Vyse sat in his quarters, staring out the window morosely at the sunset. Although he maintained a calm or even cheerful exterior, the blue rogue was prone to bouts of depression often. While he did vent his frustrations, usually by speaking to either Aika or Fina, nothing aside of solitude could cure him of these dark moods. Especially now, he knew that speaking to either of his female friends wouldn't lessen the angst.
He went back to his desk and sat back down, looking down at his journal. It was typical of ship captains to keep logs or journals...although Vyse wrote his entries all over the place. There was an official book up in the meeting room over the harbor, a blue-bound thick book filled with loose pages; loose pages that were the result of Vyse writing on any slip of paper that suited him. He rarely could sit down at his journal and write what exactly happened that day, not like other people could. Instead, he would write when inspiration hit him, and then would dig for any small amount of paper and scribble furiously. Sometimes his entries would include illustrations, usually to convey something he saw better through pictures instead of words.
This time, however, his entry contained no illustrations. It couldn't. If he did draw the subjects of his thoughts, it would only drive him deeper into depression. Several pieces of old, yellowed paper lay scattered on his desk, one completely covered by his scrawlings. He sighed and re-read what he wrote, knowing it would only increase the guilt and self-loathing that clenched tightly in his chest.
After skimming over the words he had written, words that taunted him by existing, he picked up where had left off, grabbing a nearby pencil. His hand seemed to betray him as he wrote, and his true thoughts and emotions spilled themselves onto the paper. Vyse paused, looking at the last sentence he wrote, mouthing the words as he read them. Then he threw the pencil down in disgust, at the fact that he was being so ridiculous, at the fact that he was permitting himself to be far too human. Vyse the Legend, hero under the six moons, captain of the Delphinus, was not a sentimental idiot. No, he was an idiot. He knew that constantly, even though his actions betrayed his thoughts, even though he never let the world know who he really was...he was an idiot.
The sound of the chair scraping on the wooden floor sounded annoyingly loud as he stood, stretching and rubbing at his eyes. It was almost as if he could weep. Vyse, however, did NOT weep, not even when situations were dire. It was a weakness he never let himself succumb to, and something he definitely never let anybody see him do. Sighing, he turned from his desk and exited his quarters, looking for some busy work to do in order to occupy his mind from the dilemma he held in his hands.
* * *
Vyse had been missing for hours, having not been around for dinner, and Aika was concerned. He did that often, that bonehead. Why a young man would miss dinner was beyond the redhead's comprehension: all the young men she knew ate like horses, including Vyse. Still, he would get involved in some project or another, and then forget to do things like eat or sleep. That bonehead.
Walking across the plaza of Crescent Isle, she could see that the lights were on in Vyse's quarters. Grumbling to herself, she ascended the stairs, taking note that she probably should get back the book she loaned to him last week. He could read things fairly quickly, so she knew that he would be done with it by now. Going up onto the deck, she stopped in front of his door and knocked politely.
There was no answer, so Aika stuck her face into the room, opening the door slightly. "Vyse? Are you in here?" Peering around, she found that he was in fact not inside, although he had left his desk lamp on, along with papers strewn all over the place. Shrugging, she decided that she may as well find her book while she was here, so she stepped into the room and quietly shut the door behind her. Making her way over to the desk, she looked at the bindings of the books shelved there, held upright between two bookends. While she was only looking for the familiar red binding with gold print on it, curiosity got the better of Aika, and she glanced at the papers lying carelessly out on the desk. She was hoping to find artwork, since Aika thought Vyse was an exceptional artist. All she found, however, was some writing...something written in almost an dejected manner, judging by the script. Not feeling the least bit guilty, she picked up the piece of paper, and began reading.
You ever feel hopeless? Well...hopeless, helpless and confused? That's how I feel right now. It's about something that's been hovering right behind my shoulder for almost a year now...since about partway through that quest we went on to pick up the six moon crystals. Since Fina became our friend. Let me explain.
First off, I would like to say that I'm not a stupid man. I may seem a bit dumb at times...but it's all an act. I've almost perfected playing dumb to an art...and although I hate doing it, I continue to carry out that practice.
Why? Because of my two friends. And what they mean to me.
Shut up. Let me continue, it's not what you think.
Aika paused and smiled. This was getting interesting. She read on.
For over ten years now, Aika has been my best friend. She's been my neighbor as long as I can remember, and has been my best friend for almost as long. When we were kids, I defended her when this snake thing attacked us. That's how I got the scar on my left cheek. And that's how I gained a certain...admiration from Aika.
I know, admiration is a kind word for it, but that's how I'll describe it. Things would get somewhat messy if you got...involved in a certain way with your friends. Which is why I play dumb...
He knew....damn that Vyse, he knew! Then again, she was doing her best to be obvious, to let him know that she would prefer that their relationship go beyond friendship. It never went anywhere, however; Vyse would seem to not notice, although the reason behind doing so was starting to become clear to Aika. She felt a wild surge of hope as she continued to read.
...I know how Fina thinks, and how Aika thinks. I know how they're good friends, and how they hate to compete....and yet, they'd feel jealous and may even break up their friendship with one another if one of them got...well, a certain blue rogue captain. That seriously bothers me.
I can't choose either. Both of them are really important to me, both in their own way, and I wouldn't want to hurt one by choosing another. I don't want to lose a friend to gain something else...and while it may make the three of us unhappy in some instances, we're happy in the short-run. I know eventually things are going to come to a head....but for now, I'll continue to play the dumb guy, to ignore their little passes and flirtations, and hope that they don't catch onto me.
Because I really would hate to have to love one alone, when I do that already for both.
