‘I can’t— I’m sorry! I can’t!’ Jaisa was on xer feet, now, pacing the room. Xer tail almost hit the queen as xie passed her, and Distro had to duck to avoid it.
‘That’s okay,’ Distro comforted, barely avoiding Jaisa’s tail the second time.
‘Maybe we should stop, Q?’ Coi’Lili put down his notes and joined Jaisa, holding up a wing to stop xer from turning again. ‘Have a break. Take a breath and I can take you to the gardens and you can look at the flowers until you are feeling better and then you can go to bed. We can continue this tomorrow.’
‘And only if you’re up for it,’ Distro added, leaning over onto the over-sized chair’s arm and scratching the scales along her neck. ‘You don’t have to continue if you’re still feeling anxious in the morning.’
Jaisa trembled for a moment before nodding. ‘Y-Yes. I— Thank you, your majesty.’
‘Come now sweet blue one,’ Coi’Lili’s wing lay on Jaisa’s back as the avio guided xer to the door. ‘We will walk and you can tell me about something else. Something that makes you smile. Does that sound nice, Q?’
‘Y-Yes, it does,’ Jaisa admitted as xie was guided into the hall. ‘Though I— I don’t think I can remember anything that makes me happy.’
‘Hmm. That is something bad,’ said Coi’Lili. ‘Maybe you can think of your home. What did you keep in your room, Q? Those things must be things you enjoyed. Think about that, dear lovely.’
Jaisa thought for a long while, flicking xer tail back and forth as xie walked. The pair made their way outside as xie did. By the time Jaisa spoke they were out in the garden, leaning on the fence around a small pond.
‘Fish,’ xie said. ‘I like fish. When I was a kid I used to sneak out and chase them through the kelp forest behind my surrogate’s cave with my sibling. Things were easier then. The most I had to worry about was my sib sneaking crabs into my bed or stealing my toothbrush.’
‘You are smiling now.’ Coi’Lili pressed heavier against the fence, leaning forward so he could look Jaisa in the eye. ‘You must love them a lot. What was their name, Q?’
‘Its name is Batni.’
‘Yes, that’s its pronouns,’ Jaisa responded, a humoured snort escaping through xer gills. ‘We don’t all use xie and them, you know. The whole point is we’re not some sort of binary. He, she, fae, hir, sie, ve, it…. There’s hundreds of options. Xie and them are just common and easy to use in front of land-dwellers, that’s all.’
‘I see,’ Coi’Lili gave a nod and ruffled his feathers. ‘And xie is what you prefer, Q? There is nothing else, Q? Because if there is something else I am more than happy to use it for you.’
‘Yeah, no,’ Jaisa shrugged. ‘Xie is fine. I don’t think you could pronounce my pronouns in Seces.’
‘I am part avio my sweet lovely one,’ Coi’Lili responded. ‘And I have my speaker. I would be able to pronounce anything. Maybe perhaps even better than you are able.’
Jaisa let out another gill-snort before turning to Coi’Lili. ‘Alright,’ xie said. ‘Try this one, then.’
A short whistle came from xer gills, echoing like it was being whistled by two people as xie opened and closed xer mouth. Then xie clamped xer gills down with a wet slapping noise and grinned.
‘That is your pronoun, Q?’ Coi’Lili opened his mouth and the noise echoed out of him, perfectly mimicked. ‘That is not too hard to say, my dear.’
‘Works as both personal and possessive,’ xie said. ‘But I doubt the wolvens around here could pronounce it without bordering on offencive, so I prefer to just use xie and xer on land.’
‘If that is your wish I will respect it,’ Coi’Lili gave xer a gentle nod. ‘But if you change your mind please do not hesitate to let me know. It is nothing hard for me and I am more than happy to do it.’
‘Thanks,’ Jaisa replied, resting xer chin on the fence and staring into the pond longingly. After a moment xie eyed Coi’Lili. ‘Do you think I would get in trouble?’
‘For your pronouns, Q?’ he gasped. ‘Oh no no no! Queen Distro would never allow that!’
‘I meant if I jumped into the pond,’ Jaisa clarified. ‘Do you think I would get into trouble if I went for a swim?’
