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Midnight [Part 5]

By Autopony
Created: 24th April 2022 11:55:30 AM
16th September 2022 11:23:17 PM

  1. >"C'mon, you miserable son of a bitch..."
  2. "Now surely I don't hear you over there hurling insults at a stubborn but inanimate bolt, do I? I seem to recall being ridiculed for doing that."
  3. >"Pound sand."
  4. >You can't help but snicker a bit as you set down the tool in your hand and head over to the car lift.
  5. >Midnight's focus is above her, working on a bolt tucked away in the undercarriage of the Chrysler.
  6. >She doesn't stray her eyes away from her work, but the twitch of her right ear to pick up the sounds of your movement assures you she is aware of your impending presence.
  7. "Something I can help with?"
  8. >"I don't think so. Trying to get this leaf spring bolt out to replace the bushing - and it just wants to be a pain in the ass all the way," she explains, tapping the end of a wrench against the head of the target bolt.
  9. "They usually are miserable to get out - even worse when they haven't ever been out in damn near seventy years," you chime in, grabbing the leaf spring close to the eyelet where the bushing rests and rocking it up and down.
  10. >The bolt moves ever so slightly in the hole back and forth.
  11. >You use your other hand to steady the end of it while pushing up on the leaf to relieve tension.
  12. "Try it now."
  13. >Midnight does as instructed, having a much easier time extracting the bolt with the ratchet.
  14. >"I should have known better than that," Midnight scolds herself with a slight shake of her head as the bolt comes free.
  15. >You ease off of the spring, allowing it to straighten out slowly.
  16. "How do you think I learned that, Midnight? It's easy to get tunnel vision," you console her, leaning down and smooching the top of her head.
  17. >Despite the toiling outside in the sun and the heat, you still get a whiff of lilacs from her shampoo underneath that working mare scent.
  18. >"Yeah, yeah. I know," she laments. "You did buy all the suspension bushings like you said you would, right?"
  19. "Yep, they're... in the trunk."
  20. >"Fuck."
  21. "It's not that big of a deal - at least they're with the car, rather than scattered around the shop."
  22. >Midnight sidesteps out from underneath the car, allowing you to lower the lift with the remote until you can reach the trunk and pop it open.
  23. >Despite the odds and ends stuffed in the cavernous space, it's easy to spot the unmarked cardboard box.
  24. "Come to think of it, you're being pretty damn smart going about replacing this stuff," you comment while grabbing the parcel and maneuvering it out from everything else around it.
  25. >"Because I'm doing it one at a time, rather than unbolting everything at once?"
  26. >Huh, so she's aware of that.
  27. >Evidently you make some sort of face as you plant the box down on the concrete, rising back up to close the trunklid.
  28. >"I listen from time to time - you mentioning focusing on one particular item and getting that done is better than total disassembly at once."
  29. >Now you're feeling lost.
  30. "When did I say that?"
  31. >"Hello? Pulling the engine out and leaving the transmission in place?" she chides, staring at you as if it were painfully obvious.
  32. "Hey, not all of us are part supercomputer."
  33. >"As if a few electronic gizmos make all the difference," she huffs in a jesting manner, turning her nose up at you. "I'm just glad I'm not part dumbass."
  34. "You live with someone part dumbass, and dumbassery is infectious."
  35. >"Hm. Maybe that's why I couldn't think of the best way to tackle that stubborn bolt. Thanks for the excuse."
  36. "Happy to help," you reply with a dorky grin and accompanying shrug.
  37. >"How goes your little art project?" Midnight inquires, glancing beyond you and to your impromptu workstation set up around the engine stand.
  38. >There is a hint of amusement in her voice if the wry grin wasn't enough to tip you off.
  39. >You fold your arms in response.
  40. "Now what's that supposed to mean?"
  41. >"Nothing of course," she sasses. "I just think it's cute with those paint pans set up around you and the cute little wheeled workbench you've got set up there."
  42. "I'll have you know it's a professionally unprofessional setup I have going, Middie."
  43. >"Of course. Thanks for the little visual asspat to make me feel better about myself, fruitcake," she teases further.
  44. >Asspat, huh?
  45. >While she begins to wander over to see what you really are doing with the engine, you uncross your arms and get a decent windup before slapping her on the aforementioned ass, making sure to grab a nice handful of cushion.
  46. >Midnight lets out a surprised squeal the instant you make contact.
  47. "No problem, Middie."
  48. >"You rat bastard!"
  49. >She whirls around quickly, rearing up on her hind legs to bring her forelegs down roughly upon your shoulders.
  50. >Her nostrils flare as she gets right in your face, glaring at you in anger.
  51. >Well, trying to glare in anger.
  52. >It doesn't work well when you can spot the hint of a grin forming on her lips.
  53. "What? I thought I missed something when you thanked me for an asspat," you innocently explain, trying your damnedest not to smirk.
  54. >"That wasn't a pat."
  55. "Sorry, retarded."
  56. >"I'll let you off with a warning this time."
  57. >She puckers up and plants a kiss on your lips - quick and fleeting, just to be a tease.
  58. "So, should I do that again and see what discipline I get?"
  59. >"I don't think you need to push your luck," she muses, slipping back down to the floor.
  60. "Come on, what do you really have going on over here?"
  61. >Putting your dirty thoughts aside and resisting the urge to have her lead the way, you head back over to the Chrysler's engine, in the midst of disassembly.
  62. >One head is almost completely disassembled now and close to being removed from the block.
  63. "Well, my little art station is set up to keep things organized and in the proper orientation and position," you say, pointing to one of the pans.
  64. >Midnight glances down at the murky liquid within it, the engine components resting at the bottom just barely visible.
  65. >"What are you doing with the pushrods?"
  66. >As she asks, one of the aforementioned parts lifts out of the depths, giving you a look at the progress the kerosene soak has done in cleaning them.
  67. >The shitty brown coloring is beginning to fade, bringing back the original metal finish to peek through what's left.
  68. "All those years of sitting in oil and then... well, just sitting - they get all gunked up with what ends up being like varnish. So I'm letting them soak and soften up that crap before properly cleaning them. Make sure to put that where you found it."
  69. >"Reusing them? I assume there's an order?"
  70. "I've always heard that when it comes to engine parts - put em back in the same place you found em if you're gonna replace them. Different wear patterns and such. Whether that's true or not... well, I'd rather not find out the hard way. Hence why I got magnets holding em down in the bottom, and why the pans are marked."
  71. >You point to the chicken scratch on the shiny aluminum end panels and sides, scrawled with a black marker.
  72. >"Beautiful handwriting as always."
  73. "I know, looks like I had a seizure while trying to color in the lines."
  74. >"What lines?"
  75. "Exactly."
  76. >Midnight shakes her head while looking over the other parts of the valvetrain.
  77. >"You know, that doesn't look as complicated out of the head assembly as it does within it. Or in diagrams," she comments, poking at one of the rocker arms.
  78. "Look can be deceiving - it's the same amount of rocker arms and pushrods as any other American V8 built back in the day before overhead camshafts - just an extra shaft splitting up the exhaust and intake rods. Just needs a different geometry between the two valves because of the hemi head shape."
  79. >"Yeah, I guess the different angles everything is at just makes it look cluttered and complex," she muses. "Have you found a crankshaft for it yet?"
  80. "Maybe," you answer cautiously.
  81. >"I'm pretty sure that's a yes or no question," Midnight shoots back with a bit of an edge in her voice.
  82. "Alright - yes, I know where I can get one. But we're in a hold pattern for now - I'm not buying one until I know for sure this block is sound."
  83. >"Wait, I thought you said it looked fine," she quickly protests.
