The Roots That Clutch

The Heart of Light

by MourningStarsOfLakes

Tags: #dom:female #Human_Domestication_Guide #scifi #sub:nb #f/nb #mystery #nonbinary_character #slow_burn #transgender_characters

CW: Mild gender dysphoria, gentle force-femming-ish thing.

Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
The Burial of the Dead, The Wasteland, T. S. Eliot

A voice pierced the veil of darkness that Slide had been falling through for aeons.  Musical, pleasant, familiar; it split into two, recombined, then split again.  The words were unintelligible at first, a language they had only recently heard for the first time.  The two voices forked again into four, each saying a different foreign word before collapsing again back into two.  A pattern continued of splitting and recombining, often jumping between two and four simultaneous musical words with the occasional dip into three.  It reminded them of those layered nursery rhymes they’d sung as a child, where two verses of different songs or different verses of the same song were sung in time with each other.  This, however, was far more complex; the weaving variations beautiful and sublime.  
The voices that were all one voice were their only companion as they fell forever, surrounding them in alien music as their mind slowly shrugged off its anaesthetic torpor.  Panic gripped their heart as the four voices melded back into two and the two shortly thereafter into one.  The music was vanishing before they could wake up.  Without it they would surely be lost.
The solo voice, so sweet and familiar, was slowing.  Slowing and fading.  Slowing and fading and then gone.  They battled hard with drowsiness to stop falling, to wake up.  Light scattered about them in fits and starts as their consciousness yanked itself from the eternal internal blackness and back into reality.  Stars of greasy, yellow light twinkled in and out of existence, their pinprick selves becoming more and more numerous with each passing second.  
The voice began to speak again; soft and kind and familiar:
“I have tried to translate a passage into your Terran.  I hope it sounds pleasant to your ears.”
Slide fought with their eyelids to return to the world of light and form as Nessari’s voice began another multilayered song, but this time with understandable words.  However just because the words were in Terran didn’t make it any easier for Slide to piece together exactly how it went.  The splitting voices didn’t indicate which words were grouped together, so while Slide thought the four voices went like this:
Verdure flows across the arid fields.  Life returns where love was lost.  Restore yourself, grow anew.  Reach high your shoots toward eternity.  Strive ever towards resplendent verdure.
Verdure flows across the arid fields.  Life returns where hope was taken.  Restore your love, grow anew.  Reach deep your roots toward eternity.  Strive ever towards resplendent verdure.
Verdure grows across the rolling fields.  Life thrives among rustling thrushes.  Admire the flowers, their innumerable colors.  Absorb the rain and flourish.  Accept willingly life’s renewing verdure.
Verdure grows across the rolling fields.  Life thrives among splendid petals.  Admire the weeds, their obstinate beauty.  Absorb the sun and flourish.  Accept willingly life’s renewing verdure.
It was possible that different paths were intended.  
Slide could barely keep the four parts they were able to pick out straight in their head.  Nessari didn’t stop after one pass and repeated the song, its final and first word seamlessly looping it back around.  The darkness parted further as the greasy stars exploded and converged into the lit ceiling of a room.  As their consciousness returned they began hearing different variations in the song:
Verdure grows across the arid fields.  Life returns where rustling thrushes admire the flowers, their innumerable beauty.  Absorb the sun and strive willingly towards renewing verdure.
Verdure flows across the rolling fields.  Life thrives where hope was lost.  Restore your flowers, grow obstinate colors.  Reach deep your roots and flourish.  Accept ever life’s resplendent verdure.
And many others.  The words wreathed around and around in their head, their places swapping easily on every iteration.  Each change of groupings, each new verse that Slide picked out of the winding words, oddly enough made the work more cohesive and not less.  They had thought at first that the forking variations would prove contradictory, and yet the verbal labyrinth’s paths all led to the same message of healing and renewal before looping back to its own beginning once more.  
Forever rising and forever returning.
Their eyes, only now fully opening, were wet with the beginnings of tears.  Their mind was unable to comprehend why Nessari cared so much about them.  What had they done to deserve her kindness and care?  
