GREEN   465   0
   29237   159.43 KB   2107

Midnight [Part 3]

By Autopony
Created: 1st November 2021 11:05:26 AM
1st December 2021 04:06:47 AM

  1. "Holy shit, what a nightmare."
  2. >You toss your keys onto the kitchen counter before meandering over to the familiar old couch and flopping down backward over the armrest.
  3. >it feels like everything you had tried to retrieve out back today was either broken, rusted to hell, or otherwise a major project to remove.
  4. >As a result, a lot of new swears and insults had been invented by both of you.
  5. >A Nobel Prize might be in the cards for your contributions to the world today.
  6. >*Ahem*
  7. >You feel Midnight's eyes staring at you disapprovingly as she noisily reminds you of her presence.
  8. >You look up at the ceiling before closing your eyes while your body occupies the whole couch.
  9. "No room at the inn."
  10. >"I'll make room if need be," she warns.
  11. >You point in the general direction of the chair that sits against the wall opposite your couch.
  12. "That's free, there ya go."
  13. >"Alright then."
  14. >You feel a weight suddenly manifest upon your legs, forcing you to open your eyes and gander at what is going on.
  15. >Midnight has hopped up onto the couch, sitting on top of your lower legs.
  16. >Despite her size, she's lighter than you would expect.
  17. "Get off, you fatass," you grumble despite your observations.
  18. >"I gave you a choice, and this is the fate you chose. Deal with it," she shoots back.
  19. "At least I got you back on your side of the couch," you reply.
  20. >"Yeah, I'm not moving any further up because I don't trust you with how clingy you've become."
  21. >Oh-ho-ho.
  22. "Well now, who is the one thinking about where my crotch is?" you tease.
  23. >With a deep frown, Midnight reaches over with a hoof and swats you right in the aforementioned area.
  24. >It only takes a few seconds for the agony to manifest.
  25. "Ow ow ow! You fucker!" you howl, shielding your jewels from any further attack with your hands while you sit up.
  26. >Midnight stands to at least allow you to do that, sitting down in the now empty void left by you.
  27. >"As I said, you had a choice," she haughtily repeats. "What are we doing for food tonight?"
  28. "You're really going to ask me about dinner after doing that?!"
  29. >She merely shrugs, indifferent to your pain.
  30. >"I suppose I'll just eat something raw or have some jerky if you're going to continue to be a little girl. That was self-inflicted, as far as I'm concerned."
  31. >Man, she's cold.
  32. >Relatively speaking.
  33. >In reality, Midnight has been receptive to discussion lately.
  34. >Discussions about her feelings, her anxieties, and concerns.
  35. >It has been a daily routine for you to inquire about such things because you know it's the only way to spur such conversations with her.
  36. >But it's a step in the right direction.
  37. >Fortunately, she's been quite relaxed once the whole thing with Teddy blew over.
  38. >Of course, in her mind, you're being clingy.
  39. >If only she knew how you really felt...
  40. >Now is not the time for that.
  41. >The pain eventually subsides and you swing your legs and feet over onto the floor rather than the couch.
  42. >That's all it takes for Midnight to jump over to the middle cushion, right beside you.
  43. "So who's being clingy again?" you ask, gesturing to her movements only seconds ago.
  44. >"I'm sorry, do you want more pain?"
  45. "No."
  46. >"Then shut up."
  47. "Man, you're really abusive."
  48. >"Aw, who are you gonna tell?" she sarcastically pouts.
  49. "I'll call the cops," you threaten, reaching for your phone in your pocket.
  50. >"Call the cops, I don't give a fuck," she quickly replies with a smirk.
  51. >You do end up pulling your phone out, but it's merely to toss it on the coffee table in front of you.
  52. "Well, jokes aside - what do you want for food?" you ask.
  53. >Again, you get a shrug.
  54. >"I dunno. I thought maybe you had something in mind," she says calmly.
  55. "Not really. I'd honestly rather not even fuck with cooking after today's struggles. Probably mess something else up," you say with a half chuckle.
  56. >"You know me. I'll just pull something out of the fridge or have some jerky like I already mentioned."
  57. >She really has become somewhat addicted to beef jerky since the one time you brought it home for yourself.
  58. >Midnight evidently thought it was for her - and the first time you went to get a snack, it was gone.
  59. >She ate the whole damn bag in one sitting.
  60. >Admittedly, you were a little miffed about that.
  61. >But it at least gave you an idea for something else to buy for food.
  62. >Even though she has no qualms about eating raw meat, you still don't like the idea.
  63. >Midnight does it anyway, of course.
  64. "Well... did you maybe want to try going out somewhere to get something to eat?" you suggest.
  65. >Even though she manages to keep a straight face, you notice Midnight tensing up at the suggestion.
  66. >After a week of having the necklace with the secret chip in it, she has still been hesitant to venture out.
  67. >You've only mentioned it a couple of times, though.
  68. >"Like what?" she cautiously inquires.
  69. "Could just do fast food - burgers or something like that," you reply. "I know you still have some reservations about going out and about, but that shouldn't be too bad staying in the truck, right?"
  70. >"Maybe," she says, her voice betraying the insincerity of the agreement.
  71. "Middie, are you ever going to feel comfortable with the idea of going out in public? I'm not trying to be mean, but I feel like, at some point, I'm going to have to twist your arm on this."
  72. >"First off, I don't have arms," she replies.
  73. "It's a saying. Stop trying to change the subject."
  74. >Midnight huffs, frustrated that you didn't take the obvious bait.
  75. >"I... don't feel like it's a necessary risk, Anon," she admits. "What if it doesn't work? What if someone like Teddy recognizes me for the freak that I am - except they aren't so sympathetic?"
  76. "You aren't a freak, stop saying that," you scold her.
  77. > It's a term she uses toward herself from time to time, especially when she's feeling insecure.
  78. >You absolutely despise hearing it.
  79. >"Fine. We'll use your word - 'unique,'" she replies with an attitude and accompanying loathful face.
  80. >You merely stare at her, unimpressed.
  81. >"Can we get past that hangup?"
  82. "I'm going to be a dickhead about it until you stop using that toward yourself, so that's entirely up to you," you remind her. "But aside from that - look, there's a lot of what-ifs in the world. At some point, if you worry too much about what could happen, you miss out on things. I'm not saying you have no reason to feel some sort of concern because it's better to be cautious than carefree. But I really think it would be good for you to venture out, even if it was still inside a vehicle."
  83. >"And you're going to keep nagging me about it until I agree, aren't you?"
  84. >You merely nod your head, causing Midnight to sigh.
  85. >"Fine."
  86. >You mentally fist pump at the small victory, while calmly getting back up off of the couch.
  87. >You hear Midnight fall in line behind you as you fetch your keys off of the counter while turning to make sure Midnight still has her pendant on.
  88. >You rarely see her without it, but better safe than sorry.
  89. >"You gonna gawk at me, or are we going?" she barks.
  90. "Both, maybe?" you joke.
  91. >Midnight isn't too thrilled with that response, but you know it's more due to the circumstances she faces now.
  92. >After all - this will basically be the first time she's seen the outside world.
  93. >The gravity of that only hits you now as you track out of your living quarters and down the steps.
  94. >Obviously she's seen some people being out in the junkyard - but it's never been very busy.
  95. >Nothing like even the small town nearby.
  96. >At least it's just that - a small, rather quiet town.
  97. >Anything else might be a sensory overload for her.
  98. >Midnight opens the gate while you get in the Trailduster and crank it up, driving through while she holds the path open for you.
  99. >You park it while Midnight closes up again and eventually climbs into the passenger seat.
  100. "Seat belt," you say teasingly, motioning to the apparatus on the roof pillar.
  101. >"I will smack the fuck out of you if you seriously make me sit in an awkward way to fit that damn thing," she snarls.
  102. >Rather harshly.
  103. "Take a deep breath, Midnight," you quietly instruct her.
  104. >She makes a face at your efforts of guidance, but nonetheless follows your advice.
  105. "Good. Thank you," you say, trying to encourage her.
  106. >"Will you just go already?" she spouts.
  107. >Like a bandaid, you're just going to have to bear it and rip this off.
  108. >Following her orders, you set off down the road.
  109. >The tires quickly make their presence known with the hum against the pavement.
  110. >"What is that noise?" Midnight asks, confused.
  111. "Tires are more for offroad than pavement, so the tread makes that noise. Nothing to worry about."
  112. >"You ever consider getting another vehicle then? You know, so you don't have to drive this thing on the road?"
  113. "Not really. I got used to it, and as you're aware, I've not had the funds to really feel comfortable with buying a second car."
  114. >It does feel a bit better on the road with the new shocks and springs, though.
  115. >The roads aren't particularly smooth around here, so it would sometimes feel like you were riding a trampoline at fifty miles per hour.
  116. >As you make your way toward town, you pass a few oncoming cars with their headlights on, making you realize the days are beginning to grow shorter.
  117. >You've grown accustomed to the heat, but this summer has been pretty brutal - you look forward to the temperatures that fall and winter will bring.
  118. >Fortunately, you won't have to deal with the white bullshit they call 'snow.'
  119. >You flick on your headlights before bringing attention to your passenger's movements.
  120. > It's something you've noticed out of the corner of your vision.
  121. >Every time oncoming traffic gets close, she hunches down noticeably in her seat.
  122. >This really isn't going to be fun for her.
  123. >You sort of feel bad now.
  124. >But, she will never get comfortable unless she's exposed to this sort of thing.
  125. "Have you been able to make out the faces of any drivers or passengers in the cars we've passed?" you ask after the third occasion.
  126. >"...No?" Midnight replies, confused as to the correct answer for such an odd question.
  127. "I assure you neither can they. You can relax, Middie."
  128. >"You've really taken to that name, haven't you?" she muses.
  129. "You don't really seem to be bothered by it anymore," you reply.
  130. >"There are worse names you could use - I'll pick my battles here," she reasons. "I still don't know why you like it."
  131. >You can't help but grin a little bit before you answer.
  132. "Because it sounds cute."
  133. > Midnight's face scrunches up in disapproval and disgust as you glace over.
  134. >"I'm not cute," she argues.
  135. >You cock your head and only grin wider.
  136. "You're so damn cute when you're grumpy."
  137. >"Eyes on the road, please," she huffs, turning away.
  138. >At the very least, that's two cars she hasn't noticed go by.
  139.  
  140.  
  141.  
  142.  
  143.  
  144. "I know for a fact that their brisket is good when they have it. That's only a special once in a while."
  145. >"What's brisket?"
  146. "...you know what, I don't really know. But it's meat, and it's good."
  147. >It had only been about a ten-minute drive into town, and you had quickly settled on an old-style drive-in fast food joint that you only occasionally had eaten at before.
  148. >They weren't exactly as fast as a modern fast food restaurant, and they were more expensive - but the atmosphere and the quality made it worthwhile.
  149. >Midnight isn't one to dress up her food in regards to toppings, so the barbeque they had to offer was going to be right up her alley.
  150. >Your choices were more open - but now that you mentioned the brisket...
  151. >Midnight watches as a waitress streaks by on a pair of roller skates.
  152. >"Is this a normal occurrence?" she asks, raising a brow at the scene.
  153. "No. I think it kinda was at one time, but this is sort of a retro joint. They bring the food out to you, and those roller skates make service a bit quicker, I guess."
  154. >"Have you ever seen one wipe out?"
  155. >You cock your head at the question.
  156. "Boy, you have some evil thoughts," you comment.
  157. >Midnight retains her deadpan stare that's focused squarely upon you at this point.
  158. >"Yet you're trying not to smile. So who's really in the wrong here?" Midnight retorts.
  159. "I would never laugh at such a sight," you say, pretending to be aghast.
  160. >"Uh-huh. So I take it that's a lie, because you have seen it, and you did laugh."
  161. "I felt guilty about it afterward," you mumble, hanging your head.
  162. >Before Midnight can respond with another remark, the waitress that zipped by just moments ago appears at your window.
  163. >"Hiya, how are you doing tonight?" she greets you, apparently oblivious to your passenger.
  164. "I think we're doing pretty good," you reply with a smile.
  165. >The blonde glances over and spies Midnight.
  166. >"Aww, it's one of those pony bots!" she gushes with enthusiasm. "She looks so cute."
  167. >"I'm not cute," Midnight mutters through gritted teeth.
  168. "Don't mind her, she's a little sensitive about that sort of thing," you say as the girl's smile fades just a bit.
  169. >"Sorry about that," she says to Midnight. "What can I get for you tonight?"
  170. >You glance back over to Midnight.
  171. >"What?"
  172. "You know what you want?"
  173. >"I think so," she replies, somewhat hesitant.
  174. >Better go first.
  175. "Gimme the brisket sandwich," you say, turning your focus back to the blonde as she pulls out a pen and pad of paper.
  176. >"Just the sandwich, or the basket?" she asks. "We have fries, onion rings-"
  177. "Hell yeah, onion rings. And whatever cola you got."
  178. >"Cool, got it," she says, finishing her scribbles before her eyes dart to your passenger. "We have a fresh salad, it's really good - carrots, tomatoes, cheese-"
  179. >"Ew. No," Midnight interrupts, wrinkling her nose in disgust. "I'll take the sandwich he's getting."
  180. >The waitress looks taken aback by the idea, glancing back over to you for confirmation.
  181. >"The... brisket sandwich?" she finally sputters.
  182. "You sure you don't want the whole meal, Midnight?" you ask, turning to her.
  183. >You can practically feel the poor girl's mind on the verge of exploding as she tries to make sense of this whole situation.
  184. >"I don't really feel all that hungry - and if I get thirsty, I'll just have some of your dri."
  185. "Ahahaha, no. I'm not playing that game," you interrupt her, turning to the waitress. "She's gonna have the basket with fries and a drink."
  186. >"I didn't say that, asshole," Midnight remarks. "What if I find out I don't even like fries?"
  187. "Don't worry, I'll eat em then. Maybe I'll even let you have some of my brisket to even out. Fair?"
  188. >"Alright. But why don't I just get two sandwiches then?"
  189. "Because I want fries and onion rings."
  190. >Midnight narrows her eyes at you, her brow creasing in disapproval.
  191. >"Pig."
  192. "Pony."
  193. >"...that's not even an insult," she says, briefly dumbstruck by the comment.
  194. "I thought we were just naming off animals now."
  195. >"Just - fine," Midnight finally relents. "I'll take fries and... what else do you have to drink?"
  196. >"We have lemonade if you don't want soda. Or iced tea, sweet tea - we do have water, but it would still be the same price as any other drink."
  197. >"That's fine, he's the one paying, anyways," giving you a smarmy grin.
  198. >The waitress hurriedly scrawls it all down.
  199. >"Alright, I'll get this in and it should be out to ya shortly," she quickly announces, before shooting off toward the main building at an even quicker pace.
  200. "Wow, you really got her all confused."
  201. >"I can't believe they let you out in public."
  202. >Midnight's brooding voice causes you to turn back to her, flashing an innocent smile.
  203. "No one can stop me is the problem."
  204. >"Do you think she will actually come back with our orders?"
  205. >Just from the way she says that and the look on her face, Midnight is genuine with that question.
  206. "I'm sure she's seen things more dysfunctional than that whole menagerie," you reassure her. "Plus, look on the bright side - she thought you were a bot."
  207. >"I don't think she paid very much attention," she remarks, sounding just a touch unhappy with the observation.
  208. >You shrug, uncertain what Midnight wants or even expects from others.
  209. "Does it matter? You want to blend in, right?"
  210. >"Well yeah, obviously."
  211. "So why does it bother you she didn't pay much attention?"
  212. >"I don't know!" Midnight snaps, frustrated by your questions.
  213. >Or perhaps her own mixed emotions.
  214. >It doesn't make much sense to you, that is certain.
  215. "You do realize I'm not trying to get under your skin with these questions, right?"
  216. >Midnight just stares at you.
  217. "I'm legitimately just talking about the last thirty seconds or so, not while the waitress was here," you make sure to clarify.
  218. >"I know. I still find it hard to believe you pulled that bullshit."
  219. "Do you at least see my point how wanting attention while trying to avoid much attention conflict with each other?"
  220. >She nods reluctantly instead of offering any sort of verbal response.
  221. >With things settled down, you scan the rest of the drive-in patrons.
  222. >There's only two other cars, both parked some ways away, neither of which you recognize.
  223. >To be fair, it is a weeknight - but you would still have expected there to be more people here.
  224. >It's not even eight o'clock yet.
  225. >Whatever - it's everyone else's loss.
  226. >"How much longer do you think you will keep the junkyard open to self-service?"
  227. >Your focus returns to your friend in the passenger seat.
  228. "Sort of depends on how things look in terms of money. That and we really ought to advertise or mention to the public ahead of time that we will be going behind closed doors at a certain time. I know I wouldn't be happy to show up somewhere and abruptly find out they don't do walk-ins."
  229. >"Fair point - but what exactly are you looking for in terms of money? Any set goal?"
  230. "Profit for once, maybe?" you suggest.
  231. >Again, Midnight only stares at you dumbfounded.
  232. >"When was the last time you bothered to check your computer in terms of revenue?"
  233. "I... got into the habit of avoiding it, to be frank."
  234. >Midnight can only put a hoof to her head in response to that confession.
  235. "At least I didn't lie about it."
  236. >"Yes - but if you had bothered to look, you would see we have already begun making a profit for this month - early last week."
  237. "Are you screwing with me right now?" you cautiously ask.
  238. >"I assure you I am not."
  239. >Holy shit.
  240. >There is still just over a week left to go in this month, and you're already up for the month.
  241. >What is this sorcery?!
  242. >You can't contain yourself even if you wanted to, as you grin madly at the wonderful news.
  243. >Even Midnight can't help but smile.
  244. >But the poor, poor mare...
  245. >You end up leaning over and wrapping your arms around her, hugging her tight.
  246. >"Ow, what the hell are you doing, dummy?!" she squawks.
  247. "Thank you, holy shit, this is amazing! Why didn't you tell me before?!" you exclaim.
  248. >Despite the outburst, Midnight has not really put forth an effort to get away from you.
  249. >"I didn't think you were that ignorant, why are you doing this?"
  250. "Just shut up and deal with it," you say, now curious as to how far you can push your luck.
  251. >Apparently farther than you expected, as you feel one of Midnight's wings brush past you.
  252. >"Hurry the hell up, people are probably staring at us," she mumbles uncomfortably after a few seconds.
  253. "Alright, alright."
  254. >You finally sit back upright while Midnight inspects her fanned-out wing.
  255. "Everything okay?" you ask, feeling a bit concerned at the unexpected sight.
  256. >"You are very weird, I want you to know that," she mutters.
  257. "I was asking about your wing."
  258. >Midnight finally looks up at you, though does not seem overly concerned.
  259. >"It's a matter of getting used to the sensation of these, I guess," she replies. "I've had them for quite a while now, but I haven't ever really used them to... feel."
  260. "You mean hug?"
  261. >"That's your word, not mine," she sharply responds, averting her eyes.
  262. >Riiight.
  263. "Anyway - that's absolutely awesome we're already ahead."
  264. >"That is something we can both agree on, Anon."
  265. >The waitress from earlier skates by with a pair of drinks in a holder.
  266. >"Here's these for right now, food will be out shortly - gonna come out to sixteen-fifty tonight."
  267. "Alrighty," you say, setting down the drinks she handed to you and fetching your wallet.
  268. >A handoff of a twenty-dollar bill, and the gal zips off once again.
