• Published 29th Jun 2012
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Fallout: Equestria - Wasteland Bouquet - Cascadejackal



There's a lot of stories in the Equestrian Wasteland, and they all need to be told.

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Chapter 9: Blue Sky Tears

---CHAPTER 9: Blue Sky Tears---

“Treat me like a pushover, and you'll get the once over.”

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The sky is so blue... A few small, fluffy clouds drift aimlessly, just wandering through the warm sunlight that shines down upon this peaceful green field, the long grass swaying serenely in a gentle breeze. I turn my head and smile, watching my beloved Rose taking her afternoon nap.

Her mane shines in the afternoon light; She's been growing it out for a while now, the deep red braid vibrant against her snow-white coat, her entire body seeming to glow with health and life, a far cry from our days of wandering.


I slowly sit up and stretch my wings, chuckling softly. Yeah... She's just gotten more beautiful over the years, blossoming into the wonderful flower I'd always known she would. As I move she stirs, looking up at me with those amazing eyes, a match for the sky in color, but infinitely deeper and filled with a love that makes my heart soar. "Ibis..." Her voice is sweeter than honey, more gentle than the breeze that plays across us. "Help me up?"

Smiling, I help her stand. "Easy now, Rose. You know what the doc said." She nuzzles against me, the touch so familiar, so comforting, that I can't imagine spending a day without her by my side.

"I know. I have to take it easy." We walk, side by side, across the field to our house; it's nothing special, just a little piece of paradise we managed to find, far from all the hustle and bustle of the world. "Are you sure everything's gonna be okay, though? I'm a little worried..." I open the front door and let Rose go in first, then follow her down the little hall that leads to the kitchen. "The doctor said it'll be fine, but..." She stops and turns to look up at me, concerned.

I just lean in and kiss her gently, chasing the worried frown from her face. "Relax, Rose." I stroke her side lovingly, sharing her blissful smile. "Everything will be okay."

"But-"

"I mean it. I'll never let anything happen to you, or our child. I promise." I gaze into those adoring, trusting eyes and thank the Goddesses for every wonderful moment we've had together, and for every moment yet to come. "Come on, I'll make you lunch. You need to keep your strength up, after all." We share another tender kiss, and go into the kitchen.

Sunlight fills the little room, accompanied by the breeze blowing in through the open window. Rose settles herself down on a pillow by the table with a content smile, and I watch her happily. The day we found out she was pregnant was the greatest day in our lives.


Rose hadn't been feeling well for a few days, so I flew to the nearest town to get a doctor for her. When he gave us the news, we just stared at each other in shock for a moment... Then Rose leapt into my arms and we both cried our hearts out, overcome with joy.

That was months ago, and it's almost time now. Rose still gets nervous every now and then, worrying that something will go wrong or that she'll be a bad mother and, every time, I reassure her, telling her that Celestia and Luna are watching over us, protecting us, and that we'll both be wonderful parents.


I finish making lunch and step away from the counter, watching Rose's eyes light up at the sight of her favorite mixed flower salad; No matter how often I see her looking happy, it never fails to brighten my day.

A white glow surrounds the bowl before I can set it on the table, and Rose levitates it down to where she can reach it without stretching, savoring each and every bite of the fresh, crisp plants. I sit on the polished wooden floor next to her, stroking her swollen belly. Yeah, not long now... Another month or two, and we'll have a little bundle of joy to take care of... "Rose..." My claw stills on her side and we look at each other, waiting...

Another little kick.

Our eyes meet and we gaze at each other for a long moment... Slowly, as if in a dream, our faces draw closer, until there's no room for words, just a loving, bliss-filled kiss that lasts until we remember to breathe.

"Ibis..."

"Yeah?"

"Is this... heaven?"

"Even heaven couldn't be this good, Rose."

She smiles and leans against me, floating bits of her salad up to her mouth and munching quietly, lost in the moment, just like I am.


Eventually, the sun starts to set, throwing deep shadows across the land and painting the sky a brilliant hue. Rose yawns and stands, nudging me with her head. "Ibis... I'm sleepy..."

I stroke her mane fondly. "Alright, let's go to bed." Our steps echo as we walk through the empty house, each sound swallowed up by the evening stillness, and I smile. Soon enough, there'll be no more silence.

Just the sounds of our family, and our happiness.


Rose blinks at me and I help her onto our bed; It's not very high, but she can't really jump onto it lately. She snuggles into the clean white sheets and raises her head, looking at me invitingly, waiting for me to join her. I take my time, though, making sure she's comfortable before I lay down beside her and take her in my arms. We hold each other, husband and wife, as dusk turns to night and the stars come out to begin their ages-old dance through the sky. Slowly, my beloved drifts off, her breaths deepening as her eyes flutter closed. I stroke her side and watch her sleep, lost in the perfection that lays beside me.

I kiss her horn and close my eyes, trying to get some rest myself; My life is far better than my dreams, but the way Rose smiles when I bring her breakfast in bed always makes those hours spent sleeping worthwhile.

My last thought before I drift into the serene stillness of sleep? "It's almost too good to be true..."

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It was.

My eyes snapped open, revealing a very blurry world; one far removed from the paradise I'd been dreaming of.

The room came into focus as I sat up, my head pounding. A small fire burned nearby, illuminating the inside of the ruined building I was laying in, piles of debris throwing strange shadows on the walls and what remained of the ceiling; Almost a third of it had collapsed, leaving a gaping hole that revealed the dark night sky, clouds low and ominous. A couple of used med-x syringes and an empty healing potion lay beside the bedroll I was sitting on.

I took all this in slowly, trying not to move too much; It felt like someone had used me for a pinata. Where the hell was I and what the hell happened? More importantly, where was Rose?

My memories came back in a rush.

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We were walking though the ruin-filled outskirts of a destroyed city, two weeks after our adventure in Stable 77. We'd sold most of our salvage in the first town we came across, getting ourself a small fortune in caps, not to mention ammo and spare parts for our guns.

Rose was explaining the difference between her three grenade types to me as we walked. "Green bands explode, Ibis. That's what I used in the Stable. White bands are stun grenades; They knock things unconcious. The red ones, though..." Her smile turned positively evil. "They're incendiary. They light stuff on fire."

I stared at her, trying to find the words to express my horror, when gunshots rang out. Automatic weapons stitched a line over our heads as we ducked behind a ruined sky-wagon, trying to get a look at our attackers.


Raiders. Well armed for once, and not suicide-rushing us, either.

"Rose, move!" She responded by darting away, heading into the buildings behind us to try and find a position she could snipe from. Using her rifle like an earth pony meant she couldn't move and shoot at the same time; I didn't have that problem. As she smashed a door down and bolted inside, I unslung Garden and opened fire while retreating, aiming for the raiders scurrying around in the buildings on the other side of the street.

One went down, his head torn clean off. Rose had insisted I keep slugs loaded, and now I could see why; Normal buckshot would have had much less impact at this range. Another raider ducked just in time, getting showered by shards of brick instead. I made it to the doorway and got a few more shots off before diving inside to avoid the answering hail of bullets. Turns out the building used to be a restaurant. Must've been fancy, before everything got blown to fuck and back.

"Ibis, I count ten of them!" Rose's shout came from upstairs and I followed it, finding her set up at a large window, tracking and firing at anything that moved. I could hear rough voices from below, shouted orders and directions; Raiders weren't meant to be this organized!

"You sure?" I slid in beside her, popping up to squeeze off a few shots before ducking down and scooting further along the window. Rose was doing the same, making it as hard as possible for the raiders to predict her movements.

"Counting the one you killed, and the three I killed, yeah!" She yelped as machine-gun fire ripped over her head, blowing holes in the ceiling and covering her with dust. I stuck Garden up and blind-fired, trying to pin down whoever was spraying us. It didn't work.

"We've gotta get out of here!" I yelled over the constant gunfire; they may have been more organized than normal, but they still didn't know how to conserve bullets. "Did you see a way out that won't get us killed?"

Rose shook her head and yelled back. "No! Ground floor would be suicide!" She scrambled further along and popped up, firing once before diving to avoid the inevitable hailstorm of lead; There was a scream from the street. Guess she managed to hit something. I wasn't having the same luck.

Most of my shots hit wagons or walls; the raiders were ducking in and out of cover, advancing on our position and covering each other. I was starting to have serious doubts about their identity; Raiders don't use tactics. They're too crazy.

