Disclaimers: See Part I for disclaimers to this story.

Comments to Redhawk. Constructive criticism gladly accepted.

Part VIII: Thursday

It was a slow process. As time went by, various sensations began to break through the barriers of darkness that held her. The steady beat of her heart, the reddish hue that signified closed eyes in a lit room, the fuzzy-headed feeling that was associated with being drugged. There was a smell, medicinal in nature, that assailed her as she inhaled deeply. Slight hum of some sort of equipment that coincided with tiny, high pitched beeps. And pain. A dull ache that centered in her middle and spread out from there to nearly every muscle in her body.

Xena breathed deeply again, happy to not feel any broken ribs, and shifted a little. The sound of crisp, clean sheets rustled in her ear. And another sound.

"Xena?" A quiet whisper, not meant to disturb yet to gain attention of a waking woman.

The dark haired woman smiled. It took some work to get her eyes open, but her efforts were rewarded by the sight that met them.

Rickie was standing over her hospital bed, a concerned look on her beautiful face. Her green eyes lit up with joy. "Welcome back, warrior-mine."

All that came out of her mouth was a croak, and she stopped and tried to clear her throat.

The redhead disappeared from view for a few seconds, returning with a cup and straw. She helped her lover sit up, scooting to sit behind her on the bed, and offered the water.

Xena leaned back into the embrace, a shudder coursing through her at the tenderness she felt rather than the pain and torment that had been her only companions for the last day and a half. She sipped eagerly at the water.

"Not too much, baby. You haven't had any in two days."

The warrior forced herself to stop, leaning her head back against Rickie's right shoulder. Her lover shifted as she set the cup aside before returning her full attention to the dark woman, holding her close and running fingers through dark hair.

"Good morning," Xena finally said with a lethargic smile. "I guess we made it, huh?"

"Yep. We did." There was a soft chuckle. "But, if it's okay with you, I'd rather stop with these tender hospital moments."

There was a raspy, whispery laugh and the dark woman caught the hand that circled her upper abdomen and gave it a squeeze. "You got a deal there, Rick." There was a silence and Xena could feel the uneven breathing of her lover as she leaned against her.

"I was so scared, Xena," came the tiny voice.

With an Immortal will, the woman forced her injured body upright and pulled the redhead from behind her to her chest. She felt the hot tears soaking through the shoulder of the flimsy hospital gown and she lay back down with a soft grunt, cradling the younger woman as she cried. She caressed the body she held, only just noticing the unfamiliar clothing - hospital scrub pants and a grey t-shirt that said "Polizei" on it.

After some time had passed, the tears leveled off and slowed to a stop. There was a snuffle and some hiccoughing. "This is getting to be a hell of a habit. I think I've cried more in the last two days than I have all year."

"It's not like it isn't warranted, Rickie." She caressed redgold hair, finally noticing the IV needle attached to her right arm. Electrodes attached to her chest, oxygen tube in her nose. Surprised we didn't get all tangled up! She stopped her petting long enough to pull the oxygen tube from her face. "Oh, yeah! Much better."

Rickie giggled and looked a little sheepish. "I should get down..." and she began to extricate herself.

The dark woman clamped her arm around the teenager. "Oh, no you don't You're all I thought of through this mess. I'm not letting you go anywhere." With a bit of rearranging, she finally was able to cover the both of them with the sheet and blanket.

They lay quietly in each other's arms, basking in the closeness. Xena's awareness expanded and she realized she was in an intensive care unit. No walls, just curtains. The low humming of other equipment in the room, other voices speaking in whispers. The curtain at the foot of the bed was open a couple of feet and she could see another bed and occupant. Sunlight came into the room from somewhere, attesting to the fact that it was still daylight.



"You were right."

There was a pause. "About...?"

Whispered response. "Once you kill, it changes everything."

Xena's heart lurched, the accompanying beep from the machine nearby verifying it. Tears sprung to her eyes and she wrapped her arms more firmly around the younger woman. "Ah, Dreamer. I'm so sorry you had to find that out." She cuddled her lover. "Tell me what happened."

And Rickie did, from the time of her warrior's last demise until the Polizei showed up in the bloody basement. Her voice was low, barely heard, but Xena was able to pick it up with ease. And they both shed tears for Rickie's loss.

"I think the scariest part was that... I wanted to do it.... It wasn't an accident or just a reaction. She hurt you and I couldn't allow her to live."

"But, she's Immortal, Rickie. She still lives," Xena pointed out.

There was a slight shrug and the redhead traced the flowered design on her lover's gown. "Yeah. But if the cops hadn't shown up.... I dunno. I think I woulda taken her head myself." A few more tears leaked from emerald eyes.

