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of ice blue eyes & twisted veins

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“I’ve already said you can’t be here anymore,” Nathaniel says, sinking back into his bed after the initial panic of hearing someone else in the room wears away and he can hear his own thoughts again. Neil gives him a grim look.

‘“He can’t even see me. Why does it matter?” Nathaniel shakes his head and buries his face in his arms.

“I’m acting like a child. I need to ‘man up,’” he says in a half-mocking, half-tired voice. “You can’t be here. I don’t want an imaginary friend anymore. Go away.” Neil narrows his eyes and waves his hands around in an exaggerated motion.

“Poof.” After a few seconds, Nathaniel moves his arm to make sure he’s gone, but sees him staring right back at him with an unimpressed look. “I don’t know how to go.” Nathaniel wants to laugh at his friend’s childish motions but huffs out a breath of air instead.

“I’m sorry. I don’t want him to know about you.” Nathaniel sits up and leans against his bed frame, watching as Neil clambers up onto the bed next to him.

There’s silence for a few moments as they just sit next to each other.

“I don’t know where I go when I’m not here. It’s dark and scary and I like being with you more.” He pauses. “I like acting. I can act like you and you don’t even have to worry about me being bad.”

It’s not fair, it has never been fair, anything that’s ever happened to him, but Nathaniel takes a deep breath and lays back into bed, pulls the covers over his body with shaking fingers and shifts onto his side with his back towards Neil.

“Go.”

 

x

 

Andrew’s phone ringing brings him back to the present, his mind focusing only on the ringing instead of the boy who bolted hours beforehand and left him with more questions than Andrew has ever had, burning the words onto the skin of the inside of his throat. The screen of the phone says Liar, a phone number he had programmed in only a few days before tonight and he wants to just drop his phone and walk away from him because that was only fair, really, but he can’t; Neil is too compelling with his scars and secrets and actions, and so he answers the call and presses his phone to his ear.

“Wh-”

“Andrew, Andrew right?” The frantic voice makes Andrew stop walking and his eyebrows shoot up, words that he would never say tripping over themselves in his head, and how could such a boy have this many secrets? Something in the voice sounded, just, not quite Neil, even though he knew clearly it was him, and it wasn’t just the urgency of it or the fear slipping in almost soundlessly.. Andrew tilts his head. “Yeah, we don’t- I don’t have much time and this is the first number I clicked, and I’m sure I wouldn’t- okay, look, I’ll cut the bullshit, we need your help.” Andrew lets out a slow breath. He doesn’t understand, but he swallows back his questions and he thinks that the feeling is sores forming on his tongue from holding himself back.

“Text me where you are.” He hangs up.

Andrew finds him in an alley, dark and narrow and Andrew would be suspicious of his intentions if he weren’t curled up in a ball on the floor, leaning against a garbage bin and Andrew feels like his stomach has emptied out its contents, and he doesn’t want to be here, probably, or he doesn’t want to see Neil like this. He’s motionless, completely still that Andrew isn’t sure if he’s even breathing, isn’t sure what exactly to expect from him right now.

“Come on,” he says, voice chalky, and when that doesn’t elicit any response, he kicks his shoe towards Neil. It was a mistake, and Andrew should have known better, really; Neil flinches back violently and hunches further into himself.

“No, no, please- ” Andrew feels his muscles stiffen despite telling himself to calm down but he grits his teeth and narrows his eyes as Neil continues muttering to himself words that he can’t hear and isn’t sure he wants to hear. He takes a slow breath to steady himself and sits down next to Neil, a distance away to give them both space. He looks at the sky for a while, because he needs a moment to collect himself and even though the lights in Columbia wash away most of the night view, the stars look like holes in the sky and the moon is giant, shining bright through the idiocy of mankind. He thinks that lights were the worst thing that humans had invented.

“Neil.” His face immediately shoots up and shocking eyes stare right at him. It takes Andrew a few seconds to fully understand the change in Neil’s appearance; burning red hair that looks wet still and eyes that look like they’ve been stuck in an electrical socket, they’re so blue. Andrew swallows down the shiver because he knew this is what it would turn out to be anyways, this entire lie that he knew Neil was, but something about his eyes seem to send ice running through Andrew’s spine. He looks like a puzzle piece is missing from him and it could be the mussed hair or the red in his eyes or both; they’re the kind of red that shouldn’t be talked about, muted discoloration and whispers of tears mixing together dangerously.

Andrew stares right into his eyes, watching as Neil freezes up and looks down at his tense body as if surprised to find himself in such a state. He pauses before uncurling his legs from where they’re tucked into his body and clenches and unclenches his fists slowly like he’s searching for some kind of grasp on the situation. He sighs slowly and turns back to blink at Andrew as if there was nothing in the world more confusing.

“Andrew?” His voice is tired, shaky and uneven and something else that Andrew doesn’t know how he’ll even start trying to piece together and he swallows thickly and watches as Neil seemingly takes in their surroundings. He wouldn’t question it - he knew how panic attacks worked, how trauma worked - but this tiny detail coupled in with every other piece of evidence presented to him tonight made him feel like he should know by now what was going on. “When did you get here?”

“Just now,” he mutters in response, and holds back the urge to ask him what happened and what he needed in order to feel something other than the panic and exhaustion he can see curling in the shadows of his face. He just watches, keeping his eyes only on Neil and the way his sharp jaw stiffens every few seconds as he clenches his teeth and how he looks around the alley cautiously before he’s curling his legs into himself again, this time loosely, and burying his head in his trembling hands.

“Take me. Away.” There’s a pause that tastes like everything bitter in the world and Neil seems to drink it in. “I’m going to cry, probably.” He turns his head and leans the side of his face on his into his arms unsteadily and looks at Andrew with his piercing stare. Andrew raises an eyebrow at Neil’s words because he just wants to understand him. “That’s not a joke. I- we- I can explain things tomorrow, maybe, I don’t fucking know, just, I want to sleep, and Junior is going to cry, I think, so take me.”

Andrew sits silently for a few more moments, taking in the words and all of the options he had in that moment, before eventually making his decision and standing up and staring Neil down, who watches him right back. A tired grin stretches over his stupid face and Andrew wants to rip it off his face and tell him to cry so he just turns away from him as he begins walking towards the parked Maserati waiting for him outside the two shops that formed the alley they were hiding in.

It’s when he’s halfway to the Columbia house and buried in his head that his thoughts are interrupted when he hears the near silent whimpers that escape Neil’s hunched form. There’s a sudden sharp cry and then Neil is trembling again, folding himself into a tiny figure on Andrew’s car seat.

“S-Stop,” Neil manages to spit out, and Andrew tries not to crash the car as his grip on the steering wheel tightens.

“Neil.” He pulls over on the side of the empty road and turns to face Neil. “I am not going to touch you. Listen to me.” His words make Neil turn towards him with a wide-eyed stare, and he feels something in himself shutting down, something deep in his stomach like anger. “I’m going to take you to my house so you can rest. So you can sleep. Is that okay?”

There is no response, Neil just continues to shake and tears continue to fall down, a sight that makes Andrew want to slam his fist into something hard but he doesn’t look away from his blue blue eyes, and after what seems like hours of them just staring at each other, Neil sniffs.

“Not Neil,” he says, his voice quiet and quivering.”I’m not him.” Andrew blinks but doesn’t say anything because he’s been thinking about this the whole ride and this was just another piece of evidence to add to his collection, but he knew asking any sort of question would make everything worse. “Okay,” he says, slowly. “Okay. Who are you?”

There is another silence, something like a hesitant hand reaching out towards him, and god damn it he is not anyone’s answer, but he listens closely to the words and tries to figure out how he can make him feel alright sitting next to him. “Junior.” Andrew tips his head like he understands what’s happening completely.

“Okay, Junior, I’m taking you home.” Junior nods cautiously and leans his weight on the door of the car, burying his head in his arms while Andrew begins to drive again, cursing inside of his head. More silence, so thick he feels like he’ll choke on it, until the boy speaks again.

“I don’t like my name.” Andrew glances at him out of the corner of his eye, watching the way tears still stripe his face as he looks around the car. “I have never told anyone my name.” It’s then that he becomes aware of his voice; slurred, as if he’s drunk but not quite, the letters looping and running into each other as they slip out on unsteady toes, and suddenly, his idea becomes that much firmer inside of his head.

“Change it,” he says blandly. “Do you have any other names?” Junior turns to look at Andrew with his eyebrows drawn close and his hand scrubbing at his face, scratching away his tears.

“Not me. I’m always Junior. I’m scared.” Andrew lets out a breath.

“It’s okay to feel scared, Junior. Right now, though, you are safe.” He continues watching him as he stops at an intersection, and Junior glances at him before looking away quickly. His arm underneath his cheek twitches minutely and he opens his mouth a second later.

“Where are we going?” he asks, and Andrew is, yet again, exasperated at the change in his voice. It sounds like Neil, but Andrew can’t be sure, especially if he really does understand what is going on.

“My house,” he responds, and pauses. “Will that be a problem?”

The boy next to him stiffens and turns towards him. “Why?” he asks, his voice tight and cautious and Andrew feels like he’s going to scoff but he just raises an eyebrow.

“You asked me to take you.” The boy doesn't relax but he nods curtly after staring at him for a few seconds, as if to say of course! I never once thought differently!,

It was obvious to him then that Neil had problems with memory, which was something that gave away a lot - at the moment, at least, because Andrew knew what trauma resurfacing could do to a person, he was certain that Neil wasn’t always so transparent - which made Andrew feel like he was getting something out of him without his permission, taking one of his secrets by force. He did not enjoy it at all and hoped there was a chance in the future to even it out. There were plenty of dead giveaways; memory loss, at least two distinct personalities, and, while he did not have hard proof, judging from the scars on his face, Andrew could say with some certainty that Neil had experienced quite a bit of trauma in his life.

He had read the book in passing, something he had lying around thanks to his first bulk purchase of thrift store books, something that would sometimes allow Andrew to pass the days of nothing with at least some interest, some kind of real purpose. He read everything he could get his hands on at that age, anything that allowed some form of escape. One of the books he had picked up was an informational study on intriguing mental illnesses, and while he did not understand it very much at the time, with his eidetic memory, he could recall every detail at that exact moment.

Dissociative Identity Disorder.

He glanced at Neil from the corner of his eye and watched his rigid movements as he looked out the window into the foggy night.

Showing him the couch about five minutes later, he watched his dazed look for only a second and left him to sleep with a thick blanket.

 

x

 

you don’t want to find out, better off

lying, you don’t want to

cry now, better off dying

 

Morning arrives with too little sun and too much cold, windy and hollowed out and lonely and Andrew stays wrapped up in his blankets for a while before sitting up and stretching languid and creaking bones and breathing in dusted sunlight. Ice is freezing in his veins, he thinks, making him cold and weighing down his blood and bones. Andrew doesn't like the heavy feeling of ice.

He doesn't know how long his hot shower takes, just that his ice has melted away and he feels better and all he wants is some hot chocolate and a muffin. He walks down the stairs quietly, hearing a muffled conversation in the kitchen before he steps into the room and Nicky closes his mouth.

“You left us at the club last night,” he whines, pulling his cellphone away from his ear, “I had to call a friend. More importantly though, the kid from PSU was on the sofa, you asshole. I went down and he was looking around like a scared puppy, and then he saw me and left before I could offer him breakfast, who the fuck did you bring into our house?”

“Shut up, Nicky,” is all Andrew says before grabbing his keys from the counter and picking his jacket up on the way out the door.

