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: Mentions of ableism/abuse, assault, fantasy violence and wounds, along with an agender, aromantic person of colour being referred to as an insect, and a brief discussion of the ways amatonormativity impacts aromantics in relationships with alloromantics. References to kissing and physical intimacy.
Length: 1, 057 words.
The world makes romance more important than anything, or anyone, else.
“It isn’t as funny as it sounds.” Akash perches on the foot of the bed, twisting his hair into a rough, tangled rope. “We finally had a day where all three of us were off work, so Ila went to the usual waterhouse and I walked Halima over to meet Ila for the first time. So when we arrive, Ila’s in the corner reading while some sparkling lout was trying to hit on hir, and Ila’s got that look where ze’s one minute away from using hir book to shove his nose up into his skull—”
“I wasn’t going to use my book. My palm.” Ila coughs and shakes hir head. “He was a client who doesn’t understand how to be a client. And won’t anywhere Mair knows about.”
Darius learnt the breadth of Mair’s contacts the day he overheard the Bully complaining that all the local houses had denied him entry. He doubts anyone desires the kind of man who beats up the divergent as a client, but never will Darius mention that he knows Mair put the word out. He’s grateful, though, to avoid the horror of his tormentors treading these safe hallways.
“Anyway, Ila stands, and just as the bloke puts his hand on hir arm, Froggy’s guards grab him and haul him off, shouting. Everyone else is dead silent, just watching.” Akash shudders; Darius doesn’t blame him. “They toss him out and close the door, and I don’t know what possessed Halima to mutter at my ear just then, but she sounded so loud. ‘Your lover’s the angry stick insect?’ The whole room had to have heard her!”
Darius isn’t sure how Ila resembles a stick insect, never mind an angry one, but he’s been subject to enough unflattering comparisons not to doubt the ridiculousness. “I’m sorry. That sounds … horrible.”
“Ila got that look again,” Akash says, his smile wide, “and I didn’t think; I just took Ila by the hand and led hir right out. Halima just stood there gaping as we walked past her, but it would’ve been fine if Froggy didn’t start clapping. You know what that crowd’s like; ze set everyone off! So of course I kissed Ila on the doorstep…”
“Forehead,” Ila says, “not lips.”
“… and after a minute or two, we left.” He shrugs, his brown eyes glinting; Darius can only assume that Akash, at least, didn’t stint in playing up to his audience. “I wrote her saying I’m not with anyone who talks that way about Ila and I want my necklace back, please. And she told me to take it to the Fetchers! I probably shouldn’t have kissed Ila in front of her and everyone else, though? That’s why she’s being so damn stubborn?”
Ila snorts. “Probably?”
“It takes two people to kiss, lover, and you didn’t try to stop me!”
“She called me an angry stick insect!” Ila draws a breath, but hir lips curl upwards. “And I was relieved that my partner … that he won’t put his romantic conquests before me. I still doubt. Not because of anything you’ve done. Just because the world makes romance more important than anything, or anyone, else. More than me.”
Even Darius recognises that hir words are not spoken to or for Akash.
Akash’s face stills. “Never.” He slides across the bed and settles himself against the pillows beside Darius, one arm looped around to rest on Ila’s shoulders, the other resting on Darius’s thigh where robe bares skin. “You’re mine. However you want or need me to be with you, you’re mine. I’d walk away from every other person in the world before you. Both of you.”
Ila lifts hir hand from Darius to snag hir fingers in Akash’s mane.
Darius just sits, tired, giddy, his eyes half closed, possessed of one word he can’t speak aloud.
This. Not Harlow. This.
A soft knock, again the six-beat rhythm used by most of the Ravens, sounds from the door. Darius, unsure what to do, jerks his head up and nods when both Akash and Ila look his way.
“Come in,” Akash calls, and his hand tightens on Darius’s leg when Mair, armed with a herbal-scented basket and the saddlebag Darius left downstairs, slips in through the door. “Dari, please let Mair look? And stay here a few nights, at least until you’re not limping so much. Please. You’re not going over there when you’re hurt.”
Some silences struggle under the weight of revelations not meant for ordinary conversation.
Some silences shape a shared agreement so profound that words aren’t needed.
Nearly seven years ago, Darius walked down the street outside thinking that delivering a message for the Master meant dawdling his way into a couple of hours free of the school and its chorus of false smiles, only to hear a door slamming and Akash’s bare feet thudding into the dirt. What if he didn’t run outside after a magician who’d done little more than mumble two days earlier while replacing faded lighting spells? What if Akash didn’t insist on Mair’s looking at his injuries? What if Darius found nobody to offer sanctuary and a closeness encompassing more than his limited, childhood understanding of friendship?
Aromantic? Maybe, given time, he’ll know what parts of that gift he wishes to keep. Maybe right now it’s more important just to trust and cherish this wonder he has, kindness and closeness and safety. Maybe right now it’s enough to know that romance can’t give him something he already owns.
A loud, pitched humming echoes from the saddlebag draped over Mair’s shoulder.
How much did the belt annoy everyone downstairs?
“I don’t … I don’t want the belt to know what we talked before I … decide, but…” He flaps his right hand twice, throat tightening, thinking that this yes isn’t as difficult to speak. Not simple, but not as frightening or bewildering as Harlow’s question. “Can you let it out? Before it starts yelling? Last time it bellowed the rhyme about the dragon and the bridge thirteen times straight!”
Akash grins, squeezes Darius’s thigh, slides off the bed and takes the bag from Mair’s arm. Mair sets her basket on the bed, staring at his bloodstained, spell-scrawled bandage.
Where else can he go?
Where else offers this kind of love but the House of the Ravens?
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.