Jayken put down the fresh plate of fruits on the coffee table in front of them, before plonking himself straight into his sofa. As he felt himself exhaling the fatigue out of his body, his muscles now in tune with his mind and spirit, Dallas and Kida did not wait for an invitation, each grabbing a piece of fresh strawberry. Dallas’s arm didn’t leave her as they did so, moving forward in motion and as one. They leaned back the same way as well, jostling to put it in the other’s mouth, and laughing at the same time. Jayken leaned his head sideways slightly, eyeing the both of them with a smile. It's always good to see your friends happy together, isn't it? A little further away, Kye took a further sip of his drink, with a wry smile on his face; no doubt, as ever, a million thoughts ran through his head. Jayken know that look, and he could probably read the thought as well.
He was probably thinking the same thing.
Kye looked up, and their gazes clashed. It was indicative of the kind of relationship that they had built up, ever since they met all those years ago. Their younger days in the old neighbourhood back on Nari, after he had moved from Nualna with his family. Their families became fast friends, and so did Jayken and Kye, a friendship further forged as they went through the Fleet Academy at Wisdo together.
You wouldn’t know it from the silence that followed the gaze between them, however. It was awkward, a moment that helped to momentarily mute Dallas and Kida’s excited proclamations that the other had cheated. This was an annual dinner that, for once, Jayken didn’t look forward to hosting once he realised that he would have to invite Kye along as well. He felt as if up until that point, that tension had been well-masked, but at that moment, a single prick would burst that balloon of illusion. Ever since Kye had returned from his long excursion, without a single explanation or exposition, Jayken felt that there has been a change in him that showed no clear signs of solving itself.
Of solving itself. He had deemed a solution necessary, when the problem was not even diagnosed yet.
"Cheers." Kye’s words cut across like a knife, popping the balloon. With that, Jayken noticed that Kye’s glass was tipped in some form of respect, and it was only social conventions that moved him to respond in kind. “It’s been a lovely evening.”
Jayken smiled, almost superficially, wondering whether Kye Toran, ever the duplicitous, double-talking master, was playing his games again. "I do my best." It is a game for the both of them, one that is not without its consequences. The heaviness of their statements caused Dallas and Kida to stop their own games; they had sensed the cold camaraderie during dinner, but now it’s about to reach boiling point.
"Hmm.” Kye repeated, not without meaning. He downed his in one shot, and almost immediately poured himself another. "Your absolute best, no doubt."
Jayken remained silent, careful of where this conversation is leading them. "Don't we all?"
Another non-committal was all that Jayken could hear from Kye. Kye had a history with his drinking, but Jayken had thought it was Bourbon under the bridge by now. Instead, he could almost see it aiding the spread of the venom from Kye’s heart to his eyes. Kye’s never been a shrinking violet when it comes to confrontations. With his inhibitions now less so, he becomes that bit more fearsome.
But why should Jayken be afraid of Kye? There has been no problems whatsoever; is he still seeking for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
Perhaps it’s time for the doctor to check in, now.
“You know what, just spit it out, man,” Jayken heard himself saying. Almost simultaneoulsy, he placed his glass carefully back on the coffee table, and now leaned forward with intent. “I know you, and I know you’ve got something to say. Evidently, it’s eating you up inside. What’s the problem?”
Kye did not respond for a few moments, opting instead to dip his finger in his drink as he swirls the icicles around. It’s a habit of his that Jayken has come to know well. He enjoys the coolness of the ice against the tip of his finger, and in that way, Jayken knew that Kye is merely mapping out his thoughts within that very glass. Thus, he wasn’t surprised when Kye didn’t immediately respond.
He was, however, surprised when Kye decided to hurl the glass at him. Jayken deftly shifted his head out of the way, but it wasn’t that difficult, for it was only intended to gain Jayken’s attention, rather than hurt him.
It certainly worked.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Jayken and Dallas both shouted simultaneously at the same time. Jayken didn’t stand, but Dallas did, moving protectively in front of Kida as her eyes widened in surprise. For his part, Kye remained seated in his chair, and then quietly got up to the bar. Presumably to get another glass to throw, Jayken thought as he steeled his body for action.
“I could ask the same of you, Mr. Westley,” Jayken heard. He couldn’t see Kye’s face by this point, the back of his head rimmed by the light from the bar. Once he got there, Kye did not reach for another glass. Instead, he propped himself against the bar, leaning back on his elbows. He was never a big guy, but he had came back from his sojourn leaner, stronger, faster.
Meaner, too. What the hell happened to him out there?
