HeartBeats and HeartStrings

by DJ-PonRainbowFireJack

First published

The story of the love and lives of Vinyl Scratch and Octavia

When Vinyl and Octavia first meet on the streets of Manehattan it seems that they have little in common. Octavia is a part of a prestigious String Quartet and a graduate of Canterlot's most acclaimed music school. Vinyl, on the other hand, is a young street musician, playing and living on the dirty streets of the low-end part of the city, trying to survive harsh winters without shelter. But there is a one thing they share that binds them together in spite of everything: music. And thus their story unfolds. But with all of the struggles they face and the secrets they keep, can two ponies who are so different ever find peace with each other and, more importantly, with themselves?


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Lives intersect. Hearts collide. All the while we are trying to figure out just who we are and how we fit into this world. Sometimes the dissonance is so jarring that we have to run and run far in the opposite direction. But sometimes there is a harmony that is so beautiful that we can’t pull ourselves away. It’s haunting and frightening, but it’s also calming and safe. We don’t know much about anything except that that moment is the most pure truth we have ever experienced in all of our lives. We don’t know if it will last until the end of time. Really we don’t even know if it will last the night. But in that moment everything is right. In that moment music is made that is so beautiful that anything that is bad is gone and all you can hear above that sound is the boom of your heartbeat keeping time.

Chapter One

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Chapter One

The thirteen year old pony watched the scenes flash by out the rain speckled window of her train compartment. Each passing moment and sight filled her with an odd combination of growing trepidation and relief. On one hoof she was terrified. She was only a child after all, as much as she tried to deny it, and she had no idea where she was going and what she was going to do. Her future was uncertain and there was little light at the end of the tunnel. On the other hoof, there was no light on the end she was coming from either. No matter what happened to her in the future, no matter where her journeys took her, she knew that it would be better than staying at home. She had made the right decision.

Vinyl pulled away from the window with a sigh. It was amazing she’d made it this far without being shipped back to her home. Some part of her had remained certain that somepony, be it her sister or one of her parents, would chase after her and force her to return home. Somewhere in her heart she had held a notion that someone would recognize her and bring her back to her parents doorstep. But now she was on a train bound for Manehattan and nopony had done more than pose the expected, “Aren’t you a little young to be out on your own?”

She didn’t know what drew her to Manehattan of all places. She had no relatives there. Perhaps there were a few from her mother’s side of the family across the bay, but she couldn’t trust any of them, what with their connection to her mother. She might have sought the comforts of her father’s relatives, but something pushed her away from family, even the ones that she might have been able to trust back in the day. Vinyl had decided at some point since climbing out her bedroom window that she could trust no one but herself and that was the way it was going to remain.

When Vinyl stepped off the train at the station it was with a little bit of uncertainty in her heart. Now that she was there she didn’t know where she was going. With a deep breath she hoisted the few possessions she had onto her back and set out across the platform.
“Hey, what’s a little filly like you doing steppin’ into a big city like this,” a man at the ticket booth commented as she walked by. Vinyl stopped in her tracks and turned to scowl at the man.
“What’s it to you, old man?” she snapped.
The man raised his eyebrows. “Okay, simmer down! Don’t get ya tail in a twist! I was only askin’ because it’s unusual for a girl your age to end up in a place like this. It’s dangerous around here, kid.”
“I’ll manage.”
“Do ya have any idea where ya headed?”
Vinyl hesitated, the walked cautiously up to the man at the window. “No, no really. But like I said, I’ll manage.”
“It’s a hard city to navigate on ya own, kid,” the stallion commented. “You’ll get lost. Here,” he handed her a map of Manehattan through the ticket window, “take this. It’s got all the hotspots and the public transit routes on here. Also,” he hesitated, then beckoned closer. “Listen, ya can’t tell anypony I’m tellin’ you this, but there’s a guy named Golden Tooth who’ll help ya if ya get yaself in a real tough spot. He’s not a great guy in the sense of the law, but he’ll help ya out if ya agree to help him out. But don’t tell anypony I told ya and don’t go there unless ya have literalley no other choice.”
Vinyl blinked for a minute, then smiled. “Thanks… I wasn’t really expectin’ somepony to be all nice to me the moment I stepped off the train.”
“Don’t get used to it, kid… It’s a Diamond Dog eat Diamond Dog world out there. Just remember… The name’s Velvet Chapeau and if ya ever need skip town fast, I’m ya guy.”
“I’ll remember.”
“Don’t be a stranger, kid!” he called as she headed off toward the carriage taxi that would take her into the city. “I could use some company every once and a while!”

Vinyl took a deep breath. This was it. The moment she set hoof into the city bound taxi-carriage she would be on her way to her fate. Whatever lay in store for her, she knew in her heart it would find her in this city. Whether it would be for the better or not… That was in the hands of some power greater than her.

Octavia closed her eyes and gritted her teeth, trying to push through another day. A student at the Canterlot Music Conservatory, she was often underestimated. She was just learning after all. As a result she felt her own skill was falling behind. She wanted to excel, to learn, to play, but her teachers insisted on keeping her at this elementary level. It was almost wasn’t even worth it to go to music school anymore.

It hadn’t started out that way. In the beginning she had felt that she was far behind everpony else. They had all grown up learning their instruments. She hadn’t picked up the cello until the day she got her Cutie Mark. Though she had learned very quickly, as all ponies with a special talent for music would, she didn’t have the years of experience to set her ahead. She had worked her flank off to reach the level she was at now. Apparently her instructors did not realize the work she had put into improving. To them she was the same struggling pupil who had entered the school.

“Margaret Octavia Pie, are you listening to me?” her instructor snapped. Octavia’s attention snapped back to the present.

“I’m sorry Madame Pianissimo,” she said with a slight shake of her head. “I guess I spaced out.”

Madame Pianissimo sniffed, her nose in the air in true Canterlot fashion. “If you will not focus on your craft, Miss Pie, you will never succeed as a musician, young lady. At this rate I will be surprised if you can even get a silly birthday gig with your playing.”

This is how it was with her instructors. She had so much ability, but nopony saw it. She was beginning to wonder if she imagined her own talent. But that couldn’t be. It was her special talent after all. How could her one true talent be imaginary? But why couldn’t her teachers see it? Why couldn’t her peers? For her other classmates didn’t seem to have much faith in her either. They simply saw her as the weird, quiet gray pony without any high class music training before the music school. Which was entirely ridiculous, for they had all gotten into the same conservatory, had they not? But the other students didn’t seem able to see beyond their own class. It was like their own upturned noses obscured their vision. But no, she ought not to look down on other ponies. That made her no better than them.

“Oh, look, it’s Octavia the Talentless,” a voice sneered. Octavia closed her eyes tightly. Not today.

“Please leave me be, Piano Forte,” she said through gritted teeth. She had no patience for her tormentors today.

The sleek black and white mare cackled. “Why, Dorktavia? Afraid to prove yourself?”

“She’s afraid because she knows she’ll fail,” a stocky tan filly jibed.

“I don’t have time for you today,” Octavia snapped.

“Face it, loser. You can take the girl out of Hicksville, but you’ll never take the Hicksville out of the girl,” said Piano. “You’ll never be half the musician any of us are. They should kick you out of the conservatory.”

All the ponies around her were laughing. Tears in her eyes, Octavia turned on her heel and stormed away to her dormitory. She threw herself onto her bed and allowed herself to cry for the first time in months. It had been a mistake coming to this school. She had been fighting that fact for a long time, but there was no denying it. No one saw her as anything but the pony from the rural county of Ponyville. There was nothing more hick than being from right outside of Ponyville after all. They didn’t see her as a musician and they never would. It would be best just to give up now.

Just then, the door the her room opened and her roommate walked in. Her roommate was a short, pale blue pony with a pale yellow mane named Viola who, unsurprisingly, had decided to take up her namesake instrument. “Hey, Octavia, are you okay?” she asked sympatheticalley.

“I’m going home, Viola,” Octavia sniffed.

“Oh, Octavia, please don’t do that,” Viola said, her eyes growing wide. “You’re the best cello player I’ve ever met. You deserve to be here more than any of the other ponies.”

“Try telling them that,” Octavia replied bitterly.

“Don’t listen to idiots like Piano Forte. She thinks she’s all that because she grew up on the piano, but let’s face it. She’s hardly the best musician at the school. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Money doesn’t buy talent.”

“It’s not just the other students, Viola. It’s the teachers. None of them seem to think I can do it!”

“Prove them wrong, then. Show them what you can do Go the extra mile. But if you leave, Octavia, you’ll never prove any of them wrong.”

She nodded as if she agreed but inside she was still wondering if it was even worth it.

Was it even worth it? Vinyl asked herself as she wandered the streets of this new city. The larger part of her answered with a resounding “yes.” Anything was better than what she had left behind, even if she had no idea what she was doing. But a small part of her, the part of her that often spoke like her sister, said that perhaps things would have been better if she’d just toughed it out. She’d at least have a place to sleep that night. But she couldn’t think like that. What was done was done and she was never going back to that place. She wouldn’t. She couldn’t.

Vinyl went through what Velvet had told her. “Listen, ya can’t tell anypony I’m tellin’ you this, but there’s a guy named Golden Tooth who’ll help ya if ya get yaself in a real tough spot. He’s not a great guy in the sense of the law, but he’ll help ya out if ya agree to help him out. But don’t tell anypony I told ya and don’t go there unless ya have literalley no other choice.” The idea of seeking out help from somepony who was clearly a criminal made her a little uneasy, but what if it came down to that? Then I’ll do it, she thought firmly. If I have no other choice I’ll get help where I can, but until then, I’m on my own.

There was a strange comfort in knowing that, if push came to shove, she would have the guts to seek help from less than reputable sources. But hopefully it wouldn’t come to that. She had her zebra bongo drum. Maybe she would be able to scrap a few bits out of a few suckers she could guilt into feeling sorry for her with that. It wouldn’t be enough to get her shelter, but it might get her enough to feed herself. That would be nice. She hadn’t eaten much since she’d left home a few months before. Enough to get by. That was pretty much how she lived these days.

Vinyl quickly realized that ponies in Manehattan, no matter where she played, didn’t seem to care much for street musicians mussing up their streets with the noise. She got a few bits from a few passers by, but overall, she didn’t come up with much. In the end she settled into a street corner in the dirtier part of town. The competition between street musicians was fierce here, but that was because it was almost the only place in the city where the ponies who lived and travelled there didn’t have their snooty noses so far up their butts that it was no wonder they walked around constantly with their faces crunched up like they smelled something vile.

The streets started to clear a little as an orange haze blanketed the street. Dark was approaching quickly. The street musicians were packing up and being replaced by a darker sort. Prostitutes stood on every street corner and drug dealers prowled much more out in the open than they would ever dare during the day. It was time for Vinyl to clear out before things started to turn ugly. There was no telling what could happen to a thirteen year old girl on the streets at night in this part of town.

Vinyl stole off into an alleyway. It seemed like the kind of place that a street bum might live, not that she actually knew much about those sorts of things. But the place was filled with boxes and bums lived in boxes. She pulled a large one into an erect position and curled up inside it, hugging her brown scarf tightly around her body and curling up around her drum. She was lucky. It was a relatively warm night. The crisp air of fall hadn’t set in yet as it would soon. But right then she didn’t worry about that too much. She couldn’t waste her energy worrying about the future. She knew that to survive this life she would have to life entirely in the moment.

Just as she was about to drift off into sleep a loud noise down the alley jerked her awake. She lay, frozen to the spot, hoping that whoever, or whatever, had made the noise wouldn’t notice she was there. When the others on the alley began to talk, she stiffened her body and tried her best not to make a single noise.

“Ya think ya can play me for a fool, Ruby?” a voice snarled. “Ya think ya can double cross me and get away with it?”

“Get a hold of yourself, Red Hooves!” a female voice said, strangely calm and gentle in spite of her words, not to mention the current situation. “I do not know where you are getting your information, but I have not double crossed you, dear. I am as loyal as ever.”

“Not accordin’ ta my sources, girl,” Red Hooves sneered.

“Who told you that I was double crossing, dare I ask?” Ruby asked in a tone that was almost bored.

When Red Hooves spoke again he sounded livid. “Who do ya think ya are, questionin’ me?”

“All I have to say is that your sources are notoriously apt at collect wrong information, Red,” Ruby replied. “It ought to be your faulty informant that you kill for this happening, not myself.”

There was a silence. Red Hooves seemed to truly be thinking about what Ruby had said. It seemed incredible that the young woman might be able to wiggle her way out of being hurt by this stallion. He sounded like somepony that nopony wanted to cross. More than anything Vinyl wished she could see what was going on, but she didn’t dare move. Finally, Red Hooves spoke again.

“You’re off the hook, Rubes,” he said slickly. “I shoulda known a crafty dame like yaself wouldn’t be dumb enough ta double cross Red Hooves.”

“I wouldn’t think so,” Ruby replied. Vinyl could hear Red Hooves trotting away down the alley. Soon the sound of his hooves were gone, but Vinyl still waited with baited breath. For a long time there was silence, but suddenly Ruby spoke again.

“Crystal, take this message directly to Golden Tooth. Nopony else, understand?”

Vinyl watched as a cat so pale it was almost invisible streaked past her box. Then there were hoofsteps. Ruby’s hoofsteps and they seemed to be coming closer to her. Vinyl closed her eyes, hoping she wouldn’t be noticed. She wasn’t afraid of the mare like she was of Red Hooves, but she still didn’t relish the moment that Ruby found out she had been eavesdropped on, especially since it seemed that, whoever she was, she was working for both this Red Hooves and Golden Tooth, the pony Velvet that recommended Vinyl see if she became desperate.

“Who the hay are you!” Ruby hissed. Vinyl opened her eyes to see Ruby peeking into her box. She was a very striking and attractive unicorn. Her coat was the palest of pinks and almost looked white. Her mane, which was curled and done up in a way that looked out of place in the dirty alley, was a bold red that matched her namesake perfectly. Her lash-lined eyes were a piercing shade of gold.

“Nopony,” Vinyl answered, trying to sound as if she were not frightened. “Nopony important.”

“How much did you hear?” Ruby snapped. Vinyl hesitated, thinking about lying, but the hesitation was all that Ruby needed to hear. She cursed softly and looked at Vinyl a little desperately. “I really ought to take you to Golden Tooth, get this all straightened out… by my, you are young, aren’t you?”

“Thirteen,” Vinyl admitted.

Ruby shook her head. “I’m really sorry to have to do this, but I can’t have random ponies on the street knowing about me without Golden Tooth knowing about it. You’re going to have to come with me.”

“To meet Golden Tooth?”

“Yes… You don’t sound frightened. Either you don’t know who he is or you are very stupid.”

“I doubt he can be scarier than Red Hooves.”

Ruby looked mildly appraising. “You have pluck, child,” she commented. “Well, up you get then.”

Vinyl followed Ruby through a maze of streets. They seemed to be taking a very convoluted direction. No doubt that was on purpose. Ruby probably didn’t want Vinyl knowing where to find Golden Tooth’s hideout. This theory was all but confirmed when Vinyl made the last leg of the journey blindfolded.

The room they stopped in was cold. Vinyl couldn’t see through her blindfold, but she could feel that the room was large and probably underground. She could hear water dripping, but it seemed to be from the passages rather than the room itself. The air felt damp, but not like there would be condensation on the ceiling.

“I understand that Red Hooves nearly caught you again?” A low, gruff, yet somehow comforting voice said.

“Yes, but that’s not all. I was overhead.”

“But this girl?”


“But she is just a child!” The man sounded shocked.

“Thirteen, Golden… I know that she is young, but I couldn’t take the risk…”

“Take off her blindfold.”

The blindfold was removed from Vinyl’s eyes to reveal that the room was indeed large and dark. It was also decked out in a variety of gems. In the center of the room there was a large desk with a high backed chair. At that desk sat a pony that could only be Golden Tooth. He was large and yellow with greasy black hair that was slicked back from his scarred face. He wore a pinstriped, black vest and a thick golden watch that made Vinyl think of old-timey gangsters. As she had expected from the moment she’d heard his name, inside his smile glistened a single golden tooth. He looked at her with his oddly warm brown eyes.

“What’s your name, girl?” he asked gently.

“Vinyl,” she answered, her voice soft, but audible.

“Vinyl… you are thirteen?”


“Vinyl… you are young, but you don’t seem to be dumb. I imagine you can understand the consequences of telling anypony about what you heard tonight?”

Vinyl gulped. “Yes, sir.”

“Good. You may go. You are young. I do not force the hooves of one as young as you to work for me. I trust you to keep your word. Just know that sometimes in the future, when you are older, I may call upon your assistance.”

“Thank you, sir,” she said, her breath uneven.

“Ruby Brooch will escort you out.”

As they left the premises Ruby Brooch patted Vinyl lightly on the shoulder. “Don’t be scared, child. Golden Tooth is fair. He probably won’t even call on you to help him. So long as you don’t talk you’ll be fine. Red Hooves doesn’t know about you, so you’ll be safe.”

Vinyl nodded. She didn’t trust herself to speak. Despite Ruby’s reassurances she couldn’t help but feel that she had fallen into cahoots with Golden Tooth far earlier than she had ever intended.

Octavia relished Saturdays. She loved being able to get off campus, get away from the snide remarks from her peers, away from her classes. It was strange for her to actually enjoy free time. In the past she had always been the kind of pony who preferred to have every minute of every day filled productively, but since joining the Conservatory she was more than happy to take a few days to herself to wander around the classy Canterlot streets. Her favorite place to go was a small coffee and tea shop on the corner of Magic Avenue and Harmony Lane. It was privately owned by a young and eccentric mare named Mocha Latte. The cream colored pony was a little pretentious at times, but as many had told Octavia that she was the same she found that she could overlook this quirk.

“Oh, look!” Mocha said with a smile as Octavia entered the shop. “Fancypants music school pony is back! The usual?”

“Yes, please,” Octavia agreed.

“One tall white mocha comin’ up! What’s up, Octavia?”

Octavia sighed. “The usual. Snotty students, disapproving teachers.”

Mocha smirked. “I keep telling you, get out of there while you can. Schools like that are just trying to make you the same as everypony else. You’ll turn into a music making robot.”

“At least I’ll be a talented and skilled music making robot,” Octavia pointed out. “A lot of the ponies in the music industry seem to be getting by on good looks and money.”

Mocha Latte made a noise of disgust as she adjusted her thick, square-rimmed glasses that Octavia wasn’t one hundred percent certain were real. “Please, you can’t even call that mainstream crap music. You’ll only find real music in my collection!”

“Oh, like Coltzart and Neighthoven?” Octavia asked, already knowing the answer.

“Nah, stuff life… but you’ve probably never heard of them.”

Octavia rolled her eyes. “I don’t know why you put such a premium on being undiscovered, Mocha.”

“Musicians lose their souls when they get popular,” she replied with a wrinkled nose as she tossed her coffee colored mane out of her eyes. “I mean, seriously, look at Sapphire Shores. I have some of her original R&B demos and their actually, like, really good. But when she got that major record deal a few years ago and shot to fame all of her actual talent flew out the window because she decided to go all mainstream… I’m telling you, Octavia… Popularity kills talent.”

Octavia shook her head. Thought most musicians that were considered “mainstream” weren’t really to her taste, she didn’t really agree with her friend. There were plenty of popular artists that, though they did not play her brand of music, clearly still had the essence of the art in their souls. But she had learned a long time ago not to argue with Mocha Latte about the issue. She was very stubborn about the matter and Octavia had found that it was easier to pursue friendships with ponies if you didn’t constantly challenge their beliefs. So she’d learned to stay silent even if what she heard irked her.

“Anyway,” Mocha said as she pushed Octavia’s drink to her, “you definitely need to get out of that school. Playing classical music is fine, but there’s definitely a mainstream culture in that industry and all of it comes right out of that institution.”

Octavia smiled and sipped her drink. “How about I just promise not to lose my soul in favor of fame and fortune?”

“I’m holding you to that.”

For all of her quirks, Octavia definitely preferred spending time with Mocha to spending time with the other students at the school. It was the same day after day with them. She didn’t entirely know why, as she wasn’t the only pony without a high class background at the school, but she had been singled out from day one. Viola was the only pony she sort of counted as a friend there. Nopony else had the nerve to try to befriend her. Piano Forte made life miserable for anypony that did. Part of her wanted to show Piano up. After all, she was pretty certainly that she was talented. Her treble clef cutie mark proved at least that much. Unfortunately for that side of her, Octavia was wasn’t confrontational by nature. In fact, she was just the opposite. The idea of legitimate confrontation usually sent her fleeing as fast as she could in the opposite directions.

As if summoned by her thoughts the last pony she wanted to see come anywhere near her private sanctuary appeared at the door to the coffee shop. Octavia squeaked audibly, causing Mocha Latte to raise her eyebrows. No! No, no, no! Please keep walking… please keep walking… But there was no chance of it, really. Octavia’s luck didn’t allow it. Instead Piano Forte, flanked by a couple minions, walked right into The Coffee Beans Café. Octavia turned her head away, praying that she wouldn’t be seen.

“Friends of yours,” Mocha commented in an undertone.

