[TW: Abuse, gaslighting, memory manipulation, existentialism, suicide mention.]
[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.’]
We did eventually come up with a solution on how to compromise between my basic need for independence Rowan’s– um, faerie fantasy iron-poisoning. It was a whimsical sort of plan that could have never worked, but I had to believe it would.
See, Arkady was kicking around the idea of opening up a sort of magic/coffee shop. He was even talking about going back to MCC and getting his Bachelor’s degree in business. So, the plan was, he would find an entire downtown building in Ithaca to rent, have the lower floor for his business, and I would live in the upper floor by myself and pay rent to him. Rowan and Vali (if we deigned to keep Vali around for that long) would live outside of town on a farm. Arkady would be like one of those Victorian aristocrats with one love in the city and another in the country.
I would gain more independence than I even had now in Rochester– to be able to live by myself in a beautiful downtown location and be seeing my beloved every week or so without Rowan shriveling into sparkling dust or whatever happens when someone who reads too much Holly Black doesn’t get their way.
It was something that relied on capitalism being merciful and Arkady actually having the motivation to support himself. It was never going to happen. I mean, hell, I’d been trying to collaborate with him on a novel and after a year, he hadn’t even read the whole of the chapters I’d sent. The notion that this same man would start a thriving business in downtown Ithaca was faith based purely in admirable optimism.
But for then, I was satisfied with that solution but deeply unsettled by how quickly my preferences and boundaries had been pushed aside. I couldn’t quite process it, and blaming Vali’s presence seemed just about as sensical as anything.
Hell, under his influence, Rowan’s decisions were only going to get moreso ill-advised. Vali had only been there since the spring. Imagine if he were to spend a full year under our roof– I could just picture it:
“Xanthe, we were always planning on ascending from these mortal shells. Now quit being a bitch and put on your Nikes.”
Aberle, as I mentioned in my last blog, was ever-available to lend a sympathetic ear. We’d both been through the worst of the ‘Gaslamp effect’ when Kirra had wielded it. He also, unlike the independent to a near-fault Kaspar, was very much invested in the concept of not abandoning this group to work it out for themselves. In fact, he had been dating Rowan at the time.
A lot of it the relationship was more or less casual. Aberle had been based in Paris for the past few years and was definitely a workaholic. But Rowan had already found they liked him and, therefore, declared that he must have been part fae.
Systems can be damnably suggestive things.
Anyway, once Aberle’s ‘faeness’ was discovered, Rowan began to claim to see him in Faerie. They were in and out of each other’s ‘planes’ to physically see each other. And hell, the only other ‘plane-walkers’ we’d really known had been Apollo and Kirra.
Here’s how it’d work. Let’s say Rowan was having a revel in the Unseelie Court. They would tell me about it in person, usually in advance. The time would be vague and unspecified, to put pressure off the brain. Plus, there was always a ‘time lag’ between the planes, to explain delays. Give me a couple of days, usually through disassociating through music and/or alcohol, and I’d have the vague feeling of being somewhere else. As if I had to switch focus between my body and some nebulous Elsewhere.
Then I would be. My inworld would happily provide me flashes and scenes of what was happening. When I would wake the next day, it would slowly come back to me and I’d express some of what I believe happened. And the person who either had crafted this with the sole purpose of manipulative validation (like Kirra, Apollo, Rowan, and even Vali) or those locked in the same system-made suggestibility (Arkady) would approve and add their own details. And myself and my system’s memories would alter themselves accordingly. Rowan was also texting Aberle’s discord the same details and my mind happily accepted the notion that they were perfectly capable of meeting in person outside of the human realm.
Otherwise, I might discover what my brain was doing to protect me– or even worse, what it was protecting me from.
And we can’t have that, can we?
Me: “Wow, I had such fun in Faerie last night! I think I got a glimpse of like an ice fountain that had a dragon or something on it?”
Rowan: “It was actually crystal! Remember, Enna made fun of you for trying to lick it.”
