30. What Do You Mean, There Isn't A Handbook For This?

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 Thirty: What Do You Mean, There Isn’t A Handbook For This?

The habitation unit entrance slid closed behind Thatch Aquae, Second Bloom. She stood tall, easily the largest thing in the room. The air displaced by the sealing door sent her foliage waving like a tree in the wind, a boneless whole-body shift that exposed the affini’s humanity for what it was: a front. A comfortable illusion painted so that humanity would find it easier to relate and thus easier to kneel in submission.

Katie let out a slow breath, staring up.

Thatch had never really put much effort into maintaining that illusion. It had been terrifying at first to watch her body change and reform as she wished. To see her so casually exceed the limitations of a humanesque form without ever slowing down. The first time Katie had seen her it had been as a storm of leaf and thorn that chased her down in seconds. No comfortable illusion there.

During their stay on Dirt, Thatch had maintained a reasonably believable human form perhaps two thirds of the time? Less, if Katie counted sleep, for which an amorphous blob had made a better blanket. Maybe that explained a few things. Katie had come to truly know the Affini not through propaganda or carefully orchestrated ambassadors wearing flawless human faces, but through this one fallible creature that didn’t hide what she was.

An amorphous, shape-shifting monster with razor-sharp thorns, a thousand vines that twisted into vicious mockery of the universe’s lesser life, with ‘blood’ running through them that would burn away conscious thought and a thousand ways to destroy her. Creatures from nightmares come to steal them away and render them helpless.

Stars above, but Thatch looked hot when she rippled like that. Was that weird? That was weird. Katie figured that the inhumanity should scare her, but truth be told it had been a comfort for a long while, and seemed to have started shifting towards a burning need.

Oh. Thatch was smiling down at her. She probably had been for a while. Katie smiled back up. She’d already been smiling up, but she smiled a little wider. Blushed. Let out a timid little breath from her tiny human form. Tried to keep her knees from buckling. Failed.

This one was hers. There were a lot of affini out there, and Katie had thought herself a rational enough creature that she could accept that she hadn’t stumbled upon the literal best creature in the universe entirely by accident, but it turned out that she wasn’t. This one was hers and she was proud of that. She had the best one.

Which wasn’t to say that Thatch was perfect! Goodness no, she was a bit of a wreck, all kinds of awkward, clearly hurting and handling it terribly. She hadn’t noticed that one of her leaves was about to fall off, and so it hung down limply from a spot on her shoulder. Katie had seen the way the others had looked at Thatch since they’d gotten here, with a mixture of ignorance and, sometimes, concern. Hell, she’d had that concern in her eyes more than a few times. Thatch was a mess.

She was still Katie’s, and still the best. Flaws only made something more beautiful.

Katie’s eyes flicked across her affini’s body. It had been a little while since she’d really had a chance to just take it in. The garden of tastefully arranged flowers that made up her hair was growing in complexity again, though the colours and shapes of Dirt still dominated. Most of her body was still blacks and purples, but fresh green leaves were poking through in no particular pattern while some of the darker ones seemed to have reached the end of their lives and were drooping or curling. Katie felt an inexplicable urge to prune them, though she didn’t know whether it even worked like that.

Thatch stood tall. Not just physically, though obviously she did that, but in her stance, in the way she moved, the way she felt. There had always been a hesitance to her, before. A timidity that wasn’t entirely gone but was more refined, now. They both knew where they stood. Or knelt, in Katie’s case.

…Katie was still staring. Thatch’s smile had grown openly indulgent now, as if she knew that Katie’s head was just stuck in a loop of adoration from which she couldn’t figure out how to escape. Thatch didn’t know that, Katie was pretty sure. That particular relationship only went one way according to Katie’s understanding of the principles involved.

It probably wasn’t hard to guess, though. Katie had seen the way that florets looked at their caretakers. It hadn’t usually been a subtle expression.

There was a part of Katie that figured she should probably do something. Something? You couldn’t live most of your life in the Terran Accord and not internalise an urge to do something productive. Maybe that urge would grow in strength again, but for the moment it seemed dwarfed by the creature in front of her.

