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It was not surprising to Abe that Tationy worked diligently to make certain everything was in order for his mothers funeral. As she walked into Goki’s house and stopped just short of him she sighed, “So, sorry I am late.”

“Where is Hiko?”

She tilted her head and offered a somewhat meek smile, “He has to work. Offers his apologizes for not being able to attend and his condolences. I informed him you did not like such things and he told me to…offer them anyway because it would piss you off.”

Abe growled under his breath, “That guy. How fucking irritating.”

Tationy laughed softly, “The two of you will never change.”

Abe understood that the reason Tationy did not offer some fake response from Hiko was because there was no way Abe would believe it. These two guys were like oil and water, they did not mix, but they did have one thing in common and she was standing before Abe. He examined her thoughtfully as he took her hand, “Are you alright?”

“Of course, I am fine. Don’t I look fine?” Even as she asked the question she had an odd look upon her face which told Abe she was anything, but fine.

“Not really. I hate it when you start fussing over other people because you forget all about yourself. We are not going to have a repeat are we?”

“Don’t be silly. I am going to go upstairs and freshen up and then we can head to the cemetery.” She passed Abe and smiled at Goki, “Hello Goki.”

With a single nod of acknowledgement both young men watched her disappear from sight.

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With coffee cup in hand Goki spoke quietly, “Maybe you should tell that boyfriend of hers.”

“Someone like him cannot see beyond his own little world to even notice, but you are probably right. If something happens I would never forgive myself if I went without informing him. The last time…” Abe halted his words a moment, “I was just lucky you found her.”

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Definition: Kita – Famous Author in Aslann from the Hamara Clan. He is known for his works of love, especially his poetry.

Abe noticed that Goki seemed pensive, perhaps remembering that day. What Abe recalled most was that she had asked him to blow off baseball practice. It should have been a big neon sign for him, but he didn’t see it. She had never been the type of girl that asked him to skip out on anything. Not once in the entire time they knew each other. In fact, often enough it was her who was pushing him to stay on task. That one day, she had asked him to come to the park with her. They could cuddle and kiss, read the works of Kita, and enjoy each other, and Abe told her no.

Normally after baseball practice he would always find her waiting for him, but this day was different. For an hour he looked all over the school grounds for her and even enlisted Goki, Baito, Sadoo, and Otoha to help. Eventually, Goki found her at that same little picnic spot she had asked him to go with her to; unconscious and her body was cold. By the time she woke up in the hospital, she was not even certain how many days had lapsed. Only really being able to recall that she felt dizzy and nothing after that.

There were several long moments of quiet contemplation before Goki finally spoke, “Regardless of how you feel about him, he should be made aware. Tationy is stubborn and will keep it hidden from him as long as she can. If you want I can tell him. I have a meeting with Zen Kari tomorrow about some new promotional images for the Kari Foundation. Her guy is probably pretty busy, but I could…”

Abe cut Goki off, “No, I will talk with Hiko.” After a drawn out pause he asked, “Were you going to tell me you got hired by the Kari Foundation?”

Humbly Goki shrugged his shoulders as he responded, “I had an interview with them, but honestly they did not seem all that interested in my portfolio. I had not even thought about it for weeks and then out of the blue, I got a call from Zen Kari from their design department. He said he saw my work, liked it, and I should come in and talk business with him. Getting it would be a huge boost to my career. It would open so many doors, but until things are set in stone I had not intended to say anything.”

Abe breathed through his teeth as he responded, “Tch, you are always like this.”

Goki sighed, “As much as I would like to hope for the best, I am acutely aware of how well that turns out. So, I did not want to say anything until I was certain.”

“Seriously, you should have told me.”

The soft laugh of Tationy pulled their attention, “So, this is what an old married couple sounds like. No time to stand around Mr. and Mrs. Sosa or is it Arai?”

“Not funny,” Abe responded.

“I am just calling it like I see it.”

“Well, then you need your eyes and ears checked,” Goki responded glibly.

Abe chuckled, “Look at that, our little Goki is making jokes now. Remember when he first came to Aslann and he was that brooding guy always standing off by himself?”

“He is still that guy,” Tationy stated.

The only response from Goki was a wrinkle of his nose as he tried to hide a subtle laugh. With the room falling silent, the three stared at each other. Abe was reminded that this was going to be a long day and had to force himself to actually take that unwelcome step toward the exit after all he could not be late for his own mothers funeral.

