"I'm sorry." I mumbled to her. To the giant plant creature cleaning up my mess. Dirt, I should have just cleaned it up. I meant to clean it up. There was intent. Desire. Yet here I sat on my perch like always watching my case worker clean up my habitation unit. I should have been better at this. I knew I could've been better at this.
The giant plant woman looked at me with an unnecessary compassion. "Raven, it's okay. You're still figuring things out and that can take time. Though the option for do—"
Cyathea ruffled her leaves in what I'd come to know as her version of a sigh. "Hon, have I ever told you about seeds?" The creature of ferns tidied up the place yet her eyes were fixed on me.
I rolled my eyes. My legs were still tucked up in my chair to hug, overlooking my oversized home. "I'm assuming you mean something other than a literal plant seed?" It had to be an affini term. Whoever translated everything just used preexisting plant terms for everything. As for affini naming themselves… most chose Latin words meaning plants. Take for instance Cyathea Brownii, my case worker who named herself after a fern from earth. One that existed before the biosphere collapse.
"Indeed. See seeds are little sophonts like you that are very clearly going to end up a floret—"
"—It's obvious to us. The same patterns. The same behaviors. Executive dysfunction doesn't lend itself well to independence and it's far from the only sign."
I knew what she meant. I was far from the only sophont I knew with executive dysfunction. In fact given my friend groups more had it than not. Infuriatingly, yes, most were happier with their new owners. Those that didn't have owners had hang ups with domestication, like me.
My hang up was one of trust. I didn't trust myself to choose the right affini. I didn't trust a plant that didn't even know me to just magically know my every want and need and perfectly provide it. Because if they didn't magically know and things got bad, well… I couldn't exactly bail on a relationship where I'm literally owned and have no rights.
Instead of giving in to that desire for the fantasy of the perfect caretaker/girlfriend/dom, I simply sat here in my home occasionally going out to hang out with friends… sometimes. I was a shut in but that didn't stop me from being social.
In true Raven fashion I deflected. "I just need more discipline. My routines got all messed up from the invasion and the move. Like you said I'm still figuring stuff out."
The affini who kept showing up to check on me retracted her vines. The habitation unit around her was left pristine. A task that could take me an entire day or even two done in mere minutes. If I was an affini it'd be a lot easier. Immense strength, effortless multitasking, centuries of skill and knowledge. Affini cheated at life and I ended up feeling entirely inadequate whenever they reminded me of that. Yea, there, another reason I shouldn't be domesticated. I'd just feel more worthless and inadequate being around one all the time.
She clearly wasn't buying it. She shifted and advanced towards the balcony that put me at eye level with her. "Oh, little one. We both know it's more than that, don't we. You know why I mentioned seeds. You're one and we both know it. Now you can take the long road like my first case, Aster. Or you can be a good girl for me and tell me what's holding you back."
I swiveled in my chair and looked out the window. My cheeks aflame. That tone. She always slipped into that tone and uhm gosh. Stars. Fuck! Cyathea calling me out like that was wholly unfair. She knew it, that scheming fern. My hands curled in as the fluster hit my heart and caused me to twitch and fluster.
"Raven dear, look at me." S-She couldn't just give me direct orders like that!
I-I uhm, swiveled back around but couldn't meet her gaze my eyes angled downwards catching her simulacra of a torso.
"Good girl." She praised. Cyathea sang. The words sank deep as I wiggled and floundered and sputtered whimpering noises. "Now speak. Why don't you want an owner?"
"I-I uhm, like uh, what if I pick the wrong one?" My arms shifted nervously and autisticly against my torso. The wiggles continued.
Her woven hand came over and scritched the side of my neck and I melted. "Such a good girl. So obedient." Cyathea's vine stopped me from biting my own hands in a bout of fluster. Instead, she placed one of the biting stim toys from the desk in front of me. I leaned forward and sank my teeth into it.
While my arms were busy curling and flapping, and my teeth busy nibbling on the thing, the affini replied, "Oh little Raven, you don't need to worry about picking the right one. We have systems in place to help you find the perfect match for you. Tomorrow I'm going to come by and take you to the domestication center."
