Gay little stories about big gay plants

I Touched Oblivion

by Fluxom

Tags: #cw:gore #cw:noncon #dom:internalized_imperialism #drugs #Human_Domestication_Guide #scifi #sub:capitalism #anthology

here i took the writer's tendency to bring up class Os at least once in a story and said fuck it I'll write a whole story around that

also, it's kind of my favorite piece that I've written I think???? I keep thinking about these beans and wanting to hug them

CW:
Full blown identity death
Recovery from said identity death
An instinctive need to obey the big plant lady
Lots of mental anguish over having one's identity wiped away and subverted through the use of chemical bliss and attempting to live with that
this CW is subjective but I giggle a little whenever I eat honey now so like watch out I guess????

The last thing the patient could remember was a horizon lit aflame. A curtain of light raked across the surface of the world, kicking up a dust storm harsh enough to flay flesh from bone and burning the air hot enough to cook lungs with a breath. The patient’s memory was scarred by jagged stones shooting across their flesh and dying screams filling their ears. It shocked them to hear again, so clearly against the raging storm of fire that had already consumed the rest of their mind.

Like the charred frame of a building everything else they had known had already been consumed by the heat, leaving them alone inside of their own skull with the last dying memory but without the knowledge of why or when or *how*. It hurt to remember, but with a sense of desperation they couldn’t even recall the source of the patient clung to it tightly regardless. A voice pierced through the smoke, pulling them up and out of the fugue back to the waking world. Hands held them by the shoulders and squeezed their body tight against warmth. 
 
Want poured back in over the patient from a thin sliver of light. Wait, they begged. But fingers slid along the side of their face, slicing the smog apart into more beams of burning light in their mind. Wait, they whimpered. They couldn't hold on against it. They didn't have the strength anymore. 
 
Voices spoke in a language they'd long since lost to the fire. Faces unfamiliar to them moved past their vision, chased by blobs of colors that flowed and danced without rhythm. Scents played across their senses luring them further and further away from the desperate grasp they held over the dwindling ashes. More loving touches that pulled on their heart. They were slipping. Powerless against the tide. The hand returned, and this time it’s grasp brought a wind which scattered the flaming scaffolds of their mind entirely, sending the wreckage tumbling down around them and blowing it away in the breeze with hardly any effort. The patient would have screamed, had they the mental wherewithal left to understand what was happening.

With a single breath everything that was left was gone, replaced with the golden light of wanting hunger that now consumed them. They didn’t even understand enough to know it was happening at that point, even as the light dug deeper into their veins and clung tightly to all of their nerves. It was all fading. Everything faded under the warmth of that light.

Just want. More and more want just kept pouring on in. Their hands tightened against the plant-like form they were held tightly against, sending a fresh wave of sensations curling up their hands from the contact. It was *delightful*. They smiled, fingers trailing along the wood and vines. Nothing else mattered to them in that moment but base sensate indulgence. Their voice begged wordlessly for more, which the shape next to them replied with more grasping tendrils along their body. The pleasure they felt from the touch was like a tsunami over their nerves, bathing them in delight incomparable. But still their body wanted more.

On instinct their hand rose up to touch the face of whoever it was that held them. Past waves of rainbow shimmers she seemed surprised? Shocked? The patient couldn’t even parse the expression right but the worry of why was fading as fast as arrived. She smiled down at them, and held their hand in hers. A new wave of light poured in from her touch, and the patient was more than excited to let it consume them. The time they spent in that haze could have been a minute or a million years for all they knew after that, as any given three second interval simply blended off into oblivion behind them. Each moment was as if they had always been in that state, and would similarly always be that way in the future. Floating on bliss, content in the safe warmth, and everything else had simply been completely forgotten.

---

The patient was laying on their side on the grass, fingers trailing along the even surface of synth-flooring beneath it and reveling in the sensation of the grass blades slipping over their finger. Their nail caught on the texture of the ground, eliciting a small wince that cut through the pleasured fog of their mind. Their eyes suddenly focused on the end of their finger, trying to peer past the cobalt blobs of color to notice the length of the nail. It was… longer than they expected? That didn’t seem right.

Well, the expectation of a nail size to begin with didn’t strike the patient as right. Everything else was a meaningless blur of one moment into the next so why would they have an expectation or- or.. or....? The patient blinked. What were they just focusing on? The patient rolled over onto their back and admired the blue sky, glass tiles, and purple splotches far above them. The warmth of sunlight poured over their skin and mingled with the chill breeze of an artificially regulated airflow. They smiled as the sensation sent more of that loving light straight into their spinal cord.

They remained there until a woman’s voice pulled them out of the fugue. Roots and vines wrapped around their hands and pulled them up to a seated position, another vine wrapping around their chin to pull their vision to their guest. The patient shivered in delight at the woman’s touch as it stirred even greater joy than idle nature ever could. But when they looked up at her they saw her expression seemed concerned? That was different.

The patient paused again. How did they know that was different? They didn’t even remember who she was but- oh she was talking! About… something. They didn’t understand her words, honestly. She just sounded so nice to listen to. They wanted to nuzzle up to her side and feel more of her voice reverberating into their flesh. Every time they blinked it was like a new surprise again. She was here again! And she was talking and close and touching them and it was so nice and comfy and sweet. Over and over and over until they felt a pinch at their neck and the whole cycle fumbled apart into darkness.

---

The patient bolted upright. They hadn’t forgotten anything for what felt like a few minutes now, and that was weird. They didn’t even know how they knew it was weird, but they knew with an absolute certainty that it was. Maybe, probably.

They closed their hands into fists, drawing fingers through the sand as they did. The tactile sensation of grains over skin drew on the edges of their consciousness, luring them back down into the soft glow of oblivion they’d just jolted out of but something still nagged at their senses besides that. With darting eyes the patient looked around for answers, seeing only water, sand, and things that looked similar to them but not quite lounging around all over the place. Other things that looked more like the woman they could barely remember were present too, either mingling with the former or lurking around the edges and watching over the lot. Every time one of them moved phantom silhouettes of brilliant colors shimmered in the air before blotting apart into nothing across their vision.

The patient tried to parse meaning out of the view, but the longer they stared the more they felt gravity bear down on the edge of their consciousness. More and more until the whole thing tipped to the side and everything spilled out, their body falling over backwards into the sand. No, no, no, nooo not again they didn’t... didn’t…

The patient bolted upright. Something had happened but they weren’t entirely sure what. They looked above to see the sky was painted oranges and purples, and didn’t quite understand how much time that meant had passed. They tried to rub the color splotches out of their eyes and looked up again, this time seeing the sky as an even blanket of dark blues dotted by lights. They blinked again and they were strewn out on their back, rays of sunlight filtering through the leaves of the foliage above. Someone was talking to them again, and they turned their head to the noise. Oh!! She was back!!

The lady spoke to them like she always did, and similarly like always the patient didn't understand a lick of it. But they loved to hear her voice again, and every time she was near she'd shower them with more of that touch they craved so much!! As she knelt down beside the patient she put one of her four hands over her chest and said a word, and the patient immediately attempted to mirror the gesture. Clumsily, of course, as their muscles would only ever vaguely listen to them unless they wanted to indulge in tactile delights. But it was an attempt!
 
