(Turning Tides, cont’d.)


"You disturb my natural emotions

You make me feel like dirt, and I'm hurt;

And if I start a commotion

I'll only end up losing you, and that's worse;

Ever fallen in love with someone,

Ever fallen in love, in love with someone

Ever fallen in love, in love with someone

You shouldn't have fallen in love with?" - The Buzzcocks




Four days had elapsed since the 'bathroom incident', as Alli liked to call it. She had been tempted to call in sick the day immediately following, but she didn't - she refused to give M.J. any more power. Instead, she just tried her best to keep a low profile, and she most definitely avoided the 14th floor. But she couldn't concentrate for shit.

Every time she gazed out her office window, she saw M.J.'s penetrating eyes staring back at her; every time she looked down at her body, she felt the burning caress of long fingers; every time she caught a reflection of her own face, she envisioned perfect lips grazing her cheek. She was a listless, unfocused mess, and she knew she was in big trouble.


Two weeks finally passed, and Alli was finding that even though she was relieved that she still hadn't run into M.J., part of her also felt a sense of disappointment. After working together and being in contact with each other so often, and for so long, it was painfully obvious that they were avoiding one another. She wanted to be angry with the brunette for being too chicken-shit to come talk to her about what had happened, but she knew damn well that it went both ways - she would never go and confront M.J. either. Alli also knew that if M.J. felt anything like she did, it was probably good that they were doing the avoidance thing. The only problem with that was, eventually, they were bound to meet up someplace. And when that happened, Alli had no idea what she'd say, think, or feel.

The moment of confrontation caught Alli by surprise, as she feared. Stevenson popped his head into Alli's office bright and early one morning.

"Hey, Alli - can you gather your stuff on that proposed Commercial Engineer position and come with me to the boss's office in about an hour? They've now decided that they wanna move ahead and start interviewing, so we gotta present the list of candidates." He said quickly.

"W-What? Why? I mean...," Alli faltered as she felt a small flush of panic. "We only had three or four possibilities, and after the search was halted the second time, I thought it was being shelved completely?" She asked, trying to give a good reason for her hesitation and panicked expression.

Stevenson shrugged, "I guess the 'ole Scorpion wants to see what we've got before we advertise again," he said, sarcastically referring to M.J.

Alli let out an obvious sigh of frustration while closing her eyes and shaking her head slightly. "I know, I know, she's a pain in the ass - what else is new, right?" Stevenson said with a knowing grin, then disappeared.

Pain in the ass isn't *exactly* what I was thinking, John, Alli thought morosely to herself. Why the hell does he need ME to go along anyway? God, he's such a spineless pussy! Alli thought angrily.

She had to figure out a way to avoid a meeting with M.J., especially since John would be there. She knew the man had no clue what had happened between them, but it would be extremely awkward, not to mention painfully tense. Had M.J. requested her attendance, or was John just dragging her along? Regardless of the reason, she *had* to get out of it. She gathered the paperwork out of her file cabinet and headed to John's office.

"John - here are all the resumes and the list of possible interviewees that we discussed last time," she said, thrusting the paperwork out toward Stevenson. "Uhm, listen... if it isn't *absolutely* necessary for me to go, I'd rather not. I have this big worker's comp. grievance thing to finish-up, and I'm a little behind on it." It was a flimsy excuse, but Alli hoped that John would buy it.

"Oh I don't think it'll take long," he said, then paused, "actually, I kind of wanted you to be there in case M.J. decides to go off on a tangent and start asking in-depth questions - you know how she can be - and since you were the one who handled all the advertising the first time around, I just think it'd be better if we both went... y'know?" Stevenson added with a shrug, fully intending on guilting his Assistant into going.

Shit... of course he's going to dump all this on me again! Dammit! "Okay... fine... whatever," Alli answered with an irritated sigh.

For an hour, Alli tried to keep herself preoccupied with work, not wanting to think about the impending face-to-face with M.J. She even played a game of Solitaire on her pc - anything to keep her mind off the lingering, phantom memories of her little dalliance with the alluring, unsettling brunette.

She sat at her desk, pensive and melancholy, her hand resting motionless on her mouse, her eyes staring at an imaginary spot on the wall of her office. Despite all the wretched, despicable, hateful thoughts she had about M.J. ...despite her resolution to never fall under the dark, sexy woman's spell again... despite it all... Alli still burned for her. It was never-ending.

She could still feel the warmth that the tall body generated as it pressed against her... she could still feel the imprint of M.J.'s hands on her flesh as they slid down her belly and plundered her secret treasure. Whenever she thought about the way M.J. had whispered her desire to her, murmuring so seductively in her ear as she stroked her and touched her so intimately, she shivered visibly. Just thinking about it now, she felt herself begin to break out in a sweat, and her body started to surge with want.


"Huh?" She jumped at John's sudden intrusion and knew that her face was flushed.

"Are you coming?" John asked.

Alli looked at him, momentarily stunned, a nervous giggle bubbling up in her throat as she thought, Oh John, I'm close, believe me! She darted her eyes away, bringing a hand up to literally wipe the smirk off her lips.

"It's time to go to the meeting," John added, stepping further into her office, looking at her quizzically.

"Right... sorry... almost forgot," Alli mumbled, hastily grabbing a pen and notebook. She prayed that she didn't have a wet spot on her pants.


When the elevator announced with a pleasant 'ding' that they'd arrived at floor 14, Alli's stomach lurched. It flipped twice when they arrived at M.J.'s outer office and sat down in the waiting room. It flipped three more times when Helen buzzed the President to let her know that they were there, and it came dangerously close to leaping from her throat and out of her mouth when she heard the door opening. She glanced up out of the corner of her eye and saw M.J. standing at her door... tall, dark and tempting... wearing one of her customary tailored suits... her expression typically blank and unreadable. But somehow, none of that frightened Alli... she knew the warmth of M.J.'s secret touch... she knew the smoothness of her skin and the softness of her caress... she knew something of who M.J. Whitton was underneath it all.

Stop it! She screamed inside her head... this was *not* the time to wax romantic.

Alli refused to look at M.J. when the President invited them inside and directed them to take a seat. The nervous blonde walked as briskly as her shaky legs could carry her to a chair, where she sat down and kept her eyes focused on nothing but the notepad in her hands. M.J. began to talk in her customary low, even tone, and John answered here and there. Whatever it was they were discussing, Alli couldn't say. Her ears were burning and her mind was buzzing so loudly that it seemed to block everything out.

She didn't even realize that John was asking her something until he reached over and touched her arm.

"Alli?" She snapped her eyes up to him and caught the confused look on his face. "The deadline for advertising in the next Chronicle? ...Do you know when that is?"

"Uhm...," Alli stammered, wracking her brain frantically. "For the weekend publications, it's always the Wednesday before, so I think the next one would be... the 25th." She answered, forcing her mind to work so that she didn't look like a complete idiot. Her ears burned and she swallowed hard, returning her gaze to her lap as John and M.J. continued to talk.


The meeting seemed to drag on forever. Alli barely paid attention to what was going on, refusing to make eye contact with M.J. in the hope that the woman would forget about her presence in the room. It would have worked too, had M.J. not dropped a paper off the side of her desk. The offending document landed right beside Alli's chair, and she stared at it for a few seconds, realizing with dread that she would have to pick it up and hand it back to M.J. She was certain that the brunette did it intentionally, just to torment her. Determined to stick with her no-visual-contact plan, Alli leaned over and snatched the paper off the floor, tossing it hastily onto M.J.'s desk and sitting stiffly back in her chair, her jade eyes successfully never meeting with the blue ones of her nemesis.

When the meeting finally concluded a maddening hour later, Alli was the first one out the door. She marched straight to the elevator and sent it down to her floor immediately, not even waiting for John. She wanted to get as far away from M.J. as she could. Luckily, it was almost lunchtime, so she dropped her things on her desk and grabbed her purse out of her desk drawer, wishing to escape outside for a blissful, stress-free hour. Unfortunately, John met her at her door before she was able to fly the coop.

He stepped further inside and closed her door quietly. Alli's heart dropped to her stomach, a sense of foreboding filling her.

"You want to tell me what the hell is going on?" John asked, his voice tinged with impatient anger.

"What are you talking about?" Alli frowned, feigning innocence.

"You and M.J. - what's going on?"

ShitShitShit... "John, I-I really don't know what you mean--"

"For months you're thick as thieves, and now you won't even look at her. You acted completely unprofessional up there, so don't stand here and try to tell me that nothing's going on!"

Alli's face flushed bright red and she opened her mouth to deny everything, but nothing came out. She averted her gaze and blinked her eyes long and hard.

"Look, I'm sure you think it's none of my damn business, but I can't have people's personal issues and problems interfering with the functions of this office. You are the *Assistant Director* of *Human Resources*, Allison... THINK about it!"

John was upset, but he didn't want to come down on the blonde too hard. She really was an asset to his office, and besides that, he liked her. His voice softened and he inclined his head to regard her carefully. "I don't know what's going on between the two of you, and I don't really WANT to know - all I'm saying is, get it and yourself under control. ...Okay?"

Alli could only stare at the floor and nod slowly, feeling like a reckless child who just got scolded by her father. She was beyond embarrassed; she wanted to dissolve into a pile of dust and blow away. John turned and opened the door again, but before he left, Alli somehow managed to speak up.

"John," she called out quietly. He turned and looked back at her, standing there nervously rubbing her temple. "I'm really sorry," she admitted quietly, motioning and dropping her hand. He nodded at her, giving her a small half-smile, then he turned and disappeared.



"I may be mad, I may be blind, I may be viciously unkind,

But I can still read what you're thinking; And I've heard it said too many times, That you'd be better off, besides, Why can't you see?

...This boat is sinking." - A. Lennox




John Stevenson rode up to the 14th floor with much trepidation. Not only did he NOT want to face his boss, he certainly didn't want to confront her about a personal problem that concerned *her*, as well as his Assistant Director, and he knew that he had to nip it in the bud before things got out of hand. He was quite familiar with similar situations that had turned ugly, and he couldn't just sit back and hope that this one would go away... no matter how tempting that was. Besides, he told himself, Allison was his employee, and she was a good worker and a sweet girl. He hated to see her manipulated and jerked around by his arrogant, self-indulgent boss. He and Raiford had discussed the 'situation' numerous times, and Ray totally supported the idea of him speaking to M.J.

