14. Limits and Needs

by anna//bool

Tags: #cw:noncon #D/s #dom:female #Human_Domestication_Guide #petplay #slow_burn #sub:female #anxiety #dom:imperialism #dom:internalized_imperialism #dom:plant #drugs #f/f #hurt/comfort #hypnotic_voice #nonbinary_character #ownership_dynamics #panic_attacks #pov:bottom #pov:multiple #pov:top #scifi #sub:the_horror_of_existence_in_a_caring_universe #transgender_characters

Chapter Fourteen: Limits and Needs

Leviathan’s cage sank beneath the depths. Waves crashed over its surface, throwing up violent sprays of foam and mist. The structure vibrated under the pressure, but the support columns speared deep into the ground, forming immobile rails on which the rest of the containment unit could hang, fixed in place against all but the strongest forces.

Katie wrinkled her nose as the woven cord she was holding onto hitched. The descent of her new pet’s tank had been impressively smooth given the materials she’d had to work with, but rope spun from plantlife wasn’t quite as smooth as she might have liked. To aid with raising and lowering the tank, she and Thatch had built a pulley system, using a smoothed out stick as an axle around which sat a makeshift disc, on which the rope was mounted.

Katie carefully massaged it, trying to remove the lump that had caught in the assembly without damaging anything. If she let the tank drop from this height, the poor fish was bound to get one heck of a shock. Thankfully, a few moments of care and attention got things straightened out, and Katie lowered the tank the rest of the way, down to the bottom of the rails.

Finally, she knelt down to tie the rope to a loop of wood they’d sanded down with one of Thatch’s more abrasive anatomical features. She pulled it tight and stood. It had taken a day or so of careful effort to bring this to life, overall.

Katie glanced down at scraps of abandoned wood. A collection of failed attempts at creating some parts of the construct, and leftover waste, lay strewn around the area. Katie was struck by a sudden sense of uncertainty. She’d never gotten this far in a project before. What happened to the leftovers?

She glanced over to the other side of the makeshift camp, to where Thatch was busying herself with a growing pile of stones and rocks. Her thorns were sharp and hard enough that, at least with the softer rocks around here, she could chisel them into whatever shape she wanted.

Thatch’s existence had uncomfortable undertones. Perhaps not the plant herself, Katie supposed, but it was difficult to separate her from her context.

Human domestication.

Like humanity had done for millennia with animals on its homeworld. Psychological manipulation on industrial scales, creating whole species that put humanity’s needs first, abandoning their own hopes and dreams in favour of an existence where anything short of immediate, flawless obedience was cause for the pain of a shock collar or cattle prod. Humanity had exploited humanity as much as it could bear; what trauma had the arguably much crueler human-led domestication projects inflicted on the world around them?

Katie shivered, imagining herself in their place. Imagining Thatch holding a sharp stick, zapping her until she was no longer herself with a cruel, domineering smirk on her face as she declared that this was all for Katie’s own good. She would be happy, once they’d burned every other emotion out of her skull.

The girl shook her head, noticing that Thatch was staring. Her expression was far from cruel; nothing more than a gently bemused expression of concern. Her face was capable of lying, but the rest of her was much less so. Bright red vines had carefully anchored themselves to stable things, the vines in Thatch’s legs were densely packed, almost quivering with energy. The affini must have been thirty meters away and yet Katie knew that if anything were to go wrong, she would be protected in an instant.

Her imaginations fell silent. The greater Affini could be as cruel as they liked; this one was clearly incapable. Katie smiled across at her, waving a hand to say that she was okay, and not in need of assistance.

“I’m okay! I think I’m done,” she called, raising to her feet. She got a moment’s notice as the edge of the bank crumbled under her weight before she was tipping backwards, very suddenly in freefall, heading for the cataclysmic rapids beneath. She didn’t have time to cry out. The sudden drop stole the air from her lungs. The collapsing ground left her with nothing to push against, no way to adjust her fall.

Katie grabbed for the wooden construction of the tank, but it was out of reach, and—

“Gotcha,” Thatch proclaimed, mottled hand tightly gripping Katie’s wrist. The girl was carefully pulled up without another word, then set back down on the ground. Katie fended off a curious pair of vines that seemed to want to brush her down, She noted that her hands were shaking. So was her vision, and her breath. Her adrenaline spike had come too late to do anything to help. It would leave long after it had outstayed its welcome.