Aika's breath caught in her throat as she read the last sentence. Shaking her head almost in disbelief, she re-read the entire thing all over again, not absolutely sure it was true. It had to be, though...this was Vyse's handwriting, and it was left in Vyse's room. Then she began to shake, to tremble ever so slightly. She knew that she couldn't run out and talk to him about this...no matter what it meant. Somehow Aika knew that she had no running chance against Fina, regardless of how Vyse felt. He was being very noble, doing his best to play dumb and not drive them apart, but by doing so was also only making the three of them feel worse. She knew that Fina felt just as horrible and guilty as Aika did, and yet the Silvite would sooner die than go and speak to Vyse about how she really felt.
Sadly, the redhead set the piece of paper down on the desk. It wasn't fair. All these years, all the things she and Vyse could of had, could of experienced...missed. Gone. All because neither one would say anything. Biting her lip, she turned towards the door, determined to talk to him about this entry, to demand that he stop playing dumb and that he follow his instincts...and his feelings.
Suddenly, the door opened, and Vyse entered. He frowned at her as she backed up a bit to stand near the desk again. "Aika? What are you doing in my quarters?"
She felt a blush creep in on her cheeks, despite her effort to remain calm. "Uh. ..hi, Vyse."
He crossed his arms, looking at her critically. "You're all red. I'm sort of afraid to ask why you're all red, though." Despite his stern expression, Aika could see his ears slowly turning pink. She knew why a slow flush was creeping up on her best friend's face, and that reason why sat out in plain view, on the desk behind her. He rubbed at his forehead in an embarrassed manner, and sighed. "You...uh...didn't see anything...weird, did you?" Something in his voice told her that he already knew what this was leading to.
She calmly reached behind her and held up the yellowed piece of paper. "You mean this?" Aika smiled sweetly, although she felt her pulse pick up and her throat go dry. A sudden wave of guilt washed over her, despite the fact that what she did was fairly innocent....or at least innocent in Aika's eyes.
He coughed uncomfortably. "Um...yeah. That. Er, look Aika...I can explain, if you need me to..." Sighing, his shoulders slumped forward in defeat. "..because I know you've read it already."
"Yes, I've read it." she replied, letting the piece of paper flit back down to the desk. "But I don't know what to say about it."
"Don't say anything. Don't think anything....as a matter of fact, just forget this happened." He picked up the piece of paper and crumpled it up. "I know I'll try to."
She looked at the crumpled piece of paper held in his hand, and gently took it from his unprotesting fingers, smoothing it out. "It's nice that you wrote about me. I'm flattered." She managed a grin, although it wasn't one of her taunting grins that she flashed at the scarred blue rogue so many times; this one was genuine, a sign that she was truly pleased.
He blinked, not sure how to interpret her body language or expression. After a moment, he rubbed at the back of his neck awkwardly, his eyes roaming elsewhere around the room, attempting to avoid eye contact. "Oh. Well, yeah..." Vyse sighed, closed his eyes and let his arm drop. He didn't seem to know what to say next.
"I'm flattered, but..."
"But?" He opened his eyes slightly and peered at her through his overly-long eyelashes in a sidelong manner.
"...but, I think..." She sighed, and stood up straight, nodding almost to herself. "...I think you should just go with Fina. Okay?"
He didn't say anything, although he did open his eyes all the way and blinked, stunned.
"Okay?" She repeated, not sure if any of this was reaching him.
Vyse swallowed, his mouth dry. He knew that eventually they would be having this conversation, although it wasn't going along smoothly. It was as awkward as he had dreaded, and now he wasn't sure what to make of anything that was being said. "Aika..." He sighed. "Look, this isn't turning out the way I planned. I thought it would of been more...that is, less..." He shook his head, tongue stuck to the top of his mouth, preventing him from saying the proper words. "It's not right." he managed lamely.
"No, it's not right. You can't love two people, Vyse." Aika's tomboy exterior had melted, and how she stood, baring herself to him, brown eyes almost cold.
He snarled and strode over to the window, looking out at the full Red moon outside, avoiding her cold expression. "And why not? It's complex, sure....but I'm not a simple guy." He crossed his arms. "Things are fine as they are...I can't think of a good reason to choose."
"There's a little thing called jealousy, Vyse. This tension between the three of us is growing, and it's not going to get any better." Her eyes softened, and she looked down at her yellow leather boots. "Pick Fina."
For a moment he didn't say anything, but then he spoke, arms still crossed, jaw still set stubbornly. "And what about you? I'd be ditching you if I went for Fina. You know I can't do that, Aika."
She shrugged, still staring at her boots. "Hey, I had my day in the sun, in the spotlight. I've had ten years as your best friend, and that's a lot more than Fina ever had." Her voice dropped low. "Besides, she's prettier, sweeter, more graceful...more than I'd ever be."
Vyse tore his gaze away from the window to look at Aika, who seemed so small and meek at that moment. "What have you that impression? If I wasn't happy with you, would I have stayed your friend--your best friend--all these years?"
"Yeah, but you were always just a friend, nothing more. That speaks louder than words ever did...that proves it all." That pathetic response was all she could manage, although she knew that she was being overly defensive about herself. Still, she knew what was for the best, and although it made her heart sink down to her feet she wanted to somehow make him see that he should choose Fina.
"Maybe that's because we were kids, Aika. Kids don't see certain things, and kids are limited to only so many words and actions."
"But we're not kids anymore..." she said, stating the obvious.
"Definitely not." he said with a smile. Then he chuckled. "Don't think I haven't noticed you growing up, Aika. At first it made me feel uncomfortable...sometimes it still does..." He rubbed at the back of his neck again, something he always did when he was nervous.
