• Published 25th Jun 2012
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In a Tavern, Down by the River - Lysis



Trixie is not a weak pony.

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A Little Companionship

My stage is shining like a beacon in the evening midsummer air. The crowd is already thickening. I step out, cape swirling around me as fireworks provide the flash to my substance. I begin to go into my “Great and Powerful” act. They’ve never seen anything like me before! They cheer for me! They love me!

Magic, Schmagic. Boooo!

There are neighsayers in the audience. I give them what they deserve, and then my poor caravan is smashed into a million pieces. I run off into the night, fighting back angry tears.

What in Equestria went wrong? Why did it go wrong? If it hadn’t gone wrong, what would have happened? What if I’d conquered the Ursa? What if I had sold myself a little differently?

Or chose another profession? Lived another life?

What if I… what if I actually had friends?

The scene switches.

The Squire is sitting on the curbside begging for coins and asking passersby if they’d like to see a trick where a Princess of Spades turns into a Two of Clubs. He is arrested for loitering.

My father is the officer that collars him. He makes no effort to see the Squire’s point of view – that he was cheated into poverty and he can’t afford to buy so much as an apple. Squire tries to proclaim his innocence, but Dad shouts him down, throws the cuffs on him and hustles him into the carriage. He never tried to understand criminals, just like he never tried to understand me.

“What do you have to do with me having no friends?” I ask, but he ignores me.

And just like that, I’m dreaming of purple unicorns.

Strange... I only know of one purple unicorn. What’s she doing in my dream?

“Shoo, shoo! Get out of here! I’m trying to sleep! …What’s that? You want to give me a drink? Fine, I guess. Give it here. Mmmm… okay, I’ll admit it, that’s good. I still hate your guts though. Goodnight.” I roll over, but she pokes me in the side. “Now what? …Oh. Sure, climb on in. I don’t know what good it’ll do, you being a dream and all, but I don’t like sleeping alone either.”

And then the purple unicorn turns into a brown earth pony, and I’m suddenly much more receptive to this particular dream. I can’t explain why, but I don’t want to explain. I just want to cuddle.

Then the wrongness of the situation jerks me out of my fantasy. But even though it's wrong, I can't help but want it. All my life, I’ve wanted a friend. Somepony who won’t get jealous when I spend the night curled up against another warm mare, who’ll always be there when I need her.

“Is that too much to ask? I just want you as a friend! You shouldn’t be in bed with me!”

I gently push her aside. What makes her so special?

As if in answer, all the faces of all the ponies I’ve ever slept with float up in front of me. I size each one up, remembering how they looked, their unique smells, the little details about how they kissed me… and the greedy little pony in my head whispers, Why can’t we have all the pretty mares, Trixie? Why not?

I tell her to shut up, disgusted with myself. I’m not that bad! There’s more to a girl than just being pretty! They need certain qualities: brains, cunning, compassion, and a touch of mischief, too. They need to be able to match wits with me, not necessarily best me at magic.

That would be too easy. I’ve never been very good at doing magic, after all.

Just light shows. “Cool Magic.”

When I wake up, my bed is empty and my pillow is damp.

I sigh, roll over on my back, and stare up at the ceiling for a while. My brain feels like it's full of cobwebs. I almost want to go back to sleep, but I’ve got things I have to deal with today. Ponies to talk to. Equipment to buy. Today’s the day I set out again on the open road!

Yes, The Great and Powerful Trixie is at home on the road! Totally free from commitment and worry, depending on nopony but herself! As it should be.

Somewhat cheered by the idea, I crack a smile and glance over at the window. My grin promptly fades. The fog over Trottingham is as thick as pea soup. The weather captain of this city must have interesting tastes, and the citizens a great deal of patience with him. Or her. Probably a him.

With a few groans of self-pity, I wrench myself from the warm covers and stumble over to the sink to begin my morning routine. My thoughts keep drifting back to my talk with Stock, and, much to my annoyance, over to Barrel. I try my best to keep her out of my head for now, but fail miserably.

As if to torment me, there is a knock at the door, and Barrel opens it, bearing a tray with my breakfast. I nod wordlessly over at the table, and she sets it down.

She flashes me her customary grin. “Morning, Trixie! Sleep well?”

“Like a foal,” I lie through my teeth. “Why are you up here so early?”

“Heard you moving around. If you’re getting an early start, I’m not complaining.”

I say nothing else, just nod again. Without another conversation topic, the atmosphere in the room soon grows awkward, and Barrel shows herself out and locks the door behind her. I turn back to the mirror and study my reflection. My usual rosy complexion is gone, my mane is all askew, my teeth need brushing... I admit that I don’t look like a pony eager to be out on the road, much less out of bed. I blame my haggard look on having to speak with Barrel so soon.

But that’s not it. It’s not that I don’t want to talk with her; it’s that I don’t trust myself to talk with her. If I do, I might make another mistake. On reflection, I made plenty of them last night. I swear on Celestia above, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say I was trying to seduce her.

I explain to the mirror, “Of course Stock is wrong about how she might feel about me. He’s just worried about his daughter. With no wife around, she’s all he’s got. Typical of a father to be worried about his daughter...”

Right. Like my own father would have shown the same worry for me if I ever took a shine to some wayward girl. Barrel doesn’t know how lucky she is.

A short time later I prance out the front door, throwing my cape around my shoulders for the much-needed warmth. The gas streetlamps burn very softly in the thick morning fog, appearing as little beacons of yellow in a sea of gray mist. For some reason I find the image appealing, even a little romantic, in an old-world kind of way. Trottingham is the opposite of downtown Manehattan. It’s made of brick and mortar, not steel and glass.

My first and most important visit is to the carpenter. I have very specific requests for my caravan in terms of looks and function. Weight is an important factor too, but I can afford to make this one a little bit larger than my old one.

While I could easily get carried away with requests due to the (frankly) absurd amount of bits I’m carrying, I curb my enthusiasm and try my best to keep the giddy happiness out of my voice and overall demeanor as I dictate my requests to the carpenter. I draw special attention to some of the extra doodads, like the planets and stars that pop out the top when the stage unfolds. After all, presentation is half of show business.

I had, rather optimistically I admit, expected he would be able to finish it tonight. Obviously that isn’t the case, but he promises it will be done soon. Within the next few days, assuredly.

Ah, well. No harm in that, I suppose. I can survive a few more days of waiting.

I’m not sure my attempts to subdue myself have worked, because by the time I shake hooves with him and leave, I’m smiling a most un-businesslike smile and practically bouncing away instead of trotting.

Logically there isn’t anything else for me to do today except go back to the inn and bide my time. Forget logic. I want to have fun while I’m still here. Trottingham might very well be my new favorite place in Equestria: the food is good, the crowds are accepting, the prices are right, and it’s a rare thing for me to spend the night without some form of company, preferably curled up under some cute pegasi's soft wings. Or... that is, it was normal for me to end the nights like that. As in every town I’ve visited, my bedmates grew bored of me long ago. No surprise there. The mares I attract tend to be the fickle ones.

Ah, well. It was fun while it lasted. Still, I have to admit that I don’t relish the idea of being totally alone again, not after all the merry company and cheer of the good Tin Whistle...

...Ugh. Stop that, you. You hate it when your girlfriends get clingy, so practice what you preach. For once.

