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The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Janice and Mel are owned by MCA/Universal and no copyright infringement is intended by this work.

This piece is essentially an "alt" adventure with some hurt/comfort. The depiction of the physical intimacy between the heroines is left mostly to the reader's imagination. As in most X:WP fanfiction there is some violence and peril to the main characters, but I'm not one to go in for reading too much gore much less writing it so it's kept to a minimum.

I have to give special thanks to my editor, Benet, an absolute gem I discovered through Lunacy's beta reader registry, whose extraordinary patience and editing prowess has resulted in dramatic improvement to this piece. (Thanks, Benet, for all your help!!!)

Where You Go, I Go

by Yellowjacket

Part 3 of 5

Janice woke with a stabbing pain in her head and then realized there was an even worse one shooting up her legs. She lay for a moment, taking in shallow breaths, gathering what little strength she had. Miraculously, she knew where she was and why she was there but she had no idea how long she'd been out. She was lying on her side in a near fetal position and she could feel cold rock against her back. With a push of sheer will she rolled herself into a sitting position and waited for her body to register its painful protests, the worst, not surprisingly, came from her ankles.

It had happened in what seemed like slow motion. Santos had cut the rope and she saw the anguish flare in Mel's crystal blue eyes. As she fell Janice focused on her parachute training, keeping her body in control and falling straight down, awaiting the impact with the ground then timing the bending of her ankles, knees and hips to absorb the momentum of the fall. If she had had some room to drop and roll she might have escaped injury entirely, but she had lurched sideways and that had sent her back slamming into the wall and she blacked out.

She slowly tilted her head back and could see almost forty feet of smooth wall above her. The well was about four feet in diameter and so smooth sided that Janice knew finding handholds was out of the question. A dim light filtered down to her and she examined the ropes on her hands, deciding that was her first problem to solve.

Painfully, she moved to her knees then ran her hands around the floor of the well, rejoicing when she found a rough stone protruding slightly. She began frantically sawing the rope against the stone and was soon rewarded with fraying threads. She nearly cried when the rope broke and her hands were freed. She sat back and her fingers flew to the bindings on her feet, surprised and a little indignant to find she was tied up with her own whip. She coiled the leather and secured it to her belt.

Her fear for Mel was driving her nearly insane. She was impervious to pain and she struggled to her feet, relieved that her ankles were able to support her. Her hand raked her hair back from her face and she felt a stickiness on her face then remembered the absurd blue paint. It almost made her laugh.

She took a deep breath then pressed her shoulders and arms against the wall of the well and lifted one leg, stretching till her foot pressed against the far side of the well. She brought her other leg up and held herself suspended above the floor and then began to alternate sliding her back and her feet up inch by inch.

Jorge and Miguel heaved Mel unceremoniously onto the altar. They had grunted and groaned as they carried their unconscious burden to the top of the pyramid. Santos was already there, making preparations for their second offering to the gods.

Santos had lit two pole torches that stood sunken in holes at the ends of the large stone slab that functioned as an altar. He laid out the sacrificial knife and other supplies for the ritual and began chanting to summon the sun god. His eyes darted to the sun as it neared its western most position before disappearing over the horizon and he took it as a good omen that the sky was lit with streaks of red... blood red.

With an almost euphoric glee he tore Mel's shirt open then cut her bra away with a knife, exposing her bare breasts. He untied her hands and lifted her arms over her head to where Jorge stood with two leather leads tied through slots in the altar. Miguel stood at the other end, fastening similar leather restraints to Mel's ankles, effectively tying her spreadeagle on the altar.

As he had with Janice, Santos splashed Mel's face with water till she came around. The agony in her eyes attested to her awareness of her surroundings but she did not struggle in the least.

The altar was at the western edge of the top of the pyramid and faced the setting sun. Santos took up the tub of blue paint from the corner of the altar he had set his supplies on and smeared a streak down the left side of Mel's face, spreading it evenly with his fingers till the entire side of her face was a solid blue. He began to chant then picked up a sting ray spine and sliced himself again then took his bleeding finger and made more designs on his arms and chest then turned towards the altar.

Miguel and Jorge joined the chanting as Santos used his own blood to draw several designs on Mel's face. They continued to chant as he drew a bloody symbol over her heart and then reached for the sacrificial knife.

Santos held the thin curved blade over his head in supplication to his god. "Kinich Ahau." he shouted to the sky. "I offer to you the heart of the being of light." He brought the blade high and started the plunge of his arm towards Mel's bare breast.

A whoosh of air and a loud crack and Janice's whip wrapped itself around Santos' wrist. Janice yanked hard on the leather, jerking Santos' arm back and sending the knife flying over the edge of the platform and bouncing down the face of the pyramid.

Mel's eyes blinked in disbelief at the sight of her lover. Her heart, which only moments before had felt dead to her, now beat wildly with joy. "Janice!" She shared an exultant glance that lasted but a heartbeat but was enough to communicate all the love that bound their souls together.

"Get her!" Santos clutched his wrist and yanked the whip from Janice's hand, quickly unwinding it from his wrist and dropping it to the ground. He ran to the edge of the pyramid to see the sacrificial knife ricocheting briskly off the stone steps far below and he ran down the steps after the blade.