"Shhh.... I understand. It's okay." More cuddling, more caressing. Eventually, Xena began humming an ancient lullaby, her voice soothing. And before long, the two women both fell into an exhausted slumber.

It was a slow process. As time went by, various sensations began to break through the barriers of darkness that held her. The steady beat of her heart, the reddish hue that signified closed eyes in a lit room, the fuzzy-headed feeling that was associated with being drugged. There was a smell, medicinal in nature, that assailed her as she inhaled deeply. Slight hum of some sort of equipment that coincided with tiny, high pitched beeps. And pain. A dull ache from her middle and another from the left side of her face.

And, as always with consciousness came the voices. The voices of God and his Schuelers, telling her what to do, helping her with her decisions, explaining His word and her role within the Gospel. Slowly, dark brown eyes opened and the Prediger swiveled her aching head to look around. A private hospital room met her gaze. The mid afternoon sun played across the room against the wall to her left. An IV needle stuck out of her right arm and wires connected her to the beeping machinery on her left. Seated in a chair nearby was a uniformed Polizei officer.

Upon noticing his charge was awake, the officer spoke quietly into his radio. he set the Spiegel magazine he'd been flipping through down and rose to his feet. "Ms. Pucelle? Would you like some water?"

Jeanne nodded, wincing at the throbbing in her head. She raised her left hand and felt bandages on her face where the chain bolt had cracked her cheekbone.

The officer helped her sit up and held the cup to her lips. She drank deeply before turning away and leaning back into her pillows. "How long has it been?"

"Not long, ma'am. Just a few hours."

And then there was a knock on the door. Kommissar Johannes entered the room with two other officers. He waved the closer man back as he neared the bed. "Ms. Pucelle," he nodded solemnly to her. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I've been run over by a Peterbilt. Did you catch the license number, Kommissar?" the woman responded with a winning smile.

Johannes eyes crinkled in response. "No, ma'am, I didn't." There was a pause as he pulled out a notebook. "You realize, ma'am, that you are under arrest for the kidnapping and assault of Xena Amphipolous?" At her nod, he continued, "And there are some other questions we'd like to ask, as well."

"Ask away, Kommissar. As you can see, I'm not going anywhere."

She awoke the second time, a nurse and two interns speaking quietly at the foot of her bed. The warrior stretched, careful to not disturb the redhead curled up beside her. Her movements attracted their attention and the trio descended upon her.

"We're moving you to a private room, ma'am," the nurse informed her as he dismantled the electrodes attached to her chest. "Your recovery has been absolutely amazing."

"Good," Xena stated. "I've always been a fast healer. When do you think I'll get outta here?"

The man grinned at her. "Once we get you into your room, the doctor will have a look at you. You'll have to ask him."

With practiced movements, one tech hooked her IV bag up to the bed. The other began wrapping up the assorted wires and tubes, preparing for the next patient.

The nurse looked down at the teenager. "Perhaps we should wake her....?" he asked, eyebrows raised.

"No," Xena shook her head. "Can we just let her sleep? She could really use it."

The man nodded. He and the first technician wheeled the bed out of the Intensive Care Unit.

Once ensconced in her new room, Xena glanced around. The sun was beginning to set, turning the light of day red as it shone through the window. The lamp on her nightstand was on and the nurse turned on the television and left the controls within easy reach. He retrieved a pitcher of water and a glass for her before leaving.

She drank nearly half the pitcher before finally feeling sated and leaning back against the pillows. Rickie cuddled closer in her slumber, murmuring under her breath, and the older woman watched her sleep and listened to the drone of the newscast.

"And, after a surprising raid, the Polizei may have taken the serial killer, the Prediger, into custody. Sources say that the latest of possible victims, Xena Amphipolous of the United States, was found alive in the basement of this home."

Xena's pale eyes snapped to the television screen, seeing a lot of hustle and bustle around a small two story building. The announcer was standing before it, wind ruffling her blonde hair. "Acting on an anonymous domestic disturbance call, the Polizei located Ms. Amphipolous, who's been missing since late Monday night." The woman droned on about the victim. The 'victim' began flipping channels, checking other news reports for information on this Prediger.

About twenty minutes later, a grizzled old man in a white lab coat entered the room. His dress and manner fairly screamed 'doctor', with a stethoscope hanging from his neck and medical file under one arm. He approached the bed, peering over his glasses at the two occupants. "Ms. Amphipolous?" he queried.

"Yes," Xena nodded, turning off the television.

"This would be easier if...." and he trailed off as he looked pointedly at the other woman in the bed.

"Oh! Yeah!" The dark woman coaxed her lover to wakefulness. It took a few moments, but the redhead was soon seated in a chair nearby, bleary green eyes watching the proceedings.

