Disclaimer: The inestimable Doctor Janice Covington and Miss Melinda Papp as, as well as the Warrior Princess herself, are the property of Renaissance/MCA/Universal. Much respect.
Language/Violence/Subtext: Yes. Janice Covington is a bad influence.
Credits: Many thanks to the Elitist Xenites - "all subtext, all the time" - and to L. Graham, whose "Lost in Translation" rekindled my affection for Covington :)
This story takes place immediately after the events portrayed in "The Xena Scrolls".
LOST AND FOUND
by Lela Kaunitz
One thing Janice Covington hadn't expected of Mel Pappas was that she snored. Loudly.
That didn't make it any easier to ignore the length of thigh exposed by her torn skirt. If anything it just got her to wondering how a woman could be so damn gorgeous even while rumbling like a sleeping bear.
Covington pulled her fedora a little more firmly over her eyes, wrapped her arms around herself and tried to sleep. It was hardly the first time she'd slept on the ground, but she clung to the pretence that it was her makeshift bed keeping her awake, and not ...
She opened one eye a chink, and stole another look at Miss Melinda Pappas.
The tall southerner was stretched out on Covington's camp bed - which explained why Janice herself was leaning up against the truck's tyre - and had dozed off with glasses in hand, fingers curled in slack, sleepy innocence against her chest.
There was a graze on her left knee, Covington noticed, and then wondered when she had started finding grazed knees cute. Hell, "cute" in general wasn't her style.
She adjusted her hat, made another valiant attempt at sleep -
"GABRIELLE!" Mel shrieked, and amongst the sudden wild disarray of legs, arms and airborne spectacles, Covington's camp bed collapsed with a groan.
It was for this that Mel immediately launched into a string of apologies. This, thought Janice, grimacing, and not the kick that had connected solidly with her shin.
"I'm such a clumsy fool!" Five foot ten of flustered southerner continued to wreak havoc on the bedframe - godDAMN it, she even makes panicking into some kind of wonderful - until there was a solid crunch underfoot.
"Bless your heart, Mel Pappas." She held up what remained of her glasses. "Look what you've gone and done."
Another thing Covington hadn't expected of Mel Pappas was her disarming tendency to refer to herself in the third person.
"Just sit down, Mel, before you break something else!"
Sheepishly obedient, Mel sat. On Janice's hat, which had escaped in the melee.
Covington sighed, and decided that the innocence of their sleeping arrangements was possibly for the best. From what the archaeologist had seen so far, a night with Mel Pappas just might kill her.
The plan had been to leave the dig site shortly after the tail lights of Jack Kleinman's motorcycle had receded - thankfully - into the distance.
The truck, however, refused to start, which meant a plaintive "My goodness" from Mel, and several hours under the hood for Covington.
Digging through the greasy, gritty mass of engine parts was frustrating as hell, but it wasn't till the strut gave out and dropped the hood straight down on her head that Covington finally lost her temper.
But then she lost it completely.
Staggering back from the car, she fixed it with a steely gaze, swung back her foot, and launched an assault on the headlamps.
"WHY -" Kick. "- WON'T -" Kick. "- YOU -" Crash. "START?!"
There was a brief pause, then the engine rumbled, sputtered, roared to life.
Covington's jaw dropped.
"Say, Doctor Covington," called Mel, from the driver's seat. "I'm guessing it just didn't want to start in gear, is all."
"You know," Covington rubbed at her cheek, managing to camouflage her rising colour with a smear of engine grease, "That was the very next thing I was gonna check."
Which left, of course, the problem of driving at night. Without headlights.
Some things were best left till morning.
Rise and Shine
If she hadn't already been awake and staring at Mel - how many mornings was she going to wake up to such a sight? - Covington wasn't sure the sound of the engines would have woken her.
As it was, she heard the rumbling of diesel, and peered under the belly of her truck for a closer look. Not her truck. What, then? Maybe she wasn't quite as awake as she thought ...
