Jay didn’t sleep.
He couldn’t stop thinking about how such a blissful evening had turned into absolute shit, and he spent hours overanalyzing the entire conversation. He cried on and off, punched his pillows, and thrashed around all night long until Ted came to find him.
Ted thought he and Asta might have been sleeping in, and he was very surprised to find Jay by himself and so clearly upset.
When Jay asked if King Grell could go ahead and take him back to Aeon, Ted wanted answers.
Jay promised that they could talk about it later and he would tell Ted everything, but first he just wanted to go home.
Ted begrudgingly accepted that.
After a brief goodbye from everyone sans a decidedly absent Asta, Grell returned Jay to his apartment.
Jay went to bed immediately, and he stayed there all weekend. He only had a few precious days to get himself together before he had to go back to work. It was like being in mourning, and he didn’t think he’d hurt this badly since Gerdie died.
Instead of a person passing, it was what could have been the greatest love of his life.
If only he had been smart enough to keep his stupid mouth shut.
No one told anybody that they loved them after a week except crazy people and gods, and Jay was neither of those.
At first, it was easy to blame himself.
Jay had made a foolish mistake, and Asta had every right to be upset with him. Even as inexperienced as Jay was with relationships, he knew that declaring his love so soon had been a tiny bit insane.
Okay, very insane.
As the days ticked by, however, Jay thought more about how Asta had responded.
However forward Jay’s feelings were, Asta had not exactly been nice about it.
In fact, Asta had been a complete and total bitch.
It was easier to redirect his anger toward Asta, and Jay objectively reasoned that Asta was deserving of it for being so mean to him. Being shocked made sense, but the outright cruelty had been completely uncalled for. Jay didn’t know if he’d scared Asta or maybe freaked him out or both, but he was certain that he hadn’t deserved that kind of venom.
He tried to stay mad because that hurt less than acknowledging how thoroughly Asta had smashed his heart into unrecognizable pieces, and Jay wanted to forget all about it. He wanted to pretend that his time in Xenon simply hadn’t happened and get back to work like everything was fine.
Ted, however, was very persistent.
Ted somehow had a cell phone in Xenon because of course he did, and he texted Jay almost daily to see if he was ready to have that chat he’d promised. He told Jay he knew something had happened because Asta had been a complete shit lately and he was worried about Jay.
Jay blew him off, saying that it wasn’t a big deal and they’d talk soon.
Except soon never happened.
Jay found every excuse to avoid talking to Ted except via text, and time zipped by in a dreary blur. He drowned himself in work so he wouldn’t have to think about anything, avoided his co-workers and new friends in the Super Secret Sages Club because they were all reminders of what had happened, and he did his best to get over Asta.
It didn’t work.
Everything reminded him of Asta, from movies to jokes to certain foods and of course gaming. He hadn’t logged on Crusaders for longer than fifteen minutes because he immediately thought of the raids he went on with Asta and the stupid picnic basket and all the rest.
Jay was broken, and he had no idea how to fix it.
He thought about reaching out to Ted, but he didn’t think he could bring himself to tell him the truth. When Ted texted him that Asta had gotten a new cell phone and shared his number, Jay couldn’t resist saving it into his contacts even though he told himself he was never ever going to use it.
He lamented that he was going to suffer like this for the rest of his life in secrecy, maybe move to a remote island and take up fishing, or perhaps he’d—
There was a knock at the door.
Having been in the middle of a pity nap on the couch, Jay’s head jerked up in surprise.
Today was Saturday, but he didn’t remember having anything planned for this weekend except for more wallowing in his own self-pity and maybe a very overdue shower.
He dragged himself out of his sad little nest of blankets and pillows, and then he trudged to the door. He peeked through the peephole and was surprised to see Ted standing on the other side.
So much for avoiding Ted until the end of all eternity.
Jay ran a hand through his hair, hoped he looked somewhat human, and he answered the door with a forced smile. “Hi.”
“Hey!” Ted immediately pulled Jay into a giant hug. “Miss me?”
