Disclaimers: See Part I for disclaimers to this story.
Additional Disclaimer: I've taken it upon myself to create an English title. Please keep in mind that it's made from whole cloth! Those of you British royalty afficianos - you have my undying apologies in advance for butchering the bloodlines.
Part X: Saturday
sharp rap to ribs, eyes open. face melting like candlewax, oozing, dripping. green eyes becoming black, mouth closing in. screaming and screaming in silence until there was no voice.
and then a shift so sudden, so different, that her world jolted almost to a physical level. the creature with pink and oozing scars all over her body, brown eyes sparkling darkly. a casual flip of light brown hair over a misshapen shoulder, the flash of light winking off steel, the sound of a blade whistling through the air and connecting with a loud, wet thunk!
the room spinning, finally coming to a halt. her eyes looking up at... at her headless body as it collapsed, blood spurting from the severed arteries. the creature smiling at her. "Only one, Gabrielle. you need to step into the light. the Almighty wants your blood."
Rickie awoke with a start, sitting upright in the bed. Blank green eyes blinked for a few seconds before her consciousness finally caught up with her body. Ugh! These nightmares stink! She frowned, scrubbing at her face.
The redhead brought her knees up and wrapped an arm around them. She yawned and used her free hand to brush her hair into some semblance of order. The hotel room was dark and quiet, but the red neon alarm clock stated it was well into the morning. A glance to one side showed an empty bed.
Stretching, Rickie slid out from under the sheet and padded naked towards the bathroom door. The door was open an inch or so and a light shone through, illuminating the short hall and exterior door. The teenager tapped lightly on the bathroom door.
"Come on in," was the low response. "I'm gonna need your help with this."
Rickie pushed her way into the small, tiled room.
Xena wore a cream colored towel wrapped low across her hips, her dark hair still damp from the shower. Her toiletry kit lay open on the marble counter next to the sink and a tiny pair of nail scissors were out. Small black threads dotted the counter, as well. As the redhead walked in, she saw her lover using tweezers to pull one of the stitches from her abdomen.
"What are you doing?" she asked with concern. "Those are supposed to stay in for another couple of days."
The warrior finished pulling the stitch out and discarded it with the rest on the counter. Blue eyes sparkling, she grinned at her lover, rubbing the nearly healed wound. "Damn, that tickles."
Rickie tapped her foot with a mock glare, waiting for an answer.
"Oh!" Xena looked down at her scar and back up. "Well, if I were mortal, yeah. More like five or six days." She turned and peered over her shoulder and into the mirror at the exit wound. "But, I'm not. It's as healed up as it gets. Leaving the stitches in will just cause complications." She turned back to Rickie who was still standing in the doorway. Wiggling her dark brows and grinning hopefully, she asked, "Help me out?"
The teenager's face relaxed into a grin. She stepped forward and scooped up the scissors. "Turn around. You finish with those and I'll start on your back."
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," the dark woman said with relief as she presented her back to the redhead. "They've been itching like crazy! I'm surprised I got any sleep last night!"
Rickie caressed the curve of her lover's rear through the terry cloth. "I'm surprised you did, too," she quipped. "Lech," she added for good measure.
"You know, the problem here is that I will never, ever catch up with you. I'm gonna be a hundred and five and still be jailbait, aren't I?" she demanded, snipping at the tiny sutures.
"Yeah, but you'll be my jailbait."
Rickie smiled. "Well, okay, then," she mock grumbled. "So long as we're clear on that point."
It wasn't long before the deed was done. After a thorough back scratching, the remains of the stitches were scooped up and discarded in the trash can. The older woman put away her items and zipped up the kit.
As Rickie straightened, briskly dusting her hands off over the trash, she felt warmth behind her and hands on her hips, turning her gently around. She closed her eyes as lips brushed hers.
"Mmmm.... Good morning," her lover purred.
The redhead smiled against the tender skin of a long neck. "Morning," she replied, enjoying the feel of callused palms sliding up and down her sides and back.
"Have I thanked you for helping me get these stitches out?" Xena asked, lips brushing redgold hair.
Her smile widened. "Well, you've thanked me," and her voice dropped an octave. "But you haven't thanked me, yet." A breath of laughter tickled her ear. There was a kiss and her earlobe was sucked into a warm mouth, sending shivers of fire through her body.
"Well, can't leave you doubting the depth of my... gratitude, can I?" Xena's sultry voice growled, even as her hands became more insistent in their caresses of silky skin.
Rickie melted against her lover, hands blindly burying themselves in dark hair, pressing herself against the well muscled form. "Um.... Well...." She gasped as one of the roaming hands found a breast and kneaded it. "Uh... what was the question?" Lips found hers and the teenager realized that the question wasn't all that important anyway.
Their lips parted, mutual invitations given. Tongues entwined, at first slowly, sensually, before picking up in intensity as they explored each other. The hand on Rickie's breast moved on, much to her dismay until she felt herself lifted and perched on the bathroom counter. She wrapped her legs around her lover's hips and brought her hands down, fingers digging into well-muscled buttocks.
Xena broke off the kiss, tracing a path down the younger woman's throat and along her collar bone. She pulled Rickie closer, pressing between her thighs. She felt small hands knead her behind through the cloth of the towel and could hear a low moan as she bit down on an inviting shoulder.
The rough texture of the towel rubbed against the redhead's center, exciting her further. She arched her hips slowly once, then again, squirming to get the full affect of the motion. Xena pulled her closer to the edge of the counter, thrusting in time with her lover's movement, her own attention diverted further down as she nibbled a wet path to an erect nipple.
"Oh, God, Xena," Rickie groaned when a warm mouth latched onto her breast and sucked her in. Her hip movements increased, mirrored by the dark woman. But, it wasn't enough. It wasn't what she wanted. She worked her hands around, one grasping a firm breast, palming the nipple. The other scratched a path from her lover's tan throat, past her breasts and down her stomach, working its way inside the towel still wrapped around slim hips.
