The Gamble

A Janice and Mel Short Story

by Enginerd

Author's note:  Digging through old files, I found a very rough scene that never made it into Southern Hospitality. Still liking the concept, I've overhauled it to become a standalone short story.

Disclaimers:  Nope. Not gonna do it. Sure, I could say this story involves mature themes - but what the heck does that mean? If you've found this story, you KNOW there are, more likely than not, romantic overtones between two women. You KNOW there is no profit.  It's just simple fan fiction entertainment - if you're lucky.  I hope you're lucky.

Melinda Pappas carefully climbed the stairs of a rundown apartment building in Athens, grimacing at the various empty bottles littering her path. With her stylish navy suit and perfectly matching purse and shoes, she stuck out like a sore thumb.

Even the two rude proposals she received on her way to find Dr. Covington didn't dissuade her from her mission. Though they did make her extremely uncomfortable and much more alert. Never had she heard such language! Well, Dr. Covington was shockingly foul-mouthed, especially for a woman. But she was never rude like that! Well, she was rather rude, especially for a woman. But she wasn't like those slimy, drunken men. Well, she did drink . . . a lot . . . especially for a woman - or a man for that matter. But she had never made any passes at her. Well, she had made the one pass recently, Mel recalled with a rather unexpected flush; she was a woman! But Mel wouldn't have called it lewd . . . or to her own surprise, unwanted. However, she strongly suspected that Janice's actions were only motivated by a desire to get her to leave, not a desire for her.

Oddly, it had the opposite effect, she considered with determination as she looked at the number on an apartment door, knowing she was getting close. She was going to talk some sense into that . . . that . . . woman!

Mel still couldn't believe how, suddenly, out of the blue, Dr. Covington had told her to go home. She had thought their working relationship had improved immensely since their initial meeting. After her trial by fire, with not only with Nazis but the God of War himself, the abrasive archeologist had seemed much more patient with her questions and tolerant of her mistakes, her rough edges had become much-less sharp. Mel had even witnessed a rare, beautiful smile or two from the gruff woman when they engaged in rather passionate discussions about everything from the war, music, art, and especially their work.

Their work, the descendant of Xena thought with conviction, not about to be cast aside without a darn good reason!!

Even with her inexperience, Mel knew she was helping Dr. Covington with her abilities with ancient languages. So it was quite a shock that all of a sudden, Dr. Covington told her that her little adventure vacation was over, that she didn't have the time or desire to babysit her anymore.  Of course, Mel had stubbornly argued with Janice that working with her was far from a vacation and that she knew for a fact the good doctor needed her. That comment seemed to strike a nerve in the insanely independent archeologist, Mel recalled, still uneasy from the unnerving flash of anger in Janice's green eyes.

But instead of the expected cursing and yelling, Janice took a moment to calm herself, something that the vocal archeologist rarely did. When she stepped towards her, deliberately invading her personal space, also something Janice rarely did, Mel felt nervous and surprising anticipation.

"You stay with me, Sweetheart, and it won't just be your professional reputation that's compromised," Janice said.

The words didn't have time to register before Mel sucked in a startled breath from what she could have sworn was an electrical shock. Yet, it was only the light touch of the archeologist, whose fingers glided intimately over the rapidly pulsing flesh of her neck and over her strong collar bone.  They descended further down, over the exposed flesh within the vee of the blouse, stopping at the first fastened button.  After gently caressing the lacey edge of her bra, Janice removed her slightly trembling hand and silently stepped back.

Mel didn't know what surprised her more, the brazen act, or the intense excitement it provoked. With an uneasy breath, Mel's hand shot to her chest where the archeologist had touched as goose bumps stampeded over her skin.

Satisfied the Southern lady was sufficiently shocked, Janice dropped her eyes uneasily and pulled out a cigar. "I made reservations for you. You have two nights in a good hotel before your flight. The Nazis will be here soon and we shouldn't be here when they do," Janice said evenly. "I left the information with Nicolas. He'll help you pack up. Stay safe," she said briskly, stuck the cigar in her mouth, and left.

Mel recalled how her body hummed. When she finally found her voice, Janice was already driving away in her truck, leaving her confused, frustrated, and determined, more than ever, to not be left behind. . . .

Finally, Mel found the apartment door she was looking for with a pensive look on her face.

