(TRIGGER WARNINGS: Repeated mentions of fabricated sexual assault, gaslighting, amnesia, brief mentions of suicide, mental illness, drama, rumors, vague references to sex. As per usual, anything in Italics takes place exclusively in the inworld. Kirra is the codename for our worst abuser, who is assumed by Xhax to have gone dormant and assumed by Xanthe to have moved away. Apollo is the codename of Kirra’s “brother.” Asher is a recent partner.)
“Do you know what’s frustrating about Xanthe?” Aluciel asked me, in a neutral tone, despite the subject. We were in the tea garden of Andrew Lengston’s home. I liked Andrew, personally. Xanthe and friends had been avoiding this particular part of the internal, stating that it felt odd to interact with what was essentially Kirra’s rip-off of a Vampire Knight character.
Which, I suppose it finds different from the rip-off of Cinema Bizarre’s lead singer. Or a rip-off of Lestat. Or a rip-off of Lord Akeldama. Or–
See, Xanthe, I can be sassy too.
“Considering my role, I believe I’m the expert in that subject,” I said dryly.
The side of Aluciel’s mouth twitched, which was her version of laughing. “It’s as if they resent having survived and they find it justifiable to punish anyone who’d had a part in it.” A breeze rustled the garden. The lingering scent of roses was freshened and a parakeet twittered and clicked in the distance. Parakeets certainly weren’t native to Ohio, but the mind reaches for what it knows.
I shrugged. I could see why she’d say that. Xanthe and Aluciel had hardly ever gotten along. They found her to be a rigid supervisor who held no sympathies for those who have been fucked over by her father’s regime. Aluciel found Xanthe to be a reckless, self-destructive ass that thought everything needed to be a debate. Neither of them were entirely correct, nor were they baseless in their theories.
Xanthe and Aluciel are cousins. They share a maternal grandmother, Queen Ayre of Atlantis, and truly some things ran in that forsaken family. But between Aluciel’s icy shell and clipped professionalism and Xanthe’s insistence on acting like the bastard people expect them to be, neither of them have a clue that they would actually get along, given the chance.
Which is what I told her.
“Do you know what they said to me, when their memories were about to be officially erased?” Aluciel was referring to the second time we had tried. I had done what I could, but more often, Xanthe’s memory in 2016 was proving unstable as interactions with Apollo had grown more frequent. Even more of a headache, Kirra seemed to be poking out of Apollo occasionally. I knew that could happen. I knew that even when Xanthe was first settling in as host, Nebula’s thoughts or words would come out like hypnic jerks. As far as Xanthe went, I’d hoped their memory would have just resolved itself. However… “I feel like they subconsciously knew what you’d done and held onto some memories. But we didn’t want them to know they had the ability to destroy an entire timeline. So, we gave them a choice. Execution or complete extraction of memories.”
I’d asked Xanthe, years later, if they had indeed been holding onto memories. They’d looked at me, deadpan, and said, “I don‘t remember.”
“I don’t believe I was paying attention enough to the inner world to notice,” I told her. “Obviously, they chose against execution.”
Aluciel drummed her fingers on the teacup. “They were on the fence, for a while. And it was I who convinced the council that Xanthe wouldn’t be a problem once their memories were properly erased. They told me– and I’ll never forget this– that they felt that I would regret not executing them. I thought they were only being self-deprecating, until, of course, they killed my father.”
I frowned. ‘Killed’ was sort of a strong word for it, considering King Alcaeus had just shed his corporal form like a too-tight coat and upgraded from a demi-god to a god. But considering this happened mostly due to a coup organized by Xanthe, I could see why Aluciel was still a bit prickly about it. “Do you think that’s what they meant?”
“I asked them. Just after the coup– after they slew Anifayre, after they toppled the throne, after Zoradysis– their own Thread member, died in a war they started. I told them what they said to me and asked them if this related to the coup. They told me, ‘I don’t know. But you can’t condemn me for opportunities that you didn’t take.”
