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/bootleg/ Jacky Part Two

By BlondieAnon
Created: 22nd October 2020 10:58:30 PM
Modified: 22nd October 2020 10:24:28 PM

  1. >Be you
  2. >Be pretty good
  3. >Hell, you're more than good!
  4. >You've been with Jacky for almost two full months now
  5. >You've improved a ton since then, if only emotionally
  6. >Not that there was all that much wrong with you to begin with
  7. >Jacky has been pretty happy too
  8. >You've both come to the conclusion that you're very good friends
  9. >More than friends
  10. >Easily far more than friends
  11. >But still friends too
  12. >You swooce through your apartment door, happy to be off from work for the week
  13. >It's the same as it ever was, except a bit different
  14. >All the more reason to celebrate it being the end of the work week!
  15. "Yah-die-ya-la-da-da, it is good day to be not dead!"
  16. >You stand proud, lightly frosted from snowfall outside
  17. >...
  18. >You don't see or hear anything
  19. >You kick off your boots and shake off your coat, looking for any signs of yellow pony
  20. >Defaq
  21. >You tiptoe to your room, noting that the door is halfway closed
  22. "Oh ho..."
  23. >As you poke your head through the gap you feel a nose boop against the back of your leg
  24. >"Pow! You are dead!"
  25. >The color drains from your face
  26. >You awkwardly open the door and fall over
  27. >You make sure you take another step or two to make sure that you fall onto the mattress
  28. >When you bounce onto it, you proclaim with a mouthful of blanket
  29. "I am dead!"
  30. >You taught Jack about the memes
  31. >It was the funniest thing you've done with her so far
  32. "This blanket smells funny."
  33. >You pull up your head to dramatically gasp for air
  34. >Only to feel her jump onto your back and push the side of her face against the back of your head
  35. >"It only smells funny because you got up early, you know."
  36. >You clear your throat
  37. "Alright... good point."
  38. >You feel her fan out on your back, resting her head on yours
  39. "So, what do you wanna do today?"
  40. >You turn your head so you can still be heard, though she seems intent on using your head for a head rest
  41. >"Can we hang out on the patio?"
  42. "The patio that's covered in snow and only getting more covered in snow?"
  43. >"Yup."
  44. "The patio that would take some time and effort to clean up?"
  45. >"The very same."
  46. "...you know I got those two rag-woven section rugs in the bathroom. Wanna grab those and we can set those down and sit on the snow?"
  47. >"Hm...I'll be cold."
  48. "Yeah, believe it or not, snow is cold."
  49. >"But you're not."
  50. "No, not often."
  51. >"So why don't I just sit on your lap outside?"
  52. "Well... that's a good question."
  53. >"Wanna do that?"
  54. "I can't do that if you won't get off of me."
  55. >"I know."
  56. >You snort
  57. "Pft, so... wanna get up?"
  58. >"No."
  59. "Well... alright then. What's up?"
  60. >"I looked more into that dealer. You know, the one you got me from."
  61. >You grimace
  62. >A few weeks ago, when you came home she asked a lot of questions
  63. >Not about you and her, necessarily, but more about where she came from and as many details as you knew
  64. >Granted, you really didn't know a whole lot about it all
  65. >You did have a few emails back and forth, since you had to specify who you wanted
  66. >You handed over those to her, and even made her a personal email account so you could forward things to her and she could do her own investigation into it
  67. >When around, you type for her
  68. >Otherwise, she tells you what she wants to type through the messaging you two do when you're at work
  69. >She's getting better at using a keyboard, somehow
  70. >So far, she's managed to talk to the seller and ask rather specific questions
  71. >You don't think they suspect anything, since they seem rather open to answering things
  72. "Yeah? What're those knuckleheads up to?"
  73. >"Well... they said that if I'm really so curious, I can visit them."
  74. "We can visit them."
  75. >"Right."
  76. "...sounds kinda risky."
  77. >"True."
  78. >You shift slightly
  79. >She's completely dead weight on your back, though you can feel her tail swish around every now and again
  80. "Maybe a weekend, eh? How far are they?"
  81. >"I think a few hours."
  82. "Think you'll recognize anyone?"
  83. >"Unless it's Sparks or something... I don't know."
  84. >You both sigh, almost in unison
  85. "This is gonna answer a lot of questions at least."
  86. >"And give more questions."
  87. "That too."
  88. >It seems like once you both settled on your respective places in relation to each other, and tackling the question of where she came from, you two synced up pretty hard
  89. >Not that you mind
  90. >Horses make good empathy animals or whatever so maybe that has something to do with it
  91. "...we still can't go to the patio if you're stuck on me."
  92. >"Then... you're a patio now."
  93. >You had no real answer to that
  94. >You feel two hooves slide up your shoulders until they hook around your neck
  95. >Jacky squeezes, giving you a hug
  96. >"I'm scared. But I want to know."
  97. >You bring up one of your hands to her legs, giving her a slow, soft pat
  98. "Yeah... tell me about it. We gotta make sure they don't get us alone for even a second. You aren't going out of my sight. Even if the lights go out, you're gonna have something that glows in the dark."
  99. >You feel her mash her face into your head, nodding
  100. >"I would like that. But what would work? A watch wouldn't work... and a hat is too obvious. Or a shirt."
  101. "How about a collar?"
  102. >You feel the faintest of tingling on your back
  103. >"W-what? And treat me like a dog?"
  104. "You're only a dog if you bark for attention and beg for treats."
  105. >You say that with a smile and she can tell
  106. >Both of her hooves grasp your head and grind you into the bed
  107. >"That... ain't... funny!"
  108. >You let out a string of syllables and sounds that could almost translate to 'it's funny to me'
  109. >She finally stops and shifts back to a hug
  110. >"...A collar, huh. Does this have anything to do with those other types of collars?"
  111. >You imitate a gasp of shock
  112. "Jacqueline, daughter of Applejack, Son of Sam I Am and Niece of Uncle Lister, fister of his sister. I am shocked, shocked, I tell you! That you would think such a naughty thing of me."
  113. >She huffs and tightens the hug until it becomes something of a choke hold
  114. >Thankfully she doesn't have the reach to turn it into one
  115. "But maybe. Besides, maybe it would be a good way to get you into more public places..."
  116. >You haven't taken her out much
  117. >The store a few times, sure, when she feels like leaving the sanctity of the home
  118. >But a lot of places don't allow animals and while she's completely a person... she is still a weirdly-colored sentient pone
  119. "Be like a therapy animal or something and no one can say shit. Besides, you speak up once or twice and you'll cause them to freak out and we can say that whatever mental illness I have is contagious."
  120. >You hear a hushed, dark, goofy giggle behind your ear
  121. "I'd dig that. Even ignoring other prospects."
  122. >You feel somewhere turn into a full squirm on your back
  123. "Hey now, I like this shirt. Don't get too fancy with it, y'hear?"
  124. >"Oh please, like you wouldn't be proud of it?"
  125. "I'll be proud of that French accent and ready to show it if you don't get off me."
  126. >The near-choke hold ends
  127. >You feel her roll off of your back, landing beside you on her own back with a soft 'oof'
  128. >You keep your head turned to the side
  129. >At least now you can see her face
  130. "So... if we do this, we gotta go all in. Do you think you're ready?"
  131. >Jacky turns her head to face you
  132. >She looks like she's changed so much in the two months
  133. >Her face is the same but her hair is wild, and not at all like her ma's
  134. >Her eyes are sharp, clear and wide
  135. >When a movie before would spook her, she's now wanting to see her origins
  136. >No matter what that may include
  137. >Of course, it's the way she looks at you too
  138. >It's enough to make you lose your composure
  139. "Hey Jack."
  140. >She smirks at you
  141. "Hey Anon."
  142. >You smirk at her
  143. "Jack with a snack pack."
  144. >"Anon in the salon eating a bonbon, today hair tomorrow gone."
  145. "Jack in a--ok, fuck it, that was a good one."
  146. >You give a short 'ha' of a laugh and lean your face against hers
  147. "No matter what happens from that... we're leaving together. Alright?"
  148. >She pushes her face against yours until the gap is closed
  149. >"Yeah... can you bring your rifle?"
  150. >You exhale hard through your nose, tickling hers
  151. "Hell no. We're here to gather intel, not blast them away."
  152. >Due to both of you worrying about how dangerous or negative it could be, it's been hard to imagine it as anything but a Shadowrun encounter waiting to happen
  153. >She still doesn't know about Shadowrun but she's been fed dozens of action movies by now
  154. >Almost all of them involve the good guy shooting dozens of bad guys
  155. >Her tongue slides out of her mouth, washing over your face
  156. >You close your eyes and sputter through your lips
  157. >She doesn't seem to stop, especially when her tongue washes over your mouth
  158. >After far too long, she finally stops
  159. >"How's that for being a dog?"
  160. >You sputter harder, your tongue poking out
  161. ...
  162. >You lick your lips
  163. >Your eyes closed, you put on a wide frown
  164. "Alright, a shock collar it is. Once it zaps you into next week you'll glow no matter how dark it is."
  165. >The last week has kinda been like this
  166. >Both of you want to do things but the energy drains as soon as you start bickering and bantering back and forth
  167. >You know how far to go, and what to get into
  168. >You also know what is and isn't a joking matter, so some things are never said or thought
  169. >It's surprisingly... healthy
  170. >It's a real relationship, so of course it feels real to you
  171. >Far more real and natural than anything else you've had
  172. >You open your mouth to yawn, turning away just enough so she can't sneak attack your mouth
  173. "We got time until then... how should we prepare? Do we prepare?"
  174. >"I don't think so. Whoever I'm talking to seems interested in the customer we're pretending to be too. And I think I dropped enough details in to give them a tip off of what's going on."
  175. >You nod
  176. >It kinda does feel like it's some sort of exotic reconnaissance
  177. >On the off chance that it does turn out dangerous... you think that you're ready to risk it
  178. >For her at least
  179. >You'd kinda be ok if you just didn't go out on a road trip to wherever
  180.  
  181. >Another Sunday, come and gone
  182. >You ordered Jacky an 'adaptive' controller since you were starting to go back to playing games and while she seemed super interested in them, a normal controller just wouldn't do a thing for her
  183. >You sit on your mattress with your back to the wall
  184. >Jacky is laying under your right leg, her head resting on your left
  185. >Due to the mission you two are going to embark on, it's only fair that you train up on your stealth skills
  186. >Naturally, Hitman is the game of choice
  187. >"Hey... shouldn't you take that screwdriver with you?"
  188. "Huh? Why's that?"
  189. >"Well you got him last time by pushing him into the river... wasn't there a trap you could set when he's in the meeting to go off?"
  190. "Aaahhh... sneaky."
  191. >There was a tension in the room
  192. >You made a big deal about staying under cover and not bringing attention to yourself
  193. >You stick to your targets like glue, picking up clues and information along the way
  194. >Jacky keeps track of your inventory and what items would be worth picking up
  195. >For the hours that you've playing, you haven't once pulled out your gun
  196. >Your left leg tenses as your target enters the runway to give a speech about some sort of fashion brand
  197. >Jacky seems to pick up on this and rubs her face against your thigh
  198. >"You saw how inaccurate the handgun is. Do you really wanna take the shot?"
  199. >Your thumb slides over the D-pad
  200. >You want to take him down
  201. >But you're near dozens of people
  202. >The target's bodyguard is around
  203. >As is additional security
  204. "...all it takes is one shot."
  205. >"Can you get up to a higher level and shoot down?"
  206. "I don't know. He's halfway through his speech, I don't think we can get there in time."
  207. >You can feel Jacky's front legs brace over your right shin
  208. "I'm gonna go for it. The woman's taken care of, we get this guy, we run through the entrance, we get out."
  209. >...
  210. >"I'm with you."
  211. >In a second you draw your silenced handgun, take aim
  212. >Fire
  213. >Fire!
  214. >FIRE!
  215. "Got him!"
  216. >The target falls... and all attention is on you
  217. >"Exfiltrate! Turn around, vault the railing, run along the side to the front!"
  218. >You both jolt upright as you haul ass away from the crime scene
  219. >You were dressed up as a fashion star so the goofy outfit and full facial makeup would be a good enough alibi as anything else
  220. >Technically no clue as to who it'd be
  221. >"Watch the police! Don't shoot, just run!"
  222. "Cover behind the car!"
  223. >The tension is rising between you as the music blares, gunfire rings out, and the cueball assassin takes more damage
  224. >You make it!
  225. >As the ending to the level plays out, both of you slump down, loose and exhaling
  226. "Now that's what I call a Showstopper."
  227. >"Aim for the heart..."
  228. >This has got to be the fifth time that you've finished the same map
  229. >Every time you replay it, you play as a new type of assassin
  230. >Or blatant killer
  231. >The two brains working together lead to very creative ideas
  232. >A good chunk of them lead in death
  233. >But a few work out well
  234. >You put down the controller and bring up Jacky's head until it's directly on your lap
  235. >She looks up at you, as mentally fatigued as you
  236. >"All of this mayhem..."
  237. "I know. What do you think is more dangerous, a gunslinger attacking a position, or an assassin that can't be tracked?"
  238. >She frowns at the question
  239. >Obviously she has her preference
  240. >"Well... a gunslinger is only as slow as his reloading and firing."
  241. "But an assassin can reach his target."
  242. >"So can a gunslinger!"
  243. "Sure, but after making a lot of noise."
  244. >"Grrr..."
  245. "I'm far better at being stealthy. To sneak around and find my target."
  246. >As you speak, your hand slithers from the controller, over the mattress blanket, to her flank
  247. >"And then you take it like a thief?"
  248. >You give her rump a squeeze
  249. "And then I go for the kill!"
  250. >She lets out a pained cry from the squeeze!
  251. >She gives a long, drawn out inhale
  252. >And then drops dead, exhaling with a loud, heavy 'eeeeehhhhhh' that lasts a little too long due to her over-inhaling
  253. >You politely wait for her to finish dying before she gives one last limp kick
  254. >You nod and bring your other hand to her, brushing at her mane
  255. "I gotta show you the Styx games... that's some hardcore stealth action right there."
  256. >Your hand doesn't move away from her flank
  257. >Rather it begins to go toward her tail
  258. >Still no signs of her moving, though you can feel some of her hind end muscles twitch
  259. "That type of stuff is also very punishing too... so we gotta be careful when it comes to killing. Some enemies can't even be killed."
  260. >Your hand reaches the base of her tail
  261. >She remains silent but you can hear her inhale
  262. "Hey Jacky... I'm gonna steal something right now."
  263. >You lean down, your hand moving from her tail once again
  264. "And y o u c a n ' t s t o p m e . . ."
  265. >As soon as you touch IT, her head bolts upright
  266. >"N-not my snacks?!"
  267. >She looks flustered and embarrassed
  268. >You smile at her
  269. "Yes. Your snacks. Including that peanut butter popcorn ball I got you."
  270. >She shuts her eyes hard and kicks out with all of her legs
  271. >"NOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooooo...!"
  272. >She goes limp again
  273. >You're tempted to continue
  274. "Hey Jack."
  275. >She eventually opens one eye and looks at you
  276. >"Yes?"
  277. "I can't believe you like that popcorn."
  278. >She pushes her lips out and blows a raspberry at you
  279. >"I can't believe you have lame tastes."
  280. >You recoil from the insult
  281. "You're terrible."
  282. >"And you stopped."
  283. "And what is it I stopped?"
  284. >She doesn't answer, but her tail flickers a few time
  285. "We should replay that map one more time, you know..."
  286. >"But we need a break... right?"
  287. >Well you did spend the entire morning and noon playing it
  288. "We do... alright, you've convinced me"
  289. >She reaches for the mane brushing hand and clamps it between her teeth
  290. >She looks at you and huffs through her nose
  291. >She doesn't seem to like being loud at all
  292. >But she does a good job at communicating
  293. >In her own quiet way
  294. >As quiet as she can be, anyway, when you're pushing limits
  295.  
  296. >Another day closer to the road trip
  297. >Jack's been lively and eager to joke around but you can tell that with every passing day she's starting to hesitate
  298. >Today's no different
  299. >Another Hitman map, another evening spent just wandering around and coming up with new, increasingly creative ways to eliminate targets wearing the most absurd things
  300. >Neither of you seriously considered doing anything violent or illegal, but it helped take the edge off
  301. >It all made it out to be something to get excited for, rather than be afraid of
  302. >Of course, you were worried too
  303. >But you wouldn't let her know that
  304. >Not unless push came to shove
  305. >You had a fun time creating a dynamic with her when it came to playing, too
  306. >She's look up the full map and tell you were entry/exit points were
  307. >Where items of interests were
  308. >And where targets usually spent their time
  309. >It was a bit of a subtle way to help teach her how to look for ways to escape a room if she had to
  310. >Again, not that you expect anything wrong to happen
  311. >But you know where your limits lie
  312. >You can't let anything bad happen to her
  313. >"Hey, uh... Anon? Are you gonna choke that guy out?"
  314. >You blink back to the moment at hand
  315. >47 has a guy in a choke hold
  316. >But you haven't finished it yet
  317. >"Is.. that a gun in your pocket? I hope it's... a gun..."
  318. >Oops
  319. >C R A C K
  320. >"Wait... didja mean to kill him?"
  321. "He'll die never knowing if it was, indeed, a gun in my pocket."
  322. >You speak with a stern, monotone voice
  323. >You hide the body and swap into his clothing
  324. "Right... so, from where I am, what's my closest route to our first target?"
  325. >Glancing between you, 47 on the TV, and her laptop, Jacky nudges the touch screen to scroll down
  326. >"Going off of your outfit and your loadout... head out to the left, keep covered, and from there camp out for a bit. If you shoot well with your rifle you'll take him out in one hit. Make sure you move after firing but not too quickly."
  327. "Roger dodger."
  328. >It isn't the most realistic application, but getting her to read blueprints and maps is neat
  329. >A shame you don't think you can ever get her into Etrian Odyssey since the handheld console is far too human-centric
  330. >But there's always Grimrock...
  331. >Or Minecraft
  332. >You put 47 behind a hedge, letting off the controller to crack your fingers
  333. "I think we should try one of those challenge contracts next. Some people have some really demanding goals out there."
  334. >"Yeah... keep your eyes on, alright?"
  335. >She's gotten good at using the track pad
  336. >You've been thinking of getting a bigger one and one of those pens that have touch screen nubs on the end, she could probably use that
  337. "I see him on the radar. What do you want for dinner?"
  338. >She shrugs, turning to watch the target enter the clearing
  339. >"We got those pizzas on sale... how about that?"
  340. "You eat nothing but pizzas and you'll turn into one. All greasy and cheesy..."
  341. >"You must be half pizza then. There he is, aim!"
  342. >You fumble to grab the controller, readying the sniper rifle
  343. "And..."
  344. >"Not yet."
  345. "Come on, he's right there..."
  346. >"Wait until his bodyguard steps away so you don't get him by accident."
  347. "I don't see one."
  348. >"Because you're zoomed in. Wait for him to pass."
  349. ...
  350. ...
  351. ...
  352. >You fire
  353. >Target eliminated
  354. >"Sneak out!"
  355. "Fleeeeeeeeeeeee...!"
  356. >You awkwardly spin 47 around in circles and creep back with the finesse of a drunk while everyone starts to freak out about the immediate assassination
  357. >You go back to where you were before, with the corpse of the poor man that died wondering what was rubbing up against his back
  358. "Alright... so what's next?"
  359. >She yawns
  360. >She's been spending a lot of time staying up later than you
  361. >You can tell that you've turned her onto the stealth game genre since she's been looking up guides to do more complex things
  362. >Or rather, she's been looking up guides for you to do more complex things
  363. >"Well... you can save and quit, right? How about we take a break for the evening?"
  364. >You nod and stretch, exiting out of the game after saving
  365. >She stretches as well, kicked out across the bed with her head on your leg
  366. "So Jack... about that place. Do you still wanna go?"
  367. >You feel her head twitch a little
  368. >"Uh... yeah. Of course I do..."
  369. >She clears her throught
  370. >"I... uh, I think Sparks may be there. Y'know, m'lass Sparks?"
  371. >She's starting to slip into that Irish accent
  372. >It must be natural
  373. "Sparks... yeah. So what's she like?"
  374. >"Ohhhhhh y'know how the gang is... she's the kinda red-pink one. Horn, quick temper, lit her own house on fire when we first met."
