Chapter Forty Five: I, katie
Katie held out her hand at about chest level, palm facing towards the virtual sky above. As she pulled fingers back into a fist she saw tendons tensing beneath mostly-opaque skin. Biological pulleys moved force from a central engine to where it was actually needed. There were muscles beneath her palm, apparently, but every twitch of Katie’s fingers was spooky action at a distance.
Thatch knelt in front, grinning on down from above. Droplets of early-morning moisture clung to her leaves and her petals, splattering her with a glisten that reflected their imagined dawning star. She was cast in long shadow, simulated starlight so bright that the affini’s foliage seemed to glow around the edges where the layering was so thin as not to be wholly opaque.
Katie blushed. Obviously.
Thatch had this alien beauty to her that the dork herself didn’t seem to see. Despite her obvious majesty, she acted so casually. At first, Katie had found Thatch beautiful simply because she was so other that she couldn’t help but envy, but now Katie had met enough affini to grow almost used to their alien wiles. Thatch’s beauty was more than an accident of her birth: It was the curve of her smile as she taught; the slight slouch in her body as she forewent precision for enthusiasm; the rippling twitches that ran across her foliage when Katie surprised her with an unexpectedly correct answer; and a trillion other ways beside.
Katie’s eyes couldn’t help but trace around her Thatch, watching rivulets of healthy dew cling to ridges and edges like they were afraid to let go.
Katie could relate.
Thatch was so green now. She was keeping a few of the old Dirt reds and purples in for style and memories both, but she looked healthier than Katie had ever seen her. From thick, springy vines hung leaves in a wide spectrum from the deep, powerful shades of new and healthy growth to those now fading, finally at the end of their service.
A few leaves had cuts or tears from moments of lost concentration or accident. A few had bite marks. For all her beauty Thatch was not pristine. She was alive and her body reflected the inherent imperfections that existence brought. Keeping a houseplant healthy didn’t require driving away the flaws; it needed a cultivating hand and a gentle spirit to help it grow strong despite them. Sometimes something was too damaged to save, but good cultivation required being willing to trim away that which kept something from its potential.
Gentle fingers tickled beneath Katie’s chin, drawing her focus back into the moment. “Getting distracted in there, kitten? I can up your dose if you are drifting?”
Katie blinked up at her affini, slow and non-threatening. She shook her head with a smile gone wide. “Not at all, Miss Aquae! I was just thinking that you’re looking exceptionally beautiful this morning, Miss.”
“Ah,” Thatch replied, pulsing with a moment of embarrassed warmth. She knew full well that Katie’s mind was clear, tuned up, and ready to go. She had nowhere to hide from the truth and a floret who saw the shape of her soul.
Katie savoured the awkwardness for an instant before grinning and rescuing her poor bullied xeno weed. They were midway through a biology lesson and Katie was learning about how the standard human-specification body moved. “So, you were saying something about tendons?” Katie prompted, wiggling her fingers up at her tutor.
“Ah! Er, yes.” Thatch set a few vines moving through the air in a complex dance that Katie was certain would have been entirely entrancing if her mind wasn’t being carefully kept on topic by altered neurochemistry and biotechnological nudges. Katie raised a hand to trace along the edge of her collar, silently thanking the software carefully managing her attention to keep her mostly undistracted.
Katie’s collar was a surprisingly flexible tool, and with a careful hand and confidence they’d successfully inverted the behaviour, for now. Instead of amplifying Thatch’s hold over her it cancelled it out. Katie’s current xenodrug dose leaned in heavily on things that reinforced the weaknesses in her natural neurochemistry and gave Katie a mind that felt sharper than she’d ever had before. Even by the most Terran of standards, there were no influences forcing Katie to think anything she didn’t want to.
Dirt, but Thatch was pretty when she was excited.
Vines snapped through the air with blinding speed, tips burning with light that seemed to trail in their wake. They drew out a detailed diagram in sharp lines that fuzzed the air around them, as if Thatch were plucking rays of starlight from the air and weaving them to her whims. Over the course of half a minute or so she crafted a blown-out rendition of a human arm with muscles in red, tendons in white, and all else in a gentle green.
