24 September 2007 – 10 August 2009
Disclaimers of every flavor:
(A) The characters are not mine but the story is (with the exception of the first three lines, which were lifted from the episode).
(B) This is an alt story, so ladies like ladies. If that makes you queasy, angry, or is illegal for you to be reading, please cease and desist immediately. Not explicit.
(C) Janice likes to cuss a lot. I tried to get her to ease up, but dude, the girl's got a 9-foot bullwhip...let's be honest about who's calling the shots here :0)
Thanks for reading and thanks to the Academy of Bards for hosting. All comments etc can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org . A big shout-out to my friend Sparky for her mad beta skillz and for providing some crucial technical details. Thanks buddy!
“Well, maybe it's time that we both stepped out into the world and showed 'em what we can do!” enthused Mel.
“Together?” I could barely keep the smirk off my face.
“Well, not if you don't want…to.” Mel bit her lip.
Jesus H. Christ, lady, you have gotta be kidding me , I thought as I looked her up and down. You barge into my dig, re-translate my scroll fragment, set off every booby trap in Ares' tomb, steal my childhood hero right out from under me, and now you wanna be PARTNERS? As if my life wasn't crazy enough already. I don't have time to baby-sit Daddy's little literary princess. Now, if Xena wants to corporeally hijack you again, maybe we'll talk....
"Janice?" Mel interrupted my thoughts.
Shit. I hated breaking bad news to a dame. This is like a break-up without any of the sex first. Well, at least I had plenty of break-up talks to use as a template for this conversation. "Let's go for a walk," I said, gesturing towards the rocky hillside where we'd just sealed in Ares for another couple of millennia. No need to embarrass her in front of the crew...
"I beg your pardon?" Mel had clearly been expecting a "Yes" or "No" answer, not an invitation for an evening stroll.
I peeled off my fedora so I could rub my temples. The headache I'd been brewing all afternoon was starting to bloom like a fuckin daisy in the sunshine, bright and obvious and screaming for my attention. "You know...walk. Left foot, right foot... you dig?"
"I 'dig,' Doctor Covington." The ice in Mel's tone perfectly complemented the icy glare in her eyes. Yikes . I shut my trap and we started walking. I half expected Mel to lag behind due to the heels and the skirt, but she kept a steady pace with me. Must be the long legs , I thought, glancing furtively at her calves before I could catch myself. Jesus, Covington, keep a lid on it! I focused my eyes straight ahead and kept moving.
A few moments later we were at the foot of Ares' newly secure tomb. We picked our way around some of the larger clastic rocks that had blown apart during the blasting. Some of the boulders had carved deep channels into the hillside. I made a mental note to go back and check those out in the morning to see if we could fill them in a little better. I was trying to think of a way to ease into the conversation as we wandered along but my thoughts never got past "Honey, it ain't you, it's me." I grimaced and figured I'd just wing it.
"Nice night," I began, but Mel cut me off right there.
"Listen, Doctor Covington, I appreciate the evening tour of Ares' tomb, but if you don't intend to answer my question affirmatively, then at least do me the courtesy of declining quickly so I can get started on my trip home." Her gaze pinned me to the spot like an entomologist would pin a butterfly to a corkboard.
Shit. This bird's got my number.
"Um, Mel, ya see, it's just that - " I waffled.
She cut me off again. "I understand, Doctor Covington. Thank you for your time," she said and turned away with a hurt look. Her heels clicked out a staccato beat on the hard-packed dirt as she left. I took a step back in surprise. I hadn't expected her to just leave like that. Not without even a "Goodbye, it was nice of you to help me meet my ancestor," or something.
"HEY!" I bellowed. "Whaddya mean, 'I understand'? You didn't even let me explain!"
"I understand everything I need to understand, Doctor Covington," Mel said without turning around. I saw her shoulders stiffen.
"What the hell does that mean?" I yelled at her retreating form.
She paused before turning to face me. "It means that you're throwin away a perfectly good opportunity for no good reason and you don't even know it yet!"
"Honey, I can translate my own damn scrolls!" I retorted, taking a couple of steps forward.
