A/N: This story deals with the emotional fallout of sexual harassment in the workplace and explores themes of BDSM and power exchange between women. This is fiction and is no substitute for research, personal inquiry, and above all communication with your partner. Be safe, sane and consensual.
I balance my motorcycle helmet, guitar case, and house keys as I wipe my feet on the mat outside the door of our flat. It's been a long day. I pulled ten hours at my legit job at the newsstand, then another two changing tires on motorcycles for Harper for cash under the table. I didn't get the gig I wanted, and the black electrical tape over the holes in my army surplus boots is leaking again. I roll my shoulders trying to shake off the weight of the day. It doesn't move, but the least I can do is wipe off the street grime instead of tracking it in.
Alicia is already at the little table in the kitchen with her drawing pad and a handful of pens when I let myself inside. Our flat's so small I can see her there from the doorway as I set my guitar case in the corner and hang up my helmet and leather jacket. She closes the tablet, and her short black hair swings back from her heart-shaped face as she tilts it up to me in greeting. "Hello, you."
"Hey, baby." I lean down to kiss her cheek and she squirms away from the cold of my nose, but her smile leaves no doubt she's happy to see me. The London sky is gray and rainy this time of year, not so different than the one I'd be under if I'd never made it off the foggy, wet Washington coast, but that smile is a slice of sunshine that seems like it was made just to warm me up from the inside out, like it was meant just for me. Like maybe everything I've been through – every hard choice, every lucky break – led me right to that smile and the woman who wears it.
"Just toasted cheese and a tin of soup tonight, Bits. Rent due, and all." She points at the table where a plate and bowl are waiting for me, still hot. How she knows exactly when I'll be home I'll never know, but she just loves to have hot food waiting on the table for me on days like this when the weather's crap and she gets home first.
"Looks great. And probably better you didn't splurge. I didn't get that gig." I rub my hands on my jeans trying to warm them a little. "Maybe Harper will give me some more work."
"Not to worry, heard today there might be a few more shifts on offer down the pub."
I raise an eyebrow at her. "Who quit this time?"
What I really mean is what did that ass Sean do now? Turnover is high down at Three Feathers since Maggie got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and her son got the run of the joint. My teeth grind as I think of the reasons why all the staff he hires – always young and attractive women – keep quitting. Reasons like I'm just giving you a compliment and it was an accident and there wasn't enough room to get by without brushing past you.
Alicia shoots me the look, the one that says don't start, and hands me a napkin with an arched eyebrow of her own. "Go on then. Tuck in."
It's the bossy tone she takes with rowdy customers and my mouth twists in a smirk.
"Yes, mum," I tease, mimicking her clipped accent.
Her hazel eyes flash with mock outrage. She looks like she'd snap my ass with a tea towel right now if one was handy. I wouldn't mind actually. I like it when she starts something that I get to finish.
I pick up my spoon and begin to eat. Ali takes my unoccupied left hand and pulls it across the table towards her, pushing the sleeve of my thermal shirt out of her way. She snaps the cap off a black pen with her teeth and starts drawing on my wrist just past the spot where it bends when I play the guitar.
The food isn't fancy, but it's hot and filling and made with care. Home less than five minutes and already my day's looking up. I glance down to see what she's scribbling on me. There are two flowers side-by-side, outlined in black, filled in with pink, and each with a few spiky green leaves peeking out from behind the petals.
I wrinkle my nose. "Pink roses? Really, Alicia?"
"I've not finished yet, have I?" she defends primly, but the pen cap in her mouth ruins her scolding tone. Amused, I watch patiently as she deftly adds curves and lines in both black and color and by the time she switches to a different pen with a finer tip to hash in some shading, I'm totally digging the design.
"There." She pops the cap back onto her pen with a flourish and sits back in her chair, clearly pleased with herself.
The roses on my wrist adorn the eye sockets of an Ed Hardy style skull sitting atop a rendition of my electric guitar. It's positioned perfectly so I can see it out of the corner of my eye if I look down at my left hand when changing chords.
"You'll get the next gig. I can feel it."
