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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. And I'd like to add that Lucasfilm tm. owns Dr. Henry Jones (Jr. & Sr.) and Marion Ravenwood.
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.
GROSS FACTOR/CLIFFHANGER DISCLAIMER:
If you've got a weak stomach and can't handle bugs, bats, blood or broken bones you might not want to read this story. While I don't think it's too terribly violent there are a few places where the "ick factor" takes center stage. Also, if you hate cliff-hangers don't read the epilogue. Stop at the end of chapter nine and you'll be very happy. Otherwise you're welcome to endure a preview of the final story in what has become a trilogy. Welcome to UberMadness...
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...The Audience Is Listening...THX. Life shouldn't be taken too seriously- you're not getting out alive.
Author's Note: This story takes place six months after IS THERE A DOCTOR ON THE DIG. My thanks to everyone who asked...um... demanded that I write its sequel. A very special thanks is extended to several people who really went beyond the call of duty and friendship to help me out on this. I'd like to thank PirateSka the editor with the belaying pin (and pen) who feels no qualms about stringing me up to the mizzenmast. I'd also like to thank Lisa Stevens who helped with the editing and more than that, gave this Yankee a crash course on Southernisms. She also provided some insight that made me take this story a bit more seriously. The Lab Crew (aka, the world's first honorary MacBatties) Lisa, Louis, Jenn, Robin and Stan as well as Lisa's roommate Laura provided a wealth of information on all things Southern. All regional gripes can be directed to them. On a final note-the original airing of THE XENA SCROLLS opened with the date 1942. Obviously the Xenastaff had the opportunity to realize (as I did) that the area was occupied by Germany at the time. For the rerun of THE XENA SCROLLS they changed the date to 1940. While that is nifty and all, and would certainly make my life easier-I've decided to stick with the original date (1942) and not rewrite everything.
The Search For Amphipolis
(or The Continuing Adventures of Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas)
1997Part 1 of 8
Chapter 1: Final Exams
Janice glanced one more time from the neat stack of papers on her desk to the rows of students anxiously awaiting her comments. She smiled, taking in the variety of expressions ranging from eager to nervous. The classroom was comfortably warm in spite of the cold weather outside. Hard to believe it was winter already. Her first term as a professor of archeology was almost over.
"All in all, I'd have to say I'm impressed," she began, resting her hip on the corner of the wooden desk. "I might have had my doubts at the beginning of the term, but all of you have worked hard and shown a lot of promise. Every one of you has a shot at a career in archeology, if indeed that is what you decide to do.
"As you all know, these term papers are one third of your grades. I'm happy to report that no one sank below 'C' level." She smiled at the sigh of relief that swept through the room. "Several papers in particular were outstanding. Miss Sandsmark's ambitious plan for restoration of the Sphinx was superbly executed and engagingly written. If I were a financial backer you could certainly count on my support. Mr. Mulder's outlandish dissertation on Stonehenge and alien abduction is well supported by actual findings that, with minimal mental gymnastics and a couple glasses of brandy," she paused until the snickering silenced, "even began to make sense. Finally, Miss Silver's paper on archeology and ethics was top notch. Those were the 'A's' this time around..."
A murmur spread through the class as the students filed toward Janice's desk to retrieve their papers. When everyone had returned to their seats, the chatter continued punctuated by several snickers. "Something amusing, Mr. Raimi?" Janice asked evenly. She had done little but spar with the obnoxious student since the first week. Janice glanced down at her desk. One paper remained: his.
He shrugged his shoulders. "I just find it interesting that you gave an 'A' to a paper on ethics," he said.
Janice picked up his paper and smiled. She'd been waiting all semester for this discussion. While she'd hoped a brighter student would broach the subject, it was a topic that was long overdue. "Interesting because...?" Janice prompted as she casually walked to the young man's desk in the back row.
"Interesting in light of who your father was, Dr. Covington," he replied confidently. Several students whispered angrily to the young man, telling him to keep quiet, but Janice waved her hand silencing them.
"It's alright. I expected someone to ask sooner or later. I just thought it might have been mentioned by someone a little more engaged in the subject matter," she said as she put the rejected term paper on his desk. "Don't look so surprised, Mr. Raimi. The paper you plagiarized was actually written by a classmate of mine years ago who had in fact copied my paper. The least you could have done was include some updated information in light of recent discoveries. Surely you didn't expect to cheat on the topic of Xena and actually get away with it? Did you?" She arched her eyebrow at the young man now blushing bright crimson.
"But you said no one got below a 'C'."
"That's because I'm not grading it. At this point, even if you pass the final, your grade for this course will be an incomplete until you write a term paper on your own. I strongly suggest you stick with your chosen subject material. If you switch now I'll be quite disappointed. I hope you'll teach me something about Xena that I do not already know." She smiled as her words sank into the brash student. He'd gambled and lost. That happened in archeology. "But I believe you were interested in my father...?"
"No, ma'am," he muttered, staring at his desk.
"Oh, show a little backbone, Mr. Raimi. You tried something stupid, you got caught, now move on. It isn't the end of the world."
"Was that Harry Covington's philosophy?" another male voice asked tentatively.
She nodded. "In a way it was, Mr. Wellman. My father took his chances. He risked prison and far worse for what he believed in." She let her gaze travel around the lecture hall. "I won't say that what he did was right, or proper. I think we all know it was not. But for a moment consider this. You've just made the find of your career. A hunch has paid off, you uncover a partial scroll and some unrelated jewelry and pottery shards. Museums are not interested. In fact, no one seems to be interested. The pottery and jewelry are of little consequence but private collectors are willing to pay top dollar. So you sell. Now you've got money to continue your research for another year." She strolled back to the front of the class, all eyes riveted on her as she spoke. "That was how it began. My father always went to the establishment first, giving the museums first crack before selling to private collectors. Until, that is, his reputation became so dark that no respectable academician would be caught dead talking to him. 'Harry the Grave Robber' was not an unfair description of my father. While it does not excuse his actions, I think his motivation deserves mention. He was obsessed with Xena. No two ways about it. He wanted more than anything to see where the trail of the scrolls ended. Not for personal gain, mind you, but to complete an unwritten chapter in archeology. Sometimes we don't notice when our search for facts and evidence blinds us to other aspects of the science. My father lived most of his life over that edge and I'll admit that he passed his obsession on to me. I have been most fortunate in being able to further his work without having to resort to his methods." She shrugged. "Are there any more questions on this subject before we move on?" she asked, scanning the attentive faces. "Yes, Miss Sandsmark?"