Well, at least I know that I have Ray on my side, if things go horribly wrong, John told himself as he approached M.J.'s office.

"Hi Helen - is she in?" John asked the older woman, who answered with a mere nod. John approached the massive wood door and knocked firmly.

"Come in," a gruff voice called out.

John opened the door and walked in, making sure to close the door tightly behind him. His boss waited a beat, then looked up from her desk, regarding him with questioning, raised brows. He took a deep breath and blessed himself silently. "I, uh... I wanted to speak with you for a moment," he began unsteadily.

"So... speak," M.J. said flatly, returning her attention to the paperwork in front of her.

John sighed, knowing already that M.J. wouldn't make this easy, and thinking that maybe it had been a bad idea after all. He walked toward her desk and sat down in one of the large chairs, but she still didn't look up at him.

Determined not to let the woman smash his resolve, he cleared his throat and started carefully. "I uh... I just had a little chat with Allison."

M.J. froze, abruptly halting her writing and finally lifting her eyes from her desk to lock them with John's. She suddenly had a very bad feeling about this man's little visit. John shifted a little uncomfortably in his chair and cleared his throat again.

"I'll tell you what I told her - I don't know what's going on between the two of you, but it needs to be resolved."

M.J.'s eyes immediately ignited, her dark brows arching sharply in genuine surprise. "...What?"

John took a deep breath, steeling his resolve, "You heard me. I don't know what the problem is, but it's beginning to interfere with Alli's work, and it's making both of you look *very* unprofessional."

M.J. stared at him before speaking, "Just what is it, exactly, that you think is 'going on', John?" She asked, cocking her head to the side and fixing him with a burning blue stare.

"I wouldn't want to hazard a guess, M.J. I'm just telling you, as a friend, that people have noticed, and it's affecting Alli's work." He reiterated with some impatience.

" 'As a friend'? You're kidding, right?" M.J. scoffed with a sarcastic smirk.

John's nostrils flared in anger, "Y'know, maybe this is all fun and games for you, M.J., but think about Allison... think about what this is doing to her reputation... she doesn't deserve to have it *tarnished* because of you and your *carelessness*!" M.J.'s face hardened and she clenched her fists together as she glared at the HR Director.

"You are *way* off-base, and *way* out of line, John." She said in a deceptively calm, low tone.

"Am I? What about you, M.J.? Don't you think *you're* out of line? Or will you *always* feel that you can do whatever the hell you want, to whomever the hell you want, just because *YOU'RE the boss*?!" John hissed venomously. He knew he was dangerously close to getting his ass kicked, but he couldn't stop himself; the angry words seemed to spew forth of their own volition.

M.J. shot up out of her chair, wanting to deck the older man, but knowing she could do no such thing. "Get the *hell* out of my office, John." She growled through clenched teeth, her eyes dark and murderous.

John stood up as well and they locked angry eyes for several seconds before he turned and silently stalked toward the door. As he opened it, he turned back one last time, finding his boss's blue fury still pinned on him. "Think about what I said, M.J." Then he turned and walked out.

M.J. stood rigidly behind her desk, her jaw literally aching from clenching her teeth together so hard, and her fingernails biting painfully into the palms of her tightly fisted hands. She nearly shook with rage as she re-processed what just happened. She turned toward her window slightly and closed her eyes, fighting desperately to reel in her fury. Losing the fight, she quickly spun back around, lashing out viciously and sweeping her arms across her desk, sending everything crashing to the floor with a loud roar.

Outside the office, Helen and Rachel turned and looked at each other with raised brows when they heard the noise. They knew their boss's temper all too well, and neither one dared to go and investigate. Unless M.J. appeared in her doorway, bleeding profusely and asking them to call 911, they would do nothing except hope and pray that the mercurial woman didn't come flying out of her office to take her anger out on them.


Madison made her way toward M.J.'s office, a slight spring in her step. She had just received some encouraging financial news about the company, and she wanted to share it with her big sister. Nearing the desks of M.J.'s office staff, she met them with a friendly smile.

"Good afternoon ladies - is she available?" She sing-songed.

Helen and Rachel exchanged careful looks before Rachel answered the Vice President. "Uhh, yes... I *guess* so," the young woman answered slowly.

Madison frowned and shook her head a little as she headed toward the door... she had always thought Rachel was a bit odd. Knocking briefly and not waiting for an answer, Madison was greeted by her sister's back.

"You're staring out the window *again*?! ...Morgan, you gotta do something about these 'rough days', honey." She teased. M.J. didn't budge.

"Hmph... you're telling me." She grumbled humorlessly.

Madison approached her sister's desk, noticing and picking up an obviously shattered glass desk clock. "Is this broken?" She asked, tilting her head and frowning quizzically. Eyeing it curiously, she shifted her gaze to the rest of M.J.'s desk. Just as she observed that things seemed a bit rumpled and askew, M.J. interrupted her by snatching the clock out of her hands and slamming it back down on the desk, a few shards of glass loosening and skittering away to drop onto the floor. Madison jumped slightly from her sister's abrupt movements. Obviously something was *very* wrong.

She waited a beat, then ventured bravely forth. "So... what is it this time?"

M.J. simply ignored her, returning to her silent stance in front of her window, her arms crossed tightly.

Madison drew a deep breath and decided to press on. "I haven't seen you for two weeks, Morgan. You cancel our meetings, you don't return my calls... you haven't been by my house since Christmas." Still faced with her sister's back, she walked over to stand beside M.J. "What's going on with you?" She asked softly, with genuine concern.

M.J. said nothing for several moments. Finally, knowing she had to say something to her sister, she sighed. "It's nothing that I can really... talk about right now, Maddy. Just... suffice it to say that you were right, and I was wrong... okay?" She said quietly, finally turning to look at her younger sister. A brief look of anguish passed over the strong face before quickly disappearing.

The troubled, washed-out look on M.J.'s normally sharp, determined face told Madison quite a lot, in addition to the fact that M.J. had just admitted she was wrong about something. Maddy had a sinking feeling that she knew exactly what was going on... but did she dare broach the subject?

"Morgan... what happened between you and Allison?" The younger woman asked the dreaded question very quietly while reaching out to touch her sister's arm.

M.J. closed her eyes. This was the last thing she wanted to deal with right now. Would this hellish day never end? She didn't say anything for at least a full minute, secretly hoping that Madison would just *go away*. No such luck, however. She took a deep breath, "You obviously have a pretty good idea already, Maddy, otherwise you wouldn't be asking me."

Madison's eyes fluttered shut and she let out a soft, disappointed groan. M.J.'s non-refute was all the answer she needed to confirm the rumors that she'd been hearing for weeks now. She of course hadn't believed the stories about the President doing the horizontal-mambo with the new HR Assistant. It made her angry that people would make such assumptions about M.J. and Alli, just because M.J. was a flirt and the two worked closely with one another.

But Madison wasn't stupid... she was well aware of the chemistry between the two women, and she knew that M.J. was very attracted to the pretty blonde - blondes were her weakness, after all. However... M.J. had promised her that she'd behave with Allison. She *knew* not to let things get out of control - she *knew* what could happen - she *knew BETTER*. ...Or at least Madison had *thought* she did.

Madison closed her eyes and took a deep breath as she turned away from her sister; if she looked at her any longer, her head would explode. She immediately started thinking about the best way to wrest control of the situation... what kind of cover-up would be needed?... what kind of hush-money would be required?... who would she get to defend M.J. legally? She hoped it wouldn't be as nasty as it had been with Alex Whats-her-name, but she wouldn't hold her breath.

"Okay, so... what kind of damage are we talking about here?" Madison said aloud, her thoughts springing forth from her mind. M.J. turned to give her a confused look.

"What? What are you talking about?"

"What's the damage?" She spat impatiently, flinging her hands out. "What's Alli's asking price for her to shut up and split?" M.J. paused, regarding her sister with pained disbelief.

"Alli isn't *asking* for anything, Maddy... there's no 'damage' for you to control, for *fuckssake*!" She cursed, her anger kicking-in.

"Morgan, Jesus *CHRIST*! Don't be stupid! It's only a matter of time before the slanders and the threats begin! Let's squelch it early this time, *please*!" Madison pleaded, motioning frantically with her hands.

M.J.'s temper was ready to fully erupt now, and she turned to face her sister with a glacial glare. "Look - Allison isn't *like* that... she and I had a little... *misunderstanding*... that's all... that's *ALL* it is. Don't make a federal fucking case out of this! Just keep your mouth shut and let me *handle* it, alright!? Do you think you can DO that!?" She shouted back, watching Maddy's face flush bright red.

Madison tapped her foot rapidly, clenching and unclenching her fists as she contemplated what to do. Punching her sister in the face probably wasn't a good idea, so she opted for a more controlled response.

"Fine Morgan... you 'handle' it... just like you've 'handled' this entire ordeal, AND all the ones before it! I'll leave things in your *capable* hands!" She snapped sarcastically, then spun on her heel and marched quickly out of the office, slamming the door loudly.

The jarring vibrated all the way down to M.J.'s bones, and she closed her eyes and drew a deep breath, releasing it wearily. Not only had Maddy assumed she was having a full-blown affair with Alli, but she also assumed Alli was a back-stabbing, gold-digging bitch like Alex Whats-her-name was.

Imagine her thinking Alli was like *that*, M.J. thought indignantly. She knows nothing about Alli... she has no idea how beautiful she is... how amazing. M.J.'s horrific mood lightened just a smidge as she envisioned Alli's soft face in her mind and remembered the exquisite feeling of her delicate, silky skin. As quickly as the positive images appeared, however, negative ones followed in their place. Alli's flushed, angry face as M.J. teased and taunted her... her red-rimmed, teary, green-blue eyes as M.J. watched her turn and scurry away from her.

The brunette lifted a hand to her face, covering her eyes and shaking her head. When did all the beauty between them become so hideous?



