[Tw: Anime Conventions, Abusive friendships, allusions to suicide, stalking, drinking, grief, regret, child abuse, grotesque death of an inworld child, vague discussion of child molestation.]
January of 2012, Ohayocon
(Brief note: Sparrow and Nebula are the same person. It is generally not sporting to refer to a trans person by their former name and pronouns, but for the sake of this blog, I have Sparrow’s permission.)
Would it surprise anyone to know that I dressed up as Grell Sutcliffe for Ohayocon 2012? And that JaK was my Sebastian? He was a hot butler who loved cats, who the hell else would he be? And I also happened to be an unhinged transfemme that was constantly called a gay guy, so Grell was my girl!
And if that didn’t date this story enough, just know that our gag was for me to hold up a boom box and follow JaK around, playing Lady Gaga’s ‘Paparazzi.’
Do you feel old? I do!
Probably a good thing that no one but Kirra or Neb could see us. There were minors there and JaK had a somewhat conspicuous red lipstick stain on the bottom of his white shirt. Oopsie.
I saw Nebula near the bottom of the stairs and waved. We both had silver eyes and our usual wave was to do the ‘Eye 2 Eye’ motion from the Powerline song at each other at a distance. It didn’t look like she was wearing a cosplay, but it was Friday. I kind of figured that she was just going casual for the first day and busting out the real stuff on Saturday like most people did. Then I got up close to her and winced.
Kirra was in cosplay. She was dressed as a Flareon. Nebula, on the other hand, had literally been forced to wear just a white button-up, black jeans, and a sign safety pinned to the poor kid that said, “A Wild Flareon Has Appeared!”
“Oh jesus fucking christ,” I muttered.
JaK seemed to read my mind. “Well, Neb never really dresses up anyway,” he said quietly.
“A little hard to do that when everything has to be approved by Her Majesty,” I was saying it out of the side of my mouth just before raising my voice when we got within earshot. “Nebbie! Kirra! So great to see the both of you!”
I could practically feel a warning look from JaK. I grinned even broader.
JaK and I kept having this fight about the two of them. Ever since the incident at Calisto’s and Romeo’s wedding, the subject of Kirra and Nebula was a conversation we rarely had out loud but tended to have silently.
JaK’s POV: Neb is obsessed with someone that’s not even interested in her that way, of course she deserves Kirra being occasionally mean to her.
My POV: Kirra has driven off the majority of Neb’s friend circle, requires most of Neb’s time, constantly insults Neb for doing anything without Queen Kirra’s fucking permission, and has time and time again convinced Neb that no one else but Kirra ever has half a chance of being in love with her. So, if Neb seems a little desperate for the attention of one of the only friends she’s Allowed to Have Around Her without blowback, it’s because Kirra made it that way.
“Oh my gods, I love your cosplays!” Nebula said, looking genuinely relieved to see us. No worries, hun, your sparkly buffer has arrived. “You make an amazing Grell, Sound!”
I struck a peace-sign pose and held up my chainsaw.
It was then that I noticed a huge red mark on Neb’s forehead, slanting through her eyebrow and part of her the skin under her eye. It even seemed to cut through the first layer of skin, leaving stark little patches of red. Also, those silver eyes, duller all the time, were looking pretty puffy today, like she’d been crying.
Who says gays can’t do math?
Nebula seemed cheerful enough, though. Like… forcibly so. “Hey, I’ve been meaning to tell you. I have this friend named [Casey] who showed me this game called Saint’s Row 3. Have you heard of it?”
“No? Tell me about it!”
“Oh, you’d love it!” Some of the force ebbed and Neb actually seemed to be getting some light back. “The character creation lets you have metallic silver skin and there’s an auto-tuned pimp and you can beat people to death with a bat shaped like a dildo! There was one time, [Casey] and I made a character with a tiny mustache in a spacesuit and we called him Space Hitler and he did a Michael Jackson pose right as a bunch of cars exploded right behind him and I swear to fucking god, that made me religious. I don’t even know what religion but I’m a devout believer in whatever that was!”
I giggled. I was making just a vague effort not to look at the mark under her eye, but my gaze kept being drawn to it.
Kirra caught my eyeline, which– she was clearly not in the mood today. “That game’s basically like Call of Duty but dumber. It’s all you and [Casey] play. You keep refusing to play good games like Legend of Zelda just because you have Asperger’s.”
There was a brief back and forth about how Kirra seemed to like the game sometimes, and that she’d seemed pleased enough when Casey and Neb had made Kirra her own avatar in one of the save files. I went ahead and threw her a lifeline in this conversation-turned-hostage situation.
I ignored her. “I would love to play Saint’s Row 3 with you, Neb.”
Neb perked up at that.
