Disclaimers: Please see Part I for disclaimers to this story.
Additional Comments: Blood 'n' Guts in this chapter, folks... Queasy ones should probably skip the parts that are... uh... ugly...
Part 6: Tuesday
A diabolical cackle grabbed Holt's attention. He glanced up from his notes as his partner hung up the phone, looking smug. Davenport gave him a thumbs up as he finished his own phone conversation, impatiently gesturing with her other hand to speed it up.
Nodding his response, Holt wound up his discussion with yet another vehicle rental company. Saying his good byes and the perfunctory 'call us if you hear anything,' he hung up, staring expectantly at his partner.
"Got it," Davenport said with a smile. "Burgundy van, license number SVQ 855, rented to Eugene Alcathous two days ago."
Reaching out, the man snagged the paper she was waving. Peering at the scribbles, he smiled his first in two days. "Let's check it out."
In about twenty minutes, the pair found themselves slowly cruising past a hotel, pulling to a stop on the corner.
"Do you know how long it's going to be before we can get any further on this?" Holt asked, face grim.
The blonde stared bleakly at the staid exterior of the hotel. "Yeah, I do. FBI's wanting to take over already and now this is holding us up." Shaking her head, she pulled out into traffic.
"FBI? What're they doing here?"
Davenport shrugged. "Apparently there's been a string of bank heists on the West Coast. We're lucky to be one of 'em."
"Have you seen 'em, yet?"
"Nope. But, the captain met with them yesterday. They've confiscated all our evidence." Davenport snorted. "What there was of it, anyway."
Holt glared out the window. "Let's get to the courthouse. Maybe we can find a warrant on this guy."
"We're going to need something to get the hotel staff to cough up any information."
At the courthouse, Holt left his partner waiting to see a judge while he made a phone call. If anybody can find these people... But, the Immortal wouldn't answer her cell phone. Not that he expected she would - her last words had held a definite measure of finality.
Hanging up the phone, Holt leaned his forehead against the cool plastic. In the immortal words of Rickie, 'this shit sucks.'
Debating with herself, Xena watched from her hiding place. The streets of Tigard suburbia had left a small field behind the house in question. Only a hundred feet in diameter, it afforded her a measure of camouflage without getting close enough to alert the inhabitants. Her Harley was parked in a nearby business complex lot and she'd slipped around the building to study her target.
After her phone call, she was happy to see a burgundy van leave the driveway. Bracing herself as it neared her position, the warrior's satisfaction increased when the Quickening did not occur. He's still there.
This shit sucks, an Immortal Rickie thought. Crawling along the highway at a whopping seven miles an hour in her Mustang, she tapped the steering wheel impatiently. "Shoulda just taken the bus," she muttered. With a sigh of frustration, she turned the volume up on her CD player, strains of Stabbing Westward filling the air.
Ahead of her, traffic began merging to the right, flashing blue and red lights indicating emergency vehicles. Getting closer to the problem, she saw two vehicles had crashed together - one a burgundy van. Two irate men were arguing with the police while two others and one woman sat glumly inside. Slouching in her seat as she passed the closest police officers, the redhead hit the accelerator when the lanes opened up on the other side of the altercation.
The exit she needed was just up ahead and Rickie breathed in relief. "Be there, Xena. Just be there!"
The field didn't provide enough cover to approach from the rear of the house, however, the grass having been kept trimmed to less than six inches. Ice blue eyes narrowed as Xena considered her options, scanning the area. At the center of the open space was a gnarled tree, but it was too far away from her and the house to do any good. Shrubbery or fences, depending on the whim of the homeowners, bordered the clearing edge.
Aside from her initial meetings with Alastor at his death and rebirth, their paths hadn't crossed once. She therefore had no way of knowing his thought processes, and so no idea what he might be planning. It's not like he was really involved with... the... The Immortal's mind sheered away from its path, refusing to deal with it. Doesn't matter. It's his little friend I'm after. And if he gets in the way, so much the better. Mentally stepping forward, the monster protected her from her grief.
The neighboring yard was well kept - a small patio with wrought iron furniture, green garden in the near corner with tidy little signs to indicate what vegetables were in each row, and a huge oak tree that branched out and shaded the opposite corner. Xena gazed at the tree, speculation narrowing her eyes.