"The items that your father sold-were all the artifacts inconsequential? Or are there some that you feel are a great loss to the scientific world?"
Janice smiled sadly, considering the question. "Three items my father sold to collectors are devastating losses to the scientific community. One was a ceremonial mask belonging to Queen Ephiny of the Amazons, another is the Dagger of Helios and finally, what I believe is a gauntlet of Hercules. I'm currently working on... yes, Mr. Raimi? You look like you're about to bust a gut."
"That's impossible," the brash student sputtered. "Hercules is just a myth..."
"This time last year Xena was just a myth, too," another student shot back at him.
"Well said, Miss Ennis," Janice added before glancing up at the wall clock. She checked the time against her pocket watch then addressed her students once more. "Since this is our last formal session, I'll let you leave now if there are no more questions. Remember, I have extended office hours for the rest of the week, be prompt for the final and for God's sake, don't forget that it isn't in here, but at the lecture hall across campus in the English building. Don't try anything stupid, my assistant Linda will be monitoring the exam and she knows all the tricks. Good luck to everyone." The students murmured words of appreciation and thanks as they made their way out of the lecture hall. Several students lagged behind, asking questions and quietly chatting with Janice until students from the next class began to enter.
A half hour later, Janice Covington made her way up the stairs of the archeology building to her office. After only a few months, the small sanctuary had become a second home and a refuge from the university establishment. She and Fiona Cyrene had worked well together, not that Janice had ever had any doubts that they would. They shared a passion for archeology and were kindred spirits on many levels, but there were complementary differences too. Fiona was a seasoned pro at teaching and found Janice's brash honesty amusing. Willing to share her teaching expertise, she helped the younger woman plan her lectures and assignments. In turn, she found some degree of protection from her association with Janice, or rather, Janice's lover, Melinda Pappas. The university, in the grand tradition of other institutions, was run by a network of men less than accepting of female equals. The archeology department was not the only 'boy's club' on campus, but the men of the department were more outspoken then most. As the only two female professors, Janice and Fiona were under constant scrutiny and frequently challenged. The men remained essentially cautious, however, and most of the jibes were subtle.
Doctors Covington and Cyrene were qualified, talented and more importantly, assets to the department. Being the newest addition Janice was on the lowest rung, but she also had the most powerful friends. The archeology department had fared quite well over the years, especially in light of the war effort. The reason was no mystery. More than a powerful patron, Melinda Pappas was one woman whom every member of the archeology staff either respected or adored. There was one reason, and one reason only that the archeology building was not officially called the Pappas School of Archeology. Melinda had said 'no'.
Everyone knew where the money for the renovations had come, and the new name had been on the plans during the three years of construction and remodeling. But with the finishing touches completed just as Janice Covington had joined the faculty, Melinda had decided not to put her father's name on the building. Fiona had understood her reasoning. Janice might not have cared what people thought about her situation with the Southerner, but Melinda did. It had already been assumed by most people who didn't know Janice that she had gotten the job because of Melinda, and many had suspected her of taking advantage of the wealthy heiress. While she had been very proud of her father, Melinda refused to make things additionally difficult for her lover. She had said 'no' and it had been final.
For her part, Janice had adjusted to her unique position in the academic food chain for the most part. As long as it hadn't affected her relationship with her students, she had taken the innuendo and rumor in stride. From the outset, she had proven her desire to teach had been her primary reason for being there. She had made it clear that her popularity had been of little concern as long as detractors had stayed out of her way. Then slowly, with a determination that was second nature, and using the force of her personality as well as ability, she had won over most of the archeology department.
"Hey, Mic," Janice said cheerfully as she stepped into the cozy office while trying to juggle the maps, book and papers that she carried. Giving up, she dumped them unceremoniously on the desk.
"Good day to you, too, Yank," Fiona replied with a smile, her thick Irish brogue unchanged despite her years in the States. "Isn't it grand that you survived your last class 'thout getting lynched or burned at the stake, now. I've not seen you looking this happy since your glorious scrolls headed back to New Jersey."
"Good analogy." Janice grinned back. "I didn't want to keep them on exhibit for so long in the first place. I swear it was like an open invitation to Leesto to pay a visit." She shook her head, relieved once again that the original scrolls were safely out of reach of her rival. "As for the class, they finally brought up 'Harry the Grave Robber.' Took 'em long enough to get to it, though."
Fiona put down the paper she'd been reading. "The bairns are just being polite because you're new, luv. Give it a few more terms and they'll be grilling you about your Da the first week." She paused a moment then shrugged. "'Though 'tis surprised I am no one's asked you about the fair Melinda. Lord knows it's the favorite topic in the faculty pub."
"So that's why there's always a weird hush whenever I walk in." Janice chuckled. "Damn, Mel's my favorite topic of conversation too. Sorry I'm missing out. About the students though, do you think they would... talk about me and Mel?"
"To your face?" Fiona asked. "Not if they know what's good for them. Seriously though, Dean Palmer his own self made it clear to the faculty that the private life of the department's most revered deity is strictly personal and not for the casual consumption of the students... regardless of how poor her taste in women surely is."
"Oh, that's rich," Janice said laughing out loud. "The same could be said for your research assistant."
Fiona frowned briefly at the jibe. "And since we're speaking of assistants, that rascal Linda was here abducting your beast."
Janice glanced at the couch between both women's desks where Argo usually slept. "Took her for a walk? Or to the house?"
Fiona laughed, "Depends. Is Mel home and does she have your car keys?"
Janice opened her desk drawer. "Keys are here, Argo must be, too."
"I'd be a mite more worried about Linda absconding with Mel than Argo, luv."
"Nah," Janice grinned, "Linda still finds me intimidating. Mel on the other hand..."
"Oh, so you've noticed her fondness for your assistant, have you now?" Fiona asked, mildly surprised.
"Really, Fi, I'm not as thick as everyone says I am. Hell, she's at the house often enough, grading papers. I see her and Mel stealing glances."
"And you're not worried, then?" Fiona asked as she returned to the papers she was grading.
"Nope," Janice replied, leaning back in her chair and studying her office mate. "Everyone is crazy about Mel, she can't help it. Hell, Fi, I've seen you staring glassy-eyed at her more than once. Don't think I haven't noticed Mel looking at you either." With her freckles disappearing beneath the blush of her cheeks, Fiona was speechless. "Oh for chrissakes, Fi, don't worry about it. It happens. Besides, I know there's more to you than a surging mass of hormones. With Linda that's debatable. I mean, she has the hots for Flora, too. Frankly I don't know when she finds time to do research."