“I would have been Jack Vesalius today,” Kirra was saying, “but my wig cap couldn’t go on my head. I tried to get Neb to help me, but…” Then this bitch ROLLED HER EYES.
Nebula gave a short laugh, as if trying to help Kirra play that off as a joke. “Actually, Sound, can we borrow a spare wig cap from you if you have one? Your hair’s gotten longer and–”
“Not as long as mine,” Kirra interrupted.
“Well, l-longer than it was–” Nebula clarified.
“Not as long as mine,” Kirra said, more sharply. She actually glared at Neb until she fell silent.
“Oh, I think I saw some in the Dealer’s room!” I said, smiling. Pay for a new one, bitch.
We chatted for a bit more. JaK and I were going to a yaoi panel later on so we did have to get moving. Kirra was stalking over to the stairs and Nebula was following. I grabbed Neb’s arm. I hated that this made her jump. “Hey. Text me.”
It ended up not being until close that Neb got around to texting me. “Hey, sorry, I was busy and my phone was on low. You okay?”
“Yeah. So,” I texted her. “Are you going to try and tell me you ran into a fucking door? 8D”
It took a while of her side-stepping with, “Kirra’s having a really tough time lately–” “Her grandpa got diagnosed with–”
“Nebula. What. Happened. To. Your. Face.”
“She was trying to find a sandal from another one of her cosplays,” Nebula finally admitted. “I wasn’t helping a lot and shutting down, so she threw a belt and it hit me in the face.”
“Was it an accident?”
‘Nebula Aonai is typing‘ was up on that little Skype bar for about three full minutes before she finally answered, “I don’t think so. But I was being stupid. She told me to help and I froze instead. She threw few a couple of different things, but the belt buckle was what left a mark. I forgot to cover it before leaving the hotel room.” Then the quick follow-up. “I think she did it to snap me out of it? I was zoning out and wasn’t exactly useful.”
I was sitting in JaK’s and my hotel room. JaK was asleep already. I’d bring this up to him once we were back in France. Somehow, he always reacted better the further he was from Kirra. When I told him, he was horrified.
A lot of time, it felt like I was dating two people. Kirra’s JaK and my JaK. A sweet, sassy, flamboyant dork of a man who cooked his feelings and would fight the world for me. This series is mainly about people’s control on the system, so you all don’t know the JaK I know. A man who owns a hilarious amount of feathered boas, sasses me for not being able to put on mascara without opening my mouth while fighting me for mirror space, someone who praised his first-born for socking a bully in the face on the playground. He’s not always the vindictive, guilting, rage-aholic that could topple dynasties if he felt wronged. But somehow, Kirra seemed involved in which husband I was getting.
I spent years pretending I liked when Kirra was over at my house and conveniently disappearing to do work or hang out with a friend away from the house. She and JaK were friends and I had to play nice.
So, I was elated to see him taking my side with this, but that was short-lived because JaK ‘talked to Kirra about it’ two days later. “Apparently, it was an accident. Kirra threw a belt across the room while looking for her sandals. She didn’t mean to hit Nebbie in the eye. She feels really bad.”
I stared at him. Yeah. She did it on accident. A few different times in a row. But JaK had that look in his eyes, something that seemed too much like Kirra. If I said anything now, it’d be a fight that would last hours, maybe days. And hell, we had a kid together. And what if Prosper got involved? What if someone fucking died? “Yeah. Yeah, thanks for talking to her about it.”
Nebula wouldn’t last a year more after. I’m not the only one who wished they could’ve done more, that’s for damn sure.
Years later, I’d find out that I was an alter. And I’d find out that JaK was originally Kirra’s character, sort of like a puppet that grew a soul and had his strings cut. I can’t imagine that amount of self-hatred and self-doubt, especially as nearly everyone around him has their scars from Kirra’s control of him.
And maybe it’s selfish, but it does give me a bit of peace when I think about that Siberian wedding venue in January of 2011. I remember excusing myself from congratulating the newly-wed Calisto and Romeo because I heard JaK shouting from down the hall. As it turned out, Nebbie was just trying to have fun with friends at the wedding and kept being corrected and put down by Kirra, as per usual.
That ended up in an argument. Neb actually had a bit of fight in her, back then. I missed that fight in her, that flickering spark that would come back as a full inferno once she came back as Sparrow. “Because I’ll never be good enough for you and honestly, you constantly pointing it out makes me want to fucking die!” Neb bit out to Kirra. I remember her arms were shaking, fidgeting by spinning her rings a million miles a minute.
And to my horror, my husband, responding to my best friend, said, “If that’s how you feel, then you should just kill yourself!”
“JaK, what the fuck?” I’d said. Then Neb, of course, shut down and JaK and I made this our own fight.
