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Part IX: Monday Night/Early Tuesday
Rickie drowsed, head lolling down to her naked chest and arms overhead. Her shoulders and knees ached and her throat was sore. When she swallowed she could taste blood and semen in the back of her mouth.
She didnít know how long sheíd been with her captor before he left. Time had no meaning at this point. It had felt like an eternity. Her tormentor had spent a greater part of his time, caressing her with his knife, drawing small dribbles of blood here and there on the canvas of her back and chest. He had used the blade to shred her T-shirt until it hung from her shoulders in rags. Prior to his leaving he had entered her mouth, fucking her brutally until she thought sheíd pass out from not being able to breathe.
A shudder ran through the lithe frame, remembering his words as he came. "Swallow it all, bitch. If you spit it out, Iíll cut out your tongue a bit at a time." He had paused and added, "And youíll still blow me." She had done as she was told, fighting down the urge to vomit. When he was finished, he had patted her on the cheek with a grin and said he was going to get his dinner now. And then he was gone.
The redhead had spent the time on a myriad of thoughts. How to get away was uppermost in her mind. But, there was no way to get out of the manacles that held her. She had squirmed and worked on her wrists until they bled, and it hadnít worked. At one point, Rickie had gotten herself on her feet and tried to pull on the chain, to see if it would loosen. Nothing. It held fast and the other end of it was just out of her reach.
The next step was to yell for help. Her hoarse voice echoed through the building. She hollered, cajoled, screamed to no avail. Either no one could hear her or those that did werenít about to interfere.
Rickie had slid back down to her knees, tears leaking from her green eyes. She cursed herself for running from Xena. There had to be another explanation for that whole Headhunter thing, but she had been too blinded by her immediate emotions to be rational. And now, she was dead. No doubt about it. There was no way her lover would be able to find her, and the redhead would die in torturous hell. And just when heaven had been within reach.
And so, she drowsed.
She jerked her head up at the sound of a distant door slamming. Footsteps resounded and neared her. Her heart pounded and her mouth dried as fear took possession of her mind. She swallowed convulsively and struggled to stand. On her feet, Rickie turned towards the approaching noises and watched Telesco come out of the darkness with a grin on his face.
"Time for dessert, baby." He licked his lips and ran his eyes over her with a leer.
Rickie drew herself up proudly. If Iím gonna go, it ainít gonna be without a fight, she resolved. Collecting what little moisture she could in her dry mouth, she spat at him. The spittle landed on his dress shoes.
A grin broke out on the manís face as he looked up from his feet, confusing the young woman. "Oh, itís gonna be a fun night tonight," he murmured. He sauntered over to the chain hanging by the chair. With a quick flip, he released it, giving the redhead more slack. Before she could respond to the extra leeway, he was across the room, hand painfully buried in the back of her neck. He forced her back down to her knees, pushing her lower until her face was right above his shoe. "Clean it up, bitch," he ordered. "Letís give that pretty little tongue of yours a bit of a warm up."
Given her limited options, Rickie did what came naturally. "Is this the best you can do?" she demanded with quite a bit of scorn. Despite herself, she trembled as she heard him laugh.
"Oh, it gets much better, believe me," he confided. He rubbed her face hard on his shoe, much as one would a recalcitrant puppy that had piddled on the carpet. When he was finished, he kept her in the crouch but turned her face up to his.
Rickie peered up at him, her head being held at an unnatural angle and feeling a bruise beginning to develop on one cheekbone. Her eyes were wide and frightened, but a flash of rebellion was still there. He leaned closer, until all she could see was his face, his eyes so like her own.
"Fight all you want, bitch. Makes for a spicier night." He licked her face and released her with a thrust, knocking her onto her side. He rose and walked away, losing interest.
Her nose wrinkled at the smell of his saliva drying on her face. The redhead struggled back to her kneeling position, determined to get back to her feet and face her tormentor. He wants spice, Iíll give him spice, she growled to herself. She heard the rattling of chains and felt her arms tugged up. Hurriedly she stumbled up to keep the pressure from dislocating her shoulders. Rickie turned to him and the pressure continued to pull on her abused arms until she had to stand on tiptoe.
After securing the chain, Telesco turned back to her, enjoying the view of her curved form. He frowned. The shorts inhibited the view, caused a disturbance in the overall beauty of the flesh that was his canvas. Shaking his head and tsking to himself, he moved to the table and picked up a knife.
Before he turned from the table, however, his eyes lit on a small, clear bottle of liquid. Tapping the point of the blade against his full lips, he considered the options available to him. With a slight smile, he set the knife down and patted it gently. Soon. He picked up the small vial and turned to his toy.
As he stalked closer, Rickie eyed him closely. She had seen the knife, but it was still on the table. He held something else. He smiled wickedly at her and she gulped.
"You smoke pot," he stated. At her frown, he said, "I found your stash and pipe at the park. You dropped it in your...haste to leave the party." He held up the small bottle and waggled it at her. "But, Iíve got something better, something you streetbitches rarely get your hands on." He glanced slyly at the bottle. "Lysergic Acid Diethylamide." At Rickieís blank look, his smiled. "Acid, bitch. You know acid, LSD?"