I fired my last shot and went to reload, peeking out for just a moment. One of the raiders was aiming a rocket launcher at the building. Well, fuck.

"ROCKET LAUNCHER! GET DOWN!" At my yell, Rose dived behind some tables, kicking them over for cover. I was too far away to join her and flattened myself as much as I could, trying to become one with the corner between wall and floor.

It didn't work.

There was an almighty explosion and a searing blast of heat, like the fiery flatulance of Celestia Herself, and my world started to spin.

I was rolled over onto my back and a white face hovered in front of me, a streak of blood dripping from a gash on her forehead. Rose. Her mouth moved like she was screaming something, but I couldn't hear a word she was saying... I couldn't hear much of anything over the damned ringing in my ears...

Something was moving behind Rose, at the stairs... A male unicorn, levitating a knife as he crept up on Rose... I tried to warn her, but my body wouldn't respond...

Everything started to go black. Rose turned to meet the raider as he lunged at her, his face twisted and feral. I saw them slam into each other, then I didn't see anything at all.

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I groaned, my claws pressed to my forehead. Fuck... Raiders with brains, automatic weapons and rocket launchers. Could things get any worse?

Slowly, I got to my feet, taking stock of my injuries. Nothing too major, from the feel of it. Bandages on my chest and neck, though. My vest was laying next to our supplies; a quick inspection showed it had taken the brunt of the blast, leaving it burned and full of shrapnel, probably saving my life in the process. Underneath it was...

Things just got worse. A lot worse.
Underneath it was Rose's rifle, mangled beyond repair.


My brain went into overdrive, running through everything I'd seen before passing out and everything I'd seen since waking up, in an effort to work out where I was, and what had happened to Rose.

First, this place wasn't the restaurant. That much was clear.
Marks at the doorway showed I'd been dragged here, but didn't tell me much beyond that. The fire had been burning for while, going by the warmth of the room and the pile of junk nearby for use as fuel.

Garden was in easy reach and fully loaded, a spare ammo drum beside it as well, so whoever saved me wasn't hostile.

Rose was missing, but all her gear was stacked next to mine. Her gun was useless now except for scrap, but it meant enough to her that she wouldn't leave it behind for any reason. So, she was probably okay. Just... Not here.

The bandages, med-x and healing potion hadn't come from my vest, so Rose must have got them from her own pouches. That meant she was in good enough shape to administer first aid, as well.


Everything told me Rose was okay, but I couldn't shake the feeling of dread. The last thing I'd seen was a raider about to stab her in the back, and there had been more crazies downstairs and outside... If they really were raiders. The level of planning they'd shown made me nervous; Normal raiders just charged you, screaming their heads off... Until said heads were blown off, anyway.

I took one last look at my vest; Between the shrapnel still embedded in it and the burned straps, it was useless. Sighing, I picked up Garden, double-checked to make sure it was loaded, and left the room, following the marks left by whoever had dragged me here.

Unfortunately, I hadn't counted on the rest of the building being dark. The fire cast barely any light into the hallway beyond, and I had to wait a few seconds for my eyes to adjust. Just another reason griffins are awesome; Our eyesight is great, no matter what time of day... Or night, whatever.


It turned out I was in a small apartment building; Most of the rooms were ruined, walls and ceilings long ago crumbled. The room I'd been in had been one of the few that were still usable, and I poked my head (and Garden) into the other rooms as I passed, checking for Rose... Or someone who could help me find her. I was thankful for the rotting carpet that covered the floor; It muffled my steps, meaning I'd probably have the drop on anyone I came across.

When I reached the lobby, I saw something moving around behind a large desk. It looked pony sized and was moving back and forth aimlessly, staggering every few steps. Slowly, careful not to draw attention to myself, I crept up behind it, leveling Garden at the mystery pony. "Turn around. Slowly," I ordered, keeping my voice low enough that it wouldn't travel.

The figure started to turn, then changed its mind and started to turn the other way, only to stagger and change directions again. I almost pulled the trigger right then and there, but when the pony finally managed to turn all the way around, I was glad I hadn't. "Rose!" I lowered Garden, stepping towards her; Even in the darkness it was easy to recognise her. The shape of her face, the bulk of her vest, and that mess of a mane were all dead give-aways. "What are you doing out here? C'mon, let's get back to the room." I turned and started walking, then stopped, looking over my shoulder. She hadn't moved from that spot. "Hey! You okay, Red?"

I got the feeling she blinked at me, then she started walking, following me slowly. I had a bad feeling about this... We made our way back to the room, Rose weaving all over the hall like she was drunk, standing still every time I got too far ahead or stopped coaxing her forwards. "Almost there, Red. Just a little further..." We got back into the room, the warmth and light from the fire welcome after the cold, dark hallway. Rose stepped into the light and my heart stopped.

There were dark circles under her glassy, unfocused eyes, like she'd been awake for days. Her vest was in the same shape as mine, covered in burns and full of shrapnel, the grenade bandoleer empty. Little pieces of metal were sticking out of her flank and neck, where the vest hadn't covered. Parts of her coat were scorched and blackened, her face and forelegs coated with dried blood. Even through the mess, I could see a few bullet wounds, but that wasn't the worst of it; There was still a knife stuck in her neck. It had gone right through a gap in her armor and, if I had to guess, gotten lodged in her collarbone. Not a pretty sight.

"Rose... What happened?" She just stood there, not focusing on anything, just swaying back and forth. "Rose... Red?" When I used her nickname, I got a blink, and tried again. "Rose?" Nothing. "Red?" Another blink. "Red, come here." I kept my voice gentle, and she staggered over to me. "Speak to me, Red. What happened?" She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. A look of vague confusion crossed her face, and she shook her head before trying again. Still nothing. "Red... Can you speak?" I knew what the answer would be even before she shook her head. No.

"Come on." I pulled her closer to the fire, both to warm her up and get a better look at her... "Well... It's... not so bad..." I smiled at her, but her eyes remained unfocused. "You were hurt worse than this before, remember?" No reaction. "Stay still, so I can get this knife out of you." Gingerly, I took hold of the knife, waiting for some sign she was in pain. Nothing, even when I pulled the knife free. It had gotten stuck in her collarbone, just like I thought, and I had to pour a healing potion straight into the wound to heal it before she bled out.

"Okay... I'm going to take off your vest now. Is that alright, Red?" Just a blink. She didn't react to anything unless I called her Red... She was really starting to worry me... I unbuckled her vest and slid it off; thankfully, almost none of the shrapnel had penetrated to her vital organs. Carefully, I used the tip of my knife to remove the little bits of shrapnel that had lodged themselves in her flesh; by some miracle, they hadn't been big enough or had enough force behind them to reach anything vital. Even the bullet wounds had been clean, going all the way through and missing anything particuarly important. Thank Luna for small favors.

"This may sting a little, Red." Another blink, and I poured some water from our canteens over her, washing the blood off and cleaning the burnt parts of her coat. "You're lucky, Rose. I don't see a single serious injury anywhere on you." No reaction; I hadn't called her Red that time. I kept talking to her, keeping my voice friendly, soothing, while I made sure she didn't have any serious injuries or broken bones. She was disgustingly healthy, considering how bad she looked. It was a bit of a hassle trying to make her drink a healing potion, though, and I ended up bottle-feeding her, like she was a foal.

It was worth the effort; I watched the small cuts fade away in seconds, the gash on her forehead only taking a little longer. In less than a minute, she looked more-or-less normal. Blank expression and glassy eyes not withstanding...


"Okay, Red. Stay still..." I'd managed to get her to sit on the bedroll, and held up a dose of med-x for her to see. "This will only hurt for a second, and then you'll go to sleep for a little while. Understand?" She blinked, and I injected the powerful painkiller into her neck. Within seconds, her eyes closed and she fell sideways, out like a light. I sighed. Hopefully she was just in shock, and she'd be better when she woke up.

Either way, I wasn't getting much sleep tonight. I pulled a blanket over her and sat facing the door, Garden at the ready.


What the hell had happened after I passed out in the restaurant?

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I felt something bump my shoulder and woke up instantly, my eyes snapping open, every fibre of my body ready for action. I've heard people say you can't wake up suddenly, that it's always a gradual thing.

They're probably heavy sleepers.

I jerked to my feet and twisted, bringing Garden up to aim at whatever had touched me...

