[Note: Rowan’s name was initially hidden by the codename “Ash.” Though I’ve changed the text to reflect how I will no longer be protecting them, you will still see ‘Ash’, meaning Rowan, in the screenshots below. The same is true of Vali’s former moniker, which was formerly ‘March’ and also of Sage’s former moniker, which was ‘Asra.’]
“Have I ever told you what exactly happened with my ex?”
Arkady was hesitant. After all, Aberle had actually told Rowan and him the entire story, much of which I still can’t remember. In pure alter fashion (Aberle’s probably a trauma-holder?), Aberle had warned Rowan and Arkady against telling me more than I knew. “What do you remember?”
I’d spent a while calming Arkady down after Rowan’s ‘jealous’ accusation hours before. He was terrified for Rowan and himself, despairing that any progress he’s had in the past five years has been erased by a comparison that wasn’t even quite rational.
I’d been hurt by Rowan’s lack of communication, and the visible favouring of Vali to Arkady– sure, they’d moved house recently, and New Relationship Euphoria was an unfortunate but manageable phenomena within the polyamorous world. But this seemed like something more.
The new memory I had didn’t have much context. I couldn’t place the exact build-up, nor the timing, or why certain things happened the way they had. I still struggle to place it. But in our nest of mattresses and blankets, the telly running softly in the background, Arkady’s long arms wrapped around me, his consistent candlewick scent curled against my face, wine blanketing my head like a fresh layer of snow– I felt safe enough to try to explore it. “It started in Dominic’s house, during a party…”
It was common enough to see JaK carrying a still-sleeping Sound down for breakfast. JaK was one hell of a cook, so I’d made a habit of waiting for his emergence so he would feel obligated to offer to cook me something. Eggs Benedict, Benedict Oscar, eggy in a basket– the possibilities were endless and delicious. Sound would usually awaken in the middle of koala-ing his husband, and we’d happily indulge in the joking and gossip of the night before.
Kirra walked down and joined me at the kitchen island. Sound was just waking up and happened to spot Kirra— and he started, as if frightened. “Oh– fuck.” Sound laughed a little, still groggy from sleep. Kirra’s eyes hardened. “Oh, well, I can see I’m not welcomed, then.”
“I think I see it,” Arkady said as he held me. His warmth was ambrosia, for my insides felt so very cold. “Like… Sound kind of flinched away, but in that instinctive way.” He mimicked the motion exactly.
“Yeah, but Kirra took offense to it. And by extension, JaK did too…”
JaK looked between Sound and I, the distaste plain on his face. “Oh. I see.” He dropped Sound unceremoniously on the counter and began to pointedly walk away, perhaps to comfort Kirra from the horrors of startling someone.
Sound’s wide-eyed look of dread and bewildered remorse was something that made me want to shrink into my seat until I was no longer visible. “JaK? Wait! I was sleepy! I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t mean anything by it!”
It was how things were, those days. One misstep and bonds forged over years and lifetimes were at risk.
Sound was pleading JaK to just come back and they could go about the beginning of their day as per usual. JaK was coldly telling Sound to apologise to Kirra. Finally, Sound snapped with a mounting desperation, “JaK, you’re a wonderful husband otherwise, but I can’t help but notice that this is something that always happens when Kirra‘s around! You’re not like this with anyone else, what is with you?”
That apparently wasn’t the right thing to say. I was physically curling from the anxiety. Nox, my friend and niece (once-removed), came down to see what all the noise was about. Kirra was looking on with a silent fury at Sound, for daring to accuse her of anything. Nox had leaned in to ask me what was going on. I’d explained, with some frustrated exasperation, that Sound had committed the crime of jumping a bit while waking up.
Nox’s brow had crinkled in concerned bafflement. It didn’t matter how absurd the beginning was– this could still get very bad.
“I’d stayed at the kitchen bar, and JaK was more towards the dining room behind it.” I’d explained, trying to stop shaking.
Arkady nodded. “Yes, I see it. And there’s a staircase leading up, perpendicular to it.” At the time, it made perfect sense for him to also be seeing what I was flashing back to, but I was still thrilled by it. I was of the Moon Element in Chaotics theory, and they could share dreams, memories, and images with just a touch. It made sense then, at least. It doesn’t make much sense now. There was no way he could’ve known how that room was laid out– but I digress.
While I had been preoccupied with explaining the situation to Nox, as she had been a long-time friend of JaK’s, something Sound said apparently tipped the scales for JaK. “I want a divorce,” he spat.
