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By Bat Morda
(c) Bat Morda 1997
Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
This story may be best classified as a Hurt/Comfort Story involving the charactes Xena: Warrior Princess and Gabrielle- well make that Melinda Pappas and Janice Covington. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of issue may wish to read something other than this story. Auctually it isn't that big of a deal. Quick little owie- a few stitches and we move right along- still I don't want to be accused of not giving enough warning...
This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
JUST IN CASE I MISSED ANYTHING DISCLAIMER:
Do NOT open back panel; no user serviceable parts inside. Use in a well ventilated area. Pencils, scrap paper, and batteries not included. Can not be read by magnetic strip readers. If surface dulls, dust with a damp cloth and allow to dry; do NOT use abrasive cleaners. If nausea persists blame it on Pestilence and consult your doctor or contact your local poison control center. Some assembly required. No dolphins were injured in the creation of this document and the contents are 100% biodegradable. Reader of this document assumes all property/personal damage inflicted upon themselves and/or other individuals/objects in the past/present/future. Please move completely across each row, filling in each and every available seat to make room for everyone. Do not look directly at the sun, as this may cause permanent retinal damage. FCC compliance is required before operating this unit, please consult the User's Manual for further instructions. Complies with TM-071074, and 18D-PMTRE-DR. The moving platform is traveling at the same speed as your vehicle. No smoking please...please stand clear of the doors...Por favor mantengase alejado de las puertas... The Audience Is Listening...THX. Life shouldn't be taken too seriously- you're not getting out alive.
This story takes place three weeks after THE XENA SCROLLS.
I suppose it was only fitting that days after Perdicus' death the rains started. I don't remember when Gabrielle and I had been so completely miserable. I was still grappling with all the ramifications of her marriage and Gabrielle was in mourning. I guess I was mourning too, only I'd been at it longer. Darkness had settled itself around me like a shroud from the moment I saw him propose to her. The highs and lows of the next few days were as exhausting as any battle I'd ever fought. Hopeful that she'd say no, then guilty that I wanted her to say no so badly. I gave her my support in an attempt to remain neutral. I didn't her want to stay with me for my sake alone. And the joy I felt when she told me she was going to tell him no- I almost confessed my love right then. But then she said yes. She said yes right in the middle of a battle when the ox had thrown down his sword, a move that could have killed them both.
I was tired. This was not the first time that Gabrielle had surprised me so suddenly, in a matter of seconds making me wonder if I truly knew her at all. She'd left me twice before, once to go home, once to go to Athens. Each time I told myself that I was better for it. I knew I was lying, but it was the only consolation I could find on a path that had suddenly become very empty. Then she came back, each time a stronger person; a more devoted person. With each of those events I felt more reassured about the depth of her feelings for me. Against my better judgement, hope grew that one day her feelings might run as deep as mine. All of that was shattered with her marriage. She wouldn't be coming back.
She originally left him to follow me, to be with me, and she didn't even know me then. He abruptly left her at Troy. Perhaps he thought I might not give her up without a fight. But something changed, coming to her as a pathetic wretch, appealing to the generosity of Gabrielle's nature. That was not something I could do battle with, and without a fight he won. Then he died and I murdered his murderer.
As soon as the rain started she wanted to leave Poteidaia. I thought she might be better off staying in her family's house, feeling their support, but she would have none of it. She wanted distance from the pain, and while I was as spent as she was, only I could take her away. I can only guess as to what went on in her mind as we walked mile after mile in the soggy silence. She was still struggling with her anger and hatred for Callisto, now obsolete since I'd killed her. I'm sure she was angry about having Perdicus for so short a time and I've no doubt she missed him as well. Perhaps she was angry with me, for being able to save her but not her love. If she blamed me for his death she never said so. I suppose at the time I was too consumed with my own pain to provide the comfort and support she wanted. Maybe that made her angry too. All I know is that night, when the cold and the wet made us ache to our core, she was ready to explode.
I had found a small cave after a full day of walking. I was ready to stop, I didn't care if she was ready or not. There was room for Argo by the entrance, she'd have shelter from the worst of the storm. There was room inside for a small fire, I could stand up without hitting my head on the ceiling but it was close. I took my sword off immediately since there would not have been room to draw it from my back.
"I don't want to stop." Gabrielle said flatly from the entrance to the cave.
I shrugged. "Argo and I are tired, we all need to rest."
"The Warrior Princess tired?" She shot back. "I find that hard to believe."
"It happens," I replied not trying to hide the exhaustion in my voice. "Gabrielle, you could walk a thousand miles tonight and you'd be hurting just as much. Please come here, dry off and get some rest." Mutely she complied.
