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Buying a (second) Bookhorse, by Lurkernon

By SlavePonyGeneral
Created: 21st January 2021 11:01:44 PM
19th October 2021 01:49:07 AM

  1.  
  2. For clarification, this is a sequel to Buying a Bookhorse (https://ponepaste.org/2319). Reading this is needed to understand this story, but don't worry - it isn't long.
  3. --------
  4. "Twilight, it's time to come to dinner!"
  5. > "In a minute, Anonymous!"
  6. > With a laugh and a roll of your eyes, you repeat the call.
  7. > Engrossed in her work, that pony could easily turn 'a minute' into 'a hour' - or more.
  8. "Now, Twilight. Work will still be there after dinner."
  9. > "I'll be right there!"
  10. > Following her voice, you find the target of your attentions curled beneath a blanket amid a small halo of open tomes, a stylus clutched in her jaws tapping fitfully against the laptop set up before her.
  11. > Said stylus falls from her lips as you sweep in, settling your fingers into her flanks and delivering a ticklish assault that catches Twilight completely defenseless.
  12. > "Eeeek! Ah! Quit it, I said I'm coming!"
  13. "Toooo slow!"
  14. > Horn popping and sparking fitfully, Twilight wriggles to escape your grasp - finally slipping free and scurrying to the far end of the room.
  15. > There she turns and sticks her tongue out at you, blowing a soft raspberry.
  16. > Glancing down, you can't help but feel your heart fall slightly.
  17. > It wasn't her work that'd been consuming her time; instead, the profile of one of her one-time friends - a unicorn whose mane seemed to defy gravity - filled the screen.
  18. > Following your eyes, Twilight sighs softly.
  19. > "I got everything else done, so I wanted to see if anything had changed..."
  20. "You checked this morning, Twilight."
  21. > "Yeah, but..."
  22. > She scuffs at the carpet with one hoof, muzzle drooping.
  23. > "...I mean, if something changed..."
  24. "C'mere, Twilight."
  25. > Squatting and holding your arms wide soon fills them with purple-coated unicorn, reared up with chin nuzzled into your shoulder as her ears flick - gentle, fuzzy bats against your neck.
  26. > "M'sorry, Anonymous. I know you told me not to get caught up in worrying about them..."
  27. "Shh. You're worried about them."
  28. > "Ever since I saw Pinkie... I'm so worried about what's happened to the rest of them."
  29. "I know, Twilight."
  30. > Reaching up to scratch lightly beneath her collar, you murmur softly.
  31. "But sometimes there isn't anything we can do; torturing ourselves with that information doesn't make it any easier."
  32. > "That's exactly why I hate this so much!"
  33. > Trembling in your grip, Twilight lets out a frustrated huff.
  34. > "I'm - I'm doing so much better! My magic is coming back some, we're both working on things and living comfortably... but I can't do anything about them. My friends. My mentor..."
  35. "Yeah..."
  36. > Scratching softly, you slowly extricate her from your grip.
  37. "I certainly get that, Twilight. And I wish I could tell you there's an easy answer, but the truth is there isn't. But, I can tell you this. You remember what I told you early on, when you were trying to figure out how to make things right?"
  38. > "Which thing? I remember you saying a lot."
  39. > Chuckling softly, you nod.
  40. "Yeah. But what I meant is - take things one step at a time. Work through things one bit at a time. Small things pile up, and sooner or later you take a step back and realize you've built something big."
  41. > "...but what about when you can't even take that first step?"
  42. "Then you find a smaller step, or even smaller until they become manageable."
  43. > Disentangling yourself from the mare, you stand - reaching down to ruffle her mane.
  44. "Like, for instance, dinner. We need to keep you eating."
  45. > "Do not. I'm a fine weight already, Anonymous!"
  46. > It was true, in a way.
  47. > She'd softened out in the months you'd had her, finally loosing the bony-but-not-quite-starved look previous owners had given her.
  48. > But that didn't mean you couldn't tease.
  49. > Seating yourself at the table, both of you seat yourselves and quickly dig in.