Her mouth quirked into a smile, a pale blue flash announcing her pleasure. Stepping back from the shrub she was crouched behind, the dark woman began to skirt the clearing, sheathed sword in her hand.
Using her God-given gift of intelligence, Rickie didn't attempt to get close to the address that Jason had given her. If Immortals were involved in this, as she suspected, the Quickening would set them off so fast, her head would spin. And be lost, the redhead snorted. Instead, she pulled her Mustang into a business complex parking lot, parking as close to the back fence as possible.
Rickie clutched the steering wheel tightly after turning off the engine. Massaging it with nervous hands, she chewed her upper lip. Now what?
"Well, you're not going to find Xena by sitting here," she finally said. With a deep, bracing breath, Rickie clambered out of her car and scanned the fence.
Peering at the neighboring house, Xena concluded that no one was home. As it neared noon, the temperature rose and none of the house's windows or doors were open. She wasn't able to tell for sure unless she waltzed right up and looked into the windows; and that would spoil the surprise she had planned for Alastor.
Deciding to go on with her plan, the warrior eased along the shrubbery until the house was between her and her target. The large back yard was fenced and she prepared to climb it.
After Rickie had ducked behind the fence, she scooted along, trying to figure out which backyard belonged to the address she'd been given. The writer had scribbled down the street she was closest to, so she knew it couldn't be far. Not wanting to draw attention from the neighborhood, Rickie trotted towards the nearest house's back yard, hoping to use it for cover.
Just as she reached the relative protection, a wave of sickness washed over her. What the hell...? Adrenaline pumped through her system and her heart pounded, fit to explode. Unused to such extremes, Rickie fell to her knees, panting to catch her breath. She could hear the crack of a twig as something neared her position, her highly attuned ears making it sound like a gunshot. Remembering something her lover once said, green eyes widened in further surprise. "It's like going into battle for the very first time - everything is clear, your blood is on fire, reaction time is split second. It always happens when two Immortals get close to each other."
Holy shit! This is the Quickening!
Overtaking her with ferocious suddenness, the Quickening pulsed through Xena's blood. Mentally cursing, she dropped back into a crouch behind the shrub, pulling her sword free. A surprised grunt could be heard nearby which the warrior zeroed in on.
It took only seconds for Xena to locate the other Immortal. Just on the other side of the fence! Surprise already lost due to the inadvertent noise she'd made, the dark woman chose another tactic. Drawing her sword, she somersaulted over the fence. Her eyes picking up the movement of someone crouched nearby, the warrior swung her sword with a growl.
The flash of metal moved in slow motion as Rickie looked up from the ground. Five years of training with her lover kicked in and she ducked to one side, sweeping with her leg before jumping to her feet. Her attacker leaped up, clearing the obstacle and preparing for another swing. As the redhead got a better look at her attacker, a memory of Gabrielle's floated to the surface - wild hair, wild eyes, wild laugh; women falling from their injuries; a man picking the bard up, trying to run for safety; whip around the ankles; pain, lots of pain. "Xena!" she gasped, holding her hands up in supplication. "It's me!"
Hearing her dead lover's voice only urged the monster on. Xena's lips curled back in a sneer, teeth bared as she tried to run her opponent through.
Rickie hopped backwards and to one side, the blade narrowly missing her midsection. "Xena! Stop!"
Soft maniacal laughter filled the air. "It's not gonna work this time. I know Rickie's dead. There's no way she could have survived." Xena stepped forward, forcing the other Immortal further into the back yard. "You're just a figment of my imagination and I'm gonna send you back to Hades where you belong." Eyes flashing, she prepared for another assault.
The redhead's mind raced, latching onto something - anything - that would slap some sense into the crazed woman before her. "You're right. I didn't survive. So you can't kill me."
Xena chortled. "Maybe not, but I'm sure gonna have fun trying!" With that, she swung again.
A wisp of red hair fell to the ground as Rickie barely pulled her head back in time. Well, shit! That didn't work! Trying to keep out of reach as her mind worked on this puzzle, she stepped backwards. Seeing her lover prepare another strike, the redhead leapt into the fray.
Startled, the monster found herself being grappled to the ground. Smaller hands found her sword arm, latching onto her wrist. Stumbling backwards, the weight of the other pushing her, Xena tripped over a garden hose, falling on her back. The air rushed out of her lungs as she took the full weight of her opponent landing on her midsection. She struggled with herself, trying to get up, trying to get away so she could kill this apparition.
