Sunburst waved the bartender off when he offered another drink. He’d had enough for one night. Hay, I’ve probably had enough of this place for the whole trip, he thought grimly, giving the packed hotel and casino another glance. By now, he was nearly deaf with the din of metal and music pounding through the air every second. His friends were engulfed in that mess somewhere, as lost to him as the strangers that surrounded them.
He doubted it would be much quieter in his hotel room, but at this point, he would take anything. Just as he started to dismount from the precarious stool, it seemed the mare beside him had a similar notion. Instead of descending, however, she swayed, her hoof slipping on the metal ring step at the base of the stool, and with a low cry of surprise, she tumbled right towards him.
There wasn’t much time to think, and as a result, Sunburst’s own hooves fumbled and got tangled in his own chair as he tried to catch her. While he managed to get his forelegs around her, he himself fell and could only cushion her fall as she pushed them both onto the cold tiles below. Sunburst felt his breath knocked out of him and let out a grunt, but the mare was already pushing him away.
“Stop that, what are you doing?” she demanded, giving his chest another hard shove. His glasses, already hanging half-off his face, tumbled down to the floor with a clatter. “Get off me, get off! What even is this city? What kind of pony…”
She stopped as she managed to disentangle herself. Sunburst also pushed himself a little farther back, then folded his legs to push himself a little more upright. He blinked, then squinted at the pony staring back at him. He couldn’t see her clearly at all. Shoot. Where did my glasses go? Before he had time to look for them, however, the other pony had launched herself at him. Sunburst could only huddle in confusion and quickly-mounting terror as she fell onto him in a neck-crushing embrace.
“Oh, thank goodness!” she said, her shoulders heaving a few times as she either laughed or cried; for the life of him, Sunburst didn’t know which it was. She was saying something else, but he couldn’t make out the words. They were muffled as she nuzzled into his shoulder. His panic continued to mount as he realized the bartender and several other ponies were stopping and staring at him with mixtures of amusement and disgust.
“Oh dear,” he said, frozen in place. “Um… Are you alright?”
* * *
“You came,” Cupcake said, crying with relief into Carrot’s shoulder. The room still seemed to be spinning, but he was there, solid and sure, and nothing had ever brought her greater relief. He wasn’t upset anymore, and she didn’t have to endure this horrible city all alone. The color of his coat seemed off, but that was probably just due to all the artificial lighting spilling its hot, white rays everywhere. She could see the fringes of his orange mane, and the limbs had the same thin, spindly strength she knew so well. “Oh Carrot, I’m so glad to see you. You have no idea how much I’ve missed you already.”
“Oh dear,” Carrot said softly. She could just barely hear his voice over the pounding music and voices. “Um… Are you alright?”
“Yes,” she said, sniffing and wiping her eyes before pulling back and smiling at him. The lights were in her eyes, and she had to squint to bring him into focus. Oh, he’s got flour on his face again, she thought hazily, noting the white streak on his muzzle. Did he travel all the way down here like that? “I’m just so glad to see you. I’m already so sick of this place. I don’t know what we were thinking.”
“Uh, heh, yeah, I can see that…” Carrot said, giving her a nervous smile. “I guess Las Pegasus isn’t everypony’s cup of tea. I’m a little overwhelmed myself. Um, do you need help up?”
“No, no, I’m fine,” she said, pulling herself up. Her stomach gave a horrible lurch as the room swayed. “I haven’t had… that much to drink. Really.”
“Uh… that’s good,” Carrot said, getting up slowly to follow her. “Still, maybe you ought to take it a little easy. Is your hotel room far?”
Our room, Cupcake thought happily. “No, it’s just a few floors up, remember?” Her stomach gave another flip. The room was definitely swaying. Belatedly, she realized she could barely stand still. She kept leaning, and every time she attempted to straighten, she overcompensated and swayed too far the other way.
Ohhh… what was in those things? “And now that you mention it… oof… I might have had… one too many,” she admitted, giving him a sheepish, wobbly smile. She squinted with a bit of puzzlement at his mane again. It was especially frizzy from the journey, and there was an odd bit of color to the middle of it. It almost made him look like a Unicorn. But then the lights made her feel even sicker, and she looked away. “Didn’t feel like they were that strong. Could you help me upstairs, dear? I think I’m done for tonight.”
* * *
“Oh… uh… sure,” Sunburst stammered. In reality, following some stranger around the hotel, and a drunk mare at that, was about the last thing he wanted to do. She really does look done in, though, he thought, watching how she swayed where she stood. She overbalanced, and her hooves fumbled as she tried not to fall again. Sunburst darted forward and propped his shoulder up beneath her. In return, she gave him a huge, beatific smile.