  50. > Though it'd been months since Twilight had started to open herself to you - and though she was only one other thing - having so much life in your house still felt strange.
  51. > How long had you lived in an empty apartment?
  52. > It'd been a long time since then, of course - a long time since Twilight had first slipped her way into the apartment, mute and terrified.
  53. > Every once in a while, however, you still couldn't help but look around and marvel at the energy she brought to it.
  54. > Her depressive episodes were growing rarer and each one shallower all the time.
  55. > Completely leaving her mental scars behind, you realize, might not ever be possible.
  56. > As long as she was focused, it seemed Twilight was well on her way to healing.
  57. > But when she wasn't...
  58. --------
  59. > " 'nonymous...?"
  60. > She'd seemed to be slumbering peacefully - head alone emerging from beneath the covers - but apparently not.
  61. > Answering her with brush of your nose through her mane, you whisper:
  62. "Yes, Twilight?"
  63. > " 'm I a bad pony?"
  64. > Looking down at the pony curled against your side, you wonder where that question came from.
  65. "Why would you be a bad pony, Twilight?"
  66. > "B'cause m'not 'appy. B'cause..."
  67. > She shifts, rolling in place until she can lay her head on your chest again - ear pressed to it, listening for your heartbeat.
  68. > That, you'd learned, was a sign Twilight was falling to one of her lowest places; that she was feeling a desperate need for every reminder of your presence.
  69. "Go on, Twilight?"
  70. > "Because I shoul' be happy. I mean... th'work I'm doing, it's making things better f'ponies, right? No' f'the ponies at work, but everypony, right?"
  71. "...I'm sure it is, Twilight."
  72. > "Then why does - why d'I feel so empty? I jus' wanna see my friends again, bu' that feels wrong..."
  73. > Sighing softly, you lay down the book you'd been reading and lean in - this time resting face-to-face with her, your forehead to the soft fuzz covering her own.
  74. "We can't always choose how we feel about something, Twilight. You know that you're helping ponies, though, and I don't exactly think that you're the kind of pony to ever give up on them."
  75. > "No, but..."
  76. "Shh. No buts."
  77. > "But nothing is changing."
  78. > This is, unfortunately, true.
  79. > A model of how to handle a damaged pony you might have been, but apparently not a model to be emulated widely.
  80. > To most, ponies were a resource to be exploited - not to form the kind of close relationship, even friendship, that you had with Twilight.
  81. > And, in fairness, what you'd done to Twilight was not always replicable.
  82. > If she hadn't been drawn up from such a dark place, there was little doubt in your mind that she'd not have been nearly as receptive.
  83. > It was, in a sad, bizarre, and twisted way, been a good thing you found her in such a state.
  84. "Twilight-"
  85. > She'd fallen asleep, you realize, your closeness and the late hour finally catching up to her.
  86. > Placing one final soft kiss on her forehead, just beneath the ridged protrusion of her horn, you lay back yourself.
  87. > Sleep, however, seems to have chosen Twilight alone and skillfully eludes you.
  88. > Perhaps she'd only passed her demons on, leaving them to hover over your shoulders.
  89. > Twilight twitches in her sleep, drawing your eye to her again - some dream or another weaving its way through her head.
  90. > It was something she often did; the first time it'd badly scared you, a reminder of the stark night terrors she'd experienced.
  91. > She'd only become quiet and elusive the sole time you'd questioned her on the movements though, reporting no nightmares then or since.
  92. > Shame, you suspected, drove that evasion - a mental scar of her more trying times.
  93. > As long as she did not seem troubled by its occurrence, though, you were content to leave her sleeping.
  94. > That did not keep you from running a hand down her flanks, feeling the rise and fall of her ribs - hard and unyielding beneath her velveteen coat - and the occasional spasm passing through her.
  95. "Twilight..."
  96. > You sigh her name softly, shifting your head over to press against her own.
  97. > She was so caught up in trying to aid her friends - to aid any and every pony she could find - that you wondered if she ever remembered to aid herself.
  98. > Not that you expected her to forget that slavery was a thing - that she herself was, ultimately, a slave - but that she sometimes lost sight of her goals.