It was cold in the cave. Fortunately Argo's saddle bag had kept our shifts dry. I took off my armor, setting it near the fire to dry as Gabrielle watched me silently, her eyes burning like embers. I put my blanket against a smooth angled rock and sat down. There wasn't room for both of us to sleep stretched out, but the rock would do. "You should get out of those wet clothes Gabrielle." I suggested gently.
"I can take care of myself!" She shouted, furious, "Why are you always trying to mother me?"
I was on my feet in an instant. Tired and spent as I was I did not have the energy to endure her tirade just because she was hurting. "I'm not trying to mother you Gabrielle. I'm your friend and I'm telling you that being miserable is not going to make your grief any more pure. I'm not saying anything you wouldn't say to me if our places were switched."
With that she flew at me, crying. Fists rained down on my arms and chest as she shouted incoherently. I stood there and took it for a few moments until I'd had enough. I could feel my own anger building; she was hitting me hard. I grabbed her arms and pulled her roughly to my chest tightening my grip as she struggled. Finally she stopped trying to hit me and just cried, her cold arms encircling me. She didn't protest as I eased her to the cave floor by the fire. She didn't say a word as I positioned myself against the rock wall and straddled her with my legs. There were no objections as I removed her sodden clothes and helped her into a dry shift. Then I wrapped the other blanket around her icy body and pulled her close. She continued to cry rough sobs against my chest as I held her. Finally she quieted, her hand absently touching my arm.
"Thank you Xena." She breathed into my skin.
I squeezed her reassuringly. "I'm here for you Gabrielle." I said quietly into her hair.
"I know." She sighed, "and that's part of my problem. You've never let me down Xena. And I know that isn't true of me."
What could I say? She was telling the truth. I don't know what was going through her mind. Tonight was so different for her than a couple of nights ago. Instead of laying in a soft bed full of warmth and passion she was huddled in a cold cave with a reformed warlord. I was surprised by the feel of her hand moving up my arm to my neck. I looked down, startled by the smoky desire in the eyes looking back at me. I felt devastated. Here was a look I'd longed for so long to see, and now I was seeing it for all the wrong reasons. Gabrielle was hurting, hurting so badly that she was desperate for a distraction, any distraction. Gently she touched my face with her cold fingers, tracing the line of my cheek and jaw.
"I'm sorry for the times I've let you down Xena." She said as she brushed my lips with her fingers. "I don't deserve you." She whispered as her hand moved to the back of my neck, drawing my head down. She was cold in my arms but her lips were warm as they sought out mine. I was helpless to refuse her desire for comfort, but when her tongue brushed against my teeth seeking greater intimacy I gently pulled back. Another second and I knew I would be taking advantage of one person I had ever truly loved. I tightened my arms around her once again willing her to feel warm and safe. Resting my cheek on the top of her head I softly told her to sleep. In time she did. I stayed up that night knowing that I might not ever have the opportunity to hold her this way again. It might have been the exhaustion, but for me at that time it was enough and during those few hours, surrounded by soggy misery, I was happy
Janice rolled her head for the hundredth time to gaze a Mel. She found the raven haired beauty utterly captivating and felt certain she'd never tire of watching her sleep. Her eyes darted back and forth in dream, her features relaxed. Argo was curled up next to her, and for that Janice was grateful. Argo had kept her warm on many a cold night and she'd been worried about Mel's tolerance for the chill night air. "Still," she reasoned to herself, "it was her decision to come." She wondered again why the obviously pampered woman would choose such a hard path. With a shrug she reminded herself that it was none of her business, everyone lived and learned by their own mistakes. Being charming, gentle and magnificently beautiful was no protection against that. As the thunder of waves crashing on the beach subsided, Janice decided it was time to get up.
As soon as she moved the dog's eyes opened, watching her mistress intently. "It's okay girl, stay with Mel. I'll be right back." Janice whispered and gave the dog the visual command to stay, then headed a short distance beyond the rocks to relieve herself.
Mel awoke to the smell of coffee filling her senses. She opened her eyes to stars still hanging in the sky above her, with Janice Covington sitting on the other side of a rekindled fire sipping from a steaming mug. "What time is it?" Mel asked, very groggy.
Janice looked at the sky briefly before answering. "It's still a couple of hours before dawn. We've got a long hike ahead of us this morning."
"But the moon is gone- how will we see?" Mel asked, forcing herself to sit up. She gratefully accepted the enameled mug that Janice offered her, noting how warm the archaeologists hands felt against her own cold fingers.
"We'll be walking along the beach. By the time we have to climb to the next cove the sun will be up."
Janice was impressed that Mel refrained from complaining as they got ready to go. The archeologist's daughter seemed to be made of sterner stuff than she had first suspected. They made good time walking the length of the shoreline several miles to the next huge rock outcrop. An enormous basalt formation jutted some distance out into the water, there was no way around it- they'd have to go over.