Jorge charged towards Janice, expecting to have no difficulty throttling the diminutive archaeologist, but just as he was about to close his arms around her she dropped and rolled forward as the bulky man rushed past. She bounced to her feet and grabbed one of the pole torches from the shallow hole in which it stood. She knocked the unwieldy torch from the end and found herself with a long thin pole for a weapon.

Jorge swung around to face the feisty blond, his eyes bulging in rage. He pulled his machete from his belt and advanced towards her. Miguel scurried to his side and pulled him to a halt, brandishing a pistol from the holster at his waist and grinning triumphantly. "That'll be enough of that, Dr. Covington," he sneered.

Mel pulled savagely against the leather bindings with no success. Her struggles ceased when she saw Miguel draw the gun and she waited breathlessly to see what happened next.

Janice grinned broadly and began a slow walk towards the two men, loosely holding the pole horizontally in front of her. "I think you'd better rethink what you're doing," she said with gentle confidence, continuing to walk slowly towards the men. Jorge and Miguel exchanged glances. Mel held her breath, mesmerized by Janice's calming tone.

"If you pull that trigger and I die from a bullet instead of your barbaric ritual you're gods aren't going to be too happy." She held her voice soft and low as she continued to close the distance, now less than ten feet separating them. "And you can bet your friend Santos will be really pissed too." She finished with a sympathetic smile that held the confused gazes of the men. She stopped and stood motionless, waiting for their reaction. The two men looked to each other for direction and in the instant their eyes left her she sprang forward, bringing the pole down hard against Miguel's gun hand and sending the weapon skittering away.

Miguel pulled his machete from his belt and the two men ran towards Janice, their deadly blades flashing in the dwindling rays of the setting sun. Janice deflected their overhead blows with her impromptu staff then dropped the pole lower, snapping one end into Jorge's ribs and hearing a satisfying crack. She dropped to one knee and viciously whipped the other end around, nailing Miguel in the knee as she fluidly pivoted to her feet and brought herself back to a standing position, her staff balanced evenly in her hands.

Janice felt a strange wave of deja vu at the feeling of the wood in her hands and she cast a quick look to Mel and caught her lover's adoring gaze directed at her. The look energized her and she turned her attention back to the bumbling fools who dared to try to harm the woman she loved. She drove forward, pummeling the men with quick strong strokes and easily avoiding the panicked slashing of their blades. She drove them back further and further, closer to the edge of the pyramid. With one stroke she cracked Jorge's hand and sent his machete clattering to his feet, the return stroke caught him soundly on the chin and a final thrust to the chest sent him careening backwards, his arms windmilling wildly trying to regain his balance but to no avail as his momentum carried him over the edge of the pyramid and he tumbled from sight with a scream of pain and rage that abruptly ended. The sounds of the impact of his body tumbling down the steps of the pyramid continued for a few minutes longer.

Miguel and Janice faced each other, gasping for air and listening to the soft thuds of Jorge's downfall. When the sounds stopped they tensed, each waiting for the other to make the first move. "You can walk away from this, Miguel. Just put down the machete, turn around and go." Janice offered Miguel his life, knowing with certainty that she would win, but knowing with equal certainty that the Mayan priest would not be astute enough to accept her offer.

"I'll take my chances against you," he snarled and began to move in an arc, limping from the blow Janice had landed on his knee. He held his machete in front of him like a sword and continued a slow lateral movement that Janice realized would take him to where her whip lay. Janice began moving herself towards the machete Jorge had dropped, and they each seemed to concede the other the weapon. Simultaneously they reached their objectives and picked up their prizes. They now stood some twenty feet apart, ready for a showdown. Janice stood at the end of the pyramid while Miguel stood halfway between her and Mel.

Janice hung the machete on her belt then grasped her staff with both hands. "Let's get this over with," she growled, advancing towards Miguel who stood calmly waiting for her.

The whip whistled sharply past Janice's ear as she ducked low to avoid it. She dropped, executing a forward roll that brought her closer to the Mayan but he stepped back and stayed out of range of her staff. Again the whip lashed out, Janice caught the stinging tip on her staff but Miguel snapped it back quickly and sent it flying once again, biting her deeply on the arm and drawing a streak of blood. "Not too bad with that thing," Janice complimented as she moved in a lateral arc, trying to maneuver around him so she might have a shot at getting to Mel.

Mel craned her neck, trying to watch the violent ballet that danced outside her restricted field of vision. She listened to the snap of the whip and the shuffle of feet and did the only thing she could do in the situation...she waited. Several sharp cracks sounded in quick succession and she heard a pained gasp from Janice. She called anxiously, "Janice, are you ok?"

"Yes, love, I'm fine," Janice replied, though she now sported another bleeding welt on her arm. She set her jaw and waited for the next strike, determined to end the standoff. She lowered her staff and stepped closer, offering an irresistible target to Miguel.

Miguel flung the whip back then flicked it forward with all his might. Janice moved in and took the cutting lash on her thigh but she was close enough now to use her staff. She grabbed one end of the staff and swung it in a wide arc, missing the hand that held the whip but connecting with his shoulder and forcing him off balance. She pushed forward, ignoring the shooting pain from her thigh and swinging wildly, landing another blow, this one to his gut, bending him over in pain. Miguel gasped, trying to catch his breath and Janice moved in for the kill. With all her might she brought the staff savagely against the side of his head and then reversed the movement of the stick and smashed the other end into his jaw. He dropped in a heap and lay still.