“Not exactly… actually, no… no, not at all.”

“I can kick them out if I want to?”

“With what grounds?”

Mocha shrugged. “Don’t need grounds. It’s my business, I can choice to deny service to whoever I want.”

Octavia shook her head. “No, just serve them and get them out of here quickly before they see me!”

But it was too late. “Octavia,” Piano said in a falsely sweet tone. “Who would have ever guessed that you would be the here of all places!”

“You, by the sounds of it,” Mocha said, her voice disgusted.

Piano Forte turned her attention to the coffee shop owner. “Nopony asked you,” she said snottily. “Who’s this, Octavia? Your girlfriend?”

Octavia could feel her face growing hot. Why did Piano have to torment her all the time? Why couldn’t she just leave her be? Mocha Latte didn’t take well to the accusation of being Octavia’s girlfriend either, for she swelled up like a balloon. “Watch your mouth!” she snapped. “I own this place, you know! I could throw you out if I wanted to!”

Piano Forte giggled. “Why so embarrassed, Octavia? There’s nothing wrong with it! I mean, there are a lot of lesbian ponies in Equestria! What could happen? I mean, besides being totally ostracized from respectable Canterlot society, of course…”

“You’re right, Piano Forte,” Octavia snapped. “There is nothing wrong with it! It’s accepted all over the country except for in this high class little niche you call ‘high society!’ But truly, what could possibly be sophisticated about any society that breeds ponies like you?”

She regretted saying it the moment it came out of her mouth. Piano Forte’s face twisted into an awful scowl. “You’re going to regret that, Dorktavia,” she sneered in Octavia’s face. “You’re going to wish you had never been born!” Then she and her posse were gone, leaving Octavia sitting still like a statue at her seat.

“That was impressive, Octavia,” Mocha said approvingly.

“It was stupid.”

“Don’t worry about it. What can a little bitch like that possibly do to you?”

“You’d be surprised, Mocha.”

“I mean,” Mocha continued, “I’m guessing that there’ll be a rumor floating around that you’re a lesbian, but that’s totally okay in most of Equestria. It’s just the uptight ponies that you don’t want anything to do with that care.”

“The uptight ponies that listen to the music that I practice, Mocha!” Octavia groaned and collapsed on the counter. “What am I going to do?”

“What the rest of us do, Oct. Grin and bare it. It’ll be torture in school, but who’s gonna listen to a brat like Piano Forte? It might make your life a living hell, but it won’t effect your career.”

“Thanks,” Octavia said sarcastically. “I feel so much better now.”

“No prob, Octavia. Any time.”

Chapter Two

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Chapter 2

A few weeks passed by. It was strange for Vinyl to experience the time whizzing by, and yet seeming to drag at the same time. In the weeks since she’d arrived in Manehatten the warm nights had cooled rapidly. Sleeping had begun to become difficult, so she’d started piling boxes on top of herself to keep warm. Winter was coming fast. Vinyl began to wonder if she would be warm enough to make it through the night. Then that pony came. That wonderful pony who, despite his outward appearance of class, seemed to harbor no ill will or disgust for ponies in her position. Just the opposite, in fact. She had been playing on a nicer street one day, desperate for an escape from the dirt and smell of the lower-end. Most of the ponies there were disgusted by her presence.

“There ought to be a law to get rid of scum like her,” one mare had said to friend.

But then he came strolling by, clearly out and about on a simple stroll. The tall, lean white unicorn with the stylish blue mane. He wore an elegant black suit and bow-tie that was so clearly fashionable that Vinyl expect a sneer. Instead, he looked at her searchingly through his monocle, his eyes concerned rather than disgusted.

“I say, my dear,” he said, his accent sounding like he was probably originally from Trottingham. It was too authentic to place his origin in Manehatten or Canterlot, though he probably lived in one of two now. “You seem to be rather young to be out on the streets like this.”

“I guess so,” Vinyl said, mildly taken aback that he was actually talking to her.

“Do you not have parents?”

“Not anymore.”

“And you’re living on the streets.”


“I see. Well, it’s hardly within my authority to demand you to return home… But there must be something I can do. Nights tend to be quite chilly this time of the year… Ah, yes!” He took off his thick, woolen overcoat and tossed it to Vinyl. She caught it with a surprised expression on her face. “That should do the trick!”

“Umm… sir… you really don’t have to… ya know… give this… I mean… It looks really expensive.”

The fine-looking stallion laughed a little, his small moustache quivering. “My dear, money is not an issue for me, not at all! I could give away a hundred coats and still have enough money to buy myself a yacht. I suppose this is my way of giving back. Think of it as a gift.”

“Well… thanks… thanks a lot.”

“Don’t mention it, my dear, do not mention it!”

Her nights were more bearable after that. The coat wasn’t quite as pristine as it had been the day that stallion had given it to her, but despite the wear that had been brought to it by the streets it was still perhaps the warmest coat she’d ever owned in her life. It made sleeping on the streets easier, but by no means easy. The ground was hard and uncomfortable. She struggled to make enough money on the streets to eat. She was often hungry, tired, and more than a little dirty.

But she continued to play. Day after day she broke out her drum and played until nightfall. Usually she could manage at least a few bits a day. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to keep her from jumping on the nearest train and heading home. Whenever her will was weak she would find herself hanging around the train station, talking to Velvet Chapeau. He seemed to like her company, even if he never said so. She supposed it must get lonely running the ticket booth with no one to talk to. She learned that he had had a wife once, but she’d left him for another man. After that he’d fallen on hard times and had ended up meeting Golden Tooth. He didn't give detail about his experiences with Golden, but Vinyl got the distinct impression that he was definitely in debt to the reputable drug dealer.

Most days she spent on the same street she’d started out on. There were a lot of street musicians there. Some of them she talked to. Some of them seem to be incapable of coherent speech, but she talked to them anyways. Most of the musicians didn’t do a lot of talking back anyway. But there was one, a musician who called himself Strings, who seemed to have taken a shine to Vinyl on the first day they met.

“You call yourself Vinyl, eh?” he said, his sapphire blue eyes glistening.

“Yep. Like a record.”

“Aww, really? And here I was thinking that you were named after a piece of furniture.”

Vinyl tried to scowl at the caramel colored pegasus, but instead she found herself laughing. “You’re a piece of work, Strings.”

“I get a feeling you’re pretty much an entire pie of work, Vinyl,” he shot back.

Vinyl rolled her eyes, looking more like a thirteen year old girl than she had in weeks. “That was bad.”

“It’s my talent.”

“It must be… There’s no way that awesome guitar is your talent.”

“Of course not. Ponies would like to listen to my music if I were any good.”

“I like to listen to your music.”

Strings smiled. “Thanks, doll. You’re not too shabby yourself.”

Vinyl winced. “I’ve been getting worse… I haven’t eaten in a while. It hurts my playing.”

Strings sat up straighter. “Well, then, why don’t you come on back to the little flat I share with a couple of my buds today, sweetheart? We probably don’t have room to put you up for the night, but Titanium’ll be more than happy to put a little grubby in your tubby!”

Vinyl raised her eyebrows. “Yeah, sure, but if you ever say ‘grubby in your tubby’ again I’m breaking your guitar strings.”

So that evening she followed Strings back to his apartment. It wasn’t very nice, but at least he had a place to stay that was mostly protected from the weather, even if it wasn’t heated. It was dark and shabby, but they had a fairly soft couch and a fireplace that held a weak fire. To a pony who had been living on the streets for weeks it was heaven.

“Hey, Titanium, I brought home a friend today,” Strings said nonchalantly.

Titanium, a vibrant silver pony with stark white hair and pale blue eyes, stuck her head out of what must be the kitchen. “Oh, good!” she said warmly. “I do love new friends! What’s you’re name, sweetie.”

“It’s Vinyl… And don’t call me sweetie… please,” she added as an after thought.

Titanium let out a squeal of delight. “I like you.” Then she turned to Strings. “Storm and Sparkler aren’t going to be home tonight until later. They were being all cryptic… They’re probably out to get the candy again.”

“Sweet… I’ve been needing a fix,” String said from the couch, raising his hooves in victory.

Titanium rolled her eyes. “I can never decide if you don’t do it yourself because you’re lazy or because you’re scared of getting caught.”

Vinyl cocked her head in confusion. “Candy?”

Titanium shot Vinyl a piercing look. “Cocaine,” she clarified. “Did Strings not tell you that we indulge?”

Vinyl shrugged. “No… but it’s cool. I don’t care.”

“Sweet,” Strings said, bumming a cigarette. “Want a light?”

Vinyl gladly accepted. She’d been smoking for a year before leaving home, but she hadn’t been able to afford anything since leaving. It had been an aggravating couple of months. It was calming to be able to inhale the smoke deep into her lungs, warming some of the lingering coldness from the outside air.

Titanium came into the living room with a glass of wine and sat down on the couch. “Supper will be ready in an hour or so. So, Vinyl… What brings a little filly like yourself onto the Manehattan streets?

Vinyl hesitated. She never talked about her past with anypony. It wasn’t something she was comfortable with. It felt too personal and she was trying at all costs to avoid getting personal with anypony. “I ran away from home.”

“Any particular reason?”

“Bad family life… but what about you? What do you do?”

“I am a courtesan,” Titanium said with flourish, flipping her mane.

Strings snorted. “She’s a hooker,” he clarified. “A normal, plain ol’ street hooker.”

Titanium hit him. “There is nothing glamorous about the word ‘hooker’, Strings,” she snapped.

“And there’s something glamorous about being one?”

She sighed. “Well, no. Not really.” She looked at Vinyl. “Don’t become a prostitute if you can avoid it. It kind of sucks… a lot.”

“No pun intended,” Strings cut in, earning him another smack.

Vinyl decided quickly that she liked this pair. Though they were hardly orthodox, they had a fun-loving outlook on life in spite of their circumstances that Vinyl could appreciate. Before long she was laughing and making jokes with them, a hot bowl a stew in front of her face. It had been a long time since she’d been able to enjoy anypony’s company. She didn’t think she’d ever had so much fun eating with other ponies. She thought back to her days as a child with a pang. Family dinners had never been enjoyable. They had always been filled with yelling. Yelling and screaming and hateful words. Hateful words that she hoped she had escaped forever.

Suddenly the door burst open and admitted three more ponies, two pegasi and a unicorn. The first pegasus was violet in coloring, had a bright green and black mane that was styled like in a Mohawk. Her eyes were indigo and piercing. The second pegasus was the color of clouds all over. The unicorn was bright pink with a purple mane.

"Look who we found!" the pink unicorn said cheerfully.

"Oh my goodness! Violet!" Titanium gasped. "I didn't know you were going to be in town.

"Neither did I, but it turns out that we're deploying to the Griffon Lands in a few and they've sent everypony home to say 'goodbye' to their families and all that sappy shit. The Equestrian Army is sentimental. The griffons are going to kick our asses."

"So we're actually engaging in conflicted, eh?" Strings said.

Violet rolled her eyes. "I know, it never happens, right? But yeah. The griffons started causing some trouble at the borders so they're sending us in to sort it out. Nothing pressing but we've gotta nip it in the bud while we can." Violet heaved a heavy sigh then her eyes fell on Vinyl and they narrowed with suspicion. “Who’s this?”

“This is my friend, Vinyl,” Strings said in a relaxed voice. “Vinyl, that’s Violet Bolt. The gray pony is Storm Cloud. The pink one is Sparkler.”

“Hey,” Vinyl said. The other said nothing.

“She was really hungry, poor thing,” Titanium cooed, patting Vinyl on the head. Vinyl lurched away with a scowl. Finally Violet Bolt chuckled a little.

“Leave the girl alone, Titanium, teenagers don’t like that shit,” she said.

Strings looked at the other two ponies. "Did you get it?"

"Duh," Storm said, tossing a bag on the table.

Violet scowled. "You guys need to stop with this shit."

Sparkler rolled her eyes. "Get a grip, Vi, it's not gonna kill us."

"It might."

"Violet's been clean ever since she joined the army two years ago," Titanium explained to Vinyl. "She likes to bitch at the rest of us about it whenever she's around, but she never stops us from doing it and she never reports us."

"Your lives, your decisions. 'Sides, I don't want the lot of you arrested." Then she looked directly at Vinyl with a harsh expression on her face. “Speaking of... Kid, if you tell anypony about this blow I’m going to fuck your face up, understand.”

Vinyl smirked a little. “My lips are sealed. I can't judge you guys. I’ve never done drugs, but I’m not, like, squeaky clean.”

“Wait…” Strings cocked a head. “You’ve never done drugs?”

“She’s thirteen, Strings,” Titanium said crossly.

Strings waived a hand in dismissal. “We’ve gotta fix this shit. Give me the stash!”

Vinyl couldn’t believe what was happening, but she did nothing to stop it. Strings showed her how to make a line of coke and how to us a rolled up piece of paper to snort it. Part of her told her not to do it, but she ignored it. The rest of her company, minus Violet who was looking like she wanted to stop all this from happening, cheered when she finished, then they indulged in the white powder themselves.

The high was incredible. She felt invincible, indestructible. She felt like she could conquer the world on her own. It got late and Titanium left to go to work, but she wasn’t tired at all. She didn’t feel in the least bit hungry, though all she’d had to eat recently was the stew Titanium made. Soon she found herself moving about the place, straightening things, cleaning things. She had so much pent up energy that she felt like she needed to release. She could go on like this for hours. The others laughed at her, but she didn’t care. The feeling was too wonderful for her to care.

It was so wonderful that she had to feel it again, then again. She couldn’t stop. It kept her from being hungry when she had no food and it kept her from being tired when it was too cold to sleep. It kept her going. It gave her energy. Then she needed it. What little she was making on the streets with her money, and amount that did, at least, grow with the passing months, was going to giving her that feeling. But the feeling took more and more to achieve as time went by. Soon it was intertwined with jitteriness, jumpiness, and even a little bit of paranoia. But she couldn’t stop. She needed it to survive.

Octavia kept her head low as she walked through the halls, but nothing could block out the whispers. Piano Forte had been true to her word when she’d promised that she would make Octavia's life miserable, but Octavia could have never guessed how much it would affect her life. She hadn't thought it possible for her peers and teachers to look down on her anymore than they already did, but she had been wrong. The rumor that she was a lesbian shot through the school like a flaming arrow. Nopony confronted her about it to her face, but Octavia could see in the way the other students whispered and sneered that they had all heard. But that's not what hurt. She'd come to expect such behavior from the children at the school, but the teachers were treating her differently too. They rarely addressed her directly and, when they did, it was with such a scathing look of disapproval that Octavia had stopped offering any opinions or insights in class to avoid the moments when she'd have to face their disgust.

The only ponies that stuck with Octavia through all of this were Viola and Mocha Latte, but even they could offer little comfort. Octavia only ever saw Mocha on weekends and poor Viola was starting to suffer backlash from it as well. Piano Forte, furious that anypony dare be friends with Octavia, had started a rumor that Viola was Octavia's secret lover. As a result, she too kept her head down and her lips sealed, only offering a reassuring smile when the others were looking away. It wasn't fair, not to Octavia, but especially not to a pony as sweet as Viola. She'd done nothing to deserve this other than be Octavia's friend. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be anything anypony could do, so Octavia did the only thing she knew to do: played music.

She didn't pay much attention to what she played. It wasn't important to remember the notes. The important part was the comfort that was brought to her while she played. Her cello carried her off to some other land where Piano Forte and her rumor didn't exist. It was just her and the music. Sometimes Viola would play with her. When they didn't play, they would sit in silence and stare at the wall, hoping beyond hope that some miracle would happen to end this nonsense.

But miracles didn't grow on trees. After months of this carrying on she had learned not to expect miracles. She just hoped that eventually, somehow, it would go away. But Piano Forte did not seem inclined to let that happen. Every time, without fail, that it seemed that the rumor was finally going to fade into oblivion she would stage some situation that would make it all start up again. Octavia really began to believe that she was never going to catch a break.

"Have you ever wondered why Octavia never goes to any parties or anything like that? It's because she's embarrassed!" Piano Forte said over lunch one day.

"Why is she embarrassed to go to parties?" another pony asked.

Piano Forte rolled her eyes. "You know why! All she'd do is stand on the wall looking awkward all night, trying not to be attracted when the girls danced. It's not like she can dance with guys."

"So you think she really is a lesbian?"

"I know she's a lesbian," Piano continued. "Didn't I tell you about the time she tried to hit on me?"

Octavia gritted her teeth. So now the rumors were progressing from incomplete stories into flat out lies, were they? She wanted to stand up and deny it, but she didn't. It would be better for all involved if she just ignored it.

"Oh my Celestia, she hit on you?"

"Totally. She wasn't very good at it either. Don't worry. I told her I'm not into that sort of stuff."

Octavia let out a sigh of relief. She had been slightly afraid that Piano would decide to go into gruesome detail with her lie and paint Octavia out to be some sort of creepy lesbian rapist. Then again, who would believe that? Octavia couldn't imagine herself even asking out somepony, let alone having illicit relations with them. She shook her head and returned to her lunch. Let them talk. She would escape this eventually.

"They're telling lies now," Octavia mentioned to Mocha Latte that Saturday. She and Viola were sitting at the counter. Octavia had decided that, considering all the hell that Viola was going through and considering the fact that the sweet filly was still being nice to her, that she would treat Viola to a day away from the school at her favorite get away spot.

Mocha leaned on the counter and raised a single eyebrow. "They weren't already telling lies?"

"You know what I mean! Instead of telling half-truths to spread the rumor around, Piano's decided to take matters into her own hooves. Apparently I hit on her."

Mocha snorted. "That's a laugh."

"I told her that even if Octavia were a lesbian that she would have better tastes than to hit on her," Viola said quietly.

Octavia looked at her roommate in disbelief. "When did you tell her that?"

"In class when she was spouting off the story again to anypony who would listen. She's really awful. I don't know how a pony could end up so awful."

"Bad breeding," said Mocha Latte. "These rich families... They inbreed to keep the blood in the family and they turn out like that."

Viola frowned. "I'm from a rich family."

Mocha looked down awkwardly. "I mean... They're not all like that... but... dammit, Oct, you need to warn me when you're gonna bring richies in here."

Octavia giggled. "I'm sorry, Mocha. I should've mentioned it. Then again, you could try to be a little more friendly with all ponies."

"That was hella awkward," she said with a shudder. "I didn't mean to offend you," she added to Viola.

"I'm not offended. The upperclass can be extremely unbearable," Viola said with a smile.

"You're tellin' me? I have to deal with those snot-rockets all day, having a shop on this street corner. It's hell."

"Don't be over-dramatic, Mocha," Octavia said softly. "You love serving the snooty customers because you like to complain about them."

Mocha shot Octavia a dirty look, but didn't deny it. Both Octavia and Viola laughed, causing Mocha to look at them nastily again. It was good to be hanging out with ponies that didn't judge her every action. Friends were a good thing to have. They kept you sane in times of hardship. If she didn't have these two ponies she didn't know what she'd do. She wouldn't wish friendlessness on her worst enemy. Perhaps that was why it was such a key part of Equestrian culture and history. The country was founded upon the pillars of friendship: the Elements of Harmony. From the beginning of Equestria as they knew it the founders had built the country based on these principles. It was a good philosophy to live by.

But friendships didn't shield you from everything. Back at school she had nopony to protect her when things got ugly. She was tripped, teased, and harassed so much that it was all she could do to keep herself from packing up and leaving. She packed her bags several times over before changing her mind, deciding to stay, and unpacking everything all over again. She didn't ever cry. It wasn't worth it to cry. It was easier to get through the day if she hardened herself to the harassment and focused only on her studies. She stopped going to the meal hall to eat, preferring to snag something and dash off to her room or neglect to eat at all. She keep her head down in class, focused entirely on her work and on her playing, ignoring the stares and whispers.

Piano Forte didn't like that. She didn't like that her rumor didn't seem to be outwardly affecting Octavia anymore. Sure, she was skipping meals, but she seemed to have found a way to stop suffering and that was simply unacceptable. The game had to be stepped up a notch.

So it was. One day after class Piano Forte and two friends, a blue unicorn and a yellow pegasus, cornered Octavia down a deserted hall. Octavia looked around desperately, but there was no escape. They had her trapped.

"Hello, Octavia," Piano sneered. "We noticed recently that you seem to be lonely."

"No, actually, I'm fine," she said, trying to push away from them. Piano's minions pushed her back.

"Don't lie to us, Octavia," Piano said, her voice mockingly sweet. "We know you want a little company. A little reminder that we all still remember you."

"We remember her all right," the pegasus cackled, scooping Octavia up and hoisting her into the air, effectively preventing her from dodging what came next. The blue unicorn's horn glowed and sent out a zap of electricity. As it coursed painfully through Octavia's body her mind reeled with disbelief. The whispers and occasional pranks she could handle, but this? This was not only a physical assault, but a blatant misuse of unicorn magic. As far as she understood what they were doing was extremely illegal. But it didn't stop them. She was zapped again and again until she couldn't feel it anymore. Finally, when they'd exhausted their fun, they packed up and left her, breathing heavily on the floor. She had to tell somepony about this. She could deal with the little things that happened, but this was too much. She had to throw her fear of confrontation and retaliation aside and fix this. She struggled to her feet and began to limp down the hall.