The redheadís brow furrowed. Heís gonna get me high? What for? And she thought of her trips in the past. And what heíd already done with her. And what it would be like if she was flying. Her eyes widened and she shook her head.
He chuckled at the emotions flying across her face, the memories, the potential. "Oh, yeah, baby." He opened the bottle, the lid holding a tiny eyedropper. "And this is the good stuff, too. Not the crap you get on the streets. Wonít take but a bit." He carefully loaded the eyedropper and set the bottle down on the table.
Moving closer, he grinned. Again, he grabbed the back of her head, pulling it back as far as it could go. Rickie struggled, shaking her head to loosen his grip. She made an attempt to kick out at him, only succeeding in wrenching her shoulders severely. She whimpered at the sharp pains in her back and neck and tried to regain her balance on the toes of her sneakers. In the process, the eyedropper hovered dangerously close to her eye and a drop of liquid fell into it.
"Shit!" she yelled, blinking furiously, her struggles renewed.
But Telesco held her firmly, keeping himself behind her so she couldnít kick him. He released her head long enough to throw a punch into her kidney, the acute pain stopping her fight. Grabbing her head again, he administered another drop into her eye socket, just to be sure. Then he released her and backed away.
Returning to the table, he put the cap back on the bottle and picked up the knife again. He turned to his toy with a smile. "You wanted Disneyland, bitch. Youíve just got yourself an E ticket."
* * *
Crackle of phone lines.
"Anything?!" Harsh, demanding.
"Xe, you donít understand!" Hasty, frantic. "Itís not my case! Itís a completely different level of security and I donít have access to the information!"
"Get access, Holt!"
"Iím working on it!"
"Work harder! If Rickie doesnít make it through this, you sure as hell wonít, either!"
Shaky, indrawn breath. "Iím sorry. I didnít mean that."
"Yes, you did." Pause. "Itís okay. Whatís a little extreme blood loss between friends?"
Whispery chuckle. "Iím on my cellí phone. Call me if anything turns up."
"What are you gonna do?"
"What I always do.... Survive."
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide was born in the laboratories of Dr. Albert Hoffman in the year 1938. At the time, who knew what the good doctor was looking for. What he found, however, gave him the ignoble title of Founding Father to the Sixties Generation Love Fest nearly thirty years later. That was when Timothy Leary took up the chemical torch and spread the word as gospel. By Learyís death in the nineties, acid had left the Pedestal of Americaís Choice, toppled off by the racier crack cocaine and the blissful heroin. Free love was not an issue in this day of AIDS and virulent STDs. Money was.
Because of this, the cute little Mickey Mouse stickers and tiny squares of construction paper raised in price and lowered in quality over the years. Gone were the Timothy Leary days of outright hallucinations when Ďdropping out.í No more dragons flying through the sky, duckies marching across bathroom floors, and park blocks that would move by themselves. The street quality had been lessened considerably and the strychnine used to cut it caused aches and pains in the muscles and bones after extended usage. Sure, colors were more vibrant. There was a floaty feeling and an urge to laugh and cry at the same time. It put everything onto a different level. Some likened it to the high of a drunk, sans the accompanying hangover.
So, this was the experience Rickie had. Nothing spectacular. A decent high to take your mind off things and not much more. A person could float along for a few hours and the dirt of the streets just rolled off into a puddle until you came back down. And thinking! Thoughts were so profound on the drug. Rickie had gleaned quite a few little bits and pieces of wisdom over her journeys - though "Chocolate Chip Cookies are Real Good!" wasnít quite as earth shattering the following day as it had been when she had written it down.
By dropping the liquid directly into the membrane of the eye, Telesco had ensured a hasty response. Even as he diligently worked at shredding the offending jean shorts, Rickie could feel the beginning edge of the drug coursing through her system. Time seemed to move a little slower. Her mouth, dry as it was, was now filled with sand. She could smell the blood and sweat from her body. The drafty warehouse breeze caressed her and her skin, now highly sensitized, popped up with goose bumps. Her nipples stood erect and she shivered.
The ache in her shoulders grew until it filled her mind. The throbbing in time with her heartbeat, the beat she could hear in her ears. Accompanying this was a sharper, more insistent one. Lines of fire were being drawn on her backside and legs. She hissed in pain, trying to move away but unable. A brutal hand firmly clasped her bare hip, steadying her. She could almost feel the whorls and swirls of the manís fingerprints burning into her skin. The trickle of fire continued itís path like a million tiny flames trying to consume her.
Flame! Fire! Lava! Falling! Tug on hands, pale eyes, dark leathers. "Iíve got ya." Rickie shook her head at the vision. Looking down. Different flame, fire pit, no lava, evil. Falling! No hands to catch! She could feel the flames flickering up at her, destroying her, destroying another with her.
A sharp rap to her ribs caused her to open her eyes. She looked into the manís eyes, seeing herself.... No.... Seeing her progeny before her. She heard his voice but not the words. As she watched, his face began to melt like candlewax, oozing and dripping. She began to scream as the creatureís mouth opened and laughed. Then itís mouth approached hers and she screamed into it.
