[Author’s Note: When I began these blogs, names of the perpetrators and victims were swapped out with aliases. After a while, I asked myself, ‘Why the fuck would I protect the perpetrators?’ And I’ve been removing aliases from the people who do not deserve to be protected. So, now, my dear audience, it is time for me to confuse you.
April is actually Kirra. Kieran is actually Apollo.]
[TW: Brief mention of sexual assault, brief references to suicide, intense gaslighting, existential issues, discussion of dormancy]
In history, when Franz Ferdinand was shot by a Serbian, I wonder what the countries in the middle of the powder keg thought of it. Were they cathartic by the finality of war? Were they scarred of the losses that would incur? Or did they simply drink themselves to sleep by the sound of the gunfire?
The legendary ‘foundation causes acne’ debate from Kirra and Kara from high school was nearing on a round 2. I could see it bubbling to the surface with Apollo’s and Kara’s arguments about the dishes, or the passive-aggressive whiteboard notes. Apollo refused to be direct and Kara could fathom no solution but to over-react. Xanthe was being kept up to date on both sides, commonly on a date with Asher while we would both read text after text.
It was like dinner and a show.
Like I will always maintain, I did think Apollo and Kirra were different people. But seeing these old high school enemies snipe at each other in an entirely new state, all I could think of was:
I coined that term for my enjoyment of Savannah’s concierge life. Savannah was such a tourist city that concierges were treated like minor celebrities. Seriously. Because of my bloody 10-dollar an hour position, I could drop my job title and be offered prosecco on the house at restaurants. As if I were a goddamned CEO.
I was invited to free meals and tours just to recommend Savannah’s best to guests. The Coastal Concierge Association even hosted parties in restaurants that weren’t even open yet– just a random Tuesday evening where the wine was unlimited and the appetizers were decadent. I’d schmooze– literally, my 23-year old ass schmoozing like a Hollywood agent– and charm my way into free rooftop pool access or a membership into the local whiskey club.
Gods, I’m making myself homesick.
It was extravagant. I could feel like I truly was like an aristocrat.
But it all felt so empty. Hollow. No warmth to it. Cotton had gone away to Atlanta. I had local friends, sure, but they were clearly mostly simple alternatives to loneliness, shallow connections based on proximity. I’d survived Kirra, sure, but could barely even stand to read about a fictional character dying without having a full-on panic attack because of what she did when she found people expendable when they weren’t real enough for her.
But at least my life was always entertaining. And to be honest, I needed amusement to cut the bullshit with.
Apollo and I were sitting at Open Mic together one mid-December Tuesday. We’d invited Kara, but she’d been so vitriolic against both of her roommates that she opted instead to stay in the house. I actually wished she were there– earlier, I’d met Apollo’s friend, some feral-looking art kid by the name of Flannel. I shook his hand and said, “Nice to meet you. I’m Xanthe.”
He was halfway through shaking my hand when he stepped back, withdrawing. “Oh. I’ve heard of you.”
I exhaled quickly, in a huff. “Of course you have.”
Apollo glanced at me, as if I were being the rude one. I would have loved Kara as a buffer for him, to at least assuage the tension.
As it would turn out, she would come through regardless.
I frowned and showed Apollo the message. “What the fuck?” He said, scowling.
“I’m not taking sides in your roommate spats,” I said. “But, uh. She shouldn’t take it out on the pets.” I’d been sort of fence-sitting for a lot of this. It was a perfect vantage point to see the drama on both sides. But Kara was Very much in the wrong for taking it out on innocent animals and I decided– huh– I actually don’t care if I lose her.
While Apollo sat next to me, I argued with Kara. I was experiencing the same sort of amused thrill I used to have when arguing with people over if there’s more than two genders– you know, it was fun at the time, to have the intellectual upper hand, but looking back, it was just sad that it was even a debate.
Then the next day, I began the argument anew when I realised Kara had unfriended me and that just wouldn’t do. One of my major fatal flaws, you see, is that I’m in the habit of scratching a bug bite until it scars.
I was having a bit of sick fun turning this particular friendship into a nothing more than a battle wound when Kara hit me with this;
My mind froze. Xhaxhollari was having his own private panic attack. See, when a system wants to remain discrete, there is one thing that is always a risk. See, Kara had known the system, collectively, since we were 10 goddamned years old. She’d heard about Shadow. She remembered when we first talked about Illusion, about Chaotics, about Mirage and Selene. What did she know? What could she recall that didn’t quite add up?
More than a spotty thirteen years of history.