‘No. I do not think you would. If you do not hurt Distro’s fish I doubt that she would mind. Would it be okay if I was to join you, Q? Or would you rather be alone, Q?’
‘Your pick,’ said Jaisa. ‘I don’t mind either way.’
Then xie nodded and, after bracing xerself and taking a deep breath, pulled xerself over the decorated metal bar and into the garden. Xie landed with a thump as Coi’Lili followed, his feet hitting the ground lightly as he flapped his wings to slow himself.
He took Jaisa’s clothes before sitting on a decorative rock and watching xer slide into the water with a sigh.
‘So, I don’t want to be rude or anything, but I have a question that might not be polite. I don’t— I’m not quite sure if it’s rude or not. My head’s a bit… everywhere, at the moment.’
‘It is no good to have an everywhere head,’ Coi’Lili reached out and put his hand on the seces’ shoulder. ‘You are welcome to ask it and if I think it is rude I will tell you!’
‘What are you?’ Jaisa asked. ‘Avio, that’s obvious. But you don’t look full avio. At least I think? I’m not sure. Something seems… off.’
‘I do not look fully avio because I am not fully avio!’ Coi’Lili laughed. ‘It is easy to tell if you know what to look for. I do not have a mane if you look on my neck! And no feathers on my ankles or my wrists. I am almost bald you see! Bald! Though only half as bald as you are my sweet blue one.’
‘So if you’re not full avio, what are you?’
‘Ah, ah,’ Coi’Lili grinned widely. ‘Is it not obvious?’
‘Not really, no,’ said Jaisa. ‘I’m not very good with land-dwellers, and worse with Rendi people. I can’t tell a gural from an anvora, half the time!’
‘Well they can sometimes look very similar,’ Coi’Lili raised a wing and cast a shadow over Jaisa. ‘I do not think they would mind if you were to mistake them. As long as you were not rude about it.’
Jaisa let out a gill-popped laugh and wiped xer nose. ‘Are you being avoidant?’
‘Yes,’ was the simple answer.
‘Because it is funny to see you ask again and again!’
‘Oh, I see, you’re a mean avio,’ Jaisa mock-gasped. Then xie smiled, and sunk into the pond up to their gills. ‘Thank you. I’m feeling better. More than I have in days.’
‘Well if you are feeling better than I think it is okay to tell you my not-very-secret identity,’ Coi’Lili moved his wing away and let the sun dapple Jaisa’s face. ‘I am half alk.’
‘Alk? Really?’ Jaisa let a breath out through xer gills and let it bubble to the pond’s surface. ‘I never would have guessed that.’
Coi’Lili laughed. ‘Well then. Perhaps it is not so obvious like I thought.’
Jaisa let out xer own laugh, in the form of another stream of bubbles, then lay on xer back and floated in the water. ‘Nahrow would have loved this….’
‘He… he didn’t make it out,’ Jaisa managed. ‘Without him I don’t think I would have, either.’
‘Distro has sent her army. He will be rescued. Yes, Q?’
‘No,’ Jaisa replied, firmly. ‘No it’s— It’s too late. He’s gone. They killed him.’
‘Oh, lovely one,’ Coi’Lili breathed. ‘I did not know. That is a terrible thing. I am so very sorry. Who was he, Q?’
‘He was…’ Jaisa cut off with a sigh, and rolled to look at Coi’Lili. ‘I loved him.’
‘Do you want to tell me about him, Q?’
‘I guess,’ Jaisa said. ‘When we get to it.’
Coi’Lili nodded. ‘It is hard. I understand. I am very sorry that you have been through this.’
‘Yeah I…’ Jaisa hesitated again. ‘Do you think the queen would mind if I slept here?’
‘In the pond, Q? I do not think she would mind as long as you were comfortable.’
‘Cool, cool,’ Jaisa sunk deeper, until the water rippled over xer face. ‘I might sleep….’
‘Yes. You do seem like you need it,’ Coi’Lili agreed. ‘I will go tell Distro. You can tell us more of what you have seen tomorrow if you wish to.’
Jaisa didn’t respond. Instead xie turned over and disappeared into the pond’s murky water, and didn’t resurface.