• Published 5th Jun 2013
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Playing With My Heart - ObabScribbler



Four years ago Vinyl and Octavia broke up. It was messy, painful and left scars on both. Four years on, Vinyl receives news that Octavia has been in an accident and is in a coma from which she may never wake. Can she succeed where medicine failed?

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10. “I think we should end this conversation before one of us says something she regrets.”


10. “I think we should end this conversation before one of us says something she regrets.”


Merry Heart wandered into the staff lounge, hooves aching from the first half of a long shift spent running around more than usual. Her mood flagged at the thought of the other half she still had to complete.

Why the hoo-haa did I decide to become a nurse again?

The lounge was dotted with other ponies, most of whom had divided into pairs and little groups that glanced at her before turning back to their own conversations. Strange, she thought, how everyone thought cliques were just a high school thing. Adult life was supposed to be so different, yet the same pettifoggery wormed its way into everything there, too. As a nurse, she was expected to mix with other nurses first, just like doctors mixed primarily with doctors, porters with porters and cleaners with other cleaners.

Darn stupid, if’n you ask me, Merry thought truculently. She sighed. Not that anypony ever does.

On bad days she wondered whether she was only valued for her ability to empty a bedpan. Today was shaping up to be a pretty ghastly day, though it hadn’t made the full progression into ‘bad’. On her way into work she had been hit by a runaway gurney and her flank still hurt from the developing bruise. Added to that, her daughter had cried with nerves that morning over a presentation she had to give in front of her class. Merry had stroked her mane and given the requisite words of comfort, but shaken her head when Glow begged to be allowed to stay home. Merry had faith that the nerves would subside and Glow would be fine in the end, but the thought that she could ultimately do nothing but hope for the best made Merry’s stomach hurt. If she could have done the presentation for Glow, she would have. Anything to bring a smile back to her daughter’s face. Yet what would that have taught her? That it was okay not to face your fears as long as Mommy was around? That you should run away from your problems or tasks that scared you? That taking responsibility was something only other ponies did?

Weighed down by her heavy thoughts, Merry flopped onto one of the threadbare couches lining the wall. The pony on the other end hid his face behind a newspaper. Merry frowned, vague recognition chiming in her brain. The chime became a knell as the face peeping out from behind the paper clicked into place: this was the stallion who had run after the gurney that hit her.

He disappeared back behind the newspaper when he saw her looking his way. For a moment Merry considered just ignoring him, but then the headline of the newspaper caught her eye. She heaved herself up, walked the few paces between them and sat back down next to him.

“Seems almost unbelievable, don’t it?” she said conversationally.

The newspaper quivered. “Huh?”

“A brand new princess. Who’d a’ thunk it?”

“Um …” One pale yellow eye hove into view. The stallion appeared to be considering giving up his protective shield. “Well … I guess … nopony?”

“I sure didn’t.” Merry tapped at the front page headline with a hoof.

Every news outlet was still dominated by news of the newest alicorn in Equestria. Of course, after three days and three versions they were running out of ways to retell how she had finished Starswirl the Bearded’s unfinished spell and landed in the middle of Ponyville town square in a burst of light. It was the kind of thing everypony who had witnessed it would tell their children someday: where were you when Twilight Sparkle became an alicorn? So, in a burst of creativity, the media had converted their coverage into stories about the upcoming Summer Sun Celebration and how both Princess Luna and Princess Twilight Sparkle would fit into proceedings.

“I didn’t even know alicorns could be made. Just goes to show you, don’t it?” Merry chuckled, allowing her southern accent to turn her words into a lazy drawl. In her opinion there was nothing more comforting to a nervous pony than a good drawl. It had worked on Glow this morning; at least enough to get her to the school gate.

“Show what?” said the stallion behind the newspaper.

“That life can always surprise you. Take me, for instance. This morning, I was surprised by you an’ your drivin’ technique.”

The stallion’s cheeks flushed from beige to scarlet. “I’m really sorry about th–”

“An’ take right now,” Merry went on. “I’ll bet you’re worried I’m gonna yell at you some more. I gotta admit, I wasn’t exactly actin’ ladylike. Then again, I’d challenge anypony to act genteel with a sore butt an’ the contents of her purse scattered on the floor.”

“I –”

“So I bet you’ll be surprised when I’m the one to say sorry for yellin’ at you when it was jus’ a lil’ ol’ accident. That corridor’s sloped, though nopony seems to realise it. I’ll bet you took your hooves away for jus’ a second an’ things kinda –” She went in for the kill: a smile as honest as a brand new dawn. “Ran away from you. Is that right?”

“That’s … right,” the stallion said regretfully. “I don’t like using the elevator that broke anymore. I know it’s dumb, and it’s all fixed now, but I’ve started using the one in that corridor instead. I didn’t realise about the sloped floor. Usually there are two of us to each gurney, but I was on my own today. I was punching the button on the elevator – it really was just a second – but when I turned around the gurney wasn’t there. I ran after it as fast as I could but I couldn’t stop it before it got the doors, and you were coming through, and I yelled, but I guess you didn’t hear me, and … and …” The newspaper descended. “And then I panicked when you were yelling and ran away before the elevator doors closed. I’m really sorry I hurt your … uh … that I hurt you,” the stallion apologised. “I should’ve stayed to help you pick up your things.”

“And I shoulda watched where I was goin’.” Merry shrugged. “How about we leave it there? That way you can stop takin’ the long route around the hospital when you see me. You musta walked an extra ten miles today! Deal?”

“Uh … deal.” He nodded. His eyes ticked to the newspaper page he had been ‘reading’. Merry saw that it, too, was about Princess Twilight Sparkle and the brouhaha surrounding her ascension. A story about how the Summer Sun Celebration was being held in Canterlot for the first time in over a hundred years sat next to an editorial about royal nepotism. Merry read the words ‘if other ponies had been given the same opportunities as the vaunted Twilight Sparkle maybe there would be a lot more alicorns in Equestria’ before averting her eyes.

“It never fails,” she sighed. “Sumthin’ truly amazin’ happens an’ all some ponies can think to do is bellyache about how life ain’t fair. Personally, I don’t think I’d wanna be in Twilight Sparkle’s shoes right now, no matter how spangly they are.”

“Huh?” The stallion looked up at her. “You wouldn’t want to be a princess?”

“Heck no!” Merry said emphatically. She had learned a lot about fame in the last few months. The fame of a princess eclipsed every other type of celebrity. “Once ponies get into the public eye, the public done feels like they own ‘em! I couldn’t be dealin’ with feelin’ like I oughta answer to everypony else ‘afore myself.” She shook her head. “I wonder whether Princess Twilight realises what she done let herself in for yet.”

“But … but she’s a princess!” the stallion protested, as if this was the answer to any argument she could possible come up with.

“Yeah.”

“Doesn’t everypony want to be a prince or a princess?”

“Do you?”

“Sure! I’d love to be famous and have lots of money and a big house and glitzy clothes and –”

“An’ never have no privacy, an’ have everyone judgin’ you on how you spend your time an’ all that money.” Merry’s thoughts circled around on themselves like dirty water down a plughole, dragging behind them memories of Vinyl Scratch and her ongoing battle with the media. The more Merry learned of celebrity life, the more she appreciated her own humble one. It wasn’t modesty – she would have been glad for extra cash to cover bills and a few luxuries – but no amount of glitz or glamour was worth the heartache and headaches that seemed inherent in that kind of life. Maybe Merry wasn’t anypony of note, but she was happy. That surely counted more than fame and fortune, right? “I’d rather be my own pony, thank you very much.”

“Oh.” The stallion seemed taken aback by her vehemence. “You … you work up in Neurology, right?”

“I do indeed,” Merry replied.

“So … you see DJPon-3 a lot, right? And Sapphire Shores?”

“I do indeed,” Merry said again, though with a little less aplomb. She had gotten so used to referring to Vinyl by her real name she had almost forgotten her stage one. Where was he going with this?

“I’m a huge fan of both of them,” he started, gabbling a little. “Could you … could you tell DJ-Pon-3 that I think she’s real awesome and that I –”

A piercing whistle cut through the air. Both Merry and the stallion winced.

“Hey!” called a black stallion in a porter’s uniform from the doorway. “What the hay are you still doing in here? Your break ended ten minutes ago.”

“Aw, crud.” The newspaper landed at Merry’s hooves as the stallion she had been speaking to launched himself from his seat. “I lost track of the time.” He hurried away, but paused in the doorway. Looking back, he said, “Tell her I think she’s awesome and brave and I don’t care whatever anypony else says, she still rocks.” That said, he galloped out.

