(Turning Tides, cont’d.)

*********************************************

"Now, don't just walk away
Pretending everything's okay and you don't care about me;
And I know there's just no use when all your lies become your truths
And I don't care, yeah;
Could you look me in the eye and tell me that you're happy now?
Would you tell it to my face, or have I been erased?
Are you happy now? Are you happy now?
You took all there was to take, and left me with an empty plate,
And you don't care about it, yeah;
And I am giving up this game, and leaving you with all the blame,
'Cause I don't care, yeah;
Could you look me in the eye and tell me that you're happy now?
Would you tell it to my face, or have I been erased?
Are you happy now? Are you happy now?
Do you really have everything you want?
You could never give something you ain't got;
You can't run away from yourself, yeah...
Could you look me in the eye and tell me that you're happy now?" - M. Branch

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CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

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Eighteen months. It's hard to believe that time can slip through your fingers so swiftly and with such ease... especially when there are things from the past that occasionally tug on your subconscious and threaten to pull you backward.

The past eighteen months had been a whirlwind for Allison. She had left a job that she hadn't even been in for a year, successfully extricating herself from the clutches of a painful affair in the process... she had started a new job and pointed her career down a new, and thankfully pain-free, path... she had become an Aunt for the third time... she decided to change her name back to 'Riley'... and her romantic life was actually looking up for a change. She had spent a lot of time and energy getting her life back on track, but she felt like she had succeeded.

Alli hated to admit it, but she still thought about Whitton, Inc. More than that, though, she hated to admit that she still thought about M.J. Whitton every once in awhile.

It had taken her a full year-and-a-half, but Alli had finally gotten over the heartache that the frustrating, devastating beauty had caused. Rather than rehashing what actually happened however, Alli found that most of her thoughts these days dealt with musings of what might have been. She couldn't help but wonder what might have developed between the two of them had M.J. been less controlling and more open. Would they have been lovers? Partners? Could M.J. have been 'the one'?

Alli repeatedly told herself no - M.J. most definitely was not 'the one'. Although they had an intense connection and an undeniable chemistry, M.J.'s barriers and her need to keep Alli at arms length made it impossible for Alli to get close to her. And that was what Alli had wanted; she wanted to get inside. It wasn't enough that M.J. made her heart flutter and her panties damp; Alli wanted the whole package. She didn't want a relationship of unbalanced, one-sidedness; she wanted equality. She wanted trust.

She realized that her affair with the alluring, perplexing woman was another calamity that, once over, left her with a profound lesson about life and love.

Some people are very good at love; some people suck at it; and some haven't the faintest idea what it is. Some people wear it proudly on their sleeve; some keep it locked up inside; and some just lose touch with it completely. Alli couldn't help but wonder... which kind of 'people' was she?

She still had misgivings about love and relationships in general, but at least she no longer sat around pining over the fascinating, enigmatic President. Right after she left Whitton, Inc., Alli thought about M.J. constantly. Month after month slid by, but memories of the bewitching brunette stayed with her. She tried, but didn't know how to shake the lingering feelings. She even went as far as deciding to pick up an anonymous woman and have a fling. She wanted so desperately to confirm that her feelings about M.J. were not unique, and that they could be easily replicated by any women who was attractive, intelligent, and gave good head. She frequented a few bars and found a few desirable women here and there, but nothing ever materialized beyond some kissing and heavy petting. Although she tried very hard to convince herself that there was nothing sleazy about it, she just couldn't bring herself to go through with it and do the deed.

And, she never did get her confirmation.

She could have let herself stray down a path of carelessness and destruction... it would have been so easy. But rather than slip into a depressive funk, Alli somehow reached inside and found the determination and the intestinal fortitude to pull herself together and get her life back in order. And get it in order, she did. She was happy with her new position and her new responsibilities, and everyone at the company valued and respected her. The little organization was growing steadily and continued to hire more and more people as it spread its wings further and further. Alli was an integral part of the expansion, and she was rewarded well for her contributions and hard work. She was certain that, at last, her determination and resilience had paid off.

As far as her personal life was concerned, Alli wasn't doing too badly in that arena either. She had met Kristine Mitchell about nine months ago at a regional board meeting of the Northern Florida Real Estate and Residential Developers Organization. Alli's company was part of the Organization and Kris was an executive for one of the area's top real estate firms. They hit it off immediately, and although Alli was very reluctant about getting seriously involved with anyone, Kris pursued her determinedly. After a slow, cautious start, they were now officially 'an item'.

Her family life was pretty much the same. Her Mother was condescending and disapproving, as usual, and she hounded Alli endlessly with questions about why she'd left her job at Whitton, Inc., so suddenly, and why she'd decided to go back to using her maiden name. Of course, Alli didn't bother trying to explain anything to her; what would be the point? She had, however, spilled her guts to Kaitlyn, telling her sister every sordid little detail about the entire, miserable entanglement with M.J. Kait lent her ears and her shoulders, comforting and supporting Alli, just as she always did. Kait agreed with Alli that she'd done the right thing by leaving Whitton, Inc., and she was thrilled that her little sister had found Kristine. Kait even stood by Alli's side when she finally decided to tell their father about her 'lifestyle'. Robert Riley was shocked, but he took the news amazingly well, telling Alli that he was happy as long as she was happy.

But, *was* she really happy? ...That was the million-dollar question.

And it was one Alli didn't have an answer for.

******

The Annual Holiday Charity Auction of the Northern Florida Real Estate and Residential Developers Organization was in full swing by the time Alli and Kris arrived. It wasn't an extremely lively event, but it was a good excuse to dress up and enjoy a nice evening out.

Alli was relaxed and comfortable tonight, looking smartly chic in the little blue cocktail dress that she wore. A low-cut neckline highlighted her slender neck and clavicles, and the slightly ruffled hemline billowed gently around her calves when she walked, making her look like a cool breeze.

She and Kris were chatting amiably with some mutual business acquaintances when an older gentleman turned a microphone on, making it squeal noisily for a split second.

"Uh ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention for a moment," the speaker said into the mic. "This year we have a new donor that I'd like to mention especially... Item #75 has been donated by the Mark J. Whitton Memorial Fund."

The smile on Alli's face immediately fell and the color drained from her cheeks. She nearly dropped her glass of wine as she turned to give the speaker her full attention.

The man rambled on, "As some of you may or may not know, Mark Whitton was a past Chairman of the Board for our Organization, and he was really one of the 'founding fathers' of this particular event. Unfortunately, he passed away last year after a lengthy illness, but his family wanted to contribute to the auction this year, in his memory, so... we thank them very much for their charity and continued support." A brief applause sounded as the mic switched off, and people soon returned to their conversations.

Back at the rear of the convention center, blue eyes rolled and a long, glossy mane of dark hair shook slightly in irritation. It wasn't last year, you moron, M.J. scoffed to herself in disgust, he's been gone for a year-and-a-half. She drew a deep breath and released it quietly.

The charity auction was a complete and utter bore to M.J. It was held every November, but she had always managed to weasel her way out of it and convince Madison to attend instead on behalf of their company. Madison loved these types of events anyway, and she and her husband viewed them as important networking and glad-handing opportunities. M.J. was certain that Doug Cohen was eyeing a run for some kind of political office in the near future.

She had only been there for an hour, and she was certain she couldn't bear it much longer. She sighed again and sipped her vodka tonic, scanning the crowd of people and avoiding eye contact as she searched for her MIA, social-butterfly sister.

Meanwhile, in another part of the room, sea-green eyes began to scan the grand hall frantically, looking for a familiar, imposing figure with dark brown hair and beguiling sky-blue eyes. If Lady Luck was with her at all tonight, Alli would only find a dark blonde with understanding steel-gray eyes. Hell, she'd even hope for that asshole Ray Calhoun at this point. Alli gulped her drink and made her way over to a section of the ballroom where there were less people and more breathing space. She continued to search, her nerves escalating and her heart suddenly increasing its rhythm.

"Hey... what's wrong hon? You look like you've seen a ghost?" Kristine asked as she approached and took in her lover's pale face.

"No... at least not yet." Alli mumbled, taking another gulp of her drink. Kris continued to regard her with questioning umber eyes. "You remember that I left Whitton, Inc., about a year and half ago, right?" Alli finally conceded.

"Yeah... so?"

"Well... I guess that little announcement just startled me, that's all."

"Oh." Kris answered, still not fully understanding, but that was no fault of hers. Allison had never gone into detail about her very brief, very confusing, and apparently, very fucked-up affair with a mysterious 'someone' at Whitton, Inc.

Kris didn't know who it was, nor what had happened exactly; she only knew that something had gone dreadfully wrong which caused Allison to leave the company after only a year of employment. Alli's deliberate vagueness had driven her crazy at first, but Kris learned not to push for answers, and Alli never offered any. Kris knew that she had a tendency to be a possessive lover, and she had been trying very hard to curb her instincts with Allison. She really didn't want to screw up this opportunity.

"I guess I'm just wondering if anyone from Whitton will be here, y'know...?" Alli shrugged, trying to play it down, but feeling her nerves shoot even higher.

Kris felt a small twinge of jealousy, despite her efforts to remain blasÚ. "I don't know if I'd recognize anyone from Whitton," she said, looking around. "Is it really that big a deal? Do you still feel *bad blood* after all this time?"

Alli scoffed, "I'm not sure that *I'm* the one with the 'bad blood'." She added, taking another gulp from her glass.

"You worry too much, babe." Kris said, slinging her arm around Alli's shoulders and giving her a quick peck on the temple. Allison smiled, wishing she could feel as at-ease about everything as Kris apparently did. She hated the fact that the possibility - just the mere thought of the possibility, really - that she might bump into M.J. Whitton was driving her into a state of panic. She downed the remainder of her wine, trying to push down the rising dread she felt inside.

