Allison balked, "If this is a joke, it's not a very good one you know."
"It is not a joke," Dahlia stated, still holding the offensive item expectantly, "I can help you put it on if you wish."
Allison could feel her face flush crimson, "I- you can't- that's not- p-people don't exactly just wear collars, at least but ones like those and definitely not outside!"
"Maybe not in the Accord," Dahlia corrected, "But plenty of sophonts and almost all florets in the compact do."
Okay, plan b then, "I've been doing what you've asked, is it really necessary?" Allison said with a hint of betrayal.
Dahlia brushed a few vines through her hair, "Kitten, this isn't a punishment, it's just to help monitor and care for your mental and physical health."
Allison finched at the words, she wanted to monitor her every move! She couldn't fade into the shadows if Dahlia was watching her constantly! She trusted Dahlia but she needed the darkness! Her heart rate began to spike and her breathing got ragged. A vine brushed under her chin in a familiar manner- oh! That meant was time to look into Dahlia's eyes again! That was her favorite time!
"Feeling better dear?" Dahlia's voice snapped her out of a daze.
Allison blinked. "Better?" She felt fine, did she space out again? She was always a little spacey but it seemed to be fairly bad as of late. Maybe she should ask Dahlia about it, she was really helpful.
"Yes I'm afraid you might have been having a panic attack again " Dahlia explained, "I help you level your mood but could you walk me through what happened?"
Allison pressed her mind against the information, it sounded right but the memories had a dreamlike quality to them. Like she barely had them all. Oh that's right! Dahlia had asked her to wear the collar and- oh goodness she
couldn't should let Dahlia know- since she trusted her after all. "It's just, I have a thing about being monitored or watched." Allison spoke, still half in her dreamy state, "it makes me feel like they're just waiting for me to make a mistake or something so they can punish me or taunt me about it." She found herself smiling, getting it off her chest felt surprisingly pleasant.
Even more pleasing was the satisfied rumbling Dahlia made in response, "Good kitten, good girl." She repeated as she lavished Allison with attention, petting her head and scratching under her chin. She could feel herself melting into the vines when she felt the stroke that meant she was supposed to look into Dahlia's eyes. Finally! Her thoughts faded, chased away by the warm fog filling her head.
Allison blinked, Stars, was that the sun? Wasnt she just inside? She blinked hard, Trying to clear her vision until she felt something wrap around her and she was in relative darkness again. Oh, she was inside Dahlia's cloak!
"Apologies, It slipped my mind that you might be light sensitive. Is that Better, little one?" Allison nodded. "Okay I want to open my cloak slowly so you can get used to the brightness, let me know if you need me to stop." She nodded again.
Light crept in through a small gap, causing her to squint for a moment before her eyes adjusted. Then, slowly, the crack widened and grew. Allison forced herself to blink to help her vision adjust and eventually she was standing outside Dahlia's cloak again, in the afternoon sun. "Thanks Dahlia, I don't really remember the last time I was outside this early."
Dahlia smiled down at her, "Yes I suspected it was something like that. Come now kitten, we still have an appointment to make." Allison felt a light tug around her neck. Oh Dahlia had connected a vine to the
collar choker she forced her to wear gave her! That was concerning convenient! Strange, she couldn't remember the last time she wore a choker.
"Yes Dahlia!" Allison hurried to her and walked alongside her. Finally she could show Dahlia how good she was at walking, with all the patrolling she did it was practically her job after all. She'll have to take her serious as an independent after this! Taking appreciable steps she marched in cadence to the beat she could feel thrumming through her.
She looked around, taking in the sights. The old city was so dull during the daylight, before all the lights of nightlife came on. Now however, it seemed almost as alive as it had ever been, the greenery the Affini had been adding were rather pleasing the way danced in the light. There was even people in the street! Largely Affini making their way but she saw a few who also were with Terrans. Oh, they also had
collars and leashes chokers with an attached vine! It's so nice they all had someone looking after them! They all seemed a bit dopey and out of it though which was a bit strange.
A stay vine came up and booped Allison's nose, causing her to pause. Ah, They stopped walking. Allison looked to Dahlia to see she was talking to another Affini. They were talking in what she could only guess was their native tongue however, she couldn't understand a thing. A few vines ran through her hair in an unfamiliar way causing her to pull away, causing strain on her
leash vine that helped her from getting lost.The strange Affini had tried to pet her! "Please don't touch me like that, Dahlia is the only one who can touch me like that." She looked to her for assistance.