I try to push the ugly thought of loneliness aside, and go for lunch instead. By now the fog has lifted and the ponies of Trottingham are moving about in groups of twos and threes.

The cozy restaurant is filled with couples of all shapes and sizes, gabbing endlessly among themselves. I am the only one eating alone. My mayonnaise and watercress sandwich isn’t quite as satisfying as I would like, and I leave without giving a big tip, purely out of frustration.

Oh horseapples, why do I have to keep coming back to the thought of being alone? I never had a big problem with it before; at least, I don’t recall it hurting this badly. At this point, just having somepony tag along while I shop sounds welcome.

I bet Barrel would jump at the chance to spend some time with her idol.

I push that thought aside too. Instead of asking her to leave her post and join me, I go to buy books. They’re the best company out on the road, and I can at least read a bit while I’m waiting at the inn.

There is one series in particular I’m quite fond of. It’s set many years in Equestria’s past and tells the story of a young, adventurous mare named Faber. It is she against the perils of the world, sailing the seas in between escapades on land, with some new threat or challenge always coming between her and her beloved. I admire her persistence and loyalty to the boy, specifically how she's stayed “pure” despite the many not-altogether unpleasant advances of other handsome stallions with impure intentions. She's clever and crafty, but not too clever; any mare could be like her.

I know I'll never truly be like her, though, and it goes far beyond how I threw my chastity out the window ages ago. Despite all the near misses, adventures, and challenges Faber faces, she's never alone. She's always surrounded by good friends.

As I drop the latest volume into my bags and pay the kindly shopkeeper, I can’t help but sigh wistfully. I wish that accepting my lot in life wasn’t so hard. And it shouldn’t be! The Great and Powerful Trixie is at home on the open road, free from worries, obligations, and commitments! She doesn’t need to be tied down by so-called friends! She is happiest on the road!

...aren’t I?

- - -

Such thoughts plague me all day, gradually chipping away at my willpower and my patience. By the time I finally stagger down the street towards the Tin Whistle, it’s nearly sundown.

It feels like somepony’s been hammering away at my skull. All I want is a warm meal and a warm bed.

Then a chilly gust of wind blasts down a nearby alleyway, followed by a smattering of freezing raindrops.

Fog and rain in the same day? If I were on the city council, I’d have that lazy lout of a weather captain sacked–

A sharp crack of thunder cuts me off and the rain starts falling in sheets. I break into a gallop and make a beeline straight for the inn, but it’s of no use. I’m soaked to the bone in seconds. Dripping wet and feeling miserable, I push open the door. The inn is packed, of course. I take off my bags and lay my cape out to dry before the roaring fire. I soak in the heat, stopping the shivers before they even arrive.

The regulars wink and nudge each other as they look in my direction. First one, then many begin calling over to me.

“Trixie, love, give a poor workin’ stallion some cheer fer the night!”

“Give us a show, girl!”

“Trixie! Trixie! Trixie!”

I’ve been called many things in my life, but hearing my name called by adoring fans is still my absolute favorite sound. I force a smile. Why not? I have nothing better to do.

I step up to my usual spot in front of the fireplace and try to throw myself into my act. It starts off well enough with my usual airs and little tricks, until I see Barrel standing in the back, giving me a look of deepest concern. She can tell my heart isn’t in it. My magic lacks a certain sizzle, and my personality is only coming across at half strength. We both know it’s only a matter of time.

I put on a brave effort, I really do, but when I teleport one of my bouquets of flowers into somepony’s ginger beer, I finally throw in the towel.

“I... The Great and Powerful Trixie is sorry,” I cry out, “but she can’t do it! Trixie is not feeling so great and powerful tonight, and it would be a waste of your valuable time for her to continue. Forgive me, Fillies and Gentlecolts, but you’ll have to wait a little while longer for a proper show. Please excuse me...”

Murmurs of sympathy and scattered parting applause fill the room as I turn and climb upstairs, defeated but still grateful. Even on a bad day, they understand. I promise to make up for disappointing them as soon as I can.

At the moment, though, I am most ashamed in myself. I haven’t actually had to walk offstage like that in ages. I repeat to myself that it doesn’t matter because I have no energy, that I’m exhausted – and I am exhausted – but the lie doesn’t work.

I open and shut the door and throw myself onto my bed. I want to cry, and I want to relax by having a good cry, but I do neither because I know what’s about to happen next. Barrel is not that hard to predict. She’s naturally going to be concerned about me and once she has a free moment, will come up to check on me. I should be hearing something from her in five, four–

I am off by three seconds. She knocks and I undo the lock with magic, not moving an inch. I look pathetic and I know it and don't care, either. She’s brought my cape and my discarded saddlebags with her. Laying both over the chair to continue drying, she looks at me, and I look back. Her expression reminds me of one my mother often wore, a look she’d always give me after I'd spent another wild night out; a look of quiet concern for my well-being. Almost as if I had poor judgement.

I press my face back into the pillow. Thankfully, Barrel knows better than to make me more uncomfortable by sitting on the bed; I hear her sitting on the floor nearby instead. Neither one of us makes a move.

I really, really don’t want to talk to her, but I can’t just tell her to leave me alone. Then she’d feel bad too, and I don’t want that hanging over my head. Thankfully, she breaks the silence first.

“Your mane’s still wet.”

“Didn’t have time to dry off,” I mumble through the pillow. “Don’t care either.”

“Mmm. You know, I haven’t seen you all day, then you staggered in looking like your soda went flat mid-sip. What’s wrong?”

There’s no point in denying it if it’s that obvious. With my face still resting on the pillow, I glumly say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don't have any energy and I can't think straight. Thinking hurts. It’s the weirdest thing, and... ugh. It’s also none of your business, Barrel. Don’t you have customers to serve?”

“I’m on break.” She flashes me a grin, trying to make me feel better. It doesn’t work, and her smile falters, eventually falling away completely. “Is there anything I can do? Can I get you anything?”

She’s back to wearing that look of worry. I take pity on her, reaching out and giving her mane a friendly tousle.

“Some soup would be nice. I’m in the mood for onion.”

She brightens up at once – the bounce in her steps as she prances away to do my bidding gives it away.

I am left to stew in my own guilt for a while. Since I promised the ponies downstairs another, better show, it’s not like I can leave until I actually give it to them. Perhaps tomorrow. There’s a trick involving some party streamers, a mouse, and a deck of cards that I’ve wanted to try for a while now. We’ll see.

Truthfully, I don’t want to think of my act right now, I’d like to sleep. But Barrel will be here in a moment, so what’s the point? I wasn’t kidding about being hungry either. I can almost smell my dinner now.

Hmm... Barrel. What to do about her?

I silently curse Stock for planting the seed of doubt. He was out of line, suggesting something so serious without any proof at all. I know Barrel’s type. She’s just another adoring fan. And believe me, I know she wants to adore me. It would be so easy to tempt her, too.

“Oh, Barrel. I had this dreadful nightmare. Could I sleep with you tonight? The storm keeps me up, and I don’t like sleeping alone with thunder crashing outside my window, no I don’t, and I know that you, good sweet friend that you are, won’t mind some extra company tonight. Hmm? Scoot over, that’s a good girl...”

“What’cha thinkin’ about?”