Xena moaned as she nibbled the teenager's breast, as small fingers slid into her slick warmth and began caressing in time with their thrusting. Impatiently, she pulled away just a fraction, just long enough to remove the towel before continuing the assault on her lover's body with hands and mouth and tongue. Her own hand found its way to the wetness of her lover's ardor, entering the folds and causing another breathless moan and increased friction between them.
The two women moved together, hands and bodies, sweat forming on their skin and liquid pooling between their thighs. Hearts pounded as one and the sounds of their lovemaking filled the small room, flesh against flesh, moans and sighs, incoherent mumblings of pleasure, until they both found their release in loud cries of ecstasy.
She stepped lightly out of the train station, a small overnight bag slung across her shoulder. A quick stop at the information kiosk and she was armed with a list of mid and high range hotels in the London area. Jeanne adjusted her bag and decided to go for a walk.
Waking up in the morgue was as unpleasant as usual, the smell of death and decay mixing with the sterile odor of antiseptics. She'd had to lay under a sheet on a cold metal table for nearly twenty minutes, allowing her healing to finish. Once the bones were completely knitted back together, the Prediger arose from her chill bed, scooped up a handy lab coat and left the hospital.
The fortunate aspect of being dead allowed her to easily gain access to her home - now taped off to deter trespassers at the scene of a crime. She'd taken a shower to remove the hospital smell that had clung to her and prepared for her trip.
By midnight, she was at the bahnhof, awaiting the next transport to London.
The woman moved along the sidewalk at a good pace. She knew that the Chosen Ones had planned on coming here from their discussion at dinner on Monday night. It was just a matter of following along behind, checking hotels and awaiting the Sign from God to point her in the right direction.
And then both the sinners would be brought to their Judgement.
"I see you've tidied a bit." O'Donhugh's voice cracked out as his sister let them into the small flat and opened the curtains. It was one of smaller properties they owned in the United Kingdom, kept more as a way-point for trips to larger homes in Scotland and off in Ireland. It was little more than a small sitting room/kitchenette, with an equally small bedroom and attached shower in the next room, all on the second floor who's only window looked out onto the back alley. The simplicity of it all nevertheless appealed to him.
Marie de Anan set the computer on the low sofa and busied herself in the kitchen, setting water to boil for tea and readying a simple breakfast. "Victoria was here a day or two ago," she said with deliberate casualness, brushing short dark red hair away from her blue eyes.
"Oh?" O'Donhugh grunted, letting himself sink onto the sofa. "And just what was she doing off the estate?"
"Wanted to help with the artifact. Said she had some contacts who could help out with the paperwork and the rest."
He only grunted again and shrugged out of his overcoat. Seconds later, he was standing and rummaging through the kitchen cabinets himself. The kitchenette was crowded enough with just one person, never mind two. As if mindless to his sister's scowl, O'Donhugh asked "Any coffee here?"
Annoyed, she simply scolded, "Sit down."
"Yes, mother." He sat.
De Anan placing a small platter of fried eggs, muffins and jams before him. A mug of acrid-smelling coffee finished off the meal. She herself settled with only a muffin and tea. He ate without much enthusiasm, missing the richer food of Munich already.
Between mouthfuls he asked, "You manage to date it?"
The woman nodded. "One hundred BC.... As expected."
"And the licenses? Any trouble there?"
"No worse than erasing the girl's record back in the States." She looked at him intently. "You're certain it's...?"
O'Donhugh only nodded, taking a sip of the coffee and grimacing from the flavor. She looked off towards the window, wonder clearly showing on her face.
The man swallowed a bite of muffin and said, "Don't even think about telling Myriam. Blasted girl's already insufferable enough as is. Even for a Seer." Another bite, this one with a fair bit of force behind it. "Where is it now? At the gallery?" His brow furrowed at the woman shaking her head, and her not-so-hidden grin. A suspicion quickly formed. "Oh, you're not serious."
De Anan nodded and rose. She opened a cabinet and produced a small square box of polished wood with a carefully carved pattern on its lid. Setting it before him, she met her brother's stormy eyes full on, not even flinching at the low growl of his voice.
"Are you out of your mind?" He lifted the lid slightly to peek inside, eyes closing in relief at what he saw.
"Hmm, perhaps," she agreed, then continued more thoughtfully, "But who'd think to look for it here, eh? Now all that's for it is getting it to where it needs to go." She met his eyes once more. "I take it you have a plan."
This brought an actual smile to O'Donhugh's face. "Silly question, love. Since when don't I have one?"
De Anan felt a smile of her own creep in.
Kommissar Johannes sat at his desk, a cup of coffee steaming in front of him. Finally, all the notes and reports regarding the Prediger case were consolidated into one heavy box. Time to close it up.
With the death of Jeanne Pucelle went the Prediger case. Johannes realized that he was being a bit premature in his closing of the case, but further search of the suspect's home had uncovered personal belongings - primarily jewelry - belonging to the previous four victims. Guilt was a foregone conclusion. And the Hauptkommissar is screaming for an end. Politics and Presse.
Despite the closure, however, the blond man was a little suspicious. The report that the woman's body had disappeared was unsettling. The possibility of yet another string of murders loomed in his imagination. Who would want the body? A friend? A lover? A fan? And, if it was the latter, would that person decide to carry on the bizarre torch the dead woman had been running with?
He shook his head and closed his eyes. Let it go for now. If something turns up, you'll know.
"Here you go, Kommissar."
Blue eyes opened to see the mailroom clerk drop a white fax envelope on his desk. He nodded his thanks as he picked it up. Inside, he found the updated vacation itinerary of Xena Amphipolous.
"Better let her know she doesn't have to return," he said aloud, reaching for the phone on his desk.
"Lloyd's of London." Cultured accent.
"Yes, I need to speak with Henry Ragsdale. This is Xena Amphipolous."
"Certainly, ma'am. Please hold." A long pause.
"Good morning, Ms. Amphipolous," a cheery voice answered. "How may I help you today?"
"Well, sir, you could tell me who bought lot #1403 of the Dartmouth Estate auction last Tuesday."
"I'll see what I can do." There was the clicking sounds of fingers on a keyboard. "We missed you Tuesday evening, Ms. Amphipolous. I heard there was some trouble in Germany...?"
