• Published 28th Apr 2017
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Neighbors - Tethered-Angel



A familiar face moves into the sirens' apartment building.

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Chapter 9- Hot Water

“AAAAH! FUCK, DAMMIT!”

It had been a quiet late morning, before Adagio’s scream pierced the peaceful atmosphere. Aria was sitting at her computer, working on her latest research project. She had been up for a few hours, eating a light breakfast before getting sucked into watching a morning movie with Sonata. The film was mediocre, but it had been worth it to see her younger sister curled on the couch, happily cuddling the oversized purple seahorse plush which had “mysteriously” appeared on top of her bed after her performance with the Pony Tones the weekend before. The sight had put Aria in a good mood, and she had sat down, ready to knock a huge chunk off her to-do list.

All of that had, of course, been totally spoiled by her older sister’s outburst. Groaning, Aria looked at the clock. She needn’t have bothered, as the morning train chose that moment to thunder past their building, oh-so-helpfully informing her that it was just past a quarter to ten. She waited for the ringing in her ears to fade before pushing herself away from her desk with an irritated groan. Whatever the matter was, it was unlikely to be resolved quietly.

Stepping outside, she found Sonata in the hallway, clutching her plush and tapping at the bathroom door. “You alright Dagi?” The youngest siren asked.

“No, I’m not alright!” The eldest screamed back.

Shaking her head, Aria decided to take matters into her own hands. “Dagi! What’s the issue?”

“There’s no hot water!” Adagio shouted back.

“You sure?”

“Yes I’m fucking sure!”

Aria groaned. It really had to be serious for Adagio to use such strong language so freely. Sure, their older sister was no stranger to occasional fits of anger, but she typically controlled it better. Usually it was Aria’s job to fly off the handle.

“Why don’t you ask Sunset if you can use hers?” Sonata suggested hesitantly.

“She’s at school!” Adagio moaned.

Sonata hummed in thought. “Don’t you have a key?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Aria interjected, “We share a boiler, if we’re out, she’s out.”

“Oh,” Sonata said dejectedly.

“Sorry, Dagi, you’re gonna have to suck it up,” Aria said with a shrug. “Party like it’s last century.”

Adagio griped at that, but she hardly had a choice, and soon the sound of running water drowned out her grumbling. Forty minutes later, she emerged, having barely managed to complete her morning routine without contracting hypothermia. Thoroughly annoyed, she had none of the self-assured poise she normally did by that point in the morning. Her clothes were somewhat rumpled from where she had thrown them on in a hurry, and her damp hair was still wrapped up in a towel and balanced precariously on her head. The incident with the shower had put her significantly behind schedule.

Sonata had gone out of the way to prep Adagio’s breakfast while she was in the shower, cooking her ham and eggs up just the way she liked them and even buttering her toast. Aria had even volunteered a cup of her super special stash of high-caffeinated coffee blend, though she had made Sonata close her eyes while she fetched it from its hiding spot over the fridge. Despite the rough start, Adagio managed a smile at her sisters’ efforts and made a point to gulp down as much of the meal as she could.

“Thanks girls, but I’ve gotta run. I’m late as it is,” She said, swallowing the last of her coffee and pushing her plate aside.

“Wait, your towel!” Sonata called as Adagio made for the door.

“Thanks!” Adagio called back, shaking her hair free and tossing the towel on the counter. “Damn, no time to dry it properly. Aria, please give our useless landlords a call and get them down here to fix this mess.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m on it,” Aria said, waving her away. “Go, you’ll miss the damn bus!”

==O==

Aria ground her teeth in frustration, pacing the living room floor. She had been trying to deal with the brothers for hours, and with no luck. First, they had been on “lunch break” at ten in the morning. That had lasted until about one. Then they gave her the runaround for another hour, before flat out refusing to make the repairs.

What could she do about it? She could not exactly threaten them with legal action, since that would draw too much attention to their own questionable legal status. Calling a professional plumber would raise the same issue, anyone who came would be legally required to report that the industrial building was being used as an unlawful residence. The only option left was to try and fix it herself. Groaning in irritation, she pocketed her phone and grabbed her shiny black toolbox from the closet.