“Eeep!” I spin around, seeing Barrel standing at the table, two bowls of steaming soup ready and waiting. “Y-you should have knocked first! When did you get in here?”

“Oh come on, I did so knock. You were just spacing out. I brought some for me too, hope you don’t mind. Thought you could use the company.”

“How astute of you,” I dryly comment as I float my dinner over and begin to chow down, still not having moved off the bed. The soup is wondrously good, with bits of bread and lots of melted cheese to complement the bite of the onions. I make sure not to stain the linen.

Barrel shrugs and starts to eat her share, making loud slurping noises as she tips the bowl into her mouth. Poor dear, it would be so much more dignified if she had a horn.

I suppress a heavy sigh. What am I supposed to do with her? She’s my friend, not my companion. She doesn’t love me… but I know she wants more from me. After the card game, when we were talking by the fire, she kept scooting closer. Why would she do that, hmm? That doesn’t seem so innocent to me.

But then there’s the simple fact that she’s keeping me company, just eating here with me. Like a friend would. Would somepony eager to jump in my bed go through that kind of trouble? She should know it wouldn’t be hard. I’m tempted to give my mental scenario a try, just to see her squirm and blush as I slide in between the sheets next to her and run my hooves slowly up her chest, lingering on her face as I lean in, feeling her hot breath on my neck–

NO. Stop that, you! That’s not going to solve anything! That’s just wrong! W-why am I even thinking about that? Am I that lonely?

Barrel groans with pleasure as she licks the inside of her bowl. “Mmmm... That really hit the spot. How was yours?”

She looks over to see my meal less than half eaten, and just like that, she’s back to being concerned. She comes over and sits by me again, and then she leans in close and… She’s put a hoof to my forehead.

I raise an eyebrow. “Barrel, what are you doing?”

“Your face is all red. Do you feel hot?”

Oh, you’ve gotta be kidding me.

“No.” I swat her hoof aside. “I’m fine. Just tired and angry. I’m perfectly healthy.”

“Is something wrong with your soup?”

“It was delicious.”

“Then what’s... Rrgh, it’s me, isn’t it? It has to be me, then. Was it something I did?”

I force a smile. “It’s not your fault,” I lie.

"Well... okay then. If food’s no good, how can I help you feel better, Trixie? I won’t forgive you if you make me sit here and feel useless.”

I ponder for a moment. How can she help me? There are a lot of things she could do to make me feel better... Heck, I could teach her a dozen or so such things right here, right now. Even after I’ve left, I’ll bet she can put some of my tricks to especially good use–

Ugh. I’m getting sick of all these mental images the greedy little pony in my head keeps tempting me with. It stopped being funny a while ago.

Right, yes, think of something else. It would be easier to think of something practical for Barrel to do if I knew more about what her strengths are.

Aside from what I believe her special talent to be, I know she has a few other talents – mostly amusing little ones – and a few other things that are mostly just guesses of mine. But I can’t very well ask her to demonstrate any of those things, now can I? Even the more harmless things I’m not comfortable burdening her with. I can’t even rationalize asking her to stay and talk with me, because I can’t think of anything to talk about.

As I eat a few more spoonfuls, Barrel just sits there, watching me. I wish the awkwardness in the room would go away. When she clears her throat, I set my spoon and bowl aside. If she wants to be the one to start a conversation, that’s perfectly fine by me.

“So uh, Trixie. About last night. During the game.”

“Yes?” I ask, an evil grin slipping into place while she fidgets for a moment. She’s already turned quite a nice shade of crimson. “It was a fun night, wasn’t it? By the way, was I right about Stock?”

“Oh! Uh, Daddy hasn’t said anything. Still think it’s pretty weird, but I think you were right. He’s okay with me. With what we did. You know what I mean, right?”

“Of course, dear. Thanks again for agreeing to go along with it. You helped me out a lot back there.”

“No problem, Trixie. Anyti– uh, well not ‘anytime’, that was probably the only time ever, but... oh Goddess, I look like such an idiot right now, don’t I?”

I shake my head. “Relax. You have no reason to be nervous around me, remember?”

“I-I’ll try, but it’s kind of hard. See, when I..." She swallows hard. Nervous sweat breaks out on her forehead. "Wh-When I kissed you, it felt really, um, weird. But, in a good weird way?" She bites her lip. "That doesn’t make any sense...”

“It makes perfect sense. To be honest, I’m jealous how easy it was for you."

“W-Well... yeah, sure. That’s why I did it, you know? Because I was doing it with you." A flick of the eyes, faint blush. "I feel safe around you, 'cause you always know what's best. You’re kinda like a big sister, and– shoot! No, no! Not like incest or anything icky like that, or–”

I’m laughing so hard I’m almost falling off the bed. Barrel goes even redder, staring down at the floor. Her tail gives a nervous flick. She’s about to burst into tears.

I stuff a proverbial sock down my throat, stifling my laughter as quickly as possible. “Sorry Barrel, I just... heh. Kinda lost it there, but I’m okay now. That’s actually a really sweet thing to say.”

“Really?” she meeps. “B-But it's a stupid thing to say, right? It’s weird to say things like that.”

“I don’t think so. I'd say you’d make a great little sister, actually—in a completely innocent, family sort of way. Hmm?”

She goes quiet all of a sudden, fidgeting and looking around. Perhaps I went too far somehow, or perhaps her perspective is different from mine, she being an only child and all. Either way, with neither one of us wanting to press the question, the room turns silent again. I turn to my soup, finishing it off and setting the bowl on the table.

Eventually Barrel shifts again, nervously rubbing her forehooves together. “Please, what can I do for you, Trixie? Do you need me to get you something to drink? I’m sorry I didn’t remember to bring anything with dinner, but I forgot and–”

I wave a hoof, cutting her off. “Think nothing of it, dear. I’ve had a good meal, and good company. What I need most right now is a good sleep.”

And good companionship, the greedy little pony in my head whispers, but I shake her off. I can’t help but sigh wistfully to myself, but I’m not tempted a fourth time.

Now she looks like her soda just went flat.

Well, we can’t have that, now can we?

I reach over and give her a few sympathetic pats on the head. She gives a sheepish grin, and her ears perk up again. Interesting that somepony with such a rich brown coat can still manage to blush so well. Her freckles are probably helping.

“You’re making me feel useless,” she mumbles, obviously enjoying the attention I’m lavishing on her.

“Oh, but you’re far, far from useless. You’ve already done more than enough to make me feel better tonight, Barrel. We should talk like this more often, hmm? I’ll make an effort to see that we do in the future. Now go on, get some rest.”

I feel bad about making her leave, but at least she leaves smiling. After she quietly shuts the door behind her and returns downstairs to resume serving her regulars, I sigh for the umpteenth time and dim the lights. The rain will let up soon, and things will be looking up tomorrow. If the carpenter is timely, I can leave tomorrow and put all of this nonsense behind me.

Nonsense, is it?

I don’t see how it can be, if I can’t help but come back to the “main issue” again. It was just a simple question of clarification, so why would she go silent? Perhaps I was a bit too specific, or she was nervous. I probably would be too, if I were after a pony like me. Especially one who made it seem like it’d be easy.

On the other hoof though, her eyes, her body language – most of it, anyway – and how she’s being so helpful; that’s all compassion, not lust. If she really wanted me, well, we were alone, in my room, and I was already in bed.