Seizing the advantage, Rickie straddled her lover, using all her strength to pin Xena's arms down. "Would a figment of your imagination do this?" she asked.
Warm lips met hers and the monster tried to turn her head, to break away. Rickie's dead, dammit! But her opponent stayed with her, caressing her lips with a tongue, demanding admittance. Somewhere deep inside, Xena struggled to control herself, to cage the monster she'd become.
Several moments passed as they strained against each other. Xena relaxed, her mouth responding to the kiss. Not willing to concede just yet, Rickie kept her pinned, knowing the monster's cunning, expecting a trick.
Desire to believe warred with the very real memory of her lover bleeding out on a marble floor. Xena's monster raged that it couldn't be true, that the gods had finally reinvolved themselves in her life, torturing her for her inability to protect Rickie. But the lips on hers were warm, right, familiar. She couldn't help but respond.
Encouraged, Rickie became less forceful, though her grip was still firm on the warrior's sword arm. As she retreated, Xena advanced with a hunger that was ravenous, full of pain and bliss.
Releasing her sword, the warrior growled and flipped them over, ignoring the startled grunt of her opponent and partner. Xena ground against the women beneath her, nipping at her lips and struggling against the hands that still held her arms. The redhead couldn't help herself as she moaned against the onslaught. With some reluctance, Rickie released her grip and transferred her hands to thick dark hair. Xena's hands flew across her body, arousing her even as they served to satisfy her lover's belief.
Warm flesh beneath her fingers, familiar tongue entwining with her own, the remembered sensation of fingers gripping her hair. Xena suddenly stopped her attentions and pulled away, peering at the woman beneath her. "Rickie...?" she asked, her voice breathless and desperate.
With a smile, the writer nodded. "Yeah. It's me, Xena."
Another long kiss, a reaffirmation of their bond, a joyous celebration of their return to each other. Eventually, it broke off and Xena sat up, pressing her hand against her lover's chest, searching for the damage that wasn't there. "I saw you die," she murmured.
Rickie sat up, grasping the fingers and pulling them to her mouth. "I know," she replied, kissing the palm. "I woke up in the morgue this morning."
A pained expression crossed Xena's face. "I should have been there..."
"No. You didn't know," the redhead insisted. She pulled her lover into an embrace. "I know you wouldn't have let me wake up there if you'd have known the truth."
Warm wetness splashed on Rickie's neck, the warrior's arms holding her with a forlorn fierceness.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Xena whispered over and over, releasing her anger, her loss, her grief.
"Shhhh..." Caressing ebony hair, Rickie rocked gently. "It's okay now. I'm here. It's okay."
Edging along the thick branch, Xena glanced backwards. Behind her, the redhead sat balanced in the crook of the large oak, looking innocent. Shooting her lover a warning look, the warrior received rolled eyes and a nod in response.
Xena returned her attention to the fore, maneuvering along with adeptness. As she reached the roof of the neighboring house, she felt the branch shudder. Turning her head, pale eyes sparked in exasperation.
Rickie was halfway to her position, pointedly not looking down as she scooted along the bark. She was also pointedly not looking at Xena.
Awash with anger, fear and an odd sense of pride, the older woman shook her head. Swinging over the branch, she landed lightly on the roof. After a cursory check for their safety, Xena returned her attention to the approaching redhead, mouth stretched thin in disapproval.
As Rickie dropped over the branch, she felt hands at her waist, guiding her to the rooftop. Once steady, the hands turned her around and she was looking into pale eyes that were just this side of manic. Swallowing against the trickle of memory and fear, the writer unconsciously stood taller, lifting her chin.
"And just what do you think you're doing?" Xena hissed, eyes narrow.
The younger woman raised an eyebrow. Her posture subtly shifted to that of others her age - head tilted, sardonic twist to the lips - which begged the question of the true nature of intelligence in her elders. "Well, if you haven't figured it out yet..." she drawled in a whisper.
A car drove by and Xena ducked, pulling the redhead down with her. When she was sure the danger of discovery had past, the warrior glared into her lover's eyes, nose to nose. "You're going to get back in that tree and go back the way you came."