"Still a whisper on my lips,

Feel it at my fingertips... it's pullin' at my skin;

Feel me when I'm at my worst,

Feelin' as if I've been cursed... bitter cold within;

Days go by, and still I think of you." - Dirty Vegas




The next few weeks drug on painfully for Allison. She still avoided everyone at work as much as possible and dodged any group activities and functions. She even turned down invitations for lunch and after-hours social gatherings at the local pubs, which was something she had just recently starting doing, and enjoying, with Liz and other people from work. She no longer arrived at the office early in the morning, and she made sure to leave precisely at quitting time. She had begun bringing her lunch from home so that she could avoid going to the in-house cafe. She had turned herself into a hermit, but she felt it was necessary in order for her to sever her association with M.J. and regain her dignity and the respect of her peers.

She still berated herself for her lapse in judgment and lack of control, but she was more angry with M.J. and her apparent ability to brush her and the entire incident off like it was nothing more than dust on her bookshelf. Alli wasn't sure what she expected M.J. to do - it wasn't as if she wanted her to come crawling on her knees, begging forgiveness, or whatever - but some sort of 'Gee I'm sorry for seducing and fucking you in the bathroom' apology would be nice. At least it would prove to Alli that M.J. acknowledged what had happened, and could possibly shed some light on what the enigmatic brunette was thinking. Right now, Alli had nothing to feed on but her own humiliation and self-loathing.


Alli was busily occupying herself with a project one morning when she heard a soft tap at her door. Calling out hesitantly, she was relieved to look up and see the warm, smiling face of Liz Jacobs.

"Hey," Alli greeted.

"Hey woman - long time, no see." Liz gently chided. The attractive, brown-eyed woman had been a good friend to her, and Alli truly felt bad for shutting her out the way she had been.

"Yeah, I know... I've been kinda busy," Alli answered with a nonchalant shrug, averting her eyes.

Liz noticed the pale, drawn features of the small blonde. The past few weeks had obviously been very draining on her romantically-challenged friend, and she felt for her.

"Whatcha doin' for lunch today?" Liz asked, trying to sound casual and upbeat.

"Uhm, nothing. I brought a sandwich from home... I was just gonna eat it here." Alli mumbled and scratched her head, knowing full well where Liz was headed and dreading it.

The Finance Director perched herself on the corner of Alli's desk, "Let's go out today - my treat." she offered, hoping to tempt her friend into crawling out from beneath the rock she'd hidden herself under.

"Ah... I really can't, Liz. I have to get this report done, and--," Alli began in weak protest, but was cut-off.

"Uh-uh - no excuses... I won't take 'no' for an answer." Liz grinned, wagging her finger and shaking her head. Alli leaned back in her chair, rolling her eyes and sighing. "Come on, Alli... you've been hiding in here for weeks and weeks. It's not *good* for you." Liz insisted gently.

Alli pursed her lips and looked away. She knew it would be pointless to try and get out of this. Liz could be very insistent when she wanted something.

"I really don't feel like going out any place." Alli replied in a futile last attempt at resistance.

"Okay. How 'bout I get a sandwich from the cafe, and then we can go sit outside somewhere? It's really gorgeous today, and there's a nice little park just down the street... we can sit there and talk?" Liz pitched in her most charming manner.

Alli sighed again... maybe it would be nice to get outside for a spell. "Okay, but I don't really feel like *talking*." She acquiesced carefully as she looked at Liz with a mild warning in her eyes; she knew what Liz wanted to 'talk' about.

The Finance Director merely smiled and nodded, her mission thus far accomplished. "I'll meet ya down in the lobby around 12."


Liz had been correct - it was a gorgeous day for the middle of February. The sun shone brightly and warm breezes floated by, gently ruffling Alli's hair and caressing her cheek like a lover's fleeting kiss. Unfortunately, that made her think of M.J., and she abruptly felt disheartened, despite the lovely weather.

She and Liz made their way to the small, quaint city park where they found a bench and parked themselves. They chatted pleasantly about many things, but Liz made it a point to avoid too many work topics. Eventually the conversation wound down, and Alli seemed to grow pensive and quiet. Liz could no longer stand it... she had to broach the dreaded subject with her friend and get to the bottom of things.

"So... you gonna tell me what's been going on with you? Or do I just keep listening to the rumors and wondering?" Liz asked.

"What rumors!?" Alli asked indignantly, sitting up straight.

Liz fixed her with a knowing look, "You mean you haven't heard the rumblings going 'round? ...I find that hard to believe."

Alli's shoulders slumped and she looked away, "John told me that people were 'talking'." She snapped in irritation.

Liz turned to face her friend, reaching out to touch her arm, "Look, Alli... I don't give a shit what stories people are concocting and spreading about you, honestly. I only give a shit about your well-being... okay?"

Alli fixed her with a serious, thoughtful stare, "I'm finding it hard to believe that *anyone* gives a shit about me these days, Liz." Her eyes glistened suddenly with the threat of tears.

Liz squeezed her arm gently, "*I* do Alli." She returned her friend's look of desperation with understanding; she felt for her friend, and she truly wanted to help. "Talk to me, hon... tell me what's going on." Alli merely looked away, releasing a frustrated sigh, still saying nothing. Liz squeezed her arm again, "You gotta get it off your chest, Alli, or you're gonna self-destruct! Have you talked to anyone about it?" She asked gently.

"Tch... who can I talk to? Who can I trust?" Alli snorted.

"You can trust *me*... I swear it," Liz said, looking at Alli with sincerity. "I promise I won't freak out, or jump to conclusions, or judge you." She waved a hand and shook her head, grinning slightly.

Alli managed a small smile and looked down at the hands twisting nervously in her lap. She did trust Liz. The older woman had become a good friend in the last few months, and although she was embarrassed, she really did need to unload all the feelings inside. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly.

"I... I messed up, Liz... I messed up big-time," Alli began. She tearfully looked up at her friend, who sat silently. "I was weak, and I did something, and now everyone thinks I'm M.J.'s little *bitch*." A single tear dribbled down her cheek as she made the confession.

Liz considered her fragile friend for a moment before continuing. She felt a stab of dread, because the rumors were apparently true, and she felt a small stab of anger toward Alli for not staying the hell away from M.J., like she had told her. She had so many comments and questions, but she knew she had to proceed with caution.

"So... you're confirming, then, that something *did* happen between you and M.J.?" Liz asked quietly. Alli started to give her a warning glare, but Liz put her hands up in defense, "I'm only asking because I don't want to jump to conclusions, remember?" She explained quickly. Alli's gaze slid away, and she closed her eyes and nodded slowly and silently, her shoulders drooping. "And now, you regret what happened, or...?" Liz fished carefully.

"Of course I regret it!" Alli snapped, her eyes opening and flashing. Liz looked at her with both apology and understanding, then they both turned away from one another, sitting silently, neither sure of what to say next.

Alli closed her eyes, breathing deeply and tilting her face toward the heavens as she felt hot tears gather beneath her eyelids. She wondered how in the hell her life could go from bad to worse in the space of only six months. Liz contemplated what she could, and should, say to her friend now that she had made such a wretched mistake. Of all the company people for Alli to have an affair with, M.J. Whitton was the *worst* of the worst. The arrogant, conceited brunette wasn't worthy of having the adoration of someone as sweet as Allison.

"So... are all of your problems so monumental, or do you deal with minor little disturbances too, like the rest of us mere mortals?" Liz broke the silence with a small smile, giving her friend a sidelong glance.

Alli grinned crookedly back at her, wiping at her eyes, "Yeah, sure... my checkbook is off by $52.00... my car makes a weird noise when it idles... and last weekend I lost my favorite pair of earrings." She lamented, managing a weak smile.

Liz grinned and patted her on the back, "Well it's good to know that you do have some 'normal' complications, then." They laughed a little, easing the tense atmosphere a bit, and they sat in silence for a few minutes.

"Y'know what the ironic thing is?" Alli said, interrupting the brief moment of levity.

"No, what?" Liz asked

"At my prior job, *I* was the one responsible for writing the company policy on sexual harassment... *ME*!" She pointed at her chest, giving a small, rueful laugh. "I mean, I can literally say that 'I wrote the book on it,' and look at me now! ...Jesus!" She said, her head shaking and falling into her hands.

Liz frowned, wondering exactly what Alli meant by that comment, "Wait a minute, Alli... did M.J... I mean, did she force--," Her words were interrupted.

"No - she didn't force me into anything... I... I let it happen." Alli admitted sheepishly.

"Yes, but, did you... y'know... did you 'do' anything, or did she 'do' it all?" Liz asked a little more emphatically.

Alli looked at her quizzically for a moment, then shook her head when the inference sunk in, "No, Liz, it wasn't like that... it wasn't *all* her doing." Alli tried to explain without going into the gory details; this conversation was embarrassing enough.

"Yes, but Alli, she's your *boss* - she's the *President*! I mean, would you have even considered saying 'no' to her?"

"Yes! I mean no... I mean... ah, shit!" Alli held a hand up to her forehead, pausing to regain her composure for a moment. "I could have said 'no' - I know that I *should* have said 'no', okay? ...But I didn't. I didn't want to. I... I *wanted* her to do it... okay?" She admitted quietly, suddenly feeling highly ashamed and very slutty.

"But *would* she have stopped? If you had said 'no'?" Liz prodded gently.

"Yes. I mean... yes, I'm sure she would have." Alli hesitated for a moment, then looked up at Liz worriedly, "It didn't happen the way you're thinking, Liz... I know you don't like her, but she's not like that... she wouldn't do that. She didn't force me into anything... and I can't blame her completely. I wish I could, believe me, but I can't." She paused, looking off distantly, "I let her do it... because deep down... I wanted it to happen." She said very quietly, twisting her fingers nervously and hanging her head in shame.

Liz was quiet for a few moments as she stared at Alli's bowed head. "You, my friend, are in *very* deep." Liz said, blowing out an exasperated breath.

Alli gave a half-laugh, "I know it Liz... I know it." She said as a stinging in her eyes announced a fresh arrival of tears.


Weeks turned into months as Alli very carefully began to come out of her self-inflicted hibernation. She began to leave her office and go to lunch, but only with Liz. Still, it was a small victory. Sometimes they went out, sometimes they went to the park, and lately, they even ventured to the company cafe.

A rainy morning had squelched Alli and Liz's plans for a nice park lunch, so they decided to eat at the cafe instead. They were standing at the deli counter ordering their sandwiches while chatting with each other, paying little attention to anyone else around. They paid the cashier for their food and turned to walk away, Alli's head turned downward as she put her change back into her wallet. She didn't see the tall body until she bumped right into it.

