------------------------Centhia, North New Bergen, Hab complex Ceria, 24.04.2555, 18:18--------------------------
Rosa yawned and fluttered her eyes open, the chair she was sitting in was dangerously comfortable. An incredibly soft blanket was wrapped around her, but not restrictive. As her eyes blinked the fog of sleep away she noticed Echina sitting in the far larger chair next to her, the affini was looking at her with a warm expression. She stretched and straightened up in the chair “did I fall asleep?”
Echina smiled “yes, I believe it was when we came to the subject of interstellar logistics that you nodded off.” Right, they had been working through the curriculum and weeding out possible condescending language.
Hold on! Rosa was suddenly wide awake “I was supposed to help you, why did you let me sleep?”
The affini looked away, some of her flowers blooming “well….I didn’t notice at first and once you were asleep….” There was a moment of hesitation “you were simply too cute to wake. We had already gone through a lot, you have been a massive help.” Too cute?
It was now Rosa’s turn to look away, hiding her blush “if you say so…but I already fell asleep once before today, I should have managed to stay awake. Sorry.” She was not supposed to be this lazy, spending half the day sleeping was unacceptable.
Unsurprisingly Echina did not agree “sleep deprivation and burnout will cause such effects, there is nothing to be ashamed about. I have met plenty of florets who sleep whenever they wish with no consequence.” It took a few seconds for the affini to realize what she had insinuated “not that you are a floret or anything like that. I only meant that as long as it is done in a healthy manner there is no need to follow the strict sleep schedule your species have employed. In fact, it seems to mostly be a product of this nine to seven work system.” Rosa could not help but chuckle, Echina was pretty cute when embarrassed.
She got up from the chair “I think I will go for that walk now, clear my head and all that.” As she walked to the door Echina got up and followed her.
A vine picked up a decorated denim jacket from a post next to the door “it is a bit chilly out so you will need this.” Before it was handed to her Echina inspected the jacket, a vine trailing over the dozens of buttons, painted on marking and sewn on cloth stickers “did you make this yourself? It is adorable!” She made a noise not dissimilar to a squeal.
Rosa tried to ignore the fact that Echina found the ‘rough and revolutionary’ style of the jacket adorable “yes, I made it…proud of it as well, thanks for bringing it over.” She honestly did not own that many clothes and this jacket were one of her few.
Her rather dry response did not go unnoticed “did I say adorable? I mean it is very…bad ass?” Rosa put on the jacked while stifling a laugh, did Echina even know what that meant? Probably not, but A for effort. The affini brushed a bit of her unkempt hair away from her face “dinner will be ready in an hour or so, and please stay within-“
Now she was overbearing, Rosa pushed the vine away “the Melius district, I know. There will probably be an affini wherever I look, I’ll be safe, ok?” Thinking of the floret saturation made the walk suddenly a bit less appealing. Rosa exited the hab, finding herself in a huge corridor and taking one last look back.
Echina smiled warmly, her eyes a light amber color “very good, enjoy your walk. Don’t be afraid to ask any affini for help if you get lost…also the elevators are to the left. Oh and one more thing.” The affini found her data pad and a second later the headphones loosened on Rosa’s head, a gentle vine removed them “you don’t need these outside.”
Hearing Echina’s true voice once more was wonderful, and the soft hum in the background was so…nope. Rosa nodded and started to walk to the elevator at a rapid pace.
The size of the corridor and doors gave Rosa the distinct feeling of being half her actual height. This did not change when she reached the elevator and had to stretch to press the button. Half a second later the door opened, the button to get to the first floor was luckily the one furthest down.
Once out Rosa took special notice to examine her surroundings, finding a small plaque reading Ceria habitation center next to the entrance. She had no intention of asking anyone for the way back but keeping it in mind wouldn’t hurt. With her hands in her pockets, Rosa began a leisurely stroll in a random direction, with her eyes trained on the ground in front of her.