... or maybe that was two Nazi jeeps making their way down the road toward the dig site. Shit.
"Mel-" Covington prodded her awake, then - as the southerner opened her mouth to speak - clamped a rough hand over her mouth. "I need you to stay quiet. We're in trouble."
Short-sighted blue eyes widened indignantly, and Mel shook herself free, reaching for her glasses. "Trouble? What kind of trouble?"
"The Nazi bastards finally showed up."
Mel's eyes, behind shattered lenses, managed to widen even more as she peeked around the side of the truck. For someone almost six feet tall, her sudden resemblance to a frightened rabbit was incredible. "You were expecting them?"
"Oh yeah ... Little fish like Smythe are always working for big fish. And here's the big fish come to check up on things." Covington was loading her revolver as she spoke. "I just didn't expect them quite so -"
The rest of her sentence was lost as an explosion roared across the dig site.
"DOWN!" She flung herself at Mel, shielding her from the blast - wondering how, at a time like this, she could be so conscious of Mel's breasts pressing against her. Covington beat her libido down with a stick, aware - not for the first time - that it was likely to get her killed.
"What in the world...?"
"Unexploded dynamite," Covington hazarded. "Demolitions aren't exactly my forte."
Crack! The rear window of the truck erupted in a shower of glass.
"And that, Miss Pappas, was a bullet."
"I know what a bullet sounds like," Mel retorted primly, trying to squirm free of her overly protective human shield.
"You'll find out what one feels like if you don't ... stay ... down!" She leapt to her feet, vaulted into the flatbed of the truck, flattening herself against the metal. Where was the damn satchel? Where were the scrolls?
Gunfire was pockmarking the side of the truck. This was not good, not good at all.
Her grasping hand found canvas ... thank you, sweetheart ... and she twisted the strap around her arm, getting a secure grip. Now came the tricky bit ...
"THIS IS NOT HOW I LIKE TO SPEND MY MORNINGS!" she bellowed, suddenly lunging upright and firing wildly in the direction of the jeeps. Nothing like the element of surprise.
In the half-second before the soldiers regained their wits, Covington had already taken a flying leap off the back of the truck, and was scrabbling for cover behind it.
"Janice Covington, are you quite insane?!"
"The scrolls..." Covington wheezed. The landing had been a little too solid; if her ribs weren't broken, they damn well deserved to be. "Could hardly ... leave them."
"Well, that's all very well and good, but ... people are shooting at us and ..."
"I'd noticed." She shoved the satchel at Mel. "We're gonna have to run for it. The trench down the south end of the dig ... GO!"
There had to be at least a dozen of them, Covington figured. But right now, one was all she needed ... she dived, flat on her belly, under the truck, yanking the man's legs out from under him - idiot for standing that close - and clubbing him with his own pistol.
Where were the rest of them? Three feet away. Just great. And she was lying under a truck. She rallied her best grin.
"Oh, hi boys. If I'd known you were dropping by, I'd have -" Kneecapped you. Not very nice, but it worked. And they were kind enough to fall in the way of their friends' line of fire. Who said the German army was unhelpful?
She rolled under the truck, jammed the purloined weapon in the waistband of her khakis, and started running as soon as she cleared the other side. Their pursuing footsteps were too close for comfort, but at least they weren't shooting.
Mel was nowhere in sight, which was probably a good thing - wait. Those were Mel's glasses. Oh shit. Oh goddamn. She dropped them, tell me she dropped them.
"JANICE!" The sound of Mel's voice was like an explosion of relief in her chest, and she didn't mind the yards of skin her flat-out dive stripped from her elbows.
The trench swallowed her up, hat, gun, bullwhip, boots ... Laughing giddily, she bounced to her feet - and froze.
The explosion at the dig last night must have caused a cave-in. If she'd fallen six feet further out, she'd have fallen a hundred feet further down. The earth gaped. No wonder Mel was pressed flat back against the rockface.
