Disclaimers: Please see Part I for disclaimers to this story.
Comments to Redhawk. No bad mouth or lippin' off. Constructive criticism will be muchly appreciated.
A phone ringing.
"Oh, hi.... What's up?"
"Have anyone who wants to go on a cruise?"
"She on the move again?"
"Yeah. Caribbean cruise. Leaves tomorrow."
"Damn! That's short notice, Emil!"
Sigh. "I know. But you know she doesn't confide in me like she used to - not since Germany."
Grunt. "I'll see what I can do."
"May I make a suggestion....?" Pause. "Don't send anyone on the ship. Just have various people at the ports of call.... The more the merrier and the less likely they'll be spotted."
"Have a good afternoon."
Click. Dial tone.
Rickie wandered through the store, poking through the offerings on a rack. Her eyes darted to the fitting room where her lover was trying on a swimsuit. When no Xena appeared, she sighed in disappointment, fingers sliding the hangers about with a metallic hiss.
"Dreamer," came the low voice.
The redhead looked up, her mouth tilting into a sexy smile. She approached the tall woman who had stepped from the fitting room, nodding her head in approval. "Oh, yeah.... Very nice."
Xena turned to a nearby mirror and studied her reflection. The bikini she had chosen was an iridescent deep blue that shimmered and changed color in the fluorescent lights. About her waist a matching sheer wrap of the same color was tied to one side, revealing a long leg. She grinned at her lover in the mirror. "You like?"
Licking lips suddenly dry, the writer looked up from the unusual sight of a flat, bared belly and nodded. Her hands found themselves perched on the blue wrap, feeling the heat of Xena's skin at the juncture of her hip and thigh. "Definitely," Rickie insisted.
The flush of barely concealed lust in her lover's eyes and face caused the Immortal's abdomen to cramp in a painful/pleasant fashion. The hands at her hips crept upwards until fingers were touching the bare waist, circling gently against her skin. Xena let out a soft hum. "Then I guess this is the one."
Rickie could only nod in agreement, green eyes dilated with pleasure.
"Though I'm not too sure how long I'll be able to keep it on at a stretch...."
Smile widening, the redhead said, "Long enough for me to tear it off." She plucked at the edge of the wrap. "Know of any nude beaches in the Caribbean?"
"Will that be all?" a curt voice interrupted.
Startled from their playful seduction, the pair turned to see a twenty-something sales clerk all but glaring at them.
Ice blue eyes narrowed and Xena lifted her chin at the challenging stare. "I believe so. We'll be purchasing this item," and she reached down, running long fingers along the falling edge of the wrap. "And the matching suit."
The clerk nodded, her mouth pursed in thinly veiled disgust. "Then I suggest you remove it so I can ring it up." She ignored the matching raised eyebrows as she spun and stalked for the register.
"What bug crawled up her butt?" Rickie wondered aloud, her face screwed into an angry, puzzled mask.
Xena sighed and untied the knot holding the cloth at her waist. "The usual homophobic one," she responded, moving towards the fitting room and her clothes. "I'll be right out."
The redhead waited outside, tapping her foot impatiently in her vexation. She watched the clerk closely, returning the ill concealed glares with snarls of her own.
Before long, Xena came from the fitting room, bikini and wrap draped across her arm. With a slight smile, she purposely took her lover's hand and led her up to the counter, laying her purchases upon it.
Scowling in disapproval at the intimacy before her, the clerk rang up the items. "Will this be cash?" she grated.
"Credit." The Immortal pulled out a wallet and sorted through her cards, plunking one down with her identification. When the woman behind the counter picked them up with a look of clear distaste, Xena leaned forward and spoke in a conspiratorial voice. "It's not contagious, you know. I've had my shots."
The clerk appeared to have swallowed something horrible from the look on her face. She swiped the card in the reader with some force, causing her to repeat the action three times before the machine could read the information held within the data strip on the back.
Rickie turned towards her name, irritated at the interruption, sorting between the desire to give the clerk a piece of her mind or just take her out back and beat her senseless. "Yes?" she asked the stranger peering at her eagerly, trying to soften the edge in her voice.
