Roulette Night

by Sharkrags

First published

There's slots, cards, and dice galore, but the hottest action in town's going down at one little roulette table and everyone wants a piece of the action. Notable players include a cellist, a human, and a DJ, all betting far more than chips.

It's an all-expense paid weekend at the Platinum Horsehose Hotel & Casino, the premiere joint-species gaming establishment on no less than two worlds.

There's slots, cards, and dice galore, but the hottest action in town's going down at one little roulette table and everyone wants a piece of the action. Notable players include a cellist, a human, and a DJ with a bone to pick, and they're all betting far more than chips. Come on down to the Platinum Horsehose, where you may not win, but you'll definitely get your money's worth.

Care to Deal?

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Wing dings, buzzers, bells and flashing lights more intoxicating than Christmas saturated several thousand square feet in the velvet-roped gambling center of the Platinum Horsehose Hotel and Casino. Funny thing about the Platinum Horsehose, it was last year's winner for the Best Joint-Species Gaming House award as well as the Most Unfortunate Misspelling Award in its first year of operation.

“I'm going to drink a lot of intoxicating drinks a blow an irresponsible amount of money,” you said.

Octavia shrugged. “This is a casino. That's expected, to an extent. Care to make a contest out of it?”

“No, I don't. Just know if I'm set loose on the casino floor, bad things will happen. Things that may lead to us getting kicked out.”

“You, maybe,” she waved a hoof. “I'll make sure to suddenly forget your name if security asks questions. Did you not see how amazing the bathtub in our room looks? I'm not leaving until I soak in there for three hours beneath a mound of bubbles.”

“Three hours? You'll turn into a prune.”

“The most de-stressed prune you've ever laid eyes on.”

“Yeh yeh yeh.” People crowded penny slot machines, blackjack tables, craps tables, baccarat, and poker tables, everyone with a sprinkle more cash than common sense. Not that you're in any fit place to judge, as the chimes of easy money and hopes and dreams payable in cold hard cash drew you in just as hard, if not harder. You patted your wallet bulging with more bills than you'd normally carry on-person.

“I'm so glad I have you around to get us into places for free,” you said.

“Ah, so that's why you hang around,” Octavia said, looking at passing a barmaid, or rather her tray full of whiskey sodas and screwdrivers.

“Well there's a few other reasons,” you bumped her side just enough to make her sway.

“Hm-hm-hm,” she smiled, bumping you back. “Be sure to thank the casino for inviting me to play. Also thank them for that five hundred dollars credit. As well as the handsome payout for playing one evening's set.”

“When's that again?”

“Tomorrow night at eight.”

“Do I have to watch or can I stay out here and gamble?”

She paused, looking thoughtful. “Are you going to sit quietly or keep yelling for me to play Styx covers?”

“I'm just saying, any musician worth their salt outta have Renegade down pat.”

“We'll discuss that later,” she said, knowing it'll lead to a forty-five minute debate on the value of Paradise by the Dashboard Light. “By the by, it's not 'gambling,' it's 'gaming,'” she said, taking a left in the maze made of slot machines, each one with a bright smiling screen. “Very important distinction. Gambling is for thugs and lowlifes who play in dingy bars or back alleys with lots of knives and broken kneecaps. Gaming is clean and civilized. You've never heard of someone with a 'gaming' problem after all?”

“Remember that time you sat down to play Sega Bass Fishing and-”

“That doesn't count,” she said a little too quickly.

“Thirty hours, Bowtie.”

“And I won every minute of it.”

“Sure did. Ya sure did. Oh, wait waitwait.” You held a hand in front of a slot machine from 1973 that aged like fine wine after decades of absorbing the fumes of cigarettes and liquor. Your eyes closed as an open palm drifted over the dark wooden paneling, divining the future for financial gains and losses. “This one. Right here. I feel it.”

“Is that so?”

You sat firmly into a cushion that bared the weight of a thousand-thousand butts. “Very so.”

Octavia jumped up and leaned on your shoulder. Her smoky hair touched your ear. The soft fabric of her black and purple evening dress brushed your arm. “The slot pictures are all crooked.”

“Beauty marks on a proud old dame,” you said. “That's means she's seen a lot of use. Means lots of people played and win.”

“Or they played, lost, then rocked the machine, maybe punched it once or twice.”

“Such passion.” You leaned close to its scratched glass panel. “Tell me your story...”

“And there you go.” She patted the back of your head. “If you need me I'll be at the bar playing video poker and having a smoke along with a Banana Rum Cream for the next two hours.”

“Knock it out of the park,” you muttered.

Your chin turned towards her and exchanged a quick peck on the lips. She told you to have fun and trotted off.

“Now then,” you slid a card with all your casino credit into the machine. “Show me a good time.”

You bet exactly one penny on one line. The slot machine tumbled over pictures of cherries, sevens, and squares that read BAR, chuffing like a fire hazard waiting to happen. When all faded pictures stilled, the machine rang and awarded you with oh-point-eight cents.

“Oh yeah,” you leaned back, grinning. This'll be good.

-

Twenty minutes and five dollars, forty-seven point sixteen cents down, you cashed out and strolled around the casino.

Black-domed cameras were placed strategically across the ceiling and pillars. Thaumic rods, tastefully disguised, struck out every few yards, ready to hum if they caught the barest whiff of magic put to play. Octavia said the gambling floor of the Platinum Horsehose was basted in the most powerful anti-magic wards and spells ponies and humans could develop. In fact, the casino floor was closed and curtained off every day for one hour at five A.M. to cast refresher spells on whatever anti-cheat magic they employed. It's even rumored that wizards placed sigils and runes beneath the carpet and above the ceiling tiles during the hotel's construction.

All carefully guarded stuff. Every practical and supernatural tool against swindlers, grifters, cheaters, and assorted pumpkin eaters was deployed in this building. No one could cheat on their diet without the pitboss knowing about it. You half wondered if goblins tunneled beneath the floor and swam in the plumbing.

Luckily no one had to worry about you or the zero magical capability you carried. You only wanted to spend a nice weekend at the shiny loud gamble house with the Bowtie, gorge into a coma at the buffet, and leave with only a little more or little less cash than what you started with.

A line of the more modern slot machines were commandeered by a pack of asian women all in their sixties. You walked along the wall and saw a man turning irate at a machine with Fred Flintsone grinning on its cover.

“Ya stole all my cash!” He smacked the side of the Barney Rubble's head. “Fred Flintstone, you son of a bitch!”

“Yabba Dabba Doo!” yelled Fred.

You stood there grinning until large men in black suits quietly asked him to calm down.

An elderly mare on the Titanic case next to you shook her head. “Dumb bastard doesn't know how to pace himself,” she said vaguely in your direction.