We really, really, almost got divorced that night. The main reason we didn’t is because, at one point, JaK snapped out of it and was shocked that he’d said such a thing.
That man at Calisto’s and Romeo’s wedding was and wasn’t JaK. Not really. It was his responsibility, not how he felt. And believe me, I was there when he broke down crying when he heard that Neb was gone.
Anyway, I read this blog, about how Xanthe wanted for all the world to believe that Arkady and Rowan had simply been possessed, and how someone they loved couldn’t possibly be responsible for something like this.
And… You know.
I get it.
December-January of 2021
I’ve apparently caught Vali’s attention. Oh, goody.
What happened was that Aberle had gotten drunk and checked his discord for the first time in the past few months, surprised to see a missed call from Rowan. His response was surprised, if not just a bit bitter.
“… You tried to call me?”
“I just. Idk. At least you saw me as my own person, I guess.”
In reality, Rowan had probably done that as a way to get my phone or laptop to ring, proving Aberle’s ‘fakeness’ when their fiance was busy embarrassing himself on my FB Live. The call had been on August 4th, you see. It hadn’t worked, in case you’re wondering. Apparently, Aberle has his own phone with a Toronto area code. Somehow.
Yeah, I still can’t figure that one out.
I’d officially gotten wind of this weeks earlier, when AJ mentioned that the household was bitching about how ‘I was still contacting them.’
“You’re not, are you?” AJ asked, giving me the increasing sense they were acting as a go-between.
That earned a derisive snort from me. “No?” My first conclusion was that one of them had seen a crow perch too close to one of their windows and had decided that this was me using magic to stalk them. Then, weeks later, I receive this:
At first, I was a bit startled. I didn’t like the thought of Aberle trying to contact Rowan behind my back; I don’t give a fuck if they did date, that’d be one huge boundary I wouldn’t want my best friend to cross, even if he was my alter. Plus, legal talk was always liable to give most a scare. It’s why games breaking the fourth wall to scold you about it being a bootlegged game was so effective at scaring piratelings straight.
Then I texted Aberle to get his side of the story, then began to relax as the ridiculousness of Vali’s email washed over me. ‘Nobember 23rd.’ He’d tried so hard to sound official, had apparently taken weeks to draft this response, only to earn himself a new nickname. “Does he not know the law?” Aberle pointed out when I was on the phone with him. During this, I heard AJ in the kitchen, presumably making themself something to eat before crawling back into their car for the night. I felt the strange urge to get off the phone with Aberle, to hide the fact that I was speaking to an alter… And then eventually my slowly-regrowing spine chastised me for even having such a thought. “A ‘No Contact’ order has to be signed by a judge and is in relation to criminal charges. They don’t have enough attempts at contact for them to justify a restraining order and they know it.”
“I’m not surprised,” I sighed. “I sort of miss when I had a better class of enemy. At least when Apollo threatened a lawyer, he left it believably vague.”
I was talking at a normal volume, hoping that AJ might even hear this and realise the class of people they’d allied themselves with, even out of spite. Because, believe me, AJ, if spite is the only standard for companions, I’d still be friends with Jane. But I suppose only one of us has the sense to cut ties with a proven predator.
Since the break-up, we hadn’t been… terrible. I remained cordial and even casual with AJ. No matter how angry I was with them, I wasn’t quite willing to treat them like they were radioactive as Arkady did me when I had been demoted from ‘partner.’ We would occasionally have brief discussions and even watched a couple of shows together.
AJ was my roommate. Granted, not even a good roommate, between constantly leaving the front door open and refusing to pay a cent for rent and utilities, but a roommate nonetheless.
There was really only one personal conversation between us that I remember. It was late, one evening. We’d been watching Youtube videos. Towards the end of the night, AJ sharply mentioned that they should’ve gone to bed hours ago, as they worked early the next day.
I could feel myself tensing. As if they were already blaming me for not keeping a better watch on the time for them.
AJ pointed it out. “You okay? You kind of tend to freeze up when you feel like something’s gone wrong.”
Considering how they tend to react when they feel something’s gone wrong, I felt like this beheld their usual astonishing lack of self-awareness. I regarded them for a moment. I was, as per usual, drunk on cheap wine, which leant me the introspection only Dionysus at a discount could sanction. “So many times in my life, when something goes wrong, I am, at best, cut off. At worst, someone could die. It’s something I’m working through, but the stakes haven’t exactly lowered.” The fact that I looked directly at them when I said this was not lost on them.
They stared at me, savouring one of the only points I’ve ever seen them catch in the span of our knowing each other. “I think that maybe this is a talk for another time.”
“Perhaps.” We never did have that talk, but that was perhaps the most honesty I’ve shared with them in months.
