"You really haven't told anyone," Ziggurat Hachi , better known as Ziggy, observed as he watched me. "Told them what, old man?" I asked, although I was pretty sure I knew exactly what the old man meant. Since I was pretending I hadn't the foggiest clue what he meant, I continued cleaning my prized antique guns as though I didn't have a care in the world. "That you sent her away, telling her that you weren't the man she believed you were and you couldn't ever become him." I had to look up from the guns to see his face. Despite his words, his expression seemed remarkably neutral. I knew better than to take that at face value, though: Ziggy was just as attached to Momo Mizrahi was to him, and she had a soft spot for him and believed he could do no wrong. "I take it she told you?" The blond man nodded slowly. "Yeah, she told me -while in tears as I escorted her back to Juli and Joachim." "Damn it!" I looked back to the guns to cover the hurt brewing in my heart. Ziggy was frequently annoyingly over-perceptive, especially when he had evidence something was wrong –and Momo's tears as she returned back to her parents were nothing if not evidence that something was wrong. "I never wanted to hurt her." "We rarely intend to hurt the people we love. It's just not how we're made," Ziggy replied. Although the words sounded heartfelt, I still felt like the bodyguard had offered me a trite and empty platitude. "Are you sure about that? It seems to me that we know exactly where to hit to hurt them the most." That voice! The sound was musical and oh, so very familiar to me –although I'd never heard it carry that particular edge to it. Turning, I caught sight of the only person who could make me smile even when I felt like total slime. She looked as lovely as ever, but her voice and her frown easily gave away the fact that something was wrong, especially to me, because I knew what each of her expressions masked. "Shion! This is a surprise," I greeted, standing abruptly and pulling back from the table to walk toward her. "Shelley thought you'd be here. I hope you don't mind." Her voice was soft but I could feel the genuine affection. "Why would I mind? It's been too long since I've seen you," I told her, wrapping my arms around her briefly. Looking at her face, I slowly withdrew. "How have you been?" "Oh, I've been better," she told me ruefully. It wasn't exactly an answer, but she pretended it was and pressed forward. "How about you, Rubedo? How have you been?" I didn't like that she'd practically leapt at the opportunity to change the subject away from herself instead of answering the question I'd posed. It was a bad sign, indeed. "What happened, Shion? What did that idiot do?" As anyone who knew them could tell, the 'idiot' in question was her husband Allen Ridgeley. During the few short years the pair had actually been married, I had quite honestly been waiting for him to screw it all up. He simply wasn't a strong enough man to make a woman like Shion happy. It wasn't a matter of physical strength, more of strength of personality. Allen may have been two-percent brave, but that still made him ninety-eight-percent wuss. He was too weak to stand on his own, too weak to protect anyone, and too weak to cause his beautiful wife to do anything but resent him, although I wasn't sure she even realized it. What Shion needed was a man capable of standing beside her and supporting her when she needed it, someone who was strong enough to not lose himself to her. Someone a lot like my brother Negredo or her brother Jinn. Allen was not and had never been that man. "He feels like I 'completely shut him out', and he's afraid of me getting passionate about anything." She shook her head. "Whatever. My marriage is over, so I should just forget the whole mess that the damn thing became." Ziggy had silently disappeared somewhere before the conversation had gotten this deep and I was glad of it. He was an old friend to both of us, but the bodyguard certainly knew just when to disappear. Shion was a very private person. Usually, when it came to having any troubles, she would only bring them to me. We had a weird symbiotic relationship when it came to anything that troubled us. It was our refusal to share them with anyone else that had brought us together in the first place. We didn't like to burden others with our trouble, though we both tended to be the ones the others had come to for help and advice. Since we were so similar, we found that we could share our troubles with each other, which prompted none of the guilt that we were pretty much swimming in at that point. It was how we'd become such close, intimate friends: we saw a side of each other that we carefully hid from the world. Somewhere along the line, it finally hit me that the first thing she'd said about her troubles could be taken to mean that their relationship problems had followed them into the bedroom. I really hoped she hadn't mean that literally, but I had a feeling that she'd said exactly what she meant. "Whoa, whoa. What do you mean you marriage is over?" I demanded, her last sentence finally permeating my brain. Her beautiful face twisted into an expression that I'd never seen her wear before, but instinctively, I knew exactly what it was: disgust. "He's terrified of me and too spineless to admit that or the fact that he cheated on several occasions. I'm really surprised he didn't take the 'separate bedrooms' hint and split six months ago!" This woman was all fire and vigor, with soft cinnamon hair that framed her face in gentle waves, pert pink lips that seemed to beg any man with a pulse to place kiss after kiss upon them, and brilliant emerald eyes that seemed to see right through you. On the best of days, I had trouble keeping my eyes off her. On the worst days, I had trouble keeping my hands off of her. Today, she wore a simple white cotton sundress that hugged all of the right curves and clung to her slender waist. She was a damn attractive woman. Allen was the biggest fucking fool ever born. It was funny. I'd always known that Shion was incredibly attractive, had always known I wanted her. Yet it had been only recently, while my failing relationship limped through its final leg, that I had realized that I adored the certain perks that came with our particular friendship. I knew her better than anyone else alive, including Jinn who had raised her. I was also the only one she allowed to spoil her. In my heart –and, perhaps, with my libido– I