Dairine tapped her thumb against each of her fingers - one, two, three, four - and edged a little further back from the platform edge. She glanced at Darryl, who was leaning against one of the station walls and fiddling with some sort of colorful keychain. It had been a while since Dairine had taken the subway, and the noise and heat of the underground station were getting on her nerves. Darryl seemed to be feeling it too. Neither of them had much use for public transportation these days, but today was an exception.
The two of them, along with another human and two whale-wizards, had been involved in an unusually exhausting intervention, changing the path of a storm by a few degrees so it would miss both a major coastal city and an area of the ocean S'Ree had assured them wouldn't do well if hit by a storm of that magnitude. The spellwork in question had required both brute strength and precise calculations; all the wizards involved were on the verge of the collapse by the end of it. Even with the energy toll spread amongst five wizards, and even with Dairine's fading-but-still-impressive power levels, the spell probably would have been far easier with another wizard. Darryl could have used his bilocating trick to get home easily, but as Dairine didn't have the energy even for a simple beam-me-up spell, Darryl had decided to keep her company on the subway home.
When the train finally pulled into the station with a burst of hot exhaust and a loud crash of brakes, Dairine hopped on, closely followed by Darryl, and made her way down the car until she found two empty seats next to each other. She plopped down into the one nearest the door, Darryl settling next to her. The seat on her other side was already occupied by a boy in his late teens, who was wearing headphones and ignoring them both.
At first Dairine just sat, staring into the distance and wishing she could fall asleep on crowded subways. After a few minutes she noticed Darryl was rocking back and forth, but she didn't really pay him any attention. It was just something Darryl did. She slumped against the seat back and tried to decide if she had enough energy to take out her mp3 player and headphones; she didn't think she did, but on the other hand the low murmur of several passengers conversing was starting to really get on her nerves.
Apparently the teenage boy sitting next to her didn't realize that rocking was just something Darryl did. Dairine noticed that the boy was glaring at Darryl, and had removed his headphones as though preparing to get off the subway - or preparing to make a scene, Dairine thought, stomach rolling. While she was often the first person to join a fight, or start one, she was too tired to talk at the moment, let alone fight with some jerk who harrassed autistic kids on public transportation. She fiddled with her hair, watching the belligerent teenager out of the corner of her eye.
When his glaring proved to be ineffective, mostly due to the fact that Darryl hadn't once glanced at him since claiming his seat, the teenager, whom Dairine decided to nickname Rude for the time being, switched tactics. He began edging away from Dairine, as though afraid even having Dairine between them wouldn't prevent Darryl from attacking him, or maybe, Dairine thought bitterly, afraid Darryl's craziness was contagious.
Darryl still hadn't noticed anything was wrong, but that didn't keep Dairine's stress levels from rocketing. She winced as a trio of college-aged girls across the aisle let out a racous burst of laughter, covering her ears as subtly as she could (which wasn't very subtly, she knew) and shooting them a glare of her own. The train pulled into another station with a screech of brakes and the doors whooshed open, letting in a loud stream of chattering commuters and tourists. Dairine pressed her hands against her ears even harder and shot a nervous glance at Rude, who was still staring at Darryl in a way that made her want to pull up a personal shield, if she only had enough energy.
Dairine didn't even notice she had begun rocking back and forth too, in counterpoint to Darryl, until Rude groaned and stood up. Dairine heard him grumble as he walked away; she didn't quite understand what he was saying, but she did hear, "two of them," and, "unsupervised."
Darryl looked over at Dairine. She wondered suddenly if maybe he hadn't been as unaware of Rude as he had seemed. She didn't know what to say to him, but Darryl seemed to understand anyways. He gave her a small smile, barely a twitch of his mouth, and shrugged in a way that indicated that he didn't really care much about Rude.
Dairine and Darryl didn't talk for the remainder of the ride home. When they disembarked and seperated to walk to their homes, they exchanged nothing more than very brief farewells, for the sake of politeness more than anything else. Before Dairine had even arrived home, however, she had received a message in her manual from Darryl.
meet you on the moon? Peek Crater tomorrow eleven a.m.?
Dairine wasn't sure exactly why he wanted to meet up, given that the two of them were acquaintances more than friends, but she liked spending time with Darryl. He was restful somehow, less alien to her than most people even if he was still more alien than the mobiles. She quickly agreed.
The next day at eleven, Dairine teleported from her backyard to the moon. She had never been to Peek Crater before, but quickly discovered that it was a good meeting place; it was quite small, as moon craters went, so she and Darryl would find each other easily.
Darry popped in less than a minute after Dairine, close enough that she immediately spotted his oxygen bubble shining in the earthlight. She made her way over to him and discovered that he had appeared next to a flat rock with footprints all around it, indicating that someone, probably Darryl, had been there more than once before. He sat down on the rock and patted the space next to him. Dairine sat down too, cross-legged, and said two words that would change the parameters of her air spell so it could merge with his, allowing them to talk.
For a few minutes neither of them said anything. Then Darryl took a deep breath and began, "About yesterday..."
When he gave no indication of continuing, Dairine prompted, "About yesterday?"
No response from Darryl. Dairine continued talking.