For a moment, my mind passively accepted the proposal in my fluster. Then I realized what was happening. "I-I uhm you and well uhm." I forced myself to take a deep forceful breath. "I don't want to be a pet." The words came out with only the barest hint of wavering feelings.
With a tone shift and a few words she had me doing whatever she said. That's another reason I couldn't trust an affini, they held too much power. My willpower would never survive living with one full time… Though admittedly that was the point of domestication. I'd looked into it. More than most. I stole a glance at my monitor. More than one tab was open regarding domestication.
The giantess standing before me looked rather disbelieving at me. "Flower, if you truly believe that, let me give you a class-D and then say it again."
It took a moment of hand wringing before I managed to lay a hand on my mouse and hit the open tab on xenodrugs to remind myself which ones class-Ds were… Oh. OH. Uhm… "Th-That’s not— you'd probably give me a different one to uhm, trick me?" I didn't have to look at her to know neither of us bought that line.
She raised a single red flower tipped vine. "Agree to go to the domestication center, or say you don't want to be an adorable little pet under the effects of this."
Stars, I knew that was a false choice. Cyathea wouldn't give me the wrong xenodrug. She'd been kind and patient and truthful the entire time she'd been showing up for my wellness checks. Every inch of trust I gave her was never abused. Cyathea was safe. Thus that really was a class-D and if she gave it to me… I wasn't sure what I'd say. I was afraid I'd say I wanted to be a pet, and terrified I'd say I don't.
"H-How long would it last?" I was incredibly leery of drugs, even xenodrugs. Especially drugs that altered the way I thought or behaved.
The fern laden affini smiled warmly at me. "Ten minutes give or take a few. I'll be with you the whole time. Nothing bad can happen while I'm here."
Too many thoughts swirled around my head and forced me up and out of my chair. I paced back and forth along the balcony of my perch, my eyes cast downwards. Making big decisions always got to me. I could run in mental circles for hours and never get anywhere. There wasn't a bone of certainty in my body. Too many variables. Too many possibilities. My mind skipped from one to the other, never deciding on anything…
Fuck, this was the executive dysfunction! No matter how much focus I put into the task, it fell through my fingers. My movements got more erratic as I knew I was stuck on it.
A vine stopped me and guided me to face her. "Little one, tell me what you're thinking."
"I-I-I-I-I-I-" The word and the start of the thought got lodged in my mind and refused to move.
"You're having trouble deciding aren't you?"
"Then I'm going to decide for you." The affini gently grabbed my arm, light enough we both knew I could pull away at any time. The flower came in with the needle stem sticking out nice and visible.
I winced as it entered my arm, not because it hurt—it was only a slight pinch— but because I saw it happen. She injected the xenodrug causing that slight pressure of something being pushed into my veins, followed by the slightest of tingling as it spread out. My heart raced from anxiety and anticipation, the tingling died out as it diffused.
She slid the needle out and dabbed the spot with another small vine. "There. Give it one minute and then I want you to try and honestly say you don't want to be a floret."
With my arm free and my head unburdened from the weight of a monumental decision, I went back to my chair. I kept cycling through my thoughts to try and spot the change. I didn't want to be a pet. I needed to be independent. I was supposed to take care of myself. An affini would definitely mess up. I did want to be a pet. I didn't want to be independent. I was supposed to take care of myself. Cyathea wouldn't mess up.
With that one command, my thoughts spilled out. "I-I want to be a floret. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since you all arrived but I'm scared. I can't trust other affini. I trust you. I want to be your pet."
That all-consuming expression of care she always wore slipped into pity. Reaching her arms up and over at angles human arms could never bend, she plucked me out of my chair. We ended up on that big oversized couch that was only there for her. "Raven, I can't take you."
"D-did I do something wrong? I'll be better. I promise. Just please I—"
Her vine shushed me. "Raven, you are utterly splendid and a wonderfully amazing and adorable sophont. I can't take you on as a floret because I need to help every little sophont I can, and I can't do that if I'm taking care of my own floret. You're not the first cutie who's gotten attached and you won't be the last. I love my work. I love finding those like you and helping them on their journey, but I can't be a destination. It's not who I am."