  375. >She slips out of it as she keeps talking
  376. >Her words slow
  377. >"And... you... don't know, I guess."
  378. "How well do you remember her?"
  379. >"I'm not sure. I remember 'adventures'. But... this is the real world, isn't it. So I don't think those were real adventures. But I recall so many details, like tastes. I remember the taste of my favorite food."
  380. "Favorite food, eh?"
  381. >You pat her side
  382. "What'd that be? We can see about grabbing it."
  383. >Jacky hesitates before answering
  384. >"I don't remember. I would remember it if I had it, but I don't know what it looked like. Or when I had it."
  385. >You've talked about her past before, but from the sound in her voice, the quivering that's being forced back, it hasn't gotten that easier
  386. "Then we'll have to scout around and check out as much as we can then, huh?"
  387. >It was a one-in-a-million shot, but it wouldn't hurt to keep an eye open
  388. >"Sure, that sounds alright."
  389. "So... why the name Sparks? What made her torch her own house?"
  390. >Jacky suddenly giggles
  391. >"That dork... she has no control over magic, right? So the first time we met was during a cooking competition. She wants to barbecue up somethin' fierce so I agree to go hunt down some ducks, right, and she's trying to figure out how to magic up a bonfire out of nowhere. Well the hot head gets all flustered and just as she sees all of the ducks I have, she just goes FWOOM!"
  392. >Jacky splays out all of her legs, making a muffled explosion noise
  393. >"Turns out, she got so jealous that I got done so quickly when she hadn't even a spark to her name that she just went up and above and beyond. Since then... she's always been Sparks to me. And it fits. I bet you could chip her horn with steel and get flint."
  394. >She laughs more, reminiscing with a smile
  395. >"Ahh... we kinda fought and butted heads a lot. Sometimes she had a point or magic was the answer. Sometimes I had a scheme or a trick and that would do it."
  396. >She curls her head back until she's looking at you from a 90 degree angle
  397. >"Anon... do you think if we find her, she'll be able to use magic still?"
  398. >She looks like she knows the answer
  399. >Her eyes are misty
  400. >But her smile is wide
  401. >You nod
  402. "Honestly? Yeah. You're pretty strong for your size, you know. A unicorn that can actually cast a spell or something, or a pegasus that can actually fly. Sure seems like it could be possible, right?"
  403. >"Yeah... yeah!"
  404. >Jacky's smiling wider, though tears start to slide down the side of her face
  405. >"Just you wait, we can show her all sorts of stuff, like-a-like a lighter! Can you imagine how sore she'd be to be outdone by a little tool like that?"
  406. >"You know, I bet she'd make a firestorm if she were miffed enough. We gotta make sure our fire fighting skills are... up to snuff..."
  407. >Her voice falters
  408. >She tries her best to sound happy
  409. >To sound excited
  410. >But she can't stop crying
  411. >You lean down and scoop her up
  412. >She isn't the lightest but you aren't the weakest either
  413. >You let her rump slide onto the mattress
  414. >She leans against you, her head draped over your shoulder
  415. "It's alright Jack... we'll find her. Both of you guys can figure it all out and go from there, right? We'll leave together, and with her too. She's your friend, and I know she wants to listen about all of what you've done here."
  416. >You smile
  417. "And hey... we can show her a few key movies. Can you imagine what she'd do when the fighting starts?"
  418. >She stays quiet
  419. >Then she lets out a 'hur hur'
  420. >"She's definitely Tuco..."
  421. "You think she'd like the fire water? We still got that bottle of mead, and whisky..."
  422. >Neither of you drank all that often
  423. >Partially because it just never came to mind
  424. >More 'hur hur hur' laughs from her
  425. "And imagine if we can get her to teach her to use her magic in less... inflammatory ways. Would be neat to see what she's capable of doing, right?"
  426. >Jacky nods, rubbing the side of her face against your shoulder
  427. "So there we go... one more reason to go, right?"
  428. >"...yeah."
  429. "And then after that... Dashie, right? Are there three more that we're missing?"
  430. >Jacky sniffles and shakes her head
  431. >"No... we were kinda it. But we were all we needed, you know? Causing trouble, getting into adventures..."
  432. >You nod
  433. "Yeah... we'll see what happens."
  434. >It's getting closer to the road trip
  435. >You haven't asked a lot about her past since you could take stabs in the dark of what she does and doesn't know
  436. >You like learning about her
  437. >You want to hope that they have some basis in reality
  438.  
  439. >Today is the day
  440. >With how often you and Jacky have been talking about it, that 'maybe a weekend' became 'this weekend'
  441. >The contact was fine with it, since the "branch" is open on Saturdays
  442. >As usual, you wake up first
  443. >Jacky was laying on you but some time when you were sleeping you rolled to your side
  444. >She looks like a Looney Tunes version of roadkill
  445. >Her tongue is hanging out the side of her mouth with her legs splayed out
  446. >She's laying on your arm too
  447. "Hey... Jack."
  448. >You wiggle your entombed arm
  449. >Nothing
  450. "Jaaaaaaaaaaack...?"
  451. >You lower her head to her hoof and move toward her body
  452. "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee...?"
  453. >Your head goes from her shoulder to over her face
  454. >Still nothing
  455. >You inhale and give a short, sharp blow to her nose
  456. >"AJAIEHGREJ"
  457. >She springs to life, her snout bonking into your face
  458. >"Monsieur Anon, not in front o--"
  459. >She freezes, taking note that she was woken up
  460. >She looks at you rubbing your nose
  461. >"...Well good morning."
  462. "Yeah-huh... morning."
  463. >You slide your arm out from under her while she rolls to her stomach
  464. >"So... are we really doing this today?"
  465. "Yeah. Unless you don't want to?"
  466. >She looks apprehensive
  467. >Only after a minute of laying there, waiting for an answer, does she speak up
  468. >"No, I... I want to. Gotta figure it out sooner or later, right? And if I can find out about Sparks or Dashie, or just learn who my ma and pa really are, then I owe it to them to go through with it."
  469. >"Besides."
  470. >She grins at you
  471. >"This is an adventure! Tuco and Blondie, look out, Anon and Jacky are on the trail!"
  472. >You bark out a laugh and ruffle her mane
  473. >It's grown out a fair bit over the months
  474. >Everything from voice, mannerisms, and habits have changed from when she was first here
  475. >You could tell that she was an Applejack-type... imitation
  476. >But now? She looks like her own mare
  477. "So... wanna take a bath first and I'll go after? Then we can split, gas up, find a bite on the go and see what today will do for us."
  478. " That collar and leash came in so we'll have to find the right way to fit that too. Glow in the dark, reacts well to light like those safety jackets, it'll make sure nothing'll happen."
  479. >You watch Jacky shake herself awake and stretch out her legs
  480. >"Yeah... I guess things like that would be normal for me to wear.
  481. >She curls her head to you
  482. >"...I can wear my hat, right?"
  483. "Darn tootin', lady. Now go do your deal, I gotta look over some stuff."
  484. >She trots off the mattress and around the corner into the bathroom
  485. >You stock half of the towels under the sink so she can have access to them
  486. >While it's not completely settled in, you've done a fair bit in terms of accessibility
  487. >Tied towel on the fridge door
  488. >Chips within pony reach
  489. >You're still a little sore at the dents she put into the side of the fridge
  490. >Her mood still changes depending on the movies she watches, but it's a lot less extreme
  491. >You dare say you've seen her shape her own personality, away from what she was
  492. >The funniest thing?
  493. >You gave her a tomato once and she hated it
  494. >Doesn't even really like ketchup
  495. >To you, that does indeed show that whatever she was packaged up with didn't define her in the least
  496. >If you and her really do find that Sparks pony, you can't just leave her there
  497. >But would you really want to have two?
  498. >To be fair, cats and dogs always do better when they have company
  499. >You know Jacky would love to have one of her friends with her
  500. >You're her friend
  501. >But you work
  502. >And you aren't from her previous life, or her memories of her previous life
  503. >And you're still a human
  504. >It really won't hurt you, financially
  505. >It will really liven up your apartment and your life, to be sure
  506. >The apartment complex is pet friendly but... how do you explain away two talking ponies?
  507. >You could try to excuse them away as being toys but come on
  508. >There's no way Jacky could be some mesh of plastic and wiring
  509. >What about Sparks, though?
  510. >From the sounds of it, she sounds like a Twilight copy
  511. >You can't really imagine it
  512. >What sort of... accent would she have, even?
  513. >What accents, plural, rather?
  514. >Jacky seemed to be a one-size-fits-all sort, with all of the little hats she had and the accents she could cycle through
  515. >What was her original accent like?
  516. >She seems to favor the French one but that's probably in part due to you favoring it
  517. >Given what that dealer's page said, if Jacky is the European enigma, is it possible that Spark would be from another continent entirely?
  518. >How would that even work in her memories?
  519. >You'll probably find out when you go there
  520. >Of course it won't lead to anything terrible or violent or dangerous
  521. >But you can tell why she may worry about it
  522. >Even if it were a normal warehouse to you, to her it could be a prison
  523. >Even if it's just a normal nine to five worker, she may freak out over their voice or how nonchalant everything is
  524. >You don't really want to encourage or stoke that sort of worry
  525. >But you know it would be completely tactless to tell her to stop worrying
  526. >What's weird is that you aren't even worried about it all
  527. >You might have concerns, sure, but you feel like it'll turn out alright
  528. >A bit of a shave before a shower may help you look a little less mangy too
  529. >Maybe she'll want a haircut later too
  530. >You hear Jacky call out to you, finally
  531. >It feels like she spent hours in the bathroom
  532. >Almost nineteen hours to be exact
  533. >Or maybe it's your own nerves
  534. >You aren't worried about anything, but her apprehension has become yours, to an extent
  535. >You shake it off as you get up
  536. >You've been through far worse, for people far less important
  537. >A shave, shower, and dressing later, you're ready to go
  538. >Leaving the apartment, both of you are quiet
  539. >There's not much to do in the way of quips or jokes at this point
  540. >You got the address down, it'll take a bit away
  541. >Certainly won't be a day trip at least
  542. >Jacky settles into the passenger seat
  543. >She tries to tilt her head forward to stop her hat from hitting the car door, the seat belt, or the back of the seat
  544. >"Darn... thing..."
  545. >You watch her try to maintain some serious facade until she settles into some brooding, forward leaning position
  546. >Before you start the car you pop her hat off of her and toss it to the back
  547. "Better?"
  548. >"...yeah..."
  549. >She leans her head back until she reaches a more genuine position
  550. >"It's hard to wear that thing indoors..."
  551. >You stifle a chuckle and nod
  552. "We can save the badass looking hat wearing and glaring for cowtippers and bank robbers."
  553. >The two of you head out to the gas station for drinks, breakfast, and to fill up your tank
  554. >Both chomping on some steaming hot breadsticks, you journey forth
  555. >Your goal?
  556. >To learn everything you can
  557. >To learn about this Sparks friend
  558. >To hopefully hit lunch somewhere nice after
  559. >You're already looking forward getting rid of this dark cloud of anxiety
  560. >You enjoy having a real goal with her, and you can only hope that she's going to be glad that she did this
  561. >But you also miss just goofing around too
  562. >Especially given how work is
  563. >Maybe you could take some vacation time soon, to keep an eye on her and to celebrate and unpack everything that'll happen
  564. >"Anon?"
  565. "Yeah?"
  566. >"You alright? You haven't been talking much, and you look kinda serious right now."
  567. "...I do?"
  568. >"Yeah... you look like Blondie at the three-way standoff."
  569. >You chortle
  570. "As if. I'm just wondering how long it'll be before you're bored of sitting in the car for so long."
  571. >"Well I've never been driven so far. But it'll be pretty cool to see all what's out here!"
  572. "True. Lot of dead and hibernating trees, so not a lot of greenery. But we may see a lot of snowy landscapes."
  573. .>"Yeah... so..."
  574. "What's up?"
  575. >"...what is there to do while driving?"
  576. >That's a good question
  577. "I think I know what we can do."
  578. >A half hour of driving later
  579. >"Praise to my father, bless by the water, black night, dark sky, the devils cry!"
  580. "Life of vengeance, a passive test! Until the grave I will rest! Engage the pressure until it crumbles! The existence of the lifeless black souls!"
  581. >Having left city limits and surrounded by snowy farmland, you scream down the road with the stereos absolutely blasting
  582. >The only real option is music
  583. >Hooking your phone up to the car via auxiliary port saves you battery life too
  584. >Your practiced vocal chords sync up with the singing
  585. >Years of driving and being alone has paid off since you're given extra incentive to sound good to impress
  586. >Jacky's singing is still awkward, going between her natural tone and trying to sound more in tune though some of it sounds forced
  587. >More miles go by as you two liven up the road with your killer tunes
  588. "YOU CAN NOT KILL ME!"
  589. >"I am Omeeeeega!"
  590. "YOU CAN NOT KILL ME!"
  591. >"I am Subhuuumaaaan!"
  592. "YOU CAN NOT KILL ME!"
  593. >"I cannot erupt!"
  594. "I AM OMEGA!"
  595. >"I must control!"
  596. >YOU CAN NOT KILL ME!"
  597. >"I cannot erupt!"
  598. "I MUST EXP͠LOOO̵ƠO͡OO͝OD͝È!"
  599. >The longer the drive goes on, the more brutal the music becomes
  600. >Her headbanging and thrashing has made a mess of her mane
  601. >She looks angry, snarling like you've never seen before
  602. >You're more surprised at how well she can keep up
  603. >When that ends, she leans back into her seat, huffing
  604. >You take a swipe at your water bottle and take a quick chug
  605. >Both of you are smiling
  606. >You continue to point out songs to sing to, going from positive, happy ska made by a five man band of superheroes, to songs meant to be played while fighting demons, to even a few tunes that only a cyborg ninja would hear while fighting against the power of magnets
  607. >It's a good way to make the drive seem that much shorter
  608. >It's also a good way to de-stress and get all of that excess energy out
  609. >After changing to a more lax tune befitting a glamorous cityscape at night with a definite early 90s vibe, you couldn't help but notice that Jack dozed off
  610. >Still sitting in her seat as usual, but her head lolled to the side
  611. >This was a good idea
  612. >Not just to go out and really do this, but to go the music route instead of any discussions or talking or worrying
  613. >Sometimes you gotta just go for it from a different angle
  614. >You check your phone
  615. >Technically illegal to do but you're alone on the road
  616. >Another half hour
  617. >You remember when driving in the city was enough to make you panic
  618. >It still worries you but you've become so used to it all that it's more relaxing than anything else
  619. >Still would've preferred to show Jacky a more colorful, appealing world than a frozen wasteland but spring isn't so far away
  620. >You swap to a new song
  621. >A really neat, unique song that's really just another remix of an old 80s song to the point that it sounds unique and innovative
  622. >It's not someone slowing down some music and calling themselves an artist at least
  623. >...
  624. >You finally reach your destination
  625. >A rather unassuming building that looks to be as big as a warehouse
  626. >It isn't rundown or anything
  627. >But it looks almost abandoned
  628. >But there is a sign on the front office
  629. >"Hasbró" with each letter being a different color
  630. >Hard to ignore that brand name when it seems the same but that goofy accent mark
  631. >You park outside of the front office
  632. >Outside of one other car it's all empty
  633. >It seems spooky, you can't lie
  634. >You wordlessly shake Jacky's shoulder
  635. >She snorts and her head bolts upright
  636. >"I'm up, I'm uuuu....uuup. Where are we?"
  637. >She yawned in the middle
  638. "We're here."
  639. >Your eyes are stuck on that brand and the door
  640. >It's a glass door with windows all over the place so it's not like it's some concrete prison
  641. >It looks... as normal as you'd expect it to look
  642. >You both get out of the car, stretching after the time spent just sitting in one place
  643. >Only then do you realize
  644. "Ah shit, did I bring the collar or did you have it?"
  645. >"The what? Oh! No, I forgot about it."
  646. >Nice
  647. >Well, what's the worst that could happen? It's not like it's completely required or something
  648. >"We're finally here, huh..."
  649. "Yup... let's go."
  650. >You lead while she's a few steps behind you
  651. >You go through the front door and it has a bell tone like something out of Animal Crossing
  652. >"Ja, just a minute!"
  653. >A male's voice
  654. "Yeah, uh... alright, no problem. You've been getting my emails, right?"
  655. >You couldn't exactly tell the voice that it was your pony authoring them
  656. >Jacky keeps quiet, subtly hiding behind you
  657. >Until you both hear something resembling clopping
  658. >"Ja, guten tag!"
  659. >A bulky looking blonde pony steps into the room
  660. >Not really bigger than Jacky but certainly heavier with more visible muscle
  661. >A really hard looking chin too
  662. >"I am Hanzel, I am glad to help wi--ach mein gott."
  663. >His eyes focus keenly on Jacky
  664. >She... doesn't know what to do
  665. >She doesn't even move
  666. >You've never seen that expression on her face before
  667. >"You've already got a friend! Wunderbar! We thought those questions were a little too detailed for you to know nothing! Sneaky sneaky..."
  668. >He seems completely affable
  669. >Finally Jacky speaks up
  670. >"...do you like having that accent?"
  671. >She sounds normal
  672. >Hanzel looks visibly caught off guard
  673. >He gives a bit of an awkward laugh, his accent slipping
  674. >"Ja, well... I am on the clock..."
  675. >A woman's voice rings out
  676. >"Hanzel, is that our customer?"
  677. >Hanzel gives you and Jacky a glance before licking his lips and refocusing
  678. >"J-ja, I think you should answer his questions!"
  679. >"Well alright, give me a second!"
  680. >Hanzel gives you an awkward smile
  681. >You're still really not sure how to respond to any of this
  682. >"I am sorry, I'm still... er, in training."
  683. >Jacky seems to mirror your mindset
  684. >Neither of you are sure of what the hell
  685. >A sleepy looking woman walks in from the direction Hanzel came out of
  686. >She's in mid-yawn when she sees you
  687. >"Oh, it's you! Mr. Jack, right?"
  688. >You can tell she looks you over, and notices Jacky
  689. >This surprises her as well
  690. >"Oh... you told me you didn't have one yet."
  691. >You remember the contents of the emails
  692. >This probably did seem a bit suspicious
  693. "Yeah... about that, I gotta ask some things. Or rather--"
  694. >"Where is she?!"
  695. >Still hiding behind you, Jacky lets out a scream aimed at the woman
  696. >She and her muscled pony are surprised at the outburst
  697. >"I'm sorry... what?"
  698. >The woman doesn't look all that malicious either
  699. >Just a little slow on the uptake
  700. >It is still technically early in the day you suppose
  701. "Listen... you got a place we can start over on? I think we should start from scratch."
  702. >"Ja, of course sir. Zat is fine, yes?"
  703. >He looks up at the woman
  704. >She nods
  705. >"Yeah, sure, of course."
  706. >You lean down and pat Jacky's head
  707. "It's alright, let's just start from the top"
  708. >You follow the duo into a conference room
  709. >You notice the Hanz guy doesn't have a cutie mark on him either
  710. >Jacky had a sticker that came off, was probably the same for him or something
  711. >The four of you settle in at a table
  712. >You help lift Jacky into a chair near you while Hanzel nearly falls over from launching himself into a chair
  713. >"So... what can we help you with?"
  714. >The woman extends a hand to you to start everything off
  715. "Alright... so, I'm Anon. This is Jacky. A few months ago I got her and... I suppose at this point we just have questions about her, and her friends."
  716. >Jacky looks like she's a mix of angry and on the verge of tears
  717. >It makes sense, given this is her first real confrontation with anyone
  718. >No amount of goofing around or psyching up can ever prepare you for a situation that's in your face
  719. >You know this all too well
  720. >Probably why you're able to stay so calm about it
  721. "To begin with... we would like to know where she's from. Who her parents are. Secondly, you said that you had a pony named Sparks or something like that."
  722. >"She's MY friend!"
  723. >Jacky barks
  724. >Her voice quivers, like she's trying to stop herself from crying
  725. "Yes... sorry the emails were a little off but I guess... neither of us knew what to expect. All of this really is kinda out there, you know?"
  726. >The woman, while a little shocked looking, nods
  727. >"Yeah, I totally get you. I was looking around and yeah. Reddish unicorn, right? Hanz, would you mind if...?"