"Really?" Aika managed a small smile, glancing slightly in his direction even though she hadn't raised her head.
"Well, yeah. You've grown up, obviously." He chuckled a bit foolishly, but then his voice became quiet and serious. "You're a very beautiful woman, Aika...although I've really never said so. I think that maybe I should have..."
She laughed and straightened, patting his chest. "It's okay. I know that you're not good at talking about what's on your mind." She tilted her head slightly and looked at him critically. "You know...you didn't turn out so bad yourself."
He grinned and then laughed, despite himself. Then he pointed at the thin dark pink scar that lay below his left eye. "Remember this? I got this on that day...damn, it must be about nine, ten years ago now."
"You're right, I remember....that snake thing." She shuddered at the memory. "Ugh, that thing was awful. It almost ate both of us alive."
"But it didn't, and I drove it off. No, what happened that day was important to both of us. Do you remember what I said I'd do? That promise? I said, "Aika, I'll always protect you. I'll always be right there for you, no matter what." ...and I meant it. I still do." His voice grew serious, grave again...his grin fading. "If something ever happened to you...I don't know, Aika...I'd probably go insane."
She smiled and shook her head, almost embarrassed. "Oh, Vyse..."
"No, I mean it. You were always my backup, you always gave me that little push I needed...or a good sock to the head whenever I was stupid. You were always there when I went through all sorts of horrible things, and nobody else can ever, ever do that for me."
Aika tilted her head a bit, looking at him a bit askew. "Not even Fina?" she ventured.
The familiar impish, lopsided grin returned to Vyse's face, and he shook his head. "Not even Fina." He then laughed, seeing that she was still a bit red in the face. "I'm not sure who's more embarrassed here, you or me."
Aika pressed her hands to her hot cheeks, and laughed along with him. "I say we call it even." The two of them laughed a bit more, and then it seemed as if the tension lifted from the room, even just a little bit. "It's really too bad you can't pick one or the other, Vyse. I know that you'd really hurt Fina if you picked me." She sighed softly.
"I know, I know." He sighed as well. "Which is why I'm picking nobody." His voice grew quiet, distant. "Every time I think about it, I get this feeling right here," He thumped his chest, over his heart. "pressing down. No, I don't like it at all...but I like the alternative even less. That's why I feel so helpless at times...and that's why I wrote on that damn piece of paper that started this whole mess."
Aika glanced at the betraying piece of paper, lying innocently on the desk, as if it didn't realize or care the problems it had caused. "Well, there isn't really anything you can do about it, I guess." She sat down at the desk, twisting slightly to rest her arms on the back of Vyse's desk chair.
He didn't respond, but turned to look at her critically. Somehow he wished that they had never encountered Fina....even thought it meant that he would of missed out on the life he now lead, and missed having such a wonderful person as a friend. Still, it would of meant that there would of been a chance of him and Aika being together. The redhead glanced up at him, and then looked away, uncomfortable under his gaze. He averted his eyes and stared at the wall thoughtfully, a whole list of "what ifs" running through his head.
"Should we...pretend this never happened?" Aika ventured, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
Vyse glanced over at her, and nodded slightly. "I think that's for the best, at least for Fina's sake."
"Yeah..." Then she nodded, some backbone going into her agreement. "Yeah, you're right."
"I know if we told her all that we said here, she'd probably cry. Nobody likes to see her cry...so we just won't say anything."
There was another brief silence between them, neither one of them exactly looking at each other. Vyse crossed his arms and bit his lip, a habit he had picked up from years of being around Aika. He had absolutely no ideas on what to do or say next. He did want to talk to Aika, or at least just have her around....but he couldn't come up with one small phrase or utterance to keep her there.
Somehow Aika must of thought something similar, because she stood. "I..." She shook her head. "Nah, never mind. I think that maybe I should be going." She turned and walked past him towards the door. "G'night."
He reached out and grabbed her wrist, perhaps a bit anxiously. "No!" Seeing that she started at the volume of his voice, he let it drop back down again. "I mean...no, hang out a bit. Talk to me or...uh, something." He indicated the chair near his desk. "Here, sit back down."
Aika blinked for a moment, and then smiled warmly, taking a seat. "Okay, sure. We never really do talk anymore, do we? Just you and me."
"Nope, not much. We're always busy." He took a seat on the edge of his bed, facing her. "Let's see...oh, I know. This is something I've wanted to ask you seriously. I know that you've always given goofy responses before, but I doubt all you think about is treasure and gold."
She grinned. "What's wrong with gold?"
He smirked and shook his head. "Nothing, but there's more to life....I know that, and you know that. Just tell me, what's always been your big dream? Or even what is it now? You know mine, and you know that I've accomplished it, but what's yours?"
Aika shrugged, giving a bland smile. "Well...it's not anything big. It's nothing I'll ever accomplish, so I don't really try to persue it."
"That's stupid, Aika...who said you can't do whatever you want? Who wrote the rule stating that you can't follow your dreams? C'mon....you can accomplish anything, if you take time and put your mind to it. What is it? Being rich? Owning a fleet of ships? Taking over the world? Whatever it is, let me know and I'll help you out; after all, you helped me accomplish my greatest dream."
"I always..." She folded her hands in her lap and looked down at her knees. "Well...this'll probably make you uncomfortable again, but I've always wanted to hang out with you....y'know, be with you. Yeah, I wanted you. That's all I ever wanted. I never really wanted a fleet of big ships or to be the best damn pirate out there....I was just happy working alongside you."
"Even after all the uncomfortable things we said here tonight, I didn't think it'd be....that. I mean sure, I've always wanted you around too....you're nobody if you don't have friends. But..."