The red-haired archeologist's eyes shot up, brilliant grey blazing, "Linda and Flora, you say?"
Janice shrugged. "I wouldn't worry about it. Flora is crazy about you, you know that. Linda is harmless, she's just crazy about... well, women. Pandora doesn't call her 'little wolf' for nothing."
Fiona's reply was cut short by the large dog bounding into the office, followed by an out of breath young woman. Argo nudged the Irish woman in passing then went to her mistress, showering her in wet sloppy greetings.
"I swear... I don't know where... that dog gets her... energy." The newcomer panted, taking a seat on the couch.
"Ah, she's gotten soft this term," Janice countered, "like Mommie-ain't that right, girl?" she added to the dog, scratching her affectionately behind the ears.
"Y'all must be looking forward to getting back out on the road," Linda observed with a smooth Southern accent when her breathing returned to normal.
"Anything to be escaping this climate," Fiona muttered as she continued to grade her paper, occasionally looking at the newcomer with icy detachment.
"Oh, like you're in for a treat," Janice chuckled to her colleague. "Ireland is going to be as cold and miserable as it is here this time of year."
"Aye, perhaps," Fiona agreed, "but at least I'll be understood when I speak."
All three women shared a laugh punctuated by the thump of the big dog's tail pounding on the side of Janice's sturdy desk. "So where did you take her?" she asked her assistant.
Linda shrugged, noting that Janice's office mate was looking at her with a decidedly cold expression. "I finished grading the multiple-guess tests from the Archaeology of Archaic Greece class. They're ready for you. Argo was restless so we took a stroll over to the south building. Apparently, the home economics department is also getting in on the bet and they're all for you..."
"Bet?" Fiona asked.
Janice nodded. "Yeah, I can't believe you haven't heard. Apparently there is some debate as to whether I'll be asked to teach next term. Half of Archeology wants me out..."
"Sure'n I know which half," Fiona muttered.
"... most of Phys. Ed. would like to see me gone..."
"Well, luv, Argo does have a fine habit of stealing balls on the tennis courts, now..."
"So now Home Economics has entered the fray?" Janice asked her assistant.
She nodded, smiling. "Part of it is the war effort, part is having another female professor in archeology. Not takin' anything away from you, Dr. Cyrene, but everyone assumed that because you were Irish, and obviously brilliant, that's why you're here. With Dr. Covington it's different. She's a Yankee. It takes a long time before you realize that she is indeed smart. And let's face it, she doesn't have the most cordial disposition. Many women are thinkin' that if she can make her way doing what she wants, then so can they."
Fiona laughed heartily at the other woman's remark, her prior aloofness lifting like a fog. "Ah, but you're right then, Janice. Linda is most intimidated by you."
Janice took out a small note pad and scribbled a few words. "I'm making a note to see that you never get a raise," she said gruffly to her assistant. "Furthermore, I'm going to tell Mel to stop flirting with you and Fi knows you've got the hots for Flora. Cordial disposition, my ass."
"Linda, luv, you just saw our own Janice writing. Run tell the English department that she is in truth literate and maybe they'll come on board for her, too," Fiona quipped, starting another laughing fest until a sour-looking man entered the office. Argo padded over to greet him by efficiently poking him in the crotch with her nose. His expression shifted from sour to sour and uncomfortable. Janice called Argo over, giving the dour man a break. "Good to see you, Dean Palmer. Argo thinks so, too."
"Dr. Covington, Dr. Cyrene, Miss Robertson," he replied nodding to all three. His eyes lingered a moment on the young assistant who quickly got the message and stood.
"Ah, excuse me, y'all. I've got... things to do. I'll see you later, Dr. Covington." She paused as she headed for the door. "Afternoon, Dr. Cyrene."
"You don't need Argo to leave as well, do you, Dean?" Janice teased when her assistant was gone.
"Charming to the last, Dr. Covington," he said without smiling. "I regret that this is not strictly a social call. An archeologist of some note, Dr. Jones, is visiting the university. There is a dinner tonight at my home to welcome him. It is the wish of this department that you and Miss Pappas attend."
"Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. is it?" Fiona asked aloud.
"Yes. The entire archeology department is expected to be there. You are invited as well, Dr. Cyrene," he said with formality.
"'Tis kind of you to remember me," she muttered sarcastically.
"Indy," Janice said to herself. "I'll be damned."
Dean Palmer cleared his throat until he had Janice's attention once more. "It would be appreciated if... Miss Argo... had other plans for the evening."
"Of course. Look, Dean, I'm still sick about that vase..." Janice glanced bashfully at the companion who sat obediently at her feet.
"Quite alright, Dr. Covington, I'll see you tonight. Dinner is at seven, drinks are served at six, please be prompt." He nodded respectfully at both women then departed.
"I was hoping his visit would be in response to last weeks dynamite demonstration," Fiona said with a sigh.
Janice rolled her eyes. "I don't think he's heard about that yet. Besides, learning the proper handling of explosives is essential in archeology."
"If'in ya say so, Janice. In truth, I never had to attend these things until you showed up, luv," Fiona continued.
"Well, I hate to suffer alone," Janice replied. "I guess I'd better get home and warn Mel. I'll see you tonight."
Janice frowned as she pulled up the familiar road to her home. Small patches of soggy snow still clung fiercely to the ground. She reminded herself once again about the warmer temperatures and sunshine that promised to meet her on the other side of the planet. She fully considered the wet weather-be it humid and hot, or soggy and cold-the hardest adjustment she'd had to make in the past six months. As she neared the white mansion, an unfamiliar car drove away. It passed her as she slowed her truck to give room and she saw a vaguely familiar woman behind the wheel. Shrugging her shoulders, she let it pass and parked her truck next to Mel's Auburn.
Smiling as the warmth and familiarity of her home washed over her, she took off her coat and heels, putting both in the closet just inside the entry way. Sounds of activity greeted her ears, as well as the delightful smells of Pandora's cooking so she headed to the kitchen. As she suspected, the large room was bustling with activity. Three of Pandora's children were engaged in some sort of game and immediately stopped when Argo padded into their midst. Squealing with delight, the children, with dog in tow, headed for the back porch. Linda stood near Mel, sipping coffee from a delicate cup as Janice approached. "How did you beat me home?"
"Got a ride from Professor Rainey." Linda shrugged.
"I hear we've got plans for the evening?" Mel asked, greeting Janice with a brief kiss. The archeologist was momentarily mezmerized by her lover's warm presence and startling beauty. Even after six months her pulse doubled every time she got anywhere near the statuesque woman.