"Translate our scrolls incorrectly , you mean," corrected Mel haughtily.
That stung. I stomped towards the Southerner and really let it fly. "Look, sweetheart , I don't know what the hell crawled up your skirt and died today, but you better - "
A deep rumble shut me up. Thunder? I scanned the sky for heat lightning. The evening storms came up from nowhere around here and getting stuck in a downpour wasn't going to help my mood at all. I didn't see anything in the sky so I turned back to Mel and started to chew her out again.
"You better - " The rumbling noise cut me off again, but it was louder and deeper this time. A tiny stream of pebbles slid down the hillside and skittered across the toes of my boots. My eyes widened in horror. "Rock slide," I whispered and watched as Mel's face changed from furious to terrified. She mouthed something unintelligible.
"RUN!" I barked, charging foward and catching Mel under the arm. A deafening crack sounded above our heads and I turned to see a boulder the size of a car began tumble down the hillside towards us. I turned and ran faster. The boulder smashed into the spot where we'd been standing and crumbled into a thousand pieces, sending debris flying into the air. I ducked and kept running as the rocks and dust rained down on us, making it near impossible to see. I could hear the men shouting back at camp above the din of the slide and we ran blindly towards their voices. Wave after wave of smaller rocks bounced and rolled down the hillside, threatening to bury us in rubble.
Mel's heel snagged on a rock and she went down hard with a scream. "MEL, GET UP!" I roared and dragged her to her feet. I pushed her forward with all my strength and she stumbled forward towards camp. I started after her but turned as a particularly loud crack of rock on rock caught my ear. I jerked towards it just in time to see a football-sized rock skip off another rock to my left and come screaming towards my face. I closed my eyes and turned just enough so that it dropkicked me in the temple instead of catching me between the eyes. Everything exploded in a shock of white light and my legs went out from under me as I faceplanted the dirt. Dammit...too much dynamite... I thought before everything stopped.
Images coursed through my head of their own volition, shifting and tilting at weird angles until I was completely disoriented. I didn't know if I was awake, dead, or dreaming. I tried to hold the thoughts in my head, to somehow make them concrete and stable, but I couldn't concentrate. I could only watch as they danced and changed.
Harry and I were digging at a plot in Thessaly on my sixteenth birthday. My brand-new revolver sat heavy in its shoulder holster and I couldn't help but touch my hand to its handle every few moments. "It's not going to run away, Janey," Harry laughed, smiling at me from beneath a three-day beard and a layer of sweat and grime. I ducked my head and felt my ears redden, but I was smiling, too. "Think we'll find the Scrolls here, Harry?" I asked, trying to change the subject.
Harry scratched at his stubble with his free hand. "I hope so, Janey," he replied, and began to dig again in silence.
My father and Thessaly dissolved away, leaving me standing in Ares' tomb. Ares was standing with his massive arms crossed in front of his chest, laughing cruelly at my assumption that I shared blood with the Warrior Princess. "Silly girl - I don't need you! Think 'irritating blonde.'" My stomach wrenched so hard that I almost lost my breakfast all over the God of War. I've lost Xena. My entire world seemed to slip on its axis.
And then there she was, my Xena, in Mel's body, descending upon Ares with a flashing sword and a piercing war cry. Her agility and strength stopped my heart in my chest and I stared as she defied the God of War again and again. Her face was calm and belied the firestorm that was her sword as she attacked and parried in turn. Her blue eyes exuded a fierce joy that made my breath catch in my throat. Then she turned and told me to run, so I fled the room with her at my heels.
When I turned back to see her, the scene had shifted again. Ares' tomb was gone and we stood in a grassy field, staring up at the stars with a campfire at our backs. I was surprised to see her clad in a black leather battle dress and brass armor. The battle joy was gone from her eyes and was replaced with a look of peace and contentment. She smiled at me and I melted under her gaze.
"Read to me tonight, Gabrielle?" she asked quietly.