The woman froze in shock at that, then after a moment repeated the gesture. The patient then repeated the gesture back at her, which was apparently the right idea as she broke into an excited gasp and descended on the patient to ruffle their hair and pet their face. They just smiled and let her, letting the warmth of her touch spill over their mind and scatter everything to winds as they begged for more and more.
 
Eventually everything settled down enough that the patient could even see again, and they saw that they were once more strewn over the lady's lap. She was smiling at them!! Smiling was good! Probably? The patient didn't know and didn't care enough to think about it any deeper. What had they done a moment ago to get all this nice touch again? After a moment's thought they brought their hand to their chest and mirrored the gesture once more, clumsy motion sliding against the lady's frame as their clumsy voice tripped over the noises. This got another excited gasp from the woman, who promptly scooped up the patient into her arms and she rose. 
 
More words the patient didn't understand slipped from her lips as she set off with them. Soon she was making more noises with others like her, all looking over their body and poking them again. This was perhaps too much, they thought. Instinctively they receded from the excess attention, curling back towards the lady as they did. This just elicited another series of noises they didn't understand, followed by a pinch on their leg and a hand rubbing their back until they slipped under.
 
---
 
The patient awoke with the sort of comfortable sloth unique to people who have never known stress in their life. In the patient's case, this was because their memory mostly consisted of a vague blur of base physical sensations and an overpowering want for even more base physical sensations, but no stress was no stress. They yawned, stretched their arms, and then were briefly surprised to find themselves covered in soft sheets and surrounded by stuffed animals before rolling over and holding some instead of thinking about that. Their hands traced a lazy circle about the cloth of the stuffed animal, sending delightful jolts of light up through their fingers that interacted with the sleepy daze they still lingered on.

So entranced were they in enjoying the physical comforts that they didn’t even notice the plants wrapped around their arms until one tightened and pulled them up to the side. The woman’s voice poured over their mind again, and all at once they leapt out of the sleepy daze towards the voice. She was back! Again! The patient happily scurried up and out of the bed to scamper over towards the woman, who just as happily picked them up and out of the bed at their approach. She showered the patient in ever more loving attention, sending them crashing apart on a wave of excess dopamine all over again.
 
By the time they finally came back down to the real world they’d already been relocated to a different room. One with clear tiles revealing a wide span of sky and woods as far as the eye could see. They were basking in a ray of warm light that cascaded over their skin, body draped across a hammock next to that woman. She was saying something, but they still couldn’t parse a lick of it. Her voice was calm and reassuring though, so the patient hung on every word regardless. As she spoke she took the patient’s left arm and slipped the sleeve of their shirt over their elbow, revealing a flower plugged into their forearm wrapped in thin netting.
 
The woman slipped a needle out from between the wooden plates of her palm and pressed it into the bulb of the flower, sending a clear blue liquid coursing through the plant and into their arm. WIth curious eyes the patient looked over the whole process, unflinching even as the woman snapped off the needle before producing a second one to repeat it, then a third, each time pouring a different color into their skin. In their eyes the colors blossomed out from the flower, becoming disattached blobs of scintillating hues that rippled over their world. Always the weird color blobs.

A wave of cold air coursed through their body, followed by a prickling sensation through their skin. They blinked awake, eyesight scattering the mess of color into a series of smaller shapes that slowly slithered away around the edges. The woman was just looking over them quietly, watching as the patient’s eyes slowly began to focus back forward before swivelling around to lock onto her.

The woman put one of her hands on her chest and said a word again. The patient blinked. What was that? They tried mirroring the gesture, putting a closed hand to their chest with index finger extended and repeating her noise back to her. The woman shook her head and moved the patient’s hand to rest on her chest instead before repeating it. Wh… what? The patient tried to mull this over in their head but all they got was that awkward slippery feeling inside of their skull all over again.

The woman tightened her grip on their wrist and repeated the word with a firmer tone to her voice, repeating it again a moment later as the patient struggled to understand. What was she getting at exactly…? They didn’t like having to exert themselves to understand like this, that was *hard* when simply sublimating back into the sea of light was so much *easier*. But she kept pushing the matter until… until… OH! “Sutera,” The patient said as they pushed against her chest. Sutera. That was her name! She had a name! And now she was smiling and petting their head again they must have done a really good job figuring that out!!

Sutera put her finger onto the patient’s chest and looked at them hopefully. What did she want, exactly? Oh, wait, name, name, uhhh… name...if she had one then they should have one and they…. Hrm. The patient frowned. Nothing came to mind but burnt ashes. This was too hard to think about. She seemed to read their expression and went right back to cuddling and petting them more instead, letting the patient slip away from such difficult thoughts once more.

---
 
It took weeks before the patient was clear headed enough to walk around their new home unassisted. During that time they’d come to learn that the slow dawning of continuity in their mind was a wholly new situation for them, as with each day they became just a bit more able to float about the endless sea of want that still broiled in their mind. Their mind still felt the burning embers of loss at each turn though, always reminding them that something was still missing, still *wrong*, still threatening to catch up to their heels and burn them to nothing all over again.

During that time Sutera had been hard at work trying to get the patient back up to date on how to communicate again. They’d relearned how to listen to the words, but their tongue still tripped and stumbled where their thoughts tried to slip out. It was frustrating, but Sutera’s patience seemed to be endless in letting them try to overcome it. Slowly, with effort, they’d learn to tame their tongue again. Hopefully. Maybe.

As they lingered through the winding paths of their home their fingers trailed across the paint, drawing delight from the small shifts of texture as they went. Sutera was probably close by in case they tripped over anything, she always was. They’d found as soon as they were able to actually understand her words that their body craved to obey her, and it was only by her explicit permission that they were able to wander around the home like this. If she spoke, they would drop to their knees and crawl back to her faster than their brain could have possibly processed. Yet, despite having such power she preferred to hang back and simply watch the patient unobtrusively throughout most of the day.

The patient stopped and looked over their shoulder, seeing the familiar form of the woman lingering at the far edge of the hallway. After a moment of silent staring she tilted her head to speak, sending a cascade of rainbow lights in the shape of her silhouette spilling down from the edges of her shape as she did. “Is something wrong, dear?”

...maybe? They couldn’t pin down quite why something felt wrong yet. They chewed their lip silently, then shook their head. “Not know,” they answered quietly.

“Would you like me to hold your hand?” Sutera asked, and the patient nodded this time. Their body always craved her touch, so the odds of them ever *not* wanting to hold her hand was less than zero to be honest. She silently slid up next to them and slipped her fingers between theirs. That was all it took to send them shivering over another wave of light coursing up their arm, their body slumping against her form for a moment as their mind raced to catch up against the chemical delight their brain happily drowned them in.

By the time they opened their eyes again they had fallen to their knees, breath gasping for air and hands shaking violently.

“Perhaps later then,” Sutera spoke softly. The patient nodded once more and stumbled back up to the feet, returning to their gait through the house. They were trying to… find something, they thought. Though they couldn’t quite remember at this point what it was. Just the vague sensation of loss inside of them that they wanted to fill.

