• She was the first thing I smelled when I woke the next morning. Her sent had permeated the fabric of the sofa I was sleeping on. I tried not the think about how good it was. I sat up and looked around the gloom. Living under a book shop meant that my windows were high up on the walls. It also meant that the sun had to be quite high before it's light decided to enter my apartment. That was on a good day, maybe in midsummer. It was January, I looked at my watch, it was also 07:28, the sun wasn't even up yet.
    I stood and took a step forward, banging my knee on the steel edge of the coffee table. The surface of the table was glass, but it was supported by a steel strut at the centre. Steel beams ran to the edge in three directions, reaching a ring that ran around the circumference. It was this ring that was now the cause of the string of muttered curses that left my mouth. I hobbled to the kitchen, flicking the light switch as I went pass to illuminate the sitting area. I settled into my normal routine of coffee making, stopping several times to put plates and pans back where they belonged. I thought to myself, Mikey has been coming here since I moved in four months ago, and he still doesn't know where to put the god damned plates.
    Sipping coffee back in the living room, I considered what I was going to do today. What I really wanted to do was go for a run. Get out of the apartment. Go somewhere. Do something. But, I knew that wasn't going to happen. I couldn't leave her alone. I looked at my watch again, 08:04. I had time to kill. Josh and Mikey would probably come round at about ten and until then there was nothing I could do but entertain myself with the hard back I had dropped on Mikey the morning before, watch T.V, or continue to my attempt at literature on my laptop (that project wasn't going well, I loved to read so I had thought the writing would be easy...it was not) . Swallowing the rest of my now tepid coffee I stood and meandered back to the kitchen to pour another. Leaving it on the side to cool from something you would need a mouth lined with asbestos to drink to a reasonable temperature. I walked to the bathroom to get a shower. I paused outside my bedroom door, listening. Silence of sleep echoed from the room beyond. I made my feet move into the bathroom, but my mind was standing next to the bed, looking down at her as I had last night. I turned on the shower, hastily got undressed and got in, not waiting for the water to heat up. Instead I let the ice cold water b***h slap my mind back into my skull. I needed to stop thinking like that. For god sake man, show a little self control. I needed to be able to see her as what was was now, not what she used to be. I washed and got out before the water was half way to be warm. I cursed again when I realised that my clothes were in my room. Taking a deep breath I walked out of the bathroom, not hesitating at the door to my bedroom, instead walking straight in. I kept my gaze on my wardrobe, not looking at the bed. I pulled out whatever clothes came to hand first, not looking at the bed, span on my heel, still not looking at the bed and strode out of the room again not looking at the bed.

    Back in the living room I got dressed. It could have been a better set of garments but it would do. I pulled on the black jeans and t-shirt, also black, and went about towelling my hair as I strolled into the kitchen and picked up my now perfectly temperatured coffee.
    I got half way through downing it when my door was impacted by something large and fairly solid. It then swore. I walked over to the door and withdrew the steel cross bar that re-enforced by the three inch steel door. Hey, I'm not paranoid! I just, er... shut up! I have my reasons. I'm what-you-call-it...uh, safety conscious.
    "********, Alex! What the ********? Why do you need that ******** thing?" Mike gestured to the bar in my hands. "The ******** wall is probably easier to break through that that ******** thing-"
    "Exactly" I interjected "and stop ******** swearing"
    "Who do you think is going to try and break in anyway?" this received a stern look from me. I changed the subject to try and avoid an argument. I cant be aresd with yelling this early in the morning. "What are you doing here this early anyway?"
    "I told you I'd come round in the morning-"
    "No you didn't"
    "-so here I am. And yes I did."
    "No you didn't. You said you;d come round 'tomorrow' which is different to-" I looked at my watch "eight-twenty-six in the morning, the sun isn't even in the sky yet."
    "I'm being attentive" he drawled
    "You're being annoying" I countered. He rolled his eyes and shifted his weight to the other foot leaning against my door frame (also steel.)
    "So? Can I please come in?"
    "No," I said bluntly "******** off and come back at a reasonable time, say after dawn"
    "Aw come-" he didn't get to finish the sentence because I shut the door in his face. I'm not a morning person...so sue me.

