~ Dangerous Games ~
by Psyk

Disclaimers: Not much of one...no, I'm joking, this is gonna be a biggie. Most of these characters are MINE ( he-he) - yup, it's an uberfic, folks. However, if they do happen to remind you of anyone..well, it maybe coincidence, then again, maybe not. There is mention of a certain Warrior Princess and her bard, along with a handful of other familiar faces; they, sadly, are not mine ( and if they were, I wouldn't be sitting here typing this, I'd be off on my yacht, cruising the islands...). So, kudos to Renaissance and Universal for creating them, not to mention LL and ROC for giving them life and a sense of humour.

Thanks: Once again, Ruth, you've been a trouper. My unstinting gratitude to you for wading through all of this and ironing out the wrinkles and bloopers. Also, a big thank you and apologies to some friends of mine, who will probably never read this, but if they do, will recognise themselves instantly. Yes, dear reader, some of those bizarre characters who seem much larger than life are, in fact, real people, whom I've borrowed and manipulated slightly to fit into this little piece.... < eg >. More choccie drops to my hound who, as always, kept me company throughout, and never once complained when his walk was two hours later than usual. Now, where did I put that lead?....

Content: Alternative, undoubtedly. If you can't take the thought of two women sharing a loving relationship, it's time to bail. Don't say I didn't warn you....There's a little sexual activity in here, but nothing too graphic. No gynecological descriptive terms, but we do raise a sweat occasionally . There are however some rather nasty-looking corpses scattered around, but this is a murder case, so just hide behind a cushion where necessary. Oh yeah, and this is quite a long piece, so here is where I beg for patience.....try and stay with it, I promise I'll make it worth while in the end. What else? Oh yeah, I've played fast and loose with a few places mentioned herein; this is my home town, folks, but nowhere is perfect, so I've improvised where necessary. Also I think I owe sincere apologies to both the Navy and the Greater Manchester Police. I'm an expert in neither, as will soon become blatantly obvious, so please forgive my ignorance.

And finally.... A big thank you to all who bothered to send me comments on my previous, and first, posting, ' Heart of Winter '. It has inspired me no end to think that there are folks out there not only reading, but actually enjoying something I've written. Thank you, thank you, to you all for your kind words. It goes without saying that, if you like this one, then don't hesitate to drop me a line or two. Praise and constructive criticism are always welcome. Get me on Dopam@aol.com.

Still here? Brave person....

Part 1: With Murderous Intent

The music thumped, keeping time with the pounding of her head. She strained to hear the shouted words of the man seated opposite her, trying to tune-out the cacophony of club music in order to at least get some idea of what the guy was trying to say.

'..interesting methods. Of course, it's not exactly S.O.P...'

She nodded at what she hoped was the appropriate moment, relief washing over her as she saw her colleague, Geoff Barrett, approaching with a tray of drinks. As soon as the tall man had sat himself down she excused herself, heading for the washroom. She really wasn't in the mood for inter-departmental arse-kissing tonight, not after the week she'd had. It was Friday, and all she had wanted to do was drive home, pick up a pizza on the way, and curl up on the sofa with Gaeled and a bottle of red. Instead she had found herself roped into this little piece of good-will fraternizing with a group of officers from the Met who had come to Manchester to learn about the latest profiling and cross-referencing software which was currently being piloted in the North West. She'd tried to keep her distance, but a recent case she had been working on had suddenly cracked wide open and, thanks in part to her profile, a serial prostitute-killer had been arrested and charged. Naturally, the guys from the Met had been interested to hear all about it from the horse's mouth, and so here she was at one a.m., Saturday morning, stuck in a night club wishing she were thirty miles away and tucked up in bed...

She finally got through the crowds to the ladies, grimacing at the clouds of hairspray and perfume that assaulted her sinuses as she stepped through the swinging door. Inside the music from the club was piped through speakers, sounding distant and tinny. She headed for the sinks, ran her wrists beneath the cold water to try and cool herself down. She was always warm, even in winter, and over-heated clubs packed full of sweating bodies were her own personal idea of hell. She glanced at her reflection in the mirror, noticing the dark circles beneath her blue eyes. Yup, a bitch of a week, late nights and early mornings, not to mention her lecturing contract at the university......

Enough, she decided; I'm going back out there, getting my jacket, and going home. She dried her hands on a paper towel, dropping it in the bin on her way out. Her colleagues were laughing over something when she arrived back at the table, and she tapped Geoff on the shoulder, reaching for her jacket and bag as she did so.

' I'm off, ' she said in his ear. He frowned, but the steady gaze she gave him killed any protestations before they reached his lips.

' Sure, Alex. See you Monday. '

She smiled, said hasty good-byes to the inebriated Met guys, and made good her escape.

Outside the night air was sharp and cold. She breathed in great lungfuls, the taste of traffic fumes slightly less obnoxious than the special blend of smoke, stale beer and sweat in the club. She pulled on her jacket, shouldered her bag, and turned down the side of the building, away from the lights of Oxford Road and into the darkness of the back streets. Her car was only a few minutes walk away, and as she rounded the next corner she could see the reassuring bulk of the Discovery in the distance. She fished in her bag for her keys, and when she raised her head she caught a glimpse of two figures by her car, one bent over the doorlock, the other standing a little in front, looking about.

Great, trouble....

She increased her stride, felt the familiar kick of adrenaline sharpening her senses. She could hear them now, the sharp sound of metal-on-metal, the shuffle of feet as the look-out turned slowly. She smelled cigarette smoke, saw the brief orange glow flare as the guy took a drag. Keeping to the shadows of the buildings lining the street, she was less than six feet from them when the look-out realised they were no longer alone.

' Oy, ' he hissed to his colleague.

Alex stepped out of the shadows, kept her face blank.

' Trouble, boys? '

A blink. ' Uh...no, we...ah..'

' Locked the keys inside. ' The lad nearest the car stepped in. ' So you can just piss off, love, all right? '

She resisted the urge to crack their heads together. ' Can't do that, I'm afraid, boys. See, firstly, I'm a police officer, and secondly....' she did smile now, but her eyes remained cold, ' ...this is my car. '

Silence for a minute, and she could see the thoughts running through their minds, their options really quite limited. Run or fight; she was betting on the latter.

They didn't disappoint her.

The guy nearest the car, the one she had seen trying to bust open the lock, suddenly lunged for her, something flashing in his hand. Screwdriver, she idly thought, as her arm came out and blocked his thrust, knocking the tool from his grasp with the shock of the impact.

' I don't think so, ' she said, her voice like silk.

The other one was moving now, a balled fist coming at her ribs. She tightened her abs, let the blow happen, moving slightly with it to lessen the impact and give herself space. A quick kick and the boy - he couldn't have been more than sixteen - was rolling on the floor clutching his crotch. The remaining member of the two-man team had stepped away, was staring at her.

' You bitch...'

She shook her head. She should call it in, have them taken down to the local station. But they were more than likely minors, and the thought of spending a couple of hours in the shop filling in paperwork, only to see them walk with no more than a caution, was something less than appealing at this hour.

' Take your little friend and get out of here before you both get hurt.' She growled.

He hauled the other boy to his feet, and as they turned and began hurrying away she called out after them.

' And find yourselves another hobby! '

As they disappeared into the night she heard footsteps coming up behind her at a run. She turned, ready for another assault, but found herself looking at a fair-haired woman who was breathing heavily, concern written across her features.

' You okay? ' She panted.

Alex blinked. ' Yeah..fine. '

The blonde nodded in the direction the two thieves had gone in. ' I saw....what was happening...thought you could use some help. '

Well, wasn't this a turn up for the books. The petite blonde was at least six inches shorter than she was, not to mention a good deal lighter. From a distance in darkness, wearing a pants suit and with her hair tied back, Alex knew that her powerful frame and six-feet of height could easily get her mistaken for a man. Most people would have left her to it. And yet here was this determined girl...

' Um...thanks, ' she managed a smile, then looked over blondie's shoulder. ' You're not alone here are you? '

' Yeah, I was on my way to my car. ' She grimaced. ' Just hope it's still there. '

' Where's there? '

' Down by the Bridgewater. '

Alex beeped the door unlocked. ' C'mon, I'll give you a ride. '

It was a two minute ride, longer than it would have taken the woman to walk the short distance, thanks to Manchester's ubiquitous one-way system, but Alex felt better about getting the woman to her car safely. She barely had chance to thank her before she was drawing up beside an ancient VW Polo, and the younger woman was jumping out in a swirl of blonde hair and faint perfume.

' Thanks! ' she called cheerfully. Alex waited until she was in the car and the engine was running before she gunned her own engine, and turned the Discovery towards the motorway, and home.


Jen absently played with the silver ring on her thumb as she waited for the lights on Deansgate to change. People were starting to spill out of the clubs and bars, and rowdy gangs of drunks were shouting and heckling from the pavement, many of them waving beer bottles. She ignored them, her mind fixed on the events of just a few minutes ago.

What on earth were you thinking? She asked herself, mentally shaking her head. Jeez, girl, you could've been in some serious shit there if those guys hadn't decided to run for it....

And what about that woman? My God, she looked like she just stepped out of the pages of some magazine. All designer suit and poise....and those eyes. She sighed. I'd kill for eyes like that, blue as arctic ice, and so clear.

The lights changed, and she coaxed some life from the tired old engine. ' C'mon, baby, ' she crooned, patting the steering wheel, ' get Momma home tonight and I promise you a service soon...'

Service, right. She needed a new car, and she knew it. Only two things kept her from trading the ol' rust-bucket in; one, she loved it, had had the car since first going to college nine years back, and two, she had absolutely no spare cash. She was in the final year of her Ph.D. - at least she hoped it was her final year - and living on a studentship meant running a car, even one that seemed to keep going on fumes sometimes, was a luxury. Buying a new one was out of the question. Still, once her thesis was completed she could start looking for a job that actually paid enough to live on.

That's lecturing out then, she chuckled to herself. And with a degree in English and three years of research into ancient Greek bards, she just knew that the big corporate giants were gonna be beating down her door with offers of huge salaries and all the fringe benefits.....

Yeah. Right.

A sigh, and she was passing the Boddington's Brewery, birthplace of 'the Cream of Manchester', on her right, steam billowing from the tall chimney as it seemed to do 24 hours a day. A little further on down Cheetham Hill Road and she could see the dark bulk of Strangeways, so out of place amongst all the cheap and cheerful clothes factories and shops that drew people in by the hundreds each Sunday. For the zillionth time she reminded herself that the prison was there well before the first shop opened. She glanced in the rear-view; nothing behind but a taxi, and that was hanging a right even as she watched. Up ahead the road was deserted. With a small grin, she coaxed the car up to forty-five, her only though now being of crawling into bed and staying there until dinner time.


Alex woke up to sunlight streaming through the partly open curtains. The comfortable warmth on her right was the long body of Gaeled, her Wolfhound, curled up beside her on the bed. As she sat up he raised his big head, yawning horrifically.

' Nice tonsils, ' she grinned, scratching between his ears. In answer he flopped back onto the quilt.

She rose, took her time showering and breakfasting. As she washed the few dishes she peered out through the kitchen window; miles of moorland stretched beyond the narrow road at the back of the cottage, dotted with sheep, broken occasionally with low dry-stone walls. It was bleak at the best of times, but in the middle of January it looked like hell on earth, nothing but wind-blasted heather and skeletal bracken. To Alex this was home, this harsh, almost alien landscape. She had been raised further south, in the gentle bosom of the Somerset plain. By comparison the fields where she had played as a child were idyllic, the apple orchards bursting with blossom in spring, with fragrant fruit in the warm summers. But the day she first drove over these bleak moorlands on her way from Leeds to Manchester, when the M62 was closed due to high winds, she had fallen, irrevocably, for the powerful landscape that seemed to swallow her up.

And once she knew she had the job with the Manchester force, she had started looking for a place to make her home up here. She lucked out after just two weeks, finding the advert for the cottage in a local newspaper. At first sight she loved it. The back of the cottage faced out onto the narrow, treacherous road that wound itself over Winter Hill, but the front looked out across a large, stone-walled garden, and beyond that Anglezark reservoir, flanked on both sides by forested hillsides.

It was nasty in Winter; she often suffered power cuts in the worst of the weather, but she'd had a back-up generator installed in the cellar last summer, and the Discovery ensured that she could almost-always get back to civilisation. It was a good drive from here to her office in the Manchester HQ, and even further to the University where she lectured three times a week, but the extra journey time was a price she was more than happy to pay for coming home to this. Escaping the city was a need. Why some people chose to live there was beyond her comprehension.

The dishes done, she ambled back into her bedroom and threw on jeans and a sweater. As soon as her hiking boots came out of the wardrobe Gaeled was up and bouncing around like a terrier. She tied the laces off on one shoe, then deftly removed the other from the excited dog's large jaws, giving him a shove in the shoulder to shift him out of the way. As usual he just leaned into her, swiping her face with his tongue.

' Mutt...' she growled.

In response, he went to grab his lead from where it hung over the banister rail.

As she walked, Alex found herself thinking about the events of the previous night. To be more precise, she found herself preoccupied with the young woman who had rushed to her aid. How rare was that these days? Grown men would walk past a mugging; then a five-six slip of a girl shocks the hell out of her by turning guardian angel.

To her.

She laughed aloud at the thought. Christ, if she knew what she was rescuing, she might have had second thoughts. Alex had been recruited from Cambridge into the navy. With a first in psychology, and a handful of martial-arts black belts, she'd been talent spotted by the Special Boat Service, a naval version of the S.A.S. For three years she toured the world, never with a passport, carrying out 'sensitive' jobs the regular military would never put their name to. She'd learned a lot about killing people in many and various ways. She'd also learned a great deal about planning and tactics. But what she learned most about was human nature. And when she looked into the eyes of some of those who had been in the profession for too long, she decided that maybe it wasn't something she wanted to be doing for ever. And so, after a three year tour, she'd waved them goodbye and talked her way onto a clinical psychology doctorate course. It took three years, and an extra year after that to complete a Ph.D. thesis on personality disorders she'd been working on along side, but by the time her thesis was accepted she was working for the police force as a criminal psychologist.

And now, she was beginning to enjoy life again. Leaving the service had been hard - she had been required to sever all ties, which meant giving up her relationship with John - and for a long time she wouldn't entertain the thought of letting anyone else get close. She had a couple of flings, but nothing serious, all the while feeling like she was drifting along, carried by a strange momentum. Only buying the house had given her some sense of belonging. That, and the huge grey puppy she had gone out and bought on a whim one weekend. She grinned over at him, watching the huge dog chase wind-blown leaves across the hard ground. Oh yeah, Gaeled had been a real big mistake.....and may there be many more like it.