She screamed forever and ever, her voice filling her ears, its tongue filling her mouth. She felt the ripping, tearing of her nipple as the ring was yanked out of it. Warm blood, hot mouth, teeth. And when she could scream no more, she still heard it echoing through the silent warehouse. The creature did things to her, bruised her, cut her, ripped out clumps of hair, ravaged her. It muttered evil thoughts to her of blood and skinning and cannibalism.
It was Dahok reborn and she felt as she did in the temple during her first rape so long ago. The fire flickering over her and through her. The pain as all the nerve endings in her body were violated at the same time. Seeing her lover through the haze of blood in her eyes, trying to get to her, trying to save her.
The creature was naked now, covered with her blood, its erection being forced into her mouth as it had done once before. It was smooth and slick and far, far too much for her. As it pounded into her, savage fingers digging into her head, she found she couldnít breath. It slammed at the back of her throat, abrading, bruising, choking. She felt her consciousness fade, the darkness around her closing in.
A voice. "Donít you leave me, Gabrielle!" A pounding on her chest. Sudden intake of air, eyes and mouth wide. Cradled in strong arms, pale eyes crying above. Xena. Safety. Love. Sensations of being rocked, leather and armor reflections. And then she was gasping for air again, vomiting, a red and white puddle on the hard floor. The sudden explosion of pain from her jaw overriding the bruised abrasion of her throat. Sagging against her bindings. Consciousness lost.
* * *
Crackle of phone lines.
"Warehouse. 723 SE Second."
"Iím there!" Click.
* * *
Telesco stood naked in the warehouse, blood from the womanís many cuts smeared over his body. He chugged a bottle of water and used a forearm to wipe the sweat from his forehead. He glanced down at the puddle of human flesh with a wry grin.
The redhead was hanging by her arms just inches above the floor, crouched over on her knees. She was unconscious, having faded out when he had punched her for vomiting on him. Blood oozed from where he had pulled a clump of hair from her head. There were slices all over her body, none serious enough to have continued bleeding. But then, serious injuries werenít really needed with the drugs in her system. "Itís the little things that count," he chuckled.
When she had begun screaming at him, eyes wide in terror, he knew that the acid in her system had taken over. Her screams into his mouth excited him almost more than he could handle. After he had torn the ring out of her nipple, he had suckled like a vampire, tasting salty warmth and hearing the screams echo through the warehouse.
He set the water down and studied the bed. It was a four poster frame without the canopy. Manacles and chains hung from above at the foot. Thatíd be a good place to start. The dark man rummaged in his discarded pants pockets and found the keys to Rickieís bindings. He released her bloody wrists, licking each one in turn, and she limply fell face first into the small pool of vomit before her. Telesco scooped her up as a man does his bride and carried her over to their bed of 'matrimony.' Just as he arrived, he heard a beeping noise.
* * *
Xena beat all speed records to the warehouse. Her Mustang prowled silently beneath the Morrison Bridge and pulled up in the shadows of a building nearby. The warrior checked her clip, added another pistol to the back of her waist and slung her sword across her back. Just like the old days, she grinned ferally.
She hugged the shadows, and there were a lot of them, and skirted the building. Across the river the lights from downtown were shining, the noises from the Fun Center mixing with the sounds of traffic on the bridge overhead. There were no sensations of the Quickening, so Dartmouth wasnít here. Yet. Maybe Iíll pay him a surprise visit a little later tonight.
The warrior found a door. It was locked at the doorknob, but the padlock was open. She tried the door, trying to force the lock, but was unable. Cursing to herself, she considered whether she should shoot the damned thing off or kick the door in. Either way, it would be announcing her presence before she wanted to. Maybe I should go around again, just to see if thereís another way.....
Hearing a noise, the pistol was in her hand and aimed before she could register anything.
"Hey! Itís me!" a voice whispered. Holt moved closer, his own pistol drawn and aimed down to the ground. "Donít kill the messenger."
She rolled her eyes and lowered her gun. "What the fuck are you doing here?" she hissed. "Get out, now!"
"No, yer stuck with me."
"Emil....." she growled.
Ignoring her, the police officer checked the doorknob himself. "Keep your eyes open," he said, holstering his pistol and kneeling before the door. He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out a small leather pouch. Within seconds he was working on the knob with lockpick tools.
Irritated that he wasnít obeying, yet relieved that she had backup, Xena whispered sarcastically, "Is that what theyíre teaching you guys in the Academy these days?"
Grinning, Holt replied, "No. International Correspondence Schools, locksmith certificate. Ya never know when you might need it."
"Well, I feel so much better knowing that Portlandís Finest can resort to breaking and entering."
Nearly finished with the lock, he looked up at her. "Iím not Portlandís Finest tonight, Xe. Iím a friend."
Xena studied the brown eyes, lips pursed in thought. "Then youíre not gonna like what you see tonight, friend."
Holt shrugged. "Youíre right. I wonít. But, as far as Iím concerned, I didnít see a thing."
The warrior shook her head at the importance of his statement. Does he know? Does he realize? The beast will be loose and I wonít be able to stop it. Heíll see the ĎHeadhunterí in action.
He felt the mechanism give way and stood, pocketing the tools. "So, do we go in? Or do we call the police?"
The sky blue eyes narrowed at the thought of someone else interfering with what she had to do. Snarling, she pushed past him, throwing open the door and setting off a quiet alarm.
