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Midnight [Part 2]

By Autopony
Created: 16th September 2021 11:18:22 AM
21st October 2021 11:17:15 AM

  1. >You no longer have a laptop.
  2. >Since Sunday morning's discussion, Midnight has essentially taken possession of the electronic device.
  3. >Well, she didn't really take it from you - you offered it to her when you saw how adamant she was about finding a way to turn shit around here.
  4. >Of course, that was *after* you made her swear to keep out of your personal items and files on it.
  5. >You actually went through and locked as many files and folders as you could behind a password to be safe - but she didn't need to know that.
  6. >It was more surprising you got an apology from her in regards to snooping around on the pc downstairs.
  7. >Ok, it was more of a sarcasm-laden apology, but that seems to be the extent of her capabilities in terms of social grace.
  8. >You were still a bit bitter that she did such a thing - but not really about the actual invasion of privacy.
  9. >After all, the worst she could have seen on that computer was your internet history - and that was only a concern due to you finding the website you think she came from.
  10. >Er, the website of the factory that sells em or whatever.
  11. >No, you're just bitter because it has made you face reality again.
  12. > It's embarrassing to have anyone know how much this place has gone downhill.
  13. >The stupid purchases you've made.
  14. >The salvage cars that you've bought that seemingly have no market in terms of restoration interest.
  15. >Your stubbornness to do it all on your own.
  16. >It culminates into an awful, helpless pit inside of you.
  17. >You just kept pushing it out of your mind, since you didn't know what to do.
  18. >It became a "nonissue" because you convinced yourself everything was fine.
  19. >At least Midnight seems to have some sort of vision of how to turn things around.
  20. >To be fair, you don't believe she cares about how your business does - she just doesn't want to start over again finding somewhere to live.
  21. >Despite it being a junkyard.
  22. >You get it, this is where she ended up, and she can't exactly wander the world.
  23. >It's still something that's odd to think about.
  24. >Regardless, you inadvertently share a goal of keeping this place.
  25. >With another day of work out of the way, you stare mindlessly at the television once again.
  26. >Midnight is in her normal place on the couch, the opposite end where you are.
  27. >Every once in a while you hear the tapping of keys or a double-click actuated by yet another chunk of scrap metal she has utilized as a tool.
  28. > There are different shapes and sizes of metal scattered all about your living space at this point, all having their own unique use as a tool.
  29. >Not really a bit deal to you - aside from the rust.
  30. >Tetanus sounds like a good possibility if one of them falls on the floor and you step on it.
  31. >You've glanced over to the screen on a number of occasions, just out of pure interest in what she's trying to do.
  32. >But the angle you'd have to contort yourself to actually see and understand what she's reading is near impossible.
  33. >It's been like this every night - and even during the days from time to time.
  34. >Most of the space in the cramped room of shelves you call your warehouse is jam-packed with tagged parts from the engines Midnight has ripped apart.
  35. >At this point, you can't really have her going full bore on what's left of that pile.
  36. >"Anonymous."
  37. >Jolted out of your numbed stupor, you turn your head to see Midnight pushing the laptop across the couch cushions with her left wing.
  38. >Reaching over and picking it up for a better look at the screen, it only looks like a blank page with some words scattered about from a glance.
  39. >A closer look reveals a basic order form, with blank areas marked above each space to type in year or series of years, make, model, submodel, and a massive blank area for requested parts.
  40. "Where did you find this?" you ask, mildly intrigued by the idea.
  41. >"Hit the back button," she instructs.
  42. >You do so, expecting to find some site dedicated to creating and printing forms.
  43. >Instead, your own crappy website comes up - one of those sites where you can throw something together for free.
  44. "Uh... what am I looking at here aside from my site?"
  45. >"Exactly - it *is* your site," she replies, a bit put off by your question. "Do you see the tab at the top?"
  46. >Above the banner announcing "Anon's Vintage Auto Salvage" in faded and rust marked letters is a bright yellow bar labeled "Request Parts" that stretches across the entire span of the page.
  47. >You hover over it with the cursor and click, which takes you back to the order form she showed you.
  48. "I thought you didn't know shit about computers and making stuff like this?"
  49. >"I didn't - what do you think I've been doing the past few days?"
  50. "You managed to figure out how to do something like that in a matter of less than a week?" you ask, despite not really understanding how she did it.
  51. >You set the computer back down between you and her.
  52. >"It wasn't *that* hard," she replies quickly, flushed with embarrassment. "Did you even try to do something when you realized you were in trouble?"
  53. >You have to just shake your head, which makes Midnight's frown return.
  54. "I guess it just happened sort of slow. Making less money, spending more money than I was taking in. I was sort of just lost, so I just didn't worry about it."
  55. >"Because ignoring your problems will solve them?" she proposes in a haughty tone.
  56. "When you say it like that, it sounds stupid."
  57. >"It is stupid."
  58. "It's okay, tell me how you really feel," you remark.
  59. >Midnight stares before reclaiming the laptop and shaking her head.
  60. "I was trying to be funny," you explain.
  61. >"And I am dead serious right now - you just gave up? You didn't try to change something, *anything* at all?"
  62. "I was in over my head, Midnight," you protest, crossing your arms as she prods you for more insight. "I always kinda believed once you figured out your passion or what you enjoyed, doing that would just - work out, I guess? I dunno. I knew the owner, worked with him, and the opportunity arose to buy it so I took out a loan. Figured it couldn't be that hard to run a junkyard, right?"
  63. >"You couldn't ask the previous owner for advice?" she inquires, making her skepticism clear just from her tone.
  64. "I mean, that was why the opportunity presented itself - health issues, old age. Long gone by the time I realized shit wasn't as rosy as I thought it was. I didn't realize he was in such poor shape, either."
  65. >Midnight sighs deeply.
  66. >"Do you realize you live in a world and have the means where endless amounts of information are within reach at any point in time?" she remarks, pointing a hoof to your laptop screen. "Do you realize that what I have gathered in knowledge that allowed me to create this order request page was gleaned from sites found solely by a few keywords in a search engine?"
  67. >You really don't know how to respond to that.
  68. >She makes it sound so damn simple.
  69. >"You just told me this was a passion, that this business was something that you wanted. The memory you shared with me growing up, your father's Charger - the mindless little quirks you can spout off about practically any car we have to pull off parts - you still have an interest in making this work. So start showing it. Don't just roll over and accept something because the alternative isn't easy, or because there isn't an answer that just smacks you between the eyes - find it. Run after it, take what's yours."
  70. >Where in the hell did that fiery speech come from?
  71. >Hell, you expected to get something insulting or demeaning from her.
  72. >You swear Midnight changes up her act just to fuck with you.
  73. "Alright, alright," you say, throwing up your hands. "Did you learn how to give good pep talks online, too?"
  74. >Midnight glares.
  75. >"Stop acting like a fucking moron."
  76. >There's the attitude.
  77. "Who said I was acting?"
  78. >"I-"
  79. >Midnight is stopped in her tracks before she can get out any sort of retort by that.
  80. >Her frown starts to crumble as she does her damndest to keep a straight face.
  81. >She quickly whips her head around to face away from you, but not before you see the slightest beginnings of a grin.
  82. "Are you really going to try to play that one off?"
  83. >"Shut up."
  84. >Her voice is shaky in time with the slight heave of her sides, trying as hard as she can to contain any laughter from your stupid joke.
  85. "You can at least relax a bit now that I'm actually on board with you, right?"
  86. >Midnight doesn't answer that until she composes herself, turning back to face you with her normal, stony expression.
  87. >"Relaxing is something I'm not familiar with, and this is only one small step forward," she finally replies.
  88. "Still a step in the right direction though, and I'm tired. Not going to get it all in one day."
  89. >"I suppose so," she replies, yielding to your argument.
  90. "Good. Now you get to share something," you say, folding your arms once again and leaning back into the couch.
  91. >Midnight eyes you cautiously.
  92. >"What do you mean?"
  93. "I mean you basically know a shit ton about me now, digging through my computer and asking me questions about all of this."
  94. >Midnight's eyes dart around the room as if expecting to find something.
  95. >Evidently, she has to give up and return to you.
  96. >"Like what?"
  97. "Well, I still really don't know much about your past, how ab-"
  98. >"No."
  99. >Midnight's voice is surprisingly calm but firm.
  100. >Shut down right at launch.
  101. "Alright - I get it, you're helping me now because this is "all you have," you say while waving your arms around the room. "What comes after that? What do you want to do after this?"
  102. >"Comes after what? Succeeding in making this place stable?" she asks, uncertainty in her voice.
  103. "Yes."
  104. >There is a long, deafening pause after your confirmation.
  105. >Midnight's blue eyes just seem to glaze over as she mulls the relatively simple question.
  106. >You sort of figured she had some sort of long-term goal in mind.
  107. >She obviously doesn't want to spend eternity here with you - right?
  108. >Not that it's what you're hoping.
  109. >That never crossed your mind, because she can be so difficult and moody.
  110. >You can't lie - despite those issues, it's been a nice change of pace to have someone else here.
  111. >"I don't know," she admits, barely above a whisper.
  112. "You just... planned on living out your days here?"
  113. >Midnight looks...
  114. >Lost.
  115. >This is only one in maybe two moments you've seen Midnight naked.
  116. >Well, physically she always is.
  117. >But emotionally, there's always a wall that she tried to keep up, keeping as serious as possible.
  118. >"I guess? I never really thought about anything other than - well, surviving. That was my one and only goal, and with you allowing me to stay here - not just in the old van, but here in your home... I dunno."
  119. >The simple notion that being alive is her one and only goal leaves you feeling rather uncomfortable.
  120. >Of course, it's not the first time you've heard her say something to that effect.
  121. >But Midnight legitimately has never looked further than that, judging by not only her response but her body language.
  122. "Hey, it's fine. I just thought maybe you had something grand in mind. There's no shame in focusing on the short term - and as you said, there's quite a ways to get there."
  123. >"Indeed," she replies with a nod, sounding undeniably relieved that you dropped the subject.
  124. >It feels like every day, there's something more to Midnight that leaves you with more and more questions you want to ask.
  125. >It will probably come with time.
  126. >A lot of time.
  127.  
  128.  
  129.  
  130.  
  131. >You can't remember the last time you did this much walking.
  132. >Probably been years, and your body will probably remind you of it tomorrow morning.
  133. >This evening, Midnight wanted to begin mapping out some sort of an inventory and... well, actual map - of the junkyard.
  134. >As in, something that could actually point you to where a car was located much closer than "somewhere in this row."
  135. >That's a tall task considering some of the rows you have created contain more than 50 cars.
  136. >On either side.
  137. >In addition, you sort of vaguely filled out years and trim of some cars out here - the half-assed spreadsheet on your computer certainly leaves something to be desired.
  138. >And you hadn't been too diligent in regards to marking the windshields with the year, which would have made this easier as well.
  139. >While a lot of cars you can tell the year or trim just by one look at the front or side, some had more subtle visual running changes - or none at all.
  140. >At that point, you have to look at the VIN.
  141. >You suggested starting all the way in the back corner and working forward, but Midnight was adamant in starting up front.
  142. >It seemed to be more than just a preference, but you left it alone.
  143. >Just as well - the back corner was where random junk was dumped off, as well as a hodgepodge of different makes that didnt warrant their own row.
  144. >A fair amount of those were older European imports - you don't remember ever having taken a part off of those, except maybe a Triumph or an MG once.
  145. >Though now that you think of it, the few Volkswagens back there have spurred interest from time to time.
  146. >Nevertheless, it meant you didn't need to take the Trailduster - just some walking shoes.
  147. >Meanwhile, Midnight levitates a steel plate in front of her with a large notebook set atop it, along with a pen that she had wrapped a steel spring around for writing.
  148. >it really should not have surprised you she could write, considering what all else she could do or had picked up at one point or another.
  149. >You still were sort of awestruck anyways, much to her embarrassment.
  150. >She really gets wound up any time you point something out about her.
  151. >Which makes it more fun.
  152. >Speaking of fun...
  153. >Ever since you asked her about long-term goals, Midnight has been more... distracted.
  154. >She just seems like something more is on her mind, and you feel a bit guilty for that.
  155. >In addition, she really gipped you that same night, turning away and trying to hide her laughter at your stupid joke.
  156. >You really want to make up for that.
  157. >No idea why - you just want to see it.
  158. >And as you get to the mishmash row of cars you call the "Row of Shame," inspiration strikes you to try something profoundly stupid.
  159. >While Midnight is preoccupied with jotting down the first few cars you encountered, you hunch over like you're attempting to sneak, putting your arm in front of her to halt her in place.
  160. >She abruptly comes to a stop and startled, looks over to you.
  161. >You put your index finger up to your lips to signal for her silence, which only confuses her further, while you summon your inner Steve Irwin.
  162. >Rest in peace, you crazy Australian bastard.
  163. >"What the hell-"
  164. "Quiet now, little lady. We're approaching some very dangerous creatures, and the last thing we want to do is spook them," you whisper in an awful Aussie accent.
  165. >Midnight can only stare at you with wide, exasperated eyes as she tries to figure out what the hell you're suddenly going on about.
  166. >And probably what the hell that voice was supposed to emulate.
  167. >But you ignore that consideration as you point her attention toward an older compact car to the right of both of you.
  168. "Right there, a creature in its natural habitat - a '72 Chevy Vega! Let's see if we can get a bit closer look."
  169. >While you walk up to the faded orange clunker, you point out the fenders to Midnight.
  170. >What's left of them, anyway.
  171. "Very common coloration here - rust. Comes from a piss poor rust-proofing process in a dipping vat that allowed air pockets to form under the fender tops so they didn't get coated. Fender liners added later - after replacing thousands of fenders under warranty."
  172. >"Are you serious?" Midnight asks, her brows raised in skepticism.
  173. >With two other Vega models next to this particular one, you only need to direct her attention to those next in line.
  174. >As she takes note of that quirk, you grab hold of the hood and flip it open, finding the next piece of awful design is still at home.
  175. "Now we get to the really scary bits here - the 2.3-liter aluminum block four-cylinder. Despite its size, it has a tremendous thirst for oil."
  176. >"That's a diesel?" Midnight asks as she pokes her head into the engine bay.
  177. "Nah, Oldsmobile fucked that up later in the '70s," you reply, momentarily slipping out of your accent. "No, this little devil would leak oil through the poor valve seats in the head, as well as allow coolant past the head gasket - any excessive heat would warp the block and cause that gasket to fail, which would cause more overheating, more warping, and so on. So the pistons would start scouring the cylinder walls and let oil in from the bottom."
  178. >You close the hood again to hide that sin away from the world, while Midnight circles around to the front, allowing herself to smirk at your little show.
  179. "Where are you going? I haven't even explained its final defense mechanism."
  180. >"Oh? And what would that be?"
  181. "Well, if you get the little bugger cornered with nowhere else to go, it can backfire through the exhaust and split the muffler - conveniently placed next to the fuel tank which could overheat and catch fire. Really angry bastard, this one."
  182. >"Are you going to ham this up all evening?"
  183. "Indeed I am, mate."
  184. >You shuffle by her, having already set your sights on another compact that you possess for some reason.
  185. "Now look at this - this is a rare bird indeed," you gush, holding your arms out wide to emphasize the dusty white clunker as you both approach it.
  186. >"Really?" Midnight answers with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. "It looks like a boring economy car."
  187. "Ah, and that's the beauty of this little hatchback - you don't realize the danger of the Chevy Citation until it's too late."
  188. >Midnight bites her lip, trying as hard as she can to seem unimpressed by your stupid antics.
  189. >"Uh-huh, I'm sure," she finally replies.
  190. "No, really - this thing brought out a lawsuit by the government against GM - you had different divisions designing different parts of the car since they would all share this platform, and not a damn one consulted the other in terms of engineering. So they managed to fart out this turd in all its misery."
  191. >You end up slipping out of your terrible accent impersonation and decide to just let it die there.
  192. "They somehow managed to have this car plagued by heavy torque steer in the front despite the lack of power - this was the first transverse engine front-wheel drive car GM developed, and I use the term "developed" here lightly. That didn't stop them from modifying a few cars for press reviewers that got rid of that handling issue, which is pretty damn sad."
  193. >You wander to the back of the car, kicking one of the flat rear tires.
  194. "And then these things liked to lock up the rear wheels if you got on the brakes in an emergency. Because of course, the best way to slow down is by spinning out of control. They managed to injure a bunch of people and kill a few with that feature."
  195. >"And yet you have one in your junkyard - is there anyone that has ever wanted parts from this?"
  196. >You shake your head.
  197. "I like to think I have this here as a warning to the world to make sure history doesn't repeat itself. Lest we forget."
  198. >While it isn't much, you hear Midnight emit a light chuckle at the comment.
  199. >"How do you know this kind of crap, anyway?" she asks.
  200. "Cars are my life, Midnight - there are so damn many stupid stories of horrendous design, it will make your head spin. GM just happened to be on point with terrible ideas in some of the lean years of Detroit's automakers, which was the 70s and 80s. King of the shitboxes."
  201. >"You know we passed several cars on the way to this thing, right? We're out here for a reason," Midnight nonchalantly responds as she turns to head back.
  202. "No, we're out here for two reasons," you call after her.
  203. >It gets her to stop and turn around, studying you as she tries to discern what you're talking about.
  204. >"Getting a proper database of the cars you have out here and... what?" she inquires, giving up.
  205. >You wander over to where she now stands.
  206. "Trying to get you to have a little giggle, mate," you joke with some bastardization of a British and Aussie accent.
  207. >"I- what? Why?"
  208. >Midnight looks thoroughly confused at this point.
  209. >And while it's difficult to tell with her dark coat, you can almost guarantee she's blushing.
  210. >You just have to shrug with a stupid grin on your face.
  211. "I dunno, keep you on your toes, I guess. You've been... decidedly less snarky and lively the last couple of days."
  212. >It's only been recent that you've noticed changes in the position of her ears coinciding with certain emotions from Midnight.
  213. >Now, as she mulls your words, the realization hits Midnight in unison with her ears drooping.
  214. >"I'm fine. I just hadn't thought of the future. Like the actual future - and you just had me considering that."
  215. "If it helps at all, I'm not going to throw you out to live in that van again just because the junkyard is private, if that's something bothering you."
  216. >"And what if I want to go back to living out there?" she lightly challenges.
  217. "Then by all means, follow your dreams."
  218. >"Oh."
  219. >You don't know what that response was meant to convey.
  220. >Unless that *was* bothering her.
  221. "Hey, you aren't getting soft now, are you?" you tease, unable to help yourself.