"Yes, a bit, Mr. Ragsdale."
"Things have improved, I hope?"
"Most definitely. Though not being able to attend to business has put a bit of a cloud over my vacation."
There was a pause as the gentleman's attentions were diverted by whatever was on his computer screen. "Hmmm... I don't have any information on the individual who purchased Lot #1403." More keyboard clicking. "No name, no address, no point of contact. It seems to have been an anonymous purchase, ma'am."
"I see." A pause. "You didn't happen to attend that auction, did you?"
"No, ma'am. I wasn't in that day."
"Would you be able to transfer me to someone who was?"
"Certainly, Ms. Amphipolous. Please hold."
Rickie, unable to contain her excitement at being in yet another new country, couldn't stay in the hotel room for breakfast. Her lover had ordered room service and needed to make a few phone calls to locate the chakram. The teenager had other ideas, however. She sat in the lobby restaurant, working her way through a plate of ham and eggs.
Germany had been a beautiful country, but the redhead felt a bit uneasy during her stay there. Over and above the whole Jeanne thing. Not speaking the language had really put a crimp in things.
Here, though, she understood what she was reading and hearing without much problem. The slang was different in some respects, but that was about it. It gave her a lot more confidence, not having to rely on Xena for translation.
And so she sat by a window, enjoying her breakfast despite the acidic excuse served for coffee and poring over several brochures of things to do in the London area.
The waitress refilled her coffee cup. "Will that be all then, miss?"
"Um..." Rickie looked up and smiled warmly. "Yes. Thanks."
"You're quite welcome." The waitress turned away, almost colliding with the dark woman who had come up behind her. "Oh, lordy!" she sputtered. "I'm so sorry, miss! I didn't even know you were there!"
"S'okay," Xena grinned reassuringly, casting a wink at her amused lover.
The waitress was still apologizing profusely as the taller woman gently reached out and grasped her shoulders. Before the coffee welding woman knew what had happened, she was turned completely around and Xena was seating herself at the redhead's table. "Well, then," she finally said. "Would you be wanting coffee, too, miss?"
"No. I'm fine, thanks."
As the waitress bustled off, Rickie swallowed a mouthful of food. "Well? Did you find anything out?"
"Not a whole hell of a lot," the dark woman said. She fiddled idly with the silver place setting before her. "Got some descriptions of a couple of people that were bidding pretty heavily on it. But, the man I spoke with didn't know who had purchased it."
"Isn't there some sort of record somewhere? I mean, if they paid for it by credit card or check, there'd have to be something on file." She sipped her coffee and grimaced.
Xena chuckled. "Not much for coffee here, huh?"
The teenager shook her head and set the cup back down. "Nope." She wiped her mouth with her napkin and dropped it next to her plate. "I'm beginning to really miss Coffee People."
As Rickie scooped up her brochures, the warrior answered her previous question. "Yes, they do have records. But, if the buyer wants to remain anonymous, then the buyer is anonymous. End of story."
"So. What now?"
"Now?" The dark woman stared out the window at the hustle and bustle of traffic. "Now we kill some time until an appointment for tea with a friend of mine." Pale eyes landed on green. "A friend who happened to be present at the auction."
"Oh, that's great, Xena! Think your friend will remember who bought it?"
"Hope so." Long fingers plucked the brochures from Rickie's hand and spread them out on the table again. "Anything in particular you want to have a look at this morning? We've got about six hours to waste."
Rickie's eyes sparkled. "Oh, yeah! I've got plenty to keep us busy...."
It had been a fairly busy few hours for the couple. They'd spent some hours roaming Covent Gardens, window shopping and seeing the sights. Then, Rickie had spent an inordinate amount of time at Buckingham Palace trying to get the guard there to break his composure. To no avail. She mock pouted at Xena for her failure and, before she could take a breath, she'd been dipped backwards and kissed so thoroughly she was surprised her tonsils were still in place. As the women came up for air, pale blue eyes had twinkled mischievously as Xena had looked up at the guard.
Rickie had blinked owlishly at her lover until her mental gears kicked back in. "Oh!" She had glanced at the guard, as well, who stood stoic and firm against the tempest of idiotic tourists trying to get a response. She had turned back to her lover and wiggled her eyebrows with a leer. "I wouldn't say nothing."
Eventually, the pair ended up at their destination, a small pub with the moniker of 'The Queen Bee'.
"Interesting name," Rickie said.
"Yep. And you won't even break your jaw on it."
The teenager slapped her lover on the shoulder and glared at her. "Keep it up, lady. You're gonna be hurtin' for certain!"
Xena visibly shuddered in an exaggerated shiver. "Ooooh! Promise?!"
Laughing, Rickie said, "What am I gonna do with you?"
"Um.... Love me?" the dark woman suggested as she opened the door of the pub, her face creased in a smile.
The redhead reached up and settled her palm against her lover's face, thumb stroking the high cheekbone. "Always."
If anything, the smile became more beautiful. Xena quickly turned her head and kissed the palm as the redhead pulled her hand away. "Good." She placed her hand at the small of Rickie's back and escorted her into the dark pub.
As their eyes adjusted to the dimmer lighting, a voice could be heard over the murmur of the sparse crowd. "Xena! Over here!"
An elderly woman was standing by a table at the front window, gesturing at the couple. Her thinning hair was very white, cut short and styled with waves. She was wearing a skirt and jacket that reminded Rickie of old pictures of Jackie Onassis. All she needs is a pillbox hat. Her face was kind and wrinkled, a joyous smile lighting her aged blue eyes.
Xena's face broke into a grin and she moved past the teenager to gather the woman up in a strong embrace, brushing her lips with a kiss before holding her close.
Schooling her features and forcibly lowering her eyebrows, Rickie watched the tender reunion from a couple of steps back. Wonder if I should feel jealous...? she thought with bemusement.
The embrace lasted some seconds before the elderly woman pulled back, hands grasping Xena at the shoulders, and smiled up at her. "Let me look at you, love." Her eyes were moist and she smiled fondly. A hand reached up to caress a tan cheek. "Ah, you're a sight for sore eyes, Xena. As beautiful as ever."
