REDEMPTION SONG

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 I have taken artistic license in describing them.

Thank you to my beta author Buxxer.

Thanks also to my beta readers Mercury and Garnet.

All comments can be directed to Blondebard33@hotmail.com

 

 

Several days later they pulled into the alley behind their new home. The wooden fence that surrounded the back was too tall for even Toni to see over.

"We have to go around front so we can turn off the alarm," Megan told her.

"Sure...okay," Toni agreed, still in awe of what she could see of the little two-story bungalow style house.

Theirs was the second house in from the corner and Toni simply stood in front of the little picket fence that surrounded it with her mouth hanging open.

"Well? What do you think?" Megan asked suddenly feeling nervous.

"Itís...I donít know..." she started to answer. Her eyes had filled up with tears so quickly she wasnít sure why. "Itís beautiful," she finished.

Megan noticed the tears in Toniís eyes. She knew that Toni would like it but she wasnít prepared for this reaction. She took Toni by the hand. "Címon, let me show you the inside."

As Megan tried to sort out which key belonged to which lock she saw Toniís hand move out of the corner of her eye. Toniís hand traced the two signs that were attached to the wall next to the door. The top one read: S.M. OíConnor, Attorney-at-Law. The second simply said: F. Camilli, Investigations.

"Thereís an office in the front of the house. Itís closed off from the rest of the house so we donít have to worry about that," she told her as she finally got the locks open. An insistent beeping sound accompanied her when she opened the door. She stepped inside and lifted a small oil painting of a seascape, revealing the alarm panel. When she punched in the code the beeping stopped.

"I suppose Iíd better learn that too," Toni nodded toward the alarm.

"No way!" Megan exclaimed. "If you found out...Iíd have to kill ya!" she teased. "Besides, I kinda like the thought of keeping you here as my love slave."

"Whatever you say mistress," Toni joked back. Without warning she grabbed Megan and kissed her passionately. The kiss lasted for several joyous minutes until Toni realized that her own legs were going to give out if she didnít stop.

"Wow!" was all Megan could manage as she held onto Toni for dear life, her knees having given out almost immediately. "What was that for?" Megan asked breathlessly.

"I just wanted you to know how much I love you, and the house."

"But...youíve only seen the foyer."

"And your point is?" Toni smiled at her.

The small foyer held two chairs in case people had to wait. The next room ran the whole front of the house and held two large desks, each with its own computer. A door at the left side of the room hid a small half-bathroom. A solid oak door at the back of the office opened on the living room, hiding its contents from anyone who visited their office.

The room was painted a very light sea foam green with white chair molding that ran around the walls. A large fireplace dominated one wall and two pictures stood on the mantel above it. One was the picture of them kissing at Mammoth Cave and the other was the picture of John Taylor, Meganís late partner, and his family. Toni recognized the furniture as it came from Meganís condo. The floors were hardwood and area rugs helped to soften up the look. The entertainment center took up another wall. Except for the television, its contents were still in boxes stacked next to it. To the left a staircase led up to the second floor. Toni stood behind Megan with her arms wrapped around her and her head resting atop Meganís as she regarded the magnificent room.

"We can paint it if you donít like the color and rearrange it any way you want," Megan informed her.

"Did you pick the color?" Toni asked. She knew the paint job was fresh because she could still smell it.

"Um...yeah," Megan responded.

"Good, because I love it," Toni stated emphatically. "Show me some more."

Megan was reluctant to move. Not because she didnít want to show Toni the rest of the house, but because she loved the way Toni was holding her and she didnít want to leave the embrace. She took a few tentative steps holding Toniís arms around her firmly but realized quickly that they wouldnít get very far that way.

"Damn," Megan whispered to herself, but Toni had heard.

"Whatís wrong?"

"Nothing," she told her lover as she turned in her arms. "I just...I just wanted to stay in your arms for a while...I really liked the way it felt."

"Mmmm, me too," Toni admitted as she leaned in and captured Meganís lips once again. "Show me the rest of the place and Iíll hold you for the rest of the day."
"Deal!" With that proclamation Megan spun on her heel, grabbed Toniís hand and started dragging her towards a doorway on the right.

"Whoa! Slow down there tiger," Toni admonished when she was almost pulled off her feet.

"Hurry. I want to get to that Ďin your arms for the rest of the dayí thing," Megan grinned back at her.

The next room was a fairly large dining area, which contained only the small, two-seat dining table that had been in Meganís kitchen. As a result the room looked larger than it was. The next stop was the kitchen. The kitchen had obviously been redone sometime around the 1970ís and the style of cabinets reflected that, but all of the appliances were almost brand new. A set of French doors led out to the backyard deck and another doorway hid a small laundry room. Another set of stair s ran from the back of the kitchen to the upstairs.

Megan led Toni out the French doors onto the wooden deck in back. The deck held a couple of comfortable lounge chairs, a brick barbecue and a Jacuzzi that was big enough for four people.

"A hot tub huh?" Toni asked waggling her eyebrows.

"It came with the house," Megan said poking Toni in the ribs.

"If you say so," Toni teased. "Letís try it out."

"Maybe...after the tour is over. Of course, if we do youíll have to hold me then too."

Toni pulled Megan into her arms and kissed her gently. "I promised you all day...and I meant...all...day," she told her, punctuating each word with a kiss.

"I think I could fall in love with you, ya know?"

"Too late," Toni told her with a smile.