' Come on, ' she called out over the ever-present wind, ' we're going shopping. '

The dog looked up at her, grabbed a stick, and tore off into the trees. With a groan and a shake of her head, she followed.


The following Wednesday she had a lecture to deliver at the university. She enjoyed the lecturing, enjoyed the chance to do something other than look into the minds of the mad and the bad. And, of course, the four o'clock finish meant she missed most of the horrendous Manchester traffic on her way home.

She left the auditorium in high spirits, looking forwards to a quiet night at home. There were no pressing cases at HQ for her to work on right now, so she had the whole evening stretching before her with the promise of nothing more taxing than reading the latest BPA journal. Her briefcase in one hand, she clasped a pile of overhead acetates and spare hand-outs in the other, carefully negotiating the milling crowds of students as she made her way towards the exit. About half way down the corridor she heard a sharp cry behind her; instinct whipped her head around, looking for the source, and as she spotted the girl being tickled by her boyfriend she failed to notice the rapidly approaching blur of blonde hair and denim until it collided with her from the right. There was a startled 'Oof!', then notes and acetates shot up into the air, began fluttering to the floor. Alex whirled about, to find a blonde woman sprawled on the tiled floor beside her, shaking her head.

' Are you okay? ' She asked, crouching down to check her out.

Another shake, and the head was raised. Green eyes locked onto hers, and recognition jolted through her. It obviously hit the other woman at the same time, based on the shocked look on her face.

' Sorry....God, we meet again!' The guardian angel grinned.

Alex found herself smiling. ' So we do. ' She straightened, offering her hand to the fallen woman. Warm fingers gripped hers as she hauled her to her feet.

' Okay? ' She asked again.

The blond head nodded. ' Yeah....just winded. And minus several million cool points for being clumsy. '

' Happens to us all. '

Jen seriously doubted anything of the like ever happened to the tall woman standing before her. She dusted herself off, letting herself catch her breath. ' Ohhh....your papers, ' she said, seeing them being trodden on by a multitude of feet. ' Hey - guys, c'mon...' she began gathering the papers, aided by a bemused Alex and several press-ganged passers-by. At last the dusty, untidy pile was clutched in her hands. She smiled at Alex and offered them to her.

' Sorry, again. '

' No problem. It's only notes. Nothing important. '

Jen nodded, then held out her hand. ' Um...Jen Gordon. '

She took the proffered hand, shook it. ' Alex Perry. '

' Hello, Alex.' She looked up into the ice-blue eyes, felt something connect. ' I..can I give you a hand or something with all that stuff? '

Alex shook her head. ' Thanks, but I'll manage. Do you have a class to get to? '

' Nah - I was on my way for a brew. Coffee's the only thing keeping me upright at the moment. '

' Exams? '

She shook her head. ' Thesis - final draft. '

' Ah, ' Alex nodded, remembering all too well, ' not the best time, huh? '

' Not really, no. '

A pause, and Alex knew now was when she should politely make her exit. But something about this intense young woman drew her to her, intrigued her. She bent her knees to retrieve her briefcase. ' Don't think I've ever used the refec here. '

Jen grinned. ' An experience not to be taken lightly, I assure you. ' She quirked an eyebrow. ' Wanna live dangerously? '

She shrugged, then nodded in assent. ' Lead on. '

Alex sat and listened to the younger woman eagerly explaining her research, sipping dreadfully strong coffee and feeling vastly overdressed amongst the denim-clad students. Jen chattered on, her arms waving animatedly, then suddenly realised that she was doing all the talking, and closed her mouth abruptly.

' I'm doing it again...' she groaned, ' I'm sorry...I seem to blather on so much. '

Alex smiled, shook her head. ' To be honest, after a two hour lecture, it's nice to sit and listen to someone else. '

Jen raised an eyebrow. ' You said you lecture criminal and abnormal psych? '

' That's right. '

She picked up her coffee. ' I hear the psychology department here is quite good. '

' I believe so. ' Alex sat back. ' I only work part-time here - I give three lectures a week.'

' And the rest of the time? '

' I work for Greater Manchester Police as a criminal psychologist. '

Jen's eyes widened. ' Ooh - a real live Cracker, huh? ' Then her face split in a wide grin. ' Not that you look much like Robbie Coltraine...'

The dark woman's eyebrow shot up, and Jen felt her insides cringe. Oh, real smooth....

' Um...sorry..' she blushed.

' Oh....you mean that TV series? ' Alex nodded. ' I remember it now...'

She didn't, not really; in the past nine years she hadn't seen much television.

Jen drained her plastic cup, looked questioningly at Alex. ' Can I get you another? '

' No...I'd better make a move. ' She reluctantly began gathering her things together. ' I have a lot of traffic to negotiate before I'm home. '

' Live far? ' Jen asked, then mentally slapped herself for being so intrusive. The other woman didn't seem to mind though.

' Other side of Bolton. '

Jen's eyebrows hitched up beneath her fringe. ' Wow....mucho traffic then. '

Alex smiled ruefully. ' Too much. ' She stood up, held out her hand. ' Well , thanks for the coffee, and for the help Friday night. '

Jen took the long-fingered hand in her own, was surprised by it's warmth. ' Thanks for listening to my rantings without complaint. Any time you're slumming it in the English department, drop in to say hi. ' She smiled. ' I may even make you a real cup of coffee. '

' I'll look forward to it. ' And Alex surprised herself by meaning it. She hefted her briefcase, gave Jen one last smile, then headed out of the refec towards the building's exit.

Jen watched her walk away, her dark, sleek chignon visible above most of the crowd, until she turned a corner and was out of sight. She sagged back into her plastic chair, and contemplated her empty cup.

' One more for the road? ' She muttered to herself. ' Why not...'


Alex peered at the body through eyes slitted against the diving snow. Two a.m. in the city, Sunday morning, and the first serious snowfall of the year, and some poor homeless guy stumbles over the fresh corpse of a young woman.

' ...get a fucking cordon up! ' Geoff was yelling into his cell phone, ' and we need uniforms out here. The goddamned evening news is only five minutes away - they'll be here any minute. '

Alex tuned him out, concentrated on committing the scene to memory. Anything, from the position of the body to a seemingly random piece of litter, could offer insight into the perp. The girl lay on her back on the frozen ground, snow beginning to form miniature drifts against her side, and behind her against the red-brick wall. Her face, arms and clothes were wet, but the falling snow was beginning to stick in her hair, all traces of body heat now gone. She stared up into the heavy sky with the glassy eyes of death, her mouth slightly open, white teeth peeping out between pale lips. She wore knee length leather boots, a short black skirt; the blouse she had worn lay in shreds just off to one side, along with the remnants of her bra. The killer had, Alex guessed, hit her on the back of the head with something heavy; there were no seemingly fatal wounds visible, but a closer look into the dead girl's eyes showed one blown pupil. That, and the trickle of blood from her nose, suggested a trauma to the head.

Alex let her eyes move down to the girl's torso. Obvious bruising to the upper arms - she must have been grabbed, possibly from behind - and a nasty bite mark to her left breast. Hopefully they could get a cast from it, maybe check dental records....

Sexual? Without a doubt there were underlying sexual motives here. But only the girl's upper body had been touched - her skirt, boots and opaque tights were seemingly undisturbed. Alex stepped back a little to take a look at the arrangement of the body. Flat on her back, face-up, one arm raised above her head, fingers clenched tight into a fist. The other arm was by her side, palm up. In the harsh glare of the emergency lights she could clearly see the tell-tale red crescents of fingernail impressions on the palm. Hmm...he hurt her first...and took his time over it, I'd say....she stepped closer again, looking for more signs of injury, but other than the bite mark there was nothing she could see on the body. Her eyes swept back up to the face, and...she leaned in closer still....a smudge of dirt on the cheekbone, more at the hairline.

' Geoff...'

A crunch of footsteps on the ground, and the sudden warmth of another person standing next to her.

' Yeah, Alex, whatcha got? '

She chewed her lip. ' Can we turn her? '

He looked at Bob Mills, the head of the forensics team, who nodded, waved two of his men over. Alex and Geoff stepped back as the men gently rolled the girl onto her side, holding her there, her back facing the two officers. Alex felt Geoff go rigid beside her.

' Holy fucking shit. ' He whispered.


She snatched a couple of hours sleep on the couch in her office, Gaeled curled up on the floor beside her. At seven thirty the DCS called a meeting, and she was woken by Geoff knocking softly on her door.

' C'mon, hot shot, ' he said, his head poking round the door, ' Super wants us all in, they've got the first reports back from the PM. '

Alex blinked back sleep and sat up, automatically beginning to braid her hair. ' Already? Can't be more than a superficial exam...'

He scratched his head, eyed the big dog warily. ' Better leave the rug here, Alex. You know he shouldn't be here at all. '

She shrugged. ' Hey, you pull me in at that time in the morning, you think I'm leaving him behind? Besides, we're probably going to be here all day. '

' Okay, all right...' he held up his hands, ' just get a move on. '

She slid out from beneath the car blanket she kept over the back of the threadbare sofa and reached for her boots.

' Go ahead; I'll be right behind you. '

Alex stared at the photographs, felt anger welling up inside her. What kind of goddamned monster carves up a young girl like that? The slim back was a ruin of slashed flesh. The initial photos, taken at the scene after the discovery of the wounds, showed red gaping wounds in a frieze of dark blood. The photos taken after the blood had been washed away told another story. Intricate patterns and whorls were carved with painstaking precision into the skin, the edges now purple against dead flesh.

' Stanley knife? ' Geoff murmured from his seat beside her. She shook her head slightly.

' I'd guess a craft knife, maybe a scalpel. Very neat. '

'...first indications are that this was done prior to death, ' the Superintendent was continuing, ' which was caused by a blow to the back of the head with a loose brick found at the site. ' He took a deep breath, shook his head slowly. ' People, this is the second body found at Smithfield in the last three years. I don't need to remind you that the press are going to have a field day with this, so lets get our arses in gear and put a stop to it ASAP. '

Blakely, a uniformed Sergeant, piped up. ' Are we looking for the same guy here? '

Alex rolled her eyes. Of all the dumb questions....

' We don't believe so, Tom, no, although at this stage in the game it's impossible to say for definite. '

I can, Alex thought. Any fool can see the only connection between the two crimes is the place the bodies was found, and the fact that both were women. The last had been a middle-aged prostitute, and it was suspected that her killer was someone whom had been supplying her fifty-pounds-a-day heroin habit. This girl, on the other hand, was barely nineteen, a young student at nearby Salford University who had been out clubbing on the last Saturday in January, and taking a short-cut through the old market towards the metro line tram stop, had happened across death in the shape of a madman.

' ...nothing was taken, not that we're aware of anyway. Her purse, keys, make-up - everything was still in the handbag found beside her. This was no random mugging or rape gone wrong, folks, this guy is for real. '

No shit, Sherlock, Alex thought sourly. As if he heard her, Detective Chief Superintendent Wilson turned to look at her.

' Alex, we'll be requiring a profile, based on what we have so far. Anything you can give us. '

She nodded, and his attention was switched to the uniform section again, going over the plans for witness detection.

'..local news does a Crimestoppers section, ' Blakely was offering, ' we could get them to ask for witnesses, sir, that would probably be the easiest -'

' No!' Alex's voice carried through the crowded room. She shook her head, lowered her voice somewhat. ' No, sir, we can't do that. His behaviour so far has been attention-seeking, he'll want recognition for what he's done. Putting it on the six o'clock news will only reinforce his behaviour, give him the impetus to go onto something bigger. '

Blakely wasn't for letting it go. He personally wasn't too enamoured of the psychologist, despite her knock-out looks. There was something way too...self-assured about her. He cleared his throat.

' Okay, Dr. Perry, but if that's the case, and he doesn't get the attention, surely that'll drive him out there to do it again? '

The smug look plastered across his face would, she mused, at one time have been sufficient reason for her to break his nose for him. These days, however, she was a little older, and a lot wiser...

And fifty times smarter than this stupid, jumped-up little arse-wipe of a man.

' He'll do it again anyway, Sergeant Blakely, ' she replied smoothly, ' all we can do is play for time. If we keep it quiet he's going to pull his neck in for a while, wonder what's going on, plan something better for next time, something that'll really grab our attention. If, however, we plaster this all across the headlines, we'll be feeding his ego, getting him excited. In that state of mind he becomes unpredictable, more unstable. Once he starts coming down off his little triumph he'll be looking for another fix, another thrill; he'll feel empowered, strong, smarter than us. '

' Could make him more vulnerable, ' Geoff conceded with an apologetic look. She gave him a small smile.

' Without a doubt. But are we prepared to risk another girl's life just to get a shot at him?'

DCS Wilson held up his hand. ' Alright, I'm going to go with Alex on this, for now. We need to liaise with the press, get their co-operation on this. ' He nodded to Steve Wallis, the public relations officer. ' Steve, can I count on you for that? '

' Yes, sir. '

' Good. ' His gaze swept the room. ' All right, people, let's get to work. '


Twenty four hours later, and Alex was hunched over her desk, staring at the numerous in-situ photos of the body, when her door burst open and Geoff bounced in, clutching yet another glossy eight-by-twelve.

' Alex, get a load of this...' he slapped the photo down under her nose. She looked at the close-up of the carvings on the girl's back.

' What? '

He jabbed his finger at one particular pattern. ' There...whaddya see? '

She looked at it, blinked, looked again. Geoff turned the print through forty-five degrees, and it leaped out at her.

' Holyfuckingshit...' she grabbed the image, held it closer to her face, tilting it to catch more of the weak winter sunlight from the window. ' Greek....'

Geoff nodded. ' Seems our guy isn't quite the philistine after all. '

' Never thought he was, ' she murmured, frowning at the tiny, but now obvious, jumble of letters. ' But...this is nonsense...meaningless....it's just letters. '

Geoff frowned. ' You can read it? '

' My Mum is Greek...'she turned the page again, looking at the rest of the figures drawn in dead flesh. '...I guess we're gonna be concentrating on a Greek origin for the rest of these then, huh? '

' Already on it, ' he nodded, ' we've sent someone over to see some Professor at Manchester Uni. '

Alex blinked. That girl, Jen...hadn't she said she was researching Greek bards? She chewed her lip.

' Let me know what comes back, okay? ' she said, frowning again at the complex patterns. ' I may have someone I can ask about these. '

' Sure thing; Alex, you wanna grab some lunch? Pint and a pie, my treat? '

She grinned, caught his warm brown gaze with her own piercing blue. ' Sure, Geoff. Give me ten minutes to clear some things, and I'm all yours. '

He placed a hand over his heart, sighed dramatically. ' The words I've been waiting to hear for the past twelve months...'

She laughed, gave him a friendly back-handed slap to the arm. ' Go tell it to the wife and kids, macho man. '


By Tuesday lunchtime they had come to a halt with the Greek connection. The professor of classics at the university had only been able to tell them what the patterns weren't. What they were, whether there was in fact any meaning to them at all, remained a mystery.

