Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Janice Covington and
Melinda Pappas all belong to MCA - Universal Pictures and Renaissance
Pictures. No infringement of their rights is intended.
Sexuality: This is to be considered an R rated Alt fan fiction story and so is
intended for mature audiences, that is, folks over the age of 18. It depicts
the loving relationship between two couples who happen to be consenting
adults/lesbians. The sexual content of this story is extremely graphic in
nature, therefore should this type of story be offensive to you, please leave now...run, do not walk to the nearest exit.
Final Disclaimer: This story is a continuation of one l began a bit ago called
'The Grecian Affair'. It was followed by 'Resistance & Resurrection'. It is
important that you read these other stories in sequence otherwise you
won't have a clue. Because l saw the need to avoid the German occupation
of Greece in the first two, l decided to have Greece fall in 1944 and have
them attack the island of Cyprus soon after. Most of the events in this story actually took place...l just altered the time frame to suit my own nefarious needs. There be angst here, and hurt/comfort ahead.....and violence, but then, this was a violent period in history.
As l don't enjoy living in a deprivation tank, please feed the bard. Offerings, burnt or otherwise, can be sent to ArdentTly@yahoo.com
Copyrighted by ArdentTly, November 1998.
Reflections in a Goldeneye
Polis, Island of Cyprus, 1944
Mel felt herself being carried and wondered how Jan could have gotten so strong. Then the reality of the situation came crashing down on her and she began to struggle. She just managed to break free of the soldier who carried her like a sack of potatoes only to be pulled through the opening and into the arms of a small group of Germans on recce.
Mel opened her mouth once, saying she was an American citizen and was grabbed from behind and struck hard across the face. Mel felt her head snap back and tears sprung to her eyes. She looked at the brute who'd hit her. It was the same man who'd struck her before. Bringing her hand up, she noticed the blood. She probed the back of her mouth and felt a loose molar.
Major Steiner pulled her close and then took the front of her coveralls in his hands. He smirked and then slowly undid all the buttons. Mel swallowed deeply and shut her eyes as a lone tear seeped out from beneath her quivering eyelids. Satisfied with the reaction he was getting, the Major was a little disappointed as he began stripping off the coveralls that she was wearing clothes underneath.
Mel shrugged off the man behind her and stood proudly, her cold blue eyes flashing. Steiner smirked and poked the woman harshly in the stomach with his riding crop. Mel gasped but stood firm.
With a scowl, he Pushed the woman suddenly backwards into the waiting arms of of his soldiers and proceeded to completely strip the clothing off, tossing away the woman's shoes in the process. Mel crossed her arms protectively over her bossom and tried not to look as vulnerable as she felt. She felt her face redden as he put both hands on her hips and turn her around, shoving her hard.
"Oh, gods Jan. Where are ya?", she intoned quietly. The Major raised his hand once more and she hurried ahead of him, trying to bide her time, hoping that Jan would somehow come to the rescue once again.
She was then bundled into a jeep and taken a few miles away to their field headquarters. Mel was quickly thrust into the tent and unceremoniously pushed onto a chair and told not to move. Mel felt her knees tremble as the German officer walked behind her with a riding crop...he smacked her chair with it making her jump.
"How big is the American contingency? What about the British forces? Come now, fraulein. You know it is just a matter of time, yes? I give you this warning once: you will answer and when you do not, I will strike you. Let us see how fast you can come around to my way of thinking, yes?"
He paused and then came around to face her. He liked what he saw. Yes, there was fear there. He stroked his chin, his mind filled with all sorts of thoughts. Thoughts of this brazen American - her broken and bruised body on the floor beneath him. He laughed deeply when the woman pulled her head back with a gasp.
Mel had never seen pure evil before. Oh, she'd seen her share of desperation even madness...but evil was something new to her. Looking into this man's face, she saw there was no milk of human kindness in his soul, if indeed he even possessed one.
Watching the malevolence pass over his contenance had shaken the woman to her very core. Any fleeting thoughts of surviving this encounter were beginning to fade. Her only chance, her only hope...
"Janice..", she murmurred under her breath.
"What!? Speak up! You will tell me what l want to know, make no mistake about that." He brought up the riding crop and poked her hard just below the right clavicle with it. Mel winced with the force, knowing somehow that he knew exactly where to inflict the worst damage. She felt a slow numbness begin to infuse the bruised area.
He put his crop on the desk and turned, lifting his hand and hitting her hard across the face. Mel looked up in shock, mouth hanging open, lip bleeding. The Major grinned evilly and then asked the question again.
Part of Mel's upbringing just couldn't accept that this could be happening. She is totally dumbfounded that this man would actually abuse her. Because of her hesitation she is hit hard once more, the force snapping her face to the left, tipping her out of her chair.
Grinning, Steiner picked up his riding crop and walked over to her crumpled form. He aimed a precise kick at her abdomen with his boot...not hard, but enough to leave a bruise and get her attention.
"Ah. I see you will be a slow learner. Well, all the better for me. Actually, I must say, I like the chase far better than the final outcome."
Mel slowly sat up, shaking her head. He watched her like a snake ready to strike. When the woman slowly regained her feet the Major noticed she didn't look cowed at all by her experience. 'The brash American needs to learn humility'. He raised his stick, intending on striking her across the face with it. Just half way into the stroke, his wrist was caught in a vice like grip and he felt the bones grinding and then a sharp pain.
"Ach, mein gott!"
Melinda Pappas felt her blood boil. Her nostrils flared and she seemed to grow another two or three inches. Pulling him close so they are face to face, she leaned in and said calmly, "That is no way to treat a lady. Didn't your Momma teach you that?"
Mel's face seemed to go blank for a moment and then a feral look appeared, making Steiner's skin crawl.
"You son of a bacchae!"
He found himself being lifted off the ground with one hand, his breathing suddenly cut off. He held his broken wrist, astounded at the strength of this woman. Xena slammed him against the tent pole, making sure she had his full attention. The Major gulped once and ceased to struggle. She jabbed her shoulder and felt the numbness begin to recede.
Squeezing his throat once, she said, "I see you're a quick learner. Let's see how fast you come around to my way of thinking, shall we?" And with that, she gave the man a powerful shake, making his eyeballs feel as if they were going to burst from their sockets.
Xena smiled wickedly as she watched some comprehension come into the face of the deviant before her. She also noted the intelligence behind the wary look. He wanted to play? Well, she was here to accommodate him.
"Now we can do this one of two ways, you disgusting muck sucking dryad. I can simply slit your throat and watch your life's blood drain out of you. Or we could come to an understanding that you'll do whatever l say or die."
She gave him a quick jab with both fingers into each side of his neck and watched as he sank to the floor of the tent, gasping for breath.
"Personally, I opt for the first one 'cause I don't think you believe a word that I've said. By the way, I've just cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You'll be dead in 30 seconds, give or take five seconds."
She jabbed her fingers into the nape of his neck and then stood back. A cold mask of fury decended upon her face as she watched the man begin to jerk and spasm.
"I've just sweetened the deal. I thought you might need an incentive here, Major. You see, not only are you going to die slowly, your brain starved for life giving blood but your body is going to begin to fight itself, pulling your inards apart."
The look of abject horror played across the man's face. He felt his bowels loosen as his body went into an epileptic seizure. For a man such as himself, it was the ultimate nightmare: not only was he no longer in control of his own body but he was totally vulnerable in front of a woman!
Oh, how he wanted to squeeze her neck between his hands until he felt the satisfying pop as her vertibraes severed. Groaning, he began to blink rapidly as dark motes began dancing in front of his eyes. A thin stream of drool began dripping from the corner of his mouth, his jaw falling slack.
Just as the man's eyes began to roll back into his head, Xena jabbed his neck once more and left the man gasping on the ground, the flow of blood slowly returning to vital areas of his brain. As he continued to spasm and writhe in the dirt, Xena could see that not one ounce of the evil had left his eyes. There was fear, yes, even understanding, but inside lurked the total emcompassing evil she'd only encountered once..a long time ago. Gabrielle had paid dearly for that encounter.
With that thought in mind, she kicked him savagely in the ribs, hearing a satisfying crunch.
She dragged the man to his feet and quickly removed the pinch she'd applied to the base of his skull. He sank to his knees once again and just stayed there, his red rimmed eyes never leaving her steely cold blue ones.
"I think we understand each other...yes?" She said mockingly. He stumbled to his feet as she grabbed him by the collar, pulling him towards the front of the tent.
Steiner pressed his arm and elbow against his broken ribs and began to compose himself. It wasn't over. He'd play his part as willing prisoner but he would be biding his time. Oh yes.
Leaving the tent, a soldier watched the two get into a jeep. Seeing the man make a move to meet them, Xena squeezed the Major's battered wrist once more, forcing him to continue the bluff.
She cocked her head as she listened to the man's gutteral reply to the guard's questions. Whatever the German had said had the young soldier winking and grinning. Xena found she could almost understand him. That puzzled her.
Watching carefully every move the man made, Xena started as the strange contraption beneath them rumbled to life and began to surge forward. Her mind was busy processing little bits of information such as foot positioning, the jabbing movement of the funny stick and how the Major was pulling the circular thing. It seemed to be what controled the direction of whatever they were in.
Suddenly Xena grabbed the wheel and pulled it hard over in another direction. The Major tried to voice an objection but stopped mid sentence as he felt an elbow stab into the broken ribs in his side.
"Stop now!" Grabbing the man by the scruff of his neck, they exited the jeep and walked towards a building made of wood and tent material. Xena smiled as she saw the sign with a skull and cross bones.
"What's that Verbo....whatever that says?" Steiner mumbled something in his native tongue and she grabbed him by the elbow and dragged him towards the tent. Inside there are numerous crates filled with both weapons and ammo. An open box of funny looking items caught the warrior's eye and she pushed the man towards it.
They were a dull grey and cylindrical with long handles. The Major slowly backed away as Xena began to juggle three or four of them. "Nien, nicht..." A look of comprehension came over Xena and she fiddled around with one until it clicked. Seeing the man running from the tent, she growled in frustration and tossed it back into the box and sprinted after him.
The knowledge of just what blowing up an armoury was going to be like spurned the Major on and his strides ate up the 30 feet rapidly. After jumping in and pushing the stick into gear, he found himself yanked forward until his face hit the windshield. He sat blinking, blood running down from his rapidly swelling nose.
Xena vaulted into the passenger side of the jeep and gave one last look over her shoulder. "Go!"
Steiner gave her a cold and sinister look and slowly took his foot off the clutch. The jeep lurched slowly forward and then both figures ducked as the first explosion rocked them. Punching his foot down onto the gas peddle the Major swore a stream of expletives and coaxed the vehicle to pick up speed.
Xena held her ears as a high pitched whine threatened to puncture her eardrum. The jeep was thrown to the side as the ground seemed to open in front of them, covering them with dirt and rocks.
"Scheisse!", screamed the German as he began weaving the jeep back and forth. Xena kept a tight grip on her seat with one hand as she held on to the man's collar with the other.
Steiner tried to push her away and then swerved hard, trying to dislodge her from the front seat. For one brief moment the jeep teetered on two wheels and Xena felt her buttocks leave the surface of the seat.high revving assaulted both of their ears and Steiner felt the cold hand of death clutch at his innards.
"Over! Damn you! Get back over....we're tipping!"
Xena watched as the ground went whizzing by and decided her precarious perch was just not worth dying for. She used the Major's shoulders to push herself off and then she hit the ground hard, tucking herself into a ball.
She rolled to her feet and watched as Steiner snarled and the jeep fell back onto all four wheels. He cranked hard on the wheel with his good hand and headed back towards her.
Standing with legs apart, arms loosely at her side, Xena looked anything but vulnerable. Steiner seemed to sense that the closer he got. His face took on a cold sneer and he jammed his foot down heavily onto the gas pedal.
Suddenly another explosion erupted behind the jeep, throwing it into air towards the warrior. Xena felt the ground beneath her shudder and lost her balance as the vehicle came crashing back down to the earth, throwing rocks and other debris in every direction. She rolled, coming to her feet once more and then sprinted towards the jeep.
She could see the man was injured and knew she had to drag him clear of the twisted metal. Just as she tried to pull him out of the wreckage, she found herself staring at a weapon. She wasn't sure of the type, never having seen a revolver before, but the concept began to form in her brain and she reacted by quickly knocking it into the air and then with a glancing blow from her foot sent it spiraling harmlessly out of harms way.
"I don't think so. You're my ticket out of here, Major, so get used to it." Keeping one hand on him she began pushing at the bonnet of the jeep, trying to lift the weight off his legs. He grunted as her hand made contact with his broken wrist.
"Der Nadel, huh? Well, I think this needle could use some mending. C'mon." She braced her back against the driver's seat, a strong thigh on each side of him and began to push. Her face contorted and jaw clenched, Steiner watched in rapt fascination as the muscles in her thighs strained and quivered. He heard the first groans of metal as the front dash began giving way, freeing his upper legs.
He moaned as the blood flow began to return to his damaged legs. He bit the inside of his cheeks as she pulled him free. Then she carefully lifted him up and half dragged him over near the remains of a destroyed olive tree. She ripped off part of her sleeve and began to bind his broken wrist.
The burning eyes of the German bore into her and she finally looked up at him when her handiwork was finished.
"Why?", was all he said, his face twisted in anger. It was his destiny to die on the battle field...with honour, at the hands of a noble enemy who would fight him to the death, giving and taking no quarter.
Xena tried to form the words of compassion that came readily to her lips...not her own, but those of her love, Gabrielle. Her days of battle lust and wanton killing were over. She'd gotten beyond that. Seeing the look of malevolence in Steiner's face, she knew it was useless to even consider explaining it to him.
