• Published 10th Apr 2020
  • 2,698 Views, 298 Comments

Hearts Beat - mushroompone



A chance encounter at a rave leads to Twilight making an unlikely friend

  • ...
11
 298
 2,698

Game

"I think it's about time we have Vinyl over for a good, old-fashioned game night," Applejack said. It was so casual, so flippant. "I feel like we hardly know the mare, and Rainbow and I really went to bat for her last week."

Rainbow laughed deviously. "Oh-ho, great idea, AJ! I could use a new opponent to crush in Anti-Trust. You think Vinyl's the type to get real into something like that?"

I looked up from my book. Rainbow was sprawled across my couch, her head on Applejack's stomach. Applejack, absorbed in her jigsaw puzzle, didn't seem to be incredibly aware of Rainbow's presence there.

"I think that depends what you mean by 'real into', Rainbow." I turned the page of my book and continued reading.

"Y'know. She a table-flipper? Is she gonna end her friendship with you if you kick her tail at a board game?" Rainbow popped another potato chip in her mouth. "I just don't wanna get excited about game night with Vinyl if she's gonna be a toxic influence on the whole thing. Game night is my safe haven."

"Don't talk with your mouth full, RD," Applejack instructed. "And sit up, for Celestia's sake."

Rainbow made a big show of rolling her eyes and hauling herself up into a sitting position. "So? Whatcha think?"

I squinted at Rainbow over the top of my book. "Do I think Vinyl is an inherently violent mare who will lose control over a board game? No. No, I don't."

Applejack and Rainbow exchanged a look I didn't quite recognize.

"That's nice," Applejack said.

"Nicer than the alternative," I agreed, if a hint sarcastically. I turned another page. "If you girls really want to meet her, we can arrange a game night. I'm sure she'd love it."

"Awesome!" Rainbow pumped a hoof in the air. "AJ's right, we totally cussed out Fresh Scoop over the whole 'homewrecker' thing, we deserve a chance to get to know Vinyl. How does Thursday at 6:30 sound?"

"That's… specific." I lowered my book a bit.

Applejack chuckled. "Th-that's just when Rainbow and I are free."

I narrowed my eyes and looked at both of them. They both looked a bit like they were holding back a sneeze. "I'll ask Vinyl."

"Sweet!" Rainbow popped another chip in her mouth. "I'll bring Swiveler."

"I've got Scramble," Applejack said.

"Okay, sounds nice," I agreed.

A brief, wonderful silence fell over the room.

Rainbow drew in an enormous gasp. "Unless…"

Applejack placed another puzzle piece. She sighed. "Unless what, Rainbow?"

Rainbow looked at me. There was a fire in her eyes, one that I knew I should rightly fear. For one blissful moment, I couldn't quite put the pieces together. Then, like the tide, it all came rushing back. A cider-flavored tide.

Applejack looked up from her puzzle, a similar look of sinking despair in her eyes.

"Oh, no." I began shaking my head vigorously. "No, no, absolutely not!"

"Absolutely yes!" Rainbow spat back. "If Vinyl wants to pal around with you, she's gotta survive--"


"Gay-mageddon?" Vinyl repeated. "No offence, Twi, but that sounds like a bad porno."

"No, no, Game-mageddon. It's a-- well, it's a party game," I explained, tapping my hooves absent-mindedly on the bar.

"That you and your friends invented?" Vinyl seemed to be holding back a chuckle. She sipped her coffee.

I sighed deeply. "We used to have game nights all the time, all six of us. The problem was that each of us would insist on playing the game we were best at, and we'd either never be able to decide or all end up getting crushed by whoever's game we ended up playing."

Vinyl nodded, her brows knit together in serious concentration. "I'm with you so far. What kind of crap were you guys doing in the first place?"

"Well," I missed, tracing my hoof along the top edge of my mug. "Applejack loves truth or dare because she has no filter, but she just ends up embarrassing everypony else. Rainbow Dash is very into physical competitions like Swiveler and wrestling, but always ends up hurting somepony else." I stopped to sip my own coffee. "Trivia Quest was outlawed after what we call 'The Periodic Table Incident'."