They took the stairs from the kitchen up. The first door on their right held a full sized guest bathroom done in white and blue tile. The next door held a fairly large linen closet.

"This is the guest bedroom," Megan announced as she opened the door opposite the bathroom. Toni noted that the guestroom contained the bedroom furniture from Meganís condo. She wasnít exactly sure what to make of it, so she didnít comment.

They passed the staircase that led down to the living room, to the one remaining door.

"And this is our room," Megan told Toni as she opened the door. The room was bare. Large, picturesque windows dominated the south and west walls. A door in the east wall presumably led to a master bathroom and half of the north wall, where they came in was occupied by a large closet.

Toni wandered across the hardwood floor to the bathroom door and peeked inside. Like the kitchen downstairs, this room had obviously been redone in the Ď70ís. She stepped back into the room, still not sure what to make of the absence of furniture. She had never in her life lived in a house that didnít have carpeting or tile and she really liked the wooden floors. They even creaked a little as you walked across them, giving them character. Megan waited in the middle of the room with a hesitant smile on her face.

"Well? What do you think?" she asked.

Toni crossed over to her and pulled her close. Meganís grip on her was both fierce and fretful. Toni kissed the top of her head. "I love it. Itís incredible. And so are you."

Megan breathed an open sigh of relief upon hearing Toniís opinion of the place they would call home.

"Just one thing," Toni started. She felt Megan become tense in her arms and she stepped back a little ways so that she could see Meganís face. "Why isnít there any furniture in here?" she asked mildly bewildered.

"I...I thought...I mean...if you want...that we could...you know...pick it out...together," Megan finally finished her thought.

Toni grinned from ear to ear and pulled Megan back into her embrace. "Iíd love to," she said, her voice heavy with emotion.

After they retrieved their bags from the car they decided that they would spend the rest of the day in the hot tub. Toni pulled sheets, pillowcases and a comforter from one of the boxes marked Ďlinen closetí and made the bed in the guestroom while Megan searched through several other boxes trying to locate their bathing suits.

"Damn it! Where the hell did I put them?" Megan mumbled out loud as she began to throw items of clothing out of the boxes.

"Hey...come here," Toni spoke softly as she pulled Megan up and into her arms. Megan held on tightly.

"This is all I wanted anyway," she said as she buried her head against Toniís chest, allowing the frustration to drain out of her.

After a few minutes Toni let go of the embrace and began to pull off her clothes. Megan watched fascinated. When she was done she grabbed Megan by her belt loops pulling her a little closer then began to unbutton her jeans. When they were both naked she turned and rummaged through a box she had opened earlier and pulled out two large beach towels.

"Címon, letís go check out the hot tub," she said as she took Megan by the hand.

Megan however remained rooted to the spot.

"Toni...I wasnít able to find our bathing suits..."

"So?"

"So? We canít go out back like this," Megan replied, suddenly shy.

"Why not? Itís our backyard and our hot tub. Whoís going to stop us?"

"But...the neighbors will see us..."

"Are you kidding? With that fence? Here," she said as she draped one towel around Megan and the other around herself. "No one is going to see a thing, I promise. And if they do Iíll just tell them to stop ogling my woman!"

Megan finally relaxed and began to laugh. It was after all, their house.

 

Several hours later Toni awoke to a gentle rumbling from beneath her clasped hands. They had fallen asleep in the hot tub and Meganís growling stomach had woken her up. For a while she sat and contemplated the woman that she held in her arms. When she considered how intensely attached to Megan she was, it took her breath away. Nothing in her life had prepared her for how she was feeling now. It felt as though she had been drowning and was suddenly allowed to come up for air. The feelings were at once overwhelming and comforting. She kissed the top of the head that was nestled against her shoulder.

"Megan, hey sweetie, wake up."

"Mmmm, just five more minutes, okay?"

"No, now."

"Please?" she pleaded. Toni almost gave in when she heard Meganís tiny voice beg her.

Steeling her resolve, she stood with her lover in her arms and climbed out of the hot tub. The change in temperature startled Megan awake.

"Toni! What? What are you doing?"

"Getting you out of there before you shrink another size down," Toni joked.

"Toni! Weíre...weíre naked," Megan whispered harshly.

"Here then," Toni replied, stopping to allow Megan to grab the towels off of the lounge chair. Megan tried to cover them up with the towels as Toni continued to the back door.

"Get that would you?" Toni asked nodding toward the door handle.

"Put me down before you hurt yourself," Megan admonished.

"Megan, you hardly weigh a thing, but if you donít open that door Iím going to drop you out of pure frustration."

Megan considered her options momentarily and quickly reached for the door handle. Once inside Toni headed for the kitchen stairs. Worrying that her partner was going to hurt herself in the effort Megan pleaded with her once more.

"Toni, please put me down."

"I will," she promised. At the top of the stair she headed for the guestroom and finally released her bundle onto the bed. Gently she eased her body on top of her loverís and began to hungrily devour her mouth. A few moments later a loud rumbling issued from Meganís protesting stomach. Toni began to laugh as she eased herself off of her partner and lay beside her gently rubbing the offended belly.

"Weíd better get you something to eat," she commented.

"No! I mean, Iím not hungry, really," Megan tried as she pushed Toniís hand lower.

"Listen, tiger, as much as I donít want to stop, we havenít eaten since breakfast and the sun has already gone down."

