“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.”

That’s right. A fucking dating sim, literally Dream Daddy, had opened up Buchanan telling my new partner that I was an abuser, in a public comment section, on behalf of fucking Kirra. Yknow, the one who cracked my goddamned rib cage.
I should have thrown you into the Savannah River when I had the chance, I bitterly thought at Buchanan, for not the first time.

I both liked and disliked the way she talked. Her cadence was that of a gameshow host, with enviable precision of verbiage but an over-acted quality to it. She gave the vague impression that she was imitating a scene in a film. “After I was kicked out– me, who was the centre of every problem– how long did it take for the situation to collapse?”
I smiled. Or it might have been a grimace. “About a month and one week.”

“You know,” they said, addressing me, perhaps aware and not caring that Kirra had reappeared behind them. That’s what I’m saying, this fucker was immune to her. “I really do hope [UNIVERSITY REDACTED] likes her portfolio. Because history has taught us when someone like her that doesn’t get into art school, it never really ends well.”

The three of us, Rowan, Jane, and I were crossing paths in the dining room when Jane, out of seemingly nowhere, addressed Rowan with, “Hey, Rowan! [Arkady] and I were talking and discussing my dreams and we’re both pretty sure that I was part of the Seelie court, and that I was banished–”
I couldn’t hear the rest of Jane’s sentence, for the expression on Rowan’s face had its own goddamned volume.

“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.”

He went on. “It’s manipulative. It’s all just manipulation. It’s like when Rowan told me that you basically planned to fuck off to Europe if I didn’t get back together with you. And what, just find a nice, historic city as an aesthetic backdrop to drink yourself to death in?”
“[Arkady,]” I said in a rough voice. “What the fuck did you think I was in the process of doing when I met you?”

“You don’t get to decide that! You don’t get to decide fuck-all, you controlling prick! In fact, I wouldn’t put it past you to even take over my own body without my permission!”

I laughed harshly. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say that.” Gods, it got so tempting to tell them. That I’ve been the thin barrier between them and ruin for nearly a decade. But then they coughed up an alarming glob of blood, and well, that was quite the effective conversation killer.