Katie laughed. Thatch had been her teacher in a broken escape pod; on a near-deserted planet; in a shuttle; in their home; everywhere they’d ever been. No matter the context her style shone through, and whether they were working with dying leaves or a high fidelity holographic display, Thatch loved her diagrams.
The plant raised an eyebrow. Katie stifled herself and sat up a little straighter, raising her chin and putting her unused hand in her lap. “Sorry, Miss. Paying attention!”
One vine tapped against the diagram—or at least gave a good impression of it, given it was incorporeal—and another came to rest against Katie’s arm. “Were you now. Let us test that, then, pet. Identify the finger connected to each tendon I touch.”
Katie rolled her eyes. As if she didn’t hang off of her affini’s every word. As soon as Thatch’s vine pressed against her skin, Katie confidently declared the finger. “Pointing finger; little finger; middle finger?”
All five of Thatch’s fingers came down to ruffle her hair. Katie tried to dodge, but Thatch held the high ground. No amount of sharpened reflexes could have saved her. “Good girl. Move them for me too this time, kitty.”
Thatch repeated the process, tapping a vine against Katie’s skin. As the girl wiggled her finger back and forth, Thatch’s gentle pressure revealed the tendon moving beneath. Katie wrinkled her nose, feeling the offputting sensation of something rubbing against her skin from the inside. “This feels weird,” Katie interrupted, shivering. She held her finger still, wrinkled her nose, and stuck out her tongue.
“Indeed,” Thatch agreed. “Though you will find a not dissimilar mechanism in my own limbs. Come, see.” She raised a single vine and tapped a point upon it with a finger. Katie reached out to grab it, making sure she had a good and tight hold while Thatch began to wiggle the tip back and forth.
“Oh! It’s like…” Katie paused, shuffled closer, and pressed her ear to the tentacle. She suspected Thatch had deliberately chosen one with few hanging leaves, denying her an attempted snack. “Is there something moving in there?” It almost sounded like fluids flowing around inside, and the whole thing vibrated almost imperceptibly in time to Thatch’s ‘pulse’. Oddly enough it reminded Katie of the coolant pipes that would spider out from the jump drive of a Terran ship, buzzing with barely contained energy as they rushed to draw all the heat of use away.
“Is it hydraulic?” Katie moved down the vine, giving a firm squeeze, tap, or push every few centimetres. It never felt quite the same twice. “Hydraulic with compartmentalisation for redundancy?”
Katie tugged at the vine to no clear result. She crawled over to the end, a couple of meters away from Thatch’s body, and threw her weight against it. It refused to budge, except insofar as it needed to to cushion Katie from her own impact. Thatch was probably cheating, passing the force down into a handhold or one of the nearby trees, but it was still an impressive ignorance of Katie’s clearly superior leverage.
“I am feeling very inelegant right now,” Katie admitted, glancing back up at the diagram. She was string sloppily hung from misshapen bone, all while Thatch took a homogenous mass of powerful hydraulic limbs and formed her own meaning from them.
“You are correct, in theory.” Thatch pulled her vine away as Katie’s curiosity overcame her and she moved to taste it. Another, smaller vine curled around the loop of her collar and firmly pulled her back in. Katie tried digging her palms into the dirt to see whether she could even begin to resist the force, but all she achieved was causing Thatch to pull upwards on her collar too to deny her the leverage. At no point did she seem to need to put in even the slightest actual effort. “It is a little more complicated in practice—as is always the case—but the modern day Affini body is far more the result of deliberate bioengineering praxis than anything approaching natural evolution and so we cannot fairly compare our forms. We shall see how elegant you are once I am done with you.”
Thatch’s last sentence crashed into Katie’s cognition and, focus-enhancing xenodrugs or not, brought everything to a juddering halt. Katie found herself staring down at her own very human arms while imagining them otherwise, with butterflies leading a charge against her stomach lining as if determined to escape.