The affini sure did know how to make streets, with plenty of greenery and pleasing decoration around. The buildings that flanked the wide street were huge, even taller than the normal Centhian architecture, not that they could even compare to the massive spires the affini had constructed in the south of the city near the launch pads. It matched the affini pretty well, diverse, impressive, intimidating…but also quite pretty.
The day felt like it had lasted forever but on balance it could have been worse. Echina was definitely the best warden she could have gotten, that’s for sure. The psychologist had asked her beforehand if she had any preference for a caretaker, even back then Echina had been the only reasonable answer. But asking for her specifically would have been wrong. Not that it mattered, Echina still ended up having to set her work and personal wants aside to take care of her….
There was no real sense of difference between if Echina had volunteered or been selected as the most compatible caretaker. The Affinis’ sense of duty when it came to taking care of non-affini sophonts was almost absolute it seemed. It was not like they were less susceptible to social conditioning and if what she had heard was true then they were even genetically disposed to such thought patterns.
Of course, Echina had repeated that she was not a burden. Something that simply made no sense at all. She was a burden upon the affini, but the probability that Echina straight-up lied to her was not high. While the affini almost never lied, they could misdirect…but no, the words were pretty direct. There had to be some sort of reasonable explanation between these two contradictions….
Rosa noticed she had been walking too fast and was beginning to feel a bit winded. There was luckily a bench only a few meters away…though that seemed to be true along the entire street. The bench was honestly very comfortable, sitting down allowed her mind to calm. With her gaze now raised, the other people in the street became apparent.
To nobody’s surprise, there was a far greater amount of affini than in the other districts, and of the terrans most were florets. While casually observing the passerby Rosa noticed that a few of the affini were giving her curious and sometimes concerned glances. She elected to ignore them, they were probably not used to seeing an independent waltzing around in these parts. Not that she would ever have any good reason to travel here if not for the…situation. While this bench did have a seat for her height, most of the architecture was obviously built with the affini in mind.
Despite any political disagreements she might have, there was no denying the people around were well of. The florets and affini she saw looked happy, and not in the corporate ‘there is nothing bad going on here, we promise’ kind of way. They looked genuinely content, fulfilled, and happy….with her demeanor she was like a sore thumb.
Rosa got up and walked a bit further, trying to ignore the disparity between her own mood and that of those around her. The attempt was not very successful, as the overjoyed florets that clamored, hugged, cuddled, or walked with their owners fueled the despair within herself. She needed a distraction…ice cream, that usually worked…sometimes. The ice cream establishment that had caught her eye had plenty of tables outside, Rosa chose the one that was the furthest away from all the other guests.
The menu was both in Affini and English, and very extensive…not only were there more tastes than she had even heard of but several variants with xenodrugs or only for affini consumption. Even after excluding the xenodrug alternatives, the sheer amount was enough to instill choice paralysis “~I would recommend the firefly mix, it is sooooo good!~” An enthusiastic and bubbly happy voice broke Rosa out of her indecision with a start.
She looked up, the source of the voice was a floret waiter, dressed in a stereotypical maid uniform with quite….prominent proportions. Her pupils were dilated slightly too much for it to be natural, and the glassy shimmer confirmed the girl was high on xenodrugs. The floret smiled wide and waved “~hi! I’m Lulu. What’s your name?~”
Rosa stared at the floret for a few seconds, it was the first time a floret, except for Kevin, had spoken to her directly “….im Rosa, Rosa Tordenberg….you said something about fireflies?” Was that some sort of aerial supremacy craft? The menu claimed it contained mango, strawberry, pineapple, and…sigh, class-A.
Lulu continued to look at her with an uninterrupted cheerful expression “it is soooo tasty, I promise you won’t regret it….are you waiting for someone?” The floret looked around as if expecting to see someone come towards them.
Strange…either way “No, I am here alone…The firefly mix does sound nice, but could I get one without xenodrugs?” Of the fruits listed she had only ever eaten strawberries, and that only after the compiler had made it available.
The slightly confused look on the florets face was replaced by a disappointed pout “awww but that is the best part…..” a moment later the pout was gone, the cheerful expression back “not that is not amazing without it, one firefly coming up. By the way, you have a very cute name!” She then blew her a kiss before skipping away.