“I wanna help!” Sonata chirped, when she spotted Aria heading out with the toolbox.

“No way,” Aria said flatly.

“Come on, I can help!” Sonata pleaded.

“No, you’ll break everything and flood the damn apartment!” Aria growled.

Sonata pouted. “That happened one time!”

Aria groaned, pinching the bridge of her nose. “You know what, fine,” She said, smirking behind her hand as inspiration struck, “I need you to go down to the hardware store and pick up a big tub of ‘elbow grease.’”

“You got it!” Sonata chirped, saluting sharply before running off to get her wallet.

“Moron,” Aria snickered, slipping out the door and heading downstairs. The apartment’s stairwell was at the far end of the building from the street. It opened out into a small parking lot that had long fallen into disrepair. It was out of the way enough that the apartment residents could come and go without attracting attention, and could even keep vehicles if they wished to test fate. As neither Sunset nor the Dazzlings owned any vehicles, the lot was only used by their neighbor and Sunset’s friends who had cars. Most people just used the bus stop at the end of the block.

The outer door was locked from the inside. Naturally only the apartment residents and the landlords should have keys, though Aria suspected at least one of the Rainbooms had a copy. What was of greater interest to Aria, however, was the interior doors. The heavy steel double doors led into the warehouse proper, though they were chained and padlocked shut, a precaution the brothers had doubtless taken to prevent squatters from living in the space rent-free.

As much as she despised Flim and Flam, Aria actually shared their sentiment. Canterlot had a very low homeless population, so it was unlikely to be a real issue, but she did not like the idea of strangers living in her basement without her knowledge. Which was why she had replaced the padlock with one of her own. The original was a cheap little thing, and a simple tap with a hammer had been enough to dislodge the tumbler. The new lock was thick and heavy, and she had the only key on her chain.

Popping the lock, she slid off the chain and wrapped it around her arm. She was far from stupid enough to just leave it by the door for some random asshole to lock her in by mistake. Or on purpose even. Who did she look like, Sonata? Unfortunately, the door was not built in such a way that she could relock it from the inside so she would just have to keep the chain with her.

The warehouse space was dark, the electricity to that part of the building having been shut off long ago. The only light came from long, narrow windows set near the ceiling, filtered through years of unwashed dust and grime. The room itself was mostly empty though, having been cleaned out when the building was originally abandoned, and the concrete floor was flat and even. Aria had explored the place when she first switched the locks, and so had little trouble making her way through the gloom.

Using her phone as a light, Aria quickly found her way to the only part of the building she had not managed to break into. A smallish concrete room tucked away in one corner, the boiler room was locked behind another heavy steel door. She had tried picking the lock once, but had quickly grown bored. The lock was especially tough, built to industrial standards, and the stenciled sign identifying the space had done little to pique her interest at the time.

Now was a different story, however, as she would have to get inside if she wanted to fix the hot water situation. Fortunately for her, the door opened outward. A shield was welded over the frame to prevent anyone tampering with the bolt, but the hinges were largely unguarded. It would take some time, but taking them off was her best bet.

She dropped the chain and toolbox, kneeling down to root through the latter and pull out the tools she needed. Finding what she wanted, she turned her attention to the middle hinge, a hammer in one hand and a flat headed screwdriver in the other. She paused before starting. What she was about to do could possibly be considered vandalism or something. Of course, her ultimate goal was to fix something, so it was probably okay.

Aria frowned. Since when did she need to justify that kind of thing? She was a siren, damnit, she should not need to explain herself. So why did she? Grunting, she threw herself into the task, concentrating on the sound of her hammer tapping on the back of the screwdriver to distract herself from the troubling thoughts.

Slowly but surely the pin began to separate from the hinge, the flat head of the screwdriver soon finding purchase on the underside of the cap. She grinned at the tiny victory before continuing her work. So focused was she that she forgot to keep an eye on the door, and the sound of metal tapping on metal drowned out the sound of footsteps.

“Hiya, Sugarcube.”

“Aaaah!” Aria cried, swinging the hammer viciously at the intruder. She was blinded by a bright flash of orange light, and her wrist was caught in a crushing grip. She threw the screwdriver in her panic, and was rewarded with a pained grunt. The grip on her arm loosened and she pulled free, leaping back and to her feet so she could square off with her opponent.

