(I’ve been using aliases throughout this blog to protect the victims, the bystanders, and the perpetrators. I’ve recently resolved that the perpetrators and their stalwart defenders are not worth protecting. So, I do apologise for potentially confusing my audience. Ash is actually named Rowan. They were originally named Elias in the blog, after their middle name, but reached out to me to change it. And I just– agreed, for some reason. March is named Vali. Kieran is named Apollo. April was named Kirra. (See what I did there? I’m so clever.) Asra is actually named Sage. Avery is actually named AJ.)
[TW: Suicidal ideation, cult dynamics, self-harm, gaslighting. As always, anything entirely In Italics is entirely internal.]
I should delete my Facebook profile.
I wasn’t recognising myself in many of my selfies anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I looked good. I always look good, goddamn it. But sometimes, I didn’t even recognise the look in my eyes or remembering when I’d taken and posting the selfie.
Not only that, but my newsfeed were full of Arkady, Jane, Rowan, and Vali all going on hikes and hanging out together. It was all so pointedly excluding me that even Sage was telling me that even friends of friends had taken notice and were pointing it out.
“It’s way obvious that they’re excluding you.” Sage griped. “My friends have literally started asking me, ‘Why is Xanthe the only one left out of all these pictures?’ I don’t even know what to tell them. Like it’ll be hikes, picnics, roadtrips, and all these pictures of Zara, [Arkady], Rowan, [Jane], Vaal. It’s everyone but you and it’s super obvious.”
“Yeah. Yeah, it is.” I was scrolling through Facebook once again. I had six messages blinking in my inbox, one of which was telling me how jealous they were that I ‘got to quarantine with [my] polycule.’ I was in Highland Park– I’d been in the habit of taking long walks when talking on the phone. My house felt practically bugged. I was going out in the woods just to have a phone session with my therapist, lately.
The latest time they’d gone out, Arkady actually had actually checked on me before leaving. He’d knocked on my door and I knew just from the fact he was dressed up that there was yet another fun time that was “No Xanthes Allowed.” His tone was gentle as he spoke to me. “We’re… all going on a hike, today. Zara’s going with us, so…”
I heard what he didn’t say. ‘Zara would just as soon as exclude you from a lifeboat, if she had half a chance.’ “Yeah,” I croaked.
Arkady frowned under the weight of a flickering self-awareness. He reached for me and stroked my cheek. My eyes fluttered closed, savouring the warmth of it, the simple and fleeting gesture of care. “Maybe you should dress up and take some selfies today. Take a walk. Try to eat something, okay?”
I nodded and actually managed it, that day.
The rest of my days were spent with Xhaxhollari playing Pokémon, even using the unemployment funds to catch up on all the games he’d been missing throughout the years. At this point, I was entirely confusing him and Story together, thinking that both were fusing with me and that this gained me some semblance of control over both of them.
Xhaxhollari just went ahead and let me think that. Revealing that he had his own voice had only made me angry with him, so why wouldn’t he?
We’d have YouTube drama playing in the background, which was a wonderful distraction. And I had to keep distracted. Had to. Or else the loss would drive the air from my lungs, fill my heart with boiling blood and tar, and crush me until I was nothing more than condensed emptiness.
One of the worst parts was this was the sort of torment I always imagined going through that I would get to cry to Arkady about. It would be the type of event where he’d let me cry into his arms, no debate, until the sound his heartbeat replaced every casual, impersonal chaos of the universe with a rhythm. He’d probably threaten to kill anyone who was doing this to me, too.
2018 [Arkady] would want to kick 2020 [Arkady]’s ass. I thought that often. I said it sometimes.
Jane had introduced me to TheRightOpinion on YouTube and now we were catching up on what the devil Onision had done and why the fuck he was famous for in the first place. The drama documentaries were always fascinating to me– the way that bizarre sequences of events were broken down and explored from nearly every motivational angle. There was a surprising amount of nuance in cancellation, justified or otherwise.
Once I’d worn out all of the content TRO had to offer, I was off to explore YouTube’s other peculiarities. Randy Stair was another one, mainly because Randy vaguely reminded me of AJ. I felt guilty, at first, for comparing the two– until AJ said they empathized with them, which about shorted out my poor brain.
And of course, I delved into Joy Sparkles, WhoaVickie, Chris Chan, Kero the Wolf. Suddenly, I was actually going through the Baited podcast just to see ColossalIsCrazy roasting Keemstar. I’d never really been into YouTube until that year. After the pandemic, I was practically a historian.
I remember, in particular, when Jane had us all watch the documentary of the ‘Final Fantasy House.’
I don’t remember forming an actual opinion or solid connection between this and my life, at the time. I’m sure some dumbassery was cropping up in my mind of, “Wow, that reminds me of my situation, but mine’s Real, because–”
I was a sponge when I wasn’t writhing from mental agony. And YouTube feuds. Those were the best! In fact, I’d found this one recently, between Trisha Peytas and this person with Disassociative–?? I mean, Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Like a person with actual alters. Can you imagine?
I certainly fucking couldn’t.
I even discuss, in the comments of this post, how I’ve had fugue states. I blamed it on Zoloft. Fucking ZOLOFT.
I remember watching the DissociaDID system reacting to Trisha Peytas’ horrid attempt to mimic the disorder. I remember thinking, “Gods, I also have amnesiac periods, selfies I can’t account for, and people that I interact with that seem dubiously real to others. I empathize a lot! These poor, stigmatized people. I could never pretend to understand their struggle.”
Because I am clinically several pieces of a whole dumbass.