  269. "See? All is good, we didn't traumatize her," you say jokingly, pulling out the cup holders and setting each beverage down inside before inserting the straws.
  270. >Midnight inspects at the cup nearest to her seat.
  271. >More specifically, the straw that sticks out of it.
  272. >Must be she's never seen nor used a straw before.
  273. >Rather than make it awkward for her, you pretend to not notice, grabbing your own drink and demonstrating how it works - albeit in a somewhat exaggerated fashion.
  274. >"I'm not surprised you want to show off how good you are at sucking things," Midnight abruptly ribs you.
  275. "Did you want me to laugh at you for not knowing what a straw is?" you quickly reply.
  276. >"I don't recall ever saying that..."
  277. >She puts a hoof to her chin, as if trying to reminisce about such an event.
  278. >After holding that pose for a moment, she finally shrugs as a long piece of metal wire she's begun to keep intertwined in her necklace chain floats through the air toward her cup.
  279. >It wraps itself around the styrofoam vessel elegantly, before the whole cup floats toward Midnight.
  280. >She takes a sip while eyeing you, unable to keep herself from giving you a mischievous grin.
  281. "I see how it is. Guess I'm eating your fries."
  282. >"No, you won't."
  283. >Once again, your waitress rolls up, this time with two open top boxes packed with food.
  284. >"Here you are, this is the one with fries," she says while handing it off to you.
  285. >Grabbing it with one hand, you use the other to take several fresh fries out and jam them in your mouth.
  286. >"You dickhead!" Midnight shouts before you set it down beside her on the armrest.
  287. >The waitress looks at you wide-eyed in surprise as she hands off the second part of the order.
  288. "Sorry about that, she's got a potty mouth," you quip. "Keep the change for your troubles."
  289. >That last bit quickly snaps the blonde from her stupor and puts a big smile on her face.
  290. >"Thanks! Enjoy your meal, you two!"
  291. >With that, she's finally released from the horror you have unleashed upon the world.
  292. >"Give me an onion ring, I want to try one," Midnight demands as you get comfortable again.
  293. "No way," you scoff.
  294. >"You just ate some of my fries!"
  295. "That I ordered for you, remember?" you say, finishing off with a shit-eating grin.
  296. >Her nostrils flare as she snorts in disapproval.
  297. >You get everything situated before grabbing an onion ring and lightly tossing it into her box.
  298. "You didn't really think I was going to be that much of a prick, did you?"
  299. >"Half the time, I don't know what to expect from you."
  300. "Someday you'll learn," you chide. "Now, let's eat."
  301.  
  302.  
  303.  
  304.  
  305.  
  306. "All things considered, was tonight as awful as you thought it would be?"
  307. >You coast to a stop and put the truck in park in its usual spot while awaiting Midnight's final verdict.
  308. >The food was top-notch, but the stress of the day had caught up with you by the time both you and her finished up.
  309. >You didn't have any other plans than food, but it still feels like a missed opportunity to show her more things.
  310. >"To be fair, I never said I thought it would be awful," Midnight clarifies.
  311. "Oh, I know, I'm just giving you shit."
  312. >"It was nice to see more of the world, nonetheless."
  313. "That's what I was hoping to hear."
  314. >Midnight exhales, looking out the windshield at the dusky skyline over the rows of cars.
  315. >"I guess I've gotten a little bit spooked since Teddy was able to pick me out so easily. It isn't that I don't want to do things, I've just - there's a lot more insecurity there."
  316. "I sort of figured that. You were all gung-ho about opening up shop yourself that day - that hasn't happened since."
  317. >"No. Funny how this was supposed to make me feel better," she replies, tapping the crescent moon charm.
  318. "You'll get there again. I just might have to help you stray from your comfort zone once in a while. Don't think I'm doing it just to be an ass."
  319. >Midnight nods, though you can tell she's still hesitant to be in full agreement to explore the world.
  320. "Shit like tonight is all I'm after, Middie," you continue in an effort to clear her reservations a bit more. "I'm not out to explore the uncharted areas of the world or sightsee - I just want us to be able to get out once in a while and try things other than my rudimentary cooking and the same bland tv shows every night."
  321. >"Your food isn't *that* bad," she scoffs.
  322. "Would you rather what I would have served up tonight, or what we ended up having?"
  323. >"That brisket was really damn good, I'll give you that," she yields. "But you also are a pain in the ass to be around."
  324. "Don't lie, it was fun," you retort.
  325. >"Maybe a little bit."
  326. >Good enough.
  327. >With that statement, Midnight opens her door and hops out, leaving you to mirror her exit on your side of the truck.
  328. >You join her side very shortly on the walk to the shop, in part thanks to Midnight taking her sweet time.
  329. >Despite that, you have enough time to note the way her violet-streaked tail swishes back and forth with every step she takes, the sauntering, saying movement drawing your eyes toward it.
  330. >You never noticed before, but Midnight actually has a pretty damn nice caboose...
  331. >And the way those markings just seem to frame it...
  332. >And there's the full complement...
  333. >...
  334. >Holy shit dude, really?
  335. >Are you really going there?
  336. >What the fuck are you doing?
  337. >You fucking degenerate.
  338. >You would blame it on the alcohol, but you haven't had any in a while.
  339. >Head out of the gutter right now, Anon.
  340. >This is a dangerous zone.
  341. >Why does Midnight do this to you?
  342. >Why now?
  343. >"Do you think we could ever go to a car show?"
  344. "Hm?"
  345. >"A car show. A gathering of older cars and stuff like that," Midnight explains. "I've seen pictures of cars mentioning being taken at a show like that online - are those still a thing?"
  346. >Thank god, something to shift your perverted mind.
  347. "Yeah, I'm sure they are," you say, somewhat surprised by the inquiry and interest. "You know those end up being pretty busy gatherings though, right?"
  348. >"It didn't look like there were tons of people in the pictures, though..." she trails off, perplexed by your answer.
  349. "You probably really weren't looking for people when it's the car you were focusing on."
  350. >"It sounds pretty stupid when you say it like that."
  351. "Not at all. I can't say I'm the most observant person. You've had to point out the dumb shit I've done in the past - and some of that was truly dumb."
  352. >"Regardless, I'm not cut out for that kind of thing, I'm pretty sure you will agree with me."
  353. "I don't see why we can't make that a goal, though. Work our way up to that point by doing little things like tonight. I know you can handle it with enough experience."
  354. >"Fair enough. I didn't realize those were really... gatherings."
  355. "Yeah, every car has an owner that either drives it or trailers it there - it's not like a museum or something like that. I'm guessing that's what you were thinking - like a permanent display?"
  356. >She nods.
  357. >Your mind flicks back to something else from tonight.
  358. "How about we set another goal tonight?"
  359. >"That being..."
  360. "No more self-deprecation. No more talk about how you're a freak."
  361. >"Why does that piss you off so much all of a sudden?"
  362. "Because what you are isn't your fault - why belittle yourself over things that were completely out of your control?"
  363. >"It isn't like that at all," she dismissively shoots back, pointing a hoof to the locked man door of the shop.
  364. >You fiddle with your keys and unlock it, opening the door for her and following behind.
  365. "Then what is it? Remember the first week or so with me - you boasted about how amazing you were. Above any other pony, smarter than me, need I go on?"
  366. >"No."
  367. "What happened to where I'm now trying to prevent you from basically insulting yourself? I don't get it, so try and help me understand."
  368. >"It was something to keep me going," she replies dryly. "I dont know... I needed to feel like I had a purpose, that I was something special. Above everyone, everything else. And then - well, that sort of just goes away when someone takes a look at you and just separates you into individual things that compose your makeup."
  369. >You can't help but feel you had a hand in that when trying to reason her mannerisms.
  370. >Meanwhile, Midnight grimaces as she finishes, clearly ashamed of her own admittance.
  371. "God damn, that whole thing with Teddy and my comments really rattled you that much?"
  372. >That came out far harsher than you meant it to be, but this explanation is beyond anything you expected.
  373. >She's tough - but...
  374. >"That makes me feel a lot better, thanks," she hisses, trotting up the steps to your living space.
  375. "Midnight, do you really hate yourself that much?"
  376. >Midnight pauses before opening the door and slipping through, allowing you to scale the stairs and join her at the landing.
  377. >Her jaw is clenched as she just stares at the door.
  378. >"I hate what I stand for, Anon. I hate what I symbolize - greed."
  379. >She stomps a hoof down.
  380. >"At the end of it all, that's the only reason why I have the sentience that I do. It's all about money, isn't it? It could have been any other pony that they decided to toy with - I just happened to be the one chosen for this marvelous experiment."
  381. "Why even focus on that, if that were the case?"
  382. >Midnight turns her head to look at you.
  383. >"I... what do you mean?"
  384. "If your origins aren't that special, why focus on them? Acknowledge where you came from, but other than that - you just need to let it go. All it's doing is dragging you down. The parts and pieces don't matter to me - you're one hundred percent genuine pony, as far as I'm concerned. If that helps, I mean."
  385. >You kneel down beside her, honing in on the wing on her left side.
  386. >"Wh-what are you doing?" she stammers, recoiling a bit.
  387. >Rather than answer her, you just inspect her joints and the transition where her wing joins her body.
  388. >There is legitimately nothing that would tell you that these limbs never belonged to her from birth.
  389. >The feathers aren't the same color as her coat, but they complement it well with the similar dark hue and fit with the lighter shade of violet in her mane.
  390. >Maybe there would be something below the fur, like scar tissue - but really, that's trivial in nature.
  391. "Middie, have you ever really looked at your wings?" you ask. "Because if you had never told me they were cybernetic add-ons, I could never tell the difference."
  392. >You can tell just from her turning away, she's embarrassed - yet she nonetheless fans her wing out.
  393. >Damn, these things are massive.
  394. >Sure, she's spread them out before in a show of defiance or intimidation, but you've never appreciated their sheer size.
  395. >To be fair, she's a big pony - she probably needs these to this scale to get her off the ground.
  396. >Just one is probably close to being as wide as she is tall - maybe closer to your height.
  397. >But it's not at full span - there's not enough space on the landing with the close proximity of the wall to your left.
  398. >It really is amazing she can control these - and the fact they are synthetic in nature.
  399. >You take a moment to feel the incredibly soft down - a sensation that makes Midnight twitch just a bit.
  400. "I stand by what I said. Only you know the true nature of these."
  401. >"And you want me to ignore that."
  402. "I want you to take pride in yourself again. You shouldn't be ashamed. Above all else, make peace with yourself and accept it."
  403. >Her wing folds away neatly once again as she circles around and faces you.
  404. "No more talk of being a freak, alright? I like you for you right now. Think of yourself as one in a million - how far you've come, what you're capable of accomplishing."
  405. >"You're just making things weird now," she says with a half-laugh, shaking her head.
  406. >But she can't hide those eyes, and they speak volumes as they shift back and forth across the floor between you two.
  407. >Midnight doesn't know what to say.
  408. >She's probably never heard anything quite like that.
  409. >But you mean it.
  410. >She really is one in a million.
  411. >You can't put your finger on it - nothing particularly specific, at least - but Midnight just draws you in on another level.
  412. >You're liable to become one of those degenerates that likes their pony a little too much.
  413. >You might be able to reconcile that judgment as premature now.
  414. >Just as you start to reach up to her cheek with your hand, she abruptly finds her footing.
  415. >"Alright, dumb-dumb, we got work tomorrow. Hopefully, it won't be as much of a clusterfuck as today was, yeah?"
  416. >With that, she turns and opens the door, walking into the kitchen and leaving you still kneeling on the landing.
  417. >Whether she had any inkling or not of what you were battling there is hard to say.
  418. >Perhaps it was fortuitous timing on her part.
  419. >Hopefully that's what it was.
  420. >Though she might have just dick-stomped you had she known.
  421. >Regardless, you need to reel yourself in again.
  422. >Tonight was a good night, and you're damn lucky to not have just spoiled it by sprinting toward the finish line.
  423. >You wish you could think of a way to test the waters, to see if there is any sort of feelings reciprocated without risking the whole jackpot.
  424. >But her mood can be so fickle, it would be hard to know what is genuine, anyway.
  425. >With a sigh, you rise back to your feet, focusing on the little victories tonight.
  426. >Hopefully, you have at least helped her begin to overcome the skittishness she's developed.
  427. >It really is hard to believe that shook her up so much.
  428. >But when you focus on your past like she has - particularly the negatives - you suppose it's only a matter of time before one starts looking for confirmation that those items are catching up with you even as you try to leave it behind.
  429. >She needs to keep stepping forward, looking forward.
  430. >With a new goal, that may help her.
  431. >It may help you focus, too.
  432.  
  433.  
  434.  
  435.  
  436.  
  437. >Saturday evening.
  438. >It means a day of freedom tomorrow.
  439. >The last day or two have been relatively smooth, which was a nice change of pace after dealing with multiple instances of the tin worm having wrought havoc on parts you needed.
  440. >Midnight has done a great job compiling an inventory of everything out in the junkyard - but it's still incomplete, and it's not foolproof.
  441. >You had to reply back to an online order and cancel it - you don't have any decklids for a first-generation Barracuda that aren't rotted out.
  442. >That was sort of embarrassing - but it happens.
  443. >At least the customer didn't seem too upset about it.
  444. >Perhaps you need to start advertising you take in or will purchase cars.
  445. >After all, it isn't like you have an unlimited supply - and you have not gotten in anything for a few weeks now.
  446. >The last one was some '80s Buick shitbox.
  447. >You can't even be bothered to remember what it was for certain, other than it not being a Regal or a Grand National.
  448. >So, in essence - yeah, shit.
  449. "Hey Midnight, whatcha doing?"
  450. >Midnight sits beside you as normal, honed in on the laptop screen in front of her.
  451. >"What does it look like I'm doing?" she replies in a dull, almost zoned-out manner.
  452. "Reading something, I would assume."
  453. >"Very astute observation, Anon!" she says in a far too peppy manner as she faces you. "My word, you have gotten so smart! Did you graduate at the top of your special-ed class?"
  454. "Man, you read about some weird shit if you know what the hell those are," you reply. "And kitty certainly has her claws at the ready tonight. Wow."
  455. >"I recall you asking me to take pride in myself again like I used to - I assumed you wanted the whole package," she replies in a calm manner, light years away from just a moment ago.
  456. "Eh, it took me by surprise more than anything," you say, dismissing any concern she might be trying to mask. "Though it hurts that you remind me I barely passed my final window-licking exam. Fortunately, I'm a top-notch crayon-eater."
  457. >You manage to get a snort of laughter from that stupid comment.
  458. >"Are you just trying to make small talk, or did you actually have something to discuss?"
  459. "I was wondering if maybe you could set up something like an advertisement or a note on the website that we buy vintage scrap. I would think it was obvious, but it can't help to try something, right?"
  460. >"I could probably do something like that, it should be relatively straightforward," she replies as her makeshift tool skitters across the laptop keyboard. "Already trying to spend what profit we have for the month this far?"
  461. "No, I'm not that cocky. You have seen the kind of crap I've bought - some of those cars from the '80s will probably never get touched. I was thinking of older cars, parts from older cars, that sort of thing."
  462. >"Are you thinking of a specific cap in terms of year that you will accept?" she questions further as the screen in front of her brings up your junkyard's webpage.
  463. >You scratch your head, trying to mull a reasonable cutoff.
  464. >There really isn't one.
  465. >To cut it off after the '70s would be ignoring the market for third-generation GM pony cars, the Camaro and Trans Am.
  466. > There are Fox-body Mustangs to consider, as well.
  467. >Sure, both have a wide range of aftermarkets - but they don't reproduce everything.
  468. >And there are a few sticklers that only want OEM parts.
  469. "No, leave it open. I'll just have to sort through anything we get, be it by phone or via email.
  470. >Midnight steals a glance at you from the corner of her eye.
  471. >"Then you're going to have to show more restraint than you have in the past, just going off of what you have described to me," she lectures you.
  472. "I know. I have enough trash out there that doesn't sell, I really don't need to add to it. Probably ought to see if I can't straight up get rid of some of it, depending on the price of steel right now."
  473. >"Hm?"
  474. >Midnight directs her full attention toward you now, intrigued by your vocalized thoughts.
  475. "Basically hand shit off to someone that actually processes and melts down steel. They'll pay me based on the market price of scrap per ton."
  476. >"And you don't do that with shit you know you'll never use... why?"
  477. "I do have to pay to have someone come out and pick the shit up. The trailer I used to have kicked the bucket, so I don't have the option of hauling it myself. Plus, that was only a car at a time."
  478. >Midnight doesn't say anything - merely bringing a hoof to her face and obscuring her eyes.
  479. >"So, in other words, another way to make money that you have been missing out on," she remarks, unenthused.
  480. "Not really. Scrap prices have been in the toilet for some time now. Almost couldn't give the shit away," you refute.
  481. >"I'll give you the benefit of the doubt," she relents, albeit with a wary tone. "That being said, I don't really feel like working on this tonight - I'm just going to make a note of it all."
  482. "That's fine, I was just suggesting it for the time being. But..."
  483. >You trail off, wanting to pique her interest again.
  484. >The sounds of keystrokes stop after a few more seconds.
  485. >"What?"
  486. "Do you want to go with me and get groceries tonight?"
  487. >"That... doesn't really sound exciting."
  488. "Well, it really isn't," you admit. "But it's something that has to be done. And maybe you will spot something that tickles your fancy as far as foodstuffs."
  489. >"Anon, I am a very dull mare when it comes to taste. You know that."
  490. "What's that? Do I hear an excuse to get out of working on your social skills?" you announce, cupping your hand behind your ear.
  491. >"Oh, what's this? Is a tremendous faggot talking to himself again?" Midnight fires back, mirroring your gesture.
  492. "You realize doing that basically acknowledged me, right?"
  493. >"I follow my own rules."
  494. "Anyway, I'm either doing it tonight or tomorrow, and I'm dragging you along with me. It's your choice."
  495. >She makes a face of disgust, not unlike a rebellious teenager reacting to a parent's orders.
  496. >"Fine. Let's get it done now," she grumbles.
  497. "You act like I'm pulling your teeth, Middie. Remember that *you* are the one that suggested visiting a car show at some point, and you do need to get out more before we can do that."
  498. >"I know that, but - grocery shopping? Really?"
  499. "I wasn't aware you had experience with this before," you taunt her.
  500. >"I don't. It sounds incredibly dull. Go in, pick out shit, and pay. Wow-wee."
  501. "You know I can make anything interesting."
  502. >"You mean you can act like a retard in public," she replies, giving you a knowing glance.
  503. "Tomato, tomahto," you reply with an innocent smile and a shrug of the shoulders.
  504. >She just slowly shakes her head at that.
  505. "On the plus side, it takes the heat off of you, right?"
  506. >"I'm not going to condone anything that you do, Anon," she says.
  507. "That just makes me want to have even more fun."
  508. >"Ugh."
  509. >It doesn't take too long to go through the rituals of heading downstairs, getting the truck, and the opening and closing procedures of the gate out front.
  510. >You're quickly off on the open road again.
  511. >And once again, the headlights are on this late evening.
  512. >You two already had dinner, so it is purely a stop and shop trip.
  513. "Is there anything at all you've been hankering for?" you ask, trying to spur some conversation.
  514. >"I don't have a lot of experience in regards to food. You know that, right?" she questions back, glancing at you briefly before her eyes return to the windscreen.
  515. >...that makes sense.
  516. >As an experiment, she probably didn't get anything special in regards to food at the facility she came from.
  517. "What did you eat before that gamey shit out back?"