Cautiously, Janice approached the still form, using her staff to roll him onto his side, she saw blood flowing from his nose and mouth. He was dead and she felt nothing more than a flood of relief. She retrieved her whip from the dead man's grip and quickly coiled it and tied it to her belt as she headed to the altar. She pulled the machete from her belt and severed Mel's bonds then replaced the machete on it's thong then pulled the woman she loved into her arms in a passionate embrace.

Mel nearly was the death of the archaeologist, hugging her so hard she was close to strangulation and kissing her so much she was close to asphyxiation but Janice couldn't think of a more pleasant way to go. Besides, she was getting in some serious hugs and kisses herself. They stood in each others arms just reveling in their togetherness, caressing and holding, loving and cherishing, whispering each others names and shedding a few tears of joy and relief as the waning light from the setting sun bathed them in a soft pale glow.

"You forgot one little thing," a deep gravelly voice growled. "Me."

Janice whirled to see Santos standing there with the knife in one hand and a pistol in the other. She pushed Mel behind her and faced their former guide. "It's over, Santos, the sun is setting and we're still alive... it's too late.

"I know that, Covington, it's too late for the sacrifice, but that doesn't mean you're not going to die." He leveled the pistol at Janice's heart.

Janice tensed, her mind flashing quickly through her limited options. Santos was fifteen feet away, he'd gun her down for sure if she tried to jump at him. She saw his finger tighten on the trigger and she just reacted. Her right hand swung forward and grabbed the machete at her side, continuing the forward motion she threw the weapon at Santos with as much force as she could muster. That sense of slow motion that she had experienced earlier at the well seemed to happen again and she saw an instant of awareness in Santos' eyes right before the blade plunged into his heart. His arm jerked up and the gun fired and Janice felt the bullet whiz past her ear. Blood gurgled from the corner of Santos' mouth as he fell to his knees then pitched sideways as he crumbled to the ground. Time returned to its normal speed.

Mel spun violently and pitched backwards, falling hard to the ground and grasping her left shoulder. In stunned disbelief Janice saw wetness spreading out from underneath her lover's hand and she dove to her knees at her side. "Oh my god, Mel, lay still." Her eyes darted wildly, landing on Santos backpack. She dumped the pack out to find food provisions, clothes and, unbelievably, one of the med kits.

Janice's hands shook as she ripped open packages of bandages and layered the thin gauze to make a suitable bandage for the heavily bleeding wound. "Hold on, Mel, it'll be another minute," she soothed. She pulled Mel's hand away and felt a wave of panic at the stream of blood flowing from the wound. She pressed the wad of gauze to the wound and taped it in place with long strips of surgical tape. "It'll be ok, Mel, just relax and breath," she comforted, applying pressure to the wound.

Mel took in a sharp breath as Janice worked. "Doesn't the bullet have to come out?" she said through gritted teeth.

"If I try to take it out now you could bleed to death. It's going to have to wait till we can get you to the hospital in Telas." Janice searched through the contents of Santos' pack. Selecting a shirt from the small pile of clothing, she twisted it into a spiral then threaded it under Mel's arm and behind her neck to make a sling for her left arm."Try not to move that shoulder, Mel. That bullet could be a real problem."

Janice looked up to see the last rays of the sun disappear from the sky. She wiped her bloodied hands on her pants then collapsed next to Mel. She tried to calm herself, concerned by the trembling she was feeling throughout her body.

"Janice?" Mel's voice sounded frightened and weak. "Is it just me shaking or are we experiencing an earthquake?"

"Holy shit!" Janice gasped as she realized it wasn't her body trembling but the earth beneath them. A loud crack sounded as the vibrations intensified. Janice could feel the pyramid shifting under them. "We gotta get off this pile of rocks!" She yelped, jumping to her feet and grabbing the med kit then reaching an arm down to help her companion up.

Mel struggled to her feet, blanching at the pain in her shoulder and nearly falling to her knees before Janice caught her arm and steadied her. They started down the long steep stairway, Janice holding tightly to Mel to help her keep her balance. The trembling of the earth subsided for a few minutes but then began again with a greater intensity and they froze where they were, finding it too difficult to continue their descent during the intense quake. Again the quaking subsided and they continued down, reaching the base of the pyramid only seconds before an even more violent tremor struck.

At the base of the pyramid they found their backpacks as well as Jorge's and Miguel's and the rifles, canteens and other items that had been taken from them earlier that day. Janice hurriedly stuffed the med kit she carried into her own backpack then slipped the pack on. She grabbed canteens and a rifle, slinging their straps over her shoulder and hooked a machete to her belt. She grabbed Mel's pack and one of the others and started dragging them away from the pyramid towards the stairs that would take them off the plateau.

Mel grabbed the shoulder straps of the remaining pack, dragging it along with her right hand. "Leave it, Mel!" Janice yelled when she saw what her partner was doing.

"It might have something we need," Mel argued, staggering after Janice.

A pattering of small stones from the pyramid pelted them as they hastened away. The trembling earth quieted beneath their feet but they continued moving to the open ground of the plain. They could hear the stressing of stone grinding against stone and knew the structure would more than likely collapse if the seismic activity continued.

