured to herself.

Toby heard a grumble and managed to turn, still holding the rope but appearing to lean casually over the railing as Silvus stepped into view. He sported a black eye and several cuts, but seemed in bright spirits. His eyes narrowed when he saw Mel. “So, you’re Jan’s bitch. You a good ride?”

Mel’s mouth opened, stunned. “Not for you.” She finally sputtered. Argo growled, her hackles rising menacingly.

“C’mere puppy- time you joined the lezzie overboard.” Silvus advanced slowly. Argo bared her teeth, long and sharp, stopping the thug where he stood. With one hand still holding the rope behind his back, Toby protectively draped the other around Mel’s shoulders. He also bared his teeth.

Silvus thought twice about continuing his advance. “Sorry buddy, I didn’t know you had dibs. Let me have her when you’re done…” He continued on his way, not looking back as he moved on. As soon as he was out of sight, Toby returned to the task of hauling Janice up. Dumped onto the deck of the ship, Janice coughed water out of her lungs with what little energy she had left. Mel and Toby managed to get her standing by leaning her back against the outside of the ship’s cabin.

“Goodness gracious, she’s bleeding.” Mel stammered. Tobias quickly put his finger over his mouth silencing her. After another quick shake of his head Mel nodded. Just then another crewman came around the deck from the direction Silvus departed. Not knowing what else to do Mel quickly covered Janice’s body with her own, obscuring the bloody arm from view and kissed the woman soundly. She turned her head at the appreciative whistle.

“She’s so sexy after a swim.” Mel muttered, not needing to feign embarrassment.

“Well give us a break and take it below decks will ya?” The seaman muttered, continuing on his way.

Mel glanced up to see Tobias looking at her, blushing profusely. With a grin he helped Mel get the barely conscious woman to their cabin. “Will you tell the captain that we got her back?” Mel asked as Toby prepared to leave. He nodded and patted her hand gently. On impulse she kissed the big man on the cheek. “That’s a thank you from Janice… and me.” She said as he departed.

“Sexy after a swim?” Janice said in a strained voice from where she leaned against the wall.

“Well I had to think of something.” Mel replied helping the archeologist out of her wet clothes. “What happened to your arm?”

Shivering Janice looked down at the blood still oozing from the puncture wound. “I got shot. Bullet’s still in there. You’re going to have to dig it out.”

“You’ve got to be kidding! I’ll get the Captain, or Toby…”

“No! Janice said fiercely. I meant what I said earlier. Toby has already done enough. Either you do it or I do, and I don’t think I’d do a very good job of it right now.” Janice sat down heavily on the edge of the bed, trying to keep her dripping to a minimum.

“First of all let’s dry you off.” Mel said taking charge. “No use having you go into shock.” Rummaging through the crate by the mirror, she extracted a large blanket and set to drying off the archeologist’s shivering body with it. Careful of the injured arm, she got most of the cold sea water off of Janice. Her color began to improve.

Janice could feel the heat rising to her cheeks. As much as her arm hurt, there was no denying the signals sent to her brain from everywhere Mel touched with the blanket. It was all she could do to keep a satisfied smile off her face. The sensation ended however when she accidently bumped her arm. The bullet lodged in her flesh made itself known, painfully. “Get the first aid kit out of my pack, and the bottle of whiskey. And that bowl.” She nodded to the enameled bowl on the crate.

Mel complied and hurriedly brought all the items to the bed. The first thing Janice did was open the bottle of whiskey and take a healthy swig. She was about to pour some over her wound when a light knock sounded at the door. “That’s Toby’s knock,” Janice said, taking another swig of whiskey, “go ahead and answer it.”

As soon as the door was opened a crack, the big man quickly handed Mel a bundle of bandages, some alcohol and other first aid supplies. Before she could say a word, he deposited the items and was gone. “Okay, what do I do?” Mel asked as she positioned herself on the edge of the crate, by the bed.

Janice grimaced as she positioned her arm for the other woman’s inspection. After another swig of the whiskey she was ready to speak. “Take those tweezers and try to find the bullet.” She probed the sides of her wound, gasping with pain as she did. “I think it’s near the surface, shouldn’t be too hard to find. After you get it out, clean it with the alcohol then sew it up. I’ll talk you through it if I’m still conscious. If not, just wing it. You look like the type that can sew.”

“I appreciate you faith in me Janice Covington.” Mel said smiling through her sarcasm as she took a deep breath and went to work.