  222. >"If I threaten to bite off one of your fingers, will that change your mind?" Midnight sasses in some attempt to save face.
  223. >She pins her ears back while flashing you those savage pearly whites, emphasizing her intentions.
  224. >Aw, it's so cute.
  225. "Can I choose which one?"
  226. >"...No?" she spits out in confusion
  227. "Then yes, that changes my mind."
  228. >"And what if I had said you could choose?"
  229. "I still would have had the idea of you going soft shoved out of my mind."
  230. >"Then what was the point of asking?!"
  231. "I'unno. Make you call me a dumbass or som-"
  232. >"Dumbass."
  233. >You flash her another goofy grin as you start walking back to the start of this row at a brisk pace.
  234. "Thanks, Turbo."
  235. >"Hey!"
  236. >You hear her hooves begin to beat a torrid pace upon the trail behind you, while you kick your own ass into high gear.
  237. >"You're losing an arm for that!"
  238. "Perhaps I could interest you in a shitbox tale about the conrod-shattering, fire-prone Fiero! Or the economy-class Cavalier they slapped a Cadillac badge on and sold it as a luxury car named the Cimarron!"
  239. >Of course, running from Midnight is an effort in futility due to her advantage in leg count.
  240. >She zips past you, flaring out her wings as if to slow herself down before pirouetting and halting you in your tracks.
  241. >Midnight leers at you, keeping her wings outstretched as she raises her head and puffs out her chest in an attempt to intimidate you.
  242. "Hi."
  243. >"Lose the horrible impersonations when you explain to me these "shitboxes," and I will leave you whole."
  244. "Fair enough."
  245.  
  246.  
  247.  
  248.  
  249. "Alright, go ahead and try it again."
  250. >The characteristic whine of a Chrysler starter begins its tune as the engine you've been slaving over cranks.
  251. >And cranks.
  252. >And cranks.
  253. >Just as it seems ready to catch and run, a ball of flame erupts from the throat of the carb, making you jump back.
  254. "Stop, stop!"
  255. >Midnight appears from the other side of the engine bay, having exited the driver's seat.
  256. "Do I still have eyebrows?" you ask, leaning over the passenger side fender again while you motion her attention to your eye area.
  257. >"Are you expecting me to say no, or..." she trails off, a bit confused by your question, and evidently not having seen what happened in the gap between the hood and cowl.
  258. "Backfire out the carb. An old joke, I suppose - and probably some truth to it," you explain.
  259. >"So now what?"
  260. >You stand up straight again, stretching your back and earning a few pops as a reward.
  261. "Break time. Let this sit for a little while."
  262. >Heading back to the Trailduster, you really just want to say fuck it and call it a day - but you'll just be back here again tomorrow.
  263. >Instead, you settle for propping open the driver's door and taking a seat.
  264. >Midnight follows your lead, albeit on the passenger side.
  265. >"Are you still dead determined to drive that back to the shop, or is it getting to be more hassle than it's worth?"
  266. >You take another glance at the current car, an early '70s Plymouth Fury.
  267. >Again, a behemoth of a car.
  268. "I really don't want to use this to tow a car that heavy all the way back," you reply, thumping the steering wheel with an open palm. "I know that thing runs - I drove it back here."
  269. >"And how long ago was that?" Midnight presses.
  270. "Well..." you trail off, hesitant to give her an actual answer.
  271. >It wasn't this year, that's for sure.
  272. >"I don't understand why we can't just take what we need off of the car like any other part - care to elaborate?" Midnight asks.
  273. "The customer wants just the front k-member - basically the cradle between the front frame rails where the engine sits. So I have to cut that out with a torch - which would be fine, if the engine was out of it. And if I felt comfortable cutting it out here, where I'm not going to be able to get the car very high off the ground."
  274. >While somewhat frustrated with the predicament she now understands the two of you face, she nods her head.
  275. "We can get it going - I've seen junkyard motors sit for longer and run well enough to use em. It's just trial and error."
  276. >At the end of the row, you can see the black Caravan Midnight called home for months.
  277. "Wanna go visit the summer home?" you joke.
  278. >She follows your line of sight, before spotting your reference.
  279. >It gets her to smirk.
  280. >"I think I'll pass, you smartass."
  281. "I'm guessing you aren't keen to return any time soon then, with that response."
  282. >"If you had asked me a couple of weeks ago, I may have been on the fence," she admits. " But having a butler that serves me food and an air-conditioned room to rest? Nah, you're going to have to deal with me now. You fucked up."
  283. >Though you already expected to hear that, the confirmation that Midnight doesn't want to leave is still a relief.
  284. >You can't lie to yourself anymore - you legitimately enjoy her company.
  285. >That's a hard thing to fathom after being aversive to the whole idea of ponies less than a month ago, but shit changes.
  286. >In the past, heading upstairs to relax before bed was just sort of... it was a necessary ritual.
  287. >Just a pattern of going through the same motions to prepare for another day on the job.
  288. >But with Midnight seeming to trust you more, it's an opportunity of discussion and banter that's a breath of fresh air.
  289. >You never hated your life.
  290. >But this was far from the dream it was supposed to be.
  291. >That's sort of the way life goes, you suppose.
  292. >Some of your issues are just due to your own damn stubbornness.
  293. >After butting heads with virtually anyone you tried to hire, you gave up on that and flew solo.
  294. >Maybe that's why you stopped bothering to do anything other than work.
  295. >No free time.
  296. >Trying to lie to yourself that this was enjoyable.
  297. >Slogging through the same crap day after day, only to get a short reprieve out in the yard, and then a reprieve when it was lights out for maybe six hours.
  298. >Sundays were basically days to drink or stare at the tv.
  299. >Doing everything on your own led you to abandon your social life - what little you had, anyway.
  300. >Your short temper due to stress finished off any loose ends.
  301. >Midnight has mixed that up, and you were afraid her absence would send you back into the same old doldrums of life.
  302. >Or lack of life.
  303. >...and you really hadn't thought about what you would do after losing this place.
  304. >This is it - the only thing you would have left to your name once you defaulted on the loan would be this old SUV.
  305. >It would be starting all over again.
  306. >That is not a prospect you feel you could do.
  307. >That's part of the reason you just shut down your mind when it came to the troubles you faced.
  308. >You just felt so damn stressed all the time.
  309. >Something in your mind eventually just said 'fuck it.'
  310. >Why worry about it, why think about it?
  311. >It was making you miserable.
  312. >So you stopped thinking about the what-ifs.
  313. >Well, there wasn't much left for fate to decide.
  314. >It was a matter of time with the way things were going, and you had just given up.
  315. >It's not like you had much of a life - why try to fight it and bring this place back from the brink?
  316. >...you've been lying to yourself for a while now, without realizing it.
  317. >Lying that you're happy.
  318. >Lying that you're living out your dream.
  319. >It started out that way.
  320. >But it didn't play out that way as time went on.
  321. >You've just been ignoring the nightmare and drawing a happy face over it.
  322. >Perhaps it's fitting Midnight came along when she did.
  323. >A Nightmare knockoff to reveal the nightmare you had accepted.
  324. >No.
  325. >She's better than that.
  326. >"You okay?"
  327. >You turn to Midnight, seeing those bright blue eyes studying you with more than passing concern.
  328. "Yeah, just thinking," you reply innocently.
  329. >"Do you always white-knuckle the steering wheel when you think?"
  330. > It's only now you notice the tensed muscles and tendons in your arms and hands - wielding a death grip on the aforementioned wheel.
  331. >You release it, your limbs feeling like jello for a few moments afterward.
  332. >"I was joking if you don't want me to stay," Midnight continues.
  333. >"What? No! It's fine!" you quickly protest, realizing you had zoned out after her quip.
  334. >Midnight's brow furrows as she evidently ponders your odd behavior.
  335. >"Thinking about how you want to strangle me, or..." she trails off for a moment."Look, you can't just leave me with 'I was thinking.' I get that's rare for you, but that hardly an excuse."
  336. "Ouch, you show concern by bringing the fire?"
  337. >"I gotta remind you I'm not going soft, apparently," she jests. "Seriously, what's got you so stressed?"
  338. "How about I repeat one of your lines?"
  339. >"What do you mean?"
  340. "Why do you care?"
  341. >That phrase hits her immediately, her ears flattening as she averts your gaze.
  342. >"I mean, it's none of my business - but I don't want you suddenly snapping and driving us off of a cliff or something," she says dismissively.
  343. >Holy shit, is she for real with this bluff?
  344. "Thelma and Louise finale doesn't sound fun? If it's the whole convertible thing you're afraid of missing out on, the top on the rear of this thing is removable."
  345. >"I don't understand that reference, but you're insufferable anyway," she replies.
  346. "I try. But to be level with you - just thinking about how things were. I guess I'm realizing that - I thought I was happy. Obviously, besides the whole ignoring this place being a pit I was throwing money into, I thought I was living the way I wanted to live - like I dreamed."
  347. >"You didn't seem all that unhappy to me. You still don't," Midnight chimes in.
  348. "No, I suppose not. I've always enjoyed lightly picking at people, trying to be light-hearted. Maybe I've gotten so good at it I've even fooled myself. Starting to feel like I've been wearing a mask, and I haven't seen it when I look in the mirror."
  349. >"And now... what, exactly? You feel better?"
  350. >You have to shrug your shoulders.
  351. "Yeah, little bit. Feel like I lost some weight off of me I didn't know I had."
  352. >Both of you just sort of relax in silence after that.
  353. >You don't really have anything else to say, and Midnight seems to be at a loss of how to respond to that.
  354. >Perhaps she was surprised that you actually shared with her, rather than bury it.
  355. >Like she does.
  356. "Hey Midnight?"
  357. >She comes to attention again, allowing you a chance to study her beautiful blue eyes.
  358. >They really are something else - an unnaturally vibrant ice blue with subtle variations of shades scattered within her irises, almost like a starburst pattern.
  359. >Even when they aren't glowing in tune with her electromagnetic abilities, they are striking, to say the least.
  360. >"Yeah?"
  361. "Thanks for putting up with my bullshit."
  362. >"It comes with the room and services, I suppose," she says with a wave of her hoof dismissively.
  363. >You can't help but chuckle.
  364. "At least you know there's a catch."
  365.  
  366.  
  367.  
  368.  
  369. >Holy hell, you can't remember the last time it's rained this much out here in the desert.
  370. >Almost all day has been one long rainstorm of varying intensity.
  371. >That being said...
  372. >Work was virtually non-existent.
  373. >No customers willing to make the trek out in this, and you sure as hell don't want to make the ruts and dips out there any worse than they are.
  374. >Or worse - somehow manage to get stuck.
  375. >That's probably unlikely, but it sounds better than 'I don't want to get wet'.
  376. >But, you have noticed an uptick in online business since Midnight created and put that order request option into action.
  377. >Enough revenue has come in you decided to throw some money at the Trailduster as you had mentioned before.
  378. >That would be a surprise, though - it will take a while for the leaf springs and bushings to arrive.
  379. >You'll have to play off the shocks as something else, though.
  380. >Having spent almost three hours going through your warehouse and referencing every part against the list on your computer was good enough for you to feel like you accomplished something.
  381. >Midnight started work on a new and improved spreadsheet listing the automobile inventory with what cars the two of you had gone through in-depth thus far.
  382. >It's only been a few days, but even only going through two incomplete rows puts the number close to a hundred fifty.
  383. >It seems like just a number until you actually traverse the space that many cars take up.
  384. >At some point, you think you'll need to buy another laptop.
  385. >Sure, you have your phone - but it's rather sluggish, and obviously, you'd rather have a larger screen.
  386. >With all of your shop manuals exhausted by Midnight's voracious appetite for reading, that device has been her go-to for information.
  387. >Even when she's not helping you out with something.
  388. >Or in her words, helping herself, which also helps you.
  389. >She's still very adamant about that.
  390. >Midnight isn't wrong, it's just a real sticking point for her.
  391. >Probably pride.
  392. >Bored with a rerun of some 90s sitcom on tv, you glance over to her familiar spot to catch a glimpse of her current interest.
  393. >...Jaguar?
  394. "Hey!"
  395. >Your shout actually manages to startle her, as her vision abruptly darts around the room, before honing in on you.
  396. >"What?" she barks, confused and frustrated by your sudden interruption.
  397. >You put on your most serious, disapproving face you can muster.
  398. "This is Amurrica, we don't do them fancy Yuropeein cars like that. You bring me great shame."
  399. >"Oh. Sucks to be you, then," she says with a smug grin.
  400. >You feel disappointed the altercation stops there.
  401. "Did I push it too hard, or do you just not care?" you ask, somewhat curious of the response.
  402. >"Hmm. Both, I guess."
  403. "And are you being honest, or are you trying to throw me a bone so I don't feel like a complete failure?"
  404. >"Probably closer to the second option."
  405. "That's bullshit," you say, crossing your arms and feigning a pouting expression.
  406. >"You're the one that asked, dumb-dumb," she jabs back, before making a face of disgust. "And I don't know what that face is, but stop it."
  407. "Fine," you say, relaxing and returning to your previous posture. "What got you abruptly interested in Jags, anyway?"
  408. >Midnight shrugs as her eyes faintly glow, a strip of metal hovering over the touchpad to scroll down on the current webpage.
  409. >"Something different. I just started clicking on different manufacturers, and this happened to be the one you caught me with. Do you actually dislike them?"
  410. "Nah, I'm just fucking around," you say, waving your hand to dismiss the idea. "Sort of just playing that trope out."
  411. >"What do you mean?" she asks, cocking her head in curiosity.
  412. "Most Americans and Europeans don't understand each other's tastes in cars. Europe has more twisty roads, so their cars tend to favor a sporty suspension, and less emphasis on acceleration or speed. Here, we have a lot of straight roads. Having something that can turn well doesn't matter - we just look for the raw throw-you-into-the-back-of-your-seat acceleration."
  413. >"Have you ever driven one?"
  414. "I can't say I've ever had the privilege of being in one, but there are some models I wouldn't mind taking out for a drive."
  415. >"Such as...?"
  416. You get the sense that Midnight hasn't gotten too far into reading yet.
  417. "Well, the E-Type is arguably the peak of automotive design. They were named the XK-E here in the US, I think. I'd probably feel at home and more comfortable in an XJ-S, but I've also heard those can be maintenance nightmares. Think there's at least one or two of those out back."
  418. >"Really? Where?"
  419. "Far in the back corner, that's where all the foreign makes are."
  420. >"Oh."
  421. >Midnight's shift in interest is drastic with that single, flat response being all she musters.
  422. "You don't seem too thrilled about that."
  423. >"It's just junk cars. What's there to be excited about?" she replies, trying her best to play off your observation.
  424. "Bullshit."
  425. >Midnight is forced into a double-take by your terse response.
  426. >"Excuse me?" she asks, as if offended by your language.
  427. >You were truthful when she asked what was stressing you out a few days ago - she can at least return the favor.
  428. "This is the second time you've tried to avoid any discussion or visit to that particular area of the yard - what's the reason for that? I haven't been back there in some time, so if something is wrong-"
  429. >"Nothing is wrong," Midnight replies through gritted teeth. "Just stop worrying about it - I just don't have interest."
  430. "You did until I mentioned where those Jaguars were at," you point out.
  431. >Frustrated, she turns away from you, her nostrils flared as she lets out a huff.
  432. "You helped me by making me spill my own guts, the least you can do is let me offer the same."
  433. >"That was different," she barks.
  434. "How?"
  435. >Midnight doesn't offer any excuse - merely silence as she tries to ignore.
  436. "Midnight."
  437. >Nothing.
  438. "Miiiiidniiiiight," you call again, drawing it out as you scooch over closer on the couch.
  439. >The shifting of the couch by your movement makes Midnight unable to keep her vision turned elsewhere.
  440. >She only graces you with a sharp glare out of the corner of her eye.
  441. >"What the fuck are you doing?" she sharply demands.
  442. "Getting you to stop ignoring me so you can tell me what's got you so bent out of shape."
  443. >"It's none of your business."
  444. "So there is something bothering you about that back corner."
  445. >"Fuck you."
  446. "Come on, I'm trying to help you."
  447. >"I don't need your help!" she snarls in a loud outburst. "You think I'm just some weak-minded, feeble little pony?! That I can't take care of my own issues?!"
  448. >You don't reply with anything as she releases that verbal tirade.
  449. >It's hard not to notice her whole form slightly trembling, though.
  450. >Maybe you are pushing too hard.
  451. >This is...
  452. >You can't remember ever being in a situation that even remotely resembles this.
  453. >But if she doesn't want to talk, you can probably do some detective work on your own.
  454. "I'm not trying to be an asshole, Midnight. I know you can deal with your own issues," you calmly reply. "But I can't guarantee my curiosity won't get the best of me at some point - I can always drive back there and have a look. Am I going to find something?"
  455. >"It's a fucking graveyard back there," you hear her mumble. "It's where I was dumped, along with... others."
  456. >You feel sort of stupid for not having drawn that conclusion.
  457. >After all, it's where you have any sort of generic scrap dumped off.
  458. "Others... there were others?"
  459. >"Parts. Some nearly whole. But not actual others like me - alive."
  460. "Why did you make it?" you ask, feeling nauseated by her short, vague description.
  461. >Logic would tell you it's just robot or cybernetic parts and shit - just industrial waste.
  462. >But it's personal for Midnight.
  463. >"I don't want to talk about this. You got your damn answer, now leave me alone," she snaps.
  464. >As much as you want to push further - she's right.
  465. >You at least understand why she wants nothing to do with that area.
  466. >Though maybe you should see about doing something to alleviate that reminder, even if she never goes back there again.
  467. >Like burying it.
  468. >As much as Midnight gushed about her importance and superiority over others - she clearly has some sort of guilt or trauma experiencing that sight of... bodies.
  469. >Maybe she knew some of them.
  470. >Maybe some of them were her friends.
  471. >Or family.
  472. >Well, maybe considered family.
  473. >Midnight has gone back to staring off in another direction, her barrel slightly heaving now.
  474. "Hey, Midnight?"
  475. >"What?"
  476. >She keeps her reply short and bitter.
  477. "Do y-... can I have a hug?"
  478. >"Why the fuck would you ask me that?"
  479. "I dunno. Just feel like I need one, I guess."
  480. >You don't get a response.
  481. >It was worth a try, anyway.
  482. >"This never gets discussed or mentioned. Ever. Fucking baby."
  483. >Is that an invitation or...
  484. >You scoot up next to her, feeling sort of nervous and vulnerable.
  485. >Midnight doesn't say anything as she abruptly sits up and takes a step toward you, placing her chin on your shoulder so quickly you can't see her face.