Another shell came down and completely incinerated the jeep, throwing shrapnel in every direction and filling the air with wave upon wave of thunderous heat. Xena was knocked a few feet away but quickly scrambled back to where the officer lay against the tree.
She could see the angle of his head was wrong immediately. She felt along the sides of his neck, trying to locate a possible break. Feeling nothing she turned his head and stopped her exploration. A large piece of metal had been thrown with such force that it entered the man's skull at eye level, just above his temple.
Slowly letting her breath out her eye caught the spread of blood across the front of his shirt. She watched in horror as the man's weakened heart began pumping a stain slowly across the man's uniform before it finally slowed to a trickle. Steiner made one last shudder and then slumped forward.
Another explosion rocked the earth and Xena got to her feet and then began running south towards...destiny.
Jan dragged a weary hand through her damp hair. She was trying to get the guys to take her seriously as she taught them hand to hand combat. It was NOT going well. She glanced at her watch and scratched her chin absently. 'Where the hell did Mel get to?', she wondered for the upteenth time.
She sat on a rock and thought about poor Christopolis. She hoped Mel was gonna wait til she was through with this bunch before trying to get into what was left of his shop. She blew an errant strand out of her face and thought about how she'd held her lover all night long. It had been so hard; Jan knew the death of Melvin Pappas hadn't really been dealt with. She knew, sooner or later, that Mel was gonna hafta face that. The thought of holding the woman close and soothing her tears made her warm all over.
Her reverie was broken as she looked up and saw the group snickering and justiculating her way. 'Gods', she thought. 'Doesn't it ever change? Man!' She took a quick swig of her canteen and then pushed herself off from her perch. 'Okaaay...which one would it be? That guy over there....? Nope, the tough looking customer, with a very visable chip on his shoulder. Yeah, him.' She mosied over to the gaggle and tapped one fellow on his very large, beefy shoulder.
The fellow in question, determined to make the silly American woman look bad, slowly turned, and winking to his friends, brought his arm up and attemped to give her a right cross. Jan ducked the swing and he stumbled past her.
"Whoa there, big fella! You sure ya wanna do this?"
A snickering was heard from the crowd of onlookers. Stefano grit his teeth and decided to make short work of the stupid American woman. Throwing caution to the wind he charged Jan, growling in frustration as she side stepped him, striking him mid section with her hip, throwing him off balance and flipping him over onto the ground. He just lay there in a heap, the wind knocked out of him.
She turned to the men and began moving from foot to foot, shaking her arms out said, "Come on boys, show me whatcha got."
Two more brave souls walked menacingly towards her from either direction. The one fellow, a rather compact bull of a man, had picked up a wooden pole and begin to poke it in her direction. Assuming the other man had her full attention, the man at her rear tried to get even closer, thinking he could grab her from behind and disable her.
A wicked smile played on Jan's lips as she kicked out with her left foot, catching the man squarely in the upper abdomen, knocking the breath from his lungs. He lay there dazed, wondering whether it was a half ton or a full ton lorry that had run him down.
Jan pivoted on her heel and faced the forward attacker once more. As he brought the pole up and just as the downward stroke is executed, Jan caught his right elbow with her forearm. She heard a snap as his radius is broken. He dropped the makeshift staff and fell to his knees, a deep moan issuing from his lips.
"Ooh, that's gotta hurt."
Jan nudged the piece of wood with her toe and then, finding the center of it, tipped it up into the air and then grabbed it. She turned, swirling the staff, an evil smile on her face. All faces look to the north as a huge explosion is heard and black smoke began to surge towards them.
Janice stood there, mouth agape. Slowly a figure emerged from the billowing smoke and the archaeologist was caught in a powerful wave of deja vu: the loose wild flowing hair floating about the fierce contenance, the blazing azure eyes, the strong gait, and the bristling feeling of sheer power that radiated from the woman before her. All that was missing was the breast plate, the dark leathers, the boots, greaves, gauntlets and the ever present chakram and sword.
Jan could feel a pull, a desire to run to the woman. She dropped the staff and began sprinting towards Mel, dodging bits and pieces of falling shrapnel. Her eyes were locked on blue and she saw nothing but them as she made her way through the battle field.
The warrior could feel the explosions around her, the skies filled with black smoke and the sounds of gunfire. Words and descriptions filled Xena's head as she looked around, taking in her surroundings. The feeling of shared memories began to recede.
Xena felt her life force filling the body of Melinda Pappas. She could once more feel the blood coursing through her body, the muscles rippling and the tingling sensations of battle lust. She grinned at the figure coming towards her. Gabrielle!
She instinctively ducked and rolled as a large piece of metal came crashing down beside her. She never saw what it was, only that it was a threat. Barely registering the next falling object, she launched herself forward and seemed to defy gravity as she threw her body towards Gabrielle.
Jan only saw that Mel had seemed to fall to the ground, roll and somehow launch herself forward. She flinched instinctively, readying her body for the shock of impact. The air was knocked from her body and she heard a loud explosion. She felt herself flying through the air and then suddenly she was being covered by the strong body of Melinda.
Her ears ringing, Jan slowly opened her eyes and blinked a couple of times. Her vision was filled with azure blue and then her mouth was seized in a fierce and very passionate kiss. She felt as if every bone, muscle and fibre of her being were turning to mush as Melinda's tongue quickly darted in and out of her mouth.
She began to reciprocate, her hands moving from Melinda's waist up to her firm full breasts. She cared not that they were in the midst of a war....that they were both terribly vulnerable. Seeing Melinda come out of the smoke and fire, virtually unscathed.....she was faced again with just what she could lose.
As the kiss deepened, she pulled away a bit to catch her breath. "Melinda....."
A strange look came upon Xena's face as she looked down into the green eyes of her love. The reddish blonde hair that only moments ago had been braided at the sides...the small nick at her forehead from a close encounter with one brigand or another....they began to change, getting fainter.
Jan saw the loss register on her wife's face and felt such a feeling of sorrow. It came to her in a flash....this was not Melinda, her soft and loving wife of nearly three years. It was Xena: Warrior Princess. It had been Xena dodging the explosions, leaping forward and saving her from certain death; Xena that had embraced and passionately kissed her, the love shining from her eyes.
"Oh, gods....I...I'm sorry, Xena...Gabrielle isn't here." A small tear fell from the warrior's eye....
Xena blinked deeply a few times and then she sighed deeply. Jan held her close, feeling a change come over the woman as Xena buried her face into her shoulder. Suddenly Mel went limp and Jan rolled her over, peering into her face.
"Xena? Are you hurt? Xena.....? Mel? Mel!"
Melinda opened her eyes and beheld the most welcome of sights. Her Jan was leaning over her, holding her close....but not smiling. What could possible be wrong now, she thought. Must have rescued me from that horrible Gestapo man....did I hit my head....?
She reached up her hand and brushed some dirt and blood from Jan's forehead, pushing some of the blonde wisps out of her eyes. She had the distinct feeling that for some reason the colouring of Jan's hair was.....somehow....wrong. She fingered her love's forehead...nothing there. She closed her eyes. Suddenly, a strong voice, very faint but there...."Let it go, Melinda....let it go."
She felt such an overwhelming sorrow. She looked up at Jan and watched as a small tear slid down the side of her nose. Why was Jan so upset and worried lookin? It all came back to her in a flash...the beating that she took at the hands of the Gestapo Officer...that he had wanted to...to...and quite possibly would have...if Xena...
"Oh, my gawd! It was Xena, Janice! She was here in me..I mean, being me...I don't know what I mean....but she was here! She got me outta that mess....she...she tried to drive a jeep....crashed it....blew up a munitions shack....she was wonderful, Jan....my word, just one look from her sent those nasty men a packin! And strong! Why she all but throttled one of em!"
Jan laughed...she laughed until she cried, the tears were running down her face. That she hadn't even known the love of her life had been trapped in Mikael's basement was hard enough...not knowing that Mel had been taken by some German's, had been interrogated....she hated to think what else might have happened...that was just so hard...that was her job! She was supposed to protect her wife...
Mel held Jan close.....she was still dealing with the overwhelming feelings left from when Xena was possessing her. She could still feel the utter loss Xena had felt when she realized that Jan was not Gabrielle. The love she felt for her bard....it was so darned strong! So....so awe inspiring!
Another explosion rocked the area and Jan quickly pulled Mel to her feet. Quickly taking stock, she could see that Mel was in need of both stitches and a stiff drink of some of Tom's medicinal brandy. She tore the lower part of her wife's trousers off at the bottom of her right leg and began wrapping the wound as best she could. How Xena was able to even walk let alone run without limping was amazing.
Taking Mel's waist, she half carried, half supported the woman back the way she'd come. A few of the British non comm's came running over to lend a hand.
Jan stopped in her tracks, stiffening as she discerned a high pitched noise...getting louder and closer. She waved the men away and helped Mel to the tent and secured the tie backs. Jan eased Mel onto a cot and began ripping the rest of her trousers away, exposing the wound.
"Gods, Mel...how the hell did'ja get that?"
Mel just looked at her...Jan could see she was a million miles away and correctly guessed it must have something to do with her time with the Gestapo and the interrogation.
"You know you can talk to me, right? Now isn't probably the right time...but when this is all over....we gotta talk about this. Mel....just tell me that Gestapo guy didn't...he didn't...hurt you... did he?"
Mel smiled weakly, seeing the frustration on Jan's face. "No darlin, he tried...and he woulda...but suddenly...well, I don't know where I went...but I'm gettin these pictures in ma head...like watching parts of a picture show...Xena was just there...and she took care of the problem." She paused and took Jan's hand in her own, pulling the woman down to sit on the cot beside her.
"He's dead, by the way. She didn't kill him...but part of me, gods help me, wanted her to. I knew this man was just pure evil...he woulda raped me and nothin I coulda ever said or done woulda changed that. I hope Xena knows how grateful I am for that.... that's twice I owe her."
Jan gritted her teeth...she was glad that Xena had been there...but....she clenched her fists, wishing that, just for a moment, the man's filthy hide was within her reach.
Mel saw the far away look on her wife's face. She gently took Jan's chin and finally got her attention.
"I know how you feel, Jan...I felt so helpless...there was nothin I coulda done..and I think, no I know it, Jan...he'd a killed you...just as easy as pie....after awhile. And he'd a found a way to use ya against me...then I woulda done anything, Jan... anything."
Janice held her close and they both just held on for dear life, trembling in each other's arms, trying to distance themselves from the explosions around them, the hatred...the noise....the high pitched whine of....
Jan's head popped up, her heart in her throat. "Oh, Gods.....Mel....I think... I think that's Dan.....it sounds like a P-40.... a 1325 hp Allison engine...yeah, its a Curtiss Warhawk alright."
She helped Mel over to the entrance and they both watched as the small black dots got bigger, beginning to resemble a flock of black crows. Then Jan cursed and raced out of the tent.
"Oh, gods, Dan....please be careful...please." Mel clutched her left fist above the swell of her breasts, fingering her St. Christopher necklace. She rubbed the face of the medalion back and forth between her fingertips...saying a fervent prayer for his safety.
Jan came running back holding a set of binoculars and a fold out chair for Mel. After setting her down, she made sure the wound had stopped oozing a mixture of blood and clear fluids. Jan noted the heat around the entry wound. No doubt about it....definitely infected. She searched her breast pocket and found a couple of tablets.
Pulling a flask from her back pocket, she handed both it and the pills over to Mel and motioned with her chin. "Bottoms up, baby..." Mel smiled weakly and did as she was told.
Jan turned her hat around so that the bill was facing backwards and then brought the binoculars up to her eyes. Adjusting the depth and clarity, she scanned the skies once again....she felt a lurch in her chest as she pin pointed Dan's whereabouts...was the man totally insane? Taking on four of the JU's.....by himself....playing a dangerous game of hit and run....getting close, flying low and then firing off the six .50 cal. guns and then beating it out of range. Jan wondered just how long he could afford to tempt the Fates without paying the horrible price she knew all pilots had to face...sooner or later. You played and eventually, you paid. Dearly.
She reached over and held one of Mel's hands tightly. Sparing a quick glance, she noted with a slight nod that Mel had consumed the antibiotics and was even taking a few additional sips of the brandy she'd filched from Tom's private stock. It would probably kill the old man to know she knew where he kept his Napoleon Brandy. She grinned. And his cigars....nice Havanna tipperillos....rare...and oh so sweet because of it. She patted her breast pocket and grinned. Hell, old Tom owed her...getting that Allopurinol had cost her the last of her cheroots and some homemade hooch from a guy she new made the best stuff around. That oughta count fer somethin, she mused.
Adjusting the eye pieces, Jan felt a sinking feeling as she watched Dan's plane dodge in and around the bigger birds....like a Peregrine Falcon amongst the Vultures... hopefully the man would remember about those damnedable engines....sure, they could reach level speeds of up to 710 kmh but they tended to sputter and fail at high altitudes ...and those bombers tended to come in from above...very fast.
Jan had heard about the JU 88R that had landed in Scotland last year, delivering a working FuG 202 Liechtenstein radar set. Sure gave the allies a better understanding of their attack capabilities not to mention just what kind of weapons they kept on board, the crew numbers and specific aeronautics. She tried to remember some of it. If only she could be in contact with Dan some how....be his eyes....shit, she hated to feel so vulnerable!
Dan could feel the plane shudder as he pulled up on the stick...willing the Warhawk not to stall out. He could feel the presence of the other plane right behind him, bearing down, forward cannons blaring....as he turned he could make out two of the JUs....large and dangerous looking.
As the engines began to sputter and the propellers faulter, trying to desperately dig into the non existant air, Dan leaned hard on the stick and took the plane into a right spiral, seeming to spin out of control. He felt the plane wobble and knew instinctively that he'd been hit. He looked at his dash, watching the elevation indicator plummet and reached out a shakey hand for the picture he always flew with....Shelley standing by their flat in London...with her blonde hair flowing in the breeze and her smile melting his heart once again...
