[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.’]
[The screenshots above show my alter, Aberle, talking with my former metamour, Rowan. TW: Abuse, gaslighting, memory manipulation, existentialism, suicide, sexual abuse, magic, cults, brief mention of child murder and general murder]
“He wasn’t meant to tell you.” I told Rowan breathlessly. Damn it, Aberle. What part of LONG game do you not understand? “You seemed… not like yourself. You haven’t seemed like it for a long time. We didn’t know what to do.”
“‘We’?” Rowan shot back. They’d called me in a tone that seemed half-sobbing and half-berating. I was in the living room, winding down after a stressful day of Rowan being in the hospital and finding out that Vali had left them there to go to a hook-up’s house, not kidding. Arkady had been with Rowan for most of the day and was now sleeping upstairs. It was just me, myself, and Good Omens on the couch. “Who’s ‘we’? Has everyone just been thinking this and no one’s told me?”
“We tried!” I was practically squawking with pent-up exasperation. “Remember? You told [Arkady] that he just seemed jealous? Sage tried to tell you too and you legit just walked away with your arms up?”
Rowan fell silent for a moment. “Who– who else thinks this?” Their tone was accusatory, as if we were all having a laugh at their expense and not terrified they’d end up in a double suicide. .
“It’d– uh, be a shorter list of those who don’t think it. And I think that’s limited to–… you and… Maybe, like, his cat.” I don’t try to be a smartass; my dickishness is au natural. “But yeah, it’s been everyone. Sage, Zara, your mum, your sister– Like we literally can’t even go out without him having a meltdown, and the shit that happened on May 16th–” I was starting to have an anxiety attack. “Let me grab [Arkady], hold on.”
Yes, my dear Arkady. We’d stand side by side and address this problem. Prematurely, but damn it, we’d do it together. “[Arkady]! Hey, Love. Aberle apparently told Rowan that Vali is abusive, and they’re freaking out, can you help me out?”
“Mmmwha…?” I tried to give him the phone but, perhaps not grasping the gravity of the situation or not sure how he could help, he more or less murmured that this was a ‘tomorrow’ problem. I relayed that to Rowan. We decided that we would wait until the next day to have a meeting.
Of course, I was left alone to my anxious devices, on-edge and out of wine. I actually could not sleep that night. I’d snapped at Aberle. “Your entire career is based of tactics– did you leave that at work or something?” The berating wasn’t necessary– Aberle already felt wretched about it. Realising I was merely taking it out on him, I gave a half-assed apology and spent the rest of the night locked in a blind, all-consuming terror.
I kept thinking that Aberle had tempted fate too much. Now, Vali was going to somehow know about this conversation and drive to the hospital to kill Rowan and then himself. That everything was going to fall apart now. It was life and death, but it was all life and death, wasn’t it? Every time I fell in love, every time there was a problem, people were always threatening to die unless every move I made was just right.
And I was so tired.
I’d confessed to the group chat that I wasn’t doing well and Sage came over the next morning with wine and breakfast to watch Peaky Blinders with me, which is something that will always work to lift my spirits. “Are you trying to steal me from [Arkady]?” I’d joked. “Because it’s working.”
I was still in a state of high anxiety by the time Rowan and Vali had come home; we’d decided on a family meeting sometime earlier and had to wait until everyone was gathered. As Sage made their tactical escape, I told them that I’d keep them updated.
I’m sorry that this part is vague, but I can’t remember much about that day. I remember that Arkady led the discussion that Vali may have to move out.
We talked about how he seemed to have a meltdown every time Arkady and Rowan had any quality time together, how he seemed uninterested in any quality of Rowan that wasn’t in the context of Vali, how he admitted no wrong and kept falling into spirals of defensiveness. We brought up how easy it seemed for him to lie– Rowan even brought up an instant I’d been previously unaware of. Vali was at Rowan’s mum’s house and, as she will hate when you check your phone as you talk with her, he tried to placate her by claiming that he was texting his grandmother. Who was either cut off entirely from him or dead or both, I forget which.