Holt drew his pistol again and silently followed her into the darkness.
* * *
Crackle of phone lines.
"Boss! Thereís somebody here at the warehouse! The alarm just got tripped!"
"So? Take care of it, idiot!"
"Okay, boss." Click.
"Xena, Xena, Xena..... Couldnít wait for the party to start, eh?" The sound of a touch tone phone. "Get my car and bring it around front. Iím going for a drive."
* * *
The pair moved silently in the dim lighting. There were industrial shelves spanning the length of the warehouse with wooden crates piled on them. To the left of the door they had entered was a set of metal steps moving up to a second level.
Using hand signals, Xena indicated that the man search out this level and she would take the stairs. Holt nodded in understanding and moved slowly away, eyes wide and pistol at the ready.
The warrior eased up the steps, placing her feet carefully to avoid making noise. She moved upwards, the heavy silence punctuated by a slight beeping noise from above. There didnít appear to be a door - the stairs simply opened up to a landing that became the next floor. Keeping her head low, Xena crawled until she was nearly prone on the steps before easing an eye over the edge of the floor.
The room took up the entire floor and it was sparsely furnished. The light wasnít much better for the most part, except in the center of the room which was brilliantly lit by halogen floodlights. She could see a bed, table and chair in the lit circle, a chain hanging from the ceiling was tickling musically as it moved.
Eyes narrowed and she studied the shadows carefully. Somebody was up here. She darted another glance into the pool of light. Rags, something wet on the floor reflecting the light. She saw an object move on the floor by the foot of the bed. It was mewling.
It was Rickie!
With no further thought, the woman bolted up the remaining steps and dashed for the younger woman. She saw the muzzle flash to her left, her ears not quite registering the shots until the sickeningly sharp fire erupted in her chest. In slow motion, she fell, her forward momentum carrying her body into the circle of light. She felt the familiar sensations of her heart laboring against pressure loss and stopping, the death convulsions beginning before all was black.
Holt had made it down one aisle and was at the other end of the building when the shots rang out. Cursing to himself, he looked wildly around. At this end of the warehouse were three loading doors and another set of stairs. He sprinted towards them and prayed he wasnít too late.
Telesco moved into the light and stared for a second at the corpse on the floor. He had had enough time to throw on his trousers and that was all he wore. With a bare foot, he nudged the body over, mentally groaning in recognition. "Boss is gonna have a cow!" he muttered to himself. "Shit!" He ran his hand through his hair, the other still holding the murder weapon. He stared down into pale blue lifeless eyes.
A noise on the steps alerted him and he whirled around, pistol raised. Another person had come up the other set of stairs and was staring down the barrel of a pistol at him.
Telesco grinned. "Looks like we got us a Mexican standoff, man. Who the fuck are you?"
"Portland Police, drop the gun."
The other man barked a sharp laugh. "Like thatís gonna happen!" He took a step closer to the officer. "You know you set off an alarm? Reinforcements should be here any time." He nodded his chin at Holt. "Why donít you drop your gun? Maybe Iíll let ya live."
The officer saw the corpse behind Telesco twitch and begin to move. With a smile, he said, "And whoís to say I donít have reinforcements of my own coming?"
"Youíre bluffing," Telesco shrugged. "No lights outside, no hollering, no battering ram. Whereís your warrant?"
"Would you believe I left it in my other pants?"
Despite himself, the green eyed man snorted. "Nope. Sure wouldnít."
There was a pause as the two men eyed each other, gauged each other, debated the wisdom of shooting.
Holt kept his eyes firmly rooted onto Telesco, ignoring the movement behind the man. "How about you put the gun down and Iíll put in a good word for you with the DA? Iím sure we can get some kinda deal.... You do work for Dartmouth, right?"
"Man, you are so fulla shit. Like Iím gonna roll over for a light sentence. We both know Iíll be dead before the dayís over."
Holt shrugged. "Alright then. I feel itís only fair to warn you that Iím not here in my official capacity as an officer of the law."
"So? Whatís that got to do with it?" Telesco was puzzled.
"Only that my Ďreinforcementsí are standing right behind you."
Telesco grimaced and shook his head. "Oh, yeah. Iím gonna fall for that stupid trick!" He snorted again. And then he felt the tap on his shoulder.
Whirling around, he looked up into icy blue eyes that were very much alive. Blood was running from the dark womanís mouth and her shirt was stained red. He brought the gun around and Xena knocked it aside, almost negligently. With a maniacal gleam lighting her eyes, she said, "Surprise."
The last thing Telesco saw were those two strong hands idly reaching out and grabbing his head. When they twisted sharply, the excruciating pain and the sound of his own neck being broken assailed him. And then it was dark.
The police officer holstered his pistol as the other manís body fell limply to the floor. He moved towards the lighted area of the room. "Xe, weíve gotta get outta here. He said we tripped an alarm." He glanced around looking for the source of the beeping. "And Iíll bet thatís what weíre hearing."
Xena had quickly disregarded the man whose neck she had snapped in favor of her lover writhing on the floor. She knelt down and began searching Rickieís body for the extent of the damage. The redhead whimpered and moaned, flinching away from unseen things, her green eyes dilated so far that there was only a tiny rim of green around the pupils.