 

x

 

Nathaniel opened his eyes to pain splitting his forehead and blood running down his leg.  He panicked, wrenched his arm out of the hands grasping him tightly and let out a cry. His mother, he thought, he needed to get out of these restricting hands and get to his mother and his vision was going black-

“Abram!”

The voice was hissed through venomous lips and he felt his stomach drop before his writhing faltered when he realized it was his mother’s rough hands holding him down. “God fucking dammit!” his mother said, slamming a fist against the wall and then bringing her hand on a strike against Nathaniel’s cheek. Nathaniel flinched only slightly, and kept his head down after, opting to stare at the cut slicing through his leg.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. She stood up and let out an angry breath before crouching down again and getting the alcohol from her side.

“I can’t have you acting like an idiot because it hurts. Grow the fuck up, Abram, we need to go now.” Nathaniel swallowed through the lump in his throat and nodded slightly. She pulled the thread from where it was hanging out of his leg and restarted the stitches.

“I’m sorry for being careless,” he said obediently, “I’ll be more attentive from now on.”

He didn’t know how he had gotten the gash in his leg. He was scared.

 

x

 

Andrew did not work that Saturday afternoon, Glitch was sure, Andrew had told them at some point during the previous night, and yet there Andrew was, sitting in the shop and sipping at his coffee with a notebook on the table and a pen in his hand and some kind of look on his face that seemed better than the usual emptiness. Maybe it was a watered-down determination. He looks up at him when he walks into the shop, caps his pen and looks right at Glitch while he takes another sip of coffee and he feels his stomach knotting itself over and over and he just wants to punch that look off of him. Glitch ignores him as well as the feeling of anger rising steadily and walks through the staff room.

It had been him that called Andrew the night before, and he knew that he owed him an explanation, but there was no reason for it to happen at that very moment, and he had work, so he wasn’t quite sure what Andrew was expecting. Andrew had helped them, quite a lot, but now that he was going to start asking questions, Glitch was not interested in looking at him anymore (even if he was nice to look at). He was not feeling up to the explanations and that’s all anyone would do - not that he had done it before, but it was something he didn’t want to learn the hard way.

Glitch grabs a coffee for himself as he walks out of the staff room, puts it to his lips and swallows harshly when he realizes how hot it is and when he sees Andrew’s gaze following him. Someone inside is trying to remember how to breathe and whatever his coworker is saying to him is echoing in his head, cracked disposition burning into his lungs like fire and something a little more than hopeful, something less composed and curious and a different person inside really wants to talk to Andrew but Glitch really wants to just not exist at all right now, doesn’t want to fuck up.

The rest of the afternoon is blurry and Glitch hates how much he’s thinking about Andrew throughout the rest of it, how heightened everything is whilst he stares at him; he can’t process hot cups burning into the palm of his hand and the pads of his fingers and a five dollar bill from a twenty and somehow the wisps of classical music catching in his ears through his buds is more like white noise and less like Chopin. He can’t stop staring at the spaces between the lines in Andrew’s notebook paper and how empty it all looks, how he’s not sure if the coffee shop became darker along with the cloudy sky outside or if Andrew just makes everything melt around him and fuck, they’re so interested in someone who most of them have never even spoken to. It’s when Glitch is waiting at the bus stop after his shift, bathing in city light and watching the way his breath precariously seeps out of his mouth and disappears when he hears Andrew’s voice.

“I didn’t think you looked like a waiter.” The words are less of an accusation and more like absent minded thoughts.

“I don’t look like a waiter,” Glitch says, keeping the irritation out of his voice. I don’t look like anything, really.

“I think you look like more than that,” he says loftily, like he’s not even speaking to Glitch but maybe the moon covered by the layer of city smog and the angry looking clouds and it doesn’t really make that much sense to him, that someone can look like they enjoy thinking so much. Andrew blinks. “You could be more than a waiter.”

“I am more than a waiter,” Glitch says, curling his hands into fists and pressing his nails against his palms, shoving them into his pockets. “I’m an artist. I sell things online, sometimes.” He turns his face towards Andrew. “What are you?”

“I’m nothing.” The response makes Glitch shiver. Andrew reaches into his pocket and pull out a carton of cigarettes, offering it to Glitch first, who declines with a slight shake of his head. Neil’s annoying habit was Neil’s alone. And he’s lost, watching Andrew take a hit and blowing the air out through a steady steam that mixes carelessly with his breath. Glitch heaves out a sigh of defeat.

“So let’s talk.”

 

x

 

Neil didn’t really know who he was.

He had memories: running alongside his best friend and laughing, his mind not at all plagued by the anxieties that seemed to be all that he was now.

(Neil turned the corner sharply, his breath coming in stabbing huffs.)

He had a name: Neil Josten.

(Neil didn’t bother looking over his shoulder; he knew his father’s men were close behind, practically stepping on his heels. )

He knew that when he was not shoved into this nightmare he had a world inside that was only better than this because it was just nothing. Blackness and a floating feeling that time was passing. Sometimes he heard other voices. Sometimes he heard nothing at all. He was not sure which he preferred.

(Neil let out a painful cry as the gun let out a horrifying sound and a heat streaked through the skin at the edge of his vest.)

Sometimes, he felt the presence of others in forms other than voices. He knew he was not alone, most of the time. The sense, the ping that there was someone there, maybe not completely understanding but aware that there was someone else with them, too. Sometimes he looked out of eyes hazily and watched the body that he knew, felt, deep in his bones, was not his. He watched it move, felt someone other than him controlling it. It always went away after a few seconds. He was either pushed out and on his own or pushed back into his black space on his own.

(Neil felt the breath leave his body in one smooth motion. He was pinned to the ground.)

He knew he was not his own. He knew he was not a real person. He knew that this life he sometimes lead, it was not his to live. It never would be.

(Neil slipped away.)

 

x

 

Too many of the alters were around, buzzing inside of Glitch’s head as they looked out over the railing of the roof and down into the street, crawling with cars zipping by. Glitch stares down without turning towards Andrew. The silence tastes awkward but maybe that’s just Glitch, Andrew swinging his legs over the railing and staring straight up into the sky.

“DID,” he says, and Glitch feels their pulse skyrocket. They nod, almost ashamed but not quite because at least Andrew knows what the disorder is. They have never had to explain it to anyone, only the symptoms to psychiatrists, but they could imagine how complex it sounds to someone with no clue what it is and how difficult it would be to explain and they were relieved.

“I don’t really know how much I can say about it without getting Neil into trouble,” Glitch says, even though Neil is there and listening to make sure they don’t go overboard, “but since you did help us I thought we should give you some detail about it. I didn’t expect you to know what it is.”

“I don’t know that much,” Andrew mutters, “but I figured it was something like that.” Glitch shakes their head and then nods, feeling all of their nerves jumbled into one.

“You can ask questions. I probably won’t be able to answer them all.” Glitch leans their head forward and crosses their legs to rest their arms, looking down into the front of the apartment complex instead of up into the threatening sky like Andrew is doing, taking in everything around like it’s soaking into them, into every part of their being. Andrew does not answer for a while, instead taking in drag after drag of his cigarette before letting it drop over the railing of the roof. He watches it go down and Glitch watches his eyes become distant.

“Truth for a truth,” Andrew says, not moving his face but shifting his eyes towards Glitch. They barely nod before Andrew says, “Who are you?”

They swallow. “Right now, we’re just us. It can be hard to tell who’s around. But,” they pause, “but you can call me Glitch.”

Andrew’s blank face does not at all change, and Glitch can feel the beginnings of a shiver nicking its way down their back, something low swooping in their stomach as they wait, wait, wait, for something, but they’re not really sure what they want Andrew to do. Anything, really.

He only lets out a breath, slowly. “Your turn.” They stay silent for a while.

“What are you afraid of?” they finally ask, and they’re not sure if they’re saying it to Andrew or to the moon or the chipped paint on the fence railing in front of them. They kind of want to shout out O Romeo, Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? into the night and pretend they’re in Capulet’s orchard and they can smell flowers and romance instead of cheap silence and midwinter, but Glitch has never been good at being interesting and Andrew doesn’t even know enough about them, certainly doesn’t know that Neil likes to act, or at least used to, so they stay quiet even though they’re seventy percent sure they can recite Juliet’s monologue back even with a heavy mind, without Andrew minding or even mentioning it the next day. They’ve almost forgotten they’ve asked Andrew a question when the boy gives a fleeting glance over at Glitch and responds, “Heights.” And maybe that isn’t what they were looking for, but they take it with a pensive nod anyways and eye Andrew’s legs, still dangling precariously like the cigarette held loosely in between his fingers, ready to fall.

“How many of you are there?” he asks, almost idly, bringing the cigarettes to his lips. Glitch struggles with their response.

“There are nine main alters. There’s probably around twenty fragments,” they settle on. “Is there something that you like doing?”

“No,” Andrew replies, and then a second later, “writing. Only sometimes.” Glitch’s lips twitch and they feel light and heavy at the same time, relaxed but perched and ready to run, and they don’t know which feelings belong to who. Glitch doesn’t know what they think about Andrew, fear or comfort or interest or something else, but whatever it is feels like it’s poison down their throat.

 

x

 

“Why do you speak like that?” the teacher asked, her eyes narrowed and head tilted. Nathaniel blinked up at her in confusion.

“Like what?” His teacher looked at him like she didn’t know what to make of him.

“When you perform, you speak in an English accent. This isn’t an English play. You don’t have to do it.”

Nathaniel felt like he was drowning, drowning, drowning. Was he slipping up? He didn’t even like acting, it always passed by like he hadn’t done anything at all, but was he switching up his accents by accident?

No, he thought, he wasn't that stupid. He would have realized because that's what he was trained to do. He and his mother were still alive because of his caution.

He glared at his drama teacher. “I do not.” She let out an exaggerated sigh.

“Yes you do, you can literally ask the entire class.” Nathaniel pushed her aside and walked away. He didn't need anything that she was saying right now.

It was only a few days later when she’s setting up the projector at the end of a class that passed by too quickly that Nathaniel understood what she meant.

“Listen to yourself. Why do you do that?” she asked with some sort of smugness in her words but still with a hint of irritated confusion.

Nathaniel didn’t hear her. He stared at the projector, watching his movements carefully and feeling a tug of recognition at the way his body was standing, the way his arms moved smoothly and quickly as he spoke, the fucking voice coming out of his mouth.

The English accent, one all too familiar, one that he spoke in himself before it developed into a more American sounding accent when his father made fun of him for it. The one he ‘made’ his imaginary friend have because he actually liked the sound of the way the words formed from his mouth all those years ago.

All of it felt like it was too much as he watched the way Neil controlled his movements in such a languid way. He tasted bile.

And so he ran.

 

x

 

“Junior likes you,” Glitch says suddenly, turning their body towards Andrew. “He’s not out often. Or at all. But he’s always around inside, and he’s around right now. He says he likes you.” Andrew doesn’t even glance at them, almost wants to shake his head to rid the warm thoughts threatening to spill inside his head. “Myosotis wants to meet you.” That gets Andrew’s attention, and he turns towards Glitch, something inside of him not quite sure what he should be thinking right now, how exactly he’s supposed to respond. Glitch continues speaking. “Technically, she is here right now. Most of us are co-conscious, or, like - present in this conversation, because we wanted to meet you. I think Myosotis wants to talk to you on her own. Is that okay?”

