Petal wasn’t sure if she actually fell asleep or not, but the next thing she knew, the familiar cutesy voice of the hab called out a slight variation on its usual announcement.
“Hey cuties, lucky you! You have visitors!”
Petal tries to stir in Delphinium’s vines, but Delphinium holds her gently, but firmly in place, a vine against her lips to shush her. “Come in~,” calls Delphinium, in a clear, musical voice.
The door opens, and in steps an almost familiar looking affini, carrying a number of grocery bags, and an adorable, ant-like xeno, in a colourful garment, which is gently chewing on one of the affini’s leaves. That’s right! This must be the affini that Petal saw back on the Asturtium, when Delphinium got her that ice cream.
“Vernonia, come in, come in. You’re looking well, as is my favourite myrmex~.” Delphinium reaches out a vine to pet the ant-xeno, apparently a myrmex, on its head. The myrmex reaches out with a pair of grasping limbs, grabbing Delphiniums vine to pull it into a cuddle. The myrmex starts to nibble on the vine, until Delphinium lets out a series of clicks, that Petal can somehow tell are amusedly chastising, and the myrmex lets her vine go. “So, how did your search go?”
“Yes, well, it seems that miss, uh- oh, hold on a moment.” Vernonia extends a vine out from its torso, carrying a piece of paper over towards Petal. “I understand that you wish to change your name, so I thought I’d bring along the requisite form.”
Petal takes the paper, and sure enough, it seems to be a fairly straightforward form for her to change her name to Petal. She reaches out to grab the pen, but Delphinium takes both the paper and the pen away from Petal, skims the form, signs it, and then passes it back to Vernonia. Petal’s mouth drops open.
“As your caretaker, Petal, I’m more than happy to help you with any paperwork that you might need help with.” Delphinium starts to snake the paper back over to Vernonia with a vine.
“I- I didn’t need any help!”
Delphinium pauses her vine in mid-air. “Should I not have signed it, then? Is it in error, in any way?”
“W-well, no, but-” Petal can feel herself blushing. This must be what it’s like to be a pet, to just have everything done for you in the most embarrassing way possible. The worst part is she really could see herself learning to just enjoy this, no embarrassment, just joy at being taken care of.
Delphinium smiles down at Petal, and she can feel any further objections falter in her mouth. It’s not fair, but as Delphinium has admitted, bragged even, the Affini aren’t.
Vernonia takes the paper, and pulls it back into their chest. “As I was saying, from my research, I might surmise miss Petal here did not so much have a favourite food, excepting her most recent forays into ice cream, as foods that were most convenient.”
Delphinium gives Petal a caring, almost concerned look. “Favourites are hard, okay? And sometimes you’ve just gotta eat what you can.” Delphinium strokes a vine reassuringly across Petal’s brow, and she settles down into the affini’s vines.
“I see that you’ve still managed to find something, Verne?”
“Yes, well, of these most convenient foods, I did manage to determine a meal that was frequent enough to perhaps be a favourite, although I imagine that our version will be rather a lot fresher than anything that she was used to.”
“Hey, I-” Petal’s complaint dies under another look from Delphinium, but she still feels the need to defend herself, she didn’t want Delphinium to be disappointed in her. “I… did the best I could.”
“Of course you did, my precious Petal, nobody here would ever suggest otherwise. We affini just like to show off~.” Delphinium gently strokes Petal’s face, wiping away a tear that she didn’t even know had spilled from her eyes. Petal smiles up at her affini. Was that why the affini were always so concerned with looking hyper-competent in front of their florets, and other sophonts, to show off?
It must be lonely, to always have to be the strong, capable one. Petal certainly wasn’t ever any good at it, even when she wanted to be. “W-well… if you want to show off, then, well, I’m not going to stop you.”
“Thank you, darling. It’s always a pleasure to show off for such cute sophonts as you~.” Delphinium kisses Petal’s forehead once more, and she blushes, it should feel like she’s being insulted, there’s no way that anyone could be so condescending, and so loving at the same time, but it doesn’t, because Delphinium really just is that condescending, and that loving. So unfair.
Delphinium withdraws herself from the couch, and makes her way into the kitchen. “Now, why don’t you, Millie and Attatex find something to watch, and Verne and I will deal with the cooking, hm?”
Vernonia deposits the cute myrmex floret on the couch in front of her, and it clicks its mandibles and waves one of its limbs in what she can only assume is a form of greeting.
“Oh of course, how remiss of me, Petal, this is Attatex Letlens, Seventh Floret, Attatex, this is Petal, my… ward.” The pause in Delphinium’s introduction seemed perfectly timed to make Petal consider whether she was going to say something like ‘floret-to-be’, or ‘soon-to-be-pet’. Or ‘latest acquisition’.
Attatex pulls out a piece of paper and a pen, and writes a quick message.
It is good to meet you in person
The hand-writing seemed almost familiar. Oh, right! The floret who wrote messages on the paperwork she got back from the clerk's office.
“It’s good to meet you too, Attatex!”
It is also good to see you, Millicent
“Atty, I keep telling you, call me Millie! Millicent sounds so… formal.”
And I keep telling you, that formality is important
“That isn’t what you said last time, Atty~. Last time you said that formality made you feel safe, but what could you possibly need to be kept safe from, with two affini in the room~?”
Is… is Millie flirting with Attatex?
Attatex clicks its mandibles as it writes its next message, its writing is a little bit shakier.
I would think that the answer was rather obviously yourself, Millie.
“Aww, and what about that big tough exoskeleton of yours, are you still scared of me through that~?”