The system saw her as not only a bad person, but as a threat. And now, melding her information with Apollo’s, she showed how much of a threat.
Granted, looking back, Xhaxhollari and I are pretty sure that she never actually cared enough to connect the dots. Not that it hasn’t happened before, but you’d have to be a bit less of a fair-weather friend than Kara to be a true threat to our castle of glass. And she stopped talking to us for six years before that. But that didn’t stop the terror from seizing us.
I reached out to Apollo blindly in my panic. Apollo, of course, had known me for about nine months, at this point. Kara, yes, had known the system for much longer. But myself? She only knew me a few months.
You know, the more I dig into this era, the more I see from Apollo that could have either been guilt or simple trauma-bonding. The breaking he and Xhaxhollari had done to my mind was clearly taking its toll and there were these occasions where Apollo seemed to want to either help or take advantage of the fragility.
And after all these years, I can’t say for certain that I can tell which.
I don’t think it’d make any difference to know.
Anyway, Apollo and I presented a united front, despite Kara’s attempt to throw him under the bus. Our collaborated reaction to this rebellion was her last straw. Not only fuck me but also fuck Savannah. Surely living in her parents’ basement in Ohio would be better than simple accountability. Or, you know, feeding a dog.
The entire Kara debacle actually made Apollo and I closer friends. I remember buying some mulled wine from Alligator Soul and driving over on my moped to spend Christmas watching Yuri on Ice, drinking wine and, well, bitching. “Do you remember how she wanted to buy me that ring from Cassandra’s?” I asked when I’d gotten to his place. “It was like, 300+ and she had it on layaway? Not going to lie, kind of wish she’d managed to clear those payments before she flipped out on me.” I paused to take my fill of the spices and tannin. “It was startling, though. It felt like a proposal.”
I adored that ring. A beautiful opal, an Edwardian setting. After I openly pined over it during an outing with Kara. Then she would tell me, every couple of weeks since, that she was making payments on the thing on layaway while she worked at the same jewelry store. Of course, after she’d had a row with the owner and quit her position, she abandoned the idea in general, but I felt it was apt compensation to the investment I put into her.
“Maybe.” Apollo shrugged. “She did talk about how her and Neb dated in high school.” He sounded irked by that.
I snorted. “Yeah. For all of five minutes, during a rebound.”
“Either way, she said she came here with the express purpose of dating Neb.”
I didn’t expect to finish off my wine glass in the next sip, but that definitely motivated me to. “Well. Bad news for her.”
Apollo barked a brief laugh. “Yeah, no. She got down here and started complaining about you being different from who she knew in high school. Pretentious, thinking you were British, pretty much emotionally barren in comparison. She doesn’t know, but I think she figured it out when she moved down here for Neb and kind of got a demented, soulless clockwork bird thing.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Thanks.” It’d been four years and I was still living in Nebula’s shadow. Sometimes I felt like an upgrade, more ambitious, more uncompromisingly myself, more charismatic. Sometimes, I felt like a whimsically apathetic mascot, an empty consolation prize for someone who had been real, and not even a good one. That night was one of those times.
But hey! At least there was wine!
“Did you hear that she’s going back to Ohio?” Apollo prompted.
I laughed. “Well, I was going to tell her to ‘Go to Hell’ anyway and that’s close enough. She actually blocked me, you know. Well, she unfriended me at first, but you know how I am. That drawbridge may have been up, with a possibility of lowering, but I hate the middle ground. I wanted that bridge torched. I literally still talk to only one person in Ohio these days,” I reflected aloud. “And no one more that still thinks of me as Neb. It’s oddly freeing, in a way.”
Apollo rolled his eyes. “Yes, just burn every bridge you can, Xanthe. Trap yourself on your own island. Just be England and shed everything to do with her, and then bitch about how you lonely you are and how you’re fiction in the real world. You get these weird fucking martyr complexes where you act like if someone offered for you to trade Neb’s place, you’d actually go for it, but you wouldn’t. That’s what pisses me off, you wouldn’t.”
I paused with my wine glass to my lips. It may have been a common urge to argue with his vitriolic rants as just a way to pass the time, but that made me pause. “Yeah. I would.” By the time I’d said it, I knew I meant it.
I slept with Apollo for the first(???) time sometime during that month. I remember we’d been at Mata Hari, perhaps celebrating Kara’s haphazard escape from an objectively better city. I remember that as we were drinking and laughing, he took my phone and, with the stylus, wrote in French, ‘I want to sleep with you.’
Ever have Google Translate as a wingman? While drunk?