And also, DID will bend over backwards to prevent you from discovering you have it. No, it’s not alters, it’s… ghosts! It’s. Gods! It’s… time travel! Alters means you had something traumatize you as a child, and we can’t have you figuring that out! We’d rather have you thinking you’re a fucking multi-dimensional being outrunning a curse!
Interestingly enough, this publicized feud between a system and a faker would strike a chord with Arkady as well. It was one of the few times that the household had run out of priority content and let me show them something. Jane, I think, had made us sit through the entirety of the original Star Wars films and Rowan must’ve been so desperate for anything that wasn’t going ‘Pew Pew Pew!’ that it even afforded me some humanity.
Also, let it be known that I sat through the fucking Star Wars films in order to try to mend the bond between myself and the household. This would be the fifth time in our collective life when that series would be foisted upon us.
The only force that exists in me is how often I’ve been forced to watch these bloody films.
Arkady admitted to me later on that he followed the rest of DissociaDID’s content and that he felt like he maybe had Dissociative Identity Disorder.
You know. That probably made more sense than anything else I’d heard. Especially considering I didn’t know which him I was going to get on any given day, lately.
But gods, good for him for being introspective! I even started researching more of this, to see if I could better understand my partn– uh, roommate. A lot of my research was from that same YouTube channel– but I remember that I would frequently point out, “Oh, wow, that’s sort of what it’s like for me when Jasper or Phisoxa takes over!”
And Arkady– dear Arkady, would turn, look me dead in the eye, and say, “Yeah, but that’s channeling. That’s different.”
And then I would apologise for co-opting DID experiences. Shame on me.
BUT ANYWAY. Let’s go back to me being in Highland Park, talking to Sage on the phone. “I called him on his shit,” they said.
My ears perked. The corners of my mouth quirked up in the first time in days. “Oh yeah? I mean, you don’t have to go out of your way for me, but–“
I was near the peak of Highland, I remember. You know, across from the reservoir? Just after those hilariously numerous steps? Rochester folks know the area. I scrolled through these screenshots, grinning at every single bit of Hard Knocks Sage was sending towards Arkady.
My jaw was dropping. I was alone in a park, shouting “THANK you” every couple of seconds. There it was, relief from the constant bombardment of Xanthe hate. I needed the morale booster and Sage felt nearly as ostracized from things lately as I had.
“Okay, did you see that line he gave me about how you’re being manipulative and I just want to see the good in people? What the fuck was that? Get off your fucking high horse before I Knock you off.”
I laughed. “You know it’s bad when *I* thought that was an arrogant thing to say.”
“Any update on Rowan?”
“Well, they want to cut my hair soon. I’ve fried my hair beyond belief to get rid of my blue and they basically offered me a free haircut because it was bothering them. Not sure if that’s an olive branch or an insult, but I’ll take it.”
Ever since my injury in the inworld, it’d been harder to go back and actually connect with Aberle, Sumire, etc. I was starting to recover– but then seeing that damned bird cage brand on my hip, as symbolic as it was, was making me feel more unhinged every time I looked at it. So, there’s no polite way to say this– I had a mental breakdown tried skinning it off of me, which led to blood loss and even more time recovering. I’d specifically requested that I be allowed to recover in Faerie.
They weren’t the most hospitable lands for me, of course. But when your astrally-produced progeny are mostly fae adults and, well, baffled at what sort of tiff their parents could possibly be having for this long– well, they made good escorts.
I actually remember them pretty clearly, Irran and Aevaryn. I had an arm draped over each of their shoulders. They were gently scolding me for being stubborn, how I didn’t try to get anyone to magick the brand away, for facing Chandra on my own. “To be fair,” I had told them, “many of my initial allies were either injured or had to drop out for mental reasons.”
“Or you just don’t play well with others.” Irran might have had a point, there.
They’d helped me over to Arannan’s quaint little cottage. I’d been there before, with Arkady and Rowan to guide me through the time Arannan was injured and we’d visited him. I didn’t remember my interaction with him, just that I was in a bed, in and out of sleep for the next several days. Whenever I would try to go back, I would sense the bed. The occasional bed and movement– snippets of Arannan’s voice I couldn’t decipher, as if he were a fading phone call.
Because I’d injured myself by self-harm in the inworld, it translated rather aptly to the outerworld. I woke up with many more cuts than I zoned out with, which didn’t exactly warm the household up to me if they ever saw them. By Zara’s decree, they were ‘manipulation’, after all. But long sleeves were part of my designated uniform. And hell, progress was being made! Sometimes Rowan would allow me to share the couch with them as we watched The Office. And of course, there was the haircut coming.
We were in the bathroom, Rowan’s scissors at the ready. Like most autistic people, I have decided that the sensation of little cut hairs on my clothes are equivalent to being strapped down into an iron maiden. I’d planned to shower all of the little hairs off afterwards and to keep my clothes well enough away beforehand. “I’m going to strip down real quick,” I told Rowan. “Don’t look.”
They agreed to that and turned.
It’s amazing, which of us deserved the benefit of the doubt and which gave it. I was most of the way through changing into just my boxers, with the intent in covering up the other offending areas with a towel, when I heard Rowan’s startled gasp. “Oh– my god!” They turned away, which means that they were turned toward me to see what I didn’t want them to. “I’m– uncomfortable!” the person that had peeped me exclaimed.
“I told you not to look!” I protested.
“I didn’t mean to!” They’d meant to look at me, you see. They just didn’t mean to catch a sight of what their psychological torture was doing to me. What fun was nudity if it had guilt involved? Of course, Rowan told Arkady on me after that haircut. “They were covered!” they would say, as a criticism.