Holt hunkered down on the other side of the young woman. "Doesnít look too severe. Heís got her on some kinda drug, though. Have to get her to the hospital to make sure she doesnít overdose on it."
Rickie let out a little shriek when the warrior touched her face, the jaw bone grating where it had been broken. Xena looked stricken and carefully gathered her up in strong arms, whispering, "Itís okay, youíre safe, Iíve got you now, itís okay....." She rocked her lover gently and was joyous to see a bit of recognition in those tortured eyes.
"Xena...?" came the whisper.
"Shhhh... yes, Iím here"
* * *
Rickie slowly regained what could be ludicrously called Ďconsciousness.í She was slumped on the floor and the creature was gone. The pains in her body manifested themselves with a fiery vengeance, aching, throbbing, stabbing. She tried to get away from the pain and muttered to herself, but it wouldnít let her loose. Eyes open, she saw the past.
Four years old in North Dakota. "I wanna play, too!" Older neighbor boy sneering down. "You canít have a sword! Yer a GIRL!"
A crowded room of people watching her, the smell of roasted meat and ale. Deep in the shadows, pale blue eyes catch and reflect the torchlight. "I sing a song of Xena, Warrior Princess..."
Xenaís body glistened in the gray early morning haze with a light sheen of sweat as she worked out. Muscles rippled beneath tan skin as she danced around the open area of the warehouse apartment, a sword in her hand. Swinging, thrusting, whirling, leaping, the warriorís hair a dark cloud whipping about. The sword, her partner, whistled through the air with its own lethal grace, seemingly alive and moving of its own accord.
The first time, her husband as awkward as she in the firelight. Fumbling, frantic, a quick pain and then his release. A woman with wild blonde hair and wild brown eyes, laughing as she killed Perdicus.
"Looking for something?"
Xena, moving in a field in the early morning chill. Her sword dancing about, leaping for unseen enemies, thirsting for their blood. Dew glistening on her boots, sweat glistening on her brow as the weapon cut through the air in intricate patterns. The artist at work in her chosen medium.
"There can be only one." Sword slicing the air, head rolling towards her tree. HER tree.
"When I sliced your husband open, how long did it take for him to die?"
The warlord glaring at her, her friend gone. "Donít ever question my methods or authority in front of my troops." The war axe leaving her hand to bury itself in a manís back.
Gentle hands, strong hands brushing red gold hair in the light of the campfire. Stolen kisses, occasional cuddles, sleepless nights.
"You have a beautiful smile, too."
"I love you, Gabrielle, donít ever forget that."
"I love you, Xena."
Cradled in strong arms, pale eyes crying above. Xena. Safety. Love. Sensations of being rocked, leather and denim reflections.
* * *
The warrior barely heard the words, but her heart soared. "Shhh.... donít talk. Your jaw is broken." She leaned down to place a kiss on Rickieís forehead. "I love you, too," she whispered.
And she felt her heart stutter in her chest, her muscles tense, and her blood begin to boil. The Quickening. She stiffened and looked quickly around the room and then focused on Holt.
Noticing the sudden tension filling her, her friend asked, "Dartmouth?"
She nodded and eased Rickie out of her arms. "I have to get downstairs before he comes up here."
He nodded and accepted the young woman into his arms. "Take him out, Xe." He nodded at the sword still strapped to her back, acknowledging it for the first time.
A question crossed her eyes, but there was no time. She nodded curtly, placed a last kiss on Rickieís forehead, and stood. She trotted away, making for the stairs that Holt had used.
The police officer held the drugged woman. "Weíll give her a little bit and then we call an ambulance for ya, girl. Sheíll kick his butt."
* * *
Xena moved through the lower level of the warehouse, searching the shadows for her enemy. She heard a chuckle echo around her.
"Xena, you spoiled the party I was planning," Dartmouth called. "And here I was hoping to surprise you with a Ďgiftí." There was a pause. "How is the little lady, anyway? Still in one piece?"
Blue eyes narrowed and she moved stealthily towards the voice.
"Iím assuming since youíre still here, that my ... um ... Ďassociateí isnít quite up to snuff anymore. Moreís the pity. Itís so hard to find good help these days."
The warrior moved closer, she was almost there.
The voice was silent, and she froze, alert to any sounds. The only warning she had was the soft scraping of metal against wood from above. She had just enough time to whirl about and step back as Dartmouth descended from above. Xena used her sword arm to push his shield away before it could do any serious damage.
The blond man looked like a Victorian age swordsman in his black pants and white dress shirt. The only differences were the lack of lace and the round shield he had buckled to his left arm. In his right was not a standard fencing foil, but a heavy sword, fit for doing damage on an entirely different level. With a grin, he swung the sword in a powerful arc.
Xena parried with her blade, sparks flying up the edges of the blades as they slid up each other to the hilts. She could feel the shield shoving into her, could see the glint in grey eyes. Bringing up her left knee, she connected with his hip, bruising him and pushing him away.
The two circled warily, both with savage smiles.
"Ah, my Angel of Vengeance," Dartmouth chuckled. "Itís been so long." He feinted, testing. "You were the one to create me, you know. Iíve looked forward to finding you and showing my.... gratitude." He feinted again. "Little did you know that when you decimated the Company of the Wolf, I was born."