  84. "*Looked* fine is not the same as actually being structurally sound - I'm going to take it to a machine shop to get inspected thoroughly. I'd rather not drop big money on a crank to find out I have nothing to put it in."
  85. >Your explanation only gets a pouting expression from Midnight, who is none too keen to hear of such hurdles.
  86. "Hold on, didn't you tell me not long ago that this motor not being any good wasn't the end of the world?"
  87. >"...no?"
  88. >She knows she's caught, but plays stupid nonetheless.
  89. >However, Midnight is up against the champ.
  90. "Oh, must have had that discussion with Starla, then," you reply, before picking up your wrench and resuming work.
  91. >"Shut up, you don't even talk to her."
  92. "Not that you know of."
  93. >"She would have told me, we talk about you two idiots we live with."
  94. >Now this is interesting...
  95. "Oh? And what do you two talk about?"
  96. >"Stuff."
  97. "Uh-huh. Does she... know about us?"
  98. >"No - I mean, it's sort of a private thing, you know?"
  99. >...
  100. "You know I'm talking about the standard relationship thing, right?"
  101. >"Of course, what else would I-"
  102. >Midnight's eyes go wide as she follows your train of thought.
  103. >"Why the hell would I talk about that?!"
  104. "I don't know, why would I have thought the dating thing would be so touchy to discuss?" you ask, shrugging your shoulders as you try to make sense of where this conversation has derailed.
  105. >"Are we actually... dating?" she asks, almost tiptoeing the question to you.
  106. "Kinda. I don't know what makes it official, but - we do a lot of stuff together, yeah? Like little fires at night out back?"
  107. >Midnight nods - albeit slowly, as if still uncertain.
  108. "You're thinking more like a night out on the town, huh?"
  109. >"I don't really know. I guess I hadn't really considered the idea," she admits, sounding shocked by her own thoughts as they're put into words.
  110. >It really sounds like a nice idea, assuming you could sit down in a decent restaurant together.
  111. "Maybe we will do that sometime, Midnight," you propose. "If you're up for it, of course."
  112. >She mulls the proposition with a fair amount of amusement, judging by the goofy little grin she's trying to hide.
  113. >"I might have to take you up on that," she finally announces.
  114. >That settles it then.
  115. >You're gonna make an official date night.
  116. >But for now...
  117. "So what kind of 'stuff' do you and Starla talk about?" you tease.
  118. >"You know... stuff," she rather gruffly stonewalls.
  119. "Is there some... girly stuff?"
  120. >You cup your hand over your mouth, pretending to giggle like some schoolgirl.
  121. >A blanket of black down smacks you in the face as Midnight's wing flares outward.
  122. >"Oh my god, you're a fucking moron," she bemoans, betraying just a hint of embarrassment in her voice. "I'm going back to my shit now."
  123. "You're no fun," you whine as she turns tail and heads back to the Chrysler.
  124. >"And you're too much fun - it evens out," she sasses back.
  125.  
  126.  
  127.  
  128.  
  129.  
  130. >A dark blue appendage slowly obscures your view of the laptop screen.
  131. >You ignore it and the owner as best you can, craning your neck to look over the obstacle.
  132. >Unfortunately, it flexes and wiggles around, taking up as much space as possible.
  133. "What?"
  134. >"Hoof rub."
  135. >You pull your eyes off of your work to glance at Midnight, who lies beside you.
  136. >On her back, her legs folded close to her body, aside from the one that is bothering you right now.
  137. >Her head is cocked to her left, to avoid sticking you in the hip with her horn.
  138. >Or avoid you just sitting on it.
  139. "You look retarded when you lay like that."
  140. >"Like attracts like, I guess."
  141. "It doesn't even look comfortable."
  142. >"I know - hence the hoof rub I've duly requested."
  143. >That-
  144. >That makes no sense.
  145. >Midnight picks up on your hesitation.
  146. >Or maybe the face you're making of pure skepticism.
  147. >"Stop thinking about it. You'll overtax your head."
  148. "How about a compromise?"
  149. >"Hm... I don't think so."
  150. >Despite the answer, you reach over with your right hand and stroke her chest.
  151. >The fine fur almost tickles the palm of your hand while absorbing the warmth she exudes.
  152. >"That...that's not... my hoof," she manages to blubber out as she basks in the attention.
  153. "Yeah, I don't know my anatomy, so that's the best I can do."
  154. >As your eyes go back to the laptop, you keep up your loving strokes upon Midnight's chest almost absentmindedly at this point.
  155. >Before long, you feel the couch underneath your ass and the mare underneath your hand shifting in unison.
  156. >You don't have to turn your head to find out what's going on - Midnight pushes her way onto your lap headfirst, forcing the laptop to be supported by your knees
  157. >You look down at her, while she looks back up at you without a care in the world, giving you an eager grin.
  158. "You are not a laptop."
  159. >"Wow, so you can tell the difference?" she chides.
  160. "You're needy."
  161. >"No, you've just convinced me that you have more uses. Now, continue, my slave."
  162. >You have to cock your head at that last comment and purse your lips.
  163. >"Don't look at me in that tone of voice."
  164. >You grab the laptop and gently place it over Midnight's snout, obscuring her whole head from your view.
  165. "That's my line, you can't use it," you lament.
  166. >"That's my laptop I'm letting you use," she responds in a nasally voice due to the device laid upon her.
  167. >Cutting her a break after a few moments of her purposely snuffled breaths, you remove the laptop from her head and place it back onto your knees.
  168. >"I knew you would see things my way," she gushes, looking quite pleased with herself.
  169. >Okay, this has been decidedly uncharacteristic of Midnight tonight.
  170. >It isn't bad.
  171. >But you gotta know.
  172. "You're acting awfully fucking weird tonight. What's up?" you inquire, continuing to massage her underside.
  173. >Midnight tries to shrug - it isn't obvious to the eye, but you feel her shoulders and back shift in such a way.
  174. >"You get to act like a buffoon all the time - I'm kinda bored, so I figured why not take a stab at it?" she suggests. "The massage is an added bonus - though I really would have preferred you focused on my hooves. I had to work my ass off to make up for you."
  175. >She isn't wrong there.
  176. >Almost half your day was spent underneath a Grand Prix pulling several stubborn suspension parts out of it.
  177. "Yeah, but we are a team, Middie. There is no 'I' in 'team'."
  178. >"There is a 'me' if you jumble up the letters," she counters with a devious grin, poking at your nose with one of her hooves.
  179. "Shaddup. You said you were trying to be stupid," you reply, booping her snoot.
  180. >"That really didn't take much thought to figure out, stupid."
  181. "But you did have to think about it."
  182. >"Well, I can't *not* think," she scoffs.
  183. "You're getting there."
  184. >"Come again?" she retorts, her brow raised with intrigue at your comment.
  185. "You always told me you couldn't relax and shut your mind up. You're doing a hell of a job of it right now."
  186. >"Shit changes, I guess. But I'm still sharp as a tack," she replies rather defensively as her gaze hardens.
  187. "Just making note of it."
  188. >"What about you actually giving a damn about work tonight, Anon? Explain that one to me," she demands, poking at your chest playfully.
  189. "I'm not working on anything."
  190. >"Looking at porn, then? 'Thirteen Man Slamathon'? 'Tranny Grannies in Crotchless Panties'?"
  191. "Ooh, that last one sounds like it might have a good storyline to it."
  192. >Midnight exhales through her nose, hitting you with a rush of warm air as her eyes do their best to dart to the white screen of the laptop, shifting back to you after a moment in silence.
  193. "What?"
  194. >"You're currently browsing the junkyard spreadsheet - specifically the section covering the full-size Pontiacs," she drolls monotonously.
  195. "You got that from a quick glance," you say aloud, not quite believing her.
