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of ice blue eyes & twisted veins

Chapter Text

when you
come crashing down who’s
supposed to save
you now?

I’m afraid of the dark, Neil thinks bitterly as his eyes drag across the pavement and the familiar taptaptap of his shoes pounding on the ground leaves his heart speeding up in exhaustion and comfort and fear. Four in the morning paints black circles under his eyes and the chilly air bites down to his bone, the breeze ruffling Neil’s curly hair that he hasn’t bothered to get cut and only the streetlights illuminating his path as his mind clears away of all of his worries. He throws his head back and sighs contently, breathing in the night air.

Running had always been Neil’s solution, although he thought he’d prefer having a real destination instead of running aimless circles across his small town and he thinks maybe instead of showing up to his first day of classes the next morning he could lose himself some more and run down to the next city or state or name and if there was anything he learned from this past year, it was that he was safe, but that fact did nothing to the stir in his chest that was telling him to go besides perhaps make it stronger.

There was ice in his veins now and somehow he could see the floor ahead of him without straining his eyes and when he looked up a second later he realized that he had ended up in front of a small and familiar grocery shop that had light pouring out of the window in warm invitation. His mind swam with random thoughts and exhaustion but even with his foggy head he managed to hear the distant ring of the bell that made a cheerful sound when his calloused hands pushed the door open.

(His drained mind continues to mimic the sound of the bell and it beats its way down Neil’s throat.)

Running shoes squeak quietly against the polished linoleum of the shop’s floor and his mind clears enough to tighten up his lips in what he thinks could maybe be a smile at the mellow and mumbled welcome that sounds quietly though the shop. The voice is like a harmony underneath something exhausting. He glances up for a second and his brown eyes snag the hazel that seems to be burning into him for just a second before he quickly looks down again and watches his shoes make their way to the back of the shop.

He doesn’t remember grabbing the gallon of milk or the pack of chewing gum but when he looks up, both of the items are on the conveyor belt, moving towards the cashier. There’s music quietly filling the store but Neil doesn’t know what song it is so he focuses instead on the boy in front of him and wonders if he likes to run and if he’s in college too and if he’s had as much of a taste of the horrors in the world as Neil has before he decides that none of it even matters, nothing, not when they’re both sharing stolen glances (even if Neil knows the boy is only looking at the scars on his face and not him) with lazy acknowledgement and suddenly Neil doesn’t feel so tired when he’s looking at the way the boy’s hazel eyes are half-lidded in what he thinks is either boredom or exhaustion. Perhaps both. He wonders what it would be like to work in a small shop at four in the morning.

The boy- Andrew, as it says on his badge- scans both of the items and reads out the total in an empty voice and Neil’s tired brain is just amazed at how indifferent he seems before the number sinks in and he retrieves his wallet from his back pocket.

(He isn’t usually self-conscious about his scars but he pretends not to notice the way his hands seem to turn away from the boy when he pays for his items.)

He leaves the shop more awake than he was before but his legs still burning from his run and longing to go further but he knows they were going to feel like lead the next morning, so he sticks to long strides and walks the rest of the way home, the stars looking like black holes above him and the moon soaking into everything around him: the buildings, the parked cars, the flower petals. And he was scared. He was scared of this silence and monotony and the way that the familiarity of it all burned into the backs of his eyelids and he knew he was safe, sure, but he didn’t feel it in his bones; he felt trapped and scared and he just wanted to run, so he did the next best thing; his already hazy brain dissolved into nothing as he let himself slip away and allowed a different piece of himself to take over for him.

--

there’s a world not far
from here i’m thinking
maybe i’ll go and
chill up there

There’s a tug forcing him up and out of his chair and Kit gives him a smirk as he sighs and walks towards the door. He was having a good time, really, but duty called, he supposed. Myosotis flashed him a quick grin that tasted of pink and gold and he tugs the door open, walking past Neil and opening his eyes.

--

Chapter Text

my blood is a flood of

rubies, precious stones; it keeps

my veins hot, the fire’s

found a home in me

 

“You’re home early.”

Andrew spares a glance towards Nicky as he slides down onto the couch with his ice cream and a spoon. Nicky turns to look at him with eyes that hadn’t yet lost their spark. “Are you feeling sick?” Andrew watches Nicky for a few seconds before undoing the tap on his tube of ice cream.

“I got fired,” he says, his voice as blank as he feels. The situation was less than ideal, yes, but it didn’t bother him in any significant way - nothing did. Despite that, Nicky still gives him a shocked expression.

“What did you do?” he groans.

Andrew had known that working a shift at fuck o’clock wouldn’t be possible for him with school coming up, so he found temporary amusement doing things that he knew would get him fired and seeing how long it took them to catch on to his actions, and it happened to be on his first day of classes. Andrew wants to sleep, but instead he eats his ice cream in silence with Nicky at his shoulder.

“Forget it, I’ll get it out of you another day, but you still need a job, Andrew. There’s a cafe down the street that you might like, that place Renee works at? I heard they let their employees keep the extra cookies and stuff.” Nicky keeps on rambling but Andrew ignores him. His first class was in an hour and he still needed to shower and get ready but he stays planted on the couch next to Nicky and thinking about the skittish brown eyes and scars he had seen at the shop earlier in his shift.

He was the only customer he’d seen that night (god knows why such a small shop would need to stay open twenty-four hours), and his brown irises made Andrew think they would taste like poison down his throat. He had felt a spark in his stomach when he looked at him, but he didn’t know whether it was the obvious rings in his eyes that could be vision contacts but instead screamed liar or if it was just desire, and how he hoped it was the latter; he knows how to deal with lust, with lingering looks at arms or lips, but maybe it was the scars on his face or the fact that he was out at four in the morning, because there’s something in Andrew too akin to interest to be real so he instead pushes his mind away from the boy and focuses on the time.

He feels disarranged, stained glass and broken mosaic as he sits through all of his classes with an empty chest and bleary eyes. This is what he gets for eating so much sugar all the time, Kevin would say, and he has to stop a scoff from escaping his mouth in the middle of a lecture.

When his mind wanders back to the boy with lies for eyes during his break, he concludes that there was a difference between being interested and needing something to fill up his head for a bit while he looks for himself in the cracks of the pavement underneath him and he thinks that perhaps the weeds splitting up desperately through stubborn sidewalk like someone coming up out of water for a gasp of air could be him.

 

.

 

tell the mirror what you

know she’s heard before ‘i don’t

wanna be you anymore’

 

Myosotis had taken it upon herself to email one of the school’s psychiatrist to set up an appointment and explain their situation. Glitch had scolded her for it as if she were a child, telling her that there were plenty of psychiatrists that didn’t believe in their disorder and anything could have happened but thankfully, the one she had chosen, Betsy Dobson, seemed kind enough. The appointment was part of the reason they had chosen Jamie to control the day. The classes would be less overwhelming for him, and he could pull off being Neil for that period until the appointment where he was the most trusting out of all of them and would be able to deduce how much information to give.

That didn’t mean he wasn’t nervous; Neil didn’t trust shrinks and it seemed he was closer than the others because of the way his chest sped up when Jamie walked into the room. It was the sort of nervous that made his knees want to buckle and turn around and he felt the sweat on his palms whisper in his ear so he tried to give Neil a shove back.

(It didn’t work.)

“Hot cocoa?” The voice was farther than he expected and he looked up to see that the woman- Bee, as she had introduced herself- had closed the door and had her back to him. He felt a bit heavy as he nodded his head that was thrumming familiarly with voices, but he didn’t pay attention to them as he took a seat on one of the long couches.

“Sure.” He looked around the office at each of the tiny items that littered the room, personal touches that made the place seem more homey and comfortable, and Jamie trusted her, he was sure she would do them good, but it was hard to keep a clear head when Neil was so close and his insecurities seeped into his own consciousness. It’s not like Neil meant to do it, really, and he couldn’t very much help how close he was either, but the air tasted awkward and he felt like he was choking on it, so Jamie tried to relax into his seat as he thought reassurances that he hoped would reach Neil.

The hour with Bee went by quickly, even though Jamie was a bit annoyed that he couldn’t enjoy his hot cocoa with Neil so close but nonetheless Jamie liked Bee and he thought maybe Neil would learn to like her, too, regardless of his distrust; they spoke of his past psychiatrists and what they had discussed and achieved, of what the others were like and what their relationship with one another was like, of what they wanted out of the school year and all in all it was just very pleasant to Jamie, he could definitely get used to her faster than he had their past psychiatrists. He walked the way home with content in his chest and Neil farther and therefore calmer than he was before.

 

.

 

Nathaniel was four years old and there was a kind of burning in his chest as he runs and runs and runs and he thinks he likes it, just a little, but pushes the thoughts away as he circles around the street corner and races down to his house faster. His laughter bubbles in his chest as he hears the tiny shouts from the tiny boy from his day care chasing after him - ‘no fair you’re too fast!’

He leaps up the stairs that lead to the front porch of his house and Nathaniel is gasping for breath because of his run and the laughter spilling out of his mouth in waves. He turns around to see his friend catching up to him and panting, leaning against the side of the house as he waits for his breath to return to him.