Until Janice had touched her, she didn't know why those handsome and successful Southern men never held her interest. Until Janice touched her, she didn't know why she was driven to want to work beside the brash archeologist, to help her, to be near her. Until Janice touched her, she really didn't understand.

Then Janice touched her.


"Read ‘em and weep," Janice said, more perfunctorily than enthusiastically, as she laid her cards on the poker table in her small smoke-filled room, prompting the groans of her three other players. Normally she'd be laughing and immensely enjoying the sizable win. But tonight she wasn't in the mood for celebration.

"A full house!?!" One poker player moaned as Janice gulped a shot of cheap but strong amber liquid that burned on the way down, causing a slight grimace. A few more of those and she'd be on her way to not feeling anything. At the moment, that was what she wanted - more than the jackpot.

"Aces high? Damnit!" Another unshaven player spat, tossing his full house, ten's high, down with disgust.

"Ah Fuck," another blurted.

As Janice reached out and pulled the winnings towards her, she heard a knock on the cracked-open door, that slowly opened wider. Looking up, Janice found Melinda Pappas in the doorway, pushing up her glasses. Janice felt an odd and disturbing swirl of emotions seeing the beautiful woman again after having bluntly dismissed her.

"Well, lookie here, we've got company," the eldest poker player, Jack, laughed happily. Janice blinked at the woman, not expecting to ever see her again. Mel noted Janice's eyes drop uncomfortably as she quietly collected her winnings. "And pretty company at that!" He added with a smirk.

"May I come in?" Mel asked politely, determined to enter even if Janice said no. She WAS going to talk to the stubborn, pig-headed, totally unreasonable woman.

Jack smirked. "Sure. You gonna to play with us, honey?" The two other players snickered.

Janice bit back her natural inclination to intervene on the tall woman's behalf. Instead she forced herself to just sit back and stare at the resourceful brunette, begrudgingly impressed that she had extracted her latest whereabouts from Nicolas. Especially since she had threatened him with castration - with a dull knife - if he told Mel anything. But then, Melinda Pappas could charm anyone, she considered. If US Army was smart, they would recruit Mel to speak with Hitler about the errors of his ways, Janice considered, certain the conflict would be over before America got involved. 

"No thank you," Mel responded, looking at the archeologist pointedly. "I've come to talk with Dr. Covington."

"Talk? Heh. Can we watch Janice 'talk' to you?" One poker player snickered.

Mel looked at him a curious moment before her eyes widened slightly when she realized what he meant. To her credit, she didn't let his rude comment fluster her. "It's a private conversation," she said crisply, looking back to the green eyes focused on her.

"Damn. I'd bet it would be quite the . . . conversation," one man grumbled with disappointment.

"We have nothing more to say, Miss Pappas," Janice said briskly, finally breaking her gaze and pouring herself another drink. 

"You're wrong," Mel said firmly, not about to be dismissed so easily. The men snickered; they knew Janice didn't like being told she was wrong. "Would you gentlemen please excuse us?" Mel asked politely, looking at the poker players, who glanced around the room curiously.

"If you want them to leave, you'll have to be a bit more blunt," Janice said with mild amusement, lighting up a new cigar and expelling a big puff - a habit she knew Mel detested.

"Please leave," Melinda said firmly to the men.

"Eh, I don't have no more money anyway," one player said, making Mel wince at the double negative. Janice bit back a smile at Mel's pained expression.

"Yeah. But Doc, you'll have to give us a chance to win our money back."

"If you bring more, we can play," Janice said with a smile, puffing away.

After the men left and the creaky door was shut, Mel stood quietly as Janice continued to pollute the air. When the smoke became too great to endure, Mel sighed and marched over to the window.   Opening it, she took a deep breath of fresh air.

"You know, there's even more fresh air outside," Janice offered helpfully, then the cigar was suddenly plucked out her mouth and promptly extinguished in the ash tray.

"Hey! This isn't the goddamn tent, goddam . . ."

"Quiet, Janice. I have a few things to say to you," Mel interjected firmly.

"There is nothing you're gonna say that's gonna change my mind," Janice said stubbornly. "So why don't you go back to your nice hotel and enjoy the last few nights before you return to the States?"

Mel sighed with frustration, knowing Janice was not interested in listening to reason.

"All right," Mel said.