"And you haven't aged a day since I last saw you, Cora," the dark woman grinned. She accepted the tap of a finger on her nose from the woman in silent laughter.
"Scamp! That was nearly thirty years ago!" She brought her hand up to brush aside dark bangs. A thumb gently touched the scar in the center of Xena's forehead. "What happened, love?"
The warrior grinned reassurance and pulled the hand away. "Ancient history, Cora."
Noticing the presence of the redhead, the elderly woman pulled back a bit more to smile at her. "And you must be Rickie," she said with a warm smile. The woman released the warrior and stepped around her to grasp the teenager's hands in her own. "Xena's told me so much about you."
Rickie allowed herself to be pulled into a hug, peering over her shoulder at the indulgent smile from her lover. "I hope it was good," she finally managed to say.
The elder woman chuckled and patted her on the shoulder. "It was, dear. Most definitely."
Xena stepped in and provided introductions. "Rickie Gardner, Cora Blaylock."
"Please! Sit down! We have a lot of catching up to do." The last was said with a loving glance at the Immortal.
The dark woman deferentially seated Blaylock before her lover and then sat down across from the English woman. The bartender arrived to take their order and left again.
"So," Rickie spoke up, full of questions. "You knew Xena in the seventies?"
"Actually, we met in 1956," Blaylock said with a smile. "I was a student at the university in South Dakota and she was the studious 'older woman' reading every book in the library." A wrinkled hand, spotted with age, reached out and grasped Xena's across the table.
"Not every book," Xena chided. "Just those about mechanical engineering."
"Yes, well, my bookworm here saved me from a handful of ruffians one night after the library closed."
Rickie could well imagine the scene. A group of young toughs harassing a pretty college girl and getting their collective butts whipped by the dark woman. "Sounds almost like how we met," she said with a grin. Turning to her lover, she asked, "Is that how you meet women? Pull the 'knight in shining armor' routine? Rescue the damsel in distress?" She laid a hand on the woman's thigh to soften the teasing.
Taking the cue, Xena grinned wolfishly. "Hey, it works!" She put her hand on her lover's and squeezed it even as she increased pressure on Cora's. "And I've met a couple of very fine ladies that way."
"Scamp!" the older woman spouted.
"Lech!" Rickie said at the same time. The two mortals froze in startlement, green and blue eyes meeting for the barest of seconds before they both burst out laughing.
Xena rolled her eyes with an exaggerated sigh. "Something tells me I've made a big mistake introducing you two."
Two pairs of eyes, wide with feigned innocence looked back at her.
"Why, whatever do you mean, love?" Cora asked.
"I don't know what you're talking about," the redhead stated.
The warrior disengaged her hands from both women and sat back, crossing her arms. She shook her head with a grimace. "That's what I thought."
And then, the bartender saved her by arriving with their drinks, stopping any further conversation.
"So, how long did you two see each other?" Rickie asked, sipping at her soda.
Cora stirred cream into her tea, eyes distant in thought. "Well, we had a glorious spring term that year. And then I was able to convince my mum to allow me to stay through summer." She looked at Rickie. "Back then, it wasn't proper for a young woman of my 'character and background' to be master of her own fate. My mother saw fit to send me to America for an education and, since she was paying the tuition, she was the one I needed permission from."
"So you were able to stay through summer.... Were you a freshman? Sophomore? When did you graduate?"
The old woman's face sobered. "Unfortunately, I wasn't able to graduate. My elder brother died in an automobile accident in September of that year. I was called home to take over the estate."
"Take over the estate?" Rickie repeated blankly.
The teenager frowned. "So, you had to have your mother's permission to stay in America for one summer, but you were required to come home and run things?" she asked, a vague tone of confusion in her voice.
Xena leaned forward and interrupted the older woman before she could respond. "Maybe I should have introduced you to Lady Blaylock, wife of the Earl of Coventry."
Rickie coughed, happy she hadn't been drinking her soda. "Lady?! You're... royalty?!"
Reaching across the table, Cora took the young woman's hand and patted it gently. "In a manner of speaking, dear." She looked at the warrior with a raised eyebrow. "You always did enjoy springing little surprises, didn't you? I see that hasn't changed."
Pale blue eyes widened at the inference and everything in the dark woman's manner said, 'Who? Me?'
"Never mind," the matron said. She squeezed Rickie's hand and continued her story. "Anyhow, in 1973 I planned a holiday to America. I wanted our children to have a look at the colonies, see some history first hand. and all that." Her eyes lost focus as she stared intently into her past. "We were in Boston when, lo and behold, this dark haired beauty walked by. I knew at the time that it couldn't be my love from South Dakota - it had been twenty years, for God's sake." A smile broke out on her face. "But, I couldn't help myself. I spoke up and called her name. And she turned. And recognized me!"
Xena chuckled at the memory. "I'm surprised your husband didn't have a coronary."
The elderly woman laughed as well. "Me, too, after I threw myself into your arms!" She cast the dark woman a loving look. "Well, that's neither here or there. Suffice it to say, we spent a few hours catching up and I was made privy to her little secret." She returned her gaze to Rickie. "And how did you meet her?"
"What?" The teenager brought herself out of her reverie. "Oh. Uh.... Pretty much the same way. I stumbled across a couple of men who weren't too happy with a third. They were welding guns and saw me. Next thing I know, I'm seated in a tree with someone holding me."
Cora looked Xena, blue eyes alight with humor. "You do make a habit of this, don't you, love?"
And so the conversation continued. Two women catching up on their lives, and two women getting to know one another - the past and present lovers. Eventually the talk turned to the Dartmouth estate auction and Xena's eyes became almost predatory in their intensity.
"So, you remember the chakram?" she asked.
"Oh, yes," Cora responded. "A most beautiful item. A weapon, you said?" At the answering nod, she continued, "Well, definitely a beauty. I wish you'd have told me. I would have bought it myself to save you the grief."
"Well, I'd hoped to attend myself. Can you recall who bid on it?"
The older woman nodded assent. "Definitely. Both the bidders were very striking in appearance. I hadn't seen the man before, but the woman.... I'm sure I've seen her in London."