Mel was in agony as each breath tortured her shoulder, she ignored the pain and struggled after Janice. A wave of nausea struck her and she fell dizzily to her knees. Janice was instantly at her side, wrapping her arms around her waist for support.

Janice looked back to the dark shape of the pyramid. They'd covered about 100 yards but it was far too little distance if the structure collapsed in their direction. "Mel, love, we gotta go. Leave the pack and just get moving. You can lean on me."

Mel nodded her understanding and staggered to her feet. "I can make it on my own," she insisted bravely and willed her legs to carry her.

Janice grabbed the packs she had dropped when she had rushed to Mel's side, determinedly dragging them along. "We need to put as much distance between us and the pyramid as we can."

A series of mild aftershocks vibrated under their feet as they stumbled along in the dark. Though Janice could not see Mel's face she knew from her ragged breathing that she was in a lot of pain. Mel stumbled and sprawled to the ground and Janice knew that was as far as they were going to get. She crumbled beside her lover, rolling her gently onto her back and cradling her head on her thigh.

"I'm sorry, Janice, I can't go any further," she groaned in apologetic despair, panting for breath and wincing at the sharp pains that seared her shoulder with each deep breath.

"It's ok, Mel, we'll be fine here," Janice assured with a doubtful glance towards the pyramid.

Another quake started as a gentle vibration then intensified and became a force of unimaginable kinetic energy under their feet. The violent rumbling dislodged several large stones from the pyramid and it was clearly the beginning of the end for the structure as the stones slammed into lower ones on their way down, dislodging more stones which dislodged even more stones and the roar of the avalanche pounded them as they watched the structure collapse.

It almost looked as though the top of the pyramid swayed towards them then swayed back and then disappeared as it crumbled down the back side towards the temple structure. As the weight of the falling stones crashed into the temple an incredible boom echoed into the night as the temple itself collapsed and a mushroom cloud of dirt and dust rose high into the sky, obliterating the stars.

A hailstorm of debris pelted them and Janice covered Mel's body with her own, shielding her from the stinging material. After several minutes, the earthquake seemed to fade until not the slightest vibration could be felt and all that was left was the falling of dirt and small pebbles which sounded like the patter of a soft spring rain.

When the last of the debris stopped falling, Janice rolled off of Mel and sat up. "How ya doing, Mel," she asked anxiously.

"I've had better days," she understated. "Do you think it's over?"

"I sure as hell hope so," Janice replied.

Janice shrugged out of her backpack and fished out her flashlight, running the beam to Mel's pain stricken face. She pulled a canteen over her head and moved to help Mel sit up for a drink. Mel sipped slowly, though her throat was terribly parched. Janice pulled another canteen from her shoulder and drank deeply, slaking the dire thirst that had tormented her since the well.

"Since the pyramid was kind enough to collapse in the other direction we're safe here even if there are more quakes. I'd say this is where we camp tonight. You just lay back and rest and let me take care of things," Janice dictated.

First on Janice's list was to inspect Mel's shoulder. She pulled the blood sodden gauze away to see a trickle of fresh blood seep from the wound. With the flashlight illuminating her work she gently cleaned the wound with water and a few gauze pads but when she doused it with the cleanser from the med kit Mel gasped and a few stinging tears coursed down her face, streaking the blue paint Santos had coated half her face with.

With the wound tended, Janice focused on making Mel more comfortable. Strapped to the three backpacks she had salvaged was a total of four sleeping bags and she layered three of them together for a bed for Mel. With Mel settled, Janice poked through the packs till she found several ration tins and a couple of metal spoons. "Dinner time, my love." She indicated the tins she held in her hand.

Mel shook her head. "I'm not hungry," she declined, feeling nauseous at the thought of food.

Janice knelt beside her partner. "I know your stomach is probably not up for this right now, but you're gonna need your strength. We've got a long hike ahead of us and we gotta do it as fast as possible to get that shoulder treated. Ya gotta eat, Mel."

Reluctantly, Mel agreed. Janice helped her to sit up then settled herself beside her to share their repast.

With their dinner done and another satisfying draught from the canteen, Mel stretched out on the sleeping bag with Janice's thigh for a pillow as Janice used a damp cloth to wipe the blood and paint from Mel's face. "At least that damn blue paint's water soluble. I couldn't stand having that on my face all the way to Telas," Mel grumbled as her eyes fluttered closed and Janice's gentle touches lulled her into surrendering to her exhaustion.

Mel woke to see Janice's dejected figure seated amidst the strewn contents of the backpacks. Despite the fogginess that clouded Mel's head, she could clearly read the the self-condemnation written in extra-large print across her lover's face. "A beautiful woman like you should never frown," she called with a gentle smile.

Janice's eyes snapped to Mel's face as some of the concern eased. She picked up a canteen and padded over to Mel, helping her partner to sit up for a drink. "And a woman like you should never have to face such danger," she responded softly.

"Janice, this is not your fault." Mel fixed an even gaze on her lover. "Don't even try to blame yourself for this. I insisted on coming."

"But Mel - " Janice started to respond, only to be silenced by a gentle finger against her lips.

"Don't start. We have too many real problems right now to end up fighting about that." She smiled gently, cupping Janice's face in her hand. "Let it go. Let's just figure out what we're going to do."

