Disclaimers: Xena and Gabrielle belong to MCA and Universal Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.

This story contains fairly graphic violence. It also contains a consensual relationship between two women. If this is not legal where you are, or you are not of age, then read another story.

The characters contained in this story are mine, and mine alone. Do not copy or distribute this story without my consent. Characters within this story bearing resemblance to persons dead or alive are unintended.

Another disclaimer I liked: although many of the locations mentioned in this story are real and many of the characters are based on amalgamations of people I have met, I have taken artist license in describing them.

Thank you to my beta author Buxxer.

Thanks also to my beta readers Mercury and Garnet.

Personal note: For all of the readers that have been waiting for this post. I've had the recent loss of my mother and for the past 8 months I have not written very much. With time comes healing and I have found that writing helps. Thank you for waiting and thank you for reading.

Part 19

Toni, Megan and Frank drove to the Department of Justice followed closely by several unmarked cars containing US Marshals. After nearly three hours in conference, they emerged with their new identities. Toni's official new name was Frances Antonia Camilli and Megan's was simply reversed to Siobhan Megan O'Connor. They were given driver's licenses, birth certificates and diplomas from high school as well as college. The Monte Carlo SS and their new house were registered in Megan's new name at their request. Megan would continue to be attached to the US Justice Department as a lawyer and Toni now owned a private investigator's license, which allowed her to carry a firearm. Certain costs, including the mortgage on their new home would be taken care of for the next three years unless Toni could prove that she couldn't maintain her finances by then, at which time a review would be conducted and the financial support would continue.

Frank explained that once a witness was placed, the Justice Department's role ended. Toni and Megan would be supplied with emergency contacts and numbers, which they could call if they needed them, but the point would be moot, as Megan still worked in an official capacity with the Department. Frank did not anticipate any problems with Megan contacting her family. As far as he and the Department were able to tell, no threats implied or otherwise had been made regarding Megan or her family.

Their new home had been furnished primarily from the contents of Megan's condo. The house was ready and armed with their new identities, so were they. All that was left was for them to drive to their new home and their new lives.


"Are you nervous?" Toni asked broaching the silence that had fallen between them for the last hour.

"No…are you?" Megan replied.

"A little I guess." Toni offered. This was the first time in four months that she would not be spending the night in a jail cell and she felt as if she had just been paroled. Toni was driving the first leg on their journey to Key West and their new home. Despite the things that had happened there, they had both agreed that they felt comfortable in Key West. Although they couldn't expect everyone to be open to their relationship, they knew that Key West held a large contingency of gay residents and their presence would be overlooked a little easier than in most of the smaller towns they had considered. She reached over and took Megan's hand in her own.

"How come you're so quiet then?" Toni asked.

"Hmm?" Megan mumbled. She hadn't been paying attention to anything for the last hour; instead she had been lost in her thoughts. When she felt Toni take her hand her heart skipped a beat, wishing that she had thought to do that herself. Megan realized what Toni had asked her. "Oh…I was just thinking," she told Toni.

"About what?" Toni inquired. The silence was making her even more nervous.

"Everything…I guess," was Megan's vague response.

Toni's mind began to panic. 'She's having second thoughts. I knew it. This is too much for her. She's still recovering from the gunshot wound and here we are driving over two thousand miles to live someplace new…because of me.' Her palm began to sweat. After a minute Megan separated their hands and wiped them both on the leg of her jeans before clasping them together again.

"Toni…are you okay?" Megan asked, her mind finally in the here and now.


"You seem more than a little nervous…that's all."

Toni reclaimed her hand wiping it briefly against her own pants leg. "I'm just…I…I really have to pee," she finally said, taking the off ramp. They stopped at a gas station and Megan topped off the tank while Toni went inside. Megan joined her and then headed for the restroom after Toni emerged. Toni paid for the gas and a couple of bottles of soda, trying out her new credit card. She almost forgot to sign her new name even though she and Megan had practiced just that several hours ago with Frank Tate. She wondered if the attendant was going to object when she started and then scratched it out and did it again. He looked at her a bit funny.

"Just got divorced…trying to get used to signing my own name again," she told him. He nodded and handed over her copy of the receipt just as Megan came out of the restroom and joined her.

"Want me to drive for a while?" Megan asked as they headed toward the car.

"Uh…sure…if you want to," Toni replied. She handed Megan the keys and took the passenger seat. Megan adjusted the seat; they buckled in and headed back out onto the highway.

Again they drove along in silence, neither of them sure of what to say.

'This is so much, but I want it,' Megan thought. 'She seems really nervous. Maybe it's because she is scared that this will never end…that they will never stop coming after her. I think that at this point they are too busy trying to figure out how to get themselves out of this mess to worry about her, especially because they think she is in prison herself. And I'm so glad that Frank thinks there is no threat to my family and that I can have contact with them. And it won't seem odd since I'm now officially a cousin as far as documentation goes. I can't wait for our lives to begin…to truly begin.'

'Why is she so quiet? She looks as though she's smiling but…but what? I'm absolutely terrified and she looks so freaking calm!' Toni thought. 'Does she know something I don't? Like that everything will just be hunky dory from here on out? How can she be so damn calm? Frank said she can contact her family and that's probably the best news that I've heard in four months…but…damn! She looks as if she is going on some sort of vacation. Like all this was some sort of bad dream and we woke up smelling like roses. Is she going to wake up and find that we suddenly smell like fertilizer? What happens 6 months from now when she realizes that she is still on the same assignment? Will she be bored? She told me how she thought that just practicing law was not what she wanted to do with her life. That's why she applied to be a Marshal. And even though it upset her dad, she did it anyway. What happens when she realizes that she is just practicing law to be with me? Will it be enough? I don't think so and that terrifies me beyond belief.'

