• 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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6. “Promise she’s coming back for me.”

6. “Promise she’s coming back for me.”

Vinyl was still thinking of Ace, the burns unit and Medley’s offer as she ascended in the elevator to the Neurology Department. She was so distracted that she didn’t see the pony immediately outside the elevator until she stepped out and nearly knocked him over. Sidestepping in surprise, she registered Doctor Thorntree’s bushy moustache and a smile broke out across her face.

“Hey, doc! So,” she said teasingly, “You thought I needed therapy, huh?”

She wasn’t offended. The smidgen of indignation that first blossomed had withered away just as quickly. Just as Medley had said, he had only been trying to help. Vinyl had learned from her interactions with him that Doctor Thorntree had his own way of doing things – especially interfering – but his heart was generally in the right place.

Doctor Thorntree was slow to respond. His face was marred by a scowl, which instantly had Vinyl on high alert.

“What’s wrong?” she demanded, all humour evaporating like froth off a cappuccino. “What’s happened? Is Tavi okay?” She tried to push past him.

“She is quite all right,” Doctor Thorntree replied, his accent sharper than usual. That only happened when he was agitated. “The nurses came to fetch me from my office.” He didn’t sound pleased about it. “There is somepony to see you. Your agent, I believe.”

“Indigo’s here? As in, up here? Not waiting in the café like usual?”

“Evidently he remembers your insistence that you would not leave Miss Philharmonica’s room during his previous visits. He has apparent decided to cut out the middle pony and come straight here to see you.”

The one day I wasn’t here for him to see. Vinyl’s gaze went to the door, just visible over the doctor’s shoulder. There was no sign of Indigo in the corridor. “He’s in there?”

“When he was informed that you were not present, he insisted that he wished to visit Miss Philharmonica while waiting for you to return. Since it is technically visiting hours he is within his rights to do so.” Doctor Thorntree’s tone indicated how much he disapproved, regardless of the rules. “Her dressings have been changed, though this evening she will need to be bathed.”


Despite sleeping with Octavia for several years, Vinyl was not permitted to be present while the nurses washed her. She had fought it at first but since worked it into her routine as a time to feed herself and stock up on magazines and other reading material from the small hospital shop. She would stretch her legs walking to the ground floor via the stairs and mooch back with a full belly and whatever she had bought tucked under a foreleg. She had started her first novel in years in want of something to talk to Octavia about, resulting in her reading aloud to the unconscious mare. If coma patients really could hear the outside world, then like Vinyl, Octavia was three chapters away from finishing ‘Harry Trotter and the Filllyosopher’s Scone’. It was probably too foalish for Tavi’s tastes, but Vinyl rarely had time read books. Whenever she tried to, she was assaulted by feelings of guilt that she should be rehearsing, or grabbing a few extra hours in the studio, or doing something else for her music. Now, however, she was free to read without reprisal. During their time together Octavia had read classic literature to match her love of classical music, but Vinyl was pleased with herself for picking up something that wasn’t glossy and didn’t have ads on every other page.

“Can I go in?” she asked, indicating the door with a nod of her head.

“Hm? Oh, yes, of course.” Doctor Thorntree stepped aside and she trotted to the room, trying not to read too much into his troubled expression.

Indigo was indeed inside. He stood beside Octavia’s bed and for a moment Vinyl was struck by how close he seemed. She paused, wondering why this made a knot tighten in her belly. Many ponies got just as close when checking on Octavia, yet something about Indigo’s posture made Vinyl clear her throat to see whether he would jump back guiltily.

He didn’t. He just raised his head and gave her a grim not-smile. “Vinyl.”

“Hey, Indy.” Vinyl resisted the unwelcome urge to tackle him to the floor and move him to the doorway by the scruff of his neck. She had never wanted to do anything like that to him before, even when he was at his most irritating. “How’s tricks?”

“So much for you never leaving her side.” Accusation threaded the words.

“I had a therapy session.”

His eyes widened. “Don’t say stuff like that so loud! You don’t know who can hear you!” he hissed. Only after chastising her did he add, “Therapy?”

“I was helping a music therapist who volunteers in the foals’ ward, but it’s nice to know my mental health features so high on your list of concerns.”

“My list of concerns right now starts and ends with this.” He was wearing a set of silvery saddlebags; a gift from a fashion designer whose products she endorsed during the last Spring is Sprung Festival in Canterlot. She hadn’t wanted the bags and so had donated them to Indigo as an act of goodwill. Now her agent unbuckled one side to pull out a copy of Mane Music Monthly. He held it up, though Vinyl already knew which page he wanted to show her: Quillpoint’s article.

“That nag needs a buck in the teeth,” Vinyl growled. “Can you believe the crap her editor lets her get away with?”

“That nag, as you put it, has painted a pretty costly picture of you.”

Here it goes, she thought. “It’s one article, Indy.”

“In the topmost selling music magazine in Manehattan, if not Equestria. Whatever happens in the Manehattan music scene is followed by every other city soon after. Ponies pay attention to what these reporters have to say.” He levelled a glare at her. “And Quillpoint has a lot to say about you.”

“I know. I read it.”

“Then you get why I’m having trouble understanding your reaction. Why aren’t you more upset? Why didn’t I get a frantic phone-call this morning? Why didn’t I get any phone-call?”

Vinyl shrugged. “It didn’t seem that important.”

“Not that …?” Indigo spluttered. He got himself under control with what looked like extreme effort. “Vinyl, this is bad. Damage-control-bad. Damage-control-with-potential-collateral-losses-bad.”

“It’s garbage. She got mad at me and wrote a lot of insults. It’ll blow over soon enough.”

