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 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 sent to

"How's your Mom?" Toni asked as Megan walked into the kitchen, settling the walk phone in its cradle.

"She's fine. As much as she likes having that many kids around at once, she's glad that they go home with their parents at the end of the day." It was Mother's Day. Toni had made them a very nice dinner of lemon-pepper chicken with asparagus. She felt extremely guilty. Megan had refused to go on the 7-hour trip that would have taken her to her parent's home in Ft. Lauderdale alone. They had discussed the trip. They would have to get a hotel room when they got there and Toni agreed. But she adamantly refused to accompany Megan to her parent's house. She had insisted that she would be fine just waiting for Megan at the hotel while she spent the day with her family, but Megan refused to go if Toni wasn't going to be with her that day.

Toni came around the kitchen counter and wrapped her arms around Megan who sat on one of the stools. "I'm sorry I ruined your day."

"What are you talking about? My day has been very special because I got to spend it with you." Toni found only sincerity in Megan's words and in her eyes.

"Thanks," she answered kissing her lips lightly. "I'm still sorry though. Maybe…I don't know…it won't be so hard for me one day. It's just…so many people…and…they all know so much about me…what I did…"

"Ssshh, Toni," Megan admonished, gently placing her fingers over Toni's lips. "Give yourself a chance with them and them with you. They might not turn out to be as bad as you think…and vice versa."

"Touché." Toni found that Megan was right as usual. She didn't fear the reprisal of the Ribisi's nearly as much as the rejection of the O'Reillys.


Since his first visit, Jack had dropped by at least twice a week. While Megan worked on the legal briefs that were faxed or e-mailed to her from the Justice Department, Toni and Jack would play with their stock investments on the other computer that sat in their office. A week prior to Mother's Day, they had attempted to set up a double date with Bill and Jack. The evening had been so strained that they decided that they wouldn't repeat it any time soon.

They had been frequenting a park where leagues got together to play softball and had been invited to join a couple of pick-up games. Frances and Siobhan started to make new friends in their new town. They found a local motel that had a net strung over the pool where locals and guests often played rousing games of water polo, which to Toni's amazement, was a sport in which Megan excelled. Their new friends started calling Toni, Frankie, which she decided she could live with, especially after being called Fran just one too many times. Much to Megan's dismay, their new friends took to calling her Tiger.

Toni had begun to write again, in earnest. She had written nothing while she sat through the trial in that tiny jail cell, and had only written sporadically since Megan had woken up in the hospital.

Megan had even had one walk in client. Actually not a walk-in, but the woman had called to schedule an appointment for legal advice. She and her husband had been married for eight years, but a prenuptial agreement limited the amount of her alimony unless she could prove he was being unfaithful. Toni agreed to play her part as "private investigator" to gain photos of the husband's infidelity. She had followed him discreetly for a week gaining numerous chances to photograph him with his mistress. Megan had prepared the documents and everything was set except for the nagging feeling that Toni had that something wasn't quite right with the picture. Megan agreed with her and Toni asked for a week to explore her doubts. It only took one day. It turned out that Mrs. Greentree was stepping out on Mr. Greentree as well, thus nullifying any claims she had as to him being the adulterer in the marriage. Megan turned down the client's case. Mrs. Greentree refused to pay because she hadn't gotten the results she had sought. Toni gently reminded her that they knew as much about her as they did about him. She quickly paid them in cash.

Father's Day was fast approaching and Toni knew that Megan really wanted to spend that day with her family despite her protest that she was fine. Megan reasoned that between her job and college, that she hadn't spent a Father's Day at home since she was 20. And though Toni had no doubt that she was telling the truth, the circumstances were no longer the same. She no longer had her classes or her job assignments to keep her from home…she only had Toni.

"C'mon Megan…you'll be there for what? Eight hours? I think I'll be okay for that long."

"You really are full of yourself aren't you?" Megan asked, incredulous that Toni didn't understand why she wanted her there. "It's not the fact that I don't think I can be away from you for 8 hours, it's the reason why. Doesn't it mean anything to you that my parents asked you to come themselves?"

"Yes…actually it means a lot to me. It was very kind of them to ask me. But I still think they were just being polite. They knew that you wouldn't even consider the invitation if they didn't make me feel welcome."

"You know what Toni?" Megan asked rhetorically, because she wasn't going to wait for an answer. "We're going to Ft. Lauderdale for Father's Day. And you can damn well sit in that hotel room waiting for me to return from my enjoyable day."

The trip was three days away and although Father's Day was Sunday, the family was actually getting together on Saturday. They had decided to drive up on Friday afternoon and to leave on Monday. Tuesday evening, after Megan had made her pronouncement that they were going despite Toni's misgivings, Toni tried to make love to Megan.

"Toni…I'm really tired," she had responded to her overtures. Toni believed her without a doubt, but hoped that she was more physically tired than mentally. Toni knew she was taxing Megan's patience. After her recovery from the shooting, the doctors had warned them that Megan would probably act differently on occasion. The biggest difference that Toni could ascertain was Megan's tendency to speak her mind, often vehemently. Megan no longer held back when she felt strongly about something and Toni had often been on the receiving end of her sharp tongue. ‘This is the no nonsense Megan,' Toni thought. She is right though. Her parents have been extremely considerate. Each of them had insisted upon talking to Toni on the phone and both had personally invited her to spend the weekend holiday in their home. The least she could do was try.



As they pulled up in front of Megan's parent's house on Saturday, Toni gasped at the four police vehicles that adorned the driveway. Two of them were white with a blue stripe that proclaimed Ft. Lauderdale Police Department. The other two were white with green stripes that proudly stated Broward Sheriff's Office. Sensing her tension, Megan grasped Toni's hand in assurance.