We called him on his little lies alright enough, but there were still the glaring ones. I kept thinking about how, years before, he had told me that he was an ‘anchor baby’ to Russian parents and how he still slipped into Russian when drunk, but I’d never even heard so much as an accent while he was at his most wasted. Or the tragic story about his dead twin, who had purposefully overdosed himself and that Rowan miraculously came back as. None of that was brought up.
But– Vali actually took all this rather well. There was a fair share of crying. I remember distinctively that Arkady actually got up and hugged him, which bothered me on behalf of Vali. We can hate him– we’re very justified in hating him, but there was a problem I had with going out of our way to pretend anything else.
To give him credit, Vali said a lot of oddly mature things. He said he’d been acting like a clown, he admitted that he had a lying problem. “After living with Vic for so long, lying just became a habit,” he said tearfully.
I’d frowned, my left ribs aching their sympathy. “I get that…” I said hesitantly.
“From now on, if you guys think I’m lying, you should call me out.” Vali said, wiping his eyes.
Gaslamp never did allow for boundaries or call-outs without quite the backlash. This was going almost too well. “And I don’t think anyone trusts Rowan around you, especially when you’re trying to corner them and cry at them after a call-out.” I offered honestly. “I’d feel much better if I just kept hovering every time I heard things were getting tense, at least for a while. If that’s okay.”
Vali nodded, sniffling. We did float the idea of him perhaps having to move out if he didn’t improve, but the idea made him anxious. He agreed to try and be better.
It was at least one layer of bullshit that seemed to be broken. But there was a lot that still bothered me.
That story about how he’d cut an entire foetus out of himself and nearly died? The tragic tale of his twin? His fucking elusive accent?
“Here’s the thing. I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt here, but…” Days later, I was sitting in the kitchen with Arkady. I’d combed through Vali’s Facebook again and again. I’d searched for the word ‘twin’ ‘brother’ overdose.’ He’d had the profile since 2009 and I couldn’t see any mention of it until 2018. It was the same deal with him being Romani– well, he was like every other oblivious alt fucker sharing posts from pages like “G*psy vibes” and all that. I even went back and looked at his profile every year on May 16th. Nothing. No mention of having been struggling, requests of TWing or hiding abortion stuff from him, just the same memes and selfies as always. “I’m really trying to find any proof that he was telling the truth about any of it, but look.”
“It concerns me that you’re so good at this.” Arkady narrowed his eyes at my scrolling. “Huh… Send me the screenshots of that, will you?”
I nodded. “I mean. He could be sort of like me… the walk-in soul thing. It all changed for him in one year– 2018. Gods know I never posted about being British or feeling like I was a Victorian ghost until 2013.”
Arkady nodded. “He did mention that he used to be part of the Unseelie court, and was banished, and had to get back somehow. Maybe he made a deal with an entity, and ended up with this Gaslamp curse.”
Arkady’s magic was a very particular sort. It was all about finding connections. Even in small things– every whistling of the train would be met with his proclamation of “Hecate agrees.” If anyone he had known began suffering from chronic illness, he would claim that they’d offended his gods or karma– he’d done that to both Spectre and someone named Sedona. The weather after a ritual could be proof that his ritual worked.
Every walk we went on walks, it would be all, ‘Wow. Look at those clouds. It reminds me of Rowan’s symbol. And look how it’s being consumed by that other one! You realise what that is, don’t you? It’s Vali!’ Every change of the wind, every distant noise, every shape that nature could conceive of was all the gods communicating with Arkady, or a sign that an enemy was doing magic against him.
Amusing thought I just had– him having warily eyed crows over this past year and wasting nights on spells to prevent me from spying on him. I’d put money on that having happened.
I began to fall into the same habit. Not only had this Gaslamp effect happened once with Kirra, but hadn’t this happened before I was even born? Sadistic, pathetic individuals that turned an entire crowd against someone and somehow accountability just failing to happen. Bosie Douglas, who Oscar Wilde had tried to flee from, was given a second chance because Oscar’s wife had very uncharacteristically guilting ‘love thy neighbour’ speech. Shirley Turner, who had killed Andrew Bagby, was given custody of their shared son despite never suffering the consequences, and went on to kill the young child as well. At the time, this wasn’t proof that the world was indifferent to utmost cruelty and that humans can be the epitome of evil. This was a pattern, a mystical cycle. Magic.