Megan glanced over at Toni. They had gotten a late start out of D.C. and it was already beginning to get dark. Although she didn't feel tired she thought it might be a good idea to stop for the night. Toni was staring out the passenger window, obviously lost in thought. "Toni…" Megan tried. "Hey Toni!" Megan prompted loudly.

"What!" Toni jumped as if punched.

"I think we should stop for the night. You know, get a room and drive again when it's light out."

"Yeah…yeah…that's a good idea. We shouldn't be driving in the dark," Toni agreed. Megan pulled off at the next exit and they found a Best Western. They checked in and drove the car around to their room.

"Um…do you mind if I shower? I feel kind of…" Toni finished.

"No…go ahead," Megan answered. She had the feeling that Toni just wanted to shower…alone for the first time in forever. She went to get some ice and sodas from the machines. When she returned she changed into her nightshirt and poured them both a drink. She had brought a bottle of Maker's Mark with her as a sort of celebration. Then she grabbed the phone and ordered them both cheeseburgers and fries from room service.

Room service arrived before Toni came out of the bath. Megan signed the receipt and included a nice tip. When another fifteen minutes passed and the shower hadn't turned off, Megan became alarmed.

"Toni? Toni…is everything okay?" Megan asked while rapping on the bathroom door.

After what seemed like an interminable pause Toni answered. "Yeah…be out in a minute."

Megan didn't realize until that moment that she was nervous. Extremely nervous. She fussed with the temperature control, set their dinner on a tray, put the TV on the Cartoon Network and attempted to relax while she waited for Toni to come out of the bathroom. Before she knew it she had consumed her drink and was eyeing the one she had poured for Toni. Reasoning that Toni's would be watered down by the time she came out, she drank that one too. She jumped off the bed to get them both a new drink when Toni finally emerged from the bathroom. 'God she is beautiful!' Megan thought. 'She's glowing.'

'Am I clean enough? I don't care how much I scrub; I can still smell that damn cell. It smells like sweat and piss and I don't want her to smell that…to know that…aspect of me.' Toni shrugged her shoulders. 'What the fuck? She's been there with me almost every night since she got out of that damned hospital. Like it would be something new…right.' But she knew it would. She felt as though it would make a difference. When she sat in that jail cell every night after testifying to the horrors that her life had been, Megan had been there with her and seemed perfectly content to be in her arms. She just wasn't sure why she felt so dirty now…and smelled so dirty now. She had turned the shower on as hot as she could stand it and as the minutes passed she continued to turn down the cold water until it was completely off and yet she was standing in a cold shower. She had no idea how much time had passed. It was probably only minutes. She was glad that she had the presence of mind to bring in a T-shirt and boxers to change into. When she opened the door into the room she saw Megan sitting on the bed, a tray of food and drinks waiting, and only vaguely noticed that a cloud of steam followed her out of the bathroom.

"Hey…you hungry?" Megan asked.

"Starved," Toni replied as she smiled and crossed the room to the bed. She sat down and took up her cheeseburger diving in to it. After several bites she grabbed for her soda.

"Careful," Megan warned…too late.

Toni gasped and coughed, realizing too late that her drink had more than soda in it.

"Sorry," Megan said as she pounded Toni on the back. "I didn't think you would gulp it. I mean…I wasn't trying to surprise you that way…exactly."

"No…no…biggie," Toni choked out.

"I just thought that we could have a toast…you know…to us…but…"

"I'm fine. Really Megan…I'm fine. I just didn't expect…anything in my drink. I'm fine, really." Toni insisted as she caught her breath.

"I'm sorry…here," Megan offered one of the cans of soda. Toni grabbed it and gulped it down until it was gone, emitting an audible sigh of relief after finishing it.

"Sorry," Megan said again, suddenly very ashamed of her presumption that Toni would like a drink after all this time.

Toni knew without a doubt what Megan was trying to do. "I love it…dinner…drinks…you," she whispered to Megan. "It's been so long…I don't know what to do…"

"Not choking would be a start," Megan teased.

"If you had warned me I would have been fine," Toni asserted.

"I tried but you just started gulping that damn drink…" Megan tried. Her opinion was interrupted by Toni's hand covering her mouth.

"You are absolutely right. Just let me finish my burger and fries and we can debate this further," she said as she carefully removed her hand.

"Okay, you win. Eat. But I'm thinking we have some celebrating to do."

Toni looked at Megan and a sudden flush came over her. Desire rushed through her body and was caught cold by guilt. As she ate her burger and fries she tried to figure out why she felt guilt. Whenever she looked at Megan she was overcome with desire, yet when they had a moment to themselves she would start to feel guilty as if she were doing something wrong. Suddenly she wondered if she were actually doing something wrong.

Her early years in parochial school started to flash in her mind. 'If you think you are guilty…then you are guilty. I AM GUILTY! For God's sake…I'm guilty…of too many things…and now I can't…I can't visit this guilt on her. I can't. It's not fair that I should make her complicit and forgiving in my guilt. I've been to confession…how come that doesn't make me feel better? I've confessed! But not to her. She doesn't know the things I've done. I'm sure she suspects that I am guilty of the crimes that I have been implicated in, but I've never told her if it is true or not. Does she want to know? Should I just tell her? YES! Damn you conscience! Shut up! She has told me she doesn't care about my past as long as I'm truthful now. And I have been…about everything…except my past…and my guilt.'