"They're cops…what did you expect?" Megan chuckled lightly.

"I…well…where I come from, the cops mostly walk their beat. You don't usually pull into any one neighborhood and see one cop car, much less four," Toni answered astonished. "Don't they own their own cars?"

"Yeah, sure they do. But what better way to transport a brood of children than in the back of a locked police car?"

Toni laughed at the joke and relaxed a little. "Thanks."

"For what?"

"For being you. It helps me to feel confident that I can be me."

Tears welled briefly in Megan's eyes as she contemplated the honesty of Toni's admission. Before she could respond, the front door burst open and several children descended upon the car. Toni exited slowly as she watched Megan pick up and hug each child fiercely. She felt odd and out of place until she saw that Margaret O'Reilly had come out to greet her.

"Hello Toni," she said, extending her hands in greeting.

"Um…hello, Mrs. O'Reilly."

"Margaret, please Toni," Megan's mother admonished. "Now that the children have spilled onto the lawn it's probably safer inside," she joked as she took Toni by the elbow and led her toward the house. Toni followed Megan's mother looking back with equal amounts of anguish that Megan wasn't at her side mixed with a little irrational jealousy at Megan's antics with her nieces and nephews as she frolicked on the front lawn.

Inside was quite a bit calmer. She was led in the front door where she saw a living room that obviously no one lived in, because it was immaculate. The large room also encompassed the dining room. The large center table was adorned with a tablecloth and candles and was surrounded by a couple of smaller tables, obviously meant for the kids. The first room on their right was the kitchen. In it were Pat, Megan's father and what had to have been one of her brothers from the look of him.

"Pat, look who's here," Margaret said to her husband. He walked over and clasped her hands in his.

"Welcome, Toni," he greeted her sincerely. She was somewhat surprised by his welcome and wished fervently that Megan would hurry up and join her. She could hear her partner as she came in the door followed by a fistful of children.

"Toni, this is Megan's brother Colin. Colin, this is Toni, Megan's partner," Margaret stated. It had rolled so easily off of her tongue that Toni was beginning to believe that she truly was welcome.

"Hi," Toni offered her hand. Colin shook it firmly.

"Hey. My little sister has told me a lot about you. I'm glad to get to meet you finally," he responded as he warmly took her hands in his. Megan entered the smallish kitchen at that moment with nearly half a dozen kids hanging on her, each vying for her attention. "Aunt Megan" on each an every lip.

"Colin," she spoke quietly as he embraced her.

"Hey there kiddo. Where ya been hiding?"

"You know. Here and there," she quipped with him.

"You look good."

"You too, Col…although…" she paused as she patted his belly, "packing in those carbs still, I see."

"Gee thanks. I can always count on you, can't I?" He lifted her off her feet in an embrace. "Well…well…well…what do we have here? Bones?" She had entered the hospital 140 pounds of solid muscle and had left it at 110 pounds of weak flesh. Megan had only gained 18 pounds back. Luckily it was as muscle.

"We'll see, killer. Wait ‘til we get out there…I'll show you." Toni recognized the reference Megan had made to the game of football that they would play when more than a few of them congregated. The kids, not to be denied their Aunt's attention, were still tugging at her. Toni had long ago stepped out of the way.

"Hey guys," Megan enthused. "I want you to meet someone very special to me." She turned and held out her hand to Toni who wasn't far away, yet she was hip deep in rugrats.

"Toni, this is Tommy," she introduced her oldest nephew. He approached and solemnly shook her hand.

"Hi Tom," she greeted him. His estimation of her grew when she called him by the much older sounding name.

"This is Jeff," Megan offered her next oldest nephew.

"Hi Jeff," Toni said shaking his hand firmly.

"Hi," he responded, his head tilted slightly as he regarded her.

Megan's oldest niece Lucy tugged on her belt buckle, indicating that she as the next oldest, should be the next introduced. "And this is Lucy," she told Toni.

"Hi Lucy," Toni greeted the 10-year-old.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Toni," the child stated seriously. Toni grinned broadly in an effort not to laugh.

"I'm Shannon!" stated a tow-headed youngster as she thrust her hand into Toni's.

"Well of course you are," Toni replied diplomatically as Colin's only child asserted her need to be next in the introduction-by-age pecking order that she had perceived was happening.

"This is Maggie," Megan tried as the child hid behind her, peeking out briefly to wave.

"Hi there Maggie," Toni waved back amused at her shyness, which stood out in this outgoing family. One youngster remained. He tugged relentlessly at Megan's shirt. She looked down at Tyler. He made a thumbs up gesture and she picked him up. Looking at Toni, he made the same gesture. Megan shrugged as he insisted on being handed to Toni. Eyes wide in wonder, Toni accepted the three-year-old into her arms.

"Tyler!" he proudly proclaimed, touching himself on the chest.

Resisting the urge to laugh uproariously, Toni thumped herself in the chest, "Toni!"

"Glad ta meet ya," Tyler said. As he rested in her left arm, he extended his right arm across their bodies for a handshake. Toni met his tiny hand in hers, hardly able to stand from the need to simply fall down laughing at his genuine antics as she shook it firmly. "Let's play," he stated putting his arm around Toni's neck. "You're on my team," he stated with conviction, his look challenging any comers. Everyone else in the room waited about a heartbeat before they fell to laughing.

As good as the belly laugh Toni was experiencing, it was even better when she felt Megan's arm snake around her middle as she attempted to hold herself upright in her merriment.

Margaret wasn't even sure if the older children had appreciated the joke, but she watched, delighted as they laughed nonetheless. "Alright, who wants to go swimming?" she asked the children enthusiastically. "Me! Me! Me!" was the excited answer she received. Obviously the trip to the pool out back had been denied the youngsters until it was truly needed to distract them. As the kids, with the exception of Tyler, who decided he was apparently not going to leave Toni's arms, departed, Megan turned to her father.