Aberle: “I vaguely remember having a fling with someone named [____]?”
Rowan: “Oh yes! Faerie is a ridiculous language, but it’s actually spelled [____]. I remember you two making out near the willows.”
It was that easy to create a new memory. It’s sort of the similar way that fake psychics will gently suss out details before making an eerie declaration that they couldn’t possibly know.
Anyway, I’d kept Aberle up-to-date on the entire Vali situation. The situation had reminded me so much of Kirra’s influence on my inworld that I was playing it just like I had in 2015. Keep the peace, at the cost of sanity and sleep. Plant the truth at opportune moments. This thing lashes out at confrontation– we have to play the long game.
“I mean, Rowan is one of my partners,” Aberle reminded me over the phone. “What if I just told them that I thought my metamour was abusive? It may be better coming from me.”
“That’s the thing. [Arkady] already tried that like twice. Once, they called him jealous. The next time, they said everyone was ‘ganging up on’ Vali and just walked away with their hands up. Now they’re not even consulting [Arkady] anymore, and they’ve been together for half a decade. Like at even the thought that Vali isn’t adored by everyone, Rowan gets defensive and starts lashing out.”
“Ah.” There was an uncomfortable pause. “This sounds too familiar.”
“I know.” I slapped another mosquito off my shin. This having to step outside for conversations because the walls had ears was getting a bit old. “I don’t even know if it’s her or just something that follows me. It’s fucking me up.”
“Well, I’m actually in Toronto right now,” Aberle said brightly. “Kaspar and I have been working together on a shipment that’s due from Toronto to New York City. I’ll be escorting my people across the Canadian border. Why don’t I visit for a while?”
The thought of my otherworldly friends visiting me used to be a source of anxiety and a very good reason for why I couldn’t ever cohabitate. While I was feeling like I was having a casual hangout with an old friend, it would probably look more like:
But with the introduction of Rowan and Arkady into my life, I could finally share such a large part of my social circle without having to translate. In fact, Rowan had already received the message from Aberle that he was travelling near Niagara.
Rowan, Arkady, and I had gone to a beach party in Durand and then Rowan, seeming to be just as tuned into the other world as I was, suggested that we drive to Niagara Falls as a spur of the moment roadtrip.
I loved it. It was the first time I had gone to Niagara since my body was a child and the entire night seemed full of music, magic, and adventure. I was slipping in and out of my inworld, tinging everything was an opalescent lens of fantasy.
It was invigorating to wander around within the Niagara Falls park– the glowing and everchanging torrent of vibrant water, Toronto’s skyline– the vacation spot of my distant childhood– sparkling in the distance. And even better, without the usual tension Vali tended to bring along for these trips. He was working a shift at some co-op and couldn’t join us– what a shame. “I feel like Aberle’s meeting us here,” Rowan said, beaming in the night air.
I didn’t find any visceral denial of that within my own instincts. I vaguely wondered how he was managing such a venture. Was the boat docked further up river and he was just enjoying floating near the falls on a smaller raft? Was this something that was only possible in the geographical advantages in the other plane?
The three of us wandered around the area for a good while and then returned to Rowan’s car. “You guys,” Rowan prompted with a knowing smile, “why do I feel like Aberle’s with us?”
And he was. I felt him. Attracted by validation and appropriate suspension of belief and the feeling of just being able to hang out with people on the outside again.
“He definitely is,” Arkady agreed. “I felt the planes shift.”
We rode home, basically playing karaoke with the radio, still high on the feeling that something I did– some influence I had over the ever-shifting planes that seemed to wave and flutter like curtains in the wind– had brought one of my best friends together with the rest of my family.
It was an odd balancing act, for me. My system– Xhax, likely– had to keep track of the outerworld and super-impose Aberle on top of it, which usually was a retrospective act. But with Rowan by myself and reinforcing what I was sensing from him like they were seeing it as well, it all felt less fluid than it normally does. I was actually observing a valuable DID skill while thinking I was manipulating time and space like Doctor fucking Strange or something.