Alex gathered together a pile of the grisly photographs and, praying the younger woman had a strong stomach, got in her car and drove down to the university buildings. She had no number for Jen, didn't even know where her office was situated within the sprawling English department. Deciding on the logical approach, she headed for the school office, and managed to get a room number and directions.

Jen rubbed her temples, trying to ease the low-grade headache that had set up camp for the day. She sat back from the screen, letting her senses adjust to take in the noises in the office. Paul, in his second year of research, was scribbling away at his desk, preferring old-fashioned pen-and-ink to a keyboard probably, she suspected, because he couldn't type for toffee. Claire, a bubbly, very attractive red-head, was on the phone making plans with one of her numerous friends whilst scrolling through a screen of references. Sanjay, their fourth member, was taking a tutorial.

A knock at the door, and she turned her head. Paul looked up, and she saw his eyes widen slightly. He got up, walked the short distance from his desk to the door, and opened it. Jen turned back to the screen, but the low, smooth tones floating into the office grabbed her attention. She got up just as Paul was turning towards her, a quizzical look on his face, and as she came out from behind her own desk she got a good look at the tall woman standing in the doorway.

Alex Perry was, if possible, even more stunning that the last time they had met. Today she had on a skirt suit in dark charcoal grey, a long fitted jacket over a long pencil skirt. Beneath it was a crisp white shirt which brought out the olive tones of her skin. Most surprising was her hair; on their previous meetings it had been swept up from her face, but today it hung loose, reaching down past her shoulders in a long fall of ebony.

' Hi, ' Jen grinned, ' lose your way to psychology, or did you decide to take me up on that offer for a coffee? '

Alex smiled, and felt an unexpected rush of warmth flood over her at the sight of the blonde woman. She was dressed in old denims and a South Park T-shirt, her fine hair spilling out from a loose braid to frame her face. She seemed impossibly young, despite her being just a few years younger than Alex herself.

' Actually, there was something I wanted your help on....' she glanced into the tiny, crowded office, ' ...is there somewhere we can perhaps sit down and talk, in private? '

Jen was aware of just how busy Paul and Claire were in trying not to appear as if they were eavesdropping. She thought on it for a moment, then nodded.

' Sure. Let me just grab my bag and coat. '


Jen lead the way off campus, and through a maze of back streets until they were outside a small pub.

' Um...I'm not sure, Jen , ' Alex hesitated.

She pushed open the door. ' It's always empty at this time of day, and there's booths at the back, really private. C'mon, I come here a lot when the office gets too crazy. If I can work in here, we can talk in here. '

Alex shrugged, allowed her to lead the way into the small bar. Alex bought them both a drink, and they headed further into the long, narrow building. Sure enough, at the back of the room were large booths, each able to seat eight easily, and well partitioned from the rest of the bar by the panelled seat backs which reached the ceiling.

' See, ' Jen slid into one side, placing her diet coke on the rough, stained table top, 'quiet, and plenty of room to spread out. '

Alex nodded, took a sip from her bitter lemon before resting the glass on the table. She looked at the young woman seated expectantly before her, then took a breath.

' Jen, something happened this weekend. There was a murder - '

' The Salford Uni girl? ' Jen nodded, ' I heard. '

' What? ' Alex frowned. ' How? '

She shrugged. ' It's all over campus - they're saying some sicko is out there targeting students. '

'Shit...' Alex hissed, dropping her forehead into her hand. Her long hair swept forward, and Jen caught a waft of perfume and shampoo. After a minute she composed herself, looked up. ' Well, as you know about it, I'll cut to the point. What you probably haven't heard is that the girl was....mutilated. The killer carved some symbols into her back. Yesterday we found out that he had also carved some Greek letters in there - '

' You want me to translate them? '

Alex shook her head. ' No - we did that - they're meaningless, just letters. It's the symbols were more interested in at the moment. As the lettering is Greek, we are guessing that there is a connection with the symbols, but so far we've drawn a blank. ' She met the green gaze levelly. ' That's the favour I wanted to ask. '

Jen regarded her for a long moment, then frowned. ' Um...no offence, Alex, but why me? I mean, surely you'd be better with a classics expert? '

Alex nodded, smiling a little. ' That was our first line of attack. We've been to Professor Bateman but he's drawn a blank. All he could give us was that the letters were in the ancient fashion, but I knew that already. '

Jen chewed her lip. ' Do I....have to look at the body? '

' No!' Alex reached out across the table and laid a reassuring hand on her arm. ' No, Jen, we wouldn't ask you to do that. We have photographs of the actual serifs, or, if it's easier, just a copy of the patterns on plain paper. ' She met the other's gaze, releasing her arm. ' You don't have to do this. I'll understand if you'd prefer not to. '

' No....I'd like to help, ' she nodded. ' But let's start with just the copies, okay? '

Alex smiled. ' Sure. ' She reached for her briefcase, unfastened it quickly, and slid out a copy of the patterns, handing it over to Jen. The blond took it from her, frowned down at the swirls and strange glyphs.

' Humm....' she turned it in her hand through one-eighty degrees. ' This one here...' she tapped a particular pattern, a square spiral, ' ..I'm certain I've come across this...' she looked up over the paper at the tall woman. ' Can I keep this? '

Alex nodded. ' Although I have to ask you-'

Jen held up her hand. ' I know, I know, sworn to secrecy and all that. ' She smiled, ' I'll keep a lid on it. '

' Thanks. ' She reached back into the briefcase, came out with a business card and a pen. ' Here's my number at the office, and my cell phone, ' she turned the card over, began writing more digits, ' and this is my home number. If you come up with anything, anything at all Jen, however insignificant you might think it is, call me. ' She slid the card across the uneven wood, and the blonde took it. After a quick glance she put it into her hip pocket, then glanced out of the dirty window at the heavy clouds.

' More snow coming, ' she remarked, taking in the half-melted grey slush that lined the gutters and pavement edges.

Alex nodded. More snow. And out there, a killer planning his next move.


The snow came, and kept coming. The next morning found the city covered by a thick blanket, the heaviest fall in years. Jen took one look at her buried car, and the state of the roads, and decided that maybe working from home wasn't such a bad idea. She turned up the gas fire, trying to warm her little flat with the one source of heat, and set up camp in the living room. Eventually the smell of food from the bakery downstairs got the better of her and she wrapped up and ventured out for some lunch, bringing back a cup of spicy vegetable soup and a cheese pastie. Once she had dispatched these, she settled back to her work, but found her mind wandering to the paper hidden in her large satchel bag. After a while she gave in to the curiosity, and went to retrieve it.

She had left it in the bag after leaving the Three Tuns yesterday lunch time. She and Alex had walked back to the campus together, splitting up at the archway, she to return to her office, Alex to her car. She hadn't wanted to draw attention to it in the office, and when she got home it was dark, and cold, and she really didn't need to be thinking about a murderer who got his kicks by cutting up women. But now here it was, and she could no longer ignore it. She concentrated on the spiral she had thought familiar yesterday; after a few minutes she got up and roamed into her bedroom, pulling several beaten-up volumes from her breeze-block-and-plank shelving unit. Collecting an apple on her way back to her place by the fire, she settled back into the threadbare arm chair, dumping the books in a pile beside her. Biting into the apple, and holding it between her teeth, she reached for the topmost book.


Alex was sprawled in the bath, her right leg hanging over the side dripping bubbles onto the floor. She was pretending to read Angela Carter's ' Bloody Chamber', but secretly she was just enjoying the quiet peace for a change, allowing her mind to drift along with the currents of warm air in the room. Outside the roads were treacherous; she had barely made it over the hill coming home from Manchester, even with the Discovery in four wheel drive. The way things were going she would probably be snowed in tomorrow.

She sighed at the thought. At any other time it wouldn't have bothered her, would have been a bit of fun. The fridge was well stocked, the generator was in working order, and even if it wasn't she had a good stack of fire wood in the outhouse. But right now, with a full-scale murder operation ongoing, she was feeling frustrated at the thought of not being able to work. Certainly, there were things she could do from home, but the database and the new software were not yet networked, meaning that, even with modem connection, she wouldn't be able to access any of the work she had done so far.

She sighed, laying the book face-down on the deep tiled shelf which ran around two edges of the bath, and reaching for the glass of Valpolicella. She could see the snow piled against the small window, white against cold black; it came a good ten inches up the pane, and more was falling. Sipping the mellow red wine, she watched steam curl in lazy ribbons from the water into the air, fogging the mirror and condensing on the tiles. Idly, she wondered whether the young research student had managed to come up with anything. She doubted she would - not because she questioned her knowledge, but because she wasn't entirely sure that the designs meant anything to anyone other than the killer - but right now just about any long shot was worth a try. And if Jen drew a blank, she could try another university, maybe even get in touch with some of the family still in Athens...

Now there was a thought that painted a wry smile on her face. Her mother's side of the family had more or less disowned her after her bucking the system and enlisting with the Navy. They knew little about what she had actually done during her time there, but that wasn't the point; she had gone against her mother's wishes, and if Eliana Perry, née Tsakis, chose to no longer speak to her daughter, then they were bound by their own peculiar code of ethics to follow suit. Alex knew her mother's decision had more to do with fear than anger: her father, a British naval officer, had been killed on a routine training manoeuvre out in the Falklands. At least, that was the official version of events. Alex had never fully believed the story, and after a year in the special ops division she had started to do a little digging, eventually learning that her father had been killed by Argentinean forces during a covert raid on the occupied island, prior to war being officially declared. She also learned that her father had served for ten years in the SBS, transferring out when she was five. He'd stayed within the mainstream navy, but had, on occasion, been called upon to utilise his special skills in weaponry and explosives. The mission that took his life had been one such occasion. Alex had been just twelve when he died, and had made a secret promise to her beloved father that she would be a sailor, just like him.

She smiled to herself. Yeah, Dad, if you could see me now. But her heart was heavy with thoughts of her estranged mother. Eliana still lived in the family home in Somerset, still went to the same church, still drove the old Jag her father had loved. Alex had her spies in the village, and managed to keep a long-distance eye on her mother without her knowledge. She ached sometimes to hear her voice, to see her smile, to feel her hand stroking her hair...

Oh, get a grip, Alex, she chastised herself, knowing from bitter experience just where this little trip would end. Rallying her self, she deposited the glass, dunked her head to rinse off the conditioner in her hair, then pulled the plug with her toes. In minutes she was wrapped in a warm towelling dressing gown, her hair in a towel, and was settling down in front of the television with the remains of her wine to catch the News at Ten. Gaeled, fed and exercised, was snoozing in front of the fireplace, his deep chest rising and falling rhythmically. Alex dug her toes beneath one massive shoulder to warm them, and sat back to hear about the latest disasters. Her eyes were growing heavy when the phone jarred her back to full consciousness. Blinking, she reached over the arm of the sofa to grab the cordless receiver from the lamp table.

' Alex Perry. '

' Alex, hi, it's Jen Gordon. '

Something sparked in the tall psychologist's insides. She put it down to anticipation. 'Oh...hi, Jen. You okay? '

' Yeah...cold as hell, but I'll live. Listen, I'm sorry to call so late, but I came across something I thought you should know. '

Alex sat up straighter now, all ears. ' What is it? '

' That glyph - the one I thought I recognised from somewhere? '

' Yeah? '

' I did. I've seen it on one of the scrolls - well, one of the copies - I've been looking into for my research. ' There was a pause. ' Alex, that symbol was painted onto the first Scroll of the Damned, circa 1500BC. '

' Scroll of the Damned? What's that? '

' Well, we're not talking fairy tales here. It's pretty ...intense. '

Alex was gnawing on her lip, willing the other woman to get to the point. ' How intense? What are we looking at here? '

' It's...there are seven scrolls, each one describing a ritual. If all the rituals are performed then the person who undertakes them holds the key to the underworld - so the story goes, anyway. Five scrolls were discovered in what was once Sparta. They never discovered the last two - according to urban myth, there are private parties still out there looking. '

Alex frowned. ' People actually believe in this? '

' Oh, yeah. Crowley was allegedly involved for a period of time when he was alive. It's powerful stuff, Alex. Even if it's not true, there are enough wackos out there believing in it to give it some kind of power. '

Alex's mind was whirling. ' You find anything else? '

The research student sounded a little deflated. ' Um..no, that's it so far. '

A long pause as Alex chewed it over, then. ' Jen, I'm going to organise a meeting at HQ for tomorrow. Can you be there to explain this to them? '

' Ah...yeah, sure ' a chuckle, ' if I can dig my way out. '

' Don't worry about that - I'll pick you up. Give me your address. '

She leaped up from her seat, grabbed the pen and noteblock from the sideboard, and quickly scribbled down the younger woman's address.

' Okay, ' she said, recapping the biro, ' I'll be there around eight thirty, alright? If I'm going to be any later I'll call you. '

' Sure, Alex.'

' And Jen, ' she smiled into the receiver, ' thank you. '

She couldn't be certain, but as the other woman said her goodbye she could have sworn she heard the smile in her voice.


As the Discovery pulled up in Alex's usual spot in the yard, Jen turned to the tall dark-haired woman, a worried look on her face.

' Are they going to be asking a lot of questions I won't be able to answer? ' She ventured.

Alex shook her head, reaching between the front seats to snag her briefcase from the back seat. Jen caught a whiff of perfume - Chanel, she thought - and the woman's long black hair brushed against the sleeve of her thick winter coat.

' You'll be fine. You're there to provide information, not answers. And remember, this is your field, you're the expert. ' she gave the smaller woman a reassuring smile. ' Just think of it as a student seminar. '

The blond nodded, and together they exited the car.

The conference room, or what passed for it, was almost full when they walked in. Alex had run off a few acetates of the design Jen had found in an old text book, including one which showed the complete outer parchment of the first scroll, the squared-off spiral being at dead-center. Alex directed Jen to a seat by the OHP, and slid into the chair next to her. Once she saw Geoff duck into the room, she banged her hand against the table-top to grab everyone's attention.

' Okay, guys, ' she called out, ' everyone with me? '

The last voices died down, and she smiled. ' Thanks. I'd like to introduce Jennifer Gordon. She's a research student over at Manchester University, specialising in ancient Greek bardic scrolls.'

There were murmurs around the table; Alex held up her hand. ' Ms. Gordon has managed to come up with something, a possible connection. It's tentative, but so far it's all we have. ' She got up, slid an overhead onto the lighted panel of the projector. On the screen facing the table the drawing of the symbols carved into the girl's back appeared.

' We're looking here, ' she placed her finger below the spiral, throwing a shadowy pointer up on the wall-mounted screen. Then she stepped back, nodding to Jen. ' I'll let the expert tell you the rest herself. '

Jen smiled at her, got to her feet, and picked up her first acetate. Taking a deep breath, she began.