Megan rolled her eyes in frustration. "Youíre right," Megan conceded. "I am a little hungry." With this pronouncement her stomach growled even louder. "Shut up you!"

 

A couple of days later as they finished the pizza and salad they ordered, Megan was once again cradled in Toniís arms.

"We still have a lot of things to talk about," Toni started.

"Yeah, I guess we do." They had already worked out some of the details of their new situation over dinner. Toni was to be in charge of setting up the kitchen since she would end up doing most of the cooking and Megan would be in charge of unpacking, as all but of few of the boxes contained her possessions.

"We have to decide what we are going to tell Bill and Jack. Itís not as if we can live in this town without ever running into them."

"We have to be careful what we tell them Toni. We canít risk putting them into the middle of this."

"I know we canít tell them everything, but Megan, weíve already put them in the middle. Jack got shot because of me. He almost died."

"Toni, Jack did not get shot because of you." She turned from the place she occupied in her loverís arms so that she could look her in the eyes. "He got shot because of that goon that Leo Ribisi hired to kill you."

"Iím sorry Megan, but I donít see a difference." Toni looked away from Meganís gaze with an all too familiar look of disgust that she used when she confronted the things from her past.

"Well I do. Itís not like you threw Jack in front of you when bullets started flying. That creep had no reason to shoot Jack, but he did anyway. Besides, Jack is fine and Iím sure he is going to be thrilled to see you."

"Weíll see."

"What do you mean by that?"

"How thrilled do you think either of them will be to see me when they realize that it was my fault that Jack was nearly killed?"

Megan leapt from the couch and Toniís comforting embrace and turned on her lover. "About as thrilled as Emily, Laura and Kelly were to see me when I finally went to see them almost 6 months after John was killed. Just so ya know they welcomed me with open arms!" she fired off sarcastically. "They had no idea that I was alive until I was shot!" Meganís statements were loud and vehement. "I was like a daughter to John and Emily! Emily and the girls were devastated when John was killed! And when I was reported killed in Seattle, Emily and the girls went to my fucking funeral!"

As Toni watched Megan pace the sparse living room that they now shared she suddenly had an insight to the grief that had been bestowed upon others. It was true that she had suffered the loss of her mother and father...her best friend Bobby when he was just 16 years old, and her good friend Sal at her own hands. But she had never realized that the events that had transpired in the last 8 months had as much of an impact on anyone outside of her realm of Ďfeelingí until she heard Meganís words.

Toni remembered the night almost two months previous as she sat in her cell eagerly awaiting Meganís visit. Megan had been very quiet that night when she had come to visit. Toni knew that she had gone to see Emily. She knew that it was going to be hard for Megan, mostly because of the nightmares that had been visited upon her from the time that John had been shot to death by the Ribisi Mob.

"So, how did it go?" Toni had asked gently.

Instead of answering, Megan had collapsed in her arms in a flood of tears. When she was finally able to talk she told Toni about going to see Emily. The girls had gone to school after delaying their entry for a semester. She recognized that it added to Meganís guilt that Emily was relieved that she was safe and alive. Megan told her that Emily took her to Johnís gravesite at her request. And she felt Meganís shame and grief when she revealed that she collapsed at his grave, blaming herself for something that she could not have prevented, but felt the weight of anyway.

As her mind focused on the present, Toni felt at a loss as to how to comfort her lover because her own guilt and grief prevented her from giving up the same past experiences. She feared it was too late when it finally dawned on her that Megan carried around those same feelings of regret and loss. She rose and quickly crossed the room, enveloping Megan in her embrace. Meganís arms, which had been raised in a defensive position, were caught between their bodies.

"Sshhh, Megan, shah, Iím sorry. I wasnít thinking." Megan had finally made it abundantly clear that Toni wasnít the only one walking around with what she considered the Ďweight of the worldí on her shoulders. Meganís body shook uncontrollably while she cried.

"Why do you think they wonít be glad to see you are safe?" Megan sobbed as she punctuated her words with her fists to Toniís chest.

"Megan...please...stop!" she begged as she shook her lover lightly. "You didnít cause Johnís death!"

"No? If I had been there...at his side...but I wasnít!"

"You were protecting me," Toni countered, defending Meganís actions.

"I wasnít with him because I was so consumed with thoughts of you!"

"Megan, what are you talking about?" Toni asked gently trying to calm her increasingly agitated lover.

"This is what I was thinking about when I left John standing at that door alone!" she yelled as she ripped at Toniís T-shirt. "This is what I wanted!" Toniís shirt was ripped to shreds as Megan pushed her back onto the couch coming down on top of her. Her hands grabbed at Toniís bare breasts as her mouth came down roughly on Toniís.

"Megan, please!" Toni begged quietly. "Donít do this...not now," she whispered. Toniís confusion did nothing to quell her ardor.

"Donít tell me you didnít want me too!" she snarled. "I saw the way you looked at me, like you could have me for dinner!" Meganís body began to rock against the knee trapped between her thighs. Her eyes were glazed, not with passion, Toni noticed, but instead with anger and rage.

Toni was stunned. She had no idea that Meganís rescue of her at the hands of the Ribisiís paid assassins had been a choice. She had thought from the moment it happened that the young Marshal was simply doing her job.

"You wanted me! Didnít you? Didnít you?"

"Yes! Yes! From the first time...I saw...you...yes!" Toni admitted.

"And you still want me, donít you?"