  728. >Hanzel, in all of his magnificent bulk, looks like he's a complete empath
  729. >He's teary-eyed, but maintains a straight face
  730. >"Ja... do not worry, Jacky. It will be fine. You too, Anon."
  731. >He looks down at the floor and... tries to move off
  732. >The wheels under the chair are far too eager to glide and he almost falls flat on his face to get off
  733. >"Ach!"
  734. >He glares at the chair before stomping off
  735. >You can hear him muttering under his breath without that German accent about 'bucking wheels' and 'chairs'
  736. >Now there are only three
  737. "So, miss..."
  738. >"Nona."
  739. "Miss Nona. What's the deal with these ponies? Where are they from?"
  740. >You tug Jacky's chair over and wrap your arm around her to give her a slight hug
  741. >She looks at you with surprise for a bit but them calms down
  742. "It's been a few months and she's... kinda the best friend I could have. She eats and drinks and sleeps like normal but, obviously, this isn't your normal pony right?"
  743. >Nona nods
  744. >"That's right! To be honest, I'm not really sure, myself... but I love it all the same! Hanzel and I have been together for over a year now and I've... just not figured out anything. They're just like you and me. I started working for the company partially because I wanted to learn more."
  745. >She gives you a smile
  746. >A bit of a sad smile
  747. >"Partially because he told me what it was like too..."
  748. >She focuses her eyes on Jacky
  749. >You can feel her flinch, her muscles retracting and flexing
  750. >"I know you really weren't happy with how things were... it broke my heart when Hanzel told me about how it was. I had to find out about him, like your Anon does for you. I'm afraid I don't have any answers for you that you two might not have already found out."
  751. "Well... what can you tell us? You have to know something since you're working for them, right?"
  752. >'Them' being whoever could be behind all of this
  753. >"Well, I do know that something in the box can put them into a sort of stasis. Kinda like those sleeping pods in Alien? You don't need to eat or drink nearly as much in those. I don't know how it happens but it does. I keep a close eye on the ponies here and they're just... there. You could never guess that they'd be real and like anyone else."
  754. >She folds her arms and puts her head on the desk
  755. >Not the most professional but it's not like you were anyone of particular importance
  756. >"But... you force Hanzel to pretend to be someone he ain't!"
  757. >Jacky calls out, scrunching her face in an attempt to control her words
  758. >Nona laughs a slow, casual laugh
  759. >"Hanzel pretending, or being forced? You couldn't force that buck into anything! Did you know that he kicked in my refrigerator door? He got so frustrated when I was out that he couldn't get his lunch out that he just-bam-kicked it in."
  760. >You glare at Jacky out of the corner of your eye with a side smirk
  761. "Imagine that..."
  762. >Nona shrugs
  763. >"Hanzel is a bit of a showman. He found out that a lot of his memories were faked and that he'd slip out into Russian or Polish accents, on top of the German and... I guess it's just his way of having an identity. Nothing has really changed for him or I for him to stick with that. But he enjoys defining himself. And I think it's cute too. That's kinda all you can do, right?"
  764. >You nod
  765. >Jacky seems to get it too
  766. >But you can tell that she still isn't in the best mindset
  767. "Jacky was the same. Even after that first day, I was glad that she was who she was. I saw the masks slip off and... well, Jacky's Jacky. There's no one else out there like her, and I wouldn't want it any other way."
  768. >Jacky hangs her head, averting your gaze
  769. >You laugh and tighten your hug on her for a second before releasing
  770. >"Aw, she's embarrassed!"
  771. >Jacky mumbles something as her only response
  772. "So... about Sparks. I guess... do you guys take credit card or..."
  773. >It sounds awkward as hell to ask something like that, but you know it has to come up sooner or later
  774. >Jacky looks up at you, then at Nona, surprised
  775. >Nona gives you a wink and a smile
  776. >"Whaaaaat, why would you do that? You aren't buying anything, it's just customer support. Besides, you're just here so you can take your friend home."
  777. >She nods to Jacky
  778. >"Right?"
  779. >Jacky tries to speak but can't
  780. >She settles on a nod
  781. >"Well then alrighty! We're not going to play that sort of game here. You have friends so that's what matters. I'd never forgive myself if I didn't let old friends reunite."
  782. >She tries to make herself chuckle
  783. >It's very much forced
  784. >"Hanzel doesn't know anybody or recognize anything... almost like he was supposed to be some one-note background pony. He isn't the type to be jealous but I know that he really would have liked it if he saw anypony he knew. It's not just his muscles that are strong, right?"
  785. >The room falls silent
  786. >This is so unlike anything you thought would happen
  787. >Jacky looks... as she did before
  788. >Torn
  789. >As much as you discussed it being some sort of risky venture, it seemed like such an anti-climax
  790. >There were no answers to her origin
  791. >There were no answers to her heritage
  792. >There were no answers to her
  793. >Except the one you built up together with her
  794. >That bitter taste of reality must have hit in full force
  795. >You hear a male practicing certain phrases and words
  796. >Hanzel enters the room again, giving a wide smile
  797. >"We have found the right pony! She is in her box out front. Now will that be cash or cred--"
  798. >Nona gives him a loud shush that went clear across the room
  799. >Hanzel looks at the woman with a furrowed brow and a complex expression
  800. >Like he's trying to figure out how magnets work
  801. >"Anon and Jacky are taking their friend home. That has nothing to do with our company.... right?"
  802. >Hanzel takes a few seconds to get it through his head
  803. >When he does he nods and tries his best to smile
  804. >"Oh, ja! Of course, it is important to be with friends!"
  805. >He looks at Jacky, then at you
  806. >"I hope we can be good friends! I am excited to see someone like Nona, and extremely pleased to see that Jacky is doing well! A little scared but all hawks begin as chicks!"
  807. >He lets out a boisterous laugh at his own joke, walking back to Nona's side of the desk
  808. >He looks like he's going to jump back onto the chair... but mumbles some curse and decides to get onto his hind legs, his front hooves resting on the edge of the table
  809. >"So, what did I miss?"
  810. >He seems happy to be included
  811. >You shrug
  812. "Nothing, Nona was just telling me how you needed a cuddle toy to sleep."
  813. >A joke
  814. >But Hanzel looks absolutely stunned
  815. >He looks at Nona
  816. >Then at Jacky
  817. >Then at you
  818. >"T-that's silly! I would never require a miniature panda doll to sleep... ha ha ha!"
  819. >Nona averts her eyes, blushing
  820. >Jacky snickers from the stuff going on
  821. >Hanzel picks up on that
  822. >"Oh come on, you know how important a panda doll would be! If you needed one to sleep!"
  823. >Jacky shakes her head, picking up on the tone of the room
  824. >"Nope... can't say that I have..."
  825. >The powerful stallion slumps his face down
  826. >"This is a witch hunt..."
  827. >You pat the table, surprised
  828. "Wait... you have a panda doll?"
  829. >Hanzel tries to give an excuse but every attempt dies in his throat
  830. >He shrugs, putting on his toughest face
  831. >"I merely admire the Kung Fu Panda and the combat prowess he holds..."
  832.  
  833. >Everything seems to be a whole lot better than you or Jacky could've ever imagined
  834. >Nona and Hanz seem pretty cool, all things considered
  835. >The conversation is a little awkward about the ponies' backgrounds, but it doesn't seem to matter a whole lot either
  836. >Hanz seems like a cool guy to you
  837. >You can't put a finger on their dynamic but it does seem like a sneaky way to get double the money for one job
  838. >You'd actually enjoy working in some sort of semi-abandoned building, yourself
  839. >Imagine all of the games you could play
  840. "So, do you have any... advice? Where can we find out more? You have a direct line to people, surely."
  841. >Nona shrugged
  842. >"I come in and handle calls and... visitors like yourself. And I get paid. I don't want to push things too much for myself, you know?"
  843. >Visitors like yourself?
  844. >Has anyone else been here?
  845. "Visitors like myself?"
  846. >Jacky glances at you when you ask that
  847. >Hanz nods, pushing himself up to help remind everyone that he's a part of the conversation
  848. >"Ja! You're out first one! This is a very... uncommon thing that we have. Jacky and I are very rare, very valuable."
  849. >He nods to himself
  850. >Jacky sees this and nods as well, nudging your arm with her hoof
  851. >As if you didn't already value her to such an extent
  852. "I suppose I can see that, sure... so do you really not mind us leaving with Sparks?"
  853. >You still don't particularly believe it
  854. >Hanz defers to Nona
  855. >She nods, giving you an animated thumbs up
  856. >"Of course! Think about it this way... Jacky is an amazing girl, and she looks really happy when she looks at you. On top of that, she's from a different type of series. It's only fair that she has her friends with her, you know?"
  857. >Hanz clears his throat
  858. >Nona turns in her chair and wraps her arms around him
  859. >"And Hanzilla here is one of a kind!"
  860. >You get the feeling that you and Nona are more alike than you initially thought
  861. "Well, I gotta...say thanks for that. We both appreciate it. It's a lot for me to be able to help Jacky out like this."
  862. >"Yeah... yeah. I don't know how to thank you for this. I really don't have a clue how I could make it up to you. I don't remember hardly anything concrete... but Sparks... Dashie. They're all I remember and all that I know have to be real."
  863. >Nona's eyebrow went up
  864. >"Dashie?"
  865. >"Yeah. Me, Sparks, Dashie... triple threat trio."
  866. >Jacky chuckles to herself
  867. >"We really weren't the Mane Six at all."
  868. >Hanz clops a hoof down on the table
  869. >"You were like ze Cutie Mark Crusaders, ja!? I love Scootaloo!"
  870. >You instinctively laugh at his outburst
  871. >Jacky's a bit taken aback by well
  872. >Trying to maintain a straight face, she nods
  873. >"Now that you think about it... kinda?"
  874. >The musclehead pushes his hoof into Nona's shoulder, pushing her a fair few inches
  875. >"We have to find out where this Dashie is! We do not have her already, do we?"
  876. >Nona grabs the edge of the table, dragging herself back into place
  877. >"No, not that I know of... but then again, we didn't really check that much either. When you mentioned Sparks and went into such detail, it was easy to settle. Otherwise... I really don't know."
  878. >Jacky deflates a little
  879. >"Oh... yeah, that makes sense. But, you know, she is out there. I'm sure of it."
  880. >Hanz nods
  881. >You didn't really notice before but his mane is cut almost to be like a mullet, where it's cut short on top
  882. >"Everyone we are meant to meet is out there. It is only a matter of time before this Dashie can crashie into your life."
  883. >All three of you watch him
  884. >He seems proud of himself
  885. >"That's right, I write my own material too. You may praise my creativity."
  886. >Nona pats his head
  887. "Well... mind if we go see her then? I mean, she won't be awake I take it?"
  888. >Nona gets up, clapping her hands together
  889. >"Of course! We can help her into your car too if you wish?"
  890. >"Ja, let us impress you further!"
  891. >You look at Jacky and shrug
  892. "Ready to go?"
  893. >She nods
  894. >"Yeah, let's go home!"
  895. >You stand up while she awkwardly jumps out of the office chair
  896. >Following Hanz and Nona, you end up at the front of the building again
  897. >Your car is still in sight
  898. >Nothing seems out of the ordinary
  899. >Except the large box that's tilted against the wall
  900. >"Sparks! Sparky! It really is you!"
  901. >Jacky dashes up to the box
  902. >Sure enough, a thin plastic layer is all that separates the two friends
  903. >She looks pretty familiar too
  904. >Twilight Sparkle, except she's all one single color
  905. >That bright pink, almost red color that's from the streak in her hair
  906. >Her eyes are closed but you can tell that she's smiling
  907. >You don't recall Jacky smiling when you got her
  908. >Hanz nudges your leg with his head
  909. >"Between you and me... I would invest in shatter proof kitchenware, ja?
  910. >It isn't exactly a whisper but it is something that no one else notices
  911. >"Look, she twitched! She can hear me! Sparky, it's me! It's going to be ok, there's so much cool stuff! You gotta meet Anon, he's the greatest, and Blondie! And Tuco too! And, and movies! And 47! You gotta..."
  912. >Jacky finally calms down, looking around
  913. >Embarrassed, she stammers over an attempt to explain herself
  914. >"W-what are you looking at? You'd do the same if you hadn't seen a friend in forever!"
  915. >You shrug and clear your throat
  916. "Hanzelman, wanna get the door and I'll grab Sparks?"
  917. >"Jawohl, Herr Anon! Let us show these ladies how to do it!"
  918. >With gusto, he... pushes the door open with the side of his face
  919. >It really isn't the heaviest door in the world
  920. >But you can't help but feel invigorated by his moxie
  921. >You squat down and lift up the pony containing box
  922. >It isn't all that heavy either
  923. >You don't really see any accessories around her
  924. >After a step, you see a loose booklet sliding around that has her cutie mark
  925. >What you presume is her cutie mark, anyway
  926. >A set of fireworks that looks pretty similar to Twilight's nebulous star mark
  927. "Hey there, firefly. Jacky's gonna be happy to hang out with you again. Let's be careful about that horn of yours, huh?"
  928. >The horn itself is purple, which is odd since everything else is that pink-red color
  929. >With a clear way, you step out into the chilly, fresh air
  930. >You set Sparks on the top of your trunk and unlock your doors
  931. >You fit her into the back, sitting up
  932. >Just for good measure you wrap the seatbelt around the box
  933. "There we go... better safe than sorry, right? You'll be pretty impressed with how things are. We'll fix you up something good to eat as well."
  934. >You hear Jacky running up to you
  935. >She looks as happy as can be
  936. >"Can we go? I wanna head back so we can get her out of there!"
  937. >Hanz and Nona are outside as well, but they aren't more than an arm's length away from the door
  938. >Hanz gives you a bold salute while Nona waves
  939. >"Come back later, alright! We'll email you if we ever find out about that Dashie friend of yours!"
  940. >You give one last wave before settling into the car
  941. >You tap at your phone, figuring out a route back home
  942. >Jacky's visibly antsy, looking behind her to the unicorn
  943. >"Anon, we gotta watch movies with her? Do you think she'd like them?"
  944. "Psh, yeah, of course. How else will she get how derpy you've become?"
  945. >Jacky sputters
  946. >"As if! I've become far more well-rounded since then. Remember when Angel Eyes scared me?"
  947. "Yeah, like it was yesterday."
  948. >"Y-yeah, well, that was old Jackie! New Jackie would buck him off a water tower without blinking!"
  949. "Yeah huh... that's if his glare didn't cause you to drop horse apples on the spot."
  950. >"Now listen here, I'll have you know that...!"
  951. >The drive back home is far, far quicker than the drive away
  952. >You keep talking back and forth without pause, occasionally asking Sparks rhetorical questions
  953. >When you look back to her, you see that the smile is still there
  954. >Hopefully she's able to hear everything going on
  955. >Things are gonna get a lot more lively moving forward
  956.  
  957. >You turn your car into the underground garage, glad to finally be home
  958. >Jackly loudly yawns with a musical flourish
  959. >"I wanna go back one day."
  960. "Yeah? When?"
  961. >"Iunno. But... not for at least a few weeks, ok? Even if that place doesn't look that bad... I don't know. Nona is nice but I don't know if I believe her all the way."
  962. "What, still think she's hiding something or isn't fully legit?"
  963. >You pull into your spot
  964. >Thankfully no one else around so they won't see you and your pony bringing in a second pony
  965. >"I think she wasn't happy to see us."
  966. "So what about Han Solo? He seems like a cool guy."
  967. >You get out and Jacky bounds over to your seat and onto the concrete
  968. >"Pshh yeah, guy could probably bench press your car."
  969. "Or half the apartment complex."
  970. >"Ja, und he sounds like zis!"
  971. >Jacky pulls off an almost spot on German accent
  972. >You scoff and clear your throat, opening the back door
  973. "Ja, das boof pony. He wants to PUMP"
  974. >You clap and point at Jack
  975. "YOU UP!"
  976. >She looks at you with a blank expression
  977. >You shrug after maintaining a pose
  978. "Over your head, huh?"
  979. >She purses her lips and nods
  980. "Alright, fair enough."
  981. >You reach in and grab the pony-inna-box
  982. "So... what did you expect over there?"
  983. >You bump your door with your hip and start your way to the elevator
  984. >Jacky trots beside you
  985. >"I don't know... I mean, I knew we weren't going to have to fight demons or break spells or have to assassinate a target and then botch it at the last second because SOMEONE WOULD TRY TO GET FANCY..."
  986. >You shoot her a dirty look
  987. >She beams at you as if she were the most innocent creature on earth
  988. >"But... I was afraid. I can't tell you how frightened I was when we were going to that office room."
  989. "You think we'd both end up in a box?"
  990. >"I think I was going to be boxed and you were going to be shot."
  991. >You laugh and nudge the corner of the box into the elevator button
  992. >She isn't laughing
  993. "...you really think that would happen?"
  994. >"Is it that hard to think that it wouldn't happen?"
  995. >You don't answer
  996. >You didn't really want to consider that open, realistically, but you just didn't get any bad vibes from either of them
  997. >Maybe that Nona chick was a little too ok with just giving you Sparks
  998. >But Han just seemed cool
  999. >You could tell he wasn't around other guys that often
  1000. >Given his lack of hands he might not be the best spotter at a weight rack
  1001. >Once the elevator door slides open, you both step in
  1002. >You nudge the box into the right button
  1003. "So... where's she gonna sleep?"
  1004. >"With us, obviously. We only got the one bed, right?"
  1005. "Yeah..."
  1006. >"Think she'll mind us?"
  1007. >You chortle with a loud "ho!"
  1008. "She's your friend! What would she do if she ever saw you cuddle up to a guy and then some?"
  1009. >Jacky gives an awkward laugh
  1010. >"I... don't know. I never met a guy I liked all that much to matter. They were kinda just... like NPCs in a game from what I recall?"
  1011. >The elevator dings and stops at your floor
  1012. >She leads the way, looking back to make sure you don't ding Sparks against anything
  1013. >"You're the first one I've felt something before. Sleeping with you felt like sharing a bed with a friend."
  1014. "The alcohol helped, right?"
  1015. >"Psh, obviously! A guy like you that can drink with a pony and get all mopey and emotional?"
  1016. >You can't see her face but her tone falters
  1017. >"I knew how you felt... and I just really wanted a friend too."
  1018. "And now we have each other."
  1019. >You're pretty bold to say that in the hallway down to your apartment
  1020. >Someone could've heard but you didn't particularly care
  1021. >Jacky picks up her pace, trotting into almost a skip
  1022. >"Sure do! And I'd buck that Nona nerd into next week if she tried to change it!"
  1023. >She really did not like human women that well, did she
  1024. >You stop at your door at the end of the hallway and gently lower Sparks onto the floor
  1025. >You unlock and open the door
  1026. >Jacky waits, watching the Sparks-in-a-box
  1027. >She looks excited
  1028. >And maybe a bit apprehensive
  1029. >What's there to worry about, anyway?
  1030. >You hold the box by the top corners and waddle in, taking care to not bang your knees into her
  1031. >You move to the living room and hear Jack nudge the door closed
  1032. >At least she didn't kick it
  1033. >You set the box down and sit in front of it
  1034. >"Hey, no opening!"
  1035. >She rushes to your side, watching your hands
  1036. "...so are we just gonna watch?"
  1037. >She mumbles something
  1038. "Come again?"
  1039. >"What if... we open it wrong?"
  1040. "How could we possibly open a box wrong?"
  1041. >"It could happen. She could come out wrong..."
  1042. "Yeah, she'll come out like you."
  1043. >"Wha-you like the way I came!"
  1044. "Yeah I do."
  1045. >You smile at her
  1046. >She tries to act annoyed or shocked but she gives you a sheepish smile
  1047. >"...You always gotta get the last word in and say things..."
  1048. >You tilt your head and nod
  1049. >It was true
  1050. >"...alright, set her down and open the top. We can slide her out and then she'll wake up. I think."
  1051. "Roger roger."
  1052. >You set the box down and rotate it so the top is facing you
  1053. >You tug away the tape from the flap and open it
  1054. >Jacky moves forward and bites the corner of the box
  1055. >You tug on the cardboard card that's under the unicorn and pull her free
  1056. >Sure enough, the only item she has with her is a booklet
  1057. >Jacky came with a variety of hats... why only the book?
