7. The First Of Them

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 Seven: The First Of Them

Thatch Aquae—Second Bloom—felt different. Like a new plant. As far as she understood everyone experienced the Reblooming process differently; she hadn’t expected to have to find out how hers went quite so early into her lifespan.

Leaving her old self behind and continuing with the new felt like it should have been a more emotional experience, but as soon as Thatch had recovered enough to regain consciousness Katie had taken precedence. The… Thatch wasn’t quite sure how to refer to Katie, currently, but finding her missing had been quite alarming.

Alarming, but exciting, too. The florets aboard the Elettarium were almost all completely useless at anything but being cute—though in their defence, they were very good at that. Whatever it was that Katie was, she had something that they didn’t. The kind of fire and drive that would lead somebody to run off to dirt knew where on some new and dangerous planet.

Most of the humans Thatch knew couldn’t be relied on to dress themselves, and yet here Katie was, charging off towards adventure.

Thatch refused to admit to herself that part of her haste in rebuilding a body was simple excitement at seeing what the girl would be getting up to. It was purely practical, as far as she was concerned, to forgo all reasonable approaches at regrowth in favour of rapidly transplanting every plant she could get her vines on into herself, and growing with whatever nutrients she could absorb, rather than being selective about it and rebuilding herself properly like any normal Affini would do in her situation.

She was going to pay for this, she knew. Transplanting individual flowers was one thing, but half her form was foreign; her vines were stained with local anthocyanins; and nothing sat quite right. That could just be the process of getting used to a new body, but it could also be her natural material rejecting the transplanted material, and in that case things could get ugly. She’d reach Third Bloom by the end of the week, in that case, and that would be embarrassing.

Thatch was roused from her thought by Katie yanking on a vine. She shook her head, dispelling the malaise that had been settling over her, and put her focus on her traveling companion.

Katie was walking a little ahead, ostensibly leading, though she kept glancing back. Thatch walked after, pace languid, leaving plenty of time and opportunity to get lost in thought.

“Yes, Katie?” she asked. The two were walking through the dense forest, in a direction Katie had picked seemingly at random. Thatch was trying to gently guide her into at least not walking in circles, but the curious creature beside her seemed deeply resistant to guidance, and Thatch desperately needed to be subtle. She’d already almost lost control of that particular situation once before, and the last thing she wanted was to drug the poor girl out of her mind until they got home. Katie was the most interesting thing she’d stumbled across in decades.

“I’m not completely sure where we’re going,” she admitted. Finally. “Do you have any ideas?”

Equality was exhausting, forcing Thatch to carefully lead her ward to solutions rather than simply outright telling her what to do. Surprisingly, it had also been quite fulfilling so far.

“Hmn, well, you had said that finding a river or lake would be most helpful, but we’re not quite sure where we might find one. Perhaps if we were to find higher ground or get a better perspective on matters we could look for landmarks, or perhaps there are animal tracks which are being hidden by the undergrowth.”

If Thatch was being entirely honest, she was not meaningfully less lost, and it was starting to worry her. As much as Katie needed to find her own way, they did need to find water before nightfall if Katie were to have a good meal before bed.

“Do you have any plant powers that could help here? Can you… talk to the trees, or whatever?” the girl asked.

“I would hardly refer to them as ‘plant powers’, Katieflower,” Thatch deadpanned, “but I believe I can assist, certainly. Would you like to take a look at our location from high above, like a satellite? Alternatively, we could move more quickly if I scouted ahead alone, so that I could lead you to safety.”

Had Thatch her usual array of chemicals to hand, she might have been tempted to simply give the poor thing a few choice options. Something to take the edge off of her fears, certainly, not just about herself, but about the danger she seemed to still perceive herself to be in. Any one of a dozen concoctions could build on their growing trust and streamline the process of teaching her that she would be happier if she gave up that independent streak and just let herself be taken care of. Failing even that, it would hardly be challenging to simply instill the chemicals that humans used to form trust bonds manually.

“I don’t want you to run off on your own, Thatch, I think we should stick together. How do I see us from above? Is that some kind of technology?” Katie asked, softly shaking her head, but looking up at Thatch like she expected the affini to be able to work magic. If only Thatch felt so confident in herself.

Had Thatch her usual array of chemicals to hand, she would be missing out on the most fun she’d ever had with any of the Affini companion species. Without needing to constantly worry about directly managing the girl’s emotional state, Thatch could simply enjoy it. It was almost enough to make one wonder whether they were destroying something, by domesticating so many of the humans, but Katie’s actions hardly dissuaded Thatch from her cultural imperative. She would have died a dozen times over by herself already and needed help with everything from eating and drinking to dealing with pests. Not only that, her time in the ex-Terran Accord had clearly been traumatic, and she needed guidance through that, as well. A soft chemical blanket would have been for her own good and Thatch had no doubts she would be able to convince Katie of that if she tried, but selfishly, she was still grateful that that option was unavailable and glad that she didn’t have to be the one to shoulder that burden.

