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Love me completely (or not at all)

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Raphael remembers a time when people – and especially Nephilim – feared him. He was left alone, once upon a time. He doesn’t know when he became the Institute’s favourite vampire, but he’s not sure he appreciates it. Sure, Lightwood is a wonderful Head and his sister is a delightful woman, but he never asked to be visited by random shadowhunters every damned day.

He certainly never expected to see this shadowhunter. Blonde, stern-looking, calculating eyes but nervous fingers- this Nephilim is the opposite of what he expected to find on the Hotel’s doorstep. The only reason he allowed her in is because she was nothing but polite to him and his people.

Still, he’s not sure he understands why she’s here. It’s not like he’s ever met her before, although she obviously knows who he is.

“I’m sorry, have we met?” he asks, raising an eyebrow at the woman to make it clear how unimpressed he is by her lack of introduction. “I’m usually good with faces, but I can’t seem to remember you.”

“Oh, no, we- we haven’t met,” the blonde stammers, glancing at him briefly before looking back down at her hands. She’s wringing them together, clearly worried, and Raphael doesn’t know what to do with that information. “I’m Lydia Branwell, Alec Lightwood’s second-in-command at the Institute. I’ve seen you from afar during his cabinet meetings, but I suppose we’ve never actually… Well, never mind that. I’m not here from business, Mister Santiago, so you can stop staring at me so suspiciously.”

“If not business, then what?” Raphael scoffs, looking her up and down to check her for weapons. “Do you always show up uninvited at strangers’ houses, or am I a special case?”

“I’m not… I came here because of a few things I’ve heard about you at the Institute,” Lydia blurts out. Raphael gestures for her to go on. Despite his initial suspicions, he’s curious about this little shadowhunter and what she might want from a vampire clan leader. He hopes it’s not blood. “Well actually, I heard about you from Alec, mostly. I just… I’m here to talk about something personal.”

“Once again, I fail to understand why you came to me, of all people,” Raphael sighs. If there’s one thing he appreciates in people, it’s the ability to get straight to the point instead of circling around it for hours.

“Because Alec mentioned something about asexuality once, and I- I need to talk to someone about myself, but I’m not sure anyone at the Institute would understand. Well, my partner does, but they’re not- I just-”

Lydia cuts off, huffing frustratedly. She’s clearly struggling to get the words out, so Raphael takes pity on her. He knows how hard talking about sexuality can be, and he’s not about to make things harder for this poor shadowhunter.

When he was younger, he dreamed of having someone who could talk to him about his feelings and his complicated relationship with sex. Magnus helped, of course, but Raphael never had someone who actually understood. He may not know this strange shadowhunter and he may not be a fan of talking about his personal life, but he’s in a unique position to help. Sending Lydia away wouldn’t achieve anything. Talking to her could.

“Let’s sit down,” he says, waving towards the parlour’s couches and taking a seat himself. “I’d offer you something to drink, but I’m afraid our choices are a little particular. Nothing a Nephilim like you could appreciate.”

“That’s fine,” the blonde answers, smiling weakly. “Thank you for listening to me and agreeing to, um- talk?”

“You’re the one who came seeking answers, Miss Branwell,” Raphael chuckles, crossing his legs elegantly and leaning back on the couch. He looks at ease, and he hopes it makes his guest relax as well. “If you want to talk, then go ahead. I’m willing to help you, but I can’t do that if you don’t start the conversation. And rest assured, nothing you tell me will leave this room. There are powerful wards around this parlour that prevent eavesdropping, and you have my word for the rest.”

Lydia nods slowly, her shoulders drooping slightly as the tension seeps out of her. She’s still not smiling, but she doesn’t look as uncomfortable as she did a moment ago so Raphael counts it as a win.

