“No!” I screamed as I awoke in a panic.
“Shhh. You’re safe, you’re okay.” Ratio cooed, trying to console me.
My chest was pounding, my head felt like it was trapped in a vice. Every fibre of my being was telling me I was not ok and that I had to escape. My breathing quickened before it lapsed into long exaggerated breaths. I was entering the first stage of a panic attack.
“Miss?” Ratio asked, fear creeping into her voice.
“Zeitha, I’ve administered a relaxant but it’s going to take some time to overcome the counter agent. For now, I need you to take slow breaths, can you do that for me?” Sya asked.
I tried. I took in one large breath, held it and then let it out. I went for a second, choked on air and went back into the depths of hyperventilating.
Sya moved into my vision. “Darling look into my eyes-“ She was close, far too close! They both were! An animalistic part of me screamed something. I started to thrash violently. I was pinned down by vines and sister alike, which made my feeling of being caged worse. I tried to turn over with all my strength and failed, tried to bring my arms up and failed, tried to bring up my knees and kick out with my legs and succeeded. Suddenly there was less weight on top of me as Ratio gave a startled cry.
I slipped back under.
The second time I awoke was much more controlled. My breathing was regulated and my eyes opened slowly. I was being held in place by vines, but they were slack and provided I didn’t move too quickly, didn’t prove much of an obstacle.
I sat up slowly and found Sya comforting Ratio a little distance away. Ratio looked like she had been crying and was bundled up tight. I locked eyes with Sya and opened my mouth to speak and quickly closed it.
“Are you hurt?” Sya asked in a neutral tone.
“I’m fine,” I answered, still a little hazy.
“Good, I’m glad. I’ve got my vines full with Ratio at the moment. Can you wait there for me until I’m done?”
“Sure,” I replied hesitantly.
Why was she being so off with me? It felt like she was disappointed in me, but couldn’t bring herself to tell me off. What the hell had happened at the meet-up?
I searched my memories and recounted the passing events. Stuart, Benjamin, the news…
I took a sharp intake of breath, but it didn’t develop past that point. Whatever was in my system was doing its job. Whatever was happening with Ratio wasn’t related to that piece of news, I think. I gave it more thought and ran into a moment of pure clarity. Ratio was crying because I, in a blind rage, had hurt her. My stomach sank but again, did little to progress past that point.
I lay back down and started playing with my tails, desperate to keep my mind occupied. Another minute or two passed before Sya placed Ratio down gently, kissed her on the forehead and left a vine for her to play with. I looked at Ratio, now wearing a happy blissful face in stark contrast to the one she was wearing when I awoke and felt a deep seed of regret. I hadn’t meant to hurt her, they’d both known that, right?
Sya sat beside me but did not attempt to comfort me. Instead, she spoke slowly. “I’m sorry. This hasn’t at all gone how I had planned.”
“It’s fine. I’m fine.” I deflected. “Is Ratio okay?”
“It, nor you are fine Zeitha. And yes, Ratio is doing well.”
I couldn’t help but notice I still hadn’t been pulled into her vines.
“Can I ask what happened? My memory is a little hazy.”
“I made a mistake,” Sya admitted. “I brought you up too quickly and it caused you to panic. You lashed out and Ratio was hurt. I don’t blame you, but it’s given me some things to think about.”
“Are you going to punish me?” I asked with genuine concern.
“What? No! As I’ve stated, I don’t blame you for what happened.”
“Then why are you being so standoffish?” I asked, my voice starting to rise in volume.
“Is this not what you wanted? To be independent and make your own choices?”
“Now wait a minute. That’s not fair!” I said quickly moving to a sitting position. “You’re the one that messed up the dosage of whatever drug you gave me. This is on you!”
“In this case, I would agree. But you’ve already proven that your nature is destructive, with or without my influence,” Sya responded.
“So what? You don’t want me as your floret anymore? Is that it?”
“Zeitha, lashing out like this isn’t going to get you what you want.”
“Oh really? And what is it that I want Miss? Please, do tell.”
Sya sighed. She actually sighed. I didn’t think Affini could do that, but then again, alien biology wasn’t my forte.
“In this instance, I think you’re looking to be comforted but you don’t know how to ask for it.”
“That… that’s just not true,” I refuted.