Last time they’d gone searching the patient had found a hallway of tall windows and laid down in a sunbeam for “just a minute”, promptly forgetting everything else in the warmth until Sutera scooped them up after nightfall.The second time they’d wandered into an elaborate ball room and slid their bare feet over the smooth flooring in idle interest of the sensation until they’d slipped, been rescued by Sutera’s vines, and held close against her for the rest of the day. This time they walked until they wandered into a corner room of the vast building, coming to a place full of dusty white cloths draped over vast shapes.

They turned towards Sutera, who was currently leaning against a windowsill and watching idly, and gestured towards the room. “Safe?” They asked.

“Nothing can hurt you while I’m here, dear.” She replied. Reassured they walked right in and started to poke around. The feeling of dust parting under their touch was a new one, and they indulged in it with a ready curiosity. Old wardrobes, grand chairs, faded curtains, they peeked at everything they possibly could to feed that blooming interest. At covered pieces they only needed to gesture and Sutera would slip by to throw aside the cloth covering it, revealing relatively well kept goods hidden beneath. Over and over again until they stepped before a tall piece that Sutera revealed and froze.

It was a mirror. In the reflection they saw a person staring back at them with wide golden eyes, body framed by a flowing yellow shirt over slim black pants. A flower was pinned to one arm, wrapped in nets while a vine traced around their wrist on the other side to trail back off the edge of the metal window. Circles of orange light flickered around their frame as they moved, mirroring the same phantoms of color that drifted through the patient’s own vision.

The patient blinked in numb surprise. That person looked… familiar? But wrong, somehow. They looked down at themselves to the other person, then back again before it clicked that they were looking at their own reflection. Oh! Right! Reflections were a thing that existed. Evidently. But why was this one *wrong* then? The more they stared at it the more unsettling the vision became, like the burnt phantom of a silhouette was trying to superposition over the view in their mind but could only manifest talons of distaste. They looked and looked and looked and the knot in their stomach only became larger and larger until they were right up against the glass, hands desperately clinging to the smooth surface while bright amber tears rolled down from their eyes.

“What’s wrong, dear?” Sutera murmured as she slinked up next to them.

How were they supposed to know!? They couldn’t even identify what was hurting in the first place much less find the words. What was the point of even learning how to speak all these things if they couldn’t- couldn’t fUCKING use them right!? They collapsed to their knees in front of their reflection, tears like thick honey trailing down their cheeks. “Don’t know,” They said between choked breaths.

Sutera crouched down to wrap an arm around their shoulders, chasing the turmoil within them with her familiar light. “Shh,” She whispered softly. “It’ll be okay. Do you think you can try, little one? Try to piece together the words and see if anything comes out?”

Their body screamed to obey. “I don’t-” They said faster than they could consciously register. “Don’t know. Boat. Shore?” The words were all jumbled up. Thoughts tried to trail to their mouth but skipped over a burnt husk and fell off a cliff entirely instead. “Horizon. Light. Fire.” Just random thoughts. A brain firing off jargon left and right desperately to try to fulfill conflicting needs to *obey* when it can’t even understand and just wanted everything to stop instead. What was the point if they were just going to be like this? Why even bother? They should have just stayed in that blissful oblivion in that fUCKING zoo where they didn’t even know how to be FUCKING hurt by their own damage or know that anything was FUCKING wrong for FUCKS SAKE SHIT FUCK DAMN DIRT LEAVES FLOWERS DIRT FUCK

The patient hadn’t even realized they were screaming until the sweet taste of their own tears hit their tongue. That was *wrong*. “Honey,” They said. “Golden honey.” they cried. “Wrong. All wrong, all wrong, all wrong.” Dimly they were aware of Sutera taking their left arm and bringing their palm up, slipping another needle into the flower implanted into them. They continued to weep until the drug stole alertness from them once more.

---

The patient woke up and immediately decided they hated it. They rolled over, hugged their favorite stuffed animal close, and decided to let themselves sink back under the tides of light that they oh so desperately wanted to wash away their problems instead. That was easy to do at least. Every functioning pathway in their brain seemed hardwired to want it anyway. Just rub their hands over some texture and let it take over again. With a gentle side they felt themselves sink into it, and before they knew it the light of the day had arced across the room.

“Dear,” Sutera’s voice spoke from the end of the bed. “I made you some breakfast, come let’s face the day.”

The patient's body curled in want at her words, but their brain recoiled. “No,” They answered.

Sutera paused from surprise. “...No?”

“Heard me.” They answered again. To their surprise Sutera seemed to light up once she properly realized what they said, running off out of the room and talking rapidly to herself, trailing green silhouettes that mirrored her movements all the while. She soon returned with a device in hand, gently pulling the patient’s arm aside to wave it over the flower before fiddling with it some more, then tapping something into the side of her head before she continued talking.

“Maclura- yes, I know, you’re busy, this is important,” She spoke excitedly as she worked, one hand resting against the patient’s forehead while the other continued on the device. “It’s about that terran I found, they just *disobeyed* me!” They paused a moment as a second voice emanated from their earpiece, indecipherable to the patient. “Yes! I know! I’m double checking now but everything looks good so i don’t think it’s a fluke- yes, okay, I’ll call you back.”

The patient peeked cautiously over the edge of the stuffed animal at her. What was that all abou- oh! The whole train of thought promptly derailed off the bridge as the woman collapsed around them, holding them tight and purring happily all the while. Well this wasn’t so bad, they thought.

---

The next day Sutera led the patient into a room with a variety of unfamiliar goods. “Take a look around, feel free to play with anything that catches your interest,” She said from her perch by the door. The patient, not one to remember the concept of choice paralysis, just nodded along before grabbing the first thing that was in arm’s reach. Some kind of plastic box made of other smaller boxes, all painted different colors. They fiddled with it a bit, found the tactical *click* it made as they moved the cubes around to be satisfying enough, but the colors kept moving around beyond their boundaries so they put it back.

Next was a stack of books that they didn’t know the language to. Pass. A series of plastic models of ships? Pretty, but pass. A variety of clothes, none of this rung a bell. Metal bits and shapes, boring. Pictures? Unfamiliar. The patient glanced over to Sutera in confusion, but she just gestured for them to continue. More soft things. Those felt nice so the patient put them aside for later, then immediately forgot about them. More boxes, more things, more bits and trinkets and doodads and whatsits and- ooh, paint.

The patient stopped next to a canvas set up with some brushes and paints. In their vision they saw the drips of paint slither off the palette and crawl over the vision like squirming bugs. They grabbed the brush and ran it dry over the canvas, expecting the colors to be soaked up in it’s bristles so it can be put back on the palette. When that didn’t work, they just muttered “Rude.” and tried it a second time. The third time they dropped the brush into the paint, chasing after the blob to pin it under a coat of… whatever this material was. Hah! For their effort, the patient now had one blob of color locked down in place. But that still left the other dozen. 
 