  99. > Focusing on her goals had served Twilight well in the past, but now...
  100. > Sighing, you lay your head back and let your eyes slide shut again.
  101. --------
  102. > Twilight wakes you with a brush of her snout against your cheek.
  103. > "Anonymous?"
  104. "Mrrph?"
  105. > "I know it's a little bit early, but can you get up? I'd like to get started on making breakfast."
  106. > Making breakfa-
  107. > Oooh.
  108. > Right.
  109. "Just a minute, Twilight."
  110. > Rubbing at your bleary eyes, you stumble from the bed and into the bathroom - commencing properly waking yourself the rest of the way up.
  111. > Soon enough you find yourself leaning on the kitchen doorframe, watching Twilight hard at work in front of the stove.
  112. > She was reared up, tongue stuck from the side of her mouth and expression screwed up in an expression of fierce concentration at the plates, packages, and sizzling pan all maneuvering about the stove.
  113. > Though watching the makings of breakfast meander their way around the stovetop apparently on their own was something you never tired of seeing, it was not your only reason for being here.
  114. > As Twilight flips a section of omelet without removing it from the pan, you speak up in a reassuring voice:
  115. "You're doing great. Just keep at it, Twilight."
  116. > She nods, but doesn't speak - eyes narrowing as she manages the eggs and potatoes browning in the pan.
  117. > At last it is done; the food is carefully deposited on plates, one of which is floated over to be presented to you.
  118. > Taking it, you offer her a wide smile.
  119. "That was excellent!"
  120. > "Thank you!"
  121. > Her chirped response spreads your grin even wider.
  122. > Since she had rediscovered her magic, Twilight had undergone a stark shift.
  123. > Rather than fearing her owner - you - seeing her using it, she'd begun to seek your affirmation in her making use of it.
  124. > Not for simple things, but whenever she tried something new (like, for instance, juggling a dozen or so makings of breakfast while they were cooking) you would have to be there.
  125. > And even then, it was never certain when she would sink into a morose mood at the remaining limitations of her magic.
  126. > So it does send a relieved rush down your spine when Twilight trots - practically prances - past you with her own plate held high and a confident grin on her face.
  127. > Following her into the dining room, you seat yourself at the table and begin to dig in.
  128. > Across the way Twilight does with equal gusto as well, pausing only barely just long enough to shoot a question in your direction.
  129. > "So, what are we going to be working on today?"
  130. "Ah. Well, actually, it's something a bit different this time. Not a specific project, but..."
  131. > Hopefully this would banish any thoughts of being 'unhelpful' from Twilight's mind.
  132. "...well, corporate wants a new pony to help head up integrating magic into our processes, and they've asked me to look in to it. Since you and I have done so much to improve the work the ponies there are doing-"
  133. > And improve the lives they lived while doing them.
  134. "-they asked you and I to look at options for who would be able to do best."
  135. > Mouth forming a small 'O', Twilight's ears do an interesting flip-flop - her fork paused in mid-air - as she considers what you just asked.
  136. > "...oh."
  137. "Yes. So, we've got a roster of first-run candidates to look over."
  138. > "Okay. Um, how are we choosing."
  139. "Skill first, and how their knowledge sets fit into our job profile... although, honestly, if you had other factors you wanted to include-"
  140. > "No, um. That, that sounds pretty fair."
  141. > You nod; as soon as breakfast was done the laptop is retrieved and the shortlist brought up on screen.
  142. > Scrolling through it yields a few comments here and there, positive or negative notes on the ponies profiles.
  143. > But none of the emotion at the thought of ponies auction that you'd expected.
  144. > Perhaps because of the deep, dark valley she'd climbed out of Twilight had never seemed particularly distraught by the continued existence of her fellow ponies being... held by the company.
  145. > It was a fact of existence; all that mattered was that they were not mistreated the way she'd been.
  146. > And that, you could give her assurances on.
  147. > Yet, even so you sometimes wondered how worrying her reaction to it ought to be.
  148. > Twilight had every good reason to hate the system, yet she'd adopted an almost zen-like outloook on her work.