"Now what?" Mel asked as they reached the base of the basalt formation. It was not strictly vertical, but still very steep.
Janice called Argo and extracted something form one of her packs. After making the dog sit down in front of her she proceeded to put leather booties on the dog's feet, securing them with strips of leather thong. "We climb." Janice replied matter of factly.
From her own pack she extracted two pairs of leather gloves and handed one to Mel. "The basalt is sharp. Argo cut her foot on it last time. Watch where you put your hands, and try not to bump you knees and you'll be fine."
Mel eyed the rock cliff dubiously. "How can Argo?"
Janice smiled, "Argo. Up!" She pointed to the crest of the rock. The dog ran back and forth a couple of times looking for the best place to begin. Then she began to bound up the rock face. There was enough slope for the dog to climb by scrambling over the rock in a zig- zagging pattern "We follow the dog." Janice explained. She headed up the rock next with Mel following her. Several times she paused in her ascent to make sure Melinda Pappas was making progress. Argo reached the top in about ten minutes, it took the humans over twice as long.
Janice shrugged out of her pack and offered a canteen of water to Mel as soon as she joined her at the top. "Let me take a look at that." Janice said, and Mel was not sure what she was talking about. Then following the archaeologist's line of sight looked down to her leg, a small patch of blood seeping through the knee of her pants.
"I didn't realize I even cut myself." Mel said now feeling the pain from her knee.
"This rock is sharp, there is a lot of obsidian in it." Janice explained as she untucked Mel's pantleg from her boot and eased the material over her knee. The scrape was shallow but long. After pulling a battered first aid kit from her pack, Janice cleaned the wound with some water then wrapped a length of gauze around it. Mel was surprised by the archaeologist gentle hands. She suspected that if Janice had the same scrape on her own leg, she'd ignore it. Finally she said as much.
Janice rocked back on her heels and smiled. "This isn't strictly for your benefit sweetheart. These smugglers are really touchy. They see blood and they think you're injured and helpless. I can control Aires to some extent but I don't know how unbalanced his crew this time out is. Last time I showed up on his ship with a bleeding cut on my shoulder- I had to eventually break a guys arm to get him to leave me alone. We'll have a cabin on board, when we get there I suggest you stay put until we get to Cal's island. It'll be a boring two days, but believe me that's a lot nicer than excitement on that ship." Finishing with Mel's injury she put the first aid kit back in her pack and prepared to descend the other side of the rock wall. Unsure why, Mel was a little let down by the doctor's explanation. Janice noticed the sullen silence and smiled to herself as she followed Argo down the cliff.
They had not been on the sandy beach for long when a small boat appeared around the side of the cove. Argo noticed it immediately and barked. "Right on time." Janice smiled and motioned for Mel to join her as she walked over to meet the boat. Once in the shallow surf, one of the two men in the boat hopped out and guided the boat to shore. Janice grasped the man's offered hand. "Aires, good to see you," she glanced to the man still in the boat, "you too Toby." The boatman smiled and waved in greeting as Aires approached Mel.
"I got word you'd have a guest, Doctor Covington. I didn't know she'd be so radiant." With that he smoothly brought Mel's hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles softly.
Janice rolled her eyes skyward and stepped in between Mel and the Captain. "Don't even think about it," she warned. Mel took a moment to study the captain. He was handsome black man, with dark rugged features and well defined muscles. Very athletic. His companion in the boat, however, was anything but. Simply put, he was the largest man Mel had ever seen. He had a bald head covered by an ornate tattoo, handlebar moustache and bright blue eyes. He also had a friendly smile and reminded Mel of an enormous teddy bear.
"I am Captain Aires," Aires said ignoring Janice's warning. "And in the boat is Tobias Eule, but we call him Toby. He can't talk so don't think him anti-social."
"Nice to meet you." Mel replied from behind Janice's shoulder with a nod to the captain and the man in the boat.
"Glad to see Argo recovered." Aires said, finally looking at Janice.
"Better than new." Janice confirmed, as she shouldered her pack and headed for the boat. Reaching the boat, Janice extracted a pouch and handed it to Aires. He counted the money carefully then nodded. After helping Mel into the boat Janice whistled for Argo who easily leapt into the small wooden craft. Janice climbed in next after stowing her gear to the back of the boat, behind Mel.
The boat ride to The Gauntlet was uneventful. Mel listened quietly as Janice and Aires caught up on each other's lives, noting with interest how she interacted with the man. The warm friendliness Janice had exhibited with Greg Ore was missing. Everything about her was no nonsense and formidable. Finally Aires leaned over and Mel could just barely hear him ask, "What's the deal with you and the beauty? Are you and she"
Janice whispered back , "You'll live longer if you assume as much." He laughed openly at that.