“Ugh!” Jay coughed, smacking Ted’s back as a plea for mercy. “Uh, sure, I guess! It hasn’t been that long, has it?”
“Uh, it’s been months, Jay. Literally months.”
“O-Oh.” Jay adjusted his glasses. “I guess I lost track of the time. I know a lot of crazy stuff has been going on and uh, I just, I’ve been working a lot—”
“I know.” Ted squeezed Jay’s shoulders. “Don’t worry. I’m here to help!”
Jay frowned. “But it’s not up until the end of the… oh, gods.”
“Sorry.” Jay sheepishly ushered Ted inside the apartment. “The days have really been getting away from me here lately.”
“It’s okay.” Ted went right to the couch, parking in his usual spot at the end nearest the door. “I know you’ve been busy.”
“Yeah, you too.” Jay plopped down on the opposite end of the couch. “How’s everything in the mystical world of Xenon?”
“Same shit, different day. I fucking love it.” Ted grinned. “It’s great, seriously. You should come back and visit soon. Graham asks about you all the damn time.”
Jay pulled his nest of blankets into his lap and attempted to bury himself again. “Oh, that’s, uh, that’s nice. Graham’s a sweet kid. You guys ever find a new vessel for him that he could use?”
“We sure did!” Ted laughed. “It’s this big stuffed cat doll. Well, I guess technically it’s an Asra doll, but it was totally blessed by Great Azaethoth, blah blah, and it worked!”
“Thank you again for figuring that out.” Ted beamed. “It’s really given Graham a brand new lease on life. His afterlife, whatever. He’s happy. He can run around the whole castle now, and he’s driving Kunst up the wall. It’s fuckin’ great. Kinda freaks people out when this giant three foot tall plush cat comes barreling at them, but Grell’s made it into a game now to see how many people he can scare every day. It’s pretty fuckin’ funny.”
“Wait, so where is he right now?”
“That’s just it!” Ted grinned from ear to ear. “He’s doing his thing in his cat plush body over in Xenon while I’m here in Aeon. Kinda weird actually to be away from him like this, but our bond is still goin’ even across worlds. Wild, huh?”
“I’m really glad.” Jay pulled the blankets up to his neck. “So, uh, we just gotta sign the new lease, is that right?”
“We’re taking you off the lease and you’re giving me the apartment?”
“Yeah, plus Grell may have worked some magic to get you a lower rent ‘cause he’s just thoughtful like that.”
“Wow.” Jay perked up. “Thank you!”
“Oh, and he should have already grabbed my stuff from my room, but—”
“Crap. I haven’t been in there in a while. I didn’t even notice.”
“Sure, sure, but hey, I wanna talk to you about something else first.”
Jay tensed. “Something else?”
“Yeah. You know, you never really said goodbye when you left Xenon,” Ted said carefully. “And you left in an awful big hurry.”
“I was in a big hurry to come home.”
“Or in a big hurry to get away from Asta?”
Ted stared expectantly.
“Is it… is it really that obvious?” Jay yanked a blanket over his head to avoid Ted’s piercing gaze.
“Pretty fucking obvious.”
Jay buried himself farther into the nest.
“If Asta did something, I will absolutely beat his ass,” Ted promised.
“He’s a super powerful cat monster. How are you gonna do that?”
“I’ll get Graham to do it.”
Jay peeked out. “The ghost kid in the plush cat body?”
“I can at least scare the piss out of him a few good times.” Ted smiled gently. “Come on, Jay. What’s goin’ on? You guys were gettin’ along real good, and then bam, nothin’.”
Jay sank down so only his eyes were peering out of the tangle of blankets as he replied, “Well, I might have maybe been, uh, getting close to Asta. Very close. And uh, I sort of… maybe… told him…”
“That I loved him.” Jay cringed.
“Aw, buddy.” Ted patted Jay’s blanket lump. “Fuck.” He paused. “After a week? Really?”
“Yes, fucking really!” Jay snapped. “This is exactly why I didn’t want to fucking talk about it. I knew you were gonna say something like that!”