It was Rose.

My little mare stepped back, confused and frightened, until I lowered Garden with a sigh and moved closer to her; I must have scared her, pulling away and aiming my gun at her like that. She pressed her head against my shoulder, then looked up at me, concerned.

"Sorry, Rose. You startled me, that's all. You okay now?"

She shook her head and headbutted my chest.

"What's wrong?"

She opened her mouth to speak, then frowned and tried again. She pointed at her throat, irritated.

"Still can't talk, huh?" I frowned; I'd been hoping that a good night's sleep would have helped her recover.

She shook her head and stared at me, tears welling up in her eyes. I grabbed her and pulled her close, cradling her head to my chest, trying to comfort her.

"It's okay, Rose. Can you tell... I mean, show me what happened?"

Rose pulled away from me and nodded, then started signing.
I'll spare you the details; she had to resort to miming things several times, and she bit me when I laughed. I couldn't help it; She was funny to watch! And she smiled when she bit me, so she must have been having fun as well.


What it came down to was this:
After the rocket hit (the blast had knocked me out), Rose tried to wake me up, terrified she was going to lose me. The unicorn colt I'd seen had jumped her, managing to stab her once (losing his knife in the process) before she'd killed him. Another had come at her with an axe, though, and managed to destroy her rifle. After that, she'd used every last grenade she had to wipe the raiders from the face of the wasteland permanently.


"So, when you were done killing them, you dragged me in here, cleaned me up, gave me a dose of med-x and a healing potion, then started the fire to keep me warm?" Rose nodded. "How long was I out?" She tapped her hoof twice. "Two hours?" She shook her head. "Two days?" Nodded this time. "Did you sleep at all?" More head shaking. "No wonder you've got bags under your eyes, Rose. You should have been resting, not wandering around like that. You were so tired you didn't even recognise me, and you could have gotten hurt!" She looked ashamed, and I sighed, opening my arms. "Come here."

Rose hopped onto my lap, snuggling into my embrace like she'd never leave. "You were really worried, huh?" Without looking up, she nodded, and I kissed the top of her head. "I promised I'd never leave you, remember?" Another nod. "I always keep my promises, especially to you." She looked up at me, pouting. "Do you want a kiss?" She smiled and nodded, making me laugh. "Oh, alright."

We stayed like that for most of the morning, just holding each other and kissing, reminding ourselves of what we'd almost lost. Neither of us had been seriously injured, a stroke of incredible luck, considering what we'd been facing. Celestia and Luna must have been paying extra attention that day. Every moment I spent with Rose in my arms, I thanked them for their help, promising whatever they wanted as long as I could stay with my precious flower.


The only losses we'd suffered were our vests, Rose's rifle, and her voice... Her inablity to speak was the only thing that worried me... I'd hoped she would have gotten better after getting some sleep, but she hadn't shown any signs of speaking, or made any noise at all...

At least she'd gotten enough sleep to remember who I was, and her own name. That was something worth celebrating with some snack cakes and sparkle cola, washed down with a few more kisses. And that's exactly what we did, before packing up and heading back to the scene of our battle; I wanted to know exactly what went down. Not that Rose's description was in doubt; She never lied, after all. I was just suspicious of who our attackers really were, and she hadn't exactly been paying close attention while she was killing them.

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Rose led the way out of the apartment building and down a couple of streets, cutting through an alley and following the path she'd used to drag me to safety. I stayed close, our sides bumping as we walked, the contact reassuring her that I wasn't going anywhere without her. She still looked at me every few minutes to make sure I was there and we actually stopped once, when she dragged me into a ruined store for a rest.

"Rose, I-" I started to object, saying that we didn't have time to rest, but she kissed me, tears streaming down her face, pressing her body as close to mine as hard as she could. I took her in my arms and cradled her; she was shaking, desperate for a warm, comforting touch. "Rose... You were lonely, weren't you?" She nodded, buring her face in my chest, soaking my feathers with her tears. I stroked her mane, making comforting noises to try and calm her down. "Is that why you can't talk? You got scared and lonely?"

She pulled her head back so she could see my face, and nodded. That's what I'd thought... "You'll get better soon, Rose. I'll do everything I can to help you." She smiled and closed her eyes, waiting for me to kiss her. "So, you think I could just kiss it better?" She nodded, keeping her eyes closed and head raised, still waiting. I didn't disappoint, giving her the most passionate kiss I could.


Now that I think about it, we seemed to make out in some really dangerous places. A rotting Stable full of ghouls, the middle of a radioactive swamp, and now in a crumbling city where, just two days ago, we'd both almost died.

Love trumps common sense, I guess.


Finished making out for now, we smiled at each other and Rose opened her mouth nervously... Nothing came out, and she frowned at me. "Hey, it's not my fault." I tried to hug her, but she pulled away and started going through her bags, looking for something...

She pulled out a book (every book or magazine we found ended up in her bags) and shoved it into my claws. I took a look at the cover.

Tales for Fillies and Colts

"Rose, this is a book of fairy tales." She nodded and thumped the book with her hoof, glaring at me. "What, you want me to read it?" Another nod, and I started flicking through, Rose pointing at first one passage, then another.

Every part she pointed out involved the prince and princess kissing at the end of the story, or breaking some spell with their love, or something similar. I was starting to see a pattern here.

"Rose... You know that these stories are just make believe, right?" She stomped her hoof and glared at me, mad that I was dismissing her fantasy. "Just because-" She stomped again and pointed at the book, insisting it was true. I was getting frustrated with her now; she was being naive. "No, you listen to me, Rose. These are just stories for children; Who ever heard of love defeating an evil shapeshifting queen? Or the Elements of Harmony, saving the world time and time again? As if stuff like that's real; If it was, we'd be able to see the sky right now! Every last thing in here is-OOF!"

Rose grabbed the book in her mouth, twisted away and applebucked me in the guts before huddling in a corner, sobbing silently. I slumped down, winded and mentally kicking myself. Of course that stuff was all make believe, but Rose wanted to believe in it, and who was I to take away her fantasies?


We'd both seen enough to know the wasteland hated innocence, ripping it away and leaving a black pit in the heart, replacing kindness with hate and pain... Rose knew far it better than I did, and I'd just tried to destroy one of the few pieces of innocence she still had... Groaning, I managed to stand up and go to her; She had the book clutched in her hooves, tears staining the cover as she cried without making a sound.

"Rose?" I stood next to her huddled body, keeping my voice soft; she was still so fragile, so vulnerable. Almost losing me had broken something inside her, and there wasn't much left to break now. I had to keep her safe, keep her from breaking down anymore. "I'm sorry... I just..." I sighed and sat beside her, my side pressed to hers. "I'm just worried about you, that's all. I didn't mean it..." She turned to me, frowning through the tears. "No, you're right. I did mean it. I still think everything in that book is made up, but... if you think it'll help you, then..." Her expression grew a little less sad, and a little more hopeful. "I'll do whatever you want... So... forgive me?"

Rose wiped her face on my chest and smiled up at me. I kissed her horn and started thinking of ways to make it up to her. I felt terrible for upsetting her like that... "Hey... Want me to read to you tonight? You can pick the story." Her face lit up and she hugged me happily, burying her face in my feathers and making me laugh. "I'll read as many stories as you want, Rose. But only for tonight, got it?" She nodded and stuffed the book back into her bag, then buried her face in my chest... And tore out a mouthful of feathers, spitting them on the ground with a smirk. "YEEEOW! Rose! What the fuck was that for?!" She pointed at me, then the bag with her book in it, and acted angry. "Because I insulted your book?" She nodded again. "You... I... GAAAAH!" I threw my head back and just yelled, frustrated, before glaring at her. She glared straight back at me without blinking. "You are such a brat sometimes." She smiled and licked my cheek, so I grabbed her tight and gave her the biggest, deepest, most mind-blowing kiss I could, as revenge for being so frustrating and childish.


Not as good a kiss as the one she'd given me back in Stable 77, but I was pretty proud of myself. As soon as I let go she sat down heavily, her eyes spinning in their sockets, and I laughed. "As soon as you catch your breath, we're moving out again. Okay?" She nodded, blushing and smiling, grey eyes staring in different directions. A quick shake of her head and her eyes went back to normal, then she started signing. Eye tap. Chest tap. Point at me. I smiled and reached over to mess up her mane. "And I love you, Rose. Ready to go?" She nodded, and we went back on our way, headed for the restaurant once more.

