Disclaimers: Go to Part I for disclaimers on this story.

Comments to Redhawk. No bad mouthin', lippy attitude stuff. Honest criticism will be appreciated.

Part VIII: Monday

Xena became aware of her surroundings languidly as she slipped away from Morpheus' grasp. She stretched out her long frame, stopping at the protesting murmur from beside her. Opening pale blue eyes, she glanced quickly about before relaxing again at the memories that flooded through her from the day before. The redhead was draped across her in a tangle of arms and legs. Rickie's head was pillowed on the dark woman's belly where she had fallen asleep in the early hours of the morning - an arm draped low across tan hips, a thigh flung across Xena's shins.

The warrior chuckled low in her throat. She adjusted the pillows behind her for a better view of her love and caressed the red gold hair. Rickie sighed, tickling the skin with her breath, and snuggled closer in satisfaction.

The sun filtered through the ratty curtains of the bedroom windows and Xena could hear the occasional car drive by. It was no surprise to her that it was almost mid-morning. The physical activity of the previous afternoon and evening, while delicious in more ways than she could possibly count, had drained them both. There had been the crucial breaks for food, drowsy naps. There had even been a half hour or so when both women were involved in other things - Rickie and her writing, Xena and her laptop connecting to her computer at the warehouse. But, neither could keep their hands off each other for very long. Bunnies have got nothing on us, the dark woman thought wryly.

She hadn't expected the intensity of the young woman. Granted, there was no doubt that the redhead wasn't an innocent and hadn't been for some time, but Xena had been amazed at the woman's capacity for subtle savagery. Ricki was extremely passionate, as Gabrielle had been. But there was a no-holds barred aspect within the young woman sleeping beside her that her bard had never attained. Xena had always had a reputation for the depth of her sexual appetite, wearing down many a lover over the centuries - Gabrielle included. However, the dark woman was beginning to think she had met her match.

Her stomach rumbled. Loudly. Time to get some breakfast. And Emil'll be here soon. She eased out from beneath Rickie, substituting a pillow for her belly. The redhead grumbled in her sleep, brow furrowed at this inadequate surrogate for warm skin, and quieted. Xena carefully rose from the bed and stretched sensuously. She leaned over and planted a gentle kiss on her Baccae's temple and padded from the room.

Low contralto. "C'mere." Promise in voice and blue eyes. Savage kiss, no thought, no breath. Suckled breast, symphony of sighs and moans, thigh pressing against wetness. Touching, thrusting, plunging. Whisper, "Take me... please..." Focus of desire, intensity, throbbing. Hot mouth, sharp teeth, pressure building to fevered pitch. Falling! Over the edge, riotous sensations, pain and pleasuring. Warm skin, strong arms, mingled breath.

Rickie clutched at the pillow. Her green eyes opened and she found herself alone in the bed. She brushed red gold hair away from her face with a sultry smile. Best dream I've had in a long while. She sat up, discarding the pillow, and stretched with a yawn. The redhead flopped back down on her back and played back carnal memories from the day before. Her right hand idly caressed her stomach and played with the ring in her belly button.

The warrior entered the bedroom with two steaming mugs. "Good morning," she said with a smile. Approaching the bed, she handed one of the mugs to Rickie. As the younger woman sat up and took it, she settled down on the bed, propping herself up against the headboard. "Sleep well?"

"Mmmm... Yes," the redhead nodded. She scooted around to face Xena and took a sip of coffee. "You?"

"Oh, yeah," the dark woman drawled with a suggestive grin. Her blue eyes traveled over the lithe frame before her. Gods! Chill out, you lech! With a deep sigh, she pulled her gaze away from the temptation and drank from her mug. "Emil will be here in another hour or so," she reminded. Who she was reminding, she wasn't sure.

The steamy look that had been sent her way was not lost on Rickie. As those pale eyes darkened in desire, she felt the beginnings stir within herself. Making a decision, she leaned across Xena to set her coffee mug on the bedside table. "An hour, huh?"

The proximity of the golden woman caused a shiver of excitement within Xena. She unconsciously inhaled deeply to catch the musky scent of the woman. Dry mouthed, she responded, "Uh huh. An hour." She watched with an idle grin as Rickie plucked her coffee mug from her fingers and set it down next to hers.

"Well, a lot can be done in an hour," the younger woman's husky voice suggested as she leaned closer.

When Holt rang the doorbell, the coffee was about the only thing that had gotten cold.

Holt smirked over his cup of coffee as the trio sat around the dinette table in the kitchen. Xena had answered the door. She had appeared flushed and rumpled, her ebony hair in disarray and her blue eyes hooded. As she had invited him into the house, he had noticed a dark reddish bruise on her throat and what seemed to be bitemarks. When asked if she was okay, the woman had glared at him and insisted, through gritted teeth, that she was fine. The police officer had done a commendable job of hiding his grin.

It hadn't helped the warrior's discomfiture when Rickie had come out of the bedroom. The young woman was dressed only in the t-shirt that Xena had been wearing the day before, her own hair a bit frazzled. She had smiled warmly at Holt and gave him a quick hug before getting him coffee. Just before she joined them at the table, the redhead had refilled Xena's mug and gently kissed the dark temple, running a hand along broad shoulders.

The police officer gazed studiously into his mug and bit his tongue to keep from grinning at the flush of color that had come over Xena. He doubted that the blush was from embarrassment.

Eager to move on, the warrior pinned Holt under her dangerous blue gaze. "You got any more information for us?"

