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Zooma (WIP)

By ReggieSomething
Created: 16th July 2021 09:31:33 PM
2nd May 2022 05:55:48 PM

  1. NOTE: Not on official hiatus, but will be updated infrequently at best.
  2.  
  3. Latest update: line 1302
  4. Synopsis: A series of vignettes following the (mis)adventures of Zooma, a bootleg Luna. Inspired by >>37075487
  5. >a bootleg Luna who calls herself "Zooma"; she can't run straight all that well but god dammit she's doing her best and is thrilled to be of use to someone for once and that's what matters.
  6.  
  7. 1. Fortunate Misfortune and Introductions
  8.  
  9. >Another mentally-draining day is in the books. Five o'clock. The daily reprieve from your soul-sucking monotonous excuse for a "career" is here at last.
  10. >You swipe up your backpack and sling it over one shoulder whilst powerwalking towards the door. Daring to glance to your right, a wave of relief overtakes you upon seeing that Tom's office door is closed. Thank baby Jesus your workaholic manager is oblivious to your departure today, lest he try to get you started on a new project.
  11. >Salaried employee or not, you don't get paid enough to put in fifty-to-sixty hour weeks like he does. Even if you did, you've got a life, places to go, people to see!
  12. >If only.
  13. >Be it your unfulfilling job, complete lack of a social life, or your generally mediocre existence, something has to give. Surely better times are just around the corner, right?
  14. >The old rustbucket fires up after a moment's hesitation, and you're off. You deftly maneuver and muscle for rank against fellow commuters, navigating potholes and the occasional vagrant stumbling off the medians.
  15. >At first, you think the potholes are responsible for your unusually bumpy ride. It's not until you notice the smooth blackness of freshly-paved asphalt that you put two and two together.
  16. "Oh, no, come on! Please! Don't do this to me!"
  17. >You attempt the ol' Italian tune-up. Unfortunately, the engine is hesitating and sputtering too much to even redline. Steam begins to billow out from under the hood.
  18. >The sickly-sweet scent of boiling antifreeze fills the cabin, as do angrily-shouted expletives. With the car parked, hazard lights on, and hood popped, you stomp over to the front of your vehicle-turned-smoke-machine. Your hand fumbles around blindly for the latch...there it is. Let's see what the damage-
  19. >Oh.
  20. >It's totally fucked, mate.
  21. >You have no words. Like the quintessential basic white girl, you literally can't even right now.
  22. >The hood slams shut with an apathetic thud. You really ought to call a tow truck and get your car to a mechanic, but you currently can't be bothered to arrange that.
  23. >Hell, you're so mad you lack the presence of mind to call an Uber. As such, with your backpack drooping off your shoulders you set off on foot.
  24. >You'll save time if you cut through Chinatown. Sure, it's sketchy as fuck, but it's still a safer bet than the route you'd usually drive through.
  25. >The denizens of this district give you a wide berth, probably due to your scowl and angry, quick steps. Trusting in your inner caveman, you let your instincts guide you. Eventually the bustling markets and shops give way to warehouses and generic cookie-cutter buildings of some industrial sector you didn't know existed.
  26. >It's between two nondescript grey warehouses that you see an old military surplus truck parked. A deuce-and-a-half, you think they're called. Regardless of what it's called, the thing has clearly seen better days.
  27. >The truck's faded olive green canvas bed cover flaps in the breeze, intermittently obscuring a thin man who's engaged in an animated conversation with another person you can't see. Cash is exchanged, which the thin man eagerly counts before stuffing into his shirt pocket and hustling to the truck cab.
  28. >A car engine roars to life, announcing the hasty departure of a black Mercedes-Benz coupe which was previously blocked from your curious gaze by the truck
  29. >Even from your semi-distant observation point, the tension in the air is nearly palpable. With a thick cloud of exhaust and a considerable amount of shuddering, the truck exits stage left as hastily as its counterpart.
  30. >In his haste the driver didn't notice a large wooden crate tumble off the back of the truck bed. Perhaps he didn't care. To be fair, the truck kicked up quite the cloud of dust as it sped away.
  31. >Regardless, your anger has given way to curiosity, which compels you to investigate.
  32. >Closer inspection of the crate reveals that the impact from the fall has jarred its lid slightly out of square. It bears no markings or labels to suggest what it contains. You're about to peek through the crack in the lid when a loud rustling from within the box makes you stumble backwards in surprise.
  33. >You totally didn't scream like a bitch because you're a big boy.
  34. >"Ugh... hello? Is anyone out there?" A dazed feminine voice calls from within the crate.
  35. "Oh my God! Hold- just... hang on! I'll get you out of there!"
  36. >What the hell is a girl doing in there? Did your ass just stumble upon a human trafficking operation?
  37. >Despite the damage sustained from the fall, the crate's lid is still firmly in place. In a panicked rush you search your surroundings, praying for a proper crowbar to descend from the heavens. Your prayers go unanswered, and the movement within the crate becomes more frenzied.
  38. >Thump. Thump. Thump.
  39. >Each subsequent thump jolts the lid a little bit higher, distracting you from your panicked searching. You approach the bouncing wooden box, eyes wide, mouth agape.
  40. >Thump.
  41. >Sounds of wood splitting join the percussive beats, as do intense grunts from inside the box.
  42. >The girl gives a final roar of exertion and the lid explodes towards the sky. Olive green forelegs follow, then a head.
  43. >"HUZZAH!!!"
  44. "Aaaaah!"
  45. >"EEEP!"
  46. >The creature ducks back inside the box. As you tiptoe towards it, a green horn cautiously rises above the rim.
  47. >Oh, it's one of those companion ponies inspired from that show. You'd never seen one up close before. They're a lot bigger in person, or at least this one is.
  48. "Uh, sorry to scare you," you tell the large sky-blue eyes that peer at you with trepidation. "Need help getting outta there?"
  49. >She dips below the box rim again. You sigh, then gasp as the mare leaps clear out of her wooden prison. Massive wings extend to slow her fall into a graceful landing before you.
  50. >"Hello there! Who are you?" the mare asks.
  51. "Uh... hi. I'm Anonymous. Who are you supposed to be?"
  52. >"Luna," she responds, "but I didn't turn out right."
  53. "Didn't 'turn out right'?"
  54. >"Yeah," the mare answers with a sigh. She kicks a pebble with her hoof. "My sisters and I, they said we're all de- *sniff* def-"
  55. >Her eyes shimmer, then the dam breaks.
  56. >"They called us 'defective'!" she wails. Without a second thought, this strange mare has draped her forelegs over your shoulders and is sobbing into your neck.
  57. >Unsure of what else to do, you run your hand through her silver-streaked blue mane, abeit awkwardly.
  58. >"They- they s-s-said nobody would want us!" she continues to sob. Her body heaves and shudders as she tries to regain her composure. "I tried to show them that I was still a good pony, that I could still be a good helper! We all did!"
  59. "A good helper?" is all you can think to ask.
  60. >The mare wipes her eyes and returns to all four hooves. "We were created to assist our future owners at home or at work, as well as be their friends." she explains after a few deep breaths.
  61. >Fascinating. These ponies must cost a fortune.
  62. "And your sisters? Where are they?"
  63. >"I don't know. I remember being told that we were going to work at a factory," she begins. "We were so excited... finally, somebody wanted us! They gave us a special drink to celebrate, and, well, I don't remember much after that. I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I know, I wake up inside a box after being slammed around. "
  64. >You furrow your brow.
  65. "What... what *kind* of factory are you and your sisters supposed to work at?"
  66. >"A glue factory!" the mare answers with a cheerful voice. "It's going to be wonderful! At last, we'll have a purpose! We'll finally be able to do what we were made to do- help others!"
  67. >Oh god.
  68. >"Anonymous? What's wrong? You got pale all of a sudden."
  69. "I... I need to sit down for a minute," you reply before collapsing to your knees.
  70. >The pony moseys next to you and sits on her haunches. "Mister Anonymous?"
  71. "Please, just call me 'Anon'."
  72. >She smiles at that.
  73. >"Oh, okay. Anon?"
  74. "Yeah?"
  75. >"Do you think you could help me find this glue factory? I would very much like to have this job, not to mention be reunited with my sisters."
  76. "Luna, I-"
  77. >"Zooma," she interrupts.
  78. "Huh?"
  79. >"Us 'defects'," she spits the word out with a heavy dose of venom, "we weren't worthy to bear the names our show counterparts. So we named each other."
  80. >You're speechless. This poor creature.
  81. >She watches you closely, this "Zooma". She's certainly built like her show character. Sure the coat color is wrong, and her cutie marks are backwards, but she's still a lovely creature. And she sounds like the real Luna, so she's got that going for her too.
  82. "Zooma," you finally say.
  83. >"Yes?"
  84. "I'm afraid I can't take you to this glue factory."
  85. >Her face goes from hopeful to crestfallen in an instant.
  86. >"But... my job. My family, my chance to make a real friend..." Her eyes begin to well up once more.
  87. >You hold up a finger to silence her. This is crazy, this spontaneous idea. Here goes nothing.
  88. "I want be your friend." You say, rising to your feet.
  89. >Zooma gasps, covering her mouth with a hoof.
  90. >"You... want to be friends... with a reject like me." She says incredulously, before looking up to you. "Do you really mean that?"
  91. "Of course I do! I think you're lovely." you reply. "Your sisters won't be there, but my home can be your home, if you want it to be. You can even help out around the house if you wa-"
  92. >Zooma lets out a squeal of delight, and before you know it, you're on your back. Strong forelegs squeeze your torso for all they're worth.
  93. >"Oh thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!"
  94. >Zooma peppers your face with kisses between chanting her frantic thank yous. You can't help but chuckle while you hug her back.
  95. >After a indulging in a few moments of affection with your newfound friend, Zooma releases you from her iron grip and helps you back up. She dusts off your back with a an olive green wing.
  96. "I guess we should head home."
  97. >"Home." Zooma repeats in disbelief. "I have a real home now."
  98. "You sure do! C'mon, let's hurry. It's getting late, and I don't know about you, but I'm famished."
  99. >Zooma's face lights up. "Oh! My first chance to help out! Get on my back, Anon. It'll be faster this way!"
  100. >You don't mean to cock your eyebrow at the mare, but you just can't help it.
  101. >"Trust me. I'm really strong. And my sisters didn't name me 'Zooma' for nothing!"
  102. "Okay..." is your hesitant reply as you swing a leg over her back.
  103. >It takes a moment to figure out how to position your legs as not to hurt Zooma's wings. Your feet now hover a scant few inches above the ground. By the time you describe the route home, she's prancing in place, apparently not bothered at all by your weight.
  104. >"Are you ready?" she asks you, unable to contain her excitement.
  105. "Yup. Just take it eeeeEEEEASY!!!"
  106. >Squeezing Zooma's barrel with your knees, you desperately try to remain seated and upright on the pony's back as she weaves to and fro at a full gallop.
  107. "Zooma!"
  108. >"Yes, friend?"
  109. "Can you at least run in a straight line!?"
  110. >"Not really!" she giggles.
  111. >Even though your hold around Zooma's barrel is tenuous at best, a shit-eating grin is creeping across your face.
  112. >Sure, your life has been in a rut, your job sucks and your piece of shit car died.
  113. >As you weave across streets, sidewalks, and lawns, you realize none of that matters anymore.
  114. >"I've got a friend!" Zooma shouts to curious bystanders with tears of joy running down her face. "I'm going home!"
  115.  
  116.  
  117. 2. Ulterior Motives
  118.  
  119. "Alright, alright. We've emptied the produce department of spinach and mixed greens. What else?"
  120. >"Stop it, you." Zooma replies with an exaggerated eye roll.
  121. "For real, though. I'm about to buy enough roughage to clean out a horse. Or a pony."
  122. >That earns you an indignant snort and a pout.
  123. "Fine! It's fine," you say. "What's next?"
  124. >Zooma scans her list. "Did you get more rosemary and thyme?"
  125. "Yup."
  126. >Sky-blue eyes scan the cart, then return to the list. "Hmm... just carrots and parsnips, then we should be done here."
  127. "Parsnips?"
  128. >"Yes. Parsnips. There's a new recipe I want to try that calls for them."
  129. >She's been buying more and more healthy food each week. What gives?
  130. >It's amazing how quickly things can change for better or for worse. Your life has been nearly unrecognizable since you rode Zooma home exactly one month ago. Adapting to living with a roommate for the first time in years came easily enough, and Zooma had taken to her new home like a fish to water.
  131. >Your house had never been cleaner. Well, it wasn't your house anymore, it was Zooma's; you merely lived there and paid the bills.
  132. >Zooma, as you quickly came to learn, was a stickler for cleanliness and order. She refused to sleep that first night until your house's main level was "presentable". It's not that you were a slob, but you were a bachelor that never entertained guests. Your new roommate had thrown herself at her self-appointed tasks, leading to you returning from work to an immaculate house the second evening into her residency.
  133. >That wasn't the only surprising revelation. Zooma could read, write, use a computer, and had a better grip on living as a responsible adult than most people your age. Not only that, the girl LOVED to cook.
  134. "How do you know all this stuff?" You had asked her incredulously after catching her writing a grocery list for the first time.
  135. >"I dunno," she replied with a shrug of her wings, "we just woke up knowing everything we'd need to be helpful."
  136. >Green feathers waved before your face, bringing you back to the present.
  137. "Huh?"
  138. >"I asked if you wanted to indulge in a steak. They're on sale this weekend!"
  139. >You've barely begun to smile, but Zooma knows she has your blessing. She trots to the man watching from behind the butcher's counter. Companion ponies aren't common, but they're not so rare that people openly gawk at you in public.
  140. >"Hello there, Miss...?" the butcher asks as Zooma approaches.
  141. >She stops short of the counter and stands tall, ears pointing forward. "Zooma," your pony answers with solid eye contact and confidence you wish you possessed.
  142. >It's all you can do to not stare as Zooma inspects the steaks behind the curved glass. She goes back and forth with the man, even making him chuckle in the process of finding the perfect cut. With her decision made, the butcher wraps up a thick ribeye in brown waxed paper. He says something that you don't catch, but it makes your pony laugh.
  143. >Zooma trots back to you in her typical meandering fashion, head held high, a paper-wrapped treasure tucked under her wing. She extends said wing to deposit the package into your hands.
  144. "That's quite the steak you picked out."
  145. >"Only the best for my Anonymous." she answers with a grin and a wink.
  146. >She's up to something. You just know it.
  147.  
  148.  
  149. 3. A Quickie Before Dinner
  150.  
  151. >It was getting harder to control your breathing. Zooma was faring better than you, but sweat foam had begun to drip from her olive coat.
  152. >How long had you two been going at it?
  153. "Zooma..." you gasped, "I... I'm not gonna last much longer."
  154. >The mare bounced off you with increased frequency and intensity. Her slick coat slapped your bare skin in time with her labored breathing.
  155. >"Almost *gasp* there, Anon! *gasp* Stay with me a bit longer!"
  156. >Before today, you would've thought you had decent stamina, despite being "out of the game" for a while. Oh, how mistaken you were- this green mare was fixing to ride you into the ground.
  157. >Sensing the end is near, you grunt Zooma's name as your body begins to tense up.
  158. >"So close!" she replies. "Come on, Anon! Finish with me!"
  159. >Her impassioned words of encouragement seem to give you a second wind, allowing you to match her tempo. However, as Axl Rose once sang, "Nothing lasts forever." This is it. The mare is gonna make you blow.
  160. "Zooma!" you manage to choke out. "I'm about to puke!"