  486. >You gingerly place an arm around her neck, feeling her muscles tensing up for a moment at your touch.
  487. >Midnight takes a deep breath before finally allowing herself to relax.
  488. >She doesn't say anything, and you just let her have peace.
  489. >Slowly bringing up your other arm to complete the embrace, you lightly brush her neck, marveling at the silky and soft texture of the midnight-sky blue fur.
  490. >Part of her rich violet and blue mane falls over your arm as well as tickles the side of your face.
  491. >Meanwhile, you feel something warm drip and soak into the back of your shirt.
  492. >Must be a leak in the roof.
  493. >You aren't bothered by it, though.
  494. >No reason to mention it to Midnight, either...
  495.  
  496.  
  497.  
  498.  
  499.  
  500. >You didn't bother keeping track of how long Midnight was in your arms.
  501. >At some point, she finally pulled away from you without a word, turned away, and lay back down.
  502. >All you felt you could do was move back over and give her space.
  503. >The whole time, Midnight made sure to keep herself as silent as possible - the only indications of her outpouring of emotions was the occasional hitch in her breathing, as well as the dampness that now permeated the right shoulder and back area of your shirt.
  504. >Now, you just sit in silence on the couch, once in a while glancing over at her now-slumbering form.
  505. >It's an awful feeling, not knowing what to do.
  506. >How do you help someone that doesn't want to be helped?
  507. >Or know how to accept help?
  508. >You already sort of figured a while ago Midnight had been putting on an act to hide any potential vulnerabilities - but you hadn't expected she had experienced any sort of trauma that was left alone to be bottled up.
  509. >Who knows what the hell else she went through?
  510. >She certainly doesn't want to share it.
  511. >Whether that be fear of reliving it or appearing "weak" to you - that was up for debate.
  512. >Hell, you had to play it off that *you* needed a hug just to try comforting her.
  513. >And she still had a hissy fit about it.
  514. >And you're also left with more haunting questions.
  515. >Midnight was the only one dumped here that was apparently alive - why?
  516. >You have to assume it was not done purposely.
  517. >So, did she escape?
  518. >Could EquisCo be looking for her?
  519. >Could you be in deep shit for harboring her?
  520. >That last question doesn't really matter much to you.
  521. >Like hell you're going to give her up to the shithole she came from if they come a-knocking.
  522. >...You sort of feel guilty for how you thought about her when she first arrived.
  523. >Wondering why they didn't deactivate her.
  524. >Now the mere thought makes you feel ill.
  525. >She's much more than a mass of circuits like you originally thought.
  526. >And... the pony thing doesn't really affect you anymore.
  527. >You just wish you knew how to help her.
  528. >Ignoring problems and lingering pain is unhealthy - you can attest to the first issue, and she's helping you with that.
  529. >But Midnight just refuses help.
  530. >Her boasting of superiority, of her being a strong pony...
  531. >Yeah, totally not insecurity.
  532. >Hopefully you've made at least some inroads with her tonight.
  533. >You glance over at Midnight again.
  534. >This time, you see a glint of a blue iris peeking through a crack in her eyelids.
  535. >"What are you doing?" she mumbles sleepily.
  536. "Sitting here, I guess."
  537. >"You're watching me, you freak."
  538. "No, I glanced at you," you calmy protest.
  539. >"Multiple times."
  540. >...
  541. "So you've been watching me while pretending you're sleeping. And I'm the creepy one."
  542. >Midnight fully joins the sentient world, opening her eyes and raising her head off the couch, glancing up at the clock on the wall above the tv.
  543. >"It's midnight," she states flatly.
  544. "Are you telling me your name, or the time?" you ask her.
  545. >"Ha, ha," she replies sarcastically, shaking her head. "Seriously, what are you doing?"
  546. >Judging by the tone her voice carries with that question, there is only one answer she will accept.
  547. >If there's any chance Midnight is going to let you crack open a door into her emotional and psychological health, it's time to make a positive impression.
  548. >By being honest.
  549. "Concerned, I guess. I know you don't want that but - look, you're helping me out getting shit straight financially and getting my head on right. I just don't want you to feel like I'm not willing to listen to you."
  550. >"So... you don't listen to me when I say I don't need your help. Interesting," she replies coldy, rubbing her chin with a hoof as if pondering that thought.
  551. "Midnight, I'm not implying you aren't strong, if that's what you're trying to get at," you argue. "What you told me earlier tonight - that's straight-up nightmare fuel. I don't know if I could mentally handle that situation as you have for so long."
  552. >"I appreciate the compliment, whether you meant to do so or not," she replies.
  553. >Rather than reply, you just remain silent, staring at her.
  554. >The lack of any biting retort seems to frustrate her a bit as she sighs.
  555. >"What do you want from me? To cave and become your damsel in distress? Some submissive little pony you need to take care of? Is that your fetish?"
  556. "No. But stop putting up this facade that you're invulnerable to pain. Pretending it doesn't exist does not make it so, Midnight. Isn't that what you argued in my case?" you propose. "You told me I was stupid for doing that."
  557. >"That was different," she says sternly, once again averting her gaze to an opposite end of the room.
  558. >It's a tone and a gesture that lets you know anything else you try to use to battering ram your way into her psyche is going to be a waste of time.
  559. >Back to square one for now - but she seems to admit there are unresolved issues she keeps a stranglehold on.
  560. >Not that it surprises you.
  561. >It's just a reminder that there's more to the attitude than just being an ass for fun.
  562. "Alright then."
  563. >Your white flag of a statement catches Midnight by complete surprise, judging by her head whipping back to you almost instantaneously.
  564. >"What?"
  565. >You shrug.
  566. "You don't want to talk about it. That's fine, I can't force it out of you. I don't own you Midnight - you're your own mare," you explain. "All I want to put out there is if you need an ear to listen, I'm always available. Fair enough?"
  567. >Her eyes narrow at you, evidently suspicious of your intentions behind those words.
  568. >"This is supposed to be some sort of reverse psychology where I feel like there's an opportunity slipping away right now and I need to seize the moment, isn't it?"
  569. "If that's what you want to believe, sure. I'm not trying to argue with you Midnight. I'm really just... putting myself out there. Okay?"
  570. >"Riiiight."
  571. >You feel yourself starting to get a little irritated with Midnight now - and some of that probably has to do with your own fatigue.
  572. >Reaching over for the tv remote, you unmute the volume before flipping off the power.
  573. "You are right that it's getting late, so I'm going to get some sleep," you tell her, before getting up and shuffling off to your room, hitting the main light switch en route.
  574. >The kitchen light is still on, but you figure Midnight will get that when she's well and ready.
  575. >"Hey, Anonymous."
  576. >You stop as you reach the door frame and spin around.
  577. >Midnight's head pokes up over the couch back, her eyes giving off the faintest blue glow in the dim light.
  578. >"You didn't bring up anything else about... earlier tonight," she says uneasily.
  579. "Was I supposed to? I didn't think anything needed to be said," you reply, the back of your shirt still offering the slightest reminder of the emotions from earlier.
  580. >Midnight hesitates, mulling over your response.
  581. >Without a word, she disappears from your view behind the couch.
  582. "Goodnight, Midnight."
  583. >"Good night," she says, sounding a bit muffled by the obstacles between you.
  584. >You close the door to your bedroom, leaving it open just a crack.
  585. >"...thank you," you hear come faintly from the living room.
  586. >Well, that's new.
  587. >As much as you want to rush back out there and point out she actually thanked you - and you heard it - you leave it alone.
  588. >Rome wasn't built in a day.
  589. >Baby steps, Anon.
  590.  
  591.  
  592.  
  593.  
  594.  
  595. >For the third time this morning, you hear Anon's alarm blare its electronic maelstrom of auditory pain.
  596. >You've been nice thus far, but this is getting a little ridiculous now.
  597. >Lazy bastard.
  598. >With a huff of resignation, you set aside the laptop you were perusing and slip off of the couch, heading to Anon's room blocked only by his door left slightly ajar.
  599. >It's not necessarily odd for him to hit the snooze button once in a while - but it's usually pretty quick.
  600. >In the back of your mind, you're a little concerned with the realization that it has been blaring for some time before the noise is silenced.
  601. >...Er, you're concerned for your own well-being, since he's basically hiding you here.
  602. >So you sort of need him alive.
  603. >Not that you're worried about that, either - after all, he has silenced his alarms.
  604. >They don't turn off by themselves, right?
  605. >You use one of your wings to lightly push open the door as you creep into his room.
  606. > It's rather barren, the walls a pale robin egg blue that has faded with time, and no decor to speak of - aside from a small window right above the bed.
  607. >Merely a bed, an end table, and a door which leads to a small walk-in closet grace this room as far as furnishings.
  608. >A lump you safely assume is Anon's slumbering form is nestled within a cocoon of blankets.
  609. >More than you would expect to see, considering the temperature in here, which is on the upper end of comfortable.
  610. "Hey sloth, stop hitting the snooze button. It's almost nine-thirty," you snap.
  611. >Anon's form merely shifts a bit, before letting out a fatigued mumble of unintelligible words.
  612. "I don't understand moonspeak, try again in English."
  613. >This time, you just get a groan in response.
  614. "Alright, enough of this."
  615. >You storm over to his bedside, leaning over and grabbing a hold of the end of the linens and tossing them aside to expose Anon to the sunlight.
  616. >He doesn't put up any sort of a fight.
  617. >Instead, he focuses on bracing his eyes for the sharp contrast of light by squinting.
  618. >He looks... very pale.
  619. >And slightly shivering from head to toe.
  620. >And he looks quite exhausted, by his sluggish movements in getting himself adjusted to focus on you.
  621. "You look awful," you finally manage to tell him.
  622. >"You were a lot prettier last night, too," he strikes back, shuddering particularly hard as he grabs those sheets to cover himself back up.
  623. "Stop being disgusting - what are you doing?"
  624. >"I feel like shit, Midnight," he groans. "Unless you cranked the AC down to the 50s, I'm gonna guess I'm suffering from the chills right now."
  625. >You blink.
  626. "So you're cold?"
  627. >"I'm sick. Ill. Whatever you want to call it. I can't be up and around like this. Probably got a fever, and I'm feeling dizzy just trying to look at you. I can't open today."
  628. "You can't afford *not* to open up - we just lost almost two full days due to weather last week," you protest, the thought of more lost revenue making you anxious.
  629. >"Alright, alright. Damn slave driver."
  630. >Slowly, Anon sits himself upright, still clinging to the sheets in which he's draped himself.
  631. >He pauses before actually standing up, seeming to sway back and forth a bit.
  632. >"Is the room spinning for you?" he asks.
  633. "No..."
  634. >While your first instinct is to believe he's screwing with you or playing it up, the look of utter exhaustion he sports and the continued slight swaying back and forth convinces you otherwise.
  635. >Frustrated, you motion with your hoof for him to lay back down, which he obliges - albeit slowly and with an accompanying groan.
  636. >"Sorry, I didn't ask to be sick, Midnight," he apologizes, shifting around a bit to find a more comfortable position.
  637. "I know, I know," you grumble in response, turning to head back out of his room.
  638. >Maybe you're overreacting a bit, considering the ease of access the website now provides leaves a vast majority of orders being placed online nowadays...
  639. >But still, not being open at all has to hurt business somewhat, and you want to make this place's financial foundation as rock solid as possible, as soon as possible.
  640. >And the hours open to the public have already been cut back out of necessity to pull parts for orders that are to be shipped out.
  641. >Of course, that's the transition - being here only to ship out and allow pickup maybe once a week...
  642. >You still don't like not being open at this point in time though.
  643. >You can't sit back and do nothing.
  644. "I'm opening up on my own," you announce, turning back around to face Anon
  645. >"You wha?"
  646. >He sits up right away - going just a bit too far forward before his delayed reactions stabilize him.
  647. "I'll open up shop for a little bit - answer any calls, deal with whatever few customers we get, and get caught up on the parts we need to pull."
  648. >"Absolutely not, Midnight," he sternly rebuts, not wasting a moment of thought.
  649. >Undaunted by his refusal, you pin your ears back with anger and step forward.
  650. "Why not? I'm more than capable of doing it, and it's not like I'm asking you to hand the whole business over to me," you argue.
  651. >"Have you forgotten you aren't really supposed to be here?" he says, pointing a finger at you. "What if - well, what if someone from the place you came from happens to walk in and recognizes you? It's game over."
  652. >Okay, he's evidently delirious with illness, judging by how little thought went into that argument.
  653. "What the hell kind of an excuse is that? Have you somehow forgotten the numerous times I was working on engines in the shop while customers walked in? As well as the few times I've actually interacted with them? Are you being stupid on purpose?"
  654. >Anon opens up his mouth to speak, but is unable to find any words that will help him.
  655. "I'm my own mare anyways, Anon - you said so yourself. I'm pretty sure I can manage without your expertise for a little bit."
  656. >"I don't like this idea," he continues to stonewall. "You still aren't supposed to legally be out on your own, you told me that."
  657. "Yet this is private property - *your* private property, might I add."
  658. >In the back of your mind, you've already decided this is something you will do, whether you have Anon's approval or not.
  659. >But you'd still rather have his blessing, rather than do this behind his back.
  660. >More out of a desire to avoid hearing his droll scowling voice later on in the evening when he finds out.
  661. >"Pull parts out back. That's it."
  662. >You shake your head defiantly.
  663. "Open till about one in the afternoon, answer any calls, and then pull parts out back."
  664. >He scowls at your counter offer.
  665. >However, Anon sighs after mulling his options for a few silent moments.
  666. >"I'm not going to win with you, am I?"
  667. >You shake your head once again.
  668. >"Be careful, Midnight," he says solemnly.
  669. "You act as if I'm going to get caught and get you in trouble," you chastise.
  670. >"Dammit, I'm not worried about that, I'm worried about *you*."
  671. >The way he emphasizes his concern makes you feel...
  672. >Odd.
  673. "Shut up," is all you can reply with, embarrassed by being thrust into the central focus like this.
  674. >"No, I'm serious. I want you around Midnight - I don't care if you think that's weird or makes you feel uncomfortable," he presses.
  675. "Well - come on, your business is-"
  676. >"I'm not talking about having you around to help me. Let go of your pride for just five minutes, please."
  677. "Then what is it?" you ask, feeling awkward as hell.
  678. >"I enjoy your company, Midnight. I want you around for - you. So yes, I'm worried for your sake."
  679. >You swallow hard at that statement.
  680. "You can't just keep me under wraps forever. That's not a life," you reply.
  681. >"I know, which is why I don't have a leg to stand on in this argument. And I realize it's a longshot that someone is going to recognize you, put two and two together, and come to the conclusion you're essentially a fugitive. But I can't vouch for you if I'm not there - I can't make up some quick excuse to cover your ass. So jus-"
  682. >You unfurl your left wing and gently shove him back down to a laying position.
  683. "You're doing way too much talking for someone as sick and out of it as you are," you tell him. "Shut up, get some sleep, I'll be fine, you candyass."
  684. >Without giving him another chance to speak, you trot out of the room, closing the door behind you.
  685. > It's only now you realize you've been holding your breath for some time, and you let it out in a big exhale.
  686. >'I want you around.'
  687. >You've never heard that directed toward you.
  688. >Not unless it was for someone else's shot at a massive ego boost.
  689. >Or prestige.
  690. >Or monetary gain.
  691. >Your whole existence is based on a gamble to gain influence within a company.
  692. >It was only in hindsight you understood that.
  693. >The few compliments and discussions shared were more or less to build up the ego of another, for their own betterment.
  694. >Something beyond you - you have always been a vessel for a further goal.
  695. >To be kept around for - well, you, your 'company' as Anonymous so eloquently described...
  696. > It's a wave of emotions you've never felt before.
  697. >A completely foreign feeling that is almost overwhelming right now.
  698. >Why?
  699. >In reality - what do you have to offer aside from your aptitude to learn skills at a rapid pace and your gift of making ferrous objects float in the air?
  700. >Your whole plan to fit here and make this your home revolved only around making yourself useful as a tool, not...
  701. >Whatever Anon thinks of you now.
  702. >Fucking rambling moron.
  703. >He even said so on day one, he had no interest in ponies, no interest in you or your past.
  704. >Which was fine with you - it's what you expected.
  705. >It was what felt normal.
  706. >What the hell happened?
  707. >Anon just keeps digging beyond what you offered and agreed upon - face-value facts, present day.
  708. >You don't want to delve into the past - you can't change it.
  709. >It doesn't matter anymore, and it's unpleasant to reflect upon.
  710. >...
  711. >And you hate who you are.
  712. >You hate *what* you are.
  713. >Anon pressing his way further and further into your past is forcing you to come to terms with that.
  714. >What does he serve to gain from it?
  715. >It's completely illogical.
  716. >Why do things suddenly have to be so damn complicated?
  717. >And why-
  718. >No, get a grip on yourself.
  719. >You have things that need to be done.
  720. >Stop thinking about shit that doesn't matter.
  721. >With another deep breath, you shove those thoughts and worries down into the recesses of your mind and head out the door.
  722.  
  723.  
  724.  
  725. >This is obscenely boring.
  726. >How Anon managed to occupy himself month after month sitting and waiting for customers is beyond you.
  727. >Almost an hour and a half since opening the front gates. And not a single person has popped in.
  728. >...you did get a few stares from passersby when fiddling with the lock and propping the gate open, though.
  729. >Despite your confidence you crowed about when convincing Anon to let you do this, it was a little unnerving.
  730. >Again, you aren't used to this attention.
  731. >You aren't used to being out in the open for all to see.
  732. >By design, you're meant to be quite striking in appearance.
  733. >...that's far from a boon right now, considering the circumstances.
  734. >But, no one stopped and shrieked in horror.
  735. >Sirens didn't begin to blare as the authorities closed in to neutralize you.
  736. >Just some double-takes.
  737. >There was never any thought put into what you would do outside of the facility once you made good your escape.
  738. >Tending to a junkyard certainly wasn't something that sprung to mind.
  739. >But beggars can't be choosers.
  740. >Now...
  741. >You have too much time to think.
  742. >What illness does Anon have?
  743. >With virtually no knowledge of humans, that question has you nervous.
  744. >Will he be okay?
  745. >Could it be fatal?
  746. >He didn't seem overly concerned about it...
  747. >But what if that was to allay your fears?
  748. >Fears that he probably doesn't know you have...
  749. >Yeah, trying to hide inevitable death is probably a reach.
  750. >However, you would like to see him back to normal as quickly as possible for peace of mind.
  751. >The least you could do is at least check on him a few times throughout the day, in case he needs anything.
  752. >After some time to let the thought settle, maybe it isn't so awful to think that Anon cares.