"Some. Not a whole hell of a lot," was the businesslike response. He pulled a paper out of his briefcase. "Apparently, our man is residing at the KOIN Center. He's been in country for about a year now, mostly on the west coast --"

"Where's he from originally?" Xena interrupted, leaning forward.

"Umm.. England." He slid the paper across the table top. "There's not much here. Dartmouth has kept his tracks covered pretty well." For hundreds of years.... The officer hoped what data he'd given the dark woman would be enough. He was already sticking his neck into the proverbial noose. Thank God, Dartmouth's watcher is all too much a braggart.

Xena became silent, scanning her long memory for anything. Try as she might, nothing was there. Of course, it didn't mean that this Dartmouth was originally from that country, though the name suggested it. And, he may not even be immortal. No. Just someone who knows I am.

In the resulting silence, Rickie stepped in. "Well, what about the other guy? Umm.... Doblie...?"

The dark police officer smiled. "That one was easy!" He pulled out a two page dossier, handing it to the redhead. "Your Mr. Doblie is Mr. Glenn Doblie, attorney at law, and Portland city councilman." Holt sat back with a smug look. The smile faltered as Rickie's face paled. "What?" He looked from blue eyes to green. Holt's own eyes narrowed and he leaned forward. "Are you saying that Dartmouth is somehow connected to the fucking city council?!"

Rickie gulped and opened her mouth, stopping at the warning look from her lover.

"First, Emil," Xena said, glaring daggers at the officer, "this is all hypothetical. Got me? Consider it theoretical bullshit between friends." The officer looked ready to argue and Xena quirked an eyebrow at him. "If you don't, we leave. You won't see either of us again." Eyes narrowed. "Ever."

Holt chewed on the threat for a bit, not liking the bitter taste as his face attested. He finally sat back and crossed his arms. "Alright. Hypothetically speaking."

The dark woman heaved a sigh at the concession. She took a few moments to gather her thoughts. Where to start...? "A powerful man wants to take control of a city's underground. First off, he's gonna buy off a few of the city officials, clerks, cops, anybody he can get his hands on. Eventually, he works his way up the bureaucratic food chain If he gets a council member to help sway votes, what's left?"

The dark man's brow furrowed. "The next step up is the mayor," he supplied.

"And if the mayor can't be bought?"

Holt's eyes widened. "Elimination."

The warrior flashed a predatory grin. "So, you're a powerful man who needs to eliminate the mayor. How? You don't want your own people involved. You'll get implicated if there's a mess. Far better to find one of the dirty little people you've already bought to come up with something."

"Like a hitman?"

"Yes. A hitman." Xena paused. "But something goes wrong. The assassin doesn't do the job and disappears. You, as this powerful individual -- who are you going to hold responsible?"

The officer's face was a study in concentration. "Well, I'd go for the dirty fellah that hired the hitter."

The woman stopped to drink from her mug, her blue eyes glittering darkly. She glanced over at Rickie, giving her the barest of reassuring winks. "Hypothetically speaking, Emil, that's exactly what would happen. The only thing that could mess things up when you go after the dirty little man would be something small, something insignificant." Her gaze intensified on the man. "Say, a witness."

Holt's mouth dropped open. He looked from Xena's steely gaze to the redhead. Rickie's eyes were scared and she was chewing her upper lip. "Holy shit!" he exploded.

Xena leaned back in her chair wearily. "Theoretically."

Holt wasn't able to stay for much longer. He finished up his lunch break as the trio tried to decide what to do from this point. No concrete plans were made and he promised to return later on in the evening with a large bottle of tequila to grease the mental processes.

Rickie waved to him as he drove away in his patrol car. She turned back into the house and shut the door. The redhead wandered back to the kitchen, leaning against the doorway and watching her dark lover put their cups in the sink and tidy up. God, this is a mess.

The dark woman finished up and turned around. She leaned back against the sink and studied Rickie's troubled face. Holding her arms out, Xena said softly, "Come here."

With no further prompting, Rickie stepped forward and allowed herself to be wrapped in strong arms. Despite the turmoil in her head, being in Xena's embrace made her feel safe, hopeful. The stress of the last few days finally got the best of her, and the redhead cried silently against the warrior's chest, comforted by the woman's presence.

After a span of time, the tears tapered off. Rickie emitted a watery chuckle. "You know, this is getting to be a habit, I think," she sniffed.

"It's okay. I've got lots of shoulder to cry on," was the rueful response.

The redhead grinned and pulled back a little. She found a piece of paper towel put into her hands and cleaned up her face, still held gently by Xena. Rickie relaxed into the embrace. "Things are pretty messed up, aren't they?"

There was a small silence as Xena caressed the young woman's hair, chin perched on top of the red gold head. "I won't lie. They could be better." She squeezed the body in her arms. "But, we'll make it. No worries."

The two women stood quietly in the dingy kitchen for some time, wrapped in each others arms. No erotic thoughts, no lustful feelings. Just comfortable in each others' presence, supported by each others' being.

They were interrupted by a rather large rumble. Rickie looked sheepish. "Guess I'd better get something to eat."

With a chuckle, the dark woman said, "That'd be a good idea, I think." She kissed her lover and pulled away from the hug. "I'm gonna go take a shower first." Xena wiggled her eyebrows. "You can always join in when you're finished stoking the ol' furnace." She patted Rickie's stomach to accentuate the point and dodged a hand that reached out to swat her. The warrior danced out of reach, moving towards the bathroom with an evil grin.

Green eyes narrowed in mock anger. "Oh, you're gonna pay for that one, girlfriend," she threatened. Her stomach complained again and she sighed and rolled her eyes. She ignored the low chuckle, stuck her nose up in the air and opened the refrigerator.