"I'm guessing you were instrumental in that one?" Vinyl asked with a smirk.

My cheeks flushed. "Maybe."

"So, you invented…"

"Game-mageddon," I said.

"Right. Game-mageddon," Vinyl repeated. "I'm sorry, there's gotta be a better name for that."

"Believe me, Vinyl, nothing about this is thoughtful in the least." I swiveled my stool to face her more directly. "Applying logic to it will only drive you crazy."

Vinyl nodded, trying not to laugh. "Understood."

"Anyway," I said. "One night, after we'd all gotten drunk on Applejack's cider overstock, we decided that the only way to truly be fair was to play all the games at once."

Vinyl's eyes narrowed. She looked upward, as if the answer were buried somewhere in her own mind, accessible by rolling her eyes back into her skull.

"It all starts with an obstacle course. There's hide-and-seek, trivia, charades, a drinking game--"

"Sounds fun!"

I laughed wryly. "Maybe I should have mentioned the drinking part first."

Vinyl smirked again. "You saying I can't handle my liquor, Twi?"

"Vinyl, listen to me:" I put a hoof on her shoulder. "Nopony can handle that much alcohol. Okay? Nopony."

Despite my seriousness, Vinyl was grinning like a loon. "Can't we just ask them to play a different game? Like… I dunno, Pipes and Ropes? A game of chance, a level playing field?"

"I wish." I shook my head. "They're hazing you. You really don't have to go, I can tell them you're busy."

Vinyl laughed. "Look, I would have to be some kinda grade-A moron to turn down a chance like this."

"A chance to… die of alcohol poisoning?" I suggested.

"Pft, no! A chance to hang out with all six elements of harmony!" Vinyl clapped me on the shoulder. Her hoof lingered there, just for a moment. "I'm sure it'll be fun, no matter what happens."

I groaned quietly.

"I heard that little panic groan," Vinyl teased. "No worries. I've had a lot of crazy nights in my time."

"I… " I shifted in my seat. "I guess that's true. I just don't want you to get the idea that my friends are the out-of-control lunatics they become when they play."

Vinyl waved her hoof dismissively. "Come on. They're-- they're the elements of harmony! Everypony knows the whole group of you is the nicest, mellowest, most family-friendly--"

I laughed once; sharp, short, and sarcastic. "That's just the version they put in the papers. We're all just like you; young adults with uncertain careers and a proclivity for making stupid choices." I cocked an eyebrow at Vinyl. "Don't say I didn't warn you."

Vinyl smiled warmly. "They're your friends, Twilight. I'm sure I'll l-- like them. I'm sure I'll like 'em a lot."

"Really?" I asked.

"Totally!" Vinyl shrugged. "As for the hazing, it's only fair. You guys have some kind of crazy magical bond or whatever. If I wanna hang with your crew, they deserve the chance to vet me properly."

"Yeah, but--"

"Bup, bup!" Vinyl put her hoof over my mouth. Her touch was unbelievably gentle. "We're doing this. What time?"

"Six-thirty tomorrow night," I said.

"Perfect!" Vinyl removed her hoof from my mouth. "Tavi's out of town for some debutante thing in Canterlot til Saturday. Or maybe an auction? I dunno. Something long and super boring that needed a string quartet."

I giggled. "Why does Tavi have to be out of town for this?"

"Oh, Celestia, she would try to horn in and get all uptight about it," Vinyl explained. She must have seen the shock in my face, because she blurted out "She's great! Don't get me wrong, she's totally great and all, but she's straight-edge. And when I say she's straight-edge, what I mean is everypony near her had better be straight-edge, or they will suffer her wrath." She laughed awkwardly.

I laughed awkwardly, too. "So… what, she doesn't let you drink?"

Vinyl scoffed. "Hell no. No drinking, no smoking. She's pretty anti-rave, too. Thinks I'm gonna-- well, I dunno what she thinks I'm gonna do, really."