Thatch was really tall. It sent Katie’s gay heart fluttering. Somebody else could have been forgiven for thinking that Thatch didn’t care about the illusion, but Katie knew that wasn’t true. Just because Thatch didn’t mind breaking it didn’t take away from the fact that her body was a work of art. Her form was built from a latticework of hundreds of vines pulled so tight it tricked the eye into thinking it was one continuous surface. Katie had no doubt that Thatch could have made that perfect, but instead she left a pattern of clear lines across her body that all conspired to draw Katie’s attention up. Past long, elegant legs; past a torso that evoked the human form without scaring the animal parts of Katie’s mind that ran from the subtly wrong; past arms that faked impressive musculature while being a hundred times stronger than they looked; up a slender neck; all towards the smiling face of Thatch Aquae.

She glimmered. Glittered. Katie let her head gently tilt to one side as her eyes flicked across her protector’s expression. She might once have thought that a face with wooden accents would look, well, wooden, but the life in Thatch’s smile was enough to convince her that that nothing could be further from the truth. It extended through her entire expression. Even the eyes. Two shining teardrop orbs, relatively a little larger than the eyes on a human face would be. The usual gentle blue glow was still flecked with the darker shades of Dirt, but the more Katie stared, the more she found herself intrigued. She felt as if she could stare into them and see for lightyears. Katie wondered what it was that captured her attention, and lo! Sparkles glittering before her beheld like stardust on glowing metal. She let out a quiet whimper. It was so beautiful.

There was no way out of this loop, was there?

Unfortunately, looking directly up really strained Katie’s neck. She winced, regretfully, and that was enough for Thatch to decide she’d had enough.

“Hmn, let me take care of that,” Thatch insisted. A small family of vines reached out and picked Katie up, carefully cradling her body to make sure she had support while she was lifted to Thatch’s waiting arm. Her other arm reached inside of her body for a moment and pulled out a small—by Thatch’s scale—device and glanced at it. “Fifteen minutes, forty three seconds.”

Katie tilted her head to one side. “Hm?”

“How long you were staring with that adorably thoughtless look in your eyes.”

Katie flushed. “I— I was thinking! For at least some of it…” She glanced to one side and did some quick guesses. “Probably less than half. Oh, stars, I’ve turned into a floret.”

“If you’d like,” Thatch replied, with a gentle shrug. She walked deeper into the room and glanced around with a gentle frown. “You have no furniture my size. I suppose neither of us really mind sitting in the dirt, though, do we?”

She slumped downwards, putting her back to the rock and wood of the cave as she sat, cross-legged, with Katie cradled in one arm above it all.

“If I’d like?” Katie asked. “Is it not, uh, kind of a requirement now? I think Mont… Monsh… uh, Miss Vidalii even called me one!”

Thatch waved her head back and forth in a mimed shrug. “That suggests only that she is not much of a traditionalist. You are, Katie Sahas, still very much legally an independent sophont.” Thatch raised her other hand to Katie’s stomach and gently rubbed. At some point she’d pulled back her dress of plantlife, leaving Katie naked, but it didn’t feel… Katie wasn’t sure exactly how it didn’t feel, it just didn’t. Thatch had never given Katie the slightest indication that Katie’s physical body was of much interest to her at all, and Katie was perfectly happy with that. Besides, Katie had wanted to show Thatch how she’d changed.

She wasn’t all that comfortable with Thatch’s words, though. She crossed her arms and stared up at her plant with all the indignation a floret could muster. “Well, that’s silly.”

A chuckle. Her playful pouting couldn’t survive that. Thatch uncrossed Katie’s arms and prodded her into a gentle hug. “Self-determination is important, Katie. Perhaps we do it this way to ensure the decision is well considered and thought through.”

“You do it because it’s cute to make us ask for it.”

There was a pause, then a laugh that proved contagious. “Guilty. Self-determination is important, of course, but by this stage in the domestication process we are long past that.” Thatch’s hand moved up to scratch beneath Katie’s chin, drawing out gentle sighs and pampered gasps. “Still, as cute as it might be to have you ask for me to take your legal rights from you, I was not being insincere. You are mine, and I love you very much, and there are no paths forward for you outside of my care, but that does not have to be an Owner/floret relationship. It would be extremely unusual for it to be otherwise, but we are an unusual pair.”

Katie considered this. It seemed like a big decision. One that would affect her entire life, and not at all something to take lightly.

