“You can move that there?! This game is so unfair” Darla was complaining that she was losing again. She was cute enough when she did so Nora did not mind. It was quite late, and they were playing chess in the kitchen.
After a long session of cuddling, Nora had compiled them a cheese and ham salad, Darla apparently loved salad. Usually, they would have been to bed at this point, but they had decided to stay up a bit longer to talk and play a new game.
Nora gloated a bit “it could always move like that, not my fault you placed your liquidator in that position.” This was Darla’s first time so perhaps the gloating was unwarranted. Still, Darla almost always won the games on the data pad.
The cute floret pouted “how do you even know how to play this game? Using a wooden board, it seems so old school.” That brought back memories, she and Hendrik playing long into the night.
She hoped he was okay “I learned it from Hendrik, you know the one I was guarding before all this. If you dislike playing against me you would hate him, he won every single game.” She really hoped he was okay.
Darla saw through her façade “are you worried about him?” Nora nodded solemnly. Everything seemed to have worked out for the best, her sister was safe, and she could live in happiness with Darla and Serla. All was good in the world, but only a few minutes away from her Hendrik was suffering, it felt…unfair.
Darla gave her a reassuring smile as she made her move on the board “don’t worry, Serla is amazing. He’ll be all happy soon.” The unrelenting optimism gave Nora a bit of hope.
A question found her “now that I think about it you never told me how you and Serla met.” She moved a horse to take Darla’s pawn.
Darla looked thoughtful for a moment “I was a soldier on a Terran warship, our ship was captured by the Agraria not too far from Terra.” Nora looked at Darla in disbelief.
Darla was soft, cute, perhaps the most non-threatening person Nora had ever met, and quite sleepy as well. To imagine that Darla had been a soldier in the navy before this was a bit difficult to believe. It piqued her curiosity “what happened then?” She moved another piece on the board.
Darla smiled as she did the same “I was domesticated because I had been a soldier, I didn’t get a choice. Serla was the one who explained all of it to me and took care of me the first week. She chose me to be her floret afterward.” Darla smiled like nothing she had said was special, Nora was staggered.
That was quite different from what she had expected “so you didn’t get a choice?” She knew this was how the affini acted but never expected Darla to be such a case. She absentmindedly moved another piece.
Darla looked a bit thoughtful “well I was constantly angry or violent and couldn’t be trusted to be independent, so it was the only choice. I’m very thankful that it happened, I’m much happier being mistress’s pet than some angry soldier.” She guessed that made sense, Nora could certainly see the appeal of being a floret. The forced aspect made her a bit troubled, but it was better than prisons or worse.
She was still curious “how was it being a soldier? I was stuck on Centhia during the war, and we only got ghost stories or false reports.” Darla first moved and took another piece.
Nora did her turn as Darla answered “Bad mostly, well I don’t remember much. Serla removed most of those memories.” When Darla saw her reaction she continued “they only made me sad. I asked her to remove them.” The affini could remove memories?
Nora thought back to all the violence she had lived through. Would it be better if she didn’t remember those moments? All of it had been in self-defense or in the defense of someone else, mostly Hendrik. She decided that while not all the memories were bad, there was no shame in them either.
Darla moved another piece “check…late?” Nora looked down on the board and saw her governor surrounded and in danger. For a couple of seconds, she tried to look for a solution before she hang her head in defeat. Just as Darla was to celebrate her totally unearned victory misst…Serla returned home.
The affini was smiling and her flowers bristled just like when she played with her and Darla. As Serla saw that they were both awake she moved over and shook her head performatively “I told you both to be in bed by now. Why are my two flowers still awake?”
Darla smiled mischievously “well you weren’t here to stop us mistress, what took you so long?” Darla pouted slightly. Serla picked the floret up and began to smother her in vines.
Serla chastised Darla with a playful tone “perhaps I got a bit…preoccupied. But that’s no excuse little petal.” Serla looked at Nora and became a bit more serious “I and Nora have a few things to talk about, now off to bed!” The affini let her pet down.
Darla looked at them both with naïve suspicion before she went off to bed. Just as she rounded the corner she shouted, “I beat Nora at that old wood game, first time!” the pride was clear as day.
