[This story takes place mostly within the inworld, half of which my ex controlled at this time. The paragraphs in Italics are meant to show that it’s all happening in the shared inworld. In case anyone needs a brief refresher, April is the codename of my long-time abuser. Kieran is the codename for this ex’s twin, who she had claimed died in the womb. TW: HEAVY EXISTENTIALISM, trial, execution, memory manipulation, abusive relationships, alternate dimension discussion, cheating, suicidality, brief mention of miscarriage but it’s entirely fabricated, brief discussion of trafficking.]
Kaspar and I had been flirting for a good while since we’d met the year before. It was even my favourite sort of flirting– witty banter that left me vaguely maligned and breathless. It was also telling me about its astrological leanings.
I’d actually never gone in for astrology. I’d looked up my legal birthday and what it said about me– and haven’t found that it fit, and never thought about it again. “Well, of course it wouldn’t, you daft darling,” Kaspar had scoffed. “Try your birthday, not Neb’s.”
It took a long while for us to find a star chart service that would actually calculate back to November 5th, 1822, when my character was officially written in the inworld. (A number that also looks mysteriously like Shadow’s street address, but I digress.) But then Kaspar had a map of my personality laid out in front of it and treated it like endless ammunition for sass. “Ah! I knew you had a secretive side. Your Leo Moon urges you to be both known and liked, but your Scorpio Sun wants to let some things stay hidden and misunderstood. You always struck me as the sort to give the illusion of oversharing, but retaining some of life’s facets on a need-to-know basis. Would you say that’s true?”
I cocked my head to the side. “If the situation called for it.” You know, like my two-month clandestine tryst with Avery. I felt like a cad for it, but I’d attempted the honourable thing– I’d tried to break up with my abusive partner and we all know how that ended up. When Avery confessed to me that this would be the last semester they would have at the Savannah university, we made use of the mirrored trap door in the Drayton Museum. It’d likely be the last time I’d ever see them.
Considering they would go on to feed my abusers my information years later, I now wish it were the last time I’d ever seen them. But back in the setting of this particular blog, I was very much not of that opinion. It was a secret whirlwind of romance, a cathartic release, a montage of heated passion worthy of cinema. Avery was and always would be good at being a catalyst.
That was something I kept from most. I’d also failed to mention the fact that I was still in an abusive relationship to Kaspar, who I’d helped rescue from their abusive relationship just the year previous. “Scorpios are rarely, if ever, monogamous,” Kaspar continued. “Look at you, you’ve even got a Scorpio Venus to match. It’s a wonder you’re not stealing every heart within the hostess city.” There again was that familiar, silent conversation Kaspar and I were having more and more often. You’ve encouraged me to flourish in polyamory and yet here you are, my mentor in relationship anarchy, my Lord Henry, are holding back.
And with raised eyebrows, I sipped my wine. Well, I like you breathing, so I’m going to have to say no to kissing you for a while. Avery, as much as I hated the fact, was at least all the way in Oregon. Kaspar, meanwhile, was still very much within April’s firing range. “I once started a relationship with someone who was born in mid-April. What sign is that?”
“Aries.” Kaspar knew it from memory. It winced. “Oh, a Scorpio and an Aries. If only I could have warned you.” We were in Kaspar’s study, on its desktop that it only used for business. I suppose it counted people’s birth times within that category.
“Oh yeah? That bad?” Could it be that the worst mistake of my life was spelled out in the stars long before it was made?
Kaspar nodded emphatically. “Scorpio and Aries– they’re too alike, and too different, all at once. Their wills have to be aligned for a partnership ever to work. And if it ever does, they’d be the power couple of power couples. But most times, Aries just erodes at Scorpio’s sanity and warps them, like flame to gold. Then Aries just burns themself out, because they don’t even know what they’re heating up anymore.”
We spent all that night speaking about astrology, Kaspar teaching the stereotypes of each signs. It’s one of my favourite nights I’ve spent with it, prior to our getting together. It was on my mind enough to discuss my new knowledge of astrology with April.