“Thanks, dear,” she said. “Come on, it’s this way…”
She led him slowly through the bar towards the elevators at the back of the lobby. Sunburst glanced around, looking for his glasses, but they seemed to have disappeared. He wanted to stop and look for them, but with so many ponies wandering around, he realized they were probably already broken. At least I have my spares back in my room. He noticed the bartender watching them go with a slight frown, but then he shrugged to himself and starting mixing more drinks. Sunburst doubted it was an unusual sight for him in this city. Nothing for it, he lamented as the mare punched the call button. Still, it was the least he could do to make sure she got back to her room alright.
The doors to the elevator were so bright and polished, they looked like they were made of solid gold. Sunburst could see himself reflected in the almost mirror-perfect surface, smiling tremulously as the mare leaned contentedly against him. Her eyes were closed, and she was nuzzling into his neck again. Sunburst had never felt more awkward. Then the doors opened, the split in the doors perfectly pulling their images apart, and Sunburst walked her gently inside.
“Floor?” the bellhop inside asked, his hoof on the long lever controlling the lift.
“Six,” the mare said sleepily. A quick pull on the rod, and they were rising. The mare was leaning into him harder. The bellhop was giving them a slightly quizzical look, one eyebrow raised. Sunburst smiled nervously, and he looked away.
This probably doesn’t look great, Sunburst thought, sighing. I’m never coming back to this city.
The doors opened, and the mare led him slowly down a long hall. The carpet was red and gold and very plush underhoof. Sunburst couldn’t even hear their steps. The lights were dimmer here, more welcoming. They left soft shadows along the warm, cream-colored walls, and Sunburst caught more glimpses of their reflections in the gleaming number plates and doorknobs of the rooms. One thing was certain—this hotel was far nicer than the one his classmates had bargained for a few blocks away.
The mare didn’t seem inclined for much small talk, for which Sunburst was grateful. He felt flustered enough as it was. As they walked, he glanced down at her, curious about the pony he was helping. She seemed older than him, though not by very much. She wore her mane like an older mare, piled high in a practical manner, but with enough wave to it that she looked friendly instead of severe.
Her face was young, though. She was, he realized, somewhat attractive, in her way. She would probably be more so when she wasn’t inebriated. His eyes strayed down her back, glancing at her cutie mark. Baking, he thought. That made sense. He thought in spite of himself that she was a little more heavily built than some, but certainly not unpleasantly so. In fact, he realized that the gentle glow of the hall highlighted the curves of her legs, flanks, and shoulders with an astonishing and appealing softness.
He looked away, cheeks burning. Where did that come from? It had to be the prolonged close contact. Her fur was surprisingly soft and brushed against him constantly as she leaned against him. He could feel her right flank rising and falling against his, and now that he had noticed it, he couldn’t seem to put it out of his mind. The hallway suddenly felt very warm.
“Finally,” the mare said, pulling him aside to one of the doors. She fished a small key out from her mane, and with many fumbles, managed to get it into the lock and open the door.
“Well,” Sunburst said, breathing a sigh of relief. “I’m glad you’re alright. I better go back down and—”
“Downstairs?” the mare asked. She seemed strangely horrified. “No, not yet. You ought to at least get settled, come on.”
“Settled? I—hurk!” Sunburst was suddenly gripped by the shoulder and hauled bodily inside the room. For a mare who could barely stand, her strength was terrifying. Before he had staggered to a stop, the door was shut behind him.
The room was almost entirely dark. The only light came from a single, tiny lamp that had been left on in the far corner. He could barely even see the mare as she walked across the room. What is going on? His fear spiked, and any last vestiges of sleepiness from the two drinks had vanished in a cold wave of clarity. Was this some kind of trap? Am I with some kind of serial killer or organ harvester? He looked back at the door, limbs shaking in fear. Suddenly, all the horror stories he’d heard about Las Pegasus from the old noir days didn’t seem so absurd.
* * *
Cupcake walked over to the bed. She had noticed the champagne bottle earlier during her short-lived respite from the chaos. Apparently, every room came with a complimentary bottle. Probably why the rooms were so expensive, she thought as she glanced down at the half-melted bucket of ice.
What she should do, she knew, was dip one of the champagne flutes into the ice water and guzzle it down. She had a dim recollection that ponies were supposed to stay hydrated while drinking. In theory, it took the worst edge off the effects. But the elevator ride and walk to the room had sobered her just enough that the pleasant effects of the drinks were gone, leaving only the unsteadiness and mild nausea behind. She winced as she realized she could still hear music and shouting, either from downstairs or outside. Forget common sense, she thought. She just wanted that warm buzz back. She grabbed the cork in her teeth and, holding the bottle down with both hooves, pulled it free in one motion.