"But you know I mean more than that." she said quietly.
He paused. "Yes, I do. I just figured you'd want something better, that's all. You deserve better anyway. I'm...me. I'm nobody special, and I always figured you'd want something better."
"They say "you're your own best critic", although you don't have to be too modest, Vyse. This is me we're talking about here...what I want." Her voice grew quiet. "Something I can't ever have."
The scarred blue rogue stood and snorted. "Don't be ridiculous....besides, I don't know if that's true or not. Yet...sometimes it never hurts to keep up hope. Right?"
"Yeah, right." came Aika's mumbled yet sarcastic reply.
"Okay, you're being st--" He grunted. "Fine, that's it. Come over here." He pointed to the floor next to him, in front of his feet, assuming the facial expression and the tone of voice he used when he was in command of his crew. It was something he rarely used on Aika, although there were times he needed to...mainly when she was behaving stupidly. Like now. She obediently stood and walked over to him almost meekly, head bowed. Expecting some sort of lecture, she sighed and didn't look him in the eye, but fixed her gaze on the knot in his red scarf. Then suddenly she felt his arms go around her, the thing she least expected Vyse to do.
He laughed, patting her on the back. "Y'know, Aika...you're almost as big an idiot as I am sometimes."
She sighed in relief and laughed, resting her chin on his shoulder while slipping her arms around his waist. "You dork, and here you had me thinking you were going to lecture me until I felt an inch tall."
"C'mon, you know I don't yell at you like that, even when you're being stupid. And you were being stupid just now."
"Sometimes, I think idiot behavior is contagious." He chuckled, and she could feel his chest vibrate from doing so.
"It's like the flu, Vyse."
He pulled his head back to look at her, wrinkling his nose. "The flu? But the flu is unpleasant and lasts well over a week. Idiot behavior is unpleasant for only a few minutes and then it goes away."
She suddenly was aware that they really didn't get this close...at least not physically. It was only an innocent embrace, between two friends, and yet it made Aika begin to think of things she was trying to forget only a few minutes before. She rested her chin on his shoulder again so she wouldn't have to keep her face so close to his. "True, but sometimes idiot behavior can have scarring consequences."
"Sometimes, and sometimes not. It all depends."
"Yeah." She just had to bring her uncomfortable thoughts to light, however. "You do realize that we've been standing here like this for a few minutes, right?"
"So? You complaining?"
"Not at all."
"Then shut up about it." He gave her a squeeze.
"Don't you tell me to shut up, Vyse." She smirked, thumping him on the back with a hand.
"Oh? Would you rather I start doing something else?" He suddenly pulled away and took one of the blue ribbons from her hair. "Like this? You like that, huh?"
"Oh yeah? Well..." she took the red scarf from around his neck. His response was a low yet playful growl, and he launched himself at her. A wrestling match then ensued, the two blue rogues playfully jabbing each other while laughing and stealing jewelry and small articles of clothing from each other. Then stealing turned to tickling. Yet, it was completely innocent, not meant to set them back into the uncomfortable mood they were in before. After a while the two of them sat breathlessly on the floor, laughing hard. As a result of their bizarre stealing contest, Aika was reduced to her dress and shorts, and Vyse to his socks and black leggings.
"It feels almost like I'm nine years old." Aika laughed, leaning her back against the wall next to him.
"Yeah, I feel like a kid again too. I haven't had this much fun with you in years."
"Funny, isn't it?" She said, turning his skyseer patch over in her hand, looking at it. "We were just talking about how much we've grown up, and then we go and behave like a couple of children."
Vyse smirked, still holding the tiki-head necklace of hers in his fingers, it being the last thing he stole from her before things turned into a tickling match. "Yep." He put the necklace on, tying the leather thong snug around his neck like how Aika wore. "All I need now is a boomerang and some braids. Nobody would know it was me."
The redhead chuckled. "Well.... I can always loan you a dress. That'd complete the outfit."
His smile melted. "Oh man...no way. Don't even THINK of putting a dress one me, Aika. I'd never show my face in public again."
She laughed, poking him in the stomach, causing him to squirm slightly. "Relax...I don't think yellow's your color anyway."
He touched the tiki pendant around his neck. "Well....I think I won this little battle." Vyse smirked and folded his hands behind his head, resting against the wall. "Vyse the Legend is once again victorious. Let the peasants rejoice."
"Who's saying he's won, now? You're the one half-naked."
He glanced down at his bare torso. "Oh...I guess you're right. Stalemate?"
"Fine, stalemate." She smiled and rose to her feet, tossing his shortsleeve mock-turtleneck at him. "Here, get dressed. Fina's probably wondering where we are....I was supposed to go tell her where you were." She quickly pulled her boots and glove on, leaving her hair down. "And don't forget to stop and get something to eat too....Urala was wondering why you missed dinner." Aika grabbed her goggles, and left with a soft smile.
Vyse sighed. He was glad that Aika seemed a bit more at ease about the current situation that existed between them. Pulling on his boots and his black shirt, he tossed his scarf, coat and belt on the bed, knowing he would only remove them in a scant few hours for bed anyway. Putting a hand to the hollow in his throat, he could feel the polished wood of Aika's necklace against his skin. She had left without it. That didn't exactly matter, however; he knew that she wouldn't miss it for too long. Still, he decided to wear it for now, and to give it to her later.
However, the dilemma that had caused their discussion, the issue of whom he should choose, still rode heavily on his mind. Yet, it began to sway and change its course, the road laying itself down and ending at Aika. A small knot of cold depression fell in his stomach again, and he had stopped smiling by the time he exited his quarters.
