• Published 19th May 2018
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When We Break - CommissarAJ



Tempest vowed she would never again be left to the mercies of a cold, uncaring world. And then she met Twilight Sparkle...

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Chapter 5

“W-what happened to you, Fizzle?”

“I tried to take the stairs and… I fell…”

“Are you nuts? You know you’re not ready for that. Just—come on, we need to get you cleaned up.”

“Don’t touch me! I can take care of this myself.”

Canterlot

Two years ago

Fizzlepop was huddled in a small nook of the back alley, hidden between a pair of half-empty dumpsters that smelled of old fish and misery. The dank evening air and rancid odours may not have made for the best dining experience, but hunger had a way of making even the worst situations seem appetizing. So despite any sense of disgust, the young girl’s only interest was in the half-eaten hot dog she held in her hand, which she took apart with one ravenous bite after another.

It was less like eating and more like inhaling. Even wild animals showed more deference towards their meals.

She would’ve continued until the hot dog was little more than a distant memory, except that the sound of approaching footsteps caught her attention. Were she faster, she might’ve been able to spring to her feet, but even just back up to a standing position was difficult when one’s legs were held together with rods and plates.

There was a subtle groan of rusted metal shifting as one of the dumpsters jostled slightly, and that was when an older man leaned over just enough to look down upon Fizzlepop.

“Just for future reference, little missy, when you steal somebody’s dinner from under their nose, you might want to run more than a couple blocks before you stop to eat,” the man remarked with a hint of amusement. A grin creased across his thick, scruffy features as he regarded the downtrodden teen before him; between the lightly dusted clothes that hung from her frame like it was a coat hanger and the wary, uneasy glint in the girl’s eyes, he knew precisely what he was dealing with. “You can stop gawking at me, kiddo, and you may as well finish eating. It’s not like I want that back at this point.”

Having been given explicit permission, Fizzlepop continued eating, although she kept her eyes fixed on the man. Despite his relaxed posture and disarming grin, she wasn’t about to drop her guard around him just yet. The way he confidently carried himself about in his faded jeans and heavy leather coat made her wary: all of her instincts told her he was dangerous.

“I haven’t seen you around here before. You’re new to the streets, right?” he asked.

“H-how did you—”

“Someone your age doesn’t hang around this part of town unless they don’t have a choice,” he explained without missing a beat. “Plus, you’re eating like that’s your first meal in ages, but your clothes don’t quite look dirty enough to pass as a vagrant yet. On top of that, if you were from around here, you’d’ve known who I was, and would’ve thought twice about taking my dinner.”

Fizzlepop was half-way through another mouthful when she heard the vaguely threatening-sounding remark, which prompted her to freeze again and swallow hard. Once again, though, the man just kept on smiling as if nothing was amiss.

“I’m actually kinda surprised you managed to steal from me,” the man commented idly as his gaze turned skywards. “I’m usually a lot more careful about my things. I guess I just didn’t think a lil’ squirt like you was any threat to me. Should’ve paid more attention…”

“Your fault for flirting so much with the cashier,” Fizzlepop answered.

“Ha! You got me there,” the man said with an uproar of laughter. As he settled down, however, he checked his wristwatch. His smile vanished for a brief moment. “Time for me to run, kiddo. You enjoy the rest of your dinner, you’ve earned it.”

Confused, but not wanting to push her luck, Fizzlepop remained silent as she watched the strange man leave. However, he only made it to the far end of the alley when he was suddenly approached by another man: a man whose looks reminded her of those gangster caricatures they used in those old ‘don’t do drugs’ videos she watched back at Crystal Prep Academy. She couldn’t hear what the two were saying, though judging from the second man’s gestures and increasing volume, he was upset about something. He then shoved the first man, who responded in kind.

Now, Fizzlepop knew she should just mind her own business, as one man’s disagreement was hardly worth sticking her neck out for. She had enough problems on her own plate without getting involved with someone else’s. However, she couldn’t take her eyes away as she watched the scuffle begin to escalate into a full-blown fist-fight between the two. The second, larger man soon had the first up against the wall and struck him again and again.