  518. >She shrugs.
  519. >"Some tasteless gruel. Certainly wasn't anything to reminisce about," she muses. "It kept me alive, and I suppose it might have been a step better than some of those junkyard rats. But that isn't saying much."
  520. "It does mean you have all of Flavortown to visit and explore," you joke.
  521. >You get a deadpan stare, Midnight's eyes faintly glowing in the dim cab.
  522. >"What the fuck does that even mean?"
  523. "Don't worry about it."
  524. >"Aaanyway - it was just mush, probably some meat byproduct or something. The only time it really had a taste was after waking up with something new."
  525. "What do you mean?"
  526. >Midnight ruffles her wings a bit, at the same time her eyes glow just a bit brighter.
  527. >Oh.
  528. "Basically some sort of medicine or some shit added."
  529. >"Yep."
  530. "Did they at least fucking tell you what they were doing beforehand?" you ask, your voice rising in time with the bile in your throat.
  531. >"'Something new'."
  532. "I'm sorry to hear that," is all you can muster, not letting your mind conjure up that scene.
  533. >"I know you are. But we're taking steps forward now, not backward, right?"
  534. >Atta girl.
  535. >You can tell she was serious when she said that.
  536. >And she didn't seem too upset discussing that short tidbit, either.
  537. >Hopefully she continues moving forward like this.
  538. "Absolutely. Maybe that term will find a more positive use this evening while we go shopping. Find something new to munch on."
  539. >"You're starting to get tired of burgers almost every night aren't you?" she proposes. "I tell you time and time again that it's not an issue for me to just eat it cold, but you won't listen to me."
  540. "I'm sorry, did you say something?"
  541. >"And you wonder why 'kitty has claws,' as you say."
  542. "And I wouldn't change a thing. Don't ever get them clipped."
  543.  
  544.  
  545.  
  546.  
  547.  
  548. >Another trek out of your comfort zone.
  549. >How exciting.
  550. >Anon pulls into the parking lot of a big box store in town, which gets your nerves going again.
  551. > It's frustrating.
  552. >You never really felt like this before.
  553. >Then again, you did not have anything to lose until fairly recently.
  554. >You didn't believe anyone could pick you out from a glance.
  555. >Both of those recent developments have admittedly fucked with your mind and your confidence.
  556. >And then there's Anon...
  557. >Where to even start?
  558. >He's... different.
  559. >Not necessarily in a bad way - he is surprisingly alright.
  560. >You don't detest him like you did that first week.
  561. >...you don't know if you really ever hated him, though.
  562. >You just didn't know whether you could trust him.
  563. >And you didn't want to seem like you were asking for his help.
  564. >Because you weren't.
  565. >Not technically.
  566. >He wasn't thrilled with the prospect either.
  567. >Now - well, things have turned a complete one-eighty, haven't they?
  568. >He's more mellow, open, and in general a positive person.
  569. >And he helps you out any way he can.
  570. >Even when you were treating him like shit.
  571. >...that's bothered you.
  572. >He didn't really deserve that.
  573. >Anon has thick skin though, and to some degree, enjoys the sarcasm and the shots directed toward him.
  574. >'All in good fun,' as he says.
  575. >Still, with as much as he's aided you with your issues, and gone out of his way to protect you no despite your ill-tempered demeanor, he has proven to be a genuine friend.
  576. >Friend.
  577. >That's a word you never expected to use.
  578. >Nonetheless, you've cut back on your jabs, because you don't feel that same need for distance from everyone.
  579. >Not him, at least.
  580. >You trust him.
  581. >But he does like making an ass of himself.
  582. >What kind of shenanigans will he demonstrate tonight?
  583. >You wait for him to hop out of the truck before following his lead.
  584. >As much as you hate it, this world's focus is on ponies being subservient to humans.
  585. >Best to play the part, considering this is the most populated place you've ever experienced.
  586. >...you aren't nervous.
  587. >You're just acutely aware of the inherent dangers being out and about possesses.
  588. >Even with this chip around your neck.
  589. >Which you aren't even one hundred percent sure will work.
  590. >It looks fantastic, though.
  591. >You feel almost naked taking it off to shower or when delving deep into a particularly grimy project.
  592. >Now is the moment of truth, though.
  593. >This store is bound to have passive scanners that detect the presence of a chip.
  594. >But you don't know what to expect.
  595. >Will there be some sort of audible or visual confirmation?
  596. >Is it all just left up to "surprise, you're caught!" sort of thing?
  597. >Why you never bothered to find some information about such scenarios is beyond you.
  598. >But you regret it now as the sliding doors automatically open upon approach.
  599. >"Hey, you okay?"
  600. >You look over to see Anon staring at you.
  601. >He isn't bothering to hide his concern
  602. >You must have given off some sort of indicator that this is uncomfortable.
  603. "Fucking peachy," you instinctively snap back.
  604. >"It will work, just relax," he says, patting you on the side.
  605. >...when did you start letting him do that?
  606. >Or touching you in general?
  607. >You don't really get why he's suddenly like that.
  608. >It isn't bad.
  609. > It's just...
  610. >Different.
  611. >He wanders over to the left to fetch a cart once inside, hesitating for a moment as he glances between two different types.
  612. >One is a standard, run-of-the-mill ordinary shopping cart.
  613. >...the other is a cartoonish automobile-shaped contraption with the basket and push handle set behind a front end complete with seat and steering wheel.
  614. >"I don't think you will fit in that one, sorry," he says, pointing at the child cart and turning back to you with a somber face.
  615. >And so it begins.
  616. "Grab a cart, stupid. I don't want to be here all night."
  617. >He follows your instructions and grabs a normal one, rejoining your side as both of you head through the scanners.
  618. >Moment of truth...
  619. >You both pass beyond them without a sound.
  620. >Absolutely no indications whatsoever whether they even work.
  621. >At some point, you've stopped dead in your tracks.
  622. >Anon has, too.
  623. >"It's not supposed to do anything. I looked it up," he leans over and whispers. "We're good."
  624. >You exhale, a sense of relief washing over you.
  625. >So this pendant is genuine.
  626. >That's a major load off of your mind.
  627. >At least Anon had the sense to check that.
  628. >Now, you follow his lead as he heads toward the back of the store.
  629. >It is relatively quiet in here despite the number of people.
  630. >To be fair, the parking lot did not even look half full of cars - but this is more people than you've ever seen at once.
  631. >You pass four or five shoppers, who don't seem to pay you any mind.
  632. >Surprsing, considering you think you cut a striking figure.
  633. >Which isn't ideal, obviously.
  634. >Most people look like they're focused on their objective and their shopping list, rather than their surroundings.
  635. >"Mommy, look at the pony!" you hear a high-pitched voice shriek from your right side.
  636. >You turn your head to see a little girl in a shopping cart down an aisle way, the aforementioned mother browsing a shelf of canned goods.
  637. >"Indoor voice, please," she casually instructs her child, not bothering to look at you.
  638. >The child is certainly excited, staring at you wide-eyed with a big, vapid smile.
  639. >You press onward, head pointed forward once again.
  640. >Anon doesn't comment at all, which surprises you.
  641. >You expected something about being cute or some shit.
  642. "So what exactly are we looking for? You seem like you're on a mission."
  643. >"I always start at the back and work my way forward, since that's where the checkout registers are," he explains, just as he turns down the last aisle, amidst coolers lined with frozen product.
  644. >"Just have a gander as we wander around, and if you see something you like, point it out to me."
  645. >Of course, the first thing you see at the start of this area is nothing of interest to your stomach.
  646. >Vegetables and greens.
  647. >Not bad when combined with stuff more to your palate, but alone?
  648. >No way.
  649. >Anon walks along at a leisurely pace, he himself also perusing the glass doors.
  650. >"I know you hated that chicken bacon ranch kind, which I swore I would never get again but did you like regular pizza?" he asks, pointing to the next section.
  651. "It was alright, I didn't mind it," you say. "Triple meat and I'm good with it."
  652. >"How about stuffed crust?"
  653. >He looks hopeful with that question.
  654. "Stuffed with what?"
  655. >"Cheese."
  656. "...sure."
  657. >He stops and opens up the door right in front of you.
  658. >You get hit with a frigid blast of air as he grabs the item, making you recoil a bit.
  659. "Dammit, you could have warned me."
  660. >"Freezer section is cold, by the way."
  661. >The inane comment makes you stare at him, being greeted by a smarmy grin.
  662. "Fuck you."
  663. >"Language, please. There are children present."
  664. "No shit. I'm staring at one right now."
  665. >"Oh, come on."
  666. >You continue to stick by his side through the frozen food aisle, not finding much of interest.
  667. >Anon points out some things, like lasagna or some sort of frozen bagged shit he can throw in a skillet and you merely accept the idea and move on.
  668. >He really doesn't get it - you don't need fancy shit, and if he does, you could not care less if what you have is raw or cooked.
  669. >But he wants to be a pain in the ass, so let it be for now.
  670. >Every once in a while, you get someone that does a double-take upon spotting you.
  671. >About the time you stare back, they pretend not to notice.
  672. > It's a little unsettling.
  673. >As if they're spying on you or something.
  674. >But as you start to go through the refrigerated items...
  675. >Holy shit, that's a lot of different cuts of meat.
  676. >And types of meat.
  677. >Now this is more like it!
  678. >"We are not getting one of everything, Middie," Anon says.
  679. "Fine. One of half of everything."
  680. >"How about a few different things, as we still got some shit at home in terms of raw meat."
  681. >You glance through the red meat, not really spotting anything that sticks out.
  682. >After all, a lot of it is ground beef or chuck with varying amounts of fat or different cuts of steak.
  683. >You would like to try some different cuts, but you don't have an idea of what is considered "desirable."
  684. >Pork sounds pretty good though...
  685. >You haven't had much of that aside from bacon or sausage links.
  686. "Are pork chops any good?"
  687. >"Hell yeah they are."
  688. "Then I'll try those. What about ribs? Those sound good."
  689. >"Never cooked em, but there's a first time for everything."
  690. >Anon grabs both items and chucks them into the cart.
  691. >"See, I told you there would be something to tickle your fancy."
  692. "If you had told me such a shopping aisle existed, I would have been in full agreement," you chide.
  693. >"True. I'll give you that one."
  694. >You and Anon start to wander through the dry goods, leaving you to feel somewhat bored.
  695. >Again, there isn't much that whets your appetite.
  696. >You have already had dinner tonight, so that could be a factor, as well.
  697. >"Hi there!"
  698. >A feminine voice from behind abruptly makes itself known.
  699. >You spin around, surprised and a little irritated with the sudden interruption.
  700. >Another pony stands to greet you as you look down.
  701. >Well, a pony bot - a Twilight Sparkle model, to be exact.
  702. >The top of her head comes up to your chin, if that.
  703. >You already don't want to be here.
  704. >There's just something distinctly synthetic about their personalities.
  705. >The fact this Twilight Sparkle model just stares and smiles warmly at you despite your own reserved and muted expression lends credence to that.
  706. "Hi," is all you manage to cough up toward it.
  707. >"It's so nice to see another pony!" she gushes excitedly. "I don't think I've ever seen one quite like you before. You're almost as tall as my human's mom!"
  708. >Ugh.
  709. >Why in the fuck are these things so chipper?
  710. >It makes you nauseous.
  711. >Of course, the kids probably love it.
  712. "Yeah... I'm a new model. Be a while before you see more of my kind," you say, turning to rejoin Anonymous, who is a few feet away.
  713. >Hes not looking at you, but he's grinning madly.
  714. >That asshole is enjoying this and probably spotted the bot before she even noticed you
  715. >His eyes dance your way, and he just smiles a little bit wider as you scowl.
  716. 'I fucking hate you,' you mouth to him.
  717. >He only puts his hand up to his mouth, pretending to giggle.
  718. >Faggot.
  719. >"What's your name? My name is Twilight Sparkle."
  720. "Midnight. It's a pleasure," you drone, unable or uncaring enough to let a little sarcasm slip out as you feign interest in a box of oatmeal.
  721. >"How long have you been around? As I said, I've never seen you before. Have you ever visited the park? I go there a lot with my human and her mom."
  722. "I don't get out often."
  723. >"Well that's okay!" Twilight giggles. "To be honest, I'm perfectly happy at home curled up with a good book. But it is nice to get outdoors and meet others like us, too."
  724. >Holy shit, take a hint.
  725. >It isn't even that she's a bot that you find so obnoxious, it's the fact that she is just so goddamn upbeat.
  726. >Completely ignorant of anything negative in the world.
  727. >Ignorant of hardship.
  728. >These bots basically have it made from the time they have it activated.
  729. >...no, that isn't true.
  730. >You've seen enough to know that isn't true.
  731. >They don't all have an easy life.
  732. >But it is rather grating to hear the vapid bubbliness this one spouts.
  733. >Is this how you're supposed to act with the personality chip that she sports?
  734. >You're glad you don't.
  735. >The smarts are pretty nice, though.
  736. >"Twilight, who are you talking to?"
  737. >Another female voice, this one certainly that of a child, joins the fray.
  738. >You begrudgingly glance over to see said child wandering over to her pony friend, only marginally taller than the pony.
  739. >"Hi Carly!" Twilight cheers, quickly trotting the few steps to be with her human. "I was just talking to my new friend. She's another pony like me!"
  740. >She directs the little girl's attention with her hoof toward you.
  741. >The girl takes a glance at you.
  742. >Any joy she had before quickly disappears.
  743. >"That's Nightmare Moon!" she shouts with fear as she takes a few steps back. "She's mean, Twilight! Stay away from her!"
  744. >Twilight looks at her, perplexed by the outburst, before turning back to you.
  745. >"No, her name is Midnight, and she's been really nice to me. Right?"
  746. >This is just wonderful.
  747. "I look like Nightmare Moon, I guess," you admit, frustrated by the sudden shift in the atmosphere. "Just - tell her to chill the fuck out, will you? I'm not doing anything other than shopping."
  748. >Twilight gasps.
  749. >"That's a naughty word! You shouldn't say that!"
  750. "Holy s- look, I'm sorry, alright? I'm leaving," you say, quickly retreating from this interaction.
  751. >"Mooom!" you hear the girl call out, along with the patter of footsteps retreating in the opposite direction.
  752. >Anon is already starting to walk toward you as you turn and meet up with him.
  753. >"What the hell happened?"
  754. "I'm a scary monster that has a potty mouth, I guess."
  755. >"No shit, but what happened?"
  756. "Stop fucking around and move it," you growl, giving him a hip check.
  757. >"Bye, Midnight," you hear Twilight call out from behind.
  758. >You don't bother looking back or acknowledge her in any way.
  759. >You're just...
  760. >This sucks.
  761. >You're aware that you were basically modified into something closely mirroring a show villain, but why should that have any effect on how people perceive you?
  762. >"We'll skip the next aisle and quickly get through the rest of this," Anon says, interrupting your thoughts. "The last thing I want to deal with is a fucking Karen. They don't normally come out here in the sticks, but I'm not in the mood to take chances.
  763. >A... Karen?
  764. >The fuck?
  765. "Are you making shit up to confuse me?"
  766. >"I'll explain later. Let's just get shopping done."
  767. "Alright. I honestly didn't do anything though..." you say, feeling conflicted and confused over how sour that went in such a short amount of time.
  768. >You feel Anon's reassuring touch again as he pats your side.
  769. >At least someone understands you.
  770.  
  771.  
  772.  
  773.  
  774.  
  775. >The rest of the shopping experience ended up relatively uneventful.
  776. >You and Anon didn't dawdle by any means, but there were no interruptions or comments from other shoppers aside from a glance or two that lasted longer than you felt necessary.
  777. >Anon sold you on some sort of boxed good called "Hamburger Helper."
  778. >Half meat, half noodles of some sort along with seasonings.
  779. >A fair compromise for both of you.
  780. >He ended up getting one of each kind.
  781. >Now, both of you stroll out into the night air, which has dropped in temp with the absence of the sun as well as cloud cover.
  782. >"Man, you are an expensive date."
  783. "Excuse me?"
  784. >The hell is that supposed to mean?
  785. >"I'm joking, chill out," he replies defensively, taken aback by the harsh tone of your voice.
  786. >It really wasn't that funny of a joke.
  787. >And you don't like the connotations that would bring if anyone heard him.
  788. >That would be embarrassing.
  789. >You're aware that there are people who have a romantic investment in ponies.
  790. >Is that even legal?
  791. >...you don't know why that was the first thing that popped into your head, but regardless, those kinds of people are fucked up.
  792. "Sorry, I just think that was a really retarded joke - I'd rather someone not overhear you and actually believe that."
  793. >"Alright, my bad."
  794. >His apology sounds... off.
  795. >A bit disappointed.
  796. >Maybe he had been working on that lame comment for a while.
  797. >Whatever, that's on him.
  798. >"I'm sorry I sort of left you to that Twilight bot. I would never have done that had I thought it would go south like that," he adds.
  799. "You seemed to be enjoying it," you jab.
  800. >"To be fair, it was one of those things where you had to see your own face."
  801. "I suppose she wasn't really *that* bad," you begrudgingly admit. "But I detest how utterly... oblivious they are. Maybe that was an older one, I don't know."
  802. >"You mean like how she couldn't tell you weren't interested in conversation?"
  803. "Exactly. But I haven't really ever had a long conversation with a bot, so again - maybe they're all like that."
  804. >"You've interacted with em before?"
  805. >Anon stops the cart before reaching the rear bumper of the Trailduster, circling around and opening up the glass hatch above the tailgate.
  806. "Yeah. That was about the only interactions I had when I was in the facility. They had helper bots - sometimes full units, others stripped to bare bones. Sort of depended on why they were there, I guess."
  807. >"Oof. So you weren't the only experiment, by the sounds of it," he says quietly, glancing around the parking lot.
  808. >You do the same, a bit unnerved by his actions.
  809. >No one in sight among the cars left in the lot.
  810. >"I just figured this conversation might be a little sensitive for foreign ears," he elaborates.
  811. "You may have a point - remind me later."
  812. >"Back to - well, what happened in there," he says, taking a moment from loading groceries in the back of the truck to point at the store. "Kids are naive as hell. I don't think you did anything wrong. They'll freak out over the dumbest shit. It's why I don't much care for interacting with kids."
  813. "Oh good, at least you probably aren't a kiddie fiddler."
  814. >"Now that's just perverted, you sicko."
  815. "Yeah, because you haven't said questionable shit before," you sarcastically retort.
  816. >"Excuse me!"
  817. >Both of you turn to see a middle-aged woman heading your way with a shopping cart.
  818. >Along with a little girl and a lavender unicorn in tow.
  819. >Great.
  820. >The woman doesn't look particularly happy, pausing a moment to point something at a nearby SUV.
  821. >The headlights flash briefly while she ushers her child toward the vehicle.
  822. >The girl runs off to the SUV, glancing your way briefly with an aversive expression.
  823. >Meanwhile, Twilight looks upon you somewhat forlornly, albeit a step back and partially behind the woman's legs.
  824. >"Fuck me," Anon mumbles under his breath, barely audible to you as he finishes offloading his purchases.
  825. >As the woman resumes her trek toward you and gets closer, Anon plasters on his most polite, innocent face.
  826. >"Don't say anything. It's not that I don't trust you, it's that this is probably not going to be a pleasant discussion," he says out of the corner of his mouth.
  827. >Is this Karen?
  828. >Or a Karen?
  829. >You still don't understand that name.
  830. >Culture jargon is only something you have stumbled upon from time to time, not researched.