April frowned at me. “Ugh. I hate the Aries stereotypes. It makes me out to be all temperamental who just yells at people.”
I stared at her. “You… yell at me all the time, though. You’ve even hit me.”
“That’s different, though. I love you.”
Well, if that’s the case, could you not? As you could tell, our relationship was going as swimmingly as ever. She’d actually given me homework– I was to write her a letter of 50 things I love about her. The extra credit was presumably which three body parts I would willingly slice off of myself just in exchange for her passing all of her classes.
With Xhaxhollari apparently covering for me most days and dodging arguments in the outer world like I dodged projectile flames in the inworld, April was finding it increasingly hard to start an argument with either of us. “I’m going to wear my Trainer Red cosplay to the Rocky Horror Picture Show this year.”
I thought I’d heard her wrong. “The Pokemon cosplay?”
“Yeah, fucking mock my hobbies like you always do! I’m so sick of being with someone who doesn’t support me or take part in any of my interests. You never like me cosplaying anything. You always look give me that look when I do anything that doesn’t fit in your Asperger’s fucking tiny bubble of special interests. If I want to dress as Trainer Red to Rocky Horror, I’m going to dress as Trainer Red, fuck you!”
I nodded absently. What the fuck just happened?
Sometimes, I admit I was more blatant than I should’ve been. Survivor’s fatigue had me downright delirious. Once, I asked her if she wanted to go to a Murder Mystery dinner at a restaurant nearby. “No, not really. You can go without me, though,” she said, as if I could believe that was an option.
That was an old bit of bait. I actually laughed aloud at it. “I’m not falling for that.”
That, as per usual, ended in an inworld crisis.
JaK was due to stand trial for the possibility of losing his sanity, for which the punishment was death, according to April’s people. Which, the thought of punishing JaK and his family for breaking under April’s constant usage was very much on-brand.
I had been at Aberle’s when I’d heard of it. We’d had one hell of a time that night– discovering the ‘manimals’ glitch on Red Dead Redemption, laughing at the donkey woman until we were nearly crying. And gods, I love Aberle’s place. Aberle had inherited an illegal operation– a combination brothel, assassin ring, vigilante killer of paedophiles– all from someone who was running something a lot more exploitative. Aberle built it up to the business it now is– something that has security guards for every sex worker, that has complimentary daycare for their kids, something helps those who want out get educated in a new profession. It was also the environment of people earning money without degrees, vengeance against life itself, and the atmosphere of taking back power. I still sleep over there sometimes when my head gets too messy.
I heard him tensely talking in his clumsy French on his mobile in the kitchen before he wandered in. I could tell by his movements, usually so alive and outward, how they seemed suddenly hesitant as he picked his way through his piles of books on the floor. “Hey, so… There’s a problem with JaK.”
“Holy fuck, can he take a day off?” I practically shouted it, pausing the game as a civilian coiled onto himself and hissed at me like a snake.
Aberle told me what was going on. And– as ashamed as I am to say so, I didn’t act immediately. JaK’s life was threatened on a bi-weekly basis and I was so fucking tired. “Am I a dick if I say it can wait until morning?”
Aberle paused for a moment. He was invested in this family as I was. I was almost afraid he’d call me heartless or beg me to go anyway. Instead, he softly said, “I wish you would’ve had a longer break.”
The next day, I arrived at Demetri’s house later than expected. Apparently, the ‘trial’ already took place and they were holding back a sobbing Sound and a homicidal Koji. The verdict, I’d guessed at a glance, hadn’t been favourable. That’s what I get for sleeping in.