* * *
"I don't know why you don't wear your hair down more often, Aika." Fina was saying. "You really are pretty."
The redhead shrugged. "I don't think too much of my looks half the time. Besides, I only wear those weird braids to irritate people. You know how I like to irritate people."
The Silvite giggled. "Sometimes I think that's why you were born, to annoy people." It was a comment that would of set Aika off if somebody else said it, but there was no way anything Fina said would of been meant as an insult. "Why is your hair down, anyway?"
"I found Vyse, he was pouting about something or another, and so to cheer him up I started acting stupid." She grinned. "I stole his scarf, so he undid my braids, that jerk."
"Pouting?" Fina smiled. "Vyse, pout? No, never him..." She giggled. "Although he's too cute when he pouts."
"He's too cute when he does a lot of things, but I ain't gonna tell him."
"Me either. You know how touchy he can get." The Silvite sighed, sipping the tea she had prepared once Aika came back. "Where is he, anyway? You said he'd come here."
"He probably stopped by the dining hall to get something to eat. He skipped dinner, that dork."
"I don't get why he does that, either. Most of the time young men will jump at the opportunity to eat, and yet Vyse gets busy with something and forgets to eat."
"Or sleep." Aika added.
"Or shave." The Silvite rolled her green eyes skyward.
"Or change his clothes." the redhead laughed.
"Or comb his hair." Fina giggled. "Let's face it...he has a one-track mind. When he gets focused on something, nothing can tear him away from it."
"He's been that way as long as I can remember, too." Aika said. "Even when we were kids, he'd get involved in something and stick with it. He's so damn stubborn."
"Flaws are what make somebody likable, though. His crew and the rest of the people on the island adore him. I know I consider myself lucky to have him as a friend, and I know you do too."
Aika's smile was faint. "Yeah, we're lucky." She stood. "I'm going to tell him that you were looking for him. Was there any real reason you wanted him?"
The Silvite shook her head. "Not really....it's just that lately he's been busy, I've been busy, and neither one of us have been able to talk like we used to."
"Funny, when I found him earlier, we both said the same thing. I miss talking to him like old times."
"Being a captain is pressing work, Aika, and he doubles as the governor of this island too. He has many duties, so he can't waste his time by sitting around idly." She sighed, looking at the tea in her cup. "But if you find him again, tell him that his friends miss him, and that even though he's right here with us, he seems very far away at times."
Aika nodded, understanding. "I'll do that."
* * *
The redheaded blue rogue made her way back up the stairs to the veranda, and towards her quarters. It was getting a bit chill at night, even though Crescent Isle was in the upper tropics, and she wanted to get her cloak. She opened the door to her fairly neat and tidy quarters and entered. If there was thing Aika always was, it was nearly obsessive about keeping things clean. She didn't mind other people's things at much...what they did was their business more or less. Her room had to be spotless and very organized, just like her house was back in Crescent Isle.
This is why something lying there on her desk jumped out at her as soon as she entered the room. Aika frowned; people sometimes had a habit of leaving notes for their vice-captain on her desk, despite the fact that she told them they should use the boards in the meeting and rec rooms to communicate with her. Turning on the desk lamp, she saw that it was a fairly short note, and lying on top of it was her tiki-head necklace. She immediately knew who the note was from, even glancing at the familiar, flowing script on the page:
I still have no hope, and so hopelessness makes me helpless again. I need some time, so don't be angry. I'm sorry.
Aika picked up Vyse's short note to her, and shook her head. Why? What did he mean? He didn't actually...leave, did he? It was fairly late at night, and most of the crew had retired for the evening...but somebody would of stopped him. She picked up the note, grabbed her cloak, necklace and boomerang, and ran out of her quarters.
The sound of her boot heels thudding against the cobblestones seemed horribly loud as she ran across the courtyard and down to the harbor. She almost ran into Fina, who was making her way back to her quarters for the evening.
"Aika? What in the world..?"
Aika skidded to a halt. "I think he's gone, Fina. I think he ran off somewhere." She held up the note for Fina to read.
"What does he mean by that...helpless yet hopeless? Is he okay?" The Silvite looked worried.
"I thought he was fine, but I guess I was wrong." Her eyes widened at a distant grating sound. "Is that the harbor door opening?"
Fina shook her head. "Closing. It was left open, and the Belleza's missing among the ships. I was going to head back to tell you and Vyse, but..."
Aika looked at the starry sky with a fallen expression. "But we both know that Vyse is the one who took her. That's why the Belleza is gone. Because Vyse is gone."
* * *
"You want another?" asked Anne politely.
The grim-faced young pirate nodded, pushing his empty glass forward wordlessly. Anne picked it up and walked back over to the bar. She wasn't happy about serving this particular customer, who's face was hidden in the deep cowl of a dark green cloak. Despite the fact that his clothing wasn't the normal blue fare that he wore, his amber eyes and scarred face were familiar to the young barmaid, as to her parents.
He had come in earlier that day and immediately went over to speak to Polly. After a few short words with her, the blue rogue had picked a table in the corner, and had been grimly drinking himself into insensibility ever since. Anne wasn't happy about letting people do that, especially about somebody she respected.
"But mother, we can't let him do this to himself." she protested, filling the empty pint-mug with more mur loqua.
"Sometimes people have rough times, even when they lead good lives." Polly said as she washed dishes behind the bar. "I've know Vyse long enough to realize that there's more to him that he lets people see. He's very complex, and I know that what he does is very stressing. It's no wonder why he doesn't have nervous breakdowns more often." She pulled a few smaller bottles of loqua out from a cabinet behind her. "Here, give these to him. We're closing soon, and I think I can trust him enough to not sail while drunk."