Back to the barracks with me!
Jane’s presence actually seemed to be an odd sort of truce, later in the evenings when she’d come home from her job. She opted to act oblivious to the household’s exclusion of me and would even call me down for dinner when the others would ‘forget to.’ “Hey, Xanthe! Your three dads and one mom want you down for dinner!” She called up the stairs, in case I didn’t feel infantalized enough.
Then, we’d watch whichever film she wanted us to over dinner. As someone who had to pull teeth just to make certain the whole house was up-to-date on Peaky Blinders last autumn, bitterness was not a distant emotion. She would come home, glance at the telly with obvious distaste, and say, “Are we married to this?” And we’d just change whatever we were watching to her suggestion. One particularly memorable time, Jane paused the film and stared into space, silent for one moment. “I just remembered. Once I had to mercy-kill an injured animal.”
The pause after went on just long enough to be uncomfortable before she said, “Anyway,” and kept playing the film.
That same night, I witnessed Arkady stroke Vali’s head on his lap. Vali and Arkady shared a kiss, in front of me, before Vali went off to bed. “I think I’m actually in Hell. I think I’ve died and went to Hell,” I texted Sage.
They’ve, before, pointed out how odd the household situation with Jane was. “Where did this fucking 20-year old come from? And why do they run the house? Swear to god, these people. Every season, they just zero in on someone brand new and they’re just like ‘New toy, new toy!’ Did Zara’s appeal just expire? Like what is going on?”
“No, no.” I assured them. “Zara still comes over.”
There was a perceptible pause over the phone. “From Syracuse? During a PANDEMIC?”
“Yep!” I laughed a little. Because otherwise I would be crying, and what use would I have for congruent reactions? “I’m also not allowed into any room she’s hanging out in. Rowan made that clear.”
“… YOU’RE THE ONE PAYING RENT, THOUGH?” Sage could get so heated on my behalf, those days. It was refreshing. But they did make it very clear that they thought something was off with Jane.
I also wasn’t Jane’s biggest fan. I hated the circumstances that made her a roommate in the first place. And it was very clear that she was the sort of autistic person who, as a child, was diagnosed early and was never told to shut the fuck up as often as I was. The sheer arrogance in how she showed us everything that struck her fancy, and how it wasn’t shot down like everything that I loved was, definitely bred its own resentment and resulting self-hatred.
It was about April 23rd when Jane and Arkady were discussing Lucien. Lucien was a predator that had been mentioned as the one Vali ‘accidentally shook hands with at a dance club.‘ And again, I do mean confirmed predator, multiple victims. Even they still apparently have enough sense not to try to sue someone for saying that fact and make it part of the public record. Shame others don’t.
We’d all been drinking and Rowan and Vali had been having a date night upstairs. Jane drops the fact that she knows where Lucien lives and has a habit of driving there to throw rocks through his window. Arkady and Jane had both been victimized by Lucien in the past, and if I were the one prick that felt continuing this tradition was a risky idea, it would just mean that I simply didn’t get it.
One thing led to another and Jane was actually offering to drive us over there.
I’m all for justice. And I mean all for it, even at the cost of myself. But– we’d been drinking, and Jane wasn’t even legal to do so.
But when have I ever been able to consent to anything that happened in this damned house? If I refused, I’d be sending the one I love off with someone I barely knew, while he was intoxicated, to a situation where he could be potentially arrested for either property damage or the bloody drunk 20 year-old driver.
If I went with them… Well, at least I’d know I did all I could. “Yeah, I’m down.”
And down I was.
We were over in the bloody 19th ward, parking blocks away. Jane had ensured us she was fine to drive, but I’m pretty certain she was still cross-faded. The drive there was thankfully uneventful.
We parked blocks away from our target. I remember just following Jane, keeping up with the two of them, quickly sobering with the power of adrenaline. Then when we finally reached the block we were aiming for, Arkady turned to me. “No mourners?”
For those whose lives are despairingly empty because they’ve never discovered the wonderful writings of Leigh Bardugo, the combination of “No mourners, no funerals.” was something of a bracing line the main characters of ‘Six of Crows’ would say before a harrowing heist. ‘Six of Crows’, of course, being the novel Arkady and I first bonded over.
I was surprised he was willing to even reference it, that intimate little duology. “No funerals,” I whispered.
Then we all walked down the block. Jane had already found a rock and, as we walked ahead of her, she loudly said, “I’m just stopping to tie my shoe.” Which… her voice was distinctive, that was probably a bigger giveaway than her just doing it.
I tensed to run. As soon as Arkady and I heard the telltale crash of breaking glass, we sprinted. There was something about running through the night with him that just seemed, for lack of a better word, magical.
It was closer to Arkady that I’d felt in months. We all were giddy over the fact that we’d definitely seen Lucien’s startled form behind the broken windowpane.
I wasn’t even that bitter when we arrived home and Arkady specified that he wanted to continue drinking with only Jane, as the two were bonding over their shared experience of the same predator. I wanted to stay– for company, and because of a bad feeling I couldn’t shake, so my return upstairs was markedly reluctant. That feeling was something that was substantiated later on, but that isn’t my story to tell.
Rowan was, uh, not happy about the situation.
“It seemed risky to me,” I confirmed. “But they both would’ve just gone anyway. I needed to go to keep an eye out.”
“I’m glad you did!” They said emphatically. “You’d all been drinking. Do you realise what would’ve happened if you’d been caught? And they found out that Jane wasn’t even 21 yet? Hell, we all would’ve gotten in trouble for letting them drink and smoke with us. We could have gotten a fine! I’m so glad you didn’t let [Arkady] go alone!”