"Always one for understatement Doc. Okay, I'll tell the men to keep away from your companion." He smiled at Mel and winked. Returning his attention to Janice he was serious once more, "Silvus is still on board, I'd give him wide berth if I were you. He still hasn't forgiven you for destroying his arm the way you did."
Janice nodded, "I'll make every effort to avoid him. I hope he's smart and does the same."
It didn't take long for the small row boat to reach the cargo ship. After a confirming hand signal from the Captain, the small craft and it's occupants were brought on board. A number of men hung over the side of the ship, hooting and calling to the new arrivals as the boat was hoisted up. However, Mel noted with satisfaction, as soon as the boat was secured and the occupants standing on the main deck of the ship, the whistles and cat-calls silenced. In fact, most of the men quickly found something else to occupy their attention.
Mel followed Argo and Janice below decks to their cabin. Once inside, Janice propped her pack against the wall and surveyed the room. Argo bounded up on to the bed, the piece of furniture that dominated the small cabin, and stood patiently as Janice removed her pack. There was a crate that served as a table or dresser with a large enameled bowl resting on top. An old mirror hung on the wall, and several pegs were present near by for hanging clothes. On the floor next to the crate was a large container of water with a lid. Sitting on the bed next to Argo, Janice began to unlace her boots. "The water is clean," Janice said conversationally as she removed a boot and wiggled her toes, "Aires knows better than to put me in a room without clean sheets and clean water. I can't vouch for anything else though."
"I get the impression you don't really like the captain?" Mel asked as she studied her reflection in the mirror. She didn't think she'd ever seen herself so rumpled looking.
"Oh, I like him fine." Janice replied, watching with interest as Mel studied her reflection, "I just don't trust him. Hell, I know enough about his business to know that you don't survive by making loyalty a high priority." Mel nodded, distracted, and Janice shook her head. "See something interesting Mel?"
Mel turned with a start to see brilliant green eyes watching her. "I well I was just thinking that this attire is more comfortable than I would have expected. Except for the boots that is, my feet are killing me."
Janice was on her feet and getting the first aid kit out again. "You've done a lot of walking today, you might have blisters." She motioned for Argo to get off the bed, when the dog complied she motioned for Mel to take a seat. Sitting on the floor of the cabin, Janice began to unlace her right boot. Mel watched as Janice's skillful fingers made quick work of the boot lace. She began to feel her pulse speed up as the room seemed to shrink.
"You don't have to do that Janice." Mel shyly protested as the first boot was eased off her foot. The gentle attention of her friend was making Mel's heart race, that was disquieting enough, but the other sensations that joined in were downright distracting.
"Don't be silly." Janice replied, intent on her task. "If you've got blisters you can't walk," she smiled up into clear blue eyes, "and don't think for a moment that I'm going to carry you." Almost as an afterthought Janice looked up, "you're not particularly shy about your feet are you?"
Mel wanted to run. "Ah not especially"
Janice nodded. "Good, 'cause there is little room in archeology for modesty."
Mel looked up at the ceiling, startled to see another mirror attached there. It was long and ran the same direction as the bed. Gazing up, she could see Janice's reflection as she removed her sock and began to gently massage her foot, looking for hot-spots or blisters. It felt wonderful, almost too good. "Janice, why is there a mirror on the ceiling?" She finally asked to distract herself as the second boot was unlaced.
"This is Aires' cabin. I stay in it when I'm onboard. And no, not with him." Janice was silent once more, as if the owner of the cabin was explanation enough for the mirror.
"He said something on the row boat, about you and me"
Janice looked up from her task and shrugged. "I'm sorry you had to hear that, repulsive as you might find it. You'll be safer if they think you're sleeping with me. If nothing else, they respect Argo, so it'd be stupid for either of us to be in a room without her." After seeing the other woman's mollified expression she added, "Don't worry, I think I'll be able to restrain myself. You'll be safe here."
"What do you mean by that?" Mel asked, annoyed at the comment.
"I'm just saying I won't try anything." Janice replied innocently.
"I'm not good enough? Is that what you're saying?!" Mel shot back hotly getting more miffed at the archaeologists assumptions the more she thought about it.
"Are you saying you want me to try something Mel Pappas?" Janice asked softly.
"I'm asking why I should assume that you wouldn't" Mel retorted, removing her foot from Janice's grasp. Mel wasn't sure what bothered her more. That Janice assumed she thought sexual intimacies with her would be repulsive or that the archeologist wasn't the least bit interested in her.