"Oh," I murmured. "I had no idea."

"Ah, it's no biggie." Vinyl waved the thought away and took a large gulp of coffee. "She tolerates it and everything, but you can just tell she's pissed, y'know? She gets all quiet and mom-ish."

"But-- well, isn't that stuff kinda… who you are?" I asked. "That's sounds awful, I meant--

"No, I know what you meant." Vinyl gave me a sympathetic smile. "I like partying and stuff, but don't get it twisted: my thing is music. Any music. And that's Octavia's thing, too."

"Hm." I sipped my coffee.

She hadn't said it. Not directly. It was like a puzzle; she'd laid all the pieces out for me, and now I was left to slot them together.

Music was just about the only thing the two of them had in common.


Thursday night--or, as we had been thinking of it, Game-mageddon Night--had arrived.

Rainbow Dash and Applejack were tearing apart the throne room in an effort to build a suitable obstacle course. The mess I expected, but the noise was deafening.

"Girls!" I shouted over the cacophony. "Could we destroy my home a little quieter, please?"

Applejack wound up and kicked over her own chair with a powerful kick.

I winced and pinned my ears against my head.

"Sorry!" Applejack called, though she didn't quite sound it.

"It's fine…" I muttered. I wouldn't even need alcohol for a headache in the morning, it seemed.

A pink blur whizzed past me, and I barely dodged it.

Pinkie skidded to a stop in front of me. "Boop!" she exclaimed, slamming something down over my head. A string snapped up under my chin.

I folded into myself. "Pinkie!" I scrolled, reaching up to remove whatever Pinkie had put over my horn.

"Ah, ah, ah!" Pinkie put her hoof on mine, pressing back down. "Taking off your anti-magic device is cheating!"

"Anti-magic device?" I repeated, practically growling.

Pinkie leaned in close. "It's a party hat lined with tin foil," she hissed, in the cadence of a whisper but the volume of a stage performer. "Don't tell anypony."

"What could I possibly use my magic for?" I spat.

"Dunno!" Pinkie said. "Don't worry, we're tying wings, too!"

With this, she produced a length of rope from her mane, pulling it out hoof-over-hoof like a clown.

"Hey!" I held her at leg's length. "How about I just Pinkie Swear not to use my wings?"

"No way, Twilight," Rainbow called. She paused in her ever-important duty of dragging beanbags down from my study room to show me her wings. "If me and Fluttershy gotta do it, so do you."

"You heard the mare!"

Pinkie rushed me and, before I knew what had happened, my wings were fastened to my side. I pulled against the restraints, but to know avail.

"Seriously?" I was standing like a bill ready to charge. "Fluttershy?"

"I wanted to follow the rules," Fluttershy said from her position behind a large potted plant.

"Fluttershy, darling, we haven't started yet. Why are you hiding?" Rarity chuckled.

Fluttershy shrugged. "Just… checking out the good spots, I guess."

Rarity gave me a look which expressed equal parts worry and pride in Fluttershy's participation. Fluttershy faded back into the shrubbery.

Amid the raucous scene, I almost missed Vinyl's knock at the door. But it was there-- sharp and rhythmic. Part of me thought I might be able to sneak to the door without anypony noticing and greet Vinyl alone. It might lessen the intensity of the night to come, I thought.

But the rest of me knew that such a subtle move could never work.

"She's here!" I shouted.

Everypony quite literally dropped what they were doing and rushed to the door.

I kind of wish I could have seen us through her eyes. Vinyl's entire face lit up as the doors opened, revealing our rag-tag crew and my disheveled castle.

"Uh… hi!" She said.

Everypony started talking at once, all but physically steamrolling over her.

"Surprise!" Pinkie slapped a party hat over Vinyl's horn. "Don't take that off! Pinkie's Patented Anti-Magic Device (patent pending)."

"Ooh, I'll bet whiskey's your drink, isn't it?" Rarity asked. "Whatever you want, we've got it! I'm practically a mixologist."

