“How did you know?”
The question came seemingly without any prompting, one lazy weekend morning when the common room was nearly empty.
K had been doodling in their class notebook, the pages filled with renditions of the entire crew taking over their most beloved franchises. It was a fun way to challenge their art style, and surely the entire pilot program would be thrilled to see what Pokémon team K had handpicked to suit them. They’d been sitting in a comfortable silence, curled up with Evan on the couch while he read up on disapparating (or teleportation, or whatever it was they called it in the real-life wizarding world). He’d been going on about how it would be an incredibly useful skill to have under their belt, especially if they could jump out to a muggle city every now and then to regain some sanity. Bringing back some non-magical items would certainly help sway more students over to their side, if only for curiosity’s sake, and K would be lying if they claimed the thought of digging into their backlog of media wasn’t enough to make their mouth water.
It was important, and not something they were likely to learn in any of their classes, so Evan volunteered to read up on the basics so they could work it out together. Step one, he liked to call it. Tearing down a centuries old corrupted system from the inside, while still going to school and retaining enough free time to be regular teenagers, was a big project. Really big. Sometimes it was so easy to get lost in the scope of two worlds sprawled out in front of them, but Evan knew how to focus it down into the steps they could handle right now. The foundation for a future they had yet to build.
(Even if when Evan off-handedly said it would be fine if the world had to burn for a little while, K thought it was horribly, unreasonably, bone shakingly hot.)
So Evan was reading up. Or, he said that he was. K hadn’t heard the gentle turning of paper for a good few minutes now, assuming he’d gotten caught up on a paragraph of wizard bullshit that they’d need Dr. Boodle’s help to decipher. Except that’s not what he asked about. Snuggling his head against K’s shoulder, staring down at their drawing so blankly they doubted he even saw it, he asked that question in that quiet and timid voice of his. That voice which so rarely reemerged these days, after months of mirroring the much louder personalities of his friends and learning to stop feeling so apologetic of his existence.
When they first met, that voice made Dream’s heart squeeze so tightly that she didn’t know what to do. That she wanted to collide into him so hard that her love felt like a physical force, wanted to ask him a million questions until she knew every secret hidden in that hunched frame, wanted to pace around her room until all that unresolved energy worked itself out and she could think clearly again.
These days that voice mostly made K want to track down the long list of people in Evan’s life who had hurt him, just to kick the ever-loving shit out of them. They figured that was progress, even if it was less actionable.
How did you know?
Their pencil stilled where it had been adding a bit of shadow to the mimikyu on their page, glancing down at how hunched over Evan had to be to lean on their shoulder like that. All they could see was a mess of black hair, his expression carefully tilted away so they couldn’t read it.
“Well I tried to give you some variety in your team, but you know I had to give some ghost pokemon. Besides being both ghost and fairy, the two coolest types in the whole damn game, I think mimikyu suits you pretty well.” They rubbed their index finger and thumb back and forth, letting the pencil roll lazily between their fingers and feeling the texture of the wood. “And I don’t just mean that because it’s so sad. Mostly. But I mean there’s all that stuff about how it tries to fit in, or how seeing it’s true form can be d-”
“No, I didn’t mean-” Evan somehow wilted more into himself, the thick tomb from the library clearly completely forgotten by now. “I just meant- you. How did you know about you? About being nonbinary. If you are, I mean. I guess it’s rude of me to assume, since you said you were experimenting and the they/them thing is still pretty new and- sorry. You don’t have to have to answer that, it was really rude and prying of me. Your journey with your own gender has nothing to do with me. I just. Sorry.”
K wondered how many Iowa homes they needed to fill up with rabid squirrels before they’d be satisfied with their vengeance. Maybe there was a spell that could just vaporize away the entire state, like the piece of shit they knew it to be. (Or safely assumed, given what it had done to Evan.)
“You’re fine. We’re in a relationship or something now, so it’s normal that you’re curious about that stuff. Communication, right? I figure whatever I say will probably influence what kind of sexuality crisis you’re entitled to right now.”
