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What Are Friends For?

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Alex threw the pellets into the pond and waited.

As usual, the koi came swimming over eagerly, their red, white, and orange bodies shining and flashing under the rippled surface of the water. They snatched at the food, their mouths gaping and greedy. Hungry.

A calmness usually came to him when he was watching the fish, a serenity of spirit. He waited, but today that serenity wasn't there. Today, his emotions were as turbulent as the churning water at his feet.

Hungry—he was hungry too.

*****

Milo had been very tight-lipped when Alex told him about his latest break-up. That didn't bode well. After a long, uncomfortable silence, Alex figured he might as well beard the lion in its den.

"Go on, say it."

"Say what?"

"Whatever it is you want to say but aren't."

Milo eyed him skeptically over his beer before tilting his head back to drain the can, his fourth. When it was empty, he said, "You don't want to hear what I want to say."

"Isn't that the definition of a friend, the one who tells you things you don't want to hear?" He kept it as light as he could, but Alex felt his vague unease sharpen.

Milo grunted. "That's the definition of a soon-to-be ex-friend."

Alex should have left it alone, but he didn't. It stung too much. "I thought you knew me better than that."

Milo shrugged. "Fine. Don't say I didn't warn you. First of all, saying you had a break-up implies you had an actual relationship with what's-her-name. You didn't. It was barely a one-night stand that you're elevating to something more just so you can dignify it with an ending, however an ignoble of an ending it is."

"That's not—"

"Secondly, we're not talking about a one-time thing, here. This has been your new M.O. for months now. I've never seen you like this, Alex. It's like you're... on the prowl, on the hunt for—" Milo checked himself, dry-washing his face with his hands.

"Is there a 'thirdly'?" Not that he really wanted to know anymore, but he'd asked for this. He just wanted to get it over with, now.

After a heavy sigh, Milo went on, "She's not coming back, Alex."

Milo's "bearer of bad news" voice, the one he must've used on the job to deal with grieving families when their loved ones were hurt, or dead. Gentle, but with finality.

Not that Robin was dead, of course. She was fine, alive and well and... in love with someone else.

"I know that."

Milo put his hand on Alex's shoulder and shook it. His eyes were sympathetic as he asked, "Then why the hell are you running around all over town chasing tail?"

The $64,000 question. He'd asked it himself, over and over again.

The answer came to him suddenly, a bolt from the blue, and it was not at all what he had expected.

"Damn it, Alex. I know what you're doing."

Alex called on all his training and schooled his face to a neutral expression, but he didn't dare speak.

"You're looking for love. For what you thought you had with Robin. But you're not going to find it by sleeping with every woman in L.A."

Alex stood up, sliding out from under Milo's hand. He wanted... he needed space, he needed time, to wrap his head around—

"Alex? You okay?"

Milo was standing right next to him, all concerned and caring.... Alex stepped back, nodded, and made a half-hearted gesture towards the front door.

"Yes. I'm fine. I'll think about what you said."

It was a dismissal, and Milo frowned slightly, his eyes growing a little cold.

"Okay, whatever," he said abruptly, and turned away.

Just as he got to the door, Alex called out after him, "Milo?"

Milo paused with his hand on the knob.

"Thanks. Really."

Milo looked at him for a moment before relenting. "Hey, what are friends for?" he said gruffly, and then he was gone.

Alex thought about the warm touch on his shoulder, the compassionate voice, the worried eyes—they all spoke of the deep friendship between them, of the trust. Of the love.

Milo was right. He was looking for love.

"You're not going to find it by sleeping with every woman in L.A."

Milo just didn't know how right he was.

*****

The spatter of raindrops on the pond's surface broke into his thoughts and brought him back to the present. Which was just as well. Dwelling on what he couldn't have was a dangerous pastime. Alex knew only too well where such thoughts could lead.

He went inside and made himself a Scotch. The liquor burned as it went down, and Alex almost enjoyed the fire. He finished the glass and poured another.

He couldn't assuage the hunger, but maybe he could drink it away. That, or pass out, whichever came first.