"It is you!" The man's dark face broke into a smile. "Wow! This is fantastic!"
His joy affected the redhead despite her anger. With a slight chuckle she said, "Glad you think so."
Realizing he wasn't making sense, the man stuck out his hand. "Oh! Sorry! I'm the manager here, Richard Chapman!"
Rickie's smile grew as she shook his hand, riding his enthusiasm. It changed into a smirk as she peered back at the startled clerk. "Really? The manager?" she asked, her tone almost unctuous.
"Yes, for two years now." Chapman finally released her hand and beamed at the other women standing there. "I've read your book. It's fantastic!"
Blushing slightly at the praise, the redhead offered, "Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it." Her eyes flickered to her lover's, catching the proud smile.
Chapman peered at the redhead closely. "Can I... uh.... Can I get your autograph?"
Startled by the request, Rickie blinked at him.
"She'd be happy to," Xena interrupted, placing her hands on the frozen shoulders. "Wouldn't you, Rick?"
"Uh...." The writer swallowed and nodded, a weak grin crossing her face. "Yeah, sure.... I'd love to."
The man before them fairly hopped up and down in excitement. "I've got a copy of The Broken Blade in the back room. I'll go get it!" He hustled off a couple of steps before turning back. "Take good care of these people," he told the clerk before running off.
The clerk, now more nervous than repulsed, nodded and murmured, "Of course." Swallowing hard, she bagged the clothing while waiting for the machine to spit out the receipt and signature request.
With a pleased smirk, Rickie leaned over the counter, staring at the woman fussing with the plastic bag. When the woman's eyes flickered up, she snagged them with her own. "I am going to tell all my friends to shop in this store," the writer promised in a low voice. "There's a coupla drag queens I know who would just love to have some of these fine things...."
Frozen, the clerk could only blink at the threat, her face looking as though she had stomach problems.
"And I'll tell them to look for," emerald eyes darted to the nametag, "Monica." The face across from Rickie's blanched and her smile turned deadly. "And if I ever hear of a complaint about your treatment, I'll have a nice chat with Richard.... Is that clear?"
There was a rapid nod. "Yes, ma'am."
"My receipt?" Xena asked coolly, reaching out her hand.
"Oh!" The clerk glanced around the counter, gaze settling on the credit card machine. She pulled the paperwork out with shaking hands and offered it to the dark woman before her.
The Immortal signed the slip, handing the clerk back her copy. Scooping up her cards and purchase, she smiled expectantly at the woman.
Flustered, Monica finally blurted out, "Thank you for shopping with us." Her shoulders sagged in relief as the dark woman nodded and stepped to one side.
"Ms. Gardner!" Chapman called, rushing forward with a book waving in one hand.
After signing the book and leaving the shop, the pair went to the food court for lunch. Their table was quiet as Rickie picked at her food, the Immortal watching her carefully.
"Alright, what is it, Rickie?" Xena asked, concern in her voice and eyes.
The redhead looked up from her enchilada, half pleased and half exasperated. "Do ya think I was too mean to that clerk?"
Snort. "Not mean enough by half, if ya ask me." The dark woman shrugged and picked up a curly fry. "Don't let it worry you, Dreamer. Everybody has choices in life and if Monica chooses to be prejudiced, there's not much you or I can do about it."
"I think I'd rather wait for her to get off work and meet her outside...."
Xena chuckled. "After school?" she asked.
"Yeah," Rickie grinned. "I know it's juvenile, but I really wanted to teach her a lesson." Pause. "Still do," she murmured, looking down at her food.
The Immortal reached out, touching her lover's face, fingers lifting the chin so that their eyes met. "Don't let her get to you, Rick. The world's full of small minded people. Just go with the flow. Keep in mind that karma'll bite them in the butt."
Rickie gave a small smile and nodded.
"Now, eat up, jailbait." Xena chucked the redhead's chin before pulling her hand back. "We've still got a couple of more errands to run."
Green eyes flashed at the name and the younger woman smiled wickedly. "I've got other ideas for lunch, lech."
"Oooo! There ya go making promises again!"
"Yo, how we doin'?"
