Never Was One For Commitment. (March of 2020)

[Trigger warnings: Physical abuse, verbal abuse, discussion of possession, violation of privacy, repeated mentions of suicide, setting of a psych ward, self-gaslighting, self-loathing, mental spiraling. Yep, it’s another dark one, folks. The events in Italics indicate that it happened in the inworld.]

It was my therapist, Wayne, that offered Arkady and I go to couples’ therapy.

There is a stigma against couples’ therapy– that when you enter into it, your relationship is on death’s doorstep. I’d like to tell you this wasn’t true in my case, but. Um. Well.

I actually don’t really remember a lot of it. In fact, I can’t even recall, specifically, a lot of what was said.

But I knew I wanted to use this meeting as a way to voice my grievances with a third party present that might actually try to ensure I was understood.  Instead of, you know, a third party pushing their own agendas, or walking out of the room with two intoxicated people and taking bets on which one was going to make the other cry first. That last one was only slightly exaggerated, I don’t think they took bets.

Ash didn’t have money to bet with.

I do remember that it got off to an awkward start. I’d before lamented to Wayne that I seemed so oddly suspicious, or even somewhat jealous, of Zara. And when Arkady brought Zara up, Wayne piped up with that in a tone that implied a certain amount of scrutiny, due to what I’d said about her in the past. No, no, I had to explain that my suspicions ended up being retroactively justified when Zara publicly shamed me for self-harm. 

“I mean, when you do it after every time we fight, it does seem manipulative!” Arkady pointed out. “After our last big fight a few weeks ago, you even tried to kill yourself!” 

Wayne blinked. “You did what?”

Arkady’s jaw dropped. “You didn’t tell your therapist that you tried to kill yourself?”  Okay, yeah, that’s a reasonable question.

I winced. See, I hadn’t been consciously hiding that from my therapist. It was just that things had gotten so dark that my suicide attempt had legitimately slipped my mind, which has to be the best way I could sum up 2020 for me.

So, it wasn’t off to a great start.

I think the main point that I was trying to get across was that I felt damaged from having to clean up March’s mess and that I felt that I never did get comfort or recovery time for it– but everyone seemed confused about why I was crumbling. It becomes a blur after that. I know I tried to lay down my boundaries about Zara having a key to my space despite outright hating me, or say I was unhappy with my spiritual life being outted in front of everyone during the intervention.

Xhaxhollari just informed me that this particular gem occurred just before things escalated: 

Arkady: “I really wish you’d stop calling it an intervention.”

Me: “Well, I figured ‘intervention’ would be kinder than ‘lynchmob’, so.”

Okay, maybe I’m not the easiest person to empathize with.

That went over about as well as you might expect. The rest of it was a blur of Arkady losing his temper and getting visibly frustrated at me. I’d felt that I’d had to hide the majority of my grievances lately, so this resulted in Arkady being hit with a few different things out of left field.

I later on asked Wayne why he didn’t quite mediate the way I’d expected, but he explained, “Whenever you described [Arkady], you painted a much different picture than what I saw. You talked about this sweet, understanding partner and the person that was in my chair was so full of anger and talking over you. I was caught off-guard.”

Walking home after that was a blistering affair. I was full of nervous energy, working to keep up to Arkady’s long, agitated strides. “Well, maybe now that you know part of what’s bothering me about this whole thing, it can help us communicate more.”  Arkady said nothing, staring straight ahead as we walked to the bus stop.  I kept trying for conversation, desperate to try to find some sort of reassurance, but he eventually requested that I just stop talking to him.

Safe to say, our first couples’ therapy session did not go ideally.  The inworld wasn’t faring much better.

I’m re-telling this first part as it was told to me, because I’d had no idea of the first part of the conversation that I had mostly missed and had walked in on. Throughout the beginning of this, I was stuffing my face with Aberle’s Chinese takeout leftovers in the kitchen. These days, it was pretty common for me to wake up in Aberle’s workplace. It was quickly becoming a sort of headquarters for my haphazard ‘capture Chandra’ team. The ‘kitchen’ was little more than a glorified break room, but even being able to nuke and eat something without running into one of my housemates was peaceful to me.

See, to surmise what was truly a cinematic scene worthy of the Avenger’s series, we’d discovered that Hemachandra was located in Phisoxa’s crumbling old manor, and of course we had to stage a battle there. We’d had other run-ins– usually with us trying to get the upper hand and, well, failing.

But we actually stood a fighting fucking chance this time. It was Kaspar, Marie, Xhaxhollari, Aberle, and Ethniu with me that time, but goddamn if she still got away, in the end.

I actually didn’t end up overly battered or threatened, this time around. Marie, unfortunately, did. Kaspar, at one point, had the choice between a clean shot of an arrow to Chandra’s throat when she was stunned by an attack of Xhaxhollari’s. But Marie was unconscious from some sort of attack and she was in the process of falling off the roof. It was that classic trope and of course, Kaspar was going to pass up the good chance to end what’s been terrorizing us to save their partner.