The champagne exploded, making her cough and splutter as she staggered back from it. She heard Carrot dart forward, turning the bottle away and stemming the flow with a small towel that had been left nearby. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Fine, fine,” she said, shaking her head. “Ugh, this place. Just pour me a glass.”
“Um…” Carrot sounded worried. “Are you sure you should be drinking more?”
“Probably not. I’ll stop after this.” She grabbed in the bottle in her mouth and poured. She spilled a little, and the glass was mostly foam when she was done, but that hardly mattered. She knocked it back. Oh, that’s better…
“Um… listen, I should… I should probably go…”
Confound him. How can he just arrive and then try to wander off already? Can’t he see I need him? “It’s not Pinkie, is it?” She clenched her eyes shut, trying to drown out more of the persistent noise from outside. With an irritated tug, she yanked out the pins holding her mane up, pulling out more than a few strands of pink hair with them. In spite of the painful twinges, however, she finally felt a little of the tension drain out as her mane fell to the sides of her face. “Don’t worry, she’s at the convention. She’ll be fine for an hour or two. Honestly, she’d probably be fine for the whole weekend. I can’t believe I let her drag us along for this.”
“Uh… that’s good… but—”
“She’s fine!” Cupcake snapped, setting the glass aside and pulling Carrot closer in front of her. Then she giggled. He still has flour on his face. She had to fight to keep her eyes focused on his face, and it was a losing battle. She reached up to brush the flour away, but only gave the broad, white streak on his muzzle a few fruitless sweeps before letting her hoof wander. She brushed the riotous mess of his mane aside, felt the long line of his cheek, the bony corner of his jaw. His eyes were wide and staring. He seemed to have forgotten how to breath.
She smiled. Oh come on, Carrot. Even you aren’t normally this easy to bring around. Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
“Stay here,” she whispered.
* * *
Sunburst thought he felt his heart stop. The brief bit of calm he had regained when he realized she was just going to get some champagne was utterly banished. Is she…? No. There was no question. She was definitely making a move on him. His limbs were frozen rigidly in place. His mind ground to a screeching halt, then turned around to rejoin his heart somewhere ten minutes behind the present. He needed to think, but all he could see were a few bright, silver flecks of light reflecting from somewhere in her half-lidded, deep pink eyes. Then she leaned in and enveloped his lips in hers.
If Sunburst had felt his eyes go wide before, now he thought they would burst out of his skull. “Mmph?!” The suffocated question never made it past his mouth, and it only made her lean deeper into him. He could taste citrus, and beneath it, the stale, acrid shadow of alcohol.
This is wrong, Sunburst thought. I need to get out of here. I should just leave. I should…
The mare wrapped a foreleg gently around his neck and started pulling him backward. His heart had restarted sometime in the past few seconds, and now he could feel it thundering against his ribs. She’s drunk. She isn’t thinking clearly. I need to leave. Now.
But his legs didn’t obey him. Instead, they stepped tentatively forward, following her as she pulled him slowly towards the bed. Her embrace was warm and gentle, yet inexorable in its strange affection. She lifted her mouth from his, only to kiss him again, slower and more deeply, almost feeling the shape of his lips with her own. He could feel her mane against one side of his face, surprisingly soft now that it was freed and hung loosely, almost playfully, around her shadowed face. She stroked slowly up and down his neck, the lightest of touches following the lines of muscle and bone, and he shivered involuntarily.
The fear was dying away; how could it not, against such warm and open affection? The confusion remained, but Sunburst felt himself starting to calm down against his will. A strange, curious desire was rising to replace his panic. In its place, a demanding, almost painful eagerness from deep in his heart seemed to come alive with wanting. He couldn’t believe it, but this strange, rootless passion she was showing him felt good. Very good.
She… she wants me, he thought dumbly, still staring down at her closed eyes in shock. Then she broke the kiss and smiled, a deep, velvet smile that went all the way into the depths of her eyes. He could only describe it as sultry. She had reached the bed, was climbing backwards onto it, pulling him forward. His heart started racing again.
“Uh…” His tongue was dry as paper. “Are you…” She’s drunk! Don’t!
But now there were other wants waking up in him. He was excited now, there could be no mistake about that. There was something about the sheer anonymity of it, the spontaneity, that both terrified and exhilarated him. His body’s responses to her caresses were in a category of their own. He had fantasized about what it would be like to finally be with a mare. Sometimes, that mare was just an attractive model or passerby he had seen on campus. Sometimes, for a few months, it had been Mercury Dream.