What the?....Rosa sat there, momentarily paralyzed by fluster. Had the floret just said her name was cute?....Her mind quickly found a solution to the perplexing comment, it had to be a standard greeting that the waiter gave to all the guests. The fact that the floret was also high on xenodrugs explained the overly flirty behavior.
Only a few moments after she had disappeared, Lulu returned with two glasses of yellow and red ice cream. The first one was placed in front of her, the second on the other side of the table where Lulu sat down. “Is it okay if I eat with you? You looked so lonely sitting here alone...” The endearing puppy eyes were far too disarming for her to deny.
Rosa muttered an affirmative response and took the first spoon full of ice cream….She stifled a delighted sigh “mmm….this is very good.” The taste was endlessly fruity and sweet, the rich variance melting in her mouth.
Lulu bobbed her head enthusiastically up and down “I know right? Mistress makes the best ice cream!” The floret took a spoonful herself and enjoyed it without any reservation. A shiver of pleasure went through her and when Lulu opened her eyes her pupils were even more dilated.
They enjoyed the ice cream in silence for a while until Lulu broke it “~soooo, are you waiting for an owner or….?~” There was a playful and excited tone to her voice, the floret peering at her like she was about to spill some juicy gossip.
The question caught her off guard, leaving her speechless for a few seconds “no. I am not waiting for an owner. What by the stars makes you think that?” It was impossible to be mad at her, but the words were still insulting.
Lulu pointed at the gray armbands “I had those on when I waited for an owner, to make sure I was less stressed and stuff. Why do you have them?” There was no demeaning purpose to be found behind Lulu's words, only pure curiosity.
Rosa stared down at the ice cream for a few seconds, while hiding the armbands bashfully with her hands “I….I’m just having a bit of a hard time at the moment. Getting some help to get back on my feet, that is all.” She had completely forgotten about the armbands, they had probably been broadcasting her status to anyone who laid eyes on her.
The floret nodded, a sympathetic shine in her eyes “things will be alright,” Hearing that from another human, even if it was a floret, was genuinely uplifting “once you get your owner they will make everything better, I know mine did.” Lulu giggled and gave another endearing smile.
The undercutting of the assumed supportive statement made it sting even more. The floret might not have any negative intent, but that did not mean she could put her down “I do not need an owner, I do not want an owner, I am not getting an owner. I will get through this on my own like I always have. Understand?” Rosa put extra pressure on the words.
Lulu looked genuinely confused “why would you not want to have an owner?” Speaking like it was the most baffling choice anyone could ever make.
Rosa took a long breath before answering “I have no intention of burdening someone else with my own fuckups and shortcomings….at least not more than I already have.”
The confused expression turned truly baffled, it looked like Lulu had just heard her say that the sky was green or that the moon had been rebuilt. “Burden? How could you be a burden? The affini love to take care of us, that is like, their main shtick. Mistress tells me I make her happy all the time, why would you be different?”
How did one explain this to a floret? “You and your owner probably have a wonderful relationship, but it is not the kind I am suited for. I have caused enough problems for my caretaker, once this affair is done we can both move on.” Reminding herself of Echina only strengthened the guilt and shame that was building up.
Lulu examined her for a moment, as thoughtful as one could be with that much xenodrugs in one’s system “so you knew your caretaker before you became their ward?” The words were more cautious now, taking on a gentle tone.
Rosa leaned back “friends even, but I fucked that up. The only reason she is the one helping me is the affini’s stupid sense of duty and cultural imperative.” Not that the affini would ever admit to that.
“Friends, you say…and even after you had trouble with that friendship she still chose to take care of you?” A knowing smile spread on Lulu’s face “I bet she loves you.” Wha…. “Well, in the way the affini love us terrans anyhow. She is probably imagining treasuring, petting, and taking care of you right now.” Speechless was an understatement, Rosa was baffled beyond any form of communication.