"All right...but I still don't like it." Anne picked up the bottles and the pint, and walked back to the table where Vyse sat. There were other patrons in the bar, but all of them were laughing and singing raunchily, too busy in their merrymaking to notice a lone, green-cloaked figure brooding in the corner. "Here you go, Mr. V--"
He held up a hand. "Shuddup, Anne. Don't use my name." They were the only words he had spoken to her all night. He pulled some coins out from somewhere in his clothing and slid them forward on the table. "Here."
Anne set the bottles down on the table and shook her head. "You don't have to do that....mother says it's on the house, something between friends. She also wants you to take these." She indicated the bottles of nae loqua, a smooth kind made with green moonstones.
He nodded, and pushed the coins towards her regardless of her refusal. "Thanks. Lemme know when it's closing time. I'll leave then."
The barmaid scooped up the coins. "Um...you gonna be all right?"
Vyse's features grew distant in the shadowy confines of his hood, and he nodded once. Then he hunched over again, taking a long drink of his loqua and ignoring her completely, an indication he wished to be left alone. Anne frowned worriedly, but she moved on to the next table, still busy waiting on other patrons at her mother's tavern.
* * *
It was far into the night when Aika reached Sailor's Isle. She had stopped in Nasrad before, and not seeing the Belleza moored at the harbor, had moved on through South Dannel Strait and on towards the next major port, Sailor's Isle. It had been well over twenty-four hours since Vyse had left Crescent Isle, and Aika was wondering if her search was futile. Perhaps he didn't run off for long...perhaps he had only sailed around in circles, and had returned a few hours after Aika left. Still, she knew it wouldn't hurt to check certain places, even if it meant sailing halfway across the world. She was in one of the Delphinus' smaller sloops, normally used for patrol around Crescent Isle, but she had taken it without telling anybody, aside of Fina.
The small silver-sided ship pulled into the port quietly, and the redhead quickly jumped off onto the dock to quickly moor the sloop so she could check the wharf for any sign of the Belleza. Making her way down the rows of ships, she finally saw the familiar masts of the Albatross II's sister ship, and ran down over the wood-planked dock towards her.
Most of the ship's windows and portholes were dark, but that didn't stop the redhead from jumping over the side and onto the deck. Immediately a small gray-purple huskra ran up to her, barking ferociously.
"Relax, Pow...it's just me." She crouched down to pet the animal. "So I see he took you with him. A boy and his dog."
The animal wagged his long, shaggy tail and sniffed her over.
"Hmm...is Vyse on board? You're not tied up or anything....and I don't think he'd leave you out on deck like this." The huskra scratched at his ear, but didn't reply. Aika stood, and the medium-sized dog ran over to scratch at the deck door. "Oh, you want to go back inside. Yeah, okay." She walked across the deck and opened the door, letting the animal go below decks. Aika followed, picking up a lantern and lighting it to illuminate the dark passageway. None of the lamps, either electric, moonstone or oil were lit, so the cabins inside the Belleza were fairly dark. She made her way down to where Vyse's cabin was, and knocked on the door. "Vyse? Vyse, are you here?"
There was no answer from on the other side of the door, although a distinct sound could be heard through it. Aika frowned, recognizing it as snoring. "Great." She pounded louder. "Vyse, get up! We're on fire!!" There seemed to be a snort, but then the snoring continued. The redhead grunted and opened the door, leaning forward with her lantern to light up the room. "Vyse?"
Instead of lying on his bed like she expected, the blue rogue was slumped over his desk, head pillowed on one arm while the other hung limply at his side. He was almost precariously perched at the end of his chair, which was tipping forward off its back legs slightly. Papers were strewn all over the floor, as were empty loqua bottles. A half-finished bottle of green nae loqua sat on the desk, in the midst of more papers. Quietly making her way over to the desk, she could see that the papers were a mixture of random doodles and writing. Sometimes, there would be a few sentences or even a paragraph written in the middle of a drawing. Some of the drawings were innocent, enough....illustrations of ships or trees or animals...but the one with the writing was a familiar subject: it was a drawing of Aika and Fina, drawn back to back, smiling. The lines were a bit shaky, but still the illustration was realistic enough for Aika to recognize it. And then the writing beneath the picture, at the top jumped out at her.
Well, what an...interesting day I've had on Crescent Isle. ...Aika found my last journal entry, and we....talked about it. Every have an uncomfortable moment? I'll tell you, it was horrible. But we made peace. And wrestled, which we haven't done in years. And if I could of completely fooled myself and not of kept thinking I was pinning down a beautiful woman, I would of been able to think a bit straighter at that point.
But no, NOTHING HAPPENED, damn you. And actually I've decided to...run off. It's not a good thing to do, I'm sure people are looking for me, but I don't care. I took the Belleza by myself (well okay, I took my dog with me), and now I'm at Sailor's Isle.
Further down the page, written a bit crookedly, no doubt because of Vyse's drunken state, was another entry.
Hello! I'm at Sailor's Isle! Er, I just said that. The loqua here is really good. Did I ever mention I liked loqua? I never really used to drink it very often, but I decided that now would be a good time to drink a LOT of it. And hope nobody recognizes me....I've been walking around without my skyseer patch and I have a different coat on. You'd be surprised how many people don't recognize you if you don't wear a certain article of clothing. Heheh, it's funny. Polly recognized me, of course....but she said she wasn't gonna blow me in. Good for her. Now I remember what I like about her: she's a good person.
...which I'm not. I'm running away from my little problem, which I THOUGHT was resolved...but is getting a bit more difficult for me. So I dunno when I'm heading home. I think I'll decide over another pint of Loqua. See ya.