Not that she was entirely opposed to seeing Katie given an appropriate set of chemicals—by somebody qualified and worthy. Though the florets Thatch had dealt with before had been ultimately unfulfilling—if cute!—the thought of seeing Katie act the same way, knowing what more she was underneath, and how much more still she could become under a careful hand in an accepting home? It was enough to send Thatch’s vines squirming. Katie would make a wonderful pet for somebody who could handle that kind of thing, and perhaps Thatch would visit sometimes, if Katie still remembered her.

“I’m afraid I have about as much access to technology as you do right now, Katie, but we can get a good view the old fashioned way.”

As they’d been talking, Thatch’s vines had been spreading out around them, snaking beneath the undergrowth, blanketing the area so she was ready to strike. No sooner had her sentence ended than her vines were in motion, curling around Katie, wrapping her tight enough she’d struggle to move and lifting her a little off the ground.

At the same time, others wrapped around the trees surrounding them, and Thatch gave a testing pull, lifting the both of them off of the ground. Perfect. She broke into a storm of motion, bipedal form scattering into a twisted nest of deep purples and blood reds, lashing itself between the trees, heading up, up, up. Faster, faster, faster. Vines lashing to trunks, wrapping around, gripping, and flinging. The wind rushed through her leaves and in mere moments they were reaching the top. When was the last time Thatch had really gotten to cut loose, in the safe utopia of the Affini Compact?

They broke through the canopy in a burst of torn leaves and shattered twigs, Thatch laughing in delight as her longest few vines grabbed onto the tallest trunks and threw her upwards with as much force as they could muster. All the while, she spoke soft reassurances to Katie, regulating her grip to make sure the girl felt the security of being held without feeling too constrained, keeping protective vines curled around her to make sure she was safe from branches and growths.

They sailed through the sky for a long moment, protector and protégé glittering together in the sunlight, clothing and foliage both whipping in the wind, before gravity turned on them and started forcing them back down. Escaping the atmosphere would take a lot more work than this.

Thatch’s three best vines shot out, creating for them a rough tripod, nestled against the very tops of the tallest trees she’d been able to spot on their ascent, while she reformed her bipedal body around Katie’s.

The human’s cheeks were stained almost as red as the vines surrounding her, and as fun as it would have been to engage in a few trust exercises, Thatch didn’t want to risk their emerging partnership.

“Getting a good view?” Thatch asked, smiling as innocent a smile as she could manage. It took the girl a few seconds to find her calm, and despite the strength of Thatch’s grip it wasn’t until she offered another vine for Katie to cling to herself that she started to behave like she wasn’t expecting to fall out of the sky at any moment.

“A—Ask before you do that, next time!” Katie complained, hands squeezing around the vine hard enough for Thatch to feel, “but… woah, this is useful, yeah. Do you see, um—” Katie spent a moment shuffling, making sure she had a solid grip with one arm before daring to let go with the other, so she could point— “over there, the trees seem taller!”

Thatch looked, peering into the distance. Surprisingly, while humans were outclassed in most respects by their Affini caretakers, visual acuity was somewhere where they were on a fairly even playing field. It took a moment to spot what she was looking at, but afterwards, Thatch hummed in assent.

“They do. It may also be the… altitude, you said, of the terrain.”

Katie tried to twist around to look Thatch in the face, a task with which Thatch was entirely willing to assist. “The ground doesn’t have an altitude, it’s… altitude is how high above the ground you are. Also, you avoided my question before, about how you learned those words, I noticed, and I still want an answer. If I’m going to go back to your society I want to know more about it, first.”

Thatch hummed again, feigning thought, before twisting Katie back outwards and pointing towards a space they could only barely see, where it looked like there might be a gap in the canopy. “That’s more likely to be a river than higher ground, I think.”


Katie was prodding at questions Thatch would really rather not answer. There were much better places to start if you wanted an education into the Affini Compact’s societal structure. Ones which Thatch was more comfortable speaking on. She gestured over to the gap with a mottled hand. “Perhaps we should head in that direction, Katie? We have much distance to cover if we’re to reach there before nightfall. Of course, if you’d allow me to carry you we could make much better time.”