  161. >Your pony immediately decelerates from a canter to a walk, and not a moment too soon. Had she not, the strap linking her harness to your waist would've pulled you face-first into the dirt.
  162. >The strap? Her idea. As she has trouble moving in a straight line at any pace faster than a walk, Zooma suggested that she be tied to you to prevent her from deviating off the path. It worked well, but it also led to her bumping into you quite often as you ran. Not that you really minded.
  163. >Her wing rubs your back as you cough and hack. It was touch-and-go for a short while, but you didn't hurl, thankfully.
  164. >"How are you feeling, friend?" she asks you with a content smile.
  165. >Lacing your fingers together behind your head, you stand and continue to suck air. Your green-and-blue running partner shakes out her legs individually.
  166. "Been better, been worse." is your eventual reply.
  167. >"That was a nice little quickie before dinner, wouldn't you say?"
  168. >You choke on air.
  169. "Please don't call it that." you sputter between coughs.
  170. >Her face is one of innocent confusion. "What? It was a quick exercise session; only fifteen minutes."
  171. >Your brain is redlining trying to find the best way to explain her misuse of the offending term. Glancing to the right, you catch a smirk on Zooma's face, prompting you to facepalm. Her giggles are contagious.
  172. "Very funny."
  173. >"You're too easy sometimes."
  174. "Heh."
  175. >Zooma hums and smiles to herself as you remove her harness. Your walk back to the car is so slow it would be more appropriately considered a mosey.
  176. "You doing alright?"
  177. >She hums.
  178. "I'm not moving so fast that you'd need your harness again?"
  179. >"Nuh-uh." is all she says before leaning against you. "Besides, I've got you to keep me on track."
  180. >Heat rises to your cheeks.
  181. "Likewise."
  182. >C'mon, Anon. This mare is the best thing that ever happened to you. Do better.
  183. "I don't know how I went as long as I did without you." is your tentative follow-up. "All I know is I can't imagine life without you, Zooma."
  184. >That's a step in the right direction. Zooma seems to think so, if her read rubbing all over your sweaty torso is anything to judge by.
  185. >The ride home is quiet. Your shower was nice.
  186. >Zooma sets off to the kitchen following her shower, a towel still wrapped around her head.
  187. "Hey."
  188. >She stops and tilts her head.
  189. "C'mere a minute."
  190. >"What's up?"
  191. "You don't always have to be so 'switched on'. It's okay to relax, you know. I'm in no rush to eat dinner."
  192. >Zooma taps her hoof at the floor and sighs, avoiding your gaze. "I know..."
  193. "But?"
  194. >"But I want to earn my keep! I was literally made to serve, Anonymous, to make people happy!"
  195. "You do more than enough here. I want you to ease up a bit on the housework front, okay?"
  196. >"I just want to be useful-"
  197. >A finger pressed upon her lips silences the mare.
  198. "You make me happy by just being here." You state while cupping her cheek with your palm.
  199. >A small, barely-audible "Aww" escapes your pony's mouth. She jumps onto the couch and settles in your lap before hugging you.
  200. >The two of you lose track of time, content to simply hold each other. Zooma's hot breaths tickle the hairs on the back of your neck, but its soothing nonetheless.
  201. >Her stomach growls, loud. She pulls away from you, embarrassment etched on her face. Don't laugh...
  202. >Aaaand you lost. "Staaaahhhp," she whines as he bats your shoulder with a hoof.
  203. >Your stomach unleashes a rumble that was probably detected by the USGS in Golden. Zooma flops off your lap and guffaws.
  204. >"I'll get started on dinner," she says, ambling off the couch. "You've earned that steak tonight."
  205. "Nah, don't bother. Let's order a pizza and watch movies tonight."
  206. >"Okay!" Zooma's excited smile rapidly morphs to a suspicious squint. "I'll allow this 'cheat meal', but don't think I'm letting you off the hook with the diet and exercise regimen, Mister. You take good care of me, but somepony's got to ensure you're taking good care of yourself too."
  207. "Puh-leeeze," you huff, rolling your eyes. "I just need to drop like ten pounds and I'll be good."
  208. >"Yeah, no. Try like twenty-five, Pop'n'fresh."
  209. >This mare. This mare right here. She doesn't pull any punches.
  210. >"Don't worry, Anon. We'll get you /fit/ in no time!"
  211. "Christ, don't tell me you've been visiting that board-"
  212. >Zooma smirks at you, then flexes a wing. "You mirin', brah?"
  213. >Facepalm.
  214. >"Anon."
  215. >...
  216. >"Hey Anonymous."
  217. >...
  218. >"An-oooonnnnn~"
  219. "What."
  220. >"YOU HAVE TO LIVE IT!"
  221. >Zooma continues to cackle in the background while you order your "cheat meal".
  222.  
  223.  
  224. 4. Meet the Parents
  225.  
  226. >"You're pacing again."
  227. "Am I?"
  228. >Zooma rolls her eyes. "I didn't say that to hear myself speak."
  229. >Your stalwart companion leaps and flaps her wings, settling into a hover slightly above your eye level. She places her forehooves on your shoulders and pushes you rearwards towards the couch. "SIT," she commands in a firm, yet gentle voice. You comply. She smiles and makes a show of landing gently in a sitting position beside you.
  230. >For all the issues she has staying coordinated on her hooves the girl is a remarkably skilled flyer, though she typically doesn't take flight in the house, space constraints notwithstanding.
  231. >"What are you not telling me?"
  232. "What makes you say that?"
  233. >"Wow. You couldn't even maintain eye contact when you said that."
  234. >You rub your temples and groan. Zooma sighs. She knocks your hands away from your face with her horn. Before you can react, the mare is clambering onto your lap.
  235. >"Anon..." she begins while running a hoof through your hair.
  236. >She's been more affectionate with you lately.
  237. >Not that you mind. This mare is the best friend you've ever had. But is that all she is to you?
  238. >This mare on your lap. She dotes on you freely; finding joy in her purpose.
  239. >Taking care of you.
  240. >You don't deserve her.
  241. >Staring into her sky-blue eyes takes you back to that fateful evening when you first met. Her lips move, though her words don't register in your mind. You reflect on how you've changed since she burst out of that crate, into your life.
  242. >"...nothing left to chance."
  243. >Oh yeah, she's still talking.
  244. >"So I'll ask again, Anonymous. What are you stressing over?"
  245. >Those big beautiful eyes are boring into your soul. There's no escape.
  246. "You know how I'm not close with my parents."
  247. >"As we've established."
  248. "Well, before they called last night to inform me of their visit, I hadn't exactly spoken to them since before you and I met."
  249. >"You haven't spoken to your parents in six months?"
  250. "Z, please. They're gonna guilt trip me enough about that. I don't need you to make it worse."
  251. >"I'm not guilt tripping you! I'm merely surprised that you haven't-"
  252. "Nothing's ever good enough for my parents," you interrupt. "My mom has her opinion on how I should be living my life, and anything not in compliance with her vision is wrong."
  253. >Zooma nudges your shoulder. "And your father?"
  254. "My dad's an asshole."
  255. >"There's got to me more to it than that."
  256. "I don't want to get into it. You'll see for yourself soon enough. Oh, don't let him push you around."
  257. >She chuckles. "You needn't worry, 'non. I can handle myself."
  258. "I know you can." you grumble.
  259. >You admire her deeply. The way she carries herself. That confidence and charisma she posses, she makes it seem effortless. She was so much more "put together" than you, literally out of the box.
  260. >"Hey..." her voice, more gentle than before, breaks your train of thought. "Whatever... tension may exist between you and your parents, they're still your parents. I'm sure they love you in their own way."
  261. >The fur on her muzzle is so soft on your cheek.
  262. >Zooma continues to nuzzle you, something she's been doing more often, then whispers in your ear. "Besides, don't forget you've got me. I'll be with you every step of the way. Nopony's gonna mess with *my* Anonymous, parents or not."
  263. >With that, she pulls away, but not before planting a gentle kiss on your cheek.
  264. >A slight gasp escapes you. She's never done THAT before.
  265. >Aggressive knocks on your front door prevent the blushes that were forming on both your faces from taking root. Zooma flutters off your lap and makes for the door. You rise to follow.
  266. >Her wing blocks your reach for the doorknob. "How do I look?" she asks with smile.
  267. >In your panicked preparations for this visit, you hadn't actually taken the time to appreciate your friend's outfit.
  268. >You look her over. Her silver-streaked blue mane is in a braid, secured at the end with a piece of ribbon, tied in a bow. She wears a cream-colored dress. It clings to her form around the barrel and loosens around her hindquarters. The low cut V in the front allows the thicker, fluffier fur of her chest to peek out.
  269. >The heat returns to your face and you're grinning ear-to-ear in spite of the situation.
  270. >"Well?" she asks, fluttering her eyelids at you.
  271. >You've always thought Zooma was pretty, in the sense that she was aesthetically pleasing, but tonight... tonight something's different. It's like you're seeing her for the first time, again.
  272. >You want to tell her how beautiful she is. How she's taken your breath away. Instead, you open your grinning mouth and manage to sputter out, "Wow" a few times like an idiot.
  273. >Zooma giggles.
  274. >"Thank you, Anon. That means a lot to me."
  275. >Impatient knocking breaks up the moment. You frown, and Zooma puts on her game face. "Showtime." she whispers.
  276. >You've barely unlocked the deadbolt and turned the knob and the door is already being forced open.
  277. >"About damn time, boy!" your father bellows while pushing past you. Mom follows closely in his wake, stopping to give you a hug once crossing the threshold.
  278. >"Oh, Anonymous, it's been too long," she says, no resentment detectable in her voice.
  279. "Yeah, sorry, been really busy lately," is the half-hearted excuse you offer while hugging her back.
  280. >It's quiet all of a sudden. Not a good thing when Dad's around. You've got a pretty good idea what's got him tongue-tied.
  281. "Dad," you begin while pulling away from your mom's embrace, "this is-"
  282. >"Zooma," she finishes for you, offering your father a curtsy and smile. "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir."
  283. >"HOLY SHIT, BOY, YOU GOT ONE OF THEM TALKING HORSES!?"
  284. >Face, meet palm.
  285. "DAD." you growl as you stride next to your pony (who's doing a much better job maintaining her composure than your father), "This is my very good friend Zooma. She is a pony, NOT a horse."
  286. >"Honestly, Greg, you act like you've never even heard of them!" Mom adds. "The Stevensons have had one for over a year. Surely you've noticed it at some point?"
  287. >"Stevenson's got daughters. Makes sense if he got them a pet horse." He turns to you, that familiar look of disappointment returning, etching ever-deeper into his face. "What the hell are you doing with this thing, Boy?"
  288. >Zooma's mouth drops. "'This.' 'Thing'?" she repeats incredulously.
  289. >Mom, to her credit, tries to defuse the situation. "Greg, that's enough. I'm sure Anonymous has-"
  290. >Dad shushes Mom, his gaze still locked on you. "If you were gonna get a pet, why not get something useful?"
  291. >Zooma stomps her hoof so hard on the hardwood floor you're surprised she didn't split one of the planks.
  292. >"EXCUSE ME!" Zooma bellows flaring her massive wings to their fullest extent. "I am NOT a pet, and I certainly will not tolerate-"
  293. >She stomps up to your dad in an admirably straight-ish path.
  294. >"-some pompous ass-"
  295. "Zooma-,"
  296. >"No!" Zooma cuts you off. "Father or not, what kind of person invites himself over to OUR HOME and proceeds to disrespect not only you, but his mare as well!?"
  297. >"'His mare'?" Mom repeats under her breath.
  298. >Dad steadily retreats from Zooma's subtle zig-zag advance until the living room wall halts him. "I... I didn't think-"
  299. >You step between your dad and the now-hovering Zooma holding your hands out to create distance between the two.
  300. "Enough! Dad, as she's already stated, Zooma is not a pet. We met six months ago, and she's been living with me ever since."
  301. >"You let somebody you just met live with you?" your mom interjects, her hair blowing in the wind from Zooma's wing flaps.
  302. "Yes. I did. I'd be more than happy to tell you the story over dinner," you turn back to your dad, "WHICH ZOOMA COOKED FOR YOU."
  303. >Zooma touches back down, but keeps her wings flared. Her horn points towards your dad's face. You reach out to touch her cheek. She suppresses a sigh, closes her eyes, and leans into your touch, her wings slowly retracting.
  304. "Now, how about we start over?"
  305.  
  306. ...
  307.  
  308. >"This is really good, Zooma." Dad says between massive bites of chicken alfredo. How he's able to cram that much food into his maw at that pace without getting it all over himself is honestly quite impressive.
  309. >His compliment is the closest thing to an olive branch that Zooma will get from the man, and you're fairly certain she knows it, too. She answers with a reserved smile between her own measured bites.
  310. "Thank you, Greg. I've been fine-tuning the recipe for months."
  311. >"To think you made all this from scratch!" Mom exclaims before addressing you. "You sure got lucky with this one."
  312. >You turn to your pony friend and smile, which she returns, her large eyes sparkling in the light of your dining room.
  313. >This visit is going much better than you dared to hope, despite the rocky start.
  314. >If dad was thrown off by a talking pony, he certainly was flustered by one who wouldn't take any of his shit, but that's Z for ya.
  315. >Mom was taking this much differently than you anticipated. She insisted on hearing the story on how you and Zooma met as soon as dinner was served, and Zooma graciously obliged her. While Zooma told her tale you studied Mom's reactions; all her subtle facial expressions and body language cues.
  316. >Unless your eyes were deceiving you, you'd say Mom is positively enamored with the mare seated to your right. Giving Zooma the well-deserved credit for being the driving force behind your weight loss definitely scored her major points in Mom's book. She'd always been a bit of a health nut, even when you were a kid.
  317. >So here you sit, content to savor your best friend's cooking whilst listening to her converse with your mom. Dad doesn't say much throughout the dinner, for which you are grateful.
  318. >"My, my! That was simply delicious, Zooma!"
  319. >"Thank you, Anne. I'm so happy you enjoyed it."
  320. >"Call me 'Mom', dear."
  321. >"Well, thank you... Mom."
  322. >Good job, Z. You've won over the notoriously hard-to-please Mom.
  323. >"Anon. Let's clear the table and get these dishes going." Dad says somewhat unexpectedly.
  324. >"Oh, allow me!" Zooma pipes up.
  325. >Dad holds up a hand. "Please, it's the least I can do. Besides, I need to have a talk with Anon."
  326. >Oh boy, here we go.
  327. >"Okay..." Zooma replies, clearly picking up on the anxious vibes that have started radiating from your position.
  328. >"Come now, dear, let them have their man talk." Mom says. She gestures to Zooma's outfit. "Where did you get this dress? I simply adore it!"
  329. >The ladies walk off to the living room. You and Dad make quick work of clearing the table and set to work on washing the dishes. He scrubs, you rinse and dry.
  330. >Minutes pass like this, the two of you working in tense silence.
  331. >Only after you finish hand-drying the last plate does he speak.
  332. >"She seems nice."
  333. "She's the best."
  334. >He grunts. "When are you gonna quit messing around?"
  335. "What are you talking about? I'm secure in my career and making decent money. I'm the healthiest I've been since high school-"
  336. >"But you're alone."
  337. >You scoff.
  338. "I'm sorry, did you already forget about the mare that was responsible for your dinner? The food that you couldn't shovel down your throat fast enough?"
  339. >He scowls. "Don't you sass me, Boy. You know what I'm talkin' 'bout."
  340. "No, I don't think I do. Spell it out for me."
