Raven sat up when the movie ended, letting cool air rush into the cocoon of blankets and bodies they'd made. Anya watched her stretch, something she tried to pretend wasn't nerves fluttering in her stomach. She knew what was about to happen, because it was what always happened. They'd been on a few dates but this past week they'd spent every evening together, sometimes going out and sometimes staying in. At the end of the night, there was a moment where they both hesitated, holding their breath, waiting for the other to break the pattern.
If they didn't break the pattern, the pattern might break them.
Just say something, she told herself. Just open your mouth and say something. Anything.
"I guess I should go," Raven said.
Now or never.
"You could stay," Anya said, trying to make it sound casual, trying to act like it was no big deal, because it shouldn't be a big deal. It was late and it had been a long week and they were both tired and...
Raven smiled, shook her head. "Your couch is comfy, but I'm not sure my leg—"
"Not on the couch," Anya said.
Raven's eyes went wide. "Oh."
That was all. Just 'oh' and then they were staring at each other like they hadn't known each other for over a year, like they hadn't talked and laughed and debated about pretty much any and every topic that presented itself. Because now they were both thinking about the one topic that they'd conveniently neglected, which in any normal – no, not normal, there was no such thing as normal, and they were, she was, as normal or not normal as any other person, any other relationship, so no, not fucking normal - any other relationship wouldn't even be a topic of conversation, or at least not like it would be for them...
Or, well, fucking.
"I—" Raven swallowed, her lower lip dragging through her teeth. "Okay."
Anya untangled herself from the blankets and stood up, offering Raven a hand. She'd been reaching for her brace, but stopped. She took Anya's hand and pulled herself up, balancing a little precariously. "Turn around," she said.
It didn't take more than a second for Anya to catch on, and she turned around and bent her knees, letting Raven wrap her arms around her neck, reaching to grab the back of her thighs and hoisting her up onto her back, down the short hallway and into her room, where she turned again and dumped Raven unceremoniously on the bed, both of them laughing... until they looked at each other again, and then the sound died in their throats and their smiles faltered.
"I guess we should probably talk about it," Anya finally said. "Not that... there's no strings attached to this." She gestured vaguely at the bed. "Hell, I'll take the couch if—"
"You're not sleeping on the fucking couch," Raven said, rolling her eyes. "Just... sit down, will you? You're making me nervous."
"Misery loves company," Anya joked, but it fell flat and she grimaced. She went around to the other side of the bed and sat down, pulling a pillow into her lap. "I don't mean it like that," she said. "I'm not miserable. I just..." She sighed. "This part sucks. This part always sucks."
"Why?" Raven asked. She scooted back, leaning against the pillows.
"Because most of the time I'm totally fine with who and how I am... until I have to explain it. Then I start to feel like maybe I'm a freak after all. Maybe I'm as broken as some people think." She made herself look Raven in the eye as she said it. She hated letting people in, hated letting them see that she wasn't always as tough as she wanted people to believe, that she had weaknesses too, vulnerable places where it was all too easy to hurt her if you poked her the right – or wrong – way.
"You're not a freak," Raven said, her eyes gone hard, her tone adamant, "and you're not broken."
"I know," Anya said. "I know that here," she tapped her temple, "but when it affects someone else, it's harder to know that here." She pointed to her chest. "I'm afraid that if I try to explain, somehow I'll hurt you... or you'll decide that it's more than you can handle and... that'll be that." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I like you, Raven. A lot. I want this to work, and I feel like you want this to work, too."
"I do," Raven said. "You know how fucking annoying it was having to wait an entire semester before I could say or do anything? I fucking wanted you practically from the first time I saw you."
Anya pressed her lips together, thinking maybe this was as good an opening as any. Maybe this was the place to start. "Wanted me how?"
"Wanted to wipe that smug, superior look you got when you knew something we didn't know right off you face... with my mou—oh." Raven frowned, her eyebrows drawing together and her forehead creasing. "You really look at me and you don't feel anything?" She held a hand up before Anya could do more than open her mouth. "I mean like in the 'tingling in your nether regions' sense."
Anya snorted. "You have been watching too much Firefly," she said.
"You were the one who told me I should watch it!" Raven pointed out.
"I know. I just didn't know it would make its way into your vernacular so quickly."
"I swear on my pretty floral bonnet..." Raven let it trail off, her smile dimming, not fading completely, but there was sadness in it now and she was trying to put on a brave face. She reached for Anya's hand. "It's okay if you don't," she said softly. "I'd rather know."