My sex life was actually pretty frequent around that time, so I wasn’t desperate, thank you very much. Xhaxhollari, having adored Asher more than myself, was used to using me as his surrogate sex drive. All he needed was a single glass of wine to summon me and, oh hey, Asher gets to be satisfied in all areas and Xhax never has to touch another human being. (Yes, it is weird to know that years after the fact, thank you for asking.)
But Asher was on winter break.
And something about how suddenly inferior I felt to my dead predecessor, well. It was nice to be wanted.
I’ve mentioned before how Apollo was an abusive bedmate near the end, but it actually didn’t start out that way. He was actually good, which definitely set him apart from his sister. Kirra used to just kind of prod me with all the charm and finesse in which one plumbs a commode, but Apollo was actually fun.
Weird thing, though. I had a panic attack the next morning and didn’t understand why.
I’m somewhat certain Apollo might have bragged about it, or used it in a snide jab at Asher– they did know each other on Facebook. It was within the next month or so when Asher asked me, “Did you sleep with Apollo?”
I’d shrugged. “I thought we agreed to be rather ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ about our liaisons?” If my detractors accuse me of being a dick in this relationship, I’d like to tell them that they are absolutely correct.
It was in January that I held yet another tea party. The guest list was actually quite swelled, for once. I’d invited my usuals– Asher, Julia, Apollo, Cotton (even though he now lived in Atlanta and could never make it down, it just gave me comfort to see his name on my guest list), and–… Good lord, I do forget the nameless masses that drank my wine all those years ago. Weren’t there more then ten? I played the veritable Ghost of Gatsby indeed! Though, I was essentially role-playing Kaspar, fussing over the pastries and treats and seating space.
I’d noticed, throughout the years, that my tea parties had really turned into more wine parties. I’d brew a pot of a decadent loose-leaf and probably about five people would have some before we tore through seven bottles of wine and some mead.
Asher’s bff, Julia, had gotten insulted by someone or another and decided to barricade herself in my apartment’s only bathroom, which was great. Bloody Geminis.
Then the doorbell sounded again. I huffed.
I hadn’t been expecting anyone else, so it was probably yet another guest mistaking my front door to the area to check in to. I swung the door open and–
I squawked, a wordless, avian cry.
“COTTON!” Joy exploded in my chest at the sight of that glorious, lovable muppet. Gods, had it really only been six months? I’m surprised I didn’t knock him down with the sheer force of my embrace. “HOLY FUCK, COTTON!”
“Surprise!” He yelled, then laughed, hugging me back.
My tea party was satisfactory before, but now, it was bloody legendary. If I could’ve cried, I would have. He fell right into the company of the party, particularly now that Julia had been talked out of hurting herself in my bathroom. He was, in fact, the last guest to leave that night as the others would slowly filter out. I explained the whole Kara debacle, what I had been up to, etc.
He asked how Apollo was doing, and I answered honestly. “Well. Of course, Kara moved out, like I said, and Chris is moving out soon. And Apollo has a vehicle in Savannah, so of course, parking tickets are just a given, and his have been piling up. He dropped out of [UNIVERSITY] recently, with only a few credits left. So, he’s… spent the money, but has no degree. Best of both worlds.”
“Why doesn’t he just finish out his degree?” Cotton asked, ginger brows furrowed.
I took a breath. “He said that [UNIVERSITY] gave him PTSD from sheer workload and that he physically can’t. Not even after a break.” As someone who could barely sleep at night unless I was snuggling up to a bottle, I found his definition of PTSD both infuriating and adorable.
“Because that makes sense.” He said that with his patented, Cotton-brand sass. “How have you two been getting along?”
“I mean. Yeah, it’s been fun.” I think I might have let a bit of defensiveness creep into my tone. What, did you think just because of who he looks like, I’d just veto him as a person?
Cotton took my defensiveness in another way. “… You didn’t sleep with him, did you?” he asked with raised eyebrows.
“Like. Once. I get around, Cotton.” He stared at me in disbelief. “To be fair,” I amended, “he’s actually way better in bed than Kirra was.”
Cotton’s eyebrows shot up the entire length of his forehead. He sat back, gripping his wine glass with one hand. “How did the break-up make him better at everything?” He said it in a laughing, disbelief.
“I mean, in comparison, it isn’t hard to do,” I quipped.
The subject quickly turned, because nearly everything Cotton has ever learned about my sex life has been by utter, regrettable accident.
It wasn’t hard to see how we were both having different conversations. Xhaxhollari nearly had a stroke but stood there in disbelief as his precarious, convoluted plot just got by on the fucking pronoun game. And also, the fact that, to cis people, referring to someone’s deadnamed phase as if it were an entirely different person sometimes made sense to them.