“Nah. I’m done with that kind of choice, I think. It doesn’t feel important any more. I, Thatch—” Katie struggled to sit up enough such that she could look into the plant’s eyes. She needed help to get there, but wasn’t that the point of all this?— “abdicate responsibility. You pick. I’m just gonna focus on you for a while.”

Katie laughed. “Which I expect means the rest of my life. I’m not my responsibility any more; you are.”

“Mmh.” Thatch raised a finger to Katie’s forehead and gently pushed her back down into the hug. “Floret it is, then. We can deal with the paperwork eventually, but that is only telling the rest of the universe that I have made my choice. As far as you are concerned, from this moment forth you are Katie Aquae, First Floret.”

The girl took in a breath. It was unremarkable, really, she’d done it countless times before in her life, but this one was special. She had taken the last breath of her old life, and the first of the life that was to continue on. Katie Aquae, First Floret, smiled, closed her eyes, and leaned in close. “Yay.”

Now she felt different. The change she’d been fighting all these years had reached her, finally, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. All her struggle, all her running, had led her to this specific creature’s arms, and Katie never wanted to leave them. The bubble of safety that Thatch had kept her in for so long now extended outwards further than Katie would ever be allowed to stray.

The hug continued for some time. Katie wasn’t even going to pretend she was capable of estimating how long. Drifting off was easy, while staying focused was both difficult and unnecessary. It felt like a better version of those last few evenings on planet Dirt, with the pair in close contact, simply enjoying each other’s company. The sharp tension of things unsaid was no longer present, and Thatch seemed happy enough to pass the time simply doting on her new floret with touch, wordless sound, and the symphony they were to play together for the rest of Katie’s life.

Katie felt a finger against the muscle of her jaw. “Open wide,” Thatch instructed. Katie opened her mouth and received a pill and a mouthful of water. Thatch ran a finger down her throat. “Swallow.” Katie swallowed both down.

Katie blinked a few times, then glanced up to a grinning face above. “You are a natural at this, Katie.”

She bit her lip. She felt so powerless here. Thatch’s hand came back down to stroke against her hair and Katie could feel her cognition slipping back away, being stolen as she was submerged back within Thatch’s sweet music. It wasn’t a bad feeling, though again, she suspected that the her of even a day before would have disagreed. She wasn’t that any more, though. She was something new.

She tried to keep her focus sharp, but the only thing she wanted to pay any attention to was Thatch herself, and every part of her drew in Katie’s mind and left her quiet and soft. The gentle rise and fall of Thatch’s heat matched time with Katie’s heartbeat, then took charge of it and slowed her right down. Relaxed her. Katie suspected that it would have worked whether she’d wanted it to or not.

But stars, did she want it to work.

Thatch’s attention drew her under yet again. It was a hug. It was reward. It was bliss. It was intimacy. It was so many things, and the stars could have lived and died before Thatch brought her back up again, for all Katie knew. Another pill. Another gulp of water. This time, the instructions were wordless, just a touch against her jaw and then another against her throat. She opened her mouth and swallowed, again only managing to start to think again in the aftermath.

“I’m, uh…” Katie whimpered. She felt a finger press against her lips, silencing her, while Thatch’s stroking fingers stole her mind away again. They went through that dance enough times that Katie lost track. Each time she came back up her mind felt quieter and her thoughts were slower, less distinct. Closer to feelings and vague imagery than words, and then even less than that.

Another pill, held at Katie’s lips. “I am cheating, a little,” Thatch admitted. “Your neurochemical imbalances leave you more open to this than most, I believe. You can resist this, but it is at the edge of your capabilities, and I fear I have burned through your reserves of several important things. This pill should fix that. You will have a much easier time thinking afterwards. I will not withhold your medication to have you like this. Now that you are mine, you will be held to a strict schedule. We will eschew the pills only once I have the capability to provide for your needs myself.”

Katie looked up with an open mouth and an open mind. Thatch held her finger against the jawbone. Her other hand still held the pill between two fingers. She slowly drew it along Katie’s upper lip, eliciting quiet pants and gentle squirms. The girl leaned forward, reaching for it, but Thatch’s comfortable grip was inescapable.