Along the side of the paper was a small note, not quite a journal entry, more like a rambling or rant:
No hope for me. Tried drinking, it still hurts. I can't stand it. Love sucks, life sucks. Probably shouldn't bother. I can't be happy.
Aika shook her head sadly. She never thought that Vyse would have reduced himself to this level. "Vyse, you're an idiot...you ran away from me and Fina. Why?" She sighed listened to his snoring for a few minutes. Then she decided to leave, to come back in the morning when he was in a better state. She knew that if she woke him now, it would be embarrassing for both of them. Aika knew that while didn't drink to excess often, Vyse was fairly touchy while drunk.
Suddenly the chair he was seated on tipped forward, his head and right arm slipping off the desk, and Vyse tumbled to the floor with a startled snort. Aika jumped at the sound and turned back to look at her friend as he fumbled around on the wooden floor of his cabin. He sat up, looking around blearily and making startled sounds.
"Are you okay?" She helped him stand. "Hey, Vyse? You okay?"
He stood a bit shakily and put a hand to his head. "Yeah. Fine." He said a bit groggily. Something about the way he stood told her that he still had quite a bit of alcohol in his system. Vyse took his hand away from his face to peer at her . "Oh, 'ello. Didn't think you'd be here."
"I didn't think I'd be here either...but I was worried about you." She righted the upset chair and indicated for him to sit. "Everybody's been worrying about you."
He unceremoniously plopped back down into the chair. "Too bad."
She paused. "So you won't come back?"
"Sometime, eventually." He rubbed at his face, making a sour expression. "I jus...y'know...jus gotta get away."
"Yeah, I guess...but you should really try to come back soon. Fina's really upset."
"I figured." He looked away at her, resting his arms on the desk. "I sorta knew that this would make everybody mad...but I did it anyway. Sorta like...y'know...defiance." A guilty look slid over his face. "Please dun kill me."
"I'm not mad, I'm just worried about you. You've never done this before."
"Sorry." He sighed, getting more coherent as he slowly woke up. "I wasn't really thinking. I just sort of ran away from a problem, and that isn't like me. I did it on impulse, too."
Aika sighed, setting the lantern down on a nearby table. "You did it because of last night. It's my fault, Vyse...not yours. I shouldn't of opened myself up to you like that and made things so complex."
He shook his head stubbornly. "Nonono...it's not your fault. I mean really...is it your fault that I think too much?"
"Of course not."
"Then don't blame yourself. I'm the idiot here." He sighed and bowed his head slightly. "I wish you didn't have to see me in this lousy condition, though."
Aika gave a grin. "Oh c'mon....I've seen you drunk before, it's no biggie."
He gave a weak laugh. "I must look pretty stupid."
She laughed along with him. "Yeah, you do. You look terrible."
Vyse laughed. "Terrible, yeah." For a moment the two of them laughed together, but then something seemed odd about the way Vyse laughed. It turned into a tight, almost choking sound. Turning to look at him, Aika was surprised to see tears standing in her best friend's eyes. "I can't believe I did this....people are all worried....I've only made the whole situation worse. Nobody's gonna stick around for a captain who ditches his crew and his friends..."
"No, it's okay...look, everybody has nervous breakdowns. It's part of being human."
"..but I don't...I can't have breakdowns: people don't expect that from me. And you and Fina don't expect it from me either...and now look at what I've done..." He buried his face in his trembling hands.
"Well, I forgive you for one. You can't help being human." She thoughtfully touched a hand to her chin. "You'll have to explain to everybody else, but they'll understand." She looked at him. "Right?"
A mumbled sob was the only reply she got. Vyse sat huddled on the chair, elbows resting on the desk, face hidden behind his hands, his shoulders shaking. Feeling uncomfortable, Aika rubbed at her arm and looked away. "Uh...you want a hug or something?" She hadn't seen him cry since they were children, and she definitely wanted him to stop. "Want a cookie, maybe?" she said lightly in a vain attempt at humor. "I've got a nickle...you want that?" Aika grinned at him.
He lifted his face from his hands to peer at her, not quite sure if she was insulting him or trying to cheer him up. A tear slowly rolled down his cheek, but he didn't say anything.
Her grin faded into a soft look of empathy. She walked over to where he sat and drew him to her, resting his face against her abdomen. He threw his arms around her waist and clung to her, gracious of her sympathy. She could feel him still trembling against her, although it seemed like his weeping was subsiding. After several minutes, he calmed down, staring blankly at the wall. Aika sighed, smoothing back his hair. "You're such a mess...I don't know what I'm going to do with you."
"I'm sorry." he said very quietly. "I'm a wreck, and I really wish that you didn't have to see me as a wreck."
"It's all right...as I said, you're human: it's permitted."
"What am I going to tell the others?" he murmured, still resting a cheek against her stomach.
"Tell them you went off to...get something for somebody's birthday."
He looked up at her, long eyelashes still wet. "Maybe I should just tell them the truth...when I'm ready to go back." He pulled away from her and wiped at his face.
Aika nodded and leaned on her knees to peer at him. "All right, take your time. Get better, Vyse."
He stood, still shaking a bit, and shook his head. "That might take a while. I'm in pretty lousy shape." He kicked at one of the empty loqua bottles on the floor. "Well, next time I'll..." He frowned and kicked at the bottle again. "No, there won't be a next time. I don't plan on snapping like this again."
The redhead didn't reply, not knowing whether that was true or not.
"Thanks for coming all this way to find my sorry ass."
"As I said, I was worried about you. You're acting out of the ordinary, and that sets off all sorts of alarms in my head."