And here’s the thing about magic pervading every facet of your life. You begin to think that anything can happen, and that not even your dreams are safe.
“I keep having dreams of Vali forcing himself on me. I think it’s going to happen.” Arkady mumbled one night as I slept next to him. “When he first moved in, he kept touching my knee and Rowan keeps asking why we won’t sleep with him. I think that’s what he wants.”
I was curled around him, arms already wrapped around him, but this thought had me holding him so close that I thought our bones might meld. “Over my dead body,” I grumbled into the back of his head.
“Just let it happen,” Arkady sighed. “It’s obvious it’s what he wants. Just let it happen. Maybe then he’ll leave you two alone.”
“[Arkady], I will legit risk jail before I–“
“Just let it happen…” he insisted.
That freaked me out.
Hell, I think that’d freak anyone out. Afterwards, when despising Vali wasn’t quite the trendy thing it used to be and Arkady wanted to keep this quiet, Story/I promised whoever was hosting that system that I’d never mention that moment again–but here I am.
If Arkady has a problem with it, he should take a long look at the stack of broken promises he’s made me. Maybe that’s the point. An eye for an eye makes the whole world a damned good fit for his household.
But that pushed me.
Arkady, Rowan, and I had plans to go to Vertex. And during the night, the entire scenario was buzzing around in my head. I felt abandoned last spring, to the point where I felt suspicious of Rowan. Hell, Rowan was so sweet and cute– a couple of their past lives were my parents. They called me their ‘little brother.’
Hell, they were even quick to pick up the slack for my family in some areas. It wasn’t even a year before that I had gotten top surgery, which my mum screamed at me and called me crazy for being non-binary then abandoning me as my caretaker. Rowan had flown down to rescue me and pick up my mother’s slack. Rowan was even nice enough to fuck me the day after, when I was under the influence of painkillers– oh wait, that was fucked up, wasn’t it?
Retrospection’s a bitch.
We walked to Vertex. All of us were dressed to the nines. Of course, I was in a nasty PMDD week. Not only was all the Vali drama cycling in my head, but I’d spilled my freshly-poured London Grey across the counter of Java’s and on a fellow patron, which was obviously the universe telling me that I was a worthless piece of shit who deserved to die.
When we got to Vertex, I finally was able to get ahold of a well-needed drink. All of the thoughts still swirled around my head– Arkady saying that I was being selfish for not having moved yet, Rowan begging Vali not to kill himself, Arkady in a numb terror that Vali was going to sexually assault him, and oh my gods there was still fucking red construction paper on the attic windows.
Rowan and I were sitting in the alcove. I forget how exactly I brought it up. Probably something tactless like “Hey, why do you think you’re his dead brother anyway? Because I’ve done research…”
Rowan’s eyebrows furrowed. I showed them what little came up when I Googled obituaries in Vali’s hometown. I must’ve run ‘Ivan Urban’ through eight different searches. The only ‘Urban’ that had died in the past twenty years in that area was about 80 years old. I showed them the Facebook posts. Arkady had been dancing and wandered over after a bit. I caught him up on the fact that I was pulling the chord, that it was time. We both worked in tandem. If that first ‘family meeting’ was letting off some steam, this was tossing the entire boiling kettle across the room.
I don’t remember what exactly they replied. I know they were confused and seemed in shock for a while. I even explained the fact that myself and AJ had all gotten Vali’s original fishing message of ‘Oh I’m so scared of having my crushes revealed through an unnamed blackmailer, I’ll just tell you now!’ At this, Rowan’s eyes flashed. Knowing that they were just the one that actually got caught in the wide net Vali had cast– I think that was what tipped the scale.
We went for a break down in the courtyard.
“You haven’t been yourself for a long time,” Arkady was pleading with Rowan to make them understand what had led to such desperation, such subterfuge. “I missed the Rowan I knew. The Unseelie fae. The warlord. The Carrion King.”
Rowan nodded slowly, still seeming contemplative.
