38 - I learned how to spell bureaucracy for kink reasons

by Fluxom

Tags: #cw:gore #cw:noncon #D/s #drugs #f/f #graphic_violence #hurt/comfort #scifi #accidental_conditioning #anxiety #blood #depression #disassociation #dom:female #dom:internalized_imperialism #dom:plant #Human_Domestication_Guide #medical_play #mindbreak #paranoia #self_care_is_over_were_doing_drugs_now #self_harm #self_harm_is_over_were_still_doing_drugs #sub:female #xenophobia
See spoiler tags : #awake_surgery #parasite/symbiote #plant_vampirism #sadomasochism #torture

cw this chapter made me hungry

“Huh, I never knew post-coital glow was a real thing.” Solanum’s grin would have been ear to ear had she any ears in the first place. Autumn, meanwhile, sat with her face down against the counter and silently wished for a hole to open up in space and send her away to avoid this embarrassment. “Did you have fun?”

“Yes,” Autumn answered as flatly as her butterfly-filled chest could muster. “...did I fuck up?”

Solanum’s jovial attitude immediately dropped. “No, what?” She just looked perplexed then, looking over her human as she leaned in closer. “Are you okay, dear? Is something wrong?”

Autumn groaned as she sat up, still hesitant to look her affini in the eye. “Well, I, I did just fuck Dawn even though we’re like, going out? Kind of? And we didn’t talk about if that’s okay so like I’m worried about hurting your feelings-”

“OH!” Solanum blinked wide awake in surprise, her eyes shifting to a vibrant blue tone littered with light green dots. “Autumn, no, it- oh this one of those cultural barriers Exima tried to warn me about, isn’t it?” Solanum slid out of her seat and plucked Autumn from hers, moving the furniture so the two could sit back down facing each other, human’s knees bumping against plant ones from their closeness. She then tilted Autumn’s chin to look her in the eyes, speaking calmly as she continued. “Autumn, look at me. Affini have a very different standard conception of relationship dynamics than you humans do. I don’t mind if you go out and date someone, get carnal with someone, stars knows I’m not that interested in the bumping and grinding aspects of human relations, as long as you remember…”

Solanum suddenly gripped Autumn’s face tightly, pulling her in so close she could feel the warmth playing off of the affini’s simulated breath.

“You *belong* to me.”

Autumn was very glad to have been sitting already as she felt she might have melted entirely otherwise. Solanum's voice had curled with that deeply satisfying, domineering lily that she so rarely employed.
"Remember, Autumn, you are my *pet*. And what good natured affini wouldn't want to let their pet play around with another? It’s adorable to see, and with Dawn of all people? I could never complain.” Solanum’s confident veneer broke with a small chuckle, then a giggle fit as she leaned back into her seat. “How’s that for flirting, dear?”

Autumn babbled a series of incoherent noises and flopped over face-first into Solanum’s lap.

“That good, huh?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Autumn mumbled.

“Wonderful, I’m actually learning then. Take a minute to collect yourself, we do have important business to discuss.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Autumn mumbled quietly a second time. It took her about five minutes to still her racing heart, then another ten of Solanum petting the back of her head idly before she was willing to sit up again.

“Good girl.” Solanum praised, and Autumn immediately landed face-first back into her lap for another five minutes. Once she sat up again, Autumn saw that Solanum had taken that time to organize the seemingly endless mass of paperwork, now holding a thick stack of it in her hand with a pen to her side. “I’ll need you to sign off on a few things, dear.”

Autumn took the fat stack of forms into her lap and idly thumbed through it. Release forms for her medical care, various sheets about medications and implant blah blah, something about citizenship papers with the Terran Protectorate, and then the back 2/3rds of it all relating to her being assigned to Solanum’s care as her floret. Autumn quietly took the pen and looked up to her affini, “Could you help walk me through this?”