"I'm really sorry…about the drink. I didn't really think about the fact that you haven't had one in a long time. I should have warned you…" Megan tried.

"You did warn me…but I was being so greedy I wasn't listening," Toni assured her as she wiped a smudge of mustard from Megan's lip. And suddenly Toni was inspired by a line of Shakespeare that she was probably misquoting in her mind. 'And let lips do as palms do', she at least knew it was from Romeo and Juliet. She didn't care as she eased her mouth towards Megan's. She was surprised and a little bit alarmed when Megan threw her arms around her neck and kissed her back more passionately than she expected. What she intended as a gentle, tender kiss had turned blazingly passionate and she was stunned and not just a little bit terrified. After a few moments she pulled away and stuffed several French fries in her mouth even though she could barely chew them up for lack of moisture.

They both ate their burgers and fries and Megan excused herself from the bed and mixed them both a drink. She knew that Toni was watching her this time and couldn't use the excuse that she didn't know what was in the drink. When she was done she returned to the bed. Toni had cleared away their dinner.

"To us," Megan toasted.

"To us," Toni agreed. They both sipped their drinks. 'This might as well be my first time because I'm just as nervous.' Toni thought. She placed her drink on the nightstand, as did Megan. Megan reached for her and drew her down. Their lips touched briefly and then again passionately. Toni was fine until she realized that she couldn't breathe. She pulled away.

"I…love you…" she gasped.

"Me too," Megan asserted, trying to pull Toni toward her once again.

Toni pulled away. "I…I…can't breathe…. I'm…sorry…" she said as she leapt from the bed and raced to the bathroom.

Megan sat up in bed. 'Maybe I should take a shower. I took one this morning, but I guess we've been under some stress. God she is really nervous. Am I making her nervous? What is going on? I'm starting to get a little scared. I mean…I know she wants me…wants to be with me…but she's acting like it's her first time. Should that worry me or excite me? Should I be aggressive or sympathetic?' she thought as she gathered the covers around herself. Although both her body and her mind were excited, as she snuggled in thinking about Toni's return she found herself drifting off.

'What the fuck? I want her so much. Then why am I in here?' Toni wondered. 'It's not like I've never made love to her before. Why are my palms fucking sweating?' Toni asked herself as she paced the tiny motel restroom. 'I love Megan. Okay. So why am I acting like such a shit? I can't wait to touch her…to love her…yet I'm wandering aimlessly in a 4X4 room trying to avoid her. Why? Why, because I'll disappoint her somehow. She has committed to staying with me and she will find out that I'm not worth it. She will find out that I should have been convicted along with those I testified against. I've done unspeakable things. And maybe the most saintly thing about her is that she hasn't asked me what I've done. She hasn't actually asked me what I'm guilty of. And I'm guilty of so much.' Toni put the toilet seat down and sat with her head in her hands, tears seeping slowly from her eyes.

Toni awoke with a start, suddenly realizing that she had fallen asleep in the bathroom. Her thighs bore the impressions that her elbows had left, testifying to the fact that she been in there for some time. Quietly she turned out the light and eased the bathroom door open. Megan was fast asleep on the bed; the bedside light and the TV still on. The clock told her that she had hidden away in the bathroom for over two hours. She tiptoed over and clicked off the lamp and spying the bottle of whiskey on the table she poured herself a shot hoping it would calm her nerves. The whiskey burned all the way down reminding her that she hadn't had a drink in over four months. Gently she eased herself down on the bed trying not to wake Megan. For a long while she watched as a ghost chased Scooby Doo across the screen before exhaustion overtook her and she finally fell asleep.

Megan awoke to find herself sprawled across her lover whose arms were wound tightly around her. She lifted her head slowly and saw that Toni was still soundly asleep so she snuggled back in and closed her eyes. She only vaguely recalled the previous evening. 'Maybe three bourbon and cokes in quick succession is past my limit. I mean, I'm not in college anymore,' she thought ruefully. Although she didn't drink much in college, mainly because she wasn't of age to enter a bar until she was a senior, she knew that her alcohol tolerance was much lower now. She remembered Toni being nervous and she thought it was cute. She figured that Toni must have worked things out because here they were, pressed together like two snug-fitting puzzle pieces.

After a while she felt Toni's breathing change and her body shift slightly. Knowing that Toni would be awake soon caused an immediate reaction in her body. Blood began to rush to certain body parts and her mouth became dry while other places seemed to become quite wet. 'God, I feel like Pavlov's dog,' she giggled to herself as she resisted the urge to move her body against Toni's.

"What's so funny?" Toni asked, sleep still evident in her voice.

"Good morning," Megan said instead of answering her question. She propped herself up on her elbow so that she could look at Toni.

Toni stretched, wondering if she had asked the question out loud or not. "Good morning."

"Did you sleep well?"

"Mmmm, yeah, did you?"

"Best night's rest I've had in four months," Megan grinned.

"Glad to hear it," Toni smiled back, gently brushing her fingers across Megan's scalp at the spot where the bullet had grazed her. Megan's response was instantaneous and delightfully predictable. Her right shoulder shot up as she rubbed her ear and head against it. She bit her bottom lip in an effort to ward off the goosebumps that popped along her arms nevertheless.