So instead, she stood up and began walking away. Lulu’s eyes were suddenly filled with a despairing regret like she only just understood what she had said “sorry! Please…don’t go, I’m sorry. I….I…” Even with her now turned back it was obvious that the floret was close to crying.
With every ounce of focus and goodwill left Rosa walked back and sat down. “You don’t know the situation…can we please talk about something else while I finish my ice cream?” Lulu nodded and dried away some tears that had built up in her now relieved eyes.
A long awkward silence began as they both ate their ice cream, it had mostly melted but still tasted divine. The florets eyes suddenly light up “you live nearby now, right?” Rosa nodded and Lulu smiled widely “then we can hang out!...if you want to….”
Staying angry at systems was so much easier than staying mad at people “sure…what would we do?” For some reason, it felt unlikely that they shared much in common.
Lulu's enthusiasm grew “oh, we can watch TV, paint, cuddle, discuss philosophy…but I think I would need a higher dose of class-A for the last one. I can ask mistress and you can ask your caretaker.” Right…Echina was technically in charge of her schedule for the foreseeable future.
A large shadow was cast over the table “~that sounds like a wonderful idea my little flower.” The affini, who now held all of Lulu’s adoring attention, gave Rosa a large warm smile. She looked around “is your caretaker nearby?”
Rosa sighed “no, I am on a walk alone…but I think I am heading back soon. Great ice cream, by the way, thanks.” The walk had been far more emotionally exhaustive than predicted and it was almost time anyway, one small detour and then back to the hab was probably a good idea.
The affini smiled even wider, and then reached forward and pat her on the head “that is wonderful to hear, giving you adorable petals enjoyment is the greatest gift. You seem like a kind little flower, I would very much like for you to spend some time with my darling once you feel like it.” Rosa shoved the giant hand away as gently as possible.
As she stood up to go, Lulu looked up at her sorrowfully “sorry about what I said, I shouldn’t have been so pushy…its just…you remind me a lot of how I felt a few months ago…” Her voice tainted with regret.
The implication of the last part was not very optimistic for her prospects of independence. But there was no way Lulu had intended that implication “it's okay…I know you didn’t mean anything by it.” she gave the floret a stern gaze “but you are not allowed to talk about anything like that if you meet Echina.” Lulu nodded with the most gravity that was available to someone with such large pupils.
She gave a finally goodbye to the pair and began walking once more. A chill autumn breeze had picked up, Rosa unfolded the collar of her jacket and hunched her shoulders. It would soon begin to snow…maybe this time it would actually be white and not gray or black from pollution. Still, the cold was an even greater reason to get back to the hab, if she got sick Echina would just become more concerned, not that the affini could not cure such a silly little thing as the common cold.
The sun was beginning to set…what a day. It had not been all bad but fuck if she was not ready for it to be done. Returning to a warm meal and some gentle conversation was honestly a pleasant thing to imagine. Rosa came to an intersection, one of the four streets leading into the adjacent district. The colorful, diverse affini buildings that sparkled in the setting sun were slowly replaced by gray uniform housing that seemed to absorb all light around it.
Rosa gazed at the sight for a few seconds and just as she was about to turn around a voice appeared from slightly too close behind her “excuse me, but where is your caretaker?” Rosa startled and snapped around.
The affini was tall and draped in autumn color leaves, there was an intrigued glint in their eyes. Rosa shrugged, tired of answering that question “back at the hab.”
The affini raised a mossy eyebrow and took a few steps closer “so they allowed you to walk around alone, unattended?” Something about her tone rubbed Rosa the wrong way, some mix of suspicion and condescending disbelief.
Against her better judgment she allowed a bit of venom to seep into her voice “yes, she trusts me with that. Can you stop disturbing me now?”
Obviously not the most diplomatic response as the suspicion in the affini’s eyes intensified “What is the name of your caretaker? I would like to confirm this with them.” A data pad was taken up.
There was probably nothing more horrifying than someone asking her to remember names, at least this one was easy “Echina….Magi?, 4th bloom.” Okay…maybe not the last name but it was pretty close, it had to be enough.