A piece of that immovable weight on my shoulders seems to melt and slide away. Ali's quiet confidence in me never wavers. It shouldn't surprise me because that willingness to see the best in people, to give and nurture, is just so her. But sometimes the way she loves me catches me off guard, reminds me how much it means to me, reminds me to be worth it. She's my rock. And I'm hers. I squeeze her hand and rub my thumb over her fingers when she's done blowing gently on my wrist to help dry the wet ink.
"What's this?" I nudge her drawing pad.
She shrugs. "Just doodles."
Her voice is light but something's off. I put my spoon down and open the tablet to the page she used today.
It's a landscape, done in black and white. To call this just doodles is completely inadequate. In the foreground is a single fallen tree limb full of bare-but-reaching branches. It's lying on ground that is absolutely flat in every direction, dry and cracked, lifeless, deserted. The lines of the drawing are fine and detailed in the foreground but thicken and blur at the horizon giving the sense that there is life there at the edge, but it's so very far away. The sky is thick with clouds that seem at once to be both permanent and moving away. The clouds will reach that horizon long before the viewer.
It's beautiful but desolate.
I begin to notice small streaks of red and brown, so closely woven into the detailed textures that you don't see them at first glance. Subtle touches of green at the horizon. It's a neat trick of the eye. So... not a black and white then, but... drained of color. The difference seems significant.
I look down at the bold and lively skull on my wrist, think about the smile on her face when I came home. Definitely significant.
"Something else happen at work today, babe?"
She sighs. "Not really." Shrugs again.
"Sean.That–" I shake my head, biting back the string of profanity on the tip of my tongue.
"You know how unwell Maggie's been," she says, as if that accounts for it all. I hear what she isn't saying, what we've been over again and again.
Ali's known Maggie for a long, long time. She and my mum were thick as thieves she'd call it, and when Ali's mum died in a car accident leaving her on her own at nineteen, Mags was there. She's been a substitute mother of sorts for the last three years. With the way Sean mismanages the business, Ali can't even imagine walking away from this job and leaving Maggie in the lurch.
"If she were well enough to run the pub, Sean wouldn't dare pull that bollocks with the girls. When she gets back..." Ali trails off, tilting her head down and away from me, letting her hair fall in front of her face. The excuse sounds as flimsy to her as it does to me. The chemo isn't going well. There's no guarantee Maggie will ever be well enough to run the pub again, and even if she does... how long does Ali think she should endure Sean's shit?
I try to catch her eye. "Come on, Ali. You don't have to let him treat you like that."
"I don't let him, Bits!" Her voice rises in pitch and volume.
I can feel the constriction in my throat as I react and my tone matches hers. "Then tell him to keep his fucking mouth shut and his hands to himself."
She's silent but the empty dishes clatter angrily as she stacks them and takes them to the sink.
I stay at the table trying to chill. We're not quite fighting, but it could tip over to that any minute. There's cold lead in my chest at the thought. If I follow her now I'll say something rash. Well, something more rash.
Why can't she just knock him on his ass, like I did with Caleb?
I twirl one of Ali's pens on the tabletop as I remember hanging with Caleb and Dusty, following them around, getting into all the same trouble they did, keeping my dark brown hair long and braiding it just like I was one of the Rez boys... and Caleb always teasing me and calling me a tomboy. I did everything they did – rode crappy old dirt bikes when we were younger, graduated to fixing up rusty old motorcycles nobody else wanted, sneaking beers to drink on the rocky beach after dark, everything – right down to ogling the Rez girls. Caleb and I were inseparable, best friends. How could he have missed it?
For that matter how could I have?
I even looked at the porno mags they passed around, ragging on each other about pages getting wrinkled or sticky. "That's disgusting!" I'd say, but I couldn't look away, couldn't help but remember those pictures late at night in the dark under the covers with my hands between my legs and my breath hitching in my throat. Breasts and hair and shiny red lips, long painted fingernails, thighs spread wide and shiny pink in between. That was supposed to be me someday, right? On my back for some guy? So how come I always pictured the girl on her back as if I was the guy on top of her?
Broke my hand on Caleb's jaw figuring it out when he kissed me by surprise that first warm spring day sophomore year. I caught him off-guard and put him flat on his butt but he barely had even a bruise to show for it, and I ended up in a cast with my bike gathering dust in the drive for six weeks. Funny thing though, I was so bored that I picked up my dad's old acoustic just for something to do, picking out tunes just fingering the frets with my left hand. My first song.