“It was the same thing that happened with Kirra.” I offered. The ‘same thing that happened with Kirra’ was ‘a cult decided to turn my system into my own personal puppet show/harem again’, but I had a different definition back then. “The misunderstandings. The fact that you were literally too busy ‘fucking Vali for ten hours’ then check on your partner who was suicidal. Hell, you legit forgot to even get me a key to the house until two months in. That’s not you. It never has been. And I feel like Vali insisting that you’re his dead twin has just taken you over.”
Rowan was still nodding along, brow furrowed, eyes moving across the room as if they were reading the words we were saying on various areas of the courtyard. “You know… If he actually did have a twin, his birth certificate would list him as a multiple…”
This was news to me. “We could always ask him to prove it!” I suggested. “Either show us the birth certificate or shut the fuck up, sort of.”
“Or…” Rowan was getting a sly look now. “He did give me permission to make myself at home in his room… That is where he’d keep stuff like that.”
I have to be honest– This part, I wish I’d had more of a qualm against. I was drunk, sure, but mostly just tired. If this what had to be done to get rid of this Kirra clone, so be it. I just knew that I personally didn’t want to. Not because I didn’t think he deserved it. Not because I couldn’t ethically condone this. But mostly because his room reeked.
That– yeah, that was kind of it. I’m a selfish bastard, sorry you had to find out like this.
Arkady grinned. There was no reservation in it, like a man seeing a lost cat return home for the first time in a week. Just pure, unfiltered giddiness. “There’s that warlord again!” I smiled as well. Just after, Arkady got too carried away and tried to nudge Rowan into making fun of Vali by referencing some cheesy horror story that Vali had told a week before, as part of a ritual. “Remember? The ritual story? With a jersey number 13?”
Rowan scowled at him. “Making fun of that is kind of mean…”
But at that point, Rowan brightly suggested, “Hey… We could have a few more dances upstairs.”
It was slowly sinking in. Rowan knew. There would be no more hiding. Our good days wouldn’t only be at Vali’s whim. We could speak freely. We could actually have our ‘past lives’ out without having to worry that they might be unsubtle about not liking him and cause some cataclysm. When we ascended the steps to the dance floor, there was a detectable change in the air. It was all freedom. Unadulterated, unmoored catharsis.
I remember distinctly that ‘Head Like a Hole’ by Nine Inch Nails was playing that night. It was actually the first time I’d ever really listened to it and the lyrics. It only added to our thrumming defiance.
“I’d rather die than give you control!” Yes, absolutely, FUCK those who have tried to conquer me and mine! Kirra, Bosie Douglas, Vali– all of them. This would be the second time I’ve fought back and made it out in one piece (Oh, hindsight…), fuck them all! “You’re gonna get what you deserve!” Arkady, Rowan, and I were twirling in each other’s arms, spinning, laughing, grinning, even singing along to the lyrics which had more meaning in that moment than in any other there’s been before or since. I feel like the rest of the patrons even shouted along to the ‘GET WHAT YOU DESERVE’ or maybe I was only hearing my own alters. Something caging all three (or more) of us had shattered.
All of the sacrifice, the months of facing my worst abuser with someone else’s face, the sheer deprivation that this manipulation had put me through– it was all worth it, because I had won.
We walked back to the house, which was about a fifty minute walk from Vertex. We arrived to take a small break, most of which I can’t remember. I also can’t remember when we’d decided to walk from Crosman Terrace all the way to Mt. Hope cemetery, but we did.
I should have been too exhausted to do so, but being able to tell Rowan everything made me feel like I was surging through a live wire. We were telling them excitedly all of what we’d noticed, how we reacted, all of jokes we’d had at Vali’s expense that we’d had to leave them out of.
Arkady had previously gone for ritual nights in the cemetery a couple of times and stayed up all night, evading security. He was wildly proud of it and considered himself our household expert on sneaking into Mt. Hope. It’d be another year before I realised that Mt. Hope’s security was a joke. I’ve gotten drunk, curled up on the steps of a mausoleum, and took a nap until 3am. Then with no subterfuge, ridden my bike down the hill and slipped through the gap in the fence. I’ve done similar things multiple times– I couldn’t find a night guard if I wanted to.