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At least an hour and a half later, there was a heaviness as he sat next to his father his mind wandering to all of the things he should have said to the woman that gave him life. The internment of his mother Emi was what you would expect from a family such as the Sosa. The cemetery was packed with people, not even enough chairs for everyone to sit. Outside the gated fences, paparazzi and reporters clamoring to get pictures.

Tomorrow’s headline, would read something about the death of his mother as though she was nothing more than a name to sell newspapers. If Abe was truthful, this ceremony was not about celebrating the life of Emi Sosa, but the death of the Sosa clan.

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After the final words were spoken and people began to offer condolences, Abe was ready to bail. Tationy, kept telling him to hang in there. Just a bit longer, but by the time the majority of the people had departed he was so tired of hearing people say we are sorry for your loss. He groaned when his father and Tationy’s mother approached them. Truthfully, Abe was surprised that Emitoya showed up, let alone stuck around as long as he did. Somehow he figured it had more to do with Tationy’s mother, Chilè Yamada.

“Abe,” Chilè spoke, “Emi was a lovely woman and she would be so proud of you.”

Those words coming from that woman almost made him laugh. It was not as though she ever cared a single bit about his mother and Abe understood that her polished words were not for him, but for appearances. Glancing toward Tationy he could see the hurt upon her face because her mother had never spoken so warmly her entire life. The moment made him noticeably tense, but he somehow managed the words, “Thank you for coming, Miss Yamada.”

Not surprising his father had yet to speak, “We, your father and I, have some things that we would like to discuss with you and Tationy. I know today is probably not the best day, but it is important. If you would please stop by my mother’s estate after you finish up here.”

What was this about? Abe frowned as he looked toward Tationy who simply shrugged her shoulders, “Sure, we can for a little bit.”

“Good, we will see you shortly,” She remarked as the two departed together.

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“Is it just me or is something really fucked up about to happen?”

Tationy managed an awkward smile and a nervous laugh, “I am sure we are going to regret going there.”

Not for a moment did he doubt her words; sighing as he responded, “Alright, let’s find Goki and let him know that we can catch up to him later. Is it alright to walk to your grandmother’s house? I just…want some time before that feeling of wanting to kill someone takes over.”

She chuckled,”Yes, that would be nice.” Tationy understood that dealing with his father was not something Abe wanted to ever do. They barely spoke and when they did, Abe was left feeling worse about himself. Couple that with Tationy’s mother and he was certain the two of them were going to walk away from the conversation emotionally battered. The quiet pause was broken when Tationy added, “I think Goki is talking with Sadoo and Otoha near the entrance at least he was the last time I saw him.”

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“Let’s get out of here then,” Abe responded as the two turned and came face-to-face with the last person he wanted to see. It was not surprising she had come after all her parents were friends with the Sosa, but still if he could have gotten out of seeing her he would have.

“Tationy,  can Abe and I have a moment.”

“Sure,” Tationy spoke, but Abe stopped her movement by grabbing her hand.

“Anything you have to say to me you can say in front of Tat.”

Tsubaki seemed hurt and surprised by his words, but somehow managed to say, “Alright.” There was a tension filled moment which Abe assumed was her gathering her courage to say whatever she wanted to say, “Why didn’t you call me back? I left you a bunch of messages and I never got even a text. I ended things like you told me to, but…” Tsubaki paused, “Are you and Tationy back together? Did you forgive him?”

Tationy glanced toward Abe. He did not even need to hear her speak to understand that she did not like being put in the middle of this. “We don’t have anything to say to each other, Tsubaki. I didn’t call you back because I didn’t want to. Am I suppose to be happy that you broke it off with that guy? Let’s be honest, you only did it because I told you to and not because you wanted to. If I told you right now to go fuck my father, you would do it.”

“Abe…” Tationy said his name, “Don’t be so rough with her.”

Abe took a breath, “Fine, I will say it this way. I didn’t call you back because you and I are exactly the same. We fuck people for validation. The only difference between us is that people hate me for what I do and people turn you into a victim being taken advantage of by some man. I can’t do this with you anymore Tsubaki. Somewhere, somehow, I stopped looking at you as someone I care about and started seeing you as just another hole and the sad part of it is, you saw yourself that way long before I did.”

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She was fidgeting with her fingers as she stared at the two of them. Abe was not certain what to make of the blank look until she asked, “I don’t understand. Didn’t I do everything you wanted? Everything you liked? Why is she more important than I am?”