Xena leaned forward eagerly. "Describe them?"
"Hmmm. The fellow now, he was massive! Well over six feet. He positively towered over everyone else. Skin as black as night. He was dressed in a tuxedo, of course, but had a silver medallion around his neck. A Celtic cross, I do believe. The woman was short, maybe a bit shorter than you, my dear," this directed at Rickie. "Her hair was cut short, deep auburn in color. I do believe that the two knew each other - there was much eye contact between them."
Jeanne approached the front desk.
"Can I help you, ma'am?"
"Yes," the woman said to the desk clerk. "Could you tell me where your house phones are?"
"Certainly, ma'am. We have three phones right over there," and the woman gestured to one side. "Just follow the lobby around and they'll be on your left hand side."
"My pleasure, ma'am."
The Prediger followed the heathen's directions and came across the white telephones strategically placed along a long table. Keeping one eye on the entrance, she picked up the phone and dialed the hotel operator.
"Yes, could you connect me with Xena Amphipolous' room? What? Oh! A - m - p - h... Yes. Oh? What about Rickie Gardner? Mm hmmm... Oh, well. Maybe I have my hotels mixed up. Thank you."
The handrest was gently laid in the cradle, dark eyes stormy at yet another dead end. They have to be here! They have to! Nothing else is acceptable!
A sharp pain stabbed behind her eyes, a fiery lance of agony that shot downwards to her spine, momentarily blacking out her vision. Almost fainting, she sagged heavily against the table. The Punisher wanted out of its cage. It had to be released before it destroyed her in its blood fury.
"Are you alright, miss?" a bellman asked with concern. "You look ill. May I help you with anything?"
A sheet white face stared up at him, the brown eyes twin pools of darkness. "Soon," she whispered to him brokenly. "It must be soon."
"Excuse me?" the young man stepped closer, confused at her response.
Jeanne shrugged away before he could touch her shoulder. Ignorant heathen! "I'm fine, thank you," she muttered. And then she fled the hotel, paying no mind to the odd looks of the guests and patrons as she stumbled past.
My God! Take this cup from my lips!
"Perhaps we could take a walk through Trafalgar Square," Cora suggested as the trio left the pub.
Xena's face was a mask of regret. "I'm sorry, Cora. I really need to get working on this. The trail is getting colder the longer I wait."
"I'd like to," Rickie piped up. She linked her arm with the elderly woman's and smiled at her. "Shall we?"
"Are you sure?" the dark woman asked her lover.
"You bet! It'll give us some quality time to compare notes."
Xena winced with a vague smile and rubbed her forehead. She could hear the older woman chuckling quietly. "I think I'm in trouble." She felt a hand take hers, bringing her eyes back into view. She peered into aged blue.
"Luckily for you, love, this youngster adores you."
The dark woman felt her face break into a silly grin. "I know," she confided.
"You take care of yourself, Xena. Keep your head," Cora ordered with mock severity.
"I will. I promise."
The older woman's voice dropped to almost a whisper. "And don't forget me, my love."
Pale blue eyes misted over and Xena pulled the frail woman into another embrace, face buried in the thinning white hair. "I never will, Cora. Never!"
As Rickie watched the two women say their good-byes, it suddenly occurred to her that this would most likely be the last time that her lover would ever see Cora Blaylock again. The woman had to be in her seventies at least. Which brought another unsettling thought.
This is us in fifty years.
Even as the teenager's heart ached in sympathetic pain for her lover's past and future separations, the two women before her finished their farewells. Another gentle kiss, the back of a tanned hand grazing a wrinkled cheek. There's no way I could be jealous of this, she thought. What meager comfort she could get all these decades... My God, what a lonely existence!
Rickie shook herself out of her musings as a warm arm wrapped comfortably about her waist. Concerned blue eyes peered down at her.
The redhead took a deep breath, swallowing the lump that had developed in her throat. She smiled, leaning into her lover's arm. "Yeah. I'm good." She turned her green gaze to Cora. "You ready for that walk now?"
"Most definitely." The older woman reached out her hand and Rickie took it, stepping away from the warrior.
"I'll see you at the hotel then," Xena said.
"Okay. I remember where it is," the younger woman assured her. "See ya later." She winked and blew her lover a kiss.
Xena watched the pair as they walked slowly away from her, arm in arm. Rickie pointed at something in a shop window. Cora said something humorous in answer and the two women laughed and continued on. And then they turned a corner and were out of sight.
The dark woman's smile faded.
Cora was one of the rare few over the centuries that she had had any continual contact with as they aged. Infatuations and lust objects came and went. Every so often there'd be more than the one- night-stand. And eventually the relationships would end, for whatever reasons, and she would move on. There had been only one woman in her life that she stayed with through the end. Gabrielle.
Xena was pretty sure that Rickie had picked up on something about that. A memory of Gabrielle as an old woman? In any case, she figured they'd be having a long talk about things sometime soon. Maybe not today, or next week, or even next year. But, the subject was going to come up. And it was the Immortal's intention to spend the rest of Rickie's life with her. Until the bitter end.
She dug her hands into her jacket pockets and turned the opposite direction, heedless of where she was going She let instincts take over and steer her towards the hotel, to where she'd meet back up with the greatest love of her life.
They had been out for about an hour. Soon, Cora was going to have to go home and Rickie would return to her warrior. But for now, they enjoyed each other's company - the old lover and the new.
They were in a curio shop of sorts, glass cabinets littered with knickknacks of all shapes and sizes. While the older woman was paying for the purchase of a small ceramic angel, Rickie had her nose nearly plastered against one cabinet. She was delightfully watching the crystal ballerinas on the rotating shelves, light from overhead catching the movement. Fractures of rainbow color reflected off the mirrored back of the cabinet.
Movement in the mirror grabbed her attention and she realized that the reflection was that of the store front glass and the street beyond. Just as she brought her eyes back to the ballerinas, she froze.
Pale face, light brown hair, dark eyes. Watching her. As her face registered shock, the other moved past the window.
