Disclaimer: Here we go again. The character of Xena doesn’t belong to me; I only borrowed her from MCA/Renaissance Pictures. I’ll send her back unscathed.

Other Stuff: There is none. There is no sex or violence, just a little yelling and a little ‘huggie bear kissey face’ between two women. Certainly nothing as brazen as what Alex and Claire did at the con. Still and all, this story is about two women who are very much in love with each other. Therefore, if this is not your cup of tea, if it is illegal in your state, or if you are not of the age of consent, at least 21, please don’t read this. I just started a new job and don’t want the inconvenience of a lawsuit at this time.

Originally this was to be the last installment of ‘The Real Dreams Series’, but alas, the muse devil got betwixt the end and me. Yes, I’m sorry, another cliffhanger. Don’t you hate when I do that? Also, I have been away from the computer for quite awhile and I hope I still have a readership out there. I have a new addy so please write and let me know what you think. You can reach me here fantasysrealm@jccomp.com I hope you enjoy.

Paybacks are a Bitch!



May 28, 2001

Chapter 1: Taking Stock

Over the years, I’ve found that early morning is the most peaceful part of the whole day. It’s the time, each day, when I take stock of the previous day, try to put everything that happened into perspective, and hopefully, don’t make the same stupid mistakes all over again. And so, once again, just as with so many days past, I find myself beginning a new day. Here I sit, on a bale of hay, with a cup of strong, black coffee watching the rising sun brightened the eastern sky. I never tire of the picture spread out before me. It never ceases to amaze me how nature has the world all laid out in a nice, neat, beautiful package. Everything just seems to fit together so well; everything is as it should be. The horses and cattle fill the pastures quietly grazing. The barn cats are exploring all the nooks and crannies, in and around the haystacks, looking for the nasty little vermin that wreck havoc in the grain bins, not to mention what those sharp little rodent teeth can do to saddles and other pieces of leather tack. The stock dogs are out chasing rabbits and other varmints. Good thing too, after all that is what we "pay" them for. As I looked at beautiful pastoral setting before my eyes, and smiled. The ranch, the people here, Unc, Maggie, and De all belonged to me, and more importantly, I belonged to them. We were all part and parcel of the same thing. I was filled with a peace and contentment I hadn’t felt in years, if ever. Yep, my life is good. Of course reality always had a way of intruding where it isn’t wanted, and my smile faded. My life also included that scum Lassiter and his goons. Well, Mr. Dominic Lassiter, come on ahead; you get crossways with me and you’ll never know what hit you. If you think I’m gonna stand by and let you hurt all the people who mean everything to me, think again. Yes sir, you mess with me and mine and you’ll have your head so far up your butt, you’ll have to pull your pants down to smile. God, now there’s an image.

It was with that thought De found me.

"Hey babe, what’cha smilin’ about?" De leaned down and kissed the top of my head. "Here I brought you some more coffee. Now tell me what you find so amusing this early in the morning?"

My smile changed into a small chuckle, then and out right guffaw. De’s bemused smile slowly turned to a frustrated scowl, as she towered over me menacingly.

"Are you gonna tell me or not?"

I decided I’d better fess up quickly before things turned really ugly. I had already taken one too many cold dunks in the stock tank at De’s hand. She wouldn’t be above doing it again if I pushed her too far.

"It’s nothing, really. I was just thinking how good Lassiter would look with his head shoved up his ass…" I never was able to finish the sentence before two strong arms pulled be forcibly up off my perch on the haybale. I found myself looking into two fiery blue eyes.

"Don’t you even think about doing anything where Lassiter is concerned! He is my problem; I’ll deal with him! Do you understand? I forbid you to go anywhere near Lassiter or his goons! Do you hear?"

De’s voice boomed across the pastures, scaring a flock of ducks, swimming in the nearby pond, into flight. The anger, and fear, in her expression led me to choose my next words carefully.

"De," I began slowly, but certainly, "I understand your concern. I know you are only thinking of my well being; I know you’re only trying to protect me. But you have to understand something too. I’ll not stand idly by and let you go up against Lassiter and his bullyboys alone. You are my world too ya know. I won’t allow anyone to harm you either, so you’d just better get that into your head right now. If we do this, we do it together, otherwise there will be no ‘us’. Do you understand?" De turned loose of me like she’d been slapped.

"What are you saying? You’d leave me?" De asked incredulously.