  196. >But she is right.
  197. >"Bitch, please. I created the damn thing, I know my impeccable work."
  198. "At least you're modest about it."
  199. >Midnight sticks her tongue out, accompanying the gesture with a fitting "Nya!"
  200. >You quickly move your hand that had been stroking her chest to seize the tip of her tongue between your thumb and index finger.
  201. >Midnight's eyes widen at the surprise, but she doesn't otherwise react.
  202. >"Leh go oth ny hongue, athhoe," she manages to work out.
  203. "Is that supposed to be English?" you tease her.
  204. >"Yow ah thaggot."
  205. "Now say 'I rode in on a ship full of apples'."
  206. >Midnight finally starts to do something about these shenanigans, pulling her purplish-pink tongue and your digits toward her open mouth.
  207. >You let go just before she snaps her jaw shut, a look of accomplishment on her face shortly before disgust washes over her.
  208. >"Aw, ew, I got fucking hair in my mouth," she bitterly crows, gagging and sticking her tongue out as she tries to rid herself of it.
  209. "It's yours, so stop whining."
  210. >After a few moments of exaggerated retching, Midnight calms down, turning her head to look at the computer screen once again.
  211. >"What are you doing with that, anyway?"
  212. "Jotting down what's been taken off the car. I don't know why you nor I have thought of doing that, but it should save time in the long run."
  213. >"You know, I'm kind of ashamed that never occurred to me," she muses.
  214. "No one is perfect," you reply, reassuringly patting her chest.
  215. >"Yeah, but I'm pretty close," she adds with a haughty tone and complementary smirk.
  216. >You try to think of something witty to say as you look down at her.
  217. >But seeing her laying on your lap, her hair splayed out to show off the deep blue and violet strands of hair that frame her face...
  218. >That smile that lets just the slightest hint of her canines poke out from her lips...
  219. >Those otherworldly, lively blue eyes...
  220. >You have nothing to say.
  221. >Almost nothing to say.
  222. "You're pretty damn close, yeah."
  223. >Her brow furrows just a bit, taken aback by the comment.
  224. >"I'm... that was a joke, Anon. I'm not quite that self-centered," she admits quietly.
  225. "I know."
  226. >"But..."
  227. "You're so damned cute when you're all confused and flustered," you say, reaching up to her face and lightly pinching a cheek.
  228. >"I still don't do cute," she laments, pouting just a bit.
  229. "You're going it right now," you argue, pointing at her face.
  230. >"Cute is just a word that's too... blech."
  231. >You can't help but laugh as she makes a face of utter disgust once again as if the hair in her mouth from earlier has manifested once more.
  232. "Fine. Adorable."
  233. >"Yeck."
  234. "Beautiful."
  235. >"That works well enough. Or maybe 'ravishing," she suggests, her eyes lighting up upon utterance of that seemingly magic word.
  236. >You shake your head.
  237. >"What?"
  238. "Too long."
  239. >"It's the same amount of letters and syllables, shitstick."
  240. "Yeesh, alright. Nerd."
  241. >"Having some semblance of intelligence does not make me a nerd," she rebuts, brooding over the accusation.
  242. "But you're a cute nerd."
  243. >"I don't like you anymore."
  244. "Well shit. Guess no more chest rubs."
  245. >As you pull your hand away from Midnight's underside, her forehooves seize upon your arm, clamping down and dragging your hand back to her chest.
  246. >"No. Mine," she mutters like a spoiled child.
  247. "What, are you part cat now? I'm supposed to keep petting you until you suddenly decide to start biting the shit out of me?"
  248. >Midnight shifts just a bit in your lap, cocking her head and eyeing you inquisitively.
  249. >"...Mrow?"
  250. "...you are way too goddamn big to be a house cat. You might even outrank the panther category."
  251. >"Or maybe I'm just someone that demands to be lavished with attention. Heed my command, peasant."
  252. "Trying to take after the villain you're based upon now?"
  253. >"Hah!" Midnight belts out, her eyes going wide and maniacal as they begin to glow. "Nightmare Moon doesn't have shit on me. Look at everything I have! This kingdom and its riches! Someone to tend to my needs and pamper me! Completely unopposed! I should beat you for such a mindless comparison," she threatens in a playful growling voice.
  254. "I swear you've cheated and been drinking to act this stupid tonight," you comment while stroking her.
  255. >"I swear you went downstairs to take a leak about thirty minutes ago and left me unattended with a nearly empty bottle of rum in the fridge."
  256. >Well that certainly isn't specific at all...
  257. >She gives you a toothed grin when you eye her with a healthy amount of suspicion.
  258. >"It's not cheating if you never anticipated playing the game beforehand."
  259. "That was all you had?"
  260. >"Yeah...?"
  261. >You chuckle while you lean down and kiss the perplexed mare.
  262. "You poor fucking lightweight."
  263.  
  264.  
  265.  
  266.  
  267.  
  268. "Are you going to make us stand out here all evening?"
  269. >"Shut up!" Midnight barks from within the shop. "Just a few seconds!"
  270. >It has legitimately been almost five minutes since Teddy and Starla arrived at your place, and all you can do is turn and shrug while the pair stand there, mildly amused by the exchange.
  271. >At least they find it entertaining.
  272. >It had been far too long since you all had gotten together - texts and video chats can only do so much.
  273. >But, this was merely a casual evening spent with friends around a firepit.
  274. >Other than Midnight's obsessive excitement with making a show of the Chrysler for your guests.
  275. >... you didn't have the heart to tell her you had already mentioned the car to Teddy.
  276. >Hell, you had assumed Midnight had already given the rundown to Starla.
  277. >Apparently not.
  278. >Not that you needed to forewarn him, but you idly passed along the notion of acting surprised when she showed off the new project.
  279. >"Aww, you gotta let Midnight have her moment, Anon," Teddy dismisses, waving away any tension with his hand. "It's funny seeing her so excited like this."
  280. >"I second that thought," Starla chimes in.
  281. >While you've only caught glimpses of her in video chat since the day you were introduced, this is the first time you've really seen her without braids - her strawberry blonde-esque hair tied back into a neat ponytail for the outdoor occasion.
  282. >It would have been cute seeing the two sporting matching hairstyles today, but Midnight merely let hers hang free aside from tidying it up with a brush.
  283. >Her focus was getting the Chrysler looking its best.
  284. >But not cleaning it.
  285. >Since the 'barn find' look had to be kept for this showing.
  286. >... you didn't ask, you just let Midnight be Midnight.
  287. >"Alright, you can come in," Midnight calls out, her voice echoing within as she likely stands near the lift the car is still situated upon.
  288. >Or probably still is.
  289. "I thought you were going to make it a grand show by having the bay door open?" you holler back.
  290. >"Fuuuck," Midnight grumbles after a moment's hesitation. "Well, that added suspense is ruined if they know about it."
  291. >You open the man door just enough to poke your head through.
  292. >Midnight stands in front of the Chrysler's nose, flanked by the engine that's been wheeled over on its stand.
  293. >She tenses up upon seeing you but relaxes upon realizing you aren't entering with your guests.
  294. >"What?" she asks with an air of innocence.
  295. "Did you know that a garage door can go up and down?"
  296. >"Uh, yeah. What kind of a question is that?"
  297. "One that should make you reconsider how opening up the door adds to the show - or knowing about it somehow detracts from it. They aren't retarded, Middie."
  298. >You don't get a worded reply - just a disapproving scowl.
  299. >And muted laughter behind you.
  300. >Without another word exchanged, Midnight pads closer to the entrance, pausing long enough to hit the button mounted on the wall to open the bay door.
  301. >As it noisily ascends at a leisurely pace, Midnight gallops back to the 300, frantically moving the engine over just a bit and standing in between the car and its heart.