"I hate it when you do that," Megan admonished with a sheepish grin.

"No you don't," Toni teased back. Megan's hair had grown in over that spot almost white-blonde, and despite her attempts to cover it with hair color it continued to grow that way. The doctors had explained to her that her hair grew in that color because the hair follicles were damaged, but Megan insisted that it was because they treated it with peroxide when she had the staples and stitches. But no matter how hard she tried to cover it with hair color, it usually turned her normally strawberry-blonde hair orange and she would have to wash out the color. The lasting effect was a blonde streak in her reddish hair that she thought looked pretentious and Toni thought endearing. The other effect as Megan explained it to Toni was when she touched her scalp in that particular spot, it was akin to the feeling you got when you touched your lip after you came from the dentist and the Novocain was wearing off. It was a sort of numb then tingly feeling, at the same time pleasant yet irritating.

"God I hope that lessens over the years."

"What if it doesn't?" Toni asked curiously.

"If it doesn't then I'm going to start wearing a football helmet so that you can't touch me and make me act like a spaz," Megan pointed out.

"But it's so cute when you do that!"

"Ha ha. What you really think is cute is that I can't help the way I react."

"That too," Toni admitted grinning. 'Oh God, this is what I have missed so much the last four months. Just being with her. Talking to her and holding her. This is so right, and so what I am afraid of. If my conscience would just take a damn break!'

"Stop it!" Megan whispered harshly.

"What?" Toni asked flabbergasted, wondering if Megan could suddenly read her thoughts.

"Thinking so hard about this…about us!" She had seen the look of doubt flicker across Toni's face and it pissed her off almost as much as it scared her. "I want you! I want us! Why do you find that so hard to believe?"

"I…I don't…I mean…" Toni stammered as Megan tried to wrench herself out of Toni's grasp. But Toni wouldn't and couldn't let go. "I'm scared damn it!" she finally blurted out, letting Megan loose and bounding out of the bed they had shared. She started for the bathroom but Megan cut her off standing firmly in the way of her escape.

"What are you afraid of Toni? What's in here?" she demanded poking her in the chest at her heart. "Or are you afraid of what's in here?" she slapped her in the forehead with the palm of her other hand. Toni immediately grasped both of Megan's hands firmly, mostly to stop the onslaught. Megan watched helplessly as Toni's eyes hardened from their normally soft cobalt color to an almost steel blue. Her pulse quickened as she realized that she had finally crossed the line, the one that separated Toni her lover from Toni the killer.

It took Toni's mind a moment to distinguish the difference between emotional and physical danger. The look of fear on Megan's face helped to speed up her response. Her grip on Megan's hands relaxed instantly. "I'm scared that I'm going to disappoint you," she said quietly, her hands relaxing, but not relinquishing Megan's as they fell to her sides, her eyes no longer able to meet Megan's.

"Toni," Megan started as she raised Toni's chin so that their eyes met. "You've never disappointed me."

"Just wait," Toni said, defeat evident in her voice, "I'm sure I'll find a way."

Annoyed, Megan dropped Toni's hand and then flung herself on the bed and muffled a scream of frustration into her pillow. Bewildered, Toni watched as she continued to kick and scream. After a minute Megan sat up, having regained her composure.

"How is it that someone with such a gift for words has so much trouble expressing herself?" she asked rhetorically. "Do you plan on disappointing me somehow?"

"No…no…" Toni sputtered, still dumbfounded by Megan's outburst.

"Are you afraid that I'm going to disappoint you somehow?" She asked trying to pry an explanation out of her reticent lover.

"Never…it's not that," Toni shot back trying to arrange her jumbled thoughts so that Megan could understand.

"Do you think my expectations are too high?" Megan asked, tears suddenly filling her eyes.

"Megan…please don't cry," Toni whispered as she knelt down in front of her. She tried to wipe the tears from Megan's eyes but Megan turned her head.

"Don't. I know you hate it when I cry," she said as she wiped her eyes and nose on the sleeve of her nightshirt.

"No, I hate it when I make you cry," she explained. "And I seem to be really good at it." She stood up and paced around the room trying to find the right words. "I guess I'm just scared…" she tried. That wasn't quite right but it did sum up all of her feelings in one neat little word.

"About what? About us?" Megan asked, suddenly not too sure if she wanted an answer.

"Yes…I mean…no…not just about us. About everything," Toni answered, her thoughts spinning away from her again.

"I'll tell you what," Megan said firmly as she jumped up from the bed, her emotions having run the gamut right back to anger. She threw off her nightshirt and began to dress in her clothes from the day before, talking as she went. "While you're here trying to figure out what it is that is bothering you, I'm going to go get some breakfast." She slipped into her tennis shoes, grabbed her jacket and the car keys and headed for the door.

"Megan, please…don't go," Toni pleaded, her voice strained with emotion. Megan stopped at the door sparking a moment's hope in Toni's heart.

"I can't deal with this right now Toni," she said without looking back. "I need a little time to myself…and I think you do too," she added as she walked out the door.

Stunned, Toni took stock of the situation. Her heart screamed for her to go after Megan, but her head calmly whispered that she needed to give Megan space and to take the time to figure out how to tell Megan what was on her mind. Her head won out because she truly loved Megan and she needed to know that what they were doing was right for both of them.