"Yes, it would be the hardest thing I’d ever do in my life, but yes, I’d leave you in a heartbeat." The look on De’s face was heart wrenching.

"Why? I thought you loved me?" De cried.

"Oh baby, I do. You’re the best and brightest part of my life. But don’t you see. I need to feel like we are partners, in everything. Honey, we can’t just be together in the good times, but the bad times also. That’s part of us too, otherwise our life together is incomplete, almost like being part-time. I didn’t fall in love with you for only the good times, when things are just fine and dandy. I expect there to be rough spots. It’s how we handle those times that say the most about us as people. Heck, it’s easy to get through the good times. If we can get through this together, the rest will be easy. If you hide me away now, when things get bad, then we’ll never know whether we can stay together. What happens if something later on comes up? We won’t know how to handle it then. Think about it baby; this is the big test. If we get through this, and I know we will, then we will surely stay together forever. Shoot fire! Then we’ll know for sure nothing will ever stop us."

The look on De’s face could have turned the hottest fire stone cold. I suddenly thought that maybe I had gone too far given De’s recalcitrant, sometimes violent behavior. She just stood there and stared at me with those cold, yet impassioned cobalt eyes. I felt as though she was looking straight through me directly into my soul. Finally, my lover, with her head cocked slightly to the side, spoke.

"You know no one has ever been able to talk to me like that and get away with it. I really don’t intimidate you do I?"

If she only knew…

"Nope," I said confidently, "not…one…damn…bit…"

A low growl emanated from somewhere deep in De’s chest. My shaky confidence was beginning to desert me. I had to quickly take advantage of De’s thoughtful repose.

"Besides, you wouldn’t be happy with yes ma’am, why thank you ma’am, whatever you say ma’am, would you?"

Then I kissed her lightly on the lips, and then did whatever any intelligent human being would do when faced with 6’ and 150 pounds of sure muscle and power: I ran like hell for the house, and the relative safety of Uncle Doan. De stood there is stunned silence for all of ten seconds, and then she was off after me like a shot.

"Don’t think running will save you," she shouted, rapidly closing the distance between the two of us. "You know you can’t outrun me! Give up now and I’ll go easy on you."

Now there’s a hot one…Go easy on me! Not on your best day Lassiter.

"Like hell!" I shouted over my shoulder. "We’ll see who outruns whom."

Uncle Doan had planted hedges all along the driveway and courtyard areas of the house. They were an attractive and relatively low maintenance kind of fence. They were too stickery for the horses to eat. Fortunately for me, there was enough clearance to scoot under, and between the bushes. At the last moment, I darted, in a ninety-degree angle and dove under and between the hedge. Triumphantly I applauded my brilliant, strategic maneuver until I saw wonderfully long

legs clear the six-foot hedge with ease, and the same magnificent body land blithely next to me. I sat in abject horror as brilliantly white teeth gleamed in the morning sun.

"Oh shit," I groaned, "that just isn’t fair. Okay, you win, just go easy on me, please," I begged. De just stood there, arms crossed over her chest, and gloated.

To the victor go the spoils.

"Not in the least bit intimidated, huh?" De smiled. "You wouldn’t want to rethink that would you?"

I damn sure wasn’t going to go down without a fight. What the hell...in for a penny, in for a pound.

"Hell no!" I answered defiantly. I stood up and poked De in her well-developed chest to punctuate my next pronouncement. "It’ll be a cold day in hell when I give in to the likes of you sister! So give me your best shot! C’mon, I dare ya. Go ahead, do it!"

I was never short on bravado, just good sense. Before I knew what was happening, De swooped me up in her strong arms, strode confidently a half dozen steps, hefted me over the fence, and unceremoniously deposited me into the stock tank. Unc’s prize Angus heifers scattered in every direction. The resulting bawling, squalling bovine brought Unc and Maggie flying out of the house to see what the commotion was all about. Of course, I came spitting and sputtering up for air, cursing the day De was conceived. De, on the other hand, was quite pleased with herself, and stood there the picture of innocence. Naturally, Unc took her side.

"Yyyyeeee Gods Cody! What the hell are you a doin’ to my cattle?" Unc screamed. "You were raised to have more sense than that! You spook a herd that-a-way and you’ll send ‘em right through the fence. Hell, we’ll have cattle scattered from here ‘til next Christmas!"

I couldn’t believe my ears.

"Me?!" I retorted, "Don’t be a yellin’ at me. Talk to that six-foot wreckin’ crew over there!" I pointed at De, who stood innocently nearby.

