Simeon was a stone. Still, firm, heavy. The plant needed an anchor and he was good at being one. The squeezes and pets were nice, and he made appreciative noises, but he refrained from nuzzling, demanding attention, or—god forbid—looking cute. The plant probably did think he was cute; they all thought everyone was cute, but Simeon had appreciated his tact when the other plant had started to treat him the way all the plants wanted to treat him. A trophy, a prize, something to coo over and care for. He’d signed up for voluntary domestication as soon as it became an option, but had quickly realized that his idea of being owned was very different from most affini’s.
But this affini was, for now, different. Seeing a plant have a panic attack had been odd, but also reassuring. Simeon knew what to do when someone had a panic attack; Simeon could be useful when that happened.
Still, quiet. Simeon wasn’t tired, so he meditated, paying attention to his own breath, to the vines encircling him, to the shifts in the affini’s body. Something was wrong. “Look at me,” he said, trying to keep his tone halfway between command and plea. The affini shifted his attention. “Where are you?” he asked.
“Liliac’s hab? Or maybe…”
That shift in the body. “Liliac’s hab, yes. You’re holding me, who am I?”
“Sepha… no, no, not them. I don’t know you.”
Simeon shifted in the plant’s vines, tugging one down as he put more weight on it. “I’m Simeon. We’re in Liliac’s hab. Stay here, stay with me,” again, he had to maintain that delicate balance between command and plea.
Okay, grounding worked. Not surprising, affini were corporeal and had senses, but he’d never tried holistic healing on one. This one probably didn’t realize that was what he was doing, so best not to break out the crystals just yet or try to work out if the plants had chakras or meridians. Stick to grounding. “What do you usually do in the morning?” he asked.
“I drink something, maybe clean myself.” (Simeon suspected that was more often an aspiration than a reality, although thankfully the plant didn’t smell). “Then I check my messages and start research.”
Simeon twisted slightly and the plant loosened his hold on him. Simeon began to extricate himself. The plant let him.
“Well, are you thirsty—hungry?—now?”
The plant wasn’t his responsibility, Simeon knew. Doing a favor for one of Nerys’s owner’s friends didn’t give him any obligations he didn’t want, but still… the plant needed help. He headed out to find Liliac.
Liliac’s hab was large, but most of it was for her florets, not herself, so she was easy to find.
“Simeon!” Nerys squealed and jumped down from her owner.
He hugged her. “Hi, Nerys, did you have a good party?”
She giggled, “Your name’s Simeon.”
He sighed. Nerys was probably on something inhibiting her cognitive processes, as per usual. “Yes Nerys, my name’s Simeon. Do you know who the nice affini I spent the night with is?”
“Your name’s Simeon!”
Another voice, Liliac’s, spoke, “That’s Aprevalii Phores, Ninth Bloom. Thanks for taking care of him; is he okay?”
Simeon frowned. “He’s better. I don’t know about okay. Normally I’d say pump him up with something like you guys usually do, but he did refuse medication last night.”
Liliac rustled her leaves. “He had an… accident a few centuries ago. Reacts unpredictably to medication.”
Not my concern, Simeon told himself. “He probably needs something to drink, but apart from that I don’t think there’s much to do.” A thought. “Are his florets being looked after?”
A sad sigh. “He doesn’t have any.”
“Don’t you guys like, need them for emotional wellbeing?”
“I’m not sure I’d put it that way. But they’re often good for that. Aprevalii’s still mourning, I think. Hasn’t taken anyone on since the… accident.”
The way Liliac said “accident” made Simeon suspect the word was doing a lot of work in that sentence. But again, not his concern.
“He should probably take a few days off, maybe get some exercise and fresh air. Cuddling some florets might be good too.”
Another floret, Mia, crawled out of a hole in the wall. “Are you volunteering?” He could hear the raised eyebrow.
Simeon glared at her. “No, this was a one-time thing!”
“Being cuddled might do you some good,” said Mia; she hopped down and pulled Simeon and Nerys into a cuddle pile.