Except, they, uh. Didn’t. Through no choice of theirs. 

Marie ended up falling and surviving, yes, but she was one of the few humans among us. Kaspar seeing her in the hospital with multiple fractures could not have been easy on my poor baronex. It was only days later when they had perceived a pattern and gone to both Aberle and Koji about it.

“I had the most curious sensation, that day in Freystadt,” Kaspar began softly, referencing that last battle we’d had. Xhaxhollari was in the surveillance room of Aberle’s workplace, reviewing some of the footage from the fight, trying to discern more weaknesses that we weren’t quite aware of. He froze when he realised he saw the grim look the faces of Kaspar, Koji, and Aberle. “I knew Marie was in danger of falling from that rooftop. But for a moment, I’d forgotten she was even there. It was as if certain attributes of my surroundings were falling out of my notice. And when I finally struggled back to fully take notice of my surroundings, I realised it was you, staring at me.”

Honestly, the fact that Xhaxhollari could be found there is probably indicative of his ‘gatekeeper’ status.

Xhaxhollari stood slowly, his features carefully blank. 

It was then that all three of them began sharing when they’d noticed Xhaxhollari ‘pulling strings.’ See, Xhaxhollari had been doing so for a long time, but now that he’d shown himself, all of the terror and the paranoia made what he’d been doing for years a popular target. Plus, he’d only just come onto the scene in a war where manipulation was also the enemy’s most common weapon.

He could’ve maybe had a better sense of timing, is all I’m saying.

Xhaxhollari finally broke the silence. “My… instincts are… more for what could serve the… world. Not the individual.” Aberle later told me his voice seemed apologetic. “I knew Marie would live, though I regret her injuries.”

Kaspar didn’t seem to want the subject to hover on Marie– that wound was evidently too fresh. “And it seems like it’s one more layer to this…” Kaspar shook its curly mane of hair, as if to soothe some of the tension crackling through themself. Or maybe trying to shake off some odd urges it was being pulled to, something it likely tried to blame on Xhax. “You see, Xanthe has had this theory, that perhaps [Kieran] is reverting back to [April] because a timeline is degrading without them. And it’s not that I’m disinclined to believe my darling time ripple, but I’ve gone through their social media profile through those my partners and colleagues have active. It took some time, because I kept finding myself distracted. Or interrupted. Or suddenly the idea was flying out of my head,” Kaspar was saying. “And it seems as though Xanthe’s fears are correct. And if one digs deep enough, it seems as if the differences between [Kieran] and [April] begin to disappear.” Aberle is pretty certain, that by this time, Xhaxhollari had forgotten to breathe. Or at least look like he was. “And… All of these years, I couldn’t remember what prompted me to introduce those two. I remember that it felt like a good idea, I remember telling Xanthe that he and [Kieran] would get along. And now, my dear partner is under the impression that their abuser is somehow present in their life. And it’s not paranoia… is it?”

There was an audible whoosh of breath from Xhax. “Kaspar, I have known they were in the same body for a long time. It isn’t what you think–”

“Holy fucking shit!” Aberle erupted in a small explosion of distress. “We were all convinced that [Kieran] was [April]’s twin. Like without a fucking doubt and the evidence otherwise has been there for years. This is a type of gaslighting they don’t even have a name for! Just because you’re not human doesn’t give the fucking right to fuck with our lives and lie to Xanthe–”

“It wasn’t a lie!” Xhaxhollari insisted. “Not all of it.” It was here when he explained that he thought of it like a walk-in soul, that Kieran and April did occupy the same body, but the differences were as stark as that between Xanthe and Nebula. “I was operating under the information that [April] was essentially gone.”

“That’s the thing, there was always a risk that you were wrong!” Aberle insisted. “If you thought for a second that [Kieran] had a chance of being [April], they should have never been in Xanthe’s life! What gives you the fucking right to–”

“I was saving Xanthe’s life!” Xhaxhollari’s voice was raising. In fact, all of his wings were tensed and trembling– his voice didn’t give away stress, but his feathers did. “They were spiraling then, four years ago. After the break-up. They thought you weren’t real and didn’t know what was and I had to be on suicide watch–”

“Xanthe would’ve told me if they were suicidal,” Kaspar cut in icily.

Xhaxhollari’s answering laugh was cold, harsh, and a bit high with panic. “Xanthe doesn’t tell itself if they’re suicidal. Kaspar, Xanthe watched when you died and blamed itself, you coming back didn’t do enough to erase–…” Xhaxhollari seemed to realise what he said, here. There he was, backed into a corner, one of the worst feelings in the world, and he wasn’t as silent and unperceivable as he was used to. And he was making mistakes. His eyes were wide, staring in between the three of them. His gaze met Aberle’s because he knew Aberle would know exactly what he meant. Well, cat’s out of the bag, now. “Aberle, I suspect you remember that damned timeline because of your relationship with a personification of Death. You always perceived much more than everyone else around you because you’ve seen into more worlds than you should have. In fact, I’ve always thought you were a risk due to it, but I know you remember it too.”