The doctor poked and prodded, checked reflexes and pupil dilation, studied the belly wound that was neatly stitched up, and checked other cuts, bumps and bruises. Since all of the commentary was in German, Rickie was left to stew as she waited to be informed of what was going on. Eventually, he finished his inspection and nodded with a befuddled grin. A few more words were spoken and he left the room, writing on the chart he carried with him.

Rickie stood and approached the bed. "Well? What's the prognosis?"

The older woman smiled. "Picture of health.... considering. They wanna keep me overnight for observation." She took up Rickie's hand and kissed it.

The redhead perched on the bed. "Only overnight?"

"Yeah. Told him I wasn't staying longer than that."

"Xena...." Rickie frowned in warning.

The Immortal raised the hand to her lips again. "It'll be alright, my Queen. By tomorrow, I'll be well on the road to recovery."

The teenager blinked at the surge of emotion that overcame her. The words 'my Queen' echoed in her past and she knew that Xena had called her that long before. "Queen, huh? I kinda like the sound of that! Was Gabrielle royalty?"

The warrior grinned. "Yes. She was the Queen of my heart. Just as you are."

"Does an Amazon Queen beat a Warrior Princess?"

"Do you really wanna find out?"

Amazon? Rickie thought, her head cocked to one side at the flash of memory. Before she could quiz her lover, however, there was a knock on the door.

"Come in," Xena called.

A man eased his way into the room. "The doctor said you are able to receive visitors....?"

"Yes, please," and the dark woman used her free hand to wave him closer.

As the blond approached the bed, he grinned warmly at Rickie before turning to the older woman. "We haven't been introduced, Ms. Amphipolous. I'm Kommissar Karl Johannes of the M¸nchen Polizei. I've been working on your case since your disappearance." He reached out and shook the injured woman's hand.

"Well, I'd say it was a pleasure, Kommissar, but I'd be lying."

Johannes chuckled and pulled up one of the visitor chairs. "Do you mind? I've a few questions for you."

"No, go ahead."

The man settled down and pulled out a notebook. "First off, do you remember the night you were abducted?"

They spent the remainder of the early evening going over what had happened since her abduction on Monday night. The exact nature of Xena's injuries over the extended period of her imprisonment were not brought up. Rather, things were left on a milder note with the most serious damage occurring just prior to the Polizei's arrival. Both women filled out statements, signed forms, and generally completed all the paperwork necessary to keep the law enforcement agency happy.

"You realize, of course, that both of you will have to return to M¸nchen to testify at Ms. Pucelle's hearing, ja?" the man asked as he closed his notebook.

"Yes, Kommissar, we are aware of that." Xena squeezed her lover's suddenly cold fingers. "Is there any reason why we can't continue our vacation? I'd be glad to give you our full itinerary so you can contact us at any time."

Johannes considered. "I see no reason why not. It'll be nearly a month before a hearing anyway."

"What's going to happen to her now?" Rickie asked softly.

"Well, she'll recuperate under guard here in the hospital. When she's able to be moved, she's going to be placed in an institute for psychological testing and evaluation. After that, it depends on the results of the tests." The blond man rose and stowed his notebook back into his breast pocket. "Well, I'll be going now. I certainly hope that the rest of your vacation is... uneventful."

The women laughed. "Thank you," Xena smiled. "I'll get in touch with my travel agent tomorrow and have them fax a schedule to you."

"Thank you." Kommissar Johannes took his leave.

The sun had set and the room was dark except for the soft light of the lamp on the nightstand. Almost as the door closed, it re-opened with a nurse bustling into the room. She fussed over her patient, changing the IV bag, plumping pillows, and taking dinner orders. Within minutes, she was gone again, leaving the two to stare at her retreating back a bit breathless.

"Must be a busy night," Rickie commented with a grin.

"I guess!"

And then there was another knock on the door. A dark head poked in and grinned at the women. "You decent, Xe?"


The police officer nodded and stepped into the room. He moved to the bedside, smiling like the cat who ate the canary. "How ya doing?"

"Fine.... What the hell are you doing here?"

The man shrugged. "Heard you had some trouble. Couldn't get Rickie on the phone so I took the next flight out." He leaned forward and frowned at her. "Next time you get kidnapped and tortured, you wanna do it where they speak Spanish? It'd make things a whole lot easier on me."

"I'll keep that in mind," was the dry response. Her eyes narrowed. "Siddown," the warrior ordered.

Suddenly wary, Holt slowly settled into the chair so recently vacated by the Polizei. He afforded the teenager a cautious glance. "Uh.... yeah, Xe?"

Rickie, realizing what her lover was doing, slid off the bed and circled around the chair. Within seconds she was standing behind their friend, small hand resting lightly on his shoulders. While it wasn't really a threat to him, the message was clear. You're not going anywhere.