"I don’t see what De has to do with this?" Maggie snorted. "She’s no where near you and the stock tank." De stood with a self-satisfied smirk on her face. I wanted to walk over there and slap that nasty look right off her face. I would have too, except she probably would have knocked me back into the stock tank.

"I don’t believe this!"

I mumbled indignantly, and began crawling out of the tank. A curious calf ambled over to me and sniffed me as I climbed over the edge and on to solid ground.

"Go on! Get the hell outta my way," I groused and gave the calf a sharp slap on the butt for emphasis. "Go on back to your mother and leave me alone." Unc wasn’t the least bit impressed with my treatment of his cattle.

"See there?" Unc remarked. "You’re not strengthening your position much with behavior like that. Get your butt up to the house and put some dry clothes on." When I didn’t move quickly enough to suit Doan he continued. "Go on now! Do like I tell ya. De, come on into the house. I’ve got some business to discuss with you."

I was fuming.

"I’ll be damned if I will. You can’t just can’t order me around like I’m some little kid," I yelled at De and Unc’s retreating backs.

I kicked the dust with the toe of my boot. Huck and Finn were lying near the hedge, interested parties to the goings on. I looked at them, with what must have been total confusion on my part.

"What the hell just happened here," I asked. "How did this whole thing go so wrong." I turned toward the barn and some dry clothes. De had stopped and watched me go.

"Don’t you think we were a little hard on her Doan?" De murmured. "After all, it was my fault. I did toss her into the stock tank." Unc chuckled heartily.

"Oh hell, don’t you think I know that?" Doan could hardly control his laughter. "I saw the whole thing from the porch. I don’t know what she said to you before she took off runnin’ like a scorched cat, but whatever she said, I figured she had this comin’. ‘Sides, she won’t stay mad long. She ain’t one to hold a grudge."

De continued to watch me until I disappeared into the barn and up the stairs to our apartment.

"I sure hope not," she whispered, "now what did you want to talk about?"

Chapter 2: Doom and Gloom

It took a little bit to get cleaned up and into a change of clothes. By the time I got back up to the main house, De had explained the reason for my dunking. She and Doan were now deep in conversation with Constable Davies. Maggie met me with a hot cup of coffee, which went a long way to improve my dour mood.

"Here darlin’ drink this," Maggie encouraged, "it’ll do you good."

I took the steaming cup from Maggie and sat down next to De. I figured it was safe; there weren’t any stock tanks within easy walking distance.

"Thanks Maggie," I said as I took the cup, "I could for sure use this."

De took my hand and brought it to her lips and kissed it sweetly. Constable Davies’ raised eyebrow was his only response to the affectionate gesture.

"Are you okay baby?" De asked. "I’m sorry about dumping you into the tank. And what you said earlier? You’re absolutely right. I was wrong to make demands. We are in this together, all the way. Forgive me?"

She’s kidding, right?

"Of course I forgive you," I whispered. "I meant everything I said then and now. Together, forever, right?" De nodded. "Good, I’m glad that’s settled. Now, what kind of plot are you and these two fine gentlemen hatching?"

Unc suddenly averted his gaze from mine, ran his hand over his scruffy day old beard, and found a crumb on the tablecloth very interesting.

"What’s the matter? Did I say something wrong?" I asked quizzically.

Constable Davies cleared his throat nervously, and De took my hand gently in hers.

"Cody, honey, listen to me very carefully. I don’t know exactly how to tell you this, but…well…it’s about…"

De never had to finish her sentence. Unc finished it for her.

"That bastard Lassiter got out of prison…early…the son of a bitch paid off the parole board or some such thing."

Now it was Constable Davies’ turn to enter the conversation.

"I’m afraid it’s true Ms. Fleming. Our office received word from the FBI Bureau Chief, in LA, just this morning that Lassiter was out. The FBI has been tracking his movements ever since he was released last week…"

I was really pissed.

"Last week," I shouted, "you let a whole week go by before you decided to let us know? That lunatic is just as likely to kill De on a whim as not! Why…"

Unc tried to calm me down before I went totally berserk.

"Now hold on Cody. Calm down before you blow a gasket! Kyle here just now heard. It’s the FBI that took their own sweet time in lettin’ us know."

De nodded.