There was so much dubious, unintentional skirting around the issue that I feel like I was Patrick Bateman, confessing to the unholy crime I was unwillingly committing onto myself and that hardly anyone understood.
Apollo would go on to, despite our recent gains in our friendship, piss me off within the next month. Cotton invited me to see a rendition of Phantom of the Opera at the Fox Theatre. I’d actually never really been to Atlanta outside of the tragic attempt at an anime convention years before, and I loved Phantom, so this offer did nothing short of tantalize me.
There was some complication that made it so my overnights couldn’t be covered by anyone other than Apollo. Which meant, I had to ask him for a favour.
I sort of thought we might have been good terms to.
“Why, what are you doing?”
Apollo and I were in the inn’s lobby. We’d actually gotten into the habit of coming in to the lobby about 9pm on our days off when the other was working, to hang out and bitch about guests for that day. “Cotton told me that Phantom of the Opera was at the Fox Theatre. He knows I like it, so–”
“I like Phantom of the Opera!” You want to know what his tone sounded like?
I frowned. “Are… you wanting to go instead?” I hoped that rephrasing it would let Apollo know just how dickish that would be.
But Apollo was familiar with doubling down on dickery. “No, I can’t afford it! With Chris moving out and me trying to afford that place all by myself–”
“You know loads of [UNIVERSITY] students,” I pointed out, trying but likely failing to keep exasperation out of my tone. “Ask one of them to be your roommate.”
“I don’t want another roommate!” he huffed. “I’m also not covering your weekend shift. If I don’t get to go, you don’t either.”
I raised an eyebrow. I was speechless. His life was, yes, falling apart, but largely by his own design. And here he was, flexing the only bit of control he had over my vacation plans. There was bitterness bubbling in me, but I forced it down and changed the subject.
It was later in this same week that I had Asher over. Looking back, I realised the problem with having Xhaxhollari care for them more than I did was that, when he wasn’t paying attention, they actually low-key annoyed me.
I also kept feeling that this North Carolinian suburbanite with rich (and non-divorced!) parents was using me as their queer rebellion, the only one they could show off to mumsy and daddy because I lived, by purely indentured circumstances, in the wealthy part of the city. Which, fine, dating is honestly just mutual using half the time anyway, especially for someone like me.
But on a night like tonight, whence they were using my place as a refuge to sober up when I was stone cold sober, I felt irritated.
I spent a good amount of time taking it out on Apollo, who wasn’t there but did deserve it. “He literally– lately– says he wants to just… abandon everything, put a bunch of shit into his car, and start driving until he runs out of gas, and just build up somewhere else. Does he think the university debt won’t follow him? It’s like he thinks all of his problems will just be solved if he gets out of Savannah. I may actually try to check and see if Kara’s still alive and well in Ohio. Apollo might be channeling her bloody departed spirit.” I paused. “That might’ve been mean. Ah, well. Fuck it.”
I don’t remember what Asher said. Something echoing my annoyance. Maybe I wasn’t even listening to them.
“I’ve been thinking lately about changing my name.” Asher prompted, changing the subject. “I was thinking maybe about Zephyr?”
I rubbed the bridge of my nose. Gods, why didn’t I keep more booze on-hand? Places like Parker’s and Johnny Ganem’s were open until 2am, but this job had me on that blasted 10pm curfew, where I would be over the weekend when Phantom of the Opera was playing four hours away. “Correct me if I’m wrong,” I always say, when I know I’m right. “But weren’t you the one lambasting Apollo for choosing a god’s name? And how it was disrespectful?” They did; one of our many meaningless bickers.
Asher rubbed at their eyes in my chair. “That’s different.”
“It literally isn’t.” I laughed without any humour.
“I wasn’t mad about the name,” they said, leaning forward and running their hands through their hair. “I was mad about him. It was just an excuse.”
I shrugged. “He can certainly be an insufferable twat, yeah, but. You know, comparatively–”
“You know he’s basically just grooming you to be his victim, right?”
I blinked. Gods, this 20-year old cannot hold their fucking liquor. “I beg your pardon?”
“That’s what he’s doing. He’s just–…” They motioned vaguely out in front of them, out of words.
I do, these days, appreciate the complex situation we’d accidentally put Asher in. Being told by Xhaxhollari that Apollo and Kirra shared the same body, seeing that I was being taken advantage of, but being told that pointing out that basic history could mentally unravel me. And then not even knowing (but perhaps suspecting) that I had DID. That was a lot to put on a person. It’s true, they were an absolute twat at the end of the relationship. But this doesn’t take away from the fact that basically being an involuntary trauma-holder that wasn’t even in the system is probably just a wee bit damaging.