Seemed like the only sensible course of action. Really. That was a long way to fall.
When the pounding of her heart had eased from deafening to merely painful, Covington risked a glance upwards. Nothing.
Well, they did just see their quarry take a suicidal leap off a precipice. Can you blame them for stopping?
"You're bleeding." Mel said quietly.
Covington wondered a moment at the intensity of Mel's stare, then realised it was purely squinting - without her glasses, Melinda Pappas was blind as a bat. Wishful thinking, Janice.
"Oh, yeah." She grimaced at the shredded remains of her sleeves, and what was left of her elbows beneath them. "I'll live."
"Still not used up your nine lives, then?"
Covington couldn't help but grin at that. "I'm trying not to keep count. Where's my satchel?"
Mel looked a little blank, glancing down at her hands as though it might be there. It wasn't.
"Where's my satchel?!" Covington repeated. No sign of that grin now.
"Why, I ... I believe I left it behind. What with the shooting, and the running, I ..."
Covington contemplated a moment of bliss in which she slowly throttled the life out of Melinda Pappas. Fortunately for the tall southerner, Covington's temper actually held, and she merely settled for three words. "The scrolls, Mel."
"Oh my." Mel's hand flew to her mouth.
"The scrolls were in my satchel." Covington forced the words out through gritted teeth. "Why else did you think I gave it to you?!"
Covington slumped to the ground and buried her face in her hands.
"There's only one thing for it, then." Mel's voice was firm.
The archaeologist lifted her head, and gave her a look that mingled exhaustion, frustration and despair. "What?"
"We go back for them."
Just A Closer Walk With Thee
Easier said than done. Once down the trench, there didn't seem to be any obvious way of getting back up. The cave-in had done a thorough job of reshaping the landscape, and where there had once been a ladder, there was now only a gaping pit.
And as to what the Nazis were doing - Mel and Janice could hear the barking of orders, the scrape of stone, the sounds of digging. Something was going on.
"If you left the satchel up there, they're gonna find it sooner or later."
"Oh, I see. I left the satchel up there." A look of wounded dignity was something Mel had mastered at an early age. "If you'd presumed to impress upon me the importance of the satchel -"
"They were shooting at me, sweetheart, and I went back for it anyway. How much more important do you need?"
"C'mon. We're wasting time." Covington strode off along the ledge, arms folded.
Mel didn't follow.
"Melinda! Come on!" Janice turned and glared at her. "If you think your spoiled southern brat schtick is going to work -"
"I can't see properly without my glasses, Doctor Covington." Despite her efforts at composure, Mel's lower lip was trembling. "I'm scared I might fall."
"Aw geez." Covington let out an exasperated sigh. "Look, here. Gimme your hand."
Mel's long, slender fingers wrapped Covington's callused mitt in a death grip. And this southern belle was a damnsight stronger than she looked.
Mel nodded. Her eyes were so big and blue and helpless that Covington just had to give her a reassuring squeeze. "You're doing fine, Mel. Come on."
They made their way along the ledge. A six foot width of stone jutting over yawning depths. Six feet. Six feet. The measurement ticked over in the archaeologist's mind. It was too even, too precise ... someone had built this -
Something gave way underfoot, and Mel lost her balance. Reflex threw Covington into counterweight, hauling the southerner back from the edge even as a handful of rock was lost to the depths.
"Hey... " Janice almost sounded concerned. "You watch your step, huh?"
Covington's hand was still locked firmly around her own, and when the archaeologist pulled her back in, back onto steadier ground, it felt so much like the first turn of a waltz that somehow they began to dance.
It was not an accomplishment one would expect from either one of them - not the gangling southerner, and especially not the rough, stocky archaeologist - but they moved into the waltz with all the assurance of the lovers in a fairytale.
In that moment, it hardly seemed strange to Covington that her hand fitted so perfectly against the small of this woman's back.