“Oh. I didn’t even-” K could practically hear the frown in Evan’s voice, already missing the weight on their shoulder as he lifted his head to look at them properly. “Huh. Yeah, I didn’t even think about it in relation to me. You’re just you, right? Whether it’s fishnets or velvet, he she or they. I’ve never even really thought about my own sexuality, so I guess there’s not really any preconceived notions I’ve got to change in that regard.”
“Really? Never?” K had to bite the inside of their cheek to stop from mentioning that first Intimate Moment Between Men so long ago in Vertic Alley. Not even then? they wanted to prod curiously. This wasn’t the time. If these months had taught K anything, it was to stop trying to ship real-life people right to their faces. At least out loud. Particularly if one of those people was currently their boyfriend.
“I’ve never really dwelled on it,” Evan agreed. “For all the moving I did, there usually weren’t any other kids my own age around. And when there were, I didn’t really see them as, ah, romantic prospects. Not until Gowpenny.” The ‘not until you’ remain unspoken, but K was sure their face had lit up like a set of Hercinil robes.
“I guess I was in middle school when I found out I was bi,” K admitted, in some form of solidarity. “Or pan or whatever. That I like everyone. Well not everyone but- you get it. Anyway.” Evan did not really look like he got it, but waited patiently for them to continue all the same. “Looking back on it in hindsight, I think it was Sam that did it. I was pretty oblivious at the time, but she was totally my gaywakening. Figures, given how much we used to talk about Sailor Moon.”
“You like girls?” There was something small in Evan’s voice that they couldn’t place. It didn’t sound bad, like insecurity or fear, but they jumped to sooth his nerves all the same.
“Yeah, but I still very much like guys. And people in between! I guess it doesn’t really matter? Or it does matter, but not in a way that stops me from enjoying a person. Just different flavors of attraction. One is like oh but the other is like ah. Does that make sense?”
“Honestly, not really?” he admitted with a small shrug. “On an intellectual level I totally understand what you mean, but personally speaking it’s hard to imagine. I was always so absorbed with just getting from one place to the next, hopefully not hurting anyone along the way, even the idea of having friends seemed really farfetched. Romance was something that seemed nice in theory, but it was just… fiction. Something to read about in books, like moving castles powered by a fallen star or adults you can trust unconditionally.”
The tragedy of his last comment lost its sad charm when all four of them were being failed by a broken system. K nudged into his side with their elbow instead, a teasing grin sliding across their face. “Ooh, Howl’s Moving Castle fan? Truly the pinnacle of wizardry. These posers should take notes.”
He shrugged again. K was going to glue Evan’s shoulders in place if he kept that up. “I’ve hung out in a lot of libraries. Especially in the winter. Once they really start to clock you it can be hard not to get pegged for loitering, but I got through the whole trilogy of books at a library in Des Moines.”
Well now it was fucking tragic again.
“I’ve never read the books.” K flipped their notebook closed as they spoke, content to save the fanart for later. “I bet we could find a pdf, once it’s our day to have the working phone. Or maybe we could get ourselves a real physical copy, once we figure out how to teleport out of here and find some books that are less whimsical. Howl is absolutely gender goals.”
“He is?” Evan asked skeptically, relaxing back into the conversation. “I guess it was easier for me to relate to Sophie. More understated, but deceptively powerful. And her curse…” He sighed softly, so subtle K was sure they would have missed it if the two weren’t in such close proximity. “I guess she just resonated with me more. Sometimes it does sound nice, to let yourself be looked over. To hold onto your curse even after its lifted, using it as an excuse when the truth is just that you’re not brave enough to face what you really want.”
“I just thought Howl was hot,” K blurted out without thinking, suddenly embarrassed of their shallow reasoning. “I don’t know, he was just one of the first really androgynous characters I saw on the screen? In a way that was portrayed as positive and attractive, instead of being the newest queer-coded villain I was meant to see as gross. He had shiny earrings and a pretty smile, so the goblin part of my brain just kinda leapt out of my skull and screamed This One’s Mine!”
