DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Kim for the words of encouragement. A very special thanks, as always, to the wonderful Debbie for taking time out of her busy schedule to beta.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Turning Over a New Leaf
By Ann


"Wake up, Liv," said Alex, reading, for the third time, the Passion_Perfect community's post announcing the opening day sign-ups for the annual Epic Proportions challenge by the Queen of all queens. Alex had gone over the wording as carefully and methodically as if it had been one of her legal briefs. The rules were clearly and precisely stated, leaving the writers to their own devices as long as they abided by the Queen's laws. But Alex needed their devices to include her and her lover – the butchy Liv, not the current namby-pamby one of the latest seasons.

"Not now, Alex, I've got a headache," groaned Olivia McButchy in an uncharacteristically pitiful tone as she pulled her pillow over her head. And did she ever have a headache; the ale Xena had brought to the party had gone down smoothly, too smoothly in fact. Olivia couldn't begin to recall how many mugs she'd had.

"Not that," tsked Alex, certain that neither of them was up for another round of lovemaking so soon. A ghost of a smile edged her lips when she recalled how amorous Olivia had been when they'd returned to their tent after ringing in the New Year with the other pairings. The New Year had come and so had Alex, complete with fireworks bursting in a plethora of colors behind her closed eyelids, some shades she'd never before seen.

"What then?" mumbled Olivia, her words muffled by one of the soft down pillows Alex had insisted upon bringing with them to the New Year's Eve celebration. She visibly flinched when she realized she'd automatically answered instead of playing dead. It wouldn't have been a far stretch either; she already felt as if she had one foot in the grave.

Glancing over her shoulder at the tent's entrance, Alex scooted closer to her lover. She couldn't chance anyone accidentally overhearing her words and getting the jump on their fandom. As far as she knew, she was the only one of the partygoers who had knowledge that the Queen had made her yearly post. "We need to leave without the others seeing us."

"Wha..." A sharp pain in her temple stole the 't' from Olivia's breath, and she burrowed further under her safe haven, not entirely sure it was so safe anymore. Alex had already breached the barrier verbally; it was just a matter of time before . . .

"We've got to find someone who'll write an epic story about us," whispered Alex, easing down next to Olivia and slowly lifting the corner of the pillowcase. "I think I know of someone who has story notes on her hard drive." She hesitated, "Or was that on napkins that littered the top of her desk?" Alex looked off in the distance, trying to recall which writer had just recently spoken of the possibility of completing an epic with her and Olivia in the starring role, and so lost in her thoughts, she was oblivious to the woman, standing just outside, who'd heard her speak of writing and epics and epic writing.

"Hades!" exclaimed Gabrielle under her breath as she removed her ear from the canvas wall of Alex and Olivia's tent. She'd just happened to be passing by, having crawled out of her bedroll to visit the bushes, and somehow found herself quite a distance from camp, conveniently on a path that took her to the base of the mountain ridge where she'd known her blonde nemesis had pitched her tent. "How could I have forgotten about this year's Epic Proportions challenge?" She muttered to herself as she quietly eased away from the tent and started back up the path that would lead her to Xena. "We've got to get to the femslash writers before the others." Picking up her pace, she quickly settled into a jog that only mildly increased the rhythmic hammering behind her eyes as she disappeared into the thick foliage, cursing herself for having those last few drinks. She never heard the voice that floated out from the cover of thick foliage.

"Let's just get along and forget about silly things such as number of stories per fandom," mocked Scribbs derisively as she stepped out from behind a tree that had effectively hidden her from the path. She'd only intended to be away from her tent for a short time, but she'd gotten lost when she'd gone out to answer the call her bladder had been screaming at her to take care of for the past couple of hours. "Well, we'll just see about that!" She turned to her left and started down the path, now knowing the proper direction to head after seeing Gabrielle scamper the other way.

Ignoring the incessant pounding in her head, she hurried past the other tents and finally spotted the one she shared with Ash, thankful that her lover had chosen to fly a small British flag outside their rustic domain. She'd thought it had been an incredibly stupid thing to do at the time, but now understood Ash's reasoning. All the tents pretty much looked the same to Scribbs.

"Ash! Wake up, Gabby is already at it," said Scribbs as she tossed back the bit of canvas material that acted as their makeshift doorway. "The whole resolution talk was bollocks; she and Alex just wanted to draw our attention away from this year's Epic Proportions." Scribbs headache grew worse as she turned her mind to the depth of the blonde's deception. "I think they got us pissed on purpose, too."

"No one held you down and poured liquor down your throat, Scribbs. You did just fine getting pissed on your own," grumbled Ash, only hearing the last part of her lover's words. She'd been too busy trying to figure out where she was and who she was, having imbibed more than her usual allowed quota. She slowly eased up on an elbow and forced her eyes opened, the blanket slipping precariously low. "Now, what's all this about?"