Merry picked up the newspaper to see whether it contained anything else worth reading. A thought occurred to her as she turned the page; one that probably should have occurred to her when the porter stallion was still there.

Just what the hoo-haa was his name, anyhow?


“Um, Doc?”

Doctor Thorntree turned before entering his office, smile faltering a little. “Oh. Vinyl.”

She scuffed a forehoof. “Do you, uh … is Willow still around? In Manehattan, I mean, not at the … ‘cause it’s a new shift for you and everything … since, y’know … I just thought … did she go back to Silverdale yet?”

His moustache twitched. She couldn’t tell whether that was a good or bad sign. “Yes, she’s still in the city.”

“Could I, uh …” Vinyl searched for the right words. His gaze was so penetrating she half expected a laser to shoot out of his eyes and pin her brain to the wall behind her. She frowned. Sweet Celestia, her subconscious was gross. When the thousand yard stare didn’t let up she sighed and abandoned delicacy. Again. “Look, Doc, I was really crappy to her and I wanted to say sorry before she goes home.”

Was it her imagination or did his moustache twitch upwards this time? “She won’t be going home until the end of the week. I can ask her to come in this afternoon, if you’d like.”

“Oh!” Vinyl had been expecting a phone number. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, that’d be … good.” Crap on toast, apologies were harder face-to-face. Then again, she had asked for this the moment she threw Willow’s nice gesture back at her and then ran off like a coward. Time to face the heat or get out of the kitchen. Or something.

Doctor Thorntree nodded, apparently satisfied. “Was there anything else?”

“Uh, no. no, that’s fine. I, uh …” Vinyl raised her eyes. “Are you mad at me?”

Doctor Thorntree puffed out a breath. “You mean am I mad at you for making my daughter cry on her first trip to visit me in several years?”

“Uh … yeah.”

“No, Vinyl, I’m not mad.” He paused. “Not anymore, at least.”

Which meant he had been. “Oh. Sorry.”

“It’s not me you need to say that to.” He crossed the short distance between them and laid a hoof on her shoulder. “But if you’re willing to apologise to Willow, we’ll say no more about it. I know you’re not a malicious pony, Vinyl, so I doubted you had intended to hurt her. Willow is just –” He seemed to search for the right words. “She’s a sensitive soul. Some might even say too sensitive.” He frowned at some private thought or memory. “Regardless, she was very complimentary of you over dinner. She was actually rather worried she had ‘made you hate her’ with her sketch.”

“Say what?” Vinyl was aghast. “Why would she think that? Willow’s a great girl, I just flipped out of the sketch for … well, it was a dumb reason. I never said I hated her!”

“As I said, she’s a sensitive soul. She does rather take things to heart, and when the choice comes to blaming herself or somepony else for something, she tends to blame herself.” Another tiny frown. Vinyl wondered what he was remembering. How often had Willow blamed herself for something that wasn’t her fault?

The problem was mine, not hers. Aw, friggin’ heck. Resolve galvanised Vinyl into saying firmly, “Well I’ll fix that.”

“Yes.” Doctor Thorntree looked at her thoughtfully. “Yes, I’m sure you will. You know, Vinyl, if I hadn’t seen it for myself, I would barely recognise you as the pony I first met.”

“Huh?”

“You’ve changed.”

Well, duh. She bit her tongue against the horrible reply. Her subconscious was apparently a douche as well as gross. “Ponies change, Doc. I’ll bet you ain’t the stallion you used to be, either.”

“No, I certainly am not,” he chuckled. He actually chuckled.

Vinyl couldn’t see what was funny but she smiled nonetheless. Anything was better than that penetrating stare of his. Tension leeched out of her as he dropped his hoof from her shoulder and turned to go into his office.

“Oh, Vinyl?” he said, as something had suddenly occurred to him. “Have you spoken to Doctor Crabtree in the last few days?”

“I’m supposed to talk to him today.” Vinyl remembered the untidy tawny stallion who had walked her through the legal and logistical issues surrounding Octavia’s future care arrangements. She hadn’t spoken to him in over a week, though she had been in touch with her lawyer. Things were moving along like a great conveyor belt that would eventually deposit both Tavi and herself in her newly renovated house.

“Good, good. I’d better be getting along now.”

“Uh, yeah, right. And, uh, Doc?”

He looked over his shoulder at her. “Yes?”

“Thanks.”

“For what?”

“Getting mad at me when I hurt Willow.”

His expression registered surprise. “You’re thanking me for being angry at you?”

“Well, yeah. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like it or anything. I’m not a friggin’ masochist. It just, y’know, it shows you care about her. And that’s nice. For a dad to care about his kid like that. I mean, I’d have been stoked if my mom ever got mad at somepony for hurting me. Like, majorly. Majorly stoked, I mean, not majorly mad. Um, I mean … you’re a good dad, Doc.” Aware that she was babbling, Vinyl turned and trotted away. “So, yeah. See you around.”

She was so eager to extricate herself from the situation, she totally failed to see Doctor Thorntree smile as he closed his door.


Vinyl stared into her mug. Hot chocolate was nice and all, but who actually bought it for anything other than a mountain of whipped cream on top? Once that was gone the actual drink seemed like an anti-climax. Somewhere in the back of her brain a tiny voice yelled rabidly about empty calories and fat content and how many sit-ups it took to work off a treat like this, but she took great pleasure in ignoring it. Some ponies drank alcohol for courage. She opted for fatty treats. If she could have found someplace that sold cheese in a can, she would have been knocking that back like it was going out of style.

Was it ever in style? she wondered. Probably not. Saph is all about being stylish and I can’t imagine her eating canned cheese. Or canned anything, actually. Do they do peanut butter in a can? I betr she’d be all over that, stylish or not – whoa!

Hot liquid scalded the back of Vinyl’s throat as somepony tapped her shoulder. She spluttered, sending a spray of choclately liquid over the table in front of her.

“Oh my gosh!” Willow’s distinct squeak preceded her wild dash-and-grab for serviettes from the dispenser on the counter. The pony at the cash register watched in surprise as she rushed back and forth across the tiny café floor, her panic apparently making her forget that she could take more than one serviette at once. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you! Here, let me get that!”

Vinyl made a noise somewhere between a cough and the last gasp of a pony in the middle of a Saddle Arabian desert. She tried to wipe at her chin at the back of one hoof but Willow dabbed at it first with a serviette, turning Vinyl’s face up towards her like a mother wiping a grubby foal.

“I’m so sorry!” she kept saying. “Oh my! Oh no! Your lovely white coat is all covered in muck now!”

“It’s … fine,” Vinyl wheezed. She drew deep breaths, trying to cool her burned throat. “Totally fine. Just excuse me a minute while I hack up a lung.”

Willow bit her bottom lip. “Hang on a tick.” She hurried back to the counter once more, returning a minute later with a bottle of water so cold it was already beaded with condensation. “Here. Sip this.”

Vinyl drank gratefully. When she could speak normally again, she said, “Thanks, Willow. ‘Preciate it.”

“Why are you thanking me? I shouldn’t have snuck up on you like that.” Willow twisted her hooves up in the floaty scarf wrapped around her neck. It was blue today, providing a neat contrast to her gingery orange coat. Vinyl was no expert on fashion – hence she had deferred to stylists who knew better as she climbed the ladder of fame – but she was pretty sure blue and orange weren’t supposed to go together. Maybe it was that whole bohemian thing, or maybe she knew even less than she had thought, but somehow on Willow it worked.

“You keep that up and you’ll strangle yourself,” Vinyl remarked.

“What? Oh … yes. Right.” Willow untangled her hooves. “Um …”

Vinyl gestured to the seat on the opposite side of the faux-Prench table. For some reason the hospital had decided to deck out the visitors’ café like something that belonged on the streets of Prance, with curlicue metal on all the tables and light fittings, and chairs painted white with lines of poetry inked on the back. Vinyl knew Willow’s chair read ‘Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops - at all’. The quote on her own chair was the reason she first sat here months ago, and had picked this same spot every time she used the café ever since: ‘If music be the food of love, play on’.

“My, um, my dad said you wanted to speak with me?” Willow said hesitantly.

Vinyl took a breath. “Yeah. I wanted to say sorry, Willow. You did a nice thing for me and I was … well, I was an ass,” she said bluntly.