Mel gasped in horror as she saw his plane tumbling out of control...grabbing the binoculars out of Jan's hands, unconcerned with the fact that the strap was still around the woman's neck. Jan yelped and found herself in Mel's lap, both of them frantically trying to get control of the binoculars and finally settling for one eye piece each.
"Oh, shit......Dan, pull up...pull up!" Jan screamed, removing the strap from her neck and leaving Mel sitting in the chair, tears running down the woman's cheeks. The southerner sat forelornly, the binoculars all but forgotten in her lap.
"What am I gonna tell Shelley...how will she ever survive this....no, dear god....please." Mel buried her face in her hands, unable to face the inevitable.
Jan ran forward, her hat flying off, leaving her hair to blow freely. She didn't know what she was going to do, where she was running...only that she had to get to him and help him somehow.
As she raced across a veritable minefield of pot holes, craters and destroyed vehicles, Jan suddenly brought up a hand to her ear and then, certain with what she'd heard, picked up speed once again.
As she came upon the outskirts of Polis, she saw an elderly man with a rickety truck. She yelled at him in Greek and he all but threw himself to the ground in his frantic attempt to get out of the way.
She stopped long enough to give him a big kiss and then, knowing that all the lorries were left in first gear, hopped in and turned the key. Off she went in a cloud of dirt and smoke, banging on the steering wheel, unmindful of the sheep and goats in her way. Luckily, they all seemed to sense her maniacal intentions and simply parted like the Red Sea before her.
Covington jammed her foot over the gas peddle and ground the gear shift into fourth, her bottom barely keeping contact with the seat beneath her. She was leaning so far forward in her efforts to keep the dog fight in sight that she was all but plastered against the windshield.
Suddenly, the truck's front wheels went over the remains of something and she could hear the main drive shaft go. Jan tried to slow the vehicle and noticed a sweet smelling aroma, indicating a ruptured brake line. She waited until the truck slowed down to an acceptable speed of 20 mph and then leapt out. She tumbled and rolled, finally coming to a bone crunching stop near a bombed out building.
Only a mere ten minutes had elapsed since she'd left Mel's side in the tent but to Jan, it felt more like a lifetime....she looked frantically about...no people....no vehicles. She ran to the barn and just about cried as she spied an old Triumph motor cycle with side car attached. She prayed there was enough gasoline inside, then dragged it to the front of the barn, huffing and puffing with exertion.
She said a silent prayer to whatever gods might be listening, then sat astride the cycle and stood up, jammed her foot down hard using the hand throttle and held her breath...then it caught and the engine sputtered to life.
"Oh, shit! Thank you...thank you!" She started slow until she was near the road and then opened her up. Everytime she gained a respectable speed, however, the loose side car would wobble and throw off the steering, causing the whole ensemble to fish tail, slowing her down.
Cursing, she decided on a plan and headed towards a stone wall entrance, knowing there would be barely enough room to get through. She revved the gas and held on tightly....her teeth rattled as they hit the wall...she felt the motor cycle shudder and then heard a horrendous tearing of metal as the side car was ripped from the rest of the frame.
The cycle began to tip off balance and Jan leaned over in the opposite direction, trying madly to right the center of gravity. Finally, it responded and she boosted the throttle once more....
As she crested a hill, she saw in amazement that Dan had somehow pulled out of the nose dive and was being menaced by a few Messerschmitt Me 109's. The Ju's must have radioed for reinforcements, bringing in the quicker fighter planes to provide air cover for them.
She whooped with joy as she skidded to a stop and watched as two Martin B-26 Marauder's came whizzing overhead, waggling their wings, heading right for the German planes. She watched as they spun and whirled, turned and spiraled...it was like watching a deadly ballet with front row seats.
The Ju's broke off their attack, seeing their own escort being engaged in battle and left Dan to his own devices. Jan watched as four more Marauder's in formation began their attack on the last remaining JU's in the area. She took some pride in noting that so far, three the large bombers had been shot down, one by Dan.
Jan saw that part of the Warhawk's right wing was damaged and only one wheel had decsended. Suddenly a Focke Wulf buzzed overhead, firing a few quick bursts into Dan's plane. Jan's acute hearing noted the whine of his engines as he tried vainly to climb out of harms way. There was an explosion and the engines sputtered and finally began to stall. Then silence, when he was about one hundred feet from the ground. The plane seemed to hang suspended, surrounded by black smoke and then it began to drop quickly.
Jan started the motor cycle once more and headed towards the field where she figured Dan was going to head into. She just prayed for a haystack or an old wooden building. She'd even settle for some sturdy bushes; something to break his fall, help him to reduce speed without stopping him quickly. Even hitting the ground at his current speed was sure to kill Dan outright, no questions asked.
Taking her eyes off the plummeting aircraft, she manoeuvered the Triumph around a crater and then checked the sky once more.
She watched as the plane disappeared behind an old barn and then her vision was filled with black billowing smoke, her ears filled with the wrenching of metal and then an explosion as it finally came to a full stop.
She didn't know why but the idea of NOT going to the crash never entered her mind. She had to know...had to be there with him.....had to..somehow...
The blaze of the crashed airplane kept her a good one hundred yards away. She noted the cockpit was smashed in, the wings bent at a horrible angle. And then her mind registered the canopy; it was open and the empty chair was visible, just before the flames engulfed it.
She quickly pivotted....looking in every direction, scanning the sky, the trees, anything....looking, searching....and then, there, dangling from the pinnacle of a barn's hayloft was a fragment of the white billowing silk of a parachute.
She took off running and then skidded to a sudden halt as she saw a pile of white silk draped over a partially demolished haystack. Tears running down her face, she frantically began to dig, not feeling the sharp stalks of hay gouging under her fingernails, poking small holes in the palms of her hands.
Then her fingertips felt cloth and she pulled with all her might. Digging with her feet, she began to wade forward, pulling both their bodies together, hoping by some miracle that the hayloft might have slowed his speed as he fell to earth; that perhaps the soft hay would have cushioned the blow of the hard ground; that maybe, just maybe Dan might have survived....
The hay fell away from his face, his helmet falling forward off his head. Dan's face was covered in blood. Jan did a quick check on the unconscious man and saw he had a good sized gash about an inch in from his hair line, running down to just above his right eyebrow. She felt along his arms and rib cage. She winced in sympathy as the man groaned.
She noticed with satisfaction that although he was out like a light, his knees weren't buckling...head injuries were always trouble. One had to watch out for brain swelling, brain damage, seizures....
She dragged him out of the hay and rolled him up in the parachute silk. He had begun to show the effects of shock and was trembling uncontrollably. She lifted one lid and then the other, checking his pupils. She nodded with satisfaction when she placed her fingers over his carotid artery, noting the beat was a bit erratic but strong.
Being over six feet tall, the man was a bit ungainly and hard to maneuver. However, she grasped the ends of the silk and began dragging him closer to the shelter of the barn.
Making sure he was covered up and away from enemy eyes, she then scaled the loft and retreived the length of silk hanging from the pinnacle. Janice made a quick scan of the area and then ducked back into the loft. By the looks of things, it had been just recently vacated. She noticed a few free range chickens pecking about and decided to look for some eggs.
Dan reached forward, trying to reach the picture of his wife....it seemed ever so far away...and no matter how hard he tried, he just could not manage to reach it. As he watched in horror, the front of the cockpit caught fire, the engine bursting into flames, the canopy filling with deadly black smoke. He began wrenching at his harness, finally punching with all his might at the release mechanism. He felt his head collide sharply with the roof of the canopy and then the air was whistling by his ears, the ground coming up way too fast. He reached blindly, trying to grasp Shelley's rapidly darkening picture....
......and then suddenly his body was rocked upwards when it impacted into the tail of the plane, the explosion buffeting him up and away from the crash site....the fumes and hot air both filling his head with blackness and saving his life.
He never felt his head bounce repeatedly against the tail of his P-40; never felt his ribs take a beating as the blast threw him up against the barn's roof; never knew the fear as the ground came up and smashed his body hard. The fumes had knocked him out completely while the hot air had somehow managed to throw him close to something that would break his fall without killing him. He never knew what hit him, but was a lucky man all the more for it.
Jan sat cross legged, her lap filled with assorted eggs, a few olives and a rather wrinkled looking apple. She had a piece of hay in the corner of her mouth as she sat waiting for her friend to make any signs of life. She'd done her best to clean him up, looking for any hidden injuries.
It had now been a good hour since she'd dug him out. She munched on the remaining core of the apple and nibbled a few of the last leathery olives. Her stomach rumbled again. Raw eggs were starting to sound good. She made a hasty nest for them and set them aside.
She leaned over and checked Dan's eyes again, noticing a facial twitch. She took one of his hands, removing the gloves, and saw a piece of folded paper. As she reached for it, Dan's other hand came up and Jan found herself on her back, looking up into the face of a very confused Major Butterworth.
"What the devil.....I say, if this is a dream, Jan, please call for a nice cuppa tea and some tablets, won't you? I seem to have left my head in my other trousers."
Jan smirked and dragged the man down for a very large hug. Dan suddenly registered something in his left hand and slowly brought it up and unfolded the paper. Before her very eyes, the man was reduced to a small frightened boy. Jan held him close and softly rubbed his back as he wept.
She knew it was part of the after effects of shock due not only to the crash but the dog fight and the overwhelming emotions that this damnedable war incited in all of them.
After a little while, Dan rolled over and sat up, a very embarrassed look on his face. He began rubbing his face clean of moisture and dirt and Jan noticed that not once did he let go of the picture of Shelley. He seemed to be sneaking looks at it, as if perhaps it was going to disappear.
"Ah, Dan....look, you're gonna hafta put the picture away...don't want it to get lost, right? And I've gotta check you over...any aches and pains..broken bones..?"
Major Butterworth looked over at Jan and then leaned in and softly kissed her cheek. Jan's eyebrows went high up into her hair line.
"What the hell was that for?"
"Oh, ducks...just for being you. I'm quite alright now. This whole thing really could have become a bit of a sticky wicket, you know. I'm ever so glad it was you that found me, Jan, old girl. Can't imagine how terribly mortified I'd have been, falling to pieces like that in front of somebody...anybody else."
Jan lightly punched his shoulder and grinned. Yeah, been there, done that. But they were pals so hell, what was the bid deal?
"Hey, buddy...whatever, right? Look, it never happened, alright? 'sides, you're a hero. Yeah, you shot down one of those bastard's, by the way. I can't say I enjoyed watching the plane crash into a building, totally demolishing it...but I did like the feeling that maybe the odds were changing...if only slightly, right?"
Jan got up and bundled the parachute into a tight wade and then shoved it deeply into the haystack. She tried to pile on as much of the musty stuff as possible before she turned and sat back down next to her friend.
Glad for a change in topics, Dan grinned and reached over for a couple of the eggs. He was just about to ask how they were going to cook the things when Jan carefully cracked one of them and poured the contents into her mouth. She smiled and winked at him, indicating with her chin that he should try it.
"Tase wike tsicken." she mumble around the gooey mouthful.
Dan grimaced, hesitated and then swallowed deeply. Jan waited until he'd gotten the stuff down, watching as his Adam's Apple bobbed up and down a few times and then quickly spit her stuff out and laughed.
"Gods....you actually did it! Oh, that was just too funny, Dan.."
"Oh, you.....!" He got to his feet and took off after her, she jumped behind the remains of a wagon and countered every one of his moves with one of her own.
"You do know, its just a matter of time, Jan. You will have to sleep sometime. And then I shall have you."
"Oh, says you! Only if you wanna drag back a bloody stump, 'old man'. Besides, what would Shelley say...not to mention Mel? They'd have yer butt sliced and diced and fried up with butter faster than you could say Jack Robinson and you know it."
"Must you be so bloody literal, Janice Covington. Not 'have you' in the biblical sense, dear woman. Although that used to fill my days and nights with all sorts of fanciful images....no, I rather think of you as being my best mate, Jan. You are far too great a person to just be reduced to being some sort of a sex object. At least to me. And by the by, no, I think this little gamboling about has proven that other than the dent in me hard head, I'm fine as a fiddle. My ribs could stand a wrap or two...perhaps some of Barrinson's notorious Napoleon Brandy would be just the ticket, what?"
"Well, me lad. I can't help ya with that, but...." Jan reached into her buttoned shirt pocket and brought out two rather bent tiparillo cigars. While she was fumbling about in the pant's pockets, Dan suddenly dragged her down and under the wagon. He placed a finger to her lips and cocked his head.
"Jerries." He mouthed. Jan nodded and her hand went down to her side and she cursed. "Goddammit...I can't believe I left my Colt back in the tent...musta taken it off when I was going through hand to hand with the guys...shit!"
"Can't be help now, ducks. My service revolver must still be in the plane. Any chance...?" Jan shook her head emphatically. They both ducked their heads and scrambled back into the shadows.
Jan spied a pair of grubby hobnailed boots, and then a couple more. By the looks of them they were the usual service issue, and that meant they might only be non comms on a quick reconnaissance mission. One could only hope!
Mel watched as Jan ran out, a feeling of hopelessness overcoming her..."Oh dear God, no...." She covered her face in her hands, trying to block out the inevitable.
She cringed as she heard the tearing of metal and an explosion. She peaked through her fingers....unable to stop herself...wanting but not wanting to see..
She blinked a few times as she watched the wing of a large black Junker JU88 seem to crumple and then fall right off, plunging the plane into a brick building. She scanned the sky not finding a small plane anywhere. Where could it be? Surely he couldn't have crashed and she'd missed it?