I was hungover, exhausted in ways I didn’t even know were possible, and I was about to make it their problem. “Oh, no. We are not doing this. If you kill him, I’ll stand in your way. Which, I know I’m not the strongest link in this chain– in fact, to a lot of the people in this room, I’m ridiculously easy to kill. But you know who isn’t? Vex, who would burn every single one of you alive. You know that bitch is one tragedy away from a killing spree. Which side wants to lose some fucking numbers?” This was in reference to the fact that Dominic and Demetri Lengston were brothers competing after a crown, both constantly gathering power for an inevitable war. “Believe me, if you try to execute JaK, I am launching myself right into that shit. And I bet none of you are willing to fuck with Vex’s only child.” Some of you may criticize me in saying that I was essentially Ciel Phantomhiving it by threatening everyone with my pet Hellhound. To the critics, I would say– You’re 100% correct.
There was a rippling murmur through the crowds, some of which were openly amused at my declaration.
“Let the boy speak,” Rido said unexpectedly.
That’s a new name for you lot. Rido. I don’t even like him– he’s a fascist aristocrat April created and myself and him have hardly ever crossed paths. He and Aberle had a very public battle a couple of years ago that I helped Aberle in, but Rido wasn’t aware of that. It was actually weird that he’d stand up for me. Not weird that he’d misgender me to do so, but still. But I wasn’t one to disregard a chance to speak. “JaK is also infamously well-connected. He was the butler for the royal family. On the off-chance I’m wrong and he’s a ticking timebomb that’ll level a whole household, that’d still be a lower fatality than angering the ghost of King Dracula over there, come the fuck on.” The dead king’s name was actually Maximilleon and what I was saying was disrespectful to my usual extreme, but hey, maybe they’d just have to kill me at this point. Hell, I was double-dog daring them to.
Because I was Jesse Pinkman Season 4 levels of done.
That sparked the debate once again. Koji and Sound had calmed down enough to argue and Vex, not at all surprised or perturbed that I’d used her probable grief as a bargaining chip, was reinforcing my stance. I left the room and hid in the wine cellar– the idea of executions had always freaked me out, and it was triggering to discuss it further.
And according to Xhaxhollari, that night is when I officially met Kieran– or even knew he existed. But I was under a strong impression that I’d always known who he was, had met even him in the outer world, and had had multiple conversations with him that Xhaxhollari had initially. I remember I used to think that Kieran was made up, just another tragic backstory. But just like Neb discovered Jake, I was meeting Kieran in person. This was, after all, a world in which people who were thought to be dead could come back to life.
I was halfway down the cellar stairs when I realised that I’d probably see Kieran down there– Xhax was planting little details in my head, memories sprouting like mould in a depressed kid’s room. About how Kieran was indeed April’s twin brother, how he could only exist in this ‘other plane’ because April had killed him in the womb in the main timeline, and that we’ve commiserated in the fact that she survived and he didn’t.
“Hello. And also, you’re welcome.” Kieran said, already lounging with his own glass of wine in his hand and another on the wine barrel that was turned into a decorative table in between the two leather chairs.
“Thanks for pouring me a glass,” I sighed, sitting down next to this complete stranger that I was pretty convinced I had been distant friends with for months. It was like a dream– continuing a facet of life that I didn’t know the origin of, but it just seemed to make sense if you didn’t think too hard.
Kieran rolled his eyes. “No, dumbass. Rido. What, you think he stood up for you because he likes you? I talked to him because JaK’s my friend.”
Oh. Well, mystery solved. “Cheers.” I toasted to him before taking a sip. We talked for a bit– making jokes about how long it takes in a party for JaK to volunteer to die in some manner or another. We talked about which video games we’d played lately– his was Dark Souls, mine was Bioshock Infinite. Then, Kieran brought up this interesting point:
“You know there’s a way to stop this, right?” Kieran spoke a lot like April. That same, ‘I know something obvious and you’re annoying and stupid for not knowing it too’ tone. “Everything started going to shit when Neb disappeared and you showed up.”
“That’s the general consensus,” I said dryly. I’d heard it all before. Neb had been the naive, selfless one, like the devoted, virtuous Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean. And here I was, the near-constantly sozzled, egotistical, and floundering Jack Sparrow, suddenly being called upon to save Elizabeth Swan, armed only with comedic relief and a petty streak. And it looks as if I’d found my Barbosa.