Katie fended off another vine, then a pair of vines, and then a set of four, then five. She had just long enough to realise that the last didn’t match the pattern before the three she hadn’t noticed came up behind her to lightly wrap around her wrists, steadying them, and her torso, so she could be pulled away from the side and into a gentle embrace.

“Are you okay, Katie? I’m sorry, I should have been paying more attention. We can reinforce the ground there, perhaps build a fence?”

No, Katie couldn’t bring herself to be afraid of this dork even if she tried. It almost reminded her of the soft emotional blanket of Thatch’s concoction, stealing away rational fears, except the only mind-affecting process Thatch had put her under was education.

Katie nodded, permitting herself a brief moment wrapped in the slow beat of Thatch’s body. She could feel her adrenaline draining away, her panic sinking into Thatch’s gentle ‘heartbeat’. After a few moments, she pulled away. As always, Thatch yielded just an instant later. Long enough that it was clear that Katie couldn’t have overpowered her, but short enough that it could hardly even be implied she wasn’t respecting Katie’s agency.

“No, no, I’m fine, thank you. I should have been more careful. I wouldn’t usually even go near a bank like that, but… I dunno, I guess I got a little too complacent,” Katie said, feeling the embarrassed blush crawling up her cheeks. Katie moved back towards the bank, carefully. She couldn’t avoid noticing the way that a pair of bright red vines was tailing her. She paused and gave them a glare, and Thatch replaced them with a much harder to spot set of black ones. It would have to do.

Katie began gathering up the spare wood. “How’s your project coming, anyway?”

Thatch gestured over to her pile of carved stone. It stood about as tall as Katie did, with a pair of openings near the bottom where slabs of stone could be removed to allow access. A furnace. A real tool. Katie lifted up an armful of wooden scraps as tribute, and they were very quickly ferried over to the lower compartment, where they joined a whole collection of other fuel.

“It is nice to finish a project for once,” Thatch admitted. “There is something satisfying about the tactility of taking something rough and moulding it to your needs. I believe that we could attempt to purify the metals you so kindly acquired for us, and all I am in need of is a flame.”

She looked pointedly towards Katie at the last word.

Katie started looking around for a long stick she could use to carry a little of the heat from their campfire over to the new kiln. “Still uneasy around fire?” she asked, picking up a long twig that had a small collection of leaves nestled at the tip. She dipped it beneath their cookpot and started very carefully carrying the resulting fire.

“I believe that it may be one of the few primal fears my people still struggle with. The paperwork for disengaging local fire suppression even within a single habitation unit is excessive even by our standards, and requires significant qualification.”

Katie nodded, somewhat absent minded. Her attention was mostly on the brightly glowing flame in her hands, as it should be. “Mmmh. Don’t want fire on a spaceship,” she agreed, carefully placing the stick into the fuel compartment in Thatch’s oven. It was too long to fit entirely, so she tapped a spot about halfway up with one of her knuckles and Thatch broke it clean in two from that spot. Katie prodded the half that was on fire deeper, using the half she still had a hold of, and then chucked that in too for good measure.

The flames caught, and Katie rushed to seal the compartment with its slab of heavy rock. Before long, a small plume of smoke began rising out of the top of the structure. Katie wrinkled her nose.

“I hope this doesn’t upset anything.” She gestured up to the emissions. This was hardly the same thing as the great Terran forges that had once spewed noxious waste in vast quantity out into the atmosphere of every world under human rule, but it was an inauspicious start to the industrialisation of… whatever this planet was called.

“You’re thousands of years more advanced than us,” Katie admitted, glancing over at Thatch. “Did you ever figure out how to… not do this? We’re destroying a little bit of this planet so that we can get what we need. I guess if we need to do it to survive, then… Ugh. If humanity is worth anything, surely it’s as a warning against the dangers of taking without giving back.”

The plant had been smiling the whole way through. Her face was carefully polite, but the quiver in her delicate weave painted another story. Katie set her jaw, staring the creature down in a battle of wills.

Gosh, Thatch’s sparkling blue eyes were pretty. They were distinctly inhuman, certainly nothing like an eyeball, but just as expressive, if not more. A part of Katie wanted to lever Thatch’s head open to see how they worked, but wouldn’t that be rude? Much better to appreciate them from the outside.

Much better to enjoy the way the glow seemed to twinkle and attenuate over time, like the gentle dance of starlight. Fascinatingly, as Katie looked closer, she realised that they were flecked with the natural shades of this planet too, everything moving in what seemed to be tight orchestration.

Katie realised she had lost the battle of wills.