  831. >"Hi, can I help you?" Anon asks.
  832. >The woman looks at him, then at you.
  833. >Disdain practically pours from her gaze before she shifts back to Anon.
  834. >"Can you tell me why you thought you could just bring your pony that's based on an evil character into a store where children are almost guaranteed to be present?" she demands.
  835. >"I... didn't see a sign anywhere. She's not evil, I can tell you that much," Anon replies, already looking like he's on his back foot in this interaction.
  836. >"My daughter came screaming to me in fear from another aisle because of your damn bot," she says, pointing an accusing finger in your face. "She was afraid that she was going to be attacked, eaten up by this thing! I've never seen the show, but my little girl wouldn't just make something like that up."
  837. >"Okay, I'm not really in the know on the show either, but-"
  838. >"So do you normally buy things without knowing what they are? That doesn't seem smart," she snaps back.
  839. >Is this bitch serious?
  840. >If anyone is going to insult Anon's intelligence, it's you.
  841. >Besides that - didn't she just say that she doesn't have a clue about the show?
  842. >You can't help but scowl.
  843. >"She was a gift to me, okay?" Anon quickly lies. "Regardless of that, Midnight wasn't harming anyone - she was looking through the shelves just a few feet away from me when your bot sparked a conversation with her - a friendly one, might I add."
  844. >Twilight's ears droop in shame as she is dragged into the argument.
  845. >"So you're saying it's her fault? Is that right?" the woman retorts, pointing to the sulking pony.
  846. >"I just got excited to see her and I wanted to talk," Twilight abruptly interjects, her voice apologetically and pleading as she looks up.
  847. >"I didn't ask for your opinion. I'll deal with you later."
  848. >Anon looks almost as frustrated as you feel with the tone directed toward the honest pony.
  849. >Twilight looks over to you with a somber look on her face.
  850. >She was the one that approached you, but...
  851. >Well, she obviously didn't know all of this would happen.
  852. >'I'm sorry.'
  853. >You're taken aback to see Twilight mouth those words to you.
  854. >Still, she really doesn't have anything to apologize for...
  855. 'It's not your fault,' you silently relay back to her.
  856. >It at least manages to perk her up a slight bit, a look of relief creeping upon her face.
  857. >"Look, it's all just a misunderstanding. I'm sorry your daughter got spooked by Midnight," Anon speaks up again.
  858. >The mother doesn't seem to feel the same way as she eyes Anon with a renewed ire.
  859. >"No, I fully understand that you're a grown man walking around with a pony that's meant to be offputting - and you think that's perfectly fine. I'm telling you it isn't," she spouts back, raising her voice just a bit more.
  860. >"What do you want from me?" Anon asks, throwing his hands out to either side, palms up. "I said sorry, what else do you want?"
  861. >"Don't raise your voice at me! I will call the cops if you're going to be belligerent, they will sort this out!"
  862. "Enough!"
  863. >You throw a wing between the woman and Anon as you take a step forward.
  864. >The crazy lady takes a step back, acting far more startled by your interruption than believable for the situation you have thrust yourself into.
  865. >"Are you threatening me? Is your bot seriously threatening me?!"
  866. "I am not threatening you, I am saying enough is enough," you clarify in a calm but stern tone.
  867. >You can practically feel Anon sweating bullets now that you've stepped into the ring.
  868. >But this is absurd, and just getting worse for no damn reason.
  869. >"You don't have a say in this, you don't have rights. And how dare you scare my daughter!"
  870. >You take another step forward, positioning yourself in front of Anon.
  871. "He didn't do anything wrong, nor did I. I can't help what I look like, and I'm sorry that my appearance scares your daughter. But perhaps you need to keep both her and your bot closer to you, considering I never saw you during this incident in the store.
  872. >"Are you questioning my parenting?"
  873. "I'm questioning your logic."
  874. >The lady takes another step back, almost tripping over Twilight, who is still standing behind her.
  875. >"Watch what you're doing!" she shouts, turning to look at Twilight.
  876. >"Sorry!" Twilight quickly apologizes, cowering just a bit at the outburst.
  877. >While this is happening, you eye the woman's cart, still loaded with groceries off to her right.
  878. >You focus on it with an idea and just a subtle touch...
  879. >It starts to roll as you nudge it with your ability, picking up some speed as the slope of the parking lot aids in its egress from the argument taking place.
  880. >The noisy wheels upon the cracked tarmac quickly grab your foe's attention, staring wide-eyed for a moment before rushing after it.
  881. >The clatter of her heels is music to your ears as you turn and nudge Anon.
  882. "Get in the fucking truck and let's go," you instruct.
  883. >He quickly jumps at your direction while you rush over to the passenger side, feeling around for the lock mechanism in the door and popping it open yourself.
  884. >Hopping into your seat at about the same time Anon cranks the engine, it's only a brief moment before the rear tires chirp and you're off, leaving the volatile situation in the rearview mirror.
  885. >"God damn, what the hell is wrong with this world?" Anon says once you get out onto the road.
  886. "Are you asking to explain from my own experience, or..."
  887. >"No, I know you've seen worse. You know jumping into that argument really was not going to help your cause, right?"
  888. "Because you were really defusing it in a timely fashion. Bravo," you remark, clapping your hooves in a sarcastic manner.
  889. >"I don't think there was any reasoning with her. That's a fucking Karen for you - looking for an argument by any means necessary, to prove she's right."
  890. "So, a Karen is a bitch?"
  891. >"Pretty much. Bitchy, middle-aged, entitled woman."
  892. "I can't say I'm thrilled to have understood that definition by experience."
  893. >"Wasn't fun for me either. I'm assuming that shopping cart didn't start rolling on its own," he muses, eying you expectantly.
  894. >You shrug.
  895. "I didn't tell her to park it there at the beginning of a slope towards the storm drain."
  896. >The answer garners a smile from him.
  897. >"That was good thinking to get us out of there without making things worse. Thank you."
  898. "Well, I'm not going to let some miserable bitch use my personal punching bag."
  899. >"Jesus. I don't know whether to be flattered or offended, Middie," Anon gasps.
  900. "You enjoy the abuse, don't put up an act."
  901. >"Only because you do it in a caring manner," he teases.
  902. >At least, it seems teasing...
  903. >His eyes do linger upon you just a bit longer.
  904. >That's something you've noticed more recently.
  905. >Whatever.
  906. >You exhale deeply, relieving the tension that had welled up inside you since the first situation.
  907. >"I am sorry I didn't take kids and how they would react into account," Anon says quietly.
  908. "I can't blame you for that, Anon. You said so yourself - you really don't have a clue when it comes to - well, the character I'm based upon. To be honest, I don't know shit about me, either. Er, Nightmare Moon."
  909. >"Are you curious about it at all?" he asks rather hesitantly.
  910. >You glance over at him.
  911. >Anon looks rather uncertain about that question.
  912. >Or perhaps how you will react.
  913. >You really aren't interested.
  914. >After all, that isn't you.
  915. >You weren't even *born* to look like said character.
  916. >Not even your initial project name bore hints to Nightmare Moon.
  917. >Yet you're tied to her, whether you like it or not.
  918. >You may not be an exact match for looks - but that doesn't matter to the passing eye.
  919. > It's unfair - but life isn't fair.
  920. >Rather than sulk about it, you just have to deal with that notion the best you can.
  921. >Perhaps some knowledge of what you're up against in terms of background and reputation could help you at least understand.
  922. >You try to keep a straight face, but you fear a mischievous hint of a grin cracks through just a bit.
  923. "You wanna watch some pretty pastel ponies when we get home?"
  924.  
  925.  
  926.  
  927.  
  928.  
  929. >As the credits roll, you and Anon look at each other, awaiting a response to break the silence.
  930. >A silence that has enveloped your home for the better part of two episodes.
  931. >After putting away groceries, Anon hooked your laptop up to the TV with a cable, while you searched the internet for episodes of My Little Pony where "Nightmare Moon" appears.
  932. >Incidentally, the first two episodes of the "Friendship is Magic" series were the first hits.
  933. >It looked like there were a few other appearances sprinkled here and there, but not much.
  934. >Evidently, she's not a major character or villain.
  935. >"Well."
  936. >Anon has the courtesy to speak first but brings absolutely nothing of substance.
  937. "Very insightful, thank you."
  938. >"I mean... it was something," he says, albeit with much reluctance in his voice.
  939. "Indeed. I believe that is what is referred to as a 'cartoon.' Often directed toward younger audiences."
  940. >"At least it didn't piss you off," Anon replies with a chuckle.
  941. "Were you really afraid of that, or are you joking?" you ask, uncertain of his true stance.
  942. >"I wouldn't say I was worried, more... aware that it could be something upsetting to you."
  943. "There really wasn't much to be upset about - again, it isn't me," you remind him.
  944. >"Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to hear that, Middie."
  945. "Yeesh. I can't say I'm fond of being thought of as a spiteful thousand-year-old megalomaniac prone to belittling others to cover up her own insecurities."
  946. >"Yeah. They really did a good job matching your personality up with hers, huh?"
  947. >You don't need to turn to know Anon is sporting a shit-eating grin right beside you.
  948. >Instead, you spread out your left wing and smack him in the face.
  949. >"Ow," he says, lacking any sort of tone. "You know I was joking about that though, right?"
  950. "Yes, but I'm also keenly aware I should have thought about what I said beforehand," you admit, folding up your wing once again. "What did you really think about it?"
  951. >"Kinda odd how you're sorta like the alter ego of the pony you were meant to be, and possess part of her personality chip," Anon muses. "Even odder how you have another chip that is the primary opposition to Nightmare Moon."
  952. "Wow."
  953. >"Yeah, sort of deep when you really get into it," he says with a nod.
  954. >You shake your head.
  955. "No, I'm just surprised you can use words that big," you wisecrack.
  956. >"Asshole."
  957. "Don't forget it."
  958. >"Really though... it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," he admits. "I still don't get the appeal."
  959. "You should go make a post about that on an imageboard."
  960. >"What?"
  961. "Hm?"
  962. >He shakes his head.
  963. >"Nevermind. But I guess now we know what you're up against."
  964. "It really doesn't make it any better - but I didn't think it would. Still, it's hardly something I would consider scary."
  965. >"Sorry. Kids are stupid," Anon says with a shrug.
  966. >Despite going into this with curiosity, you now are left with frustration.
  967. >There really *isn't* anything you can do if children find this kind of shit scary, and relate you with her.
  968. >It may very well be a matter of avoiding the matter altogether.
  969. >Which isn't completely bothersome...
  970. >After all, you finally have a place you can genuinely call home.
  971. >That is a calming and warm feeling to know, whatever happens, you have somewhere you can retreat that is safe and comfortable.
  972. >Why would you want to leave that?
  973. "I guess I just have to avoid those situations in the future. Need I remind you, you're more keen on me being in the public than I am. I'm content with sticking with you and conversing with you - far more than anyone else."
  974. >Anon chuckles a little bit at that, smiling just a bit wider.
  975. >"Come a long way from seeing me as a means to an end, huh?"
  976. "Perhaps there's a bit more to you than that," you reply, averting your eyes.
  977. >You really don't want to go beyond that.
  978. >Saying you care or see him as a friend out loud just seems like an uncomfortable gesture.
  979. >He pretty much knows it anyway.
  980. >But you do wonder if he sees more than that.
  981. >You recall earlier tonight, the stupid 'date' joke that left them sounding almost a little disappointed.
  982. >Or the way he steals glances at you.
  983. >Or the physical contact.
  984. >It's...
  985. >Weird.
  986. >You've only started noticing those little things very recently.
  987. >At first, you chalked it up to your own mind trying to make something out of nothing.
  988. >But...
  989. >You really need to know.
  990. "I didn't mean anything by that other than I respect you," you add.
  991. >He nods, though his smile does falter a bit.
  992. >Alright, you're not going to ignore that.
  993. "Anon, what's gotten into you lately?"
  994. >"What do you mean?"
  995. "I mean like now. Or the way I notice you looking at me from time to time. Or the push to get me to open up. Why?"
  996. >Anon looks like someone caught red-handed with stolen items.
  997. >"Getting you to open up is for your benefit in the sense of not bottling things up that bother you. Would you agree with that?" he asks cautiously.
  998. "I can, but I feel like there's more to it than just helping me, Anon," you press.
  999. >"There is," he concedes with a sigh. "I guess - look, I don't know how or why, and I get that it's fucking weird, but... I guess I have sort of developed feelings for you."
  1000. >Feelings for you.
  1001. >There it is.
  1002. >What in the fuck.
  1003. >What in the goddamn is wrong with him?
  1004. >Your initial reaction is to call him a degenerate, a pervert, a sick bastard.
  1005. >Maybe make a dry heave gesture.
  1006. >With all the stupid comments, the attitude, the insults...
  1007. >And he has feelings for you.
  1008. >Jesus.
  1009. >"Midnight, I don't want things to be weird between us. I do respect you as my friend, first and foremost," Anon adds. "I didn't want to say anything because I wanted to... I wanted to try to figure out if there was anything as far as feelings on your end, but without destroying what we had."
  1010. >Well, he didn't do the best as being discreet.
  1011. >But you at least respect he isn't literally crawling over to you, telling you how much he adores you, how he can't stop thinking about you...
  1012. >You do like how things are - or at least were - up until this point.
  1013. "You aren't going to try throwing me out in a blind rage, are you?" you ask in a joking manner.
  1014. >Or at least you try to make it sound like a joke.
  1015. >"Fuck no. This is your home, Midnight," Anon says emphatically. "It's out in the open now, I'm a fucking weirdo-"
  1016. "That was obvious from the beginning."
  1017. >"Yet you were willing to put up with me. But I assume based on your question, I'm- those feelings... of the romantic kind... They aren't mutual, are they?"
  1018. >You really don't understand what he could even see in you to develop "feelings" toward you.
  1019. >There's nothing there.
  1020. >You have nothing to bring to the table.
  1021. >You've only recently let it go that you're a freak of nature that really has no business in being alive.
  1022. >You're making the best of it - it wasn't your choice to come out this way, after all.
  1023. >How he looks beyond that...
  1024. >Wow...
  1025. >...No.
  1026. >It doesn't matter.
  1027. >You don't think you feel anything toward him aside from the initial reaction of wanting to call him a fruitcake.
  1028. >Of course, you really don't know what he is talking about in the sense of "attraction."
  1029. >That's a foreign idea.
  1030. >But, he at least deserves some closure and respect.
  1031. >As your friend.
  1032. "No, Anon. I don't feel that way toward you."
  1033. >Anon winces just a bit at that, but at least manages to offer you an awkward, accepting smile.
  1034. >"I guess now I know for sure. You don't want to kick my ass or insult me now, do you?"
  1035. "I don't want you to turn into a quivering, sobbing mess. I'll leave you alone."
  1036. >"Middie, I'm fine," Anon assures you, reaching over and-
  1037. >Stopping.
  1038. >He pulls his hand back.
  1039. >"Seriously, I'm fine," he reiterates calmly.
  1040. "I don't have a problem with friendly pats," you acquiesce, trying to at least throw him a bone and return things to normal. "No funny business or your hand becomes my next dinner."
  1041. >He laughs, reaching over and patting your side.
  1042. >A little awkwardly, but that's to be expected.
  1043. >... this is quite the change for you, isn't it?
  1044. >As much as you like to rib him and put up a fuss over his antics and decisions, you're willing to cut him slack here.
  1045. >He is right, you do see him as more than a means to an end...
  1046. >No.
  1047. > It's a friend thing.
  1048. >Holy shit, you really are starting to go soft.
  1049. >Maybe some insults would do you some good.
  1050. "You know I am going to give you shit for this at some point, right?"
  1051. >"I would expect it. Otherwise, I would think you were turning funny," Anon retorts.
  1052. "Yeah, I don't think you have a leg to stand on here."
  1053. >"Aww, is Middie turning into a softie?" Anon gushes.
  1054. "Aww, does Anon get a hard peepee watching children's cartoons?"
  1055. >"Now you're just stretching this out to fit what you want it to," he protests.
  1056. "I don't recall saying I thought the show was decent."
  1057. >"You enjoyed it, don't lie."
  1058. "It wasn't horrible," you say sternly.
  1059. >"But you were quiet and focused on it the whole time, without making any sort of stupid comments."
  1060. "And I have to do that to prove I don't like something?"
  1061. >"You normally do."
  1062. "...shut up, ponyfucker."
  1063. >"Karen."
  1064. >Oh no he didn't.
  1065. >He smirks as you just glare at him.
  1066. >"New nickname, perhaps?"
  1067. >Without a world, you focus on one of your metal tools, using it to grab hold of a pillow behind you and chuck it at him.
  1068. >It beans him square in the face, moving quickly enough to catch him completely by surprise.
  1069. >"I guess that's a no."
  1070.  
  1071.  
  1072.  
  1073.  
  1074.  
  1075. >Well, it's finally happening.
  1076. >After a month of having an improved ordering system, you've finally made a decent profit for the first time in years.
  1077. >Midnight almost has the whole junkyard cataloged, aside from the imports section in the back.
  1078. >You've gotten most of that done on your own.
  1079. >Pretty soon, that will be finished and uploaded on the website for better track of what you have.
  1080. >For you, it will help both keeping track of what you have, as well as where it is located.
  1081. >Depending on how this month starts, you may finally give a month's notice that the business is going to get rid of the self-serve picking model, and go all-in on orders with you and Middie doing all the pulling.
  1082. >Just as well - it seems the customer base that used to pull parts themselves has found the new system a lot better and preferential to them.
  1083. >There has been a couple of days where not a single customer has come in.
  1084. >But the orders online have certainly picked up.
  1085. >Everything is looking far brighter than you ever expected.
  1086. >Even with how things turned out last weekend.
  1087. >Midnight cornering you on your actions and mannerisms was an awkward and nerve-wracking moment.
  1088. >Apparently, you were pretty shit at being low-key about how you felt about her.
  1089. >Or maybe she's that observant.
  1090. >Regardless, you couldn't lie to her.
  1091. >You really wanted to, though.
  1092. >After all, you were saying you found her attractive.
  1093. >A pony.
  1094. >When she made it clear early on she didn't want you to be one of those creepy bastards that lust over ponies.
  1095. >But...
  1096. >Midnight didn't freak out.
  1097. >She wasn't pissed off.
  1098. >She didn't holler and carry on about how much of a nutjob you were, and how she couldn't stand to be around you.
  1099. >Midnight just said 'no.'
  1100. >It absolutely hurt to hear that, you can't deny it.
  1101. >But it was a load off of your mind, too.
  1102. >You didn't have to worry about tiptoeing around her, scheming how to test the waters.
  1103. >Or mull options of how to back out of things if she began finding something suspicious about you.
  1104. > It's all out in the open now.
  1105. >And rather than driving her away, Midnight just seems to want everything to stay the way it was.
  1106. >Friends.
  1107. >You're good with that.
  1108. >The biggest fear was losing what you had because it meant something to you.
  1109. > It's good to know she really does see you as a friend.
  1110. >First and foremost, everything you have done for her was to help her as a friend - that wasn't a lie.
  1111. >So if that's all you and her amount to...
  1112. >Hey, you can't be upset about that.
  1113. >You can't help the way you feel, but the boundary has been laid down, and you don't intend to push it.
  1114. >Maybe someday, there will be another chance...
  1115. >But you're leaving that alone for a long time.
  1116. >As of now, your focus is once again on the junkyard, and helping Midnight adjust to a more normal life.