Meanwhile, working at my hotel was becoming intolerable. The pandemic had made the locals positively mad with cabin fever. Those who couldn’t smoke at weed at home chose the Zara method and smoked weed somewhere they were either merely tolerated or, much like my hotel, wholly unwelcome. Locals who had access to the pool also thought their neighbours, their cousins, their gym teachers, and their graduating class had access as well, which means my 5″7 twink ass had to act as a bouncer for the goddamned swimming pool. I was not only being called slurs, but even combination slurs, including the unintentionally gender-validating “faggot-dyke.”
I’ve had my life threatened over a $100 deposit. It was still preferable to dealing with AJ, but I was over it.
After one such crazy day, I was sitting in the back, watching over the security feed, trying to catch my breath after a rush. At this point, my coworker walks back, looks at the feed, and says, “Why is there a head on the desk?”
I look up at the feed and see a wig stand just… sitting on the desk. Between his phrasing and the timing of it, this bit of absurdity was a highlight of my day. I took a picture of the feed and explained the moment on a ‘Friends Only’ post on Facebook.
Well, to the absolute creep Vali was and is, this was apparently a smoking gun.
It was only the next day when another coworker texted me, “Delete the post about the wig.”
I did, my blood running cold. I’d learned not to friend managers and supervisors on FB, thank you, Laura from the inn. Did my GM somehow find out? Was that in bad taste?
My coworker called me just after to explain. “So, [GM] called me back to his office and was asking if you were posting on your FB feed, and I played dumb and said no, but I read the complaint. And yeah, it was about the wig, but– the email said ‘lurking shield’ and they spelled your name right and called you ‘they.’ Which I know are your pronouns but like, if you’re a guest, you’re going to assume one or the other. And you even lost your name tag, so how are they supposed to know how to spell a name like ‘Xanthe’? I think this is one of your roommates!”
Thank gods I’m not above trauma-dumping to my coworkers.
The next day I worked, I too was called to the GM’s office. He was actually a lot less stern than I thought he would be, basically asking me if I felt this was a complaint he could contest. “The thing is, the name linked to the complaint was not even someone who was staying here at the time,” he told me.
I looked at the name and had to put a hand over my mouth to stop an unrestrained guffaw. Vali was stupid enough to have put his fucking deadname and current address on the damned thing.
“Yeah, that’s my ex-roommate,” I said. “I posted a joke about the wig stand, and he found it while stalking me.”
The GM was nodding and frowning. “And you don’t have it on your profile where you work? It wasn’t public? You didn’t put ‘[HOTEL REDACTED]’ brand name anywhere?”
“Nope!” For a reason.
The GM shook his head. “Wow. You’d think he’d at least be smarter about it.”
I chuckled. “I know this person. This is pretty on-brand,” I admitted.
Funny enough, this added some incredulity to any complaint I had shortly afterwards. I’m rather sure ol’ Vali’s attempt at sabotage had actually had me skirting past at least two legitimate complaints.
But christ, now he was going for my day job?
They were getting desperate. That meant my digging was hitting some nerves.
It was within that week when Vali left a falsified review on Lost Chaos, wherein Mr. Nobember criticised my work for typos. This ended up being a boost to my writing career, as my Facebook friends, thoroughly fed up with Vali’s meek attempts at sabotage, left positive reviews on my page and some even bought the book. His review was reported and then taken off, leaving only free publicity and unexpected royalties behind.
Still. The entire thing had me stressed. I was ready for a Staycation.
At first, I was wanting to check myself into Affinity Place, just to get away from the powder and the mattress covers and any other pests inhabiting my house.
Then. The same day, AJ texted me to announce they were going to Affinity Place.
My brain threw an entire tantrum before realising– Oh, yes, I still have my hotel discount.
I didn’t have a lot of money– money that I wasn’t planning on spending on AJ’s surgery, anyway. But it seemed like a necessary luxury to lock myself in a hotel room, Wilde style, and just drink and write for two days straight.
And that’s precisely what I did.
You ever look back and notice when Xanthe first identified Rowan as the problem? I’ll tell you when that blog was posted. “Sagittarius Season” was posted on December 5th, 2020.
“I’ll admit, in the summer of 2019, when I’d heard Spectre had been calling Rowan and Arkady sexually predatory, I doubted it mainly on Arkady’s behalf. He was like me, at the time. Ricocheting between hypersexual and sexually-repulsed. But on Rowan’s behalf… ah… I could see it.” -Xanthe, December 5th, 2020
Happy birthday to me. And after nearly ten years in stasis, I was turning 19. Again.
Ah well. Beats being thrown back to 12 for two or so years. Being fused with Aelaris was definitely an exercise in regression, let me tell you.
I was already working for/living with Jasper at this time. Jack wasn’t back yet, so Jasper was spending most of his nights anywhere from self-destructive to melancholy. That is to say, he was a blast to drink with. As long as you stayed at least one level more sober than him, the night generally turned out okay.