“It’s not all insults,” Indigo gritted. “They may be dressed up as insults, but there’s information in here that could be extremely harmful to you, especially if any of your sponsors see it. Which they probably will, since this is Mane Music Monthly. Ponyfeathers, half of them have ads in here! I mean, look at this!” He flipped the page to show a full-page advert featuring her own face, looking coyly over her shoulder at the camera as a crowd danced in front of her turntables. On a hidden shelf was a blue can that seemed to have a halo of telekinesis around it. The poison green text read: ‘Scarlet Taurus gives you the energy to be the best’. It was not one of Vinyl’s favourite ads, given that it put her success down to a drink instead of her own natural talent, but she had done it anyway.

“Whatever.” She shrugged again and shuffled sideways, trying to reach the bed and simultaneously turn Indigo sideways so that he had to step away from it.

Indigo’s face darkened further, his eyes seeming almost luminous. Could repressed irritation make a unicorn glow? His horn wasn’t alight but he sure was radiating some sort of power. Maybe he was about to rage-flare. Like all unicorns, Vinyl had been taught as a filly about how some unicorns, given enough provocation and ambient magic, could literally erupt in flames. She had never seen it herself. Maybe that was about to change.

“Your sponsors all have reputations to maintain and they won’t be kind about it. There’s no loyalty amongst businessponies, Vinyl. Lil’ Latte hasn’t started running your ad yet and now they might pull it before it airs. Electric Beauty has your face above every one of their make-up stands across Manehattan, Canterlot and Fillydelphia because they want to be associated with a hot artist, not a train wreck. EQ Enterprises don’t want their brand represented by a fillyfooler! They may cut you loose if we don’t respond to this … this filth!” He shook the magazine, in case she had forgotten it was there.

Vinyl snapped back to herself like her brain was on a piece of taut elastic. She stared, unsure whether she had heard him correctly. “What did you just say?”

“You heard me. We stand to lose a bundle over your tantrum with Quillpoint. What the hay were you thinking, tossing her equipment out of the window like that?”

“No, not that. Go back. I read that article. I don’t remember her calling me a fillyfooler.”

“Maybe she didn’t use the word, but the implication is there.”

“What implication?” Vinyl’s tone darkened, nearly matching the colour of Indigo’s pelt. “Fillyfooling means foal molestation, Indy.”

“She says you had a lesbian affair with a mare, Vinyl.” He shook the magazine at Octavia. “This mare. When I first took you on, you agreed that your image would be your top priority. You’ve maintained it for over four years. Now you pull a stunt like this, practically fess up everything about your sordid past to a journalist – a journalist you subsequently gets mad enough at you to print the story – and you don’t think that’s important?” Incredulity crackled off him like tiny bolts of electricity.

“Indigo has got me a dinner with a producer – a real one from Prima Pony Records!”

“That’s wonderful, Vinyl. I’m so happy for you!”

“It’s at Chez Cheval in Manehattan. Can you believe it? Chez Cheval! It’d take us, like, a month of rent money just to order a starter in that restaurant!”

“That’s marvellous, sweetheart. I’ve always wanted to eat there. Can I come too?”

“Uh …”

“Vinyl, what is it?”

“Indigo says I should meet this guy solo. Apparently he’s more likely to sign me if he thinks I’m … y’know …”




“Kind of. That’s part of it, yeah.”


“Don’t make me say it.”

“What do you – oh! Oh, I see.”

“Please don’t be mad.”

“I’m not mad.”

“It’s just what I’m supposed to do. Indigo knows these kinds of ponies. I have to follow what he says if I’m going to hit the big time.”

“Vinyl, it’s fine. Really.”

“Tavi –”

“Actually, I think I’ll have an early night. It was a busy day at work. Come up … whenever you’re ready.”

Vinyl shook her head. “Being gay doesn’t mean you molest foals, Indy. That’s just out-dated stereotyping.”

“You’re missing the point over semantics,” he snapped, totally missing her point in return.

“You called me a fillyfooler. You’re my agent. The two shouldn’t go together. You’re supposed to defend me against insults like that, not say them in the first friggin’ place!” Her voice rose towards the end of her sentence, until she was nearly shouting.

“Oh, grow up, Vinyl. So I used a word that offended you. Big deal. Quillpoint used plenty. She’s the one who drew the conclusions over this ridiculous … bedside vigil.” He sounded like he wanted to call it something else entirely. “This has to stop. Now. We can get past what she’s accusing you of – you’re big enough now that a few skeletons in the closet won’t be a career-ending thing. It might even give you an extra edge if we can spin it right; say it was experimentation while you were young. Other ponies do drugs or get drunk – you stuck your hooves in ponies with the same genitalia. But that’ll only work if it stays in the past. That means you can’t be here anymore. If we’re going to spin this as you being concerned for a pony you had a fling with once upon a time – a pony you haven’t seen or spoken to in four years – you can’t be seen draping yourself all over her hospital room. I’ve already been in touch with the PR agency and they’ve agreed to do everything they can to fix this, but they agree with me. You cannot stay here like this anymore.”

Vinyl lowered her face so that she was looking up at Indigo from beneath a thatch of overhanging hair. It was a look she had perfect as a filly. She knew it made her red eyes look extra malevolent, so she had often pulled it out when adults got on her nerves or tried to tame her wild spirit. She hadn’t used it in years, but now seemed like a good time to resurrect it. “I’m. Not. Going. Anywhere.”

“Vinyl!” Indigo threw up his hooves. His telekinesis also lifted the magazine and for a second she thought he was going to swat her with it like a disobedient dog. “Be practical!”

“I have already told you why I am here and why I will continue to be here until something develops,” Vinyl said slowly, enunciating each word as if he was hard of hearing. “I understand what you are saying and I will do whatever you suggest – within reason and without leaving this hospital.”

“You’re fuelling the rumours!”