"How did you find out there was trouble?" A dark eyebrow raised over pale ice.

"Oh! Well.... Uh...." He glanced nervously up at the redhead who smiled sweetly in return. "Well, you know how it goes, Xe.... Um.... American citizen kidnapped by a local serial killer... Makes international news."

"Is that so?" Xena drawled.

"Yep." Holt nodded his head vigorously.

The warrior studied her nails for a few moments, allowing the tension to grow and fill the air. She could hear the gentle creak of the chair as Holt shifted in it, fidgeting. She abruptly pinned him with a sharp gaze. "Emil, you can tell me what I want to know about you and your associates.... or...."

Holt swallowed, not exactly afraid, but dreading whatever was coming next. He knew to his bones that the Immortal before him wouldn't hurt him. But, there was no telling what she'd do if she had a personal vendetta against the Watchers. "Or what?"

"I'm thinking that it would really mess you people up if I disappeared. If I climbed on the nearest steeple and told everyone that was like me about your little clandestine organization." Blue eyes flickered up to her lover and then back. "What do you think?"

Holt frowned and considered his options - or lack of them. His dark eyes lost focus as the gears in his head began chugging along at a fine pace. At best, it would mean a more difficult job to locate and document the lives of the Immortals. At the worst, a war between their kind and ours. He shuddered at that thought. Besides, she's one of the best friends I have....

Several minutes passed before he finally came to a decision. He looked up, surprised to see Rickie was no longer behind him, but seated on the bed in front of him, watching as the Immortal watched.

Holt cleared his throat. "A long time ago, it became known that there were people in the world - special ones. People who couldn't die...."

At one point, Holt's tale had gotten interrupted by the arrival of dinner. He declined any offers of food from the women, though he did accept the apple juice from Rickie's meal.

Xena's injuries were such that her dinner was very much on the bland side, a dietician's design to not overload damaged intestines and other delicate organs. Her lover shared her more appetizing menu of chicken and dumplings. And Holt continued his story.

Eventually, the frenetic nurse hustled in once more and, while glaring sternly at the man, insisted in broken English, "You! Out!"

The man blinked dark eyes at her in surprise as Rickie burst into laughter.

"Out! Shoo!" she waved at him, stepping forward menacingly.

Rather than be run over by the insistent woman, Holt stumbled to his feet and snatched up his jacket. "Visiting hours are over, I guess. See you tomorrow, Xe!" And then he was headed out of the hospital room.

Once the man was out the door, the nurse stepped into the hall and waved someone else in. As she held the door, another bed was rolled into the room by a technician. As soon as the bed was set up, he was shooed out as well.

The nurse turned and, hands on hips, looked at the two amused women. Her stern gaze and no nonsense demeanor put a sudden cap on their humor.

Rickie bit her lower lip. "I think it's supposed to be bed time."

"Uh huh. I think you're right."

The nurse's foot began tapping in impatience as she looked pointedly at the new bed and then at Rickie.

"Uh.... I think I'd better get over there before she explodes." She was warmed by a low chuckle, and glanced back at her lover with a small grin. Then, the teenager hopped off the bed she was seated on and climbed into the other one.

A satisfied smile crossed the woman's face and she moved forward to tuck the younger woman in. Afterwards, she checked on Xena and straightened out her blanket and pillows. Finally happy with the arrangement, she beamed at the women and chattered in German.

Xena responded warmly with a smile. Her young lover smiled as well, more from the tones of the voices than any understanding. And then the nurse whisked briskly out of the room.

"What was that all about?"

"She wished us good night and pleasant dreams."

Rickie eyed the door. "Do you think she'll be back?"

The warrior stretched and settled down on the bed. "Probably. At the very least, this IV drip isn't going to last through the night. Someone's either gonna replace or remove it."

The redhead nodded. Silence descended on the room. Several minutes slowly ticked by.

Finally. "Xena....?"

"C'mon," and the dark woman scooted to one side and lifted the blankets.

Needing no further invitation, Rickie was across the small space dividing them in a heartbeat and snuggling up to her favorite person. "Oh, yeah. I like this much better!"

Xena grinned, wrapping long arms around the smaller woman. "Me, too."

And, after a day that seemed to have lasted an eternity, the lovers drifted off into Morpheus' grasp.

Part IX: Friday

Rickie stepped out of the bathroom, feeling a lot more herself. Holt had been able to talk Helmut into letting him into their hotel room. She was now dressed in her own clothes and it felt very nice.

Good thing I packed a pair of boots, she thought, wiggling her toes in her Doc Martens. The tennis shoes she'd been wearing at Jeanne's were going to be beyond repair. And since they'd been confiscated as evidence, it was probably just as well. The only thing missing was her jacket, which was at Jeanne's house. Have to see if I can get it back. My passport's in it!