' It's not tenuous, it's nonsense! '

Alex stared at Blakely, feeling the beginnings of a dull headache coming on. It was over two hours since Jen had presented her findings, and they were all still seated around the table, throwing ideas around. She longed to get up from he chair and move about, do something, anything, instead of listen to the puerile whining of some of the less-intelligent members of the investigative team.

' Well, Tom,' she purred, letting a little of the old steel edge her voice, ' how far have you got with this? '

Blakely's face began to colour. ' Now look here, Perry, ' he spat, ' you're not even a goddam cop - you're a bloody head-doctor. You had no right to take this to an outside party, ' he threw a look at Jen that made Alex tighten her jaw, ' and I don't know who gave you the go-ahead to waste our morning with this crap, but-'

' That would be me, ' Geoff said smoothly, ' just as it was with my permission that Alex took this to Ms. Gordon. ' He let his lips twitch into the briefest of smiles. ' As acting officer in charge of this investigation, I think we had all the bases pretty much covered, although if you had something more important to be doing, Sergeant Blakely, you only needed to say. '

Alex could see the meeting going to hell in a basket. She could also feel Jen's obvious discomfort at being caught in the crossfire. She readied herself to launch another defense of their findings, but a small voice beat her to it.

' Um...excuse me, ' Jen said tentatively, waiting until she had everyone's attention before she continued, ' I think...I think there's something else. The scrolls - what we have of them - they illustrate a series of rituals and-'

' We've been here, ' Blakely sniped.

' Tom!' Alex snarled, rapidly coming to the end of her tether with the pedantic sergeant. ' Shut the fuck up and listen, for once in your life!' She threw Jen an encouraging look. 'Go on. '

Jen swallowed. ' Well...I'll have to check, but...it's something I just remembered, and if I'm right, there's something to do with the moon - the lunar cycle - being important. They believed - whoever it was who wrote the scrolls - that the most powerful time to perform the rites was at the half-moon. It, ah..' she cleared her throat, ' ..it symbolised the joining of forces, and...'she looked around at the sea of faces, and shrugged, ' as I said, I'll have to check it out...'

Alex was rifling through her case notes, but couldn't find anything on the phase of the moon on the night of the murder. She tried to think back, but it had been cloudy, the first snow fall.

' Calendar...does anyone have a calendar, or a diary? '

' Here, Dr. Perry, ' Tim Rothman, a young detective on Geoff's team, called from the far end of the table, waving a desk-diary.

' Look it up, Tim, ' she said, already knowing what he'd find. The young man's dark head bent over the diary as he flipped through the pages to the night in question. He looked up, gave Jen a quick grin.

' Half moon. ' He said, pushing the open diary into the middle of the table for everyone to see.

Alex breathed a small sigh of relief, felt her blood begin to charge through her veins again.

' Bloody genius, ain't she? ' Blakely groused, his voice not much above a mumble, but Alex didn't miss a word. She filed it away for later, turned her attention to the rest of the room.

' I'm going to put in a formal request to bring Ms. Gordon onto the team in an advisory capacity.' She glanced at Geoff, who gave a brief nod of assent. ' I think we may have gotten hold of our perpetrator's schedule of events, so, barring any objections, I'd like her to start working with us as soon as possible. '

There were rumblings around the table, but no-one spoke out against the suggestion. As the meeting broke up and people began to drift out, Geoff approached the two women, smiling broadly.

' Hi, ' he held out his hand to Jen, ' Detective Chief Inspector Geoff Barrett. I'm running this investigation. Sorry I didn't get hold of you earlier to make introductions. '

Jen shook his hand, relieved to see a smiling face. ' No problems. I like my audience to be a surprise. '

He laughed. ' And I bet they fulfilled every expectation. Look, I just wanted to say thanks for the time you've put into this. Are you okay with continuing with the case? '

Jen shrugged. ' Sure, as long as I have some time for my own work. '

He nodded. ' We'll make sure we're not too demanding. ' He glanced at Alex, whom he knew was still seething from Blakely's remarks. ' As a thank you for this morning though, I think the Doc here should take you out for lunch, on us. '

Alex frowned at him. ' Geoff, we have a new angle, I need -'

' - to get out of here and cool your heels before you rip ol' P.C. Plod's head off. ' He finished, raising an eyebrow. ' Go on, Alex, take a couple of hours. ' A lop-sided grin, ' this place will still be here when you get back. '

She opened her mouth to protest, saw the look on his face, and let her shoulder's sag.

' Okay, alright, I'll force myself, ' she grinned, then looked at Jen. ' Any preferences? '

The blond shrugged. ' Don't mind - I'll eat anything, ' she smiled, ' within reason. '


' I hope you warned them to widen the doors, ' Jen sighed, patting her belly, ' I don't think I've ever felt so full. '

Alex regarded the piles of empty plates and dishes on their table. ' No...where the hell do you put all that? ' At Jen's raised eyebrow, she chuckled. ' I'm sorry, it's just I've never seen anyone so slender pack away so much food. '

Jen nodded, smiling. ' A gift. Either that or hollow legs. ' She reached for the large cup of latte, sipped it slowly. When she lowered the cup there was a dusting of froth decorating her top lip. Alex had the strange compulsion to reach across the table and wipe it away. Instead she pointed to her own top lip. Jen got the hint, poked her tongue out, and quickly licked the froth away. The blue gaze remained riveted on her, and she found herself growing warm beneath it.

' Um....so, ' she cleared her throat, ' what happens now? '

Alex pushed her hair back behind her ears. ' All you need do is exactly what you were already doing. You can work where you want - at home, at your office on campus. If you prefer, I'll have a desk set up for you at HQ. In fact, why don't we do that anyway? I can have a decent machine brought in for you; that'll give you access to databases around the world, as well as some access to our own database. ' She looked at Jen, and when the younger woman nodded, she smiled. ' Great. Now, I think the first thing you need to do is take this to your supervisor. '

Jen chewed her lip. ' I can't see that this will go down too well. '

Alex's lips twitched. ' Don't worry; I've already mailed Professor Conlon. He knows how important this investigation is, Jen. I'm sure that as long as you feel confident in meeting your thesis deadline there won't be a problem. '

Jen sat back and studied the woman seated opposite her. The chiselled face was a study in nonchalance, but those startling blue eyes blazed with confidence. Idly, she wondered what it would be like to see them flash with anger, or burn with passion...

Whoa, she mentally slapped herself, where did that come from?

Despite the need to get back to the case, Alex would have been happy to spend the rest of the afternoon sitting in the small bistro chatting with the other woman. But, she had work to do, so she shrugged off the settled feeling and glanced at her watch.

' Okay...time to make a move, I think. ' She smiled apologetically, then glanced out at the dirty slush which lined the street. ' I'll give you a ride back home if you like, unless you'd prefer me to drop you on campus. '

Jen sighed. ' Ohhh...I should go see the Prof. But I can walk, Alex-'

' No, I'll drive you. ' she signalled the waitress for the bill, ' I need to drop by my department anyway and arrange for someone to take over my lectures for a while. '


On the drive down Oxford Road Alex arranged to meet up with Jen in the coffee bar they had visited previously once both had completed their business, stating that there was no way she was going to let the young woman struggle home on public transport with the heavy books she had toted in that morning. One glance at the pedestrians struggling though the melting snow, and the threatening grey-white clouds above, and Jen was more than happy to comply.

It was almost two hours later that they finally drove off campus. Despite it being only four thirty, the traffic was already heavy. Snow flakes were beginning to drift from the heavy sky, and it would seem that many city-center workers had decided to make an early start on the journey home. Not that Alex could blame them - she knew the conditions could add at least an hour onto her own journey time, sometimes more. She glanced at Jen, burrowed into the seat beside her in a thick forest-green duffel coat, and turned up the heat a little.

' Better? ' She asked after a few minutes. Jen smiled.

' Thanks. The heat was out in the department - most people had gone home. '

' You saw Professor Conlon? '

She nodded. ' Just caught him. He doesn't have a problem with my working with you. In fact he even offered some flexibility with the deadline, ' she eyed the profile of the woman next to her, ' did that have something to do with your e-mail? '

Alex's eyebrow twitched. ' I doubt it. I just explained how your contribution has been invaluable, and that the GMP will be happy to make it clear that your department has been instrumental in catching this man. '

Jen felt cold fingers dance down her spine. ' You haven't got him yet, Alex. '

' No..' she looked right, then turned into the busy Deansgate traffic, ' ...but we will, Jen.'

The quiet conviction was all the reassurance Jen needed. She settled back, feeling cocooned in the warmth of the car and the light scent of Alex's perfume, and watched the lights of Manchester go by as the Discovery made the slow journey home.

Back at Jen's small flat in Prestwich, Alex found herself press-ganged into staying for a coffee.

' Might as well let the traffic die off, ' Jen reasoned.

' Okay, ' Alex conceded, ' but I can't stay long - my dog is stuck in the house alone. '

Jen put the kettle on, then began scooping coffee into her cafetiere. ' You have a dog? '

' Yes. Well, some people think he's more like a donkey. ' She laughed at the blonde's puzzled expression. ' He's an Irish wolf hound. Pretty big. '

' Ahhh, ' she nodded, pulling two mugs out of the cupboard. Alex let her gaze wander around the tiny kitchen. Jen suddenly felt self-conscious about the state of disrepair the small flat was in.

' Um...it's no palace, I know, ' she said, ' but...well, I guess you know all about surviving on a studentship. '

Jen had actually been more than comfortable during her studies, thanks to an inheritance from her father and, later, a generous settlement from the Navy, but she nodded. Jen poured boiling water on the grounds, then loaded cups, cream, sugar and the coffee pot onto a tray.

' C'mon, let's do this in the lounge, ' she said, heading out, ' there's heat in there. '

After a few false starts she got the old gas fire working, and they sat in the sagging, mis-matched arm chairs sipping the hot coffee.

' What's your dog called? ' Jen asked after a minute or two of silence.

Alex looked over at her. ' Gaeled. '

' After the Welsh legend? '

Her eyebrows shot up. ' Yeah...wow, that's the first time anyone made the connection. '

Jen smiled slightly. ' My Mom's Welsh - from Blainnau. It's not far from there to Bethgeled. '

' Yeah? ' Alex sipped her coffee, ' You know, I've never even been to the place, and I name my dog after a local hero. '

' You've never been to Bethgeled? '

Alex shook her head. ' I've never been to Wales. '

Jen gaped at her. ' Oh no, ' she shook her head, ' you have to rectify that. You owe it to your dog. Not to mention the Welsh Tourist Board. '

Alex found herself laughing, settling back into the ancient chair. ' Maybe you're right. I'll see what I can do in summer. '

They chatted easily for half an hour, then Alex eyed the flurry of snowflakes at the darkened window. ' I really should make the move, Jen, or I'll never get home. '

Jen nodded. ' Sure. Thanks for the taxi service today. '

' Least I could do. ' She stood up, and Jen once again marvelled at her height. Even in almost-flat shoes, she must be pushing six feet, she thought to herself. Jen got to her own feet, walked Alex to the door that lead onto the narrow staircase.

' I'll call you tomorrow, ' Alex stated, slipping her arms through the sleeves of the long black overcoat. After fastening it against the elements, she retrieved her briefcase from by the door. She paused before exiting, turning in the narrow space between them. Her face softened, and she laid her free hand on Jen's arm. ' And stay warm, okay? '

Jen smiled. In winter the small flat was cold everywhere except in front of the fire once the bakery downstairs had turned off its ovens. In summer things were the exact opposite; the heat was oppressive, and she often ended up working in the park over the road.

' I'll wrap up, ' she promised. ' Okay? '

Alex smiled, nodded, gave her arm a brief squeeze, and then headed off down the dark staircase and out into the winter night.


Gaeled was cross-legged when she arrived home. In penance she immediately stripped off her work suit and threw on jeans, a thick sweater, and boots, and took the large hound outside into the snow. The skies were at last clearing, leaving an almost full-moon shining down onto the thick snow. It glittered in the cold light, Gaeled's huge paws throwing up cascades of diamonds in his wake. Alex laughed at his antics, her breath pluming out before her. It had been a lousy couple of weeks, with too little sleep and too much stress, but for some reason she felt an enormous sense of well-being, a feeling of being almost...complete. It was as though pieces of her life were suddenly falling into place, although why that should happen now, in her second year with the Greater Manchester force, and in the middle of a major murder investigation, she had no idea. Still, what was it her Great Aunt Katerina always said? Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, Alexia....unless it's parked outside the gates of Troy.

She grinned, despite the biting cold and the snow gradually melting through her jeans and running into her boots, and turned her steps back towards home.


It was Friday afternoon before Jen returned to the station. Alex came down and met her at reception and whisked her off upstairs away from the prying eyes of the desk sergeant.

' Nice place, ' she remarked, eyeing the narrow, dark corridors packed with people. Alex laughed. ' Yeah....I forgot, you came in the back way last time. '

' Ah. Explains everything. ' She nodded sagely.

Alex led her through the maze, eventually throwing open a dark wood door.

' Not much, ' she said quietly, ' but it's home. '

Jen stepped inside, and was surprised to find a spacious office, high ceilinged, with a large window looking onto the back of the docklands. She let her eyes wander around the room, taking in the usual fixtures: a desk, piled with papers, a computer sitting on it's own table by the desk, an assortment of filing cabinets and shelves stacked with more papers, journals and books. In one corner, to the right of the door, was another desk, this one minus any paperwork, a chair, and a new-ish looking PC.

' That's yours, ' Alex nodded towards the desk. ' Office space is pretty tight around here, so I hope you don't mind sharing. '

Jen shook her head absently as she approached the desk. ' No...no, I didn't think you'd want any disturbances though. '

Alex shrugged. ' As long as you don't have any really annoying personal habits or anything. ' She quipped.

Jen turned her head and flashed her a grin. ' Not many. Apart from singing in the shower.'

Alex's eyes widened slightly, and Jen felt a blush start to creep up her throat. Oh God, why did I say that....