But that night, as Arkady led Rowan and I into the cemetery as if we were breaking into the national treasury. There’s a hole in the fence in a couple of places and we simply slipped through. The next fifteen minutes or so were of Arkady shushing us and telling us to dive for cover from headstone to headstone. Which, again, knowing what I know now, just makes this funny.
The cemetery was soaked in moonlight. I’d scoffed earlier in this same blog about how Arkady seemed to think that the stones, the trees, the winds were all reacting to him and him alone. But with how the cemetery seemed like some other realm in the bright autumn moonlight– I can’t really blame him.
The world was always more magical with Arkady around.
I offered to take Gaslamp’s remaining influence away from Rowan’s soul. You know, while the rest of the household were suffering iron poisoning and while making the sign of the cross at Arkady could cause him real pain, I might as well been able to do my soul magic outside my inworld as well.
I held their face, cupped in my hands. In those blue-green eyes, slipping into my inworld, I could see what I’d always suspected. Those coppery, bloody strands weaving through Rowan’s forested mind like a virus– reminding me starkly of Kirra’s hair as she were leaning over me. I envisioned the strands shriveling, willing it to happen before I saw it in my mind’s eye. Rowan twitched as I did my magic, eyes rolling back into their head– which, I know why I was believing in what I was seeing, but how could they?
They then ‘fainted’ and had to be revived by us.
Then Rowan was briefly possessed by something that only existed in my inworld. “She was made of starlight…” Rowan said in the toneless, crystalised voice I’d described Thysia as having. Rowan was speaking in the point of view of my inworld god, the ‘core’ of the world who had been shattered by Thysia’s reformed abusive partner, who was now known as ‘Vex.’ The two of them are cursed with their toxic dynamic replaying itself over and over again over as they reincarnated through generations of people, and for Vex to be subjected with witnessing her past mistakes forevermore. Of course, I was one of these cosmic abortions meant to suffer at the hands of an abuser like she’d been. And now apparently, Rowan was too. A year from then, Rowan would be claiming that I’d made my inworld mythology up single-handedly. But tonight, they were possessed by one of the main figures of my world and apparently determined to win an Emmy. “A star so bright she burned all around her.”
“Thysia? Is that you? [Arkady], close your eyes.” In my inworld, Thysia had the ability to steal souls by looking into your eyes. Considering Thysia had the ethical development of the average six-year old, I wasn’t taking any chances. My spiritual progenitor was something I’d developed a healthy fear of. “So, Rowan and Vali, they’re a continuation of the Thysia curse?” Just like myself and Kirra were?
The Rowan-Thysia nodded. “She didn’t know how bright she burned. She didn’t know how hot her love blazed. She was always more of a danger to herself than anyone else.”
Then Rowan fell sideways while seated, ‘fainting’ again.
I felt truly drained from my earlier ‘magic.’ Either the adrenaline was wearing off, or my body was the best at psychosomatic bullshit. My eyes even felt as if they were burning, apparently scorched by seeing signs and hues of my ex within ‘Rowan’s soul.’ I couldn’t even imagine I could make it home if we had to walk.
We did order an Uber. There was one humourous instance where we thought we saw an Uber, but it ended up being a police squad car. “That’s not an Uber,” Rowan said in a cute, almost singsong way. “That would be an ‘Uh-Oh Uber.'”
I remember laughing a good while about that.
When we arrived home, I was beyond exhausted. Finally, my family was safe. All I wanted to do was sink into bed next to the two of them and just be held. So much of my life was earned with an entire fucking battle beforehand– I just wanted to rest. I was absurdly tired of being strong.
I just wanted to be safe.
I lay in Arkady’s bed, waiting on the two of them to join me. I believe I must’ve had a morning shift that day, which is why I was even more exhausted than either of them. Also the fact that we must’ve walked a combined five miles that night.
Arkady and Rowan were upstairs, rummaging through Vali’s documents.
I’m not sure what I expected to find in his legal documents, but this wasn’t it. What I did discover through Rowan’s pilfering deserves it’s own blog, which I’ll release tomorrow.
Eye for an eye, right?