TWs: internalized racism/classism/ableism, impacts of racism/classism/ableism, violence discussed, gender fuckery, stalking, smoking
Sunvay and I stood outside of Will’s apartment, in the badly-lit corridor with the carpet I hoped was supposed to be green and the broken window, and I avoided their eyes. I knew what they were going to ask me, and I didn’t want them to. It sucked bad enough that we were dealing with all sorts of important, ethical, Life-Or-Death nonsense, and my emotions were getting in the way.
Instead, Sunvay leaned against the wall. He Mostly, he was taller, and the black hoodie sat more squarely on his shoulders. The biggest change was his face—squarer, more angular, with the spray of white that vaguely resembled a skull on the upper half of his face. “So,” he said in his low, droll tone. “You and the banshee.”
“Oh, lovely. You call her that too.”
“Force of habit.”
I shrugged helplessly. “Nothing, really? She’s got some sort of… weird… thing about me. That’s all.” Not really all. I kept… almost liking her. Almost understanding something, just out of reach. Almost recognizing something and then having it slip away again. I didn’t think I genuinely remembered a past life, or anything so naive. I just…
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said finally. “It’s not a big deal. She fucks with everybody, apparently. Besides,” I jabbed back, “I’m not into murder as a general thing.”
He nodded. “Sorry about that.” It almost sounded sincere. “It’s my job.”
“Your job to what, be a dick?”
I shuddered despite myself. It wasn’t the most comfortable phrase. But he seemed to know that, and didn’t push it, so I changed the topic. “Thanks.”
“I don’t know. Getting us out of the Medium. And not taking two weeks about it.”
“Took you that long last time?”
“Apparently! It didn’t feel like two weeks.”
Sunvay cracked a smile, although it looked odd on his face. “You’re new to this. Right?”
“Everybody keeps saying that, but everybody else seems new to it, too.”
He made a little affirmative noise at that. I wasn’t as intimidated by him out here, although I realized with a bit of surprise that he did have six fingers—it just took a moment to count them, especially when he had them half-hidden in his pockets. Then he glanced at me, a few of the loose braids at the front of his hair falling into his face. They were the same length—I don’t know why that amused me so much. Probably because of the annoyed expression he made when he batted them away. “We’re not like the one in there who can’t keep her ears to herself, but you’re thinking about us. Just spit it out.”
Oh, that was how theirs worked. They—well, Reynare—had said that only Jaylie was a Sulfur in the Medium, but out here it turned out they all had it. This was making my brain hurt. “I think I mostly get how this works, um, the—the plural thing? System thing?”
“Systems, plurals, dissociative identity disorder, all much the same, yes.”
He talked so differently from Jaylie. It took some getting used to. But now I didn’t know how to ask what I wanted to ask, and I folded my fingers into my palm. Jurie was still bothering me. “Isn’t it… bad that one of you is, um—I don’t know.”
“Oh. You’re talking about Jurie.”
“Yeah. That seems—that seems like a bad thing. Right?”
Sunvay chuckled deep in his chest. In Jaylie’s voice, it didn’t seem like it would come out that low-pitched, but even in an alto, it came across that way, anyway. “It… is complicated.”
“Everything’s complicated,” I grumbled, “but blaming yourself for shit sucks bad enough without somebody else getting in on it.”
“Huh what?” I looked over at Sunvay again.
He just shook his head with another smirk. “Singlets usually get stuck on the ‘different people’ thing for longer.” Then he leaned his head back against the wall, still watching me. “You know Jurie isn’t the source of any of that.”
…I did. It was the crap that I heard almost every day. People didn’t even have to say it out loud for me to hear it; it was the background static everywhere. I knew, on paper, somewhere, that it made sense for someone who’d lost their sister, someone who hadn’t gotten any help with their early education, someone who struggled with reading let alone high school essays, someone who had bad dreams every night and who couldn’t get a job—it made perfect sense that someone like that would drop out of school, or struggle with making ends meet. But that didn’t mean I had an excuse for not succeeding. Not being a better person. Not being… something worthwhile.
“So she’s, what, an echo?”
“Sort of.” Sunvay chewed on his lip. “Works differently for everyone. People with bodies get born from other people. People without them get born other ways.”
“You used the word singlet earlier. What’s that?”
