Hello, friends! Today I have a special Thing for you, because I adore/appreciate/can’t even say how grateful I am for the love and support my readers and friends give me on a daily basis. So instead I will say it with a free-for-now 10-page mostly-fluffy thing about how Attractions and Orientations are Weird, and it’s ok if you don’t have them all figured out but whatever they are is cool. And it is all down below here!
It’s Regan/Rowan (who appears in the short story THE LIBRARY GHOST from the collection LIFE WITHIN PAROLE, and will be super important in BOOK 2) and they are quite romo since this ace/ace ship of mine are kind of ridiculously mushy, but as we’ll see, attraction/sexuality/sensuality/Feels In General Are Complicated and do not always match up.
This will go up on Amazon in a couple days in actual tiny ebook form, but for now I’m putting it here for free because… yes. (Patreon backers can get it in ebook form now! Their cover is also this story aesthetic I made. Little exclusive pretty thing.)
This was also greatly inspired by being Annoyed at Riverdale and its aro/ace erasure, so I wanted to write something in which not having sex was actually a Good and Happy Ending and not some tragic… I’m going to stop here before I get More Annoyed. 😀
Enjoy! And however you celebrate/ignore/defy/shrug at tomorrow, remember that you’re awesome.
ALWAYS BE YOU
A Chameleon Moon Short Story
by RoAnna Sylver
Warm. Quiet. Dark. One of Regan’s favorite times of the day: late, after Library closing hours, but not so late that it was time to slip through shadows or run through crumbling streets. One of his favorite places: the secret, secure, safe back room filled with books and jars and his soft beanbag-chair nest and pile of blankets.
And one of his favorite people. His fingers moved through Rowan’s soft, curly hair, hand coming to rest on the back of their neck, using the slight pressure to kiss them more deeply. Their quiet sigh and way they seemed to further melt in his arms told him he was doing it right. Getting better at this.
The two of them had already been here for some time. They usually were. They were never in a hurry to reach their limits and fall asleep, because that meant an end to their time together that night, time that could otherwise be spent in warm embraces and slow, lazy kisses. Or just quiet talking for hours. Or not talking. Regan loved lying here and listening to their breath, their heartbeat– in their chest, an odd sensation for him after years with someone whose heart stayed safe in a jar in this very room–just as much.
They weren’t talking much tonight. Regan didn’t get many opportunities in his life to feel this completely relaxed, so blissfully, almost dreamily happy, so he focused all his attention on enjoying every second. And on Rowan.
There was a lot to learn about one another. Probably more than most, considering Regan’s first and only experience so far was with a much-beloved partner with a not-quite-living body. This was full of surprises. Like feeling a heartbeat. Watching someone actually breathe as they slept. And what it was like to feel this warm. Until now, no matter how heated things got, Regan had been the only one whose temperature rose at all. Now, for the first time in his life, Regan held someone warmer than he was, and never wanted to let them go. Sometimes he wondered if this was how Zilch felt, holding him. It was a good feeling.
There were a lot of good feelings. Some of it was the contrast. Regan was all thin, angular limbs covered in smooth, cool scales. Rowan was so warm he wanted to curl his entire body around theirs and soak in their heat like a lizard on a sun-kissed stone. But a rock was an unfair comparison, he thought, because except for their hooves and horns, they were also soft in all ways. Like their wonderful, fur-like wool Regan loved to run his hands through and sleep with his cheek nestled in, and their waist Regan wrapped his wiry arms around, their soft belly pressed against his own; his was much slimmer but his scales were softest there too.
Regan loved them so much he thought his heart might burst. It didn’t, but it was certainly pounding as Rowan’s hands–gentle, like everything else about them when they were with Regan–went to the loose frill of skin around his neck. As they stroked down its hanging folds he let out a soft, involuntary sound, half-sigh, half-moan. Just as automatically, his frill trembled in reply. He didn’t need a mirror to know it would be a couple shades darker than usual. Some people blushed in their cheeks; Regan did in his frill.
And just like his frill, he felt his entire body start to tremble. His heart pounded under Rowan’s hand, which he realized had moved down to press against his chest. Regan leaned into the touch, feeling the shared heat rising between them, sure he could feel Rowan’s heart speed up as well as he closed his hand over one of their hips, other hand stroking their side.
More touch. He wanted more closeness, more warmth, more sweetness. More of this. More of them. Just more Rowan. What and how, he wasn’t entirely sure. He just knew they were pressed as close together as they could be, no space between them, and they still weren’t close enough.
