Chapter 28: Insert, Gonna Fly Now, Here

Leo kept a watchful gaze on his girlfriend.

Their latest date took them to a restaurant to have dinner. It was much more respectable compared to where they usually went. Since Leo normally couldn't afford the steep prices at the higher class places the city had to offer, they usually went to a more small-time business. For this date however, Leo acquired a nice source of cash thanks to Aeris.

Or thanks to Alex technically, as it was after all his money. Aeris had just commanded him to pay up. It surprised the gray feline that she would even care, but he shrugged it off as Aeris just abusing the power she now had over the hybrid.

Unfortunately, the date wasn't going as well as they usually would. Kerissa seemed distant, and Leo noticed. Something was bothering the husky, Leo could see that. The many years of living with Aeris tuned him in to when women had problems in one area or another.

"Kerissa," Leo said, finally working up the nerve to question her, "is something wrong? You look like something is bothering you."

The husky looked up from her plate at him in mild surprise.

"Oh uh," she muttered, "it's nothing." A frown crossed the feline's expression as he looked at her, still wanting to know what had his girlfriend troubled.

"You can tell me, I want to know." She still looked hesitant, but after a moments pause, Kerissa sighed and matched Leo's gaze.

"Well, the other day when I said I was busy, something important came up and I thought I would be able to finish my job after it was done. But my employer says he still needs me, so I have to stay with him for longer then I had anticipated."

"What job does he have you doing?" The gray cat had become interested, it was the first time Kerissa had ever brought up her current work. However the husky once again showed a reluctance in speaking.

"He just... it has to do with an old friend of his. I can't really go into detail. He makes it clear that it's a 'need to know' thing." Leo nodded to show his understanding, though he couldn't think of what would be so secretive that you would need a photographer for.

They continued to eat their meal, entering another silence that seemed more forced then anything. But after a while, an electronic ring played off in a melody. Kerissa looked up in surprise as she reached into her nearby purse and grabbed her cell phone, the screen lit up as a call was coming through.

"I thought I turned this off," the canine muttered as she looked at who was calling. For a moment, her eyes looked up at Leo with a gaze of unease before pressing the talk button. "Yes? … This isn't a good ti-" … "I'm aware but-" … "You can't be serious! Why do I have to be the one to-" … "Okay, fine! I'll be there, but don't you dare forget what I've already done for you." She then hung up the phone in an agitated huff. Before muttering under her breath. "Bear bastard."

"Who was that?" Leo asked, starring at her with a mix of confusion and curiosity. Kerissa let out a sigh as she put the phone away.

"Someone who works for my employer. Apparently I'm needed for another task, bastard is too incompetent to do it himself. Ah well, I suppose that's the downside to not having a real job."

"Anything I can do to help." Kerissa looked at Leo with a sudden burst of surprise before it shifted to a warming smile.

"Aw, you're sweet for asking, but it's not something I can't handle easily. I just have to put up with an annoyance, not like I've never done it before."

They talked more after that, discussing how things have been between one another. Though Leo never mentioned the strange night when Aeris and Alex went out to eat, only to come back in such a distant mood. Neither did he mention how things seemed to work themselves out the very next day.

"Okay," Alex said, addressing Aeris as he cracked the joints in his limbs, "are you ready?"

They were down at the apartment complex's gym. After some time of getting used to a hybrid slave at her beck and call, Aeris decided to use the opportunity to better herself.

It came as a surprise to Alex when the pink cat approached him with the demand that he train her in fighting. After seeing how he destroyed that group of dogs earlier though, Aeris knew that there was a teachable technique to what he did. A technique the feline eagerly wanted to know.

Alex however saw through it and at first refused. But seeing as how he no longer had free will, he was bound by his word to do as she commanded. Even then however, the hybrid was preparing to deny her. But after thinking about it, he realized that even if she gained any kind of ability from him showing her, there was no way she could do harm to someone who didn't have it coming.