  149. > Strive to improve it by example, she'd say, but the inherent small cruelties in the system would be written off as 'being how it is.'
  150. > A logical tactic to keep herself from cracking under the weight of it and falling back into a deeper pit of misery, yes.
  151. > But also one of the greatest scars you could see in Twilight.
  152. > She was, in that respect, very much still broken.
  153. > ...how much of the hatred she refused to let herself direct at the system her race found itself in, you wonder, was the hatred she tortured herself at night?
  154. > And if she-
  155. > "Anonymous?"
  156. > Oops.
  157. > You'd actually gotten lost in your thoughts there.
  158. "Yes, Twilight?"
  159. > "Her."
  160. > A hoof is jabbed at the screen - at the profile picture of a manila-coated unicorn staring back out at you with narrowed eyes.
  161. > "Please, Anonymous. We have to. She's - we have to get her!"
  162. "Slow down, Twilight."
  163. > A hand comes to rest on her mane, stroking softly.
  164. "Slow down, and explain to me what's going on here."
  165. > Swallowing a deep breath, Twilight nods and holds her words until she can.
  166. > "She's - I knew her. We were friends, back in school. Good with magic, very knowledgeable."
  167. "Was she tutored with the, uh, princess like you were?"
  168. > "No. But she's just as good a researcher as I was - maybe better!"
  169. > You'd started scrolling through the profile as she spoke; the details there largely confirmed what Twilight said - 'highly educated in arcane talent, excellent research skills, strong worker when motivated'.
  170. > Unfortunately, it also yielded other information.
  171. > 'Alarming tendency for insubordination and isolation, strong enforcement required for obedience...'
  172. "...Twilight... she's your friend, but is this really a good idea? I mean... I have to be honest here, if we can't get her to work, then they're probably going to let her go. And not give us a say in the matter next time."
  173. > "I..."
  174. > Her head falls, ears drooping as well.
  175. > "I'll do everything I can, Anonymous. Please - we have to get her."
  176. > ...not get her.
  177. > That's not what Twilight is really saying.
  178. > 'We have to help her' - she'd finally found a chance to aid someone she knew, and with a sinking feeling you realized Twilight needed this chance as much as you did.
  179. "...alright. But you have to understand - I'm not buying her. I'm not even having the company buy her - I'm recommending her to corporate. If they agree, then she still won't belong to us - might stay with us for work, but not belong."
  180. > Nodding, she leans her head into your side - one hoof slipping over your leg.
  181. > "I understand. I promise, I'll do everything I can to get her to listen!"
  182. "...alright then. It's, uh - 'Moondancer' it is."
  183. --------
  184. > "Right this way. She's waiting inside."
  185. "Thank you."
  186. > A door is buzzed open, and the plastic card clipped to your shirt checked again before you pass through it.
  187. > The room beyond is simple - two flourescent fixtures buzzing near the ceiling, drowning the room in their harsh light - but not uncomfortable.
  188. > A cot had been provided, as had wood furnishings, a seats, and a window at the far end.
  189. > Not much of a window, but a window nonetheless.
  190. > Seated firmly at the center of the room, however, the mare held within seems unwilling to take advantage of any of those.
  191. > Her head is bowed, giving you a good head-on view of her tri-colored mane - bound up in a... topknot? You don't know what to call it - and the top of her muzzle.
  192. > But little else; Moondancer doesn't even look up when you approach and drop to a squat in front of her.
  193. "Hey there, Moondancer."
  194. > No response; her eyes - now that you can see them - are locked on your shoes.
  195. "Listen, uh - I'm supposed to bring you with me, to introduce you to the pony you're going to be working with."
  196. > Silence.
  197. "Moondancer?"
  198. > ...
  199. "She's going to be very happy to see you, I think. We can talk a bit more in the car, but you're going to have to be going."
  200. > ...
  201. > "You're going to want this to get her moving."
  202. > A leash is held out to you - though, you note, it does not include a bridle.
  203. > Good; her profile hadn't said anything about a predilection towards violence.