"Guess I shoulda stuck around a little longer then. Just to exterminate the vermin," the dark woman grinned. She surged forward, her sword biting into the rim of his shield, then connecting with his sword. Xena made a circular movement with her blade, coming up on the outside of his sword and shoved it across his body. She continued her spin around, bringing the edge of her sword around to the outside of his right arm. The thrill of metal slicing flesh ran up her arm and she chuckled. "I could see why I didnít recognize you. Your skills obviously arenít that great now. I can imagine what they would have been like then."
She pushed her attack again, pounding against his shield with a force that splintered a chunk out of the wood. Another swing of her sword and Dartmouth brought his own blade up and, despite the wound, flipped her sword out of her grasp. There was a split second where they both stared at each other, each surprised at this turn of events. And then Xena was whipping past him, landing a savage kick to his right kidney before reaching her blade.
Dartmouth caught himself and spun back around with a laugh. "Maybe my skills arenít that good, Angel, but when was the last time you were disarmed in a fight?" To punctuate his question, he caught her blade with his. She pushed him away and swung, and again his sword caught hers. They circled again, watching for an opening.
The dark woman needed to finish this and fast. There was no telling how things were going for Rickie and she needed to get her to the hospital. "Letís just do this and get it over with, shall we?" she asked softly. With a cry, she attacked with a vengeance, raining blows upon her opponent, upon the monster who had stolen her lover, upon the man who had been partly responsible for the decimation of an ancient village.
The blond man saw the Angel again, eyes crazed and hair wild. Only there was no one else with him against her. It was just the two of them. Something he had wanted from the day he had been reborn to an eternity of restlessness. Slowly, he buckled beneath the weight of her attacks. Sparks showered down from the clanging blades. His shield finally shattered into three pieces and he tried to step back, to get time to shake the pieces off his arm. Her blade sunk deep into his left shoulder and he stumbled back, the nerves severed and unable to hold his arm up anymore.
The dance reached its frenzied crescendo and Xena felt the moment that was always perfect in this artistry. Where everything focused on one point in time, one point in space. When entering into the dance with another, she never knew where the culmination of the deadly embrace was going to be, but her blood soared and her heart sang when she could sense it. In slow motion, she watched herself whirl around, opening up her back for her opponent to attack. As she came back around, her sword a part of her body and extended to its farthest point, she met his blade, snapping it. With no more resistance, her arm continued its path and took off his head.
She stood, panting, as his body slid down and convulsed. A reddish hue seemed to surge out of the body, gathering in a ball of light in front of her. Xena raised her arms, closed her eyes, and held her head up, baring her soul. With a swiftness she couldnít see, it pierced her and surrounded her and filled her very essence. The ground appeared to quake, but she stayed on her feet, body jerking at the electrical charges within. As the ethereal mist began to fade away around her it surged one last time and bolts of electricity shot out and away, bursting crates of weapons open, toppling huge metal shelves, smashing windows and doors.
And then it was gone as if it never was.
* * *
So many things she saw and heard. She could hardly credit what was real and what wasnít. She rode the wave of the drug in her system. With no further tortures upon her, the pain receded to a dull and constant ache and her mind took over as the focal point.
Straddling Xena on the ratty couch in North Portland. Her lover moving beneath her hands and mouth, moaning, sighing, arching into her.
A man holding her, kind brown eyes. "Weíll give her a little bit and then weíll call an ambulance for you, girl. Sheíll kick his butt."
Surrounded by ruins with her lover and her enemy. A whirlwind goddess thirsting for her mask and her blood. Bolts of fire and explosions all around. Her own voice, "Sheís after ME. Iíve never been a target before."
At the City Nightclub with Tara and crew. Dancing and dancing and dancing until they dropped to their table. Sitting on Alexís lap, being a tease, laughing, kissing, the occasional copped feel of warm flesh.
Cool breeze on her face. Flashing red lights and the faces of strangers. Movement, straps binding her. "Itís okay, sweetie. Weíre gonna take care of you now."
"Gabrielle, look." Painfully sitting up to see a blonde woman in leathers playing with a baby Centaur. "Iím an aunt!"
Another baby. The agony of childbirth. Darkness and pain and sulleness. Banshees and death. Hope, the Destroyer.
Lights passing overhead. On her back, moving fast. people excitedly talking over her, to her. Doing things to her. A sting of a needle in her arm. A jolt as a door bounced open.
Coming home early from school. Hearing strange noises from her parentsí room. Door opens. Daddy and his secretary look up in dismay while Momís still at work.
A tall man, reminiscent of Xena with goatee and leathers. Excited talk of their favorite subject. "We were.... bonding there for a minute, werenít we?" "Yup." "I didnít like it." "Right back at ya!"
Strong arms holding her. Warmth. Love. Xena. Low contralto. "Iíve got you, Rickie. No worries. Just get well." Contentment.
Flashing lights and spotlights. Police officers raiding beneath a Portland bridge, gathering up the homeless. A gawky fifteen year old with red gold hair.
