Janice’s Solstice Carol
By Cap’n Cat
January 2008 – April 2008
DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, Mel, and Janice all belong to Ren Pics/MCA/Universal. A Christmas Carol was written by the honorable Charles Dickens. Everything else is a product of my own over-caffeinated brain.
SAME-SEX DISCLAIMER: The ladies like the ladies in this story. No love scenes but there are some subtext comments. If you don’t like it or you aren’t legally allowed to read it, move along matey, move along.
If you like it, hate it, or plain old wanna kick me in the face, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
“Janice, honey,” called Mel down the staircase to her lover. “Where exactly did ya want me to put the -“
“IN THE ARMY DUFFEL!” bellowed Janice from downstairs. “I TOLD YOU THREE TIMES ALREADY! ALL OF THE CLOTHES SHOULD GO IN THE ARMY DUFFEL!”
“Janice Covington! There is absolutely no need to shout in the house, or shout at me, or shout in general! It’s the Christmas season, and you are severely lacking in the holiday spirit!” Melinda Pappas firmly pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose to punctuate her point. Spinning on a perfectly polished pump, Mel strode back into their bedroom, where she was packing clothes for a Christmastime trip to New York City. The raven haired linguist ran her hands through the long tresses in exasperation – Janice was being a real bear today. Mel had thought that this trip would get Janice’s mind off the stress of having just applied for a new grant, but apparently Janice wasn’t fooled. Mel sighed in frustration over their predicament. After two years spent stateside writing up papers and giving presentations on the Xena Scrolls, Janice was getting restless to get back in the field. The grant would fund a full summer’s expedition to look for more Xena artifacts, but the application process had been particularly arduous and now the ladies could do nothing but sit tight during the review period, and hope to hear back by April or so. Mel was stressed but hopeful, and Janice…well, Janice was just stressed, which meant that Janice wasn’t admitting to being stressed, which meant Janice was cranky.
Downstairs, Janice stomped across the kitchen grouchily, chomping on a cigarillo, and muttering under her breath. “Three times, I tell you, three times, just pack them in the Army duffel, I’ve used that bag on digs for years –“
“Janice, darlin, don’t think I can’t hear ya down there. You aren’t particularly quiet when you’re rageful.”
The remark incensed Janice so much that she bit completely through the cigarillo. Sputtering and coughing on the loose bits of tobacco, Janice made her way out to the front porch to hock it out. After successfully clearing her mouth and throat, Janice sighed wearily and flopped down on the porch swing to rub her temples. She had no idea why she was this angry, especially now that the grant application was done and she was about to go on Christmas holiday with the woman she loved. Janice had her suspicions that underneath the anger she might actually be feeling something else, but anger was a familiar friend so Janice stuck with it.
Rocking back and forth on the porch swing slowly in the Carolina sun, Janice began to drift off. Being angry and stressed required a lot of energy, and Janice had been grumpy for days, so it didn’t take much to send her off to sleep.
The blonde archaeologist opened her eyes slowly, then jerked fully awake when she didn’t recognize her surroundings. “What the hell is going on here?!” exclaimed Janice. She looked around quickly. The porch swing had been replaced by a brocaded chair, and the Carolina scenery had been replaced by an old Victorian-style sitting room. The room was sparsely furnished with just a large fireplace, the chair Janice sat in, and an old Swiss cuckoo clock directly over the fireplace. Janice spun in her chair to check out the rest of the room and only saw a window to her right and a door directly behind her. The room was completely devoid of pictures, paintings, or anything personal or decorative.
Janice looked down at herself. Instead of her usual fedora-shirt-pants-bomber jacket combo, she wore men’s striped pajamas, slippers, and a dressing gown that looked suspiciously like a bathrobe that had belonged to Melinda’s father. Janice reached up to rub her temples again in confusion, but instead of her fingers touching skin, they touched fabric. Exasperation mounting, she ripped the fabric off to examine it. It was one of those old-fashioned sleeping caps, complete with the tassel on the pointy end. Janice felt insulted by the innate silliness of the cap, and her ire was quickly stoked to burning point again. Still, she thought as she shoved the cap back on her head, a stupid hat is better than no hat.