“Of course, love.” Solanum smoothed the papers back down for her. “First and foremost is the matters of your medical care under the Affini Compact since your capture. This covers all of the treatments, events, and incidents that occured. I’ll need you to sign off here,” Solanum gestured next to a lengthy paragraph that detailed her time in Solanum’s care aboard the station. She put her initials on the requisite line. “Then here,” Solanum moved to the next page and gestured to the end of another, even lengthier paragraph that summarized the events surrounding her getting stabbed. A knot formed in her gut as her eyes glanced over the words. They were so... clinical in contrast to the heated emotions of her memories. Whatever, she didn’t have time to dwell all day. Autumn, again, signed it. “And here.” Solanum gestured to a third paragraph that covered her care aboard the Baiera. Done! This wasn’t too hard. “The next few pages will cover all of the medications given to you during that time, as well as times and dates for all medications given by your collar, the implants that were in your body previously, all noticed injuries, diseases, and treatments there of so on and so forth.

Autumn flipped to the next page, then the next, then the next, then the next. Wow this was rather exhaustive. Exact doses, dates, times, reasons, effects. Solanum had filled in each piece by hand, creating a disconcerting picture of their history together in rapid sequence. Specific notations on the injuries she had inflicted upon herself when she first woke up. Descriptions of every panic episode she had suffered with exact durations as given by the cuff’s read of her heart rate. 
Autumn was suddenly struck with the realization that she had been kind of a total wreck now that she was looking back at it. When she came to the end of her lengthy medical history she signed off next to a notice that said something to the effect of confirming she’d actually read all of that jazz. “Do you seriously keep this exacting level of paperwork for everyone?”

“Yes, but we don’t expect florets to handle this sort of thing. Consider it a last hurrah for your legal autonomy.” Solanum spoke as calmly as she ever did about matters that would have, frankly, bewildered Autumn senseless about a year ago. Now her heart fluttered into the wind at the thought of it. She signed off on the medical work. Done and done. Solanum slipped that selection out and set it aside. “Next is slightly more complicated. You weren’t available when the Terran Protectorate was installed as the replacement government in this area of space, so there was unfinished paperwork in regards to your citizenship carrying over.”

“That matters?”

“Not really, but the affini bureaucrats in charge hate leaving unfinished paperwork around.” Solanum said while making a ring gesture with her hand and subtly jerking it side to side. Real subtle, Solanum. She sifted through the paperwork, filled in the relevant bits, asked Solanum how in the milky way she was supposed to list her current address, then signed off at the end. “Great! Next is a form for forfeiting your citizenship with the Terran Protectorate in favor of joining the Affini Compact.”

Autumn threw up her hands in exacerbation. “This is just busywork! Don’t try to tell me that the compact actually NEEDS this.”

“They don’t, but again it’s needless busywork which makes the paper pushers giggle like flowers in a nursery greenhouse.”

“So they want me to finish filling out my citizenship with the terran government just to give it to the affini- wait, no, now that I’ve said it like that it makes sense, okay.” Autumn silently filled out the relevant pieces of paperwork and signed off on the form.

“Next is a form for affirming you’re willing to surrender your citizenship with the Affini Compact in favor of being taken in as my floret.”

“Of course it is.” Autumn sighed and signed off again.

“Next is a form that affirms that you are indeed very cute and beloved and deserve all the good things in the universe to be showered upon you.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, I’m serious, see?” Solanum gestured to the top of the page, where it stated in big bold letters ‘I, name undersigned, affirm that I am very cute and beloved and deserve all the good things in the universe to be showered upon me’. ...alright then. Autumn signed and Solanum gave her a vigorous series of pets all over her head. Autumn wanted to protest to the sudden onslaught of attention, but, well, she DID just sign that she was super cute and deserved it. “Next is all the fun floret paperwork.”

Autumn flipped through the first few pages and found that it was mostly a repetition of the one about forfeiting her citizenship for becoming Solanum’s floret which she signed off much the same as she did then. Next was a stack about her implanting surgery coming up. Time, date, method, genetic signature of the implant itself. Open surgery in four days. Autumn felt herself smile softly at the thought.