Despite everything in her head telling her otherwise, Fizzlepop was soon on her feet and heading towards the pair. As the fight started to shift more and more in favour of the second man, she hurried her pace until she was in a full-blown sprint. The first man had been brought to his knees when Fizzlepop suddenly lunged in, jumping onto the other man with a banshee-like shriek.

“What the fu—!” The second man was taken completely by surprise. The girl’s arms hooked around his throat, anchoring her to him, and as her grip tightened around him, it threw the man into a panic. He flailed and swung about in a wild, desperate fashion as he tried to shake her loose.

The other man didn’t waste the moment of distraction, and he rose back to his feet to deliver a stunning punch straight into the latter man’s stomach. Now it was the larger man’s turn to fall to his knees, helpless now as both assailants pressed their advantage.

“Okay, that’s enough, you can get off him,” the first man said. Once Fizzlepop complied, he just smirked. “Good, now I can do this!” He took a few steps back, and with a running start he felled the other man with one last swift kick to the jaw. “And the crowd goes wild!”

After taking a moment to collect himself and finish his self-congratulatory chuckle, the man looked over to Fizzlepop, who surprised him by holding her ground with a firm and resolute expression on her face. It was evident that she was no more afraid of him than she had been of the man now face-down in the alley.

“I had that guy right where I wanted him, ya know, but thanks all the same,” the man remarked. He took another look at Fizzlepop from top to bottom, one hand stroking at his chin in thought. “You know, you’ve got a lot of guts, kid. I wouldn’t mind having someone like you working for me.”

“Me? Working for you?”

“You’re a little bit younger than I usually recruit, but you’ve definitely got the right stuff for it,” he continued on. He walked a slow circle around Fizzlepop, continuing to hum and haw as if examining a new car. “Yeah, yeah, I think this could work. With a little bit of training, I think you would do just nicely.”

“And what kind of work do you do?”

He smiled again, that same disarming look he had on his face earlier that would’ve made any adult second-guess everything he said. “Just odd jobs here and there, mostly selling and buying goods for the community. A kid with your guts could really go places in this line of work.”

“Well, I don’t know…” Fizzlepop mumbled under breath as she thought it over. It sounded too good to be true, and the idea of putting her trust into someone again didn’t sit well with her.

“Up to you, kid! There’s no pressure or anything,” the man insisted. “But think about it: you can take your chances out here on your own, begging and pleading for charity from strangers that are as likely to steal from you as they are to help; or you can work for me, and I promise you’ll never have to beg for anything again.”

There was a strength and confidence in his words, a toxicity that slithered into her mind and filled it with visions of power and self-determination. If she were stronger, she’d never need charity from anyone, she’d never have to rely on another person… be let down by others. With him, she could learn to stand on her own two feet, and that was all the convincing she needed.

“I’ll do it!”

“Smart choice, kiddo.” The man offered out his hand to her. “You can call me King. What’s your name?”

“It’s F—” she caught herself before she could go any further. Fizzlepop Berrytwist was the name of a child, and children were weak, pitiful little things. She knew if she wanted to leave her past behind, she had to start fresh and be reborn with a new identity. “It’s Tempest, Tempest Shadow.”

As they exchanged a quick handshake, Tempest knew she had made the right choice. She felt stronger already.

“Now, first order of business,” King continued on. “This fellow is starting to come to. Could you be a dear, and remind him to stay down?”

Tempest looked to the fallen man: his face was already bruised and covered in blood, but he was beginning to murmur and his eyes were twitching to regain focus. Anyone with good sense would know that he wasn’t going to be a threat to anybody for a while, but all she saw was weakness. Fueled by a growing sense of contempt and disgust, she lifted her foot over his face and brought it down with all her might.


“Just keep it together, Tempest. You’re just going to school, same as yesterday… except with a couple hundred dollars worth of illicit drugs in your backpack. It’ll be fine. It’s not like they do random locker searches.”

Tempest had more reasons to be nervous than she could count when she arrived at Canterlot High the next morning. What was she going to do? She didn’t want to have to push drugs on the other students, if for no other reason than she had a feeling most of the teeangers around her were the goody-two-shoe type who would report her in a heartbeat to the principal, and then Tempest could say farewell to her chances at graduating. However, King wasn’t the kind of man who accepted failure, especially if she returned to him and tried to pretend that nobody was interested in buying.