“Alright,” drawled Janice threateningly as she rose out of the chair, “now either Mel is playing a crazy trick on me, or I’m dreaming. Mel? If this is you, come on out. We have to pack, we don’t have time for this.” Nothing moved in the shadows of the barren room. Janice knew Mel couldn’t hold a secret for long, especially from Janice, so Janice was pretty sure Mel wasn’t behind this. Given that she had never been in a room like this before in her life, Janice decided she must be dreaming. Giving herself a fat pinch on the forearm to be sure, Janice yelped in surprise when the pinch stung. “Ouch! Hey! I thought I wasn’t supposed to be able to feel that in a dream!” Janice was momentarily confused, but shook it off. This was too absurd to be anything but a dream.
Let’s move to Plan A, thought Janice. Bring on the bravado, Covington. “OK, dream, so what’s the big idea here?” boomed Janice in the empty room. “If I’m gonna have a weird dream, at least make it weird and exciting, huh? This is weird and boring.” Janice got up and stomped around the room a little, trying to disturb something into action. “What, no Gabrielle dreams for Mad Dog tonight? No passionate embraces with the Warrior Princess?” Janice shivered a little at the thought. Since finding the Scrolls, Janice had occasionally had dreams that she was positive were her ancestor’s memories. They were too real to be anything else. Gabrielle’s dreams about the Warrior Princess were always intense and left Janice pretty, uh, riled up (Mel could attest to that). This barren room and Janice’s crazy outfit were millennia after Gabrielle’s time though, so it looked as if it was going to be a bardless night for the archaeologist.
Janice waited for a few seconds in silence, hoping someone else would appear so she could pop them a good one to ease her anger. When nothing happened, she began to pace the room in irritation. Let’s move to Plan B, she sighed mentally. Start slinging mud, Covington. “Is this one of those ‘reveal-some-greater-truth’ dreams? Am I supposed to be learning something here?” sneered Janice. “Cos ya know, dream, I don’t need any moral lessons. I have a lot of things to do for work and this gods-be-damned vacation, and –“ Janice broke off her rant and patted down the dressing gown, looking for a cigarillo to counteract her rising blood pressure and temper. The search was futile. “Damn. Stupid dream.”
The hands on the cuckoo clock clicked once and the clock began to chirp the time – midnight. “Wait a second,” said Janice, comprehension dawning on her face. “This is like that play that I took Mel to last year – A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. I remember this scene, the clock strikes twelve and a ghost from the past appears – which would make me…Scrooge,” ended Janice with a dangerous glint in her narrowing eyes. The clock continued to strike and Janice wheeled around to lash out at it. “What’s the big idea, huh? So I’ve been a little cranky with the grant and everything! So what? It’s not like I’m dumping orphans out into the street or anything.” Janice paused to reflect on the play for a minute to try and remember what happened next. She knew something significant happened at midnight, but it was hard to remember because the play was pretty damn boring, and Mel had looked awfully sexy that night…“I remember now,” said Janice, snapping her fingers. “This is the part where my evil dead business partner comes to spook me.” Janice thrust an index finger menacingly at the clock. “But see here, dream, my business partner Melinda is still very much alive and much too sweet for her own good, so this really isn’t very convin-”
“JANICE COVINGTON!” boomed a voice from outside the door. Janice jumped in spite of herself. Recovering her composure (as much as she could in the ridiculous outfit), she stood facing the door, feet shoulder width apart, hands planted firmly on her hips.
“WHAT?!” she bellowed back with all the conviction she could muster. That’ll throw old Marley or whoever this is for a loop.
The door blew open with the obligatory ghost story blast of cold wind, which promptly killed the fire in the fireplace, leaving only moonlight to fill the room. Janice’s tasseled sleeping cap blew off and landed somewhere behind her. Why am I always losing my gods be damned HAT! she thought irrelevantly. The doorway filled with smoke, which began to materialize into a figure that moved towards Janice. As the figure got closer, the features became clearer. The blonde’s eyes bugged out in surprise. “Uh…” she stuttered.
“Boo.” Janice Covington stood slippered toe to booted toe with the ghost of Xena, Warrior Princess, who loomed menacingly over her. Xena’s ghost flashed her famous smirk at the archaeologist. “What, expecting someone else?”
“Uh…well I wasn’t expecting you! Where in the seven circles of Hades are we, and what are you doing here?”
“What, I can’t stop in to have a chat with the reincarnation of my favorite blonde?” Xena’s ghost had a voice like warm molasses but her grin was absolutely feral.
Oh, crap, thought Janice with a sinking feeling in her guts. She was pretty sure that tall, dark, and lethal wasn’t here to trade Solstice recipes. On to Plan C, Covington: go down swinging. Janice took a deep breath and launched a verbal attack. “Well, then I’ll ask again, what the Hades are you doing here? I thought Gabrielle handled most of the ‘sensitive chats’,” said Janice snarkily with a roguish grin of her own.