She isn’t acting like she’s supposed to be acting! She’s not supposed to care for me! She’s supposed to support me, be there to make me feel better, help me when I need helping, and never complain. That’s what friends are supposed to do, right?

I don’t even know. What’s the point in worrying about it anymore? I’ve spent all day worrying about things I shouldn’t be, and it’s making my head spin.

I repeat the “starry-eyed mare” lie to myself again. There’s nothing strange at all about it. And especially considering some of her slip ups, it makes perfect sense. Many a mare would love to get their hooves in… er, on me. Hooves on me, not in… well, yes, in, but–

I didn’t mean it that way! I meant it like ‘working their hooves in’, like during a massage. It’s an innocent observation. She’s rubbed my shoulders before, and friends do that all the time, don’t they? I didn’t mean anything by it! And why in the world am I getting so flustered over this!? I’m supposed to be the one in charge of everything here, aren’t I?

Oh. Four times now. I’m disgusted with myself for being so predictably cliché. Performers aren’t supposed to be predictable at all.

Perhaps I should sleep with her after all, just to be unpredictable and to help get it out of her system. I know I’d want her to stay a friend afterwards, but that kind of relationship would be too messy. I can’t see how it would work out – it simply couldn't work. Mares like me break hearts like hers. And, as I’m all too fond of reminding myself, I hardly know her.

How much do you really know about your friends, though? What about your loved ones? You know their names. You know their hobbies, their mannerisms, their little quirks. Sometimes, you meet their parents. But the actions of friends are what make them friends, right? Not even lovers tell each other all their dark secrets.

When one loves another, is the lover or beloved the friend, or can both of them still be friends? I guess that if only one pony loves the other, they are nothing more than mutual friends. That doesn't make it any less awkward, though. Could that awkwardness eventually ruin a friendship?

If I were to fall in love – just supposing – what would happen then? I... I don’t think I would be able to travel the world anymore. I’d rather do Ponyville over again than risk losing my freedom. Except this time, I would stand firm while the Mighty and Pissed-Off Ursa crushed my caravan. I’d forget the rope and think of something else. But then again, no matter how brave or clever I might act, I still wouldn’t get very far, and I’d still be left with nothing. The angry faces of the townsfolk would still follow me everywhere.

Eventually, the nightmare fades and I wonder how long I’ve been asleep. I focus, and as if by magic, Barrel appears at the side of the bed… along with a few others. I shoo the others away, only interested in one mare tonight.

Barrel, dear. How kind of you to visit me,” I imagine myself saying. “Since you’re a dream, and very conveniently here in my room, I want you to do something for me. Oh, it’s nothing, really. There’s no reason for being nervous, even though I know you are. If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to.”

The last time I said those words, she ended up kissing me. She suddenly seems to grow anxious, but I know that she’ll do anything to please me. Her intentions are not as pure as I keep mistaking them to be. How do I know? This is how I’d like her to act.

I flash her a coy smile. “Now, now, no need to be shy. If you want to rub my back, then rub my back.”

I had imagined she would be stunned for a few seconds, perhaps with her mouth hanging open in disbelief. But only for a moment. And since it's my dream, that's exactly how it works out.

“Yes, of course! Where does it hurt, Trixie?”

“Oh, everywhere, dear,” I delight in teasing her. “But upper shoulders only, please. You and I are still just friends, after all.”

“Well… okay then. If that’s what you want, I’ll give it my best.”

She gives me a look as if to say, “But why won’t you let me do more?” and then begins. I can’t help but arch my back and sigh in bliss.

Ahhhhh...

I needed this, and she's obviously enjoying it too. No harm in all that, though. In fact, let’s try and make this even more interesting. I suppress an evil grin. Then I slowly roll onto my side and stretch out luxuriously, groaning with sinful pleasure.

To my satisfaction, she makes the most adorable squeaking sound and bites her lip. I swear steam's about to come pouring out her ears. From the way her eyes travel up and down the length of my own fine self, she’s probably thinking exactly what I want her to think; where her eyes happen to linger is quite telling.

Much to my surprise though, instead of taking the bait, she redoubles her efforts and focuses on my shoulder. Her hoof shakes, her breath is getting more ragged by the second, but even as a dream, she remains a good girl.

I am angry and insulted. Why won’t she jump into the bed with me? I’ve laid myself out on a damned silver platter for her! This is my dream, and I’m going to have what I want!

Before she can react, I’ve turned, grabbed her, and stuffed her under the covers next to me. We are at eye level, and even in the gloom I can see that her face is all different kinds of shock. Before she can say a word, I lunge forwards. I snuggle up next to her, hugging her tightly like she’s an overstuffed teddy bear. I know it’s really a pillow, but it still brings me comfort. I breathe deep, imagining I can almost smell her. For the first time all day, I finally feel relaxed.

Barrel whimpers, and I put a hoof to her lips.

“Hush now, and don’t say anything,” I pout feebly, already feeling the dream start to slip away and change into something else. “You could have at least played along from the start. We both wanted it, didn’t we? So don’t complain. Just stay with me tonight.”

- - -

I wake to the drumming of rain on my window. I don’t even want to open my eyes to look, but eventually I crack an eye and take in the gloom of my room. Cold air is seeping in from around the window. After shutting the curtains with magic, I turn the gas lamps on in the same fashion. I burrow under the covers and lie on my back, staring blankly at the ceiling.

I stick out my lower lip and feel sorry for myself. I want my dream back! I don’t want to think about being responsible, or what to do next, but I know I have to. Now isn’t the time to feel sorry for myself.

I can’t leave tonight, in any event. By now, the roads will be mud, and I can’t drag my caravan through muck that thick. I’m no earth pony. If I am to stay here tonight, there’s no point in stressing over the little things. No reason for me to sleep alone tonight, either. Plenty of willing recruits for that just downstairs.

The prospect of good company cheers me up at once, and I turn again to the thought of where to go and what to do. I’ll have to leave soon, since winter will be here shortly and the roads will be blocked up with snow for weeks. Ponyville is always an option, but not one I’m interested in. At all. Stalliongrad always welcomes entertainers. Fillydelphia should be having their autumn feast soon. I think Hoofington is out of the question, it being a place I’ve recently toured. Baltimare’s too far away, Canterlot is much too rich for my blood, and New Yoke City is...

...Wait. Why is there... Why are the sheets moving?

“Mmnhnn...”

A form shifts under the covers, and suddenly I’m wrapped in a warm, tight hug. My first instinct is to scream, or run, but instead I go stiff as a board from shock. A very familiar earth pony has just begun nuzzling into my side, sighing in apparent bliss. She shifts again, yawning and blinking. Without letting go of me, Barrel looks up and gives me another of her big smiles.

“Morninnin’ng Monymakerrr,” she slurs, still half asleep but as happy as I’ve ever seen her. “Howw’d ya sleep?”

“I... b-but you... when did– Barrel!?” I come to my senses and wriggle out of her grasp. “What are you doing? Why are you in my bed?”

“Aww, don’t be like that,” she whines, looking at me with big puppy eyes. “You said you needed this.”

“I said no such thing! Why are you– Explain yourself at once!”

Having been chided, she quickly loses the boldness she had a second ago, awkwardly looking down at the sheets instead of me. For some reason, the little pony in my head chooses that exact moment to point out how Barrel's mane is tied into a ponytail. It must be how she goes to bed every night.