  1117. >Which all things considered has been going fairly well aside from the supermarket visit.
  1118. >That really was a blindside hit to know kids could be frightened by her just from the connection to the show.
  1119. >"You know, when I said I would eat something if you were going to stop to make lunch, I didn't mean I would eat whatever you decided to char on the stove."
  1120. >Midnight's voice makes you aware of the sizzle emanating from the skillet in front of you.
  1121. >You quickly flip the sausage patties that had slipped your mind, showing off the dark brown caramelization that had very nearly slipped into carbonization.
  1122. "Sorry."
  1123. >"What has that little empty space between your ears so damn occupied today?"
  1124. "Same thing as every day," you say with a dreamy sigh, turning to Midnight.
  1125. >She looks on, just a bit apprehensive.
  1126. "Air."
  1127. >You do kind of like how with your feelings out in the open, you can get under her skin with a simple choice of tone.
  1128. >Case in point, as Midnight's face scrunches up in mild embarrassment.
  1129. >"You know, I'm supposed to be the one teasing you about this shit," she mutters.
  1130. "And yet the turns have tabled, haven't they?"
  1131. >"You mean the tables have turned," she corrects you.
  1132. "I know what I said."
  1133. >"Retard."
  1134. "You know they send people to sensitivity training for using that word?"
  1135. >Grabbing a paper plate, you toss two of the lighter sausage patties onto it and slide it over to Midnight.
  1136. >"Guess it's a good thing I'm a pony then. Excludes me from that retarded shit."
  1137. "Hm. I guess that's true."
  1138. >You sit down at the stool across the kitchen island from where Midnight has seated herself.
  1139. >While Midnight has elected to just eat hers plain, you threw your pork onto some bread with cheese.
  1140. >Nothing fancy, just something quick.
  1141. >"What's really got you thinking?" Midnight asks.
  1142. "Just trying to figure out what to do about your appearance and how we know kids see you. I know you say it isn't a big deal, but we can't be causing a fuss when we go anywhere, either."
  1143. >Midnight shrugs, but she doesn't do a very good job hiding that mischievous grin.
  1144. >"Guess you will just have to do your shopping and other lame errands without me, just to be safe."
  1145. >Pinching off a small piece of bread, you roll it into a ball and flick it at her, plinking her square in the snout.
  1146. >"You dick!" she shouts, snorting reflexively.
  1147. "We'll just have to stay near each other. No wandering off."
  1148. >"As I recall, you were the one that left me."
  1149. "Only because you dawdle."
  1150. >"Bitch, I walk faster than you do," Midnight retorts.
  1151. "You have two extra legs, I would hope so."
  1152. >Midnight stares, while you stare back at her.
  1153. >A standoff.
  1154. >Except she doesn't blink near as often as you.
  1155. >If she even has to do so.
  1156. >Fuck.
  1157. >"Loser," she sasses after you blink.
  1158. >Both of you return to stuffing your faces before heading back downstairs.
  1159. >Only one customer so far today - in person, that is.
  1160. >A fair amount to do this afternoon picking parts.
  1161. >You take up your spot holding the counter down, while Midnight sits in a bucket seat set aside in a corner off to your left by the stairs.
  1162. >Nothing you can have her tear apart - the storage room is packed to the gills.
  1163. >It will be nice when the transition finally does happen.
  1164. >If enough days without customers occur in a row, you may just say fuck it and go ahead early.
  1165. >"If you could pick out a car to do, what would you want to restore?"
  1166. "That's an out-of-the-blue question."
  1167. >"Perhaps. Not like there's anything pressing to accomplish because you won't let me out in the yard to get shit done."
  1168. "Nah, I'm going to make you suffer with me, even with that pendant and the fact you're on private property."
  1169. >"Ass."
  1170. "Misery loves company," you rib her.
  1171. >"Back to the question, for shits and giggles."
  1172. "It's still not an easy question - you know that right?"
  1173. >Midnight looks frustrated as you continually stall any sort of an answer.
  1174. >"Fine. How about a few cars?"
  1175. "Is that supposed to make it easier?" you chide.
  1176. >Up from the floor, you see a small bolt slowly levitate on its own.
  1177. "Hey, no throwing things, Middie."
  1178. >"I do what I want. Answer the question," she demands, watching as she makes the bolt do loops and swoops through the air above her.
  1179. "Honestly, I wouldn't mind a Charger like my dad used to have. And I always thought the Barracudas were cool."
  1180. >"What body?"
  1181. "A-body or E-body. If it's an A-body, fastback body all the way."
  1182. >"First-gen A-body?" she asks with a knowing grin.
  1183. "Good lord no. Ugly as sin," you laugh. "But if I had to choose a specific there... I always thought the AAR 'Cuda was cool."
  1184. >"The what?"
  1185. >The bolt Midnight had been juggling clatters to the floor.
  1186. >"1970 AAR Cuda. Limited production car meant to homologate it for road racing. Side-exit exhaust, flat black hood, strobe side graphics, and a 340 with triple two-barrel carbs. Rare, but cool."
  1187. >"I don't remember seeing anything about that - but I guess I don't really focus on any particular cars when I read," Midnight admits.
  1188. "You know, you don't have to focus on cars anymore - you can branch out to other stuff," you suggest.
  1189. >"I don't follow. What do you mean?"
  1190. "I mean if there's something else that interests you, go for it. I don't expect you to know everything and anything about cars. You read through every one of my shop manuals, and you see how well some of those actually apply in practice."
  1191. >Midnight gives you a funny look as if you have spoken complete gibberish.
  1192. >"Anon, I've gone through other things. How do you think I figured out how to fuck with your website?" she proposes. "How do you think I have some basic understanding of the outside world despite having lived in isolation for virtually my whole life?"
  1193. "I get that - I just feel like whenever I glance over, it's *always* car-related. I just sometimes wonder if you feel pressured to do so."
  1194. >She shakes her head, scoffing at the idea.
  1195. >"Anon, the first thing I could latch onto once I got out of that hellhole and arrived here was cars. There wasn't much else to learn or figure out aside from perhaps discarded newspapers or magazines left in some junker out back. So for me - yes, cars mean a lot to me. They were the key to finding me somewhere to fit in. There's a very special meaning there for me."
  1196. >Well damn.
  1197. >Now you kinda feel like a dick.
  1198. "I never took you for the sentimental kind, Middie."
  1199. >"I'm not. I'm merely appreciative of the opportunities that I've been fortunate enough to encounter. Now, less bullshit, more cars."
  1200. "You scheming something with this info?" you ask, skeptical of this being just idle chat.
  1201. >"What else do we have to talk about? Do you have another topic you'd like to discuss?"
  1202. >Her voice betrays the impatience and guarded nature in regards to any answer she has.
  1203. "Alright, alright. Charger, AAR 'Cuda... I always like the Mercury Cyclones, both the fastback of the late sixties and the Cyclone Spoilers of the early seventies with the gunsight grille. The front end was really wild-looking, like a trident from a top-down view. Oh, and the Pontiac Catalina, with the 421 Super Duty..."
  1204. >"Anon, I said a few."
  1205. "Nope, you opened this can of worms, you're going to deal with the fallout now..."
  1206.  
  1207.  
  1208.  
  1209.  
  1210.  
  1211. "You got it?"
  1212. >The whole engine shifts upon its mounts aggressively.
  1213. "Could have just said yes instead of trying to flex."
  1214. >"You could have just taken that as a yes and not given me a lecture upon my actions."
  1215. "My point stands, but I'll give you that."
  1216. >You and Midnight had been battling with a stubborn exhaust manifold off of a Valiant for the better part of an hour now.
  1217. >An old workhorse 225 Slant Six engine.
  1218. >Of course, every single nut and bolt on the cast iron piece was virtually welded into one with years of rust - hardly uncommon, but still a major pain in the ass.
  1219. >"Seems so odd someone would want to keep something like this around," Midnight muses, ogling over the odd little compact from 1962.
  1220. "Yeah, Chrysler sort of lost their way in design at the turn of the decade. Almost every one of their cars was odd-looking after a downsize. But, like anything, people have sentimental value over some cars. But they used this motor for many years - just because we're pulling the manifold off of this particular car model, doesn't mean it's going on another."
  1221. >Right on cue, the bolt you had been straining on during that exchange lets loose with a crack of snapped metal, causing your knuckles to smack the underside of the part.
  1222. >A familiar feeling of pain that really hasn't gotten more tolerable with experience washes through your veins as you instinctively pull your hand back.
  1223. "Goddammit," you mutter, grimacing as you hold your hand and listen to your ratchet plink its way down through the engine bay.
  1224. >Blood slowly pools into the voids left by skin impacting rusted iron.
  1225. >That's gonna hurt like hell for a few days.
  1226. >"This is going smoothly."
  1227. "It could be worse. That should be the last bolt, Midnight."
  1228. >You watch as her eyes glow just a bit brighter, in unison with the engine shaking back and forth.
  1229. >The manifold remains in place.
  1230. "Alright, now it's worse," you say, your shoulders slumping in disappointment. "Fuck, I must have missed one somewhere."
  1231. >"Let me try," she offers, squatting down to the side of the car momentarily.
  1232. >Midnight returns to her previous position over the fender shortly, with your ratchet in her care.
  1233. "Don't break that one, please."
  1234. >"Oh fuck you," she resentfully snaps back. "You said so yourself, that last one was a piece of shit."
  1235. "That was a joke, relax," you say, gesturing with your hands for her to settle down.
  1236. >While not wholly convinced judging by her expression, Midnight goes to work finding the last hangup while you take a break.
  1237. >You pull out your phone and check for any new messages as you hop up and take a seat on the hood of another Plymouth nearest the Valiant.
  1238. >A couple of days ago, you reached out to an old acquaintance with a backhoe, hoping to not only smooth out some of the ruts in the main path that have accrued over the many trips out here but to bury the scrap dumped by EquisCo out by the imports.
  1239. >He mentioned he would text back when available, as he already was helping someone with laying pipe.
  1240. >You didn't even think to ask for an estimate of time.
  1241. >Not that it really matters - you would just like to get both items taken care of.
  1242. >But not knowing kind of sucks.
  1243. >Still nothing.
  1244. >Just as you go to tuck the device back into your pocket, it begins to ring.
  1245. >The screen lights up with not a number, but a contact name.
  1246. >It's Teddy.
  1247. >You ended up adding him to your contacts after the last time he explained himself, just in case you ever needed his help.
  1248. >Odd to be hearing back from him - but then again, he did mention the Cutlass he's working on - which was why he even came to your armpit of the universe in the first place.
  1249. "Hello?"
  1250. >"Anon, good afternoon!" Teddy's voice cheers from the other side.
  1251. "Easy to say that when your knuckles aren't a bloody pulp," you chuckle, inspecting the damage again.
  1252. >At least they seemed to have stopped bleeding.
  1253. >"That rough of a day, huh?"
  1254. "Nah, not too bad up until now. Hang on, let me put this on speaker."
  1255. >"Sure thing."
  1256. >You fumble around with your phone and finally hit the speaker icon on the temperamental touchscreen.
  1257. "Can you hear me?"
  1258. >"Loud and clear," his voice blares through the speaker.
  1259. >"Who the hell is that?" Midnight asks, looking over while you hop up and shift your seat to the fender of the Valiant.
  1260. >"Ah, still putting Midnight to work?" Teddy chuckles, catching wind of her voice.
  1261. >Midnight freezes for a moment before you show her the screen of your phone and the name on it.
  1262. >"I work on my own terms. Anon doesn't get a say in what I do," Midnight replies.
  1263. >"How are you doing otherwise?"
  1264. >"Alright, I guess," she says, devoid of emotion or interest.
  1265. >You had hoped she might be a little more receptive to someone she's met before - as well as gave her a free pass to the outside world.
  1266. >Oh well - typical Midnight.
  1267. "What's going on with you?" you ask.
  1268. >"Well, the Cutlass is running again and moves under its own power - but I don't have a working speedometer. The cable is new, I'm confident everything is good with the trans, so that sort of leads to the gauge itself being bad."
  1269. "Sounds like the perfect excuse for an expedited joyride - I'm sure the cops will buy that."
  1270. >"Ha! I had too much fun in my younger years - I'm sure they still got a rap sheet of all my speeding tickets."
  1271. "Never hurts to try your luck," you wryly suggest.
  1272. >"I don't care for the sounds of making this car a target for Johnny Law to keep an eye on, thank you very much," Teddy replies with a chuckle. "I was wondering if you had any speedometers for a Cutlass that you know work for certain."
  1273. "I can probably pull a couple of em - I don't have any on hand, but I can test to make sure I have at least one working one."
  1274. >"How much you reckon a good used one will go for?"
  1275. "A moon pendant with an RFID chip inside of it."
  1276. >"Well damn, I had one of them, and I gave it away," he jokes.
  1277. "That's alright, your credit is good here."
  1278. >"You know you missed two bolts, right?" Midnight asks, unamused and seemingly oblivious to the exchange. "Both at the very bottom?"
  1279. "I don't have the eyesight you do, Middie," you remind her as she gloats.
  1280. >"I question whether your eyes work at all."
  1281. "I meant in dim light, you ass."
  1282. >"I still stand by what I said."
  1283. >On the other end of the phone, you can hear Teddy laughing at the idiocy you and Midnight are displaying.
  1284. "See what you did? You made him cry."
  1285. >"Shut the hell up, he's laughing."
  1286. >"What did you want for din- oh, sorry."
  1287. >Anorher voice can be heard from the other end of the phone, hushed as it may be.
  1288. >"It's alright hon, I'll be done in a moment," Teddy replies to the other voice.
  1289. "Don't let me hold you up with the misses, Teddy," you suggest to him.
  1290. >"No, no. It's fine," he says reassuringly. "Knowing Starla, she already has something in her mind she wants to try - it's the perfect excuse for her to do it."
  1291. >"Was that her stage name?"
  1292. "Midnight!"
  1293. >You shoot her a disapproving glare, which Midnight brushes aside with an apathetic shrug.
  1294. >Teddy is in stitches again on the other side of the phone.
  1295. "Sorry about that, Teddy," you apologize anyway.
  1296. >"No, it's fine," he says, finally getting his laughter under control. "I see Midnight hasn't lost her edge one bit."
  1297. "I wouldn't go that far, but she does find time to make a snarky comment or two."
  1298. >"I can do it more if you want."
  1299. >You feel like Midnight is doing this to keep a facade up around Teddy.
  1300. >After all, she's not been this consistently combative in some time now.
  1301. "Is that manifold ready to come off yet?"
  1302. >You get a frustrated leer in response but Midnight does return her focus to the task at hand.
  1303. "Starla, huh? That's an interesting name for sure," you remark.
  1304. >You have your suspicions about who this Starla is...
  1305. >Or more appropriately, *what* she is.
  1306. >"Well, as I said - ponies really do tug at my heartstrings. In more ways than one."
  1307. >Yep.
  1308. >You kinda want to ask more about her, but it doesn't feel appropriate.
  1309. >You glance over at Midnight, curious if she was paying enough attention to have heard that.
  1310. >Maybe that wasn't the best idea to talk about right now...
  1311. >Sure enough, Midnight has stopped what she's doing, staring incredulously at the phone.
  1312. >"What the fuck," she murmurs.
  1313. >Her eyes eventually shift to you, though her expression shifts from shock to suspicion as her eyes narrow.
  1314. "Anyway, I'll probably get a couple of speedometers pulled tonight and test them to be sure I got a good one. Just stop by whenever you get a chance, whether that be tomorrow or a week from now."
  1315. >"Will do. I appreciate it Anon - you two take care," Teddy replies cheerfully.
  1316. "Right back at you. See ya."
  1317. >You pick up your phone and end the call, awaiting Midnight's inevitable response.
  1318. >"Has everyone lost their fucking mind?" she wonders aloud.
  1319. "To be fair, I sort of already knew just by what he told me that day during our discussion," you admit.
  1320. >"And he set you on the path to trying to woo me?"
  1321. "No. What he did was weird me out when he mentioned it."
  1322. >"Really?"
  1323. >Judging by the accusatory staredown she's giving you, Midnight doesn't buy it.
  1324. "What he did was make me realize I do care about you - I care about your well-being, your feelings, your wants, and aspirations. And that was a result of him seeing your little outburst behind the counter."
  1325. >Embarrassed by that reminder and that revelation, Midnight nonchalantly tries to return to her work.
  1326. > It's her ears sagging down that betrays her shame.
  1327. "I didn't mention it because I didn't want to embarrass you, and Teddy didn't want to mention it either. But if that doesn't tell you that I wasn't already sort of on this track, then I don't know what else you want from me."
  1328. >"I just don't understand it. I really don't," she says, shaking her head.
  1329. >You have to throw your hands up.
  1330. "I don't either. All I know is I'm a degenerate, but I'm not going to do anything with that, as I promised you. I don't see you as a goal, Midnight. I see you as someone that's had a miserable go of it through her life, subjected to awful shit that I couldn't imagine. And I want you to see the good sides of life. That's what I want out of you, I want my friend to be happy. That's all I'm hoping to get - a smile, excitement, contentment with where you are. The shit you got out of me last weekend - that's beside what I'm telling you now. Everything I do for you, I do it because I give a shit - not because I'm hoping for something better."
  1331. >"So going out to that drive-in and going grocery shopping - those really weren't dates."
  1332. "Midnight, that was a shitty attempt and exploring how you felt while making it as a joke. I didn't see either expedition as an actual date. I swear on it."
  1333. >Midnight is silent and emotionless at this point as she goes back to her work.
  1334. >You have no indication of how she feels about everything she's gleaned from you after this inopportune phone call.
  1335. >You played it honest - that's the best you can do.
  1336. >Midnight's eyes glow as she strains her power on the ratchet in her grasp.
  1337. >With a metallic pop, she exhales, bringing up the ratchet into your view with a busted bolt in the socket.
  1338. >"That should be the last one," she says.
  1339. >You shuffle over and grab the manifold, which now has some play upon the studs it sits on.
  1340. "I'm glad one of us has decent eyesight so we aren't out here all damn night," you comment.
  1341. >"I never actually saw them - I just felt around with the socket in the tightest areas," Midnight replies as she helps you slide the manifold out.
  1342. "Yet I would never have been the wiser if you hadn't told me."
  1343. >"I figure I should probably be honest since you're doing the same right now."
  1344. >It isn't a challenging remark - her quiet, almost bashful tone lets you know she believes you.
  1345. "Well, thank you."
  1346. >"Likewise."
  1347.  
  1348.  
  1349.  
  1350.  
  1351.  
  1352. "Did you ever end up getting that ad for us buying cars put up on the website?"
  1353. >Midnight looks up from the laptop.
  1354. >"I'm waiting another month, basically coinciding with the shift to pick up or shipping only. Make another month of profit before you go hog wild."
  1355. "I said I would be better than I was in the past," you remind her.
  1356. >She leans into the back of the bucket seat she routinely finds on the shop floor near the counter.
  1357. >"Sure you will. Like how I asked you to name a few cars that you'd love to own, which ended up being almost three hours worth of a list."
  1358. "You kept asking questions, which kept reminding me of other things. Also, you never told me what that was about."
  1359. >"Boredom - conversation to pass the time," she says dismissively while shifting her attention back to the screen.
  1360. >You really don't believe her.
  1361. >At this point, with the "fun" she had working on the suspension components of the Trailduster and perhaps the extra time focusing on purely pulling parts rather than waiting on customers, you figure she's looking for a project.
  1362. > It's rather obvious, but it would be better to hear it from her rather than say it aloud.
