When she entered the hab, Cleo realized that Mertha had yet to come home. It was almost uncannily empty and silent. She felt a bit hungry, so compiled a meal of pasta with pesto, eating it alone in complete silence. At least the silence gave her time to think, this had been a hard day.
spilling her guts to Nora like that had been unfair. Nora should not have to live with her problems weighing on her mind. But talking about it, letting all those things out, it had made her heart weigh a bit less. And they had cared for her, comforted her….it had been nice in a strange way, and genuinely made her feel better.
Cleo was tired, so endlessly tired…she thought back to those days when she wanted to give up. It had not just been fear of her own life that had kept her moving, but fear of what would happen to everyone else should she fail. Nora was of course important, but Nora was strong and would survive, though best not leave that to chance. But what would happen to everyone else, the people, all those at the bottom at The Game?
The families, the corps, the Terran loyalists, the competing bureaucrats, all of them were leeches that would bleed hundreds of millions to death if they gained more power. She had an obligation, as the lesser evil to continue the fight, to keep the leeches in check. But now she was not the lesser evil, the affini were far superior in that regard. When the affini reinforcements arrived, and the plants could build their paradise on the world below, were there any more obligations?
Right now, the only obligation she had was to herself. To work on being able to live like a normal, happy person. She did not have a million enemies, not countless people looking to take her down. All she had were friends and allies that wanted her to improve. Why then, was it still so hard?
Either way she had to keep moving, to give up now would be wrong. All the work to keep herself alive, and all the work the others had made to help her. To let all of that go to waste would be wasteful. For now, however she needed to sleep, tomorrow would be a new opportunity.
As Cleo stepped into the bedroom she realized her mistake, she had no class-Z. The shadows from the furniture were long and deep, excellent for hiding. Was she really going to be cowed by darkness? There was no way a liquidator could make their way onto the ship. Logically she was safer now than ever before in her life, nothing could touch her right now.
Cleo climbed up into the bed and shuffled under the covers. Her mind warned her that there was no protection and there was no safety. In the blink of an eye, those red eyes could appear above her and she would not have the time to take a breath before her heart was torn asunder by iron. Cleo turned around in the bed, there was no one there and she knew it.
It was not like she was safer with sleeping patches or class-Z. Her mind wanted to replay the memories of when they had come for her, all the close chances, all of the lucky moments that had kept her from death. in some ways she was extremely lucky, very few people survive so many assassination attempts. Only a few had ever gotten close, but they had gotten very close.
Cleo dispersed the train of thought from her mind, this was not helping. She needed a distraction, so she began to go through document archival codes for the central bureaucracy. Her body wanted to sleep and despite her mind's best effort, rest was slowly approaching. The fear tried to hold her consciousness for a bit longer, what if something happens?
Then what would she do? if something wanted her dead it should have been done so long ago. Cleo looked into the shadows and uttered a challenge “come on then, you have tried so many times. lost your nerve?” Nothing answered. Good then they would wait until she had slept to do their work, that would at least be polite.
With utter defiance of the fear Cleo allowed herself to follow her tired body. Her mind was filled with so many thoughts, they blended together as she finally fell asleep.
She was on her way to a meeting, the gray carpet of the central bureaucracy floor made soft sounds as she walked over it at a rapid pace. Celo passed by the empty meeting rooms and walked until she heard voices from the meeting she was late for. One of the voices was hard, cold, and focused “you are a distraction, a worthless promise of something that will never come to pass.” Another voice responded it was soft and warm “You are the one hurting her, making this so much harder than it has to be. if she just let Owner take us then we would not have to deal with you creating a problem out of everything.” Both of the voices were hers.
Cleo turned left and walked into the room, in the middle there was a triangular table with the two others already sitting and waiting. On one side was The President, efficient and determined, it was her just more than a month ago, still possessing her old masculine form. On the other side was Pet, happy and peaceful, her from only a few days ago. She sat down in the chair on the unoccupied side “what is this about?” Cleo suddenly realized she had no idea what was going on.