“Oh by the way, Sinapis mentioned I need to lower your dosage down to only medicines in class-A’s until after the surgery.” Solanum perked up at the sudden reminder, then sifted around inside of her chest to produce a thin metal tube with a copper tip. “I’m supposed to give you this to clear your system once you sign that.”

“What am I on right now?” Autumn asked. She’d gotten rather used to being a clumsy mess such that she didn’t truly notice it directly anymore. She looked through the forms quickly and, seeing nothing wrong, signed off on it.

Solanum spun the device and pressed it to the side of Autumn’s neck. “Significantly stronger materials than anything on the class-A list, trust me.” With a small jolt the device injected it’s payload into her system. Soon after Autumn felt a burst of prickling cold blossom out from the impact site. Whatever was in that thing hit her like a winter wind, knocking her out of the pleasant daze she had become so accustomed to entirely.

...oh! She had forgotten what it felt like to be sober, apparently. The usual passive want for Solanum’s touch had turned from a constant blaring siren in her mind into a passive homosexual blur, and her vision didn’t blur around the edges with phantasmal colors and shapes. Her touch felt… disturbingly normal, yet in so doing only made the heightened sensitivity of her skin even more jarring. She could think! And do math! ….well, okay, she wasn’t *that* great at the math part beforehand but she was properly abysmal at it while on xenodrugs.

Autumn took a few minutes to open and close her hands, then a few minutes more to curl and uncurl her fingers just to admire how deftly they actually listened to her mind again.

Solanum gave a polite simulated cough to catch her attention again. “If you start having any psychological problems again while on this little purge cycle, I recommend telling me immediately so I can help as best as I am able.”

Oh, right, she was filling out forms. Autumn looked down at the remainder of the work in her lap. A folder full of informational materials on xenodrugs. Classifications and what they mean, various chemicals that full under each classification, specific effects and interactions. She considered setting aside for later review but was distinctly aware she wouldn’t care enough to reread it, just as she was aware that she was willing to trust Solanum to take care of all that complicated chemical… stuff. She signed off on the informed consent sheet and set it aside. Next was a matter of property. She didn’t have any at this point, so it was just a blank form for her to sign. That… was a little depressing. Whatever, she signed it and moved on.

Solanum leaned in closer, fake elbows on fake knees and leafy face on thorned hands as she looked down at her human. “Huh, I’m surprised you can still focus that much.”

“Surprise,” Autumn said without looking up. A genuine surprise to herself, for sure. She didn’t *expect* to be able to focus like this again. Next was various papers that Solanum had already filled out for her about the fine details of the Human Domestication Treaty. Signed. Even more papers Solanum had filled out for her about her personal status as Solanum’s floret. Signed. A fancier looking version of the contract that Solanum and Autumn had worked through with all their personal addendums. Signed with initials on all the lines. “Question.” Autumn raised her hand, holding her pen hovering over the final spot.

“Answer.” Solanum replied.

“What should we do for titles?” Autumn asked. Now that she could actually think her brain spun to make idle connections over all the attached ideas. She’d heard others refer to their affini as mistress or master or any other sort of honorable title. Should she do the same? Solanum didn’t strike her as the overly formal type most of the time.

Solanum paused, then leaned back with her arms draped over the back of her chair. “That… is a good question.” She leaned her head back and stared at the ceiling, letting her thoughts stew about openly with a mix of purple and reds oscillating over green flesh. After a short time she leaned back forward, “Obvious I *am* still your owner, and thus your mistress as far as the paperwork is concerned, but honestly I don’t feel particularly compelled to use that title on most occasions?”

“How about when you’re ‘in character’ for scenes?”

“Definitely then.”

“And the rest of the time?”

“I’m honestly not sure what term would be a best fit, but I don’t think we need to be too formal with our selection.”


“Too casual.”


“Now, now, partner implies we’re equals.”