He had asked the same question of Kuro and the answer he got pissed him off. He was told that Sadamitsu and Hiko were not more important than he was, but the truth was Kuro’s words were a lie. Every moment of their relationship Abe was tossed aside for Sadamitsu and Hiko; truth was, it had less to do with the Anami boy and more to do with the Kari. Kuro had told him that he was in love with Hiko. Abe could hardly blame the guy because in the beginning of their relationship, he was in love with Tat. At the time, they were just keeping each other company and at some point Abe started to picture that unusual looking Ishi at his side, “Abe, tell her the truth.”

Tsubaki’s voice cracked as she asked, “What is the truth?”

Abe did not want to have this conversation. Sighing he responded, “I met someone after Tationy and I broke-up, while you and I were fucking around.”

“Are you in love with her?”

“Him…I think I might be in love with him.”

“Oh, my….” The emotion that hit her was sudden as she turned around swiftly, “I need to get going, my parents are waiting for me.” Frantically she spoke, “So sorry about your mother.”

Silently he watched as she hurried away and Abe asked, “Was it really necessary for me to tell her that?”

“The two of you have linked paths Abe. Don’t pretend you did not hear me the other day say as much to Hiko. There is no point in lying to her. All that does is hinder both of you from moving forward.”

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Squeezing her hand the two began to walk, “I really do not understand how it is that I am linked to her instead of you.”

“The people that help us grow are the ones we are linked the strongest to.” She paused a moment before asking, “How did you feel when you looked upon her face?”



He hated that he knew the answer, “When I look at her, I see everything I hate about myself reflected back at me. She doesn’t see that though. Tsubaki just looks at me with stars in her eyes like we are going to live happily ever after. Which I am guessing is why you told me to tell her the truth.”

“As hard as it is, she is the one person you need to be honest with. If you are not she will continue to do as she always does and look to you for her own validation. I know you do not want to, but you should talk with her and maybe it would be a wise decision to take Goki with you.”

“Why not you?”

“Having me there will make it difficult for the two of you to be honest with each other because Tsubaki is jealous of me. She thinks I have what she wants. Goki is better suited to keep you both out of trouble. However, she is not the only one you need to stop avoiding.”

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One would think, Abe would be used to lectures from Tationy. It felt like it had been forever since she “slapped his hand” and corrected his behavior. Sighing as he looked at himself in the mirror, having stopped to use the bathroom at the seminary just down the road from Tationy’s grandmother’s house, he was reminded that he needed to take moments to collect himself.

Days like these usually dragged endlessly and he was sharply reminded by the truth in that thought as he heard a familiar voice say, “Gotten taller, I see.” As he whipped around suddenly he had little time to maneuver in the small bathroom, due to the sluggishness of his mind. This was the worst. With the distance closed between them, Abe resisted the best he could by pushing against the considerably older man’s chest, “My baby bird is trembling.”

There was history between these men which started a couple of years ago. Back then Abe was fourteen and stealing alcohol from his fathers liqueur cabinet. It was not as though Emitoya Sosa was going to notice if a few bottles were missing, especially with how much he drank. One night, his father had company and they were having a party. Truth was, it was not really a party more a menage a trois between his father, Chilè Yamada, and this man before him Yuudai Waichia.

He swallowed as he tried to speak, “There are people waiting on me.”

“We can make it quick.” Pushing harder upon the man’s chest only elicited a boisterous laugh, “When you fight me, I still get so turned on.” With hot breath along his ear Yuudai whispered, “Come on baby bird.”

Abe’s knees buckled. The power of the Waichia, very few clans could resist it especially from a man like Yuudai who was considered quite adept. Just hearing his voice made Abe want to drop his pants, bend over, and allow Yuudai to ride him raw. The sad truth of the matter was, it would not be the first time Abe was unable to resist him.

On the floor of his father’s estate, this man took him. Abe was barely conscious and liquored up, but Yuudai used his power over the mind to make sure that Abe felt and remembered every little bit of it. Without even touching someone, the Waichia could make you lose complete control. To this man though, it was not nearly as much fun being hands-off.

Trying to resist, “I have to go.”

“If you want to leave you can, but maybe I will have some fun with that little redheaded girlfriend of yours; Chilè‘s daughter is it?” Not even a second to protest as the sound of a toilet being flushed echoed in the small bathroom. Abe was almost thankful, certainly Yuudai would not do anything foolish when someone else was around. Of course it would be an easy matter to make the mystery man forget. All Abe needed was an opportunity to escape and hopefully the stranger behind the stall door would provide one.