"Think so, do ya?" The redhead immediately regretted the flippant response.
Pale eyes flashed again. Xena closed them, fighting with the so recently caged monster, trying to keep control.
Rickie sighed. "Xena, I can't let you go alone. There's at least one, possibly two of them in here. And two of us."
"You'll distract me." The dark woman opened her eyes, momentarily back in control. "Besides, I haven't told you all the rules of the Game. No witnesses."
"No mortal witnesses. I know that much." Bringing her hand up to caress a cheek, Rickie continued, her voice softening. "I'm not mortal, Xena. I don't know why and I don't care. I'm not going to let you go in there alone."
Xena studied her lover's eyes, searching. Unable to fight the calm acceptance she found there, the warrior finally gave a curt nod. "Alright then. Let's go."
A triumphant grin broke out on Rickie's face as she sat up. She was startled when a warning finger was waved in her face.
"And don't try anything stupid! Just follow my lead and do what I tell you."
The redhead attempted a hurt look, but it was supplanted by happiness. "Okay," she chirped.
Despite her attempt at seriousness, Xena's lips quirked in a grin and she looked quickly away. Taking a deep breath, she turned her attention to the roof, her mind working on a way to enter and surprise the occupants.
A second floor window had been left open in the hasty abandonment; it was an easy task to hang from the roof and slip into the room. Xena could hear the redhead muttering something as she scrabbled over the edge. Reaching out, the warrior guided Rickie into the room, holding her until she was firmly settled on the floor. "What was that?" she asked, her whisper so quiet it was almost nonexistent.
"Just reminding myself I was Immortal," the writer murmured, brushing moss from her shirt. "If I fell, I'd be back."
Understanding, Xena nodded, pulling her pistol from its holster. She pointed at her lover's boots. "Off."
Rickie nodded and complied, knowing she wasn't as silent as her lover was.
Once the footwear was safely tucked away, the pair eased out of the room.
Moving to the left, Xena went a few steps before she realized she was alone. Whipping her head around, she saw Rickie heading towards the right. Eyes flashing in anger, she hissed wordlessly to gain her lover's attention.
The redhead halted, turning to roll her eyes in exasperation. With crude sign language, she indicated that the warrior should continue on while she checked out this end of the house. This was followed by hands in the air and a questioning look that said, "Whadda they gonna do? Kill me?"
Xena stifled the soft growl, knowing it was too late now. Any argument they got into would blow their cover. At least she'll feel the Quickening and be warned before they get to her... With a nod, the older woman turned back to her path and eased along the hall. But she gets a spanking when this is over.
A thorough search of the second floor revealed nothing. There were personal effects in one room and not much else. The two met back at the top of the stairs.
The redhead could see her lover was worried. Not finding anyone was wearing on her nerves and Rickie watched the pale eyes dart back and forth, constantly shifting to study hiding places and shadows. Leaning close, the younger woman breathed, "Wouldn't we have felt the Quickening by now?"
Brow furrowing in frustration and worry, Xena nodded. She jerked her head to one side, ordering Rickie to follow as she slunk down the stairs.
Halfway down the steps, Xena froze, nose twitching at the smell of blood. Still no Quickening pulsed through her veins and she kept her eyes and ears open as she eased down a little further. To the left there was an open doorway, the fluttering curtains wreaking havoc on her senses as the shadows of their movement kept grabbing her eyes.
Behind her, Rickie could smell the iron tang of blood, as well. Swallowing her fear, heart thudding loudly in her chest, she placed a hand on her lover's shoulder. When Xena began moving again, she followed one step behind, keeping an eye on their rear in case they'd missed something. The shoulder beneath her hand stiffened and Xena stopped again as they were two thirds down. Her attention drawn to the forefront, Rickie looked into the living room and gasped.
A large puddle of blood was on the hardwood floor. The body resting in the middle of it looked slightly deformed at first, until the lack of a head was taken into consideration. Said appendage was resting nearby, staring sightlessly at the window.
Rickie swallowed hard against the bile rising in her throat. She felt the Immortal before her move away and she hastened to keep up, not wanting to lose what little contact she had. When Xena moved away from the carnage, the redhead blinked in surprise but followed along. No argument about splitting up now!