“No, no, I get that,” he jumped in to assure. “Besides, I get the feeling we’re both talking about two completely different versions of the characters. Howl in the book was real big mess.”
But now they’d come full circle, and the original question was circling around in K’s mind. How did you know? He did they know? What did it mean to be nonbinary to them? The silence sat between them, K still toying with the pencil between their fingers. (They were so glad they had a few writing utensils in their bag, because quills were as much a killer aesthetic as they were a pain to work with.)
“I don’t guess that I do know,” they spoke up again eventually, trusting Evan to follow the threads of the conversation despite the sudden jump. He didn’t seem confused, which was a good sign. “About my gender. I honestly don’t know. Maybe next week I’ll come back with my tail between my legs, admitting I’ve been cis this whole time. Maybe I’ll flip the whole script and actually be a trans guy. I’m just… trying it out. It’s something that’s been on my mind for a long time, but hard to bring up without making it a whole thing. If I’m asking people to change their language for me, I want it to matter. I want it to stick. I don’t want to be some flip-flopper that’s always asking people to accommodate them, always changing because I didn’t take the time to figure myself out.”
Evan opened his mouth to respond, but K just held up their hand before he could say anything.
“Yeah, I know how that sounds. From an outside perspective I absolutely think people should be free to experiment! How else are you going to know yourself, right? It’s just hard to apply that logic back onto me. I’ve wondered if I was nonbinary for a few years, but then there would be days where I felt perfectly fine and comfortable as a girl. And some days would pass, and looking back in hindsight I can see days where I was feeling more like a guy. But most days are this nebulous sort of in between? Not the lack of gender, but a swirling pit of everything that I can barely even make sense of. Which doesn’t even make sense, because if I tell gender roles to suck it and believe anyone can wear anything then what does gender even mean to me? At that point it’s just some weird undefinable gut feeling. And then I would get caught up on fashion, feeling like if I was going to call myself nonbinary I needed to go full androgynous, which lead to complicated feelings on a lot of more femme styles I actually really liked. I was a bit of a mess for a while, until magic forced my hand on reevaluating my world view.”
Evan was listening with rapt attention, holding onto every word of their explanation like they were some expert instead of a kid describing their crisis in intimate detail. And that’s when K realized, maybe this conversation hadn’t really been about them from the beginning.
They remembered Evan’s life before, having admitted himself that he didn’t have time to dwell on things like sexuality or gender.
They remembered that moment in the tournament, describing that moment of magic as a princess with something like wonder.
They remembered just moments before, asking You like girls? not with fear. But with hope.
K grabbed Evan’s hand with a smile, weaving their fingers together and trying to project the most comforting aura they could manage. “How else am I gonna know?” They asked, tilting their head encouragingly. “Whether I stick with they/them or switch to something else, no one who really matters is going to care or judge. Sometimes you have to take the ol’ gender out for a test drive.”
“Yeah.” Evan squeezed their hand back. “Yeah, that makes sense.”
K would be patient. They wanted to be everything for Evan, for Jammer and Sam, everything that they’d been for K. It didn’t have to be a big deal. They knew firsthand how terrifying that made it all.
“I was wondering if-” Evan swallowed, struggling to get the words out.
A twitch of a smile. “I didn’t even ask you yet.”
K just kept smiling back, nudging Evan’s side with a playful, princess-like giggle. “Well I’m probably going to say yes.” The fond smile they got back was entirely worth it.
“I was wondering if you might. Have any clothes? That would fit me? More… femme clothes.”
“Absolutely. And if I don’t, since you’re a goddamn bean pole, what’s a better use for my army of sewing forest vermin?” When they stood up together, both were grinning ear to ear. “We’re young, we’re revolutionaries, we’re goats of the highest caliber. We get to chose who we are. And if you decide that maybe there are parts of you wanna keep, then you’ll keep those. And the rest, you don't have to let define you.”
The dress was a bit too short on the calves, not quite matching its model’s style, but Evan looked absolutely stunning. And maybe in this new world, as messed up as it was, they could both learn how to see themselves in a new light.