Love in the House of the Ravens – Part Five

Cartoon-style illustration of shrubs, roses and grasses growing against a grey stone wall. Scene is overlaid with the dark green/light green/white/yellow/gold stripes of the allo-aro pride flag. The text Marchverse sits across the image in a white, fantasy-style type.

After seven years in Rajad, Darius has fallen out of love with the unattainable and failed to fall in love with the companionate. When the right person offers a romantic relationship and he doesn’t understand why yes won’t grace his tongue, the only thing an autistic man can do is ask the Ravens–and hope he can survive the word they give him in return.

Content Advisory: Descriptions of wounds and blood, non-explicit sexual experience mentions. This chapter includes discussions of the way sexual experiences are shaped by autism, autistic modes of communication and the infantilising of allosexual autistic adults by allistics (non-autistics).

Length:  878 words.

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If sexual attraction is this complicated, why couldn’t he say yes?

Akash helps Darius with sword, ordinary belt, breeches and boots, slowly peeling his trousers down over the thick layer of bandaging. The bloodstain’s edges—a large splotch over one side of the bandage—show a comforting old brown, an abominable contrast with the fresh scarlet in the centre. He presses his fingertips to the bandage, scowls and wipes them dry, ignoring Akash’s raised eyebrows and whispered cursing.

Ila hands over a stubby grease pencil. “Maybe Mair should look at that first?”

Darius settles himself back on the edge of the chair, the pain worth being freed of his clothes, and scribbles a waterproofing spell designed to both keep water out of the bandage and the words of the spell from washing away. The bandage will be unusable after, his spell adhered permanently to the fabric, but that’s better than forgoing his bath—and he’s used this spell so often his writing need not be legible. “No. No. Later. Please.”

A soft six-tap knock sounds from the door; Ila admits someone bearing a rattling food tray. Darius breathes in the oil used to fry the vegetables and gamy meat, likely goat, hoping that Sash remembered to give him plenty of rice.

“Anything else you want?”

Ila looks to Darius; he flaps his left hand while scribbling the last word of the spell with his right.

“We’ll ring if so. Thank you, Lia.” Ila closes the door with a soft click.

Darius leans over, dizzy, as the drag hits him. Breakfast—flatbread, sultanas and a shred of dried goat—seems like a week ago. Now, Arvel will be home preparing to deliver the seed to his merchants, and Harlow will be eating in the dining hall, seeking work for the return crossing. She won’t talk to the others about him, will she? Won’t mention his name only to find his former fellow students more than glad to dish the dirt?

The fastest route to insanity lies in dwelling on what other people may say, but how does he stop wondering?

He stands, balancing on Akash’s shoulder while trying to lessen the weight on his stiffening leg and push down his drawers and drop the pencil at the same time. Ila takes his free arm for the awful bit of getting his leg over the rim of the bath, something that makes Darius consider the horrors of a public bathhouse, but the warm water feels wonderful after three weeks over the Kara. He hisses, his teeth digging into his lip, as his left forearm burns and his right leg throbs with dizzying intensity, but both ease off, a little, as his limbs loosen.

“That’s better,” he murmurs, knowing his words are too slurred to be comprehensible. He slumps down into the water, head tipped back, eyes closed, uncaring. “Thank. That’s better.”

Ila takes up a bar of soap, clasps Darius’s hair in hir fist and starts washing the end of the tail, working hir way up to his scalp. Lavender smells better to Darius as dried flower heads, but it’s one of the few scents he tolerates. “Ask Akash what you want when you’re ready.”

Harlow tried to rub his shoulder after her stitching the gash, likely thinking to relax him: the pull of the thread through the edges of a wound stands even on Darius’s long list of loathed sensations. She was sweet, kind; for the first time, Darius thought he’d avoid the usual awkwardness and assumptions. Her company didn’t seem so different from this, the having of comradely friends who make space for different types of intimacy.

It felt safe—until she whispered in his ear that night, as they lay under the sparkling stars with only a few sleepy snores and shifting horses to break the silence. Are you like me, the way you never look at the other mercenaries? You’re like me, aren’t you? Asexual?

If she knew of Darius’s life at the school it was only by hearsay, and he doubts anyone there understands the mess of observation and calculation that goes into his risking any kind of connection. He doubts most of them acknowledge, never mind understand, his divergence. Akash and Ila respect his adulthood, but respect’s rarity necessitates the same questions when Darius dares look at someone: will they hear what he says with hands and gesture? Will they accept the retraction of consent when he can’t pronounce no and he’s too far into overwhelm? Will they assume him capable of an affection he can’t give and refrain from raging at its lack? Will they brand him broken or childish?

Harlow’s offer, after she told him what she does and doesn’t seek from a relationship, strips away one cursed complication. He won’t have to rely on her patience with his sudden and disconcerting halts when what was desired a moment before becomes too much touch to endure. He won’t have to navigate the expectations of someone else’s need. A partnership offers him some protection against interest, especially if they work together the Kara—and he likes her. Liked her until he ruined everything by freezing, unable to say yes, unable to say no, unable to keep from hurting her in his speechless confusion.

If sexual attraction is this complicated, why couldn’t he say yes?

K. A. Cook is an abrosexual, aromantic, genderless, autistic, queer adult who experiences chronic pain and mental illness. Ze writes creative non-fiction, personal essays and novels about the above on the philosophy that if the universe is going to make life interesting, ze may as well make interesting art. Ze can be found online at Queer Without Gender and @aroworlds.

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