“What rumours? That I’m gay? Newsflash, Indigo, I am. Ponies were already asking why I haven’t had a relationship for all the years I’ve been in the scene. Those stallions you hired to go with me to launch parties weren’t going to fool them forever, and no matter how many times you tried to get them to link me with other celebrities, none of them stuck. Why do you think that is? The press isn’t stupid. Mean-spirited and ruthless, maybe, but not stupid. They’re going to figure it out eventually, so why shouldn’t I do it on my terms instead? I did what you said when you first took me on and I ended up sacrificing someone really important to me because of it. Not this time. This time, ponies either accept me for who I am and who I love, or they don’t, but I’m not lying again.”

She could barely believe the words coming out of her mouth. She had never stood up for this part of herself before. She played the role of the sassy DJ, the wild card who didn’t give a damn about authority and did things her own way. That was her stage persona in a nutshell: bright, brassy and bringing it. Yet she had always towed the line behind the scenes. She had never turned down an autograph session in a record store, or a photo op, or a spotlight interview. She had endorsed products she didn’t agree with, shaken hooves with politicians whose policies she hated and rubbed shoulders with every stallion Indigo organised to escort her to awards ceremonies. The fact that she was now resisting all of it shocked her more than she was willing to show, or even admit to herself. DJ-Pon3 was a consummate performer and a professional.

Except that right now, she didn’t feel much like DJ-Pon3. She felt as distant from the glossy pony pictured in that glossy magazine as it was possible to be without actually transforming into someone else and thinking of all this as some elaborate dream.

“This is a tough industry, kid. You’ve got to be willing to make sacrifices and play the game by the big boys’ rules or you won’t get anywhere. There are a thousand starving artists ready to replace you if you put a hoof wrong and you aren’t well known enough to get away with even half the dung you read about in the magazines. Don’t go thinking you’re the next Sapphire Shores and make diva demands before you’ve even released your first single. Do you understand the words coming out of my mouth?”

“Yes, Mister Indigo.”

“Good, but just call me Indigo … Vinyl, was it?”

“Vinyl Scratch, sir.”

“Drop the ‘sir’ thing too. You’ll be learning on the job but this ain’t no school. Hm, Vinyl Scratch, huh? Has that always been your name or did you change it when you got your cutie mark?”

“I was just called Scratch before.”

“We might be able to work that that name, but if the PR ponies say it’s not good enough, be ready to change it again, okay?”

“Uh … okay.”

“So you plan on coming out?” Indigo demanded. “Publically? You want to turn this whole mess into a big open closet shenanigan?” Indigo rolled up the magazine and shove it back in his saddlebag. “You’re seriously telling me, even with all you know about this industry, that’s the way you want to spin this?”

“I’m not spinning anything. I’m just telling you what I will and won’t do this time.”

“Your popularity might not be enough to see you through something like that. You’ll take hits if you do this – bit hits, Vinyl. The kind some artists never recover from.” He loaded his words with as much emphasis as he could. They teetered like an overfull china cabinet balanced on its edge, ready to fall and smash everything inside. “Think it over. Don’t make any hasty decisions.”

“This decision isn’t hasty.” It was, but then again it wasn’t. When she had time later she would wonder whether she had wanted to do this from the moment Octavia walked out on her or whether it truly was a kneejerk reaction to Quillpoint’s article and Indigo’s demand for her to leave Tavi’s bedside. For right now, however, Vinyl kept her jaw set and her eyes forward. There would be time for everything else later.

“Whatever.” Indigo rolled his eyes and stalked past her. “I’ll speak to your PR team about it and see what they say. You always listen to them, at least.”

“Whatever,” Vinyl echoed, letting him leave without turning around. She bit back the urge to add, “And don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”

Everything was wrong. The ponies that came and went were too big and this place smelled strange. She didn’t like it. She especially didn’t like how they left her on this old couch, hooves stuck straight out because her legs were too short to reach the floor. When the purple one with the name tag around her neck came back, she looked harassed, though she tried to smile.


“No, sweetheart,” said the purple pony. “I’m not your mother. My name is Skydandy.”

“I know you’re not her.” She scowled. She was good at scowling. When she went to school, the fillies and colts there said it made her look evil. “I meant where’s my Mommy? She said she’d be right back. She promised.”

“I know, sweetheart, but she –”

“Where my Mommy!?”

“Problems in here?” An orange unicorn stuck her head around the door so fast she had obviously been waiting just outside.

“Um, yes, actually,” the purple mare stuttered, backing away from the couch. “New arrival. She’s quiet agitated.”

“I want my Mommy!”

The orange unicorn advanced. “Sweetie, I’m very sorry, but your mother can’t be with you for a while.”

“Why not?” Truculent tone. Forelegs folded. Bottom lip jutting, ready to quiver. She knew the way to throw a good tantrum was to build up to the screaming part. Usually adults gave in long before your lungs reached maximum capacity or your voice hit its highest pitch.

The orange unicorn didn’t react properly, however. Instead of capitulating or trying some sweet-talk, she sat on the couch too and brought her face level. She had a name tag necklace too. It had a really bad photo of her next to the word ‘Matron’. “Your mommy is very sick, sweetie.”

“No she isn’t.”

Not today. Sometimes, when she came home from school, Mommy was sick. Sometimes there was even puke that hadn’t been cleaned up. She never minded cleaning up because she knew that on good days she had the best Mommy in the whole world. On good days there was no school, just playtime all day. Sometimes they even went to the park to eat food from the street vendors and play frisbee. Mommy would laugh and laugh when she didn’t catch it – sometimes a little too much and ponies would start staring as she rolled around hysterically in the grass. A couple of times she had gotten angry and broken the frisbee but that hadn’t happened in a while.

The orange unicorn nodded sadly. “I’m afraid she is. She checked herself into a special clinic and left you here with us. We’re going to look after you until she … gets better.”