    An hour and a half later I had a somewhat tidy living room and kitchen. It was still disorganised but at least there was some sort of tidy vibe going on ( I wasn't going to be able to find anything for weeks.) I stood from picking up a coaster on the floor but froze in my actions to replace it on the table when a voice quietly spoke from behind me,
    "You never were that tidy, Alex, I guess some things never change." Her voice was honey, so sweet and smooth, and absolutely sickening after so long without it. I couldn't speak, I was concentrating on controlling my breathing to much to do anything else. I turned slowly, controlling everything in my body, making sure I did nothing I would regret.
    "Your awake." I said, it was about all I could think of to say that wouldn't result in violence. Now that she was awake I found I could look at her face. I started somewhere simple, look at her feet, I told my self. There you go. Now move up, ankles, knees... this proved to be slightly less helpful then I had originally hoped. Sliding my gaze up her body noting for the first time I a long while just how all her...parts, fit together. The shape of her hips... the curve of her waist...I stopped myself and looked at the floor again.
    "Yes. I have to say that I was surprised to find myself anywhere but that ally, but even more surprised to find...this" she gestured to her surroundings.
    "This?" I asked
    "Yes. Erm... you." she looked around, her eyes hovering for just a fraction of a second too long on my coffee mug, a hint of a familiar smile crossed her features but lasted for such a brief amount of time that I was forced to doubt weather it had happened at all. "You moved. I like it."
    "It was necessary after the fire." Silence stretched between us making the air thick. I didn't break it. I needed to see what she would do next. She coughed awkwardly, she never did like awkward silences.
    "Umm. Do you think I could-"
    "Down the hall opposite the bedroom." I cut her off with the answer.
    "Thank you." she said as she turned away. I watched her walk, it wasn't a long walk but it was enough to see that she wasn't prowling with her usually cat-like grace. She was in pain. Good. I thought, then found myself regretting the sadistic thought. I didn't know why. Old habits I guess.

    I hadn't moved in five minutes. I was still standing there listening to the sound of water running in the shower. What had I expected when she had woken up? I hadn't been ready for anything. I had only just got use to the fact that she was still alive and in my room sleeping off an encounter that should have left her dying in an alleyway if I hadn't come along. I hadn't even though of how I was going to react, or what I was going to say when she awoke. Damn. I really should have. What else had I not thought of? I turned to my sofa and sat (and I use the term 'sat' lightly as I basically fell face first). I rubbed my eyes. Shitshitshitshitshitshitshitgoddamn! My silent fuming was halted be the sound of my front door opening. Looking up I found Josh grinning at me with Mikey trailing several feet behind looking sheepish and fearfull that our earlyer encounter was too be repeted. Josh's grin faded as he saw me. "What happened?" he asked. I didn't say anything. I let the sound of the shower tell them the story.
    "Oh," he said, "s**t".

    Yeah, I thought, s**t was right. This was not going to go well. I closed my eyes for a second clearing my mind. I needed to be able to think straight so that I could at least pretend to have a clue about what I was doing.
    "Ok," I said standing, "this isn't going to go away just sitting around. Anyone want coffee?"
    "Coz coffee is the answer to everything, right Alex?" laughed Mikey
    "Damn straight" I said walking onto the kitchen. Josh followed me dropping his coat onto the arm of the chair on his way past.
    "So," he said quietly as he came in picking a mug from the cupboard, "you have no idea what your doing, do you?". I paused in pouring the coffee and looked at him. There was no point lying, I could of course, and it might be reassuring to hear that I had everything under control and I knew exactly what I was doing, but it wasn't how we worked. I wouldn't lie.
    "No." I said in the same quiet tone "I have no idea."
    "It cant be that bad," he said "I mean everyone's had bad break ups and sure it's awkward as hell the first time you see them after but its not the end of the world." my mind went blank for a full five seconds before I realise that that was what Chris had told them. I couldn't help it, I laughed. Oh god, it was kind of funny.
    "What?" asked Josh.
    I composed myself enough to ask "What exactly did Chris tell you?"
    "Umm, that before you moved here you and her were together for a couple of years, but it ended...badly."
    "It ended....badly. Well, I guess you could say that." Badly would have been bliss. Badly wouldn't have been fatally. We went back into the living room and sat down. I had to move Mikey's and Josh's coats so I could sit. I picked them both up only to have a black lace thong with a pink satin hem land on my floor. I looked at both of them.
    "Hey, don't look at me!" Josh said. Oh, great, that would mean... I sighed.
    "Mikey....?" he face went lightish red but there was a ton of arrogant pride for it to hide behind.
    "Oh, sorry Alex" he said picking them up and putting the in the pocket from which they had fallen from. For ******** sake, this just meant that at some point there was going to be another ego-boosting story. I didn't say anything. Silence ruled for a few seconds as he put the coat on the hooks my front door. I sighed and turned to sit back of the sofa.
    I do believe that I swallowed my tongue as I turned I saw a bruised and battered and towel clad figure standing exactly where she had been before her shower. I swallowed. My mouth had not filled with saliva. It had not. Just because she was standing there still pretty much dripping wet, and dressed in a towel, with her hair all over the place like that... she spoke and interrupted my train of thought.
    "Umm, Alex, could I speak to you a minute?" she asked, very quietly. I was about to compile as she had used that line of me before with very... pleasant results, but I remembered just why she was here.
    "No." I said, thanking every god I knew that I had managed to regain control over my mouth. "What ever you have to say you can say in front of everyone."
    She flushed a deep red. "oh...o-ok. Um, I was just wondering if I could um... borrow some, uh," she coughed and flushed even deeper red almost crimson. " some underwear. Those guys last night must have taken mine." her voice was only a harirs bredth above a whisper but it was still the loudest thing in the room.
    "Uh, yeah, sure." a large part of my mind started screaming at me. I hadn't wanted her in my bed and now she was asking for my underwear! Oh hell no! A smaller part of my mind wanted to find the people who had taken hers and rip things away from bodies and shove other things into them. As I've said, old habits.