Solanum paused, eyes gone wide in surprise. 
Autumn took this opportunity to poke her affini’s simulated nose as she continued. “Plant wife!”

Solanum’s face flushed bright purple. “I’m only partially aware of the implications of such a term in your culture, but it does feel nice to hear.”

“I’m going to wife the plant.” Autumn said with a smile and returned to the paperwork. Signed, signed, signed, signed, signed, signed. She made her way through the bureaucratic nonsense with a simple ease, confident in Solanum’s previous work of organizing everything. When she got to the very last sheet of paper, a familiar form certifying her loss of autonomy to Solanum, she gave a confident spin of the pen before bringing it down to paper. But when it came close to the page Solanum suddenly snatched the form out from under her and stuffed it into her chest.

“W-w-wait,” Solanum had a hand raised defensively.

“Nervous again?” Autumn asked.

“All the time.”

“Afraid I’m still doing it just for your sake?”

“Of course.”

“Need some time to think it over?”

“M-maybe I should double check that all the paperwork is in order? I’d hate to have to do this twice, I mean, it’s a lot, and you just signed most of it, and-”

Autumn pocketed the pen and silently rose up from her seat to plant a soft kiss on Solanum’s forehead. “Of course, dear. Go ahead and look it over, but,” She pressed her forehead onto Solanum’s, tilting the affini’s gaze up to look her in the eyes. “Don’t make me wait too long, okay? I’ll pry that last form out of your chest tonight if I have to.”

Autumn’s collar gave a soft beeping noise. “You’re thirsty.” Solanum said.

“Yeah, of course, I’ve got a hot affini right in front of me.”

“No, I mean literally, your collar is saying you need water.”

Autumn blinked. “OH! Well, that too I guess. I’ll get you something to drink too.” Autumn slipped up to her feet and walked over to the fridge, plucking some water for herself before grabbing one of the pitchers full of red…. stuff for Solanum. “Hey, Sol, what's in all these drinks anyway?”

“Iron, protein supplements, a few things for an energy boost-”

Autumn placed the pitcher in front of Solanum with a heavy thud. “Sol, is this depression food?”

“...maybe.” Sol answered defensively.

“*Solanum*” Autumn leaned over to dominate the affini’s field of view, crawling right up into her personal space as invasively as she could.


“Aren’t you a carnivorous plant? Should you even be drinking this with your roots and stuff like the other affini do?”

Solanum puffed up in response. “I *can*! Well, okay, maybe it’d be better for my health if I were eating with my chest stomach and maybe I should technically be eating a more varied selection and-”

“That’s it, I’m going grocery shopping.” Autumn popped back to her feet. Solanum tried to rise up after her, but the human deftly kicked aside her chair such to stumble the affini instead. “You review the paperwork ‘till you’re satisfied, I’ll get Hesplex to lend me a hand with this.” Autumn proceeded to chug her drink before strolling right out the door on her own.

Autumn forgot that the door to Hesplex’s hab was keyed to her now removed implants, and such when she tried to walk through the door she instead walked directly into it and bumped her head awkwardly into the solid material. She then proceeded to stumble backwards, land flat on her ass, and rub her forehead in embarrassment until Hesperia slid out the door and crouched down before her.

“Autumn, dear, are you oka- wow are you glowing?” The affini spoke, gently taking Autumn’s wrist and moving it aside to inspect her little head bump.

Autumn flushed red and put her hands over her face. “Can we talk about that later?” She whined.

Hesperia gave her a little pat on the head, opposite of where she bumped it. “Fair, but are you okay? You just hit your head.”

“My pride is injured but I think my brain will live.” Her train of thought immediately derailed when she actually looked at the affini and realized how *tired* she looked. “Hesperia, are *you* okay!?”

Hesperia’s vines curled inward as she glanced behind her, then sent a vine to quietly close her front door. “I am tired, dear. Dawn apparently had an episode last night and… she’s always a little extra of a handful the day after.”