Kaspar narrowed its eyes. “Impossible. He can’t remember what hasn’t come to pass.

“Um.” Aberle almost started when Kaspar spun to face him. It was remarkable how jumpy the baronex was suddenly, how full of crackling energy their lithe body was. “No, I–… Remember that weird timeline that I’m not sure that happened? That was–… I was going to tell you, it’s just awkward because–… you were dead at the time, and I figured you wouldn’t remember.”

Kaspar stared at him, icy eyes almost pleading with Aberle to remember differently.

“[Kieran] was one of the only ones in the other plane that could contact all of you,” Xhaxhollari pressed. “Since [April] would be no longer around to corroborate. There was too much about this plane that was fragile after it was nearly destroyed. I did it to save all of you.

“How does it save all of us if some twink on some other plane remembers us or not?” Koji asked sharply. “Because what I know is that he and Xanthe have hooked up and Xanthe kept having mental breakdowns afterwards. They called me during one! You can’t act like you were preserving Xanthe’s sanity and have their abuser secretly around them for fucking three years. And I saw weird shit happening around us when Romeo had that hate campaign against me– how do I know that I wasn’t targeted because you thought it was for the ‘good of everyone’?”

I walked in just in time to catch the last line. I’d heard the voices of Xhaxhollari, Koji, Aberle, and Kaspar from down the hall and sensed drama. My first thought was honestly that there was a debate about Hemachandra’s movements on the cameras but I was automatically disturbed– and, let’s be honest, triggered about what I was seeing.

The first image I had was Xhaxhollari, having stood out of chair, tense. I saw Kaspar, Aberle, and Koji around him, standing side by side as they accused him. “Why the fuck are you lot ganging up on the new guy?” I asked sharply.

‘The new guy’ was more my way of relating. Xhaxhollari was itching to let me know that he, in fact, has been here longer than I, but the situation was too tense for even he to correct me.

Kaspar seemed to flinch when I came in. Aberle was honestly still reeling from Xhaxhollari referencing when Kaspar had died and trying not to zone out. To be honest, Koji seemed the only one still able to remain in the moment.

“He’s doing that ‘pulling strings’ thing! He might have been behind a lot of what’s going on, out of some weird logic that he’s trying to ‘save us,’” Koji explained.

I squinted at him. “I actually seem to remember a time where you, too, were blamed for everything. Let’s hear what’s going on before condemning the bloke, eh?”

Kaspar scoffed. “He’s said he was here to lend aid, my Lord Henry, but I fear he’s done more harm than help.”

“Well, I can speak from experience, that people lend a better helping hand if it it’s not nailed to a cross,” I replied pointedly.

Kaspar rolled its eyes. “Self-pity isn’t a good look for you, Zeitstück, even when it’s projected onto others. No, you see, Xhaxhollari has been–” 

Xhaxhollari quickly cut in. “Kaspar, think about what I tried to prevent from happening. It’s still a risk. Timing is crucial for these sorts of things.” I remember that his tone was quick and panicked, like someone coaching someone else which wire to cut on a bomb that was fast running out of time.

“Maybe we should listen to him,” Aberle said, haltingly. “I remember what he’s talking about, Kaspar. It happened and it was more fucked up than you know. The whole thing was–… So many people died.”

This is the series events that are being referred to, in case you need a refresher.

I didn’t know what was being discussed, exactly. My mind was locked on the fact that three people were cornering a fourth in a room and accusing him of shit. Who said that narcissists don’t have empathy? I moved myself in between the three and Xhaxhollari.

Kaspar was fixed on Aberle– you know, the person who decided to corroborate the fact that, yes, Kaspar, had, in fact, died once before. Kaspar seemed to be taking quick, shallow breaths. There was a truth that Kaspar could sense in Aberle’s and Xhaxhollari’s words and Kaspar would later on say that they’d rather sink through the floor than face it.

“Kaspar,” Xhaxhollari began, “if you care anything about Xanthe’s sanity—”

Kaspar bristled visibly, still not facing either of us.

I blinked. I hadn’t realised until then that this argument was about me. I was oddly, distantly pleased that I was being stood up for.

“You dare speak of the sanctity of Xanthe’s mind?” Kaspar hissed, not turning to take their eyes off of Aberle, who seemed to be trying to shrink. “After what you’ve exposed them to?”

There were other things being said, all four of them talking over each other. I’d lost track, by this point. There were even animated gestures in a flurry all around the room, as if a wave of violent energy surged across the tiny industrial room. The security monitors around us seemed to be reacting to the tension, flickering to static and strobes.