When he broke the kiss it was to suck in a gasp. Rowan’s hand was still on his chest, and the other had slipped beneath his frill, fingers brushing across the point of his racing pulse.
Then Rowan’s soft voice was in his ear. Saying something. It took a moment for him to sort the syllables into something he recognized. “Regan…”
Any other time, any other way, he would love the sound of Rowan whispering his name. But now, it felt like a vaguely dissonant note in what had up to this point been his favorite song. Their voice was tinged with uncertainty. It sounded like the same confusion starting to creep into his own head like a very unwelcome guest.
“What is it?” Regan’s voice came out more breathless than he expected. All of this was more than he expected. His head spun; it felt like they’d just been in a speeding car, and someone had slammed the breaks.
“Is this…” Rowan stopped, and slowly, that same uncertainty filled their face as well as their voice. Their bright blue eyes flicked down, and they seemed to realize where they were for the first time. They didn’t move or recoil, but they did take in both of their hands, then their bodies, and when they looked back up at Regan, it was as if they were seeing him for the first time too. “What is this?”
“I… I don’t…” Realization fell on Regan like a bucket of ice water. He didn’t feel warm at all anymore. Instead he felt the beginnings of the telltale shiver right before he vanished from view. “Let’s just–stop for now, take a break, okay?”
“Agreed,” Rowan seemed to know they didn’t have much time before everything went to hell in any number of possible ways, and talked fast. “But Regan, don’t go, please, you don’t have to–“
“I’m so sorry–” he broke off as he rapidly backed off. He coughed suddenly, taking himself by surprise and interrupting the vanishing shiver. Perfect. His body was betraying him with a stress-asthma attack along with the involuntary disappearing act at the worst possible moment.
“Don’t be sorry, just take a deep breath.” Rowan paused, still looking a bit disoriented. “I’m doing the same. Regan, stay with me, please.”
He had a feeling they meant in more ways than one. So he fought down the urges to run, disappear, and cough, and focused on his breathing. And tried not to focus on why he was now somehow ashamed to look Rowan in the eye.
“Okay,” he said after several seconds, when he could speak again without his voice catching in his throat and turning into a cough. “I’m okay now. Are you okay?”
“Yes,” Rowan said, and Regan hoped he imagined any hesitation before they answered. “Do you want to talk about–“
“I’m s–I know you just said not to be sorry but I still am,” Regan lurched upright, starting to wriggle out of the covers that just made him feel restricted. “I didn’t mean to do that. I mean, I don’t know what–that’s not true. I do know. At least I think I do. Not for sure, but–“
“Regan.” As before, Rowan’s quiet voice brought him back to the present. They hadn’t moved, and they were still looking at him, but in a different way than before. Less confused, more concerned, but still not what he was afraid he might see. No blame–and more importantly, no fear or pain. “I was… caught up in it too.”
“Yeah, but you weren’t…” he stopped. Ran back over the past few minutes in his head, then the past hour. Everything had happened slowly, then very fast. But surely he couldn’t have missed something so glaring. He’d been wrapped up in the beautiful moments, wrapped up in Rowan entirely. How could he have been so mistaken? “Were you?”
“I was…” Rowan stopped too. Regan knew their face well enough to pinpoint the exact moment they started to do what he’d just done: start playing their evening back in their mind, looking for the moment their paths had diverged. “Enjoying being here with you.”
“Right, me too,” he agreed with some relief when they finally continued.
“Loved the snuggling, favorite part of my night. Kissing was very nice–you’re getting better at that.”
“Thank you, with the tongue, I–anyway, yes, same, me too.” Regan almost laughed. So far, so good.
“And then we…” Rowan paused. Regan held his breath. “I think we got a little ahead of…”
“Yeah.” Regan’s eyes dropped. So did his stomach. “Me too.”
“It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying it–“
“Rowan, please,” Regan shook his head. If he was feeling anything now it was sick. “You don’t have to do that. God, I never wanted to–“
“No, that’s not what I’m saying,” they said firmly. “I wouldn’t lie about this. And I wouldn’t accept anything that hurt me. Not for anyone. Not even you.”
“Oh. Well, good.” He hadn’t thought anything could make him feel better now, but that did. “I just couldn’t ever…”
“And you didn’t. Let that go. You didn’t hurt me, and you won’t do it by accident.” Rowan smiled, and the knot in his stomach loosened by a small degree. It always did when he saw that. “Believe me, I’ll let you know long before that happens.”
“Okay.” Regan let out a breath, and a long with it a great deal of painful tension. “The world is just full of… bad things. Especially this place.”