  302. >You slip back outside and close the man door, turning to see both of your guests stepping over to the opening garage bay.
  303. "Remember, act surprised," you whisper.
  304. >"I don't even know what it is," Starla concedes. "So this really is something new for me."
  305. >"I can't say I've seen one in... ever."
  306. "Well, today's the day," you hawk while stepping onto the concrete floor once the door rises above your head.
  307. >Midnight poses with her chest thrust out in pride as everyone gathers around.
  308. >"Oh wow, I didn't expect to see something of this vintage," Teddy comments.
  309. >"How old is it? What is it?" Starla asks, her eyes darting from the car to everyone else, hoping for answers.
  310. "1957 Chrysler 300."
  311. >"C. 300C, Anon," Midnight corrects.
  312. "Yes, a 300C," you agree as you step next to Midnight, patting her on the head. "Thank you, A-hole."
  313. >"I'd hit you, but we have guests," Midnight replies, sticking her nose up to add to the snootiness in her voice.
  314. >"Hey, I'm not gonna tell anyone," Teddy chimes in with a laugh.
  315. "Gee, thanks for having my back," you jokingly bite back at him.
  316. >"For something so old, it looks - I think it's in better-looking condition than your car was, Teddy," Starla comments, straying away from his side to get a better look at the flanks of the car.
  317. >"Yeah, I didn't do so hot with my choice of purchase," he admits sheepishly.
  318. "That bad starting out, huh?"
  319. >Teddy shrugs.
  320. >"Heart got in the way of my head - already set my mind on buying the car before I realized how much was missing or needed work," he explains, albeit with a genuine smile at the end as his gaze falls to Starla. "But I suppose that makes getting it to how it looks today all the sweeter."
  321. >"I didn't mean for it to sound disapproving, dear," Starla speaks up as she rejoins his side.
  322. >"I know ya didn't, Star," he reassures her, petting her neck before shifting his attention to you. "But yeah, this looks like it's in really good shape. Where the hell did you find it?"
  323. >"He was running his cocksucker while driving and got us lost," Midnight interjects before you can utter any sort of response.
  324. >As you leer at her, she flashes a full-fanged smile in delight - particularly with the accompanying laughter of Teddy and Starla.
  325. "I'll add that we weren't lost - but someone was being quite the distraction, and I missed our turn," you slowly explain, sticking your tongue out at Midnight.
  326. >"I'd say that was a positive, considering we wouldn't have stumbled upon the car otherwise," Midnight affirms. "It was out front of an old house in the middle of nowhere - the old guy had a ton of stuff lying around."
  327. >"No shit?"
  328. "Yeah, the old man bought the car new - been sitting once something happened with the internals of the motor and never got to it. Family took priority."
  329. >"Well, you can't blame him for that," Starla proposes.
  330. "No, I'm in agreement with you there. He just never got around to looking into the matter - and he just realized now in his old age, he wasn't going to get around to it. That and it's been so long, everything has to be gone through..."
  331. >You can't help but trail off as you glance over at the car, taking a harder look at the fenders.
  332. >The weather-faded paint looks... dustier than it was.
  333. >To be fair, you really haven't taken the time to wash it down, but working on it, there should be handprints...
  334. >It looks unnatural in places.
  335. "Midnight."
  336. >"Hm?"
  337. "Did you seriously go and slather dust and dirt on the car?"
  338. >"Of course not!" she shouts, balking at the accusation.
  339. "I call bullshit because somehow, this doesn't look at all like either of us has pushed it around, leaned on the fenders to work on it... and it looks like there's sand literally piled up on top of the driver's side fender," you point out.
  340. >"It adds to the barn find look," she mutters her muzzle scrunching up as she does her best to hide embarrassment.
  341. "You're weird."
  342. >"Hey, shut up!"
  343. "Fine. But you're still weird."
  344. >"If it means anything, I think you... did a good job?"
  345. >All eyes fall to Starla - more out of amusement in her attempts to compliment Midnight's work than anything.
  346. >"Thank you," Midnight gushes, relieved to hear some support as she steps over toward Starla. "I'm glad *someone* here gets the artistic flair."
  347. "Artistic or autistic?"
  348. >Midnight's head snaps around to leer at you with narrowed eyes and a grumpy scowl.
  349. "Don't look at me in that tone of voice, young lady."
  350. >"Alright children, let's all play nice now," Teddy jokes, wandering over to take a better look at the partially disassembled engine. "Found anything wrong with the engine?"
  351. "Crankshaft is toast, I dunno about the block yet. Looks like something got in and scarred up one of the crank journals."
  352. >"Oof. Sort of sorry I asked," he replies, a sympathetic tone in his voice.
  353. >You have to just shrug and grin.
  354. "For under two grand, I can't complain. We'll get it going one way or another."
  355. >The comment instantly draws Teddy's focus upon you, his eyes wide with wonder.
  356. >"You're shitting me. Aren't these things rare as hell?"
  357. "That was all he wanted - didn't have any use for the money. Just wanted to see the car go to someone that would fix it up. And Midnight was absolutely smitten with this thing at first sight."
  358. >Satisfied with that answer and the clue as to who jumped at the chance for this car, Teddy spins around to look at Midnight.
  359. >The mention of her name attached to how the car has come into your possession makes her face light up even before the attention is lavished upon her.
  360. >"I didn't take you for a '50s rod kind of gal. Figure you'd want something imposing and fast," he quips with a laugh.
  361. >"Number one - what *isn't* imposing about this?" she answers calmly, fanning out a wing and motioning to the beltline of the car, tracing it in the air as she wanders toward the back fins.
  362. >"True, true," Teddy nods.
  363. >"And running sixteen seconds through the quarter-mile on skinny-ass bias-ply tires while hefting two tons of steel is pretty damned impressive."
  364. >You have to do a double-take with that mass of information.
  365. "Alright, nerd."
  366. >"Knowing the facts doesn't make me a nerd," she replies curtly, stomping a hoof.
  367. "I'm kidding. Relax," you ease up.
  368. >"Regardless of how it all came about, consider me impressed," Teddy interjects, giving the Chrysler another glance.
  369. >"I think you got Teddy a little jealous," Starla teases as she bumps into his side.
  370. >"Me? Nah," he says dismissively. "Maybe with them having a better piece to start with, but you know I love the Cutlass."
  371. >"I know you do. That's why you always lovingly swore at it when things weren't going right, huh?"
  372. >"I would never do such a thing," he gasps, staring at her in mock horror.
  373. >"Of course not," Starla gushes, pecking him on the cheek.
  374. >You look over to Midnight, who has wandered back to join the rest of your little group.
  375. >You pucker up your lips, leaning toward her teasingly.
  376. >The look of disgust and exaggerated dry heave says it all.
  377. >She'd rather keep up the facade tonight.
  378. >Probably no other revelations tonight for your friends.
  379. >No, it's not something that needs to be shared.
  380. >Certainly not the details.
  381. >But...
  382. >How is she going to actually go on a date in the public when she can't even be open with her confidant?
  383. >Old habits die hard, it seems.
  384. >Sucks there won't be any cuddles by the fire, though.
  385. >Speaking of which...
  386. "Well, who else is getting hungry? Probably ought to get the fire going if we're gonna do a cookout."
  387. >"Cookout, or a char-out?" Midnight comments.
  388. >Glancing back at her, you're greeted by a face dripping with smugness.
  389. "I'm making sure your food is extra charred tonight."
  390.  
  391.  
  392.  
  393.  
  394. >"So all in all, you two are doing pretty good for yourselves now, huh?"
  395. "Honestly, probably the best financial spot since I've owned the junkyard."