“Hey, hey!” Ted smiled. “No, it’s not like that. Look, me and Grell had only known each other for like a week before we got engaged.”
“Wasn’t that because he tricked you into moving a body?”
“Okay, yes, but I was definitely in love with him before I ever said yes to that fuckin’ bullshit.” Ted laughed. “Love has its own fuckin’ crazy timetable, and it’s different for everybody. If you fell in love with Asta in a week, you fell in love with that dope in a week.”
“Well.” Jay poked his head out slowly. “He didn’t, uh, feel the same way. Asta, I mean. He didn’t…” The pain of the brutal rejection rushed to the surface in a hot wave of tears, and Jay sniffed. “He didn’t feel the same way.”
“Fuck.” Ted scooted closer so he could drag Jay into a big hug. “I’m so sorry, man.”
“He said all this horrible shit! Like, like he was just looking for something casual, and, and that we weren’t dating so he wasn’t technically breaking up with me, and, and—!” He broke off in a small sob that he quickly tried to quell. “He was an asshole. An epic fucking asshole.”
“Well, if it’s any consolation, he’s been a miserable little shit.”
“It helps. Kinda.” Jay wiped at his face. He accidentally smudged his glasses and then took them off to use the blanket to clean them.
“Asta never said what happened. All Grell could get out of him was something about not earning enough experience and jumping a bunch of levels or some shit. So, it’s been a bit of a mystery.” Ted shrugged. “He’s the one who told me to give you his phone number, which I’m guessing you never dialed up since he still asks me about you. He won’t say shit when I tell him how you’re doin’ though.”
“What do you tell him?”
“That you’re doing fucking awesome, obviously.” Ted smirked. “I’m not tellin’ your ex that I’m worried about you! He needs to think that you’re doing fucking incredible and fine and dandy without his punk ass.”
Jay managed a weak smile. “Thanks.”
“I think you really did a number on him, though. He’s still acting fuckin’ snippy as shit and it’s been, what? Three months?”
“It’s been that long?”
“Yeah.” Ted chuckled. “Math isn’t my strong suit, but it’s been at least three fuckin’ months since you left Xenon. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s summer now.” He patted Jay’s blanket nest. “Remember to stick your head outside every once in a while.”
“Yeah. Sure.” Jay laughed, but his heart wasn’t in it.
He didn’t know what to think about Asta still possibly upset about their break-up or not-break-up or whatever the hell it was that happened between them.
Asta had been such an asshole—why would he even give a crap after all this time?
Holy crap, Jay really did need to get out of this miserable funk.
“You okay?” Ted asked sincerely. “Really. Is there anything I can do?”
“No, I’m okay.” Jay took a deep breath. “I’m going to be okay. I’m going to get over that asshole and forget I ever fucking met him. I appreciate you inviting me back to Xenon to see everyone, I really do, but right now I just need to be here. In the real world. Doing real world stuff.”
“Yeah, okay, man. Whatever you need.”
“Yeah! Let’s do it.”
Ted stayed long after the new lease was signed, and he even ordered dinner for them from Jay’s favorite sushi restaurant. For a little while, it was like being roommates again, and Jay was struck by how much he’d missed hanging out with Ted.
Jay had been a little distracted while he was in Xenon, and it was nice to spend some quality time with his old friend.
Ted told him about the upcoming wedding, the crazy politics of Xenon court, and how very happy he was with Grell and Graham. Asta too, though Ted was polite enough not to mention him much. It did, however, somehow remind Ted of the bottle of whiskey he’d left stashed in the kitchen.
They opened it.
They drank it.
And by the time Grell came to see how Ted was doing, Ted and Jay were both quite drunk.
They’d put on some ridiculous action movies and made popcorn, and they had an absolutely fantastic time. Grell was kind enough to leave Jay with a potion for the hangover he was bound to have before he carried Ted back home through a portal.
Alone again but happy, Jay decided to finish the movie and what remained of the whiskey.
Probably not the best idea he’d ever had, but it seemed solid at the time.
Picking up his phone and scrolling down to Asta’s name?
Definitely not a good idea.