Janice smiled at the forcefulness of the question. "Well for starters Mel, you aren't my type. Anymore than I'm yours I suspect. I mean business partner, maybe, but lover? Nah." Not entirely convinced about what she was saying, even as she said it, Janice was determined to keep her attraction from the spoiled southerner. She didn't want to face the inevitable rejection or make Mel uncomfortable with her. It had happened too often in the past.
Genuinely stung by the archeologist's dismissal, Mel turned away. "I'm gratified to hear it. That must say something for my degree of sophistication and maturity," she shot back hotly. "And just so you know, you're not my type either."
"I know, I'm not a man." Janice shrugged.
"It goes way beyond gender." Mel said icily.
"What do you mean by that?" Janice demanded.
She never got her answer. A loud knock sounded on the door. "What is it?!" Janice shouted, angry.
"Cap'n wants to see you on deck. Another ship is headed to intercept us." Said the voice on the other side of the door.
"Great, just great." Janice said as she began to put her own boots back on. Moments later she was heading out the door glaring at Mel and Argo sternly. "You two stay here."
As soon as Janice left Argo began to pace back and forth in front of the door. Finally sitting down she looked at Mel and began to paw at the closed door. "She said to stay here." Mel reminded the dog. The whining became louder and the pawing more forceful. Making up her mind Mel put her own boots back on. "I'm telling her it's your fault." She said opening the door and followed the dog.
Janice stood deep in conversation with Captain Aires, looking out to sea with a pair of battered binoculars when they arrived on deck. "Is it Leesto?" Aires asked after Janice had studied the approaching ship for several long minutes.
"Nope." Janice replied when she was sure. "They're smugglers plain and simple. What're you hauling?"
"That is not for you to know Covington." Aires replied with a smile.
Janice shrugged. "Well I don't think you're going to be able to out run them."
"Then we will fight them."
"Oh, wonderful." Janice muttered. "Might as well shut down your engines now. Make 'em think twice about approaching." Just then Janice felt a familiar wet nose nudge her hand, "I thought I told you"
"Argo insisted." Mel supplied crisply when Janice leveled a glare in her direction.
Several men snickered near by. "What's so funny?" Janice demanded advancing on the snickering sailor.
"No hard feelings Doc," the young man said with a smile, catching his breath, "I can't control my wife either." Several more men laughed at the comment.
"Very funny." Janice agreed grinning.
"Who's the whore this week Jan?" Another voice asked, void of humor. "Does she come when you eat her?"
Janice spun at the sound, instantly finding the source of the comment. "How's the arm Silvus?" She asked, taking a cigar out of her pocket and lighting it.
His only response was a growl as he began to descend the stairs that led to the deck. Instinctively the men began to back up, giving the adversaries plenty of room. Janice stood her ground, calmly inhaling the smoke from her cigar, thin trails of gray curling from her nose and mouth. Casually she took the cigar out of her mouth and puffed several perfect smoke rings, chewing on the cigar once again when Silvus reached the deck.
Silvus was a mountain of a man, not so much muscled as thick. He had no neck to speak of and was dressed in filthy clothes that hung off of him like greasy rags. Janice checked on the proximity of the approaching ship, an idea forming in her mind. She turned her back to Silvus and began to take off her jacket. She walked over to Mel who was standing next to Aires and handed it to her.
"I'll take care of these smugglers for you." She whispered to Aires as she began to unhitch her gunbelt, "but you'll have to protect Mel and Argo from Silvus."
Aires nodded as Mel accepted the archaeologist gun belt. "What are you fixin' to do?" she asked.
Janice smiled taking out her cigar. "I'm going to pick a fight with him and loose." She turned back to Aires, "When I go overboard, start a brawl, will ya?" Absently she reached down and scratched Argo behind the ears. "You stay out of this." She whispered fiercely to the dog. Taking Mel's hand she put it around the dog's collar. "Keep her out of this," she said to Mel, "and when the fighting really starts, get below decks and lock the door." After a quick wink she turned back to face Silvus.
He stood on the deck ten feet from Janice, one hand holding a baseball bat with an iron spike in it. His other arm hung loosely at an odd angle from his body. It appeared to have been broken in several places and set incorrectly. While the fist still clenched reflexively, the arm looked almost useless. The two began to circle each other when to Mel's horror the sailor's began to place bets on the outcome. Most bets were in the archaeologist favor. After all she'd bested the big man last time.
With a roar he swung at Janice who sidestepped the blow easily. Her knee came up into his gut her fists down on the back of his neck. He didn't appear to have felt it. Twisting back around he took another swing, this time missing Janice by only a whisper. In a flash her whip was out and the tip coiled around the base of the bat. With a hard yank she pulled it from his grasp and sent the weapon sailing overboard. Silvus charged, his meaty fist jabbing at Janice's head. She ducked and slipped behind the big man. "So," he asked turning to face her, "do you come when she sticks her fingers in your hot, wetuh" Janice's leg connected with his knee and he went down to the deck with a thud. Just as fast he was back up again and forcing Janice to the ships railing.