Now, he was staring deep into the eyes of this strange mare, a mare who would have him if he just let himself go. The golden light from the distant lamp lit only the edges of her body as she lay sideways in front of him. It illuminated the soft contours of her flanks, the long, gentle arc of her sides and neck. She dabbled her hooves gently over each other, moving her legs in small, teasing motions. She held his hoof in her own, and was still gently pulling him forward.
He swallowed and forced himself to take a few deep breaths. One by one, he started pushing aside his misgivings. I mean… I guess… what’s the harm? he persuaded himself. He hadn’t realized it until then, but he had been hurting. He had known, from the moment he left the CSGU campus, that he was soon to be totally alone. He had no friends at home to go back to. No idea where he might go next to try to find work. No one who wanted him.
Except now, just now, somepony had decided, on only a glance in a bar, that he was good enough to want for tonight. He was handsome enough, or kind enough, or maybe some other factor had made her choose him to spend a night with. It didn’t mean anything more. He wasn’t so delusional as to think it might magically lead to anything long-term. Indeed, he somehow doubted, from some deep sense in his mind, that they would be a good match at all. But right there, right then, she wanted him.
And curse him, but he wanted to be wanted.
And what the hay… it’s Las Pegasus. You’re only young and single once. This is what ponies come here for… right?
But still. He didn't want to take advantage of anyone. Not for anything.
“Are you…” he stammered again and licked his lips. “…Are you sure?”
* * *
Cupcake couldn’t help but giggle again. Even so, she felt a stab of sympathy in her heart, and it only made her need stronger. He’s still upset about the results, she realized. He’s ashamed… he’s afraid to be with me. Even after all this time.
She pulled just a little bit harder, and he stumbled as he fell half onto the bed. It was so dark, and the champagne so warm in her, that she could barely make out his features. It didn’t matter. She would show him that test results weren’t the final word. He was hers, and nothing was going to change that.
He climbed shakily onto the bed, kneeling over her as she rolled a little farther onto her back, playfully baring more of her chest and belly from the shelter of her legs. His eyes were so wide, and his breathing so loud, one might have thought this was his first time seeing her. It made her confidence soar. She could still affect him, still turn him speechless when she spun the right dials. She didn’t have to worry anymore. They would be alright. They were together again.
And who knows… She pulled him down completely onto her, molding her body to the shape of him as she wrapped her legs close around him. Test results aren’t everything… maybe… maybe tonight, we’ll get lucky.
After all… it’s Las Pegasus. Incredible things are suppose to happen here… right?
As she took his lips into her own and pulled him down, however, she froze as her hoof wandered through his mane.
Things were still happening, but in her mind, everything slowed down to a hazy crawl. …Unicorn?
Piecing thoughts together was like trying to pull sprinkles out of chocolate syrup. Ideas kept wandering away even as she tried to hold onto them, but she managed to get a good sense of enough of them to put a picture together in her mind. Little inconsistencies she had deliberately ignored were coming back and falling into place, and as she felt herself pushed deeper into the warm, soft mattress, she realized the truth.
Not Carrot, she thought blearily. I brought… somepony else back to my room. One part of her could hardly believe it; it might be the most clichéd thing in the world for a pony to do in Equestria’s most irreverent city, but for her, it seemed like the most incongruous act imaginable. She was a working housewife from Ponyville, of all places. Ponies from Ponyville didn’t do… this. Most of all, this pony wasn’t her husband. And if he wasn’t her husband, then she couldn’t be with him. It ought to have been as simple as that.
Even as she thought to push him away, though, she realized with a fresh wave of confusion and sadness that she didn’t want to. Instead, she pulled him closer, emotions and thoughts warring inside her as she tried to sort them through.
For a few minutes, she hadn’t been alone. Over all the other ideas in her mind, what she felt strongest of all was that she desperately didn’t want to be alone again. She wasn’t sure she would be able to take it. And so she clung to him all the more, this strange pony in a strange city who, for a time, had been so like Carrot that she had mistaken them for each other.
She wanted him to be Carrot. In some strange way, she also wanted Carrot to be this pony. She wanted him to be there, strong, reassuring, and most of all, willing. Not shutting her out in another city. And this pony, she realized, was more than just willing. He was excited. Excited the way Carrot had been that first night, when it had finally just been the two of them. It had never been quite the same for years, and only now did the difference seem meaningful.
And, she realized, thinking back to how poorly he had taken the news, now, he may not want to. He might not treat me like this ever again, if he doesn’t see a point to it.