"Oh, excus-" the words died on her lips when she looked up.

M.J. had been talking to Madison when they entered the cafe and rounded the corner, and she didn't see the individual who clipped her side until she turned and looked at the person. ...At *her*. Bright green-blue eyes looked up at her, and the apologetic smile that was on the bow-shaped lips vanished immediately. They stared unflinchingly, locked onto one another, the air around them immediately saturated with tension. M.J.'s blue lasers cut deeply into Alli's jade, and they stood there for what seemed to be an eternity. Madison and Liz shot nervous glances between their companions and each other.

After several agonizing seconds, M.J. opened her mouth, as though she were going to say something, but Alli quickly squared her shoulders, assuming an air of indignance, "Excuse me," she muttered in a low, strained voice, then turned abruptly and walked away. Liz tossed M.J. a dirty look, for good measure, and followed closely on the heels of her lunch-mate.

M.J.'s eyes followed Alli's stiff form as it disappeared around the corner, and she felt a stab of regret at the loss of contact. The aqua-eyed beauty who had been haunting her dreams still looked as lovely and tempting as ever. When she turned back, Madison was watching her expectantly, her eyebrows arched and her face questioning. M.J. merely pursed her lips together tightly and gave Maddy a warning glare - a clear message that the younger woman shouldn't say one word.


Alli and Liz sat in silence at their cafe table for a few minutes. Liz unwrapped her sandwich and went about her business, carefully glancing up now and then to gauge her friend. Alli was moving, but her face said that the little run-in had badly shaken her reemerging confidence.

"You okay?" Liz asked very softly. Alli said nothing, she just nodded her head slowly. Liz could see the tears quickly forming, and she carefully reached a hand across the small table to grasp Alli's fingers.

The friendly gesture broke Alli's resolve, and a tear broke free, dribbling down her cheek, "I could smell her perfume." She whispered in tearful anguish as she propped an elbow on the table and brought a trembling hand up to cover her mouth. Liz's heart ached in sympathy for her friend. She had never been in a situation like Alli's; she had never been so maddeningly enamored of someone that she felt agony simply from being in the same room with them.

As if things weren't bad enough, Liz almost gasped aloud when M.J. and Madison came walking into the cafe dining area and took their seats at a table that, although on the other side of the room, was within easy seeing distance of her and Alli.

"I hate to tell you this, hon, but your lunch just seems to keep getting more rotten," Liz spoke lowly to her companion. Alli lifted her eyes up and looked at Liz, who motioned her head toward M.J. and Madison.

"Fuck." Alli whispered. She shifted her jaw side to side and turned back to Liz, "How much of a scene would it make if we were to get up and walk out of here right now?" She asked sincerely.

Liz twisted her lips and considered the question. She had noticed that nearly all eyes in the cafe were on them when they entered, and now that M.J. had made her entrance, the four of them were surely the topic of conversation at 99% of the tables.

"Well... it's just my opinion, but I think you'd make a better statement if you stayed and refused to be frightened off." Liz said, looking squarely at Alli with a small quirk dancing at the corner of her mouth.

Alli pursed her lips and considered her friend's suggestion. She ventured a sideways glance at the woman who still plagued her every waking moment.


"So... are we going to talk about what you want to do for Helen's retirement party, or are you going to sit here and keep pretending to listen to me while you stare at her?" Madison said tersely, annoyed that her sister wasn't paying one iota of attention to what she was saying.

M.J. snapped her eyes back to Madison, shooting her an angry look, "I'm not staring at her!" Of course she was sneaking little peaks at the blonde head across the way, but she thought she was being discreet. She should know better than to think she could pull a fast one her razor-sharp sibling.

"Morgan... if you had lasers mounted in your eyes, her head would be melted by now." Madison said reproachfully. M.J. just gave her sister a scowl... she couldn't deny it. She averted her eyes downward, stabbing forcefully at her salad, not wishing to discuss any of it anymore.

Madison watched her older sister carefully... she didn't understand what was going on inside that dark, stubborn head, but she knew it was serious enough to consume a large portion of M.J.'s thoughts. Through all the years she'd known about M.J.'s personal 'preferences' and 'appetites' - through all the affairs and flings that she'd known her to have - she'd never seen her sister so distracted by one single person. Granted, she was sure she didn't know everything about *all* her sister's dalliances - M.J. was, after all, extremely protective of her personal life, even with her only true-blood sibling - but Maddy knew enough to realize that this time, for some reason, things were different. Since M.J. never discussed the private matters of her love life with Madison, the younger woman didn't really know how to broach the subject. She had always known better than to try to pry for information outright, but something told her that she might want to give it another try. M.J. was deeply affected by Allison Phillips, and Madison wanted to know why.

"Morgan... can I ask you something?" Maddy started cautiously, interrupting the momentary silence.

"No. Finish your food so we can get out of here." M.J. spat back tersely as she shoved another forkful of salad into her mouth, chewing harshly and staring at the tabletop, possibly trying to melt it as well.

Madison rolled her eyes, undaunted by her sister's bark. Sometimes M.J. treated her the way she did when she was a teenager.

"If you really are so... *taken* with her... why don't you try to pursue something serious... something meaningful?" Maddy persisted in a tentative but genuine voice, "It wouldn't be unheard of, you know."

M.J. looked up, regarding her sister with an incredulous look, "You're kidding, right?"

"No... no, I'm not." Madison answered with a small shake of her head, her face displaying the conviction and sincerity of her words.

M.J. gave a derisive half-laugh, half-snort, then gathered up her food tray and stood abruptly, "I'm finished, let's go." She snapped, not giving her sister an opportunity to disagree with her.

Madison breathed a sigh of frustration as she slowly stood and watched M.J. stride purposefully toward the exit doors.

"God she's impossible," Maddy murmured to herself.


"Oh damn, they're leaving... what a shame," Liz remarked sarcastically as she watched M.J. get up from her table. "Told you we could wait it out." She said, smirking back at Allison.

Alli snuck a peek, furtively watching as M.J. walked over to the trash receptacles by the doors and dumped her tray. Before she turned to walk out, the tall brunette ventured one last glance over in Alli's direction, catching the emerald-blue gaze dead-on with her light sapphire fire.

Allison's stomach plummeted as their eyes locked for mere seconds, and she watched in amazement as M.J.'s face seemed to soften ever so slightly. For a precious moment in time, Alli wished that she could just get up and run over to the towering beauty and throw herself into her strong arms. She fantasized, just for a second, that M.J. would not only welcome her, but would scoop her up, sweep her off her feet, and carry her away like a knight in shining armor... or a gladiatrix in shining leather and chain-mail... or something. For those few moments, she forgot her anger and wished that things were much, much different.

After what seemed like an eternity, M.J. tore her gaze away and turned, exiting the cafe and not looking back. Allison spent the rest of the day feeling slightly sick to her stomach.



"I hear a voice say 'don't be so blind', It's telling me all of these things that you would probably hide; Am I your one and only desire? Am I the reason you breathe, or am I the reason you cry?

...Always, always, always...

I love you, I hate you, I can't live without you; I breathe you, I taste you, I can't live without you; I just can't take any more, this life of solitude; I guess that I'm out the door, and now I'm done with you." - Saliva




Spring had finally made its presence known in the First Coast area. Sunshine warmed the earth for longer periods of time, flowers precariously pushed forth, and the brown grasses began to rejuvenate and turn green again. The weather was turning considerably warmer, forcing the winter doldrums to loosen their evil grip and vanish at last.

Allison and M.J. had started running into each other more frequently; it seemed both of them were slowly coming out of seclusion, and they were finally reaching a point where they could look at each other without quickly averting their eyes. Privately, they had both decided to try their best to move past the little 'bump in the road' and carry on with their duties. They had jobs to do, and they refused to let their foolish indiscretion bring everything to a grinding halt.

Still, whenever they did meet, it was still tense and uncomfortable, and they were rather curt and abrupt with each other. Luckily, all their interactions had occurred when other people were present, so they were never alone with one another. But they both knew that it was just a matter of time until the odds would no longer fall in their favor.


It was just after the lunch hour one week when Allison made her way upstairs for a meeting with John, Raiford... and M.J. Although they'd had several meetings since 'the bathroom incident', the two women still struggled to speak normally, and civilly, to one another, and only did so when absolutely necessary. As far as anyone else was concerned, however, the two seemed to have put their troubles behind them and were moving on. ...But thing are rarely as they 'seem'.

Alli reached the 14th floor and walked as casually as possible toward the conference room. When she reached the door, she opened it to find only one person seated at the large, oblong table... M.J.

Hearing the click-clack of the door, M.J. looked up from her note-writing to be greeted with wide, oceanic eyes. Both women froze momentarily, the realization that they were alone rendering both of them speechless.

"Come in," M.J. finally said, motioning to the table, "Ray and John should be here soon." She tried to sound casual and indifferent, but she had no idea how it was coming off.

Alli quickly looked away from her and took a seat at the opposite end of the table. She opened her attache' and began sifting through papers, pretending to read over them studiously while ignoring the looming presence on the other side of the room. She could feel M.J.'s burning gaze on her, but she absolutely refused to look up. If she did, she'd be done for. The deep cerulean depths of the beguiling woman still had the ability to do mysterious and wondrous things to her insides, and she had no desire to stir the pot. She was finally reaching a point where she could accept that she had made a mistake and move on; she wasn't about to throw all that progress away now.

After waiting in painful, awkward silence for what seemed like an eternity, Alli decided she couldn't take being in the room any longer. Even though they hadn't spoken a word to each other, she was certain that, by now, M.J. had burned a hole in her head with her piercing gaze, and she felt like she was suffocating. She looked at her watch in irritation and stood abruptly, murmuring, "I'm going next door, excuse me." Then she scurried out of the room and disappeared from sight.

M.J. breathed a deep sigh of mixed relief and frustration. Being in Alli's presence was turning out to be harder than she had thought. She thought she could play it casual and loose around the pretty blonde, dismissing what had happened between them as she always did. But instead, she was finding the opposite. Alli's cool, aloof manner and refusal to speak to her or meet her eyes consistently was disturbing her more than she'd bargained for. She could handle someone screaming and yelling and being a complete bitch to her - she could even handle pathetic begging and pleading - but she didn't know how to handle someone ignoring her as well as she ignored them. The fact that Allison seemed to be able to brush her off easily was disconcerting, to say the least.