' I'll make sure it's empty before you use it then, ' the taller woman returned, her gaze trapping Jen like a fly in amber. When the discomfort began to show on her face, Alex chuckled. ' We have a shower on each floor. It's just down the hall. '

Jen gave a relieved laugh, then turned back to her desk and dumped her heavy satchel bag on it. ' Well, ' she said, pulling the chair out, ' I suppose I'd better make a start. '

They worked in companionable silence for a few hours, the only disturbance coming from the odd phone call. Alex found herself, on more than one occasion, letting her gaze wander across the office to the woman seated in the corner. She was poring through books, her head bent in concentration; occasionally her lips would move without sound, as though she were having a conversation with herself. In the harsh fluorescent office lighting her hair glinted with red-gold highlights, stray locks whispering against her cheek and throat before being pushed back behind her ear. Alex didn't want to admit to herself that she was becoming more and more drawn to the young woman, but she knew this was the case. She lectured herself on the futility of it - Jen was younger, admittedly only by three years, but enough to make a difference; she was also straight, having mentioned her recent break-up with a long-term boyfriend. Besides, Alex's experiences with other women had, in the past, proved to be painful mistakes. She had known she was bisexual since she was fourteen; her first sexual encounter had been with a woman. Since then she had shared a bed with numerous lovers, of both sexes, but had only had three what she would term serious relationships, two with women, and the most recent, which she had ended when she left the Navy, with John.

No, the young woman sitting across the office was absolutely off-limits. All she had to do now was convince herself of that.

'Alex? '

She blinked, realised that she had been caught staring. ' Yes? '

Jen leaned back in her chair a little. ' My landlord is coming round tomorrow to do some repair work. I'll have to make myself scarce for a while, so I was wondering...would you like to have lunch? ' She smiled a little, ' My treat this time. '

' I can't I'm afraid, ' Alex responded, ' I have some people coming up to the house. ' She hesitated, wanting to ask her but knowing she shouldn't. In the end, the brief look of disappointment which flitted across Jen's face swung the balance. ' But you're welcome to come, if you like. '

' Oh...no, I don't want to get in the way. '

She smiled. ' You wouldn't be in the way. Actually, it's just my brother and some friends. We were planning a long walk and then an afternoon of slobbing in front of the box with a few videos. '

' Videos? ' She raised an eyebrow.

' Um...yeah. Actually, it's our annual Star Wars day. ' She laughed at the grin that broke out on Jen's face. ' I know, I know, so we're a bunch of anoraks. I'm sure you'll have much more fun watching your boiler getting an overhaul-'

' I love Star Wars. ' Jen admitted.

' Great - so you'll come? '

She nodded. ' Sure. I'd love to. '

' Okay, well....' she grabbed a pen and began scribbling on an A4 pad. ' ...I'll give you directions to the house. Be careful on the roads though; the gritters and ploughs can't get past Belmont, so it's still pretty bad. ' She ripped the topmost piece of paper off, folded it once, then got up and crossed the distance between the two desks. ' We normally head out around ten. If you want to skip the walk, come for about one. '

Jen took the paper. ' Thanks. Should I bring anything for lunch? '

' No. Traditionally the guys bring the food, but I should warn you, it usually involves eating your own weight in junk. ' Her lips twitched. ' As I recall, last year it took me three months before I could look a bag of Tortilla chips in the face again without feeling queasy. '

' Sounds like my kind of lunch. ' She slid the paper into her pocket, then tapped the open text-book in front of her. ' I'm making a little progress with another of those symbols, by the way. '

Alex arched a dark eyebrow. ' Really? '

' Yeah. But I'd like to check something out with a guy I know at the museum in Athens which houses the original scrolls. ' She frowned slightly. ' Is it okay to do that? '

' I don't see why not. Provided you don't mention the specifics of why. ' She glanced at her watch. ' Although it's six p.m. there now - he'll probably have left for home. '

Jen shook her head. ' I have his home e-mail address - I can scan the glyph in and hopefully have a reply by tomorrow. '

' Okay....tell you what, send him my e-mail addy too, that way if he's not replied by the morning we can check later in the day. '

She nodded. ' Good idea. ' Then she looked at her own PC set up, and at Alex's. ' Um..do we have a scanner here? '

' Yeah, ' Alex nodded, ' it's downstairs. Come on, I'll show you. '


The next morning dawned bright and cold. Jen was up at seven thirty, had a quick breakfast, then showered in luke-warm water. She dressed in jeans and a heavy white cotton shirt, and donned an arun sweater over the top. Thick socks and her hiking boots completed the ensemble, along with a deep blue fleece she had splurged on at the beginning of winter. She checked her mail before leaving, but nothing had come back from George, so she stuffed her text books and the papers into her bag, grabbed her gloves and an apple for the road, and left the flat.

The roads were pleasantly quiet, and by nine she was turning off Blackburn road onto Belmont road, climbing steadily towards the West Pennine Moors. She had seen the imposing bulk of Winter Hill from the motorway, and had noted that it was still capped by a blanket of white, despite the fact that the snow in Manchester and Bolton had all melted. As the car turned a bend in the road there were abruptly no more houses, and the landscape opened up in a vista of moorland on one side, forested hillside on the other. She followed the road to the Black Dog pub, where Alex's instructions said she was to turn left. She did so, found the car climbing again immediately. Past a small church and a pond on the left, then out into open moorland, she steered the car carefully along the narrow, winding road, slowing down into second gear to avoid skidding on the hard-packed snow. The Winter Hill transmitter was to her left now, and as the car navigated the bends she caught a glimpse of the Pike, the mound that sat on one end of the hill, topped by a small stone structure. It was beautiful but bleak, and she had the sense of being at the top of the world. When she rounded another bend the road began to drop down again, passing through fields in which hardy hill sheep, wearing their dirty winter coats, huddled by the byres of hay.

Two more sharp right turns and the road passed alongside the stone wall which bordered a huge reservoir. The landscape here was made a little gentler by the presence of tall pine trees. Sunlight glinted on the water, shone through the bare branches of the hawthorn hedges and slumbering giants of horse chestnut and oak. She passed by the sign for the country park turn-off, took the next left, and saw the house in the distance, a low, stone-built cottage, huddled almost on top of the narrow road. Wood smoke curled up from the chimney, rising into the cloudless blue sky. She slowed the car to a crawl and turned into the driveway on the immediate right of the house. Ahead was a double garage, and parked outside it were a black BMW Z3, a red MX5, and a beat-up old Renault. Jen pulled in behind the Renault, feeling a little better about leaving her car next to that as opposed to its flashy neighbours.. She grabbed her bags from the passenger seat, and stepped from the car, the cold air biting into her face immediately.

The cottage was double fronted with sash windows nestling beneath the slate roof. She walked the short distance to the front door, taking an appreciative look at the expanse of front garden and the view of the reservoir and hillside nearby. As she approached the house the door swung open, and the sound of laughter and loud music filtered out. A man stepped outside, lighting up a cigarette. He spotted her at the same time as a huge blur of grey fur shot out from behind him, barking as it cannoned towards her.

' Hey, Gaeled! ' he yelled, starting after the dog. Jen froze, waiting to be mauled to death, but a sudden bark of ' Halt!' stopped the dog in his tracks. She looked up and met the bright blue eyes of Alex as she came out to greet her, grabbing the collar of the beast on the way.

' Sorry 'bout that, ' she breathed, smiling apologetically, ' he's a little over-enthusiastic with guests. '

Jen held out her hand for the dog to sniff, then scratched between his ears. His long tail began to beat back and forth.

' Okay now fella? ' Jen said, tickling behind one ear.

' Well, ' Alex drawled, ' you're a hit. '

' Nice catch, sis. ' the man had drawn level with them and was looking from one to the other expectantly. Alex rolled her eyes.

' Jen, this is my brother Nikos. Nik, Jen Gordon. '

' Hi there. ' He grinned at her, and held out his hand, which she shook. He was perhaps an inch or two taller than Alex and had the same almost-black hair, which was short but not severely so. Familiar eyes twinkled at her, just a shade or two darker than his sister's, and he had the same smooth olive skin and strong features.

Nice, Jen thought absently.

' C'mon, ' Alex began hauling the dog back towards the house, ' I'd better introduce you to the remainder of the fantastic four. '

She followed them into the house, and Alex took her bags from her and dumped them on a chair in the hallway. Loud music was playing - REM -and there was more laughter coming from the lounge. As Alex led her through she had a quick look around; terracotta painted walls met a white-washed, dark-beamed ceiling. The floor was stripped pine boards, softened in places by throw rugs. In front of a large stone fireplace, where a wood fire burned cheerfully, two long, comfy looking leather sofa's faced each other. An ancient looking grandfather clock stood in once corner, whilst the other boasted a blonde-wood unit which housed a hi-fi system, a TV and VCR, and several stacks of books. In all, the room was warm and inviting looking, but lacked the usual clutter of ornaments and bric-a-brac. In fact, the only ornamentation Jen could see at first glance was a two-foot high portly bronze Buddah, smiling jovially from his place on the large stone hearth beside the fire.

The room was occupied by three men, standing in a group and talking animatedly. They were all of roughly equal height, but the similarities stopped there. One, sandy-haired and almost chubby, dressed in dark jeans and a cable-knit sweater, looked as thought he would have been at home wearing slippers and clutching a pipe. The next had black hair, slightly receding, and chiselled, classic features. Warm brown eyes crinkled at the corners when he laughed at something someone said. He was less bulky than the first, but his body showed signs of muscle and tone beneath the dark blue jeans and expensive looking polo shirt. The third was slightly taller than the others, his body slender and lithe. He slouched casually, his thumbs hooked through the belt loops of his faded denims. A denim shirt and scuffed brown boots gave the impression of a modern-day cowboy, and Jen could almost see him pushing a Stetson back from his fine, light-brown hair and wiping his face on a red bandanna.

' Hey, guys!' Alex had to shout to be heard above the din, ' Turn it down!'

The taller one ambled across to the stereo, and the noise level dropped considerably. They all turned to look at her, and she laid a hand on Jen's arm.

' This is Jen Gordon, a colleague of mine. '

The introductions were made, and Jen quickly memorised all the names. Martin, the pipe-and-slippers guy, was Nikos' partner in a law firm they had recently set up together. David, the looker, was also a solicitor, working over in Yorkshire, where he lived. The third, Richie, was a software manager in a Preston firm. The men had all met when at university, and the friendship had lasted now for almost ten years. They were all personable, and very, very funny. The jibes and jokes flew constantly, and Jen laughed so much she began regretting her breakfast of earlier, so sore was her stomach becoming.

They walked through the nearby woods, along the side of the hill that sloped down to the reservoir; Gaeled loped ahead of them, occasionally chasing the odd leaf that fluttered against the snow, which was thinner on the ground beneath the trees.

After ten minutes or so Alex dropped back a little and fell into step beside the younger blond.

' Having fun yet? ' She drawled, her eyebrows quirking up.

Jen laughed. ' Yeah, actually, I am. Who'd've thought this would be better than watching a boiler getting repaired? '

Alex chuckled softly. ' Wait until they get the damned films on...you might be changing your mind. '

' Nah-' they veered off the path on to the slope to avoid a frozen muddy patch, Alex taking the higher ground ' - I love Star Wars, ' Jen continued, ' I really do. And your brother and his friends are great fun. '

Alex glanced up the trail at the backs of the guys. ' Hm. In years gone by, we would play a drinking game we made up - the Star Wars Drinking Game - and all crash on the floor of whoever's house we were invading.' She smiled a little to herself, ' It wasn't pretty sometimes. Especially the morning after. '

Jen started to laugh, but suddenly her foot slid from beneath her and she felt herself begin to tumble towards the steep drop. Something snagged her arm, and she found herself instead falling the other way, against the slope, her fall broken by another body. For a moment she just breathed, willing her racing heart to slow down, then she turned her head a little and looked into the bright blue eyes of Alex, whose chest she was held against. Both women were on the floor, Alex lying back against the slope with Jen wrapped in her arms, her legs tangled with the shorter ones of the younger woman.

' Wow, ' Jen eventually gasped, ' thanks!'

The guys had rushed back when they heard the scuffle, and strong arms were reaching down to help Jen up. As the taller woman released her, she felt a strange sense of loss, but shook it off, smiling up at Nikos who pulled her to her feet.

' Okay? ' He asked, raising an eyebrow.

She nodded, was aware of Richie holding a hand out to Alex, who allowed herself to be helped up also.

' Nice catch, ' He murmured to her. She gave him her best admonishing look, then dusted snow and crushed leaves from the back of her jeans. Richie was the only one, apart from her brother Nikos, who was aware of her career path in the Navy.

' Thanks, ' she said softly. She looked at Jen. ' Nothing broken? '

' Nah, ' she grinned, ' just a severely dented ego. Thank you. '

Nikos caught the look that passed between the two women, and suppressed a smirk.

' C'm'on, slackers, ' he said, ' let's keep moving before that hound finds some poor family to terrorise. '

They walked a couple of miles, then turned to head back to the house, arriving back a little after one. Jen and Alex were banished to the lounge whilst the men hit the kitchen to prepare lunch, and the two women sank into the settees, Jen stretching out her sock-clad feet towards the fire.

' That felt good, ' she sighed, leaning her head back into the leather. ' I haven't done much exercise since summer. '

Alex nodded, pulling her feet up to sit cross-legged on the settee. ' Walking in this terrain makes you feel like you've done double the distance. '

Jen glanced at her from beneath her fringe. Something told her the taller woman could have kept walking until she reached the sea. Alex caught the look, and pushed long hair back behind her ears.

' So...what do you plan on doing once you get your PhD?'

Jen shrugged. ' Find work. I'll probably end up lecturing. '

' Ever considered museum work? '

She scratched at a frayed patch on he knee. ' Yeah....it's just so scarce. ' She smiled slightly to herself. ' My secret passion is archaeology. If I had the money I'd spend my time scouring Greece for the legendary Xena Scrolls. '

Alex frowned. ' Xena Scrolls? '

' Um...yeah. ' Jen leaned forwards, resting her forearms on her legs. ' They've been referred to in other texts I've come across. Very little is known about them, except that they were written by a bard who travelled Greece with a warrior. It's supposed that they tell of the adventures the two encountered, although no-one really knows for sure if they even exist, or ever did. '

' So is Xena the bard? '

' No. ' Jen laughed. ' Xena was the warrior. I'm pretty sure she was real - there are other references to her in several ancient texts, although most of them tell of her as being a war lord. At some point she ruled half of Greece. People were terrified of her. '

' Wow!' Alex's eyebrows shot up. ' Sounds like a nasty piece of work. '

Jen's forehead puckered into a frown. ' Yeah...although some later texts refer to her as a great defender of the people. She travelled the country fighting cruelty and injustice. Some even cite her as being a skilled healer. '

' A woman of many talents. '

She laughed softly. ' I guess so. But unless those scrolls turn up, we'll never really know.'

Alex stared into the fire. ' What about the bard? Seems a little odd, a warrior dragging a bard around with her. '

' Yeah....some of the later scrolls refer to her travelling companion as 'her beloved', so perhaps that explains it. '

Smells of cooking began to drift in from the kitchen; Alex turned her head and stared at the door.

' Oh God....don't tell me they finally figured out how to use a cooker. '

Jen sniffed, a smile creeping across her features. ' Yeah....and it smells great!'


