III. Z60.2 Problems related to living alone
by Ezra Carmichael
Tags: #cw:genocide #D/s #dom:plant #Human_Domestication_Guide #hurt/comfort #m/m #scifi #CW:dubious_consent #dom:male #pov:bottom #pov:top #sub:male
Liliac hadn’t given him any warning, of course. She rarely did. Aprevalii had gotten her message just an hour before they were due to arrive. “I can wait if you actually have appointments, but I bet you don’t,” she had finished. She was right. He hadn’t done any interviews, immersions, or any of his other field research activities since the war had broken out and there was no time for research. Aprevalii found herself suddenly thrust into the role of a carpenter and mason, using her superior strength to build up walls and make bunkers as the ketalec invasion wore on. There was probably really important research to be done on the hrevl’s mobilization efforts for the war, but she was too busy being part of the efforts to document them. Later, when he’d written his monograph—his eulogy—he’d tried to explain what the war had been. He’d failed.
Aprevalii shook himself. He hadn’t done any field research since Liliac’s party. The war had been centuries ago. And he’d done plenty of field research since the war. He had guests coming. Uninvited guests, maybe even unwelcome ones, but his debt to Liliac wasn’t the sort that could—or should—be repaid: putting up with her occasional unannounced intrusions with grace and hospitality was the least he could do.
Aprevalii made a cursory effort to clean his apartment—mostly just shoved things into a closet—and began to heat up soup for his guests. There had been a time when he’d have cooked the soup herself, flavored with local herbs that the hrevl liked and wouldn’t damage her. She had found very little to eat that was tasty but not poisonous. The good news was that the local vegetation was also poisonous to the ketalec; their need to run supply chains from offworld in the first years of the war had slowed down the invasion, but not enough.
He was lost in his memories when someone knocked on his door. He opened it and feigned a smile at Liliac and her entourage: Nerys and Mats as expected, but she hadn’t mentioned bringing a third floret. Mia maybe? No, no, this was…
“Simeon?” he asked.
Liliac’s smile wasn’t feigned. “He was worried about you”—Simeon turned his face away—“so I thought I’d let him tag along—”
“I’m fine,” Aprevalii protested.
Liliac didn’t dignify that with a response. “So he could see for himself how you’re doing.” The look she gave him made it very clear that she expected Simeon to agree with her assessment, not his.
Simeon looked over Aprevalii before approaching him. “May I touch you?” he asked.
Aprevalii reached out a vine which Simeon took. He traced patterns with his fingers while talking. “Any more panic attacks?”
“No, I really am fine.”
Simeon ignored that. “Any dissociations or flashbacks?”
“No,” he lied.
“And have you been eating? drinking? Whatever it is that you affini do? Cleaning yourself, exercising, socializing?”
He didn’t have to respond, but how could he say no to the adorable face looking up at him with so much concern?
“I guess so?”
Simeon nodded and stepped back, but didn’t say anything.
Thankfully Mats was there to monopolize any awkward silences. From the slight twitch he’d made, Aprevalii suspected Liliac had just given him something to make him a bit more excitable and talkative.
“Aprevalii, I was just telling everyone that I finished my commentary! I’m presenting it at a conference in about a year and you have to come! No one will ever read a Rosewood translation again! And I also finally worked out how to explain the use of iambic pentameter! Just got a footnote in the book since there wasn’t enough time for a full chapter, but I’m working on a paper on it now: ‘The significance of meter in Middle English poetry contrasted with Early Late Premodern Affini rhythm schemes: a comprehensive evaluation.’ ”
“Mats,” Liliac warned. “What did we say about insulting Rosewood?”
“ ‘Bad pets who insult Rosewood get drugged,’ ” Mats sighed. “Sorry, Liliac.” He turned his head towards Nerys. Aprevalii suspected he was mouthing “I’m not sorry.”
“Rosewood really is a rubbish scholar,” Aprevalii told Liliac. “She was into ethnography about a millennium ago and her work was absolute dirt.”