Andrew watches Glitch for a few second, trying to unpack everything they’ve said to him that night. And, fuck, yeah, maybe he was interested in learning more, but he tells himself that it’s just the cold night air making him feel like that. But there’s just so much to them, to the way the person right next to him looks like Neil, but is so completely not Neil that it’s mesmerizing and he feels like he’ll become trapped watching the way that they work. The way Neil’s body is sitting upright with one knee curled up underneath his arms as his eyes are trained straight ahead and not up or down, just looking and not searching. The way his face is relaxed, not in any way tense or poised towards the quickest escape route. The way his voice sounds drifting in the night air, curling around the edges and not Neil’s at all. The way Glitch seems just so completely like a different person, even with the same scars and hair and eyes that Neil has.

“Okay,” Andrew says, and watches Glitch nod. They glance at Andrew one time before looking away and then looking back at him a second later. A small smile spreads across their lips.

“Hello,” they say, and Andrew feels like he’s about to fall over. That’s it?

“That was quick,” he says, in lieu of a proper greeting. It’s Myosotis now, he reminds himself, and looks right at her with his controlled expression. She breaks into a bigger grin and looks away from him, moving her hands away from her knee and tucking her legs underneath her body neatly, in such an undulated motion that Andrew feels like watching any tiny movement she makes carefully, dissecting it, and fuck he was not meant to get so invested in these people.

Myosotis runs a hand through long, curly auburn hair and pulls at is as she speaks. “It can be quick, yeah. I was already around, so it was easy to come forward this time.”

“Is it just you now?” Andrew finds himself asking, and right after it slips from his mouth he bites his tongue.

“No. A few of them are still here watching. But I’m in the most control now.” Andrew twists his body off of the railing and lowers himself next to Myosotis, his body positioned away from her.

“Why? What do you want?”

She smiles, small and sly but still pleasant and not at all something that would belong to Neil. “If you are going to get close to Neil, I need to know that you have the right intentions. We are not some freakshow, and we are not here to entertain you. Do you understand that?”

And he feels something burning inside of him, some sort of fire that is small but hungry and he feels like he’s about to stand up and walk away, from all of this fucking mess. He was not used to someone being protected from him, someone gouging him to see if he was a threat to their safety, and he understood it; it was completely fair that Myosotis, that all of them would have these worries, but he was so used to being the one protecting others that he had forgotten what it felt like to want to be trusted enough to be let in. And he was angry about that because how much has he been trying to push Neil away? He was a fucking problem.

“Yes,” he responds anyways, shutting down the anger in his gut quickly and efficiently. Myosotis nods, apparently satisfied with the short answer. She mumbles an “I’m glad” which Andrew does not question, tipping his head back against the railing. He takes in a deep breath of ice and moonlight.

“Where is Neil?” he asks, gritting his teeth against the words trying to push their way out of his mouth, silently cursing at himself in his head for being so curious about such a small being.

(Neil wasn’t small in any way besides perhaps physically, but Andrew ignores that.)

Myosotis just smiles and looks away from him as she closes her eyes.

 

x

 

Nathaniel opened his eyes with a violent start, strategically maneuvering quickly but quietly towards the gun he had flung underneath his pillow. He laid with his hand wrapped around it tightly as he took deep breaths and stayed silent, listening. He heard his mother next to him shift, heard the weightless slipping of her hand towards her pillow in such a way that even someone looking for the sound would have missed it. However, Nathaniel knew by now how to listen intently with everything he had.

“Abram?” she said near silently, no signs of sleep crawling in her words. He envied that silently as he tried to clear his head.

“Sorry,” he whispered back, at the same volume. “I need to use the bathroom.” His mother let out a deep rush of air and sat up on their dozens of blankets.  

“Hurry up.”

Nathaniel crawled out of their makeshift bed and made his way to the bathroom door, looking back at his mother only once as she watched him walk with dull eyes.

Being on the run for two years did that to someone, he figured.

He shut the bathroom door as quietly as he could, the noise of the door lock clicking into place basically non-existent, and settled a criticizing eye onto his reflection in the mirror. Mud brown eyes, long dusty blond hair, and Nathaniel Wesninski was now a Thomas Luna. It wasn’t much of a difference, but the biggest things about Nathaniel’s appearance was his blue eyes that seemed to glow, the red hair like a flame. He took a deep breath and turned away from his face that still too-closely resembled his father.

Only seconds later did Nathaniel freeze, his body tensing up as his wide eyes stared down at his legs in horror. Pink cuts lined up and down his thighs, forming intersecting rivers over the entire area, and maybe the now more prominent itch of them had been what had woken him up. He tried to swallow, but there was something caught in his throat and he didn’t know how to get rid of it. He couldn’t breathe.

This was not him. Nathaniel did not and would have never tried to harm himself. Now his memories seemed even more foggy than when he had first woken up, slipping out between his fingers and onto the floor.

Maybe that wasn’t the right way to say it. Whole chunks of time had been stolen from Nathaniel, like they had never been there in the first place, and he wanted to scream because there was something terribly, horribly wrong with everything that his eyes were taking in. No one else could have done this to him; they had had to run and fight from a distance, but he had never faced anyone up close. No other person could have done this to him. Nathaniel could not have done this himself.

Why didn’t he remember?

 

x

 

It’s black, opaque and dull and he can’t see anything in a way that’s voidless, everything and nothing at the same time. “Andrew,” he breathes out, and it’s a secret for some reason. A whisper. His veins are shifting underneath his skin like cursive letters. He remembers everything that happened but he doesn’t know what’s going on. All he knows is that Andrew is looking at him like there are translucent stars hiding in his eyes and he’s just trying to make out their shape.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, and Andrew finally looks away from him, harshly twisting away.

“I hate you,” is all Andrew says in response, and Neil feels like scoffing but bites his lip to keep his irritation inside.

“I know that,” he begins, pauses, and swallows before continuing. “I know it’s a bit much, so… I know it’s hard to understand, or something. I can leave, if that’s what you want, or-”

“Truth for truth,” Andrew interrupts. “Don’t lie to me again, rabbit. Who are you running from?”

Neil swallows thicky, his mouth going dry, and there are alarm bells ringing in his head, telling him to get out of there before something happens, and he wants to leave, he thinks, but he just looks down into his lap and frowns. “My father.” He doesn’t know who allowed him to tell the truth instead of standing and bolting that very second, and he doesn’t know what reaction he expects from Andrew, but indifference wasn’t one of them.

And maybe he’s a little bit angry that Andrew knows this is a big thing for him but treats it like some topic about the weather; he wants to ask something just as biting, but there’s someone in his head telling him to just keep his fucking mouth shut, Andrew is not targeting him and-

“What are you hiding underneath your arm bands?” Neil asks, and he’s not sure why the words rush out of his lips and spill on the floor between them like broken glass, but they do, harsh and ineloquent and he’s stuck in his head, the perfect what-if made of melting crayon wax.

If Andrew was affected in any way by the question, he doesn’t show it.

“The same thing that you are hiding underneath your knee-length shorts, Josten.

And Neil has tipped over, or he feels like he has, at least, as he rushes to pull down the ends of his shorts, only to notice that they had not slipped up at all. “It wasn’t me,” he says, urgently, needing him to know that he would never do something so risky, and he feels lightheaded. “Kit, it was Kit, I would never try something like that, risk our lives like that- she, she didn’t like us and she was scared but-”

Andrew slips his arm bands off, one at a time, dropping them into Neil’s lap. He holds his arms up, in between them but not once turning to look at them himself or to watch Neil’s reaction. Neil hesitates and looks down at the scars he knew Andrew was hiding.

They’re mostly faded, stark white against already pale skin, mountains and valleys crisscrossing from his wrists to his elbows. They’re faded but they’re there, and that’s all Neil needs to know.

He turns away and begins to lift his shorts to reveal some of his own scars, the few scattered on his thighs from Neil’s younger teen years, but Andrew snaps a hand towards his wrist to stop the movement. “Don’t,” he says, his voice dark. “Show me a different time. We’re even now.” Neil slips his hands from Andrew’s grasp and Andrew releases him immediately, reaching again for the arm bands. Neil doesn’t miss how heavy they are, and he did not predict that there would be sheaths in the cloth. He feels himself shiver and he’s not sure that it’s only a result of the cold stabbing his legs.

They exchange more truths for a while, trading easy things like information about Neil’s system and Andrew’s family. They talk well into the night, sharing glances and secrets and Neil likes to think that he’s doing something good for himself, for the first time in a while.

 

x

 

Nathaniel swallowed deeply as he sat down in his chair, looking around the room nervously and scanning for any sign of trouble like his mother had taught him. They would be leaving soon, she told him, they were being followed. Now more than ever he needed to be careful. Nathaniel closed his eyes for a few seconds, wanting just a moment of silence that didn’t come before opening them and taking his books out of his bag.

When he flipped to the page that was indicated on the board in the front of the room, a folded note slipped out from between the pages. He stared at it in shock and a sick feeling sunk down Nathaniel’s stomach. He felt like the world was spinning too fast as he picked it up slowly.

It was not unusual for kids to make fun of Nathaniel. He only talked when he had to, he didn’t laugh, he didn’t do anything that all of the other kids did. He felt something twisting around in his stomach.

It was not unusual for kids to make fun of Nathaniel, but this had been going on since before New Mexico. He took the note between his fingers and unfolded it.

your stupidity will get you and your mother killed

you are going to die

i will kill you myself

who are you

Nathaniel took a breath that seemed to choke him. He folded the note and placed it back into the book. The thing was, Nathaniel had no idea who could have been doing this. He kept his school supplies in his backpack that he never let out of his sight because it also contained what he may need to survive on his own if he were to get separated from his mother. He had never let anyone near it. He didn’t know what to think. He didn’t know what was happening.

He pushed it away until a few days later when his mother found the collection of notes while he was in the shower. He walked out of their bathroom, drying his hair when he saw his mother sitting at the counter, her shoulders tense and her breathing shallow. She looked up at him and he immediately realized he was in trouble.

“Isaac,” she said, her tone dripping with something he knew from experience was flammable. He took a breath to steady himself. He looked at the slips of paper crumpled in her hand that was trembling from anger and his open backpack besides her. He took a moment to assess his options, just like she had taught him. He knew the only options here were to accept his fate and not fight back. It didn’t stop the fear that was bubbling in his stomach.

“Yes,” he said, quietly, almost whispering. She stood up and walked towards him, slowly, her fist squeezing hard around the slips.

“When were you going to tell me.” It wasn’t a question.

Nathaniel didn’t bother trying to step back from his mother. He looked down at his feet.

“Are you getting attached to this place? Would you risk your life, our lives, to stay? After everything I’ve done for you?” Her voice was dangerous. Nathaniel felt his brain beginning to fuzz at the edges. He didn’t move, didn’t look up. Please, he thought, Please. No.

Later, he would awaken with dark bruises all over his body and lying in a hotel bed, his mother curled up next to him, her arms wrapped around his waist.

He thought he had another blackout then. His mother had taken them out of there, but they were not quick enough to escape the men waiting for them in the black vehicle. But they had escaped and they were safe, and his mother had saved them after Nathaniel had done something stupid. That was all he needed, to know he at least had her.

From somewhere deep inside of him that Nathaniel had no access to, Neil shook his head at the memories of his mother beating another fracture into the mess that was Nathaniel’s brain. Hello, Isaac, he thought bitterly.

 

x

 

They’re a bit like kites with ripped strings and red-ringed eyes from staying up talking into the night, wisps of conversation tangled into the wind messily and all Andrew knows is that Neil is interesting. He can see the words from their conversations printed on Neil’s skin when he blinks and they wrap around his fingertips cautiously and Andrew is making images in the shadows of the streets and closing his eyes to see if the blackness swallows the images like spilt paint on a canvas but they’re still there, burning into the backs of his eyes in monochromatic radioactive decay.