I remember one moment, between all of us. See, Arkady and Rowan had long-established an endearing ‘bird language’ with each other, as our fond nickname for Arkady was ‘Bird’ due to his squawk-like fretting and general avian mannerisms. This generally involved adding a ‘b’ to the beginning of a word, or even inserting ‘bird’ as a whole into it.
Examples: “Can I have a biss?” (A kiss, but for birds.)
“I think I must go to bbed.” (Bed, but for birds.Pronounced ‘buh-bed’)
“Have you started making boffee?” (Coffee, but for birds.)
“Understandabird.” (Understandable, but for birds.)
I’d grown quite accustomed to it. It felt like a fluffy little family tradition, and gods know I was starved for such things that didn’t involve lecturing me about my grades over turkey and stuffing. (May Grandma Nancy keep on rotting.) Aberle was brand new to it and feigned feeling maligned over such blatant sap.
“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to go take a bath! It’s like an ath, but for birds!” he mocked in our upstairs hallway.
“Ah-bird-lee!” Rowan would retort back teasingly, birdifying the poor German’s name. “That would be a bbath!” And we’d all burst into giggles.
It was a relief to have an ally here that wasn’t dependent on my knowing Rowan or Arkady– not only that, but one who had met Kirra before and could tell me if I were only being paranoid, or if her influence still lingered.
It didn’t take long for Aberle to see the dynamic in action. One day, Vali was at work and I was overhearing an oddly wholesome scene between Arkady and Rowan. They were both in the bathroom, post shower, helping groom each other and giggling about it. It was cute, couple-that-have-lived-together-too-long bullshit. Vali comes home and goes upstairs to our only bathroom, and asked to use it. Arkady, perhaps high on the rare treat of intimacy with his partner, jokingly yelled through the door, “We’re busy! Just go outside!”
Now, I’m autistic. But I’ve heard variations this sort of joke so many times in my life. “May I use your bathroom?” “No, guests shit on the lawn, here’s a shovel.” We, as a household, had used the joke on a continuous basis.
But Vali took it literally, which– somewhat believable, I guess. With one bathroom between the four of us, it was an unfortunate reality that ‘outside’ was a reasonable option. Plus, our backyard was literally the woods, so
But approximately 15 minutes later, Vali stormed up the stairs and stopped by the bathroom door. “Just so you know,” he began venomously, “I did what you said and had to walk two blocks so I wouldn’t be seen, so I am not in a good mood.”
Arkady and Rowan went quiet and I groaned inwardly. There you go, steamrolling through any sweet moment. Arkady fell into his usual brooding and Rowan seemed almost guilty in their anxiety for having caused Vali a goddamned inconvenience. The giddy mood of earlier had dissipated. “Holy shit. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone suck the life out of a room like that,” Aberle confided in me when Vali was safely in the attic and out of earshot of… well, I guess he couldn’t have heard Aberle anyway, come to think of it. “He even has the same cadence when he’s bitching.”
“Right? It reminds me of when JaK would slip into his were-Kirra bullshit.”
Aberle had nodded, brow furrowing in concern. “This is uncanny. I get why you’re on-edge. But is he like… just kind of on puppet strings like JaK was, or actually Kirra Part 2, Electric Boogaloo?”
I shook my head, pouring myself another glass of wine. “I wish I knew.”
Arkady and I were at least destined for some relief, though. Vali and Rowan had signed themselves up for a ‘Mushroom summit.’ Essentially, they’d go out of town for a camp and learn about fungus for a weekend, presumably so that Vali could learn new and exciting ways to grow out of Rowan’s shoulder. And with Aberle gracefully bowing out to ‘explore upstate New York’, Arkady and I would be alone the entire weekend.