The dining room was clear, as was the kitchen behind it. A pot of coffee warmed on its heating unit, its scent mixing with the smell of blood that was thick in the air. Rickie doubted she'd ever have another cup of coffee again as her nose wrinkled in distaste. Off the kitchen was a family room, the television volume shut off as a sitcom rerun from the seventies played to emptiness. Recognizing one of the actresses, the redhead's mind wandered off on the heavy metal musician the woman had married a few years earlier.
The pair had made a complete circle of the lower level, entering the living room where the body lay. Xena stopped and cursed aloud, startling her lover. All pretense of stealth was dropped as the Immortal stood tall, holstering her pistol.
"What is it?" Rickie whispered, not wanting to break the stillness of the house.
The dark woman pointed at the wall to one side. A message had been scrawled in huge bloody letters on it:
SW Pacific Hiway
U B thair and well have sum fun
"Can't say much for his spelling," the writer mused. She turned back to her lover who was now crouching over the dead body. Rickie grimaced as the man was turned over, surprised to see the whiteness of his shirt. Despite her distaste, she squatted and peered at the corpse. "Wouldn't the blood have soaked the shirt?"
"Yeah. But it looks like he was on his stomach when his head was removed." Xena's eyes scanned the room. "Couldn't have happened all that long ago - otherwise it would have soaked through. I'd say maybe an hour, tops."
Pointing at the center of the chest, Rickie said, "Well, some got through anyway."
The dark woman reached forward, easing aside the shirt near the stain. "Nope. Looks like he got shot first."
"You mean, somebody shot him and then took his head?"
Idly nodding, Xena rose and stepped over to the cranium. She squatted down again and studied it carefully.
"What a weasel!" Rickie exclaimed, her sense of right and wrong sorely challenged. "Couldn't even take him out in a fair fight?"
Frowning, the redhead stood and went over to her lover.
"See the way the flesh is here?" Xena asked, showing the irregular markings. When her lover nodded, she continued, "He didn't use a sword. This isn't a clean cut."
Rickie's frown deepened, her eyes narrowing. "What are you saying?"
With a sigh, the older Immortal rose. She's an Immortal now. She needs to know what kind of people she'll have to deal with to stay alive. "I'm saying that whoever did this must have sat on Gypsy and used a knife or saw to remove his head..."
The vision of this man waking up from death to have someone figuratively gnawing on his neck until he died for good was too much for the redhead. She paled and, with a strangled groan, dashed back the way she'd come, clutching her stomach and mouth.
Eyes reflecting pain, Xena slowly followed after her.
"I don't know why I let you talk me into this..."
"Because I'm right."
Xena rolled her eyes in the darkened car, shooting a glance behind her.
Rickie glared at her from the back floorboard, daring her lover to argue the point.
Shaking her head with a sigh, the older Immortal returned her attention to the road. "I don't think you need to be involved in this, Dreamer. He's a punk with no experience. It'll be a cakewalk."
There was a soft snort. "Schyeah, right. I'm sure Gypsy thought the same thing, huh?" A pause. "I just want to be there, Xena. I promise I won't do anything." Unless he cheats.
They had spent the afternoon in a small Tigard hotel, hiding out from both the police and the people who knew them, knew of their current circumstances. It had been a bittersweet reunion and they'd spent more tears and heartache in each other's arms than ever before. When the tears had dried and the joy of rediscovery had abated, a plan had formulated.
Rickie absolutely refused to stay behind. It had taken Xena quite awhile to elicit a promise that she wouldn't interfere. And, since the redhead was definitely not ready to deal with another Immortal, the dark woman had run her through the use of her pistol several times.
The address was a hamburger joint on the main stretch of road between Tigard and Portland. Surrounding it were other businesses, including a movie theater far behind it. However, there was a plaque proudly proclaiming this restaurant's contribution to natural habitat, pointing to the small overgrown hollow behind the business. It was here that the mysterious young black man obviously wanted to meet.
Xena drove her lover's Mustang into the cinema parking lot from SW 70th, parking it far in the back near the natural shadows of night. The street they'd come from was a rural road with no lights. It would be child's play to keep hidden as she returned and followed it along the two hundred feet until it hit the field.
Turning in her seat, she looked back at her lover. "You got the gun?"
Rickie patted her belly where a suspicious lump showed at her waistline. "You betcha. You got your sword?"