Kris watched as Alli polished-off her drink, wondering what could make her normally calm, poised, confident girlfriend come unglued so thoroughly. "Allison... slow down, baby," Kris said, reaching out to remove the now-empty wine glass from Alli's hand.

Alli frowned, her jade eyes darkening and flashing for a second at Kris's overprotective gesture. She knew that the taller woman only meant well, but it angered her, just for a second, that Kris would try to control her life in any way. It wasn't that Kris was overly controlling - she wasn't really - she just had a way of subtly infusing her opinions by gently 'suggesting' or just 'handling' things, sometimes without Alli's full consent. Alli didn't want it to irk her, but it did. It was yet another discussion that they hadn't had... Alli's dislike of anyone trying to 'handle' her in any way. She had been manipulated and controlled enough for one lifetime.

Kris caught the quick, angry look and immediately tried to back-peddle, "I'm just saying... you drove tonight, don't forget." It was a valid point, after all.

"I haven't forgotten, and I'm fine." Alli said, a little too curtly.

"Okay, okay," Kris held her hands up in defeat and gave the glass back to her lover. They exchanged awkward looks for a moment before Alli shifted her gaze away, feeling a little bad for snapping.

"Listen, uhmm...," Kris started, glancing around to make sure no one was watching, "actually, if you wanna stay late and party-hardy, that's okay, becuzzzz," she drawled playfully, leaning down so that her nose brushed the side of Alli's face, "I happen to know someone who can give you a lift to her very nice - and very *empty* - condo." Kris teased, kissing a blonde temple.

Alli drew in a deep breath. She felt another red flag pop up inside her head... Kris was up to something. "Oh yeah?" she queried, trying to sound casual.

"Mm-hmm," Kris hummed against her cheek. "The kid is staying overnight at Grandma's, so we could have the whooole place to ourselves." She enticed, hoping and praying that Allison would finally acquiesce and actually spend a whole night with her. They'd never done that yet, and Kris was getting tired of waiting. It seemed that Alli was always dodging her about one thing or another.

Allison usually referred to the presence of Kris's five-year-old daughter as the reason for it 'not being a good idea', so the tall blonde thought that removing that 'issue', just for the night, would help things. She wanted so badly to wake up next to this petite little beauty who drove her insane with desire. Kris was certain that if she could get Allison to cross that line and start spending nights with her, she could push things to the next level. She was ready for that... she was ready for something more... she was ready for commitment. It was fast, she knew, but when Kris knew what she wanted, she didn't like to dawdle; she went after it full-throttle.

"Hmmm," Alli hummed and closed her eyes, absorbing the feeling of her lover's body as it touched hers slightly while soft lips planted dainty kisses on her cheek and jaw. She did feel sort-of bad that she'd never spent an entire night with Kris. It seemed to be yet another 'issue' that she needed to work through. She and Kris had slept together, often, but Alli always hedged whenever Kris hinted at wanting more. The tall blonde could be very forward and aggressive sometimes, and Alli had a nagging feeling that Kris was one of those women who'd show up at your front door with her U-Haul in tow as soon as you had a few slumber parties with her. It sounded really harsh, she knew, but Alli didn't want to move that quickly. She wasn't ready to start spending nights with someone, and she most *definitely* wasn't ready to take any big step with Kris, or anyone else for that matter.

Maybe she was wrong; maybe Kris just wanted to spend more time with her. Maybe the brief, romantic evenings of make-out sessions on the couch and quick shags in the bed just weren't cutting it for the lanky blonde anymore. It was enough for Alli, but obviously Kris felt differently; she apparently wanted to move things up a notch.

Godddd, Alli cringed inwardly. Two years ago I would have been *thrilled* to have someone wanting me like this, she mused, but that was before... just... *before*, she thought, refusing to delve into her black memories again. It was bad enough that thoughts of M.J. Whitton had invaded her mind tonight, possibly ruining the evening entirely; she would not let them ruin anything else.

But M.J. did ruin me, didn't she? Alli thought sadly to herself. If it weren't for her, I'd be on my way to Kris's place right now, ready, willing, and able to move things along. Damn... damn you, M.J.!

Alli wondered, for the hundredth time, why she couldn't completely open herself up to Kris. The tall, curly-haired real estate executive was a good person, really; she was kind and intelligent and funny. She could be a teensy bit presumptuous and overbearing sometimes, but it was usually tempered by genuine, good intent. Being concerned about and taking care of people was just Kris's way. She wasn't perfect, but she wasn't bad either. And she certainly wasn't as toxic as M.J. had been. The differences between Kris and M.J. were as wide as the Grand Canyon, and while Alli could easily say that Kris was so much better for her than M.J. was, there was still something missing that Alli couldn't quite put her finger on.

It wasn't that she and Kris weren't compatible in and out of the bedroom - they were - it was just that something was... lacking. They had decent chemistry - there were sparks, and there was ignition... but the fire just didn't burn as bright. The crackle wasn't as crisp; the heat wasn't as intense; the burn wasn't as severe.

Alli tried to reason with herself that she should just be happy that she had someone like Kris; someone who wanted her as much as Kris seemed to. She told herself that she should just learn to be satisfied and stop expecting perfection. No one is perfect, after all, so no relationship can be perfect. She should just be grateful for Kris and learn to be content... right?

Wrong. She couldn't do that. As before, she knew she wouldn't be satisfied with an incomplete package. She didn't want pieces missing; she wanted it all.

If she had met Kris before M.J., she probably would have been very satisfied with what she and Kris had. But now, tucked away in the back of her mind, was the knowledge that a greater high was possible. She had experienced it, even as brief and one-sided as it had been. So, M.J. had ruined her for anyone else.

Yeah... she ruined me good... damn her, Alli closed her eyes and thought, again, for the hundredth time.

"So... whaddya say babe?" Kris purred against Alli's temple, rousing her from her deep reverie. "Is it really that difficult to decide?" Oh yes, she had been in a *very* deep reverie.

...Oops, Alli chagrined. "Uhmm... I dunno Kris," Alli murmured, feeling like a real heel for backing out - again - but needing desperately to do so. "I have a lot of stuff I need to do tomorrow." It was true... kind-of... sort-of. Oh God, Alli lamented to herself. She could feel Kris draw a deep breath near her ear.

"Couldn't we do the 'stuff' together?" Kris asked quietly, hopefully.

Alli closed her eyes again, "Mmm... not really, no." ...I'm sorry I'm sorry. She felt Kris's body and mouth ease away from her.

"Well... if you change your mind, let me know." Kris said, her voice calm, but Alli could hear the underlying hurt in it. Alli ventured a glance up at her taller lover, knowing what she'd see. Kris's soft face wore a very slight expression of confusion and lack of understanding, but her dark eyes still held a glimmer of ever-present hope. Alli quirked a small apologetic smile at her and reached out to squeeze her hand before turning away.

Kris watched her petite lover disappear into the crowd, thinking that she might never get a straightforward answer out of Allison. She wondered, yet again, what was going through that beautiful, complex, blonde head. She felt like she would never truly know.

******

**********************************************************

"I know you don't know what I'm goin' through

Standing here looking at you;

Well let me tell ya that it hurts so bad

It makes me feel so sad

It makes me hurt so bad to see you again...

Why don't you stay and let me make it up to you?

I'll do anything you want me to

You loved me before, please love me again

I can't let you go back to her

Please don't go, please don't go

...Hurts so bad;

Come back it hurts so bad

Don't make it hurt so bad

I'm begging you, please." - L. Ronstadt

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CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

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Ever since the speaker had made his unsettling announcement a half-hour ago, Alli had been hiding furtively in groups and gatherings of acquaintances, hoping and praying that she didn't run into any Whittons. After spending the time scouring the room as extensively as possible, she felt secure in the fact that no one from her former employer was present tonight.

Alli had just started to relax and enjoy a conversation with a group of colleagues when suddenly, a strange sensation took hold of her. It was similar to the feeling she got whenever she knew that Kris was watching her from afar, only it wasn't a warm, fuzzy feeling... it was different. It was a dark, almost ominous feeling... a strange, uneasy pull that tugged at her heart and soul. She twisted her head slowly, feeling her eyes distinctly drawn to one side of the conference hall.

Everything around her seemed to melt away into silence when she spotted her. All movement seemed to cease and time slowed down nearly to a standstill, as though Fate wanted to give Alli an extra moment to observe and absorb the vision before her.

M.J. looked sophisticated and coolly regal in an impeccably tailored, pin-striped, charcoal-gray suit.

A suit... of course she would wear a *suit*... and gray too - how very *M.J.* ... it's obvious that her taste in clothing hasn't changed, Alli thought as she kept her gaze carefully locked.

Gray seemed to fit the towering enigma so very well. It was like her persona - a colorless, bitter, winter morning; it was like her emotions - cold steel and solid concrete; it was like her heart - a hard, impenetrable rock, devoid of color and life. And in this body of colorless, coarse, gray granite, it would make perfect sense for the eyes to be dead and impassive... to be dull, lifeless and gray as well. But they weren't. They were the most alive, most vivid part of the rigid, stone statue that stood leaning casually against a wall. This was just one of the many things that fascinated Alli about M.J. Whitton, even after all this time.

The tall woman's electric blue orbs were clearly visible to Alli as they flickered and surveyed the room, cutting through the air and performing a brief, cursory appraisal of everyone and everything. And when those light azure lasers finally turned and found Alli, everything came to a screeching halt.