I agreed, which apparently earned me some Rowan points for the time being, a currency that could occasionally be exchanged for food and human decency. Maybe they’d even let us sit on the couch during films, instead of that weird arrangement where they and Vali would take over the sofa and Arkady and I would sit on the floor like Labradors.
It really only seemed to be when Rowan was pleased with me that the rest of my experience got any better. Later in that same week, Arkady found me cooking in the kitchen and said softly, “Put down the spatula.”
Then he wraps me up in a hug so deep and tight that it felt like some of the broken pieces of me were being squeezed back together, if only for an instant. I tensed when I saw Rowan walking in– afraid that this was somehow against the rules and that I’d be getting Arkady in trouble alone with me. But no, they clapped their hands together and shouted, “Awwwwwww!” Which meant it was approved, either beforehand or just then. I’m pretty certain that Rowan was just trying to encourage Arkady away from Jane, even if it meant towards me.
They must’ve been really tired of Star Wars.
Arkady had kept up actually treating me kindly for a fair while. At my request, he indulged me with his company all of April 27th, the fifth anniversary of what Kirra had done to me.
The 2nd anniversary of the day I fell in love with him.
How fucking weird it was to actually be looking forward to that day, to actually feel more peaceful on my traumaversary than I had in weeks. I allowed myself to day drink, Arkady cooked me my favourite curry-filled pastries. He allowed me to hang out with him as we played video games, had me cracking up at his narration of Antari’s antics, done entirely in an Irish accent. And, at my request, he actually allowed me to sleep in his bed for the first time since February.
Of course, we didn’t do anything intimate. And I mean anything. We didn’t even cuddle. But it felt nice, knowing that he was near me, breathing, that I could feel him shifting around when I was half-asleep.
This would be important later.
May 1st came.
I woke to an email from Kaspar, saying that it would be contacting all of their partners in turn, based on our time-zones. It even had an exact time and an approximation of how long our reuniting conversation would be, and that it would be via voice call than by video chat.
I was so utterly full of excited nerves. Kaspar! My Kaspar!
Gods, it felt like I lived on an entirely different planet than I did the last time it met up with me. Would it even know how to find me in the space I lived now? Somewhere full of darkness, where my stomach was too frozen to digest what I ate, where my veins were so thick with cortisol that it forget what dopamine even was when it wasn’t delivered by ethanol and fermented sugars?
To pass the time until the evening, I decided to borrow Rowan’s quad roller skates.
I’d done it before. Story, in particular, loved to rollerskate, and the exercise probably did me some good.
This particular time, I was speeding around Crosman Terrace. It was at an incline, due to its proximity of Pinnacle. I was picking up some fun speed, then– oh, right, this area has fucking speed bumps, doesn’t it?
I went over the surprise and unintentional ramp, actually catching some fucking air, landed on my bloody tailbone, then turned and slid on my left shin, leaving a dandy-coloured stain on the road for about 8 feet.
It was a sickening sort of hurt, where I crawled top the side of the curb and fought the urge to vomit for at least ten minutes. One of my neighbours, someone I’d never met but who saw what happened, ran up to me, COVID be damned. “Are you okay?”
“No,” I laughed. The shock was weaving its way through my system, strangling my nerves and flipping my stomach as if it were on a skillet.
“Where do you live?”
“Literally like, six houses down.” I pointed.
He hesitated into letting me in his vehicle, though. I could tell by the other bystanders that he had or at least interacted with children. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he just decided to get me some water and tell me ‘Good Luck.’
But no, he suggested that I grab the back of his Jeep and that I hold onto it. And I did, fighting to keep upright as this kind stranger slowly towed me down the road.
In completely me fashion, I shakily removed my skates when I arrived, declined to tell anyone I was injured, and half-assedly washed the wound before wrapping a punch of paper towels around it. The skin of my left shin was just half fucking gone and the pain, only at the ‘preview’ stage, was coming in heated waves. I dragged myself up to the attic and curled up, like a stray cat after being mortally wounded.
This would be one of the not-cool Xanthe moments I would be telling Kaspar about.
“And I’m entirely certain you took the responsible route, yes? Sought medical attention right away, disinfected the area, checked thoroughly for other injuries?” Gods, I missed hearing the mocking smirk in Kaspar’s voice.
It called precisely when I knew it would. My prudent, punctual darling. “Dearie, only two months away and you hardly know me anymore!” The loud sigh I heard at the other end of the line was music to my ears! “I grabbed onto a stranger’s car and he towed me to my house like a crashed vehicle.”
“As– As one does.” I heard the sound of a wine cork popping at the other end.
“Gods, I missed driving you to drink!” I was smiling so much that my face hurt. “And then I dragged myself upstairs and curled up like a mortally wounded stray cat.”
Kaspar laughed. “Did the stranger realise you were hitching a ride? Or did you simply see something in a video game and thought you’d find out if it worked in real life? Lord Henry, good gracious, you have an entire household of people. Why not call them?”
My smile faded. “Oh, that’s… been a bit complex, lately.” I tried to brush over that fact and Kaspar, as Kaspar does, made a bold mental note of it. In red lettering, bold, and underlined. Quite possibly calligraphic. It asked me if I were drinking as well, which should have been my first clue that it was going to try to wheedle out the truth of the matter. And after a heavy amount of banter, sitting in my room in Crosman Terrace, believing fully that I was speaking to my partner over the phone, I finally did in more hushed tones.