With a grin, the Immortal scooped up her weapon. "You betcha," she echoed. She unhooked her seatbelt. "Now you stay here."
Crossing her fingers, the redhead answered, "Just like I promised. But you be careful."
There was a long moment as they stared intently at each other. Then Xena was out of the car, gently closing the door behind her.
Rickie closed her eyes and began slowly counting to a hundred.
Xena felt the telltale signs of her opponent halfway between the car and the field. Eyes glittering in the dim light, she grinned at the prospect of releasing the pent up energies of the last two days. The warrior picked up her pace, ducking into the shadow of the overgrown lot.
Fortunately, it was a moonless evening. The distant bulbs from the theater and restaurant already shed far too much light for her taste. It didn't help knowing that her target was just as aware of her presence as she was of his. He'd had plenty of time to scope out the territory and find a hiding spot.
Bastard's just waiting for me to announce myself.
Toward the back of the lot, close to the restaurant, was a steep climb of about ten feet. Any attacker coming from the parking lot above would make some major noise and hurt himself in the process. Xena hunkered down beside a shrub in the north corner, ears tuned for the smallest sound. Crickets were creating a masterpiece in the southwest corner, the only thing that could be heard over the traffic above.
Twenty feet to her left came the slight noise of two pebbles bouncing off each other. The dark woman's eyes narrowed. She waited for a repeat, satisfied when one came in the same area - another rock shaking a bush on impact.
He is just a kid, Xena grumbled, half in disgust at his juvenile actions. A flash of Gypsy's agonizing death played itself in her mind. But one who deserves to die.
Easing from her hiding place, the Immortal glided right, following 70th Street in the process. As the road began its incline, Xena slipped further into the lot, hugging the miniature bluff. Her quarry had been throwing the rocks from somewhere in this vicinity.
A scattering of pebbles could be heard above her and she looked up. It wasn't until she felt her pant leg touch her shin that she realized there was a tripwire. Xena heard the aluminum cans rattle, pinpointing her position as easily as if she'd been standing there in broad daylight.
Even as she tucked into a dive away from the homemade booby trap, the bushes around her erupted with the slight noise of silenced rounds, peppering the area. She felt three of them enter her body, piercing a lung, kidney and thigh respectively. Weakness invaded her limbs as she tried to hide herself in the underbrush, the sudden sensation of the Quickening speeding up her death throes.
Hades! Rickie! Get out of here!
All turned black.
Rickie cut to her left as she approached the small field, staying on the theater's access road. Her heart thudded and adrenaline pumped through her system as she neared. Hope he thought that was Xena, she mused. She slid into a shadow and watched.
The lot was dead silent. Well, that was a poor choice of words! Rickie's internal editor groused. The quiet lasted for several minutes.
As the redhead's eyes became accustomed to the lighting - or lack thereof - she noticed a dark blob almost centered in the lot. Is that a bush? Tilting her head curiously, Rickie tried to make out the form.
When it moved, she bit back a gasp. She observed as it appeared to grow larger, heart pounding when she realized it was a person standing up. The dull shin of gunmetal told her exactly who it was and she shrank back.
The figure didn't approach her. Instead it walked away, stealthily moving towards a small bluff. Rickie's eyebrows came together, trying to puzzle out his actions.
Okay. He doesn't realize I'm here. If he's as young as Xena says he is, he did think that bit of Quickening was her. She studied the form as it narrowed its search. But what the hell's he looking for? And where's Xena?
Her answer came as the man found what he was looking for. Rickie watched the gun in his hand flash as he shot twice. While a part of her mind distractedly realized she hadn't heard the sharp reports of gunfire, another recoiled in horror at seeing something shudder on the ground nearby.
Xena! He just shot Xena!
There was no further thought, no calm reminder of her lover's immortality, no reassurance that those blue eyes would ever look upon her again. Without hesitation, Rickie did as she'd been taught.
NK gloated over the Immortal's body. "Stupid bitch," he murmured. "Like I'd risk my ass..." He shouldered his Uzi and reached for the hunting knife he'd used on his former partner. "Gypsy said you were way older than him. Let's just see whatcha got."