The blonde's lungs were suddenly bereft of oxygen, her heart ceased beating, and her eyes refused to blink. She gripped her wine glass so hard, she feared it would burst in her hand. When the stone statue acknowledged the connection, it came to life and began to move toward her, making Alli's knees buckle unsteadily.

Oh Jesus..., she thought in an instant panic.

******

My God... she looks incredible, M.J. thought when she first spotted the woman who still frequented her dreams. She actually had to do a double-take to make certain her eyes weren't deceiving her.

Alli was standing with a small group of people when M.J. first saw her, and she was amazed that she actually was able to stand there and watch objectively without drooling. Alli wore a simple, elegant dress that was royal blue in color and complimented her complexion and her bright, aqua eyes perfectly. Her hair was much longer and, M.J. thought, a lighter shade, but the face was the same... the smile was the same... the eyes were the same. The same... yet somehow different too. Alli's posture was straight and sure, her face proud and her chin tilting upward slightly. She looked confident and secure as she smiled and laughed at something someone said.

M.J. diverted her gaze for a moment, scanning the clusters of people and making certain no one noticed her brazen observation. When she looked back, she found wide, oceanic orbs riveted to her, and a perfect mouth slightly agape in a silent gasp.

After a moment, it occurred to M.J. that they were staring openly at each other, but she didn't care. It took her a full minute to catch her breath, and when she did, she mustered the nerve to approach the little blonde at last.

The short walk seemed to take an eternity, and as M.J. drew closer to Allison, she could see that the smaller woman's chest was heaving unsteadily, and her eyes were still stuck open in shock. All the things she'd considered saying to Allison if ever they were to meet again rushed through M.J.'s head... all the snide, cutting remarks... all the excuses and justifications... all the admittances and apologies. But nothing sprang to her lips... none of that seemed to matter now. As she came to stand directly in front of Alli, M.J. could only gaze upon the petite beauty and feel the agony of her loss all over again.

"Hello Allison." M.J. said at last.

The low, raspy voice washed over Alli, and she felt goosebumps arise on her flesh. "M.J.," Alli managed to return with a slight nod.

She was surprised that her voice hadn't betrayed her by squeaking. Her nerves were completely jangled by this point, and she hated that. Alli didn't want to look small and pathetic; she wanted to look composed and self-assured. She would not let M.J. see her as little, vulnerable, or weak. She readjusted her shoulders and jutted her chin forward slightly, determined to convey the sense that she was in complete control.

"You look... wonderful," M.J. felt herself nearly falter, "...How have you been?" She tried to sound casual, but she really sucked at the innocent small-talk thing.

How have I been? God... it's a good thing you weren't around to ask me that question a year ago, Ms. Whitton, Alli thought to herself. The taller woman's nearness immediately caused great dissonance and turmoil inside Alli's head, and she scrambled to regain control.

"Fine... I'm fine," she replied quickly. M.J. nodded at her silently as she sipped at her clear drink. "And you? How are things at 'Whitton, Inc.'?" Alli asked, not intending for the question to come out as caustic as it sounded.

M.J. shrugged and swallowed, "Same old, same old." She answered in a bland tone, her icy blue orbs deceptively calm and steady as they slowly slid over Alli's face.

Remembering how M.J. always had a way of silently devouring her with those deadly eyes, Alli felt a warm blush erupt and threaten to consume her. But she fought it, feeling a surge of irritation blossom within her chest.

"Well, I guess it's true what they say - some things never change." The inferred meaning laced with acridity was intentional this time.

"Maybe." The tall woman replied smoothly, never batting an eyelash.

M.J. stared intently into the bright eyes in front of her, looking for any evidence of the precious connection the two of them once shared. She thought she saw and felt something... but it could just be her ridiculously hopeful imagination, too. Even after all this time, M.J. still kept a candle burning for Allison in the dark recesses of her heart.

"So... did you come here alone tonight?" M.J. asked suddenly.

Alli was surprised at the question, and she hesitated for a moment, unsure of how much information she wanted to give away. "Not that it's any of your business, but no." She watched closely for a flash of any emotion on the handsome features, but saw nothing. Like I should be surprised by that.

"Oh... that's too bad." M.J. responded with a slight sigh. Inside, her mind was reeling with the horrific thought that Allison probably had a lover. Of course she has a lover! Why wouldn't she? What, do you think she became a nun after leaving your sorry ass?! M.J. shouted inside her head.

Alli's curiosity was piqued, but she remained cautious, still studying the veiled, sky-blue depths before her. "Why do you ask?"

M.J. shrugged again, trying to ward off ridiculous feelings of jealousy and replace them with cool indifference. "I dunno," she began, stepping closer to the small blonde and bending her head down a little, "I just thought maybe we could go someplace and... get a drink and... maybe talk...?"

The sultry rasp of the contralto voice hung in the air, close to the side of her face, and Alli could almost feel the warm breath. Her cheeks again flushed hotly and she felt an odd sensation pricking the hair on the back of her neck. It seemed that M.J. was still full of her usual tricks... but Alli refused to make the mistake of falling for it again.

"Talk?" Alli asked, raising her brows in suspicion.

"Yeah, talk."

Alli gave a scornful huff and shook her head slightly. "Well gee, M.J., I'm sorry, but I believe you had your chance to 'talk' a long time ago." The words were calm, but biting. Alli paused, staring at the familiar, beautifully sculpted face that loomed so near her own. "Besides, why would I be interested in anything you have to say?" She added for reinforcement.

M.J. again let her eyes wander over Alli's fair features, finally gazing deeply into light jade depths and dipping her head closer still, "Well... sometimes things *do* change... sometimes people change."

Jesus... she's unbelievable, Alli thought as another disdainful noise escaped from her lips. "In your case, M.J., I seriously doubt it." They locked eyes and stared at one another intensely for a moment before Alli broke the connection and resolutely walked away.

M.J. watched Alli's firm little figure disappear into the crowd. She shook her head, drawing a deep sigh and blowing it out before polishing off the rest of her drink and harshly sucking the wedge of lime between her teeth. Turning away at last, she muttered under her breath, cursing her sister again for dragging her to this stupid, blasted event.

******

Dark eyes followed the petite blonde as she got another glass of wine from the bar and walked briskly toward the back of the room.

It was obvious to Kris that Alli was upset by the conversation she'd just had with the tall brunette who dared to invade her girlfriend's personal space so intimately. Acutely feeling the green flames of jealousy flickering inside her head, Kris forced herself to calm down before she reached Allison.

"Who was that woman you were talking to?" A familiar voice asked from behind. Alli spun around, surprised by her lover's sudden appearance. She did not miss the hard look in the normally warm, umber eyes.

"Oh, no one... nobody important." Alli murmured, taking a sip of her wine while keeping her eyes glued to the area where her maddening, former flame had just been standing oh-so-closely to her.

"Really?" Kris asked, her disbelief obvious. "If it was 'nobody important', then why are you flushed and trembling?" She added, her voice growing louder and carrying a distinct accusatory tone.

Alli turned to look at her fully, feeling a stab of indignance at Kris's demeanor. She grabbed the tall blonde by the elbow and quickly led her to an area that was away from prying eyes. "What are you trying to infer, Kris?" Alli demanded.

Kris gave a small, sardonic laugh and shook her head slightly, "I just want you - for once - to tell me the *truth*, Allison." She asserted, her voice still loud. "Why can't you just *tell* me who the fuck that WAS, instead of making me drag it out of you?!" She added, motioning sharply with her hands. ...So much for being calm.

Alli was completely taken aback by Kris's sudden temper - but that didn't mean she was without her own. She darted her eyes around quickly, making sure no one was staring at them. "*Fine*," Alli snapped back, "you want to know who that was, I'll tell you! That was...," She meant to just spit it right out, but found herself hesitating. "That was someone that I... that I was *involved* with... once upon a time." She hadn't spit it right out, but she said the words tersely, refusing to feel embarrassed or ashamed.

"*Who* is it?" Kris immediately asked.

"It's not important *who* it is." Alli quipped back.

"It is to ME!" Kris growled.

"Why!? Why do you need to know?" Alli asked, her tone now angry and impatient as well.

"I just DO, okay?!" Kris shouted even louder, "I want to know who you've lusted after, or kissed, or *fucked*! I think, as your *current* lover, I have a RIGHT to know those things!" She added, her anger and jealousy more than apparent.

"Shh! Keep your voice down!" Alli scolded quickly, feeling her temper flare even more. How dare Kris do this to her, here and now, of all places? How dare she make such demands? This was exactly what Alli did *not* want. This pressure, this demand, this 'ownership'.

Alli flashed an angry look at Kris, but spoke as calmly as possible, "You have no right to demand *anything* from me, Kris. And as my 'current lover', you should trust me enough - and *respect* me enough - to let me tell you about my past in my own good time."

Kris huffed scornfully, "So I get no 'rights' to you? I get no exclusivity? You can just go and fuck around with anyone you want? Is that what you're saying?!" She snapped.

"No! That's not what I'm saying! That's not what I want!" Alli retorted, her brows furrowed deeply.

"Well what *DO* you want, Allison, because I sure as hell would like to know! I've been fucking *waiting* for you to make up your mind, and I'm *tired* of it!" Kris spat through clenched teeth. She roughly raked her fingers through her curly locks, drawing a deep breath. Holding a hand up, she began again, more calmly. "I wanna know - right here, right now - what do you WANT?" Kris demanded, biting off each word slowly and deliberately.

Alli closed her eyes and lightly ran a hand across her face and through her long bangs. She just couldn't seem to catch a break tonight. Why did everything always have to be so fucking difficult? Why did it always have to turn into such utter shit? And where in the hell was Kris's possessive anger coming from? In the nine months that Alli had known Kris, she'd never seen her behave this way. Sure, Kris sometimes questioned her about her friends and co-workers, but she never displayed any kind of serious jealousy issues. Was the sweet, caring, concerned attitude just an act? Did the tall blonde really think that she was just stringing her along and using her as a casual fling? Were they both just lying to each other? ...Alli didn't know what to think.