But, as in all fairytales, it was inevitable that midnight struck - Mel stumbled, fell heavily into Covington's arms, and the spell was shattered.
They broke apart awkwardly, looking anywhere but at each other, and when Janice finally spoke, her voice was tight and her cheeks crimson.
"We ... uh ... we better get going."
"Did you ever hear about the Minotaur?" The way Mel's Carolinian accent drew the name out made Covington smirk in spite of herself.
"I was thinking how our predicament is kind of like we're Theseus and ..."
"If you're saying we should have marked our trail, then yeah, I agree with you, but I didn't think of it at the time, okay? People had just been shooting at me, and I guess I was a little distracted. Okay?"
Someone a little more familiar with the Covington temper might have shut up at that point. Mel, however, didn't have the benefit of experience.
"So, what you're saying is we're lost?"
"YES!" There it went. "WE ARE LOST! WE ARE WANDERING AROUND LIKE GOD DAMN IDIOTS IN THE MIDDLE OF A THRICE-DAMNED SON-OF-A-BITCHING WHO-KNOWS-WHERE-IT-CAME-FROM MAZE! YES!"
"Oh my." Mel went pale. It made a nice contrast with the livid crimson darkening Covington's cheeks. The archaeologist was looking for something to throw.
The corridor they were in offered nothing in the way of ammunition, so Covington settled for her hat. Threw it. Cursed. Stomped on it a few times. Realised what she had just done to her hat. Cursed again.
"Uhhh ... Doctor Covington ... Janice ... calm down ... everything's fine ..." Mel's hands had flown up in alarm, and trembled around her shoulders like nervous butterflies. "We'll find our way out ... I promise."
"That's ... very reassuring, Melinda." Covington put her rage on a short leash, throttled it into submission. "That's ... that's good to know. How?"
"Well..." Considering she couldn't see past arm's length, Mel wasn't sure looking around would be much help. Then again, she could be pleasantly surprised. "How about that door?"
Covington clenched her teeth, the closest to a smile she could manage. "That'd be a start. Shall we?"
A Brief Musical Interlude
"Not that we're any less lost." Covington pulled her hat down over her eyes, shading herself against the afternoon sun.
"I think I've got blisters." Mel added plaintively.
"Oh." She bit back a smartass comment, aware how close to tears Mel had been since her earlier ... Say it, Janice. Tantrum. Very good. "You want to sit down?"
Mel nodded, feebly, and Covington realised the southerner was exhausted. Her dark hair hung in wisps around her face, her high cheekbones were filmed with dust, and there was still the faintest smudge of red lipstick on her lower lip...
"Uh ... I'm gonna go scout ahead a ways while you rest, okay?" I really need to be not looking at you like that. "Maybe I can figure out where we are."
"Sure." Mel settled herself on one of the rocks at the edge of the path, smoothing her hair back from her face.
Going now. Definitely going. "You're gonna be okay?"
At Mel's nod, Covington took off along the roadway - hell, if it was a road, it had to be going somewhere. At about the first corner, she discovered her hands were shaking.
Well, she'd missed out on her morning coffee, so no surprise there. In fact, right now, she would have been quite willing to kill for a coffee.
As it was - she dug in her shirt pocket for a cheroot, leaned back against the rockwall to light it - she'd have to settle for what she could get.
Cigars were a good way to think, was the thing. And right now - out in the who-knew-where of Macedonia, with no food, no tent, no scotch whiskey, and no distraction from the infuriating presence of Mel Pappas - right now was not a good time to think.
Infuriating, she repeated, wondering why she'd latched onto that particular item in her list of rants. Infuriatingly gorgeous, clarified a part of her mind that was all too eager to help.
Shut up, she told it, though there wasn't a prayer it would pay heed. Not supplied as it was with visions of Mel's wonderful long legs.
Coffee, Covington told herself firmly. Think about coffee.
"It happened, I felt it happen..."
Covington almost choked on her cigar. The soft contralto could only be Mel's, and it was certainly unexpected.