"Megan please baby...not like this," she tried again. Despite the coarse treatment she was receiving, Toniís body responded to Meganís touch as it always did and she couldnít help the moan of desire that escaped her lips. Meganís mouth descended upon her breasts with the same rawness that her hands had been giving.

"This is what I was thinking about," Megan growled as she bit and sucked Toniís nipples. "This is what I wanted at that moment!" Toni felt one of Meganís hands push aside her boxers from underneath as fingers plunged deeply inside her. She was unable to deny that even this felt good coming from the woman who held her soul. Her hips rocked in rhythm with Meganís and she pulled her loverís head back to her aching breast. Toniís body was excited beyond measure at this forceful and aggressive Megan, but her head knew that it was wrong. She tried to push down the flood of desire because she knew that Megan was out of control, but she couldnít fight her own urges and succumbed to Meganís will.

"You wanted this too, didnít you?" Meganís voice was a low growl.

"Yes," Toni answered, her libido now firmly in control of her body.

"Tell me!"

"I...I wanted you! I wanted to touch you...taste you...own you!"

"I wanted you...and now youíre mine...mine...mine," Megan intoned as her body stiffened and then rocked with her release.

"Yes...all yours," was all Toni could manage through clenched teeth as she fell over the edge herself.

Megan had collapsed on top of Toni. Exhausted herself, Toni simply lay there while the blood pumped loudly in her ears. As soon as she had caught her breath, she put her arms gently around her lover. Megan tensed and then quickly pushed herself up off of Toni and bolted for the stairs.

ĎWhoa! Shit! What just happened here?í Toni asked herself. She started to sit up but felt her head swim. She closed her eyes and collapsed back on the couch. Her body still thrummed with the excitement she had felt only moments before. ĎWow! That was incredible!í She looked down at the tattered remains of her T-shirt, only the collar still intact, and pulled it off over her head when she was finally able to sit up. She rose and detoured into the kitchen to throw the torn shirt in the garbage and then headed up the back stairs on wobbly legs.

At the top of the stairs she could hear a shower running, but it wasnít coming from the spare bathroom where they had stowed all of their stuff. She went into the spare bedroom and opened the drawer, which contained her very meager wardrobe. Selecting a clean T-shirt, she pulled it on. Rummaging through the linen closet box she found a couple of clean bath towels and then headed for the spare bathroom to grab soap, shampoo and conditioner. The door to the master bathroom was closed and she paused, wondering if she should give Megan some time. The door to the master bath didnít have a lock on it. Megan had told her earlier that it didnít matter because any guests that they might have would use the spare bathroom, which did.

ĎMaybe thatís why she chose this bathroom,í Toni pondered. ĎSo I would know that it was okay to come in. Or maybe so that she could get as far away from me as possible,í she thought ruefully. ĎWell, I guess thereís only one way to find out,í she told herself as she gently opened the door. She stepped quickly into the steamy room and closed the door.

Megan snapped out of her angry haze when she felt Toniís arms wrap around her. Mortified, she pushed away from her loverís gasping body and bolted up the stairs. She started for the spare bathroom wanting nothing more than to wash the stain of her actions from her body. She threw off her clothes and reached for the knobs to turn on the water but stopped as she envisioned the previous evening when she and Toni had made love in that very shower. Slowly she backed out of the room and stumbled toward the other bathroom. She turned the water on as hot as she could stand it and climbed inside.

ĎWhat have I done?í she asked herself. ĎHow could I have treated her like that? God, I was so angry...but not with her, with myself. I shouldnít have touched her. I should have just walked away.í As ashamed as she was by her actions, the tears refused to come. Several minutes later she heard the door open and close.

"I brought you a towel and some shampoo," Toni offered. She hung the towels up on the towel rack and set the shampoo and soap on the edge of the tub thinking that Megan wasn't going to answer her.

"Thanks," Megan finally whispered. She was deeply ashamed of what she had done, but was so out of it earlier, that she didnít realize fully what had transpired until she had felt Toniís arms wrap around her. Since then she had been standing under the hot shower spray half hoping that Toni would come find her and half hoping she wouldnít. All of the emotions that had come pouring out of her earlier were directed at herself, but she had vented them at Toni. And although she had felt awful for the callous treatment she had shown the person that she loved most in this world, she found that she didnít have any tears. It was as if all of her emotions, the good ones and the bad, had fled, leaving her feeling empty and tired.

Toni sat down on the toilet seat trying to think of something to say. She had hoped that Megan would want to talk but was no longer sure when several quiet minutes had passed. Finally she couldnít stand the distance between them any longer. She shed her shirt and boxers and slowly stepped into the shower behind Megan. As if sensing how near she was, Megan turned and threw herself into Toniís arms. Breathing an almost audible sigh of relief, Toni held Megan as closely as she could without crushing her.

"Iím sorry," Megan whispered.

"Ssshh," Toni soothed, thankful that Megan wanted her near. "Iím fine. Everythingís fine."

"No. I shouldnít have...shouldnít have treated you that way...touched you that way."

"It doesnít matter how you touch me...because itís you touching me."

"No. It does matter. I love you and you donít deserve my anger."

"Megan, itís okay...Iím okay." For the first time since she came into the bathroom, Megan looked into Toniís eyes and realized something.

"Youíre used to it?" she whispered, somewhat astounded. "Thatís how your other lovers were?"

Toni kissed Meganís cheek gently. "Sweetie, you are the only lover Iíve ever had...and no, that wasnít the way I was treated." She allowed the implication to hang in the air.