"As a matter of fact, I do repeatedly." She grinned after taking another puff from her cigar. This time however she did not move when a badly thrown fist sailed at her mid section. She took the force of the blow, acting like it hurt more than it did. She could hear voices on the other ship now, as the other smuggling crew bet on the outcome of the fight. Another minute and they'd be close enough.
Mel was startled by Argo's growl when Silvus' fist connected with her mistress' belly. "No, girl." Mel said, struggling to keep the big dog from joining the fight. She struggled again as another punch from Silvus had Janice landing on deck, hard. With a triumphant roar he kicked the prone woman in the ribs then picked up her struggling body and threw it overboard. Janice's worn hat fluttered to the deck as her body sailed overboard and into the sea below.
"That dumb ass." Aires muttered as he shoved Mel. "If you know what's smart, you'll get going now!" With a yell of his own he struck the nearest crewman. In minutes the entire deck of the ship was engulfed in a brawl.
Janice hit the water and swam down, as far and as fast as she could. When she finally surfaced for air she was right next to the hull of the approaching ship. She looked up to see the faces of the smugglers either looking at the brawl on the Gauntlet or scanning the water for signs of her body. Fortunately they were scanning the water where her body had landed, not where she was. Cautiously she moved to the side of the ship away from the The Gauntlet and flicking her bullwhip onto a deck rail, began to climb up the side of the ship. She stayed quiet and careful, easing her dripping body onto the cargo ship.
As she hoped, all of the crew on deck were at the rail watching the brawl. As silently as her wet clothes allowed, she slipped below decks. Janice had recognized the ship as Remember Nothing from on board the The Gauntlet, and while it wasn't something Aires needed to know, Janice had a score to settle. The independent thugs that operated the pirate vessel had stolen a prize find from her in the past. Now it was payback time. She startled one crewman on the stairs leading into the belly of the ship. He was silenced with a wet boot landing solidly on his nose. Not bothering to step over the body, she continued down the stairs to the deck below.
Cautiously she checked the open cabins until she found that of the Captain. He was studying himself in a mirror, shaving.
"You know, some day your vanity is going to get you in a heap of trouble." Janice said quietly as she leaned on his table. Her hand and wrist relaxed, holding her bullwhip.
He spun around at her words, his eyes flashing. "Jan? Why, how good to see you. I don't suppose you've brought me another present?" He shrugged, answering his own question, "Dr. Leesto was so happy with the last one. Xena's breastplate wasn't it?"
"You remembered Captain Crunch, I'm flattered."
"If you don't mind Jan, it's Krykus, Captain Krykus." He looked closely at the dripping archeologist, "What, no mutt? Oh, did she not make it?" He asked with feigned sincerity.
In a flash the bullwhip was out and wrapped around the throat of the captain. Janice yanked down hard and with a thud his chin connected with the table top. "That's for Argo." Jan hissed as she shoved his unconscious body to the floor. Quickly rummaging through his room. It didn't take long for her to find what she was looking for. "So predictable," she muttered, retrieving her whip as she left.
Almost as soon as it began the fighting began to subside. Aires noted with concern that the other smuggling ship was getting painfully close. Much longer and they'd be able to board. Already they had cut their engines and were drifting toward the The Gauntlet. Soon he'd give the signal to gun the engines and try to move away, whether Janice Covington was on board his ship or not. He dabbed at his bloodied nose gently as he approached Mel Pappas, who was looking forlornly at the ocean where Janice had landed. "Any sign of her?" He asked gently.
Startled out of her thoughts she replied quickly, "no, not yet." Mel gingerly fingered the brim of Janice's hat, that Argo had retrieved from the deck as soon as the fighting started. Both woman and dog seemed only vaguely aware of what went on around them, both human and canine eyes riveted to the ocean below.
He joined in her visual search of the waters. "Well I can give her another five minutes, but if there isn't a sign of her by then, we'll have to go. I can't risk being boarded."
Mel nodded absently, there wasn't much she could say to argue with the captain. If she didn't even know how to articulate her own feelings for the complicated archeologist, how could she explain them to another?
As if sensing her confusion Aires changed the subject. "As long as we're waiting, why not tell me when you were born?"
Janice quickly positioned the sticks of dynamite in the main hold of the cargo ship, shaking her head at what ever priceless antiquities she was about to destroy. "Not so fast Covington" a seething voice rasped from the doorway.
Krykus stood leaning against the doorway, his revolver pointed at Janice, his neck red and blistered from the burn of the bullwhip. "Nice nap?" Janice asked, gaging the distance between Krykus and the door.