Vyse stared at the floor, apparently in thought. "Hmm...that must be it." he mused.
He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her, a bit roughly because of the fact he was still fairly drunk. "I don't like this new, loser version of Vyse. You've gotta help me find the old one. He's inside me somewhere, under several pints of loqua. C'mon, help me find the older, goofier me."
"Okay, sure. But uh...how?"
He paced, gesticulating wildly as he spoke. "Oh, I don't know! Think! You're the sober one here. Try dancing...or maybe beat me up...or even we can try singing a song."
Aika grinned. "Sure, singing works. You know I love to sing."
Vyse frowned. "Maybe that's not such a good idea. I'm sure we both remember what happened the last time I sung." He turned to Aika, who opened her mouth and began to loudly sing an old song they had learned as kids. It was fairly simple lyrically, except it had a good fifteen verses. The scarred blue rogue waved his arms. "Nonono! I said no singing!" He tried jumping up and down in front of her and waggling his hands in her face, but she continued to plow on through the song, not caring. He slapped his hand over her mouth to get her to be quiet, but she wound up biting him and continuing on with the next verse.
He made a growling sound, wringing at the bite-marks on his fingers. "Okay...fine...if you're going to be that way, I'll use extreme measures..."
Aika jumped up onto the chair and continued on with the lengthy song, not caring who heard her. Vyse glared up at her, putting his hands over his ears. "Ohhh man, you're killin' me here, Aika! Stop! No, STOP! Oh, my ears..." At this point she was irritating him more than anything else. "Okay, that's it! You're asking for it!"
She jumped off the chair and broke into a exemplatory dance, still singing.
He clutched at his head. "Aika, don't make me do it...you'll get angry." He gnashed his teeth, not caring what the consequences for his actions were at this point...most of that due to the fact that he wasn't sobered up much. "If you don't stop singing THIS VERY INSTANT..." Aika responded by singing louder. Vyse growled, and grabbing her by the shoulders, pressed his lips against hers. Her singing stopped, and a surprised look was on her face as he pulled back from her. "Now, shaddap!"
A sly smile crept over Aika's lips. "That was interesting."
"I was just trying to get you to shut up." came the flustered reply.
"Oh...really? I see." With that, she began the song all over again. Vyse's reaction was the same, although this time he didn't let go of her shoulders. He frowned down at her, almost disapprovingly, and when she resumed singing once more, put his mouth against hers again. He didn't pull away, but instead stood with his forehead resting against hers. Aika gave a small impish smile. "If I had known that it would've taken singing to get a kiss, I would've sang around you constantly."
He laughed and brushed his lips against hers. "You only had to ask. Which is probably why we never did this before."
"And you're normally sober."
"Right, I only think about it when I'm sober."
Her brown eyes looked into his. "You think about this?"
"Yeah....I admit I do. Is it such a big deal?"
She shook her head, smiling and sliding her arms around his shoulders. "No, I think there's nothing wrong with it."
"Good." He pulled her closer to him and kissed her again, gently at first but then with a bit more heat. It was something that he normally wouldn't have done, something he normally would have questioned, but at this moment it seemed so natural.
Aika felt slightly guilty about the situation, felt as if she was taking advantage of him. She knew that this wasn't right, and that she should stop him...but she didn't want to stop. She had thought about being with Vyse for years, and now it seemed as if that small dream was going to finally come true for her. Her thoughts were brought to a screeching halt when one of his roaming hands stopped to cup her left breast. She pulled her face away from his to look at him questioningly, almost as if she didn't expect things to turn from innocent to...something else.
"What's wrong?" he asked, sliding his arms around her waist again.
"Sorry, you caught me off guard." She sighed. "Vyse, you know we shouldn't be doing this."
He nuzzled at her neck. "You don't want this? But I thought--"
"I know what you're thinking, but I feel like I'm taking advantage of this situation."
"You're not...I don't feel like I'm taking advantage of you." Vyse's voice was quiet and low in her ear. "Don't you want to stay here with me...for tonight?" he murmured softly.
Aika bit her lip. "I do...I really, really do...but I don't want anything happening that shouldn't. I don't want to jump in and do something I may regret later." She looked him in the eye, almost sadly. "You do understand, right?"
Vyse sighed, and pulled away from her, rubbing at the back of his neck. "...all right."
The redhead cleared her throat, not liking the low, husky way her voice sounded. "I think I should be going."
"At least stay here on the Belleza." He saw the look on her face and raised a hand. "I didn't mean in here with me...since you're so dead set against that. I mean in your cabin. There's no point in you going into town and paying for a room when you have one here for free."
"All right, I'll do that at least. That way, I can make sure you get back to Crescent Isle safely." She looked down at the loqua bottles. "And no more drinking tonight, okay? I don't need you in any worse shape tomorrow."
He nodded and sighed a bit ruefully, but whether it was about not drinking or not being able to sleep with Aika, she didn't know. "All right...in that case, let's call it a night."
Aika picked up the lantern she had set down, and walked over to him. "Good night, Vyse." She gave him a quick, chaste kiss on the cheek.
When she left the room, he was staring at the drawings on his desk with a thoughtful expression on his face. She seriously hoped that his depression was gone for the most part. Opening the door to her cabin, she crossed the room, set down her lantern and blew it out. Aika flung herself on her bed and began to tremble, burying her face in her pillow. She wished that she hadn't left his room, that she did take him up on his offer; she wanted him, her body still burned with it, but she knew that she wasn't ready for that sort of thing...not with Vyse. The step between a friend and a lover was a large one, and it wasn't a large leap that Aika was ready to take yet. Perhaps in a while....but not yet. She just wasn't ready, no matter how she felt about him.