  1058. >Without thinking you reach for it
  1059. >Sparks' eye opens
  1060. >It's bright red, far more intense than the near monochrome hot pink body and mane
  1061. >"Hands off y'bloody nonce."
  1062. >A thick Cockney accent
  1063. >You can't help but jerk your hand back with a surprised "GAH!"
  1064. >Her head darts up, as if her body hasn't completely woken up yet
  1065. >She looks around, not looking behind her to see Jacky
  1066. >"Oi, where is that little tart Jacky? You done anything bad to 'er and I'll make your innards yer outtards!"
  1067. >Jacky looks at you with a look of shock
  1068. >You return her look and shrug
  1069. >She jumps up, and onto, Sparks with a squee
  1070. >"Sparky! It really is you! I knew I'd find you again!"
  1071. >The sudden hug causes Sparks to give a short, panicked screech
  1072. >Until she notices that it's indeed Jacky on her back
  1073. >She calms down
  1074. >But only a bit
  1075. >"YOU CHEEKY SWINE, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING GET OFFA ME BEFORE I BLAST YOU, YOU..."
  1076. >She exhales
  1077. >Almost as if that did the trick, she stumbles to her hooves
  1078. >Jacky drags herself to end up behind Sparks, front legs still wrapped over her
  1079. >The hot pink unicorn looks around, expecting... something
  1080. >She looks at you
  1081. >"So... who are you supposed to be?"
  1082. >You feel like you're flat-footed
  1083. "Iiiii.... I'm Jacky's..."
  1084. >"Sparks, Anon's my stallion! My man! My guy! My butt buddy!"
  1085. >Wait
  1086. >Your her what
  1087. >Sparks gives you a twisted, disdainful glare
  1088. >"Ew, him!? Where's even his tail! Where's his horn!"
  1089. >You give Jacky a hard glare, clearing your throat
  1090. >You want to give her a chance to explain things before you go and say something you would say
  1091. >"Don't ask about his horn, he's sensitive."
  1092. "Jacky!"
  1093. >Jacky gives you a mischievous grin
  1094. >It's the first time you've seen her give something quite like that unique smile
  1095. >"He's very special to me, Sparky. He bought me a hat, he broke me out from that box prison..."
  1096. >Her energy peters off, her tone turning more somber
  1097. >"He was there for me when I didn't know where you or Dashie were. He's the best type of guy I could ever have asked for. And, because of him, we get to hang out again! You don't know how long I've been scared about what was going to happen to us."
  1098. >Sparks looks you over again with a newfound rubric for appraisal
  1099. >She seems a bit impressed
  1100. >Jacky tightens her hug, effectively putting Sparks in a choking headlock for a good few seconds
  1101. >"Now apologize!"
  1102. >You really aren't sure how to react to any of this
  1103. >They're going at it like cats but you can't really help but think that's normal
  1104. >Sparks gargles out something, unable to speak
  1105. >The both fall and roll over each other
  1106. >In a flurry of pink and yellow, Sparks ends up on top
  1107. >She has one of Jacky's hind legs in some sort of leg lock
  1108. >"Ye numpty tosser, did you forget who you're up against?!"
  1109. >Jacky cries out with an actual whinny
  1110. >The two end up rolling over each other again
  1111. >The two end up on the opposite situation, with Jacky on top
  1112. >She has another headlock, and is giving Sparks repeated short, low-power headbutts to the side of her face
  1113. >They're both pretty agile
  1114. >It's almost like watching a live-action cartoon or something
  1115. >"Apologize! Your stupid pink hide would be stretched out in a hunter's trophy room if it weren't for him!"
  1116. >Sparks gargles out something that sounds like 'crab apple gibbon'
  1117. >Jacky lets go
  1118. >She happily trots over to you, grinning
  1119. >"And you thought you always won because you got something called 'skill'..."
  1120. >You blink a few times, unable to fully believe everything that you just saw
  1121. "That... you got some fine moves. That was a real, bonafide Jack Attack".
  1122. >Jacky bows as if she were giving a performance
  1123. >Though Sparks got up, giving her backside an evil glare
  1124. >Her eyes actually start to glow
  1125. >Oh shit
  1126. >You quickly grab hold of Jacky, scooping her up
  1127. "Hey, turn that spooky looking shit down!"
  1128. >You know she's Jacky's friend but you aren't her friend
  1129. >Not yet, anyway
  1130. >You aren't going to let anything escalate to a dangerous level
  1131. >Sparks changes her target to you
  1132. >She growls and points her horn at you
  1133. >Jacky doesn't have time to say anything
  1134. >"BURN, THE BOTH OF YOU!"
  1135. >Her eyes turn bloodshot
  1136. >The glow they have is enough to make your skin crawl
  1137. >This is it
  1138. >Your animal instinct says you're fucked
  1139. >Sparks growls and... her eyes immediately go back to normal
  1140. >. . . . .
  1141. ". . . . ."
  1142. >". . . . ."
  1143. >All three of you stay in place, like time froze
  1144. "...what in the fuck was that."
  1145. >Jacky bursts out laughing, pointing at Sparks
  1146. >"You dummy! Magic isn't real in the real world! Ha ha ha, look at how angry you were! And you even lost on top of it!"
  1147. >Sparks grumbles, almost as if she expected this outcome
  1148. >"Fine... you're an alright lad, Aaron. Thanks for letting me out of that hell in a cardboard cell."
  1149. "That's Anon."
  1150. >"Yeah I know."
  1151. >Sparks looks over the room, sighing
  1152. >"...do you know why I don't remember anything?"
  1153. "I don't, no. Jacky had the same... situation as you. But she sure remembered you, and you sure as shit remember her."
  1154. >Jacky nuzzles up to you, quite taken with how you protected her from the fizzled spell
  1155. >"...why does Jacky sound different from the Jacky I know?"
  1156. >The pony in your arms squirms her way out of your arms, opting to sit in front of you
  1157. >"Y'mean like this, aye? Or do you mean... like zis?"
  1158. >She goes from her Irish accent to French
  1159. >"I found out that I was kinda... I don't know. No one's watching us. We're in the real world now and we're kinda... just stuck here. So I guess I felt like I had to stop pretending. Anon really is great, he doesn't mind if you aren't... a character. You're you. And you're my friend. At least, we both remember being friends. We can be friends again, right? I promise you that you would like it."
  1160. >All of that seems to his Sparks in the gut
  1161. >She glares at both of you, moving her attention from you to Jacky and back
  1162. >She lets out another growl
  1163. >But her eyes start to water up
  1164. >"I don't get what you mean... only I'm me! I'm not some character! I'm Sparking Shine and I'm the best there is at what I do!"
  1165. >Her voice falters
  1166. >She starts to lose her accent
  1167. >"The last time we spoke, we were... I-I don't recall but don't tell me that I'm some pretender! I'll burn brighter than either of you and I'll prove that..."
  1168. >Her legs go out and she ends up dropping onto her stomach
  1169. >"I'll prove that..."
  1170. >She whimpers and starts a mournful wail
  1171. >"Mom... moooooooom... don't tell me..."
  1172. >You scoot over to her side, Jacky staying closer to you than her
  1173. >You hesitantly rest your hand on her head
  1174. "It's alright... Jacky's here. I'm here. Your friends are here."
  1175. >This only makes Sparks bawl louder
  1176. >After everything wound down, you find yourself in the kitchen
  1177. >You set out a little pillow and blanket bunker and the two of them end up surrounded by comfort
  1178. >Leaning away from the oven, you see the two of them laying right next to each other with each claiming her own pillow
  1179. >You really don't know how to act with this, so you don't
  1180. >This has got to be a huge thing for Jacky, and you really aren't one to stop people from having fun
  1181. >You're glad to see all of the horseplay
  1182. >And that little book is still undefended
  1183. >You return to the oven
  1184. >You made it out that you were going to make them both a big lunch but all it really amounts to is putting a kettle on and finding the right packets
  1185. >Apple cinnamon for Jacky
  1186. >Blueberry for Sparks?
  1187. >You haven't a clue what she'd like but maybe it'll work
  1188. >You've more or less been fiddling with your phone while you've put the kettle on a light simmer
  1189. >You don't really want to wake them up but you don't want to just go to your room and blow them off either
  1190. >Eventually you hear the faintest of whistle from the kettle and immediately take it off
  1191. >Picking the two widest containers you have, you empty the packets into their respective bowls and add the water
  1192. >You've always preferred chunky and it'll be easier for them to eat too
  1193. >After mixing them into delicious clumps of fiber, return to their fronts and set the bowls down
  1194. "Hey Jack. Spark. Y'guys hungry?"
  1195. >Jacky stirs first, a warm smile on her face
  1196. >"Mm? Yeah, yeah I am slept well."
  1197. >She frowns and shakes her head
  1198. >"I, uh, yeah. I am hungry, and I slept well."
  1199. >She looks at Spark, who's still sleeping
  1200. >She rears her head to headbutt her but I shake my head
  1201. >"Let her sleep. When she's hungry, she can eat."
  1202. >Jacky shrugs and dips her head into her bowl to eat
  1203. >You nudge the bowl closer to Spark's face
  1204. >You're tempted to eat it for yourself, but you don't want her to think anything bad
  1205. >Though the floor isn't all that comfy, you lay on the floor and put your head on Jacky's side of the bunker
  1206. "Glad she's back?"
  1207. >She loudly gulps and nods
  1208. >"Well of course."
  1209. "...think she can use magic?"
  1210. >No answer, just more eating
  1211. >Maybe it's a silly question to ask, but you can't help but wonder what if
  1212. >Her eyes didn't glow and light up out of nowhere
  1213. >After a few more audible gulps, you feel a large head land on yours
  1214. >"She's kinda angry, ain't she?"
  1215. "Seriously."
  1216. >"She's just like I remember..."
  1217. "Yeah... but you're different."
  1218. >"Because you've changed me."
  1219. "You're welcome."
  1220. >Jacky giggles
  1221. >"It was kinda scary, at the beginning... but it will be easier for her. She has us. And when we find Dashie, we'll all be together again."
  1222. "Will the bed really fit us all?"
  1223. >"Well if you have that other room, right?"
  1224. "Sure."
  1225. >"We can help get it all set up for her."
  1226. "That's fair."
  1227. >"Mmhmm."
  1228. >Jacky's head nuzzles against yours
  1229. >Her mane spills over your face, blocking your sight
  1230. "Hey Jack."
  1231. >"Mmhmm?"
  1232. "You think she likes movies?"
  1233.  
  1234. >It's been a day or two since Sparks graced your home
  1235. >She's been bickering with Jacky, and Jacky's been bickering with her over smaller things
  1236. >What music to listen to, what movies to watch, what to have for dinner and she doesn't seem nearly as happy as Jacky when you come home
  1237. >Honestly you like how lively it is
  1238. >The way they argue and fight over the smallest things remind you of how things were when you were younger
  1239. >"Let's go back to watching the other show!"
  1240. >"What, why?"
  1241. >"The guy could snap his hands and make fire! I used to be able to do that when I was focused!"
  1242. >"You ain't never done that!"
  1243. >"Yes I did!"
  1244. >"You ain't even got fingers, how the heck would you do that!"
  1245. >"Shut up before I cook you!"
  1246. >"You couldn't boil an egg if your horn depended on it!"
  1247. >They're at it again as you walk through the door
  1248. >"Anon, tell this nerd that alchemy is fake!"
  1249. >"It isn't! I've done it!"
  1250. >Slipping off your boots, you toss your coat over your door's corner and judge them with the height of a higher being
  1251. >One with superior taste
  1252. "Bounty hunters in space are obviously cooler than crippled alchemists"
  1253. >Jacky, laying on her side, guffaws
  1254. >"See, I told ya!"
  1255. >Sparks is sitting right next to the relaxed yellow pony, like a cat
  1256. >"Both of you suck..."
  1257. >She grumbles
  1258. >After her crying, she warmed up to the place
  1259. >From what you could ask from Jack in private, she used to be pretty close to her mom
  1260. >Idolized even, since she was the real deal when it came to magic
  1261. >You both agreed to wait before showing her the FiM episodes, on account of it being a little... much
  1262. >You practically fall onto the bed, both of the girls staring at Jack's laptop
  1263. >Evidently they're in the middle of watching anime but neither of them are so focused that they can't bicker in the middle of it
  1264. "How many episodes are you in?"
  1265. >"Well the first ones were boring so we skipped ahead."
  1266. >Sparks speaks up first
  1267. >She kinda looks like Twilight
  1268. >She sounds exactly like her, as Jacky sounds like Applejack
  1269. >Or rather, they just sound like their voice actresses
  1270. >But it's a bit harsher, like she has a bit of a chip on her shoulder about something
  1271. >"She seriously doesn't get the importance of narrative of theming..."
  1272. >The thespian once known as Jacky mutters to you, having always been disdainful of skipping ahead in things
  1273. >Or skipping cutscenes in any game
  1274. >It seems like they're watching an action-oriented episode
  1275. >The slightly messier cut of Spark's mane is plain to see, but it more looks like it's the result of rough housing with no after-action brush
  1276. >Jacky's has always looked more wild so nothing looks new
  1277. >It is a lot longer though
  1278. >You want to zone into the anime but you can't help but keep your attention on the two ponies on your bed
  1279. >Having Jacky was one thing, but with Sparks included?
  1280. >More so, hearing them talk back and forth like this?
  1281. >It kinda does your head in
  1282. >Sparks notices and looks at you with an eyebrow crooked
  1283. >"You staring at my horn?"
  1284. >You shrug
  1285. "Just getting used to you. You remind me of someone, and you even look pretty familiar. How do you like here compared to where you were before?"
  1286. >Sparks shifts herself to face Jacky, with you on one side and the laptop on the other
  1287. >For all of the rough housing and noise, she seems intent on sitting properly
  1288. >"My mom had a really awesome place... far bigger than here. But it's not like it's a dump."
  1289. "Thanks, I wanted to impress a unicorn with my impetuous style."
  1290. >"And his impregnable defenses."
  1291. >Jacky snickers with her comment
  1292. >"Well I'll give it a pass this time. I guess I'm not used to all of this techie stuff you got either. If I could just... focus, I could use all of those buttons far easier."
  1293. >Sparks grins
  1294. >"Watching Jacky fumble around with those clunky hooves was enough to give me a hernia."
  1295. >"You don't even know what a hernia is... and shut up anyway! As if you know what to look for..."
  1296. >Jacky lazily lifts up a leg to kick into Spark's general direction but it falls too quickly
  1297. "So... if you can get yourself to learn magic, what would you want to do about it?"
  1298. >Looking over the two, it's a bit obvious to you now just how scrawny Sparks looks
  1299. >Or maybe Jack is just more muscular
  1300. >In a raw fight or feat of strength, you know who you'd bet on
  1301. >"Well... I'd wanna find mom, obviously. And I guess I'd find a good place and zap me up a home."
  1302. "And then what?"
  1303. >"What do you mean, 'and then what'?"
  1304. >"He means, what are you gonna do with your life? We're not in our own world, Sparky. Humans like Anon are the ones who run the show, and they're kinda... like our alien overlords. And I, for one, welcome that."
  1305. >Sparks pretends to gag with a knowing expression on her face
  1306. >"Yeah, you really bend over for him don't you... I see how you guys sleep."
  1307. >You feel your face get warm while Jack looks back at you with a smile
  1308. >"That's right, you do. And I'm quite alright with that."
  1309. >Though you and Jacky have your own method, Spark's decided her default spot should be the corner section of your bed, opposite to your head
  1310. >You aren't against it, obviously, but you feel like she should have something more
  1311. >You've offered an extra pillow or blanket but she hasn't been interested
  1312. "She's right, you know. I really don't know how much you can get away with on your own. We don't have anything made to work with ponies. The laptop and all that... well, that's just Jacky's pure skill. Now if you can magic up some... er, magic, I'm sure you can be pretty brutal when it comes to typing or playing games. But there's no rush to that, you know?"
  1313. >You don't really want to shatter her hopes but for all you know, fuck it, maybe it is possible
  1314. >But if it is, you want an extinguisher handy
  1315. >"I guess... would it be a problem for you guys if I stay, anyway? I know I'm not part of your... thing. And I kinda don't want to be part of that sort of thing too."
  1316. >You can't help but feel a bit of disgust grow in your stomach
  1317. >It's something visceral, enough to make you frown
  1318. >Jacky looks more surprised by the implication
  1319. >"Excuse me, but why would I share Anon?"
  1320. "I mirror that sentiment, except with Jackenstein."
  1321. >Sparks just shrugged
  1322. >"Well, I don't want to cramp your guys' style. I just gotta stay here until I get my magic back, and then I can still visit and all that. I'll just also be able to get back to doing what I want to do."
  1323. "Sure... but you guys are friends, right? What's wrong with living with a friend?"
  1324. >Sparks shifts again, showing signs of obvious discomfort
  1325. >"That's asking a lot. She can sleep with you and make worth you keeping her around worth it."
  1326. >That further implication causes a special kind of caustic bile to rise in your throat
  1327. "Now you hold it, it ain't like that."
  1328. >Sparks exhales like she was holding back
  1329. >"Oh please, if it wasn't, then what possible reason could you have to have such weak things like us around?"
  1330. "Because... I wanted Jacky to be my friend. I still do want her to be my friend. She may be more than a mere friend, but that doesn't change how I feel about her. You're her friend, still, hopefully, and I want to be your friend too."
  1331. >Jacky gets up, only to shift and lay the opposite side
  1332. >With her head against you
  1333. "I don't know what all she told you, but living alone, on your own, away from your friends and family... it can take a toll on you. It can leave you feeling alienated from what you're used to. You find yourself questioning if you're even a part of your friends' lives anymore. Or if you even have friends anymore. Or if they've moved on. Or cut you out of the group. Or anything else."
  1334. >Sparks shifts again
  1335. >Some of what you've said has had an effect on her since she avoids eyecontact
  1336. "There is no... end goal here. I'm here. She's here. You're here. If we all hang together, I think we'll all be far happier."
  1337. >You still occasionally get small worries that Jacky may be interested in leaving
  1338. >Or worries that she may lose interest in you
  1339. >It has, after all, only been a few months and you've had worse happen after longer
  1340. >But you try to be more positive about it
  1341. >You've also had no reason to continue thinking that, outside of what you could admit is just irrational fear
  1342. "There isn't some scheme or ulterior motive or... whatever it is you implied. But due to Jacky's detective work, we found you. And we wanna find Dashie too."
  1343. >Sparks gives an exasperated sigh
  1344. >"Oh come on, that layabout? She's useless! I can at least use magic."
  1345. >"Alright, let's see a fireball Sparky."
  1346. >Jacky gives Sparks the worst smug face possible
  1347. >"Hey. Buck you."
  1348. >You couldn't help but snort at just how serious she sounded
  1349. "It's not about being useful. It's about... I guess being happy. Just something to chew on, yeah?"
  1350. >Though you don't get a reply, you do get a nod
  1351. >At this point, the anime episode had long since ended
  1352. >No one really seems all too keen on starting something up
  1353. "How about I look into some sort of vitamins or something you can take, yeah? If you need more reset your body or meditate more, I'd be pretty keen on seeing what you can do."
  1354. >Jacky looks at you
  1355. >"Really, Anon?"
  1356. >Sparks looks at you too, in disbelief
  1357. "Well sure. You got your skills, Jack. I wanna see what Sparkplug can do. If she can re-focus her magic and learn how to do more stuff, she'd be able to play games and that would be cool to see. The more you guys can do on your own, the less... I guess you feel helpless."
  1358. >Sparks scoffs
  1359. >"Or useless."
  1360. "That too."
  1361. >Jack nods
  1362. >"Yeah... I guess that makes sense. Ma may be all full of get-up-and-go, but... I kinda like being lazy, you know? A lot of stuff you got here is far beyond anything we've ever seen. I'd rather watch a movie of an adventure than go out on one... they're kinda scary."
  1363. "I'll second that."
  1364. >Though your biggest outing turned out well, there's still a bit of unease between you two when it comes to making sure no one just busts down the door and goes ham
  1365. >Sparks shakes her head
  1366. >"Well I'm not useless."
  1367. "We know, and right now you don't gotta do anything but get better. Spending time in that box must've--"
  1368. >Sparks growls
  1369. >"Don't talk about that. And get rid of that stupid thing, anyway. Don't you dare think about putting me back into it."