It was at that moment that the light faded, allowing her to make out the silhouette of a familiar-looking Stetson. “A-Applejack!?” She growled.

“The same,” The farm girl said, gingerly rubbing her stomach. “Golly, but ya got one heck of a throwing arm.”

“Don’t fucking sneak up on me,” Aria snapped.

“Sorry about that, Ah thought ya heard me call ya,” Applejack said, looking a bit embarrassed. She stroked her orange colored pendant. “Lucky I have good reflexes, though. One of us could have gotten hurt.”

“You didn’t scare me, Apples,” Aria said caustically, rubbing her wrist.

“Ah wasn’t trying to scare ya!” Applejack protested, “Ah just meant that Ah don’t always have the best control over this here magic. Ah could have used too much force just as easy as too little.” She shrugged. “But Ah’m sorry all the same.”

Aria nodded tersely, silently accepting the apology. Maybe, just maybe she had overreacted, but a thousand years in the human world had taught her that it was better to be sorry than dead. It was the girl’s own fault for sneaking up on her anyway.

Taking a deep breath, she remembered what her sister had said about getting along with the Rainbooms. It was not a pleasant thought, but maybe having an extra set of hands would be useful. Normally she would have duped some sucker into doing it for her anyway. “So what brings you down into the pit?” She asked, attempting to strike up something resembling a friendly conversation as she returned to her spot in front of the door.

“Sunset was griping about having an issue with the hot water,” She farmer said, squatting to get a better look at what the siren was doing. “Ah offered to take a look, seeing as how Ah have a bit of history with yer landlords. Ah imagine the fact that yer here means Ah was right and they’re trying to pull one over on ya?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” Aria grunted, finally popping the first pin free. She snatched it up and tossed it into her toolbox with a loud clang!

“Lemme help ya,” Applejack said. Aria noticed for the first time that the farmer had brought a toolbox of her own. It was bigger than the siren’s, and had clearly seen a lot more action. Unlike hers, Applejack’s was old and rusted, the red paint marred by countless dents and stains. Glancing at Aria’s handiwork, Applejack rooted through her own toolbox to retrieve a similar set of tools.

Aria motioned toward the lowest hinge, standing up to work on the topmost one herself. Applejack nodded, shedding her coat and tossing it to the floor so she could lie on it and get a better angle. “So,” Aria said, as two sets of tapping echoed around the empty room, “Wouldn’t school have like, just let out? How did you get a toolbox so fast?”

“Always keep it in the truck,” Applejack answered casually. “Never know when Ah might need it.”

“Fair enough. So you know this is basically vandalism right?” Aria smirked.

Applejack shrugged. “More like breaking and entering, Ah imagine. But Ah know those crooks y’all rent from, and Ah can’t let friends suffer just because of some silly legal horse crap. Especially when what they’re doing ain’t exactly on the level either.”

“Ah, a pragmatist then,” Aria said, her pin over halfway out. “At least someone in your group isn’t a total idealist.”

Applejack shrugged. “Ya learn a lot, living on a farm. But Ah imagine some of the others are a bit more world wise than they let on. And it never hurts to help.”

“I’m sure I could think of an example,” Aria said drily, “But that would make me an idiot for turning down free labor.” Applejack chuckled at that, and Ari couldn’t help a small smile. The farm girl was starting to grow on her. Unlike some of the others, she knew enough not to run her mouth all the time.

“Looks like we’re just about there,” Applejack said, shaking Aria out of her thoughts.

The siren nodded. Her pin was loose enough to remove, and she saw that Applejack had already pulled hers. Making sure the farmer was out of the way, Aria stepped to the side of the door so she could stick her screwdriver between the jamb and one of the hinges. She worked it back and forth for a moment, until the heavy door slid forward a fraction of an inch. After a moment, it was just enough for her to get her fingers on. She pulled, relying on what was left of her siren strength to pry it open from the hinge side.