The President spoke first “it is time for you to choose, me or ‘it’. This can continue no longer.” His words were careful and deliberate, with enough strength and determination to hold the attention of powerful people.
The Pet agreed “the mean man is right about that, all this struggling is just making things worse.” She sounded compassionate and more lucid than Cleo had expected.
Cleo was still confused “I still don’t understand what you mean by ‘choose’, choose between what?”
The President glared at Pet “which one of us you will keep and become, and which one of us you will discard forever. Walking this pointless middle road is unproductive and based on doubt.” The president folded his hands.
Pet looked at her with a sad smile “because of him, you are fighting so hard to keep yourself from what we both know that you want.” That was partly right…was it not?
The President growled “I am what has kept us alive for all these years. This thing is not ever real, just xenodrugs and false promises. Do what you know is right, discard this idea of rest and innocence, that is not who we are.” But was it what she wanted to be?
The president spoke with a burning passion “Make a new plan, escape back to Centhia, rebuild our power, and destroy all those who would oppose us. The affini could stay, but we could rule. With that power, we can help everyone we have ever failed, and build a better world where all can live well. We can finally begin to atone for what we have done, all our mistakes, and all of our crimes. If you choose that ‘thing’ then your guilt will never leave you.” It sounded tempting, so very, very tempting.
Pet dismissed the speech with a wave of her paw “and you would never be happy, you would be crushed under all that terrible work and pressure once again. The affini can do all that work, we don’t need to be guilty. Owner is the one who has allowed us to be happy, not power, not The Game.” The cute pet looked at her with endearing eyes.
Pet spoke with such tenderness “just be honest with what you really want, you don’t want this struggle, you don’t want that responsibility. Tell Owner that you want to be hers and she will take all the hurt away. It might seem scary, but is the alternative not just as bad? She loves us and we love her, nothing in the universe would make us happier. Let go of ‘him’, the responsibility, the struggle, the loneliness and tell her what you want to be her floret.” Did she want that? It was almost wrong to hear the proposal come from something so close to being herself…but it did sound nice.
The President scowled “It is not what we want! The struggle is only there because of this unrealistic temptation. We are capable and deserve to be respected. Let go of this unrealistic hope and return to what you are good at, what we have done for so many years.” That felt wrong…
Pet retorted “no, the struggle is only there because you refuse to let her be happy! we deserve to be happy, your stupid pride is blocking us from that! She has worked for so long, suffered so much…what is wrong with letting go?” That was not right either…
Cleo had found her choice “that is enough, I will not choose between either of you.” Anger and self-righteous pride surged through her “I have struggled since I started at the academy, so many battles and so much work. and have I not won every single one that mattered? Every day I survived was a victory, every form completed, every enemy defeated, every battle, I won them all.” She looked at the two figments of her mind.
They looked confused, scared “now, so close to final victory and you think I will give up because it is hard?!” her fist slammed down on the table and the dream fractured at its edges. She felt determination flow through her body like liquid fire “I will continue to struggle until I have finally won or I will fail trying, just as I have always done. I will not give up, not to The Game and not to Domestication. I will not be stopped! Not by my enemies on Centhia, not by the affini, and not even by myself. I WILL EARN MY REST! and I will gladly discard both of you to make that happen!” With her final shout, the figures disappeared like mist in water.
Cleo stood up and walked out of the crumbling meeting room as the floors and walls made room for an empty black void. She had won every battle and unless something finally managed to stop her, she would win all the ones that followed.
Cleo looked over at the paper, evaluating her list of contingency plans. Serla had requested a report for the next session, so she needed to be prepared. The proposals, while not too appealing, held their productive worth in the ‘lessening of stress’ so that would be central to each proposal's worth. Some of them; talking to Mertha, asking for help, and relaxing with a person she trusted, were put in their own category. Most of them had proved their efficiency in the past but were reliant on outside resources.