Thatch’s center squirmed softly. She could have Katie effectively unconscious—or at least not able to ask difficult questions—in seconds, but then Katie probably wouldn’t talk to her again. Wasn’t she meant to be the one in charge here? Thatch tried to still the churning mess of plantlife within herself. “I… We could discuss the details of domestication protocol over dinner, tonight? I’ll make something nice and hopefully we can create a fireplace. You humans love fireplaces, right?”

Katie was wrinkled by the last sentence, and Thatch felt a stab of guilt. There was a conversation there that needed having, but Katie’s sense of self seemed built on such a soft foundation that now really didn’t seem to be the time.

“We’ll talk now,” Katie said, grabbing onto her support vine with two hands and holding tight. “Unless you’re going to drop me, you’re stuck up here until we decide which direction to go. You haven’t been evasive about anything else, and if this is a dirty little secret then I want to know about it before I figure out what I’m going to do once we get back.”

The trees surrounding them shook slowly in a light breeze, giving the pair a subtle wavering motion as they hung several meters above the canopy. Thatch’s leaves were rustling and squirming, and if she tried to lie to herself she could almost say it was only due to the wind. Almost. Of all the things to learn about the domestication program first, the cotyledons were perhaps the most complicated, ethically speaking. Certainly the last thing that Thatch wanted to discuss. Katie was giving her nowhere to hide, and the Affini cultural norm of drugging the poor thing out of her mind wasn’t an option.

“Okay, you win,” Thatch sighed. “We’ll talk about it, I promise. Can we do so while we’re travelling? It may be a long discussion, and I don’t want you going to bed tonight hungry.”

Katie squirmed energetically enough that Thatch was forced to relent, and let the girl turn to look towards her again. She didn’t say anything, she only stared, the implication was clear, and more than a little painful.

“Katie,” Thatch said, face falling. “I have not lied to you. I will not lie to you. We will talk about it as soon as you wish, and that can be now, but I would rather prefer us to be traveling again as soon as possible. I know how often you need to eat, and I need some time to gather ingredients of my own.”

Her ward’s expression softened, and Katie nodded a few times, seeming to relent. “Yeah, okay. That gap over there seems like our best bet. I think it’s best if we walk, so take us back down to the surface—slowly!—and then let’s talk.”

Thatch nodded quietly, mostly to herself. Katie’s active hostility seemed to be slipping away, which was surely a good thing. Surely this couldn’t lead to heartbreak for the poor thing.

For all her foresight, Thatch hadn’t particularly considered how to get down. She supposed it would be like a lesser species raising a foot to walk and then needing to pause before they could set it back again. Moving around simply became second nature, and though this environment wasn’t quite what she was used to, it still sported plenty of places to tightly wrap a vine.

Gravity made moving down easy. She had planned to simply let go and catch them at the bottom, but that wasn’t slow by any measure. Instead, she had to carefully lower herself beneath the canopy by her three points of stability, so that she could see another set of points to whip vines out towards, and then repeat that process, lowering them a few meters at a time until finally they touched down on solid ground.

Thatch gently leaned down to place Katie’s feet against the surface, and the girl took a moment to regain her balance, and seemingly a moment more simply lingering. Building trust was good, but Thatch couldn’t help but feel a growing guilt. Humans bonded at an alarming rate, and she had to spend weeks alone with this one. The last thing Thatch wanted was to get Katie’s hopes up that she’d be kept. It wasn’t that she wasn’t interesting, Thatch just wasn’t into that kind of thing.

Her guilt wasn’t soothed at all by the nature of the conversation they were about to have.

Thatch gave Katie a gentle push in the direction of their travel, and then set off next to her. Walking at human pace felt painfully slow to Thatch, who could move at twice the speed if she were to walk at her natural pace, or ten times if she abandoned the need to be relatable and hauled herself across the forest vine by vine. She could hardly leave the poor thing behind, though.

“So,” Thatch started. After a few moments, Katie glanced up at her, motioning for her to go on. “We do our very best to make all of our wards happy, and that means… everything to us, really. We learn all about you. How your bodies work, how your minds work. What you need and what you don’t. We eagerly collect information on all the different ways that different ones of you work, so that we can provide individual love and care for every single one of you cuties.”

“Uh-huh,” Katie said, sounding unconvinced. “Last I checked, you people were ignoring our firm declarations of independence and got both of us into this mess by breaking into the ship I was crew on. That’s one hell of an arrogant streak you have going on if you think that’s ‘caring’.”

While they walked, Thatch had a few other tasks to attend to. She was watching out for plants, mostly, hoping to find raw materials that she could synthesise something useful out of. As Katie’s sentence reached its end, Thatch focused very hard on these other tasks. She leaned down, plucking a small collection of flowers from the area around, before opening up her left arm to reveal the dense collection of vines and buds within.