"Hi Daddy."

"Hey there peanut," he responded as he scooped her into a bear hug.

"Happy Father's Day," she whispered in his ear as he held her.

"It is now," he stated simply, releasing her as he stood with his arm protectively around her shoulder.

A couple of people came into the kitchen upon the exit of the children, their curiosity drawing them. "See, I told you!" Shannon stated emphatically, pointing at her Aunt Megan.

"Diana!" Megan gasped as she embraced her sister-in-law.

"We've missed you," Diana let her know.

"I've missed you too," Megan assured her friend. Behind Diana were her brother Patrick and her sister Colleen holding her youngest who they did name Austin. He was five months old. Toni watched as Megan threw herself into Patrick's arms. He danced around with her tiny form in his arms, kissing her face all over.

Colleen was however intrigued by Tyler's new friend. "Tyler, what are you doing?"

"She's on my team Mom," he stated, indicating the new person in his life.

"I can see that. Hi, I'm Colleen."

"I'm Toni," she replied wondering if she should try to give the child back to his mother. Colleen smiled at her.

"Megan has told me a lot about you," she smiled warmly as she shifted the baby in her arms, so that she could make an effort to embrace Toni. Toni returned the embrace as best as she could when the 3-year-old put his hand on his mother's shoulder and pushed her away.

"I called her first," he stated seriously. The occupants of the kitchen burst out laughing anew.


After Tyler had been coaxed toward the pool, Toni, Megan and Colleen sat down. Pat, Patrick and Colin retreated to the barbecue and Margaret ushered the children to various rooms to change into their swimwear.

"Gimme!" Megan enthused as she reached for the baby in Colleen's arms. Colleen relinquished her 5-month-old to her sister. Toni watched as Megan cooed to the baby.

"You can have him for a while," Colleen insisted as she stretched. "I love being pregnant, but damn!"

"Colleen, you're not?"

"Don't be daft Megan! Even I have my limits. I'm on the pill and I make poor Steven use condoms on top of it. Even I need a little break now and again," she smiled mischievously. "You wanna take him home for a while?" she asked, her eyes twinkling.

"Sure," Megan agreed as she played with the baby. Toni's brow raised for a moment until she realized that Megan was kidding. Colleen noted Toni's momentary apprehension.

"C'mon Toni…I'll throw in Tyler as a bonus," Colleen told the unsuspecting woman.

Toni's gasp was almost audible. It wasn't until she saw Megan and Colleen turn several shades of red in merriment before she realized they were both kidding with her. After they settled Austin down for a nap, they headed for the pool area to watch the other kids. Diana, Margaret and Colin entertained the kids in the pool while Patrick and their father Pat tended the grill.

For the most part, Megan led Toni with her wherever she went. Toni felt lonely and out of place each time Megan wandered away from her side, no matter how briefly. Toni mused that her count was off as far as the number of adults that should be present. Megan quelled her curiosity when she asked her brother, "Where is Susan?"
"Well, for Mother's Day I got her one of those day passes to a spa. You know, where you get the massage and mud stuff…well, she decided that today would be a good day to take it since the rest of us had something else to do," he finished. Toni found herself mildly irritated with a woman she had never met. She took it from Megan's expression and Patrick's tone of voice that neither was overjoyed with her antics either.

"Where are Sean and Duncan?" she asked her father.

"They should be here shortly," he explained.

"And Ewan?" she inquired.

"Off with his friends I suspect," her Father told her.

"Where?" she asked.

"Probably down by the park," he said as he tended the grill.

"It smells good Daddy," Megan told her Father as she pecked him on the cheek. Toni was fascinated as Pat turned as red as Megan did in similar situations.

Megan pulled Toni off to the side a ways. "Wanna come for a ride with me?" she asked.

"Sure," Toni enthused. She was somewhat embarrassed that she felt a tremendous need to be away from all of those people for a while. She had no idea where Megan was going to take her and she didn't care. Before they could even turn for the door, Tyler raced toward them.

"Aunt Megan! Where are you going?" he asked desperately.

Megan squatted down so that she was eye level with him. "We're going for a ride and we will be back soon," she told the precocious 3-year-old.

"Well, don't take her!" he demanded as he latched onto Toni's leg ferociously.

"But she wants to come with me," Megan insisted as Toni flushed with embarrassment at the child's fascination with her.

"Then I'll come too," the child stated. Megan glanced up at Toni who shrugged her shoulders as to what to say.

"But you're swimming with your sisters and cousins now," Megan reasoned.

"Not anymore," he stated with finality.

"You can't come in my car with wet shorts," she tried.

"I'll change," he told her. Megan looked for support from her sister, mother, brothers and then her father. They were all laughing. She looked back at her sister and asked if she could take him with them.

"Go ahead," Colleen told Megan as she continued to laugh at the situation.

"Okay, after you change," Megan told the boy. Grinning from ear to ear, he grabbed Megan and Toni's hands and dragged them toward the bedroom that held his dry clothes.

"You wait here," he informed them as they reached the door. Minutes later he emerged dressed in his dry clothes, holding his wet bathing suit and towel. "Could you hang these up please?" he asked. Toni smirked as Megan took the proffered articles and hung them in dutifully the bathroom. They returned to the pool area and Megan told Colleen that they would return shortly.

"Don't be too long. The food's almost ready," her father reminded her.

"We shouldn't be too long Dad," she assured him with a hug.


As Megan buckled Tyler into the back seat he asked, "Toni will you sit back here with me?"

She knelt down by her side of the car. "I'd rather ride up front with your Aunt Megan," she told the boy.