"I was awake, I wasn't blind..."
Rodgers and Hart. She was no expert on contemporary music, but she recognised the song.
Covington had always been one to let her curiosity get the better of her - that's what made her such a good archaeologist, her daddy had always said - and now was no exception.
Clamping her teeth down on her cigar, and settling her hat more firmly on her head, she made her way back down the road to where Mel was sitting.
"And all at once I lost my breath
And all at once was scared to death
And all at once I owned the earth and sky..."
Their eyes met, and Mel stumbled on the next line of the song, blushing scarlet. "I didn't realise you were still around."
"I didn't realise you were a singer."
Her legs took three paces forward of their own accord, and she was too caught up in the blueness of Mel's eyes to notice.
Xena's eyes had been almost silver, too intense to hold their colour - but Mel's eyes were blue. Deep blue. Deep-enough-to-drown-in blue.
Covington had never anticipated being so willing to drown - and that pragmatic, pig-headed part of her mind which was so much Janice Covington flailed in alarm at the situation in which it found itself.
"Well, I ... I guess have many skills." Mel's voice caught awkwardly on the words.
"Huh?" Covington discovered belatedly that she was still chewing at the end of her cigar.
"It was something my daddy used to say..."
If the small talk was supposed to ease the intensity of the gaze which held them transfixed, it was failing. Not staring didn't seem to be an option - equilibrium was looking into Mel's eyes, and anything else felt off-balance.
The way Mel's mouth curved to the right just before she smiled had somehow become a revelation. Merely looking didn't seem to be enough; it was becoming necessary, essential, to trace those lines of softness with all the reverence such a discovery deserved.
Janice Covington had no illusions about the degree of self-control she had around women like Mel Pappas.
No. There were no women like Mel Pappas. And it wasn't Mel Pappas she was thinking of - not that sleekness of motion as the woman rose to her feet, the dangerous glitter in her eyes, the light, casual-confident hand on her shoulder -
No. That had been Xena.
It was only by keeping that thought firmly in her mind that Covington was able to tear herself away.
Hopefully Mel wouldn't notice how violently her legs were trembling.
A Tomb With A View
The Germans were still at the dig site. Or so Mel informed her.
From their eyrie above the blasted tomb, where fallen rock had made a ledge of sorts, they could observe without being observed. Or at least, Mel could.
"Can you see the satchel?"
"Why would they take it?" Mel breathed, clutching Janice's field glasses as she peered over the escarpment.
"Why would you throw it?" Covington shot back, cursing Mel back to her Warrior Princess ancestors for the six inch difference in their heights. Even on tiptoe, she couldn't see what Mel was looking at.
"Six tents," the taller woman reported. "And ... oh my ..." The agitated flutter of her hand was enough to lose her grip on the glasses - Janice caught them before they hit the ground.
"And?" She handed the binoculars back, wondering how Mel had survived not only the trip to Macedonia, but the twenty-eight years before it.
"They've got something..."
"What is it?" She controlled the urge to jump up and down for a glimpse - somehow the movement put her in mind of little yapping dogs, the kind Janice had always harboured a guilty desire to kick.
"I can't quite ..." Mel pressed the glasses to the bridge of her nose, squinting furiously to further compensate for her myopia. "It looks kind of like ... a bug cocoon? ... only giant-sized."
"A cocoon?" Janice was openly skeptical.
"Some kind of chrysalis..." Catching Covington's eye, Mel shifted to awkward defensiveness. "I'm just calling it like I see it."
At least you CAN see it ... Irritation overcame Janice's natural propensity for remaining earthbound, and she clawed her way to the top of the escarpment. Leaning on her elbows, her heels dangling a good two feet above the ground, she tried to ignore the drop-off and concentrate on the scene below.
It took a fair bit of imagination to describe the contents of the litter as a cocoon, but for the life of her, Covington couldn't come up with anything better.