“I’ve always known sex wasn’t really my thing,” the shadowhunter finally says, keeping her gaze pointedly away from Raphael. “I tried sleeping with my fiancé once and decided that was more than enough. I haven’t thought about it in a very long time; I usually just let that information slide to the back of my brain. It’s not like I was dating anyone, so it didn’t seem important. But now… Now I have someone whom I love very much, and I want to make sure I understand myself. I don’t want to have any issues with them in the future because we failed to communicate or because I didn’t- point is, I think hearing about your experience with asexuality might help. Maybe. If you’re okay with it.”

Raphael hums, considering the woman in front of him carefully. She’s Lightwood’s second-in-command, which means she has his trust, and Raphael knows the Head of the Institute doesn’t trust just anyone. Something tells him that if he were to tell her his story, she wouldn’t go blabbing.

Besides, he can always hunt her down and make her pay for it if she does.

“Tell me, Miss Branwell -” 

“Lydia, please.” 

“- do you identify as asexual? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to but colour me curious.”

“I don’t,” she shakes her head, her brows furrowing. “I’m bisexual. Is that a problem?”

“Absolutely not,” Raphael replies immediately. “It simply means the word I use for myself doesn’t resonate with you. Even if our feelings on sex align, it doesn’t make either of our identities any less true. I’m asexual, hate sex with a burning passion, and have never felt even remotely sexually attracted to someone. I don’t understand the point behind sex; never have and never will. You’re bisexual and clearly feel some sort of attraction for your partner, but you…”

“Really don’t want to have sex with them,” Lydia completes for him, a blush high on her cheeks. Raphael can’t help but be amused by the woman’s embarrassment. Shadowhunters and their damn repression. “I wouldn’t say I hate it with a burning passion, but I certainly don’t like it. I can- I understand pleasure, just not with someone else around. If my partner really wanted to sleep with me, I might be able to force myself, but…”

“But it wouldn’t be pleasant at all,” Raphael scoffs. “And it would make your partner a truly terrible person. You told me that you wanted to understand yourself but, more than that, you have to respect yourself, Lydia. Don’t let anyone pressure you into something you don’t want to just because sex is ‘normal’. Don’t let yourself be pushed around by your partner or your friends or anyone else just because you don’t see romance and relationships the same way they do.”

It’s something he had to learn the hard way. When given a chance, people love to make fun of those who are different. It’s easy enough to let the insults slide off him now, but he can still remember a time when they prickled at the edge of his mind and sliced through his heart.

There’s nothing worse than being a part of a supposedly accepting community but being left out or treated like a freak because sex doesn’t appeal to him. Things are better now, thankfully for Lydia, but they’re not perfect.

“People are inherently too nosy for their own good,” Raphael continues, trying to catch Lydia’s gaze to make her understand how important and serious this is. “Asexuality isn’t something most people get, not even those who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Some assholes think they have the right to ask about your relationship and, since you don’t identify as asexual, they may try to make you feel inferior or like you don’t deserve to be called bisexual. You can’t let that get to you.”

“I have tough skin,” the blonde answers, her lips pinched together determinedly. “I may not like some of the things people will have to say if they find out, but I’ll try to ignore them. Or rough them up a little bit, depending on the person. I think my subordinates are smart enough to stay out of my sex life, but you never know…”

“I assure you no one will think less of you if you decide to punch a few douchebags,” Raphael smirks. “In fact, I might thank you for it. Now, about the actual lack of desire to sleep with your partner. Does it bother you?”

Lydia opens her mouth and closes it a few times before answering, something which Raphael respects. She’s thinking before speaking, clearly not willing to give a response that’s not completely truthful. Clearly not willing to lie to herself.

“Sort of,” she finally tells him, biting at her bottom lip. “I mean, I still don’t feel the urge to sleep with anyone, so it doesn’t bother me in that sense. However, I’m worried that my partner might get sick of me eventually. Surely, they’re expecting something more than kisses, cuddles, and hand-holding? There isn’t a single part of me that wants to have sex, but I also don’t want to lose my partner over this.”

