Effus returned to her hab. Countless vines curled up into the air around her, and paper bags full of groceries hung from all of them, often in pairs of two or three such bags per vine. She felt a tinge of regret at having failed to get Mane into the station today, for the process which was due, but having mercy on the poor soul after that lapse in judgment from Mort felt appropriate. She felt hopeful for the present-after all, even putting aside the relapse spurred on by Mane's aversion to the use of class-O xenodrugs, today the two had once more made some amount of progress. She'd picked up some more paperwork after the grocery shopping was done, and said papers were tucked under one arm. Several affini were interested in Mane based on her profile. Effus supposed this ought not surprise her. Breaking violent sophont spirits was in their roots, after all.
"I'm home!" She trilled as the automatic double doors to her hab slid open. A quick glance inside showed her that Airy was relaxing on the couch, but that Mane was nowhere in sight. This was problematic. Mane couldn't have escaped, could she!? The cuffs were still on her when Mane went back into the hab, and it wouldn't allow Mane to leave without them on. They were set to fall off a minute or so after the doors closed, as long as Mane seemed mostly stable…
Dirt. Her tablet had gone off shortly after she left Mane alone. She'd already gotten so used to Mane's cuffs reacting that it was possible she filtered out something serious. Oh, oh no, what if Mane was lost! What if some poor floret panicked at the sight of her and she blamed herself!?
No, no. Aria would not be so calm. She had to be missing something.
"Airy, darling, where is Mane?" Effus asked, trying not to let her worry show in her voice. Airy turned to face her and waved with excitement.
"Mane's in the bath with Melody!" Airy cried with glee. "Oh-ack! I'm so sorry Mistress I forgot to ask you if-"
"Oh no worries, darling!" Laughed Effus with relief pulsing down her body and all along her leaves and chutes. "It's perfectly alright for Melody to be here. She's bathing Mane?"
"Yup! They're catching up I think, cause they used to know each other and all," Airy giggled and redirected her attention back onto the cartoon. Melody and Mane had some kind of past together? Effus' leaves curled in response to a shiver-like sensation of intrigue flashed across the affini's body. "Need help unloading the groceries?"
"Not at all, little one." Effus carried her bags into the kitchen and set them down. At some point in the process, she noticed a spiky dark blue plushie had been placed on one of the kitchen counters. She pondered it as she set down her remaining bags. Should she check to make sure she knew what this was? It seemed, to her, like maybe she ought to. "Hey, Airy! This plushie in the kitchen-it's Mane's that she almost left in the ship, right?" Aria didn't answer for a few seconds. When she did she sounded...strangely nervous.
"Y-yes Mistress! That's Mane's plushie!" Aria cried, her voice infirm. Why'd she sound so...bothered? Effus paused in thought. Perhaps she was envious and felt guilty about it? Maybe she played with it some, or dropped it, and that made her feel like a bad host. Effus made a mental note to get Aria a plushie of her own, maybe one that looked like one of the now-florets they'd helped in the past.
"Okay! I'll just tuck it into Mane's bed then!" Effus glided from the kitchen to Mane's little pillow fort, which was in disarray. She frowned at it for a second. "Airy, do you think Mane would mind if I made her bed?"
"N-no?" Airy answered. She sounded even more stressed. What was wrong, Effus wondered? She'd check on that later. Dozens of vines shot out of her body and twisted and curved and split into flexile tendrils, all setting down on the bed like a rain of ravenous snakes. She folded and tucked and rearranged sheets and covers and blankets and pillows in seconds, and just about instantly the pillow fort had been perfectly restored. She stopped and stood up straight for a second afterwards, admiring her work. Now, then...should she leave the plushie on the bed?
"Airy, one last question dear," Effus spoke to her floret, "Mane knows it's back right?"
"No," said Airy, "she hasn't seen it yet." She sounded really guilty about that one. That settled the matter, thought Effus-she had played with it and forgotten to show Mane. That was alright, Effus figured, since Mane was expecting it to be gone forever. Back to her previous question: should she leave the plushie on the bed?
No, she thought, it would make a fine surprise in the morning. It would be cruel to withhold, certainly, if Mane knew she were doing so. Mane, however, had no reason not to think it was gone for good already. Waking up cradling it would be a lovely experience.
Plus, that was unusually fast for the plushie to get to her, and she hadn't signed any paperwork about it yet (she didn't think so at least-it was possible she had done so and then forgotten already). As far as affini protocol was concerned, the plushie technically hadn't arrived yet. She took the plushie to her room and tucked it away into a cabinet designated as storage for Human Wards' Very Precious Items.
Now, then, she could go back into the kitchen and start actually unloading the groceries.
Melody exited the bath first, dried off using a guest towel and dressed in a bright red bikini that she liked. "Hello Effus!" She trilled over at the affini in question, who was currently unloading groceries in the kitchen. Effus turned slightly to face her and waved.