"Now, remember, Vinyl: whatever you do tonight, the floor is lava!" Rainbow was saying, having slung her foreleg over Vinyl's shoulders. "Touch the floor and you're dead!"

"Do you have any pets, Vinyl?" Fluttershy asked timidly. "Oh, nevermind. Just stick with me tonight, I'll show you all the good hiding places in the castle!"

"Twilight tells us you're a real stand-up mare," Applejack said. "Don't make a liar outta her tonight."

Despite the overwhelming flood of information, Vinyl took it all in stride. I watched from afar as she nodded and smiled at each one of my friends, looking into their eyes with a mix of wonder and blossoming friendship. It made my own heart swell with joy.

Amidst the clamour, she locked eyes with me. The way she smiled… small and understated, but entirely genuine. She was almost glowing.

I think I smiled back. All I know is that my hooves were bolted to the floor, and my cheeks were burning.

The group rolled in towards me from the door like a wave, endlessly churning over itself, but with Vinyl planted at the center.

Then she was in front of me, flanked on all sides by my friends. They had mysteriously fallen silent.

"Hey," Vinyl said. "Y'know, if you'd warned me, I coulda brought my own headgear."

I giggled.

"Alright!" Rainbow stomped her hoof authoritatively. "Every Game-mageddon night starts with a bottle of Applejack's cider, so let's not waste time!"

Rarity scoffed. "That has got to be the first time I've heard Rainbow Dash say that."

Rainbow ignored the snide comment and zipped over to the alcohol zone, a space Rarity had prepared at the back of the throne room. She tore into a case of cider like a rabid animal and held up the first bottle.

"Take yer bottle and get on the table!" she instructed with the volume and authority of an auctioneer.

Applejack was the first to take one. She popped the top and let the bottle cap clatter to the floor. I knew better than to argue. She then got a running start and leapt up onto the roundtable at the center of the room.

For every strange thing that happened, Vinyl was looking only at me. I'm sure she just wanted to see if anything would push me over the edge.

Fluttershy was next in line. She took the bottle hesitatingly, holding it from the top as if direct contact might burn her. She clambered up onto the table like an uncoordinated fawn.

Each pony took a bottle and joined Applejack at the center of the massive table. The whole lot of them were sort of murmuring and chuckling and sipping their drinks very casually. Applejack kept stealing glances at me, as did Rarity. I couldn't help but feel that a new rule was about to be introduced to our game.

At last, Rainbow held out a bottle each to me and Vinyl.

"Are you sure we should all be standing on the table like that?" Vinyl asked. "Isn't it, like. Magic, or something?"

I scoffed. "Or something."

"Oh, like anypony can reach the center, anyway. Totally wasted space!" Rainbow said. She popped the top of her bottle, and her cap rolled across the floor to some unknown location.

"Rainbow, I'm a unicorn!" I exclaimed, gesturing broadly to my horn and the table.

"So?"

"So, I can reach anything!" I stomped one hoof.

Rainbow shrugged. "Not my problem, take it up with the Queen of the Obstacle Course."

"That's you!" I stomped two hooves.

She shrugged again, giving me a sly look that said 'ah, at last, you remember what it's like to play The Game. Welcome to hell.' Or something like that, I guess.

Despite her restrained wings, Rainbow leapt up onto the table with ease.

I looked at Vinyl. "I'm so sorry. This is--"

"Amazing?" Vinyl finished for me.

She held out her bottle for a 'cheers'. I obliged. Our bottles clinked together.

"Hurry up, y'all!" Applejack called. "Or we'll do the countoff without you!"

Vinyl and I exchanged another look, then moved towards the table together.

We stood there, the seven of us, in a little ring, all holding a bottle of bronze and bubbling liquid. I nudged Vinyl a little bit. She winked at me.

"So… sorry, what exactly are the rules of the game?" Vinyl asked.

I would have smacked my forehead with my hoof, but I didn't have a spare.

Everypony in the circle erupted at once, shouting all kinds of conflicting instructions at a frankly obscene volume.