Among the ones that she could do alone, the efficiency of the strategies was less proven. ‘Eating/drinking something good’ provided nourishment and therefore had a dual purpose. The same with ‘taking a relaxing bath’ as that would be good for hygiene. Relaxing, watching TV, listening to music, reading some literature, video games, did not share this practical quality. All of the proposals would have to be tested and evaluated in turn. ‘Studying something that interested her’ was removed from the list, the likelihood of her turning it to work was too high.
Cleo felt a tinge of guilt well up, was she now actively trying to not work? It felt wrong in so many ways, work was good and kept her alive….Cleo smiled, that had not taken long. For a moment she had feared that she would not have any stress to use her contingency plans on, but here one was. Now to consider her options.
It would be best to try one of the independent contingency plans, Mertha was still very tired from work and relaxing in her study. During breakfast, Mertha had been quite muted and had not been able to start any type of conversation. Her warden must have come home late into the night, the affini needed her rest.
Cleo evaluated the alternatives, ‘eating something good’ was not very tempting as she had eaten one of Mertha’s great meals only 1 hour ago. She had not yet cleaned herself, so bathing was a practical option. She also remembered how nice it had been when she class-J. Right, it would be the first plan to be tested.
She walked out of her room and looked towards the door to the study, the guilt built up. Mertha would not tell her, but she knew what the work was about. From her preliminary intel, it was not standard for affini to be drafted for any type of work. Unless they were in extreme situations and the life of sophonts were threatened.
The situation on Centhia was stable, but how much did this require of the affini? They were used to swarm a planet with more than enough manpower…plantpower? to casually take florets as they wished. Now the ship was almost empty, the affini on the surface must have spread far beyond what was acceptable. Perhaps they had less than 5 million affini on the Agraria as it jumped to save her. Why had she not managed to keep it together, to spot the Terran rebellion before? Then none of this would have happened…..and she would probably be in a coma or worse.
Well, now she had enough stress and guilt to give this contingency plan a real test. Cleo walked into the bathroom and began filling the pool with warm water. As the water began to rise she considered if she could create a measurement for the evaluations. Frustratingly, emotions were too difficult to measure, it would have to be an arbitrary test. A simple ‘feeling better’ would have to suffice for success.
The water was almost there now, Cleo slipped off her clothes and waded in. it felt nice, she could not deny that. Just gently floating in the warm water and then swimming back and forth was relaxing. While it did indeed feel nice, it could be better. She remembered back to the last day on class-J. Mertha had put something in the water…Cleo stood up and walked to the surprising amounts of containers.
There was regular soap, shampoo, conditioner, and then the vitamins that made her hair grow longer. Next to them were a few other bottles, one of them was a subtle red, that was the one Mertha had used. Taking the container out of the holder Cleo read the title “sensational bath salt”, she frowned at the pun. It seemed to contain some different spices and a bit of class-A. From what she remembered it had not been an overwhelming increase in the sensation so a bit would probably be fine. After reading the dosing on the back she applied a suitable amount to the water, it soon gained a pleasant smell.
Cleo laid down back in the water, her skin began to tingle slightly. It was a pleasant experience over all else. There was no massage this time, but it would do. She stroked a hand over her arm and felt the soft and tender skin, a soft shiver went through her. Inspecting the rest of her body she saw that while her skin had become far thinner and softer, it still held scars from old events. Perhaps Vonzin could remove them, she felt no pride in their existence.
After relaxing more and generally feeling a good deal better she began to clean herself. Due to the light amount of class-A it was a remarkably pleasant experience. At some point she managed to get a bit of soap into her eyes, it did not hurt but was a bit unpleasant.
While Cleo blinked to get it out she reached out for the shampoo. She had showered with her eyes closed before, probably because of dysphoria, so it was not an issue. After making sure to take a good amount of it for her now back-long hair, Cleo rubbed it into her scalp and then down the hair. Her hair was getting rather tangled so she would have to groom it soon. After washing it out, she took another round just for good measure, a weird new tingling sensation was spreading from her skin. Mostly from her hands and scalp….