"Good," Janice said hesitantly, surprised Mel would give up so easily, especially after going to the trouble to hunt her down.  "Good," Janice said more firmly.

Mel's mind raced to think of something.

"I'll drive you back to your hotel," Janice said, standing up to get her hat and keys.

Mel's eyes drifted to the card table.

"You shouldn't be walking alone in this area . . . what the hell do you think you are doing?" Janice blurted with irritation, noticing Mel was sitting and collecting the cards.

"Before I return to my hotel, will you at least indulge me one last time, Dr. Covington?" Mel asked, the richness of her Southern voice washing over the startled archeologist. Mel was buying more time to think of something . . . or wear Janice down into talking to her.

"We've never had a . . . first time," Janice responded uncomfortably, noting an unfamiliar challenge in those blue eyes, making them even more mesmerizing. Not good, Janice thought, swallowing hard. Not good at all, she thought with concern.

"Then indulge me with one first time, then?" Mel amended as a plan began to form. Though she had to admit, when she thought of winning someone over, beating them at poker wasn't what usually came to mind.

Janice blinked. Mel had never been so . . . so confident. What the hell was she doing? It was hard enough to tell her to leave when she wasn't so . . . so.  Ah fuck, Janice thought with growing panic, wondering if Mel was channeling Xena or something . . . .  Crap.

"I . . . I thought you didn't approve of gambling," Janice said, trying to regain her equilibrium around this woman.

"I don't," Mel relayed with a small grin, evoking a confused look from Janice. "But this isn't gambling; I'm not going to lose," Mel explained with such confidence, Janice almost believed her.

"Nothing is certain in life . . . or poker, Mel.  And if you think otherwise, you'll be sadly disappointed," Janice warned softly, her eyes dropping miserably to the card table.

"I disagree. There are some things of which I am very certain . . . Dr. Covington," Mel said pointedly, hoping she was making some dent in that stubborn armor.

Janice cursed herself. Why didn't the hell didn't she try to send Mel away earlier? Before she had become to consider this woman a friend? Before she had grown to care? Before . . . . "Ah shit," she thought. Now, because of her fucking weakness, she was going to have to make a less-than-graceful retreat. She hoped she didn't have to make a complete ass of herself. But she would - for both their sakes.

A hard expression filled Janice's face. "Sweetheart, you'll lose with me," she warned. Janice's comment made Mel even more determined to convince her she was wrong about running away. "I'll give you a ride back to your. . . ."

"No," the Southerner said firmly, quickly capturing the archeologist's forearm with a surprisingly strong grip, stopping the escape attempt. Janice's eyes widened, startled by the touch and the intense blue gaze boring into her.

"If you're so confident of the outcome, Dr. Covington, then there's no need for you to be afraid, is there?" Mel taunted, knowing the proud archeologist would not back down if her courage was challenged. Janice's arm was released with an unmistakable caress, startling Janice even more.

After blinking a few times, Janice glanced at the goose bumps now covering her arm. As when she first met Mel, every sensible fiber in her being told her to stay away, she's out of your league, you'll end up ruining her and she'll break your heart. Unfortunately, other fibers, which greatly outnumbered the sensible kind, were once again sending her very opposite signals. But she had to do what was right, even if Mel ended up hating her. Her heart clenched at that thought.

Janice's eyes met the pleased Southerner's. She slowly placed her hands on the table and leaned towards Mel, whose heart raced at the sudden thought that Janice was going to kiss her.

"So . . . you want me," Janice responded, her eyes locking onto the Southerner's lips, where the once confident smile began to fade at the suddenly forward behavior. "To play poker with you?" Janice finally added.

Mel pushed up her glasses and nodded with a weak smile. "Isn't that what I said?" She said with forced nonchalance that wasn't very convincing.

"All right, Sweetheart," Janice purred with a slow grin and sat down. "You're on. You wanna deal?" Janice offered, nodding toward the deck.

"You . . . You go ahead," Mel responded with another weak smile.

"Don't mind if I do," Janice smiled thinly, picked up the deck and shuffled. The first few shuffles were quick and simple. Looking up from the cards, Janice found Mel's eyes focused intently on her. With a slight smirk, Janice spread the cards out across the table in a grand flourish worthy of professional prestidigitator. With a small flick at one end, the arc of cards neatly flipped over, revealing their faces. Then, with another slight flick at the other end, the cards turned back, face down on the table. Swiftly, Janice scooped up the cards and continued with a mesmerizing display of shuffling.