All of us froze. JaK and Sound were such a perfect, loving couple. Where the FUCK was this coming from?
Sound looked as though a judge had just sentenced her to death. She honestly probably would’ve preferred that. “What?”
“I want a divorce.” JaK repeated coldly. “You’ll get the papers from me tomorrow.”
My memory cuts a bit here. I’m not sure if it’s due to trauma or if someone else just simply stole the memory from me. I do remember explaining to Arkady, “They were a solid couple. Like, imagine if you did that to me.” Another year and he wouldn’t have to imagine it, of course. “I remember Sound screaming… Like… this agonized, echoing, raw sound… Sobbing and wailing. Kirra had fainted for some reason, and JaK was just going to leave Sound there to go help her. Nox and I intervened, at that point. Nox took Kirra in her arms and we ran upstairs– in search of a pureblood or Water Spirit or something– they both had healing abilities. But it was so strange… We were knocking and even tugging on the doors, and yelling for help, but it was like–… well, you’ve said I have time powers, maybe I got so scared that I froze time. Sound’s screams are just… echoing through, begging JaK to please stop. JaK’s yelling at her, at that point. I’m glad Nox was the one carrying Kirra, because I might’ve wanted to throw her out the window just to run down and tell JaK off.” I shook my head. “It was haunting. It… still haunts me.” Arkady’s arms tightened around me. I was once again in awe with how safe I felt with him, even when lost in my memories. “No one answered her. Everyone just claimed not to hear her, but how could you not? The next few weeks were basically a probation period for the relationship. I remember once walking in on Sound watching a video of her wedding and just silently sobbing. It was heart-breaking…” I looked up at him, furrowing my brow. “She doesn’t remember that, anymore. I know it happened, because Aberle remembers it… But neither Sound or JaK seem to. It’s probably better that they don’t. But I still do.”
Arkady had held me through that flashback. We continued to speak to each other about Vali’s influence on Rowan, and the parallels of how everyone in the ‘other plane’ had acted around Kirra.
The only new bit of news was that Vali had declared Rowan his ‘special interest’ to justify his “clinginess.” When Arkady suggested that they all have a group talk over what had just happened, Vali’s immediate reaction was empty threats to move out.
We were both triggered and pinging off of each other. Arkady, because this wasn’t the first time that he’s been the ‘not favourite’ in a polyamorous situation. And myself because all of this really seemed like what Kirra had put me through years before. Hell, Vali had even dyed his hair red, like Kirra’s. I mean, good lord– how could I not make the comparison?
What Aberle and I had called ‘The Effect,’ that made people, en masse, defend abhorrent behaviour– to the point where they no longer acted like themselves, where they lacked reason, accountability, or even memory, to where the strongest bonds were forfeit over perceived slights. Like when Koji had slighted Romeo and paid dearly. Or when Sound failed to like JaK’s pushy friend. Arkady and I would settle on calling this effect ‘Gaslamp.’
“Why’d you have to go and give it a name?” A friend would say, years later. But I doubt it would’ve changed anything.
I’d told Arkady about it. I theorized, seeing what Vali was doing to our friend circle, that such an effect was following me, infiltrating my circles once again. I mean, hell, Arkady had yelled at me since Vali had gotten there and hadn’t even remembered it. Rowan accused him of being jealous and couldn’t even think of a basis for it. Hell, Rowan wanted to marry Vali after four months of knowing him, despite Vali having held himself hostage and abandoning them at an airport a week before.
And the most damning piece of evidence was– sweet little Rowan couldn’t possibly allow this to happen, wouldn’t allow poor Arkady to suffer so.
How else to explain this other than magic?
Well. Rose-tinted glasses, and all that.
I’ve agonized, over the past year, at what I could’ve done differently. As militaristic as I am about ‘reacting’ well, there was no reacting well when it came to that level of trauma and triggering. What person could go through what I did with Vali and Rowan in 2019 and not act erratically when in a brand new living situation, on brand-new depression meds? I couldn’t just not act like all of this bothered me– it did bother me. Everything else was out of my control. But my biggest mistake? Something I could have avoided?
Trusting Rowan, and expecting them to be better than this.