  204. > Sighing, you stand and clip the leash to her collar.
  205. > This, at last, evokes a response from her; at the snap of the latch falling shut, Moondancer rises to her hooves and lifts her eyes just enough to see where she is going.
  206. > When you walk, she follows just at your side - not too close, not too far.
  207. > Though she looks around, Moondancer doesn't seem remotely interested in the bustling facility around her.
  208. > Snaking fear worms its way into your head.
  209. > She hadn't been broken too, had she?
  210. > 'Strong enforcement required for obedience', the profile had said.
  211. > But looking her over, you couldn't spot any open signs of abuse or mistreatment.
  212. > Unlike how Twilight had been at first, her eyes were alert and responsive; there was clearly no sign of starvation - perhaps even a bit of pudge.
  213. > There were, of course, methods that left no mark - look at what had been done to Twilight's mind - but somehow Moondancer didn't strike you that way.
  214. > She wasn't lethargic, just... nonresponsive.
  215. > Pausing at the doorway, the man who'd accompanied you in holds out a small package to you.
  216. > "Her things. Medicine, snacks, a to read, so if you break them it's on you.
  217. "She's on the magic pills, right?"
  218. > "Of course."
  219. "How much?"
  220. > "A mild dose, enough to suppress all but her most basic magic. She won't turn you into a frog, if that's what you're asking, but she can still take a book off a shelf."
  221. > So not an overdose, then.
  222. "...that sounds about right. Thank you."
  223. > Getting into your car, Moondancer automatically goes for the back seat - stretching out across it.
  224. > You hesitate, then on a whim loop her leash around one of the headrest supports.
  225. > There'd been no sign of violence from her yet, but even a hug could be dangerous while driving.
  226. > She doesn't really seem to care about you, though.
  227. > Her eyes remain firmly locked on the window, watching the strip malls and gas stations and bus stops flow past.
  228. "So, I guess I should tell you exactly what you're going to be doing here."
  229. > "Mmm."
  230. > It's the first real response you've gotten out of her, and you take that as an encouraging point.
  231. "Well, the first of it is that you're going to be mostly working in the labs and overseeing integration, but also spending a fair mount of time at my place. It's not a bad place, and you'll have a working partner there."
  232. > Nothing, this time.
  233. "I really hope the two of you will do well. She's a good pony - been through a lot, but... honestly, we're pretty close now."
  234. > Moondancer snorts, her ears pinning - which, you suppose, is better than no reaction.
  235. "Like... she's feeling pretty alone. And, while I guess I like to think of myself as someone important to her, I think she'll be really happy to see you."
  236. > ...
  237. "She's really been doing a lot to help the other ponies too. So, you know, once things get started you can probably help with that as well."
  238. > ...
  239. "You'll have your own room when you're staying at my place, and of course free run of the house - barring my room of course, heh - but the rest of it is very much open to you..."
  240. > You trail away awkwardly.
  241. > Damn, she was really devoted to-
  242. > "Alright, look."
  243. > You nearly spin around in your seat.
  244. > Finally!
  245. > "Look - Anonymous, that's your name right? - look, don't try and be my friend? Because I've run in to your kind before. You bought me because you want me to work. I get that. So just tell me what you want me to do and then leave me alone."
  246. > Frowning slightly, you shake your head.
  247. "I won't deny that, Moondancer. But, honestly - I honestly don't think working demands we have to stand off from each other and glare."
  248. > The snort is louder, more forceful this time.
  249. > "You're not my friend. You're my owner. Best-case scenario, you just want me to work. Let me just get it done, okay?"
  250. > After a moment's hesitation, she adds:
  251. > "And if I do good, give me some time to do a little bit of reading on my own. That'd be... nice."
  252. "Of course I can. But - I think you should wait until we get home before making any final calls.
  253. > She hops out onto the garage floor when you arrive, patiently waiting for you to untie the collar.
  254. > Stepping through the portal, you barely have time to call out before the distant, rapid thudding of hooves on floor meets your ears.