Holt sat on the other bed, idly flipping through the television channels as the Immortal continued with her myriad phone calls.

The warrior had called the owner of the hotel, thanking him for his help and verifying that it was alright for Holt to collect their things. She bid him a fond farewell and made arrangements to return in a few weeks.

The next call went to an American plastic surgeon she'd done a job for previously. She was able to get a referral to another surgeon in London, which she subsequently called, making an appointment. No way, no how am I gonna go through life with this blasted brand!

Next on her list was the travel agency. Changes were made from their original travel plans, hotel accommodations altered, and instructed for the changes to be faxed to the Polizei in Munich.

Her call to Lloyd's of London was not a good one. The Dartmouth estate auction had gone off without a hitch days earlier. The chakram had been sold at a fairly high amount. And the buyer insisted on remaining anonymous. After a few more phone calls to various contacts, the dark woman was able to get at least a company name out of someone and a vague description of the buyer from someone else who had attended.

"Dammit," she muttered crossly as she hung up the phone for the last time. "If she's fucked this up for me, she's gonna regret ever being born."

Rickie settled down on the bed beside her, caressing a sheet covered thigh. "It'll work out. We'll get it."

The dark woman smiled ruefully at her companion.

"But, Xe, isn't it a fake?" Holt continued to flip through the channels. "I mean, the reports from Pappas and Covington claimed that they found it in the forties and it was broken in half, buried under a ton of rocks and sand."

Xena shook her head. "That's not the real one. I don't know where it came from." Vague memories of a fever, a coma, visions and voices in the deep green of the Amazonian rainforest assailed her. "I had my chakram up until 912. After that, Dartmouth had it. The one that Dr. Covington and her companion found was the fake."

"Ya know, Xe," the man said, dropping the remote and turning towards her. "I've got tons of questions for you. Your history goes back before the Watchers and a lot of what we have is hearsay and conjecture. I was --"


"But, Xe...."

"No! Deal with it, Emil! I didn't ask for you people to follow me around like puppy dogs looking for a bone...." The thought that a group of people had been following her around, chronicling her history for at least three hundred years fairly nauseated her. Don't these people have a life? She rubbed tiredly at her eyes. "Sorry for snapping...."

"Naw, it's okay," Holt waved off the apology. "As I always say, what's a little extreme bloodloss between friends?"

The trio sat in silence for a few moments, faint hospital sounds coming from the hall and canned laughter from the German comedy on the screen. It was finally interrupted by the arrival of the doctor.

Emil was immediately ousted from the room, grumbling under his breath. And then the dark patient was once again subjected to pokes, prods, reflex tests, and so on and so forth. The wound was unbandaged and studied closely. The older man, after many a "Hmmm" finally spoke to Xena. Their conversation was short and pleasant, and he finished off by giving her a business card and a pat on the knee. He nodded and smiled at Rickie as he left the room.


"I'm outta here at noon," her lover grinned.

"What's the card?" the redhead asked as she moved back to the bed, peering at the paper curiously.

"Doctor's referral for London. I can have the stitches removed in three or four days." Xena tossed the card onto the nightstand and hopped out of bed.

"Three or four days?! I guess being Immortal does have its good points!" the teenager grinned. She plopped onto her lover's bed. "Betcha I wouldn't have had my jaw wired shut for two months if I'd been one."

The warrior was digging in her suitcase. "Nope, you wouldn't have. Jeanne broke my jaw... Twice."

Rickie winced in sympathetic pain. "Owie!" She rubbed the right side of her jaw which still had a tendency to ache now and again, one of the few reminders of her own hellacious sessions of violence.

Banishing the images that brought up, she focused on the tall form of her lover rummaging through her baggage for clothing. With an evil grin, she slid off the bed and came up behind her.

Xena felt a small hand caress her backside. A lithe body pressed gently up against her right side and she heard a sultry whisper.

"Ya know, I think whoever designed these hospital gowns should get an award."

The dark woman froze, enjoying the warmth radiating from her lover. Goosebumps raised in the wake of the questing hand as it slid up her back, fingers tugging at the knots holding it not-so-closed. There was a shift of movement behind her and her back was covered by Rickie, the small hands meandering forward to caress her breasts and belly. Wet kisses trailed along her spine. "You realize someone might walk in?" she asked in a husky whisper.

"Spice of life," was the response. And then teeth bit into her shoulders and a growl emitted from the lovely redhead.

Fortunately, no one walked in.

"You know this is a waste of time," the dark woman grumbled for the twentieth time in five minutes.

"Tough. Hospital policy and you know it," Holt jibed, pushing the wheelchair forward.