I explained that the stress of everything had gotten to me. I was sheepish when I described my delusional suicide attempt. I remember glossing over when that happened, because Kaspar and I had still been in contact for much of that, I just– kept not telling them.
The darkness in my life kept swallowing me whole, and I couldn’t bear for Kaspar to get stuck in this proverbial tart pit. I told it about drawing the Tower as if blaming the bloody Tarot card, that I’d had more breakdowns, about how badly the situation with Chandra kept translating and how I may have gotten it right– or wrong– but it was a moot point because Chandra was, in fact, defeated now.
I explained that I’d been committed for a brief twelve hour period.
It asked me about my breakdown, in detail.
So, I told them what triggered me. “So, I knew something was off. When I got home, everyone was seated kind of intervention-style, like they had before. And they’d mistaken some smeared blood on my journal entry for blood magic– which, I don’t know what that even was, it could’ve been, I dunno–”
“Would… you mind explaining, my dear pocket watch, under what circumstances they were viewing your journals in the first place?” Their voice had that extra sort of sweetness that I knew was deadly. I’d found out in recent years that, even though Xhaxhollari was a Gatekeeper and Protector of the system, Kaspar was the Protector of Me. Which explained a lot.
“I–… Erm. One of them–”
“Tell me which, my beloved.”
“Ahhh—ah– I–… Well, Rowan, but they said it was because they thought I’d left a suicide note.”
Their brief note of silence held the most incredulity that I’ve ever heard silence express. “Oh, yes, you’re always one for those subtle methods, aren’t you? If anyone would be hesitant to have the last word to the point of hiding it, it’d be Xanthe Zeitstück.” Kaspar’s sarcasm was a barely disguised venom. “I assume Rowan apologised profusely?”
“Ahhh— Well, it’s been difficult—I mean, for all of us–”
“Don’t defend this, Zeitstück.” Kaspar sighed. “What a vile move indeed! Arkady must have been furious.”
“Um… Yeah. With, uh… With me.” Kaspar’s silence was even more frightening than its venom. I pictured it stock still in its study, a glass of wine suspended in its hand, as its grey eyes turned frigid. “It’s… Well, we’ve been on break. As a couple.” Granted, this was before Arkady and I were on break, but it was at least in near enough proximity of time that I could use it as an excuse.
“A lack of a romantic relationship should never be an excuse for a lack of common decency.” Kaspar said softly. “I should have been there for you.”
“You couldn’t be.” I said, just as quietly. “We’re… ah. Still a couple, yes?”
“If only I’m fortunate and redeemable enough for such an honour.” There was no frivolousness, no playfulness in its voice. It was a deep regret, that somehow addressed the last time we’d ever seen each other without mentioning it.
My eyes suddenly stung. “See. You say you’re never wrong, but here you are, thinking you’re the lucky one.”
I heard it chuckle softly, a relieved sound. I heard another sound down the hallway. My name was being called. “Ah, hold on. Someone wants me.” I can’t even remember what Vali and Rowan were doing or motioning me to– probably showing me some sort of new hairstyle, in the bathroom. I was a little surprised at the inclusion. I made an appropriate, albeit distracted, reaction and held my phone up. “Sorry, I’m talking to Kaspar. I sort of want to get back to it.”
Rowan’s face sharpened into a sort of… maliciously interested look? I didn’t really grasp, then, that Rowan felt Kaspar itself was a farce of my invention. “Oh! Can *I* talk to Kaspar?” Rowan thought this was a ‘gotcha’ moment, but I was just trying to keep them from getting verbally eviscerated.
[Disclaimer: Kaspar is very much an alter, but was partially fronting for my phone call with it, and I was meeting them in the middle by being partially in the inworld. As far as I know, I was not actually talking to anyone on the phone the night depicted. I may have been listening to music, which helps me to dissociate, but I fully believed at the time that if Rowan had spoken to Kaspar, they would’ve heard a Czech voice on the other end of the line.]
I could hear Kaspar on the other end of the line, through the headphones I almost always use to speak on the phone. “Oh, I would love to have a word with Rowan.”
“Oh, sorry, this is the first time I’ve been able to talk with them since our break. It’s kind of couple time.” I said that apologetically before ducking back into my room. Addressing Kaspar, I said, “Absolutely not!”
“Oh, it would have been only a brief etiquette lesson, nothing unsportsmanlike!” Kaspar protested primly.
“Vetoed,” I said firmly, but smiling.
“Very well.” Kaspar paused. “I’ve heard what happened with Hemachandra.”
I poured myself another glass of Franzia. “If it’s not congratulating me on my unlikely victory, I’d rather not discuss it. No offense.”
“Congratulations on your unlikely victory.” Kaspar’s tone was dry but understanding. “I’ve visited you a couple of times, a bit before I told you I’d get back in contact, over at Ethniu’s home. You aren’t quite lucid in the other plane.”
“No, sorry, dearie, I haven’t been–” Then it processed. “Wait, where did you say I was?”
“Ethniu’s. His spare room.”
“… No, I’m in Faerie. At Arannan’s.”
The pause between the two of us was startled and confused. “I assure you, you are not. I saw your unconscious visage with my own eyes. I can’t pretend how this all works, Lord Henry, the plane-hopping and alternate dimensions and so forth. But I haven’t seen hide nor hair of the Folk since… Ah, a year ago, it’s been.”
I tried to process this. I really did. My brain felt like it was shorting out just by trying. We quickly moved on from that, not wanting to prod at the seams of reality too heavily. The rest of the conversation was fun, far too short, and well-needed.
