Author note: This is my half-hour power story, written when I came home from work today in said length of time after bugging me all day. I can't tell you anything about it until you read on (apart from pay some serious attention to the last line), so feel free to do so. xD Enjoy and review, please muchly! :D

You think you've always known, you realise the moment your boss tells you she's in love with you. Not consciously, perhaps, but on some instinctual plateau of your mind's clifftops it's always been there – you've just never found it, much like the long-since-vanished TV remote that eventually led to you buying an entire new set. It makes perverse sense, really – it's why none of her relationships have ever worked. All this time, she's been subconsciously looking for you – the challenge, with the twinkle in his eye and (generally speaking) a smile on his face. She's entered relationships with the best of intentions, of course, but if one has a champion stallion waiting in the wings, so to speak, they don't run their Shetland pony.

You're flattered though, extremely so – Sandra Pullman is a goddess amongst womankind. She's the only female you've ever met who would be as comfortable downing pints with your friends all night as she would be sitting on the sofa with a romcom in an unflattering nightgown – truly a prize to cherish for any self-respecting gent. She's ballsy and gutsy yet privately vulnerable, sharp-witted, clever and determined with a formidable work ethic, but cultured too, sophisticated... classy. And if you're honest, you're nowhere near pious enough to have never noticed her killer legs, curvaceous physique and those smokey, come-to-bed eyes that have surely made her every lover late for work on many a morning. She's so glorious, in fact, that you can forgive her atrocious cookery – after all, you're more than accomplished enough in the kitchen for the both of you (you've had to be, being alone for as long as you have), and no one's perfect, right?

The first issue is, of course, that you work with her – worse still, she's your superior, and knowing her as you do, there isn't a cat in hell's chance that she won't manipulate that to her advantage the moment friction inevitably occurs. You're also emotionally unavailable – oh, the front's all very well and good, and charm oozes from your every pore when you want it to, but just behind the wall lurks loneliness, a hurricane of negativity – and hell, you've resigned yourself to it, really. It's definitely for the best and certainly the right choice, no matter how bitter the fact makes you – you're too old for woman. Far, FAR too bloody old... and all the good ones have long since gone anyway. All this doesn't matter though, because there's afar greater issue – she's your friend. Naturally you flirt, have a laugh, share alcohol, confide things in one another that neither of you would tell another living soul – in fact, maybe you're a bit too close – but none of that means you can ever reciprocate her affection. You can absolutely understand how someone could fall for her, but that someone isn't you.

You stare at her and wonder what the hell makes you so special. You're grumpy, cynical and overly opinionated, not to mention completely past it, so over the hill you're four Everests away – yet you possess the adoration of a truly remarkable woman. Why you? You're not even attractive! Not any more at any rate, and you're not sure you ever were anyway – although enough woman have disagreed with that over the decades. You're far older than her, far less unique, of questionable morals – but it isn't any of that that makes you the flame to her moth, you know. She loves you because you've unconsciously allowed her to, and some detective that makes you, you acknowledge bitterly. Beneath the acid tongue and the mile-thick armour, you've got a heart of gold, and your passion and camaraderie transcends the generally agreed parameters of friendship. You like a chat, a good time, a pint and spending times with mates as much as the next bloke, but you're the sort who'll foot the bar tab all night, drive everyone home, sober as a judge, and then ring them to see if they need a lift to work the next morning. You'll help others when no one else would bother, even though your own rose-tinted specs have long since smashed, because you're a good bloke, and that's what she treasures above all else – loyalty, and you have it in spades.

But you can't change the way you feel, however devastating she finds it, and surely she knows that it's unrequited – she's an excellent copper, and it's surely why she's never told you before in years of working in the same team. It's only now that she's had a few too many glasses of wine, and your colleagues have long since departed for home, that her misplaced confidence has risen from the grassroots. You delve into her gaze, and you see that she already knows the ugly truth – her eyes water, shine with a resigned grief, and god you love her, but not like that, and you're so sorry that it isn't what she wants, but she'll find someone better, you know – she'll move on and be happy, and no one deserves that more than her. You're too old, and so unworthy anyway.

You hate yourself for it, you acknowledge as you clasp her hand and prepare to let her down as gently as you can, and you know you'll never get a better opportunity with a better woman for the rest of your life... but it doesn't matter. You've already had the best chance, and you damn well took it. As long as your friendship survives, everything else will work itself out, and you hope to all that's holy that it will.

You both steel yourself as you speak the words you've both known you'll say all along.

"I'm sorry, Sandra," you whisper, your tone soft and placatory, and you try not to cry as you meet her gutted stare, "but I'm still in love with Mary."