Ali stands in the kitchen still facing away from me. She runs the tap to fill the sink with hot water for the washing up. I study the tense line of her back.
I get it. Really, I do. Ali feels guilty, like it's somehow disloyal to Maggie to despise her son even though Sean is a sexist pig, a lazy ass and a bad manager. She's angry at him for running his mother's business into the ground while Maggie's too ill to do anything to stop it and probably doesn't even know. And because Ali cares so damn much, she feels responsible for not saying or doing more to stop it. But how do you tell someone that their grown son is a disgrace and squandering everything they ever worked for?
Then there are the other girls to worry about, too. When Ali's on shift, Sean seems to fixate on her and leave them alone more, but it pisses me off that she sacrifices herself like that. It's his fault – the manipulative little shit – and she takes it all on herself.
This is where Alicia's sweetness and tendency to nurture sometimes gets her in trouble. This is where her sense of loyalty and obligation, her genuine and caring nature is stomping all over her sense of self-preservation.
I give the pen another forceful spin, watching as its rotation slows and the blur of its motion gradually clears, letting it twirl eventually to a stop.
My Ali is stuck in that blur. She's stuck in a mess of false should's and ought to's and can'ts, and seeing her trapped and feeling helpless just breaks my heart and pisses me off all at the same time. I can't fight her battles for her, but I can't sit here and do nothing either.
She's my rock, and I'm hers.
My chair scrapes roughly along the floor as I push back from the table and stand. Three paces and I can press myself up against her back, sneak one arm around her waist, and rub my warmer-now face into the short hair at the nape of her neck. Her hair is so soft. Even the razor-short bristles here are fine and silky like baby hair. I can smell the exotic sweet-spice-smoke of that girlie lotion she wears and more faintly the scent of her clean hair.
Her posture is stiff, tense in my arms. I massage the muscles in her shoulders on one side and nuzzle her neck on the other. She starts to thaw just a little; her shoulders relaxing with a little sigh as my hand at her waist creeps up to trace the underside curve of one breast over her clothes. I love this spot – the soft rise of it, the way the flesh gives under my touch – and I wish there wasn't any fabric in the way. My hand creeps higher, fingers tracing circles and spirals, thumb trailing along the V-shaped line where her cami gives way to bare skin. I'm torn between wanting to keep chasing the hint of nipple budding under my fingertips and wanting to dip my thumb into that space between her breasts where the cups of her bra meet in the middle. Now that I've got my hands on her I'm feeling greedy; I want it all at the same time, damn it.
"Maybe you should be helping me with the dishes instead of grabbing my tit."
There's a tease in her voice and a curve to her cheek, but I can tell by the way the soapy water sloshes in the sink that she's trying to will away or just bury all that despair I saw on her drawing pad.
She needs a way out of the blur, the chaos in her head that keeps steering her in circles. She needs clarity and focus and maybe a little kick in the pants to remember what kind of stuff I know she's made of.
She needs a heavier hand tonight.
The knowledge is a tendril of smoke curling up my spine, a stirring of banked embers, and my hand stills on her shoulder. There's a part of her that just needs this sometimes. And there's a part of me that wants it. I slide my fingers up into her hair, get a grip, tip her head back. My words, like my touch, are gentle but undeniably firm. "Leave them."
I tongue a wet line along her throat, my hand tightens with intent in her hair, and my voice is suddenly sooty with the way I need to give this to her, need to take this from her. "I have other plans for you, kitten."
I hear the sharp intake of her breath as she registers the edge to my tone and the pet name we save for a very particular kind of interaction. Her hands still, letting the sponge float away and the tea cup sink to the bottom of the basin.
I take my hand from her breast and yank the straps of her top and her bra down her shoulder. It's unexpected and rough enough to make her gasp at my aggression but not enough to tear them. Money's tight enough as it is. And besides, now I can see that my girl is wearing my favorite bra – the black velvety one with the little embroidered cherries. It looks perfect with her pale skin, her dark hair and especially her cherry red lips.
I would bet money she's wearing the matching panties, too.
