Melody and Mane held hands and wandered, through what areas they could find that weren't dangerously crowded, in search of Effus. Melody had sent a message asking where the affini was, of course, but it had yet to be answered. A distant feeling of dread threatened to take hold of her, but she staunchly refused to let it. Instead she focused her mind in its entirety on the search. She was safe here, after all-in the worst case scenario she could just ask someone to contact the Crest and ask for her owner. Actually...that didn't sound like a bad idea. Cordi might get a bit upset, but she'd take issue with Effus and not her or Mane. Besides, then Mane would get to meet Cordelia, a thought which put a smile on Melody's face. She was a mere hobbyist in veterinary psychology, which in all fairness also applied to Effus (though the latter had studied more fervently for longer), but she was patient and loving and sweet. She didn't have quite the same...condescension as most affini. It occurred to Melody that if her first caretaker had been more traditional, she may have been drugged into submission just like Mane was scared of.
Nobody has ever regretted it, she could imagine Impy whispering into her ear. It was less sinister than the word choice implied-her implant wasn't a snakelike emissary of deception and evil, he was just trying to assuage her discomfort. She still disliked it, and made a mental note to ask Cordelia if she could maybe make some adjustments.
That was another thing. Impy wasn't like most implants, if she remembered correctly. Cordelia had deliberately grown him in a way that would leave him weaker in certain areas, as per her request. He had certain priorities that actively went against parts of the average haustoric implant's function: preventing her from becoming physically addicted to her master, for one. She realized she should have Cordi talk to Effus about that, and maybe Erias if she was okay with that.
But also that she needed to talk to Mane first before she brought up either possibility. The two of them stopped in their tracks because her tablet beeped. Melody opened the notification and read the text she'd received out loud.
"Sorry, I was making calls and got sidetracked," Melody said, reciting the contents of a message from Effus, "Are there any nearby restaurants you would like to take Mane to so I can meet you there?" She paused and hummed to herself for a few seconds, thinking. "You hungry Mane?"
"Yeah," Mane answered. She chuckled awkwardly. "I kind of ate a light breakfast, which-oh right, you know, you were there. In any case uh, what's around here? Can two unoccupied Terrans even get served on their own or is there, like, protocol about that?" She asked the questions with such genuine confusion and soft worry that Melody couldn't help but laugh. She found herself smiling at her ex and wondering if the soft heart that had first ensnared her might still be beating between Mane's ribs after all. Melody gave Mane's hand a gentle squeeze of reassurance and flashed at her a smile to match.
"We'll be fine darling. There's a seafood place down the lane that has shrimp, you want that?" Melody felt bad that she didn't remember more options, since Mane had never been big on seafood aside from a tolerant feelings towards certain fish and a limited fondness for shrimp. She made a note to read up on the areas around Erias' clinic, just in case she ever came along again.
"Shrimp sounds pretty good. You know, Terrologists say that horses might have been a mythological creature based on unusually large shrimp remains that washed up on shore!" Melody giggled and nodded. That sounded about right, and she missed the mountain of useless factoids Mane was always so eager to spill everywhere.
"Awww, come on cutie, let's go get you fed~"
Mane wasn't sure how to feel, if she was being honest. The therapy session she'd just had with Erias had been stressful, sure. She wasn't sure whether it went well. She was scared on some level that she gave too much away. It had been...nice, , allowing herself, if not to trust the affini, then at least to be convinced that maybe she could. The calm feeling of Erias' slow patient touch echoed in her mind as she somewhat involuntarily found herself relivinging it on repeat in her brain. Had she...genuinely been trusted? Were all the smoke and mirrors Mane had deployed in the meeting superfluous, too, on top of being ineffective?
Seeing Ursula, too, had been a shock to her system. That memory was much less difficult to tell how to feel about. It filled her with a familiar, cozy warmth uncomplicated by the baggage that weighed down her memories of Melody. Ursula's hot wet voice, her shimmering regards, that gorgeous smile of hers, were all left unscathed by time and even more beautiful in person. Mane almost wished she had been taken onto the ARGOS instead of the Crest. She could have been given to Erias…
No. No, that was horrifying. If they met right after Mane did the deed, then Erias would crack her open in an instant like an otter with a mollusk. There's no way she'd have the energy left in her then to evade Erias' questions. If Mane knew she could trust Erias, it would be one thing...
Mane stood outside the seafood place with Melody. Melody was typing text messages and notes on her tablet, and it held all of her attention. Mane tried not to let the bitter part of her remember a similar experience back in high school. She tried to think of what to say to get her ex's attention. What was she supposed to say, "pay attention to me?" "My brain is fuzzing up again and I'm scared and I need validation or I might actually just die?" No no no. Mane was not going to stoop to that, definitely not in public.