Once it was out far enough Applejack was able to lend a hand, and they pulled the door back along the wall until the bolt slid free. Then they shifted the heavy door to the side until it could lean freely against the wall. Aria raised an eyebrow, noting that Applejack had not needed a trace of magic to move the thing.

With the door out of the way, Aria was finally able to step inside. Unlike the rest of the warehouse, which at least had some natural light filtering in from outside, the boiler room was completely dark, being absent of windows itself. Fortunately, the power shutoff did not apply to the utility rooms, so with the help of her flashlight she was able to quickly locate and flip the light switch. An ancient, bare bulb flickered to life, bathing the space with dull yellow light and heavy, contrasting shadows.

What was revealed was less than ideal. Aria could do little more than stare at the complicated array of parts and machinery. Chewing her lip, she realized that fixing the boiler would be far more complicated than she had imagined. “Well, fuck.”

Applejack followed her in, glancing around. “Looks pretty standard to me, lemme see what Ah can find.” Aria nodded, crossing her arms and leaning against the doorframe as the farmer looked around. It irked her to be shown up like that, but the siren knew better than to get in the way of someone who could probably do the job faster and better. Besides, back when she had her magic she would not have given a second thought to letting some unsuspecting schmuck do the work for her. What was so different now? The train of thought made her grumpy, so she cast about for something to distract herself with. Thinking back to the previous weekend, she decided to have a little fun with Applejack.

“So, that Big Macintosh guy, he’s your brother?” Aria asked casually.

Applejack nodded absently, following one of the pipes with her eyes. “Yup.”

“Older or younger?” The siren inquired.

“Older,” Applejack answered, crouching down to look under one of the tanks.

“Oh, that’s a relief,” Aria said with a smirk. “He has a nice, deep voice.”

“Uh-huh,” Applejack agreed.

“You know what they say about boys with deep voices right?” Aria giggled. “Let’s just say, I bet he lives up to the name Big Macintosh.”

“Ah, w-what!?” Applejack exclaimed, her face flushing as her brain finally caught up to the conversation. “Ah’m sure Ah don’t know what ya mean, Aria, but Ah’d appreciate if ya didn’t talk about my brother that way.”

“What, I’m not allowed to compliment your brother’s exceptional lung capacity?” Aria smirked.

“Uh-huh,” Applejack said, looking annoyed despite the slight blush on her face. “Ah think you and Ah both know that ain’t what ya were getting at.”

“Well, I do like a man who can hold his breath,” The siren replied, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively.

Applejack groaned, tossing her hands in defeat. “Ah give up. We’re changing the subject!” She sighed in exasperation. “Ah found the leak, at least.”

“Oh, awesome,” Aria said, pushing away from the wall. “We can patch it up and get out of this pisshole. Where is it?”

“Ya see that puddle there?” Applejack asked, pointing to a dark spot on the concrete. Aria nodded. “That pipe there was dripping. Looks like one of the seams wasn’t quite up to the job and it sprung a leak. Ah’m guessing that messed with the pressure, and flipped one of the valves to reroute it around the boiler. Turned out the pilot light too, that’s good.

“Well, I guess that explains why we still have cold water anyway. But that sounds like it’ll be a bitch to fix.” Aria groaned, reaching out to poke the offending pipe, only to have her hand smacked away by Applejack.

“Woah there, girl. That’s a hot water pipe, it could still be scalding!” Aria jerked her hand away, looking sheepish. “It’s alright,” Applejack said, hovering her own hand about an inch from the pipe. She tapped it, jerking back almost immediately, before touching it a second time, for a bit longer. “Alright, it feels okay, but better safe than sorry.”

“Yeah,” Aria said, rubbing her hand absently, “Burns are… not fun.”

“They sure ain’t,” Applejack agreed. “Hmm, anyway, Ah don’t think it’ll be too tough to fix. The pipe itself ain’t busted, just the seal. A little caulk and it’ll be right as rain Ah expect.” She stretched, popping her back. “There’s no flow to this pipe, but we probably oughta shut off the water main anyway. It’s just a patch job, but if the water’s going while it dries it could muck up the seal all over again.”