"So you'll start here at the obstacle course, make your way across the elemental chairs in descending age order--"

"--if you want to break the curse, you'll have to hide in a cave for 5 minutes, self-policed of course--"

"--to get a drink (and, believe me, you'll want one, darling) you have to shout out a trivia category and--"

"--every fifteen minutes, everypony has to drop where they are and do one round truth or dare--"

"--themed charades categories get you plus ten points when you advance to the trivia lightning round--"

"--answering a truth with a lie gets you sent to the dungeon, which is--"

"--and then if you find everypony who's hiding, you win!"

"Oh! And don't forget:" Rainbow warned.

"The floor is lava!" we all shouted in unison.

It had at last dawned on Vinyl what exactly she had signed up for. Her eyes were wide with confusion, her face drained of what little yellow undertone it had once had. "I'm sorry, did somepony say this could go on til midnight?"

Pinkie laughed. "We'll be lucky if it's that short!"

"What?!"

"Let's raise this barn, y'all!" Applejack said, holding up her cider bottle.

"1, 2, 3, 4!" we changed, stomping our hooves on each number.

Then everypony tipped back their bottles and began to drink as fast as they could

Vinyl was still frozen in confusion.

I took a huge gulp of cider. "Drink!" I told her. "Don't be last!"

"What happens if I--"

I jabbed her in the side with my elbow. She began to chug the cider like it was water in the desert.

Applejack and Rainbow Dash were already racing each other around the room, leaping from overturned throne to expertly-placed beanbag with reckless abandon.

"Sports!" Rainbow shouted.

I gasped for air. "First professional hoofball to speak at the National--"

"Victory Lap!" Rainbow screamed. "Ha, you're frozen, AJ!"

Applejack dutifully stopped her racing and stood, looking furious, on a violet cushion in the middle of the floor.

Vinyl threw down her bottle. "Now what?!" She was looking frazrd, but also kind of excited.

I threw mine down, too. "Chairs!"

Vinyl skittered across the shimmering surface of the roundtable and launched herself into the nearest throne. She landed in a way that must have knocked every ounce of wind from her lungs. She weazed deeply.

"Go right!" I told her.

"Okay…" Vinyl hauled herself back onto her hooves. "What was… somepony said something about age order?"

"Just go right!" I yelled.

She did as instructed and made another flying leap to a nearby pillow. She was laughing a bit now.

I followed her quickly.

"Twi, entertainment!" Pinkie screamed from an unknown location.

"Who published the first Power--"

"Smudged Ink! Woo-hoo!" Pinkie came flying down from the top of the stairwell and careening under the roundtable.

"Dare!" Rarity called.

"Lick your elbow!" Dash instructed.

"That's not possible and you know it!" Rarity complained.

"Then drink!" Rainbow commanded.

Rarity rolled her eyes. "Oh, no… whatever shall I do… another drink…" She trotted quickly over to her stash and found a case of wine coolers.

"Twilight!" Vinyl shouted. She was several obstacles ahead of me. "Am I supposed to pick a category?"

"Question! Question!" Pinkie pointed at Vinyl accusingly. "She's cursed now!"

"I'm cursed?!" Vinyl repeated. "The fuck does that mean?!"

"Hide!" I shouted.

Vinyl was off like a shot, jumping from chair to beanbag to throne, and finally onto the steps leading up to the eastern wing of the castle. I watched her go with the whisper of laughter on my ragged breath.

Then a feeling came over me. "Hey, how long is it until the curse is broken again?

"Question!" Pinkie shouted. "Curse!"

I grinned, shrugged, and followed Vinyl's path upstairs.

The first room in the eastern wing was my bedroom, funnily enough. I had closed the door when the preparation started. It stood open now.

I slunk into the room and shut the door behind me. The room was cloaked in near total darkness. "Vinyl?" I whispered.

Something moved under the bed. "Twilight? That's you, right?"

I breathed a sigh of relief. "It's me."