“That‘s the worst trait of Xanthe’s that I’ve noticed. They resent being alive, and they’ve long-decided to make it our problem.”
A year ago, I would have agreed. But Xanthe had been opening up to me more, revealing that they were an absolute goofball underneath the bitterness. I also knew how much they adored life and were fascinated with living. “I think that’s just a front. An act. They know they’re not the most well-liked internally, so–”
“Cause and effect, my dear. It could very well be an act.” Aluciel cut in. “But how do you think it would have turned out if they chose a more amendable act?”
History already had its answers. “Aluciel. We found out what in Neb’s time. Xanthe’s personality is a response.” And it was true. Nebula was silenced, ignored, subservient. Xanthe was born to be anything but.
Aluciel sighed, but nodded and sipped her tea. Our alliance worked so well because she knew the inworld inside and out. And I knew the system. It never did hurt that we genuinely cared for one another.
In 2016, I’d been busy putting out fires in the form of Apollo occasionally forgetting who he was. I’d be vaguely aware that there would be an inworld conversation about Audric’s PTSD– about how his destroyed his memory so badly, that he was breaking into a house he no longer owned out of sheer damaged confusion.
Then I’d see Apollo’s Facebook account post something like, “Oh, now my ex is using PTSD as an excuse for raping me.” Which was odd, because Xanthe hadn’t even been involved in that conversation. Audric had been opening up about his Own life.
I felt a bolt of annoyance among my usual anxieties. Goddamnit, Apollo, can you not keep a reign on this? I didn’t want to prod at it– didn’t want to acknowledge the distorted past lurking within the present. As if acknowledging it would make it worse. But in true Apollo/Kirra (Kirpollo?) fashion, it grew worse on its own.
And Xanthe, buckling under the stress and confusion, was reaching out for support.
Xanthe had recently rediscovered Buchanan’s (also known as Rowan) existence. It was their latest theory that Buchanan was who was spreading all of these unsavory rumors. Apollo was over one night as Xanthe was ranting about him, the poor thing practically jump-cutting through its own thoughts as the recent gaps in its memory tried to heal over. Enraged by Xanthe blaming his friend, Apollo spoke up.
First, he’d went in on Xanthe’s prior war against labelism that bordered on transphobic. Which, fine. “Yeah, but then he decided to launch a rumor that I’m a ‘transphobic lesbian.’ Which, even if he didn’t get that my campaign against labelism wasn’t an attack on trans people, is hypocritical as fuck.”
Apollo pressed on. Xanthe actually didn’t have any alcohol on them that night, which helped me immensely to try to contain the situation. “You actually were transphobic, though,” he insisted.
“No, here’s the thing, I fucking wasn’t.” Xanthe was pouring themself a cup of lavender earl grey, which they were hoping would combat the static sensation of an ambiguous, growing fear. “Kirra told one group of friends exclusively male pronouns, all while telling myself and a few others that it was all a rouse for advancement of a career. But if you’re a friend of hers and all you hear is that she IDs as masc and her fucking ‘transphobic lesbian girlfriend’ won’t call her ‘he’, then what the fuck are you going to believe? Especially when the other one isn’t in [UNIVERSITY UNDISCLOSED] and can’t get the fucking word out! That, I could understand; she checkmated me with that one. But all these fucking rumors? Fuck.”
Xanthe rarely spoke this candidly about Kirra in front of Apollo. I always tried to sway them against it. I didn’t want any part of Kirra to wake up and try to tell her own warped story. But the isolation and rumors had been eroding at their tact. Kaspar surely would have tutted at the outburst.
“He didn’t make all of it up. You were a piece of shit back then and you can’t just ignore that,” Apollo started in. “And it wasn’t Rowan (Buchanan) ‘making up’ any rumor. You know that too, but you’re on your bullshit!”
I swear, I could hear the brain make a noise like a record scratch after what I’d just pulled.
I winced when I heard the lack of subtlety that my actions had when Xanthe seemed visibly confused about the conversation they’d just had. “Wh– I’m… sorry, it’s late. What are you trying to run by me?”