Laughing, you strolled on. Sure, you could sit down at a poker table, but things might turn a little…heated. Not that you had a gambling problem. Gracious no, not you, momma raised a better boy than that. The lure of sitting at a table or slot machine until nothing was left in your wallet but dust and slips from fortune cookies never appealed to you.

But it's still best that your gambling remained a solo affair. When other people added themselves to the equation, it's more polite to say the situation turned enthusiastic. Each time, every time.

You walked in a slow circle on the floor, seeing what cartoon-plastered machine of chance and vice would provide your next fix of cheap thrills. Too bad they didn't have a Ninja Turtles arcade box.

A few yards ahead, glass panels sectioned off a room. Several poker tables sat inside. Hands in pockets, you approached, only wanting a peek.

Maybe two peeks. Behind the immaculate glass, Celestia sat at a table. Across her sat Luna studying at a spread of cards. Discord leaned on a claw to the right, half his face hidden by a huge pair of sunglasses. The dealer pushed a stack of chips towards Rarity. Rainbow Dash sat at the other end, suppressing a scowl. Two humans were at play as well. Didn't know their names, but their affluence radiated all the way to where you stood.

There's a game worth getting enthused over. You walked towards the room, saw the High-Betting Limit sign with a huge number scrawled beneath it, whistled a quick tune, and turned right back around.

Worth getting enthused, not worth going broke over. That room stretched so high above your league you'd snap your neck trying to look at it. Smiling and sweating, you marched directly towards a table and plopped down without paying attention.

“Hey there.”

You looked up. Oh damn, you sat at the roulette table with people on it. Applejack stared at you, smiling. “Heyyyy-,” you replied, trying to remember when you last met. “How've you been since, the uh...”

“Grand Fields Trade Show.”

“And what a show that was. Really grand, yep.” You struggled to remember that weekend. Vague memories of hay bales and an abundance of whiskey is all that came.

“I hear this year's show'll be even better.” She leaned close, “Don't tell no one, but Whithworth Pearfields may drop out.” Her conspiratorial voice did not sound disappointed.

“That is so fascinating.” You looked behind, trying to find some way to hightail it. “Listen, I thought this was the-”

“Oh, how rude of me, hey, this here's Princess Cadance, I mean, you've prolly heard of her,”

“But please, Cadance will do just fine,” the pink alicorn said. “Really I never stray far from the video poker, but Applejack insisted and the barmaids seem to pay more attention to people playing at live tables.” She smiled and stirred her cosmopolitan.

“She's telling the truth,” said another mare with a pink-blue mane. “Name's Bon-Bon. I hate roulette.”

“Oh.”

“But it's the only thing I ever win at, so go figure.”

“Interesting.”

“It's the worst.”

Applejack spoke up again, “So you down here with Octavia? I saw her name on the show calender. Pretty neat that this place can snag a fancy gal like that. Never been much for the cello myself, but the girl can make them strings sing like sunday choir.”

“Oh yeah, she's over at the,” you waved over to the almost seedy circular bar where she was probably mulling over having another Newport. “reviewing for tomorrow's set.”

“Scuse me,” piped another voice from the end of the table. “You said, 'Octavia,' right? Cellist, gray mare? Wears a bowtie every day of the year?”

The question came from a white-furred unicorn. “Yeah,” you said. “You a friend or a fan?”

Her head titled up and she moved strands of blue hair away from a pair of cadillac-purple glasses. The light cut strong lines across their surface. “Oh, ha, me and Tavi go a ways back. I'm Vinyl. How's that posh teapot doing?”

“Well,” you started, “she's kept pretty busy this past year. Played a show in Chicago two months ago. I think she's got another one in...uh...” you tried to remember the pony version of the place, “Manehatten before the end of the year.”

“Good to hear. And you, hmm...tag along with her? Don't mean to sound nosey, but you her new beau?” Vinyl put a straw between her teeth and lip, smiling.

“I'm not 'new' exactly.”

“Hey, that's cool. Huh. Tavi never struck me as a girl who'd go for the vertical types. Amongst other things. Can never tell with some people, y'know? Girl's like a weather cock, just,” she clacked a stack of chips, “spinning in every direction.”

Her tone made it feel like you missed a point that'd leave a vicious prick if you weren't careful.

Before you could ask Vinyl what exactly a 'weather cock' is supposed to be, she straightened up and said, “But hey, we're not here to talk about old times, let's gamble. Dealer, five on red.”

“I'll have two on black, if ya please.”

“Hello waitress, if I could get another cosmo, thank you. Oh, and two on thirteen, and four on even.”

“Five on odd,” Bon-Bon huffed. “I guess.”

The dealer shuffled chips into their respective squares on the grid. He looked to you and asked “Sir, would you care to deal?”

You snapped to attention. “Me? Yeah, sure.” You got a stack of chips form the dealer. “Give me two on eight, five on black.” He took your chips. He raised the ball, spun the wheel and threw it into the groove where it bounced around its circle.

The ball spun in a silver blur around the wheel. The dealer waved his hand over the table, signaling that no more bets can be made until the next round. Just play one or two rounds to be polite and not look like a weirdo. Get up and say you heard lady luck calling elsewhere and clear out. Go touch base with Octavia and ask her to tell you to stay on good behavior. Your hands clenched in your lap.

The ball rolled to a stop on a red slot. “Twenty-seven,” the dealer announced.

Applejack said a good-natured, “Aw shucks.” Cadance fished an ice cube from her glass. Bon-bon looked at the five dollars worth of chips she won like jokes she grew tired of a long, long time ago.

Vinyl rubbed her shiny new chips and snickered. “That's a bag of trail mix at the gas station. Maybe before the day's out I can get the big gulp too.” She pointed her nose towards you. “If I can, I'll snag a bag of gummi worms for Tavi. She loves those things. Especially the sugar-coated ones.”

Your thumb rubbed the outer seam of your pant leg.

“I love the colors on them. Can't say much for the flavor.” Highlights swirled on Vinyl's glasses as her head shook. “But she's always had strange tastes. Total weirdo, but good luck getting her to admit it.”

You shrugged. “She does have an odd fixation towards collars, bows, and bowties, but I wouldn't peg her as weird.”

Vinyl mused over her chips and said in a small voice, “Stick around long enough and you'll see it, trust me.”

“You'll get to know her,” she added in a smaller voice.

“But not like me,” in a voice so small it got lost beneath Applejack saying something about gas station snacks.

“I'm sorry, come again?” you said, but uncertain who you meant to ask. You noticed Cadance bit down very hard on her ice, its sharp crack making her jump.