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Unfortunately, his knees weakened further when he saw who it was and the tension was not lost on Yuudai, “The baby bird has a boyfriend.” With those words Yuudai relinquished his hold on Abe. He had not intended to stand next to Kuro, but before he could leave the room he was yanked toward him. Almost protectively, Kuro stood in front of him and to say Abe was confused would be a massive understatement. “A baby snake, how adorable.”

“Be careful,” Abe whispered.

Kuro did not offer a single response as he stared-down Yuudai. There were no words to describe the thickness of the tension; oppressive, smothering, such words would never do it justice and yet neither man said a single word for the longest of time. Abe had heard stories from Tationy about historical Aslann and how two warriors would pose to fight and stand gauging each other for sometimes hours and even days. Essentially battling each other in their minds before they even drew their weapons. He had never really been the patient sort so he could not entirely understand what type of warriors those were, until he stood awkwardly in that bathroom with the Waichia and Ishi. Finally, Kuro’s deep voice boomed, “Oh, is that the best you can come up with?”

“Are you challenging me, baby snake?”

“Don’t make a scene, his family controls the money in Aslann,” Abe responded quietly.

Kuro spoke after a moment completely ignoring Abe’s words, “To quote the most difficult person I know, I’m making a scene.”

Yuudai chuckled, “A snake with bite, I accept your challenge. Let’s see if the empire the Ishi have built can withstand the might of the Waichia. I hope the baby bird is worth your family fortune.” That tension still lingered long after Yuudai had wandered out of the bathroom.

Abe wanted to yell at Kuro and tell him how foolish he was for inciting the Lord of the Wiachia, but by the time he worked up his courage to speak Kuro had responded first, “Let’s step outside and talk.”

“I don’t really have the time. Tationy is waiting for me.”

“It won’t take long,” He insisted as the two moved out of the seminary and strolled around the grounds quietly.

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When they finally came to a stop, Abe could feel Kuro’s eyes upon him. He assumed it was probably some judgmental stare, it would not be the first one given to him. Uncertain what there was to talk about he simply waited for Kuro to speak, “For now, I am not going to ask what that was in the bathroom. I want you to understand, I am not pretending it did not happen, I am simply choosing to address it at a later date. I get you are mad. Not returning my calls is pretty petty, but if the discussion you had with Tsubaki is any indication..”

Abe cut him off, “You were listening?”

“Not on purpose.” There was an awkward pause, “You never did answer Tsubaki’s question about Tationy. While I could probably assume the answer is no the two of you seem….closer.”

“Both of you are reading too much into it. I am not the only one experiencing loss at the moment. If we are being honest, Tationy is probably feeling it far more acutely than I am. Perhaps because she has Ishi blood like you, seeing someone lose their mind hits rather close to home. During the worst of my mother’s episodes, Tationy was always right there at my side. Do you understand the toll it takes on someone being so strong all the time? Eventually, your body just gives out and you lose days and weeks of your life. It was my job to take care of her and in the end, Tationy took care of us both.”

Abe hated that silence. Why was it so difficult to say the things that needed to be said? Honestly, he would rather anything be said. Silence was the one thing he hated the most. “I’m confused,” Kuro admitted. “I was not trying to blow you off that day. I know it might have seemed like it, but I just have a lot of stuff going on and have been struggling with my own feelings.”

“For Hiko?”

“At first, but then Tationy arrived to Sofore and I cannot really explain it. I feel like we are connected somehow. Sounds so ridiculous saying it out loud. If it had not been for Semei being interested in her, I would have pursued her. I know that is pretty crappy of me to say considering I got on you about Tsubaki, but I can’t identify this feeling I have when I look at her and it is part of why I pushed you away. I like you a lot. Maybe it is even love, I don’t really know. Committing to you is not possible when I feel like this. That does not mean I do not care.”

Annoyed he breathed through is teeth, “Tch, you have a hell of a way of showing it. Everyone thinks I am the fucked up one, but really it is guys like you. Say all the right things, make people fall for you, then just pull that rug right out from under them. Your confused, fuck you Kuro. Confusion has nothing to do with it, you just don’t want to make up your mind.” Abe took a step stopping only for a moment, “Don’t you dare fucking grab me this time unless you mean it. I am not interested in your halfhearted attempts to hold on to me.”

It was not surprising to Abe that Kuro did not try to even stop him from walking away.