Megan started the car and simply began to drive. She was hungry but she needed time for her stomach to settle before she would be able to eat. 'What the hell is with her?' she wondered. 'Shit, I'm scared too but it makes me want to be closer to her, not push her away.' Her exasperation and frustration kept causing her eyes to tear up and she angrily dried them with her sleeve. After nearly a half an hour she pulled over at a convenience store and purchased a box of tissues, aspirin and a bottle of chocolate milk. She sat in the car, dried her eyes, took the aspirin and washed it down with the milk. Feeling a little more settled she turned back the way she came and hunted for a place to eat. She was almost back to the motel when she spotted a promising looking diner.

'I wonder exactly what it is she is afraid of,' she pondered as she ate her eggs, bacon and toast. 'Is she worried that the Ribisi's will track us down? Or that she won't like living in Key West? Could she really be so insecure that she thinks I don't really love her? God, just thinking about this is making me crazy. And Toni's the only one who can tell me what I want to know. I wonder if she's ready to talk.'

When Megan entered the motel room she saw Toni with her head down on the little table in the corner, fast asleep, a yellow legal pad rested under one hand. Toni jumped when the door clicked shut behind her.

"Hi," Megan said. "I, um, wasn't sure if you'd eaten so I brought you this," she offered Toni a to go box.

"Um…hi…and thanks…I haven't eaten yet," she replied taking the box from Megan's hand. "I'm glad you're back. I missed you," she said, placing the container on the table.

"I missed you too," Megan admitted staring at her feet.

"And I'm sorry," Toni told her as she lifted Megan's chin and placed a gentle kiss on her lips.

"Me too," Megan said, throwing her arms around her lover and holding her closely. They stood together quietly for several minutes, reveling in the feeling of being in each other's arms.

Toni placed several light kisses on the top of Megan's short, strawberry colored head. "I love you."

"I love you too," Megan said looking up at her taller partner. "You know that don't you?" she asked, worry lines creasing her forehead.

"Yeah. I know," Toni smiled at her as she smoothed the worry lines. "You tell me and you show me all the time." She leaned in to place another kiss on Megan's lips when her stomach growled loudly.

Megan drew back laughing. "C'mon and eat your breakfast before it gets any colder."

"What did you bring me?" Toni smiled as she sat down at the little table.

"Pancakes with syrup and bacon."

"My favorite."

"I know," Megan said, returning the smile. She watched as Toni wolfed down her pancakes. 'I guess I wasn't the only one who was starving.' She looked at the legal pad lying on the table. A large amount of the pages were crumbled up and littered the area around the garbage can, but the first page of the pad was noticeably blank. 'Obviously she is trying to write something. I don't think she has written one word in the last four months. She hated being kept in that cell. It was as if her imagination was as unable as she was to escape its confines.' Megan knew better than to touch the pad until Toni had invited her to read what she had written.

"You want some?" Toni offered up a bite of her pancakes.

"No, thanks, I ate already," Megan answered, wishing that she had ordered a side of pancakes for herself. "Besides, we should probably pack up…it's almost check out time."

"Actually I um…took the room for another night. I thought that maybe we could talk," Toni told her.

"Oh…okay," Megan agreed with little enthusiasm. "I guess I have time for a shower after all," she added as she pulled a clean set of clothes from her overnight bag and headed for the bathroom, kicking her shoes off as she went.

"Megan…it's okay isn't it? I mean…you're not mad at me are you?"

"No…another night is fine," she answered as she disappeared into the bathroom. Toni had started to follow but the door shut soundly in her face. She rested her forehead against the door while she debated joining Megan. Suddenly sure that Megan still needed her distance, she returned to the table and continued writing.

As soon as the door was closed behind her, Megan's hand flew to her mouth to muffle the sob that erupted from her chest. Her heart felt as though it was made of lead. She rushed to the shower and turned it on in case she was unable to weep silently.

'Why does it feel like she's trying to tell me goodbye? We could have talked in the car as we drove, but I guess that was the point. Whatever it is that she wants to get off her chest is obviously going to upset me. God Megan, stop being so melodramatic! She just told you that she loves you, didn't she?' she asked herself as she quickly shed last night's clothes and stepped into the steaming shower. She ducked her head under the water and the droplets mixed with her tears.

'She's told you she has never had a long-term relationship before. Maybe it's because she didn't want one and she probably wants out of this one. What a fool I've been to think she would want me! I almost let her get killed and now I've got this God-awful scar on my fucking head. I had to cut off most of my damn hair so it wouldn't look bad and now it's growing in all half-assed. I wouldn't find me attractive anymore either.' Her legs were so wobbly that she knew she couldn't continue standing, so she eased herself down in the tub and put in the stopper so the warm water would fill up around her. Then she put her head in her hands and let the grief wash over her as quietly as she could.

Toni wasn't sure, but she thought she could hear Megan crying. It tore her up to be the cause of Megan's tears. When Megan had left that morning Toni wasn't sure she would come back. She almost wished that she wouldn't because Megan would be so much better off without her. Deep down though, Toni knew she would return and she was determined to give Megan the opportunity to be done with her and to be able to lead a normal life.

She was afraid that Megan was staying with her out of some weird sense of loyalty and she wanted Megan to know that above all else she wanted her to be happy. And if that meant that they wouldn't be together, then Toni would just have to learn to live with it. But every time she tried to tell Megan what was on her mind, her thoughts became jumbled and she would be overcome by the need to hold Megan and make love to her instead of giving her the chance to go. So she decided that she would write down what she wanted to say since writing had always been easier to her than simply expressing her emotions. So she took up her pen and she continued writing as she listened to the sounds of the shower and Megan's quiet sobs.