Janice sighed, more than willing to avoid the argument, but unmoved in her conviction that she was to blame for their situation. The worried look in her soft green eyes held a clear message that things were...pretty bad.

"I've been thinking about this for a couple of hours now," Janice started wearily. "The first day we hiked about half a day. The second day was a solid day of walking and yesterday was about a half day of hiking." Janice wrinkled her forehead as she considered their course of action. "With the trail marked, and the first part of our trek taking us downhill instead of uphill we should save some time." Janice paused to see if Mel followed her train of thought. Her partner gave a brief nod and Janice continued. "But with that bullet wound we won't be able to move very fast... have to take a lot of rest breaks, and with the heat and humidity wearing you down when we get out of the mountains it could take three, maybe even four days of hiking, then the trip down the river. Could be as many as five days till we get you to a hospital."

"I'll be ok, Janice. We just need to take it easy and get through this," Mel said with a confident smile.

"That's what I'm hoping. But if that wound keeps bleeding or gets infected we're going to have one hell of a problem." Janice was frowning deeply.

"Well, it's not like we've got any other options anyhow. When do we get underway?"

"First, you eat while I figure out what we're taking with us. Luckily we've got several canteens and a water purification kit. We got one med kit, but we went through a lot of the bandages yesterday. We'll take one backpack and two bedrolls and as much food as I can fit in the pack."

When she'd finished packing and had strapped one of the tents to her backpack, Janice settled beside Mel with a change of clothing for them both. She helped Mel strip off her shirt which was stiff with dried blood and blue paint. Janice scowled uneasily when she saw the darkened gauze on her lover's shoulder. "I don't like the looks of that. Let's redress that wound." She pulled the adhesive tape off as gently as she could but Mel's sharp intake of breath gave away how much it hurt. The dark clot over the wound seemed dry and Janice redressed the wound before helping Mel into a clean shirt. She then slung a couple of looped straps she had cut from a backpack over Mel's neck. "Your new and improved sling," she explained as she gently pulled Mel's left arm through the loops.

"I was hoping the second med kit was in one of the packs. I retrieved the other pack you'd tried to drag, but it must have been with Ernesto or Roberto. Not many bandages left in this kit." She took a closer look at Mel's bandaged shoulder. " If the wound reopens it could be a problem."

"I'll be careful," Mel pledged, adjusting her new sling then rewarding her medic with a soft kiss.

Janice pulled off her own blood-and-paint-encrusted shirt. "Janice," Mel gasped, "your back... all those scratches!"

The archaeologist quickly pulled on her clean shirt. "Yeah got a little scraped up climbing out of that well. It's fine," she assured. She walked over to the backpack, hefting it into place with a grimace when it landed on her injured back. "Time to go," she announced as she reached for canteens and her rifle.

Mel grabbed the two sleeping bags and slung their straps over her good shoulder. "Mel, give me those," Janice growled.

"I can carry this little bit," Mel insisted stubbornly. Janice glowered, but let her have her way.

Mel cast a last look at the rubble that had been the temple and pyramid that had nearly cost them their lives. "It seems to me the prophecy was fulfilled... if the gods did not get their sacrifices they would destroy the temple and take back the knowledge it held."

Janice cast a hard look at the pile of stones. "They can keep it." She turned away from the temple as they began their journey home.

Descending the stone staircase to the forest below was not as trouble-free as Janice had hoped. Mel was a bit light-headed from the blood loss, and the pain in her shoulder and the stairs made her dizzy. But they took it slow as Janice held her tightly about the waist to keep her steady. Finally, with great relief, they emerged from the cavern entrance into the forest.

They followed their path in reverse along the sheer rock face atop which the Mayan temple lay in ruins. Janice scanned for the point where they had first emerged from the forest, spotting the familiar "X" that had been hacked into the tree to mark their path.

"Janice, look," Mel gasped and Janice spun around to see what had grabbed her companion's attention. Mel pointed a little ways ahead to two figures slumped against the rock face. "Ernesto and Roberto," she cringed.

"Wait here," Janice ordered, dropping her pack and heading towards the forms.

"What are you doing," Mel asked, tamping down a feeling of nausea.

"They had the other med kit. I want it," Janice called back as she approached the figures.

Their packs where several yards away. Apparently, they had been on a rest break when Santos killed them. The bodies were crawling with insects and Janice cringed at the sight as she gave the rancid corpses a wide berth to get to the backpacks. The short glance she spared them told her the story -- a small feathered object stuck conspicuously from each of their necks... poison blow darts, a Mayan specialty.

Janice found two canteens resting atop the pack, each half full. She slung the straps over her neck before rummaging through the first pack, pausing when she found a small wooden box. Setting it aside, she resumed her hunt for the coveted med kit which she finally found at the bottom of the pack. She collected the kit and the wooden box, then headed back to Mel.

She tucked the med kit into her own backpack then set about prying the wooden box open with her machete.

"What's that," Mel asked from her resting place.

"It's the homing beacon. I don't know if our employer is still going to be interested in that heap of rubble up there, but I figured we've come this far, and been through so much trouble, I might as well take a minute and get this thing working." She extracted the odd metal object and flipped a couple of switches then placed it on a niche on the rock face.

"Is it working?"

Janice felt a subtle hum from the box. "I suppose." She shrugged, then headed over to struggle into her pack before heading into the forest.