Shit, am I playing games with Kris? Am I no different than M.J.? Alli asked herself worriedly. No, I'm not playing games... I'm just not *sure*... just because I want to take things slow doesn't mean I'm stringing her along... I am *not* using her... I just don't think she's the right one... *especially* now.

She finally released a huge sigh and looked directly into Kris's dark, angry depths, "I'm not sure what I want, Kris, but I know what I *don't* want." Kris just glared at her, her ire still burning brightly in umber eyes. "I don't want someone making *demands* on me and playing 'alpha male' whenever I run into an acquaintance... I don't want to be anybody's 'possession'... and I don't want to be pushed into any kind of commitment." Alli finished calmly, but with absolute sincerity.

The words hit Kris like a ton of bricks, and she had to fight to keep from staggering backwards. All her fears seemed to be coming true. She knew that Alli was too good to be true... she had known from the very start, really. She just thought that maybe, if she played her cards right, she could make the little blonde love her. But of course, that never works, does it? She was just deluding herself.

Kris swallowed her pride and spoke as rationally as possible, "Well then... you and I have very different ideas about where this relationship is heading, because I'm *ready* for a commitment." She looked at Alli intensely, remnants of anger still simmering in her eyes. "I'm ready to move forward... I'm ready to upgrade from casual fucking around to a *real* relationship." Her voice was sharp and her words biting, "But... I guess you don't want that... do you?" She asked, already knowing the answer.

Alli almost couldn't formulate an answer. To know that Kris thought she was only fucking around and using her made her feel very much like an M.J.-clone. She knew how Kris felt; the knowledge that she was breaking the tall blonde's heart gnawed at her insides, just as it had for some time now. She felt like a complete jerk.

"Look, why don't we just... take a break for a little while." Alli said lowly, raking a hand through her hair again, her exasperation evident.

Kris gave a small snort of incredulity, "A break? ...a *break*?!" She said, her voice hitching with disbelief.

"Yes, a *break*." Alli reiterated tersely, "A break from each other... from this... from whatever the hell we're doing here." Alli said, motioning between them.

Kris half-laughed, "Why don't you just tell me to 'fuck off', Allison... it'd make things *so* much easier!" She delivered the caustic words harshly, her eyes full of anguish and hurt.

Alli couldn't say anything to that; she had run out of steam. She could only shift her jaw sideways and hold her breath as they pinned each other in a final stare-down. Kris waited for Alli to say something to ease her pain and change her mind; Alli waited for... she didn't know what. She just wanted to curl up and die.

It seemed as though her relationship with Kris was turning out to be just another painful mistake. She was going to have to sit down and seriously contemplate the idea of permanent celibacy.

******

Somewhere on the other side of the room, watching surreptitiously from a safe, stealthy distance, a pair of wintry-blue eyes carefully observed the tense interaction between the two blonde lovers.

******

***************************************************

"Everyone makes one mistake, One more time for old times sake, One more time before the feeling fades; One that's born of memories,

One more bruise you gave to me,

One more test, just how much can I take?

'Cos you're not the one, but you're the only one,

Who can make me feel like this;

You're not the one, but you're the only one,

Who can make me feel like shit." - Foo Fighters

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CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

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It was a lovers quarrel... she could tell. M.J. watched in rapt fascination as Alli and the tall, curly blonde woman argued back and forth. But it wasn't the obvious arguing that gave them away; it was the way they looked at each other... it was their body language... it was the way Alli touched the taller woman's arm, obviously trying to placate her. M.J. felt a combination of curiosity, jealousy and selfish hopefulness.

What could they be arguing about? Was this woman just Alli's date? Was she a current lover, or a former, or maybe just a potential? What kind of relationship did they have, exactly? The curiosity could definitely drive M.J. insane. The woman must mean something to Alli for her to touch her arm repeatedly, and they way she looked at her... M.J. remembered when Alli used to look at her like that. It was an unusual mix of anguish and affection. Still, it threatened to make the green monster within M.J. rear its ugly head. But, if they were arguing, then things perhaps weren't so rosy between them. Judging by the tall blonde's body language and the way she stormed off, M.J. guessed that things were, in fact, pretty shitty. This gave her a little sliver of hope. It was weighted-down quite heavily with guilt, of course, but it still meant there could be a slight chance.

Yeah, a slight chance for *what*, moron? M.J. thought, rolling her eyes. She knew that she probably should just leave it alone... leave Alli alone... just let *go*. But... she couldn't... not yet. Alli hadn't completely dismissed her; she hadn't told her that she hated her guts and wished she'd drop dead. All she'd said was that she doubted M.J. had changed. Well have I? M.J. thought to herself with a frown. Yes... yes, I have. Even after all this time, I know what I want, M.J. thought, and I want another chance with her.

M.J. knew that if she didn't give it one more shot, she'd kick herself forever for giving up and walking away. She was tired of walking away. After a year and a half of bemoaning the fact that she let her go without a fight, Alli was suddenly here, right in front of her, and she would not miss the opportunity Fate had so graciously afforded her. She couldn't let it be over just yet; she had to at least try to make things right.

M.J. furtively watched Alli for a few more minutes, debating how to approach her, and where. When the petite blonde deposited her wine glass on a table and disappeared through the double doors that led out to the foyer, M.J. decided that this was her cue. She hurried through the same doors, but when she reached the foyer, she didn't see Alli.

"Shit," M.J. cursed aloud. She walked into the room further, scanning the side-rooms and hallways until she saw a lone figure walking slowly down one of the narrow corridors. Keeping a discreet distance, M.J. followed the blue-clad woman down the hall until she saw her turn a corner. Taking a deep breath, M.J. turned the corner as well and came face-to-face with her destiny.

Alli was leaning against the wall, her arms crossed, her head hanging in despair. She dabbed a tissue at her eyes; she was obviously crying, and M.J. suddenly felt very uneasy about being here, doing what she was about to do.

The small blonde sensed the brunette's presence before she saw her. It surprised and disturbed Alli to realize that she had this ability. More than that, though, it made her angry. She didn't want to see M.J. right now... she didn't want to talk to her. Tonight was already going down in the history books as one of the worst ever, and M.J. would surely just make it more miserable.

Allison released a sigh and closed her eyes, tilting her head slightly upwards. She didn't want to look at the dark-haired intruder whom she knew was standing at the end of the hallway, staring at her.

"What do you *want* M.J.?" Alli said, her emotions a mixture of anger, sadness, defeat and dread.

"I just want to talk to you." M.J. said softly as she dared to walk closer; she didn't want the conversation to turn antagonistic.

Alli huffed in exasperation, "I told you... you had your chance to talk a long time ago." The words weren't angry, just tired and impatient. She finally turned to look at the bright sky-blue eyes that, surprisingly, seemed to pin her with understanding concern, rather than predatory smugness.

"I know... and I know I was wrong to stay silent, but I want to talk now... I want to explain things--," M.J. tried to say, but Allison cut her off.

"Explain WHAT, M.J.? Explain why you broke my heart? Why you pulled me in and strung me along, only to push me away, time and time again? Or maybe why you toyed with me and played with my emotions, not giving a damn how I felt!?" Impatience got the better of Alli, and the words quickly became angry as she spat them out in rapid succession. All the feelings of frustration and anger that she had forced herself to forget so long ago suddenly rushed forth, mixing explosively with her jumbled emotions from the earlier upheaval with Kris.

"No... no, that's not true!" M.J. interjected, shaking her head.

"Isn't it? Well then what IS the truth? What could you *possibly* 'explain' to me at this point in time, M.J.?!" Alli yelled, throwing her arms out in emphasis.

"I want to... to tell you how I felt then... how I feel now." M.J. hated that she sounded so unsure. She had always thought she'd be completely prepared for this confrontation, if and when it happened, but now that it was here, she found Alli's anger surprising, and her defenses were threatening to fail her.

Alli laughed sardonically, "How you FEEL? How *YOU* feel? You know what, M.J.? I don't give a *FUCK* how YOU feel, okay?!"

Ouch. "Okay. I deserve that... I know I deserve that, and probably a lot more." M.J. said calmly, trying to regain lost ground and keep things civil.

"You got that right!" The blonde sniffed contemptuously.

"I know, but please, Alli... *please*, let's just go someplace and talk. I wanna... I-I wanna...," M.J. fumbled again.

"What? You wanna what, M.J.? Tempt me again? Hurt me again? *Fuck* me again?!" Alli spat harshly, hoping she was inflicting injury. She wanted M.J. to hurt for a change. She was tired of being the one who always hurt.

"No! I just wanna *talk*!" M.J. retorted emphatically. Alli stared at her, trying to read the sincerity in those forever-murky-blue depths. M.J. consciously softened her look and dared to continue, "Please... I'd like to see you again... I've missed you, Alli, and I have so much to explain and make up for." She spoke the words quietly and her eyes were earnest and almost pleading. Wait... was she begging? Damn! I didn't want to *beg*! Shit! ...This was so much harder than she'd imagined.

Alli turned away and shook her head slightly, pausing to think for a long moment. It would be so easy to fall back into the bad habit that was M.J. Whitton. She knew both of them were still dangerously drawn to one another - the air fairly crackled around them and the intensity was painfully palpable both times they'd interacted with each other tonight. But she had learned a very painful lesson at the hands of the tall, dark-haired woman, and as compelling as the attraction was, she knew it was just impossible. She would not hop from one frying pan into another.