Minutes later, Rickie sauntered into the living room with a Dagwood Special sandwich and a soda. She set the plate down on the coffee table and flipped on the small television. Holt had made sure the electricity was on, but there was no cable. After a few moments of fiddling, the redhead was able to pick up a local station, albeit a little fuzzily. She curled up on the couch with her brunch and her notebook, intent on catching up on a few thoughts.

Firmly entrenched in her scribblings, the redhead let the sound from the televised newscast drone on, not paying it too much mind. Her attentions were too focused on her feelings over the past twenty four hours and the person who had triggered them. From the corner of her mind, she could hear the shower running and had a sudden image of... Whoa! Down girl! She shook her head with a grin and glanced up at the television screen.

There was a reporter standing in a wooded park, police tape flapping in the breeze in a clearing behind her. Rickie's brow furrowed and she focused in on what the woman was saying.

"...the site of the latest brutal slaying of the so-called 'Headhunter.' This brings the total number of victims to four. The police are not commenting on the case, but sources close to the police chief has suggested that this killing follows the same pattern as the previous ones. All of the victims appear to have been beheaded with a sharp instrument, possibly a machete or sword."

The scene cut back to the studio where a man with plastic hair frowned sadly at the camera. "Rebecca, are the police any closer to finding out who the Headhunter is?" he asked the correspondent.

Back to the park. "No, Jim, they don't seem to be any closer. All the victims have been from widely varying walks of life. The only connection between them is that they were all newly arrived visitors to our fair city."

The studio. "Well, thank you, Rebecca." The anchorman looked down at his papers and glanced back up to the camera. Behind his left shoulder a picture of a man was displayed. "Again, the fourth victim of the Headhunter serial killer has finally been identified. Mr. Ernst Ginsberg, formerly of Germany and most recently residing in Rhode Island, shown here in a picture from his passport..."

Rickie stopped listening. That was her clearing at the Arboreteum. The eyes of the photographed man drilled into her. I've seen him. The name. The assassin! The redhead set her notebook down and half rose to inform Xena. She stopped cold, her heart beating fiercely as she put bits and pieces of the last few days together in her head.

Outside the City Nightclub. "Your boy failed to do his job, Frank. Who'd you hire for the hit?" "Ginsberg! Ernst Ginsberg!"

Xena's voice. "It's just.... I've had... dealings with Ginsberg recently. I ... didn't know that he was connected to this."

At Xena's warehouse that first morning. Her body glistened in the gray early morning haze with a light sheen of sweat as she worked out. Muscles rippled beneath tan skin as she danced around the open area, a sword in her hand. Swinging, thrusting, whirling, leaping, the warrior's hair a dark cloud whipping about. The sword, her partner, whistled through the air with its own lethal grace, seemingly alive and moving of its own accord.

Her nightmare. She heard the crash of steel against steel. Flashing silver moonlight, the somber sparkle of crimson glancing. The two protagonists whirled and danced before her, one dark, one bright. Mocking laughter, contralto remark, growling anger. Leather and denim reflections, swords and daggers. The smell of copper and lust. The dangerous game closed, bright falling forward. Dark crouched, heaving breath. Words spoken, head rolls, crash of thunder, ethereal maelstrom, silent scream. Dark turned, piercing her. Eyes of ice, pale fire, lightning flashed into her eyes.

Menacing contralto. "Looking for something....?"

That day at the Fun Center. Xena's voice again. "Looking for something?"

Her nightmare. "Looking for something?"

The night of the murder at the clearing. Her clearing. "Looking for something?"

"Fuck!" the redhead exploded with a whisper. Xena. The Headhunter. She had seen a murder. And Xena... She's the Headhunter, you idiot! "Fuck, fuck, fuck," Rickie whispered to herself in anger and fear.

The young woman stood in the middle of the living room, eyes wild. Her mind refused to fully function, only disjointed pieces of thought floated through. I gotta get outta here. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. Lethal grace. Gotta go. "Looking for something?" Go. Pale blue ice, eyes of fire. Shit. Somber sparkle of crimson glancing. Head rolling. Go. Symphony of sighs and moans. Go. "Looking for something?" Go! Go! GO!!

Rickie dashed for the bedroom. Seconds later she was out, shorts on and shoes in hand. She grabbed her notebook and ran from the house.

Approximately ten minutes later, Xena came out of the bathroom. A towel was wrapped around her and she had another draped over her head and shoulders which she was vigorously using to dry her long hair. She was a little disappointed that Rickie hadn't joined her. A quick glance from the hall showed that the redhead wasn't in the kitchen. The dark woman looked across the living room at the open door.

Wait a minute! Rickie *closed* that! A sudden trickle of fear ran down Xena's spine.

Within minutes she was able to ascertain that the young woman wasn't on the property. Heart pounding, Xena stood in the living room, looking for anything that could tell her what happened. The tail end of a sportscast blithered on from the television. A large triple decker sandwich and an unopened can of soda sat on the coffee table. There were no signs of a struggle and, frankly, Xena didn't know how there could have been one without her hearing it.

The television finished exorting the newest product that promised to get her whites whiter and her brights brighter. As the newscast resumed, the warrior zeroed in on the anchorman and what he was saying.

"Top story for today - the recent Headhunter victim has been identified. We'll have a full report on our five o'clock telecast. Also, the Rose Festival Junior Court will be...."

"Hera's tits!" she cursed and dived for the bedroom. She knows!

Five blocks away, on the corner of Albinia and Killingsworth, a young woman paced anxiously at the bus stop. She kept glancing to one corner of the intersection, keeping watch for her potential pursuer. As the bus, #4 Fessenden, arrived, she breathed a sigh of relief and clambered on. Soon, she would be in downtown Portland.