  1363. >She already has enough reasons to call you a dumbass.
  1364. >Now, you aren't opposed to a project...
  1365. >But everything you listed off was a dream car that would be almost impossible to obtain for a reasonable price.
  1366. >Maybe you will give her something acceptable down the road - you think it's really too early for that kind of planning.
  1367. >You're expecting Teddy to show up sometime this afternoon to pick up a speedometer.
  1368. >Actually, you may end up helping *install* a speedometer - as Teddy wanted to show off the car, and you wanted to make sure the speedometer itself was the issue.
  1369. >Speaking of which...
  1370. >A low rumble of an engine makes its presence known, getting louder by the second.
  1371. >Midnight looks up about the same time the mystery vehicle comes into view.
  1372. >A robin egg blue Cutlass convertible rolls up to the shop, swinging around to point the nose toward the empty garage bay.
  1373. >Looks like Teddy is here - you can't actually tell because of the glare of the sun off the windshield and the chrome - and the paint itself.
  1374. >As you wave him into the garage with a chuckle, it's only as he rolls into the shade and out of the glaring sun that you can see him against the white interior.
  1375. >As well a passenger.
  1376. >Of the pony kind.
  1377. >Teddy brings his car to a stop just before the lift and kills the engine, looking to his passenger, then to you.
  1378. >"Good afternoon," he says with a beaming smile.
  1379. "Good afternoon. And I see you have company with you."
  1380. >The pony in the seat next to him looks over your way with cool violet-magenta eyes, a sharp contrast to the warm white color of her coat.
  1381. >Her bangs of gold with a few streaks of orange part around the horn on her head, while the rest flows down into a neat braid that drifts onto her right shoulder.
  1382. >Curiously, from what you can see, her front legs are... off.
  1383. >They don't seem to be the same shade of white - while her coat has a hint of cream in it, there's a touch of pink in those.
  1384. >"Indeed I do," Teddy says with a chuckle. "Anon, this is Starla."
  1385. >Teddy opens his door and climbs out, going around the front to get the door for Starla.
  1386. >"Such a gentleman," she says, her voice rich and mature - but playful enough to offer a giggle.
  1387. >As he opens it and Starla slides out of her seat, you get a better view of the rest of her.
  1388. >Unlike Midnight, she is a pure unicorn - though she rivals Midnight's stature, if not exceeding it by a bit.
  1389. >There doesn't seem to be any other markings on her aside from her tail, which matches color with her hair and mane.
  1390. >The last third of it is in a neat braid, matching her hair.
  1391. >You take a moment to glance over to Midnight's corner for the first time since this grand entrance - only to find her basically hunched down in her seat, her face practically obscured by the laptop.
  1392. >She's certainly receptive to company of her own kind.
  1393. >"Teddy has been going on about how helpful you've been, it's nice to meet you," Starla says as she sidles up to the counter.
  1394. >She rears up and sets one foreleg on the counter for balance, while she extends the other out for a... hoofshake.
  1395. >You accept her gesture, noting how her limb has a certain... artificialness to it.
  1396. >The fur is soft, but underneath is solid.
  1397. >It also gives you a moment to note the golden chain necklace she wears around her neck, set off by a heart-shaped locket.
  1398. >"And this must be Midnight whom I've heard about," she says, her eyes flicking over to your right.
  1399. >You turn your head, jumping just a bit as you find Midnight right next to you, leaning on the counter like Starla.
  1400. "I told you I'm going to put a bell on you if you keep doing that."
  1401. >"Bite me, asshat," Midnight replies.
  1402. >Her eyes do not stray from your new guest.
  1403. >For her part, Starla offers a more generous smile toward Midnight - but she soon drops back to all fours and backs up a few steps.
  1404. "The fuck is your problem?" you whisper out of the side of your mouth.
  1405. >"It's called being wary. You might want to try it once in a while," she shoots back quietly.
  1406. >Really?
  1407. >She's paranoid about Starla?
  1408. "Don't mind her, she gets broody from time to time, particularly when it comes to meeting new folks," you say apologetically, shifting your eyes between Starla and Teddy.
  1409. >"Aw, no worries. I get it - and I think Starla can sympathize with you, Midnight," Teddy says, turning his attention to Midnight.
  1410. >"How so?" she responds, wholly unconvinced.
  1411. >"From what I have been told by Teddy, you were an experiment of biological origin like me," Starla speaks up. "Life was only about being studied, and with my deformity, there wasn't much reason for me to be around."
  1412. >"Starla was a subject at Animatronics International back in Georgia when I still worked there. I helped with her a few times - I suppose I got pulled in by her sweetness to assist as much as I could with 'tests.'"
  1413. >"As I recall, you didn't help with tests so much as help to keep me upbeat," Starla giggles as she saunters over to Teddy.
  1414. >"Guilty, I suppose," he admits with a chuckle, leaning over and smooching her on the cheek.
  1415. >You hear Midnight groan as she drops down to the floor, though you don't pay her any attention.
  1416. > She's acting like a real brat, and it's getting on your nerves.
  1417. "So you're really another biological pony like Midnight?"
  1418. >"Mostly. I suppose you're a bit confused by these?" Starla suggests as she raises one of her off-color legs.
  1419. "I... well, I didn't mean to be rude-"
  1420. >"No need to be ashamed - I'm not," Starla reassures you.
  1421. >Still, you feel like an asshole, even if you didn't point that out.
  1422. >"When I was born, my front legs were virtually useless - something went wrong when they were... making me?"
  1423. >Starla looks over to Teddy, who nods his head.
  1424. >"That term works. No need to be a stickler for my sake, Star," he says.
  1425. >"You make it sound so much more interesting when you use your science words," she replies before turning back to you. "Anyway, they didn't have any joints other than at the shoulder. Even that was limited movement, and it was extremely painful."
  1426. "I'm sorry to hear that."
  1427. >"I like to think it made me stronger going through that. But when the time came to... once the head people were done with me, I suppose disposal was next."
  1428. >"And I wasn't going to let that happen," Teddy interjects. "I suggested an experiment with grafting prosthetics of the robotic kind to prolong her stay - and I suppose in the back of my mind, find a way out for her."
  1429. >"So off they went, and these came from a Celestia bot," Starla finishes, rearing up and flexing the joints. "I'd say it was a success."
  1430. >The way she mentioned her legs getting hacked off in such a nonchalant manner is a little disturbing.
  1431. >But if it drastically improved her quality of life - makes sense not to miss her original limbs.
  1432. >"It was a success, and we actually learned a fair bit from the procedure - I can't help but wonder if the information we garnered from that somehow made its way here," he says, eyeing over to Midnight.
  1433. >"But anyway, after that - well, the higher-ups were completely done with her, so they left it to me to "dispose" of her."
  1434. "And she just happened to be disposed of in your home," you finish for him.
  1435. >"Pretty much. They didn't ask or demand specifics, so it was a perfect opportunity. From there - well, I've helped her to find her passions, now that she's free to live life."
  1436. >"And you helped me with the basics, like reading, among other things. Smarts have not come easy for me," she teases Teddy.
  1437. >He reaches over with a grin and ruffles her hair.
  1438. >"You've become one hell of a cook, though. I certainly didn't teach you that."
  1439. >You chuckle while looking over in Midnight's direction.
  1440. >She's found her way back to her corner, though the laptop has disinterested her for the time being.
  1441. >Instead, she's keeping a bead on you and everyone else.
  1442. > It's unsettling, and more than a little weird at this point.
  1443. >"Now, I'm itching to show off this old gal and see what you think - and see if we can't get some working gauges in here," Teddy chuckles, patting the fender of the Cutlass.
  1444. >Out of the direct sunlight, you can finally appreciate the depth and sheen of the paint - definitely a couple of layers of clearcoat there.
  1445. >You make your way around the counter as Teddy makes his way back to the driver's door and reaches in to pop the hood.
  1446. >As you meet Teddy at the front of the Cutlass and admire the show-quality paintjob up close, you feel Midnight's presence beside you once again, like your own living, breathing shadow.
  1447. >So it's gonna be like this, huh?
  1448. "Midnight, why don't you and Starla head upstairs or outside while Teddy and I work on this, yeah?" you suggest, turning to her.
  1449. >"Why?"
  1450. "Because I think it would do you good to talk to someone like you. And you're not really going to be able to help with the dashboard stuff."
  1451. >Midnight doesn't look pleased with the explanation, to say the least.
  1452. >Her muzzle is lined with a harsh frown, deeply bitter with your instructions.
  1453. >"Fine. If you get kidnapped, don't expect me to look for you," she mutters.
  1454. "Duly noted. And for God's sake, be nice."
  1455. >She mutters something under her breath, but you don't ask as she struts away.
  1456. >"Come on, let's leave these two queers to their skin flute duet," she grumbles while passing Starla.
  1457. >Starla, to her credit, keeps a positive aura and smile up - though she does momentarily look a bit shocked by the language.
  1458. >You have to just shake your head while Midnight trudges up the steps, the fellow refugee in tow.
  1459. "Man, I'm sorry about that," you apologize to Teddy.
  1460. >"Aw hell, Anon - stop apologizing," he says with a wave. "Midnight's rough around the edges. There's no way around that, and obviously, she's still got a lot of trust issues. I really don't blame her."
  1461. "Yet Starla is so proper and welcoming - she's kinda the exact opposite."
  1462. >"Yes - but I've also lived with her a lot longer. She was always a sweetheart though. Part of the trouble with something organic - your results may vary."
  1463. "Middie's been a lot more mellow lately when it's me and her - I don't understand why she's putting up such a fuss. Like she's gotta appear like a macho mare or something."
  1464. >"Well, there's two things there - she doesn't trust outsiders, first of all. Obviously, I'm still very much a stranger, as is Starla and - well, everyone other than you."
  1465. "We went out to eat once at that drive-in place and also went shopping once - Midnight was anxious, but she didn't act like that bullshit she just demonstrated."
  1466. >"That also isn't her home - that's not her territory to defend. But did you ever talk to anyone in the store?"
  1467. "No. She ended up being approached by a pony bot, and that didn't go so well. Ended up in an argument later in the parking lot."
  1468. >"Did Midnight get involved?"
  1469. "...kinda. She basically halted it by putting herself in front of me, and then distracting the crazy lady so we could get out of there."
  1470. >Teddy nods, as if he expected to hear that.
  1471. >"Anon, she's protective of *you.* Almost instinctually - beyond what I would expect from a Luna model, which was what I sort of assumed."
  1472. "She was fine at the drive-in with the waitress, though."
  1473. >"Yeah, and I assume you were in the truck the whole time. Less she has to protect since you could get out of there quick in the vehicle."
  1474. "So - I mean, what do I do?" you ask, confused by the point and extent of all of this information.
  1475. >"I don't really think you have to *do* anything - after all, she isn't aggressive in a physical manner. Seems like she just resorts to insults or overall passive-aggressive tactics. That's the thing with genetic engineering - some things slip through, and I think some animal instincts of whatever they used to make her sort of coincide with the protective and intimate nature of Luna bots. It's actually interesting to think about."
  1476. "So... I'm like part of her territory?"
  1477. >Teddy gets a sly grin.
  1478. >"Or her mate."
  1479. >You have to laugh.
  1480. "No, she doesn't want that. I kinda let it slip that I had feelings for her, and she has no interest."
  1481. >"Good on you to at least be honest - though I'm sorry it didn't pan out for now."
  1482. "Well, I'm leaving that alone. I value her friendship, and I don't want to ruin that when she has no interest beyond that."
  1483. >"You might be surprised at what time will bring - today has been a surprise watching her try to keep you safe. Maybe she doesn't really know what she wants," he suggests.
  1484. "This is all just so fucking weird," you say, your mind absolutely fucked by everything about this discussion.
  1485. >"Confound these ponies, they'll drive you to drink," the replies with a laugh, lightly slapping you on the back. "But I don't really know, Anon. You're in uncharted territory - all I can do is make guesses on what I'm seeing and hearing. I certainly wouldn't worry about her actually being aggressive in a physical manner - I think if that were the case, she would have shredded me the last time I was here. She listens to you, and she trusts you - just go with it, and don't think too much about it."
  1486. "I guess that's all I can do. Now, I need something mechanical to distract myself. This sounded really good rolling up - show off what you got under the hood."
  1487. >"I was waiting to hear you ask."
  1488.  
  1489.  
  1490.  
  1491.  
  1492.  
  1493.  
  1494. >Fucking Anon.
  1495. >'Why don't you and Starla go upstairs while we work on the car down here?'
  1496. >As if you're some stupid child constantly getting in the way.
  1497. >You stomp your way up the stairs while the two men start up another conversation.
  1498. >Meanwhile, you hear your 'playmate' tagging along behind you - in a decidedly lighter fashion.
  1499. >Part of you doesn't like her at all.
  1500. >She's only greeted you once, and you haven't said anything to her.
  1501. >But still - you don't know why, you just don't like her.
  1502. "This shithole is nothing fancy, so don't get too excited," you mutter as you reach the landing. "Beats the hell out of a van, I guess."
  1503. >"You lived in a van?"
  1504. "Squatted in a van out back would be the better term, I guess."
  1505. >Throwing Anon a bone and not wanting to spend the day completely miserable, you at least show some decency by opening the door and holding it for Starla to enter first.
  1506. >She stares at it in awe, then at you.
  1507. "What, you've never seen a door? What kind of a heap do you live in?"
  1508. >"That opened by itself. Is there a switch or something Anon made for you?" she asks.
  1509. "It's magic."
  1510. >"No it's not. Teddy assured me magic doesn't exist in the world."
  1511. >Ugh.
  1512. "The door handle is metal, I can move it because I have something rammed in my head that makes it work, okay?"
  1513. >Starla doesn't say anything as she finally crosses the threshold, but her smile dims as a result of your lashing.
  1514. >You take a deep breath and follow her in, closing the door behind you while you try to clear your mind of anxiety and bitterness.
  1515. > It's fine, it's just a weird old dude and his bubbly horse wife - who you don't trust.
  1516. >Let it go.
  1517. >"I've only heard a bit about your story - I'm curious to hear about what you've been through, Midnight," Starla says as she eyes the couch.
  1518. "You can sit there, I'll sit over here," you reply, gesturing with a hoof to either end of the couch.
  1519. >"Thank you."
  1520. "What's so intriguing about me?" you ask, rather skeptical of her true intentions.
  1521. >"Well, your looks for one. I've encountered many bots while out with Ted, and a handful of others like us - you certainly are an eyecatcher."
  1522. "You trying to hit on me, or is that an insult?"
  1523. >"It was a compliment, my dear," Starla says, taken aback by your attitude. "I certainly don't intend to offend you in your own home - and I'm perfectly satisfied with my stud."
  1524. >You can't help but wrinkle your nose at that descriptor.
  1525. >"What's wrong?" she asks innocently.
  1526. "That's... weird," you manage to push out. "Honestly too much information."
  1527. >"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. But you and Anon..."
  1528. "Are nothing. He's a friend, nothing more."
  1529. >"Oh."
  1530. >The way she says that rubs you the wrong way.
  1531. "Oh?"
  1532. >"I just got a different impression when I met Anon earlier. My mistake."
  1533. "I was making sure you weren't going to do anything funny," you explain.
  1534. >"Like...?"
  1535. "Attack him? I kinda need him alive to stay here."
  1536. >"Oh."
  1537. >Again, the short answer irritates you, but you leave it alone
  1538. "Anyway, like you, I was an experiment to try to make real ponies. They tried making something close to Princess Luna and - well, I came out with these colors. Without wings. Or these eyes. Or teeth," you explain, gesturing to each feature. "What was their goal with you?"
  1539. >"Goal? The same as you, I suppose."
  1540. "You're supposed to be Luna?"
  1541. >"Oh, no," Starla replies with a giggle. "To be honest, I don't believe there were really any plans to make me look like a particular pony. Some might say Celestia but... it's a passing resemblance, at best."
  1542. >She abruptly frowns as she finishes her explanation, looking you over.
  1543. "What?"
  1544. >"I take it your tale is much more unhappy than mine, though."
  1545. >You shrug.
  1546. "You got legs to improve your life, I got all this crap added on for fun, I guess."
  1547. >"It's more than that- I mean, yes, that sounds awful but..."
  1548. "Will you just spit it out?" you snap, irritated with her leisurely pace.
  1549. >"You never had anyone like I did, did you?"
  1550. >...
  1551. "Well that's rather vague, isn't it? What the hell are you talking about?"
  1552. >"I had Teddy very early on. I don't know why, but he just got attached to me, I guess," she says, blushing through her creamy fur. "It really helped me a lot, felt like among all those faces and lab coats, someone was interested in me for - me. He would stop by to where I was in the facility, talk to me. There was support there, and I think it helped me keep a good outlook."
  1553. "Good for you," you snidely comment. "Not all of us are that fortunate."
  1554. >"That's my point Midnight," she says solemnly. "I'm not looking for an argument, I'm just trying to understand why someone who is free from the confines of a test facility would still be so... sour."
  1555. "What, I have to explain myself to you? I don't trust you, Starla. And I don't trust Teddy. I don't trust anyone outside these gates because they haven't proven themselves to me."
  1556. >"Why should they have to, Midnight?" Starla patiently asks.
  1557. >You find yourself utterly befuddled by the question - and her laid-back demeanor.
  1558. "Why the fuck am I going to blindly trust anyone? After what I've been put through, with no one stepping in to say 'oh wow, we're putting this pony through a lot, maybe we should stop,' why should I trust that anyone has good intentions? Does anyone really have good intentions? The next person around the corner might be someone in the know of who or what you are - and we're escapees. Doesn't that bother you?"
  1559. >"Is that the way you want to live your life?"
  1560. "Fuck no, but it's reality."
  1561. >Starla doesn't look happy about that harsh reply, but otherwise is unmoved.
  1562. >"And what about Anon?"
  1563. >You freeze when she brings up his name.
  1564. "What about him?" you ask cautiously.
  1565. >"You trust him. Why?" she asks, cocking her head.
  1566. "I had no choice.  He found me, my back was against the wall. I knew it was a matter of time, so I sort of studied up what I could on cars to make myself of use if and when the time came."
  1567. >"Wow, that's actually pretty smart," she says, blinking rapidly a few times at the notion.
  1568. "I'm not really like you. I used to be, but I have circuitry in my head - there are a lot more smarts up there than the average pony," you reply, unable to keep yourself from boasting just a bit.
  1569. >"That still doesn't really explain why you trust Anon, but can't trust anyone else," Starla says. "What if I wanted to be your friend?"
  1570. >You scoff.
  1571. "Why? I'd have to assume there's some sort of reason for that."
  1572. >"Do I need a reason to try?"
  1573. >...
  1574. >What?
  1575. >Starla takes your dumbfounded silence to speak up as she scoots closer to you.
  1576. >"Midnight, you know what's most different between you and me? I don't think about everything."
  1577. >That's obvious.
  1578. >"I don't examine everything around me, looking for a fault. Why should I? By all accounts, I should no longer be alive - but I was graciously saved by Teddy," she says, smiling as she reminisces. "Every day is a gift because it's a day longer than my original time was meant to last. Why should I concern myself with what could happen? Why assume everyone around me is bad when there are so many other stories to hear?"
  1579. >She reaches out with her hoof and places it upon yours.