“Understand, Katie. This is a very sloppy way of achieving my goal. I will not treat you sloppily. When I want you like this in future, the changes I make to your mind will be…” The pill made a long journey around Katie’s lips, but never quite made it inside. The girl extended her tongue, desperate. She had no words with which to beg. “Precise. Intentional. Direct. I shall learn how you work down to the atom and have you be exactly as I wish. But at the beginning of today you were not yet mine, and so your biochemistry was not yet under my guidance.”

Thatch popped the pill down on Katie’s tongue, but held both down with two fingers. “Consider this a promise, Katie. I shall have you exactly as I wish. You will get your chances to influence that, but it is no longer your decision. You are to be the best Katie you can be, and all that is left for you to do is to help me explore with you to discover what that means.”

Thatch’s fingers left Katie’s mouth. She knew there was something she should probably do, but it was so much easier not to think. She didn’t need to. She could lie there with her mouth open, tongue extended, letting the pill slowly moisten, until she was told to do otherwise.

“Remember this moment well, where I have you so helplessly mine that even knowing your every thought is locked behind that pill you cannot make yourself swallow. Where I could do anything to you and you would like it. Remember each and every time I give you your medication that without it, I can bring you down to this with ease, and so know that your every thought is a gift from me. Use them well. Be yourself, safe in the knowledge that everything you are comes from my hand.”

Thatch smiled down for a few more moments, while the pill’s soft outer casing slowly dissolved and a thin droplet of saliva slowly rolled down Katie’s chin. “Beautiful. Be a good girl and swallow for me.”

Katie did, coughing a little as she swallowed with only the saliva that had pooled in her mouth. It barely took more than a few seconds before she could start to feel the machinery of her mind slowly grind back to life. Vague feelings coalesced into more nuanced ones. Those gathered together to form concepts, and the concepts collaborated to produce a thought.

Katie still couldn’t figure out quite what to say. She stared up at Thatch for long moments, and then fell to the side, into her chest. “You dork,” she laughed, eventually. “How long did you keep me like that?” It seemed baffling to Katie that she’d ever wanted to avoid Thatch’s touch on her mind. Why would she ever have not wanted this guidance?

Thatch laughed back. It was a good laugh. It wasn’t that she’d been humourless before, not at all, but there was a freedom in her laughter now that Katie hadn’t known wasn’t present before. This was better. This was good. “I could not tell you, flower. Neither of us have anywhere to be, so why measure these things with time? I kept you for as long as I wished and not a moment longer. How do you feel?”

“Good?” Katie shrugged, and scratched her forehead. “Hang on, I’m still catching up. I… That thing that happens when you tell me to do something: that’s new? I like that.”

“You will have to be more specific, pet. We have yet to map out your entire self, so some of your thoughts and feelings are still opaque to me.” She brushed a thumbnail under Katie’s chin, pulling out a soft whimper. It didn’t steal Katie’s thoughts away this time, though. It just felt good. “We will fix that, do not worry.”

The floret flailed, ending up hiding her blush beneath a hastily assembled barrier of leaves. “Is the flirting going to be like this forever?”

“No, I plan on getting better at it.” Katie glimpsed through a small parting in her leafy shield and spotted a shameless grin. “Though as a more serious answer, you do get a say in that. There are several aspects of your new life that you cannot change no matter how hard you may try to. You will always be loved. You will always be cherished. I will keep you safe and happy. You will be nurtured and given help to grow. Most other things, however, are negotiable. I want to make you happy, Katie, and I plan on being aggressive about it, but you know that. You know what I am capable of; you know what I wish to do to you; and you chose to be here. I will take you to your breaking point time and time again, and each time I will have you beg for it.”

Katie’s protection was pulled away in an instant as Thatch reached over it and grabbed Katie’s chin in a firm grip. She pulled, forcing Katie up to meet her gaze.

“I will do nothing to you that you do not prove to me that you want with eager enthusiasm.” Thatch grinned, pulling a gentle whimper from between Katie’s parted lips. “Which is all to say that I keep flirting because you keep proving to me that you want it.”

Stars-cursed xenos. Katie bit her lip hard enough that it hurt, prompting Thatch to raise a finger to her jaw and press. She obediently opened her mouth so her lip could be retrieved and moved somewhere safer.