When she returned her aquamarine gaze to M.J.'s pale-blue, her expression was hard and determined. She shook her head, "Look, I'm sorry M.J., but... I can't. I have a new life... and there's no place for you in it."

M.J. was stunned, but as Alli turned and started to walk out of the hallway, M.J. quickly caught her by the arm, spinning her around so that they faced each other again, and pulling her close. Alli stared at her in open-mouthed shock.

"Just tell me one thing," M.J. hissed through gritted teeth. Her face was so close to Alli's that the blonde could feel the warm breath against her cheeks and see the blue sparks that ignited in the gleaming eyes. "Tell me, in all honesty, that you never *ever* think about me!"

As much as she wanted to laugh out loud and tell the brunette to go to hell, Alli couldn't. She couldn't deny it, because it wasn't true. She did think about M.J. She thought about her often, if she was really honest with herself. But she wasn't about to admit that. No fucking way.

She shoved and pushed the tall body away, angrily shrugging out of M.J.'s grasp. "Let go of me! Who the fuck do you think you are!?" Alli growled through clenched teeth, her eyes flashing darkly. "You think you can just come waltzing back into my life - a life I had to fight damn long and hard to reestablish - and just expect me to fall back into your web!? Well THINK AGAIN!" She yelled, not giving a damn if anyone heard.

M.J. was beyond asking nicely by this point. She was out of ideas, and out of patience. She suddenly grabbed Alli by both arms and did something she'd never done before...

She kissed her with everything she had.

Alli was so completely shocked by the action that she didn't move... she couldn't. She just stood there, frozen, feeling nothing but the pressure of M.J.'s mouth upon hers. That is, until the taller woman opened her mouth and snaked her tongue out. Alli felt all reason and resolve drain from her head, and her body instantly melted as M.J. stabbed and requested entrance. Acquiescing immediately, Alli's mouth opened, and she willingly invited M.J. inside.

The brunette's kiss was soft yet firm, and she pressed and probed gently, hesitantly, almost as if she expected Alli to push her away again. But Alli didn't push her away, and she doubted that she could have even if she tried. Not caring if anyone could see them or not, she slid her hands up to M.J.'s neck and shoulders, pulling her body closer and hugging her solidly, crushing their breasts together as she deepened the kiss with sudden urgency, wanting to taste and consume the tall woman like no other before.

M.J. pushed a hand into Alli's long, silky hair and gripped her tighter as their lips devoured one another, the intensity of their union quickly escalating beyond their control. Kissing Allison was unbelievable... it almost couldn't be described. Her mouth was warm and luscious; her flavor sweet and mellow. M.J. wanted to swallow every ounce and hold the flavor on her tongue forever.

Alli let her hands tangle in M.J.'s hair as she kissed and tasted and absorbed. She couldn't believe that they were actually doing this... that it was finally happening after all this time, after all the pain and suffering and bullshit. She could almost feel the passion and intensity surging out of M.J. and into her. It was as though the tall beauty had kept her feelings and emotions pent-up inside for so long, they were gushing forth uncontrollably, nothing and no one able to stop the onslaught. Everything was suddenly so powerful and so emotional, Alli found herself instantly on the verge of tears.

A warning bell suddenly and immediately clanged loudly inside her head, and oceanic eyes instantly flew open. Reality stepped in and abruptly slapped Alli on the face as she quickly remembered who they were, where they were, and what had transpired between them in the past. Pushing away from the entanglement of M.J.'s strong arms, Alli gathered her wits and took a huge step back.

Looking into the brightness of mortified, perplexed aqua depths, M.J. gave Alli a look filled with undisguised hunger and desperation. She had finally crossed the boundary-line and committed the one act that she had always held so sacred. She had let her mouth and her feelings fuse with Alli's, and now, by doing so, she had fused her soul to the petite blonde too. But did Alli understand that? ...She could only pray that she did.

Alli's heart beat ferociously in her chest, and for a long moment, all she could do was stand and stare wide-eyed, with one hand touching her swollen lips. The realization of what she'd just done fell onto her shoulders like a crushing weight.

You really did it now, she thought as she closed her eyes tightly. You tasted her... you *want* her... you still WANT her! Her subconscious taunted mercilessly. Ohmygod... oh fuck... FuckFuckFuck! She was completely blown away. The axis of her world had shifted irreversibly, and her precious resolve now lay scattered around her feet in a million pieces.

Sea-green eyes sprang to life again and locked onto uncertain, questioning azure depths. Alli dropped her hand and opened her mouth as though she were going to say something, but instead she gave M.J. a horrified, stricken look, then turned and bolted out of the narrow hallway. M.J. hesitated for a moment, unsure of what to do, before hurrying out of the hallway just in time to see Alli's petite form exiting the building in a royal-blue rush.

M.J. glared at the exit doors, her jaw tight and her face tense. She would not let Allison run away from her... not now... not again.

And besides, she thought, she never denied my accusation. She steeled herself with a deep breath, then headed toward the exit doors, determination filling her mind.

******

************************************************************

"It just ain't fair, this thing called 'loving',

We're one step there, and the other feels nothing;

I would've done anything for you,

I still love you, baby I adore you;

All day I keep from falling apart,

But at night, when the sky gets dark,

Tears from the moon, fall down like rain

I reach for you... I reach in vain;

Stop, stop haunting me, it should be easy,

As easy as when you stopped wanting me, babe;

Tears from the moon, fall down like rain,

But tears from the moon, can't wash away the pain." - Conjure One

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CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT

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Allison sat in her VW for several minutes, trying desperately to calm her racing heart. This evening was a nightmare that seemed to have no end. She sat back in her seat and closed her eyes, replaying all the events over and over again, but her mind kept coming back to one event in particular, or rather, one person... M.J. Whitton.

She could still see the look that burned in the tall brunette's eyes... she could still smell her perfume... her fingers still tingled with the sensation of the dark silky hair... and she could still taste the lime that clung to M.J.'s tongue when they'd kissed.

OhmyGod... that kiss, Alli thought, unconsciously licking her lips. ...Oh I'm going completely insane, she thought as she shook her head and slumped forward to lean on her steering wheel. She was just about to begin chastising herself for her reckless impetuousness when she felt a cold chill wash over her.

Once again, Alli could feel the presence before she saw it. Lifting her head from the steering wheel, she turned and looked at the side mirror. The tall, gray spectre emerged from the shadows several yards behind her car. It moved toward her slowly, cautiously, gracefully. The long, dark hair billowed gently around the strong shoulders as it crept closer, closing-in on Alli like a ghost from the past, bound and determined to haunt her forever, it seemed. The face was indiscernible, its expression and features shrouded in the darkness, but the eyes... the eyes seemed to glow, brighter and clearer as the figure continued to inch ever nearer.

Feeling a sudden surge of panic, Alli glanced at the windows of her car, remembering that they were down part-way and that all her doors were unlocked as well. Irrational fear gripped her, and she reached down and grabbed hold of the car key dangling in the ignition. She squeezed her eyes shut and flipped the key harshly, turning the engine over and bringing the vehicle to sputtering wakefulness. When she reopened her eyes, she was shocked to find electric blue orbs staring right at her beside the open driver's window. She jumped, letting out a squeak of surprise.

M.J. stared at the wide blue-green depths that regarded her so frightfully. She regretted that Alli was so anxious to escape her, but it wasn't the first time the blonde had run away. And she wouldn't let her escape again. Not without a fight.

"Don't go." M.J. said, her voice low and earnest.

"Let me *alone*, M.J.! PLEASE!?" Alli yelled, her voice cracking under the strain of the stress and emotion. She jerked the gear shift into reverse, but before she could move, M.J. reached in and grabbed the steering wheel with one hand.

"I wish I could, Allison... I *really* wish I could." M.J.'s voice whispered in despair, and Alli slowly brought her eyes up to regard the face that loomed so close and the eyes that burned so bright. "Don't run away from me again," M.J. said, her voice soft and sincere, "...Please."

The quietly desperate edge to M.J.'s final plea made Alli hesitate, and she stared at the taller woman intently, trying to figure out if M.J. was being serious, and more importantly, why.

"Why are you here, M.J.? Why are you doing this to me?" Alli said in an anguished whisper.

"I'm not trying to 'do' anything to you, Alli. I just want to talk to you. Please... turn the car off, and come take a walk with me." M.J. held her hand out in gesture as she spoke calmly, evenly, wishing to convey her wants and express herself as honestly and sanely as she could.

Alli could only stare hard as she thought and thought, and debated and debated. Why should I trust anything she says? Why should I even give her one second of my time? Why should I give her ANYthing?! She battled back and forth between what her sensible self warned, and what her libidinous self desired. 'Desired'?! I can't desire her! That's how this all started! With me and my stupid, reckless *desire*! Alli warned her inner self. She closed her eyes and shook her head while the mini-war waged inside.

"I just want to talk." M.J.'s low, smooth voice interrupted Alli's rampaging thoughts, and the blonde looked up again to meet the steady, burning gaze of the woman, who - against all reason and rationale - still stirred something deep and passionate within her.

Closing her eyes again and taking a deep breath, Alli switched the ignition off, removed the keys, and got out of her car.

******

The convention center was situated a half-block from the beach, so the two women silently agreed to head in that direction. Neither one spoke as they reached the beach ramp and discarded their shoes, feeling the tingle of the cool sand against their feet as they walked out toward the crashing surf. They strolled for a short distance until Alli finally slowed and came to a stop, peering out at the vast ocean and the waxing gibbous moon that hung high and bright in the blackened night sky.