  1370. >You can feel Jacky press her head against you
  1371. >She had the same apprehension
  1372. "Tomorrow morning when I head off to work, I'll toss it and you'll never see it again, alright?"
  1373. >"Good."
  1374. >Talking with her feels awkward because you can't really be that friendly just yet, so banter is off the table
  1375. >You can't imagine what's in her head or how she's taking all of it either
  1376. >But hopefully tomorrow will be better
  1377. >You also gotta be more careful in the mornings if you can't tell if she is or isn't watching or listening...
  1378. >Saturday nights are always a comfy one
  1379. >You and Jacky had plans of getting into one of the comfiest games you recently bought
  1380. >It involves a whole lot of walking around with a few hundred pounds of random shit on your back
  1381. >With some other weird elements
  1382. >While you and Jacky enjoyed the experience, Sparks instead read from her little book
  1383. >You wanted to sneak a peak at it but whenever you got the urge, you felt something jolt up your spine
  1384. >Maybe it's best to not and say you didn't
  1385. >After a few hours of finding a bike and buzzing around, Jack's out cold
  1386. >A patented Jack Nap, going by how she went from laying on her stomach, to laying on her side and snoozing, to laying on her back and mumbling in her sleep with her legs splayed out
  1387. >She takes up a very big chunk of the bed up when she does this
  1388. >After a while of playing further, you realize you've run on empty for your water bottle
  1389. >Deciding that if the protagonist always has some energy drink on hand, you may as well refill too
  1390. >You ease out of the bed without disturbing the yellow pony and tiptoe across the multitude of wires that connect all of the controllers, laptops, and whatever else you have
  1391. >Once in the kitchen, you stretch and feel your shoulders pop
  1392. >Thinking about all of that weight on your back would be murderous
  1393. >Though it isn't all that far removed from what you used to do
  1394. >You still surprise yourself at times of what you've been able to do, though sometimes it has led to injuries
  1395. >You're surprised at a lot of what you've done with your life, looking back on it without giving yourself shit for the failures and half-assed successes
  1396. >"Thinking hard, aren't we?"
  1397. >You jump a little at the voice and look at the source
  1398. >It's Sparks
  1399. >She's mellowed out the last few days, since you've been giving her a lot of vitamins and those fish oil pills
  1400. >She basically looked online for things with Jacky's help and sent you out
  1401. "Yeah... I guess so. Would you believe I used to be a box jockey like Sam?"
  1402. >She snorts
  1403. >"That explains a lot, doesn't it?"
  1404. >You frown at her
  1405. "What, that I don't like a camera pointing at my crotch, no matter how funny it may always be?"
  1406. >"No, that you look like you're being held down by something heavy."
  1407. >You wanted to laugh but she wasn't exactly wrong
  1408. "Yeah well... you're perceptive, aren't you. How're those gummies and stuff working out for you?"
  1409. >You made fun of her for getting most of the vitamins in gummy form, but you also got some for yourself for kicks
  1410. >Even Jacky joined in, though it's not like she ever had any issues to call for them
  1411. >"Wanna see a neat trick?"
  1412. "Eh?"
  1413. >You don't look at her as you open the fridge, taking out your filtered pitcher and a bottle of cranberry juice
  1414. >"I know what you dreamed of last night."
  1415. >You laugh and nod
  1416. "Alright, you got me. That is a good one."
  1417. >"And when you first woke up, you were wondering why your dog was gone."
  1418. >That wasn't nearly as funny
  1419. >You pour the juice with practiced precision before setting it to the side
  1420. >You sigh
  1421. "You telling me you can read my mind now or something?"
  1422. >Sparks stares at you with focused pink, almost red eyes
  1423. >"I'm saying that I know things. Things Jack doesn't know about."
  1424. >Well that sounds ominous
  1425. >You fill the rest of your container with water and leave the juice and water on the counter
  1426. "Yeah... guess it's about time that I suppose I have a talk with you about some things, huh?"
  1427. >"I guess it is. Patio?"
  1428. "Sure."
  1429. >You take your container and go over to the wide set of double glass doors
  1430. >You shoveled and swept the snow off, but the seats are still a tiny bit less than ideal but it's not like your sweat pants are made for anything but lazy lounging
  1431. >You open them and step out into the chilly air and take a seat
  1432. >Sparks jumps what you have to step over and bounds onto a chair
  1433. "So... where do we start?"
  1434. >You close the screen door, more just to stop anything from coming in or going out
  1435. >As if anything was out there that could move around in all of that snow
  1436. >"When are you going to tell Jacky the truth?"
  1437. >You laugh
  1438. >A bit of a less than thrilled laugh
  1439. "About?"
  1440. >"That you don't have any intentions of moving back down south."
  1441. "Did I tell her that we were going down there?"
  1442. >"No, but she's talked to me a lot and she sees it as an adventure."
  1443. "Well yeah, I'd like to take a roadtrip with her one of these days to just see things. A lot of westerns have that feeling of freedom, you know? And I'd like to do that too."
  1444. >"When will you do it?"
  1445. "I don't know. Whenever I have the vacation timed up. Maybe plan it around a holiday so I can get an extra day. Is this what's got your horn tied up?"
  1446. >"What about your friends?"
  1447. >You shrug
  1448. "What about them?"
  1449. >"You were talking about going out with them and her, and doing all sorts of things. A lot of cider and games."
  1450. >It's kinda eerie how monotone she is
  1451. >Almost like she's testing you for something
  1452. "Y... yeah. Lot of good types of ciders. But alright, I am worried that they may not let me buy for a talking pony, and I know the arcade cabinets won't be big enough for her."
  1453. >Unphased by your answers, she keeps going
  1454. >"When's the last time you even spoke to your friends? They don't know anything about her."
  1455. "They don't know about a lot of things..."
  1456. >You feel your stomach drop but you're used to this feeling
  1457. >This feeling of your head floating, that staring ahead into the trees is just an illusion
  1458. >"How long has it been, Anon?"
  1459. >You glance at her and put up a lame smile
  1460. "So maybe it's been a few years. What's that between friends who've always been into that one-for-all shit?"
  1461. >Her blank expression doesn't do much to show you she's buying it
  1462. "Yeah, maybe it's been a long time. But I'm sure they're busy too."
  1463. >"Busier than you?"
  1464. "Well no, probably not. No."
  1465. >Neither of you speak for a bit
  1466. >The cold, fresh air is as bitter as the undertone in your words
  1467. >Sparks doesn't even seem to shiver
  1468. "...so has Jacky been looking forward to seeing the company I used to keep around?"
  1469. >"Very. She's been excited to be more social ever since I came here from what she told me. She was worried that you may end up as one of those types that work and sleep."
  1470. >You clear your throat
  1471. >For some reason it's that sentiment that makes a crack on your shell
  1472. "Yeah... well we all gotta sacrifice sometimes, right?"
  1473. >"Some more than others, evidently."
  1474. "Alright well... maybe I don't have the friends to introduce her to. But I can show her pictures."
  1475. >"You have pictures of your friends?"
  1476. "Well yeah, obviously. Not many since we didn't always have photo opportunities. But yeah, I got one."
  1477. >"Are you included in on it?"
  1478. "Of course not. When I don't want to feel alone, I don't go looking for my ugly mug. I want to see their faces."
  1479. >You clear your throat again
  1480. >You feel something slide down from your eye, to your nose, and drip off
  1481. "So... what, are you gonna grill me on that sort of thing? It's technically a personal matter you know. She has enough to worry about without that sort of thing."
  1482. >Sparks finally lets out a laugh
  1483. >As bitter as your tone
  1484. >"And what does she have to worry about, what to eat for dinner, or how to drape herself around you for max coverage? Why not tell her that?"
  1485. >You shrug, holding up your bottle
  1486. "Because... it's embarrassing. What kind of guy loses his friends, when he's known them all his life? Literally?"
  1487. >Your voice remains steadfast but another drop falls from your noise
  1488. "You and Jack... she doesn't remember a whole ton but she sure as hell remembers you. And you definitely remember her and more, by the sounds of it. And then you got Dashie out there, somewhere. All of these shows and games and shit always focus on getting and keeping friends, never about losing them. Whenever that happens, it's always some temporary spat, like a rivalry."
  1489. >You motion around with your bottle as you speak
  1490. >When you finish, you set it down on the snowy ground
  1491. >You didn't go out wearing any shoes but the cold is as numb to you as your heart on the matter
  1492. >Or so you want to believe
  1493. >"But it isn't a little spat is it."
  1494. "Probably..."
  1495. >You clear your throat again
  1496. >That's becoming a habit now, if only to force the words out of your mouth
  1497. "...not. Probably not, no. But this isn't the first time we've had arguments or disagreements or outright fights. Why should this be any different?"
  1498. >"Well you're a world away."
  1499. "And that's stopped people before?"
  1500. >"Well I can see it won't stop you. But I don't think you're the one who would keep things divided."
  1501. "Yeah. Maybe."
  1502. >You look at Sparks again, trying to ignore the muddled sections of your vision that wash away details and leave blurred colors
  1503. >She looks sad
  1504. "What, regretting asking me now?"
  1505. >You force a short laugh
  1506. >Despite it all, it's not like you've broken down
  1507. >You wouldn't let yourself be that pathetic
  1508. >Again, anyway
  1509. >"I don't think I could be like you, Anon... that look hurts."
  1510. >She looks away this time
  1511. "Oh come on, like this is anything. I always look this way, if that fish oil has helped your memory."
  1512. >She doesn't respond
  1513. >You keep on the offensive
  1514. "Don't be so serious... don't be so seeeerioooous..."
  1515. >You chant that tune that started at the beginning of your game
  1516. >You laugh again
  1517. >A bit more genuine this time
  1518. "Maybe it'll get better... maybe it won't. But I've handled worse, right?
  1519. >Still no reply
  1520. "Come on, you wanted to ask the hard stuff, right? What else you got?"
  1521. >Sparks sighs
  1522. >"...you really like Jacky, don't you?"
  1523. "Yeah, I do."
  1524. >"Did you expect to?"
  1525. "As much as I do? Not really. I thought we'd do more gardening and plant work."
  1526. >Most of the plants in your apartment are still alive and well, maybe one or two need new soil but that's hardly anything that would take longer than an hour at most
  1527. >"...so what's she going on about her mom, anyway? She never really... had a mom that was around."
  1528. "Is that so? Well... uh... there's a pony that really looks like her. On a show. There's one that looks like you too."
  1529. >"Wait, what?"
  1530. >She went from monotone to surprised
  1531. >It almost seemed like she was only monotone when she was staring at you
  1532. >Weird interrogation tech but alright
  1533. "Yeah. We were kinda gonna show you the show later, once you got all settled in. What'd you do to find out about that stuff, anyway?"
  1534. >Sparks chuckled, swaying a little in the chair
  1535. >"Magic's coming back~ I could kinda... grab your dreams. I saw them. I didn't think I could do that."
  1536. >You can't help but feel a chill go over your body
  1537. "Yeah, that's fucking spooky."
  1538. >"That's nothing. Wanna see something else?"
  1539. "Do I wanna know?"
  1540. >Before you know what's what, your water-juice bottle is floating in front of your face
  1541. >You do not move a single muscle
  1542. >You can't even find yourself finding a witty one liner to say
  1543. >"Take it already, it's kinda heavy."
  1544. >Almost by reflex, you grab it with both hands
  1545. "That... is really cool. And really fucking spooky."
  1546. >"Thanks. I didn't think that stuff would do the trick."
  1547. "Or maybe you're just still getting used to being up and about?"
  1548. >"Could be either."
  1549. "...gonna tell Jacky all of this?"
  1550. >"Why would I? She's over there?"
  1551. "What?"
  1552. >You turn to the screen door and see Jacky sitting right in front of it
  1553. "...oh. Hey there Cracker Jack. Cat's out of the bag, huh?"
  1554. >She looks like she's been crying
  1555. >You slide open the screen door
  1556. >Jack drags herself over it, not seeming to have the energy to jump over
  1557. >She stops and sits in front of you, between your legs
  1558. >None of you speak
  1559. >The third floor view is really nice
  1560. "Don't be so serious..."
  1561. >"Don't be so serious..."
  1562. >Jacky joins in
  1563. >Smiling, you look over at Sparks
  1564. >She looks at you... then at Jacky
  1565. >"You freaking...."
  1566. >She huffs
  1567. >"Don't be so serious."
  1568. >Who else but friends would do something so lame, anyway?
  1569. >Sunday came and went
  1570. >After last night's events, you and your two ponies unwinded through music and goofy videos
  1571. >You were more than fine with acting normal, though Jacky was far more close to you than normal and Sparks kept watching you as if she were expecting something to break down
  1572. >You bring out the booze after an hour of goofing around
  1573. >Sparks gets knocked out after a gulp or two while you and Jack finish off the last third of the bottle
  1574. >You woke up with Jack's mane on your face and her legs hooked over your body
  1575. >Alcohol must affect unicorns differently because while you and your gal were fine, she spent all day grumbling with a blanket over her head
  1576. >Or maybe she was just a lightweight
  1577. >With dear Sparky claiming the bed to recover in, you and Jack take to the living room
  1578. >It's not nearly as well wired up but taking a laptop and a few of the pillows and unclaimed blankets made for a nice temporary chill area
  1579. >You have a very mellow, comfy tune going on
  1580. >You and Jack lay together, on your backs with the patio screen door right behind
  1581. >"Hey Anon."
  1582. "Hey Jack."
  1583. >"I'm sorry."
  1584. "What for?"
  1585. >"I should've asked more questions about your friends and stuff... I think. I didn't know you had stuff like that to worry about."
  1586. "Nah, don't apologize. I haven't said anything about it because... well, there's nothing that could've been done about it. I didn't want to worry you."
  1587. >"Well that makes sense, but what if you told me and I could've... helped or something?"
  1588. "Well you're with me now. You give me more than a spring in my step and you're really more than I deserve."
  1589. >You hear some awkward "hur hur"s
  1590. >"In zat case... maybe... some kees-kees iz in order, non?"
  1591. >Jacky switches to her French accent and makes kissing noises
  1592. >You laugh but... lack the energy to utterly jump on her and demolish, wreck, and explode
  1593. "Oh trust me, I want to. But, thinking on it... I kinda just lack the energy right now."
  1594. >"Oh... you are le tired... le tired...such a cruel fate!"
  1595. >She gets up, only to drape herself across your stomach and put one of her front legs over her face
  1596. >She gives a pitiful, fake sob until she gives a fake death rattle
  1597. "Aw crap..."
  1598. >You raise your hands in the air and rest them on her chest
  1599. "Vivify!"
  1600. >...
  1601. >Nothing happens
  1602. "Aw crap, you're gonna drain all of my MP aren't you."
  1603. >You bring your hands up and clap them together
  1604. >You rub them together for a minute and slap them back down on her
  1605. >You can tell that surprised her because you hear her go 'oof'
  1606. "Clear!"
  1607. >You give a loud "BZZZT" and she jolts upright, front legs extended
  1608. >"I LIVE. AGAIN!"
  1609. >Due to sheer momentum, she ends up on her back legs, walking a few steps forward like a ponified Frankenstein
  1610. "They all doubted me. They all called me mad!"
  1611. >The Frankenjack slowly steps back and forth, awkwardly trying to rotate without falling over until she's facing you
  1612. >"FOOOOD!"
  1613. >You let out the manliest girly scream you could muster as she falls onto you
  1614. "My God, will man never learn from their fatal folly?!"
  1615. >You gargle your last breath while she gnaws on your shoulder
  1616. >You are wearing a shirt so it's not like she's getting the best taste
  1617. >You lay there while she keeps gnawing
  1618. "...Psst. Hey Frankenjack."
  1619. >She stops to look at the face of a talking dead man
  1620. >"Grr?"
  1621. "You're goofy."
  1622. >For some reason that's what gets her to burst out laughing
  1623. >She sits on her hind end, watching how you've barely moved at all during all of the struggle
  1624. >"It's ok to tell me stuff, you know. I know I can't do that spooky magic mind melding that Sparks can but you know I'm here."
  1625. "I know... it was just embarrassing to me. I'm ok with it being a laughingstock or a loser. But when something just... cuts to the bone, that's where I feel like I gotta try to save face."
  1626. >"That's true... I get you on that."
  1627. "Do you?"
  1628. >You hear a little huff
  1629. >"Yeah. I think I snuck up when I heard but Sparks said that I didn't know my ma very well. That's true. I only just barely remember a mare that kinda acted like my mom. Sparky's mom is a really powerful unicorn, but not really famous. I'm kinda... well, I had schemes and stuff. Pranks, too. Just stuff that was really fun."
  1630. >She sounds like she's trying to convince herself
  1631. >"Dashie's known me a bit longer than Sparks, but we never did anything together. Just read books and talked about getting rich or finding a really hot stallion to... uh..."
  1632. >She sputters out and tries to stop herself
  1633. >"W-well, uh, I mean, I kinda found one by now..."
  1634. "...do I wanna know where that thought is leading?"
  1635. >"Nowhere! It leads nowhere."
  1636. >Her tone turns cautious
  1637. >"I just thought, at the time, that we were both lazy and worth only half a pony. So... we'd team up on everything, including that."
  1638. >You chortle with a 'ho ho'
  1639. "Well that's a thing, isn't it."
  1640. >"W-well we never went through with it! I just thought, at the time, I could only find someone if I had a little extra... something to make me more valuable."
  1641. >You snake your arm out and yank her into your chest
  1642. "I'd say you're more than three handfuls of fine."
  1643. >You finally look away from the patio glass door to look at Jacky
  1644. >She looks embarrassed to no end
  1645. "I like you for you. Just as you hopefully like me for me."
  1646. >You clear your throat
  1647. "And... whenever we find Dash, we're just gonna have to explain to her... that you're no longer a random, scrappy pony looking to make it big from some scheme. Right?"
  1648. >With how she is now, it's hard to believe that she was some petty mastermind
  1649. >It was hard to imagine any sort of pony character that had such an aimless life
  1650. >Jacky squirms under your arm
  1651. >"Yeah... but, for reference, when that happens, don't tell her I said that."
  1652. "Sure, yeah. So... were you the brains and she was the brawn? How did that exactly go?"
  1653. >Jacky grins
  1654. >"More like I was the wet work master and she was the perfect damsel! Picking pockets or breaking into a bakery, you name it. She would be the poor, sad-eyed filly that was so weak she couldn't even fly... and I'd sneak in, all snake-like, and make off with the dough!"
  1655. "Like... actual... bread dough...?"
  1656. >No answer for a few beats
  1657. >"W-well... yeah..."
  1658. "Did you... know how to cook it?"
  1659. >You look at Jacky
  1660. >She does her best to avoid your eyes
  1661. >"Well... I mean, not just anyone can take dough and make bread with it."
  1662. "...really, Jack."
  1663. >She headbutts your chin
  1664. >"H-hey, knock it off! It tasted perfectly fine!"
  1665. >You just barely succeed in stifling any condescending laugh
  1666. "Alright, alright... so did Sparks join in during all of that?"
  1667. >"Well... no. That was way, waaaay before. When she joined in, we definitely got... uh..."
  1668. "Smarter?"
  1669. >"Shut it!"
  1670. >She headbutts you again
  1671. >Not enough to knock you out but that one did have some real silencing force to it
  1672. >"She kinda gave us more ambition because we had real skill and power there now. Before it was just two random city ponies slinking around. But then you had the daughter of a really strong unicorn and it was like we were able to do so much more."
  1673. >Your arm loosens on her, petting her from shoulder to flank
  1674. "Yeah, I can imagine. What are some capers you guys got away with at that point?"
  1675. >"Well... we still stole food. We stole a lot of small stuff. You know, uh... what's his face?"
  1676. "Who?"
  1677. >"The guy who screams and climbs all kinds of stuff?"
  1678. "Nathan Drake."
  1679. >"That's the one."
  1680. >You both share a laugh
  1681. >"We kinda did stuff like him. Where everyone would have their own skills and places. Dashie was the pretty face and wings, Sparky was the technical one."
  1682. "And then we had our daring Jacky: slugger, drinker, and pointmare extraordinaire."
  1683. >She giggles at your serious tone
  1684. >"Yeah, you had me. We got away with a lot less big things. But we never really lost either."