I opened my mouth, about to ask what the fuck was going on, I think. Or maybe to tell everyone to stop talking over each other. I honestly forget. I heard a dull, yet resounding CRACK. I was falling, trying to angle myself to land in the chair Xhaxhollari had been sitting in, but, having forgotten it was wheeled, was greeted by the sudden shift said chair. Then there was a radiating pain in my elbow as I hit the ground along with the sickening feeling of the wind being knocked out of me. There was an odd stinging sensation on the right side of my face.

Something had struck me– hard, with an open hand.

Even worse, a ring or a nail had caught my cheek and left a large, stinging line across the right side of my face.

I glanced around wildly, expecting to see Hemachandra herself having interrupted this confusing but intense drama.

What I saw would be branded onto my memory forever. Kaspar, body twisted after having swung the full weight of its stature into such a blow. Its hand was outstretched.

I stared at Kaspar’s hand.

Kaspar stared at me. Usually, I couldn’t get a read on their emotions. They were so controlled that everything their face showed was only what it wanted to show. But for this, its face was a perfect mask of horror. Its eyes slowly alternated between its hand and myself, as if it had to take a long while to figure out how my face and its hand had interacted.

Kaspar gave a shuddering breath and made a low, horrified noise in its throat.

It was then that I noticed that the monitors around us had changed. Every single monitor showed Kaspar whirling on me and backhanding me in the face, so hard that I tumbled onto the surveillance chair. The monitors didn’t play sound, but a faint giggling could be heard.

Hemachandra was laughing at us.

The room was deathly silent otherwise. Neither Koji or Aberle could seem to believe their eyes. Xhaxhollari was staring at me– he later realised that I had been, in fact, trying to defend him and, for probably the first time, I was more friend than nuisance to him.

I was the first to speak. “Kaspar, we all know Chandra can do possession-type things an–”

“Xanthe, do not.” Kaspar’s body seemed to fold onto itself as they fell onto the floor. We’d had several deep conversations of what Lee, their ex, had done to them– how they had beat them within an inch of their life after they came out as polyamorous. Their eyes weren’t focused. “I swear to gods, Xanthe, do not let your first instinct be to comfort the person who just hit you!” Their voice was ragged with a potent amount of self-disgust.

I bit my lip. Clearly, yes, Chandra’s abilities had struck again.

Kaspar and I had been together for years, had even viciously fought on our own volition, but never, ever, ever came close to physical blows. We’d never thrown anything, we’d never punched a wall. See, Kaspar and I operate romantically based on a contract, which makes loads of people tend to tense when I first explain it. It’s called ‘RECA’= Romantic Entanglement Consent Agreement and I honestly recommend it from anything to friends with benefits to married partners.

Within this, we outlined our preferred ways to be comforted, frequency of contact that was sustainable for us both, expectations, and what would constitute betrayal and break the contract. It’s honestly fabulous for anxieties of not being on the same page and Kaspar has such an agreement with every single partner of theirs. And of course, physical violence constituted a betrayal for both of us– Kaspar, though their hand was literally forced, had broken contract.

Which is how I’m able to write about this. See, normally, Kaspar is quite protective over its reputation. Part of the reason why I hardly gush about our romantic moments or lament our ugliest fights is because it’s a ‘Kaspar clause’ not to unless I ask consent, first. It doesn’t like how things can be misconstrued via the telephone game. I asked it, during the writing of this blog, if it would like me to leave out any details.

Kaspar shook its head, pouring itself another glass of brandy. “I broke contract that day, Xanthe. Write whatever you’d like.”

I had the urge to reach for the mark I could feel on my face, but I didn’t want to draw attention to it.

Koji and Aberle had wordlessly decided to split the duty of dealing with the aftermath. Koji helped me to my feet and handed me a handkerchief, asking if I tasted blood. Aberle was coaxing a nearly catatonic Kaspar out of the room.

I glanced at the monitors– the clip Kaspar slapping me was on a sadistic repeat. The security room itself wasn’t even monitored, to add to the eerieness of the entire event. That footage had no reason to even exist.

I looked at Xhaxhollari. He also looked near to a breakdown, his wings folded around him as if to shield him from his surroundings. “Hey, you okay?”

He squinted at me and took in the mark on my face. “I’ll live. Thank you.” He paused for a long moment. I’d almost expected his eyes to be white, but no. They were a sort of like hazel– the body’s father’s eyes– if the brightness had gotten turned up desaturated. What was left was a pale gold-green. “Xanthe. I think you’re correct in thinking [Kieran] may be shifting to [April.] I request that you not contact him until I have this sorted.”

I frowned, but nodded. Great, that’s just what I needed. Nonexistence may have been too good for her, afterall.

Kieran and I hadn’t talked since he failed to show up for my New Year’s party. I would’ve liked to have thought that he wouldn’t let his sister take over again, but Kieran’s posts seemed aimed at an ‘ex’ that was suspiciously a caricatured version of myself. I was tempted to ask what the fight had been about– more than tempted, really. But through Xhaxhollari’s ‘pulling strings’, my mind’s priority was shifted to worrying about Kaspar.