As she reached her locker and started twirling the combination dial, all she could think of was how Twilight would respond if she found out about this. Did she really mean it when she said she would be her friend no matter what? It was a bold promise to make, and logic alone dictated that there had to be limits to that sense of loyalty. Nobody was that unconditional in their friendship. There were always things that were unforgivable.

Even if by some miracle Twilight didn’t freak out about this, what could one high schooler do to help? On top of that, did she really want to drag Twilight into another mess involving King? She was lucky to have gotten him to leave her friend alone the first time they met. If he had tried to call her bluff… well, she didn’t want to think how that would have ended.

If she had more money, she could just ‘buy’ the drugs herself; King would never know the difference, but then he might take it as an invitation to keep selling, or maybe have her sell something worse. Still, if she could convince him it was a poor market then he might lose interest.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, Bon-Bon,” a girl’s voice caught her attention. It was only just noticeable above the background noise of all the other students around her, but she recognized that tone of desperation. Her eyes followed the voice to its source: a pair of her classmates, one unpacking their belongings into their locker, and the other about to have a panic attack. “The test is tomorrow, but I’ve got practice after class until the evening. Oh, I’m so far behind… I’m going to have to study all night if I’m going to have any hope!”

On the other hand, was it really that bad of an idea to offload a few pills here and there? People did it all the time in other schools, didn’t they? It wasn’t like she was pushing hard narcotics: these pills just made people more focused and alert. It was like taking an extra cup of coffee when you were tired. In the end, the student would get the grades they wanted, and Tempest would get the money she needed. It was a victimless crime, really.

So why did she still feel so indecisive?

“Just go for it, Tempest. Go in, probe their interest, and leave.”

It was a routine she had been through countless times before, so she grabbed her bag and casually made her way over to the fretting student. She could vaguely recall Twilight mentioning that the girl’s name was Lyra or something along those lines.

“Hey there,” Tempest greeted. She put on her best salesman-like smile, which she had seen King don a million times over. “Couldn’t help but hear you were having some problems with a test.”

“I shouldn’t have procrastinated, but I wound up binge watching the latest episodes of that new drama series!” Lyra explained. She groaned and smacked her forehead on the nearby locker door. “Stupid, stupid, stupid Lyra! If I fail this test, my parents are going to ground me for, like, a month!”

“Well, I might have an idea how to solve your little dilemma,” Tempest alluded, leaning up against the locker next to Lyra. The desperation was almost palpable. She couldn’t have asked for a better potential client. All she had to do was gauge just how far this girl would go to save herself.

So why couldn’t she say the next words?

Her mouth hung open, ready to speak, but nothing came out. All she could picture at that moment was her friend who had gone to such lengths just to give her the opportunity to be there. Could she just betray her friend’s trust like this?

Noticing Tempest having seemingly taken the moment to practise a mime routine, Lyra raised an eyebrow. “And… what idea is that?”

“A study group,” Tempest blurted out without thinking. “J-just find some friends who know the subject well. Students are usually good at simplifying explanations of complicated subjects, or sharing the tricks and methods they use to better remember things. Plus, when you have more people together, it’s easier to keep focused on a task.”

Despite having pulled the answer from the depths of her memory, Tempest’s explanation was met with a look of relief and salvation.

“Why didn’t I think of that?” Lyra exclaimed. “Hey Bon-Bon, do you want to come over to my place tonight to help me study?”

“Of course! I don’t suppose you could help me with my algebra homework while we’re at it.”

As the two friends began planning their evening of studying, Tempest took the opportunity to make a quick exit. She might’ve helped preserve Lyra’s sense of self-respect, but now she was the one feeling like an idiot. How could she have choked like that at the last second? A few months back and she could’ve gone through that whole conversation without batting an eye, but now she couldn’t get within arm’s reach of her true intentions.

“What is wrong with me? Am I really going soft on these people?” she contemplated in silence at the relative refuge of her locker. “I mean, who am I really hurting by going through with this?”