“Once,” she declared, firmly. The sound was barely beyond her lips before Thatch’s warm hand was in her hair, giving her scalp a gentle squeeze.

The creature emitted a low tone for a moment, then nodded. “I do feel guilty about poisoning the atmosphere here,” she admitted. Her hand moved in gentle patterns, drawing out a soft sigh from somewhere deep within Katie’s body. “However, it is well understood among my people that it is sometimes more harmful to do no harm at all. That is not at all a refutation of your point, however, and we shall make a steward out of you yet. The materials sourced were…”

Katie only realised that she’d spaced out once Thatch finally paused in her explanation of all the ways in which she was mitigating the damage done. With the affini’s fingers in her hair, distinctly stretching any reasonable definition of “once”, and her voice on Katie’s ears, it was difficult to entertain abstract fears of environmental damage, or, indeed, any fears at all.

“…I promise that before we leave this place, we shall set this right and leave this world better for our presence.”

The hand was retrieved, leaving Katie momentarily unsteady on her feet, with a low tingle left behind that demanded attention. Katie scratched it. It didn’t really help.

“I— Mmh.” She nodded. “Yes, environment good.” Katie coughed, trying to bury her burning cheeks by being useful. “Uh… Where did we put the ores? We should…” Katie pointed at the kiln. “They need cooking?”

A rustle of leaves up near her ear drew Katie’s attention upwards, to Thatch. She spotted the plant’s outstretched hand, pointing over to a small pile at the outside edge of their makeshift camp. Katie hurried over to it, only not running due to the fear she’d trip and end up in Thatch’s arms again.

“They should be fine if you simply throw them in, I’ve decorated the upper compartment with channels to catch the liquified metal,” Thatch explained. It was already getting too hot to spend much time inspecting the insides, but Katie could spot how the slightly bowl-shaped interior had been carved in a delicate floral print, where every line led down into a little hole that presumably led to the matching one on the outside, where it could collect in a small stone dish etched with another pattern that should allow the metal to solidify in long strips. Thatch seemed to put a surprising degree of artistry into everything she did, even here.

Katie chucked in the chunks and sealed the top compartment. Thatch visibly relaxed as Katie finally walked away. “Okay!” Katie exclaimed. “Today feels more like progress. What’s next?”

Thatch raised a simulated eyebrow. “I believe that is your decision, Katie. What’s next most important on our list?” After a moment in which Katie didn’t manage to come to a decision, the affini continued. “We could improve our camp and get you a dedicated area to sleep. I am a little worried about you getting wet should it rain, so a covering could be advantageous too. If a busy morning has you all tuckered out, however, then perhaps we could progress to our discussion on faster-than-light communications?”

“Oh, that last one sounds interesting,” Katie decided. “Let’s do that. I’ve been doing woodwork all morning and I don’t think my arms are up to anything hard. Besides, the weather has been good to us so far.”

They didn’t have a very complicated classroom to work with, but Thatch had dredged up some rocks and covered them in leaves to function as seats so they could sit and bask in the glow of the fire. Katie pushed one rock a little closer so she could actually feel the warmth and sat down, while Thatch picked a large, flat stone from a pile she’d apparently prepared earlier and extended a thorn, making an experimental engraving at one corner. A writing surface of sorts.

“What do you know about sending messages through subspace already, Katie?”

“Uh, hmn, jeez. It’s meant to be really hard, I think? Jumping a ship is one thing; so long as you use enough fuel it doesn’t really matter if the hole is too big, but sending just a signal is harder? I think we’ve done it in labs, feeding tiny amounts of exotic matter into something constantly to try to hold the hole open without losing control and then transmitting through?” Katie shrugged, carefully watching Thatch’s response to see how close she was. This wasn’t technology that the Terran Accord had had a chance to develop further before anything that wasn’t a weapons project had gotten shut down, as the war had become more desperate.

The affini nodded her way through Katie’s explanation, and then immediately shook her head afterwards. “It’s a wonder that humanity lasted long enough for us to find them,” she muttered. “No, that won’t lead anywhere good for anybody, it would have been very impolite to do it that way. We’ll do it right, mmh?”

Katie frowned, feeling a pang of embarrassment. A moment later, it was joined by a second layer of meta-embarrassment, directed towards the first. She knew that what she’d been taught, and what she’d picked up, was comparatively backwards. She was talking to a scientist from a precursor race here. Why would she be embarrassed by how little she knew?

Katie sighed. “Hang on,” she interjected. “I think I need to set some ground rules here.”