Willow’s eyes settled on a spot over Vinyl’s shoulder. For one blinding moment Vinyl panicked that one of the café workers actually was an ass. She knew one of Bruiser’s security guards was a mule and a trio of elderly nanny goats staffed the gift shop, so there might well be an ass working here too – somebeast she had just insulted in earshot. Vinyl glanced over her shoulder. However, behind the counter was only a very curious looking stallion wearing the nametag: ‘Hi! My name is Star Shower. How can I help you?’

Vinyl looked back at Willow, whose gaze was still fixed on some point in the middle distance. “It’s all right,” she murmured. “Really. It’s fine. It was just a silly sketch.”

“No, it wasn’t!” Vinyl tapped the tabletop, punctuating her words with each hollow ‘tink’. “Uh …” Suddenly lost for how to phrase her thoughts correctly, she stumbled. “It was a really … good … sketch. Um … look, Willow, the point isn’t the sketch. Well, it kind of is, but at the same time, it kind of isn’t. I mean … uh … ah, ponyfeathers. This isn’t coming out at all how I planned.”

“How did you plan it?” Willow asked softly.

Vinyl shrugged. “I just wanted to say sorry for making you cry. Granted, I don’t know you all that well, but you seem like an okay pony. Well, a nice pony, actually. Definitely not the kind of pony who deserves some inconsiderate idiot making her cry when she was just trying to do something nice.”

Willow’s gaze flickered to Vinyl’s face for a half-second, but just as quickly snapped away again. “Don’t be too sorry. I’m a bit of a cry-baby. My mother is always telling me I need to toughen up, but somehow I still always end up blubbing.”

“Uh … well, I’m still sorry.”

“Apology accepted.”

Vinyl sat for a moment, wondering what to do next. Somehow she had expected more from this conversation. Another case of whipped cream and hot chocolate. But not as sweet, she thought, searching her brain for something to say. “Uh, can I buy you a drink?”

“Excuse me?”

Vinyl’s mouth twisted into wry smile. “Yeah, that did sound like a weird. I mean a hot chocolate. Or something. Uh, to make amends?”

“Vinyl, I can’t help thinking you’re making more out of this than it warrants. I drew a picture of you to pass the time and calm myself down while we were trapped in a lift. You didn’t like it and I did my usual trick of being a weepy-woo. It’s no big deal. Really.”

“A weepy-woo?”

“Yes. You know, like that noise you make when you cry? ‘Woo-woo-woo?’” Willow paused. “Or that might be just me.”

“When I cry, it’s more ‘snrrrrkkhhghkkk!’” Vinyl did a fair impression of emptying a nose in a flurry of mucus and goo.

Willow pulled a face but her mouth beneath her hoof was curled into a tiny smile. “That’s … rather disgusting.”

“But truthful.”

“Indeed.”

Vinyl smiled. Willow’s Trottingham accent was nice to listen to. It had a lilting quality she could appreciate. “So how about that hot chocolate? They make it real nice here. I think it’s to give ponies who come in here something to think about other than … y’know, the reason they’re at the hospital.”

“Well, if you’d recommend it.”

“I would. Here, try some of mine. If you like it, I’ll get you one of your own.”

“Well … all right then.” Willow accepted the mug shoved towards her and delicately sipped at the contents. When she raised her face she was smacking her lips appreciatively. “It is good! Ooh, I think I will have one!”

“Wait here.” Vinyl rose and went back to the counter.

Hi-my-name-is-Star-Shower-how-can-I-help-you? beamed at her as he mixed the two mugs she asked for. His eyes kept returning to her face as he spooned cocoa powder, vigorously shook the whipped cream and seemed to take great delight in making art from their drinks. He even went so far as to place a cherry on each cream mound, though he hadn’t when Vinyl purchased her solo mug earlier.

She thanked him and returned to her table. “Bon appetite.” Phrase thoroughly mangled by her attempt t pronounce it, she slid into her chair, downing the lukewarm remains of her old mug before warming her hooves on the new one. “That’s how they talk in Prance, right?”

“I don’t know. I failed Prench at school.” Willow wrapped her hooves around her mug and drew it towards her. “And Mathematics. And Science. And PE, actually. I was never one for running around and getting sweaty when I didn’t need to. I preferred art. Well, that’s obvious, I suppose. I was a school journalist, too, though I never did anything like the Foal Free Press. Did you see that in the news last Spring? The little school newspaper that was all full of national-secret level gossip and kept scooping the actual national papers?”

“Yeah, I saw it.” Indigo had nearly had apoplexy that something would be printed about her. If those young ponies could take pictures of Princess Celestia covered in cake, no celebrity was safe. Thankfully it had all blown over relatively quickly and Vinyl had come out unscathed – unlike the princess, who now got at least one cake-based question whenever she did public appearances. “It turned out to be three fillies who had an in with the princess’s protégé.”

“Do you think she was giving them their information?” Willow asked.

Vinyl tapped her chin but eventually shook her head. “I don’t think so. She didn’t seem the type.”

“You’ve met her?” Willow boggled. “Princess Twilight Sparkle?”

Vinyl fought the urge to sigh. “Well, she wasn’t a princess back then. I worked two gigs at events she happened to be at – the royal wedding and a fashion show.” She shrugged. “I didn’t even realise who she was the first time I saw her.”

All dolled up in stars and spangles that made her look like an explosion in a glitter factory. If somepony had told Vinyl back then that the purple pony in beelybubs would someday be an alicorn princess, she would have laughing in their face. Heck, if somepony had told her that two weeks ago, she would have laughed! Of course, that was before Twilight Sparkle, personal student of Princess Celestia, became Princess Twilight Sparkle, newly minted sovereign. The press had been full of her ascension, for which Vinyl was grateful. The more they focussed on somepony else, they less likely they were to rake a recently outed musician over the coals some more. She felt a pang of guilt for wishing the media hounds in Twilight’s direction, but it was nice not to wonder what fresh sludge she would read about herself every morning.

“What was she like?”

“Hm?” Vinyl was startled from her thoughts by Willow’s question.

“Twilight Sparkle.”

“Oh. Okay, I guess. We didn’t really talk much except when she was rehearsing her song for the reception; and, I guess, at the reception itself, but I was working then, so it wasn’t real easy to have a conversation with anypony over the beats I was laying down.”

And hadn’t that whole song been a last minute thing? Vinyl had been about ready to burst with anger at constantly being told no when she asked for the groom’s sister to come and practise it. In the days prior to the wedding Vinyl had thought her a stuck-up mare who thought herself too good to practise the first friggin’ number her brother and his bride were supposed to dance to. Twilight had never attended a single rehearsal and the one time Vinyl had cornered her she had mumbled something about being busy and galloped away without a second glance. Only after all the excitement was over and the real wedding took place did she learn that Twilight had been thinking about much bigger things than whether she could telekinetically catch a microphone on cue.

“Vinyl … Scratch?”

“That’s my name, don’t wear it – oh, it’s you, Miss Sparkle!”

“Uh, just Twilight will do. I know you’re very busy, getting set up and everything, but I just wanted to come and apologise before the ceremony starts.”

“Apologise? What the he- uh, what for?”

“You tried to speak to me yesterday and I was incredibly rude to you.”

“Uh, considering what you did for Equestria today, I think you’re covered in the ‘it’s okay’ department. If it weren’t for you, I might have a changeling sucking out my soul right now.”

“Love.”

“Huh?”

“They feed on love, not souls. Changelings, that is. They consume love the way we consume food and drink.”

“No kidding?”

“No. No kidding.”

“Wow. No wonder they crashed this love-fest then. What better place than a wedding to find ponies getting all lovey-dovey-gushy-mushy, right? So I guess I should give you extra credit. It must have been extra friggin’ hard to beat them if they were all running on high power.”

“To be honest, I’m just glad everyone okay. I’d like nothing better than for everything to go back to normal. That’s why I came to see you. You wanted me to practise my song for the reception?”

“Well, yeah, it’d be good if we could work out a few timings and things. That pink bridesmaid – the one with the really poofy mane and tail? Carrying the tray full of cupcakes? On her head? While dancing?”

“That would be Pinkie Pie.”

“Yeah, her. She was saying something about announcing your cue from behind my turntables.”

“Yes, she told me. Would you mind?”

“Well I don’t usually let ponies other than me at my decks during a show, but I guess I could make an exception for the royal wedding.”

“That’s very generous of you.”

“Whatever. It’s fine. With all the love in the air, who am I to be a lead balloon?”

“That’s rather poetic.”

“You think so?”

“I do. Would you have time to practise my cue now?”