Through the course of the morning they managed a good pace with Janice wielding her machete to clear their way. Janice kept a steady eye on Mel, calling immediate rest breaks whenever she caught her lover stumbling. By mid-afternoon they had emerged from the mountains and had reached the low flat jungle where the thicker vegetation and more pronounced heat slowed them down. To add to their misery, a twenty-minute torrential downpour left them uncomfortably wet for hours, thanks to the humidity.

Mel tried to keep alert, watching for the marked trees to keep them on course. If she turned her head quickly or moved her arm, the pain in her shoulder would flare up. But by and large, the sling held her arm immobile and she could tolerate the dull ache.

Just as Janice was ready to find a place to set up camp, they spotted the river they had followed on their way in. Mel sighed in relief. The tree marks weren't quite so vital since they could now follow the river.

Janice sat Mel down with a canteen and their backpack while she cleared an area big enough for their tent and a fire. She quickly had the tent set up then started collecting wood for the fire, getting the flames going with the first batch so Mel could prepare a meal.

Janice emerged from the woods with a bundle of branches and threw them on a growing pile. "One more load ought to do it," she muttered tiredly with a glance at the now-darkening sky. She headed into the brush once more then returned several minutes later with her arms heavily burdened.

It wasn't the most savory concoction Mel had ever cooked, but to the hungry duo it was quite satisfying. As the night settled heavily around them and the nocturnal jungle creatures began their prowl, Mel lazed exhaustedly in Janice's arms before the crackling campfire.

Janice kissed the back of Mel's neck. "We did better than I'd hoped today," she said. "But you have to tell me when you need a rest. You have to pace yourself. We have a long way to go."

Mel patted the hand that rested lightly on her stomach. "I was fine," she insisted. "Really."

Janice gave her partner another kiss. "Liar," she whispered in her partner's ear, feeling a slight shudder pass through Mel's body at the warm breath. "You should go to bed. You need your sleep."

"I'll gladly go to bed," Mel replied warmly, "provided I have some company."

"I have to stay here, keep the fire going. That's our best protection against night predators. I'll have to catnap, get up periodically to add wood to the fire. If I get too comfortable, I'll fall asleep and the fire will go out."

"Can't I just sleep here, in your arms?" Mel suggested.

"As much as I'd like that, I think you'd be lots more comfortable in the tent and that means a more restful sleep. Besides, the mosquitoes will be drawn to a sweet thing like you and eat you alive." Janice smiled and kissed her again. "But I'll tell ya what, I'll come stay with you till you fall asleep."

Mel groused, "That's the best deal I'm going to get?"

"Yep, take it or leave it."

Reluctantly, Mel struggled to her feet with Janice's help and ducked into the tent followed by Janice who settled Mel onto the sleeping bags then curled next to her with an arm wrapped lightly around Mel's waist.

Mel squirmed a little, trying to get comfortable with the soft throbbing in her shoulder. The dull ache did little to prevent her from yielding to her exhaustion and she was softly snoring within a matter of moments.

Janice stayed next to her sleeping lover for almost an hour before quietly extricating herself from Mel's grasp and heading out to feed the fire. She settled herself against some rocks, her sleeping bag clutched around her in the chilled night air. Her thoughts settled heavily on her responsibility for their situation and she vowed that if they got out of this one alive she would never expose Mel to such danger...again.

Mel woke to a stiffness in her shoulder that sent a sharp pain when she tried to move. She waited a minute till the pain subsided then cautiously rolled into a sitting position, trying to keep the shoulder as steady as possible.

"Mel," Janice called. "You up?"

"Yeah," Mel replied, stifling a cry of pain. She managed to get to her feet just as Janice poked her head in the tent.

"How's the shoulder?"

"Fine, just fine," Mel assured as she followed Janice out of the tent.

"I should check the wound," Janice said, reaching for the buttons on Mel's shirt.

Mel pulled back. "Later, I gotta take care of some business first," she said as she headed to the woods.

"Mel, ya don't have to go into the woods." Janice called after her. "It's only the two of us."

Mel waved her good arm and continued on. When she was out of sight she pulled her shirt open and lifted the edge of the bandage to examine the wound. It was visibly swollen with an angry red ring surrounding it. The dark red crust seemed dry, but Mel wasn't too pleased with the whole thing in general. She pulled the bandage back over the wound and ran her fingers down the adhesive tape that held it in place. "Damn," she muttered then proceeded with answering nature's call.

By the time Mel returned, the archaeologist had taken down the tent. Mel could see a drawn tiredness in her lover's face from her less-than-restful nightwatch. She sauntered over to her partner and wrapped her good arm around her, drawing her in for a quick kiss and long embrace.

Janice snuggled her arms around Mel and returned the kiss and embrace. "Let's check that wound, have some breakfast and hit the trail."

"I just checked the wound. It's fine. Let's just pull out some trail bars and get going," Mel replied.

Janice raised an eyebrow. "Wow, aren't we the go-getter today? You must be feeling better." She sighed in relief.

Mel gave Janice an odd smile. "The sooner we get moving the better."

The weather turned against them on the second day as the temperature soared to the high nineties, the humidity well above 90%. Janice's initial assumption that Mel was feeling better gave way to deep concern as by mid-morning Mel's stumbling increased. Taking a hard look at her companion on one of their rest stops she could easily see how stiffly she held the injured shoulder.