Rickie spun around, unable to breath. Oh, shit! She's here! Wild eyes scanned the street outside. The redhead's heart was beating triple time as adrenaline pumped into her system. She moved forward to the door, staring out the window in the direction that the entity had disappeared. Deciding to go for it, she opened the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk, searching.
Nothing. It was her! Wasn't it?
The teenager nearly jumped out of her skin. She turned to Cora who had followed her out with a puzzled look on her face. "Geez! You scared me to death!" she breathed.
Still a bit bewildered at the young woman's actions, she smiled. "Sorry. Didn't mean to do that. Are you alright, dear?"
Rickie chewed her lip indecisively. "You know what Xena is, right?"
"Yes, of course."
"Well, we've had a run in recently with another one like her." A fucking nutball! her mind supplied, but she ignored it. "I need to get back to the hotel. I think I just saw her."
Cora's blue eyes widened as what the redhead was saying sunk in. "Oh, my." As Rickie pulled away, however, she reached out with a surprisingly strong grip on her forearm. "Did this woman see you?"
"I don't think so." Redgold brows knitted together. "I thought she was looking right at me, but she just kept walking."
"But she knows what you look like?" this more a statement than a question.
The Prediger looked down in amazement at the hilt of her knife buried just below her rib cage, the teenager's hand wrapped around it. The sword dropped from nerveless fingers and she clutched at Rickie's shoulder. Her other hand grabbed onto the redhead's wrist, trying to pull the blade out.
With a growl, Rickie wrapped her free arm around the Immortal's waist and shoved the blade further into the soft flesh. Their bodies were held close, as close as lovers. And then, Rickie twisted and pulled upwards, watching the face before her contort in agony, feeling the hot blood pumping freely from the wound and onto her hand. The life fled from Jeanne's body and she slumped against the younger woman, sliding down her length until she hit the floor with a final, rattling breath.
"She definitely knows who I am."
"Maybe you should call Xena first. Give her time to prepare," Cora suggested. She pulled the redhead back into the shop and towards the back. "Let's see if they'll let us use their telephone...."
Opening the hotel door, Xena stepped into the short hall. She stopped long enough to hang her jacket in the closet before moving further into the room.
The housekeeping staff had been and gone. The curtains were open, though not much light came in as it was growing dark. The bed was made, tables dusted and things generally straightened up. And there was a blinking red light on the phone by the bed, signifying a message.
Xena dropped her keys on the nightstand and sat on the edge of the bed. She flipped on the lamp and checked the hotel directions for voicemail retrieval. The dark woman picked up the handset and punched in a few numbers.
"Ms. Amphipolous, this is Kommissar Johannes, Munchën Polizei. I'm calling to inform you that there will be no need for you to return to Germany for a hearing. Ms. Pucelle took it upon herself to commit suicide before we were able to place her in a psychiatric hospital. If you have any questions, please call me." He rattled off a number. "Vielen dank for your cooperation. I hope the rest of your vacation goes well."
As that was the only message, she grimly deleted it before hanging up. So. It starts again so quickly.
Xena rose from the bed and crouched next to it. Reaching beneath the bedskirt, she pulled a long, slim case from underneath, placing it on the spread.
"Time to get ready."
Rickie spoke tersely with her lover over the phone for many minutes. After hanging up, she smiled warmly at Cora, accepting a quick hug. "I've got to get back to the hotel. Xena says you should go home."
"Oh, no. I can at least drive you there...."
The redhead held up her hand. "No. If that was who's hunting Xena, we don't want you involved."
Cora scoffed good-naturedly. "Giving you a ride to your hotel certainly won't constitute involvement, dear. Besides, Xena told me there are rules that have to be followed and all that." Her smile faded at the very serious look on the young woman's face.
Rickie shook her head. "This one doesn't follow the rules. She's not right in the head." She grasped the wrinkled hands, marveling at the thin quality of the skin compared to her own. "Xena said you're to go home, pop some popcorn and listen to the Lone Ranger on the radio."
A look of wonder passed across the elderly face. Once again, blue eyes grew damp. "She remembered," she murmured to herself.
"Take care of yourself, Cora. It was wonderful meeting you." Rickie pulled away.
"Wait!" The English woman delved into her purse for a moment, mindful of the redhead's need to be on her way. "Here's my card. Keep in touch, dear. Keep me posted on... how things are."
"I will." Rickie grinned and gave the older woman a gentle hug. "Bye."
And, in a flash, the young woman was out the door and trotting across the busy street, dodging traffic.
"Such a loving granddaughter," the clerk said, having seen the emotionally charged exchange. "You're very lucky in this day and age."
Cora stared out the window at the darkening city. "You have no idea."
It was full dark before Rickie opened the door to an unlit hotel room. Stepping inside, she let the door close, the darkness surrounding her. "Xena...?" she asked uncertainly.
Her emerald eyes adjusting to the dimness, the redhead stepped forward. A silhouette was in the window, staring out at the city below. A flash of memory hit her, seeing an armored woman standing, staring into the ancient Grecian sky before a battle at dawn. Rickie dropped her jacket on the bed as she passed, moving to snuggle up to the Immortal.
Their bodies slid together with easy familiarity, Rickie's arms about the warrior's waist, Xena's arm over the teenager's shoulder and tucking her head beneath her chin. "Did you have a good time with Cora?"
"Yeah. We had fun. She's a wonderful person." Rickie inhaled deeply of her lover's scent.
"Good. I'm glad you two got along." Xena continued to stare out at the London cityscape, her hand idly rubbing the younger woman's upper arm.
There was a long silence as they basked in each other's presence.
The teenager finally spoke up. "You're going to have to take her out, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I expect so." Xena drew a deep breath. "From what I saw in her basement, it's not going to be a difficult task."
"But she said she'd learned how to use a sword," the redhead responded.
The Immortal shook her head. "She lied. It's not going to be a fight, Rickie, it's going to be a slaughter."
Rickie could feel the pain of her warrior's choice in the matter. She squeezed her in a hug. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
Xena returned the hug with a lopsided grin. "Thanks." And then the smile drained away and her face became a feral mask. "She's here."