Melinda Pappas was tall, certainly, over six feet in heels. Still at times she carried herself with a clumsy vunurability that made Janice felt like a giant. Her dark raven tresses were neatly packed into a bun she wore on the back of her head. Dressed in a smart blue dress that set off the bright azure of her eyes, she looked like she'd been out shopping. Janice allowed herself a silent chuckle at the thought. While to all the world Melinda Pappas appeared to be ornament material, destined to decorate the arm of some wealthy businessman, she was highly intelligent as well and surprisingly stubborn. She'd been out shopping all right, but for expedition equipment, not jewelry. Wanting nothing more than to get lost in the brilliant blue of Mel's eyes, Janice tore her gaze away with effort as she regarded her assistant once more.
"You were listening outside the door," Janice said to Linda as she accepted a steaming cup of coffee from her lover. Suddenly her eyes went wide, the pieces falling into place. "Prof. Rainey-the geologist?" she asked, incredulous. That was the name she needed to go with the face of the woman she'd passed on her drive in.
"Charming woman. I don't know why I haven't met her before." Mel observed.
"Is there a single woman on campus you're not chasing?" Janice asked, staring at Linda in disbelief.
"Little Wolf learned it from Big Wolf iffn you ask me," Pandora muttered as she pulled a fresh pecan pie from the oven.
"I don't recall asking," Janice grumbled, distracted by the pie.
"You never do." Pandora quipped, "Consider it a bonus."
"Mel, you really should see about the help..." Janice grumbled, feigning offense.
"You reap what you sow, Janice Covington. Treat people like family and that's just what y'all are going to get. A family." Mel smiled, happy with the family that had been forged in the past six months. "So, what is this dinner I keep hearing about?"
Janice shrugged, taking the steaming piece of pecan pie Pandora offered her. "Indiana Jones is visiting the campus for some reason. Dean Palmer is throwing a dinner party in his honor tonight," she continued, blowing briefly on the forkful of pie before popping it into her mouth. "He wants us to attend," she ennunciated clearly around the mouthful of food.
"Dinner?" Pandora asked, taking Janice's pie plate away. "You shouldn't spoil your appetite then."
"No!" Janice protested as Pandora put the plate back on the counter.
"It'll be here for you when you get back, if Little Wolf doesn't eat it," Pandora mused, herding the others out of the kitchen. "You two go on and get ready for your dinner. Little Wolf, you make yourself at home, dinner will be ready shortly."
"She has a home, Pandora. Archaeological Method and Theory II doesn't have their final until Thursday, so until then she's off the hook workwise," Janice protested.
"Now, Janice, be nice," Mel countered. "She is tutoring the children tonight. It isn't university work and if 'Dora wants to fix her dinner, you leave her be. Now let's go upstairs and get ready for that dinner party."
Janice considered another protest until she realized the woman of her dreams had just invited her upstairs to their bedroom. Pandora smiled as she watched them head for the stairs. Her knowing eyes glittered as she turned back to Janice's assistant. "Take a lesson, Little Wolf," she said softly. "When you find your soulmate everything changes. Big Wolf has an angry streak, but anywhere near Melinda and she's as tame as a sleepin' puppy."
"What time is it?" Janice asked as she turned the 1938 Auburn up the driveway to the dean's house.
Mel smiled as she reached into Janice's pocket, extracting Harry Covington's pocket watch. "It's twenty to seven. We're not as late as I thought we'd be."
Janice grinned wickedly. "That's because I'm not finished with you yet."
Blushing, Mel got out of the car and together the two climbed the steps to the dean's home.
Once inside, it took only moments before they were greeted by the dean. "Miss Pappas, how good to see you. Come, meet Dr. Jones." Melinda smiled warmly at the stodgy dean as he whisked her into the academic throng.
"I'll get us drinks," Janice muttered to the space vacated by her lover.
"At least I rated a 'hello'," Fiona quipped from behind Janice's shoulder. "Come on, luv, let's get something to drink." Janice spent several minutes in Fiona's company, exchanging pleasantries with her colleagues before going to look for Melinda.
"I'm sure you'll be quite impressed with Dr. Jones, Miss Pappas. Ah, here he is now." Mel was gently led into the living room near a fireplace that dominated the room with its crackling warmth. "Dr. Jones, I'd like to introduce you to Miss Melinda Pappas, Dr. Melvin Pappas' daughter. Miss Pappas, Dr. Henry Jones, Jr."
The tall man turned his gaze from the fire to the blazing blue eyes of Melinda Pappas. He smiled, a smile charming in its lopsidedness, flashing brilliant white teeth. "Miss Pappas, it's a pleasure," he said briefly, bringing her hand to his lips and kissing her knuckles softly.
"Why, the pleasure's all mine, Dr. Jones. I've heard a lot about you." Melinda smiled as Henry Jones gracefully released her hand.
"If y'all will excuse me," the dean butted in, "I've got to see to the other guests." With a curt nod, he quietly withdrew from the room.
"Do y'all get the impression Dean Palmer is fixin' to play match-maker?" Melinda wondered out loud. She studied the dashing archeologist with interest. He was certainly handsome, a small scar on his chin only adding to his rugged appeal. He wore glasses and although suave, there was a shyness about this man that was almost palpable.
"Perhaps," he agreed. "I don't suppose you're available?"
"She isn't." A voice said evenly from the doorway.
Indiana Jones turned and his eyes narrowed slightly as he forced a smile. "Janice. Or I suppose it's Dr. Covington now. Dean Palmer told me I could expect the pleasure of your company."
Janice smiled as she crossed the living room. It was dimly lit, most of the light coming from the fire place. It was warm, but her hands trembled slightly as she handed one of the two glasses she carried to her lover. "Your drink, Melinda," she said softly with a smile then turned to face Indiana Jones. "You mean the good Dean warned you I'd be here?"
Jones looked down at her coldly. Mel could see from the exchange that there was an intense bitterness between them. A bitterness that suggested more history between the two than she'd been told. "Look, Janice, I've got no quarrel with you. What happened between you and Marion is ancient history as far as I'm concerned..."
"That's big of you," Janice quipped.
"...in fact, you're the reason I'm here in the first place," he continued, ignoring the jibe. "I've got something for you from my father," he finished quietly, glancing towards the door, wary of eavesdroppers.
"Your father?" she asked, her voice instantly warming. "Is he still doing Grail research?"
Indy shrugged uncomfortably. "Not as much as he used to. But he found something he wanted me to give you. I don't have it with me, I'm sure that..." He nodded pointedly to the open doorway.