  255. > Twilight comes tearing around a corner, man flying wildly and elation stamped on her face - traveling at such speed she actually skids on hitting the wood-panel floor near the garage, falling into a tumble that she quickly rights herself from.
  256. > "MOONDANCER!"
  257. > "Twilight?!"
  258. > The new unicorn's jaw actually drops, mouth hanging open as Twilight rises again and unhesitatingly tackles her into a fierce hug.
  259. > Simply standing back, a grin growing on your face, you watch the two of them nuzzle each other all over - nostrils flaring wide as they take in the scent of a friend long lost.
  260. > "Twilight Sparkle... I... I can't believe it..."
  261. > "I - I know."
  262. > Twilight sniffs softly, resting muzzle-to-muzzle with her one-time friend.
  263. > "Everything - everything was changing so fast, and then this, and I didn't know if I'd ever see you again, ever..."
  264. > "...just about given up hope of seeing anypony from the Academy again..."
  265. > The two of them brush muzzles again, and at last you step forward - unclipping your leash from Moondancer's collar.
  266. "Why don't the two of you take some time to catch up? I'm sure there's a ton of stuff you want to talk about, and we've a little time before we need to get started on anything."
  267. > "Thank you!"
  268. > Ripping herself from her friend's side at last, Twilight brushes against your leg - flicking her tail against it as she passes - in a familiar manner of thanks.
  269. > "We'll be down for dinner, of course!"
  270. "Excellent. You can show Moondancer her room as well, if you like. And-"
  271. > You give a small wink.
  272. "-introduce her to the book collection we've got around here."
  273. > "Ooooooh."
  274. > Twilight does her little happy-dance-in-place thing, hooves tapping on the floor as she rapidly moves from one to another.
  275. > "Yes! Yes, absolutely!"
  276. "Have some fun, then. I'll be down around six to get started on dinner."
  277. > Even after you settle down on the couch, a computer in your lap and the latest episode of your favorite show streaming down, you can hear the sounds of their distant reconciliation.
  278. > Hooves echoing off floors, voices raised in laughter here and there, even the occasional squeal of delight as some particularly enjoyable memory was brought up.
  279. > That brings a smile to your lips as well.
  280. > Perhaps Moondancer was not nearly as recalcitrant as the file had lead you to believe - or perhaps Twilight was merely the catalyst that had been needed to crack her shell.
  281. > It is the latter, you must admit, that seems more likely.
  282. > The way she'd talked to you in the car - she would obey, yes, but you can definitely see how she might have gotten burdened with the 'insubordinate' tag.
  283. > Another burst of distant giggles trickles into the room and your worries melt away.
  284. > That, you supposed, was a good sign.
  285. --------
  286. > With careful focus you lift the fork in your magic, bringing it - and the hot dinner on it - to your mouth.
  287. > Despite the attention required, your mind wasn't really focused on the food.
  288. > It was good, to be fair.
  289. > But every bit of your attention was aimed at the man sitting across the table.
  290. > He wasn't really your owner, you'd realized, but a kind of a manager - he worked for the people who owned you.
  291. > Confusingly, Twilight seemed to be owned by him directly.
  292. > Twilight - the thought of your former classmate sends your eyes shifting to glance at her.
  293. > She sat between you and the man Anonymous, also fully-focused on her dinner and struggling with her magic.
  294. > Anonymous, she claimed, had not used the anti-magic pills on her.
  295. > Something else drove her struggles, but whatever it was she'd locked it away behind a wall of emotion that you didn't yet have the keys to.
  296. > He'd wounded her somehow, you're certain.
  297. > How else could you account for the way she clung to him?
  298. > ...
  299. > Setting your fork down - the plate empty - you look up at Anonymous.
  300. "I am done. Is there anything else you need?"
  301. > "No, it's fine Moondancer. You're good to go - just take your plate with you and drop it off in the kitchen."
  302. > "Um, can I go with her?"
  303. > Twilight isn't done, but she looks plaintively towards Anonymous anyhow.
  304. > "If she needs anything else tonight..."
  305. > "Of course, Twilight."
  306. > Anonymous' warm tones send a shiver up your spine.