Rickie pulled back a bit in startlement. "What? How did she...." Her eyes widened. "She followed me." She looked up at Xena. "And you knew she would...."
The warrior nodded and disengaged from the younger woman. "Yes. I knew she would. I had to get her to come to me." She strode to the bed and picked up a long, thin bundle. "Now, I've got to get her away from here and somewhere less... populated." She moved towards the door.
The teenager followed, scooping up her jacket. She was suddenly stopped as Xena whirled about and pinned her with icy eyes.
"You are staying here," she ordered in a low voice.
"What?" A shocked look turned into a worried glare. "I don't think so, Xena! She's after both of us, remember?"
Despite herself, the older woman chuckled at the flood of memories that arose from Rickie's obstinance.
Misunderstanding the humor, the redhead grated, "It's not funny."
Xena reached out and pulled a resisting Rickie into a hug. "I know, I know," she said with a smile in her voice. "It's just that after all those fights with Gabrielle over the same issue, you'd think I'd have gotten better at it."
Slowly, the teenager relaxed into the embrace. "Let me come with you, Xena," she whispered. "I know about the rules, but why should you follow 'em if she doesn't?
"Because I have honor, Dreamer."
Rickie's mind worked overtime trying to find an argument that would get her what she wanted without insulting her lover. But there was none to be had. She allowed herself to slump in defeat.
"I have to go, Rickie," the Immortal said in a soft voice. "She's waiting."
The redhead suddenly reached up and buried her hands in ebony hair, pulling the dark head down to fiercely kiss her warrior. Their tongues battled back and forth, tasting, teasing. Reluctantly, she pulled away. "You'd better return, warrior-mine," she breathed. "I didn't come all this way after all this time for you to die on me now."
"I will. Count on it."
Another kiss, this one a soft, gentle promise and then Rickie was alone, the door closing quietly. All she had to keep her company were her thoughts and memories.
Xena stepped off the elevator, her eyes scanning the lobby for signs of her prey. It was still fairly busy with guests checking in and some sort of function going on in one of the banquet rooms. She stepped away from the elevators and moved to the right, blue eyes taking in all.
Ah! There she is! She spied a woman nervously looking about as she used the house phone. Even as Xena approached, the woman glanced over her shoulder and spotted her.
"No, thank you," Jeanne said politely into the phone. She hung it up and turned to the dark woman approaching her. "Xena! I must say you're looking much better than when I saw you last."
The warrior stopped a few feet away, studying the Immortal before her. "And you're looking worse, Jeanne." The woman's skin was a pasty white with the two tiny spots of color adorning her cheeks, as if she had a fever. The only signs of life were the rictus of a grin and the fevered intensity of the dark eyes. The light brown hair was disheveled and tangled. She clutched an overnight bag to her chest in a manner that belied her apparent joviality.
The woman pouted. "You certainly don't know how to give compliments to a lady, do you?" Her eyes sparkled. "Tell me, was it your silver tongue that won Rickie over?"
Xena let the innuendo go past. "I believe we have unfinished business, Jeanne. Shall we go for a walk?"
"You mean 'take it outside'?" the blonde giggled.
"Whatever works." When her opponent seemed loathe to go with her, the dark woman smiled. "It's what the Almighty wants you to do, isn't it? Bring me to Judgement for my sins?" She backed away, neatly sidestepping hotel patrons. "Schueller Phillip wants it. I am his Chosen One."
Jeanne stared at the sinner as she turned away and left through a side door. She's tempting me.... No! She knows what has to be done to save her immortal soul. She's offering herself, her soul for Judgement! The Prediger smiled and followed. "Judgement is mine, sayeth the Lord," she said with a grin.
Xena waited outside long enough to be sure her quarry was following before sprinting away. As Jeanne exited the hotel, she looked around and saw the Chosen One on the corner, smiling at her. The streetlight above brought out the almost blueblack highlights of the dark hair. She beckoned for the Prediger to follow and crossed the street.
The dark woman led her on a merry little chase, always just out of reach, always smiling and waving her closer. Jeanne's head was pounding from the pressures built up inside her. Her only focus was the pale blue eyes, the welcoming smile, the knowledge that the Path to Enlightenment was still attainable. She staggered along, pale and sweating in the chill air, muttering her prayers.
Looking around, Xena found an abandoned dilapidated building. "Here's as good a place as any," she murmured. She made sure that the crazed woman behind her saw her at the entrance. She smiled and beckoned before slipping into the darkness. "Now, to draw her in."
Fortunately, the night sky was clear and there was a three quarter moon. The ethereal light shone down through the collapsed room. With no noise, the warrior leapt upwards, landing on the next level. Again, she waited for Jeanne's arrival and attention before moving further into the gloom.
The Prediger pushed on. She clambered up the stairs, breaking through one step. Sharp pains in her shin and knee attested to the shards of wood that had pierced her skin. Ignoring the injury, which hurt far less than the one in her soul, she continued on, blood dripping behind her until the wounds healed.
And then she was on the next level, moving towards where she'd last seen the Chosen One.
There were two doorways before her, one to her left and one in the far wall of the hallway she found herself. Her breath misted in the air, shimmering in a cloud of steam. There was no sound, no indication of where the dark woman had gone. Overhead the moon illuminated the crumbling walls.
Jeanne stepped carefully through the rubble, digging into her overnight bag. Within seconds, the bag was discarded and she held a new Bible and a large kitchen knife. Almost time.
The first room revealed nothing. It still had part of its ceiling intact, shadows filling it. But there was no one there. The current of excitement coursed through her system, her blood singing as she moved towards the final hiding place of the Chosen One. Once in the doorway, Jeanne stopped in shock, unable to breath at the beatific sight before her.
The Chosen One was kneeling on the floor in the center of the room. Her sword stood before her, point down, with her hands resting on the pommel. She looked like a knight candidate of old in solitary vigil, a supplicant to God before attaining the Order of Arms. Her head was bowed and the only indication that she was not a statue was the fog of her breath rising ethereally about her.
Jeanne became aware of a voice, a deep contralto speaking a familiar psalm. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie in green pastures, He leadeth me beside the still waters...."