  396. >You expect Midnight to chime in with something witty, but as you glance over to her on your left side, she's still finishing off her plate on the other side of the vinyl bench seat you two share.
  397. >Opposite you and over the crackling flames of the fire pit, Starla and Teddy have taken up a set of folding canvas chairs he had brought along.
  398. >After the pomp and circumstance Midnight set up, things had become more casual and mellow - though dinner was still quite an eye-opener.
  399. >It was a simple meal, making it easy to get around and carry out to the firepit.
  400. >Brats and potato chips - as well as a tossed salad, for Starla of course.
  401. >You felt stupid when Starla went for a bratwurst to go along with some greens.
  402. >Everyone got a laugh at your dumbfounded expression.
  403. >Teddy explained that the biological ponies that came from where he worked were created as omnivores, making it 'easier' to share a home with them, if it ever came to be acceptable to produce them.
  404. >But how hard would it be to just send em out to graze or have greens in the fridge...?
  405. >Ah well.
  406. >"So what are your plans for the old car you two purchased?"
  407. >You wait a moment before replying to Starla's question, giving Midnight the opportunity to answer it.
  408. >But she motions for you to answer it - having just finished off her steak in a final chomp.
  409. "Nothing too crazy, as much as someone here would like to make a strip terror out of it," you say, nodding off to your left.
  410. >Starla's face goes blank.
  411. >"A 'strip terror'?"
  412. "Sorry. Basically, a face car meant to go fast in a straight line."
  413. >"Ah, I understand now. So you're going to try keeping it close to how it came from the factory."
  414. "Yeah. We'll change a few things if need be."
  415. >"Like headers."
  416. >Of course Midnight would finish eating just to speak up for performance parts.
  417. >Starla's eyes shift over to Midnight, offering the same inquisitive expression you faced just a moment ago.
  418. >"Basically an improved exhaust system on the engine, using equal-length tubing for each combustion chamber to equalize pressure when they all dump into the exhaust pipe."
  419. "*cough* nerd *cough*"
  420. >For your efforts, you get a stern jab of a hoof to your ribs, making you jump just a bit at the intrusion.
  421. >"Wow, there really is a lot to think about when working on cars and stuff," Starla muses, pondering the explanation Midnight fed to her. "When do you think you'll have your project done?"
  422. >"That might be a better question for him," Midnight answers, poking you in the ribs again.
  423. "You do that again, and I'm taking that hoof away from you," you threaten in an exaggerated, stern voice.
  424. >"You amuse me with your silly threats," Midnight taunts in a drawn-out, silky tone.
  425. >"Aw, dinner and a show," Starla comments with a giggle, leaning over the arm of her chair to rest her head upon Teddy's shoulder.
  426. "Anyway... I don't really know how long it's going to take," you say, returning back to the initial conversation. "We have to go through everything as far as electrical and mechanical since the car sat for so long. On the plus side, I don't think we have to worry about anything structural or body-wise, aside from paint."
  427. >"And you still have to figure out the engine situation - whether the block is good, and where to find a crankshaft," Midnight reminds you.
  428. "I already know where to get a crank, just got to get the engine apart and to a shop."
  429. >"You never mentioned that to me," Midnight protests, sounding just a bit irritated with you.
  430. >You grin while reaching over and patting her on the head.
  431. "I like keeping surprises from you."
  432. >"I hate surprises," she grumbles back, ducking in a half-hearted attempt to avoid your affection.
  433. "Hence why I like keeping surprises."
  434. >You hear Starla giggling again as you finally make contact with Midnight's hair when she stops fidgeting around.
  435. >"I knew that rough and tumble mare had a softer side deep within," she comments.
  436. >"Only because killing him with witnesses would be a bad idea," Midnight retorts.
  437. >"Mhmm, sure."
  438. "Oh trust me, she's still got an edge when push comes to shove. Saved my ass from a coyote not long ago," you mention, wanting to give Midnight a little bit of credit.
  439. >"I'm - really?" Starla stumbles, blindsided by your words and serious tone.
  440. >"Wasn't the first coyote I killed. Probably won't be the last," Midnight adds.
  441. >"Damn. So you really got the bite to go with the looks," Teddy speaks up, though he doesn't seem quite as surprised.
  442. >"When it's the difference between life and death, you do what needs to be done," Midnight gloats.
  443. "But she does have a soft side, you are correct on that account, Starla," you add, instantly deflating Midnight's ego.
  444. >"You're a dick," she mutters. "You're sleeping alone on the couch tonight."
  445. >Midnight doesn't seem to grasp what she just said.
  446. >But Starla does, her eyes twinkling with that little nugget.
  447. >Oh dear.
  448. >"So you two normally sleep together on the couch?" she asks innocently.
  449. >"No, we sleep in - wait, what?!"
  450. >Midnight's head snaps around, horrified as all eyes are squarely upon her.
  451. >"Bed?" Starla sweetly asks, batting her eyes.
  452. >"Anon, you-"
  453. "You said it. Don't blame this on me," you protest as Midnight's whole body seems tense up, looking ready to pounce on you.
  454. >And not for snuggles.
  455. >But as your eyes dart to see Starla leaping out of her chair with a gleeful expression, Midnight's ears swivel in her direction, followed by her head.
  456. >"Midnight, no one here thinks any less of you. You know that, right?" Starla asks as she approaches.
  457. >"...fine. Yes, I'm - we - he and I are... yes, I share the bed with him," Midnight manages to piece together, utterly embarrassed as she hangs her head just a bit.
  458. >Teddy has been stoically quiet this whole time, his arms folded as he sits back and watches the exchange - though he has failed to hide the amused smile that has overtaken his face.
  459. >He glances at you, just long enough to give you a sage nod of approval.
  460. "There, was that so hard, Middie?"
  461. >"Shut up."
  462. >"Alright, calm down. I'll stop teasing you," Starla interjects, reaching up and patting Midnight on the shoulder. "I just have to do it because of how much you feel like you have to prove yourself, particularly to me. It's just funny, like some sort of sibling rivalry thing. The little sister I never had."
  463. >"You do strike me as an annoying, overly cheerful type like Celestia," Midnight sasses, unable to keep a straight face to make it seem serious.
  464. >The comment causes Starla to cock her head, amused with this snippet as well.
  465. >"Oh, you've watched the little girls' show we originated from?"
  466. >"He made me," Midnight quickly answers as her smirk vanishes, pointing a hoof at you.
  467. "Bullshit I did," you protest. "You suggested it."
  468. >"But *you* were the one to actually look it up on the computer, hook it up to the TV and play it."
  469. "Oh, and then I restrained you on the couch and made you watch it against your will, too?"
  470. >"At least you admit it."
  471. "C'mere, you broody pain in the ass."
  472. >You quickly lean over and throw an arm around Midnight's barrel, pulling her up next to you even as she squirms and struggles against you.
  473. >Weakly.
  474. >"I really don't like you," she huffs, averting her eyes as Starla has a giggle fit.
  475. >"Nevertheless, I'm glad you took some of my advice. Now it makes more sense why you've seemed so much more relaxed the last few times we've talked."
  476. >Advice?
  477. >She already knew?
  478. "Wait, so you already told Starla about us being a thing?" you blurt out to Midnight.
  479. >She cringes, before collecting herself and offering an uneasy grin.
  480. >"It might have been a short discussion at one point."
  481. "So why the hell are you so up in arms about mentioning sleeping in the same bed?"
  482. >"...well, that's a step further than I had mentioned to Starla," Midnight mumbles.
  483. "Midnight, you are something else, you know that?"
  484. >"What's that supposed to mean?"
  485. "It means you're something... special. That rhymes with 'suit'," you answer, grinning from ear to ear as her face hardens.