“I’m not the one throwing glasses across rooms, Kye,” Jayken shot back.
“No, you’re not. Not anymore,” Kye resigned himself with a sigh. “You used to, once upon a time. There once was a fire that burned within you, but it’s not there anymore.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Dallas chipped in.
“You, the great Jayken Westley. You have changed so much, and you have lost the essence of what had been you. You have lost that human part of yourself, Jay. How long has it been, Jay? Two years? Three?”
“What is he talking about?” Kida turned to Jayken. All she got was a stony silence from him, but it was filled in by Kye as he continued.
“He knows what I’m talking about,” Kye spoke with an even voice, even though he was intoxicated. “The Jayken that is sitting right there is not Jayken. He’s an impostor. He’s not the one I grew up with. The Jayken we have all come to love and cherish is now dead.”
Now Dallas turned to face Jayken, making it three against one. Jayken, for his part, remained seated, and looked almost exactly as he felt at that moment: small, with a silent wish for a wormhole, any wormhole, to open up and swallow him whole.
“There once was a time when Jayken would open up his heart, and give everything to all. He would not hesitate to help those who need it, to go out of his way to support others. His words were never words of chastisement, only encouragement; he never put forth his own opinions at the expense of suppressing others.”
“Remember when you and I were on Nari that time, when we came across a blind old lady begging at the marketplace? You walked up and you dropped a tonne of credits on her, and then walked away. Do you still remember what you said afterwards?”
The tension was so thick that Jayken had to make an effort to hear himself speak. “There’s a credit point up ahead.”
“There’s a credit point up ahead!” Kye laughed to himself, almost as if it’s the funniest thing he’s heard in the galaxy; the demon of the drink had truly taken its grip on Kye, and he’s not about to let go for now.
“That’s enough, Kye,” Dallas tried to make himself useful. Kye didn’t care. Dallas is small fry in his world, and has no influence on him. He continued like he didn’t hear what Dallas said.
“She’s only one girl, Jayken,” he said as he turned and helped himself to yet another Bourbon, “only one girl...”
“...and yet, here we are. You pretending that everything is fine, that everything is back to normal. The master of deflection, the king of misdirection. What the eyes see, and the ears hear, the mind believe. You didn’t want to invite me here tonight, I know, but you did it nonetheless.”
“So what, you want me to not invite you?” Jayken spoke up; he felt he needed to make a stand, any stand.
“I want you to be true to yourself, you jackass!” Kye’s suddenly-raised voice made everyone turn to look at him instead. “Every time you speak, it is nothing more than an attempt to deflect attention to something else. Every joke you tell is a mask of normalcy that everyone else falls for, a ploy intended to say, “Hey, I’m here,” while you keep yourself locked up like fucking Fort Knox.”
He finished the Bourbon with a flourish, and then wiped his lips with his sleeve. “For a long time, I didn’t want to say anything, figuring that you’ll be able to come around. Instead, you sank deeper and deeper into yourself until there was nothing left of the man I loved.” He sighed. “I was wrong.” Pause. “We all were.”
Jayken instinctively looked at Dallas and Kida. By now, Dallas had sat down, and they both kept their heads down; no doubt this was not just an oft-discussed matter behind his back, but that they had agreed with Kye’s idea. They might not have agreed with its method of delivery, but diagnosis remains the consensus.
Diagnosis. I am sick.
By now, the venom had worn off, but Kye’s words still stung Jayken like a bee. He felt himself getting warm, and though he momentarily wondered whether there was something wrong in the heating of the room, he knew better. Kye was right, and now, in front of Dallas and Kida as well, amongst his own friends in his own house, he felt more exposed, more naked, than ever before. Kye was no longer confrontational, but the challenge was there. Jayken hadn’t felt this way since...since...
Remain true to yourself, Jayken Westley. Come back to us.
“I think you’re right, Kye,” Jayken spoke softly, almost down to a whisper. Kye’s gaze never left Jayken to begin with, but Dallas and Kida, hand in hand, looked at him. That, they didn’t expect him to say.
“It has been a lovely evening,” Jayken said, with a sigh. “I think it’s time we call it a night.”
And with that, he retired.
*Read Galaxy: Goodbye Darling.
*Read Galaxy: Love Letter.
*Read Galaxy: The Last Stand.
*Read Galaxy: The Sixth Sense.
*Read Galaxy: Homecoming.
*Read Galaxy: Vs.
*Read Galaxy: The Journey.
*Read Galaxy: Tears of the Son.
*Read Galaxy: Across The Stars.
*Read Galaxy: The Prodigal's Return.