“Why don’t you ever smile?” Neil asks, and Andrew can feel the waves of or show any other kind of emotion that radiate off of his body, pushing against his chest in their struggle. Andrew debates his response for a while, staring at the barely visible stars pulsing in the sky.

“Only happy people smile.”

Neil lets out a dry chuckle, a sort of humorless scoff that sounds like a cough forced its way up his throat, and Andrew turns to looks at him. Neil doesn’t look back but smiles, big, and it looks more like a grimace than anything, but Andrew watches it stretch over his face in a painful looking manner.

“I don’t think that’s true.”

 

x

 

turn down the voice inside my head 'cause

heaven only knows why we feel this emptiness

but i will climb out, find another view now

i've found you

 

“You were the first number in my phone,” Neil bites out between a yawn and he can feel Andrew staring at him. “That’s why Glitch called you.”

“Aaron?” Andrew asks, and Neil presses his lips shut but answers a few seconds later anyways.

“I have him under ‘short prick’.” Neil thinks that Andrew almost looks amused. The expression is wiped clean a moment later.

“And me?”

Neil swallows before answering. “Cigarette boy.”

They sit there silently, watching the sun peeking its eyes above the horizon. He feels airy, something of a weight lifted off of him, and he’s not sure if that’s a good thing; did he give someone information he never has before, or did they steal it?

The latter is immediately shot down when he glances at Andrew, watching the way his tired eyes are staring out at the vast space in the pink sky. He looks like someone out of a film, all pretty lashes and jumbled secrets. He swallows the thoughts in his brain about this boy down and shifts his eyes away quietly, the small strike in his gut like wildfire that Neil does not want to deal with.

Andrew stands up from his place on the floor and dusts off his jeans in a quick motion. Neil watches with his own smothered exhaustion and does not tear his eyes away this time, watching him in the same way he is watching him. Andrew is slow in taking him in, looking his fill. Neil does not break his gaze.

“You need a ride home?” he asks finally.

 

x

 

the stairs creak as i

sleep it’s keeping me awake it’s

the house telling you to close your eyes

 

Andrew sits and watches as Bee stirs her spoon in the mug of hot chocolate. She looks at Andrew and smiles when she walks back to her seat across from him and hands him his mug.

“How have you been feeling, Andrew?” she asks, and Andrew sighs. He’s tired from staying up into the morning with Glitch and Myosotis and Neil. He’s pretty sure someone else came out at some point, but all he wants to do is forget about the night and get his mind to just shut the fuck up about them.

“I’m tired. I met a boy. I believe he is one of your patients. Neil Josten. And Glitch, and Myosotis, and Junior,” he says, watching Bee as her eyes widen for just a second before she smiles at him wider. “He’s interesting.”

“I believe you,” she says, and her eyes are dancing. “What is your opinion of them? Do you like them?”

“I don’t like anyone,” Andrew says automatically, and pauses to think about how he actually feels about them when Bee just looks at him expectantly. “He is interesting,” he repeats.

“When did you meet?”

“A while ago, we work at the same coffee shop. I met him yesterday.”

“Did you talk?”

“Yes. Quite a lot. Mostly Neil. I told him… about my scars.” Bee’s eyebrows rise at that, the surprise evident on her face for only a second before she composes herself.

“How did it feel opening up to someone?” Andrew considers it. He didn’t even hesitate before stripping off his armbands, because he knew that Neil would understand and would not question it. They had been talking all night, and even that was not enough for him to completely trust him, but the fact that they both needed to make sure the other had the right intentions made Andrew feel more comfortable with the situation. He understood what it meant to scrutinize until he knew what kind of person the other was, and he understood that Neil and his system would only do what they thought was best for each other.

He had not felt any other particular feeling towards sharing something about himself. He had owed him, after all. Andrew only guessed what Neil was hiding, based on the nervous tugging on his shorts as well as his sleeves and t-shirt hem. He hadn’t known that they were self-harm scars, something he only realized after his slip about another alter, but he knew traumatized when he saw it. He knew it in others and in himself.

“It was okay. We had an exchange. It didn’t feel like anything.” He paused. “It wasn’t bad,” he added after a few seconds. Bee nodded with some kind of pride in her eyes.

“I’m happy for you, Andrew.”

 

x

 

well i can’t bite my tongue i’ve

been avoiding sleep so i’ll be

self deceived waiting for some clarity

 

“My name is Daniel,” he says, his wide eyes taking in the glass figurines and knowing to stay away because they break easily, his mother had told him that, and he looked at the small crocheted bee sitting on the woman’s desk and the little toys scattered about. He didn’t really know where he was, just that he wasn’t supposed to be out, probably, but he couldn’t hear his mother around so he stayed and looked at the walls and the chairs and tables.

“Hello, Daniel,” the woman says pleasantly. “How are you doing today?”

“Good! My mother let me water her flowers this morning,” he says proudly, and then, because he remembered his manners, “how are you?”

“I’m doing very well. Do you know your mother’s name?” He nods ecstatically - he was very proud when he finally nailed the pronunciation.

“Myosotis,” he drawls out slowly, and then, “it’s a flower name, did you know? They’re small blue things and my mother laughed and planted a bunch of them and said they were very fitting for Neil.”

“Do you like flowers, Daniel?” He nods vigorously.

“They are beautiful,” he says cheerfully. “But my mother isn’t around. Have you seen her? She has the most gorgeous wings, you couldn’t miss it.”

“I believe she just left,” the woman says kindly. He frowns and sets his hands down to his sides. He shouldn’t be out.

“I just remembered I’m not allowed here,” he says, and looks around for his mother. “Where is she?”

“Can you hear her?” He frowns further at her words and feels something like panic. But that wasn’t his thing, he thinks, and it’s pushed aside as he looks around once more.

“No, I- she’s not here. Why isn’t she here?”

“My name is Bee.” He looks at her with wide eyes. The tears don’t fall.

“Like the little thing on your desk!” She nods happily.

“Exactly. Why are you not allowed out?”

“There is a bad man I am not allowed to talk about,” he responds, and then puts his hand over his mouth. He wasn’t supposed to say that. “I’m not allowed to-”

“You’re okay, Daniel,” she says. He smiles a little, too.

“He did bad things, to my mother and her friends, did you know? No, you didn’t, because I never said anything. But I don’t really believe that. How bad can he be, right? I’ve never met him but Neil has been running from him, I think, and Neil can be dramatic. I don’t think anyone can be that bad to another person.” He speaks in broken sentences and Bee looks at him with such a sad smile that he wants to go up to her and hug her so she doesn’t look so heartbroken.

“I think he was a very cruel man, Daniel. Neil has a very good reason for wanting to stay away.”

Before he can stand up and wrap his arms around her shoulders, he’s no longer looking at her but staring at the blue door in front of him. He lets out a cry and stands up from his place on the floor. He doesn’t want to be here anymore, he hates this room, he just wants friends that are his own age and he can’t stand that shade of blue or the shape of the truck that he trips over on his haste to get through the door. He picks up the truck and throws it at the wall.

 

x

 

calm down breathe out maybe i’m scared or

maybe i’m just unprepared am i worthless pointless or

am i pathetic lost but i can’t get it i’m not dead

just yet

 

Neil bangs on the coffee table with his fist, once, barely holding back a sharp cry from the pain as well as the muffled mess in his brain. He feels like punching something, anything to get these goddamn voices away. He takes a deep breath but nothing calms down the panic clawing in his stomach. He walks to the kitchen from his place on the coach, where he had been napping on his day off from both school and work and where he was plagued by the continuous nightmares that only woke him after hours of torture. The black and white nature of the dreams, the complete lack of color other than swallowing blacks and evaporating greys, as well as the flashbacks to the gutted animals shuffled between fields of flowers told Neil they were not his own dreams he was living through. They were Kit’s.

Neil felt like his entire body had gone cold in his sleep, rough and tense and he just wanted to take a nap after a few stressful days of university and the people staring at him at his workplace and he wanted to be fucking normal, wanted to for once have a nap that involved getting rest instead of getting nightmares that were not even his. He felt the blood rushing in his stomach and he heard Glitch’s voice telling him to breathe, calm down, get something to drink, distract yourself, breathe for fuck’s sake-

Daniel runs down towards his room from the kitchen, beelining for the small box hidden underneath the bed in the only bedroom of the house. His movements are rushed and excited and exactly what the movements of a ten-year-old should be and he didn’t have a lot of time, so quickly he snatches it open and laughs delightedly at the sight of his toys. His breath hitches and he feels a tug in his chest - happiness. He is alone, physically, but in his head, he has his mother, and that was all he needed, really. His earlier tantrum is forgotten. Myosotis’ calming voice talks to him while he assembles the small house and grabs the small figures sitting in the box.

He plays for a while, with his mother voicing one of the figures for him and laughing along with him, until the phone in his back pocket rings. Immediately he reaches down, ignoring Myosotis telling him to wait until the ringing stops. He pulls the phone in front of him and sees the name Matt displayed on the screen, and inside him, the voice telling him to stop stops. He only wonders about it for a second before pressing the green accept button and putting the phone to his ear.

“Yes?” he says, high-pitched and dragging the word out longer than necessary.

There is silence for a few seconds before he hears a startled, “Neil?” Daniel giggles a little at the name. He knew Neil. He’d never spoken to him. He wanted to. He seemed nice and maybe he’d want to play with him like his mother did, even though he was aware of how much he always panicked and how dramatic he could be. But Daniel only came out to calm Neil down, so maybe if they talked together, they could balance each other out. That’s what he thought.

“No, I’m Daniel. Is this Matt?” There’s another pause before there was some shuffling and mumbling on the other side of the phone.

“Yeah, it’s Matt, is Neil there?” Daniel hums and closes his eyes to focus on any voices that may be able to tell him if Neil was available to talk. He hears nothing. Not even Myosotis, and that worries him because who would play with him now?

“No,” he says, and he swallows down the small tremor in his voice before continuing. “They left me all alone. Will you come play with me?”

“You’re alone with Neil’s phone? Where are you, buddy?” Daniel hears the sound of keys in the background. His heart rate picks up excitedly.

“I’m at Neil’s house, are you friends with him? Do you know where it is? I don’t.” There’s more mumbling in the background before Matt responds.

“I’ll be right there, don’t leave, okay?”

Silence. Daniel moves the phone away and sees that Matt hung up and he tries to fight the feeling of alone from crawling up his throat from deep inside of his stomach. He feels it clutching his chest. So he does what Myosotis tells him to do when he’s nervous and there’s no way to fix it - he distracts himself. He feels the terror in the back of his mind, always watching, always looming, and he decides to look back at the phone and message someone. He’s never done it before and maybe that would stop him from feeling so alone.

He opens up the texting app and first notices Matt’s name. He grins widely. Im doing what my mother told me, he writes, and sends it, eagerly waiting for a response. He doesn’t get one after a full minute (he stares at the clock), so after a few seconds of pouting and almost-crying, he exists Matt’s messages and clicks on the next name.

Hello cigarette boy , he writes proudly, I am all alone and Matt will not answer me and i recognize your name. who are you besides the cigarette boy?

He waits a full minute again. This time, tears do pop out of his eyes and he puts down his phone for a few seconds before lifting it back up. However, before he has a chance to exit Andrew’s messages, the phone vibrates. Daniel’s eyes widen as two messages from Andrew roll in.

im andrew

junior?

Daniel frowns at the name; he’s heard his mother talk to the mean person about Junior. They were not happy when they talked about him. Daniel is not a sour subject.

I am Daniel it’s nice to meet you Andrew

Matt said he is coming

Andrew: where is neil

He had a panic attack so my mother told me to help him, Daniel replies matter-of-factly. Before he has a chance to send another message, there’s a knock at the door. He gets up swiftly and lets the phone drop to the floor. He runs towards the door.