“You’d tell me if you actually caused that, right? Kaspar hitting me?” I asked him while writing this very blog.

His eyes widened a bit at that question. “And set myself up for cleaning up after your subsequent breakdowns? I save that level of masochism for the rest of this world’s subconscious.”

It’d been suggested that I’d been so invested, at that point, in the idea that my loved ones hurting me wasn’t their own decision or volition. I’d been depending so heavily on something supernatural that would explain everything, that would make a truth pure and simple, that my inworld may have felt forced to exemplify that. It could also be that my self-loathing had reached critical levels as of late, and that I may have secretly wanted Kaspar away from me to spare themself.

The inworld can be a sadistic fuck, let me tell you.

I went to find my partner.

It actually took a while for me to find the right door– almost all of the exits of Aberle’s workplace opened onto an industrial-looking balcony underneath a bridge on the Seine. It was nothing that had any sort of view– it was mainly used for employees to have smoke breaks and Kaspar was, in fact, smoking. It leaned against the railing. One of its legs were bouncing. It took a deep breath as it saw me, wiping away tears.

“You’d never hit me,” I said softly. “We know how Hemachandra can–”

Kaspar was already shaking its head. “I don’t quite know what I’m capable of right now. Or why it happened. But I do know what I did. I’m–… I’m not safe to be around.” It turned to face me. I watched its eyes catch on the mark on my cheek. I touched my face and felt the unmistakable crust of blood– not a lot, but it was there.

Kaspar looked gutted. Probably about as gutted as I felt.

I looked to Aberle, who was leaning against the side of the balcony, arms folded against the cold. “I already tried to pitch that,” he told me. “Kaspar’s not the easiest person to argue with.”

Kaspar laughed without any humour.

And it was true. They weren’t the easiest person to argue with. But I was damn-well going to try. “You’re not the sort to hit your partners. I know you and I know your partners. There’s literally a fucking–… manipulative force that–”

“Funny thing about being manipulated, Zeitstück, is that you can generally only be manipulated into what you were already capable of,” Kaspar rasped. “Take it from a manipulator.”

I wasn’t quite sure how true that was but decided not to argue on that particular point. “Well. It seemed more like you wanted to backhand Xhax and I just got in the way,” I said, helpfully. Kaspar sniffed and shook its head as a dismissal, staring down towards the river. “It was a tense situation that I just inserted myself in just now… I just saw the three of you confronting him, and there’s–… just something in my principles doesn’t tend to allow for the whole three-on-one thing, especially not lately.”

Kaspar gave a slight, derisive laugh. “I’m certainly happy one of us stuck to our principles.” It put out its cigarette, then, snuffing it out under its boot. “Obviously, I’m taking myself off of this case. And… out of my romantic entanglements, for a while.” It felt like someone was squeezing my heart and all of the air out of my lungs. Kaspar took a step back and looked at me. “I can’t trust myself to be a good partner if I don’t even know who I am or what I’m capable of, Xanthe. I’m afraid I need a break. From everyone.”

I was trying to concentrate on pulling air into my lungs without transmuting it into sobbing. ‘Don’t fucking leave, I need you now more than ever.’ I was thinking it loud enough that I’m surprised Kaspar didn’t hear it. ‘I know you. I don’t care what you do to me because I know you’re not capable of it– what the hell was that thought?’ I frowned. That thought didn’t seem as far from myself as I wanted it to be. Okay, yeah, maybe a break was needed. “How long?” I choked.

Kaspar closed its eyes, as if doing brief math in its head. “A couple of months. May, to be safe.” I could hear a roaring in my head. Abandonment issues, that old fear that the moment I would step away that Kaspar would be killing itself, or if I had, in fact, done something wrong to deserve the slap. It seemed to actually catch my thought process just then– four years of dating tended to do that. “Xanthe. You will hear from me before or on May 1st. This, I promise you. I’ll just have to sort myself out, but we will see each other again.”

Now that my own selfish feelings were soothed, I was overwhelmed with worry for them. Kaspar is a perfectionist, in every sense of the word. Their clinical narcissism was used to pick themself apart. They could usually distract themselves by ensuring they were surrounded by distractions and glittering crowds. They were about to spend months in emotional solitary confinement as a self-punishment. Knowing that about killed me. “Okay,” I managed. “Thanks for letting me know.”

Kaspar sighed and wiped at its eyes again. It would hardly allow those tears to see the light of day before they were obliterated by the side of Kaspar’s hand. They took one of my hands and kissed it. “I’m sorry, Xanthe. Truly.” They so rarely called me by my first name that it felt almost alien to me. “Don’t be as reckless as usual. Just your usual form of casual mayhem will do. Tell [Arkady] I say to take good care of you until I’m back.”

I didn’t respond to that one, but was privately amused they hadn’t even bothered to request their other metamour. They said their ‘until we meet agains’ to Aberle as well.

