For the thousandth time that day, Aprevalii checked Simeon’s blood monitor. The hrevl ichor hausteric implant project was apparently going more slowly than expected, but at least Simeon wasn’t trying to monitor it himself. While Simeon’s insistence on his ability to take care of himself had been cute, it had also been frightening; Aprevalii was certain he could do a much better job monitoring Simeon than Simeon could. After all, Simeon had only two (adorable) eyes! As long as Aprevalii was awake he could always have at least one eye on the monitor, and he did.
He nudged one of the dials on the monitor, slightly increasing the ichor input following Simeon’s most recent meal. Would Simeon even have had the manual dexterity to make the minuscule increase Aprevalii had just made? Or would he have overdone it? Not as large of a concern anymore, but Aprevalii still had flashbacks, still had times when he couldn’t keep a constantly vigilant eye on his new pet’s wellbeing.
His pet! In his mind, his first since Sephal; legally, his first since Jdakrat Phores, Sixteenth Floret. There had been attempts to force pets on him in the core systems, after he had returned from Astashesh. Some had been truly adorable, but he knew he was in no shape to take on the responsibility. The risks of neglect were too severe. What if he neglected Simeon? The terran was more self-sufficient than most florets, but Sephal had been completely self-sufficient and they had still died, believing even in their last moments that Aprevalii was doing her…
“Focus Aprevalii—sir.” Simeon’s voice. “Where are you?”
“I’m… this is the hospital?” They were staying there until the implant was ready. Aprevalii hadn’t decided yet if he—if they—would return to New Melbourne once it was done.
“Good. And what am I doing?”
“You’re… what are you doing?” Other than being cute, but he didn’t say that.
“Look at me, sir, tell me what I’m doing,” Simeon’s voice was firm, but his posture was meek, deferential.
“You’re doing something with your hands. Folding paper? Oh, folding it into… what are those?” Simeon had created a dozen paper… somethings. They didn’t look like anything Aprevalii could recognize.
“Animals. Symbolic representations of them made from folded paper. It’s called origami. Do you want to learn how to do it, sir? It’s a good grounding exercise.”
Simeon smiled. “Okay. It’s traditional to start with a crane. You take a single sheet of square paper…”
“I want to try something with you, sir,” said Simeon. “You… might think it’s bullshit though.”
Aprevalii turned from the blood monitor to his pet. “What is it?”
“Reiki. A traditional healing method where the healer manipulates the patient’s energy to realign and correct things. It’s got similarities to acupuncture, but I don’t need to know where your meridians are for it.”
“Sorry, what?” Aprevalii had known what most of the words Simeon had said meant.
“Weren’t you studying terran alternative medicine, sir?”
The gears clicked into place. “I was, but more on the ethno-botany side than the energy healing side. No offense, Simeon, but energy healing really is… unsubstantiated.”
Simeon grimaced. “I know. The Compact isn’t at all a fan of it, but some people—sophonts—really do find it helpful. Plus, it’ll give me a chance to know your body better.”
Aprevalii’s leaves fluttered. “Know my body better?”
“You generally keep yourself compacted into a humanoid shape, sir; I’ve only seen you as a tangle of spread-out vines a few times, and the last time I was climbing you more than actually working out how things worked.”
Aprevalii checked the blood monitor and tweaked a dial. “I mean, you could get a book on affini physiology for that.”
Simeon shook his head. “Yes, sir, I plan to, but that’s not what I meant. I want to see how your body works. How you contort and position it when you aren’t trying to pretend to be something you aren’t. How your vines move and interact. Whether you’re ticklish.”
“I am not ticklish,” said Aprevalii, hoping he sounded suitably dignified. “Affini bodies don’t work that way.”
“Regardless, reiki will give me a chance to really take a close look at your body. And I need to be familiar with it if I’m going to be treating you as my exclusive patient.”
Aprevalii stopped, ashamed. He hadn’t really given any thought to the sophonts Simeon already treated. “You don’t have to give that up if you don’t want to.”
Simeon shook his head again. “You need full-time support, sir. And most of my clients wouldn’t be comfortable having a floret therapist.”
Aprevalii frowned. “Simeon, are your clients feralists?”
“No, sir, but a lot of them are sympathetic to Terran independence even if they recognize the benefits the affini bring. And you don’t have to be a feralist to find the idea of florets uncomfortable.”
A few hrevl had been uncomfortable with the idea as well, but the concept was more suited to their culture than it had been to the Terrans’. A significant portion of the hrevl were under various forms of wardship and guardianship already. Sephal had owed obedience to their abbess and had mostly viewed the prospect of domestication as moving from one mistress to another. The abbess had taken a somewhat different view, but many of the hrevl at the monastery were wards or guardians of sophonts other than the abbess. The hrevl hierarchy had been complex and branching, and she never got the chance to fully explore it. And now she never would.
Simeon, yes, Simeon. He had duties, he had a purpose. He checked the blood monitor.
Reiki was stupid. Stupidly cute. Aprevalii was spread out in a large storage room that had been emptied for the purpose (the clerk also had thought the basic concept was stupid, but the idea had been too adorable for her to refuse). Simeon had been moving around Aprevalii’s body for hours. He rarely touched the plant, his hands hovering a few centimeters above the vines, his gaze focused and intent. He wasn’t doing anything, but he also wasn’t doing nothing. After the first hour he’d gotten out a sketchbook and begun drawing and annotating. Aprevalii assumed he was using some kind of shorthand, because none of Simeon’s scribbles made any sense.
The sketchbook was closed now, and Simeon had his hands above Aprevalii’s vines again, slowly tracing a vine while humming aimlessly. It was adorable, of course, but it also made Aprevalii feel seen in a way that was simultaneously reassuring and vulnerable. Simeon wanted to know his body with the intimacy of a lover, and that was a different experience from affini doctors who knew his body on an intellectual but not emotional level.