“Oh, just anybody who’s not a system. You’re all one person, more or less.”
More or less sounded about right. I wasn’t even sure if I counted as one person half the time. “Okay, so, there’s…five of you?”
“Six, counting Big Spooky.”
“Big Spoo—oh, god, him.”
Sunvay chuckled at that. “There’s me, Reynare, Rassar, Jurie—don’t make that face—Jaylie, and the Headless.”
“I don’t suppose any of you are fluffy bunnies.”
“No, but Reynare does purr a bit when you scratch her behind the ears.”
“Foxes don’t purr,” came Will’s voice from behind the door, and she opened it, smirk on her face. She was wearing a beaten-up dark purple hoodie over her ripped jeans and star-patterned t-shirt, and although her hair had washed back to blonde in the time since I’d last seen her, a stubborn bit of green hung on at the back of her ponytail. So much colour. I couldn’t imagine deliberately sticking out that much. Although I supposed ‘deliberately wearing exclusively bargain-bin specials’ got unhealthy after a while.
Sunvay just narrowed his eyes. “Tell her that yourself and see how it goes.”
“I look forward to it. Sorry about being a bit sus earlier. My sister gets on my nerves.”
I hadn’t realized how much I was going to enjoy Sunvay looking nonplussed. “That’s—she’s your sister?”
“Did the identical looks not give it away?”
“You’d be surprised how little it does,” I said with a smile. “Although this is the first time I’ve seen you in the same room.”
“Yeah, there’s a reason for that.” She stuck her wallet in her mouth as she locked the door then—remembering she had a purse—dropped both in there.
I found myself wondering what Ophis actually meant—and Will snickered. It means snake. I’m surprised you remembered that.
I cleared my throat to hide the startled giggle. “I thought—”
“We get along fine.” Will started to head down the stairs. “As long as it’s not just us.”
“Sometimes I’m glad we’re only children,” Sunvay sighed. I couldn’t help glancing back over my shoulder at him with a raised eyebrow—then realized that Jaylie was back. I hadn’t even noticed the transformation. Apparently it was quick when it wanted to be. “Well, I am,” she defended herself. “Headmates aren’t siblings. They’re, uh—I don’t know. Pets? Ow!”
Will peered up from the second set of stairs below us, and laughed, the metal stairwell echoing. “Let me guess. Mental kick under the table?”
“That wasn’t a guess, you snoopy bitch!”
“I don’t do it on purpose. Tell Reynare hi for me.”
I passed her, stepping outside and shivering a little. I’d known it was getting colder and colder, but the snow was here. Not thick enough to stick on the ground for more than a day at a time, but this time it was at least an inch. I didn’t like snow most of the time, but after the stress of the last…er… while, anyway, it was nice. Although my ratty jean-jacket wasn’t really covering it. I’d had it since Grade Seven or something, and there were patches on it that had worn so thin that you could see through them.
Something dropped on my shoulders, and I looked down at Will’s hoodie on my shoulders. “Aren’t you going to get cold?” I asked skeptically as she rolled her half-exposed shoulders in her fitted shirt. And… maybe enjoyed the view a bit. Just a little bit.
“Maybe? If I do, I’ll steal it back.”
“At least I dressed for the occasion,” Jaylie said primly.
“Shapeshifters don’t get opinions on clothing choices,” Will shot back, to which she just got a raspberry.
“Oh!” I realized where we were. Will apparently lived close to Rideau Street. Which meant…
“Oh, lovely,” drawled Jaylie. “You’re taking us there.”
“Hey, nothing like a proper Ottawa landmark for an evening nibble.” Will grinned, flipping a pack of smokes out of her pocket. “It’s a genuine tourist attraction.”
“One, I’m not a tourist,” Jaylie grouched. “Two, McStabs does not count as an attraction.”
“McStabs is such an uninventive name. The raccoon thing should come up first.”
“Raccoon thing?” Jaylie’s voice went up a startled octave, and I managed to distract myself from how much I wanted one of Will’s fucking cigarettes with how did she not know about the raccoon—
“It all started one sordid night, at the infamous McDonald’s on Rideau Street,” Will started solemnly, and Jaylie seemed ready to slap her.
“If this ends with a dead raccoon I’m never going to forgive you!”
“Oh! No!” Will held up her hands apologetically, cigarette hanging from between two fingers. “The raccoon’s fine, I swear.”