Unfortunately, it was hard to be alone with one’s thoughts in the middle of a high school.

“Hey, Tempest,” Sunset Shimmer’s voice perked up just behind her.

“Haven’t seen Twilight; don’t know where she is,” she answered in a restrained, monotonous tone.

“Actually, I was hoping to talk to you,” Sunset said, correcting the erroneous presumption. “Lyra just asked me if I was interested in joining her study group tonight—she mentioned she got the idea from you.”

“Well, I just suggested stuff I used to do back at Crystal Prep,” Tempest offered out as a half-hearted answer. “It wasn’t any big deal: most anybody would’ve made a similar suggestion.”

She expected Sunset to finish the conversation and move along at the earliest convenience, but her fellow student lingered for a while, and the expression on the girl’s face suggested she was working her way to speaking about something else that was on her mind. Now Tempest had nothing against Sunset, but she had the feeling that the red-headed wonder student wasn’t buying into the whole ‘second chance at school’ routine. She wasn’t far from the truth, but the last thing Tempest needed was a do-gooder poking their nose into her business while she was still trying to figure out a way to fix her problems.

“Listen, I want to apologize,” Sunset eventually spoke up.

“For what exactly?”

“I… haven’t been entirely fair to you,” she admitted as she wrung her hands. “Like, after the baton relay in gym class, it was wrong of me to just blurt out about you cheating in science, which by the way Twilight is insisting wasn’t the case.” She flashed an apologetic smile, though Tempest was not yet ready to return the sentiment. “The truth is, I was a lot like you not too long ago.”

“I somehow doubt that,” Tempest remarked with a skeptical glare.

“But it’s true! I mean, I know I haven’t gone through as much hardship as you have, but I used to be angry and spiteful, and full of hate. You can ask anybody here: they all remember how much I used to torment them.”

“And you think I am?” Tempest replied with an irritated glare.

“N-no, I didn’t mean it like that!” Sunset hastily corrected herself. “What I mean to say is, I know what it’s like to try and turn your life around after being in a bad place.”

Letting out a snort, Tempest just rolled her eyes and started putting her things into her locker. “I don’t need your understanding, Sunset,” she scoffed in defiance.

“Hey, I’m just trying to be a friend.”

“Well I didn’t ask for your friendship!” the irate teen snapped. “I’m here to graduate: nothing more, nothing less. So just stay the hell out of my way, and we won’t have any problems.”

In her anger and haste, Tempest forgot about the contraband sitting at the bottom of her bag. As she pulled out one of her textbooks, the plastic bag got snagged on a corner and was pulled out along with it. She didn’t even realize what had happened until she heard the ‘thump’ as the pouch of drugs hit the ground.

“What are those?” Sunset asked, scooping up the plastic bag before Tempest could react. However, even a cursory look would yield the obvious answer. “Are these what I think they are?”

“Give those back!” Tempest tried to snatch the drugs back, but Sunset was able to keep them out of arm’s reach for the moment. “Those are none of your business!”

Were it anyone else, Sunset might have felt inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, but she had already been suspicious of Tempest before. Combined with how defensive the other girl suddenly got, it now looked as though her concerns had just been justified.

“Just what are you up to?”

“You don’t understand,” Tempest growled. “Now give those to me, and we can all just pretend this didn’t happen.”

Having grown impatient with the other girl’s obstinance, Sunset decided to take a more forceful approach. “Fine, if you won’t tell me the truth, then I’ll just have to find it myself!”

Summoning up her magic, Sunset seized Tempest by the wrist. In an instant, her mind was filled with images of the past days: of Tempest holding up Twilight at knifepoint in an alley, and of a man shoving a packet of drugs into her hand with orders to sell them to her classmates. Before she could see more and get a full picture, however, Tempest pulled her arm away.

“Oh my god,” Sunset gasped in disbelief and horror. “You… you pulled a knife on Twilight?”

“What? How did you—” Tempest paused for a brief instant when she noticed that Sunset wore an amulet very similar in appearance to the one that Twilight had with her. “You too? What kind of goddamn hoodoo magic bullshit did you just pull?”