"How come?" he wondered aloud.

Toni pondered the question as she climbed into the front passenger seat and buckled her own seat belt. She turned back to the boy. "Because she is really pretty."

"Yeah. Okay," the youngster agreed. Megan blushed as she buckled in and started the car.

"Where are we going anyway?" Toni asked.

"To get my wayward younger brother," Megan answered as if it was the only explanation possible.

A couple of blocks later they had pulled up in front of an Elementary School with about a dozen other cars parked there. The school grounds held a small baseball diamond that was currently occupied by about a dozen people, a basketball court that held four older boys and a paddleball wall that was currently empty. "Is this where you went to school?" Toni asked.

"No. Sean, Duncan and Ewan went here, but I was in Middle School when we moved here," she explained.

She got out of the car and let Tyler out as well. Toni followed them as they approached the basketball court. As they approached, one of the four players nudged another. "Hey, isn't that your sister?" he asked.

Ewan spun around. "Meggie!" he cried as he ran and grabbed her up off the ground. Toni felt a tug on her hand and she looked down at Tyler. He made the thumbs up gesture, which she had quickly, come to know meant that he did not like to be below eye level. She reached down and picked him up and slowly continued her approach.

"Ewan, this is Toni," she introduced them.

"Hi Toni, I've heard a lot about you," he smiled at her. He noticed her slight discomfort at this remark and quickly added, "All of it good…trust me."

"I've heard a lot about you too," she smiled warmly at him, her tension abating.

"Hi Megan," two of the three boys chimed in unison, as they approached boyish grins plastered on their faces.

"Hi Josh, hi Cam," she greeted them. She paused with the other boy, her look indicating that she was waiting for him to identify himself.

"Alan," he nodded nonchalantly.

"Hi Alan," she asserted as she offered her hand. He shook her hand limply. Nonplussed, she turned back to her brother. "I'm Ewan's sister Megan, and this is Toni and Tyler," she added.

"Ewan, let's go home for a while," she suggested to her brother.

"In a bit Meg, we're playing a game."

"You guys can pick it up later, right now everyone is waiting for us at home," she told him.

"Yeah, c'mon Uncle U!" Tyler enthused, "Grampa's makin' hot dogs."

"After we finish this game squirt," he told his nephew.

Toni quickly realized that the boys were playing for money. She noted the others were shuffling around anxiously.

"Are you in or not Ewan?" Alan asked.
"What are the stakes?" Toni asked, knowing that for some reason, Ewan's friend Alan irritated her.

"It's just a friendly game Ma'am," Alan told her quickly. ‘Well shit, that just irritated me even more,' she thought. ‘Call me Ma'am will ya? I'll show you, you little punk.'

She dropped to one knee so she could put Tyler down. "Hey buddy, you see that tennis ball?" she asked indicating a forgotten ball that had been left in the dirt a ways off. "Can you get it for me?" she asked.

"Sure!" he answered as he ran on his three-year-old legs toward his bounty. She stood up and wrapped her arm around Alan's shoulder as she smoothly walked him off to the side.

"How friendly?" she asked him in a no nonsense tone of voice.

Alan wised up quickly and answered. "Five bucks a point difference, we're playin' 21 points. Me and Cam are up 18-13."

"Only up $25 bucks? Nevermind then. I thought you were playing for real stakes. Go on back to your game then. I'll just watch," she told him as she shoved him back toward the other boys. Megan left her brother and his friends as she headed to Toni and watched as Tyler raced back with the coveted tennis ball.

"What was that?" she asked Toni.

"Oh, that?" she shrugged her shoulder toward Alan. "Nothing. They've got a couple of dollars bet on this game. Maybe we should let them finish it," she remarked casually. "Hey Tyler! How ‘bout I show you how to play handball?" she asked as she took the child by the hand and led him to the nearby paddleball wall.

"Yeah!" he exclaimed as he eagerly followed her.

Megan was chagrined. When Toni pulled Alan aside she had asked her brother to come home and he and his friends, Josh and Cam insisted on staying to play until the end of the game. But not one of the three boys had actually looked her in the eye. She knew that something was up and she knew that Toni had the answers even if her brother wasn't going to tell her.

She followed Toni and Tyler over to the paddleball court and watched as Toni instructed her three and a half-year-old nephew on the fine arts of handball. Megan tried to ignore the rest of the basketball game going on, and she did a fine job since she was distracted with Toni teaching Tyler how to play handball. But when the game was over she observed them shaking hands…after having removed something from their pockets. Angrily she closed the distance between them, Toni with Tyler in her arms, hot on her tail.

Megan grabbed Ewan by the arm and whispered harshly, so that only he could hear her, "That better have been just money!"
"What?" he answered, surprised by her sudden appearance at his side. "What the hell else…what did you think we were betting?" he asked, his voice showing his surprise and hurt at the accusation. As Megan spoke to her brother about gambling, Toni had taken the basketball and was teaching young Tyler how to dribble. Alan and his partner Cam were counting their money as Megan lectured a somber Ewan and Josh. Cam kept looking at his friend and her sister, thinking that he should be over there receiving his own bit of the lecture, but he stayed put.

When Tyler had mastered dribbling, she held him up so he could slam-dunk the basketball and then placed him back on the ground where he eagerly chased it down. He gave it to her and she threw it at the net and missed. Tyler chased the ball down again. She tried a lay up and it bounced off the backboard. "Damn," she swore quietly. Tyler retrieved the ball for her. She stood at the line to try a free throw. She dribbled and shot and watched as it bounced around the rim but didn't fall in. She gave the ball to the boy again and lifted him to the basket where he slammed it home. Toni tried a few more tosses at the basket. When one fell she made a fist in the air and quietly exclaimed, "Yes! Finally!" She then tossed the ball awkwardly to Alan. "Here, sorry if we were keeping you."