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Even though he should have said something to Tationy, he hurriedly rushed them toward the Yamada estate that once belonged to the matriarch Miso. He just wanted to get this day over with or at the very least, get onto whatever nightmare was next in the rotation.

As they stood in the barren home of Tationy’s grandmother Abe was reminded that he was not the only one that just lost someone. Not long before Tationy came to Sofore Academy the matriarch of the Yamada had passed under suspicious circumstances and the fallout was still being felt among the Yamada. “So,” Tationy’s mother began, “Emitoya and I are going to have a baby.”

Abe imagined that their expressions said it all as he snorted, “Just when I think the two of you cannot do anything more fucked up, you somehow manage to defy my expectations. I do not know if I should feel sorry for the kid and try to be some sort of role model or just say fuck it and write him or her off already.”

“It’s a boy,” Tationy responded softly.

Chilè managed to smile, “That is right, Tationy. I am surprised you were not already aware of our news. I suppose those drugs you dope yourself up with, keep those eyes of yours from functioning one hundred percent. What a waste of a gift. Honestly, Emitoya and I discussed this at great length and the two of you…How should I put this?”

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“Are a great disappointment,” Emitoya stated.

Laughing Abe practically snarled, “Fantastic, so this is what you wanted to tell us? Seriously, if we are fucked up it is because of the two of you.”

“Now this is meant to be a friendly conversation,” Chilè purred as she adjusted the folds of her dress before smiling, “The two of you had so much potential and for whatever reason you destroyed your lives. We are not going to keep trying to fix them for you. When we entered into the betrothal contract we thought the two of you would unite and bring glorious things to the Sosa and the Yamada, but the two of you are so stuck in this looping dysfunction….”

Abe interrupted, “Are you two really this delusional?”

Emitoya snapped, “This is the behavior we are talking about. The lack of respect from the two of you when we have given you everything.”

“It is alright Emitoya, why don’t you step into the other room and check to see if our flight will be leaving on time.”

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As his father left the room, Abe’s eyes settled upon Tationy’s mother. A polished smile adorning her lips, “Let me be frank with the two of you. There is nothing you can say or do at this point, to change our opinions of you. Abe the disgraced son that lays with men and Tationy the imperfect child with so much untapped potential, but she is too afraid to use it. We don’t hate you, we simply choose to see you as nothing. Now, with that said Emitoya and I have decided that we will be leaving Aslann, permanently. More importantly, any personal items you had left behind when you moved into your own places have been …. disposed of. It is nothing personal. I think that is about it, oh yes one last thing.” There was a pause as Chilè‘s eyes settled upon Tationy, “Surprisingly your grandmother did manage to leave you something.”

“I am sure the Waichia you hired to make certain that didn’t happen, got quite an earful.”

Chilè chuckled softly, “Yuudai was disappointed in himself, but it was not entirely unexpected. I thought perhaps, with how strong he is that he would be able to sway the old woman, but truth be told he was incapable of handling that old haggard witch. A mistake on my part, I overestimated his power.” She shrugged her shoulders, “The Yamada are beside themselves and it makes me so happy to know that I was the one that brought down that miserable bitch. If she had not put into place a plan to protect you, we would not be having this conversation. My only regret. Awe well, what are you to do? A mistake on my part and I learned a very valuable lesson.”

Abe was annoyed with each word spoken. It did not surprise him though. This was the way of things in Aslann. When someone wanted power, they took it and sometimes that meant people died. Abe found himself asking, “What lesson is that?

“When you want something done right, do it yourself. Instead of dealing with you when you were young, I thought I could allow others to dispose of the trash. I should have smothered you in your sleep, Tationy.” Flippantly she added, “Unfortunately my opportunity was missed. There is a powerful man protecting you and I will not cross that snake again. Now, leave my house. The two of you are no longer our kin.”

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Cotato – Popular snack food in Aslann made of corn and flour with a variety of fillings. Sometimes called a “pancake” pie, the most popular has an even chocolate spread.

Just as quickly as they arrived they were leaving and would not actually speak to each other until they were at a small nearby convenience store that they knew quite well. Abe had stepped inside briefly, before returning to Tationy. He opened a small container producing a cotato for her, “Eat something.” He knew she hated them, but it was the only thing that looked fresh as he got her a drink from the vending machine and finally joined her at the picnic table. With a sigh he spoke, “I did not think the two of them could jump any further down the rabbit hole. It is amazing we turned out so well.” When she did not laugh he chuckled, “Come on Tat, it is a little funny, despite how fucking irritating it is.”