The affini paused, tilting her head with a questioning hum.

“This is my area; this is what I do. Did. Used to do. It’s… for a long time, knowing how this stuff worked and being good at it was basically what my self-esteem was built on. It was all I had. I don’t… Please don’t tear that down?” It felt uncomfortable to ask. It was an acknowledgment that Thatch could. Five minutes in a room with a crueler plant, a cattle prod, and a physics textbook could probably shatter Katie’s sense of self.

Thatch took her time coming to a response. She wasn’t frozen up; if anything, she was very expressive. Her eyes flicked over Katie’s body, as if taking her in from a fresh perspective. After a few moments, she glanced down at the tablet on her knee and began chiseling away.

“I apologise, I should have considered that your experience in the Terran Accord would be traumatic here. I can assure you that your value to me or to any citizen of the Affini Compact is not predicated on your skills.”

Katie sighed. Of course it wasn’t. Why did that feel bad? “Yes, yes, yes,” she snapped. “Useless humans don’t have to do anything but what they’re told, right? You’ll take care of us and all we have to do is give up our potential.”

Thatch winced, her writing thorn slipping and leaving a deep line in the tablet. She looked up at Katie with a pained expression. “Flower, no. Not at all. Do you know what the requirements for an individual habitation unit and basic needs, like food, water, and education are, for any citizen of the Affini Compact, be they affini, human, or you?”

Katie shook her head. “You know I don’t.”

Thatch raised her arms in a big shrug. “Me neither!” she exclaimed. “When we get back to the Elettarium—once we clear up the minor matter of your prior feralist ideology—all you would need to do was ask to be assigned a living space and somebody would walk you through the requisite forms, or you could request a human-specification datapad and make the request via the machines. Every decision would be yours, if you wanted it to be. Please do not mistake my attitude towards your former people’s reckless use of a common resource for a judgment upon your value.”

Katie stared into the flames casually burning away beside them, keeping their food at a simmer. Why was this so hard? She squeezed shut, and released, a fist several times before she could no longer bite her tongue.

“Why not?” she asked, raising her voice. “You keep saying that we were doing stupid and harmful things. Why shouldn’t we be judged for that? If you won’t, then who will? Where do I have to go to get somebody to tell me that what humanity did was wrong? Not ‘doing their best’, not ‘adorably incompetent’, but wrong!”

Katie stood up, feeling the need to pace around the area.

“Fucking… judge me, Thatch! You act so high and mighty, like you know so much better, but you stop just short of the obvious implication that I’m so much worse, that I—”

Her pacing had led her straight into Thatch’s outstretched arms. She felt them wrap around her and didn’t fight it. Thatch was so much taller than her that even while the affini was sitting and Katie standing, her head still rested on the plant’s chest.

Katie continued, voice just as energetic, though far more muffled, speaking against foliage. “That I—we—were so much worse. Stop acting like humanity wasn’t awful, please? The slums weren’t cute. The forge worlds weren’t us doing our best. The way they… treated me wasn’t okay.”

Katie’s voice fell quiet. “Please tell me you don’t think it was okay?”

Katie could feel the tears leaving her eyes, but Thatch’s body leeched them away before they got anywhere. She still ended up sniffling, with blurry vision. Thatch’s grip grew stronger. Not so hard it hurt, but so hard that Katie couldn’t hope to move.

“Very well.” Thatch’s voice was hard and low, and Katie had to unclench her jaw to avoid it rattling her teeth. “Yes. You are correct. It is one of the unspoken truths of what we do that we must learn how to forgive the individuals while condemning the whole. The Terran Accord was wrong, and we put a stop to it for a reason. The slums were unforgivable; we have torn them down. The devastation caused in the name of forging useless items nobody needed is not something the Affini Compact is letting slide. The careless misuse of spacetime is an error that we are correcting. Pitting you all against one another in pointless, wasteful contest was a travesty that we have ended.”

Thatch’s grip grew fractionally tighter. “The way you were treated was not acceptable and it will not be accepted. But.”

Katie stiffened, raising her head the few degrees that she could in the tight embrace. “But?”

“Who would you have us punish, Katie? Can you name the humans who do not deserve a second chance, now removed from their, as you put it, ‘traps of circumstance’? Should you be tried for crimes against the universe because you did not know the damage you were doing?” One of Thatch’s hands raised up to gently stroke through Katie’s hair. A pair of vines slowly moved down her sides, while others gently curled around Katie’s body and limbs, intensifying the embrace.