Scribbs was momentarily speechless, distracted by Ash's milky-white shoulder that peeked out from the blanket they'd spent most of the early morning hours rolling underneath. She immediately bit down on her lower lip to keep a gasp from escaping when she spied a perfect cast of her own upper and lower teeth outlined on her lover's skin. Forcing her eyes to meet Ash's, she was suddenly grateful that she had news that would distract Ash from the highly visible love bite.

"Gabby and Alex plan to sneak away while everyone's in a drunken stupor," reported Scribbs, having not actually heard Alex admit to leaving. She'd just figured from Gabrielle's words and actions that Alex had planned to sneak off first.

Ash frowned. "I don't see how they could possibly go anywhere; they drank just as much as everyone else." She narrowed her eyes in thought, a gesture Scribbs always found quite sexy and causing the other woman to shift her focus back to the red ring that was practically tattooed on her lover's shoulder. Ash hadn't a clue to the sharp turn Scribbs' thoughts had taken as she continued with her own current train of thought. "Well, except for Xena, Olivia, Jo, Tracey, and Emily." The five women had started on Xena's secret stash long before the party had begun and seemed to be feeling no pain when the rest of the women arrived. Ash was certain they'd feel it soon though.

Vividly recalling the very unAsh-like scream her lover had emitted when teeth had clamped down on soft flesh at that pivotal moment when nothing else existed except for reaching the pinnacle of all pinnacles, Scribbs licked her lips hungrily and had to force herself not to jump Ash on the spot. But with the success of their fandom at stake, the jumping would just have to wait until later. "Let's go get the others and come up with a plan to stop them."

"I think we need to talk to Jo first," said Ash, reaching for her clothes that had, for the most part, been ripped from her body the night before. She held up her blouse and stared at the open space where her sleeve used to reside. "Damn it, Scribbs, this was my favorite shirt!"

Swallowing a chuckle, Scribbs scooped her own clothes from the floor of the tent. She wanted to be fully dressed in case she had to make a fast getaway when Ash discovered her equally ripped knickers.

The interior of the spacious tent was quiet, save for the occasional sounds of puffs of air escaping the full lips of Blair Warner. The heiress was dead to the world, a silky, black eye mask covering her left eye and most of her right as it had slipped to a slight angle when she'd rubbed her painfully sore head hours earlier. Beside her, Jo grunted and turned on her side, swallowing with a grimace. Her mouth felt like an entire jumbo-sized bag of cotton balls had been stuffed inside.

"Ugh," she mumbled, reaching blindly to her side for the bottle of water she'd placed beside her just before she and Blair had crawled inside their roomy sleeping bag after having successfully, and quite thoroughly, rung in the New Year with a bang. Jo's head wouldn't be the only thing smarting on the first day of the year.

"Jo," a British accent broke through the silence of the room and floated lazily through the air. "You awake?" Scribbs stuck her head through the tent's opening and glanced around the tastefully decorated tent. If she hadn't already known what made up the surroundings outside, she'd have sworn she was back in civilization, staring at the interior of a posh New York flat. The sleeping bag, however, looked as out of place as a La-Z-Boy recliner amid a roomful of 18th century Italian furniture, but Scribbs figured it was the one concession Jo had insisted upon on their outdoor excursion.

"Ash kick you out . . . again?" asked Jo, prying her eyelids open to fasten on the doorway. Even feeling as horrible as she did, she wasn't going to miss hearing what Emma had done this time. Living with Ash and her rules would drive a nun to mischief.

"Um, no actually," started Scribbs, almost falling into the opening when Ash nudged her from behind, or rather on the behind. "Whoa, in a hurry much, Ash?" Scribbs stepped inside and smiled at the light touch on her backside as she rose to her full height. It seemed the knickers incident had been temporarily forgotten by her lover.

"The blonde bimbos are planning to take over the Epic Proportions challenge," said Ash, her eyes sweeping the area much like her lover had moments earlier and noting the very tasteful décor. She glanced at the sleeping bag and wondered why the pair hadn't gone all the way and brought along a comfortable bed, but she quickly looked away, embarrassment etched on her features, when she realized that the two women hadn't needed a proper bed to go all the way. "We need to stop them." Ash refocused her thoughts before they could short-circuit her brain.

"Is it time for that already?" grumbled Jo, throwing back her edge of the sleeping bag and reaching for her sweats. Ash gulped and once again turned her head, finding a painting of a lone tree set in the middle of nowhere quite fascinating, while Scribbs studied the naked woman before her. She grinned when she spotted the colorful tattoo on Jo's right hip.