Okay, so maybe my arm was still in a sling from when the bastard tried to jump off the roof and I caught him from a passing fire escape. “Where are you from, anyhow?” Jasper and I weren’t even bothering with glasses. We were passing the bottle back and forth in the attic that would eventually be my room, sitting in the window, looking out on downtown Chicago. The both of us pretending that we couldn’t feel the cold seeping in through the window. He’d been teaching me coin tricks, that night. “I always thought you were from the circus, all those acrobatics and whatnot.”
I looked at him. Truth was, life in Faerie had been fucking brutal.
Don’t get me wrong. It was beautiful, at first. Glowing and iridescent plants that almost seemed crystalline, the music that seemed to run through you like a pulsing fever, hedonistic and feral parties and, hey, free intoxicants!
As you might imagine, 1920’s Chicago with all of its sunless, concrete, and rustbelt glory is a comfort in its stark contradiction to Faerie.
There were kids other than me. They were Rowan-imagined ones, but in that forested little dungeon, we’d have to fight each other for scraps. I once saw a boy my age get cold and tired, he tried to sleep in a huge flower. He woke up and realized that the sap from the flower had dissolved his skin and was just… eating him, layer by layer, as he slept. I’m not saying that I didn’t stand on a tree branch high above him and drop the heaviest rock I could find on his head, just because I couldn’t stand the screaming anymore.
But maybe I did.
Hunger Games, eat your fucking heart out.
I wasn’t the strongest, but I did become the fastest. I became who could jump the highest. Sometimes the one who could get up in the trees the fastest was the only one to survive. “Yeah, the circus,” I answered. “Wasn’t a good scene. People in charge starved us. Had us fight each other for food. Ringmaster was a Grade-A creep and got his friends in on it.” Yeah, that was a pretty good translation.
Jasper regarded me for a while, taking a long draw on his cigarette as if he was taking time to process that. “You remind me a lot of me, when I was younger.”
He didn’t have a tone like it was a good thing. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah. Little ball of rage. Getting a fix from any thrill you can get your hands on. I thought I’d need a whole crew to get you off of that guy I told you to rough up.”
Oh. Right. That one guy, part of Capone’s crew, that was stealing our drugs just to keep the people he trafficked sedated. My knuckles were still banged up from that one. Did it one-handed, too. “Yeah, well. You are what you eat, right?”
Jasper laughed a little. “I can’t promise I’ll be any good example, that’s for damn sure…” He sighed and took a long swig of whiskey. Or whiskey-ish. He brewed it himself and put it in a bottle without a label. It was brown, though, so it was conceivably in the realm of whiskey. “Fuck. I can’t figure it out. Where is Jack…? I was who died first. It wasn’t my choice– well, not exactly. It was either me or the whole gang, including Jack, so I took the fall.” In this era, he was still in ‘ghost mode’, I guess. He remembered that he had died. As Jack returned and he started to get his life back, he blessedly forgot about that trauma. Lucky bastard. I only remembered my life as Story and vaguely felt I’d been around at the same time as Neb, but couldn’t remember much of that life just yet. Jasper looked at me again, trying to get a read on his employee/ward. “You’re young, but you ever do that for someone? Take the fall for someone who’s worth it?”
I thought about it. The answer “YES” was in front of me, but I might as well have read it off a Magic 9 Ball, for all the good it was doing me. Concentrating, I got another vibe, but it really was just that. A vague but undeniable vibe. “I’ve done it,” I answered him. “But they weren’t worth it.”
I didn’t remember the details, so when he pressed, I just told him I didn’t feel like talking about it. It was a little later on through the night when he asked me, curiously, if I was from out of town like him. “I’m from a small town called LaSalle,” Jasper offered. “Got out of there and found the nearest train. I’d always talked to Jack about going to Chicago… He ran off first when we were only children, then I went to find him. I found him in the trainyard… He’d told other people to keep an eye out for me, which was lucky, because I didn’t know he could talk.”
I laughed a little. “On the level?” I liked when he opened up about Jack. It seemed a good step up from throwing something at me when I got too close to Jack’s bedroom door. I didn’t realize, of course, that it was thanks to Kirra, that I was swell at ducking.
Jasper nodded and passed me the bottle. “God as my witness. Didn’t say a word until the age of seven. When I asked him, I says, ‘Say, since when can you talk?’ He has the nerve to say, ‘Since always. But seeing as I was always with you, you did enough of the talking for the both of us.'” We both laughed. Jasper did have a tendency to monolog and was probably the fastest talker outside of an auction house. “But that’s it. That’s how we arrived in the good ol’ Windy City.”