Apart from which, if it was a bug cocoon, it would have hatched a pretty big - damn it, Covington. That just set off a whole other set of the heebie jeebies. As if the vertigo wasn't enough...
She dropped to Mel's side once more, tried to look nonchalant about wiping the sweat from her forehead. Charging buffalo, gun-slinging Nazis, resurrected Gods of Ancient Times - these she could take in her stride. Giant insects were a whole different ballpark.
"If I'd known," she said, mustering the ghost of her cockiest grin. "I'd have packed mosquito nets."
It was a feeble joke, but - quite unexpectedly - it made Mel smile. And that, Covington was surprised to discover, made it almost worthwhile.
Part of Janice Covington's mind couldn't forget for a moment that the scrolls were still down there. The Xena Scrolls; real, coarse parchment she had held in her hands only the day before.
Would be holding right now if Mel Pappas had only had the good sense to hold onto the damn satchel.
Mel's smile faded abruptly. If Janice could have seen the hard green glitter of her eyes, this reaction would have come as no surprise.
"Oh, and ... uhhh ..." Mel gave a little shrug. "The scrolls are down there."
"Well, at least, I saw your satchel. Just lying there."
"And you couldn't have mentioned this when you saw it?" Covington swayed between outrage and elation.
"I guess I got a little confused?"
Mel was starting to recognise the signs of an impending Covington tantrum, and sought to defuse it. "You can kind of appreciate the irony of it all. Us up here knowing what they're looking for is right under their noses -"
"Wonderful." To judge by the set of Covington's jaw, humour had perhaps not been the right tack. "I'd rather be appreciating the scrolls."
The archaeologist was already halfway over the wall when Mel realised what she was doing.
"Janice!" Laying a hand on her arm. "They've got guns!"
Covington shook off the touch. "Honey, I'd noticed."
"But ... they might shoot you."
"Well, that's what guns are for." Discretion won out enough for Janice to slide back down the wall. No sense being a sitting duck.
"Like you said, it's sitting right under their goddamn noses. How long do you reckon it's gonna be before they actually check what's in it?"
"I didn't mean to drop it! Can't you accept that!?" Mel had a temper of her own, and it was starting to flare. "But they were shooting and I ..."
"They were shootin' and I got all flustered and I ... oh my!" Janice, when she put her mind to it, could assume a devastatingly accurate southern accent, and this one had a particularly vicious twang to it. "How could you be so STUPID, Mel?"
Mel's shoulders squared, and she drew herself up to her full six feet. She wasn't going to let that slide.
"Janice Covington! I'm Southern, not stupid! Don't you dare underestimate me because of how I talk! In the South, I must be stupid because I'm a woman. In the North, I must be stupid being from South Carolina. But I'm not stupid. I'm a translator, I'm an adventurer - and, damn it, if I'm stupid about anything, it's that I'm stupid about you!"
Following that, Covington was at a loss for words.
She had no shortage of thoughts, however - so many confused, bewildered, elated fragments were whirling through her mind, she couldn't find a place to start.
"Well, shit." Eloquence didn't quite get there in time. "I hope you're still planning on hanging around."
"I can hardly leave now." Mel had raised looking flustered to an art form. "I've gone and told you everything I'm thinking and feeling, and I can't go telling you all that and not know how you're -"
As first kisses go, it was perhaps as clumsy as could be expected. Janice's hat suffered a little for it, but the sheer sweetness of Mel's mouth against hers more than compensated.
"- feeling...." Mel's voice was a whisper.
Her blue eyes found their focus on Janice's smile. "You kissed me..." Breathless wonderment.
The smile broadened helplessly into a grin. "Damn right."
"So... that was a once-off, or what?"
"Oh no. That, Mel Pappas, was just the beginning..."
Mel was incapable of anything more than a moan as Janice Covington's lips closed over her nipple. "Oh sweet Jesus..."
Her head arched back, exposing the whiteness of her throat, the planes of her collarbones, the soft curves of her breasts, the smooth stretch of her abdomen - all laid bare by Covington's wandering hands.