The entrance of John and Ray broke M.J.'s thoughts, "Sorry we're late... hope we didn't keep you ladies waiting too terribly long...," Ray started with a venomous grin. "Oh... where's your little friend?" He asked, looking around the room and noticing that Alli wasn't there.

"She stepped out for a moment," M.J. said evenly, refusing to reveal anything or let Ray's comments entice her into a battle.

The two men sat down and made small talk while they waited for Allison to return. When it became obvious that Alli had been gone for an inordinate amount of time, M.J. offered to go fetch her so that the meeting could get underway.


Alli was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, dabbing her forehead with a damp paper towel. She knew she had to get back to the meeting, but she was overcome with a feeling of sudden, irrational anxiety. Being alone with M.J. was distressing... more than distressing, actually. Even though she had told herself time and time again that she would have to get it together and get over her dread, she just could not handle being trapped beneath the vexing beauty's consuming stare. How the woman could still be her fantasy while also being her nightmare made absolutely no sense in her mind, and she had worried and distressed herself to the point where she was breaking out in a sweat.

She was just convincing herself to stop being so irrational when she heard the sound of the bathroom door opening. Entering the dimly-lit bathroom and closing the door, M.J. pinned her with darkened eyes. Alli immediately felt panic wash over her, and she stared fearfully at the ominous presence. She wanted to bolt out of the room, but her feet suddenly felt grounded to the floor like lead weights. She was certain she was either going to swoon or wet her pants. ...She silently prayed for swooning.

M.J. walked slowly toward the skittish blonde, certain that if she said so much as 'boo', the smaller woman would faint dead away. At first the thought amused M.J., but as she came to stand in front of the blushing little body, she felt ashamed more than anything. Ashamed that Allison was so afraid of her that she would hide away in a bathroom rather than face her... ashamed that they couldn't even talk civilly to one another any more... ashamed that Alli was so obviously distraught just from M.J.'s presence in front of her that her body trembled visibly and her chest heaved deep lungfuls of air.

Letting her gaze wander over Alli's flushed face for just a moment, M.J.'s hand suddenly sprung a mind of its own and began slowly reaching outward and upward. Alli's breathing hitched, and her wide eyes carefully tracked the movement of the hand as it came closer to her face. When the back of M.J.'s knuckles just barely touched the fair cheek, blue-green eyes fluttered shut and all breathing ceased.

But the touch of the delicate caress disappeared just as quickly as it happened, and when Alli reopened her eyes, she locked again onto pale, sky blue. For a brief moment, she saw something akin to sorrow and remorse flash across M.J.'s face, but she couldn't be certain. For just as soon as the emotion displayed itself on the handsome features, it was gone... replaced by blank neutrality.

M.J. withdrew her hand abruptly and took a step backward, "John and Ray have arrived." She said in a low, quiet tone, then she turned and walked to the bathroom door. Just as she pulled the door open, she turned back to look darkly at Alli again, "...I'll be waiting for you." She added, nearly whispering.

A shiver ran through Alli's body as her mind spun and tried to process the possible implied meaning in that simple statement.


It had been almost two weeks since Alli had nearly lost it in front of M.J. in the bathroom. Thankfully they hadn't had the misfortune of being alone together since then, but Alli still had to work hard to get her panic attacks under control. She had been doing so well; the brief but unsettling 'meeting' in the bathroom brought back so much emotion and intensity, she was badly shaken by the whole thing.

More than that, Alli struggled to understand what M.J. meant by her statement of 'I'll be waiting for you'. Did that mean that M.J. was waiting for her to make the next 'move', or did it mean something deeper? Or, was it just a simple statement that had nothing to do with the two of them at all? Was Alli just reading too much into things? ...Once again, she just didn't know.

M.J., on the other hand, had a difficult time pushing away the memory of Alli's beautiful face and the anguish that had been so painfully displayed on it. She wanted to know what it was that caused the blonde to cry and be so upset, still. Was it shame and regret over what had happened? Or was it anger? Did Alli hate her? Or did she possibly miss M.J. and their friendship, like M.J. missed hers? The idea of Alli being distressed ate away at her constantly, but she didn't know how to go about 'fixing' it without approaching Alli and talking to her. The thought of that scared her more than the thought that she actually cared enough about the blonde to even consider such a thing. So, adhering to her usual modus operandi, M.J. did what she normally did in such situations... she did nothing.



"Don't touch me please, I cannot stand the way you tease; I love you, though you hurt me so, Now I'm gonna pack my things and go; Tainted love... tainted love, Touch me baby, tainted love." - Soft Cell




June marked the end of one fiscal year and the beginning of another, and it also heralded the retirement of M.J.'s long-time secretary, Helen Lewis. Helen had been with the company for 20 years, working tirelessly as executive secretary first to Mark Whitton, and then to his daughter. The small, gray-haired woman was 65 years old, and although she never fully learned how to use a computer and was no longer the sharpest tool in the shed, M.J. liked her. The President admitted that she would miss the calm demeanor and quiet, unassuming ways of the woman who had taught her the finer points of proper business etiquette for typing up correspondence, as well as the three different ways to fold a letter and stuff it into an equally properly prepared envelope. The little woman was conservative and old-fashioned, but she was a gem.

Dozens and dozens of people came to the lavish party that M.J. threw in Helen's honor in the company's conference center. There was a live jazz band, tons of food and drink, and M.J. had even secretly tracked down and invited Helen's immediate family so that they could attend. The event was a big hit, and Helen was floored by the massive display of gratitude and appreciation from the intense young woman who frequently seemed to not even realize that anyone else existed outside the four walls of her own office.

The older woman watched M.J. as she spoke to Madison and a few other people. She smiled, thinking back and remembering fondly how the two young girls used to come and visit their father when the company had first started. Madison had always been precocious, engaging Helen in intelligent conversations that reached beyond her years. M.J. was the tempestuous one, frequently challenging and arguing with her father, even though it was obvious the youngster worshipped the ground he walked on. M.J. had always been the apple of her Daddy's eye, and it had bothered Helen to watch the two of them grow apart over the years. Despite M.J.'s exasperating nature and Madison's occasional haughtiness, Helen always liked the young women and respected them immensely. Not many women could succeed in this business the way the Whitton girls had; both were young and their ideas were so unlike their father's, yet here they were - productive and successful in their leadership of the company. Mark Whitton was like Helen herself - old, out-dated, and past her prime. Perhaps new blood was indeed good for a company that would need strength and youth to take it into the 21st century. Still... she would miss this place, and the people who had become like her second family.


The party had started over an hour ago, and Alli still had not ventured upstairs. She knew she had to, and she really did want to - she liked Helen. The older woman had always been patient and kind to her, but... she knew that M.J. would be there, and she loathed the idea of having any kind of a face-to-face with the unsettling brunette. Liz had been bugging her about attending the function all week, telling her that she needed to go and face M.J. and stand up to her, if necessary. Alli knew that Liz was right, she just detested the thought of a confrontation. Their latest little clash in the bathroom still hung painfully in the back of her mind, and she feared that any meeting with M.J. would lead her down the path to emotional disaster again. It was the end of the day, so she finally convinced herself to go and just put in a brief appearance.

Just pop in, wish Helen well, maybe grab a quick drink, and then beat it outta there, she told herself as she reached the elevator.

Alli was surprised when she arrived at the big conference room and saw the festivities that were underway. There was a band, flowers, balloons, and food - oh the food! Her stomach growled lightly, reminding her that she'd had a skimpy lunch.

Well, maybe I'll have a few things to eat and drink, and *then* I'll go, Alli mused to herself.

Liz spotted her friend and went over to her immediately. "Hey! I was wondering when you were gonna get here!" She teased, bumping Alli's shoulder as she forked some food onto her plate.

Alli grinned sheepishly, "Yeah, I was, uh... I had to finish some things up first." She muttered, popping a little bite-sized quiche-like creation into her mouth.

Liz smirked at her, "Yeah, sure you did... chicken." Alli grinned and blushed and Liz nudged her again as they both chuckled. They chatted for a few minutes until someone approached them from behind.

"Glad to see you could make it," M.J. said lowly as she came to stand behind the two women.

Alli whipped her head around, startled. Her eyes took in the small, artificial-looking smile painted on the President's mauve-colored lips. "Thanks." Alli said simply as she popped another bite of food into her mouth. Play it cool, play it cool... don't let her rattle you, she chanted to herself as determined blue-green stared at smoky sky-blue.

Liz watched the interaction intently; she had been coaching Alli for weeks, trying to convince her friend that she could, and should, stand up to M.J. and not be bullied by her. It was the only way for Alli to escape the corner M.J. was obviously trying to keep her in. She had to admit that part of her was jealous that the President was obviously so infatuated by Alli; but another part of her was also angry that M.J. would tease - and in her opinion, harass - her friend so mercilessly. What must it be like to have someone pursue you like that? She thought that it would be enjoyable, if it were the right person... but M.J. Whitton was NOT the right person. She wondered when Alli would realize that. Liz knew that she walked a fine line; she didn't want to push her opinions onto Alli too much. But on the other hand, she just couldn't sit idly by and let Alli continually fall prey to M.J.'s treachery. Liz always had the feeling, despite Alli's protests, that she was naive and inexperienced in too many ways, especially when it came to people like M.J. It was always difficult to sit back and watch a train wreck take place.

"So... do you always throw such lavish parties for your exiting employees?" Alli asked, forcing herself to be strong and break the awkward moment of silence first. The three of them stood in a triangle, watching Helen talk and laugh with people.

"No... Helen is special." M.J. remarked with a casual smirk.

"Yeah, special in that she lasted an astounding 20 years at this place. That must be some kind of record?" Liz interjected sarcastically, not caring if she pissed her boss off; they were already on rocky terms with each other. Alli watched M.J.'s face carefully, gauging her reaction to Liz's caustic words.

"She's one of the company's most senior employees, yes." M.J. offered with a slight smile, her face remaining otherwise impassive.

"Yeah, interesting that she only lasted with *you* for about a year though." Liz said snidely, her sienna eyes meeting M.J.'s in unabashed challenge.