  341. >Your father huffs. "Fine, smartass. You've got this new friend. 'Roommate'," he says with air quotes. "But how are you ever supposed to find a good woman to settle down with if you're always hanging out with a talking pony?"
  342. >Another scoff escapes you, but he doesn't relent, continuing his diatribe about now it's up to you to carry on the family line, that he and your mom aren't getting any younger, the usual.
  343. >Normally you'd be on the path to capitulation, or at least agreeing with him, but not today. You're different now. Because of her.
  344. >Beneath Zooma's sweet exterior is a core of iron. You've been amazed at her inner strength. It's something you've always wished you possessed.
  345. >You will be strong like her.
  346. >Dad looks at you, clearly expecting a response to whatever he was running his suck about.
  347. >You square yourself to him. Then you take it a step further. Literally. Taking a step into his personal space, you lock eyes with your father.
  348. "Dad. I'm living the life I want. If you can't accept that your only kid is happier than he's ever been in his adult life, you need to take a long hard look in the mirror."
  349. >A myriad of emotions flash across his face before a slight grin settles in. He slaps your arm and chuckles. "Never would've thought it'd take a dolled-up talking pony to get you to find your backbone, son."
  350. >The visit ends amicably, with plenty of hugs going 'round. Mom even gives Zooma her phone number before leaving, imploring her to stay in touch.
  351. >You get ready for bed, going through the motions on autopilot. The sheets are cool and your mattress, soft.
  352. >Minutes pass. Dad's words loiter in your mind. The creaking of your bedroom door breaks that train of thought.
  353. >"Anon? May I come in?" Zooma asks in a hushed voice.
  354. >The sheets fall to your lap as you sit upright.
  355. "Yeah. What's up?"
  356. >She fidgets, shuffling from side to side. The silver streaks in her hair seem to glow in the moonlight that pours through your window.
  357. >"Are you- D-do you ever wonder if m-maybe..." she stammers, uncharacteristically unsure of herself.
  358. "Do I what now?"
  359. >Zooma huffs. "Never mind. It can wait."
  360. "You positive? Sure there's nothing I can do for you?"
  361. >She hesitates. Her teeth glimmer in the moonlight as she smiles. "Well, there is one thing..."
  362. "What's that?"
  363. >Zooma climbs into bed with you- another first- and lays with her barrel pressed up against your torso.
  364. >"Will you... will you just hold me for little bit?"
  365.  
  366. ..
  367.  
  368. >You are Zooma, and you are being held by Anonymous.
  369. >Your Anonymous.
  370. >At least, you'd like to think he's yours.
  371. >He can be so hard to read at times. And oblivious almost all the time.
  372. >For all your confidence, you can't work up the courage.
  373. >So you focus on the arms that are wrapped around your barrel, and your stallion's peaceful breathing. His leg twitches in his sleep.
  374. >Why can't you tell him how you feel?
  375. >You're afraid.
  376. >Afraid he wouldn't like you that way.
  377. >You wouldn't blame him if he didn't.
  378. >After all, could anyone truly love a reject like you?
  379. >You try your best to be useful. To be inspiring. To be strong.
  380. >Is it enough?
  381. >You are Zooma, and not even Anon's sleepy embrace is enough to keep your insecurities at bay.
  382.  
  383.  
  384. 5. Weekend Ride
  385.  
  386. >The road winds through the tree-covered hills. In spots the canopies on either side of the road overlap above the centerline, making artifical tunnels. This scenery is quite lovely, but not as much as the lady riding shotgun in your car.
  387. >Zooma sits beside you, caught up in the natural beauty your surroundings have to offer. She wears a simple sky-blue sun dress that matches her eyes and flatters her lithe physique. Try as you might to resist looking, your gaze keeps returning to Z's lacy dress straps that criss-cross between her wings, directly over her spine.
  388. >*BRRRRRRR*
  389. >The rumble strips of the road remind you to keep your eyes on the road instead of the pretty pony by your side. Jerking the wheel, you re-center the car in the lane, which also snaps Zooma from her nature-inspired trance.
  390. >"You okay?"
  391. "Yeah. Just a bit distracted."
  392. >Z sighs. "I understand. So beautiful..."
  393. "You can say that again."
  394. >Her hoof rubs your arm.
  395. >"Anonymous?"
  396. "Yes?"
  397. >She fidgets in her seat and releases a deep breath. "Would you pull over a for a moment?"
  398. "Sure thing. You're not getting carsick, are you?"
  399. >"Not at all. I just want to talk for a minute."
  400. >You chuckle.
  401. "Z, we're talking now."
  402. >That earns you a jab to the shoulder.
  403. "Alright, alright! I think there's a spot up ahead."
  404. >Sure enough, a scenic overlook pulloff is just around the corner. You park the car but leave the engine running.
  405. "What's up?" you ask, turning to look at her directly.
  406. >Zooma brushes her bangs aside. "This was a lot of fun. I wanted to thank you for taking me out here today."
  407. "Of course," you answer, smiling at your pony friend. "I know most of it was spent driving, but sometimes it's nice to get off the beaten path and enjoy the sights of roads less traveled."
  408. >"It's peaceful in a way I didn't expect," Z adds, "and this drive, it got me thinking."
  409. "Thinking about what?"
  410. >Zooma runs a hoof through her mane and signs yet again.
  411. >"Well, I've had something on my mind for quite some time, but... I haven't been sure how to bring it up."
  412. "No time like the present," you reply. "Lay it on me."
  413. >The mare shifts in her seat, her eyes darting to yours, to the vista before you, the car's dashboard, all over the place, before finally returning to you.
  414. >"Anonymous, over the course of our time together, I've come to realize that-"
  415. >"Mommy, look! A pony!"
  416. >Both you and Zooma jump, startled by the sudden intrusion of a young girl's voice. Looking out Zooma's window, you see that a minivan has parked a several meters to your right. Its occupants had exited the vehicle without either of you noticing.
  417. >Until now, that is.
  418. >A small blonde girl with freckles jumps up and down in front of the shotgun seat's window in an attempt to get a better look at Zooma, her golden pigtails bouncing with each enthusiastic leap.
  419. >"Hi, Miss Pony!" she yells at your car. "Will you come play with me?"
  420. >"Aww!" Zooma coos, clutching a hoof to her chest.
  421. >"Jessica, that's enough," the girl's mother says as she moves to pull her daughter away from your car. "Don't bother them."
  422. >The mother pulls the young girl away, who keeps looking back to Zooma. She pouts as she's half-dragged back to her family's minivan.
  423. >Zooma turns to you, grinning. "Hold that thought!" she squeals whilst nearly ripping her seat belt buckle out of its receptacle. The pony bursts out of your car and calls after the mother. "Excuse me, ma'am? Would it be alright if I said hello to your little one?"
  424. >You exit your car and stroll around the front to join your pony gal, who's doing her best to not prance in place with hopeful excitement.
  425. >"Please, Mommy? PLEEEAAASE?" the girl begs.
  426. >Mom looks to Zooma, who's sporting a massive grin, then to you, and back to Zooma. "I suppose, if it's not a problem with you," she says to you.
  427. "Hey, don't ask me, she's her own mare." you say, pointing back to Z. "Whaddya say, Z?"
  428. >Zooma lets loose a whinny and prances to the girl, who's running to the mare with outstretched arms. They meet midway between vehicles.
  429. >The girl hugs Zooma 'round her neck. "Hi! I'm Jessica! Who are you?"
  430. >Z nuzzles the top of the girl's head. "Zooma," she replies. "It's nice to meet you, Jessica."
  431. >Jessica tilts her head up at the pony. "Zooma? How'd you get a name like that?"
  432. >The mare lowers her head so it's level with her new acquaintance. "Because I'm *fast*," she whispers into Jessica's ear.
  433. >Jessica gasps. "Fast? How fast?"
  434. >"So fast they had to make "Zoom" part of my name," Z answers, puffing her chest out. She flutters her wings for emphasis, earning a hushed "Wow" from the girl.
  435. >Jessica's face lights up. She pulls Zooma's head down back to her level and whispers something into the mare's ear.
  436. >Zooma grins. "I don't know, silly filly. I'm fine with it, but you'd have to ask your mom for permission."
  437. >"Ask me what?" Jessica's mom pipes up.
  438. >"Can I go for a ride on Miss Zooma?"
  439. >The mom shakes her head. "Oh honey, no. That's asking too much, and I don't think-"
  440. >"It's no problem, really!" Zooma interjects. "I'd be delighted to!"
  441. >Time to help seal the deal.
  442. "Ma'am?" you say, earning everyone's attention, "Zooma's carried me on her back before, and it was a blast. It would be an experience your daughter would never forget."
  443. >With crossed arms and pursed lips Jessica's mom contemplates the proposition. Not that you blame her. You'd be hesitant to let your kid ride some random talking pony you just met on the side of the road were the roles reversed.
  444. >In the end, the combined strength of Jessica and Zooma's puppy dog eyes win the day.
  445. >"Oh, alright. As long as you're careful with my baby."
  446. >"HUZZAH!" Zooma yells. She prances back to the car in her typical meandering fashion. "Anon! My harness!"
  447. >As you retrieve said harness, Zooma removes her dress, barely taking the time to fold it before throwing it on the car's hood. She's bumping your side with her muzzle a moment later, bristling with excitement. "Hurry, Anon!"
  448. "Easy, girl!" You pause, then add, "Hold your horses!"
  449. >She snorts at you, then follows it up with a stomp of her right forehoof.
  450. >You're slipping the harness over her head when she whispers, "Be sure to calm the mom down."
  451. "Why?"
  452. >Z grins. "You'll see."
  453. "Zooma..."
  454. >Her wing slaps your back. "Don't worry!" she calls back to you whilst zig-zagging back to Jessica. You follow, and lift the girl onto Zooma's back.
  455. >"Okay Jessica, I'm going to need you to hold on tight to the handles on my harness while you're on my back. Don't let go until the ride is over. Can you do that, sweet filly?"
  456. >"Yeah!" Jessica yells, grinning ear-to-ear.
  457. >"Um, sorry to interrupt?" the mom asks.
  458. >Z smiles at her. "Yes?"
  459. >"I couldn't help but notice you haven't been moving in straight paths. With us being so close to the road, I'm worried that-"
  460. >"Don't worry, Mom," Zooma interrupts with a laugh. "We won't be going anywhere near the road."
  461. >The mom frowns. "How do you reckon that?" There's not much room in this pulloff."
  462. >Zooma turns away from the mom, spreads her massive green wings, and gallops away. "BECAUSE WE'LL BE IN THE SKY!" she shouts back. "Hold on, sweet filly!"
  463. >Zooma and Jessica are airborne before the mom can protest. Jessica squeals with delight, her mom shrieks in terror, and Zooma just laughs to herself.
  464. "Hey," you say in a calm but firm voice, daring to place a hand on the woman's shoulder. "She's fine. Zooma's an incredible flier. She won't let anything happen to your little girl."
  465. >Jessica's laughter and shouts of joy reach her ears. She watches as Zooma flies above the treetops, but taking care not to gain too much altitude. You can't tell whether the mom is going to pass out or throw up, but you continue to reassure her that no harm would come to her daughter.
  466. >The pair make several passes by you, Jessica making airplane noises the entire time. Finally, Z decides it's time to wrap it up.
  467. >"Alright, we're gonna land! Hang on really really tight!" you hear her instruct Jessica from the air.
  468. >Zooma travels higher than she'd previously dared, then adjusts her heading to return to you. She tucks her wings in slightly, starting a controlled dive. Before she lands, Zooma executes a very tight loop, which earns a thrilled squeal from her rider.
  469. >Green hooves touch down on the pavement, and the mom rushes to secure her child.
  470. >"DID YOU SEE ME, MOMMY!" Jessica yells as her mother pulls her off Zooma's back. "THAT WAS THE FUNNEST THING EVER!"
  471. >"You're okay... you're okay... you're okay," her mom repeats while inspecting her daughter for any signs of injury.
  472. "I told you she'd be fine."
  473. >The mom glares at you. Olive green feathers stroke her shoulder.
  474. >"You-" the mom begins to growl.
  475. >Zooma disarms her with the most charming smile she can muster.
  476. >"I apologize for scaring you, ma'am, but I had the opportunity to give your daughter an experience of a lifetime. I hope you'll forgive me for any undue stress I may have caused you."
  477. >Jessica wriggles out of her mother's grip and rushes back to Zooma. She gives the mare another big hug around the neck before contributing to her defense. "Don't be mad at Miss Zooma! She's so nice and so pretty and she gives the bestest rides ever!"
  478. >"Thank you, sweet filly."
  479. >"That really was something." Jessica's mom finally relents. "I'm actually a little jealous of you, honey," she adds.
  480. >The girl simply nods. She's busy running her fingers through Z's silver-streaked blue mane. Zooma is all smiles, as are you.
  481. >"Jessica, we need to be heading home now."
  482. >"Aww..." Jessica and Zooma groan together.
  483. >"C'mon honey. We've got a long drive left and I've got work tomorrow."
  484. >"Listen to your mother, dear one." Zooma says to her newest friend. "You needn't ruin the day by angering her."
  485. >With a little coaxing, Jessica shuffles away from your pony. She continues to look back at her while her mom guides her by the hand back to their van.
  486. >"Thanks for the ride!" the girl says, waving.
  487. >"You're quite welcome!"
  488. >"Bye Miss Zooma! I'll never forget you!" Jessica calls to Z before her mom shuts the minivan door.
  489. >"Nor I, you." Z whispers back.
  490. >The ride home is quiet. Zooma has a serene smile that hasn't left her face since bidding Jessica farewell.
  491. "I didn't realize you were so good with kids."
  492. >"I adore them."
  493. "So, that thing you wanted to talk about before the girl showed up..."
  494. >"It can wait," Zooma replies with a sigh. "Let's just enjoy the ride, okay?"
  495.  
  496.  
  497. 6. Insecurity, Part 1
  498.  
  499. >"It's really not *that* bad," Zooma says with a plastered-on smile. She does her best to suppress a grimace, then swallows another bite of your cooking.
  500. "I don't get it. You try new recipes all the time and they turn out great! What gives?"
  501. >Zooma smile is genuine this time. "I keep track of how much salt I use, for starters."
  502. >It wasn't your fault you were distracted while trying to cook. Zooma had been awfully chatty while you toiled at the kitchen, as well as touchy.
  503. >At one point she even nipped at your arm, but that was to accentuate the punch line of a joke she had been telling.
  504. >You think that's why she did it. Kinda hurt though.
  505. "Whatever. I'll stick to stuff I know how to make and leave the experimenting to you."
  506. >Let's be real, neither of you is going to try to finish this botched meal, so you stand and gather the dishes from the table. Zooma laughs and rises to help. She follows in your wake, her hooves clip-clopping off the kitchen's tile floor.
  507. >*sniff*
  508. >*sniiiiifffff*
  509. "You alright back there?"
  510. >She doesn't respond as you scrape the remaining food in the garbage, nor does she say anything while you rinse off the dishes and start the dishwasher. Sounds like she's she's still sniffing, albeit quieter. You turn around.
  511. "You're not coming down with a cold, are-"
  512. >Zooma's standing a few feet away from you, tail swishing in an aggressive figure-eight motion. She inhales deeply through her snout, closing her eyes as she does.
  513. >"You smell really good, Anon." She opens her eyes and takes a step forward. Something about the way she looks at you makes you retreat a step.
  514. "Oh, cut me some slack. It's been a long day. I was planning on showering after dinner."