The affini looked up for the data pad and a red flash in their eyes was enough to tell Rosa that something was seriously wrong “I have seen that symbol before.” An accusatory finger pointed towards the left part of her jacket, at a pin with the red dawn movement symbol on it.
The affini moved yet closer, an intimidating edge to their voice “it was on the news, some ferals that almost killed a poor girl. You are one of the ones that were captured, aren’t you?” Did they seriously mistake her for one of those idiotic rebels?
How dared they? “I am not a feral, I was the person who got sh-“
Her indignation was for once swallowed up by fear as the affini moved even closer, their eyes a light shade of glowing red “If you expect me to believe you then you are sorely mistaken. No responsible caretaker would let their ward walk the streets alone, and certainly not this late, there is no Echina Magi on this planet either. I don’t know how you managed to get this far, but your little escape attempt ends here.” A vine extended forward, the flower on its end blooming to reveal a needle dripping with a clear liquid.
It was probably not too late to deescalate, to blurt out a surrender and solve the misunderstanding. But her several encounters with garrison enforcers during and after protests had instilled certain instincts. Rosa snapped around and began to run away.
She didn’t even get a meter before the vine stung forward and the needle entered her arm. A warm gentle feeling began to spread and after a few stumbling steps her legs gave out completely. Vines caught her long before she hit the ground, gently lifting her into the affini’s embrace.
The fear, frustration, and all the other negative emotions that had weighed on her seemed to simply melt away, replaced by a pleasant buzz. A massive hand gently brushed over her hair, the sensation was somewhat distant but nice nonetheless “shhhh, it’s all okay little petal. you are safe now, no need to be scared.” There was a sweet smell in the air…caramel?
Rosa ceased her wiggling attempts of resistance and looked up into the affini’s eyes. They were both compassionate and pitying “~that’s a good girl, breathe in and let me handle this~” A vine did something with her armbands and they emitted a tiny *beep* “there we go, you caretaker will be here shortly to pick you up.” A mesh of vines formed a warm and cozy blanket around her body cradled in the affini’s arms.
Rosa was finding it more and more difficult to be mad at the affini. Not only were emotions of that category harder and harder to grasp by the second…but the affini was only concerned about her. Furthermore, her current position was very comfortable, she was perfectly shielded from the wind’s cold and the vines themselves were pleasantly warm.
But if the affini was only being nice to her then that meant…Even with the buzz in her mind guilt still managed to creep forth “sorry…I…I’m sorry, I didn’t…” Why had she been so mean? The affini only wanted to help her.
A finger tilted her chin upwards, her eyes once again meeting the affini’s glowing orbs “~none of that now, you were scared and that is okay~. I’m sorry I had to stop you in such a drastic manner, but I couldn’t have you hurt yourself.” Rosa swore the eyes began to spin slowly, light cascading from them in captivating hues “~you are far too stressed for being so adorable. Be a good girl and relax while we wait for your caretaker, okay?~” That sounded like a good idea…
Rosa nuzzled closer into the vines, pulling the sheet up to her face. The affini continued to pet her gently while making some soft cooing noises. With the warmth, comfort, and affection, it did not take long before Rosa entered a drowsy state. The autumn-colored affini was so nice! Therefore, it was only logical that she was a good girl and relaxed like they had told her to.
Before she could fall asleep a familiar voice rang out “Rosa!” huh? Rosa opened her eyes and turned towards the sound. A very concerned Echina was rapidly making her way towards her.
“You must be this little one’s caretaker, here you go.” The nice affini handed her over to Echina’s causation vines, for a split moment some cold wind sliced into her face but once she showed her discomfort vines secured any gaps in the embrace.
Echina studied her with worried and confused eyes “are you okay?”
Rosa didn’t want her to be worried, she was so nice “I….I’m fine~” For some reason, her words were slow and slurred, hopefully, they still came out right.
Her caretaker shushed her with a vine and looked at the other affini <what happened? Why is she on xenodrugs?> Why was she speaking affini? Was Echina hiding something from her? no, she wouldn’t do that, Echina was so nice and helpful and gave great pats.