“I know,” Rowan said quietly. “We’ve both seen a lot of bad. But good’s still around too.”
“Yeah, I know. You help me remember that.” He didn’t continue, but wasn’t remotely satisfied either. But if the words he wanted existed he couldn’t find them, so instead he stared into the middle distance, perfectly still aside from the nervous flicker in and out of his tongue.
“Regan. I was enjoying it–being with you, kissing you, you touching me. I love it more than anything–I love you more.” Like it always did, Rowan’s voice cut through the haze of anxiety and rang true. Like always, Regan believed them. “And that’s why this is so… confusing.”
“Oh my God, thank you for saying it.” Regan slumped forward and buried his face in his hands. “Nothing makes sense. This isn’t like how it is with Zilch. I mean, it kind of is, it almost is, but there’s this – I don’t know!”
“Do you think this is what sexual attraction feels like?”
Regan choked again, this time apparently on his own tongue. “What?”
“Sexual attraction,” Rowan repeated, sounding remarkably casual, but thoughtful. “Do you think this is it?”
“I don’t know?” Regan managed to say, also remarkably casually considering the fact that he was contemplating disappearing again, completely voluntarily this time. “Do you?”
“I’ve never felt it before, personally, so I have no idea.”
“Well, neither have I!” He turned to look Rowan fully in the infuriating, adorable face. “At least, I don’t think so! Wouldn’t you know if you had?”
“I’m honestly starting to wonder…” Rowan’s tone was hesitant, but not fearful or upset. Curious, yes, and almost shy, but still nothing Regan expected or feared. When he hesitated in turn, they gently took one of Regan’s hands in theirs, and the last of his shame began to fade away. “Something was definitely happening. Clearly. It wasn’t a bad thing–but it is getting a little mixed up in my head.”
“Well, what did you feel?”
“I was definitely… engaged,” Rowan reflected, but they still sounded uncertain. “My body was, anyway.”
“Yeah you were.” Regan had to smile. The urge to touch Rowan again, reach out and stroke their face, lay a hand on their chest was strong. It wouldn’t take much to feel their breath speed up, their heart begin to pound. Or try for the opposite. He knew if he shifted closer and put an arm around them, they’d instantly rest their head on his shoulder, and they’d both do the automatic-by-now re-arrangement of Regan’s head around their horns. Then Rowan’s whole body would relax, and their pulse would slow just from his presence. Regan’s own heart ached. But then he remembered their voice when they’d said his name, seeming to wake him from a fever dream. The uncertainty in their eyes, something he never wanted to see there again. “But that’s not enough, is it? Your body was into it, but your head wasn’t?”
“It was, but not in the same direction.” They didn’t sound unsure anymore. Relief flooded through Regan. Someone knew what they were doing here. “Touching, kissing, being close to you, that’s what I love. It has nothing to do with sex–but my body and brain don’t always agree. And no matter what my body does, if I don’t go along with it…”
“It doesn’t change a thing,” Regan finished, just as certain. Why was it so much easier to be that certain about someone else rather than himself? “Doesn’t mean yes. You say yes or no. You’re still in charge, you’re still you.”
That seemed to comfort them greatly, because they visibly relaxed, tension dropping out of their shoulders and face. They’d been just as confused and alarmed as he was, Regan thought. That shouldn’t happen. Especially not if he was a reason in any way. “How about you, what did you feel?”
“I was so happy,” Regan said quietly, looking down at their joined hands. “I wanted to stay like that forever. Holding you, touching you. It just felt so good, having you in my arms, you’re so…” his breath caught, and he wasn’t sure if he was going to cough again, so he just took a long, deep inhale instead. Held it like holding Rowan’s hand. Let it out slowly. By the time he was done, he could breathe.
“I’m with you so far,” Rowan said, and when he looked over, they were smiling. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be.”
“I just wanted to be close to you. Feel all of you. So I guess I got…” He searched for a word that would describe the amazing feeling of floating, while at the same time being so aware of every inch of his skin pressed against Rowan’s and still not close enough to them, every bit of him alive with the heat building between them and from within, like there was a sun in his chest and with every beat it burned brighter and hotter, moving with Rowan’s hand down his chest to his solar plexus, to-
“Yeah.” That had to do. “That felt different than the whole time I’ve been with Zilch. I love them so much, but it’s… it’s just different. I’ve never felt that.”
“Yeah. For you, and what we were doing, but just… more of that. More of what I think we were moving toward.”
“Sex.” Like always, Rowan just said what he couldn’t.