The patient frowned and made more strokes on the canvas, chasing down each phantom in their vision to try to corral it into place. They struck again and again, dipping the brush into more paints and mixing the colors into nothing as they went, until the thing became so caked in excess material that the patient dropped it entirely in frustration. Yet despite how many they’d pinned down, more of the color still squirmed around in their vision. They dipped their fingers into the paint, taking a more manual approach to the problem. The whole world faded around into focus as they kept at it, running down one color after another to try to catch them. Over and over and over and over and then they yawned and slumped forward, splattering the paint all over and around as they went down.

Shook from their focus, the patient only then realized that the light of the day had already begun to dip into shadows once more. ...when had that happened?

“Had fun, dear?” Sutera asked as she slipped from her perch to slither over to them. The patient just shrugged in response, which elicited a small giggle on her part. “Fair enough, come along you’ve made a mess of yourself.”

---

The patient slumped against the side of the bathtub. Despite their best effort, the rogue splashes of color still dominated their vision, now paired with the usual haze the bath soaps lured them into and the constant fugue of light that the woman’s touch spilled into their brain. What a pointless struggle that had all been. As they lay the woman who was always there slipped in behind them, arms wrapping around their torso to pull them into her lap.

“Aren’t you the cutest little thing?” She asked, one hand trailing over their side to squeeze their cheek. The patient just hummed quietly in response, leaning into her touch as they did with a muted sort of want.

“See colors?” They asked. Sutera just seemed confused by that, and when she didn’t answer they lifted a hand to trace after a blur in their vision. Their fingers slid around the phantom thing, never touching it but making the hallucination bob and squirm through their fingers. “See colors. Right here. Green.” They mumbled, then moved to bat aside a floating blob of turquoise. “And over there. Everywhere.”

Sutera’s reply was a muted rumble, but the emotions got through to them well enough. That was weird. Wrong. They weren’t supposed to be seeing these sort of things then. That lingered on their mind even as Sutera puppeted their body to clean them. The feelings were still pleasant, the light still glaring, the *want* still consuming, but through it all the one thread of doubt remained strong. They weren’t supposed to be like this.

“...was I bad?” The patient asked, their voice barely more than a whisper.

“You?” Sutera seemed surprised to even suggest the idea. “Dear, my hope that you’d recognize anything today was a long shot to begin with. No, you’ve done nothing bad.” The patient just frowned silently. Somehow, hearing that didn’t help at all. But she brought her fingers through their hair, massaging their scalp with one set of hands while scrubbing their body with another set. The patient’s thoughts cracked apart at the seams, that *slippery* feeling coming back once more.

Fuck it, they mused to themselves. They let their mind tip over and spill out all over again, sinking into the radiant warmth of the bath that surrounded them.

---

In the days? weeks? months? that followed the patient was given more and more painting tools to learn with. Under Sutera’s guidance they slowly learned bits and pieces of the craft, body obediently following her lessons while their brain spun futilely for more active comprehension. Slowly, day by day, piece by piece, their hand had steadied into the craft. What once started as senseless blurs of color slowly transitioned into more delicately mishmashed sprays of tonal viscera.

Truth be told, despite their body taking in the lessons their mind never truly caught onto a sense of purpose in it. They were still tracing patterns after phantoms in their eyes, reveling in the base sensation of their brush sliding across the canvas and sending tiny reverberations through their hand as they did. Over and over and over again, canvas after canvas, until the whole room they’d been given was littered with dried paintings of nothing.

A tug on the vine wrapped around their wrist lured the patient out of their painting daze, pulling them attention back towards the entrance of the room. There Sutera was now standing with a scintillating silhouette that slowly settled into a person, someone who looked similar to her in how their body was wreathed in flowers and leaves. “Dear,” Sutera started. “This is Maclura, he’s here to see how you’re doing today. Please come here.”

The patient dropped the brush without thinking at her request and stepped over to her, coming to rest next to her form. The man she was with put a hand to their head and tilted it to the side, and like ever they readily obeyed him. But his touch felt more… clinical than Sutera’s. “Have you given them a name?” Maclura asked her.

“No.” Sutera answered confidently. “I’ve also avoided anything that could incite false memories, just in case.” He just made a rattling noise inside of his chest in response. Sutera then turned to kneel down beside them, a hand on their head as she spoke, “Dear, can you please show us your paintings?”

Obedience, as always, ran through their body faster than thought. They nodded, then scampered over to start moving all the canvases around. They, perhaps, should have known to be wary of wet paints or not staining their dress and smock even more than they had, but frankly the patient didn’t even consider the possibility until after they finished moving everything and tried to wipe clean their hands on an already paint smeared apron. They huffed in frustration, trying again regardless until Sutera took their hands and led them aside to clean them off. This was easier, they thought. Sutera always seemed to know how to handle difficult things.

When they returned with fresh dress, apron, and hands they saw Maclura standing in the center of the room, the painting forming a vast swath of shimmering blues around them that seemed to eclipse the room beyond them entirely. “You,” Maclura pointed a finger at them. “Come here.” As always, they obeyed, dashing over to stand by his side. He put a hand on their head and turned it to face the mass of paint. “What do you see in these?” He asked.

See in them? The patient furrowed their brows. They didn’t see anything when they made it, just the process of chasing after dots in their vision and seeking tactile comfort. “I, I don’t understand.” They answered honestly. It was important to answer honestly as best they could.

“Just look then, look at it all and tell me if something comes to you.” He said. O… kay then. The patient nodded and looked over the paintings. Placed like this they seemed to make a unified panorama, shades of blue being the most common color overall highlighted by bursts of gold light. The paint formed jagged bursts of shapes and writhing shades receding under light. It practically *squirmed* in their vision, then actually did as the colors seemed to leap to lift with phantom splays of rainbow light. In an instant the blue became horrifyingly clear in what it was.

Fire.

A curtain of blue flames that erupted from the canvas and consumed every other color that could be there. Blanketing the very horizon and coursing across the land and wrapping itself around their body, reading them in an instant of subatomic flames that wouldn’t even leave a skeleton. The golden bursts of light seeped out like liquid over the flames, replacing their burnt mass with it’s tranquil warmth. They could almost see a silhouette painted into the center of the light, a dark thing flailing desperately as they drowned again and again and again and again and again and-

The patient bolted upright. They were back in their room, Sutera holding their hand tightly. Maclura was perched on the other side, one hand on their forehead and a hand holding a light over their eyes. “Sit still, please.” He spoke, and the patient obeyed. They were gently pushed back down, light held still as the man inspected them closely. “Can you describe to me what happened?”

The patient flapped their mouth numbly. They just… they… “Fire…? I saw colors squirming.” It was important that they answer honestly. “I was scared.”

Maclura just gave another rattling noise from inside his chest at that and flicked the light off to put it away. “Sutera, I’m going to be honest with you here, I don’t think best outcomes go higher than having this one become a floret after this.”

Sutera bristled up in response to that. “But-”

“I’m not cancelling your little project,” Maclura clarified. “But that is my expert opinion on the matter. If you’re not looking to keep them yourself then I’d recommend finding someone who will instead soon.” He rose up from his position, giving them a parting ruffle in the hair that scattered specks of gold over their vision and elicited a soft whimper before departing the room. Sutera ran after him shortly after, voice hitching with fast words they couldn’t follow that trailed off as the two walked together out of the room.