desired more and more to monopolize her time, to keep her beside me as an equal, and to care for her and spoil her as I had been unable to stop myself from doing. Yet already, I had a lot of her –a lot more than anyone else had the chance to see. Already, I knew that I wanted her desperately, but there are some things in live that you have to take slowly. Easing a broken-hearted woman into a passionate love affair should be one of them. So despite the fact I wanted to kiss those tempting lips, I managed to divert my attention and drop a kiss on her cheek. "C'mon," I urged her, offering her a slight smile. "There's a nice bar her that is calling out your name." A sensuous curve of her lips nearly made me tremble. "I do like the sound of that. Do you have time to join me?" I took a minute to think about it. Negredo and I were supposed to have a business dinner, but my younger brother certainly didn't need me there: he was much better as schmoozing than I was. Fishing around in my pockets until I found my phone, I pulled it out and tapped out a message to my brother. "I won't be able to make the deal tonight. If you could take care of it with your usual efficiency, that would be wonderful. Sorry. Shion needs me tonight. I'll make it up to you later." As I tapped 'send', I tried to imagine how my message would be received. Negredo would probably be huffing in indignation and muttering something about me being too lazy under his breath, but he was also aware that there were things in life that were much more important than business. He would understand that tonight, it was more important that I was with Shion. Putting the phone away, I looked back up at her. "Of course I can, Shion. For you, I have all the time in the world." A tinge of pink rose to crown her cheekbones. "Thanks," she told me softly. "I think I needed to hear that." I couldn't help but think about how lovely she looked that way. After a moment of sober silence from both of us and an unprecedented surge of heat through my blood, I asked. "So, how 'bout that bar?" "You buying?" she asked jokingly. "Haha, you know it. Your money is no good when you're with me." I gave into the urge to touch, placing a hand on her lower back and gently leading her in the right direction. "Besides, the barkeep loves the ladies. Tony wouldn't let you pay even if he walked away with no pay for the month!" She laughed and relaxed a bit. "So what's the name of this bar?" "Elsa. I think it's named after a particular lady-friend of the owner, or something along those lines." Her laugher came out again, light and happy. "Probably the little sister he wouldn't let date for the fear of men like him." Internally, I winced. That remark was a little too close to home for Shion, and it surprised me that she'd made it. "Ah, I don't know. The bar has a certain charm, though. Almost like old-Earth bars were supposed to be: dark, smoky, and a little noisy with a nosey bartender that's always willing to talk to the customers." When we reached Elsa, I opened the door for her. Shion gave me a soft smile and walked into the building. I followed close behind. The bartender grinned when he saw me. "Hey there, Mister Kukai. Who's your lovely friend?" Tony greeted. "Tony, this is Shion Uzuki. Shion, this is Tony, the overly flirty bartender." I chuckled before leaning over to stage-whisper to Tony, "I've already warned her about you, Tony." Tony, of course, pouted. "Jeez. You spoil my fun," he told me, sticking his tongue out at me with all of the maturity of a small child. Shion giggled like a school girl. "I don't know if he meant it that way, Tony. Maybe he was just warning me not to take it all to heart." Tony perked up instantly. After all, he did love being able to flirt and not have it taken seriously. "What can I get you two to drink?" "Bourbon, on the rocks," Shion responded after taking an instant to think. "Same," I told him, smiling. Shion and I always had the same taste in drinks, after all He nodded and pulled two tumblers up from under the bar and began preparing our drinks. There were only three things in life that Tony took seriously: women, drinks, and money. Lucky for us, it wasn't always in that order. When he slid the beverages across the bar, his cocky smile was back in place. "So what brings a lovely woman like yourself to a place like this?" he asked her. She downed half her drink before responding. She held up her left had so he could see the ring that was still there. "Broken marriage vows, being unwanted in my own marriage, and, of course, a great friend," she added, offering me a small smile afterward. "Ah, so great friends know when to medicate the pain with booze, chocolate, and romantic movies?" Tony asked jokingly. "Whoa, now. I'm on board for the booze and the chocolate, but I do draw the line at romantic movies, even with a childhood friend," I told her, laughter dancing in my eyes. "Music, I do. Romantic movies? Not so much." She wrinkled her nose. "Then it's probably a good thing I don't like romantic films for the sake of the romance, huh." Unable to resist, I kissed her nose. "Yep. You'd have to watch them on your own –or con Negredo into it." She blushed and laughed. "Negredo taking time to watch romantic movies with me? I don't see it happening." I smiled. "Oh, I swear he watches them on his own, sometimes! He was always a romantic. When we were younger, he was one of those people who like 'the romance' of dating. And weddings. I've never seen him cry more than at a wedding." "I… I can't picture it!" Shion exclaimed, giggling. The way Tony was blinking, I was pretty sure he couldn't believe it either, but it was true. My brother was an incurable closet romantic, besides being an incredibly solitary creature. It was an odd combination to be certain. When the laughter faded away, she took a sip of her drink and eyed me. "So, you'll listen to all of those dignity-free love songs with me?" I smiled. "Nope. Break-up songs are totally the way to go. More dignity, more 'screw you', and more amusement for all involved. In fact, I just found one in the archives that I'm sure you'll love." Laugher danced in her eyes. "Did you, now. What's it called?" "Uh… 'Pray for You'. Trust me, with the things he's wishing on his ex, prayer's the only way to survive it." I touched her arm. "Sounds kinda like your situation, huh?" "Only a little. I hope you've got more from the archives than that," she added with an impish smile. I smiled back. "You bet."