“I said gas station trail mix really ain't something you want to get involved in. Or the pies.” Her voice dropped. “Specially the apple ones. You can see it in the packaging, no love in it at all. Just sugar. Better to get local when you can.”

“Yeah, I'll remember that.”

“Eh,” Vinyl shrugged. “Call me cheap, but sometimes you just want the sugar.”

“Well if you're positively yearnin'...”

“And sometimes you want to put two on black and two on evens,” Bon-Bon pushed her chips forward.

Applejack nodded. “That's true, too. Sometimes you even want to say five on second dozen.”

“Another five on red,” Vinyl said.

You looked at Vinyl. “Ten on black.”

The dealer waited, looking at Cadance. “Ma'am?” The alicorn kept her mouth tight on a straw leading to an empty glass. “Lady Cadance? Would you care to deal?”

“Hm? Me? Yes, erm,” she pushed two chips forward. “Two on odds, yes.”

“At the Lady's pleasure.” The dealer spun the wheel.

The Princess looked distracted. In fact, her wide eyes darted between you and Vinyl. She noticed your glance then looked back to her glass.

“Twelve,” said the dealer, and marked its red square on the table grid.

Bon-Bon remained silent at breaking even. Applejack pursed her lips and ran a hoof along the rim of her hat, muttering “One off, are you serious?”

Vinyl smirked, watching you roll a shiny new chip in hand. “Guess you can get her those gummi worms now.”

“I don't know about gummi worms. She always asks me to get a pack of peanut butter cups.”

“That a fact?”

“There's an empty wrapper of the stuff in our room right now.”

“Probably the only wrapper that room'll see this weekend.”

“The hell does that me-”

“Ma'am, your cosmo.”

“Oh thank heavens!”

Cadance slurped the drink as fast as the thin straw would allow. The alicorn seemed to have taken on a deeper shade of pink since you sat down. “Any chance you could bring another, thank you.” She placed a generous tip on the barmaid's tray. “Keep them coming.”

“Cadance, are you alright?” asked Applejack.

“Fine,” she held her forehead. “Oh, brainfreeze.”

Octavia stepped up behind you and put a hoof on her shoulder.

“There you are. Was wondering where you went to. I kept zig-zagging through the slots and thought 'Oh no he got too weird with one and they shooed him out already.' Hey look, I won sixty at the poker bar and-”

“Hey Tavi.” Vinyl waved a hoof.

Octavia's attention snapped to the voice. Her purple eyes widened and her smile dropped, mouth moving to say, “Oh shit.”

“Ah hahaa, what a brainfreeze.” Cadance giggled in stifled horror.

Start of a Winning Streak

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“I mean, erm, oh shit, girl it's you. Wow. What are you doing heeere?” Octavia tightened her grip on your shoulder. “What a surprise,” she muttered.

“The casino asked me to play mixes at their nightclub for the weekend.”

“Oh, so you're a musician too?” You winced, patting Octavia's hoof, trying to signal her to loosen up before your arm went numb.

“EDM, trip-hop, grindcore, noisecore, glowstickcore, all kinds of stuff.” Vinyl shifted her look to Octavia, or so you presumed. It's hard to tell with those glasses. “Surprised you didn't see me on the events calender.”

“I've got a copy of the events calender right here,” Bon-Bon said. “Look what's scheduled next, twenty on nine.”

“Two on odds,” Cadance mumbled. “Oh, it's gonna get odd.”

Applejack nodded. “If that's what your gut says, then I'll take five on odds.”

Vinyl pushed her glasses up her snout and smiled, showing the top row of shiny teeth. “Three on first dozen.”

Octavia rocked your shoulder, “Say, let's go grab a...um...I heard the coffee is good at the...over there.”

“No, no no,” Vinyl said, eyebrows high on her forehead. “Don't drag him away yet, he won the last round. He may be on the start of a winning streak.”

“I'd rather him not risk any streaking.” Octavia said. “He's easily encouraged.”

“That's true, but not in the way she implies.”

“Just want to have a little word with you...” she said, muzzle adjacent to your ear.

“The only words I want to hear is him making a bet,” Bon-bon said. She slumped back in her chair. “What is this, the roulette table or tea time?”

“Tea sounds very nice right now,” Octavia said through barely moving teeth.

“Oh for the love of-”

“Hi Bonnie,” a green unicorn pupped up next to Bon-Bon's chair.

“Crap.”

“No the craps tables is thatta way,” she pointed. “This is the roulette table.”

“I know,” Bon-Bon said, then uttered a smattering of sub-vocal grief. “Lyra, is there something specific you want?”

“Just checking on you. Are you winning?” She nosed around Bon-Bon's chips.

“I was winning. I might keep winning if people'd just let me play.” Her hooves templed over her snout.

“Oh that's good. Because I'm losing.”

Bon-Bon lowered her hooves just enough to show a distressed pair of eyes. “How much are you losing?”

“All of it,” she smiled.

“What do you mean, all of it?”

“All of it.”

Bon-Bon dug back into her hooves. “I hate this place.”

“Sorry to say, but you better get used to it, cus you got a lot of winning to do. Speaking of, are you gonna bet or what?”

The table shook as Bon-Bon slammed her hooves down.

“I am betting,” she groaned. “I already put my cash on the line, it's everyone else who wants to have a damned pow-wow between every spin! Of course the bumpkin,” she pointed to Applejack, “the disc jockey,” to Vinyl, “and the Candyland Queen,” directly to Cadance, whose mane steadily frayed at its tip, “would want to spend all year sitting here!” The tip of her noise twitched like a lab rat.

“You do know the video roulette ain't even three yards from where we're sitting,” Applejack said.

Bon-Bon leaned on the table, “I never, ever win at video roulette. Not the slots, not the craps, not even rock-paper-scissors. It's only at this field of green felt and misery that I don't get wiped out.” Her voice rose so high that no one at the table noticed the low drone of the thaumic rods.

The dealer cleared his throat. “Ma'am, I must insist that you calm down-”

“I'm perfectly calm,” she snapped, her eyes glowing a fierce shade of solid blue.

“No, Bonnie, you should chill a lil bit,” Lyra said, biting her lip.

“I would be chill, but we're here instead of at home. 'Oh Bonnie, let's go to the casino, it'll be fun!” Her eye twitched. “'No, the restaurants aren't overpriced! Of course I'll spend the day at the pool with you! The room does come with a microwave, I double-checked!'” She flung her hooves into the air. “The room doesn't even have a minifridge! I've got two boxes of frozen breakfast bagels going to waste right now!”

Other hotel guests fell silent and stared at the ruckus. More thaumic rods rumbled as the mare raged. Fred Flintstone laughed in the distance.