“Aprevalii, don’t encourage him. We’re working on our manners, aren’t we Mats?”
Simeon was looking at him, frowning. Sephal had frowned like that too… well, not literally, completely different means of signaling emotion, but the intent was the same. “What do you do for fun?” they’d asked.
“My research is fun,” she insisted.
Sephal had been skeptical. “Why don’t you just go out and actually play with someone instead of obsessively documenting them?”
“Aprevalii,” the voice, the tug on his vines.
“Who’d want to play with me?”
Simeon spoke,“Aprevalii, look at me.”
He wrenched himself back to the present. “Sorry, I got lost in thought.”
Simeon shook is head. “More like lost in memory.” He reached into his bag and held out a large, smooth, green stone. “Hold this.”
Aprevalii took the stone.
“Run your vines over it, tell me what you see.”
Simeon’s voice wasn’t commanding, the way Liliac’s would have been if she’d said it. It was more of an invitation.
“It’s… green? Clearly been polished, um….”
“Is it heavy?”
“Maybe for a human.”
“Right.” Simeon approached him and began to wrap himself in Aprevali’s vines. Reflexively, Aprevali began to assist him. Simeon’s voice was soothing, not exactly hypnotic, but assured, calm. “Let my weight pull you down, let it anchor you. Tell me what you see.”
“You, an ador-, no sorry, an—attractive?” Simeon nodded. “sophont. Your skin is darker than Nerys’s or Mats’s, but you have less hair and you smell—” Aprevalii breathed in Simeon’s scent “a bit of salt, maybe? You aren’t wearing perfume and I’m guessing you don’t use scented soap…” If Aprevalii washed Simeon the soap would be scented with something light and pleasant, maybe a hint of sweet… not that he was going to wash Simeon. Simeon wasn’t his floret; he didn’t want a floret.
But, speaking purely hypothetically, Aprevalii supposed that, if he were to have a floret, he’d want it to be someone like Simeon.
Simeon remained nestled in Aprevalii’s vines for the next few hours, occasionally tugging on them or saying something to direct Aprevalii back to the present, but mostly he stayed quiet and radiated peace.
Aprevalii was inexplicably reluctant to release Simeon when it was time for him, Liliac, and her florets to leave. He’d been explicably reluctant to release… a tug. “Aprevalii, who am I?”
“Simeon, you’re Simeon.”
“And where are you?”
“Good. Remember that,” the sophont patted his vine. “Liliac, wait up!”
“No,” said Liliac. “You’re staying here.”
“No I’m not!” said Simeon. At the same time Aprevalii said, “No he’s not!”
Liliac turned to Simeon first. “In your professional opinion, should Aprevalii be left alone right now? He has no florets, no other guests, nothing but the research he isn’t even doing anymore to distract himself.”
“Who told you I haven’t been researching?” Aprevalii asked, indignant.
“You. Just now.” She turned back to Simeon. “As I was saying, should Aprevalii be left alone?”
“Don’t I get a say in this?” asked Aprevalii.
“No,” Simeon and Liliac said together.
“Um, that was directed at Liliac, not you,” Simeon added. “I’m sorry Aprevalii but you really shouldn’t be alone.” He turned back to Liliac. “But I have things to do, if you want to get a plantsitter you’ll have to find someone else.”
“It’s all been taken care of,” said Liliac. “I’ve had your appointments canceled—”
“You’ve what! How… no, you probably just found some obscure form or something.”
Liliac smirked. “Alternative and Integrative Medical Appointment Cancellation, Emergent Alterior Request X-835-K6. Not strictly proper and if you wanted to challenge it you could, and you’d probably even win, but not in time to make your appointments.”
“Why don’t you stay with him? He’s your friend!”
Liliac turned serious. “He’s my friend, but what he needs is you. You have the actual training in all that grounding and talking dirt. You were able to keep him okay after his incident; I’ve never been able to do that. Too used to medication being the easy option I suppose.”
“You can’t just roll into people’s lives and… oh, that’s literally what your species does.”