It was within the next few days that Arkady decided that it’d been too long since he’d been cruel to me.
We were watching the revamped version of Pokémon, the First Movie, by either Story’s or Xhaxhollari’s will. Arkady also happened to be downstairs, only scrolling through his phone on the left of the couch. My anxiety made me innately aware that I was taking up space in an area I was only partially welcomed in. “I’m sorry I’m watching this down here,” we said. “It’s just better on my leg and tailbone to–”
I’m not sure if he had intended or even realised how absolutely combative his tone was when he said, “Um. You realise you’re allowed down here, right?”
“Well, as long as Zara’s not around, right?” I probably knew that wouldn’t end well for me, but the boost I had from being reunited with Kaspar was making me think that this move wouldn’t have devastating consequences.
He went silent for a moment. I liked that he didn’t have a ready comeback to that one. But then he started in on something completely different– the fact that we were playing a game on our handheld while watching television. “Why did you even put on the movie if you’re not going to pay attention to it?”
Can I do fucking Anything in this house without you criticizing it? “I’m paying attention. I just prefer to multi-task.” Almost like there were multiple people to be entertained at once or something.
“It just seems hypocritical,” Arkady pressed. “Especially since you used to get annoyed at Val for scrolling on his phone while we watched Peaky Blinders.”
I looked at him. “You get there’s a difference between me rewatching a film and someone else showing me something entirely new, right?” I was right, I knew I was right, but I also knew that arguing with him could have consequences. I was visibly fidgeting.
Arkady picked up on that. “See? You’re acting like I’m attacking you and I’m not. This is why I can’t ever go to you about anything and this is why we’re on break.”
My brother in chRIST I JUST WANTED TO WATCH POKEMON.
He went on. “It’s manipulative. It’s all just manipulation. It’s like when Rowan told me that you basically planned to fuck off to Europe if I didn’t get back together with you. And what, just find a nice, historic city as an aesthetic backdrop to drink yourself to death in?”
“[Arkady,]” I said in a rough voice. “What the fuck did you think I was in the process of doing when I met you?”
He was not a fan of that too-true little comeback. Arkady pressed me further, telling me that I had to admit that I was being manipulative. I fought back only feebly, telling him that there were promises he made me that he never kept, and wasn’t that also manipulation? Wasn’t that deceit? Then he kept repeating, “I made them before you manipulated me.”
And there exists a huge crater in my memory after that. I cannot, for the life of me, remember what was said. But Xhaxhollari has since admitted to me that one thing led to another and Arkady dropped a bombshell on me–
That he had found out that my inworld was a “role-play.”
Now, many people think that’s a smoking gun that invalidates all of the trauma that I’d beheld from my inworld being fucked with. AJ’s Judas ass has since also tried to contact Apollo for this sort of ‘proof’, but Xhaxhollari had long ago explained how this worked, publicly. Yes, these early moments were mainly facilitated through chat logs by a sleepless Xhaxhollari while myself and all of the rest of the alters were out there, living it. We’re not even the first system in this city this has happened to. Go ask any DID forum– the amount that discovered their DID by being manipulated by chat-log based roleplay is an established phenomena.
The fact is, Apollo/Kirra knew we thought it was real, knew we were invested, knew that we thought our friends/ourselves were in constant danger of dying and just never fucking stopped, but instead, encouraged it.
Anyway, we’re suddenly in the woods behind the house, at night, hyperventilating and crying to Sage on the phone. I wonder what we even verbally got out about what was happening before Xhaxhollari decided to factory reset my brain. I’m sorry my recall is so blurry– angel boy basically hit my memory with a pickaxe.
Anyway. Sage picked me up and ferried me over to their house, once again. I never even told anyone where I was going– some Narcissistic part of me (and I use that clinically) hoped they’d wonder where I was, especially when I deactivated my FB for 18 hours or so.
I can’t say I recall what we talked about. I remember telling them how the fight started. I even mimicked Arkady’s tone. “Oh, that tone always makes me want to punch him!” Sage agreed.
Most of that night and the following morning were wiped from my memory. I remember briefly that I asked for Sage’s help with my leg. By this time, my haphazard attempt to address the wound was disintegrating and, well, trying to become one with me. “Why did you do this?” Sage griped. “Have you ever heard of, let’s say, gauze? Neosporin? Here, let me actually wrap this.”
There was a long hour or so of me biting down on a towel and wincing as Sage meticulously cleaned the wound. I’d left the situation on its own for two long days and was probably nearing infection, so I definitely appreciated the favour. Sage rallied for me once again, emphasizing if they ever tried to gang up on me again, to call them.
The next day, they drove me back, with both my leg and my psyche all bandaged up.
Rowan, initially, was not a fan of my new emergency safehouse at all. The positive thing was that they were actually helping me with my leg– anything my body did to show that it was a biological, pulsing thing was unsavory enough, but what it did when it was healing– ick! “You know, I’m glad you have Sage to run off to when things get too intense,” they began, not sounding glad at all. “But as far as [Arkady]’s told me, they seem to want nothing to do with us?”
“I… doubt that.” Granted, Sage did seem to swing between wanting to smack Arkady to worrying for their good friend’s sanity. There was a powder keg on Crosman Terrace and, for once, it didn’t seemed aimed at only me.
I would get my opportunity on May 6th.
I was making a boiled meal of broccoli and eggs, possibly as an olfactory ‘fuck you’ to the household. Arkady, finding me in the kitchen, immediately confronted me about something stressful. I actually can’t remember what the conversation with Arkady had initially been about– probably my evil plan to make everyone around me kill themselves, or how I would be moving in the middle of a pandemic– but I did know that he was suggesting another group talk.
