It was a few days after the Breakfast Ceasefire that Virgil decided enough was enough.
He needed a shower. Badly.
It didn’t matter that he was on an alien ship full of alien stuff, or that showering meant temporarily ditching the comfort of his hoodie, or even that two out of three aliens would probably happily see him dead at any opportunity.
He had picked up what felt like an entire football field’s worth of dirt, mud, and other muck while him and Patton were planet-hopping, and impromptu washcloth (read: a patch torn from the back of his shirt) cleaning sessions had only done so much. They only came across clean water every so often, anyhow. Most of it couldn’t be wasted on washing.
Patton had picked up on his discomfort back then— that or the smell— but the Ampen’s idea of ‘cleaning up’ was very similar to that of chinchillas’ back home on Earth: dust baths. That’s right. More dirt.
(Yes, he’d rolled around in the dirt with his friend. Contrary to popular interstellar belief, he wasn’t a monster.)
Still, it was time to come clean. Literally and metaphorically.
Patton had spent last night cuddled up to him, which meant that he had actually gotten a full eight hours of sleep (good!) and that Roman was probably sulking around (ungood!). The sense of clarity that came with not being quite so horrendously sleep deprived only made him more aware of how dirty he was. It felt like heresy to even touch any of the numerous well-sanitized surfaces in the ship.
“Patton,” he called, once the Ampen had started doing those little antennae twitches that meant he was half-awake. “Can you show me the wash room?”
The response was a little delayed, but eventually Patton startled into full wakefulness with a little chirp-peep that reminded him of a computer startup noise.
From there, he was led down the circular halls to a square room that sort of resembled a locker room shower area, complete with drainage grates in the floor. There was a ledge along one side of the room that led up to a windowbox-like protrusion, and Virgil could see from here that it was full of soft, beige dirt.
Patton paused, visibly turning his head from Virgil to the washbox, as though measuring things out in his mind.
“That’s probably too small for you, huh?”
Virgil stopped him before he could start making plans for a human-sized sandbox. “Uh, actually, Pat, I need water to wash.”
“Oh!” Patton exclaimed, more surprised than disconcerted. “Well, water we doing over here then?”
Virgil couldn’t hide a smile, and Patton crinkle-smiled back at him before waving him over to the opposite end of the room. He pointed up, where there were little circular discs with a grid of tiny holes set into the wall. “Here you go! Roman uses these to help with his slough, or when he gets particularly rough and tumble down on planetside!”
… Great. Odds were borrowing his shower was probably going to make Roman even more homicidal towards him. Virgil decided to worry about that later. For now, he was faced with the biggest challenge of them all: figuring out how a friend’s shower knobs worked.
Surprisingly, it seemed like the panel set into the wall below each disc worked similarly to the other touchscreens he’d seen set into the control room of the ship. Unsurprisingly, they were all labeled with the written form of Common, which meant he had about zero chance of figuring it out on his own.
Patton noticed his blank stare and patted at his knee, and Virgil squatted down easily so the undersized alien could clamber onto his shoulder. He rose up, and Patton’s little claws scrambled for purchase for a moment before he caught his balance, Virgil tense with preparation to twist and catch him if he fell.
“This little icon has the symbol for on, and this is how you get it hot or cold,” he chirped, leaning forwards to point at the screen for emphasis. Virgil obligingly shifted closer, trying to commit the guidance to memory. “You’re a little squisher than Roman, so you should probably change the pressure, too.”
Once he’d shuffled around so he was sure neither of them were about to get slammed by a jet of water, he tapped the power button.
A three-note chime played as a sort of countdown, and water shot out of the disc, at what was probably the appropriate pressure to powerwash muck from under tightly-packed scales. Virgil pushed the slider down until he could put his hand under without feeling any sting from the water’s impact. Then, he cranked the temperature up until it was just short of scalding.
Patton eyed the steam curling up into the air with a concerned fluff to his feathers, but didn’t protest after seeing the small, delighted grin that Virgil made as he held his hand under.
No, this wasn’t dunking his head in cold streams, or dipping his arm in a lukewarm puddle, or the humiliating icy hose downs in captivity. This was warm water. He’d never take it for granted again.
He shrugged out of his hoodie as he walked over to the entrance. “Does this… lock?”
“Any door on the ship can be sealed,” Patton replied, and bonked his head to Virgil’s sympathetically at the shudder that information sent through him. “Nobody’s going to lock anything without your permission, though, okay?”
“Yeah,” Virgil said, knowing he sounded less than convinced. “Can you guard the door, still? Just in case,” he added in English, one of the phrases he’d used a lot while they were on the run.