He wrote something, erased it, wrote something else, and then promptly passed out.
Jay wasn’t much of a drinker, and his head was absolutely throbbing when he woke up the next morning. He didn’t recall much of last night, but he knew Grell had left him some sort of potion to deal with this exact situation.
He opened one eye and found he was no longer in the living room in his nest.
He was in bed and wearing pajamas…
With little black cats on them.
“Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck—”
Jay bolted out of bed, groaning as the room spun. He stumbled toward the door, but then he had to turn around and go back for his glasses. Once he had them on, he hurried out to the living room.
It was spotless.
All the blankets were folded, the takeout containers were gone, and any evidence that he and Ted had gotten drunk and made a big mess was completely gone.
While that was troubling since Jay had zero memory of cleaning up, he was also panicked to realize he had no idea where his phone was or what he had potentially sent Asta last night.
Because who else would tuck him in with fucking cat pajamas?
Jay headed back to his bedroom and saw now that his phone and the hangover potion were sitting on his bedside table.
Either he hadn’t noticed them before because he was in such a rush or Asta was fucking with him.
Jay snatched up his phone, cringing as he thumbed over to his text messages.
He sighed in relief that it wasn’t anything too mortifying, though he frowned when he kept scrolling to see Asta’s replies.
Just chilling tonight. Might go on a raid into the Lesser Wilds later. Wanna join? 🙂
So. Wyd? You okay?
Jay. Jayyyyy Jay Jay Jay Jayyyyy
Now you’re starting to worry me. Don’t think I won’t come over there. Because I fucking will.
Jay could only assume that Asta did in fact come over when Jay didn’t reply and must have found him in his inebriated state on the sofa.
And then what?
Gave him new clothes and tucked him into bed and then decided to clean up?
Jay was mystified, but at least the potion Grell gave him was easing his headache.
He thought about texting Asta back to thank him for his kindness, but he didn’t want to open that door again. He couldn’t risk it. The heartache almost certainly waiting for him on the other side wasn’t worth it.
He still loved Asta, and he knew Asta didn’t love him.
Asta had come to check on him, yes, but it wasn’t like he’d stuck around or left any additional messages to explain himself. He probably felt sorry for Jay after finding him like that, and he only did what he had out of sympathy.
Now Jay felt worse.
He took a shower, trashed the gifted pajamas in favor of some of his own, and then he deleted Asta’s number from his phone to prevent any future accidents. The best thing he could do was forget this had ever happened.
Certainly seemed like that was what Asta planned to do anyway.
It was better that way.
Being a member of the exclusive Super Secret Sages’ Club, Jay stayed up-to-date on all the crazy adventures going on in Archersville. He also stayed at a safe distance, as in he stayed as far away from the action as possible.
He’d already been the target of a god for an evil experiment, plus he was Silenced.
Unless Azaethoth the Lesser and Sloane needed help with changing the toner in a printer, there wasn’t much Jay could do to help.
It was one crisis after another, and Jay took every opportunity to work overtime to keep himself busy. The department was overwhelmed enough to justify the extra hours, and it helped distract him from lingering thoughts of Asta. Milo and Chase let him know when the real crazy stuff was happening, and Jay always made any world-ending-affiliated tasks his priority.
Not that there was much for him to do being a Silenced tech guy, but still.
It had been over six months now since he’d last seen Asta, not counting that time he came over and cleaned up after Jay .
Jay tried not to think about Asta, but it was still hard. That single week they’d spent together had left such a deep impression on him, and he didn’t know if he’d ever fully recover. When one of the AVPD officers asked him out on a date, Jay politely declined because all he could suddenly think about was the picnic date he’d gone on with Asta.
Poor Barry in homicide couldn’t possibly compete with that.
Jay decided then Asta had ruined him for any other partner because how could anyone else hope to ever compare?
He was doomed to be alone, probably forever, still dreaming of bright eyes and a sly smile.
Jay was almost grateful when the next crisis rolled around because it gave him something else to focus on.
The city was currently in turmoil over clothing that had been printed with magical spells that caused whoever was having a crappy day to read it and drown. Considering that Jay thought every day was crappy, he was happy to stay inside his closet.