  307. > What had he done to make her talk like that?
  308. > You're just happy to get away from him, slipping from your seat and heading for the kitchen as quickly as you can without appearing to flee.
  309. > Twilight soon appears after you, still smiling exuberantly.
  310. "...hey - can we just go back to, uh, my room?"
  311. > It still feels strange to say that.
  312. > "Of course! Come on, this way."
  313. > You remember the way, but let her lead.
  314. > Arriving in your bedroom, you're again struck by the simple pleasure of having your own space.
  315. > But only for a moment.
  316. > You climb up onto the bed and slumping down on with a heavy sigh, all the tension that'd built up within you flowing out with that breath.
  317. > "Are you feeling alright, Moondancer?"
  318. "Yeah. I..."
  319. > Lifting your head, you knock the door shut with your magic.
  320. "...I'm just glad not to be alone anymore."
  321. > "Alone? They kept you without anypony else-"
  322. "No, no. I... I just..."
  323. > Your head drops again, chin falling to the pillow.
  324. "...I've been by myself for a long time, Twilight. You and I... we weren't ever party ponies, you know? And then after you left... well, there weren't a ton of ponies I was close with."
  325. > She nods, seating herself at the foot of the bed and tucking her tail around her hooves.
  326. > "Yeah. I'm sorry, Moondancer, I-"
  327. "No. No, it's okay. I was angry, but after all this... it doesn't matter anymore."
  328. > "Doesn't matter?"
  329. "Yeah. That -"
  330. > You let out a little, nervous giggle.
  331. "-that was nothing compared to how alone I was after they came. Being moved from place to place, owner to owner... I had nopony."
  332. > A pause, and then a leg wrapping around your withers - little shivers running through your coat at the comforting touch.
  333. > "...I'm sorry..."
  334. "Like I said - it's okay. I'm - we're back together now. Celestia above, it feels so good to have somepony, anypony, I know anymore."
  335. > Rolling over, you raise your head to hug her neck-to-neck.
  336. "Twilight?"
  337. > "Yeah?
  338. "Could - you stay with me tonight?"
  339. > "Stay with you... like, in bed?"
  340. > Cheeks heating, you nod.
  341. "It. Um. It doesn't have to be that close. If we can, um, find another bed, that's fine. But, um. Yes."
  342. > Dropping your head again, this time out of shame rather than fear, you whisper:
  343. "I just can't - can't believe it's you. I can't believe I'm not alone anymore. I can't-"
  344. > Twilight brushes her nose through your mane.
  345. > "It's okay, Moondancer. The bed's plenty big for the both of us, and I'm sure Anonymous wouldn't have any problem with it. Let me just go get some things and I'll be right back."
  346. > Anonymous...
  347. > That sends a far less pleasant shiver down your spine, your tail flicking.
  348. > He truly did rule everything she did, didn't he?
  349. > How had he managed that?
  350. > Conjuring ever-darker images of what must have been done to your one-time classmate, you're caught by surprise when she slips back in - pillow, a pair of books, and an alarm clock balanced on her back.
  351. > "Moondancer? You okay?"
  352. "I - uh - yeah. Yeah, I'm fine."
  353. > "You sure?"
  354. > Shrugging off the pillow onto the bed, she peers up at you with wide, concerned eyes.
  355. "Yeah. I am."
  356. > In truth, now that she is back, you are.
  357. > The specters that'd been circling ever closer in your mind now banished once again.
  358. > Twilight was here.
  359. > You were not alone.
  360. > Not when you continued to reminisce with her of times passed and memories grown old.
  361. > Not when you'd begun to remember all the little ticks and habits that made her uniquely Twilight.
  362. > And not, long into the night, when Twilight had curled up and fallen soundly asleep - her leg twitching softly as she dreams - you remain awake, relishing in the simple joy of having a friend beside you again.
  363. > In the utter relief of no longer being alone.
  364. > By the time you lay your head down, an ear tilted to listen to Twilight's soft breathing, your own fears have been driven back.
  365. > For the first time in hours, you close your eyes and drift into a peaceful rest.