Anyone else would have thought it a backfiring car. But NK had been raised in the mean streets of Chicago. He knew a pistol when he heard it. Even as he scrabbled for his weapon and spun around, he registered a savage pain in his chest. Falling to his knees, his fingers became clumsy. Both the Uzi and the knife tumbled from his grasp. He looked back the way he'd come and saw a ghostly form approaching.
NK's dark eyes brightened, his bloody teeth showing a smile. "Shit, girl," he said conversationally. "Guess ya owed me one."
"Owe ya more than that," Rickie replied coldly, watching him die.
With a gasp, Xena returned to consciousness. Unlike her lover, she'd trained herself from early on to awaken as soon as possible. It'd saved her hide more times than she could count. As her body knitted together, the dark woman rolled to one side, pulling into a pained crouch as she accessed her situation.
Nearby was a form that Xena could hardly see through blurry eyes. She frantically clawed for her sword, miraculously finding it nearby. Even as her eyesight cleared, she waved it in front of her before freezing in surprise. Blinking at the bizarre sight, the Immortal paused to rub her eyes. The vision remained and she fairly gaped.
Her opponent was seated at the base of the small bluff, chin touching his chest and legs splayed out before him. Rickie was seated no less than three feet away, intently watching him. When NK's body jerked in response to new life, Rickie took careful aim with the pistol. As his eyes opened in consciousness, she fired a round that rocked his head backwards and splattered the ground with blood.
"That's three," the redhead said with a chilling smile.
Shivering at her lover's tone, Xena asked in a rough voice, "Three...?"
Rickie's smile was as sunny as the day she'd graduated. "Good morning, sleepyhead. Glad you're awake."
The older woman coughed, shaking her head, the fuzziness receding. Straightening, she lowered her sword. "You said, 'That's three'."
"So far." Rickie looked curiously at the pistol in her hand. "How many rounds does this thing have again?"
Eyes narrowed, Xena stepped closer. "Ten."
Nodding, the redhead returned her attention to the man seated across from her. "Seven more to go."
Xena squatted down beside her lover. "Where'd ya hit him?" she asked carefully.
"First time in the back." A frown crossed Rickie's face. "I saw him shoot you when you were down. Fucking coward." Shaking her head, she waved the pistol in NK's direction. "Last two times have been in the head."
Blowing out a breath, the dark woman asked, "In the head...?"
"Yep. Right between the eyes!" With a chuckle, Rickie glanced at her. "Not bad for an amateur, huh?"
Xena chewed her lower lip, unsure of how to break through this unnatural calm. "Give me the pistol, Dreamer."
Frowning again, emerald eyes flickered to the man who gasped and shuddered as new life returned. "Are you sure...?"
"Yeah. I'm sure."
Rickie seemed to debate with herself. Sighing, she finally nodded and put the pistol on safety.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Xena collected the weapon. Placing a hand on the redhead's shoulder, she asked, "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Scared, but fine." Rickie's eyes returned to NK. "What about him? You gonna take his head now?"
"Why not?" the younger woman demanded sharply.
Xena's eyes were pained. "Watch him. You'll see."
The Immortal before them awoke again. His dark eyes stared at them blankly.
When he didn't move, Rickie leaned closer to her partner. "Why isn't he saying anything?"
"Remember how Jeanne kept branding me with that cross? I had to have plastic surgery to remove it..."
Confused, the redhead nodded. "Yeah. But what's that got to do with this?"
Xena searched for the words. "The brain is a lot... It's less resilient to damage." Her own eyes drifted to the man before them. "Just like my skin scarred after repeated damage, he's been scarred the same way."
The mystified look on her lover's face coalesced into deep pain. "He's a... a vegetable?" she whispered.
Nodding, the older woman returned her attention to Rickie. "That about covers it." She brushed the redgold hair. "He won't hurt anyone ever again."
As full comprehension sank in, Rickie's eyes teared up. Soon she was crying heavily onto a broad shoulder. When Xena rose, holding her close, the redhead hardly noticed.
"Hello. You've reached the voicemail of Amphipolous Investigations. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I will not be accepting any new cases at this time. I'm away for a few days so please leave a name, number and a brief message."
"Xe... It's Emil..." Uncomfortable pause. "We missed you at the memorial service. Marjorie and the kids wanted to tell you they love you. We're here for you... despite the job and the organization, Xe. I'm here for you." Another pause. "Look, call if you need anything. I mean that."