I would have rather sawed off my good leg than be subjected to another one of those horrors.
It was something that put me on edge, something I didn’t consent to him foisting upon me as I tried to make a meal for the first time in two days. “Stop. Stop. STOP.” I can’t rightly remember if it was myself or Story who stood up for us. We were pretty blended, at this point. “Holy fuck! I literally– am just– trying to make breakfast and LIVE.”
He stared at me. There was a sort of self-awareness that dawned on him and he put up his hands, backing away. At the prospect of another henpecking session, I fled upstairs, already fighting tears.
Arkady texted me a bit later that he had salvaged my meal in a tupperware container, perhaps in his way of an apology, but once again suggested another family meeting. This time without Vali, so surely that would be okay, yes? I’d resolved to stay upstairs and call the day a wash. My clothes were in an odd set of drawers built into the hallway cabinet and I was fishing out a fresh pair of pyjamas to wear to sulk in.
Then I hear a snippet of what Arkady said downstairs to one or both of my housemates. “Whatever they want to make fit their narrative, I guess.”
I knew precisely who he was talking about.
But I certainly didn’t cower.
I agreed to the meeting and specified that it should happen at 6pm, when Sage would be able to get out of work and make their dramatic entrance.
“They’re having another fucking family meeting,” I said in a low voice into the receiver. “Sage, I need your help. I literally cannot take it anymore.”
Sage was on their way, ready for war. Which was definitely about to piss Arkady off and I was almost gleeful for that fact.
Finally, two against two! A fighting fucking chance, not an ambush!
I remember practically bounding downstairs, especially once I saw Sage’s now-familiar car pull up. I almost wanted to play coy, have the intervention begin and then have Sage make their appearance just as Rowan and Arkady were wondering why I wasn’t breaking at the seams this time. But no, Sage was coming in through the door. “I think I’m ready for the meeting, now,” I announced to Arkady.
He was on the couch, controller in hand, playing video games. When he heard the back door swinging open unexpectedly, he looked about as blindsided as I’d once been. Once he looked up and watched Sage walking in, his gaze sharpened. Not going to lie, part of me felt just a wee bit vengeful. “Oh, so you’re going to be hanging out with Sage for a bit before the talk?” His voice was, at once, an accusation to me and a challenge to Sage. I raised an eyebrow. Really? The purposefully obtuse game? I know that game. I invented that game.
But oh no, Sage was a Sagittarius in battle mode. “No, I came over because I need to talk to you.”
“Um, I told Xanthe that this talk would just be between the house and them. This doesn’t involve you. Did Xanthe ask you over?”
I’m sure my emotions were showing on my face. I might have been fighting back a grin, but oh, it was visible.
Sage wasn’t backing down. “That’s none of your business. Come outside, [Arkady.] We’re all going to talk.”
I might have laughed out loud. Sheer, dizzying relief. Could this be my way out? From nearly sixty days of a practical isolation sentence spiced up by occasional sanity-breaking bullying?
So, we all gathered on the porch. Arkady, Rowan, Vali, Sage, and myself. Technically, that would make it three-on-two, but Vali really only counted as Rowan’s accessory anyway. Truly. I didn’t even register the numbers as having been unfair.
Then it began.
I remember that Sage started with addressing Arkady and Rowan. “You invited Xanthe up here to live with you. Did you have like, a back-up plan in case this didn’t work out?” When Arkady and Rowan looked at each other and stammered for a bit, Sage went on. “Always have a back-up plan. Xanthe literally just moved here, is unemployed like most of us, doesn’t hardly even know anyone around here outside of us. They haven’t even lived here for a year, yet. And now you’re trying to make them move out. This isn’t fair and you know it.”
Arkady seemed visibly shaken at the fact that Sage had shown up. He brought up things I hadn’t apologised for quick enough back in October. “Why are you bringing up things that happened in October?” Sage pointed out. “This is May, dude.”
“And you can’t tell if I’ve even changed since then when you won’t even talk to me!” I pointed out.
I watched as Arkady’s eyes flickered to Vali and Rowan, but they were silent. It was… a bit different for him, now that he was fighting me on his own. Rage and panic was visibly bubbling in him, working in tandem. He kept raising his voice, talking over me, talking too quickly. He brought up my plan for Europe, as if this was a threat I was using to keep him instead of how I was probably destined to end up anyway.
Oh, did I type that out loud? My bad. “I won’t have an Oscar Wilde end if I don’t have an Oscar Wilde fate,” I said, pointedly.
And just like that, Arkady’s latest smoking gun was agreed upon and dismissed. “You’ve even admitted to me to being jealous of Zara!”
“I told you that in confidence!” I shot back. “In confidence! Every insecurity I wanted to keep between the two of us has been used to build a case against me and that’s fucked!”
“But– your therapist even told you that you’re being unrealistic!”
I stared at him. Yes, there was a conversation, some weeks ago. I’d come back from my talk with Wayne on the phone in Pinnacle Hill. Arkady, flanked by Rowan, had asked me what my therapy appointment had been about. No, yeah, they really did.
I knew what it’d been about.
But I– somehow thought I was supposed to answer to a very nosy question– stammered around the subject. I’d admitted to being called overly optimistic, that I was asked if I were being realistic. I didn’t tell him the subject.
But Arkady had apparently assumed what it was about.
Which was fucking tragic.