"Oh I'm sorry little one, your..." The stranger apologized before exchanging a few brief words in Affini with Dahlia, "'Friend' here and I were just discussing what a charming floret you make, I didn't mean to cause you distress." It's voice was lower than Dahlia's and lacked a feminine tone but Allison wouldn't place it as distinctly male either.
"Floret?" There's that term again, "What's a Floret?" She cocked her head in confusion.
The Affini blinked, it seemed like that answer was a bit of a surprise. "Ah, well, that's something you and Miss Tagetes should probably discuss. Soon." That last part didn't feel as though it was directed at Allison. "Regardless, I'm sure we'll meet again when we both have more time to chat, I know you two have somewhere to be so I'll get out of your vines for now." With that, the other Affini headed off, quickly disappearing.
Allison turned to her Affini, "What's a floret anyways? I keep hearing that term."
She sighed as she relaxed into Dahlia's familiar administrations, "That's a subject for after the vet I think, but the short of it is a Floret is a cute little sophont like you that let's an Affini take care of them and their well-being."
Huh, wait a minute, "Does that mean I'm your floret?" Allison asked.
Her satisfied rumble was practically a purr. "Not yet," Dahlia smirked, "But maybe soon. We can discuss that as well after. There is more to being a floret." Allison hoped there wasn't too much more, she had barely known Dahlia a day but she rather liked having her around now. She still wanted more privacy than Dahlia had been giving her, but Dahlia did know what was best for her after all.
"Right, so, uh, how much farther to the doctor's then?"
"Vet." Dahlia lightly corrected, "and it's just another 11 blocks, though if you wish I could carry you. We can move much faster at my pace."
Allison hesitated for a moment before speaking, "I'm really not into being picked up but I guess if it gets this done sooner-" she let out a small yelp as she swept off her feet and into Dahlia's vines. Her heart fluttered, "H-hey, warn a gal before you do that!"
"Of course kitten, I'll let you know when I'm picking you up from now on okay?" Dahlia wrapped vines around her legs, arms and torso, holding her in place. Allison gave her bonds a test, they were largely taught but with just a hint of give. "Feeling snug kitten?" She nodded. "Fantastic, now just bear with me for a moment."
A sudden burst of speed hit her. Goodness Dahlia could really move, she wondered why Dahlia even bothered entertaining her by walking if they just could get there in no time? The deceleration was gentle Allison didn't realize that they had stopped at first. "Are we there already?"
"Yes, did you want me to put you down?" Allison nodded and was gently positioned to step out of Dahlia's vines and onto the floor of the waiting room. There was no one else present except another Affini sitting at the desk.
Allison was mulling over how to get it's attention when Dahlia approached the counter and started conversing with it. Oh, guess she should just let Dahlia handle it. Dahlia was always looking out for her, She wished there was some way to repay her. What did Dahlia like anyways? That thought was interrupted by a jolt of pleasure from a vine tracing partway down her spine, "The Vet will be with us shortly kitten." Allison turned and shared a smile with Dahlia, she could figure something out later.
She didn't have to wait long, or maybe the time just flew by, but a third Affini emerged from a door near the desk. "Ah, Dahlia, it's good to see you again." It (he? The voice sounded masculine at least) was comprised more of leaves similar to an oak and it's wood had a gnarled but dignified appearance. The green leaves gave way to yellow and red in places giving the illusion of a long lab coat. Red and yellowed leaves on it's face formed an artful rendition of beard. Then jt suddenly turned it's attention to Allison and she stiffened up a bit, "Hello little one, I am Rubra Cycad, 24th bloom He/Him."
"Uh, Nice to meet ya Doc." She extended a hand in greeting.
Rubra took it between his two forefingers and thumb and shook it gently, "Charmed, but I'm vet, not a doctor." He chuckled.
Allison shrugged, "I mean neither are medics but we still call 'em that."
His chuckle turned into a few large belly laughs, wait was it still a belly laugh if they didn't have one? Whatever. "Ah yes, our mutual friend here mentioned you had a sense of humor."
Her heart fluttered again, Dahlia thought she was funny? "Uhm, anyways, I need a check up or something?"
"Yes, right this way." Rubra led Allison and Dahlia down a hallway and then another before ushering them into an empty examination room.