Left alone the patient was stuck with their least favorite activity, thinking, and their actual favorite activity, holding something incredibly soft. They tried to wrap themselves around one of the many plush animals Sutera had given them, and then tried not to remain mentally stuck over what just happened. Sutera seemed sad? Or perhaps upset. They weren’t quite sure. They couldn’t avoid feeling like it was their fault somehow, like if they’d made some alternative choice at an unknown time they could have been seeing her smiling and cheering instead. But they didn’t even know what it was that was wrong, much less had the ability to properly comprehend what they *could* have done differently in what little of their own life they consciously knew.

A sudden heavy thud and splintering of wood shook the patient out of their thoughts, sending them up to the seated position as they attempted to look around. Curiosity took hold soon after and they crept out of their bed to peek around the corner and saw Sutera hunched over, a fist held through a nearby wall and curse words slipping through their mouth. She winced as she pulled back her hand, picking through the wreckage of her own making before turning and freezing at the sight of the patient.

“Dear!” They attempted to sound calm. “I’m sorry if I shocked you, I just, I, well I let my emotions rule me for a moment there. Sorry.” She plucked the splinters of wood from between her knuckles as she approached, coming to kneel down beside the patient once more. “Are you okay? Are you scared?” The patient shook their head softly. “Good, very good, I-”

“Was I a bad person?” The patient asked abruptly.

Sutera flincheed. “No!” She nearly shouted, then a series of ripples echoed across her form as she forced herself to calm down. “No. No, you’ve done nothing wrong, and you’ve been healing wonderfully and I’m very proud of you. I promise.”

The patient chewed their lip. That didn’t do anything to settle the growing wave of discontent in their heart. Something just didn’t click right, even then. Some ball of burnt worry deep inside they couldn’t even begin to handle without it crumbling into ever finer ashes.

“Dear, look at me,” Sutera spoke, her voice now more firm as she said the words. Her hands pulled the patient’s gaze back up to her, fingers trailing to elicit another series of lights that jolted them out of their own head and back to the woman in front of them once more. “You’re safe here, nothing bad is going to happen to you while I’m around, I promise.”

The patient nodded numbly, still not truly understanding even as she collapsed around them into a tight embrace.

---

Ever since Maclura’s visit the patient had been haunted by the idea of actually seeing something in the paintings. They’d turned most of the canvases away, banishing the blue fire entirely once more before taking to the paint with a fervid need to see *something* depicted that wouldn’t burn them to witness. They’d painted leaves that fell on the window, the colorful vases that lined the halls, flowers that they’d see on their daily walks with Sutera outside, anything they could get their hands on. But each one was still stained by the phantom lights that always haunted their sight.

Horizons would be mixed with green and purple lines. Flowers would be followed by silhouettes of themselves dancing around the edges. Leaves would break apart into bright yellows across the canvas. Each and every time the patient wouldn’t realize they’d been lost in fantasy  visions until after they had finished and stepped back to see a rainbow that was wholly detached from the reality before them.

But it wasn’t like they had much else they knew to do with their time, so they tried at it again and again and again. Until they scaled up from objects to trying to paint their own reflection, then throwing that painting out halfway through at the sight of their own golden eyes reflected in the paint back at them. Instead they then tried to paint Sutera. Her leaves and flowers made a beautiful arrangement to depict on the canvas, creating a natural burst of color that complimented her jagged white and black birch wood plating over dark vines. They truly lost themselves in painting her portrait, creating dizzyingly small strokes to capture all the layers of flower petals before chasing a line of yellow across the canvas with one of their broader brushes.

The patient froze, only then realizing that the color they’d chased in their fugue had already moved on to flow behind Sutera and shimmer into nothing after it had become immortalized in a flat streak across her eyes on the canvas. They did it again. The patient’s grip tightened on the brush, tension forming in their chest the longer they stared at their mistake. They did it AGAIN. Every fUCKING TIME. How were they supposed to be able to paint anything right if they kept getting lost on tricks of their own vision and making those instead it shouldn’t be this fucking hard to even look at things.

The patient threw the brush at the canvas before stumbling back towards one of the open seats and collapsing into it, arms wrapped tightly into their side as they let their head hang back and gasp deeply for air. It shouldn’t be this hard to do anything. Something was wrong and they couldn’t even figure it out themselves. Why were they like this? Why did their eyes always deceive them like that?

“Dear,” Sutera had moved at some point to kneel down beside them, one hand on their forehead in her attempt to comfort the patient. They hadn’t even realized that their breaths had turned into hitched sobs, or that tears of golden honey were flowing down their cheeks all over again. “What’s wrong?”

Their brain wanted to spit out everything at once and tip over into oblivion once more. Their body moved to obey again. Their consciousness squirmed in confusion. Their mouth bent to draw in a deep breath, hands gripping their sides to steady themselves. “Was… was I a bad person before this?” They asked. The question that’d been buried underneath ash. All of this existence had to be a punishment if it was so wrong. The spacing out, the colors, the constant failure to so much as exist within their own body. They were brought up from oblivion just enough for it to hurt again and it *burned* to know that they could have just been left in peaceful silence forever instead.

“No, no and I’ll say it as many times as I’ve told you before that you’ve done nothing wrong-”

The patient sat upright with a sudden motion. “Before this!” They pressed. “Before this house and this vision and you and, and, and all of this!” Discomfort bloomed along the back of their mind at having been so rude as to interrupt her, but it was being beaten down by the immediate distress more.

Sutera winced, leaves and flowers curling awkwardly as they mulled over their words. “...little one, I’ll try to explain all I know. Just… just take some deep breaths for me first? I promise I’ll talk right after.”

They nodded, holding themselves tight and pausing before forcing themselves to take a deep breath. Hold. Release. Repeat until it came naturally and their muscles loosened in response. Let the calm ripple through their body from there. Sutera followed them through the motions, a guiding hand that kept them on task until they finally relaxed into her touch, breath even once more.

Sutera wrapped her arms around them tightly, holding them in a warm embrace before she continued. “Thank you, dear. I mean it.” Her voice rumbled softly through her chest, giving another wave of warmth over the patient’s body as she continued. “As for your past, I, well- I should probably start at the beginning…”

---

Sutera Carotis didn’t know what she did to get stuck scouring remote terran posts but if she did she’d happily write a *lengthy* letter of apology rather than keep at it. The team she was on had visited one station after another, and with alarming consistency found them all to be woefully under maintained, undersupplied, and by and large a dangerous environment that had only survived off pure financial desperation on its participants. Every time the team would come in, take a look around, be horrified in some new exciting way, and then firmly recommend everyone relocate as soon as possible before having to hear half of the people there whine that those ‘weeds’ are just ‘trying to ruin their livelihood’.

She didn’t expect this stop to be any different, and if she had expected any difference she didn’t think it’d be in the form of a mystery patient strewn out on perpetual seizures. Standing in the cramped medical hallways of the decaying facility she saw the human form strapped into the bed, various lines and pumps attached to their body in a desperate attempt to keep them alive while their brain tried it’s best to go the opposite way. When she asked for records a shaking nurse handed her a form that described various medications, a few medical interventions when their heart had stopped, and a note that the person had been dropped on their doorstep a few months ago.