The British soldier she'd met inside Colonel Barrinson's tent popped his head inside, and not finding Jan around, was ready to continue his search.
Mel stood shakily and grabbed his arm. "Private Sergeant? Corporal Major? Whatever ya are? Can ya tell me? Did....didja see if...where did the Nighthawk... er... Kittyhawk...oh, darn it all, Dan Butterworth's plane? Where'd it go? It didn't crash, did it?"
The man scrunched his face up, trying hard not to laugh at the nice but very befuddled American chit.
"Naow, Miss...I neva sawr it go down. We'da heard it, we would...make a right bloody noise, they do. Lotsa flame and wreckage with them small fighters...see, they go so bloody fast, nuffink left when they funder in, Miss. Not enough left to scrap a bloke into a fimble. Nah..." He looked rather alarmingly at the woman as she went as white as a sheet.
"Corr! You Yanks are a bit touchie, aint ya? Blimey, Miss! Dju want a bit a the hair o'the dog?" He reached inside his shirt for his private flask and watched with both amazement and amusement as the woman popped off the cork and took a nice long pull of her own flask.
Mel gasped and patted her own chest. "My word! And I am no damned Yankie. I'll have ya know, I come from a very respectable southern family, my kind sir. Why, my Daddy..."
The man interrupted her quickly, "....right, luv. Look. The Colonel's on a bit of a tear, he is. Looking for that mate o yours...Covington. He wants her right now, he duz. Seen her, have ya?"
Feeling a bit flustered at the man's brash lack of manners, Mel fleetingly thought of pointing this dismal fact out to him. When the man put his hands on his hips, looking rather put out, she decided to forego it. Besides, she thought snippishly, it would probably be a waste of breath on her part.
"Ya just missed her. She ran outta this tent like a bat outta hades, not five minutes ago. Y'all find out where Dan's plane is, you'll find Janice."
"Awoh, I see...So, the Sergeant and the Mayja...they're...'friends'...are they, then? I fought you and her....well..."
Completely missing the innuendo, Mel took another sip and blithely went on, unaware of the picture she was painting for the Private.
"Why, they've been friends fer years now." Sip. "In fact, Dan knew Janice way before I did...mind you, I 'know' Jan in a way that he dudn't...but now Dan and I are friends, too." Bigger sip. "The three of us are...and now that Dan's married, why there'll be the four of us...doing stuff with each other all the time." Small burp. "Oh, my. S'cuse me. His wife Shelley and I are just as close as two peas in a pod. We do lots a thangs together." Mel's voice was getting rather slurred by the end of her speech and she didn't notice the Private's eager face.
"Ooh, that's right, luv... tell me more...please...just a bit more information...that's right...sounds bloody loverly, it does."
Mel blinked lazily up at him. He looked down at her very shapely legs, partially exposed of course, her rather red and ragged wound seeping a bit of blood.
" Well, neva mind. Corr! Yer bloody starkers, lady! Dju know that? Come along wiff me...cawnt have ya innat state of undress now, can we? Oooh, and lookit that leg....ever so nice, I might add, Miss...but well....you know how men are...gotta keep ya covered up, we do...should have that leg looked at by Dr. Farvington. Roight? Roight."
He proceeded to try and heft all of Mel's six feet of ungainly, half dressed body and found he could barely move her. He stroked his chin for a moment and arched an eyebrow as Mel smiled and finished off the last of whatever was in her flask.
He left the tent nodding his head. He was back moments later with a few blokes who proceeded to just lift the woman, chair and all, and carry her into the infirmary.
"I've gotta lovely bunch of coconuts....see them all standing in a row....." The men, the chair and Mel wobbled to and fro as she belted out a song she'd heard somewhere. Soon a couple of the men were joining in. Mel just smiled and smiled, blinking ever so slowly.
The surgeon on call never even bothered to administer anything for the pain as the woman was already totally inebriated. He proceeded to clean the wound, put in five stitches and smear ointment on the other assorted cuts and scrapes the woman seemed to have over most of her body.
Throughout it all, Mel just lay there, being as good as gold. She was quite oblivious to her surroundings, having consumed about 8 ounces of Napoleon Brandy. She went along willingly when the doctor had some of the men escort/carry her back to the Colonel's tent for a...rest.
Tom Barrinson hobbled over and watched as the men carefully lay the unconscious southerner on the extra cot. He cleared his throat a few times, seeing that none of them wanted to leave quite as quickly as he preferred.
"Harrumph. Bloody twits. You'd think they'd never seen a beautiful woman before. My word, Miss Pappas....just where is that 'wife' of yours then, eh? Probably out looking for Butterworth, I'd wager. Rather a strange woman, that Covington. Rather bloody minded, she is. But a good sort. Yes, a very good sort. I shall be quite put out if something should happen to the damnedable woman."
He tapped his teeth with the tip of his pipe. He pulled closed the small curtain surrounding her cot and hobbled back to his desk. He settled down into his padded chair and then eased his foot onto its prepared cushion. He sighed contentedly then leaned foward and rang up the field phone. Surely someone had heard or seen something regarding the good Major...not to mention Covington.
Barrinson had brief vision of the two people in question out for a stroll; life to their sort was a lark...all high adventure, never having to grow up. He sighed deeply. And he found it very hard to fault either the image or the feelings they incited. He knew without a shadow of a doubt, were his damnedable foot in better shape, he'd be out there with them.
Mel drifted peacefully, her head filled with visions of Janice...running through a field...running towards someone tall and forbidding...a very loving smile on her face...Janice dropping the staff she'd been carrying...her clothing somehow changing into a rather brief sea green top and leather skirt. The woman she was embracing turned and Mel could see clearly that it was the warrior. Xena smiled down at the woman she was holding and Mel could feel such a sense of peace, of belonging.... "Gabrielle....."
"I love you, Xena." And Melinda could have cried from the sheer love and joy of the moment. A proud smile began playing on her lips as she watched the two women kiss, softly at first, and then more ardently...and then the dream merely floated away into nothingness...and Mel slept on.
Arnhem, May 1944
Allied troops were approaching the Rhine on a wide front. Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery devised a spectacular plan by which to defeat the German forces by summer. However, supplies were becoming scarce as they had to be transported from ports in distant Normandy. There were inadequate resources for both Montgomery to thrust forward through Holland and into Germany's industrial Ruhr and for General George Patton's US Third Army to strike through to Saar toward Frankfurt am Main. General Eisenhower gave neither of the Allied spearhead priority, thus strengthening German resistance and bringing both Allied forces to a screeching halt.
At the time, Montgomery's Twenty-first Army Group was made up of the British Second and the Canadian First Armies. His plan was to make massive use of the British 1st Airborne Division, landing them east of occupied Holland, take the five bridges on the main road that linked Eindhoven and Arnhem and hold open a 65 mile long corridor until troops from the British Second Army could arrive from their current positions on the Belgian-Dutch border. Montgomery thought it would be easy to turn the flank of the Germans' western frontier defences and storm into the Ruhr.
Doubts were voiced by the senior commanders and Lt. General Frederick Browning, Deputy Commander of the First Allied Airborne Army, would make a comment that would follow him into the annals of history.
"So, Monty..just how long do you think it'll take for the British Second Army to reach and relieve the paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines?"
Montgomery replied with total confidence, "Two days. No more."
Browning scanned the map, the wheels turning in his mind, weighing and measuring each possible outcome, replied, "But sir, I think we might be going a bridge too far."
The road bridge over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem, Montgomery's principal objective, would prove to be a costly endeavor, turning his imaginative plan into an Allied disaster.
Jaap and Menno sat dejectedly in the back of a German truck, their eyes scanning the scenery as it went by. They were on their way to Arnhem, all thoughts of finding Peter, Frans and Anneke rapidly disappearing.
Jaap rubbed shoulders with his brother, trying to encourage the man. Menno wore the signs of a severe beating; his nose broken and eyes almost puffed shut. They had both tried once to escape which resulted in three of their new cadre being killed outright and Menno being beaten to within an inch of his life.
"How is your head, Jaap?", Menno mumbled thru bruised lips.
Jaap smiled and rubbed the lump on the back of his skull when he thought of the German soldier who's body now lay in a ditch just outside Antwerp. A small trickle of blood seeped threw his split lits and he noticed, as he spat on the floor boards beneath him, that yet another tooth had come loose. That made three lost and another one on its way.
"I will live, which is more than that smerige bastaard can say, yes? Funny, I can still see his eyes when I plunged the bayonet into his guts. My beating was worth it. I only wish I could have stopped them, Menno...my gods, you look so bad."
Watching his brother being held down and beaten had been very hard on Jaap. He had always relied on thought processes to get himself out of trouble, resorting to brute strength when all else failed. That was Menno's field of expertise.
While they were both very similar in build, Jaap was the quicker of the two. He was also more methodical, chosing his targets and weighing the pros and cons before acting. Menno was like a bull in a china shop; preferring to act first and ask questions later. He'd paid for that today and Jaap was determined not to let the man get himself into a repeat performance.
Menno vertually vibrated with tension, eyes darting around, looking for any possible escape. He looked quickly over at his brother when he felt the man's hand upon his shoulder.
"You are strong, brother, but we must wait. Can you keep the beast chained for just a little while longer?"
Menno tried to grin but ended up wincing instead. His head came up quickly as he noticed the truck begin to slow. Both men swivelled their head around in an effort to see better and were kicked for their trouble.
Jaap curled his lips and managed to hold his temper in check. Menno rubbed his upper thigh tenderly, gritting his teeth. 'There will be a time, bastaard, when you will be dog meat.'
"Was ist?", called the driver. Then pandemonium broke out and the sound of gunfire ensued. Menno jumped to his feet and threw himself on the abusive soldier standing guard over them. The man went down with a strangled cry and then after a brief tussle lay still, his neck at an odd angle. Menno dusted his hands off and he and Jaap pushed their way to the back of the truck. They gave the other occupants a quick glance and seeing most terribly wounded, turned and ran for the tree line. The didn't stop to see who their protectors had been.
Menno whirled as he felt a strong hand encircle his waist. His eyes were so swollen that he'd become a bit disoriented. He roared and brought both fists up.
"Stop! Menno! Menno, it's me, Peter!"
Menno flailed his arms out and grabbed his friends face. He peered closely and then hugged the man closely to his chest. Peter winced at the bear hug but began patting the man's back gently.
Jaap came running back through the trees and grabbed his erstwhile leader around the shoulders. "O god" is all he could get out as he clung to the bundle that was Peter and Menno. Here they were, going off to certain death via a POW camp, trying to get to the very people who managed to save them once again.
At the sound of running footsteps, the demolition expert jumped to his feet and crouched in a defensive stance. His eyes opened wide as he recognized Anneke. He made an excited noise and moved to embrace the woman but was stopped by a vice like grip applied to his shoulders. He blinked at the strength and then noticed the woman near Anneke.
"Helena...it's okay. This is Jaap. The man on the ground is.....o gods..Menno! What has happened?" She quickly went to the man's side and hugged him, tears streaming down her face.
Peter extricated himself from the wounded man and motioned to Helena. She nodded and between them both began to lift Menno.
"We do not have time for reunions. We must get back to the truck. We were going to hijack it so that we can get of this area. It is getting too hot here. We've already seen some German armoured units around this area. The rumours thru the cadres say the men of the 1st Airborne will be landing soon."
Once they had settled Menno and Jaap in the back with the other wounded, the two women squeezed into the cab with Peter driving and Frans hanging his arm out of the side door. It was a tight fit but as none of them wanted to be parted from the other, it was a workable solution.
Helena wrapped her arms tightly around Anneke and Frans tried to find a safe place to put his other arm. Finally, Anneke grinned and snuggled close to the man. Helena nodded and soon the four bodies were adjusting and getting comfortable against each other.
It wasn't long before Peter was the only one awake in the truck. He peeked over often, still finding it hard to believe that they'd somehow all gotten back together and in once piece. It had bothered him, not knowing where his two friends were. He knew that sometimes Menno's quick temper could get both he and his brother into trouble.
He sighed as Anneke snuggled closer into the bossom of her lover. Soft exotic words were murmurred in response as Helena held her closer. Although their future was anything but secure, Peter had such a feeling of oneness with his unified cadre that he found his eyes welling up. He quickly blinked them away and stuck his face out the window. 'Get hold of yourself!'
He almost missed the silent object as it passed overhead. Peter slammed his foot on the breaks and the truck shuddered to a stop. Peter was the first one out and then the others joined him as he pointed to the British insignia marking the wings of the glider.
"It must be the British 1st Airborne, yes Peter? I wonder if they know about the two combat divisions of SS Panzers?"
Peter smirked at the man, giving Frans a poke in the ribs. "Ja, and the Allied Intelligence does not know about the Panzer Grenadier battalion either. Oh, please!"
Suddenly the sky was lit up by explosions as the German battalion opened fire. Before the groups' very eyes, a mighty fleet of British and American aircraft began disgorging division after division of paratroopers. Soon the sky was filled with the billowing silk of mushroom shapes, bodies dangling beneath, bristling with weapons and aggressive intent.
The old men and boys that Allied Intelligence had believed to be defending Arnhem were in reality the large scale defence force that Peter and his group had seen prowling around Arnhem the last couple of days. They watched on in horror as the German battalions opened fire on the rather helpless paratroopers.
Frans jumped back into the truck and beeped the horn loudly, bringing the group back to its senses. Soon they were barreling down the road towards Arnhem.
The 1st Airlanding Brigade had been tasked to secure the landing and drop zones for the second wave coming and acted as backup for the 1st Parachute Brigade's three battalions who were setting out for the bridge there.