"You're not bad," Alan said, buttering her up.

"Are you kidding? I suck at basketball. If I weren't so tall I wouldn't be able to hit the hole," Toni told him.

"Basket," Alan corrected her.

"Yeah, basket," she agreed. Megan turned her back and then rolled her eyes at the exchange. Toni was up to something.

"How about you and I play a game of 21. $5 a point?" he asked.

Toni tilted her head back as if to do the math. She regarded him solemnly. "You'd kill me."

"Are you kidding," Alan tried. "You're almost a foot taller than I am."

"What are you? 5'6"?" she asked him.

"5'7" actually," he retorted.

"Then I'm only 5" taller than you," she chided gently. "Look, this is stupid. I may be taller than you but I'm not good at basketball. It sounds to me like you are hoping to take advantage of me and win my money. I've only got $40 in my pocket and that's got to get me back home," she told him.

"I'll spot you 5 points," Alan told her magnanimously.

"Okay, but at $5 a point, even if you spot me, and I lose, I'll be out…" she paused as if doing the math again. "I'd still lose $80. I only have $40," she reasoned.

"Okay then…I'll spot you 13 points…that way…if you lose…then you'll only lose $40," he reasoned right back at her.

"So that means that I only have to get…" she paused again.

"Eight baskets as opposed to my 21," he helpfully and exasperatedly filled in for her.

Megan caught on to Toni's game and she quickly pulled her aside. "Look Toni," she whispered loudly. "That's our gas money to get home," she insisted.

"But I can do this…c'mon…I only have to get eight…he has to get 21. And I'm almost a half a foot taller! I can do this!" she insisted, quietly.

"Toni, I'm half your size and I can smoke you playing basketball," Megan said harshly and none too softly.

"Maybe he'll go for partners then," Toni suggested to Megan.

"You think?"

"We can try," Toni countered. She turned to Alan. "Can we each have a partner?" she asked.

"Sure, why not?" Alan reasoned. "Of course, I can't spot you 13 points now."

"Why not?" Toni asked ingenuously.

"Well…I'm sure your partner has a couple of bucks she would like to put up, doesn't she?"

"How much do you have Megan?" Toni asked.

Megan rummaged in her pocket and counted out her spare bills. "Twenty four dollars."

"Then we'll spot you 6 points," Alan offered.

"No way…8 points," was Megan's counter offer.

"Seven," Alan generously supplied.

Megan grabbed Toni by her sleeve and dragged her further off. As she looked her partner in the eye, it was all she could do not to laugh. "What are you thinking?" she asked, her face masked in amusement.

"We can do this. If they give us 7 then we only need 14, but they need 21."

"Yeah, but if they win, how are we gonna get home?" Megan asked, trying to hold in her laughter.

Toni leaned close so that only Megan could hear. "Let's smoke ‘em Tiger."

Megan wavered for a moment. Each time Toni called her that, her knees tended to become weak. Tyler stood patiently with his tennis ball, holding onto the hem of Toni's shorts, waiting for the outcome of the conversation.

"Hey buddy," Toni addressed the child as she dropped to one knee. "Do me and your Aunt Megan a big favor?"

"Sure," he agreed readily.

"Sit down with Uncle Ewan for a little bit and let us play basketball, okay?"

"Sure…then what will we do?"

Toni looked up to Megan for support. Megan shrugged her shoulders at a loss as to how to respond to this precocious child. The things she learned from her other nieces and nephews was that they usually wanted something from you that you didn't want to do.

"What would you like to do after this?" Toni ventured.

"You'll be on my team when we play football," was his simple demand.

"You've got it," she agreed. "What about your Aunt Megan? Will she be on our team too?"

"I don't know. Maybe if they pick her." Toni found herself, once again, trying not to laugh out loud. She watched as Megan turned away, her shoulders shaking with mirth.

The game started in earnest. Alan and Cam quickly caught their 7 point spot before Megan and Toni scored a basket, making the score 8-7 in favor of Megan and Toni, when Toni called a time-out. Pretending to be out of breath, she asked and received directions to a nearby water fountain, Tyler close on her heels. She gave him a boost and they both took a drink.

"Jesus, Toni! I'm right here! You could actually pass the ball to me!" Megan exclaimed as yet another pass went out of bounds. The boys were up 13-9 at this point.

"Sorry," Toni offered.

The ball came back into play and Toni intercepted it quickly. She turned and shot the ball and got nothing but net.

"Yes!" she yelled in her excitement, jumping up and down. She and Megan exchanged high fives as if this had been their first point.

Less than 5 minutes later the score was 20-13 in favor of the girls. As Alan attempted to block Toni he realized his mistake. "You're a fucking ringer! You set me up!" he hissed. He tried to block her as she dribbled circles around him.

"Can't even imagine what you mean by that," she told him as she gingerly passed the ball to Megan. A quick shake of her head indicated to Megan that they shouldn't go in for the kill just yet. Megan dribbled and lost the ball to Cam who tried to make his way up the court looking for his partner the whole time yet finding him completely occupied with the Amazon chick who really could shoot hoops. Cam had become upset several points ago when he realized that Megan, who used to baby-sit him when she watched her own younger brothers had just helped someone else con them and she had done it with a straight face. Cam had known Megan practically all of his life and he hadn't seen this coming. And as much as he shared in the profits that he and Alan had made on the court, he realized that the loss this time was going to be more money than he had.