Two vines hooked themselves under her arms, "I need to put you on the examination table now kitten." Allison didn't give a response, Dahlia was informing her not asking after all. Once placed on the large cushioned slab she adjusted herself, sitting comfortably with her legs dangling off the edge.
"Now I'm going to have to put you under for the duration of the examination," Rubra began, "It's standard procedure and helps protect both of us."
Allison frowned, both of them huh? She doubted she could pose a threat to the Affini if she wanted to. "I mean, if you have to, I guess there's no helping it..."
A single vine held a lollipop for her, "Put this in your mouth and count backwards from 10, then we can get started."
Allison reached for, pausing just before she took it to look at Dahlia, who merely smiled. She didn't know if she could trust Rubra but she trusted Dahlia and Dahlia trusted Rubra so she should too. Placing it in her mouth she started "Ten... Nine... Ei-" she was out like a light.
"And that's it!" Rubra exclaimed, snapping Allison out of her mentally suspended state. "Dahlia should be proud, you were exceptionally well behaved."
Part of her tingled, she made Dahlia proud? "That's all though? Feels a little... Anticlimactic I guess."
Rubra hummed, "well I suppose from your perspective it seemed uneventful, but we did spend the last two hours getting all manner of things sorted." He motioned to Dahlia, "Miss Tagetes can fill you in on the details. In the meantime, no stressful activities for the rest of the day while you recover."
Geeze, she was out for two hours? It barely felt like two seconds. "Recover? I feel fine."
Rubra let out a few deep laughs, "yes I'm sure you do right now, but once the Xenodrugs wear off the fatigue will set in. You should let Miss Tagetes here assist with your needs today. Now if you excuse me, I need to prepare a room for another Affini's-" he paused briefly, "ward."
Dahlia exchanged a few brief words with him in Affini before he departed, leaving Allison and Dahlia alone. "So, uh," Allison broke the temporary silence, "Everything's looking fine?"
Allison hummed in delight as Dahlia ran her hand through her hair. "Nothing you have to worry about kitten." That was
strange good, that meant she was witholding her own information Dahlia had it handled like always. "I'm going to pick you up now."
She was lifted into Dahlia's arms and sighed, relaxing into the warm, soft vines surrounding her. "Are we heading back?" She asked, gazing up at her Affini.
"Yes kitten, and then you and I can finally have our conversation." That sounded wonderful. Just like everything else Dahlia said.
Dahlia didn't hurry home, she strolled leisurely. Allison suspected she wanted to prolong the experience for
her own both of their sake. She'd rather stand on her own still of course but she had to admit that this was starting to grow on her. Whatever drugs had been lending her some extra pep had worn off by the time they arrived back at the hab they were sharing. She was sore in muscles she forgot she had. "Can you set me on the couch? I'm feeling nine kinds of worn now."
Dahlia brushed a vine across her cheek, "Of course dear, let's get you comfortable." She was positioned on the couch and sank into it. Did the Affini make everything this cushy? "Now, how did you want to do this?"
Do this? Do what? The confusion on her face must have been clear because Dahlia started to giggle. Stars she had a wonderful laugh. "Our conversation kitten, the one we've been meaning to have?"
Right! That! How could it have slipped her mind? "Uhh there's a lot to cover isn't there?" She ran through the list of questions that had been growing unkempt I'm the last 24 hours.
Dahlia seemed to consider something for a moment, "How about I ask you question, and then once you answer, you may ask me a question? Quid pro quo?"
Allison nodded, "Sounds good."
"Let's start with something easy," Dahlia beamed, "What kind of snacks do you prefer?"
Her snack preference? Didn't she already know that from the algorithm? "Uhhh I prefer salty stuff I suppose, like pretzels or popcorn, but I love gummy and chocolate candies as well." Dahlia seemed satisfied with that answer, that meant it was her turn to ask. Hmm, Dahlia gave her a softball to start so maybe she should return the favor, "What kind of music do you like?"
Dahlia seemed to be surprised by that, good to know she was still able to catch her off guard, "I appreciate many styles and from all sorts of cultures within the compact. The closest human styles to compare then too would be Classical and Electronica I think. What kinds of music do you listen to kitten?"