“…yes Mi… Mistress? Are you Mistress now?” They blinked at each other for a few moments.

Thatch’s mouth twisted to one side. “I honestly had not considered that.” She seemed surprisingly uncertain.

“You took a pet without considering titles?” Katie raised an eyebrow, with a subtle smirk. The blush still staining her cheeks ruined any chance she had at feeling like she was keeping up in their verbal sparring, however. “And here you say you aren’t sloppy.”

Katie felt a slight pang of something weird dance across her mind. A moment of doubt? Insecurity? Worry? She winced. “Shit, sorry, was that not funny? Joking. You’ve been very good to me so far.”

“Mmh.” Thatch sighed, shrugged, and released Katie’s jaw. The girl was pulled in for a closer hug, with one arm holding her close and the other stroking down her back. Katie felt Thatch’s heat rising, easily matching her own rhythm. She played to Thatch’s time, now. “I am sorry, I do not mean to harm the mood. Let us ignore tha—”

Katie jabbed her in the arm, ignoring the gentle, mindless lethargy that was being offered to her. “Hey, no, nope. You don’t get to do that any more. Can I still call yellow? You have to talk to me.”

Thatch grumbled, but Katie could feel the underlying hesitance in the affini’s gentle song. “You are property, Katie. Demands are no longer your area.” Katie smiled. She could sense the real meaning in the delicate way Thatch’s emotional state played against her own. The plant couldn’t lie to her and they both seemed to know it. It wasn’t a rebuke, it was intentionally leaving Katie an opening.

“I am. I can’t judge you. I can’t go anywhere. I literally cannot do anything but be supportive and loving. You gave me your list of invariants for me, and I guess this is mine for you? You don’t have to hide parts of yourself from me. I won’t judge you, Thatch, I’ve let you reshape my entire life around you specifically, I’m pretty sure you have me biologically wired to want to support you at this point. Thank you. It really helps to know that I can’t get scared off and be dumb again.”

“Hmn. Perhaps, yes.” The affini’s lips twitched upwards, and while Katie couldn’t see it she could feel the emotion that underpinned it. Thatch’s arm squeezed a little tighter around her, pulling her in so that her affini’s chin could rest against the top of Katie’s head. She could feel the comfort she was providing radiating back down into her. “You are not wrong. Thank you. I…” Thatch paused, as if considering the words. Katie felt the gentle turmoil.

“I feel like a bad affini, often.” Thatch’s spare hand stroked down Katie’s hair, for both of their comforts. “I feel as if I am selfish to have taken you when you could have made so many other choices and I cannot even give you a firm title in response. I feel as if I am wrong to want the things that I want. You tell me that you want to learn, and I believe you, but… the things that I want fly in the face of the promises my people make.”

Their hug grew tighter. Thatch’s arms enveloped Katie, and though she could not quite reach all the way around in response, Katie squeezed with what little might she had all the same. Thatch’s grip grew stronger in time with her words, though Katie suspected it was as much for emotional support as it was a consequence of the rhythm that ruled her. “I am so very young,” Thatch claimed, “and to be Affini is… a gift; a responsibility; a promise made to the universe that I shall do my part in its caretaking. It is hard to feel like I can live up to that.”

Katie felt a sensation utterly alien brush across her consciousness. She couldn’t even begin to place it. If Katie had to rely on her sixth sense alone she would have been lost, but thankfully Thatch was her best friend and in so many ways an open book. “Are you thinking about her?”

A few quiet nods. “Always. I live in a society constructed by countless, those who have lived my lifetime dozens of times over. I rushed to contribute my own individual efforts, and… I know, in some ways, that what happened was not due to any error I made but somebody must bear that weight and there is nobody else to remember her.” Thatch’s vines slowly drew themselves down Katie’s spine, leaving warmth and comfort in their wake. Her fingers curled in, gripping Katie tight. “You are my priority now, and so I worry that Caeca would see this as a betrayal.”

Katie could have lost herself in the stream of emotion. She felt a vortex of intense feeling paint a vivid picture with her mind as the canvas. Katie had understood before. They had talked about this. She had not understood, truly, what it was like for Thatch to experience it until now. Katie had to steel herself against it all, focus on her breathing, hold herself deliberately disjoint from Thatch’s chorus, just to avoid being swept away by the tide. She couldn’t have that. Thatch needed support, not adoration.