So, if you ever end up reading this–
That wasn’t fair to you, but you’re still a cunt.
“You’re not a bad person,” they continued rambling. “You’re actually not. You’re just–… I think you’re in over your head.”
“I am never in over my head,” I countered. “I told you what last year was like. In that other plane, trying to keep people from dying every single day. I literally watched people die. People suffer that in military service and end up a rocking, muttering mess and I’ve done it and I just–” I motioned something that I felt meant ‘keep going.’ “Apollo being a dick isn’t going to kill me. At this point, I’m convinced nothing will.”
We argued for a bit more. I’m willing to bet that Xhaxhollari switched in halfway through because I distinctly remember being called ‘condescending’ and ‘arrogant’, but I can’t for the life of me, find the context in journals or old chats.
It wasn’t long from that before someone named Caitlin Butler uploaded a post on Facebook and tagged me in it. I can’t really even remember the full context of the post, just something about “Wow, look how many years it’s been!”
Who the fuck is this? I clicked through the photos and my stomach dropped. There was my face– and not my face– staring at me through the screen.
My stomach dropped.
Four years that I’ve been fighting for my own identity. Four years. More than that, really. And if people didn’t feel cheated by my existence, they didn’t acknowledge it.
“I’m not in these photos,” I snapped in a comment on a now-deleted post. “Don’t tag me. That’s someone named Neb, not me.”
“Neb’s not on Facebook, though,” Caitlin had typed back.
What the fuck does that have to do with me? The magical information bank that I didn’t realise was a person named Xhaxhollari helpfully informed me of who Caitlin was. One of Neb’s good friends, circa 2006-2010– was one of the many friends who abandoned Neb right before Kirra showed up as a knight in toxic armor. Caitlin’s excuse? Neb was bisexual. And therefore an obvious threat to the straight man Caitlin was dating.
“It doesn’t matter if she wasn’t on Facebook. It’s weird and creepy to tag me in a photo of someone else.” I typed that back with a certain amount of malice. If people like this had never abandoned Neb, she wouldn’t have began the spiral that led to my cockroach ass having to be saddled with this body, dealing in the real world, and even worse, bloody Kirra.
I didn’t realise people would come to her defense. There was some bloke named James Ponte, deadnaming me, misgendering me, and calling me delusional and a pathological liar. “You’re no different than you were in middle school,” he’d snapped. “We remember all of your imaginary friends. This is just your latest in your long line of bullshit.”
I tried to find a long, forgotten file on him too. All I could come up with is “Friend of a friend” and “Gay”, which is clearly how much Xhaxhollari had paid attention to him.
A heated panic rose in me. I think I made a few closing comments that were every bit as biting as profound, then blocked nearly everyone on that status. Caitlin had merely unfriended me and removed the photos, which did enough to soothe me.
She asked me who I was, if I weren’t Neb.
I didn’t exactly lie.
Said castle of glass was certainly getting more fragile by the minute. But I suppose Apollo only needed to isolate me again to cement it, didn’t he?
I feel like he knew that.
March of 2022:
There was a gathering at the Hanasaki house to celebrate the fact that Koji and JaK were having their second child. Neither of them were carrying it, mind you, but basically blending their DNA in an alchemical soup within a natural pool outside of themselves, which is something you can do in the inworld. I’d recently introduced Koji and Sparrow and they quickly became best friends– which probably was the beginning of several cataclysms the two maladjusted goth boys could get create together. They were both dark and somewhat moody and Sparrow’s street rat actually played nicely with Koji’s aristocrat.
Parties, even of this size, have actually slowly been getting more peaceful in recent months. I think there’d only been one attempted suicide in the past six months? Three general crises, and four instances of someone locking themselves in the bathroom, that I’ve seen.
Nature is healing.
Koji had hung around for us for quite some time before he disappeared with either his husband or one of his three boyfriends. He calls his merry band of men, by the way, ‘The Bat Street Boys.’
Then it was Sound, Aberle, Audric, myself, and Sparrow sitting in Prosper’s lounge. Now, these happen to all be people who know they’re alters. That is, as I will remind you, a rarity in this world, so I took the opportunity to unravel the untangled web that is my brain.
“So! Let’s talk names,” I prompted.
“Is this about that joke earlier?” Sparrow asked.
“I already talked to Aberlynn about that,” Aberle confirmed, frowning.