Cleo opened her eyes and looked at the water in front of her, it had changed slightly. The water was covered in bubbles and had become a few shades purple. Her mind felt a bit fuzzy, the tingling seemed to spread into her legs. She cautiously touched the part of her head that felt the most sensitive, a burst of pleasure sprang from the spot, and she gasped. The pleasure was incredible, Cleo pulled the hand away as quickly as possible….but it had felt good, she felt a bit sad. The fuzziness of her mind grew, what had just happened?
Cleo looked at the containers on the wall….the one that was closest was purple and not the shampoo. She hoped the shampoo had not felt forgotten….wait, what? Something was happening to her, and it needed to be stopped. She walked closer to the bottle, the sensation of her legs moving through the water was indescribable. With a sensitive hand, she picked it up and read the label on the back, it was good she could read affini.
Happy pet cuddle salve - XDLA
This salve is a mixture of several fun xenodrugs that are sure to make your floret the happiest in the galaxy! A specialized dose of Class-A will make whatever spot it is applied on feel sublime for your human. We have also added a little class-C and class-D so your pet can feely indulge all of their cutest emotions. If applied in the bath make sure to not let the salve dissolve in water, if it does the water might make the sophont a bit overstimulated. Hope you and your Floret have a wonderful time!
- The xenodrug development laboratory of Agraria
Oh, dear stars no! Her horrified eyes moved down to the dosing guide. She did not have the capacity for calculating as her skin began to feel really needy, but she must have used at least 6 times as much as recommended. The affini who made this sounded very nice though! How was that relevant?
At least she had washed most of it off, her legs that were in the water now polluted with potent xenodrugs were less well off. She had to tell Mertha, to get a counteragent before it was too late. But Mertha was tired, it would be mean to interrupt her from resting…That was not important now. Cleo took a step forward and felt her legs move slower than anticipated. She tried to correct her balance but the xenodrugs made her clumsy, she slipped and fell into the water.
Every part of her body began to tinge with an unmatched need. She managed to grab hold of the edge of the pool and dragged herself up “Mertha!” It was quite rude to shout like that, what if she disturbed someone, that would be mean. She was beginning to think like a naïve idiot, she needed that counteragent. But there were two doors between her and Mertha, the soundproofing was quite good on each of them. There was no way that Mertha had heard her, the need was growing stronger.
She got an idea “hab-AI?” perhaps it could send a message if she asked nicely…no it would do so because it was an ai!
The friendly voice of the hab ai rang out “yes cutie?” aww that was so nice of it. Cleo blushed…..this could not be happening, she had to keep focused.
Her mind was being affected more each second “could you tell Mertha to come to the bathroom? please” She wondered if the hab-AI had a name, perhaps they could be friends….please let this work.
The hab-AI chirped through the room “of course cutie, I’ll tell her right away.” Cleo smiled widely, it was so nice to her.
She felt so happy that the hab ai cared about her “thank you so much!” NO! it was an AI, it did not have emotions…that was a mean thing to think.
Her skin, but especially her hand and scalp felt like they were on fire. She needed something to touch her, it almost felt more important than breathing. Maybe if she had one of those cute bee plushies from her pet bed….how could she have left it alone for so long? it and its friends had been so nice to her and then she had just forgotten about them…that was because they were inanimate objects!
For a moment Cleo considered hitting her head against the wall to get out of this situation, but that would be very mean to the wall….She had to remain focused, she just had to think about something serious.
Her mind traced back through the reforms she had done….one of the best ones must have been to get a cafeteria in the central bureaucratic office, then people could talk and become friends! No, it was so she could collect intel….this was not working.
Fear! That would be the tool to keep her focused. Cleo imagined the assassin and liquidators who had come the closest….they were probably just as scared as she had been….Perhaps they had just needed a hug, she really wanted a hug right now.