Megan had tapped the ball from Cam's grasp as he searched for his teammate who had suddenly become preoccupied with something else. Toni picked it up and couldn't resist trying some razzle-dazzle. She dribbled with her right hand and when Alan came around that side, she easily switched to her left hand. When he came around the other side, she dribbled easily between her legs, the ball once again, bouncing confidently in her right hand. Her left flew to her mouth in a gesture of awe…yet it was a mocking one, directed at Alan. "Oops!" Toni teased.

"You bitch! You set me up!"

"No, I don't think so," Toni answered, her breathing as steady as her ball control. "What I think is that you set up a couple of people who thought of you as a friend. And now you are getting burned at your own game."

Cam moved toward the ball and Megan put herself between Cam and where the ball was. "Cam…don't…it's not worth it. Believe me," she tried.

Cam looked Megan in the eye and realized that she had meant what she said. They left the court together with Megan's arm locked around his elbow. In other words, Megan was determined that he was going to leave the court and Cam acquiesced because he realized that Megan was right. Alan had used him. And against his own friends to boot. Megan relaxed when she looked at Cam in the eyes. She turned and continued over to where her nephew sat between his Uncle Ewan and Josh.

Ewan had just whispered something in the child's ear, and the boy stood up and pumped his fists in the air as he started chanting, "Go Toni…Go Toni…Go Toni!" After a moment he looked back at his Uncle and asked, "Is it really her birthday?" Unable to help themselves, Megan, Ewan, Josh and Cam rolled on the ground hysterical with laughter.

Toni started laughing and Alan stole the ball from her. He turned and shot. The ball bounced around the rim and then out. Alan grabbed up the rebound and slammed it home. The score was now 20-14. From then on the game became a little more physical. However, Toni not only had the advantage of height, but of knowledge of the game itself. She toyed with Alan for a little while longer, smiling, as the boy became so frustrated that he could no longer hit even the rim of the basket with the ball. Having gotten her satisfaction out of humiliating the little con artist, she hooked the ball from near mid-court and found nothing but net.

"I think you owe me 35 dollars," she told him.

"We owe you $35," he glared, indicating that Cam was still going to be responsible for half of the money.

"That's awfully generous of you to share in your loss with your friend," she baited him.

"He played too," Alan quipped at her.

"I'll tell you what, Alan, I'll play you one on one and I will spot you 17 points. And if I don't still beat you, I will give you the $75 that is now mine. If you lose, you give me the rest of the money that's in your pocket. What do you say, sport?" The little nickname rolled off her tongue derisively, pushing the boy's ego past its limits.

"I've got almost $50 in my pocket," he balked.

"Ah, I see," she nodded wisely. "I guess even with a 17 point spot you're not really up to it, huh? Tired you out did I? I understand, no hard feelings," she said as she offered her hand for a friendly handshake. He looked from his gloating buddies, back to her outstretched hand.

"Deal," he said, with as much conviction as he could muster.

Megan was amazed at her little nephew Tyler. His behavior was exemplary. Her little brother and his friends were more nervous than the toddler. Within minutes the Toni had scored 12 unanswered points.

"Let's call it even Alan," Toni offered good-naturedly.

The teenager was sweating nervously, but his pride kept him from giving up. "No way. I'll beat you," he told Toni determinedly as he brought the ball into bounds with his turn.

Toni had read his movements once again, as if he had telegraphed them minutes before. She once again stole the ball from him. In keeping with the rules she dribbled the ball to mid-court and moved toward him. It had been so easy. She faked in one direction, Alan fell for it, and she shot from where she stood and made the basket.

It was Alan's turn to bring the ball into play next. He decided to get really aggressive. He feinted one way and moved the other. Toni was ready for him. He encountered the equivalent of a brick wall. It made him even angrier and he started to throw his elbows into the effort. It didn't help, and minutes later, Toni had won the game, 21 to 18. The gathered spectators had gained their feet to congratulate Toni when Alan began to walk away. Ewan caught up with him quickly. "I think you owe Toni some money," he said quietly.

"What's it to you?" Alan asked bitterly as he continued his flight.

"Only that if you don't owe up now…I'll make sure that no one plays even a friendly game with you from now on," Ewan offered. Alan stopped and looked back at his opponent as she played with the toddler and seemed unconcerned with collecting on the bet that they had made.

"Fine," he pronounced as he removed the $50 he had in his pocket and handed it to Ewan. "Just remember that you and your friends can't beat me," he added.

"I will never forget that Alan," Ewan told him. "See you later?" Ewan had learned that although Alan would probably never become one of his closest friends, that he still could be a friend. He just hoped that Alan had figured that out as well.

"Maybe," Alan answered as he walked across the school grounds.

As they gathered together, Megan offered the boys a ride home. "Josh, Cam, can we give you a ride home?" she asked the boys.

"Sure," they offered as a response.

Megan recognized their hesitant responses. She remembered that Josh's father had died when he was young and that Cam didn't seem too get along with his stepfather. "Or you guys could hang out at our house for a while. We have plenty of food. And I'm sure that we could use a couple of extra players for the annual football game." Both of the boys perked up at the invitation. As they drove back toward Megan's parent's home, Toni tried to give Josh and Ewan back the money that they had lost to Alan. Even Cam had resisted taking the money. They all insisted that she had won the money fairly and that they would feel badly for accepting it. With Megan's agreeing nod, Toni didn't press the issue any further.

When they arrived back at the house there was one more vehicle parked out front. Toni immediately recognized it as the Jeep that Sean drove.

"Sean and Duncan are here," Megan supplied as they exited the car and moved toward the house. The boys rushed into the house as Toni watched, and much to her chagrin Tyler had no intention of letting her out of his sight.

Toni paced around for a few minutes before she addressed the befuddled Megan. "I'm sorry," she started attempting to explain her reluctance to go back inside.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know. Everyone's being so nice. I'm not used to it. I mean…not that I don't think they are trying to be sincere…but I have the feeling that I'm on trial or display…and that I'm just not measuring up," she finished.