“I’m not even sure how I got here,” I told him, still laughing a little. Chicago seemed so random as the location that Faerie dumped me in, but the system always did have its reasons… Reasons mostly in aesthetic and fandom, but hey. It could have been anything from where Kirra almost went to college, or a goddamn Green Day lyric from ‘She’s a Rebel.’ “I’m from Ohio.”
“Ohio?” Jasper choked on his next drink, as if I’d said I was from the goddamned moon. “Well. I’ve never met someone from Ohio that wasn’t just a little screwy, if you don’t mind me saying.”
I laughed and raised my own bottle in a toast to him. I always did wonder if I’d get one of those fabled swills that’d make me go blind or die or something, but I don’t think I really cared. “Yep. I’m an Ohio bastard,” I said. “It’s why I take some getting used to.”
He toasted to that.
I’d softened a little towards Xanthe since reading ‘Sagittarius Season.’ I mean, I still thought they were a grandiose prick that was all flash and no substance, but Jasper could kind of be the same sometimes. The blogs really showed that Xanthe was turning a corner in realizing that Rowan wasn’t just an innocent victim in all this. But I was too far in my feelings and decided to let it stew a while more. Let’s be honest, Xanthe can get lost in the rose-tinted reality. How else can they consume reality sober, really?
Anyway. We can choose not to be seen when co-fronting. Xhaxhollari chooses not to, most of the time. He’s seen all of you motherfuckers, you’ve just never seen him.
But one of the first times I decided to check in on Xanthe, they were in a hotel called the Strathallan. I gathered from context clues that this was a ‘staycation’ to avoid AJ and other pests. And with the avoidance of AJ, came the emergence of Xanthe’s cast of a mentally-made support system. Aberle was there. I knew of Aberle, somehow. Kaspar was somewhat new, a reserved and fussy Slav with long, wavy blonde hair. Kaspar, I think, had retired to bed and left the other two to their hijinks.
First thing I did was watch the news, which happened to be playing in the living room area. There was a ‘Storming of the Capital’ happening. I kept waiting for that Comedy Central logo to pop up, telling me this was a skit. Like, I’d seen some memes and such, but I thought the president was so bad that he could be compared to that one rich elitist off of ‘The Apprentice.’ But… Uh. No.
The more I watched, I started to have a minor crisis of time. Trump was a president. Jesus, I thought that was just a joke. Not only was he president, but people were so mad about Obama’s old VP winning the election that they stormed the capital. And why was that one dude wearing a viking helmet?
Go away for most of a decade and things go all Mad Max on you.
I sat, transfixed, as Xanthe readied themself to walk out of the room. They and Aberle were both giggly and drunk of Franzia.
“Nob-ember!” Xanthe scoffed, lacing their shoes. “I still can’t believe he did that. He might has well have written me a subpoena in crayon.”
“If anything, he is the Nob-Ember.” Aberle said helpfully. “Unintimidating and liable to cause a burning sensation.”
Xanthe cackled, a little too loudly. They were more drunk than usual– or it could’ve been that Xanthe had been drinking to feel normal lately and was actually drinking to have fun tonight. I always caught the differences in Jasper, too. “I’m going to change his name in my phone to that.”
I followed them out of the room curiously. The hotel was a swanky one. If it wasn’t for Xanthe’s discount, it’d probably take two nights for the damn place to cost rent. Aberle and Xanthe took the elevator to the top floor and Xanthe practically ran to the window, a visible thrill going through them at the sight of the city below from what they viewed as an acceptable height. “Crosman attic, you’ve got bloody nothing on this.”
Aberle laughed. “That attic is going to become its own running joke, Zeity.”
“And the red construction paper! Christ, I still have nightmares. You know, it wasn’t the space, it was what it represented,” Xanthe pointed out airily. “I should have known what war crimes the household was willing to tolerate as soon as that blasted piece of ‘decor’ went up!” They were trying the doors to the outside, trying to see if they could get onto the balcony. There was one of those hotel doors with a number pad for a passcode. Zip code or opening date, I thought to them, trying to get the idea through to them without revealing myself. People can never remember random passwords. It was kind of like how you could get into the Green Mill speakeasy on Broadway with the ‘code word’, which was just happened to describe the potted flower near the entrance.
Suddenly, Xanthe was staring through me, the thought sinking through their blotto brain. They took out their phone, Googled the zip, and punched it in. The door buzzed its approval.
Huh. Maybe that can be my life on the outside. Just a ghost, a miming devil on Xanthe’s shoulder.
Aberle raised his eyebrow. “Lucky guess?”
“Knowledge of the mental capacity of fatigued hotel staff,” Xanthe answered, taking all the credit.