One hand now traced exquisite lines across her stomach, the other was strong and confident between her shoulders, supporting her against whatever ... oh my ... whatever it was that Janice Covington was ... oh MY ... doing to her -
How something so gentle could be so irresistible ... OHHH GOD... Her eyes flew open -
"Uhh, Janice ..."
"Where do these Nazis keep coming from?"
"Oh for the love of Mike!" Covington pushed her hair back from her face and glared in the direction Mel was staring.
A man in German army uniform was standing not ten feet away.
"Doktor Covington, I presume?" Whatever was gentlemanly in the officer's manner was negated by the Luger he had aimed at Covington's chest -
Oops. No trouble aiming there. Sullen, she buttoned her shirt again, shifting cautiously to shield Melinda from the German and his gun. "How nice of you to drop in."
"Seemed almost a pity to interrupt."
"Tragic." Behind her back, she gave Mel's hand a reassuring squeeze. "You're looking for Smythe?"
"We are looking for the scrolls."
"Yeah well. As you can probably see -" And I don't care if you've got a gun, if you keep looking at Mel like that, I will smack you one. "We don't have them."
"I find it hard to believe that the daughter of Harry Covington would walk out of a tomb empty-handed."
One hundred and twenty pounds of outraged, frustrated archaeologist reached the limits of her patience, and Covington and the soldier went down in a tangle of limbs.
The whump of the Luger rang out, chips exploded from the rockface by Mel's shoulder.
Her dignity having already been thrown to the four winds, she saw no harm in flinging herself to the ground.
"Aw shit..." Janice's voice was gruff and confused. "You shot me."
All Tied Up And No Place To Go
"Are you angry with me?"
"Mel, if I was angry with you, trust me: you'd know it." Covington twisted her wrists against the ropes, but they had been tied pretty tightly. "Whoever Colonel Scheissekopf out there is ... HIM I'm angry at."
"Why didn't they just shoot us?"
You're saying they didn't? "I'm guessing they think we know something."
"Well, we do."
"I know I'm gonna bleed to death here on their lovely canvas floor if someone doesn't do something about my hip." She could feel the fabric of her khakis soaking through. "You'd think they would have done something already."
"Maybe they didn't notice?"
"Are you sure it's not just a flesh wound?"
"It's my goddamn hip. I should know." She leaned her head back against Mel's shoulder, took a deep breath.
"I could take a look at it for you."
"Uh huh. Is this before or after you untie us?"
"There is that."
"I've known you two days now," Covington said. "And in that time, I've been shot at several times, shot once, tied to things twice, attacked by a god, chased by Nazis, gotten lost - do you reckon someone's trying to tell me something?"
"I just think you live a dangerous life, Doctor Covington."
Unexpectedly, Mel's hand enfolded hers.
"How the hell...?"
"I didn't want to say anything, since I could have been wrong, but the rope felt kind of loose, so I just fidgeted a little - and here I am."
"Mel Pappas, you're a genius, and don't let me forget it!"
With the first knot undone, the rest came easily enough. Covington rose gratefully to her feet, shucking ropes like old skin - and fell as her leg buckled beneath her.
"Uh, Mel. This definitely ain't a flesh wound."
"Can you walk? Will you be all right?"
"I'm not sure." Covington bit her lip, wondering if she was as pale as she felt. "Gimme a hand, willya?" Oh yeah, she was definitely that pale ... things were getting kind of woozy.
"Don't worry, Janice. I gotcha." Mel had an arm around her shoulders.
"God bless all big-boned southern girls." Covington pronounced cheerfully. Oops. Light-headed, too, if I let that one out. "Mel, we've gotta stop the bleeding."
"We got to get out of here first, afore someone comes and checks up on us."
"Oh yeah, that ..." Janice looked down at the sodden mess of her hip. When she wiggled her toes inside her boot, they squelched. Things were just so wonderful right about now.