Her first time with Xena, years and years and years ago. Nighttime, firelight. A village of women and a celebration winding down. A dark warrior with pale blue eyes. The thrill of fear, the possibility of rejection. "Wanna dance, Xena?" Feeling warm hands on her back, dangerous curves fitting to hers. So right. Looking up, offering with lips and eyes. Soft electricity as lips meet, tongues entwine. A different dance ensues with a passion born of desire.
Voices. Crisp sheets. Low contralto. "I donít *care* when visiting hours are over. Iím staying." "Maíam, this is Intensive Care. If I have to call security --" "Nurse, Officer Holt, Portland Police. Leave it be." "Hhmmph!" A door softly closing. "Thanks, Emil."
* * *
Part X: Tuesday / Wednesday
Rickie slowly worked her way up from the darkness surrounding her. Her mouth and head ached dully. The scratches over her body were an irritant. She could still taste blood at the back of her throat.
She opened her eyes to stare at a white ceiling. It was dark in the room, though light seemed to be coming from her left. Gingerly, the redhead turned her head towards the light, squinting at the sharp pain stabbing her eyes.
There were chrome rails on the bed. A rack of monitors was positioned nearby, blinking and beeping with quiet intensity. She could just make out wires emerging from her body and connecting her to them. A small sink area was on the far wall, the light emanating from the ceiling socket. Slumped in a chair was a woman, drowsing with a book in her lap.
Rickie felt a lump in her chest. She smiled and tried to speak. But her mouth wouldnít open and all she could seem to do was croak.
The dark woman sat up at the noise, blue eyes alert. "Shhhh," she said, rising and moving to the bed. "Let me get you some water." Xena helped the redhead sit up, supporting her and helping her hold the plastic cup and straw. "Just a little bit, now. Itís been a while since youíve had anything."
The water was cool on her parched lips and tongue. She was reminded of another time, another place. Gabrielleís death. Not a dream. She watched her warrior above her. She hasnít changed. Not even a little bit. And she was amazed at the calm acceptance she felt.
Xena settled her back into the bed, rearranging the pillows and blankets to make her comfortable. Hooking a foot through a chair leg, she scooted it closer to the bed and settled down, holding Rickieís hand in her own. "Everythingís going to be fine now. Youíre safe."
She felt the hand squeeze her and she responded in kind. As she drifted off to sleep, she muttered between clenched teeth, "Love you." Her heart warmed at the whispered response and the feel of soft lips on her forehead.
* * *
Waking up was a little easier this time. The room was brighter with fluorescent lights in the ceiling and the feel of sunshine along her legs where it came through the window. She stretched long abused muscles, enjoying the feel of movement.
"Morning, sleepy," a male voice said.
Turning her head carefully, she looked into laughing brown eyes. Through clenched teeth, she said, "Emil!" A quick glance around. "Whereís Xena?"
The officer shrugged. "I sicced Marjorie on her. Finally got her to go down to the cafeteria and get something to eat. They should be back in a little bit." He moved forward and took her hand. "How you feeling? Xe said youíd woken up in the night."
"Ugh.... Like crap....." She ran her tongue over the inside of her mouth, feeling lumps around her teeth that hadnít been there before. "Whatís wrong with my mouth? Why canít I move it?"
"Broke your jaw. Youíre wired shut.... For at least two months, the doctor says." He grinned at the resulting groan. "Guess Xe better stock up on some food by that time, huh? Youíre gonna eat her outta house and home when those wires come off."
The redhead slowly sat up. She eyed the water glass and Holt handed it to her. She took a healthy sip, washing the last of the bad taste out of her mouth. Rickieís stomach rumbled furiously and the man chuckled.
Holt pushed the call button on her bed. "Letís get you something a little more substantial."
"How long has it been, Emil?" she asked.
He scratched his jaw. "Well, we found you late Monday night. It was early Tuesday morning before you got into ICU. You woke up last night once and now itís Wednesday."
Rickie blinked at him. A nurse entered the room, smiling and happy that her patient was up and hungry. She bustled about the bed, adjusting it so the woman could sit comfortably. Cheerfully, she blew out of the room with a promise to return as soon as possible with some broth.
"Wednesday....?" the redhead asked weakly.
Holt grinned. "Yeah." His smile faded. "Before Xe comes back I want you to know a few things, okay?"
Rickie frowned and nodded.
"The police are going to want to question you about what happened at the warehouse. I told them I was out walking and heard you screaming. When I got there you were alone and freaked out from the crap they gave you." He ran his fingers through his hair. "I donít have a clue what you remember about the whole thing."
"What happened to that man that had me?" Rickie asked, afraid she already knew the answer.
"He met with an unfortunate accident, apparently. Neck broken." He wouldnít look at her.
"Umm.... Letís just say that the Headhunter has taken another victim."
The redhead dropped her gaze to her lap, hands fiddling with the edge of the sheet. She nodded to herself. Rickie raised her head. "I assume, then, that you called Xena from the hospital when you could?" she asked lightly, going along with the deception.
Relieved, Holt said, "Yeah, thatís exactly it."
She nodded again, smiling slightly. "I understand, Emil."
Just then, the door opened. Rickieís heart did a flip when she saw her lover enter, followed by Marjorie Holt. God, I love her. "Hey, lady, gimme a hug."
The relief was evident in the pale blue eyes as Xena smiled and strode to the bed. She wrapped long arms around the redhead in a gentle embrace. "Mmmm.... Iíve missed this."