Anxious to join her family, Megan tried to reassure her. "They like you Toni. They're probably just as nervous as you are. Give them a chance too. Please?" Megan asked.

"I'm sorry," Toni offered. "You're right. I'm just really nervous. Everyone has been really kind to me," she paused wondering if she should just say everything that was on her mind or just let it go. Megan's open and accepting look gave her the courage to voice her fears. "I just keep thinking that…" she looked away, ashamed at her thoughts.

"I want to know," Megan assured her. "I love you and I want to know what scares you so much," Megan told her as she put her arms gently around her lover's waist. It wasn't lost on either of them that they had Tyler as an audience, so they had watched their words and actions around him.

"Everyone is being really nice…and I think they are doing it for you…I mean…I think that no one is going to say…'Gee, I really don't like her,' more for your benefit than mine. It would be so much easier if your sister or one of your brothers would just come out and say, ‘I simply don't like you,'…then I would know what to do. Or maybe what to say. I'm not making any sense, am I?" Toni asked.

Megan regarded her lover seriously. "Actually, you are making perfect sense. Look, I know my Mom and Dad know who you are…and Sean does too, but I'm pretty sure that the rest of my family thinks that you were the partner assigned to work with me after John was killed. And since I hadn't made my sexual preference clear before then, the others might think that you are taking advantage of me in my time of vulnerability. I'm not trying to belittle what you are feeling, but I think that the others are wondering how I became so gay…so quickly…and they simply can't understand why…unless it was your undue influence on me. And I will do everything in my power to make them understand that I love you with all of my heart and soul. But until I can convince them that this has been my nature since I was in the fifth grade, I think you will have to suffer their scrutiny."

"I love you for saying that," Toni told Megan.

"I hear a but?" Megan countered.

"But, I still feel as though I'm under a microscope. I'm scared to speak, afraid that they will interpret it as something else…was it this hard for your sisters-in-law?"

As they stood there at the doorstep of Megan's parent's house, neither of them had paid any attention to the fact that Tyler had been their constant companion until he spoke up.

"Aunt Megan?" She looked down at her nephew.

"What Tyler?" she asked gently stroking his blonde head as she did so.

The child looked from one to the other. "Do you love Toni?" he asked with his childlike innocence.

Megan lost her breath for a moment and then picked the child up in her arms. "Yes," she replied, as she looked Toni in the eye. "I love her very much."

"Okay…cause I love her too," he pronounced. Tears sprang to Toni's eyes and she tried to blink them away.

"How can I compete with that?" Toni asked as Megan brushed the tears from her eyes.

"I think you are out-voted," Megan told her. They went into the house to join the fray.

An hour after everyone had eaten, the enthusiasm for the family game of football ensued. The cars were loaded up with coolers full of beer and sodas and everyone piled into several cars for another trip to the park they had been at earlier. The captains were chosen. By popular vote, Megan's Father was chosen as one captain and her brother Duncan was chosen as the other.

After most of the men were chosen onto teams, the captains chose the women who were willing to play. Megan insisted that Toni take part, almost as insistently as Tyler did. The younger children were allowed to play for the first quarter of the game. Toni was chosen by Pat Sr. along with Sean, Ewan, Colin, Jeff and Diana. Shannon insisted that she get to play along with her mother and as Tyler was Toni's shadow for the day, he was on the team by default. The other team consisted of Duncan, Megan, Greg, Pat Jr., Cam, Josh and Thomas.

The game went along very good-naturedly with Duncan's team leading by the end of the first quarter by seven points. Margaret and Colleen were satisfied with watching from the sidelines and keeping an eye on the children who had chosen not to play. Shannon who became tired after several minutes on the field soon joined Lucy, Maggie and their young cousin Austin. Tyler however tired was not going to relinquish his new friend. Toni was pleased but somewhat chagrined by Tyler's attitude toward her. She especially enjoyed chasing down her lover when she had the ball, each time grabbing her around the waist to stop her forward progress. Megan would remind her that it was a game of touch football. Toni's response was that she loved to touch Megan hence the physical nature of her "touches".

At half time both teams collapsed on the sidelines and shared sodas and beers. To give players a break, the teams were playing five against five with two players on each side sitting out a couple of downs. The teams were tied at 28 points each. Toni found herself sitting with Megan on one side and Tyler, sipping from a juice box, on the other. They had claimed the shade of a small tree, slightly away from the others.

"Having fun?" Megan asked as she studied her lover.

"Yeah, I am. Thanks."

"For what?" Megan asked her.

Toni studied the label on her beer for a few moments before answering. "For getting me to come. For loving me." She was unable to look Megan in the eye because she knew that if she did the tears would come. She realized that she along with Greg, Sean's lover, weren't entirely accepted by all of Megan's family members, but they were trying. She had to give them that. For the last ten years of her life she had longed for that kind of acceptance and had never found it. Only one member of her former "family" had truly accepted her sexuality and that was Sal, whose own life she took in order to spare him hours, possibly even days of torture at the hands of the Ribisi's.

"Loving you was easy…getting you here…that was a little harder," Megan grinned at her waggling her hand back and forth. "But I'm glad to hear that you are enjoying yourself, because my heart feels like it is going to burst when I see you smile…and I mean, truly smile. I see it come from deep down inside of you and it just takes my breath away."

The tears rolled unbidden down her cheeks. Toni wasn't sure how she was able to speak with the lump in her throat, but she managed to squeak out a quiet "I love you." She felt Megan clasp their fingers together as their hands lay in the grass between them and delighted in her touch when she began to unconsciously play with the little silver ring that had a rainbow colored heart with a large ‘M' stamped in the middle.