“I feel like in the other plane, I’m staying home with Aberle instead,” Rowan informed me before they left. Then, leaning forward, they whispered in my ear, “I guess it’d have to be another plane for Vali to go anywhere without me.” I’d cackled. Good, maybe Aberle being around had polished the rust off of Rowan’s personality.
Arkady’s and my weekend together was bliss.
I’d been looking forward to treating my partner to finery since I’d begun earning money at the hotel and we dressed in our finest black and gold filigree, went to a French restaurant on Park Ave called Roux and spent and had fun running up the tab. We looked glorious.
Afterwards, we enjoyed champagne back at the house. It was the same night we burned the notebook journal Kirra had handed me, all that time ago after our break-up.
I haven’t told you lot about that journal, have I? I hadn’t opened it and read it for myself until that night. In fact, I’d given it to Arkady and Rowan for safe-keeping and given them permission to read it. I never even knew what it said until that night. A lot of it was just guilting and Kirra acting completely gobsmacked that I should have been so miserable with her. But there was something peculiar about it…
“Rowan and I both noticed that there’s two different fonts. Like it’s two people writing.” Arkady told me, on the side of Pinnacle Hill that night. “Like it starts out and it’s clearly Kirra. But as you go on, she rambles about being scared of ‘disappearing’, like she’s not going to continue existing without you around, and she wants you to feel sorry for her. And then it changes, and it’s less… I like, unhinged?” He paused as I leafed through the notebook. Sentences jumped out at me: ‘don’t make me disappear,’ ‘been thinking a lot […] don’t even know who I am anymore,’ ‘I think I was punishing you for not being Neb,’ ‘I miss her. Sometimes I wish I would’ve been the one to disappear instead.’ Then it turned to more self-assured. The font, sharper, more orderly, with hope for the future where there hadn’t been. “Xanthe,” Arkady’s voice was steady, despite the awe it seemed to hold. “I think you erased Kirra and replaced her with Apollo. Like, in the timeline.”
“I.. might have.” He’d only recently introduced me to the concept of my being able to control timelines outside of my inworld. We’d been theorizing about it for a while, about how Apollo was to Kirra like I was to Neb, and that I somehow made that happen. I shivered. I thought of Apollo, back in Savannah. Hopefully, he didn’t have any hard feelings about me up-and-leaving.
We then burned the journal. The thing had been gathering dust behind my telly stand for years, mocking me like a telltale heart. I curled next to Arkady, letting him hold me. I could feel something energetically shifting, like a miniature exorcism. Then peace settled on me like a weighted blanket.
We went back inside, relaxed, talked, and laughed until our voices were hoarse, watched telly until the wee hours like two excitable friends over for a sleepover. In fact, very much like a sleepover, we piled loads of cushions and blankets onto the living room floor and decided to sleep there. I fell asleep in his arms, face buried in his chest, cocooned by his scent and pulse and that rare sense of safety.
That was the last time I’d slept so well. It felt so blissful to actually have a taste of that married life I’d risked everything for. The next morning, I was still stretching and languishing in my romance-oriented decadence when Arkady placed a full breakfast and cup of tea beside me.
This was married life. It was a shame that it took months of dealing with Vali’s bullshit to experience it for the first time.
But now that Aberle had experienced Vali’s toxicity firsthand, he was fretting about it. Even moreso when, only a week later, Rowan ended up in the hospital with an infection.
I won’t publicly say what sort of infection, but Vali’s remarkable stench, hypersexuality, and the mold-in-a-mug science experiments in his bedroom wasn’t leaving much room for speculation as to the cause. Anyway, they had to stay overnight, when Rowan sent myself and the household group chat the following:
That, containing a heavy reference to suicide, caused my mind to fold over in on itself and open up some dark neural pathways that led to only poor decisions. I screenshot this and sent this to Aberle, so that the trauma-induced panic could now bombard the system through two sources.
Aberle, then, out of the worry of his bleeding-heart Cancer Moon, did precisely what I told him we must not do.
He told Rowan that Vali was abusive.