The bus disgorged its occupants at SW 5th and Main in the downtown area. Rickie glanced quickly about and walked to her connecting bus stop a block away. She had fifteen minutes to kill, was being hunted by some big mob boss, and knew that a serial killer was going to be looking for her. She prayed her luck would get better. It certainly hadn't been too keen this last week.

A short time later, #63 Washington Park Zoo, arrived at the corner of SW 4th and Main. Keeping her fingers crossed, the redhead boarded, showing her transfer. She moved to the back of the bus and curled up in the last seat by a window, chewing her lip.

At the last minute, a streetkid who had been frantically spare changing people on the corner, leapt on board as well. He payed his fare, took his transfer, and scanned the bus. Eyes lighting on Rickie, he smiled and moved to the rear of the bus, taking up a seat nearby. There she was.... His next fix.

Xena cruised the downtown area, sticking mainly to the transit mall and the buses. From there, as the minutes ticked by, she widened her search area.

There was no doubt that Rickie now knew who was doing the killing in the Arboretum. Xena still didn't understand why it had taken so long for the young woman to make the connection. And, truth be told, the warrior had hoped that this lapse in memory would have remained permanent. But that was neither here nor there. The situation existed and she had to deal with it. She just hoped that she could find Rickie before Dartmouth did.

As her search parameters extended, the dark woman found herself near the park blocks. Scanning for red gold hair, she found something else -- Rickie's friend, Tara.

The Fiipino girl strolled along with a young dirty blond youth. They were both in late 90's streetrags - baggy clothes of dingy browns, greens, and maroons.


The girl turned at her name. A tall, dark woman with piercing blue eyes trotted up, looking a little damp around the edges. She looked vaguely familiar.

"Can we talk?" Xena asked, flicking a glance at the boy.

Tara frowned. "Do I know you?"

"We have a mutual friend," the warrior prodded. At the confused look, she continued with impatience, "Redhead? So tall? Green eyes? Writes a lot?"

Recognition flowed through the street girl's mind. "Oh!" To the boy she said, "Just give me a minute, okay?"

The youth scowled at the uninvited guest and nodded. He lounged away and flopped onto a nearby park bench.

Tara's brown eyes looked the taller woman over. "Where's Dreamer? What happened?" she demanded, getting right to the crux of the matter.

"I don't know. That's why I'm here." Xena ran a hand through thick black hair. "We had a ... misunderstanding. She ran off. I need to find her." Intense, warlord eyes glared at Tara.

Nonplussed, the younger woman responded, "I dunno where she is. I haven't seen her." She turned to walk away, but was stopped by a strong hand on her shoulder. She looked up, a little scared.

"Look, you and I both know that someone's after her... someone big. If they catch her, you'll be seeing her at her memorial service," the taller woman grated brutally.

Tara refused to be baited. Standing up to her diminutive height, she regally raised an eyebrow at Xena. "And who's to say she'll be any better off in your hands?" She glared at the hickey on the warrior's neck. "She's been with you all weekend and the party's over, lady. Live with it."

Xena ground her teeth together and balled her fists to keep from slapping the little chit. Forging on, she sarcastically asked, "So you have no idea where she would go if she was upset?"


"Dammit!" the warrior exploded. "Her life depends on this!"

Tara swallowed nervously but stood her ground.

Xena tried a different tact. "You know of the shooting Thursday night?" At the barest of nods, she continued. "You know Rick-- um... Dreamer saw it?"

The Fiipino girl's eyes narrowed as her private suspicions were confirmed.

Seeing something, the warrior ploughed on. "Well, they saw her, too. They've got their own people looking for her and whoever they can buy on the streets."

The young woman looked down and studied her dirty sneakers in thought. It made sense. And Dreamer had said this woman was alright. She shook her head, damning herself for opening her mouth. But, maybe this is necessary... Tara inhaled deeply and looked back up into pale blue eyes. Eyes that reflected anger, frustration, worry, and... something else?

"I don't know where she goes exactly. Sometimes she disappears for days on end." Brown eyes gazed away. "Sometimes it's like with you. You know, she'll find some woman to shack up with for a week or so." She shrugged. "Sometimes she hangs out in Forest Park or the Arboretum." God! I hope Rickie doesn't kill me for this!

"Thank you!" Xena said softly. "If you see her..." She closed her eyes and shook her head at an errant thought. Opening them again, she said, "If you see her, hide her! If I have to, I'll take out the people responsible." The warrior turned and moved away.

"Wait!" When the older woman stopped, Tara took one step forward and halted awkwardly. "Let me know, okay?"

An understanding passed between them - mortal and Immortal, youth and warrior. "I will," Xena promised.

Crackle of phone lines. Lions roaring in the background.

"Dude, I found her!"

"You've said that before, punk." Sarcasm, disbelief.

"Yeah! And you got what you paid for! This time I've got the real meal deal!"

"Where is she?"

"Oh, no, man... Ain't going that route. Meet me here at the zoo. You pay up and I'll tell ya where I saw her go."

"This had better pan out, punk, or I'm gonna make sure that your habit is terminal."

"Enough with the threats, dude. C'mon, before I change my mind."


Rickie slowly approached her clearing, seeing a superimposed image of a nighttime arrival. The police tape was still in place, but her memory showed only moonlight. With a careful step, she mentally and physically traversed her previous path a lifetime ago.