Apollo repeated the sentiment, even stronger. I hesitate to recall the exact wording, lest it pull on any threads that don’t need pulling.
“I…” Xanthe isn’t stupid. They glanced towards the clock in their room. That minute hand was jumping forward– like it always did in those nightmares it’d been having lately. “Listen, Vex said that something was done to my memory. I’m not sure I’m… really… hearing this?”
Kierpril kept on, insisting that this was all an act, that Xanthe was simply avoiding accountability.
Meanwhile, I was in the background, like–
I switched forward, making an excuse that I needed a cup of tea and walking into another portion of the flat. While I was away from Apollo I texted the account that belonged to exclusively the two of us. “If you want to talk to them about this, you need to address this as yourself. You keep speaking from her POV, and that’s too much for Xanthe to handle.”
I didn’t think Xanthe had done what they were accused of. Though I was not a witness because alcohol puts me ridiculously far from the front, I’d seen both sides and knew both people. Believe me, if I thought Kirra’s story was even close to possible, I’d have Xanthe so solidly barred from the front that Alcatraz would seem lax. Plus, as Kirpollo would rant about it, it would quickly go from the more serious accusations to, “You don’t really act like a good friend! Someone misgendered me from the other table at Chromatic Dragon and you acted like you didn’t even notice.” Which seemed to be what he was Really mad about.
“I didn’t notice. I would’ve said something, if I had.” That seemed to satisfy him and the horrid accusation from before was suddenly a forgotten preamble. But he would bring it up once more…
I have to be honest, mates. My memory is not reliable between about July until October of 2016– It could’ve been trauma. I also scrolled up and read the draft of whatever angel boy is writing up there and saw something about my memories being erased, so I imagine that fucked things up.
I was sort of getting the vibe that I was functioning like a corrupted game cartridge. There seemed to be a persistent lagging, then speeding up of time. Sometimes, I skipped time entirely.
Once, Apollo and Buchanan were hanging out at Gallery Espresso and, happy to meet a new friend of Apollo’s, I went over to introduce myself.
“Hi, I’m Xanthe!” I said cheerily, not realising for an odd moment that this is the same fucker that made a joke out of AJ’s near suicide attempt.
Until he gave me a leveling look and said, “I know.”
You know how in That’s So Raven, when she’d have a vision, she’d freeze and it’d play out for her like a clip of a film?
That’s what happened to me. I hadn’t even thought about Buchanan for months, not since AJ had moved away. Now, the history of our contact was being back in my head and I was frozen in a bloody café. How did I just forget an entire person?
It may have been that the meeting of the past and the present were throwing me off. Kara had recently moved in with Apollo and it was like an odd crossover episode. At one point, I’d been day-drinking with Kara at Lulu’s Chocolate Bar. I was telling her how my hair came to be dyed my signature sapphire and blue. “Oh, well, it was already blue before. But my first girlfriend, my dearly departed Elisabeth, suggested that I go blonde to match the fictional character I was based on.”
“Elisabeth?” Kara’s brow furrowed. “Was that Shadow’s real name?”
Fuck, it’d been years since I’d thought of that name. Blighter threw in the towel before Myspace even got popular– no perpetual ‘Top 5’ placement for him. Why would she think that I’d dated–
Oh. Because Star had.
I shook my head. “No. No. Different person. I met Elisabeth in Savannah.” Just like with Buchanan’s, Shadow’s history summarized itself in my brain, like dusting off a file that’d gotten so caught in the cabinet that it’d become part of it. Weird kid back in Marysville, introduced the system to that Chaos religion that was so enmeshed in my brain that I barely knew who I was without it, and killed himself in response to being told he’d have to move to another state.
Damn, my life had a lot of weird stories. I counted myself lucky that I wasn’t more of a basket case.
And of course, Apollo was about to make my life moreso a migraine. He’d recently become friends with a University student named Hayden. Hayden was also Asher’s former friend. Hayden was Also friends with Marth Johnson. So, by three degrees of separation, Marth Johnson was in prime position to spread more rumours. Plus, I could just sense that Apollo’s and Hayden’s toxicity pinging off of one another; two trans mascs bragging about how they’re never the bottom because they’re so masc and dominant.