"It's over Jan. You've been good for business in the past but it's over. I'll have to make sure that barge that brought you out here pays for dealing with your kind of scum."
"That's no way to talk about a lady." Janice smirked.
"You're no lady."
Janice shrugged, he was right after all, and dove for the door. A shaky hand followed her movement and the revolver fired. Janice yelped in pain as she rolled to her feet and kicked up at Krykus. A commotion sounded above them on deck as excited voices responded to the gun shot. The momentary distraction was enough to divert Krykus' eyes for the second Janice needed to land another kick, this time hitting her mark. The gun sailed from the captain's hand and skittered across the deck. She brought her foot back again, this time landing a blow to the captain's groin. He doubled over and instantly she was on her feet winching in pain as she stood.
She cast a quick glance down to her arm. A swelling stain of red was quickly seeping through her shirt, she'd been shot in the left bicep. Her eyes narrowed in fury. As Krykus surged across the floor in search of his gun, Janice sprang over his prone body reaching the gun first. Quickly cocking the gun she aimed at his arm and fired. Voices now filled the stairs leading into the hold. Passing the gun to her left hand she roughly hauled Krykus into a sitting position and kept the gun barrel at the base of his skull. Several men entered the room and froze at the sight of their bleeding captain, held at gun point by a very angry woman, dripping blood and water.
"Not so fast boys," Janice growled.
"Listen to her," Krykus pleaded.
"You threw the gun to Leesto that she used to shoot my dog. Tell me why I shouldn't kill you where you sit." She seethed.
"You can have the cargo, take it." The men in the doorway nodded their agreement.
"Oh, like I believe you." Janice shook her head. She jabbed the gun barrel into his neck for emphasis. "Light a cigarette." She commanded, keeping her eyes on his men.
With shaky fingers Krykus removed a battered pack of cigarettes from his pocket and with trembling hands brought one to his lips. He had some trouble with the matches, but got it lit.
"Now give it to me." Janice said evenly after he took a tentative puff. Not able to see what Janice intended, he handed the cigarette to her. Next he noticed the eyes of his crew men go wide as they turned and ran from the cargo hold as fast as they could. "Wha?" He snapped his head around at the sizzling sound that came from near his ear. Janice stood, a stick of dynamite in her hand, the fuse burning.
"You're insane!" He screamed as he struggled to his feet and ran for the door.
"No, just pissed." She replied as she followed after. Partway up the stairs she paused for a moment, letting the fuse burn down further before throwing it into the cargo hold. She didn't see anyone in the stairwell, and suspected that there was a flurry of activity on deck namely getting the lifeboats lowered. She had just reached open deck when she felt rather than heard the first tremors of the explosion. With a mad dash for the railing she leaped from the deck of Remember Nothing, hitting the water with the added force of the explosion.
"What was that?" Mel Pappas asked when she heard the first shot ring out from the approaching ship.
Aires studied the approaching vessel. He shouted to a near by crew man. "Ready the engines. We get out of here, now. Full speed, on my mark." The man nodded, and began to shout orders to other people. Soon the The Gauntlet was buzzing with organized activity. Then another shout sounded and Aires hit the rail impatiently. "What could she be doing over there?" He ordered the engines fired when he saw people streaming over the other ships deck, jumping into the water and frantically lowering lifeboats. When the answering roar of the The Gauntlet's engines did not sound in his ears, he hurried down into the bowels of his ship to rectify the situation.
Mel was not sure what was happening, but she did know that something had happened on the other ship. She didn't get much of a chance to ponder the though because an explosion from deep within the approaching smuggling vessel erupted, sending debris smoke everywhere. It was several more minutes before the The Gauntlet's engines roared and the boat began to pull away from the wreckage of the other ship.
It was at that moment that Mel realized that no one intended to wait for Janice, if in fact she'd survived the plunge she'd taken. Her eyes began to well with tears as she looked down forlornly. As she did however, she noticed a dark figure clinging to the hull of the The Gauntlet like a fly on a wall. Mel's tears of sorrow turned to joy as she saw Janice struggle to climb up the ship, her tenuous hold on her bullwhip the only thing keeping her out of the water.
Mel grabbed at a passing crewman, relieved to see that it was Toby, the silent man she'd sat near in the rowboat. "Janice, she's down there!" Mel said, pointing. He looked over the rail, as he craned his neck Mel noticed several scars on his neck. Pulling back, he motioned for Mel to stay where she was and pointed to Argo as well. Instinctively she put her hand on the dog's collar. He grabbed a nearby life ring and tossed it down to Janice, hitting her in the head with it. Tobias' eyes darted around the ship as he hauled Janice up. The look of worry on her face reminded Mel about what Janice had said earlier. That, coupled with the image of an enraged Silvus made Mel very nervous. "I hope she's okay." She muttered to which the big man nodded. "If she's hurt, we can't let any one know, can we?" Toby spared a glance for the striking woman and shook his head emphatically. Mel nodded. "that's what I was afraid of," she murmured to herself.