"I know," Janice nodded understanding. "I'm sure Leesto has bought off some of the staff, but I don't know which ones. What about tomorrow night?" she asked. He nodded, agreeing.
"Splendid." Mel beamed. "Then you simply must come over for dinner then."
He looked at Mel, his expression perplexed. "Both of us?" he asked, nodding at Janice.
Dean Palmer entered the living room, joined by several professors. "I hate to interrupt," he said, "but dinner is served."
"Great, I'm starved," Janice replied and headed for the doorway.
"Please, Dr. Covington, allow me." An earnest young man said, rushing up to Janice and offering his arm. Janice forced a smile to her face which drew a giggle from Melinda. "Thank you Dr. Byron," Janice said as she took his arm and allowed herself to be escorted to the dining room.
"Dinner at your house?" Indy asked as he extended his arm to Mel.
"Janice and I are partners. I specialize in the syntax of ancient languages," Mel explained, gracefully linking her arm in his. She saw his nod of understanding, then she added, "and we live together."
At that his eyes widened in comprehension and amazement. They had reached the dining table so there was little he could say or do but whisper as he pulled out the heiress' chair, "I don't know how she does it."
"It's just as well, Dr. Jones," Mel replied, smiling, as she took her seat.
Dean Palmer was seated at the head of the table, Jones on his right with Melinda next to him. Janice sat next to Melinda, pleased that the placecards with their names were, for once, side by side. Not that it mattered much. The majority of the dinner conversation took place between the dean, Indy, Mel and the two professors that sat across from them. Janice was seated next to Prof. Higgins, her most vocal detractor in the department. Fiona was on the other side of the table, towards the end, too far away to contribute much in the way of assistance to Janice in her conversation with the stodgy Professor. To make her evening complete, the hopelessly infatuated William Byron sat across from her, staring at her with unabashed adoration.
Determined to have something to show for the evening, Janice drank steadily once she noticed Higgins matching her glass for glass. If nothing else, she could guarantee him a headache in the morning. She ate her food, pleased that stuffed grape leaves had been included in the meal. While Janice had a healthy appreciation for pork roast, blackeyed peas, fried okra and sweet potato pie, lately neither she nor Mel could get their fill of Greek food. Doing her best to ignore Higgins, she listened with interest to the conversation at the head of the table.
"I met your father when he became Dean of the University of South Carolina," Dr. Jones was saying. "I must admit I'm surprised you settled here in North Carolina."
"After Daddy died it was hard for me to stay in that house. There was so much of him everywhere. So much of his decline," Mel said, drawing a measure of comfort from Janice's gentle hand caressing her thigh under the table. "I finally decided to go to Macedonia and help Dr. Covington with her research. When that finished, it seemed practical to move up here. I've always loved the house on Franklin Street. It has a lot of good memories. I'd often visit Mother here when I had breaks while I was attending Vanderbilt."
"Dr. Pappas spent a great deal of time at our university as well," Dean Palmer continued. "In fact the new archeology building..." Before he could catch himself he saw annoyance flash across Melinda's eyes, "...is affectionately known as Pappas Hall." He smiled weakly at Melinda, hoping his recovery had met with her approval.
Indiana smiled. He'd heard enough about campus politics to realize what had just happened. "I know Melvin Pappas wouldn't want a building named after him-a discovery maybe, but not a building. If students call it that on their own, I'm sure that would suit him fine."
"I couldn't agree more, Dr. Jones," Melinda said.
"So, Miss Pappas, what are your plans for the winter break?" Prof. Montgomery asked from his position across from Dr. Jones.
Mel glanced sidelong at Janice before answering, not caring if the other professors picked up on the unconscious gesture or not. It wasn't as if everyone didn't already know that she shared her house with the archeologist. As for the rest, to some degree she enjoyed the speculation. "I think some traveling is in order," she said casually. "I'm looking forward to Christmas in a warmer climate."
"Visiting your Mother, perhaps?" Mrs. Montgomery asked.
Melinda smiled. Eunice Montgomery had almost overpowering maternal instincts. "Well, I doubt it. Mother is in New York and that most definitely is not a warmer climate. Not to mention being New York." Several guests laughed at that, giving Janice a break from the ramblings of her conversation partner, Edward Higgins.
"... mark my words, Dr. Covington," Higgins droned on in his most patronizing tone of voice, ignoring the laughter at Mel's comment, "women will tire of the workplace soon enough. It isn't easy earning a living. They will realize this and be grateful of the position in society they left."
"Bullshit," Janice retorted, then blushed when several others at the table snapped their heads in her direction at her outburst. "Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but I'm telling you, give it twenty or thirty years and you're going to have a full scale sexual revolution on your hands. You can't expect to ask women to play 'Rosie the Riveter,' working their asses off in factories, then go back to their former lives as if nothing ever happened..."
"It's worked for thousands of years, why argue with success?" the old man said beaming. Higgins looked around the table. Eunice Montgomery was flushed and fanning herself at the eruption of Janice's colorful language. Melinda Pappas was shaking her head sadly and the archeologist's other ally Fiona Cyrene was trying hard not to laugh outloud. Even the love struck Byron looked embarrassed.
"Actually, Edward, old boy, I think Dr. Covington's research has proved that we simply don't know enough about the role of women in antiquity to make that kind of statement." Janice smiled at Prof. Simpson who sat next to Prof. Byron. Simpson was a dapper man, his white hair crisply cut, his clothes impeccable. He was one of the most senior men in the department and a staunch ally as well. "Personally, Janice, I owe you and Xena a debt of gratitude. The requests are tallied, and enrollment for Archeology Laboratory has more than doubled."
"Xena has nothing to do with the enrollment of your classes, Thomas," Higgins sneered.
"Doesn't she though? Archeology Laboratory is a pre-requisite to Janice's Archaeological Method and Theory class. From what I hear, your Archaeology of Archaic Greece class is already full and you've been asked to teach Archaeological Field Techniques." He lifted his wine glass and toasted his colleague as the others around the table followed suit.
"I hope the students supply their own dynamite," Fiona quipped under her breath.
Dean Palmer frowned at the Irishwoman as he picked up his own glass. "Yes, Dr. Covington, congratulations. I had wanted to discuss it with you privately of course." He paused to glare at Prof. Simpson, who just smiled mischievously. "But if you're interested, the classes are yours to teach."
Not trusting herself to speak in her somewhat inebriated condition, Janice smiled and nodded, her grin intensifying as she felt Mel's affectionate squeeze on her thigh.