    I handed her a pair of underwear and started to leave the room when she said. " its a shame, I liked what I was wearing yesterday. They were the ones you gave me... you know the black ones."
    Time stopped. I went very cold, my body had already realised what it had taken my mind seconds to conceive. I didn't make the conscious decision to move and I don' remember entering the living room but once I had I knew exactly what I was going to do.

    Black lace thong. Pink hem. Yeah I had a ******** good hunch who had taken my girls underwear. I grabbed Mikey by the front of his shirt and pulled him to his feet. Pushing him away from me just enough to give my self room to impact his jaw with my right hook.
    "You sick ********!" I growled I was going to kill him. The self righteous b*****d.
    "Alex! What the ******** man!" he screamed. A front kick to the diaphragm was his answer, I collapsed forward but I caught him before he hit the floor and kneed him in the stomach and again in the balls. Josh pulled me off the d**k before I could do anything else and Mikey collapsed to the floor gasping. I tried to spin from Josh's grip but he dint release me. Trapping my arms to my body I could have taken his legs out but he wasn't who I wanted to hurt.
    "Stop, now." he said. " Alex. ******** listen to me and stop." I tried. I really did. But I couldn't. He tightened his grip around my ribs until I could breath. He may me shorter than me but when it came down to it he beat me on brute strength. I had more training but when someone is crushing your ribs you do what your told. I forced my body to stop moving with everything I had in me. He relaxed his grip but didn't let go.
    "Talk," he demanded "what happened?" Just trying to verbalise what Mikey had done my breathing became ragged. I took control and after several seconds I managed
    "He took her thong. Black, pink hem. The one I gave her. He stole it when he put her in my room." Josh's grip strengthened as I tried to break free again, and this time I did consider taking his legs out just so I could get to the piece of s**t on my floor.
    "Stop!" it was a command. It was not something I was used to getting. It was something that spoke to the part of me that had been brought up in the military. I stopped. Taking a step back and pulling me with him Josh said, "That's enough."
    There was a sound from my floor.
    "S'not like I did anything to her." it gasped.
    "you took her underwear you sick perv." came the reply form Josh.
    Hysterical laughter was the response. Huh. "You should be proud of me. The b***h was begging for it, the whore. Alex this, Alex that. Not my fault." he had managed to stand, well half stand holding his torso and groin. So it was only logical that Josh slammed the cockbites face through my glass coffee table.
    Wait... what now?
    One second I was being held, the next Josh had the back of Mikey's head and was slamming his face through my coffee table. The glass shattered and Mikey collapsed again onto the floor unconscious. There were cuts on his face where the glass had shattered. And a purple line of instant bruising where his throat had hit the steel band that ran around the out side of the table.
    "********." I said, impressed. That was not something I had been ready for from Josh. Josh the pacifist. Josh the guys who cooks bacon in a wok. Josh. Whoa. I could help a smile forming on my face.
    A sound from behind me made me turn around.
    "He took my underwear?" dressed in my jeans and a t-shirt Evie stood in the same damn spot. Could she only walk to that spot of something? God!
    "yeah." I said.
    "Oh. Thanks."
    In the silent seconds that followed I realised just how pissed I was that Mikey had done what he'd done. I looked down at him. Why was I so pissed. It's not like she was still mine. In fact she was someone who I really and truly did hate. She had caused me pain beyond what I had thought I could feel. I hated her. I despised her. But I still couldn't stand the thought of anyone else touching her. I couldn't think. I walked to the kitchen stepping over the fallen piece of s**t on my floor and poured three mugs of coffee. Again why I was treating her with hospitality was beyond my comprehension but still..coffee for three.

    "I think we need to have a little talk." Yeah. Talking was going to be easy. Talking was just what we needed. Its fun to lie to yourself sometimes.