“No, I’m serious. You always brag about how you’re ‘not meant to exist’ and how you’re ‘fiction’ in the ‘real world.'”
“Yeah, and you were never born in the other plane. And bounts like JaK and Romeo? Science experiments created to kill vamps, that’s why purebloods are so fond of trying to get rid of them. All of us are on thin ice.” Here I was, trying to create camaraderie about myself and the people I’ve tried so hard to save, but Kieran was already shaking his head.
“You replaced a whole other person to live. I think you messed with forces you shouldn’t have and everything started falling apart around us. Now my transphobic bitch sister is being a spoiled piss-baby and can bring everyone else into this shit.”
I stared at him. “I mean, it wasn’t my choice. I just woke up and–“
“Nothing is ever your fault, is it?” Kieran chuckled. “This world? It was stolen from us. From me and Neb. Now you and my sister play tug-of-war with everyone’s lives. Have fun with that, I guess”
I didn’t quite know what to say to that. I can’t even describe to all of you how much Kieran’s words and the idea of having known him began poisoning my mind. Xhaxhollari even injected Kieran’s presence in a memory of the outer world I’d had. Go back to the blog called ‘Engendered Tensions’; until recently, I thought there were four of us there. Myself, Avery, April, and Kieran. Kieran had been visiting his sister, and had recently come out as trans. And April was copying him when she changed her pronouns ‘for business reasons.’ That’s what I believed up until only a little more than a year before.
While recently living with Avery and realising the, erm– manipulation of my memories, I’d come into our kitchen and asked them, “Hey, that day when [April], you, and I went to Chive, was there anyone else there with us?”
I’d sighed. How to even begin explaining? “Just making sure.”
I hadn’t gotten very far in Bioshock Infinite until later that week. I’d gotten into that Fink Industries level where Elisabeth opens up that ‘tear’ until the other dimension, where Booker had died and Chen didn’t. People were alive that weren’t meant to be, and now everything was on fire and people were shooting at me, which seemed to reinforce Kieran’s opinion of things. It seemed punishment for when I’d started playing god with time and alternate dimensions. Of course, the plot of the game had it so I had no other choice– that it was the only way to advance and keep myself and Elisabeth alive.
Yes, that is the name of my deceased girlfriend. No, I wasn’t yet over her. Thank you for asking.
But I couldn’t help but wonder– was this what this was? Was I experiencing an alternate dimension? Some timeline that I broke the world to create? Was it being reduced to ruins because something like me was pretending like it could exist in real life?
“Looks like the universe doesn’t like getting its peas mixed in its porridge,” Rosalind Lutece, a character in-game, when musing how Elizabeth was a being from another timeline entirely– just as I was from a fictional one.
Also– Kieran’s inference that both April and I shouldn’t exist? That we were never meant to? It could explain why I still felt odd surges of love for her. This feeling that we somehow deserved each other, that we were the world’s rejects and stuck with each other. It seemed inevitable, us being together. We’d grown toxic off each other– I was picking fights with random people online, picking out those to sic my partner on so that I wouldn’t be her focus for the night. I was lying, I was cheating, I was hiding most of my life from even my closest confidants.
Maybe we were the same kind of fucked up. Maybe neither of us was ever meant to exist.
But– if there were a world where neither of us went on existing? Sound and JaK, a couple that had that I never could, would be together without constant suffering. Their children could grow up in peace.
Nearly three years after I’d woken up in this body and stolen Neb’s life for my own, I was beginning to wonder if that were a mistake.
I was a child born of time– a man-made concept that ruled the world, that was cursed as often as it was praised. Occasionally called ‘mal’ in German, a word that meant ‘evil’ in French. A glitch in the fabric of reality. I could manipulate time, in that other world. I’d done it before. What if this all was a mistake that could be undone?