“Bonnie, I think you really should-”

Bon-Bon jumped on her chair. “What, Lyra? What should I do?” Green static crackled up and down her body. “Pack my bags and go to the bird museum like I wanted to in the first place?”

“Yeah, I don't think that's gonna happen today.” Lyra pointed at Bon-Bon's thorax. “You're...uh...you, is showing.”

“Huh?” Bon-Bon looked down at her now-exposed Changeling body. “Oh.”

A squad of guards hustled to the table where the unauthorized magical outburst occurred. “Ma'am,” said the largest of them with the steadiness of a ocean liner, “we need you to step out of the gaming area.”

Bon-Bon's veiny wings twitched at the rate of a camera shutter. “Fine. Fine. I'll go. Whatever.” She hovered to the floor. “I have a permit for a twenty-four seven glamor, by the way. And since that glamour failed, everyone in this building can kiss my chitin.”

She stomped away, wings buzzing in an agitation that wouldn't go away with even two days at the pool. Lyra trailed behind.

You noted to Octavia that she failed to make fun of you.

“Your hair looks stupid!” Bon-Bon called back.

One of the casino guards approached the table, apologetic, but firm. “I'm sorry for this, but we will need to clear this part of the floor and make sure that none of the games have been indirectly altered. All of your bets will be returned, and please, ask the waitress for any kind of refreshment.” He nodded to Cadance. “Your highness, I'm sorry for the unpleasantness. If there's anything more we can do for you, please-”

“No, no, it's not your fault.” She rubbed a wingtip against her temple. “Things just got, hoo, little overloaded there.”

“Looking a bit flushed, Cadance. Wanna go get some ice water and sit down?”

“Yes, Applejack. That sounds good.”

The Princess and the mare walked off. Guards cleared the patch of casino floor as red velvet curtains unrolled from the ceiling. A dispatch of unicorns entered the closed area, carrying duffel bags and stern faces.

“Now. Now, we need to leave. Immediately.” Octavia did her best to hustle you away in the hubbub, but Vinyl slid in front of her.

Her oval lenses glittered in the light of oversized slot machines. “That was a hell of a thing.”

The cellist stammered, “Certainly. Wow. Casinos, these places get crazy.”

“And to think, it's not even seven yet. Check out the night show, all sorts of bumpin', thumpin', and humpin'.”

“I'll have to decline, I'm afraid. You know I like to get a full night's sleep before a show,” Octavia patted your back hard with her hoof.

“C'mon Tavi, I remember spending more than a few nights with you going out and getting loud.”

“Vinyl.”

“Fine, you know yourself better than me or him. I'm gonna go take those slots for a spin until they're done cleaning those tables. Meet you back on one once they've finished?”

“I'm not the best at-”

“It's easy, c'mon, and it was just getting good! I insist, hell girl I haven't seen you in ages,” She walked off. “It'll be way better than catching a drag at bar,” Vinyl called before disappearing.

Octavia stared in silence, mouth pursed.

“She seems nice,” you said.

Octavia dug through her purse and pulled out a crumpled pack of Newports and a metal lighter covered in scratches.

“Of course. Of course I need to run into her.” She bit down on a cigarette and held a trembling flame to its tip. “If you need me, I'm going back to the bar, if I'm lucky I'll die there.”

“Octavia, are you oka-”

“Nope. Nope. Not at all.”

She left.

You stood on the dark green carpet and whispered, “What the hell is going on today?”

Someone poked your back and said, “Excuse me, if I can talk to you for a moment.”

Cadance stood behind you, looking nervous and holding a tall cosmo in her wing.

“Oh, sure? Your highness. Ladyship, majesty.” You cleared your throat. “Royal protocol, what have you.”

“Cadance is fine. But I've got something to tell you. You and the cellist are involved.” She did not ask a question. If you denied any sort involvement, she would laugh long and hard.

“Yes?”

“Okay. First off, I have a little talent that lets me gauge the 'involvement' between people. I can tell when it's bad, when it's good, and when it's complicated.”

“Sounds exhausting.”

The ice in Cadance's cosmo clinked. “You cannot imagine. Anyhow. Fair word of warning to you. The one with the glasses, Vinyl. She and the cellist-”

“Octavia.”

“Octavia, they were also involved.”

You raised an eyebrow, looked to the bar, then looked to the forest of slot machines, then back to the bar. A row of penny slots rang in unison. “Nooo....”

She nodded, grim and serious. “I'm catching a lot of negative energy from the DJ. Octavia too. Nasty, nasty feedback. Complicated feedback. Loud enough to pop your ears.”

“I take it that's not a good sign?” you asked. Cadance indicated that was a poor sign. “Then that means whatever used to go on between them went sour.”

“Like a barrel of old milk and lemon juice. Let me repeat -be careful. There's enough friction there to set your hair on fire. And that's not taking into account what they can still do to each other.”

You bit your lip and nodded. “That bad, huh?” You took a moment to process these interpersonal revelations. “My weekend just go better. Almost thought we could stumble through a few days without any major incidents.”

She held a wing tip up. “Don't judge either one of them harshly. Passion is both the lure and price in many matters of the heart. When it goes bad, it hurts, and we don't always deal with the pain in the best way.” Her voice dropped and she stepped close. “Be there for her. She's happy when you are. It's so cute.” She smiled.

“Um.”

“Now if you'll excuse me. AJ's going to think I got lost at the bar.”

“Hey, uh, mind if I ask a question?”

“Go ahead.”

“Why aren't you hanging out at the, y'know.” You swung a thumb in the direction of the poker table where the makers and shakers of Equestria dealt heavy hands with stone-faced stares.

Her smile broke into a nervous laugh. “Oh please, that lot's crazy enough on their own. They start with petty cash but before the night's out someone'll bet a soul or two. The breakfast table conversation is going to be the coldest thing.”

“Jeeze.”

“Yeah,” the princess sipped her drink and walked off, leaving you alone with your thoughts and a big bag of other Personal Issues to sort through.

Alright. So Octavia used to do collaborations (musical and otherwise) with the DJ. That explained Vinyl's prickly interest in you during the short time sharing the roulette table. First thing's first, make sure Octavia doesn't disappear in a cloud of nicotine and whiskey. The last thing she needed was to play her set wearing sunglasses and scarfing ibuprofen down like m&m's.

Octavia sat at the bar, staring at a cold glass filled with emotional baggage. You sat next to her and took a moment to consider how to approach the situation. A certain measure of tact felt needed. “So that was the chick you used to be in lesbians with?”

She nodded.

“Had a thing for colored hair, huh?”

“Made it hard not to notice her,” she replied.

In the time you've known Octavia, she's dropped off-handed comments and hints of past paramours. From what you could surmise, she didn't have any more or any less than most people, and she didn't hide that she didn't mind looking at either side of the fence.

