“Yeah, I decided that it may be time for you to go home when you suddenly seemed way too fascinated with the owner’s description of the air duct system,” Cotton told me. “He was telling us how he had to install some new vents and you were like ‘Wow! Are you kidding me?'”
“I don’t even remember anything about the air duct system,” I laughed. “No, I’ve just had a really stressful couple of weeks. See, after [April] and I broke up, I joined Tinder.”

Ash is a predator.
They go after systems and traumatized, mentally ill persons without a solid sense of self. They seek the under-aged or monster-like alters or “past-lives” for their own sexual gratification. They will synthesize a sense of belonging using religion and magic, and then turn the tides against you once you either learn to say ‘no’ or you start questioning too much.

“It’s an apology– kind of. Like the ones actors make when they realise there’s no way they’re not getting cancelled. You can read it now, if you want.”
I shook my head. “I can’t let her have the last word, Cotton. Otherwise, she’d win.” I’d meant that as a joke, but that was answered with another question about how much progress I’d made on finding a therapist.

Ash fell silent for a moment. “Who– who else thinks this?” Their tone was accusatory, as if we were all having a laugh at their expense and not terrified they’d end up in a double suicide.
“It’d– uh, be a shorter list of those who don’t think it. And I think that’s limited to–… you and… Maybe, like, his cat.” I don’t try to be a smartass; my dickishness is au natural. “

I’m tired of being screamed at for things I never did. I’m tired of being told to ‘shut up’ while you tell me ‘what I really think.’ I’m sick of there being no right answer. I am sick of being told that I don’t feel love, that friends I love are invalid, being called names, being beaten on the street, and forced to spend one of my few days off watching you sleep in your house. I’m sick of being forced to beg not to lose you.

That, containing a heavy reference to suicide, caused my mind to fold over in on itself and open up some dark neural pathways that led to only poor decisions. I screenshot this and sent this to Aberle, so that the trauma-induced panic could now bombard the system through two sources,
Aberle, then, out of the worry of his bleeding-heart Cancer Moon, did precisely what I told him we must not do.
He told Ash that March was abusive.

“Everything started going to shit when Neb disappeared and you showed up.”
“That’s the general consensus,” I said dryly. I’d heard it all before. Neb had been the naive, selfless one, like the devoted, virtuous Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean. And here I was, the near-constantly sozzled, egotistical, and floundering Jack Sparrow, suddenly being called upon to save Elizabeth Swan, armed only with comedic relief and a petty streak.

Xanthe and I had quarreled about this, recently. Indignant and possibly more than a little self-pitying, they had snapped, “Oh, so I was basically your stunt double that had nerve endings. Wasn’t that the time Prosper ran me through with a fucking sword?”
I stared at them. “Yes. While I was handling [April] and you were primarily out to get drunk, vent to Cotton, and cheat on [April] with [Avery.]”
Xanthe squinted at me thoughtfully. “You know, comparatively, being stabbed was probably preferable.”