They sat on a small table out on a deck that overhung the sea. The breeze ruffled Tanyth’s hair so that they were haloed in strands of ocean blue. The sun had just disappeared below the horizon and the sky was not yet dark.
They ordered petite glasses of wine, commiserating that they were both lightweights, and talked easily.
It felt like a date.
The best date that Linza had ever been on.
Tanyth hung on her every word, but it didn’t seem fake or contrived.
Linza did her best to convince herself that it was just part of Tanyth’s job. They were showing her the ropes, after all. She expected a breakdown later of conversation tactics.
Maintain eye contact, smile early and often. They twirled their hair. They touched their fingertips to Linza’s wrist as she relayed one of the worse memories of her time at university.
At their touch, the memory had fallen away, her mind had gone so blank, that Tanyth had needed to remind her what she had been talking about.
They shared a chocolate cake, and then all too soon, the night was over.
Linza was relieved to find that she didn’t need to pay for the meal — and Tanyth didn’t either. Staff had an allowance of free meals and Linza would get her own once she was on the schedule. That was an extra element of compensation that she hadn’t considered — and she supposed it behooved the estate to have staff who knew the other offerings well. Did the same logic apply to ‘experiences’? She hoped so, but she was too shy to ask yet.
Linza floated through her next day at work and could not wait to return to the estate.
Even though Tanyth had been waiting for her by the central fountain, exactly where they had said, Linza almost didn’t recognize them except for their light blue hair.
They were dressed in a trim suit this time, not unlike the madame’s assistant.
Linza realized that while the lilac robes had emphasized everything that was soft and round about Tanyth’s face, this emerald suit did the opposite and emphasized everything angular and sharp.
“Linza!” they said as she arrived. “How was your day?”
Their voice was distinctly masculine, this time. Still the same underneath, still them. Linza realized then that they had remarkable control over their intonation. She heard learned some of the basics, since the arcane language of spellcasting was tonal and required precise pronunciation. She knew just enough to appreciate how much practice they must have put into it.
When they took her hand and kissed it, their grip was stronger. Tanyth showed her a different eating area, a balcony that overlooked the central street of the estate where bards played jovial tunes.
Linza had realized that Tanyth had gotten her talking all about herself the previous day, and she was determined to return all their questions today.
Whether it was their more masculine mood or that turnabout was fair play, Tanyth was happy to answer all of Linza’s questions. They regaled her with the details of their job, some gossip of the house, a complete explanation of the wines they sipped, and so much more.
They themselves were a cleric, faithful student of the healing arts. They didn’t know any illusion magic directly, but had successfully coached other illusionists before. They had held nearly every other role at the house in their time there, but they’d cut back to just their two favorites — serving tea and classic sex — to afford them more time to train newcomers like Linza.
Linza worried for a moment that they might be decades older than her, but managed to infer that they were only about five years her senior. They’d started at the house at the same age that Linza had shipped off to university. Tanyth didn’t brag about it, but Linza picked up on the fact that they knew the madame well and lived at the estate.
As closely as she listened to their answers, she also watched their mannerisms, which were now subtly different. Their laugh was more like the wind that moved the chimes than the tingling of them.
When Linza accidentally said unironically that she loved sausages, they didn’t press their fingers to their lips. Instead, they smirked with knowing eyes.
Despite the day over day contrast in their appearance and mannerisms, nothing about them seem forced or fake. There was still, very distinctly, Tanyth within it all. Linza sympathized. The degree to which she related to her own gender varied day by day. Tanyth just swept a larger range.
For the next week, they simply kept meeting for dinner.
Tanyth shared about their first crush.
Linza blushingly reciprocated.
Tanyth confessed that they had been wildly nervous their first few months at the house.
Linza confided that she was grateful that Tanyth had given her such a comforting welcome.
And it was Linza who first broached the topic of what they liked when it came to sex.
That day, Tanyth was dressed fashionably in wide-legged pants and a tight top, androgynous both in appearance and mannerisms.
“What else do you do when you’re not working or here?” they’d asked.
“I like to write.”
Linza didn’t even blush this time. “Well, mostly smut, nowadays.”
“Oooh, nice! Do you mind sharing what about?”
“Sure! Um… This idea originated with my friend, Wyn, but a recurring character lately has been an octopus mermaid…”
They had discussed word choice (cock or dick?) favorite themes (denial for Linza, forced orgasm for Tanyth) and preferred character types (roguish, blushing, etcetera) as easily as the weather.
“How would you describe your sexuality?” Tanyth asked.
“Well, I like both men and women,” Linza had replied.
“Just men and women?”
Linza was for a moment confused, and then understood. “Oh! No, not just men and women.” She put a finger to her lips as she thought. She hadn’t quite verbalized this before. With Wyn it had been, ‘do you like women?’ Any of her male suiters had just assumed she liked men. She was sure she could have concluded with ‘not just men and women’ and Tanyth would have understood, but she was starting to get the hang of ‘everything given’ and she took the opportunity to dig a big deeper. “And not just hominids either.”
The world did indeed include a few sapient species that were not hominids. Dragons were a common example, though they did not usually deign to even speak with humans. Merfolk were another example, though you had to travel quite far to meet any.
Linza appreciated that Tanyth permitted her this lengthy introspection. Finally, she said, “I suppose the best way to say it is that if the circumstances are right, variety is the spice of life.”
Tanyth had laughed, putting their fingertips to their mouth but with less of a blush than they sometimes did. “May I humbly offer, you might also say ‘pansexual’ and save yourself some time. But I really liked the way you explained it.”
“Oh! I think I’d heard that before. ‘Pan’ as in the root for ‘all’?”
“Well, thank you. This has been enlightening. What about you?”
“Well…” It was Tanyth’s turn to blush slightly. It was hard for them to hide, with how pale their skin was. “It’s a bit embarrassing… and ironic… but I’m mostly into guys. Masculine types, anyway.”
She had been sure that their question of whether she liked only men and women had been somewhat pointed at her. Fishing for whether she might consider someone like them. But the way that they so casually revealed that they were ‘mostly into guys’ made her second guess that.
And then, she felt a bit ashamed. How presumptuous she was being! Of course Tanyth’s charisma was a practiced part of their job, she’d been telling herself that the whole time.
There wasn’t anything special between them.
Then why… did she suddenly feel ill?
Linza took a deep breath and then did what she always did whenever she felt uncomfortable, uncertain, ill or in pain.
She forced a smile and pretended it hadn’t happened.
She leaned in closer towards Tanyth and propped her chin up on her hand. “Okay, so, you have to tell me who you think the cutest guys here are.”