The Florette's Dilemma
Mane felt warm. Cordelia took Mane back to Melody and Aida, who had filled a big shopping cart with lots of dresses and shirts and bras. To Mane, it seemed alien to watch Melody feel so comfortable spoiling herself like that. She knew, on a conscious level, that in a world without scarcity there was no need to hold back like one might back under the accord. There was no cost attached to these items, no need to measure their cost against your bills, nor even against the total amount of money you had before more complex math got involved. Taking it a step further, there was no guilt in spending money on small pleasures like cute clothes or nice socks when your family or friends might need it more in the immediate future. To Mane, who had lived with her father for so long, just knowing this wasn't enough. Her mind understood but her brain, her heart, didn't see it yet.
To her, grabbing everything she wanted was a vice. It was the hallmark of people like her sister, materialists and capitalists and those who felt entitled to luxury even as their fellows starved. For all she wailed and gnashed her teeth, Mane was unable to truthfully say that the affini were a step down from their human predecessors. The affini might forcibly change her as punishment for her crime (and no matter what they said, it WAS a punishment), but the Accord wouldn't be kinder. She didn't mean in the way some did, either, that took for granted brainwashing was somehow less cruel than violence.
Mane forcibly pulled herself back to the present. She pulled out her tablet with the hand that wasn't holding Cordelia's vine, and opened a notebook file, which she then labeled For Erias. It had been Ursula's idea, but so far everything she thought to put in it she was scared to bring up to an affini. In this case, though...this seemed like a safer place to start. She made a tab and gave it the name "Indulgences." She then immediately decided that if it ever had ninety nine bullet points, she'd print them out and nail them to the door of Erias' office. Would it entirely make sense? Not really, given in this hypothetical the complaints were against a previous framework of power, now completely unraveled, rather than against the corruption of those currently running things. Still, the joke was funny enough to be worth doing anyway.
Anyway, Mane made a few bullet points and put a sentence or two next to each of them. The first read, "uncomfortable with idea of just getting things when wanted. Probably from capitalism." The second amended with, "might be because it reminds me of sister." She moved to the third and...damnit. the feelings were gone, now that she was in a clearer headspace, which meant she no longer clearly know what was upsetting her and why. If there had been more, it currently eluded her. Well, this was still progress at the very least. She put the tablet away.
"Were you checking something, little one?" Cordelia asked. The affini's voice rang with light curiosity and soft affection. Mane was still unsure how to feel about the pink mass of plant matter that had legal ownership of her ex. They definitely seemed kind and giving and patient...all the things Melody had loved about her, but with all the attached negatives inverted into their positive opposites. It made perfect sense that Melody would eagerly submit to such a kind soul, if she had loved Mane before that. Without a doubt Cordelia was a better fit for Melody than the fumbling, sometimes angry Effus or the ancient and eldritch being that was Erias. She wondered whether or not Cordelia had been the first affini Melody met. "Dear?" Shit. Mane had to once more rip herself into the present.
"Sorry. Lost in thought. That was-" there was no use in lying was there? No, probably not. What the affini seemed to feel something towards capitalism, seemed like it was as close as the untouchable ivory greenhouse creatures could feel to hate. Her being warped forever by the way it forced her to treat herself almost seemed like something they might even take for granted. "It's a file I made for my psychiatrist."
"For the vet~" Aida teased her from next to a shelf of jeans, winking at Mane. Mane just rolled her eyes, only barely defeating the urge to mumble something back angrily. Melody took a brochure and bapped Aida's hair with it as punishment.
"For my psychiatrist," Mane repeated. She managed not to show any venom but she didn't stop her voice from becoming a bit of a growl on the word in question. "It's, like, observations about what bothers me and why, potential past events that might explain the root of them, associations my head makes that seem like they might suggest deeper issues...that sort of thing." She smiled half-heartedly. "In this case, ah...capitalism ruining the idea of having nice things."
"Relatable," Aida giggled.
"Mood," said Melody.
"Mood," repeated Cordelia. All three humans snickered and fought the urge to laugh. Cordelia's wooden face contorted with confusion, almost betrayal even. It shot back and forth between her two terrans and her friend's current charge. "Whaaaat? What'd I do?"
"Nothing, Cordi," Melody giggled as she walked over and sidled up against Cordelia with her entire body. She was comfortable, easy, totally unguarded. Mane was happy to see it-she SHOULD have been happy to see it! But she also felt a darker emotion brewing underneath it. Failure, guilt, the knowledge that at least some of the pain Cordelia had to scrub from this precious ray of sunshine had been directly Mane's fault.
Her greatest fault.
Mane put that out of her mind by thinking about Ursula. It worked a little bit, which at the moment was really all Mane needed. She managed a genuine smile and even giggled a little bit with actual happiness.
"You know, why don't you take Mane grabbing clothes? Get her own cart, and all," Cordelia purred at the two of them with a mischievous quality to her voice. Melody picked up almost instantly on Cordelia's implication and seemed to love it. She ran off towards Mane and took her hand.
"Come on," she urged energetically, "let's go grab some cute skirts and lingerie and stuff for you!" Mane was entirely too embarrassed to say anything back, let alone resist being dragged off and swept up in Melody's enthusiasm. Cordelia watched them go with a wide grin, already extending a vine and re-attaching it to Aida's collar.
Effus dropped onto one of her hab's gigantic affini-sized couches. She groaned and let her wriggling vaguely humanoid form come unraveled a little. "Dearrr," she groaned loudly for Aria, wherever the girl was, "where's Mane?" Aria reported in before even ten seconds had passed, carrying a small bowl of grapes and snacking merrily on its contents. She chewed and swallowed one, then answered Effus' question with a peppy voice and a big grin.