I flushed. "Of course," I replied, and turned towards my bag of scrolls, hoping that she hadn't heard the wobble in my voice. We sat down on our respective bed rolls and my heartbeat raced as I selected a scroll, cleared my throat, and began to read.
My thoughts were still spinning erratically but I knew for certain that last memory was not my own. Gabrielle? Was I just in her as Xena was in Mel? Am I - and things began to grow light again.
"God, Janice, c'mon, wake up now," I could hear Mel coaxing me. I wondered how long I had been unconscious. I drew in a deep, beautiful breath and felt my head roll to the right. Seemed like my body was mine to move again. I felt the earth under my back and it was solid and familiar. I could smell the dust and dirt from the rockslide and the wood smoke from the campfires. Everything seemed to be in order. Thank the gods. Alright, Covington, let's blow this joint. I opened my eyes.
"Janice?" asked Mel tentatively.
"Ugh," I groaned and tried to sit up.
"Shhh, shh, don't move, Janice, you've hit your head somethin awful. Just lay down for a second. The camp wasn't touched at all from the rock slide, and some of your crew are coming back with a stretcher." I was surprised by the gentleness of her tone. Our near-death experience seemed to have scared away most of her earlier formality and anger towards me. She put her hand on my shoulder and tried to push me back onto the ground.
Like hell I'm getting carted back to camp on a stretcher! My head was throbbing but it was no worse than a bourbon hangover, so I fought off the nausea and the dizziness, drew up all my strength, and pulled myself up into a sitting position. I heard Mel squawk a protest, but I was concentrating on keeping the buzzing and blackness from overtaking me. A few deep breaths later, I turned to Mel's worried face and said, "I'm fine, sweetheart. Let's hit the road."
"Um, Janice...you're bleeding all over yourself," she said, looking a little pale.
"What?" I said. Oh, THAT'S the warm stuff running down my neck. I put my hand to my temple where the throbbing was the worst and sucked in a breath through my teeth as my fingers hit the wound. Yep. Definitely gonna need some stitches for that one. I reached into my bomber jacket pocket, looking for a hanky or a bandana to put on the gash, and came up empty-handed. "Damn." Jesus, Cov, is it too much to ask to be prepared a little bit here?
"Here," said Mel. She had correctly guessed what I was looking for and was holding out a handkerchief towards me. It looked expensive. And pink. Well, it'll be red soon...
"Thanks," I said, grasping the thin cloth in my left hand and holding it up to my temple. It stung like hell where it touched the exposed flesh, but the blood flow seemed to stop, at least for the moment. "Quick, give me a hand, hey?" I asked Mel, struggling to get my legs under me.
"Janice, I really think - oh for goodness sakes, here, give me your - no, your other - steady!" Suddenly I was upright, and very, very much wishing that I was back down on the ground. I closed my eyes to fend off the vertigo, made myself focus on the firmness of the ground beneath my boots...and tried not to ralph. I must have done a decent job at it because I heard what sounded like some of the men coming back with a makeshift stretcher, and Mel told them that I was all set.
I opened my eyes, took a second to get oriented, and then looked over at Mel. "Thanks," I said gruffly.
"You're welcome," she replied with a smile. "They were very worried about 'Madame Boss,' but are hoping that it means you'll go easier on them in the morning."
I laughed in spite of the pain and blood. "We'll see about that," I said, which earned a laugh from Mel in return before she shivered involuntarily and rubbed her hands together.
"Cold?" I asked before realizing that her actions couldn't have really implied anything else. Maybe I can blame that one on the head injury.
"A little," she admitted, and shivered again. There was a definite chill in the air, and all she had on was the business suit and heels.
I looked down at my bomber jacket, which was now half-stained with my blood. This is the one situation where it would probably be more chivalrous to keep your coat to yourself, Covington.
"Alright, well, let's hit the road then," I said and took as steady of a step forward as I was capable of doing. The edges of my vision sloshed a bit and my head hurt like a sonofabitch, but it was no worse than really tying one on and I was plenty used to functioning like that.
"Are you sure you're alright, Janice?" asked Mel.