“Did I-”

Hesperia shushed the human with a wooden finger to the lips. “No, no no no, darling, you’ve been nothing but wonderful to our dear flower and I couldn’t possibly thank you enough for that. If anybody is to be blamed for this, it should be us.” Hesperia’s mouth curled at the edges, false fangs digging through false lips as she did. “Honestly, at times I wonder if she’d be better off having never met us in the first place.”

Autumn was struck by candid-ness of Hesperia’s attitude, but didn’t dwell on it compared to the immediate need to assuage her surprisingly readily bared fears. “Hesperia,” Autumn put her hands over the affini’s cheeks to demand her attention. “If you hadn’t found her she would have died in deep space scared and alone, remember?”

Hesperia was silent after that, letting her thoughts broil underneath the surface before she broke a soft smile and put her hands over Autumn’s. “Were I possessed of your view, little one.” Her voice trailed off into a quiet sigh, trailing off like the wistful train of thought that danced inside of her mind. “But enough about me,” Hesperia focused back forward. “What brings you to our door, dear?”

“Solanum is persisting off of nothing but depression food soup and I want to cook her a proper meal instead.”

Hesperia huffed. “Of course she is. Well, I’d love to help but I think we need to get the expert on these sorts of things.”

Autumn tilted her head curiously. “Who’d that be?”

“Pyrus!?” Autumn practically shouted as soon as she walked into the room. Pyrus had gotten himself halfway stuck halfway through the back of the refrigerator ‘trying to follow Qiru’ apparently, despite the fact that the gap between fridge and wall was far too small for either to move through and clearly didn’t go anywhere.

That thought was quickly proved wrong though, as a moment later Qiru popped out of the space behind a ceiling light and flipped down to the floor. “What’s up?” it said as it waltzed up behind Pyrus and grabbed his waist to help pull him out. With a great tug the affini popped out of the thin space and sent the two tumbling across the kitchen, Pyrus’ body disentangling itself out of it’s humanoid form to turn into a wide, soft bush to absorb Qiru’s tumble before reforming back into his usual self perched under the machine.

“Autumn, are you glowing?” Pyrus asked with a raised brow.

“She fh-fuhhh-” Qiru started to speak, but each time the word trailed apart with a shiver that crawled up it’s spine. It huffed quietly, then gave Pyrus a playful knock on the ribs. “Rolled around in the hay with someone.”

Pyrus gave a shocked gasp, but Autumn just turned bright red again and proceeded to bury her face inside Hesperia’s leaves. “Pyrus, Qiru, please, we’re here for a reason.” She whined.

“Let me guess,” Pyrus said casually as if he hadn’t just been caught making a fool of himself. “Solanum is doing something unhealthy and you want me to help with it?”

“...yes, actually.” Autumn replied.

Pyrus made a gesture onto Qiru’s shoulder, which the rat replied to with a soft nod before the affini picked it up in his arms and rose to a standing position still holding it. “Also you’re surprised to find out that I’m actually good for something and not just a useless but stunningly handsome and radically cool oaf in this cast of affini characters?”

“...also yes. How did you know that?”

“I’ve had this conversation with Solanum a while ago and I tried to help her then. But, well, you know what they say-” Pyrus said with a twirl of his simulated hand. Autumn most certainly did not know what they supposedly said but at this point she was rather excited to find out. “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it sink.” Autumn decided she liked that version more. “...though now that I think about it, why wouldn’t a horse sink? Are they naturally buoyant or something?”

“Pyrus, do you even know what a horse is?” Qiru asked.

“Of course I do!” Pyrus obviously lied. “They’re one of those things with the little bug wings that comes out of a cocoon.”

Qiru shook it’s head. “No.”

Autumn giggled. “Not even close.”

“Well do *you* know what a horse is?” Pyrus snapped back.

“I do.” Exima poked their head up from behind the couch, Feather peeking just over the top of their head in turn.

“I don’t, actually.” Autumn admitted.