"Well you know what they say," M.J. quipped, shifting her gaze to Alli, "...'All good things must come to an end'." She pinned the blonde with a long, meaningful look before she turned from both of them and walked away.

Alli let out a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding, and Liz snorted as she watched the tall brunette blend into the crowd.

"Huh! What was *that* all about? God, she's a piece of work, man!" Liz sniped. Turning back to look at her blonde companion, she easily read the troubled look on the soft features. Dejected, oceanic eyes turned away from M.J.'s disappearing form to look at her worriedly, and small white teeth nervously chewed on a lower lip. Liz felt a mixture of understanding and pity for her friend.

Allison was still in very deep.


The party drug on until 7 p.m. Liz had convinced Alli to stick around; 'At least take advantage of getting a free meal!' she had said in jest. Alli decided she was right, and the two of them had made themselves comfortable at one of the tables while they ate, laughed, and chatted amicably.

When nearly everyone had gone, they decided it was time to leave as well. Alli decided to use the restroom before she left and bade Liz farewell as the brunette walked toward the elevators. She was just reaching for the bathroom door when it opened suddenly and she was faced with the visage of one M.J. Whitton.

Alli jumped back visibly and gasped, "God! What is it with the two of us and BATHROOMS!?" She spat out exasperatedly.

"I dunno... you tell me," M.J. said lowly as she smiled and looked Alli up and down while blocking the doorway.

Alli made an indignant sighing noise and rolled her eyes. She felt her hackles rising, but she didn't want to tangle with M.J. She was *tired* of tangling with M.J.

M.J. pinned Alli with a long, hard look, then finally turned like she was going to move out of the way. Before she did, however, she stopped and looked at Alli again, "I hope you enjoyed the party... I know you enjoyed the *food*." She grinned at Alli, wanting to harass her just a little. It had been so long since they bantered with each other, and she wondered if Allison was willing to reconnect in that way.

"Yes, well, why not take advantage of a free and tasty meal? You understand that, don't you M.J.?" Alli said teasingly, but with a distinct underlying tone of sarcasm. She really didn't want to start anything, but she wanted the aggravating woman to get the gist of her hidden meaning, since the brunette seemed to be fond of them.

M.J. leaned in toward Alli suddenly so that their faces were barely separated, "I might... but you should understand that *nothing* is free. There's *always* some kind of price to pay." Her eyes flashed and she spoke seriously, in a low, menacing tone designed to get her point across as well.

They stared at each for several moments, the standoff uncomfortably silent and fraught with intensity. Finally Alli decided she couldn't take it any more and she caved, tearing her gaze away from the glacial blue and escaping the frustrating brunette by disappearing into the women's bathroom at last.

Once inside, she contemplated locking the door - she didn't want to risk any additional 'bathroom' scenarios whatsoever. She was angry that M.J. had gotten to her, yet again, and she was confused by the mixed feelings of anger and arousal that burned inside her. She played back M.J.'s words, trying to dissect them and ascertain what the brunette beauty was implying.

I know I've paid a price, but what kind of fucking 'price' has she paid?! Her mind screamed and boggled in wonder. Refusing to let herself get wound-up for the zillionth time with thoughts of M.J. Whitton, she shook her head and inhaled a deep breath, then expelled it in a loud sigh. It was late, and she just wanted to get out of here and go the hell home.



"You let me violate you; you let me desecrate you

You let me penetrate you; you let me complicate you

Help me... I broke apart my insides

Help me... I've got no soul to sell

Help me... the only thing that works for me

Help me... to get away from myself;

I want to fuck you like an animal

I want to feel you from the inside

I want to fuck you like an animal

My whole existence is flawed... you get me closer to God;

You can have my isolation; you can have the hate that it brings

You can have my absence of faith; you can have my everything

Help me... you tear down my reason

Help me... it's your sex I can smell

Help me... you make me perfect

Help me... become somebody else." - Nine Inch Nails




Alli punched the garage-level button of the elevator, anxious to get home and relax after the little post-party run-in with M.J. She had forgotten her briefcase and made a pit-stop at her office to fetch it, but now she was finally headed home. It was late, and no one was around, and she was glad to ride in peace and solitude.

The happy 'ding' of the elevator's bell interrupted her serenity. Wondering who else was stupid enough to be there so late, she glanced up, and her heart nearly stopped. M.J. stood at the open doors looking, momentarily, as surprised as Alli was. The shock was quickly covered-up, however, replaced with her usual sly smirk and sharply arched brow.

"Going down?" M.J. asked in a low, teasing voice as she reached her arm out to stop the doors from closing.

Oh *shit*. Alli thought in a panic, but outwardly she only glared at the tall woman as she walked fully into the elevator car. They said nothing to each other as the doors closed and the car lurched to begin its descent. Alli clenched her jaw tightly... she couldn't believe that of all the people she could run into at this moment, M.J. would have to be the one to appear.

The fates must fucking hate me, she cringed inwardly, what the hell is she doing getting on at the 10th floor?!

Her throat constricted from an overwhelming urge to let loose a primal scream, but she absolutely refused to utter one word. She would not let M.J. taunt her and lure her into another battle of twisted words and sharp retorts. She wished she could jump off at the next floor... she wished *M.J.* would jump off at the next floor... she wished she could PUSH her off.

She wanted to plead with the tall beauty to just leave her ALONE. But no... she would *not* plead with her, she insisted to herself. She would not ask or beg M.J. for *anything*. She'd had it with the aggravating woman's condescending attitude and arrogant dominance over her. She would *NOT* give in anymore. If M.J. wanted to battle wills, Alli would stand her ground and battle her, right here, right now. The floors began to roll by in cheery 'dings' as the two remained silent. Alli silently seethed inside, biting the inside of her cheek to the point where it was becoming painful.

"So...," M.J. finally spoke out, interrupting Alli's determined thoughts, "are we going to just keep avoiding each other, or are we going to be mature and try to resolve things?" M.J. asked, breaking the painfully tense atmosphere as she turned to regard Alli carefully. She didn't want to be angry with Alli, and she didn't want Alli to be angry with her. She was tired of playing parry and dodge with the blonde; she wanted to get past this hostility and awkwardness and go back to the way things were before... before all the mess.

Alli's eyes flashed stormy blue-green as she turned her head slightly, shooting the brunette a perturbed, sideways look, "There's *nothing* to resolve." She snapped, her ire evident.

M.J. turned and took a step toward her, placing a hand on the wall near Alli's head in a move meant to subtly intimidate. "If we're going to work together, we need to sort things out." She said, her face strangely serene, her voice deceptively low and soft.

Alli gave an incredulous laugh, feeling her patience finally go up in smoke. She suddenly wanted and needed to unload and get everything off her chest. She turned to face M.J. fully, " 'Sort things out'?!" Alli said, her voice rising along with her temper, "You *fucked* me in your office bathroom... *WHAT*, pray tell, should I 'sort out' from *that*?!"

M.J.'s eyes widened in surprise just a smidge; she really didn't think Alli had the gonads to give it back to her like that. She quickly decided to fight back and see what else the little blonde had inside.

"Oh, *I* did it? So it's all *MY* fault then?" M.J. retorted in a much louder voice as she pointed to her own chest. "*I* forced you to stand there? *I* held you down and threatened you? *I* wouldn't let you go, even when you kicked and screamed and BEGGED me to stop?" She spit the words out as she stepped closer still, cornering her captive.

Alli stood there, eyes wide and blazing... blood pressure rising... chest heaving great breaths.

"Y'know, as I seem to recall, *YOU* told me that you wanted me to 'put my money where my mouth is'." M.J.'s eyebrows rose sharply as she dared Alli to refute her words.

Alli could only stand there and glare hatefully, her face reddened, her heart thundering in her chest. M.J. knew she had her.

"What I do *NOT* recall, Ms. Phillips, is you asking me to *stop*... not once." She stepped even closer, leaning down so that they were separated by mere centimeters. "All I recall you doing is moaning and groaning a whole lot." M.J. taunted, drawing the words out and letting them roll viciously and seductively off her tongue.

"You self-righteous *bitch*!" Alli growled lowly through gritted teeth, her body nearly shaking with anger that threatened to send her into self-destruct mode. She couldn't very well punch her boss in the face, so she decided to get the hell out of the elevator and away from the infuriating woman as quickly as possible. She jerked her body forward, making to quickly move past the tall body that was blocking her way.

M.J. had different ideas, however. She darted an arm out and snagged Alli around the waist, forcing her back into the corner with ease. Then, just as deftly, M.J. turned around and flipped off the elevator's 'run' switch, bringing the car to a stuttering halt and plunging it into semi-darkness.

Alli was shocked, and her mouth opened in a gasp as her body gently bumped against the paneled walls, "What in the HELL do you think you're doing!?"

M.J. turned around again to face Alli, "I want you to tell me." She said simply, her voice calm and even, her eyes alight with hungry blue intensity as she stepped in to corner her captive once again.

"Tell you *what*?!" Alli said in exasperation. She was a little frightened by M.J.'s sudden aggressive maneuvering and the fact that she was now trapped in an elevator with her, but... she also felt the start of a hot, fiery sensation burning low in the pit of her gut. Oh Jesus H. CHRIST, I cannot get turned-on NOW!! She screamed inside her head.

"Tell me what you want me to do," M.J. said lowly through clenched teeth as she leaned her body in even closer to the small, angry blonde one beneath her. It was so incredibly difficult not to reach out and touch Alli... so hard not to lean her face down and smell her aroma... lick her skin... taste her desire. She was going to go crazy in about two minutes.

"Jesus Christ, you're *crazy*!" Alli said with unwitting accuracy as she willed herself not to completely freak out. She brought her hands up to shove M.J.'s shoulders away from her, but before her hands even touched M.J.'s blouse, the brunette grabbed her wrists and pinned them to the elevator wall. Alli's eyes widened in surprise.

"TELL me!" M.J. yelled, her nose almost touching Alli's, her eyes nefarious, dark and wild.

"Let go of me!" Alli demanded, trying to twist her wrists free.

"No!" M.J. shot back, "Not until you tell me what you want!"

"Stop it!" Alli cried out, gritting her teeth and fighting in vain.

"NO!" M.J. reiterated, "I want you to tell me!" She demanded even louder, her larger hands refusing to release Alli's slender wrists.

