Xanthe Dies at the End (Sparrow. July 2020.)

flying time: one retro pocket watch breaking into particles

[Trigger Warning: Substance-shaming, forced fusion, attempted coercion, cult dynamics, emotional distress, rapid switching, alter abuse, existential issues. There’s a bigger TW later in the story. As per usual, anything entirely in Italics takes place in the inworld.]

When I was Story, I was barely aware of who I was. I had memories every now and again, and I knew that I’d died. I was about as coherently aware of my backstory as any other unstable ghost of the past. Fusing with Xanthe complicated the issue further. The system had apparently decided, when Xanthe got in close with the Faerie House, that this endless bachelor party of a person needed an infusion of the yearning for family life and the sort of selfless, sometimes self-martyring love that it’d seen from a host before. (Hi, nice to meet you.)

It must’ve been trying for a combination of Xanthe’s strengths and mine. What it failed to consider is that Xanthe and I are at the complete opposites of the emotional spectrum and that NPD and BPD in one being is not exactly what one would call a dream team. We were less of a three-headed hydra and more like a distressed Dodrio.

Hey, Xhax, I did a Pokemon joke! You should let me choose what to use the next Audible credit on!

But this fuckery did let me get a good look into Xanthe’s mind, to see what was unfiltered before the cult conditioning would set in. I remember once when we were in the backyard with Rowan and Vali. Xanthe, as a joke, said that they felt as if they had been doing their slutty reputation a disservice, since they hadn’t gotten any since January.

Horrifyingly, Vali offered to break Xanthe’s dry spell.

“Just so you know, Vali is a good dom.” If Rowan hadn’t been in earshot, I have a feeling they would’ve just appeared there. Literally warping from blocks away to say, ‘Sleep with my partner!‘ “You should really take him up on that.”

Vaal looked pleased. Xanthe and I both flinched away in sheer revulsion within the mind. I could feel that Xanthe’s more immediate preference for a bed mate was the nearest beehive. But within a matter of seconds, that was hammered down by, ‘Oh no, I only dislike Vali because of the curse I made up that’s biased against him.’ And, yknow, not the fact that Vali had all the charm of a bucket of medical waste. Finally, the words that came out of our shared mouth was, “Ahaha, yeah, maybe.”

I caught Rowan’s look. They’d seen the refusal from a mile away. This wasn’t gonna be good.

Fusing was a truly bizarre sensation. I’d heard of integration being somewhat a natural, seamless, even beautiful thing, but my system was trying to make Xanthe and I fuse without our permission. Our best theory is that this initially began when the system felt safe enough, or that the Aelaris half of Story wanted it. Xanthe has said since that they’d felt they ‘borrowed’ my emotions, my complexes, but they were never truly theirs.

It wasn’t like Xanthe was defaulted as the more dominant personality in this scenario– it was just the simple fact that they were the first to know these people and the system was trying to keep things consistent.

It felt like a video game. This was Xanthe’s character, Xanthe’s mission– I couldn’t change the plot. But I could occasionally control play-through and dialogue– even see things they couldn’t.

We were both aware of Arkady’s apparent avoidance. Even Xanthe hyping up an outfit he was showing off was quickly shut down. Any personal topics, he abruptly opted out of. Xanthe would try to open up about their isolation or the inworld and Arkady was dodging these topics harder than his therapist.

Just sayin’

The result: Those months of agony, no closure, then the expectation towards normality. No comfort in between. I’ve seen more aftercare from the IRS during tax season.

Ever see a Check Engine light on in a human being? Because I have!

It was July 3rd when we decided to go over to Sage’s. I honestly forget the occasion but it was a chill time between Arkady, Rowan, Vali, Sage, Tony, and us. I think there might’ve been a bonfire involved.

See, Sage is the type of yuppie that’s just going to get a whole house when their snowbird parents fuck off to Florida and it was the type of suburb situation with guest bedrooms and a yard you could just set fires in, so it was perfect to host the random gathering. And, yknow, temporarily adopt kicked-out friends to be able to hold it over their head when Sage needs a good angry mob going, but hey! Parties!

We’d brought a box of Franzia over. Two (sometimes three or fucking four) heads weren’t always better than one and Xanthe found they usually needed to drink at things like this to keep from spacing out. Arkady made a couple of irritating comments– interrupting pointedly to tell us we should have a water, asking how many glasses of wine we’d had.