He worked out of what was also the janitor’s closet when his old office was allocated to another department. He’d gotten used to the acrid smell of the disinfectants, though it was still annoying when the custodians parked the mop bucket in the tiny path he used to walk around his desk to sit down.
When there was a knock at the door, Jay expected to see either the custodian coming in for supplies or someone who needed help with their email.
There was also a high chance that the printer was in need of attention and considering that it was almost time to clock out, it would no doubt be some sort of disaster that would take hours to fix.
Just last week, someone had tried to load the paper tray with a ham sandwich, so Jay’s expectations were set rather low.
He was pleasantly surprised to see it was Detective Chase.
Chase lumbered in, tipping his fedora in greeting as he exclaimed, “Hey, Jay! How’s it hangin’?”
“Hey!” Jay smiled. “Good, fine, uh. How’s it going out there?”
“Eh, you know. The usual.” Chase shut the door behind him and let out a loud sigh of relief. He lowered his voice as he continued, “Everybody has officially lost their shit since Cleus went all crazy downtown—”
“Wait, Cleus attacked the city again?”
“Yeah! Where the hell have you been?”
Jay gestured angrily to the small room.
“Sorry!” Chase grimaced. “Milo said he’d gotten the word out and—”
“It’s okay.” Jay offered a gentle smile. “I get it. I’d forget about me being stuck back here all the time too.”
“Is everybody okay?
“Yeah! I mean, except Cleus.”
“Sloane did his Starkiller thing?” Jay guessed.
“Sure fuckin’ did.” Chase tipped his hat. “I wasn’t there, but uh, Merrick told me about it. Oh, and that creep Jeff Martin is dead.”
“What happened to him?”
“So, apparently he got touched by the star baby thing—”
“The Kindress?” Jay bolted up. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, that guy!” Chase nodded. “You know how he had that nasty spot on his face? That’s apparently where the star baby touched him. He’d been using some kinda totem to keep it from eating him up, and well, he took it out.” He made a loud squishing sound. “Turned right into soup.”
“Okay, that’s gross, but that also means that the Kindress is here on Aeon!”
“Yeah, that’s what Merrick and them said.” Chase’s jovial demeanor dimmed. “Not exactly a fun surprise, huh?”
“No. Not really.”
As a devout Sage, Jay knew the legends of the Kindress well, and he knew it meant nothing but trouble if such a being was here in their world. He sat back down with a sigh, shaking his head at the dismal prospects.
He knew Sloane and Azaethoth were powerful, not to mention the many other old gods were awake, but this…
This was the Kindress, a being of pure starlight.
What the heck would a sword of starlight do to someone made of starlight?
“That Alexander guy and Rota are supremely pissed that Jeff offed himself before tellin’ ‘em where Rota’s body is. Still trying to wrap my mind around that whole situation.” Chase scratched his beard. “Stoker’s pissed too, so they’re having themselves a little team-up to go after Daisy.”
“She got away then?”
“Yup. Blew up some stuff and skedaddled.”
“Shit.” Jay leaned back in his chair.
“Yeah. Shit.” Chase cleared his throat. “There’s, uh, one more thing I ain’t told you about yet.”
“Oh no. What?” Jay’s stomach twisted.
“I met your ex. Asta.”
Jay leaned too far and flipped out of his chair.
“Fuck, are you okay?” Chase tried to come help Jay, but he couldn’t squeeze by the desk to get to him.
“Good! I’m good!” Jay had landed on his side, and he fumbled to his knees. He adjusted his glasses, stammering, “Y-You met Asta? Asta was there?”
“Yeah.” Chase’s brow furrowed. “Sloane and Loch called him in when Pandora went missing. He’s, uh, somethin’ else. Really hates pants.”
“Yeah. That’s him.” Jay’s face immediately flushed, and he scrambled to sit back down. His heart was racing now, and he was ravenous for more information. “So, uh, was he okay? What, uh, what was he doing? You, uh, you said he came to help?”