“Well, sweetheart,” purred Xena’s ghost, borrowing one of Janice’s favorite phrases, “since you’ve been such a maniac for the past month, Gabrielle and I decided we should step in before you ended up driving both Melinda and yourself crazy. Your great-great-great grandmother said she’d be happy to handle it but I volunteered for this job personally.” Another cat-like grin emanated from the warrior’s ghost, and maybe the barest hint of a gulp escaped from the archaeologist. “You haven’t exactly been the picture of Solstice spirit lately.”
Keep your dukes up, Covington, the archaeologist reminded herself. “Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, blah blah blah. Cut the crap, Xena. You don’t understand this situation at all.”
Xena’s ghost delicately arched a misty eyebrow, and smoky blue eyes stared solidly into green ones. The wheels were turning in the ghost’s misty head as she subtly began to change her approach. “Oh no? Tell me, Janice, why exactly have you been such a raving Gorgon lately? You finished a successful dig, you put in a solid application for a grant, you have the love of a wonderful woman who’s going to accompany you on all your voyages…”
“THAT’S WHY I’VE BEEN SUCH A LUNATIC!” exploded Janice with such force that Xena’s ghost floated back a pace or two. “Ya know, sometimes a girl just wants a little peace and quiet on a dig! A little space to run the thing my way – get out there and get my hands in the dirt, swear if I wanna, smoke some cigars, swig some bourbon –“
“Ah ha,” said Xena’s ghost triumphantly. “I know what the problem is here!” Her feral grin fled and was replaced by a disturbingly genuine one.
“Yeah, I just told you, you big dumb warrior ghost thing, I want some damn breathing room!” Janice noted the changed in the ghost’s grin and it was starting to scare her, even more than the feral one had.
“No you don’t,” shot back Xena’s ghost smugly, folding her arms across her chest. “That’s not it at all.” The ghost’s eyes were the next feature to soften as the menacing glare smoothed over into soulful gaze that a heartfelt televangelist would die for. Janice noted this change too and it made the hackles on her neck rise from anxiety. Something very, very strange was brewing – this was not the grumpy straightshooter she had been reading about for the past two years.
“Oh really? Well, great enlighted Warrior Spectre, perhaps you’d care to share your insight? What is causing my normally sparkling personality to wither in this most cheerful of seasons?”
“You’ve got a serious problem with – “ Xena’s ghost paused dramatically.
Janice rolled her eyes. “Cut the bard shit, Xena, what is it already?”
“SHARING AND CARING!” finished Xena’s ghost triumphantly. Janice’s jaw hit the floor. The ghost’s demeanor had changed from Arnold Schwartzeneger to Dr. Phil in about two seconds flat.
“OK, now I know I’m dreaming. This is freaking absurd! Xena doesn’t go around talking like that! I don’t care if this is a dream and you’re a ghost, this is completely insane and I want out!” Janice said disgustedly. She walked over to one of the walls and began kicking it as hard as her slippers would allow. “Maybe I can knock this wall down…”
“OK, now hold your horses, Covington, hear me out.” Xena’s ghost drifted over to Covington and got between her and the wall. Janice eyed Xena’s ghost warily, not liking this melting-Popsicle-sticky-sweet attitude one bit.
“You said you want to be able to run a dig your way, the ‘Janice’ way, right?” Covington nodded half-heartedly. “If I recall, the ‘Janice’ way of running a dig includes traipsing all over the globe for years by yourself on a wild Hydra chase, looking for ancient scrolls that may or may not exist, about a woman warrior who may or may not have actually existed – “
“Hey, you exist! Or at least you did! I’m standing here talking to ya, aren’t I?” protested Janice.
“As you so astutely said earlier, this is a DREAM, Janice, and a really flippin
weird one at that, so I wouldn’t exactly go using stuff that happens here as
evidence for anything. Now, as I was saying, your REAL problem is that you have
a chance coming up to get out on a dig, but this dig isn’t gonna be like the
digs of old. You’re going to have to answer to a grant committee. You’re going
to have to be specific about what you expect to find and where. You’re going
to have to come up with a game plan and stick to it. And,” said Xena’s ghost,
“you’re going to be doing it with Mel at your side. Mel, the woman you love,
the woman who loves you. The woman who eats, sleeps, and bathes on a regular
basis, and is the epitome of civilized company. The woman who gracefully endures
your cigars, your swearing, your bourbon, your – “ Xena’s ghost began to pontificate
like a daytime talk show host.