“Dude, chill,” Sage said at one point. “They’re fine.”

Besides that, Xanthe and I really only remember two relevant aspects of that conversation. One was where Arkady dropped that he was a system.

“I didn’t know know you were a system!” Sage said– apparently one of the only people Arkady hadn’t confessed that to prior and immediately forgot after the fact.

Another aspect was that Vali removed himself from the group in a vague huff toward the end of the night. I don’t think I ever knew what set him off. Maybe someone corrected him on how to pronounce a word and the night was just shot, I don’t know.

It was mainly a fun event. We were in a mostly neutral mood by the time we arrived home. We then, as the habit was, put the box wine on the kitchen counter and poured ourselves another glass of wine. Rowan had already taken Vali upstairs to calm him down.

We were alone with Arkady as he pulled off his shoes. I think we’d polished off the last of our Franzia bag and were going for some plum wine. I guess we probably should have expected Arkady to jump on that. “Um. Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”

“I’m fine,” we said. “I’m going upstairs after this anyway.”

“Xanthe, you’ve been drinking a lot lately.” That tone was about as judgey as it could have been. I’m not sure if there’s anything more infuriating than being substance-shamed in a house where no one is sober for more than a day. Even better, we recently saw Rowan have to be walked through the art of lifting a floor cushion to see if their phone was under it, all the while whimpering and giving bewildered looks like a toddler because of how high they were.

Imagine if this was your fiancé on a Good Day and you’re out here keeping track of how many glasses your ex has downed.

I felt our eyebrows come down in a scowl. “It’s only been a month since we found out that the entire house had been turned against me because of a new friend of yours,” Xanthe said. “I’m still recovering.”

“Xanthe, we all went through that, and you’re the only one drinking this much,” said the one who’s been high most of this past month.

But to be fair, everyone who’s ever shared the rent with Rowan fucking Janiszewski had either done that or developed a binge-drinking habit at one point or another. Usually both.

“But as you remember, I was who was left without social support. Therefore, I needed something consistent.” Xanthe held up their wine glass and wiggled it for effect. “Either actually be there for me or don’t say anything about my drinking.”

Arkady’s eyes flashed with annoyance. We’d been meek for a good while and I don’t think he expected this level of arrogance or push-back, but it was right on Xanthe’s brand if I’d ever seen it. “I can’t do that, Xanthe, because you keep putting this romantic spin on everything!” He said, to the person whom he’d convinced to move approximately 800 miles specifically to be with him. “Xanthe, you led a witch-hunt against Vali and Zara. I’m still uncomfortable being around you!”

Xanthe actually laughed. I was burning with frustration, but Xanthe managed to appear unaffected. “The horse that you’re beating is bones by now. If you want to just be friends, [Arkady], then be my fucking friend. Stop treating me like I’m radioactive. Or don’t say shit about my drinking. Or hell, option C! Get Visarden out! If you want me to look for alternative support, there he is! His feelings haven’t changed.”

See, I’m speaking in retrospect, but it occurs to me that Arkady might not have been privy to that fun little fact. Historically, his past-lives or his alters have played well with Rowan and their fantasy world. In the rare times that they wouldn’t, the backlash would be swift and brutal. And I get the feeling that being in love with Xanthe simply wasn’t allowed anymore.

And Arkady could tame those feelings, shut them in a cage, turn out the lights. But Visarden didn’t. So, when Arkady tensed, I imagine that must’ve been him realizing that someone who could wear his face was breaking the rules. “You can’t just expect Visarden to be at your beck and call!”

I heard, very clearly from Xanthe, ‘Are you fucking serious?’ “That is not what–”

“I get to decide when he comes out, Xanthe. Not you!”

I honestly kind of forget how this argument ended. Xanthe does too. It faded out in the way a burning film strip ends prematurely ends a film.

The next thing either of us recall, we were outside of our bedroom door. We were balancing our glass of wine and our bag while texting Sage about the new development. We were asking them if they were free to call. Arkady broke the rules, goddamnit! He mentioned the witch-hunt! Waaaay more than two weeks past! Of course, with our little hamster cage lock, our door was more difficult to open than it should have been.