When he opens it, a large man is standing over him with a concerned expression.

“Neil?” he says, sounded confused and relieved, “Are you okay? What-” Daniel shakes his head and grins up at the man.

“Are you Matt?” he asks, and Matt’s expression wipes completely clean before he’s narrowing his eyes and tilting his head back. “My name is Daniel, it’s nice to meet you, Matt. My mother left me out here and I don’t know how to get back on my own.” Matt is silent.

“Daniel,” he says, pronouncing the name slowly, separating the syllables like it’s a foreign language. Daniel giggles and takes the man by his hand, pulling him inside quickly. Matt barely has the chance to close the door behind him. Daniel leads Matt to Neil’s bedroom and immediately crouches down, letting go of Matt’s large hand and reaching out for one of his dolls.

“Hey, man, are you-”

“One time,” Daniel interrupts, setting up his dolls once more. “My old dad told me I wasn’t allowed to play with toys. So he’s not my dad anymore.” Matt’s eyes are wide and uncertain. Daniel grins at him. “You’re tall.”

“Neil?”

“No,” Daniel says, his voice teetering on whining, which his mother told him not to do. “Neil is big. And he always has panic attacks. That’s what my mom says. I don’t have panic attacks.” The phone buzzes once at his side, but he doesn’t look away from Matt, peering up at him.

“Who is your mom?” Matt asks, slowly, like he’s not sure what else to say. Daniel looks back at his dolls, hands one to Matt.

“I don’t see her when I’m here. But we still talk. But she isn’t here right now, she left me all alone. Can you believe that? Where do you think she went?”

“Daniel,” Matt says, carefully, deliberately, “do you know who Betsy is? Dr. Dobson?” Daniel looks at him, surprised. He nods vehemently.

“Bee! I talked to her once! She reminds me of my mother! Can we see her?” Matt nods, and then shakes his head.

“Do you have your phone? We can call her right now.” Daniel nods excitedly and pulls the phone from its place next to him and gives it to Matt. He fumbles on the phone for a while, frowning. Daniel watches him. He giggles a little.

“Your hair is curly. My hair is curly, too.” Matt looks up at him. His expression is complicated. “My eyes are brown like yours. My mother thinks they’re pretty.”

The phone is ringing. Daniel grins. Bee answers with a gentle, “Dr. Dobson.”

“Hi!” Daniel says, loud, and Matt shoots him a look.

“Hey, Bee, I’m at Neil’s house right now. Uh, I’m not sure how…”

“Is Neil there?” she asks, her voice taking a more serious tone. Matt runs his fingers through his hair.

“I… no?” Bee hears his hesitance and there’s a short pause. She lets out a small sigh.

“Is it Daniel?”

“I, yeah, it’s Daniel.”

“May I speak with him?”

“Hi, Bee! I missed you! My mother said I wasn’t allowed to talk to you anymore but I think you’re great.” His voice is rushed. There is another pause.

“Hello, Daniel. It’s nice to speak to you again. Where is your mother?”

“She’s, um, I can’t hear her. It’s like when we spoke again. She left me alone.”

“She didn’t leave you, Daniel. I think she’s trying very hard to speak with you right now. Hey, will you mind going outside for me? Maybe take a look at the flowers she has growing in the front yard?” Daniel smiles at Matt, whose expression has not at all smoothed out.

“One time she let me water the flowers, and she was really nervous, and halfway through she held my arm because I did too much and she was upset with me,” Daniel said, standing up from his place on Neil’s floor. He tugged on Matt’s hand to follow. “But then I said sorry and she was okay.”

Daniel stands outside of the house, staring at all of the brightly colored flowers, some in beds in the ground and others growing on bushes. “I’m sleepy,” he mumbles, and closes his eyes.

Myosotis takes over immediately and pushed Daniel back deep into his bedroom. She looks at Matt and her heart is pounding - one more person, it seems. She lets out a huff of air and pulls the phone closer to her.

“Hello, Bee. It’s nice to speak to you again. It looks like I lost control of him again, we should talk about this in our next session. I’ll see you then.” Before Bee can respond, she hangs up. She looks up at Matt’s disgruntled expression and smiles at him.

“Goodbye.”

She turns around to walk into the house and stops at Matt’s cry.

“Hold on, what? Are you okay? Who-”

“Oh, dear Matthew. I’ve spoken to you once, but it was a while ago and I believe I was clever enough that time. Neil is fine. You are a nice person, on the outside, but I need you to leave now.”

“Look, I don’t know what’s going on, but we need to talk about this-”

“Call Bee if you want to talk about it. We’re not here for you and Neil needs to stay safe. Bye, now.”

She walks inside the house and shuts the door behind her.

 

x

 

questioning myself while

i’m running in circles searching for something

else

 

“Hey, Matt.”

Neil answers the phone with a yawn stuck in his throat and his hands rubbing tired eyes, his brain muddled with lost time. On the other side of the phone, Matt laughs nervously and Neil can hear the uncertainty in his voice.

“Neil?” Neil’s mind is awake at once, and his stomach fills with dread. Something has happened.

“Is everything okay?” he asks, and he feels something telling him that of course Matt wouldn’t last either. Whatever he was to him, Neil knew it must be over. He must have done something. Matt sighs.

“Yeah, man, I was just calling to make sure you’re okay. Are you?” Now, Neil frowns in confusion. Matt is too nice of a person to just insult him and then hang up, Neil knows, but he didn’t expect the concern in his voice.

“Yeah, I’m fine, I- what happened?” He can hear Matt struggling with whatever he is about to say.

“Bee told me about… I met Daniel?”

Neil can feel his stomach hitting his feet and immediately he can sense the loud presence of the others in his head. His mind reels. There is harsh whispering telling him to calm down and loud words also telling him to calm down, and he realizes after a few second that he’s dropped the phone onto the floor and some of the sound is Matt trying to get his attention and that he’s pressed himself against the frame of his bed in defense. He uncurls his arm from around his knees and leans over to pick up the phone.

“Matt,” he says, trying his best to control the shaking in his voice, but Matt cuts him off.

“Look, I’m not going to judge you, this doesn’t make me think less of you as a person, knowing that you have this disorder doesn’t change my opinion of you .” His voice is serious. “You’re still my friend and I want to be able to help you in any way I can. You don’t have to tell me about anything you don’t want to. Bee told me about the disorder, but not anything about your specific case, and I’m not gonna try to get anything out of you.” He pauses and Neil feels his emotions gathering.

“Matt-”

“Can I go over? I can bring Dan. I didn’t tell anyone and I don’t expect you to say anything either. I just wanna hang out.” Neil pauses for a long time.

“Yeah,” he says after a while, and he feels the tremor in his own voice. “Yeah. Please don’t tell Dan. I want- I want to be able to tell her myself, one day. Not today.”

“Of course,” Matt says, “we’ll be over in a little. Please take care of yourself, Neil. I mean it.”

Neil hangs up and shuts his eyes and cries.

 

x

 

when the world was flat we

dreamt of its edges and

if love’s elastic then

were we born to test its reach?

 

Allison, Dan, Matt, and Renee are piled onto his couch. When he opened the door to see Allison, he sent Matt a stabbing look and he looked back with an apologetic expression, mouthing a small sorry. She walked in straight to the living room and pulled out from her bags some snacks that she settled onto the coffee table.

They watched movies and talked about how dumb they were and ate snacks and talked about their food preferences, and not once did anyone mention anything too personal about Neil. He wasn’t sure if Matt had said anything about keeping quiet about that but he knew that he appreciated it either way.

It was almost fun. Relaxing.

x

 

cigarette boy: columbia this friday

 

Liar: Pick me up at the coffee shop after my shift? Ends at 10.

 

cigarette boy: see you then

 

x

 

Liar: Columbia this week?

 

cigarette boy: see you friday. 10

 

x

 

cigarette boy: 10 ?

 

Liar: See you then, Andrew

 

x

 

Liar: Did you finally live up to your threat to ditch me?

 

cigarette boy: nicky is taking long

 

Liar: I’ll be waiting.

 

x

 

you can come with me and just ride we

can do this till the night ends cigarettes and

pills burn your eyes you can

take off your disguises

 

It’s Neil’s seventh time at Eden’s, sixth time with Andrew, and he’s come to sort of enjoy it. Sort of. He didn’t like the club itself, the sweating and cramped spaces and the smell of alcohol. What he liked was the ride; it was a little cramped in the backseat between Aaron and Nicky, but on the third visit, Neil opened the door to the backseat and saw Kevin in his usual spot, looking extremely irritated, Nicky looking extremely amused. Kevin glared as Nicky told him, every inch of his words gleeful, “You get shotgun today.” The fourth time, Neil opened the doors to the backseat, expecting Kevin to have taken his place in the front again, but this time, Kevin just looked at him, confused and annoyed. He motioned to the front. Neil didn’t ask. The fifth time, he immediately gets into the front.

Nicky chats the whole ride over, as usual. The first time Nicky had seen him outside of the mess in the Columbia house, he had talked and talked, and Neil figured it was how normal people got to know each other, but each following week included Nicky continuing to talk to him, making conversation, and Neil wasn’t really sure what to think or say, so he mostly said nothing at all.

“You remind me of the one night stands I’ve had,” Nicky says, pouting, and Neil already feels exhausted. All he can do is raise an eyebrow for Nicky to continue. “We have a great time, and you leave in the morning before I wake up.”

“And, just like your one night stands, Neil doesn’t care about your pancakes, Nicky,” Aaron says. Nicky rolls his eyes.

“That’s not true, right, Neil? Do you want to try my pancakes tomorrow morning?” Neil shifts his eyes away and does a sort of half-shrug that he tries to make as steady as possible.

“I don’t like sweet things.” Nicky groans and places a hand over his heart dramatically.

“Andrew is the only one who appreciates my cooking,” he says, his voice theatrically betrayed, and Andrew says, “Shut up, Nicky,” at the same time Aaron says, “that’s because Andrew will eat anything that has more than fifty spoons of sugar.” Andrew clicks his tongue and Nicky laughs, loud. Nicky is a laugher, and Neil can’t say he doesn’t like it.

“I can’t even argue with that,” he says.

Andrew always walks down into the living room in the early morning, looking extremely tired and irritated, grabs his keys which wakes Neil up, and they ride back so Andrew can drop Neil off at his house, all before Nicky wakes up. Neil thinks that the ride to Columbia can be fun depending on what Nicky talks about, but the ride back, alone with Andrew, is truly what he looks forward to. They don’t talk, not usually, but it’s comforting to sit there and listen to the radio along with Andrew. It’s like he’s sharing a little piece of himself with Neil.

Sometimes, sitting at the table in Eden’s next to Andrew could also be nice. It was nice tonight.

Nicky rambled a while longer before leading Aaron to the dance floor. Kevin went to the bathroom at some point and Neil was left alone next to Andrew for a while. Alex and Jamie were both co-con that moment, and Neil felt very switchy, probably due to the amount of people around. A nightclub was not really the most stable of environments for him, but looking at Andrew helped him ground himself into the moment. He didn’t want to leave just yet.

 

x

 

leave it behind it’s all gone if

you really wanna let it go, let it go,

you wanna feel something and that’s fine

 

Andrew let the alcohol burn its way down his throat before setting the shot glass down on the table and looking up Neil. He was already watching him. He felt the swirl in his stomach but ignored it in favor of raising at eyebrow. Neil blinked and looked away.