"Sweetheart, I'm feeling damn swell right now," I said, trying to put a little swagger into my step to prove it. The dizziness was nothing that a second dinner and a drink wouldn't fix.
Mel raised her eyebrow, but said nothing until we reached the trucks. I grabbed a lantern, the backpack of scrolls (rescued at the last second from that skunk of a brush salesman before he went back to Jersey), and her suitcase from out of the truck bed where I had loaded it all previously, and started for my tent. "Where're you goin?" asked Mel, grabbing her bag and pulling it out of my grasp. I didn't protest. By this point my head was really starting to bug me.
"To my tent. It's too late to drive you back to Athens tonight," I replied, trying to keep my voice even but knowing that it sounded clipped.
"So...that's a no to partners, then, I take it?" Mel said, stopping dead in her tracks.
"What?" Is she still thinking about that after we almost died for the umpteenth time today?
"You never did answer my question before. In fact, it almost felt like you were breakin up with me, Doctor Covington," said Mel. Formality made a marked reappearance in her speech and her shoulders stiffened.
"Well, Jesus, sweetheart, I mean..." I trailed off. My battered brain began to dance again a little. Maybe I should give this a shot. We could be like Xena and Gabrielle. Xena herself had assured me that Gabrielle wasn't a "useless tag-a-long," and the parallels between our situations weren't hard to draw. The warrior and the bard…the archaeologist and the linguist…odd couples of a ridiculous nature, but Xena and Gabrielle had apparently made it work well. My stomach churned as I thought of Gabrielle's memory of Xena. Gabrielle's reaction to Xena's gaze was unmistakable. Looks like they made it work *very* well . I stole a look over at Mel, standing there in her business suit and dress shoes amid the sand dunes and excavation gear and trying not to look upset. Alright, alright, I thought irritably, I get the friggin hint. I looked Mel right in the eyes.
"...I just figured you'd rather translate at a nice hotel than out in the field," I finished, and watched as Mel's whole face lit up.
"I beg your pardon, Doctor Covington, but...is that a yes?" she asked, looking as if she didn't dare to hope for my confirmation.
"Yes, it's a friggin yes. Now for God's sake, can we please just get moving?"
"Oh, my, of course, Janice, let's get your head looked at. That was incredibly inconsiderate of me," said Mel, her words coming out in a pleased and flustered jumble.
"It's fine. Now, if you please," I said, and tromped off towards my tent.
"So we're sleeping in your tent tonight?" piped up Mel a moment later.
"Jesus H. Christ, you sure talk a lot," I growled irritably.
"Janice! That mouth of yours is gonna send you straight to Hell!" said Mel disapprovingly.
"Hades, doll, not Hell. We're in Greece, remember?"
We continued in silence for mere moments.
"So...you were saying?" prompted Mel.
I sighed. "Yes, we're sleeping in my tent, unless you'd rather sleep out here with the wild dogs," I said through gritted teeth. As if on cue, a chorus of howls broke out in the darkness beyond the camp. Mel inched up closer to me as we walked, and I fought back a grin. Ah, hell, Cov, maybe this'll be fun. Finally we reached the tent. My head was about ready to burst, but I had made it there under my own steam power. I was incredibly pleased with myself and flung the tent flaps back with a flourish.
"Heathens or dogs, Miz Pappas, your choice."
Mel glanced around at the darker recesses of the camp nervously, and then stepped into the tent. I followed suit and hung the lantern before gratefully sinking into my field chair and sighing with relief. Damn, does it feel good to sit down. I realized my mistake a moment later though - I had taken the only available seat in the place, and Mel looked understandably reluctant to sit down on my cot. I suppressed a groan as I got up out of the chair. "Here, sit down," I said brusquely.
Mel looked like she was going to protest, but without a viable alternative, accepted the seat with a simple "Thanks."
I walked over to my wash basin and poured in some water from the pitcher. "Hey, do you have a mirror?" I asked Mel as I set my fedora down next to the basin.
"Yes, of course. Do you need one?" she asked politely back.