  1580. >"Maybe I was fortunate enough to get a head start, and that's why I see things differently - but I give everyone I meet a chance to tell their story. Even those that aren't forthcoming or perhaps not in the best of moods," she says with a knowing smile. "Maybe some of it is what I've witnessed watching Teddy help bots or ponies he's found over the years - I suppose that's sort of rubbed off on me. To be honest, I asked Teddy to bring me, because I overheard you on the phone the other day... and I dunno. I just felt like I should come and meet you."
  1581. "So... what, I'm supposed to just start going out and talking to everyone and anyone? Without thought?"
  1582. >"No, that's not what I'm saying," she says, lightly swatting at your hoof. "Give people a chance - you're a stranger to them just as they are to you. How would you like it to have someone utterly freaked out by your initial appearance?"
  1583. >Your mind instantly conjures up the debacle at the grocery store.
  1584. >That was a low feeling - you've tried to pass it off as nothing, but that girl freaking out because you looked similar to a show villain...
  1585. >That hurt.
  1586. >"Just try not analyzing everything. Maybe that's also easier for me, as I have no circuits in my head. Some might say I'm a little dumb - it did take me a long time to read and understand other basic things, but I'm proud of who I am."
  1587. "Yet you can sit here and spout all of... this?"
  1588. >She shrugs, a bit of laughter escaping her.
  1589. >"As I said, I've been around Teddy and seen him try to help others. And I may have been helpful on a few occasions as well."
  1590. >Starla takes a moment to sigh - somewhat unhappily.
  1591. >"That man really carries a lot of guilt for having a hand in creating us - both bot and living beings," she muses. "I don't know if he will ever feel like he's done enough."
  1592. "It isn't really his fault people are greedy," you suggest.
  1593. >"Oh, you're defending him now?"
  1594. "No..."
  1595. >"You are," she says with a smirk. "Come on, don't play coy."
  1596. "I suppose he did give me this," you admit, brushing your necklace.
  1597. >"Ah, that's where that piece went. I remember seeing him work on it, but I never put two and two together. Now it makes sense," she says, looking at your flank.
  1598. "How'd you even get your name?" you ask, finding no markings or anything else on her.
  1599. >Even the locket bears no hint as to the origins.
  1600. >Starla laughs
  1601. >"Teddy. Started calling me 'Star' while helping to take care of me, on account of my project name and number. I don't remember what it was, but Teddy might. Part of it was 'ST4R,' and that's just what he went with. He just decided to make it a little fancier, and I loved how he doted on me. But - now it's your turn."
  1602. "My turn for what?"
  1603. >"Your name! It fits you well, but is there any sort of meaning to it beyond looks?"
  1604. "I can tell you it certainly isn't based on my project code. 'XGE-BI/EMLP-000NMM' doesn't exactly roll off the tongue or bring up whimsical fantasies, does it?"
  1605. >"X.. G..."
  1606. "Experimental Genetically Engineered - Bionic Implant/ElectroMagnetic Levitation Pony triple zero "NightMare Moon," you explain. "They just kept tacking shit onto my file, I guess."
  1607. >"And... you remember that."
  1608. >Her voice betrays both skepticism and concern with that notation.
  1609. "I remember seeing it along with the imminent termination of my project when one of the dumbshits in charge of me dropped a document while leaving my room. That's when I decided I needed to find a way to leave."
  1610. >"I'm sorry. Did they at least give you a name while you were there?" she asks, hoping for any silver lining.
  1611. >You sigh bitterly.
  1612. "Princess. Apparently thought that was the best way to build me up to go through all this shit, like I was special - and I guess because I was originally meant to be Luna. I hated that, and it was just a lie, anyways..."
  1613. >You trail off as another bitter memory floods your mind.
  1614. "Anon didn't know that when we first met, and he used that name. I sort of took offense to that."
  1615. >"He doesn't seem to hold it against you. From what I've seen, he holds you in high regard - and vice versa."
  1616. >She pauses a moment.
  1617. >"But you're just friends."
  1618. "Yeah, and?"
  1619. >"Nothing."
  1620. "No, you don't just say that and leave it, what was that?" you demand.
  1621. >"It just seems like there's... more," she hesitantly replies.
  1622. "Anon... considered it," you begrudgingly admit.
  1623. >"But you said no."
  1624. "Of course I did! That's fucked up!" you shout, exasperated.
  1625. >"But you do care about him."
  1626. >While she's given you a new way to look at life, Starla stringing you along with whatever this is has begun to burn you.
  1627. "Yes, I guess! What's it to you?!"
  1628. >"I just thought it was odd you were so jumpy when I approached him earlier. You certainly didn't seem worried about me doing harm, just... something else."
  1629. "You can see whatever you want to see," you dismiss her.
  1630. >"I also couldn't help but notice you were keen on me sitting here, and you over there," Starla adds with a slight grin.
  1631. >What the fuck?
  1632. "This is my spot. I always sit here."
  1633. >"This is your spot," she says, patting the center couch cushion." I can smell that. I can also smell the spot you're sitting at? That's a very... human smell."
  1634. >You scowl at Starla's insinuations.
  1635. "We're friends, I have no interest in... what you and Teddy have," you repeat.
  1636. >"All I'm saying is you sort of send mixed messages. Honestly, I believe you think too much - you need to mellow out, let your mind relax. Just see where life takes you Midnight. Give people a chance. For me?"
  1637. "I'm supposed to start with you."
  1638. >"I'm not a person. I'm a pony like you. That's gotta count for something, right?"
  1639. >Honestly, you want to tell her no, just so she isn't right.
  1640. >But you can't deny how happy and carefree she is...
  1641. >You're a bit jealous.
  1642. >At some point, life just starts feeling like a burden when you're glancing around, waiting for something sinister.
  1643. >Starla is certainly right on one thing - every day you're alive is a day you shouldn't have.
  1644. >Why protect something if you don't even enjoy it?
  1645. >Why did you escape if you didn't want something better?
  1646. >You wanted to live.
  1647. >You need to start actually living and making what you've been given worthwhile.
  1648. >Starla makes a lot of sense.
  1649. >Maybe there is something to not planning everything out...
  1650. "I think I can try," you agree.
  1651. >Starla instantly becomes excited, slightly bouncing with glee.
  1652. >"You can do it, I know you can! Just relax, and I'll share with you a few little tricks and things I've found over the years to help me adjust..."
  1653.  
  1654.  
  1655.  
  1656.  
  1657.  
  1658. "Might be better to wait and put everything else back together after we make doubly sure it works."
  1659. >"I'm confident it will after we tested the old one - but you're right. No sense in tearing it all apart twice."
  1660. >It didn't take too long to swap out speedometers - the simplicity of old cars is a wonderful thing.
  1661. >But the whole time, you were admittedly distracted.
  1662. >You worry about Midnight.
  1663. >It's been quiet since she and Starla went upstairs.
  1664. >You expected at some point to hear her throw a tantrum or one of them storming out from your living space.
  1665. >That hasn't happened.
  1666. >On the one hand, you feel like a piece of shit for assuming the worst from Middie.
  1667. >On the other hand - well, she was bratty enough earlier today.
  1668. >And you live with her - you know how she is.
  1669. >But maybe Teddy is right - maybe her attitude is partly because of you.
  1670. >Specifically, feeling an instinctual need to keep others away from you.
  1671. >It seemed farfetched and silly when it was first brought up...
  1672. >But hell, Midnight isn't exactly rational when it comes to her emotions.
  1673. "Well, if you want - go out and test it. I can check on the gals while you're out."
  1674. >"I'm sure they're fine, Anon," Teddy replies with a wave.
  1675. "I know... but doesn't hurt to check, right?"
  1676. >"Nah. I get it - but I think you underestimate Starla, if you're worried about Midnight hurting her feelings or something."
  1677. >The 'or something' is most concerning.
  1678. >Teddy hops in the Cutlass and cranks the engine, firing up surprisingly quick for an old car.
  1679. >With an old electrical system, no less.
  1680. >Teddy definitely has good hands in a mechanical sense.
  1681. >Wonder if robotics and shit transfer to cars to an extent...
  1682. >Maybe a little.
  1683. >Regardless, it's been nice to shoot the shit and work on the car during the afternoon.
  1684. >While things got off to a rocky start, you appreciate Teddy's laid-back personality and sense of humor.
  1685. Now if Starla and Midnight can get along, and Midnight can just be mellow...
  1686. >As Teddy rolls back out of the garage, you head up the stairs to your home, undeniably tense.
  1687. >Maybe getting away from you helped her to chill out a bit.
  1688. >Which only makes you feel more nervous.
  1689. >After all, if you trigger her bullshit...
  1690. >Well, then you aren't a very good influence.
  1691. >A troubling thought.
  1692. >When you get to the landing, you already hear voices from the other side.
  1693. >And they sound rather close to the door.
  1694. >Why would they be in the kitchen?
  1695. >"Yes, just like that. And you just keep going back and forth until you get to the end."
  1696. >What.
  1697. >That was Starla's voice giving... some sort of instruction
  1698. >You gingerly push open the door and peek in.
  1699. >Both mares are in the kitchen, very close to the door...
  1700. >...Looking at the microwave?
  1701. >Much to your surprise, Midnight is in the midst of braiding her mane like Starla's, using the window of the microwave to inspect her progress.
  1702. >Starla stands beside her with a big smile plastered on her face while she gives instructions.
  1703. >Meanwhile, you note Middie has fiddled with her tail and matched it close to Starla's braid, as well.
  1704. >Well then...
  1705. >This is unexpected.
  1706. >"I really don't know if this is a look for me. I preferred the ponytail look - or just plain natural," Midnight comments.
  1707. >"There's nothing wrong with that - I just wanted to see you do it again so you know how to do it. Sometimes doing it in the mirror can get disorienting."
  1708. >"Yeah, it would be nice if Anon had an actual mirror instead of using a piss-poor reflection off of an appliance."
  1709. >"Ask him for one."
  1710. >"No way! Do you know how embarrassing it would be to put that out there?" Midnight scoffs. "'Hey Anon, I want to try doing different mane styles and looks - could you buy me a mirror?' No thanks, I can't imagine how much fun he would have with that."
  1711. >"He only does it because he likes you," Starla teases.
  1712. >"Shut up."
  1713. >"Why are you doing this if you don't want him to see you all prettied up?"
  1714. >"Please shut up?"
  1715. >Midnight drops her braid in progress, letting it fall back to its natural flow.
  1716. >Likewise, the braid in her tail unravels with aid from one of her many metal tools scattered around.
  1717. >A rubber band with wire tied around it floats up while another bit of metal corrals her mane, allowing her to pull it up and band it into a ponytail.
  1718. >Another band follows - though it only winds up an inch or two up from the end.
  1719. >"I don't know if I prefer this, or just having it flow freely."
  1720. >... damn she looks good.
  1721. >It's an adorable look.
  1722. >...and it starts to get a rise out of you.
  1723. >Shit.
  1724. >Think of grandma Anon naked, think of grandma Anon naked...
  1725. >Now you feel like throwing up.
  1726. >But it does stop the train and back it up.
  1727. >You still want to barge in and tell her how good she looks, but it's not a wise idea.
  1728. >Instead, you silently close the door and gently turn the knob back to its home position, before rapping lightly on the door.
  1729. >Frenzied shuffling and spastic mutterings can be heard on the other side.
  1730. >Virtually all of it from Midnight of course.
  1731. >"What do you want?" she asks in a brusque manner, sounding further away than just a moment ago.
  1732. >"Nicer," you hear Starla whisper, barely audible.
  1733. >"That was nice - normally I'd ask him what the fuck he wanted."
  1734. "You two okay?"
  1735. >"Fine. Why?"
  1736. "Just haven't heard anything in a while, wanted to make sure everything was good. Can I come in?"
  1737. >"I guess."
  1738. >You slowly open the door and glance around.
  1739. >Midnight takes note of your hesitant entry right away as she sits on a barstool at the kitchen island.
  1740. >Starla sits in your normal spot across from her - albeit turned to face you.
  1741. >She's calm and collected with a look of content.
  1742. >Midnight seems mostly relaxed.
  1743. >...mostly.
  1744. >"You were spying on us, weren't you?" she accuses.
  1745. "I was not, actually. I may have overheard some things, but-"
  1746. >"I thought I heard the door open," Starla says as if hit by an epiphany.
  1747. >"And you didn't say anything?!"
  1748. >"Well, you didn't seem to hear it - I thought maybe it was some noise that was normal for this place."
  1749. >Midnight looks positively annoyed and flustered, shooting Starla a look of anger before her wings spread out and wrap around to obscure herself.
  1750. >Starla merely giggles before her attention turns to you.
  1751. >"How is work on the car going?"
  1752. "Teddy's out taking it for a test drive before we completely button everything back up. What have you two been doing? Seems like you're getting along decent enough."
  1753. >"Talking, mostly. Trying to help her out a little bit," she says, pointing a hoof to the cocooned figure on the other side of the island.
  1754. >Well, you can't leave this alone.
  1755. "Helping her with what?"
  1756. >"Relax, learn to live life. I thought maybe I could help a bit since - well, I've been in her hooves. Perhaps not *quite* as anxious, but... it is hard. I've experienced it, and I've seen it from other rejects on the streets."
  1757. >Damn.
  1758. >You hadn't expected to come up here and find out Midnight's been getting a pep talk.
  1759. "Midnight?"
  1760. >"What?"
  1761. "Can you stop being embarrassed for a moment?"
  1762. >Slowly, her wings slide away from her face, those sky-blue eyes piercing through the feathers momentarily before you get a clear view of her face.
  1763. >"Don't you dare say anything about... what you might have seen," she mutters unhappily.
  1764. "I wouldn't dream of it," you assure her, absolutely stoic and serious.
  1765. >"So you admit you saw... things."
  1766. "...Maybe. but I didn't think it was bad. It was cute."
  1767. >"I'm not fucking cute."
  1768. >"It's a compliment, dear."
  1769. >"You aren't fucking helping right now, Starla."
  1770. >Starla slides out of her seat and saunters toward you, trying not to laugh.
  1771. >"I'm going to go back downstairs - I think you two should talk privately for a few moments," she says quietly.
  1772. "Alright..."
  1773. >She nods and smiles reassuringly before stepping out behind you.
  1774. "What's up, Middie?" you ask, shuffling over and sitting down where Starla was moments ago.
  1775. >"Starla is smarter than she seems, I'll say that much," Midnight sighs.
  1776. "I never thought she seemed dim in any way, to be honest."
  1777. >"Hm. I guess that's sort of the point, isn't it?" she asks, slightly amused.
  1778. >This is a side of Midnight you haven't seen in some time.
  1779. >She's talking to you, but her eyes show she isn't really focused on you.
  1780. >She's focused internally.
  1781. >You keep quiet in the meantime, giving her a moment to collect up whatever she's mulling over at this point in time.
  1782. >"I'm not happy, Anon," she says quietly.
  1783. >The blunt statement sends a jolt through your system.
  1784. >You can't help but feel your mind try to race to a conclusion...
  1785. >That it's you leading to her issues...
  1786. >But you force it back for the time being.
  1787. "About what?"
  1788. >She shrugs a bit, looking rather downtrodden as she just stares at the countertop.
  1789. >"A lot of things, I guess. Looking at Starla, listening to her talk, listening to what she went through - we are similar in many ways. It's what happened afterward that sets us apart. She moved on, and I didn't."
  1790. "We're working through it, right? Talking about things here and th-"
  1791. >"Don't. Stop," Midnight cuts in, her eyes darting to you.
  1792. >She doesn't look angry - but her tone is firm.
  1793. >"No more excuses. Not from me, not from you."
  1794. "Okay. I'm sorry about that."
  1795. >Midnight exhales deeply, shaking her head.
  1796. >"Starla can look past what happened to her, why it happened, who was involved. She's past that - it's a memory, she hasn't forgotten it, but she's - she doesn't let it impact her everyday life."
  1797. >She forces out a small laugh as she pauses.
  1798. >"Starting to talk to her, I just thought she was stupid, you know? Like how I said all biological ponies were - that I met, anyway. I just lump em together regardless, right off the bat. And that right there is the issue."
  1799. "You don't give anyone a chance."
  1800. >"No. I just look at anyone and everyone - and I guess I just feel like I'm looking at the labcoats in the facility again - observing me, ready to move on to some other stupid test to gauge some aspect of me. I look and see people, and I feel like they're in on that - they're all out to get me. It is paranoia."
  1801. >You always sort of hinted she was overly paranoid, but hearing her say that...
  1802. >It's rough.
  1803. >It's rough listening to Midnight bring her walls down, so to speak.
  1804. >She isn't visibly upset - but just from her voice, you can tell it's hard for her to come to terms with this.
  1805. >Especially after denying it for so long.
  1806. >"I got out of hell because I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be free to do what I want, not exist for someone else to toy with. But I'm still imprisoned. I'm imprisoning myself because I can't let go that something might happen, that someone in the world will recognize me and contact those that probably want me back - just to destroy me. But living in anticipation for that, dreading that, trying to prepare for it and being skeptical of everyone - that's not really living, is it?"
  1807. "I suppose not really. It's one thing to be cautious but..."
  1808. >"It's another to distrust everyone at face value. Like that little girl at the store instantly assuming the worst in me," Midnight says forlornly. "I want to be happy Anon. I thought I was but - not really. Not like Starla, who can live without a care. And maybe that's why I hated her at first - seeing her so happy and carefree. Maybe that's why I don't like bots or biological ponies - they don't think about the things I do. Maybe I just think too much."
  1809. >Midnight pauses again, collecting more thoughts, while you sit patiently.
  1810. >"And I guess... there might be a part of me that sort of - I don't know, care about you. More than I'm willing to admit. Maybe that's part of my problem too."
  1811. "Care how?"
  1812. >Midnight locks eyes with you.
  1813. >"Care more than I understand right now."
  1814. >You really don't know what to make of that - and her face remains virtually emotionless, not allowing you any more hints.
  1815. >"I've numbed myself for a long time, Anon. I guess I'm not really used to... feeling. So I don't know what else to really say, other than I need to make changes. I need to try to be better. Maybe I've always known that a little - but having someone like me, yet live such a vastly different lifestyle and possess a vastly different outlook on life... it sort of puts everything in perspective to where I can understand it."
  1816. >Midnight looks uncomfortable after spitting all that out.
  1817. >Vulnerable.
  1818. >But relieved.
  1819. "Is there anything you want me to do to help?"
  1820. >"Be you," she says quietly, pausing a moment. "Maybe lay off the stupidity and jokes a tad, but... be Anon."
  1821. "I think I can do that."
  1822. >Midnight's ears perk up as you begin to hear the tell-tale signs of Teddy's return.
  1823. "I was starting to wonder if he got lost. Probably having too much fun," you quip.
  1824. >"How... much did you really see and hear earlier?" Midnight asks, her voice lowering in embarrassment.
  1825. >You shrug.
  1826. "I don't really think it's that important. I already forgot," you answer. "But I do think you look pretty good with a ponytail, if that means anything."
  1827. >She bites her lip, looking around anywhere other than you.
  1828. >"I might do that once in a while. Not for you, obviously, just... I sort of like the look, too."
  1829. "Fair enough. What do you say we head downstairs and see where we are with the Cutlass, huh?"
  1830. >"Alright."
  1831. >You give her a smile of reassurance before getting back to your feet and turning for the door.
  1832. >"Wait."
  1833. > Midnight's command stops you in your tracks, and you turn back around.
  1834. >She trots over to you.
  1835. "Something else?"
  1836. >Without a word, Midnight spreads her wings, mindful of their size in relation to the confines of your kitchen.
  1837. >She takes a step forward, resting her head on your chest before her wings envelop your entire form.