  753. >It's - well, it's sort of a relief.
  754. >It means you don't have to constantly be looking out for yourself in every direction.
  755. >Someone has your back.
  756. >Again, that's a new feeling.
  757. >Hell, interacting with anyone on a regular occasion is new.
  758. >You remember being virtually isolated from birth until arriving here.
  759. >'Birth' might not be an appropriate term, but the point still stands.
  760. >It was all part of the experiment, after all.
  761. >To be fully independent.
  762. >The creak of stairs draws your attention away from internal thoughts.
  763. >Anonymous carefully makes his way down the steps, still wearing a sheet like a cloak.
  764. "What the hell are you doing? Get back to bed!" you shout at him, aghast to see him as he tries not to fall the rest of the way down with his lack of balance.
  765. >"You want me to shit in the sink?" he croaks.
  766. "Not... particularly?"
  767. >You try not to gag at the thought.
  768. >"Then you're going to watch me stumble down the stairs. May as well see if a hot shower helps me at all, while I'm down here," he explains further, holding out a fresh change of leisure clothes out from under his cloak.
  769. >You don't say anything else as you warily watch him traverse the rest of the steps.
  770. >"Any customers yet?" he asks upon reaching the bathroom door.
  771. >You shake your head negatively, which elicits a frown from him.
  772. >"Sorry. How many orders came in overnight?"
  773. "I... hadn't thought about checking that," you reply, appalled that simple task had slipped your mind.
  774. >"You worrying about me?" Anon suggests with a smirk.
  775. >That face instantly draws your ire.
  776. >Even if he is kind of right in that assumption.
  777. >Are you sure you didn't just come down here to annoy me when I'm supposed to be rid of you for the day?"
  778. >He shrugs while walking into the bathroom and closing the door behind.
  779. >"I'm a man of many talents," his muffled voice echoes from the other side.
  780. >Smartass.
  781. >While Anon does his thing, you check up on emails on the computer for orders, as reminded by him.
  782. >And there are quite a few new ones in the last fourteen or so hours.
  783. >Most of which seem to be engine parts, just from a glance.
  784. >Fairly simple, as your work has left shelves full of sorted parts in the building.
  785. >Pontiac 400 heads, Ford 351 oil pan, Jeep 360 four-barrel intake...
  786. >You don't recall doing any Jeep stuff.
  787. >But there are some parts you know - at least, that you know are marked.
  788. >Book smarts don't necessarily translate into instant visual identification - not like Anon can do.
  789. >You still need reference tags for most of these things.
  790. >That knowledge likely comes with experience.
  791. >Almost in time with the sound of the water being turned on, you pad over to the storage room and make your way along the narrow corridors.
  792. >The lighting in this room is awful, but you have no issues seeing in the dark, thanks to your eyes.
  793. >You can't help but laugh when Anon stumbles his way along in here when he's looking for something.
  794. >Like other aspects of his business, it was something he noticed, but never bothered to improve.
  795. >With as much stockpiling as the two of you have accomplished, reaching and replacing light fixtures will be a tall task.
  796. >Maybe someday...
  797. >You manage to find the engine heads fairly quick, trotting back to the entrance just to place them down outside the door.
  798. >But before you turn back to head for the oil pan, someone comes around the corner of the entrance to the shop.
  799. >A customer!
  800. >Just as you start to feel excitement and anxiety build, you get a better look at your visitor.
  801. >Carrying a large box, the man is clad in a drab brown uniform...
  802. >Just a delivery.
  803. >Dammit.
  804. >"Well good morning, miss," he greets you with a smile and in a voice that is borderline baby talk. "Your owner wouldn't happen to be around to sign for this package, would he?"
  805. >Owner.
  806. >You clench your jaw at the utterance of that insulting word being directed toward you.
  807. >And the way he says that!
  808. >Like you're some sort of imbecile!
  809. >You have half a mind to-
  810. >"In here, but I'm a little occupied at the moment!" Anon shouts through the sounds of the shower. "She can sign for it, can't she?"
  811. >"Of course, sorry about that," the delivery driver announces back, his gaze drawn away from you and toward the closed door behind.
  812. >It gives you a moment to scowl at him in an attempt to relieve some of your anger.
  813. >Just as he starts to focus back on you, you bring yourself back to a decidedly more approachable appearance.
  814. >"Where do you want this?" he asks politely, motioning to the large package with a nod of his head.
  815. >The box is large enough to require the use of both hands.
  816. >Well, he can shove it wh-
  817. "I'll take it," you reply, sensing at least some sort of ferrous material inside you can grasp.
  818. >It's strange how your ability works, but you can 'feel' when something can be moved or drawn toward you.
  819. >From that, you can get a sense of general shape, as well as any separate pieces.
  820. >Feeling the presence of four cylindrical objects, you gently grab them and motivate the box to the floor, much to your visitor's surprise.
  821. >"Whoa, that's trippy."
  822. >It takes a moment before he reaches for some sort of device on his hip, tapping through a few things before holding it out to you, as well as some sort of plastic pen.
  823. >"Sign here," he directs.
  824. >You frown, knowing full well you can't handle that object.
  825. >Your eyes divert their attention to other nearby objects, before spotting the thin metal wire holding the tag to the engine heads you put down.
  826. >The wire unwinds itself under your silent instructions, before weaving through the air and wrapping around the stylus pen.
  827. >"Man, they keep on coming up with crazier inventions, don't they?" he says, wide-eyed and astounded.
  828. "Something like that," you absently reply, taking a moment to scrawl your name on the touchscreen.
  829. >'Midnight.'
  830. >That sort of makes it official now, doesn't it?
  831. >It was a quick thought to avoid Anon from using the cringe-worthy 'Turbo' moniker, but you're come to prefer the name now.
  832. >It sure beats an alphanumeric project code.
  833. >As he puts the device away, he renews his smile and waves, heading back out.
  834. >"Have a good day, Midnight."
  835. >You half-heartedly wave with a hoof, waiting for him to disappear beyond the brick-and-mortar door frame.
  836. >A growl of pent-up ire escapes you once the coast is clear.
  837. >You don't think you'll ever get over that term.
  838. >For more than one reason.
  839. >"Sorry, Midnight."
  840. "What?"
  841. >You turn to face the bathroom door after hearing Anon's apology from the other side.
  842. >"I was a little worried you might not take too well to him asking for your..."
  843. >He trails off.
  844. "Owner?" you suggest, keeping your audible bitterness to the minimum you can muster.
  845. >"Yeah. I figured I would just speak up."
  846. >You could berate him for that.
  847. >After all, this is supposed to be your day flying solo.
  848. >Perhaps he came down here to 'shower' because he doesn't trust you...
  849. >Even if that were true, he's right.
  850. >That comment really pissed you off, even if that is the cover you need to hide behind.
  851. >"I probably would have had to fetch you for approval anyways. And no, that did not sit well with me," you sigh. "Thank you."
  852. >You await the gasp or comment pointing out your rare manners.
  853. >But aside from the water shutting off, all is silent.
  854. >That's... unsettling.
  855. "Anonymous?"
  856. >"Yeah? I'm here."
  857. "Oh. I was expecting you to be a smartass about that," you admit.
  858. >"Should I?"
  859. "Normally you would have. Is this part of being ill?"
  860. >You hear him chuckle slightly.
  861. >"No, but I think I know why I feel like shit," he announces.
  862. "Do tell."
  863. >You're admittedly anxious for this piece of news.
  864. >"You remember that chicken bacon ranch pizza I had about a week ago?"
  865. >That looked like a horrendous concoction when he opened the box that night.
  866. >You didn't touch it.
  867. "That was last week, though."
  868. >"And there were still leftovers. Maybe a little too old to eat safely..."
  869. "Dumbass."
  870. >"Yeah, I deserve that. But it means I'll probably be feeling better once it's out of my system, so hopefully tomorrow."
  871. >The door opens, greeting you with a wave of steam that rolls outward.
  872. >Anon shuffles out in his new change of clothes, his hair still looking slightly damp.
  873. >"Anyway... to tell you the truth, I guess I see now that you've got your own demons to work through. As much as I like to pick for fun and enjoy getting it back, that's not fair to you. You're trying."
  874. >Try as you might, it's impossible to keep stoic.
  875. >You feel your face grow hot.
  876. "I'm... we all got the little things that bother us. You're making a mountain out of a molehill."
  877. >"Maybe. Let's just leave it at that. I still feel like everything is moving while I'm standing still."
  878. >A cooling wave of relief washes over you with that gentle dismissal, leaving you with the mystery in the package just delivered.
  879. "What did you order, anyway? Whatever it is, there's four of 'em, and I can tell they're some sort of metal tubes."
  880. >Anon, wide-eyed, looks at you incredulously as you describe the contents.
  881. >"You figured that all out just by picking it up?"
  882. "Still sealed, isn't it?"
  883. >"Cat's basically out of the bag, and I don't want you thinking they're the keys to your own private fun time," he comments, wiggling his eyebrows.
  884. >Metal tubes as private fun ti-
  885. >You take a step back from him upon realization and snort, aghast by the idea.
  886. "Don't be a pervert! Fucking sicko!" you shout at him.
  887. >He bows as if being applauded, almost losing his balance in the process as he takes a half step to correct himself.
  888. >"Shock absorbers for the Trailduster. Leaf springs will still be another week, I think," he finally explains as he stands up straight with a serious face.
  889. "You actually went and bought that stuff?"
  890. >That was something you expected would be forgotten.
  891. >Or something that was meant to be taken as a joke.
  892. >"Said I was gonna do it, I'm not going to lie and pretend I didn't. But you're gonna help me replace them, right?"
  893. "Absolutely!"
  894. >You can't help it, but the fact he remembered and did this thrills you to your core.
  895. >Evidently, your excitement is infectious, as a grin spreads over Anon's face.
  896. >"I am going to take note that I think this is genuinely the happiest I've ever seen you, and the biggest smile you've ever sported."
  897. "Still unsettling?" you shoot back, stretching your grin just a little wider to show off your teeth.
  898. >"Maybe not as much. I still wouldn't trust you with my fingers near your mouth, though.
  899. "Get back to bed, sicky," you snidely snap back.
  900. >He wearily salutes you, and carefully heads back up the stairs.
  901. >As he reaches for the doorknob at the top of the landing, your mind shifts back to an earlier dilemma.
  902. "Anon, one of the orders is for a Jeep intake, 360 four-barrel. Do we have any of those?" you shout up to him.
  903. >"Yeah, should have at least one or two AMC intakes in there," he replies, pointing to the storage room.
  904. >You shake your head, confused as to how he misheard you.
  905. "Jeep, Anon."
  906. >"Yeah, I know - that's my bad for not explaining," he says, rubbing the back of his head. "Jeep was owned by AMC - American Motors Corporation - starting in 1970. AMC and Jeep shared the same engines."
  907. "Oh. Alright then," you reply.
  908. >"Yeah. Whatever we got down there for AMC intakes, that will work. The intake is the same across the board, from the 304 all the way to the 401. All those engines are virtually the same - same block, cylinder heads, the whole nine yards. Just different bore and stroke combinations."
  909. "Well that's awfully convenient," you muse.
  910. >"I thought so. Them boys up in Kenosha, Wisconsin had some damn good ideas compared to the Detroit Big Three. At least up until forming an alliance with the French and Renault in the eighties. Damn shame."
  911. >With that, he opens the door to the living quarters, stepping in and turning one last time to face you.
  912. >"Don't be afraid to ask if you need any help. I'm going to try to get some more sleep and power through this crap," he says.
  913. "I'll be fine. Just get better - and don't eat any more expired food, stupid," you lecture him.
  914. >"You're no fun," he scoffs, before shutting the door.
  915. >Now, back in isolation, you can't help but think...
  916. >Maybe having someone that cares isn't so bad after all...
  917.  
  918.  
  919.  
  920.  
  921.  
  922. >You're pleased to see the number of orders that continue to roll in via email notifications.
  923. >It means your initial idea to make a proper ordering form on Anon's website was a strong one.
  924. >However, that does mean success may have been well within his own grasp this whole time, had he put an effort forth...
  925. >Oh well, his loss.
  926. >Maybe you could make a case for taking over the business.
  927. >...though you don't know what that would gain you, other than bragging rights.
  928. >That doesn't sound too bad.
  929. >Regardless of future conquests, the slowly building log of emails has kept you trotting back and forth around the shop when the items are something housed in the storeroom or coincidentally right outside.
  930. >There's a fair amount to be done out back, too - you probably won't be able to get it all done today by yourself.
  931. >Not a big deal, but it is sort of a personal pride thing.
  932. >So, while there's been virtually no activity in terms of walk-ins, it's quite likely that is a result of the shift toward stripping this place of the self-serve moniker.
  933. >You spotted people and overheard them taking items that they had no intention of paying for or mentioning to the owner when you still lived in the van.
  934. >Well, the owner being Anonymous, of course - but you didn't know his name before.
  935. >Nevertheless, keeping your head on a swivel, hiding in the shadows - there's a lot that can be observed living like that.
  936. >Even if it can be a bit taxing.
  937. >There is something to be said for being that way though - maybe you should keep up on your skills of skulking around unnoticed.
  938. >Fate has a way of throwing twists and turns in the path ahead.
  939. >Can't be too safe.
  940. >Putting thoughts of honing survival tactics aside, you are mildly disappointed to have not had any walk-in customers.
  941. >Well, disappointed and a bit relieved, maybe.
  942. >You've not really interacted with anyone aside from Anonymous.
  943. >So there is some anxiety there.
  944. >Your social skills might be a bit lacking...
  945. >But fuck it, you can wing it.
  946. >Adapt and survive.
  947. >However, the few phone calls you received today went well enough, so it isn't like you're completely blind.
  948. >They went well aside from mentioning your name, anyway.
  949. >That came with some... questions.
  950. >'Erm... Midnight? That's an odd name...'
  951. >Mentioning your mother had a degree in gender studies rectified the situation fairly quickly.
  952. >Thank the stars for Anon's laptop you've basically taken over.
  953. >Aside from more automotive knowledge, you've spent a fair amount of time learning and exploring the outside world via the internet.
  954. >The perks of living on an abbreviated sleep schedule.
  955. >After all, there's only so much you can overhear that allows you to paint a picture of what surrounds you beyond these gates.
  956. >The facility certainly didn't offer any information.
  957. >You hardly ever got to see the sun.
  958. >The last phone call or two, you did decide to use another name, just to avoid the hesitations.
  959. >Maddie.
  960. >God, you hope Anon didn't hear that.
  961. >Hopefully he's been asleep the whole time.
  962. >You checked on him once, and he was slumbering in bed.
  963. >... the pungent odor that greeted you upon opening the door to the living space told you whatever contents that were ailing his stomach made an evacuation back up at some point into the kitchen sink drain.
  964. >Ew.
  965. >Hopefully that helps, though.
  966. >If he's going to be that stupid and stubborn, you're going to start going through the fridge and throwing leftovers away.
  967. >With the silence that pervades while you idly tap away through various internet searches on the computer.
  968. >The sound of footsteps outside amidst the dust and gravel reaches your ears.
  969. >Your eyes quickly dart to the open garage bay door, a few seconds before a man comes around the corner.
  970. >...and he seems vaguely familiar.
  971. >Wearing a beat-up denim jacket and with graying hair and mustache, the older gentleman waves as he approaches, apparently unfazed by your appearance.
  972. >"Hi - Nightmare Moon?" he asks with a warm smile and a slight foreign drawl to his words.
  973. >But more significantly, you tense up upon hearing that name.
  974. >You obviously aren't wearing a nametag - and you aren't Nightmare Moon.
  975. "Hello, can I help you with something?" you ask, pretending to be oblivious to anything other than his initial greeting.
  976. >"Yeah, looking for some more parts - I don't have the time to pull em myself today, so I was wondering if I could just request em for pickup later?"
  977. "We can do that - what are you looking for?"
  978. >While you bring up the inventory catalog on the computer screen, you keep a watchful eye on your guest.
  979. >Maybe you're being paranoid, but he seems too comfortable...
  980. >"Where's your buddy at? I'm surprised to see you attending the counter," muses the customer, attempting to make idle chat as he scans the building.
  981. "He's around. Stepped out for a bit. What was it you needed?"
  982. >"Sorry. Uh... well, I need a radiator fan shroud, first of all, a heater box if you got one in decent shape."
  983. "For what kind of car?"
  984. >Your voice comes out a little rough, but you can't help it as your heart rate speeds up.
  985. >He at least knows your basis, and he's trying to chat nonchalantly.
  986. >...which is probably better than freaking out about seeing you.
  987. >Chill out, girl.
  988. >"Oh, duh. I'd forget my head if it could unscrew," he replies with a chuckle, slapping his forehead. "1972 Cutlass."
  989. >That particular car jumpstarts your memory - Anon helped this guy a few weeks ago, while you were coincidentally tearing down an Oldsmobile engine.
  990. >It made you speak up, in case the stars had aligned and he needed some of the parts you were in the midst of disassembling.
  991. >...and then Anon referred to you as a guard dog.
  992. >You never did pay him back for that, even if it was a spur-of-the-moment attempt to cover for you.
  993. >That fucker.
  994. >Regardless of past unavenged transgressions, you breathe a small sigh of relief as you connect the dots - this man has seen you before.
  995. >Here.
  996. "Alright. Anon hasn't done a very good job keeping everything tidy on this computer, so just give me a second," you explain.
  997. >More or less, you're just checking to see if that shroud is stashed away inside here...
  998. >And it is not.
  999. >Worth a try.
  1000. >Instead, you bring up a document form to jot down everything that he needs quickly, followed by the year and model.
  1001. "Name for this?"
  1002. >"Theodore. But everyone just calls me Teddy," he says, leaning on the counter. "I take it you don't go by Nightmare?"
  1003. >You look over at him after typing his name.
  1004. >You still remain a bit wary.
  1005. >Does he really need to know your name?
  1006. >He seems nice enough...
  1007. >So many different thoughts go through your head now in regards to your safety, now that you're interacting with strangers.
  1008. >Face to face.
  1009. >Of course, you did earlier today taking that delivery, but Anon was down here...
  1010. >...and what, you can't protect yourself?
  1011. >Going to rely on him to keep you safe and warm?
  1012. >Grow a fucking spine.
  1013. "Midnight," you tell him, garnering a nod of acknowledgment.
  1014. >"That's a nice name," he compliments, leaning in just a bit more. "You aren't a custom model though, are you?"
  1015. >The hushed question makes your blood run cold.
  1016. "What would make you say that?"
  1017. >"I don't mean anything by it," he says in an attempt to reassure you. "I've just seen my fair share of ponies and bots. You're a different breed entirely."