“I… maybe!” she exclaimed, nodding her head. “Do you know how many corners I knowingly cut? Do you know how often I met people I could have helped and didn’t?” Katie fell silent for a moment. “I may not have known all the consequences, but I knew what I was doing. Please tell me that you aren’t okay with that?”

Thatch emitted a gentle rumble, tilting Katie’s head up with a hand so their eyes could meet. They were such pretty eyes, now almost aglow with speckled reds. “Did you have a choice, Katie? One that wasn’t simple starvation. What would have happened to you if you hadn’t done those things?”

Katie wanted to look away, ashamed. She wanted to avoid her alien overlord’s gaze and go quiet. It wasn’t much of an option. The insistent thrum surrounding her drew her attention upwards and locked it in place. She couldn’t avert her eyes any more than she could suspend her own heartbeat.

“I didn’t,” she breathed, tears now flowing more freely down her face. Her voice was hesitant, wavering as she processed each word in turn. “I had to eat. I’m sorry. I didn’t have any help to spare. I was barely surviving myself, but I wish I could have done something. Something to make my existence not just be one more part of the human machine. I’m… sorry,” she whispered.

Thatch’s thumb gently rubbed up Katie’s cheek, soaking up the tears and helping her see more clearly. “I forgive you.” There was no cruelty in her smile. There was anger in her eyes, but it wasn’t directed at Katie. For Katie, she had nothing but kindness. “It wasn’t your fault. You did what you had to do, and now you don’t have to live like that any more. It’s okay. All that is over now, and you’ll be okay.”

Katie finally managed to tear her gaze free. She buried her head in Thatch’s side, sobbing, feeling the beginnings of a weight she had carried her whole adult life begin to lighten. It took minutes before she was ready to speak again.

“But… what about the ones who didn’t have to do it? Why do they get away with it? The quadrillionaires, the politicians, the warlords; the ones who could have changed things and didn’t?”

Thatch laughed, a bassy, dark thing. It felt almost like a kick across Katie’s whole body, but a gentle one. It filled her with warmth, not pain. Her voice had a cold edge to it that would have been terrifying had she not been directing it where Katie wanted. “They will never be allowed to hurt you, or anybody else, ever again. I can personally guarantee you that once we get back in range of the extranet, you could send a message to any one of those people and receive an honest, heartfelt apology for what they did. What additional punishment would you levy?”

Katie bit her lip, still breathing hard. “I want them hurt,” she admitted, voice quiet. “I want to see them suffer for what they did. Why should they be allowed a long, happy life under Affini care when that’s exactly what they stole from so many others? Why do they get moved from one life of luxury to another while I’m left broken?”

A pair of fingers snaked their way to Katie’s jaw, gently pressing it open to prevent her from biting herself so hard it drew blood. For a fraction of a second, Katie felt like Leviathan, tasting the finger of something so much bigger than herself and wanting more, but Thatch’s hand left an instant later, returning to the top of her head.

“You aren’t broken,” the plant whispered, voice firm, infused with a violent, punchy beat that was reflected in the rest of Thatch’s body. Sharp bursts of heat, sound, and light joined the peaks of her words. It wasn’t relaxing. Katie felt the affini’s fire and her own rose with it.

“I am…” Katie whispered, voice failing her.

“You aren’t broken.”


Thatch’s grip was impossible to resist. The hand atop her head conspired with a vine or two to tilt her head back up, preventing Katie from struggling, and preventing her from hurting herself with her struggles either. Thatch’s eyes were sharp and focused, drilling into Katie’s soul.

You aren’t broken.

“I— I’m not broken,” Katie breathed, voice quiet enough it could barely be heard. Another piece of that which weighed her down slipped away.

“Domestication is not a reward, Katie. Neither is it a punishment. It simply is. We do not believe in rewards or punishments on such a large scale. Every living creature has its own unique, incomparable value. Every one deserves to be given the opportunity to be happy and fulfilled. Some of the universe’s beautiful creatures can be their best selves when we remove their limitations, give them everything they wish for, and let them grow on their own. Some prefer a strong guiding hand, to remove the challenges of existence. Some simply cannot be happy without our assistance. Others—many humans included—would do harm if allowed to grow unchecked. Like a cancer, or a parasite, the ways in which they would try to sate their desires would bring suffering to others. We will not allow that. It is the right of any sapient creature to choose to be unhappy, but it is not their right to prevent others from having that same choice.”