She stared straight ahead, thinking of a messy yesteryear. Her pink bowtie sat crooked on her white collar. Octavia took a slow pull from a cigarette.

You spoke softly. “Wanna go back to the room? Take a break for a few hours before going into town for dinner?”

“I...um.” She blinked, looking between you and the casino floor. “I dunno. Maybe.” She shook the ash loose from her cigarette into a tray. “Let me finish this and we'll go up.”

“Sure thing.”

Vinyl hopped onto a seat next to Octavia. “Hey, hey.”

Octavia straightened up and almost fell off her barstool. “Oh, there you are. That didn't take long?”

“Not at all, looks like they scrubbed the Changeling juice off the tables. We can go play a few rounds, it'll be fun. Don't leave me dangling now.” Vinyl patted Octavia's back like a drum and skipped off.

Octavia slumped and groaned. “She's incessant.”

“Peppy, yeah. Wanna bail?”

Octavia pulled a last drag from her cigarette. She leaned her head back, eyes closed, and released a slow, shuddering stream of smoke through her nostrils. “No. We'll humor her for a few rounds so we don't look weird and she doesn't think I'm turning tail and running.”

“That line of thought kinda got us started on this.”

“Then I'll keep this trainwreck going.” She put the cigarette out on the ashtray.

She stared at the scattered embers sitting in the tray's emerald glass. “There's two of us and one of her.”

“Looks like one too many as far you're concerned.

“Definitely. I'm just saying, between the two of us, we can probably spoil her day.”

You turned your head, eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

“She looking to get a rise out me. Make me squirm like a foal at her first recital. Instead, how about we act like obnoxious love birds who eat happiness and lay heart-shaped eggs? Turn that obnoxious dial up until she icks out.”

Her tone rang a little alarm inside your head. Concerns of what 'they could still do to each other' formed and almost gave rise to voice. Before you could say something, Octavia's eyes shined with nothing but bad intentions. She leaned into you and bit the cloth of your shirtsleeve, pulling at a bit of skin underneath. “Make her jealous because I've got a shiny new toy to play with.”

“Is that all I am to you?”

“I didn't want you to find out this way.” She frowned. “Good news, I may at least keep you around 'til the end of the weekend.”

“Damn you're cruel,” you laughed. “You sure though? Act like lovey-dovey jerks to put a rain on your ex? Really telling me that's how you want to play?”

She finished her drink and sighed. “Sure, why not. We're in a casino after all. Let's go be assholes.”

Care to Cash Out?

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Octavia sat next to you. Vinyl sat directly across from her. Maybe it was the felt on the table, the carpet on the floor, or the magic-imbued plates directly beneath it, but something made the hair on your arms stand on end.

You watched Vinyl play with her chips. Her jolly rancher sunglasses made getting a read on her difficult. Was she looking at the table? The dealer? Octavia?

The cellist poked her own chips. She prodded your side and muttered “How do you play this again?”

“Two dollar bet minimum here, inside or outside bet, doesn't matter.” You pointed to the grid on the table table. “Outside bets give you better odds for winning, but don't have great payouts. They're kind of all the same, really. Inside bets pay better, but the odds don't really make them worth it.”

“It's all luck, this game,” Vinyl said. “There's no actual skill involved. That puts off a lot of the more serious dice rollers, the ones bent on prying every number in their favor. But a good time is a good time, if you ask me.”

Octavia's dimples popped as she grinned, brushing against you. “I'm glad to hear that, the two of us are all about good times. Good times, great times, wonderful times.”

“So many wonderful times,” you chimed.

“I can hardly keep track of them all!”

Vinyl titled her head and nodded. “Then you two've been together for a while then, if there's so many good times?”

“Of course, we've been together since...” Octavia looked to you. “What was it, August of-”

“At least two...” “Four...” “More than three-” “Are you sure?” “We watched all the Lord of the Rings since then, so,” “Director cuts at that.”

Vinyl whistled. “Damn, that's the real deal.”

The dealer asked if the table was ready to place their bets.

“Yeah, I'm ready.” Vinyl's hoof tapped the felt. “The little talk about how-many-years-what-have-you brings a number to mind.” Her head moved towards Octavia. “I'm putting ten on three.”

Octavia's mouth turned razor straight. Her nostrils flared and exhaled a quick, sharp breath that could leave a paper cut. “Sounds like a move with bad odds.”

“If that's how you look at it,” she leaned back in her seat and ran a hoof through her spiky hair. “Takes guts to commit, though.”

Octavia raised her chin. “Commit. That's a funny thing coming from you. Three on red,” she said in a level voice.

You pushed two chips forward. “Two on second dozen.”

“Hoh, one second, hold it up.” A massive minotaur took a seat. The chair's cushion deflated and steel legs whined in a slow panic. “Get me some chips, dealer, I'm on a winning streak almost as strong as me.”

The minotaur took a share of chips and nodded to the three of you. “Evening people. I got the smell of a damn fine round coming from this table. Damned fine round.” He jostled an elbow towards you. “Maybe some of my good luck'll rub off on ya.”

“I...erm...allergic to rubbing.”

“I bet that makes things tricky for her.” Vinyl snickered. Octavia put on a display of impressive restraint by not rolling her eyes. But you did notice her tail whip.

“We all bet already? Fantastic, dealer my friend, I'll take two on first dozen, two on red, and two on an eight-nine split.”

“Yes, sir.”

He gestured towards you and Octavia. “Play the field, win high yields,” he practically bellowed.

The dealer spun the wheel and dropped the ball. It danced and bounced around red and black pockets. He waved a hand over the betting table.

The ball stopped moving. “Nine,” he said, placing a glass marker onto the red square in the grid.

The minotaur almost flipped the table over as he jumped and fist pumped. His arm muscles bulged so much with each thrust you feared they'd rupture and spill whatever the hell he was jacked up on all over the table. “Yesh! Yeah-hah!”

“Congratulations, sir.” The dealer pulled away you and Vinyl's lost chips and paid out Octavia and the minotaur.

“No sir's necessary. Call me Will. Iron Will.” Three business cards appeared in his hands in a way that should've sent the thaumic rods in a fit. “Motivational speaker and Personal Initiative expert. Available for business meetings, trade shows, and one-on-one consultations by appointment. Results guaranteed.” He flung the cards in front of you, Octavia, and Vinyl with the casual expertise of someone's who hosted games for a long while.

“Wait, wait, one moment,” a decidedly rough mare in a heavy wool sweater hurried into a chair. “Ahem, hello. I'd like to play.”