Katie’s arms were bare. The sleeves that usually hid her skin far from sight had been removed for the duration of the lesson. In stark contrast to usual floret fashions, Katie typically had her body mostly covered up. They both knew why. Katie liked her body a lot more than she once had, and enjoyed feeling Thatch’s guiding hand all the more, but it was still so very, deeply, human.
Katie slowly deflated. She could feel Thatch’s influence but it didn’t catch. She could feel her brain stewing in an alien chemical soup, but all it did was focus her and leave her with nowhere to hide from her own thoughts. That was the point. The butterflies broke through and started building a creeping weight in her upper chest.
Katie had asked Thatch to look into prosthetics for her. She wanted exactly this.
That had been true back then. Back when Katie had been desperately chasing any avenue for falling deeper into Thatch’s control to the exclusion of all else. Back when Katie had been prioritising her own senseless wants over Thatch’s desperate needs.
Divorced from the drive for self-destructive self-abandonment, Katie looked down at her familiar, uncomfortable, practical form. “I don’t know,” she replied, mirth stolen from her voice. “I won’t ever be perfect, will I? I’ll always find something to hate. Probably it would be better if we just tried to get me used to this, wouldn’t it?” Katie gestured at her arm.
Thatch’s vine snapped back, curling around Katie’s neck in a tight—though breathable—grip while the very tip coiled against her chin, lifting her head and forcing her gaze to meet her owner’s. Thatch looked down at her with a focussed, analytical gaze. Katie knew the one. She’d just done something surprising and Thatch needed to understand. “Neither of us want that,” Thatch replied, tapping Katie’s arm with the tip of a vine. “No art piece will be flawless, but we can still make you something to be proud of. Why do you hesitate now?”
“I— I don’t know,” Katie admitted. This wasn’t the first time the topic had come up, but it was just the first time that it felt like an immediate possibility. Between their research and the assistance they had been finding from new friends, their katielydon project was almost ready to start. This was no longer an abstract want but a practical, pressing concern.
That was a good thing. This was what they both wanted.
So why did Katie feel so torn? Why did her mind catch on the thought and why was her heart beating like a drum?
“What if I’m not me any more?” she asked, though Katie already knew the question didn’t feel right.
“Do you think I would let that happen?”
Katie frowned, looking away. “No, of course not.” Thatch would keep her in one piece. Thatch was already responsible for keeping her in one piece. Without her guidance, Katie could have torn herself apart on a half dozen occasions already. She didn’t need to worry about herself here.
“Then what are you really worried about?” Thatch radiated with a careful confusion. Katie could feel her love like sunlight kissing skin. Her concern was a summer day breeze dancing through Katie’s hair. Her care was warm ocean waves lapping at Katie’s body. Though it was suppressed at the moment, in so many ways Katie could still feel that influence guiding her, shaping her, keeping her on track to be who they wanted her to be. She would be the her that Thatch wanted her to be regardless. The best version of Katie Aquae. Whoever that was.
“I…” Katie stared down at her hand. It was so human. She rubbed a finger across a thin white line scored right across the middle of her palm. The scar left behind after she’d slapped Thatch across the face on their first day together when she’d been too wrapped up in her own problems to move her thorns out of the way and the best medical care they’d had was dirty water, leaves, and twine. Katie had been lucky it had only scarred. Thatch had sharp edges.
Katie pulled her hand into a tight fist, cherishing the slight tightness in the skin. Her body was human, but it was the body with which she’d met Thatch Aquae. The hand that had pulled her out of panic attacks with sharp physical shocks. The ankle she’d almost broken running back to her. The body that had nestled in close when Thatch had struggled to speak above a whisper, so constrained was she by the ghosts of her past. Katie’s body was a record of devotion. The things she’d given, and the things she’d given up, to help Thatch get to where she was today.
Katie looked up at her owner’s smiling face. “You’ll make me me,” Katie whispered up. “But you need somebody to make you you. I know I can do that like this, but what if I lose something along the way? Isn’t it selfish of me to want this?”