"That's wonderful, Dr. Covington," William Byron added. "My Egyptology class is taught right across the hall from the Archeology Lab."
"That's great." Janice replied without enthusiasm, visions of mysterious flowers adorning her desk filling her head. Something about Byron bugged her, beyond his fervid crush.
"As I understand it," Prof. Simpson continued, clearly enjoying Byron's enthusiasm and Higgins' discomfort, "enrollment for the department has set record highs. Students majoring in English, engineering, biology, physical education and even home economics are taking the general anthropology and archeology classes. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if we started to see campus wide defections..."
"Thomas, please!" Prof. Higgins protested. "Don't encourage her. One show of flashy scrolls and women all over campus get a romanticized idea about archeology. It takes a discipline and dedication that women just aren't suited for. I don't care how they teach it up North, we shouldn't encourage our young ladies to study subjects where they will always be woefully inadequate. The farier sex is physically not up to it."
"Not over the Reconstruction yet, are we?" Janice asked acidly. "Well, up North spending a day in 110 degree heat is a cake walk compared to child birth. And Lord knows raising children doesn't take any discipline or dedication," she added sarcastically.
"My point exactly," Higgins smiled triumphantly apparently immune to sarcasam./ "Child-rearing is what women are suited for and it betters society as a whole if they stick with it."
"Are you saying you want me to raise the next generation, Prof. Higgins?" Janice asked sweetly as she finished off another glass of wine.
He gazed back, his inebriation evident on his features. "Well, I don't think we have to worry about you getting married and having children, now do we?"
Without the smile fading from her face Janice replied, "Who said anything about getting married?" From there the dinner conversation went steadily downhill.
Janice and Mel rode back to their house on Franklin Street in silence. Mel insisted on driving due to the sheer volume of alcohol Janice had consumed. Prof. Higgins, unconscious, had to be dragged to his car by Indiana Jones and William Byron. The stodgy man had matched Janice drink for drink. That fact alone was enough reason in Mel's mind to fish the car keys from the pocket of her lover's coat when they readied themselves to leave. The fact that Janice was still conscious was nothing short of amazing.
"You've gotten really good at driving," Janice commented as they pulled up to the white mansion. "'Bout time you were able to enjoy your Auburn."
"I'm surprised you're able to tell, Janice," Mel replied, amusement tugging at the edges of her voice.
"I'm drunk, Mel, not dead," Janice said grinning. "And not too drunk if that's worrying you."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Mel replied primly as she opened her door and walked around the car to help Janice out.
"You don't?" Janice said, feigning surprise. "You mean if I told you that I wanted you naked in my arms, writhing in ecstasy and doing things to you that Higgins swears I'll burn in hell for, you'd be surprised?"
"No, Janice," Mel said smiling, "I'd be amazed. You drank at least two bottles of wine by yourself, not to mention the Irish whiskey and brandy. I think Higgins is in a coma."
"Higgins maybe, but I learned how to hold my liquor at a young age. Only one person I've ever met can drink me under the table," Janice said as she stumbled through the front door. "Besides, I can think of little else after what you pulled tonight."
"What did I do?" Mel asked, genuinely surprised.
"Sitting there, being beautiful, intelligent. Your voice making my pulse race. Touching me under the table. Leaning close when you asked me to pass you the asparagus. Reaching to get the butter. I saw you sipping your wine, Melinda, and I was jealous. The blood from those grapes clinging to your succulent mouth. I thought of little else all evening except getting you back here."
Mel leaned against the side of the coat closet. Janice's words pulsed through her, making her own body react. It took a moment to remember why she was there. Glancing down she saw her coat in one hand and a hanger in another. "You are a charmer," she said, trying to sound as casual as possible as she hung her coat.
"Well, you did say I'm charming when inebri... inbrie... drunk. But I mean it, Melinda. I've never felt things... good things, wonderful things the way I do when I'm with you. In your arms, Melinda Pappas, all my rage and fury quiets down until there is nothing left but a sense of completeness. Would it be too forward to say I'm madly in love with you? God, I hope you're not married."
"As a matter of fact I do have an understanding with a certain dashing young archeologist. Rather impetuous and obstinate, and a Yankee no less, but completely lovable..." Mel said laughing as she climbed the stairs. It was all she could do to keep from taking Janice right there in the entryway. When she reached the top, she looked back down at Janice who was still navigating the first three steps. "Janice, if you can climb those stairs by yourself, I'll be the one to do things to you that will guarantee me an eternity in hell."
At her words, Janice's head snapped up and with a determined glint to her vibrant green eyes proceeded to march up the stairs. With a light laugh, Mel grabbed Janice as she reached the top step, and sweeping her up into her arms, carried her into the bedroom.
"Am I the only one who knows how strong you really are?" Janice asked as she was carried to bed.
"Yes, and you're not going to tell anyone," Mel replied, her voice husky, eyes smoldering with passion. She covered Janice's lips with her own, rendering conversation irrelevant.
Pandora glanced up from the dishes she was washing as she heard Janice and Mel come home. Unable to avoid their conversation in the absolute quiet of the house she smiled as she heard Janice march up the grand staircase. "If you two wind up in hell," she muttered, "there's going to be a mess of disappointed folks in heaven."
Janice held Mel tenderly as their breathing slowly returned to normal. As much as she loved it when Mel held her, this was her favorite position: Mel's body stretched out on top of hers, an elegant leg draped between her own, a crown of silky chestnut hair tucked under her chin. She loved the feel of Mel's heartbeat through her skin as their warm bodies rested together. Mel let her feel everything: powerful, tender, giving and especially, loving. Particularly now, as she continued to grapple with university politics, with Mel she felt grounded. Janice smiled to herself. She suspected Mel felt the same way. No longer just a pampered socialite, since Janice moved in Mel had not only learned to drive but began to shoulder many of the responsibilities of planning their upcoming expidition. However their outward duties might change and evolve, together, like this, they were blissfully equal, and wildly passionate in their mutual devotion.
"I don't know how you do it," Mel whispered softly into Janice's chest, her warm breath sending a chill across perspiration-slick skin.
"Do what?" Janice mumbled dreamily.
"You drink like a fish, enough to send a man twice your size home unconscious, then love me with the passion of an Amazon and the tenderness of a bard."
"Hey!" Janice laughed. "Leave my ancestors out of this." Mel propped herself up on her elbows and gazed down at her lover. "Nooo," Janice groaned and gathered Mel in her arms, pulling her close once again. "I need you close, love," she murmured into soft dark locks. "Mel, it's like... with you, I've finally gotten it right. You touch me, or hell, just look at me and I'm helpless to do anything but respond."