The closer to the town they got, the more Peter and his cadre realized total chaos was to be the order of the day. Excited Dutch people pressed fruit and drinks on the British soldiers, welcoming them as liberators but impeded their progress through the wooded and built-up areas. Frans honked the horn repeatedly and the others began to shout from the truck. Swarms of people surrounded the vehicle and it was soon evident they'd have to either start shooting people or abandon the truck.
Both Menno and Jaap crawled out of the back of the truck and scrambled over to the driver's side. Menno looked a bit better, having slept the whole two hours although Jaap was looking as physically fatigued as ever. The lack of a secure headquarters and the unsettled feeling that something was going terribly wrong seemed to weigh heavily on all of their minds.
Anneke grabbed an older woman and showed her the wounded left in the truck. She removed a few of their items as a bribe. The radio was snatched up quickly. When she was assured the wounded would be cared for, she and the others made their way thru the throngs of people towards the Lower Rhine.
Peter noticed a few members from the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment and carefully approached them, explaining who he and his group were. They were all hustled in front of a rather youngest looking senior officer who introduced himself as Lieutenant-Colonel John Frost.
"Dash it all, man! Are you sure about the Panzer battalions. That's not the information Intelligence sent us at all. We've already got reports the Jerrys are using multi-barrelled, rocket-propelled mortars. It's playing havok with my men. We've never seen anything like it."
Peter quickly filled him in with all the information he had. Then he and his group were led to a make-shift kitchen and fed.
After a short meeting it was decided that they'd stay where they were. While none of them had too much experience in the area of working with a large Allied force, they were determined to aid in any way they could.
van Oppen went back to see the LCol and argued that their knowledge of the area alone was worth something. He was told that two other battalions were making their way towards them and that it was Frost's job to hold the bridge at all costs.
Taking refuge in some of the nearby abandoned buildings, Peter and his bunch tried to make themselves as comfortable as possible. Sniper fire had increased from the surrounding buildings and the constant barrage of incoming mortar fire began eating away at what little morale the cadre had.
Jaap continued to be introspective, withdrawing from all but his brother.
British Base of Operations,
"Wo sind wir jetzt?"
Jan heard some mumbling as the jackboots began moving their way. Dan looked around frantically, trying to find something, anything, that could be used as a weapon.
"Wo ist das Flugzeug und pilot?"
"Da entlang. Es ist nicht weit. Das pilot - er ist tot, ja?"
Dan grinned and poked Covington in the ribs. He drew his index finger across his throat and just smiled. Jan's very rudimentary German only went so far...she was guessing the Jerries had found the plane and were looking for the pilot.
"Die Strasse ist nicht gut. Kommen."
When the one soldier snatched up the rifle he had leaning against the wagon, Jan leapt forward and kicked his legs out from beneath him. Dan tried to grab her sleeve. What the hell was she doing? They were leaving! They could have gotten off Scot free!
Jan smashed an elbow into the mouth of the downed soldier and jumped to her feet. Three very surprised German soldiers just stared at her. One grinned and stepped forward, "Eine junge Frau....sprechen sie Deutsch?"
Dropping into a crouch position, Jan figured whatever the guys wanted wasn't necessarily what they were gonna get. She tried to remember some of the German phrases an old girlfriend had taught her....they buzzed around in her head, trying to come out.
"Wieviel verlangen Sie pro Stunde?" The soldiers looked at each other. "Was?" Then they looked back at the strange little woman before them. Jan almost laughed out loud, seeing them cock their heads in confusion. She tried another one.
"Zwei Glaser Bier bitte." The Germans looked at Jan and then laughed. Deciding that such a woman couldn't possibly be dangerous, two of the three smiled rather rougishly and began moving towards her.
Dan barreled out from under the wagon, his face absolutely beet red from trying not to laugh out loud. What the devil was Jan going on about? She must be trying to befuddle the blokes and bring their guard down. What a woman!
He caught the one fellow with a nice right cross and then turned to help Janice.
"Right, love. Stand back while I trounce these....." He frowned and then placed both hands on his hips. There before him was Janice, one arm around the neck of one fellow, slowly cutting off the blood to his brain, the other soldier unconscious on the ground, bleeding from a broken nose.
"Well, I say Janice, you could've left me a bit of fun. By the way, that was a wonderful way to throw these chaps off; talking about such foolish things. Very well done, ducks."
Jan shot both eyebrows up and smirked. "Got news for ya, Dan. I have absolutely no idea what they were saying or what I said back to them. Not a one. I used to go with this girl back in University...she was this nice fraulein from Bonn....very friendly. Ahem! Anyway, she tried real hard to get me to learn Deutscher. Never could manage to wrap my tongue around some of that stuff. However, I guess some of it did sink in, huh?"
Dan laughed and then proceeded to tell her that she'd asked the men how much they charged by the hour and that she wanted two beers served to her. Jan snorted and they went back to the haystack, dug up the parachute, ripped it into strips and then tied the soldiers nice and securely.
He reached over and put his arm around her shoulders companionably and glanced at her reddening hands. "I say, Janice Covington...you really are a rousing date."
Jan glanced down at her puffy knuckles and then smirked. "I am invincible!"
As they walked back to Polis, they passed what was left of the burned out plane's shell. It really hit Dan just how lucky he was to have escaped certain death. He rubbed his head, thankful that the goose sized lump he felt and a couple of stitiches was all he'd gotten from the experience.
As they came over the last hill and the camp came into view, they both became aware of the fact that the skies were relatively empty and the explosions had ceased. The camp was a beehive of activity and the two of them broke into a jog, both trying to reach the gates first.
They both made their way to the command tent and stood at attention before the Colonel. For Jan, it was an old habit, hard to break. This did garner her brownie points with Tom, however, and he decided to forego the little talk he was going to have regarding his missing flask of very hard to come by Napoleon Brandy.
"I suppose it would be too much to ask where you'd parked the P-40 Warhawk? Hmmm..thought so. Right. How's the head, Major? Have you been seen to at all?"
"Nah, look...we just came right here. Dan here has a possible concussion and probably need some stitches in that hard noggen of his...no other broken bones that I could see..huh, Dan?" Jan crinkled her nose a bit. Sniff, sniff. What the hell?
"Righto, Jan...no other broken bones....l could use a chair, however...feeling a bit wobbly. Sorry about the airplane. I did manage to badger them until the reinforcements could come from Alexandria. I took a hit on me starboard wing, Colonel. Lost control of the Warhawk and, well....thundered in. Bloody lucky I discovered how that new harness worked. Bloody good of them to include an instruction booklet, what?"
"Yes. Of course, do sit down. However, I don't suppose Churchill will be as forgiving as I am when it comes to the loss of one of the few prototypes the Allies have acquired."
"Aw, shit, Tom. You shoulda seen em...he really gave em hell. And he was responsible for shooting down that one Junker..just too bad the damned thing took out that building. Anyone hurt, by the way? Say, you got some coffee around here? I don't know about you guys, but I sure could use a drink."
Barrinson arched an eyebrow and smiled tightly, but chose to say nothing...for the time being.
"Actually, Janice, yes...there were quite a few casualties. We won't have the complete count until the Messerschmitt Me 264s leave the area. Seems a few Focke Wulf's have been seen. I imagine the Jerries will try and take out a few prime sites: the water tower and the main road to Nicosia.
A slight moan came from the corner. Jan scrunched her forehead and slowly turned on her heel.
She walked over to the curtain and poked her head in. Uh huh. Yeah, thought I recognized that moan...
She turned around and walked back to the Colonel's desk. Very sweetly she sat on the Colonel's desk and pulled out a cigar.
"Say, Tom...you gotta light?"
She smirked as his eyes widened and then narrowed. She saw the purse of his lips and then leaned in.
"You wanna tell me about Mel? And why she's only wearing a shirt and underwear? And what the hell is that smell?"
Dan grimaced and he swallowed convulsively. He could see men injured in battle, even help out with some of the injured but the smells and sounds of someone being ill...well, it really was too much and always turned his stomach.
He glanced quickly at the Colonel and then at Janice, a pleading look on his face. Jan noted the green tinge to Dan's face and smirked. Men. Big and strong. Yeah sure.
She sucked her teeth and tipped her chin down, waiting for the Colonel's explanation. Just as Tom was beginning to feel quite uncomfortable the moans increased from behind the blanket.
Jan quickly made her way over, glancing once over her shoulder, giving both men a dirty look.
"I say, Butterworth. A nice spot of tea would be perfect right about now, what? While we shant be dining on crumpets, I'm sure cook can find some kippered herring. And we really should get that nasty wound looked at. A few stitches, I think. Come along, man. Janice? Please, dear woman...help yourself to the hospitality of my tent but I'd rather come back to the stock of brandy and cigars I currently have. Alright?"
Jan waved dismissively as she went behind the curtain, "yeah, whatever," muttered as she did so.
She looked down at the southerner and shook her head sadly. The smell alone told her that Mel had finished off that flask she'd given her. That Napoleon Brandy was sure nice going down, but...She gingerly removed the pail that was in the corner and took a damp cloth, leaned over and wiped Mel's face.
Mel moaned and tried to open her eyes. "Jan...." Covington knealt by the side of the cot and gently took her wife's hand in her own. She watched as a multitude of emotions played over Mel's face. She was reliving something. Something she didn't want to.
"Mel...Mel...it's okay. I'm here now. You're safe, I'm safe and Dan's safe. He made it, Mel, and shot down one of the Junkers, too. Come on, sweetie....it's okay."
Hearing Jan whisper little words of endearment had Mel struggling to open her eyes, to come back from the drunken nightmare she was caught in.
She could see it clearly, smell the smoke, the sweaty bodies of enemy soldiers...feel the slice on her left upper arm, the blood slowly dripping down. Mel could see the men swarming towards her and she put her hands up in defence. As she looked down, she could see a bloody sword in her hands. She watched in amazement as one of her heavily booted feet came up and kicked some poor man in the face. Her heart was in her throat as she felt herself lunge and parry, disarming one man and gutting another.
Then suddenly she was overwhelmed and went down, a dozen men piling on top of her. She could feel the blows they reigned down upon her and then, somehow, she was up, flipping easily back onto her feet. A deep chuckle rolled out of her mouth and it grew bolder, increasingly malevolent.
Mel watched in horror as the bodies began to pile up, the sickening stench of blood and fear filling her senses.
The intensity of emotions that filled her mind and body was frightening to behold. It was if a cold shroud of darkness had descended upon her and Mel thrashed back and forth, trying to free herself of the images. Mel felt as if her very soul were being consumed; devoured by the battle lust she felt humming through her veins.
She felt a strong hand on her shoulder and she reacted blindly. She whirled, sword already moving and had the weapon in a downward arc when she suddenly saw the soldier in front of her had change into Janice Covington.
She saw Jan's eyes widen, her hands come up in supplication, and she felt helpless as she saw the sword plunge in and then all the blood. She yelled out, willing her body to somehow stop the inevitable.
Jan grabbed Mel's hands and pulled her forward, enveloping her, calming her. She felt the woman's body shudder and then Mel let out a small cry.
"Oh, gods." And then she opened her eyes and when she saw where she was, grabbed Jan closer and buried her face in the woman's shoulder.
"Oh, Jan...it was horrible. I...I don't ever wanna be like Xena. I know she's strong, and vibrant and just too tough but...she's so alone inside. She cuts herself off from life. Most people think she was this cold hearted killer; this machine that had no feelins, no heart. Well, they're wrong! I've been where she is. I know how tightly controlled she has to keep herself. And she notices everything, Jan! All of her senses are heightened. It must be so hard for her not to break down and scream at the gods for making her so sensitive. She is so strong, Jan, but she is so afraid of letting out who she really is. So full of rage, so passionate, and oh so very dangerous. I can't be her, I don't wanna hafta keep who I am so deeply hidden."
Jan rocked the woman back and forth, smoothing her hair. "Shhhh....Mel....shhh. You aren't Xena. No one expects you to be the Warrior Princess. It's okay."
Mel pulled away from her lover and looked wildly at the woman. "Yes they do...you do...they all do! Just cos I have some of her blood in me! I'm not her. I...I don't know who I am anymore. I've changed so much over the years, Jan...I don't think my Daddy would...would even recognize me...anymore." She broke down in tears; great big sobbing tears of remorse and sorrow.
"Why would you say that, Mel? I love the person you were and the person you've become. All of you. Just because we've read that Xena was a feared and heartless warlord...that doesn't mean you are anything like her. I know you are her descendant. I understand that. But Mel...we've seen by the family tree the museum made up. So am I. We are both descendants of Xena and Gabrielle. Its who we are, for good or bad, love."
Mel sniffled and wiped her nose. Jan tipped the woman's chin up and Mel gave her a weak smile. Jan took her hands and mopped her wife's face. She smiled as she saw that the dirt and grime from the day's events were now painted on Mel's face.
"Why are you laughin, Jan?" Covington just bit her lower lip and tried to stop. Then, between the laughing and the gasps for air, she was able to explain just how she'd mucked up her face.
Mel arched an eyebrow and looked down the length of herself. Bloody soaked bandage on her upper thigh, greasy lotion on most of her body, tear stained face, dirty hands...what was a little more grime?
Jan was completely taken unaware as the southerner enveloped her in a fierce embrace and then kissed her deeply.
When she was able to come back up for air, Jan whispered, "Whoa! And that was for what?"
Mel smirked. "I gotta have a reason for kissin on ya? I missed ya, Jan. When you ran off like that, well, I was so worried. Where is Dan? Did he....was he..."
Her mouth was covered by Jan's fingers and she could see by the smile on the other woman's face that Dan was alive. She sighed, thinking briefly of Shelley and then all of her thoughts just flew away as her mouth was covered with Jan's lips.
She moaned and pulled Jan forward so that she was lying on top. Jan sighed deeply as their tongues entwined and both women let their hands roam over familiar places, both knowing just what the other needed.