"Baby, Constable Davies is just doing his job. Besides, the FBI hadn’t anything to tell us until now. Lassiter hasn’t done much of anything until just yesterday. That’s when he sent Clanton north to Seattle. Clanton met with the CEO of Emerald Software. From there, Clanton caught a flight from Sea-Tac to Calgary, just today."

Ain’t that just dandy?

"Well, where the hell is he now, and what is he doing in Calgary, as if we don’t all already know?" I growled.

Unc swiped a hand over his brow to remove the sweat building there.

"Uh…well…that’s…kinda…well we don’t know for sure, on either counts."

Now I really was pissed, big time.

"You don’t know where he is? What the hell kind of incompetent morons do you have working in your office, Constable? The biggest crime lord on the West Coast of the United States has just been released from prison, sent his right hand mechanic to Calgary, and you’re telling me you don’t have a clue as to what sort of shit he’s up to or even where he is? Oh please!!! Give me a break!!!"

De was sure I was going to explode. She tried as best she could to calm me down.

"Oh Cody, darling, please calm down. Constable Davies isn’t the enemy here. He came out here as soon as he heard the news. Don’t you think he would be the first to try to find out where Clanton is and what he’s up to? Honey give him a chance to do his job, okay."

De spoke rationally, calmly, lovingly. She pulled me into her arms and held me tight to her chest, all the while stroking my hair and whispering her love for me in my ear. I had to giggle just a little, at which De stopped and looked me straight in the eye.

"What’s so funny? I really think you’ve lost your mind."

I resumed my position against my lover’s chest.

"Um…I’m…well…sorry. When you whispered in my ear just now…well…it tickled. I had to laugh, just a little. Honey, I know I lost it there for a bit, but I’m just so afraid of what might happen. We all know what Clanton is here to do."

De nodded solemnly.

"Yeah, I know. He’s going try to take me back to Lassiter, or kill me, rather than let me live here with you all in peace. He has no other options."

That notion didn’t sit well with any of us, and Unc spoke for all of us in no uncertain terms.

"Umph! That no good scum may think he’s gonna succeed in Lassiter’s dirty work, but that SOB had better think again. There ain’t no way in hell Clanton’s gonna get within shoutin’ distance of you De, let alone close enough to do any harm to you. And that’s the God’s own truth."

De was visibly moved by Unc’s pronouncement, but still she felt adamant that no one should or would put himself or herself in harm’s way because of her.

"I appreciate what you’re saying Doan, and what y’all are trying to do for me, but I can’t allow anyone to themselves in danger because of me. I…"

Damn this woman has a one-track mind.

"Now hold on there just a minute, ‘MISS I CAN CONQUER THE WORLD ALONE’. Before you take total control, there is just one lil’ ol’ thing you forgot to keep in mind. WE," I said motioning around the dinner table, "are not gonna let you do this alone, and that’s final. You might just as well get used to having all of us around. So there." I punctuated my last words by sticking my tongue out at my stunned lover.

That’s really mature, huh.

It wasn’t often, if ever, that De ever stuttered. That would be way uncool, but as God as my witness, she did.

Wish I had a camera to memorialize the moment.

"What’s the matter, baby? Cat got your tongue? You trying to say something really important, or are you just clearing your throat?" I was pushing it I knew, but what the hell, ya win some, ya lose some.

"No, the cat doesn’t have my tongue," De quirked her eyebrows suggestively, "and no I wasn’t clearing my throat. I was only trying to say that all of you have to understand one very important thing. The people WE will be going up against are ruthless, cold-blooded murderers; I oughta know I was one of them…once. They will use any and every dirty, stinking tactic they can to get what they want. They use, abuse, and kill people in a heartbeat, and they take no prisoners. But the worst thing of all is that in order to survive, let alone beat them, we have to be just as ruthless and dirty as they are, maybe even worse. And there is only one of here who knows how to play their game, and win, me. I want to warn you now; you won’t like the person I have to become to get through this. The really scary part is, I may not come back the same person you know now. Okay, that’s it in a nutshell. You still want to be a part of this hell? I wouldn’t blame you if you walked away now, or told me to get lost. I’d understand. But either way stay or go, the decision is yours to make."

I moved closer to De and kissed her tenderly.

"I can speak only for myself, my love, but I am in this with you all the way. I will never desert you no matter what…and…I have faith that you will come through this the same strong, caring, loving person you are right now. I’m not the least bit worried."

De just shook her head at my blithe remark.

"You should be, baby, you should be. But you’ll never know how glad I am to hear you say what you did. I love you my darling Cody."