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"Eugh..." I could feel my breakfast coming back up to say hello.

The street in front of the restaurant was littered with body parts and the closer we got, the more pieces the former ponies were in. "You really did use all your grenades, didn't you?"

Rose blinked and nodded, strolling through the scattered bits without a care in the world, stopping every now and then to check for valuables; She didn't find any. Hell, even the missile launcher was a twisted, wortheless wreck.

For my part, I was doing a headcount (literally) and trying not to step in anypony; Raiders get a little... squishy... when they've been carpet-bombed by a bandoleer's worth of grenades... Less than half of the deceased psychos were present, unless I'd miss a few heads; Entirely possible, considering the number of party poppers Rose had been carrying...

Fuck... Hadn't Rose said she'd used all of her grenades?

"Rose... Did you use the... red... grenades?" She looked back at me, and her grin was the most evil thing I'd ever seen. Slowly, she raised one hoof to point at the restaurant, and I swear I heard the devil herself laughing, somewhere just out of sight.


Rose walked straight through the door, but I hesitated; I could smell burnt flesh from outside, and I wasn't looking forward to seeing what incendiary grenades did. A loud thump from inside caught my attention, and it was quickly followed by another. Rose was waiting... Taking a deep breath, I stepped inside...
And stared at the burnt, nightmarish remains of the restaurant.

The smell was bad enough, but seeing the twisted, blackened ponies, mouths still open in their death screams, skin turned to charcoal and cracked, showing the cooked muscles underneath...


If I wasn't a predator, it would have put me off meat for the rest of my life.


Rose was sitting on a burnt table by the staircase, her ear twitching. She thumped her hoof against the charred surface impatiently, waiting for me.

"Okay, I'm coming!" I made my way to her, avoiding the crispy ponies and coughing; raiders never smell good, and they smell a lot worse after being bathed in... whatever the fuck incendiary grenades are filled with. "So, upstairs?" Rose stared at me for a moment. "What?" She blinked. "Look, I know it was my idea to come back here; I just didn't think you would have..." I gestured to the hellish scene around us, "burnt half of them to death. It's a little extreme, don't you think?" She narrowed her eyes, pointed at the nearest pony-shaped piece of charcoal, then me, and mimed an explosion. "Because they blew us up? Really?" She nodded, and I sighed. "You really do have issues, Rose. A lot of them."

With a shrug, Rose hopped off her table and wandered upstairs; I followed quickly, hoping whatever was up there was better than the barbeque-gone-wrong I'd just been standing in.


It was better, but not by much.

Halfway up the stairs, I stepped in what used to be a raider, but was now a pile of shattered bones and pulverized flesh. "Ew.' Disgusted, I shook the goop off my paws. "What the fuck did you do to this one, Rose?" She blinked at me, pointed the raider, then at an axe imbedded in the wall, and mimed something breaking, followed by punching the air and stomping... "This is the one that broke your rifle?" She nodded. "And... You stomped on him?" Another nod. "You didn't use the axe?" She shook her head. "Ooookay.... Rose... did you leave any of them intact?" With a nod, she trotted all the way up the stairs, into the room where the missile had almost blown us to Tartarus, leaving me to follow at my own pace. I ended up jumping over the raider, since it was too splattered to go through or around; so far, there hadn't been enough left of our assailants to work out who they were.

---------------------------------------------------------------

"Seriously?" I stared at Rose; she was playing with the head of the raider that had stabbed her. A head that wasn't attached to the body, I might add. She shrugged and kicked it into a corner before sidling up beside me, pointing curiously at the headless body I was inspecting. "Don't play with wierd things, Rose. And no, I still don't know who they were. But look at this," I tapped one claw on the former raider's armor; it was made of well-fitting metal plates, with very little rust. "How many raiders have you seen wearing proper armor?" Rose shrugged and whacked her hoof on the chestplate I'd just tapped. Her hoof left a big dent, and she blinked at me. "Okay, so it's not combat armor, but it's leagues beyond what most raiders wear, and at least one of them had a missile launcher. And did you see the way they were moving? They covered each other while advancing on us. That's not normal raider behaviour." Her ear twitched, and she whacked the corpse again pointedly. "Yes, all raiders are the same when they're dead. I'm just wondering why these ones were better armed and better trained than normal, that's all. If I didn't know better, I'd say they were mercs..."

Rose just shrugged and started wandering around the room, pausing to sniff at the spot I'd been laying when the missile hit... Speaking of the missile; There was a large hole in the roof, and rubble everywhere. If they'd hit any closer to either of us... I shuddered and completed my search of the raider.


A few bullets, some healing potions, and a single inhaler of Dash. I stuck the lot into my bag, wondering just who the hell these guys were, and why they'd attacked us like that. I hated mysteries and raiders, so mysterious raiders were a whole new level of frustration to deal with... Or not. If we ran into more of them, then I'd start to care.

I gave Rose a few more minutes to snoop around before we left; She didn't find anything interesting. Well, there was a fork that had miraculously survived not only the years of exposure, but the explosion as well. Rose shoved it in her saddlebag anyway; probably because it was the most valuable thing she'd found.


After that, it was just a matter of getting out of the restaurant without stepping in anypony. As soon as we reached the street, I took to the air and flew just beyond the field of bits before setting down again, waiting for Rose to catch up.

She barreled into me at full gallop, and we went down hard. "Fuck, Rose! What the he-" I stopped when I saw the tears in her eyes. "Hey, what's wrong?" She pointed at me, then up in the air, and made a flying motion with her hooves, pointed into the distance, then tapped first herself and then the ground.

"Did you think I was going to fly away and leave you here?" Starting to cry, she nodded, her forelegs going around my middle so I couldn't go anywhere. I pulled her into the tightest hug I could. "Look, I'm never going to leave you, Rose. What's it going to take for you to believe me?" She looked ashamed of herself for doubting me, so I kissed her. "Alright... No matter what you want, if it''s for you, I'll do it. Okay?" She nodded. "Now, what do want me to do, so that you know I'll always be with you?" She pulled away and stared at me for a long moment, tapping her chin with her hoof and thinking...

I waited, giving her all the time she needed.


Eventually, Rose grinned and pointed at my wing. "What? Something to do with my wing?" She nodded, and I extended my wing to her... Only to pull it back when she yanked out a feather. "OW! Rose, do you like hurting me or something?!" I glared at her, but she just nodded, one of my feathers in her mouth. At least she was honest... "Is that it? You just wanted one of my feathers?" My poor wing... I was starting to wonder if I'd have any feathers left soon... Rose shook her head, pointed at the feather, then her mane. "Oh... Really? That's all?" She nodded and smiled, offering me the feather. I took it and leaned over her, doing what she'd asked me to.


A few seconds later, I sat back to check out my work. Rose, looking happier than she had since Stable 77, now had one of my grey feathers braided into her mane. I smiled at her; she looked nice like that... "Happy now?" She jumped up and kissed me frantically, the only way she think of to thank me. "Okay, okay! Calm down, Rose!" I laughed at her and she started trotting in place, eager to get moving now that she knew I was never, ever going to leave her alone.

As we started back on our way through the ruined city, we bumped sides and smiled at each other, content with our lot in life.

---------------------------------------------------------------

"I don't want to set the world on fire... I just want to start... a flame in your heeeeeaaart!" I threw my head back, holding the last word of the song as Rose danced around me happily. We were still in the outskirts of the city, but by my guess another four or five hours of walking would see us free and clear. As I finished singing, Rose did a big, spinning leap, grinning her head off... Only to vanish with a clank and the sound of breaking metal when she landed.

"Rose? Where'd you go?" I stepped up to the edge of a large, square hole in the pavement and looked in. There was a big metal grating at the bottom, broken hinges showing where it had once been connected to the street above; Rose had landed on it and fallen through, easily twelve feet straight down. She stared up at me, rubbing her flank and blinking. "You alright down there?" She nodded and looked around. "Can you get back up?" She shook her head and pointed at a service hatch set into one wall, then blinked at me. "No, don't do that; We don't know where it leads... Look, just stay there, I think I've got a rope..."