“It was not entirely unexpected,” Tationy responded quietly. “The two of them have always been about self-preservation. What worries me is what she said about the Ishi.”

“That did seem weird, who do you think she was referring to?”

“I normally would suspect Mikio, but after yesterday I am wondering if she was talking about Soti Tylo. He did look at me rather oddly when I sat with Azu Kari. Certainly, both men have considerable power, but I find it difficult picturing Mikio at ten standing before my mother. My grandmother put this plan, whatever it entails in motion, which would suggest it would have been someone she would have encountered. Soti seems the most logical choice in this matter, but I must wonder why he would take time to protect the bastard child of his son.”

“Chilè never did go into detail about what your grandmother left you. Whatever it is, I bet it irritated the fuck out of your mother.” Abe added, “Honestly though, this is Aslann. One thing we should know by now is people always do things for their own reasons and we might never be aware of the whys. From the sounds of it, your grandmother was right to be concerned. Seriously, those two deserve each other.” He laughed, “If they get married we will be siblings, then what will I do? I can’t fuck my sister.”

He was thankful when he heard the subtle laugh of Tationy, “Abe Sosa, you have done worse.”

“That is probably true.”

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The two of them fell silent and remained that way until Goki arrived to pick them up. The initial ride back to Thacian City was met with few words until Tationy fell asleep in the backseat. “Worried about her?” Goki asked.

“Her mother was brutal. Not like it was different from any other day, but even someone as strong as Tationy is affected when her mother says she should have smothered her while sleeping. Honestly, the two of us knew when we were asked to go that it was going to be just another twist of the knife.”

“So, they just wanted to tell the two of you how greatly you disappointed them?”

“I think that was just for the enjoyment.” Abe paused as he considered the conversation with their parents, “The clans of Aslann are really messed up. I never considered what the death of the Yamada matriarch, Miso would do to Aslann until today. Corruption, violence, politics, power-plays, it was all there hidden in the background. Now, without the power of the Yamada to keep the clans in check it is going to get a lot worse. The Emperor of Aslann is just a figurehead. He appears to his people once or twice every few months. The real power lies with the clans and now they have free-reign to run wild.”

Goki seemed pensive, “Will Tationy’s mother be taking control of the Yamada?”

“Surprisingly no. The two of them have decided to leave Aslann.”

“Really? That seems like it might be a rather rushed decision for them.”

Abe made a thoughtful sound as he responded, “Something does not feel right. If they sense a war is coming the two of them will certainly put distance between them and it. Tationy describes it as self-preservation. They love disrupting the flow of things, but the thought of being caught in the middle might make them cautious. Which would explain why they are leaving. I cannot see them just taking off, especially if Tationy’s mother is really expecting my father’s child. All of Aslann would be watching. The two would get more press than the Emperor’s eightieth birthday. No, I expect there are things going on behind the scenes that people like us will never know about until we get caught in the middle.”

“Great,” Goki exaggerated the word as he added in a slightly sarcastic tone, “I love being caught in the middle of drama.”

“Speaking of…” Abe allowed his words to hang there for a moment, “I need to go and see Tsubaki. I know you have that meeting tomorrow, but would you mind coming with me?”

Laughing Goki responded, “I need to work on my sarcasm apparently.” There was hardly even a moment to comment as Goki added, “My meeting is not until one, so we can do that in the morning if you want. Just so I understand, is my job the one that involves cock-blocking?”

Abe groaned, “Pretty much. Please, do not let me sleep with her.” It was clear by the subtle amount of snickering that Goki seemed to find it amusing.  Abe could not really deny the fact that if someone was not there to stop him, he would probably jump right back into bed with Tsubaki. It was not about attraction or love; perhaps if it was it would be easier to restrain himself. He did not really want to drag Goki into his drama, but Tationy was probably right that he should not go alone. While his friend chuckled lightly, Abe sighed as he allowed his mind to be lost in thought.

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When they arrived to Tationy’s apartment, Goki remained in the car while Abe made certain that Tationy made it into her home. Hiko was already there and Abe tried to not pay too much attention when Tationy kissed her Kari boyfriend on the cheek and quietly disappeared toward the bedroom. The tilt of the man’s head told Abe that he was unhappy about her being brought back so late. He was almost tempted to apologize, but instead stood his ground.

“It has been a really long day and she has not really had anything to eat.” Hiko was just staring at him. Abe sighed, “There is something I want to talk with you about. Well, more something I should tell you actually.”