She's cute, isn't she? The pony in my head gives a low whistle. Yeah. She’s really cute.

Quiet, you, I hiss at her. Barrel's trying to say something.

"Yes?" I ask. "Go on. Speak up."

“It’s pretty simple, I guess. You were having a nightmare, and um, I came to see what was wrong. I tried to snap you out of it, then you started talking in your sleep and, uh...”

Oh, no.

“...Did I ask you to rub my back?”

“Well, um, yes. I think you did. It was kinda hard to tell, but then you seemed to be enjoying it a lot, and... nnngh...” A powerful shiver runs through her; I swear I can feel heat coming off her face. She guiltily starts rubbing her front hooves together and shrinks away, cowering like a cornered field mouse.

Ugh. So all that actually happened? I seriously asked her to –

Oh, Fffff...

“Barrel, sweetie, when you were giving me the massage, did I...?”

“...Uh huh.”

I'm so charging her for that, next time.

Oh, wait. There won't be a next time. Bad thoughts.

I bury my face in my hooves, feeling another headache coming on. Brilliant work, Trixie. It’s obvious what happened next. You pulled her in, and you have no one to blame but yourself.

I reach out and raise her chin so I can study her eyes. The honest compassion in them still hasn’t gone away. She looks pathetic, like a foal who’s had her favorite toy stolen away. The irony isn't lost on me.

I want to do something for her, anything to make her feel better, but I don’t know what to do. I’ve already done enough damage by putting her in this position. If I say or do the wrong thing, I’ll only make it worse. Do I hug her, do I tell her it’s alright and that I still consider her a frie–

Her lip quivers; she’s so scared she’s done something wrong, she’s actually on the verge of tears.

Oh, no. Please, please don’t start crying on me.

On cue, she gives a great hiccup and two fat tears roll down her cheeks. Before she breaks down completely, I pull her into the hug I should have given her right away. She buries her face in the crook of my neck, a few more tears leaking out. She is shaking with the effort to maintain control and not have a total breakdown right here on my bed.

I softly rock back and forth, pet her head, coo gentle reassurances. “It’s okay... there, there. You didn’t do anything wrong, you only did what I asked you to do. No shame in that. Friends are supposed to help each other, right?”

“Yeh... yes,” she sniffles.

"Then don't talk. Let me help you."

We stay that way for a long while, but even after she’s had her cry, she doesn’t break away. As she cuddles with me, I stare at the far wall and ponder how to salvage the situation.

She probably thinks we have something special together, and at this point I can’t blame her. What can I do? I don’t want to encourage her. On the other hoof though, I’d be fine staying like this for a while longer. Maybe even catch a little more sleep, there being little point in staying awake with the storm outside... ergh.

Focus, Trixie.

It’s hard to focus though, with her warm body pressing up against me.

Since her mane is right in my face because of where her face is, I can’t help but smell it. Her mane actually smells really nice. Something clicks into place. I raise an eyebrow and wrench my gaze away from the wallpaper.

This is... I think it’s vanilla. Did she throw on perfume or something? But when? For dinner? Before she brought me dinner last night?

I smile, and hug her closer. If that’s how things went, then it was a very sweet gesture on her part. Were she anypony else, I might actually make fun of her for trying so hard, but I’m finding her little attempts to please me endearing. Besides, I want her to feel better. What’s the harm in showing a little appreciation?

Above the sound of rain on the window, she whispers something into my mane, but I don't catch it. “What was that, dear? Don’t be afraid. You can tell me anything.”

There’s a pause, and then she hugs me even tighter.

“I love you.”

...Except that.

...

Okay, stay calm, Trixie. No reason to panic. This is an easy situation to get out of. She loves you. That was always a risk. Now I know for sure. But this is easy to get out of, because while she might love you, you don’t love her. If one loves another, but the love isn’t returned, there can be no love, just friendship... right? Right, good. Let her off easy. Just tell her, “Oh Barrel, that’s so sweet of you, but Trixie doesn’t love you in that way. I still love you as a friend though, and would hate to see our friendship torn apart over something so simple. So let’s stay friends, hmm?”

The words sound simple in my head, but I can’t say them no matter how hard I try. Boasting is one thing, little white lies are another, but breaking somepony's heart...?

Ages pass. Eventually, Barrel eases herself out of the hug, looking at me through still-watery, red eyes. “Thanks for that, Trixie. I know you don't actually love me back. I’m not stupid.” She laughs shakily and wipes away a few more tears. “That’s okay though. I f-finally said it. I wanted to say it before you left.”

We sit, eyes locked together, the rain on the window barely louder than her breathing. Her admission is brave, and I definitely owe it to her not to say the wrong thing.

“I had trouble telling my first crush I loved her, too. You handled it much better than I did."

Sniff. "R-Really?"

"Really. There's no shame in admitting true feelings, Barrel. I'm proud of you for doing it. And before you ask, yes, we're still friends. Just a little closer, that's all. And if you ever have more questions or things you'd like to talk about, my door is always open. Feel free to come and talk whenever you want."

Hmm. Sounded a bit like my old headmistress there, but I got the words out alright, and that's what counts. I didn't just say them to bring her comfort. I do mean them, because in effect, she’s solved my problem for me and I no longer have any reason to fear talking to her anymore. In fact, the day as a whole already looks much brighter.

She slides off the bed and leaves my room without ceremony. I flop back onto the pillow, but this time I am smiling. Things seemed to have worked out well... very well.

Barrel is being very mature about this. She knows that Trixie is a travelling mare. She’s got places to be and shows to give. She understands that I cannot return her feelings. Ours is a passing ship in the night. She knows that The Great and Powerful Trixie refuses to be tied down to anyplace, seeing as that is not her style.

Thinking in my typical showmare style helps improve my mood even further. For once, I look forward to the day and all it will bring.

- - -

After I’ve completed my morning rituals, I descend from my room and take breakfast at my favorite table by the fire. The small talk floating around in the inn this morning is centered on the storm outside. Apparently, the rain will remain for another three days, at least. Something about conflicting weather schedules with neighboring farmland... It’s all pegasus business I don’t really care about.

Barrel comes to take my plate away. I am pleased to see that she’s recovered somewhat. Around me, her cheeks seem to be perpetually rosy, and she tends to avert her eyes when talking, but otherwise seems fine. I mention in passing that with this much time on my hooves because of the weather, it only makes sense for me to try and complete my secondary shopping today.

That look of genuine concern returns. “Trixie, are you really planning to go out in a storm like this?”

I give her a confident smirk. “Of course I am. A little rain isn’t enough to stop The Great and Pow–”

“Who are you kidding? It’s like Seaddle out there.”

I laugh. “I still have to buy these things sometime though, dear. No better time than now. Besides, I hate sitting around doing nothing.”

“Then at least let me lend you something to keep you dry. I don’t think you even have an umbrella, do you?”

No, I don't. I'll have to buy some proper raingear soon. For now, though, I end up accepting her generous offer.

As I'd guessed, she's almost exactly my size. Her raincoat fits perfectly, as do her boots; the hat is tricky because of my horn, but I manage anyway. Decked out all in bright yellow, I imagine I must resemble a perfect seaweed farmer. I'll fit right in; Trottingham's a coastal town, always packed with sailors tromping around in gear just like mine... well, like hers.