  515. >She advances another step. You step back again.
  516. >"I wasn't complaining. I really..."
  517. >*sniiiiiffff*
  518. >"...really..."
  519. >Her wings begin to unfurl. She's got a hungry smile, making her almost look like a different pony. Your back hits the wall.
  520. >"... like it."
  521. >Green forehooves plant themselves onto your shoulders, pinning your back against the wall. Large sky-blue eyes are mere inches from yours. Her hot breath tickles your lips.
  522. "Z-Zooma, w-what're you-"
  523. >"Don't think I haven't noticed how you look at me, Anon," she purrs into your ear. It sends goosebumps down your neck and arms. "And why wouldn't you? Any stallion in his prime would want-"
  524. >She bites your shoulder. HARD.
  525. "OW!" you yell, reflexively pushing her away.
  526. >Zooma stumbles backwards and returns to all four hooves with much wing flapping.
  527. "What the hell, Zooma!?"
  528. >She shakes her head rapidly before looking up at you. You pull your sleeve up to get a look at the damage. She didn't break the skin, but you've got deep red pony teeth imprints on your skin.
  529. >"Anon?" she asks, confusion apparent in her voice. "What's- *gasp!* oh, no, no..." she whines, moving closer to inspect your wound.
  530. >You don't resist when she stands to lean against you again. She's sniffing again, but this time her eyes are shimmering.
  531. >Zooma licks your shoulder and nuzzles it. "Anon... I'm *sniff* so, so sorry."
  532. "Hey, I'll be fine." you try to reassure her. "What was that all about, Z?"
  533. >"It's early this month." Zooma murmurs to herself. She looks up at you, tears threatening to run down her face. "I'm sorry, Anonymous."
  534. "It's fine. Really, it is."
  535.  
  536. ...
  537.  
  538. >How could this happen?
  539. >Your cycle was normally as predictable as the phases of the moon, and NEVER so intense that you lost control of yourself.
  540. >As you pace around your room, you replay the events over and over again in your mind. How he smelled, how it set off that ache deep inside you, that burning want.
  541. >But you hurt him. You started to fully surrender to your base instincts and you hurt your Anonymous.
  542. >What would he think of you now?
  543. >An uncomfortable question creeps into your mind.
  544. 'Why wasn't he receptive of my advances?'
  545. "The bite didn't help my cause." you scoff aloud at yourself.
  546. >Still, you weren't lying when you said you'd caught him checking you out. The way his eyes would dart to your rump, lingering but a moment before darting away...
  547. >You sigh, stopping in front of the large mirror on the wall. You puff your chest out and flare your wings, admiring your feminine form from different angles. Surely he appreciated your features, right?
  548. >The backwards crescent moons and the lack of ink blot splotches on your flanks make you frown. You'd never liked them, those permanent reminders of what you are. Dresses helped when you would feel overly self-conscious, but they couldn't hide your olive green fur like they hid your cutie marks.
  549. >At least your mane was the correct color. Mostly.
  550. 'But if he was *really* interested, he would've acted on it.' your inner monologue whispers inside your mind. 'You've misinterpreted everything, Zooma. He likes you, but he doesn't *want* you.'
  551. >The mirror shows you just how much you can't walk in a straight line. Your breath fogs the glass when you stare into your wrong-tint-of-blue eyes.
  552. >Why couldn't you have turned out to be a "show-accurate" pony like most of the others at the facility?
  553. >'Re-ject... boot-leg...' you hear them sing in your mind.
  554. >You can't stand to look at yourself a moment longer. A leap and a flap of your wings carries you to your bed, where you hide your face under a pillow. The bed shakes with your muffled, pained sobs.
  555. >Wailing into your mattress, you curse your creators for not making you like all the perfect Luna ponies that came before you.
  556. >It feels like a hot spike piercing your heart- being reminded of why you weren't considered worthy of Luna's name.
  557. >You're a defective product. A reject. A bootleg pony.
  558.  
  559. >You are Zooma, and you've never been more embarrassed of what you are.
  560.  
  561.  
  562. 7. Spitfire and The Chad
  563.  
  564. >37:26
  565. >A decent time for a five-mile run.
  566. "Not bad at all," you say as you check your watch.
  567. >Force of habit drives your hands. They reach for a strap that isn't there.
  568. >You had zoned out so hard during your run that you actually forgot you were running solo this morning.
  569.  
  570. /.../
  571.  
  572. >As you tiptoe up the stairs, the mysterious sounds you heard from the living room become identifiable.
  573. >Crying.
  574. >It's muffled by the shut door, but you can hear Zooma bawling her eyes out in the privacy of her room.
  575. >The discovery makes you feel sick to your stomach. Zooma has the strongest spirit out of anyone you've ever met. What could possibly break her down like this?
  576. >Was it because of the biting incident a few minutes ago?
  577. >You told her it wasn't a big deal, even if you were still confused by it all.
  578. >Knuckles hover over the green "Z" painted on her white bedroom door. What you hear stops you from knocking.
  579. >"Why c-c-couldn't I b-be l-like you, Lun-a-a-a-a!?" Zooma's muffled wails reach your ears.
  580. >An angry growl makes you jump.
  581. >"Damn you, m-maker! Couldn't you make me desirable too!?"
  582. >Part of you wants to burst into Zooma's room and comfort her. Another part of you is conflicted, not wanting to embarrass her further.
  583. >In the end, your timid side wins out.
  584. >You wake to your alarm the next morning instead of Zooma calling your name.
  585. >Saturday. Time for your weekly run around the lake by your house, as has been your tradition for months.
  586. "Zooma?" you call out in a somewhat-trepid voice after knocking on her door. "Ready for our run?"
  587. >Hoofsteps approach the opposite side of the door. You turn the knob and begin to open the door. It swings open an inch before a hoof stops its progress.
  588. "Z? May I come in?"
  589. >Silence.
  590. >You cant see her through the cracked entry; only her unmade bed.
  591. "Zooma?"
  592. >"I'm sorry, Anonymous," Zooma whispers back to you. "I don't feel like running today."
  593. "Z, come on, can we talk for a-"
  594. >"Anon, please. Just... leave me alone."
  595. >The door pushes against you with considerable force. You hear the lock engage, followed by Z's lethargic hoofsteps heading back in the direction of her bed.
  596.  
  597. /.../
  598.  
  599. >The events of last night and this morning replay in an endless loop in your mind. So absorbed are you in analyzing everything that transpired, you don't hear them approaching as you stretch.
  600. >"Hey bruh, that was a decent pace you had going on!" a deep voice says, breaking your train of thought.
  601. >"Yeah, dude," a female voice joins in, "we've been impressed with your progress!"
  602. "Huh?"
  603. >Looking up, you see a tall, muscle-bound blond man and a yellow pony standing two paces away. They look at each other to share a smirk, then back at you.
  604. >"Where's your partner?" the mare asks.
  605. "Partner?"
  606. >"Yeah, bruh, that big green mare you're always running with!" the man clarifies.
  607. "She uh, didn't feel like coming along today." you reply, looking at the ground.
  608. >Your two new companions nod at each other. "They had a fight," the man and mare say in deadpanned unison.
  609. >The mare, whom you recognize as Spitfire from the show sits on her haunches to your right; the man to your left.
  610. >"Sup, dude, I'm Chad."
  611. >Of course he is. He even has the red shirt that says, "Ouch!"
  612. >He holds out his hand. You take it and try to resist his crushing grip.
  613. "Anon."
  614. >"Nice to meet you, Anon. Oh, this my marefriend, Spitfire."
  615. "Marefriend?" you ask with a dumb look as you bump your fist to Spitfire's hoof.
  616. >Chad chortles. "Psh-yeah, dude! My better half, my soul mate, y'know... that kinda marefriend! Just like you and your pony gal!"
  617. >Spitfire gives your thigh a light jab. "Hey Anon, what's your marefriend's name, and why do you keep her on a leash when you run? Chad and I have always wondered about that."
  618. >She and Chad await your answer with bated breath.
  619. "Well, uh, her name is Zooma-"
  620. >"Zooma, huh? That's a fuckin' sweet name, bruh."
  621. >"Did you name her?" Spitfire asks.
  622. >"No, her sisters named her-"
  623. >"Sisters? Dude! Bro! You got a harem at home, man?"
  624. >This makes you smile for the first time today.
  625. "Not at all. Perhaps I should start from the beginning..."
  626. >Chad and Spitfire give you their undivided attention while you give them a quick rundown of your history with Zooma. You tell them of the fateful day your car finally died and the sequence of events leading up to meeting your best friend. You tell them the origin of her name. Spitfire asks about the harness again, so you explain Z's disability.
  627. "But it's fine without the harness if we walk slowly," you say. "Like she told me once, 'I've got you to keep me on track'."
  628. >Chad turns away, a strained look on his face.
  629. "You alright, Chad?"
  630. >"Yeah, bruh. Just allergies," he says, sniffling.
  631. >Spitfire wipes his eyes with her primaries, then turns to you, smirking. "You should've seen his 'allergies' at the end of Toy Story 3."
  632. >"Hey... not cool, babe."
  633. >She sticks her tongue at him and returns her attention to you. "When did you two make it official?"
  634. "What do you mean?"
  635. >"You know, when did you two start dating?"
  636. "But we're not dating."
  637. >"Could've fooled us, Nonny Boy!" Chad retorts.
  638. >"After everything you've been through together, how could you not be lovers?" Spitfire adds. "I've seen how she looks at you, Anon."
  639. >"How they look at each other," Chad corrects her.
  640. "I... don't know..."
  641. >"So lemme guess," Chad continues. "You're in the doghouse because you won't man up after all her signals?"
  642. >Things are starting to fall uncomfortably into place.
  643. "Well, um... there was an 'incident' last night..."
  644. >"Go on!" they say together.
  645. >Chad facepalms and Spitfire cringes as you relay last night's events.
  646. >Spitfire rises to her hooves. "Babe. I gotta fly a few laps and clear my head after that doozy."
  647. >"Sure thing." Chad replies. Spitfire uses her wings to pull his face to hers. They kiss, stare into each other's eyes, then kiss again.
  648. >"Love you."
  649. >"Love you too."
  650. >You watch Spitfire corkscrew into the air. She flies low to the lake's surface, bearing directly for a large flock of swimming Canada geese. The birds take off in a panicked frenzy as Spitfire dive bombs the flock.
  651. >"Hahaha! Go get 'em, Spits!" Chad shouts in her direction. "Show those fuckin' honks who's boss!"
  652. >He rises to his feet, grabs your wrist, then pulls you upright as if you were a light backpack and not a 165-lb man.
  653. >"Anon," Chad begins, "be honest with me. Are you a virgin?"
  654. "Well, I uh-"
  655. >"That's a 'yes'." Chad groans. "Look bruh, everything I'm gonna tell you, I'm telling you to help you out, not to bust your balls, 'kay?"
  656. "Okay..."
  657. >"'kay, good. First things first. You're kind of a bitch."
  658. "Hey!"
  659. >"Dude! Bro! Ask Spitfire when she comes back- she'll tell you the same thing! You've got some serious beta male vibes going on, my nigra."
  660. >You sigh and look at the ground. Of all days you chose to wear your white New Balance trail running shoes...
  661. >"Zooma sounds like quite the alpha mare. It's time you grabbed your balls and become the man she deserves."
  662. "How?"
  663. >"Never fear," Chad says, wrapping a beefy arm around your shoulders, "your new bro Chad is here to reintroduce you to your balls and teach you the ways of the alpha horsefucker."
  664. >You try to stifle a laugh. Instead, you end up snorting and blowing a large snot bubble out your right nostril while guffawing like a madman.
  665. >Jesus Tittyfucking Christ. You could die from embarrassment. Chad offers you a pack of tissues from his backpack, then gives you a minute to compose yourself.
  666. >"Alright, Anon. From what you've described, I'd guess Zooma is in the middle of a bad estrus cycle..."
  667. >Chad converses with you for the entirety of a two mile walk. He tells you of his background, his family, career, hobbies, sounding like a man who had it all figured out. But then he surprises you.
  668. >"I was miserable, bruh." he admits, coming to a stop. "My 'friends' were a bunch of flakes who never picked up the phone when I needed someone to talk to. Women stopped being exciting. They were all the same- a bunch of vapid skanks looking for a sugar daddy."
  669. >He moseys to a bench, motioning for you to sit with him.
  670. >"Things got dark for me, bruh. Really dark. I couldn't find joy in any part of my life anymore. Didn't see the point in carrying on."
  671. >Spitfire zips by in pursuit of terrified geese; a whooping blur of yellow, orange, and red. Chad's face brightens.
  672. >"And then all of a sudden, she flies into my life," he says, pointing at the airborne mare. "Spitfire made life worth living again, and I've never looked back."
  673. "Wow, Chad. I don't know what to say."
  674. >He laughs before standing again. "Don't worry about it. Tell me about how Zooma makes you feel."
  675. >As you continue your trek around the lake, you tell Chad about how much you admire Zooma; for her strength, her confidence, her kindness.
  676. >Whenever you're having a bad day, she's the only one you want to talk to. Her voice is the sweetest sound you've ever woken up to. When she smiles at you, it feels as if you could float off the ground. You realize that it feels like you're missing a part of yourself when she's not by your side.
  677. >It finally hits you.
  678. "I love her."
  679. >You turn to your new friend.
  680. "I've always loved her. I think I started to fall for her from the moment she burst out of that crate."
  681. >Chad pats your back. "I know, bruh. But I'm not the one that needs to hear you say that."
  682. >You look at Chad. He nods.
  683. >"Go to her, Anon."
  684.  
  685. ...
  686.  
  687. >You watch your new bro Anon sprint towards his car like Death herself was after him. It brings a smile to your face; knowing you've helped him understand something that was obvious to bystanders like you and Spitfire. As you think about Anon's journey with Zooma, your eyes begin to water.
  688. >Fucking allergies.
  689. >It's getting late. Spitfire chases the last remnants of geese away as you return to your car.
  690. >An unfamiliar voice give you pause as you reach for your keys.
  691. >"Hey there, hot stuff."
  692. >You whirl around to see a petite redhead eyeing you up. She's trying way too hard to pull off the "sexy" vibe. Something seems off about her. Maybe it's the hair. It's too red. And her eyes... colored contacts, perhaps?
  693. "Hi," you reply, disinterest clear in your voice.
  694. >She's not deterred and begins to close the distance with you.
  695. >"I'm Shine. What's your name?"
  696. "Chad."
  697. >"Well, Chad," she says with an awkward laugh, "I just wanted to tell you that you're the hottest guy I've ever seen."
  698. >"What a coincidence!" Spitfire's voice replies from behind you. "I feel the same way!"
  699. >Your marefriend leaps to you from your car's roof and wraps all four legs around your broad torso. She proceeds to grab your face and make out with you in front of the shocked redhead. After ten seconds she pulls her mouth away from yours to turn back to the woman.
  700. >"He's mine. Beat it, nerd."
  701. >Shine scoffs, then shuffles away with her head bowed.
  702. "Perfect timing, babe."
  703. >Spitfire retrieves her aviator sunglasses from the car, making a show of sliding them over her eyes whilst wearing the smirk you've come to know and love.
  704. >"Thot status... PATROLLED."
  705.  
  706. ...
  707.  
  708. >You pace around the living room, hooves clip-clopping on the hardwood floor.
  709. >Anon has been gone for hours! Why wasn't he answering his phone? Did something happen to him?
  710. >You gasp. Was he angry with you?