"Octavia?" a kind voice asked from behind her. It was one of her professors, Professor Allegro. "What happened to you?" His voice was alarmed as he looked at her ragged state.

Octavia shuddered. "I was... I was attacked."

"By whom?"

She shook her head. "I don't know who the pegasus and unicorn were... But it was... nevermind, it's not important."

Professor Allegro put a hoof on her shoulder. "No, Octavia, it is important. It's extremely important that you feel safe at this school. If you don't tell me who did this to you it will only happen again."

Octavia breathed deeply. It hurt. "Piano Forte. It was Piano Forte."

Professor Allegro sighed. "This is the pony that started to rumor about you as well, is it not?"

"You know about that?"

"Everypony knows about that."

Octavia winced. "Yes, I suppose so," she mumbled.

"It'll go away, Octavia. It will get better. Rumors like these die down and they certainly don't affect your career."

"You don't believe the rumor?"

"It doesn't matter if it's true or not. Being homosexual doesn't affect talent or personality. You would still be the same talented Margaret Octavia Pie you were born regardless of your sexual orientation."

Octavia sighed. "Tell that to the rest of high society."

Professor Allegro sighed. "High society has always been notoriously behind the times. They'll catch up with the rest of Equestria eventually. But that doesn't matter. You just keep being you. Now come on. Let's get you to the nurse to make sure you're not hurt too badly."

As they walked Octavia thought about what Professor Allegro said. He was right, of course. Being gay didn't change who a pony was. It hadn't changed her little sister at all, except perhaps make the young filly a little happier. But she couldn't make high society see that. It was lucky that she wasn't actually a lesbian. The rumor may not hurt her career, but if she was actually that way... No matter how natural it was, no amount of talent would save her in the eyes of the upperclass. Not to mention her older sister. The older sister who had turned on their younger sister the moment the truth about her had come out. It wasn't fair and it wasn't right, but that's the way it was.

"Professor Allegro," she said after a long silence. "Do you really think I'm talented?"

He gave her an appraising look. "Octavia, you would not have been admitted to this school if you weren't talented. In fact, you're extremely talented, probably the most talented musician in this school."

"Nopony else thinks so," she muttered.

"Give them time, Octavia. Give them time."

"How much?"

"As much as it takes. I promise, you will go far. I'll break my back making sure you get all the exposure you need to succeed."

Octavia was surprised. She had never known that her teacher had so much faith in her as a musician. She thanked him, but her mind was already elsewhere. What if she did go far? Could she become world renowned? The thought of so many ponies knowing her name made her shudder a little, but it was also intriguing. What would it be like to be famous? What would it be like to be appreciated?

What would it be like to be loved?

Chapter Three

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Chapter 3

Months passed. Things got easier, and they got harder. Strings had shown her all the best spots for street musicians. Thanks to him she now knew the ends and out of the artsy districts and the places where people were more sympathetic, not that there were many of those places. Even so, half the time Vinyl only had a vague idea of what was really going on. Her life was becoming so fueled by her need for that high that sometimes she couldn't think about anything else. When she had it, she was mostly fine, but she began to worry about being caught. She would worry about being sent to jail, then being sent home. She didn't want to think of the way her mother would laugh. She looked over her shoulder every where she went, half expecting to see someone standing there, ready to cart her away. She couldn't sleep at night either. She laid awake, with wide eyes, listening intently for the sound of approaching hooves.

One night hooves approached. Vinyl's heart nearly jumped out of her throat, but she managed to keep from screaming. The police were coming. They were going to take her away. She was going to have to come home. What if she looked like she'd been using? What if-

Her panicking was cut off by a shadow. It was a large shadow. It looked like a phantom, but the owner of it was far from it. Honestly, though, Vinyl wished he was, for there was no mistaking the identity of the owner of those giant, blood red hooves. Vinyl felt herself begin to shake uncontrollably. She wasn't sure if it was because of her fear, the drugs, or a combination of both, but she couldn't quelch her tremors.

"There a reason ya snivellin' 'round on my street?" Red Hooves snarled at her.

She had hoped never to come face to face with this pony. She hadn't heard anything from Red Hooves, Golden Tooth, or Ruby Brooch since that first night in Manehattan. She'd hoped she'd never run into any of them again, but there he was, his big, dark red face right in hers, a strand of his grizzly black mane falling into the meanest pair of jetblack eyes she'd ever seen. There was no soul in those eyes, only malice and hatred.

"I didn't know you claimed this street," Vinyl heard herself saying.

Red Hooves snarled. "Damn right it's my street, little filly, and you'd do well to fuckin' remember it."

Vinyl wiped her nose and smirked a little. Later she would realize that she had behaved extremely recklessly that night, but in that moment her adrenaline kicked in and the drugs began to make her feel invincible again. What could this pony do to her? "Well, let's see," she said, glancing up and down the street, "the street sign says this street is called 11th Avenue... Is you're name 11?"

That did the trick. Furious, Red Hooves grabbed her mane and yanked her into the alley. Before Vinyl even knew what was happening he had a knife to her throat. "Ya wanna talk back again, littly filly?" he spat in her face, his breath like a vile mix of alcohol and rotten food. "Ya think ya funny? Well, let's see how funny ya are without a voice box!"


Red Hooves swore and pulled away from Vinyl. Standing down at the end of the alleyway was a familiar female pony with a beautifully styled ruby red mane. Vinyl felt relief flood through her body. If there was one pony that could save her, it was this one.

"What in the name of Celestia are you doing, threatening a poor little child," Ruby Brooch scolded.

"Stay out of the way in ya like ya head, Rubes," Red Hooves snarled.

"Stop trying to scare me, darling, it's never going to work," Ruby cooed, patting Red Hooves on the head. Vinyl didn't know how Ruby managed to get away with behavior like that, but instead of getting angry, Red Hooves backed off.

"The kid cheeked me."

"Of course she cheeked you, she's a child, that's what they do. I was a cheeky child too. The cheeky one's make the best adults in our world, Red. You don't want to kill a filly that might turn into a powerful ally for you, do you?"

Red Hooves snorted, then turned back to Vinyl. "What's your name, kid?"

Vinyl hesitated, chancing a glance at Ruby. She gave the slightness nod as if to say, "Tell him."


"Vinyl? That's all? No last name? No dumb nickname?"

"No. Just Vinyl."

"Well, 'Just Vinyl'... ya certainly lucky Rubes here came along ta get ya off the hook. Don't ever cheek me again, got it? And if I ever come huntin' ya down ya'd be wise to do what I tell ya."

Then he was gone. Vinyl let out a sigh of relief. She was safe, at least for now. Of course, now it seemed that she, like Ruby, was going to become a double agent. She was on call for both Golden Tooth and Red Hooves. The two seemed to be at war with each other. It was a war that she didn't want any part of, but had managed her get herself tangled up in anyway.

"That was a close call," Ruby said. Then she turned to Vinyl with a wry smile. "Long time, no see, child. How long has it been."

"About a year."

"A year... I'm amazed it took that long for you to run into trouble with this crowd again, although," she narrowed her eyes as she peered into Vinyls, "looks like you found some other kind of trouble. You're eyes are redder than I remember."

Vinyl averted her eyes for just a moment, then replied. "I'm not in trouble. Just trying to get by."

"Understandable. It's a hard life on the streets. I imagine it makes it easier."

Vinyl nodded, but didn't reply. She didn't want to tell Ruby about the increasing paranoia and about the burning need for more. Not that that really had anything to do with the drugs she was taking. It was just a side product of living on the streets and having to deal with things like what she had been through tonight. Yeah, that was it.

Ruby sighed. “Golden Tooth is going to have to know about this. He’ll probably want to work out some sort of arrangement with you.”

“I’d rather work for him than for Red Hooves.”

“Trust me, honey, me too… Unfortunately my job description includes both.” Ruby shuddered.

“How did you manage to get in with him anyway? He, like, fuckin’ listens to anything you say.”

Ruby gave Vinyl a look as they walked down the street. “Look, my job description is simple. Do what I can to get insider information on Red Hooves so Golden Tooth can always be a step ahead. If that means getting involved in ways I rather wouldn’t, that’s what I do.”

Vinyl blanched. “So… you’re involved romantically with Red Hooves?”

Ruby Brooch laughed. “Oh, heavens, no… Red Hooves doesn’t have enough heart to be involved romantically with anypony. It’s just sexually.”

“And that’s enough?”

“It is when the man you’re dealing with has a moral and intellectual development about a thousand years behind schedule.”

Vinyl frowned. “So you screw around with Red Hooves to get in on his good side so you can get information for Golden Tooth?”

“That’s about it… And I keep Red from hurting smart asses like you, but that’s just me. That’s not what Golden pays me for.”

“That sounds like a terrible life.”

“It is.”

“Why do you do it?”

Ruby sighed. “It’s complicated. You see, I hate having to live like this. It's hell, and quite honestly I'd rather be snuggled up in one of those fancy houses in a silk robe in front a fireplace with a young beau feeding me grapes, but that's not gonna happen. I have a lot of respect for Golden Tooth and I owe him a lot. He saved me from life as a dirty street prostitute and he gives me luxurious things and protection. The least I can do is help him keep control over his territory."

"Yeah, I guess that's true. That's not the real reason though."

Ruby glanced at Vinyl. "What is the real reason, then?"

"You're in love with Golden Tooth."

Ruby Brooch stopped dead in her tracks. "What makes you think that?"

"I can see it in your face when you talk about him. Not gonna lie, hon, it's pretty obvious."

Ruby scowled. "Red Hooves is right. You are cheeky."

"I never said I wasn't."

Ruby glared, then started walking again, leading Vinyl down the dank underground paths that the time before she had been blindfolded in. Either Ruby was too preoccupied to remember to blindfold her or trusted her enough to allow her to know the path to Golden Tooth's lair. It wouldn't have mattered either way. The route was so confusing there was no way she was going to be able to remember it anyway. It wasn't until they were in front of the big oak door to Golden Tooth's office that Vinyl started to recognize the smell and the feel of the air. Ruby Brooch opened that door to reveal the large, gem-encrusted room with the desk in the center. "Golden Tooth, our little friend is back."

"Ahh," he said in surprise. "Miss Vinyl. Long time no see."

"I've been staying out of trouble," she said with a shrug.

"Until tonight," Ruby clarified. "Girl decided to mouth off to Red Hooves."

Golden Tooth raised his eyebrows, then with a slight smile on his face he asked, "How is it that you are still alive?"

"Ruby," Vinyl replied, jerking her head at the striking woman.

"Problem is," Ruby continued, "he knows about her now, Golden. He knows her name and he thinks that she might be of use to him. It's the only way I could save her life and you know I can't just let him kill innocent ponies."

"I wouldn't want you to," Golden Tooth said softly. "These are simply the consequences we must face when we work in this business. But," he looked at Vinyl, "I am sorry that you got dragged into this. That is unfortunate."

Vinyl shrugged. "I'll be okay. I can manage myself."

Golden Tooth shook his head. "Your confidence is good, but you must not be so certain that you can defend yourself against Red Hooves. It takes a certain amount of cunning to double cross a man who is convinced all of his loyal followers are double crossers. I am going to try to keep him as far away from you as possible, but if the time comes when he finds you I fear that I will not be able to protect you. You will be on your own."

"Like I said... I'll manage," she said, though she wasn't as confident now. This city was getting more dangerous day by day. It was like she had walked into a horror drama, but this was very real and there was no turning back now.

Once Vinyl had left Golden Tooth pondered her situation. For some reason he couldn't quite pinpoint he was interested in her well being. It was odd, as he hadn't been interested in the well being of a random street girl since he had pulled Ruby Brooch off of the streets in her teen years. He'd been young and foolish back then and he thought he'd rid himself of such gentle tendencies, but apparently not. He would like to be able to ignore it and go about his business as usual, but he couldn't. It seemed he was still as tenderhearted and silly as he'd been in his youth. That was an awful quality for a notorious drug dealer and underworld leader to have, but he could hardly change who he was. He would just have to contend with it.

"What are you thinking, Golden?" Ruby asked when she'd returned from escorting Vinyl away from his territory.

"That girl... I am concerned about her."

Ruby smiled. "I figured. You've always had a soft spot for young girls in trouble."

"I need to fix that."

"I don't think so, but I may have a self-serving bias."

Golden Tooth laughed quietly. "Is there anything I can do?"

"Maybe. She's using."

"I noticed the signs. Shame. Although I make my fortune in that trade, I wouldn't wish the side-effects on a girl as young as she... But... I could... yes... that could work." He looked at Ruby with a wry smile on his face. "Ruby, talk to my people, make sure she starts buying from them. I want regular updates."

Ruby nodded and left once more. Golden Tooth let out a sigh of remorse and rubbed his temples. What a strange conundrum he was now having. Under his current plan the more she used the more he would know if she was alive. Unfortunately, the more she used the more she damaged herself. He'd never been in a more tiresome situation, but he had to believe it would work out. It was the only way he could keep his focus.

Life was better for Octavia now, at least a little. Though she still had few friends, the rumor and the torment had finally died down to a tolerable level. Since the day Piano Forte had attacked her and Professor Allegro had discovered the crime it had been better. Octavia had been a little afraid at first that it would get worse. Bullies often angered then they thought they were tattled on. But it had gotten better, mostly because the offenders were no longer a threat to her. Piano Forte and her minions had been suspended and placed on probation. Even when she returned to school Piano didn't dare try to do anything to Octavia. If she did she would be expelled which would undoubtedly shame her family into hiding. Without Piano Forte leading the charge it became much easier for Octavia to ignore any comments, as they were always halfhearted without the ring leader to keep them going.

Not that Octavia was complete free of harassment. Piano still shot nasty comments at her under her breath and ponies still whispered, but it was nothing she couldn't handle, especially now that she had a teacher that she knew had her back. Since the incident, Professor Allegro had put extra effort into helping her and coaching her to become the best musician she could be. Whisperers said he did it out of pity, but Octavia knew better because he had told her otherwise.

"I don't want you to listen to anything anypony says about why I'm taking you under my wing, Octavia," he told her sternly after one session.

"You mean you're not doing this out of pity?"

"Not in the least. The incident from before... I made me realize how much you're actually struggling, not with music, but with the others. I had never realized that you felt like your teachers didn't believe in you. I want you to know that we do, at least I do. You are the most naturally talented and skilled pony I've ever had the great fortune to teach."

Octavia smiled, feeling truly proud of herself for the first time since she'd entered the school "I doubt that, sir, but thank you. I appreciate the compliment."

So things got better. She didn't feel so behind anymore and she felt like she was getting the education she'd signed up for. Finally things in her life seemed to be going right. It was a great relief to be headed in the right direction. She hadn't been cut any breaks in a long time, it was almost as if she was due one and life provided. Soon she found herself actually smiling again for the first time in a long time. Octavia was able to spend time with Viola again without fear of a horrible backlash. It seemed that everypony had been right. The rumor was finally fading and she could get back to a normal routine.

Unfortunately, it still nagged in the back of her head. Though nopony said anything to her face again, they still whispered. She could deal with the whispers during the day. She could laugh them off and have friendly conversations and focus on her work and on her music. At night, however, while everypony slept, she thought about it. For some reason she couldn't get the idea of what life would be like for her if she actually did like girls out of her head. She would be ostracized from high society and probably never invited to play at any venues or gatherings worth playing at. She would ultimately fail as a classical musician and all of her hard work would go to waste. Then there was her family. Her family, while it didn't have high society origins, was just as closed minded and sheltered. She had grown up on the rock farm that had had little laughter. Her parents were extremely old fashioned and her older sister... She didn't really want to think about what her older sister's reaction would be. Ever since her little sister had come out of the closet to the family, the eldest Pie daughter had been stubbornly refusing to speak to her. She insisted that it was impure and that she wouldn't accept her little sister back into the family until she repented. Octavia didn't want to be in the same position. It would be uncomfortable for everypony.

So it's a good thing I'm not, she thought to herself. Otherwise all of this could actually mean something. She felt a pang somewhere in the bottom of her stomach, but she ignored it. She couldn't afford to examine it.

Though she didn't know it herself, Vinyl was in a terrible state. Her body trembled as if she were shivering, but she wasn't really cold. She was often short on breath and her surges of energy had given way to restlessness. She couldn't sleep anymore. Somepony was watching her, she knew they were. Ever since her encounter with Red Hooves she had been certain that he was always lurking around the corner. She began to hear voices and whispers everywhere she went, particularly at night when darkness set in. Most noticeably, though, was the need. She needed her fix more than she needed to sleep, drink, or eat. Over time she began needing more and more to feel satisfied. She struggled to find enough money to pay for her need and as a result she lost weight rapidly. Not that it mattered. She was never hungry anyway.

It was with a certain amount of reluctance that she allowed Strings and Titanium take her out for her fifteenth birthday. She hadn't meant to tell them that it was her birthday at all, but it had slipped out one day and they would take no for an answer. So they snuck her into a club, which Vinyl did notice with a certain level of appreciation had female dancers up on the stage. She hadn't even told them that she liked mares. She suspected that this something that Strings had wanted. They piled into a round booth along with Storm and Sparkler and ordered drinks all around. Nopony questioned Vinyl's presence, though she was clearly too young to even be in the club, but Vinyl didn't really notice that. Instead she allowed herself to sink into the monotony of the thudding bass, watching the girls dance. The music... it was mind numbing. Vinyl wrinkled her nose a little and glanced up at the DJ. There was so much he could do, not to mention better songs he could play. Vinyl shook her head and returned her attention to the the dancers. No point judging him, even if she did know for an abosolute fact that she could do better.

"Yo, V," Strings said to get her attention. "In honor of your birthday we've all decided to band together to help you out a little. We've noticed how much you've been struggling to afford it, so we bought you this. Don't open it all the way here, though."

He passed her a tiny paper bag on which somepony, probably Titanium, had written "Happy Birthday, Vinyl!" and decorated with little balloons. Vinyl peeked inside to see that they had banded together to supply her with coke that she wouldn't have been able to afford herself. "You guys are awesome," she told them, and she meant it too. Sure, it might be a little unorthodox to give drugs as a birthday present, but she couldn't think of a better gift.

"We're glad you like it," Titanium told her. "I have to admit, I wondered if it was smart, considering how young you are, but we just wanted you to be happy."

"Happy birthday, kiddo," Strings said, taking off his own green fedora and placing it on her head. "Keep the hat. Now, come on," he said with a grin. "Let's sneak into the corner of this joint and share that candy."

Vinyl snatched it up and held it to her chest, glowering at Strings like he'd just threatened to steal her firstborn. "Don't you dare touch this... It's mine... I need it! You keep your grimy hooves off of it!"

Strings backed off, looking a little unnerved. "Alright, alright... geez... touchy."

Vinyl exhaled. "Sorry... I didn't mean to... Sorry."

Titanium looked at Vinyl with concern. "Honey, are you alright? You seem a little off... I don't like seeing you like this... You're like a daughter to me."

Vinyl froze. "What did you say?"

"I said, you're like a daughter to me."

A loud buzzing filled Vinyl's ears. No... No, this couldn't be... daughter... she couldn't be a daughter... she couldn't have a mother. Memories started flooding back... The rain flecking her face, wondering what she did to make her mother throw her out on the porch... the yelling... the screaming... the accusations and threats.... Mother... Daughter...

Suddenly she jumped to her feet, clutching her paper bag tightly. "I have to go," she said robotically.

The others said things as she departed, but she didn't hear them. This had been a mistake. They had been a mistake. She couldn't afford to be close to anypony. Family couldn't be trusted. Nopony could be trusted, hadn't she decided that on the train to this awful city? She'd allowed herself to get way too close to Titanium and Strings and she'd almost compromised her own self-reliance. She wouldn't let that happen again. She couldn't get close to anypony, not really anyway. No friends, only convenient acquaintances. That was the promise she made for herself.

Overtaken by her thoughts and emotions, she stole of into and alley and desperately broke into her bag. She poured a large amount out onto a box and used a nearby piece of litter to make it into a line and snort it. It didn't help. She sat on the ground and rocked back and forth outside of the club, shaking.

"You okay?" a high voice said.

Vinyl looked up. It was one of the girls from the club. She was bundled up in a large coat and wore a worried expression. Her eyes were wide and blue, like sapphires in her face. She too held a paper bag.

"I- I'm fine... This shit doesn't work," she said, her voice shaking.

The girl smiled sympathetically. "That happens after a while." She held up her own bag. "You can try this dope if you like. It'll make you happy. I don't usually share, but you look like you need it." She pulled a hypodermic needle out of her bag.

Vinyl was too far gone to realize what a terrible decision it was. She was too lost in her need for a high to realize that she, as she injected the drug into her veins with this dancer, she was quite possibly signing her own death certificate. All she knew was that it did help. She felt a rush euphoria that made everything that had happened seem irrelevant. She looked into the dancer's pretty eyes and smiled. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it," she replied breathlessly. They were very close.