“Jamie is nearby,” Neil says. “I’m surprised you haven’t met him yet.” A pause. “Do you want to?” Before Andrew can say anything, Neil’s right arm reaches for one of the glasses on the tray on the table before he’s immediately yanking his arm back. Neil hisses and his left hand goes flying to hold back his right arm.  

“Calm the fuck down,” Neil says witheringly, and he pinches himself with a fierce look in his eyes. He looks extremely annoyed for all of two seconds before his eyes widen and he looks up at Andrew. And then he begins laughing.

Andrew feels another swoop low in his stomach and he feels both of his eyebrows raising in spite of himself and Neil is clutching his stomach now, holding onto his sides. “Sorry,” he says, once he takes a breath of air, “That was Alex and Jamie. Jamie wants a drink.”

“What-” Andrew begins, but then promptly shuts his mouth. Neil lets out another airy huff of breath. “Are you somehow already drunk.” Neil’s grin turns wider.

“I guess they’re co-fronting,” Neil said instead if answering, and then explains, “when an alter co-fronts they have some control over the body. Alex is left-handed, so that’s usually what he goes for. When they’re co-conscious they’re just able to watch what whoever is fronting is doing. We don’t usually have either.”

“Why not?” Andrew asks in a bored tone, but Neil is not stupid, Andrew knows, and he smiles contently.

“It’s something you get more once you work on communication. It’s hard for them to be co-con with me especially. And- another of my alters. But we’ve been getting better.” Andrew wouldn’t say he’s interested in hearing more about Neil’s DID. He wasn't. But there were questions piling up and he wanted to know more. Neil seemed happy to give him answers, but Andrew knew it didn’t work like that.

He swallows. Even though the information Neil gave him wasn’t extremely personal, Andrew says, “Ask me something. Truth for truth.” Neil hums in thought.

It’s all a little strange, Andrew thinks, because he’s been in the presence of tons of bodies all night but none of them have felt remotely real, just a screen. He doesn’t know what it is about the red-haired boy sitting in front of him, the way he smells like photocopy paper and laundry detergent, like he’d accidentally put too much in the laundry and couldn’t be bothered to put the rest back, shining irises and a cracking smile.

“I’m going to take a drink for Jamie. If he comes out, will you make sure he doesn’t go overboard?” Andrew sighs, irritated.

“I would’ve told you that without you using up one of your turns.” Neil smiles and reaches over with his right hand again towards the alcohol. He downs it smoothly and Andrew doesn’t register the moment someone else takes over but one second it’s Neil, and the other, someone else is reaching over for another drink. When he reaches over for a third, Andrew stops him by hovering his hand over his wrist, not quite touching but close enough for the other to look up. Jamie, Andrew thinks, smiles crookedly. He pulls his hands back and holds them up in innocent gesture.

“Sorry,” he said, his voice a little raspy. “I haven’t been out in a while. Andrew?” Andrew isn’t as surprised by now to hear the change in his voice. He opens his mouth but before his words reach him he hears a muttered, what the fuck, and then Nicky is standing right in front of them.

“Neil’s smiling, holy shit!” he exclaims, and Andrew’s already reaching for his knives but Jamie’s look stops him. His smile slides off and Andrew can’t help but think that he misses it, and then he takes a moment to knock sense into himself. “What’d the monster say to make you so happy?” Nicky says brightly, and Andrew is too annoyed to deal with him right now, but Nicky doesn’t receive the message and plops down at the table, reaching for a shot. “Where’s Kevin?”

“Bathroom,” Jamie says. Nicky looks at Jamie and gives him a huge grin.

“Why were you laughing? Don’t keep a man waiting.” Jamie gives a tight grimace that matches what Neil would call his smile. His eyes dance to Andrew’s with an amused look that Nicky doesn’t notice and Andrew feels that his own eyes hold the same emotion, both of them sharing the slight mockery of Neil between them.

Jamie shrugs. “Andrew is funny.” Nicky sends him a confused look.

“You’re fucking crazy,” Nicky replies, and picks up the last shot glass on the tray.

“Go back to dancing,” Andrew says, stealing the shot from Nicky’s hands and downing it before standing up, ignoring Nicky’s protests. “Neil?” His voice has its own sort of mocking tone, he realizes, and Jamie’s lips twitch up as he stands up and follows Andrew to the bar. Once they leave Nicky safely, he lets out a huff of air.

“I need another drink,” he says, “I thought he was gonna realize it wasn’t Neil.” Andrew glances at him.

“Even if someone noticed the change in you, I don’t think their first thought would be a dissociative disorder.” Jamie shakes his head as they arrive at the bar, their arms pressing against each other as they squeeze between the customers. “Plus Nicky’s an idiot.” That makes Jamie laugh and Andrew can feel the noise vibrating through him, the sound a little like fire and liquid gold and Andrew thinks, fuck.

“It doesn’t matter if they don’t think of the disorder exactly,” he says, “but then they pay a little more attention to us, watch us a little more carefully. We can’t risk anything.”

Andrew is about to reply when he catches Roland’s eye and sees him smile brightly before leaving the other side of the busy bar and walking over to them.

“You’ve been coming around a lot recently.” He has black eyeliner and silver glitter dusted on his cheekbones and if Jamie hadn’t been there standing right next to him or he’d never met Neil, his eyes would have already been traveling towards to door to the backroom. But both of those things were true and he didn’t even feel the urge to glance its way, nor look at Roland for any longer than necessary.

Instead, he feels Jamie’s arm shift against his and he glances at him and doesn’t reply to Roland.

They talk throughout the night, over shot glasses and loud music.

 

x

 

so just for you i might

jeopardize my whole life i

might sacrifice

 

“Dude ‘m so tired,” Nicky says, and then giggles out, “and drunk, Andrew will you unlock the door for us pretty please my hand won’t stay still.” Andrew does. Nicky walks in first and plops down on the couch. “Neil!” he says loudly. “Neil, I’m stealing your spot. You can have my room. G’night.” Half a second later he’s snoring. Aaron scoffs and walks unsteadily up the stairs. Kevin follows.

“Great,” Andrew says, and Neil flashes a nervous smile at him.

“Where is Nicky’s room?” he asks, and Andrew leads him to it. Neil sits on the bed and begins to take off his black boots, a little unsteady with his fingers and a lot unsteady with his mind as he tries to get his laces untied. He heaves a frustrated sigh when they don’t come undone immediately. Andrew watches from the doorway. “Dick,” Neil says, and then, “come help me.”

Andrew furrows his eyebrows and Neil didn’t expect him to help, anyway, but after a few more seconds of wrestling with the laces of his boots (why would he double knot them), he hears the light steps coming into the bedroom. He looks up, a little surprised, if he was honest, as he watches Andrew kneel down and begin to untie his shoelaces, struggling a little bit but undoing them swiftly. Neil watches his fingers work and thinks that he really likes Andrew’s hands. Perhaps it was the drinks Jamie had that loosened Neil’s tongue.

“I like your hands.”

Andrew freezes with the second shoelace half undone. Neil feels his heart rate pick up. Andrew slowly lifts his head to look at Neil, his eyes carefully guarded and Neil smiles lazily at him, too tired to freak out over anything he’s saying and trying his best to keep his eyes on Andrew instead of glancing away nervously.

He wasn’t against Andrew staring at him the way he was but he was beginning to get impatient, and so he moves his shoes up and down and motions for Andrew to continue. Andrew’s expression doesn’t change as he reaches up and places his fingers on Neil’s jaw, and Neil finds it very difficult to restrain himself from leaning into the touch. After a few seconds, he pushes Neil’s head away and Neil feels his stomach drop. He stares at the dresser across from him as Andrew finishes untying his shoes.

Neil lolls his head to the side, tracing the patterns on the duvet with his fingers and staring at the picture frames and personal touches on the dresser, thinking about how he’ll never really be a part of the lives of Andrew’s family and he wonders what it’d be like to wake up in this house every morning.

He’s got this sort of goofy smile on his face, fingertips red like he’s been out in the cold for far too long as they run back and forth across the stripes of the duvet. Neil’s trying not to watch the way Andrew’s chest rises and falls like he’s never seen a living being before, elision crawling out from his lips-

Andrew stands up and Neil kicks off his shoes, and he doesn’t even manage the small thank you that’s trying to come out of his lips before Andrew says, “I’ll take you home tomorrow,” and then leaves Neil.

 

x

 

you think i’m oblivious maybe that’s true i

don’t notice my heart is

too focused on trying to do right by you

 

Neil wakes up to thumping somewhere outside of the room he’s in. His mind jumbles awake and he stills, his eyes still closed and arm silently moving towards his pillow for his gun-

“Neil.” Andrew’s steady voice outside of the Nicky’s door makes Neil open his eyes and sit up with the realization that he’s safe now. He muffles the yawn that fights its way up his throat and calls back to Andrew. He walks in with his keys in his hands. Neil hesitates and thinks of Nicky and how kind he is, even if a little pushy. He thinks of all the sad looks he had given him at things he said that Neil didn’t really realize were so important. Andrew notices his reluctance and raises an eyebrow. Neil shakes his head and stands up, pulling his boots on quickly and grabbing his things off the side table next to the bed.

They walk down the stairs but just as Andrew grabs his coat, there’s a thumping upstairs and Andrew shoots Neil a quick look before Nicky is tumbling down and groaning.

“I have the worst headache but I woke up just for you, Neil. You’re not going anywhere.” Neil sends Andrew a panicked look and sees Andrew glaring. “Let’s go. We don’t have ingredients and I need to make you my pancakes, Andrew, get the keys, let’s go.”

 

x

 

Nathaniel pretended to chug down the entire bowl of the fizzed water and dirt clods. He set down the bowl next to his crouched form and pretended to wipe his mouth. He made a noise of contentment.

“That was very good, how much money?” Neil picked up the bowl and dumped it out, already taking their half-empty cup of water and dumping it into the chipped bowl they had sneaked out together many months ago.

“Five million dollars please,” he replied, looking around himself for another dirt clod. Nathaniel gasped in shock.

What ? I don’t have that kind of money! It wasn’t even that good!” he exclaimed, his voice raised in disbelief.

“You said very good, give me money please, five million.” Nathaniel shook his head fervently.

“Just for the dirt soup?”

“Yes.”

“Okay… how much for the water I had?”

“Six billion dollars.”

What let me talk to your manager!” Nathaniel said, and before he could get anything else out, Neil let out the fit of laughter that he had been holding back. Nathaniel immediately relaxed his expression but took hold of Neil’s shoulders. “Dad’s gonna hear you,” he giggled, “stop, we need to keep playing. A little longer.”

 

x

 

“Why didn’t you sleep on the couch with me, huh?” Nicky asks, and then bursts into laughter at Neil’s expression. He grabs a gallon of milk and haphazardly throws it into the shopping cart. It makes a loud noise and Neil winces. “It was cold down there, how do you sleep down there all the time? I’ll cuddle you for warmth next time.”

“Nicky,” Andrew says, low and with a threatening tone. Nicky laughs.

“Just kidding. You can freeze on your own.”

 

x

 

how can i not stare

the way that you’re glowing? i am

a nightmare you don’t

want to know me

 

Jamie helps Andrew make the pancakes. Neil thinks it kind of defeats the purpose of the day, seeing as Nicky wanted him to try his, but as soon as they enter the house Nicky’s phone rings and he runs into his room.

The pancakes are the best Jamie has had. Neil still doesn’t like sweets.