“Come on! My dad said he wouldn’t be home until late so we can go in and play!” His friend grins up at him and Nathaniel turns around to open the door. He reaches up but before he can turn the doorknob the door is being yanked open and Nathaniel’s mother is gripping his arm tightly and pulling him into the house.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she says, her voice frantic and furious at the same time. Nathaniel’s eyes widen and he watches his friend’s confused look before his mother slams the door shut.

“I was just- I wanted to play and dad said-”

“Shut up.” She covers his mouth with one hand and tightens her grip with the other and Nathaniel’s arm is throbbing now. Behind her, he can hear footsteps clambering down stairs and Nathaniel holds his breath as he stares up at his mother with wide eyes.

I’m scared, he thinks, his heart beating loudly in his ears.

I’m here, Neil replies, and Nathaniel winces.

We can’t be friends anymore.

But I’m not real, remember? He doesn’t know.

But he’ll find out.

“Nathaniel.” His father’s voice makes his pulse faster and he feels like he’s going to pass out, vision going in and out of focus.

Go , the boy tells him, go! I’ll be Nathaniel! You go!

No! Tears stream down Nathaniel’s face as his mother removes her hand slowly and moves away from where she was standing between Nathaniel and his father.

I am Nathaniel. You go.

But then who am I?

We’ll be each other. You’ll be me. You’ll be Neil. Now go!

Neil’s vision goes black.

 

.

 

Neil’s eyes snap open and dart around the room as he gasps for breath quietly like if he makes any noise his body will break and as silently as he can, he reaches under his pillow but only hits his bed frame with his fingers. His eyes take a moment to adjust to the darkness of the bedroom before he sees that there’s no one in the room with him, but it does nothing to the stuttering in his chest. Immediately his head fills with reassurances and a strong, calming voice telling him that it’s safe and he’s okay and there is no one after him. His tense shoulders relax by only the slightest amount before he makes his way out of the bed and out his door.

The clock on the stove that’s never been used says it’s two in the morning and Neil is just so fucking tired of all of this, of the nightmares and the way his heart is still hammering in his chest and his bed and this fucking house and he just wants to go, he’s so tired, but there’s nowhere else that will take him because he told his uncle he wouldn’t be a lie anymore, but how is that even possible when everything about him is a lie? His name, his appearance, everything about him is a lie. He dyed his hair and continued wearing contacts because it was the only thing he asked of his uncle, please at least don’t let me look like him but what was the point of that when it just rubbed in the fact that he was nobody? He wasn’t real and he wouldn’t be remembered by anybody and he hated this life because god there were so many things he wanted but couldn’t have, so what was the point of staying here anyways?

He was afraid.

He doesn’t know who he is, if he is, and it sends his mind reeling into possibilities, sends it thinking about how fucked up his life is. He’s been so fucked up by others, so badly that his mind fractured over and over again and he can’t help but think what it would be like to, for once, live a normal life.

Immediately, Neil feels bad for thinking such thoughts. His alters are only there to help him, he knows, all most of them had ever done was help, but it makes him feel powerless, like he can’t do anything right on his own, and it’s so frustrating.

Neil closes the door behind him but instead of letting his feet take him away, he sits down outside of the small house his uncle had bought for him months before and looks up at the sky. And he realizes that he’s not the only one in control when his vision blurs a bit and he suddenly gets a deep craving for some meal at the nearby fast food joint that he despises but frequents anyways and his thoughts shift a bit and focus on his alters. None of this was fair on any of them, and maybe all together they were a whole but they weren’t allowed to live their own lives and Neil wasn’t sure if he was angry about that due to his own thoughts or everyone else’s, but whatever it was, it bothered him so much.

Neil stands up quietly and walks around his front yard, stopping by each patch of flowers that Myosotis had planted to make the whole place feel more homey. It didn’t help him much but Myosotis certainly calmed down at the sight of the blooming plants and lessened the ache of the others in his chest.

And as he looks back at the small house that was his, that was theirs, he can’t help but think that one day he’ll come back to this home and ask what it’s like to die with a name.

 

.

 

when the cold is over pull me

out of the ground and i

don’t know how we fall into these holes

 

“Nathaniel,” Alex says sternly, voice deep and calm and smooth. Nathaniel narrows his eyes at him. “Just today. Just right now. You haven’t been out in awhile, you need to go, you-”

“I am not him and I don’t want to live like him.”

Alex frowns and lets out a breath of air before turning cold eyes onto him. “We know. None of us are him. But we still need to help. He is our priority and he cannot do this right now, Jamie is tired, and no one else is around.” Nathaniel stares right at Alex for a few seconds before he’s turning wordlessly towards the door. Alex smiles wryly.

He didn’t know how he put up with all of them, really, but it’s not like there was much of a choice. Even more, though, he hated being in the outside world now that school had started because other than going out to clean up Neil’s messes, he was needed for classes as he was the brightest out of all of them. He didn’t like being around so many people on the big campus but he told Neil that’d he’d help him, so there wasn’t anything he could do.

He pulls open the front door and nods once at Glitch, whose uncomfortable expression relaxes once she realizes he’s there. Glitch walks in and Nathaniel shuts the door.

He was immediately met with the enthusiastic smile of Matt Boyd, one of Neil’s coworkers before he was fired from his job, and he immediately regrets listening to Alex as he is stormed with how are you s and we really need to go out soon s and he just wanted to cover his ears with his hands and yell because of course he was the one that had to take care of this. He sighs quietly and gives Matt a tight smile once he finishes speaking.

“It’s nice to see you, too,” he lies, and Matt gives  him a huge grin. Nathaniel feels like going back in and forcing someone else out just to be petty but he pushes back the thought and continues walking alongside Matt.

“Hey, Dan misses you too, Neil. Says she’s getting tired of hanging out with the same people.” Matt chuckles at that. “ I’m actually gonna go meet her right now, do you want to join us? We’re getting what she calls ‘lunch’ at this new cafe, I heard it was good.” Matt looks at him expectantly and Nathaniel winces.

“I’m fine. I’m not too fond of sweets,” he tries, ignoring Jamie’s protests in his head and focusing on the path ahead of him. From the corner of his eye, he can see Matt’s smile turn smaller.

“Please?” Matt asks, and then adds, “I’ll even pay for you. No harm in trying, right?” Nathaniel frowns and turns to look at Matt, who is still looking at him with his huge eyes, and he knows Neil was fond of Matt, or at least didn’t find him to be the worst person in the world, even though they weren’t the closest, but Neil would probably at least give him a chance. He sighs again and flashes a quick smile at Matt.

“Okay,” he says, and Matt’s big smile returns as he wraps an arm around Nathaniel’s shoulder, not noticing the way he tenses underneath him.

They walk the way to the nearby cafe, Matt chattering about events that had happened at the coffee shop they had worked at from the point that Neil had gotten fired and Nathaniel giving half-hearted responses, letting him speak. Jamie was close enough to ward away any snaps that Nathaniel might’ve accidentally let out and he was also close enough the thought of a cafe wasn’t the worst like he would’ve thought on his own.

When the bell above the cafe signalled their arrival, Matt grinned at the cashier that welcomed them in. The girl returned his warm smile.

“Renee, this is Neil,” he tells her, patting Nathaniel’s shoulder before retrieving his arm.

“Hello,” she says pleasantly, turning her sweet smile on him as her eyes pierce into him and Nathaniel shivers. He decides then and there that he is not a fan of her all-knowing gaze. He nods a bit in acknowledgement and mentally swore at Alex, who was, intentionally, not there to listen.

“Dan will be here soon,” Matt says. After he orders for all of them, he leads Nathaniel to a table near a window in the near-empty cafe. Nathaniel was a bit wary of the entire situation but he relaxes just the slightest amount at Jamie’s quiet affirmations. He was definitely the best at calming all of them. Still, he feels a bit uneasy as he and Matt make small conversation in the cozy room. There was a small trickle of people going in and out but Nathaniel doesn’t miss it when the bell above the door chimes and Dan walks into the cafe in all of her confident glory. Her eyes scan the room and when her eyes land on Nathaniel she breaks into a smile, rushing towards their table with bright eyes. Both Dan and Matt were extremely affectionate people, so Nathaniel knew the hug was coming before it happened, but still his breath hitched and his heart sped up at the first touch.

“You fucker,” Dan said, pulling him against her in a sort of awkward way, since Nathaniel was still sitting. He forces himself to release the tension in his shoulders as he lifts an arm and half-hugs Dan back. It’s what Neil would do, surely. “Not one text!” she announces, pulling away but letting her arm trail back slower as she ruffles her hand through his hair and Nathaniel wishes he could relax into the touch, but he couldn’t let down his guard. “Did you lose my number?”

He gave her an uneasy grin. “I still haven’t gotten a phone,” he replies, and she clicks her tongue. She sits down next to Matt and leans in for a chaste kiss before turning back to study Nathaniel, frowning slightly.

“When was the last time you got a haircut? Jesus, Neil.” Matt hums in agreement and flashes Nathaniel a smile.

“We’ll have to take him with Allison, I don’t trust him to get something that doesn’t look horrible,” Matt says, and sighs. Nathaniel shakes his head.