Anya let out a breath slowly. "When I look at you, I see an amazing, brilliant, passionate, beautiful, amazing – yes, it warrants being said twice – strong, intense, loyal woman, and I react to that. I'm attracted to that. To you. Maybe not in a tingling nethers way, but in a, 'I want to know you and spend time with you and talk to you and be close to you and have that energy in my life' way. And it's not all emotional, or mental. It's physical, too. I like having you near me. I like touching you, and—"
"Kissing me?" Raven asked.
"Yes," Anya said. "I like kissing you." She was tempted to demonstrate how much, but that would just be another tactic for delaying the conversation, avoiding it, even if kissing led to more than kissing, and she could show Raven that just because she identified as asexual didn't mean that she couldn't or wouldn't have – and enjoy – sex. Maybe it would help her understand, but maybe she would overthink it and wonder afterward if she'd pressured Anya into doing something she didn't want to, and that never ended well.
She just had to say it, and why the fuck was it so difficult?
Anya shifted on the bed, moving herself closer to Raven, so that her knee pressed lightly into Raven's hip. She reached for her other hand, took them both and pressed them between her own. "First, the standard disclaimer: I can't speak for everyone who identifies as asexual. I can only speak for myself, and how I experience things. Okay?"
"Just like I can't speak for every Latina woman, or every disabled woman," Raven said. "But wouldn't it make everyone else's lives so much easier if we could, so they didn't have to actually see us as people first?" She rolled her eyes. "Sorry. Go on."
"I don't hate sex. I'm not repulsed by it. It's not the first place my mind goes, or even my body, but I like physical contact, physical affection, at least with the people that I'm comfortable with. I think that there's a lot of comfort that can be found in touching, and being touched, a lot of healing, and when the world is as fucked up as it is sometimes... people need that. I need that." Anya felt some of the tension leave Raven's body, like at least one of her fears had been eased, and it let Anya breathe a little easier, too.
"I do have a sex drive – maybe not as much as other people – but I do get horny, and I do like getting off. I guess I'm just more inclined – or okay with – taking care of business myself, a lot of the time. I don't feel like I need to seek out someone else to scratch that itch, so to speak. But if I've got someone... then hey, cool." She smiled, and Raven smiled back, but Anya could still feel her hesitating, like she was waiting for all of the pieces before she let herself put the puzzle together and see if she liked the picture.
"Sometimes I can be a little bit oblivious when other people are trying to drop hints that maybe they want more than just kisses and cuddles, so you may have to dispense with subtlety if I'm being dense, but I hope that you can understand that that doesn't mean I don't want you, or that I don't want to, because I want to give you what you want, and what you need. I want to make you feel good, to make you feel loved in whatever way you need it—"
Raven shook her head. "That's... how am I supposed to feel loved if I know you're doing something you don't want to?"
"That's not what I'm saying," Anya said. "If that's what you're hearing then I'm not being clear enough, and I'm sorry for that." She brought Raven's hands to her lips, kissed her knuckles. "I may not start in that place, but kissing you, touching you... I can find that place. Easily, most of the time. And I don't think I'm telling you anything that you don't already know when I say that sometimes people have sex when they're not 100% into it because the person that they're with – the person that they love – wants it. There are lines that shouldn't be crossed, and I think we're both strong enough and confident enough to enforce those boundaries, and respectful enough of each other that it won't become something bigger than it is."
Raven looked at her, chewing the inside of her cheek. "Will you, though? Enforce it? Because I don't know if I can handle never being sure if you actually—"
"I will," Anya said. "Trust me. And there may be times where I only want the before and after and not the middle – for myself – and that's something that I need you to be okay with. Sometimes it might be all about you, and me making you feel good, and me being perfectly happy to bask in your afterglow and the satisfaction of a job well done, even if I didn't 'get mine', so to speak."
"But it wouldn't be like you didn't want me to touch you, right?" Raven asked. "Like, at all?"
"No!" Anya said, shaking her head. "That's not what I'm saying." She squeezed Raven's hands. "If we're in bed together, I'm never going to say no, don't touch me. I just might say no, don't touch me there, I'm not feeling it tonight."
"That's... okay," Raven said. "I guess it's not really any different from any other relationship. Just... maybe more actually talking about it as we figure things out."
"Which isn't a bad thing," Anya said. "Communication, negotiation, respect... these are all good things."
"I know," Raven said. "Can I ask you something?"
"Anything," Anya said. "Always." She meant it, but she still braced herself for whatever might come out of Raven's mouth.
She should have known better.
"As a TA," Raven said, "I'm sure you're aware that there are different learning styles. All of this talk is great, but I've always been more of a kinesthetic learner, so... do you think maybe you could give me a practical demonstration?"
Anya swallowed a laugh. "Well, I would hate for there to be any misunderstandings..."
"Then come here," Raven said, pulling her hands from Anya's and drawing her down into a kiss that could, would, did... easily and happily... become more than a kiss.