I’d remembered Aberle. I was staring at him for a while, trying to figure out what I’d known about him. His story came to me like a half-remembered childhood computer game. I knew about him because Sound had a memoir– fuck, actually, I’d written Sound’s memoir, hadn’t I? Or been around Neb when she did it. Sound had described Aberle as the sickly younger brother of someone she knew, back in the day. No one really knew that Aberle was a sleeper cell for the German BND, literally born and bred to be an assassin and tactical genius. Long-story short, Azumi Mutsuhito, Sound’s grandmother, had her own criminal empire in Toronto and was looking to get filthy rich off of having someone like Aberle as an amnesiatic asset. Poor guy was held captive and indoctrinated.
This lasted for a few years before I’d met him. He’d been ordered by Azumi to kill Sound. Attempting to do so not only jogged Aberle’s memory to remember Sound and Koji were his friends, but also revealed that Koji was a vampire.
Turns out Aberle’s preferred method of coping were the ‘Vampire Chronicles’ and reading ‘Carmilla’ repeatedly. Well, that, and oxycontin. It was kinda funny at the time. See, Aberle is being threatened by Prosper, sees some fangs, and has an entire fanboy attack. ‘Sorry for trying to kill your kids, I’ve been a little fucked up on drugs and repeated brainwashing, but heeeeey, I notice your fangs, how about giving me the old chomp chomp?’ Once he was rehabilitated, he did end up getting turned.
That was probably a… year before my memory goes blank.
The city lights were literally glinting off of Aberle’s fangs as he talked. He talked with that slight lisp that all Methusilla vampires developed to avoid slicing their tongue to ribbons. “I didn’t mean to cause stress by responding to Rowan on discord. After they said that none of us actually existed, I was–… I dunno what I was.”
“Yeah, despite supposedly having DID, they thought you were just another me,” Xanthe was grimacing, leaning on Aberle’s shoulder to warm themself.
“Knowing what I know now, I don’t want them in any capacity,” Aberle replied emphatically.
My ears were perking up. Oh, hello!
Rowan wasn’t exactly a tyrant when they and I, as the 12-year old Story, started talking. We mostly just trauma-dumped to each other and they were very affectionate. “You’re like a little brother to me!”
It was cool to be acknowledged as, yknow, alive, after nearly a decade. They first phrased my trips to Faerie like I’d be an honored guest. They knew my age and told me that Faeries “don’t really have those restrictions.” And I’m, well… hypersexual and kinda messed up. Rowan had tried to ask Xanthe out a few times, but they had politely declined. Then Rowan started taking it out on me. Honored guest to prisoner, but it was a slow pipeline. I was like a frog that didn’t realize it was being boiled alive until I couldn’t get out of the pot. Then Rowan and Xanthe started to have problems in 2020 and suddenly Rowan’s world-building for my captivity got pretty gruesome.
And that’s it. That’s all the detail you get. Unless I’m drunk and on some stuff, then you may unlock some extra content, but this is the most I’ll ever put in public.
“I can’t believe I couldn’t see it,” Xanthe took another swig from their little sparkling wine thermos. “I wanted so badly to believe Zara and Vali had just… changed them. But they were always like this. A system-chaser, an actual fucking predator.”
I couldn’t feel the cold physically. I wasn’t close enough to the front to be notice the temperature. But I felt frozen.
You know, it was funny? That I once hated Xanthe for not making the realization that I could barely admit myself? Hearing it aloud felt surreal.
“I feel like I need a hot shower after dating that,” Aberle agreed.
“Gives me empathy for [Arkady.] Seven years of this. Can you imagine? Two years fucked me up.” Xanthe took another long swig from their thermos, then shivered. “A shower won’t do it, he needs a goddamn exorcism.”
I sat there with them for a while on that rooftop. Not saying anything, not revealing myself, just listening to them reminisce and joke around. I just watched the Rochester lights sparkle below me, looking like a more tame and shorter version of the concrete jungle I called a home.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to come back out from time to time.
AJ and I didn’t have too many more direct arguments in the coming weeks. We’d simply given up on each other, which was a sad fact that I found myself rather contented by. After all, there was only so many times in a relationship wherein I could argue with someone’s mother through them.
But then, AJ decides to cut out the middleman by telling their mummy on me.
Jesus Christ, why is my dating life just one long string of mummy issues?
I don’t believe we discussed the fact that Suzanne fucking contacted me, but the atmosphere did become frostier. The exterminators, on their next round, did confirm that it was the dust preventing the treatment from working further, which was a fact that AJ would sooner call ‘Fake News’ than actually trying to remedy.
AJ, determined to sabotage the efforts of the exterminators but complaining they did not do enough, was at a fascinating impasse with themself.
The argument between us had become a simple, “I’m sick of the bugs!” “Then clean the dust.”
And I was just tired. So much so that I finally unfollowed AJ as a form of self-care.