"Well, yeah, sweetheart, I'm not gonna put a needle in my face without some idea of where I'm pointing it," I replied, pulling my flask out of my jacket pocket and taking a healthy swig. The bourbon hit me harder than the rock had earlier. I needed to find the balance point of "too numb to feel it, not numb enough to poke myself in the eye." One more shot oughta do it , I thought, taking another gulp.
Mel's eyes were wide when I turned around to face her. "You're gonna stitch up your own face?" she said with a horrified look.
"Christ, yeah, it's not like we've got a doctor's office nearby," I replied. She didn't look convinced. "I've done it before," I said, pushing my bangs aside to reveal a faint inch long scar up near my hairline. The scar looked pretty clean, if I did say so myself.
"I...I could do it for you," she offered, her face whitening slightly at the prospect.
I chuckled. The bourbon was working nicely, coursing its way though my veins and casting a warm, giddy glow over me. "Have you ever stitched up a person before?"
"Well, my cross-stitch is the best in the town..." she trailed off when she saw the look on my face.
"You hold the mirror. I'll sew. Then we'll get some sleep. Got it?" My bones all felt like lead. Sewing up my own forehead was last on the list of things I wanted to do right now. The faster it was done, the better.
"Got it," she agreed, and unzipped her suitcase to retrieve her mirror. I lit a couple of candles to supplement the lantern light, then turned to the wash basin and gently splashed some water on my face. Mel's handkerchief had stuck to the wound like a big pink wad of gum. I gritted my teeth and rinsed my face, pulling lightly on the handkerchief to separate it from my skin. Doing so disturbed the clotting that had taken place and the wound started to bleed a little again. I poured some more water from the pitcher over my face, wiped down with a towel, and took a quick nip of bourbon. Then I bit down hard on the towel (as Mel looked at me quizzically) - and dumped a shot's worth of bourbon over the wound.
"MMMPH MMMPPRRMRRNNG MMMMMMMMM!" I swore into the towel as the bourbon set my brain on fire. "MMMRMMMMNNG MMMMMM!" Any exhaustion I had been feeling was blasted away, replaced by a deep, deep burning that made my eyes water. The burning lasted for what felt like ages, then began to recede ever so slightly. I hollered one last time just for the hell of it, then pulled the towel out of my mouth. Mel just stared at me like I was insane.
"Look, sweetheart, as ugly as I just looked pouring bourbon all over my head, trust me, had that gone to gangrene, it woulda been even uglier." I impulsively made a horrible gargoyle face, and it caught Mel far enough off guard that she laughed.
"Ya ready?" she asked, holding up the mirror.
"You bet," I replied, grabbing my field medical kit from under my bedside table. A tiny needle and some sturdy thread were among the items in the bag. I grasped the items, pleased to see that my motor skills were still functioning reasonably well even with the bourbon infusion, and threaded the needle. Mel fidgeted with her large hand mirror, twisting it round and round in her hands in a way that shot a reflection of the candlelight in my eyes about once every five seconds, until I shot her a Look and she stopped. "Here, drag the field chair over near my cot and sit across from me," I directed. She did so and I fussed with the angle of the mirror for a minute before I was satisfied. "Alright, now don't move."
I took a deep breath, held it, and stuck the needle into the skin on the far end of the gash. The prick stung, but no worse than a bee sting. I steadily pushed the needle through all the way and into the other side, the dark thread trailing behind. I pulled it until I reached the knot at the end of the thread, tugged slightly, and exhaled. First one's always the worst. The bourbon had taken enough of the edge off enough that I could separate myself from the pain, and aside from the pulling sensation, it wasn't too bad. Mel looked a little green around the gills but held the mirror mostly steady.
I kept moving, keeping the stitches as neat and even as I could. When the pain got to the point where I couldn't ignore it, I took another shot of bourbon and kept sewing. Mel was looking queasier and queasier but held on. Finally I reached the end, tied off the thread, and cut it with my pocket knife. "Done," I announced in a ragged voice.
Mel dropped the mirror and hit the deck.
"You've gotta be fuckin kidding me," I swore, and stumbled over to the medical kit to get some smelling salts. I tore open the package and thrust it under Mel's nose. She came right back, coughing and sputtering, but in one piece.