Twenty minutes later she heard the shower turn off. She waited and then began to worry when another ten minutes passed and Megan did not emerge. She knocked gently on the door. "Megan?" she called out. Getting no response to her inquiry she panicked and banged on the door as she tried to open it. The door was locked. "Megan! Megan are you okay!" she yelled.

"I'm fine," she heard after a moment. "I'll be out in a minute," came Megan's tired voice. Toni's legs almost gave out as the adrenaline fled her body as quickly as it had flooded it. She collapsed in the chair and waited. When she heard the lock click open she rushed to the door and enveloped Megan in her arms before she even had a chance to exit.

"God Megan, you scared me when you didn't answer," she said as she crushed the smaller woman to herself. "I thought something had happened…I don't know what I thought. Are you okay?" she asked easing her strangle hold.

"Yeah…a little pruned," she smiled weakly. "I was soaking," she explained as she left Toni's embrace and crossed the room and stacked her dirty clothes next to her bag. She rummaged around for her comb and ran it through her unruly hair. She knew it wouldn't make any difference, as it would do what it pleased once it dried. She sat down on the bed with her back to Toni.

"So…what did you want to talk about?" she asked casually. 'If she wants to leave, then she's going to have to say it,' Megan thought, having decided that she wasn't going to make this easy for her.

"Lot's of things, I guess. But I've been making quite the mess of it every time I open my mouth, so I wrote it down. What I wanted to say…I mean. Here," she said as she offered the tablet to Megan.

Megan glanced at the pad and then up at Toni. "Why don't you read it to me," she suggested.

"Okay…if…if you want me to. I just…um…do me a favor then?" Toni asked.

"Okay," Megan agreed.

"Don't interrupt me…or I don't think I'll do any better than I was doing this morning." She took the bottle of bourbon that was on the nightstand and poured a shot.

"A little early for that, isn't it?" Megan asked.

"Liquid courage," Toni replied as she downed the shot. She shook her head and pounded herself on the chest a couple of times.

"Feeling braver?" Megan asked, her voice a bit edgy.

"A little," Toni admitted after the bourbon hit her stomach. She was glad that the pancakes and bacon were there to cushion the blow. "I um…wrote it kind of like a letter because I thought you would read it."

"I'd rather hear it from your lips," Megan said as she propped herself against the headboard and waited.

Terrified of revealing her innermost thoughts, even to Megan, Toni steeled herself and began.

"Dear Megan, I want you to know that I've never met anyone like you in my life. And I love you more than I have words for." Unable to keep still, she paced the floor as she read.

"Each time a big change has come into my life, I've had a hard time dealing with it. A lot of times I would let someone else steer me into their way of thinking and it satisfied me because it made them happy. When I began writing, my mother encouraged me and as she lay dying she would ask me to tell her one of my stories. She said that it made her happy and often times, despite the pain, she would smile while I recited my tales. When she died, something within me died as well. The ability to order my own life. My father was as grief stricken as I was, but he was unable to share his sorrow with me, so I turned to my friend Bobby. I leaned on him for the support that my father was unable to give me and I joined the gang with him because it made him happy. Although I became increasingly uneasy with the things the gang was asking us to do, I kept my mouth shut and stayed by Bobby's side until the day he was killed.

"My life became about what my father wanted at that point. Within a month he moved us away from Brooklyn to a little suburb on Long Island. I threw myself into my schoolwork and sports excelling at both, eventually becoming Valedictorian. I looked forward to college because I was finally getting back the ability to order my own life, choose my own future. My freshman year was incredible. I played for the women's basketball team and took as many English and writing courses as they would allow me. At the beginning of my sophomore year, the family encouraged my father to get me involved with bookmaking on campus. He also started taking an interest in the subjects I was studying. He deemed my writing a waste of time and insisted that I take business classes.

"When basketball season began I realized that I couldn't take bets and play in the games, so I went to my father and explained that I would have to drop one endeavor. "If it bothers you that much," he said, "then quit the team." I was hoping that he would let me out of my commitment to taking bets. And again, I found that my ability to choose my own path was overshadowed by my attempts to make someone else happy. I even dropped some of my writing courses for business classes. I stayed in school after I got my Bachelor's Degree because of my double major in English and Business. My involvement with the family became even deeper. Eventually I found it hard to attend classes with people whose knees I'd threatened to break if they didn't pay up, so I quit school and went into the family business full time. This pleased my father immensely, but he had no idea of how deeply into the "family" business I had become. Of course, this made the family happy, so I kept my mouth shut and towed the line.

"When my father was killed, my need to make myself happy reasserted itself. But I wasn't stupid enough to think that you just walked away from the Ribisis, so I spent most of my time writing again and only as much time as I had to doing what they wanted. And then I found out that the Ribisis had murdered my father for an imagined slight. So I decided that I was going to do something about it and about getting out. That's when Cancini came on the scene. He had heard about my father and he recruited me. I began to tape conversations for him. Soon, the family began to feel the heat. A few of them started getting hassled and a couple got busted for some petty shit and after a while, things started to cool down. I wasn't sure if the family was getting suspicious or if Cancini was getting scared. But it never occurred to me that he had sold out. After that, whenever he asked me to listen in or tape something, I made a copy for myself and put it in a safety deposit box. I left instructions with the bank that if I didn't check it at least once every six weeks, they were to turn the contents over to the FBI. When the Ribisis fingered Sal, I knew it was time to run. And once again I found my life out of my control."