  1018. >He says it so calmly and nonchalantly, as if discussing the weather.
  1019. >But his conviction is solid.
  1020. "Is there a point to this rambling? I have other things to do," you sharply reply, eager to be rid of this man and this sudden shift in conversation.
  1021. >Your unwanted acquaintance just chuckles.
  1022. >"You've got spirit, and that's something that can't just be made from circuits. Look, I'm not here to harass you or out you - I assume you aren't... verified."
  1023. "Then why are you here?" you challenge.
  1024. >Teddy stands up straight once again.
  1025. >"I do actually need those parts. I'm retired... mostly," he replies, unaffected by your cold tone. "I don't want to go into too much detail as I'm clearly getting off on the wrong foot, but I do want to say that you aren't the only one of your kind - though you're more advanced than any other I've encountered. Where did you come from?"
  1026. "The backseat of a first-gen Dodge Caravan. Turbocharged, no less," you spitefully hiss, making sure to bare your weaponized dental work for him to see.
  1027. >It doesn't really seem to affect Theodore at all.
  1028. >He doesn't flinch in any way.
  1029. >You don't trust this guy for a second.
  1030. >He's asking a lot of questions for someone interested in vintage car parts.
  1031. >Even Anon was scared shitless by your appearance and threats upon first meeting.
  1032. >Not this guy.
  1033. >This Theodore, or Teddy fellow - if that's what his name even is - finds you intriguing, if anything.
  1034. >He was hardly deterred upon your initial meeting, either, come to think of it.
  1035. >You were just distracted and paid no mind.
  1036. >But this doesn't feel right at all.
  1037. >A thought crosses your mind, one that you have to wrestle back down with every fiber of logic...
  1038. >After all, you could make this a non-issue with any sort of sharp metallic piece of scrap...
  1039. >He wouldn't see it coming aside from the slight glow of your eyes.
  1040. >Or if need be, you could go for his windpipe.
  1041. >It would be nothing for your canines and incisors to pierce his throat...
  1042. >No.
  1043. >Nothing good will come of that in the long-term picture.
  1044. >Someone will come looking for him, no matter how well you hide your tracks.
  1045. >You can't kill him, Midnight.
  1046. >"I suppose I deserve your skepticism, Midnight, I'm sorry for upsetting you," Teddy apologizes. "I'll be back in a few days to get those parts. You probably want my phone number, don't you? For the order?"
  1047. "For the order," you repeat.
  1048. >He rattles off a series of numbers, which you seamlessly transfer to the keyboard.
  1049. >"Hopefully next time, your buddy - Anonymous, yeah? The business owner?"
  1050. >You slowly nod, keeping your wits about you in case he tries something funny.
  1051. >The fact that Anon's name is mentioned only tenses you further.
  1052. >You don't want to kill.
  1053. >But you will if need be.
  1054. >Any threat to Anonymous is a threat to you.
  1055. >"Hopefully he's around as well as you when I return. Assuming he's a nice fellow. Does he treat you well?"
  1056. "I can take care of myself, thank you very much."
  1057. >That gets a cheeky grin from Teddy as he lightly slaps the counter.
  1058. >"Anyway, I might be able to help you and Anonymous. Or just you, if this place and he aren't to your liking. You have my number - and I'll be back in a few days otherwise."
  1059. >With a wave, he heads back out into the sun of the afternoon.
  1060. >You give it a few moments before dropping to all fours on the floor, making yourself low to the concrete.
  1061. >Silently, you make your way toward the open garage door from which Teddy just departed.
  1062. >It's all muscle memory from here.
  1063. >Every step, every movement is calculated and purposeful.
  1064. >Just like months ago, when hunting vermin.
  1065. >You might be doing just that right now.
  1066. >Reaching the doorframe, you pause and listen intently for any sounds indicating something that lies on the other side.
  1067. >You catch the sound of a door opening, followed shortly thereafter by the slight creak of springs meeting a new weight before the door slams shut.
  1068. >Even with the characteristic sounds of the mysterious man getting into his vehicle, you carefully poke your head out from beyond the frame, enough to catch a glimpse of what you can see of the parking area.
  1069. >Beyond the privacy fence, you hear an engine start up, quickly proceeded by spying a weathered Chevy pickup amble away from the open gate and out to the road.
  1070. >You manage to glimpse the graying hair and a bit of a denim jacket in the windows to give you some semblance of assurance the coast is clear.
  1071. >Despite that, you still watch the truck leave properly until it's out of sight.
  1072. >You honestly don't know what to make of the encounter, especially after his farewell address.
  1073. >What could he possibly help with - whether it be you and Anon, or you alone?
  1074. >It's unsettling that he made you out for something far beyond your traditional ponybot.
  1075. >Are you that obvious from just a glance?
  1076. >Visually, it shouldn't be a difference, perhaps the mannerisms a bit, but...
  1077. >He certainly knows more than just 'having been around a fair share.'
  1078. >Furthermore...
  1079. >Are there really others?
  1080. >Of course, there were the remnants of those that you rode with to this destination, but those were basically parts, pieces, and experimental normal models.
  1081. >You don't recall any others like you...
  1082. >The thought is troubling.
  1083. >The thoughts regarding this whole encounter and the ensuing conversation are troubling.
  1084. >You dismissed Anon's concerns about your well-being earlier today.
  1085. >You aren't so sure of yourself now...
  1086.  
  1087.  
  1088.  
  1089.  
  1090. > For the first time today since initially waking up, you feel somewhat healthy.
  1091. >You are never eating chicken bacon ranch pizza again.
  1092. >Maybe it was too old - doesn't really matter.
  1093. > It's ruined for you now.
  1094. >After essentially sleeping the whole day away aside from rushing to the sink to upchuck twice and getting up to use the bathroom downstairs once, you decide you feel well enough to try to put some sort of food in your stomach.
  1095. >Toast is on the menu.
  1096. >Whoopee.
  1097. >You haven't seen Midnight since taking a shower earlier.
  1098. >At some point during the day - possibly while emptying your stomach - you recall hearing Midnight on the phone.
  1099. >Apparently she decided to adopt a new name for the occasion.
  1100. >Maddie will certainly enjoy you giving her shit for that.
  1101. >Or perhaps Middie...
  1102. >The other time you headed downstairs was well into the afternoon - the computer was off.
  1103. >More than likely, the slow day never got better, and she went out back to strip parts early.
  1104. >Though not knowing for certain was a bit unsettling.
  1105. >She's resourceful - you've seen it firsthand.
  1106. >You shouldn't really be that worried.
  1107. >Still have that uneasy feeling in your stomach though.
  1108. >Aside from nausea, obviously.
  1109. >Approaching six in the evening now, you would expect her to pop in sometime soon.
  1110. >Maybe - with as stubborn and as driven as she is, you're well aware of the possibility of Midnight trying to hero her way through the whole list of orders in one shot.
  1111. >You glimpsed outside - the Trailduster isn't in its usual spot.
  1112. >She's moved it a few times, it doesn't come as a surprise she would have enough comfort and confidence to take it.
  1113. >Ha, comfort.
  1114. >Probably not the best term for it, considering she bitched about how unergonomic the seating position was for her.
  1115. >...she didn't think that comment through too well.
  1116. >Of course, you gave her shit for it.
  1117. >And you got it right back.
  1118. >A wonderful circle of love.
  1119. >With the volume of the tv turned down low and awaiting the toaster in the kitchen to pop, you finally hear the sound of the old war wagon rolling up to the building.
  1120. >It allows you to finally relax, before jumping in surprise.
  1121. >Fucking toaster.
  1122. >Waiting for it this whole time, and the bastard still caught you off-guard when it popped.
  1123. >Now feeling the mild shame and embarrassment for being caught out once again by the cursed appliance, you begrudgingly fetch your toast from it and toss the slices onto a paper plate, wandering back to the couch.
  1124. >As much as you're glad Midnight is back, it's best to give her space.
  1125. >She was clearly taking a lot of pride flying solo today, let her have it until she heads up here.
  1126. >It will probably be a bit, offloading parts from the back of the SUV.
  1127. >That being said, you stretch out on the couch, using the whole length that would otherwise be shared with you two occupying either end - buffer space in between.
  1128. >Pleasantly, there are some reruns of the Dukes of Hazzard playing right now.
  1129. >...brings a tear to your eye too.
  1130. >They went through a lot of Dodge Chargers and Plymouth Fury cop cars.
  1131. >Not to mention Daisy's Plymouth Roadrunner...
  1132. >Still, the end result was entertaining.
  1133. >Much to your surprise, you hear the doorknob of the door in the kitchen click open just as you take a nibble of food.
  1134. >You quickly turn your head in time to see the door swing open and Midnight trot in.
  1135. "Hi Middie!" you shout.
  1136. >While not surprised by your voice, the name certainly gets her attention.
  1137. >Her initial wide-eyed response narrows into one of mild annoyance, exhaling rather sharply through her flared nostrils.
  1138. >"You fucking ass."
  1139. >She kicks the door shut with plenty of force to spare.
  1140. "Hey, easy on the hardware now. That comes out of your pay if you break it," you jokingly scold.
  1141. >"Good thing you don't pay me. How long have you been up?" she asks while sauntering her way toward you.
  1142. "Not long. Not even an hour, I don't think," you reply with a shrug. "How long were you out in the yard?"
  1143. >"Few hours. I called it quits around two or three in the afternoon, at least when it came to standing at the counter looking pretty.
  1144. "You do pretty a lot better than me."
  1145. >"I didn't take you as one of those creepy freaks that sexes up pony companions, that's new," she snidely muses. "Maybe you aren't a pickle smoocher like I expected."
  1146. >You quickly regret your smart comment as your face grows hot.
  1147. >"Oh, seemed to have touched a nerve."
  1148. "Shut up."
  1149. >"That's what you get for the name."
  1150. >Spreading out a wing, she motions for you to scoot over.
  1151. "Nuh-uh, I just got comfortable," you half-heartedly argue before obliging her request.
  1152. >You merely bend your knees and scoot back toward your normal cushion, taking up some of the usual buffer space.
  1153. >You really were starting to get comfortable.
  1154. >She gets to deal with your legs and feet invading that space.
  1155. >Midnight plops down in her usual spot, though facing you rather than draping her forehooves off of the front of the couch.
  1156. >While she eyes your dinner plate in your hands, it's with only passing curiosity.
  1157. >She looks tired.
  1158. >To be fair, you would expect it - this is probably the most she's ever done in one day, aside from overexerting herself on the first day of moving that pile of engines.
  1159. >That drained look in her eyes goes deeper than mere physical fatigue.
  1160. "Today go okay?" you ask, trying to mask any concern from seeping into your voice while shifting your eyes back to the tv.
  1161. >You've learned playing it casual will get your farther - just playing it off as idle conversation.
  1162. >"It was quiet. Got quite a bit done - as much as I could while inside and manning the phones and counter."
  1163. "Great - sounds like you're more productive than I am."
  1164. >"Doesn't that go without saying?" she jests.
  1165. "Man, you're cutting deep on a sick man. That's cold," you prod back as you shoot a glance at her.
  1166. >"Truth hurts sometimes."
  1167. >The exchange at least puts a little bit of light in her eyes, but she just feels off.
  1168. >Distracted.
  1169. "You didn't deal with any rude assholes today or crappy situations, did you?"
  1170. >"That's sort of an odd question to ask, isn't it?" Midnight suggests.
  1171. "Maybe. But you didn't instantly reply with no, either."
  1172. >Her muzzle scrunches up a bit with your reply, realizing you caught her out.
  1173. >But, she does relax that tense response - you don't think she will completely shut down.
  1174. >"There wasn't anything 'bad,' I suppose," she reluctantly admits.
  1175. "Okay. But something that wasn't particularly comfortable?"
  1176. >Your attention is completely drawn to her now, whether you and her like it or not.
  1177. >You can't help but watch as her eyes shift back and forth as she mulls her response as if visually picking out her words.
  1178. >"Do you... it's been a couple of weeks, but do you remember that guy that came in for parts for a Cutlass? Older man, the same day you started asking... questions about me."
  1179. "You mean the day you chipped a good chunk out of my brick wall by chucking a piston at it? Yeah, I remember," you chide
  1180. >"You called me a guard dog, dickhead," she adds sourly.
  1181. "Apologized for it, too - but anyway, yes, I remember," you reply, quickly trying to get this train back on the rails.
  1182. >"He came back today," she blurts.
  1183. "Isn't... that a good thing? Repeat customers?" you ask, utterly perplexed by the significance.
  1184. >Midnight's wings ruffle in tune with her discomfort as she stares down at the couch cushion she lays upon.
  1185. >"He did come in for more parts, at least initially."
  1186. >The way she says that makes you sit up and take notice.
  1187. "Did he do something to you?"
  1188. >"What? No. I can handle myself, Anon," Midnight quickly snaps back as her gaze momentarily flips to you.
  1189. >You relax a bit, but still feel a little concerned.
  1190. "Then what, Midnight?"
  1191. >"He knows what I am. He knew I wasn't a custom model, he knows I'm not verified, and he said he knows more that are like me, because he's been around his fair share of bots, and he knows I'm not one. He could tell just by looking at me, listening to me - said I was more advanced than any other he's seen, and said he could... 'help'."
  1192. >It all comes out in a cascade of frenzied words and pent-up anxiety, to the point that you need a moment for your brain to sort it out.
  1193. >Someone else knowing she doesn't have an RFID chip on her chassis is very troubling.
  1194. >But you're lost on the rest.
  1195. >She said she was a bot.
  1196. >You would expect there to be experimental models and shit, and that's what Midnight is.
  1197. >Right?
  1198. "Midnight, what do you mean by he knows what you are? I don't follow - I get that the missing RFID is a big deal, but I don't see the significance of... all that."
  1199. >She shakes her head fervently.
  1200. >"I don't want to talk about it."
  1201. "It's obviously bothering the hell out of you - and I don't think you need to be carrying that baggage."
  1202. >Midnight continues to trying staring a hole into the couch.
  1203. >You've had enough of it.
  1204. >Leaning forward, you reach out with a hand and gently place it under her chin, directing her to look at you.
  1205. >The gesture makes Midnight jump, though the surprise of it makes her momentarily yield to the pressure quite easily.
  1206. >"What the fuck are you doing?!" she shouts defiantly upon regaining her wits, pulling away from you.
  1207. "Midnight, I can't help you if I don't know what's going on - talk to me."
  1208. >"I can't!"
  1209. "Do you trust me?"
  1210. >The question freezes her instantly.
  1211. >Those faintly glowing eyes remain locked upon you.
  1212. >Like a window to her mind, you feel like you can see the trouble and turmoil within she's fighting to keep wrested away from you.
  1213. "Midnight, I know you're strong, I know you think you need to deal with - whatever shit you got going on - alone."
  1214. >"I ca-"
  1215. "Don't tell me you can't. You delved into my personal bullshit, got me sorted out - I'm doing the same for you. Do you trust me?"
  1216. >"I'm a freak!" she roars, her voice suddenly ragged. "I'm not a pony companion bot, I'm a genetic science project sideshow!"
  1217. "I... what?"
  1218. >Between Midnight's abrupt shift in demeanor and the words she spouts, it's all you can respond with right now.
  1219. >"I don't have an RFID because I don't have a chassis - I'm not a robot... not completely."
  1220. "Well... what's wrong with that?" you speak up.
  1221. > Midnight's eyes begin to glisten with moisture as the pain slowly begins to escape her.
  1222. >"Do you know what it's like to be a group of arrogant asshole's off-the-books bioengineering project? Do you know how humiliating it is to find out your perverted birth was in a giant test tube? How that experiment in itself is not only prohibited by law, but they managed to fuck up the coloring in their attempts to create a living, breathing Luna, sans wings?"
  1223. >Midnight chokes back her tears as best she can, while you inch closer to her.
  1224. >"Already a fuck up beyond the bio-pony experiments ongoing in secret - those are dumb as mud, but at least the colors are right on the ones thus far. Why not go further with this one? Jam some wires and chips from a couple of discarded Twilight and Luna bots, try to put some intelligence and personality in this retarded animal, and if it lives more than a day or two, that's a bonus, right?"
  1225. >The torrent of words she viciously spouts is slowly beginning to be matched by the liquid sorrow that runs down her cheeks.
  1226. >"That's all I ever was - a test subject! Crudely dyed wings grafted on from the unpopular Princess Twilight bot because they couldn't genetically engineer proper wings, the electromagnetism, the eyes to fit the theme, the teeth and digestive system for better efficiency - am I supposed to be proud of that?! Being a mishmash of rejects and junk?!"
  1227. "You're alive, aren't you?" you remind her.
  1228. >Midnight stops her rant, quivering after the stress of her outburst.
  1229. >"And that's good," she states bitterly.
  1230. "I think so. You obviously felt it was good - otherwise, you wouldn't have escaped, right? You felt your life was worth protecting."
  1231. >She doesn't say anything as her breath hitches repeatedly.
  1232. >With as downtrodden and utterly defeated as she looks right now, you take your chances.
  1233. >Seeing the facade of this tough-as-nails mare crumble to dust is just too much.
  1234. >You scoot up next to her and take her into your arms.
  1235. >"Why?"
  1236. >She asks the question but doesn't resist you.
  1237. >You stroke the fine fur of her neck, feeling the pain and anxiety deeply seated in those lean muscles that she continues to fight to keep inside...
  1238. >You can see in those misty blue eyes, she sees herself with shame.
  1239. >She hates what she is.
  1240. >Even as she crowed about how great she was - it was all a lie to herself, to convince herself that's how she felt.
  1241. >And she fears what you think of her.
  1242. >By the sounds of it, she wasn't even expected to live.
  1243. >Yet here she is.
  1244. "Midnight, what you are - what your make-up is or whatever you want to call it - I don't care," you tell her, trying to alleviate her concern. "You got out, you survived, and I'm grateful for that."
  1245. >"Did I make it out? Because it feels like I'm still trapped. Like my past is still pursuing me," she spits out in a half sob.
  1246. "Then anyone out for you is gonna have to go through both of us. This guy, if he's bad news, he's got a fight in his hands if he tries something. I promise you that," you reassure her. "You're here now, unfucking the mess that I've made. You're making this your home, and you're going to fight for it with the same grit and determination you've been displaying to me since I met you."
  1247. >You brush away some of her tears that have continued to gather under her eyes.
  1248. >With a slight nod, her resolve hardens, honing in on your words and your promise to her.
  1249. "You're not a mess of discarded parts and gene manipulation or whatever - you're better than that. I don't see that. I see Midnight in front of me, and that's all you should worry about."