“...you must be kidding.” She said, causing the nurse to eep and hide behind a nearby desk. “Not even a name?”

“No, ma’am.” The nurse answered.

Sutera huffed in discontent. Messy paperwork, of course. Typical terran problem. She pocketed the file and walked back to the affini ship, punching in the relevant info into the vessel’s intranet and contrasting against the rest of the records they had offloaded from the human government’s files.

No match.

...that… was a problem. Sutera tapped a wooden finger against her desk nervously, flitting through the files given to her once more. A regular Jeanne Doe, nothing existed before the moment they were picked up by the medical facility and the rest was just attempts to figure out who they were from the limited information they could extract from their body. Height, blood type, dentals, estimated age, weight dropped rapidly after arrival before stabilizing at unhealthily low levels, near constant seizures, attempts to regulate, notation of some scars on their skull and theories of why. Sutera grunted. This was no good.

She grabbed a comm piece and dialed into one of her friends in records. “Hey, Daucus, work call, what do we do if we find a terran who has no history on file?”

The synthesized voice on the other side crackled with mild electric static before slipping into speech. “Just ask the person in question? This isn’t that unusual, the terrans have had a terrible history with keeping track of these things.”

“The person in question isn’t capable of answering right now.”

“Reluctant or incapable?”

“Incapable, they’re…” Sutera flipped through the papers. “Unresponsive, incapable of active thought for longer than periods of five seconds before having a seizure.”

Silence slithered through the other side of the comms piece for a long moment before Daucus’ words returned. “I’d recommend moving them to one of our medical wards then, I can start the process of forming a new file on hand but it’ll be awkward to do without anything previous to make of them.”

“So what, I just grab them?”

“Contact the legal team if you’re unsure, but that’s my personal recommendation. If you don’t they’ll probably just slip through the cracks again once we’re not looking. Is that all?”

“That’s all for now.”

Daucus sighed heavily through the mic. “Always for now with this job. I’ll contact you once I have everything in order.” The voice then cut out into the empty call tone. Sutera slumped forward into their desk, groaning unhappily as she did. Just great, now she had responsibility left on her lap.

---

Sutera stepped into the patient’s room to examine them personally. The body was withered from disuse, barely alive on these machines, and in all just overly frustrating to even look at in this state. The examination was simple but felt pointless, she might as well just write “this ones dirt” on a blank sheet of paper and submit that, but as her fingers brushed over the side of their face the thing stirred at her touch and leaned into her. This seemed to shock the nurse on hand as she made another nervous noise before ducking behind a chair.

“Is that unusual?” Sutera asked.

“Y-yes, ma’am.” The nurse answered. “They haven’t responded to anyone else’s touch before.”

“Have they only been handled by human doctors?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Sutera frowned. She didn’t like the idea that was starting to wiggle around inside of her mind. With a delicate touch she tilted the patient’s head and pulled up one of their eyelids, revealing a golden eye hidden underneath. The eye slowly began to focus forward as she looked in at it, until it tilted back down and looked at her. The patient stirred, eyes opening on their own to look at her for a moment, voice coming across as a hoarse whisper before everything spiked, froze, and then fell limp against the bed. Their eyes were wide open now, golden tears forming at the edges before their body began to shake violently within the constraints. Sod it.

Sutera grabbed the patient by the jaw and gripped one of their other hands around their neck, mentally running through the list of their medications before slipping a needle out into the side and pumping an emergency dose to calm them down. Within the minute their body relaxed into the bed, brain scans indicating a lapse in the electrical storm that had attempted to ravage them. Only after everything calmed down did she remove her hands once more.

Sutera didn’t like the look of those tears one bit. She’d read about a case that seemed similar once a few years ago, when she had to study up on terran physiology to even be allowed to serve around here. She slid one finger across the patient’s cheek and pressed the golden liquid to her tongue, feeling an uncomfortably familiar burst of sugar and light coursing into her system from such a small amount.

“Roots,” She cursed. Of all the stars blasted problems it had to be core world honey.

---

Sutera decided that the patient in question must have been an offload from one of the terran government’s many secret experiments. It’d explain why they were dropped off without warning, why all the records were lost, and far more importantly was preferable to other, much darker alternatives for what could have happened to this person. She simply didn’t want to think of any other reason someone would be given *the* class O drug in such a level that it’d hijack their body’s systems to this degree just to be ditched.

A medical team of affini in white suits all raced through the station to pry the patient out of the mechanical array they were stuck in, perform an emergency op to stick a bunch *more* planttech pieces into their body, and then shift it to a gurney before racing out of the station and into an affini medical wing. The humans just seemed relieved for them to be gone, and frankly Sutera was relieved to not have to spend another minute in that dismal room either.

As the lucky individual who had tripped over the whole thing, that made this problem hers to keep watch over as it developed. In the viewing room to a *proper* medical examination they saw the machines spiraling lazily around the patient’s forms, one of her eyes locked onto the screen to see that her estimation was, unfortunately, correct. Core world honey was all over the poor thing’s system, and had already subverted several functions in favor of self replication. However they ended up like this, it couldn't have been an accident. Stars she was willing to bet they could drill into a bone and see gold marrow leak out at this point. Dirt, roots, leaves.

It was too late to try to undo the damage the honey had done on it’s own, and their body was wholly unprepared to be trapped in this state without- aw dirt. Sutera flicked the comms line into the room open. “That’s enough for today,” She said. “Prepare the subject for class O on-ramping immediately.” It’d solve the seizure problems at least. The poor thing didn’t deserve this though.

She silently slipped from her spot and out into the hallway, slumping against the far wall once she reached it with a discontent groan. What a dirt sodden mess.

Her hand slipped over to the comms once more and dialed in to her old connivent. After a moment a familiar ringtone echoed out of the comms piece, followed by an even more familiar voice. “Maclura Carota speaking. How can I help?”

“I’m bringing you another patient,” Sutera answered brusquely.

---

Despite having arisen from the same flower garden as Sutera, Maclura had achieved a much better track record of renown in his life than she had. As such, while she was stuck surveying middle-of-nowhere stations he had the much more respected duty of running a shelter for high-regiment human patients.

It was basically a human zoo, really. Just one full of people who were so blissed out at all times that they’d find the texture of grass the most fascinating thing in their life. Standing a whole head taller than her and with a dozen actually well trained medical professionals on hand, Maclura met her at the docks with open arms. “Sutera!” He practically shouted. “It’s so good to see you and- oh, wow, you weren’t kidding this is a bad case.” He stopped at the sight of the patient, frozen by the sight of the familiar golden tears trailing down their face. “You made the right call bringing them up to class O properly, at least.”

“I want to try to bring them back down afterwards.” As Sutera spoke the rest of the medical staff crowded around the poor individual. “Will that be possible?”

Maclura winced at that suggestion. “People who end up on the class O list are usually there for a good reason.”

“They’re a victim here, Maclura. I don’t know why but they were blasted out on raw honey, not given a proper prescription like the rest of your patients.”