“I think so.” He shut his eyes as if that could keep the sinking feeling from overtaking him again. It didn’t really work. “I didn’t expect it. I just never thought—I’ve never looked at someone and thought–hey, I want–I still don’t think I would! I don’t even look at strangers and think–anything!”
“Because you don’t know them?”
“No! I’ve never understood how anyone does–even just kissing, or little things like that, how do you do that with someone you don’t know? Or want to?”
“It does take a great deal of trust,” Rowan said, sounding thoughtful again. “At least for me. And you, I strongly suspect.”
“I still can’t imagine it happening again,” Regan shook his head. “And I don’t really know why it did now with you, I—I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Rowan said more vehemently than they had before. “You’re still you.”
“What?” His neck frill twitched again, this time out of rising panic. He’d heard the words but not quite understood them; they just added another layer of confusion.
“What you said a minute ago. You found something new about yourself tonight—but you’re still you. Nothing changes that.”
“Seems like the kind of thing that would,” Regan muttered. But, like it always did when Rowan sounded that sure about anything, his panic subsided, leaving heaviness in its place.
“Life is made up of shades of gray, including sexuality spectrums. Or asexuality for that matter,” Rowan said in the oddly conversational tone they sometimes slipped into when discussing things Regan had a hard time even naming out loud. “You can fall on any infinite number of points, or fluctuate between them. Looks like we’re just a little farther apart than previously estimated, that’s all. You might sometimes experience sexual attraction when you’re with someone you love and trust. I don’t think I will–but it doesn’t mean I love or trust you any less. Just because our orientations are farther apart doesn’t mean we have to be.”
“You know how this works,” Regan looked up, feeling caught between hopeful and even more overwhelmed. “Everything you just said, all of this. But you were confused just now too?”
“I’m confused a lot more than just now,” Rowan laughed in a way that never made Regan feel like he was being laughed at. But now he actually felt like he got the joke. “I try to learn all I can, but it’s never enough. You can spend your life trying to figure out who you are and what you want. And you can still be surprised. I never thought I’d be this close to anybody–emotionally or physically. That’s part of what threw me for a loop.”
“Well, good. I guess. At least it’s not just me.”
“I don’t think anything ever is. Feelings are messy, they can overlap even if you have yourself pretty well established. Try not to worry. However you end up is fine.” They gave his hand a squeeze. “Some things don’t change.”
“Okay,” he said quietly. Somehow Rowan’s easy explanation–or maybe acceptance–left him calmer than anything else so far. “So, if you never have… the attraction feelings, but I do sometimes,Then how do we… work this?”
“Same way we have up until this point, if that’s all right with you.”
“Yeah, definitely,” Regan nodded, but still seemed a bit more anxious than his customary level. Because you’re not… I mean, you could never… could you?”
Rowan was quiet for a few seconds, but it felt like much longer. “If I could with anyone, it would be with you.”
“But you can’t.”
“No.” They didn’t hesitate that time. “You said you wanted more of what we were doing, heading toward sex. For me… there was no ‘heading toward,’ I just wanted to stay there with you, in all the sensations. I love skin on skin—or scales. The smell of you, even the taste. The senses. The sensual. Just experiencing every sensation and emotion fully, I love that. But sex is… not connected to any of that, not for me. It’s something else entirely. Something I still don’t want, or need.”
“That’s fine!” Regan almost laughed. The wave of relief was so strong it made him lightheaded, and his head spun in a different way than it had before. He couldn’t really say why, or why now he couldn’t stop smiling. Maybe just because they finally both had answers for sure. “I mean—is that fine? Are we okay?”
“Of course,” Rowan smiled back. “Now there just won’t be any confusion next time.”
“Next time?” Regan’s stomach felt fluttery instead of heavy and sinking.
“I certainly hope there is one. You were right, Regan,” they said, stroking his face. He leaned into the touch and let his eyes drift shut again. “I learned something about myself tonight too. Or confirmed it. Doubting, questioning, they’re normal–and if you find something new in yourself, that’s good. Or maybe you get through it and find that you always were who you thought, but now with more strength and confidence.”
“What did you find?” he asked sleepily.
“That none of what happened tonight changes who I am. Or the way I feel about you. We might have more to learn about ourselves and each other, but I want you with me while we do.”
“That’s good,” Regan murmured, letting himself be pulled back into his nest of blankets and pillows. He was suddenly exhausted after all this physical and emotional upheaval, and very glad to find himself in the right place for a nap. Close against Rowan’s warm side, where he belonged. “I like it here.”
“So do I. And I love you.”
“Love you too,” he said, certain of that if nothing else.