Slide flexed their muscles, still trying to rouse them from the drugged slumber, and looked around the room.  Flowers occupied every surface in ramshackle bouquets, lending the whole room a floral surrealness.  Plantlife crawled across the floors and up the walls; thick vines and branches clinging to everything they could.  For a moment Slide wondered excitedly if they’d been transported to Nessari’s ship for treatment.  Yet among the verdant splendor, they recognized the cheap couch and crummy dresser of the Noviglas hotel room.  They knew that it should be a relieving realization that they were still among their fellow Terrans, but the weight in their chest was one of disappointment.
Sluggishly they drew their arm out from under the tightly tucked sheet.  A blush came to their cheeks as they realized Nessari must have tucked them into bed, like a passed out child, while they had slept deeply under the power of her pollen.  Slide held their hand in front of their face, anxiously searching for the scars and burns they knew had to be there.  Surprisingly they found their skin unmarred, as if the memory of searing pain in their arm had been just another strange dream.
“You’re awake!”  Nessari’s quadrupled voice was ecstatic, a chorus of excited relief.  Tendrils flew over the bed and snugly wrapped Slide’s shoulders in a loving hug.  Her tablet fell into her lap as she turned her full attention to Slide.  
“I was so worried.  Our medic isn’t the most well-versed in Terran physiology, but with some remote consulting from a veterinarian he was able to determine that you contracted severe acute onset dermatitis.”
Slide recognized the words, but their sluggish mind couldn’t quite parse them into meaning.  They shook their head in confusion.
“Oh an…”  Nessari checked her tablet briefly, “extreme… rash?  No, that means to do something without consideration.  Wait, yes!  Rash!”
Slide smiled weakly at the advanced alien’s struggle with their language before staring back at their arm.  “The blue dust?”
“The blue dust is actually soil that appears to be from a planet on the other side of Terran Accord space.  It contains parasitic microbes that require keratin to reproduce.  In higher quantities or with longer exposure it may have caused permanent damage to your arm, but I managed to carry you to an emergency med-shuttle within only a few minutes.  All we had to do was flush the affected area and apply a moisturizing salve to return your skin to its previous softness and coloration.  However, your hair may have a hard time regrowing on that arm for a while.”
Honestly, Slide was thankful for that.
“You were actually quite fortunate, a pile near it was in the process of decaying into pure sodium.  A touch of moisture from your fingers and you could have severely burnt your whole hand.”  The flicker of concern on her face did not go unnoticed by Slide.  It only lasted a moment though before she pondered aloud:  “I wonder what Gina was doing with them?”
Slide furrowed their brow, certain that they already knew the answer.  If only it wasn’t trapped behind the fading remnants of Nessari’s pollen.  A puzzle with all its pieces almost in place, but obscured by the last shreds of a fading mist.  They were close, it was on the tip of their tongue, but…
“I don’t know,” they admitted, “But I think it’s all starting to come together.  Maybe after my head clears up a bit it’ll all make sense.”
“I do not know if you should be involved in the investigation any further, Slide.”  Her voice wavered, tinged with sorrow.  A tendril lovingly caressed their cheek as their heart sank.  “My lack of proper oversight put you in danger.  I was too excited about working on the investigation with you and…”
“And I liked working with you!”  Slide blurted out, their cheeks reddening as they realized what they had said.  “And it’s not your fault I got hurt.  I should have been more careful and waited at the door with you until you’d read through the intelligence report.”
Nessari’s violet eyes softened slightly as a vine clutched and twirled her false hair.  
“Please,” Slide’s voice was pleading.  Stars above, they needed this.  “Please.  I want to keep working with you to solve this.  I want to help save my friends and I… well… I was enjoying our time together until the…”  
They flexed the hand on their previously-injured arm indicatively.
Nessari grinned at them, eyes aglow with joy.  A vine snaked its way in front of Slide’s face.
“Okay.  But you,” The vine tapped Slide on the nose, “Need to promise you’ll listen to me and stay safe.  That you won’t do anything…”  Her voice trailed off into a giggle, a melodic trill of beauty too sweet for Terran vocal cords.  “That you won’t do anything rash.”
Slide groaned internally.  If the plants were learning how to make Terran puns this quickly, humanity stood no chance.
“I promise.  I’ll listen to you and stay safe.”
“Wonderful!”  The flowers all around them burst with color, outshining the dim lights of the hotel.  Slide’s mind spun until Nessari’s flowery luminescence died down again.  “We were just about to interview Doctor Hydrega.  You should have just enough time to change.”