Vinyl shifted a bit under the bed. "I don't have to come out, do I?"

I laughed. "No, I wouldn't make you do that."

"Oh. Cool." She paused. "Breaking the rules for me, eh, Princess?"

I rolled my eyes, though I doubt she could see it in the dark. "Mind if I join you?"

"Nah, come on down." More sound as Vinyl shifted to her side.

I trotted to my bed and bent down to peer under it. In the dark, I couldn't quite tell what was Vinyl and what was space. I reached up and took off my party hat, then lit my horn.

Vinyl was on her stomach under my bed. She looked up at me. "Oh, I know you didn't just take off your Pinkie's Patented Anti-Magic Device, Princess. I will narc on you."

I giggled. "I'm totally following the rules."

"And which rule is this?" Vinyl asked.

I blushed. "The 'I'll do what I want to hang out with Vinyl Scratch' rule."

Vinyl grinned. I thought I saw a touch of blush in her own cheeks. "Good rule."

I crouched down and backed into the space beside Vinyl. She seemed to take a sharp breath in as I did this, flexing her sides to keep from pressing into me. I wasn't quite sure how to feel about that.

"I'm sorry, Vinyl. I really should have tried to talk them into something different."

"You're kidding, right?" Vinyl turned her head to look at me. "Look: is this the most scared I've ever been? Totally. Is it also the best night I've ever had? One-hundred percent."

"Tsk, now I know you're lying."

"I am not!" Vinyl laughed. "I dunno what it is that makes you think your friends are weird or intense or whatever, but they're literally the coolest ponies in Equestria. And they wanna hang out with me? They wanna drink with me and play crazy, life-threatening games with me? That's literally the best night I could ask for, Twi."

I smiled.

Vinyl reached over and wrapped her foreleg around my barrel.

I stopped smiling.

Then I started again. Secretly.

"I'm really, really lucky you agreed to go with Rainbow that night."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Vinyl squeezed me tight. "You're the best."

We were quiet for a moment. My heart was beating fast and hard as a drum, and all the way up in my throat. I could feel the bees buzzing about in my stomach. Surprisingly, the alcohol had not drowned them.

A sudden noise caused me and Vinyl to shrink further into the depth of the bed. Vinyl's hoof withdrew from my flank.

I looked at Vinyl.

Was that the door? she mouthed.

I nodded.

A shadow passed over us. Then again, in the other direction.

Then Rarity's face was even with ours. "Ah-ha! Illegal alliance!"

I buried my face in my hooves.

"That doesn't sound good," Vinyl said.

The distant sounds of clattering hooves were quickly approaching. Soon, all five of my friends were standing over us, all them with a difficult-to-read expression. Curiosity? Discovery? Vengefulness?

"Um, what exactly do we do with an illegal alliance?" Fluttershy asked.

"Well, we…" Rarity looked at Rainbow Dash. "We, er--"

"We're gonna put you on trial!" Rainbow said.

"We are?" Pinkie asked.

"Th-that's right!" Applejack said. "So choose, traitors: truth or dare?"

Vinyl wiggled out from under the bed. Everypony took a few steps back to allow her the space. "That's it? We do a truth or a dare, and that's it?"

"Uh…" Applejack looked at Rarity. "No, we, uh…"

"Oh!" Rarity's eyes lit up. "One of you tells the truth, one of you does a dare!"

Vinyl and I looked at each other.

"You wanna--"

"You should take--"

With both stopped, giggled a bit. It was all for fun, after all.

"You first," I said. "You're the guest."

"You sure?" Vinyl asked.

I nodded.

"Alright, then. I'll pick, uh…" She rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "I'll go with truth."

"Who's the last pony you slept with?" Pinkie Pie blurted, all but squealing over her own question.

Vinyl frowned. "Octavia. My marefriend. Who I live with."

"Pinkie!" Rainbow scolded. "Come on!"

Pinkie giggled. "Sorry!"

Applejack smacked her forehead with one hoof. "Alright, alright. You pass."

"Cool." Vinyl nodded.