"She's with Cordelia! Don't worry, she's been keeping me up to date. Right now they're clothes shopping with Cordelia's florets." Did Effus trust Mane enough to believe that? She supposed that she would have to, if she wanted Mane to ever actually be on board with becoming a pet. Still, it would be irresponsible not to check somehow. She pulled out her tablet and sent a brief message to Cordelia asking what Mane had visited for. She knew Cordelia would not do something so petty as hold a grudge against a confused, traumatized Terran, but she herself felt partially responsible for Mane's episode from when the two first met. She supposed Cordelia might not be upset with her about it, either. In any case-
Effus' tablet beeped. An answer had arrived, courtesy of Cordelia. "She wanted to apologize for the incident in the hangar. Poor dear thinks she did something wrong, and she's SO torn up about it. She seems not to feel safe expressing it properly though. I take it you're frustrated about that?" Effus wished she could roll her eyes the way humans did sometimes. Yes, of course she was frustrated! She held all the answers!
No...no. She shouldn't be angry with Mane. Having heard from other affini what that sounded like, she knew better now. Mane was scared, and even if Effus wished Mane would just let her fix things the easy way she had to accept that Mane wouldn't. The solution now was kindness and lots of patience.
Effus let her mind wander and watched Aria eating her grapes. The big smile that she made after popping one into her mouth, which only got bigger when she finished eating it, radiated joy plain and simple. It was so clearly the best fate a Terran could possibly want. As love and happiness swirled through the leaves and roots of Effus' body, she allowed herself to relax. She was a good owner. The proof, as undeniable as it was cute, stood right in front of her and loved to eat fruit. Mane was a difficult patient, an unusual patient, but if Effus didn't stop taking that difficulty as an insult she was going to become an enemy of the scared little dear instead of a cure. She couldn't allow that. When Mane came home she was getting apologies and hugs and they were going to go get ice cream and maybe they could go on the ARGOS and invite that Ursula girl from the tablet rules Erias had written up-
Wait, that would probably break the rules in question. She didn't necessarily have to attend, though. Would it be a better show of faith to shuttle Mane to ice cream with Ursula or just take her to it here? Ursula was another independent, if she understood correctly, which meant scheduling would be harder. She chose ice cream on the Crest after a brief moment spent in thought. They could do the other plan another day.
Another beep from her tablet. This one was a message from a nearby clothing store.
An order has been made for five. Pounds. of Terran clothing to be delivered to your hab as. A present. Is this alright?
There was an attached message that would presumably go with the gift. It read, "super secret present for Mane nobody else look pls! From: Melody & Aida." Cordelia giggled and happily tapped accept. Another message informed her delivery would occur within an hour.
"Airy, come snuggle me."
"Okay!" Aria practically high jumped into the sofa and came crashing down into a snuggle with her affini.
Mane blushed bright crimson. The outfit she had on was embarrassing. Bright colors, a skirt that sat on top of her hips and barely hung low enough to cover her underwear (which was incredibly frilly, as was the skirt), and a crop top that went over an incredibly padded bra were all that comprised it. All of them with an ear-searingly vibrant baby blue that almost gave them the appearance of candy. All they needed to get to that aesthetic would be some gloss and some shine.
"I, uh….wow…" Mane was unsure how to feel. For one, wearing this around affini sounded absolutely intolerable. On the other hand...she was CUTE. "I don't…"
"Imagine Ursula seeing you in this," Melody remarked with a grin. The thought pierced Mane's imagination like a lance and ripped through straight to her now-fluttering heart.
"No fair!" Mane protested. "I look like a fucking magical girl," she added, not having the courage to say out loud that she specifically looked like an unusually skimpy one. This only egged Melody on further.
"Come onnnnn, you always said you'd dress this way if you could," she purred. "And once you start taking class G's you're gonna have huge HUGE tiddies and look even better in these." Mane looked at the mirror and supposed that, ignoring her face, she did look rather attractive in this outfit. The teeny skirt helped call attention to her legs, which were long and much more muscular than the rest of her. She'd always been proud of them, especially because her thin blonde body hair wasn't too noticeable.
"I have other ones too, if you want." Melody's voice suggested that she enjoyed watching Mane fight her fondness for her own body. "That's the most revealing, don't worry. It's mostly dresses and thigh highs and skirts that're mini but still, you know-"
"Absolute territory," Mane muttered. Melody gave Mane a look.
"Huh?" Melody asked.
"Absolute territory. It's- you know what, it's fine. Can I see some?"
"Sure!" Melody pulled out a ruffled black and red skirt that would come down about three fourths to the knee, and a pair of thin thigh high socks designed after cats, with visuals of little eyes and ears and whiskers on the top ends. To match it was a plain red t-shirt with an upside down strawberry on the chest...the insides of which were see-through, so that it functioned as a cleavage window. Mane shot a glare at Melody.
"You're making fun of how horny I get, aren't you."
"What!?" Said Melody with a big smile and feigned innocence. "What nooooooo, no way! That's absurd!" She giggled happily. "Come on, try it." Mane rolled her eyes and retreated into the changing room. It took her a bit to change, what with not being accustomed to socks that long. Once she finished she came back out looking comfier. When she passed the mirror she seemed to get stuck on it.
"O-oh," Mane muttered. She froze in place and looked herself over. "I'm...I'm pretty…" a smile slowly grew on her face.
Mane could...just dress like this, now. Whenever and for whatever reason she wanted, even. She had no need or cause to hide it, to dress masculine, to worry about having her girl clothes stolen from her.
"Can I...wear this home?"
"Not my decision but yeah, absolutely!" Melody hugged Mane, who had taken to trembling slightly.
"I….love you, Melody…"