"I'm ready," Aeris nodded. She looked around at the boxing ring they were in, it didn't seem necessary that they be on it, but Alex was adamant that they use it. It felt strange to her especially that she had to change her attire. Wearing a pair of loose fit shorts and a tank-top, the crossbreed said how the lack of hindrance and would better her as a beginner.

"Fine," Alex said, pacing back and forth as he eyed her. "First things first, you need to know this. What I'm about to show you is purely a defensive technique. Don't think you'll learn how to break a guy in half, chop his neck into a an unconscious state, rip his heart out or any of that bullshit. To start off with, I need to see what I'm working with. Pretend that you're fighting someone."

Aeris shrugged at the request and tried imagining someone in front of her. She was hesitant at first as the concept felt strange to her. Soon enough however, an imaginary foe formed in her mind and she began taking several swings at it. After a few jabs, Aeris was becoming distracted by a noise. With her concentration broke, she looked to see that Alex was stifling a laugh as he watched her.

"What?" she barked, not liking the fact she was being mocked. The hybrid still kept an amused grin as he looked at her.

"It just occurred to me that you don't know how to fight." The statement caused a heated glare from the feline. Had he just insulted her? It certainly sounded like it.

"I know how to fight," she protested, already raising a fist as to show him by attacking the hybrid. But Alex just chuckled as he shook his head.

"No no. You know how to hit someone, you know how to cause pain. But that isn't fighting. There's a big difference between hurting someone without recourse and being in a physical confrontation. Think about it, how many times has anyone actually tried hurting you back, or even first?"

She paused to think about it and as she did, Aeris couldn't recall a single moment like it. Whenever she would hit someone, it was usually for a comment they would make against her, quickly aggravating her to the point where only physical altercation was the only course of action. But it always ended right then and there, the person she struck would immediately stop and then avoid her at all cost. Leo was the only one who continued to pester her nerves and bring about her fury. And Leo never struck back, not that she thought he even could.

As the long silence persisted, Alex took it as his answer and approached her.

"Alright then," he said. "This may be a good thing, you might pick up on this much easier." He then made a stance just like the one he had when fighting that gang of dogs. His feet were a foot apart from one another and his fists were raised up until they reached his lower jaw. "Try and match my stance."

"Like this?" Aeris asked as she tried copying him. Alex looked her over, he adjusted her legs and moved her arms closer to her chest before nodding.

"Okay yeah, you've got the proper form right. Remember to keep your arms close to your center for equal movement on both sides, keep yourself as tucked in as you can while still retaining maneuverability."

"Is this really it?" Aeris questioned. All she was doing was standing in an odd way, she couldn't see how it offered any great fighting prowess.

"In a way," Alex answered, "yes. The physical motions are quite simple to explain and preform. But to actually apply it in an effective manner, it takes a great deal of training to hone both your body and mind. I can't show you everything, for obvious reasons, but I can show you the basics that will train you. Sit down and close your eyes."

Aeris did as she was told, resting on the ring's floor as she closed her eyes.

"Now relax," the hybrid continued, watching her as she followed his teaching. "Breathe in and out, listen to the silence around you and realize that it can be taken away. Do so and you will feel the entirety of your perception span out further then you thought possible."

Aeris really had no clue as to what he was expecting her to do. But as she sat there, she could feel the area around her. Her senses took in everything at a 360 degree angle. She could hear the subtle thud and feel the small vibration of Alex's feet as he paced around her. Even the few people in the gym couldn't escape her, their sounds cluing her in on where they were in the room. Alex could see she was getting it and smiled.

"Good," he praised, "now you can get up." Aeris did so, standing for a moment, a feeling of clarity washed over her. "The idea of fighting this way is to use your senses to their fullest." The hybrid began circling her, his hands raised up as though he was about to attack. "Your eyes are a perfect asset for your front, but from behind, you must sense your opponent's movement through their sound and presence. Even their scent can tell you where they are or how close if it's particularly strong."