She approached her clearing. It was quiet, with nothing but the slight whisper of the wind through the trees. The moon was out and it was cool, but she couldn't feel it. The acid that she had taken from Alex had started to take hold before she got up to the park. Everything had a dreamy quality about it. The wind caressed her skin and hair, breathing took on a whole new feeling, she felt like laughing and crying at the same time.

She found her tree, the one that she always sat beneath, the one that was always there for her. Always. Time meant nothing anymore as she felt the drug in her system begin to peak. She settled down under her tree and looked up through the moving leaves. The light from the moon sparkled and glimmered at her as it played hide and seek in the treetop.

She heard noises and voices. Her response time was slow and it took a few moments for the noises to filter into her mind. She finally glanced around in puzzlement. Who? She was usually alone out here, the way she liked it. Peering around her tree into her clearing, she saw them.

"First blood goes to me, it seems." The man licked blood off a dagger. "Sweet. Wonder how sweet the rest of you tastes."

A dark woman smiled, kicked and missed. Slashed with her sword, catching him on the left thigh. She heard the repulsive sound of blade grating against bone. The woman whirled around with her fist breaking bone. "Doubt you'll find out."

He was down on a knee, bleeding from leg and face. The smell of copper assailed her nostrils, sickening her. She could only sit there and watch, frozen at the weird apparitions before her. She watched as there were more words between the fighters, more of the dance, more damage done. The woman drove her sword clear through the man. He fell over. The woman picked him up and... and... A head rolled towards her tree. HER tree!

"There can be only one." And the corpse began to glow. It expanded and writhed, becoming a maelstrom that enveloped the woman. Lightning crashed out of a clear sky to explode several treetops. Her hair stood on end as the electricity filled the air and she cowered under the onslaught. She watched the woman open her mouth and silently scream.

The woman left. She sat and stared at her clearing. No longer safe. No longer a haven. Violated by death and destruction and ethereal forces. A low voice behind her.

"Looking for something?"

Pale blue ice, eyes of fire, glittering darkly. Recognition! Terror! Warlord! A flash of a pocket knife, her own first blooding. Run! Go! The voice behind her, puzzled, surprised.


Rickie found herself sitting across the clearing from her tree on a large rock, crying. The police tape waved around her, mocking. There was white spray paint on the ground showing a headless body. Another circle of paint indicated the resting place of the man's cranium. Under her tree.

The redhead hugged her knees to her and rocked back and forth. Her sanctuary had been violated. And it was by the woman who had saved her life, the woman she had fallen in love with. You're a fool, Rickster. She never wanted to save you. She wanted to know what you remembered. Wanted to see if you were a threat.

Xena had been tracking you, hunting for you. And once she figured out it was safe and you were blissfully ignorant, she bedded you. And you let her! She vehemently shook her head, tears and hair flying. Shouldn't have let Tara talk me out of the memory. Shouldn't have gotten into that damned Mustang to begin with! Shouldn't, shouldn't, shouldn't! A smaller voice, deep down inside, said, Shouldn't have fallen in love...? Her sobs intensified, racking her shoulders.

So involved in her feelings of worthlessness and betrayal, Rickie didn't hear the approaching footsteps. She looked up, eyes red and nose running, at the voice that spoke from behind her.

"Hey, little girl, I've got some candy for you."

Suddenly, there was a cloth covering her face and an arm around her, pinning her. She smelled a cloying, sickeningly sweet fragrance and could feel the darkness setting in. The redhead tried to struggle, but it was too late. She heard a man's chuckle behind her ear.

"Honey, you and I are gonna be such good friends."

Eventually, Xena made it to the clearing where she had first run into the young woman that had stolen her heart. A quick glance resulted in nothing, as the ground was trampled from the police investigators, reporters, and morbid tourists that had been poring over the area for the last five or six days.

The warrior circled around the clearing, eyes alert, ignoring the flush of excitement that always accompanied the memory of a good battle. There was where Ginsberg's body had landed. There was where the head had stopped from its momentum. Wait. Wasn't that the tree I found Rickie under? Xena moved around and searched the area. I think so. Damn, she must have been terrified! Poor kid!

From her vantage point, she looked about the clearing again. There was a flash of color on the other side. Eyes narrowed, she bypassed the police tape and strode across the restricted area to a small boulder. There, lying bent and tattered, was a blue spiral notebook.

Xena automatically dropped into a defensive crouch and scanned the area past the clearing. Nothing. She leaned over and scooped up the notebook, verifying that it was Rickie's. She studied the area around the rock closely. Again, it was impossible to distinguish much, what with all the traffic to this area over the last few days. Circling around the rock, Xena found a piece of cloth on the ground. As she picked it up, she noticed it was damp. She brought it to her nose and sniffed, pulling away with a jerk. Chloroform!

A mile away, a happy couple hiked through the woods, enjoying the day. They froze at the primal scream they heard in the distance. A flock of birds took flight and the forest was suddenly very silent. Remembering the Headhunter liked these parts, the couple decided discretion was the better part of valor. Time to enjoy the afternoon in a tamer atmosphere.

Holt sat at his desk, finishing up paperwork. He was filling out a trespassing charge, in triplicate, when the phone on his desk rang. "Yeah? What?! I'll be right there!"

The police officer dashed from the room, ignoring the amused looks from his coworkers. Out in the lobby of the Old Town Police Station, Xena paced furiously. Her hair was unkempt and her teeth were clenched tight. The desk sergeant was watching her warily, not knowing what to expect.

"Xe?" Holt asked. He flinched at the violent light in those pale blue eyes. "Xe...?" he asked again, softly, calmly, approaching her slowly as one would a wild animal. For that was what she was.

"They've got her, Emil," Xena growled, still pacing.