A man with dark curly hair looked up from his task. "Not bad, NK." He finished loading rounds into a magazine, plastic gloves contrasting brightly with the dark clothing he wore. "Are the vehicles in place?"
"Yeah." NK nodded, looking around the sparse room at three other individuals dressed in black. "Rico is waiting at the first site with the wagon and Audrey's with the van." The young man stuffed his Uzi into a travel bag with a smile. "We gonna have some fun today!"
There was murmured agreement from the others as weapons were loaded and stashed.
The dark haired man hefted a Nike gym bag, setting it down on the bare bed in the rented room. "Alright, Johnson should already be there. Nick, see if you can pick him up on the radio."
"You got it, Gypsy," a burly blond nodded and popped a plug into his ear, speaking quietly into the tiny microphone on his wrist.
"Remember, people," Gypsy continued. "Gloves at all times. Once you get to the van, cover your clothes with the black sweaters and prepare to mask up. We'll be there in less than five minutes, providing traffic isn't too bad."
The others nodded. Nick spoke up. "Got him, five by five, Gypsy," he said, tapping the plug in his ear.
"Great. Our plant is in, the getaway vehicles are in place." The leader looked solemnly around the room at his cohorts. "No bloodshed! It's just after lunch and everyone's gonna be back at work for the afternoon. I expect the guard to stay paid off and the few people there complacent. Don't shoot unless I order it! Understood?"
A mumble of agreement. One man did not respond.
"Alright. Nick, you and Mel leave now. Travis, use the fire escape. NK and I'll be behind you in five." He paused and grinned at the gathering. "Let's go make some money."
The other three men nodded and left by their respective exits, leaving the curly haired man and the youth still in the room.
Gypsy scanned the room, looking for anything left behind and happy to see his team had cleaned up after themselves very well. His dark eyes landed on NK and a crease formed on his forehead. "You didn't answer about the shooting, kid."
The black man shrugged and rolled his eyes. "Whatever, Gyp. Don't worry about it, I can handle myself."
"I mean it, NK! No bloodshed if we can help it! These are innocent people. I don't wanna face murder charges."
NK sighed deeply and repeated, "No bloodshed if we can help it," his tone singsong in quality. At his partner's grim face, he smiled. "Look, I don't wanna hurt 'em, either!"
Gypsy wasn't satisfied. "I wish I could believe you."
"Believe me," the darker man insisted, slapping Gypsy on the shoulder. "I won't shoot a single person. Swear!" He glanced at his watch. "Time to go."
With a sigh and a vague feeling of missing something, the curly haired man nodded and lifted his bag. "Let's go, then."
Xena pulled the Ferrari over, sliding easily into a recently vacated parking spot.
"What're we doing?" the redhead asked, peering at the building beside them.
"Bank. Gotta transfer funds and get traveler's' checks."
The Immortal checked traffic in her side mirror before getting out of the car. Her lover stood on the sidewalk waiting and Xena smiled. Reaching out, she grasped Rickie's hand and they walked around the corner to the bank entrance.
Inside, the bank was cavernous and cool. Marble covered every surface and the ceiling was three stories above them. On either side was a long row of tellers cashing checks and making deposits for a smattering of clientele. Most of the teller windows closed now that the lunch rush was over, the sheer size of the room creating a feeling of emptiness. After stopping at a short counter, where the dark haired woman checked her paperwork and got her identification ready, the pair stepped into a brass lined queue and awaited their turn.
"Good afternoon, Ms. Amphipolous," the teller said with a smile. "What can I do for you today?"
Xena handed over her paperwork. "If I could get this transferred and the amount drawn up in traveler's' checks, that'd be great, Brian."
"Certainly, Ms. Amphipolous." The young man busied himself at his task. "How do you want the checks?"
The Immortal met Rickie's eyes, gauging. "Let's go with two hundred in twenties and the rest in fifties."
The redhead let her eyes wander the huge room. She shivered a bit and huddled closer to Xena. "It feels so spooky in here sometimes," she murmured.
Smiling, the older woman wrapped an arm around her lover's shoulders.