Thatch frowned down at her. “No. You are smarter than that. You know that this is something we are doing together and that it is in no small part for my benefit.” The affini placed a hand over Katie’s head and stared into her eyes, thoughtfully, for a few moments. Katie looked back, knowing that the only reason why her head was staying so focussed was biochemical assistance. “This is the second poor excuse in a row, which suggests to me that you are not certain what the problem is yourself. Speak freely. Talk to me.”
“It’s not fair that you can see through me like this when I can’t,” Katie complained, not particularly sincerely. “But I guess neither of us are looking for fair, right? I don’t know, hon. When I thought about this before it was just exciting, but now there’s fear in there too, like…”
Katie bit her lip. “This is kind of the last step, right? This is where I find out what I am, and then I’ll be fixed. I’ll be so yours that everybody who so much as looks at me will know it.”
“As you say,” Thatch agreed, nodding easily enough.
“There won’t be anything left of the old me,” Katie insisted. “The— What I was, before. Sad and lonely and human. I’ll be the new me. Happy and owned and whatever you want me to be.”
“Yes, correct.” Thatch wasn’t getting it.
“I’ll have given you everything that I was.” Katie wasn’t sure she was either.
“And everything that you could have been,” Thatch appended.
“And I’ll be yours. Entirely.”
Thatch nodded slowly. “Mine. Without reservation, for eternity. Your tone of voice suggests this is not intended as flirting, but I may need you to walk me through what it is intended as.”
Katie shrugged. “At first I thought I wanted to give you everything, and I jumped straight to that and ended up hurting us. Now we’re talking about doing that right and I feel scared because once I’ve given you everything then I won’t have anything left to give.”
Thatch’s hand atop her head was a heavy weight. It was comforting, but more comforting still was the mix of emotions dancing against Katie’s mind. Uncertainty and confusion yes, but love and care far more intensely. “And this is a bad thing? We will stop at a word, Katie. We won’t continue unless you are certain, and if we do not it will be okay. I love you, and the specifics we can work out together.”
Katie shook her head, laughed weakly, and rested her forehead against her plant’s hand. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I don’t want to stop. Being yours is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Maybe I’m just scared that we won’t get it right? What if we try and it doesn’t work, but it’s too late to go back?”
“The Affini body was not built in a day, Katie, it took tens of thousands of years to settle on this basic design.” Thatch ruffled her hair and grinned. “But they did not have me, and you would be done much faster. We could both hate the first attempt but that would be no failure. We would learn from it and try again with our new experience and our new understanding of what it is that you need.”
Katie took a deep breath. It sounded so easy when Thatch put it like that. If failure was just part of a process, then it wasn’t failure at all. “I… suppose,” she admitted. “But what if we can’t find anything that works? What if I wanted this—” Katie gestured at one hand with the other— “all along, and I can’t go back? What if I don’t trust myself to decide what I want?”
The idea was terrifying. It was a risk. Katie would be sacrificing something she could never get back. It would be hard. Even if everything went well, she’d be getting used to the change for a long, long time. She would suffer for her body. If things didn’t go well, she’d have to go through that cycle again and again, potentially without end.
Thatch chuckled. “Oh, that part is easy. It is out of your hands now. Pun intended.”
Katie laughed despite the prevailing mood.
Thatch continued. “You need this. You may not be able to do it for yourself, but you will do it for me. You have no choice in this matter so I suggest that you accept that it is happening. I cannot work with that—” Thatch gestured at Katie’s body— “and I will not have a pet who cannot see the same beauty in herself that I do.” She paused, glancing to one side with a momentary flush of uncertainty breaking through her expression. “And I cannot have a pet that I cannot fix. You know why I need to break you. I must know that I could fix it.”
Thatch took one of Katie’s arms and closed her hand around the wrist and most of the forearm. “I am an engineer, kitten. I understand how to solve practical problems. I could make your body do anything and I always could, but you have taught me that the endless chase for practicality will never make me happy. Be my canvas, flower, and let me be your artist. Please.”