 

x

you're the sun you've never seen the night but you

hear its song from the morning birds well

i'm not the moon i'm not even a star but

awake at night i'll be singing to the birds

 

Neil watches his small house come into view from behind the huge trees and wildlife and hesitates when Andrew slows the car to a stop before dropping his shame and saying, “Myosotis bought some cupcakes and she hasn’t been around since then. I don’t like sweets. Do you want to come in?” He knows it’s kind of a bullshit excuse- Jamie would have happily ate them and he knows that Andrew knows that. He holds his breath as Andrew stares out his window with something Neil can’t decipher in his eyes. His head tilts up slightly and he turns the car off. Neil releases a small breath and opens his door, walking up the neatly cut path without waiting for Andrew to follow.

They walk inside and Neil feels like he’s seeing his house for the first time again. It’s like his heart is painted on the walls with yellows and whites and he can’t help but glance at Andrew and wonder if he ever stares up at the night sky counting constellations and spaceships or if he just exists between a daydream and the end of time.

The house opens up into the living room, with the kitchen and dining room in the room behind it. Neil cuts through the living room swiftly and enters the kitchen, reaching into the fridge for the cupcakes Myosotis had bought for Andrew. The sugary frosting made his chest ache in regret. He set the cupcakes onto the counter with numb fingers as Andrew leans against it, looking around with silent eyes. He only glanced at him for a second before going back to search his fridge again.

“What do you want to drink? Tea, milk, it’s a little late for coffee, but.” He turns to Andrew, who is staring at him now.

“If your coffee is anything like what you make at the shop,” Andrew begins, and Neil groans, “I will not hesitate to dump it on the floor.” Neil believes him. He took out two mugs and set out making coffee for the both of them, dumping an unholy amount of sugar into Andrew’s, looking up at him in disgust, only to find him staring right at Neil. It made his chest bump eagerly, and he shook away any thoughts he had at that moment, turning away to continue making the coffee.

He takes the mugs to the small, round table in the corner of the room and motions for Andrew to take the cupcakes. They sit next to each other, Neil watching as Andrew takes a sip of his drink and nods once in approval. Neil turns away, relieved, and feels like laughing.

And so he does. He lets out a small huff of air, one any of his alters would refuse to believe was a real laugh, but Andrew slides his gaze over to him anyways. Neil flushes and turns away, using his spoon to scrape off the frosting on his cupcake into the plastic box. He takes a bite of the bread and winces - still too sweet for him. He sets it down and takes a drink of his non-sugary coffee.

Andrew stares right into Neil’s eyes as he dips his pinky into Neil’s neglected frosting and pushes it between his lips. Neil’s eyes dart away quickly and he shifts in his seat, suddenly uncomfortable. He takes a small breath, blows out, closes his eyes, glances back at Andrew and sees him still staring, looks away again. He stands up abruptly and walks back near the fridge, feeling Andrew’s eyes on him all the while. Neil doesn’t feel anyone nearby but he feels light-headed and knows he’s going to switch, even if that means someone being forced into his place. He closes his eyes again and lets the darkness take him.

Alex opens his eyes with a jolt. He can feel eyes on him but he takes a few seconds to adjust to being thrown out - it’s not the first time it’s happened, but they really need to stop doing that. He turns around and sees Andrew. “Oh no,” he mumbles quietly.

Alex had seen Andrew before, heard him with Glitch at the bus stop and through most of the night on the roof, but he had not spoken to him before, and he had nothing to say to him either, no reason to want to talk to anyone but Jamie. He grunted and looked away from him, going back to the empty chair at his table and picking up the bitten cupcake he assumed was Neil’s. He wasn’t the hugest fan of sweets, but he could manage it when he was hungry. He was hungry.

He saw that Andrew’s eyes were curious even though he tried to cover it in his mask of nothing. He didn’t answer the silent look until after he took another bite of the cupcake. “Alex,” he said simply. Andrew didn’t look away. “What did you do?” Andrew looked annoyed by the tone and finally looked back down to his cup of coffee.

“Why would you assume I did something?” Alex scoffed and put the cupcake into the plastic box.

“He forced me out.” Andrew stays silent and once he finishes his cupcake, Alex stands and motions for Andrew to follow. “You have cigarettes?” he asks, opening the front door. Andrew retrieves a carton from his back pocket and holds it out towards him, but Alex shakes his head.

They’re sitting outside of Neil’s house, underneath his tree, Andrew smoking and both of them staring at the flowers and the empty street and the sky. Alex takes a deep breath. The smoke reminded him of his mother.

“Myosotis planted all of the plants. She waters all of them,” Alex says distractedly, lazily, and he watches Andrew play with the strings of his jumper. Andrew is watching him, too, not responding to his words but not stopping him from talking. His focused expression tells him Andrew is listening to every word he says, and he finds that comforting. Being listened to.

“All of us like flowers. Myosotis doesn’t trust us to look after them, but we can admire from a distance. Neil likes them as much as her. It was the only thing he was really sure of when he became host.” Andrew shifts slightly at that, and Alex can sense his curiosity. He doesn’t ask, so Alex doesn’t tell. Instead, he says, “Truth for truth. Do you like flowers?” Andrew looks away. His nod is small but Alex catches it. He looks away from Andrew and smiles contently. “What’s your favorite?” he asks, and Andrew shakes his head.

“My turn.” Alex clicks his tongue and looks away. “Is there something that you like doing?” Andrew asks, and something stirs in the back Alex’s mind as he faintly remembers them asking Andrew the same question, basking in muffled moonlight and silence.

Andrew had the opportunity to ask about what he was clearly curious about earlier. He asked about Alex instead. He feels his heart thud heavily.

“Playing the piano,” Alex says pensively after a while, digging talents and enjoyments in the back of his mind that aren’t something stupid like breathing or picking thoughts in his head to have a crisis about.

“Show me,” Andrew says, and Alex realizes he must have seen the piano pushed against the well next the window and the living room and he nods slowly, blinking because the yard and flowers have started to spin. Maybe it’s the fact that Andrew is so intoxicating and Neil can’t think straight around him or the fact that everyone’s decided that they’re well and truly fucked, falling in tightly-coiled spirals of admiration and longing for this empty and aggressive and beautiful boy sitting next to him. Maybe it’s the fact that Andrew is interested in them for reasons other than watching their circus act. He is interested in them, even if he denies it with everything he has. He’s interested in learning about Alex.

They stand up together after a few more minutes of smoking and breathing in smoke and they enter the house and Alex’s fingers start to feel clammy and his tongue feels like it’s swollen when he arrives at his wooden piano, the only thing that belongs to just him, biting his lip as he sits down on the bench and rests his fingers in the spaces between black keys. It’s almost like they melt into the keys and he can feel melodies almost pouring out of his fingertips, hear the chords boiling in the pit of his stomach like fire, and he just fucking loves the piano and he thinks he could learn to love being next to Andrew, showing him something that’s just so important to him.

Andrew sits on Neil’s couch and watches him, his expression blank and emotionless but Alex recognizes the intensity in his gaze from being around while Neil talked to him. He does not smile encouragingly, does not look at him expectantly, just watches him carefully, and waits.

Alex presses down on the keys gently, then louder, forcing emotion from the veins in his forearms to his fingers and he presses harshly, lifting to petal off on the untuned piano like asteroids are falling around them and calculated thoughts fall around him and permeate the air. It feels a bit like nostalgia as Alex changes key and switches into overdrive, not thinking about anything and just wanting Andrew to feel something from this and understand how much he means to them without any of them actually having to say anything because he’s too fucking scared of this beautiful boy in front of them disappearing. And he finishes by banging the keys roughly on the piano like polystyrene rubbing against itself and then he’s shivering because he hasn’t been able to play the piano like he had something worth living for in a really long time.

He can feel Andrew’s stare, watching his every movement as Alex lets out a small shudder of a breath and moves his hands away. He doesn’t look at Andrew. Andrew doesn’t say a word.

“It’s kind of all I’ve got,” Alex mutters, wondering how many infinities are in the spaces between piano keys and whether or not he can count them if he tries hard enough, if there’s some way to categorise the way they feel about Andrew rather than just sensations swirling in the pit of his stomach.

Andrew hums lowly and Alex finally turns to look at him. He isn’t looking at Alex anymore.

“It doesn’t have to be,” he says, and the words are mumbled as much as Alex’s words were and suddenly there’s something stabbing inside of him, something saying that this is what he’s needed all along, because he can be someone, he can be someone important, someone who matters, if only he knew what to do to make that happen.

He’s not happy, he knows, but maybe he can learn how to be someone with Andrew by their side.

 

x

 

baby imma dive in i don’t put the

time in even if i

try hard i ain’t gonna make it

we ain’t gonna make it

 

“Are you under a lot of stress right now?”

“We’re always stressed.”

Bee tilts her head as she shifts in her seat, still looking at Glitch. Seeing. It was an odd feeling, to be seen, and Glitch wasn’t sure how she felt about it. Watched? Scrutinized? Analyzed? Definitely analyzed. She was a psychiatrist, after all.

“It seems that whenever Neil is feeling particularly bad, Daniel comes out to calm him down. Does that seem right?” Glitch nods.

“We’re prone to switching more often when we’re not feeling good. Mostly Neil. He feels bad often, so.”

“Do you have any sort of schedule? For who is allowed to come out when?” Betsy asks. Glitch clenches her jaw and lets out a small sigh.

“No. We’ve been told it’d help, but, I mostly tell them who is best suited for the event we need to present for.” Betsy hums a little.

“I didn’t mean times for you to act like your host. Do you have times where you can come out and do what you’d like? Time for yourselves?” Glitch restrains the need to roll her eyes. She looks down at Neil’s scarred hands instead.

“Sometimes? Alex comes out to play the piano, not too much. Whenever I’m out, I listen to my favorite music, which is good enough when I have to act like him. Jamie likes acting, would that count? If he came out to act like Neil? Daniel comes out to play, when we’re alone at the house and have nothing to attend to. Myosotis takes care of the plants.” Betsy gives Glitch a knowing smile and sets down her mug. She folds her hands on her lap.

“And, do you wonder? Who in your system gives you the most trouble?” Glitch closes her eyes. She knew it would end up here.

“Kit. Abram. Sometimes Nathaniel, but he hardly counts, he used to be the host. He’s always been giving trouble.”

“I think, Glitch, that it would be incredibly beneficial to let everyone come out and do what they enjoy. Being stuck in you inner house with nothing to do can be rather boring, no?”

“We have each other to talk to,” Glitch argued, shaking her head, “they will only waste time if they came out for no reason. Neil could be doing his own things.”

“No,” Betsy said, “it wouldn’t be wasting time. You are all individuals. I encourage you to set aside some time for yourselves, to come out and do something that you like and is uniquely you. Notice, Jamie enjoys acting, and so being put under the role of acting gives him no trouble. He is the least troubled of the older alters, yes? Not all of you enjoy the pressure of having to choose between acting like someone who is not you and being seated in a house with three rooms and nothing to do. You are the caretaker; do you not understand that everyone needs to be cared for?”

“I am here to do what I can for the host. For Neil ,” Glitch said, her anger rising. “We are here to protect him, and it is our only purpose. They have no right to complain about their roles.”

“Glitch,” Betsy said, carefully, “is it helping Neil when he hears you all arguing? Is it helping him when Kit makes trouble for you because of the fact that she’s not let out? Tell me, then, surely it is helping him when each and every one of you are falling apart from not being seen as something other than a role to ultimately help the host. The band aid thrown away after its use.”

Glitch took a breath to study herself. She swallows, takes a breath again. “Dr. Dobson,” she says, “Allow us to remind you that we reached out to you so that we could help Neil.”