M.J. also ceased her footsteps and turned to look at Alli. The blonde stood with her arms wrapped tightly around herself; whether it was a protective or a defensive stance, M.J. wasn't sure. Long, flaxen hair ruffled in the breeze, partly obscuring Alli's face and those expressive eyes, and M.J. had the sudden urge to reach out and brush the pale locks away so that she had an unobstructed view.

Realizing she was being watched and not liking it, Alli spoke abruptly, "Look, I don't want to stand out here all night. Just say whatever it is you have to say, M.J., and then go." The words were clipped and rushed as she turned to face the taller woman at last. She wanted to get this over with so she could go home and think... her psyche had been bombarded with much too much tonight.

It was understandable that Alli would be mistrusting and upset, and M.J. knew she had her work cut out for her. "Alright," She said, taking a deep breath before she began. "I uh... I don't even know where to start, really," M.J. said as she raked a hand through her long hair, feeling nervous.

Alli kept her pinned with a steady, unyielding gaze.

"Before, when we were... when we first got... 'involved', I was...," M.J. hesitated... this was so hard. "I acted incredibly selfish. I was arrogant, disrespectful... thoughtless." She watched Alli's face as she continued. "But then that changed, Alli. My feelings toward you changed. I started to feel something real and genuine for you."

Alli still hadn't moved; she just watched and listened intently, her arms still hugged tightly around herself.

M.J. took the smaller woman's silence as a sign that she should continue. "I got scared. I knew something was happening between us, and I didn't know how to handle it. So I pushed you away."

"Not before you took what you wanted, though." Alli spoke at last, her voice low and terse.

"I didn't mean to *take* anything," M.J. stressed, "I didn't mean for it to turn out the way it did, honestly. I just... I... I just... *God*!" She exclaimed loudly, balling her hands into fists and bringing them up to her head.

Alli watched the taller woman turn away from her and struggle with her emotions. She felt a small twinge of satisfaction in knowing that M.J. was the one suffering, for a change. She didn't want to be a bitch and fight with the brunette, but if it was her only means of keeping a handle on things, then so be it.

M.J. turned back to face her, her shoulders slumped, her arms hanging limply by her sides, "I didn't mean for *any* of it to turn out the way it did, Allison. Everything just seemed to grow so out of my control. I didn't know what the hell to do. I know I handled it all badly... *very* badly. I know that you didn't deserve to be treated that way." Her voice was quiet and she struggled to get the words out.

Alli still regarded her with unwavering silence, so M.J. stepped closer to her; close enough that she could see glistening uncertainty in the aquamarine eyes. "I know you have good reason not to accept anything I say, and I know you won't believe me, but...," she hesitated again, staring deeply into Alli's eyes. "I cared for you very much back then, Allison...," Time to drop the bomb. "...I cared for you then, and... I care for you still." M.J. watched the oceanic eyes carefully, and they watched her as well for a long moment.

Alli was the one to finally break the gaze by looking away and blinking long. She couldn't look upon M.J.'s face any longer. The taunting grin and the lustful azure gleam that she remembered and had been accustomed to was no longer present. In its place was a new, strangely disconcerting look; one that spoke of sincere apology and vulnerability. She wasn't prepared for that... she didn't know what to make of it. But she had to keep her emotions under control... she would not be swayed.

After another long moment, M.J. finally had to speak... she had to know what Alli was thinking. "Aren't you going to say anything?" She asked quietly.

Alli gave a slight shrug, "What do you want me to say, M.J.? That I understand? That it's okay? No big deal?" Her voice increased slightly in volume, "It *is* a big deal, M.J., it's a very big deal! You broke my heart! You devastated me with your callousness, and your control, and your stupid mind games!" M.J. cringed as the blistering words assaulted her ears. "You used me! You used me, and you threw me away as though I were *nothing* to you." The words were emphatic and harsh, and absolutely true.

"I... I know." M.J. hated to sound so whipped, but she didn't know what else to say. She wanted Alli to understand that she was truly repentant, but she was so clueless. Reparation and atonement were concepts that were painfully alien to her.

Alli made a small noise of disgust, "Y'know, you keep saying that, like I'm just going to forgive and forget because you claim to realize the error of your ways... but it's not that easy. You have to earn forgiveness... you have to earn trust, M.J." Alli stared hard at the dark, bowed head. M.J. didn't dare say 'I know' again, so she instead stayed quiet. "Do you realize that you haven't even said 'I'm sorry' to me?" Alli added. "I mean, it sounds like you're apologizing, but I'm not really sure because you haven't actually *said* it. Frankly, I don't think you *can*."

The accusation hung in the air between them, and M.J. frowned, realizing that Allison was right, and feeling very ashamed of it. She never apologized freely. She never did it because she never cared to. But now... now it was different; *she* was different... wasn't she?

They were quiet for just a moment before Alli interrupted, "You can't just make up excuses, M.J. ...you can't just hand me a line and expect me to fall for it again."

"I'm *not* handing you a line!" M.J. finally snapped, jerking her head up to pin Alli in a bright blue glare.

"No? It sounds like a line to me... and we both know how *good* you are at manipulating those lines." Alli couldn't stop the biting sarcasm that leaked into her words. It visibly affected the tall brunette, who blinked rapidly in response to the harsh comment.

"I'm not the same person I was back then, Allison." M.J. said, her voice laced with a mixture of hurt and anger.

"And neither am I, M.J." Alli answered with confidence. "I'm not the stupid little girl that I used to be."

"I never thought you were stupid." M.J. retorted.

"No, just easy, right?" Alli shot back immediately.

To that, M.J. had no reply. She opened her mouth in an attempt to say something, but nothing came forth; she had no comeback for Alli's angry, biting words. Shaking her head and turning away, she walked a few steps from the blonde, who merely stood and watched her carefully.

M.J. supposed she shouldn't be so surprised at Alli's reaction, but she was. This wasn't going the way she'd planned. Back at the convention center, she was certain that Alli was going to forgive and forget. They had kissed... she had felt Alli's hunger... she had tasted her desire... she knew the blonde had been close to caving in. But apparently, Alli had changed her mind after that. Apparently she'd had too much time to think things over. M.J. knew she was failing to make Alli understand how she felt about her. She was failing to win back the woman she knew she still loved. She was failing in every respect.

Can't give her any more time to think... gotta go for broke and bare your soul, Morgan J., she told herself. She took a deep breath and expelled it.

Turning back toward Alli again, M.J. began, "Some time before my father died, he wrote me a letter." She kept her gaze focused on the surf, knowing that she'd lose her nerve if she ventured a look at Alli. "You first have to understand that my father and I did *not* get along. In fact, it's safe to say that we rarely had a kind word for each other." She paused, taking another deep breath. "He didn't approve of my life... he didn't support me... he didn't understand me. At least, that's what I had always believed. But... after reading his letter... I realized that he did understand me." She turned and finally looked squarely at Alli, "He understood me, because I was exactly like him, and he knew it. He had known it all along."

Alli watched the tall figure intently; M.J. was obviously leading up to something important and revealing, and she wanted to pay close attention.

M.J. gave a wry grin, "My father was arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, heartless, uncaring... all the things I detested most about him, I ended up becoming." M.J. paused and looked away; this was the really hard part. "But the worst of all the traits I inherited was... cowardice. My father was a coward. He never revealed his feelings... he never told me...," she had to pause as her throat threatened to close-up and her voice hitched. "He never told me that... that he was sorry for the things he did and said... and he never told me that he loved me. I had to wait and read it in that damned letter. And, of course, by that time, he was gone." M.J. shook her head and blinked back the tears that welled and burned painfully in her eyes. "He was gone, and it was too late... too late to make amends and repair the damage." Her voice was small and unsteady, and her shoulders slumped from the weight of the words she spoke. She almost didn't want to look at Alli, fearing what she'd see in her honest eyes.

And Alli was definitely looking. She was staring long and hard at the woman who stood before her now. If someone had told her that M.J. Whitton was a changed person, she wouldn't have believed it; but now, seeing and hearing all the pain and heartache that M.J. had obviously lived through and held inside for so long, she was beginning to believe. Against her better judgment, Alli was finding herself wanting to forgive the troubled brunette for her shortcomings and her past deeds, no matter how badly she'd behaved and how dastardly she'd been.

M.J. finally garnered her nerve and turned to look directly into Alli's eyes again. The bright aqua depths were clear and open and, to her surprise, understanding. There was no judgment; there was no reproach. There was only compassion and acceptance.

M.J. stepped closer to Alli, bringing them within a foot of one another, "You called me a coward once, and you were right... you were absolutely right." She pinned Alli with sad, serious look. "I don't want to be like my father, Allison. I don't want to be a coward anymore." She paused, taking a huge breath. "I want to apologize to you... for everything I did... for the hell I put you through. You didn't deserve it, and... I'm sorry. I am truly, deeply sorry, Allison."

Alli's jaw went slack and her mouth fell open slightly. She could hardly believe that M.J. actually said the words.

What was that saying about a leopard not being able to change its spots? Alli began to panic with the thought that she wasn't keeping a good handle on things at all.

M.J.'s heart was pounding, and she leaned in toward the blonde. "I don't want to be afraid anymore... I don't want to make any more mistakes." The words were soft but strong, and the voice spoke with calm surety.

"N-Neither do I." Alli struggled to speak. She was nearly lost in M.J.'s engulfing cerulean depths; the look on her face was one that Alli had never seen before. It was open and vulnerable, but at the same time, it was certain and clear. She continued to gaze into the searching light blue eyes, unable to say anything else.

M.J. leaned in closer, "Being with me isn't a mistake, Alli... it's right."

OhmyGod... is she suggesting what I think she's suggesting?! Alli thought incredulously for a moment.

"We belong together. I can feel it... I've always felt it... and I think you do too." M.J. finished, her voice soft and honest.