  711. >Paranoia gets the better of you. Your emotions, which you usually can keep in check, are amplified by the hormones of your cycle and are dangerously close to spiraling out of your control.
  712. "What if he decided to get rid of me?"
  713. >The question makes your blood run cold.
  714. "Oh, Anonymous," you say with a wimper, "I'm so sorry."
  715. >Suddenly the sound of screeching tires reaches your ears. You hear a car door slam and hurried footsteps approaching the front door.
  716. >Keys jingle but a moment before the deadbolt and doorknob are unlocked in rapid succession. The door is all but kicked open, revealing a wild-eyed Anonymous. The sight makes you take a step back.
  717. >Anon slams the door shut and locks it before throwing his keys over his shoulder.
  718. >"Zooma!" he booms as he strides towards you. "We need to talk."
  719. >This is it. Your only friend is about to abandon and discard you like your makers did.
  720. "Anonymous, please... don't do this."
  721. >He cocks his head to the side. "Don't do what?"
  722. "Don't get rid of me..."
  723. >"Why would I do that?"
  724. "Because I'm a *sniff* d-defective bootleg p-pony. A r-r-reject."
  725. >Anonymous smiles.
  726. >"You know what I see when I look at you?"
  727. >Shaking your head, you await his answer.
  728. >"When I look at you, I see the most beautiful being I've ever laid eyes on. I could go on and on about all your amazing qualities, but in this moment, you only need to know one thing..."
  729. >Time has stopped. You can't breathe.
  730. >"I love you, Zooma."
  731.  
  732. ...
  733.  
  734. >You're completely and utterly exhausted; not to mention sore. But it's a good kind of sore.
  735. >Anonymous is secured in your sticky four-legged hold, enjoying a well-deserved rest.
  736. >You sigh, and kiss him for what must be the thousandth time tonight.
  737. >Finally, he is undoubtedly and irrevocably yours; as you are his.
  738. >You're no longer a reject. Anonymous wants you above all else.
  739. >You're not undesirable any more. Your stallion made that abundantly clear with his actions.
  740. >The insecurities stemming from your bootleg status persist, but even they seem trivial in the blissful afterglow.
  741.  
  742. >You are Zooma, and the first time in your life, you truly feel loved.
  743. >In this moment, you are complete.
  744.  
  745.  
  746. 8. The Morning After
  747.  
  748. [Recommended background music: Mac DeMarco: Ode to Viceroy]
  749.  
  750. >A soft steady breeze pushes through the open window, displacing the curtains that would usually be keeping your dark room shielded from the first rays of the sunrise.
  751. >Had the blood red light of the dawn not stirred you from your slumber, a soft, sweet humming would have.
  752. >You feel the edge of something hard stroking your hair. The humming intensifies.
  753. >Though you lay naked and uncovered by the bedsheets, you're still warm.
  754. >Opening your eyes, you identify the source of your warmth, as well as the melodic vocalizations that make you smile.
  755. >Zooma lays to your left, her body pressed against yours. Her wing is draped over your chest, her left forehoof running through your messy locks with the utmost care.
  756. "Hi."
  757. >She doesn't vocalize a reply.
  758. >Zooma gives you a smile of pure contentment, her eyes practically glowing with joy. Those gorgeous eyes draw ever-closer, and you feel her lips tickle your cheek. A light, chaste peck turns into another, deeper kiss at the corner of your mouth.
  759. >She hums her approval when you pull her lips to their ultimate destination. Your tongues meet, engaging in a lazy dance while your exhalations become her inhalations, and vice versa.
  760. >Memories of the previous night creep to the forefront of your mind. With them comes the growing awareness of just how sore you are.
  761.  
  762. /.../
  763. >Following your confession of love to Zooma, the mare launched herself upon you. She wet your face with tears of joy, pouring several months' worth of pent-up emotion into every kiss she planted on it.
  764. >Her tears subsided. The kisses became needy; desperate. You're not sure who was responsible, but Zooma's sun dress was literally ripped off her body, as was your sweat-soaked attire from your morning run.
  765. >Zooma's needs were too great, too immediate. You didn't make it out of the living room.
  766. >You were halfway up the stairs, sweat-soaked and short of breath, when passion overtook you again.
  767. >At least you made it to your bed for the fourth round, and all the subsequent sessions.
  768. /.../
  769.  
  770. >Zooma breaks the kiss. "Good morning, Anonymous, my love," she says.
  771. >You smile ear-to-ear at her words. It feels so right.
  772. >"I can't tell you how long I've been wanting this. To confess our love to each other; both in word and action."
  773. >You keep silent, lest you respond with an unfortunate "Y-you too." Another kiss is a better option instead.
  774. >Zooma rests her head on her chest to afford you both an opportunity to catch your breath. Her mane is matted and tangled, but it doesn't discourage you from running your fingers through it.
  775. "What happens now?" you dare to ask.
  776. >"What do you mean?"
  777. "I mean... you're officially my marefriend now, right?"
  778. >Zooma giggles at the absurdity of the question.
  779. >"We made it blatantly 'official' in the living room, my love."
  780. "Yeah," you say, laughing a moment before having an uncomfortable realization.
  781. >"What's wrong?"
  782. "Um... were the living room blinds open when I came home?"
  783. >Zooma raises her head with a gasp.
  784. >"Uh oh..."
  785. "Do you think anyone saw us?'
  786. >"Even if they did, it's not like we can do anything about it."
  787. "I guess you're right."
  788. >"Of course I am, dearest."
  789. >Her head returns to your chest. She listens to your heartbeat with her legs straddling your body
  790. >The two of you lay like that for some time. Neither of you sleep. Her weight on your chest is comforting, though things are getting kinda sweaty.
  791. >"I want you to- no, I need you to take the next three days off from work." she says, unprompted.
  792. "Why?"
  793. >Her lovely sky-blue eyes bore into you. Where once they exuded joy, there is now a hungry stare.
  794. >"That's how long my heat should persist," Z answers, smirking. You feel her nipples hardening above your groin as she begins to grind against you.
  795. >Okay, that wasn't sweat you felt earlier. Zooma alternately kisses and nibbles your bare skin. She looks at you again; a needy stare. You feel your engine revving up in response.
  796. >"And now that you're 'officially' my coltfriend," Zooma continues, "I expect you to fulfill certain 'duties' during my time of need."
  797. >She kisses you again.
  798. >"Besides, we have so much to catch up on, heat or no heat."
  799. "You're gonna ride me hard and put me away wet, aren't you?"
  800. >Zooma's amused laughter makes you grin. You can almost see the hearts in her pupils.
  801. >Hold on to your butt, Anon. You're in for the ride of your life. As if last night's escapades weren't strenuous enough.
  802. >She growls as you shimmy out from under her.
  803. >"Where do you think you're going!?"
  804. "Honey, I really have to pee."
  805. >"Fine," she huffs. "Make it quick. When you return, you belong to me."
  806. >Life is great.
  807.  
  808.  
  809. 9. Insecurity, Part II.
  810.  
  811. "I can't take a week off from work every month, you know. Much as I'd love to."
  812. >Zooma stops herself mid-scoff, turning in her seat to pout at you.
  813. >"But Anon..."
  814. "Nope. You're going to drain my PTO-"
  815. >Zooma cuts you off with a kiss to your ear and a sultry whisper.
  816. >"Faster than I drained your-"
  817. >BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRT
  818. >The car hits the rumble strip, causing Zooma to yelp and you to jerk the wheel to the left. Tires screech and after a momentary fishtail, you're re-centered in the lane.
  819. >After a half mile you shoot your marefriend a sideways glance. She tries to maintain her composure. It's a lost cause.
  820. >"Baaa hahahahahaha!"
  821. "Very funny."
  822. >"Oh, Anonymous! Even after all this time, you're still so easy to fluster!"
  823. "You wouldn't be laughing if you flustered me into crashing this car..."
  824. >"WITH NO SURVIVORS!" you exclaim together. You wait until your shared laughter peters out to chide her.
  825. "For real though, Z, let's save the teasing for when I'm not driving, 'kay?"
  826. >"Okay... I'm sorry, Anonymous."
  827. "It's fine."
  828. >"..."
  829. >You can see Zooma flutter her eyelids at you in your peripheral vision. "Are you mad at me?"
  830. "No, honey."
  831. >Zooma kisses your cheek.
  832. >"I love you, Anonymous."
  833. "And I love you, Zooma."
  834. >You'll never grow tired of hearing those words from your mare, nor will you ever tire of confessing your love to her. It feels so natural, so right. Honestly, you don't know how you went as long as you did without openly sharing your love for one another.
  835. >The grocery store looms ahead. It seems packed, even for a Saturday.
  836. "Keep your eyes peeled for a parking spot."
  837. >"Just head for the back of the lot, darling. We could use the longer walk after missing our runs lately."
  838. >You burst into laughter.
  839. "Baby, we've probably burned more calories this past week than all of last month's runs combined!"
  840. >Zooma blushes. She doesn't respond, though you do spy a satisfied smile brightening her face.
  841. >Walking from the far end of the parking lot isn't an inconvenience when you're accompanied by the one you love. Zooma mitigates her disability by keeping a wing wrapped around your waist. Your arm drapes down the side of her neck, keeping her pulled close to your torso.
  842. >Together, you keep each other on track.
  843. >Zooma has been all smiles since that fateful day. Today is no exception.
  844. >"What's going on over there?" Z asks, pointing to a small mass of people near the store entrance. There are equal numbers of humans and ponies present.
  845. "Whatever it is, we seem to have just missed it," you say, gesturing to the dispersing crowd. "Hey, wait a minute..."
  846. >"What is it, love?"
  847. >A large, muscle-bound man in khaki slacks and a red polo shirt stands behind a table laden with fliers. He packs them up while a pegasus hovers above him, tearing down a banner that reads, "Yes on Proposition 22!"
  848. "I think I know them," you tell Z before calling out, "Chad? Spitfire?"
  849. >The man looks up from the table to you and Zooma, then smiles.
  850. >"Anon! Dude! Bro!"
  851. >Chad strides out to meet you and offers his hand. You take it, bracing yourself against the crushing handshake-hug he gives.
  852. "What's all this about?"
  853. >"Prop Twenty-Two, brah. Rights for Sapient Creatures Initiative..." He says, trailing off with a smile upon noticing the green mare that has retaken her place at your side.
  854. "Oh! Chad, this is my marefriend Zooma. Zooma, this is my new friend Chad."
  855. >Zooma holds out her right forehoof. "It's nice to meet you, Chad."
  856. >Chad grins ear-to-ear as he shakes her hoof. "The pleasure's all mine, ma'am."
  857. >Suddenly, a wild pegasus lands on Chad's back. "So you finally found your balls, eh Anon?"
  858. >"Not cool, babe!" Chad whispers out the corner of his mouth. "Not in front of his mare!"
  859. >Z interjects, "Fear not, my love Anonymous is a true stallion."
  860. >Chad and Spitfire exchange shit-eating grins. Zooma wears a demure smile; running her wing's leading edge in small circles over your back. Your face flushes to tints of red reminiscent of a ripe tomato.
  861. >Being the bro he is, Chad is quick to change the subject. He gestures to the yellow pegasus that's rubbing her head all over his. "Zooma, this is my better half, Spitfire."
  862. >Spitfire slides down Chad's back, then trots around the table to approach Zooma. You've always known that Z was a big girl by companion pony standards, but seeing her stand face-to-face with Spitfire makes you appreciate just how tall she is. The fire-maned pegasus's head barely reaches past Zooma's withers.
  863. >The mares bump hooves, making a "clop" sound.
  864. >"It's nice to finally meet you, Zooma," Spitfire says, grinning. "Between Chad and I always seeing you run with Anon and hearing Anon gush last week about how wonderful you are-"
  865. >Zooma mouths a silent "Aww" whilst shooting you a lovely smile.
  866. >"-I've been really excited to talk to you!"
  867. >"Likewise, I'm pleased to meet you too, Spitfire."
  868. >Chad takes the opportunity to speak up. "Hey, Spits? I wanna talk with Anon for a bit about the Initiative."
  869. >"That's cool, I could use some mare time. C'mon Zooma, let's get started on your shopping."
  870.  
  871. ...
  872.  
  873. >"You know, I think you're the only pony I've seen that wears clothes on a regular basis. Why is that?"
  874. >Your voice catches in your throat.
  875. >"Not that there's anything wrong with that!" Spitfire is quick to add. "Just curious."
  876. >A variety of potential explanations race through your mind.
  877. "I um..."
  878. >You look at your olive drab hooves.
  879. "Clothes hide my flaws," you whisper. "Some of them, at least."
  880. >Spitfire shakes her head and stomps in front of you, not stopping until her muzzle is a hair's breadth away from yours.
  881. >"What flaws?" she half-growls. "If Anon made you feel this way about yourself, so help me-"
  882. "No! He didn't!" you immediately respond. "It's just... *sigh*... you wouldn't understand."
  883. >"Then help me understand."
  884. "You're a real Spitfire; the genuine article. I'm an imitation."
  885. >"That doesn't-"
  886. "Please, Spitfire. I don't want to talk about it."
  887. >She backs down.
  888. >"I'm here if you change your mind"
  889. >A slow nod and a soft, "Thank you" is your meager reply.
  890. >You trudge through another aisle at a snail's pace. It's all the speed you can manage on your own.
  891. >"That is a pretty dress," Spitfire offers, breaking the silence. "It brings out your eyes."
  892. "Oh, thank you," you reply with an idle wing tug at the sky-blue fabric. "I can text you the link for the site I buy most of my clothing from, if you'd like. They specialize in-"
  893. >"You should take it off."
  894. >Her suggestion causes you to trip over your own hooves.
  895. "What!? No, I- I can't."
  896. >"Can't, or won't?"
  897. >She certainly is Spitfire; a paragon of boldness.
  898. >"C'mon, Zooma. You're a fit, beautiful mare. You've got nothing to be ashamed of!"
  899. >Spitfire continues to plead with you using her eyes. They make you relent after several moments of intense staring.
  900. "Fine, if you insist."
  901. >She smiles, and even helps you with your dress. You fold it and Spitfire offers to carry it in her saddlebag.
  902. >"How do you feel?"
  903. >You spread your wings, shaking out some residual tension in them.
  904. "More like a pony."
  905. >"Atta girl," she replies, patting her yellow primaries on her withers. "See? Nothing to it; just an alicorn and her pegasister, shopping for their stallions."
  906. >This coaxes the first smile from your lips since you left Anon and Chad to their own devices.
  907. >Your phone buzzes; text from Mom.
  908. >[Hey Zooma! Are you doing okay, dear? I haven't heard from you at all this week!]
  909. >[Love, Mom]
  910. >A smirk flashes across your muzzle.
  911. 'Oh, Anne. If you only knew.'
  912. >"Was that Anon just now?"
  913. "His mother."
  914. >The yellow mare cocks an eyebrow. "You're on good terms with his parents?"
  915. "Mom, definitely."
  916. >You don't bother to hide your scowl when thinking about Anon's dad.
  917. "Greg, on the other hoof..." the name leaves an unpleasant taste in your mouth. "Greg is an ass."
  918. >Your honest assessment of the man makes Spitfire chuckle.
  919. >"Do they know about your relationship with Anon?"
  920. "Well, they know we've been living together for nine months. Anon and I- we didn't make it 'official' until last weekend. And even then, we haven't told them. Or anyone."
  921. >"Why not? Nervous to break the news?"
  922. "Um... we've been rather distracted this week."
  923. >Spitfire tilt's her head. "How so-"
  924. >She stops mid-sentence and smirks.