“Yeah, sure. C’mon, it’s this way. I’m not going to the main ceremony so I can totally spare the time.”

“Oh, would you like to go? I’m sure we could squeeze you in. it’s standing room only but if you’d like to –”

“Nah, I’m cool. That whole scene ain’t my style. I was pretty surprised that your party-planner picked me as the entertainment, to be honest. Weddings aren’t usually my thing. I’m more nightlife than high-life, if you know what I mean. I do functions too but this is my first wedding.”

“Have … have we met before?”

“Uh, sorta. I played a fashion show in Ponyville once.”

“Oh no! That was you? I’m so sorry!”

“What the heck are you sorry for? It wasn’t your fault that designer’s dresses sucked.”

“Actually, it was, but that’s a long story. The designer is a friend of mine. She’s one of the other bridesmaids, actually. In fact, she designed all our dresses. Although … considering it was Queen Chrisyalis who ordered them all changed, I wonder whether we’re going to use the old or the new ones … Tch, I’ll have to ask Cadence what she wants us to do.”

“It’s her special day, after all.”

“Yeah. Yeah, it is.”

“Hey, don’t look so glum. You won, remember? You rescued the damsel and the hero, kicked butt and completely saved the day. Everypony’s safe and sound because of what you did. If anyone should be feeling the love right now, it’s you.”

“Yes … yes, I suppose you’re right. I guess I’m just nervous about … well, everything. The ceremony and the reception and the decorations and the entertainment and the carriage and whether I’ll fall over my skirt because I never practised walking in it or have a coughing fit during the vows or miss my cue and mess up this song or fail to catch the microphone and knock myself out and ruin –”

“Hey, whoa, breathe!”

“Gah … sorry.”

“Don’t you have, like, an assistant to help you will all this wedding junk? Uh, I mean wedding para … paraphen … paraphee … stuff?”

“Yes, I do, but … never mind. Junk? I take it you’re not very romantic.”

“Meh, not so much. Romance kinda leaves me cold these days. Uh, not that I ain’t stoked to be performing here tonight! Don’t get me wrong, because I am! Stoked, I mean, not wrong. Uh … I mean … can I get a do-over on this part of the conversation?”

“I think I’d like a do-over on this whole week. I know I was right about Cadence and Chrysalis in the end but I … I did some stuff I’m not proud of. Not even after I was proved right. I got so caught up in what I was doing, I stopped thinking about how I was affecting others. I kept telling myself I was just worried about my brother and my friends, but it wasn’t just that. I knew something was wrong and it … it bothered me that nopony took me seriously. I needed to be right. In the end, I put my own need to be right above the feelings of the ponies’ I care most about and for while … I thought they’d abandoned me. I thought they hated me; or at least thought less of me for what I’d done, whatever my intentions had been.”

“Uh … Miss Twilight, are you sure I’m the pony you should be saying this stuff to? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure if you toss a cupcake in the air and say her name three times, Pinkie Pie will appear in a puff of smoke.”

“Hm? Oh, I’m sorry. I’m just thinking out loud, I guess. This has been a very strange few days.”

“You’re telling me. Come for the wedding, stay for the near-apocalypse. I gotta say, though, whatever disagreements you and your friends had, I saw you fighting those changelings. Talk about kick-ass! You guys were awesome.”

“Heh. Thanks.”

“They can’t have hated you if they were willing to put themselves on the line like that.”

“I guess not. I’m just being silly. I love my friends and they love me. It’s … just a little hard to remember that when you’re sitting in a crystal cavern watching a bug queen laugh about how she’s turned them all against you.”

“Well that bit- changeling is halfway to Gryphona by now and you’re still here. So are your friends. And your brother. And your soon-to-be-sister-in-law. And the princesses. And … what seems like half of Equestria, actually.”

“Goodness, when you put it like that, I’m getting jitters – and it isn’t even my wedding!”

“So let’s make it the best friggin’ wedding we can, yeah?”

“I guess.”

“Nuh-uh. Nopony will be able to hear you even with a microphone if you sound all weak and wimpy-voiced. It’ll be you and your song versus several hundred party guests who nearly got smushed by bugs today. They’ll be talking real loud, so you gotta be louder. Say it with me, okay? Yeah!”

“Yeah!”

“Again! Yeah!”

“Yeah!”

“Again! Louder”

“Heh. You remind me of a friend of mine. Yeah!”

“Then she must be a pretty awesome pony. Now do it louder! Don’t worry about ponies looking. They’re just jealous of our awesome lungpower. Again! YEAH!”

“YEAH!”

“YEAH!”

“YEEEEEAH!”

Vinyl contemplated her memories. “She was … normal,” she said eventually. Yes, that summed up Twilight Sparkle: probably the most powerful pony in all Equestria after the princesses, able to cast magic even the fabled Starswirl the Bearded hadn’t mastered, but if you talked to her you’d think she was just any other nervous pony trying to do her best and find her place in the world.

“Oh.” Willow seemed disappointed in this summation. Her horn glowed as she levitated something from the top of her hot chocolate. “Would you like my cherry?”

Vinyl snorted whipped cream up her nose.

It took a few seconds for Willow to realise why. When she did, her whole face flushed crimson. Her telekinesis died and the cherry landed on the table, smearing cream in a half-circle. Willow covered her mouth with both forehooves. “Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed, voice muffled. “I didn’t … I mean, I wouldn’t … I’ve never … and in public? I didn’t mean to … oh my goodness!”

Vinyl choked for the second time that day, waving her hooves around wildly. This time, however, she was not choking on shock, but on laughter. “You … you just asked me …” Another snigger rippled up her throat. It wasn’t even all that funny, but after the tension of anticipating this meeting, her emotions were in high gear. She laughed until her sides were sore and her cheeks hurt. When she could talk again, she wheezed, “S-Sorry, Willow … it’s just been … a weird couple of days …”

Willow hid her whole face behind her hooves. “I can’t believe I just asked you that!” she groaned. “What in Celestia’s name must you think of me?”

That you’re damn funny and cute when you blush, supplied Vinyl’s back-brain, but she shelved that one before it reached her mouth, sensing it would not help Willow’s embarrassment. “I think that you should laugh about it.”

“Why would I do that? Ugh, I’m so embarrassed!”

“That’s exactly why. Laughing makes you feel less of an idiot when you do something funny.” She chuckled again at the question. “’Would you like my cherry’? Classic!”

A tiny, muffled giggle made Vinyl’s ears twitch. “I really cannot believe I said that.” Willow’s eyes appeared over the tops of her hooves. She giggled again. It was high and flutey.

“There you go!” Vinyl smiled. “You should laugh more. It’s nice.”

“You should laugh more. It’s nice.”

“Yes.”

“Huh?”

“Yes, I’ll meet with you. Just … just give me a chance to think where we can go. But yes. My answer is yes, Vinyl.”

“Friggin’ A!”

Vinyl sat bolt upright. All laughter died in her throat, which seemed to close like as if anaphylactic shock. She suddenly found it difficult to breathe.

Shocked, Willow leaned towards her. “Vinyl, are you all right?”

“Yeah, I … I’m fine.” Vinyl pushed her mane from her eyes. Something cold prickled up her spine. She turned around but there was nopony behind her, save the stallion at the counter. Turning back to Willow, she shoved tufts of mane from her eyes again, irritated at it for getting in her way. Some of the tips were coated in cream where they had draped too close to her mug. She didn’t want the hot chocolate anymore. Just looking at it made her feel nauseous.

Was this was unfaithfulness felt like?

Don’t be dumb, she berated herself. There were a million and one reasons why that was a stupid thought.

So why did she feel like she had just been caught cheating?

“Vinyl –?”

“I … I have to go.” Vinyl stood, her hot chocolate abandoned. “Thanks for accepting my apology, Willow. I’m sorry but I … I just remember, I have to be … someplace. S-Someplace else.” She backed away from the table. “Thanks again. I’ll … I’ll see you around, okay?”

Only through supreme self-will did she walk through the door of the café instead of run. Thankfully Willow stayed at the table, confusion written across her face, as Vinyl beat her hasty retreat.


A hoof laid itself over Vinyl’s. She looked up, irritation flaring inside her until she realise who it was. “Saph? What are you doing here? You’re not meant to be here until four.”

“It is four, girl.” Sapphire’s voice was a mix of her usual high energy and concern. “I’ve been standin’ in that doorway for almost five whole minutes. It ain’t every day Sapphire Shores gets ignored, sugar. I gotta say, I ain’t used to it an’ I ain’t fond of it.”