  1685.  
  1686. "That's... a lot of stuff to remember. Didn't you say you didn't remember much before?"
  1687. >The yellow pony thief nods
  1688. >"Yeah. Talking with Sparky really reminded me of a lot of things. And then we talked about a lot of old things. She remembers them far better than I do, especially stuff that happened before you."
  1689. "So... what is Dashie like?"
  1690. >Jack sighs
  1691. >"A real prima donna. Pretty though. Not good at running or flying, and she'd freak out about walking on dirt and gravel for fear of breaking a hoof."
  1692. "Why's her name Dashie?"
  1693. >"Well it's like... I guess calling really strong a wimp, or someone giant tiny. Early, when it was just her and I, we got caught. I hauled the hay out of there and she just... sauntered off. She didn't get caught I guess, since I was the real suspect. I've never seen her run for nothing. So I called her that."
  1694. >You let out a prolonged 'huh'
  1695. "So... what's her real name?"
  1696. >Jack inhales
  1697. >She exhales
  1698. >"Iiiiiii don't..... know?"
  1699. "You don't know."
  1700. >"Well dang it, Anon, we known each other for so long I know her more by that name than any other!"
  1701. >You nod at her
  1702. "No, no that's fair. One of my friends, I've called him a nickname for so long since we were kids. It has no meaning since the context of the name was from way back when. But the nickname stuck."
  1703. >"So... your turn now. Tell me about your friends."
  1704. >For the first time, you feel uncomfortable with her
  1705. "I'd... rather not."
  1706. >"Why not? I bet you know them well enough, better than I know either of those two mare ner-do-wells."
  1707. "I probably do... but that's why I can't. Gets me thinking about them."
  1708. >You return your gaze to the seemingly upside down patio glass door
  1709. >"Well that don't make sense. You didn't just drop off the map to them, did you?"
  1710. "Of course not. I left messages, I left calls and texts and all that."
  1711. >"Did they answer them?"
  1712. "Well yeah. At first."
  1713. >Jacky sounds apprehensive
  1714. >She definitely doesn't have the stoic nature to ask the harder questions
  1715. >"Did... they stop?"
  1716. "Pretty much."
  1717. >"...oh."
  1718. >She doesn't have anything else to say to that, evidently
  1719. >Not that you particularly want to delve too deeply into it
  1720. >"...so did you guys ever go on any capers like I did?"
  1721. >You scoff
  1722. "Like what, stealing stuff?"
  1723. >"Yeah!"
  1724. "Well... no. We were all very responsible socially-stunted nerds. But I suppose one got caught stealing from a store."
  1725. >"That's the stuff, was it some sort of really fancy thing?"
  1726. >You laugh and shake your head
  1727. "No, it was fucking playing cards. Even when it came to any attempted crime, it was something nerdy."
  1728. >"Wow... that's kinda..."
  1729. "Lame?"
  1730. >"W-well no, if they were rare or..."
  1731. "They weren't."
  1732. >"O... oh... hm..."
  1733. >She audibly struggles to say something as a reply but it seems like she didn't expect something so petty
  1734. "But... I will say that I've made some really good hauls. Some of them happened when you were here and I bet you didn't even notice."
  1735. >"Wait, what?!"
  1736. >You struggle to keep your cool when she pounces onto your chest
  1737. >"What'd you nab?! When?! How!"
  1738. >You reach up to take hold of her, if only to stop her from dancing on your ribcage
  1739. "Chill, chill, it's nothing so extreme... but it is thanks to the internet."
  1740. >Jacky freezes
  1741. >"...was it a lot?"
  1742. "Oh you better believe it, butterbun."
  1743. >You finally look from the glass door to her
  1744. >She looks to be in complete awe
  1745. >"...Teach me."
  1746. "On one condition."
  1747. >"Name it!"
  1748. "Call me 'Captain', me hearty. We're gonna sail the seven seas of the interweb."
  1749.  
  1750. >It's been a short week for you
  1751. >Work buzzed along as well as could be expected, and whatever you did in your free time, you did it with Jacky
  1752. >Which meant spending entire evenings on the same game with hardly any breaks outside of dinner, small restroom breaks and route debriefing.
  1753. >While Jacky was your cartographer, cargo tracker, and lore mistress, Sparks was... less than impressed
  1754. >While the setting was truly magical to you and her, the unicorn capable of real life, genuine magic saw it as parlor tricks
  1755. >But she was interested too
  1756. >You stopped into your private room in-game, going through the usual motions of preparation before going out again
  1757. >"Hey, Anon. Lemme play a bit."
  1758. >Sparks finally mustered the courage to speak up
  1759. >"You forgot to pick up that stuff at the ravine, I can get it for you."
  1760. >You turn your head to her and shrug
  1761. "Nah, it'll be fine, I already maxed out the level for that guy."
  1762. >"No, really, I insist."
  1763. >"It's a waste of time to do it, and we still got that mountain to climb."
  1764. >Jacky, laying on her back to your right, has had her eyes glued to the screen the entire time
  1765. >Somehow she's able to keep track of your directions like that
  1766. >"Oh you be quiet, you can't even play it!"
  1767. >"I could do better than you, dorkicorn."
  1768. >"You want to be horse burger?!"
  1769. >Doing your best to avoid laughing, you remind yourself as the mediator and keeper of the mystical plastic console controllers
  1770. "Hey now... Sparks does bring up a good point. Maybe this would be a new way for her to get more used to using her magic? Kinda like how you can train your physical reflexes, maybe this would be a mental work out that would leave with nothing broken or burnt."
  1771. >Maybe
  1772. >Sparks juts her chest out and sticks her head up high
  1773. >"I'm glad Anon has a brain."
  1774. >Jacky rolls to the side, facing away from you two with the intent of snapping back but you speak up before she can orient herself
  1775. "But... you're gonna have to fight me for it. You're here all day, it's not my fault you don't play when you have the chance."
  1776. >Sparks sputters and looks at you like you're crazy
  1777. >"You want to... fight for the ability... to play a video game."
  1778. "You're damn skippy I do."
  1779. >Jacky finally got up, having spent too much of the day stationary or napping
  1780. >"Wait, hold on now! I can be an assist, right?"
  1781. >At the same moment, you and Sparks answer at the same time
  1782. >"No, cheater!"
  1783. "Sure, bring it."
  1784. >A look of growing frustration from such grand injustice spreads on the hot pink pony's face
  1785. >"You two sicken me."
  1786. >You give your best evil laugh, raising your arms to the sky
  1787. >Jacky joins in, cackling away
  1788. >There's no thunderclap or evil organ music but you give it your best
  1789. >Jacky keeps cackling, trying to sound like an old witch but she stops a little too soon
  1790. >She looks at Sparks, who stares at you with a squinting gaze of pure disbelief
  1791. >Your laughing turns maniacal, to the point that you sound like Brad Dourif
  1792. >After an entire minute, your arms finally lower back down to your side
  1793. >Jacky looks amazed
  1794. >Sparks looks at you like you're a moron
  1795. >"That... must've taken practice."
  1796. >Jacky isn't too sure of what to do
  1797. "Kinda. You never know when a good laugh is required."
  1798. >"You know, I don't doubt that... is this related to being a pirate?"
  1799. "Kinda."
  1800. >You solemnly nod, content in such esoteric, sagely knowledge
  1801. >Jacky nods with you
  1802. >Sparks isn't sure what to say, but her face says it all
  1803. >"..you two are bucking idiots, you know that."
  1804. "You're just jealous your horn is poking you in the brain so you don't understand our humor."
  1805. >"How does that EVEN--"
  1806. "So, here's the thing."
  1807. >You close out of the game, making Sparks jump with a sudden 'hey!'
  1808. "I'm gonna set us up with a versus game. Two of three bouts. I win, you watch us collect hand-shaped crystals and we purposely make more box jokes."
  1809. >Jack nods while Sparks sighs
  1810. >"Ok... and when I win?"
  1811. "When, and if, you win, I can show you what we got to play and you can choose."
  1812. >The killjoy unicorn grins
  1813. >"And I get to play for the rest of the night, tomorrow, and the weekend without interruptions."
  1814. "If you think you can handle it, sure. But breaking controllers means you forfeit, so watch your magic."
  1815. >"Deal."
  1816. >You take a few minutes to swap in a disc on one of your older consoles
  1817. >Technically you could use an emulator for it but you have everything unlocked on the actual console
  1818. >You hold out a controller to her
  1819. "Take hold of it, or do... whatever you do."
  1820. >Her horn starts to glow bright candy red, as does the controller
  1821. >You hesitate but you eventually let go of it
  1822. >It's actually floating
  1823. "That's still really fucking spooky, but I'm glad you're getting a handle on it again."
  1824. >"Well yeah. Magic isn't new to me."
  1825. >Though she seems confident, her face goes stoic
  1826. >It probably does take some form of conscious concentration
  1827. >Jack goes between watching the TV and watching you
  1828. >No one but you has a clue of what the contest will be in
  1829. >"WELCOME TO THE NEW STAGE OF HISTORY!"
  1830. >"SOUL CALIBUR! THREE!"
  1831. >Neither pony expected the booming voice, but you were more than prepared
  1832. >Skipping through the menus, you go to the character select screen and immediately choose Nightmare
  1833. >Sparks only just now realizes what you've done
  1834. >"Wait, who do I choose?"
  1835. "Whoever looks cool I suppose. That's how I first got started."
  1836. >"What does it say about you that you chose a monster with a creepy sword?"
  1837. "It says I'm going to haunt your dreams and give you... Nightmares!"
  1838. >Neither of them notice that the character's name is indeed Nightmare
  1839. >"You're really getting in your fill of theatrics, huh."
  1840. "I haven't played multiplayer against anyone in a long time, you're gonna have to deal."
  1841. >After another sigh of defeat, Sparky focuses on the controller
  1842. >It takes a few seconds, but she's able to move around to look at the different characters
  1843. >Each fighter look so absurd in their own rights, wielding or wearing such unorthodox items
  1844. >She eventually settles on Maxi
  1845. >"By the power of his eyebrows, you're going down..."
  1846. >She growls at you, an edge growing in her voice
  1847. "Now you're talking... get ready for box jokes."
  1848. >You hit Random for the stage
  1849. >"VERSUS. MAXI."
  1850. >The narrator waxes poetic about fate, swords, and souls while both characters do their opening poses and statements
  1851. >"ROUND ONE. FIGHT."
  1852. >Maxi starts to immediately flail around
  1853. >Sparks has absolutely no context of what does what
  1854. >You look over to her concentrating
  1855. >"Give it up, Anon's a pro!"
  1856. >Sparks shoots Jacky a dirty look but looks back up to the screen
  1857. >You're well out of range of any random fumbling she has
  1858. >Until she manages to hit you with a surprise running slide!
  1859. "Ok, it's on."
  1860. >Though she's magically flailing with the buttons, the combos you memorize make the first round embarrassingly one-sided
  1861. >To add insult to injury, you continue to attack even after you've won
  1862. >"Hey, stop that! That's cheating!"
  1863. "Nope, I'm going to show you what my Nightmare looks like."
  1864. >"ROUND TWO. FIGHT."
  1865. >Sparks goes flailing again, but she starts to chain together attacks
  1866. >None of them are in range of you, but she's doing a maddening pace of controller inputs
  1867. >You can hear all of the clacking she's doing
  1868. >Despite that, you win again
  1869. >"ROUND THREE. FIGHT."
  1870. >You don't notice, but Spark's eyes begin to glow that murderous flavor of red when she wanted to fry you that first day
  1871. >She stops flailing
  1872. >The first attack you throw her way, she... parries it?
  1873. "Well, that's new. Finally figure it out then?"
  1874. >She side-steps your vertical attacks, steps back from your horizontal attacks, and keeps moving in erratic motions to bait out attacks
  1875. >Something isn't right
  1876. >It's like she knows what you're going to do next
  1877. >"Whatever you're thinking, you can't surprise me... I didn't know you knew how to play as Maxi. Now we're equal, aren't we."
  1878. >Jacky stares at Sparks, her jaw dropping
  1879. >"A-Anon, she's reading your mind again!"
  1880. "I think I figured that out!"
  1881. >As you know Maxi, you play him as a complete maniac, knowing which ways to keep attacks going from high and low
  1882. >You were caught off guard to the point of losing
  1883. >"Looks like I'm a better you than you, huh."
  1884. >That smug sound in her voice is more painful than any loss
  1885. "You keep talking, I'll turn that horn into a toothpick..."
  1886. >"ROUND FOUR. FIGHT."
  1887. >You pull out all the stops for your Nightmare
  1888. >Doesn't help that he isn't even one of your top two characters
  1889. >Though it is close, you still end up losing from a throw of all things
  1890. >"Come on Anon, I know you can do it!"
  1891. >"FINAL ROUND. FIGHT."
  1892. >Two wins on each side
  1893. >This one will decide the bout
  1894. >You end up trying to focus too much on special moves and lose
  1895. >Sparks copies your evil laugh with her own variation
  1896. >Far more slower, deliberate, and condescending
  1897. >"I'm halfway there... if you surrender I'll go easy on you."
  1898. "Alright, you're going down."
  1899. >You go back to the character select screen and choose your top main
  1900. >Siegfried
  1901. >The hose of Soul Edge, and the original Nightmare
  1902. >Sparks sticks with Maxi
  1903. >While the fight is loading, something causes you to zone out
  1904. "I'm here now... I'm doing the best I can. Where are you now?"
  1905. >Sparks looks at you, puzzled
  1906. >Whatever is going on in your head, it's distracting her
  1907. >"What are you singing?"
  1908. "Did your dreams come true? Here we go!"
  1909. >"ROUND ONE. FIGHT."
  1910. "SPARKING!"
  1911. >You belt out the lyrics to Tekken 5's opening
  1912. >For some reason, it's the one thing that came to mind
  1913. >You focus on another character entirely, forcing the song to stick to your grey matter like glue
  1914. >While she's still using Maxi like you would, you don't know how to handle Siegfried
  1915. >And his stances, since you only know how fluid they are to change from one to another
  1916. >"Stop singing, that's cheating!"
  1917. "SPARKING!"
  1918. >You bark that out as your only retort
  1919. >Due to fresh combos and different moves, you win the first round
  1920. >"H-hey, that one didn't count!"
  1921. "SPA-KING!"
  1922. >That is still your only thought put into vocal format
  1923. >"ROUND TWO. FIGHT."
  1924. >"Break down!"
  1925. "Everything day by day!"
  1926. >"Freak out!"
  1927. "Anything step by step!"
  1928. >The match gets drawn out as the two of you seem to end up in sync of one another
  1929. >Attacks get countered, perfect guards are used to parry, throws are broken
  1930. "Break down!"
  1931. >"Make my story!"
  1932. "Get down!"
  1933. >"They call history!"
  1934. >Sparks has officially lost her cool, her horn, eyes, and controller glowing in a dire crimson
  1935. >Though it's close, she wins the round
  1936. >"I'm Sparking Shine and you're going down damn it!"
  1937. >"ROUND THREE. FIGHT."
  1938. >You fight for your life as best as you can, albeit with a rusty memory of your moves
  1939. >Thankfully your hands remember the way to go
  1940. >Despite your best efforts, you lose the round again
  1941. >Due to how Sparks is playing, it's almost like you're going up against a tool-assisted speedrun
  1942. >"SPARKING!"
  1943. >She roars out her name like a victory cry, causing her red aura to pulse
  1944. >"ROUND FOUR. FIGHT."
  1945. "You're a walking corpse! I'll extinguish that spark!"
  1946. >"SPARKING!"
  1947. >Neither of you can land a solid hit on one another
  1948. >Even through your dancing between stances, you're unable to land a hit through any sort of mix up you can go to
  1949. >She keeps on the pressure until she lands a hit
  1950. >And another
  1951. >And another
  1952. >And even another
  1953. >Before you know it, you're unable to keep up
  1954. >"PERFECT."
  1955. >She beat you again
  1956. >Not only that
  1957. >But she won both bouts
  1958. >And she got a flawless on you on the last round
  1959. >Just like that, the tension in the room exploded
  1960. "You lucky twat, I'll own that shit next time, just you wait."
  1961. >"You thought I'd lose to a human, you're even dumber than I thought! Play me again, I'll incinerate you!"
  1962. >"Holy hell, Sparks how did you do that?!"
  1963. "I'll shove that horn up your ass, try that again without cheating!"
  1964. >"Eat it, loser! What made you think I could lose against a commoner like you!?"
  1965. >"Do it again, I bet a day's worth of laptop use!"
  1966. >The three of you bicker all in a chorus of hype, salt, shock and awe
  1967. >You eventually do play more bouts, both going to the random select option for fighters
  1968. >Like a pair of old rivals, you constantly one up each other with each win, trash talking with the worst of the worst comments
  1969. >Jacky loses all sense of loyalty to either of you and cheers on whoever is winning, magnifying every shocking victory or defeat
  1970. >The energy in the apartment is enough to bake a turkey in
  1971. >By the end of it, it's been nearly two hours
  1972. >Spark's magic faded into a more of a hot pink like the hue of her body, while your wrists and fingers are feeling the strain
  1973. >Throughout the dozens of bouts, it comes down to a 21 wins to 21 wins
  1974. >You sigh and put down the controller
  1975. >Sparky closes her eyes, the controller dropping onto the mattress
  1976. "You fucking suck... you know that, right?"
  1977. >"Suck my horn, loser. A deal's a deal."
  1978. >Despite the vitriol, you are impressed beyond capacity for her
  1979. >Not only was she going off of what was in your head, but she was able to nearly master characters you never even touched, outside of the mandatory arcade mode run
  1980. >But she wasn't invincible either
  1981. >You lean back, shaking your head
  1982. "That... was some brutal action. Alright, I'll allow you to win this time. But next time I'm going to make you regret touching a controller with that freaky-deaky voodoo you do."
  1983. >Sparks yawns, her eyes bloodshot from focusing so much
  1984. >"I'm your better. Just get over it already and get ready for tomorrow when I play all I want."
  1985. "Yeah huh... I'll wrap the charging cord around your neck and hang you like some mistletoe."
  1986. >Even though your and her energy is completely spent, there's just no quenching the embers of what was once a gloriously competitive fire
  1987. >Jacky laughs and bellyflops onto you
  1988. >You wince and let out a pained whimper
  1989. >You were sitting in one place but you were so tensed up everywhere that any impact like that would hurt
  1990. >"You guys were awesome... that was crazy, I thought the controllers would explode!"
  1991. >Sparks yawns again, taking one wobbly step toward you before she falls over, her head landing on Jacky's side
  1992. >"Both of you... quiet. Your superior needs her sleep."
  1993. "Superior... pain in the ass."
  1994. >Wiped out, on a work night even, you throw back one last verbal bomb her way before you fade out
  1995. >The last thing you can make sense of is Jacky hugging both your side and Spark's head
  1996. >"I love you guys."
  1997. >With Sparks taking control of the TV and consoles for the weekend, you weren't sure what she'd play
  1998. >You'd expect her to stare at everything for hours and think of what would be best
  1999. >Or for her to be confused at the dozens of odd titles
  2000. >Instead, she settled on more Soul Calibur
  2001. >You could use a break, anyway
  2002. >Carrying a pair of plates of potatoes and chopped kielbasa, you sit down on the corner of your bed
  2003. >Sparks had been focusing on the TV since she woke up and just doesn't move outside of sudden jerky movements to her head and grumbling threats to whoever she's facing
  2004. >Jacky switched from cuddling up against you and watching Sparks play
  2005. >While you're used to a lot, watching a pony play a video game purely with magic is still a little hard to swallow
  2006. "Hey scissor sister, I got your grub."
  2007. >You even have a fork dug in, since she can make use of it
  2008. >You lean over and set it beside her
  2009. >You lay down from the lean and set the other plate in front of your stomach, near Jacky
  2010. >"And our plate. Don't know about you but I'm still mostly good from breakfast so I'll take whatever's left over."
  2011. >You've found yourself comparing the two ponies together
  2012. >Jacky's far more lax and happy to sleep the day away, and is far more filled out when it comes to weight and muscle
  2013. >You've never seen her have issues from jumping to the ground to your car seat, for a good example
  2014. >Sparks on the other hand just seems more physically fragile
  2015. >You haven't really ever pet her, but you can kinda see a faint outline of her ribs
  2016. >You're not sure if this is due to more personal differences or just because the different types would probably have different forms
  2017. >It wouldn't shock you if a psychic or something similar got really weak and frail due to using their mind for everything
  2018. >Magic was probably the same thing, right?