"Oh," Megan whispered, sad that Toni had felt that way when making love before. "Youíve never...with me..."

"No. Not with you...not ever," she said quietly into Meganís ear.

"But I did. Iím sorry. I was...."

"Angry with yourself?"

"Yes. How did you know?" she asked. But quickly realized why Toni understood so easily.

"You shouldnít be. Just as I shouldnít have been angry with myself all those years ago."

"Yes...I...should!" she whispered harshly. "I left John at that door alone because I was listening to my baser instincts!" Her body began to tremble and the tears came at last. Toni held her closer.

"You listen to me!" Toniís voice was low but fierce. "Your instincts are far from base. Whatever instinct led you into that bathroom, it saved both of our lives! Megan," she turned her loverís face to hers, "when I heard those shots, I froze. You didnít. You saved my life and your own. Iím sorry there was nothing we could do for John. Truly sorry."

Megan buried her face against Toniís shoulder and wept. She heard the wisdom in Toniís words and cried for John, for behaving badly and at the thought of how close she had come to losing Toni before she had had the chance to know her. And she thanked God for the opportunity and relative good fortune that he had bestowed upon them. Several minutes later her tears were finally spent. She raised her head to look at Toniís beautiful cobalt eyes.

"Are you okay?" Toni asked.

"Better now. Thanks," she replied as she raised up on her toes and kissed Toni softly on the mouth.

They began to settle into their new environment rather quickly. They ordered their new bedroom furniture off the Internet. A $250 delivery charge had been added to the cost, but they found that reasonable considering it was being shipped from a store in Kendall, which was about 5 hours away from Key West. The bed was a king-sized four poster made of oak. After much measuring and debating they agreed that it would indeed fit in the room and allow space for a large dresser with a mirror and two small bedside dressers.

Toni took charge of the kitchen. Aside from some dishes, silverware, pots, pans, toaster and the small microwave that Megan had in her condo, not much else occupied it. Toni found the non-perishables that Megan had to be woefully lacking. The only spices she owned were salt, pepper and garlic powder.

"You donít have any spices. How do you cook?" Toni had asked her.

"I donít," was Meganís simple reply.

Reluctantly Megan had let Toni go to the grocery store solo. Not that she was worried that anything would happen, at least she tried not to worry, but she had wanted to share every aspect of fixing up their new home together. Toni assured her that she would be bored since she planned to take her time to make sure that she got everything that a proper kitchen needed.

Megan got to be in charge of everything else. She set up the computers in their office, hooked up the home entertainment equipment and got to pick the new sheets and comforter that would adorn their new bed.

A week later their new furniture arrived. The deliverymen even assembled it for them, for which Toni tipped them handsomely. They spent the rest of that afternoon making sure the bed was in good working order.

One evening in early May, Megan suggested that they go out for dinner. She watched as a haunted look crossed Toniís face. Realizing what was on her loverís mind she brought up the subject they had been studiously avoiding.

"Baby, we canít stay in forever and weíre bound to see them at some point," she said as she took Toniís hands in her own.

"I...I know...but shouldnít we go to them first. I mean, it would be really awkward if we should just happen to run into them."

"Okay. Fair enough. Weíll go see them tomorrow."

"Okay."

The next morning Toni woke to find Megan doing her morning exercises on the mat at the foot of the bed. She turned around on the bed and lay with her chin on her crossed arms watching. Megan had gained back some of the weight she had lost while in the hospital and her exercise regimen helped her muscles firm back up quickly. With each crunch her desire for her partner built, until she remembered the task that lay ahead of them this day. Her desire suddenly squelched she simply watched and wondered how Jack and Bill were going to react. Megan was, of course, optimistic. She was not. Having observed the lower aspects of human nature up close, she wasnít so sure that their story would hold true or that Jack would forgive her for putting him in the middle.

"What if theyíre not home?" Toni asked as they approached the door.

"Then weíll come back later." Megan gave Toniís hand a squeeze. "Címon baby, itíll be okay, youíll see." Looking into Meganís pretty green eyes, she could almost believe. She leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on Meganís lips.

"I love you."

"I love you too Toni." Hesitantly she knocked softly on the door. Steeling herself up, she knocked a couple of more times firmly.

A few seconds later they heard movement and Jackís voice, "Coming."

When he opened the door and saw them standing there he gasped. "Oh my Lord! Toni? Megan?" He rushed to hug them both, a huge grin on his face. Toni relaxed and returned the embrace. "Oh my Lord!" he exclaimed again. "What...what are you doing here? Come in, come in!"

"Hi Jack, itís so good to see you," Megan told him as they were ushered inside.

"I was just having some coffee and reading the paper. Can I get you two a cup?"

"Sure, thank you," Megan replied for both of them. She squeezed Toniís hand again when she saw the haunted, guilty look return to her eyes.

"How are you Jack?" Toni asked, finally gaining the courage to speak.

"I doing great. How are you?" he asked as he handed them their cups.

"Fine," Toni replied quietly sipping her coffee and making a face.

"Here, let me have that," Megan said realizing that Toni hadnít put any sugar or cream in it.

"Sorry," Jack said as he slid the sugar and milk toward Megan. "Where have you two been? We havenít seen you since..." realizing that he had stepped right into it he stopped. Toni refused to look him in the eye.

"Is Bill here?" Megan asked.

"Yeah...um...no, he went down the block to get some bagels. He should be back any minute now."