When I saw them leave via the vehicle I sent for them, I wanted so badly to call out to them– make them stop for just a second, convince them not to blame themselves, talk them out of hating themselves. I was thinking of the argument as I stood, my cheek throbbing dully.

Well. At least the ‘other plane’ surely wouldn’t get as dark as this.

March 3rd, 2020.

Something was wrong. Something was innately fucking wrong, I could feel it in the air. And that didn’t leave when I left the house for my afternoon shift at three.

In fact, I wasn’t even clocked in yet when my instincts were practically shrieking at me that something was wrong– despite the fucking things failing to share anything with the class for the past fucking year.

So, I followed the hunch and texted Arkady, who was far from reassuring that day. There was an alarm bell going off so loudly in my head that I thought I was going to be sick.

“That’s fair.” No, it wasn’t, past me. Jesus.
Can you imagine just waiting at a desk for two straight days to hear if you’re going to be homeless or not?
Because I asked. I asked before, ensuring that I wouldn’t be kicked out. And he said I wouldn’t be.

In fact, I was. Within fifteen minutes of my clocking in, I had to run to the lavatory and threw up the meager breakfast I’d managed to choke down past my nerves.

Well, I thought, shuddering as I gripped the toilet paper dispenser with one hand. A little late to call in sick, but I’ll take it.

And that’s precisely what I did. I know I looked a pathetic sight in the [HOTEL UNDISCLOSED] lobby, pale, shaking, voice wavering as I explained I’d just gotten sick.

Then I hopped on the very next bus home.

I remember that I came home to everyone having gathered in the living room. Thankfully, Zara was at least absent, but I had the nasty feeling that what was coming was even worse than what she had done. “What’s going on?”

One of the three, I forget who– probably Arkady, told me that they would need some time to figure out how to address everything.

I went to my room. And of course, here’s where things get really pathetic.

I couldn’t find a way to calm down. Cutting, drinking, bitching online would’ve just made my case worse. So, I laid on my bedroom floor and replayed every sweet video and comforting voice message that Arkady had ever sent me.

Even more pathetic, this actually did have a calming effect on me.

I think it was Ash that texted me, asking if I was ‘taking anything.’ As in, like, overdosing.

No. I thought bitterly. Because that’d just get me yelled at.

Not because I’d die– that would’ve been preferable to the fucking hen-pecking, at that point. But because I didn’t want to get in trouble for it.

There’s actually scientific reason that the group-on-one scenario is so utterly damaging. Humans are pack animals. Having what would instinctively seem like safety and survival turn on its head and be the thing that’s attacking you, it heightens fight, freeze, fawn, and flight to fever pitch. On a grander scale, it’s also why it’s not a good idea to respond instantly when you get cancelled on the internet– your response will be foolish, because it’s out of your feral animal instincts to make the attack stop and your fellow human beings be a place of safety again.

But you can’t– not when your place as the scapegoat is necessary for the pack to survive.

I did throw up again. I didn’t have anything left in me and it was mostly bile, at this point.

They did eventually invite me downstairs. I sat on the rug, legs crossed, trying to stop the trembling.

I don’t think there was any preamble, to be honest. The first words I remember being spoken were Arkady saying, “Blood magic?”

I froze. What the fuck am I being accused of now? Then it flashed into my head– the page I wrote of a better future. It… was smeared with blood. While grappling with that, I was vaguely aware my mouth and voicebox were already moving. Ah, yes, the ghost of Neb again, convinced beyond a doubt that everything was always her fault. “I-I’m… so sorry… I didn’t mean–” Thank gods I still had the strength to reign that in. “Wait. You read my fucking journal?” Zeitstück is still hanging in on the front seat, folks!

“Don’t change the subject!” Arkady persisted. “Do you realise how dangerous that could be? You wishing something could happen to Zara’s car? She could have died, Xanthe!”

“You read my journal,” I echoed. I couldn’t yet feel the betrayal, the violation, through everything else. But I could conceptualize it, could factor that into the equation. I looked at Ash, who was curled on the couch, as if they were the one being traumatized. My eyes were fixed on them. “Who read my journal?” I already knew. I already fucking knew.

“I had to!” Ash snapped. “With how suicidal you’ve been lately, I had to make sure there wasn’t a note in there for us or something!”

Are you fucking serious? I wanted to scream. I am Xanthe Fucking Zeitstück. If I’m killing myself, I am paying an airplane to spell my last note out in the sky. I am making it a televised fucking event. I will make a musical out of it! Do you really think my suicide note WOULD BE IN AN OBSCURE JOURNAL ENTRY?

Do you think making this my cover photo is worth the wellness check risk?

“Xanthe, this isn’t only about the journal entry,” March said. His voice was taking on that annoying breathy quality. I was pretty sure that he faked having his psychology degree just to be that type of school counselor to say, ‘What are you doing to attract the bullying, though?’ “Xanthe, we can’t let this continue. You’re making [Arkady] suicidal.”