Alli wanted to laugh at the cliched words coming from M.J., but something wouldn't let her. Something told her that, as corny and dramatic as it all sounded, M.J. meant what she was saying. She really was sorry... and she really did want to be with her. But... how could Alli be sure? How could she trust what the tall beauty said? Didn't she make that mistake before? Didn't M.J. play games with her head and her heart one too many times already?

Alli squeezed her eyes shut, "Don't play with me, M.J.," she finally said, her voice tremulous as she shook her head slightly.

"I'm not playing." M.J. whispered, her voice gentle and sincere. She continued to stare at the bowed golden head, unable to tear her eyes away. She brought a hand up, daring to reach out and graze Alli's jaw softly.

A tear broke free, dribbling down a fair cheek, and Alli flinched, "No," she said, pulling away, "I don't want you to touch me." Her voice was suddenly desperate and unsure, and she took a step back away from the taller body.

"Why not?" M.J. asked, stepping toward Alli, refusing to let her escape in any way.

"Because... because I can't think clearly when I'm around you... because I don't know if I can do this again... because it scares me to death!" The words came out of Alli's mouth in an unsteady rush and ended in a choking sob.

M.J. carefully reached out and placed both hands on Alli's shoulders, "It scares me too." She said, her voice soft and reassuring. "And I'm not sure I can do this either... but I think we should try." She touched two fingers to Alli's chin, forcing the tear-filled eyes to look up at her, "My life has so little meaning without you in it, Allison... I'm just... lost."

They looked deeply into each other's eyes until finally Alli felt her insides melting so thoroughly, her stronghold of resolve collapsed and her body helplessly deflated, leaning forward and coming to rest against M.J.'s chest. The long-forgotten feeling of the steady, solid body and strong arms surrounded her, enveloping her with warmth and surprising her with tenderness. Alli breathed-in the aroma of M.J.'s unique fragrance mixed with the smell of the damp sea breeze, and a rush of tangled emotions filled her mind. M.J.'s hands further complicated her uncertainties as they calmly stroked her back in gentle, swirling motions. To be held in such a way... to be supported and reassured physically... it was something Alli had been craving and yearning for such a long time. She only realized now, however, that M.J. seemed to be the only one who could properly feed that craving. Not Kris, not the nameless, faceless women she'd tried to pick up in the bars... only M.J.

When the hands suddenly stopped and raised back up to her shoulders, Alli lifted her head and looked upward, falling head-long into a deep, churning cauldron of blue. M.J. lowered her head, bringing their lips together in a slow, deliberate movement. Alli's eyes fluttered shut, her heart racing in a myriad of feelings, her mind swirling in a tempest of thoughts. She willingly yielded to the tender touch as hands slid upwards and fingers threaded through hair and lips suckled softly and sensually. The kiss wasn't rough or forceful or sexual; it was tentative and gentle and reverent. It asked for forgiveness, reassurance, and restitution. It asked for a second chance and a new beginning.

Alli was moved to tears. Something stirred deep inside her from the intensity and the emotional magnitude of the moment. The tempo of the oral union increased slightly, M.J. seemingly intent on swallowing all the misery and tears and replacing them with passion. But as the kiss deepened and M.J.'s hands slid down her body, Alli felt herself balking.

Her mind furiously rehashed everything M.J. had said. She wanted to believe all of it so desperately... she wanted to believe it was possible... that they were possible. But could she do that? Did she dare? Was she being sucked-in, literally and figuratively? Was she caving too easily? Was she being stupidly na´ve? A trusting fool? Was she setting herself up for another painful, crushing fall? Hadn't she learned her lesson? Hadn't she learned *anything* at all?

Alli suddenly broke from the embrace and stepped back. The look on her face and in her eyes said everything, and M.J. knew she had failed before Alli even spoke.

"I'm sorry, M.J. ...but I... I just *can't*." The words were spoken so softly, so mournfully, as more tears broke free.

The two women looked at each other with regret, anguish, longing, misery, uncertainty, sorrow... all the things associated with dashed hopes, broken dreams, and having your fingers burned one too many times.

Distrust is sometimes an impossible hurdle to overcome.

******

*******************************************************

"How can you see into my eyes like open doors? Leading you down into my core, Where I've become so numb without a soul,

My spirit sleeping somewhere cold, Until you find it there and lead it back home;

Wake me up inside, wake me up inside Call my name and save me from the dark; Bid my blood to run, before I come undone, Save me from the nothing I've become; Now that I know what I'm without,

You can't just leave me; Breathe into me and make me real, Bring me to life." - Evanescence

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CHAPTER FORTY-NINE

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Allison needed to calm down. The entire evening had been like a category five hurricane, and her heart and soul were ravaged from the storm. Unable to sleep due to her reeling thoughts and feelings, she changed into jeans and a t-shirt, turned on some soft jazz music, lit some candles, poured herself a glass of wine, and stretched out on her living room sofa, determined to get a grip on her unraveling life.

As soon as she sat down, she remembered seeing the message indicator blinking on her phone. Walking over to check it again, she saw that it flashed six messages. She had a good idea who the messages were from. Depressing the play button, she leaned against the wall and listened.

Noises and music could be heard in the background and the voice was somewhat tinny-sounding, obviously coming from a cell phone. "Allison, are you there? ...it's Kris." A pause. "I've been looking all over this damn convention hall for you... where are you?" Another pause. "...Shit." A loud click ended the call.

The next message began, again from a cell phone. "Alli... it's Kris again." The voice sounded nervous and impatient. Alli sipped her drink and stared blankly at a wall. "I checked the parking lot... your car isn't here. Where the hell are you?" The call ended with another loud click.

Jesus, she's probably out combing the entire neighborhood looking for me..., Alli thought with a shake of her head.

"It's Kris again," the third message started, "Obviously you took off some place, so... well, I uhm... I just... I just wanted to... ah, hell!" A disconnecting noise sounded, ending that call.

The next one began abruptly, "Okay, you're not here, you're not at home... so, okay... well, I just wanted to... to, uhm, apologize. Y'know, for being... such a jerk, and... I dunno... can you just call me, honey? Please? I just wanna talk to you... okay baby? Okay... bye."

Oh so now it's 'honey' and 'baby'... Christ, Alli thought, rolling her eyes slightly.

As the next message started, the voice was clearly more agitated, "Alli... it's me again. Maybe you *are* at home and you just don't wanna talk to me... Look, I just wanna know where the hell you are, okay? I'm starting to get worried. Just *call* me when you get home, alright? No matter what time. I *need* to talk to you, Alli, I... I... I love you, dammit! ...Bye." Alli's mouth fell open.

Jesus, she has nerve, emotionally blackmailing me with the 'I Love You' shit... fucking aye! She thought, shaking her head in disbelief. She and Kris had never said 'I Love You' to one another. Alli had simply never felt it, and she always assumed that Kris could tell.

Alli shifted her jaw as the final message played and she considered Kris's tone. "Okay, fine. You obviously don't want to talk to me. That's fucking fine, Allison. I'll leave you alone. If you change your mind, you know where to reach me." A loud 'clack' signaled the end of the short tirade.

How do I always seem to attract the psychotic ones? I swear to God, Alli thought with another eye-roll as she drew a deep breath. Polishing off her wine, she headed out to the kitchen to pour herself another glass.

******

Nearly two hours and several glasses of wine later, Alli was feeling more relaxed and had a pleasant buzz going. Now that her guard was down and she was sufficiently chilled-out, she allowed her mind to wander back over the happenings of the night.

She thought back to the fateful encounter with M.J. and how she felt seeing the vision from her past standing and looking so regal and gorgeous in the present, and even worse - how it felt to kiss her, taste her, and feel her. Even after all this time, her attraction toward the tall brunette was still so strong; M.J. still made her heart flutter and caused her pulse to race.

Damn, Alli cursed to herself. Why did she have to kiss me? She thought. How can she still get to me, after nearly two years?! Good God, she thought, rolling her eyes. And what about all that stuff she said on the beach? Is any of that true? Did she and does she really care about me? Alli held her head, thinking back to the way M.J. looked, and acted, and spoke. She did seem different. She wasn't arrogant, or cocky, or overtly sexual like she used to be. She seemed... contrite... sad... genuine. Goddd... but how do I know if it's *real*?! She thought. Should I have given her more of an opportunity down there on the beach? What if I never see her again? What if that was *it*? I may never know if she's really changed or not. Alli groaned aloud and closed her eyes, letting her head fall back against the sofa in tired defeat.

She didn't know whether she wanted to scream in frustration or cry because of the pain. She just wished she could disappear for awhile, just until all the dust settled. A light rapping on her front door made her jump, abruptly ending her deep thoughts.

"Shit!" She hissed aloud to herself. "Shitshitshit!" She jumped up off her couch, hesitating for a moment as the knocking sounded again. She knew who it was. It was the same woman who had phoned her damn apartment six million times looking for her. Chewing nervously on her bottom lip, Alli decided to sneak to her door and take a look out the peephole. If indeed it was Kris on the other side of that door, there was no way in hell she was letting her in and dealing with all that bullshit. Not tonight.

She reached the door and stood on her tiptoes to peer out. Instead of seeing curly blonde hair, however, she only saw long dark hair.

Ohmygoddd, she thought, genuinely shocked that this woman would come after her... again. Alli stood perfectly still for a moment, having absolutely no idea what to do. She didn't want to answer the knock, even though M.J. had certainly seen her VW out front and knew she was home. She shouldn't invite her in. If she did, things could get out of hand... easily. In her uncertain, emotional, and now intoxicated state, Alli was sure she'd do or say something stupid.