Patton gave him a sad look, more than aware how unsafe he still felt, but nodded firmly and dropped carefully down to the floor, taking up position just outside the door like a tiny sentry. Virgil draped his hoodie over him, and then-- checking that the others weren’t nearby to witness and freak out about it-- he gave him the world’s smallest noogie, ruffling the feathers atop his head with a knuckle.
Having preemptively twitched his antennae out of the way, Patton made one of those bird-like laughs at him, batting his hand away. “Go clean! And make sure you wash out for slippery floors!”
Virgil snorted, and carefully sealed the door behind him, trying not to think about the feeling of being stuck in a tiny square room again. He shook his head, dragging his thoughts back on track.
He had access to a warm shower, his first in literal months (...years?). He was going to stay under that spout until every bit of dirt washed down the drain.
Roman was midway through a session of storywriting when he heard Patton’s bright voice coming down the hall, passing by his room and chattering all the while.
His ears flicked back automatically to check in, and he frowned when he realized that he couldn’t hear Logan’s arms clicking alongside the Ampen. No, apart from Patton’s tiny tapping footsteps, there was nothing. Patton had to be talking to the Human, then, since he was the only one who ghosted around the ship silently enough to make Roman feel stalked at every corner.
Well. He’d grown tired of watching his characters make a rather vexing detour from his carefully-plotted main storyline anyhow, and he was loath to leave his smallest friend alone with a Human, regardless of how docile that Human pretended to be.
After a brief cleanup of his writing instruments, he was sweeping down the corridor to the commons after them.
Logan was already in the room when he arrived, which was surprising; even Roman had picked up on the ludicrous lengths the Human went to avoid the Ulgorian, as though Logan of all people was someone to be scared of. The nerd’s poison blood was the most “threatening” thing about him, and the Human had already shown how easily he could shake that off.
Patton was leading the Human by one hand, their size disparity as jarring and terrifying as ever. And the Human…
Roman turned his head to the side to study the scene more intently, and that in itself was strange.
Normally, Virgil was almost preternaturally aware of when he was being watched, according to Logan. It was obvious when he knew: the Human went tense and rigid, practically poised to pounce at any moment.
But now, he was trailing after Patton with a relaxed slope to his shoulders, his steps almost languid. He all but collapsed on the fluffy cushion Patton gestured to, eyes gliding shut as the Ampen climbed up after him.
Roman took a few steps into the room, and the Human cracked one eye open-- not entirely out of it, then. The mild suspicion he was regarded with was almost reassuring.
Upon closer inspection, there were physical changes, too. The human had gone from pale, almost grey-toned to having a pinkish tint to his skin. The grey-brown still clung to the hooded garment he’d draped himself in, creating an even more jarring contrast. Dirt, then? It would certainly explain the smudges he left everywhere he touched much better than some strange Human Residue.
… He wasn’t crossing Human Residue off the list of possibilities, though.
Most striking of all was his head. He had originally stalked around with a matted mess of fur, glinting oily in the light where it wasn’t dull with dirt. Now, the fur was clean and stuck out in little fluffy tufts, creating a much less menacing look overall.
Patton apparently agreed, because he’d scampered up to one shoulder and immediately buried his tiny hands into that fluff. Roman and Logan both startled, exchanging an alarmed-exasperated-fearful look, one that had become exceedingly more common after Patton came home with his new Human cellmate.
Surprisingly, all Virgil did was go even more boneless on the cushion, turning his head to better meet Patton’s touch. Patton closed his eyes happily, apparently completely fine with petting one of the most feared creatures in the galaxy.
That wasn’t surprising at all, actually.
What was surprising was the Human’s apparent tolerance for it.
“I wasn’t aware Humans enjoyed tactile ministrations,” Logan said, tapping his wristplates curiously. “Is Virgil alright?”
The Human in question turned slightly to glance at them, eyes still half-lidded. It was probably the least threatening body language Roman had seen from him since… well, ever. “Mm?”
“You’re just relaxing, aren’t you kiddo?” Patton combed through that mess of fluff some more and Virgil lost what little tension he’d regained. “Virgil spent a lot of time on guard while we were on the run planetside. He deserves all the time in the world to recuperate… and all the head scritches!”
Roman’s tail swished exasperatedly, but even he really couldn’t come up with a reason to begrudge the Human for this, not when Patton was so clearly enjoying having someone else onboard to preen. Even if that someone was a Deathworlder.
He moved to settle onto his own cushion under the guise of supervising, though for once he thought the Human might actually fall asleep in front of him.
And if he was perhaps just slightly curious about what exactly a fluffy Human felt like? Well, that was nobody’s business but his own.