Aires shook his head in disbelief, Tobias simply shrugged. “So she made it back to the ship and now they’re…” He left his words hanging as Tobias supplied a crass hand gesture leaving little to the imagination. “So she’s fine then?” Aires asked, to which the big man nodded his head emphatically. “Funny,” Aires wondered aloud, “I thought for sure she’d be a goner on that ship.”

His silent musings were abruptly shattered by the loud gasp and whimper that came from the cabin next door. He looked at Toby who had the good grace to blush, “I can see you weren’t mistaken.” He said to his silent companion. Another cry followed with some loud sobbing when Aires shook his ruefully. “Christ,” he muttered, “she’s louder than last time.”

Mel studied her handiwork critically. The stitches were neat and the wound cleaned to the best of her ability. Carefully she wrapped the archaeologist’s arm in clean bandages, occasionally glancing to the bowl that housed the bloody slug. Janice smiled at her weakly, looking up through heavily lidded eyes. “See, I knew you could sew,” she muttered, completely inebriated.

“Nice to know you haven’t lost your sense of humor.” Mel observed.

“Nope. Just blood.”

Mel cringed at that. There was a pile of bloodied compresses on the floor. Janice had lost a fair amount of blood. After gently prying the whisky bottle from Janice’s good arm, she set it on the table and began to clean up the mess. After washing the last traces of blood from her fingers she turned to see Janice studying her, a small smile on her relaxed face. Argo had hopped onto the bed and lay curled at the archeologist’s side, injured hand resting lightly on the big dog’s head.

“See something interesting?” Mel asked when Janice failed to redirect her gaze.

“Just a beautiful woman.” Janice replied honestly.

“Janice Covington you’re drunk!” Mel laughed as she moved to check on the bandage.

Janice nodded, “Yes, completely. But fortunately for me that does not change the fact that you are incredibly beautiful.” She gently covered Mel’s hand with her own and gazed into impossibly blue eyes.

“Are you always this flirtatious when you’re drunk?” Mel asked, unable to pull herself away from the green eyes that looked so intently into her own.

Janice shrugged, “I don’t know. If I’m going to be really drunk, I try to do it in private. I’m much better company when I’m sober.” The last was said with a suggestive leer than broke the spell and made Mel laugh.

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Mel said, putting the archeologist’s hand back on the big dog’s head. “Sober you’ve been positively infuriating, drunk I find you oddly charming.” Casually she began to glance around the small room. It was late, she was exhausted and there didn’t seem to be any other place to stretch out other than the bed.

Now even Janice laughed. “Too bad I don’t drink very often.” With a shrug she changed the subject as she noticed Mel’s eyes wandering.

“You might as well get into bed with Argo and me. I’m in no condition to indulge in anything more aggressive than idle fantasy.”

Mel smiled as she began to undress. “Nice to know I’m having some impact.” She muttered as she slipped into bed on the side of Janice’s good arm. Oddly, she felt more comfortable with the inebriated flirtatious Janice than the hothead of earlier. She looked over to see if her comment met with any response to see Janice’s eyes closed, sound asleep. With a smile she relaxed into the bed, smiling to herself as she too drifted off to sleep.

I learned an important lesson after Thessaly. Never underestimate the determination of a bard. Well, at least one bard, that’s for certain. I suppose I was overprotective, but how could I not be? As momentary as it was, the loss of Gabrielle hit me so deeply I don’t think the pain of it ever affected me less regardless of how many years later the memory surfaced.

When she was ready to travel we left the Temple of Asclepius and continued on our way toward Athens. I insisted she ride, surprised that she didn’t argue the point. She wasn’t strong enough to talk, well not at her usual capacity, so a significant part of our journey was in silence. In hindsight I guess it was not ideal for either of us. I was left to brooding on the dark thoughts of what might have been. Gabrielle, who knew me better than any one alive could tell. With each step Argo took I got closer to learning something important about Gabrielle as well as myself, and that lesson would not be easy to take.

When we camped for the night I saw to it that she moved as little as possible.  The stitches were not yet ready to come out, and there was no sense in aggravating the wounds. Gabrielle was strangely moody and by the time I’d cleaned up after dinner she appeared despondent, gazing absently into the fire.

“Are you okay?” I asked, worried that a full day’s travel had been too much for her.

“You’re joking, right?” She replied sullenly, her eyes clouded over with something unreadable.