"We just thought that it would be easier to explain to you both at the same time," Megan told him.

"Okay," he nodded at them as if he understood their reluctance to talk. "I like your hair like this," he told Megan as he reached out and touched it.

"Thanks. It kinda goes with the story," Megan told him.

"And this?" he asked, gently touching the scar that peeked out from the sleeve of Toniís T-shirt.

"That too," Toni confirmed.

"Honey, Iím back. I got you a blueberry bagel because they were already out of..." Bill stopped dead when he entered the kitchen.

"Look who I found?" Jack grinned at him.

"Megan? Toni? Where have you been girlfriend and what did you do to your hair?" Bill asked as he embraced Megan.

"Itís a bit of a story if you care to hear it," Megan smiled back at him. Never having felt that Toni was the type who liked physical contact, he simply grasped her hand warmly.

"Iíve got half a dozen fresh bagels here if you two care for one," he offered.

"No, thank you. We ate breakfast already," Toni lied. She knew it would be the first of many this day. In truth, both of them had been too nervous to eat, and she wondered about the wisdom of drinking coffee on an empty and unsettled stomach.

"How long has it been since we last saw you?" Bill asked.

"Almost six months," Toni supplied.

"Well, weíre dying to know. Where have you been? What have you been up to?" Jack prodded, eager to hear their story. He saw Toni visibly flinch when he asked but was unable to understand why.

"What we have to tell you...is in the strictest of confidence. Weíve made our home in Key West and in order to tell you why, we have to have your word that it wonít leave these walls," Megan said cryptically.

"Okay," they both agreed.

"I am in the Witness Protection Program," Toni started off. Jack and Bill glanced at one another but didnít interrupt. "I testified against a group of men who were trying to defraud the government out of millions of dollars," she told them. While not the whole truth, they had decided that they should give a version of the facts that closely resembled the truth without actually revealing their identities. After all, not declaring millions in illegal gambling profits on your tax statement was technically fraud.

"The men that we were running from...the day that Jack...got shot...were trying to kill me to keep me from testifying," Toni barely managed to get out. Jack stared at her somewhat wide-eyed. He knew that those two thugs had been after Toni and Megan and now he knew why. Billís eyes, however, narrowed at this comment. He had accepted the authorityís explanation at the time that although the two men had been after Toni and Megan that it was in some way related to a hate crime.

"What part did you play in all of this? Did you testify as well?" Bill directed his questions to Megan.

"Iím a US Deputy Marshal. It was my job to make sure that Toni got to trial safely. We fell in love and now weíre together," she told him, almost ashamed that they had found each other amidst so much tragedy.

"Are you still a Deputy?" Bill asked.

"Yes, I still hold a badge, but now I work for the Justice Department as a US Attorney."

"Youíre a lawyer?" Jack asked.

"Yes."

"And what about you Toni? Are you a writer or was that part of the ruse?" Bill asked, his tone edgy.

"Yes, Iím a writer...at least thatís what I want to be," Toni told him honestly.

"And are your names really Toni and Megan?" Bill asked.

"Not anymore," Toni responded. Technically this was not a lie since their names had been changed significantly.

"And the other?" Jack asked, meaning Toniís scar and Meganís short hair, which they had indicated was part of the story.

"Just before the trial, there was another attempt on Toniís life. We were both shot," Megan explained. She parted her hair a little and Jack saw the thin scar beneath.

"Nice one," Jack said with a whistle. "Wanna see mine?" he asked as he started to unbutton his shirt. Bill shot him a withering glance and he stopped.

Bill gained his feet and poured himself another cup of coffee. He didnít offer any to his guests. Toni had long since abandoned hers and had been longing for one of those bagels to help settle her churning stomach. Megan too, wished that she hadnít drunk over half the cup, but it had been helping with dryness she had felt in her mouth.

"So, knowing that people were trying to kill you, you just waltzed into town and decided it would be okay to put other peopleís lives at risk?" Bill asked snidely.

"Bill!" Jack exclaimed, shocked at his loverís demeanor towards their friends.

"It wasnít like that Bill," Megan said with a pleading voice. "You and Jack are our friends. We didnít intend for anyone to get hurt," she added dejectedly.

"What really happened? Were you writing some expose on the mob when you got caught?" Bill asked.

Both Toni and Megan were shocked. Although they werenít sure that their story would hold up to close scrutiny, they had no idea that either Bill or Jack would hit the nail so squarely on the head.

"Oh my God!" Bill exclaimed. "I know who you are," he accused pointing at Toni. "Youíre that damned mob informant. Youíre the one that testified against that New York crime family. I saw you on TV...only you were dressed like a cop! They said you were in prison! How dare you come here and put us in jeopardy again!"

"Bill! Stop it!" Jack demanded. "These are our friends and I wonít have this!"

"They almost got you killed!" he shrilled.

"Iím the one who almost got myself killed!" Jack yelled back. "Neither of those thugs pulled a weapon out until I pulled mine. I was so angry because they were trying to harm Megan and Toni and they threw every hateful comment against gays that they could think of at me and I snapped! If I hadnít, everything would have been fine. I was at fault! I got myself shot!"

"We should go," Toni said quietly, standing and taking Meganís hand in hers.

"Toni...Megan...wait...donít go," Jack pleaded.

"Let them go," Bill growled.

Toni and Megan headed for the front door, their heads bowed. Jack pushed past Bill and caught up just as they exited.