Nora was worried, what did Serla want to talk about? Had something happened to Hendrik? She needed to know “did something bad happen? Is he hurt?” Serla’s smile returned like Nora had reminded her of a good memory.
The tall, sexy plant lady chuckled “no, not at all. On the contrary. I think she is having quite a wonderful time at the moment.” That was good, hold on a second.
Had Serla spoken wrong? “She?”
Serla looked a bit confused for a moment “I didn’t tell you yet did I. that’s my bad, sorry. Hendrik figured out she is a woman now. No new name yet but I’m sure she will find seeming fitting.” Hendrik was a woman…that kind of made sense. The long hair, the distaste of sir and Mr…never using mirrors and instead asking her.
Serla brought her back to the moment “while she is having a nice time at the moment we did talk a bit first. She talked about you specifically and I need to understand your side of this. I think she might be ready to meet you, but I need to make sure that you are ready to meet her.” Of course, Hendrik probably felt betrayed.
She needed to get through this “what did she say about me?” Nora braced herself. Perhaps it was foolish to think that they could ever be friends again after what she had done.
Serla sat down “She seems to be very guilty over how she treated you. The words ‘exploited’ and ‘put in danger’ were used quite a bit.” That made no sense at all, Hendrik had given her so much
She was knocked off balance “that can’t be right. She didn’t exploit me, sure I was her bodyguard, but she looked after me much more than she had any need to. She saved me and my sister for star's sake.” Nora was the one who had betrayed Hendrik, not the other way around!
Serla’s voice was calming “I told her that, don’t worry. What I want to know right now is how you feel.” How did she feel?
Nora sighed “I feel guilty, Hendrik worked for so hard and so long…and then I ruined it in a single moment. I know that it’s probably good that you guys took over. But that does not mean that my betrayal was any less bad. And..and I couldn’t protect her, that was my single mission. Instead, I ran away and let her be captured and tortured.”
The words she had been holding in for so long came streaming out “it was one order, one! Instead, I stabbed her in the back…she must hate me.” Serla curled a vine around her hand.
Serla was still calm “what about you hitting her? I understand it was to save her from herself, but I need to know.” …How did she know, had Nora let something slip?
Before she could fully react to the implications of the secret being out, Serla calmed her “I know what happened, but I won’t tell anyone. Hendrik is safe, please continue.” Oh, thank stars, at least she had not condemned Hendrik to Domestication.
The hand… “I did it to protect her….but it was her right hand. I should have disarmed her some other way. Instead, I destroyed her hand…the one she uses to write, the one thing she loves above all else.” Nora focused on the calming melody in the air, it was probably from the ship, it was very soothing. Her breathing slowed down.
Serla was there for her “the situation was far out of your control, but she survived. That is what matters. don’t worry, her hand will heal. Also, I am very sure that she does not hate you, in fact, I can guarantee it.” Nora was not that sure
The plant took up her data pad “now, you have told me how you met, but little after that. Do you think you could tell me more? you’re the only person aliv-..that was this close to Hendrik. She has told me some things but can become quite defensive sometimes. Only tell me what you are comfortable with sharing though.”
Nora took a deep breath “After I recovered from my injuries she offered me an apartment quite close to hers. It was practical for us both. It was also far better than I had ever been able to afford. I told her I couldn’t afford it and she said that it would ‘work itself out’. I was super nervous, I couldn’t refuse her, but I would also not make the next month’s rent. The next paycheck I got had been increased by the total amount of the rent. Whenever I have tried to take it up she had explained it away by talking about regulations or something incomprehensible.”
Serla raised an eyebrow “so she didn’t want to acknowledge it?”
Nora smiled “yeah and it was far from the only instance. Once I told her during a causal evening that I had never gotten a formal education. She asked me what I wanted to study if I could, I told her that I wanted to study art, you know hypothetically. 3 days later I received a letter telling me I had been enrolled in a part-time course at one of the best art schools on Centhia. When I tried to explain that I couldn’t accept she told me that she needed a smart and educated bodyguard, not some brute. Like art was going to help me protect her.”
Serla wrote something down “do you feel indebted to her because of this?”
Nora thought about the question for some time “I guess a bit? The way she treated me never felt like a business relationship. She talked to me as an equal and even made food for me when I was sick.” She cherished those memories.