Katie stared upwards, into her person’s hopeful gaze. Thatch needed this.
This wasn’t about Katie. Katie wasn’t hers any more, and that went more than just skin deep. Thatch needed this. It was a risk. It would be loss and change, sacrifice and suffering, and something that could never be undone.
Katie felt a weight lifting from her chest.
She could sacrifice for Thatch. To her surprise, she found herself wanting to sacrifice for Thatch. Not just incidentally as part of getting what she needed, but for the value of giving up a part of herself to her owner on its own. If Katie lost something, if it took years to find stability again, then…
“Yes, Miss.” Katie nodded firmly, straightening her back. “I’ll do it for you.”
Her plant raised an eyebrow. “That was unusually easy. There is normally more crying than this.”
Katie shrugged, smiling a smile only slightly wry. “If I’m doing it for you it feels different. If anything goes wrong, then that’s okay because I’m doing it for you. If I lose something at the other end then I lost it for you.” With a growing blush on her cheeks, Katie coughed. “I feel like I could do anything when it’s for you. You’re so… big?”
Katie glared upwards, driven to pout by the amused twitch of Thatch’s false eyebrow. “Not like that, you dork! Well… Okay, not just like that, anyway! You make me feel small in a good way. You’re so much that just being near you is disempowering, but it’s a comfortable kind of disempowerment. I don’t have to worry when you’re taking care of me, I just have to take care of you. The universe is too big for things like me, but I can focus on you and let you shape me and know everything will be okay because if it isn’t, you’ll fix it, even if it takes time or is hard or you need my help to make it work. You let me feel like I can be vulnerable around you, but you’ve helped so much already.”
Thatch’s smile could only really be described as adoring. Other verbs just couldn’t compete. She rested an elegant hand against Katie’s cheek and brushed the pad of a thumb against her scalp. “You can be vulnerable around me. I won’t hurt you.”
Katie glanced away. Thatch wouldn’t hurt her. “What if I maybe, kinda, wanted you to?”
“Then I would require you to speak directly without asking leading questions and expecting me to do the work, kitten.” Thatch paused to press a finger against Katie’s lips, stifling the complaint. “Yes, I know it is difficult, but you can do it for me, can you not? If you are looking for ways to show your devotion then begin with honesty.”
Katie flushed. “Um. I. Weh. Have you heard about class-D xenodrugs? They’re disinhibition agents which can—”
“No,” Thatch stated, firmly. “I wanted you clear-headed so you could learn, and I will keep you clear-headed so you can teach. Tell me how you are feeling, pet.” She tilted her head a few degrees to the side while holding Katie’s in place. Her eyes seemed to glimmer and Katie felt the weight of her expectation crashing down.
Katie whimpered. She tried to glance away but found Thatch’s grip unwilling to waver. She tried to avert her eyes, but found that whatever concoction of drugs and technology was keeping her focus under control was not enough to resist Thatch deliberately holding her attention. Katie’s eyes were pinned in place, staring up into her affini’s glowing, demanding gaze.
“I don’t really know,” she admitted, feeling her mind’s biotechnological reinforcements crack under the pressure as they tried and failed to keep Katie’s thoughts under her own control. “You’ve helped me so much already. I think back to what I used to be, and I was scared and suffering and in so much pain. Even after you agreed to take me in, I’ve had upsets and I’ve had challenges and you’ve always, always been there, and I guess I’m sitting here now and I realise that I feel good. I’m happy, I’m emotionally stable, my brain is behaving itself.” Katie winced. Her collar emitted a short error code and shut itself off. If she had been clinging to the edge, then now she was sucked in entirely. Thatch’s gaze beat down upon her, demanding sincerity.
“This is everything I could have dared ask for and more besides and then we come to this and you’re offering me something scary that I want so badly that I can’t risk taking it and I felt the beginnings of panic as I realised I just couldn’t do it, but I also couldn’t not.”