Vinyl mouth scrunched tight. Her head ticked like a broken second hand between the newcomers and Octavia. You had to smile a little. “Sit down, too bad we can't fit ten people at this table.” You told the mare with the messy mane your name, “And this is my sweetest of hearts right here, Octavia. We're on a working vacation. Together.”

The red-headed pony closed her eyes, opened her eyes, and offered no further comment.

Octavia spoke up, “But we do so many things together it'd be funny if it wasn't so ridiculous. Speaking of, honey...er, bug? I think we should take a picture. Together. To show to others, and for posterity of course.” She titled her head back and laughed. “So many treasured memories my skull's bursting at the seams already.”

She dug into her purse and pulled out a phone. With a dexterity that still frightened you after thinking about it for too long, she held the phone out in front and nuzzled into your side. “Big bright smiles, now.” The camera light flashed. Octavia checked the picture and muttered something about her ears. “One more, time. Smile brighter. Cheese!”

The two of put enough cheese into one picture to stock a grocery store for a week.

“I feel bad for hogging all this joy to ourselves.” You said, feeling dazed by the endless camera flashes. “Anyone else want in on this?”

Vinyl's lips closed like an allergic who opened a door and saw a bee. It opened again like an allergic that grabbed the bug spray. “Don't forget I've already been in that,” Octavia's smile froze and her eyelid twitched. The camera flashed one more time. “I've still got plenty of pictures stashed away. Let me see what I can find. Go ahead and deal, um...” she waved at the be-sweatered mare.

“Moondancer.”

“Cool.”

Vinyl pulled out a phone with the glitziest case you've ever seen. Octavia's tongue tripped, trying to tell her that she really, really shouldn't go through the trouble of digging through her phone.

Moondancer adjusted her thick rimmed glasses and stared at the wheel. “I could take a split bet. Second best payout in the game, but seventeen-to-one odds. Too bad the ways to stack your chances are less than exemplary.” She closed her mouth, thinking. “Tell me dealer, what year was this roulette wheel produced?

“Four years ago, when the casino was first under construction. All equipment was built to custom specifications.”

“Fascinating.” Moondancer pulled out a dog-eared notebook and scribbled into the margins. “Don't mind me, I'm on something of a working trip myself. Research, you understand.”

“Would you care to make a bet as part of your research?” the dealer asked.

She looked up, looking lost for a moment. Her eyes shifted left and right behind her glasses. “Four on red?”

“Happily.”

“One to one odds,” she whispered like she was sharing a well-kept secret.

Iron Will uttered a flurry of numbers that left his chips colonizing most of the grid. Vinyl took another shot at red. Octavia took a street bet.

“Dealer,” you said in a voice a little louder than needed, “I'll take three on eleven and three on twenty-five.”

Octavia's hand flew to her cheeks, “Ohhh, that's my birthday!”

You stared right into her eyes and grabbed her hooves. “That pair of numbers brought me so much happiness. I could lose right now and still not care because I owe that date so much.”

Octavia awwww'd and muttered out the side of her mouth not to push it too hard.

“This feels so gross,” you whispered through a love-lost gaze.

“Be strong,” she replied, nothing but adoration in her eyes and distaste in the back of her throat.

The dealer spun the wheel. Vinyl held her phone out.

“Speaking of birthdays, Octavia, remember this picture?”

Octavia inhaled and put a hoof to her chin. “I don't remember a camera being there that night.”

“Surprised you remember anything from that night.”

“You used to have your hair like that?”

“I don't get why she did that either.”

“You told me you liked it that way!”

“Because you'd freak otherwise.”

“Thirty four.”

“I told you, one to one odds.”

“Yeah! Iron solid victory!”

“I still like your birthday. I mean love, I love you birthday so much. And you.”

“Such a sweetie...” Octavia wanted to gag.

Vinyl set her phone down on the table, balancing it on its corner with her hoof holding steady at the top. The wild, wild birthday picture swiveled back and forth in your face. “Dealer, I'll take five on the second line.”

You noticed the second line held both number's to Octavia's birthday.

Octavia's ears swirled and you felt she also noticed. “Ten on seven, ten on fifteen.” Her voice slid into far off whimsy. “That's my beloved's birthday.”

“Adjoining sentimental value to numbers doesn't grant a demonstrable advantage.” “Or at least that's how it should work, because I've seen it work,” she sounded suspicious. “Although I can't tell if it's coincident or what, it's strange...dangerous way of thinking.” Moondancer looked at the cameras. “Definitely not magic...” She wrote a note on her pad. “Two on second dozen, by the way.”

“I don't need magic, just good old willpower. I bet, therefore I win! Dealer, twenty on black, five on odds.”

Once again, the wheel spun and the ball bounced and clacked against its wood and plastic. “Fifteen,” the dealer announced.

“Oh wow,” Octavia giggled. “If I knew I would've bet more...”

“See, like that. Just like that.” Moondancer shook her head, worrying about unforeseen forces at play in the casino.

“Yeah, just like that,” Vinyl muttered. Her hoof brushed over her phone screen, sliding to the next picture in line, one of her kissing Octavia. The foreground of the two mares looked blurry, overwhelmed by blooms and intricate sparkles of lights dancing behind them. But definitely, definitely Vinyl and Octavia kissing, eyes closed and smiling. Blue and black hair swung over each other in digital smears.

Octavia nearly fell out of her seat.

Your mind and face ran the gamut of contortions of a guy staring at a photo of his current girlfriend kissing another girl. Some unflattering noises followed.

Cadance half-laughed, half-shrieked from across the room.

“Oop.” Vinyl checked her phone and then set it back on the table, screen still facing the two of you. “Didn't know that was still there. I'm such a pack rat, I swear I need to clean up the memory on this old thing.”

Moondancer's red eyebrows hardly moved. Iron Will crossed his arms. “Reminds me of a string of college shows I did a few years back.”

“Oh, it wasn't just college.”

Octavia's voice wound tight. “Vinyl, what are you trying to do?”

She put her hooves behind her head. “Having fun with a friend,”

“What part of this is meant to be fun?”

She sloughed and swung a foreleg over the back of her chair. “If you weren't acting like such a well-bred bitch, maybe you'd have a good time.”

The fur on Octavia's back rippled and stood up like pine needles. Her cheeks turned crimson beneath her fur.

“Oh,” you said thoughtfully. “So that's where it comes from.”

“Please, not right now,” Octavia uttered like someone whose car just broke through a cliff side railing.

“I just wondered why you always ask me to call you that whenever we're-”

“Not. Now,” she said through clamped teeth.

The dealer coughed a well-trained, polite cough. “Perhaps you'd prefer to reminisce in the café?”

“No!” shouted Vinyl and Octavia, shoulders bunched like a pair of tigers in a cage.

