Mane ate a lot. The meatballs were delicious and hot and fresh and the sauce was somehow also fresh. All three humans sat around a smallish table eating the food Effus had prepared for dinner, and Effus was sitting some distance away at a much bigger table with her roots dangling into some porridge of plant nutrients. Aria and Melody giggled and traded humorous stories about floret life, at least partially in a conscious effort to get Mane more comfortable with the idea.
"So then, like, Maver ran up to the sign and goes, I know what that says!" Melody exclaimed in between bites of delicious meat and saucified tomato, "And Visk tells her, I'm not so sure you do little human," Mane couldn't help but notice that, while she had never met Mav or Visk, and thus she had zero actual evidence to back her up, she got the feeling Melody's impressions weren't any better than they were when the two had met. "But then Mav jumps and down and it's like, soooooo cute!" Melody giggled and tore through another bite. "And Mav says, yes I do! It says goldfish crossing!" At this, Melody burst laughing for a second. Neither Mane nor Aria got it, though Effus did seem to wiggle in some way that resembled laughter. Mane assumed this made more sense if one was fluent in, or at least able to read, affini. Melody sat politely with a contented smile and returned to her food.
She's so much happier, hissed a dark troublesome thought deep in Mane's brain. It wasn't a hallucination or another consciousness, to be clear, nor even did the thoughts strictly speaking form exact words. But the sentiment was clear and its implications were painfully opaque. She tried not to think about it, even as a horrible cloud formed in her brain.
It's not my fault, she reassured herself. Melody herself said that her coming here was functionally inevitable. There was no way Melody ran away to the aliens because she had one bad relationship-
Her only relationship. Had Mane physically winced? No, no, the others were still talking, that was good-but-and besides!
I actively helped her make friends, Mane growled at herself. She went out of her way to make sure Melody wasn't dependent on her, specifically because-
"Mane? Mane, sweetie? Is everything okay?" The sound of Melody's voice, hurt and concerned, impacted the dark feelings in Mane's gut like a missile. All of it vanished. Right now her priority was her friend.
"Sorry! I just got lost in thought," Mane said technically truthfully. She ate some more of the meatballs, and distracted herself by focusing on the texture of the silverware in her hands. It was decorated with...perhaps needlessly ornate carving and relief, depicting flowering vines flowing up alongside the sides of the fork's and knife's handles. The knife was sharp enough for slicing but not so much as torisk harm, about equal in both regards to a decent one made by humans. The same could be said about the fork, albeit with poking as its purpose. Mane supposed that there could only be so high a ceiling on how effective one could craft a regular old fork to be.
"If you're sure," Melody seemed to concede. She watched her ex warily, even as she continued with her eating. "Isn't Effus a good cook?"
"Yeah, yeah. Yeah!" Mane fumbled at first but quickly found her enthusiasm (or at least, the "convincingly feign enthusiasm that I genuinely should have right now" lever). It was true, Effus made wonderful food, but Mane's affect was simply missing in action at the moment. "It's delicious!" Mane scarfed some more down and was disappointed to see her plate had no more left. "Drat. Seconds?" Effus laughed audibly from her place at the other table.
"Of course, little one! Take all you'd like to!" The affini's voice boomed across the room full of joy and pride. Mane had a glint in her eye. She got up, scrambled over to the big pot full of dinner, and refilled her plate with a hearty second helping. She ran back to the table and got to work on more.
"Is she so small…" mused Airy, her face bending inwards with worry, "because she wasn't…?"
"Don't worry Aria, that's not it," Melody reassured her girlfriend with a smile. "Mane's metabolism is wild. She stays at that weight basically no matter what." Mane nodded as she gulped down more of the food.
"Yeah," Mane muttered as she wiped red sauce off of her face using her sleeve, "I would've preferred my father's immune system but I got this instead." Airy let out a nice soft laugh that lifted both Mane's spirits and those of Melody by a great deal. The three slowly eased into more natural conversation, about food and the ship and the fun places in it. Aria talked a great deal about the Bellont, an arcade with a fun sort of gothic aesthetic to it that she liked visiting with the humans her owner rehabilitated. Melody offered to take her there and Aria was delighted by the notion. Again, something stirred inside Mane. Just like last time, it wasn't anything good.
Jealousy? Fuck. She couldn't be doing this now! Melody wasn't her girlfriend anymore, and besides, even if they WERE still together, what kind of controlling asshole would be mad to see their girlfriend bonding with someone as precious as Aria!? Mane's eyes lost some of their newly regained luster, not that she was aware that they had. Aria was...so cute, and sweet, and GOOD, and Aria had been nothing but good to her, and Melody and Aria were so goddamn cute around each other! It genuinely warmed Mane to see the way they smiled at each other, and held hands, but...why? Why!!!
"Mane, you went quiet again," Aria pouted at her, seeming both mildly upset and moderately-to-severely worried. "Is something wrong?" Shit. If Aria could see it then there was zero chance that Melody and Effus couldn't both see right through her.
No, no, no, Mane warned herself. This train of thought was capital B Bad. She tried to focus on her food, but even her sensory organs seemed to be protesting against her. The meat's spices were less potent, the steaming tomato slathered over it lost its nice tang. She was trapped in her brain.
Just. Like. Him.
No, no, no! Mane scrambled to deconstruct the reason she was upset. Sometimes that stopped this reaction.
She was mad. She was mad at Melody. She was mad at Melody for being so touchy feely with someone else right in front of her. Was that reasonable? No, no, it COULDN'T be, not after how they'd split up. It wasn't a stranger either-she liked Aria! Hell, she LOVED her!