Toby heard a grumble and managed to turn, still holding the rope but appearing to lean casually over the railing as Silvus stepped into view. He sported a black eye and several cuts, but seemed in bright spirits. His eyes narrowed when he saw Mel. "So, you're Jan's bitch. You a good ride?"
Mel's mouth opened, stunned. "Not for you." She finally sputtered. Argo growled, her hackles rising menacingly.
"C'mere puppy- time you joined the lezzie overboard." Silvus advanced slowly. Argo bared her teeth, long and sharp, stopping the thug where he stood. With one hand still holding the rope behind his back, Toby protectively draped the other around Mel's shoulders. He also bared his teeth.
Silvus thought twice about continuing his advance. "Sorry buddy, I didn't know you had dibs. Let me have her when you're done" He continued on his way, not looking back as he moved on. As soon as he was out of sight, Toby returned to the task of hauling Janice up. Dumped onto the deck of the ship, Janice coughed water out of her lungs with what little energy she had left. Mel and Toby managed to get her standing by leaning her back against the outside of the ship's cabin.
"Goodness gracious, she's bleeding." Mel stammered. Tobias quickly put his finger over his mouth silencing her. After another quick shake of his head Mel nodded. Just then another crewman came around the deck from the direction Silvus departed. Not knowing what else to do Mel quickly covered Janice's body with her own, obscuring the bloody arm from view and kissed the woman soundly. She turned her head at the appreciative whistle.
"She's so sexy after a swim." Mel muttered, not needing to feign embarrassment.
"Well give us a break and take it below decks will ya?" The seaman muttered, continuing on his way.
Mel glanced up to see Tobias looking at her, blushing profusely. With a grin he helped Mel get the barely conscious woman to their cabin. "Will you tell the captain that we got her back?" Mel asked as Toby prepared to leave. He nodded and patted her hand gently. On impulse she kissed the big man on the cheek. "That's a thank you from Janice and me." She said as he departed.
"Sexy after a swim?" Janice said in a strained voice from where she leaned against the wall.
"Well I had to think of something." Mel replied helping the archeologist out of her wet clothes. "What happened to your arm?"
Shivering Janice looked down at the blood still oozing from the puncture wound. "I got shot. Bullet's still in there. You're going to have to dig it out."
"You've got to be kidding! I'll get the Captain, or Toby"
"No! Janice said fiercely. I meant what I said earlier. Toby has already done enough. Either you do it or I do, and I don't think I'd do a very good job of it right now." Janice sat down heavily on the edge of the bed, trying to keep her dripping to a minimum.
"First of all let's dry you off." Mel said taking charge. "No use having you go into shock." Rummaging through the crate by the mirror, she extracted a large blanket and set to drying off the archeologist's shivering body with it. Careful of the injured arm, she got most of the cold sea water off of Janice. Her color began to improve.
Janice could feel the heat rising to her cheeks. As much as her arm hurt, there was no denying the signals sent to her brain from everywhere Mel touched with the blanket. It was all she could do to keep a satisfied smile off her face. The sensation ended however when she accidently bumped her arm. The bullet lodged in her flesh made itself known, painfully. "Get the first aid kit out of my pack, and the bottle of whiskey. And that bowl." She nodded to the enameled bowl on the crate.
Mel complied and hurriedly brought all the items to the bed. The first thing Janice did was open the bottle of whiskey and take a healthy swig. She was about to pour some over her wound when a light knock sounded at the door. "That's Toby's knock," Janice said, taking another swig of whiskey, "go ahead and answer it."
As soon as the door was opened a crack, the big man quickly handed Mel a bundle of bandages, some alcohol and other first aid supplies. Before she could say a word, he deposited the items and was gone. "Okay, what do I do?" Mel asked as she positioned herself on the edge of the crate, by the bed.
Janice grimaced as she positioned her arm for the other woman's inspection. After another swig of the whiskey she was ready to speak. "Take those tweezers and try to find the bullet." She probed the sides of her wound, gasping with pain as she did. "I think it's near the surface, shouldn't be too hard to find. After you get it out, clean it with the alcohol then sew it up. I'll talk you through it if I'm still conscious. If not, just wing it. You look like the type that can sew."
"I appreciate you faith in me
Janice Covington." Mel said smiling through her sarcasm as she took
a deep breath and went to work.
Is There A Doctor At The Dig Part 3
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