"Oh my," she said, "guess I don't have the stomach for that much blood," and smiled weakly.
I couldn't really blame her, I guessed, so I just didn't say anything and passed her the canteen by my bed. "It's warm," I warned.
"That's fine," she said, taking a ladylike sip, which was quite a feat when using a canteen. "Thanks," she said, passing it back. I figured I should thin out some of the bourbon in my blood and finished off the canteen. I looked back at Mel. She was still varying shades of green and white - no healthy Southern tan on this gal at the moment.
"Are you gonna toss?" I asked suspiciously. "Cos if you are, clear outta the tent before you do, got it?"
"Toss?" she repeated with a blank look on her face.
"Yeah, toss...throw up."
Mel clambered to her feet and dusted herself off. "I can assure you I'll be doing no such thing, Doctor Covington," she said primly.
"Well, that's a friggin relief," I said, and decided to chase my water with a little more bourbon. My head was starting to beat like a bass drum. Time to go, Cov. I reached under my cot and withdrew a worn green Army issue duffel bag and packed up some of my things.
"What're you doing?" asked Mel.
"Well," I replied, cinching the bag closed and picking up the wash basin, "there's two of us and one cot. So you're staying here. And I'm going to sleep in the truck."
"Janice, absolutely not! Your head! You need to rest!" Mel looked horrified by my proposal.
"I am going to rest - in the truck," I said, walking out of the tent to pour the bloody water into a barrel I kept behind my tent for grey water. I came back inside and began to scrub out the basin with soap, water, and a stiff brush. I gestured with my head towards a bed roll that was stashed in the corner of the tent. "There's a clean bed roll we picked up as a spare in Athens. You're more than welcome to it." I walked back outside, poured out the rinse water, and wiped out the basin. "Basin's clean, cold water's in the pitcher, hot water's out til morning when we set up the pots over the fire." I shouldered my duffel bag and the backpack of scrolls, then gingerly set my fedora back on my head. "You dig?" I asked.
Mel nodded. "I dig," she repeated, and walked over towards me. She hesitated before speaking. "Janice...I...thank you. You saved my life back there, with that rock slide. You pushed me right outta the way of that big boulder." Then she got a weird look on her face. I'd seen that one before - it means the lady's gonna either cry, hug you, or slap you, and she's trying to decide which. I didn't want to be around for any of it.
"My dynamite and hollering's what shook the whole damn mountain loose in the first place, so we're square, sweetheart," I said quickly. I didn't need her thinking she owed me something. Mel didn't lose the look though, so I stuck out my hand. "Right, partner?"
Her lips curled into a smile. "Right," she replied, and shook my hand. Damn! Does she spend her days writing or crushing rocks in her fists? Maybe Xena's still kicking around in there somewhere...
"Well, goodnight Miz Pappas," I said, tipping my hat. I saw her eyes widen as I fled out into the night.
The cool night air hit me like a slap in the face, and I sure as hell needed it. I veered away from the path to my truck and stomped off towards the campfire instead so I could sit and think. "Jesus thunderfuck, Covington, what the hell was that all about? Giving her your cot ? Tipping your hat ? How fricking hard did that rock hit you?" It's not like I was courting Miz-Melinda-Southern-Belle-Translator-Pappas, but from the way I had just acted you wouldn't know it. "When you wake up in the morning, this had better all be a concussion dream," I muttered, punting a fist-sized rock off into the darkness for emphasis. It clattered around noisily, smacking into other rocks before rolling off into the bushes. I must've woken up the wild dogs because the howling chorus broke out again, sending shivers up my spine. I checked my gun, made sure I had enough shots to blow away any mangy mongrel dumb enough to fuck with me tonight, then continued off towards the campfire where I hoped to soak up some heat, nurse my headache, and figure out exactly what the hell had happened today. It promised to be a long night.
(Continued in The Gods of War Part II: Shadows of the Warrior)
Janice's skull wasn't harmed too badly in the making of this story. It's thicker that one would think (or that she'd ever admit).
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