"Are you trying to tell me that you were only with me because you thought it made me happy and now you're trying to get control and choose another path?" Megan burst out after listening patiently.

"No damn it!" Toni shot back, slamming the tablet on the table and reaching for the bourbon bottle again. Her hands were shaking so badly that the bottle rattled against the glass. "I thought you agreed that you wouldn't interrupt me," she said, her voice rough with the remnants of the shot.

"I never agreed to that and I…I just don't understand where you're going with this," Megan insisted.

"You might if you'd just let me finish!" Toni said harshly. "Please," she added softly when she realized how bad that had sounded. Her nerves had gotten the better of her and that stemmed from the fear that Megan would leave her when all was said and done. She picked up the tablet trying to find where she left off. Megan sat back quietly and waited for the bomb to drop.

"That's…that's when I met you," Toni continued. "I'd never been able to maintain a relationship in my life for one reason or another. When I was young it was because you simply didn't tell anyone in my neighborhood that you were gay unless you wanted to be beaten up every day of your life. When I got to college I had a couple of short-lived flings but the need to keep my distance was so ingrained in me that I was simply unable to continue after a few encounters with any one woman. When I went started working for the Ribisis I would sneak down to Greenwich Village and have a rare one-night stand. And then came you. By the time we finally let ourselves go…I was so much in love with you that I didn't really think about how my life was going to affect yours. I knew the Ribisis would be after me, probably for the rest of my life and that I might get hurt or even killed. But until that day that you were shot, it really never occurred to me that you might get hurt or killed. And this is after knowing that four Marshals were killed trying to protect me. It just didn't seem real until you were hurt. And for a month I visited you every night and I couldn't get it out of my head that I was the reason you were laying there. Now we're heading for our new life in Key West, which may be safe for a week or may even be safe forever, but we'll never know.

"And here you are with me, doing just what I've been doing all my life, giving up your future for mine. You told me how you thought of nothing all your life except being a cop and how you even went to law school because it would please your father. But as soon as you saw your opening you grabbed it, despite his protests. After the doctors operated on your ear, you got most of your hearing back and you could still be a Marshal if you wanted to, yet you've chosen to leave the thing you dreamed about becoming to be with me. And frankly I don't understand why you would give all that up to practice law in a sleepy little town when you could still have your dream. And…and I know at some point that you're going to get bored and then you'll resent me for taking away the one thing in your life that made you happy. I don't want to ruin your life the way I've ruined mine. And I don't want you to stay with me out of some misplaced sense of loyalty. I want you to know that if you want out, I'll…understand and that it will be my problem to deal with and not yours."

Toni suddenly stopped her narrative and set the legal pad down on the table. Her eyes were closed because she couldn't stand to see the relief that would be evident in Megan's eyes. She'd given her an out and she knew Megan was smart and probably intensely relieved to know that she didn't have to go through with it, so she would take Toni up on her offer.

Megan was stunned. She had sat and listened as Toni bared her soul waiting for the other shoe to drop. She had waited for Toni to say that she couldn't imagine a life with her. Yet she was actually saying that she thought Megan would leave her, eventually anyway, so why not get it over with. She shook her head unable to quite comprehend what had just transpired. She slid off the bed and stood in front of Toni.

"Let me ask you something," she said quietly as she gently wiped the tears from Toni's cheeks. "Do you love me?"

"Yes! I've never lied about that. I love you and I always will," she said, still unable to look at Megan.

"Could you look at me for a minute?" Megan asked. Slowly Toni opened her eyes. "Say it again," Megan insisted.

"I love you," Toni told her truthfully.

Megan wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do at that moment, but she let her instincts take over. Her hands flew to Toni's face and she pulled her down for a kiss. Her heart and her body needed closeness and intimacy. Two steps forward and Toni's knees buckled against the bed as Megan crashed down upon her. "You've never disappointed me Toni and I love you too," Megan insisted, their lips parting momentarily before Megan continued her hungry assault.

Within moments their clothing became an unbearable barrier between them. The heightened pleasure of their bare bodies pressed one against another sent them both over the edge within moments, but neither hesitated or slowed their efforts.

Toni gently rolled Megan onto her back and her lips began a rapid descent toward her breasts. Claiming one with her mouth and the other with her hand she lavished one and then the other. After several minutes of unbridled pleasure Megan tugged Toni back up so that she could kiss her lover's lips again. Toni kissed Megan's neck, ears and pulse point until she finally heard Megan gasping, "Please…Toni…touch me…please!" She ventured one hand down Megan's thigh, her thumb massaging closer and closer to Megan's center.

"Ssshh…Megan…slowly…I've got you…I've got you…" Toni tried, barely able to speak as her mouth never left her lover's body.

"Now!" Megan demanded, arching her hips toward Toni's touch.

"Slowly…slowly…" Toni cooed, trying to prolong Megan's pleasure. She slipped two fingers into Megan's wetness trying to avoid touching the bundle of nerves that would send her over for at least a few moments. It might have been easier if Megan's knee wasn't suddenly pressed against her own need. When she knew that she could no longer resist her own climax, she pressed her thumb against Megan's center and they both fell over the edge again.

For several minutes they simply laid locked against each other. Finally Megan willed her body to be still long enough for her to speak. "Toni," she started, lifting Toni's head in her hand, which had previously lain limp against her shoulder, so that she could see her lover's eyes, "I love you…so much."