Mertha was feeling slightly anxious but tried to not think too much about it. When she had finally gotten home after being held at the bureaucratic complex for so long she had felt guilty for leaving Cleo alone the entire day. When she had talked with Serla however her guilt had remained but developed into something new.
Apparently, Cleo had not had a good day, Serla described her as being frustrated and defiant. It had probably been her fault, she had treated Cleo too much like a floret, allowing herself to slip into that dynamic without thinking about it.
Cleo had done such a good effort in trying to behave better and she had made it seem like a bad choice. Cleo did not want to be her floret, Mertha knew that, so was it so easy to forget? No wonder Cleo wanted to reassert her independence when she had treated her cooperation like that. Today the girl would get the space she needed. Mertha would of course make sure that she was fine, but if Cleo wanted to be alone for some time then that was fine as well…Cleo was not her floret, she had to remember that.
Her thinking was interrupted by the hab-AI “Cleo asked very politely if you, Mertha, could come to the bathroom.” Mertha looked at her data pad, Cleo’s pulse was uneven but nothing too concerning. Also, the use of ‘very politely’ meant that Cleo had said please to the AI, which did not follow her ward's usual behavior.
Either way, if Cleo wanted her to come then she would do so. As she walked to the bathroom she wondered if the human was up to her tricks again. Apparently, she had done it to Serla yesterday with little difficulty, perhaps it had encouraged to get bolder. The door to the bathroom opened, and the scent of the bath salt drifted out.
When Mertha moved inside she did not see Cleo immediately, it was interesting that her ward had used the bath salt all on her own. Then she heard a soft noise, Cleo was clamoring to the edge of the bath and looked up at her. The human’s eyes were filled with…a desperate need, a shiver went through her form.
If this was one of Cleo’s tricks she would have to remain vigilant “Cleo? You asked me to come, is something the matter?” Cleo reacted by holding her hands out, it was a clear sign of wanting a hug. Mertha hesitated, but only for a second, the look in Cleo’s eyes was far more than she could resist.
As soon as her vines began to coil around Cleo, the human began to moan softly and hug them desperately. The erratic movement of the human made it a bit difficult to get Cleo into her arms. Cleo began almost immediately to press into and wiggle around in her vines, her hands were gripped around one of the vines that had lifted her. Mertha felt completely staggered, this was far beyond what Cleo would do, even if she was trying to be clever. For a moment she wondered if Cleo had put too much salt in the water…no, the smell would be much stronger if that was the case.
The sounds that Cleo made brought her attention back to the sophont. The human looked absolutely desperate for touch, Mertha felt very conflicted. She wanted to give Cleo exactly what she was clamoring for, to smother her cute little ward in her vines. But there had to be something wrong “Cleo?” The human ignored her, so she tried again, a bit sterner this time “Cleo!” Cleo looked up with eyes full of need and adoration, the pupils were dilated slightly too much.
Mertha’s core shuddered again, but she kept her focus “Cleo what happened? Why are you acting like this?” The human looked confused, then tried to rub her head into Mertha’s hand. Cleo’s breathing was rugged and fast, there had to be something terribly wrong here.
Her eyes drifted over to the water…it was looking purple? Oh frost, Mertha looked over at the container for the salve, it had been moved! Even if Cleo had put it in the water then it should not have had such a massive effect “Cleo, did you use that container? How much did you use?” Cleo kept wiggling and gasping.
Her ward managed to stay lucid for a few moments “I thought it was shampoo, I’m sorry.” Cleo sounded so earnest in her apology. She must have used it by accident, and with that amount….dirt. Mertha carried the human out of the room and towards the compiler.
She quickly collected her thoughts <compile one counteragent for happy pet…cuddle salve.> She thanked herself for remembering the name. The compiler interface blinked red “requested item could not be found” What?! There had to be a counteragent, that amount of xenodrugs was too much for a sophont with a good deal of tolerance. Cleo on the other vine…
Mertha took up her data pad, she had to contact the affini that had developed it. There was no way they would not have a counteragent. As she was doing this, Cleo kept writhing in her arms “can I get head pats? Please…” Mertha wanted to give her that so badly but now was not the time.