Her hesitation and second-guessing melted away into the pleasant haze of the champagne once again. It was clichéd, but that also meant it made perfect sense, in a way. And this pony wasn’t afraid to be with a stranger; why should she be? This was the sort of thing that happened in Las Pegasus. And what happens in Las Pegasus…
She clung just a little more tightly to the thin pony. If Carrot was going to be afraid to be with her from then on, then she decided she ought to make what time she had left to herself count. She was going to enjoy it.
* * *
Hoops let his head bob lazily to the music from downstairs as he sauntered through the hotel hall. It had been two, maybe three in the morning when the party finally ran out of steam. The slot machines might have eaten all his bits, but who the hay cared? They had met up with a rival hoofball team and thrown one of the biggest parties Hoops had ever seen together. The other guys had more booze stocked up in their two adjoining rooms than they had known what to do with. In exchange, Score had lived up to his name and rounded up a pack of sultry-eyed mares to show them the time sports heroes deserved.
And hay howdy, but could those mares dance. Hoops didn’t know what it was about clothes. The idea of a pony covering up to make themselves even more alluring was contradictory as Tartarus, but he would be the last colt alive to deny it worked.
Or maybe it was just the clothes coming off. He could see a kind of logic to that. Enough to make him want to stop thinking about logic.
One of the doors opened a little ways ahead of him. Hoops tilted his head and squinted as a pony shuffled out, then quietly closed the door behind him. He was an orange Unicorn with paint markings, and he looked about as tousled as Dumbbell did after being knocked facedown on the court. He also seemed really jittery, looking around with quick jerks of the head and squinting every which way. The moment he spotted Hoops coming towards him, he skittered down the hall with his tail between his legs.
Huh, Hoops mused. Even his thoughts sounded pleasantly slurred to him. Wonder what that was about.
The same door opened just as he was passing by. He had only a moment to glance in, then gave a startled yelp as somepony grabbed him about the shoulders and dragged him inside.
“Just where do you think you’re going, big guy?” a voice said in his ear, the words blown in by fast, hot breathing. Ordinarily, Hoops could have thrown off even the biggest and burliest assailants, but he stumbled on the carpet and all but tumbled inside. He was about to start flailing, throwing wild punches to break the teeth of anyone stupid enough to get close, but finally, his drunken thoughts caught up to what he had heard. It was a soft voice that had spoken to him. A mare’s voice. And she had sounded even more inviting than Score’s hired mares had been paid to sound.
He lay on his back, legs raised crookedly over his body. He stared wide-eyed through the long, lank tangles of his mane. It was pitch black in the room, and he only caught a glimpse of the mare’s silhouette before she kicked the door closed behind her.
“I’m not done with you,” she said in a sing-song, playful mockery of annoyance. Then he felt her standing over him, and she planted a long, sopping-wet kiss in his mouth.
This mare’s insane, he thought, his mind spinning. Then she was on him, feeling him out, practically having her way with him in a hot, fast rush of lust. It was unbelievable.
He hadn’t even paid her.
Slowly, he let his eyes close as he settled into this new, very comfortable spot in the hotel.
…Eh. I can roll with this.
And those were his last coherent thoughts before he gave himself entirely to the stranger.
* * *
The room was definitely spinning this time. She had drunk three more glasses of champagne while Carrot took a short rest. Now, she couldn’t even keep her brain focused on a single sense. Trying to piece together sight, touch, smell, and sound left her unable to remember a single one, images and perceptions sliding past like oiled dough. Her body was moving rhythmically. Her skin and core were rippling with sensation. There was another body beneath her, all firm limbs and rippling muscles.
Carrot? She thought it was. She could barely see him in the dark, and focusing just confused her more. It was so much easier just to feel. So much easier to pull in close and focus on every inch of the strong muscles cleaving to her, the thin, hot sheen of salty sweat built up between them.
The sweeping, infinitely-fragmented expanse of his wings, at first splayed wide beneath them, rose up to brush over and pull her closer. Wings? The thought crawled half-noticed through her mind like a centipede. That was wrong. Carrot didn’t have wings. But she’d pulled Carrot back into the room as he’d been leaving to check on… who? But it had to be Carrot. His coat had been the right shade of orange. Close enough, anyway. It had to be him. Nopony else would be here with her, not like this. It was crazy even to imagine it.
Something else nagged at her mind, something she thought might be important. Something about the pony not being Carrot. She had the vaguest sense, though, that she’d already tossed such concerns aside. And as he pulled her farther down, enveloping her body even more in the embrace of his own, drawing her even further into the whirling nebula of sensation, everything faded into a total expanse of enjoyment she was not willing to emerge from. She smiled wider and squirmed, working herself a little more deeply down onto him. Carrot or not, she was enjoying it. And she was going to finish enjoying it.