"Yeah, Emil. It's Cal."
"Whaddya got?" Eager, desperate tones.
"Picked her up at the warehouse. Stopped once at the monastery by the Grotto, then she drove the van to Canada. You know... That little cabin she owns...?"
"I know it."
"She probably just needs to recup, ya know?"
"Has anyone figured out where her girlfriend's body went?"
Dejection. "No. Not yet."
"Uh... You think she woulda taken it to be buried on the island?"
"It's possible." Pause. "I don't see how she could get through customs with a... a body, though."
Sighing. "Well, neither can I. But, if anybody can do it, she can."
Vague pride. "Yeah, she can." Another pause. "Thanks, Cal."
"No prob, buddy. Watchers gotta stick together. I'll keep ya posted."
It took a bit to ditch the car behind her, but Xena finally relaxed as she peered into the side mirror of the van. "C'mon out, jailbait," she called.
"It's safe?" came the hesitant question.
"Yeah. They're gone," the Immortal snorted. She looked into the rearview mirror as the curtain was pulled aside behind her.
"Good!" Rickie exclaimed, settling into the passenger seat and opening the window. "It's stuffy back there."
"But fun," her lover commented with a wink and a leer, reminding her passenger of their most recent intimacies.
Despite five years of living with Xena, Rickie blushed, swatting a broad shoulder. "Lech!" There was a pause as they both stared at the road. "Do you think he'll be alright?"
"He'll be fine. He's on holy ground and I made sure the padre promised to keep him there."
Rickie nodded vaguely, an unfamiliar, pinched look crossing her face.
"Trust me, lover," Xena continued. "Chances are good that in fifty years or so, he'll have healed enough to be back to the same ol' underhanded tricks."
"And then what?"
The older Immortal's eyes unfocused a bit in thought. "Then...? Then I'll take him out if he so much as looks in your direction."
Nodding, Rickie stared out the passenger window in thought.
Xena looked at the woman beside her. It lingered a moment before she changed the subject. "Ya know, you don't look half bad as a brunette."
"Really?" Rickie pulled the sun visor down, pulling at her dark brown bangs as she primped in the mirror, relieved at the change of subject. Her hair was considerably shorter, spiking up just a bit in the front.
"Yeah." Xena reached over and caressed the back of her lover's head. "But I still miss the red."
Purring, Rickie leaned into the caress. "Well, maybe I can change it back in a few months...?"
The older woman nodded, returning her attention to the road. "That'd probably be okay." Turning south onto the highway, she accelerated. "You've got the tickets?"
"Yeah." Pulling said tickets from her backpack on the floorboard, the writer looked at them curiously. "Greece, huh?"
Xena nodded. "Yep. I think it's time to go home."
Crackle of long distance lines
"Wha...? Vickie?" Grumpily. "D'you what time it is here?"
"Wha...?" Yawn. "Who?"
Impatient. "Who do you think?"
"What d'you mean 'she's gone'? Gone where?"
"Just gone. Closed up shop. Ran for the border. Disappeared into the wilderness..."
"All right. All right." Sigh. "What about the bard's body?"
"She took it with her." Silence. "You still there?"
"Yeah." Grunt. "Any idea where she'd go?"
"A few ideas. What should I do now?"
"Come home, Victoria. We'll decide from there."
"Right. Cheers. We'll meet Enzo at the airport, right?"
"Er...riot. How'd you know?"
"I saw him playing bloody Fox Mulder with the local bobbies." Smug. "Tell him he looked better with a goatee. I'm off to start packing. See you soon."
As usual, many thanks to my beta readers - Garnet and Jett foremost, as well as Joseph Connell, Tri-Knot and Miguel Cura. You guys kept me on track! Thank you!
Hope you had a wonderful read. I know this one was a shorty in comparison to the other tales I usually write. Hopefully, the next one will be a bit lengthier? Hehehehehe... Keep in mind that I have at least one more tale in the Infinity world to write. Then I retire it. Don't get too upset, though, 'cuz it'll be a little bit before I get to the fourth installment! LOTSA other projects ahead!!
Thanks for all the great comments (and lack of death threats after chapter three!) Your email is what keeps me writing. Somehow, the knowledge that there are people who are waiting (IM)patiently for the next installment forces me to keep plugging away!