"I gotta go to the bathroom," Melody murmured. "You okay on your own?" Mane nodded and gestured for Melody. The floret scurried off. "You can go in on your own okay? Get me a seat and some lemonade!"
Mane paced outside. She felt too anxious to actually go in on her own. Melody said everything would be fine, but...Mane didn't want to bother. She pulled her hood up over her face and walked in increasingly tight circles, muttering to herself and squirming her fingers. She muttered to herself and sank into her thoughts.
"H-hey! They got you too boss?" Said a male voice somewhere to the side, the speaker obscured from Mane's vision by her fluffy hood. Mane froze. What? "Yeah, yeah! I'd know that Adam's apple anywhere! I can see why you always kept your hair short, it's distractingly pretty. How you been my man?" Mane turned to them with sunken, tired eyes. Their face dropped. "O-oh. You're not-" Mane reflexively tensed her fingers around the boxcutter in her coat pocket. Her heart started to beat faster. Her teeth pressed subconsciously against each other.
"Go away," Mane growled in her best impersonation of a gruff man. The stranger got the hint and left her to her own devices, at which point she sighed. Mane's hand slowly relaxed and let go of the knife. She was glad to have a moment to herself, even one that she had to spend outside in a public venue.had this happened, since...the murder? She hadn't been alone since she had been picked up not long after she finished caving in her father's head...or at least, if she had, she didn't remember it happening. That didn't strictly speaking mean that it hadn't.
"Hello Mane! Gosh, I'm sorry," purred a familiar affini voice. Suddenly Mane was being hugged from all angles by affectionate hands made of vines and flowers. They held her affectionately for a brief moment and then let go of her so that Effus could beam lovingly down at Mane. "I got an earful from the vet over some of how I've treated you. Will you...could you forgive me?" It didn't sound to Mane like a question. Was she reading undertones into Effus' words that weren't actually there? Perhaps Mane was. She still felt herself recoiling in frustration.
"Maybe." She tried to calm herself. Effus was trying, and loving, and she'd...Effus had rescued Pengi, after all. It would be wrong not to count that. "Thank you for...rescuing Pengi." Had she thanked Effus for that already? Perhaps she had. She didn't remember.
"That's okay sweetheart. Where's Melody?" Effus asked gingerly, her vines poking daintily at Mane's face and neck to clean her and check for any new scratches or bruises. When she was content knowing Mane had been safe she settled into a soft, patient grin. Mane wasn't fond of the touching but felt the intent and kindness behind Effus' vines and tolerated it anyway.
"Melody's going to the bathroom," Mane answered with a weary smile. "She said I could go in without her but I...I didn't want to so I've been pacing here waiting for her to come back." She tried not to stim with the knife in her pocket, for fear that clicking its blade in and out would be in an audio range Effus might hear. Effus grinned wide.
"Never you mind little one, there she is!" Sure enough when Mane looked in the direction Effus was pointing her face she got hit by a running hug.
"Hiiiii Mane I'm baaaack!" Melody squealed giddily and threw herself against Mane. "What, were you too worried to go somewhere without me? Awwww, poor girl, I love youuuu!" Mane laughed nervously and hugged back. Warmth started to take hold. She was loved. She was...safe.
The three went inside. Cute florets took their orders and affections and praise, disappeared into a kitchen and returned later with food and drinks. Effus put her roots in some affini slurry to rob it of its nutrients while Melody helped herself to some salmon and Mane ate shrimp and veggies (and also, a small portion of salmon).
"Erias messaged me," Effus grumbled. "She said we needed to talk about how I'm tending to you." She didn't say it but Mane could tell that Effus considered this a blow to her ego. It lacked the immediate anger her father would direct at her over such a thing, at least. "And...whatever I did that hurt you, I'm eager to learn and change and grow. I'm sorry I hurt you. You deserve to be tended to however you need, okay Mane?" Mane's face turned bright red and she almost choked on her food. Effus...was apologizing?
"I-hrgck! N-nothing really-!" Mane sputtered out. She washed her mouth down with some cold water. "It's fine really, I just-"
"No no no, darling, you need to be cared for. You deserve to be treated well. I won't let anyone tell you otherwise, not even you. Okay?" Mane stared at Effus, unsure how she felt or what to say. Effus grinned coyly. "Melody, tell her I'm right."
"It's true sweetie!" No, not this shit again!
"No, f-ghhf," Mane tried to say only for Melody to hug her close.
"Nooooo arguing! You are GOOD and CUTE and that's that!" Melody kissed Mane's hair. Mane grumbled submissively and blushed.
"No call yourself cute." Nothing. "That's an order~"
"I'm...cuuuute," Mane grumbled in defeat. Melody giggled happily.
"There, gooood girl."