I went through my bags quickly, found a rope and lowered it down to her. "Okay, grab... on... Ugh, never mind." What was I thinking? Ponies have hooves, they can't grab things! "I'll figure this out, just-" I stared as Rose bit the rope and held it tightly between her teeth. "Uh... you sure about this?" She nodded. "Ookay... Here we go, then..." I braced myself and started to haul her up; I could hear her hooves kicking against the wall, trying to find purchase on the smooth, worn concrete. In no time at all, she was standing beside me, looking very annoyed as she spat out the rope and glared at me. "Hey, it's not my fault you fell. Look where you're dancing next time." She tried to bite me, but I was too quick and managed to get her in a headlock.

Rose struggled for a second, then snorted and relaxed, melting against me and smiling. "If I let go, you're not gonna hurt me, are you?" She shook her head, so I loosened my grip cautiously... She gave herself a shake and rubbed her flank. "What, did you hurt yourself?" She nodded. "Let me see, then." She blushed, but turned around so I could check out her butt... And it was a very cute butt...


I wiped some dirt off her flank to make sure she hadn't been hurt in the fall, and she snapped her tail at me. "Hey, quit it!" Her tail flicked in front of me again, so I grabbed it, giving it the smallest tug... Her whole body froze and, ever so slowly, she turned her head to look at me, a mix of fear, anticipation and excitement on her face... I grinned, thinking that I might as well play with her a little.

"Will you behave?" Rose gave an almost imperceptible nod, and I tugged her tail again. Her face turned as red as her mane, and her hindlegs started to slide apart, like she didn't have any control over them... Something told me she wasn't bracing herself to kick at me, either... "Want me to let go?" This time, her nod was more noticable so, rather than keep pushing my luck, I released her tail. She jumped away and stared at me, panting a little... "Sorry, Red... Too far?"

Rose panted and glared at me, pawing at the street like she was going to charge, and I started to get nervous; I really hoped I hadn't gone too far... The last thing either of us needed was for her to get frightened or upset with me...

She lunged, her front hooves flailing as she tried to beat me to death. I raised my claws to defend myself, but it didn't help much. Scant seconds later, I was on my back, groaning; I was going to be very, very bruised later... Rose was laying on my chest and staring at me, conflicted; She looked angry one second, happy the next, then aroused, scared, excited, and then upset... It was like she didn't know what to feel... I raised my head a little to speak to her. "Rose... You okay now?" She nodded and frowned, still confused. "Sorry... I thought you'd be okay with me pulling your tail... If I say I'll never do it again, will you forgive me?" She blinked and nuzzled my cheek; Guess that was a yes. I sighed, relieved. "Thanks, Red."

She hopped off of me, then started nosing around in my belt; after a bit of searching, she pulled out one of my healing potions and spat it onto my chest, staring at me expectantly.

Eager to please (and get rid of the bruises), I drained it and got back to my feet. Rose pressed her side to mine, and smiled at me shyly. I smiled back. "If you're scared or nervous or anything at all, you know you can talk to me, right?" Even as I said it, I realized how stupid it was. So did Rose, going by the death-glare she was giving me. "Right, sorry! Don't kill me, please!" I half-joked, grinning at her. "But seriously, I'm here for you, Rose. Whatever you need. Understand?" She kissed my cheek, resting her head on my neck with a contented smile.

---------------------------------------------------------------

That night, we made camp in an old store on the very edge of the city, and Rose took me up on my offer to read to her. We finished our dinner (pony food again. Not a lot of edible wildlife in an urban environment) and curled up together in front of the warm, comforting fire we'd started in a barrel. Rose pushed her book into my claws, determined to make me keep my word. I sighed. "I know I promised to read whatever story you want, but nothing too sappy. Please?" Rose just grinned and tapped the book with her hoof until I opened it, and she pointed out the story she wanted to hear. "You sure?" She nodded and, with a sigh, I started to read.

"Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria, there were two regal sisters who ruled together..."

---------------------------------------------------------------

A couple of days later, we found ourselves in a nice little town; the ideal spot to take some time off and relax. We'd sold our scavenged stuff (Rose somehow got two caps for the fork she'd found) and gotten a room at the best hotel we could find... Sure, it was the only hotel in town, but at least the sheets were clean, and it was near a respectable bar, too; One we'd be visiting later that night... But for now, we had more important things to do...


We stared into each other's eyes across the small table in our room, the air around us charged with tension. Neither of us dared blink or look away, unwilling to show any form of weakness in this most sacred of duels, lest we suffer the shame of defeat...

As one, we set our cards on the table, determined to see things through, no matter the cost, the unexpected result laying there before us...

"Yes!" As I pumped my fist in the air and laughed, Rose glared at me, her ear twitching; She wasn't impressed with my victory. "I finally beat you!" She snorted and tapped the deck with her hoof. "What? No, no rematch. You lost, fair and square." I grinned at her. "And you know what that means..." Her ear twitched again; She knew, alright. "You're buying the first round tonight, Rose." If looks could kill, I'd have been one dead griffin, but they couldn't, so my little mare had to make do with shuffling her deck and shooting me foul looks. I sat back and watched her, a satisfied smile on my beak.


I'd finally worked out why Rose was so good at poker: Her empathic abilities. Well, she also had a natural talent for it, but her ability to feel what her opponent was feeling was her biggest advantage. Now, though...

Over the last few months, she'd been having more and more trouble sensing others, even me. Her magic had gone downhill as well, and she'd complained that her headaches were getting worse... Before we entered Stable 77, she'd lost any and all magical ability she'd once had... And I could only assume her emotional sensitivity had followed... That meant she was on the same level as me... Maybe even lower, considering how easily I beat her at poker...


With a start, I realized that because Rose had be an empath her whole life, she couldn't read expressions or body language like a normal pony could; She'd never learned how. Obvious things like anger or a smile, she'd pick up on. But anything more complex or subtle, and she couldn't understand it...

Worse than that, by losing her empathy, she'd lost her connection to the world... To me... Now I understood why she'd wanted one of my feathers, why she got upset if we were seperated or I got too far away; It was something physical, something real she could hold onto, to remind her that I was there, even though she couldn't feel me...


What was it like for her? I found myself watching Rose more closely as she played with her cards, my feather still braided into her mane, and wondered what was going through her head. What would it be like to lose everything you ever knew, one thing after the other... Her parents and her home... Lily... Her magic... Then the only way she had to understand and relate to others...

How much of our relationship was based on genuine feelings, and how much was her need for someone to cling to? Was I just a safety net, there to keep her from breaking down completely? Or was I something more?


Now that I thought about it, she'd become extremely attached to me after Lily betrayed her... Almost obsessively so... We were never apart for long, and everything we did was my suggestion... I led the way from town to town, decided when we set up camp, even what we ate for our meals...

Was she just trying to be what I wanted, so I wouldn't turn away from her? Were all those kisses, the hours spent holding each other, even her moment of vulnerability in Stable 77, just her attempts to keep me beside her?

No... I couldn't think that. I loved Whiskey Rose with every fiber of my being, and I had to believe she felt the same about me... But still...


"Rose..." I cleared my throat, trying to find a way to ask her without being too obvious... She looked up from her cards and blinked at me. "How... How do you feel about me? I mean, really feel about me?" She blinked again, confused. "What I'm trying to say is..." Oh, to hell with it. I threw caution to the wind. "Are you just saying you're in love with me so I don't leave you?"

Those grey eyes... The pain I saw when I looked into them threatened to tear my heart out, and I knew, without a doubt, that she wasn't acting; Everything she'd said to me, everything she'd done with me, been willing to let me do to her, had come from her heart... So much so, that the mere suggestion I might doubt her true feelings was unbearable to her...

As tears started to fall, she started to back away from the table, heading slowly for the exit, her eyes locked on mine, accusing me of... of what? Using her? Doubting her? Betraying her trust? I couldn't tell... My mind and my body were frozen, watching the final pieces of her fragile psyche dangle above a precipice from which there could be no return...


She backed into the door with a small thud, turning for a moment to try and open it... Free from her gaze, I realized what was happening and lunged for her, grabbing hold before she could leave... She struggled and I knew that, had she been able to, she would have been screaming. I didn't let go, though; I remembered the last time she took off all too well...

A broken bottle slashed through the night air, tearing apart soft flesh, blood pouring upon the barren earth below.

No! I'd never let that happen again!