There was a moment where Hiko did not respond, cigarette hanging between his lips, and a hard stare focused in on Abe. It was clear that Hiko did not like him, but eventually he removed his smoke from between his lips and asked, “What would that be?”

Abe did not hesitate to speak, “I am only telling you this because I am sure she will keep it hidden from you as long as she can.” There was a subtle knit of Hiko’s brows, but Abe did not wait for him to question what he meant. “There was an incident when we attended Aslann High School. I thought she was looking a little pale; hindsight, I guess. Tat kept saying she was fine. Normally after baseball practice she was right there to greet me, but on this day she wasn’t. We searched all over for her and eventually she was found; unconscious and her body was really cold. No idea how long she was like that.” He tried to keep the emotion in check, “She was in the hospital for a week. When she finally woke, the most she remembered was that she felt dizzy. They diagnosed her with anemia and serve exhaustion. I am not going to pretend to like you, but I can’t take care of her if she is here with you. That is your job. Sad truth is, you probably have not even noticed that she is running herself ragged trying to take care of everyone else. Maybe you think that is just how she is or what she needs to do. I don’t know. I will never figure you out, but you need to make sure she is sleeping, eating properly, and taking care of herself otherwise she won’t. She will just keep going until her body gives out.”

Hiko seemed unmoved at least from Abe’s perspective, “Anything else?”

“Yeah, her mother is a real bitch. Tat might need to talk.” As Abe stared at the Kari he was pretty certain the man was waiting for him to leave. With no response offered, Abe turned on his heels and responded, “Tell her I said thanks for today.”

Nothing, not a single response from Hiko Kari until his hand was on the door preparing to leave, “Thank you for telling me.” Abe understood that it took great strength from such a prideful Kari to say those words. So, instead of saying you’re welcome or acknowledging Hiko he opened the door and departed the apartment.

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Most of Abe’s night was spent trying to distract his mind and hanging out with Goki. With everything that had been transpiring he had not taken an opportunity to sit back and absorb it all. He was certain at some point the walls would crumble around him and he would lose it, but as long as he had the will to remain strong he was going to tap into it.

As he stood outside the estate of the Zenaku, he pressed the intercom and got Tsubaki’s father. He seemed insistent that she was not allowed visitors, but eventually he did let Tsubaki come outside after Abe stated that it was important and he would not leave until he talked with her. Certain it had nothing at all to do with his pleas he waited until she appeared at the gate.

“What is it?” She asked as she stared at his face and he nervously rubbed the back of his neck.

This seemed like it would be easier if he was holding Tat’s hand because she had a way of calming him. “About the other day and what I said.” Taking a moment to gather himself he continued, “I want to explain.”

“Really Abe, is it you who wants to explain or did Tationy tell you that you should?”

She was not wrong it had a lot to do with Tat insisting that he be honest with Tsubaki. He did not respond to her question, instead choosing to address why he was there. “We used to be best friends and I enjoyed spending time with you, but the moment we slept with each other we changed our relationship and not for the better. When I look upon you, I see everything I hate about myself and I don’t like it and you shouldn’t either. We both have a lot of pain and we do shit that is fucked up. I didn’t want it to turn out like this Tsubaki. I thought we could fuck and still be friends, but the truth is, we couldn’t. There is nothing I can offer you that will fill that hole in your heart and right now, I do not respect you enough to even like you as a person let alone someone that used to be my friend. If Tat was here she would tell me not to be so rough with my words, but I don’t know how else to say it.”

Quietly she stared at him, “Are you gay?”

“What? No, why would you ask me that?”

“So, does that mean you are bi or something?”

“I guess society might label me that way, but I don’t really….”

Tsubaki interrupted him, “I am not asking for an explanation. Just trying to understand. I never got any hint that you were interested in men and yesterday when you said that, I was so shocked I did not even know what to say. I guess I just don’t understand, why it is that Tationy and whoever that guy is, can touch your heart and I can’t. I get what you are saying, I just don’t really understand it.” She paused awkwardly, “Do you see me as that broken? Am I that ugly to you Abe?”

“Yeah, I do. I can’t fix you. Whatever you think I have to offer you is an illusion. We are both just two really fucked out people that are not healthy for each other. I thought that if I controlled you, it would empower me, but it doesn’t. It takes so much effort just to be happy and very few people make me feel that way without having sex with them. Tat…”

“I get it, you are in love with her.”