Alli could only cringe and grit her teeth harder. Her panic-stricken mind warred with her body over what to do and say and feel. The sheer strength that the taller woman seemed to possess shocked and frightened her, and numerous bad memories flew through her mind at break-neck speed. She had been in this very position so many times before with her former husband; she shuddered when she thought about what would come next. She didn't want to believe that M.J. would hurt her... but people do strange things in the heat of anger and passion.

And yet... despite her fright and her fury, a distinct thrill coursed through Alli's small body. She was both livid and scared, yet she could feel the electrical charges that passed from M.J.'s gripping hands into her clasped wrists. Being overpowered by M.J. - by this woman who frustrated her and aroused her and drove her to the brink of insanity - was doing something to her insides that she did not and could not comprehend. Every nerve seemed to be standing on end; every sense seemed to be heightened. She could almost see the energy and heat radiating from M.J.'s taut body; she could feel the undeniable pull of their subliminal, soulful connection; she could smell the unbearable, lustful intent within both of them.

Alli stood with her eyes squeezed shut, praying not to cry, screaming inside her head that this was insanity, and absolutely *refusing* to let her body arch outward so that it could feel M.J.'s tall form press against her intimately.

OhMyGoddd..., she thought helplessly as her eyes began to burn and fill with hot wetness.

M.J. could see the battle being waged inside the little blonde's body, and she leaned in even closer, her lips barely grazing a flaxen-haired temple, "Tell me Allison... do you want me to 'put my money where my mouth is', or do you want me to leave you alone?" M.J. spoke low and husky in a voice that rasped like raw silk.

The throaty tenor of the words vibrated along the side of Alli's skull, scrambling her brains further, reverberating inside her body, and sending mixed signals to a spot between her legs that could only respond by releasing a damp need.

Alli couldn't answer; she was too overwhelmed by her senses. The engulfing heat and sexuality that emanated from the tall body... the rich, sultry seduction that came from the teasing mouth... the smell of light perfume mixed with the subtle odor of arousal... all of it was reaching out and grabbing hold of her while doing unmentionable things to her insides. The enormity of the situation was hitting her full-force, and she felt the rushing tide of her jumbled emotions surge forth inside her chest, pulling her rational mind into a dense fog of confusion and desperation. She was falling... she was faltering, again... her head was screaming 'no no', but her body was screaming 'ohhh yes'. Tears flooded Alli's eyes in an instant, and she could only squeeze them harder as the wetness began to dribble down her flushed cheeks.

M.J. saw the tears and the quivering chin right away and almost felt sorry for the small woman she had trapped beneath her. If only Alli knew how much she wanted her... if only she knew how much she hated herself for being such a coward and going about it like this... if only she knew how maddening it all was and how positively crazy it made her. M.J. was as close to losing her precious control as she'd ever been in her life. She forced herself to take a deep breath and closed her eyes, gently leaning her body forward until it pressed ever-so-lightly against the smaller one, while letting her face nestle against a soft, damp temple. Alli smelled wonderful... she felt incredible... M.J. was satisfied to just stay like that. They both stilled for a precious moment... bodies trembling... eyes closed... inhaling each other's essence... trying to reign in their emotions... trying to regain their sanity.

After a few minutes, M.J. slowly released Alli's wrists and brought her hands in to rest on the slender hips beneath her. She supposed she was not quite satisfied after all. She let her hands and fingers gently stroke the waist of the smaller, quivering body.

"I know that you want this," M.J. whispered softy against Alli's ear.

Alli squeezed her eyes together even harder; she was in absolute agony. She had been trying so hard to resist M.J., for the sake of her morals - for the sake of her sanity - but the temptation was so powerful. The urge to wrap her arms and legs around the taller body was overwhelming... she didn't know how long she could fight it. Her breathing hitched when she felt the soft caress of M.J.'s hands on her body.

...Oh dear God help me.

M.J. leaned her face downward, grazing her lips along Alli's jaw and neck while her hands continued to wander over the petite, lithe form.

She lifted her lips to Alli's temple again and whispered, "Tell me if you want me to stop." Alli did not answer. "Come on, Alli... *tell* me!" M.J. rasped more emphatically.

Alli couldn't speak around the huge lump that had become lodged in her throat; she only whimpered in response and lamely shook her head 'no' as more tears fell in anguished silence.

M.J. closed her eyes and pressed her face against the side of Alli's head, "I know you want me as much as I want you!" She whispered forcefully, breathlessly... her need now so great that her voice betrayed her by quavering, and her body betrayed her by insinuating a leg between Alli's thighs. She continued to taunt, "Deny it Alli... deny how much you want this!" She growled into Alli's ear and then leaned down to gently bite and suckle her silken neck.

Another whimper escaped from Alli's mouth and her hands flew up to grip the brunette's shoulders as she sucked a breath in through her teeth and clenched her jaw tightly. Her body finally surrendered, announcing its mutiny by pushing her hips outward to grind lewdly against M.J.'s invading thigh while her nails dug into the broad shoulders even harder, nearly tearing the taller woman's silk blouse off as she clung to it. She stood there and let M.J. take control of her, powerless, once again, to say anything or make herself move; unwilling to even slow it down... not wanting it to stop... only wanting M.J. and whatever she offered... only wanting the erotic indulgence of pure carnal pleasure. Her mind thrilled at the blood-lust that rushed through her veins... her heart soared at the reckless abandonment of propriety once again.

She couldn't tell M.J. to stop, because she didn't want her to stop; she couldn't deny her want, because it would be a lie. She wanted M.J.; she wanted her like she'd never wanted anyone before in her entire life. She wanted her with a vicious, all-consuming passion, and she would gladly take whatever M.J. gave to her. Wherever she wanted to take her, Alli knew she would follow... again.

"Tell me to stop, Allison!" M.J. insisted urgently, but Alli still said nothing. She couldn't. She wouldn't. Her only answer was to release her frustration in the form of choked gasps and tears. M.J. quickly unbuttoned Alli's blouse, parting it and reaching a hand in to caress the soft, silk-clad breasts. She bent her head down further to place open-mouthed kisses on the tender, newly-exposed flesh, driving her captive insane with arousal. Alli could only groan softly as her hips moved instinctively against M.J.'s firm thigh. There was no turning back now.

Burning desire coursed wildly through Alli's veins, and she brought her hands up to grasp M.J.'s dark head, gripping hard, but not pushing away. M.J. inhaled a sharp breath against Alli's skin and reached down to unzip the linen pants that covered the rest of the petite body beneath her. She quickly slipped a hand inside satiny panties, immediately delving into the warm, overflowing wetness that greeted her questing fingers. Alli released a deep groan and threw her head backwards, bumping it against the wall while jerking her hips forward. Her hands moved back to M.J.'s shoulders and she dug her nails in harshly again.

"Uhnn yeahhh," M.J. groaned and hummed against a blonde temple, relishing in the contrasting tenderness and brutality of the moment. As M.J. stroked and plundered her, Alli was unable to stay quiet, erupting with quiet noises that were a mixture of broken gasps and whimpers.

Then suddenly, without warning, M.J. withdrew her hand and dropped to her knees, kneeling in-between Alli's legs and pulling her pants completely down and out of the way, including her undies. Alli's foggy mind struggled to realize what was happening, and she had trouble believing it until she felt strong, warm hands touching her legs and urging them apart. When she felt the soft wetness of M.J.'s lips press against her inner thigh, she jerked and gasped aloud, her hands flying down to grasp at the head of the kneeling woman.

Unfazed, and even pleased by Alli's surprise, M.J. persisted with her oral attack, trying hard to touch the small body delicately, but finding it difficult. Her tongue snaked out to insistently probe and taste and ingest every sweet ounce of Alli that it could. Her ravenous hunger was so great; it urged her to devour the feast in front of her and she feared that it was insatiable. Her perplexed mind sent mixed signals everywhere, and she nearly wept her need aloud. She slid her hands up along soft skin to grasp the backs of Alli's thighs and buttocks, bringing her intimately deeper and closer to her goal.

Alli's hips thrashed and undulated against M.J.'s fiercely questing tongue and she gripped the dark head tighter and harder. She could only gasp, groan and breathe erratically while her mind teleported back and forth between this world and the next. With every swirl and stab of M.J.'s relentless tongue, Alli's body tensed and her thighs squeezed, threatening to crush the body that was firmly wedged between her legs.

M.J.'s lips curled into a half-snarl, half-smile, pleased at Alli's nonsensical utterances. Before the smaller woman could reach her climax, however, M.J. abruptly stood back up, pressing her body against Alli's and sliding her hand back down to finish the task her tongue had begun. Confusion and surprise further muddled Alli's hazy mind, but the sensation of M.J.'s penetrating fingers quickly banished any displeasure she had about the sudden change of pace.

"Now, tell me how much you hate this, Allison!" M.J. taunted in a menacing whisper as she pressed her face against Alli's temple and moved her hand in a quick, rough rhythm, bringing Alli closer and closer to the precipice. "Tell me how much you *hate* me!" M.J. demanded breathlessly as she ground herself against Alli's thigh and plunged her fingers deeper, faster, harder.

Alli's mouth opened and she panted out in staccato breaths, "I... hate... you!" She hissed, giving in to M.J.'s taunts. Her hips continued to thrust against the invading hand, and she wrapped her arms underneath and around M.J.'s shoulders, bringing their bodies tightly together and fusing their need. She tried to keep her climax at bay as long as possible, but alas, she could not. The ripples began to reverberate throughout her body, foretelling the imminent explosion.

"I... hate... you! ...I ...HATE... YOU!" Alli choked out in a broken, guttural growl, clutching M.J. desperately as her orgasm stole upon her swiftly, destroying her last vestiges of control.

M.J. felt the trembling within Alli's body and it triggered the beginning of her own release. She breathed out a deep groan, her pelvis pushed firmly against Alli's hip, and her face bent downward and pressed tightly against the side of the dampened blonde head.

Alli's climax reached its pinnacle and she surrendered completely, coming with a ferocity that shattered her. She cried out and clamped her teeth down on the exposed trapezius muscle between M.J.'s neck and shoulder, needing to release her agony and pass it on to her tormentor at the same time. Her small teeth carved an angry red gouge into M.J.'s flesh while her body shuddered and she came, one crushing wave after another.