"It was news to us, too," said Scribbs, tilting her head to get one last glimpse of Jo's firm ass before it disappeared underneath lightweight cotton. "Apparently Gabby hadn't remembered either. She practically ran down the trail to get back to her camp."

"Jo, turn down the television," complained Blair, shifting inside the sleeping bag and scrunching up her face.

"Telly? You have telly?" asked Scribbs, quickly scanning the space again and spotting an ornate entertainment center against the far wall of the tent. She didn't have time to ask where they'd gotten the electrics to power the equipment as Blair complained yet again.

"BBC again? I thought you'd seen all the Dr. Who episodes?" Blair reached up and straightened her crooked mask. "DVR them for later and come back to bed." She rolled over on her side and faced away from her lover, easing back into sleep as quickly as she'd left it.

"It ain't the telly, Blair. Now get your cute little butt out of that bag, Gabby and Alex have already broken their resolution." Foregoing a bra, Jo slipped a t-shirt over her head and turned her attention back to the Brits. "Let's split up and go fill the others in. Blair and I will take this side of the path, and you two take the other. We'll meet at the pass that leads out of the valley."

With a nod, and extremely grateful that the New York detective was fully clothed, Ash started toward the door of the tent. "C'mon, Scribbs, let's get started, shall we?"

Scribbs spared one last glance at the sleeping socialite, not envying Jo the task of enticing Blair from the bag. With the way the other blonde had burrowed herself inside, she figured she and Ash would cover half of their assigned tents before Jo and Blair could even get started. She gave Jo a look of pity and then followed Ash through the door of the tent.

A loud shriek had both Brits stopping and turning back toward the entrance. It seemed that Scribbs' worries were ill-founded.

"Put me down, you Neanderthal!"

"Well, where the hell are they?" asked Tracey, glancing down the path toward the valley and then sneaking a peek over her shoulder. Surely the two couples hadn't already left the area. There'd be hell to pay if she'd been lured from much needed sleep to stand out in the hot morning sun for nothing. Pushing the dark glasses further up the bridge of her nose, she concentrated on the narrow path that led to the only exit back to life as they all knew it – femslash land.

One of the two blondes that bracketed her side nodded in agreement. "I find it hard to believe that either Alex or Gabrielle had enough of their wits about them this morning to do anything but sleep." Serena had been quite upset with the amount of noise that had filled the valley during the night, especially those projected –long and loudly – by the very women they were all waiting to stop from escaping the valley. Of course, after Abbie Carmichael had found her way to Serena's tent, the blonde hadn't cared about anything. The sky could've fallen on her head, and she would've died happy.

"No kidding," said Kelly. "They should be sleeping like the dead. In fact," she looked down toward the area where the tents had been set up, "I think Emma may have been mistaken by what she heard."

"Hey, what's that?" asked JJ, pointing further down the path where the forest hid most of the narrow route that led up to where the throngs of women waited to confront the scheming blondes. If the amount of mumbling and grumbling was anything to go by, all the pairings were starting to get antsy.

Emily squinted behind her polarized dark shades and tried to pinpoint what her lover was gesturing toward. It hadn't helped that she was practically seeing double, thanks to the amount of ale she'd consumed. She'd never trust Jo again. "Where?" She tilted her head to get a better angle and was just able to make out rustling of leaves as something moved behind an expanse of thick brush. "Oh, wait, I think I see something."

The words had scarcely left her lips when a white steed came into view, the warrior astride the large horse giving every appearance that she was sound asleep, but every woman who stood on or near the pass knew not to underestimate Xena as all eyes moved, unbidden, to the chakram attached to the Warrior Princess' side. They could easily lose their heads if they weren't careful and being headless would seriously threaten any chance they'd have of ever appearing in femslash print again.

"What are we going to do when they get here?" asked Cindy, a bit nervous at the prospect of going against Xena. Even with the massive numbers stacked against her, the warrior still had the edge. Her victories against insurmountable odds had been well documented time and time again, and the young reporter, who was just coming into her own, had no desire to chance losing what she had with Lindsay or Jill, and on the rare occasion, Lindsay and Jill.

"Try to reason with her," replied Kathryn Janeway, watching the warrior carefully. She'd always favored peaceful resolutions but wasn't averse to physical confrontation if it was called for. Having the two lovers, Seven-of-Nine and B'Elanna Torres, on her side, and occasionally in her bed – separate, of course - gave her an edge the others didn't have. Well, that and Starfleet technology.

Lifting a shotgun against her hip, Sofia pointed the weapon skyward and shifted a fresh toothpick to the corner of her mouth. Catherine and Sara shared a small space on a nearby rock and took turns drooling over the impressive and extremely hot pose, not caring in the least that their fandom had a snowball's chance in hell of drawing a writer's attention toward them in an epic-sort of way.