“Check out the energy these kids'r packing! I knew this'd be a good table!” The minotaur thumped the felt and the table almost broke. “Hot damn, I love this place!”

Moondancer looked up from her notepad. “It's a microcosm. I'll give it that much.”

The noise drew the attention of a pile of bricks in a nice suit. “Is everyone here enjoying themselves?” he asked, not intending to accept anything less than complete and above all orderly enjoyment.

“Yes, we're fine. Excellent, thank you.” You put a hand on the small of Octavia's back. Your palm met surprisingly hard tension. “Come on, this is enough.”

Octavia pawed through her purse and pulled out a cigarette. “No. I'm peachy.”

“Octavia, please.”

“She said she's fine.” Vinyl waved her foreleg as if it cleared the air of all problems.

The guard raised his voice. “If there's a problem going on here, I have to insist that-” a phone clipped to his belt jingled. He checked the ID and answered.

“Jay here.” He stepped and turned away from the table. “What? They're in the pipes again?” He scowled. “Dammit, what the hell do we pay that wall-eyed exterminator for? Fine, fine, calm down. I'll be right over.” He put the phone back on the clip and groaned, rubbing the bridge of his noise.

The guard motioned to the dealer. “Clarence, you got this?”

“Don't worry, Jay. Go do what you need to.”

The man nodded and went to deal with one of the casino's long list of persistent, ridiculous problems.

The air crackled as Octavia pulled a breath on her cigarette. She wished for a short glass of something fiery. The waitress hadn't come by with so much as a how-do-you-do, so much for award winning service. “I knew I should've took the gig at that opera house in Bridlesview.”

Vinyl looked disappointed. “Don't tell me you still rattle that easy. Tavi, Tavi, Tavi-”

“Stop calling me Tavi.”

“You really need to smile. The sourpuss look never suited you.”

“Forgive me for not being a sugary little tart. Maybe that's why you trotted off to taste something sweeter when you thought I wasn't looking.”

“I told you that-”

“You told me a lot of things, Vinyl, and I got sick of it.”

“If you'd listen for a minute instead of cracking that righteous whip of yours-”

Smoke billowed from Octavia's mouth. The orange glow from the tip cast sharp specks of ember around her eyes. “And why? Why the hell would I listen to you?” She tapped the ashes hard into the tray. “Moreso, when I left what makes you think I'd ever want to see you again?”

Vinyl's forelegs slacked. Her face turned hard and inscrutable, but the light shook on her glasses. “I'm not sure,” she answered.

“So why are you still here, then? No, don't answer that,” Octavia waved her cigarette and left a trace of smoke in the air. “Just get out of here, Scratch.”

Iron Will placed an elbow on the table, leaned towards you and whispered, “You got a hot one there, champ.” Moondancer took the time to organize her chips.

You could only assume what kind of glare the unicorn gave her. She said nothing and stepped to the floor, legs shaking. Blue hair fell over her forehead and she did not brush it aside as she walked away from the table..

The Platinum Horsehose casino still rang with slot machine jingles and laughter of other guests. Candied lights winked in hypnotizing blitzes across every square yard. Chips clacked and dozens of dice pairs flew through the air at any given moment. People, ponies, and the things in between felt the highs and lows of cash flowing, wild tides deprived of gravity's control.

The roulette table was silent. Octavia looked around the table, looked around the room, and it all looked dimmer than when she first walked in.

“Dammit,” Octavia half-hissed. She put out her cigarette and sniffled.

The dealer spoke in a soft, clean tone. “Would the lady care to cash out?”

“Yes, please. I'm done for the night. Give it to him,” she nodded at you. She hopped off the table and walked at a brisk pace in Vinyl's direction before you could say anything.

Suffice to say you felt like a super-sized ass for letting things spiral so far. You stood to go after Octavia when a strong hand took hold of your shoulder.

Iron Will's face looked serious as rock. “Avoid a heart attack. Know when to hang back.” He let go then snapped his finger and pointed. “That one's for free, don't lose my card, kid.”

“Yeah, sure.” You took off.

Moondancer stared and didn't pretend that she could parse what happened into any kind of sense. “I still don't know if using internet gambling would've been more conducive to research.”

Iron Will settled back into his chair. “Computer's stuff never good as getting down and dirty on the ground.” He laughed and asked the dealer, “Good show tonight, yeah?”

“About on par for a Friday,” Clarence said plainly.

The Fast and Hard Way

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Octavia's hooves echoed on the well-polished floors of the hotel's grand lobby. She walked through knots of people with as much strained etiquette she could muster and as much speed as her evening dress allowed.

You thought of Octavia as a proud mare, and she thought of herself as one too, even if she considered explicitly saying so as bad form. But heaven knows she did not feel proud running through that hotel looking for someone she used to trust completely and trying hard not to call her name.

Even in her dress, you thought she moved incredibly fast. Probably because she used more legs, you reasoned. The wide spaces of the ground floor walkways and crowds of people shuffling between restaurants, clothing stores, and the gambling area meant it took effort just to keep her in sight.

She took a left and saw a hall split with one end leading to the pool, and the other to the waterfront and outside bar. Octavia ran through the exit door leading outside, tail flying behind her.

The wind blew strong that night. The moon only deigned to peek a corner out from behind the clouds sailing overhead. Octavia's hooves clattered over the wooden boardwalk. Hedges lined the walkway, separating it from the beach sand.

Octavia hopped on a bench and stood on her rear legs to look for Vinyl. She sat by an unlit fire pit surrounded by a circle of chairs.

You went outside just in time to see Octavia trot down a ramp leading towards the sand. Keeping close to the hedges, you moved down the boardwalk, planks creaking with each step. You slowed when you saw her heading towards Vinyl and decided that maybe the minotaur had the right idea.

The two clearly had some serious things to work out, things that you had no chance of improving by butting in.

You crossed your arms and prepared to wait it out, ready to be there for Octavia when the time came. She noticed you from the beach. You nodded to her, and she nodded back.

The cellist's dress dragged over the sand. She stopped on the other side of the fire pit when she noticed Vinyl's glasses laying by her side.

Her red eyes looked dull in the weak moonlight, but still glistened enough to catch a few highlights from the small waves that lapped against the shore. “It's hard not see or hear me if you follow me out here,” she muttered “Or is there something else you need?”

Octavia swallowed and took a deep breath before speaking. “Suppose I need to thank you for reminding me that I can act like an utter, utter shit.”

Vinyl's chest bounced in a silent laugh. “You returned the favor though. I was kind of acting like I crawled out of the toilet.”

Octavia sat down in a chair next to Vinyl and looked out at the black water. The smell of burnt wood in the fire pit was strong. “We're supposed to be better than this, right?”

“Yeah,” Vinyl nodded. “Remember when we laughed instead of clawing each other to ribbons?”