The dark man stood, rooted to the floor. All animation drained from him. "What happened?"

"Doesn't matter," the warrior insisted. "What does matter is getting her back." She turned on the officer, and began dangerously circling him. "You know more than you've been saying. Don't deny it!" she ordered as he lifted his head and opened his mouth.

Holt remembered what he had read about Xena, the Destroyer of Nations. He had no doubt that that was who was with him now. He closed his mouth and stood tall.

"You have more information on Dartmouth, or you can get it. Am I right?" When there was no response, she stopped in front of him, face inches away from his own. "Am. I. Right?" she intoned ominously.

There was a long silence, punctuated by breathing and the occasional background noise of a phone. The desk sergeant was out of earshot, but kept one hand on his pistol and the other on the panic alarm behind the desk. He didn't know what was going on between these two, but he was going to make sure that it didn't get out of control.

Holt lowered his eyes. "You're right."

"What do you know?"

"That Dartmouth is older than he appears. That he's a sexual sadist. That killing is second nature to him." The officer swallowed nervously.

"Older than he appears? How old?" Xena demanded.

Holt sent a silent plea to his associates. I'm sorry. Brown eyes bravely met blue. "Not as old as you." He was suddenly a foot off the ground, strong hands wrapped in his uniform collar.

"What the fuck does that mean?" the warlord hissed.

Before he could answer, he heard the voice of the desk sergeant. "Put him down, Xe! I don't wanna have to hurt you." Glancing over, Holt saw the older man standing behind the counter, pistol drawn and pointed at the ceiling.

With a sneer, the woman roughly set Holt down, hands moving away. She stepped back. "Better?" she asked, a manic look in her eyes.

The desk sergeant nodded. "Let's just keep it that way, okay?" At her curt nod, he sat back down and lay the pistol on the counter next to him.

Turning back to Holt, the warrior crossed her arms to get a grip on herself and stayed two feet away. "Explain yourself."

The officer took a discrete step backwards out of arms reach. "I can't, Xe. I've sworn an oath. I can give you some information, but not what you want to know." He watched her drop her arms, muscles flexing at the desire to get ahold of him again and he stepped back a second time.

Xena toiled at bringing the beast under control. Now was not the time. Holt was not the target. Minutes passed as she fought with the darkness, chaining it up in a corner of her mind, promising that it could come out and play soon. The two police officers in the room watched, one wary, the other terrifyingly fascinated.

As she gained her emotional equilibrium, she began to think a little clearer. Holt had told them that Dartmouth was at the KOIN Center. They wouldn't be stupid enough to take Rickie there. He had to have other holdings, other properties in the city. Someplace less populated.

She realized that while the initial priority was to get hold of the murder witness, the search that Dartmouth had instigated had uncovered herself. And, for some reason, that was what the man wanted - Xena of Amphipolous. There was a slight chance that Rickie was still alive, being used as bait to lure her in. "Not as old as you." Was he immortal then? And, if so, how in Hades did Holt know about it?

Xena looked into Holt's eyes and saw only friendship and caring. Worry. For her or Rickie, she didn't know. But, he was a friend and an ally - one of the few she could trust in this city right now. "You said they were watching my warehouse." Her eyes narrowed. "If Dartmouth wants me, that's where he'll find me. I'm going home."

As she turned to leave, she felt a tentative hand on her shoulder. Looking back, she peered into brown eyes of worry. "I'll see if I can find any other holdings he may have here."

Xena nodded, her eyes communicating her thanks. "This conversation isn't over, Emil," she promised and left the station.

Crackle of phone lines.

"Yeah?" Tense, strained.

"Xena of Amphipolous..." Deep, satisifed.

"James Dartmouth."

"I missed you yesterday. I was so hoping we could get together for lunch."

"What do you want?"

"Haven't I made myself clear, dear? I want you. This little girl is all well and good, but not as.... appetizing as the real thing."

"Let her go, then. I'll give you the real thing."

"Oh, no. I don't think so. Not yet, anyway. Perhaps we could come to an understanding?"

"And what kind of understanding would that be?"

"Why don't we hash out the details this evening over dinner. Say, Jake's Grill on SW 10th? Seven o'clock?"


"Oh, please. I'm hurt that you aren't as eager as I at the novelty. I've so looked forward to seeing you again."

"I'll be there." Click.

Dartmouth hung up the phone with an enigmatic grin quirking his handsome face. He savored the feelings of satisfaction and the beginnings of excitement coursing through his system. Soon, the Angel of Vengeance would be his.

Gray eyes focused on his assistant standing before the desk. "We have a dinner date at seven. Be back here by six thirty." He glanced at his watch. "That gives you... oh.... two and a half hours." With a negligent wave of his hand, he said, "Go play."

Telesco grinned. "Thanks, boss!" He fairly danced out of the room.

Xena hung up the desk phone. She rubbed the bridge of her nose and massaged her forehead and temples. Three hours? Christ! She stared out the window at the city. Hang on, Rickie! I'm coming for you!

Rickie could hear Xena's voice, calling, echoing down the long dark hallway of her unconsciousness. "Xena?" she yelled back.

"I'm sorry, Rickie! I'm coming!"

"Xena?! I'm scared! It's so dark!"

"Hang on, Rickie!" But the voice was weaker, further away. "Rickie! I'm coming!" the voice whispered urgently.

"No! Xena! This way!!"

Rickie fought her way through the inky depths, slowly groping her way to consciousness. "Xena," she heard herself croak. Her mouth was beyond dry, her tongue feeling large and unweldy in too small a mouth. There were dull aches and pains all over her body and her head throbbed.