She didn’t like the way the orange unicorn hesitated. “But she’d gonna get better, right? And then she’ll come back for me?”

“That’s the plan, sweetie.”

Something was up, but she couldn’t tell what. Maybe it had something to do with the way Mommy had yelled when she got home from school yesterday and tried to help her pull the medicine needle out of her foreleg when it looked like she couldn’t do it herself. She had cried and said all sorts of unintelligible things, and then this morning she had packed a mostly-empty suitcase and they had come here.


“Excuse me?” The orange unicorn looked shocked.

“Promise she’s coming back for me.”

“I … I can’t do that, sweetie.”

“Then you’re a big fat liar and I don’t want to stay here. I want my Mommy!” She brought out the big guns, climbing to her hooves and jumping up and down. Adults always hated it when you jumped on the furniture, especially if you yelled at the same time. “I want her! I want her! I want her! I want her! I WANT HER!

She hated this school even more than her old one. She had to come here every single day and there weren’t any days off to visit the park and eat vendor food anymore. Instead, they made her memorise multiplication tables and spellings and sing dumb songs about dumb things like dumb Harvest Festival. Even their Nightmare Night celebrations were dumb – a couple of lanterns, some paper pumpkins and a cardboard skeleton coated with glow-in-the-dark paint that frightened the little foals and had to live in the store cupboard after that.

She was seeing how long it to grind her pencil all the way through the corner of her exercise book when Principal’s aide knocked the door and summoned their teacher into the corridor for a few seconds, during which the whole class started whispering. Nopony whispered to her. She had made it way clear at the beginning that she wasn’t going to be here long enough to need friends.

Both teacher and aide came back inside. She was surprised when they called her name and gestured her out into the corridor with them. She was escorted to the principal’s office, where the stallion himself sat her down in a chair and knelt in front of her, even though she knew for a fact that he had a bad hip that meant he couldn’t run fast after anypony who flour-bombed him as he left school of an evening.

“What’s this all about?” she asked, wondering whether they had finally figured out who put cherry bombs in the teachers’ toilets and blew out the whole plumbing system last semester. She had traded twenty-eight Wonder Pony comics for those things and had thought her reputation was enough to keep anypony quiet about who was responsible. She had spent nearly a whole school year building up that rep, after all.

The principal didn’t look mad. In fact, he looked gloomy, like someone had drawn a moustache on the photo of his mother he kept on his desk. Mentally she had put that photo off-limits, even for her. “I’m … I’m afraid that your…” he started, and then stopped almost immediately. He blew out a breath and she could see him gathering his courage before speaking again. “It’s … I’ve received a message that you’re to return to … there’s somepony coming to fetch you. You see it’s … it’s your mother …”

It was amazing how far a tray of food could fly – especially when it was propelled by burgeoning telekinesis. She only had a few sparks in her but she used them to devastating effect. Matron only just shut the door in time.

“I don’t want any dinner!” she screamed. Her eyes felt hot and scratchy, like someone had replaced them with balls of chewed gum rolled in gravel.

“You have to eat, sweetie –”

“No I friggin’ don’t! I don’t need food! I don’t need you! I don’t need anything except … ex … cept …”

Except the one thing she couldn’t have.

More tears. She had thought she was all cried out. She turned her face into her pillow and sobbed like a dumb weakling, cursing everything and everyone in the whole dumb world.

“Mommy …”

“There’s a carriage coming up the driveway!” one of the colts from the boys’ dorm yelled as he galloped past. There was a gathering at the window that he fought to get through.

They all moved aside when she appeared. She looked out, unimpeded and unimpressed. She was about to turn away when she saw a little grey filly clamber out. It wasn’t the filly herself who caught her attention, but the massive weird-shaped case that followed after. The stallion with her had trouble fitting it through the carriage door. Why the heck hadn’t it gone on the luggage rack strapped to the roof with everything else?

“Who is she?”

“Is she coming here?”

“Of course she is, bozo. Why else would she bring bags with her?”

“I heard she’s a permo.”

Permo. Permanent resident; not somepony staying at the home for a while. Not somepony who still had family to take her in.

“Uh-huh, I heard Matron and Skydandy talking about it yesterday. Her parents died, so she moved here to Manehattan, and then her guardian died too!”

“Of the same thing?” a filly asked, alarm clear in her voice. “Is it infectious? Should we be worried?”

“Don’t be stupid. Would they let her come here if she was carrying some horrible disease?”

“So she’s in a new city and she lost her family? Talk about bad luck.”

“Uh-huh, and I also heard that …”

She didn’t listen to the rest. She was already trotting along the corridor, heading for the front entrance and the new arrival coming through the door.

“Hey. Hey, new girl. Hey!”

The tight bundle of blankets shifted slightly. “What?”

“Are you crying?”

The bundle sniffed. “No.”

“You totally are. It’s okay. Everypony feels rotten at first.”

“Is it … does the rotten feeling go away?”

“Eventually, sure. I’ve been here six years and I stopped feeling rotten about the place ages ago.”

“You’ve been here six whole years?”


The bundle turned so that a single purple eye could be seen in its depths. “Weren’t you placed with a foster family? The social worker told me that’s what she expects will happen to me.”

“Oh, sure, I’ve been in plenty of foster homes, but none of them worked out, so I always ended up back here.”

“That can happen?”

“They don’t make you stay with ponies you don’t like. There ain’t that many ponies out there who want to foster – they got a shortage or sumthin’. Generally, though, I landed on the doorstep each time with a big ‘return to sender’ note stuck on my horn. Hey, whoa! I’m kidding, I’m kidding, they don’t really do that! Quit with the waterworks!”

The bundle trembled with sobs that were obviously aimed into a pillow. “I’m not crying about that. I … I just miss … my aunt and m-my … my parents.”

“Aw, crap.”