“You are of no help to him as you are now, Glitch. None of you. You need to change, allow yourselves to realize that you are a part of Neil and your needs matter, too. I understand that you are a caretaker. I understand you are the main protector. All of you are important for Neil, but you need to find ways to better yourselves in order to better him. You need to work together, as a system. And you need to stop blocking each other out, stop ignoring parts of you, stop looking past your needs as individuals.”

It was dead silence inside of Glitch’s mind. Most of them were around, but holding their breath, waiting for what Glitch would say. She was always the most aggressive of them, even more so than Kit, even if Kit would deny it with all the actions she knew.

Instead of saying anything, Glitch stands up. She walks towards the door, lets it shut behind her.

It was their third therapist. Their thirteenth session. She had met four of the nine main alters.

Glitch does not look back.

 

x

 

call me on my phone

i don’t pick it up i’ve been on

my own baby i’ve been fucking up

 

It was not his first time seeing Allison, and he figured it wouldn’t be his last, either, but when he saw Allison as well as Renee standing next to Dan and Matt, he groaned dramatically and turned around, heading back towards the door. He heard Matt let out a whooping laugh as well as Renee giggling, and immediately he felt a hand on his shoulder. It didn’t make him jump. Still, he turned around stiffly and gave Allison a sarcastic smile with his eyebrow raised.

“Nice to see you too, jackass,” Allison says, and Neil waves her hand away.

“You come to shove me into some more clothes?” he asks tightly and Allison grins fiercely at him. “Who invited her?” he mouths at the others, not at all attempting to hide it from Allison. She clicks her tongue and leans her arm on his shoulder, a feat easily accomplished due to her unfair height advantage. Neil shakes his head. Matt laughs again.

“Sorry buddy,” he says, looking delighted and not at all sorry, “she insisted.”

“It looks like you dumped the clothes I got you into the trash and went back to your single pair of jeans and three t-shirts,” Allison observed, and Neil rolled his eyes.

“Maybe I did.” Allison scoffs and links arms with him, pulling him by the arm and leading him as well as Dan and Matt towards the nearest clothing shops. “Also, I had like, four pairs of jeans.”

Allison rolls her eyes. “I’m going to ship you off to Germany one of these days.”

“Is that supposed to be a threat? Germany is nice,” he says, halfheartedly and distractedly, looking around the interior of the modern shop.

“Have you been?” Allison asks, arrogance drowned out by curiosity. Neil’s stomach drops for a second - Neil hasn’t been to Germany - but he swallows and avoids the question smoothly, keeping the inflection in his tone even.

“Have you?” Allison grins sharply at him.

“Yeah, it’s nice, but whatever would you do without me?”

“I would never suffer again,” he said, and Allison clicks her tongue.

“I’m flattered of you opinion of me, really.” Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Dan sliding Matt a smile. He feels like smiling, too.

They walk around for an hour and a half, Allison buying him clothes he would never wear, before settling at the food court for cheese fries and sodas.

“Honey, we need to take you for a haircut,” Allison says with a fry hanging out of her mouth and her eyes glued to her phone. “I won’t let them fuck it up, if that’s what your worried up. But i think even a buzz cut would be an improvement from- that.” Neil sends her a withering look and rolls his eyes.

“No. A stranger with scissors right next to my head? That’s- no.” Allison shakes her head.

“I’ll do it then.” Her eyes are on him and Neil feels his shoulders tense up a little at the words and attention but he forces himself to relax and consider her words.

“Maybe.”

“Great! I’ll take you to my dorm when we’re done getting you your clothes.”

“No, Allison, I said maybe-”

“Great!” she stands up with the bags and leaves the rest for Neil to carry. Matt lets out a bark of laughter at his side and places a hand on his arm as he stands.

“Sorry, man. You know Allison.”

Neil knew Allison.

 

x

 

Nathaniel screamed in pain as his father’s hot blade cut into his neck.

 

x

 

“Listen, you either sit still or I shave your entire head,” Allison says, placing her hand on Neil’s shoulder to steady him. He hears Dan giggling and Renee clicking her tongue but stays completely still as the buzz of the razor against his head sends a muted panic through him. He clenches his jaw and tightens his hand on his legs that are still itching to bounce, but he knows by now that Allison would absolutely do something as drastic as shave his head in exchange for his fidgeting. His knuckles are white.

He can hear the girls exclaiming as Allison finishes up her work with the razor and picks up the scissors. “Only a little left,” she says, bringing the scissors up.

She ends her work by putting in hair product and then sits down in front of Neil with a huge grin on her face. The girls all pile around him and stare in awe; Neil shifts uncomfortably.

When Allison brings up the mirror, Neil tries pushing it away. He trusts Allison to do a good job with his hair and even if she didn’t, he, frankly, did not care. But Allison insists, shaking the mirror in front of him until Neil takes it in his hands.

He angles it so that most of his face is not visible but the red mess of curls on the top of his head is. The sides of his head are shaved and Allison cut the top so it was not drooping over his eyes, but it was at a length that he still had a good hiding place if he wished. Neil swallowed once, opened his mouth, swallowed again. He put the mirror down.

“Thank you,” Neil said. “It looks really good.” Allison’s smile grew.

“I know.”

 

x

 

“I don’t want to go out ever again,” Nathaniel said, curled up on the single couch in the middle of an unfinished room with coiling wallpaper on walls that were not yet completely up. At least it was no longer the concrete.

“Nathaniel,” Neil said, but didn’t attempt to move at all closer to him or even look at him, didn’t continue and say something else that may have comforted him. Nothing, Neil knew, could, and so he did not try.

“They have to change my name,” Nathaniel said, suddenly and quickly turning his body towards where Neil was sitting with his legs underneath him on the floor. “I can’t have the name Nathaniel Wesninski if I’m under Witness Protection.”

Neil turns dead eyes towards Nathaniel. They long ago lost their spark. “And? What are you suggesting, Nathaniel? This isn’t a decision you can make while you’re sulking around like an idiot.”

“We’ve never used your name before,” he muttered, almost pleadingly. He swallowed before continuing. “I know… I know we might not be ready. For integration. But, if we can have our name changed to Neil Josten, and if I could integrate into you at some point, then you can take over as the host.”

Neil shuts his eyes and takes a breath to sooth his erratic heartbeat. “Nathaniel. You are you. You will always-”

“No,” Nathaniel cut in, his words cold. “No. I don’t want this. I don’t want-” his voice broke. He swallowed. “I don’t want to live like this anymore.”

“We’ll get fucking therapy.”

Nathaniel narrowed his eyes at him and leaned forward. “You really think that’ll help? You really think-”

“And you think integration would help? I don’t want this either.” Neil’s voice broke and he looked away from Nathaniel, leaning his head in his hands. “We’ll go to therapy. And we will figure it out. We’ll see then if it’s something you really want.” Nathaniel took a breath and nodded.

“We still need to change our name.” Neil tensed and nodded slowly.

“Okay.”

 

x

 

The next day, Neil walks into the coffee shop for his night shift and Andrew drops the cup he’s holding with a loud clang. Neil can hear Andrew swearing as he struggles to clean up the mess and keep the cup steady on the counter. Neil watches in amusement but Andrew refuses to meet his gaze, focusing and towelling down the spilt coffee. From across the room, Renee is gazing at Andrew with some sort of look in her eyes that Neil really does not understand. When she notices his attention, her eyes soften and look at him kindly. “You look very nice today, Neil,” she says, not once looking away. Neil flashes her a small smile.

His coworkers smile at him, and so do the sparse customers. He doesn’t really understand.

There weren’t many customers during the night shifts, but the new coffee shop located near a college campus still drew plenty of students. Neil was still not allowed to work the register, but cleaning up after customers was enough to keep his attention for most of his shift.

At the end of his shift, he watched Andrew stare at his notebook on the counter blankly. He wanted to walk up to him then, but Andrew shut the notebook roughly, looked at his watch, and walked towards the back exit. Neil smiled slightly and followed after him.

It was a routine they had all gotten used to by now, whichever alter was out to take care of his shift followed Andrew out of the cafe and they smoked together if it was Neil, or smoked and breathed in smoke when it was anyone else. They never usually talked.

This time, after their first cigarette and in the middle of their second, Neil speaks.

“Why don’t you ever write anything in your notebook?”

It’s a stupid question to ask, really, and he immediately puts his cigarette to his lips to prevent any other stupid questions from coming out of his mouth. But he doesn’t take it back.

There’s a long pause, enough that Neil thinks Andrew will not answer at all. And he doesn’t know why he’s asked. Andrew is different, and Neil doesn’t know whether he thinks that just because of his silent aggression and fierceness, his threats and his knives, or if it’s something else, too. He just seems different. Andrew’s different and less alive, and Neil’s fingers are itching to touch the boy in front of him, and it’s strange because Neil’s never felt this way before, never felt connected to a person who can’t possibly be as connected to him.

“I don’t have anything to write anymore.” Andrew’s voice is not anything. It’s empty, not emotional, not bored, just - nothing. Neil looks down at his cigarette.

“Why not?”

There’s another pause, this time shorter.

“Life stopped happening to me.”

Neil feels his breath catch in his throat. He drops his cigarette and grounds it down underneath his shoe. His heart is racing as he turns to Andrew, taking the cigarette from his hand gently. Andrew glares, but Neil knows he is no danger. Not to any of them.

“I think,” he says, and then stops, takes a drag from Andrew’s cigarette before grounding that one out, too, “that I just happened to you.”

“Yes or no?” Andrew asks suddenly, and at first, Neil is not really sure what he’s asking, but then he sees the heat in Andrew’s eyes as he stares at him with something akin to darkness. Neil swallows and his eyes slowly travel down towards Andrew’s lips. Andrew hasn’t moved closer at all, still keeping his distance and leaning against the wall casually and Neil suddenly finds that he wants to be close to him. Neil breathes deeply.

“Yes.”

And the next moment the distance between them is closed and it happens so fast that Neil is surprised he isn’t nauseated. Andrew has Neil’s chin in his hand and their eyes are meeting, Andrew’s touch lingering on Neil’s skin like fire burning in white heat. Neil swallows again and tries to be patient, tries not to move forward and capture Andrew’s lips like he wants to, because Andrew is staring at him with something Neil doesn’t know what to do with and Neil is willing himself not to think but it’s so hard and he just can’t fucking do it anymore when it comes to Andrew. The boy in front of him is a composition of stardust and undulated eloquence and it’s just so breathtaking, so fucking enthralling and unusual and Neil doesn’t even know what to do because they’re not getting closer and he just wants to get closer, damn it, he can’t stop wondering what Andrew tastes like and if he knows what the fuck he’s doing because Neil doesn’t know-

Andrew crashes his lips against Neil’s.

His lips are rough, moving in such an Andrew way against Neil’s and he feels like he’s burning from the inside out, his motions a world away as he moves to catch Andrew’s arm but then veering away at the last second, tucking his hand into his back pocket because Andrew trusts him, if he didn’t their lips wouldn’t be moving against each other right now and Neil feels like he’s floating in space. He feels hazy but not in the usual way; he knows there are others around, he can hear them buzzing around in his mind, but they do not threaten to take control of his actions. Neil is Neil for now, and he knows what Neil wants - to reach out and comb his fingers through Andrew’s hair as Andrew slips his tongue into Neil’s mouth when he opens it to gasp. His other hand reaches up involuntarily and he immediately jerks it back but Andrew doesn’t even pull away from their kiss as he reaches for Neil’s hand and places it in his hair.

Ah, Neil thinks, so this is what my mother warned me about.

And then he does not think about his mother. And then, he thinks about Andrew’s soft hair underneath his fingertips. And then, he thinks about his mouth opening easily to this boy who he’s known for a month and how much he trusts Andrew.

And then he thinks about how much he wants him.