“I’m fine, really,” he says. “I like my hair this way.” It was a lie; Neil was the only one who didn’t see a problem with it, but it was long and hung over his eyes and it annoyed Nathaniel and everyone else immensely.

Dan shakes her head immediately. “Nope. No excuses, we’re taking you with Allison and you bet your ass she won’t be easy on you.” She snorts and leans towards Matt. “ I swear I can see her face when she sees Neil for the first time .” She turns a disdainful look on Nathaniel and his plain clothes that he thinks was just fine and Matt laughs loudly.

“We’re warning you now,” he says, and they ease into a comfortable conversation.

They chat while they eat once their order is brought over and Nathaniel was surprised to find that his small slice of cake and the tea Matt had ordered for him didn’t leave a terrible taste in his mouth. Still, he couldn’t stop himself from glancing around the cafe every few minutes and he didn’t speak too much but was content to watch Dan and Matt bicker back and forth. Neil had made a good choice in who he was fond of, Nathaniel thinks, but his caution did not let down for the rest of the evening.

A few times, Nathaniel finds his eyes being met by the barista behind the counter, hazel eyes boring holes into brown, and he couldn’t help the resulting uneasiness that struck his stomach everytime he looked away from them. He made sure to keep the barista in the corner of his eye as he turned his attention back to what Matt was saying.

He didn’t know why Alex had thought it would be a good idea for Nathaniel to be out to talk to Matt, really, since he was the most cautious (paranoid, Kit would say, with a roll of her eyes) out of all of them and Neil wouldn’t have had too much trouble going out today, no matter if he was feeling overwhelmed or not - Neil had always been a good actor. They all were, they had to be. Nonetheless, Nathaniel suspected that Alex just wanted him to communicate with others more; it was the hardest for him to be around others, and he had pointed out multiple times that they existed to fulfill their own roles and socializing wasn’t one of Nathaniel’s, but still, they all pushed him to talk to others more, even Glitch.

And maybe it was helping, just a little, sitting here and talking to them both but it still felt like a knife to his throat whenever they said something that seemed even the slightest bit odd to him.

Nearing the end of their outing, Nathaniel starts to feel a bit lightheaded and when his vision starts to go out of focus, he realizes Jamie’s voice in his head was gone. It was instead replaced by a sudden taste in his mouth that had him wanting to pull a face. He looks back at Dan and Matt who were talking about something that had happened in one of their classes, but Nathaniel could hardly hear them with his head a foggy mess.

He was at the door now, glancing at Neil as he walks back inside into his room. He had managed to have a relaxing time out today, for the first time in a while, as he was usually out to handle messes that someone created. He made a mental note to tell Glitch that they needed a phone.

Neil’s eyes came into sudden focus ten seconds after he opened them and he immediately hunched his back a bit and took a drink of the tea sitting in front of him with fumbling fingers to wash out the taste of sickly sweet from his mouth. He wasn’t the hugest fan of tea but he knew it would be at least better than what he was currently tasting. After setting the tea down, he looks up with lazy eyes, trying to get used to his new setting, and when he manages a good look at Matt who was sitting in front of him, he lets out a huff of air.

“Matt,” he says, frail enough that Matt doesn’t hear him and continues talking to Dan in his familiar and calming voice, and he lets his eyes trail over their faces. He wouldn’t admit it to himself, but he had missed them, and he was glad to finally see them sitting across from him and conversing as if they were the closest friends in the world.They weren’t; neither of them knew anything about Neil besides the fact that he lived by himself and that he was a private person who hardly shared anything with himself, but still, Matt had talked to him every time Neil had come in for work and Dan included him in conversations every time she went in. He missed that.

He feels a bit heavy as he suddenly becomes aware of someone’s eyes on him and he immediately tenses, hunching further into himself as if everyone in the room had not already gotten a good look at him; his face was not the most inconspicuous. He glances around the apparent cafe quickly with assessing eyes and they abruptly stop at a boy behind the counter.

The boy’s face was empty of his intention and any possible emotion he might have been feeling but his gaze was steady and unbreaking, heavy enough to make Neil feel like his whole body was being inspected by everyone in the room, or maybe it was that everyone else faded out and those hazel eyes were the only ones in the room.

Neil would have sat up straighter and stared back at the boy, as unblinking as him, in challenge, but Dan suddenly called his name and he was forced to turn away. He looks up at Dan who had an unimpressed look on her face.

“Are you bored?” she asks, and Matt smiles at her side. Neil shook his head slightly and looks down for a second before meeting her gaze again.

“I think I might have to go soon,” he says, shrugging a bit at Matt’s following outcry.

“We still have, like, twenty minutes before we have to go back,” he says, and his words sound like something calming. Neil shakes his head a bit and gives Matt a small smile.

“I’m sorry, I have to get back early.” Matt pouts a bit and Neil feels something like warmness in his stomach that Matt actually enjoyed his presence, even if he hardly spoke.

“Come out with us again soon, Neil. Maybe we bore you, but I like having you here. Just, think about it, okay?” Matt gives Neil a huge grin and Neil’s stomach rolls inside of him as he gives him a weak nod.

After exchanging goodbye’s and promises of more outings soon, Neil turns back to the boy behind the counter with tired eyes and finds hazel staring right back. There’s a strange sort of silence as they study each other, drinking in freckles and curls and empty gazes like cold water. Neil turns away five seconds later and walks out of the door.

 

.

 

isn’t it lovely, all alone? heart

made of glass my mind of

stone tear me to pieces skin

and bone

 

He was odd.

Andrew looked up when the door opened and in came two people, looking to be around his age, even though one of them easily had more than a foot on the other. The first boy was tall, dark skinned and spiked-up hair and brown eyes and he was uninteresting, mundane and colloquial in the way most people his age were, tired fingers and eyes mixed in with watered-down loquaciousness burning into the back of his throat. And then his eyes landed on the second boy.

He had seen him in the shop he used to work in, the night before the first day of classes, Andrew would never forget, and he had been stuck on his mind a few days after that until the interest faded like everything else in his life.

But now the boy was here again and he felt his stomach try to empty itself out as he watches the weary or wary look in his not-actually-brown eyes that study the other person with him. Predictable, Andrew thinks, that this liar with guilty eyes would be paranoid around others, but it still sets his already loud mind flying.

And he was odd.

Don’t do this , he warns himself, looking away from the boy and focusing on the current drink he was making, but as soon as the boy is at the counter and looking at the menu items with a bored look as the other person with him laughs and converses with Renee, Andrew can’t help watching the way the boy’s eyelashes flutter when he frowns and squints his eyes or the way the scars on his face seem to glow under the cafe’s lights and he can feel his whole world falling apart as he looks away a second time.

It’s just, he seems so different. His eyes are almost like stained glass coiling in disintegrating color, ultraviolet fragility cracking underneath his eyelashes like thin ice. There’s something about the way his skin seems translucent, veins crawling to the surface of deep-freckled complexion like tidal waves, posture quieted like he’s afraid of everything unravelling around him- it’s so fucking unusual, so odd and somewhat enrapturing.

He’s different, this sort of being that is both so reserved and curious it’s biting into his stomach like he’s never felt anything before in his life. And maybe he hasn’t.

And so, of course, it was no wonder that Andrew didn’t miss how uneasy the boy seemed. He didn’t miss when another person made their way to the table and he didn’t miss how his shoulders tensed up a ridiculous amount and then promptly relaxed when he was pulled into a hug, but not before his not-actually-brown eyes darted across the cafe towards the door. He didn’t miss the way his expression relaxed further as if he was enjoying the other’s presence, even while they chatted away and he didn’t say a word. He didn’t miss when he managed to catch his eye before the boy looked away quickly and then darted his eyes back towards him.

And he of fucking course did not miss it when his entire demeanor changed, from his posture to his expression to the way his eyes sharpened when he caught his eyes for the last time.

And he wondered, what could have caused that?

 

.

 

well i have brittle bones it seems i

bite my tongue and i

torch my dreams

 

Aaron had asked him why he frequented the roof of their apartment building so much and Andrew had replied with a blank stare and silence before Aaron scoffed and looked away. Now, dangling his feet off the edge of the roof, Andrew contemplates the possible answers he could have given him if he wasn’t the way he was.  

He puts his cigarette to his mouth and inhales. Because it makes me feel. Because it makes me real. Because when there’s all of this buzzing and I can’t stand the emptiness the only place to go is up.

He flicks his cigarette off the roof.

It’s days that blur past him later when he’s leaving Bee’s office that he sees him, all sharp brown eyes and thinly veiled secrets.

His vision focuses so fast that it’s dizzying and he takes a second to look into those eyes.The boy is looking right back at him and for a moment the clock stops ticking, the wind stops blowing, the world stops spinning.

And then the boy looks away and he’s gone.

 

.

 

somebody told the stars you’re not

coming out tonight and

so they found a place to hide

 

“Matt, what the fuck is this, a charity project? A Make-A-Wish situation?” Dan snorts at Allison’s words and Matt lets out a low whistle with an amused expression taking over his features.

“I warned you, you said it’d be fine, so here he is. I thought you said there wasn’t anything you couldn’t ‘fix’. So, go for it, Princess.” Allison scowls and stares at Neil, looking him over once, twice, three times before Neil gets tired and turns away.