“I miss them so m-much and this place is s-so strange and … and awful. I don’t want to be here. I want to go ho-ooome!”

“Um … crap, I’m no good with this kinda stuff. Uh … hey, wossyourname? New girl? Octavia! Yeah, that was it! Octavia, quit crying for five friggin’ seconds, okay?”

“You’re very rude,” the bundle sniffed.

“Now how d’ya like that? And here was me all ready to let you get into my bed so’s you don’t have to be alone on your first night. Well now you can just get lost.”

“Sleep in your bed?”

“Yeah. It’s what I do when new kids are all with the crying and stuff. Usually the new kids are a lot younger than me, but I guess I can do the same for you.”

“Isn’t that a little strange for you to offer?”

“I’m the oldest.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s your responsibility to –”

“Going once. Going twice. Going –”

“No, wait! I … I think I’d like that, if you wouldn’t mind.” The bundle raised itself up and tiptoed gingerly across the cold floor, perching on the edge of the neighbouring mattress. There it stayed, facing resolutely forward.

“So are you gonna stay here or go back to your own bed? ‘Cause I wanna catch some zees of my own, y’know. We’ve got school tomorrow, in case you forgot.”

“I’ll … I’ll stay.” Slowly, it tilted sideways and curled up in a tight ball, allowing the filly already in the bed to spoon it awkwardly.

The position was uncomfortable and awkward, yet she didn’t complain; merely stroked the bundle as she might any distraught newcomer. She was used to fillies who were little more than foals, but the grief radiating off the new girl was so powerful she could almost taste it.

“You must think I’m terribly foalish,” the new girl said after a while.

“No way. You shoulda seen me my first night here. I was a wreck.”

“You were?”

She shrugged. “Probably.”

“Probably? You mean you don’t remember?”

“Nope,” she lied. “But I bet I was a wreck. Foals that age always are, in my experience.” And they usually got snapped up faster by fosterers and adoptive parents too, but she didn’t mention that.

“So I am acting foalish, blubbing like this. I’m sorry.”

“What are you sorry for? You get upset, you cry. Whatever. Ain’t no big deal.”

“Do you ever cry?”

“Pffft! No way. I never cry. I’m too tough for that.” She realised what she had said a moment after she had said it. “I mean, uh … aw crap, I said I was bad at this stuff.”

“It’s all right,” the bundle sighed. “You’re being very kind. Thank you.”

“No sweat. Just try to get some sleep, okay? Everything seems way worse when you’re tired and cranky.”

“I don’t know how things could get any worse,” the new filly said, so softly that she wasn’t sure if she was supposed to hear.

“You could have scabies.”


“Or slugs for hair. Could you imagine a mane and tail made of slugs?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Things that could make this moment worse. You could have raging diarrhoea. And be a weight lifter. In public.”

“That’s … disgusting.”

“You think that’s disgusting? I can do way better than that. Let me see. How about …”

“No! No, the mental image of … that was quite enough, thank you.”

“You’re right. You’re way too skinny to be a weight lifter anyway. I bet you couldn’t bench press more than an apple. Or maybe two apples. At a push. With help.”

A tiny judder made her lift her head off the pillow. Crap, was the other filly crying again? To her relief, however, the judder coalesced into an even tinier giggle.

“You’re very peculiar, Scratch.”

“Cool. Usually ponies just say I’m a pain in the butt. Uh … what does ‘peculiar’ mean?”

The giggle came again. “Strange. But in a good way.”

“Oh. Right. Cool.”

Silence fell. It was a good note to end on, so she didn’t try to keep the conversation going. However, she did wait until the other filly’s breathing evened out into slumber before closing her own eyes.

The air held a vague smell of tomato. She opened her eyes and sighed. Nope, her nap was not going to happen today, even though all the other fillies and colts had cleared out like they always did when she wanted to snooze. She looked around at the whitewashed walls, old pine furniture and stains on the walls where generations of foster kids had left their marks. Yep, there was the red splodge where the food fight she had started with Bilberry had gotten out of control and a tomato impaled itself on Matron’s horn, splattering her face and the wall behind her. This was called the Rec Room but it was more like the Wrecked Room. Everything looked worn, including the couch on which she lay. She remembered sitting on this when her legs were too short to reach the floor. She didn’t have that problem these days.

The door opened. A familiar grey pony walked in, dragging a wheeled suitcase. She scrambled off the couch and abruptly fell on her face.


Octavia smiled, though her eyes were troubled. “I just came to say goodbye.”

For some reason she had trouble meeting Octavia’s eyes. Involuntarily, she glanced at the calendar pinned to the wall instead – the one with things like ‘sexual health talk for fillies’ and ‘bedding change in colts’ dormitory’ in loopy writing. She recognised that writing. Skydandy was one of the only staff at the orphanage who thought the kids in their care deserved to know the monthly schedule too. Today had been circled in red ink: ‘Octavia leaving’.

“Were you asleep?” Octavia asked.

“Nah, nah, it’s all good. Your new foster family seem nice.”

“Yes. They’re very nice. Mrs. Racer is just helping Mr. Racer hitch himself to their cart.”

“You better not keep them waiting.”

Octavia tucked a curl of hair behind her ear. She had tied it into a ponytail high on the back of her head. It made her look young and sort of vulnerable. Her neck looked too skinny, like it couldn’t properly support her head, which dipped forward onto her chest. “I’ll miss you.”

“You’ll be fine. You’ll see. In five minutes you’ll forget all about this place.”

“I won’t forget about you.”

She blew a raspberry that had Octavia frowning.

“I won’t! You’re the first proper friend I’ve ever had.”

“No way. Wait, you’re serious?”

Octavia nodded. “My parents home-schooled me. After they died Aunt Melodia sent me to the local public school but I … I found it rather difficult to make friends there.”