Jan made soothing noises as Mel resettled herself and made room between her legs. She winched a bit as Covington moved her weight over onto the woman's left side. Then Jan kissed her deeply and the pain was forgotten.
Mel brought up her hands and softly caressing her lover's neck and upper back. Then her hands were pulling at the army fatigues, wrestling with the belt buckle. Jan arched herself up, not wanting to break their kiss...and sighed as she felt Mel's hand slip under and unhook her brassiere.
Jan caressed her lover's face and moaned as she felt her breasts cupped. "I thought you were dead," she said between kisses. "Never. Nothing would ever stop me from coming back for you, Jan. Even in death..." she said as she nibbled at Jan's clavicle.
Jan finished off the sentence, "...I will never leave you." and then she lost herself in the delights of Mel's lips. Each kiss was sweeter and more powerful than the last, both women unable to get enough of the other. As Jan's hand moved lower, the southerner moved her left thigh up.
"Oh, gods Mel..." She bit her lower lip and arched her back and lost herself in the rocking movement as Mel placed both hands on her hips. Mel needed the feeling of skin on skin and Jan felt like gnashing her teeth as she was rolled over onto her feet.
She fumbled with her boot laces and then quickly shucked her trousers and boxers, leaning over the cot and taking Mel's blouse from her. Jan stroked the area around Mel's bandage and then made soft patterns on the woman's belly. She carefully lowered herself back down and placed her mouth on one of Mel's breasts.
Carefully positioning herself between the woman's legs, Jan began to slowly pick up where they'd left off. Mel smiled as Jan threw her hair back out of her face, looking for all intents and purposes like some sort of amazon. She was wild and feral looking, strong and confident and the sight took Mel's breath away.
Reaching up, Mel placed her hands on Jan's waist and began rocking forcefully into her. She could see how close her impending climax was and reached up to take a nipple into her mouth. Jan reached down and began to caress her inner thigh, moving ever closer to Mel's clitoris.
"Oh, gods Jan; you are just so gorgeous. I love to see you like this, all feral and free. Jan opened her eyes and smiled wickedly down at the southerner. Mel gave a gasp as she felt herself entered and then Jan picked up the pace. Holding on tight to Mel's shoulders, Jan felt her muscles begin to contract, sending waves of electricity up and down her spine.
She groaned out loud as Mel suckled strongly and then her climax hit suddenly, making her heart feel as if it had stopped. Melinda's breath was coming in short gasps as she opened her eyes and saw that one brief moment when Jan experienced that unbearable lightness of being...that moment when Jan's very essence ceased to exist in the dimension of time and space and simply became one with the universe.
Jan had tried to explain this feeling to her, but really, Mel found it a hard concept to understand. As she saw the utter bliss come into Jan's face, and watched as Jan slowly opened her eyes, Mel knew: she could feel the energy and the love go way beyond lust and desire.
And then, as Jan smiled down at her, Mel felt herself falling over the edge of her own orgasm and felt wave after wave of joy wash over her.
The two women lay in each other's arms, content to have connected once again. Mel curled the blonde's golden tendrils around her finger while her other hand softly stroked Jan's back. The woman snuggled closer in response. Mel found herself being hugged fiercely and then watched in wonder as two sea green eyes took up her vision.
"Mel, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I left you this morning. I shoulda....well, I shoulda taken you into camp with me instead of leaving you behind. I coulda helped you search for Mikael's...body. I woulda been there when the Jerries came lookin for ya. That's my job, Mel...I'm supposed to look after you."
Mel smiled ruefully. She patted the other woman on the shoulder. Well, it had been comin for a while, she thought.
"Now, lookie here, Missy. I understand you wantin to protect me and all. I do. But Jan, can't ya see? I've changed since we've met. I'm not this little debutante that hid behind her Momma's skirts at a comin out party. Maybe I was....three years ago. But can't ya see, Janice, you've changed me. No, that's not right; you let the best parts of me come out. I never knew I was so interested in music or that I enjoyed tryin different foods let alone actually bein able to defend myself. That was a real surprise, darlin.
Now, I said this before: I don't like getting myself into positions where I've got to defend myself. But, well, I guess I must have a penchant for it, huh? Is it me or do we just naturally seem to attract trouble?"
Jan leaned over with a smirk on her face and rubbed her nose on the bridge of Mel's. "Ya, you do seem to attract trouble, doncha?" She rolled over and just about fell of the cot. Sitting up, she began to dress. Mel propped herself up on her elbows and continued, now with an edge to her voice.
"I am sorry you think I'm such a misfit, incapable of livin in this world without your protection, Janice Covington. I think I've done a pretty good job lately at doin just that."
Jan looked up briefly and continued whistling, buttoning her trousers and reaching for her boots. Must be tired, she thought, noting the inflection in her wife's voice.
"Aw, shit Mel. I don't want you to 'have' to defend yerself. Hell, that's my job." She sat near her wife and patted her hand. "Yer so prim and proper-like, Mel. Ya need carin for and I like that you're the typically vulnerable and sensitive southerner. I can't help it if it makes me wanna protect ya..."
If she'd been watching her wife's face, she'd have known just what trouble she'd just gotten herself into. However, she was too busy lacing up her boots to heed the warning arch of an eyebrow.
Mel suddenly got up from the cot and looked about for something to put on. Spying a pair of the Colonel's trousers over near a small chest of drawers, she limped over and quickly snatched them up. Making a face, she noted they'd be miles too big. She began to rummage through the clothing she found there and settled on a pair of khaki bush pants and matching shirt. Must be Colonel Barrinson's batman's things, she thought.
Jan noted the harrumphing but as she was blissfully unaware of the volcano boiling just under the surface, missed her opportunity to defuse the situation. She brushed her uniform down and then, licking her thumb and forefinger, sorted out the hair that was forever falling into her eyes.
"I gotta go see the Colonel about a debriefing, baby."
Mel clenched her teeth and watched Janice primp, trying very hard not to scrunch the clothing she held in her hand. She slowly turned her back and told herself to take deep breaths. She had been doing a fairly good job up until she felt Jan's hand pat her bottom in such a way that left no question that their 'roll in the hay' had just hit the spot.
She whirled quickly just as Jan exited the tent. "Why, I never, Janice Covington. There's a fine howdya do. Just 'wham bam, thank you ma'am'? I don't think so", she muttered dangerously.
She dressed hurridly and then made her way outside. There, out of the corner of her eye, she spied the strawberry blonde hair of Janice, just ducking into another tent.
Jan smiled as she saw Dan buttoning up the top of his shirt. He now sported some rather neat looking stitches, and, judging by the smile, was feeling none the worse for wear.
"Say, Tom...you got some of that rot gut handy? I sure would like to wet my whistle."
Colonel Barrinson shook his head sadly. "My word, Covington. Only you could refer to the finest Napoleon Brandy as being 'rot gut'. However, yes, I suppose you could have a nip or two." He handed her his flask and watched with a pinched look on his face as she took two deep swallows.
"I say, Janice! You're not supposed to gulp it down. It's something to savor...."
He frowned as the Pappas woman walked into the tent. He noted that she'd changed her clothing. Looked damned familiar, too. He arched his eyebrow as he recognized his batman's clothing. My word, he thought appreciatively, she certainly did fill out a pair of trousers nicely. Yes, indeed.
Hearing a cough, he raised his eyes and was caught in the baleful gaze of Janice Covington. He cleared his throat and tried to say something witty and somehow change the subject. However, what ever words he was going to use just flew out of his head as Melinda Pappas swept past him and, hands on hips, backed Covington against the operating table.
Barrinson couldn't remember seeing Janice look so...flummoxed. He looked over at Dan and noted the same expression. So, he thought, her soft little kitten has very sharp claws. Indeed!
"I know yer bothered, Jan. But I am not too pleased that you feel I can't take care of myself. I'd like to think I'm stronger now and when push comes to shove, I can stop someone from doin me bodily harm."
Jan began sputtering some sort of excuse or another. She saw the look of determination on Mel's face and try as she might, couldn't figure out just what put the bee in her bonnet.
"First of all, Janice Covington, don't you ever treat me like some one night stand again. Do you hear? That was the first and the last time. This "typically vulnerable and sensitive southerner" is not gonna take it any more. And I don't wanna be just some feeble minded....side kick. I'm supposed to be yer wife, yer partner. I may not be able to shoot a revolver or ride a camel but I am not defenseless."
And with that, she picked a very surprised archaeologist up, slung her over her shoulder and walked casually out of the tent. She repositioned her charge roughly and smuggly noted the accompanying 'oomph' as she did so.
"As you can see, Jan, I've developed a bit of muscle and I can't help it if it makes me wanna heft ya around some...you bein shorter and more diminutive than I am." Mel bit the inside of her cheek as she saw quite a few heads pop out of their tents.
Jan wriggled and squirmed as she tried to get herself free. Try as she might, there was just no getting out of Mel's iron grip. Must be more tired than I thought, she mused.
"Put me down, goddamnit!" Silence. "Um, Mel? Were are we going?"
Mel grinned wickedly and then announced loudly, "I don't think we were quite finished with the...debriefing...do you?"
"De...briefing?" Jan barely had time to voice this question when she was flung into the cistern.
"Ahhh! What the..." Jan sputtered, wiping the water out of her eyes and peeking throught the damp tendrils of her hair.
"I do believe there is a chauvanist lurkin in that Yankie body, Janice Covington. And she needs to cool off. I'll be in 'my' tent." She nodded at a very befuddled looking Colonel and smiled weakly at Dan as she began walking back the way she'd come, trying for at least a modicum of dignity.
Jan sat morosely in the makeshift canteen, nursing a warm Keo beer. Dan pushed his way over to her table holding two more pints of the stuff. He sighed deeply and sat down.
"I say, Janice. Don't you think you could ease up on these bloody things? I mean, look ducky...you polished off old Barrinson's flask back there, had whatever rot gut his bloody batman was carrying...now this."
Jan blinked a few times and then tried to focus on the surface of their table. She squinted and then stuck out her hand, knocking all four empty bottles to the ground.
She leaned over the side of the table to see just where the brown bottles had flown off to and was grabbed by her collar as she just about fell out of her chair.
Dan looked over at his friend and felt his heart wrench. He watched as a few tears began falling from Jan's tightly closed eyes. A raged breath escaped from her throat and she took a long pull from her beer. After making a face, she burped softly and then brought the bottle to her lips once again.
"Look, mate. I know this is really none of my business...but Jan, I really do care about you. I feel a connection with you, ducks. Always have. Dunno why. I can't let you go on like this, Jan. Please talk to me..."
Jan barely lifted her face from her folded arms, preferring to lie half on the table in her misery.
Dan had to lean in closely to hear his friend's words but finally made them out. "I love her, Dan. And now....she hates me!" Jan buried her face deeper into her crossed arms, her hair fanned over her face and shoulders.
Dan found it hard to feel anything but sympathy and love for Jan. They'd been through so much together and while the two of them had gotten positively tanked together on more than one occasion, this was a new side to Jan he'd not seen. This Jan was morose and filled with pity; not the strong and confident person he knew her to be. Mind you, he mused, this was Melinda they were talking about. The love of Jan's life. For some reason there had been a falling out.
Dan felt very uncomfortable: what did he know about sensitive chats? He took a breath and then hauled Janice up to a sitting position and then propped her up against his shoulder.
"Right, then. I dunno what's up with you and Melinda, Jan, but you know you've gotto make it right, mate. You've just gotto. Think, Jan. When you were with her last, did you two have a row?"
Jan wiped her face roughly and pushed her tangled hair out of her eyes. Another burp escaped from her slack lips and then she smiled.
"We'd just made love, Dan. Oh, it was nice, it was so glorious. Did I ever tell you how much I love making love with my Mel? Did I ever tell you how much I enjoy the taste of...mmrph!"
Jan couldn't figure out why her lips weren't working any more. One minute she was talking fine...but now? She moved her jaw around, yeah, nothing broken there. She tried to open her mouth again but found she couldn't. She poked her tongue out through her lips...a tight squeeze, but yeah, that worked.
She scrunched her forehead and tried to talk through both of Dan's hands. The Major cringed as he felt the soft wet tongue dampen the palm of his hand. He quickly brought his hands to his pants, wiping the drool away slowly.
"I really.....I mean, Jan...please. I really don't need to know all the....gory details, do I? Suffice it to say, ducks, you love your wife, you enjoy a healthy sex life and yes, I'm sure you're hot in bed. But....please, spare me, Jan. I don't think I could stand you talking about making love to a woman when my Shelley is so very far away. Please?"
Jan opened her eyes wide. "Oh, shit! That was yer hand there? I thought I broke my jaw er sumpin. Sheesh...don't do that Dan. Tell a girl yer gonna put yer hand on her 'fore ya do that. Geez, dint yer Momma ever tell ya that? Fer cryin in yer milk..." ...hiccup..."and so yeah, like I said, we were makin love and it was so nice and sweet and boy she likes to moan, Dan..and she gets that look on her face, ya know? And... mrphh!"
"That's it! That's all she wrote, Janice Covington. I'll have trouble enough sleeping now, thanks to you. I'll just pack you over to Melinda's and you can both work it out. Together. By yourselves. Quietly. Please."
He picked Jan up in his arms and brought her to the Colonel's tent. Poking his head inside he noted the Colonel was supping with his batman.
"I say, Colonel Barrinson? Good evening, sir. I'd salute, sir, but well, Sergeant Covington's a bit under the weather."
"Harrumph! Yes. Just so. Well? Oh, how silly of me...yes, Ms. Pappas took the tent over by the ablutions building. Something about access to privacy or something. I readily agreed, of course. Can you imagine that lovely woman wandering around on her way to the shower? We'd have a riot! A positive riot, man!" He looked off into space, a wistful look on his face.