Suddenly, the door to Vali’s room just beside us swings open. And there was Rowan, glaring at us so accusingly, so furiously, that I almost wanted to check our hands to make sure we weren’t currently strangling a beloved pet of theirs. Xanthe and I have both suffered within the grasp of Rowan With An Excuse. Terror hit us like a fucking brick wall.

“I wasn’t eavesdropping!” We automatically knew what they were assuming. Vali was still having his moment in there, apparently. There was no way to disprove our motivations. Just by being in the hallway, next to our own bedroom door, we were fucked. And we knew it.

“[ARKADY]?” Christ, Rowan yelled for him like someone yelling for the fucking teacher. I could feel Xanthe switching out, if only for a moment.

I remember darting down the stairs. I’m honestly much smaller in the inworld and I’m occasionally clumsy with the body, so I missed a step and slid five or six stairs before emerging at the bottom. I followed my feral instincts and just ran.

I darted out of the house, running probably two blocks before I broke down hyperventilating. Trauma had me in a damned choke-hold and I could barely even breathe. I was who called Sage. Xanthe faded back in throughout the conversation. I remember vaguely that Sage was saying the usual sorts of ‘Calm down, breathe, breathe.’

Xanthe’s reply had an eerie effect on me. I think I knew, instinctively, just how right they were. “It’s all ruined. After all of this, it’s just going to go back.”

One month. One fucking month living in the eye of the storm.

This is honestly all I could think of.

The next morning was a blur. We were laying in bed, motionless and clammy.

At first, Xanthe tried to argue with Arkady through text. Arkady was harping on the drinking yet again and asked Xanthe if they had fallen down the stairs. Xanthe, having switched out at the time, didn’t know they had and answered in the negative. And of course, when you’re a system who doesn’t know you’re a system, your brain is desperately trying to fill in the gaps you should remember but don’t. Kind of like the way your eyes are technically blind when they’re moving and these lying ocular fucks tell you that you’re still seeing.

So, Xanthe, clearly a master malingerer, a clever swindler, the king of all treachery was caught red-handed not knowing, for the life of them, whether they had fallen on their way down the stairs.

And this was Arkady’s fucking “gotcha” moment.

You lied to me. You lied about having fallen down. I gave you a chance to tell the truth and you didn’t, Xanthe. Rowan said they heard a crash.” At one point, Xanthe had quipped that it might have been the cats that Rowan had heard and Arkady said, “Oh, you’re blaming it on the cats, then. You’re lying and saying it was the cats.”

“Stop fucking saying I am lying to you! I have never lied to you!” Fear and fury were pulsating within us both.

It really just was the weirdest conversation to try to follow, believe me. All of the rest of it was Arkady reiterating that he feels uncomfortable that Xanthe is expecting him to get back together with them just because–…

He uh. Said he was going to.

Look, take this as my own humble opinion. I get that feelings can be unpredictable and all that, but when someone uproots their entire life based on what you assure them time and time again was cosmically-fucking-destined, and then you just change your mind only after they’ve lost the opportunity to change theirs, you need to lay the fuck off. The person you’re fucking over is going to go through all the five stages of grief and that includes bargaining and denial.

He also expressed worry that the rate of Xanthe’s drinking was going to make them die soon and, well, if you keep reading this blog, you’ll either find the irony tragic or funny.

Xanthe also, to no avail, tried to explain to Rowan how they found the audacity to pause in front of the bedroom door. As you can see, Rowan had tried Xanthe, found them guilty, and hanged them already.

I actually really love Xanthe’s unfiltered reaction here, it was kinda refreshing.

A bit later, I think the Aelaris side of Story was trying to adopt these two rats– we’ve had rats before and I think she really enjoyed our last two, before they both died. She found online that there were two cute blonde ones that she instantly felt connected to and, in the tumult, she was excited for a new friend. She asked if we could have a ride to retrieve them. Rowan, who had decided we were all moving, who had retracted any sort of support or company once our DID (and yours truly) stopped being a convenient toy for them, told us no.

(Added context: Rowan had decided within past couple of weeks that they were tired of our slumlord and that we were going to be looking for a new house for us. Specifically, a farm house that they asked us to put money down on, and I’m not kidding. Luckily, I never did, but the fact of moving house was the excuse they used to refuse this. -Xanthe)

It was really a straw breaking the camel’s back situation. Every inch of independence and control had been taken from us. Every exit barred, every form of escapism denounced. We couldn’t even linger in the fucking hallway of the house we paid rent on without harsh punishment. And now we couldn’t even have pets. And she wept.