Fuck. Was she jealous of THAT? Did SHE want-no, that didn't make any goddamn sense, Aria was just about as cuddly with Mane as with Melody!
You're angry. She's done nothing wrong and you're angry.
"Mane!" Melody was resting a hand on top of hers. Staring into her soul with her...pretty, soft, caring eyes…
"M-meep." Mane blushed. Melody looked...hurt. Worried. All the bad feelings fled from her body. She had to make Melody feel better. "Sorry! Just had a bad train of thought, and-" would Effus drug the answer out of her if she lied? Probably not. But...Melody had chastised her for hiding things already. Melody would worry. Mane refused to hurt her. "Jealous…"
"Of Aria and I? Ah….yeah." Melody squeezed Mane's hand and smiled. "I understand. We can-"
"No, please," Mane sputtered out, "I...like seeing you two together. You're...cute, and sweet, and…" warmth grew in her chest. Melody stroked the back of her hand with a thumb. "Are you two...a thing, or something?"
"Yeah," Melody said with a blush, "I hope that's not...like, a problem. For you."
"No...it shouldn't be. Could you tell me about...that?"
"I'd love to." For the rest of the conversation, Melody regaled Mane with stories about her new girlfriend. How soft Aria was, how patient, how sweet. Aria at one point retreated to the living room out of embarrassment. Mane enjoyed it. It was heartwarming to know that Melody was in kind, loving, capable hands. Melody stood there and talked until Mane was finished eating (and this included filling her plate a third time).
"Bed time." Effus informed them from her place. "Melody, you can sleep wherever."
"I brought a sleeping bag," Melody informed her with a smile, "thank you for having me. It's always a pleasure to visit."
"What," teased Effus, "do you think if you butter me up enough I'll take pity on you and teach Cordelia how to cook human food?"
"Noooooo but what if I taught you a couple recipes for Mane's favorite food?" Effus froze. Mane could physically HEAR the vines under Effus' outer layer snapping against each other with excitement like a shark's jaws snapping shut. Hey, hey wait a minute-
"I'm listening," Effus purred. She extended a hand towards Mane. "Go brush your teeth little one."
"Hey," Mane piped up, "this is unfair! Conspiracy! It's-"
"Go brush your teeth and go to bed Mane. Be a good girl okay?" Melody requested with a big innocent grin and a fluttering of her long pretty eyelashes. Mane was, rather predictably, struck as if the words were a several kiloton bomb.
"Y-yes Melody," Mane stammered helplessly, "okay." She shuffled off to the bathroom, upset but not too upset.
"Dirt," Effus mumbled to herself, "domesticating her is gonna be easier than I thought. Now what was that, darling? You're dating my floret?"
"Itechnicallyneversaidthatoutloudbutyesma'am." Melody admitted, looking slightly frightened. Effus laughed.
"That's alright dear! I'm just pulling your leg. Thoooough, you did say you were an item, which if I understand Terran slang correctly, means you did in fact say it out loud. Still, that's not as important as you telling me eeeeeverything you know~" Vines exploded out of Effus and shot through the entire hab in seconds, grabbing papers and pens and pinning them to counters until the entire residence was essentially one of those heist movie laser grids, but made of vines and stationery. Melody gulped.
Mane stayed in the bathroom until Effus' conversation was over. This entailed lots of creaking the door open to check, but that part was over now. She was lying in bed. Effus stopped by briefly and crouched next to her.
"Hello, dear. May I help you sleep tonight?"
"No," Mane answered, "I'd rather...lie awake on my own for a while first. If that's okay with you, I suppose."
"I never understand when a human wants to be alone," sighed Effus, "but I'll respect your boundaries. I ordered your tablet today. It will arrive tomorrow. Good night." She got up and went off to her own room, leaving Mane alone in the cozy pillow fort that functionally served as hers.
The dark cloud of feelings from before came swirling back in now. And...its return spawned yet another one.
Clearly you wanted to hurt her.
Not satisfied with that.
Mane grimaced. She'd processed THIS flavor of self loathing a long time ago. She wasn't mad that things were resolved without Melody being punished. That was...well, fucking absurd. Her bad feelings had just gone on pause while Melody was hurt, because Mane prioritized making sure she was okay. It wasn't hard for her to disentangle that web, so...why was it still there?
You're just like him.
Just like dad.
Mane gripped at her sheets until her knuckles were white.
No. That was bullshit. It was SO obviously bullshit that if anyone else said it to her Melody might throw them down the stairs. She flashed back to her father shoving his face in her mother's. Screaming at her.
"Christian humiliated me in front of my friends today! He ALWAYS does this! You kept undermining me as he grew up and now he won't even fucking shave when I tell him to! I'm sick of this shit!!!"
Mane had never made a racist remark to someone that people from her homeland didn't hit their wives. She'd never bragged about locking one of her children outside in a storm. She was, unlike her father, not responsible for a single human being having developed anorexia that would haunt them to the end of their days, and she certainly had never inflicted such a thing on one of her own children.
When Melody made her angry-which was RARE!-she'd never shoved her face in Melody's or started treating her like a disobedient dog.
Mane curled up into a ball. Tears were coming. She made sure to be quiet. Was she more worried about Effus punishing her, or Melody being worried about her?
"This tool is like your wife: you don't share it."
You're just like him.
Mane screwed her eyes shut.
Mane cried herself to sleep.