She smiled gently at the doped-up Cleo “, okay, but then you need to be calm for me first…then you can get as many head pats as you want.” Cleo became a bit more relaxed, but the slight vibration and movement clearly betrayed that she was overwhelmingly needy.
Mertha managed to find the lead researcher for the project, they were apparently on Centhia at the moment. At least that meant she could give them a call, she sent a request and waited….and waited….and waited <Hello? Is it important? I’m a bit busy down here.> Mertha was almost startled.
She collected herself <yes it is, my ward has been exposed to far too high quantities of ‘Happy pet cuddle salve’, I think she used it by accident. The compiler held no item for a counteragent, is it located somewhere else in the database?> There was some noise on the other end, something banging against wood.
The affini researcher’s voice turned compassionate <I’m so sorry to hear that, I was sent to the surface before we could develop one ful-> There was a large smashing noise. The affini on the line sighed <just wait for one second>…”Johnathan! You will put that down immediately or I will inject you with class-Z.” There was another loud sound.
There was some shouting in the background “you can’t keep me here weed, the Phenix brotherhood will-“ It was cut off.
The affini returned to the call “sorry about that, this one is very defiant. Back to your problem, I can send you two different ones that together should do the trick. The first one is for the class-A, it should work almost immediately. The second counteragent, for the class-C and D, you will need to apply in doses over the next half hour or so.” Two files for the compiler were sent over the call.
The affini on the other side sounded far too stressed. “I wish I could help you more, but I am terribly busy. I have 8 wards and all, but one is clinging to some ‘mercenary’ code and acting up every moment they-…Frost, did she start a fire in her room!? sorry I need to go.” The call was unceremoniously dropped, 1 affini with 8 wards? It sounded insane, and she had been complaining that she had to work with bureaucracy for a day.
Another soft moan from Cleo reminded her of what was important. Mertha transferred the files to the compiler and soon had a syringe for the class-A and a spray bottle for the other counteragent. Cleo pulled at the vine she was holding “can I get head pats now? Please, it tingles so much, please.” The human was downright begging.
Using all of her restraint Mertha ignored the pleas and used her vines to hold Cleo constrained, then she injected the needle and applied the counteragent. Over the course of just a few seconds, Cleo began to calm down and stop writhing. Hopefully, that had been the worst of it “are you feeling better?”
Cleo looked up at her “um…I think so…can I get head pats now?” There was only so much adorable begging she could take. Mertha used her hand and began to pet and scratch the human on the head, Cleo made some delightful noises and leaned into her hand. So precious, she scratched on that spot on the back of the neck that she knew Cleo loved. The human arched their head back and made a soft purring sound. When she pulled her hand away Cleo hugged onto it “can I get more, please? It felt so nice…” Why was Cleo testing her like this?
The class-C and D were still in her system. “You can get some more, but first you have to open your mouth.” The human obeyed and allowed her to spray the counteragent in. The pupils on her ward became a bit more normal. She would have to wait a bit to apply another dose, at least the situation was under control.
Cleo still held onto her hand “that tasted weird…can we cuddle now?” Mertha concentrated and held back. Cleo was trying to reassert her independence after how she had treated her. If she indulged the doped-up human now it would just be another sign that she did not respect her. With every ounce of self-restraint, Mertha placed the human on the couch and moved back. She could do this, once the counteragent had been applied a few more times, this test would be over.
As soon as Cleo realized she was not getting any cuddles her biorhythm became dominated by sadness “di…did I do something wrong?” oh dear…keep it together Mertha.
She had to be firm “no, you have not done anything wrong.” Don’t call her cute, don’t coddle her, just give her space.
Cleo looked so darn cute “so why can’t we cuddle?” Because you don’t want that…at least not when the xenodrugs stop working.
Mertha sat down in the chair furthest away “you are not in the right state of mind at the moment, just wait.” Cleo looked confused, how could she not be with that amount of class-C in her system?