"Rose!" I fought with her, desperately trying to come up with something, anything, that would calm her down... Telling her the truth would only make her worse... But could I really lie to her? She'd know... No, she wouldn't. Without her empathy, she was like a blind mare... I swore to myself that I'd make it up to her later, explain everything when she was herself again, but for now... "Rose, I-I'm sorry! I'm just... scared that you'll leave me!" Not a total lie, then... She stopped struggling, and I continued. "I need to know that... that you love me as much as I love you... Please... don't go... don't leave me... I need you..." I wasn't lying anymore; I really did need her. Life without my precious flower wasn't something I wanted to consider, not after so long together.


Rose stilled as tears wound their way down my face, dripping onto her back. Slowly, she turned to look at me, pain mixing with guilt on her pale face... "Please... Stay with me..." I squeezed her tightly, and she buried her face against me, saying that, yes, she would stay...


We sat there, on the hard wooden floor of our hotel room, for the better part of an hour. We needed each other more than I'd realised... I was the only good thing left in her life, and I'd willingly given up what little I had to be with her... My mom, my job, they were all I'd had, and I'd left them behind so easily... It hadn't hurt, hadn't bothered me in the least, but I'd never be able to let Rose go... Big Brother, Boyfriend, I'd be whatever she needed, just as long as we were together...

Eventually, we managed to stand up, wiping our teary eyes as we did so... I used the back of my arm, Rose used my side. "Do you mind? That's gross." I smiled at her and she blinked, before trying to wipe her face on me again. I took her face in one claw gently, stroking her cheek and looking deep into her eyes. "Sorry... For upsetting you, I mean... I'm just scared, that's all... I don't know what I'd do if I lost you, and-" She shut me up with a passionate kiss, leaving no doubt how she felt about me, and I was gasping for air when she pulled back, smiling.

My brain wasn't working too well, thanks to the kiss. "I... uh..." Rose rolled her eyes at me, then stomped and pointed at the door before making a drinking motion. That, I understood. "So, in a hurry to buy the first round?" I chuckled, wondering how she could be so cute, even while she was giving me a death-glare. The closest thing I could think of to compare her to would have to be a stuffed, toy hellhound. Scary as all fuck, but still so adorable I couldn't help but hug her. She bit my arm and dragged me out of the room when I did, though.

It hurt. A lot.

---------------------------------------------------------------

"Ugh..." I rolled over and fell out of bed, landing with an mind-shatteringly loud thud on what felt like jagged spikes, but was really just the rough, Luna-damned floor of our hotel room. Hazy sunlight filtered through the filthy curtains that hung over the windows, so damn bright I couldn't open my eyes at all. My mouth felt like it was stuffed full of cotton wool... vomit flavored cotton wool too, not the normal kind.

My brain was slowly starting to get in gear and I could finally move a little... Then the pain kicked in.

My head was throbbing, it felt like I had a black eye and, if I wasn't mistaken, my arm was dislocated.


Last night had been fun, alright.


We'd gotten to the bar in one piece and Rose had bought the first round, since she lost our poker game. All our worries and troubles were quickly forgotten as we came up with drinking games, like shots to the value of whatever card we drew from Rose's deck... Or a staring contest, where whoever blinked had to down an entire beer in one go... How we hadn't just dropped dead from alcohol poisoning was a mystery that would probably never be solved.

About midnight, some drunken shitheads decided to start trouble; That's when things got really fun. They called me a mutant chicken, started hitting on Rose, and got a little too touchy-feely with her... I decked one, Rose threw another across the bar and onto somepony elses table, knocking over their drinks, and the whole place just exploded.

Bottles and glasses flying everywhere, tables flipped and chairs chucked, even a couple of airborne ponies, courtesy of a tipsy little mare by the name of Whiskey Rose. That was a sight to see! She'd had a great time, just fighting with anyone and everyone that got near her. Calling it a free-for-all didn't do it justice!


We didn't catch the end of the brawl, though; Rose had dragged me outside and, despite our drunken state, made it quite clear she was tired, so we went back to our hotel room... Eventually. There was a lot of staggering around, and a couple of stop-offs to empty our stomachs... I may have, at one point, urinated on someone's front door as well...

Remembering the make-out session when we actually got back to our room, I grinned and sat up. Slowly, though, so my head didn't fall off... Once I thought I was sitting, I got ready to do the hard part and open my eyes...

3...

2...

1...

I forced my eyes open and immediately wished I hadn't; even the weak sunlight that made it through both the clouds above and the curtains was enough to make me yelp and cover my face with my claws... Well, the one I could move, anyway.

"Fuck... Celestia, you must really hate drunks..." I muttered to myself, cursing the Sun Goddess to Tartarus and back for being so cruel, and stood (on my hindpaws, of course), before walking to the nearest wall and bracing myself for the inevitable agony to come.

CRUNCH.

Never, ever, under any circumstances, especially with a hangover, fix a dislocated arm on your own. It's not easy, it hurts like all fuck, and if it wasn't for a shot of med-x, I would have passed out.


"Fuck. Fuck. Ow. Fuck." Tucking the used syringe back into my belt (better than throwing it on the floor and maybe stepping on it later), I tried to work out where Rose had gotten to. Not in the bed, not under or on the table... She'd definitely been here last night...

I walked (okay, staggered) over to the closed bathroom door; I had the vaguest memory of her going in there, and it was the only lead I had. I creaked the door open, wincing at the horrific sound, like a thousand ponies screaming right beside my ear... Hangovers suck, in case you didn't guess.

Yep. When I stuck my head in, there she was; Whiskey Rose, laying back in the half-filled, old tin bathtub, her crimson mane (feather still braided into it) a complete mess, an empty whiskey bottle floating in the water beside her and a pair of mirrored shades she'd 'found' during the fight on her face.

Ugh... Nobody should look that good after a night of drinking and brawling, even her. Still, when opportunity knocks... I'd have to be careful, though; She'd drunk a lot more than me, and she liked to share her suffering with me when she was hungover...

I stripped my gear off and climbed into the tub with her. She groaned and lifted her head; I couldn't see her eyes through the shades, but I could imagine the look she was giving me. "Easy, Rose. Don't kill me, I'm just getting cleaned up, that's all." With another groan, her head flopped back against the side of the tub. That looked like it hurt. "You alive?" More groaning; I decided to just ignore her for now and started washing up.


Little blood, little vomit, something I hoped was drool, and that was just my face. I spent a couple of minutes messing with my wings; The last few weeks had done a number on them. The filthy swamp, getting blown up, and just the rough way we'd been living in general had all conspired to make me a mess. It was easy enough to get my wings looking presentable, but I resolved to spend at least an hour taking proper care of them later; No, I'm not vain. Wings are very important, that's all... Like a unicorn's horn, or whatever... Well, maybe that's different; I had no idea how unicorns thought about their horns...

Okay, I had some ideas about their horns, but something told me that the dirty prewar novels I'd 'borrowed' from Rose weren't exactly accurate. That mare would read anything, I swear it.


Anyway, I was watching Rose from the corner of my eye while preening my wings; She didn't seem the least bit interested in what I was doing, and I couldn't even tell if she was still awake or not because of those shades... "Dead yet?" She feebly tried to kick me in response. I grinned and sank lower into the water. It was cold, and I knew we'd both have to down some rad-away later, but it felt so good I just didn't care. "Aaah... Feels good to be clean, doesn't it?" Rose snorted, obviously not caring either way, and I decided to help her recover from our big night...

Slowly, I moved until my claws were on the edge of the tub, one on each side of her head, and lowered my body until our chests were pressed together. "Rose..." I whispered into her ear, my tongue flicking out to tease her. "You should really get up..." I was laying on top of her now, kissing her cheek and whispering sensually. I wasn't really expecting anything to happen between us, since we were both completely destroyed from the night before. It was just fun to tease her and play around. "Or we could... Y'know... Just stay here for a while..."

Rose turned her head so we were kissing properly and pressed her hooves to my chest, slowly moving them down between us, and I was surprised, wondering just what she thought she was doing... "Rose!" I yelped in surprise and her ears flattened, the sudden noise tearing through both of our heads. "Don't play with that!" She smirked and squeezed her hooves together a little, shaking them up and down. I gasped. "R-Rose... Don't start... what you can't f-finish..." What the hell had gotten into her today?! She shut me up with another kiss, this one nice and deep, then I felt her belly pressing against me... "Rose... S-stop..." Her hooves stilled and she cocked her head, looking at me through the mirrored lenses; I had no idea what she was thinking and couldn't read her at all through those glasses, so I pulled them off with my claw.