Slowly Vinyl moved in and kissed the girl. She didn't know why she did it, even later. A rush went through her body as she held the girl close to her. The comfort of another pony without the personal connection. That was good. That was acceptable. She backed the girl into the side of the building. Sparks flew as they joined together. Then it was over and Vinyl felt nothing. No love, no friendship. Just a desire fulfilled and the euphoria from the drugs. She turned to leave.

"Wait!" the dancer called. Vinyl turned. "Will I see you again?"

She smirked, then continued to walk away. "Don't count on it, doll-face."

Octavia couldn't believe how time at passed. She was about to graduate from the Conservatory. It was incredible. Ever since she'd managed to put the torment behind her and throw herself fully and entirely into her studies time had flown. Now she was in her final year, preparing her graduation piece that she would perform in front of the entire Academy, the parents of the graduates, and many members of prestigious music groups. Some of them may even be looking for new members for their groups. It was quite possibly the most nerve wracking experience of her life, but she tried to put that fear aside as she composed the piece under the guidance of Professor Allegro.

The day before the night of her performance, however, her teacher dropped a bombshell that brought all of Octavia's anxieties to life. "Octavia, I suppose it's only fair to warn you... I have invited the two remaining members from the Equestrian National String Quartet to listen to you play. They are in need of cellist and I have reccomended you as a wonderful choice."

Octavia was so alarmed that she was actually careless enough to drop her cello on the ground. "Y-you invited the EQUESTRIAN NATIONAL STRING QUARTET?"

"It's nothing to worry about, Octavia. They are just coming to hear you play."

"NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT! They are undeniably the most accomplished and prestigious string quartet in ALL OF EQUESTRIA! What if I mess up? What if I play a note wrong?"

"Don't worry, Octavia. You've been working on this piece all year. You will not mess it up if you don't allow your nerves to get the better of you. Just calm down and I am sure you'll be fine."

If only Octavia could have that much confidence in herself. The night of the concert she sat and waited for her performance time with clammy hooves. There were so many ponies out there and right in the front row were the first and second violinists of the Equestrian National String Quartet. She could see their faces, stoic and unchanging as each of her class mates played. They never looked impressed or disgusted. Octavia had no way of gauging their opinions. Her heart began to race.

"Calm down, Octavia," Viola whispered to her, clutching her viola in hoof. "You'll be fine! You've been working on this piece all year and it's amazing!"

"How can I calm down? The two remaining members of the Equestrian National String Quartet were invited here to hear me play! They're here for me!"

"That's a good thing, Octavia," Viola said with a quiet laugh. "I wish I could be good enough to attract the attention of the Equestrian National String Quartet!"

"What if I'm not good enough? WHAT IF I MESS UP!" she shout-whispered in reply.

"You'll be fine. I have to go play now... best of luck to you Octavia."

Even through her panic, Octavia noticed that Viola's piece was exquisite. She didn't know who Viola thought she was kidding. She was perfectly good enough to attract the attention of any string quartet she wanted to get into. Octavia wasn't so sure about herself. Everypony kept telling her that she was talented, but what if they were just humoring her? She kept going over all the things in her head that would have made her piece better... She couldn't perform tonight. She just couldn't.

She had to. Her name was announced to the entire auditorium full of ponies. Clutching her instrument tightly she walked shaky-legged out onto the stage. The audience sat in silence waiting for her to play, but Octavia couldn't see them through the blinding stage lights. That was a plus. Trying to keep her hooves from shaking she played her first note.

The moment she slid her bow across the strings of her cello all of her anxiety vanished. It was just her and the music. She didn't think about the ponies in the crowd, she didn't think about the fact that she was trying to impress Equestria's greatest strings group. She simply played the music she had composed from her heart. She played as she had practiced all year, but with more gusto and more perfection that she had ever played in her life.

When her last note shimmered to the ceiling a odd hush was over the crowd. Then slowly, as if waking from a trance brought on by her music, the began to erupt in the loudest cheers she had ever heard in her life. These ponies... These high class, high society ponies... cheering loudly and uninhibitedly for her. Octavia swelled with pride as she took her bow. She glanced over at Viola, who mouthed "I told you so," then over at Professor Allegro who was smiling in pride. But she couldn't look at the talented musicians who had been invited to hear her play. She couldn't.

After the concert was over Viola ran up to Octavia and threw herself on her in a hug. "I TOLD YOU YOU WOULD BE AMAZING!"

"Oh my! Please get off of me, you're making a scene," Octavia said in embarrassment.

"I'm sorry," Viola said, wiping a happy tear away from her eye. "But you were just so incredible. That piece was perhaps the most moving piece I have ever heard in my life."

"Well, thank you very much, Viola. Your piece was astounding as well."

"Thanks... but it wasn't as good as yours."

"Oh, but it was!"

"Good job, Oct. I'm proud of you," Mocha Latte said from behind her.

"You did come!" Octavia said in surprise. "I thought you only went to underground concerts nopony's ever heard of!"

Mocha laughed, apparently too happy for Octavia and Viola to scowl at the comment. "Course I came. Couldn't miss listening to you play your original piece."

"Excuse me, young ladies," a handsome sounding voice said.

Octavia turned and felt her jaw drop in a very undignified manner. Standing in front of her were the very ponies she had been so sure she would fumble and fall in front on when she performed. She almost thought she was dreaming, but there they were in the flesh and blood. The first and second violinists of the Equestrian National String Quartet.

"May we speak to the pair of you in private?"

"O-of course," Octavia stammered.

"Wait... me too?" Viola said, stunned.

"Yes, the pair of you."

"I'll wait," Mocha said, clearly understanding the gravity of this moment.

The two famous musicians led the younger musicians into a more private area of the lobby. "Young ladies, I am Accellerando, the first violinist of the Equestrian National String Quartet," the dignified gray stallion said, looking directly at the girls with his piercing yellow eyes. "My partner is Bruscamente, the second violinist." The sky blue pony nodded her head and flipped her icy blue mane, but said nothing.

"Y-yes... I am aware."

"We couldn't help but notice tonight that the pair of you truly stand above your fellow classmates. We would like to ask you to join as our new violist and cellist."

Octavia was speechless. She couldn't believe it. It was happening. The day she had dreamed about since her cutie mark had appeared on her flank had finally come. She was being invited to join the most critically acclaimed string quartet in the entire country, just out of music school. She must be dreaming. But no... it seemed too real.

"You're inviting me to join?" Viola squealed.

"Yes," Bruscamente said in a rather superior tone. "We found the pair of you to both be stand out performers. Now do you accept or don't you?"

"Yes!" Viola squealed, clearly fighting not to do a victory dance.

"And you, young Octavia?" Accellerando said, looking deep into her eyes. Octavia felt her knees go a little weak.

"I... umm... yes! Yes I do!" Octavia managed.

"Then if you will kindly follow us... There are formalities that must be taken care of unfortunately."

As Octavia and Viola followed their new quartet members out of the auditorium Octavia made eye contact with Piano Forte. Piano, who was graduating with no invitations to join groups of any sort and without honors, was watching Octavia walk out of the building as a member of the Equestrian National String Quartet with a look of horrified disbelief. Octavia couldn't help herself. In a moment of uncharacteristic childishness she briefly stuck her tongue out at her old enemy and shot her a superior smirk. Who's the talentless one now, Piano? Who's the talentless one now?

Chapter Four

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Chapter 4

It had been three years since she’d climbed out of her bedroom window. Three whole years full of pain and struggling. If there was one thing Vinyl had learned from this whole mess was if a pony saw something that did not align with their glorified view of the world they would simply pass it by. Forget the idea that anyone could make a difference. Why would anypony exert an effort to help a situation that was easier to ignore? Never mind that she hadn’t eaten in three days. Forget that she was sleeping in a shanty constructed from cardboard boxes. She was just a peddling bum and she was easier to simply ignore.

But she wasn’t just a bum. She was an artist and telling herself that was the only thing that kept her getting up every morning and coming to this street corner. As much has she wanted to give up she couldn’t. She had to stay true to the cutie mark on her flank. Manehattan was snobbish and unforgiving and each passing day saw more doors slammed in her face, but she had to keep trying. This was her only lifeline. With all of the ponies she had almost gotten too close to behind her now, all she had was herself and her music, the way it should be. Sex, drugs, and music.

An ornate carriage passing by caught her eye. It was funny to see such a sight in this side of town, but there is was. A beautiful, sparkling carriage that obviously carried somepony of extreme importance or wealth… or both. Jewels glittered around the door and she was reminded painfully of her sister back in Ponyville. She pushed the thought out of her mind. She couldn’t think about that. She could never go back there. Her parents didn’t want her, her sister didn’t want her… and she didn’t want them.

Emblazoned across the carriage door was something that resembled a coat of arms, but it was like no family symbol that she had seen before. It was two bows to a stringed instrument crossed over the body of a cello. So they were musicians. Her curiosity was piqued, but her hope for sympathy lessened. Snobbish, high class musicians turned their noses up at her beats.

Inside the carriage a young cellist sat with her head against the window. She watched streets pass by sadly. She did not like to travel through this part of town to get to their performances. It wasn’t because she was disgusted by the ponies she saw there or thought herself above them, for Celestia knew her own origins were meager enough. Her discomfort was more rooted in the fact that seeing so many ponies living so horribly broke her heart. To make matters worse, there was close to nothing she could do about it.

A noise caught her attention. It was a beat played on a zebra hoof drum, but it was like nothing she had heard before. It was both tribal and modern. It put her in the middle of an ancient war dance and in the middle of a raving nightclub. Its imagery was so vivid that she found herself momentarily stunned, unable to speak.

“Do you hear that?” she asked when she found her voice.

“Hear what, Octavia, darling,” Accelerando replied, his voice dripping with poorly disguised boredom.

“That… that music.”

“What music? Oh, you mean that deafening racket the street bums are playing on that awful drum? That is not music, Octavia, that is noise.”

Octavia frowned. An attitude such as that did not deserve a reply. Instead and got to her feet and stuck her head out of the carriage window.

“Octavia! What do you think you are doing?” Accelerando demanded, but Octavia ignored him

“Stop the carriage! Please, stop the carriage!” she called up to the drivers. After a moments hesitation the carriage pulled to a screeching stop.”

“Octavia, you stay in this carriage!”

“I’ll only be a minute!”

“What in Celestia’s name is she doing?” Bruscamente asked in a haughty voice.

“How in the world am I supposed to know?” Accelerando snapped in reply, but Octavia wasn’t listening. Instead she opened the door to the carriage and jumped down onto the filthy street. The stench of waste and sweat filled her nose. She wrinkled it a little. She really was on the worst part of town.

She followed the music up to a white unicorn. At least, Octavia was fairly certain that she was white. It was hard to tell through the filth that indicated that she had been living on the streets for far too long. Octavia’s heart ached. This girl looked like she couldn’t be older than eighteen and that was probably generous. She ought to be at home with her family, not playing out on the streets and praying for somepony to show her a little kindness. And kindness she needed. Octavia dug into the small pouch around her neck and pulled out of a few bits. She dropped them into the unicorn’s collection tin.

“Thank… you…” The unicorn’s voice trailed off as she tipped up her patched green fedora she looked up at Octavia over her round black sunglasses that she had bounded up with tape at the nose. Her electric blue mane hung limp and dirty around her astonished face. Her eyes were bloodshot and her pupils were dilated in her blood red irises. She, indeed, looked to be very young. Octavia wondered how long she had been out on her own.

Vinyl was wondering some things of her own, but they were naturally about the young woman standing in front of her. She looked to be very well kempt. High class probably. Why would she be out on the street and why would she want to help her. Most astonishingly, though, at least to Vinyl, was how unbelievably beautiful she was. She wasn’t bright or colorful. Her coat and mane were both varying shades of gray, but it was a nice effect. Her purple, lash-lined eyes popped against the grayscale. They glimmered with intelligence and grace that pierced Vinyl’s soul. For a moment she honestly had no words.

“Why did you just do that?” she found herself asking.

The mare smiled. “That is hardly a way to react to generosity.”

Vinyl shook her head, trying to clear her ever clouded thoughts. She squeezed her bloodshot eyes shut. “I’m sorry,” she said. She looked up. “Thank you… I’m just… I’m not used to ponies givin’ a damn.”

The mare’s looked at Vinyl with sad expression that made her uncomfortable. “What’s you’re name?”

Vinyl raised an eyebrow. “Vinyl,” she answered after a moments hesitation.

The girl smirked a little, as if she’d found something Vinyl had said funny. “Just Vinyl? Do you have a surname?”

Vinyl averted her eyes and started to pack up her instrument. “No, not yet,” she muttered.

“Not yet? How can you not have a surname yet?”

Vinyl scowled at the mare. “Because my family’s dead to me,” she snapped. “And I’ve been too fuckin’ busy tryin’ to survive to invent myself a new identity. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another street corner to work.”

The mare held out a hoof to stop her. “Wait! I’m sorry! I wasn’t trying to pry. It’s just… you seem so young to be out on your own.”

Vinyl rolled her eyes. “You think you’re the first to notice? Do you know how many ponies have come up to me on this street askin’ me, ‘where’s your mother, girl? She’s probably worried sick about you!’ And you know what I tell ‘em?” The mare shook her head. “I tell ‘em, ‘If that were true do you really think I’d still be here?’"

Octavia couldn’t believe what she was hearing. This young pony… Vinyl… truly believed that her family wasn’t worried about her? What a horrible thing to think! Octavia herself may not be on the best of terms with her family, but she wrote and they wrote back. It was a tense relationship, but she knew that through all of their differences that they cared about her wellbeing. “Surely there is somepony who cares, Vinyl,” she reasoned.

Vinyl snorted. “Not that it’s any of your business, but you’re wrong,” she returned in her perhaps over-affected Hoofklyn accent. Octavia could definitely hear traces of a slightly different accent in her speech. Perhaps New Herdsey or somewhere around the Harmony Lakes near the northern border. “My mother basically threw me out and my father didn’t stop her… My sister… well… I’ve written her hundreds of times and she’s never written back, even when I gave her addresses to send the letters to, so I guess that’s speaks louder than anything.”

Octavia shook her head. “I’m so sorry… I know how it is to be sort of cut off from your family.”

Vinyl spat on the ground. “What, did Mommy and Daddy want you to play a different fancy instrument?” she sneered.

Octavia raised her eyebrows in reply. “There’s no need to be so nasty. I’m only trying to help.”

“Yeah? Well I don’t need your help, lady, or your sympathy. I’m doin’ just fine on my own.”

Vinyl pushed passed Octavia with much more force than was really necessary. Octavia stumbled. Once she regained her footing she glared at the brooding girl she was trying to help. It took a lot to get under her skin, but something about this girl really drove her mad. “They never approved of my interest in music at all, actually!” she called.

Vinyl stopped and whirled around. “What?”

“My parents… They run a rock farm about twenty miles outside of Ponyville and they are very strict. They wanted my sisters and me to remain on the rock farm to help them, but only my older sister got the talent. You know how cutie marks are. You either obey them or go mad. My parents understood that, so they allowed me to move to Canterlot to attend music school, but they did so grudgingly. Yes, I still write them and yes, I still love them, but things have been tense for other reasons as well. Maybe I don’t understand your situation completely but I think I have a little insight on family issues, don’t you think?”

Vinyl simply stared at her with her mouth agape. Octavia took this as a cue to continue. “Furthermore, considering the fact that you are homeless and playing on the streets for spare change really suggests to me that you are not, in fact, doing just fine on your own. So forgive me for want to ease your burden the tiniest bit by offering you my generosity and sympathy. And for your information I did not drop payment into your collection tin because I felt sorry for you, I did it because I can recognize a fellow musician when I see one.”

Vinyl couldn’t believe was she was hearing. She’d just gotten her ass handed to her by a complete stranger. Even worse, this complete stranger was absolutely right. She wasn’t doing alright for herself, not at all. Who was she to chew out somepony for trying to show her a little compassion? “I’m sorry,” she said finally. “I just… I’m not used to ponies actually caring.”

Her new friend smiled a little. “That is a terrible thing to have to live with. To be so young…”

“Hey!” Vinyl said. “No more talkin’ about my age, alright? I’m sixteen, so I’m not THAT young. Besides, you don’t exactly look like a grandma… although,” she grinned, “you kinda dress like one.”

The mare scowled, but otherwise ignored the slight. “I’m eighteen, but I’m not on the streets. I’m lucky. I got accepted into a prestigious string quartet as their cellist right out of music school. I have my own place in Canterlot.”

“It must be nice to have everything handed to you.”

“What, do you think it was easy? I had to bust my rump to even get noticed in music school, let alone impress anypony.”

“Yeah, well, at least it was an option for you. Look, this has been a really lovely chat, but I really do gotta go.”

The mare held out a hoof. “Wait. Before you do, take these.” She shoved a pair of tickets into Vinyl’s collection tin.

“What’s this?”

“They’re tickets to my concert tonight. Come if you want.”

Vinyl raised an eyebrow. “Not really my type of music, sweetcheeks. Besides,” she gestured down at herself, “I think I’d stick out.”

“At least consider it?”

“How’s this, I’ll keep the tickets.”

“Fine.” The mare turned to return to her carriage, then stopped. “My name is Octavia, by the way.”

Vinyl grinned, “Just Octavia? Do ya have a surname?”

Octavia rolled her eyes. “Of course I do. But you’ll have to come to the concert to find out what it is.”

Vinyl smirked. “I’ll think about it!” she called as Octavia clambered onto her fancy carriage. Then she was gone.

Octavia scanned the crowd a thousand times over, but she didn’t know why she bothered. If Vinyl had showed she would stand out from a mile away. She’d probably be able to smell her from the stage, if she was honest with herself. She wasn’t there. Not that Octavia had expected any different. Vinyl didn’t strike her as the type to be willing to sit through hours of orchestral music. But she had hoped…

After the concert and the seemingly endless autographs she was forced to sign out in the main lobby Octavia stepped outside into the crisp winter air. It was a cold day, but at least it was dry. Hopefully that meant that Vinyl wouldn’t freeze to death tonight.

“It was a nice concert,” a voice said from behind her.

Octavia spun around to see none other that Vinyl herself leaning up against the wall of the building, a smoking cigarette dangling from her mouth. She seemed more relaxed on this side of town. Octavia even noticed that her accent had relaxed into a more natural sounding tone. There certainly was something to be said for getting out of the bad side of town.

“You came,” Octavia said, inexplicably happy. “Why didn’t I see you inside?”

Vinyl shook her head and blew a puff of smoke. “I didn’t go inside. I listened from out here.”

“Why? I gave you tickets.”

“Sold ‘em,” she said simply. “Did you know that you’re worth fifty bits a pop?”

Octavia scowled. “I give you two tickets to my concert and you sell them? Really?”

“Girls gotta do what a girls gotta do, sista,” she drawled. “Still came, didn’t I?”

Octavia rolled her eyes. “I suppose so. However, I find that it speaks to your intelligence that you are now one hundred bit richer and you choose to spend it on cigarettes.”

Vinyl glanced down at the smoking death stick in her mouth, her eyes going crossed. “What this? Aww, come on… I bought food too… everypony's got her vices.”

“Somehow I get the feeling that smoking is the least of your vices,” Octavia said shrewdly.

“Smart girl.”

“Anyhow… you said you enjoyed the concert?”

Vinyl got up and started to walk along the side of the building. “I said that it was nice, not that I enjoyed it.”

Octavia hurried after her. “What’s the difference?”

Vinyl glanced at her over the top of her sunglasses, which, inexplicably, she was still wearing in the dark. “The difference is like I told you. It’s not really my style… But,” she shrugged, “I can appreciate talent and skill even if it’s not my thing.”

Octavia looked at her approvingly. “I’m surprised. I’ve met seasoned critics who still haven’t learned that distinction.”

Vinyl dropped her cigarette on the ground and stamped it out with her hoof. “Trust me, so have I.”

They stood in silence for a moment, both breathing in the crisp night air. She could see that whether or not Vinyl wanted it admit it, she needed help. Octavia’s heart ached for her. She was so young and she was already hardening to the ways of the world. It wasn’t right. More than anything she wanted to help her, to protect her. She’d always had a lot of compassion for ponies in need, but it was more than that. Octavia didn’t know what it was, but she had a connection with Vinyl. It was completely ridiculous because the only thing they had in common was a love of music and even that was different. But, somehow, the connection was there.

“There was one thing I actually enjoyed, though,” Vinyl finally said, breaking the silence.

“What was that?”

“The cello solo. It was hauntingly beautiful. When it was played I felt… safe and insecure… grounded and wild… all at the same time. It was strange.”

Octavia flushed. “You’re only saying that because you know that I was the cellist.”

“Were you? I must’ve missed that earlier. Didn’t know.” She said it in such an offhand way that Octavia couldn’t tell if she was being serious or not.

“Well… I’m flattered… but I’m not as good as the other players.”

“No, you’re better. They sound robotic… your music… it has life… it’s pretty bitchin’.”

Octavia laughed. “That was almost meaningful, Vinyl… you ruined it.”

Vinyl grinned in reply. “I try.”

Octavia wasn’t sure what made her say it. She hadn’t been planning it, she hadn’t even considered it. It was just all of a sudden that she knew what she needed to do and she blurted it out before she could really consider the matter. “I want you to come live with me in Canterlot.”