“No, I am in love with him…” Did he just say that again? Abe paused a moment as he tried to collect himself, “What I am trying to say is, I don’t have to be anyone other than Abe Sosa when I am with Tat, Goki, and hell even Hiko. As much as that pisses me off saying. With you, I feel like I am constantly having to live up to whatever fantasy you are envisioning. Our self-worth is tied to how people see us and you make me feel like shit all the time because I can’t be whatever it is you want me to be. I am not in love with you.”

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Abe knew that eventually she was going to have something to say. Tsubaki was not some meek little darling; she could get angry. “I let you do whatever you wanted.”

“I know.”

“No, you don’t know Abe. It is my turn to talk. I thought if I did whatever you wanted you would see me. Look to my heart and know my love for you. I got down on my knees, let you fuck me anyway you wanted, even let you watch me be taken by other men. Whatever sick and twisted fantasy you had I indulged and now you are standing before me yet again and telling me that you don’t love me. What is it about Tat and this guy that….reaches your heart, because it certainly is not because they are denying you sex. What do they have that I don’t? Answer me you fucking asshole.”

The words felt bitter and spiteful as he spit them out, “They are not selfish. Regardless of what they want, they always put others before them. People like us, only think of ourselves and we use people, abuse them, and discard them. We don’t even give it a second thought because it is not about other people, it will always be about us. That is what you don’t realize. Honestly Tsubaki, you are probably the most beautiful woman in all of Aslann, but you have an ugly soul and I feel I can say that because mine is ugly as well. Every time you tell me you did whatever I asked is because you want me to validate you. Turn you into a victim held hostage by my whims. I am not going to let you do that to me anymore. If you want to be a victim so bad Tsubaki, you can do it without my help.”

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“Abe,” His body stilled at the sound of Goki’s voice. He could not help wondering if he had somehow crossed a line and Goki was interjecting himself, “It is time to walk away. If you are feeling forced into acts of contrition just to appease her, then the truth of the matter is that no matter how nice or sweet she might appear to be she is a professional victim. I am not saying you are without your own guilt, both of you are pretty messed up, but having heard the two of you back and forth for an hour now I can say this, she is blaming you for every bit of bad behavior she commits and is not taking responsibility for her own actions.”

For only a moment Goki paused before continuing, “I always wondered about how it was the two of you got together. The one thing you were consistent about was that you were not interested in her like that and kept insisting she was the instigator. Women that play victim are often the aggressors. She is holding you emotionally hostage because of your friendship. It would not surprise me if that was why you kept sleeping with her even after you no longer looked at her the same way. While your pathetic attempt to acknowledge how you screwed up and hurt her comes off sloppy and inconsiderate at least you are trying. She has not once done the same. In fact, she keeps pushing it back off on you. Having done what you came here for, I think it is time you walk away and not ever see her again.”

“Stay out of this Goki,” Tsubaki yelled.

There was a moment as Abe stared at the long face of his friend and realized the pained expression was not because he was caught in the middle of the drama, but because he had seen this type of bad behavior before. Was it the girl from his past? No, when Goki mentioned it all those months ago it was not the same sort of heaviness. This was not about Goki and his past, but that of another person. What darkness had Goki witnessed before his arrival to Aslann?

Willing his body he stepped away from the gate and could hear Tsubaki’s panicky pleas, “Abe don’t walk away. We were talking. Let’s work this out. I love you.”

Stopping at the car door Abe hung his head. Tationy called it the famous Abe Sosa apology. It did not happen often, “I am sorry Tsubaki. Goki is right, it is time for me to walk away.” He probably should have told her to take care or offer her some sort of good luck for her future endeavors, but Abe was not really certain what you say to someone when you have that much shared baggage so he climbed into Goki’s vehicle and the two left the Zenaku estate.

As it faded into the distance he felt the emotion overwhelm him as he stared out the window. Why did it all have to come crashing down upon him now? Goki turned the radio up as loud as the two of them could tolerate. Abe understood that Goki was not being insensitive. The weight of everything that had transpired from his mother’s death to the confrontation with his father and Chilè not to mention Yuudai, Kuro, and Tsubaki had hit him with this overwhelming heaviness. He told himself he had to get a grip. His future was as a ballplayer for the Thacian City Rockets and he had no time to dwell in this misery. Still, even as he tried desperately to contain those unwanted emotions he found his mind once again wandering to all of those things he should have said to his mother.

To Be Continued