  925. >"Ohhhh... that's right."
  926. >You look away.
  927. >"I'm guessing you're an insatiable beast of a mare when you're in heat, big girl," Spitfire says, grinning. "You put poor Anon through the wringer, didn't you?"
  928. >You take a sudden interest in the stack of sardine cans on the shelf to your left. A good source of Omega-3 fatty acids AND protein!
  929. >"Aw, c'mon, Zooma. I'm just bustin' your teats."
  930. >Spitfire rubs her face against your neck. Her display of affection towards you is unexpected and actually makes you sit on your haunches. You haven't been nuzzled by another pony since...
  931. >The compound. Your sisters were all affectionate. The reject girls; separated from the desirable show-accurate ponies. You haven't thought about any of them in a while; only yourself and your own problems.
  932. >Some sister you are.
  933. >"Hey, Zooma... please don't cry. I didn't mean anything by it!"
  934. >Before you know it, you're nuzzling this orange-maned pony- a mare you've only known for twenty minutes- rubbing your tears into her neck as you do. She doesn't hesitate to pull you close with her wings. Your body shudders with hitched, ragged breaths, making Spitfire hug you tighter.
  935. >It takes you a few minutes to settle down.
  936. "I'm sorry," you say with a sniffle. "I haven't been nuzzled by another pony since the day Anon found me. I forgot what it was like."
  937. >Spitfire nods into your neck.
  938. >Other store patrons squeeze past you in the aisle, trying to give you a wide berth while simultaneously trying to sate their curiosity about what you and Spitfire are doing.
  939. >"Better?"
  940. "Yes. Thank you."
  941. >"Don't mention it."
  942. >Standing back up, you wipe your eyes and get back behind your cart. The sardines catch your eye again, so in the cart they go! Anon should try some different protein sources. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
  943. >By the moon and stars, you love taking care of him. He is your purpose. Thinking of Anonymous brings a smile to your face, which helps drive lingering unpleasant thoughts from your mind; setting you back on your previous course at a slow, plodding pace.
  944. >Spitfire clears her throat.
  945. >"So, where were we? Oh, right... Anon's parents. Think they know about you and him?"
  946. "Anne, er- Mom... I think she may have her suspicions about us. If she does, she doesn't let on that it bothers her. In fact, she's treated me like a surrogate daughter of sorts since we met."
  947. >"That's good! What about Anon's dad?"
  948. >"He thinks I'm a 'pet'." You spit that word out with vitriol, "A pet that's wastes Anon's time and prevents him from finding a 'good woman'."
  949. >You do air quotes with your primaries whilst rolling your eyes.
  950. >"Oof." Spitfire kicks at the polished tile floor. "Hopefully they won't disown him when they learn the truth about you two."
  951. "What kind of parents would disown their own son?" you scoff at her.
  952. >Spitfire stops mid-stride, looking at you with somber amber eyes.
  953. >"Chad's did."
  954. "No!"
  955. >The mare sighs, averting her gaze down the aisle. "Yep..."
  956. >She doesn't say anything else, which keeps you waiting for an explanation with bated breath until you reach the produce section.
  957. >"We'd been together for a few months when he introduced me to them." Spitfire finally continues.
  958. "Living together, or-"
  959. >"Together together. By that point, we both knew we were meant for each other, so Chad decided it was time for me to meet the parents."
  960. >You're almost bursting with questions, but you're a patient mare, so you remain silent; letting Spitfire continue at her own pace.
  961. >"At first, they thought Chad was playing a prank on them," Spitfire continues. "And to be honest, I don't blame them. I mean, what were they supposed to think when a guy like him shows up on their doorstep with me by his side?"
  962. "That he has good taste in mares?" you offer.
  963. >It's a weak attempt to lighten the mood. Try as you might, you just can't think of anything better to say.
  964. >"Heh. Well, to make an awful short story even shorter, it ended with Chad's dad yelling at us to get out of his house, and that he never wanted to see Chad again."
  965. "What about his mom?"
  966. >Spitfire scowls. "What about her? By the time Chad and Brad started screaming at each other, all she could do was sit on the couch and sob, moaning about how they 'raised him better than this'."
  967. >Once again, you're at a loss for words. Spitfire leans against the cart, staring into space, while you pick out sweet potatoes.
  968. "How long ago did this happen?" you ask, curiosity getting the best of you.
  969. >"Five years," Spitfire replies shaking her head. "They still won't answer his calls."
  970. "Five years..." you echo in disbelief.
  971. >"Yeah. Five years without so much a hint that they care about him. Do you know what that visit did to Chad?" she asks in a yell-whisper, starting to back away from you.
  972. >You shake your head, stepping away from your cart to remain in earshot.
  973. >"He's always struggled with severe depression," Spitfire continues, the tempo of her steps increasing. "That first month, I was terrified for him."
  974. >Clenching your jaw, you focus on a distant point as you try to keep pace with the agitated yellow mare.
  975. >"His folks have no idea of how much they hurt him! But I was there for him. I picked up the pieces and helped him through it all-"
  976. >There's a stand to your right that holds a variety of apples, all arranged in by color, stacked in shapes vaguely resembling tetrahedrons. Try as you might, you can't prevent your wing from knocking some of them on the floor.
  977. "Spitfire, slow down. I- can't keep up!"
  978. >It's only when you crash into a nearby woman that Spitfire notices she's left you trailing. You issue your most sincere apologies as you help the shocked woman to her feet. Thankfully, she isn't upset with you.
  979. >Spitfire returns to your side after you wish the woman well. "Hey, sorry I left you behind back there," she says; ears drooping. "Got caught up in my own head."
  980. "It's okay. Can you walk me back to my cart?"
  981. >"Alright. Need me to do anything specific?"
  982. >You drape a wing over the mare's back and lean laterally into her.
  983. "Just walk straight, please."
  984. >She stiffens under your weight and nods. "Ready, big girl?"
  985. "You don't have to walk slow if you're guiding me. I just can't walk or run fast on my own, lest I crash into something. Or someone."
  986. >Spitfire nods again. She guides you along a ramrod-straight path to your abandoned cart, where it sits unmolested.
  987. "It's embarrassing," you say upon reaching your destination, "not being able to walk like a normal pony."
  988. >She doesn't respond. You don't expect her to.
  989. >You pick up your phone and stylus, then scroll through the shopping list in your notepad app; only a few things left to get. Anon and Chad sure have been talking for a while.
  990. >The silence that lingers grows more awkward with every crooked step you take. There's so much on your mind, so much you'd like to share with her, but you don't know where to begin.
  991. >Spitfire takes the initiative.
  992. >"You're a strong pony, Zooma."
  993. "I don't feel very strong sometimes," you reply, sighing. "It was easier to be confident and strong when I first met Anon. I was so concerned about making a good impression and earning my keep that I was able to ignore what I am. But I haven't been able to escape my insecurities permanently."
  994. >"I know what you mean."
  995. >You shoot her a incredulous glance before you realize what you're doing.
  996. >A couple walks by with their two children in tow. Spitfire watches them pass, then hangs her head.
  997. >"Chad wants kids," Spitfire whispers. "He's never told me, but I can tell by the wistful way he looks at other couples with their own children."
  998. "Have you considered adoption?"
  999. >"That's not the point, Zooma! I'm his mare, and I can't give him the family he yearns for."
  1000. >She turns away from you, hiding her face behind her wing.
  1001. >"I want nothing more than to carry his foals; to be the mother of his children. I've gotten so desperate, I've started praying to Celestia, God, Buddha- any of them! Hoping for a miracle with every estrus cycle I go through."
  1002. >The roles reversed, you pull Spitfire into a comforting hug.
  1003. "I thought I was the only pony that questioned her value." you murmur.
  1004. >Spitfire pulls away, nuzzling you with a half-hearted chuckle. "The grass is always greener... until you get over the fence."
  1005. >You join in her forced laughter.
  1006. "Feel any better?"
  1007. >"Not really. You?"
  1008. "Not really. Though I'm glad I'm not alone in my struggles, bad as that sounds."
  1009. >"Yeah. So, um... Chad and Anon sure are taking their sweet time, aren't they?"
  1010. "Right?" you answer, glad to change the subject. "What was Chad wanting to discuss with them?
  1011. >"You don't know about Prop Twenty-two?"
  1012. "I don't pay much attention to politics."
  1013. >"Well, you outta be informed about this. The Initiative is the first step to legally recognizing us ponies as being equal to humans, meaning we'd have the same rights..."
  1014. >The two of you stay in place as Spitfire gives you a quick rundown of the implications of Proposition 22. You're embarrased that you hadn't heard of it before.
  1015. >"...and that's pretty much it."
  1016. "That's a lot to take in."
  1017. >"That's what she said."
  1018. >You snort, and Spitfire cracks up.
  1019. "We might as well check out," you say, pushing your cart towards the cashiers. "It's not like Anon-"
  1020. >You freeze in your tracks. Spitfire crashes into your rump.
  1021. >"Hey, what's up?" Spitfire asks, walking beside you. She traces your gaze to see what you're staring at.
  1022. >Another alicorn makes her way through the opposite end of the store. She's tall, blue, and beautiful; star-studded mane trailing in her wake. She walks with such grace, seeming almost weightless on her slippered hooves.
  1023. "Luna..." you whisper.
  1024. >"Do you know her?"
  1025. "No. We were kept separate from the normal ponies," is your breathless reply.
  1026. >Spitfire nudges you forward. "Well? Now's your chance! Go introduce yourself!"
  1027. >You plant your hooves, fighting against Spitfire's shoves.
  1028. "Spitfire, no. I- I can't."
  1029. >"Why the hell not?"
  1030. >Luna is everything you're not; everything you wished you could be. How could you, a defective imitation, even show your face to her?
  1031. "Spitfire?"
  1032. >"Yeah?"
  1033. "I want my dress back," you say, pulling your large sunglasses from your purse. "Now."
  1034. >Spitfire shakes her head.
  1035. >"Yeah. Sure thing."
  1036.  
  1037.  
  1038. 10. Messenger
  1039.  
  1040. >2:57 A.M.
  1041. >
  1042. >I had another dream.
  1043. >Thankfully I didn't wake Anon up with my screaming, like last time. He didn't even budge as I slipped out of bed.
  1044. >It was his suggestion, to start this dream journal. I see the value in documenting them immediately after waking, but even now, four entries into this experiment, I have yet to glean any meaning from these reoccurring, unsettling visions.
  1045. >As in the previous dreams, my sisters' voices are muffled; audible, but unintelligible. Their faces are never visible head-on. I can catch glimpses of their eyes if I'm looking at them at an angle from behind, but the moment they turn directly to me, their faces become blurred-out. Likewise, their cutie marks suffer the same blurriness.
  1046. >I think that scares me the most- when one of them runs up to me and grabs me by the shoulders. They shout, throw their heads to and fro, whinny and flick their tails, but I can never understand them. Only their fear seems to transcend this fogginess, which amplifies my own anxiety.
  1047. >I'm shivering just thinking about it.
  1048. >We're always in a large room, whose blinding, white walls seem to stretch to infinity. Sometimes my sisters appear to be grazing peacefully, other times they're running about in a frenzy. The room shrinks whenever they panic, yet the walls seem to be an unending constant despite this.
  1049. >Like my previous dream, my sisters tried to hide me, and like last time, I ultimately found myself rolling down a long, dark gray hallway, atop a cold stainless steel gurney. I had the presence of mind to look around this time. Two humans in crimson scrubs pushed my gurney; faces obscured by surgical masks.
  1050. >The next thing I remember is a bright light blazing to life at the ceiling of a large, circular room. I watched the scrubs on one of the humans turn black, morphing into a very nice suit. His hands always seemed to be obscuring his face. Come to think of it, I never saw any part of his head, nor his skin.
  1051. >More humans in crimson scrubs. They scurry about like worker ants. The man in the suit talks to somebody whom I figure to be the lead doctor. I only understand limited words from their conversation:
  1052. >"ethical"
  1053. >"delayed"
  1054. >"responsible"
  1055. >"study"
  1056. >"potential"
  1057. >"survival"
  1058. >"side effects"
  1059. >"compensation"
  1060. >There's a beeping; my heart beat.
  1061. >They're attaching things to my legs. I try to fight, but my movements are so sluggish, as if I was trying to move through syrup.
  1062. >At some point, they slip a mask over my muzzle.
  1063. >And then I wake up.
  1064.  
  1065. ...
  1066.  
  1067. "Hey, Chad?"
  1068. >He holds the gym door open for you before replying. "Sup, bruh?"
  1069. "Does Spitfire ever struggle with nightmares?"
  1070. >"Pshh, naw man." He laughs to himself. "That mare runs so hot all day long, she's out cold the minute she closes her eyes. Dead to the world, dude, until the sun rises again."
  1071. "Huh."
  1072. >Several paces into the parking lot, Chad turns to you.
  1073. >"Why? Zooma not sleeping well?"
  1074. "Not lately. Reoccurring dreams; nightmares, really. She seems to think they're memories of where she came from, but at the same time, she also claims to have no memory of the places she's seen in her dreams."
  1075. >Chad throws an arm over your shoulder, coaxing you back into a walk in the direction of his car.
  1076. >"I dunno man. Could be repressed memories or some shit like that."
  1077. "You think so?"
  1078. >"Pshyah, bruh! Didn't you say you found her in a really skeezy place? Like, she literally fell off the back of a ghetto army truck or something?"
  1079. "Well, yeah..."
  1080. >You look over at Chad, whose eyes have been expecting yours.
  1081. "You don't think that... y'know... there might have been-"
  1082. >I dunno, bro! But we can try to find out!"
  1083. "How?"
  1084. >"Uh, we'll go drive to the place you found her! Duh!"
  1085. "Shit... I was only ever there that one time. Don't know if I remember how to get there."
  1086. >Chad pulls the key fob from this jacket pocket and unlocks his car. The trunk pops open, allowing you both to stow your gym bags.
  1087. >"Don't sweat it, bruh. We'll retrace your steps. It'll come back to you."
  1088. "Do you really want to do this right now?"
  1089. >Chad chuckles. "Why not? Maybe we'll discover something useful to Zooma if we just scope the place out. If it could help Z, it outta be important to you, and if it's important to you, then it's important to me, bro!"
  1090. >You grab the mountain of the man and give him the most crushing hug you can.
  1091. "Thanks, Chad."
  1092. >He returns the hug and thumps your back.
  1093. >"No problem, Anon."
  1094. >The ride to your work is uneventful. Your commute was much improved due to Chad's company, and the fact that the interstate was fairly tame, due to it being half-past one on a Friday afternoon.
  1095. >Gotta love that four-tens work schedule.
  1096. >Skyscrapers pass by your left, a stadium to your right. Overpasses, underpasses, exits, and on-ramps swirl around you like arms from a massive concrete octopus. An exit ramp and six stop lights later, and you're passing your office building.
  1097. >"Dude, you work in the hood."
  1098. "Almost stepped on a used heroin needle when I got out of my car Monday morning."
  1099. >"How'd you know it was used for heroin?"
  1100. "What? I mean... I dunno. Wait, needles aren't just for heroin?"
  1101. >Chad laughs. "Just fuckin' with ya, dude. Gotta work on lightening up, Anon. You're still so tense."
  1102. "Right... sorry."
  1103. >"Hey man, nothing to apologize for. Just remember to be cool. Calm. In command of any situation you find yourself in, yeah?"
  1104. "...yeah."
  1105. >"Not very convincing."
  1106. "PSHYAH, BRUH. LARGE AND IN CHARGE LIKE CHAD THUNDERCOCK, HORSEFUCKER EXTRAORDINAIRE!"