“Okay, so… where?” Aria asked, glancing around. “Nevermind,” She said as she spotted a row of faded red valves. Scrutinizing them closely, she found one labeled “Main.” Nearby, she also found a set of levers. One, labeld as the “Emergency boiler shutoff,” was tripped. Nice and clear, and it looked like Applejack was completely correct. That was good. Nodding, she reached for the valve she needed and gave it a powerful turn.

Or at least she tried to. After a minute of grunting and fighting with it, she threw her arms up in frustration. “Damn it, it’s stuck! Apples, hand me a monkey wrench or something, I need leverage.”

“Here, lemme give it a shot,” Applejack replied, wandering over. She briefly followed Aria’s attempt, trying to turn the wheel with no result. “Woah nelly, ya weren’t kidding.”

“Were you trying to show me up?” Aria asked, crossing her arms.

“Who do Ah look like, Rainbow Dash?” Applejack shot back smugly. “Ah just wanted to see if Ah needed to use this,” She tapped her pendant. A soft orange glow appeared, and she tried again, managing to turn the wheel about half an inch with a great squeal. She grunted and tried again, this time managing a full quarter of a turn. After that, it was child’s play to turn it the rest of the way to the stop. “Not the flashiest magic around, Ah reckon, but it sure is practical.”

“I’ll say,” Aria whistled, eying the farmer’s handiwork. “I still would have gone for telekinesis though.”

“Well, we can’t all be magical unicorns.”

“Some of us have been better,” Aria said with a smirk.

Applejack just rolled her eyes and began assembling a caulk gun from her toolbox. Once it was ready, she used the hem of her shirt to make sure the pipe was dry, and then began to apply the caulk. The thick paste squeezed out evenly, Applejack carefully coating the entire seam with a generous layer. The whole process took less than two minutes. “Well, that about does it,” She said, smoothing out the excess. “Now we just gotta hang around for a while until it dries and we can turn the water back on.”

“How long will that take?”

“Not long,” Applejack replied with a shrug, “Couple hours.”

Aria sighed, sitting down next to the farmer. “Well, I guess we’re stuck here for a bit. So, tell me more about your brother,” She said with a grin.

“Not a chance,” Applejack scoffed.

“Well, we should talk about something,” Aria said, “It’s boring down here, and my phone signal is shit.”

“Hmm,” Applejack said, lost in thought. Finally, she broke the silence. “Uh, Aria? Ya mind if Ah ask ya a personal question?”

Aria quirked her brow, shooting the other girl a questioning look. “Depends on the question, cowgirl.”

“Right,” Applejack said, scratching the back of her head uncertainly. “Well, Ah wanted to ask about yer family.”

“Huh? Why?” Aria asked, confused. “I mean, you already know them.”

“No, Ah don’t mean yer sisters,” The farmer corrected, “Ah meant, like, back home, in Equestria. It must have been hard, leaving behind yer home and loved ones like that. Ah know Sunset had a rough time of it for a while.”

“Oh,” Aria said with a shrug. “No, nothing really to tell. I mean, coming here sucked, big time. We were so small and weak, and our magic was almost nonexistent. It kind of hurt, too, though I don’t know if that was having our bodies forcefully smooshed into these forms or having the majority of our magic violently torn away. Starswirl was a fucking asshole, and don’t believe anyone who says differently.”

“But yer home…”

“We didn’t have a home. At least, I don’t think so. The memories are pretty foggy, and not just because it’s been a thousand years. But as far as I can remember it was just me, Adagio, and the idiot. I remember the ocean, and it kinda felt like home, I guess. The others were more into it than I was. We couldn’t feed there though. Most of our time in Equestria was spent over land, spreading and harvesting emotional energy and black magic.” She laughed bitterly. “We thought ourselves as some sort of apex predators, but looking back we seem more like glorified farmers.”

“Then why did ya do it?” Applejack asked.

“I don’t fucking know!” Aria snapped. Her face fell. “I don’t know. I don’t even know where we came from.” She clenched her jaw, though Applejack could not tell if it was in anger or sorrow. “I hate Starswirl so much for what he did to us. It hurt like a bitch, and I’m pretty sure his whole plan was to just leave us marooned on this magicless piece-of-shit world and hope we starve to death. But, at least we didn’t get separated. Everything I ever cared about came with me through the portal.”