“Oh. Uh, sorry, Saph.”

“You were so focussed on your lil’ bit of paper there, it was like there weren’t nopony else in the room!” Sapphire leaned in to look at the sheet upside down. “What is it? Your song?”

“Uh, yeah.” Four o’ clock already? Vinyl was shocked.

Sapphire gave her a reproving look. “Honey, how often do you work on this thing?”

“My composition?” Vinyl pondered the question. “Every day, I guess.”

“How many hours a day?”

“I don’t know.” A defensive note crept into her voice. “Why?”

“Every time I’ve been here this week, you’ve had your nose so close to the paper you practically got treble-clefs for eyes.” Sapphire’s voice dropped to a lower pitch. In a song it would have been sultry, but right now it sounded anxious. “You’re doin’ it again.”

“Doing what again?”

“Gettin’ obsessive.”

The pale blue telekinesis moving the pencil froze. Vinyl looked up at Sapphire, mouth open. “Say what?”

“I know, I know, it ain’t the same as the other stuff you told me about, but still, it ain’t healthy. Remember what you said I should do if I caught you goin’ – as you so eloquently put it – ‘all friggin’ crazy over one thing again’?”

Vinyl’s mouth worked for a moment. “That you should tell me,” she said at last. She looked down at the paper, recalling that particular conversation; one of many she and Sapphire had shared.

There were still things lurking in Vinyl’s past that nopony but herself and Octavia knew about, but Sapphire had somehow managed to prise loose a few nut and bolts until Vinyl’s mouth was flapping like an unfastened barn door in a storm, spilling secrets and confessions she had never thought she would ever be able to say to anypony. How the heck did Sapphire do that? She wasn’t a unicorn, so it wasn’t magic –

“Vinyl, honey? Yoo-hoo!” Sapphire waved a hoof in front of her nose. “You in there?”

Vinyl startled. If she had been in her chair the legs would have screeched. Since she was crouched in the corner of the room, all she could do was arch backwards into the wall. “Whu?”

Sapphire looked around theatrically at the rest of the room, the folded her forelegs. “Why are you sittin’ in the corner like a naughty foal?”

“I dunno.” Vinyl shrugged a little truculently. “I just wanted to sit in the corner while I worked.”

The look she received was entirely sceptical. It made her feel strangely embarrassed. When she looked away, Sapphire loosed a breath that could have uprooted a few trees, turned around and sat beside her. She wiggled until she was comfortable, shoving Vinyl over a few inches. Part of Sapphire’s bright blue tail ended up across Vinyl’s lap, draped over the sheet of music, but Vinyl didn’t try to flick it away.

“Okay, what’s up?” Sapphire asked.

“The ceiling.”

“Don’t you sass me, girl. Something’s got you rattled.”

“Nothing’s got me rattled.”

“Duck!”

“What?” Vinyl looked up.

“Or the low flyin’ pigs will hit you,” Sapphire deadpanned. “No sass, no sauce an’ no lies, girl. What happened to you since I saw you last? Yesterday you were O-K-A-Y.”

Vinyl gave her a sidelong look. “Isn’t okay just spelled O-K?”

“What’d I say about no sass?” Sapphire adopted an expression of hurt dignity, thrusting her nose in the air and pursing her lips. “You can’t spell ‘sass’ without ‘ass’ and you’re real close to bein’ one of those right now.”

Vinyl shook her head. “It’s … dumb.”

“Ah! Now we’re gettin’ somewhere.” Sapphire’s nose lowered, though her lips remained pursed. “Dumb is relative, sugarlips. When I was a filly I failed pretty much every class in school ‘cept math an’ music. I thought I was dumb as a bag of hair, but nopony else thought so when they wanted to copy my homework for every class ‘cept those two.”

“Are you a dropout, Saph?” Vinyl playfully reproached.

“You kiddin’?” Sapphire’s pitch climbed a few notches. “My momma woulda kicked my sorry flank from here to Timbucktoo an’ back again if I ever even thought about droppin’ outta school!” Her voice lowered, as if she was afraid somepony might hear her. “I swear, that mare really can read thoughts. I never got a report card past the door that she didn’t already know about.” She gave an exaggerated shiver. “She could pry out secrets you didn’t wanna tell like warm honey from a jar.”

Maybe that’s where you get it from, Vinyl thought.

“So what’s so dumb it’s got you sittin’ in the corner like a naughty foal?” Sapphire insisted.

Vinyl winced. “Uh, I talked to Willow.”

“Ponyfeathers, Vinyl! Did you make her cry again?”

“N-No!” Vinyl protested, though the hesitation in her voice did not go unnoticed.

“Did she make you cry?”

“No way! You know me, I never cry! Well, almost never. We just had hot chocolate together at the visitors’ café. I wanted to apologise for that whole debacle with the sketch she gave me.”

Sapphire nodded. “Debacle. Good word.”

“Saph!”

“So what happened? Didn’t she accept your apology?”

“Yeah, she accepted it.” Vinyl drew her hind legs up, encircling them with her forelegs. The sheet of composition floated the floor, telekinesis evaporating when it touched down. “We got talking. It was … nice.” She refused to look at Sapphire, suspecting that just the admission would be ringing the same alarm bells in her head as it had in Vinyl’s own.

“Oh,” Sapphire said, confirming the suspicion. “Like just nice, or like nice-nice?”

“What’s the difference?”

“You an’ me, we get along just nice.”

“Then I guess … I think it was … a little more than just nice.” Vinyl buried her face. “I’m an awful pony.”

“No you ain’t –”

“Yes, I am, Saph. I was having fun. It felt … it felt normal! Talking with Willow, just chatting about random stuff, no pressure, no designs, none of that crap … it was nice. It felt like … like …” She pressed her face so hard against her legs that her nose started to hurt and her voice came out muffled. “It felt like it used to with Tavi. Before everything went wrong.”

“Oh, honey –” Sapphire seemed to stop herself from saying something. She sucked in a breath. “Maybe … maybe it’s better this is comin’ up now, instead of later. Maybe you oughta think about it before you’re on your own with your Tavi in that big ol’ house of yours.”

“Think about what?”

“Well…” Sapphire appeared to be choosing her words very carefully. “Vinyl, you an’ I both know there’s a chance your Tavi ain’t never comin’ back. There’s a strong possibility she won’t never wake up. Are you … do you plan to be alone for the rest of your life because you can’t have her back?”

“I’m an awful pony.”

“Vinyl –”

“I’m awful because I don’t know, Saph! I don’t know if I was enjoying myself today because Willow reminded me so much of Tavi – even her accent is the same! – or because … because I actually did … because I actually could …” She shook her head, mane draping over her face, obscuring what little of it was visible. “I don’t want to feel that way for anypony else! I was on my own for four years! I never wanted anypony in all that time. And I wasn’t like I didn’t get offers, y’know? I couldn’t acknowledge half of them for pretty obvious reasons, but even if I had come out years ago, I wouldn’t have wanted any of the mares who threw themselves at me. And I mean they literally threw themselves at me.”

“I hear that,” Sapphire said sagely. “The first time a unicorn levitated their whole desperate self at me, I nearly bust down the doors of the hotel I was goin’ into. No slur on him, he mighta been a real sweetie, but three hundred pounds of gigglin’ pony comin’ atcha head would give anypony a fright.”

“Oh. Yeah. So you get it, right? There was tail available. I never wanted it. Not any of it.”

“Because you wanted Octavia.”

“No. Yeah. Yes, because I wanted Tavi. I just … I guess I never put it into words at the time. But yeah, because in the back of my mind, Tavi was the only mare I … I ever … Even after everything that happened between us, even after years of not talking, I only wanted her; not anypony else. And now … with all this –” Vinyl waved a hoof blindly, not needing to look to know where the bed was. “Now I start looking at other mares? I’m an awf–”

“Vinyl Scratch you are not an awful pony, an’ if you call yourself that one more time I am sure as sugar gonna do something to you so bad you’ll cringe every time you so much as think about it.”

Vinyl raised her head. “S … Saph?”

Sapphire Shores was not a pony who did ‘angry’. She shrugged off bad feelings, laughed in their face or just plain ignored them until they realised how insignificant they were and slunk away. Vinyl couldn’t ever remember seeing her mad before, but the expression on her face now was unmistakable.

“You ain’t an awful pony just because you’re cravin’ some love an’ affection! Sweet Celestia, if that were truth, half of Equestria would be downright evil! You said you spent four years not wantin’ nopony but your Tavi? Tell me, what ex-act-ly were you doin’ for those four years?” She enunciated her words so sharply they were like pins being driven into Vinyl’s ears.