Barely able to speak, Toni chose to kiss Megan instead. As their bodies started their dance once again Toni managed to voice her own thoughts.

"I love you too…you are so beautiful…I need you so much…it hurts…I need you Megan…I can't live without you…please…I…need you…please don't…please don't…"

Megan looked at Toni as she moved above her, sending her body spiraling toward another climax. "What Toni?" she asked quietly. "Please don't what?" she whispered.

"Don't…don't leave me…" Toni finally admitted as they exhausted themselves, their bodies quaking uncontrollably.

"Never…never…" Toni heard faintly as she felt her body fall limply across Megan's.

Hours later Toni woke to find herself sprawled across Megan's body. Gently she eased herself off and curled herself around her lover. Megan seemed to sigh with relief, but she couldn't be sure. They hadn't made love in over four months and before, when they did, Megan usually rested on the top. Toni knew that she had passed out from pure exhaustion, but she wasn't sure what kept Megan from pushing her heavier body away as she had done in the past.

Toni wondered what had exactly happened. Although she didn't say it in so many words, it seemed clear that Megan wasn't going to take her up on her offer to leave. But Megan hadn't said that she would be happy with what the future held either.

"Can I say something now?" Megan asked quietly. Toni nearly jumped out of her skin. She had no idea that Megan was awake and she suddenly wondered if she hadn't been speaking out loud.

"S…sure…" she stammered.

Megan rolled over on her back so that she could look at Toni. "When I was little I wanted to be just like my father. I wanted everything that he had because it obviously made him very happy." She traced Toni's jaw with her fingers as she spoke. "As I got a little older, I knew that I wouldn't be able to be just like my father, because I was different. Not just because I was a girl, but because I realized that I was gay. And I knew right then that I wasn't going to have what all the little straight boys and girls had. I knew I wasn't going to get married and have seven kids so I held onto the idea of being a cop. When I met Laura in college I thought that maybe I could have most of the things I wanted. I was perfectly contented to have a lover and become a lawyer. She hated the idea of me becoming a cop. So I found that I had different expectations for my future. Well…maybe not the seven kids part," she joked she looked to see if Toni had gotten it, and it seemed she had.

"And when I found out that she wasn't in love with me, I tucked that part of my future away as unattainable. The reason I did that was because I thought that there was no way in hell that two women could fall in love and have it all because neither would be willing to give up anything for the other. Then I met you and I discovered something about myself. I don't want it all…I just want the 'you' part." She punctuated her last statement with a kiss. "Does that answer any of your questions?"

"Mmmm, every one of them. Well…maybe there's just one," she said.

"What?" Megan asked seriously.

"Are you sure?" Toni asked. Megan's eyes widened until she saw the smile forming at the corners of Toni's mouth.

"That's it! You're gonna get it now!" she exclaimed as she pounced. She pinned Toni beneath her and started at her ear lobes. When she heard Toni growl low in her throat she moved down her neck making sure that she hit each pulse point. Slowly she moved her attention to Toni's breasts. Her nipples were already standing erect but Megan couldn't stand it and she teased them to the point of exquisite pleasure. She ran her tongue down Toni's stomach to her bellybutton as she reached up and continued to tease each nipple with her fingertips. Toni's moans of excitement were stirring a need deep within her, but one she knew she would forgo this one time as she suddenly plunged her fingers at Toni's ribs tickling her relentlessly.

Toni's body was quicker to react than her mind. Her elbows clamped down at her sides but they only succeeded in securing Megan's hands in place. Her head flew back as she howled with laughter and her body began to buck in an effort to throw Megan off.

"Megan…please…stop…stop!" she cried between bursts of laughter.

"Say it!" Megan demanded.

"No!" Toni tried to hold out. Finally realizing that she wasn't going to be able to dislodge Megan she relented. "Okay…okay…I give up! You win! You win! I can't take it anymore!"

"Now promise!"

"Okay…no paybacks…okay!"

Satisfied Megan gave up the attack. "That'll teach you to mess with me," she said smugly as she lay her body down atop Toni's. When Toni's body would finally obey, she wrapped her arms around her lover and held her closely.

"God you drive me crazy! Do you know how close I was?" Toni asked.

"How much ya wanna bet you still are?" Megan teased.

"Aw, now you're just bein' mean. You'll probably stop and tickle me again."

"Nope, I promise," Megan assured her as she slid her hand between their bodies and cupped Toni's sex. "Mmmm, wet…I give you ten seconds," Megan predicted as she slid two fingers inside her lover.

"Uh-uh…less…" Toni whispered as her hips rocked against Megan's hand. Within seconds her eyes slammed shut as the orgasm washed over her. When she felt tremors subside, Megan moved her fingers again and felt Toni's sex locked against her hand as another orgasm ripped through her. "Megan, oh, Megan…please…I can't…stop…" Megan relented as she snuggled against Toni's neck.

"I've never done that to you," Megan whispered, somewhat in awe of her accomplishment.

"It's been four months…I've been…saving 'em up," Toni said, her breath still coming in gasps.

"Toni, I've never done that…to you…don't make fun," Megan chastised.

"I'm not…I…it was incredible. Megan…I can barely think right now…but I know that I love you completely. And the way you just made me feel was incredible."

"I didn't do anything…special…"

"Yes you did…for me you did, and you know it."

"What…what…am I supposed to do now?"

"Anything you want, love, anything," Toni assured her.

To be continued in Part 20…

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