Xena sneered up at him. "Oh, yeah," she said, sarcasm dripping from her voice. "Hades knows I'm such an invalid."

Rickie, walking alongside, reached down and scooped up her lover's hand. "We're almost out of here, warrior-mine. Bear with us."

There was a massive sigh from the chairbound individual and she fell silent, preferring to glare at everyone in their path.

Soon they were at the front apron of the hospital. Holt dashed off and an intern settled their luggage down beside the wheelchair. Their nurse checked over them, making sure the dark woman didn't try to get out of her seat. The warrior bore the situation with stoic face, knowing that the worst was over and she'd soon be free.

A few minutes later, a familiar rental pulled up. Holt jumped out, a wide grin on his face. He opened the trunk and began loading the bags while the nurse wheeled the chair forward and began the transferal of her charge.

Eventually, everything was in readiness. The patient was impatient as she scowled out of the back window. The redhead was riding shotgun, quite pleased that Kommissar Johannes had stopped by and returned her jacket and passport. And the driver was salivating at the thought of actually getting to drive on the legendary Autobahn.

The auto pulled away from the institute. Once off the hospital grounds, Holt glanced into the rearview mirror. "Which way to the airport?"

Wicked blue fire looked back at him. He watched the Immortal sit forward, leaning over the front seat. With a swift movement, two sets of fingers were applied to his neck with just enough pressure to show she meant business. "Pull over," she growled.

"Xena!" Rickie said, appalled.

The warrior afforded her lover a quick, warning glance before pressing fingers harder against the nerves in the man's throat. "Now!" she hissed.

Holy shit, she's gonna take me out now! I should never have told her about the Watchers! Dark eyes wide, Holt hastily complied, the auto leaving black marks on the side of the road. He swallowed nervously against the fingers that were bruising him.

"Now, get out of the car," she ordered. "Slowly."

He released the seatbelt and opened the door. With slow movements, he eased out of the auto, the fingers leaving his throat as he moved out of range.

Xena exited the auto, as well, her stance one of a snake ready to strike. She edged back from the door she had come out of. "Get in the back."

A puzzled look crossed the man's face. He blinked at her and then hastily complied when she appeared to be preparing to leap forward. Once he was in, he closed the door and scooted over to the other side of the auto, behind Rickie. He gulped and darted nervous eyes at the teenager who appeared to be...shaking? Is she.... Is that laughter?!

Xena relaxed her stance and chuckled. She flounced into the driver's seat, slammed the door and buckled in. With a grin tossed over her shoulder at Holt, she said, "Autobahn's this way," and put the car in gear.

The man slumped in relief that he wasn't going to die. Then he grimaced and stared out the side window, mumbling something about having to check his shorts. There was a suspicious snicker coming from the seat in front of him.

An hour later, Holt safely ensconced on the next flight to the states, the two women were making their way to England.

"That was mean, Xena," the teenager said reprovingly.

Pale blue eyed innocence looked at her. "Whaddya talking about? I didn't do it."

"You scared him half to death."

"Yeah, I did," Xena drawled with utter satisfaction.

The redhead's mouth quirked in a grin, but she fought it down. "So? That was mean."

"My, aren't we getting fusty in our old age?" A dark brow raised.

Rickie couldn't hold the smile back. "God, the look on his face...." She chuckled despite the fact she'd promised herself she wouldn't.

Smugness. "Yep."

"Have I told you you're incorrigible?"

Xena smiled at her companion. "Many times."

They drove in comfortable silence for a bit. Rickie basked in her lover's presence, a hand wandering up and down the long thigh in an attempt to keep some physical contact.

"How ya doing, Dreamer?" asked the low voice.

"A lot better than earlier this week," Rickie admitted, turning a little in her seat and leaning the side of her head on the backrest. She watched her lover's profile and felt a pain in her chest. "You know I love you so much that sometimes it hurts?"

Xena's hand found the one on her thigh and followed it up the arm. She risked a glance away from the road, her hand caressing Rickie's cheek, to look at her with solemn understanding. "Yes, I do know."

More silence followed as the women wrestled with their thoughts and feelings. It was finally broken by the redhead. "So, what's going to happen with Jeanne?" she asked. "I mean, really? You know as well as I do that she's totally bonkers."

Xena's eyes narrowed in thought. "Either she'll bluff her way through the psychological exams or not. If things don't get too messed up, she'll either serve life in a mental institute, life in a German prison, or a death sentence."

"Yeah, but life imprisonment? C'mon, Xena. You know as well as I do what that means."

"Been there, done that," the dark woman muttered under her breath.

Rickie's ears perked and she filed the tidbit away for further questioning at a later time. She turned her attention back to her lover's voice.