Mel nodded against Janice's chest. She understood. "And that helplessness, it doesn't scare you?"
Janice was quiet, so quiet in fact that Mel thought she'd fallen asleep. When she spoke it was softly, and as clearly as her inebriated state would allow. "Not any more. In an odd way it makes me feel powerful. All I can feel is you, your touch, your kiss, and how much I love you. Everything else shrinks, becomes invisible, until all that is left is shimmering clarity. The only thing that scares me, Melinda, is the thought of you not being in my life. I'll never be able to stop loving you, Mel. I know that. Please don't go anywhere."
Mel smiled at Janice's open honesty, which forced several tears that were brimming in her eyes to fall and splash on her lover's skin.
"What's wrong?" Janice asked, pulling Mel's face up to look at her.
"I love you so much, Janice," Mel sobbed, "and you say the sweetest things."
"Yeah, well," Janice grinned, "I am related to one hell of a bard."
...Loving Xena may have been effortless, but living with her wasn't. It is not easy to be the companion of someone who carries the weight of her past upon her shoulders. Make no mistake, Xena was a violent person and had been responsible for unspeakable deeds. I'll admit that at first I had a rather romanticized idea of who exactly 'Xena: Warrior Princess' was. That didn't last long, however. Darkness clung to her like a shroud and in the beginning she had little rest from the battles she fought with her inner demons. In the weeks and months that followed, she grew. And while it might have not been obvious to the casual observer, she changed. At first I sensed these changes as they happened. The changes in Xena seemed so clear to me. What I couldn't see then were the changes in myself, but Xena did. Later, when I could feel myself grow and change, I was unable to see the changes in Xena as clearly.
The road Xena traveled was a hard one. Not only was it physically dangerous, it was emotionally demanding as well. Murderous thugs, thieves and bandits were the rule, not the exception. When we weren't fighting those, Xena continued to do battle with a host of enemies known only to her. She demanded so much of herself, and allowed herself little room to make the mistakes that as human beings we all make every day. Sometimes I simply couldn't keep up.
I left her once to attend try-outs at the Academy of Performing Bards in Athens. At the time I thought I just wanted to see if I could make it into the Academy. Looking back, I think I needed to know that I could succeed at something without Xena. While I loved her more than life itself, it was difficult to remain in her company and not feel woefully inadequate. The second time I left her was because of those very feelings. I'd frozen during an ambush and realized I could have gotten us killed. I felt like more of a liability than an asset to Xena and figured I'd leave her for her own good. I didn't know that she was already in love with me at that point. That experience taught me that Xena was my home. I missed her so much it was palpable. If only I'd remembered that lesson.
I left Xena again when I married Perdicus. Years later we spent many an hour around the campfire discussing that one. I did love Perdicus, he was my closest childhood friend, and he needed me. While it is difficult to travel with someone with an army of inner demons, it is even more difficult when they've honed self-sufficiently to a razor's edge. I never doubted Xena cared for me, even loved me. But she never really did anything to let me know she needed me. Granted, there was that incident in the temple at Thessaly, but I was dead at the time and didn't hear about Xena's outburst until years later when we were reunited with Hippocrates. So, I left to marry Perdicus.
Xena did her share of leaving, too, although she would be quick to point out that it was not the same thing. In the early days, she frequently left me at any near by village while she went off to atone for her past mis-deeds. It made sense. In the early days I wouldn't have been able to handle myself in battle (not that it made getting left behind any less painful). Later, she would occasionally leave me when she simply needed to travel faster than I could on foot, or with both of us on Argo.
Then, of course, there was her death. I remember the healer's house. She simply gave up and a small part of me was angry about that for quite some time. But she returned and I was convinced that would be the most painful episode I'd ever need to endure with my warrior. Gods, was I wrong. The single most painful trial I ever endured with Xena could be summed up in one word: Ulysses. How I wanted to strangle Homer for writing about that man. I suppose that's unfair, but at the time that's how I felt. The incident with Ulysses was really only the beginning of a series of events that would test the strength of the love that bound Xena and myself together.
We hadn't been lovers all that long when we met the King of Ithaca. Handsome, strong, confident, disarmingly charming. A part of me hated him instantly. One look at him and I knew we'd be competing for a prize I thought I'd already won. Discovering my disdain for sea travel didn't help matters. While I was used to any variety of male company falling for my lover in a big way, seeing Xena respond was new. This wasn't Marcus whom she'd known long before she'd ever met me, or Hercules who helped her take the first step toward redemption. This was a man she met after we'd embarked on our life together. While there had never been any grand proclamation about our relationship, she knew the depth of my feelings. At least I thought she did. Granted, she ultimately pushed Ulysses away but I was never sure if she did it primarily for my benefit or Penolope's. A haunting uncertainty remained as we sailed from Ithaca. I couldn't stop wondering that if Penolope had been dead, would she have expected the three of us to work out some sort of arrangement? I was not about to share her with Ulysses, regardless if he'd been willing to share her with me.
I tried to talk to her about it, but the timing for us at that time was just plain bad. So little time had passed from when we got back to Greece to when we encountered the Horde. That only served to add to my hurt and confusion. As much as I loved Xena with every fiber of my being, I did not like the Warrior Princess when it came time to interact with her for an extended amount of time. Certainly the 'warrior' had shown up often enough. Every time some drunk sot in a tavern put a hand on me, or we faced the warlord of the week-any number of conditions would bring out flashes of Xena's former self. This, however, was different. The coldness in her eyes and distance of her heart were almost more than I could handle. After much soul searching and consideration I decided that the time had come for me to take some time away from my love.
Needless to say, Xena didn't take it well. Her reasons hurt all the more. It wasn't because she needed me, would miss me, couldn't live without me. Xena's practical mind did not speak of such thoughts, even if she felt them. Instead it was where would I go and how would I get there safely and when would I return. What I couldn't know at the time was that I was stepping into a carefully laid trap by one whose feelings for Xena ran almost as deep as my own. Forcing myself not to cry, I told Xena that I loved her but was going home.
"You're leaving me again?" she asked incredulous.
That stung. "No, Xena," I explained. "I'm spending some time away from you. I need to think, sort things out. I'll only be gone a month at the most. I don't think that's the same as leaving you."
"Why can't you sort things out with me?" she asked.