  2019. >Lost in thought, you feel Jacky poke her face into your chest
  2020. "What's up?"
  2021. >"I said you alright? You aren't that sore that Sparky beat you, are you?"
  2022. "Wha-sore? Me? Please. I'm more surprised at how she hasn't really stopped, or how she hasn't really reacted to anything we've done."
  2023. >Of course, you two did spend at least an hour doing a variety of things to try to distract her, to no avail
  2024. >From goofy to explicit to goading and even bribing with a brand spanking new container of shoe polish that could probably work with horns
  2025. >Absolutely nothing distracted her
  2026. >"She's really driven, huh..."
  2027. "Yeah she is. Far more than you are."
  2028. >Jacky gives an awkward laugh before nudging the mostly empty plate away to lean against you
  2029. >"Is that bad?"
  2030. "No, not at all. Hearing about what you guys had to deal with before... this has got to be far more comfortable and fulfilling than stealing food, right?"
  2031. >"For sure. I didn't want to grow up and be a princess or anything, and I certainly can't fill Ma's shoes when it comes to running an orchard, farm, ranch, and all kinds of stuff. Being here, being with you, that's far better than anything I could've imagined."
  2032. "So you don't mind?"
  2033. "Not at all! But I am... jealous. Watching Sparky and you go at it on the big screen without missing a beat was like magic. And if she scanned your mind to learn how to play just like that, who knows what else she learned? Anyone would be jealous of just having the ability and access to do that sort of thing. It doesn't cost her a thing to be like that."
  2034. >You lift your arm up, only to drop it around her
  2035. >You give her a tug with your arm as a hug
  2036. "Do you wish you were some dorky unicorn then?"
  2037. "Well... not really. If I weren't me, you wouldn't have met me, right? I can't do a lot of what you can do. But you don't really seem to mind it. And I don't really mind it."
  2038. >She doesn't sound sad, she just sounds like she's accepted that fact of life
  2039. "Well there's that controller I got you."
  2040. >You did get a more simplistic controller that has allowed her to play older games
  2041. >Game Boy Advance titles are definitely her favorite, but you haven't seen her play much
  2042. >"True. I guess I'd rather be support than on the front line, with games."
  2043. "Big bad dough thief turned soft?"
  2044. >She scoffs and yawns
  2045. >"Big bad dough liberator always wanted to be able to eat without stealing. But I don't think Sparks would feel the same. She's... ambitious. She never liked being lazy."
  2046. "It isn't a bad thing, just gotta figure out the best time to do it."
  2047. >Sparks had been playing on that custom character campaign mode for a while now
  2048. >She made a heavily armored female character covered from head to toe in bright, fiery pink
  2049. >She chose the heavy sword as her weapon of choice too
  2050. >Guess her horn could technically be a giant sword
  2051. >If it were a few feet longer at least
  2052. >Though she makes obvious mistakes, it seems like she's learning to play without piggybacking off of your memories and experiences
  2053. "So Jack... do you think she's happy?"
  2054. >It was bold, to ask that when she's right there
  2055. >But you kinda don't mind asking that either
  2056. >"I think so, not before Thursday. She would hate to just idly watch movies all day. She has to stick her hoof into someone's pie, or make her own and then move onto a third off somewhere in the distance. She kinda is like Twilight, in a way."
  2057. >"Right... like how you're Applejack, in a way."
  2058. >"That's right! You... do mean that as a compliment?"
  2059. "Sure did."
  2060. >"Thank you."
  2061. "What do you think both of you will do, once we find Dashie?"
  2062. >"Who knows? Maybe we'll live like a pair of house cats and enjoy luxury we didn't ever imagine possible while Sparks plays video games all day. That wouldn't be the worst, right?"
  2063. "It does sound enviable."
  2064. >"You could join us. Doesn't it get boring to work every day?"
  2065. "It can. But I get to come home to you, so that helps. And it kinda helps me improve things too. I do want to get better at what it is I do."
  2066. >"That sounds like that wouldn't be bad... how do I self improve?"
  2067. "Depends on what matters to you I suppose."
  2068. >Feeling the strongest weekend fatigue, you yawn and grab a pillow to put under your head
  2069. >You resume petting Jacky
  2070. "I want to get better for my sake and yours. The more I can accomplish, the more I can do for myself, and the more I can do for you. Even if you only ever ask for me and my attention..."
  2071. >You yawn again
  2072. "I want to get better at that too. Only in that way do I know that I'm giving you everything you deserve."
  2073. >You don't know why, but you always got romantic thoughts when tired
  2074. >She doesn't know how to react to your courageous words, except to nuzzle you all the harder
  2075. >"Don't go to sleep yet... it's only, uh... what time is it?"
  2076. "It's ten, Jack."
  2077. >"Yeah, it's only ten!"
  2078. "At night."
  2079. >"Y-yeah... uh... I knew that."
  2080. "I am a bit tired. But it means that until the second I doze off, I will have you in my mind, and your fur in my hands."
  2081. >You were petting her before but your hands have stopped to the point that they merely grasp her
  2082. >You yawn once more
  2083. "Tomorrow, I will do only more for you. For Sparks too, since she's our friend. We should seek to improve ourselves and each other so everyone is happier off."
  2084. >"Dang... that's some deep insight. How do I even get started on that?"
  2085. >You think you answered her but you can only hear yourself mumble something
  2086. >After a few minutes you grumble something
  2087. "Remember, Jacky Snacky. all for one, one for all. We're all in this together and we make a really good team."
  2088. >Everything blurs out as you lose consciousness
  2089. >Though the Soul Calibur announcer is as loud as ever
  2090. >"YOU WIN!"
  2091. >At least she's doing well
  2092. >Maybe she's in her own little world but still listening
  2093.  
  2094. >Winter is starting to end
  2095. >You, Sparks, and Jacky are on your patio, staring out into the treetops
  2096. >They're all barren, brown, and seemingly lifeless but at least most of the snow and ice is gone
  2097. >Who knew that winter wonderland could so easily turn into a muddy, brown wasteland?
  2098. >"It really don't look much better now, does it..."
  2099. >Jacky is sitting in your lap
  2100. >You've leaned back in your seat with your leg crossed, right ankle to your left knee, allowing her an entire lap to sit on and then some
  2101. "No... not really, no. But the birds are starting to come back."
  2102. >"Really?"
  2103. "Sure. Two crapped on my car yesterday, they gotta be around here somewhere."
  2104. >That gets a laugh out of her
  2105. >"So now that it's getting less cold, what's there to do out there?"
  2106. >Sparks, cleansed of her vidya-based bloodlust, has gone back to a more stoic mood
  2107. >Actually whenever she's outside, she's far more reserved
  2108. "Well... how would you guys like a road trip?"
  2109. >Jacky crooks her head back in an attempt to look at you directly from behind
  2110. >But it doesn't work
  2111. >She keeps her balance and looks over her shoulder
  2112. >"Roadtrip?! Like... the other one we did?"
  2113. "Better."
  2114. >"Whoa... neat."
  2115. >"And where exactly would we be going?"
  2116. >You shrug
  2117. "I have no clue. But I have time off, I'm definitely wanting to get away from work and just go be a bum for a bit. Maybe we can go camping or something."
  2118. >"Roughing it in the woods or something? Is that smart?"
  2119. >Sparks looks over you, appraising the concept
  2120. "Well sure. I mean I have stuff for it. I have a battery bank for the phone and I'll probably buy a second one, just to be paranoid."
  2121. >"Why for the phone though?"
  2122. "Well, Sparkly, a phone has GPS. Lets me call people. Has entertainment on it. Weather updates too."
  2123. >Jacky gives a dark chuckle
  2124. >"Even I knew that much..."
  2125. >Your hand find's Jacky's ear
  2126. >You give it a slight rub
  2127. >Before tweaking it
  2128. >She bends her entire body
  2129. "Ow ow ow ow..."
  2130. "I highly doubt you did."
  2131. >"I did, honest!"
  2132. "Did you though."
  2133. >"I swear!"
  2134. >You look over to Sparks
  2135. >Sparks nods
  2136. "...alright."
  2137. >You let go of her ear and go back to rubbing her ear
  2138. >It flickers against your hand but she doesn't move away from it
  2139. >"You know... that would be fun. With a party of three, we should be able to take on any wildlife, right?"
  2140. >You snort
  2141. "Taking on wildlife? We're not going hunting. Fishing... probably not, but definitely not hunting."
  2142. >"Well why not?"
  2143. "Because it can be dangerous if not done correctly. And hunting is pretty regulated for a lot of places."
  2144. >"Is it regulated for where we would be going?"
  2145. >You massage Jacky's ear with all of your fingers, undulating pinky to index finger
  2146. >Jacky practically purrs at the attention, her left hind leg twitching
  2147. "I don't... know..."
  2148. >You haven't gone camping or fishing in years, but you've always wanted to
  2149. >But you never had much incentive to do it alone
  2150. >With two ponies, that wouldn't be the worst of ideas
  2151. >Especially if one really could use magic
  2152. >Make no mistake, you've seen a ton of it so far to know it's real
  2153. >But you also wonder just how far that ability goes
  2154. "But. If you want, we could also see about stretching those magical muscles of yours."
  2155. >The tip of Spark's horn shines, just long enough to be noticeable
  2156. >"Y... yeah?"
  2157. >She tries to sound neutral but you can hear the excitement in her voice
  2158. "Yeah. Keep it under control and you'd be able to go in. I can even take a video of it and show it to you after."
  2159. >The gleam intensifies, like a gem being caught just right by a ray of light
  2160. >You watch her fidget in her seat
  2161. >"S.. sure. I mean, if you feel the need to..."
  2162. >Jacky bites her lip and giggles
  2163. >"Show off..."
  2164. >She leans into your hand harder, almost entirely leaving the mortal realm for new heights of aural ecstasy
  2165. "What magic do you know, anyway? Is it... like spells? Or more you just have a pool to draw from?"
  2166. >Due to the low energy, comfy setting of the soon to be deep night, everyone speaks softly, not having to compete against anything save for a TV that a neighbor below you
  2167. >Sparks opens her mouth to speak
  2168. >But shuts it
  2169. >But opens it again
  2170. >Only for her to shut her mouth again and frown
  2171. >"I... well. Spells, like... incantations?"
  2172. "Well whatever they do, how they do. I mean, it is magic so it's kinda whatever, right?"
  2173. >"I... guess? So... you know how awesome my mom is, right?"
  2174. >Sparks readjusts herself on the chair as she speaks, puffing out her chest
  2175. >Maybe it's just you but you've noticed that Sparks has slightly longer fur than Jacky
  2176. >Or rather, Jacky has more of a velvet body
  2177. >You never thought about it before just because you didn't think different types of ponies would feel differently
  2178. "Not really. Supposedly she's a big shot, right?"
  2179. >Sparks nods
  2180. >"A huge deal! With her, she could do all sorts of magic. Teleportation, fabrication, all sorts of stuff. And the elements... man, she could do anything!"
  2181. >You shrug, nodding
  2182. "That sounds pretty versatile. Has Jacky ever met her?"
  2183. >"Oh, no. No, she's... uh... she's always been busy. You know how it goes."
  2184. >You don't intimately know what she means but you've seen some people that had to grow up around that
  2185. "Sure. So what about you?"
  2186. >"What about me?"
  2187. "Well, what magic can you use?"
  2188. >Sparks looks at you funny for a second
  2189. >"Well... whatever my mom could do. Obviously."
  2190. "Obviously."
  2191. >"That's right."
  2192. >Something seems off about that
  2193. "What's her name?"
  2194. >"Who?"
  2195. "Your mom. What's her name?"
  2196. >"No way am I telling you! You'd probably fawn over her."
  2197. >You chuckle
  2198. "Why, does she have pegasus wings as well as a horn?"
  2199. >Sparks frowns at you, as if it were a joke in bad taste
  2200. >"Is that a thing?"
  2201. "Supposedly it's a thing."
  2202. >"N-no, she's not something weird like that..."
  2203. "So what's she like?"
  2204. >"I said she's powerful."
  2205. "Yeah."
  2206. >"And... she's never really failed any spells."
  2207. "That's useful."
  2208. >"And... I'm like her, because I'm her daughter."
  2209. "That's how having kids work."
  2210. >You pull your hand away from Jacky's over-molested ear
  2211. >She looks at you with a visible glazed look in her eye
  2212. "Hey... Jackenstein. Have you ever seen Spark's mom before?"
  2213. >She gives you a drunk shake of the head
  2214. >"Nuuh."
  2215. >Her ears flap back and forth, adjusting to freedom from your digital oppression
  2216. >That seems odd, that no one has really seen her
  2217. "So... is that little black book of yours like a spellbook or something?"
  2218. >"You're getting awfully pushy about this magic thing."
  2219. "Can you blame me for being curious?"
  2220. >"Yeah."
  2221. >You shrug and drop the topic
  2222. >For being so proud, she really doesn't have much to say about it all
  2223. >You look out into the hibernating treeline
  2224. >It feels good to be outside and to just relax with friends
  2225. >You don't think you ever did this sort of thing with your old friends
  2226. >None of them were particularly fond of the outdoors
  2227. >Or being outside at all
  2228. >Given southern heat, you couldn't blame them
  2229. "I'd like for us all to go out, when weather permits it. I would enjoy that."
  2230. >"Oui oui, I would follow you to ze ends of ze earth, monsieur Anon!"
  2231. >Jacky has gone full French, nuzzling her face into your chest
  2232. >Sparks shakes her head, astonished at her mannerisms
  2233. >"Why does she sound like that?"
  2234. "It's... it's a thing. Don't worry about it."
  2235. >You give her a minor handwave, moving as little as you can to allow the yellow mare to rub herself against you
  2236. >"Do you guys... uh... do I need to go inside?"
  2237. "No."
  2238. >"Oui."
  2239. >You and Jacky speak out at the same time
  2240. >You look at each other
  2241. >Both you look at Sparks
  2242. "Yes."
  2243. >"Non."
  2244. >You speak out again
  2245. >Sparks rolls her eyes
  2246. >"You nerds. I'm gonna go back to playing stuff."
  2247. >She takes a moment to jump off of the chair before trotting back inside
  2248. >She's hardly agile but she at least didn't plant her face into the wood
  2249. >Speaking of wood
  2250. >You give Jacky a hug, enjoying her writhing and movements
  2251. >You make a note of her ear weakness
  2252.  
  2253. >You decided on something new today
  2254. >With the bathroom to yourself, you go for a shave
  2255. >A real shave
  2256. >You always just trim things up and keep a beard but you want to try a new look
  2257. >You leave the bathroom once the deed is done, listening to the TV that the girls must've set up
  2258. >You normally shower and all that in quick time to get ready for work, but on the weekends?
  2259. >You take your time
  2260. >You hear a rising scare chord as you creep back to your room, towel around your waist
  2261. >Sounds like a slasher movie or something
  2262. >You can see Jacky curled up in a tight ball with her eyes glued to the screen
  2263. >Sparks looks apprehensive, the tip of her horn glowing enough to make out in the dark room
  2264. >Just as the scare chord reaches it's peak and the reveal of the killer is made, you jump into view!
  2265. "JACKY!"
  2266. >You point and shout, grumbling something after for added intimidation
  2267. >Already spooked, Jacky looks over to you and screams
  2268. >"ANON'S BEEN GOT!"
  2269. >You slap your face with one hand and scream
  2270. >She screams even more
  2271. >Sparks finally looks at you and screams as well
  2272. >You slap your face with your other hand, eyes going from pony to unicorn
  2273. >You make an effort to turn your scream into something far more pained and insidious
  2274. >"WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOUR FACE?!"
  2275. >You stop and your hands drop down
  2276. "I shaved."
  2277. >Both of them scream again
  2278. >Eventually they settle down, with you sitting between them on the bed
  2279. >While Sparks focuses on the movie, Jacky just can't help but stare at you
  2280. >You already know you made a mistake because your face feels rough all over
  2281. >You don't even have a beard to stroke anymore
  2282. >How will you think or pontificate?
  2283. >You try to focus on the movie but you feel a blanket move up your side
  2284. >Jacky is on her hind legs, pushing a blanket up to your face with her hooves
  2285. >When it covers your face, you can hear a sad, quiet "yes..."
  2286. >You grab the blanket and tug it away, revealing your face
  2287. >"No..."
  2288. >She slides the blanket back up to cover your face
  2289. >"...yes..."
  2290. >She sounds like she's on the verge of tears
  2291. >You pull it away again, grimacing
  2292. >It took seconds to undo weeks of growing, and it hardly looks flattering on your face
  2293. >"...no..."
  2294. >Her reaction sounds how you feel about it
  2295. >Eventually you allow her to cover part of your face with a blanket
  2296. >She nods, trying her best to smile
  2297. >"...yes... better..."
  2298. >She cuddles up to you hard
  2299. >Sparks, on the side of you that isn't covered with a blanket, glances at you every now and again
  2300. >You shake your head at her, daring her to say a word on the matter
  2301. >The rest of the movie goes by without any outbursts
  2302. >When it finishes, Sparks speaks up
  2303. >"Anon... why did you get rid of your face?"
  2304. "Shut it."
  2305. >"I'm serious."
  2306. "So am I."
  2307. >Jacky joins in, only whimpering
  2308. >"You look so weird..."
  2309. "I always look weird."
  2310. >"You do but still..."
  2311. >You lean back, sighing
  2312. "Neither of you know much about humans I take it."
  2313. >Neither of them really answer
  2314. >How would they?
  2315. "I wasn't born with hair on my face, you know. Took time. But I shaved because... well, I guess I wanted a new look."
  2316. >"A new look."
  2317. "Yeah. Aren't you guys used to haircuts and all that? Fashion changes? Grooming?"
  2318. >The two ponies peek over you to look at each other, then they look up at you
  2319. "...you guys suck."
  2320. >"Hey, Anon. If we play another few rounds of Soul Calibur and I win, can I ban you from shaving?"
  2321. "Oh come off it already, it isn't that bad!"
  2322. >You glance to Jacky
  2323. "Right?"
  2324. >She looks at you and you haven't yet ever seen her look so viscerally sad
  2325. >Her neck pivots away to look at you from the side
  2326. >Where the lower half of your head is obscured by blanket
  2327. >"...yes..."
  2328. >Ouch
  2329. "Alright you fucking nerd, let's play. But if I win, I'm cutting the hair on both of you."
  2330. >"Deal."
  2331. >Sparks is confident
  2332. >"Don't include me in on this!"
  2333. >Jacky isn't nearly as on board
  2334.  
  2335. >Everyone is on your bed, watching your TV
  2336. >For a while now you've introduced both of them to cinematic video games
  2337. >Video games with the action, drama, scripting, and camera angles of a movie
  2338. >They're fun and definitely a hit for a movie buff like Jacky
  2339. >The focal point series has been Uncharted
  2340. >There's absolutely no words exchanged during the finale of the fourth game
  2341. >Even at the epilogue, there's no wise-cracking
  2342. >Or insults
  2343. >Or questions
  2344. >Or backseat gaming advice
  2345. >As soon as it reaches the credits, the room explodes
  2346. >"How did he survive that?!"
  2347. >"What about the money!"
  2348. >"How could anyone survive that!"
  2349. >"Imagine having that much money!"
  2350. >"I bet I could do that with some training!"
  2351. >"You could train to be anything with that much money!"
  2352. "You dorks, neither of you could handle that sort of situation! Which one of you can even swim?"
  2353. >"Like you'd last a minute!"
  2354. >"Anon, I don't know if you could climb those cliffs..."
  2355. >"You'd get shot up in an instant!"
  2356. >"I mean, you saw how he used that grappling hook too! How can you even untangle that?"
  2357. >Jacky bounces her front hooves on your leg, wanting answers for her dozens of questions
  2358. >Sparks smiles at you with a smug air, confident that she would be able to do it all and more
  2359. >It all dies down after Jacky realizes that the credits are still going on and there's just no more game to look at
  2360. >"What a way to end things..."
  2361. "Right? And to think, that picture lasted all that time..."
  2362. >"What's with that camera, anyway?"