“I told you I’m fine, Matt. We don’t need to do this-” Matt claps a hand on Neil’s shoulders and Neil can’t hide his flinch, but Matt doesn’t pull away.

“Nope, we’re doing this. Lets go. Allison?” Allison gives Neil one more look before flipping her golden hair over her shoulder.

“I should be getting paid for this.” A grin stretches over Matt’s face and he turns to Neil.

“Come on.”

They walk through shops in a steady rhythm, Allison picking out clothes, Neil protesting, Allison telling him to shut the fuck up, Allison paying for the clothes which Neil also protests and Allison also tells him to shut the fuck up, and Neil grumbling about there’s nothing wrong with my clothes as they walk into a different shop.

It’s over an hour later when they settle down in the mall’s food court to rest and Neil sits down next to what seems like hundreds of bags. Dan and Matt are sharing fries and making easy conversation with Allison, so it doesn’t take Neil very much to figure out that they seem like close friends. He doesn’t pay attention to their conversation, not really all the way tuned in with the words and instead eyes skittering around the area to sort out any potential threats, until Matt calls his name.

“We’re going to a club together next week. You should come with us. And I don’t want to hear that you don’t like clubs, just think about it, okay? It’d be cool to have you there.” Neil looks at Matt for a few seconds before nodding slowly. Matt grins. “Thanks, buddy. How have you been? Yeah, I know you’re fine. Have you gotten a job or anything?” Neil takes a drink of his water and shakes his head.

“No. I’ll probably need one soon, though.” Matt nod.

“College. What about that cafe we went to? They’re new, I’m guessing they’re hiring.” Before he can say anything, Allison claps her hands.

“Come on,” she says, stealing a few fries from the tray and then standing up and turning towards Neil. “One more shop. Matt tells me you don’t have a phone? What kind of college student are you, exactly?”

 

.

 

well it’s a permanent

summer but your words

are like water

 

Neil had left the mall with a cellphone, three phone numbers programmed in, four bags full of clothes, and a promise from Allison that’d she’d be taking him for a haircut soon. Jamie had been there to calm Neil down about the phone but now, he opens the door, expecting and just hoping for his room because the house was a right maze with only three doors that often opened up to different rooms than before, and Jamie just wants to rest for a while. Instead, he finds Alex pacing back and forth and murmuring under his breath. Jamie turns around to walk out.

“Think of yourself like air, a breath, I don’t fucking know.” Alex’s words cause Jamie to stop and turn back slowly. “You’re insignificant in terms of the overall universe, tiny.” Jamie tries to swallow down the lump in his throat.

He walks over to the window and tries to seperate the blinds with his fingers and gives up when he sees brick. “I don’t know why you’re saying this,” he whispers, because it’s true and because he doesn’t know what else to say and because the words sting Jamie’s lungs like acid as he blinks tears out of his eyes. He watches as Alex stops pacing and turns to look at him with swollen eyes.

“Because someone out there is breathing you in,” he says with hard words, gesturing towards the fake window and Jamie has to look away, “they’re living off of you. You are the oxygen in their lungs, keeping them alive and running through their veins.”

Even as Alex grips onto his shirt and sobs into his shoulder, Jamie thinks about Alex’s words and he feels like he’s on fire because it’s not true, it’s just such a fucking lie that it makes him want to explode the truth onto the world because no one out there knows that Jamie exists, no one beside these other fake fucking people and Neil, it’s just so fucking unfair-

Jamie holds onto Alex tighter. He knows that these people are not fake, but it’s just so lonely having to stay away when all he wants is some close friends of his own, some things of his own, a body that is just Jamie. But he can’t have it, and he never will.

 

.

 

honestly the

dishonesty leaves me

breathless on a dead end road

 

“Are you stupid?” Neil resists the urge to roll his eyes at the words or do anything that might show what he was thinking, and he glances up at the boy’s semi-familiar hazel eyes before turning back to his laptop.

“I don’t even know why I’m here if you’re just going to insult me,” Neil murmurs in a quiet dismissal and the boy shoots him a look with narrowed eyes.

It had been a while since he had last been forced to do a group project, and even longer that he had been paired with such ridiculous people that wouldn’t listen to anything he was saying. Kevin Day was one of them, and Neil didn’t remember him very much, but the green eyes and the number four on his cheekbone were familiar enough, and he had panicked when he had been called into the same group as him. He didn’t need to worry, though, because Kevin was completely oblivious. The other boy in his group he had already forgotten the name of, but there was something about his eyes that seemed to spark caution into Neil’s stomach- had he perhaps ran into him in some other part of the world?

They were in the library that had originally given Neil a cozy and warm vibe but now felt suffocating as he held back a sigh and an angry remark from sizzling out of his mouth.

“I don’t want to be here either,” the boy says, lips twisting into a scowl that Neil wants to scoff at. “Let’s just get this over with and then you can go.” Kevin lets out an annoyed huff of air before turning towards the boy’s computer and pointing something out to him. As they get wrapped up in a discussion, Neil spends a few seconds studying the way the boy’s eyebrow raise and his jaw tightens as he turns to say something to Kevin, and when the hazel eyes suddenly turn to look at him, Neil remembers the way that face had looked at him before - bored and empty. Now, he looked irritated, but his face was still recognizable.

“Oh,” he said, blinking at the boy, “do you work at that cafe down the street?”

His previously irritated face turns angry for a second, something twisting in his eyes before he looks away with only a slight frown towards Kevin, who is looking at Neil with a tired gaze. “No,” the boy says, voice cool and only leaking a small amount of annoyance. “We still need to get started on this.” And like that, the boy and Kevin are suddenly discussing more things they could be doing. Neil doesn’t pay attention to either of them.

 

At some point during the meeting, Alex comes out. There was no real reason for it besides the fact that Alex enjoyed doing schoolwork and Neil was extremely annoyed with the two snobby boys that he had been paired with. Of course, neither Aaron nor Kevin realize the switch; Alex was not the best actor of them (that would be Jamie), but he was capable of getting by, and so their switch would not be obvious to anyone who wasn’t paying attention, and wrapped up in their discussion, Aaron and Kevin were not paying attention. Alex doubted they would notice any difference at all even if he acted liked himself, but still carefully kept his face neutral and body still and tense the way Neil usually held himself.

It was not perfect: they were still different people, after all, but all of them had picked up on Neil’s mannerisms long ago and did their best to replicate them. Still, it was noticeable their change in posture, how they held themselves, certain twists to their letters even though they all learned to speak in Neil’s American accent. They were just different, and there was no way to help that. However, they knew enough how to act like Neil in order to avoid questions, even if they may lift their eyebrow in response to their sudden change.

Kevin and Aaron don’t notice. They’re discussing something and Alex leans in to hear better- he has minor hearing problems, enough to warrant hearing aids, though he hardly wears them. Neil doesn’t have issues with his hearing, and so Alex can’t in public, either.

Aaron glances at Neil during a lull in their conversation where Kevin is typing in his computer. Alex stares right back and Aaron seems annoyed for a second before he turns back toward Kevin, but when he speaks, his words are aimed towards Alex.

“Are you even listening?” he asks, but it sounds more like an accusation. “We can do this on our own, you know, you don’t have to be here.” Alex finds himself frowning and narrowing his eyes at Aaron but contains himself from saying anything out of character.

“This is a group project, isn’t it? What do you want me to do?” Aaron scowls before turning to his own computer.

“Here,” he sees slowly, turning his screen towards Alex. “This is what we were thinking. Pay attention next time.”

 

.

 

one day you’ll wake

up with no way out these

scars show just where you belong

 

“Matt wants us to go out with them,” Alex says, his words accompanied by a scoff that contradicts his emotionless words. “I can’t believe he thinks Neil is worth inviting in the first place.” Dr. Dobson gives him a small smile made of honey and brings her mug to her lips.

“Matt seems very kind,” she says, ignoring his last comment. “Are any of you planning on going?” Alex pauses for a moment before shaking his head.

“Maybe. Jamie will probably want to go. We’ll just have to see.” Dr. Dobson nods and sets down her mug.

“I suppose so. How do you feel about going?”

This was only Alex’s second session with Dr. Dobson, their fifth all together, Jamie of course attending the other three. They had two sessions a week and Alex actually found them quite enjoyable, unlike their last ones with the psychiatrist whose smile showed too much teeth and too little sincerity. At those times, he only came out when he absolutely needed to, but he found Dr. Dobson pleasant and enjoyed her company. As far as he could tell, the others did too, and were waiting for their own chance to meet her, but Dr. Dobson was not impatient in the slightest and did not push to try and meet the others.

“I’m against any place that has too many people.” He lets out a slow breath of air and looks down at his hands wrapped up in his lap. “But I suppose it would be good for us to socialize more. Especially Neil, but I’m not sure he’d want to be the one that goes.” The Doctor give him a pleased expression at that and nods.

“Have you thought about taking turns that night? It wouldn’t be very difficult as long as you guys communicate with each other.”