When she tried to reach for her head, she realized that she had been immobilized somehow. Something tugged at the ends of her arms and the soft musical sound of chains invaded her ears. Frowning, she raised her head, only just realizing that she was kneeling and not prone. She squinted open bleary eyes and peered through golden eyelashes.

Except for the light shining above her, the remainder of the room was dark. And it had a cavernous feeling to it, as Xena's apartment did. Warehouse...? she thought fuzzily. In front of her to her left was a large four poster bed made with white satin sheets. To her right was a long table with some items on it that she couldn't make out.

Carefully, she turned her aching head to look up to her hands. Her arms were held apart by a long, chrome bar much like those used on universal weight machines. This one had been adapted to allow her to be handcuffed to each end. Chains attached to the cuffs came together three feet further up and then snaked off into the light. She was on her knees on cold concrete.

She winced at the sharp pain from the light and closed her eyes. She leaned her head to one arm and tried to gather her thoughts. She had been at the house. Something... The tv... Her green eyes popped open. The Headhunter and Ginsberg! She had run away. Like an idiot! She had gone to her clearing. A voice, a sickly smell. "Honey, you and I are gonna be such good friends."

God, you're a moron, Rickster! She groaned at the thought.

"Ah, you are awake."

Rickie froze, eyes wide. The voice was from behind her. She swallowed and tried to glance over her shoulder, unable to see much. She shuffled around on her knees, wincing at the pain from joints too long bent in their position.

A large black leather desk chair was a few feet away. Seated in it was a dark man with full lips spread in an ominous grin. Green eyes looked back at her. His grin widened as he saw recognition flow through her. Nodding, he said, "Yes, we've met before."

As he rose from his chair, the redhead blurted, "Look, I haven't told the cops. I'm not going to. Just lemme go and we'll forget all this." She smiled weakly in a winsome way. "I've been meaning to see Disneyland, anyway...?"

Telesco chuckled. "But, that wouldn't be nearly as much fun as what I've got planned for tonight." He moved forward.

As he neared, Rickie saw a thin scab across the killer's neck. "Planned? For tonight?" She watched him warily.

He circled behind her and she tried to follow on protesting knees. This isn't working. Using her arms to brace herself, she tried to rise to a standing position, but felt a hand on her shoulder, pushing her back down.

"Oh, uh uh. I don't want you standing, just yet."

He bent down on one knee behind her, planting it between hers and allowing his hip to press into her rear. She could see his right leg bent to one side of her, feel his breath on her shoulder and neck. He leaned into her, bodies touching. Her skin crawled and she tried to lean away. Telesco snickered softly and wrapped a firm arm around her waist, roughly pulling her into him. She could feel his burgeoning erection against her right hip.

A knife appeared in his right hand in front of her. Using the tip of it, he began to caress her face. He breathed into her ear, "I'm way better than Disney, baby."

Xena approached the restaurant. She had showered, again, to make herself a bit more presentable. A massive search of her wardrobe finally found a white short sleeved mock turtleneck. At least the hickey wouldn't be making an appearance over the entree. Black jeans, leather vest and boots completed the outfit.

She pulled the Mustang up at the Governor Hotel. Climbing out, she tossed the keys to the valet, paid her fee and received her claim ticket. She turned and sauntered next door to the entrance of Jake's Grill.

As the warrior neared the establishment, she felt her stomach and heart clench in the rush of the Quickening. Everything became crystal clear - the sounds, the sights, the smells. She settled into the familiar feeling with a sigh of satisfaction. He is Immortal! Good!

It was strange, but she didn't like to kill mortals. She had and would in the future if necessary, but it was something she disliked. Slaying one meant that their all too short span of existance was cut, the thread of the Fates irretreivably severed. At least with an Immortal, she knew that there had been far too many years of life experience. It felt like less of a waste. And there was no reason to hide who and what she was. Finding that there was an Immortal within the restaurant eased her heart somewhat, brought out the best of the warrior, opened up entire new avenues of play. It released her.

Xena entered the restaurant, scanning the dark interior. It was pretty crowded, Jake's being one of the better steakhouses in the city. There was a large bar in the center of the room, with booths and tables to either side. Windows ran along the far right wall sporting a view of Alder St. and a not so intriguing parking lot. To the rear of the business were more tables disappearing around the corner to the left. Back on the right was the kitchen. Before her was a small podium and a sign that said, 'Please Wait to be Seated.'

Mere seconds slid by before the hostess appeared. "Can I help you?"

"Yes, I'm meeting someone here. Dartmouth," Xena said, still glancing around.

The woman seemed to recognize the name. "Ah, yes. If you'll follow me please?" She moved towards the back and the warrior followed.

Xena's swagger became more pronounced, her eyes dangerous as they scanned the other patrons. A slight smirk played across her face as she allowed a trickle of the darkness within through the gates of her mind.

Apparently, the entire back room had been reserved by Dartmouth. A large round table to the left held two men and a woman. Two goons with closely cut hair stood at the entrance to this dining area, another stationed at the connecting entrance to the Governor Hotel. Xena's icy gaze raked over them, analyzing and cataloging within seconds, before dismissing them. She looked to the table, as one of the men stood, grey eyes finding blue.

"Xena, so good of you to make it," Dartmouth said with a smile. He could feel his heart pounding. Finally! The Angel! He glanced down at Telesco, eyes narrowing. "Stand when a lady enters a room," he ordered in a low voice.

Startled, his assistant half rose and nodded at the dark haired woman that had entered. His blood ran cold at the frigid eyes scanning him. When they dismissed him as inconsequential, he felt a flush of anger.