Vinyl was understandably stunned. For the first time since they had met she was entirely caught off guard. “Wh-what?”

Octavia flushed. “I’m sorry… I know that was sudden. I don’t even know where it came from… but I mean it. I want you to get off these cold streets and come back to Canterlot with me. I have room in my apartment.”

Vinyl smirked. “Baby, don’t ya think we’re movin’ a bit fast? We just met today… I usually wait ‘til the second date before I let girls take me home to their place.”

Octavia turned bright red. “I don’t mean like that!” she said defensively.

“Woah, there, sweetcheeks, it was a joke. Ya don’t have to get all up in arms!”

“I’m sorry,” said Octavia. “I take a lot of things in life too seriously.”

“Maybe I should come live with you. You need to learn not to do that.”

“Perhaps… so you’ll come?”

“Why would I want to?”

“I don’t know,” Octavia said desperately. “It’s just… this is going to sound crazy… but I feel like we have this connection and I can’t shake the idea that we were brought together for a reason. I… well, I felt the same way about your music that you felt about mine.”

“You did?”

“Yes, I did. I could hear the notes that should have played on top on your beat in my mind… It was a heart wrenching plethora of emotions. I liked it.”

Vinyl was astonished. Of course she’d known that Octavia had recognized that she was a musician, but this… This was more. This was an admission from an real, seasoned musician that her music was not only more than noise, but actually, possibly beautiful. That was something that she’d never expected to hear in all of her life. Hearing it was enough to make her see that maybe Octavia was right. Maybe there was a connection. There was only one was to find out.

“Okay, fine. I’ll move in with you… but I don’t think your friends are going to want to share their carriage with me.”

“They won’t have too. I’m going home on my own tonight. The rest of them are attending a fancy party, but I hate them. It’s not a terribly long ride. We’ll be home by midnight.”

“Home… that’s something I haven’t thought about in a long time.”

“You’re more than welcome to call my home your home if you wish.”

“I’ll make that call when we get there. Now let’s get a move on… I have to stop by my box and pick up my things.”

Chapter Five

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Chapter 5

Vinyl noticed how ponies stared at her as she followed Octavia through Manehattan. She wasn’t really the self-conscious type and usually she didn’t give a damn what others thought about her but, hell, this was making her incredibly uncomfortable. She hoisted her drum and the old overcoat up into a more comfortable position on her back, trying to distract herself from the ponies around her. Every look was judging and confused. Ponies looked on Octavia with pity, as if they thought Vinyl was forcing her company on her new friend. Or maybe they thought that Octavia was young and silly to think that Vinyl was worth her time.

Octavia, for her part, either didn’t notice the judgmental glares or chose to ignore them. She strode through the crowded streets with Vinyl close on her tail with such confidence that it took Vinyl a good ten minutes to realize that she had no clue where she was being led.

“Uh… Octavia… not meaning to be rude or nothin’ but… where the fuck are we going?”

Octavia glanced over her shoulder reprovingly. “Well, I can’t rightly take the carriage back to Canterlot, can I?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“And leave the rest of the quartet to find their own way home tomorrow? No, we are taking the train. I’m sure you are more familiar with trains anyhow.”

“And how exactly do you figure that one?”

“Well, I can tell you aren’t from Hoofklyn. Don’t be offended, of course, but your rough and tumble street accent is a tad over the top. You sound more like your from New Herdsey or somewhere. So I assumed that you’ve probably been traveling around by train.”

Vinyl rolled her eyes. She could already tell that it was going to be struggle with this one. “Well, aren’t you little miss Smarty Pants? You’re partly right. I got here on a train. But I’m not from New Herdsey.”

“Hmmm… Harmony Lakes? Around Wisclopson, perhaps?”

Vinyl made a noise like a buzzer. “Wrong again. Strike two.”

Octavia frowned a little. “Hmm… let me think… May I phone a friend?”

Vinyl let out a bark of laughter. “We’re playin’ baseball, honey, not a game show.”

“Fine… Can I have a hint?”

“Well, I could give you one, but it would probably just make it harder.”

“Give it to me anyways.”

Vinyl smirked. “Alright the, you’re the boss… My accent isn’t gonna help you much.”

“Drat,” Octavia muttered. “I take it you adopted a parent’s accent?”

“My mother’s… unfortunately,” Vinyl said bitterly.

“Was she from any of the places I guess.”

“Herdsey Shore.”

“Ahh… Father?”

“Wisclopson… but he moved to where I’m from when he was a teen.”

“And you won’t tell me?”

“Not ‘til ya guess,” she said with a wink as they approached the ticket window.

Octavia rolled her eyes and turned to the man behind the window. “I should have a private compartment on the midnight train bound for Canterlot reserved.”

“A private compartment when you originally thought you’d be travellin’ alone? Tad excessive, don’t ya think?”

Octavia scowled. “I need room for my cello,” she snapped, gesturing at her instrument. “I can’t allow anyone else to handle her. Besides, you should be grateful… I wouldn’t have room for you otherwise.”

Vinyl stuck her tongue between her teeth, her eyes sparkling mischievously. She stooped her knees to genuflect as if Octavia were Princess Celestia herself. “Forgive me, fair maiden, for my thoughtlessness. I bow at thy feet and kiss thy hooves to show my gratitude.”

Octavia flushed. “Let us not be over the top now,” she muttered.

Vinyl grinned as she got back to her feet. “But it’s one of my charms.”

The ticket holder watched this with amusement. “Now how in the world did ya get saddled up with a respectable young lady like this, Miss Vinyl?” he said as he pushed Octavia’s ticket through the window.

Vinyl smirked and leaned up against the ticket window. “My irresistible charm I guess. You know me, Velvet”

“So you’re leaving Manehattan for Canterlot, eh? How long has this been in the makin’?”

“A few hours. We met earlier this evening.”

Velvet the ticket pony raised his eyebrows. “Don’t ya think that’s a bit fast, even for you?”

Vinyl glanced over at Octavia. When she responded she had lowered her voice a little, trying to keep Octavia from hearing her response. “It’s not like that, Vel. She’s just bein’ a good Samaritan. Keepin’ me off the streets, ya know?”

Velvet snorted. “So ya goin’ all the way to Canterlot with her?”

“I’m impulsive. Besides, Manehattan hasn’t been kind to me. Maybe I’ll fair better in Canterlot.”

“Whatever ya say, Vinyl… But ya know the ponies in Canterlot are even snootier than Manehattanites.”

“I’ll manage. Thanks.”

“You know the railroad staff?” Octavia asked as they walked onto the platform.

Vinyl shrugged. “Some of ‘em. I used to hang around the station a lot whenever the city pissed me off. You know, consider hoppin’ the next train outta town, as if I had the money. Velvet always talked to me… He’s cool like that.”

“He seemed to know you very well. What was that bit about ‘a bit fast, even for you?’”

Vinyl stopped and bit her lip. This was test time. She’d come this far without flat out telling her new friend the truth about herself. Even though she’d thought she’d made it painfully obviously earlier, you never could tell what ponies like her would and wouldn’t pick up. There was also no telling what ponies like her would and wouldn’t accept. On one hoof, the population in Equestria that was like her was actually rather staggering. To have a prejudice against something so common was counterintuitive. On the other hoof, that prejudice existed anyway, particularly among the higher class. Her own mother was proof of that fact. There was no telling which camp Octavia would align with, but she couldn’t very well move in with a pony without her knowing the truth.

“Yeah, about that… There’s somethin’ I haven’t told you yet…”

“And that would be?” Octavia said as they boarded their train.

Vinyl looked around. “Let’s wait until we’re in our compartment.”

Octavia shot Vinyl a curious look, but said nothing. As Vinyl followed Octavia silently her heart began to accelerate rapidly. She didn’t know why. She didn’t even know this pony really. If it turned out that she harbored some illogical hatred for ponies like Vinyl, Vinyl would just part ways with her when the train stopped. It would be good to be out of Manehattan regardless. She had almost exhausted her resources there, not to mention that she probably had a few angry ponies on her tail for unsettled debts. It would be good to be away from the constant fear of Red Hooves, the watchful eye of Golden Tooth, and the unrelented rejection whenever she’d tried to bring her music up on the real stage. All that Octavia really was to her was a free ride away from the city that never sleeps and, if all went well, a place to stay until she got her bearings. But she didn’t need that part. She’d moved around before without help. She could manage this time. So why was she so terrified of Octavia’s reaction?

“Well? What is it that you need to tell me?” Octavia asked as she closed their compartment door and stored her bagged in the luggage bin. Vinyl watched as she leaned her cello delicately against the seat and turned back to face her expectantly. “Well?”

“Look, I probably should have mentioned this before I agreed to let you put me up for a while but… I’m a lesbian.”

Octavia looked at her for a long moment. “Figures,” she said with a shrugged as she perched herself on the wide, cushioned seat.

Vinyl furrowed her brows. “Meaning?”

Octavia laughed. “Vinyl, you were coming on pretty strong earlier… calling me sweet cheeks… making the joke about me taking you back to my place… It’s hardly a shocker.”

“So you’re okay with it?”

Octavia smiled. “Of course. Honestly, Vinyl, the lesbian or bisexual population in Equestria is so high that any given female pony probably has a 50% chance of liking mares, if not more.”

“Does it bother you that you’ll be sleeping in the same house as one, though?”

This caused Octavia to laugh a little. “Vinyl, I know that just because you like girls doesn’t mean you’re going to try to force anything on to me. This is just a friend helping a friend. You’re a lesbian, not a serial rapist.”

Vinyl let out a sigh of relief and collapse on the seat next to Octavia. “I’m glad you see it that way… You’d be surprised how much hatred there is for ponies like me, even in a place like Equestria where it’s expected.”

“Oh, trust me, I’m not surprised,” Octavia muttered. “I’ve encountered it myself.”

Vinyl raised her eyebrows. “Really? But you’re not…”

“No, I’m not… but there was a rumor for a while… and my little sister is… That never really sat well with my parents, but they learned to tolerate it. My older sister though… Let’s just say that my family is a little at odds.”

Vinyl snorted. “Been there, done that, and all I got was this crappy hat and a bad attitude. But enough about that… You told me if I came to the concert you would tell me your last name.”

Octavia looked at Vinyl reprovingly. She hadn’t really expected Vinyl to care enough to bring it up again, but it was clear from the expectant look on Vinyl’s face that she really was fishing for an answer. Octavia wasn’t really sure how much information she wanted to dole out, but it would be silly to hold back her surname. She’d already spilled the beans on some of her family trauma that she usually avoided talking about. She didn’t know why she had done that. Something about Vinyl made her feel comfortable, but at the same time very cautious.

She glanced at Vinyl with a twinkle in her eye. “But you didn’t come to my concert, Vinyl. You sold the tickets for fifty bits each.”

Vinyl sat up straight in protest. “I came! I just didn’t want to go inside and stink up the place. I sat there in the cold and listened to the whole damn thing.”

“It would have been nicer in the auditorium.”

“I’m sure it would have been… Come on, Octavia, it’s a last name. I’m going to find out anyway when I snoop in your stuff.”

Octavia’s mouth dropped. “You’d snoop through my stuff?”

“I have to know who I’m living with.”

“That’s not fair. You don’t have any stuff for me to snoop through.”

“You’ll just have to trust me.”

“Forgive me for saying so, but you are far less trust worthy than myself. I literally know nothing of where you come from or who you are really. And no way to find out unless I trick it out of you.”

“Not true. You know that my mother was from Herdsey, my father was from Wisclopson, I’m not from either of those places, I have an older sister, and that my family hates me. What more do you need to know?”

“I’d like to know a lot more.”

“All I want to know is your last name. You brought it up, talking about your family.”

Octavia scowled. “It’s Pie. My surname is Pie.”

Vinyl cocked her head a little as something seemed to register in her mind. Octavia looked at her curiously. “Pie… with a lesbian little sister.”

“Yes,” Octavia said slowly. “What of it?”

Vinyl shook her head. “Nothing. Nothing.”

But Octavia could tell that it wasn’t nothing. Something about her last name had triggered a memory for Vinyl. Clearly it was a memory she wasn’t comfortable talking about. It must have something to do with her childhood. Or perhaps a time in her years of being homeless that she didn’t want to think about. Either way, it seemed to have something to do with Octavia’s own little sister, who was in Ponyville.

As much as she wanted to know what Vinyl’s connection with Ponyville and Pinkie was, she didn’t pry. She wanted Vinyl to comfortable with her and Celestia knew that a pony who had been living on the streets for so long, a pony with such a shady and clearly distressing past would not trust easily. Octavia would have to ease into a more friendly relationship with Vinyl. She just hoped she could do it before her new friend got nervous and disappeared.

Vinyl sat watching the scenes whiz by out the window. Octavia wondered what she was thinking, but she was afraid to ask. She tough as Vinyl's exterior was, Octavia got the impression that on the inside she was like a frightened fawn. One wrong move and she would bolt. Not that Octavia would ever say that to Vinyl's face. She had a feeling that the young girl would take incredible offense to being compared to a baby deer. Even so, though Octavia was careful, she watched Vinyl closely, the she cleared her throat. Vinyl looked away from the window and at her with a wary expression on her face.

"So, Vinyl... umm... how long have you been in Manehattan?"

Vinyl was silent for a moment, then seem to decide that it was a safe question. "Three years... give or take."

"Oh my," Octavia said in surprise. "That' quite a long time. We you on your own the whole time?"

"You mean homeless?"

"Yes, I suppose..."

Vinyl shrugged. "Yeah, but it wasn't so bad. I had enough... A few ponies I knew who could help me get by."

"Still... that's a long time to be out on your own. You were thirteen when you left home?"

"Yes," Vinyl said grudgingly.

"Wow... So young. And you left because of something to do with your family?"

Vinyl looked at Octavia for a long moment, her face expressionless. Then she turned back to the window. Octavia sighed. "Okay, I understand. Off limits question... umm... What are you thinking you want to do in the way of music?"

Vinyl turned back to Octavia, looking much more willing to answer the question. "You're probably gonna think this is totally stupid, but I've always kinda wanted to be a disc jockey."

Octavia was surprised. "A disc jockey? In a nightclub?"

"And other shit too... not just nightclubs."

"But... you have so much talent! Why would you want to waste it DJ-ing?"

Vinyl scowled. "Yeah, I knew you'd say that. I don't think it's wasting my talent. I wouldn't just be your average shitty DJ that remixes that same shitty songs that everypony's already heard, I just... I mean, I would do that too, but... I don't know... The fact that you can take somethin' that already exists and turn it into somethin' totally new is... incredible... It's like givin' older music a new beginning... a new life..."

Octavia got the distinct impression that Vinyl wasn't just talking about the music. "But wouldn't you want to make your own music?"

"I would," Vinyl said firmly. "That's the other thing... A synthesizer... It's so much more than an electronic way to copy instruments that already exist. You can use technology to be its own instrument. It's an totally original sound that nothing else can make."

Octavia smiled as Vinyl continued to talk, watching as she gestured her hooves enthusiastically. When she talked about music there was a spark in her eyes that hadn't been there before. It brought life back to the parts of her face that had looked dead before. It opened up a whole new side of her that Octavia wasn't even entirely certain Vinyl knew existed in herself. She no longer looked like a dirty street bum. While she spoke Octavia hardly noticed that the whites of her eyes were stained red. It didn't matter that she didn't have a complete education and that her speech wasn't so refined because when she was talking about music, for at least a while, her face was alive. It was a thing to witness.

Suddenly the train came to a stop at Canterlot Central Station. Vinyl frowned and looked up. "Are we there already?"

Octavia laughed a little. "You have been talking for a while now, Vinyl."

"Oh, really? Oops, sorry, babe... Didn't mean to be an attention whore..."

"Don't worry about it," Octavia said, standing up and hoisting her cello and her suitcase onto her back. "The train ride wasn't really so long... It was only an hour... besides, I enjoyed listening to you talk. It was a brand new take on music that I've never heard before... Not that I fully understand all of your perspective..."

"What do ya mean?" Vinyl asked as they deboarded their train and stepped down onto the platform.

Octavia frowned a little. "I understood what you were saying about making completed worked new again and giving them new life. However, I don't see how that can be something that somepony who calls themselves a musician would want to do with their time."

Vinyl frowned. "How it it different from a string quartet covering a Coltzart piece?"

"Coltzart was a renowned composer and musical genius. Performing his masterpieces is not the same as using soulless machines to remix soulless music."

Vinyl scowled. "It's only different to you because you have snooty music schooling tellin' ya it's different," she snapped.

"No, it's different because it's actually different!" Octavia retorted as they got into a taxi carriage to take them to her apartment.

"You're just being closed-minded."

"I'm being a cultured musician, something you could take a cue from!"

"Or you could stop bein' a pompous asshole and recognize that I'm just different!"

"Listen, ladies!" the pony pulling their carriage yelled. "I'm gonna gonna stand here all day and wait for you to finish your argument! Either you need a ride somewhere or you don't!"

Octavia started. "Oh, I'm extremely sorry," she said earnestly before giving her address.

Octavia and Vinyl bickered the whole way back. Octavia just couldn't understand Vinyl's take on music and Vinyl couldn't seem to understand her side either. She just kept stubbornly insisting that Octavia was being closed-minded and snooty, but that wasn't the case! Octavia was right, and she had a diploma from the Conservatory and a slot as the cellist in the Equestrian National String Quartet to prove it. But she couldn't make Vinyl see that. Vinyl may be a naturally talented musician, but she was not the skilled and educated musician that Octavia was. It just really pained Octavia that Vinyl would waste her talent like that... The way she'd talked about her music... That was certainly a passion that she wanted utilized to its fullest extent.

They arrived at her apartment on the fifth floor of her building after having bickered all the way up the stairs. Octavia sighed. "Can we just agree to disagree? We're here."

Vinyl thought for a moment, then sighed. "Fine," she condeded. "For now."

Nodding in relief, Octavia put her key into the lock, turned it, and opened the door to her apartment.

Chapter Six

View Online

Chapter 6

“Wow,” Vinyl breathed as she stepped gingerly into Octavia’s fifth floor apartment.

“Wow what?” Octavia asked distractedly as she hung up her cloak in the hall closet.

Vinyl looked at Octavia with every ounce of disbelief she could muster. “Wow what? Wow what? Angel face, have you seen your own apartment?”

Vinyl couldn’t remember the last time she had been in a place so clean; so elegant. Octavia’s place was modern with large windows looking out over the Canterlot skyline. It wasn’t amazingly colorful, but it was still bright, with white walls and a glistening light wood floor. Vinyl walked in amazement down the three stairs into the main living space. She was almost afraid to touch the L-shaped gray sofa that framed the glass topped coffee table, for fear of ruining its impeccable cleanness. She tentatively ran her hoof as gently as she could across the satin, purple throw pillows on the couch. After years of living on the streets seeing a place this clean was almost unnatural.

“Vinyl, I’m not living in royal luxury. This is nowhere near as nice as the residences in the Inner Circle.”

Vinyl snorted. “Well, then, remind me to break into one of those houses some time.”

Octavia scowled. “I’m going to regret allowing you into my home, aren’t I?”

Vinyl winked. “Babe, I can guarantee it… But for now I’ll get out of your mane because I have to wash my own. I haven’t had a real shower or bath in… well, let’s just say a really long time.”

“Of course. The bathroom is the first door on the left down the hall.”

Vinyl tipped her hat and followed Octavia’s instructions to a simple white door. She opened it expectantly. “Oh, look!” she called back to Octavia. “Just as I expected! Marble floors!”

She heard Octavia make a noise of annoyance. “Just take your shower.”

Chuckling, Vinyl picked off her dirty scarf and hat. Not wanting to dirty up the pristine floor she hung them carefully on the doorknob. She would probably just throw them out later. She walked across the furry white rug to the shower, stopping to glance at herself in the large mirror that covered the whole wall above the long, white counter and sink. She grimaced at what she saw. In all honesty she hadn’t gotten a good look at herself in a long time. Her hair was so filthy and oily that nopony would ever guess that naturally, however hard she tried to hide it, it was kinky and wavy. She was pretty sure she was white under all the filth, but at the moment she was coated in a greenish-brown tint. But perhaps most cringe worthy was her eyes. It was as if the entire eye was red. The iris, naturally red; the whites, stained bloodshot by habits that she wasn’t sure that Octavia was going to stand for.

She looked away from her reflection and turned the knobs on the shower. “Good news, Octavia!” she called as the shower hissed, squeaked, and began to spit steaming water from its head. “Your bathroom’s real fancy and everything, but your shower still works normal. No fancy buttons or nothin' weird like that!”

“Shut up and bathe, Vinyl!”

Snickering, Vinyl eased under the hot needles of a real shower for the first time in a long time. She watched as even before using any soap dirty water began to swirl down the drain. Okay, Vinyl, that’s pretty gross. Next time you’re homeless, worry a little more about hygiene. She closed her eyes and let the water cascade down her body, working out the kinks and knots that she hadn’t even realized she had. It felt good to be able to stand mindlessly under the jets of water, to not have to worry about where she was going to sleep. About where her next meal was coming from.