Dan smirked as he watched the Colonel's face. Bloody lucky for you mate, that Janice is out of it. She'd clean yer bloody clock, she would. Mind you, with the close proximity to a woman who used to haunt his nights, Dan was finding it hard to be quite so harsh with his mental reprimands.
He swallowed deeply and then got his feet moving again towards Mel's tent. He stopped, shifted Jan's weight and made a face as the woman tried to kiss him.
"Aw, c'mon, sweetie...you know I love ya....gimme a kiss...c'mon Mel...just a little kiss for your Mad Dog....c'mere...." He gasped as her hand went inside his shirt....Jan's head popped up...
"What the fuck? Hey, Mel....your boob....where..." She tried to focus.."oh, hi Dan. Whatcha doin out here? Hey, I can't feel my legs but we're movin...up and down and...my head hurts, Dan....I think...I think I'm gonna...." Dan all but dropped her as she spewed forth four bottles of Keo beer. He set her down gingerly, trying to keep her upright but himself away from her business end.
He held onto her shoulders as she unloaded once more. Luckily, it was near the ditch and away from the lights. Gods, the others were going to razz her enough seeing her unable to make it back to her tent unaided. And being carried into the bargain! Oh, dear. No, no, no...the first person to make a snicker was going to feel the full wrath of Janice Covington. To be sure!
Covington burped and wiped her mouth with her sleeve then smiled. Dan leaned against her and tried to steady them both. Luckily, Dan had some experience drinking with Jan and so he knew there was no chance of him matching her drink for drink so he'd stopped after two. However, being that Keo beer came in one litre bottles, it still meant he'd had enough to start his own stomach roiling and the mere sounds of her wretching.
They staggered into the tent with Dan trying very hard to keep his charge quiet. Jan was giggling and as she sat down on the side of her cot, which had been moved a ways away from Mel's, she said,
"Hi, honey. I'm home! C'mere and gimme a kiss."
Mel propped herself up on one elbow, holding the sheet closely to her breast and gave the woman a cold stare. Jan was oblivious and in a fit of frustration, Mel threw herself back down on the cot and gazed off into space. A deep sigh escaped her lips.
The Major patted Jan's shoulder and then bent to take off the woman's boots. The silence in the tent was deafening. Suddenly Jan began making funny noises. Mel rolled over in time to see her lover spew the final contents of her stomach...all over poor Butterworth.
"Oh....gods...." Dan moaned as he scrambled to his feet and staggered out of the tent. Mel sighed and got up and helped her lover out of the soiled clothing. After cleaning up as much of the mess as she could, she then proceeded to wipe Jan down.
Covington was in no shape to even protest let alone help. She lay there with a silly grin on her face, eyes glazed over. Mel sighed and shook her head. It was so hard to stay mad at someone like Jan.
She pulled her cot back over to its normal place beside Jan's and then covered them both with the blankets. Covington barely even moved, totally out of it.
Jan found herself surrounded by fog and could just barely out the mangled bodies that littered the battle field. With a shock of recognition, she saw the familiar shape of Xena appear out of the mist.
The Warrior Princess squared her shoulders, her blue eyes coldly settle on a pair of Roman soldiers, brandishing their swords in her direction. With a snarl she was upon them, quickly disarming one and skewering the second. As the first soldier lunges forward, she grabbed him by the shoulders and cracked his forehead with her own. He went down like a rock.
Xena looked up, momentarily dazed, and squinted through the black smoke, trying to find Gabrielle. Another soldier barreled down upon her, spear at the ready. She dodged him at the last moment and then grabbed the spear as he flew by. Using the end to apply a nasty upper cut, Xena then turned the weapon upon him and brutally thrust it into his chest, through his armour, pinning him to the ground.
Her eyes were cold as she barely registered his life blood soaking the ground beneath him. The sounds of the wounded and dying filled her ears and she madly looked around, trying to catch a glimpse of....
With the shouts of men in anger and fear, the bard wasn't sure at first whether she'd heard her name being called or not. She turned slowly, dodging the swing of a sword, countering with a two handed blow of her staff. As the man went down, Gabrielle turned, and putting her hand up to shield her eyes, finally saw the warrior, surrounded by four soldiers. Each one going full tilt towards Xena, swords and spears at the ready.
Although she couldn't possibly hear, Gabrielle is sure by the feral look on Xena's face, that she is laughing evilly. The bard arched her neck as Xena went down under the onslaught - only to reappear moments later, a gash on her right cheek and arm, covered in blood and dirt but still grinning. Only two of the soldiers had enough energy to crawl slowly away to die elsewhere.
Gabrielle watched in horror as their friend held his sword up high in triumph, having beaten off a score of Roman soldiers. He is clubbed from behind and goes down. Gabrielle can see that unless she does something, unless she stopped the Roman soldier's senseless action, the man would die horribly. She looked about for something, anything, and finding a spear, hefted it high and then with a brief hesitation, hurled it in their general direction.
The spear seems to have a will of its own and falls uselessly into a mound of dirt, not even close to where the deadly action plays out. The bard is helpless to do more than watch as a spear is shoved into the chest of her friend. As her mouth hangs open in shock, an arrow sprouts from the Roman's chest and he falls to his knees before toppling over dead. Gabrielle sees with disbelief that it was Temecula, the young unproven archer that has shot the arrow, losing his blood innocence. Because she couldn't....she wouldn't. Covering her mouth, she ran towards the crumpled body of Flannigus, hoping that perhaps his wounds were not as terrible as she thought.
Dodging wounded soldiers, broken bodies and the weapons of war, Gabrielle finally throws herself down over the body of Flannigus. She held his head as the man's life just seems to seep out of his damaged body.
Gabrielle is hit with the full horror of war at that one moment. All the fear, the horror...the fact that she had lead mere farmers against the elite soldier's of both Pompeii and Caesar to certain death; that she and Xena had helped torch a village to stop the advancing Roman army from procuring any supplies, burning down both material goods but memories as well; that because of her inability to do the right thing, to prevent a friend's death, his blood was now on her hands.
She grabbed the body close and shook it, as if by her mere force of will she could undo the horrible realities of war. She screamed to the heavens, her face contorting in rage and suffering, tears coursing down her dirty and tired face.
Not even acknowledging the presence beside her, she barely felt the blue eyes of Xena wash over her in sorrow and remorse. Then she was taken into a fierce embrace and soft low nonsensical words were rushing by her ears.
Everything seemed to conspire against her right then: the embrace holding her together, letting her fall apart; the rocking motion that seemed to center her once more; and finally, the soft kiss on her temple as the Warrior Princess bestowed the final blow that would undo everything...letting her soul fly far, far away. Away from the horror, the death and the senselessness of it all.
Xena held her love closer still as she felt the hot tears fall onto the front of her Roman tunic. Her red rimmed eyes glistened as she felt the sobs racking her friends' small body. And all she could do was bare witness to it all, knowing that somehow Gabrielle would have to make sense of it, analyse it and then decide what to endure and what could be put away for another time when nightmares haunted her sleep.
Sometime during the night Jan awoke clutching Mel's cold body to her. She was moaning something over and over again, seeming to almost climbing over her in an effort to get away from something unspeakable. Jan was still caught up in the visions of death and destruction surrounding her. She shook her head in an effort to clear it and tried to steady her breathing but a gasp caught in her throat when she heard Mel say, "Gabrielle..."
Suddenly Mel opened her eyes wide and looked up into her lover's face. Jan could just make out her lover's strong profile by the first few rays of dawn, the look of horror etched upon Mel's face. She placed both hands on the woman's face and pressed their forehead's together.
"No, Mel....its...I'm not...her. I'm Janice." She watched in fascination as such a look of sadness and despair became visible in Mel's eyes. "I never knew, Janice. How could she have following me into battle all those times...knowing that death and destruction awaited her? How many times is she gonna follow me into battle? How many times am I gonna hurt her before..."
Xena closed her eyes, her jaw tight and teeth clenched. Jan tried to get off the Warrior Princess. Somehow being this close to someone who totally exuded such power and charisma was not a good thing. She felt as if she were somehow betraying Mel by being in close proximity while in such a state of undress. Xena just seemed to have this sexual aura surrounding her. It became clear to Jan just how someone like this warrior could sway legions of men, bending them to her will, conquering every heart she came in contact with.
"No. No, stay Janice Covington. I need to explain something to you." Xena paused and then took one of the woman's hands in her own.
"Do you understand how very brave and strong Gabrielle was? How hard it was for her to set aside her beliefs, her honour to follow me? History will say that it was Xena: Warrior Princess that had the heart of a lion. But my real strength always lay in the heart of a bard. You have her blood in your veins, Janice. Just as Melinda has this warrior's blood coursing threw her own."
Xena stopped and drew a ragged breath in. "Melinda is such a strong woman. She doesn't even know just how strong she is or will be. You have to help her realize her destiny, Jan. Just as Gabrielle was my strength, you must let her natural abilities come out and lead you to the destiny that awaits you both."
Jan moved her hand slowly up to Xena's face and traced her index finger along the warrior's jawline.
"Do you know how much I love her? She means everything to me, Xena. I can't...I couldn't exist without her. She holds my heart. I'd die if anything happened to her. Can you see that?"
Xena smiled weakly. "Yes, I understand, Jan. But you see, she can take care of herself. She has before and she will again. But you have to help her. She thinks it's me when she does these acts of bravery. Yes, I did help her back in the tent with that foreigner. But it wasn't me when she battled Judith. It wasn't me when she attacked that small driver and beat him senseless. No. That was truly Melinda. She's always had that strength there, Janice. You have to let it go. You have to help her be more than merely a side kick. She is your partner, Janice. In every sense of the word. It's time you understood that. Grow up, Janice. You can't be her protector and continue to control her without losing something in the bargain. I feel the love for you she has inside."
Xena placed her hand over her heart. "Melinda has enormous potential. As do you. You've been allowed to grow over the past three years you've been together. You have to give her that same chance."
Jan lowered her head until it was in the crook of Xena's neck. Xena hesitantly patted the woman's back. She could feel the tears running down into her shoulder and felt very awkward. Damn these sensitive chats! Without warning, she sensed her bard beckoning to her and gave Janice one last hug before joining her soul mate.
Jan could sense the difference almost immediately. Mel moaned and slowly opened her eyes. Jan snuggled closer and gently kissed her neck.
"I never knew just what was going on inside Xena. She's always so...so intense, so tightly wound." She lifted her head and saw the confusion in the woman's face. "I'm sorry, Mel. Did....did you have any dreams last night? I mean..well, I did. I was wonderin..."
"Yes, love, I did. I could see both Xena and Gabrielle but I could also sense you nearby. I don't think I've ever experienced another dream with someone else, Jan. I think, well, I think Gabrielle was trying to show me somethin."
Janice scrunched her forehead and then raised her head and looked into Mel's eyes. She smiled and then kissed the southerner's nose.
"Well, ya got it half right. Xena was tryin to make me see how naturally strong ya were. That you could handle yerself fine. I don't like that very much, Mel. I never meant to make you feel like a, what did Xena call ya?...a side kick. You know I think yer real smart and strong and brave, doncha? I mean, well, I guess I wanted to be your protector, yer knight in shining armour."
"Oh, Janice. You'll always be that to me. I don't want that to change. Doncha see, though? I'm yer wife, Jan. Yes, but I'm much more than that. I can take care of myself just fine. I don't like to but I do know I can. I'd rather avoid such unpleasantries but I know I can handle em."
Jan ran her finger down Mel's jaw line. It didn't even feel the same as when Xena was occupying her lover's body. It was softer somehow, less cold.
"I'm sorry, Mel. I know you've changed. Hell, I can see it whenever I look at you. You've gotten stronger, in mind and body. No more shrinking violet, huh? But have you changed cos I made ya? Being around me sure is like ridin a roller coaster. I guess it was really selfish of me to bring you into my world, huh? How many times am I gonna hurt you..?"
Mel clamped a hand over her mouth and sighed annoyingly.
"That is it, Janice Covington. I'm not gonna listen to you go on about this any more. You know darned well I'm here cos I wanna be. You know how I hate it when ya leave me behind? Well, I know the risks Jan, just as well as you do. I wanna be by your side. In all things. And just for the record, I never once thought of myself as bein yer side kick. An assistant, yes. But side kick kinda sounds like yer a super hero, Jan, and yer not. Yer a flesh and bone kinda woman who tries hard to do what's right. I know that. You're for the underdogs in this world, Jan, and you seem to defy the odds in everything you do. You stick up for whatcha believe in."
She stopped and then a little smile played on her lips. "Gee, maybe I did just describe a super hero, huh? Mad Dog Covington: Super Hero." Then she gasped as the would-be super hero tickled her unmercifully.
It was a full hour before either woman poked their head out of their tent and another 45 minutes by the time they had visited the ablutions building and entered the mess tent.
Jan grinned evilly as she saw Dan sitting in the corner, holding his head and nursing a cup of British ration coffee. Hell, the Brits might be one up on the rest of the world in the tea department, but their coffee! Well, it was purely a sin, that's all.
She grabbed a tray and took her place in line. Her lip curled as she was served something called 'bubble and squeak', 'bangers and mash' and 'rice puddling'. She figured the last one was a dessert, although why anyone would serve cold mushy rice pudding at breakfast was quite beyond her.
By the time she'd taken her tray back to the table, Mel was giving Dan a shoulder massage and listening to his tale of woe.
He opened his eyes and glared at Jan. His face was still ashen and his red rimmed eyes bespoke of the horrors of hangovers.
"Good morning, Dan. Howdja sleep? I can't remember too much about last night but Mel brought me up to speed."
"Thank you Jan, for letting me share your inner turmoil...it's a side of you I hadn't seen up close and personal before...well, not ON me, anyway."