"Okay, Doctor Covington, we're going to walk, all right? I've got you, so you're not going to fall. We're just gonna walk on out of here."
"We've got to get the scrolls." Motivation popped suddenly into Covington's head, and she couldn't imagine where it came from.
"We've got to stop you bleeding to death on this here canvas floor, like you said."
Never mind she'd been doing it since she was one, Covington was learning that walking wasn't easy. Her legs had a tendency to sway off in different directions, and one was hurting quite a lot.
And how were a tall, cute-as southerner and a grubby, blood-stained Yankee archaeologist going to walk out of the campsite in broad daylight? And without the Xena Scrolls?
"Mel," she repeated, clinging tenaciously to the other woman's forearm. "We've got to get the scrolls."
How far had they walked? Oh look, here was a truck. How'd that get there?
"Okay, Janice. Just a little further now. How're you doing?"
"I'm fine." And it was true. She was so deliciously light-headed, she could just snatch the satchel off the guard's shoulder, swing her fist into his jaw, and step back against Mel as he toppled unconscious to the ground in front of them.
"I didn't see him coming..." Mel's voice quaked with alarm.
Covington grinned. "That's why you keep me around, sweetheart."
Her hands were numb on the steering wheel. She somehow found first gear, but she was so glad the truck was able to drive itself, so glad Mel's fingers were twisted through hers on the wheel, so glad the road chose to stay beneath their spinning tyres ...
"You fainted," Mel said softly, a voice floating somewhere outside her head. "With your foot on the gas pedal. I don't think I've ever been so scared in my life..." A nervous giggle. "But we sure left those Nazis in our dust."
"Mmmm..." Covington spent moments considering the insides of her eyelids. Was there some trick to this that she was missing? Ah no, there we go -
Blue eyes. Dark hair. Flawless cheekbones. "Am I dead?"
"No." Mel's smile blossomed. "I think you'll live."
"My daddy never taught me much about first aid - us southern women are supposed to faint at the sight of blood, you know - but I got it to stop bleeding, at least. Tried to get it clean and all - there was some brandy in the truck. I'm sure you'd rather be drinking it and all, but..."
Mel realised she was babbling, and shut up. Covington merely smiled and, having captured Mel's hand, began to kiss her knuckles.
Mel raised an eyebrow at her. "You'll definitely live. You're not a minute conscious and you're already kissing me."
"I didn't want to waste time."
"Oh, now." Mel touched a fingertip to Janice's nose in warning. "There's plenty of time. Later."
"I'm glad you think so." Covington levered herself up onto one elbow, realising that it hurt to move. "Where's my satchel?"
"It's ... ahhh...." Mel looked suddenly very meek.
"I didn't hallucinate-?"
"Not exactly." Mel's brow was furrowing in distress.
"Can I see it?" Patience, Janice, patience.
The satchel was only an arm's-length away in the back of the German truck. She drew it towards her, unbuckled the straps, pulled out -
A teddybear. A pair of blue stripe pyjamas. A cigarette case.
"Oh." Covington's jaw tightened. It wasn't that she was at a loss for words. She just couldn't decide which expletive to use first.
The black letters inked on the inside of the canvas flap stared back an accusation. J. KLEINMAN.
Janice Covington had an impressive repertoire of profanity. Mel Pappas got to hear it all. Twice.
Sleeping Arrangements II
One thing Janice Covington hadn't anticipated was just how perfectly Mel Pappas' head fitted against her shoulder.
If there had been room in the small plane for Covington to stretch out, they would have laid her down. Her hip was set in plaster - the medic had been amazed she was still walking - and sitting upright involved some strange contortion of her lower back which, under normal circumstances, would have been painful.
These were hardly normal circumstances, however. Her arm was snug around Mel's shoulders, the southerner dozing with Jack Kleinman's teddybear tucked beneath her chin.
There was something so perfect about it all that Janice didn't care if she never moved again.
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