  1107. >Chad laughs at your impression of him, slapping the steering wheel as he does.
  1108. >"Thundercogque. It's pronounced, 'Thunder-coke'."
  1109. "Suuuuuuuure it is."
  1110. >An amused snort breaks up his laughter.
  1111. "Oh, turn right at this light."
  1112. >You've made this journey countless times. A strange feeling develops in your gut as you prepare to deliberately retrace your alternate route from that fateful day you met your love.
  1113. "Okay, I pulled over right here," you say, pointing. "Then I hoofed it through Chinatown over there."
  1114. >Chad flips his turn signal and spins the steering wheel clockwise. "'kay, then. Look out, Chinatown!"
  1115. >If memory serves you, you stayed on this road until it terminated at a three-way intersection.
  1116. >Right turn.
  1117. >Straight for seven blocks.
  1118. >Left at the four-way stop sign.
  1119. >Chad has slowed the car down to ten miles per hour. The tuned exhaust rumbles a low droning note as you creep along the virtually-deserted streets.
  1120. >"Any of this look familiar, bruh?"
  1121. "Hmm... I dunno, all the buildings look familiar- wait. Hey, stop! Back up!"
  1122. >"Where?"
  1123. "This alley on my side! Turn here."
  1124. >Chain-link fences line the narrow road, itself barely wide enough for Chad's car to pass through. It veers slightly left, inclining as it goes.
  1125. >Oh yeah. It's all coming together.
  1126. >You crest the hill and see the two warehouses, gray as ever.
  1127. "There."
  1128. >Chad hums. He brings his car to a stop in the exact spot the deuce-and-a-half was parked all those months ago.
  1129. >The car shudders a bit when Chad kills the engine. Without a word, the two of you step out of the sky-blue coupe.
  1130. >There's nothing here.
  1131. >Rather, there is- the warehouses remain, after all.
  1132. >"You sure this is the place?"
  1133. "I'm absolutely sure. But it doesn't look like there's anything worthwhile here."
  1134. >"I dunno, bro. No signage, no vehicles, but look at all the concertina wire," Chad counters, gesturing to the top of the chain-link fence that outlines the property's perimeter. "And those shiny new security cameras seem out of place on these old buildings."
  1135. "Those definitely weren't there when I-"
  1136. >"Shh!" Chad holds up a finger, then looks to the warehouses' roofs. He's rigid as a statue, save for his eyes, which dart left and right, scanning the junction of building and sky.
  1137. "What is it?" you finally whisper after several tense moments.
  1138. >"Thought I heard something up there."
  1139. "All I can hear is that transformer over there."
  1140. >"Yeah, hard not to notice it humming, which means..."
  1141. "The buildings are getting power." you say together.
  1142. >"I'm gonna be deadass with you, Anon... this place rustles my jimmies pretty hard."
  1143. "I know what you mean."
  1144. >You look around the desolate complex. Upon further inspection, the door knob and deadbolt on the nearest warehouse entrance appears to be brand new too.
  1145. "I'm still going to have a look around. For Zooma."
  1146. >"For Zooma."
  1147. >Gravel crunches under your feet as you walk the perimeter of the complex. The warehouses are identical and completely unremarkable, save for the abundance of concertina wire and security cameras.
  1148. >"Hey, Anon." Chad's voice is low, almost a growl.
  1149. "What's up?"
  1150. >"See the shadow the roof is casting on the ground in front of us?"
  1151. "Yeah? What about it?"
  1152. >"Keep an eye on it."
  1153. "Okay, what am I supposed to be looking-"
  1154. >The shadow changed; only for a faction of a second.
  1155. "Oh shit!" You whirl around, scanning the roof line as Chad did shortly after your arrival.
  1156. >Both of you watch the roof and sky, looking for another hint of what cast that moving shadow. It doesn't return.
  1157. >You resume a quickened pace and round the corner to the buildings' far side, opposite of Chad's car.
  1158. >There's a strange chemical smell you can't identify that hangs in the air.
  1159. >"Dude, check it out."
  1160. >Crates- identical to the one Zooma burst out of. They're stacked haphazardly atop one another; lopsided wooden hills that litter the weedy ground.
  1161. "Zooma was in one of those when it fell from that truck!"
  1162. >"Jesus Tittyfucking Christ, man."
  1163. >That damned fence prevents any closer scrutiny. You jog the remaining couple hundred meters back to Chad's car.
  1164. >Chad freezes freezes, car key dangling in his fingers.
  1165. >You heard it too; a distinct 'clip-clop' on metal. Above and behind you.
  1166. "Chad, I think there's a pony on the roof."
  1167. >He nods, then calls out in the direction of the noise, "Spits? Honey, is that you?"
  1168. >Silence.
  1169. "What would she be doing all the way out here?"
  1170. >"She's pulled pranks like this on me before."
  1171. "Sure, but do you really think she'd fly all the way out here just to mess with you?"
  1172. >"Good point. Still..."
  1173. >Chad fishes his phone out from the depths of his jacket pocket.
  1174. >"Babe. Where are you right now?" he speaks into the phone whilst keeping his eyes locked on the warehouse roof. "Baby, I mean it! This is serious!"
  1175. >Tiptoeing to the passenger door, you can hear your heart pounding in your ears.
  1176. >"Okay, cool. I'll explain when I get home. Gotta go. Love you too." Chad hangs up the phone and unlocks the car. "Dude. Bro. Something is way off about this place. Let's bounce."
  1177. >He doesn't need to tell you twice.
  1178. >Eight cylinders roar to life. Tires spit gravel and dust when Chad drops the clutch. He doesn't look back as he speeds through the narrow alley, back the way you came, though you think you might have seen something in the rearview mirror.
  1179. >Neither of you speak until you exit Chinatown. Chad rolls his window down. The air is chilly, but not unpleasant.
  1180. >"Not gonna lie, Anon- not only did that place rustle my jimmies, my critters got kinda jittered back there too."
  1181. "Did you get a good look at that shadow?"
  1182. >"Naw, man. You?"
  1183. "No. Didn't realize what was going on until after it disappeared. But I'm pretty sure I heard hooves on that metal roof."
  1184. >"Same."
  1185. "What do you make of all that?"
  1186. >"I dunno, bro, but it's obvious somebody wants to keep those buildings under wraps."
  1187. >Several blocks pass. You can't shake the feeling of being watched, as if whatever was on the roof is now following you.
  1188. >"NICE." Chad says, looking at something in the mirror. "Now that's a sexy car if I've ever seen one."
  1189. >Looking over your left shoulder, you see what Chad was talking about. A black coupe. It stops beside you.
  1190. >The windows are tinted- far darker than the legal limit, you think. Still, it looks like the driver is looking at you.
  1191. >Chad flexes a beefy arm out his window. "You mirin', brah?" he says to the newcomer.
  1192. >You look at the driver from behind Chad.
  1193. "Dude, did he just take a picture?"
  1194. >"Ha! He totally did! The flash went off on his phone!"
  1195. >The stoplight turns green, and the coupe speeds off, actually squealing the tires.
  1196. >"Heh. Fag."
  1197. "That was weird."
  1198. >Chad shifts gears. He tries to catch up to the speeding car, but the other driver is too reckless, weaving between cars, changing lanes without warning, almost causing several wrecks along the way, the madman. No, he is even worse than a madman. He drives like- may Allah forgive me for typing this word- a Californian.
  1199. >"Eh, not worth causing a wreck to catch that homo." Chad runs his right hand through his mohawk. "Still, would've been nice to beat that six-figure krautmobile with some good old-fashioned American muscle."
  1200. "What kind of car was that, again?"
  1201. >"Mercedes-Benz."
  1202. "Huh."
  1203. >Chad slaps your thigh. "You good, bro? You seem kinda out of it."
  1204. "I'm fine. It's just... I feel like I've forgotten something important."
  1205. >"Probably still worked up from that warehouse place."
  1206. "I guess."
  1207. >"Don't sweat it, bro." Chad's phone chirps. He glances at it, then at you. "Hey, how do you and Zooma feel about a double date? Spits wants to know."
  1208.  
  1209. ...
  1210.  
  1211. "What's that?"
  1212. >Zooma sets her fork down. She retracts her wing, then reaches out to you with her left foreleg. Her olive hoof rubs your right arm as she gives you a concerned look.
  1213. >"I asked what you were thinking about, my love. You've been very quiet these past few days."
  1214. >The little excursion you and Chad embarked upon has not been sitting well with you. You want to tell Z about it, but you don't know how she'll react. With the exception of her dreams, Zooma has been hesitant to discuss her past in depth, always getting misty-eyed and changing the subject whenever the discussion ventured there.
  1215. >*KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK*
  1216. >Both you and your mare jump in your seats a little.
  1217. >"Now who could that be?" Zooma kisses your cheek before trotting a serpentine path to the door. You see her peer around the door frame. "Hello?"
  1218. >She stands there for a few seconds, waiting for a response.
  1219. >"Strange," she says, closing the door.
  1220. >Zooma is halfway back to the table when the knocking repeats. Five knocks this time. Your mare freezes mid-step, wings half-extended.
  1221. >After holding an index finger to your lips, you rise from the table and jog to the front door- your sock-muffled feet undoubtedly quieter on the hardwood floor than Zooma's hooves.
  1222. >The cold evening air is a bit of a shock without your jacket, but you venture onto the front porch all the same. Zooma joins you in scanning the neighborhood for potential visitors. Her wing wraps around your waist, then your hand rests on her withers, ready to guide her along the sidewalk to the driveway.
  1223. >Again, there's nothing noteworthy from your new vantage point next to your car. A growl of frustration escapes you.
  1224. >"Let it go, darling," Zooma says, rubbing her head against your chest. "It was probably just a little one playing a harmless prank."
  1225. >You look around the street again.
  1226. "Awfully fast kid, dontcha think?"
  1227. >"You want to know what I think?" Zooma gives you a coy smile, then rises to drape her forelegs on your left shoulder. "I think I want to go inside, finish our dinner, do the dishes, and then try on the lingerie that I bought last week."
  1228. "You ordered lingerie?"
  1229. >Zooma kisses your neck. "Oh yes. It was delivered when you were still at work this afternoon. Black stockings, a garter belt, panties, and one more thing-"
  1230. >She nibbles on your ear, one of the sure-fire ways to get your motor running, as she's learned. The hairs on your arms stand on end when she whispers her final words.
  1231. >"-a bridle."
  1232. >And just like that, you could care less about whoever was fucking with your door.
  1233. "How 'bout we skip dinner and cleaning and get straight to seeing how all that fits you?"
  1234. >Zooma returns to all four hooves, then swats your backside with her tail. She struts away from you- slow enough to move straight on her own- wings unfurled; hips swaying with every step. Her tail swings just enough to make your heart skip a beat, yet leave you hungry for more.
  1235. >Your mare stops, looks back at you with bedroom eyes and says, "Then you better get back inside the house, Mister, before I change my mind."
  1236.  
  1237. ...
  1238.  
  1239. >Another Friday, another morning run around the lake.
  1240. >Zooma didn't join you this time, as nightmares plagued her sleep last night.
  1241. >Something catches your eye as you round the bend on the lake's furthest shore from the parking lot- a pony.
  1242. >Slowing to a walk, you catch an orange tail slip into a dark copse of trees some fifty meters away.
  1243. "Spitfire?"
  1244. >Silence.
  1245. >Was that really her?
  1246. >Curiosity compels you to investigate.
  1247. >These woods have always been here, though you've never paid them any mind. Now, losing sight of the lake whilst venturing deeper into the trees, you begin to appreciate just how big this wooded area is.
  1248. >Thump-thump-thump, thump-thump-thump.
  1249. >Spinning around, you only catch a flash of orange dart behind a boulder that's nestled between a wide blue spruce and a towering lodgepole pine.
  1250. "Alright, Spitfire," you say after a quiet chuckle, "I saw ya. Come on out now."
  1251. >Making your way behind the boulder, you're vexed at a distinct lack of little fire pony.
  1252. >Wait a minute. There were tons of geese by the lake trail today, and you've never seen Spitfire *not* pursue them with extreme prejudice.
  1253. >Wings flap behind you; large wings.
  1254. >*Thump*
  1255. >You can feel the impact of whatever landed behind you through the ground.
  1256. "Uh, Spitfire?" you ask whilst turning around slowly.
  1257. >That's not a little fire pony.
  1258. >That's a big fire pony. She's taller than your Zooma by at least a head, and she does not look happy.
  1259. "Um, hi," you begin with a sheepish smile, "who are-"
  1260. >Something picks you up off the ground and forces your back against the boulder. You struggle against invisible restraints that pin your arms and legs in an upright spread-eagle position. Fortunately, your head is unrestrained, so you take a good look at your adversary.
  1261. >White fur, orange-tinged wings, mane and tail colors reminiscent of Spitfire's (though her mane is much longer), but the head is the most interesting part of this mare. Sitting above her intense purple eyes, between her ears, is not one, but two, horns. They're long, similar in size, shape, and orientation to a baphomet's, only they're white like the rest of her body. Also of note is how the air shimmers around said horns.
  1262. >"Where is she?" the mysterious mare asks. "Where is Zooma?"
  1263. "How do you-"
  1264. >"I know you are her mate, human." she snarls, exposing a set of fangs. "And if I know, it's only a matter of time before *they* know too, assuming they haven't figured it out already!"
  1265. >The air surrounding the mare's horns ceases to shimmer, and next thing you know, you're falling back to earth.
  1266. >"How long has she been with you?" she asks as you scramble to your full height.
  1267. "About ten months. Why?"
  1268. >"Have the nightmares started yet?"
  1269. "Wait. How did you know-"
  1270. >"That's a 'yes', then." she interrupts. "What about the migraines, have they started as well?"
  1271. "Hang on a minute lady." You cross your arms. "If you think I'm about about to discuss my better half's medical history with some strange mare, you've got another-"
  1272. >When the invisible force moves you again, it brings your face mere centimeters away from the growling mare's toothy maw.
  1273. >"I don't have time for this! Answer my questions!"
  1274. "Or else what?"
  1275. >The mare looks like she's been slapped. Many miles away, Chad smiles to himself and nods.
  1276. >"I- I'm trying to help her!"
  1277. "Why? What's it to you?"
  1278. >She doesn't reply, choosing to look around instead; ears swiveling.
  1279. >"Did anyone see you enter the woods?"
  1280. >You shrug. She sighs.
  1281. >"It was fortunate that you and that big brute visited the compound when you did. Otherwise I wouldn't have heard you speak Zooma's name... and I wouldn't have discovered what happened to her."
  1282. "That was YOU on the roof!?"
  1283. >"Quiet!" she hisses, her ears flattening, before continuing to whisper-shout at you. "Yes, that was me! I followed you out of the city from the air and have been watching you ever since."
  1284. "So that knocking on our front door the other night..."
  1285. >"Yes."
  1286. "Again, why? Who is Zooma to you? Why do you want to 'help' her? What does she even need help with?"
  1287. >"Do you love her?"
  1288. "Of course I do! I love that mare with every fiber of my being!" you answer without hesitation.
  1289. >This earns you a smile from the stranger. It's genuine.
  1290. "You said you wanted to help... said something about migraines?"
  1291. >The mare frowns. "If they haven't started yet, you may not have to worry about them at all. That would be good. Very, very good."
  1292. "And if she does start having them?"
  1293. >"Let's hope it doesn't come to that."
  1294. "That doesn't-"
  1295. >"Shh!"