The lust in her eyes made me harden against her instantly, and it was all I could do to stop myself from taking her right then and there... It was a good thing I didn't, because when she realized just what she'd started, and what was pressing against her body, mere inches from her innocent flower, fear started to creep into those lovely grey eyes. "Rose... Is this... really what you want?" She nodded, eyes locked on mine. "Are you sure?" Another nod. "It's just... You look... scared..."

She flinched, then gave a small nod, and I sighed, regretfully lifting myself off of her and sitting back, smiling gently to try and reassure her. The effect was ruined, though, by my hard cock sticking up from the water. Rose stared at it, blushing, and I chuckled. "What do you think you're looking at?" I already knew, but the way she pointed, keeping her hoof close to her body like she was afraid to touch me, was too cute... "I thought so. Like what you see?" She nodded bashfully. "That's alright. I like looking at you, too." I waved my claw at her body, and she pulled her hind legs up, covering herself and blushing even more. "I'm going to be serious for a minute, Rose... I don't think you're ready for sex yet... Do you think you are?"

It looked like she was thinking hard about it and, after a few minutes, she shook her head. That's what I thought... If she'd really experienced her mother's rape, then that would have left some really deep scars, and after Lily and Lucky Break fucked, then those wounds would have been even deeper... "It's okay, Rose. We don't have to have sex right now, and I don't mind waiting until you're ready. You understand that, right?" She nodded, but still didn't look at my face, her eyes focused quite a bit lower. "Good girl... But... Why'd you start playing around like that in the first place?" Her ears flattened and she looked at me properly before starting to sign something. Point to both of us, draw a loveheart in the air, then point at my member and between her legs.

"You think that, because we love each other, we should have sex?" She nodded, then shivered at the thought. I sighed. "Rose, if we're going to do this, then let's at least wait until you can talk again, alright?" She nodded slowly, still looking a little conflicted. "Good. Now, let's get dry and decide what we're going to do today..." With a smile, she slipped out of the tub and crashed onto the floor, her eyes rolling; it looked like her hangover was a lot worse than mine after all. I got out and helped her up with a caring smile, then glanced around, looking for a towel... Something brushed against my underside and I looked back, wondering what Rose was up to now.

Her hoof was creeping slowly towards my still erect penis and when she realized I was watching her she froze, looking at me sheepishly. With a laugh, I nodded to her. "If you really have to, you can touch it." She grinned and extended her hoof all the way, poking and prodding as she investigated something she'd never had a proper look at before. It wasn't what I'd call uncomfortable, but she could have been more gentle. After a few seconds inspecting my equipment, she pulled her hoof back, looking quite pleased with herself. "Happy now?" She nodded, and pointed to where our towels were laying. As I rubbed her down, I thought about what she'd been doing; I guess she'd been trying to get over her fear of males, though I couldn't help but wonder if she was pushing things too fast...


"Done." I finished drying her mane and pointed to the bathroom door. "Now, you go wait on the bed. I won't be long, so don't go anywhere, got it?" Rose nodded, then looked at me curiously. "What?" She pointed at my cock; it was still fully erect. She'd made me pay special attention to her flank and underside while I dried her, and more than once I'd found myself lingering on parts of her that were quite fun to rub... She'd enjoyed it, and so had I... "What about it?" I tilted my head, wondering what she was thinking, and if she'd realized why I wanted her out of the bathroom. She made an up-and-down motion with her hoof, still pointing at my cock. Crap. She had figured it out. I sighed and rolled my eyes at her. "Yes, I'm going to masturbate. You're not ready for sex, and I'd rather not walk around town like this. So, you can either wait in our room, or stay here and watch. What's it gonna be?" She made a face at me, grabbed her shades in her teeth, and ran towards the bedroom, kicking the door closed behind her. I chuckled; she was so damn cute when she was shy.


The only thing left to do was jerk off.

---------------------------------------------------------------

When I walked into the bedroom, Rose was poking her busted rifle mournfully, trying to come up with some way of fixing it.

"Looks broken to me." She looked up, poked her tongue out at me, and thumped her hoof on the cracked stock. "I know it's important to you, but even you can't repair that thing." She glared at me. "Not my fault, Rose; axes tend to do that... I know what'll cheer you up..." I rummaged around in our bags... Rose always had a bottle stashed somewhere... Ah. I straightened, showing her the bottle of Wild Pegasus in my claw. "Little hair of the hellhound?" Her face lit up, and a few shots (with rad-away chasers) later we headed out to see what we could find in town.


Now, this wasn't some little frontier town, made from salvaged materials and badly bolted-together sheet metal. We were just on the limits of the destroyed city (I could never be bothered remembering the names of each place we passed through) we'd almost been blown up in, and more than a few buildings were still intact. The road was actual asphalt, even if it was cracked and had weeds growing through it. There were sidewalks you could walk on without tripping, running water in our hotel, even working streetlights. It was like a glimpse into the prewar world... With more junkies, gangs and trick ponies than you could shake a stick at.

Not that anyone was going to give us trouble; I had Garden slung over my shoulder, I was bigger and meaner looking than damn near everyone, and Rose almost killed some idiot that tried to steal her saddlebag.


We trawled every store in town, looking for any parts Rose could use to fix her rifle, but none of them fit her exacting standards... Lunch was easier to find; a beer each and some freshly cooked meat from a street vendor. After our adventures, we'd made enough caps that work was a low priority compared to having something interesting to do, and that's what we focused on for the rest of the day.

Evening found us standing in front of a large building, the sign proclaiming it to be 'The Jungle Gym'. Talk about a stupid name. "Well, this is the place... Doesn't look like much." Rose shrugged and blinked at me. We'd overheard some ponies talking about a boxing league based in the gym, and how they were looking for new fighters. That had perked Rose's interest immediately; she'd enjoyed the brawl in the bar, and the idea of getting paid to fight suited her just fine. I was a little more cautious, since any kind of organised fighting will attract big, mean individuals... It was Rose's decision, though, and I agreed to support her completely... After she made it clear I didn't have a choice in the matter.

Besides, we were so far from home, there was no chance of being found by accident, so it was safe enough to stay for a while if we wanted to.


When we went in, I was struck by how clean and well organised it was. Bright lights hung from the ceiling, illuminating everything. Boxing bags, work-out equipment, even a big boxing ring in the middle of the room. A couple of earth ponies were sparring, while the shortest earth pony stallion I'd ever seen was smoking a cigar and shouting at them, alternating between advice and abuse.

I followed Rose to the edge of the ring; she watched the ponies trading blows, paying close attention to the way they fought and the padded shoes they wore. It looked wierd to me; Ponies aren't built to punch, after all.

After a short while, the short stallion called an end to the bout. The fighters climbed out of the ring and went to a door at the back of the gym; the locker room, I guessed. The midget came over to me and Rose, glaring at us. "What the fuck do you fuckers want?" Foul mouthed little shit. I narrowed my eyes at him.

"We're looking for a fight. In the ring, if possible."

"Oh, really? Haven't had a griffin fighter in a while. Sure you're up to it, chicken?" Oh, I wanted to kill him so badly.

"Not me, my friend." I waved my claw at Rose; She blinked at the midget.

"Hah! You fucking kidding me? This little unicorn cunt?"

Rose snorted and glared; she didn't like the little stallion very much either. "I'm serious, mr..."

"Jungle. The name's Jungle, and don't you forget it, chicken."

"Whatever, short-arse." If he wanted to be rude, then so would I. "How about you get one of your boys in the ring, let my mare work her frustration out on him? Unless you're scared, that is."

We glared at each other, daring our opponent to blink. "Fine, don't say I didn't warn you. Hey, cunt, you know the rules?" Rose blinked at him. "Fuck, I hate silent types. Hooves only. Front or back, I don't give a shit. We'll pad that stupid fucking horn of yours, and no magic either. Start you off with something simple; you can handle simple, right?" She gave him a glare that would have made me proud. To his credit, the little pain-in-the-arse only flinched a little. "Chicken, you get to put the shoes on your little fuckbuddy there. I'll round up somepony her size, and don't come crying to me when the little cunt is out cold on the canvas."