Warm soft lips descended on mine and for the duration of the long, soulful kiss the world fell away and there was only us. Unc’s discrete throat clearing brought us back to the here and now. I looked into De’s face, and she was actually blushing.

"Uh…well…this is all well and good to tell us what’s for our own good ‘n all, De, but since the decision’s been made to throw in with ya, we’d be obliged if you told us what the plan was seein’s how were involved too," Unc said firmly.

De released our embrace, stood up, and leaned on the table to look directly into Unc’s eyes.

"Doan, you’re gonna set me up in the saloon business."

Chapter 3: The Plan

"If that isn’t the most lamebrained idea I have ever heard," I shouted, "you’re gonna run a bar."

I couldn’t believe my ears.

"Well, not just any ol’ bar," De replied indignantly, "this will be a high class strip joint, complete with nude dancers; the works! We’ll be catering to the upper crust of debauchery. No two-bit punks in this place, only people with deep pockets. High rollers, people who hire their dirty work done…"

I didn’t wait for her to finish her thought.

"People like Lassiter and his thugs, you mean. De this is crazy! You can’t be serious."

For the first time, Constable Davies entered into our conversation.

"Pardon me Ms. Fleming, but Ms. Lassiter is right. This idea makes perfect sense. I have a pretty good idea that Lassiter lost track of Ms…"

De interrupted.

"My name is De, Constable; you can cut the Ms. Stuff. I’d appreciate it."

"Um…I’m sorry…of course…whatever you wish….uh…De. As I was saying… While Lassiter has been in jail there is a good chance that his seconds were working on other more important matters than De’s whereabouts. In fact, he probably figures De is dead. De resurfacing as a club owner, catering to the more, shall we say, unsavory elements of society would be the perfect cover."

I couldn’t believe my ears. I looked at Unc who was nodding his head in agreement. Even Maggie was concurring, albeit reluctantly.

"Please tell me you aren’t in this too!" I looked directly at Unc. "Damn Doan…I never called Unc Doan unless I was really pissed off about something…you can’t seriously want to let De do this alone. She’ll be a sitting duck, right out there where Clanton can get to her anytime he wants!"

By now, everyone was looking at De. I was ready to fire another salvo; Constable Davies spoke up before I could continue with my tirade.

"Actually, this is the only way we can get Clanton out into the open. After all, if you’ll pardon me Ms., I mean De, De is right at home with this kind of situation. I mean she was a…"

I was ready to knock Davies on his ass. I pinned him with the most De-like stare I could muster.

"Be very careful how you choose your next words Constable. You’re talking about the woman I love. I’ll not tolerate any disparaging remarks about De; do you understand me?"

Unc jumped in to head off anything which my land me in jail, like assaulting an officer.

"Cody Lee Fleming that will be just about enough. You…"

I hazarded a glance at De and she was becoming more and more uncomfortable with the current situation. The dam was about to burst.

"That’s enough! All of you just shut the hell up!" De’s voice and body mannerisms brooked no argument. "Cody, sit down and listen to me. All of you listen!"

The room had suddenly become as quiet as a monastery.

"First of all, when we began this thing, you all promised you’d do just exactly as I ordered, no questions asked. You do remember that, don’t you?"

We all nodded our compliance readily apparent.

"Very well then," De continued, "let’s get on with this."

De turned to me, and cupped my cheek with her hand. I leaned into the caress as she kissed the top of my head.

"Cody, my love, Constable Davis…" This time the constable interrupted.

"It’s Ian De. My name is Ian."

A crooked little grin adorned De’s lovely face.

"Touché, Ian. What I was saying darling is that what Ian was going to say was absolutely true. I was one of them, maybe I still am…"

I tried to forestall this discussion, but De would have nothing of the sort.

"The point is baby; I know how these people think; I know what they’ll do. I can play Clanton and his goons like a tune. Baby, they won’t even know what hit them. I’ll find out exactly what I want to know…"

The look on De’s face was positively frightening in its malevolent hatred.

"…and then Lassiter is mine. He’ll pay for what he did to all those people he’s used and abused. As God as my witness, he’ll pay."

De growled the last words so softly I barely heard her. I know the others didn’t.

"You’ll pay Lassiter," De hissed. "You’ll pay for Spike."

That’s the end of ‘Paybacks Are A Bitch’. Let me know what you think. The final, and I do mean final, installment will be out before long. Watch for ‘You’re Mine Lassiter’.

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