By this point, the shouting had attracted the attention of the surrounding students, and the crowds gathering around did not go unnoticed by Tempest. It felt like she was getting boxed in: dozens of piercing, judging eyes watching her every move and action now. She had to get out of this. She needed to get out of this before things got worse—before Twilight found out.

“I can see your memories, Tempest; you can’t hide the truth anymore!” Sunset explained, punctuating her remarks by pointing a finger at the other girl.

Tempest had nothing to reply with: her mind had gone blank, and she just froze like a deer caught in the headlights.

A lack of response didn’t stop Sunset, however. “Twilight trusted you!” she exclaimed. “We welcomed you into our school, and this is how you repay us? We were just trying to help you fix your life.”

“Fix... me?”

The void in Tempest’s mind was soon flooded with a surge of the trusted, familiar pyre of anger. A more sensible person would’ve tried to turn away, but for her, these feelings were almost welcomed. It wasn’t trust or friendship, but fury that had kept her safe all of the years she was on her own. In the absence of rationality, all she could fall back on was instinct.

And those instincts told her to take action.

“You little bitch!” Tempest snarled before she lunged forward.

There wasn’t even enough time to react before Sunset found herself slammed up against the locker with a forearm pressed against her throat.

“I am here for me and nobody else!” Tempest barked in her victim’s face. “Not for Twilight, not for King, and sure as hell not for you!”

Sunset coughed and gurgled as she flailed in a desperate attempt to get free, but Tempest had her completely overpowered. Her face began to turn red as she struggled to catch any breath she could. She tried pounding on the other girl’s arms with all her might, but her assailant didn’t even flinch. And she would see no mercy from Tempest, who just saw another weak little girl who needed to be put in their place.

“I’m not your goddamn charity case to piece back together so you can go home and feel good about yourself! I don’t want or need your help because I’m not broken!”

As she raised a clenched fist, somebody watching finally took action and grabbed her by the arm. “Tempest, stop this! Let her go!”

But Tempest was running solely on rage and instinct, so her response to the interference was to pull her arm free and then snap her elbow back, which caught the person right in the face. It wasn’t until she heard the shriek that her brain was able to register whom the voice belonged to.

Tempest looked behind her, and reality came crashing down around her ears. Twilight was sprawled on the ground with a look of shock and terror in her tear-filled eyes. She had her hands over her face, though it wasn’t able to conceal the faint traces of blood that trickled down her chin.

“T-Twilight…”

Just as suddenly as her temper had flared up, all passion evaporated from Tempest, leaving only a lingering chill in her heart. She relented her assault on Sunset, and staggered back a few steps in disbelief. It was only then she realized that everyone was staring; everybody knew.

She wanted to get out. She had to get out!

Taking a complete one-eighty in her fight-or-flight response, Tempest snatched her drugs back and bolted for the door as fast as she could. Nobody dared to get in her way. Once she was gone, the other students began to rush in to help Sunset and Twilight back to their feet.

“Are you okay, Sunset?” Twilight asked, her voice distorted as she pinched her nose tight.

Though a little red in the face and still gasping for breath, Sunset managed a quick nod. “N-never mind about me, though, what about you?”

“I’ll be fine,” Twilight insisted. One of the students helping her up offered her a handkerchief, which she gratefully accepted and held over her bloodied nose. “I… I have to go after Tempest.”

However, she didn’t make it more than a few steps before Sunset interposed herself between her friend and the nearest exit. “Are you insane? She’s dangerous, Twilight!”

“No, she’s not! I-I’m sure there’s an explanation. She wouldn’t do this!”

“I saw the memory of her taking the drugs,” Sunset said as she seized her friend by the shoulders. “She’s not who she says she is.”

Though she knew she had no reason to doubt the memories that Sunset claimed to have seen, Twilight couldn’t ignore what she knew and felt. “I know who the real Tempest is: it’s you who haven’t seen her for who she is,” she replied as she took her friend’s hand. “You’re right in that she’s not who she says she is, so let me show who the real Tempest is.”