“It shows on your face. Don’t think I haven’t noticed the way you keep glancing at Ratio, at my vines and the distance between us.” As she mentioned it, I realised I was doing those exact things and chastised myself mentally.
“You’re wrong,” I said with increasingly less conviction.
“It’s possible. One thing is for certain, I won’t put Ratio at risk like that again.”
“You’re being a bit dramatic don’t you think? I kicked her by accident and even then, that’s not her real body. Neither of us can feel pain.”
“She wasn’t crying because you kicked her. She was crying because you called me a parasite and her a faulty copy.”
“Lies!” I screamed.
“I’m incapable of lying. Not to say my kind can’t, although it’s admittedly very rare.”
“You have to be lying! I would never say that about her!” I insisted.
Sya produced a tablet from beneath her vines, pressed some buttons and held it out to me. She didn’t say anything and I was beginning to think she might have been right. I reached out for the tablet with unsteady hands and found a video waiting to be played. I watched a recording of me waking up, panicking and cursing at the two while I thrashed violently. I watched as I kicked Ratio’s chest full force and sent her spiralling away; I watched as I screamed the very phrase I was so confident I would never say. I gripped the tablet hard and stared at the black screen reflecting my face. The girl looking back was tired and distraught so why had I said those things? I didn’t feel that way but it had come from somewhere. I passed the tablet back.
“I don’t want to hurt her again,” I said, my voice shaky.
“I know flower.”
“What can I do? Tell me what I need to do!” I yelled, grabbing hold of the vines that made up her leg and looking up at her.
Sya retrieved a scroll from seemingly nowhere and placed it in my hands. It was the same contract I had agreed to yesterday.
“These 7 categories each represent an aspect of darkness embedded in your heart. If you want to stop hurting yourself and those around you, you’ll need to address them earnestly,” Sya said.
“You’re asking me to give up my independence under the pretext that in doing so I’ll never hurt someone else again. Do you understand how crazy that sounds?”
“Those are your options flower. Strive for independence, or try to improve yourself. Of course, there are seven tests and you can always decide when to stop.”
“If I don’t do this… Will you take Ratio from me? Will I be unable to see Lucia and the others?”
“I can’t make any guarantees regarding Lucia and the other florets, but in regards to Ratio, no. It would be cruel to separate the both of you, but I would be implementing rules to protect her.” Again, Sya’s tone was completely neutral. That wasn’t a threat which made it worse.
I sighed. “I feel like you’re manipulating me here.”
I stared at Sya blankly. “Just like that? No pretending, or, well you can’t lie but I’m sure you could have tried steering the conversation away.”
“I have no need. I’ve already claimed victory this round, I’m simply waiting for you to admit it,” Sya teased, an edge of softness creeping back into her voice.
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because your fire has gone out.” She paused. “And your hair displays your emotional state and right now it’s screaming cuddle me,” she added with a laugh.
“That… I feel that’s unfair,” I pouted.
“Certainly. It’s a stacked deck and I’m looking forward to seeing how you’ll try to overcome that. But not this round. You’ve lost and you should face that with pride while you still have it.”
I looked between her and Ratio and then at my hands. “Promise you won’t let me hurt her again?”
“My darling pet, I promise on my name and the Everblooms.”
“Very well. I admit it. I’m envious of Ratio, of Lucia and you. I want my 8 weeks back; I want the freedom to make decisions…” I looked at Ratio. “I want to be happy. I admit defeat in this first round.”
By the time the final word had left my lips, I was already feeling lighter. I wasn’t particularly happy about this, but neither was I sad. Sya had an entirely different response. Her eyes were dancing with golden flakes and she was looking down on me with clear pride.
“Flower,” she baited.
“I’m extremely proud of you~!”
I had barely stammered a response before a separate drug ran through my system causing all the following hugs and head pats to be amplified ten-fold. This was good, dare I say quite enjoyable, but the greatest comfort came when Ratio hugged me without restriction. I might have cried and hugged her back and then cried some more as was becoming very common.
Maybe you’ll judge me for how quickly I gave in, and who knows, you could be right. Who’s to say? While it’s true the first challenge was over there were still six more for me to overcome. Alas, those were a challenge for tomorrow me. For the time being, I was happy and while the events that led up to that were questionable, I found myself surrendering to that feeling completely.