"Not at noon and five," Brian quipped from behind the counter. "Then it's like Grand Central Station. Especially on the first and fifteenth of the month!"
"I can imagine," Rickie muttered.
As the teller counted out her traveler's' checks, Xena's head snapped up. Heart pounding, her stomach rolled ferociously. Her senses went on alert, the colors and textures leaping out at her.
Feeling her lover stiffen, the redhead studied her. "Xena...?"
Everything seemed to happen at once. Five men burst into the bank, the traditional ski masks pulled down over their heads and automatic weapons at hand. They yelled for everyone to get down, one disarming the guard who simply stood and stared at them.
Xena pushed the redhead to the ground, her eyes searching the men, trying to find the one she could feel in her blood. It was difficult, as all five were looking this way and that, eyes darting about the bank in paranoid frenzy. The Immortal slowly sank down beside her lover, sitting cross legged in front of a prone Rickie and holding her hands behind her head.
Two men, one on each side, scooted behind the counters and began filling canvas bags with money. Two others stood at the door while a third roamed between them in the main area.
The one in the center called out, "Twenty seconds!" his voice slightly accented.
Xena studied him, willing herself to recognize the accent, the timbre, but unable.
"What you lookin' at, bitch?"
An Uzi was pressed up against her temple, one of the door guards striding over at her interest. Chocolate brown eyes stared into pale blue, widening.
"Thirty seconds!" the leader yelled, his attention diverted from his timer to the trio on one side. "Get back to the door, man!"
"It's you, ain't it?" the Uzi holder said softly, ignoring the order. "You're who I'm feelin'."
A slow, feral grin crossed Xena's face. "You gonna take my head with that?" Her eyes flickered to the gun at her temple. Keep his attention! Distract him! The woman studied the skin around the eyes, noting the darkness.
"Get back to the damned door!" the accented one yelled again, taking a step closer.
The robber's dark eyes flickered to the redhead crouched behind Xena.
"Forty seconds! That's it! Let's roll!"
As the others of his team backed away, trotting for the door, the man stepped back. "Nope. Ain't takin' your head, bitch." A grin crossed his face, twisting the mask against his skin. "But I will stop you from following me."
He pulled the trigger, the blast of automatic gunfire echoing and ringing in the confines of the bank.
"This is crap, Emil."
Holt looked at his passenger with a wry grin. "So? Last time you picked lunch it was at that tofu burrito place." He shuddered. "Yick."
With a final look of disgust, Davenport shoved her plastic spoon into a mess of greasy brown. "I hate yakisoba noodles." She closed the container and slid it into the paper sack it had come in. "Whaddya say we make a stop at Quizno's before we hit the station?"
The man chuckled. "Alright. We probably should have gone there to begin with." He pulled onto Fourth, narrowly avoiding a bicycle messenger.
"Sorry, officer!" wafted back through his open window and he shook his head. "Those guys are gonna kill themselves, yet, weaving in and out of traffic like that."
His partner didn't have time to respond. Their radio crackled, "Shots fired, U. S. Bank, Southwest Fifth and Taylor, all officers respond. Repeat, shots fired...."
The blonde snatched up the microphone. "Unit 34 responding."
Holt hit the lights, red and blue whirling above him as he cut across traffic.
Her gasp was harsh to her ears, her lungs burnt with the sudden intake of oxygen. She could feel the dull thump of blood as it trickled through her recently damaged arteries, could smell the metallic tang of copper. She collected herself, mind roaming her most recent memories as she opened her eyes and squinted against the sunlight streaming in from an upper window.
Bank. Robbers. Shot. The final thought forced her to sit up. Rickie!
At her movement, Brian the teller squeaked and fell backwards on his rear. "Holy shit! I thought you were dead!"
Xena ignored his babble, looking around frantically. Redgold hair snagged at her eyes and she focused on her lover beside her. "Rickie...?"
The writer panted, her breath bubbling and rattling in her chest. Emerald eyes searched the room in panic, finally resting on her warrior hovering above her. "Xe... na...?" she whispered.