“Alright, alright, I get the picture! We both know I’m rough around the edges! She puts up with it somehow! A dig would be a chance for me to cut loose, live a little, get back to my roots. This whole ‘planned expedition’ thing sounds a little refined for my taste, warrior.”
“True, Janice, true,” nodded Xena’s ghost sagely as she went for the full Oprah effect, pressing her fingertips together and placing them under her chin. “Your digs are a chance to cut loose, I get that. Before you met Mel you spent your whole LIFE on a dig cutting loose, I get that too. You love Mel and you love being with her, but in some ways she’s cramping your style. And so you think that if you get back out in the field and she’s along for the ride, you’re going to be miserable the entire time because instead of putzing around in the dirt by yourself, smoking and swearing and telling your bourbon that you’re really on to something this time, THIS time you’ll be sharing all of your excitement and discoveries with someone you love. THIS time, Janice, you’ll have someone to help you out. You’ll have someone to watch your back and help you look at things in a new light, maybe rearrange the puzzle pieces for you until they start to make more sense. THIS time you’ll have someone there who can actually read the damn Scrolls you find,” said Xena’s ghost, raising an eyebrow at Janice knowingly, and dropping the melting Popsicle act now that she had the woman’s attention.
“And yes, you will also be sharing a tent with a woman that will probably take more than thirty seconds to be up and ready to go in the morning, and you’ll actually have to stop to bathe and eat regularly, and carry on a reasonable conversation every once in awhile. In short, you’re going to have to share all of this with someone else now, and not everything is going to go exactly as you want it to. But trust me, sweetheart, things could all be a lot worse.” Xena’s ghost floated back and crossed her arms in front of her chest, her straightshooter self once again. She waiting for Janice’s response.
“You sound like you’ve done this before,” muttered Janice under her breath.
“Believe me, living with your great great great grandmother took some getting used to. Some days Gabrielle was all sunshine and rainbows and smiling happy flowers and I really just wanted to throttle her. But I loved her, and she loved me, and it all worked out in the end. Some of my rougher habits I lost along the wayside. With some of the other ones, she had to learn to smile and accept them…or grin and bear them…or go for a walk and write an angry poem about them…I can’t remember exactly how she dealt with them…but the point being is that we SHARED AND CARED, Janice, SHARED AND CARED.” The melting Popsicle popped back up as the ghost sensed she was losing her audience a little.
Janice snorted in contempt. “I can’t believe that the take home message from my dream with the great warrior princess is to share and care. This is really messed up.”
“Hey, it’s Solstice time, what else am I supposed to say? ‘All life is gloom and doom once you’re hitched, so just get used to it’?”
“Well, I guess you’re right, I mean getting out on a dig is what I really want to do, and even if it’s not going to be exactly like I imagined, it’ll still be pretty great. Hey,” said Janice, brightening as a thought struck her, “you know, funds can get tight out on a dig, and it’s a lot more economical if we shared quarters. We’ll be forced to share a cot and tent for months!”
Xena’s ghost furrowed her brow in confusion. “I thought this grant was for a lot of money. You could probably afford two cots and two tents if you really wanted to.”
“Yeah,” said Janice, green eyes devilishly glinting with her old spirit again, “but Mel doesn’t know that.”
“Not bad, Covington. That sounds like my ‘wow it’s cold out, we better share the sleeping furs’ stunt,” grinned Xena’s ghost, and punched Janice on the shoulder.
“Hey! That hurt! You’re a ghost, you’re not supposed to be able to touch me! How come everything in this goddamn dream feels real?”
“Beats me,” shrugged Xena’s ghost. “I’m just the messenger.”
“Hey, that’s true, now that you mention it. Weren’t you just supposed to show up and announce that I was going to be visited by three other ghosts? I thought that the first ghost here didn’t give any sermons.”
“Who exactly would you have liked me to invite, Janice? Callisto? Velaska? And Joxer to round out the bunch? That sounds like a real treat, Janice: reliving your childhood, watching your projected downward spiral and eventual lonely demise, all in the good company of the ghosts of Joxer and Callisto. Real party there, Jan.” Xena’s ghost laughed at the horrified look on the archaeologist’s face.
“Nooooooo, no, no, ya know, I think we got this whole thing settled right here, right now. Sit down, pipe down, and have a good Christmas, got the message. Well, now that we’re all clear on the purpose of this whole insane acid trip of a dream and Dickens has rolled over in his grave at least eleven times, how the heck do we get out of here?” asked Janice.
