At some point after Gold Morning, the woman most recently known as Ashley Stillons came to the realisation that she didn’t exist.
In a literal sense, of course, she was just an imitation of a dead girl. A talented imitation, a forgery by a master artist, but an imitation all the same. Even that girl, though, had spent her life trying to contort herself into something else, trying to make sense of her missing pieces by finding a shape that didn’t require them. Then that too was taken from her, and then she died an unassuming, unimportant death.
Thus, whoever the woman was, it couldn’t be her.
She had been Damsel of Distress for a short while, at first for lack of options and lack of agency to choose even if there were. When that was rectified, though, she had chosen it, at least for a while. The forms said Ashley Stillons, the mouths of others said Ashley Stillons, but she didn’t have much use for Ashley Stillons - it was much easier to be Damsel, after all. Damsel, who had no friends or family, who had no trust and no courtesy, but who had hands and an apartment and a kind of peace , if a hollow one. In truth, though, she wasn’t Damsel - that honour belonged to her sister. She was merely… wearing her like a costume, because it was the easiest way to get by, because it worked.
And then she’d met a sad little girl with a hollow smile, who promptly ruined everything.
Even thinking about the moronic ideas she had planted in Kenzie’s head when they’d first met made the woman want to travel back in time and rip her past self’s head off. (Or at least, that of a convenient proxy, which had made living with her sister slightly tense).
Kenzie, she had quickly come to realise, was not a thing to be used and utilised, was not a monster or a problem to be dealt with. She was a child , a beautiful, intelligent, vivacious, good child, who had been told she was all those things for so long that she had started to believe them. And unless someone stepped in, she would tear herself apart, giving the pieces away to be useful and helpful, until all that was left was a hollow, dead shell of a girl (like her), or a monster (like her), or nothing at all.
And so the woman had stepped in.
How could she not? Others had tried but they didn’t understand , not the way she did, never the way she did.
The problem was, she couldn’t help her without being someone , and the options available to her didn’t pass muster. Damsel of Distress couldn’t help Kenzie, would only lead her into ruin as sure as she had herself. Swansong could protect her, but couldn’t nurture her, couldn’t encourage and support her in the way she needed.
The woman had abandoned who she had been because she had been a sad, broken little girl, but that was exactly what Kenzie needed - to see that a sad, broken little girl could grow up. Learn how to be a person, learn how to be, if not happy, then… okay . Content.
And so, at the simultaneous ages of two years and twenty-four years old, she found herself trying to figure out who Ashley Stillons was.
Some things she had figured out so far:
Ashley Stillons loved sugar. Damsel had enjoyed it and Swansong had incorporated it as best she was able into her refined, ‘sophisticated’, persona, but Ashley loved it. Jellybeans and chocolate and lollipops and anything else sickening and sucrose. And sour candy had quickly become her favourite, more money spent than she should have on maintaining the small stash inside her dresser.
Ashley Stillons hated socks. The way they itched, the way they felt against her skin - she had always defaulted to tights or leggings but had never consciously made a decision until now.
Ashley Stillons liked fantasy novels. Not in the way she had as a child, not in the way that a young Damsel had used them as an escape and a template in all the wrong ways. She just enjoyed reading them, immersing herself in the fiction, enjoyed the different ways magic could work, how different authors approached and interpreted the genre staples, or even how they ignored them entirely.
Ashley Stillons liked women, exclusively. That one had, quite frankly, been easier to figure out than she felt it should have been. She had read books, she had spoken to Tristan, she had… researched in other ways, and now that she was trying not to delude herself, it simply seemed evident.
(Ashley Stillons liked one specific woman, which was proving to be a much bigger challenge than the initial revelation had been).
And, more than anything in the world, Ashley Stillons loved Kenzie Martin. And if took burning the rest of the world to ashes to keep her safe-
She wouldn’t hesitate for a second.