The other affini suddenly sounded slightly unsure <I caught your ward trying to escape. She spun some lie about you having given her permission, luckily I recognized the symbol of that feral group on her jacket. I have given her some class-E and a tiny dose of class-C to soothe her.> With the words beyond her understanding Rosa caught onto the wonderful melody coming from Echina.
She had missed it so much, but it sounded less harmonious than usual <that was not a lie. I allowed her to go for a walk as long as she stayed in the district. And she is not a feral, not in the slightest.> If she didn’t know any better she would think that Echina sounded frustrated, almost angry…but that couldn’t be right, the other affini hadn’t done anything wrong.
The autumn-colored affini looked taken aback <oh dirt, there must have been some misunderstanding. I apologize profusely…Though she does not seem to be in the mental state to be left unattended and this is the edge of the district….Are you sure it is wise to let her walk alone?> The discord did little to hamper how good it felt to hear the melody once again, Rosa nuzzled closer into the vines to hear it better.
Echina’s embrace became a bit tighter < I am sure she was intending to return…Rosa values her freedom and letting her enjoy some of that in a safe environment is only healthy…at least that is what I thought…Do you have the counteragents to the xenodrugs?>
The other affini came closer <of course, should I give her some class-Z as well? This might not be the best place to come up.> Their attention turned to her, an apologetic smile on their face “it seems I made a mistake little one, I am very sorry. Take care now.” The affini exhaled a white gas that smelled like mint and Rosa felt a small sting in her right arm, then for the third time that day she fell asleep.
-------------------Centhia, North New Bergen, Hab complex Ceria, 24.04.2555, 20:43-----------------
Rosa woke feeling utterly refreshed, a warm and cozy feeling permeating her body. The reason for this became obvious as soon as she opened her eyes. She was wrapped in a warm blanket and lying on the couch in Echina’s hab with plenty of pillows all around her. She yawned and looked around, her mind still collecting the details of what had happened.
Her memories quickly turned irrelevant as she spotted Echina. The affini was sitting hunched over the dining table. Rosa did not know a lot about affini physiology, but the hanging flowers, rugged form, and general atmosphere indicated she was upset. It was a startling shift between how happy and well-looking Echina had seemed before she went on that walk.
The memory of how that walk had ended returned and a fresh surge of guilt alongside it. Fuck…There had to be a prize to fuck up this many social encounters in a day. This could not be allowed to continue, something had to be done. Rosa struggled for a few seconds unraveling the blanket around her before getting down on the ground.
Echina did not notice her as she walked up to the table…stars, the affini looked miserable. With an extra dose of guilt in her throat Rosa knocked on the closest leg of the table “Echina?” The affini looked down with deep blue eyes “I think maybe…I should get another caretaker.” The blue turned a hew darker.
But Echina nodded “I understand….sit down and we can talk.” Holding her frayed emotions inside Rosa walked up the stairs to the chair opposite. “I was unsure about being your caretaker from the beginning, I see now that accepting it was a mistake…” it seemed that Echina was finally being honest.
Rosa’s throat felt choked, but she managed to talk “I’m sorry for being so uncooperative and a pain to watch over. I know there is probably a lot of paperwork you will have to do, but after that, I will be someone else’s problem.” Causing trouble for someone else was far from what she wanted but everything was better than harming Echina any further.
Echina smiled gently “you have nothing to be sorry for, I just regret that I could not give you the care you need. Don’t worry I will find someone more suitable by tomorrow.” That didn’t make sense…
Rosa chuckled confused “what are you talking about? you have done great, it's me that can’t seem to do a single thing right. It should seriously not be that hard to not cause you even more problems than I already am.” If she had just been a bit less hostile, not tired to run, or hell just remembered the last name of a close friend then this would not have happened.
The colors in Echina’s eyes rapidly changed to a dark yellow “I don’t understand. You haven’t done anything wrong or caused me any problems. You might not have entered into this wardship with a fully open mind or sparkling positivity, but no one could expect that of you.”