The Immortal saw the blood frothing bright red on Rickie's chest. Chest wound. Gotta stop it. As she ripped open her lover's shirt, Xena began barking orders to the teller beside her. "I need a piece of plastic, like a bag! Some tape and some kind of tubing - a straw or something! Hurry!"
But, even as Brian dashed off to find what she needed, Xena could see the hole in the redhead's chest. Almost big enough to put her fist into. "No," she moaned.
"Xena.... Cold." Rickie shivered and whimpered as her body convulsed, causing her more pain.
"Be still, Dreamer. Hang on." Over her shoulder, the older woman yelled, "Somebody call 911!"
Crimson stained Rickie's teeth and lips, a thin rivulet welling up and running down one side of her face. "Xena," she whispered again, pulling on her lover's arm.
"Don't talk, Rickie!" Xena insisted, her voice cracking. "Save your strength!"
The redhead shook her head. She whispered, "Don't need... strength."
"Yes, you do!" the Immortal insisted with a hiss. Her eyes snapped in anger. "Don't give up! Don't you dare!"
A weak smile crossed the redhead's face. "Don't have... much choice." Her voice was coming in short gasps. "Shoulda... stuck with... Europe."
"Love... you, warrior."
"Rickie! No! Don't go!"
The station wagon was full of sweating men, adrenaline pumping as they whooped and hollered at each other. Sweaters removed, masks doffed, several of them tried to fill the driver in while he negotiated through traffic to another part of town.
"What the bloody hell was that, NK?" the leader demanded. "I said no bloodshed!"
Dark eyes regarded him. "You know what she is, don't you?"
Gypsy's own eyes, black as night, held the young man's gaze before sliding away. "Aye. I know who she is."
"And what she is?" NK demanded.
A nod. "That too."
"Then you know it was needed." The black man stuffed his clothing into his bag.
Gypsy sighed and did the same, his mind awhirl with recriminations. Damn it, Xena! Why'd you have to do your banking today?
By the time the police arrived at the bank, people were milling about outside, yelling and pointing down the street. As Davenport received a description of the vehicle, relaying it via radio to dispatch, her partner eased up to the glass doorway and peered inside.
Holt jumped a little and rolled his eyes as the blonde nudged against him. "Whaddya got?"
"Four to six individuals, dressed in black and carrying machine guns, left in a late model blue Pontiac station wagon, heading north on sixth." Davenport peered past him, her vision fighting through reflections of the street behind her. "Shouldn't be anybody else in there."
Holt took a bracing breath. Behind them, he heard another cruiser pull up. "We've got back up. Let's go, then." With slow movements, gun in hand and pointed stiffly at the ground, he eased towards the swinging door.
They met no resistance as they entered. They could see two other officers on the other side of the building, horse cops by the look of them, doing the same thing. Holt headed for a cluster of people huddled to one side, hearing someone sobbing. Red blood stained the pale marble and he reached for his microphone, "Unit 34, inside U. S. Bank. Appears all clear, request back up and paramedics, gunshot victim."
"Unit 34, ten four. Back up is available, paramedics are on the way."
The small crowd parted for the officers.
Xena cradled Rickie, their blood mingling on their clothes. A woman nearby was doing the sobbing, obviously in shock. Squatting down beside the pair, a teller uselessly held two sandwich bags and a battered McDonald's cup.
Holt's training took over, despite his startlement. He eased down beside them, noting the gray, pale skin and open green eyes with a grimace. The officer reholstered his gun, ignoring the voice of his partner who was pushing people back from them. "Xe?" he asked.
No response. The eyes remained staring into space, the body still held tightly in her grip as she rocked gently.
Chewing his bottom lip, knowing the danger he was in, Holt reached out to touch the Immortal's shoulder. He swiftly pulled back at the growl, watched her beautiful face turn into a snarl and the icy eyes meet his.
"Don't touch me," she hissed. She gathered her lover closer, ignoring the awkward flop of Rickie's right arm.
"Xena," Holt said. "You've got to let her go. Paramedics will be here any minute."
There was a dry cackle that raised the hair on his neck.
"And what are they gonna do, Emil? Raise the dead? Only one thing does that and you know it."
Cautious eyes darted about their audience. Holt met his partner's gaze, both looked worried. Dropping his voice to a whisper, he said, "And Rickie had parents."
