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: Fantasy violence, sexual attraction and sex mentions, along with a discussion of amatonormativity.
Length: 1, 006 words.
Yes, voiced to romance’s expectation, doesn’t feel as dangerous as assenting to Ila’s alternative.
Darius rests his head on his knees, fighting the giddiness and the overwhelm. Four hundred and fifty, four hundred and forty-one, four hundred and thirty-two…
Once he reaches two hundred and seven, he looks up. Akash flashes Darius a warm grin before twisting in his armchair: he hangs his head over the edge of the seat, his hair falling in a tangled river of black, his legs propped against the backrest. The shift rucks up to bare plain linen drawers, but Darius has never known Akash to care for such things in familial company.
Ila glances at Darius, both eyebrows raised, before sighing at Akash. “How do you even do that?”
Akash swishes his hair across the floor, heedless of knots and dust alike. “Why not?”
Ila sighs and looks back over Darius’s head. “Since I have a chance of reason with you, how about … well, why do you keep coming back to us?”
Why? Maybe he should have returned to Malvade, to a peaceful monastery where Darius can trade personal relationships for religious service and consistent, comprehendible things like books. Eschewing the Ravens for the priesthood, though, means leaving Mair, almost a mother to him, and his friends. While he loathes his fellow mercenaries and his employers, Darius enjoys the work itself: the peaceful stretches of desert and mountain, the days spent riding, the usefulness of his eldritch arts, the time away from the chaos of household and city. Even simple defiance—his ability to do the job, despite loud opinions on his being small, short and clumsy—keeps him going, a determination crafted from sheer spite. Returning to the West, now, feels more like abandonment than freedom.
The bullies didn’t run him off; people live today because of it. That matters, even if a tiny, grudging part of Darius wants to wonder if their lives should be worth his nightmares.
He just wants someone worth working for, someone who doesn’t value property over humanity. Someone worth his blood and history. Someone kind enough that his life has meaning when he isn’t with the Ravens. Someone not Arvel and the handful of merchants who preceded him.
“You’re my friends.” Darius pokes the last of the soap bubbles with his fingers. “You don’t … you don’t mess up things. You don’t want more than something that’s already good.” He draws a breath, half afraid that voicing this will destroy it. “You listen to me. You try to speak so I can understand. I can go and come back. And I don’t feel like you’re looking, wanting, if we’re playing cards or talking or sleeping together. I mean … I know you want with me, and I want you, but not so much that you care when I can’t, and I like that. Who else has that? You’re not … looking, like Harlow was.” He nods and looks up at Ila, just long enough to catch hir eyes. “It isn’t messed—”
Akash’s gasping laughter cuts him off.
“Asexual? Sometimes, but mostly not, I think.” Akash, wincing, rests a hand against his ribs, rolls so he faces the floor and drags himself down off the chair, sitting up with his legs tucked under his shift and much of his hair. Mirth darkens his cheeks to a vivid scarlet. “I don’t know why we never figured it before, because aromantic? So much.”
Ila glances at Akash, sighs and shakes hir head. “I wouldn’t have said it like that … but I don’t think he’s wrong, Dari.” Ze breathes out, long and slow; Ila holds hir feelings too close for Darius to read them, much of the time, beyond the absence of bolder emotions like rage or hurt. “And … and we didn’t figure it before because we assumed your distance from people is divergence and hatred, and we didn’t think to look.”
Akash stares at Ila, his lips parted, before grimacing and nodding.
For the life of him, Darius doesn’t know what to think, never mind speak.
“I know people are difficult, and that can’t be neatly cut out or ignored. But do you think this ideal for you?” Ila flicks hir fingers towards hirself and Akash. How does ze keep hir nails so long and neat? “Close friends, people who can talk with you, and take to bed when you can bear the touching? But you can come and go as you like? And it’s casual?”
After a moment, Darius flaps his right hand. He thought he said as much, albeit with a greater indirectness—a revelation that didn’t feel this hazardous five minutes earlier.
If names are meant to bring clarity, why does he feel so uneasy?
“And Harlow wants something else, something you don’t have to give her? Or want to, to her or anyone?”
Can he step back into yesterday evening? Can he return to say that one-word answer, however false it rings? Yes, voiced to romance’s expectation, doesn’t feel as dangerous as assenting to Ila’s alternative … but Darius twitches his right thumb and pointer finger. If he struggles with the little shades of deception the world seems necessary and even polite, how can he lie to Harlow?
Akash’s eyebrows creep up his forehead. “See?”
Ila’s smile holds a patient gentleness, as though ze fears sending Darius scrambling out of the bath and down the hall to somewhere less complicated. “When I was younger, unknowing, most people I thought I was attracted to—romantically—were people I’d never have a chance of a relationship with. It’s more like I latched onto anything to fit in; the world didn’t tell me that I could be anything else.”
Seven years gave Darius ample opportunity to mention, however offhandedly, the reason he crossed the Straits: to find an eldritch sword, an expression of love, for the man who was once his teacher.
“Feels, feels … too real, then, to be … pretend. Then. Then.”
Ila nods. “I know. Does it feel as though it was real now?”
Darius’s left hand speaks answer enough.
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.