The group turned to me. Applejack's eyes were glittering mischievously, as we're Rainbow Dash's. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie both looked as if they would explode if they were told not to speak for another second. Rarity was chewing on her lip.

"Twilight. A punishment to fit the crime…" Applejack said, drawing the words out as long as possible. She stroked her chin with one hoof, gazing up at the ceiling. "Alright. You like Vinyl so much? Kiss her."

My heart dropped into my hooves, then shot back up behind my eyes. I tried to say something, but my lips moved silently.

Rainbow Dash laughed and punched Applejack's shoulder. "Nice thinking, AJ!"

Applejack nodded sagely.

Vinyl looked at me, eyes wide. "What-- no, no! Th-that's--"

"We'll leave you two alone!" Rarity sang.

The crowd scrambled out the door and slammed it shut.

Vinyl and I threw ourselves against the inside of the door. It rattled but did not open.

"Let us out!" I shouted. "This is stupid!"

"Y-yeah!" Vinyl added. "Totally stupid, pick a different dare!"

The girls on the other side giggled. They could be so immature sometimes.

Vinyl slid down onto the floor, looking distant, her back against the door. The juxtaposition of her apparent misery against the pink-and-green polka-dotted party hat almost made me laugh out loud. "You were right."

"Hm?"

Vinyl chuckled wryly. "You were right, your friends are lunatics. I've been here for less than ten minutes."

I sat down beside Vinyl. "But… good lunatics, right?"

Vinyl was silent.

"I'm sorry. I think I should've laid out some ground rules." I shifted my wings inside the restraints. "I think the girls can get a little over-excited when it comes to new ponies. They just want you to feel like you're a part of the group."

"This is being part of the group?" Vinyl asked.

I laughed. "Haven't you ever had girl friends?"

Vinyl shrugged. "I guess… I dunno, most ponies in my line of work are dudes. They can get weird sometimes, but-- well, there's never been kissing."

I sighed lightly.

"I mean, I'd do it," Vinyl said.

I looked at her. My heart thudded. "You would?"

"Well-- but it would be super weird, right?"

"R-right… definitely."

Vinyl shuffled her hooves a bit. In the quiet, we could hear the girls on the other side murmuring and giggling. Vinyl looked over her shoulder at the door.

She turned to me. "Just go with me, okay?" she whispered.

"Huh?"

"Oh!" Vinyl shouted. "Oh, she did it! Twilight kissed me!"

"She did not!" Pinkie shouted.

"Did too!" I argued. I pounded a hoof on the door.

"Well, what did her mouth taste like?" Pinkie asked.

I spluttered, my cheeks burning. "Like a mouth! What do you think? Let us out!"

"Not buyin' it!" Applejack shouted.

They all giggled again.

"Ugh!" I folded my legs over my chest tightly, like I was trying to hold myself together. "Doesn't really seem right to be playing these games after what happened last week."

Vinyl looked over at me. "Hey. No."

I looked back. Our locked eyes together.

"You're giving those drama hounds too much credit," Vinyl said. Her eyes were dark and focused. "Why do you care so much what they say, anyway? Last week they said that Princess Celestia was pregnant by some member of the Royal Guard, and nopony believed that.”

“Because, this time it’s--” I put my hoof over my mouth to stop myself from speaking. Or crying. Or both. “I just--”

“Hey, hey!” Vinyl wrapped her foreleg around my shoulders and pulled me in for a hug. “Look, I didn't mean what I said about your friends. They're awesome. I'm sure they cooked up all of to help you forget that stupid gossip. Right?"

"I guess." I sniffled. "Pretty stupid way to do that,” I spat.

Vinyl shrugged. “I think they just wanna show you that it-- you know, it doesn’t matter. It’s all just silly, out-of-context stuff that doesn’t mean anything.”

Doesn’t mean anything?

Anything?

“In fact, let’s just do it,” Vinyl said. She withdrew her hoof from my back. “Y’know, just get it over with.”

Get it over with?