That was the name of Aberle’s younger sister, who had told a rather dark and unfortunate joke. “It’s funny, how his name used to be Harrow but now it’s Sparrow. Each time, he had a ‘Row’ insi–”
And then Aelaris was throwing an antique vase at this girl’s head. Her aim was true, by the way. Prosper was more irritated about the broken vase. Sparrow had actually been scolded for it by Prosper before we found it was the bloody child throwing hands and not Sparrow.
“Apologies, boy,” Prosper had said to Sparrow earlier in the evening. “Force of habit.”
“It did get me thinking,” I said to Sparrow, trying to gloss over that my vital train of thought was began by someone else’s ill-thought rape joke. “Your middle name. Hemlock. It’s a deadly plant. Your abuser is literally named Rowan. Do you remember why you chose it?”
Sparrow blinked. “I… No, I just felt drawn to it. Huh.”
“It’s the same with my name. I have this theory that you and I, especially, could be the equal and opposite reaction of our abusers. And that it leaves its hints in our identities,” I assured him. “Remember how Apollo had his Greek obsession?”
Audric easily piped up with, “The guy named ‘Apollo’ had a Greek obsession?”
Sound giggled. “Better than when he named himself after a fucking Death Note character.”
“No, no, guys,” Sparrow said, laughing. “Apollo used to say that ‘Kirra’ was the ‘Japanese translation of his name.’ Does he really seem the type to name himself after an anime serial killer? It’s just the translation!” I’m not going to reveal Apollo’s deadname to you lot, but trust me when I say, no, that was not the fucking case.
I laughed as well. Gods, I didn’t even remember that until then. “Well, even weirder. Apollo adopted the gold and solar motif early. ‘Xanthe’ is Greek for ‘gold.’”
“Especially when you pronounce it right,” Aberle quipped.
I bit my thumb at him– affectionately, of course. “And if you consider the sun, and the theme of time–”
We talked for some time in this vein. It was pointed out that Apollo was egotistical, fashion-obsessed, and reputation-fixated and therefore inadvertently created my clinically Narcissistic ass as an ‘equal and opposite’ reaction. How much of a contrast my royal blue was to his crimson, but how we shared gold. I was his perfect arch-nemesis, the utter foil to his particular brand of tyranny.
“Not only that,” Sound pointed out. “You’re fiction. You identify as fiction. What did Apollo date before you? Characters he made up. OCs. He never dated someone real before. I’d put money that they were crushing on Howl pretty hardcore in high school. You know, the vain eccentric blonde guy that transforms into a bird thing?”
For once, I was no longer keen to talk about myself. I changed the subject, not wanting to think of my metaphorical player creation screen to have been fucked with by Apollo’s weeb phase.
I have to admit, the topic got rather stuck on me anyway. Because, well. Again, Narcissist. Then we eventually ended up discussing Sparrow’s love life– which was full of absolutely nauseating gushing. He was like a bloody Buzzfeed article. “101 Reasons Why No One Will Ever Compare.” Sound actually looked the most interested in this conversation. Hell, with a 12-year successful marriage, I suppose she would. “I remember your partner from way back in the day. I’m not surprised to know they’re trans– they had big egg energy and I told them as much. Neb actually low-key had the hots for them but Apollo had a vested interest in controlling who they were attracted to.”
Well, that was news to me. Upon questioning, Sound recounted how quick Apollo had been to suppress Neb’s sexuality. “Yeah, it was back when your partner thought they were a guy. We all had our butch phase back in the day,” he told Sparrow. “Neb said something like, ‘Too bad [they’re] gay.’ And Apollo was very forcefully like, ‘Aren’t you a lesbian?’ and Neb was like, ‘I think I’m like 70% lesbian.’ And Apollo went off. Just fucking tore into Neb, like, ‘Stop it with this 70% shit, you either are or you aren’t, and if you are, you’re certainly not in love with me!’ Which, you know, would bite Apollo square in the ass when he stopped IDing as a girl.”
If I were sober, I might have noticed Sparrow’s grip tightening around his whiskey glass or that his smile from gushing had vanished. But as typically the fact, I was not. “Shit. I never knew that,” I said. “From what I know, that crush would’ve been mutual.”
Sound nodded, keeping his eyes on Sparrow. That, I did note. “Neb had huge egg energy too. They even told Apollo a couple of times, ‘I feel like a cross between a gay man and a butch lesbian.’ They got yelled at for that, too. Believe me, Neb was not a girl.”