There it is. The cheatcode to break me. Tell me I’m killing the ones I love– it’s wildly effective.

I stared at Arkady– to beg him to at least attempt a meager defense, a denial, a correction, anything.

He met my eyes.

He looked away.

And I shattered.

Here, it gets nebulous. (boomtiss? Come on, mates, not even a chuckle? Someone’s gotta laugh at this scene and it sure as hell isn’t going to be a sober me.)

I remembered that I burst into tears, rambling how much I wish I would have moved six months before I had, so that the damage March had left wasn’t the fucking springboard to my new life. I lamented that, openly grieving a timeline wherein I moved in early, lived on Ash’s and Arkady’s couch in their one-bedroom on Birch Crescent, where I could have saved us all from this misery. That maybe if I had just stopped being so stubborn about holding onto Savannah, I could have saved him instead of making him suffer.

“Xanthe, you’re making us all suicidal,” March said, having no issue kicking me while I was down. I mean, granted, I was having an audible breakdown about how I was too late to save us from having him in our lives, which may have been impolite. But damn, it was really like he was enjoying this. “They told me that you’re worse than I was last year.” Yep. Yep. This asshole was definitely fucking enjoying this. “We can’t start to heal, living in the same house as you. You need to move out.”

“No!” Fuck, I hadn’t even spent a fucking year in Rochester yet. I’d given up so fucking much to move here, just for this? I was facing the very real possibility that my mental health had slipped so much that I was no longer able to hold a fucking job, if today’s rush out of work was any indication. I didn’t even know which neighborhoods were okay to move to, yet. And fuck, could I really trust myself living alone? Especially now?

There was also something in me so thoroughly convinced that my moving out in this time would be the most damned thing I could have done. Which, you know, I have to give my instincts credit for working overtime that day. Because, check the date.

This was early March of 2020.

There’s not a lot of conceivable timelines where I would have thrived. Or really, even survived.

“It’s non-negotiable,” March continued. “We can’t heal unless we have time away from you, Xanthe.”

It was circling in my head, scorching into all of my synapses. The fact Kaspar had been forced to strike me, the fact that I was practically killing Arkady. It’s something I’d somewhat suspected of myself– that I was poison to all that fell for me. “Those that are in love with me, either go insane or die.” I feel like I’d written that as a line in a poem or once said it during one of my drunken rambles, but it’s lurked in my head just under the surface for years.

I’m poison. None of my exes were exactly sending me Christmas cards. I could barely go anywhere new without making ten new enemies along the way. And so many of my partners had been suicidal while I’ve been with them. I’m fucking poison. Maybe I’d be one of the ones they just keep in the psych ward– someone visited with less and less frequency until I disappear into that other plane altogether. Maybe Cotton will released a film based off me eventually and not be entirely sure whether I’m alive or dead– and be better off for it. Hopefully, that’ll be my ‘time away’ to let the house heal.

Perhaps Chandra had a point– maybe I do fuck my world around up just with my defiant existence.

It’s something that sticks with me, especially in these days where I occasionally try to find someone new to distract me. I’m pretty solo polyamorous these days and very upfront about the fact that I’m broken and just looking for distraction. And sometimes, these beautiful, kind, well-intentioned little fools will actually fall for me– get invested in me, start building around me.

And I’ll get terrified.

And when my flaws don’t drive them away, what else could I do other than distance myself? I feel shitty about doing so, but. Hell. Better that than me seeing what horrors it might slowly transform into, to see their love for me devour them.

Even worse than that, well. Systems are gullible. Just because of the inference that I had been conducting blood magic, I thought I had, and I thought of myself as dangerous– too dangerous to be out in public, someone who needed institutionalized. I was suggesting this now, begging this group to give me over to a psych ward that can figure out in what unique way my brain can be unfucked.

I’d never been in a psych ward before. Like I’d told dear ol’ Deborah, I’d been remarkably good at hiding my symptoms and my suicide attempts. “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t live this life anymore. You need to take me to the psych ward,” I choked out. Story was awake again, apologising, you know, for existing. The echoing of the ‘I’m so sorry’s’ seemed so far away.

The next thing I knew, I was in the passenger seat of Ash’s Toyota. Arkady was the one driving me.

“Is it… odd, that I was more scared of you dumping me than I was about me being homeless?” I asked, honestly. And it was true. Houses, come and go. But to have one of the only people that seemed to know and adore every inch of me and then decide to break their promises and principles to discard me, that’d frankly be too dark of a timeline to even consider. I’d take living under a bridge again over that.

Arkady frowned, keeping his eyes on the road. “The… worst that’d happen, is us taking a break. And that might have to happen, honestly.” This was perhaps literally two days after I’d last seen Kaspar– life was like, laughably kicking my ass. “But it wouldn’t be over, between us.”

I exhaled slowly. “I believe you.” He took my hand and squeezed it. It was actually nice, to be with him alone in the car, and then the waiting room as he took me to be possibly committed. I was beginning to learn, to perhaps only a subconscious level, that I would get a more gentle and understanding Arkady when it was only the two of us.