They reacted about as well as you would expect them to. By that, I mean, going to my abusers and speculate whether or not I’m faking DID. Seriously.
I have never fallen out of love with someone so immediately. Not with Arkady, because the bastard apparently has immunity where my finer feelings are concerned, but with AJ. There AJ was, plain as day, giving intimate knowledge about my DID and switching to my abusers who were stalking and harassing me, even entertaining claims that my DID was fake or at least ‘convenient.’
This was betrayal and they were too dangerous to myself and my system to live with.
I’d have to discuss them living elsewhere. Where else? I didn’t care. I didn’t care if they froze to death that night. Jump off a building, for all I give a flying fuck. Do a flip on the way down, you treacherous piece of shit. Out of all the promises you never kept, that was one you should have. That single instance erased every shred of care I’d ever felt for them.
I decided that I would have to wait to tell them when we were both home, lest they take their deserved eviction out on my belongings.
In the meantime, my petty ass turned the wifi password to ‘Apologise.’
Until we would both have the day off to have this discussion, I was going to make the most of my newfound emotional freedom.
One of my favourite hobbies as of late– mocking Vali!
Granted, it wasn’t terribly challenging but much like his imaginary twin, it never did get old.
One of the more entertaining things about my recent openness about Vali is that more and more people connecting him to his older and more well-known online persona, Leo Urban. And that led to all sorts of fun stories about him.
“I remember I started talking to Vali and he claimed that he was fluent in Russian. I was excited because I am, too. So, I told him ‘Hello!’ in Russian and the Russian he typed back translated as, ‘Yell!'”
I’d laughed. “Love that for him.”
Several were wanting to call me and vent to me about my own life, which my lonely ass was more than happy to oblige. I remember taking a scenic walk near Lower Falls, talking to one such Facebook friend, clarifying my confusion between Apollo and Kirra. “Well, at one point, Apollo started vaguebooking about an ex. And I definitely didn’t know that was me. It started eerily to describe me and sometimes, I was vaguely suspicious… But I’m the type of person that when the shoe doesn’t completely fit, I just decide to continue frolicking barefoot.”
I paused and realised– hey, that’s a good quote. Yes, my ego was alive and well again, why do you ask?
I decided to post this quote on Facebook. Again, I was talking about Apollo, but AJ read this and decided it reminded them too much of themselves and–
It took me a while to even notice AJ had commented that, as Facebook settings tend to hide those notifications once you’ve been blocked. I noticed on the walk home, giggling to my friend. “Ope, AJ just told on themselves. I didn’t even know they were vaguebooking me today.”
But, statistically, it was probably a safe bet.
Imagine– that would be their last public stand against me. And it was ham-fisted enough to squeeze themself into Apollo’s shoes. Beautiful. I couldn’t have said it better myself, darling.
I also have to point out the date– five years and two days after breaking up with Kirra did AJ block me. Even fate was making comparisons between the two!
As it turned out, I never even needed to have that talk about evicting them. Which was a shame, for I was looking forward to using the ‘What’s the wifi password?’ ‘Apologise’ gag. On January 15th, I came from work just to find half of our apartment empty.
The oven was also left on and the thermostat was set to 80, which might constitute as a lazy assassination attempt. I remember how surreal it felt, to go from room to room, to see if perhaps I’d find AJ hanging from the closet as a weird sort of revenge. I even held my cane aloft while investigating the place, hoping that if Vali was lurking in my flat, that New York was a ‘Stand Your Ground’ state. Maybe then I’d be ridding of myself of two parasites in one day. But no, AJ was, in fact, gone, along with all of their things.
I found out later on that Sage had taken them in. It’s amazing, the acts of charity they’re capable of when it’s specifically to spite me. Hilariously enough, even their patience was running thin with their new roommate.
The really, really hilarious thing was that once I got all the dust up, the exterminators were able to remove the bugs with only chemicals. Within two months.
Read it again. All it took was cleaning the dust up and the exterminators had the infestation completely gone by March.
Third time’s the charm– AJ was wrong and I was right and, sans the obnoxious fucking dust, the exterminators got rid of the bugs within two months with Only Chemicals!!!
I hereby cordially invite you to eat my entire dick.
The entire time, AJ was in their own way of getting a solution to a problem they bafflingly blamed me for. We could have had this taken care of by November if they had just been a smidgeon more reasonable. No resurgence, either. This apartment has been bedbug-free since, with multiple houseguests staying over to report the same thing, and it was remarkably easy once the dust was gone.
But that first day, I was laughing softly to myself. I felt free. I wasn’t living alone, of course, but with all of my alters, who now were blessedly allowed to exist within my own home.
There was only one problem.
AJ had stolen from me. And never left their fucking key.