"So you must stay calm to be able to bring your attention to your surroundings?" Aeris asked, making sure she understood.

"Exactly," Alex nodded. "So you know how to find someone, but now you must know how to defend yourself from them." Taking several steps back, Alex turned away from her and held his hands down. "I want you to try and hit me, approach me however you'd like."

Aeris was hesitant at first, knowing he was listening for her. But she crept in slowly to not allow her feet to make a sound. Coming in from the back of his side, Aeris shot forward and struck out with a left jab.

As expected, Alex quickly turned on his heel and grabbed onto Aeris' reaching forearm. With his other hand, he swung forward, aiming straight for the feline's face. She would be lying if she said she didn't flinch as the fist stopped just as it came to her cheek.

"See?" he asked with a smirk. "It's best to grab their attack and quickly counter as they don't see it coming. Of course, simply dodging and then countering works, depending on the attack as well as the angle. The entire fight is based off of your ability to move quickly and having the wits to do all of this in the few split seconds you're given, it's not about pure strength."

"Hm," Aeris muttered, thinking over what he was saying. "Seems like this would take a lot of work." Alex chuckled at that.

"Heh, yeah well... It's not like any of us had anything else to do besides train before our next time in the ring. Though Kerkrin was a great teacher."

They continued for some time. Alex took it slow and tried getting Aeris used to using her senses to tell where someone was coming. She was a fast learner and quickly got the hang of it.

"Very good," Alex said with a clap of his hands. "You're picking up on this quickly. Now though, let's test just how fast your reflexes are." Stepping out of the ring for a moment, Alex grabbed two pairs of padded gloves and tossed a set to the cat.

"You're gonna fight me?" Aeris asked with surprise, a sense of an unfair advantage coming over her.

"Of course not," Alex replied with a amused laugh. "It's just a simple test. I'll pretend to swing at you and you must do your best to dodge or grab the blow, then counter it."

"Okay..." Aeris muttered, putting on the gloves.

"Don't worry," the hybrid reassured. "I won't actually hurt you." Aeris huffed to herself as she raised up her fists and made the stance she was shown. Alex did the same and moved in close.

After a moment of them starring at each other, the crossbreed made his first swing, jabbing straight forward with his right arm.

Having watched him intently, Aeris could see the subtle motion of his shoulder as he quickly pulled back. By the time his fist was coming her way, the pink feline knew exactly what he was doing. But as she dodged it, she didn't counter, the motion coming too quick for her to register that she should.

"Good reaction, but you must learn to follow up with it."

Alex took another shot, swinging his left outward at an angle. Seeing this move coming as well, Aeris was quick to ready herself. Just as his fist came toward her, Aeris grabbed onto Alex's arm. Still reacting, she pulled forward, yanking Alex toward her. Raising her other fist up, she swung forward and caught the hybrid in the face. With the combined force of Aeris' pull and punch, Alex was thrown to the ground.

"Oh God," Aeris exclaimed in surprise, though she couldn't hide an additive of satisfaction from her tone. "Are you okay?" Alex's first response was a pained groan.

"Ugh, y-yeah, I'm fine." The hybrid sat up, Aeris' attack had reopened the cut on his lip and his hand was pressed to his face in an attempt to prevent the blood from flowing out. "Shall we call it a day?"

Though only a few days passed, to Alex it felt like weeks. Aeris constantly found ways to abuse the power she had over him and the hybrid found his sanity beginning to slip away ever so slowly. It wasn't the few humiliating acts she decided for him to do, like running down the streets in his undergarments while reciting excerpts from both Hamlet and Macbeth, which he knew verbatim, or anything of the like. What got to him most were the minor things that struck into the hybrid's category of annoyances.

One such annoyance was the day she decided to have the crossbreed and herself join Leo and Kerissa as they played a friendly bored game.