"We should check that shoulder while we're stopped," Janice urged.

"It's fine," Mel assured, taking another swig of water from her canteen. "This canteen's about empty."

Janice frowned. "We've got three more full canteens. Just leave that one behind when its empty. The full canteens should get us through today and tomorrow. I'll have to find a fresh water source after that." Janice upped her tone to one of insistence. "Now, I want to get a look at that shoulder."

"I told you, it's fine. Now will you stop treating me like a baby and let's get moving," Mel growled uncharacteristically.

Janice stared at her partner who stared angrily back. "All right," Janice relented uncomfortably.

By late afternoon Mel wasn't just stumbling, she was staggering. Janice had forcibly relieved her of the light sleeping bags, insisting that they stop much more frequently for longer breaks.

Janice called a halt to their progress for the day. She dropped her pack and commanded Mel to sit and do nothing while she set up camp. She settled her lover against a fallen tree then knelt beside her, extending a canteen to her. Mel greedily guzzled the water then passed the canteen back to Janice who hovered worriedly at her lover's side.

"Thanks," Mel muttered before sinking into the tree supporting her back.

Janice leaned in to plant a kiss on her Mel's brow and froze with her lips on Mel's forehead. She sat back and brought her hand up to confirm what her lips had felt. "Mel! You're burning up!"

"Well, it's hotter than hell in this jungle," Mel explained reasonably.

"No, that's fever," Janice groaned. She moved her hands to Mel's shirt and frantically began undoing the buttons.

"Honey, I'm not in the mood," Mel joked lamely, knowing the jig was up.

Her hands shaking like a leaf in a tornado, Janice gently peeled back the bandage to see the blazing inflammation of Mel's shoulder and thin yellow liquid oozing from the very center of the crusty mass. She flicked her eyes to Mel's face. "Why didn't you tell me," she demanded angrily.

"Because there's nothing you can do and it'd just worry you more," Mel responded with pained logic.

Janice stared at the festering wound. "Damn it, Mel. I could have given you something for the pain." Her voice was thick with emotion.

"I couldn't take anything...wouldn't have been able to walk."

Janice gaped at her lover, unable to disagree with the woman's logic. She went to her backpack, pulling out one of the med kits. Frustrated, she rummaged through the kit till she found several vials of pills. She sorted through them until she found something suitable - morphine. Shaking a pill into her hand, she returned to Mel with a canteen. "This is enough to block the pain for now. I'll give you two more after we eat and you'll have a great night's sleep."

Mel took the pill and obediently swallowed it before leaning back against the tree, silently bearing the pain until the drug took effect.

Janice, fueled by anger and fear, threw herself into setting up camp. In little time she had the tent up, fire roaring, wood piled high and a meal cooked. Finally, she dropped exhaustedly beside her lightly-dozing lover, waking her to eat dinner as the darkness of night closed over them like a thick blanket.

Mel tried to focus her eyes on Janice's face but couldn't get the two images of Janice to merge until she squinted her eyes halfway closed. "Janice, I believe you're cookin' has improved," she mumbled sincerely as she finished off her meal.

Janice snorted. "It's the drugs, Mel. Anything would taste good to you right now."

Mel raised an eyebrow and grinned drunkenly. "That so?"

"Yeah. That's so," Janice answered. "And now, I think it's time for two more happy pills." Janice pulled Mel's hand up and gave her two pills to take, holding the canteen out to her.

"Oh, that sounds good. I like being happy." Mel swallowed the pills and washed them down with a swig from the canteen. The dull drugged look in Mel's eyes filling Janice with a wave of sad despair.

"And I like to see you happy." Janice moved beside Mel and put an arm under her lover's good arm. "Let's get you off to bed before you can't walk."

With Janice's help Mel lurched to her feet. "Oh, yeah... bed. Have I ever told you how much I like going to bed with you?" The drugs were certainly having a loosening affect on Mel.

Janice staggered with Mel's weight leaning heavily on her. "Well, maybe not in so many words, but I kind of got that idea," Janice assured as she nearly carried Mel to the tent. She managed to ease Mel to the sleeping bags without hurting her. Of course with all the morphine, Mel wasn't likely to feel much anyhow. She tucked the sleeping bag around her companion then slid down next to her to hold her for a little while.

Mel lay on her back, her head turned towards her lover. Janice lay on her side with a soft wet clothe wiping the fevered perspiration from Mel's brow. The flashlight was on and in the dim light Janice could see the crystal blue eyes that pulled at her heart every time she gazed into them. She realized that at that moment the eyes seemed clear and alert.


"Yeah, Mel." Janice choked down a lump in her throat.

"You know how much I love you." Her voice was low but clear.

"Yes, of course I do." She dabbed the clothe gently over Mel's forehead.

"If I don't make it," she whispered, "always remember that."

Janice's heart nearly stopped at the agony of the very thought. "Don't talk like that, Mel. You'll make it." She pressed her lips against Mel's forehead, her lips trembling against the hot flesh.

"Janice, can I have a real kiss before I nod off?"

Janice wiped a tear from the corner of her eye then leaned in to capture Mel's lips with her own. The kiss was soft and easy. Mel's lips lingered a moment before she relaxed back with a contented smile. She sighed, closing her eyes. Her breathing slowed to that of a deep sleep.