“Yeah.” Chase nodded. “Some sort of royal IOU Sloane called in when those bastards took Pandora. Asta helped track Pandora down and stuck around to help us with Cleus.”
“Yeah. He even wore clothes.” Chase cringed. “You know, kinda.”
Jay wanted to ask a million questions, but he couldn’t bring himself to choke out a single word. They would be far too telling of what he was feeling right now, and he hated how desperate he’d sound if he did.
Did Asta ask about him? Was Asta dating anyone? Was he as ridiculously hot as Jay remembered and—oh, by all the gods, this was several shades beyond desperate and Jay refused to even breathe.
“But, uh.” Chase cleared his throat. “I know you two didn’t exactly work out, but he’s giving me the distinct impression that he wants to rekindle the flames of your romance.” He wagged his brows meaningfully.
“That, that isn’t…” Jay scoffed. “What?”
“He’s crazy about you, kiddo.” Chase tipped his hat. “Trust me. As soon as I mentioned that I could put in a good word with you, I’ve never seen nobody put pants on so fast.”
“Wait, wait, back up!” Jay pinched his nose. “What now?”
“That talkin’ bubble ball thing, Cunt or whatever, he happened to mention that dear Prince Asta hadn’t been right since whatever went wrong between you guys. So, when Asta was being a lil’ hard to get along with, I maybe told him I’d sweet talk you up a bit for him.”
“Is that what this is? You’re… sweet talking me?”
“Jay, you’re a good kid, and I’m gonna shoot you straight.” Chase smiled gently. “Yes, maybe he had that damn googly-eyed look on him that I’ve seen on many a googly-eyed young man when we talked about you. I ain’t sayin’ it’s somethin’, but it’s definitely not nothin’. But I know that he did you wrong too. Knew that the second you came back from Xenon.”
Jay made a face.
“I don’t need to know the details or whatever, that’s your business, and all I agreed to was passing along a message. What you do with it is up to you. And if you don’t want any more messages, I’ll tell Prince Asta to fuck right off.”
“You know he’s older than you, right?”
“I don’t give a fuck.” Chase grinned. “I’ll just make sure I’m standin’ real close to Merry when I tell ‘em off.”
Jay smiled weakly. “Okay, well… uh… What was the message?”
“He said he’d be hanging out at your usual spot for a while,” Chase recited carefully.
“Our usual spot?” Jay frowned.
“Said you’d know what it would mean.”
“Oh. Well. Uh, thank you.” Jay fidgeted. “For all of that. And for telling me what was going on. Let me know if I can help with anything?”
“You got it, kiddo.” Chase tipped his hat. “Stay safe out there. Streets are still pretty fuckin’ rowdy.”
“Me and Merry can wait for you if you want. Walk you out?”
“No, that’s okay. I’m sure it’s okay, heh.” Jay stood up in a hurry. “I think, uh, I think I’m gonna sneak out right now as a matter of fact.” He grabbed his coat. “Yeah, definitely right now.”
Chase grinned. “Go get ‘em, tiger.”
Chase left while Jay put his coat on and grabbed his keys, and Chase left the door open no doubt in anticipation of Jay’s impending exit.
Jay was weirdly excited, definitely nervous, and he had no idea if this was about to be the next big stupid mistake of his life or not. He’d spent months trying to get over Asta, and now here he was running right back like a lovesick puppy to him at the first chance he got.
He told himself it would just be to talk. That’s all. It was only going to be a conversation. He had no interest in reconnecting with Asta romantically, and he told himself that’s not what this was about.
Jay deserved real closure, sincere answers, and a very heartfelt apology from Asta for his awful behavior. If he was ever going to move on with his life and get over Asta, he needed to do this.
After that, well…
It was a very good thing that their usual spot was a digital one because Jay didn’t know if he could trust himself being in Asta’s physical presence right now.
After all, their usual hang-out spot was in the game.
Crusaders of the Dark Savant.
Jay would never admit to how fast he drove back home to his apartment, but he was glad that the city’s cops were busy dealing with the big mess downtown.