I’d conveniently forgotten how Rowan had viciously ordered someone in Arkady’s system to hit them across the face to ‘prove’ that he had alters, then let everyone think that was Arkady abusing them afterward. I’d conveniently forgotten how Rowan, while spiraling, had grabbed the steering wheel away from Arkady and tried to drive them both off the road and to their deaths. I’d forgotten Arkady telling me the chokehold Rowan put him in when Arkady had tried to stop them from overdosing. I’d missed how when their old friend group had turned against them, Rowan being their main point of contact of the couple, was convinced that Arkady was abusing them. The old friend group even called the two ‘The Tree’ and ‘The Rot.’ Guess who was designated to be the Rot?
Arkady– who, unlike Rowan, had no direct relatives within the city, would end up homeless if they split, and had no true control over the housing situation what ever.
Of course, I’d also forgotten Rowan theorizing that Arkady’s aversion to touch was a mere phase picked up from identifying too closely with a Six of Crows character, and wishing more frequently that Arkady would go back to his ((traumatized)) hypersexual phase– a line of thought that would later be turned around to me when it suited everyone.
It was all pointing to a truth that neither of us wanted to see at the time. We were both more than willing to accept that this cult-like effect, this mob mentality multiplied on an absurd scale– it was like a curse.
Arkady considered and agreed with the ‘Gaslamp’ theory. He also had his own.
We’d both noted that in some of Vali’s and Rowan’s more… erm… explicit videos, Rowan was chanting “Brother, brother” over and over again with Vali. It really came across as a chant. Arkady suggested sex magic, and I felt that seemed reasonable. “Rowan and Vali don’t even look alike.:” Arkady said with derision plain in his tone. “They’re not twins and Rowan knows this. That’s gotta be how Vali is convincing them that they are.”
It was also somewhat likely that Vali was just the run-of-the-mill abuser who used Rowan as an escape from his ex. And Rowan, suddenly in a polyam triangle wherein they were not the centre, had just soaked up all of the physical affection and undivided attention they received and were open to Vali’s poorly disguised attempts to shoulder their friends, partner, and family away to have Rowan for himself.
But Rowan was above such things, I’d reasoned. Surely, they wouldn’t be just a mindless drone to anyone they happened to be dating at the time. That wasn’t a theory that either of us were willing to accept, back then. Now, it seems laughingly obvious.
So, curse it was.
Arkady had always told me that I was more powerful than I’d ever imagined. A ‘glitch in the universe’, to fondly quote him. I was new to using magic outside of my inworld, but he’d pointed out before that my simply wishing my perpetually suicidal partner, Avery, would make it through their plight in my journal entries had made it so. I mean, hell, Arkady had also told me about Oscar Wilde being my past life and suddenly the blighter was speaking through me, so of course I believed him.
At Arkady’s urging, I wrote a post-dated journal entry, willing us to have already found Vali out by 2021. Arkady also did a counter-spell in the other room. I wanted to be done with all of these manipulations so my bloody life could begin. So that I could be with my loves and my best friend every day, so we could build our lives together.
There were many more joys and tense moments of us holding one another before Arkady finally had to leave back to Rochester, back a household that seemed very much against him. Rowan was back to answering me every eight hours or so, if I were lucky.
My last month in Savannah was fraught with anxiety.
One day in particular, Arkady had expressed feeling suicidal, though not directly threatening anything. I’d texted Rowan a little after noon, tensely pleading with them that that they should check up on their partner when he had gotten home from work– and, you know, maybe have the first full conversation with him than they’d had in months.
I’d asked Rowan for urgent updates.
In a habit that was frustratingly common for Rowan in those days, they didn’t get back to me until hours after Arkady had already been home. “Oh, sorry,” they’d said in a way I could only perceive as flippant. “I forgot. Vali and I were fucking for ten hours.”
Another bizarre thing– Rowan and a friend of theirs, Crow, had had a falling out in the last year or so. Vali had taken it upon himself to ‘get dirt’ on Crow under the guise of pretending to be making friends with them. He would give us updates, as if manipulating someone was a brave, undercover mission and it was so funny that Crow had fallen for it– and Rowan was just okay with it.
“They think I’m actually friends with them! They’re so thirsty for me,” He would boast, then continue to hang out with Crow as if it were a duty.
I suppose it made sense that Rowan was a Taurus. They just couldn’t stop chasing those red flags.
All of this and I could only bite my tongue until it was moving time. This was absolutely the worst thing that could happen to my new life, but Arkady had promised to keep me safe– had even promised to crack Kirra’s ribs if she ever returned to lay a hand on me. And I even had this assurance from Rowan…
So, even though I would soon be leaving a city I adored, an atmosphere I had used to escape my nightmare ex so long ago, I knew I would be safe.