“I have no idea,” mused Xena’s ghost. “I just sort of materialized from Elysium I guess. One minute, hanging with Gabby. Next minute, poof! Scaring the pants off you!”
“I wasn’t scared,” protested Janice.
“Like Hades you weren’t!” shot back Xena’s ghost, flashing a wolfish grin. “Tell me that sickeningly sweet crap wasn’t scary.”
“Alright, scared, not scared, whatever.” Janice waved her hand to dismiss the point without actually admitting to anything. “How do we get out of here?” Janice looked around the stark room again, searching for a missed exit.
“Well, I’m guessing you have to wake up,” shrugged Xena’s ghost. “Since you’ve been quiet this long, Mel will probably be coming to check on you soon, and I’m sure she’ll wake you up. Oh, and speaking of Mel…” said Xena’s ghost, turning to face Janice.
Xena’s ghost leaned forward, grabbed the front of Janice’s dressing gown and pulled her up til they were eye to eye. “You be nice to my great great great granddaughter, alright? No more chewin her head off cos you’re feeling stifled or whatever. Cos if you don’t shape up when you get back, I’ll start sending Mel dreams - not the kind that Gabby sends you, get that look off your face. I mean, say, dreams of my ‘favorite’ memories of all the goobery romantic stuff your ancestor convinced me to do. Like the time we went out for Solstice Eve to the local tavern for a date. I thought it would just be a nice average date but it turned into three hours of being forced to get all prettied up and then two hours of sitting at the tavern looking like a pink frosted cupcake listening to some off-key chorus warble through six songs while your great grandmother got all misty eyed and tipsy. So unless you want to spend YOUR Solstice Eve looking like a cupcake too, I suggest you behave yourself. Got it, punk?” asked Xena’s ghost, with a firm shake and a toothy grin for effect.
Janice’s eyes narrowed – she didn’t take kindly to being threatened. “You wouldn’t.”
“Oh, I would. And you know Mel loves that romantic stuff so she’d be all over it.”
“I have many skills. Want to see if dreamweaving is one of them?”
“Put me down, I swear I’ll - !”
“Janice?” Janice’s eyes wobbled open.
“Wha?” mumbled Janice incoherently. Someone was shaking her shoulder.
“Janice, sweetheart, wake up, you fell asleep outside in the sun and I think the heat’s goin to your head. You were dreamin something wild there, missy. Was it…was it a Gabrielle dream?” asked Mel, blushing slightly, remembering some of the dreams that Janice had, uh, related to her. Janice’s ancestor had been quite imaginative.
“What? Oh no, hell no, nothing like that Mel. Hey uh, listen Mel, I’m sorry I was such a wanker earlier. I didn’t mean to get belligerent like that. I uh, just get like that sometimes. Still rough around the edges,” she said gruffly, smiling at Mel with a little twinkle in her green eyes. Mel smiled too.
“Well, Janice, you know what’s good for smoothing rough edges?” asked Mel, happy that Janice seemed to be back to her old self.
“Me helping you finish packing and behaving myself for the rest of the evening?” asked Janice meekly, hoping that was the right answer.
Mel smiled. “I actually finished the packing already. I was going to suggest going to bed early. We do have a trip coming up, we need to be well rested.” Mel’s eyebrow arched suggestively.
Janice grinned. “Well, I DID have this dream last week and – “
Mel and Janice walked through Times Square on Christmas Eve. Mel looked ravishing in a black satin evening gown, pearls, and black high heels. Janice looked amazing as well, although a little pouty, in a dark green gown and pumps. The two women walked down the snowy square, headed to an evening play out on the town.
“I had the most incredible dream that went just like this!” gushed Mel to her grumbling, preoccupied lover. “Xena and Gabrielle must have spent a Solstice Eve on a fancy date because I woke up one the other morning and knew this was just how I wanted to spend the night!”
“Sounds great, sweetheart,” said Janice automatically, not to really registering Mel’s words because she was too busy trying not to break her neck in her damn shoes. With a sigh, she smiled up at her lover, determined to make the best of it and SHARE AND CARE as instructed by the ghostly warrior. “For you, I will gladly spend the evening out on the town, dressed to the nines, and off to see a play. Which show did you end up getting tickets for anyways?”
“A Christmas Carol,” beamed Mel. “Perfect, isn’t it?”
“XENA, YOU’RE GONNA BE SORRY!” roared Janice into the clear winter sky.
Xena’s ghost suffered no harm in the creation of this story, although Janice’s pride has been irrevocably damaged.
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