"Don't you think I know that!?" came the savage response. Long, agile fingers stroked redgold hair that was already looking dry and brittle. "I know that," she murmured. "She came back to me after two thousand years, Emil. I can't wait that long again."
Holt swallowed the lump in his throat. Behind him, the paramedics hustled through the door and he heard his partner divert them, somehow knowing it to be too dangerous for them to approach the volatile woman.
"What're you going to do, Xe?" he asked, knowing what the answer would be.
Xena looked up from her dead lover. "I made a promise to Gabrielle. I never made that promise to Rickie." Her face creased into a rictus of a grin. "He's going to die, Emil. So slowly, so painfully.... He's gonna wish he was never a part of the Game."
The Game...? Holy shit! "You mean, the shooter was..." and the officer glanced around the crowd.
Holt's mind spun with the news. Xena gently laid the writer down on the marble. With steady hand, she closed gaping eyelids.
"I'll make him pay, Dreamer," she promised with a whisper. There was a final kiss on bloody lips.
The Immortal's rose fast, leaving Holt still kneeling beside the corpse. As he rose to his feet, she was already striding for the exit. "Wait, Xe!"
A paramedic tried to get in her way, telling her he needed to take a look at her wounds. With a negligent flick, he was sent flying into the counter. As his comrades and the other officers started to converge on her, Holt stepped forward.
"Let her go! Don't touch her!"
Grumbling, they held back, a couple helping their friend to stand.
Holt watched as his friend slammed through the doors and sighed.
"This is crap, Emil," Davenport murmured, following his gaze. Her eyes were rimmed red as she kept back her tears. "C'mon. We've got work to do." With a hard swallow, she turned her attention to the woman, the friend lying at her feet.
Damn, I feel sorry for the poor bastard who did this. The man turned and looked at Rickie's body. A fierce wave of anger passed through him, burning away his urge to cry. No, I don't. He deserves whatever he gets. "And then some."
"Hello? Anybody there?"
Voice cracking with fatigue. "It's me."
"Don't worry about the cruise, change of plans."
"Oh? They going somewhere else then?"
Pause. "No. No place else."
Long silence. "Emil? What's going on? What's wrong?"
"She's dead, Louis. Killed in a stupid bank robbery."
"What!? Who the hell would take her head in a public place like that?"
Disgruntled growl. "Not her! Her partner! Her lover, Rickie."
"Oh." Another small silence. "Bummer deal, Emil."
"That's a mild way to put it.... I lost a friend today, Louis."
"Sorry, sorry! I know you must feel a world of hurt right now. Lord knows I've felt it upon occasion with this stupid ass job of ours."
Sigh. "I know." Another pause. "I called for another reason. I want to know who's in town."
"Who's in.... You mean, like her? That kind of 'who's in town'?"
"Holy crap! You mean another Immortal aced her girlfriend!?"
"Oy.... I've gotta make a couple of calls. I know of one in the area right now. Doesn't sound like his cup of tea, though, killing mortals. I'll call you back in an hour or so."
"Sounds good. Use my cell phone."
"Got it. And Emil?"
"Take care of yourself, buddy."
Snort. "I always do, Louis. I always do."
Click. Click. Dial tone.
Phone ringing, crackling of long distance lines.
"Anan Galleries of London."
Very quiet. "Its me."
"Victoria? How are you, love?"
"What's wrong? Nessie chew your papers again?"
"The Warrior's...she..." Hiccup.
"What is it?"
"The bard's dead. She was shot by...by someone..."
Sudden intake of breath. "Oh, Lord!" Pause. "How...how is she taking it?"
Half-laugh, bitter. "Oh, I can make a frair guess - if she isn't on the rampage already, she soon will be."
"I'll have arrangements made for you to fly back..."
Determined. "I'm staying."
"I...we'd...feel better if you were out of harm's way."
"I promise I'll be careful. I'll call next week when I've more time."
Sigh. "All right, love." Stern. "Don't you dare make us have *another* family funeral!"
"I promised, didn't I? My love to the others, sis."
"Take care you."
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