“I didn’t know her, but I don’t want you to forget her just because I’m here. She’s a part of your life and I’m here for all of you, not just the easy bits. Maybe you could tell me about her, some time? I don’t know if that’s insensitive, but if you feel like you’re the only one remembering her, then… teach me about her, too, so I can help?”

The gentle sound of the artificial stream was the only thing Katie could hear for a few long moments. Emotions ran too thick for words. A silent conversation played out in subtle shifts of grip and stance, slowly drawing Katie deeper within Thatch’s embrace until all pretense at bones or organs had been abandoned and the girl was simply surrounded. Thatch didn’t have to accept the offer with words. Katie could feel it.

“You would’ve taken her, right? Done… this? Showed her all the mysteries of the universe?” Katie asked, eventually.

“Yes. Roots, yes, I would have. I was too young and we both knew it, but we felt as if nothing could stop us.”

Katie nodded, mostly to herself, working up the force of will to say something that little kernel of internalised submission in her head didn’t want her to say. “Are you sure you want me to be your first floret? We haven’t done the paperwork, but you said that was just to tell others you’d made your choice. You chose Caeca. Shouldn’t she be your first?”

Thatch froze up. She didn’t do that often any more, only when trying to process something that left her unable to trust herself. Katie was trapped within in a greenery cocoon she couldn’t hope to bend, but that was okay. Thatch wouldn’t move until she was confident. Katie whispered. “It’s okay. It doesn’t make me any less important. It doesn’t make me any less cherished. I don’t know if you’re comfortable with it, and if you’re not then that’s okay, but—”

“No, I… had not thought of it like that before. I made my choice. By my own words she was mine, and thus I hers. Thank you. I think that acknowledging that would have made her happy.” The affini—the affini. The one who mattered—took a deep breath. Katie felt and heard the air rushing all around her, flowing from one side to the other while she was so deeply embedded in the creature’s body. “Yes. Yes, you are not my first, but my second. You are no less important to me for that.”

“I know. You’ll do great.”

Katie felt the warm buzz of pride and agreement soaking through her. She could have fought it, but why would she? Getting to feel proud was nice. Thatch brought her hands up to Katie’s head, gliding fingers through hair. “I hope so. I swear and have sworn that I will not let you regret your choice, but I do wish I could give you the same easy confidence that others would have. You are beautiful and you make a beautiful floret, but were it not for me you would have been safely in the hands of another for weeks now. I suspect they would not falter when asked for a simple honourific, nor would they ask your help to hold them back, nor would they wish to do to you the things I do. They would not need your help like this. I cannot give you the gifts that others could.”

Katie shrugged, keeping her face nestled against what seemed to be her affini’s neck. Her words came out a little muffled, but she doubted either of them would mind. “I can’t even tell you what I am yet. It’s okay to still be working this out. I don’t want easy confidence, hon, I need you. I guess I rationally understand that somebody else could have made me happy too, but… I can’t believe they’d have done it as well. I’m stone cold sober, right?”

“It is not quite that clear cut, the concept of sobriety is one steeped in old Terran norms, declaring some chemicals natural and others not without any justification given. I would say that your happiness is not externally induced, however.”

“Sure. It would be, with somebody else, right?”

Thatch gave a gentle shrug. “It is impossible to say for certain, and I would not call an induced happiness any less true, but for the sake of argument, let us say that it would.”

“I wouldn’t have chased anyone else a few lightyears just to pin them down, right?”

Thatch smiled, fingers curling in her Katie’s hair. “No, I suspect not. You are quite willful.”

“Were, perhaps?” Katie asked, with a grin. That was an aspect of herself she was happy to lose.

“Hmn. No, present tense intentional. Most other florets I have known would have smiled and obeyed when told to ignore a misstep, at least a small one. You actually know how to resist my call. Willful is not inaccurate.” Thatch smiled down, curling Katie’s hair around one of her fingers. Perhaps it could be an aspect she could be happy to keep, too, if it was for Thatch’s benefit.

“Then don’t we make quite the pair? We can’t know what I would have done if things were different, but I know that I’m glad to be here now. We’ll figure stuff out. We’re in no rush, right? What was it you said, neither of us has anywhere else to be? We can take our time. You’ve been Thatch to me this long, that doesn’t have to change.”