Asher and Hayden already had to break off their friendship because this twat clearly caught the Marth Johnson virus of Having It Out For Me. Safe to say it was a tense situation.
It blew up one night when Apollo and I had been hanging out. He’d given me a ride home. His phone was near the gear shift. While it was unlocked, I happened to glance and note that someone had just messaged him quite the paragraph. I empathized, remembering the novels Kirra had sent me anytime I was out of line. Didn’t even note the name, quickly tearing my eyes from his phone, and sauntered to my flat at the inn to fall asleep, happily drunk.
It wasn’t long before I woke up to a paragraph of my own, from Apollo. “You’re a fucking hypocrite. You’re literally spreading rumours about me spreading rumours. I finally have a friend that’s not scared away by the mere association with you and you can’t stand that, can you? Do you think I’m stupid? You start texting Hayden the SECOND you see me chatting with him, saying that I’m your abuser and shit?”
I furrowed my brow. What the fuck? I pulled up my chat with Hayden– which had last been updated months before, when he’d asked me about my beef with Marth. I sent Apollo the screenshot. “I haven’t messaged him in months. Hayden’s lying to you.”
There was a pause. Apollo had read the message, but was thinking. “You must’ve deleted the messages.” Because ‘Oh shit, my bad’ was clearly not in his vocabularly.
The lack of further accusations or name-calling meant that Apollo wasn’t stupid. He’d noted how quickly I’d sent him that screenshot. “Yeah? Have Hayden send you his screenshots.”
Apparently, the next thing Hayden tried to claim was that he had the chat with me, but Asher must have hacked into his FB and deleted it. I laughed and told Apollo, “Asher has an anxiety attack just logging into their own Facebook. Hayden’s lying.”
Apollo eventually did decide that I was, in fact, telling the truth. The conversation ended at an awkward fumble. No apology, but I wasn’t expecting one.
It was only a few days from that conversation that Apollo finally asked me. “Can I ask you a question?”
We’d been watching Are You Being Served? and drinking wine in my flat. Apollo seemed to be developing a Kasparesque instinct of choosing a time when I’d be more at ease. I took the faintest sharp inhale. “Shoot.”
“You mentioned the ‘rape rumour’ being just a rumour. I may not really get along with–” He made a vague motion, pausing as if the name took some effort to get out. It was so rarely spoken between us. “–Kirra… But that’s still a serious thing and you need to still be accountable.”
I regarded Apollo in that moment, palming my glass of wine for moral support. There were so many things I wanted to say. ‘Your sister made it the fuck up.’ ‘She wasn’t even living in the place she said it happened in, at the time the layout of the room made sense.’ ‘It doesn’t make you suspicious that she came out about this after *I* finally dumped *her*?’ I took a more joking route– which was normally the very worst way to go, but Apollo and I didn’t operate by those standards. Whatever they were. “That story is honestly impossible. The narrative was me topping and losing control due to alcohol. But. Apollo. I’m a fucking bottom.”
It was beautiful– it was concise, truthful, and the insecure top in front of me took it as an acceptable self-flagellation to the crime I’d been accused of. I still can’t believe it worked. But even so, Apollo’s mouth quirked up in a smile. “You’re right. You are too much of a bottom for that. Even that blonde twink you hang around tops you. Can you even top Kaspar?”
It occurs to me only now that this conversation took a bizarre turn. I find it necessary to emphasize that Apollo and I were just Like This. “Hey, now, I do top Kaspar.”
“Sure you do,” he quipped with as much sass and mockery he could possibly fit into his tone.
I suppose I could’ve taken that as an opportunity to feel better. But what I was really stuck on is that people like Hayden and Marth were still spreading disgusting rumours like that. Life seemed monumentally lonelier without Cotton. My social circle mainly comprised of my ex abuser’s brother, Neb’s ex-friend from Ohio, and Asher. I would say Asher’s friends were included, but it was becoming increasingly clear that I was likely only accepted in that group because I was the only one who was legal to buy wine.