Probably not a good idea to let her in, she thought, but... maybe she's just come to apologize some more? Alli considered. Maybe she just wants to talk, like she said? I can do that, can't I? Just talk? Clear the air... clear our consciences...? Unbeknownst to her conscious mind, Alli's subconscious was taking control of her hand and unlocking her door.

Alli only opened the door a crack and peered out warily. The imposing, darkly-clad figure stood several feet back from the door, apparently having been ready to give up and walk away. The wind had kicked-up, whipping the long strands of dark brown hair around the tall woman's face, concealing everything but the piercing, crystal blue eyes that turned to regard Alli from the shadows.

"Hi." M.J. said, her voice simple and quiet. When Alli just stared at her and didn't respond, she tried again, "Can I, uh... come in?"

Alli hesitated, her rational mind waffling indecisively while M.J. looked at her, patiently waiting for an answer. Slowly opening the door a little wider, Alli silently invited M.J. inside at last.

The brunette entered cautiously, raking her fingers through her wild hair and glancing around somewhat nervously. Taking-in the smell of vanilla and the soft, muted colors of the furnishings that were absolutely Allison, M.J. considered the fact that this was really happening. She was really and truly standing inside the humble abode of the woman who drove her crazy enough to do what she was doing right at that moment.

If someone had told her yesterday that she'd be chasing after this little blonde so thoroughly today, she'd have told them they were insane. But instead, she was the one who was insane. Insane with want... consumed by need... driven by the urgency she felt to go to Allison and love her and give her anything and everything she desired. She was obsessed by the need to be with this woman and take care of her. It was no longer a fanciful dream - it wasn't even a preoccupation - it was now her life's goal.

"This is, uhm... nice." M.J. offered, wanting to break the ice and the silence.

Alli was nervous and felt incredibly awkward. She was also buzzed and her mind was seriously impaired. A slight twinge of embarrassment washed over her as she noticed M.J. looking around; M.J.'s house was surely a mansion compared to this dinky apartment. She felt the urge to make chit-chat to help quell her jangled nerves.

Still not looking at the taller woman, Alli shrugged and twisted her hands together in a nervous gesture. "Uhm, thanks, I know it's not much, but the rent is reasonable, and the appliances are pretty modern, and-" Her rapid-fire rambling was cut off by M.J.'s fingers on her lips.

"Allison... I didn't come here to talk about your appliances." The tall brunette said as she stepped closer, her voice a low hush and her eyes suddenly dark and unreadable in the dim lighting of the apartment. Alli closed her eyes and drew a shaky breath as M.J. let her fingers slide across the lips for a moment, feeling their softness, relishing in their perfection, remembering the sweetness she had tasted there just a few hours before.

Alli fought to remain calm, refusing to let even a sigh slip from her mouth. She would not meet M.J.'s eyes; she knew that if she took one look at those fathomless pale blue depths, there would be no turning back. She would be enslaved, and there would be no escape. The blonde felt the taller woman lean in close to her, and she swallowed hard, her throat suddenly feeling parched and thick.

"What did you come here for then, M.J.?" Alli questioned in a shaky whisper, her eyes closed and her head cast slightly downward.

"...You."

It was only one tiny word, but it was a word that held the power to change everything.

Alli's eyes mutinied and opened, and when she at last looked up to meet the beautiful, burning blue gaze that had terrorized her heart and soul for so long, she knew she was completely, helplessly, irretrievably lost.

But it wasn't a superficial, spur-of-the-moment surrender; it went much deeper than that. Unfortunately, Alli's brain was too inebriated to consider all the deep, philosophical reasons at that moment. She only knew that she wasn't giving-in for the hell of it; she wasn't simply horny and upset and looking for a quick-fix fuck. She and M.J. had an undeniable connection and a near-perfect chemistry. She knew that M.J. wanted her, and, much as she fought it and tried so hard to deny it, she wanted M.J. too. She needed to feel the tall brunette, mouth on mouth, skin on skin, body on body.

Alli's entire world had been turned upside down tonight, and her current state of intoxication left her feeling vulnerable, naked, and emotional. She desperately needed to be comforted, grounded, and connected; it felt like her life was spinning completely out of control, like she was hopelessly floundering in an ocean of despair, and she needed someone to throw her a life line and anchor her.

At that moment, and for the time being, Alli wanted that 'someone' to be M.J. She looked to the strong, dark-haired woman to be her anchor; to reassure her that she was wanted, desired, and loved, and to convince her that everything was going to be okay. Alli was unwittingly turning her tormentor into her savior. Her muddied mind could not process what was happening as the taller body leaned in toward her; her body could only instinctually feel and react.

M.J. converged on the bow-shaped mouth slowly, touching their lips together softly, delicately, wanting to take things slowly, but not knowing how long that good intention would last. Time again seemed to stand still, and all awareness about the rest of the world seemed to vanish. At that moment, all the two women could think about was that things were about to change in an irreversible, life-altering way, and neither of them would ever be the same again.

The tide, it seemed, was about to turn again. And they would not fight it.

The initial daintiness lasted about a minute. As soon as Alli reached up and wrapped her arms around M.J.'s neck and deepened the kisses, the dams broke and everything burst apart in an immediate, overwhelming explosion of sexual lust and raging desire.

The kissing turned bruising and desperate with both of them trying to claim and conquer each other's mouths. They crashed together over and over in near-brutal urgency, wanting to exorcise the demons and quench their insatiable thirst for one another. They gasped for air as the oral battle continued, their hands wandering and working furiously at zippers and buttons and clasps as they tore at each other's clothing. They stumbled and made their way into the middle of the living room, tossing offending garments aside and freeing themselves of all obstacles.

Somewhere in the back of M.J.'s mind, she thought that perhaps they should move to the bedroom, but at the rate they were progressing, she didn't think they'd make it. Indeed, before she could say anything, they were stripped and lying on the living room floor in a tangle of arms, legs, and hands. They frantically touched and kissed all over each other's flesh, their mutual hunger continuing to escalate in intensity.

Alli raked her nails across the smooth, tanned skin of M.J.'s back, eliciting a groan from the taller woman. Her small body throbbed with want and need, and she wrapped her legs around M.J.'s hips, groaning and grinding her pelvis wantonly against the long, lean body. She was totally unrestrained, having tossed aside the propriety that had always kept her from losing control and falling into this primal place of lustful, reckless carnality. She suddenly could not get close enough to M.J., her need to feel and touch and taste overwhelming her to the point where she nearly begged the larger woman for anything and everything.

M.J. was breathless, shocked and amazed by Alli's frantic aggressiveness. The blonde moved and gyrated her hips urgently, whimpering her desire and clutching handfuls of dark hair and tan skin. M.J. gladly and enthusiastically met her thrust for thrust, their bodies quickly growing sweaty and slick as thighs intermingled and hands rubbed and fingers penetrated.

Their mutual climaxes were desperate, profound, fast, and ferocious. Bodies tensed and muscles contracted as they groaned and gasped in unison and clung to one another, the surge of erotic pleasure overpowering and draining them both completely.

When it was over, they lay slumped together on the floor, their ragged breath mixing with the soft sounds of the forgotten jazz music that still emanated from the stereo.

As she teetered on the brink of consciousness, M.J. opened her eyes slightly to gaze at the flushed face of the tiny beauty who had stolen her heart, and now, her soul as well. She had wanted to touch and pleasure Allison so badly, but she wanted Alli to touch and pleasure her as well. The mutual intimacy was something she hadn't allowed in a very, very long time... but everything was different now. She felt a profound connection with Allison, and she wanted her like never before. She wanted to possess her and consume her and drive the thoughts of all others from her mind. M.J. needed to give and be given to, and she needed to take and be taken in return. So she let Alli give to her and take from her; and she gave and took from the beautiful blonde in return.

Well into the night, the giving and taking continued with passionate fervor.

******

They dozed off eventually. Or maybe they blacked-out, M.J. wasn't sure. It was still very dark both inside and out when she returned to wakefulness, so she surmised that only an hour or two had passed since their last go-round. She was lying on her back, and the hardness of the living room floor was absolutely killing her. Alli's small body lay partially on top of her, the blonde head resting on her chest and the long, flaxen tresses spilling down around her breasts.

M.J. smiled to herself thinking that at last, after so long, she had done it. She had allowed Alli to possess all of her, and in return, Alli had allowed the same. The feelings she had for the little blonde suddenly hit her in a thundering rush, and she felt her eyes well up with unexpected tears. If this was what true bliss was like, she was sorry she had missed out on it for so long.

M.J. shifted her body slightly, acutely feeling every place that Alli's lithe little form touched hers. She strained her neck to look down at the fair, angelic face as it rested in peaceful slumber. The long brown eyelashes anchored the closed eyelids, concealing the deep aqua depths that were so honest and full of emotion... the slim eyebrows twitched slightly, perhaps contemplating some subconscious thought... the bow-shaped lips were parted slightly, joining the button nose in its never-ending task of breathing life into the small body that was attached to them. M.J. relaxed her head again, sighing deeply and closing her eyes as she brought a hand up to gently run her fingers through Alli's hair, feeling the dampness that suffused the soft locks.

Trying to shift her position again, M.J. felt the delightful way their adjoining flesh was pasted together with the remnant wetness of sex and sweat. She could feel the moist heat radiating from between Alli's legs as the small body reacted and squirmed slightly, and the silky tuft of pubic hair tickled against M.J.'s hip as a softly-muscled thigh flexed slightly. A flush raced up and down M.J.'s body, and she felt a sharp jolt of desire spark inside her all over again.

Alli stirred further, and soon hands and fingers began to stray, reawakening the hunger and the need to consume one another. It seemed that the two of them suffered from a thirst that could not and would not be quenched this night.

******

On to Chapter 50

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