It occurred one evening to Lion in the kitchen, as they prepared that night’s dinner, that Will was from the future.
“Will, you’re really from the year 1998, correct? Since you read all of Hachijo Tohya’s published works?”
Will was on potato peeling duty, their one-handed peeler clamped to the edge of the sink. Just because Will had the money didn’t mean he could slack off in his retired life. It wasn’t like the Rokkenjima mansion, with an estate to maintain, and therefore servants to cook and clean. In Will’s house where Will, Lion, Clair, and Diana lived, they were perfectly capable of running their own household. At least, Lion thought so, until he had learned the state of Will’s diet when he’d still been working at the SSVD (and still had both of his hands, even.)
Will shrugged. “Eh. Sort of.”
“I thought so! I can’t believe it never occurred to me, that you’re from the future. The world a decade from now—what an exciting thought.”
Will looked blankly at him. “Humans are humans, no matter the era. And it doesn’t really work like that. Before I came to Rokkenjima in 1986, I was actually working a case in 1931 England.”
“1931 England...” But everything here was just as modern as Lion’s own time.
Will answered Lion's confused expression. “I’m from the year 1928, when Van Dine’s Commandments were written, and I’m more familiar with that era, but I’m not from that year the way you’re thinking of. We’re in Heaven, after all. It’s not bound by time. Just by laws, as is Human society.”
Maybe it was like Beatrice’s funeral, a world made up of different Fragments? Lion’s head was starting to hurt as he chopped the vegetables. “I see. So you know about the world 50, even 100 years from now.” Lion thought about how different Japan had been even fifty years ago. Before the Pacific War—in fact, that had been when Japan was aggressively trying to expand its empire. Now, Japan hadn’t been involved in any war since World War II, and the nation’s efforts toward international growth were poured into expanding its economic power.
“Well, what I remember from school. Most of my career was spent working 20th century cases. Authors in the 21st century weren’t as adherent to Knox or Van Dine. Many of them went the crime-thriller route, rather than traditional mystery. Actually, most of my 21st century work came with cases that were working off of nostalgia.”
That might be the most Lion has ever heard Will speak about himself uninterrupted. It warmed him to hear that the mystery genre still remained popular many years into the future.
“Well, I’m glad that the 21st century seems to be doing well. I admit, I was hoping you wouldn’t tell me that a World War III with nuclear warfare had broken out, and Japan no longer existed as its own autonomous nation, or something so apocalyptic.” It sounded unusually unlikely, but once, Lion would have sworn the same for an alternate universe where he’d ended up with Clair’s circumstances.
“Humans are humans, no matter the era. But for the most part, economics has tied many nations’ hands when it comes to outright warfare.”
“I see.” It reminded him of Grandfather. The future would always be held by those with money, thus, the Ushiromiya future was fated, the more wealth they accumulated.
“There are some in SSVD originating from the 21st century. Ingrid is the freshest, so probably the most willing to answer your questions.”
“Oh, that won’t be necessary.” Lion never knew how to interact with Will’s former colleagues. They were all terribly formal. Even though Lion was, of course, well-versed in keeping proper decorum as the Successor, oftentimes the SSVD members seemed deterred from expressing any emotion at all. Lion had quickly realized that Will was the exception, rather than the rule. “If she’s new, she must be quite busy.”
“Not she, they.”
“Ingrid is non-binary. They don’t identify with male or female. So, they.”
Lion looked over at Will, whose face was as blank as usual. “Um,” Lion tried, “how does that work, though? Doesn’t she—doesn’t Ingrid have, well. Not to be crass, but Ingrid has...sex organs?” If Lion had heard anyone else ask such a question, he would have pinched their butt for such an invasive remark. Instead, Lion had to feel the full brunt of shame for being so inquiring.
But he had to know. It was only because it was Will, who he trusted, who knew that Lion didn't ask this out of malice (far from it, in fact), that Lion could ask.
“Sure. Humans are still biologically the same. But that doesn’t have to do with their gender.”
“How’s your head doing?” Will asked.
Lion did feel a headache coming on, but—“If you tell me not to think about it, I cannot be blamed for the consequences.” Lion held up a hand, wiggling his fingers, and saw Will’s butt clench in response.
“I’m really not the best at this. Just trust me. Regardless of their sex organs, Ingrid uses they.”
Wil wouldn’t lie to him. He was straight-forward and blunt like that. If Will insisted there were people who didn’t pick a gender, and it was common enough there was a term for them, then Lion knew it to be true.
Lion nodded as he tipped vegetables into their crockpot. Just because this household was expected to make their own dinner, didn’t mean they couldn’t use all the shortcuts available. He realized he was smiling.
“How about someone like Clair, then? Would there be a term for someone with her circumstances?” Lion moved onto dicing Will’s peeled potatoes.
“I can’t speak for her; Clair would make the final choice on what she prefers. But I suppose the closest would be gender-fluid. So he or she, sometimes even they works, depending on what the person wants.”
“Depending on what the person wants?” The 21st century was a terribly fascinating, unthinkable place.
“Many people are comfortable being referred to as their biological sex. For those who aren’t, it’s considered appropriate to go by what they prefer.”
Lion still was wrapping his head around this. “And people just accept that?” The 21st century wasn’t that far in the future. Lion couldn’t imagine such a shift in societal norms, not after being asked so bluntly for his gender so often growing up.
“Humans are humans, no matter the era,” said Will, confirming Lion’s fears. “But that’s what I learned in high school, and of course, it’s official SSVD policy to respect people’s preferred pronouns. All of the Great Court of Heaven, in fact. The Non-Discrimination Act. You’d be written up, otherwise.”
Lion nodded. After all, fifty years ago, the idea of Japan becoming a country dominated by anti-war sentiment would have been unthinkable. Now, the idea of going to war was increasingly unpopular with the youth, who were the future of their nation. The idea of being so free with gendered terminology had to start from the youth.
A loud meow broke the thoughtful silence. Soft fur tickled Lion’s legs.
“Hello, Diana.” Another insistent meow. “I don’t think you’d enjoy potatoes at all. They’re a human food.”
“Hey, Diana, stop it. Lion’s going through something right now. Let me feed you for once. Don’t yowl at me; the can gets opened either way! You were fine the first three years of your life when it was just the two of us!” Diana cried out piteously as she was picked up and away from Lion, but Will was fast enough to get a can of her wet food before she could scratch.
Lion blinked at Will’s back as he worked the can opener. Will had a point. He—they really were going through something. The last time Lion had felt like this was after a particularly thrilling roller coaster, where his—their stomach had dropped from under them. But they’d loved the sensation. They needed to tell Clair all about this; they sincerely hoped it was awe her as much as it did them.
Lion was always thinking about how to live the happiest life possible, in Beatrice’s honor. Maybe this was another page to be added to their book. Yes, perhaps they and Clair would make plans to stop by one of the libraries of Heaven tomorrow morning to research the topic more thoroughly.