In the waiting room, I did bring up the fact that March seemed practically overjoyed that I’d fucked up. “No, he… just seemed sad,” Arkady corrected grimly.

I looked at him. Well, there’s probably room enough for two deluded fucks in here.

I almost laughed at my own thought. See, as I was unwillingly merging with Story, I started to experience an odd effect wherein my own voice, though recognizable to me, felt startlingly far away. Almost as if the ‘Xanthe’ emotions and the comebacks were something I had to reach for, these days.

My time in Strong hospital was a blur. It’s probably not the best idea to have people in their darkest moments just be alone with their own thoughts for upwards of seven hours in a sterilized environment, with not even their phone to scroll through. You’d think my inworld would take this as a great opportunity to kick in, but. No. I was raw-dogging reality.

And I didn’t have alcohol or books or films to run away from the thought that I was, in fact, poison.

This picture is actually from Utah, but it was pretty similar to what I remember.

They took me back to talk to me a few times. And gods, my entire story is hard to get out without sounding like a rambling crazy person, but I hoped that’d help my case for getting me a bed there. I really only remember snippets. Not because Story or Aberle or anyone else was switching in– that would’ve been convenient. No, I was alone here.

I really tried to drive home the point that I was insane. All of the times I’ve ‘lost time’, all of my delusions, my breakdowns– even vomiting up the exact same phrasing that had been used against me. “I’m making the people around me suicidal. I need help.”

I remember that I was talking about how I was deluded and paranoid, that I had a victim mindset that everyone was against me, that I had gotten so toxic that my housemates discovered that I had put a ‘blood curse’ on Zara.

“How did they find out? Did you tell them?”

“Oh, no, they read my journal.”

The look the counselor/nurse/psych person? gave was almost comical.

“What did you mean to do with the… curse?”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember making it…” A pause. “I wanted her to go away. Not die. Just not be around.”

“As in, move out?”

I remember laughing. Of course, anyone on the outside would be under the impression that Zara was actually living there. She spent more time with my goddamned roommates than I did.

I remember that I mentioned Arkady and I had been arguing a lot, and that a screaming argument is what caused me to lose sight of reality and believe I had to take myself out to escape a damned timeline. I was really trying to drive home the fact that I lose sight of reality, that sometimes I don’t even know what I’m doing until I’m in danger. “Has your boyfriend ever called you names?”

“Well. Yeah. But things have been tough, lately.” They made a note at that. Fuck.

“Has he ever hit you?”

“What? No. No. When I mentioned my abusive relationship, I was talking about my ex-girlfriend, [April.] Not [Arkady.] He’s not abusing me. If anything, it’s the other way around.” There was a pervading, freezing numbness at the fact that I said that. I was so annoyed at myself– I should be breaking down again, I should be yelling and showing everyone how crazy I truly was.

They kept… basically going through the checklist of questions that would imply they thought Arkady was abusive. And I was locked on arguing against that, frankly feeling offended that such a thing would even be suggested.

“How often does he yell at you?” “It didn’t start until [March] moved in! And I’ve yelled back!”

“Has he ever made you feel unsafe?” “Well, yeah, when I lose track of reality, but that–”

I could actually feel them losing interest in me. It’s the same sort of exasperation you see cops get when someone covered in bruises won’t press charges. I felt so, so shitty for having given them that impression.

In the end, they offered for me to go to Affinity House– a sort of halfway house for people who need to get away. They put that pamphlet in my ‘going away’ bag. My heart sank when I realized they weren’t going to give me a bed, give me a room. They thought Arkady was abusing me instead of the other way around– obviously I failed and misrepresented Arkady. Probably through my natural tendency to manipulate and spin the narrative. At least, that’s what I told myself.

“You’re speaking like a textbook Narcissist,” Ash had told me, that day Zara yelled at me.

And look at me, without a bed, having convinced professionals that I wasn’t a danger, evidently beyond help. I could feel all the fight draining out of me through that ‘You’re making [Arkady] suicidal’ wound that kept throbbing in my head. And that didn’t seem like such a bad thing when I didn’t know what I was fighting for.

And when I was discharged early in the morning, I felt doubly guilty but also comforted when I saw the messages Arkady had left me. Gods, imagine being such a monster that I make this sweet being look abusive.

I came home, curled up beside Arkady. In his sleep, he rolled over and put his arms around me, as if holding me was just an ingrained instinct. In my head, I told him how sorry I was, that I failed to portray just how crazy and poisonous I was, how not even Kaspar can be around me right now.

And I wept silently. I don’t know if he ever knew I was crying– but I was crying, and he was holding me as I did, which… had rarely happened, over this past year. But it was happening now.

So I held onto that. As everything spun out of control, I at least had that.

To end this on a humorous note, check out my review at my tragically short stay at Strong!

And hey, free socks!