Katie paused for a moment. “I do like being called pet, though. You can keep that one, please. Feels nice. I would’ve fucking hated it yesterday, so it’s kind of a nice reminder of what you’ve rescued me from.”

Katie’s words drew out a laugh, but one backed by complicated feelings. She joined it with her own complicated grin. “Yeah, that’s kind of a weird thing to say, huh?”

“A little. It is uncomfortable for me to confront that you are different now. Not in a bad way, I do not think, just… The fantasy of possessing you is meeting the reality of what that actually means.”

“Any regrets?”

Katie yelped as the air was squeezed out of her lungs. She squirmed, feeling Thatch’s arms so tight around her that she knew she wouldn’t be able to handle it for more than a few moments. Of course, a few moments is all she got. Thatch knew how much she could take. “None. Never. This is not a bad thing. I just… had this idea in my head of what this would be like. I would be the ceaselessly charming, endlessly dominant affini rogue with one hand on the leash and the other reprogramming your head, while you would be my endlessly adoring, perfect pet.”

“Hey!” Katie used what little freedom of motion she had to try to pinch a vine. It wasn’t very effective. “I am your endlessly adoring, perfect pet, thank you very much.” Thatch’s laughter was a salve. This wasn’t how Katie had expected the day to go, but she was finding herself without complaints. “But no, yeah, I get it. I guess I had fewer expectations going in, but you’re doing great so far. We weren’t ever equals really, but I liked a lot about how we did things planetside. I don’t need you to be different, really, we can just be honest about what it is that we need from each other. Besides, you are charming, you’re just also a dork.”

“Hmn. Thank you, I think?” Thatch appeared ponderous for a moment, then shrugged. “Okay. If you are willing to accept that there will be missteps, then I am very excited to go on this journey with you.”

“We’ve been on this journey for weeks. I know you; we’ve got this. Can I call green?” Katie gave a vine a comforting squeeze.

“Of course. Same rules as before, for both of us. The… context is different, now that you are mine, but the effect is not. Tell me to stop, or that we need to adjust, and we will at very least talk about it. The final decision must lie with me, I expect—”

Katie nodded firmly. “There’s something in my head that balks at anything else.”

“—but I will never ignore your needs. We have as much time as we need to determine how we are to work, and we are in no rush.”

Why had Katie fought this for so long? Her old fears seemed absurd. Yes, admittedly Thatch did want to do almost everything Katie had been afraid of back then, but she felt safe enough that it wasn’t scary. Besides, Thatch was hot, and that helped a lot too. She couldn’t ever in her wildest dreams have imagined sitting here in a stable home of her own with somebody who loved her, quietly discussing their future together. It was so incongruent with the fears she had had of monsters tearing away her identity that the actual monster who wanted to tear away her identity didn’t register as scary any more.

“While true,” Katie agreed, “some of the stuff you said back there in the shuttle is, in hindsight, really exciting and I wanna try it. I still haven’t figured out what I want to be, besides the obvious little point of certainty you’ve been so kind as to supply, and… if you wanna take me apart and put me back together again, that sounds like a great way for us both to explore me. Let’s not wait too long before starting to figure out what that stuff means, right?”

Katie’s silly plant rumbled, bringing around half a dozen extra vines to hold on to her tight. “How did I ever get along without you?”

“As far as I can tell, Miss. Aquae, you did not.” Katie paused. “Is ‘Miss. Aquae’ okay? It isn’t really a title, it’s just… respectful?” It felt nice to be respectful. Katie had never been the type before, but… new her, right?

“It was nice to hear, actually. Let us go with that for now, and we shall see about finding something more us later. Any objections, pet?”

“No, Miss Aquae!” Katie chirped. It felt a little like she was putting it on, but it was her first attempt at being… properly, intentionally florety? Katie felt her cheeks warming, but she didn’t have time to be embarrassed before she was lost in the embrace again.

She had a lot to get used to. Hell, they both had a lot to get used to and a long way left to go, but if anywhere could be a stop for rest along their shared journey then it would be this. Katie Aquae, Second Floret, buried herself in the leaves and life of her beloved owner and for the first time in a very, very long time let herself simply exist.

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