  1250. >Midnight emits a sharp exhale of amusement amidst the occasional sniffle as she wrangles herself under control.
  1251. >"That was really fucking corny. You know that, right?" she mumbles.
  1252. "I'm a simple man. I cut to the chase, even if it isn't very elegant or original. But I'm not saying anything I don't mean."
  1253. >Much to your surprise, she leans into your petting a bit as you keep up your physical reassurance that what she is doesn't matter to you.
  1254. >If anything, it's even more amazing.
  1255. >And horrifying, depending on how ruthless these people were while doing "modifications" for the sake of science.
  1256. >She certainly doesn't make it sound very kind.
  1257. >Fucking hell, this world can be evil.
  1258. "We'll get the parts this guy needs tomorrow, try to nip this whole situation as quickly as possible if we can contact him to pick up. I'll be there with you, alright? I know you can handle this but..."
  1259. >"Moral support," she suggests.
  1260. "I'm moral support. You said he mentioned 'helping,' any idea what that meant?"
  1261. >You only get a negative shake of the head in response.
  1262. "Got a name?"
  1263. >"Theodore - 'Teddy' is supposedly what everyone calls him."
  1264. > It's a long shot, but maybe you can find something online about this guy.
  1265. >You feel a bit anxious now as well, but you aren't going to let that stop you from protecting this mare with every last ounce of strength if need be.
  1266. >Via 'moral support,' of course.
  1267. >That's fine.
  1268. >Midnight is strong - far stronger than you gave her credit for.
  1269.  
  1270.  
  1271.  
  1272.  
  1273. >Well, is it really that surprising to find nothing?
  1274. >Having slept virtually the whole day away, sleep tonight really wasn't an option.
  1275. >So much of the overnight hours have been spent slaving over Midnight's laptop, trying to find some clues as to this mysterious man named Theodore.
  1276. >You hardly get to use this thing anymore - for all intents and purposes, this computer is now hers.
  1277. >Speaking of Midnight, you had her sleep in your room tonight, since you knew you wouldn't be using it.
  1278. >You rather be out in the living room to have the tv on for background noise, even if it was turned way down.
  1279. >And you want Midnight to get some truly restful sleep after unleashing her burden.
  1280. >You didn't tell her that, but she likely felt you were taking pity on her anyways.
  1281. >Hence her reluctance - but you insisted.
  1282. > It's only after she calmed down and eventually retired to bed for the night you could absorb what she told you.
  1283. >You feel sick - and not because of the remnants of your battle with food poisoning today.
  1284. >How in the hell can anyone justify hacking up a living being for their own personal gain, or in the pursuit of "science?"
  1285. >No wonder Midnight is so maladjusted.
  1286. >How she's even functional is...
  1287. >Amazing.
  1288. >The mental image of her eyes being literally scooped out to be replaced with something artificial to fit a theme or aesthetic...
  1289. >Man, it's probably good you emptied your stomach earlier today.
  1290. >How the hell long did she even have to endure that misery?
  1291. >Going through that, you doubt she wanted to keep track of time even if she could.
  1292. >You certainly aren't going to ask her.
  1293. >What Midnight already shared was too much.
  1294. >Now, having escaped that and being able to live an even vaguely normal life...
  1295. >You can't help but feel a lump form in your throat.
  1296. >It takes a moment for that to pass without letting it go any further, aside from a bit of dust irritating your eyes.
  1297. >But she's not out of the woods yet with this fellow poking his nose where it doesn't belong.
  1298. >Even if he coincidentally could just tell from looking at her she wasn't a bot, you wouldn't expect anyone to just casually bring it up like Midnight described.
  1299. >There's more to it than that - that's a certainty.
  1300. >First instincts tell you this guy works for EquisCo, assuming that is indeed from where Midnight escaped.
  1301. >Could be they still want her back for more fun with their macabre science project.
  1302. >Over your dead fucking body.
  1303. >Maybe they just want to erase her from existence, to avoid getting caught doing illegal genetic experiments.
  1304. >You have the same feelings about this as your previous theory.
  1305. >Keeping up on the news isn't something you bother to do, so much of what you hear is just offhand.
  1306. >Been at least a few years, but you vaguely recall a whole debate about "engineering" pets or something like that.
  1307. >Never heard the conclusion of that, but according to Midnight, it's illegal.
  1308. >You're inclined to believe her - though you don't know how she knows that.
  1309. >Could be like you - just happened to overhear it during everything going on.
  1310. >But Midnight also mentioned he wanted to help...
  1311. >If he's been in the business of - pony-making?
  1312. >Sort of a weird field, now that you think of it.
  1313. >Regardless - there is always the chance he legitimately wants to assist Midnight with her predicament.
  1314. >Especially since he apparently knows of others like her.
  1315. >What he means by "others like her" is left up to the imagination for now.
  1316. >First and foremost, he is a legitimate customer - he put in an order, and you will fulfill it.
  1317. >What comes after that comes down to true intentions...
  1318. >"Are you seriously still up?"
  1319. >You practically jump about a foot in the air off of your seat with the sudden quip from Midnight.
  1320. >As you turn around, you jump again, finding her snout mere inches from your face.
  1321. >Her bemused grin only grows wider with your second near heart attack.
  1322. "Damn, are you trying to kill me?!" you shout in exasperation.
  1323. >"More or less curious if I still have my sneaking skills properly honed. I'd say so, judging by those reactions I got," she explains calmly.
  1324. "I'll put a bell on you if you keep pulling that shit," you taunt her.
  1325. >"I'd like to see you try," she dares.
  1326. >Midnight casually walks around the sofa, taking her normal seat.
  1327. >That doesn't last too long, as intrigue over the laptop you're holding draws her to scoot closer to you.
  1328. >"I thought you were trying to take pity on me, and you've really been up pounding the keyboard, haven't you?" she asks, trying to make out what you have in the search bar.
  1329. >You delete it quickly, just to fuck with her - and give her a smarmy grin when she looks up at you with disappointment.
  1330. >"I can handle whatever you're trying to find," she mutters.
  1331. "I'm sure you can - but I've come up empty on our mystery man, anyway," you admit. "And of course I'm still up, I slept all damn day - I might sleep for a couple of hours before work, but I don't need any more than that. Why the hell are you up?"
  1332. >"Not needing sleep was a lie, but I don't need much of it," she replies. "A few hours here or there is about all I do. Tonight though, that was probably the longest I've slept in... "
  1333. >She trails off, looking up at the clock while pondering her answer.
  1334. >It's almost three in the morning now - and she retired to your room at a quarter till ten.
  1335. >Five hours, at most.
  1336. >Damn.
  1337. "Habit from keeping an eye open for danger?" you suggest.
  1338. >It garners a nod from Midnight.
  1339. >"Old habits die hard. But it goes a bit beyond that time frame - I just have a hard time... shutting my brain off, I guess. Relaxing."
  1340. "Do... you think it's because of..."
  1341. >You have to stop yourself from going further into explanation, instead tapping the side of your head with a finger.
  1342. >Midnight sighs as she stares at you.
  1343. >No, more like beyond you.
  1344. >"Probably. My memory isn't that great with anything before then - very fuzzy," she explains quietly, keeping that same far-off gaze. "Twilight bots are known to be quite high-strung, always looking to learn something new."
  1345. "And that's one of the chips, I'm assuming?"
  1346. >"Mmhmm."
  1347. "I probably shouldn't be asking this shit, sorry," you apologize, suddenly feeling quite guilty about opening up this wound again.
  1348. >"It's funny, normally I would berate you for digging," she muses, cocking her head as her eyes focus on you once again.
  1349. "Why aren't you?"
  1350. >"Feel like a weight got pulled off of my shoulders earlier tonight. Don't get me wrong, I will flay you if you turn into an soft little bitch, and don't expect me to be an emotional cuddlebug-"
  1351. >"But it felt good to tell your plight to someone else," you finish for her.
  1352. >"Yes."
  1353. "At least let me say I'm sorry you had to go through all that. Can't imagine it."
  1354. >"I appreciate it - but again, don't make this all mushy," she instructs. "What's your plan going forward in regards to this 'Teddy?'"
  1355. >You have to just shrug instinctively, which causes Midnight to frown.
  1356. >"That's not reassuring," she says in a flat tone.
  1357. "Well, I'm not going to just lie to you - there is literally nothing I can find of anyone named Theodore or Teddy who's a renowned scientist or mad genius. It would probably be easier if I had a last name, but even then, no guarantees. For all intents and purposes, this is just your average guy that may or may not have been involved with the line of work that dabbles in making bots or..."
  1358. >"Making things like me."
  1359. "Beings like you. Not things. Have a little more respect for yourself - remember how you pushed yourself as this image of a superior being before," you encourage her.
  1360. >"Well, I *am* better than you, but that goes without saying," she jabs.
  1361. "Now hold on there, that wasn't what I meant," you snap, playing up the facade as being offended.
  1362. >"Perhaps not, but the point still stands. I'm turning around your business, aren't I?"
  1363. "I suppose," you pout. "But anyway, you and I are gonna get the parts for that order tomorrow, and I'll give him a call to notify him - maybe see if I can't get him to talk about what this is all about."
  1364. >"And if he doesn't?"
  1365. "Wait for him to pick up the parts - he said when he did, he'd talk to you, right?"
  1366. >"Yeah."
  1367. >Midnight's lack of enthusiasm makes it clear she doesn't like what you're laying out.
  1368. >But you certainly can't just crucify the guy for knowing something.
  1369. >There aren't really any options.
  1370. >You know Midnight understands.
  1371. >But it certainly throws her back into an uncomfortable situation, and for good reason.
  1372. "Don't stress about it - I mean it when I say I got your back. Remember that," you reassure her, going to pat her on the side.
  1373. >Midnight is keenly aware of your movement, and eyes you disapprovingly.
  1374. "Sorry," you apologize while pulling your hand back. "So you're really done sleeping?"
  1375. >"Yep. And I'm not going to listen to your alarm go off two or three times before you get your ass up in the morning, so call it a night," she instructs.
  1376. "Fine. What are you gonna do?"
  1377. >Midnight merely points a hoof to the laptop that rests upon your legs.
  1378. "Gee, what a surprise," you say with a huff, setting it down in front of her.
  1379. >"Oh shut up and get to bed already. And you better not be sick tomorrow when you get up."
  1380. "Man, I hope not. I'm not even going to joke about that," you reply, rising up to your feet and stretching. "You want the lights on, or nah?"
  1381. >"I'll get them at some point," she says dismissively, already beginning to delve into information on the screen in front of her.
  1382. "Alright then. G'night."
  1383. >you shuffle off to your room.
  1384. >"Hey Anon?"
  1385. "Hm?"
  1386. >You turn around.
  1387. >Midnight sits upright on the couch facing you, her forelegs draped over the back of the furniture.
  1388. >"Thank you for listening to my bullshit," she says solemnly.
  1389. >You wave your hand, reminded back to when you said the same thing to her.
  1390. "I figure it comes with the territory of having someone to help me out with this place. Don't worry about it."
  1391. >The response surprises Midnight at first before the realization hits her.
  1392. >She grins, just wide enough to show her canines.
  1393. >"G'night, doofus."
  1394. >That's about the nicest thing she's ever called you.
  1395. >How cute.
  1396.  
  1397.  
  1398.  
  1399.  
  1400.  
  1401. "Holy shit, you did all of this yesterday?!"
  1402. >Midnight doesn't reply, but with the way she holds her head and puffs her chest out, she's basking in your shock.
  1403. >You managed to get a little bit of sleep last night - but again, you really didn't need it.
  1404. >A quick breakfast later, and the two of you set out to empty the back of the Trailduster.
  1405. >Midnight wasn't kidding when she said a lot of backlogged orders were knocked out.
  1406. >"There might have been a couple of items that were in the back before I started yesterday, but other than that - all me."
  1407. >You don't know if she was trying to be humble, or just gloat further.
  1408. >She failed at the former, but you will let her have this victory.
  1409. >Regardless, the ass end of the Trailduster is legitimately sagging from all of the weight in the back.
  1410. >Sure, the shocks and springs are worn out, but this is still a rare sight.
  1411. "Guess we have our morning planned out - see if we can't get all this packed up and ready to ship."
  1412. >A few parts shuffle about on top of the pile, before levitating out lazily to the counter.
  1413. > It's only now as you round the corner to get started sorting this stuff out that you see the pile of boxes off to the side ready for shipping.
  1414. "Wait, you did this, too?" you ask, turning back around to face Midnight.
  1415. >"I started on it - that's not all of them, though."
  1416. >Jesus, she's really shown you up.
  1417. >That really isn't hard to accomplish when you spend your free time fucking around on the internet.
  1418. >You'll take this as a lesson.
  1419. >She's got good reason to take pride in yesterday.
  1420. >Let her gloat if she wants.
  1421. >At least a little bit.
  1422. >After booting up your computer, you start going through orders, matching up names and addresses with parts laid out in front of you, double-checking with the packing slips Midnight has already placed within each box.
  1423. >All looks good thus far.
  1424. >You've shown her a little bit of what you do - the rest must just come with observing you and connecting the dots.
  1425. >As much as she protested in the beginning about how little you mattered in her mind, you always caught her watching what you do.
  1426. >It was a little creepy at first, you won't lie.
  1427. >Figured it was something to do with her programming, being a robot and all.
  1428. >That's out the window.
  1429. >Sorta.
  1430. "So, did you actually get all this accomplished because you were bored, trying to get ahead of the game, or just to show me up, Middie?"
  1431. >"Are you seriously going to start using that name?" she whines, halting her unloading for a moment to stare at you.
  1432. "Aww, come on, it's cute," you tease.
  1433. >"In case you hadn't noticed, I don't do cute," she snorts.
  1434. >As she has done in the past to prove her point, she bares her teeth and pins her ears back - while fanning out her wings, as if preparing to leap and savagely attack.
  1435. "What would you do if I said that was cute?" you press on, enjoying where this train of stupidity is heading.
  1436. >That makes her hesitate.
  1437. >"Then I'd have to assume there's something very wrong with you mentally," she replies, dropping her act.
  1438. "I figured there was. Huh, guess that proves it," you shrug, getting back to packing up parts.
  1439. >"How did you even catch wind of that?" she asks.
  1440. "What, 'Maddie'? I don't really know, yesterday is sort of a blur. Probably one of the few times I was up. I'll give you props - I'm assuming there was questions about your real name?"
  1441. >She nods.
  1442. >"It was annoying to have to explain it every time, so I just came up with something. I was afraid you would run with it if you overheard me."
  1443. "Luckily I'm not doing that - I called you 'Middie,' which conveniently can be a shortened nickname for 'Midnight'."
  1444. >"Uh-huh. Even though there's the same amount of syllables?" she challenges, as another wave of parts is heaved onto your counter.
  1445. "It's fewer letters," you point out.
  1446. >Midnight stomps a hoof, though it appears more out of playing along than actual frustration.
  1447. >Her face has lightened up - to the point you see the ends of her mouth barely ticking upward.
  1448. >"That doesn't matter when you're *saying* it!" she cries.
  1449. "Alright, I'll go back to 'Turbo.' How does that sound, Turbo?"
  1450. >Her muzzle scrunches up at that nickname almost instantly.
  1451. >"Fine. Never utter that stupid name again, and you can use Middie - *sparingly*," she replies, making sure to emphasize her point.
  1452. "Works for me, Middie."
  1453. >"Smartass."
  1454. >After the stress of yesterday, even the slightest return to normalcy and banter is a welcome feeling.
  1455. >...that's sort of odd to think, with the journey you've been on for close to a month now.
  1456. "So I take it the stuff you didn't get to yesterday afternoon is heavier shit?"
  1457. >"I wouldn't say that - after all, I proved to you I could lift a whole engine, didn't I? Repeatedly?"
  1458. "You did, and then you ran out of juice."
  1459. >"Hence why I picked my battles," she explains, looking just a bit ashamed of her folly you just brought up.
  1460. "Hey, at least you learned that just because you can, doesn't mean you should, yeah?"
  1461. >You hear Midnight chuckle.
  1462. >"Listen to you trying to pass out nuggets of wisdom," she chides.
  1463. "Every once in a while I got something remotely intelligent to share that isn't car-related," you argue.
  1464. >"True. I'll give you that - you know a lot of silly little things about cars," Midnight muses, halting her progress to trot over.
  1465. >She rears up and rests her hooves on the countertop, inspecting how your side of the job is going.
  1466. >"The other half of what I didn't accomplish was parts and pieces I was unfamiliar with," she adds, casually looking over a distributor as it twists and turns within the invisible force she wields.
  1467. "Trim pieces?"
  1468. >Again, she nods in affirmation.
  1469. "Yeah, depending on the car and what particular pieces they are, that can be a miserable task, I don't blame you there. I know you ran through every manual I have - but unless it's drivetrain or running gear related, they can be rather vague, especially when it comes to little shit like that."
  1470. >"Just comes with experience I'm assuming?"
  1471. "Pretty much. Sometimes you find a neat little trick that works just by screwing up a time or two. Some pieces are just going to be a lesson in misery every time to try to remove it - like drip edge molding around the windows."
  1472. >Midnight's ears perk up at the last bit.
  1473. >"Oh, what a coincidence - that happens to be one of the orders I didn't complete!" Midnight exclaims, a hint of mischief in her eyes.
  1474. "Aw piss - guess you get to see how awful that job is. Glad you didn't tackle that one, otherwise that would be either a twisted mess or a car flipped over."
  1475. >"And what would you base that assumption on?" she demands, suddenly not finding this conversation so amusing as she slightly bristles from your criticism.
  1476. "The first few days of you tearing apart motors in the shop," you remind her.
  1477. >"And I improved on reeling in my frustration, did I not?"
  1478. "You did. I'm just fucking with you. Mostly."
  1479. >"Mostly, huh?" she repeats, seemingly unamused. "Well I suppose, in that case, you'll have to forgive me if I do somehow lose my temper and try to flip a car over."
  1480. >"No, you won't," you say, crossing your arms.
  1481. >"Oh? And why would that be?" she challenges, standing up just a little bit higher and straightening her next as she grins even more mischievously. "Are you going to tell me no? Step in and stop me?"
  1482. "I'll pet you," you quietly warn.
  1483. >Her arrogance and taunting instantly falter at the same time you manage to wipe that smile off her face.
  1484. >"You wouldn't dare."
  1485. "I would."
  1486. >You quickly reach toward her with a hand to demonstrate.
  1487. >She recoils quickly in reaction, but not before nipping at the air near your outstretched fingers.
  1488. "Oh no, we aren't done here," you say, stepping around the corner while you keep a straight face.