Katie let out a desperate mewl, giving an airy gesture and half a shrug with one arm. She couldn’t shift her attention enough to give any more. “And then you tell me to do it for you and all that fear just blows away. I don’t need you to comfort me because I just feel resolve. You need this from me and so all the sacrifices don’t feel scary any more.”
Thatch’s demand softened, finally allowing Katie’s mind to wander again. She felt the lack of her assistive device keenly. Thatch stroked a hand down Katie’s back and smiled down at her. “That’s a good kitten. I knew you could do it. I am gla—”
The collar beeped again, and Katie felt her focus sharpening. How had she managed to get through the day before, when she had lacked Thatch’s guidance on her mind? Whether she had training wheels helping her to think or a cage letting her be mindless safely, knowing she had a trusted operator at the helm was everything.
“But!” Katie interrupted, raising a finger. Thatch didn’t stop her, which was essentially tantamount to permission. She lacked Thatch’s all-consuming demand for sincerity, but perhaps she could keep her momentum going. “I… there’s this part of me that’s disappointed it was that easy. I, I, I… I want to change for you. It’s been hard to get this far, and that time in Lily’s shuttle that I barely even remember, I think that was hard too? I can feel your touches on my mind and my body, and they were hard to accept.”
“It getting easier is positive, no? You are acclimatising to your place and becoming the pet we both need you to be. This seems like progress.”
“It is! It is, but…” Katie bit her lip. Hell. Why couldn’t she just say it? How was she meant to put such a nebulous feeling into words? She felt like there was a simple sentence that would make everything clear, but the words for it eluded her.
“But?” Thatch prompted, a few seconds later. Somehow she was endlessly patient. Maybe it just came with immortality.
“But I want to give you more? The more I’ve surrendered to you, the happier I’ve been. You take better care of me than you take of yourself, and I want to give you everything. You need somebody who can give you everything, without putting all the pressure of what to do with it on you alone.”
“You have given me everything. You are my property, there is nothing that you are that is not mine. What more could you give?” Neither Thatch’s patience, nor her condescension, seemed limited. Katie couldn’t help but blush. She must sound like such a floret right now.
Katie shrugged, helplessly. “I think in hindsight, maybe, a little, kinda, I liked the struggle? A long while back now, just before you took me, I said something like ‘If you need me to suffer, let me suffer for you’. I didn’t want that then, but I knew I needed it. Now I don’t need it anymore, but…”
Thatch raised her eyebrow. The absolute brat knew exactly how that sentence would end. There was only one way it could end. This was ridiculous. Thatch! Why would she make Katie suffer like thi— Oh.
“But I want it,” Katie admitted, finally, to herself, and by extension to her owner. “I want to feel what I’m giving up, for you. I thought things felt good just because you were taking care of me, and because you loved me, but it’s more. You made me our work-in-progress and I don’t ever want to be finished. I want to feel your touch in everything I am and always be noticing the ways you’re shaping me. I want to spend my days striving, doing things for you in a thousand little ways. I want you to take things from me and make me feel it. I want you to break me, Miss, in the literal sense, and I want you to put me back together how you want me. Our journey has been so important to me that I don’t want to stop just because we’ve reached the destination. Be my engineer, and let me be your machine. Please?”
A few seconds passed without a response. Katie could feel a turmoil swirling around in her owner’s head, flashing between emotions too rapidly to track. Leaves flattened all across her body in a fast, sweeping wave from her chest outwards, then all moved out to stand on end at once.
“Apologies,” Thatch replied, blinking rapidly. “This is me enumerating the times I could have done exactly what I wished with you but held back because I was worried it would be too much. I am also realising how predictably I have been underestimating your devotion. I should have realised you needed this as much as I, and that we are not doing this for me alone. I apologise, dearest katieflower. It will not happen again.”
“We could… now?” Katie felt the hunger in Thatch’s eyes as they danced across her fragile, flimsy body. She gestured her head towards the bedroom. Or the project room. Either one, really. There was a reason the two were set side by side and it wouldn’t be the first time they’d migrated in a hurry.
Maybe they should just keep a set of tools in the bedroom.