And bored was right as Alex's disinterested stare at the Monopoly game that sat in the center of the living room persisted without pause.

"Are you finished?" Aeris asked crossly, having heard the hybrid let out a drawn out sigh, the eighth time he has done so.

"I think I have two more in me," Alex responded, scratching at the bald spot on his forearm. The other day Aers had become curious as to whether or not the stripes on the hybrid were similar to that of his tiger ancestry, being visible on the flesh itself even after the fur was shaven off, she got her answer.

"You don't seem to be enjoying yourself," Kerissa pointed out. The statement came too late however as his attitude hadn't changed for the passed hour they had been playing the game.

"I'm not one for such juvenile games," Alex responded, passing Go and collecting his two hundred dollars from Leo, the banker. "Maybe something a little more stimulating that requires more then a second grade education."

"It's just for fun," Leo said, taking his turn and being sent to jail right after.

"That's subjective."

"He's just having a fit because it isn't his choice," Aeris said, smirking at him as his blank stare turned into a glare for a moment. She then smiled as Kerissa landed on her property and had to pay up.

"A lapse in judgment on my part. I'll have to remember to not make wagers with you."

As Aeris took her turn, Kerissa's gaze turned toward the clock hanging on the living room wall. The husky's ears perked up in surprise and she immediately jumped up from the floor.

"Oh goodness," she said in a hurried tone, "I must have lost track of time. Sorry for leaving in the middle of our game, but I need to get going."

"I can walk you home," Leo offered, already standing up himself as though predicting the answer.

"No thanks," she responded, turning away from the door to face her boyfriend. "I'm not going home right now, it's just stuff that has to do with my employer. I need to hurry now, bye everyone." She was gone, disappearing out of the front door before Leo could say anything else.

The gray cat sat back down in front of the game, much of his previous happiness drained.

"She's been like that for a while," Leo muttered, not directing it to either of his friends. But it made him feel better knowing they heard it.

"People have to work," Alex said. "We can't all sit around all day and do whatever we please."

"I suppose. Hopefully she can get her boss off her back so she doesn't have to get so worried."

They started a new game, one for the now three players. It brought another sigh from Alex but Aeris felt that doing something other then playing video games would be a nice change. That, and she couldn't think of anything else to have the hybrid do at the moment.

After a good two hours were put into their game though, it was interrupted as the phone began to ring, causing the three roommates to jump as the loud chime shattered the otherwise silent apartment.

"I'll get it," Leo said, shaking off the shock and grabbing the phone from its charging station. Aeris took the distraction as a chance to reach toward the stacks of colorful money Leo set up as the banker and take a few hundreds. She shot a warning glance at Alex as he took notice to her cheating and was about to say something. "Alex." The hybrid turned toward Leo as his name was being called. The feline's face held a look of quizzical surprise. "It's for you."

With his own expression of confused surprise, the hybrid stood up and grabbed for the phone. He had no idea who would be calling him. In reality, it was the first time someone had specifically asked for him. The few people he actually knew wouldn't know where he was or how to contact him if they somehow did. It made the face all the more strange as he held the phone to his ear.

"Hello? … Yes this is him speaking. … W-what...? Yes but I don't understa- … Al-alright, I'll be there shortly."

Aeris and Leo both watched as Alex ended the call. His entire body seemed to have stopped moving as he stood there in silence, an almost tangible cloud of dread fell down over the apartment around him. His eyes turned blank as he stared at the nothingness that wasn't there. The two cats felt a cold shiver crawl up their backs as the hybrid's trembling hand slowly set the phone aside.

A/N: Though Eye of the Tiger might be more appropriate, all things considered.

Well here's chapter 28. We've got something here and something there. Girlfriend trouble, or at least to Leo it's trouble. Aeris still enjoying herself. And we leave at a cliffhanger.

What's going on? You may ask yourself this. Is any of this even going anywhere? Well... (puts on lab coat) I have no idea!