“Just stay with him until we can work out a long-term solution, that’s all I ask.” Liliac sounded sincere, but Aprevalii didn’t trust her.
“You can’t just make me domesticate him!” he protested
“I didn’t said anything about domesticating anyone,” she replied.
“Yes you did, Liliac,” said Mats. “You said—”
Liliac cut him off. “I think it’s time for bad pets to get drugged, Mats.” A moment later Mats had a dopey grin on his face and wasn’t talking. “Isn’t he adorable?” she said, gently stroking him.
“Don’t change the subject!” said Aprevalii.
“Okay,” Liliac held up two “hands,” “I admit, I very much do hope that once you two get to know each other you’ll realize you’re perfect for one another, but in the meantime Simeon really is the best sophont to monitor you. Or you could always just move to the observatory.” Liliac pulled out a relatively thick stack of paper. “I brought the form for transferring your residency there permanently if you’d prefer. All you have to do is sign, initial, and date.”
Living in New Melbourne with the cute sophont would be better than living in the observatory, but Aprevalii wasn’t going to admit that to Liliac. He couldn’t count on Simeon to keep refusing Liliac; other affini found her implacable; the human would have no chance in a battle of wills.
“I don’t actually have a choice, do I?” he asked.
“The Affini exists to ensure the well-being of all sophonts, especially those who are incapable of doing it for themselves. No one ever stands a chance when it comes to being cared for.”
The hrevl had largely been looking forward to domestication. Sephal had demanded she prepare domestication paperwork for them now; they wanted their haustoric implant as soon as possible. “It’ll take some work, and some time,” she’d warned them. “It might take another century or two before the Compact arrives and our xenobiologists will have to find a way to keep your ichor from damaging the implant. And being a cotyledon can be dangerous.”
Sephal was only one hundred twelve and so would almost certainly be alive by the time the Compact arrived… except they hadn’t been. They’d been among the last to die, among the closest to surviving the genocide, but they had still died. Aprevalii had been so naive to think an excursion to the remotest region of a remote galaxy would be safe, so convinced of affini invincibility she hadn’t thought about what might happen if her communications equipment were damaged, hadn’t thought her equipment could be damaged. But her small craft had been among the first things destroyed when the invasion began; almost certainly a deliberate target.
But on that day there had been no thoughts of war. “I trust you,” Sephal had insisted. “Even if it all goes horribly wrong, I’ll still be yours. That’s what matters. And someone has to be the first hrevl cotyledon. Losing my mind so that others can be domesticated without losing theirs?” they’d waved a tendril in a counterclockwise circle, the hrevl equivalent of a shrug. “Not that high a price to pay. I exist to serve my community.”
Not that that made them unusual. The hrevl took a long view of history. They laid plans, and executed them, over dozens of generations; you couldn’t do that without a sense of obligation to future generations, to hrevl you would never know and who might never know of you. Their view of history had not accounted for a genocidal alien invasion; they’d assumed that if intelligent life existed elsewhere it would be reasonably benign. They had protocols in place for first contacts that went awry, but not for first contacts whose only interest in first contact was to make the hrevl extinct.
Something weighed her down, but it wasn’t Sephal, she was underneath Simeon, the terran pressing his hands down forcibly on his vines, massaging them, and singing. It wasn’t a song Aprevalii knew, but there were millions of terran songs, so that was to be expected. Simeon was off-key, and Aprevalii found that grating. He started to hum along with Simeon, trying to get the terran to move his pitch. Annoyingly, the terran’s pitch got worse.
“Are you doing that on purpose?”
The singing stopped. So did the massaging. “Of course. Nothing like bad singing to make someone pay attention.” Simeon lept off Aprevalii, and he collected himself from an amorphous pile of vines and leaves into something reasonably humanoid.
“The moosik stopped, it was bad tho,” Mats said, his words slow and slurred.
“Now that the two of you have made my point even better than I did—and I think we can all agree I made the point very well—will you agree to a trial period? No obligations, I promise,” said Liliac.
“Yes, Liliac,” said Simeon and Aprevalii.