After a surprisingly delicious lunch of fajitas with spicy chicken and chargrilled vegetables, Alex checked her e-mail before the first video went on. She saw that she had post from an unfamiliar address, and waved Jen over.

' That your guy? ' she asked, pointing to the screen.

Jen nodded, and Alex clicked open the message. It read:


Great to finally hear from you. I'm in Athens, remember, not dead! Anyway, love, I have scanned those glyphs you mailed me into out database and am running them for matches against the thousands we have on file. You were right about the spiral - it is the Helica from the SOCD, Vol I. Where the hell did you find this?

I have no matches as yet, but I'm sure some of them look familiar to me. I'll get back to you as soon as something comes up, but don't hold your breath; we're experiencing a lot of power-outs in Athens at the moment. That, coupled with our pre-historic equipment, and you could be in for a long wait.

Call me, okay?


Jen sighed as Alex closed down the screen. She folded her arms across her chest, chewing on her bottom lip.

' Hey, ' Alex laid a hand on her arm. ' Come on, he's doing all he can. '

Green eyes met startling blue. ' I know, Alex, it's just so...frustrating. '

Alex's lips twitched. ' Welcome to the wonderful world of police work. '

Jen grunted, then sudden burst of music made them both turn and look towards the group lounging in front of the fire. As the familiar notes of the Star Wars theme music blared from the TV speakers, Nikos turned and grinned at the two women.

' Come on! ' he grinned. ' Don't want to miss the beginning. '

Alex rolled her eyes, but the two crossed the room to the only space left, one half of one of the sofas, and collapsed into it beside one another, their attention drawn to the rolling words on the screen.


They made it through Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back before Richie and Martin began complaining of imminent starvation.

' Let's head into town and get some dinner. ' Nikos suggested. He looked at the blonde researcher. ' Jen, you'll come, won't you? '

She glanced at Alex. ' Um...sure. '

' Right. ' He unfolded himself from the rug in front of the fire and stood up, looking at Richie and David. ' If you guys don't have to be back home tonight for anything, why not crash at mine? That way we can have a few drinks - make a night of it? '

Rich, seated on the floor in front of Alex, one shoulder propped against her knee, stretched his arms out above his head, his back arching away from the tall woman's legs. ' Sounds like a plan, Nik. '

David nodded his assent. ' Sure. Alex, mind if I use your phone to call Sue and tell her?'

She nodded, and he slid from his seat and headed into the kitchen. Martin grinned at Nikos and ground his thumb into his hand, but the darker man shook his head.

' It's lurve, Rem, plain and straight. '

Jen quirked her eyebrows. ' Rem? '

Martin shrugged. ' Yeah...as in Remy Martin, the brandy? '

' Ahh, ' she nodded.

Alex unfolded her legs from beneath herself. ' Jen, you're welcome to stay here tonight if you want to have a drink. '

The blond hesitated, but she wasn't relishing the drive home alone, and besides, being the only one drinking soda in a group having a good time wasn't exactly her favourite past time.

' You sure? ' She asked.

Alex nodded. ' Positive. Besides, it means we can get a little work done tomorrow before you shoot off. '

' Well, in that case...'

The tall woman got to her feet. ' Come on, I'll show you the guest room. '

As the two women left the lounge, Richie grinned at Nikos.

' Where does your sister manage to find all these great women? I gotta admit, she has excellent taste.'

Nikos shook his head. ' I think they're just friends, Rich. '

' Yeah? ' he perked up a little. ' Maybe there's still hope for me yet...'

Nikos laughed. He knew how his friend felt about his sister, had known for a very long time. ' Forget it, mate, ' he said, shaking his head, ' you couldn't cope with Alex and you know it. And besides...I think there's something starting to happen between her and Jen. '

Martin nodded. ' Yup. Definite chemistry. '

Richie sighed dramatically, then turned his mind to his other passion in life. ' So, guys, ' he looked from one to the other, ' where are we eating then? '


They drove into Bolton in two cars, Richie riding shotgun with Nikos in his Z3, and the rest of them piling into Martin's old Renault, their reasoning being that the two cars could be left in the law firm's garage overnight. It was just after seven when they arrived in town, and they had no problem getting a table in a Tapas bar. Dinner was lively, and Jen found herself completely relaxed in the company she was with. They ordered lots of the small Spanish dishes, sampling almost everything on the menu, and washed it down with jugs of strong imported beer. When they headed out into the cold night air again, Jen found herself stumbling on the uneven pavement. Alex took her arm, leaning in to murmur ' easy, tiger. ' Her breath was warm against he skin, and she was pleased when the taller woman crooked her arm out to let her thread hers through it.

' Why aren't you drunk? ' she found herself wondering aloud. ' You drank more than me.'

Alex shrugged. ' High tolerance to alcohol. '

' Oh. ' She nodded, then squinted down the street at the array of pubs and bars. ' Where are we going? '

Nikos turned and grinned at her. ' Somewhere they still serve real beer. '


Alex sank down on the sofa, letting out a long sigh. It had been a long day, but she felt relaxed and cheered by the time spent with Nikos and his friends. Truth be told, they had long since ceased to be just his friends, and she sometimes wondered why, having no trouble relating to the trio of men, she no longer managed to forge friendships as strong with other people. Perhaps it was the buffering influence of her brother; she knew she could come across as being aloof sometimes, even formidable. Still, with her background it was perhaps a blessing that she didn't let people get too close....

A noise from the doorway pulled her from her thoughts. Jen was coming in from the hall, wearing the long T-shirt Alex had loaned her as a nightie. She was scrubbed of make-up and her hair was loose, falling about her face and shoulders in a cloud of red-blond. The shirt covered her to mid-thigh, revealing strong, well-toned legs. She smiled at Alex.

' Hey, ' she said softly, ' just thought I'd check whether George sent anything through before falling into that big soft bed. '

Alex pulled herself up from the sofa, nodding towards the PC sitting on its own table by the window.

' Let's have a look. '

She sat down in the leather office chair and booted up the machine. After a minute she was logging into her e-mail account and, sure enough, there was another message from the Greek museum. She clicked it open, felt Jen lean in to her right, her chin resting on Alex's shoulder. She smelled of lavender soap and a faint trace of a light perfume she didn't recognise. Her hair brushed against Alex's face, and she was distracted for a moment until the message screen opened up and her attention was snatched to it. The two women stared at the words before them; Alex heard Jen's breath catch in her throat.

' Oh my God...' the blond whispered hoarsely.

The message was brief, but the words conveyed enough. It read:


Holy shit, girl, what have you got yourself mixed up in? We pulled four matches from those glyphs, and they are as follows:

Fig 1: Seal of Cerberus - signifying death by dismemberment and devouring.

Fig 2: Symbol for the High Altar of Zeus - sacrifice, victim killed by beheading

Fig 3: Ares' Sword - flaming sword of war, depicted on banner of Destroyer of Nations.

Denotes power, destruction, death by fire.

Fig 4: Key of Hades - transmigration of the soul. Ceremonial sacrifice, removal of the


Have attached a file with the original glyphs and explanations. Each is from a different SOCD. Hope this is what you were looking for ( although I really hope not, if you know what I mean ). Take care of yourself, Jen.


Alex downloaded the file attached, then opened it. They two women stared at the ancient symbols depicted therein. Suddenly Alex was on her feet, began pacing the floor, her hand running through her hair.

' Shit, shit, shit....'

Jen gripped the back of the chair, facing the agitated psychologist.

' What? What's wrong? '

' We were wrong....oh, Jesus Christ.... you clever bastard..'

' Alex, what?!'

The tall woman stopped pacing, turned to look at the confused research student.

' Jen, the first victim - Sara Gates - he gave her to us. '

The younger woman frowned. ' I don't follow..... '

' She's the key - he wants us to know what he's doing. ' She locked her gaze with Jen's. ' What he's done. She wasn't the first, Jen. She was the last. '

' But...' Jen's eyes widened, ' Oh my God.....no, wait, ' she shook her head, ' he can't have completed the cycle - there are two scrolls still missing, Alex. '

' I think he has them.' She strode back to the computer, began logging into the GMP network. ' The glyph you recognised - the Helica - what does that symbolise? '

Jen blinked, willing her alcohol-fogged synapses to get to work. ' It's...it's the symbol for darkness. Darkness and pain. '

Alex nodded, her gaze fixed on the screen. ' So he carves her up and bludgeons her to death - that dark and painful enough? '

Jen wrapped her arms about herself reflexively. ' How can we be sure? '

Alex looked at her, her blue eyes icy. ' I'm sure. He wants to take us on. He's ready to test his power over us. '

' Alex...you don't believe all this stuff about attaining control over the underworld, do you? '

' No. But he does. And that's enough to make anyone dangerous. ' She turned back to the computer, bending over the keyboard to begin typing in commands. Jen watched in fascination, seeing the energy fairly sparking off the dark woman. Her eyes were like chips of blue ice, her face set in grim determination. Long fingers flew over the keys then she punched 'enter' and stood upright again, her hands clenching and unclenching at her sides. ' Come on, come on, ' she muttered under her breath. After a minute or so the screen began listing information and Alex bent lower to peer at it.

' What are we looking at? ' Jen asked, squinting at the list.

' Unsolved murder cases for the last eight months...' her eyes narrowed, then she slammed her hand down on the table, making the younger woman jump. ' Yes!' she hissed. ' Look at that - September, man found in Edinburgh, burned to death on wasteground. November, Birmingham, a woman found beheaded in her own home....July, man's remains found in the tiger house at London Zoo - not known whether suicide or murder...' she looked sideways at Jen. ' what's left? '

' Ritual sacrifice. '

She scrutinised the screen again, scrolling down slowly. Then she stopped, and pointed to a line of text. ' There: woman's body found on the altar of a ruined church in Liverpool. Her heart had been cut out, was never found. '

Jen closed her eyes briefly at the thought, then released a long breath. ' How do we find the other two, Alex? We don't have the scrolls - there's no way of knowing. '

' If we find him, we find the scrolls. ' Alex straightened up again, then glanced at her watch. ' I should call Geoff - we need to set up liaisons with forces country wide on this. He could turn up anywhere. '

' Looks like he's sticking to the cities. '

Alex nodded. ' My guess is he'll stay with them too. But he left the primer here....there's a reason for that. Everything he's done so far has a reason behind it. Even his choice of the cities of his victims - I don't think it's random. He has an agenda. '

' Aside from taking over the world? '

Alex's face softened at the remark. ' All part of the plan. '

Jen smiled a little, then her eyes widened. ' Wait a sec....the sword of Ares! Oh my God - the banner, the Destroyer of Nations! '

Alex frowned. ' What about it? '

' That was what she was known as - Xena, when she was a warlord. They called her the Destroyer of Nations! ' She said excitedly, ' There could be a link! '

' It's possible, ' Alex nodded, ' can you get more information on her, the texts she's mentioned in? '

' Yes - I have all the known translations at home. ' She grinned. ' I'll get onto it tomorrow. '

Alex looked at her for a long moment, then reached out and laid a hand on her shoulder. Jen felt the warmth of her flesh through the thin cotton of her shirt. ' Jen...when we catch this bastard I'm going to make sure that everyone knows it was you who brought us to him. '

The younger woman blushed slightly. ' You would have found someone else who could have done this, Alex. I was just there. '

' No, ' those blue eyes burned into her, ' I don't think there's anyone else who could have done this. '

For a long moment there was silence, only the ticking of the clock in the corner marking the time they remained standing there, gazes locked. Jen felt her heart rate increase, suddenly very aware of the powerful presence of the other woman.

' I'm glad we met, ' she said eventually, her voice soft and low.

Alex gently squeezed her shoulder. ' So am I. ' She responded, her own voice husky with rapidly spiralling desire. She let her hand linger a moment longer, then withdrew, shaking herself mentally. Get over it, Alex, she scolded herself, knowing that she wouldn't. She began turning away, but felt a small hand grasp her own, cool fingers sliding in-between hers.

' Alex? '

She turned back to her. ' Yes? '

' When this...when it's over, I'd like....I'd like to get to know you some more. I'd like us to be friends. '

The tall woman looked at her for a moment, then a slow smile lit up her features. She really is dazzlingly beautiful, Jen thought to herself.

' I'd like that too, ' she replied softly.

Later that night, lying in the strange bed, Jen found herself unable to think of anything but the tall, charismatic woman. She'd never been attracted to women before, but something about Alex Perry pulled her in like a moth to a flame. Sure, she was stunningly attractive, and she positively radiated self-confidence and sensuality, but there was something deeper, something on a level that Jen had never felt before, that was telling her that this enigmatic woman should be a part of her life. It was almost as though they had known each other before, that she was familiar to Jen in some way she couldn't put her finger on. Falling into her arms earlier in the day had been like...coming home, finding something she hadn't known was missing until that moment.

She sighed, trying to push the insane thoughts away. Crazy, she admonished herself, you've finally flipped, Jen. And besides, what would a woman like that want with someone like you?

On that uneasy thought, she slipped into sleep.


Monday morning found them once again seated in the conference room at the Manchester HQ. This time however no-one was making crass comments, and after Alex had finished speaking there was a brief, stunned silence, then the whole room began to talk at once. As they argued and planned amongst themselves, Alex threw a brief, warm glance at Jen, then launched herself into the fray.

Jen stayed to snatch a quick lunch with Alex, then made her way back through town to the University. Paul and Claire were in the office when she arrived, and they practically shoved her towards her desk.

' It came this morning, ' Claire babbled excitedly, ' we were dying for you to get here and open it. '

She frowned, shrugging out of her heavy coat. On her desk was a long cardboard tube, addressed to her in flowing copperplate. It was postmarked from Greece.

' Is it a scroll? ' Paul asked. She shrugged, pulling off her gloves as she regarded the item.

' I have no idea. I wasn't expecting anything. ' She briefly thought of George, but she had only mailed him on Friday, and there was no way he could have had anything posted to her that quickly.

' Come on, open it! ' Claire grinned.

She carefully untaped one end, then prised off the plastic cap. Peering inside she could see transparent perspex and something dark inside that. Carefully she tipped the tube, sliding out the perspex cylinder within. Inside it were two leather cases - scroll cases. She unscrewed the top off one end, and tipped out the uppermost case. It was modern and plain, with a simple leather tie. With shaking fingers she undid the knot and rolled back the flap, then gently pulled out the parchments from within. They were yellow with age and a little torn at the edges, but didn't feel as though they would crumble in her hands, so she slowly placed them down on the flat desk and began to unroll them. She scanned the Greek letters as they came into view, quickly translating them in her head. As the first few lines sunk in, she sagged into her chair, her breath coming in short, rapid gasps.

' Jen? ' Claire placed a hand on her shoulder, ' you okay? '

She nodded slowly. ' Oh yeah..I'm fine, ' she breathed, her eyes riveted on the text.