Millie is flirting with Attatex. At least it seems to be having as much difficulty with her as Petal does. It’s… really cute. Petal wonders if she should feel jealous, but… well, Petal is the one that Millie is trying to convince to become a floret, and there’s everything with Delphinium, so it’s not like it was ever going to be exclusive. Petal can’t stop herself from giggling.
“And what about you, Petal, are you scared of me?”
“Nope.” Petal could never be scared of Millie. Except maybe in a ‘scary hot’ kinda way, like with that knife. Or even with a sword.
“See, Atty? Petal isn’t afraid of me, and she doesn’t even have a hard exoskeleton, she’s just super soft and squishy!” Millie propels herself towards Petal with a sudden burst of speed, wrapping her arms around her and squeezing her in a tight hug.
Petal can’t see what Attatex wrote, but she hears Millie’s response. “So do I.” Millie looks down at Petal with a wide grin, before planting a kiss on her lips.
“‘S-so do you’ what?” What did Attatex write?
“Hmm~?” Oh, right. Millie’s just going to be like that.
“What… what did Attatex say?”
“Oh, not much~.” Millie leans in again for another kiss, and Petal can see Attatex holding a piece of paper behind her head.
I said, I hope you stick around, so that she can devote all of her attentions to you.
Oh. Even when she wasn’t trying, Millie could just melt Petal’s heart.
Millie finally pulls back, and rubs a thumb along Petal’s cheek. “Aww, Atty, you weren’t supposed to tell her~.”
Attatex writes another note, making sure that both of them see it before it puts it away.
I never agreed to such. I’m going to find something to watch, if you want to help when you’re done with all of that nonsense.
“Aww, Atty, you know I know you better than that, right~?” Millie reaches a hand out towards Attatex, and gently rubs it in between its antennae. The myrmex shivers in place, letting out a gentle chittering sound. “Yeah, isn’t that nice~?” Millie stops just long enough to let it write out a short note.
Maybe. DOn’t stop.
Millie resumes her gentle petting. Petal can’t help but watch in fascination. “Would… would it be okay if I gave you some petting, too?”
Attatex lets out a short series of clicks. “That means yes, by the way. Why don’t you try… right here.” Millie puts Petal’s hand on the underside of Attatex’s head, and Petal starts giving it an experimental scritch. She thinks she’s starting to get a bit of a sense of the myrmex’s body language, and it definitely seems to like this. Millie stops petting it between the antennae, which it barely seems to notice, and instead uses both of her arms to cuddle up against Petal some more.
From the kitchen, Petal can hear the sounds of the two affini cooking something, there’s a tantalising smell already coming from the cooking surface she never understood the point of until just now. She keeps gently scritching the chin, for lack of a better word, of the myrmex.
"So how long have you two known each other?"
"Hmmm… As long as I can remember. A few years, I guess? It was with Verne when I met Mistress." It's still weird that, for Millie, as long as she can remember means a few years, at most.
Petal looks down at Attatex, but it doesn't seem to have anything to add.
"Verne and Mistress go way back, though. I think Mistress mentioned knowing him when she was in her first bloom, so that'd be at least a few hundred years."
"Wait, a few hundred years? How long do affini even live? How old is Mistress? I mean- Delphinium."
"We don't exactly count age in the same way that you do, my dear. But I would be approximately six hundred and ninety in Terran years. And we live until we are unable to rebloom, by our own actions, or those of others. Honestly, there may even be some affini still alive from before our species first took to the stars, some hundreds of blooms ago." Petal didn't realise that Delphinium had even been paying attention.
'About' six hundred and ninety? Why not just say seven hundred, what's so special about- Wait, did she just round her age to that to make a 69 joke? "Nice. And what does hundreds of blooms actually work out to?"
"Oh, some tens of thousands of years."
Tens of thousands. Sure. Petal's almost surprised it's not longer than that. Like millions of years, or something. Would humanity have stood a chance, if they'd had tens of thousands of years more technological advancement? Would humanity even have survived tens of thousands of years of technological advancement?
It's probably for the best that nobody's ever going to find out. Humanity was bad enough, and the thought of humanity somehow stopping the advancement of Affini benevolence was almost terrifying. Not something that Petal wanted to think about.
Petal is surprised to find herself lifted off the couch into Delphinium's arms, Millie right beside her. "Is something the matter, Petal, you looked lost in thought, again."
"I… I'm just glad, I guess, that the Affini came when they did. Before humanity had a chance."
"My dearest Petal, humanity never had, and never would have had, a chance to be anything other than a Domesticated species in the long run. And now it is, and you don't need to worry your pretty little head about anything." Delphinium ruffles Petal's hair to emphasise her last point.
Delphinium sets Petal and Millie down in chairs at the dining table that Petal never uses. There's silverware that Petal has no recollection of ever seeing placed in front of Petal and Millie, although Millie's seems to be facing the wrong way.
Vernonia sets Attatex down at the table as well, its silverware is also reversed, and the two affini set down bowls of steaming food in front of each of the florets. And Petal. The two affini settle themselves across the table from their respective charges, and each snake out vines to the cutlery in front of their respective floret. Oh, right, that's why it was backwards.
"So, miss Petal, Delphi tells that me you're considering volunteering for domestication?"
Petal drops the fork she was trying to pick up, and her cheeks turn beet red.
"Oh, my dearest Petal, let me get that for you~." Delphinium snakes out another pair of vines, to pick up Petal's silverware the same way she did for Millie.
That was so unfair. And the worst part of it is that Petal never even got the chance to offer it to Delphinium herself.