Mel blinked and continued to watch the archeologist's skilled hands.  When Janice had stopped shuffling, her eyes lifted to see a smug grin.

"It's not too late to back out now, Mel," Janice offered graciously, shuffling the deck with one hand.

Mel cleared her throat and sat up proudly. "Well, Janice, I've been taught that those with the most bravado usually have the least to brag about," she noted crisply, her eyebrow rising in challenge.

Janice grinned with amusement. "Well, Sweetheart, they also say a good education doesn't come cheap. And you are about to get one. Good thing you're rich. Ante up."

"Uh . . . " Mel looked a bit uncertain.

"If you want to play poker with me, Mel, you'll have to bet," Janice informed her, knowing Mel deplored gambling. "This ain't bridge and I don't do points," Janice added deliberately, knowing the poor grammar irritated the Southerner, who frowned.

"Do we have to bet money?" Mel asked, biting her lip.

"Mel, if you are not willing to bet, there's no reason to. . . ."

"Oh, I was going to bet," Mel quickly interjected. "But I thought we could bet something besides money," Mel offered mysteriously with an innocent shrug. If Janice said yes, she had a 50 - 50 chance of winning, didn't she?

"You want to play strip poker??" Janice asked with shock, praying she didn't say yes. 

"Good Heavens, Janice! What kind of lady do you think I am??" Mel retorted indignantly, causing Janice to wince at her stupid assumption. Or perhaps, wishful thinking, she reluctantly considered with an internal groan, knowing that sort of thinking wasn't going to help - it was what made Mel leaving necessary in the first place.

"What do you have in mind, Mel?" Janice said calmly, trying to ignore the Southerner's irritated look.

"Well, I thought it would be interesting to leave that open," Mel said.

"That would be interesting," Janice admitted and blew out a relieved breath. This was going to be easier than expected. If anything, Melinda Pappas was an honorable woman and would fulfill the terms of the bet, regardless of how much she didn't want to. "And dangerous," she warned, still hoping she would back out. She really didn't want to see Mel's face when she lost, knowing it would be much harder this time to tell her to leave. 

"I'm not worried, Janice," Mel offered sincerely, smiling warmly.

"God damn it, Mel! You should be!" Janice snapped harshly, startling the Southerner. "I almost got you killed, I've gotten you drunk, and now? You're gambling with me. You should reconsider just how easily you place your trust in . . . ." Janice blurted with frustration, needing her to see, but was promptly cut off.

"For your information, Dr. Covington," Mel interjected tersely. "YOU can not take credit for almost getting me killed. The Nazis, Ares, those smugglers, and well, yours truly after I discovered that bee hive, are all to blame for that. Not YOU.  And as far as getting drunk and gambling, I am a grown woman, old enough to make my own choices."

"And mistakes," Janice added. Mel frowned.

"Are you going to be all talk and shuffle, Dr. Covington - or are you going to DEAL?"

Janice sighed, knowing Mel was not going to listen to reason. "All right, Mel, if this is what you want," Janice said softly and dealt the cards, knowing this was the only way she could get her to leave. Forever.

"It is," Mel said firmly as she eagerly picked up her hand. Pushing her glasses up, she inspected her cards. Three sevens! This was going to be easier than she expected, she thought gleefully at her lucky hand.

Jesus, Mel, you're broadcasting, Janice considered critically at the happy face, shaking her head with a heavy sigh before glancing down at her own hand.

Hearing the sigh from the archeologist, Mel smiled more.

Hmmmm, Janice thought as she considered her hand. A nine, ten, Jack, and King-of-Hearts with a lonely Three-of-Spades. She looked back at Mel, who was staring expectantly at her. "How many?" Janice asked nonchalantly, not revealing her growing concern about her chances for a winning hand with a flush or inside straight. 

Mel grinned as she neatly discarded a King-of-clubs and a Queen-of-diamonds on the kitchen table.

You're giving away information, Janice thought disapprovingly as she dealt the Southerner two new cards. Picking up her own hand, she looked at it, then glanced at the Southerner, who viewed her two new cards with a pleased smile. Jesus Mel, you're broadcasting your hand again, Janice thought critically, thankful Mel didn't normally gamble or she'd be poor or nak. . . , poor. She'd be poor, Janice considered, wincing at her rogue thoughts, then forced herself to focus on the hand.  Mel appeared to have something to smile about.  Either four-of-a-kind, non face cards, or a full house, she concluded from the two discards as concern of losing invaded her thoughts.