Paul frowned. ' What is it?'

She let her finger gently caress the edge of the parchment. ' It's a piece of history, ' she whispered, surprised at the tears pricking her eyes.

Once the shock had worn off, she took the scrolls down to the archive in the basement where they could be kept in controlled conditions. Resisting the urge to stay and begin translating, she went instead to the small office next door and picked up the phone, dialling the now memorised number. After three rings it was answered.

' Alex Perry. '

' Alex, ' she said hurriedly, ' I just got in and there was a parcel here for me. '

A pause, then. ' What is it, Jen? Are you okay? '

' Yes, I'm fine. Alex, you're not going to believe this, but someone has sent me a set of scrolls from Greece. It's the Xena scrolls, Alex. ' She rushed out, her voice rising with excitement, ' someone mailed me the bloody Xena scrolls!'


Thirty minutes later and Jen stood watching the forensics team carefully bagging up all the packaging the scrolls had arrived in. Alex, standing by the younger woman, was taking no chances.

' We really should take the scrolls as well, ' she informed Jen. The blonde looked horrified.

' No! God, they have to be kept in the right conditions - Alex, something that old-'

' It's okay, ' Alex held up her hand, ' let's see what we get from the packaging first. In the meantime, can you get the scrolls authenticated? '

She nodded. ' I've already sent a sample of the parchment off to the lab for carbon dating. Results should be back by tomorrow. '

' Good. ' She smiled softly. ' Dream come true, huh? '

Jen's face split into the most wonderful grin, her eyes sparkling with joy. ' I guess I'll have to revise my wish-list, yeah. '

' So....when are you planning on starting the translations? '

' Just as soon as I get them copied - probably tomorrow, once we know for sure they're the real thing. ' She smiled. ' Although I know they are. '

' How?'

Jen shrugged. ' I just do. As soon as I touched the parchment, I just...knew. ' She grinned again. ' Crazy, huh? '

' Believing in something? ' Alex shook her head. ' No, I don't think it's so crazy. The big question is, who sent them to you. Until we have the answer to that, Jen, I'm having a security detail assigned to you, ' she held up her hand to halt the protests springing to the other woman's lips, ' no arguments, Jen. I'm not prepared to take the risk of something happening to you. '

Blue eyes caught Jen's own, and the concern she saw written there swept away her arguments.

' Okay, Alex, ' she nodded, shivering slightly.


The ageing scientist looked at her over the top of his glasses, and nodded his head.

' It's real, my dear. Approximately two and a half thousand years, both parchment and ink. '

Jen grinned at him, practically snatched the report from his fingers, and rushed for the door of the lab. On an impulse she turned back, ran the few steps between them, and reached up to plant a kiss on his cheek.

' Thank you, ' she whispered, her eyes shining, ' you have no idea...what this means to me. '

Dr. Anton van Bering watched the blond whirlwind depart, then shook his head and smiled. ' Kids. ' he murmured, then, with a sigh, turned back to his bench.

Jen tore down to the basement, rapped her fist against the archiver's door.

' Come', a deep male voice called out. She threw the door open, breathing heavily.

' They ready? ' she panted.

The young-looking coloured man regarded her thoughtfully.

' Y'know, Jen, anyone would think you were excited about this. '

She was practically hopping from foot to foot. ' Adam, please, you're killing me here! '

He frowned slightly. ' Are they real? '

' Yes! ' she thrust the scientific report at him, ' here, see for yourself. '

He took the paper from her, reaching for his glasses from the desk in front of him. ' Hmm...must say, I had my doubts. They're in fantastic condition...'

' Adam!'

He looked at her for a long moment, then a slow smile lit his face. ' Okay, Jenbob, ' he turned back to the desk, picked up a blue cardboard A4 wallet, then handed it to her.

' Go knock yourself out. '

She took the heavy wallet in both hands, cradling reverentially. Adam resisted the urge to laugh at the look on her face.

' Jen, they're only copies, ' he said softly instead.

She glanced up at him. ' Yeah, perhaps. But it's the content I'm interested in. '

He waved his hand towards the door. ' Go on, scram, let me get on with my real work. '

She flashed him a smile, then disappeared out the door.

Her shared office felt too cramped for some reason, Claire and Paul somehow managing to distract her with every movement they made. After just half an hour she packed up the documents and grabbed her coat.

' I'm going to work at home, ' she informed them. ' If anyone asks for me, that's where I'll be. '

She drove home as fast as she dared, conscious of the unmarked car that tailed her. The two male officers inside it had shown up that morning on her doorstep, after a phone call from Alex informing her of the arrangement. Despite her unease at the situation, the thought of what this man was capable of made the inconvenience somehow easier to bear.

Inside the small flat she dumped her coat and gloves in a chair, quickly made herself a cup of tea, then headed for the lounge. After several attempts finally got the old gas fire working, she settled down on the sofa and set an A4 pad and a pen on the arm beside her. She carefully lifted the blue wallet from her satchel, opened it, and withdrew the pile of photocopies from it. Then, leaning back into the cushions, she began to read.

At some point during the afternoon the early winter darkness forced her to get up and switch on the lamp, but she immediately curled back up on the settee, picking up where she had left off. She was unaware of anything other than the stories opening up before her until the harsh ring of the telephone dragged her back across the centuries. With a frustrated sigh she got up and walked the short distance to where it sat on a small vase table by the wall.

' Hello? '

' Jen, it's Alex. '

She smiled a little. ' Oh, hi. You okay? '

' I'm fine. I was calling to ask you the same question. '

' I'm great - better than great, in fact. I made a start on the scrolls today. '

' Yeah? I take it they passed then? '

' With flying colours. Alex, they're amazing! The stories are so vivid, it's almost as if you're right there with them, watching it all happen. '

Alex chuckled to herself, then there was a pause. ' Jen, you okay with the security arrangements? '

She sighed. ' Well, it's a little weird, being followed everywhere, but I guess better safe than sorry, huh? '

' Absolutely. So, you eaten yet? '

' No, it's only...' she glanced at her watch, was stunned to find it was almost seven thirty p.m., ' ...I didn't realise it was so late. '

' I'm on my way out of town - I could call in with a take-away....'

Jen smiled into the receiver. ' Sounds like a plan. Oh, wait, what about Gaeled? Won't he be on his own? '

' Uh...actually I brought him with me today - I knew I was going to be late. So, if you don't mind setting one more place....'

She giggled at the thought of the huge dog sitting at her tiny dining table, a knife and fork clutched in each paw. ' No problem. '

' 'Kay then. Any preferences? '

' Umm....curry? '

' Right - I'll detour through Rusholme. Specifics? '

Jen's stomach rumbled at the thought of food. ' Ah....get me a chicken bhuna with pilau rice and a plain naan with a side of Bombay potatoes and a mushroom bhaji. '

' Okay. I'll see you in...' a pause as she glanced at her watch, ' ...about half an hour. '


Alex and Gaeled seemed to fill up Jen's living room with their presence. The dog was pleased to see his new friend, and spent a good few minutes trying to wash her face before Alex tempted him off into the kitchen with a tin of dog food she had picked up on the return journey. Once he was wolfing his meal happily, she helped Jen move the foil cartons she had brought onto the small kitchen table. Jen brought plates and cutlery from the cupboard, then went back for glasses and a large jug which she filled with water from the tap. At last they were seated, and as they dished up food onto their plates, Alex glanced at her.

' So....after we're finished eating, want to tell me about the stories you've been reading? '

Jen blinked around a mouth full of chicken and naan bread. ' Um...' she swallowed, ' sure, if you're interested. '

Alex smiled. ' Of course I am - it's a piece of my heritage. '

Jen frowned at her for a moment. ' Huh? '

' I'm Greek, ' she said, stabbing mushrooms with her fork. She paused half-way to her mouth. ' Well, half Greek, actually. My Mother is from Athens. '

Jen mentally slapped her forehead. Of course...Nikos, hell, how much more Greek could you get? And Alex.....

' Alex is short for Alexia, yes? '

She nodded. ' Named after my great-grandmother. '

' Wow. ' she swallowed. ' I never realised. '

Alex chewed a mouthful of her mushroom balti, then swallowed. ' Most people don't. '

' So...' Jen tore off another piece of the soft, warm bread, then dunked it into her curry,

' you ever visit? '

' I used to....every year until I was about seventeen. '

' But not now? '

Alex's face stiffened slightly, her eyes dropping. ' No, not now. '

' Hey, ' Jen reached out and placed her hand on Alex's arm. ' I'm sorry...I didn't mean to pry. I'm sorry of I've upset you, Alex.'

Alex felt the warmth of the smaller woman's hand through the silk of her sleeve. She brought her gaze level with Jen's and shook her head, smiling slightly. ' Old wounds, that's all. It's not your fault. ' She shook off the painful memories, nodded at the cartons of food open on the table. ' Come on, let's eat. I want to hear those stories. '

Curled up in a threadbare armchair in front of the hissing gas fire, Alex listened to the younger woman's soft voice spin out stories of a brave warrior woman. Jen's face became animated as she spoke of battles with ancient gods and bloodthirsty warlords set against the backdrop of ancient Greece. When she finished the third tale, a story of Xena's hand in the truce called in the war of Thessaly, Jen paused for a long swallow of her tea.

' The bard, ' Alex said, one hand rubbing her ankle, ' what was her name? '

Jen smiled. ' Gabrielle. '

She nodded, her eyes wandering to the sleeping giant stretched out in front of the fire.

' They were lovers, weren't they? '

' I'm not sure yet. They obviously loved one another. ' Her hands cupped the mug between them, letting the heated ceramic warm her palms. ' I've only read four scrolls so far, ' she smiled at the tall psychologist, ' and you've heard three of them. '

Alex met her smile with one of her own. ' You have a gift, you know. For story telling. '

Jen blushed a little. ' Thanks.'

Silence kept time for a while, then Alex rubbed her eyes with one hand. ' I really should get going. You must be exhausted. '

' Nah - I'll be up all night with the scrolls, ' the younger woman glanced sidelong at the pile of photocopies on the far end of the sofa, before looking at the other woman again.

' Anyway, I have only one more story in my repertoire tonight. Want to hear it? '

And despite the hour, and the fatigue creeping into her body, Alex found herself nodding.


Dawn was colouring the horizon as the two women broke camp. With few words exchanged they were soon back on the road for the bard's home village, daylight gathering strength with each step they took. Within a couple of hours they were cresting a hill that looked out across a large valley, the early morning mists rising from the fields as they gazed down onto the waking village nestled into the cleft between the hills. Woodsmoke from a few dwellings was already drifting into the air, and the warrior felt her companion stiffen slightly at her side.

' Gabrielle, ' she said softly, ' you don't have to do this. '

The bard lifted her chin, met her gaze with a confidence that warmed her heart. ' Yes, I do have to do this, Xena. They are my family, they deserve to know. '

The taller woman reached out to take her hand, long fingers brushing against the cool metal of the ring so recently placed there. ' Together, then, ' she promised, raising the smaller hand to her lips and brushing a kiss across the smooth skin.

Gabrielle let her hand caress the warm flesh of the other woman's face. 'Always. '

The road took them into the village, alive with activity by the time they came in from the path through the fields. Curious looks followed them as they made their way towards a house on the outskirts, and neither one failed to hear the mutterings and whispers that sprung up behind them. The warrior walked with her usual steady nonchalance, leading the pale war horse beside her. The bard made her back straighter, her steps purposeful, her staff gripped in her right hand. At last they were approaching the place she once called home, and as they neared the house the door flew open and a slender woman flew out, her grey-streaked fair hair flying out behind her as she rushed to pull her daughter into a fierce hug.

' Gabrielle! ' she cried, ' You've come home!'

The bard kissed her mother's cheek, waited until she was released to speak.

' Mother....how are you? '

Hecuba wiped a tear from her eye. ' I'm fine, my love, how are you? Let me look at you...' she stepped back from her daughter, her eyes sweeping over her from head to foot, taking in the braids in her hair, the brief leather top and skirt, the lithe, toned flesh that the outfit revealed. ' ...Gods, you look wonderful! But that outfit...' she glanced back towards the doorway, ' ...Gabrielle, your father -'

' Should be proud of her, ' the tall warrior finally spoke, ' after all, it's not every father who can say his daughter is an Amazon Queen. '

Hecuba finally looked at the dark haired woman beside her daughter, afforded her a brief nod. ' Hello, Xena. I trust you are well? '

Xena didn't know whether to laugh or scream. Nothing that happened outside this piddling little backwater seemed to affect these people one way or the other. In the end she just nodded. ' I'm well, thank you. '

' Mother, ' Gabrielle gripped her staff a little harder for strength, ' we came home because we have something to tell you. '

A concerned frown, but nothing more, then Hecuba was slipping her arm through her daughters, pulling her towards the house. ' It can keep whilst we have breakfast, sweetheart. Come - ' she glanced at Xena, ' - you both must be hungry. '

Lila settled Argo in the stable whilst Hecuba fussed over fetching food from the kitchen. Herodotus sat in his usual chair, sullenly staring at the tall warrior as she ate from his table. As Lila came in, Hecuba pulled up a chair and slid in beside Gabrielle. ' So, what's this nonsense about Amazons? '

Gabrielle saw Xena's jaw muscle clench, but was thankful she remained silent. ' It's a long story, Mother. I was given the rite of caste from Terreis three years ago. ' She felt her father's interest from across the room. ' Another Amazon, Ephiny, has ruled as regent since Melosa died, but last week I returned to the village to reclaim my crown.'

' But...' Hecuba frowned, ' you don't live there, Gabrielle. This is your home. '

' No, Mother. ' she met the older woman's gaze levelly, ' Arborea is my home now. It's where I belong. After this trip we're returning there. To live. '

Herodotus was on his feet, his gaze dark with anger. ' Don't be absurd. You're no Amazon. Your place is here, girl, with your family. ' He looked at Xena now, hatred evident in his face. ' This is her doing. Filling your head with ridiculous ideas. I should have put a stop to this years ago, made you come home. Well, enough is enough. When she leaves this time, you stay here. '

Xena turned her gaze to his, her eyes like blue ice. ' Gabrielle goes with me, Herodotus. '

He was shaking now with rage, his face dark with it. ' You might frighten others with that attitude, woman, but it won't work with me. You will not make my daughter go against her father's will. '

' I've never made her do anything. ' Xena said, her voice level and low. ' Gabrielle makes her own decisions. She's a grown woman. You'd do well to remember that. '

' I don't -'

' Enough!'