Twilight then placed Sunset’s hand over her wrist, and in an instant, her friend’s mind was flooded with all the memories and experiences of the past few days. Unlike the brief, interrupted connection earlier, Sunset saw every conversation the two unlikely friends shared—every moment of vulnerability and honesty, and the fear and grief that laced everything Tempest said.

When Sunset’s thoughts finally returned to reality, she was so overwhelmed by the rush of emotion that she was speechless for a few moments. “T-Twilight, I…” she stammered at first, “I’m so sorry, I had no idea. Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because you can’t force somebody to start trusting again,” Twilight explained, flashing a reassuring smile. “And really, were you and I that much different when we were scared, confused, and seemingly alone against the world?”

Sunset nodded in understanding.

“Now, I’m going after her,” Twilight reiterated. “Could you let my teachers know that I’ll be back as soon as I can?”

“I’ll tell them it’s a friendship emergency; I’m sure they’ll understand.” Just as Twilight was about to leave, Sunset halted her progress once again. “Wait, there’s something I need to mention: when I saw Tempest’s memories, there was… something else in there. There was a guilt in there from something deeper. Whatever happened to her before, I don’t think she’s told you the whole story.”

Twilight gave her friend a concerned look. She didn’t want to go charging off after her friend to try and fix a problem that she didn’t know the whole story behind, but if Tempest hadn’t told her already, what could she do? She couldn’t ask Sunset to try using her magic again given the current circumstances and how Tempest reacted to the first attempt.

“Do you know of anybody else who might remember Tempest from before?” Sunset asked.

“I have an idea,” Twilight reassured her before heading for the exit. Once outside, she checked how her nose was; once she confirmed that the bleeding had stopped, the whipped out her phone and scoured her contact list. It was a longshot of a plan, but she figured it was her best chance at getting to the truth. She found the number she was looking for and hit the call button.

After a couple of rings, a familiar voice answered. “Good morning, Principal Cadance speaking.”

“Hi, Cadance, it’s Twilight.”

“Twilight! It’s so good to hear from you, but what are you doing calling at this hour? Shouldn’t you be in class right now?”

“I know, and normally I wouldn’t call you while you’re still at work, but it’s an emergency,” Twilight explained. Farther out from the school, she looked about for any sign of Tempest, but it appeared that the wayward teen was an elusive one. “There’s something I need to ask: do you remember a student by the name of Fizzlepop Berrytwist?”

A pregnant silence followed.

“Cadance?”

“Sorry. It’s just… I haven’t heard that name in quite a while.” There was a heaviness to the principal’s tone, one that only gave Twilight more cause for concern.

“Did you know Fizzlepop very well?”

There was a wistful sigh at first, before Cadance answered in full. “To be honest, not really: Fizzlepop was an excellent student, so I really only knew her through her mother, who was a regular volunteer at after-school activities.”

It made sense: Cadance couldn’t have the same kind of relationship she had with Twilight with every student at Crystal Prep. However, if anybody would have a better idea about what happened to Fizzlepop, it would be her.

“Listen, Fizzlepop is in trouble,” Twilight pleaded, “and I’m trying to help her but… I need to know what happened to her.”

“I don’t know all the details,” Cadance explained, although the reluctance of her tone suggested she knew enough. “How much do you already know?”

“Just that she was badly hurt and she lost her parents in a car accident.”

“No, that’s not right. Only she and her mother were in the car; her father was still at work.”

For a moment, Twilight tried to recall back to what exactly Tempest had said: she remembered her friend saying she lost everyone in the accident. Did Twilight just presume too much?

“A-are you sure?”

“I remember talking to him at the funeral,” Cadance said, the certainty in her voice leaving no room for doubt. “He was very distraught. I felt awful for him: to lose so much all of a sudden. He was a gentle soul to begin with, and I tried to keep in touch but I think the trauma was too much for him to bear. I lost track of him soon after the accident.”

The news only left Twilight with more questions, though the first one slipped out without her even thinking. “Where is he now?”

The next few words came in soft, but slow, and yet they hit her mind like a thousand sharp rocks that left her momentarily numb, and a hand clasped over her mouth as if all her breath would be stolen away.

“Oh my god…”