“It’s a type of fish, of course. That’s why it doesn’t sink.” Exima continued, and the second the words left their mouth they took on an expression that betrayed a feeling of suddenly realizing that they were probably very wrong.

Pyrus clapped their hands to abruptly shift the topic and reassert focus. “Okay! Regardless of whatever a horse is we still have an affini that’s in dire need of some proper food. Exima, I’m borrowing Feather again.”

“In that case I’ll just tag along with.” Exima replied.

“Fair enough. Qiru, grab the bags.”

“Yes, Mistress.” Qiru said as it turned, then paused as it realized what it said. “Or, master? Uh, we didn’t-”

“I like the gender vibes with that, Mistress it is.” Pyrus stroked his chin with a mischievous grin. “But also Sir. Mistress slash Sir.” He nodded firmly.

“As you wish, Mistress.”

Autumn turned to Hesperia and quietly whispered, “I think this may be spiraling out of my initial scope already.”

Supposedly, atomically compiled food has no discernable difference from traditionally created meals. The science was still out purely on the grounds of strong public opinion insisting that homemade food was still better, especially when cooked by a person of strong emotional relation to the taster in question. Thus, despite technology having long surpassed the need for one, the Baiera still sported a completely-expectedly-large grocery… store? Apparently the fresh produce was on to-order via forms, which was probably the most affini thing Autumn could have possibly guessed. Similarly the meats selection was all from a lab that grew their samples, which was also required order forms to fill out in triplicate and- yeah fuck that, Autumn just let the affini have fun with their disturbingly common love affair of paperwork at this point.

Autumn stuck by Hesperia’s side, enjoying her tired silence compared to Pyrus’ hyper-energetic state as he plucked one thing into another, often only pausing to explain the importance of… whatever new protein terms he was slinging her way along the journey. Mercifully, Exima was taking notes. Less mercifully, her head was simply spinning way too fast to properly keep up beyond that and she soon gave up on making sense of it all.

“Did you have anything specific in mind for tonight?” Pyrus asked at one point, arms loaded with bags of rice, grain, and dried noodles.

Autumn shrugged. “I was thinking something with noodles in broth, perhaps pho? Since then Solanum can enjoy the broth the usual way but also has something for her to use her…” Autumn tapped her chest. “...mouth? Stomach? Thing?”

“Smart,” Pyrus snapped his fingers at that. He immediately looped back to talking about beta-carren-3 proteins or something else like that.

Hesperia gave a small chuckle at the sight of the energetic affini going off, then crouched down to whisper to Autumn. “Since the lot seems to have the ingredients handled, how about you and I sneak away and get some snacks?”

Autumn gasped, then covered her mouth as she leaned back. “Do you know what Dawn’s favorite is?”

The two glanced towards the crowd, then quietly snuck off into a side path giggling quietly all the while. Within the minute they were sneaking through the candy aisle searching for the peanut butter chocolate somethings that Dawn apparently loved more than her body was happy to let her. Hesperia tucked one box under her arm, but Autumn quickly grabbed two more ‘just in case Dawn wants any whenever she visits’.

“Aren’t you a kind soul?” Hesperia purred as she rubbed Autumn’s head.

“Hey, look who’s talking.” Autumn said back. “Where I’m from, the idea of someone in Dawn’s condition having two people doting on her like that would be considered a saintly level of sacrifice.”

“Hmm, I pity the place you came from then.” Hesperia answered flatly. She took the boxed snacks up in her vines, then lifted Autumn up onto her shoulders before standing to her full height. “Can you reach those green bags up there?”

“Hesperia, *you* could reach the bags up here.”

“But why deny myself the joy of your participation? Or the fun in having you ride my shoulders like an adorable little pet.” A series of vines crawled up Autumn’s back and held her comfortably in place as Hesperia held her legs. From her perch Autumn could practically peek over the aisles and see the seemingly endless rows of goods available, casting off into the distance before dipping up along the curve of the ring and sliding behind the inverse horizon of the structure.

