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stars and sour candy strings

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You enjoy the parties. You really do. It’s lovely to see everyone again, to try out Jane’s new favourite recipe and meet the strays Dave and Karkat are feeding this week. It’s just… a little much for you. Cherubs aren’t a social species in the least. You might be more introverted than most, even. Your friends all tell their stories and laugh and you're off to the side, trying to block out the noise.

It's not like you're excluded, of course. It's hardly their fault you prefer to be alone sometimes! Everyone's always so lovely and sweet and-

Sometimes you miss Caliborn. The way he used to be, when you were very young. When you’d leave him a drawing before you went to bed and he’d tear it all up, but he’d arrange the pieces into a smile.

You miss the sureness that came with sharing a body. It was simple. You always knew what would come next. And then there were four humans and a game and paradox space, and you died, and you haven’t ever figured out whether you’d rather be the Calliope who killed her brother. And now you’re a cherub with only one mind in only one body (though all cherubs only have one body, of course, silly-)

The back door opens and shuts behind you -- Davepeta and June have come to join you on the veranda. "You okay out here?" June asks.

You don't turn around. "Just a bit overwhelmed, I suppose." You half-shrug, arms resting on the porch rail. "It gets loud in there, with everyone around."

Davepeta nods in understanding as they hover beside you. "Yeah, took me a while to get used to it too. Dave and Nepeta didn't really get meowt much!"

"Well, that's one thing we have in common," you say. "I've only had my brother for company for most of my life." The stars twinkle down at you, devoid of sympathy. There are less of them visible than you're used to, and the constellations are all mucked up. It's not comforting.

A strong hand rests on your shoulder. June, like you, stares up at the sky, but her voice is soft. "What was he like? Before?"

Before. When you were two souls intertwined, destinies tied up like the candy strings Caliborn liked. "He was… a brat. But he respected the boundaries. He knew there were rules, and he followed them just as well as I did." Caliborn liked all candy, really. The sweets he could tell stories with simply happened to be his favourites. "I think he fancied himself a wordsmith. Of course he always despised my fantasies, but he loved explaining things." He'd go into great detail about how he'd kill you when the time came. You think he planned to do it quickly, but the explanation tended to be quite drawn-out.

"Did you love him?" Davepeta isn't accusatory, just quietly matter-of-fact. It's an interesting question, considering. You suppose they haven't had the best experience with brothers.

Did you love Caliborn? You're not sure. You would have gone batty in that little chamber without him, yes, not to mention your own head. Even now, there's a spot in your mind where he should be resting.

"Everything I was," you realize, "was… opposite to him. I'm not sure I know who I am without that contrast."

You stumble a bit when Davepeta knocks their shoulder against yours. Their wings flutter behind you, stirring up June's hair. "That's the fun part. You get to make your own you now. Starting from scratch might sound more diffurcult than being a cool kitty cat guy girl bird, but I think you've pawlready come a purrty damn long way."

Maybe, you think. You've got other people to grow with now. You can--

"That was a pun too," says Davepeta. "The scratch thing."

"It was lovely," you assure them. "It's just… my entire understanding of myself and… and my place in the universe was binary. Caliborn and I. Someday one of us would exist without the other, but it seemed so far away. We were never even separate people, really. If I build my own self from who I was then, what do I fill the vacuum with? If he's not there to draw a line, do I still have to be reserved to his wild? Or-or female to his male? There's no bloody rules anymore and I don't -- I don't -- I don't know--"

"Hey, you're okay. It's okay, Callie." June's grip on your shoulder becomes a little firmer, a little more solid and real. You try to focus on her instead of the enormous gaping hole in your life. "You don't need a rulebook to be you! That's kind of what growing up is about -- not knowing what comes next."

Davepeta chirps in agreement.

June turns her head back to the stars, her glasses shimmering like Roxy's attacked them with glitter glue. "When I was a kid, I was pretty sure I knew what I was doing. Especially once the game started and I always had a plan to follow. There was always a backup plan, too, right up until we beat the game. I thought I was kinda on my own after that! But it turned out everyone else was still there for me." She gives you a meaningful look like Jade does sometimes, and you try to smile. "Even if we don't really have rules anymore," she says, "we have each other."

"You just gotta take things as they come, y'know." Davepeta rests their elbow on your head, like a side table. "We got you. No matter where you go with it." 

Inside, you hear your friends laughing like they're the happiest people alive. The air is clear, and you've got a whole sky full of new stars to learn.