She continued “you know my father died when I was young and mother…did the best she could. I had to take care of my sister and myself for so long. having someone to take care of me for a change was…very welcoming. I owe her to help her just like she helped me.”
Serla wrote some more “it’s very nice to hear that you had such a relationship. There is one problem, this Hendrik that you describe is not the same person that I met on Centhia.” The guilt in Nora’s chest grew.
Serla war right, despite how much Nora wished it wasn’t true “it was like that for a few years. Then Hendrik began to visit Shivar, that stupid ‘mentor’, as she called him.”
Serla nodded “yes, Hendrik seems to care for this person a lot. You don’t share this fondness?” She hated Shivar, just saying his name felt bad.
She felt angry “he was a disgusting and manipulative old man. I never know what Hendrik saw in him. At first, he just gave her some advice. After Hendrik got promoted again the visits to his manor became more frequent. He told Hendrik how to act and how to feel and how to look… He made her cut that beautiful hair she had…she looked so...empty when she came home.” a dark part of her wished she had killed Shivar then, perhaps things would be better now.
Serla stood up and walked behind Nora. She picked her up and a second later she was sitting in Serla’s lap. The closeness calmed her a bit, but she still felt angry “I understand that you are angry, try to breathe, and then continue when you feel calm.” Nora did as the affini instructed, the melody was so clear, and she matched her breathing to it.
When she felt a bit calmer she continued “with every visit Hendrik became a bit less.. himself. She worked far more, started to look at everyone with suspicion.”...and she had done nothing.
The guilt grew “one time I was guarding the door outside where they ate. I heard Hendrik say something and then Shivar began to shout at her. It continued for so long…and I just stood there, doing nothing.” Hendrik had been abused and…she had just stood there
She took a moment to collect herself “one day she told me to take a vacation to visit my sister. I took the opportunity, it had been so long since I met her face to face. When I returned Henrik had become governor….I asked what happened, she told me that she had…killed Shivar. She changed after that: She worked even more, began eating those gray bars….she started to use emotional suppressants again.” She began to cry
Serla dried her tears with a vine “a few months later she managed to stop an uprising from the planet garrison. She was happy and we shared a good meal. She looked happy, proud. I was so happy for her. I told myself that things would be fine again…three days later there were two assassination attempts. First, a fireside liquidator snuck into her room, had I been a second later she would have died. Then there was a bomb at a shuttle door, I managed to save her, but we both got injured in the process.”
Why had she not done anything to stop this? “After that point, she started to work even more. Every time she would win there would be a brief pause and then she would decide to work even more. At some point even the victories didn’t matter, she only worked. Nothing else. Whenever she talked to me it was an order or command. The spark in her eyes became cold, she stopped smiling like she used to. All the joy was gone…and still, I just followed along.” How could she have let this happen?
Serla extended her vines around her and held her in a tight hug “you can’t blame yourself for what happened. It was out of your control, you kept her safe and alive. Be proud of that.” It didn’t feel right. There must have been something she could have done.
Serla began to gently pet her head “I need you to be honest with me, was she ever abusive to you?” The words felt heavy.
Nora paused “she was cold and uncaring sometimes, but she still treated me well. Despite what happened she tried to take care of me. I can’t say we were friends…but I think I was the closest she got. I could have left at any time, I stayed because I wanted to protect her.”
Serla held her a bit tighter “what about your sister?”
Nora shook her head “Even if I left she would never stop giving my sister the treatment she needed. I am sure of that.” Hendrik would never have done that, she was sure.
Serla loosened the grip a bit “one last question before bed. Hendrik told me that when we confronted her in the office that you looked afraid of her. Is that true, are you afraid of her?”
Nora felt more tears well up in her eyes “I was afraid…the person that spoke to you…that wasn’t Hendrik. I was…I was afraid I had lost her completely…forever.”
She looked up at Serla through teary eyes “please…please help her.” She was lifted up and held in Serla’s arms.
Serla held her close “don’t worry little flower, we will make sure she is happy and healthy. You two should meet soon, you have a lot to talk about. It might be a few more days, she is still quite weak. I’ll talk to Mertha. Now then, it is far too late! let’s get you to bed.”