Katie found herself nodding. It was much the same explanation as she’d been given before, and yet deeply different. This wasn’t a rehearsed speech given to a confused creature, it was an impassioned one given by something which was angry.

“Isn’t… that what you’re doing here, though? Preventing people from having that choice? How is that your right?”

Thatch laughed again. A short, sharp bark. “It is not.” The admission came easily enough. “We have no more intrinsic right to it than you do. But, if we do not do it then it won’t be done—or worse, it will, by somebody who will get it wrong.”

Katie took a deep breath. Anger brought out the tang in Thatch’s scent. Something sharp, with an aftertaste that seemed to leave tingles over her skin. Not comforting, like it usually was, but Katie wasn’t looking for comfort, she was looking for reparation. It was a scent that made her want to do something.

However, Thatch’s fire was far deeper than Katie’s own. It burned brighter and hotter. It drank up all the oxygen and left Katie’s fire spluttering and dying out. She had little energy left. Katie let her muscles go slack, trusting Thatch would notice and guide her into a comfortable position. She did.

Katie let out a long sigh, not moving her head from where it had been placed. “Isn’t that hard, though? To take on so much pressure? It seems unfair on you.”

Katie had ended up sitting on the stone tablet resting on Thatch’s knee, with several vines cradling her to keep it comfortable. She could feel the way the question caused a hitch in Thatch’s biorhythm.


Katie continued, thinking through the implications. “And you can’t possibly always succeed. What happens to the affini who take on that responsibility and still fail?”


Thatch’s rhythm fell out of sorts. Katie didn’t notice directly, not straight away. She just felt her own stress rising, paired with an inexplicable sense of panic. It was only once she noticed that her breathing was being matched by Thatch’s own that Katie managed to pull herself out of it, to focus on somebody that clearly needed her help. It let her tap into an energy source she hadn’t realised was there.

She squirmed around, moving until she could reach up to Thatch’s cheek with a hand. She left it in place. “Hey, it’s okay. Do I need to get angry on your behalf, now? If I’m not broken, you don’t get to be either.”

“I am… sorry. I cannot talk about this,” Thatch whispered.

Katie’s hand pressed into her cheek with more force. She took a breath, then spoke. “Then we won’t. Do you know what a traffic light is?”

The plant looked down at the top of Katie’s head, with a curious tilt. Katie thought it strange that she could intuit so much of Thatch’s mood and intent while nestled so deep within her, but figured that she was simply getting to know the creature better.

“I believe my Humanity is Adorable! class—please do not be offended, that is simply the naming convention for introductory classes on new species—back when I first entered the local area suggested that they were an old signaling system for horses?”

Katie nodded. “It’s pretty outdated, but we kept it around as a metaphor, like how the save icon on our computers is an elastic circle. A lot of humans use it to help their partners be comfortable. When the light went red, the horses would start waiting in place until it was safe to move. When the light went green, they would stop waiting and swim away. Nobody is quite sure what the yellow one did any more, but we can pretend it’s something between the two.”

Katie shrugged. Ancient history wasn’t her area. “Anyway, if you want me to start holding off on something, just tell me red or yellow. If it’s yellow I’ll know this is a sensitive area and be careful. If it’s red I’ll change the subject, okay? No questions asked, no arguments, no stress. Just one word and I’ll be able to do what you want me to.”

Thatch seemed to consider it, nodding a few times to herself, before nodding once to Katie. “And green?”

“That means we get swimming with whatever changes we discussed. Back to our normal operations, yeah?”

Thatch let out a deep breath. “Okay. Yes. Let us be horses.”

“Then if I ask that last question again, you…?”

“Red.” Thatch’s word was sharp, cutting Katie off before she’d even finished the sentence. “I… Red, yes. Pause your equines.” Thankfully, Thatch didn’t lock up afterwards. If anything, she seemed to get livelier.

Katie nodded, letting her hand fall, so she could nestle more comfortably against the affini’s stomach. “Then we stop. I don’t know that I’m in the mood to learn about physics any more, though I do want you to teach me how to do it right at some point. Do you want to go riding again? See how quickly we can get to that cave and back? Grab some fresh food for Leviathan while we’re there?”

Thatch let out a soft sigh, and both she and Katie smiled. Her sixth sense for Thatch’s emotional state was coming in useful more and more often. The affini nodded. “Yes, I believe that I do. You were a little hesitant with the turning last time; I can go faster than that. Green. Feel free to push a little harder and I’m sure we’ll beat our time.”

They did.

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