Was she being serious? “You had to force me to the domestication center, I have been stubbornly resistant to your help this entire time, and now I prove that I can’t even go for a walk on my own without causing you problems. You would not even be in this situation if it was not for my incompetence. Don’t lie and tell me that this has not affected you.” Had they not been in agreement just a few seconds before?
Echina dismissed her words with a wave of her hand, her slightly mechanical voice reeking of disagreement “none of that was your fault, especially what happened this evening. I am the one who has not managed to better predict your needs or give you the help required. While the affini who subdued you was undoubtedly in the wrong, it was my fault that you were in that situation, to begin with.” So not only had she caused Echina a bunch of hassle but undermined her self-confidence in the process.
And now the affini wanted to take all the responsibility? “So, you are responsible for everything, but I am not responsible for anything? That only makes sense if you are stupid enough to hold onto that stupid affini cultural supremacy. Can’t you put aside your hypocrisy for one second, listen to your own advice, and put your own needs first?”
The chair was pushed back as Echina stood up to her full height “taking care of you and making sure you are happing is my first and primary need.” ….Rosa stared into the beautiful affini eyes in disbelief.
That couldn’t be true… “You are lying…” Had she tricked Echina somehow? Manipulated her in some way she didn’t even register?
A vine grabbed her hand “no, I am not. The only pain I have felt is because of my own failures to protect and help you. When you suggested changing caretaker, was that for your or my benefit?” There was an intensity in her words that Rosa could not hope to match.
A few tears had involuntarily begun to form “isn’t that the right thing to do? I…I should have fixed this myself before you had to intervene…and..and now I…” It was far too much, and she had far too little left, so she did the only thing possible and began to cry. She had tried her best, hadn’t she?…or at least tried her best when she had the strength to do so. So why was it not enough? How had she ended up like this?
“Rosa, could you do me a favor?” Echina was standing next to her now, a sad but hopeful smile on her face. A favor? “If you allow it, I would like to pamper you.” That, decidedly, did not sound like a favor. Before she could protest Echina hunched down and stared into her eyes “before you answer I need you to understand that it will bring me great joy and fulfillment if you accept.”
Rosa blinked a few tears out of her eyes and hesitated. There was no way that Echina’s request was a selfish one, but if she insisted…There was something unpleasant about the thought, but would it be so bad if she said yes? “What…what would pampering include?” She didn’t have any experience being pampered, and especially not by an affini.
Echina moved a vine to dry away a tear on her cheek “make you some tasty food, comfort you in my vines, provide you with affection, similar activities.” Her body and mind yearned for it, from her hungry stomach to her exhausted libs and thoughts….
After swallowing twice, she looked away from the glowing eyes “and doing this would make you happy?”
“Would it make you feel better?” Rosa nodded cautiously “then it would make me happy beyond words.”
Whether it was that tiny voice in the back of her mind trying to tell her that she deserved help, the want to see Echina happy, or pure exhaustion did not matter. The result was the same “okay…I mean, yes…go ahead.”
Echina’s eyes turned a golden amber color “thank you so much, I am going to lift you up now.” Strong vines carried her up and onto the affini’s chest. The flowers on Echina’s form had begun to regain color and some began to bloom as she was carried over to the fridge. A bowl of miso soup was taken out alongside a plate of cookies. Echina sat down on the couch and spread her vines to form a soft seat-like formation around Rosa.
She then lifted the bowl of soup “would…would it be okay if I feed you?” There was no shortage of uncertainty in the affini’s voice.
Rosa considered considering it and found herself far too beyond such a singular point “okay, but don’t think of this as a president or something.” The first spoon of many was brought to her face and she opened her mouth to accept it. The warm delicious soup warmed her from within, and the warm vines warmed her from without…another spoon arrived, and it tasted even better than the last.
She sighed happily and relaxed slightly, the tension in her shoulders beginning to drain away “this is very good-“ The compliment was interrupted by another spoonful of tasty soup “-soup.” The affini’s promise to make more tasty food was certainly upheld.