"I really appreciate you tryin to help me and Mel. I'm sorry I...um, well, barfed on ya, Dan. Couldn't help myself." She grinned sheepishly.
"And I was doing so well, too. After all, I'd only had two of those nasty Keo's. Brrrr! I say, it's been quite a will since I got drunk, you know. It seems even the sound of someone being sick...well, let's just change the subject, shall we?"
Mel gave the man a funny look and then arched an eyebrow Jan's way. Taking the hint, she shoveled in one more forkful of the yellow stuff and wiped her chin.
"Ya? What's up?"
"I wonder what Shelley is doin right now? How long they been married now, honey? I guess it must be six months or so, huh? Hmmmm."
"We been married for nearly three, so yeah, around six months. What, you think she's sick or somethin? Woman's intuition? Hell, I never had none of that. Gut reactions, yes. You worried about her, Mel?"
"Well. I don't wanna worry about it right now. But, yes, I've been thinkin about Shelley for some time now. She's been weighing heavily on my mind. I don't think it's serious, though. Nothin to worry Dan about. Just a feelin, is all. Now, Jan honey, please lay off the poor man. Why, his shoulders are all bunched up and that knot on his head looks right nasty. Besides, you said so yourself; he's a hero and he's far from home. Let's go alittle easier on him, please?"
Jan nodded and leaned up for a nice kiss. She grinned and reached up for another one but turned at the sound of a snicker. Three men stood at the tent's entrance, hands on hips, looking quite smug. She stood there, hands on hips, her jaw askew and snorted gently.
Covington shielded her eyes and finally recognized a few of the men from Crete. She casually turned and led Mel back to the table with Dan. Dusting her hands off, she slowly approached the men and smiled.
"So, guys. What can I do ya for? We got a problem here, or what?"
The biggest of the three stepped forward. He was a man of typical Greek build: very stocky, large boned, swarthy complexion, dark hair and very black eyes. He grinned and began cracking his knuckles.
"We see you last night. You cannot even make it home to your tent, no? And you are carried? By your woman? This is bad. Not someone we want to teach us combat skills. You are all talk, Sergeant, and no action. You may have impressed the others with hand to hand, but not Stefano. I think you are a weak little woman who should go back home."
Jan smirked and began rolling up her sleeves. She heard the leg of a chair scrape and looked over her shoulder to see both Mel and Dan slowly advancing.
"Nah. Relax and enjoy the show, folks. Stefano, right?...he and I, we're gonna do a little bit of...sparing. Right? We really wanna do this again, huh?"
"You will not think it is a joke, American. We hear you are not even in this army. You are advisor only. Pishaw! We will not take orders anymore from you."
Jan followed the men outside the tent and then sucked her teeth as she noticed most of the men she'd been training the day before were milling about, a scent of blood in the air.
She snorted softly and began shaking her arms and legs out. She briefly thought about the unpallatable breakfast she now wished she'd eaten...a few hours ago. However, she'd gotten all of the alcohol out of her system and while still a bit shakey, was up for whatever the guys had in mind.
"Okay, who's first?" Stefano strode forward and dropped into a boxer's stance. He bunched his shoulders and moved his head back and forth, shifting from foot to foot. Jan looked at him. Ah, a pugalist. Uh huh. Legend in his own mind, warrior wannabe...gotta punch out the new drill sergeant and make a name for himself.
She waited for him to make the first move. He hesitated, thinking perhaps that the woman wouldn't even take up the challenge.
"First off", she reached in and got past his defences in a quick slapping motion, "you gotta remember to keep your eyes on your opponent." She used her other hand and slapped him once more. He swung wildly, missing. Jan danced around quickly and then moved in close once more.
"You gotta remember that when dealing with opponents bigger than yourself", she landed two very solid punches to his mid section and then feinted back, "that for the most part, they are slower than you are." She moved in quickly once more and then punched him square on the chin.
Stefano blinked and shook his head. This was not going as he'd planned. No, this woman was so quick! She moved like a snake, weaving in and out of his reach.
With a sudden roar, he dropped his fists and made a run at her.
"Now, at this point", she dodged him easily, "you also have to remember that some folks are slower upstairs, too." She turned and winked at Mel.
It was at that moment that Yanni decided to use a different tactic and simply launched himself at her. Never did Janice think a man so big could simply defy gravity and fly. She found herself going down beneath his solid girth.
She looked up into the angry eyes of a very pissed off Greek. He had lost face in front of his friends and he was going to make her pay. Well, she might just have other plans, thank you very much.
She lifted her knee very quickly between his legs and watched as all the colour drained out of his face. He made no move to release her or to roll off of her either. Jan just lay there and watched as the man's breathing became very laboured and then a low moan escaped his lips.
She cleared her throat as Dan lifted the man off of her. Dusting herself off, she turned to the crowd and smiled.
"You always have to remember, guys, that in war, everything is fair. We must all learn to use every method to get the job done. That means anything, guys. Stefano's superior strength meant little, as you could see. His size didn't bother me either. No, it was his unpredictability that almost won him this game."
She walked over to the injured man and patted his shoulder. Speaking a few words in Greek to him, she bent and kissed both his cheeks. The man smiled and Jan knew it would be alright.
"So. Who's next? C'mon, c'mon. I got a cold English breakfast growin fur in there. I gotta eat it before it eats me!"
The men slowly began laughing and then the crowd broke up. Mel came over and gave her a hug. Dan helped Stefano up and they both went back into the mess.
"I say, Covington. Very nice teaching skills you have. 'All's fair in love and war', what? In case you haven't noticed, we have a war on here. Please try and remember that."
Jan looked rather proud of herself and she and Mel went into the mess tent with the Colonel for some late breakfast.
Major-General Robert Urquhart, in overall command of the 1st Airborne Division and the Polish contingent stood holding his defunct field radio, a look of utter disgust upon his face. He had no way to tell what the devil was going on with his troops.
A pleasant man of average height and weight, Urquhart had never before led paratroopers or glider operations. His field of expertise was as an infantry officer.
Balked by the failure of his radio link, he left divisional headquarters in the drop zone near Nijmegen and drove a jeep down towards the outskirts of Arnhem. Surely, he'd be able to locate someone from his division.
The sounds of shell fire and mortar rounds filled his ears and he pushed his foot down hard on the gas petal, swerving from left to right in an effort to make himself as unappetizing a target as possible.
"Bloody hell!", he shouted as the front right tire hit yet another bone jarring shell crater. The jeep swerved and he tried valiantly to regain control of it, finally coming to a stop at the side of an empty field. He sat there trying to catch his breath, resting his forehead on the steering wheel.
Hearing some rustling, he quickly drew out his service revolver, hairs on the back of his neck pricking up. He just about laughed aloud as he turned and saw his deputy, Brigadier-General Gerald Lathbury, commander of the 1st Parachute Brigade fanning out, weapons at the ready.
"By jove, old man! I say, it's awfully good to see you, Gerald! I thought you were Jerry."
He mentally counted off the better part of the third battalion and patted his friend's shoulder. "Did you lose any men, Gerald?"
Lathbury turned and motioned to the battalion commander who came forward with the requested information. "Not a one, Robert. We've been very fortunate. I say, this seems to be a balls-up from get go. I haven't seen the Polish Brigade at all. Not even sure they came across the channel."
"Right. Well, can't be helped. My last report was that Frost was heading towards the Arnhem Bridge. We've got to give them support, Gerald. I should think we could make the next eight kilometers in an hour, yes? We shant bother detouring 'round the town; I'm sure Jerry knows we're coming. Might as well make it worth his while, what?"
And with that the two men motioned 'forward' and headed towards Arnhem Bridge. The closer they got to the city of Arnhem, however, the clearer it became that a detour is exactly what they should have taken. It looked like a free-for-all melee and soon the two senior officers were engaged along with their troops in some prolonged street fighting. Lathbury was shot in the leg and found himself being trampled over. Urquhart made it over to the man's side and managed to pull him to safety.
The General jumped to his feet and attacked some of the German soldiers who were menacing a few unarmed men. Then he became sidetracked trying to get the better part of his battalion into a fall back position. When he finally made it back to where Lathbury had been, he discovered that he and quite a number of his battalion had been captured.
Seeing a no win situation, he correctly deduced that his capture would be a great blow to British morale. He managed to get out of one situation only to find himself madly defending himself with hand to hand in another. Finally, he slipped away unnoticed and hid in an attic for several hours before he could manage to regain British positions just outside the town.
When we learned that divisional headquarters had been moved once more, this time to the Hartenstein Hotel in Oosterbeek, 3 miles west of the town, Urquhart took over a jeep and sped there under fire. He had no way of getting the information of his battalion's defeat just outside Arnhem because of the damned radios. He'd just have to do it himself.
The rain fell steadily against the cracked window pane, a low whistling from the persistant wind finding cracks and holes to blow through. The moan it caused seemed to reverberate through Peter's heart as he pulled a blanket closer around himself.
Anneke and Helena were in the next room asleep and Frans had gone out on reconnaissance with some of the soldiers. His grasp of the English language and his knowledge of the surrounding area was standing him in good stead. Frans seemed to feed off the attention and had already made quite a few friends. Peter was glad; their little group had been through hell and it was nice to see the young man with a smile on his face.
The building seemed to shudder as yet another shell exploded nearby. The sound of mortar fire filled the air and the dutchman wondered just what tomorrow might bring. It was getting to that point where he was going to have to make a decision. If they stayed much longer they might never get to Antwerp.
He sat with his back against the stained and crumbling wall. He winced as another ricochet caused the plaster to fall around his ears. Jaap lay beneath the open window, staring off into space. Peter stroked his chin, lost in thought, and then started as something was tossed in throught the window.
Peter stared at the grenade, too shocked to move. He was too far away. He knew from the last couple of days the German's had somehow shortened the fuse, making them almost impossible to reach and get rid of before they exploded.
"Jaap!" Menno yelled from the doorway, his face twisted with horror.
Jaap's eyes opened wide and he threw himself upon the dark cylinder, rolled and then whipped it back out the way it had come. The grenade was scarcely through the window frame when it exploded, blowing a hole at the top of the wall and causing the window pane to shatter into pieces.
Menno rushed over to the man's crumpled form, rolling him over. Jaap had his eyes tightly closed, fists shoved under his chin and tears poured forth in a torrent.
"Jaap, o gods, please...you have to stop this...you can't stay like this, damnit!" When the man didn't respond, Peter came over and grabbed him. Menno looked at him with shock, wondering just what he was doing.
"That's enough, Jaap. I know you feel badly about Menno getting beaten up. I understand that kind of helplessness. But you have to go on." Menno looked at Peter with such a look of pleading, the man felt his heart wrench. 'It has to be done', he thought.
Peter clenched his jaw and then a coldness came into his eyes. "You have to get past this, damn you! You aren't any good to us if you can't."
He pushed the silent man away and crawled over to the corner. Making a show of dusting his hands off, Peter tried hard not to look anyone in the eye. He knew he wouldn't be able to keep up the facade if he did.
Suddenly Jaap sat up and Menno pulled him over to the opposite wall. Bits of glass and plaster littered the ground around him and covered his clothing. Menno began dusting the stuff out of his brother's hair and dragged out a worn hankerchief, wiping the man's tear stained face.
He wasn't upset that his brother was crying. He wasn't embarrassed that friends and strangers alike were seeing this. On the contrary, this was the first emotion he'd seen from his brother for nearly 48 hours. This was a good thing.
"Jaap. Jaap, listen...are you hungry? Are you cold?" Jaap blinked a few times and then slowly swivelled his head to look at Peter.
"You don't know. You couldn't possibly understand...watching them beat Menno...I thought they were going to kill him...right in front of me." His nostrils flared as he drew his knees under his chin. A fierce look of hatred came over his face and he said, very calmly, "And I couldn't do a thing, Peter...I couldn't protect him..I couldn't do...a...bloody...thing."
Peter could see a bit of the man he knew and loved coming back. He decided to push one more button and then he'd let the man alone.
"You don't think I know? You don't think I could possibly understand? I'm just this cold hearted bastaard?" He paused and then rubbed the ring on his pinky.
Jaap didn't miss a thing. He snorted and shook his head. What a fool he'd been to say such a thing! And to someone who was only trying to help him.
"I'm sorry, Peter. I know you miss Anya..if I could take it back, I would."
The sound of running boots was heard down the hall and then two men burst into the room and crawled towards Peter.
"Are you van Oppen? Look, that chap that went out on recon this morning...he's missing. There have been reports of enemy action around where they were headed. There is a chance they were all picked up by Jerry. I'm sorry, mate."
The two soldiers turned as Anneke and Helena stood behind them in the hallway.
"What is it? Peter? Is it Jaap?" Anneke rubbed her eyes and tried to focus. Helena grinned and tossled the woman's hair. Even a few hours these days was making a difference in their morale. Every little bit helped, she thought.
Peter stood and moved passed the two soldiers who rightly decided to take their leave. The look on their leader's face had the women rush forward in an effort to learn more.
Anneke looked stunned as her lover held her from behind. "No, it can't be. Frans can't be dead", she said in a disbelieving voice.
Helena brought her face close to Peter's and brought the man out of his funk. Peter nodded and gave her a weak smile. Then he told them what he'd learned. Missing in action, unaccounted for. Nothing concrete. No further information forthcoming. All these meaningless phrases seemed to slip from his lips.
Helena stood and watched as Anneke slowly approached Peter and embraced the man fiercely. She knew of their past and she was not alarmed. This cadre had more than just learned to function well together; they had become family. She would not begrudge her lover this needed connection.
Thoughts of Greece entered her mind and she wondered how her sister Solari was doing. Oh, how she longed to smell the basil scented air of Athens!
The End of Book Two