“Uh, I was … I was working,” she stammered.

“And did I, or did I not, hear you tell me before that you used work to block out how much you were missin’ Octavia and to stop yourself thinkin’ about all the stuff you didn’t want no little itty bitty part of thinkin’ about?”

“Uh, yeah, but –”

“So maybe – just maaaaayyyybe – now you ain’t goin’ so hot-to-trot on your DJ-ing career these days, you’re maybe, perhaps, possibly and even feasibly just now experiencin’ some honest-to-goodness emotions that ain’t self-hatred an’ regret? That just, just, just, just maaaaaaayyyybe your beaten-black-an’-blue-lil’-heart is startin’ to beat red again?”

“I … I …” Vinyl had no answer to that. She waved her hooves wildly, crisscrossing her forelegs in a gesture of cessation. “Wait, wait, wait! Saph, you’re missing the point! I don’t want anypony else! I want Tavi! I made a commitment – that’s why I’m here, remember?”

“No, Vinyl, I think you’re the one who’s missin’ the point. You never wanted nopony before because you never got past the first stage of grief over your relationship endin’! You were stuck there like you were stuck every night on those dang treadmills at that dang gym – runnin’ but never gettin’ noplace! Now you’re of that treadmill, girl. You’re movin’ forward again an’ you’re meetin’ all the emotions you shoulda met back then.”

“I … I…”

“Put it this way: if you could talk to Octavia right now, right this very second, do you think she’d tell you she wanted you to put your heart on hold forever? Do you think it’d make her feel good to know that you’d decided to dedicate yourself to bein’ alone except her the way she is now an’ your memories of her? To never, no-how, no-way never even consider startin’ a relationship with somepony else, even if it’d make you happy, just because she can’t be with you the way you want her to?”

The backs of Vinyl’s eyes felt hot and itchy. “Why are you saying this stuff?” Wow, her voice sounded weird! All gluey, like she had downed a glass of 100% proof treacle. “After all I’ve told you? About her, about me, about us – I told you almost everything, Saph. And now you come out with this … this crap!? What kind of friend does that?”

Sapphire’s face shifted for a fraction of a second, as if Vinyl’s question had struck a nerve. “I’m sayin’ it because it needs to be said, sugarlips. An’ … I’m sorry, but there ain’t no pleasant way to bring this up. Not really. You need to think about this. I’m not sayin’ you need to make any decisions. Not now, maybe not for years to come, but … Vinyl, I am your friend. I know how lonely this life can get. I don’t like the idea that you’re totally closed off to even thinkin’ about lovin’ anypony ever again. An’ … an’ I don’t think Octavia would be either. She cared about you. She wouldn’t want you to stick yourself on another treadmill –”

“You don’t even know her!” The words came out more aggressive than Vinyl intended. She started to get to her hooves. “You never met Tavi before she was like this!”

“No, but you’ve told me enough that I don’t think she’d want you to be alone forever on her account.”

“I love her!” Vinyl thundered, gesturing wildly. “Only her! I don’t want anypony else but her! Ever! All this crap you’re talking is just that: crap! And if you don’t stop talking crap that I … I …”

For a long moment Sapphire just stared at Vinyl. Then she got up, brushed off her skirt and headed for the door. “I think we should end this conversation before one of us says something she regrets.”

“I don’t regret saying I love her!”

“That ain’t what I mean. Vinyl, I know this probably ain’t the best time, but it is the time this subject has come up and it is the time you gotta think about it. I’m not sayin’ you should go throw yourself at Willow or anypony else right now. You don’t even know if Willow sings that tune. What I am sayin’ is that you don’t gotta consign yourself to a life without any love but the memory of what you an’ your Tavi had. A pony can’t live life in reverse. She’s gotta move forward, an’ sometimes that means thinkin’ about stuff she really don’t wanna.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” Vinyl demanded. “I’ve spent that last few months doing nothing but thinking about stuff I don’t friggin’ want to, making decisions I don’t friggin’ want to and doing stuff I don’t friggin’ want to! That’s! Why! I’m! Here!” She stomped a hoof on the floor with every yelled word.

Sapphire stopped. Took a breath. Let it out slowly. “An’ now this is somethin’ else to add to that. You’ve been makin’ some heavy decisions lately about the kinda pony you wanna be.” She looked at Vinyl without turning her head. “Scratch. Vinyl. DJ-Pon3. Tell me, if all this pain you’ve been puttin’ yourself through, barin’ your soul to the media, fightin’ with Indigo, openin’ yourself up to all the slurs an’ insults you been gettin’ – if all that was to be truer to yourself like you said, then what’s the point in ignorin’ this truth just because you don’t like it?”

Vinyl stared at her, mouth open but no words coming out.

Apparently having said all she had to say, Sapphire left. Vinyl felt a powerful urge to go after her and pick a fight some more, but she stopped herself. Instead, she returned to the corner and almost sat down again. At the last moment she hesitated. In a snap decision, she levitated the composition into the air and followed it to her chair by Octavia’s bedside. She sat down and laid the music on Octavia’s stomach, as if presenting it to her for approval.

“What do you think, Tavi?” she asked softly. “I worked hard on this but I still don’t have a name for it. It’s probably nothing you’d be impressed by, but I kind of like it. Usually I hate everything I write until … unt-til it’s…” Her voice snagged. She leaned forward, pillowing her head on her forelegs. Throatily, she whispered, “What should I do, Tavi? Tell me, what should I do?”

No answer.

As always.

As it always would be?

Was this Vinyl’s life for always?

She didn’t resent being by Tavi’s side. She had fought tooth and hoof to stay here. She had almost certainly burnt her bridges with Indigo to do this, had taken a sabbatical from her DJ career and ostracised sponsors who had previous been so eager to please. She had learned how to care for Octavia, all the ugly things she would have to do to look after a coma patient. She had resigned herself to what she would have to do and decided it was worth it because she loved Octavia. How could she even consider being unfaithful to those feelings now? That brief burst of attraction to Willow had been just an echo of memories with Tavi, nothing more. Definitely nothing more.

Definitely.

“What I am sayin’ is that you don’t gotta consign yourself to a life without any love but the memory of what you an’ your Tavi had."

“Tavi … are you ever coming back?”

“A pony can’t live life in reverse.”

“Can you even hear me in there, or have I really wasted all these months like Indigo said?” She shook her head vehemently. “What am I saying? Idiot. Idiot! Time with you ain’t wasted! Not even like this. Not ever! I … I just wish I’d had the chance to … to see you when you could still …” She trailed off. “I hope you can hear me, Tavi, I really do. I … I love you so much. I was unbelievably stupid to ever let you go. I could say that I was young and naïve, but it was mostly just stupidity and selfishness. You were my lynchpin, y’know? That part of my life that never changed. I thought … I thought you’d always be there, no matter what I did. No matter … how much I hurt you. But I was wrong. I was so friggin’ wrong – about everything! I was so lonely without you. I didn’t think I was, but now … now I have friends I can see that … that I …” She stopped and had to centre herself before continuing. “I thought I had friends before, but not like this. Having real friends … it’s opened my eyes, Tavi. I was lonely. Every friggin’ day I was so lonely and I never even realised it until now. Talk about dumb, huh? I t-told you I was dumb when we were still in school but you never believed me. You always …” Her throat tried to close again. “You always had faith in me.”

Vinyl stared at the smooth, unruffled face on the pillow. Octavia looked very young. Not quite as young as when she and Vinyl had first met, but certainly younger than when their troubles had gotten the better of them. She had looked haggard back then, though Vinyl had been too caught up in her work to see the physical differences in her lover. Octavia had lost weight. Her cheeks had become hollow, her eyes sunken in a way that anypony unfamiliar with her would not have noticed, but someone close to her should have. Vinyl had not. Now, by contrast, Octavia’s face seemed fuller, her beauty restored by tragedy.

The universe had a sick sense of humour.

Vinyl reached out a hoof and stroked Octavia’s cheek. The fur there was just as soft as it looked. That simple touch reminded Vinyl of so many other times she had been able to reach out and stroke Tavi’s face.

Tavi.

Her Tavi.

Still her Tavi?

“She’s gotta move forward.”

“I will always love you,” Vinyl whispered. “I will always be your Vinyl. That w-won’t ever f-friggin’ change. Not ever. I’m always yours. I always was.” She let her face rest in her hooves. “Celestia damn it! Tavi, what should I do?”