I think I'll get my stormgear in ruby red. It'll look nice.

Outside, the smell of salt and rainy sky rolls through town on a wet autumn breeze. I splash down main street, heading for the shops for the second time in as many days. The carpenter is first. He’s made good progress on the caravan part, but the folding stage is causing a little difficulty. Completely understandable, though. He’s doing a great job so far.

Come to think of it, my old stage didn’t take only one day to make, either. Ah, well. When one is perfect, one expects perfection all the time. Not everypony can be like me.

I spend the day buying all sorts of little things: cloth for the caravan’s rear curtains, fabric for yet another starry cape and hat, some oil lamps, some dried fruit to snack on, a small vanity mirror – I’m sure the name is just a coincidence – and cookpots, and candlesticks, and oh, just everything looks so good!

I'm especially charmed by a clever little flint striker in a cozy shop window. It's been enchanted to set fire to anything, even wet grass. Winter will be here very, very soon, and I'll want my campfire roaring. I fancy myself quite the survivalist, when the need strikes me. Provided, of course, that I have a nice place to sleep.

I ensure that I will by placing an order for the very best mattress –Yay for real down stuffing!– I can afford, which means it’s fit for a princess. Since I'll have it custom made to fit into my caravan, it’ll be pretty expensive, but that’s fine.

I do have standards, after all. I hate sleeping in the dirt almost as much as I hate sleeping alo... Ugh. Really? Am I back to that again?

I shake off the thought and pay the elderly mare behind the counter, instructing that the mattress, like everything else I’ve bought today, be sent to my room at the inn when it’s most convenient. The rain has slowed to a drizzle by the time I step out of her shop. The stars will probably be out tonight. Maybe I’ll watch them from my window.

It’s nearly six by the time I finally return to the inn. I’m absolutely starved, having skipped lunch. I savor each bite of my dinner, and when I’m through, I knock back a few drinks and relax for the first time in what seems like months. Between the sweet-smelling smoke in the room, the endless talk, the drinks, and the blissful near-comatose feeling that comes after a big meal, I find myself almost lulled into sleep right in my chair. I lazily cradle my head on one hoof, my thoughts drifting.

Most everywhere I go, the crowds aren’t easy to please. It’s unavoidable, magic being so commonplace. My acts are often seen as simple boasting. I guess it’s not so far from the truth, but it’s unfair for them to judge so quickly.

Levitation is second nature to us unicorns, sort of like learning to read. Aside from that, though, we are lucky to learn three other spells – in our lifetime – that we can perform just as naturally and without a great amount of practice and study. I don’t think non-unicorns can appreciate the fact that many of my “little tricks” use different kinds of magic.

It’s interesting, actually. Trottingham is filled with earth ponies, with only the rare pegasus or unicorn. Perhaps the fact that magic isn’t common around here is why I have so many fans. Earth ponies can’t appreciate how much work goes into my magic, but they don’t have to. I don’t care who’s doing the admiring – I love enthusiastic little admirers, no matter their blessings or talents.

My drifting eye has roamed over to the bar, and over to a specific admirer of mine. Barrel herself actually has plenty of admirers too. In the time that I’ve been staying at the inn, I’ve seen many a poor working stallion blow her a kiss. Obviously, they never tried anything more serious, since she’s the innkeeper’s daughter and all, but I think plenty of them were sincere.

I can certainly understand why, I muse to myself as I watch her talk with a few of them now, smiling brightly. There’s something honest about her personality that chases away the aches and pains of a long day’s work, replacing it with cheer.

In that way, I suppose I’m a little bit envious of her. She doesn’t need flashy magic to make other ponies like her. She’s probably had many friendships over the years.

I wish it was that easy for me.

I take a few more generous swallows of my drink. In between greeting new customers and talking with her regulars – The dogs, look how they stare when she turns around! I see Barrel throw me a wink. I give her a smile and wave, both of which aren’t missed by the stallions she’s serving.

Now now boys, be good. You should all know you’re wasting your time on her. She’s taken, seeing as she’s mine and... wait. That’s not right.

I stop and stare down at my cup. It’s not right, but it’s not an entirely inaccurate thing to think, is it? In a way, she is actually mine, because she’s chosen to be mine. Rather, she wanted to be mine. She has a crush on me. Until she gets over her crush, she might as well be taken. It’s not like I want her to be mine, or anything like that.

I drain the rest of my drink, ready for an early retirement tonight. As I slide in between the covers a few minutes later, I feel somewhat guilty that I didn’t fulfill the promise I’d made to myself earlier.

I would have liked some company tonight, honest. Somepony to talk to until I nodded off, maybe even somepony to give me a proper massage. But that promise was made before I realized Barrel was in the bed with me. If she saw me bringing another mare upstairs, the poor dear might be heartbroken. I wouldn’t sleep well if I knew I’d done that to her.

Have to admit though, the girl does give a great massage. Would it be teasing her if I asked for a special favor, hmm? But no, that would be out of line. I couldn’t possibly ask her to keep me company. It would be leading her on, even if I were being sincere and-

There’s a knock on my door.

Oh. Of course.

“It’s unlocked. Please, come inside, I don’t mind having visitors.”

The handle turns, and Barrel pokes her head through. Since she’s within ten feet of me, the shyness from last night is back in full force. I can see it in the way her eyes dart around the room, refusing to center on me for longer than a few seconds at a time.

“Hey, Trixie. I just wanted to know if you needed anything before I close up tonight.”

“No, I don’t need anything. But I’d like some company, actually. Why don’t you come in?” I thump the bed with my tail.

“Well, um... alright. If you really want me to, sure.” She pushes through and stands awkwardly in the middle of the room, wearing the most strained smile I’ve ever seen. She’s acting like there’s a bomb about to go off under her hooves.

Heh. Nervous Barrel is even more adorable than Regular Barrel.

“Sit down,” I offer, hoping to make her feel more at ease. “Oh come now, what’s done is done. You and I are still good friends no matter what happened last night, so let’s act like we’re friends. Sit and talk with me for a while, that’s a good girl.”

Her voice shakes as she thanks me, then she takes the chair I've pointed to. Her forehooves fidget around, and she still refuses to meet my gaze. “Are you’re sure you’re alright?” she asks.

“You should know I’m always fine, after all the times you’ve come upstairs and asked me that.”

Her eyes have moved to the window, streaked with more fresh rain. “I guess there’s something about you that makes me worry sometimes. I dunno.”

“Well, I appreciate the concern, but there’s no reason to worry on my behalf. If I have a problem, I’ll be sure to come and talk about it.”

“Will you though? I don’t know if you will. You weren’t telling me anything about what was wrong last night.”

I shift, propping myself up on the pillows. “Oh? I thought we’d put all that to bed.”

She flushes slightly, but doesn’t waver. “No, I don’t mean what happened then. I mean before that, before I brought you your dinner. You were really bummed out about something, and you said it wasn’t any of my business. Well, fine. It isn’t, but I can tell something’s been bothering you for a while.”

“What could possibly bother me right now, when I am warm in my bed and enjoying myself and your very good company?”

“Okay, so maybe not right now,” she admits, “But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still there. I’ve seen that look on a lot of ponies, and I know it’s not something that goes away overnight.”