“I don’t think anyone besides Jamie is interested in going, though. Kit, maybe, but she’s not the most stable at the moment and I don’t think it’d be a very good idea to let her out.” Kit was never the most stable, considering who she was built after, and none of them were very comfortable around her, but even so, she was ultimately made to help them, too. She was trying, but the fact didn’t make any of them more comfortable around someone with the same attitude as Lola, even with all of the actual danger subtracted.

Those words weren’t quite fair or accurate, not really - she had changed a lot once they actually stopped avoiding and ignoring her, but still, the only one semi-friendly with her was Jamie, and that was just because he was Jamie. The others still tended to pretend she wasn’t there, her personality still just a little too much like Lola’s.

“Like you said,” the Doctor continues, “it would probably be beneficial to you.” She studies Alex while he gives her a slow nod.

“I suppose we’ll think about it.” She smiled at him and tips her head once.

“Good. Has anything else been happening these past few days? Have you been out much?”

“Not particularly. Oh, this week I came out to help Neil with a group project he has to do. I suppose the boys annoyed him enough to leave.” Dr. Dobson lifts an eyebrow but smiles anyways.

“Perhaps when Neil comes to visit we can speak about it.” Alex smiles back slightly and finishes their session up with mundane chatter.

 

.

 

oh, i hope someday i’ll make it out

of here even if it takes all

night or a hundred years

 

The music feels like white noise sticking out of Jamie’s ears, the girl in front of him like pixels stretching over his vision, and he doesn’t know how he’s ended up in this situation.

The man looks to be older than Jamie, by a few years, and the foggy eyes tell Jamie that he’s drunk. Jamie is a trusting person, but he is not stupid, though he knows someone like Alex is better suited for this situation. Still, Jamie speaks.

“Uh, I’m actually here with someone, so-”  

The man makes a dismissive noise and digs his fingers into Jamie’s shoulder, and that’s when he begins to worry. How was he going to get out of this? The man couldn’t do anything in a room full of so many people, even if they were all drunk, but still, Jamie’s stomach plunges.

“Forget ‘em, we’ll just be a sec.” He gives a wicked grin. “A pretty face like that-” The hand on his shoulder pulls away to reach for Jamie’s face, and Jamie immediately rips himself out of the man’s grip.

The scars on Neil’s face weren’t hard to miss, even in the dull colored lights of the club, but he could see the man suddenly analyzing his features by the way his drunk eyes suddenly widen comically, and Jamie thinks he needs to go now that he was distracted. Swiftly, he turns around and begins to walk on unsteady feet, even though he had not yet had anything to drink.

He looks up when he nears the bar instead of focusing on putting one foot in front of the other, scanning for anyone that might be able to help them, when he sees that the only person there on their own was a familiar face. Jamie’s features immediately light up; Aaron was not friendly in the slightest, but they were familiar with one another, and Jamie hoped he would help.

“Aaron,” he says, relief making his voice shake just the slightest, but other than that making sure to keep his actions like Neil. He glances over his shoulder and sees the man making his way over once more. Aaron turns his head towards Jamie slowly and before he can say anything sarcastic in reply, Jamie speaks again. “Uh, behind me,” he says, voice lowering but otherwise level and unwavering. “Just, say you’re with me if he asks?” Aaron stares at Jamie without breathing a word, shoulders a little tense and face a blank slate.

It had been a few seconds of silence and Jamie beginning to get a bit impatient when he realizes that he was not speaking to Aaron.

His first thought is that Aaron was like them, fractured and broken and only one being part of something much larger. Then, he takes a closer look at the empty gaze and sees the scattering of light freckles over the bridge of his nose illuminated by the dimmed lights and the more muscular build that he sported. Jamie suddenly goes rigid when he realizes his mistake, and even when someone inside supplies the word twin he backs away quickly, only to bump into someone behind him.

He jumps up at first contact and turns around, looking at the man from before, rambling on and on about what they could do together and just how much fun they would have, and his heart in his ears and the sudden fuzziness in his head almost overwhelm him. He can feel himself getting more and more angry, and surely Nathaniel was here now, standing over him like a parent watching a child and he feels so fucking useless and angry , thorns sticking out of his body and fire in his veins as he takes another step back and turns to face the babbling man, intending to just fucking end all of this, even if it takes a punch or four and-

“Shut the fuck up.” The voice is closer to him than he expects and he’s jumping again, this time turning towards Aaron- no, his twin?- and watching the way he considers the man in front of them with nothing in his expression. The words are punching, even though they’re said in such a bored voice that Jamie is amazed at how little he seems to care about the situation, even though he’s stepping in anyways. Behind all of that, though, there’s something like fire in his eyes, buried deep. “Shut the fuck up,” he repeats, “he’s with me. I suggest you get the fuck out of here unless you want to wake up in a hospital.” Maybe it’s because of the impassivity, Jamie thinks, maybe the boredom that’s pushed into the words is why they have such an effect on the man as he takes a stumbling step back. He lifts a hand in surrender and points at the door, smiling warily.

“Hey, man,” he says, “I’m going now.” Empty eyes stay on the man until he’s out of their sight, and as soon as he is, the boy turns back towards the bar, where one of the bartender’s is directing a wry grin at him. The mocking smile is pointedly ignored and for a second Jamie just stands there, not knowing what to do.

“Thank you,” he says hesitantly, a little cautious of the boy that managed to drive a drunk man away with two sentences. And suddenly hazel eyes are burning into him, boring holes in his skin and causing Jamie to want to collapse to the floor with the uneasiness in his stomach. He just looks at him or through him for a few more seconds before slowly turning back to the bar and waving his hand in a dismissive gesture.

Jamie takes that as his cue and turns around to look for Dan and Matt.

 

.

i have a little voice to

speak with and a

mind of thoughts and

secrecy

 

“Hello,” Neil says nervously, biting his bottom lip as he walks into Betsy’s office. She smiles pleasantly and motions at the sofa for Neil to sit down. “I’m Neil.”

She doesn’t react outwardly, just continues pouring boiling water into a mug and smiling. “Hello, Neil, it’s nice to finally meet you. It’s getting rather cold, isn’t it? Would you like some hot chocolate?” Neil exhales slowly as he settles down onto the sofa and begins to bounce his leg up and down nervously.

“I’m fine. I don’t like sweets.” Betsy just nods at that and sits down opposite of Neil with her mug.

“Is there any specific reason you’ve come to today’s session?” she asks, her voice smooth and light.

“Glitch thought it’d be good if I actually met you,” he replies, looking around the office at the various knick knacks and personal touches littering the room. He then turns back to Betsy and sets down the journals he had brought with him onto the wooden table between them. She only glances at them once before looking back up at Neil.

“Very nice. Do you know if any of you decided to go with your friend to the club you were invited to?” Quickly, Neil feels his head begin to spin and his stomach drop at the thought of the small portions of the night that he remembers and also at the word she had used: friend.

“I don’t want to talk about that.” Betsy accepts that without comment and Neil finds himself a little bewildered and satisfied by that. He sighs slightly.

“Then have you had any other meetings for that project you’re working on? Alex says it’s been stressing you out.”

Neil would never get used to someone knowing something about him without him telling them, but even so, he replies through gritted teeth, “Not yet. We’re meeting again tomorrow.” Jamie had let Neil know that Aaron had a twin the morning following the night at the club, which had made some sense and explained why he seemed a bit familiar. He decides not to mention that to Betsy, though. It wasn’t very important anyways.

Before she can respond, Neil taps on the journals on the table. “Jamie mentioned you might be interested in this.”

Betsy looks at the two journals with analyzing eyes. “May I?” Neil just nods quietly and watches as she flips the first book open.

They had been suggested to him by his first therapist after being diagnosed, the one attended by Jamie. A way to communicate with Neil, she had said, and so Myosotis bought three and set up their purposes. It was a pain sometimes, but since Neil couldn’t communicate with them in the headspace, it was better than nothing.

The first book contained system rules that they were all responsible for following - their therapist helped with that one. It was also a page where they could introduce themselves if they wanted to. The second one was messages to each other. If there was an off day where one of the alter’s couldn’t communicate with another in the headspace, they would come out and write it down when they could, or if they wanted to tell Neil something and were unable to become co-conscious, they would also write that down. And the final book was a personal one where they wrote down their own thoughts, not for other’s eyes. Since their diagnosis, they had gotten a lot better at functioning as a whole.

“Are any of you left-handed?” Betsy asks absentmindedly as she begins to skim the second book.

“Kit and Alex,” he replies, swallowing down all of the caution he can. He’s safe here.

Still, he has to hold his breath at the thought of somebody analyzing him the way this woman seems to be doing now, and god damn he didn’t want to come today, but nobody else was really around so he didn’t have a choice. Even so, his throat feels like he’s gulped down acid as he watches Betsy read their journal.

 

.

 

hey kid i know you’ve been

making plans with the devil and i

hate to break it to you but he

isn’t your friend

 

“You have a twin?” is the first thing that leaves Jamie’s mouth when he sees Aaron sitting at their usual table in the library, scribbling something down in his notebook.

He pauses for a moment but doesn’t look up, and then continues writing. “Yes.” Jamie waits a moment to see if Aaron will elaborate and when he doesn’t, he walks a bit closer to the table to settle his hand on a chair across from Aaron and pull it out.