"Wait, please?" he asked. "At least tell me where I can find you. Iíll talk to him. Heís a good man...heís just scared."

"I know," Megan told him.

"Weíre sorry. Really," Toni added. "We never meant to see either of you hurt."

"I know that Toni and he does too, deep down." He surprised her by grabbing her in a fierce embrace. He hugged Megan too, kissing each of her cheeks. "Please, tell me where I can find you?" he asked again.

Megan glanced at Toni who nodded her assent. She gave him their address and they departed. They walked for several blocks in silence with their hands still clasped.

"Well that went better than I expected," Toni commented wryly.

"Iím sorry. I thought they would understand. I thought they were our friends," Megan told her sadly.

"I guess weíll find that out soon enough, wonít we?" Toni added, knowing how easy it would be for Bill to spread the word that Toni "The Blade" Ferenci was everyoneís new next door neighbor. "Letís go get a drink."

"Toni, itís 11am on a Sunday. Donít you think itís too early for that?"

"Right now? No."

They headed to Fat Tuesday where they downed several Banana Banshees before stumbling home. When they arrived, they found Jack on their doorstep.

"Thank God, I was getting worried. I thought that maybe you had..."

"Run off again?" Toni finished for him.

"Yeah, something like that."

"Welcome to our home...we hope..." Toni remarked, her brain slightly fuzzy from the alcohol.

"Toni, donít," Megan chastised her lover. "Come in Jack," Megan said when she finally fitted the key into the lock.

"Oh shit!" she commented when the alarm started the dim keening that notified them that they needed to turn it off. Megan lifted the little seascape painting but suddenly couldnít remember the code. Toni stepped in behind her and pushed the correct buttons and the alarm stopped. "Thanks," Megan sighed with relief.

"No problem love, itís what Iím here for," Toni smiled at her. They led Jack through the room that was their office and Toni took the keys from Megan and unlocked the door that led into their living room.

"Wow, itís beautiful," Jack said upon entering.

"Thanks," Toni replied, wondering if they were going to have to leave it now.

They made their way to the kitchen. Toni handed Megan an orange. "Make yourself useful," she teased.

"Yes maíam," Megan grinned back. Toni went into the fridge and pulled out some ham and cheese for sandwiches.

"Would you like a sandwich Jack?"

"Um, sure," he responded taking a seat on one of the counter stools. Megan sat on a stool next to him with a paper towel and worked on peeling the orange.

"Mayo or mustard?" Toni asked him.

"Mayo, thanks."

She put together three large sandwiches, one with Mayo and two with mustard. When she finished she put them on the counter and sat down next to Megan who had conquered the orange and was licking the juice off of her fingers. Megan looked up at her partner and picking up a slice of the orange she slid it into her mouth. Toni took the slice and a couple of Meganís fingers for a lingering moment.

Jack watched intently as he nibbled on his sandwich. He suddenly felt as though he was intruding. Clearing his throat, he spoke. "Iím really sorry about what happened earlier."

Toni looked at him as if noticing him for the first time. "Donít mind us, we just came from Fat Tuesday. Got a bit of a buzz going. Sorry. As for earlier, Iím surprised you didnít slam the door in our faces."

"What? No! I was so glad to see you two. Relieved actually. When I woke up in the recovery room, there were all these guys in suits clambering to talk to me. But none of them would tell me if you guys were okay. They acted like you didnít even exist. That scared me more than anything else did. And Bill was just beside himself. They airlifted me to Jackson Memorial and they wouldnít let him ride along. You remember Sue, from the bar?" They nodded. "She had to drive him to Miami. Needless to say, after nearly six hours in the car and no way to find out what had happened to me, he was frantic. They had to give him a Valium when he got there. Plus, they jammed him up with that "not relatives" crap. He wasnít able to see me until I woke up and asked for him. He was a basket case by the time they let him in.

"I just needed for you guys to know that I didnít blame you. I never blamed you for what happened. It was my own stupidity that got me into that situation. Three months ago they said I could have my gun back. I told them to keep it. That was the first and the last time I ever really held the damn thing in my hand and Iím in no hurry to repeat it." He paused taking a couple of bites from his sandwich. "So, you wanna see my scar?" he asked wiggling his eyebrows.

Toni left her stool so fast it crashed to the ground. She wrapped the surprised man in her arms. "Jack," she said through her tears, "Iím so glad youíre okay. I donít know what I would have done. Iíve never had a friend like you and I was so afraid that I never would again." By this time, Megan had joined in and had her arms wrapped around both Toni and Jack.

After a few minutes of just letting their emotions flow, Jack spoke. "Hey címon guys, weíre going to have to mop up in here if this keeps up," he sniffled. They all chuckled at his little joke. Before resuming her seat, Toni planted a wet one directly on Jackís lips.

"Thank you Jack."

"For what?" Jack asked surprised for the second time in as many minutes.

"For forgiving me."

"I havenít forgiven you Toni," Jack told her. Toniís eyes widened with his words. He took her hands in his and looked her directly in the eye.

"In order to forgive you, I would have had to have blamed you for something. Being my friend is not something I blame you for Toni. Aside from Bill, who I love with all my heart, Iíve never had a friend like you either. And I wouldnít trade a moment of our time together for anything in the world." Unable to help herself, Toni crushed the poor man in her arms again.