"...doubtful she'd serve a true 'life' term, Rick. Lots of things can happen - jail break, parole for good behavior, natural disaster.... She could even 'die' in an accident. That'd get her out of the prison and into a morgue."

"Have you ever had that happen?"

Pale blue eyes glanced at the teenager. "Yes. It's not pleasant."

"Wouldn't think it would be." There was a pause as Rickie stared out the windshield, eyes distant in thought. "Xena?" She took a deep breath as if bracing herself for the response to her next question. "How many times did you die this week?"

The dark woman's own eyes went distant. A part of her screamed her to silence. Don't say! Don't tell! It'll only worry her, scare her! She doesn't need to know that! But this wasn't the same young woman she had originally given her heart to. This wasn't a naive peasant girl from a backwater village trying to take on the troubles of the world for the greater good. This was a young woman who'd seen more in her nineteen years of existence than Gabrielle ever had. A young woman who'd been through pretty much the same thing not three months earlier. Another, quieter voice barely heard beneath the panicked shrieking said, She needs to know or she wouldn't ask.

How many times?

"Honestly? I don't know. Originally at the nightclub - Jeanne injected me with some sort of poison that took me out in seconds. With that stuff in my system, I probably died several times before I woke up in the cell."

Coming to consciousness, feeling the sluggishness, the pain of fiery fingers shredding her heart muscle, blissful death.

How many times?

The warrior frowned. "Whatever it was must have had an alcohol base or something. It dissipated fairly quickly in my system."

"How do you know?"

"Basic biology," Xena shrugged. "When a body is dead, there's not regular functioning of the circulatory system. All standard blood pumping stops and it begins to settle. With an Immortal, the damage is repaired at a cellular level and the heart begins pumping again, moving the blood." The dark woman stared out the window as she negotiated traffic. "The stuff she gave me killed within thirty seconds. Wham! Dead! And then alive. Dead. Alive, then dead." There was silence beside her and she glanced at the passenger.

Emerald eyes were spilling with tears. "Oh, Xena," Rickie whispered. "That's horrible!"

"It's okay," the dark woman soothed, reaching out to grasp her lover's head. "For the most part, I wasn't conscious." Not until the stuff diluted some, anyway. "That's why I figure it had to have some way of dissipating in my system. Otherwise, I'd probably still be in that cycle."

"What.... What about after?" the ragged voice asked.

Xena glanced again at the teenager. "Are you sure you want to hear this?" she asked softly.

Rickie considered the question. Was she? Yes. A pause. Why? There was no immediate answer forthcoming. It was curiosity, yes, but more than that. It was a desire to fully understand the true import of her lover's existence. After only nineteen years of life, it was hard to comprehend a life of millennia. And, while Rickie knew that Xena was Immortal and had known her thousands of years ago, grasping the concept that her Xena was the same one in those disjointed memories of Gabrielle's was difficult, at best. This was something that she needed to hear. "Yes. I'm sure." The teenager squeezed her lover's hand.

There was a silence as Xena gathered her thoughts. A last, long look into green eyes and she nodded in acceptance of the redhead's need. She spoke of her imprisonment and torture, the pain and agony. The dark woman left no detail out, her tale quite a different version from that initially reported to the Polizei.

At some point, the telling became too intense and she pulled off the Autobahn, fully concentrating on her memories. A distant part of Xena's mind marveled at the differences between her and her lover. While Rickie gained strength by not speaking of the terrors she had endured at the hands of Telesco, Xena needed to speak of it to release it. You'd think it'd be the other way around, she snorted to herself. She's the bard! Not me!

As Xena wound down the story, bringing her up to the time where her lover showed up in the cell with Jeanne, she drifted off. Rickie was sobbing freely by this point, in sympathy with her warrior's painful experience, in memory of her own. The dark woman gathered the redhead into her arms and held her close, rocking gently. A few tears eased out from her own lids, as well, probably the only tears she would cry over this episode in her long life. It occurred to Xena, This is what I needed to do with Gabrielle back then. To tell her everything, all the evil, all the mistakes, all the pain. It's the only way for me to let it go. She vowed to herself to do just that - to tell Rickie whatever she wanted to know about the heavy dark past she carried through the years. To allow herself to heal, at least for a little while, in her lover's presence.

After their tears dried, they held each other, minds and emotions still and hushed after the release. Long minutes passed, the women cradling each other's bodies and spirits. Rickie was the first to move.

With a squeeze to Xena's shoulder, she removed her head from where it had been tucked under her lover's chin and looked up at her. Red rimmed sky blue gazed back. "I love you, warrior-mine," she whispered, wiping away the last of the moisture on the beautiful face with a thumb.