Echina positively beamed as she fed her another spoon, and then another, and yet another. The spoons only stopped coming once the bowl was thoroughly emptied and Rosa had relaxed fully into the vines surrounding her. “I should have invited you to diner way before.” A vine had begun to gently brush through her hair, untangling any knots or clusters without a pinch of discomfort.
There was a slight adjustment to her position as Echina lay down on the couch, causing her to lie on top of the affini at a much reasonable slope. An arm was brought protectively around her and with her size compared to the affini it almost felt like she was a plushie in Echina’s embrace. Her hunger might be sated but the sight of the cookies had awakened her sweet tooth “could I have one?”
Her request brought several more flowers to bloom around her and without a word Echina handed her a cookie. It was pretty large, almost the size of her hand, and the first bite was all she needed to know that the 5 remaining cookies would not survive the night. It was soft and sweet, the dough melting in her mouth. Rosa devoured the rest of it with a vengeance, struggling between savoring each bite and the need for more.
She did not need to ask for the second one to be placed in front of her “here you go, but don’t eat so fast that you upset your stomach, okay?” Rosa nodded while chomping down on it, trying with some success to eat it slower than the last. They settled into a comfortable silence and Rosa had to admit it was nice to be on the receiving end of emotional affection for once.
Echina continued to brush her hair, leaving it finally unclustered. There had been a ball of intertwined hair she had long abandoned trying to unfurl, now it was nowhere to be felt. The boundary between where grooming turned into petting was a blurry one indeed, and she had a feeling Echina was carefully toeing the line. At this point being pet would not be that bad, the head pats earlier this morning had been divine.
A question still burned inside her and for every moment that went by it took more and more attention to keep it down. Until she had to ask it, no matter how uncomfortable it felt “do…do I make you happy?” The vines underneath her tensed and Echina looked away…fuck, why did she have to ruin it?
The comfortable silence grew considerably less comfortable for several tense seconds. Echina moved up, and Rosa was once again clutched against her chest. The affini finally looked down at her, the green color blossoming into a thousand hues. “Would it be okay if I removed the headphones for a few seconds?” Why would she need that? It felt like such a strange request, but Rosa nodded nonetheless. While still pressed to the affini’s chest the headphones were gingerly removed.
The song thrummed like a chorus, a dozen melodies and rhythms overlapping in a way that Rosa had never heard before. Any Terran words to describe its beauty would be insufficient, awe-inspiring was perhaps what came closest. Echina used a vine to tilt her head upwards and spoke with the full force of her biorhythm “Nothing makes me happier than seeing you smile. Nothing in the universe can even come close.” No doubt, self-internalized hatred or logic could hope to stand against the statement. The glowing amber eyes, the words overflowing with affection, and most of all overpowering biorhythm confirmed it as the most absolute truth.
A breath that her chest had been holding in for stars knows how long was released. Rosa clutched closer to the affini, pressing her cheeks against the soft vines as tears began to roll down her cheeks. Echina began to pet her gently on the head, the affectionate and caring touch making the emotions flow with even less filter. Echina continued to comfort her resolutely, the tone of the biorhythm not brought to discord in the slightest by her show of emotion. Instead, it filled the tender spots where the pain drained out with warm comfort.
What must have been 15 minutes later Echina stretched a vine towards the headphones. Rosa felt a tinge of desperation “mmm, I did you a favor right? So does that not mean you owe me one as well?”
Echina hesitated “I suppose that is how the favor system works…did you have something in mind?”
With a stuttering blush, Rosa pushed onward “could…could I not wear the headphones, just for tonight? Please?” The implication that she did not want to leave the comforting vines was too embarrassing to be spoken plainly.
The look of conflict on Echina’s face lasted a fraction of a second “if you are sure then that is a favor I will gladly indulge.” Rosa muttered a thanks underneath her breath and hugged the stupidly pretty and nice affini as close as she could. Echina wrapped both arms around her and gave her a light squeeze in response. As her mind became more and more drowsy a single thought survived the internal scrutiny of her mind: what if they could make each other happy?...