She could believe it. Octavia’s impeccable manners and posh voice had instantly marked her as an outsider here too. She was so timid she attracted bullies like wasps to honey – vicious girls who dropped hurtful comments like upturned tacks for the unwary to step on. It would have been the same story here if she hadn’t stepped in. Nopony messed with Scary Scratch, the filly who could make you laugh one minute and macramé your face the next.

“You were the first pony around my age who was nice to me and didn’t want anything in return,” Octavia mumbled. “So no, Scratch, I won’t forget you. I won’t forget you at all.”

She didn’t know what to say to that. Luckily a sunshine yellow mare stuck her head around the door at that moment.

“Octavia? We’re ready to leave, darling. Have you said your goodbyes?”

“I … yes.” Octavia started to turn away but stopped. She hesitated a moment and then dashed forward to fling her forelegs around Scratch in a hug. “Don’t forget me either, all right?”

“No problem.”

And then Octavia was gone.

She watched from the window of the rec room as the Racers’ cart went down the long driveway. Octavia kept turning around to wave, even though there was no way she could see anypony inside from that distance. She waved back, even though she knew Octavia couldn’t see her either. Then she went back to her spot on the couch, told herself this was no different than any other time one of the other fillies or colts got fostered, and curled up with her tail over her face to block out the world for a while.

The Rec Room was turning into a crappy place to nap. The million-year-old threadbare couch with the uncomfortable lumps in the middle cushion used to be fine, but today she had retreated to the garden and stretched out under a tree. It provided just enough shade for a tired pony to fall asleep in the sun. Nevertheless sleep did not come. She simply stared up at the leaves, awaiting its arrival, until she became aware of hoofsteps nearby. She didn’t have time to sit up before a face filled her line of sight.

“What the … Octavia?”

Octavia smiled down at her. “Hello.”

“What the hay are you doing here?”

“It didn’t work out, I’m afraid.”


“The Racers. It didn’t work out.” She smiled sadly. “Or rather, I didn’t get on with their daughter. She objected to me practising my cello and they said I couldn’t do it anywhere but at school because it hurt her ears. Although, to tell you the truth, I think she was just a spoiled brat who objected to sharing her mum and dad with me.” She shrugged. “Oh well.”

“Aw, crap. I’m sorry.”

“What the dickens are you sorry for? It’s not your fault. Like you told me; sometimes these things just don’t work out.”

“You’ll get another foster family in no time, you’ll see. Anypony would be crazy not to snap you up as their daughter.” Except that they rarely went for the older fillies or colts. Foals were cuter and usually had less baggage. Once you’d been in the care system a while, nopony would touch your case. She knew that firsthoof.

“We’ll see, shall we? In the meantime, would you mind terribly if I joined you out here? It’s a lovely day and I need a little sunshine.”

“Huh? Oh sure. Whatever. Cop a squat.”

“I do wish you wouldn’t use phrases like that. It’s terribly uncouth.”

“Look who’s talking, Miss Prissy-Pants. ‘What the dickens’? What kind of friggin’ weird saying is that?”

They laughed together, the tops of their heads touching as they lay on their backs in the cool grass.

Moonlight and melodies washed over the grounds. This year’s prom committee had really outdone themselves. They had managed to rent Quartz Hall, a wannabe country home on the outskirts of Manehattan. It had cost a front and hind leg to hire out for the evening, and involved everypony getting transport there from their neighbourhood, but everypony agreed that it had been worth it. Their prom would go down in the history of the school as one of the best. Quartz Hall beat the school gym into the ground and then jumped on it in a ball-gown and fancy shoes.

Speaking of which …

“I can barely breathe in this thing!”

“But you look lovely.”

“Say what? I look like a dog’s dinner.” She pulled ineffectually at the lacy collar cutting into her windpipe. “After the dog already threw it up once.”

Octavia giggled. “Nopony could ever accuse you of putting on airs, Scratch.”

“Unzip me a little, please!”

Octavia found the zipper on the back of her dress and pulled it down a smidge. A hearty gasp met the action.

“Thank Celestia for that! Didn’t anypony ever tell Matron that fashion shouldn’t hurt this much?”

“Don’t be like that. It was nice of her to lend you her old prom dress.” Octavia gave a small twirl. “I, for one, adore Skydandy’s.”

“That’s because you and she are about the same size. Apparently when she was our age, Matron had a neck the size of a celery stick. Friggin’ heck, I think my windpipe’s been severed!”

“You’re overreacting.”

“Says the one with the plunging neckline.”

Instead of answering, Octavia looked up at the night sky. They had come out onto the balcony for some privacy to rearrange the suffocating dress, but the lack of other prom-goers out here had other advantages too. At least out here there was nopony to laugh at them for having no dates.

Everypony in this school is friggin’ whacked, she thought angrily. No-one had even asked her to the prom, which she had kind of expected. Her rep made it difficult for anyone to approach her, or want to be seen with her. Who wanted to look at yearbook pictures and remember the night they escorted the school psycho to a dance? No, what really burned her buns was that nopony had asked Octavia, either. That was completely ridiculous, especially considering how good she looked when she dressed up.

“You know something, Scratch?” Octavia said suddenly. “This evening is actually turning out far better than I expected.”


“No, really.”

“Octavia, we came stag, we haven’t danced once, we both hate the choice of music, I’m almost sure that idiot Rusty spiked the punch and tomorrow we hear back about the Academy audition. What the hay is even remotely good about tonight?”

“I don’t know. I should be a bundle of nerves, but I’m not. Perhaps this is a last burst of laissez-faire aplomb before the axe falls?” Octavia shrugged. “Don’t you think?”

“I don’t even know what you just said!”

Octavia laughed softly. “I can’t explain why I’m so relaxed. I’m just really glad I came, and I’m glad I came with you. Aren’t the stars pretty tonight?”