Ah, of course. Because she’s a bartender, she also has to be part psychologist and part therapist. Hmmm... I can admit she might be right. In a way. She already knows what my problem is: that I looked lonely, which is true enough. Have I been that obvious?

“I suppose your customers speak quite freely to you, Barrel. Well, as a customer, I’d appreciate it if you would talk to me. Just for a bit longer, I could use the company.”

Of course, she brightens up at once.

The nightmares stay away.

- - -

I don’t feel bad about waking up in an empty bed this morning. Not really. Barrel has agreed to continue talking to me in the evenings, so I have plenty to look forward to tonight.

The rain has turned into sleet that rattles against the windows. Naturally, only the most devoted regulars have appeared, so the inn is unusually empty this morning. I spend most of my time turning pages while curled up next to the hearth.

There are only two things of interest that happen all day. The first is that some of my purchases started to arrive just before noon. After I directed the courier to put them upstairs, I bought him a hot drink. I felt he deserved it, even though he assured me it wasn’t any trouble.

“Oh, hush. I appreciate the trouble you’re going through. Try getting good service like this in Canterlot, it won’t happen. You’ll either end up with a lackey wearing a vest who’s too posh to get his hooves dirty doing any real work, or a village idiot who doesn’t even think to use magic to carry your bags.”

I wave him off, and he leaves much happier than he was when he arrived.

The second thing of interest is that the weather captain and his team – yes, his, I was right about that – actually comes in just before dinnertime to talk to Stock and the other patrons. They’ve apparently been making the rounds for the past two days, apologizing in person over the terrible weather, with reassurances that it won’t last much longer.

Wonder if they go through that much trouble every time a storm takes this city by surprise? Hardly see the point, but I suppose it makes for good community relations. Canterlot’s weather team isn’t so considerate, that’s for sure. Then again, 'considerate' isn't even in Canterlot's dictionary.

I take another sip of warm spiced cider and continue flipping through pages. I elect not to try putting on another show this evening, and I remember talking with Barrel for only a half hour before sleep takes me. Again, the nightmares stay away.

I could get used to sleeping like this, I groggily think to myself upon waking up.

As the weather captain had promised, the rain has slowed to a drizzle and the clouds have actually broken up a little bit. As I head outside to greet the sun, I am surprised and delighted to see my new caravan being pulled up the street by the carpenter.

It’s a splendid thing. The wood smells like fresh varnish and the smart new paint almost seems to glow. I insist that we give the folding stage a try, right there out in front of the inn. It springs out as if by magic, and I happily give him a fat tip and many thanks for doing such a good job. I spend the day outfitting it, floating my purchases out from my room through the window. The final piece is the mattress, which arrives in the evening.

The urge to throw together a performance and give my new stage a proper test is enticing, but my fans deserve better.

I’ll spend tomorrow coming up with some new acts. It’ll be just like old times.

Dinner is uneventful. When Barrel comes up to visit, I invite her to sit on the bed with me, since I know that chair she’s been perched on isn’t very comfortable. About ten minutes pass as we go over meaningless gossip, swap stories, and make small talk.

“... and Dad and I never figured out where he was hiding his mongoose,” Barrel finishes her story, both of us laughing ourselves silly.

“That was actually really good,” I say between chuckles. “I’d find a way to make it into an act if you had a real ending to it. The filly’s and colts love stuff like that. Where do you think he was hiding it?”

“In his mane.”

“Didn’t you say he had a mohawk? Where could a mongoose hide in a mohawk?”

She shrugs. “I didn’t say it made sense. Maybe he used magic to hide it, then he just pulled it out of thin air? Can’t unicorns do those kinds of things?”

“I work magic, not miracles.”

She laughs again. “If you say so. It all looks pretty miraculous to me.”

I laugh too, but for a different reason.

She’s finally getting back some of her confidence. Good for her.

I have a theory for how Barrel works; when things go her way, she has almost as much confidence as I do. But when something goes wrong, or when she’s nervous, she turns into a different pony altogether. Personally, I prefer the more confident Barrel; the one who smiles, who’s talking to me right now. I don’t feel like I’m walking on eggshells around her.

“Hey Trixie, you went to one of those big magic schools, right? What was it like?”

I do a double take; the question completely blindsides me. Not only that, but it's the last thing I wanted to hear right now, especially when things were going so well. I cough, and do my best to play it off.

“And what makes you think I went to a magic school?”

Barrel shrugs. “Dunno. Just thought it was something all unicorns did.”

“Only the special ones,” I spit. "Half the unicorns that get shipped off to big colleges get in because their parents have deep pockets. That doesn't mean that any of them are actually talented at magic. There were plenty of them that were happy honing just one spell in the entire time they were staying there. No imagination at all.”

“A-ha! So you have been to magic school.”

"Yes. I’d rather forget about it.”

“Why’s that?”

I recline on the bed and stare at her. “Take a good look at me, Barrel. What do you see? Do you see a unicorn who coasted through school without a second glance back? Whose natural talent ensured a ‘degree in magic’ the moment she walked through the doors?”

“Kinda.”

I sigh and rub my temple. Do I really come across as that arrogant?

Barrel shifts on the covers. “And now you’re gonna tell me I’ve got you all wrong?”

“If I told you what it was like for me, I don’t know if you could appreciate it. You’re not a unicorn.”

“I went to school too, you know.”

“There are other reasons, too. Drama is my life, but I hate melodrama.”

“C’mon, how bad could it be?”

You have no idea how bad it was.

For a moment, I lie back on the bed, conflicted. She’d be the first pony to hear the story. Do I tell her, or not? I don’t want her to see me as a whiner or a hard luck case. It would ruin the mystique I’ve put so much effort in building up. At the same time though, I hardly see the point in putting it off. It might not be as bad as I think it is, either. After all these years, telling it could be good for me.

I give in. I know I’m going to tell her anyway.

“You have to understand something, Barrel. All you needed to learn to know how to run the inn, you learned from your family. You didn’t need to learn magic before you discovered your talent.”

“Ah. That makes sense, I guess. If you needed to learn magic first, how did you know it was part of your talent?”

“I didn’t, but I’d tried everything else, and we didn’t have a magic kindergarten in our town. I was positive my talent had something to do with magic; Mom and Dad agreed. So yes, they shipped me off to a big magic school when I was very young.”

“It sounds exciting.”

Memories of lonely nights in the dorm room threaten to make me shoot down her observation, but I nod instead.

“It was, I suppose. But there was a problem. See, Dad’s salary was hardly anything, and Mom’s was just enough to keep the two of them afloat at home. The problem was that the money he sent me for tuition every month wasn’t enough. I didn’t think I could just tell him that I needed more bits. It's not like saying that would have made more bits magically appear.”

“So what happened?”

I toss my head as if to scoff at her question. “Simple enough. I lied to them in my letters. I can tell a pretty good story myself, you know. And it wasn’t like it was all hopeless. I worked out a payment plan with the administration so I could stretch out the coin I started with. The food in the cafeteria was free, at least.”

“But the bits couldn’t have lasted long.”