Simeon relaxed. Being cuddled was good for him, it just… it wasn’t everything. If he’d accepted Liliac’s offer, or the offers of a half-dozen eager affini who thought he was—ugh—adorable, that would be what he was: a cuddled pet. He might be allowed to engage in some sort of self-actualization activity, like Mats was—Liliac was in favor of self-actualization for florets who wanted it—but the self-actualization he wanted wasn’t personal enrichment.
Simeon’s first client of the day was Greta; unlike most of his clients she actually used xenodrugs, but she’d been in therapy for decades before the war and liked it. Simeon personally thought that liking therapy was a bit weird; he offered his services because there were things xenodrugs couldn’t do, the line on his intake forms about therapy being for entertainment purposes only was there only as a concession to the affini’s limited, clinical view of medicine.
Greta’s appointment ran smoothly, but Simeon grew distracted and didn’t take nearly as many notes as he usually would. He couldn’t forget the affini who had refused xenodrugs, whom he’d grounded. Was there anyone else to do that for him? Did affini even know about basic coping mechanisms and self-care or did they just medicate it all away as bullshit? And what happened to an affini who refused to medicate?
This wasn’t his concern. The affini, in their omnipotence, could handle themselves. He was here for sophonts who couldn’t. “Sophont,” another word he disliked. It felt artificial, why not just say “person”? But that ran into complicated questions about what it meant to be a person; there were humans who didn’t want to be people, although Simeon wasn’t sure what that meant. He also really should be paying attention to… who was his client now? Greta had left and he’d remember treating James…. Ah, yes, it must be Rivkah.
“I’m sorry, Rivkah,” he said, shaking himself out of his reverie. “I got lost in thought for a moment.”
The older woman looked concerned. “Are you okay, Simeon?” she asked. “You didn’t even look up when I walked in.”
Simeon frowned, “How long have you been waiting?”
“In the lobby for ten minutes, then I came up here to see why you were running late.”
Oh dear. He looked at his notes, blank. He hadn’t written anything for Greta’s appointment or for Louisa’s; he could have sworn he remembered taking notes for Greta’s. Not good, not good. “I, sorry Rivkah, but I think I’m not okay. I’m going to have to cancel for the day and see medical.”
She nodded and Simeon thanked any listening deities that this had happened with his most patient client. “Take care of yourself,” she said as she left.
Simeon canceled his remaining appointments and went to medical.
Simeon liked Lysimachia, as far as affini went. She didn’t hit on him and didn’t belittle his profession. She greeted him warmly and didn’t help him onto the examining bench. “How are you, Simeon?” she asked.
“I’m having concentration problems, maybe memory problems too. I lost about ninety minutes of time earlier today. I’d thought I’d just been lost in thought for a moment, but I’d apparently conducted two therapy sessions, except I didn’t take any notes.”
Lysimachia nodded. “Have you had any recent head injuries? Taken any substances?”
“I was at Liliac’s party last night and did a tiny bit of some Class A’s to brighten up my senses, nothing else.”
Another nod. “Well, let’s do some bloodwork to rule out anything chemical first.”
He grimaced, but didn’t resist as she swabbed his arm and drew blood.
“Hmm…” Lysimachia was looking at her analyzer. “I’d say you definitely have some drugs in your system, and not Class A’s. There’s a drop of Class B’s in there which would explain the memory problems… but I have no idea how you’d get them by accident.”
“I did…” Simeon blushed “I did spend the night with an affini.”
“Well, maybe if they were totally mulchbrained and couldn’t control themselves they might have excreted something but that hardly seems likely…”
It didn’t seem at all unlikely to Simeon, now that he thought about it. “Can you get it out of my system?”
“Your body’s almost finished metabolizing it, but I can see about purging any residue. On a different note… may I ask who managed to get Simeon to cuddle with them?”
“The only Aper-something I know is Aprevalii and it definitely wasn’t him,” she laughed at the thought. “I wish it were.”