“Change?”  Slide said, still dazed from the glowing petals.  They blinked and only now realized they weren’t wearing the same clothes from yesterday.  Instead they were wearing a simple green smock they’d never seen before.  The material was leafy but comfortable.
“We had to change you out of your old clothes to be sure none of the contaminants from the mycology lab were still on you,”  Nessari explained, “I managed to alter some spare fabric from the medic’s transport for you to wear temporarily, but I figured you might want some of your own clothes.”
From the far corner of the room, a latticework of vines hauled a familiar box onto the foot of the bed.  Just before it touched the surface of the bed it lurched towards Slide, tipping over and spilling its contents before them.  Gray-and-black hooded sweatshirts softly amassed in a small mountain on top of their covered legs soon followed by a vibrant snow of never-worn dresses.  Slide reddened as one avalanched down the pile onto their lap.
These were things that were supposed to remain buried until they were ready for them.  Things that they had ordered in nondescript packaging so no one would know; only unpacking them in the privacy of their room to immediately store in the far corner of their closet.  Embarrassing things that they weren’t pretty enough for yet, that they weren’t thin enough for yet, that they weren’t confident enough for yet.  Stars above, there were so many great reasons to delay wearing one publicly: great, logical, unchallenging, stagnant, fearful reasons to wait until their face was thinner and their hair was longer and their breasts had grown in more and a million other things; just another day or month or year (or ten) away.
And now one was rising into the air before them on viney marionette strings.  Nessari’s face was beaming as she uncrumpled the fabric, the skirt billowing outward (almost alive) as she pulled and straightened it in the air.  Neon pink and blue flowers patterned its length against a dark black background.  The material wasn’t the best quality, it was just another mass-produced cotton garment that sold for nearly nothing; but Slide had loved the design and had hoped that one day they’d be good enough to wear it.
“What about this?”  Nessari asked, making the dress dance in the air, “I think you’d look quite fetching in this.”
“I– No, I couldn’t– I can’t!”  Slide protested as the garment was puppeted closer.
“Oh really?”  Nessari pleaded teasingly, “ Are you sure?”
One of her flowering tendrils unfurled between Slide and the dress, the white-and-blue petals already throbbing with captivating light.  There was a pattern to how they glowed, a swaying wave of brightness rocking from left to right and back again.  Slide followed them back and forth, their thoughts growing hazier with each repetition.
A gentle weight slid across their shoulders, helping them to sag and relax.  As they sank back into the bed, a sweet, familiar scent poured into their lungs.  Their vision blurred and their eyes rolled as their body felt momentarily weightless.  They felt peaceful, relaxed, and so very, very good.
“You want to wear the dress, don’t you Slide?”
Their eyes fluttered open again, their head already nodding.  The room was awash in dizzying colors; spectral smears of hue at the edge of every light source as if refracted through a prism.  Slide’s hands aimlessly fiddled with the sheet covering them.
“Yeah,” they sighed, their unfocused eyes tracing spirals around Nessari’s face, “I want to wear the dress… but… but…”  Their brow furrowed.  “I can’t yet… don’t look right yet…”
“Aww, my sweet Slide.”  
At the blurred edge of their vision they could see a small, glowing flower pulsating gaily as its underlying vine gently stroked their cheek.  The air distorted as tiny flecks of dust spewed directly into their nostrils.  A familiar, sickly-sweet scent filled their mind, overpowering every other sense or thought.  The surrounding room, the Noviglas Hotel and Inn, the research center, their teammates, and every other memory and thought of Karriss-7 were shrouded in a pink haze; save for the flowery Affini cradling their head in her vines.  The next words she spoke reverberated through their entire body.
“I said you’d look fetching in it.”  Every musical note of her voice was humming through their bones, zipping electrically through their nerves, wrapping tightly around their brain.  “And you promised you’d listen to me.”
“F-f-fetching,” Slide stammered in their stupor, unable to bring to mind anything other than the words Nessari provided, “promised… promised listen…”
“So you’re going to wear the dress.”  
The forcefulness of the statement crumpled the little resistance they had remaining.  Slide’s self-doubting obstinacy was obliterated in a shimmering void of floral lights and mind warping perfume.
“Wear the dress,” they agreed sleepily, head lolling into Nessari’s flowery tendrils.  