"This calls for a drink!" Megan announced. She broke out their new blender and the store bought Fat Tuesday Banana Banshee mix and blended them each up a drink. They took their drinks out to the back deck and got comfortable. Jackís scar was indeed impressive. The bullet that had hit him missed his heart by a few centimeters to the left. His biggest problem had been an infection that had developed, almost undermining the brilliant work that the surgeons had done on him.

They sat together and talked about the last six months. Since Bill had figured them out, Toni and Megan answered all of Jack's questions as truthfully as possible. They told him about Meganís hospital stay, meeting her parents and their decision that they wanted to live in Key West. Jack told them about the trial that sent the man who shot him away for life. The thug that Jack shot had been killed outright and the testimony of the other bar patrons, although contradictory to Jackís own, had said that the mobster had pulled his weapon first. All charges against Jack were dropped quickly as it was decided that he was defending himself and his gun had been properly registered.

"What about Bill?" Megan asked when they had exhausted their exchange.

"I love him...and that wonít change," Jack told them.

"I wouldnít expect it to," Megan replied, somewhat taken aback by his implication that the events of the day would change that in any way.

"Iím sorry. I know you werenít implying anything. But heís very upset. And I suppose if our positions had been reversed, I might be upset too. But heíll come to grips with it soon." He noted the look of concern on both womenís faces. "Trust me. He wonít say anything. He wonít betray you. I promise. Heís just very hurt right now. He missed you Megan and he has worried about you for the last six months. He cares about you, I guarantee it."

Megan was eased by Jackís words. She wondered though if she and Bill would ever really be friends again. It was obvious that Jack and Toni were not going to have any problems picking up where they left off. And even though she envied Toni her friend, she didnít begrudge her lover in any way. In the time they had spent in Key West before they had to run again, she had watched Toni blossom within that friendship and she wouldnít trade Toniís happiness for even a brief moment of her own. She and Bill had become close, but Jack and Toni had bonded. It was the sort of relationship she would imagine for Toni if she had had a brother.

Toni wondered if Jackís faith in Bill was misplaced. She believed that Jack loved Bill with all of his heart, but her past had left her very cynical. Right now, Bill was angry, and angry people did stupid things. Of course, the stupidest thing he was guilty of right now was letting Megan slip away from him. In the time they had spent together, she had noticed that although Bill was very popular and well liked, no one seemed to get him like Megan did. Megan treated him like she did her brother Sean. She didnít take any shit from him, but she didnít dismiss him either.

Jack told them that Bill still worked at the little shop on Duval Street and that he tended bar only three nights a week. He preferred to spend his time working with his investments, which now included several long-term stocks and mutual funds as well as his initial portfolio, which he traded on a day to day basis. After a couple of hours of catching up, Jack left for home.

While Toni locked up behind him, Megan dashed up the stairs, returning dressed in her green string bikini carrying a couple of beach towels.

Toni quirked her eyebrow at her lover when she returned. "What are you up to?" Toni teased pulling her close.

Megan pulled Toniís head down to hers quickly and devoured her mouth with a kiss. "I thought that maybe Iíd sit in the hot tub for a while. Care to join me?"

"As if you have to ask," Toni rebuked lightly.

"Iíll go turn it on while you get ready, okay?"

"Back in a flash," Toni told her, but didnít leave before kissing her partner deeply once again. After the kiss ended, Toni rested her forehead against Meganís. They stayed together in each otherís arms for several minutes before Megan peeked up into Toniís worried eyes.

"He wonít," Megan said softly to reassure her that Bill would not betray them.

Toni looked deeply into her loverís beautiful green eyes and began to relax the tension that furrowed her brow. "I believe you," she whispered and kissed her softly again and then chuckled lightly. "Except for choosing me, you are the best judge of character I have ever met."

Megan dropped the towels as her hands flew to Toniís ribcage. Her thumbs expertly found their places between Toniís second and third rib and she tickled her mercilessly. Toni flew back out of Meganís arms. Ever since Megan had found her one really ticklish spot, Toni had been helpless. She looked around quickly for some way to retaliate. Spying the discarded towels, she snatched one and danced away from Meganís questing fingers. She took the towel by one long corner and began to wind it slowly, menacingly.

"You wouldnít!" Megan exclaimed wide-eyed.

Toni grinned at her. "And why shouldnít I?"

"Címon Toni, I was only tickling you," Megan pleaded grabbing up the other towel and holding it in front of herself in a feeble attempt at self-defense as she slowly backed away.

"Now whoís the boss, huh?" Toni smirked at her, her blue eyes shining with merriment.

"Um...you are...honey?" Megan said, trying a new endearment as she inched slowly toward the French doors that led to safety.

"Nope," Toni replied rejecting that name accompanied by a slight shake of her head.

"Sweetie?" Megan tried.

"Uh-uh," with another shake of her head.

"Poopsie?" Meganís eyebrows finished the question for her as her free hand found the door handle behind her.

"Not by a longshot!" she retorted as she started to close the distance.

"Okay, no honey, sweetie or poopsie...um...how about...snookums?" Megan tried hopefully.

Toni stopped her advancement, as her look became thoughtful. The arm that held the towel started to relax. "Maybe..." she conceded. Megan took that opportunity to bolt out the door. Unfortunately for her it was a ruse. The towel snapped out just before the door could close on it.

"Ow!" Megan squealed in surprise as the towel caught her bottom despite her efforts. She turned and glared at Toni through the window-paned door rubbing her smarting rear while Toni collapsed to her knees with laughter.


To be continued...

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