The non-sequitur flummoxed her for a moment. “Uh …”

“You can really see them out here, away from the city lights.”

“I guess.” She looked up. They just looked like stars to her; okay but nothing special. She could admire Princess Celestia for being powerful enough to make them appear each night, but the stars themselves did nothing for her. “If you like that sort of thing.”

“Mmm.” Octavia tilted her head back. She had worn her hair loose tonight. It fell over her ears and back like a length of shimmering dark silk. A tiny breeze picked up a few strands and blew them back, making her close her eyes. She looked so content, so unthinkingly peaceful, that her image instantly overlaid every single other memory of this night.

A burst of bright white streaked across the sky.

“Hey, look!”

“What?” Octavia’s eyes snapped open. “What is it? I don’t see anything.”

“A shooting star!”

“Oh, Scratch, that means you must make a wish!” Octavia exclaimed. “Heavens, I wish I’d seen it too. Trust me to have my eyes closed at the wrong moment. What are you going to wish for? Oh wait, no, don’t tell me. If you tell me it won’t come true.”

“You’d probably guess it anyhow. I wished we could always be pals – together forever, you and me, Scratch and Tavi, Tavi and Scratch, the gruesome twosome.”

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, don’t call me Tavi!” The annoyance, however, was clearly fake. Octavia looked at her quizzically. “You really wished for that?”

“Well, what else was I going to wish for?”

“Good news from the Academy tomorrow?”

A beat. “Aw, crap.”

Octavia laughed again, making her close her eyes against the breeze that made them sting for some reason.

The air was full of heat and intimacy. It was a warm night – warm enough that the windows had been left open and the curtains billowed inward. Outside a radiant moon was concealed by clouds, but the ponies inside the small room did not need any light to see by. They knew each other better than they knew themselves; every curve, every curl, every place that needed kissing and how best to kiss it. Theirs was the language of touch and it was a more expressive one than words alone.

Eventually the bedclothes stilled and the curtains became the only movement. The sky lightened to purple, then mauve, then the colour of a fading bruise that gave way to the yellowish glow of encroaching dawn. The bedclothes stirred once more, but this time in bleary waking, and they froze just as quickly.

Tavi was warm against her, their hind legs still entwined. Beneath the covers the hair of their tails was so tangled it would take them a few minutes to separate it out when it was time to get up. It was always that way after nights like this. She lay quietly, breathing in the scent of Tavi’s mane. It smelled of sweat and that apple shampoo she had bought from a fellow student whose family sold apple-themed toiletry products to help pay the exorbitant school fees. As scholarship students they had little money between them, yet Octavia still liked helping out those she felt were less fortunate than herself, as if she felt like she was still paying off a debt owed for her own happiness.

I am one lucky pony.

The thought popped into her head fully formed, no effort required. She couldn’t argue with it either. Not with Tavi curled against her like this.

I am one damn lucky pony

Octavia stirred. “Mrrf … why are you sniffing my head?”

“I wasn’t.”

“Yes, you were. I could … oargh …” She interrupted herself with a yawn. “I could feel it.”

“You could feel me sniffing your head?”

“Of course. Mrrf, is it morning yet?”

“Nope. Not even close.”

“Liar. I can see the clock from here.”

“We didn’t go to bed until nearly one o’ clock and it wasn’t like we were sleeping. We’re owed some extra zees.”

“It doesn’t work like that.”

“It does in my world.”

“Then your world must be a wonderful place to live.”

She pulled Octavia – her Tavi – even closer and nuzzled her mane. “It sure is.”

She was in a completely different room. She fumbled about for a second before realising that she was stretched out across a row of plush seats. The seats were the flip-down variety you got in theatres or particularly swish cinemas. When she moved they flipped up, trapping her momentarily between red velveteen base and red velveteen backs.

“Unk!” she cried out, righting herself awkwardly. She all but rolled off onto the floor and stood up, looking around to figure out where she was. She felt discombobulated; a pony out of time and place. Her head was full of images – her mother, her first day at the orphanage, a carriage coming up the driveway, a cart driving away, the shape of a cello case, the acceptance letter from Canterlot Music Academy, the prom, a set of billowing curtains …

This is a dream, she thought. It has to be a dream.

“Take five, everypony.” A voice rang out from the front of the room. It was a voice she recognised like the unmistakable smell of rancid milk when you opened the fridge – it cut through her brain and uprooted even more memories, these much less pleasant. The scruff of her neck twinged as it reminded her what it felt like to be tossed from a building. “Cavatina, you might like to check your keys. That last piece sounded a little flat. We’ll resume rehearsal in ten minutes.”

She looked up, recollections flittering back into place like pieces of confetti falling impossibly into a single mosaic of her life. This was impossible. She had never witnessed one of their rehearsals. Yet there they were: Cavatina, Coda, Quaver and …

“Octavia,” she breathed. Before she knew what she was doing, she was on her hooves. Not one of them noticed her walking towards the stage. “Octavia?” She raised her voice to above a whisper. “Tavi?”

Octavia didn’t respond. She fiddled with the strings of her cello, plucking at one, tightening its key and then plucking it again. She moved gracefully even in that small action. Her eyes crinkled in concentration, just as they had four years ago. Just as they had years before that, in the shade of a tree in the orphanage garden. Just as they had on prom night, as she smiled over a wish made on a shooting star …

“Tavi!” Why couldn’t anypony heard her. She waved but that reaped no results either. Stupid dream. And it was a dream, she was certain of that. Dream logic made physics and perceptions do peculiar things. Maybe if she willed it, they would hear her. Maybe Octavia would hear her.

She was focussed so hard on the stage she only caught the movement in her peripheral vision. Her eyes ticked upwards and she knew with sudden, horrific certainty what day this was. She started running, calling even though nopony reacted and her hooves left no impressions in the plush carpet.