"Greetings, Melody! It's a privilege to have you here, as it always is!" Effus almost chirped from the gaps between her vines and her bark. Melody giggled and nodded as she walked up towards the kitchen.
"Is there anything I can do to help you right now?" Melody asked hopefully. She always felt wonderful lending affini a hand, especially Cordelia and Cordelia's close friends. After all, they had done so much for her that she...didn't owe them, transactional relationships involving pets were strictly frowned upon by the affini, but she still felt that it was much better to help them than to opt out, given the opportunity. She stepped into the kitchen and noted that it was a bit of a mess. Crumbs all over the place, dust on the less-used counters, the like. "Perhaps I could clean the kitchen when you're done?" Effus laughed and her simulated human face gave itself the expression to match.
"That bad, huh? No, you silly little gay." Fuck, that made Melody's spine tingle. She wobbled pitifully at the knees and waist, and she just barely stopped herself from making a squeal of stunned joy. Effus fawned gently over her, using one vine to caress Melody's cheek and another to lightly pet her. "Leave such matters to us, Little Flower. Florets should-"
"Don't call me that," Melody reacted instantly by instinct. She caught herself in a net of shock and had to spend a moment wriggling in order to get free so she could add, "only Cordi gets to call me that." Effus looked her up and down, the mouth of her great imposing wooden mask bent into a bemused smirk. Melody prepared to be gently castigated for speaking out of turn-
"Adorable! Cordelia is such a sweet thing," Effus cooed, "And suuuuch a sweetheart you are! I couldn't imagine an owner better suited or more deserving of you." The affini turned attention back to the groceries. Vines and makeshift hands moved them into cupboards and cabinets and the fridge. Bananna-like alien fruit were placed on the counter next to an empty bowl, which was promptly filled with apples. "Oh, one question, just to be sure. Did you see a plushie in here?"
"Oh, yes, that! That was-" Melody started to answer. A vine gently shushed her and she submissively went quiet. Effus was silent for a moment as she returned more groceries to their appropriate resting place. The vines filled the room as they sailed to and fro through the air, carrying various foods and operating cabinet doors. Carrots, cantaloupe, several boxes full of pre-prepared frozen meals, some broccoli for steaming. In a flash of movement and green Effus emptied all the remaining bags of their contents and deposited those contents into their respective space in the kitchen. The vine slid away from Melody, leaving a trace of sap on her lips. She licked it out of curiosity. It tasted...sweet...warm...like...submission…
"Did Mane see the plushie?" Effus asked gently. She scooped Melody up into her arms and started to gently pet her hair using a hand made of vines. Melody felt herself dangling, surrounded by soft caring foliage. She couldn't help but nestle her body appreciatively into Effus' grasp.
"Nooo, and she doesn't know it's here I don't think," Melody told Effus. She smiled emptily. Her mouth felt glittery and soft and damp. It was like tasting how gemstones looked. "That's Pengiiiiii," she giggled, before remembering that she'd been shushed-which, naturally, came with remembering the sap. She took another lick and her entire body trembled with joy.
"Good girl. Now go cuddle with little Airy." Effus placed the adorable florette down and watched her stumble awkwardly over to the far-too-big couch, which she was now struggling to clamber up onto. It was with a laugh that Effus extended a few vines to grip Melody's...warm, squishy, inviting thighs...and lift the girl onto the couch. Melody threw herself against Airy and showered her in nuzzles and kisses.
The door to the bathroom opened. Mane emerged wearing a cute florette dress. It was a pale pink, with splotches of other colors decorating the torso section. No coat, Effus noticed. Was Mane's coat machine washable? She'd have to ask.
"Mane! Whatcha want for dinner?" She asked with a confident grin on her face. Mane turned in her direction and scratched awkwardly at the back of her head before trying to give an answer. When she did speak up, her voice was more like what she would use to ask a question.
"I...meatballs? And sauce, I guess…?" Effus nodded vigorously with her entire body. Her flowers joined in on the gesture, swiveling up and down in their places on her form.
"Absolutely, dear, coming right up! Just relax in that cute comfy dress and I'll let the three of you know when dinner is ready, okay darling?" Mane limply nodded yes. Effus noticed that the human seemed distressed, but trusted the florets to be able to fix it. "Airy! Help Mane get cozy on the couch, okay little one?" Airy, of course, was eager to as she asked. Airy hopped down from the couch and scrambled over to Mane, she took one of Mane's hands in one of her own and planted a hearty kiss on the girl's cheek. Mane's face, already rather red from her time soaking in hot water, somehow managed to become even more red from blushing. The implant-lacking human was helpless to stop Airy from dragging her over and up to the coach, which is exactly what she did. Effus giggled and hummed to herself, both in time with her body's natural rhythm. She'd crack this human's shell yet.