The strength of Gabrielle's command shocked her father sufficiently to shut his mouth. He stared at his daughter, and for the first time saw a stranger. In place of the bright young girl with a head full of dreams was a confident, beautiful woman, her bearing strong and dignified. As she looked at him her face softened slightly. ' Father, ' she began again, ' I didn't come here to fight with you. I came to tell you something...' her gaze sought out her mother, her sister standing quietly by the door,

'...to tell all of you. Xena and I have been together now a long time; we decided it was time to settle somewhere, to build a life. We have a place with the Amazons - I'm their queen - and when I was crowned last week we were joined. '

Hecuba's eyes were like saucers. ' Joined? '

Gabrielle nodded. ' An Amazon ceremony....it's a wedding, Mother. '

Hecuba's eyes dropped to her daughter's left hand, resting on the table top. On the third finger, glinting in the morning light, was a thick gold ring, heavily embossed with the crest that was unmistakably Xena's. Her gaze skittered to the warrior, seeing for the first time the silver ring on her hand, embossed with the three moons of the Amazons. She looked back up into her daughter's eyes, and the happiness she saw there killed any protest she may have been about to make.

Herodotus had no such qualms. He crossed the floor in three long paces, grabbed Gabrielle by the arm, and wrenched her to her feet. His right hand drew back to deliver a hard slap, but the blow was never made. Before Hecuba could blink Xena was on her feet and around the table, one hand wrapped about Herodotus' wrist like a vice. She could see her husband straining against the hold, but the tall woman showed no sign of releasing him, the well-defined muscles of her arm shifting beneath smooth olive skin.

' No-one, ' she growled, ' raises a hand to her. Even you. '

He threw a look at her over his shoulder, his face showing the first signs of uncertainty. 'She's my daughter, ' he hissed, ' this is none of your business.'

Xena leaned in a little closer to his ear. ' She's my wife, Herodotus. I think that makes it more than my business. '

He held the steely blue stare a moment longer, then released his grip on his daughter's arm. For a long moment Xena maintained her hold on his wrist, her eyes locked with his, then, resisting the urge to squeeze until his bones ground together, she let him go. Only then did her eyes move to Gabrielle.

' You all right? '

A nod, and the bard looked at her father. ' I came to tell you this because I thought that, maybe just for once, you could be happy for me. Because I'm happy, father, truly I am. I wanted you to know we were safe. I wanted to tell you that you would always be welcome in Arborea, as long as I rule there. But I won't welcome you to our home until you can accept what we have is real. ' She narrowed her eyes a little. ' Until you respect Xena as my partner, and me as a grown woman. '

Herodotus opened his mouth, but it was Hecuba's voice which broke the silence.

' Husband, ' she said calmly, ' our daughter has just come home. Would you drive her away again with your anger? '

Herodotus looked at his wife, astonishment in his gaze. Never had the small woman stood up to him before, but there was a quiet strength in her eyes that would brook no argument. He swallowed reflexively, suddenly feeling the weariness of his years.

' You're right, love. ' His gaze moved to Gabrielle again. ' Brie...' he sighed, ' I'm sorry....I just worry about you. I find it hard to remember that you're a woman grown now, not the child that left us six years ago. ' He reached for her again, but this time with love in his face. His hand rested tentatively against her cheek. ' Forgive me? '

Gabrielle's face softened, and she wrapped her arms about his neck, squeezing him in a tight embrace.

' Of course, father. I do love you. '

' And I you, little one. '

When he stepped back, he turned towards the tall warrior still standing at his back.

' Xena, ' he said, ' I have insulted you, and I apologise. You have taken care of our girl for many years now, and for that I owe you my thanks. ' He held out his hand to her. After a moment she gripped his forearm.

' No thanks necessary, Herodotus, ' she replied. A small smile briefly flickered across her face. ' And besides, your daughter has saved my life on more than one occasion.'

He looked into the twin pools of pale blue that held his gaze, and for the first time saw more than a dark warrior looking back at him.

The following night they were eating their evening meal together, listening to Gabrielle tell them of their adventures on the road. As she talked, Hecuba stole a glance at her daughter's partner and felt her breath catch in her throat. The imposing woman's usually taciturn face was softened as she watched Gabrielle spinning her tale, her eyes alight with love. As the bard made some amusing remark that had Lila and Herodotus laughing Xena smiled, the expression transforming her face. She was, Hecuba realised for the first time, beautiful, this fierce woman, in ways that transcended her impressive physical form. Then, suddenly, the warrior's expression froze. Gabrielle stopped talking, her eyes riveted on her lover's face.

' Xena? '

' Someone's approaching..' she was on her feet and moving towards the doorway,

'...sounds like-' she opened the door and a muscular woman with long dark hair almost fell inside. Xena smiled, '- Solari. '

Gabrielle jumped to her feet. The tall woman met her gaze, then lowered her head briefly.

' My queen, ' she panted, ' I am sorry to disturb you. '

Gabrielle crossed to her, led her over to the table. Lila found herself squeezing close to her mother as the amazon slid onto the bench beside her.

' Catch your breath, ' Gabrielle said, moving to fetch water for her. Solari shook her head, ' my troop-'

' Are fine, ' Xena was ushering the weary women into the small house. There were four in total, each one looking road dirty and exhausted. Xena looked to Lila.

' They have horses outside, ' she said, ' can you take care of them, Lila? I'll be out in a while to help you. '

The young woman nodded mutely, hurrying to the door. Xena got the others seated, then fetched a skin of water for them, which was passed around gratefully.

' Gabrielle, ' Solari said, ' we have ridden almost non-stop. The village was attacked last night.'

' What?! Is anyone hurt? '

A nod. ' We have six wounded, three dead. '

Xena's eyes darkened. ' Who was it? '

' We don't know, ' this from a slender red-head. Xena hadn't missed the angry bruises on her ribs. ' Men, on horses....there were so many. '

' We didn't recognise the banner. ' Solari gripped her mug tightly. ' They came so fast, we barely had time to arm ourselves. '

Xena approached her, her posture rigid. ' What was their emblem? '

' A black lion - we've never seen it-'

' I have. '

They all looked at the tall warrior. She met Gabrielle's questioning gaze. ' It's Palaneus.'

Gabrielle gave a brief nod, nothing more. She reached for her staff. ' I'll go pack our things at the Inn. '

Xena moved for the door. ' I'll saddle Argo. ' she glanced at Herodotus. ' We'll need another horse. '

He blinked. ' Yes...take the bay mare. Lila will show you where her tack is. '

As she disappeared into the night, Gabrielle looked to her parents. ' Solari and her troop will need food and rest for the night. '

' Gabrielle, we ride with you-'

' You rest. ' she met the taller woman's dark eyes. ' Tomorrow you can return. Your horses need to be cared for. '

Solari sighed, but nodded.

' Mother....can you take care of them for me? '

Hecuba blinked. ' Yes...yes, of course. '

' Thank you. ' She gave Solari's shoulder a brief squeeze, then quickly kissed her mother's cheek. ' Don't worry about us, ' she whispered.

Within ten minutes the bard was back from the Inn, bearing their saddle bags and belongings. On her heels Xena strode into the house, wearing her armour over her leathers. Her sword was strapped to her back and her long hair was clipped back off her face. Lila came in behind her, her eyes wide. She had helped the warrior to buckle on her armour, had been shocked by the weight of the intricately designed metalwork, barely able to lift it. And this woman carried it like it was a part of her body....

' Lila, ' Hecuba said, dishing out plates of steaming stew to her new guests, ' pack some food for Xena and Gabrielle. They have a long ride ahead. '

Xena was pulling on her arm greaves. Gabrielle instinctively moved towards her, fingers reaching for the laces. As she deftly tied them off, she turned to the Amazons seated at the table.

' Have you sent word to the centaurs? '

Solari nodded. ' Ephiny dispatched Eponin and her troop. '

' Good. ' she finished with Xena's other arm, gave her hand a brief squeeze, then looked to her sister as she came from the kitchen.

' Lila...are their horses fed? '

' Yes, Brie...and rubbed down. '

She gave her a quick smile. ' Thanks, sis. '

' No problem, ' her eyes slid to the imposing women filling the small room. ' Anything else I can do? '

Solari looked at her. ' Talia and Katerina could matbe use a healer. They took a few blows... '

She nodded. ' I'll go fetch her. '

As the slight girl turned for the door, Gabrielle caught her arm. ' Lila...' she pulled her into an embrace, then kissed her cheek. ' I'll see you soon, okay? '

She looked into her sister's eyes, managed a smile. ' You'd better. May Artemis watch over you, Brie,' she let her gaze move to Xena, ' both of you. '

Gabrielle smiled. ' She usually does. '

As the young woman slipped out again, Xena turned to her partner. ' Ready, love? ' she asked quietly. Gabrielle nodded, looked to her parents.

' I'll return with the horse as soon as I'm able, ' she said.

Hecuba rushed to envelop her daughter in her arms. ' Goddess keep you safe, sweetheart.' she murmured into soft gold hair.

' Thanks, Mom. ' She stepped back, found her father's arms coming around her also.

' Take care, little one, ' he said, kissing her cheek. She nodded, then turned to the door. Xena felt a hand on her arm, looked down to se Hecuba, holding out a parcel of food.

' Take care, daughter. ' The older woman said quietly.

Xena blinked at the unexpected statement. Then her face softened, and she smiled into Hecuba's eyes.

' We will. And thank you. ' She looked up, found Herodotus' gaze on her. He nodded once.

' Good speed. And...come back soon. '

She nodded to him, then she and Gabrielle slipped out into the waiting night.


Jen woke sprawled out on the sofa, the morning sun streaming in through the living room window. A glance at the clock showed her it was five past eleven, and she groaned. Last time she'd looked it had been coming up for six a.m., and she had promised herself sleep after translating the next story...

...which was spread out across her stomach, pinned into place by one hand.

She sat up, wincing at the crick in her neck and the twinge in her spine, then headed off for the shower. Standing beneath the hot spray of water she let her mind drift to her dream, how...familiar the small wooden house had seemed, how utterly right it had felt to have the tall, dark warrior standing at her side. She closed her eyes, trying to see the faces, but they had slipped from her memory like mist when she woke, leaving her with nothing but a sense of the person beneath. The bard had been herself, so that was familiar enough. But the others....okay, Xena. There was a woman with presence, she mused to herself. She seemed to radiate strength, absolute and utter confidence in herself reflected in each and every move she made. Hmm...wonder if she was really like that? Funny, but she kinda reminded me of Alex...

Whoa...Jen's eyes snapped open, her breath coming hard. Where the fuck did that come from? You cast yourself as the bard, Gabrielle, then have Alex playing Xena, once ruler of half of Greece, fierce warrior, and your newly-wedded wife....

She turned into the spray, lifting her face to the cascading water. Okay, I admit it, I'm attracted to her; hell, who wouldn't be? But it's not just the obvious physical attributes, is it? How about the way you feel when you're with her, like you've known her for ever, and the most comfortable place on the planet is right by her side...

Okay, explains some of the dream....

But, you've only known her for a few days, right? On what, exactly, are you basing all these feelings, Jen? Isn't this just wishful thinking, coupled with the need to connect with someone, feel secure with them, after the recent fiasco with Mr. Wrong? Doesn't that also help explain your sudden switch in gender preference?

She turned again, reached for the shampoo bottle. Okay, valid points, all of the above. And yet....and yet there was no denying that, although it may only have been a scant handful or so of days, she did feel closer to Alex than she had to many friends she'd known for years.

Including Damon.

In fact, considering she had been seeing him for almost two years, breaking up had been remarkably easy. Come to think of it, now she could step back a little and examine her feelings, she realised that what she had felt for him, even in the better times, had been....not much.

And that 'not much' paled into insipid insignificance when she considered the way Alex could make her feel with that half-lidded look she gave her sometimes...

She shivered, despite the heat of the water. Oh boy, Jen, she mused, this could get very, very interesting...


Alex dropped the receiver back into its cradle with a growl of disgust. Forensics had come up with absolutely nothing on the packaging from Jen's scrolls, but she knew, she knew, that it was him....

She leaned her tall frame back in her chair, lacing her fingers together over her belly, her thumbs pressed up against each other,

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes...

Alex sighed, reached for the phone again, dialling the car phone number of the tail assigned to Jen. It rang three times, then was answered.

' Detective Constable Patel. '

' Hi, Ranjit, it's Alex Perry. '

' Hey, Dr. Perry. I was just about to call you. '

The hairs at the back of her neck began to stand up. ' Why? '

' Your student friend...she's not stirred yet. Curtains are still closed in front. '

' You call her, ring the bell? ' She sat up straight, one hand pushing into her hair.

' No and no. Wanted to talk to you first. '

' God damn it, Ranjit! You need me out there to hold your hand? '

' Uh...no, we just-'

' Never mind - hang up, I'll call back in a minute. ' she pressed her finger over the plastic button on the receiver, waited for the dial tone, then redialled another number.

' C'mon, c'mon, pick up, Jen, please....'

Five rings and she was getting to her feet when the phone was answered, and a breathless voice panted:

' Hello? '

' Jen? What's the matter? ' Panic was seeping into Alex's usually confident voice. ' Are you alright? '

' Um...yeah, I was...in the shower. Why? '

Alex collapsed back into her chair, a sigh of relief rushing from her before she had the chance to stop it.

' The guys sitting outside your place were getting a little worried - your curtains are still drawn. '

' Oh. ' A pause. ' I had a late night - well, more an early morning, actually. I just got up and had a shower.'

Alex had to forcibly push the image of a dripping wet Jen, standing in her living room, wrapped only in a towel, from her mind.

' You okay Alex? '

A deep breath. ' Yeah...just gave me a scare, that's all. '

A quiet chuckle. ' Look, I'm sorry. Maybe I should set up a signalling system...'

Alex grinned, despite the hammering of her heart. ' Maybe....listen, I heard from forensics. They got nothing from the packaging. '

Jen seemed to mull on this, then: ' You think it's him though, don't you? '

' Jen, it could just as easily be someone else - some generous philanthropist who wanted the scrolls to be in a place where they could be enjoyed by everyone, not just some private collector. '

' Um..sure, it could be. And Hitler could just have been misunderstood.' Her voice became serious again. ' C'mon, Alex. Don't keep things like this from me. '

A sigh of resignation. ' Okay, yeah, I do think it was him. I don't subscribe to coincidental theory here. '

' Thank you. '

Alex frowned. ' For what? '

' For being honest. '

' Oh. '

' Listen, Alex....you wanna go for a drink or something tonight? I could use some time away from ancient Greek manuscripts. '

The tall woman blinked. Oh, this was becoming more and more difficult...she should say no, and yet the thought of upsetting Jen was somehow utterly repugnant to her.

And, of course, there was the fact that she really wanted to see her.

' Sure. I'll pick you up - eight o'clock okay? '

' Yeah...yeah, that's great. ' Alex could hear the smile down the line. ' I may have some more Xena stories to tell you. '

' I look forward to hearing them. '

And she did. She really, really did.

Continued in Part2

The Athenaeum's Scroll Archive