Vinyl flickered her horn a little to get a spark of magic to snatch up Octavia’s shampoo. “Unscented. My girl’s simple and predictable,” she muttered to herself as she squeezed a dollop directly onto her head and rubbed it in.

Once she was clean, which took way longer than it should have, she turned off the water and pulled a fresh, fluffy white towel off the towel rack. She rubbed off the residual water, than wrapped it around her hair the way her sister would have once done. She glanced at the hook on the door. Octavia’s purple robe was hanging there. That would probably drive her nuts if Vinyl came out in her robe. Vinyl pulled it off the hook and slipped into it. After picking her dirty garments off the doorknob she rejoined her company.

“Honk, honk! Dirty clothes comin’ through!” she called out obnoxiously.

Octavia poked her head out of what Vinyl assumed must be the kitchen. “I can wash those for you if you want!”

“Nah, they’d fall apart in the wash. I’ll just chuck ‘em. You can wash my coat… I wanna keep that.”

“Well, alright, there’s a garbage bin in the laundry room at the end of the ha- ARE YOU WEARING MY ROBE?”

Vinyl grinned toothily. “Problem?”

“Yes… no…. just go get rid of those dirty scraps of fabric!”

Smiling mischievously, Vinyl practically skipped down the hall to chuck her old clothes into Octavia’s trashcan. When she returned she entered the modern granite and steel adorned kitchen to see Octavia floating around, pulling things out of the refrigerator and pantry.

“Have a seat,” she said. “I figured that you’d probably be hungry, so I thought I’d see what I have to offer.”

“Thanks,” Vinyl said as she sat down at the kitchen island.

“Unfortunately, that’s not much,” Octavia admitted. “I’ve got some cereal, a little milk that’s probably expired, and some old fruits and vegetables. I desperately need to go grocery shopping tomorrow.”

Vinyl shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. I ate not that long ago.”

“You should be eating every day, preferably three times,” Octavia said sternly.

Vinyl rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well, we’ll start tomorrow. Do you have a pair of scissors I can borrow?”

“Yes, but… what kind?”

“Sharp kind… but probably not kitchen scissors, that might be weird.”

Octavia reached into a drawer and pulled out a pair of scissors. She handed them to Vinyl with a confused expression on her face, but Vinyl didn’t feel like offering an explanation. She took the scissors and returned to the bathroom where she unwrapped her hair. She picked up the hair brush off the countertop and quickly pulled out as many of the stubborn tangles as she could manage. When it was as detangled as she was going to get it she magicked the scissors into the air and began to hack away at her overgrown mane.

“Oh my goodness,” Octavia said from the doorway. “Vinyl, you don’t have to… I can take you to get it cut!”

Vinyl glanced over at Octavia. “Let a professional anywhere near my hair and I’ll eat you for dinner. I’ve been cuttin' my own hair since I was about eight. Don’t worry… It’s not supposed to be even.”

Octavia looked a little distressed. “Well… if you’re sure… But you better clean up this mess when you’re done.”

“Yeah, yeah… by the way, speakin’ of hair… do you have a flat iron?”

“No… My hair is naturally quite flat. But yours didn’t seem to be curly. Why do you need one?”

“You saw it weighed down by oil and dirt… Just wait until it dries, you’ll see.”

Octavia rolled her eyes. “Well, if you think you need one, I’ll buy it for you when we go to the store tomorrow.”

Vinyl put down the scissors and looked at Octavia through slightly narrowed eyes. “Why are you bein' so nice to me?”

Octavia cocked her head. “Because you need help, I like to help ponies, and, honestly, for some inexplicable reason, I like you.”

“But I can’t help you back.”

“That doesn’t matter to me. I don’t expect you to be able to do much until you can get your feet planted on the ground. I’m here to help you do that. And if you feel so inclined to repay me in some way once you get there, I’ll accept your generosity, but I don’t expect it.”

Vinyl shook her head. “You’re fuckin’ weird,” she said in disbelief.

“Well, that’s a crude way to put it,” Octavia sniffed as she turned around and walked away.

“No! Wait! I just mean that… Well, in my world there’s no such thing as selflessness. Kindness always had an angle.”

“Well, then, Vinyl… You live in a very dark and unforgiving world. I promise… It’s not all like that.”

Vinyl smiled and looked down. “Yeah, we’ll see.” But privately she couldn’t help thinking that this new friend of hers, though perhaps the nicest soul she’d met in a while, was unbelievably naïve. Vinyl feared, and she didn’t know why she was so afraid for this girl she barely new, that it was going to get her hurt. I won’t let that happen. She takes care of me, I’m gonna take care of her from the sidelines.

Octavia sat awake in the living room, listening to Vinyl snore from the guest room down the hall. Try as she might, she couldn’t sleep. The events of the night had just been so sudden, and yet, so life changing, that she couldn’t help but relive them over and over again. It was strange knowing that a pony she had only just met today was sleeping in her home. Vinyl… she was so young and such a mystery. Part of Octavia felt like she should be doing more to find out who Vinyl was and maybe communicate with someone that may be worried about her, but Vinyl’s reluctance to talk about her past gave her reason to doubt. Maybe there was something truly horrid in Vinyl’s past. Perhaps trying to get in contact with any of those ponies would be a death sentence. All the same… She wanted to know more.

All of these thoughts raced through her head. When she had finished the cycle, she started over again. It was tiring and by three in the morning she truly had a headache. Unable to take her racing thoughts anymore Octavia finally resorted to the only thing she had ever known to be able to calm an overactive mind. She trotted quietly into her music room and unpacked her cello.

She hadn’t intended to wake her house guest, but of course when she thought about it she realized how inevitable that was. All that was on her mind as she strummed the first note on her beautiful instrument was somehow seeking peace. Then once the music started flowing out of her own hoofs and heart all other thoughts ceased. She wasn’t even entirely aware of what she was playing, but it was calming. The notes carried her away into some distant land where she forgot about the events of the night until…

“Do you always play at three in the morning? ‘Cause if ya do, I’m sorry, dollface, but this ain't gonna work out.”

Octavia jumped, startled out of her sanctuary. And there she was, Miss Vinyl herself, her messy bed head piled atop her scalp, intruding on her peace yet again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“No, I was totally gonna sleep through you sawing away on that instrument of yours… Don’t get me wrong, though… it was beautiful.”

“Was it? I wouldn’t know, I was just making it up as I went along. I don’t even remember what I played.”

“Well, isn’t that a shame… Do you do that a lot?”

“Do what?”

“Compose beautiful music on the spot that could earn you thousands and never think to actually, oh, I don’t know, remember it?”

Octavia blushed a little, thinking back on all times that she had played randomly to calm her mind, never to remember what it was that soothed her so. “Oh, I doubt it could earn me thousands.”

“Not as it is… but just imagine that piece with a full orchestra behind it… it would be awesome as fuck… but I guess you can’t imagine that, can you, since you CAN’T REMEMBER WHAT YOU PLAYED!”

Octavia was a little taken aback by Vinyl’s aggravation. “Really, Vinyl, there’s no need to shout. It’s just a silly little musical doodle.”

Vinyl snorted. “A musical doodle? Sugar, for it to be a doodle you’d actually have to write something down.Have you ever actually composed a piece… you know… for real?”

Octavia shrugged. “Only the one that I composed for the final project at the Canterlot Conservatory. I’m hardly accomplished or talented enough to compose for real.”

Vinyl snorted. “Bullshit, bitch, bullshit. Based on what I just heard and what I heard earlier at the concert you are way better than any of the loser that think they have the musical skill to compose shit now.”

Octavia rolled her eyes. “Please, Vinyl, stop flattering me. Even if that were true it doesn’t matter. I don’t recall what I played, remember?”

Vinyl winked. “You’re forgetting something, sweet cheeks.”

“What’s that?”

“I do remember what you played.” Much to Octavia’s astonishment Vinyl walked right up to her shiny, black, baby grand piano. She plopped herself down the bench and flipped up the fall board. Octavia was shocked.

“Do you play?”

Vinyl gave her a rather insulted look. “Sweetheart, anypony who calls themselves a musician can play the fuckin' piano.”

Octavia raised her eyebrows. “Well, then, carry on,” she said in a slightly haughty tone.

Vinyl smirked, then turned back to the piano. When she began to play Octavia was stunned. It was truly beautiful, if she did say so herself. She’d had no idea what she was even playing when she began to play her cello. Had she been doing this for long? How many pieces had been lost in the years she spent refusing to write down her feelings on the score? She felt a little self-centered, standing there, listening to her own piece and praising it, but Celestia banish it… Vinyl was right. It was beautiful.

When Vinyl finished Octavia let out the breath she had been holding. “Told you,” was all her new friend said.

Octavia sighed. “Point conceded. I ought to write down my music.”

“Yes you should.”

There was a moment of silence before Octavia spoke again. “So… you can play by ear?”

“Yes. I taught myself mostly, so yeah…”

“Can you read music?”

Octavia didn’t miss the way Vinyl balked. It was almost as if she was both afraid to learn and ashamed that she didn’t know how. Octavia could understand that. A lot of musicians looked down on their fellows that only played by ear. Octavia herself didn’t think one way produced better music than that other, but there was definite advantage to being able to record the music on paper. The pony memory wasn’t always reliable. Her own memory tonight was proof of that. “Well?” she pressed, knowing the answer. “Do you?”

“No,” Vinyl admitted grudgingly. “I never really had formal music lessons.”

“Well I’ll teach you.”

“Wh-what?” Vinyl replied, shocked. “No, you don’t have to do that…”

“I insist!” Octavia declared. “You said yourself that it’s a waste to compose great music if you can’t remember it.”

“I store things in my head.”

“Your head isn’t as reliable as a pen and paper, Vinyl. Please let me teach you. It’ll only help improve you as a musician.”

“Are you sayin' I need improving?”

“Everypony has room to get better, no matter how good they are, Vinyl.”

Vinyl didn’t reply. Octavia could see her weighing her situation in her brain. Finally she sighed. “Fine.”

“Yay!” Octavia said happily.

“But only because I can tell you won’t take no for an answer. And I’ve had a little experience dealing with ponies like that.”

“Good call,” Octavia said.

Vinyl smiled. “Now, can we go to bed? I’m use to operating on just a few hours, but you definitely seem like a full eight hour sleep night kind of girl to me.”

Octavia smiled and nodded. As both of them went to bed in their separate rooms Octavia found that she was much more at peace now. The last thought before she went to sleep was that she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she had made the right decision in allowing Vinyl to live with her.

Chapter Seven

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Chapter 7

Vinyl awoke the next morning much earlier than she had intended to with a panicked feeling in her stomach. Now that she was out of Manehattan, how was she going to get her fix? She didn't know if there was even a pony you could buy from in Canterlot. She sat bolt up right, her heart beating and her head reeling. She scrambled out of bed and ran out into the main part of Octavia's apartment. It was still darkened. She peered out the window. It was still dark outside. It must be extremely early. Maybe she had time to sneak out before Octavia woke up. She glanced around the apartment one last time before shrugging on her coat. She noticed that it smelled cleaned. Octavia must have washed it after Vinyl had already gone to bed the night before. She's just too damn helpful, Vinyl thought as she quietly opened the front door and slipped out into the dark morning.

It was chilly out, but there was no biting wind like there had been in Manehattan. She supposed it was because she wasn't surrounded by ridiculously tall buildings that acted as a wind tunnel. She walked through the streets, keeping her eyes out for suspicious looking characters. She rounded the corner of the next street and she found him, a pony in a dark cloak with a black hat tipped low over his eyes to obscure his identity. She approached cautiously, still uncertain if he was who she was looking for.

"You lookin' for somethin', little filly?" he whispered to her. She almost laughed. When he spoke he effected a gruff whisper, clearly trying to disguise his identity. His manner was melodramatic and extremely affected. Dealers in Manehattan hadn't been anywhere near this ridiculous, but, then again, this was Canterlot. Maybe ponies in every walk of life were a little ridiculous.

"Depends," she said, joining his act of secrecy. "What are you offering?"

"Depends what you want. Also what you have to offer."

Vinyl threw caution to the winds. "You the dealer 'round here?"

The man said nothing, but he tipped his hat to affirm his identity. Vinyl pulled what was left of the money she'd gotten for Octavia's concert tickets out. "What are ya sellin'?"

"What are you buyin'?"

"Smack, coke... whatever ya have..."

The dealer looked up an down the streets, then beckoned for her to follow. She followed him uncomfortably down an alleyway and in through a small door. Inside there wasn't much, but inside trap door Vinyl say that the man was hiding a number of drugs, many of which she hadn't even tried. "Whaddya need, kiddo?" he asked.

"Smack... and the rigs... lost my old ones back in Manehattan."

"How much do you need?"

"A dime bag."

The man got her needles and syringes, then a small bag of dope. Vinyl frowned. Ten bits worth of dope in Canterlot was a lot less than ten bits worth of dope in Manehattan, but she knew better than to say anything. She would just have to find a way to make more money. Surely there was a club or two around here she could play in. She took the paper bag the dealer handed out to her. "Same street corner, same time, every day?" the man asked.


"I'll be seein' you then."

Vinyl walked back to Octavia's apartment. The sun was starting to rise now, casting a pale orange glow on the street. She walked up the stairs quickly, then let herself into Octavia's apartment. Much to her relief it was still dark. Octavia was probably still asleep. Poor thing was probably exhausted after staying up so late the night before. Trying not to wake her, Vinyl tip-hoofed across the room and into kitchen. She pulled a container out of the cabinet and used it to mix her powdered dope with water. Then she took it back into her bedroom, closed, the door, and loaded up her syringe. She tied her front leg up tightly with a shoelace she'd been wearing around her neck for this purpose exactly: to help her find her vein. She located it and slowly injected the needle into the vein.

Suddenly the door opened. Vinyl jumped, causing the needle to fall out of her arm and onto the floor. She cursed loudly, rubbing her leg where the injection sight had been. Octavia screamed a little and covered her mouth. "Oh my goodness, Vinyl, I'm sorry!"

"God dammit, woman! Don't you fuckin' knock?"

"I'm sorry... I should have, you're right... wait... Vinyl... were you doing drugs in my house?"

Vinyl hesitated, biting her lip. "I was hopin' ya wouldn't find out about this," she mumbled, stooping down to pick up the needle.

"Vinyl, I can't allow you to do that."

"Why not?" Vinyl snapped defensively. "It ain't any of YOUR business what I do. Doesn't hurt you none."

Octavia frowned. "Actually, it does. This is my house. I can get into trouble if you do drugs here. Besides, it's bad for you."

Vinyl rolled her eyes. "Please don't give me that lecture... like I said... it ain't your business."

Octavia sighed. "Fine... I'll leave you be... but in the future... I can't believe I'm telling you this... There's a little alley out back of the apartment building. If you must use... That's a place you can do it and not get caught."

Vinyl looked at Octavia in astonishment. She hadn't seen that one coming. "Thank you," she said as Octavia backed out of the room and closed the door.

Vinyl stared at the closed door for a moment, then shrugged. If Octavia was going to help her out with this, she was fine with that. She blew off the needle and re-positioned it in her front leg. She injected the drug with a sigh of relief. The effect as almost instantaneous. As the euphoria washed over her, her head dropped down onto her chest and her eyes fluttered shut. All the times she'd used heroin since the first time it had been different. She supposed the first time she had used she had been so hyped up on her emotions that it hadn't been as sedating. Since, however, it had the usual effect that it was suppose to have. It was different, but she liked it. It made her forget all the bad things that had happened. When she was high she floated on a cloud where only she existed. It was peaceful there. Comfortably peaceful.

Octavia sat in the kitchen awkwardly, sipping on her mug Earl Grey tea in silence. She was highly uncomfortable with the whole situation. She and Vinyl had managed to get off to a terrible start on their first morning together and that was eating at her. What was eating at her more though was what was going on behind the door she had shut on Vinyl. She'd known Vinyl had probably picked up some vices, but she hadn't realized what they'd be. It was uncomfortable to sit at her kitchen island with her tea knowing that Vinyl shooting up drugs while she did. It wasn't right, but there wasn't really much Octavia could do about it.

A while later Vinyl came out. She was acting a little more sloth-like than before, but over all she seemed to be mostly fuctioning.

"What's crackin'?" she asked with a lazy smile.

"Nothing," Octavia said primly, taking a sip of her tea.

Vinyl frowned. "Don't act like that," she said crossly. "I'm not addicted to smack or anything. I'm just a casual user."

"Right, and I believe that."

"Really, Octopus! I'm fine!"

Octavia frowned. "Did you just call Octopus?"

"Yeah... got a problem with it?"

"Well... yes... I'm not an Octopus..."

Vinyl shrugged. "Yeah, but your name is Octavia... made me think of an Octopus... but whatevs... when are we goin' out to get the shit we were supposed to get."

"As soon as we're both ready to go."

"I'm ready when you are."

So Octavia left to get ready. She stood in the shower for perhaps a little longer than she should have, but she couldn't help herself. After all that had happened in the last twenty-four hours it felt good to just stand under the hot water to ease all of her tense muscles. After a while she quickly washed up, then shut off the water and stepped out of the shower. Then she looked up and screamed, clapping her hooves to her mouth. Vinyl was sitting on the countertop, staring at her expectantly. "Took you long enough," she said.

"My goodness, Vinyl!" Octavia she reprovingly. "What do you think you're doing?"

Vinyl shrugged. "I got bored of waiting out there, so I came to see what was taking you so long."

"You can't rush these things, Vinyl! I can't believe you walked into my bathroom while I was showering! Do you have any idea how rude and inappropriate that is?"

Vinyl smirked. "It's not like we wear clothes or anything... I'm not seeing anything that I haven't already seen, although," she looked Octavia up and down, "I have to say, you make one sexy wet-maned mare."

"Out! OUT!" Octavia demanded, feeling a blush rise on her cheeks.

"I'm goin', I'm goin'!" Vinyl said, walking out of the bathroom with a smirk on her face and closing the door behind her.

Octavia let out a noise of frustration as she began to dry her mane rather violently with her towel. Who did Vinyl think she was, just walking into her bathroom in the middle of her shower? Did she know nothing of what was considered acceptable social behavior? Octavia picked up her hairbrush and behind to abuse her mane, still fuming. And then the nerve of her comments!... Sexy wet-maned mare indeed. She flipped on her blow-dryer and began to dry her hair.

In the time it took her to get ready Octavia had managed to calm herself from the incident with Vinyl in the bathroom. She walked out to join her house guest in the living room. "Ready to go?"

"You still mad at me?"

Octavia sighed. "No... but when we get home we are establishing house RULES!"

Vinyl groaned. "Blech... rules... not really my forte, sweet cheeks."

"Rule number one," Octavia replied. "Don't call me sweet cheeks."

Vinyl smirked. "Okay, Octopus... But let's talk about this later... We have to go get my straightener."

For the first time Octavia noticed Vinyl's hair. She hadn't paid much attention before, as her mind had been preoccupied with the drug use and the incident in the bathroom, but now that she was looking she noticed that Vinyl's hair looked incredibly different than it had before. As it was no longer weighed down by dirt Octavia now say that Vinyl's hair was wavy and kinky as if she had slept with a bunch of braids all over her head. She smiled. "It actually looks kind of good that way," she said.

Vinyl grimaced. "Ugg... no... we're getting the straightener."

"Fine," Octavia said, smiling as they walked out the door.

As they walked down the street to the store on the corner Octavia watched Vinyl out of the corner of her eye. She seemed to be perfectly healthy and cheerful, other than being a little skinny and her pupils of her eyes which were now contracted where they had been obviously dilated the day before. That wasn't a good sign. It implied that Vinyl was on multiple drugs. That was a certain way to end up killing oneself. Unfortunately, Octavia didn't feel she had the right or authority to make Vinyl stop doing anything.

Octavia watched as Vinyl looked the streets up and down. She supposed that her new roommate was trying to familiarize herself with the territory. It was kind of interesting, the way she scutinized the area. Octavia wondered what she was seeing. Was she seeing things about the quarter of town that Octavia had lived in for a few months now that she herself hadn't noticed at all. In that moment she almost wanted to get inside Vinyl head, but at the same time knew that it was probably a dark place that she didn't want any part of. There was definitely a certain haunted look behind Vinyl's fun-loving exterior that Octavia was certain didn't come from the drugs.

"Have you lived here long?" Vinyl finally asked as they neared the store.

"Not really... a few months. I only graduated from the Conservatory back in May."

Vinyl looked distinctly surprised. "And here I was thinking you'd lived there the whole time... You got enough money to afford that place just since graduating music school?"

"You needn't sound so surprised, Vinyl," Octavia teased as she opened the door to the neighborhood Pony-Mart. "You learned yourself that tickets to my concerts are worth fifty bits a piece."

"Yeah, well... I figured I inflated the price."

"Not really. In fact, you might have reduced it."

Vinyl cursed under her breath. Octavia scowled at her language, but inside she was secretly laughing at Vinyl's obvious regret that she had not asked for more for those tickets. Not that it really mattered now. Octavia fully intended to provide for Vinyl in every way she could. In the spirit of that, she walked up and down the isle, picking up food. Over time she began to notice that things that she had never purchased in her life were beginning to appear in her shopping cart.

"Vinyl, where did this chocolate pudding come from?" she asked in annoyance.