Octavia did not answer

As always.


Flower Heart intercepted Sapphire on her way out. She had never been one for standing on ceremony, but even she was surprised at how easy she found talking to a celebrity these days. It was all too simple to stop thinking of them as real ponies when you saw their pictures plastered across magazines and billboards all the time. Their problems seemed worlds away from those of regular ponies. Having Vinyl around had taught her that some things were universal. She sensed from Sapphire’s expression that this was one of those times.

“Hey!”

Sapphire looked up from where she had been trying to bore a hole in the elevator doors with her eyes. She broke into a smile but it was strained at the edges. “Heeeey,” she singsonged in the curious way she sometimes did. “How’s it shakin’, smooth girl?”

Flower hesitated. “Smooth girl?”

“Gonna be roundy-girl soon. Thought I’d use the name while I still can.”

Flower twisted her lips into a wry smile. Talking with Bruiser and planning their new life together had given her the buoyancy she had lacked when first trying to cope with the thought of impending motherhood. She still wasn’t entirely sure of herself, but she was certain of one thing: she wanted this foal. She almost laughed when she thought about everything that had led her to this moment and this strange revelation. She, the confirmed singleton who fiercely guarded her independence, not only had a partner but was also starting a family – and she didn’t hate the idea! Would wonders never cease?

She refocused on Sapphire. “What was all the yelling about?”

Sapphire’s expression folded in on itself. “Oh. That.”

“Yeah, that. What happened in there?” Flower tossed her head towards Room 219. “It sounded pretty heated.”

“Nuthin’ …” Sapphire started. Then she stopped herself. “My girl an’ I, we had a chat about some stuff she didn’t wanna chat about.”

“What kinda stuff?” Sapphire’s cagey tone made Flower suspicious. Protectiveness made her hooves tingle with the desire to smack anything that threatened Vinyl’s tenuous happiness – not easy when the major problems in Vinyl’s life weren’t tangible and therefore weren’t smackable. “Is she okay?”

“She’s …” Sapphire paused. “She’s bein’ very Vinyl about the future.”

“Oh. You mean she’s fighting against it with all four hooves an’ a baseball bat?”

“You got it.”

“What exactly is she fighting against this time?” Flower chose her words carefully. There was nopony in earshot except Merry Heart but it paid to be circumspect in a hospital.

Sapphire seemed to be choosing hers equally carefully, though Flower speculated her reasons were quite different.

Sapphire seemed to be getting something out of her friendship with Vinyl that Vinyl herself wasn’t aware of. Flower had worked in Manehattan General long enough to see more waiting rooms filled with distraught creatures than she liked to remember. She had seen weepers, wailers, screamers, those beset by silent shock and others who got angry at hospital staff, as if it was their fault they were stuck in this place waiting for news of loved ones. It didn’t matter whether they were ponies, goats, griffins, minotaurs or some other creature who lived in Equestria, the patterns were always the same. Grief, worry and loneliness were universal emotions. The creatures who lodged most in her memory, however, were those who pretended everything was fine while their eyes told another story. Sapphire Shores was the biggest personality Flower had ever met but it was only recently that her eyes had started to shine as much as the rest of her.

“I sometimes wonder what it’d be like to love somepony the way Vinyl loves Octavia,” Sapphire said eventually, her tone flat and strange. “An’ then sometimes I’m glad I don’t know. I sing about love all the time. Not one of them love songs gets it right, I reckon. Love is magical an’ fantastic an’ perfect … but I ain’t never sung no song about how much it can hurt to love somepony with all your bein’ – so much that you’d give up your whole heart even when they can’t love you in return, an’ then you refuse to take it back again or use it to love somepony else. Like, ever.”

Flower nodded, beginning to understand.

“Movin’ on after a relationship has hit the skids ain’t no big deal, right? Movin’ on after somepony else decides it ain’t workin’ out is harder, but not impossible. I done had plenty of coltfriends in my life, an’ I done cried over a few.” Sapphire smiled wryly. “More than a few. Once, I threw a cake at a wall. I’d baked it for him for his birthday an’ he dumped me when I was only two hooves through the door. Celestia’ shiiiiiiiny horn, did that make a mess! A real satisfyin’ one. Then I went home an’ cried on my bed ‘til I could barely see straight. But I got over him ‘cause I realised later that he wasn’t the one I wanted to give my heart to. Not that way. I missed him, sure, but I didn’t mourn for him.” Her neck was a little less arched; her smile a little less bright as she examined the thoughts in her head. “It’s hard to watch somepony isolate herself when she done so good at un-isolatin’ herself in so many other ways.” Sapphire blinked. “Un-isolate is a word, right?”

“I dunno,” Flower said hoarsely. She cleared her throat. “Good as any, I guess.”

“Yeah. I guess.” The elevator finally dinged and opened. “I better go. See you later, smooth girl.” Sapphire twinkled a hoof at Flower before stepping inside. “Do me a favour? Keep an eye on Vinyl? She’ll be thinkin’ some hard thoughts right now, an’ … well, you know how she is.” The doors started to close. “All four hooves an’ a baseball –”

Click.

Flower watched the numbers above the elevator decrease. After a moment she turned and trotted to the door of Room 219. Peering around the edge revealed Vinyl by Octavia’s side, sobbing into her folded forelegs.

Flower was beside her faster than any unicorn with a teleportation spell. Vinyl resisted at first, but when she realised who it was she allowed herself to be held.

“I d-don’t want anypony but her!” she choked out. “N-Never! There’ll n-never be anypony b-but her!”

Flower shushed and held her. She was aware of Merry in the doorway, obviously drawn by the noise and how fast Flower had run inside.

“It’s not just me being s-stubborn!” Vinyl railed. “I love her! Why else would I d-do all this? I n-never s-stopped loving her! How could I ever l-love anypony else when I s-still love her so much? It’s not f-fair! Why is all this happening to me? What d-did I do to d-deserve all this … all this … all this crap!? I don’t want to m-make that kind of d-decision! I l-lost her once! I can’t just g-give up on her after I m-missed her for so long! I can’t! I won’t! I won’t!

Vinyl’s words devolved into incoherence, but Flower could guess at least some of what was going on. Sapphire’s words plus this breakdown added up to a heart-breaking picture. The desire to fix everything and make it all better tightened Flower’s hold on Vinyl. Holding her was the only thing she could do at that moment.

“You want me to fetch somepony?” Merry whispered. She had drawn closer, face tight with concern.

“I d-don’t want anypony …” Vinyl mumbled into Flower’s chest. “J-Just my special s-somepony … I ain’t gonna n-never love nopony else. J-Just my T-Tavi …”


Merry Heart nosed open the door quietly but Vinyl still heard her. Her head snapped up, causing Merry to halt in her tracks.

“Uh … I brought you shome coushcoush,” she said around the plastic food-tub in her mouth. “Wit’ peppersh. Jusht th’ way you like it.”

“Thanks,” Vinyl said flatly. “But I’m not very hungry.”

Merry removed the tub and held it in one hoof so as to speak more easily. “You ain’t never hungry any time I ask. Darlin’, one o’ these days, I do declare, you’re gonna waste away to skin’ an bone.”

Vinyl didn’t respond. Her eyes seemed … Merry hated to think it, but her eyes seemed haunted; almost the way they had looked when she first took up her vigil so many weeks ago. vinyl had made so many improvements since then, becoming a happier, healthier pony, that it was a shock to see such a sudden relapse. Vinyl blinked, her focus somewhere in the middle distance, one hoof laid possessively over Octavia’s foreleg.

“Couldn’t you manage a bite? Just one?” Merry fought to keep her voice normal instead of letting it drop into the maternal tone she used with her kids. “I’ll go away if’n you do.”

Vinyl grunted. “Whatever.” Nonetheless, she accepted the tub of couscous and prised off the lid.

She used her hooves, not her magic. Merry didn’t whether that was significant. She was an earth pony who had grown up around earth ponies and spent her formative years in a tiny community of earth ponies on the southernmost border of Equestria. Her life before she came to Manehatten had been one distinctly lacking in wings and horns, so it had been a shock when she first got to the big city and saw ponies flying about and levitating things like it was nothing special. When she was in school back in Cattywumpus, fillies on the cusp of marehood had told each other how lucky they were that puberty had not struck them with rampant magic outbreaks or ‘wing boners’, which had made them all giggle. Merry had giggled too, though she hadn’t fully understood what that meant until she rode the subway on her first day at nursing college and one lascivious pegasus educated her with his uncomfortable stare and erect wings.