Aria froze, her face burning crimson as what she had just said fully registered. She turned to Applejack, who was wearing a wide grin. “Tell anyone about this, Apples, and I will personally burn your orchard to the ground,” Aria snarled.”

Applejack chuckled. “Don’t worry about me, hon. My lips are sealed.”

“Yeah,” Aria said sarcastically, “I know how well you keep a secret.”

The farmer’s grin widened. “So where are yer sisters anyhow? Ah’d of thought they’d be as antsy to get this fixed as Sunset was.”

Aria scoffed, “You have no idea. Adagio threw a fit this morning. It’s like we didn’t live through the invention of indoor plumbing. But nah, Miss Priss had work, and honestly can you see Sonata being helpful for this kind of thing? I sent her to the hardware store to get ‘elbow grease.’” She emphasized the last bit with a set of air quotes.

“Ha!” Applejack laughed, “Ah did the same thing to get rid of Pinkie Pie. She’s a sweet gal but Ah don’t think cotton candy is the answer to a leaky water pipe. Hoo boy, Ah wonder if they’ll run into each other before they figure it out?”

“Knowing them?” Aria shrugged with a chuckle. The mood felt much lighter, and she found herself relaxing around the other girl. Maybe it was that friendship bullshit Sunset and Adagio had been going off about lately. She decided that she kind of liked it. “Hey Apples, once this is fixed, you wanna come upstairs and grab a drink?”

Applejack looked at her with a smile. “That would be mighty nice.”

==O==

An hour later saw the girls back at the sirens’ apartment. The caulk had dried nicely, and Applejack had wrapped the patch with bright orange duct tape, both to add an extra seal and to mark the repair in case it ever became an issue again. Then, after returning the valve to its normal position, they had reopened the water main and relit the pilot light. When they told Sunset, she had thanked them no less than a dozen times before immediately rushing off to take a hot shower.

“…And then I heard him storming down the hall, swearing unholy vengeance on the water company,” Aria said, making Applejack laugh. The two were lounging on the sirens’ old couch, resting their feet on the coffee table and watching an old western.

“Yer neighbor seems like a handful all right,” Applejack commented.

“Ugh, you don’t know the half of it,” Aria groaned. She took a sip from her bottle. Applejack had taken a can of orange soda, but after the day she had had Aria had opted for something a bit stronger.

“Ya know,” Applejack said, eying the little bottle of rum, “Ya should come down to the farm some time and have a mug of the family’s cider.”

Aria raised an eyebrow at that. “Cider?” She asked, “Or cider, cider?”

“The second one,” Applejack laughed.

Aria smirked. “First breaking and entering, now underage drinking? Never would have guessed you’d be the bad girl of the Rainbooms.”

“Ah, ain’t nothing,” Applejack laughed, “It ain’t exactly potent. Now Granny’s moonshine, hooo-weee.

“Glad to know I’m not being a bad influence on you then,” Aria laughed, taking another swig.

“Yeah, ya should swing by. Who knows, maybe Big Mac’ll have a mug with ya.”

“I just might take you up on that, Apples.”

The two jumped as the door to the apartment suddenly slammed open, and in walked Sonata and Pinkie Pie, lugging a massive five-gallon bucket between them. They dropped it with a heavy THUD before striking triumphant poses and grinning widely.

“And what in the name of Tartarus is that?” Aria demanded.

“We found what you asked for!” Sonata said happily.

“Yup, it was super hard to track down too!” Pinkie grinned.

“What are you two on about?” Applejack asked bemusedly.

“You’d better explain yourselves,” Aria added, giving them a pointed glare.

“Elbow Grease!” The girls said in unison, turning the bucket around to show off the label. Their proud grins never faltered.

Aria and Applejack just stared at the duo, speechless. It took a moment, but Aria was the one to finally break the silence and voice what they were thinking. “You know what, I don’t care. Good job you two, go grab some ice cream or something.” The girls squealed happily, rushing back out the door.

“Idiots,” Aria groaned, throwing back the rest of her drink.

“Aw, admit it, ya would be lost without yer sister.”

“Shut up, Apples.”

The farmer chuckled.