Serla carried her to the bedroom where Darla was already sleeping. Serla laid her down next to the sleeping floret and wrapped herself around them both. Nora felt sleep come for her and did not resist.
Hendrik woke to the sound of something frying in a pan. As she woke up she felt strange, it was not sickness or dizziness as she had felt so many times in the past. Rather it was a sort of tingling on her skin, a soft shiver went through her body.
That soft shiver reminded her of the dream she just woke from. What kind of dream was that? She had few dreams, and never of that variety. She blushed just thinking about it, why had her mind concocted up such an….thing? It was also so vivid in her memory, she could almost feel the vines and hands stroking and scratching her.
She forced her mind off the subject, in time she would forget. All she had to do now was pretend like nothing. The door to the bedroom was open and by the sounds and wonderful smells coming through breakfast was almost ready. After drinking the water on the nightstand she stretched and headed into the kitchen.
Mertha was making something on the stove while looking through her data pad. Right, maybe she still had work left from yesterday. Making sure to not disturb Mertha, she quietly climbed onto her chair and patiently waited for the food.
There was a smell beginning to develop in the room “Mertha? I think you might be burning the food.” the affini almost lost the data pad into the pan, and quickly took the food out of the pan before turning around.
In her eyes was a delighted sparkle “sorry, was a bit…distracted. So how is my little kitten doing?” yeah made sense to be distracted by work….wait…what had she called her?
‘Dear’ and ‘little one’ was bad enough “little kitten?” The line had to be drawn somewhere. She was a respected individual, not a floret.
Mertha continued to smile as she gave Hendrik her food “you don’t think it is an accurate description?”
What kind of audacity had Mertha built up during the last two days?
Part of her mind was still running through the dream “I don’t have any idea what you are talking about. I find it condescending, to be honest.” Mertha still had that sparkle in her eyes, almost like she knew about the dream.
Mertha waited until she had eaten a bit before continuing the conversation “so how was it with Serla? good, I hope.” At least they were past the kitten thing.
All in all, it had not been too bad, Serla was far too intrusive though “Serla has a habit of not leaving her work at home, felt like another session. Still, I have had worse guests.”
Mertha laughed a bit “she does do that sometimes, it’s just that she cares about you. But tell me if I need to talk to her. How are you feeling, still a bit…sensitive?” She must mean emotionally.
Hendrik finished her meal “I’m fine, Serla might be a bit nosy, but she is a good therapist” Mertha looked at her a bit confused.
Then Mertha took up the data pad “I was referring to the Class-A, it was your first time after all.” Class-A? She had taken xenodrugs? Did this mean that the dream was…..oh no.
This was impossible, she tried to think back to last night. She and Serla had talked, then about the emotional suppressants and then….oh stars. Without thinking she murmured, “it wasn’t a dream was it?”
Mertha came up behind her “a dream? Oh no, it happened. You were absolutely adorable, I don’t think I have seen something that cute in my entire life. Why do you think I was distracted?” like an opponent dragging out the final victorious move in chess Mertha laid the data pad in front of her.
On the pad were pictures…of her. In both Serla’s and Mertha’s vines. Her face that one of pure bliss, reacting like a pet to the attention and touch. Her eyes were slightly glazed over, she looked like a….
The blush that had begun to develop was now total. She looked up at Mertha with disbelief, her warden looked at her with a mix of happiness and predatory delight. This was too much! Too much humiliation and too much of whatever other feeling she was currently experiencing.
She needed something to put her mind off it. Before she could escape Mertha intercepted her “you can go learn affini now. But first I need to know if you had fun last night, I certainly did.” Her mind was in chaos, had it been fun? Her mind had yet to fully process that this event had transpired. At the same time, she could still feel the slight afterglow and yearning for more that tingled along her skin.
She managed to stammer some forth some answer “I…it was...it...I...maybe...ok?” with that humiliation Mertha let her pass and she rushed over to her data pad on the living room table. She hoped learning affini would be distracting enough to not dwell on the memories.
She felt Mertha’s eyes follow her “you only have a few hours, we have an appointment at the vet today. Have fun and don’t hesitate to ask for help, little kitten.” No help would be sought, she would show these plants that their langue was nothing compared to her!