“...I still can’t properly recommend it, given how rarely the recovery process works out.”

Sutera folded into herself awkwardly, casting a sad glance towards Maclura as she did. “Even this once?”

As expected, Maclura caved to her puppy dog eyes immediately. “I- fine, fine, I’ll let you try but! Don’t get your hopes on salvaging anything out of this.”

---

The patient’s body took to the class O preliminary medications like a horse to water. With a ravenous sort of hunger they absorbed the chemical instructions and their body bent accordingly, brain patterns shifting into new forms to better flood their senses in a perpetual state of raw euphoria. By the end of the third day their seizures had ceased, by the fourth they even opened their eyes again. Sutera leapt to their side the moment they stirred, grabbing their hand desperately. Finally! A chance for answers, she had hoped.

The patient looked around frantically, confusion painted clearly on their face. Sweat beaded over their skin, followed soon by rising tension in their hands. “Hey, hey hey hey it’s okay, you’re safe.” Sutera tried to cut off any panic before it happened, but the patient just looked even more confused. Right, dirt, what was that terran language again? C’mon Sutera you didn’t sleep through THAT much class uhhhh… sod it. “Translator?” She turned to one of the other affini, one of whom slid over to the other wise, hands up and eyes locked on the patient’s.

The translator spoke hurriedly, but that didn’t seem to get anything across to them in the process. Dirt. Maybe the language center was already damaged? Within a minute the patient’s eyes rolled back up and they slipped out of consciousness again. Sutera flopped face-first into the bed. Dirt. Dirt, dirt, dirt.

Her next chance took another three days before the patient was responsive again. This time they even sat up properly. Their eyes still held a faint glimmer of light inside of them, and Sutera wanted to hoot and holler all over for that. She even brushed up on her terran for this! “I’m Sutera,” She said with a hand to her chest. The patient flinched and covered their ears. Aw sod it, probably hypersensitive. She dimmed the lights for their sake, and stepped back before speaking again quietly. “I’m Sutera, you’re safe, can you tell me your name?”

The patient looked around silently, hands still on the sides of their head. When they finally opened their mouth to speak it was only in the form of a guttural noise of worry. On instinct she rushed over to their side, hands wrapping around their torso to embrace the scared thing. The small contact was enough to elicit a wave of shudders over their body with a gentle moan as they leaned in against her. Right. Touch would do that now. She dared a peek down to their face and saw the patient was now completely lost in a daze of pleasant sensations from the contact. She huffed, but continued to pet them anyway until they fell asleep again.

The next day the patient lay silently in place until the nurses came in to administer the next dose. Their eyes darted after phantom things Sutera couldn’t see, but from the adjacent room she poured over all of the notes she had gained from a proper medical exam. Their eyes weren’t damaged, so it’d have to be a brain issue. And in that regard… it was as much art as science for this unusual case. The status of their occipital lobe was already warped by the honey, and in addition the drastically inflated serotonin levels could cause any number of hallucinations without the other preparatory effects the on-ramping was supposed to supply. Then there was the scar tissue. In their BRAIN of all places!?

Sutera groaned in discontent and tapped their forehead against the desk. This was infuriating. Why couldn’t whoever had done this at least left a note??

“Sutera,” An unfamiliar voice had the affini whipping her head to the side. The patient had been let out? Well, their handlers were right there so it wasn’t that much of a surprise but- oh, wait, they were looking right at her oh stars.

“Yes, dear?” She tried, and failed, to act calm and professional about this. Well hopefully they couldn’t actually read affini body language and see that she was incredibly confused and concerned right now.

The patient put their hand on their jaw, shivering briefly at the touch before they continued to speak. “Ssssutera.” They said again, experimenting with how the word felt on their tongue. “Sutera?”

“That’s correct, dear. Can you tell me your name?” Oh stars please work.

The patient mulled it over. She could see the lights flickering in their eyes as the gears turned. Please just give her anything they can possibly dig on. Anything at all.

After a long, silent moment the patient shook their head side to side. “Sorry.” They whispered. Roots. “Everythings… so bright.” Their voice trailed into a small whine. The handlers swept in, hands on their shoulders, and once more the patient slipped away in a pleasured haze.

The next week they were allowed to linger into the main area, where the land had been carefully cultivated to mirror the geography of one of the terran worlds. Rich green grass coated the floor, with strong trees reaching up towards the glass sky. A lake marked the center, framed by a beach that the other patients loved to play around on. Yet despite that, the patient mostly chose to linger around the edges of the place, shyly avoiding contact with other humans all the while.

Sutera visited every day that she could, searching out the stray human in her own little game of hide and seek each time. Going by one of their handlers would have been easier, but honestly she kind of enjoyed the moment of apprehension while she searched just for the chance to hope that maybe this time there’d be a fleeting moment of lucidity. That hadn’t happened yet though. The most she would find was the patient idly trailing fingers over bark and seeing a flickering light of awareness in their eyes as they did.

The hardest part though was watching that light dim every time she saw them. It matched the increasing gap between when they’d see her and remember her name again, each time the distance growing larger and larger until, eventually, they just looked right past her with silence on their lips. Sutera didn’t understand why she felt hurt by that. But despite their blankness she still felt the need to wrap them up in her arms and hold them close when she visited.

“They’re starting the actual O medication suite tomorrow,” Maclura spoke to her after she left the main habitat.

Sutera didn’t understand why that hurt to hear either. She just kept walking directly into the far wall and collapsed into a corner.

“I know, it hurts to see it happen.” Maclura’s voice remained calm as he walked over and sat down next to her. “I’ve seen it happen dozens of times by now, and it never gets easier.”

“Do they even remember me?” She asked, hoping for at least SOME consolation in this state.

“I’m not going to mince words with you, by now the odds of that are incredibly low. But they’re not hurting now, if that helps.”

Sutera just remained bundled up in a ball of plant matter. “...it doesn’t help, honestly.”

---

The next day Sutera clung to the patient tighter than she could bear. Since their injection in the morning they’d been practically insensate, clinging desperately to any affini and whimpering with endless want. By then the drugs were already raging within their system, turning any minor sensation into an overpowering storm of perpetual delight that their body had already been prepared to want to an infinite degree. In her arms she could see every twitch and whine up close, practically *feel* the begging that broiled under the surface weeping through their touch. Yet despite that they still saw that faint flicker of light in the back of their eyes.

“Ma’am,” The affini sitting across from her spoke quietly. Sutera hadn’t even paid attention to their name when they walked in. Someone something some bloom whatever here with the information reports. She just wanted this part to disappoint her already so it’d be over with. “We’ve finished scouring for-”

“Just tell me if you found anything or not.” Sutera grunted. She didn’t have much patience for this anymore.

“...No, ma’am.” Great, of course, still nothing. That was it, then. Dental records, genetic tracing, missing persons reports, all the eyes they could muster peering over all the possible terran records and it was all dead ends.