Oh, she hadn't expected her to ask that back! Allison could feel the swarm of words building in her until she could no longer contain them, "Well I listen to all sorts of stuff but my bread and butter has to be in realm of gothic rock and metal. I just can't get over how beautifully haunting so much of it is, love as a horror story, love as a murder/suicide, the possessiveness, the obsession. The violence. The vocals. How the genre is often about not just accepting but embracing the inner filth. The misery and hatred it it all." Allison took a ragged breath, trying to steady herself, "The light without any darkness is just a void, but its in darkness that a light shines the brightest you know." Suddenly feeling self conscious she quickly added, "I don't know if that makes any sense, sorry."
This was a new reaction, Dahlia seemed tense and Allison could see the vines that comprised her coiling, "l-I see..."
Allison felt a pang in her chest, "D-did I say something wrong?"
Dahlia immediately released the bulk tension she was carrying, "No, kitten, stars no." She comforted, soothing Allison with a few strokes, "it's just- well, I had you figured for a bit of a seed but I didn't realize- that's besides the point." A predacious smile crept across her face, "So, you think love is possessive?"
Huh, that wasn't the follow up she expected. Normally people just called her out of her mind. Allison shrugged, "I mean, It doesn't have to be, but there's at least a degree of it in even open relationships I think. Something about making someone yours because you are theirs makes my heart race I suppose." Allison could hear Dahlia's vines coil tight again. It was her turn to ask a question right? "Oh, what's a Floret anyways?" There was a loud snap.
"Ah dirt," Dahlia winced, her chest shifted around for a moment until a section where a split vine revealed itself. "I suppose this is the cost of hosting a cutie like you." She sighed.
"Oh God Dahlia!" Allison jumped to her feet, briefly struggling for balance on the couch. "I-I'm sorry, does it hurt? Are you okay?"
A vine booped her on the nose, "No cheating little one, you already asked your question." Dahlia winked, "I am fine, however. Observe." Dahlia's chest opened and a split vine was worked to the front. She cut each side to make them even before holding them together for a few seconds. Upon letting go, the vine looked just like all the rest, it was impossible to tell that it had been broken.
"Woah." Allison mouthed.
Dahlia wrapped herself around her, continuing the inhuman display. Allison now sat within her legs, which were folded around her. "Now, you asked about Florets, but if you wished to change your question for this round I'd understand." A small vine teased a lock of Allison's hair.
Allison laughed, "I was just worried about you, you drama queen."
Dahlia joined in on the laughter, "Oh, you really are too cute." She playfully poked at her nose again. "Now, you wanted to know about Florets, yes?"
Dahlia was asking. Allison nodded.
There was a low, contemplative rumble. "How to explain it..." There was a long, pregnant pause before Dahlia spoke again. "A floret is an individual who entrusts an Affini with their care, happiness and shaping their growth. Sometimes a person is a danger to themselves or others and needs an Affini to look after them. Often, however, cuties like you find a nice Affini and give themselves over." Like her? "In return the Affini receives the love and adoration of their pet." Pet? "They no longer have any legal rights, and are the property of their Affini." Wait, huh?!
Allison laughed weakly, suddenly aware of her position. Dahlia was no longer sitting with her. She had her encircled. "Th-that's not a very good joke you know."
"It is no joke." Dahlia stated flatly, before continuing in her regular, melodic cadence. "The other Terrans you saw today were the pets of those Affini. Each of them is seen to and loved in all the ways cute little sophonts like you deserve."
What the fuck? What the fuck? What the fuck? She heard a beep. Her
collar choker... No... Not a choker? Her hand went to her neck. Collar. Another beep.
"Kitten, you need to breathe, can you take a nice slow breath for me please?"
She forced air into her lungs, taking a few staggered breaths. "D-don't call me k-kitten!" She started choking again. No no no no no Dahlia was worried she was gonna be made into a pet they'd say she wasn't fit to be alone and- she felt a small prick in the back of neck, followed by all tension and thought leaving her body. And and and.... What was she so worked up about again?
"Oh dirt, I was worried this might happen." Allison started to feel a little guilty for upsetting Dahlia before the warm fuzzy feeling enveloping her consumed that too. Dahlia moved her head to come eye to eye. "This isn't your fault kitten, nod if you understand."
Allison felt a weird pang at the word kitten that was swallowed quickly by the fuzz. She must have nodded because Dahlia sighed and smiled again. Her smile was really pretty, like the rest of her. Goodness Dahlia really was the best.