"Please," the blond immortal continued, gesturing towards a chair, "be seated." He seated himself, watching the angel follow suit. "I took the liberty of ordering for everyone already. Hope you don't mind. I hear the smoked salmon is particularly wonderful tonight." Dartmouth called a waiter over to pour a glass of wine for her.

She sipped the wine, nodding approval of his choice before lounging back in her chair. "Salmon will be fine. Though I was hoping for a little red meat tonight," she drawled.

Dartmouth grinned. "Perhaps that can be arranged." He waved a hand idly. "A little later, I think." He studied her from across the table, comparing her to the angel he met over a thousand years ago and the one he had created in his mind. She was as darkly beautiful as she was then, her hair and eyes not as wild as he had remembered them in his daydreams and nightmares. But, despite the veneer of civility she portrayed, he could still sense the animal lurking beneath. And the animal, coupled with her beauty, excited him. He longed to see that animal again, to tame it, bring it down in chains and eventually feed on its lifeforce. He watched the predatory eyes roam over him, accessing as well, feeling the heat of their touch.

Xena looked him over with feral eyes. Long blond hair held sternly back in a pony tail, regal face and bearing. Definitely someone used to the wielding of power. Trim, muscular beneath the three piece suit. Keeps himself in fighting form. While photos rarely did a person justice, even seeing him first hand sparked no memory in her mind. But, he obviously thought they had met before.

She idly glanced over the other two people at the table. The man she had already rejected as a threat despite the fact she remembered him from the park. He was a useless little pissant in her books, licking his employer's boots. The woman looked whipped. Sharp blue eyes picked up the traces of a bruise on her cheek that the makeup couldn't quite hide. She remembered Holt's words, "He's a sexual sadist," and vowed again to do everything in her power to get Rickie out of this man's grip.

Telesco fiddled with his wine glass, feeling the tension at the table. He wasn't sure what was going on anymore. But, then, he rarely did with his employer. He occupied his mind during the silence with thoughts of a golden woman.

The meal was served and Dartmouth dived in with gusto. His associate ate automatically, and the woman picked at her food. Xena continued to nurse her drink, ignoring the plate before her.

The blond frowned at her. "You're not eating?"

"Naw," the warrior said with a smirk. "I don't eat before... negotiations."

A slow smile spread across his face. "I see." He continued slicing a piece of salmon with his knife. "I've found that one should eat before negotiations. It's an arduous task. I've seen comrades fall away in a dead faint when they haven't." He ignored the confused look on Telesco's face.

"Have you now?" Xena asked, an eyebrow raised. "And where were these negotiations, anyway?"

The man chuckled. "Ah. Now we get down to it, eh?" He took a sip of wine. "You don't recognize me, do you?"

Her response was a regal lifting of her chin and a look of askance.

"Well, I hardly find it surprising," Dartmouth continued. "It was so long ago. You were a little wild in those days," he chuckled. Abruptly changing the subject, he asked, "Did you receive my fax the other day?"

Xena blinked. Blue eyes narrowed. Surprisingly enough, she transformed into something that appeared even more deadly, bristling with a predatory sensuality that promised the torments of the damned. "Yes," she said, her voice lower and more seductive. "I did."

The assistant stopped in mid-chew, staring. His eyes slid between the woman and his employer. The air fairly crackled between them as the battle of wills continued. Telesco swallowed the mouthful with difficulty and took a gulp from his water glass. Even his employer's escort was responding to the icy malevolence that was developing. She had come out of her funk to stare at the other woman with wonder and fear.

Ignoring the mortal occupants of the table, the blond quirked his mouth in a grin. "I had thought you might like it. It's one of the first pieces in my collection, you know." He applied himself to his plate. "You really should try the salmon, Xena. It's delicious." He took a bite of food.

"No," she said slowly, sliding the plate to one side. "Thanks." Pale blue eyes pierced him. "I'm interested in this 'collection' you refer to. That was an odd looking weapon. How did you come by it?" She leaned forward a bit in her chair.

"I think you know."

It took Xena a moment to realize that the man was speaking in Old Norse. Her eyes widened, a light seeming to glow from behind them as she smiled. She responded in kind. "Suppose you tell me."

Losing his appetite, Telesco sat back in his chair. Now they were speaking in other languages. He rolled green eyes. What the hell am I doing here, anyway? There are soooo many other things I'd rather be doing right now...... His mind wandered to other things. Bloody, scream filled things. Red gold hair, fire and ashes, eviscerations....

Aha! There's the Angel, Dartmouth thought with a slightly hysterical giggle. "That's right," he demurred. "You were the previous owner, weren't you?" He chuckled as he wiped his mouth with his napkin. "It took a couple of centuries for me to find out who you were, Angel," he continued conversationally. "Tyrsbeck ring a bell?"

The dark beast surged against Xena's control. It wanted this... man, and it wanted him now. It wanted him screaming for mercy as she gutted him. The whirlwind of destruction and bloodlust raced though her. She fought to maintain control.

A low growl came from her throat, bringing Telesco back to the here and now. The escort scooted her chair back a couple of inches, eyes darting about for an avenue of escape. Automatically, the assistant reached for his pistol, only to have his hand stayed by Dartmouth.

"No, you fool," his employer hissed in English.

For the second time that day, the beast was wrestled down and locked away in Xena's mind. Soon, she whispered to it. Soon. She found her hands gripping the arms of her chair, trembling, and she loosened them. Forcing herself to relax, she inhaled deeply, eyes never leaving Darthmouth's. "Perhaps we should discuss those details now," she grated.

With a superior smile and a raised eyebrow, Dartmouth said, "Of course."

Part IX

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