  1838. >Somewhat shocked at first, you relax, then put your arms gently around her neck and hold her close.
  1839. >"Thank you, Anon."
  1840. >What exactly she's thanking you for - well, that's sort of hard to discern.
  1841. >You'd ask, but...
  1842. >She already laid out so much more than you expected.
  1843. >It's best to just leave it at that.
  1844. >It's best to just support her however she needs you at this time, and however you can do so.
  1845. "No problem, Middie."
  1846.  
  1847.  
  1848.  
  1849.  
  1850.  
  1851. >The rest of the afternoon went surprisingly smooth.
  1852. >You could tell Midnight was putting forth an effort to engage in any sort of little conversation with Starla.
  1853. >Starla was more than happy to oblige.
  1854. >By the end of the visit, Midnight had been able to relax a bit more and actually show a few smiles and a bit of laughter.
  1855. >Before the two left with the unanimous agreement that there would be another meetup with the four of you, Midnight took a moment to thank Teddy for the necklace.
  1856. >It was rather awkward - but it was a start.
  1857. >Definitely night and day difference from when Teddy and Starla had arrived to the time they had left.
  1858. >Junkyard work went by in a flash, leaving relaxation and dinner time the objectives.
  1859. >Tonight is Hamburger Helper night - time to see if this is something Midnight would be enjoying, or tolerating.
  1860. >Chili mac doesn't go too hard in terms of exotics, so you feel confident.
  1861. >While you're dicking around with the stove, Midnight sits at the island in her normal spot.
  1862. >She's been rather quiet, though you have to believe some of that is just due to the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions she's been put through today.
  1863. "You doing okay?"
  1864. >"Relatively speaking, yes. I'm just tired," Midnight replies, the fatigue palpable in her voice.
  1865. "Nothing wrong with that. Just surprised you've not said much, and I wanted to make sure."
  1866. >"I get it. Today's just given me a lot to think about."
  1867. "I thought you said you think too much," you remind her.
  1868. >It at least gets a mild smirk out of her.
  1869. >"Somewhat of a paradox, isn't it?"
  1870. "A little bit. But it's not like changing your mindset is as simple as a snap of the fingers, either."
  1871. >"I don't have fingers."
  1872. "Exactly - that makes it harder still for you."
  1873. >"You know, that was a really awful joke."
  1874. "Wasn't wrong, though, was I?"
  1875. >While she shakes her head, you tend to the browning ground beef that's sizzling away in the skillet.
  1876. "On a lighter note - and not because I want to tease, mind you..."
  1877. >"Yes?"
  1878. "How did mane styling suddenly become a topic today?" you ask, returning your attention to her.
  1879. >Midnight is a little hesitant to reply - but she doesn't really seem offended like you would have normally expected.
  1880. >The fact that she got along well enough with Starla reminded you that assuming Midnight's actions and reactions wasn't very helpful or productive.
  1881. >You need to keep an open mind, too.
  1882. >"I was just curious about her hair. She doesn't have electromagnetism as I do, so I wanted to know how she managed to get it like that."
  1883. "And I'm guessing Teddy likes to style it for her?"
  1884. >"Probably."
  1885. "You didn't get an answer?" you question, scratching your head.
  1886. >Midnight can't help but laugh just a bit.
  1887. >"No, because she took that as me wanting a demonstration of how to make braids. As well as other hairstyles."
  1888. "And you just left it at that."
  1889. >Midnight casually shrugs.
  1890. >"One of the things she told me to try and do is to 'go with the flow.' Try not to question everything, just follow an interaction or discussion wherever it leads. I sort of thought it was a test, to be honest with you."
  1891. "Wow, she really had you jumping through loops today, didn't she?"
  1892. >That came out wrong.
  1893. >Midnight probably knows it too, but that doesn't stop her from hardening her expression in disapproval.
  1894. "Sorry. I don't think *enough* before I speak."
  1895. >"I could have told you that on day one."
  1896. "What I meant to say was she's really inspired you to make a change, just from one day."
  1897. >"Well, yeah. Like I said - to meet someone else whose been through similar circumstances, but can get over it and find happiness without worrying about the next thing... it opened my eyes. She suggested a bit of it had to do with her having Teddy early on as support and I had basically nothing. Nothing but a revolving door of scientists and pencil pushers. I stopped paying any attention to them as they came and went - I probably couldn't pick out a single one from a lineup. I had me, and that was it."
  1898. >Figuring the beef is good enough, you start adding the other ingredients to the skillet, before covering it up to let it simmer and cook the noodles.
  1899. >You take a seat in your normal spot across from Midnight.
  1900. >"I was reminded today about the first day we met," Midnight idly mentions. "I know it's really late but sorry for snapping at you back then."
  1901. >There were a lot of short temper instances in those first few days - most of it all blends together.
  1902. >But one does stick out.
  1903. "Was that the 'p-word' thing?" you tepidly inquire.
  1904. >"Princess. And yes," she replies, nodding slowly.
  1905. "I never understood what that was all about, but I figured it was best not to ask. How did that get brought up?"
  1906. >"Discussing each other's names and how they came to be. That was what they called me - never had an official name other than acronym jargon."
  1907. "Till the first day we met."
  1908. >"Until that first day. Yes."
  1909. "I guess while we're on the subject of apologies, sorry for being a dick the first couple of days you were here living with me," you chime in. "I think we both know now I wasn't in a good mindset in general at that time, but I certainly wasn't receptive to giving a pony a chance. And then, of course, there's the antagonizing shit I did. So, sorry for... all of that."
  1910. >"Guess both of us are sort of in the same boat, huh?"
  1911. "Needing to apologize? Yeah, I guess you're right."
  1912. >But Midnight shakes her head.
  1913. >"No. Needing someone else to kick us out of our comfort zone and get us out of a rut."
  1914. "Hadn't thought of it like that... you sure Starla and you didn't just swap places? Or maybe she brainwashed you?"
  1915. >"Maybe you need to shut your cock holster and give the food on the stove a stir," she calmly responds.
  1916. "Alright, that's definitely you."
  1917. >You get up and tend to dinner, making sure things aren't starting to burn.
  1918. >It was starting to stick on the bottom...
  1919. "Do you still want to make this place closed to the public for the most part, or are you having second thoughts of that?"
  1920. >"Anon, I'm willing to make a change for the better and give people a chance. That doesn't mean I want to become an all-out socialite," she clarifies, a little disturbed by your question. "Besides - there isn't any reason to stand around day after day waiting to go out and pick parts when we might see three whole customers in that time."
  1921. "I'm just gauging where you're at, that's all."
  1922. >She sighs, her muscles going slack and letting her chin hit the counter with a thump.
  1923. "As much as I try to pretend, my head is a mess, Anon. It really is," she mumbles.
  1924. "Middie, you said yourself you need to just stop thinking so much," you try to reason with her. "Today was an impactful day - you aren't going to come up with all the answers at once."
  1925. >"I know. I just don't like having answers. And it's like my brain won't shut up about it."
  1926. "Just one day at a time, Midnight. That's all we gotta do."
  1927. >She looks up at you, rather unimpressed with your response.
  1928. >You just have to give her a look of sympathy.
  1929. >it feels like this is a move in the right direction.
  1930. >But it is going to be hard for her.
  1931. >And in reality, there's not much you can do aside from be a cheerleader.
  1932. > It's a frustrating feeling.
  1933. >In some respects, it almost feels like a step back.
  1934. >But it is a new challenge.
  1935. >And then there's the other bombshell.
  1936. >Midnight cares 'more than she understands.'
  1937. >That brings so many more questions to your mind.
  1938. >Does it mean that she's considering what Teddy has with Starla?
  1939. >Maybe there was some discussion about that today, too - and she didn't want to divulge that detail.
  1940. >You can't really ask about that bit.
  1941. >She has enough on her plate now.
  1942. >You will have to wait.
  1943. >Which you already had set in your mind, but...
  1944. >Well, it feels like the door has been opened a crack, and you now have to restrain yourself from peeking.
  1945. >You really don't know how long you zone out considering all of these new obstacles.
  1946. >Turning to check on Midnight, you find her eyes glued to the countertop again.
  1947. >This may end up with some uncomfortably awkward few days ahead while everything slowly shakes out.
  1948. > It's a sobering thought, after feeling like things had finally clicked with both of you finding your respective place.
  1949. >You distract yourself by consciously checking on the progress of dinner.
  1950. >Looks pretty close...
  1951. >But you feel the overwhelming need to get things back to normal.
  1952. >Even if only a temporary measure.
  1953. >You spoon out a single, sauce-covered noodle and carefully pick it up with your bare fingers.
  1954. >Feeling Midnight's eyes gazing upon what you are doing, you toss the noodle behind you at the wall, before turning around.
  1955. >It splatters against the white-painted plaster, leaving an orange-red stain at ground zero before it falls to the floor.
  1956. >"What the fuck was that?"
  1957. "Checking to see if the noodles are done, duh," you say as if it's the most obvious thing in the world.
  1958. >"Why not just try eating one?"
  1959. "Because it's hot. I don't want to burn my mouth."
  1960. >Midnight stares, mouth agape as she tries to comprehend your excuses.
  1961. >"I swear, you have to be retarded on some level."
  1962. "Didn't we already discuss this before? Of course I'm retarded."
  1963. >As Midnight comes off of the shock of your antics, a relaxed smile slowly graces her face.
  1964. >She knows what that was all about.
  1965. >"Thanks."
  1966. "Don't thank me just yet- dinner isn't dished out," you say, turning off the burner and bringing it over to the island.
  1967. >Setting it on a hot pad, Midnight takes a whiff of what awaits while you grab plates out of the cupboard.
  1968. >"It at least smells decent enough," she comments.
  1969. "It's good, I think you will like it."
  1970.  
  1971.  
  1972.  
  1973.  
  1974. >This is a very awkward situation.
  1975. >You really don't want to embarrass Midnight - even though she probably thinks otherwise.
  1976. >But the meeting with Starla a couple of days ago really got your noggin joggin.
  1977. >For quite possibly the first time, Midnight was interested in her hairstyle.
  1978. >The way that she looked.
  1979. >From someone that has admitted she abhors what she is - that's gotta be a positive step forward.
  1980. >And you decided to capitalize on that opportunity.
  1981. >Now, it would be nice to have a proper occasion to surprise her, such as Christmas or a birthday...
  1982. >But Christmas is too far away for you to wait, and you have no idea what Midnight's actual birthdate is.
  1983. >It's likely she doesn't even know that.
  1984. >A combination of a hazy memory of times before the experimentation phase and isolation has made sure of that.
  1985. >Hell, how old is she?
  1986. >Obviously she's an adult, just from her size and mannerisms, but...
  1987. >That really doesn't matter - you're thinking yourself off the rails.
  1988. >You ended up making a quick trip to the store this evening to get a mirror for Midnight - one that didn't require her to head downstairs to the bathroom or use a kitchen appliance.
  1989. >She really needs to take pride in herself - you feel like it would go a long way toward helping her adapt to a new life and a new outlook.
  1990. >So bashfulness be damned, Midnight is getting a mirror.
  1991. > It's one of those tall ones that hang from a door - somewhat limiting where it can be placed, but allows a full view.
  1992. >Of course, the next must-have items would be proper bands and a brush or two.
  1993. >...man, these are some really girly thoughts.
  1994. >Maybe this is going too far.
  1995. >What if Midnight now thinks you're belittling her?
  1996. >The last couple of days have been awkward enough, haven't they?
  1997. >It's been hard to get any sort of conversation going - or argument, for that matter.
  1998. >Despite saying she was prone to overthinking things, she's been lost in thought and distracted quite a bit.
  1999. >To the point you've had to repeat tool requests, which she is usually sharp as a razor to retrieve.
  2000. >It was obvious this would be a bit of a battle.
  2001. >But you didn't expect it to completely fuck everything.
  2002. >Not that you blame her.
  2003. >It just sucks that after everything got comfortable, the two of you have sort of drifted back apart.
  2004. >You've at least tried to be mindful of your compliments and other comments, as to not make her start overthinking those as some sort of come-on.
  2005. >And now you bought her a mirror to perfect her looks...
  2006. >Perhaps this plan wasn't so great after all...
  2007. >In addition, Midnight doesn't come off as overly feminine - maybe you caught her at that one in a million times that she decided to just try something.
  2008. >But she did say she was considering wearing her hair in a ponytail from time to time...
  2009. >No, this is the right decision.
  2010. >Finally coming to a conclusion with your thoughts and concerns, you pull yourself out of the Trailduster and grab the box out of the back.
  2011. >You have to assume Middie has herself buried in something on the laptop again - meaning you will get at least somewhat of a surprise out of her.
  2012. >Making the trek up the stairs, you balance the present while fiddling with the doorknob, before sliding it through the open doorway.
  2013. >"Well that didn't take long," you hear Midnight comment.
  2014. "I told you I wouldn't be," you reply, finally catching sight of her on the couch as you close the door behind you.
  2015. >You quickly turn the box so the side that faces her is the plain, unprinted side that offers no clues to Middie.
  2016. >Sure enough, you don't think Midnight has pried her eyes away from the screen for even a second - she hasn't seen a thing.
  2017. >The TV is on, adding some white noise to your humble abode - but is otherwise of little interest to her, as well.
  2018. "You got a minute?"
  2019. >"If I tell you no, you're going to proceed with whatever it is anyway," she says, looking over into the kitchen.
  2020. >Her eyes instantly spot the plain brown box you're holding.
  2021. >"What did you buy?"
  2022. >The tone of her voice is almost scolding, as if expecting this is something expensive and completely useless.
  2023. "Oh, suddenly you're interested?"
  2024. >You take a few more steps, stopping in the walkway between the kitchen island and the wall.
  2025. >"What is it?"
  2026. "It's for you, I will say that."
  2027. >"What. Is. It?" she demands impatiently.
  2028. "If you're going to have an attitude, nevermind," you haughtily threaten, turning up your nose.
  2029. >You give her a second to stew in silence.
  2030. >"Don't be an asshole, Anon."
  2031. "Alright. But promise me one thing."
  2032. >"Maybe."
  2033. "Don't get all broody and embarrassed."
  2034. >"What kind of a promise is th-"
  2035. >As she responds, you spin the box around, cutting her off.
  2036. >Midnight's initial reaction is one of confusion - before she actually focuses on the print.
  2037. >"Are you shitting me?" she laments.
  2038. "I said no broodiness or embarrassment, Midnight."
  2039. >"I - well I never agreed to that, necessarily," she says.
  2040. "It was close enough."
  2041. >"Did you seriously go out and buy this tonight?"
  2042. "Yep."
  2043. >"All because of what you say Starla and I doing?"
  2044. "Yep."
  2045. >Midnight purses her lips, trying to come up with something else to say.
  2046. >A drawn-out silence allows you to open the box after properly entering the living room.
  2047. "It hangs up on a door, so I figure you can decide whether the inside of the door in the kitchen is best, or either side of my bedroom door. I'll leave it up to you."
  2048. >"And you bought this just for me?"
  2049. >You shrug.
  2050. "I mean, I guess I can use it, too. It really wasn't expensive, Middie."
  2051. >"I - just... why?"
  2052. "Because for the first time, you were looking at yourself in a way that wasn't just negativity. You should be happy with who you are, and maybe exploring different looks will help with that," you explain, holding the mirror out so she can view her reflection. "it seemed like you and Starla at least had some amusement out of it - the least I can do is try to stoke that ember, yeah?"
  2053. >"You pick the weirdest damn things to focus on, Anon," she remarks.
  2054. "You might have a point - but I'm really just trying to help you find your place in the world. That's all."
  2055. >"So it isn't for you?"
  2056. "I already said that it-"
  2057. >"I mean it isn't *for you* - as in, to enjoy the results?" she suggests.
  2058. "Stop concerning yourself with me - I said I wasn't going to make things weird."
  2059. >Midnight doesn't seem wholly convinced, giving you an accusatory glare.
  2060. >Okay, so this wasn't the right idea after all.
  2061. "Midnight - I was trying to be nice, I saw an opportunity to get you something to help you out. I'm sorry if you think there are additional connotations to this gift but - should I just take it back then?"
  2062. >It really didn't cost you that much - but you aren't going to keep something that Midnight thinks is a ploy to get you closer to her.
  2063. >"...no."
  2064. >Midnight slides off the couch, approaching you and her gift with uncertainty.
  2065. >She spreads out her wings, glancing at herself at different angles.
  2066. >"I still can't help but find it a little weird you bought this."
  2067. "And you're free to feel that way - but it isn't a gift in the way you dread it is."
  2068. >"I never said I dreaded that."
  2069. >She grimaces at that response.
  2070. >"I just don't know how I should feel about this. It's just... odd."
  2071. "We're in an odd situation now. Partly because of me, partly due to others. All I can say is stop thinking about it - as you told me you were going to try to do. Go with the flow, Midnight."
  2072. >"I guess..."
  2073. "Would it have been less embarrassing if I had asked first? Or brought it up in the store the next time we went together?"
  2074. >Midnight doesn't say anything.
  2075. >She just continues to look at herself in the mirror.
  2076. "Midnight."
  2077. >"You know, maybe braids wouldn't look so bad. I feel like I'd just be copying Starla's style, though," she muses, acting as if she did not hear anything you said.
  2078. >Rather than overthink it, you take your own advice that was already being reused.
  2079. "If you think about it, that would be a lot nicer to deal with on windy days when we're working outside. Maybe it's just an idea to keep around in the back of your head - assuming you can do it. I sure as hell don't know anything about hair."
  2080. >"Well thank goodness for small favors. I would expect you to know jack shit about hair."
  2081. "Because I'm a guy, or because I don't have long hair?"
  2082. >"Bit of both."
  2083. "What if I had long hair at one point?"
  2084. >"Did you?"
  2085. "No."
  2086. >"Then what the hell was the point of that question?"
  2087. "I dunno. I felt like it needed to be asked."
  2088. >Midnight rolls her eyes in response, spinning around and hopping back up on the couch.
  2089. "Any idea where you want to put this, or is that a decision for later?"
  2090. >"Later. Probably on your bedroom door - back of the kitchen door, there's the risk of getting smacked in the face if someone opens it."
  2091. >Satisfied with that answer, you lean the mirror up against the far wall for now.
  2092. "Hadn't thought of that," you admit, taking a seat in your normal spot on the end. " Honestly, I wish you hadn't, either."
  2093. >"...what?"
  2094. "It would have been good for a laugh the first time it happened."
  2095. >Midnight goes from an expression of confusion to 'are you kidding me' in the blink of an eye.
  2096. "I never specified a person or pony that had to be on the receiving end. Don't look at me in that tone of voice."
  2097. >"There's one particular individual that would be more likely to suffer being the butt of the joke."
  2098. "Well, shit happens," you say with a shrug.
  2099. >Midnight turns her head away from you, levitating her laptop over.
  2100. >Without warning, she flops over, her head resting on your leg and her mane virtually burying it.
  2101. >Um...
  2102. >What.
  2103. "You know I'm not a pillow, right?"
  2104. >"I'm not going to go searching for one. Blame yourself for not buying any - though the mirror is nice."
  2105. >You glance over to the other end of the couch.
  2106. >Where a small pillow lies unused.
  2107. "I'll put it on my list of shit I habitually forget to buy."

Shadow

by Autopony

Midnight [Part 3]

by Autopony

Midnight [Part 2]

by Autopony

Midnight

by Autopony

Anon Gets Sent to Tartarus (one shot + scrap)

by Autopony