My heart was pounding so heart I thought my ribs would shatter. The echoing giggles of my friends from the other side of the door sounded so far away they may as well have been on another planet.

Vinyl shifted so that her shoulder was against the door.

Gosh, the floor in here is hard. My butt hurts and I’ve only been sitting here for a few minutes. I think. Or has it been longer? It could’ve been an hour. Could have been days, and I wouldn’t have noticed. Oh, Celestia, what could my friends be thinking right now? Do they know? Do they know I like her?

“Should we?” Vinyl asked.

“Uh…” It was so hot. Hot and stifling, like the club. And now the giggles were so loud, thrumming like the bassline of that horrible music. No-- the beautiful music. Her music. “I, uh…”

Vinyl chuckled. “They’re not gonna let us out ‘til we do.”

She was so close. So close I could see every little strand of fur on her snout. Could see the way it rippled along her throat as she spoke, swallowed, breathed. So close I could see the shimmering flecks of pink in her ruby-red eyes. So close I could see the tiny, almost imperceptible motions of her eyebrows as she wondered what I was thinking.

What was I thinking?

I was thinking I wanted it.

But not this. Not now, not this time. This wasn’t what I wanted, this wasn’t how I wanted it, it couldn’t happen like this it couldn’t!

“No! Not like this!” I shouted.

Silence.

My friends’ laughter stopped on a dime. All I could hear was the rushing of my own blood through my ears, and the frantic beating of my heart.

“Twilight, I--”

I shot to my hooves. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean-- I just meant that-- It’s just-- y’know? I mean we shouldn’t do-- because then that would be-- right? That’s right, right?”

Vinyl stared at me, her mouth slightly agape. “I’m… I don’t…”

I stared at her a moment longer. The look on her face was entirely impenetrable. It could have meant anything in the world.

“You know what?” I said. “I’m just gonna get some air.”

Like the flick of a switch, everything went away. Panic had tripped over into full-blown fugue. I felt as if I was floating above the castle, watching myself use magic to remove the ropes around my wings. I walked over to the window and opened it into the evening air.

All of this, and it wasn’t even seven o’clock.

Somewhere, distantly, Vinyl was still trying to talk to me. All I could hear was a sort of warm and muffled sound. Like the music from outside the club. Or like when I was wearing her ear plugs.

I leapt gracefully from the window and coasted to the ground. I heard Vinyl shout something and run to the window after me, but she had no hope of following.

When I reached the ground, it struck me that I had no place to go. All of my friends were inside, my brother was in another time zone…

So I trotted back around to the front and rang the bell to be let in.

Fluttershy opened the door.

“Hi, Fluttershy,” I said.

“Twilight, we didn’t mean--”

“I think it’s time everypony went home,” I said. “It’s getting late.”

“It’s not even dark out,” Rainbow complained, her head poking up from behind Fluttershy’s.

“I’m tired,” I said.

“Twilight,” Applejack said, her voice coming from a blond tuft of hair back behind the others. “You know we were only joking, right?”

“You wouldn’t let me out of my room!” I said, stomping my hoof on the ground. I took a deep breath, and let it out slow. “I’m okay. I just need to go to bed”

The girls stood still for a moment, all huddled together in my doorway. They had tried to fix things. I could see that. It may have been a horribly misguided attempt at fixing things, but still an attempt.

It was no big deal.

Nopony cared.

Nopony even remembered.

They filed out one by one, leaving Vinyl standing alone in my foyer. She made a face at me that I couldn’t decipher.

“I overthink things,” I said.

“I know.”

“I wasn’t trying to--”

“Twilight.” Vinyl smiled, though it seemed to be a pitying smile. “It’s okay. It’s nice that those sorts of things mean so much to you, y’know?”

Nice?

“Uh-huh.”

Vinyl sighed. Something about it seemed half-finished. “I’ll see ya later.”

“Okay.”

She walked past me, taking a little detour as she neared to leave me a bubble of personal space. Too far away to reach out and touch. Even like a friend might.

I had been so close.