“They got me through a month or two, I don’t remember exactly how long. None of the odd jobs I was taking around the campus were making enough. Then I got a flash of inspiration. I’d always liked to daydream I was a great performer, like Coppermane the Magnificent or Flashbang the Vanishing Mare. I was good at pretending I was like them, too. All I needed to do was turn my escapism into something productive. So late one night, I slipped through the dorm window. I left with a few bouquets of flowers, a cape made from a bedsheet, and some rope. I ended the night with enough coins to make the payment, and my cutie mark.”

I smile, remembering it well; how I’d seen it for the first time upon waking up the next morning, the squeals of delight and the congratulations from all the girls in the dorm, and knowing where I belonged at last. It’s been too long since I thought of that wonderful day.

“So that’s how you became The Great And Powerful Trixie, huh?" says Barrel, jerking me out of my memories. "It sounds like the whole thing was really hard for you. I mean, not knowing if your plan would work, having to make up an act on the fly, all that stuff.”

“You kidding? I lived for it! I didn’t know the first thing about what I was doing, but I was having fun. I don’t think a stage can replicate the feeling of turn- er, doing tricks on the sidewalk.” She giggles, hopefully not at the mental image I’ve planted in my own brain.

“What did you do after you figured out what your talent was? That was the whole reason you wanted to go to school, right?”

I shake my head. “There’s more to it than that. I knew I had to master a lot of spells to be the showpony I wanted to be. While it was true enough that my professors weren’t teaching me how to conjure up stormclouds or make smokescreens in the classroom, they were more than happy to help me, once I’d asked nicely. ”

“Wait, you were getting private lessons on top of everything else? So that's private lessons, street shows at night, keeping up with your parents, and you were doing all this as a little kid?” She looks at me with new respect and admiration.

I, however, feel differently about the accomplishment. My face darkens. “What do you want me to say? That I 'made it look easy?' I nearly burned myself out in the first semester. I thought the stress would kill me!”

“But why would you do that to yourself? Since you’d found your talent, couldn’t you have learned the magic for it outside of school?”

“Have you ever wanted to impress your family, Barrel? To make them proud?” Understanding dawns on her face. For a moment, she's lost in times long past gone. Her eyes even mist up a little.

Aww, how sweet.

“Anyways, I tried to keep changing my shows’ locations so I’d get new audiences and nopony at the college would catch on. Another student figured me out after a while; I’m sure you know how it is with fillies and secrets. In a week all the girls in the dorm knew. Then my teachers and the dean all found out, too. What they didn’t know was why I was doing it. I’d managed to keep that to myself.”

“Is this the part where it gets bad?”

“The dean wrote a letter to my parents... is what you were expecting me to say? No, not yet, actually. My teachers were impressed with my tricks. They encouraged me to keep honing my talent, that it would be fine as long as I kept up on my coursework. They acted like teachers should, and I’m grateful to them for that. Though I guess if I’d told them why I started performing in the first place, it might have saved me a lot of grief later.”

“But why didn’t you tell them?”

I hum and think it over for a moment. It’s a pretty good question, one that I have no “right” answer to.

“I guess I was overconfident. I didn’t think there was a good reason to tell them. I’d gotten good enough to make in one night what used to take four nights. I could take my time on my homework, so my grades improved. And with free time, I could plan my acts out well in advance. They started getting bigger.”

“How big?”

Too big.

“I didn’t think they were that big, honestly. How could anypony blame me for wanting to put on better shows? It’s not like anypony complained after the first one, not even after the second one. So when the police were called halfway through my third big show, well...”

“Ouch.”

“The dean really let me have it. How I’d gained an unwarranted sense of self-importance, how my 'boasting' reflected so poorly on her school, and how my use of magic in pursuit of coin was shameful. Then Mom and Dad walked in. Oh, they were plenty happy that I’d discovered my talent, but that didn't last long. They only knew what they’d been told, so they also thought I was misusing my magic for the fun of it.”

“Wow. Caught between a rock and a hard place, huh?”

"If you must use that dreadful cliché‎, yes. Were it up to the administration, I would have stayed, but been barred from putting on more shows. There wasn’t any way out of it, so I resigned. Dropped out.”

“You didn’t tell your parents the truth?”

“What point would there have been in telling them? They couldn’t afford my tuition either way, and I didn’t want to put them on the spot. So I didn't tell them."

...I didn't tell them. Why didn't I tell them? Pride? Stupidity? I mean, if it were me now, sure. I'd tell them in a heartbeat. Anything would have been better than...

"Dad thought I was being lazy. Mom thought I was being defiant. My teachers were just disappointed and confused. They still don’t know the real story." I sit, looking straight ahead. I blink hard. "I keep telling myself I was never “kicked out” of school, since it was my own decision, but I... I don’t know anymore. If I’d just told them, I... It's all my fault. There’s no way around it.”

The room is silent for nearly a minute.

“So,” Barrel says, quietly. “Even though you never told them, you still told me.”

“Yes, I have. I don’t know what good it’s done, b-but thanks for list... for...”

I sniff back tears, resisting the urge to jump up and run out of the room. I turn to the wall, trying to hide my face from Barrel.

I’m not crying. Not really. It’s just some dust in my eye, that’s all. Don't look at me. Don't look at me!

As I furiously try to wipe my eyes dry, Barrel pulls me into a hug. At first I resist, but then I give in and halfheartedly hug her back. I try and fight back the tears, angry at myself for being so weak. Why am I losing it over something so pointless?

My anger dissipates as Barrel trembles, sniffling. I feel tears drip onto my shoulder.

Oh, please don’t start doing that... why do you have to go and do that? Don’t you know it just makes me feel worse when I make you cry? Like I’ve tricked you into pitying me. I don’t want to be pitied by you! This is my problem, and I... I... I don’t care anymore.

Just hug me tighter.

“Trixie?”

I try to pull myself together and answer her, but all I do is make a weird noise in my throat.

She breaks the hug so she can look at me. “Trixie, why do you make yourself carry all your problems alone? You don’t have to be alone anymore. You have friends now.”

“Friend or not, I don’t want to drag you into my problems more than I already have. I don’t like causing drama offstage. Let's talk about something else.”

My string of lame excuses doesn’t sway her look of motherly concern one bit.

“Fair enough. What else is there to talk about? I don't– oh! Since your caravan showed up, what’s that mean for you? Are you leaving as soon as the rain stops tomorrow?”

I falter for an instant. “Uh, no. I need to wait at least, um, two days for the roads to dry out. And I need to plan out a route to take. So no, Barrel, I’m not leaving right away.”

“You’ve been around here so long that you kinda feel like family.” She rubs her eyes, getting the last of the tears out. “Least I’ll get to say goodbye, right?”

I pet her on the head, since I know she likes that. “Of course you will. I promise.”

After that, our conversation turns much more subdued. Neither one of us wants to bring up any subjects that might be offensive. The rain has made the city cold, but I feel warm inside, tonight. I know exactly why, and she has my thanks for that.

Much later, after I lie down and she thinks I’m asleep, I hear her get up. At first I think she’s just going to leave, but then I feel her lightly kiss my forehead and then start tucking me in. I manage to hide my surprise. After I watch her turn and shut the door behind her, I roll over and tightly pull the covers around me.

That’s the sweetest thing anypony’s ever done for me. But... wait. Does she do that every night? She comes and checks up on me, keeps me company until I fall asleep and then tucks me in like a foal?

I fight back tears yet again, suddenly feeling very small.

Author's Note:

Fanart for this chapter!