“Fine. Fine. Continue.”
“There’s fights all the time at McStab’s, and two dudes got into it. Somebody was filming it, who knows why. One dude brings out a knife. Other dude has on one of these big long winter coats, unzips it, out comes a fucking raccoon.” At Jaylie’s shocked, disbelieving expression, Will crossed her heart. “Swear on my mother’s grave. And the bitch is actually dead, so you know I mean it.”
Jaylie just kept blinking in shock, and I shook my head with a big grin, pulling Will’s hoodie on properly. “I wish I could tell you she’s fucking with you. Whole thing’s true—it’s on Youtube and everything.”
“Yes, and it’s rumored that on dark, stormy nights, when the mist rolls in from Gatineau, that self-same procyon still strolls the streets of our somber city—”
“Willow,” I said, attempting a grimace, but the giggling ruined it.
“Nice alliteration,” Jaylie said.
“Consonance, but close.”
“I don’t know what any of those words mean,” I said brightly, “but it sounded nice. Although I know procyon from a… book. Or something. Not sure, actually. Doesn’t it mean raccoon?”
“It does! Also consonance means repeating the same consonant sound. So like, alliteration, but based on sound.”
I vaguely remembered this from my lit classes now, actually. “Well, unless it’s going to get me a burger, I’m going to focus on the sound of my own feet.”
“Clever,” Jaylie snickered. Then she hopped the last few steps towards the McStab’s entrance. It was quieter than usual tonight, thank god. I wasn’t in the mood to navigate drunk people and fights right now.
Will gave me a strange look, then pulled out her phone. “You two go ahead, yeah? I…er… gotta make a call.”
“You got it. How’d you guess?”
“Honestly, I’ve pissed off enough people lately that it was Avery or Isaiah. I—” I stopped myself very suddenly at the wry, dubious expression on Will’s face. “Okay, what? You’ve been making faces at me today.”
Will leaned against the telephone pole that marked the bus stop. “I am a hell of a person to be saying this, but you know people wanting to protect you aren’t like, mad at you, right?”
“Tell my sister that,” I mumbled.
“She’s not. I am an expert on, one,” she extended one finger, “fucked up sib relationships, and two, getting dragged out of my own self-destructive spirals.” The second finger joined the first, then she poked my nose with both.
I rubbed my nose. “I’m not—I don’t know. Self-destructive seems like a strong word.”
“It is.” She lit her cigarette, and honestly, the smell alone both helped the craving and made it worse. Curse myself and my inability to quit. “You usually like Cassie, don’t you?”
“I’ve only met her twice, really. She surprised me today.”
“Same thing. She wants to protect people. Doesn’t mean she words it right or goes about it how I would, personally, like to see her do it.” She flicked the lighter shut. “I mean, god, I could probably write a thesis on Cassie’s saviour complex, but I’m the one dragging her ass out of trouble half the time, so I dunno what that makes me.”
I dug my hands into my pockets—the borrowed hoodie’s pockets—and tried not to feel bad. It was weird, trying to think about why things were bothering me. It bothered me that Jo wasn’t around as much anymore. It bothered me that the connection I’d felt with Cass hadn’t held up. Maybe it’d come back if I knew her better, but…
I blinked back sudden tears. All credit to Will—she knew when not to say anything. Instead, she pulled her wallet out of her back pocket and handed me a twenty. “Get me a Big Mac and you can pay me back at some point.”
“At some point?”
“I will accept many forms of payment.” At my slightly panicked stare, she snickered, gave me a (very gentle) kick in the shin, and started dialing her phone.
I really did like her, and it was starting to bug me. Mostly because I had the vague impression that I was a shitty friend, a worse sister and not really somebody you wanted around for long. I was happy with the brief flickers of interaction I got from the day to day—beyond that and I started feeling ill at ease, like an invader in somebody’s home, or a visitor staying too long.
But my mind, searching for safety, searching for an exit, had taken me to Will.
Oh, fuck. Jaylie sounded like she was talking through gritted teeth, even as she hid behind the McDonald’s order console. I joined her, then looked past the console, towards one of occupied seats.
Kiera gave me an awkward wave, holding a chicken nugget in her other hand. Behind her, Nathan looked ready to disappear into the ground.