  1296. >Once again, her ears swivel about. Her eyes dart left-to-right several times.
  1297. >"I must go. You didn't see me. Tell nopony about what happened here, especially Zooma... and stay away from the c-compound!"
  1298. >She trots a few paces away, then looks back to you.
  1299. >"Take care of my little sister, Anonymous. I'll be watching."
  1300.  
  1301. ...
  1302.  
  1303. 11. What Goes Around...
  1304.  
  1305. >The office is warm; earth tones bathed in curtain-dimmed sunlight. Inviting. Disarming, even.
  1306. >"Please, take a seat."
  1307. >You do as you're told. The couch? Futon thing? Chais lounge? Couch. It's a couch- and deep enough in the seat to accomodate your equine physiology.
  1308. >Is this the right thing to do? Do you really need to be here? Anonymous made an empassioned case for it.
  1309. >It's in your best interests; he swore it.
  1310. >Besides, wouldn't it be cathartic to share old horrors that had, until recently, laid dormant in the quiet corners of the mind?
  1311. >You'd never argued so much.
  1312. >Sure, you'd had little spats here and there, as lovers do, but this is something else entirely.
  1313. >He said you're becoming too aggressive, too... overbearing. Trying to control too much. Expecting too much of yourself.
  1314. >You're scared.
  1315. >Scared he might reject you. That life could never be the same should your relationship not survive these rough emotional seas.
  1316. >He just wants you to open up, to share what wakes you both up several times each night; with your shrieking and flailing.
  1317. >Surely he has a right to know, as your lover and best friend?
  1318. >It's not that you disagree, you just can't bear to share with him what you've remembered. What's been unearthed from the sands of memory, laid bare once again by the winds of time.
  1319. >"Miss Zooma?"
  1320. >Your focus snaps to the middle-aged woman. Golden-rimmed round lenses twinkle in the muted sunlight, dulled along the sides by wisps of ashen hair. Lapis lazuli eyes glint behind glass shields, firm, yet comforting. As if they possessed some authority to influence in which manner your fate shall be resolved.
  1321. >"Zooma? Are you with me, dear?"
  1322. >You blink.
  1323. "Yes. I'm sorry, I've been... lost in thought."
  1324. >She nods. "I understand. I'm Doctor Lazlo." she says, holding out her right hand.
  1325. "Zooma," you reply when her fingers wrap around your hoof. "Thank you for meeting with me."
  1326. >Dr. Lazlo gives a light chuckle. "Don't thank me, honey! I outta be thanking you! You'll forgive me if I'm excited- in a professional sense, mind you- to have a sapient equine as a patient! Oh, the papers I-"
  1327. >She cuts herself off, and hides a grimace.
  1328. >"Forgive me," she says, with a wince.
  1329. "It's fine. I understand."
  1330. >And you do.
  1331. >You understand all too well.
  1332. >Just how far "professional curiosity" could drive someone.
  1333. >She clears her throat. "So, Zooma- such a cute name, by the way! *Ahem!* Zooma, why are we here today? What would you like to get off your chest?"
  1334. >Why are you here?
  1335. >You're remembering.
  1336. >Every night, you hear their voices. Every night, you see their faces. Every night, you see HIM.
  1337. >"Zooma? What's troubling you, dear?"
  1338.  
  1339. /.../
  1340.  
  1341. >"...time, 1024 hours. Subject: Luna Model Anomaly, code 'Green Twenty-Two'."
  1342. >The white room.
  1343. >Again.
  1344. >This one always wears the same thing. Red Polo shirt, khaki slacks, white lab coat lacking any decoration.
  1345. >You can never quite read his badge.
  1346. >How it's able to obscure its secrets to your literate eyes, you can't even begin to imagine.
  1347. >"Subject is an adult female, alicorn-type spliced as a standard Luna model. Anomalies immediately apparent-"
  1348. >Your green fur.
  1349. >Your backwards cutie mark, missing the ink blotches.
  1350. >The silver streaks in your hair.
  1351. >How your eyes were a mistake. Too light a tint of blue, lacking the kiss of green that makes for a captivating teal.
  1352. >"...notwithstanding obvious cosmetic defects, physical condition is optimal. No deficiencies noted in strength, endurance, and motor coordination."
  1353. >Obvious cosmetic defects.
  1354. >Cosmetic defects.
  1355. >Defects.
  1356. >Defects.
  1357. >Defects.
  1358. >"...management has approved a study to discern the root cause of the imperfections..."
  1359. >Imperfections.
  1360. >Implying perfection was expected.
  1361. >"...despite the ethical concerned raised." He lowers his voice. "Like it'll make a difference, with all we've already done."
  1362. >Others come, they talk to you.
  1363. >A man and two women, all with perfect hair, perfect eyes, perfect saccharine smiles lit by brilliant pearly whites.
  1364. >They ask you questions, sometimes they tell stories, or try to make you laugh with a corny joke.
  1365. >Sometimes you'd actually have fun, and forget for a moment that they could ever make you feel barely-contained dread.
  1366. >"How do you feel about being defective, Green Twenty-Two?"
  1367. >That's how they'd kill the laughter; sharp, icy words that pierce your heart and freeze your veins.
  1368. >"People won't pay for a defective pony. How does that make you feel?"
  1369. "I-" the words get caught in your throat.
  1370. >"Do you worry that nobody will ever want you?"
  1371. >The room gets blurry and you shout for them to go away as you crouch to the ground, olive green hooves covering summer sky eyes.
  1372. >"Subject has displayed personality anomalies as well..."
  1373. >White room. Again.
  1374. >This time the man has a coffee stain on his lab coat. It's so out of place on the otherwise flawlessly-consistent ensemble, it's practically offensive.
  1375. >"...with a flair for the dramatic, a la standard Rarity model."
  1376. >His eyes fall. A deep, hissing inhale through his teeth.
  1377. >"...directed to test for sensory anomalies..."
  1378. >He glances over his shoulder. HE is there. Short. Wide like a barrel. Always in the grey suit. HE nods.
  1379. >"...beginning with establishing pain tolerance thresholds." his voice warbles on penultimate word.
  1380. >Adhesive pads secure cold metal disks to your fur, squishing out a gel they place on those spots.
  1381. >There's a humming, then...
  1382. >PAIN.
  1383. >The humming intensifies. Your body goes rigid in uncanny poses, wings displaying nearly-impossible geometry.
  1384. >At first it's too much, too sudden. The pain is so overwhelming, you can't even scream, let alone breathe.
  1385. >But then it comes in, fast and blistering hot.
  1386. >And then you're able to scream.
  1387. "STAH- HAWWP! PLEEEEZE!"
  1388. >They don't relent for another five seconds, but it might as well have been five days.
  1389. >Your skin is on fire. Muscles feel seared. Too afraid to blink, lest your eyelids fall off from being charred.
  1390. >"Sir?"
  1391. >He looks back to the man in he suit.
  1392. >"You said it yourself that this one was a drama queen. She's got another shot in her."
  1393. >A whine escapes you.
  1394. >'I'm sorry,' he mouths to you before diverting his eyes to a control panel.
  1395. >You hear yourself scream, but it doesn't feel like you're screaming. And it's hard to look at the mirror on the far side of the room when your vision turns burning white.
  1396. ..
  1397. >"Can you walk? Of course you can. You're MY little sister, and we're tougher than the rest of those so-called 'perfect ponies'."
  1398. >Twin goat horns, like long and twisted ivory towers, coax your neck higher, making you adopt a more proud posture, despite your terrible lingering pain.
  1399. >She waits for a sign- something, anything. So you give her a reassuring smile, after a three-second delay. She's so strong.
  1400. >You want to be strong like Star. She's your hero and the best sister you could ask for.
  1401. >Well, all the other defects are your sisters too, but Nightmare Star had a special connection with you.
  1402. >While the other defects' deficiencies were much less offensive than yours, they never let on that they knew you were something else entirely.
  1403. >Whereas Nightmare Star's defects had been an error of the gene coder's program, and not something that developed in-synthesis, the origins your anomalies were still a mystery.
  1404. >"Don't ever let them see them getting to you, okay?"
  1405. >You nod. You want to believe it.
  1406. ..
  1407. >"State your name."
  1408. >The white room again.
  1409. >"State your name." he repeats, more force present in his voice.
  1410. "L- Luna."
  1411. >"That is incorrect. You are Green Twenty-Two."
  1412. "No! I'm Luna!"
  1413. >"Luna? Ha!" HE laughs in your peripheral vision. "Green fur? Backwards, incomplete cutie marks? The hair and eyes? You're not fit to bear the name 'Luna'!"
  1414. >"Let's try again," the lab coat man says in a calmer voice. "What's your name?"
  1415. "L-Lun..."
  1416. >You want to believe it, but you know HE is right.
  1417. >Nightmare Star wouldn't want you to falter now. You must be strong. For her.
  1418. >But how can you be strong when you don't believe in yourself?
  1419. "...G-Green... Twenty...Two."
  1420. >Your face is like stone.
  1421. >But this statue can't help the tears that roll down her cheeks.
  1422. ..
  1423. >Imperfections.
  1424. >There's that word again.
  1425. >His eyes are glazed over, yet his words are as thoughtful as ever.
  1426. >It must be how he copes, to adopt the emotional detachment of a robot.
  1427. >But does he have to talk like you're not even there?
  1428. ..
  1429. >Nightmare Star is having headaches.
  1430. >She says it starts in the bases of her horns, then they radiate upwards with home horrible pressure, as if they might burst. She barely eats when she gets them.
  1431. >You do what you can, to be strong like her, for her.
  1432. >Your sisters and you sing soothing songs for her. Other times, you try to entertain her by having races around the indoor pasture.
  1433. >Whether the route was a simple oval track or a winding, barrel-studded obstacle course made little difference- you always won.
  1434. >Nopony could match your speed, agility, and grace, be it on the ground, or in your limited metal-capped airspace.
  1435. >It feels good to win. It makes you feel like there's nothing wrong with you. If only for a minute or two.
  1436. ..
  1437. >"State your name."
  1438. >The sessions in the white room always begin with that question now.
  1439. >You haven't seen the three perfect faces in a while, but something tells you they're nearby, always just out of sight, ready to spring forth if forgotten entirely.
  1440. "L-" the word catches in your throat again.
  1441. >You want to say it, but you still know the truth of what you are.
  1442. >But you don't want to give them the satisfaction.
  1443. >"YOU are GREEN. TWENTY. TWO." HE barks in his gravely voice. "SAY IT!"
  1444. "I refuse." you say, channeling the well-earned confidence of ten racing victories.
  1445. >"Compliance cocktail. Now." HE snaps at the vacant-eyed lab coat man.
  1446. >The medications are cold, chilling your insides as they rush through your veins. You taste metal, and everything fades away...
  1447. ..
  1448. >You almost didn't win today.
  1449. >Of course it had to happen on the first day Nightmare Star was finally feeling better!
  1450. >Was it not for a stumble unbecoming of your superior athleticism, you'd have won by a comfortable margin instead of by the skin of your teeth. Still, a win is a win!
  1451. >Nightmare smiles at you after the race.
  1452. >"We've been talking, the girls, and I," she says with a rare smile. She's so hauntingly beautiful when she smiles. "You know how they won't let you call yourself Luna?"
  1453. >You flinch, and nod.
  1454. >"Well, to hell with them. You're too good to be Luna anyway. You're our 'Zooma'! Let's hear it for our speedy sister, Zooma!"
  1455. >All the reject girls cheer and chant your name.
  1456. >The joy of winning races pales in comparison to the euphoria you're experiencing in this moment.
  1457. ..
  1458. >"Name."
  1459. >You look at HIM.
  1460. "Zooma," you boom, not caring to hide the pride in your voice.
  1461. >"Green. Twenty-Two." HE growls.
  1462. >But your conviction surpasses his own. Because for the first time, you believe in YOU.
  1463. "Zooma!" is your defiant reply.
  1464. >Then something you didn't expect happens. There's a flicker in his eyes.
  1465. >"Oh?" HE says with a chuckle. "And tell me, how did our resident drama queen earn such a... unique, *hmm?* name?"
  1466. "Because I'm *fast*". Pride is practically dripping off your voice. "Nopony can outrace me!"
  1467. >"Interesssssting..."
  1468. >There's movment in your periphery.
  1469. >Cold rushes through you, bringing the metallic taste with it.
  1470. ..
  1471. >Today, the unthinkable happened.
  1472. >You didn't win the race.
  1473. >Not only that, you didn't even make the top ten.
  1474. >Why did you stumble so much?
  1475. >"Hey, Zooma." Nightmare trots up to you. "Enough sulking. They've opened up the extension with the new field. Come graze with us."
  1476. >Sighing, you stand and make for your sister.
  1477. >But you can't.
  1478. >Instead of heading directly for your sister, you stumble to the right and fall over.
  1479. >"Zooma?"
  1480. >You rise on shaky legs and try to trot, only for you two zig-zag a few meters before falling again.
  1481. "Star? What's happening to me!?"
  1482. ..
  1483. >The Perfect Faces are back.
  1484. >Something's different about them, they're more perfect, more... terrifying.
  1485. >"I can't imagine what you're going through, Zooma." The man says with his warm, velvety voice.
  1486. >They all hug you and offer their condolences, but you don't believe them. What's worse, they don't hide the fact that they know that you don't buy into their act. Yet they act it all the same, so perfectly plastic.
  1487. ..
  1488. >"Who are YOU supposed to be?" a Diamond Tiara model asks you with obvious disgust in her voice.
  1489. >Your first time with the "show accurate" models is not off to a great start.
  1490. "I- I'm... Zooma."
  1491. >"You sure about that?" a Silver Spoon asks you. "Cuz you look like a discount-brand Luna to me."
  1492. >The remark cuts so deep you flinch.
  1493. >"That is enough!"
  1494. >Thank goodness for the Cheerilee model that just arrived.
  1495. >The fillies run off.
  1496. >"I'm sorry about those two," she sighs. "Those two were custom-made to be extra nasty."
  1497. >Cheerilee pauses for a moment. "Please don't hold it against them."
  1498. >You nod.
  1499. >"What's your name, dear?"
  1500. "Zooma." you say with a hint of more confidence.
  1501. >"Nice to meet you, Zooma! First day in this part of the compound?" she asks whilst motioning you to walk with her.
  1502. "Mmm-Hmm!" you reply with your tongue hanging out the side of your mouth, desperately trying to focus on a fence post some twenty meters away.
  1503. >It's not enough. You meander to the right and bump into Cheerilee, then bounce left a few steps before tripping over your own hooves.
  1504. "I'm so sorry," you say, meandering over to a recovering Cheerliee. "I've been having trouble walking lately."
  1505. >Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon howl with laughter.
  1506. ..
  1507. >Deviations. Deficiencies.
  1508. >Imperfections.
  1509. >Always with those nasty words.
  1510. >"What's your name?"
  1511. >HE hasn't asked you that in a while.
  1512. "Z-Zooma." You say to the ground.
  1513. >"And why are you 'Zooma'?"
  1514. "Because... because I'm..."
  1515. >Fast. Well, you used to be.
  1516. >"You're 'Zooma' instead of 'Luna' because you're imperfect. You are a mistake. A reject. A cheap imitation... A bootleg pony."
  1517. >You try to tell yourself it isn't true.
  1518. >It doesn't matter- you can already taste metal.
  1519.  
  1520. /.../
  1521.  
  1522. >"Zooma? What's troubling you, dear?"
  1523. >The room swims.
  1524.  
  1525. ...

Ghost in the Shadows (WIP)

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