  366. > Morning comes far too quickly, but Twilight is up - as, you remember, her habit had been - bright and early, the alarm clock she'd brought ringing out its alert and raising you as well.
  367. > Stretching, she reaches forward with both legs - her back rapidly popping, ears flicking.
  368. > Settling back down, she shoots you a warm smile.
  369. > "Hey. Good morning, Moondancer."
  370. "Good morning, Twilight."
  371. > Stretching out each leg at once, you yawn mightily.
  372. > "You sleep well?"
  373. "Amazingly."
  374. > Then, more softly, you add:
  375. "Thank you."
  376. > "You're welcome."
  377. "Do we have anything to do right now?"
  378. > "Weeeeell... not really. Anonymous doesn't usually get up for a little while yet, so there's plenty of time to shower and even gets some reading in before..."
  379. > She goes on, but your mind has latched on to one thing in particular.
  380. > Anonymous.
  381. "Twlight?"
  382. > "Yeah?"
  383. "Before we do that... um.. Do you remember that 'bubble of silence' spell you used to do so we could study?"
  384. > "Yeah?"
  385. "Can you do it now?"
  386. > "I - um - maybe. Yeah. Let me focus."
  387. > Squeezing her eyes and gritting her teeth, Twilight tries - really tries - and after several false starts the lavender dome pops into existence - coating the walls and nearly reaching the ceiling.
  388. > Immediately the distant whisper of the central air drops out of existence, and you breath a sigh of relief.
  389. "Thank you, Twilight."
  390. > "I - I'm just glad I can actually do that. So, what did you want to tell me?"
  391. "Actually, I wanted to ask you - something."
  392. > "Sure! What is it?"
  393. "Anonymous. What - what's he really like? I mean, when he's not trying to be all... 'best-friend buddy-buddy'."
  394. > Twilight tilts her head, brows knitted.
  395. > "What do you mean?"
  396. "I mean..."
  397. > You drop to your haunches as well, facing her.
  398. "He was being all friendly yesterday, presumably because I just showed up. He wanted me to feel at ease, comfortable. I've seen owners do that before. But, what's he like when he's working you?"
  399. > "He..."
  400. > Pausing, Twilight seems actually confused.
  401. > "Anonymous is really, genuinely nice, Moondancer. He - he's helped me so much..."
  402. > Your heart sinks, barely able to comprehend what you're hearing.
  403. > Just how deeply did he control Twilight's mind?
  404. "Please, Twily. I - I want to know. I've seen masters like this before. I know it's not always that simple. He can't hear us in this bubble, and I promise I won't tell. And, you don't have to lie to... protect me."
  405. > "I'm not protecting you, Moondancer! He's not cruel, not hurting me. He's good!"
  406. > He truly had Twilight's heart clutched in his fist, if this was how she talked about him.
  407. > The freeze spreads in your chest, heart cracking and shattering entirely.
  408. "He's your owner, Twilight. He's not a friend. He bought you to work. Trust me on this - I've studied how they operate!"
  409. > "He is!"
  410. > Twilight rears up - eyes narrow, angry, and tear-filled.
  411. > "He is a friend, and I won't listen to you talk like this about him."
  412. > For a moment the two of you lock eyes - a silent contest, a clash of wills.
  413. > Twilight breaks first.
  414. > Looking away, she turns for the door.
  415. > "I'm... going. To take a shower. Breakfast will be in about thirty minutes, but you're free to take anything if you want."
  416. > You can hear her voice quivering.
  417. "Wait, Twilight-"
  418. > "I'll see you at breakfast. Then, show - show you where the stuff we work on is."
  419. "Please, wait-"
  420. > And then she is gone - the door slipping open and the last fringes of her tail vanishing through it.
  421. > For several long minutes, you stare dully at the open door before slamming it shut and sinking your muzzle into your hooves.
  422. > Tears flow freely, rolling down your cheeks.
  423. > You were wrong.
  424. > Twilight's... turned into one of them.
  425. > All the hope that'd filled you, buoyed you through the night, you now see to be rotten and empty.
  426. > And you are still alone after all.

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