I could feel what she was feeling. It was heartbreaking and pitiful.

Aelaris and I had both had wanted a family so badly, like we were the stray, misunderstood things that needed picked up from an environment that couldn’t handle them. And we, at this moment, thought we lost our only chance. We both just cried and cried and cried.

Someone– I forget if it were one of the three of us, or one of the household– contacted Sage. They were at work, but promised to show up just afterward.

Hours later, we were on the porch. Even the setting seemed to dictate that this would just be a sequel to the time Sage saved our asses back in May.

I liked Sage, to be honest. I hung around in a lot of the unpremeditated rescues and played GTA with them. The respites to their house reminded me a lot of the sleepovers of my high school days, mostly because Sage was still in that mindset.

Okay, no, they were actually fun and hilarious and I legitimately liked them back then. No need to rewrite history, that’s more Rowan’s talent.

When we– that being, Aelaris, Xanthe, and I, mostly fucking fused, were told that Sage had arrived, we wandered down the stairs and clutching a stuffed animal.

“Okay, we need to do something about this. Because I’m fresh from work and I’m tired of getting called over here every time something happens.” That was Sage’s opening line.

… Well, fuck. Suddenly, I got the feeling Sage may not be in our corner this time around.

We clutched the stuffed animal tighter. It was some sort of blue peacock thing that Arkady had given Xanthe the month before.

Arkady started in somewhat readily. “Xanthe. You keep on pushing this narrative that we’re going to get back together. You keep viewing everything with a romantic lens and it makes me uncomfortable.” Here it was, July. And all of Arkady’s promises about how it’d ‘only be a break’ and ‘of course I mean forever’ were revealed to have been a goddamned lie. He seemed exasperated by the fact Xanthe had believed him. Everything Xanthe had been holding out for was crumbling right before our eyes and, really, it was just the beginning. “You’ve even left me love letters in my bedroom before!”

I already knew this wasn’t fucking true. Xanthe had left Visarden two letters, addressed to only him. It was a way that Visarden could feel up-to-date on how Xanthe was doing, as clearly the ethereal bastard was having trouble getting to the front these days.

Xanthe immediately responds, “Those were for Visarden!” They paused and gave Sage a startled look. Sage hadn’t really known of Visarden.

“Visarden is my headmate,” Arkady explained quickly, suddenly dropping the ‘past-life’ explanation like a hot potato. He’s even gotten offended when Xanthe had accidentally called his past-lives alters, but I guess DID was only acknowledged in this fucking house as a potential for a good cover story.

“Xanthe,” Vali cut in. Xanthe before described him as having a breathy 900 number voice but I personally feel like his tone was more ‘Um, just so you know, your bra strap is showing.’ “His alters aren’t in love with you.”

I felt Xanthe visibly flinch.

“That, I don’t know,” Arkady told both Vali and Xanthe. “But what you need to understand is, Xanthe, I am the host. I get to decide whether you speak to Visarden or not. And I don’t know if I’m comfortable with my headmates dating my ex.”

So! Here’s where we get to commentary. Hope you didn’t think I was holding back! Not only is it incredibly funny that Arkady was basically talking down to Xanthe on how to be in a system, but. Fast-forward two years– Hi, I’m an alter, I’m not the host, and I’m romantically seeing someone my host is platonic friends with, that they’ve had a complicated history with! If Xanthe ever decided to pull this shit on me, I’m sorry, I’d go straight-up Tyler Durden on them so fucking fast.

I mean, I’m already the reason Xanthe loses sleep but–

But the thing is, they never have even tried. Xanthe is such a good host, guys. Since they’ve found out, it’s been all, “Do you need me to switch out more so you have more time with them?” “Can I hang out when they visit or will it be a more romantic thing?” “Hey, just checking in, there’s still a mutual respect, right? Because I can and will kick their ass or yours otherwise.” “Hey, you seem happier! It’s nice to see.”

So, yeah, Arkady announcing that Visarden would not have the autonomy to decide whether he could see his partner did not sit well with me. It also didn’t sit well with Xanthe, who was slowly and numbly coming to the conclusion that, on top of being dumped at this moment, they may also never see another one of their great loves again.