"I wanted chocolate pudding," Vinyl said with a shrug.

"It is terrible for you, Vinyl. Especially this processed stuff they put in these little plastic cups. You haven't had proper nourishment in forever. You need healthy food, not pudding."

"Well, I haven't had pudding in forever either," Vinyl said stubbornly. "So I think I deserve some."

"Fine," Octavia said with a sigh. "Let's go get that straightener you think you want."

"Ya mean the straightener that I really need right now because I look like a psycho?"

"You do not look like a psycho."

"Quit tellin' me my hair looks fine and buy me a straightener, woman!" Vinyl yelled.

Octavia looked at her appraisingly. "You know, I don't have to do any of this, so a little respect would be appreciated."

"You want respect? From me?" Vinyl began to cackle as if the idea of her showing any amount of respect was the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard in her life. Suddenly Octavia felt a little worried about how their relationship was going to develop.

"Yes, Vinyl, I want respect from you. Is that such a hard thing to ask for?"

"Bitch, you have no idea."

Octavia frowned. "Just go get your straightener. And don't call me bitch!"

Vinyl grinned. "Okay... Octopus."

"Just get your thing!"

As Vinyl picked out the straightener that she thought she needed Octavia silently fumed. She had never met a more infuriating pony in all of her days of living! It was as if Vinyl purely existed to drive everypony else on the planet insane. She supposed it was her own fault, however, that she had to put up with this. She had invited Vinyl to come live with her after all. She should have known that the sixteen year old would be a handful.

Later the pair returned home, toting their groceries with them. If there was one thing to be said for Vinyl's usefulness, it was that it certainly make carrying things a lot easier. It was useful to have a unicorn friend. Even if Vinyl wasn't particularly skilled at magic, which she didn't seem to be, she knew the spell to carry things with her magic and that, at least, made everything easier. They entered Octavia's apartment and dropped the groceries off in the kitchen.

"Give me my flat-iron!" Vinyl demanded. When she said things like that she most certainly sounded like a teenager.

"What's the magic word?" Octavia replied innocently.

"Abra Kadabra! Now hand it over!"

"Honestly, Vinyl, didn't anypony ever teach you manners?" Octavia asked as she handed the appliance over.

Vinyl pondered it for a moment, then shrugged. "No, not really," she concluded finally before bounding off to the bathroom.

"Just out of curiosity," Octavia shouted after her as she herself bustled around the kitchen, putting things away, "why did you need the straightener? Why couldn't you just do it with your magic?"

There was a moment of silence. "Umm... Well... I know this sounds weird, but the hair manipulating spells are actually pretty advances and, well... I don't know a lot of magic."

"I suppose that makes sense," Octavia said thoughtfully. "You did run away from home at a fairly young age... and by the way you talk it doesn't sound like you lived in a very nurturing or educational environment." She said this last part with a slight nudge her voice. She couldn't help it. She wanted answers to what had happened to make Vinyl end up where she was in life.

Vinyl didn't reply for a long time, but Octavia could hear the anger and pain in her silence. "That's none of your business," she replied, her voice bitter and resentful.

"I'm sorry," Octavia said, drifting over and poking her head into the bathroom. "I didn't mean to pry."

Vinyl turned around with a hint of a scowl on her face. Her hair was now impeccably straight, though with all the layers she'd hacked into it the night before it was straight a couple different directions. "Well, ya did," she said.

"I apologize. It was rude of me... Your hair looks... interesting."

Vinyl glanced at herself in the mirror. "It's the first time it's looked half-way decent in years now."

Octavia smiled. "This is decent to you?"

Vinyl smirked. "What? Not straight laced enough for you?"

"It is most certainly not my style... although," Octavia cocked her head thoughtfully, "in some strange way it does work for you."

"I know my own hair," Vinyl said with a shrugged as she brushed passed Octavia. "Now, I'm hungry!"

"What would you like?"


"Well, that's helpful," Octavia said, sarcasm dripping from her tone. "But can you be a little more specific?"

Vinyl thought for a long time. In fact, she thought for so long that Octavia began to tap her hoof impatiently. Then, after a build-up that seemed to go on for ages, she finally responded. "Good food."

Octavia made a noise of frustration. "You are insufferable."

"I've been told."

"And yet, some how, you don't seem to be doing anything to remedy that fact."

"Why bother?

"Out of respect?"

Vinyl rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. Don't start on me with all this respect crap. Respect isn't something that I just hand out, okay? If a pony wants respect, they'll earn it."

"I've done nothing but be hospitable and charitable towards you, Vinyl. Besides, you ought to apply the same standards to yourself. How can you expect others to respect you if you don't respect them?"

Vinyl shrugged. "Who says I want respect?"

"Everypony wants respect."

"Well, not me! I don't need other ponies."

Octavia raised her eyebrows. "You don't need other ponies? Well, feel free to take your leave then, Vinyl, as you clearly don't need me!"

The silence rang throughout the room. Octavia stared at Vinyl intensely, but Vinyl seemed unable to make eye contact. Octavia could tell that what she had said had had some affect on the young girl. Finally, after what seemed like a decade, Vinyl spoke. "That's not what I meant."

"Then, pray tell, what did you mean?"

"I just... I don't... I mean... I guess I've just been alone for a really long time."

Octavia's expression softened. "Well, you're not alone anymore. I promise, Vinyl. You're not alone."

Chapter Eight

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Chapter 8

Vinyl was settling into life at Octavia's, but she couldn't honestly say that the change was an easy one. More than once she had found herself sleeping on the floor. When Octavia's asked her why she would merely shrugged and say that the bed was too comfortable. Truly, everything about living with Octavia was too comfortable. Her flat was comfortable, her furniture was comfortable, but, most frighteningly, her company was comfortable. Even though they bickered often, Vinyl found herself enjoying the uptight cellist's company. Even so, she couldn't pull away as she had done in the past. Something about Octavia pulled her in and made her forget that no personal relationship would end well. Somehow over the next week Vinyl forgot that she had resolved to never trust again.

The hardest part of Canterlot to adapt to was the culture. Canterlot was much more upscale than Manehattan, at least the part of Manehattan Vinyl had frequented, and there didn't seem to be a slum-town portion. The closest she'd been able to figure to be a low-class sector was the Upper East Corner, and even that seemed to be much better than the ghettos of Manehattan. Luckily for Vinyl, however, drug culture seemed to be prevalent across Equestria, from the dankest slums to the classiest gated communities. Unluckily, the prices in Canterlot were jacked way higher than in Manehattan. The more familiar side of Vinyl that lacked proper courtesy almost took Octavia's money, but that tiny little voice inside of her head with the proper voice of her older sister always stopped her. "That is most certainly unacceptable, Vinyl! it said, entirely affronted that she would even think it. "Octavia has taken you in out of the kindness in her own heart! It would be more than a little rude for you to steal money from her to feed you habit! Even so, Vinyl quickly began to run out of what little money she had. Before long she would be out and then what could she do? It wasn't like she could just walk out and start asking for jobs. She had no identification and she didn't want it either, at least not a real ID. The last thing she wanted was for anypony here to figure out who she was and send her home, for even after all these years she still feared that she would be returned there.

Vinyl had quickly learned that Octavia did not spend much time in her home, which perhaps accounted for it uncomfortable cleanliness. During the week, Vinyl realized, though Octavia had graduated from the conservatory, she was not content with her education, for she took classes during the day. This left Vinyl at home alone most of the time, which thus far had not been a problem, though Vinyl wasn't sure how much more she would take before her boredom would explode into a series of minor disasters. Many nights Octavia and her string quartet played at a variety of venues and parties around Canterlot, thus rendering her unavailable for contact on many nights as well.

That Saturday, however, was Octavia's day off. She had no classes and no work and thus was home to witness Vinyl's rising panic. Vinyl sat in complete silence on Octavia's living room sofa. She still had some money left and occasionally she went out on to the streets while Octavia was in class and managed to scrape up a little more. She'd lived like this for years in Manehattan. The only difference was that this time she actually had a warm, comfortable home to return to. So why did she feel so panicked?

Octavia didn't miss her silence. "Is something bothering you, Vinyl?"

Vinyl shrugged but didn't say anything. How could she? Octavia didn't approve of the fact that Vinyl was a user and Vinyl didn't really want to listen to that lecture right then. She thought about the cocaine she had hidden under mattress in her bedroom. She really wanted that right then, but she couldn't really go and take it while Octavia was sitting there. But god dammit she needed it. She didn't use heroin regularly she just occasionally treated herself to the mind numbing relaxation that it provided. The drug she used was still cocaine. She couldn't stop.

"Vinyl, don't act like this. If we are to live this way then we must have full disclosure."

"I think there are some parts of my life you are better off not knowing about, doll face," Vinyl said darkly, pushing herself farther back into the couch cushions.

Octavia pursed her lips. "Vinyl, I know you have... habits... that I do not approve of, but it's not like you to be this despondant."

"How to do you know what I"m like? You barely even know me."

"I know enough."

Vinyl sighed. "I'm fine. Really. I am."

"No you're not."

Vinyl didn't look at Octavia. What could she do now? Octavia seemed truly concerned and some part of Vinyl that she had thought had died a long time ago was truly touched, but how could Octavia help her? She couldn't ask for Octavia to give her money to support something that she absolutely hated. She would never do it, for one thing. But maybe she could bend the truth a little? Maybe if she didn't tell her exactly what she needed the money for it would work out. Vinyl didn't particularly relish the idea of taking even more from Octavia, but her need drowned out her morals.

"I just... Sometimes when I'm at home alone I need to get things and I don't really see that much of you. I... I don't have much money, you know, and it would be really hard for me to get a job since I have no identity."

Octavia cocked her head. "Vinyl, are you asking me to leave you money when I leave?"

Vinyl didn't look at her. She couldn't. "I mean... if that okay... I don't wanna cause you a lot of shit or nothin'."

Octavia considered it for a moment, then smiled. "I can manage to leave you with a little. I do make good money in the quartet, and I feel it's my responsibility to take care of you until you can do it yourself."

Vinyl nodded, but she didn't say anything. She couldn't say anything. She was filled with too much guilt over lying to Octavia. Part of her wanted to retract the request, say she didn't really need anything. Part of her wanted to just continue what she had been doing and keep playing desperately on the streets while Octavia was in class, trying to get enough money to feed her habit. But that part of her was gagged by the greater part that needed that money. That part of her coaxed her to push her guilt aside and change the subject.

"Yo, Octy!" she said suddenly, sitting up a little. "We never did establish that list of rules you were talkin' about. You've been so busy since I got here."

Octavia smiled. "No, I suppose we didn't. I'm surprised you brought it up. You don't seem like the kind to pay much attention to rules."

"Oh, I'm totally not gonna follow them," Vinyl said, grinning jauntily. "I just figured you'd like to tell me what they are since you're such a stickler for rules. You know, so you can yell at me when I break them?"

Octavia rolled her eyes. "I feel extremely sorry for the ponies that had to raise you, Vinyl."

The smile slid off of Vinyl's face. "Don't," she said darkly, "they don't deserve that."

Octavia looked at Vinyl sadly. "I wish you'd tell me what happened to you."

"Forget it. It's not gonna happen."

"Fine... rules, then... Well, rule number one is, of course, not calling me sweet sweet cheeks."

"Yeah, ok... sweet cheeks."

Octavia scowled. "Rule number two... No drugs in the house."

Vinyl's mind strayed to the coke she had hidden under her mattress. "Okay, no prob. Next?"

"Rule number three... Try not to break anything."

"I ain't a clutz, Octopus."

"RULE NUMBER FOUR!" Octavia practically yelled. "No weird pet names."

"But I like them!" Vinyl complained, bolting up.

"I hate them."

"That's why I like them."

"I figured."

Vinyl grinned and leaned down onto the sofa. "I can't promise anything for that one, babe. I think you'd make a bitchin' octopus."

Rolling her eyes, Octavia plowed on. The rules were fairly simple. If you take it out, put it away. If you eat on it, wash it. If you turn it on, turn it off. If you mess it up, clean it up. If you drop it, pick it up. If you open it, close it. All very household rules. The kind of rules that she had never obeyed when she was living at home, but she figured that since Octavia had chosen to take her in out of the kindness in her heart that she could at least try to follow them. But, as she told Octavia after every rule, she couldn't promise anything.

"I suppose it's only fair to ask you if you have any rules of me. You are living here as well, after all."

Vinyl thought about it for a minute. "Just one."

"And what would that be?"

Vinyl pierced Octavia with the most intense stare she could muster. "Never ask me about my past and never mention my parents again."

Octavia looked right back at Vinyl, completely unfazed by her unflinching stare. "I can't promise anything, Vinyl."

Octavia tried her hardest to respect Vinyl's wish and not ask too many questions about her past. Honestly, she wanted Vinyl to trust her and clearly the best way to earn that trust was to be respectful. It was hard, however, and she often found herself looking curiously at Vinyl, wondering why she did or said certain things. She found herself wondering about Vinyl's mysterious parents whenever she heard Vinyl's accent. They must have been terrible for Vinyl to be so reluctant to talk about it. More than anything Octavia wanted to be able to tell Vinyl that whatever her parents had done to her hadn't been her fault, but she couldn't do that without knowing what had happened. She couldn't find out what had happened without asking Vinyl and that would be compromising her trust. It was all so confusing and frustrating.

Of course, the mystery that shrouded Vinyl was far from the only thing about the girl that was frustrating to Octavia. As days passed to be became quite obvious that Vinyl's manners were hardly up to par. She didn't have much regard for the feelings of others when she spoke, often insulting Octavia or the ponies Octavia spent her time with and she didn't even seem to realize that she was doing it.

"Vinyl, you do realize how rude and inconsiderate that was, right?" Octavia asked after one of these moments. Vinyl had been talking about Octavia's obsessive neatness, saying that the apartment felt like nopony lived in it. Octavia would have let the complaining slide had it not been for the comment that followed: "It's like you're a fucking drone or something. You're as lifeless as the apartment."

Vinyl shrugged. "It's true, ain't it?"

"Just because something is true doesn't make it okay to say, Vinyl! Besides, I am not lifeless!"

"What do you call it then?"

"I have responsibilities, Vinyl. I have school and work to attend to. Excuse me if that means I don't have much time for leisure activity."

Vinyl rolled her eyes and lit up a cigarette. "Whatever you say."

Octavia made a noise of disgust. "Vinyl, I'm not going to try to stop you from smoking, but I won't let you do it in here. If you're going to insist on that disgusting habit take it outside."

Vinyl rolled her eyes again and, much to Octavia's fury, put the cigarette out on the the arm on the sofa. It sizzled and burned a small, round hole into the fabric. Octavia stood up and snatched the cigarette out of Vinyl's hoof. "How dare you!" she said, aghast. "I can't believe you would do that!"

"Damn, Octavia, it's just a fucking sofa. It's not like I killed something that's alive."

"It doesn't matter, Vinyl! It's my property and you just destroyed it!"

"No, I didn't," she said in exasperation. "It still works, don't it?"

"But you still burned a hole in it! How is that okay to you? Honestly, Vinyl, with behavior like that it's no wonder you had such a hard time with your parents!"

The moment the words came out of Octavia's mouth she regretted them. She saw all of the nonchalant arrogance slip off of Vinyl's face. It was replaced with a scowl and dead eyes that Octavia truly hoped she would never see again. Vinyl just looked so fiercely hurt by the thought of her past that Octavia began to wonder how cruel her comment had actually been. She put a hoof on Vinyl, but Vinyl pulled away angrily, refusing to look at her.

"Vinyl, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that. I shouldn't have brought it up."

"Damn right you shouldn't have," she snapped. "That was my only fucking rule for you, Octavia."

"Vinyl, I'm really sorry."

"Sorry don't cut it."

Octavia frowned. "Then what does, Vinyl, because honestly I can't think of anything more I can do. Personally I think it is incredibly unfair that you think it's alright to burn holes in my property, but the moment I mention your past you act like I've delivered you some deep, personal offense."

"Well, you did, so that might have somethin' to do with it. Dammit, Octavia, you don't know shit about me. How dare you act like you know."

"I don't know anything about you because you won't tell me."

"And it's gonna stay that way. Stop bringing it up, Octavia. I'm serious about this."

"Then stop burning holes in my furniture and take your smoking outside."

"Fine," Vinyl said grudgingly.

This is how it was with Vinyl. It was such a struggle to get her to conform to basic rules and etiquette, but Octavia had to tread delicately around her emotions. She didn't seem to care a bit for what others thought and she certainly didn't care for their feelings, but if you even came close to insulting her it was enough to make her blow her top. It was extremely hypocritical, but whenever Octavia tried to point that out Vinyl would get get moody, foul, and impossible to deal with. The most frustrating part about all of this was that Octavia never really knew what was going to set Vinyl off. Most of the time she was seemingly happy and fun-loving, if a little crude, and she was actually extremely good company. Most of the time Octavia could overlook Vinyl's crass sense of humor if it came with happy company, but sometimes it didn't. Sometimes Vinyl was so moody that Octavia prolonged the amount of time it took to get home from her classes just to avoid her. Of course, that usually ended up being a mistake, because leaving Vinyl alone for too long usually ended in some disaster that could range from minor to panic inducing.

One day Octavia arrived home to find Vinyl standing right in front of the door grinning sheepishly. Tipped off to the fact that Vinyl had done something bad, Octavia narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "What did you do?"

Vinyl laughed uncomfortable. "Now, come on, babe... That's a rude way to greet somepony right when you get home."

Octavia waved her hoof dismissively. "What did you do, Vinyl?"

"Nothing! So, uh... how was your day?"

"It was fine," Octavia replied, her voice still dripping with her suspicion. "A little long. I'm actually quite hungry, so if you'll excuse me..." Octavia tried to cut around Vinyl but Vinyl quickly stood in her way, her eyes wide.

"How about we go out to eat?" she said hurriedly. "Surely you'd like to take me to some restaurant you like around here."

Octavia glowered. "No, actually, I'd rather just stay in tonight. Please get out of my way, Vinyl."

"Are you you sure?" Vinyl replied, still trying to stop Octavia from passing. "I mean, we could have a nice night out, get to know each other better..."

"Get out of my way!"


"Why are you so eager to keep me from going into my own kitchen, Vinyl?"

Vinyl sighed in defeat. "Okay, fine... I was tryin' to, umm... I was tryin' to climb your refrigerator and I might've knocked it over."

Octavia stared at Vinyl in complete shock. She definitely hadn't seen that one coming. "How in the world did you manage that? WHY WERE YOU CLIMBING MY REFRIGERATOR?" Vinyl cut her eyes to the side sheepishly. In the moment she looked like she was about five years old. She was a little girl who had just been caught doing something bad and was afraid that she was going to get in trouble. The sight almost melted Octavia's heart. Than she remembered that the pony in question was sixteen years old and had just knocked over her entire refrigerator. She schooled her expression and looked at Vinyl pointedly. "Well?"

"It just... Okay, this probably sounds fuckin' retarded, but you know... I was... I was high and I thought it might be fun to see if I could."

"You were high? You have the maturity of a small child already, Vinyl, you don't need to be taking drugs to make it worse," Octavia said exasperatedly. She pushed past Vinyl and into her kitchen. What she saw made her groan. Vinyl had indeed knocked over the appliance. Food was strewn across the floor and her bottles of milk and juice were shattered on the ground. "How did you even manage this, Vinyl? You're so skinny still. How did you possibly weigh enough to knock over the refrigerator."

Vinyl shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe you just have a shitty fridge."

Octavia rolled her eyes. "Did you even try to set it back up?"

Vinyl hung her head in shame. "I tried... but my magic... it's not very strong. I couldn't do it alone."

"So you were going to wait for me to come home and find it?"

"No!" Vinyl said defensively. "I was gonna pick it up before you found it, that why I was trying to get you out of the apartment again. I... I went downstairs and flirted with some of the big guys down there. They should be up to help me pick it up any minute."

"You flirted with guys to get them to come help you pick up a refrigerator," Octavia repeated slowly. "Vinyl... I thought you were a lesbian..."

"I am! I was just trying to get some help."

Octavia rolled her eyes. "You are so ridiculous sometimes. Come on, use your magic to help me pick this up."

Between the two on them they did manage to get the refrigerator standing without the help of the guys from downstairs. Octavia looked around her ruined kitchen in dismay. There was food, drink, and broken glass everywhere. It seemed that they were going to have to make a shopping trip sooner than she had expected. She examined her refrigerator and groaned.

"It's broken. I'm going to have to call a repair pony."


"I would say it's okay, but it's not, Vinyl. Why were you taking drugs in my house again? I told you not too!"

"I wasn't! I took them in the alley like you said! I was just high in your house!"

"And look what it made you do!"

"It won't happen again!"

"How can I know that? How can I know that you won't destroy something else? Honestly, Vinyl, I ought to put you in a straightjacket just so you don't make a mess of things."

Vinyl froze on the spot and looked back at Octavia with wide, slightly frightened eyes. Octavia was taken aback. She hadn't thought that the comment would do anything more than make Vinyl roll her eyes, or maybe get defensive. But this expression wasn't like any of the expressions she had seen on Vinyl's face before. This wasn't teasing, or a grin, or even angry or defensiveness. This was all out fear. Octavia frowned and took a step towards Vinyl, but Vinyl pulled away from her as if she'd been shocked.