“[Arkady], that conversation was me trying to convince my therapist that you weren’t abusive.” I could tell that comment hit its mark. He froze, standing, staring at me in open disbelief. ‘Abusive.’ It was what his exes had been to him. I don’t think he’d ever seen himself in that light. I’d actually pulled a punch, that day. What I could have said but didn’t, was, “And I can’t tell if you are or not anymore.”
Maybe he heard it anyway.
We always did have that connection, after all.
“No, that is not what you told me! That is not what you FUCKING told me!” Arkady shouted. He was on his feet, wrenching open the front door. It was in that brief moment that I saw the cornered animal that I’ve been at least three times before. He stared at all of us, then. At myself, Sage, Vali, and Rowan. “Fuck OFF!”
And looking back, I knew exactly what had happened. The three of them, startled by my surprise guest, couldn’t maintain that all-too-important united front. And Arkady, always having been the most impulsive and expressive of them all, who was the most attached to me and therefore the most wounded by my self-destruction, was singled out for his more visibly unhinged reaction.
And he stared at Vali and Rowan and found, with shock, that he no longer had allies in this witch hunt against me. At least, not that day.
Because someone else had seen. Someone outside of this viscous, echo chamber of a household had seen how I was being treated and called bullshit.
There was such a finality to that silence that echoed that slamming door as Arkady escaped the porch and into the house. “Well.” Sage was the first to speak. “If he’s talking to me like that? Within, what, the first hour I’ve been here? I can only imagine how he’s been talking to Xanthe.” I found myself struggling to draw breath into my lungs after they’d said that. It felt somehow both too real and all too like a like a dream. “[Arkady] really showed his ass, there. He really did. That is not the [Arkady] I knew. I don’t know what’s going on, but he’s talking about screenshots from October? Okay, new rule. If it didn’t happen in the last two fucking weeks, I don’t want to hear it.”
In my memory, Rowan and Vali barely have any dialogue. I remember Rowan echoing that this wasn’t okay. That it had gone on far enough. That this wasn’t healthy for anyone.
Vali had admitted that he did, in fact, want me out of the house when it appeared I was the source of the drama, but he also wanted me to move on.
We appeared to reach a resolution and all three of us collectively disavowed Arkady’s reaction. Sage, job done, went home that night. Rowan went upstairs to check on Arkady. Vali offered to hang out with me. I ordered the two of us pizza with wings and put on Bohemian Rhapsody– the Queen biopic.
I felt hope that, for the first time in months, didn’t just feel like a sick joke.
Rowan went upstairs to check on Arkady who was, as it appeared, having a meltdown about the entire situation. I allowed myself to check my phone only an hour later. He had cleared my nickname, ‘Darling Dandy’, in our private chat, which was definitely an emotional blow.
AJ was also texting me. I’d told them about the day and they texted back, “Is that why [Arkady] blocked me on Facebook?”
Full Scorpio meltdown; I knew it well. Not only fuck you, but fuck everyone associated with you, they’re all surely out to get me. As timing would have it, AJ would also be vaguebooking about Apollo.
So, apparently, Arkady was irreparably furious with both Sage and I. And maybe AJ, but like Kaspar, he’d never really been AJ’s biggest fan in the first place. But the majority had agreed to move on, and I would have to focus on that.
Sometimes it didn’t even seem like this was my Arkady, anyway. Maybe there was something to that DID theory.
It was later on, in that same evening. It had just gotten dark, with that sky keeping a faint glow that couldn’t compete with the streetlamps. I volunteered to roll our rubbish bins to the curb. I didn’t bother with shoes, even though our driveway was half gravel. I was used to just keeping to the paved side.
I was on my way up the driveway when I saw Arkady. He had a bag of rubbish in his hands, apparently just doing chores as I was.
I avoided his gaze. I was fully prepared to just shuffle around him, even if it meant walking over the sharp stones. I didn’t know if he wanted to get one last jab in or even some ‘never’ phrase that would take a long time to undo. But instead, in a shaky tone, he said, “Can I have a hug?”
It wasn’t even a debate.
There you are.
I embraced him readily and he wrapped his arms tightly around me, burying his face in my shoulder. I felt the shuddering, jerking sensation of him sobbing. I held him tighter, following the urge to keep his broken pieces closer together, just as he did for me weeks ago. “I’m sorry,” he choked. Hearing that felt like a dream. Like a film. Like something I had imagined happening so many times that I was startled to see it in real life. “I want to be with you, but we both have to get better, okay?”
The fibers of my heart that I thought numb sang to life in an ambrosial rush, as if it were dormant, only waiting for his voice, saying these words. And I suppose my heart would always be bound to do so until it all singed away beyond hope of revival. I nodded. “I love you,” I croaked.
“I love you too.” Fuck. How long has it been since I’ve heard that? “I care about you and I don’t want to lose you.” His voice was thick was tears.
This was a dream. It was all a dream, right? Maybe I’d finally lost it and the afterlife had taken pity on me.
We broke away. We were still holding each other, but were able to look one another in the eyes. The tears were on his face, glistening in the early evening. “You know it’s not ‘if’ we get back together, right? It’s ‘when.’”
My face crumpled just then. I’m not sure if I was able to cry. Maybe I was, or maybe I was already losing the ability. I can’t remember. Maybe he does.
We hugged again. I didn’t dare risk a kiss– couldn’t gamble the moment. His closeness, his raised heartbeat through his tunic and my nightshirt, was all I needed.
I’d always remember that instant, on that Crosman Terrace driveway, Pinnacle Hill looming at Arkady’s back. I’d always hold it tight, a stuffed animal I’d grab in order to sleep peacefully. Such beautiful, vital words.
I believed every single one.