  1489. >"Anon, I swear, don't you-"
  1490. >You reach over toward her in a deft movement, but she merely sidesteps with surprising agility, ending up behind you while you grasp for thin air.
  1491. >"I said stop it, you dumb bastard."
  1492. >You feel something small and solid smack off the back of your head.
  1493. "Ow," you grimace, rubbing the back of your head while trying to locate the item that clatters across the floor.
  1494. >A small rusted bolt finally loses its momentum and stops, spinning for just a brief moment.
  1495. >"I warned you," Midnight sasses.
  1496. >You turn, finding her now reared up and resting on the other side of the counter where you were moments ago.
  1497. >Once again, that same lazy, devious smirk lines her face, while her raised brows offer an air of confident nonchalance.
  1498. >She offers you a shrug as your eyes meet hers.
  1499. "Touche," you relent. "But I don't think you had to throw that."
  1500. >"That's a matter of opinion - I could have thrown it harder," she jests.
  1501. "Please don't - I don't want to find out you can put a hole clean through my head. That would be messy," you reply, the pain having subsided as you drop your arms back to your sides.
  1502. >Midnight chuckles.
  1503. >"Oh, that's the issue you have with it," she muses.
  1504. "I really wouldn't have any issue with it since - you know, I'd probably be dead."
  1505. >At once, Midnight's face grows cold as she stops laughing.
  1506. "Uh, you okay?" you ask, unsure what suddenly has her tripped up.
  1507. >"Let's not joke about that," she replies quietly.
  1508. "...what, death? Wasn't that what you were just joking about pointing out my issue with-"
  1509. >"I know what I said. That was my mistake," she admits, sounding rather uncomfortable. "I didn't think about it."
  1510. "Alright then, sorry," you manage, dumbstruck by the bizarre shift in tone.
  1511. >You'd rather not deal with an awkward silence, so you ready the self-deprecation humor.
  1512. "To be honest though, I have a pretty thick skull - I don't think you could do much damage," you announce, as if proud of the implications.
  1513. >It gets the desired result, Midnight perking up just a bit.
  1514. >"I don't doubt it," she retorts.
  1515. >Mission accomplished.
  1516. >... you don't know why that was your mission in the first place.
  1517. >Of course, you don't want it to just resort to the pall that has hung in the air since last night's discussion and what lies ahead in that respect.
  1518. >But...
  1519. >Going to bed this morning, turning around and seeing that face.
  1520. >That genuine smile as she thanked you for listening to her.
  1521. >You'd like to see that more often.
  1522. >Seeing her happy just puts you in a place you don't ever recall being before.
  1523. >"Hey."
  1524. >Midnight's voice breaks you out of your train of thought.
  1525. >She stares at you, befuddled and a little concerned.
  1526. >Or maybe creeped out.
  1527. "Sorry, zoned out. What's next...?"
  1528.  
  1529.  
  1530.  
  1531.  
  1532.  
  1533. "One last time - ready?"
  1534. >"Yep."
  1535. "One, two, three!"
  1536. >In unison, both of you carefully strike either end of the long and slender scrap of wood with mallets.
  1537. >Like clockwork, the last piece of window trim pops off of the car.
  1538. >A '62 Cadillac.
  1539. >That was so much damn stainless trim to take off.
  1540. >But it went better than expected - nothing got beaten up or twisted.
  1541. >Call it a miracle - you've seen this kind of shit ho wrong a lot.
  1542. > It's why many people just mask over this kind of brightwork when painting a classic car rather than take it all off.
  1543. >Others...
  1544. >Well, sometimes they are the reason you have these orders.
  1545. >It takes a lot of patience and care to get it off.
  1546. "Awesome work, thank you," you compliment your assistant.
  1547. >Midnight beams proudly at that, despite initially being frustrated her powers wouldn't work on the part.
  1548. >Not much iron in that kind of stuff.
  1549. >That's alright - with two working on either end and meeting in the middle, it went quick.
  1550. >Relatively speaking.
  1551. "What next?" you ask Midnight while carefully putting the final piece next to the others in the back of the truck.
  1552. >You turn around to find Midnight with pursed lips and mum on details.
  1553. "Cutlass?"
  1554. >Just a nod.
  1555. >She won't admit to it of course, but Midnight is very anxious about this.
  1556. >Even though you're just fetching the order, just knowing who these parts are destined for gets her tensed up.
  1557. >For the most part, you've kept her distracted enough, but now you're left with the elephant in the room.
  1558. >And she's not gotten any better since first releasing this conversation to you.
  1559. >If anything, she's gotten worse.
  1560. >On your end, you want to see a silver lining.
  1561. >It would be great if this guy could get her an RFID.
  1562. >She might not be a bot that requires it, but it will allow her to pass off as a legal one and be able to go beyond the junkyard gates with much less risk.
  1563. >If that's what she so desires, anyway.
  1564. >Midnight might just be a homebody, similar to you.
  1565. >Clearly not much of a socialite.
  1566. >For now, anyway.
  1567. >That could always change.
  1568. >But the same reason that she doesn't appear to be much for company is the same reason that, now as you have had time to think about it, makes you wonder if this has not been blown out of proportion.
  1569. >You don't blame her - she can't help she's been isolated and tested on by virtually everyone she's ever known.
  1570. >But with that being said, there's the possibility signals got crossed along the way of this guy offering his assistance.
  1571. >It's well worth playing it calm and cordial.
  1572. >You hope Midnight can do that.
  1573. >But how do you even approach her on this when she's already showing senses of dread - and you don't even have the damn parts to contact Theodore yet?
  1574. >Any way you consider bringing up the notion that it's a misunderstanding ends up sounding like you're dismissing her worries.
  1575. >But letting her stew over this is no good, either.
  1576. >For better or worse, you feel you need to share your thoughts.
  1577. >As both of you climb back into the Trailduster and set out in search of Cutlass parts, you take the opportunity to speak up.
  1578. "Midnight, when I say that I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure nothing happens to you, you believe me, right?"
  1579. >"Yeah. I don't really like admitting it, but you have done a lot," she says, sounding somewhat uncertain.
  1580. >Whether's that's due to your question coming from out of nowhere, or the increasingly common-but-still-rare moment of gratitude spoken aloud by her is anyone's guess.
  1581. "I just want to make it clear that I'm sticking by that, because I'm really beginning to consider we have this whole situation wrong."
  1582. >"You don't trust my judgment?"
  1583. >Her question is ice cold.
  1584. >The look she has on her face matches it as she eyes you with a small amount of hurt inside.
  1585. "No, I do trust your judgment, and I fully understand why you're concerned about this," you reply calmly.
  1586. >"But?"
  1587. "We can both agree you haven't had much experience in the terms of social situations and discussions, just based upon what you've told me, right?"
  1588. >"That isn't my fault, Anon," she spits in irritation.
  1589. "I understand that, and I'm not blaming you-"
  1590. >"But you'll use that as an excuse to tell me I'm overreacting now, right? I've seen you staring at me like I'm some sort of paranoid idiot all day!" she accuses you angrily.
  1591. >You are losing control of this situation.
  1592. >Far quicker than you expected.
  1593. "No, I do not think you're paranoid, I think you have every right to be nervous about thi-"
  1594. >"I'm not nervous!"
  1595. >She shouts that far louder than needed for the interior of this SUV.
  1596. >You give her a moment to realize the outburst, which she acknowledges with an averted gaze and a scowl.
  1597. >A particularly rough patch of the lane you're driving down sends both of you bouncing in your seats.
  1598. >Be nice when those damn leaf springs come in.
  1599. >You see no sense in doing just the shocks right now, since they would have to be removed again anyway.
  1600. "Okay, you have concerns, how about that?"
  1601. >"I have reservations about this," she corrects you indignantly in an attempt to save face.
  1602. "Alright - regardless, I get it, and you have justifications to feel that way - but neither you nor I can afford to be completely close-minded and pessimistic, right?"
  1603. >Midnight hardly looks swayed by your argument, her eyes narrowed on you.
  1604. "Don't look at me in that tone of voice," you scold her, glancing over for just a moment.
  1605. >The stupid comment at least knocks her off balance, softening her stone-cold posture.
  1606. >"That doesn't make any damn sense," she replies after a slight hesitation.
  1607. "Very good, glad you noticed," you reply with a cheeky smile.
  1608. >"Jackass," she mutters.
  1609. "Middie, all I'm trying to say is to pass him off as someone that's out to get you isn't right - there are genuinely nice people out there."
  1610. >"And what is this really going to solve?"
  1611. >You have to do a double-take at that response.
  1612. "What?"
  1613. >"Did I stutter?" Midnight barks back.
  1614. "No, but - hell, there's a whole world beyond these gates. I get we're sorting things out to make this place private, but you don't want to be stuck here forever, right?"
  1615. >Midnight turns her head away from you and looks out her window, silent.
  1616. >She doesn't give you an opportunity to read her emotions, leaving you befuddled as to why she's suddenly calm and quiet.
  1617. >You wait a few moments to see if she has anything to add, in case she's deep in thought over this whole conversation.
  1618. >Turning down the correct row of cars, you finally come to the area with mid-size Oldsmobiles and stop the truck.
  1619. "All I'm trying to do is look out for your best interest. Let me be clear on one thing though - if he does try something funny or take you, I'll shoot the son of a bitch if I have to."
  1620. >"And if he does somehow help us... you know, forge my identity or something like that... what do you expect of me?"
  1621. "What? Am I supposed to expect something?"
  1622. >Midnight turns back to face you again - still possessing a face virtually lacking any emotion.
  1623. >"You're keen on me being able to leave, it's clear. So what do you expect of me? To find somewhere else to live? Venture out on my own?"
  1624. >She says that with a hint of venom in her voice.
  1625. "So we can go out and do things, you dolt!" you shout back, more out of astonishment than anything else.
  1626. >Is she for real right now?
  1627. >"Hey, you're the one so adamant on getting me out of here, how am I supposed to know what's in that empty space between your ears?!" she snaps back, clearly displeased and offended by your volume.
  1628. "Sorry, sorry," you apologize profusely, kicking yourself for shouting despite not meaning ill will.
  1629. >You didn't really mean to call her a name either.
  1630. >But she is sort of being thick-headed right now.
  1631. >"So, this really is just about... what? Being able to do stuff? Like what?"
  1632. >Midnight sounds surprised as she acknowledges the information your outburst actually contained.
  1633. "Like... well, what would you want to do?"
  1634. >Midnight shrugs, scoffing at your attempts to pass this off onto her.
  1635. >"How am I supposed to know what there is? Almost everything I know about the outside world is what I've gleaned from eavesdropping or come across while reading on your laptop. Entertainment is not high on the priority list in terms of learning."
  1636. "Fair enough. I guess I don't really have any suggestions other than dining out at restaurants - I'm sure as hell not a top-notch cook. There's some good places around. Things to check out in terms of sights, that sort of thing."
  1637. >"And what if I have no desire to explore the world? What if... I already sort of have what I need, don't I?" she asks, as if unsure of herself.
  1638. >You feel awkward trying to come up with any sort of reasonable answer to that.
  1639. >Particularly because she's basically been deprived of... well, living.
  1640. >Actually enjoying life.
  1641. >Yet this shithole is good enough for her?
  1642. "I guess so. Maybe we're getting too far ahead here," you admit. "I just wanted to say that I get your reservations about this, and I'm a little nervous, too. But we'll play it cool and cautious, and see how the cards fall, okay? Just don't stress from now until then, please?"
  1643. >You put on your best pouting, pleading face, complete with sad eyes.
  1644. >Midnight cringes, the door behind her opening quickly under her spell.
  1645. >"Never make that face again. What the hell is that?" she responds with utter disgust.
  1646. "A secret weapon, don't forget it," you joke, overemphasizing a serious tone of voice.
  1647. >"I couldn't if I wanted to," she shoots back, still sounding rather disturbed as she slides out of the passenger side and out of view.
  1648. >Mirroring her actions, you push open your door and set out for the final few parts of the early evening.
  1649.  
  1650.  
  1651.  
  1652.  
  1653.  
  1654. "Steak any good?"
  1655. >"I think you did a decent job with it. I'm no connoisseur- I could have eaten it raw without issue."
  1656. >Dinner time had come around again after a surprisingly smooth day of working.
  1657. >Having been impressed with how much Midnight had accomplished the prior day, combined with her difficulties in slowing down her overactive mind, you decided to break out something a little more upscale.
  1658. >A nice ribeye steak, cooked rare - if that.
  1659. >She wanted it bloody, and as she just mentioned - raw would not have been an issue for her.
  1660. > It's still odd to watch someone that should really be an herbivore mowing down red meat with vigor.
  1661. >You're glad that this far, she hasn't noticed - but you definitely gave her the choice steak out of the two.
  1662. >Middie would probably flip shit that you were spoiling her or something like that.
  1663. >As much as she's come around to you, she's got her odd streaks of reluctance to accept anything above the bare minimum.
  1664. >Maybe she thinks you're trying to bribe her or something.
  1665. >Weird, but what else is there?
  1666. >All you're looking to try to do is try to make the highlight of your life happy.
  1667. >...
  1668. >Alright, that sounds fucking weird.
  1669. >Back that train up.
  1670. >You're trying to make your friend happy.
  1671. >Because she's dealt with too much misfortune.
  1672. >She's a highlight because you don't really have friends you keep in contact with any longer, and otherwise, all you have is work.
  1673. >So Midnight is... her existence is the most interesting thing you deal with, in the sense of the doldrums of day-to-day life.
  1674. >Because you don't live alone anymore.
  1675. >That's a better explanation.
  1676. >...to yourself.
  1677. >Complicated and meandering thoughts aside, there had been no excitement tonight when you gave a call to Theodore, notifying him his parts were ready for pickup whenever.
  1678. >Midnight insisted upon it, despite your attempts to alleviate her mind of thinking about this earlier.
  1679. >Relief and disappointment replaced the palpable tension when you only heard the eventual voicemail cut in.
  1680. >You left a short message, only notifying him his parts were ready whenever he desired to pick them up, and your phone number in case of any delays or questions.
  1681. >And that was that.
  1682. "Same old, same old tonight?" you ask Midnight while she goes to town on her meal.
  1683. >It must be pretty damn good or she's hungrier than normal because table manners are on the verge of disappearing entirely.
  1684. >To be fair, you also made her wait until your food was done - so she had to just stare at it.
  1685. >Next time, you will start yours first instead of doing them together.
  1686. >"I unno," Midnight replies, shrugging with a mouthful of chewed-up steak distorting her response.
  1687. "Don't talk with your mouth full, heathen."
  1688. >Rather than respond with words, Midnight childishly opens her mouth and gives you a clear view of her meal.
  1689. "How pleasant. Thank you for that," you groan, mildly disgusted by the sight.
  1690. >Midnight seems content with that answer as she finishes up.
  1691. >"Don't ask questions when you aren't ready for the answer next time," she suggests.
  1692. "Okay, you can answer now - just the same old routine tonight?"
  1693. >"Should I be doing something else?" she replies with her own inquiry.
  1694. "I didn't know if you had some other plans for the website or the junkyard in general - or maybe something new you're reading about."
  1695. >Again, she only shrugs whilst continuing her meal.
  1696. >You follow her hint and continue with your own plate.
  1697. >It isn't until after Midnight clears her plate that she breaks the silence.
  1698. >"What's gotten into you asking me about my plans?"
  1699. "Just trying to converse, I guess. Show I have some interest since you live with me," you casually explain. "Just sort of what friends do - we are friends, yeah?"
  1700. >"Are we?" she replies, raising an eyebrow.
  1701. >You feel like you just got kicked in the gut.
  1702. >Maybe you are playing this too close to your heart.
  1703. >"I didn't mean it like that," Midnight speaks up again, her ears dipping as she looks at you with some sympathy.
  1704. >You didn't think you made a face about it, but evidently, she picked up on some sort of visual cue.
  1705. "What?"
  1706. >Midnight is visibly uncomfortable as you try to keep your inquiry as vague as her answer.
  1707. >"It's... you bastard, I told you I didn't want you to get all queer and sappy after last night," she grumbles, rolling her eyes as she attempts to dismiss her own discomfort.
  1708. "I didn't do anything!"
  1709. >"Bullshit, you took some sort of offense to my question like I hurt your feelings. I could see it in how you dropped your head!"
  1710. she accuses, pointing a hoof at you.
  1711. "And you're pointing it out and apologizing for it like you feel bad that you did it," you remind her.
  1712. >Midnight recoils, her face twisted into an odd amalgam of emotions.
  1713. >"You... fuck. Don't turn this on me. I live with you, I don't need you crying for a hug," she mutters, looking off to the side.
  1714. "So what didn't you mean?" you ask, now sort of amused by how she's gotten spun up about virtually nothing.
  1715. >"Stop it."
  1716. "No, you can't accuse me of doing something as a result of something you said that was left rather ambiguous."
  1717. >"That's a rather big word for you - 'ambiguous.' Do you actually know what it means?" she asks, slyly trying to shift the squabble.
  1718. "I do, but I don't know what you meant by asking if we were friends, but not actually meaning it," you calmly reply, crossing your arms over your chest.
  1719. >"What's your definition of 'friend'?" she finally relents, albeit with a grumbling tone.
  1720. "What's yours?"
  1721. >"I don't have one. So don't play this off on me," she says.
  1722. "You've never had a friend?"
  1723. >She looks at you with incredulity staining her expression.
  1724. >"Are you being stupid on purpose? I was born in a lab - what kind of social situations do you think I've experienced?" she counters. "Might I remind you that you pointed out earlier today that I apparently possess no social grace - but you're expectant of me to have had a friend?"
  1725. >Yeah, that might have been a little retarded to ask, with that earlier conversation in mind.
  1726. >But still, you would expect she had at least one...
  1727. >Pony?
  1728. >Or person?
  1729. >Someone that she conversed with.
  1730. "You didn't have anyone to talk to? At all, that whole time you were... wherever you were?" you inquire cautiously.
  1731. >It feels like you're treading on thin ice now.
  1732. >"Not really," Midnight says rather impatiently. "Maybe before the whole... the start of the experiments with augmentations. Biological ponies like - well I guess like I *was* - we were kept completely separate from the robots. After all, we aren't supposed to exist. But we were kept sort of together, I think. Like a common gathering area."
  1733. "You think, or you know?"
  1734. >You get a glare from Midnight before she even responds with words.
  1735. >"I told you things are hazy for me, Anon," she mutters in frustration. "I only recall being - I guess reintroduced to that area."
  1736. >Rather than ask for her to go on, you sit patiently.
  1737. >Midnight has sort of zoned out, her eyes glazed over in thought.