  486. >"Don't say it."
  487. >"Cute?"
  488. >You nod gleefully as all eyes dart to the riddle-solver, Starla.
  489. >As Midnight's eyes narrow to direct her ire at Starla, the mare trots back over to her chair and flops down, leaning into Teddy as he strokes her hair.
  490. >With a smile that exudes more than just content.
  491. >"You're trying to be trouble tonight, aren't you?" Teddy asks her, pausing his affections momentarily.
  492. >"Me? Never," she gasps in an exaggerated fashion.
  493. >"Uh-huh."
  494. >" Meh, it's Anon's fault, anyway," Midnight interrupts.
  495. >You look over at Midnight once again, whose face has lightened up into a wry smile.
  496. >"You heard me," she says.
  497. "It's my fault you've become relatively well-adjusted and can enjoy a nice evening around a firepit with friends?"
  498. >"I suppose I can't really argue with that."
  499. >"I suppose I should shoulder some of that blame, too," Starla adds, making her voice low and forlorn despite her bright expression.
  500. >"Yeah, sort of your fault, too. And Teddy's."
  501. >"Me?" Teddy asks, acting as if he's offended.
  502. >"You were the first besides Anon that I interacted with - and despite the rather... rough initial meeting, you gave me another chance," Midnight explains, before her hoof taps the crescent moon pendant around her neck. "And a bit more freedom."
  503. >"You've come a ways from what I've seen, Midnight. I've seen others I try to help keep latched onto their past and refuse to accept help or move on. I'm glad you found a way out, in more ways than one."
  504. >"Me too," Midnight replies, smirking as she leans on your shoulder. "Me too."
  505.  
  506.  
  507.  
  508.  
  509.  
  510. >"C'mon, pick up your end, pussy."
  511. "I am. Not all of us have magic that lets us lift in any position or height."
  512. >"Well neither do I."
  513. >The smug look that Midnight sports really makes you want to drop your end of the couch and poke her in the nose.
  514. >But that wouldn't be very productive, and being at the bottom of the stairs means you could have furniture sliding your way.
  515. >That wouldn't be fun.
  516. "You have electromagnet shit. That's close enough."
  517. >"Geez, you have very low standards."
  518. "Yeah, I know - I live with you."
  519. >"Okay, you have low standards for everything else."
  520. >With the abrupt announcement of a broken spring trying to find a new home a couple of nights ago, today found you and Midnight evicting the old couch and bringing in a new one that was fortunately clearance priced.
  521. > It's a nice one at that - a lot wider from back to front with reclining features on either end and finished in dark grey leather.
  522. >...okay, so there were cheaper options, but dammit, it was still a great deal.
  523. >And the only one that wasn't fuck ugly in one way or another.
  524. >Seriously - flower print is still a thing?
  525. >Of course, the fun part is now beginning - carrying the new furniture upstairs and jamming it through the door.
  526. >It will be close, but it should fit.
  527. >Probably.
  528. "Lead the way, oh great one."
  529. >"That's more like it."
  530. "It was sarcasm."
  531. >Midnight just shakes her head with a grin as she starts heading up the stairs with the couch in tow with you bringing up the rear.
  532. >"What are we going to do if the couch won't fit through the door, anyway?" Midnight floats back to you.
  533. "You watched me measure it, dipstick."
  534. >"That didn't answer the question I asked," she sings back.
  535. "You're having too much fun being a pain in the ass, Middie," you lament.
  536. >"It's about time someone gave you a run for your money, Anon."
  537. "Well, you're getting there."
  538. >"Aww, thanks for the compliment."
  539. >Midnight is able to keep her head straight forward with her electromagnetic abilities seizing upon the internal frames and mechanisms of the recliner bits.
  540. >You would have had no problem allowing her to carry this upstairs - but even she has her limits.
  541. >Not by weight, but size.
  542. >You could tell admitting this was too unwieldy for her to balance had been difficult.
  543. >Considering she can pick up whole fucking engines - there really isn't anything to be ashamed of in your mind.
  544. >Nevertheless, you're at least glad you don't have to walk backward up the steps.
  545. >Things go rather smoothly once you find the first creaking wooden stair with a blind guess.
  546. >Almost to the top - then the real fun begins.
  547. "We're gonna take our time and not get frustrated figuring out how to fit this through the doorway, right?"
  548. >"Yeah, what would the alternative be?"
  549. "You throwing a hissy fit and putting it through the wall."
  550. >That explanation gets Midnight to turn her head and eye you.
  551. >"I don't think I would even be capable of that. And I haven't been that short-tempered in some time."
  552. "You're right - but maybe you're overdue," you suggest with a smarmy grin.
  553. >"One thing I *could* do is let go of this end and watch the couch bowl you over like a pin," she replies calmly, casting a sinister grin back at you, complete with fangs.
  554. "Well, that wouldn't be very fun. Probably be painful."
  555. >"Ah, but a sacrifice I may be willing to make."
  556. >The banter quickly dies as Midnight's hooves reach the top of the stairs and the threshold to your living space.
  557. >She scoots to the side of the door, her attention shifting between couch and entryway.
  558. >You're left to just hold up your end, waiting rather uncomfortably on the steps as your palms sweat from the plastic covering.
  559. >"Maybe clockwise about forty degrees?" she suggests after a moment of contemplation.
  560. >You blink at the rather explicit instructions.
  561. >"Failed geometry in school, huh?"
  562. "No, fuck you. Just surprised - your clockwise, or mine?"
  563. >It's Midnight's turn to just stare at you for a second.
  564. "You know, this way for me, that's clockwise," you explain while twisting your end in said direction. "That would be counterclockwise for you, right? Looking toward me?"
  565. >"Oh - duh," she blurts out as the reasoning dawns upon her. "My clockwise - tip the back to your left."
  566. >You do as instructed in time with the motion on the other end.
  567. >"Awight, weady to be patient and twy?" she asks in a mocking, childlike voice.
  568. "If it gets you to never do that again, yes."
  569. >The only reply is a snicker before Midnight eases her end forward toward the door.
  570. >You take another step up toward the landing...
  571. >*Thump*
  572. >"...twist it a little more," Midnight instructs, looking over what part of the couch is hitting.
  573. >You don't have a decent view from your angle, so all you can do is start spinning the couch.
  574. >"Right there."
  575. >Stopping, you wait for Midnight to nod before proceeding forward.
  576. >You can hear the plastic covering ruffle as it drags ever so slightly upon the door frame, but there's very little resistance to cause you concern.
  577. >You get up onto the landing and step beside Midnight and see her strained face before the realization hits you.
  578. >She's having to really exert herself in order for her magnetic abilities to go through the wall and reach this far, let alone carry the weight of the other end.
  579. "You forgot to go inside first, didn't you?"
  580. >"Shut up, I'm testing myself," she lies.
  581. "Seriously, you want to back out and try again?" you ask, concerned for her.
  582. >"I got it. We're almost there. Go."
  583. >Rather than question further, you pick up the pace and sneak in through the door, Midnight quickly making her way through behind you.
  584. >You hear her exhale as if she had been holding her breath before she leaps up onto the kitchen island counter and back down into the living room proper with a grace and agility more suited to a feline.
  585. "You're cleaning the counter before we eat this evening," you joke.
  586. >"I wasn't aware we served food directly onto the counter. Do away with the dishes sometime between this morning and now?" she retorts.
  587. "That's where the silverware sets, though."
  588. >"Cry about it."
  589. >The space between the island and the opposing wall is wider than the doorway, making it a breeze to get through.
  590. >While the job wasn't near as difficult as it could have been, you finally set the couch down in its spot with a satisfied grunt.