“You could have told me,” he grumbles, keeping the pout in and the whine out of his words, just like he’s always done.

“Did you run into him or something?” Aaron asks, though the disinterest is clear in his voice and his fingers as finishes up whatever he was writing and shuts the notebook. Jamie shrugs.

“At a bar in Columbia,” he says. “Where’s Kevin?”

Aaron blinks at him once before turning towards his backpack and putting his notebook away. “Our apartment. Come on, we’re going over there. You wouldn’t answer your phone,” he throws him an annoyed look, “so we had to come here to tell you.” Jamie sighs and pushes his chair back in.

They walk out of the library in silence before Aaron’s words make him frown. “Who else came with you?” he asks, just as they stop walking besides a black, expensive looking car. Aaron glances at him once before opening the passenger side door.

“You’re in the back,” he says, slipping inside the car. Jamie frowns and opens the back door.

When he closes the door, he turns towards the front seats and is met with a pair of hazel eyes looking at him through the rear-view mirror. Jamie blinks and looks at Aaron for a moment, who is staring out of the window and not sparing a look towards him. Jamie’s eyes trail back to the mirror, uncomfortable at the way Aaron’s twin stares at him with completely hollow eyes. He looks away after a few seconds, and he can feel the boy’ eyes turning away, too. The car starts up and they ride in silence.

 

.

 

it’s a pleasant irony that you

stumbled into me it’s a

pleasant irony you have

caught me by surprise

 

They didn’t need money, not really, but working was a way to keep Neil’s mind occupied. He didn’t like having time to himself and even running up and down his city didn’t help the thoughts that crept into his brain, and so here he was, standing in front of one of the coffee machines and the girl that stood next to him, Renee, was polite and gave clear instructions, but there was something about her eyes that made Neil’s stomach clench, something that was saying that she was dangerous. Still, he stood listening to her and nodding occasionally until five minutes later the back door clanged open and out walked a familiar boy.

Aaron.

No, his twin, Neil thinks, judging by the bored look on his face and the sudden memory of seeing him here the first time he visited with Matt and Dan. He stops reaching for the milk  to take a second to look at the boy. Neil remembers reading that someone had been in a car with him and Aaron, so it wasn’t his first time meeting him, but it was. He watches as the boy walks in and, once he notice the attention on him, turn towards them.

When the boy’s eyes land on Neil, they narrow for just a second before his gaze flattens and his eyes wander over to Renee. Neil glances at her and sees her smiling brightly at the boy, and Neil wonders how she could be looking at him with such a warm expression when he’s looking back with a complete lack of emotion.

“Andrew,” she greets, her eyes not looking away from him once. Andrew, apparently, gives a very curt nod at Renee and his gaze looks away once more. “This is Neil. He applied a few days ago. He’ll be making drinks with you.” Andrew turns away and Renee smiles at Neil.

Neil didn’t apply to this place, it had been Alex during their second trip here with Matt. Matt had gotten the job a well, though it was at a different time than Neil, which he whined about for what seemed like hours over the phone. Neil wasn’t at all interested in working here, but stood at the counter next to Renee nonetheless.

“That’s Andrew. He doesn’t talk very much. Don’t anger him.” That’s all she says before she’s moving on to something about the drinks again and Neil finds it hard to listen.

The first half of his shift is mundane, boring and quiet but still so overwhelming because of having to constantly push away thoughts about their last workplace out of his mind, and when Neil’s lunch break rolls around, he steps outside, not intending to go anywhere but just wanting to relax for a while. The corners of his vision had begun to grow fuzzy and he really didn’t want to switch, not now, and-

As he closes the door behind him, a rush of cold air and the smell of smoke hits him in the face. He blinks once at Andrew, who is leaning against the wall of the cafe and smoking a cigarette. Neil’s breath hitches when he sees those hazel eyes staring right at him, a look that’s so blank it sends shivers down Neil’s spine but at the same time, so intense, as if his eyes are searching for something. And it’s confusing, kind of, that there’s this boy who seems to be a walking contradiction, that makes Neil as uneasy as he makes him… interested.

After a few more seconds of their staring contest, Andrew turns away with a bored look and reaches into the carton in his hand. He lights a cigarette and hands it to Neil, and after hesitating for a few moments, Neil takes it. He only takes one drag before he leans back against the wall next to Andrew and just inhales. He watches the smoke disappear into the cracks of the wall and inhales the way it smells like his mother and it feels like they’re standing there forever before Neil speaks.

“Aaron’s twin,” he says simply, watching as Andrew takes a drag and turns to stare at Neil quietly. “You helped me at the club. In Columbia.” Andrew doesn’t even raise an eyebrow at the words, just slowly breathes out the smoke into Neil’s face. Neil doesn’t flinch.

After a few more seconds of silence, Neil gives in and asks with uncertain words, “Why?” Andrew looks away and Neil’s suddenly lost watching him take a hit, watching the way Andrew’s jaw clenches and unclenches and the way his hazel eyes seem somewhat unfocused and far away. His pale blonde hair ruffles a bit in the wind and Neil’s just fucking lost. It’s odd, really, just so out of place that it makes Neil want to laugh at the fact that Andrew’s frigid fingertips burn into his lungs more than the nicotine. It’s new. It’s terrifying. Something in his stomach is telling him to get out of here, you’ve spent almost a year here and they’ll find you and Andrew is adding to it but also taking some of it away. Something in Andrew is saying that Neil should be cautious around him, he should be wary and alert at all times because this guy just isn’t right and Neil should really just go but something is also saying that maybe Neil can stay here for the rest of his life, breathing in the smoke and the scent of the boy next to him.

“I wasn’t helping you.” It’s all he says, and Neil can feel himself raising an eyebrow when he realizes that Andrew isn’t going to elaborate further. But it doesn’t matter, nothing does, really, and Neil feels like he’s going to have a hell of a time figuring out if this boy is someone he can trust but decides that for now, staying like this can be acceptable.

“Then what were you doing?” This time, Andrew doesn’t reply at all, unfazed and unamused at Neil’s question, not even turning to look at Neil once and instead plucking another cigarette out of the frayed pocket while grounding out the first one underneath his shoe.

Neil grows impatient once more and after concluding that he won’t get a reply, Neil says, “Why didn’t Aaron tell me he had a twin?” Andrew turns dangerous eyes onto Neil and watches him for a few seconds.

“I am not my brother.”

“Well it could’ve saved me a lot of trouble,” Neil mumbles, turning away from Andrew. “Why are you even out here?”

“You ask a lot of questions. What, an interrogation? Do I get a turn?” Neil rolls his eyes and drops his half-finished cigarette onto the floor with his stomach churning but not letting any of it show through. He can almost hear Kit laughing at Neil but pushes the sound out of his mind.

“That’s not an answer.”  

Andrew just shrugs boredly. “Ask me something worth an answer.”

“I don’t like you,” Neil says instead, narrowing his eyes at Andrew’s expressionless mask and watching the way the words don’t have any effect on him.

“How flattering. I don’t like you, either.” There’s something in the flat response that makes Neil want to huff in amusement, but at the same time, irritation bubbles up inside of him. He’s never even talked to Andrew before but a part of him thinks it’d be nice to talk to him some more.

“So then why are you talking to me?” Neil’s words are maybe a bit too forward, too accusing, for it to really be just Neil. He can’t tell who else is around or how many of them, but he can place his bets on Kit being there, somewhere. He wants to turn and walk inside of the cafe instead of waiting for Andrew to reply, but he just stands there, watching Andrew’s sharp eyes.

“I can’t solve you,” he states simply after a few seconds of silence.

“I’m not a puzzle. Try to make me one all you want,” Neil replies - well, someone replies - “but you won’t ever get anywhere with it.” With that, he turns and opens the door to the cafe. It was Neil’s actions, but it wasn’t. His response, but not his at all, something too teasing to be really only his, but he decides that it doesn’t really matter. He’s not planning on talking to Andrew again.

Before he can close the door behind him, he hears Andrew, muttering under his breath as he looks straight ahead with a blank face and putting his cigarette to his mouth. “You are a conundrum.” Neil lets the door fall shut.

As soon as he takes his place besides the coffee machines, Neil busies himself with orders, and it’s only ten minutes later when Andrew finally walks back in.

Renee smiles at Neil during a lull in customers. “Want a brownie? It’s almost closing times. We’re allowed to take a few things each.” Neil just shakes his head, even though Jamie probably wouldn’t mind a brownie - he could get something once he was here, Neil reasoned. His fault for not coming out today.

“I don’t like sweets.” Renee just smiles and gives the brownie that she was offering him to Andrew. Neil turns away.

 

.

 

meet me in a dream i'll be that

little voice inside your head

you can find me at the edge of the

World

 

The day after their first shift, Neil skips his day of work and lets Jamie take control, but after that, he’s stuck outside again and he bites his tongue as he walks through the streets because he doesn’t know what to do.

Neil didn’t have the same headspace as the others, didn’t have anything at all, really. It felt like taking a nap, but one where you were awake enough that you were aware of time slugging by you, but not enough to actually know what was going on around you. It was like being so sluggish and tired that you stumbled and your vision blurred and time was an inane concept and one that you simply couldn’t grasp; you were asleep, and then you weren’t.