"I'm not crazy," she said, her eyes still wide.

"I never said you were, Vinyl."

"You threatened to put me in a straight jacket!" she yelled, her eyes still wide. Octavia noticed the pupils were still dilated. Vinyl was still high. "That means you think I'm crazy!"

"I wasn't being serious, Vinyl!"

Vinyl squeezed her eyes tightly shut. "You're gonna ship me away! You're gonna make me leave! You're gonna lock me up in some funny farm someplace!"

"Vinyl, no I'm not!" Octavia was completely nonplussed. She didn't know where this was coming from. "Vinyl, what wrong?"

"NOTHIN'S WRONG WITH ME!" Vinyl yelled, backing all the way against the wall. "I'm normal! I'm normal!" She dissolved into tears. They were the first tears Octavia had seen from Vinyl. "Please don't lock me up, Mom!" There was a moment of silence. "I mean.... Octavia," she said, realizing her mistake.

Octavia was silent for a moment. "Vinyl... what in the world happened to you at home?" she said softly. For she knew how that whatever it was Vinyl hadn't moved on and she wouldn't. Whatever had happened behind the doors of Vinyl's home it wasn't anything that anypony would forget easily.

"I'm fine," Vinyl said, catching her breath. "It's nothin'. No big deal." Her eyes, still big, cut over to the mess on the kitchen floor. "I'll clean that up."

"Vinyl, I think you might need to go lay down for a while. Don't worry about the mess. I'll get it." Octavia reached out to take Vinyl's hoof, but Vinyl pulled away.

"I said I'll clean it up!" she snapped. Octavia backed away slowly and left Vinyl to clean up the mess.

Octavia was greatly disturbed by what she had just witnessed. She had seen Vinyl get angry and upset when reminded of her past, but this was the first time she'd reacted in a panic. Although it was undoubtedly brought on largely by the drugs it was still indicative of a very concerning past. More than ever Octavia wanted to know what had brought Vinyl to where she was in life, but now she was more afraid than ever to ask. That had been worse than any moodiness. The fear and panic in Vinyl's voice and in her eyes... Octavia never wanted to see that again.

Octavia thought about this well into the night. She didn't talk to Vinyl again, but she could have sworn that around midnight she could hear Vinyl softly crying from her bedroom.

Chapter Nine

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Chapter 9

The days passed awkwardly, that was the best way to put it. Vinyl and Octavia never spoke of what had happened, but Octavia lived with a constant wariness. She never knew what would make Vinyl mad. She never knew what would make Vinyl panic. Between the drugs and the obviously troubled past, Vinyl was almost entirely unpredictable.

Of course, it wasn’t just her habits and history that made her such a pain to live with. There was also the fact that Vinyl was, in fact, just rather irresponsible. Beyond simply being sloppy or disrespectful, she seemed to go out of her way to cause trouble. The incident of the fallen refrigerator was hardly the last of its kind and Octavia was running out of acceptable ways to handle the situation. There was one day when Octavia was working alone in her music room when Vinyl poked her head in, looking entirely nonchalant.

“If ya hear me yell in pain, don’t worry about it, ‘kay?” she said before withdrawing and retreating to her own bedroom. Octavia blinked for a moment, then registered what Vinyl had said. She leapt to her feet.

“Vinyl, what the hell are you doing?” she exclaimed. She tried to open Vinyl’s door, but it was locked. She knocked furiously. She heard Vinyl make a noise of annoyance from inside, then the door opened and her illicit houseguest poked her head out.


“Oh, you thought that I would just let you do something that would cause you to hurt yourself?”

“Umm…. Yeah?”

“Vinyl, what are you doing in there?”

“Don’t worry ‘bout it, babe! It’ll be fine. It’ll be awesome once I finally get it to work.”

Octavia scowled, unpleased with the secrecy. “Vinyl, this is my house. That means my rules. I demand to know what you’re doing in there!”

“I don’t remember nothin’ about you havin’ to know what I’m doin’ all the time in our rules list,” Vinyl quipped back stubbornly. “I’ll show you when I finish.”

“But you’ll hurt yourself!”

“Ain’t no thing, babe, I got it under control!” Then the door was shut in Octavia’s face.

Octavia stood nervously outside the door, unsure if she should go in and intervene. On one hoof, if Vinyl wanted to do something stupid and get herself hurt, Octavia ought to let her. Maybe then she’d learn from her stupid mistake. But then again, Octavia didn’t own the apartment… What if Vinyl destroyed something? It would come out of Octavia’s own pocket and the blue maned unicorn most certainly couldn’t afford to pay her back. Octavia rocked back and forth nervously on the balls of her hooves, listening to rather unsettling pops and bangs issue from behind the closed door.

Suddenly there was a frightening loud crack, followed by an equally frightening yell. Octavia’s heart jumps into her throat and she tried the door knob, but it was locked again. “Vinyl! Vinyl! Are you alright? Are you hurt! Did you break anything?”

The door creaked open again to reveal her housemate. Her mane and coat were both fringed and her mane was sticking straight up. She blinked for a moment, then looked sheepishly at Octavia. “Well that’s didn’t work as good as I’d hoped…”

“Vinyl, what in the name of Celestia were you trying to do?”

“Uhhh… tryin’ to create strobe lights with my magic. Ain’t really got there yet…”

“Vinyl, why in the world would you want to create strobe lights?”

“Atmosphere, Octopus! Ain’t never gonna get good enough to play in a club if I don’t master a basic spell like that!” She scowled and looked down. “But I’ve always been worthless at magic, so I guess it’s no surprise that I failed so bad.”

Octavia’s heart went out to the down trodden filly in front of her. “You’ll get it eventually. Just, ummm… try not to blow up my house, will you?”

Vinyl waved a hoof dismissively. “You’re house it’s fine. It’s myself that I blew up.”

“Well, good then… I mean…. Not good, per say, but… you know what I mean…. I’m putting my hoof in my mouth.”

Vinyl laughed and patted Octavia on the head. “Ain’t no thing, Octagon. I’m just gonna go wash up then I’ll be okay.”

“Octagon? Why am I now Octagon?” Octavia exclaimed as Vinyl retreated to the bathroom.

Vinyl looked back at her and shrugged. “Don’t know, babe. Just another one of those “Oct” words I guess.” Then she closed the bathroom door and left Octavia completely dumbstruck in the hall.

This wasn’t the only incident of this nature that had occurred. Vinyl had a habit do doing experimental spells and charms that seemed to go horribly wrong. In some ways it was sad. The disasters she was causing were often akin to the kinds of things young unicorns who had not yet mastered their magic made. Small fires, small explosions, setting her own mane on fire… but she was over sixteen years old. By that age she should be able to do magic without a hitch. But that didn’t seem to be the case, not at all. It seemed that she never had a proper magic education and, as a result, her magic was still on par with the magically ability of a much younger filly. More than anything Octavia wanted to be able to help her, but how could she? She was an Earth Pony and knew nothing of how to cast and succeed at magic.

One day Vinyl was laying in the middle of the living room floor, wallowing in another one of her failures. Octavia sat on the couch, sipping a green tea and looking down at her with a mild amount of annoyance. As bad as she felt for the girl, the wallowing was more than a little ridiculous. But she did nothing for fear that whatever she said would offend Vinyl and cause her to have another outburst.

“I’m such a failure to ponykind,” she said miserably. “I don’t even deserve to be a unicorn.”

“That’s not true, Vinyl, you just haven’t had proper training.”

“I should be able to cast simple spells like this.”

“Even the strongest of unicorns start out untrained and uncultured. It takes practice and grooming to get good at it and quite frankly you have had neither of those things… Which is, of course, not your fault.”

“Yes it is… I’m a failure… I never even tried to learn magic.”

“I doubt you were in an environment that made you feel like you ought to.” She was dangerously close to Vinyl’s past again and she knew it, but she could think of nothing else to say.

“I’m a failure.”

“Fine! If you want to believe that that is your own prerogative. But you’re not.” Her face softened. “I wish I could help you, but as an Earth Pony I am worthless in this area… But… If I could teach you something else would that make you feel less worthless.”

Vinyl didn’t move a muscle. She just stared at the ceiling for a long time, apparently thinking, before she finally said, “Maybe.”

“Remember how I told you I could teach you to read music?”


“If I taught you that, would it make you feel less worthless?”

“Only if I’m good at it.”

“Vinyl,” Octavia said crossly. “Look at your cutie mark.” Vinyl hesitated, then glanced down at the mark on her flank. “What does your cutie mark depict?”

“A music note…”

“And what does that mean your special talent is?”


“That’s correct.” Octavia got up briskly and pulled Vinyl to her feet. “You’ll be able to read music. Now stop wallowing in your own self-pity and come with me to the music room!”

“Yes, ma’am,” Vinyl said meekly as Octavia stalked, her nose in the air, into the music room. Vinyl followed closely behind, rather docile and obedient for once in her life. Octavia said down at the piano and motioned for Vinyl to join her. She pulled out a very old, very basic music book and opened it.

“What do you already know?” she asked.

Vinyl hesitated. “Not much.”

“Do you know anything?”

“I know the piece is in four-four time… I know that’s a quarter note,” she said, prodding at the sheet music. “And that’s an half note… and that’s a whole note… and that’s a quarter rest… where are all the other kinds of notes?”

“So you know rhythms… that’s not surprising, considering. This is a beginner’s piece, so most of the kinds of notes aren’t being used yet. Let’s start with some scales then. Do you know what a scale in the key of C starts in?”

“I’m gonna take a random stab at this and guess C.”

Octavia smiled. “Very good, Vinyl. I’m glad you’re powers of deduction are up to par.”

Vinyl shrugged. “I try.”

Octavia placed her hoof on middle C. “A scale in the key of C progresses quite simply. It is just the white keys and the piano follows the alphabet. There are eight notes in a scale. C D E F G A B.”

Vinyl nodded, then copied her playing. “Okay, now what?”
“There are other scales too, but we’re currently working in the key of C, so I’m going to familiarize you with the sheet music. Now, do you know what this is?”

Vinyl squinted at the page, leaning in very close. “That’s the… umm… trebleclef?” she said uncertainly.

“That’s correct. The notes in that staff in piano music we play with our right hoof. And the other staff?”

“Bass clef… Left hoof?”

“Good… you know more than you think. Now, on the staff you have lines and you have spaces. The lines go like this,” she placed her hoof down on the piano and played the notes as she spoke the words, “Every Good Boy Does Fine… E G B D F. Got that?”

“E G B D F…. okay… what about the spaces?”

“The spaces on the trebleclef are really quite simple to remember. They spell out ‘face’… F A C E.”

“Face… got it… so what about the other staff thing… that one got the same letters?”

“Oh, goodness no! On the Bass Clef the lines spell out Good Boys Do Fine Always. G B D F A.”

“G B D F A,” Vinyl whispered, almost to herself.

“And the spaces spell All Cows Eat Grass. A C E G.”

“What’s with all the silly phrases. They sound like rhymes for little baby fillies.”

“It’s just a memory device. Something that a lot of beginning musicians use to remember the scale. I know, it’s very silly, but I’ve found it works.”

Vinyl rolled her eyes, then shrugged, and copied all of Octavia’s playing. Once she finished she moved on to actually trying to play the music in front of her. Octavia was floored with how quickly the teenager learned, but then again, she probably shouldn’t have been. Vinyl had a special talent for music after all, even if she did want to waste on becoming a DJ, and ponies with a talent for music excelled in whatever music they chose to practice.

The days passed Vinyl whizzed through the music books like wildfire. Octavia taught her more whenever they were both home for her to do so, and when Octavia was gone at class or work Vinyl would sit in the music room and practice for hours on end. Octavia would have been a little concerned by how much time Vinyl spent on doing just that if it weren’t for the fact that there was little else for her to do. All things considered, though, Octavia was both impressed and proud of how much effort Vinyl put into learning the craft. It seemed that the young girl had a thirst for knowledge, as much as she tried to hide it, and she absorbed the new information like a sponge. All in all, Vinyl was the perfect student and Octavia was proud to be her teacher.

Vinyl squinted down at the page, a frown on her face. She knew the notes... she had learned all that. But for some reason she was having trouble telling the difference between notes. It wasn't that she didn't know. She knew what she was looking for, but for some reason she just couldn't see what she was looking for. Was she stupid? Was living in this boring apartment making her lose brain cells? She squinted her eyes and leaned in toward the page, trying to make sense of the fuzzy, garbled mess.

"Vinyl, are you alright?" Octavia asked, looking up form her homework to frown at Vinyl in concern.

"I can't make sense of any of this... it just looks all blurred together... I think I'm losin' brain cells," she replied bitterly.

Octavia cocked her head and stood. "That can't be the case, Vinyl. You've been doing wonderfully." She crossed the room and peered over Vinyl's shoulder. "This isn't that complicated."

Vinyl made a noise of frustration. "I know it ain't complicated, Octopus! But I can't see it! It's drivin' me crazy!"

Octavia raised her eyebrows. "You can't... see it..."

"Yeah... am I gettin' stupider or somethin'?"

Octavia smiled slightly, then started to laugh a little. Vinyl was a little offended. What the hell was so god damn funny? Did Octavia think it was amusing that she was struggling. Was the pompous gray mare laughing because this proved that she was a better musician than Vinyl was? Vinyl scowled and crossed her hooves across her chest, scowling. "What the hay is so amusin'?"

Octavia giggled. "Oh, Vinyl... have you not considered that maybe you can't see because there's something wrong with your eyes?"

Vinyl gaped for a moment, taking that in. "There ain't nothin' wrong with my eyes!" she snapped. "Only nerds and old ponies have bad eyes."

"That's hardly true, Vinyl. There's nothing wrong with needing vision correction."

Vinyl bit her lip. The last thing she wanted was to have to walk around wearing glasses like some kind of loser. For one thing, there was nothing that would make her look stupider. For another, there was no way she could afford to buy glasses. Glasses were expensive. Maybe if she worked really hard she could force her visions to get better.

"I don't want glasses," she said finally, turning back to the sheet music and leaning in close to the page, squinting to see the markings.

"It doesn't look like you're going to have much of a choice, Vinyl, not if you want to continue your music. You need to be able to see."

"Well, what do ya suggest I do, huh? I can't afford glasses."

"I don't mind getting them for you."

Vinyl sighed. "I'm tired of bein' a burden on you, Octopus... I want to be able to help out, ya know? I feel so helpless."

Octavia sat down next to Vinyl and put a hoof on her shoulder. Vinyl's automatic reaction was to pull away, but she stopped herself. She stared down at the floor, trying not to make eye contact with Octavia, who was staring at her quite intently. "Vinyl, you are not a burden. I want to help you. Nothing would make me happier."

"Why though? I've done nothin' but make everythin' suck for you big time."

"I like helping you. It gives me some sort of purpose outside of my music. And I need that. We can't exist in only our careers and hobbies. We have to find meaning in our peers. And I care about you and I've chosen to find meaning in that."

Vinyl blinked for a moment, taking that it. It seemed ridiculous. God dammit, it seemed extremely ridiculous... and yet... on some level she knew what Octavia meant. She had felt the connection too, from the moment the two mares had made eye contact. There was something there, something that should be cherished. But that was sappy. There was no way she was going to say that out loud. So instead she looked at Octavia and wrinkled her nose. "You're weird, Octopus. Fuckin' insane. But whatevs... if ya wanna buy me glasses you think I need that's your own deal I guess."

Octavia smiled slightly. "It would truly be my pleasure to be able to help you, Vinyl. I don't, however, appreciate being referred to as 'fucking insane.' That is extremely crude."

Vinyl grinned. "But that's what you are. Completely crazy. It ain't even funny."

"I resent that."

"No you don't. You like it."

"I absolutely do not."

"Whatever you say, Octopus."

Neither of them said anything for a long time, knowing that in many ways Vinyl was right. Octavia didn't have to admit it out loud for Vinyl to realize the truth. Though she would call Vinyl crude, rude, and uncouth, Vinyl knew that Octavia liked having a friend that would say exactly what was on her mind without sugar coating it. Vinyl suspected that Octavia had had very few friends who told her the truth.

There was a long moment of silence. Octavia and Vinyl sat entirely still, staring at each other, each looking deep into the other's soul. Vinyl wondered what Octavia saw when she looked. Probably a no count, good for nothing loser who was throwing away her talent on her dream to become a DJ. Sure, Octavia obviously liked having Vinyl around, but there was no doubt in Vinyl's mind that Octavia saw her as largely useless. And maybe she was right. Vinyl had no job, no direction. All she had was a sharp personality and a drug habit. What good was she to Octavia? What could she possibly offer the mare, no, the world?

Finally after a long silence Octavia spoke. "I'll take you to the eye doctor tomorrow. You have to be able to see to go into music."

"Ya have to be able to hear more," Vinyl said in an almost argumentative tone.

Octavia rolled her eyes. "Yes, but how do you plan to write music if you can't see?"

"Who says I want to write?"

Octavia heaved a sigh. "How to you be able to see your decks if you can't see."

Vinyl cocked her head. "Fair point. Alright, alright, you win. I'll let you let the eye doctors dick around with my eyes." She fell silent for a long time, thinking. If she needed glasses what would that do to her image? Sure she could wear contacts, but she didn't really relish the idea. But what if....? "Hey, Octavia?"


"Can I get... sunglasses... ya know, the prescription kind."

"I don't see why not?"

She thought a little longer, a memory forming in her mind. An old memory from the days she preferred to forget. She sighed heavily and tried to shove it away, but it remained. It wasn't an uncomfortable memory in itself. In fact, it was a happy one. But remembering her old life did nothing but cause pain and that was just the way it was. But the memory refused to go away, so she allowed it to enter the forefront of her mind. Her sister, the designer that she was, trying to get Vinyl to practice her DJ-ing by spinning for the fashion show she was planning. It would have been amazing if it had ever happened. It never had, but they had planned as if it were going to and they had all the money and time in the world. Her sister had designed Vinyl a pair of sunglasses to go with her DJ look. It was then that they'd come up with her DJ name as well. It had been a long time since Vinyl had thought about DJ Pon-3 and her purple lenses...

Custom lenses. Damn, that would be expensive. That would be too much to ask... but Vinyl found herself wanting them so much. It was the one link to her past that she could not only bear, but wanted to cling on to. Those good times with her sister, the one pony who had supported her dream and would have done anything to help her achieve it. She missed that desperately. She looked down at the ground, trying not to think about it. It would only cause pain and she already had to deal with that enough as it was. Vinyl took a deep breath and shoved the memories down, but the rock in her chest remained. It wasn't leaving. Her breath quickened and her thoughts dashed around her head at unreal speeds. She jumped to her feet, her heart pounding.

"I have to go," she said quickly as she darted out to her bedroom, retrieved her relief, then escaped quietly to the alley way.

The relief washed over her as she took the drugs. She had gone too long without, that's what was causing these problems. She just had to get high again and she would be fine. Vinyl slid to the ground and put her head in her hooves. Forget about the past. Forget about that past. She had to forget. It was the only way she could carry on. Forget the bad parts AND the good parts. It was the only way.

But what if it didn't matter. What if they came for her anyway? Her panic, after a brief moment of relief, returned full force. Her heart was pounding against her chest so hard that it hurt. Her head was reeling, her mind spinning around. She curled up around herself and tried to calm her breathing, but it was no use. They were watching her, just waiting for the right moment to bring her back home to HER. She was useless and worthless, not worth Octavia's time. It was only a matter of time before Octavia realized what a burden she was and abandoned her. Vinyl wouldn't blame her either. She was a burden. Too much baggage to match up with how useless she was. She ought to run. Leave before Octavia realized how much time, space, and money she was wasting. It would be better that way. She needed to get out. Shaking violently, she got to her feet and tried to stumble down the alley, away from Octavia's apartment.

A figure appeared in the alley. "Vinyl?" Vinyl was too panicked to recognize the voice.

"Leave me alone! I don't want to go back!"

"Vinyl!" The figure grabbed her as she tried to run away. Vinyl screamed and struggled against the surprisingly tight hold. "Vinyl, you don't want to go back where? Vinyl, what's wrong?"

Vinyl, breathing heavily, finally recognized the voice. "Octavia?" What are ya doin'?"

"You ran out so quickly. I was worried."

"Why? I ain't worth worryin' about."

"You absolutely are. You are a young mare with a bright future. You just need to get your hooves planted."

"Ain't never gonna happen. I'm not worth your time, Octavia. I need to leave before you realize that and abandon me like everypony else."

"I will never do that, Vinyl. You are worth it. You are a good friend and a good pony. You just have some issues and I understand that. Please, don't go."

Vinyl shook her head and slumped. "I have to."

"No you don't. Come on. Just come back inside."

Vinyl didn't fight. She allowed Octavia to lead her back inside without a struggle. As much as she wanted to go, as much as she knew that she would be out on her ass one day, she didn't have the strength to fight. Octavia sat her down on the couch and left to prepare dinner while Vinyl, still shaking with fear and panic, listened for the ponies that would come to take her away.