It was at this point that Sparrow quietly excused himself to the at-home bar to get us refills. Aberle and Audric had disappeared for a smoke break. Therefore, Sound had me to herself. That’s when she dropped a bombshell. “I always shipped those two, back in the day,” referring to the aforementioned ‘eggs.’
Oof. “That’s heartbreaking,” I said frankly.
“Mm.” Sound sipped his cocktail. I’d made him that one, essentially a cosmo with lemon juice instead of lime. Maybe a bit of violette. “I still ship them.”
It was then that I caught Sound’s gaze drifting towards the bar– towards Sparrow. I frowned. “Sound, I mean… From what I know, when alters split, they become separate people. He’s definitely a part of Neb, like Xhax and Aelaris, but–”
“Koji split from me. Remember that? You wrote about it, on your blog,” Sound pressed. “Koji was something separate from me. He grew out of me like Athena from Zeus. But I stayed the same. Same emotions, same personality, mostly the same memories, same consciousness. I’m Sound. He wasn’t. And that–” She motioned to the pinstripe-suited twink at the bar. “–is Neb. If I’m wrong, I’ll shave my head, that’s how confident I am.” I blinked. “I was Neb’s friend for years, she wrote my fucking biography. I have only seen that same fatalistic, selfless, all-consuming love in one other person and when I did, it was directed towards the wrong one. And now, it’s finally towards someone who won’t treat them like shit.”
She sounded almost heated. I was chewing on my lip, dreading to be the bearer of bad news. I wanted it to be true, too. For all involved. But it couldn’t be– could it? So, I kept arguing. Sure, Sound explained the gender and sexuality differences, but I wasn’t yet convinced. I pointed out their appearances.
“Hey, what’s the name of that blog you wrote? About Neb’s last days?”
“… Burning moon. I named that after her journal.”
“Yeah. And one of my last conversations with Neb. Where they said that Apollo was burning them alive and–”
“—that all of her blue might be scorched to black. Fuck.” Neb’s colour theme had been blue and silver, but her wardrobe had taken a shift to black and silver near the end. I felt like hyperventilating. “But–… Apollo was such a big part of Neb’s life. Sparrow doesn’t remember being in love with Apollo. Like, at all.”
“It’s better that way. See, I got to Neb too late. Really, all of us fucking did.” I wasn’t mistaking the heat from earlier. Sound’s voice was bitter, almost choked with regret. “I kept seeing Neb’s more playful, willful personality poke out occasionally when I was one-on-one with them but Apollo damn-near beat it out of them. It’s better Sparrow doesn’t remember that. Or it could’ve even been that Xhax knew for a fact that Sparrow wouldn’t take being Apollo’s servant and suppressed him whenever Apollo was around, for probably a long time. But without Apollo, we got to see glimpses of what Neb was like before the brainwashing. And now it’s more than a glimpse.”
Sound then started pointing out all of the signs I’d missed. The fact of Sparrow’s ‘big three’ in astrology. His Sagittarius Sun was once Nebula’s Sagittarius Moon. His Scorpio Moon was once Nebula’s Scorpio Rising. “But– Sparrow’s Aries Rising. It doesn’t fit Nebula’s sun– that was Virgo.”
Sound smiled. “Like you said, equal and opposite reactions to your abusers. Apollo’s an Aries. He scorched Sparrow just enough to leave some extra fire in him. You do get that Sparrow also likes the colour red, right?”
About how Sparrow reacted to Neb’s memories as if he had personally lived them, not just witnessed them from afar. Or Sparrow’s near identical writing pattern, as witnessed in the blogs. “On one of his darker weeks, I overheard him asking Koji what Koji would do if Sparrow died. I’ve only seen that once in my life– when Neb was doing bad and basically based their will to live off of her friends’ potential hurt. They got on a long while on just that.”
Christ. Sound kept piling it on, too. About how small personality changes could be explained by the fact that Sparrow had been raised by Jasper-fucking-Harvey. “Fuck, Xanthe. You saw what being a doormat eventually did to Neb, so yeah, when Neb would return, of course they would go for the Harvey brothers. If I was raised by a queer disaster of an addict and mob boss, I’d feel more like a take-no-prisoners badass too. And keep in mind, Sparrow made it his job to save Jasper from himself. He broke his fucking arm catching Jasper off a roof. Who the fuck does that sound like?” Sound then got into Sparrow’s self-harming habits, incredibly low self-esteem, and how Sparrow always turned against himself in a personal conflict.
I wondered aloud if that meant Neb also had BPD, which we’d discovered Sparrow has. Sound cocked an eyebrow. “The one who tried to set themselves on fire when they didn’t feel good enough? Bitch, I’m thinking ‘maybe.’”