He was maybe definitely not obeying the posted speed limit, and his mind raced faster than the car. He hadn’t logged on Crusaders in months because it made him think of Asta and now here he was, rushing home to see him in their favorite spot:
The fairy glen in the Lesser Wilds, a secluded spot in an enchanted forest not too unlike where they’d had their romantic picnic date in Xenon.
He saw Asta’s fairy monk avatar, Bob, right away, and Jay hesitantly moved his character over to greet him. He sent a wave emoji, waiting anxiously.
Asta’s avatar launched into a festive dance, and Jay saw a new private message notification pop up.
It was a link for a private channel in a chat application called Strife, commonly used during gaming for players to communicate while raiding.
Jay ignored that it was called “Bob’s Love Shack”, and he clicked the link.
He waited for the telltale ding that he’d been connected, adjusting his headset mic as he cleared his throat. “Uh. Hi. Asta?”
“No Asta here. This is Bob the fairy monk. I specialize in big juicy legendary equipment and got the stamina enchants to raid all night long.”
Jay laughed. “Hi, Asta. How are you?”
“I’m peachy keen, jelly bean. Just helped save the world, you know. Big hero stuff.”
“I heard.” Jay leaned back in his chair, trying to ignore how quickly his heart got to fluttering listening to Asta’s voice. “Congratulations. And thank you, you know, for saving the world and all that. As someone who lives here, I appreciate it.”
“Anytime. It’s no big deal, really. Pretty easy stuff for a powerful guy like me.” Asta paused. “Uh, how are you doing?”
“Uh.” Jay fidgeted. “Good. Pretty good. You know, just… uh…” He moved his character around in circles. “Just working. Been working a lot.”
“Yeah. Cool.” Jay cringed. He had no idea what else to say, and this was quickly becoming awkward. He questioned why he even agreed to this, and his stomach clenched. “So, uh–”
“I didn’t think you were gonna come,” Asta blurted out.
“Well, considering what happened when I popped over to your place the last time, I was pretty sure you were never gonna speak to me again. You made it pretty clear that you weren’t real happy with me.”
“Wait, what are you talking about?”
Asta snorted. “Uh, you told me to go die in the fucking fires of the Starter Dungeon like, and I am directly quoting here, an impotent mouth-breathing elitist cunt who had a big problem with his brain missing.”
“Okay, I added the cunt part, but I did appreciate the Firefly reference.”
Jay drew his knees up to his chest and hugged his legs, wishing he could physically retreat from the embarrassment. “I do not, uh, remember any of that.”
Asta chuckled. “You were pretty drunk.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay. I kinda deserved it and then some.” Asta sighed. “Like, a lot of some. Like, all of it.”
“Is this you actually apologizing?” Jay was suspicious.
“I’m working on it, okay?” Asta huffed. “I, uh, maybe wasn’t exactly kind. Before. When you told me… that thing that you did.”
“I was an asshole. I know I was. Look, I’ve been with a lot of people, all right? I mean, I’ve been around. All up and down the road to pound town, hit the booty buffet and usually went back for seconds. I’ve done some weird ass shit, shit with toothbrushes–”
“How is this you apologizing?”
“Just, hang on, I’m getting there,” Asta pleaded. “What I’m trying to say is that I was with all these guys, and they never made me happy. Not a single one of them because, well, none of them were you. I meant what I said when I told you that being with you was the happiest I’d ever been. And when you, uh, said what you said… it scared me.”
Jay frowned. “Scared you? Why?”
“Because I’m a giant chicken shit who just wanted to party and have fun. You feeling that way about me made it too real, and I was suddenly, like, gonna be responsible for having to be a good boyfriend and all this crazy shit I have no idea how to do. Being a slut is fucking easy, but having to figure out being a partner? Worrying that I was gonna fuck it up? I freaked out a tiny bit.”
“You asked me for a farewell blowjob after dumping me.”
“Which was very rude.”
“You told me I was bonkers.”
“Yes, I was a bitch. We’ve established that.”
“You also said I was only offering to sleep with you so you’d feel the same way about me.”