There was one such night when the three of us– that being, myself, Ash, and their roommate– were having a drinking night at Asher’s new apartment on Habersham. It was the usual sort of night. I made loads of puns, was duly scolded for it, we bitched about Hayden who had apparently been a dick to everybody lately. After Julia, the roommate, had gone to bed, Asher started herding me towards the bedroom.
Which, fine and dandy.
It wasn’t long into this encounter before I was pinned. I thought bitterly that Apollo would have cracked a joke about it, then immediately consoled myself with the fact that Oscar was a bottom too. And Oscar Wilde was accused of even more horrendous things once that fucking twat, Bosie, decided to copy Wilde’s De Profundis idea.
Yes, I have long come to grips with the fact that sometimes I think about Oscar Wilde when aroused.
“Xanthe?” Asher said breathlessly.
Asher had grown on me lately. I’d told them at the beginning of our courting that I was only in it for the fun. There would be no expectations, no hard feelings when we would part ways, no trust required, that if either of us fell in love, it was only part of the adventure. Not a commitment, not an obligation.
For the record, it’s what I look for in dating these days, too.
They were sassy, they were beautiful, they could make me laugh. I’d been telling them more and more of that ‘other plane’ about the vampires and Chaos godlings I associated with. Once, when I was drunk, they asked me if I could try to turn into a crow in front of them. And I did try it.
I’d stood out in the middle of Gordon St., trying to feel through the fabric between dimensions it seemed I slipped through on a nearly daily basis. I folded my arms oddly behind my back, bracing my palms on my hips. I could feel myself slipping into that other world but– too far. I was in a different location entirely. If I’d kept going, it would have suddenly skipped ahead by hours, which seemed rude to do in the middle of a date.
I’d sighed and walked back to them. “Sorry, dear. I tried. Maybe I can only do that sort of magic in the other plane.”
“It’s okay!” They didn’t even seem perturbed, this refreshing little thing. “I saw you fold your arms behind your back. Is that so your wings are positioned easier as you transform?”
I grinned. I’d barely even noticed I’d done it, but yeah, it did tend to make things more comfortable. “Very astute.” I always loved having an audience for both sides of my lives. It was invaluable.
I had fallen for Asher. I’m hyper-romantic– me falling for a date isn’t so much of an occasion as it is an eventuality. The feelings were mutual, which was a plus, because people who were in love with me were likely to listen to me talk for long periods of time.
But that night, as they had me pinned and sozzled, they told me, “Xanthe. You realise you can trust me, right? I know you don’t want to and I’m so sorry about Hayden. I feel responsible for him and I want you to know that I hate what’s happening to you. I’m really sorry.” Their voice was so heartfelt.
I shifted uneasily underneath them. It was difficult to switch gears between carnal and emotion for me. Especially when the carnal was generally a distraction from the emotions themselves. “S’alright. It would have happened anyway. Just with a different cast.”
They knew I was trying to dismiss it– to skip over the dialogue and get to the portion where I’m moaning and my mind is blissfully blank. “Xanthe, I believe you. About all of this. I believe in you. I will literally fight the world for you.” I was tensing underneath them. No, this was… too tempting. Too beautiful. Too comforting. Dangerous. “You don’t deserve this. Any of this! You keep calling yourself a ‘terrible cad,’ but you’re not. It makes me sad when you insult yourself, and you do probably even more than you realise. You don’t even seem to know this, but. You’re allowed to show that you’re hurting. It doesn’t have to be turned into a joke all the time. I know you feel alone and crazy, but you’re not. Really. You’re not.” As they leaned over me, their tears literally dripped from their face to mine. The tears that said how invested they were in me– me, who barely even knew what day of the week it was lately.
“Asher, darling…” I choked these words out, despite knowing them before I spoke. “I don’t… I don’t think I know any other way to be.”
No other way to be.
Other than crazy.