The archeologist finally pulled one card from her hand. She tossed it on the table, face down as a seasoned player would. Slowly reaching for a new card, she eyed the Southerner's surprised face with mild amusement. The confident Southern smile had been quickly replaced with concern.

Janice placed the card in her hand without even inspecting it, Mel noted with great frustration as she glanced down at her own hand of sevens and queens - a full house. Pushing her glasses up, she looked at Janice, whose face revealed absolutely nothing.

The two women silently stared at each other.  The tension was almost too great to bear, Mel thought, determined not to blink first.

She does have the most amazing eyes, Janice thought with a small sigh, wondering if any of her suitors ever took the time to see what caused their sparkle. There was so much more to this Southern debutante than she had initially thought. Sure she recognized the obvious right away, the hypnotic blue eyes, the classic beautiful face, and a long set of gams that she had difficulty not drinking in every time Mel entered the room. But, contrary to Janice's first impression, Melinda Pappas was no delicate flower. Though she didn't wield a sword, unless possessed by her ancestor, Melinda wielded things much more dangerous - a sharp mind, surpassing most of the degreed academics Janice had ever met, and a steel will that could not be bent when her mind was made up. Which could be a real pain in the ass. Like now.

But the most dangerous of all was how, with one look, Melinda Pappas could make even a grave robber's daughter feel . . . special.

After a frustratingly long moment, uncertain blue eyes finally dropped to her cards as Mel bit her lip.

Janice stared at Mel's red lips a moment before Mel finally asked with a bit impatience "Well, what do you have??"

"Ladies first," Janice countered.

Mel smiled uneasily and spread her cards out on the table and announced with forced confidence "A full house. Queen's high."

When Janice finally looked at her cards, a feeling of dread washed over her.  "That's . . . a mighty hard hand to beat," Janice said hesitantly, staring at the cards as a pensive look filled her face.

A huge smile appeared on Mel's face, which easily drew Janice's attention from her cards.  Janice would have sworn that bright smile lit up the gloomy room. 

"I told you I'd win!" Mel gushed with happy relief.  "There was no other choice," Mel added confidently, making Janice wonder if she should be relieved or terrified that all of her efforts to push Mel away had been so thoroughly defeated. 

God help us both, Janice considered, folding up her hand and placing the cards on the table. "So, Miss Pappas.  What, exactly, have I gotten myself into?"

She didn't think it was possible, but Mel's smile grew bigger.

"First, you are coming back to my hotel with me. You are not spending the night in this, this, . . . room," Mel said with great authority, glancing around the room with distaste.

"Mel . . . ," Janice said uncomfortably.

"Good Lord, Janice, my bathroom is bigger than this place - and a lot cleaner," Mel said with a frown. "Besides, we have a lot to discuss and I would feel more comfortable in my hotel," Mel said, pushing up her glasses.

"Discuss?" Janice said distastefully; she really did not want to discuss anything.

"Of course. I have no intention of dictating terms, as you are so fond of," Mel said, looking sharply at the frowning archeologist. "I suspect you are even less receptive to that than I am."

After a silent moment, Janice sighed and stood. "I'll be a minute," she said and began to collect her meager belongings.

A pleased smile formed as Mel watched the archeologist pack her bag. Who would have thought that she, an inexperienced Southern debutante, could possibly win against the worldly archeologist at poker!  Certainly not Janice, Mel considered with amusement, thankful for Janice's overconfidence.  Curiously glancing at the table, she reached for Janice's cards.

"Leave them," Janice said, throwing her bag over her shoulder and putting on her fedora. "The boys will use them," she added, walking towards her.

"I was just wondering what you had," Mel said with an amused smile, reaching out for the cards again.

"Come on, Mel," Janice said impatiently, offering her hand to the seated Southerner. "We've got lots of ‘discussing' to do," she said unenthusiastically.

Mel eyed Janice and her hand with mild surprise, then glanced at the cards curiously as a happy realization dawned - she didn't need to see them.  Looking into Janice's questioning eyes, a very pleased smile formed as Mel accepted the offered hand.

The End


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