“Can you tell me what’s bothering you?” I asked taking a seat next to her on her bedroll.

She shrugged her shoulders. “I could, but I doubt it would do any good.”

I blinked in surprise at the frankness of her answer. “I’d like you to try,” I said, “I might surprise you.”

She took a few moments to compose her thoughts then turned a steady gaze to me. “Xena, I’m sorry about what happened at the temple,” she began, “but the way you’re dealing with it isn’t healthy for either of us.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you’re scared. I don’t know if you’ve admitted it to yourself yet or not, but you are. I can see you doubting my abilities, going overboard trying to take care of me and smothering me in the process.” The tone of her voice gave little away. She didn’t sound angry, or hurt, just numb.

“That’s a little harsh, don’t you think?” I replied, “I mean you don’t even have your stitches out.”

She smiled a thin smile that did not reach her eyes, “I don’t think it would matter if I had gray hair Xena. You need to come to grips with this and until you do, you’re not going to let me out of your sight.” She sighed. “You feel too much responsibility for my life Xena and it isn’t doing you or me any good.”

I was starting to get angry but tried not to show it. Sometimes I hate it when she’s right. “You could tell all of this by one day’s travel?” I asked, my own voice icy.

She nodded. “You’re a complex person Xena.” she said, “but sometimes you’re not very hard to read.”

“Well thanks for the complex part.” I muttered.

“Am I wrong?” She asked.

I shook my head, “I guess not. But Gabrielle, you’ve got to understand that I am responsible for what happens to you…”

“No you’re not!” She said forcefully, grabbing my hand for emphasis. “Until you realize that I am responsible for my own life this will continue to be a problem.” She shook her head, frustrated. “Xena, I travel with you because I choose to. I know who you are and who you were. I am well aware that every war lord from here to Sparta would love to have your head on a pike outside their front gate. But Xena, I am an adult. Knowing what the risks are, I have made my choice, and it is to be with you. You’re my home and I’m your family. I can’t explain how we got this way but I just know that we are. You’re going to have to let go…”

“Gabrielle,” I butted in, “you died. This is not a matter of a sprained ankle or the ungracious behavior of a warlord.”

She nodded. “That’s true. But every day I have to live with the reality that you might die. That some assassin might get lucky, that down some dark corridor there may be the numbers to overwhelm you. Yes, Xena you have to live with the same risks that I do.” She shook her head sadly, “I have faith in you to come to my rescue when things get too much for me. I wish you had faith in me to know it won’t happen very often.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. Looking back to the few other painful conversations we’d had I tried to do what she had told me then. Put myself in her place. But there was a big difference between Gabrielle and myself. She wasn’t as strong or proficient in any weapons save for the staff. But, I countered myself, she had talked herself into and out of some amazing predicaments in the past. With a sigh I realized that she was much more versatile than I and ultimately could avoid more confrontations. Fortunately for me I had learned as a warlord that there was little to be gained by not taking good advice when it was presented on a silver platter.

“What would you have me do?” I asked quietly.

“What?” She asked, stunned.

I shrugged, “I think you’re right Gabrielle. I’d like to try to fix this if I can.”

“You think I’m right?” She asked in wonderment.

“Is something wrong with your hearing?” I inquired dryly.

“Oh no,” she hurried on. “I’m just surprised that’s all. I thought it would take at least another hour to talk some sense into you.”

“Well I’m glad I can surprise you from time to time.” I replied. “Unlike some people, I try not to have a problem admitting it when I’m wrong.”

“Ah, yeah.” She nodded getting my point. “So what to do…”

I think we talked most of the night that night. At times it was painful and exhausting but at other times it was warm and comforting. She shared a lot about growing up in Potedia. Little things she hadn’t yet told me about how she was treated by her family and how I had been such a contrast to that. Knowing why she was so sensitive to being babied gave me the insight I needed to keep from doing it- that is unless it was necessary. I managed to avoid talking about my past but I did tell her, through graphic examples, of the painful demise of warriors who had let pride get in the way of their commons sense.

As we turned to our bedrolls she spoke one more time. “Thanks Xena,” she said, “for talking this out. You were really much better at this than I expected.”

I couldn’t suppress a grin at that statement. I’d changed so much in the past year. “Just don’t expect this level of conversation every time you have a complaint.” I muttered as I laid down to sleep. She laughed and that lyrical sound and the radiant smile that went with it I carried with me as I traveled past the land of dreams

Continued - part 2

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