He has thirty minutes until his next meeting with Aaron, and he thinks he’s nervous but he’s not really sure why. Andrew sets him off, a confusing thing that makes Neil uneasy with the bored but calculated stare, his piercing eyes somehow always looking like he was not really present and some place else, but somehow still paying attention. He didn’t want to see him again, but really he didn’t want to see Aaron or Kevin again, either, didn’t want to be out at all, but there was no one else around so switching would not be an option.

Even despite his unease, there wasn’t a very good reason to be nervous . If they could manage his father, they could manage anything, including a five-foot blonde.

Still, he feels his breath catching more often and his heart speeding up as the time ticks by and Neil gets closer and closer to Aaron’s apartment. The running doesn’t let him escape the cold and he puffs out his air heavily as he pounds his feet in a steady rhythm.

He knocks on the door once, twice, and Kevin lets him in a few seconds later with only a glance in his direction.

“Come on.” Neil walks into the apartment after Kevin, and once the door closes behind him, takes care that he doesn’t look too interested in the things surrounding them. He has already been here, he reminds himself, and forces his eyes straight ahead of him instead of taking everything in for the first time. He follows Kevin to the living room where Aaron has already spread out his papers and both his and Kevin’s laptops on the coffee table. Andrew sits by the window and blows smoke out of the screen.

Kevin settles down next to Aaron and Neil picks a spot on the same long couch but with a cautious gap between them. He takes his bag and retrieves his own papers.

There are footsteps tapping down the hall and Neil tenses as he turns to see what other kind of asshole could live with these boys. Immediately, a tall boy with dark skin looks out into the living room. He looks straight at Neil and smiles.

“Oh, hello! I didn’t realize we would be having guests,” he says, glancing at Kevin and walking towards Neil. Neil frowns at his friendliness. “I’m Nicky. Who are you?”

Neil is about to respond when Kevin waves his hand in dismissal.

“His name is Neil. And we have to do this project, so you should get going.” Nicky narrows his eyes at Kevin and pouts.

“Rude. He’s so cute, though, are you sure it’s just the project-”

“Nicky.” Andrew’s voice is solid and strong but also sounds bored. Still, it’s enough for Nicky to stop talking before he’s turning away and smiling at Neil over his shoulder.

“I’ll get going then. I’ve got my own project to work on. Sorry, Neil, we’ll get to know each other another time.”

It’s an hour and a half of discussion later that Aaron stands up suddenly and motions to Kevin. “Let’s go get food.” Kevin scoffs but nonetheless stands up and stretches out his arms.

“Want to come? It’s just down the street.” Neil looks at him and after a second shakes his head.

“I’ll just try to finish this up while you’re gone,” he says, gesturing towards his paper. Aaron glances towards where Neil knows Andrew is still sitting but Kevin just nods.

“We’ll bring back enough for you, too.” Before Neil can say I’m fine, they’re already out of the door. He sighs slowly and turns back to his paper, leaning back against the couch as he reads over it a third time. He didn’t really know what they were doing, so he stayed back and let Kevin and Aaron discuss some ideas and split up research, occasionally telling Neil to write something down or look something up for them. Other than that, and the looks they sent him once in a while, they didn’t tell him anything else. Neil was annoyed that they were basically doing most of the work, but Neil really didn’t understand what exactly they were doing and no one was around for him to ask so there weren’t many other options.

He reads over the paper one more time before deciding there’s no point and setting it down on the coffee table. When he puts it down, he turns around to lean his arms against the back of the couch and look at Andrew.

“Are those two always assholes?” Andrew gives him a bored look before turning back towards the window.

“Yes.” Neil leaves it at that but continues watching Andrew as he takes another drag from his cigarette, his eyes trained on Andrew’s impassive expression before suddenly Andrew is looking at him, too.

Well, not him. He’s looking right at the scar underneath Neil’s eye, the terrible burn taking up half of his cheek. Just the thought of it makes Neil want to vomit and clench his hands in pain. After a second Andrew is gazing back at Neil, looking into his eyes instead of the burn. Neil swallows bile.

“Dashboard lighter.” Andrew turns away and looks back towards the window.

“I don’t remember asking.”

And Neil doesn’t know why he’s told him, someone who he barely knows, about something that none of them had spoken about to anyone besides the FBI the night after it happened. But there’s something about Andrew’s lack of reaction, the way his eyes didn’t fill with pity or disgust or anything at all, really, and Neil liked that he was able to tell him a truth, even if it was something so small compared to everything else.

Neil looks at the thick scar splitting down Andrew’s hand and back up at Andrew. He rolls his eyes.

“Fight in juvie. Are you happy?” Andrew meant it sarcastically, a mocking way to annoy Neil, but Neil feels his stomach plunge anyways.

“I’m-” Neil doesn’t finish, the thought of i never have been making his mouth swell up because he just can’t say it. But the truth is, Neil is not happy. Andrew looks away and ignores the word.

“We’re going to Columbia,” he says suddenly, not turning back towards Neil and putting his cigarette to his lips.

He thinks for a second before looking up at Andrew. “Why?”

Andrew ignores him. “Friday. I’m driving.” Neil doesn’t know whether he should be suspicious and nervous or not - he didn’t really know Andrew, hardly knew anything at all about him, actually, but he thought maybe it would be okay to go anyways, even though there was still someone in his head telling him to stay away, to refuse.

Neil simply shrugs.

 

.

 

“Junior.”

Neil knew it was coming, knew that this was exactly what he got for going to Stuart after his mother’s death. He knew it during the entire car ride when he wasn’t in control but sat and watched as Kit took all of the abuse Lola landed on their body. He knew he would be seeing his father.

At the mere name, Neil’s vision grows with black dots and his mind gets fuzzy, a wave of fatigue and pain hitting him and making his knees buckle. Before he falls to the floor, his vision fades away completely.

Junior had never been out. He only held memories of what his father did to him, but never took control of the body, never talked to any of the others- most of them didn’t even know he existed. They thought Nathaniel had taken everything.

But Junior was real. He was real and was only four years old, for fucks sake, he was a helpless child and here he was again with the man that had caused him so much pain-

He broke down into sobs. He cried loudly and sank to his knees with burning arms but that was nothing compared to what his father would do to him, he was sure, he needed to stop crying and get up and face his father, he had to get up he had to get up he had to-

Hot pain soared through his chest and panic soared through his mind, his senses amplified and vision in too-sharp focus and it was dizzying. His sobs had shocked his father but he had went over immediately with his cleaver and was now straddling him and pinning him to the floor, the cleaver cutting shallow lines into his chest. His entire body stung.

His mind was a mess of voices.

No, Junior, it’s okay, come back.

You’re okay. You can leave him.

We can help you. Come back to us.

The door was kicked down. Gunshots flared through the room. And then Junior was gone.

 

.

 

Neil was overwhelmed, mind overflowing with music and flashing lights and skin, and he wanted to just leave this place for some quiet. He stays put, though, eyes trained on his unopened can of soda and mind throbbing.

“We’re going,” Andrew says, sounding impassive even though he has to raise his voice in order to be heard above the pounding music and maybe Neil is a little amazed by that.

“Where?” Neil asks, and stands up before he gets an answer.

Andrew tilts his head and says, “Away.” He presses his hands to Neil’s back and gives him a small shove towards the door that’s marked with a red exit sign.

To get to the door, he has to squeeze by a girl that’s pressed against the wall with empty eyes and a waxy grin, and Neil has to stop himself from shivering at the sight of her messy makeup and hiked up dress. Rows of couples are kissing against the walls and there are people dancing even off of the dancefloor and there’s so much skin that it’s dizzying and Neil’s lost now, blurred and sober and inept.

It takes him a while longer, but with Andrew at his back they manage to get to the exit and Neil pushes the door open with his heartbeat in the tips of his fingers. As soon as he steps outside it’s like a blast of ice, not humid or air reeking of a mixture of sweat and cheap perfume and Andrew already has a cigarette lit when the door closes behind them and is fumbling with a second one.

Neil relaxes a little as the smoke curls around them, and maybe he’s eight again, watching his mother struggle with her lighter as she looks behind her shoulder every few seconds and maybe he’s seventeen, breathing in the smoke of the burning car and body into aching lungs but not being able to turn away. If Andrew notices the way Neil leans into the cigarette smoke, he doesn’t show it, instead extending his hand with the second cigarette burning red.

Neil hesitates a moment and he’s trying to say something, anything, really, but the words are all caught in his throat like he’s swallowed something down the wrong way. And he realizes that he’s still hiding his hand from Andrew’s view as he goes to take the cigarette and it’s ridiculous, really, because Andrew has already seen the scars, and Neil’s never wanted to give someone a false impression of who he was, never wanted to appear like anything more than a right mess, even if he still hides away the rest of himself, but Andrew’s eyes are pouring into his like a broken faucet and he’ll be damned if he ruins all of this with lies. Andrew doesn’t notice or doesn’t comment and turns his back to walk away from the large garbage bins right outside the door.

(Maybe Neil should be nervous about how Andrew is leading them farther into the alley but only finds it comforting.)