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Rose calmly faced her opponent, an earth pony mare twice her size, as Jungle explained the rules. "Front and back hooves only. No biting, gouging, horns, magic, or weapons of any kind. I don't give a fuck where you hit each other. Face, chest, legs, shove your fucking hoof up the other cunt's plot and turn her into a puppet for all I fucking care. The fight goes for five minutes, or until one of you goes down. I ring that bell, you'd better get back to your fucking corner. Got it?" Rose nodded. "Right... You two, bump hooves, back to your corners, and when the bell rings, come out fighting." Rose bumped hooves with her opponent, and went to her corner, eagerly awaiting the sound that would start the fight.

DING!

At first, they only danced around each other, then the big mare took a swing that would have left me seeing stars. Rose took the blow to her face with a relaxed grin and swung her own hoof once, with all her might. Even with all the padding on her hooves, Jungle and I cringed as her opponent went spinning halfway across the ring, flopping like a ragdoll. I didn't need to check the big mare to know she was out like a light.

Rose came trotting back to us, looking pleased with herself, and quite rightly so! Jungle managed to pick his jaw (and cigar) up off the floor and turn to me. "So, mr griffin... Does your friend want to sign up pro, or just fight for the rest of the season?"

I smirked at him, pleased with the sudden respect. "The name's Ibis, and she's Rose. I think we'll just hang around for the season. Now, let's talk about prize money..."

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There were two months left in the season, and there was a match every weekend. Jungle had insisted we give Rose a name for her fights, and I came up with Bloody Mane.

Pretty soon, that name was on everypony's lips, and when word got out she was fighting, the gym was packed. Rose cleaned up her opponents in the first round each time, and walked away with no more than a few bruises. We made a bundle, Rose got to have fun, and we spent the rest of the week getting drunk and making out.

Then, it was time for the last match of the season.


"All I'm saying is, Ironchops has never lost. Hell, the big fucker's only had one draw, and he almost killed the other fucker after the fight because of it. It'd be better for all of us if your friend throws the match."

"No way, Jungle. Rose'd never agree to it; She's not fighting for the title or the money, she enjoys it. You've seen her face when she fights; you really want to try talking her into losing?" I pointed at Rose; she was on the other side of the gym, studying herself in a mirror.

Jungle shuddered. "Fuck... She's like a fucking animal in the ring... Just, talk to her, Ibis. Make her see sense, or she'll end up dead."

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It was the big night. The crowd was roaring, the overheads casting their harsh, white glow down upon the ring. Rose was trotting in place eagerly, waiting for a glimpse of her opponent.

The announcer, a unicorn, stood alone in the center of the ring, his magically amplified voice booming out over the mass of heaving, screaming flesh that had come to see the match. "Fillies and Gentlecolts! Tonight, we have for you a fight for the ages! A show you will never forget! These two ponies have never met, never even seen one another, but tonight, before your very eyes, they will fight to see who is the stongest, the most fierce, and who deserves the belt the most! In the red corner, we have the defending champion, the undefeated pony of pulverising, IRONCHOPS!"

The crowd went nuts as the biggest stallion I'd ever seen climbed into the ring; He made me look like a fucking chick! His blue coat barely managed to contain muscles that looked like they could have stopped a bullet, and his eyes were a wild red. He stomped around the ring, roaring to the crowd, getting them riled up.

I turned to my mare, much less confident than I'd been a few minutes ago. "Fuck... Rose, are you-" The look in her eyes frightened me. They were hungry, focused, more intense than anything I'd ever seen... The eyes of a monster...

"And in the blue corner, the queen of carnage, the mare of mayhem... BLOODY MANE!!!"

When the announcer called her name, Rose sprung into the ring, holding her head high and proud as she walked towards her tank-of-a-pony opponent. The crowd were screaming themselves hoarse, cheering on their favored fighters, placing bets and just plain old going insane as the pair started to circle each other and the announcer continued.

"You both know the rules, so get to your corners and give us all a good show."

They bumped hooves, went to their spots, and everything went silent, the gathered crowd just waiting for that fateful sound...

DING!

They slammed into each other, not playing, not testing, just trying to destroy each other. Padded hooves flashed and smashed against sides, chests, faces, anything that could be hit. Neither one was giving an inch.

The pair of fighters could only see their opponent, feeding on the roar of the crowd as the bell rung to end the first round, then the second... The third... The fourth...

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Round fifteen started. The crowd had long ago fallen silent, awed by the gods of battle standing before them. Now, the only sounds were of hoof on flesh, and the occasional crunch of breaking bone. Their padded shoes were starting to wear out, but nobody was willing to break the fighters apart to replace them.

As if by some unspoken agreement, the match had transcended the normal rules, and only death or unconciousness could declare a winner now.


The pair was covered in bruises, coughing blood into the ring as they slammed against each other time and again. Every twist, every kick and punch, they all struck home, neither combatant caring for their own safety, focused on only one thing... The Fight.

Even victory had ceased to matter, and as the bell rung to end the round, I grabbed a bucket of water and threw it over Rose when she sat down in her corner. Talking to her was useless; she was watching Ironchops, and he was watching her, their gazes so intense I thought my heart was going to stop. The air was charged with violence and tension, bordering on madness...

As one, Rose and Ironchops blinked, and everyone knew... This would be the final round, one way or the other.


The bell rung, for the final time, and the warriors strode forth, like titans from ancient myth... Time seemed to freeze as their walk turned into a charge, each swinging a single hoof, gambling everything on a final blow... Reality returned to normal, the crowd watching in shock as the loser hit the mat, bounced once, and lay still, the only sign of life the movement of their chest.

The announcer stood beside the prone form, stuttering as he tried to find words that could do justice to what we'd just witnessed... "A-and the winner is... BLOODY MANE!"

The crowd exploded. Rose staggered over to the announcer and I jumped into the ring, Jungle behind me. "We have a new champion! Ironchops has been defeated! Bloody Mane, what do you have to say on this momentous occasion?!"

No, he didn't know that Rose couldn't talk. As he extended his spell to her, the crowd went silent, the air heavy with anticipation as Rose opened her mouth...

And sneezed, the magically amplified sound echoing all through-out the gym. The tension was shattered; A few giggles rang out in the still air, then some chuckles, and soon everypony was laughing their heads off. Rose just grinned at me sheepishly; I grinned back and ran my claw through her sweat-drenched mane.

My little marefriend was one of a kind, all right.

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About an hour later, Jungle, Rose and I were in the locker room, dividing the take from the fight. Well, Jungle and I were dividing the take. Rose was tripping, since I'd stuck her with two doses of med-x and a half-dozen healing potions. She lay on her back on a bench, her hooves twitching as she tried to catch... whatever she thought was flying above her.

Probably little Lunas or Celestias.

"Well, you two fucking cleaned up." The midget didn't look very happy.

"Why so glum, Jungle? You made a killing too!"

"That's just it; Ironchops is gonna want Bloody Mane dead when he wakes up."

"You gonna explain to him that Rose doesn't want to be champion?"

"I'll try, but with that psycho..." Jungle took his share and left the locker room, leaving me to watch Rose in her anaesthetic-fueled bliss.

She looked better already, since I'd forced her to drink so many healing potions. None of her broken bones had been bad enough to need surgery, surprisingly. I was still going to keep her in bed for a few days, though, just to be safe... And if I had anything to say about it, I'd be right there beside her.

"Long time no see, son."

A familiar voice startled me, and I looked towards the door. "Mom? What are you doing here?" My mother, looking quite pissed off, was standing there with a very familiar mare beside her. I felt a flash of anger, but then I noticed how run down the mare looked; Dark marks under her eyes, she'd lost a lot of weight, her mane was a filthy mess, and her eyes were almost dead, a far cry from what she'd looked like when we first met...

It grated to say her name, but seeing her like that, I couldn't hate her as much as I used to...

"Lily..."


FOOTNOTE: 75% PROGRESS TO NEXT LEVEL
Companion Perk: Prize Fighter -- Whiskey Rose gains +1 Strength, +1 Endurance, and +15 HtH. She is also more resistant to crippled limbs, and has a strange desire to nibble ears.



A/N Well, we're fast approaching the end of planned events. Not the end of Wasteland Bouquet, because that would be boring! But after the next few chapters, I'll be flying by the seat of my pants, so hold on and enjoy the ride!

KKat gets all my thanks, for the awesomness that is Fallout Equestria! Winter Storm and Midnight Stalker get tons of thanks, because they helped with this chapter more than they know!

And last, but certainly not least, all my readers and fans! I couldn't do this without you!