"And I love you, Dreamer," was the low voiced response. Lips brushed the teenager's face, whicking away the remainder of tears from her own cheeks. They remained in each other's embrace, safe together.

Eventually, they found their way back to the Autobahn, continuing their trip to London about a half hour later.

"So, what do you think of this Watcher business?" Rickie asked, taking a drink from a bottle of water.

Xena snorted in derision. "I think it's stupid. Those people need to get a life."

There was a chuckled from the passenger as she passed the water bottle over. "Definitely an interesting hobby they have." She cocked her head with a grin. "Whaddya think? Their version of penis envy?"

The dark woman nearly strangled as she tried to drink and laugh at the same time. Gaining some measure of control, she sputtered wetly and wiped her mouth with a grin. "Yeah, that's about it! Too bad I'm not a vampire." She handed the bottle back. "Just put the bite on 'em, give 'em what they want, and they'd leave us alone."

Rickie capped the bottle and set it on the floorboard. "Yeah, but then you'd just have to deal with the vampire hunters." She paused. "You'd just be shit outta luck, anyway."

Xena shrugged. "Yep. Guess you're right." Her manner turned more serious. "Don't know what I'm gonna do about it, though. They know who we are, our weaknesses, our pasts. That's a lot of power in the right hands."

The redhead nodded in agreement. "Maybe you could spread the word?" She shrugged at the warrior's questioning glance. "It might help if other Immortals know what's going on. I mean, all of you can't be as bad as the last two I've met!"

"They can't?"

"Nope. You're not mean or loony tunes," she said with a smug grin.

"Oh. Silly me."

"Yep. Silly you."

Jeanne sat in her hospital bed, staring out the window at the setting sun. The television was blaring some inane nonsense and had been all day. She'd paid it little attention.

After her interview with the Polizei the previous day, the guard had been moved to outside the room. The only time she saw them now was when they escorted the hospital personnel in their duties. The questioning had not gone well. Most of what they wanted to know, they wouldn't be able to understand. How to explain the Penance? The Punisher? The Retribution against those Chosen by the Almighty? It was impossible. And so, despite her apparent desire to be up front and honest regarding her latest escapade with Xena of Amphipolous, she saw unable to say much of anything at all.

The Prediger had pretty much healed completely. The rapid repair work had so baffled her physicians, she remained for another day of observation. According to what she'd overheard a nurse telling an intern as they changed her sheets, she was due to be checked out the following morning. Jeanne was to be transferred to a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. There she would undergo testing to determine whether or not she could stand trial for her crimes. Assault, kidnapping, attempted murder.

But there was no time for that. God and Schueler Phillip weren't going to stand idly by while their acolyte rested on her laurels. The pressure from the lack of Penance was already beginning to build within her heart. The Sign had come, The Chosen One had been made known. Her blood had to be spilled with the Blood of Christ. She had to stand before the Almighty for the Judgement of her sins.

And only the Punisher could to that.

The light brown head cocked to one side, listening to a voice that wasn't there. Listening to a voice she'd heard every day since her first Immortal kill fifty-seven years earlier, when she'd been forced to defend herself against a crazed man in a South Pacific hospice during World War II.

She smiled and nodded to no one.

Jeanne climbed out of the bed. Her clothes had been taken from her and classified as evidence. She wore a flimsy hospital gown and little else. She made her way to the window and stood there, palms pressed against the cool glass, waiting for the next Sign from God.

The sun was a molten ball hanging low in the sky. She stared at it with no fear. The Almighty would never let His arm of Justice be blinded. And then, the fiery orb dipped behind the buildings on the horizons. Long moments passed.

Jeanne could hear the muffled hospital noises through the closed door behind her. She knew it would have to be soon - the evening meal was being delivered and her nurse would be in the room any time now. But, the dark eyes continued their vigil, the sight of the sun burning into her retinas and tears of pain and pleasure running down her face. And, as her eyesight began to fade from the damage, an unrelated firing of synapses in her brain caused her to see a brilliant flash of blue-green that centered on the sun and flashed upwards into the sky.

The Sign!

Jeanne groped blindly behind her, hands latching onto the back of a metal frame chair. With joyful face, she swung with all her might.

The guard was watching the approach of a rather well endowed fra¸lein who had been visiting a friend at the end of the hall when he heard the sound of breaking glass. His eyes narrowed as he realized it came from the prisoner's room. The officer dived from his chair and slammed through the door. His eyes barely registered what he saw before it was too late.

Long light brown hair and flowered hospital gown fluttered in the breeze created by the decimated window. Jeanne was on the sill, bare feet bleeding from glass cuts, arms wide and head thrown back as if reaching up to hug the sky. And then she was gone in a graceful swan dive, flying through the air until her body collided with the ground fourteen floors below.

Part X

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