Autumn’s hands rested through the dense foliage of Hesperia’s pseudo-hair, fingertips trailing along the inner knots of vinework before reaching her trailing antenna. As her fingers trailed along the slightly rough surface she looked around and realized that this position was, perhaps, a touch vulnerable as if she could look around all over then she could be seen all over and that meant that if someone had, say, a sniper rifle they could totally just pop her in the head right now and- hrm. Hrm!!!! Autumn chose not to think about that too much as that was certainly *not* a sign of bad things. Instead she just tried to enjoy her position atop Hesperia and tell herself that Nothing Was Wrong and that she most certainly wasn’t feeling slightly tense and nervous from being exposed in this position.

“Dear, you’re squeezing my antenna rather tightly.” Hesperia said

Autumn blinked and looked down, realizing she had gone white-knuckled around the two feathery pieces of Hesperia’s body. She let go with a small surprised jerk and moved her hands back to Hesperia’s hair. “Sorry!” She said. That was embarrassing. Did it hurt a lot? Did Hesperia hate her now??? Oh jellybellies what has she done.

“It’s okay dear, they’re just sensitive.”

Autumn gave one a little poke along it’s frilled feathery end. “Why do you have these, anyway?”

“How else am I supposed to smell things?”

Autumn blinked. “Are you smelling me right now?”

The two antennas suddenly dipped back and started rubbing all over Autumn’s face, sending her into a small giggle fit from the feathery sensation wiggling all over. “I am now!” Hesperia said with a smile. She continued to tease the poor human this way until Autumn was left flailing her arms before her in an attempt to stop the onslaught of light touches, breath reduced to heavy wheezing between moments of laughter. With a quiet sigh of relief Hesperia curled her antenna back forward, granting Autumn a moment’s reprieve. “Thank you for inviting me out, dear.” She hummed, “I think I needed this.”

Autumn leaned forward over Hesperia’s head, hands trailing down to lay over her shoulders. “Are things that rough at home?”

Hesperia hummed, body rumbling with the motion and sending reverberations up Autumn’s skin as she did. “Rough, no, but if I can be honest Ilex and I are always a bit… scared. For Dawn’s sake.” She paused her gait, finger trailing along the side of some packaging for snacks while her voice trailed off in thought. “When she first woke up after surgery she barely even recognized us, but she still clung to our hands so tightly and…” Her finger accidentally pierced through the box on some container of crackers, and she made another huffing noise as she picked it up and added it to the pile of goods in her vines. “Ever since then we’ve been afraid of her breaking again, every time she zones out I still get that nagging sensation that maybe this time she won’t come back.”

“...I’m sorry.” Autumn mumbled.

“It’s not your fault, dear.” Hesperia replied. “But your empathy is appreciated.”

When the whole party reconvened at the entrance of the grocer’s, Pyrus had apparently missed that Hesperia and Autumn were missing at all. He had continued rambling on at length about nutritional blah blah, all while Exima continued taking ever more notes. When he finally finished with a flourish, he turned towards Autumn, looked up to adjust to her current position atop Hesperia’s shoulders, and then asked “Did you get all that?”

“Yeap!” Autumn lied.

“I have a question!” A masculine voice asked from the side, and the lot looked over to discover Salix and Willow standing there as if they were part of the group the whole time. “Is this a party?” Salix asked, hand raised in the air.

Qiru, meanwhile, took one look at the boy, turned bright red, and proceeded to hide behind Feather in what was a futile attempt to hide the fact that the rat suddenly had a crush now.

“I suppose it is,” Autumn replied casually.

Hesperia slipped a tablet out of her chest. “I’ll warn Solanum that things have spiralled out of scope again.” She paused for a moment in thought, then added. “Also might as well invite Ilex and Dawn as well, if she’s feeling better.”

“Dinner party it is then, want to tag along?” Autumn asked the Rubra pair.

“Yes!” The two high fived excitedly.

Exima tilted their head to the side. “I feel like this keeps happening around you lot.”

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