She had known Sephal with that intimacy. He would know Simeon with that intimacy. And more, once the implant was ready. The idea of growing into Simeon, becoming a part of him… it was good.
There wasn’t much to do while Simeon did reiki. Aprevalii’s few attempts at conversation had been met with polite refusal; whatever Simeon was or wasn’t actually doing, it required his full concentration. Still, Aprevalii tried not to ruminate on the past, he had other concerns now.
“I’m done, sir,” said Simeon. He rose to his feet and walked through and out of Aprevalii as Aprevalii consolidated himself.
Aprevalii checked the blood monitor and tweaked a dial. “Did you learn anything?”
Simeon blushed. “You’re beautiful, sir. And the way your vines diverge and branch it’s… it’s mesmerizing. Mats and Nerys sometimes talk about how looking into Liliac’s eyes is entrancing, but, no offense, yours have never done that for me. Looking at your body, though, at the intricate network… it was almost spiritual.”
“And um,” how to put this delicately? “Do you think it worked?”
Simeon shrugged. “I don’t place interpretations on my work. My clients’ feedback is all I can use. I hope it helped you and I definitely enjoyed it, but we don’t have to do it again if you didn’t like it.”
Stars, he was cute. Reiki had done nothing to Aprevalii as far as he could tell, but he’d gladly spend more hours under that patient gaze.
“I will need to actually study your biology, though,” Simeon added. “I mean, affini biology generally. I was never much of a botanist so I might need help understanding things, though.”
“I’m sure we can find someone willing to tutor you,” said Aprevalii.
They walked out of the storage room and back to Simeon’s, Aprevalii holding—and continuously checking—the blood monitor. The room was fine, as far as affini hospital rooms went, which was leaps and bounds better than any terran hospital had ever been, but Aprevalii looked forward to moving them into an actual home. A home! On New Melbourne he’d lived in an oversized room in a warehouse, nicely furnished up, of course, but designed to give him the same sort of overall living experience that its human denizens had. Obviously, now that he had Simeon that wouldn’t do. Simeon needed a climate-controlled environment tailored perfectly to his own particular specifications; Aprevalii would have to speak to someone about getting a proper hab and compiler.
Simeon was still reading Aprevalii’s book (as translated by Mats). He read with the same intensity that’d he’d used for Aprevalii’s reiki, writing notes both in a notebook and in the margins of the pages as he went. After a bit of polite but firm prompting, Aprevalii used the time to work on a meditation technique Simeon had devised.
The problem with meditation and affini, according to Simeon, was that while affini obviously could breathe, they didn’t need to in the way humans did; it didn’t give them the same neurofeedback. As a focus it was still good, but not really capable of doing for affini what breathing did for humans. Instead, he had Aprevalii focus his attention on Simeon himself. “Biologically, florets seem to be something of a self-soothing mechanism for you,” he’d told Aprevalii. “So don’t focus on your breath, focus on mine. Listen to my heartbeat. Hold me and feel the way my muscles involuntarily contract and relax. Let your awareness sink into my body and biology.”
Since Simeon was working this time, he’d used his vines to make a hammock for him instead of wrapping him up. But he was still touching significant portions of Simeon’s body and he could hear his breath, his heart, his stomach, and the involuntary swallows of spit. Simeon needed to use the toilet, he realized, and gently put him down.
“You need to use the restroom.”
Simeon rolled his eyes. “I’m fine, sir. I can hold it for quite awhile longer.”
“Simeon. Remember what we said about basic self-care?”
“If I don’t do it for myself you will take it over. And I don’t want that.” He walked into the adjoining bathroom and came out a few minutes later. “I actually had some questions for you, sir, about you and the hrevl. If you’re up to talking about them.”
“Um, okay, so this might be weird but… according to Mats’s footnotes you used the hrevl equivalent of she/her pronouns on Astasheth.”
“Is that how Mats translated them? Interesting. Yes, I guess I can see on argument that the pronouns I used on Astasheth conformed to something somewhat like the… equivalent of a hrevl gender that would come across to terrans as female. But I was a different sophont then; I think Aprevalii Phores, Eighth Bloom might well have used she/her pronouns if she were among terrans, but I’m Aprevalii Phores, Ninth Bloom. Not the same.”
Simeon nodded. “You might want to read Mats’s translation,” he said. “He wrote an appendix on your grammar that I can’t understand a word of, but you might find interesting.”
Aprevalii thought it equally likely that he also wouldn’t understand a word of it, at least not without doing some research. Affini had a natural talent for learning languages, but that didn’t necessarily correlate to an equally deep understanding of their mechanics.
“How many hrevl genders were there? I found that chapter really confusing.”
“I mean, how many do terrans have? The dominant social view was that there were five, corresponding to three common biological sexes and two fairly common deviations from the norm. You definitely had sophonts using non-quinary genders. But gender didn’t hold the same significance for them; you would never say you identified as rav’k or that you were a thesvak. They did have gender-based pronouns, but it was really easy to misgender someone you didn’t know well… they didn’t have much in the way of sexual trimorphism.”
Aprevalii snaked a vine around Simeon who leaned back into it, letting Aprevalii wrap him up.
Not one to miss an opportunity, Simeon immediately changed the line of talk. “Hold my body, squeeze—gently, gently—and feel my body, notice the gradations of heat in different areas. Now, listen to me breathe… in, two, three; out, two, three, four, five, in… hold… out… in… hold… out…. Good sir, good. Stay present. I’m going to meditate too, so just let your attention follow my body…”
Aprevalii didn’t know how long they’d been meditating when there was a knock on the door. It was Marigold, Simeon's veterinarian.
“The implant’s ready.”