Sage even echoed this point, emphasizing that it was weird for an alter to try to date someone the host wasn’t, and that Xanthe was somehow ‘taking advantage’ encouraging that.

Putting this phrase in the Google search is a good way to figure out if we have ‘Safe Search’ on. We do not.

Around this point, Rowan also announced that they were a system. “Yeah! I’m integrated now, though.” Total integration takes decades of continuous work and stability. This bitch was in their mid-20’s and their therapist was Dr. Do-Weed-About-It, so we later found out how laughable this claim was. Then the subject was back to telling Xanthe how someone they were in love with could now be withheld due to bad behavior.

Of course, Rowan, being a sadistic cunt, decided to hammer it in. “Xanthe, [Arkady] is your ex.” They even laid a hand over Arkady’s arm to drive the point home.

Being as near to Xanthe as I was in the consciousness, it was like standing at the top of a skyscraper that’d just had its foundation compromised. Cracking through the support beams. Fracturing. Like the floor was shifting beneath me. Their eyes were fucking haunted.

“Yeah, and I gotta say, the drinking has been out of control. You were at my place last night joking about how having Franzia with you was an ‘adult juice box’ and you’ve been getting drunk these past couple of times,” Sage said.

Xanthe was silent. Eerily so. I was the one who got defensive– explaining that these were jokes. But even jokes are seen as unhealthy when it fits the narrative, I guess. (To be fair, I’m honestly not sure how drunk we came off. We all have different tolerances, but it’s not like anything uncouth happened.)

This was just the household 100% of the time.

“Can I be honest?” Sage asked. “Is anyone actually happy with this living situation?”

Everyone else said no. From us, a feeble yes. Of course, we had to be happy. We’d tried so hard and suffered so much to be happy. We just didn’t feel it.

Rowan decided to try to appeal to us with empathy that felt more like lemon juice in the wound. “Xanthe, if I was living with my recent ex, that would be torture. My heart would be broken.”

“My heart is broken,” Xanthe said hoarsely.

Arkady grimly replied, “Mine, too.” Which– MY SIBLING IN CHRIST, YOU ARE WHO DID THE BREAKING.

“Yeah, so. This isn’t working out. I think Xanthe needs to live separately,” Sage decided.

“Wait! No.” Just like that, we were back to where we were on March 3rd. Square-fucking-one. “We’d just invited AJ to live with us. They agreed. They’ve been homeless in Portland and will die otherwise. As in, literally die. They’ve made that abundantly clear.” Yeah, Xanthe, I’m pretty sure they rented a billboard that said as much. It was, at the very least, a Facebook ad.

“Of course we’d still help you with AJ, Xanthe!” Rowan said emphatically.

I kept responding to the conversation after that because it’d almost like Xanthe had frozen. A lot of the rest of what was said were reassurances that never came to pass. ‘Of course we’ll all visit you at your new place!’ ‘I can’t wait to see how you decorate everything!’ ‘We’ll all hang out!’

Xhaxhollari and I took turns trying to negotiate better terms and confirm the nicer things they were saying. We ended up just sort of agreeing because fighting made us both too anxious– neither of us really have Xanthe’s skill for confrontation.

As for the AJ issue (that seems redundant, doesn’t it?), I really can’t remember what was decided on, initially. Over the next several days, there were discussions about how everyone would move to Ithaca. But also Rowan and Vali and Arkady wanted to do some sort of weird live-in farming program so planned to send Xanthe the funds to support AJ. There were discussions about how Xanthe would only live separately for a matter of months. Then the conclusion was, of course, that Xanthe would be supporting AJ and themself on their limited income, financing the cheapest two-bedroom they could find to buy them maybe six months before the situation financially crippled them for life. Good luck!

This plan had several revisions before it reached that conclusion. But honestly, it was like Xanthe could already see where this would end up.

After all, Arkady had already broken his most important promises to Xanthe. Even when things were bleak, Xanthe still held onto, ‘But he told me that–”

So. Really. Why hold out hope for anything else?

Sage, of course, was outraged that this– Oh, wait, they were now friends with Arkady and Rowan again and could no longer be bothered. Huh.