"It was a pretty good intervention, wasn't it? Totally successful. I want to work with Tamika again, she was spot on with those calculations."
"No, it's not that," said Darryl. "It's..." he trailed off again, waving his hands in the air as though he could shape the air into words.
"It's?" repeated Dairine, still puzzled but now with a sinking feeling she knew what this was about.
"The train," he said, and sighed. "Sorry, I planned exactly what to say and I'm still not wording. Making words. Talking coherently."
"What about the train?" asked Dairine. "You mean that asshole who was sitting next to you?" Did Darryl think she had been mocking him by rocking too?
"Yeah," said Darryl. "What I really mean is thank you. Instead of ignoring what a jerk he was being or starting a loud confrontation, you made him so uncomfortable he had to get up and leave us alone, incidentally also giving us more space on the bench."
"Oh," said Dairine. She stared at the ground. "Yeah." There was a brief silence, unbearably awkward to her, though Darryl seemed perfectly content.
"That is what you were doing, isn't it?" asked Darryl, twisting his hands together. "I mean, I just assumed..."
"Not really," admitted Dairine, so quiet Darryl wouldn't have heard her if they'd been on Earth instead of the nearly-silent moon. "I kind of... didn't even notice I was rocking until he stalked off."
"Oh," said Darryl. Dairine waited for more, but he didn't seem to have anything to add.
"I've actually been reading a lot about autism lately," Dairine blurted out, and immediately regretted it. Darryl didn't look offended, though, just politely puzzled.
"That's nice," he offered in a slightly questioning tone.
"Not about you," said Dairine. "I mean, it wasn't for you. I was reading about diagnosis. For me. Maybe." She was sure she was bright red. She hadn't discussed this with anyone yet, not even Nita, not even her dad. She wasn't sure she wanted to discuss it with them. But Darryl would understand, surely.
"I admit I sort of wondered," Darryl said. "I prefer not to 'diagnose' my friends, but I did think that maybe you were... I don't know. You remind me of me, in some ways."
"I didn't know anything about autism," Dairine said. "You're the only autistic person I know, and we haven't actually spent that much time together. But I started wondering." She fiddled with an earring. She felt a little bad for dumping all this on Darryl just because he was autistic, and said so.
"I want to hear," said Darryl immediately. "What made you first start to think about it?"
"It was an Elementary meta, actually," Dairine admitted with a huff of laughter. "It was about whether Sherlock is autistic, and the author said that he is and gave a bunch of examples of things that he does. And I thought, 'that can't be right, I do all those things and I'm not autistic,' and then I thought, 'wait a minute.' And then I forgot about it for a while until I read a short Elementary fic, this one about Joan. It posited that she had auditory processing disorder based on... you haven't seen the show, have you?"
"Not yet," said Darryl. "I'm planning to, though, so don't give anything away."
"Of course," agreed Dairine. "Anyway, there's something in an early episode that made the author think Joan has auditory processing disorder, and the way she - the author of the fic - described it made me realize I do too, and googling it gave me a lot of autism-related results, and, well, I did more research into the symptoms of autism and I have a lot of them. But I'm not sure about anything."
Darryl hmmed. "If it helps," he said haltingly, "I noticed that you didn't look me in the eye at all during that speech - for which I thank you - and that you've been playing with your earring, or possibly stimming with your earring, since I got here. Those are pretty typical autistic behaviors."
Dairine realized that he was right. She hadn't even noticed that she wasn't looking him in the eye, but it was no surprise, as doing so usually required concentration. She had been too caught up in what she was saying to remember to hold eye contact. And she was fiddling with her earring, but wasn't that the sort of thing everyone did when they were nervous?
Darryl scooped up a pebble and dropped it again, ignoring that moon dust that fountained up to dirty his jeans. "Do you want to be autistic?" he asked.
Dairine shrugged. "I think maybe I'd rather be just like everyone else, but I'm not. So maybe it's better to have a name. But people may not treat me very well if they have proof I'm different, so maybe..."
"You don't sound very sure of this, maybe," Darryl teased. Dairine grinned.
"I'm not. I have no idea what I'm doing. Any advice?"
"Maybe - " began Darryl, and elbowed Dairine when she snorted at his word choice. "My advice is that you figure things out for yourself," he said. "Work on self-diagnosing. Later you can decide if you want to pursue a professional diagnosis. There are good things about having one, but there are probably also good things about not having one."
"I'll think about it," Dairine promised. "Thanks, Darryl. This conversation was really helpful."
"I barely did anything," he protested.
"You did," Dairine said, standing up and doing her best to wipe off the seat of her jeans. She knew from bitter experience that plenty of dust would make it back to Earth with her, but she could try to minimize the damage. "Really. Thank you."
"You're welcome," said Darryl, standing up too. "Let me know how things go."
"I will," said Dairine, the second word spoken to an empty moonscape as Darryl bilocated back to his bedroom. She smiled to herself, finished dusting off her jeans, and vanished too. She still didn't know exactly what she would do, but now that she had spoken to one person, telling her dad and Nita she thought she might be autistic was a lot less intimidating. The future was still unknown, but knowing she wouldn't face it alone made it a lot less scary.