As Vinyl forked couscous into her mouth, Merry checked on Octavia. It was both duty and a reason to linger in the room. A pile of paperwork awaited her back at the nurses’ station, but Merry had no intention of returning to it until she had said what she had come in here to say. It had taken courage for her to even get this far. She inspected the IV drip, noted readouts from the monitors and even spent a moment rearranging the unconscious mare’s mane. Octavia certainly was a striking pony. Her mane and coat weren’t vibrantly coloured, yet something about her remained elegant, even like this.

“You don’t have to be extra nice to me just because I cried,” Vinyl said suddenly.

Merry sighed. “Darlin’, that ain’t it at all.”

“So you’re feeding me because you feel sorry for me?”

“I’ll thank you to quit puttin’ words in my mouth.”

Merry wasn’t as close to Vinyl as Flower had become. Technically, the friendships each of them had developed with her were a little unprofessional, but neither nurse cared much. Nursing was one third professionalism and two thirds heart. Merry liked to think that was why anypony who wanted to be a nurse had to add ‘Heart’ to the end of their name. Still, she vacillated. Perhaps it would have been easier for Flower to do this. On the other hoof, by the very nature of what she had to say, Flower couldn’t do this.

Stalling, Merry added, “I got enough of my own I need to say without you addin’ more.”

“Huh?” Vinyl blinked at her like a sleepwalker.

Merry gathered her nerve. She rarely talked about this. Not that she couldn’t, and certainly whenever Chip or Glow wanted to, she answered their questions willingly, but it wasn’t something she brought up very often. Some ponies wore their history like badges of honour. Some hid it away. She was content to simply let it sit and be what it was, where it was: in the past.

Still, now seemed an appropriate time. She liked to think he would want her to help somepony in need. Hadn’t that been what he said when she first told him she was a nursing student?

“You know I have kids, right?”

“Uh, sure. Glow and Chip.” Vinyl said their names with the familiarity of one who had heard all about them without ever actually meeting them.

Merry nodded. “They ain’t angels, either of ‘em. Chip’s a moody lil’ pubescent an’ Glow’s still at that stage where she thinks throwin’ a tantrum is the best way to get what you want when reason fails.” She smiled to herself. “Still, I love ‘em both, warts an’ all. I hate takin’ ‘em to the grocery store an’ I dread school report day as much as they do, but I’d fight off a rabid manticore if it tried to hurt either one of ‘em. So would Blackjack.”

Vinyl nodded to indicate she remembered her husband’s name from past conversations.

Merry let out a breath. “Which is extra special ‘cause, y’see, Blackjack ain’t their daddy.” She tightened her stomach against the old scrunch of grief, though it was more of a prickle these days. “He’s their step-daddy. Their daddy … he died when Glow was jus’ a newborn foal. He was sick an’ then … then he died.” Quickly, but not so fast that she was unintelligible, she went on, “We met when I first moved to Manehattan. We were both students, scrimpin’ an’ workin’ our flanks off to graduate college so’s we could move into the workin’ world. He was an engineer. When he came to my graduation ceremony, he was so much bigger than everypony else, I could see him all the way from the podium.” She smiled at the memory of his frantically waving hoof, horn sparking in delight at other ponies’ acknowledgement of her success. “Around a year later he got a lil’ bitty lump in his fetlock. It itched a bit, so he went to the doctor, who said it was a grass seed that got lodged under his skin. After a while the itchin’ stopped an’ it didn’t bother him none, so he forgot about it. Five years he lived with that tiny lil’ thing, neither of us realisin’ it weren’t no grass seed.”

“What was it?” Vinyl asked, her voice still croaky from crying.

“Subcutaneous lymphoma,” Merry replied. “Cancer. Some doctors call it ‘iceberg cancer’ - tiny bump on the surface, all spread every which way underneath. By the time he started to feel sick, it’d gone too far. He held on ‘til he saw Glow, held her for the first time an’ then … then the next day he was gone. He was the love of my life an’ he suddenly weren’t there no more. I blamed myself for the longest time. I mean, I’m a nurse. I shoulda been able to tell things weren’t right. But I didn’t. In retrospect, even if I had realised, there weren’t nuthin’ nopony could do.” She gave a humourless laugh. “Not that anyone coulda convinced me of that at the time.”

“Merry –”

“I know it ain’t the same, Vinyl, but I wanted you to know sumthin’.”

Understanding dawned in Vinyl’s eyes. “Merry, stop –”

Merry ploughed on regardless. “I tol’ myself I’d never love nopony else ever. Why would I want to? All I wanted was my foals’ daddy. I loved him so much I felt sick when I lost him. If I couldn’t have him … well, I didn’t want nopony at all. Nopony could measure up to him, nopony could replace him, nopony could ever make me feel like he did. What kinda wife would I be if I allowed myself to replace him in my heart?” She raised her eyes, making sure she locked gazes with Vinyl, as if she could somehow force the lessons learned from her own experiences into the other mare’s brain. Being told something wasn’t the same as living it, but she had to at least try. “I was wrong.”

Vinyl tore her gaze away. Merry kept staring, but she felt like a piece of frayed cloth, whipping helplessly in an invisible wind.

“Vinyl –”

“Merry, I understand why you just told me that, but …” Vinyl trailed off. “I don’t wanna cheapen what you went through, or what you’re trying to do by sharing this with me, but I’m afraid that if I say anything right now I’m gonna do just that.” She closed her eyes, pinching the spot between them. It was a posture of utter exhaustion. “Maybe … sweet Celestia, I feel like a heel for saying this, especially since … but … would you mind leaving?”

“Sure thing, darlin’,” Merry said gently. She had been in this job too long to get offended at the request. “But before I go, I wanna say one more thing.”

“What?” Vinyl’s voice held an edge of desperation, as if she wasn’t sure she could handle ‘one more thing’.

“I still miss him with all my heart an’ soul. Lovin’ Blackjack never changed nor lessened that, an’ it didn’t make what we had any less. At first, I thought it made me a bad pony an’ a terrible wife. How much could my love for him have meant if I could love somepony else? But y’see, that ain’t how it works. What me an’ Blackjack have, it’s different, but it ain’t no better nor worse. Jus’ different.” She paused before saying the crux of what she wanted Vinyl to know. “You shouldn’t let tragedy define who you are, darlin’. It ain’t wrong to move on. It ain’t wrong to let yourself be happy again, even if that means bein’ happy with somepony else.”

Vinyl’s whole body convulsed; just once, like a violent hiccup. She didn’t speak. In fact, her jaw seemed clenched shut. Merry took this as her cue to depart.

She didn’t know whether she had done any good. You couldn’t teach some things. They had to be lived, experienced firsthoof, and those experiences had to translate into a pony’s own decisions. Still, she had felt like she had to try. She wanted Vinyl to know that there was life beyond the bad times; that she was living proof of that.

Regardless, Merry’s heart did its own convulsion when she caught the strangled whisper Vinyl clearly had not wanted her to hear.

“It’s not the same. Tavi ain’t dead.”


Author's Note:

‘Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops - at all’.

-- From Hope is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson (http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/hope-is-the-thing-with-feathers/)


‘If music be the food of love, play on’.

-- From Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare.


“Don’t you have, like, an assistant to help you will all this wedding junk? Uh, I mean wedding para … paraphen … paraphee … stuff?”

-- Vinyl is trying to say ‘paraphernalia’ here. 


When she was in school back in Cattywumpus, fillies on the cusp of marehood had told each other how lucky they were that puberty had not struck them with rampant magic outbreaks or ‘wing boners’, which had made them all giggle.

-- Years ago I was informed by a friend of mine in Texas that ‘cattywumpus’ is a southern word that means out-of-kilter or discombobulated. I’m not so sure it’s limited to southern USA anymore, but it’s a word I love and will always associate with her and her Texan drawl. ^_^ Out of control magical bursts at puberty are a piece of fanon I often refer to in fics, though I suspect I’m being influenced by my enduring love of X-Men and how mutant powers often go out of control at the introduction of hormones. Wing-boners, however, are such widespread fanon at this point that … do I even need to explain them here?


Merry had giggled too, though she hadn’t fully understood what that meant until she rode the subway on her first day at nursing college and one lascivious pegasus educated her with his uncomfortable stare and erect wings.

-- Side-fling to The Diary of Bridget Jones by Helen Fielding. On Bridget’s first day in London, she did the unthinkable and smiled at anyone and everyone until someone did this to her on the subway.

Fanart provided by Fitting Username!

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