  591. >Standing back up straight with the edge of the plastic covering in your hands, a deft tug snaps it away from the leather and into a heap at your feet.
  592. >The smell of new furniture quickly permeates the air, an oddly relaxing scent.
  593. >You look down at the sumptuous cushions, before eyeing Midnight.
  594. >Judging by the glint in her eyes she has the same thought.
  595. "Mine!" you shout first, kicking off your shoes in the process.
  596. >"Fuck no, mine!"
  597. >Yet despite her protests, Midnight waits just long enough for you to begin your leap onto the couch to mirror your actions.
  598. >You both meet in the middle, barely avoiding a collision.
  599. >"Scoot over, dumbass," she mutters, giving you a light shove with her shoulder.
  600. "You scoot over, dumbass," you respond, accompanied by your own shove upon her barrel.
  601. >Midnight flares out a wing, hitting you in the face with the dark purple plumage and causing you to recoil a bit out of sheer reflex.
  602. >Of course, she all too eagerly seizes the real estate you've given up, scooting up to your side again.
  603. >You aren't giving up that easy.
  604. >Leaning over on her, you awkwardly bend and situate your body to a point you are eye to eye with her.
  605. >And start peppering her snout with kisses.
  606. >"Dammit, stop being a faggot! That's cheating!" she whines loudly, trying to back away from you.
  607. "Tough luck, loser," you sputter between assaults.
  608. >At some point during the squirming around on the new couch, you end up on your side nestled into the back of the couch.
  609. >Midnight lays on her stomach just in front of you, sprawled out with her head turned to face you.
  610. "There, was that so hard?"
  611. >"Yes, yes it was."
  612. >That's all the words exchanged between the two of you while allowing your pulses to settle down a bit.
  613. "Does this new couch mean I get my bed back?" you suggest.
  614. >A short trill of laughter greets the inquiry almost instantly.
  615. >"Hardly. You've opened a door that can never be closed, Anon."
  616. "Dammit."
  617. >You reach up with your hand and begin fiddling with her mane affectionately, garnering a hum of approval that you feel as she leans her body into you.
  618. >"Funny you should mention this being a good spot to sleep again..." Midnight muses, allowing the comment to drift off in a cryptic manner.
  619. "You want to invite some of your old coyote buddies to live with us."
  620. >"Real fucking comedian, aren't you?"
  621. "First thing that came to mind."
  622. >"Sure. Anyway, Starla happened to mention Teddy was going out of town for a couple of days, meet up with a couple of contacts from his old occupation. Really hush-hush shit, changes and rents a car between here and there before meeting up, pays cash for everything, takes an odd route to and from and anything else to keep his and Starla's whereabouts unknown."
  623. "Damn. I guess I can't blame him, but odd he would want to even meet up with people in the business," you comment, trying to fathom the spy-esque precautions.
  624. >"I guess most of the time, it's old friends that are kinda like Teddy, not keen on the whole situation. But he doesn't really like leaving Starla in the house alone, even though she can easily manage for up to a week or so, and has done just that previously."
  625. "So..."
  626. >You know where Midnight is leading, but you're going to force it out of her.
  627. >"So."
  628. >Midnight stops, merely staring at you in silence.
  629. "You've proven time and time again I can't beat you in a staring contest, Middie."
  630. >"Why do you have to be an asshole?"
  631. "I am merely laying here. What is it you want from me?" you ask, playing innocent.
  632. >"Can Starla stay with us a few days, to do Teddy a bit of a favor and so we can have a sleepover?"
  633. >A sleepover.
  634. >It sounds so childish when putting it that way.
  635. >Yet by all accounts - or at least what can be remembered - it doesn't sound like either of them really got to just be kids.
  636. >Starla isn't going to be as self-sufficient as Midnight, though - but you don't see that being too much of an issue.
  637. >But what do you do when it comes to work?
  638. >You suppose skipping a day or two of pulling parts won't kill you, but playing catchup afterward is going to suck.
  639. >However, the lack of an instantaneous answer gets Midnight to unleash her secret weapon.
  640. >Her lower lip curls outward as she pouts, giving you those sad eyes.
  641. "Cut that shit out," you demand, closing your eyes.
  642. >"I can just keep doing this. Sooner or later, you'll have to get up and open your eyes."
  643. "I hope your face gets stuck like that. You're evil."
  644. >Midnight lets out a sinister cackle at the accusation.
  645. >That was a little too good.
  646. >"In all reality - what's keeping you from saying yes?"
  647. "Dealing with another one of you."
  648. >"I'm asking a serious question here, jackhole."
  649. >You reluctantly open your eyes, finding Midnight has at least wiped the pout off of her face.
  650. "What's she gonna do when we're working? We still have a junkyard to run, you know."
  651. >Midnight's eyes narrow as her expression turns queer.
  652. >"She can walk, you know."
  653. "And you don't think spending all day watching us work will bore her?"
  654. >"No, I really don't think it will be an issue. But I can ask her - send a message yet today on the computer, how about that?"
  655. "That sounds like we're at a 'maybe' in the meantime."
  656. >Midnight squees at the proclamation, bouncing up and down in place as she starts unleashing her own battery of kisses upon your face.
  657. "Stop, you're such a faggot," you mockingly whine.
  658. >"It doesn't really work when you do it."
  659. "This is bullshit."
  660.  
  661.  
  662.  
  663.  
  664.  
  665. >With a triumphant toss of the last bolt into a nearby can and removing the last cap, you finally have the junk crankshaft of the Chrysler's Hemi ready to come out.
  666. >Midnight tinkers with her own project merely a few feet away, lost in her own little world as you pull the part out of the engine block.
  667. "Here, catch!"
  668. >You give the hunk of useless iron in your hands a good heave toward Midnight after hesitating just long enough for her to process your words.
  669. >She turns her head sluggishly with passive interest when you speak - but her eyes widen upon seeing the dart heading for her direction.
  670. >"Anon, you fucking-"
  671. >The crankshaft halts in mid-air, still about a foot from reaching her.
  672. >"What is wrong with you?" she spouts in irritated disbelief, her brow creased with disapproval.
  673. "Just making sure you're paying attention," you reply with a shrug.
  674. >"I've always got an eye and an ear out, especially around you," Midnight retorts, shaking her head as the crankshaft resumes its journey toward her - albeit slowly and under her unseen control. "What would you have done if this had hit me, smartass?"
  675. "Made sure you were all right before laughing."
  676. >Midnight's face remains rather gruff - though there is a slight crack in that dour expression for a moment.
  677. >"How thoughtful of you."
  678. "Oh, you know I wouldn't dare hurt that pretty little face, Middie," you concede, reaching out toward her with your hands.
  679. >"Don't touch me, your hands are filthy," Midnight barks, the crankshaft twirling in the air until she has it readied like a club.
  680. >You look down at your hands, which are indeed covered with oil and grease.
  681. >"What if I hadn't even caught this? Then what?" Midnight asks as you turn back to you bench to grab a rag.
  682. "It's junk anyway - don't tell me you forgot," you scoff, wiping off your hands as best you can.
  683. >"I understand that - but you really want to mar up the concrete?" she answers, tapping a hoof upon the floor.
  684. >You shrug, nothing a dab of grease still clinging onto the pad of your right thumb.
  685. "It would just be another mark in the floor that tells a story," you suggest, turning toward her again as you flash her a smile.
  686. >Whether it be your movements or expression, Midnight is instantly suspicious of you as she backs up a step.
  687. >"What?"
  688. >You raise your hand and hold your thumb out toward her, grinning madly.
  689. "Simba," you croak in a thick accent.
  690. >"Stay away from me with that."
  691. "That's not what you said a couple of nights ago."
  692. >"That - oh, shut up!" she shouts in disgust, picking up on your pun before she can respond with something else.