“Excellent!  Let me help you get it on.”
In an instant, Nessari flung the sheets from the bed.  A hail of unworn dresses and overworn hoodies buffeted the cheap hotel furniture.  Vines pulled at Slide’s docile form, manipulating their arms, legs, and head so that a separate set of vines could wind upward through their current clothing and lift the leafy smock over their head.  They giggled as they were lifted into the air; a weightlessness akin to low-gravity conditions but accompanied by a deep-seated joy and warmth.  
The medical smock was barely off of them before Nessari began easing the black dress with pink and blue flowers down over their shoulders.  Smooth, soft tendrils wove up their legs and torso to help guide the fabric down their body, sparking sensation along Slide’s skin.  They sighed in bliss as the garment seated snugly against their shoulders, its top cradling their late-budding breasts before flowing downwards and eventually outwards into a pleasantly swooshing skirt.  Nessari’s vines deposited them standing in front of the bathroom mirror, leaving them with a mild yearning for the return of her touch.
They looked into the mirror as their head began to clear once more.  The world behind them was still obscured in hazy splendor; rainbow streaks of wavering light twisting the reflected world into something sublime.  Slide quivered with excitement as they saw themselves: how much better the dress fit them than they had imagined, how happy their dream-lost face looked beneath their dilated, unfocused eyes, how the neon flowers on the black fabric seemed to sway and move to unreal winds and beat, to the rhythm of their own heart, with giddy light.
And yet the thought haunted them that they weren’t perfect.  Too much still remained of the old husk that had withered in silent self-hatred; that had hoped it could shunt its seed, its core of being, far from the familiar and regrow into something more true, happy, and beautiful.  The dead weight of the dread wight they once had been still lingering in the wrong angles of their reflection.  The unwinnowed chaff still clinging to their flesh and bones and being long past its welcome and so difficult to remove.  Agitated, they began to tug at the shoulders of the dress, meaning to take it off.
“Maybe one of the…” they mumbled, an arm retreating through the sleeve.
“I told you you’d look pretty.”
Two violet stars twinkled above them in the mirror, sternly confident in their assertion.  The hotel room was gone from their vision, replaced by a vertical wall of twigs, vines, and flowers.  The faintest traces of Nessari’s humanoid form vanished from the reflection as her creeping verdure engulfed the rest of the bathroom.  Slide stumbled as roots pushed beneath their feet, falling backwards into the steadying branches of their new friend.  The sterile gray walls and white, faux-marble tiling were swiftly effaced by a garden of glimmering blooms.  Only the mirror remained uncovered.
“I don’t know,” Slide whined meekly, “My shoulders are too wide and my browline isn’t right and my–”
“All pretty, because you’re pretty.”  Nessari’s voice flooded them from all sides, the violet eyes staring down at them like an attentive goddess.  The luminescent petals flared with each word, planting them deep into Slide’s mind.  The world shimmered as a pleasant weakness overtook them.
“Pretty,” Slide mumbled as their knees gave out.  Two vines tipped them backwards onto a seat of branches cushioned with comfy moss.  A third vine snuck under their sagging chin and tilted it upward until their eyes were locked with Nessari’s.  The rainbow hues of her petals surged again, blissfully blinding.  A thumping rhythm poured upwards through the seat of wood and leaf, upwards through their bones and along their spine, their own heart trying to match its cadence.  They could feel a hum zipping through their nerves, a tingling extra-stellar melody of love and light and warmth.
“You are beautiful, little pet.”  Slide trembled at the voice, its tones forking into two and then four.  The voice of her newest friend.  The voice of what waited for them beyond the stars.  The voice of a vastly superior species.  The voice of a green goddess.  “You just need some help seeing that.”
“Help,” Slide squeaked out, their mind too lost to know if they were asking to be saved from or by the flowering Affini.  
The lights around them pulsed brighter to the beating of Nessari’s biorhythm.  Four voices wove around each other in melodic beauty, whispering truths and affirmations into Slide’s listening ears.  The perfume of pollen flooded their nostrils, its sweet scent annihilating the last shreds of Slide’s cognizant thought.  
The violet eyes stared lovingly down at them as Slide dissolved into cascading, rainbow light.

This is sort of a chapter 5.1 with two other intended sections.  I may combine them into one after I'm done or may leave them separate.

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