The bite and the staggering climax that she felt made M.J. cry out, and she was pushed completely over the edge as well. Panting, spent, and slumped together, both women gasped for air and clung to each other for several minutes, struggling to stay upright in the corner of the stuffy, sex-infused elevator car.

Beads of perspiration lightly dotted Alli's forehead, and she let her face fall down to rest against the shoulder that she'd just maimed. The intensity of her shattering orgasm and the magnitude of the moment suddenly gripped her, and she was filled with an overwhelming urge to cry.

M.J. breathed raggedly as she rested her cheek against Alli's head, her heart thudding fiercely as she tried to regulate her breathing. She kept her eyes closed, reveling in and enjoying the warm strumming of Allison's body.

"So beautiful." M.J. whispered into the flaxen hair so breathlessly and so quietly that Alli almost didn't hear it.


Floodgates opened, and the already-welling tears immediately sprung from the jade pools. Alli closed her eyes, overcome with conflicting feelings and emotions that spun perilously out-of-control. Despite her refusal to give in to her emotional turmoil, the hot tears streaked unchecked down her cheeks.

A few silent moments passed as both women continued to stand in the corner, fighting to bring themselves and their bodies back under control. M.J. could feel warm wetness saturating the shoulder of her shirt, but she didn't care; if it meant holding the small, beautiful woman close like this, Alli could ruin her entire outfit.

The tears finally stopped and Alli continued to rest her face in the crook of M.J.'s neck. She could feel the rapid pounding of M.J.'s jugular vein as it throbbed rapidly against the side of her face. Turning her head slightly and opening her eyes, she watched in rapt fascination as the artery jumped and pulsed beneath the dampened tan skin. Without much thought, Alli tilted her head so that she could press her mouth against the vein, tasting and sucking it gently between her lips. Her eyes fluttered and slid shut as she licked and ingested and memorized the essence of the person who had her completely and utterly enthralled.

M.J.'s eyes flew open when she felt the soft moistness touch her neck, and she sucked in a tremulous breath. Alli was tasting her in one of her most sensitive spots, and her knees threatened to wobble and give out at any moment. She closed her eyes, forcing herself to stay calm and in control, but the delicate little laps of Alli's tongue were slowly undoing her.

Oh god oh god...

Alli felt the slight shudder race through M.J.'s body, and she realized that the tall temptress was not quite as in control as she thought she was. Going against everything she vowed she wouldn't do, Alli tilted her head up toward M.J.'s ear and whispered in a raspy, throaty voice, "Come home with me." M.J.'s eyes flew open even wider. "Stay with me, just for tonight?" Alli implored quietly while she resumed her suckling of M.J.'s pulse-point.

M.J.'s mind raced with a million thoughts and her heart surged with a million feelings. She was amazed that Alli would even want such a thing from her, and she was shocked to hear her actually voice it. While her libido tried to fantasize about the numerous carnal delights they could partake in all night, her mind overrode everything by zeroing in on the primary thought and feeling inside her: Fear.

Fear about the implications of what they had just done... fear of what direction this strange relationship could take... fear of what it would mean if she were to go home with Alli and spend a night with her... fear of what Alli would expect and want from her. Too much fear... too much commitment... too much of everything.

M.J. cringed and closed her eyes, steeling herself for what she knew she had to say and do.

"I can't." She said very quietly as her hands tensed on Alli's back and waist, preparing for the inevitable eruption.

Alli pulled back, her dark aqua orbs wide and round, a crushed expression plainly etched on her face. "Why not?" Her brows crinkled and she looked at M.J.'s downcast face with sad longing. She really didn't think that she'd be turned down, not after M.J. admitted how much she wanted her.

M.J. raised her head slowly, looking into tearful eyes of the deepest, most exquisite green-blue. Two pairs of intensity-wracked orbs locked on one another, swirling with a mixture of emotions and colors that looked like they were plucked directly from the raging depths of the sea and the crystal-clear blue sky.

M.J. suddenly couldn't look at Alli. She closed her eyes and shook her head slightly, "I just... can't." It wasn't enough, she knew, but it was all she could say; it was all the explanation she had at the moment.

Alli recognized the look on M.J.'s face. It was the same one she'd had after the 'bathroom incident'. Darkened blue eyes reopened and burned with overflowing desire, but the expression on the impenetrable face told her she still would not be getting inside the heavily-guarded fortress. The lingering euphoria of the sexual rush quickly gave way to first, hurt and then anger, and Alli felt it well up, painful and red inside her.

She could feel her throat begin to close up, and she swallowed convulsively. She wanted to cry... she wanted to throw-up... she wanted to scream and kick and punch and hurt someone. She knew better... she knew she should not be here, doing this... again. Still, somewhere in the back of her mind, she had stupidly held out for a small miracle that maybe M.J. would come 'round... that she would strip off her suit of armor and allow Alli inside.

But, of course, she wasn't doing that. Instead, she was telling her, flat out, that she could not, and would not, commit to anything - not even one night together. All she would ever do was continually push Alli off the cliff with not even so much as a 'sorry' as a tether. M.J. didn't want a relationship with her; she would only continue to use her.

She didn't trust her. She would never give her anything.

She's such a liar, Alli thought suddenly, remembering back to their first 'encounter' in the bathroom. She fucking *LIED*!

"You're a liar, and a coward!" Alli suddenly spluttered, pushing back away from the tall figure. M.J. just looked at her in confusion. "You told me that you knew what I needed! That you could give it to me!" Alli spat accusingly, her voice catching as she tried to blink back the tears that flooded her eyes.

M.J.'s eyes widened and she looked away quickly, afraid for Alli to see the shock and genuine regret on her face. She struggled with herself for a few seconds, the temptation to blurt out how she really felt leaping to the forefront of her mind... but only for a fleeting second. She would never do that... she couldn't... it was impossible. But she had to say something; Alli was waiting for her comment. M.J. quickly decided to do what she'd always done... push her feelings deep down inside herself and lock them up in the dark dungeons of her heart once again. She would revert to the plan of action she was most familiar with... the one she knew best and could always rely on... her best friend... Denial. M.J. looked back into watery, anguished green-blue, hating herself for what she was about to do.

"Well I guess I was wrong." She said it with such finality, her voice flat and devoid of emotion, as though she was merely negating a bad business transaction. The 'slam' of the metal doors on her heart was almost audible.

Alli's mouth opened and then closed. What else was there to say? M.J. had said it all, and all of it had devastated her. She looked into the veiled, crystal-blue depths of the woman who could have had her heart, and realized that this was it. It was truly over. Tears rolled down her cheeks, and she could feel her heart shattering into a million pieces.

Alli only stared at M.J.'s closed-off countenance for a few seconds; it was too agonizing to look upon her any longer. Refusing to completely lose it in front of the tall woman, she finally wrenched herself free of M.J.'s dominance and maneuvered out of the corner to quickly snap the elevator's 'run' button back on. The car lurched and began its downward descent again as Alli stood with her back to M.J., swiping her hands across her eyes and furiously working to re-button her pants and shirt.

I will not lose it in front of her I will not lose it in front of her, she chanted inside her head. Her eyes burned and the painful lump reemerged, wedging itself firmly in the middle of her throat.

M.J. stood there, defeated, watching Alli dumbfoundedly, unable to do or say anything. She knew Allison was hurting, and she knew that it was her doing, but she couldn't bring herself to say anything. How do you tell someone that it's just too frightening to be with them? That you don't know *how* to be with them? How do you explain that you can't handle the feelings? That you fear your own need, as well as hers? That because the emotions are so intense and so deep, you don't know what to do with them? And you don't know what to do with *her*? M.J. grimaced as she felt a confusing rush of fright, regret, anger, and agony wash over her.

The elevator gave an ironically cheerful 'ding', heralding their arrival at the garage level. Alli was still tucking her blouse into her pants as she bent down to grab her nearly-forgotten purse and briefcase. The doors opened and she forced her way out abruptly. The tears began to fall immediately.

"Alli," M.J. muttered, her voice and her resolve cracking. Allison ignored her and began to walk away as quickly as her legs would carry her. Cursing herself, M.J. pushed away from the elevator wall, yelling out pathetically, "Allison wait! You don't understand!"

Alli stopped and turned slowly, her tear-stained face looking back at M.J. with such pain and confusion, it tore the brunette's heart to shreds.

"You're right, I DON'T understand!" Alli choked out in tear-filled rage. "I don't understand YOU! ...I don't understand ME! ...I don't understand *ANY* of this!" Her chin trembled and the tears ran freely down her face. When M.J. started to take a step toward her, she held up a hand, "Just... forget it, M.J.! Just fucking *FORGET IT*!" She yelled loudly.

Turning sharply on her heel, Alli bolted toward her car, tossing her bags inside and slamming the door violently when she reached it. Hot tears blurred her vision and she could barely see the ignition as she fumbled with her keys. Finally the bug's engine turned over and she slammed it into reverse, squealing the tires and flying out of the garage in a mad rush.

M.J. watched and listened silently as the sound of Alli's car retreated further and further into the distance. She let her body collapse against a wall, wincing and gingerly touching the sore, nearly-bleeding spot on her trapezius. Pulling her hand away from her shoulder, she looked at her fingers, remembering where they had just been... the beauty they had just caressed... the perfection they had just lavished in. She closed her eyes and brought the fingertips to her lips, sticking her tongue out to taste the residue of nectar that still clung to them.

She couldn't believe what they had just done - again. She couldn't believe she had been so bold and aggressive, and she couldn't believe how responsive and lustful Alli had been in return. She still was shocked that Alli had actually asked her to come home with her. M.J. wasn't surprised by too much, but she had a feeling that, given the chance, Alli would surprise her in many ways.

And are you going to give her the chance, M.J.? Her subconscious asked, snapping at the opportunity to jump in. M.J. closed her eyes as the same old argument flew 'round and 'round inside her head once again. It's not about *giving* chances... it's about *taking* chances, she thought in response. ...And I just don't think I can take the chance.


Shaking her head and groaning aloud, M.J. gritted her teeth together and brought both hands up to the sides of her head, grabbing fistfuls of hair and telling herself, again, what a complete, fucking idiot she was.

The drone of Alli's car and the spectre of her presence had finally disappeared completely, leaving M.J. and the garage in confused and anguished silence.


On to Chapter 36

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