"And if that doesn't work, we certainly have enough firepower to keep them from leaving." Sofia glanced around and grinned at the sun glinting off the various pieces of metal and the women who held the many guns.

Nikki and Nora appeared relaxed with their weapons hanging loosely by their sides, but Sofia knew the duo was ready in a second's notice to point and fire. Scully, on the other hand, had her weapon already aimed down the path as did Reyes, who was practically glued to her lover's hip. Calleigh followed suit, sitting high above on a rock with Natalia at her side peering through a set of binoculars. She abruptly rose up and pointed further down the mountain trail, well past the warrior and her bard.

"I see Alex! She and Olivia are staying off the path, but they're heading this way."

As if on cue, a shot rang out and echoed through the valley, and every woman who was packing gripped her weapon tightly. Tense seconds followed until Natalia's laugh filtered down from above. "Relax, ladies; Olivia just blew away a tree branch that almost knocked her on her ass."

"That's Liv for ya, shoot first and ask questions later," drawled Abbie, wrapping her long arms around Serena's middle to ensure her new lover that her reference was old history, long ago buried. Jill's ears perked up at the obvious Texas 'twang.' She looked at Lindsay and frowned. The other woman had never said a word about having a twin.

"Well, well; what do we have here?"

Xena's voice floated across a very short distance, much shorter than anyone had expected, and captured the DDA's attention as well as everyone else's. No one had noticed that the Warrior Princess had slipped from her horse to sneak ahead to check out the movement at the top of the pass. Olivia's tree-shooting antics had effectively distracted them, individuals and doppelgangers alike.

"We are stopping you from leaving," said Cameron matter-of-factly. She wasn't sure exactly why it was necessary to keep the warrior from leaving, but it was something Sarah had indicated was of utmost importance, and if was important to Sarah, it was important to Cameron as well.

The group of woman let out a collective sigh of relief at seeing the terminator. Neither she nor Sarah had been at the party the evening before, and the other women had just figured the pairing had been taking a much needed rest after their recent mid-season finale. Weapons were now gripped with more confidence than before, but everyone was taken by surprise at the sheepish look that had formed on Xena's face.

"Um, look," said the warrior, almost apologetically, "don't worry about Gabrielle throwing a kink in the epic challenge. We already have a faithful group of writers, so we don't need to try to entice any of the writers who write other fandoms to join in." She shrugged. "It's just that Gabrielle's so competitive, but I promise to head her off before she gets anywhere near your writers."

"So you're not going to scare writers into choosing your fandom for the challenge?" Erica stepped in front of the other women, weaponless. She pulled her shoulders back and stood tall, figuring losing her head would be far less painful than being stabbed in the back, repeatedly, by the very woman who spoke so highly of her character's lesbian role. Epic or not, she just wanted vindication.

"No, and neither is Olivia. We both get plenty of action between stories," said Xena in an almost whispered tone, but startling Erica and those who stood close by when she suddenly launched in a more menacing one. "And I'll kill anyone who tries to stop us!" She gripped her chakram and held it high, topping her performance off with a feral look.

"That's my Xena," said Gabrielle, tugging on Argo's reins as she slowly came into view. "I wondered where you'd gone." Placing a threatening hand on her sais, she glared at the other woman and prepared to battle for their right to the pass.

The multitude of women – brunette, blonde, and redhead alike – paused momentarily as if contemplating a physical confrontation before scattering like a bunch of scared sheep, each pairing taking a different direction to return to their respective tent. They were fairly certain Xena had been acting when she'd threatened them, but knew it wouldn't be wise to take any chances when the metal killing thing could easily whoosh through the air and eliminate any and all of their thought processes permanently. It was infinitely better to trust that the warrior had been telling the truth about not attempting to strong-arm their writers.

"Wow, that was easier than I thought." Gabrielle watched the women head off in their different directions as a smile slowly formed. "C'mon, let's go see if we can find Del and get to her before she commits to another fandom." Turning on her heel, she pulled Argo behind her as she hurried toward the unmanned pass.

Hesitating momentarily, Xena looked down at the valley, her eyes widening perceptibly when she spied Olivia's finger tighten on the trigger of her gun as the detective drew a bead on a moving bush. In a single motion, she snatched the chakram at her waist and let it fly, watching with a satisfied expression as it hit Olivia's gun with enough force to damage the barrel before the whirling ring returned to her hand like a boomerang seconds later.

"Damn it, Xena!!!"

Chuckling, the Warrior Princess hurried up the path to catch up with her lover. This year's epic challenge was going to be quite interesting to say the least.

The End

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