Over the next few days, Xanthe was listless. Like a trapped animal that had gone limp. At first, I did feel vain tugs at the leash, some attempts to see a next move after checkmate. Then just– nothing. It honestly would have made me more comfortable if they had been drinking themself half to death and quoting their favorite books at the crisis hotline– you know, not for the first or last time. That would’ve at least shown there was something left.

But no. There was no more effort to cope, no defiance, no more fight left within them.

I’ve read the other blogs. I wasn’t there for what happened with Kirra/Apollo, but I now know what that was like. Xanthe was built to withstand that. And as history shows, I certainly wasn’t! Xanthe was manufactured for enduring social 3D chess, abject abuse, and psychological torture.

They made it three years dating Kirra. Yet this household broke their spirit entirely, in a little over a year, and that is mind-blowing to me. For the first time literally ever, their snark was nowhere to be found. Not even their ego could save them– they couldn’t stand to look at the mirror or even their own Facebook page.

Yeah, so, if they ever pull this shit again, go ahead and call the crisis hotline.

I guess part of it was that they never trusted Kirra or Apollo. Those two weren’t a future, they were an inherited obligation. And Rowan is a serial predator with plenty of practice with systems, but they couldn’t have broken Xanthe alone, of course. Xanthe had to have someone give them hope to have it all taken away from them.

That being said, I wish Arkady really knew what he did to them.

Xanthe really, really wants to think Arkady never had a choice but to comply. Arkady probably does, too. But believe me, there’s always a choice.

I do know what the final straw was. See, the household had this collective habit of asking for small favors, with some sort of affectionate reward. “Could you give me a glass of water? I will give you one kiss.” They used the bird-talk version, but you’d literally have to pay me to type that. (Hint hint, Xanthe.)

Usually, kisses between the other three were freely offered in exchange for the completion of these small tasks and errands. Or at the very least, a hug. It was July 13th when Arkady asked Xanthe, “Can you hand me my vape charger that’s beside you? If you do, I will give you one head pat.” He’d said it in a warm tone, which honestly probably made it worse.

I could actually hear Xanthe’s thoughts.

‘I moved up here to marry you. You told me that you’d do anything for me. You promised me forever. Now I’m jumping to play fetch for you to pat me on the head like I’m a fucking dog.’ The worst thing was–… they didn’t refuse. They didn’t try to negotiate. They did it. I had nothing to do with it. Xanthe wanted proof of how far they’d fallen. I think it might have been an act of self-harm, some ultimate degradation. I felt them wondering if their own battered willpower would stop them. But it didn’t.

They were shattered. And I think having proof of that flipped a switch. And as soon as Arkady reached his palm out to press it to the top of our head, Xanthe was in the inworld.

I waited a good while before following them. I’d noticed that Xhaxhollari, stretched to his limit, was starting to have a delay with filling in the gaps for them in the front. And I didn’t quite know what else was there to front, but whatever it was, it unsettled me.

After about a half hour, I had an immensely bad feeling. I made my excuses (It’s hot down here, I want air conditioning) and went upstairs. As soon as the door was locked, I turned on some music on our phone, put on my headphones, and followed them.

Xanthe had just turned back from their white crow, landing on the roof on one of the towers of the House of Parliament that overlooked the Thames river. I could see this all through Xanthe’s eyes– their train of thought was rapid, faster than I could keep up with, flashes of memories and clarity that were surging through like electricity. One of the quotes I’d heard was from The Great Gatsby, because of course it was.

His dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him.

There was almost a weird… giddyness. Within them and within the air. The clouds were stormy and everything was crackling with lightning that hadn’t struck yet. It was twilight, with everything tinted in fading gold and indigo blues.

They were on the corner closest to the camera.

“Oi! Oi! Angel boy!” They waited until we both felt the familiar sensation of a Watcher’s presence. “You realise that I’m fiction, right? You remember that, don’t you? That I’m not fucking real? Because I sure as fuck forgot!” They were yelling. Anyone who knows Xanthe knows that they rarely, if ever, yell. Inside or out.

Xhaxhollari appeared immediately. This was the first time Xanthe had addressed him since May, so I imagine he was pretty eager to try to fix things. Poor fucker didn’t realize he was just chosen as a prompt audience for what was about to go down. “Xanthe?”