"Me too," was the whispered response.
They held each other for an interminable time, hearts mingling and souls returning home to nest. Somewhere along that moment of silent rejoicing, Emil and his wife intercepted the broth and left the room.
Eventually, Rickie pushed away a bit. She moved her hands from Xenaís sides to her face, holding her, brushing away the thick black hair. "I love you, you know," she said matter of factly. The smile she received caused her heart to skip a beat.
"I know. I love you, too."
"We have to talk, though." There was some dismay as her warriorís smile faltered a little. Rickie patted the bed. "Sit down, lover." When Xena obliged, she took those strong hands in hers and held them firmly. "I remember the first time I saw you," she began conversationally. The hands beneath hers froze, trembling a bit. Intense blue eyes stared into hers.
"Y... you do?"
Green eyes narrowed as she searched her mind. Oh, yeah! The Arboretum. Whoops! She squeezed Xenaís hands. "No, before Ginsberg."
"Before?" The dark brow arched and full lips pursed in thoughtful concentration.
"I think you remember. A little Greek village? I canít remember the name. Slavers attacking a bunch of young women...?" Rickie held her breath.
Xena felt as if someone had punched her in the gut. She couldnít catch her breath. She knew that her mouth had dropped open and she could only stare at this young woman before her, eyes wide. The dark woman tried to speak but only a grunt came out. She looked away from those green eyes, clearing her throat, heart racing. She felt a tender caress on her upper arm and she turned back. "Gabrielle...?" came the tortured whisper.
The redhead smiled softly, sadly. "No, Iím Rickie." She continued to run her hand over Xenaís arm. "But I remember being Gabrielle. I remember you. Us." She reached up to brush a tear from her warriorís face. "Youíve changed so much, love. Iím sorry to have missed it."
Unable to stop herself, Xena gathered the young woman, her heart, into strong arms. She buried her face in the hollow of Rickieís throat, wracking sobs quietly shaking her body. Arms held her, hands caressed her, a muffled voice soothed her. She wept out centuries of solitude and silent hurt. For all the pain she had borne alone, for all the joys she had been unable to share, for all the millions and billions of times she had thought of her bard and felt the loss, for these she cried. And through it all, Rickie spoke to her, rocked her, held her, ran hands through her hair.
A long time passed. Eventually the tears abated and the women simply held each other, marveling at the familiar feelings they shared. Finally, Xena loosened her hold on the redhead. She inhaled with an unsteady breath and sat back a bit, hands still holding her loverís. Her face was tearstained and, with a watery chuckle, she reached for the kleenex on the nightstand. The immortal released Rickie long enough to clean her face off, tossing the used tissue in the wastebasket nearby.
Taking Rickieís hands once again, she smiled. "Weíre gonna have to invest in a lotta kleenex at this rate."
The redhead grinned in return. "What was it? I have more than enough shoulder to cry on?" She searched her memory. "There was something else, too.... Something about many skills. You remember?"
"I used to always tell you that I had many skills," Xena laughed.
"Well," Rickie lifted her chin in challenge. "I have many skills, too." Then she frowned. "Iíd stick my tongue out at you, but thereís a bit of a problem with that." She smiled at the low chuckle. "Next question...."
"When do I get outta here?"
"The doctoríll be by later this afternoon to check you over. My guess is that heíll want you to stick it out another night." Xena didnít tell her how close she had come to dying from the overdose. That was something best left for later when her emotional equilibrium was back.
The redheadís stomach rumbled and she blushed. "Ummm.... The nurse was supposed to bring me some broth...."
Her lover finally glanced around the room and noticed the Holtís absence. A styrofoam cup steamed nearby. Reaching out a long arm, she snagged it, dumped the water straw in it and handed it to Rickie. "Here. Canít have people thinking I donít feed ya. Even if you canít chew anything."
Rickie groaned at the comment, sipping at the broth. She enjoyed the salty taste on her tongue and the warmth as it eased past her sore throat. "Next question," she said. "Whatís with the ĎHeadhunterí thing? Isnít it a bit archaic to have people hunting you down with swords?"
"Ah.... Now thatís another story....."
* * *
Just like to thank you all for flying with Air Redhawk. Please be sure to put your trays seats in their full upright positions. A flight attendant will be by to pick up any stray kleenexes, chewed fingernails, and the occasional Ďtoyí or two. I hope you enjoyed the flight and Iíll see you on my next tour.
No, really, this started out as a simple Ďgirl meets girlí story and ended up being the monster that it has become. I appreciate all the email I received. Honestly, I doubt I would have finished at all if I didnít have people writing every few days to keep me going!
Special thanks go to Garnet (my beta editor,) Jett (inhouse editor, cook, laundry person - and NO, she's NOT put upon because I have to do dishes and catboxes,) Joseph Connell (who got so inspired, heís decided to write the continuing saga of Xena and Rickie, thereby inspiring me to finish this blasted thing,) RavensTale at the Scroll Society (first time anybody ASKED to post my stuff! Whoa!!) and Katrina (whoís currently considering a new Altaverse on her web page for more tales of Xena/Rickster.) AND all you wonderful people who emailed me over the last couple of months!! Thanks!!
July 7, 1998
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