  2363. "Well it's a really old sort, you used to flop around whatever came out so it would actually show."
  2364. >"That's crazy... they didn't have cameras like that back then?"
  2365. "Not at all."
  2366. >Sparks pipes up
  2367. >"Pictures sure are important, aren't they..."
  2368. >"Well obviously! Didn't you see the old picture from the first game?"
  2369. >"They sure looked happy."
  2370. "Well you'd be happy too if you were sitting on that much treasure."
  2371. >"Treasure, huh..."
  2372. >You wanted to ask what Sparks was thinking but Jacky keeps pushing for your attention
  2373. >Ever since Sparks won the last bout of fighting, she's been that much more energetic
  2374. >And to be fair, you would've felt bad for cutting her wild hair
  2375. >How would she even show off her twin tails if you cut her mane short?
  2376. >"Anon, what's next on the list? How could anything top that roller coaster?"
  2377. "Well, there's a lot of stuff out there that's really neat to watch and play through. What sort of genre are you wanting?"
  2378. >"Something with a ton of explosions and stealing valuables! And romance, too!"
  2379. >"Jacky, now's our chance, do it!"
  2380. >Wat
  2381. >Without hesitation, Jacky headbutts your chest full force!
  2382. >She knocks you against the wall and kicks herself back, sitting on her hind end with her head nudged right against yours
  2383. >Face touching face, she smiles as much as she can
  2384. >FLASH
  2385. >FLASH
  2386. >You're temporarily blinded from the flash from some obscure source
  2387. >Jacky is too, though she's giggling
  2388. "What the hell was that?"
  2389. >Sparks pokes her head up, nudging against your shoulder opposite of the blinded, giggly pony
  2390. >"Smile, Anon."
  2391. >FLASH
  2392. >FLASH
  2393. >Your IQ drops in half for a few seconds, trying to figure out what it was
  2394. >Then you see it
  2395. >A black rectangle floating a few feet away from you
  2396. >Surrounded by a red aura
  2397. "Hey, that's my phone!"
  2398. >"Sure is. I think I might have 'accidentally' figured out what your combination number on it was."
  2399. >"Jacky leans forward, pleased as pie
  2400. >"Sparks told me about it a few days ago and I've been waiting for it ever since!"
  2401. "Hey!"
  2402. >You snatch your phone out of the air, looking at whatever pictures were taken
  2403. >Sure enough, there are two pictures of you and Jacky
  2404. >You look confused but happy
  2405. >Jacky looks happy and dazed
  2406. >Then the other two with Sparks included
  2407. >She has a knowing smile that says 'I told you so' even with her head being in shot sideways
  2408. "Oh... aw man."
  2409. >Seeing those two being happy, with you included
  2410. >It hits you right in the chest
  2411. >It hits you hard
  2412. "Come on... if I want to see you two, I wouldn't want to put myself into it. Look, you see my mug is ruining the mood."
  2413. >Jacky sobers up, stifling another giggle
  2414. >She looks at you a little funny but she's having a good time of it
  2415. >"Well now next time you want to see us and messaging us from work isn't enough, you got something better!"
  2416. >"Don't complain, you know you wanted it."
  2417. "Yeah but... come on, I'm--"
  2418. >"Usually the one to take the pictures? Well now you get to star in a few for once."
  2419. >For the first time in a really, really long time, you've been caught off guard and surprised with something good
  2420. >You don't even remember the last time someone did something like this for you
  2421. >You don't know what to say
  2422. >You don't know if there is anything you can say
  2423. >Jacky nuzzles against your side
  2424. >"You haven't taken a picture of me at all... and I kinda wanted you to have one. So now you have one of us together! That's far better, right?"
  2425. >"And I thought I'd poke my head into a few so, you know, you know who to thank."
  2426. >You inhale deep and try to exhale a laugh
  2427. >But it sounds a little too shaky to be genuine
  2428. "Come on... I just don't know what to..."
  2429. >"Say thank you."
  2430. >"And no more talk about cutting my hair either!"
  2431. >"Yes, that too."
  2432. >You attempt to argue some point of how you just don't look good enough to be in a picture
  2433. >Or that it would be better to take a picture of just them together
  2434. >Or anything that would allow you to reason away the painfully strong amount of feels the images give you
  2435. "Yeah... thanks, guys. I never thought I'd..."
  2436. >Though Jacky is high energy and Sparks is pretty happy, you can't stop yourself from deflating
  2437. "These are... I'll have to get these framed or something."
  2438. >The energy starts to bleed out of the room when it's apparent that the act impacted you harder than anticipated
  2439. >"Well, it's not like these are the only pictures of us that we'll have, right?"
  2440. >"That's right, Anon. If you don't keep your phone safe and secure, I'll be sneaking all kinda of pictures of you two love birds."
  2441. >Normally you'd threaten to throw her like a dart into a wall, or that you'd set her horn on fire and see if it burns like a candle
  2442. >But you just had no clue that they would have ever planned something like this
  2443. >Of course, it didn't cost them anything
  2444. >It didn't require anything but a few seconds of the right place at the right time
  2445. >But it means more to you than any ancient treasure or untold, supernatural source of wealth
  2446. >It means that they really are your friends
  2447.  
  2448. >Be me
  2449. >Be... not sleepy, but not fully awake either.
  2450. >Sparks is on her corner of the bed, reading from her little black book.
  2451. >It's another day in the good life.
  2452. >I roll onto my back, taking a break from a western-based show that Anon introduced me to
  2453. "This is the life, eh Sparky?"
  2454. >Sparks looks at me out of the corner of her eye.
  2455. >She takes a minute before answering, like she decided that her reading was more valuable.
  2456. >"You really enjoy staring at a screen all day?"
  2457. >I laugh like it's a silly question
  2458. "Well sure! It sure beats how it was back home, right?"
  2459. >She doesn't seem impressed with my answer.
  2460. >"How much do you remember about our home, Jacqueline? Really remember."
  2461. >I writhe on the beautifully comfortable bed.
  2462. >I don't remember much at all, honestly.
  2463. >The accents are kinda funny since they feel like they came out of nowhere, but all of them muddle things.
  2464. >Ever since I found Sparks with Anon, some things have become more familiar again.
  2465. "Almost nothing, I guess. I remember you. And Dashie. That's kinda it. But since you've been here, I remember more."
  2466. >I roll onto my front, my mane as wild and as unkempt as ever.
  2467. >Anon likes it almost as much as he likes the twin tails.
  2468. >He had to be joking about cutting it short.
  2469. "I remember... sleeping on the ground a lot. I remember eating literal scraps of what used to be food."
  2470. >I feel embarrassed saying all of that. It feels like it was another lifetime ago.
  2471. "I still remember crying that one time you ran away when you failed to trip that guy chasing me."
  2472. >Sparks looks at me.
  2473. >She looks annoyed at first but it gives way.
  2474. >She looks away from me.
  2475. >"If both of us were caught, we wouldn't have had anything to show for it."
  2476. "Yeah... so instead you felt the need to gloat that at least you succeeded while I failed because I chose to rely on you?"
  2477. >I'm smiling.
  2478. >I'm still pretty happy with the day.
  2479. >I'm happy that Sparks is with me.
  2480. >But I remember that.
  2481. >Not really what led up to that or what happened after, or even if we kept fighting.
  2482. >But I remember.
  2483. >She doesn't answer, so I keep talking.
  2484. >Anon is strong when he's talking, and I liked hearing him talk with her about something that must have really hurt.
  2485. >I'm happy but remembering hurts.
  2486. "I know I don't have magic... and I know that you remember at least your mom well enough to feel so proud of yourself for it."
  2487. >I sit up, assuming a more proper posture.
  2488. >Anon doesn't sit all that proper but when he's serious he sits straight.
  2489. "I know that there isn't a whole ton I can physically do with hooves when everything is so big and awkward here. I can't be like you. But I can be myself, and be happy to be myself. Do you know why?"
  2490. >Sparks doesn't reply to me.
  2491. >She doesn't even really want to look me in the eye.
  2492. >But she isn't looking away fully either.
  2493. "I'm happy to be myself, because Anon is happy that I'm me. And because thanks to me being me, we found you. And because thanks to you and me, and him, we will find Dashie too."
  2494. >I smile.
  2495. >I smile really big.
  2496. >It's almost cathartic but the thought of being together is just too much to contain.
  2497. >I smile but I can feel tears going down my face.
  2498. "I'm happy because we will still be friends. Together. And we can be Anon's friends. Whatever stupid, petty issues we had about stealing food and cheap entertaining things and books and everything else we got... they don't matter! They don't! We were given a free life, Sparks! You may miss your mom but I don't miss anything! If I spend the rest of my days in Anon's arms and never want for anything, I will never once regret not being able to use magic, or to play video games with him, or to be able to fix a meal for him as a way to show my unbelievable amount of appreciation! I can be as useless as I am, and know that I will still never be a burden."
  2499. >The tears fall a bit more.
  2500. >And my smile droops just a little.
  2501. "I eat clean, every day. I can have unlimited baths! He even got me a thing so I can play some games! Not a lot, but some!"
  2502. >My smile comes back, but only a fraction of what it was.
  2503. "I... I don't remember anything at all, beyond little snippets and details. And I don't like them. I wish I could forget. I wish Applejack was my mom so I could be super proud of her and act like I'm someone important."
  2504. >I audibly deflate, exhaling a whimpering sigh
  2505. "How did we survive that long... what would have happened if we didn't end up here? What if this is just one big dream? Or, worse, if we're dead and this is heaven?"
  2506. >Another whimpering whine comes out, much to my own surprise.
  2507. "What happens if Anon gets overburdened? What happens if I don't do enough? What happens if you don't do enough? I know he would never do anything bad, but what about us? What if we do something bad?"
  2508. >"Jacky, enough already!"
  2509. >Sparks whips her head at me.
  2510. >She's crying too.
  2511. >"I don't know my mom any better than you know yours! I just said that so you'd look up to me and trust me with bigger responsibilities!"
  2512. >I visibly recoil.
  2513. >Since when was that the case?
  2514. "Wait, what?"
  2515. >"Yeah! I saw you and Dashie and both of you were just... losers. And I was just the same. And I couldn't be. So I made up that my mom was some... arch-something and that she was awesome and powerful and..."
  2516. >Her own voice falters, like the words are strangling her.
  2517. >"And... that she was too important and busy to ever see me. Which is why I was always around, if you remembered. I had to be someone... I couldn't be a nobody."
  2518. >Everything's a blur, visually and mentally.
  2519. >We end up hugging.
  2520. >And crying.
  2521. >A lot of crying.
  2522. >By the end of it, we're both hoarse.
  2523. >A little hoarse, as Anon would probably put it.
  2524. >I sputter out a small laugh.
  2525. "We sound hoarse... just a little hoarse."
  2526. >Sparks laughs too.
  2527. >Both of us sound terrible post-cry.
  2528. >Neither of us speak for a while, outside of throat clearing and light coughing to recover.
  2529. >"Anon... you don't know."
  2530. >Sparks finally speaks up, her voice raspy.
  2531. >"Anon thinks the world of you. He would never do that."
  2532. "How... do you know that for real?"
  2533. >My own voice sounds terrible.
  2534. >It's not even an accent, it's just terrible.
  2535. >"I scanned his head to win that fighting game, remember? And that talk..."
  2536. >She clears her throat again, trying to regain some self-indulgent dignity.
  2537. >"He wouldn't. He would do terrible, disastrous things before he would let you go. Or me. We're his friends, but you especially..."
  2538. >She laughs after trailing off.
  2539. >An amused giggle.
  2540. >"Jacky, you have to find out for yourself what's going on up there. If I could handle the alcohol I'd drink until I forgot every bit."
  2541. "Wh... what?!"
  2542. >The tone shifted entirely without thinking about it.
  2543. "Take those things out of your head right now! What we did isn't for your stupid eyes!"
  2544. >My front legs instinctively tighten around her throat.
  2545. >"I didn't look at that on purpose you moron! Get off!"
  2546. "No! Not until I choke those memories out of you!"
  2547. >We struggle and wrestle, though she's unable to break free.
  2548. >We end up on our backs.
  2549. >After a mutual stalemate of my superior strength versus her bony elbows and sharp screeches, we stop.
  2550. "Do you know 110% that Anon... thinks that highly of us? Of me?"
  2551. >Sparks lets out a decidedly unladylike retch from the attempted murder.
  2552. >"Oh for fu--yes! He does! Last happy memory I saw inside of that cavernous pit of a head was probably from when he was a kid. Last happy memory YOU-sized, anyway."
  2553. >She jabs one of her hooves against my side.
  2554. >The lady is made out of pony needles, I swear.
  2555. "Wow..."
  2556. >"Right? What could he ever like in some urchin like you anyway?"
  2557. "Who are you calling an urchin, you lying urchin!?"
  2558. >The fighting begins again.
  2559. >"I'm as much a liar as you are a saint!"
  2560. "I've prayed tens of times!"
  2561. >"For food, you muscleheaded simpleton!"
  2562. "I'm gonna buck that head off!"
  2563. >"You aren't Anon, don't even try!"
  2564. "I'm at least twice as viscous you little-"
  2565. >The fighting begins again.
  2566. >Longer than last time, now that we've gotten all of the sad energy out.
  2567. >I remember that she and I used to fight a ton.
  2568. >Over the most stupid things.
  2569. >Over the most minor details.
  2570. >We fought or argued or butted heads so often it just ended up how we worked things out.
  2571. >It would hurt more physically than emotionally but it was always better than using words.
  2572. >I think that's why she became my best friend.
  2573. >Outside of Dashie, that is.
  2574. >And outside of Anon, obviously.
  2575. >Whatever ends up happening next, I'm sure we'll fight about it.
  2576. >And I'm sure we'll still be side by side, no matter what.
  2577.  
  2578. >Anon came back a little late last night, but he brought dinner!
  2579. >He didn't exactly know what happened with Sparks and myself, but he knows that something happened.
  2580. >After another night of playing games and cheering on my two virtual gladiators, everything winds down and I end up splayed out over Anon's chest again.
  2581. >The following morning, I wake up with him, share affection that Sparks isn't able to see, and go back to sleep by the time he goes out.
  2582. >After yesterday's talk, I found out a good way to at least send Anon off!
  2583. >When he's getting dressed, I grab those small, square bags of oatmeal that he uses for weekend breakfasts.
  2584. "For lunch!"
  2585. >It's a far cry from something home made but it's more than nothing.
  2586. >I feel so awkward just giving him packets but he mentions how he can use his work's water cooler to fix it up for a warm lunch.
  2587. >He gives me an extra kiss before he leaves.
  2588. >He doesn't lock the door and I can hear him go down the stairwell right next to our apartment.
  2589. >I stand there for a few minutes, just... maybe hoping that he's forgotten something, or would have an excuse to come back.
  2590. >My smile shrinks after a few more minutes.
  2591. >Deciding that he's probably off to work for real, I trot back to bed and spread out on it.
  2592. >It's still warm.
  2593. >Yesterday felt like forever ago.
  2594. >I think Anon suspected something bad happened.
  2595. >I was a bit clingy and he was more than happy to keep at least one arm around me.
  2596. >I think I even kissed his arm.
  2597. >I start to roll around on the bed.
  2598. >Was it too much?
  2599. >Am I too hopeless?
  2600. >What if Sparks has an issue with it?
  2601. >Why would she get to tell me what to do anyway?
  2602. >How much should I tell him?
  2603. >How much does it matter?
  2604. >"Stop thinking about Anon, you're going to roll a hole in the bed."
  2605. >Sparks in her usual grumpy morning self is finally awake.
  2606. "No, you."
  2607. >I rebut in meme and roll harder until my hooves scrape against the wall.
  2608. "I'm worried."
  2609. >I say flatly, watching the wall.
  2610. >"Why?"
  2611. "Because we had that talk."
  2612. >"And what was wrong with having that talk?"
  2613. >She loudly yawns.
  2614. >She still sleeps like a cat does, when she should really relax more.
  2615. "Because it got me... thinking. Not about anything specific. But I just worry now. Like talking about it at all broke some sort of taboo."
  2616. >I can hear her sigh.
  2617. >"You know, I didn't take you for a worrywort."
  2618. "I'm not a wort."
  2619. >"Sure you aren't. But I never thought you'd be so worked up over a guy. Especially one so... er, different."
  2620. "Well I didn't... expect it. But things kinda just escalated."
  2621. >"...do I want to ask how, from your perspective?"
  2622. >I can't help but awkwardly giggle, my mane covering a good portion of my face.
  2623. "It was awesome. You saw those movies we watched, right?"
  2624. >"And watched at least six times since I came here? Yes."
  2625. "Imagine if we had that sort of life instead. Did you know that Josey Wales was a murderer and still got to have a happy life?"
  2626. >"Who the hell is Josey Wales?"
  2627. "He's the man with no name!"
  2628. >"But... his name... is Josey Wales. You just said that."
  2629. "Yeah well... different continuity. Or something."
  2630. >I feel a hook knock against my butt.
  2631. >"If this doesn't have a point I'm going out onto the patio."
  2632. "Wait, hold on!"
  2633. >I scramble to get up, a stray leg scraping against the wall
  2634. "Sparks, you know movies are just so unbelievable and cool, right?"
  2635. >"Sure?"
  2636. "I always felt like I was in a movie, or a dream or something. But talking to you... about everything. It means it's real. This isn't just a movie or something!"
  2637. >Sparks looks at me like I said something monumentally stupid.
  2638. >She quints.
  2639. >And her mouth hangs open.
  2640. >"How long does the alcohol keep in your system?"
  2641. >I scrunch my face at her, returning the squint.
  2642. "Listen... have you ever kinda just trucked along with life, only to one day... just get it?"
  2643. >I poke at her with my hoof as soon as she sighs and turns to go away
  2644. "Come on, hear me out! I went along with everything or... no, more like I enjoyed everything. I didn't think much about it because it just was all in the moment and it wasn't at all thought out."
  2645. >I purse my lips and inhale.
  2646. "Only just now... it clicks. Like it really clicks. It's been months and only around now have I put it in perspective. Because with you, I remember of how I was. Who I was."
  2647. >Sparks keeps her eyes on me, but the disdain melts away.
  2648. "I don't know how else to explain it, Sparking. But you gotta understand. Before you came back-came here-whatever, things were kinda just... going along. But now I remember you better, and I remember what we did, and I remember how I was. And I know how I am now. And where I am now. I remember who I was, so I better know who I am now."
  2649. >"When did you become so philosophical?"
  2650. >I open my mouth to speak.
  2651. >And close it.
  2652. >I raise my front right hoof and open my mouth to speak again.
  2653. >And close my mouth again.
  2654. >I shrug.
  2655. "Since I had someone worth being philosophical over."
  2656. >"I don't know whether or not I should be proud for you or afraid for him."
  2657. >Chuckling, Sparks shakes her head and walks off.
  2658. >She stops after two steps.
  2659. >"Actually... scratch that. I'm not sure if I should be proud of him or afraid for you."
  2660. >I get out of bed and follow her, only able to partially see due to my messy mane.
  2661. "Wait, what do you mean about that?"
  2662. >"Something's gotta give and Anon's a man, you know."
  2663. >The implication makes my entire body heat up, leading to a shiver
  2664. "N-no, I don't know! Tell me what he's been thinking!"
  2665. >"Ew, God no!"
  2666. "Come on, do it!"
  2667. >"I'm going outside, I'm going to read, I am going to purge my head of whatever gross stuff you think I know."
  2668. "It's not gross, it's fun!"
  2669. >"I SAID I'M GOING TO PURGE MY HEAD!"
  2670. >I chase after her, watching the patio glass door slide open with her red aura
  2671. "IT'S NOT GROSS IF IT'S LOVE, SPARKY. BATHING CLEANS EVERYTHING."
  2672. >Sparks lets out a disgusted scream and leaps out onto the patio, the door slamming behind her
  2673. "HELP ME WITH MY LOVE, SPARKING!"
  2674. >I do my best to hide my urge to laugh.
  2675. >I picked up this skill from Anon.
  2676. >I used to not get why he'd tell me such things, even as a joke.
  2677. >But now I see.
  2678. "IT'S NOT DIRTY IF IT'S LOVE!"
  2679. >And her reaction, muffled screaming to mute my screaming, makes it all the better.
  2680. >I think it's really love.
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