For a beautiful moment Thatch’s form unfolded, taking on hard edges and razor thorns as she expanded outwards to consume the world and blot out the sun. Katie was blanketed by shadow as Thatch’s will bore down upon her.
Only for it all to fall slack at the last moment. Thatch flopped forward, landing against Katie in a loose hug, shaking her head. A handful of vines curled around Katie’s body and held it close. “In all honesty, kitten, our recent social exertions have left me exhausted and I suggested a lesson precisely because I barely want to move, never mind whatever melodramatic expressions of desire I will doubtless bring down upon you when I am more rested.” She reached around Katie’s head to rub around the back of an ear. “I apologise, but tonight is to be a quiet evening.”
Katie pulled her mouth to one side, considered, and then grinned. “Then may I cook for you, Miss? I know how you like your food by now. Perhaps afterwards we could retreat to the bedroom? The next episode of By The Stars In Their Eyes is out and we could watch it while I make sure all your leaves are moistened? This is the one where we find out where all the deer keep coming from!”
Thatch’s vines curled tighter around Katie’s body, rendering escape even more impossible. She squeezed, treating Katie more like an oversized plush toy than a cook. “I am perfectly capable of making my own food, katie, and I will be much faster about it than you.”
Katie nodded, or at least tried to nod and trusted Thatch would be able to interpret it. “Of course you would, Miss. Pretty please may I? I’d really like to do something for you right now, if I can make your life easier in the smallest way?”
The firm squeezing continued for another few seconds, before Katie was finally released. Vines slithered along almost every inch of her skin, pulling back and leaving Katie feeling cold. Even the softened air of their hab unit, with its perfect temperature and subtle floral scent, felt cold and sharp in comparison to Thatch’s embrace.
A sacrifice worth making, if it meant Katie getting to dedicate herself to some satisfying acts of simple service.
“Oh, very well, then,” Thatch replied, ruffling Katie’s hair as she used the last few vines to pick the girl up and place her on hands and knees. “You are evaporating my metaphorical heart and being absolutely delightful, kitten. I additionally have some ripened berries ready for harvesting, and if you do a very good job I may even let you have one when you’re done.”
Katie beamed, bouncing up to her feet. “Yes, Miss Aquae!”
Yeah. Yeah, she could get used to this. This felt right. Katie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She’d been circling the conclusion for long enough and it was time to accept it.
This wasn’t just Thatch being the most important person in the universe.
It was that her Thatch was better with a Katie at her side. Neither of them could command that fundamental, cosmic importance by themselves. Katie had been a directionless drifter with rapidly scattering hopes. Thatch had been an aimless wanderer quickly falling to pieces.
Katie was Thatch Aquae’s, but her plant didn’t want a mindless puppet. She didn’t want an equal, either. She could have had either of those things. Thatch could and should have whatever she wanted, but she didn’t know what she was looking for.
As Thatch had said, she was an engineer, and she could make of Katie what she wished, but all that capacity was nothing without the wisdom to use it right. Katie could help Thatch figure out her needs.
Katie’s mind drifted back to her most central question. What was she? The answer drifted into her head as easy as breathing.
Every battleship needed its logistics; every Jump Drive its tech; every captain its ship; and every Thatch its katie. Not equal. Below, not less.
katie Aquae, Second Floret wasn’t a limited resource. She could give Thatch what she needed and she would be greater for it, not lesser. She straightened her back, set her feet, and smiled widely across at her friend, lover, and owner.
“Thank you, Miss! Right away, Miss!”
“Ah, but one last thing. Let us not make this too easy for you, hmn? If you are looking for a challenge, then I shall provide.” She reached over with a pair of vines and took katie’s hands, carefully folding down her fingers and tying them in place with binds of thin plantlife that katie’s fingers lacked the strength to break. They dragged her down, placing her hands back against the dirt, and then gave her one last petting before Thatch collapsed entirely into a comfortable yet amorphous bush. “You know what I like,” the bush buzzed. “Get to it.”
katie got to it.