Her ward did as she had instructed and waited, until “um….do you think you could give me one of the plushies? I feel bad about leaving them alone for so long…they must be so lonely.” Okay, that might be embarrassing later but it would give her an opportunity to give another dose. Mertha stood up and moved into her room. In the corner she had stored the bed that Cleo had used…..why had she done that?
Mertha picked out the beeple plushie that Cleo had liked so much and went back to the living room. She presented the plushie and Cleo’s eyes lit up “you can have this, but first I need you to open your mouth again.” Cleo hesitated for a second before opening her mouth, Mertha applied another dose before handing the plushie over. Her ward hugged it enthusiastically and smiled so warmly….no, don’t look!
Mertha sat down on the couch, not too far away from Cleo. Not to enjoy her happiness, just to…make sure that the counteragent was working properly. She made sure to thoroughly inspect a piece of the hab wall…don’t look. Mertha felt Cleo hug her side “thank you so much for the plushie, you are really nice….I love you.” The words were so earnest, so filled with emotion, a few of her vines began to wiggle in happiness. How could she resist such an adorable and wonderful person?
Because she had to! Mertha used her vines to push Cleo away and out of arm's reach. Cleo looked sad and confused, Mertha sighed “I know you don’t understand right now but I can’t, I won’t treat you like a floret.” Her voice had perhaps been a bit too stern, but she did not have a lot of self-restraint left.
Cleo’s eyes began to well up with tears “you…you don’t want me as your…your floret?” Cleo looked so full of despair, she hugged the plushie and began to cry. It felt like someone had put fire in her core, the pain was so intense. Why had she said that?
Mertha could not see Cleo suffer like this, not because of her. She scooped up the human and held her tight to her chest “I…I didn’t mean it like that, I’m sure you would make an excellent floret. You are so cute and nice and smart and wonderful. Any affini would be lucky to have you.” Any consideration of what might happen later was now gone.
Cleo looked up at her with teary eyes “do you want me to be your floret?” Had Cleo just asked her? asked her to…No, she was still affected by the xenodrugs, this was not the moment. But was she supposed to answer?
There was only one real choice that her feelings could accept. “Of course, I want that, I would love for nothing more.” Everyone already knew it, Cleo was sure to have known. But saying it out loud…it felt different, more real.
Cleo smiled and hugged her, with such a pure expression. It was time for another dose “Cleo, open your mouth.” The human did so, and another dose was added. Cleo still held onto her “we can cuddle a bit now, you have earned it.” Mertha had no more will to fight it, she loved Cleo far too much.
They cuddled in silence, Cleo seemed so happy in her vines. The human stirred in her vines “I think I am feeling a bit…more normal. Thank you…” Cleo still held onto the hug. It was soon time for another dose, and her ward cooperated without any need for words.
Cleo was far too silent at this point, should she put her down? Cleo was sure to be at best irritated at what she had said, at worst…Mertha did not want to think about it. Why had she said that? How was she so weak that all it took was to see Cleo crying for her to lose all self-control? The silence was palpable until Cleo broke it “I think I’m fine now.” She did not sound angry…was that a good sign?
Mertha still felt concerned “are you sure, I can give you another dose to make sure the effects stop.” Cleo looked at her, there were still some signs of unnatural dilation.
The human shook her head “no, I still feel a bit of it and that is fine…we need to talk, and I can’t do that properly with the mess in my head getting in the way.” Mertha was tempted to give her another dose either way, but it was Cleo’s choice. She sat her ward down, there was a bit of awkward silence.
Cleo fidgeted a bit with one of her vines “so…you want me to be your floret?” Mertha was surprised at how calm she suddenly felt.
She smiled at Cleo “yes, I do. I want to care for your every need and make sure that you are always happy. I wish for nothing more.” Cleo looked down at her lap, Mertha could see a slight blush on the human’s cheeks.
Mertha used a vine to tip Cleo’s face upwards “do you want to be my floret?” Cleo looked into her eyes and the blush spread and reddened.