It's not real velvet, it's velour or something, but ever since that first time she brought them home and I couldn't stop touching them (and her and her in them) she just calls them her "pet-me" knickers. I don't even give her the chance to brat this time and tease me with her little sing-song voice (Eliz-uh-bett-ahr, won't you pet my kitty?) before I've got my hand up the front of her skirt and down her leggings and fuck, yes she's wearing them.
But not for long.
I toe my boot between her platform maryjanes, nudging her into a wider stance, and now I can get the width of my hand between her legs, flat against her heat. I press my palm against her, trapping her to me, and strum my fingers over her slit. She sags slightly in my arms as her breathing changes, her hands tensed against the counter's edge.
The feel of that texture – a silken, rippling downiness that mats under my caress as her moisture begins to dampen the fabric – is my undoing. I push it aside, and as my middle finger dips into her, my open mouth finds the pliant flesh over her bare shoulder and bites down. Hard.
Another sharp inhale that sounds like a hiss and her exhale is a high-pitched lingering note.
I release the bite slowly as she steadies herself against the counter. Swallowing hard against my rising desire, I take a few deep breaths to collect myself, gain control of my breathing and my voice. It would be easy to get lost in just this rough pleasure of give and take, tempting as it is, but my girl needs more than that from me tonight. Drawing myself up to my full height, I turn Alicia by the shoulders to face me.
"You've let me down, kitten."
She winces when the words land. My disappointment stings. But I know it's not half as painful as the choking humiliation she suffers under Sean's thumb or the dull ache of disappointment in herself for allowing the situation to continue on his terms.
"You let that dog mistreat you again today, didn't you?" Her mouth opens, shuts again quickly.
"You've forgotten how strong you are, kitten. I'm going to remind you." Staring down at her, I watch her expression intently, "Go get my hairbrush."
She knows exactly what I'm asking of her. This is the decision point; it's her choice. If she says no then we'll just find another way to reconnect and to get through this issue about Sean. But if my instincts are right...
Her eyes close heavily. She wets her lips with her little pink tongue. My nostrils flare. I know exactly where I want that tongue.
When her eyes open again, the soft set of her features is unguarded, trusting.
Not Bits or Betta or even Elizabetta Louise! Just B.
"You need this, don't you kitten? You need me to take care of you and help you get back on track."
There's no doubt in her voice, only relief. "Yes, B."
Two simple words that mean everything – the sound of her consent echoes in my brain. My heart twists with the sweet gift of her trust and with it hot coals in my belly begin to glow. The smoke in my spine curls higher. I feel taller; my chest swells. I have the impulse to grab her by the hair and conquer her mouth.
I want to.
So I do.
Sleek black hair in my grip and her mouth falls open in surrender. I find her tongue, press my mouth against hers until I feel the biting edge of her teeth, taste her breath, suck on her bottom lip like I'm dying of thirst. Tip her face up and back by my grip in her hair so I can break the kiss and look into her eyes.
"There's my brave girl," I praise her, smoothing the palm of my hand down her breast, pushing cami and bra out of my way. I pinch the protruding nipple just hard enough to make her inhale audibly. "Hairbrush. Now. And come back to me barefoot."
Quietly Alicia slips around the corner into our room to fetch the brush and remove her shoes. She's a tiny thing, and though I'm only average height, my boots add an inch or so. Take away her platform shoes and it's a striking difference that works in my favor.
I move towards the sofa while she's gone, pulling off my thermal shirt and quickly braiding my long brown hair, securing it out of the way with the elastic I keep on my wrist. My adrenalin is flowing, and it's getting too warm in such a heavy shirt. The black racerback tank I'm wearing underneath fits snugly over my breasts and waist and shows off my shoulders, arms, and the ink I wear on my skin.
I plant my tough-as-shit boots slightly more than hip-width apart and tuck my thumbs into the front of my jeans on either side of my belt buckle as I wait. The fire is stoked, the smoke rising.
Soft footfalls announce my kitten as she pads into the room, her signature cherry red toenail polish now in view. I watch as she stops a few feet in front of me, hairbrush in hand, face modestly down-turned. Her skirt is askew and the straps of her cami and bra are still hanging off her shoulder. It thrills me to see her hair so disheveled, the skin of her neck still red from my bite, and she hasn't tried to right her clothing. Does she know what that does to me?