There was a moment, a split second of sanity where Jeanne saw clearly. She knew this was a trap, knew that her death was imminent. And visions of the men and women she had killed in this bizarre life she'd come to lead flashed before her. In that timeless instant, her heart ached for the nameless faces screaming to their death at the hands of the Punisher. And she made the only choice she could.
The Prediger walked forward until she was directly across from the Chosen One. Slowly she knelt down, placing the knife to one side. She hugged the fresh and unstained Bible to her chest, bowed her head and closed her eyes. She joined in with the prayer. "...He restoreth my soul, He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake...."
Enraptured by the harmony of their voices, falling to the spell of God's word, she failed to notice that the voice she prayed with was no longer in front of her. It was above. Moving to one side. Both voices continued the litany, simultaneously finishing with a soft, "Amen." And then the voice spoke again.
"I'm sorry, Jeanne."
There was a whistle through the air even as the still kneeling woman opened her eyes and raised her head. And then her headless corpse sagged forward, the struggling heart coming to a halt as it rested on the very word of God she had tried so diligently to promote.
Rickie shifted from foot to foot in the cold air. She was standing next to a large tree in the overgrown yard, shaded from the moonlight as she watched the broken down building with worry. It hadn't been difficult following Jeanne. The Immortal's eyes had only been for Xena. The hard part had been keeping out of her lover's sight. There were a couple of times the redhead was sure she'd gotten busted, having moved too fast and too closely behind the crazed woman.
But there's no way in hell I'm staying at the hotel, she growled to herself.
And so she shivered in the cold, shoulders hunched and hands buried in her jacket pockets. Fingers crossed.
Her attention was caught by a flash of light in one of the upper windows. Frowning, she looked up. The flash happened again, gaining in intensity. It looks almost like... lightening...? And then there was a muffled explosion as the light intensified to blinding proportions.
"Xena!" she called, rushing into the building.
Within seconds she was approaching the room at the end of the hallway. The light had died down quite a bit from when she was outside, a dull reddish glow ahead of her and fading away. Swallowing hard, Rickie forced herself to walk forward.
The moonlight illuminated the room fairly well. A flood of relief hit her as she recognized the tall woman standing in the center of the room. A huddled mass was at her feet.
The warrior held her hand out, palm forward to stop her lover from coming any closer. Her eyes were closed and she struggled with the demons that had plagued Jeanne Pucelle for so many decades. Long moments passed and Xena finally opened her eyes and took a deep breath. "Stay there," she said. Gracefully, she knelt down and wiped her sword on the corpse's clothing. "I hope you find your God, Jeanne," she whispered before rising and moving away.
As Xena reached the doorway, she found herself wrapped in loving arms. Lips met in a reaffirmation of life and love before the redhead buried her face in the warrior's shoulder. After a long silence, Rickie finally spoke up. "I'm sorry. You told me to stay at the hotel. I just couldn't."
The dark woman caressed redgold tresses and smiled gently. "It's okay. I saw you on the street. I knew you were behind us."
"You're not mad?" Emerald eyes looked up at her.
Xena shook her head. "No. I'm just glad you stayed outside." She looked around, locating the towel she had used to bundle her sword. She disengaged from her lover's embrace only long enough to retrieve it and rewrap the weapon. Then, she firmly pulled the younger woman back into her arms and moved them towards the stairs. "C'mon. Let's get out of here."
It took them less time to return to the hotel, not having to meander hither and yon on a wild goose chase. The lobby was still active, though more from the banquet set up elsewhere than a large influx of guests checking in.
As they waited for the elevator, Xena looked down at her lover. "Are you hungry? We could stop at the restaurant...."
"No. Let's just get room service tonight," Rickie suggested. "I think we both need to kick back and just veg out on television and ice cream."
The dark woman chuckled. "Sounds good to me."
They arrived at their door, Rickie using her key to unlock it.
Entering their room, Xena noted that the lights were on. "Looks like housekeeping came by for turndown service." She stopped at the closet to hang her jacket.
The teenager continued into the room. "Oh, good! I love those little mints they --" And she halted, her own jacket half on and half off. "Uh... Xena....?"
Hearing the odd note in her lover's voice, Xena turned from the closet, eyes narrowed. She stepped forward, putting her hand on Rickie's shoulder. "What?"
All the redhead could do was nod towards the bed. Puzzled, the Immortal turned and froze.
As had been done the night before, the bedspread had been neatly folded towards the foot of the bed. The blanket and sheet had also been folded at an angle and tucked under. The pillows had been neatly fluffed and the bedside lamp switched on. Nestled on one pillow were two of the mints that Rickie so enjoyed.
And leaning against it was a round, metallic object, glinting in the lamplight, designs of gold and blue sparkling.
"Is that what I think it is?" Rickie asked as the older woman moved cautiously forward.
With wonder in her eyes and a slight grin on her face, Xena picked the weapon up. "Yes.... It is," she said softly.
Well, there you have it.... The result of all those emails saying, "Hey! You've got to get the chakram back to Xena!!" I knew I had to do it and I have a couple of people I need to thank for their help in keeping you Xenites happy....
First kudos go to my in-house editor, Jett. When I asked what the hel I was going to write about, she popped up with "Televangelist!" Thus spake the editor, and Jeanne was born.
Next on the list goes to Joseph Connell. The Clan you've been so busy worrying about is his baby.... (In case you hadn't figured by reading 'Tyger, Tyger.') He also penned most of the phone conversations and the breakfast scene in this section. I needed some distractions from the real killer and, man, did he come through! Of course, he's got paranoia on the brain.... Hehehehe.....
I'd also like to thank Garnet, my beta editor. For not liking Crossovers, she sure helps out with mine. She's the best!
And then there's Tisiphone! Wowza! The lady keeps churning out the artwork and letting me use it! She's great!!
And, before you all get your panties in a wad, this is not the final chapter in the saga of the Immortal Xena and her lover, Rickie Gardner. I've got at least two more tales to come, though you're all going to have to be patient.... I'm working on two other projects at the moment. Rest assured, there will be more!
Thanks for all the email! It's what keeps me writing!
December 6, 1998