Xanthe was grinning broadly. Our cheeks were hurting. “You realize, I was never supposed to be married! Fictional characters don’t get married in the real world!” They shoved their hands in the pocket of their coat. I could feel, through Xanthe’s fingertips, the small face of the pocket watch that Phisoxa had given them. It was at this point where I realized that I couldn’t feel the weight of the replacement pendant on their neck. “Me, surviving in the real world. That’s the REAL delusion!”

Xhaxhollari was hovering– so unused to being seen that all six of his wings were flapping elegantly about. He looked worried. He should’ve been. “Xanthe, please calm down. We can talk about this. I’ve been meaning to talk to you–… Look, I’ve had a theory that could save your body in this pla–”

Xanthe laughed. It was this tense cackle that threatened to turn into a scream. “You want to know a secret? The way Neb went out– scared the fuck out of me.” My attention was fixated on this turn of conversation. Nebula. My mind was digging, obsessed with what had happened to her for a reason I couldn’t name. “Two people noticed. Two! And everyone else went about like Neb was a time period, something to grow out of. As if she never fucking died, as if she never fucking LIVED in the first place! I’ve been TERRIFIED of dying like that.” Xanthe’s voice raised even more, audibly cracking on the wind. Their eyes, brass-colored in the inworld, were oddly luminous. They honestly… looked more alive than they’d been in months. That’s when I knew what they were doing. I realized, with a jolt, why they suddenly felt so free. Oh fuck. “There’s no funeral if a body is still WALKING ABOUT! If a person dies and doesn’t leave a corpse, does it even BLOODY COUNT?” Xanthe turned around and faced Xhaxhollari with the Thames to the right of them, letting out a breathless giggle. “Riddle me this, you Enochian fuck! If a tree falls in a forest and said tree never fucking existed in the first place, does it make a sound?” They threw their arms out on the last syllable, as if for dramatic effect.


I felt the watch leave their hand. Xhaxhollari was still looking at us with a tense expression, arms outreached to brace for if Xanthe decided to jump from the building. He didn’t realize that the replacement watch that had been keeping Xanthe alive for months had already breached the surface tension of the Thames.

That’s how they died in their book– their final death, that is. When a pocket watch that was their heartbeat hit the river.

Xanthe had decided to end fiction with fiction.

It was so much easier keeping Xanthe from killing themself on the surface. Switch them out, switch someone else in, confuse their surroundings so they don’t even know what they’re doing. In the inworld, just have something unlikely save them. Pull strings so a friend finds them just in time, maybe a mattress truck drives by and catches them as they jump off a roof.

The system is actually pretty reluctant to let hosts die. I’ve literally seen Xanthe casually point my goddamned pistol at their temple and pull the trigger, resulting in a conveniently-timed jam, just to prove this point.

But follow the system’s fantasy logic? It’ll just fucking let you.

I felt it at the same time Xanthe did. That odd, resounding heartbeat that physiologically echoed like the first of a set of demolition charges. We choked, body jerking as we coughed up a viscous, black ink that seeped between our teeth and lower lip.

Xhaxhollari’s face was a mask of horror. His eyes drifted to the Thames. The realization was inescapable, but only now that it was too late. “Xanthe, what have you done? No one can save you now.”

We looked down at Xanthe’s body. The scars and wounds we’d accumulated were weeping black ink, almost as if our stitches had come undone. The tears were spreading, dissolving Xanthe’s form. There was a trail of slick, black ink on the roof. They stumbled forward. “Funny thing, Xhax…” Their voice couldn’t seem to find a consistent pitch. It echoed, as if they had several vocal chords of different frequencies saying the same thing at once. “No one ever could.”

My point of view switched abruptly. I was no longer anchored to Xanthe– I was yards away, on the ground, on my hands and knees beside the river just in time to watch their form fall from the tower. By the time I saw them, you couldn’t even tell that they had once been humanoid. It was as if someone had thrown a bucket full of black paint and paper scraps into the river.

I looked down at my hands. It was me, complete with the freckle in the center of my little finger, outside of the mirror world, outside of Xanthe’s disintegrating form. I’d broken from them, somehow.

The Thames turned jet black in its entirety. The blue of the evening sky had also fled, leaving only shades of gray.

Xhaxhollari was stunned– wings no longer flapping but hovering in the air regardless, eyes desperately trying to process what had just happened. Not a trace of Xanthe remained but the stains of the ink on building’s rooftop.

I guess not even he had a plan B for the destruction of the indestructible.