The night feels sleepy and quiet despite the sound of the wind barrelling towards Neil’s lungs and when he risks a glance at Andrew their eyes seem to meet, blue and hazel and silver clashing and Neil likes to think it’s pretty in a dismal sort of way. Immediately, though, Andrew is staring boredly ahead at nothing with empty or dead eyes and Neil turns away as well, inhaling the smell of smoke deeply.

“You’re wasting it,” Andrew says, not turning to look at Neil again but Neil shrugs anyway and doesn’t bother to respond.

They don’t say anything for a while; they’re porcelain boys, silver-lipped like musgravite and not breathing a word. And maybe Neil is burning alongside the cigarette in his hands.

 

.

 

when we rest with water

screaming all day long and i

don’t know how we fall into these holes

 

The air smells like midwinter and something else Andrew doesn’t recognize and doesn’t bother to try and figure out.

“I’m not happy.” Neil smiles as he says it. He’s got that sort of smile that poets write about, lopsided and toothy like vehement punctuation and sharp parenthesis piercing a semicolon of hesitance onto his lips, and the words tumble and fall out of his mouth like they didn’t quite cooperate with his tongue correctly, or maybe they just weren’t meant to be spoken aloud. And Andrew would raise an eyebrow but Neil had never made sense to Andrew, not once, and it doesn’t matter that he’s smiling and it doesn’t matter that Andrew can’t tell if the wisps of smoke curling around Neil’s lips is from the cold air or the cigarette.

He recognizes why Neil is bringing it up now, of course. It had been a few days since Neil bit back the words that he understood wanted to flow out of him and it irritated him that the words were being thrown at him now but Andrew keeps his stony face in place.

He shrugs and takes one more drag before dropping his cigarette to the ground.

“Is anyone?”

 

.

 

i know that you want me you know that

i want you the memories haunt me i

know that they haunt you

too but it’s alright you’ll be fine

 

They walk into a convenience store together with bodies full of ice that makes their steps heavy and the warm air inside of the store more welcoming. It’s past midnight by then, images blurring together but at the same time sharper than Neil has ever seen them, exhaustion creeping its way into the corners of his eyes but at the same time he’s never been more awake.

Andrew moves past where Neil has been standing, walking without a pause towards the candy section. Neil follows him after a few seconds, shaking his head twice but deciding to get a few things for Jamie or Myosotis. Andrew hardly spares a glance at the shelves as he takes things seemingly at random and Neil has to stop a smirk from escaping his mouth, following steadily and taking things that one of the other’s might like.

Once Andrew finishes combing through the aisle he turns towards Neil with a raised eyebrow and hands full of his own snacks. “I thought you didn’t like sweets.”

Neil lifts his shoulders steadily. “I don’t.”

Andrew turns away without another word and walks towards the registers.

Everything just seems so heavy and still as they take their bags, quiet as if the world has been put on mute and Neil thinks that he likes it, likes the way that nothing is distracting him from how Andrew glances at him every once in a while as they walk side by side down the road, likes the way they don’t have a real destination besides away .

And maybe he got too carried away in the moment, letting his guard down and relaxing next to Andrew so much that none of the others were around because they just wanted the best for Neil, he knew that. Or maybe he was just a fucking idiot with no self-control.

Their steps blur together and Neil feels the weight of everything he’s gone through lift for a few seconds, allowing him just a few moments to himself, hiding away until they’re found again and he could only hear his own heartbeat in his ears, beating and twisting in his chest as though dying to get out and he didn’t mean to let the whole world get away from him but he thinks that maybe it’s okay to do if only for a few minutes.

But he doesn’t have that much time before his world comes into blurring focus and everything around him hits him like waves, from the sounds of the night creeping into his ears to the people in front of him staring at him like he’s a sort of secret they shouldn’t be hearing.

“Chris?”

For a moment Neil feels as though the world tilted a little bit sideways; his stomach drops and his head immediately fogs up with voices and he quickly rubs at his eyes to try and clear his vision with icy and unfamiliar fingertips. It’s so loud and it’s hitting him and breaking his skin as he tries to stop himself from falling falling falling but he can’t keep his balance, he’s sure he’s already fallen and made a hole in the ground.

And his vision fades away.

 

.

 

‘cause I don’t stand a

chance in these four walls and

he doesn’t recognize me anymore

 

Standing next to Neil, Andrew raises an eyebrow at the sudden change in expression on Neil’s face. He blinks once as he turns to face the voice that called after them, and then watches Neil tense up his body and his facial expression. Neil’s eyebrows furrow and he tilts his head just slightly in an experienced gesture that sends his unruly curls tumbling and falling over his eyes. He looks down a bit, further hiding his face but wide-blown eyes still looking up at the people in front of them. His shoulders tense up and he slouches down against himself and his arms cross over his chest as a sort of wall that’s keeping everybody else out.

Mere seconds ago Neil had seemed unfazed at anything that should have affected him, quiet and lost in thought as they walked down the street together but alone while Andrew smoked, but now, Neil sways a bit to the right and holds his hand out quickly as if trying not to fall over. After rubbing his eyes for a few moments he takes a good look at the two boys in front of them.

Neil takes a stumbling step back and then stops, face falling down and his expression flattening out into something not exactly bored or interested, maybe something watchful and enough to send a twinge running down Andrew’s spine, that small spark of not-interest, and Andrew pushes it away as he takes a step forward. The boys ignore him.

“Oh, it is you! I thought- we saw you, me and Noah, but you look so different with those- and your hair- oh, do you remember us?” He stops rambling and glances at the other boy next to him when he whispers, are you sure?

Neil watches them through carefully guarded eyes for a few moments before giving them a tense and very obviously fake smile full of lies. “I’m not sure I quite remember you,” he replies smoothly, and Andrew feels his head plunge at the slight lilt in his voice, the twinge of something he can’t put his finger on lifting his words just slightly enough that it takes Andrew a few seconds to realize his words are accented. Besides that, though, his voice is woven together calmly and carefully, flowing a lot smoother than it usually does.

(Andrew wonders just how many secrets this boy has.)

Suddenly they’re both grinning - “I told you it was him,” - and the moment that one of the boy’s places a hand on his arm, Neil is squaring his shoulders and pulling himself back towards the wall behind them. And then he was apologizing, his gaze slightly concerned, but Neil turns away from them and towards Andrew. Andrew watches the way Neil’s expression shifts at the sight of him, something like surprise or fear or both taking over his eyes. Neil snaps his face back towards the boys.

“What are you doing here?” Neil asks, his voice less level than before and shaking a bit at the edges. Andrew can see the way caution overrides any other emotion in his body.

“We were just visiting my sister here in Columbia, actually, we moved to Baltimore a few months ago-” Before he can continue, Neil abruptly turns away, but not before Andrew can see the absolute terror in his face.

When he notices Neil’s stance, Andrew turns with a flat gaze. “Neil,” he says, at the same time the boy says Chris . Andrew raises an eyebrow, because he was still calling him that name, and he isn’t surprised, not really, but it still brings a disquieting feeling into his stomach as he watches Neil tense. He turns his head to look over his shoulder only long enough to see the boy take a step towards him before Neil is turning back and bolting.

 

.

 

we learn from the ones we

fear the worst and learn from

the ones we hate the most

 

Nathaniel was forced out of the door without warning; he was enjoying his time inside but all of a sudden there he was, blinking his eyes open and his heart pounding in his chest and buzzing in his head and he didn’t want to be here. He looks around the dark street, curling in on himself as the panicked feeling sets in and he wraps an arm around his stomach. He can’t breathe, there was a feeling in his stomach like someone had just punched him and a feeling in his chest as if his heart was sinking down and he tries to force his way back into the door but he couldn’t, god there was no escape and-

He glances to his right and catches his reflection in a tinted car window and all of a sudden he was seven years old again, his father standing above him as he laid helplessly on the ground and he couldn’t look like that, no, his father would kill him if he saw him because he always said Nathaniel was the same as him and he always would be. Nathaniel can’t think of anything besides his father looming above him.

It’s too much, it’s all too fucking much and the world beneath Nathaniel’s feet tilts and sways and he feels like he’s falling, like he’s been falling since day one, eyes burning with no please and get up.

He snaps his head away from the car and begins running, stopping once to pull his contacts from his eyes and flicking them onto the floor before trampling over them when he continues his race, not listening to his groaning legs because he just needs to get out of there, to find the store he’s looking for before his father finds him and all of a sudden he was standing in front of it, minutes passing by like seconds as he fumbles with the door and steps inside. He’s shaking and his vision is blurry, turbulent and jittery and he swears he can’t feel half of his body as he grabs the hair dye from the shelf.

What are you doing just laying there, get up before I-

 

He doesn’t know where he is because all of a sudden his hands are fumbling through his hair and how much time has passed since he first saw his reflection in the car? He looks up into the mirror of the public bathroom and he can hear the voices in his head; they were almost drowned out by how many there were and the buzzing washing through his body like a wave but he was able to understand them roaring and screaming at him to get out get out get out stop stop sto

Junior!

Junior opened his eyes.

It was his father.

He opened his eyes.

It was his father.

He opened his eyes.

It was his father.

 

Chapter Text

“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.