With a twist of two fingers, she plucked a few of her ‘natural’ buds and carefully placed the new flowers in their stead, waiting a few moments while willing her body to try growing into the new matter. She couldn’t be sure they’d produce anything of value, but without better analytical tools, grafting them onto herself and giving them the nutrients they needed to try was about her best option.

Thatch glanced back towards Katie. Yes, she was still looking. Thatch turned her head back and busied herself with another set of flowers. She’d graft one of every species she could find if she had to. The botanical gardens back on the Elettarium stored a vast collection of some of the most useful things they’d discovered across a dozen galaxies, so Thatch was unlikely to reach more than a fraction of her prior potential until they got back, but she’d always enjoyed biochemistry and turning herself into a workbench with a lot of different chemicals to combine sounded like a way to pass the time.

Thatch looked back again. Katie was still looking, and looking less than impressed at that. Any other human she’d met would already have gotten distracted by something by now. This was much harder to deal with.

“Yes, it is,” she agreed, finally, having exhausted the unique species in their immediate area and thus every available distraction. “But we have a lot of experience doing this and we’re right about it. You aren’t the first species we’ve domesticated, we know what we’re doing.”

Katie, unsurprisingly, didn’t seem convinced by that answer. Most of the humans had come quietly, especially once they’d seen how much more capable the Affini were than their previous leadership, but some small number, like Katie, continued to rebel.

It was a problem of information, as far as Thatch was concerned. The truth traveled more slowly than the lies, and on relativistic scales that mattered. No matter how efficiently they distributed correct information about their arrival, it was always preceded by a shell of rumours and mistruths, and by the time the facts arrived some of the most vulnerable had already been taken in by the falsities and twisted against those who only wanted the best for them.

Hence, Katie. She didn’t even know why she was fighting, she just was.

It took the girl a few minutes before she figured out a response. Though their forward progress was slow, it did give Thatch plenty of time to really rummage around for new species. She was already starting to find them less regularly, but all across the natural universe’s forests, she’d never known any without wonderful biodiversity.

“Don’t we get a say, though? Maybe you do know better, but I don’t want that. I just want to be left alone until I know what I want, and you won’t leave me alone. I don’t want you to make me happy, or anything else, I want to figure out who I am. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

Thatch could feel her core melting, vines squirming in sympathy. Katie wanted exactly what the Affini wanted to give her, and how long had she spent fighting simply due to lack of good information? How much of this could have been avoided? Thatch laid one of her few deep purple vines over the girl’s shoulder. “C’mon, come here, you need a hug.”

“I don’t— Don’t domesticate me!” she complained, trying to disentangle herself, unsuccessfully. She needed a hug; Thatch was giving her one. That was the only reason. Everything was fine.

“To my knowledge, there isn’t a domicile for light years. I’m not going to domesticate you, Katie, I just want to give you a hug. I think you’ve had a hard life and I don’t want to make it any harder. I’m afraid we can’t leave you entirely alone, but we only force anything on anyone if they’re a danger to themselves or others. Or, admittedly, if we’re certain that it’s what they want and they’re just playing coy, but if it turns out they really didn’t want it we’d stop. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that actually happening, though. We’re the good guys, Katie,” she said, with as kind a smile as she could manage, forcing Katie into a hug. Humans were almost uncomfortably easy, just the act of feeling something warm squeezing them released chemicals in their brain that made them happier.

“Mmmngh.” Katie squirmed enough to make it clear she was protesting, but not enough for Thatch to feel like she actually wanted out, and that was enough for her. “You’re not the good guys. You’re… space imperialists.”

“Wasn’t the Terran Accord a space empire?” Thatch asked, noting that their forward velocity had been cut in half, like this. It was awkward enough that Katie was hardly able to find a stride, but it seemed important to comfort her.

“They weren’t the good guys either. I dunno. I don’t think I believe in good guys or bad guys? It’s reductive, reality doesn’t work like that. The Terrans forced their rules on me, and so are you. Everyone has their skeletons.”

Thatch blinked, expression shifting to one of gentle concern, lifting Katie’s chin with a finger and giving her full attention. “Darling, I don’t know what you’ve heard, but we’re descended from something much closer to plants on your worlds. Our limbs are a choice. No skeletons.” she said, extending an arm and waggling it, letting it bend in places a bone never could.