Sutera made a primal sort of rumbling noise that even had the visiting affini flinch back this time, but the human in her grasp just sighed in contentment and leaned deeper into her grasp. “Thank you for the report,” She muttered. “Leave us, please.” The affini did not waste time in uncoiling herself into a serpentine form and disappearing under the brush. Sutera remained still there, clutching the human tightly, afraid that any movement would make her actually realize the weight of all of this void on her shoulders.

The only answers left were locked away inside of this thing’s head. The very same spot that was currently being ravaged senseless by a chemical onslaught no human mind could stand up against. Stars it didn’t even recognize her anymore, how was she supposed to hope that there’d be anything left after- the human’s hand pressed against the side of her face, jolting her out of her train of thought.

She looked down in surprised, seeing the patient looking straight at them, golden tears dripping from their eyes once more and *smiling* of all things. She gripped their hand in hers. “It’ll be okay, dear.” She spoke to herself more than them. “I know it’s overwhelming right now but we’re going to guide you back down as soon as we can. I’ll be right there to help piece you back together, promise.” Please have anything left to piece together after this. She didn’t want Maclura to be right.

The human flinched at her touch, eyes dilating rapidly as their breath turned into a sharp inhale, followed by shivers of delight and a gentle moan for more. The light in their eyes flickered, fractured, then broke apart right before her eyes. Consumed by the medicated haze like everything else.

It’ll be okay, she told herself. They’ll come back down as soon as she could let them. She told herself that again and again as days became weeks became months became a whole terran year and a half of visiting the poor thing every stars blasted day, administering O-curatives to the strictly regulated schedule, each time hoping some miracle would occur in which the patient just snaps up to shout “Sutera! I’m back! I have all the answers!” And stars please let the answers be some terran experiment she couldn’t bear to hear the alternatives.

---

The patient leaned forward into their knees. “You don’t know,” They said flatly.

“I was hoping answers would come up while you healed,” Sutera sighed. “I’m sorry, dear. And, I know this a long shot, but I need to ask,” She gripped their hand, one hand tilting their face to look up into her four eyes. “Do you remember *anything*?”

The patient felt trapped in her gaze, as if the world was slowly seeping away the longer they stared into her. Colors bloomed around the woman, forming another scintillating splay of chromatic aberrations that stung to look at. They flinched, recoiling back into their seat with their hands over their face. “No,” They said. “No, I’m sorry, I can’t- I can’t.”

Sutera looked hurt, but didn’t let it stick to her for long. With another simulated breath she leaned back in, putting her hand back over the patient’s head. “That’s okay, I- you haven’t failed anything, I promise.” She spoke with a hurried tone, desperately chasing their mental spiral before it could get worse. “Dear, please, listen to me, deep breaths.” Deep breaths. She mimicked the motion of breathing in, and once more the patient’s body obediently followed. Deep breaths. Let the scents of Sutera’s many flowers flood into their system again.

Obedience was easier than worry, anyway. It was easier than the mystery or the pain or the fires or anything fucking else stuck smoldering inside their gods damned trash heap of a skull. When they opened their eyes again they saw the familiar sea of blue paint once more, crystal clear in their vision, overpowering every other color they could have painted instead. The swath of cold hues overpowered even Sutera’s form, framing her in a crushing wave as if the very painted wanted to consume her whole. It was all blue. Blue fire. Blue lights. Blue forms and blue bodies flailing against a wave of blue dust that flayed their skin off of their bones. A tidal wave that wiped the world clean of life, that drowned the people, the trees, the very mountains to leave nothing but a marble of perfect glass. They felt the paint pour over their skin like liquid fire, melting their body apart into more empty hues.

“I remember one thing,” they muttered as they slipped out from their seat and stepped forward towards their work canvas. A portrait of her, unfinished, framed by blue light with a bright yellow streak over her eyes, rested there. Paint tubes littered the floor, some abandoned half open without a care. Their fingers rested on an empty tube, curling around it before walking right back to Sutera. “It’s not who I was, but…” Their voice trailed off, confidence wavering with each step. At her side once more they put their open hand on their chest, the other thrusting out to present the empty paint tube.

Sutera blinked in surprise, slowly taking the empty paint tube from their hand to look it over. “...cobalt?”

Cobalt smiled, holding the gesture as they spoke. “It’s not who I was, but, it’s a start of who I am, I think? I’m Cobalt.”

Sutera gave a soft smile and sigh, body deflating to the side a touch before she rose back up to mirror the old gesture of greeting she had inadvertently taught them. “Hello, Cobalt.”

---

Cobalt’s brush danced over the canvas with a lackadaisical care that was wholly unique to someone who had never seen the price tag of a tube of paint. On the grassy hills outside their home, they learned to love to paint the sky with a casual air. The vast blue sphere above them was completely unlike the blue fire that lingered in their mind. It was rich with life, rolling clouds, it should shift into gentle oranges and purples, then flash bright green before simmering down into the darkness of night. But even in such dark hours it would reveal endless motes of light dancing behind it’s blue veil, all floating in the misty fog of the milky way that curled across the horizon.

They let themself get lost painting the gentle gradient of lights of the midday sky, then when they got bored of trying to work around the stray bits of color that snuck onto the canvas they simply started making things up  to go with it. Soon the mountain was highlighted by a phantasmal spaceship that erupted out of it, with rainbow spays of light scattering over the distant hills and clouds like a chromatic rain. They remained lost in the whimsy of the moment until a tug on their wrist pulled them aside from the canvas, luring them back to Sutera’s side once more.

“Cobalt, dear,” She said as she unfurled a wide picnic blanket and set a basket down in the middle. “I made us lunch, come, eat before you spend all day painting and fall over hungry again.”

“Yes, ma’am!” Cobalt replied, body as ever ready to obey. Truth be told they still hadn’t recovered any new memories, they still felt the pull of oblivion on the edges of their consciousness, but since the finality of realizing that there was nothing beyond their own skull to say who they were they found the ability to care about it simply slip away. They scampered over to practically collapse at Sutera’s side, wiping their hands off on their apron as they went, though that just seemed to smear the paint around even more.

“Here, silly.” Sutera said as she pulled Cobalt down to sit next to her, her vines deftly pushing their hands down to the sides as she plucked a sandwich out from the basket for them. “Open up, dear.” Cobalt followed her whims without question, letting her bundle them in close to her side as she manipulated their mouth to eat. The human, meanwhile, simply revelled in the abundance of light that flooded into their system from being touched so. No amount of recovery had quite managed to change how overwhelmingly pleasant being handled like that still felt, but Cobalt didn’t particularly mind that.

After the two were finished eating they simply remained together, basking in the light of day and each other’s warmth in equal measure. Cobalt let themselves relax against her body, sinking into the empty bliss their mind still so readily chased as the warmth from before mellowed out into a sleepy sort of daze. “Will you still be here when I’m healed?”

“Of course I will,” She replied with ease, her four hands wrapping around their torso tightly. They both knew a time when they were fully healed might never exist, but that uncertainty didn’t stop Cobalt from wanting to hope that tomorrow could be better. With a contented sigh they fully relaxed against her, letting the tranquil feelings pile on to lure them down into a comfortable sleep at her side.

“Goodnight, Sutera.” They yawned.

“Goodnight, Cobalt.”

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