“Yes, that does seem to be most people’s biggest fear when they realise they’re not interested in sex,” Raphael murmurs, thinking about his past relationships. “The thing is, you’re going to meet a lot of people who want to have sex, and a few who don’t. You’re going to meet some people who hate holding hands and others who can’t stand to be touched. I know your lack of sexual desire might make you feel like you’re… broken, somehow, but that’s not true. Dios, it’s not true at all. You’ll probably have to tell yourself that every day until you believe it, but you’ll realise how whole you are eventually. And if your partner loves you as much as you love them, they won’t mind.”

“And if they do?”

“Then they’re not worth your time,” Raphael shrugs. It’s something he learned the hard way, after years of trying to make himself into something he isn’t. “Your partner might make mistakes. They might accidentally go too far and do something you’re not comfortable with. It’s almost inevitable, unfortunately, but what matters is that you tell them how you feel. Communication is the key to any relationship, Lydia, and this is no different.”

Lydia nods, glancing up at him through her eyelashes, her hands clasped tightly on her lap.

“But if they love me, you really don’t think they’ll mind?” She whispers, a small smile appearing on her face. Raphael can’t help the pang of jealousy that hits him as he realises there’s someone out there who probably cares enough about Lydia to respect her sexual preferences.

“I promise they won’t,” he tells her, forcing a smile onto his face. “Love is about so much more than sex, Lydia. If this is your person, the one you’re destined to spend your life with, they’ll try their best to understand you.”

“Alright,” Lydia smiles softly. “Thank you, Raphael. You’re very good at this, you know? Alec was sure you wouldn’t mind talking to me about something personal, but I’m still pleasantly surprised.”

“Perks of immortality,” Raphael huffs. “You gain quite a lot of knowledge, especially when it comes to human interactions.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” Lydia laughs. Suddenly, she cocks her head to the side and stares at Raphael curiously. “You haven’t found them yet, have you? The person who loves you enough to look past your sexuality?”

“I haven’t,” Raphael confirms, blinking back tears. He’s a vampire, he doesn’t cry, especially not about something he came to terms with decades ago. “Unfortunately, I’m neither as pretty or as kind as you are, Lydia.”

He’s too prickly to handle, too cold and impassive and uncaring. He’s not good enough for anyone, and that’s not even taking his sexuality into consideration. He has friends, sure, but he’s not sure they truly care about him as much as he does them. It’s a lonely life, but he’s gotten used to it.

He doesn’t need love to live, no matter how much he might crave it.

“You’ll find them.” Lydia’s voice startles him out of his thoughts. When he looks up at the shadowhunter, her eyes are shining with certainty. It’s hard not to believe her when she appears so determined. “You said it yourself, Raphael, you’re immortal. You have all the time in the world to find your perfect person. And even if you didn’t, well… Fate has a way of making things right for everyone. Someday, someone will come along and ignore all those warning signs and walls you keep up, and they’ll love you so much it’ll be hard to believe it.”

“And if that person never comes?”

“Well, I don’t believe that’ll happen,” Lydia chuckles. “But if they don’t, then you’ll have everyone else. You’ll have your friends and family and hundreds of vampires who depend on you and respect your choices. You can’t spend your life looking for the perfect one, or you’ll end up missing them.”

“So you’re saying to just… trust in God?” Raphael asks, raising his eyebrows disbelievingly.

“If God is the power you believe in, then yes,” Lydia says decisively, standing up. “But Raphael? You’re clearly comfortable in your own skin, asexuality and vampirism and everything included. Maybe you should start feeling comfortable in your heart, as well. Let yourself love, Raphael, both yourself and those around you.”

She leaves before he can say anything, sending him one last grin over her shoulder before disappearing into the sunlight. Raphael is left behind, staring at an empty couch, and wondering why this almost-stranger made him feel more than anyone has in a very long time.

She has a point, though. If he can learn to love himself, coldness and flaws included, then surely someone else can learn to love him too.