“Mega-bitch even, okay? I’m… I’m sorry.” Asta sighed. “I wish I knew some other fuckin’ way to say it. I wanted to talk to you for fuckin’ months, but Ted kept goin’ on about how great you were doing without me and I got worried I’d just fuck up again.”
“Why’d you come over when I texted you then?”
“Okay, uh, first of all, I hadn’t heard from you in forever. And then, drunky drunk, you passed the fuck out and scared the shit out of me when you wouldn’t text me back. I didn’t know if you’d fallen down and smashed your head or what.”
“That wouldn’t have–”
“Last winter solstice. You, spiced wine, coffee table.”
“Okay, fine, so I’m a little clumsy sometimes.” Jay toyed with the cord of his headset. “I’m… I’m sorry I said that stuff to you. And that I worried you.”
“It’s okay.” Asta sounded like he was smiling now. “I had it coming. Kinda why I just figured I’d stay away from you. Let you do your thing. Live life. Blah blah.”
“Why did you talk to Chase about me then?”
“Ginger daddy said he could sell life insurance to a dead man, and I… I maybe wanted to talk to you one last time. I figured if he was half as good as he said he was, that he’d get me a chance to say how sorry I was.” Asta’s tone was sincere, and his voice seemed strained as if he was trying to keep his emotions at bay. “Because I am. I’m so damn sorry. I got scared, I fucked it up, and I lashed out like a complete fuckin’ tool.
“And the truth is… I haven’t exactly been the nicest person here lately. I’ve been an asshole to everybody because I’m pretty damn pissed off at myself. Four whole stupid centuries in this world and I didn’t have a fucking clue how to react to somebody tellin’ me they loved me except to be a dick fungus.
“All I could think about was how I wasn’t… good enough.”
“What are you talking about?” Jay scoffed.
“Hey, everlasting cat princes are allowed to be insecure too, thank you,” Asta teased lightly. “But for cereal… I… I couldn’t get all that shit out of my head we’d just been talking about with my old man and measuring my own success. It made me realize that I haven’t exactly been successful at fuckin’ all, and when you dropped your love bomb? Definitely wasn’t feeling it.”
“Because you didn’t think you deserve it?” Jay shook his head. “Look, even though you’re still a ginormous tool, I meant what I said. You’re a really great guy, Asta. You’ve helped save the world twice now. Not just Aeon, but pretty much the entire universe. And it’s the small stuff too.”
“Like giving me flowers that smelled like fish because you know how much I love sushi. Changing the damn colors of those flowers because you knew I’d notice because I love the game so much…”
And it’s why I love you so much. Because you remembered. You listened to me. You paid attention.
Jay couldn’t very well say any of that, so he instead chose to add, “You… you really are amazing.”
“Yeah, I am pretty cool and all, but after love comes marriage and the baby carriage and I just can’t wrap my head around any of that. I’m not exactly mature, you know”
“But I didn’t want you to be.” Jay’s eyes stung. “I just… I just wanted you to be you and to be with me. I didn’t love some idealized perfect future version of you. I loved the crazy ridiculous guy you are right now.”
“Loved?” Asta echoed sadly, focusing on the past tense of the word. “Do you not… feel that way about me now?”
Jay sniffed. “I… I don’t know.”
Isn’t that why he rushed home to log on a game he hadn’t played in months?
Though Asta was the very reason he’d been avoiding said game, he’d risked certain imprisonment by driving at neck-breaking speeds just to meet him here.
Jay’s heart hurt, and he had no idea how to answer.
“I can’t, I can’t answer that right now.”
“Sorry. Shit. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“It’s okay.” Jay took off his glasses so he could wipe the tears from his eyes. “I really do appreciate you apologizing. I do. It’s, uh… It really does mean a lot, but I don’t think… I don’t think we can…”
“Look, I’m not asking for another chance. Pretty sure I annihilated any and all percentage of a happy ending here. But maybe we could aim for, uh, a neutral one?”
“What do you mean?”
“You up for a raid?”
Jay laughed. “Yeah. Totally.”
“Fighters still suck.”