Cleo looked conflicted. “Do you think I would make you happy?” What a silly question.
She smiled at her ward “nothing in the universe could make me happier, nothing. Do you think I would make you happy?” The human was so close, so close to making the decision. It was at least what her instincts were telling her.
Cleo fidgeted a bit more before answering “you already do….yes, I think you would make me happy…happier than I could ever imagine.” The words warmed her core with joy.
She asked again, “so, do you want to be my floret?” Cleo’s lips were almost forming the word…then she looked down and pulled away.
Cleo’s voice was filled with internal conflict “I want to…but I can’t. it would be giving up too much…I’m sorry.” Mertha tangled a few vines around her human, making sure she felt safe.
She spoke in a soothing voice “there is nothing to be sorry for. Know that I will accommodate whatever you want as long as it will make you happy.” A few tears began to form in Cleo’s eyes, she used her vines to dry them away.
Cleo’s voice sounded choked “I know that…but giving up my rights and giving up the…I don’t know. I’m not sure yet, is that okay?” Mertha pulled Cleo into a hug, despite how close it had been she felt no disappointment.
She gave Cleo a few calm pats on the head “that is more than fine. I don’t want you to make the decision unless you are absolutely sure.” They sat in calm silence for a moment.
Cleo sniffed a bit “even if I’m not sure about the whole ‘becoming your property’ thing. I think I like some parts of it, the cuddling, the affection, talking with you. Those parts are pretty nice, hell even some of the xenodrugs.” Cleo chuckled a bit, the sound was so wonderful.
Mertha finally felt like she was being a proper affini “it lovely to hear you say that. You don’t have to be my floret for us to do any or all of those things. I want to ask you again though, are you sure you don’t want another dose of the counteragent?”
Cleo shook her head again “no…it's quite nice when I think about it. The class-D allows me to say things that I should have said long ago. The class-C is...heh, honestly a bit terrifying, I was thinking like an idiot. But right now, it is just this…gentle buzz. It makes it a bit easier to feel things, and I have felt so little for so long…I actually kind of like it.” While hearing that last part was sad, the fact that Cleo was moving past it, working through it. It made her core hum with happiness.
The human suddenly looked a bit bashful “I’m sorry I made such a mess. I know you are tired, you should not have to deal with this right now.”
What was Cleo talking about? “What do you mean tired? I’m more than okay.” Especially right now, holding Cleo so close was sublime.
It was Cleo’s time to be confused. “I thought you were tired from work…you were so muted during breakfast and then went directly to your study.” So that was the root of the misunderstanding
Mertha made sure to speak calmly “I thought you wanted a bit more space. Serla told me what happened yesterday, and I did not want you to feel pressure or be infringed upon.” Cleo squeezed one of her vines.
The human looked even more bashful “oh…that makes sense I guess. I don’t think it’s right to say that I feel pressure from you and seral…I just have so much…pride. It's almost a bit funny, I used to despise people that behaved like they were higher than life. I just had to pretend to be proud to fit in, you know…at some point, it must have turned real. Perhaps I can become humbler here.” If Cleo asked, Mertha would be happy to help.
Mertha looked at her ward “perhaps, but it is still important that you state your boundaries, ok?” Cleo nodded in response, such a cute little sophont. Mertha trailed a teasing vine over Cleo’s cheeks “do you want to go back to work or do something else?” She had a feeling about what the answer would be.
Cleo blushed a deep red, the class-D must be wearing of “perhaps we….we could cuddle and maybe…you could call me…good girl?” Mertha smiled and dragged Cleo from a hug into her vines, the girl let out a little giggle as she did so.
Mertha held her sophont, yes, her sophont. Cleo was perhaps not her floret, but she was hers to protect, hers to help drive all those silly and nasty thoughts away, hers to make happy. No matter what happened in the future, at this moment Cleo was hers to love. She leaned down and kissed Cleo on the forehead and even though she had yet to say the words, Cleo was already smiling.