She’d expected relief, or possibly discomfort at watching a humanoid shape behave so inhuman, but instead Katie began to convulse. Thatch’s expression twisted into a concerned frown in an instant, as she brought up one of her natural flowers to the girl’s face, ready to calm her down and settle her body at a moment’s notice, but… no, this wasn’t a panic attack. What was—

The convulsions finally spilled out into a few moments of bright, clear giggling as Katie fought for breath. “It’s a saying, hon. It’s not… literal skeletons! It means, uh… to have skeletons in your closet is to be hiding something bad, I guess? Some secret that they don’t want you to know about.”

Katie’s face grew more serious, and she shot Thatch a pointed glare. “Like your cotyledons.”

Ah. That.

Thatch looked away. How quickly could she get this part over with? Surely a good, succinct explanation would convince Katie to stop pushing? “We don’t… broadcast it, but they’re not in our… closets, Katie. The cotyledons are… the first of you.” Thatch could feel the stiffness in her limbs, the hesitance in her expression and the flat affect to her voice that suggested she was struggling to maintain her form. She wasn’t sure why. Everything was fine. “Our first attempts at figuring you out, figuring out how to work with your bodies. Figuring out how to help you, and we don’t always get it right straight away. There are so many of you in so many different shapes and sizes, and…”

Thatch looked away. Not saving everyone wasn’t a personal failing, she knew. That hadn’t mattered for the last fifty years, why would it matter now?

Katie’s look could be predicted, at this point. Thatch didn’t need to actually see it. “So why are you so hesitant to talk about this?” the girl asked. “If you’re gonna tell me that you all know what you’re doing and I should be happy to surrender, then you have to back that up with some evidence, Thatch. What is a cotyledon?” Katie asked, voice seeming to hammer into Thatch’s very center.

“We don’t always… get it right st—straight away. I know that must hurt to hear, but there are some within the Compact who will likely never think another thought in their lives. They’re happy! All of them! But… they’re not the best versions of themselves, and—”

Thatch’s attention was attracted by a sharp pull on one of the many vines making up her torso. Katie was looking up with a concerned frown of her own. Why wasn’t she more horrified? Thatch could feel her core slowing down as a familiar blanket of aimless frustration began to bubble up. She didn’t want to be having this conversation. She didn’t want to be here. She had better things to do. She had more important things to do. She had… apologies she could never make.

“And…” she tried to continue. “There’s just so many things that can go wrong,” she breathed. “So many ways a body and mind can break. So many mistakes that can be made, before we know how it all works, that you can’t take back.”

Thatch tried to focus on the forest that was really around her, not the sterile walls of an Affini medical unit. Not the machine beeping in one corner. Not the figure lying on the bed in the room’s center. Not the— Was Katie saying something?

Ah, they’d stopped moving altogether now, Thatch realised. She had no memory of dropping to her knees, but that was exactly where she was. No wonder Katie seemed concerned. Thatch was fine, though. Everything was okay. She just had to get up and keep on going.

“Hey,” Katie said, struggling her way out of the Affini’s grasp. That was absolutely something one of their wards should be able to do. Nothing was wrong. “Thatch, eyes on me.” Everything was fine. Everything was fine. Everything was—

Thatch recoiled, more in surprise than any kind of actual pain, as Katie slapped her, forcing her attention back to reality as the girl cried out in pain, with a bloody gash across her palm. Oh, dirt and roots, she shouldn’t leave thorns pointing outwards like that, but this body was so new she didn’t know where they all were yet. All of a sudden, Thatch was dragged back into reality, where it was just her and Katie deep within a dark forest.

“Oh, clod, I’m sorry, Katie, let me get that for y—”

The girl recoiled, pulling backwards with her face twisted in pain, cradling her now-bleeding hand in the other, teeth gritted. “Nope, nope, this was my bad, I don’t know why I thought that was a good idea, by the goddess you’re sharp. This isn’t going to drug me, is it? I think I can feel my thoughts going already.”

“That’s probably just shock, you wouldn’t be talking otherwise. Please, let me at least clean it,” Thatch said, reaching within her chest to grab the tall weave of twigs and leaves they’d filled with water before leaving the source Katie had found. She held out a hand towards Katie. If she kept her focus on the moment, it was almost like the previous conversation hadn’t happened. “Please?” she asked, using a supporting vine to keep her own hand from shaking.

Katie acquiesced, allowing her Affini guardian to tend to the wound. Thatch’s thorns were new, and very sharp, and so while the wound was alarmingly deep it was at very least a clean cut. It should be stitched together, but they lacked the materials for that. Wrapping it in leaves and tying them tightly on with the stems of some local plants was about the best they could do on short notice.

As they began to travel again, the silence that stretched between them was sharper than any thorn. Katie seemed to move to speak several times, but never quite managed. They had a long way to go before the end of the day and the journey was only just beginning.

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