I knew it was stupid of me to try. I didn't deserve an owner. The stupid xenodrug made me confess and now I had to know for certain I could never be hers. I was trying not to cry. Trying. It wasn't the first time I'd been rejected but this time I wasn't emotionally dead from dysphoria. The emotional hurt overwhelmed me.
Her vines held me, and her hand rubbed my back as I cried into her leaves. "It's okay to cry, little one. Those feelings are real and valid. Rejection hurts, and for what it's worth I do care about you so very very much."
Whatever she gave me kept me from emotionally shutting down. Instead I found myself spilling my heart. "Why can't I be good enough? Why am I never good enough? I'm never enough. I'm worthless. I—"
"You. Are. Not. Worthless." Her words drowned out my sobs. "Raven, you are a treasure. A wonder. You are more than good enough."
"But not for you!" I knew I shouldn't say that but I lost all control over my own thoughts and feelings to the alien chemicals in my head.
She hugged me tight. "I want to remind you that that feeling is valid, but Raven I know you are well versed in terran romance and sexuality. If you asked an Ace-Aro terran out and they declined, would that be because you're not good enough?"
"N-No…" The gears weren't turning right but they still turned towards the truth she was laying down.
"And if you asked a monogamous individual out and they turned you down because they already had a partner would that be because you're not good enough?"
Cyathea paused for a moment. My sobs had ended but tears still ran down my face. "And if you asked someone out and they simply did not want to date you, would that be your fault?"
I shook my head. I understood. She made her point and it was one I already knew. "But it still hurts."
"I know, hon. I know. Those feelings are valid and I'd never judge you for them." Her embrace and words were the only things I could perceive. Cyathea held me tight while I processed the emotions sprung on me without warning. It could have been a minute or an hour but we just stayed there in that same position.
"I-I'm sorry." The words barely intelligible.
She continued to brush tears and snot off of my face. "You have nothing to be sorry for. I made the decision to force truths out of you that you weren't prepared to confess. It's also been more than ten minutes, flower."
My heart felt a little hollow. In hindsight, it was obvious I had feelings for my caretaker. I didn't know. Not consciously. I knew I should have said no to the xenodrug. Then I wouldn't have made a fool of myself confessing and then acting like a brat. I was better than that. I knew I was better than that. I could handle rejection. I knew I could even if it hurt. It wouldn't be the first time.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have acted like that I uhm, I know that it was a shitty thing to attribute my self-worth to you not wanting me."
Her hand patted my head. "Little one, thank you for the apology but it is unnecessary. You weren't given time or inhibitions to filter your thoughts." The affini then used a dozen vines to pull me off of her and set me down in her lap looking up at her. A dangerous smirk appeared. "Though now that we've cleared the air… You are being put on the adoption list, so you can find an owner who does love and cherish you. I'm sure you'll blossom beautifully under their care."
I knew the look in her eye. That wasn't optional… and yea I did confess I wanted to be a pet. "But what if we aren't compatible? What if whoever I get matched up with is bad for me?"
She simulated a deep breath, and her vines guided me along to take one too. "Even as a pet you have a guarantee of your wellbeing. That includes your emotional and mental wellbeing. If you're new owner can't take care of you, you'll be given to someone who can. However, you are underestimating our domestication centers. We've gotten exceedingly good at placing you cuties into good homes."
All the words and emotions had been whittled away, leaving me with nothing left to say or feel. My caseworker adjusted my position on her lap again, leaving me curled up like I'd seen a dozen florets before. I was going to be a pet. She decided on that… and I couldn't at this point deny her.
Instead, I inspected my habitation unit. My home. The mismatched furniture. The canvas with only a single splotch of black paint on it. The guitar case that looked like a coffin. Paperwork and mail tidied up into neat little piles. A hologram projector table where I could shape and sculpt stuff digitally. My kitchenette I ignored in favor of the compiler.
I had a lot of stuff. And that wasn't including the stuff up on my perch. That small space next to a projection of a window I could look out and ponder at. My computer with entirely too many monitors surrounding me with information. Most of it was just webpages and chat apps.
An affini sat down with me and dreamed up this perfect home and now I was going to have to leave it. I was going to leave my own bird cage to live in someone else's at their mercy. I had no room left to worry. Cyathea stole the choice from me. I only needed to accept it.
Curled up in her lap, I accepted it.