Parson drained his tea, more to avoid saying anything for a few moments than out of thirst. Janis simply watched him in silence, giving him all the time he needed to come to terms with the idea that Maggie loved him.
"That's really unfortunate and complicated," he said at last, trying to smile. He held the still-warm porcelain teacup in his lap, gripping it with both hands. "I was hoping I was misreading that from her."
"What makes it complicated?" asked Janis. "Take her to bed. Make her happy"
Parson felt a little flash of annoyance at the directness of that.
"Well, um, two things," he said, still struggling to straighten out his thoughts. "The biggest one being the fact that I'm her Chief Warlord. She's a unit under my command. You know?" Janis stared at him, giving him the same kind of look that he'd seen when he was describing aspects of Earth life. "I'm not comfortable with that," he added for clarification.
Janis nodded, as if she understood now. "You're afraid she'd be using it to manipulate you."
The Hippiemancer cocked her head. "Then…?"
Parson made a small noise of exasperation. "I dunno, maybe it's only a thing in my world. We didn't do that. Or… no, we did it all the time. But it was like… you weren't supposed to." He frowned. Did she really not get it?
"I just—okay the Archons, right? When we still had the Archons, Maggie said they'd do anything I ordered them to, whether they wanted to or not. I could've been building naked pyramids of Archons every night. Jell-o wrestling. Naked relay races down Whopper Avenue. I've thought about this, okay?" He had, in fact, thought about it way too much. The loss of the Archons at [[|Jetstone (city)|Jetstone]] had relieved him of a growing collection of truly sad but very entertaining fantasies, and the temptation to make them come true. He shook his head. "But I didn't do it. It's just… wrong'."
Janis gave him a sudden, bright smile of comprehension. "Oh. Because of free will!"
"Yeah," said Parson.
And you care about that, even among your subordinates. Even your non-commanders."
So far, Parson had found he didn't really like giving orders. He got why it was necessary, but it felt like too much power to have. Ordering Bogroll to his death to try and win the battle was one thing. But ordering units around without a good strategic reason? No. Uh-uh.
"They're people, too," he said. And almost added, I'm pretty sure.
Janis shook her head in wonderment. "Well yes, they are. And that's very sweet, Parson Gotti." She reached out and touched his hand. "You'll need that, I think. To bring peace.
"But you know, it doesn't really complicate the matter with Maggie. I mean, I'm a Date-a-mancer. And I'm telling you, as a neutral party: she wants you of her own will. There'd be no coercion."
Parson frowned a bit. He poked at the threads on the carpet in front of him, saying nothing.
"If you don't believe me, you could test it," said Janis slyly. "Take her to your tent and order her to do whatever she most desires. I think she'd tear off your raiment so fast your Dollamancer would need all next turn to repair it!"
Janis laughed, light and musical. But Parson only grimaced.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
Parson looked up from the rug. "It's just I don't… actually feel the same way about her," he said.
"Yes, I can see that," Janis nodded. "You're not in love. But you're entangled with her in other ways. You are already quite attached to this person. I see nothing wrong with bedding her. It'll do you both some good."His brow crinkled. "But I'm not attracted to her," he admitted, with some difficulty.
That wasn't entirely accurate. Maggie's appearance had changed in the four months or so that he'd been in Erfworld. The hatchet-faced gargoyle she'd been at first had softened into more feminine features and manners. There were even times lately when he'd noticed her perfume, or her legs. But still.
"Her Signamancy's like a cross between an old lady and a little girl," he said. "I don't really think I want to 'bed' her."
"Oh," said Janis, sitting up a little straighter. "Then, don't."
Parson blinked. That simple, huh? "Yeah, but… how's she going to feel about that?"
"Sad," said Parson. "Resigned. Wounded? He was pretty busted up, I think. Assuming he was telling the truth."
"Oh, he was," said Janis. "The poor man's uprooted."
"Yeah," said Parson. "So with Maggie…"
"Maggie's got her burden to carry, that's all. You didn't give it to her, Parson. And what she feels for you doesn't obligate you to feel or do anything in return. You're the one who's into free will, right? Make sure you don't forget about your own."
Parson was silent for a little while, putting his chin to his chest in thought. "Yeah, but I mean, I've been there. With Bree, in college. The friendzone hurts."
"Yes, well. I guess you know it wasn't easy for Bree either, now," said Janis.
He looked up and narrowed his eyes at her. "But that was on Earth."
"There wasn't any Date-a-mancy there. Or any magic. There wasn't any potion to solve our love problems."
Janis gave him an incredulous look. "Warlord, are you saying that if you'd had a love potion in college, that you would have given it to Bree to make her attracted to you? Isn't that the same thing as… as giving her an order?"
Parson had been shaking his head as she talked. "No. No, not what I mean at all."
"Then what are you saying?"
Parson sighed, cursing his lateral-thinking brain for even coming up with this idea. "I'm saying… that maybe you should mix me up a potion that would make me fall in love with Maggie."
Janis mouth hung open.
Parson shifted on the rug. "Maybe, you know, that would be the easiest thing," he said. "You already said we're like, compatible. So just make me fall in love with her, and everybody'll be happy."
"What did I just say?" exclaimed Janis, her voice going wild and high-pitched. "About holding on to your free will? What did I say, Warlord?"
He smiled wryly. "At least I'd be giving up my free will of my own free will."
She clucked in exasperation. "You know better than that. Or— Oh maybe you don't," she fretted. "Date-a-mancy doesn't work that way, you dear and foolish man. There are potions, yes. Some of them are quite fun. But only the Titans can make you fall in love,"
"Oh,""Look, I think we've had more than enough to fill one lesson tonight," said Janis, clapping her hands to her knees. "You've got plenty to think about until next time. Don't say anything to Maggie until we can talk about how love actually works. Let's get to the drum circle."