Tyler carefully set down his juice box and straddled Toni's outstretched legs. With more seriousness than any three and a half-year-old should possess, in Toni's opinion, the child gently dried her eyes with his chubby little fingers and said simply, "Don't cry. I love you too."

Unable to contain her desire to hold Megan close, Toni wrapped her arms around her lover and her nephew. "Can we stay like this forever?" she asked.

"Yes," Megan replied. She drew back gently from the embrace and then placed several tiny kisses on Toni's lips. She had wanted…almost needed the kisses to deepen but she knew that her family could see them clearly, and she didn't want to make Toni uncomfortable. They rested their foreheads against one another's and touched noses. Tyler lay against Toni's chest, one hand grasping Toni's shirt, the other grasping his aunt's, finally appearing as though he was ready for his long overdue nap. Toni turned her head away and swiped at her tear-stained face.

Colleen looked over at her sister and Toni. Since hindsight is equal to 20-20 vision, Colleen had put two and two together and had figured out that Megan's first love affair had been with her college roommate Laura. In several phone calls over the last four months she had discussed this with Megan. Megan had told her about Laura and had admitted that she and her roommate were lovers in college. Looking back she could see it clearly. Her sister had never really dated in high school or in college. Add to that the fact that when Laura had "moved into an apartment", that Megan seemed extremely upset. What hurt the most wasn't finding out that her brother Sean and her sister were gay, but that they felt they couldn't confide this fact in her.

She was trying to ascertain whether her precocious son was bothering the two of them, but she was greeted by what she considered a beautiful sight. She watched as the three embraced and as her sister kissed the dark-haired woman in a gentle yet sensual manner.

As for Tyler, she was able to see the draw or connection his Aunt had with Toni, through his eyes. As much as it scared Colleen, she was at the same time thrilled that Tyler was as open as he was. Of her three older children, although he was the youngest, he would not hesitate to head for the newest face in the crowd. But usually he would become quickly bored with that person and would gravitate toward her or his grandmother. Today was different. He took to Toni instantly and was apparently as smitten as her sister.

As much as she simply wanted to watch the two lovers for a few more minutes she could sense that the team captains were about to claim their own, so she headed for the three of them before the others could. "Hey, you two aren't exchanging game plans, are you?" she asked teasingly.

"Actually, we were," Megan offered, her voice slightly husky. She looked up at her sister with a broad grin on her face. "What's up?" she asked.

"I thought I would come over here and save you both. Apparently Dunc and Dad are getting well into their strategies for the next half and you two seem to figure prominently. I thought it would be better me than them," she said, gesturing over her shoulder at her father and brother who were both beckoning their respective teammates over. "Tyler," she whispered in her son's ear as she squatted down to remove Toni and Megan from Tyler's grasp.

The boy woke wearily. "No Momma, I've got to play now," he protested sleepily.

"Hey little Tiger," Toni said, "you need to rest up with your Mom for the last play, okay?"

"Promise?" Tyler asked.

"I promise," Toni replied seriously. There was no resistance when Colleen picked up her slumbering child and headed for the shelter of the umbrella she and her mother had set up for themselves and Austin.

"Ready to go, Big Tiger?" Toni asked as she bounded to her feet pulling Megan behind her. Megan left the ground lightly and bounced up into Toni's arms.

"I love it when you call me Tiger," Megan told her, looking deep into those cobalt eyes. If she hadn't been able to see Megan's father and brother quickly approaching, Toni would have taken Megan in her arms and kissed her soundly.

Instead she opted to give her a peck on the cheek. "Me too," she told her soulmate.

The second half of the game proceeded much as the first half had. No matter how Pat and Duncan lined them up, Megan and Toni immediately gravitated toward each other. It became clear to both sides that it wasn't a good idea to give the ball to one or the other. The last play of the game saw Toni and Pat Sr.'s team with the ball on the 20-yard line hoping to score to break the tie when Toni called a time out. She approached the sleeping toddler.

"Tyler? Are you ready to play the last down with me?" she asked him gently.

"Yes!" the boy enthused, coming quickly awake after a 30-minute nap.

The ball was given immediately to Tyler, who was then scooped into Toni's arms as she dodged the other players heading for the goal line. Her only obstacle was Megan. She danced around with the delighted child in her arms. Megan caught her around the five-yard line, grasping onto Toni's shirt in an attempt to wrap her up. Toni put the child down, "Run Tyler! Get a touchdown!" she exclaimed as she grabbed Megan who would then be unable to stop him.

The boy enthusiastically ran for the goal line scoring a touchdown for his team. "End of game!" Margaret called out, as she was the official timekeeper.

"No way Mom," Duncan protested "Megan had Toni! She was down at the five."

"But Tyler wasn't, so he ran in for a touchdown," she countered. Her voice brooked no comment from anyone. Duncan took the defeat in stride. He huddled his team and sent them over to congratulate the winners. All of the players headed off to their spaces of shade except Tyler, who was still tired and went willingly with his mother again.

Toni lay down exhausted beneath the shade of the tree, Megan collapsing beside her. "God Megan, I feel so wiped out and elated at the same time," Toni admitted, somewhat overwhelmed by her own feelings.

"Me too," Megan told her, resisting the urge to wrap herself around the woman she loved.

"We have to come and visit more often," Toni said as she gently brushed Megan's sweaty bangs away from her eyes.

"I'd really like that Toni," Megan said, her grin nearly splitting her face in half. She watched as her family cleaned up their area and started putting the coolers back in the cars. "We had better go," she told Toni.

"Yeah, though I'd rather stay here in the shade for a while."

"Plenty of that later," Megan assured her. "Now we go home for a quick dip in the pool and some more food."

"Sounds like a plan," Toni replied.


To be continued…

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