After seven years in Rajad, Darius has fallen out of love with the unattainable and avoided falling in love with the companionate. If he lives at arm’s length from passion, isn’t that better than risking the abuse his fellow mercenaries so eagerly deliver to an autistic who can’t quite fit in? But when the right person suggests a romantic relationship, “yes” still won’t grace his tongue, and Darius hasn’t the least idea why. He likes Harlow. Shouldn’t he want to love her?
The only thing he can do is turn to his old friends and rescuers, the Ravens. They have an answer if he can stumble his way through asking the question … but it may upend every truth Darius thinks he knows about himself.
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, 113 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 to await Ila’s brush. “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 hitting on hir, and Ila’s got that look where ze’s a 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, hir words tightening. “He was a client who doesn’t understand how to be a client. And now 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 here desires as a client a man who assaults the divergent, but never will Darius mention that he knows Mair put the word out—even if he fears that she did to save him from the horror of his tormentors treading these hallways.
“Anyway, Ila stands, and just as the bloke puts his hand on hir arm, Froggy’s guards grab him and haul him off. Everyone else is dead silent, just watching.” Akash shudders; Darius doesn’t blame him. “They toss him out and close the door, because Froggy’s a brick. 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 irate one, but he’s been subject to enough unflattering comparisons not to doubt the ridiculousness. “I’m sorry. That sounds … horrible. Unfair.”
“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 moment 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, especially when it involves a bloke not taking no, and I want my necklace back, please. And she told me to take it up with 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 at least 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 cradle 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 after clapping the sequence that lets his voice break past the soundproofing spells. Mair, burdened by a herbal-scented basket and the saddlebag Darius left downstairs, opens the door, and Akash returns one hand to Darius’s thigh. “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 Cutter Street 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, mocking 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 Darius’s injuries? What if Darius found nobody to offer sanctuary and a closeness beyond his limited, childish 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 to cherish this wonderment of kindness, closeness and safety. Maybe, right now, it’s enough to know that romance can’t give him what he already owns.
Maybe, right now, all he need do is choose the people before him.
“Thank you,” he says slowly, “for not … not pretending. Thank you.”
A humming noise, echoing from the saddlebag draped over Mair’s shoulder, rises into a pitched, ear-throbbing crescendo.
“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. “Can you let the belt 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. She sets her basket on the bed, her chin wobbling, the corners of her lips turning upward, her dark eyes fixed upon his bloodstained, spell-scrawled bandage.
Where else can he go? Why should he wish to?
What 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.