Tears trickled down Janice's cheeks as her worry overwhelmed her. She gently stroked Mel's hair and held her lover in her arms till she had to leave the tent to tend the fire and guard the camp as best she could. She settled at her post, leaning forward with her head in her hands, crying softly in despair. "Please don't die, Mel. It'll never happen again. I swear it. No matter what I have to do, you'll never suffer because of me again."

Janice allowed herself to doze lightly for short periods before jerking awake to restock the fire and check on Mel. The worry and exhaustion waged a war over her, for in her waking moments, she had nothing to occupy her mind but the gravity of their situation, and in her brief periods of sleep she was tormented by nightmares.

Just after dawn Janice crawled into the tent to find Mel was awake. She lay down beside her lover and could feel the intense heat rising from her body. The fever was worse.

"Hi." Mel managed a weak smile of greeting.

"Hi, love. How ya feeling?"

"Oh, a lot better than last night. The sleep sure helped. But you look like hell, Janice. Did you get any sleep?"

"I got a couple of hours. I'll be ok." Janice placed her hand on Mel's forehead. "You're really burning up."

Janice removed the bandage as gently as she could but Mel winced and a tear betrayed how much the injury hurt. The sight of the wound made Janice wince as well. A thick yellow discharge wetly crusted the wound and the entire shoulder was inflamed and swollen, evidencing the poisonous infection.

"It looks pretty bad, Mel. We gotta get it treated soon."

"How much further do you think we have to go?" Mel gritted as Janice rebandaged the wound.

"I wish I knew. I'd guess we're better than half way, but with all the breaks we've had to take it's going to take a lot longer then I thought."

"Perhaps too long?" Mel whispered.

Janice grabbed Mel's hand and held it tight, nodding to answer Mel's question when her voice could not speak the words.

The day was one of torture for both Janice and Mel.

Mel suffered visibly from the relentless pain in her shoulder. With every breath she took, her shoulder throbbed. Her vision blurred constantly and dizziness forced her to her knees several times, bringing their progress to a halt. Each time she fell, Janice ran to her side and held her tight as if by holding her she could stop the violent chills that now racked her body.

Janice's suffering was more intense. Seeing her lover in such pain, how the injury had depleted her lover's strength, and how the infection spread unchecked through the woman's was all tearing Janice apart. The fear of losing Mel had grown to an all-too-real possibility and her despair at being unable to do anything was driving her crazy.

It was early afternoon when Mel stumbled and fell hard, lying on the ground, gasping for air. Janice was at her side in an instant, rolling her onto her back and pulling her head onto her lap for a cushion. "Just rest, love. Lie still," she crooned with a comforting hand, stroking the dark tresses. The archaeologist could see Mel wincing from the hit the shoulder had taken when she fell. "I think you'd better take something for the pain."

Mel's eyes fixed sadly on Janice's face. "It'll make me even woozier. I won't be able to walk without your help," she wheezed.

Janice pulled the vial of pills from her pocket and handed Mel a pill and a canteen. "Hey, you can lean on me anytime you want." Janice smiled bravely.

With Janice's help, Mel eased herself upright to swallow the pill, chasing it with a deep draught of water. She handed the canteen back to Janice then leaned back into her lap. Janice slung the canteen strap around her neck. "Aren't you gonna take a drink," Mel queried.

"No. I'm not thirsty," Janice responded.

"As I recall you didn't drink the last time we stopped either." Mel's eyes narrowed in mild suspicion. "Janice, are we running low on water?"

Janice hesitated, not wanting to concern Mel with their latest problem. But her partner had asked a direct question and there was no use hiding it any longer. "We're down to half a canteen," she admitted softly.

"So you just thought you'd give it all to me?" Mel was visibly upset.

"I thought we'd find something before it got to be a real problem," Janice tried to explain.

"Only half a canteen and no telling how much further we have to go? Sounds like a real problem to me. Why didn't you say something?"

"Because I didn't want to worry you."

"Seems to me we've gotta focus on that as our top problem for now." Mel reached up her hand to stroke the anguished face of her lover. The morphine was beginning to kick in and her vision blurred a little. "You can move quicker without me. Let me here to rest while you go find water."

"Mel, I can't leave you here alone," Janice started to protest vehemently. "We can't stop. We can't afford the time. I've got to get you to a hospital."

"You have to do it, love. In this heat, without water we'll both be dead by tomorrow. I'll be ok, you've got to do this."

Janice paused, considering their situation. Mel undoubtedly needed a good break this time -- there was no doubt about that. But leaving her alone in a jungle in her condition... it seemed inconceivable. Still, the water was vital for both of them. She eased out from behind Mel and went to where she'd dropped her pack and retrieved the sleeping bags. She laid one out beside Mel and helped her companion to move to it before rolling the other one up as a pillow.

Janice knelt beside Mel and held out her pistol. "You need me, just fire a shot. I'll come running."

Taking the gun, Mel managed a saucy grin for her lover. "Then expect to hear gunshots till I'm out of bullets because I always need you, love."

Janice chuckled then leaned down for a quick kiss. Mel changed the plan, snaking her right hand behind Janice's neck and holding her for a long sweet sharing of their love and passion.

"I love you, Mel," Janice husked.


Part 4