“I think I recall that.”

“If it means anything,” Vinyl said, looking hard at the pit, thinking of a long time ago and words she wished she never said. “I really don't blame you for leaving. And I don't blame you for not talking to me after clearing your CD's out of the apartment.” She rubbed her cheek, tilting her head but still not looking away. “It hurt like hell, but I don't blame you.”

“You did what you did,” Octavia said in a slow voice against the wind. “I wasn't the easiest person in the world to be with, I'm still not, clearly, but I could see why you'd...” Her lips drew tight at the thought of old pains. She shook her head. “I”m not saying I forgive you but,” she took a deep breath and tried to think of what she wanted to say. “I hurt you just as much as you hurt me,” was the closest she could manage and it still didn't feel close enough.

“I can't believe we cocked up that hard.”

“Me neither,” Octavia said.

Vinyl's voice sounded unsure. “Think we could've…if things were…?”

Octavia eyes locked with Vinyl's. “I don't know, Vinni. We had our time together, but-” The wind chilled her and she rubbed her forelegs together. “I'm not proud of what happened at the very end, but I don't regret what came before it. I don't know about you, but I can live with that.”

Vinyl lowered her head until the bangs spilled over her muzzle. “Fair enough,” she said.

The unicorn tucked her rear legs deep against her stomach and chest. “It's weird, it feels like it's been such a long time, and yet...” she shrugged. “I still think about you. Y'know, hoping that you're doing alright despite knowing better.”

Octavia looked at her and smiled a little. “I'm doing alright.”

“I dunno,” Vinyl shook her head. “We're both playing at this dump.”

The two laughed.

Octavia held her hooves to her forehead and said, “I cannot believe you still have pictures from that party.”

“Straight up, me neither. I never ever delete shit, it's crazy.” Her cheeks puffed out. “I don't even remember whose party that was.”

“We were so bad.”

“Fuckin' awful.”

They both giggled and tapered off into silence. Vinyl spoke first. “I'll admit it, I get jealous.”

“I had no idea.”

“But I'm glad you can be with whoever makes you happy. Hell, if you want to tongue a toaster, I'm game.”

“I'm pleased to have your approval, Vinni.” Octavia's eyes fluttered. “Are you happy, though?”

Vinyl pulled a wide, toothy grin that Octavia knew meant bad behavior. “I stay up 'til four thirty in the morning most nights of the week and blow out the windows, I'm doing awesome.”

“Sounds like it.”

The two mares smiled at each other.

They sat on the beach for another twenty minutes, maybe thirty. Laughing and whispering about new things that happened since old times. Eventually they grew quiet and stared at the water.

When she felt like the two of them said enough for the night, Octavia stood up, walked to Vinyl, and hugged her. She left the fire pit, leaving Vinyl behind to spend a little while longer staring at the beach.

You met Octavia by the ramp. Her bowtie bent in circles like a corkscrew and sand covered the bottom of her dress. She deflated like a balloon animal and looked at you with tired, violet eyes and said, “Want to go to the room, now?”

-

Octavia walked into the hotel room whose AC she set to 'arctic' before leaving. “I'm never playing a casino again,” she announced to the universe at large.

“I told you things get weird when I play at tables.”

“Which I learned the fast and hard way.,” she said, opening the balcony door. “Look, I know I'm far, far past my limit for the day, but I really need one mo-”

“Go ahead,” you waved her off. “As much as you need.” Octavia groaned in pleasure and stepped outside for one last cigarette. She didn't smoke daily, and normally reserved them for social occasions, panic attacks, and to put a cap on particularly demanding performances. Tonight seemed to count as all three.

You flopped down on the bed and felt ready to sleep for a million years, too tired to worry about skipping dinner. Knowing that Octavia ended the night without flipping tables made you more than content.

The balcony door slid open and closed. Octavia's evening gown ruffled as she slid out of it and laid it over a chair. she stepped on the bed and walked towards you, mattress dipping with every step. She undid her collar and tossed it on the night dresser. She collapsed over your chest and kissed you, slow and deep. It felt like kissing the fanciest ashtray in the world.

Your hand ran through her hair and over her ear. Her eyes closed and she sighed. “I didn't mean for you to learn that I can be an evil lunatic tonight,” she said.

“Oh no,” you said, still rubbing her ear, “and I was still convinced you were a pure, faultless angel after you asked if I wanted to be assholes with you.”

“Sorry to disappoint.” She laid her head against your chest.

Your arm wrapped around her soft back. “I'll manage.”

“Hey,” she said, “I want you to know something.”

“You've decided not to play Styx tomorrow.”

“Still debating on that. No, it's just,” she straightened her head to look up at you, “I mess up sometimes. More than sometimes, actually. Odds are I'll mess up again, but I at least hope they'll be new mistakes instead of just stumbling over old ones. I try to be better,” she said. “I want to be better, for myself. For you. Just that sometimes I worry the best version of me may not be so great.”

You looked into her tired eyes and saw the hearth behind them. A peek into the fire inside that made her practice over taught strings who's every intonation she knew by heart. That candle under her butt that got her out of bed in the morning when she didn't want to. The ruthless conflagration that can and has burned people when it grew too strong.

But she knew how to look at those wounds and had the warmth to own up to them.

“I've messed up too, Bowtie. I know, oh my God, I know the best version of me is not good enough,” you said. “No one's ever gonna mistake us for perfect after knowing us for more than ten minutes. I'm not asking for perfect, but I hope we can keep this going for as long as we can.”

“Alright then, long as we can.” Her eyes closed and nuzzled against your chin. “I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

The room filled with the steady noise of the air conditioner and her breathing. You nearly drifted to sleep when something in the bathroom rattled.

“What was that?” Octavia mumbled.

“Gremlins, or gnomes or something.”

“Oh.” Her small mouth yawned. “How awful.”

-

The entirety of the next day was spent at the Platinum Horsehose's truly magnificent pool. You sat on a cushioned poolside recliner. Octavia floated in lazy circles nearby on an innertube.

Bon-Bon baked on a chair next to you. Her glamor still wasn't restored, but she at least managed to get her mane back. Lyra's green head popped out of the water, wearing goggles. She blinked at the Changeling and disappeared into the pool depths once more.

Cadance strolled by, holding a frosty glass of something filled with oranges and who knows what else.

“Still alive,” she observed.

“Against all odds,” you said.

The princess settled in a nearby chair. “Lovely day.”

“Sure is.”

“I never want to come here again.” She smiled.

“Not even for free,” you said.

“I'd rather die,” Bon-bon added.

“I don't think it's so bad,” Octavia called from the water. “Long as you steer clear of the roulette table, mind.”