Fire, fire was everywhere. It licked hungrily at the high ceiling and the walls were already transformed into hellish curtains. Its eerie light cast no illumination; smoke rolled everywhere, obscuring and thick. It forced its way into her lungs and made her cough helplessly. She stood frozen in the doorway to the back storerooms, eyes wide with mounting terror that stalled her thoughts.
A sudden acrid smell invaded her nostrils; part of her coat along her flank was afire. Panicking, she beat at it with a hoof. The small fire died quickly under her ferocious assault. The movement seemed to free her from the first wave of shock.
I can't get out this way. Gotta try the back, the emergency exit.
Turning her back on the fiery scene before her she whisked back the way she came, galloping down a hallway filled with closed doors. Heart thudding painfully in her chest, fear driving her steps, she struggled to see through the roiling clouds of smoke. At the end was salvation: the solid metal door of the exit, if she could only make it.
How did it spread so fast? I was only back there a few minutes.
Only a few of her body lengths were left to go before safety was hers. A jarring noise, part groaning and part creaking, filled the confined space, echoing madly. The fleeing unicorn looked up; the ceiling itself split as if by an ax. Enormous weight crushed her against the floor, burying her. More and more debris fell, slowly entombing her as she struggled futilely, desperately marshaling every ounce of muscle and magic she had to free herself. She fought in vain; more weight fell onto her, encasing her in a flaming pyre. She could feel her coat beginning to burn away in places, its heat adding to the fire already licking at her exposed skin. If she lifted her head she could still see the emergency exit beckoning to her, mocking her.
She let her head fall again. Her mane was already partially ablaze; she watched in fascination both horrified and helpless as its flaming tendrils began to lick at her face. She noted idly that her glasses had shattered at some point and her left eye seemed to have pieces of the lens embedded in it.
Tavi, I'm so sorry . . . I guess you won't have to worry about me keeping you from going to Las Pegasus anymore.
Darkness, more complete than any moonless night. Vinyl floated in that darkness, aware only in the vaguest sense of herself or anything else. It seemed like a good idea to stay in that darkness; it seemed like it would be more pleasant this way. It would be so easy to just drift away and never go back, so much easier.
Something penetrated Vinyl's darkness: a name. Echoing from somewhere in the vast distance, a voice called, full of fear and desperation. “Vinyl!” it cried out into the endless and expansive darkness, perfect in its solitude and unblemished emptiness.
Vinyl? Am I Vinyl?
Something else intruded, a sensation. Here where touch and feeling was impossible, something touched her. And then she wasn't alone anymore, she remembered another; she remembered a coat of grey contrasted with a mane the color of fresh ink on a new musical composition.
Who? Octavia; I remember . . . I remember her. I remember meeting her, I remember moving in with her, I remember kissing her, I remember holding her. I remember lying with her.
Remembering hurt; every fresh recollection dispelled the darkness a little more but brought with it a fresh outpouring of pain. She remembered seeing Octavia for the first time and regained the feeling of her eye swelled shut, oozing blood that caked on her face, burning like a miniature sun and making her cry tears of agony that mixed and swirled with her blood.
She remembered the first time she glanced at Octavia in the moonlight and had her breath taken away, and suddenly one whole side of her face hurt. It was as if the skin was stretched impossibly tight and even the pressure of air against it brought new dimensions to the meaning of pain.
She remembered the first time their lips met and instead of heart-melting joy she felt the excruciating input of her sides and back; her dried skin cracked and bled from the movement of her breathing and she would have whimpered deep in her chest if that hadn't hurt as well.
Every memory she paid for in agony and suffering but Vinyl clung to each precious one, stubbornly refusing to surrender the image forming before her of the mare called Octavia.
And then the darkness was gone, falling away as spiderweb-like cracks pierced its surface. She blinked stupidly, noting in some corner of her mind the sterile green-colored walls, the bustling unicorns levitating scalpels and sutures and crowding around her with syringes and bandages. Some objective part of her noted that she was moving. The bed on which she lay was being pushed down a hallway, the ceiling passing overhead. She bent every ounce of her will to remember a mare with lilac eyes even though countless agonies cried out to distract her. As long as she could see those gorgeous eyes, she knew everything would be alright.
Filtered moonlight forced its way through partially open curtains to fall on the form of a sleeping unicorn. She lay unmoving amidst a tangle of wires and tubes that seemed to terminate themselves into her very body, concealed as they were by the areas where her white coat was intact.
Octavia sat somber vigil on a single chair positioned beside the window, within reaching distance of the slumbering mare. She too sat unmoving, long since lulled into contemplation by the steady dripping of fluids through their plastic tubes and the incessant tone of the machinery monitoring its patient's heartbeat.
Her gaze tracked to its screen; the pulsing green lines and repetitive beep . . . beep . . . beep each a gain, a sign of another victory in the fight for life.
Not the sort of beat you're used to, eh Vinyl?
She held her attempt at humor in her mind for a moment, analyzing it before mentally tossing it aside. It had no place here.
Octavia supposed time passed. Each moment was a reflection of the one before, an endless instant of uncertainty drawn out far past its rightful time.
Vinyl's form twitched, spasming. Octavia leapt to her hooves, at Vinyl's side in an instant and ready to call for aid. Her heart formed its own percussion section in her chest and her eyes flew to the equipment monitoring the rhythm of her marefriend’s life, searching for irregularity.
The spasm passed and Vinyl's right eye slowly opened, blinking sluggishly several times to reveal a red iris darkened by pain and the drugs to suppress it. Bandages wrapped around her head, covering her other eye and the left side of her face in white fabric. “Tavi,” she managed to croak near-silently through a throat burned and parched.
“Yes Vinyl, I'm here. Do you want something to drink?” Octavia asked softly.
A slight nod was her only answer and even that caused a sharp intake of breath and a grimace of discomfort.
Holding a glass of water delicately in her hooves, Octavia held it up to the immobile Vinyl's mouth and gently angled the straw so that she could take a few deep gulps. “How long—” Vinyl began before being cut off by a coughing fit. Octavia frantically laid her hoof on Vinyl’s shaking shoulders to try and comfort her.
“You've been in the hospital two days now. This is the first time you've been awake since a brief moment when they were wheeling you into the ER from the ambulance chariot.”
“How long . . . have you been here?” the burned mare persisted.
“I haven't left,” Octavia answered fiercely.
“Yes Vinyl, I will stay here with you. Nothing could possibly keep me away,” Octavia promised.
“I . . . I love you, Tavi,” Vinyl said, letting her single eye fall closed again as exhaustion closed in around her. “Please . . . just don't leave me alone.”
“I love you too, Vinyl. And I won't leave you. Ever,” Octavia quietly replied, laying a single hoof lightly on the unburned skin of Vinyl's face and softly stroking until her breathing settled into the rhythm of sleep.
Octavia returned to her seat and her vigil. A quick glance at the room's clock revealed it to be almost midnight.
I'm supposed to be on a train for Las Pegasus in six hours.
. . .
Buck Las Pegasus. Buck Bookings, and the gala, and my career and every other stupid thing. Vinyl needs me here. They can find somepony else.