“Oh?” Because it definitely had been Aprevalii now that he heard the name again.
“Doctor-patient confidentiality,” she told him, mock-stern.
Simeon smiled. “Well, it wasn’t Aper-whatshisname” (Aprevalii, his name was Aprevalii) “so I guess it doesn’t matter.”
“Have a good evening, dear.”
There was no reason for Simeon to send a message to Nerys; he’d seen her two days ago. There was also no reason to ask Nerys about any of Liliac’s friends; he didn’t know any of them and didn’t particularly care to. But he was still worried about Aprevalii—damn it—even though he was probably fine. Definitely fine. Nothing to worry about. Even if there were, nothing for him to worry about.
“Nerys, do you know if the affini I spent your party with is doing okay?”
He got a message about ten minutes later. “Hi Simeon, this is Liliac, Nerys is a bit aphasic right now. Aprevalii’s back in New Melbourne, and I haven’t heard back from him since he arrived. But I’m sure he’d love it if you visited him. Why don’t you, Nerys, and I pay him a visit—I’ll bring Mats along too if he’s in a social mood.”
There was no point in saying no. When affini wanted things to happen, they happened. Well, at least if the affini in question was Liliac.
“I’ll back a bag. See you in the morning.”
Liliac, Nerys, and Mats boarded at the shuttle about a minute after Simeon had. Simeon hugged Nerys, but not Mats; if Mats wanted to be touched he’d initiate.
Mats didn’t seem to be in a touchy mood, but he was clearly excited. “Simeon! Did Liliac tell you I’d finished my commentary?” Mats had been working on a definitive translation of and commentary on the complete works of Shakespeare in Affini for as long as Simeon had known him.
Liliac stroked Mats gently. “I’m so proud of him. Passed peer review with flying colors…”
“Liliac, that’ s not how peer review works!” Mats protested
“Flying colors,” Liliac said firmly. “Heyacinth says it’s brilliant…”
“And completely debunks and discredits Rosewood!”
“She didn’t actually say that, Mats. And remember to work on our manners. Good pets don’t insult the scholarship of their colleagues.”
Mats was outraged. “Rosewood is not my colleague!”
Nerys tugged on Simeon’s arm. “C’mon Simeon. Mistress and Mats will be arguing over his manners for the rest of the trip, probably.”
She was probably right. “Why do you call her ‘Mistress’? Mats doesn’t, and you’re both her property.”
Nerys frowned. “I want Mistress to be my mistress. Mats wants her to be his caretaker. Different roles, different relationships. Mine’s better though, Mats is sober like all the time.”
Simeon scritched Nerys’s head. “He seems happy with it, though.”
Nerys nestled into Simeon’s arms. “He once said something about being a sewing box dissatisfied being better than a… dog? bear? satisfied. Didn’t really make sense to me. But he likes struggling. Which is dumb.”
“And you like being Liliac’s pet?”
“Oh yes. I’m so much happier since I stopped trying to be a person. Now I’m just a good sophont who loves her Mistress.”
“But what do you do? What’s the point?”
“Silly Simeon,” she giggled. “You sound like Mats.”
Mats was the only floret Simeon knew who wasn’t just in it for a life of hedonistic bliss. Presumably there were others… self-actualization as a floret was possible, and some of his potential owners had been quite excited about furthering his growth… but they didn’t need Simeon. He wouldn’t do anything for them beyond giving them the satisfaction of nurturing an adorable—ugh—sophont.
Nerys giggled again. “You made the face.”
“The one you make whenever Mistress says you’re cute.”
“Hey, I worked hard to be ruggedly handsome! ‘Cute’ is so… girly.”
“Nothing wrong with being a girl,” Nerys pouted.
And there wasn’t. But Simeon wasn’t one. Not that boys couldn’t be cute, but it had been such a relief when Class G’s had become available. He’d used them, along with some surgery and an intense workout regimine, to remake himself. He was masculine, rugged, handsome; he wasn’t cute.