“Get out of the way! The light! Tavi, move! Tavi!

Even if they couldn’t hear her, maybe she could reach the stage in time and rugby tackle Octavia. Maybe she could stop –

A creak. The swish of black metal and glass. A scream from Cavatina. Octavia looking up too late. Each thing passed in less than a second yet seemed to last a lifetime. A noise like someone biting into an apple. A mane fluttering like dark silk behind a body as it fell.


Vinyl fell back into her own head, her whole body trembling. She stood up reflexively, knocking over her chair. It took almost a whole minute for her to process where she was and accept that she wasn’t still dreaming. Her legs buckled and she collapsed half against the bed.

“I’m awake,” she muttered, over and over. “I’m awake. It was just a dream. I didn’t really see that. Not any of it. I’m awake and it was just a dream.”

Still, the sight of Octavia looking up mere moments before the light struck her was imprinted on Vinyl’s mind like somepony had taken a hot iron and branded it there. She could tell herself what she had seen was a dream all she liked, but the accident really had happened. Maybe not in that exact way, but Octavia really had been hurt and really was in a coma. It was difficult to dispute those facts when her hospital bed was the thing propping you up.

“Tavi …” she muttered brokenly.

She wasn’t sure which hurt more: the happy memories or that nauseating vision. Flashes of each bullwhipped through her mind, leaving raw welts in their wake. Everything had felt so real. She wouldn’t be surprised to find grass stalks on her back or strands of Tavi’s tail accidentally wound into her own.

“I’m awake,” she continued to mutter. “It was just a dream. I’m awake and it was just a dream…”

Some time later there came a tentative knock on the door. It couldn’t be Indigo again but Vinyl didn’t feel up to conversation with anypony. The events of the day had caught up to her. Despite her nap she was wracked with such tiredness that everything from her guts to her brain wanted to curl into a ball and join Octavia in her coma.


“Oh, Flower, it’s you,” she said dully. She had abandoned the chair entirely. After using the bed as a prop she had just let herself continue her trajectory and slid to the floor. Now she sat with her back against the bed, forehooves lolling at her sides

Nurse Flower Heart crept into the room. “You shut the curtains? Why? It’s darker than a tax collector’s conscience in here.”

“The sun was too bright.”

Her tone alerted the nurse that something more than usual was amiss. “Vinyl? Sweetie, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Vinyl felt her face twitch and turned it away.

“Your mouth says ‘nuthin’ but the rest of you says ‘sumthin’. Wanna talk about it?”

“No. I told you, it’s nothing.”

Nurse Flower Heart came closer, her hoofsteps tentative in the dim light. “And after all the time you’ve spent here, I can tell when you’re lying to me. It ain’t healthy to bottle stuff up, sweetie. So c’mon and tell me what’s wrong.”

“Nothing!” Vinyl’s voice cracked. It was like a fissure in a dam. She swore she actually felt something inside her rupture. Her eyes tickled. She sniffed her suddenly stuffy nose. “Everything.”

“Oh, sweetie!”

Nurse Flower Heart crossed the remaining distance and enclosed her in a hug without asking if that was okay. She smelled of antiseptic, coffee and, bizarrely, strawberries. She was also soft, her plumpness providing a cushion that was just right to hide a teary face. Her hug was the kind Vinyl had always imagined a mother’s would feel like. Not her own mother’s of course. Her mother had been too bony for cuddles and things. Even as a foal, Vinyl had worried she would break her if she hugged her too hard. Vinyl found herself clinging to Nurse Flower Heart, who held her tight as the tears Vinyl hadn’t even realised she was shedding trickled down her cheeks.

Vinyl sobbed. She sobbed as she had not done since she was a foal whose mother abandoned her. She sobbed harder than she had the night after she and Octavia broke up and she had promised she would never cry again. She sobbed until she felt like she was going to throw up: all the bad things inside rising into her throat to spread acid across the back of her tongue. The fissure inside her widened, her fears, worries, doubts, dashed hopes and dreams, uncertainties about the future – all of it swelling and bubbling like she had swallowed a storm cloud full of lightning bolts and it was trying to break free. Her shoulders shook violently, as if she was having some sort of seizure. When she was finally able to speak, her voice kept hitching.

“I think … I may have ruined … everything … in my life …”

“That ain’t true –”

“It is. I-I had … so much … so much good stuff and I … I wrecked it …. I ruined what I had with Tavi … I r-ruined the interview with Quillpoint and n-now she’s throwing muck at me in the p-press … I ruined my reputation b-by pulling that stunt at the Palladium and cancelling the t-tour … and now I might have r-ruined my career completely because I … I …”

“Because what?” Nurse Flower heart stroked her mane like she was comforting a small foal.

“Because I don’t want to hide anymore,” Vinyl said softly. “I wasn’t very good at it anyway but I … I tried because I was supposed to and I … I wanted so much to be … no, I had to be a success because I’d already sacrificed so much to get it and … and now I can’t … I don’t …” She sniffed, her voice shaking. “For so long, all I had was my career. I … I d-didn’t think … I n-needed any … anypony. Not like … like I n-needed … her. I thought that if I c-could be a success I’d be h-happy … so I … so I made sure I was successful and now … n-now I might l-lose Tavi all over again and m-my career too and … a-and everything!”

“Shhh, it’s okay, sweetie. It’ll all be okay.”

“No it won’t. You s-said yourself, Tavi might never wake up. I m-might never get her back, and even … even if I do … it might not be her anymore. It might … she might be … I said I’d take care of her and I mean that but I keep hoping … and I don’t … I c-can’t … oh, Celestia, it’s too much. It’s all just too m-much ...”

“Shhh, sweetie. It’s okay. I’ve got you.”

Vinyl allowed herself to be coddled but couldn’t bring herself to believe the kind words.

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