  1738. >"I don't know, it felt familiar. But it was just so... fake. All of it," she says, sounding disgusted. "And some of the others - I don't know, they didn't feel like complete strangers, but..."
  1739. "Did you try talking to them?" you suggest.
  1740. >She glances up at you, unenthused by the inquiry.
  1741. >"You don't really 'converse' with bio-ponies - not the ones I was around, anyway," she scoffs. "They can speak, but there's very little of substance going on in their head."
  1742. >Midnight sighs, looking rather apologetic for that crass review.
  1743. >"Honestly, I didn't want much to do with them. There might have been some idle 'hellos' and 'goodbyes,' but it just felt like everyone else was... content. Placid. Superficial. So I just sort of isolated myself out of frustration, trying to understand what the hell was going.on, why I felt that way, why everything felt so wrong."
  1744. "So what happened then?"
  1745. >"Eventually I got my own area. Never saw any of those ponies again - or any ponies, for that matter, aside from the occasional robot. Other than that, it was humans - and most of them looked at me like an exotic being rather than something sentient."
  1746. >Midnight's tone turns very bitter as she finishes.
  1747. >Her bright blue eyes harden again as her focus returns to you.
  1748. >"So no, I don't have any experience with 'friends'  - the ball is squarely in your court," she states with finality.
  1749. >As much as you like having your curiosity sated when Midnight opens up, it's never satisfying.
  1750. >It seems like it's always something painful, whether she understands it or not.
  1751. "Well, friends can converse about idle shit - but there's a level of trust that goes beyond that. It's someone you trust with your personal issues, your memories, someone you rely on in times of need. Someone you know won't judge you or make fun of you for something embarrassing - though you can usually rib each other for it. But it's someone that - well, you enjoy their company, their discussions, and their ear when you need to talk."
  1752. >Midnight listens intently but offers no response.
  1753. >Likewise, you only sit there - before you realize you haven't finished eating.
  1754. >Might be a little cold now, but no sense in letting it go to waste.
  1755. >Again, silence wins over any sort of idle chit-chat while you finish up dinner.
  1756. >Rather than shuffle off to the couch and the comfortable isolation of the laptop screen, Midnight still sits at the kitchen counter across from you.
  1757. >Her attention isn't really honed in on anything in particular.
  1758. >Just watching her tell that tidbit of the past, you could tell she was experiencing it all over again.
  1759. >And yet...
  1760. >That's it.
  1761. >She has no response for your explanation.
  1762. >You were hoping to get some sort of agreement or affirmation.
  1763. >You get it - she's a macho mare.
  1764. >But her insistence to keep up this barrier does sting just a bit - you can't lie to yourself about that.
  1765. >You still consider her a friend - just a very moody one.
  1766. >Then again, that's sort of her odd, slightly rough charm, isn't it?
  1767. >You're getting worked up over something stupid - a label.
  1768. >Stop being a dumbass, dumbass.
  1769. >Pulling yourself out of your odd mishmash of thoughts, you take both empty plates and slip them into the sink.
  1770. >Along with the other dishes from this morning.
  1771. >Maybe you'll get them washed tomorrow.
  1772. "If I get to that couch first, I'm laying down on it," you announce, as if oblivious to Midnight's presence.
  1773. >"The hell you will," she snidely responds, staring a hole through you.
  1774. >You lock eyes with her as if preparing for a duel.
  1775. >Just as you make a motion to get around the counter, Midnight bolts up and makes a beeline for her seat.
  1776. "Not fair, you got a head start," you whine.
  1777. >Fuck you, you can share," she sasses.
  1778. "Fine," you huff, waltzing out into the living room and plopping down on your familiar cushion without any sort of grace or fanfare.
  1779. >You flip on the tv with a quick motion of the remote and fish your phone out of your pocket.
  1780. >Time to relax and look up stupid shit.
  1781. >You feel the couch shift a little bit, and as you look up, the one cushion buffer between you and Midnight has evaporated.
  1782. >She sits next to you for a moment, ignoring your perplexed gaze, before taking her normal posture.
  1783. >Laying down, half-curled up and flopped over on one side, with her forehooves dangling off the front of the couch.
  1784. >"Punishment for being so damn slow, friend," she muses nonchalantly, booting up your laptop.
  1785. >You can't help but smirk.
  1786. "Damn. Guess that's what I get for making idle threats."
  1787. >"Yep."
  1788. >You consider reaching over and ruffling her mane but think better of it.
  1789. >Midnight has her own odd way of expressing herself- it just takes time.
  1790. >You can wait.
  1791. >It's worth it.
  1792.  
  1793.  
  1794.  
  1795.  
  1796.  
  1797.  
  1798. >If you weren't already aware when signing for the package and just observing the size of it, Midnight made sure you knew of the contents.
  1799. >The leaf springs for the Trailduster arrived.
  1800. >And she wants no part in dilly-dallying to get them installed.
  1801. >Fair enough.
  1802. >As the lift in the garage bay slowly rises up from the ground with the truck at the whims of its might, Midnight is already tearing up packaging like a kid on Christmas.
  1803. >Albeit wielding a box cutter.
  1804. >And you're pretty sure her teeth got in on the action.
  1805. >Damn heathen.
  1806. "Just a reminder, if we don't get this done by evening, you're carrying me around while we pick parts," you joke.
  1807. >"I never agreed to that, so bite me," Midnight strikes back.
  1808. "Should have read the fine print - deal's a deal."
  1809. >She snorts.
  1810. >"Do you listen to yourself when you talk? That makes absolutely no sense."
  1811. "I try not to listen - that way I don't know when I say something stupid. Then it's deny, deny, deny."
  1812. >"Yeah? And how does that work out?"
  1813. "How does what work out?"
  1814. >Midnight starts to react as you watch those metaphorical gears in her head start to grind.
  1815. >But she stops herself, catching onto your subtle, idiotic ruse.
  1816. >"Funny guy," she says unenthusiastically.
  1817. "Aw, thanks. I'll be here all week."
  1818. >Midnight just shakes her head as she starts sorting out parts and pieces.
  1819. >Nevertheless, she can't hide that mildly amused grin.
  1820. >Maybe she isn't trying.
  1821. >After all, things are... different.
  1822. >A few nights ago, when she decided to sit beside you on the couch - well, that was just a joke for five minutes before putting the normal space between you two, right?
  1823. >Doesn't seem like it.
  1824. >Every night, her spot has been on the cushion next to you, rather than the opposite end.
  1825. >You know better than to point it out, though.
  1826. >More than likely, she would clam up again and revert to old habits.
  1827. >It's only a move of a foot or two - but there is an increased sense of solidarity just in that closeness.
  1828. >And whether it's because you inquired that same night or on her own accord, Midnight has also been receptive to showing you things she finds of interest or asking more questions about a topic.
  1829. >It has become less about the occasional banter and conversation, between periods of silence, and more about conversation with some banter - and the occasional silence.
  1830. >That speech about friendship was undeniably fruity, but it seems like it struck a chord with her, for whatever reason.
  1831. >Who knew she could be such a softy?
  1832. >That comment, if uttered aloud, could very well result in lost digits, though.
  1833. >But jokes aside, hopefully it's a step in the right direction.
  1834. >To get the rest of the trauma she's experienced out of her.
  1835. >There is something that you find really haunting about her tale that she described.
  1836. >How everything was suddenly...
  1837. >Alien.
  1838. >Just the thought of having your brain cranked on to the point where nothing is the same - but not understanding why...
  1839. >A chill runs up your spine, making you let go of that ugly musing.
  1840. >Focus returns to the present as you start looking over bolts that will require removal.
  1841. >Well, they're all rusted, but that's to be expected for something dating back to the '70s.
  1842. >You've seen far, far worse out of decades-newer cars, so you won't complain one bit.
  1843. >With any luck, you won't have any casualties in terms of broken bolts or stripped heads.
  1844. >"So, are we dropping the axles?"
  1845. >The question makes you chuckle as you spy Midnight joining you underneath the vehicle.
  1846. >Her focus is on the workspace, rather than you - so your chuckle doesn't irk her at all.
  1847. "No way, that's way more work than we need to do," you reply. "I'm going to get some chains or straps and lash both axles in place on either side, and we'll take off one leaf spring and shock absorber at a time. Otherwise, we would be removing drive shafts, brake lines, and steering linkage. I want no part in that."
  1848. >"So, you're corner-cutting," she says, unimpressed.
  1849. "No, we're doing this the smart way rather than by the book - there's a reason that mechanics make a fair bit of dough - they get paid by the hour."
  1850. >You look over to Midnight.
  1851. "If you really want to do it the proper, technical service manual way, I'd be glad to - but it's gonna cost you some money."
  1852. >"Money that I don't have," she reminds you.
  1853. "Good, we're on the same page," you cheer, clapping your hands together.
  1854. >However, you take note that Midnight is not wholly impressed.
  1855. "In all seriousness Midnight - doing it this way is fine. I get being a stickler when it comes to the official manual - but remember how they don't even go in-depth on topics like trim," you remind her. "If it was something where we were truly at risk of cocking something up or hurting ourselves - then no, I wouldn't do it this way."
  1856. >"So it legitimately is a shortcut, rather than you being lazy?"
  1857. "Swear on it. Maybe it looks lazy and jacked up to strap the damn thing up there, but we would otherwise be draining the transmission and transfer cases to get the driveshafts out and refilling them, and then having to purge and bleed the brakes. And I'm a walking hazard when it comes to dealing with automotive fluids."
  1858. >"Well, when you mention that, I want to see how much of a clusterfuck you can create," she jokingly chimes in.
  1859. "Believe me, you'll see it sooner or later. And you'll help me clean it up."
  1860. >"Nuh-uh," she says, shaking her head while turning back to her prior organization of parts.
  1861. "Where the hell are you going?"
  1862. >Pivoting on the spot to look back at you, Midnight looks lost as she cocks her head sideways.
  1863. >"What do you mean?"
  1864. >You point at a few key bolts that have to be removed.
  1865. "You wanted to do this, didn't you?"
  1866. >"Of course!"
  1867. >The way she perks up instantly at the question is undeniably adorable.
  1868. >You don't think you've ever seen someone so happy to do work.
  1869. >But hey, who are you to complain?
  1870. "Get started on breaking loose those U-bolts around the axles, the bolts on either end of the leaf springs, and the shock mounts top and bottom while I get something to tie up them axles," you explain, thumbing over to the storage room. "Impact gun or ratchet, your choice - just try to be cautious as much as you can. I'm sure I have some bolts to replace whatever gets busted, but I dunno where they are for sure."
  1871. >"The leaf springs came with new bolts," Midnight chimes in.
  1872. "Sweet. That's an unexpected but welcome surprise," you reply cheerfully.
  1873. >This may go even better than anticipated.
  1874. >As Midnight briskly trots over to your battered red toolbox to select the needed tools, you wander your way over to your storeroom and head inside.
  1875. >Right away, you spy a few tow straps - but they're the smaller kind.
  1876. >That's no good.
  1877. >You head further in, barely able to walk straight forward with as tight of proximity all of these shelves are.
  1878. >You really should have reconsidered and had Midnight do this.
  1879. >Not because you don't trust her with getting started on the truck- but because she's much more lithe than you are when it comes to getting through this shit.
  1880. >Someday, maybe you need to get another building put up - solely for part storage.
  1881. >Yeah, someday...
  1882. >Finally stumbling upon what you're searching for, you find your heavy-duty shit in the back corner.
  1883. >You grab a few chains and a couple of sets of straps, silently cursing why you had to put them all the way back here rather than right inside.
  1884. >Having not heard the rattling tune of the impact yet, it's safe to assume Midnight went with the physical route.
  1885. >... is it really physical for her though?
  1886. >Regardless, you aren't surprised - she's complained before about the volume of it and the racket it creates.
  1887. >Her hearing is probably more sensitive.
  1888. >But it would have been the safer option to break those bolts loose.
  1889. >As you stumble along back to the entrance with your prizes slung over your shoulder, you hear a voice.
  1890. >It isn't Midnight though...
  1891. >"ANONYMOUS!!"
  1892. >That one is.
  1893. >The sheer volume of her shout quickens your pulse, even without any context.
  1894. >You haven't heard her shout like that before, and she's dealt with customers on more than one occasion now, with the obvious one that comes to mind being-
  1895. > It's probably Theodore.
  1896. >You hustle as quick as you can through the corridor, banging your arms once or twice on parts that stick out beyond their respective shelf.
  1897. >Whether she's flipping her shit just from pent-up stress and anxiety or if Teddy is trying something nefarious doesn't matter.
  1898. >You aren't taking chances.
  1899. >Reaching the door and sprinting out into the garage proper, you find Midnight has everything under control...
  1900. >Relatively speaking.
  1901. >You do recognize the elder gentleman, even as he stands just a few steps inside the building.
  1902. >With a pair of weathered khakis and a vintage GM shirt, he certainly doesn't come off as a nefarious scientist.
  1903. >Midnight has him at roughly five-foot distance.
  1904. >Her ears are pinned back while she bares her teeth at your guest, her deep blue and violet-highlighted tail swishing back and forth with irritation as her eyes are locked on him like a target.
  1905. >Well, she certainly isn't *scared* of him, in a sense.
  1906. "Midnight," you call to her in a calm voice.
  1907. >She doesn't turn or move, but you see her tensed muscles in her shoulders and hips relax just a bit.
  1908. >"I uh... I didn't do very well in my first impression, did I?" Theodore quips in a lighthearted, slightly southern drawl.
  1909. >For his part, the guy doesn't look too concerned about being stared down by someone prepared to attack.
  1910. >You allow yourself to relax a bit while closing the distance between you and the two of them.
  1911. "Yeah, Midnight has been... a little bit stressed," you admit, just as you pass beside her.
  1912. >Out of the corner of your eye, you see her eyes shift to you, snorting once before putting her weapons away.
  1913. >All that fuss about being called a guard dog...
  1914. >You stick your hand out to greet your awaited guest.
  1915. "I know we've already talked before, but I guess this is a bit more formal," you say, feeling awkward. "You must be Theodore."
  1916. >"Oh please - this isn't that formal. Call me Teddy," he replies with a chuckle and a grin while accepting your gesture.
  1917. "Of course, you and Midnight have met," you say, turning back to her.
  1918. >She's calmed down now but remains guarded, her posture straight and stiff.
  1919. >So much for giving the guy a chance...
  1920. >"Yeah, I guess my bedside manners aren't very good. They never really were," he wisecracks.
  1921. "You're a doctor?" you ask, surprised and confused by the quip.
  1922. >"That's what the degree says, anyway - not really an *actual* doctor like in a hospital or anything like that," he clarifies, reaching behind his back and pulling out his wallet. "But before I forget, I ought to get those parts paid for and in my truck. Is that ok?"
  1923. "Of course - got em back here behind the counter," you say, waving for him to follow you as you head in that direction.
  1924. >Midnight quickly meets your stride alongside as you pass by her, sticking close.
  1925. >Whether that's more for your protection or hers - that's up for debate.
  1926. >Midnight doesn't say anything, but just a glance tells you she is very stressed about this whole situation.
  1927. >Jesus - you had no idea she was this high-strung.
  1928. >It's far beyond what you would expect from a conversation that took place a few days ago.
  1929. >You need to talk to her - and Teddy heading out to his truck with those parts will present the perfect opportunity.
  1930. >After presenting the parts to him and finagling just a bit on the price, Teddy hands you the cash and heads back out for the time being with his acquisitions.
  1931. >You turn to Midnight, who is practically your shadow at this point.
  1932. "Midnight, what was that all about?" you ask, more concerned than disappointed. "I thought we agreed that we would give him a fair shake."
  1933. >"I'm not going with him, Anonymous!" she blurts out angrily, stomping a hoof down with a reverberating clack. "I have fought for this place, I'm still fighting for this place, I have you - I don't need anything else, no matter what he offers!"
  1934. >She pauses to take a seat upon her haunches, while you're left utterly dumbfounded by the small avalanche she just unleashed.
  1935. >"I *could* live without you, if need be - I'm not saying you're *everything*, but you're a perk living here, I'll admit that," she quickly adds, ruffling her wings with mild anxiousness.
  1936. "Who the hell said you were going to leave?" you ask, getting down on a knee to get closer to her level.
  1937. >... Midnight sort of has to bring her head down a bit to meet you.
  1938. >But still, you get a better look at the torment, fury, and anxiety that swirls in those magnificent blue eyes.
  1939. >Which have begun to glow as her tirade continues.
  1940. >"He said he would take me away from here if this wasn't suitable to me, if you were a dickhead or something like that - I don't know," she snarls. "But fuck him! I'm not leaving! This is my home, and I will flay him and anyone else that gets in my way!"
  1941. >You've only seen her this carried away and this angry once, if the sheer luminescence of her eyes is anything to go by.
  1942. >The first night, when you called her 'princess.'
  1943. >This is almost as scary.
  1944. >Particularly as her breathing is on the verge of hyperventilation.
  1945. "Well dammit, you never told me any of that," you reluctantly tell her.
  1946. >You only now realize you started running your hands through her mane in an attempt to temper her fury.
  1947. "Goddamn girl, you need to talk about this kind of shit," you reply. "I keep trying to get that through to you, I'm here to listen to your issues. Keeping that kind of shit in doesn't make you stronger, and talking about it doesn't make you a wuss."
  1948. >Slowly, she begins to come to her senses, her inhales and exhales coming slower and deeper.
  1949. "You're fine, Midnight. You got this, I got your back, alright? One step at a time here," you encourage her, trying to pep her up as you pat her shoulder. "You and me."
  1950. >Midnight doesn't say anything, only nodding slightly at your words as her eyes begin to dim back to normal.
  1951. >"I got this," she reiterates after a moment. "You have my back."
  1952. "Exactly."
  1953. >Having helped Midnight reel herself back in, you feel confident enough to stand up.
  1954. >As you do so, you see Teddy has returned - albeit standing at a distance.
  1955. >You feel sort of embarrassed and vulnerable as you wonder how long he's been back, and how much he heard.
  1956. >He puts his hands up and out a little bit.
  1957. >'Sorry,' he mouths out to you.
  1958. >You look back over to Midnight, who stands back up straight.
  1959. >Turning her head, she follows your gaze over to Teddy...
  1960. >A little bit of anxiousness returns to her body, but she's much calmer than just a few minutes ago.
  1961. >You turn your attention back to your guest.
  1962. "Why don't we sit down and have a little chat?"

Midnight [Part 2]

by Autopony

Midnight

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Anon Gets Sent to Tartarus (one shot + scrap)

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Embracing the Night 5

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Embracing the Night 4

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