There was no attempt made to hide the irritation she felt. The fact that a part of my heart was breaking while she was only annoyed hurt all the more. "Because I love you Xena, but life with you allows little introspection. I can't sort things out between one crisis and the next. A few weeks is all I ask. You'll never know I'm gone." She nodded unconsciously in agreement and at that moment my anger got the better of me. "Think you can keep from falling in love that long?" I asked.
"Are you still on that?" she demanded. "I never said I loved him." She looked away from me then glanced back. The Warrior Princess had returned. "Perhaps this will be good for us," she said coldly. "Maybe you can grow up a little."
"You mean sleep around?!" I demanded, furious.
"Might do you some good," she answered casually.
"Well, maybe I'll just do that," I said, my voice surprisingly calm. "I'll meet you in Thebes at the next full moon. Basilio's Inn."
"I can hardly wait," I heard her reply as I turned to go.
Since my home was Xena and I'd chosen to leave, I went to my home away from home: the Amazons. I'd thought of going to Poteidaia, but knew I needed to be surrounded by people that would understand the depth of my pain, even if I didn't understand it myself. The Amazons would. My birth-family wouldn't.
As I'd hoped, Ephiny and the others sympathized and comforted me in my anguish. Solari especially gave me the distraction I needed to get Xena out of my blood, if only for a short time. We became lovers. She knew that I did not, could not, love her, but she didn't need me to. As a friend, and as someone who loved her queen, she offered me the physical distraction that kept me from languishing in a pit of sorrow. I never forgot that kindness and we remained close friends for years. She understood my need to get back at Xena, perhaps better than I did. In fact, the Amazons in general seemed to better understand what was happening between Xena and myself, than I. While no one said anything negative about the Warrior Princess in front of me, it became quite clear that there was something about Xena that put these women on edge.
I tried to put that out of my mind as I learned the ways of my adopted people and assisted Ephiny in her duties as queen. It was a lot to learn, and that kept me busy. I also got acquainted with my centaur nephew, Xenan Gabris Phantes. The following weeks passed quickly, but the emptiness I felt without Xena did not diminish in the slightest.
One morning, as Ephiny, Xenan, Solari and I ate breakfast, a scout came running into camp. Bleeding from a crossbow bolt that had pierced her shoulder, she reported that Xena rode at the head of a small army under the banner of Ares, sacking everything in her path. The look I saw on Ephiny's face was plain, unadulterated fear. I was too shocked to believe anything at first. Furiously I tried to think what could have happened to Xena to bring the Warrior Princess back to the surface so soon. She reverted to her old self in that surrounded garrison out of desperation. Something serious must have happened to bring the savage back. She was approaching from the north which meant she was coming from the direction of Poteidaia. I wondered if she'd been trying to find me.
The rest of the day was spent planning. I couldn't help but overhear the occasional murmerings of frightened Amazons as they set about their appointed tasks. Some acted like it was the end of the world. How could I have known at the time that was in fact what they feared. I wracked my brain trying to figure out what must have happened to put Xena back in the service of Ares. Nothing made sense, but that didn't change the facts. 'Xena: Destroyer of Nations' was headed our way. That night Ephiny and I stayed up talking. She knew the situation was next to hopeless, but her determination and bravery never faltered. "We have to issue a challenge," I said. "Me against her, one on one."
"You're crazy, Gabrielle," Ephiny laughed. "This is Xena we're talking about."
"I know," I replied. "Xena who loves me..."
"But she's riding for Ares now."
"She's still Xena. If she weren't, Ares wouldn't want her."
"That's out of the question," Ephiny replied then brought her fist down on the table, hard. "Gods, I should have seen this coming."
"Seen what? That maybe Xena and I are not as perfect for each other as everyone thinks we are?" I stood and paced the small hut, furious. I couldn't help but feel that I'd failed Xena in some way. If I'd had the strength to work through my problems at her side, then this never would have happened.
"No, Gabrielle," Ephiny said in a voice surprisingly gentle. "If anything, this proves how much you two belong together. You've been a mess since you've been here, and Xena obviously has gone crazy without you. Maybe seeing you across a battlefield is just what she needs to knock some sense into that thick head of hers."
I turned at that, unable to keep the hope from my features. Somehow it had to work-I could feel it. "I think it's the right thing to do," I said softly. Ephiny just smiled at me sadly, and nodded.
The challenge was issued and sure enough, she accepted. All but a few Amazons were scattered to the trees. I trusted Xena to show up, but suspected an ambush as well. We'd readied a clearing for the contest, well away from the Amazon village. "You're a fool, Ephiny," Xena said dryly as she gracefully dismounted Argo.
"Is it foolish to save lives, Xena?" Ephiny replied. "You beat the Amazon queen and you will find no resistance here. By our laws, as an Amazon yourself, you will be the new queen."
Xena's eyes narrowed in fury. "Don't ever call me Amazon again," she hissed. "Pick your weapon."
Ephiny shook her head. "It isn't my place to choose. The Amazon queen will fight you, and she will choose the weapons."
Xena's look of confusion was replaced by understanding and fury as I stepped out from behind a large tree with my staff. "Gabrielle?" she whispered, several emotions warring for dominance in her features. She was shocked, relieved and angry all at once.
"It's me, Xena," I said. "What are you doing?"
In moments, the confusion was gone and cold fury gained dominance in her eyes and voice. "I'm taking prime hunting ground, that's what I'm doing. Give up now, Gabrielle, and I'll let you live."
"This isn't you, Xena," I pleaded as I readied my staff.
"I'm as much Xena as you are Gabrielle," she replied as she took the staff Ephiny offered her.
"What happened to you?" I asked, then realized it was the wrong way to start the conversation. Even against the Horde, her eyes were not this cold. Something other than the woman I loved was in possession of Xena's mind. She lunged at me and I was barely able to parry the blow. The crack of wood striking wood was deafening as the vibrations reverberated through my hands and arms. The force of that one blow alone was almost enough to make me drop my staff. I parried a couple more times then swung at her in desperation. I don't know who was more surprised, her or me when my staff reached it's mark. I had hit her solidly in the ribs. She smiled, the feral smile I'd seen her give to numerous opponents, usually just before they lost consciousness or worse.
"Nice shot, bard."
"Xena, stop it," I tried again. "Something happened. Tell me." She came at me with such fury I could only react, thinking was out of the question. I vaguely felt the wood of her staff hitting my shoulder, dislocating my arm then knocking the staff from my hands before she struck me in my gut, driving the air from my lungs and me to my knees. I looked up at her and tried one last time.
"Xena talk to me," I gasped. "I love you. Don't kill me like this..."