I didn’t want to believe it, at first. It seemed too convenient of a plot-twist, too cinematic. But…
Of course this brain would do this to me.
Shakily, I pushed back my chair. I’d run out of arguments a while ago. Sparrow was at the bar. Others had come by to see that he was making drinks and he decided to tend for the party at large. He’d decided to try to show off by making us all individual drinks, so utterly proud of the bartender he was.
So hopeful for praise, like someone else that had existed a little before I had.
As I approached, I watched him twirl his long spoon to show off for someone, then I watched him hit himself square in the nose with it.
God damn it, he’s even the same species of dork.
I stood watched his eyes– one scorched brown, nearly black, and the other a bright silver– dance between the syrups and juices. I waited until he was in complete focus mode.
That’s when I decided to do my super special, super magic test to see if what Sound was saying was true. “Hey, Neb?”
“Yeah?” Sparrow answered.
I exhaled sharply.
You coma patient son-of-a-bitch.
Sorry, my dear audience, for deadnaming a trans person. It was for science.
It took him about two seconds to realise what he’d accidentally confessed to. Sparrow was straining his next cocktail when he paused. His arm was frozen so long in the air that the ice in the tins started shifting just because of the melt-point. He looked at me. “I–… Okay, so–”
“You bloody KNEW,” I was already full-on squawking. My voice was cracking with sheer disbelief. “You ASSHOLE. You already knew who you were!”
Sparrow handed me a cocktail, motioning for me to keep it down as if the Scotch and Drambuie were a bribe. “I suspected. I didn’t know until recently when I was playing Saint’s Row 2 and all these memories–”
“I thought I fucking killed you,” I hissed. I couldn’t tell if I were shocked or if I was even relieved—joyful, even. Or just angry that I’d figured it out after others.
“I think we both know who killed me.” Sparrow took his own drink, some sort of whiskey concoction with vanilla and coffee, and sipped it. “Look, I know you’re going to implode if I don’t admit you’re right, and you are, but–”
“Holy fuck, you’re alive.”
Sparrow laughed a little. It was an embarrassed, distressed sort of laugh. He bit at the tips of his fingers, a habit I should have realised I’d seen before. “Look. After I realised it, I also realised my death kind of deified me. Death kind of does that to people– makes them look better than they were…” He stared down at his hands, flexing them. I noticed for the first time that his right hand pinky had a dark freckle in the dead centre segment of his finger. “Like, sure, I died, and I came back, but I’m not the second coming of Christ or anything. I’m a fuck-up. I was a fuck-up when I died and I feel like a few people didn’t know and still wanted to hold onto that. I was stuck trying to figure out if I even deserved to reclaim me. I mean. Who am I to take that away from them?” Sparrow shrugged.
“Self-sacrificial bastard,” I said, smiling.
Sparrow laughed, then shook his head. I found myself counting the silver streaks in his hair, wondering if they were slowly spreading among the black. “I’m not even sure if I can live up to my dead self, you know? Just. Give it a few months before you tell anyone, okay? I want to… tell a few people, personally. Then, do what you want. Make it a blog special. Hell, I feel like it’d be a big fuck-you to Apollo to know that I’m alive and want nothing to do with him. I don’t mind being one week’s focus piece for the blog of a self-referential bastard.” He was loading up a tray of drinks.
I was still staring at him. Apollo killed him. Gods, and the fact he couldn’t return for ten years– Apollo was still around. Almost right up until we moved from Georgia. Because Xhax and I, in one way another, couldn’t let that abusive fuck go. And now, Sparrow finally got a chance of living. And was in love. “Hey. I’m just saying. I’m glad one of us gets to be happy in that area of life. Because it’s sure as fuck not going to be me.”
Shortly after, I made Sparrow my co-host. It was partially out of spite for someone who clearly didn’t like his existence, partially because I wanted him to have the life I accidentally cheated him out of, and also– he’s good at it.
We contrast each other– his adventurousness to my pragmatism, his five emotions for my every one, his fire to my ice, his chaos to my tact, his compassion to my snark, the life in him to my– well, Schrodinger’s heartbeat.
As I was writing this blog, I griped to my usual followers about how blind I had been. One of them pointed out that sparrows are a psychopomp. That is, they’re within a group of animals that, mythologically speaking, are said to lead dead souls to the afterlife. But sparrows, in particular, are said to ‘lead a dead soul back to the land of the living.’
Even his name was a fucking hint. You ever have your brain foreshadow your life’s fucking plot-twists?
I hate it here.
But I also love it here.