  693. "Come here..." you coo, moving toward her, your greasy thumb held out toward her forehead at the ready.
  694. >"Nope, nope, fuck you. Don't make me hit you," she threatens, swinging the crankshaft in a careful, controlled arc as she backs up another step.
  695. >An electronic beep emanating from the counter across the shop draws both your attention as well as Midnight's.
  696. >"Oh, I wonder if that's finally Starla," Midnight comments, trying her hardest to contain her excitement and anticipation.
  697. >Since discussing the possibility of hosting a sleepover with Starla and reaching out to her via email, Midnight has ensured the laptop is never far from earshot after enabling audible notifications.
  698. >It goes without saying, a couple of spam messages have triggered false alarms in the day and a half since.
  699. >That has somewhat tempered the expectations she has hearing the device chime in now.
  700. >Midnight sets the crankshaft down on the table and trots to the other side of the shop, her hooves upon the solid floor echoing loudly.
  701. >You take the opportunity to follow her, trying to match her steps.
  702. >"Anon, I swear I will beat you senseless," she muses loudly, making it known that your efforts are in vain without even turning to face you.
  703. "What's the safe word, mistress?"
  704. >That comment gets her to turn and look at you, her muzzle scrunched up as she strains to keep a serious face.
  705. >"You are just awful today," she finally comments after a moment to compose herself.
  706. >Even so, the last couple of words are tainted by a hint of laughter.
  707. "Something in the water, I guess."
  708. >"But we drink the same water."
  709. "Then I don't know what to tell you."
  710. >Midnight lifts up the laptop screen as she circles around the counter, shaking her head at you.
  711. >But her eyes are focused, and giddiness soon takes hold as keystrokes and clicks bring up the email account.
  712. >"Finally!"
  713. "What's up?"
  714. >"Dunno yet."
  715. >...
  716. "Um, you gonna read the message at some point...?"
  717. >Midnight glances at you sideways, her lips pursed in mild irritation.
  718. >The laptop rotates slightly to obscure the screen from you, while the screen tilts forward, with no accompanying explanation from Middie.
  719. >But after a few more clicks from the mousepad, Midnight's expression lightens up significantly.
  720. >"Hi Star!" she cheers, her eyes fixated on the screen.
  721. >"Well that didn't take long to get an answer, did it?" comes Starla's voice from the speakers.
  722. >You start to creep around the counter to get a view before you're gripped by a death stare emanating from Midnight.
  723. "I didn't realize I was a secret you were keeping from Starla," you comment loudly, in the hope of the microphone picking up your voice.
  724. >"Hi Anon, how are you? It's not often I get to catch you in the video chats," Starla's voice answers back sweetly.
  725. "I'm being held hostage. Send help."
  726. >"Shut up, you dumbass," Midnight grumbles, picking a snapped bolt off of the counter and tossing it at you lightly.
  727. >You sidestep the halfhearted attempt to drive you away.
  728. "Now she's throwing things and being abusive."
  729. >You only hear a giggle fit from the other end while Midnight rolls her eyes and relents, the laptop turning so you can see.
  730. >Starla waves an off-color hoof upon seeing you, catching hold of her giggles for the time being.
  731. "Hi Starla. You've had Midnight all tied into knots the last day or two."
  732. >"Oh, that was never my intention - sorry, Midnight," Starla responds, her attention shifting to Middie.
  733. >"It wasn't *that* bad," Midnight replies, brushing aside the concern. "Anon likes to hype things up just to be embarrassing."
  734. "So jumping up every time the laptop made a noise was nothing. Interesting."
  735. >"Hush."
  736. >"I got your message the day you sent it - it's just that Teddy and I have been busy, and we've both been thinking it over. I know he worries about leaving me alone, even though I prove I'm more than capable time and time again. But I don't want to get in the way either, especially while you two are working..."
  737. >"It's not really anything intensive or time-sensitive, Starla. I only asked because it's... well, we still have to work. So it might be boring to just watch u-"
  738. >"Is that it?" Starla interrupts. " I think it would be interesting to see what you two do on a daily basis. And working around cars means a lot to you - I'd like to see for myself, if I could."
  739. >"Really? So that's a yes?" Midnight asks, trying hard to temper her excitement as her voice raises a bit.
  740. >"As long as it's fine with Anon..." Starla trails off, those magenta eyes falling upon you.
  741. "Man, I really got to think on that."
  742. >"You really want me to hit you, don't you?" Midnight blurts.
  743. "You have a touch that sends shivers down my spine when you beat me, Middie," you croon wistfully.
  744. >On the other side of the screen, Starla bursts into another fit of giggles, while Midnight's nostrils flare as she tries hard to look mad at you.
  745. "Sounds like we got plans for a sleepover, Starla. When is Teddy heading out on the road?"
  746. >"Oh, another week yet, I believe. So it's not really a rush - I don't need fancy accommodations or anything, anyway."
  747. "Still, I gotta get more food. Fido here eats basically nothing but meat."
  748. >"You know I'm sitting right here listening, right?"
  749. "Of course, Fido."
  750. >You feel Midnight's hoof roughly poke you in the ribs.
  751. >Meanwhile, Starla claps her hooves together excitedly.
  752. >"Midnight, I'm going to make a little list and email it to you later of suggestions to get at the grocery store. At least one of those days, I'd really like to cook for you two!" she quickly spouts.
  753. >"Alright..." Midnight replies, taken aback by the outburst.
  754. >Personally you find it endearing.
  755. >"By the way, why didn't you just email me a response back in the first place?"
  756. >"Well, I just wanted to tell you... face to face. I figured you would be happy about it."
  757. >"For sure! I'm glad we're having you over for a sleepover," Midnight lightens up. "Anon just likes being a dumbass. Sorry about him."
  758. >"I think he's entertaining!"
  759. "Thank you."
  760. >"Don't encourage him, Star. Please."
  761. >Starla stifles a bit of laughter at Midnight's plea.
  762. >"I'll let you two get back to your work. Judging by the grease and grime on Anon's shirt, you're in the thick of something."
  763. >"Yeah, more work on the Chrysler," Midnight pipes in. "Thanks Starla, talk to you soon."
  764. >"Buh bye Midnight, Anon," Starla replies with a nod and a smile toward each of you.
  765. "Take care of yourself and Ted."
  766. >Another nod from Starla, and the video chat closes down.
  767. >You look down at yourself, noting the filth you've managed to accumulate and wiping a dab of grease away with your thumb.
  768. >Meanwhile, Midnight lets out a content sigh.
  769. >"This is going to be fun," she says with a giant grin on her face as you look up.
  770. "Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. And embarrassing you."
  771. >That grin fades just a bit with the last comment - even before you raise your hand up...
  772. >And dab a bit of black grease onto her forehead.
  773. "Simbaaa."
  774. >"Are you fucking serious?!"
  775. >You quickly turn and start hustling away from the counter, in time to watch a white and rust-speckled object go whizzing by your right arm and skip across the concrete.
  776. "Hey, spark plugs hurt a lot more than little bolts!"
  777. >"Good! I'll make sure I don't miss with the next one!"
  778.  
  779.  
  780.  
  781.  
  782.  
  783. >"You should have asked how long it would be until we know the condition of the block."
  784. "Patience is a virtue, Middie."
  785. >"I'm all out of virtue."
  786. "Won't argue with that."
  787. >Having finally stripped the Hemi down to the bare block, it was finally time to drop it off at the machine shop across town to get checked out and cleaned up.
  788. >Mission accomplished.
  789. >That was one of two errands to be run this morning, though.
  790. >The grocery store on the way back home was up next as you crank the wheel of the Trailduster and point the nose back onto the highway.
  791. >Time to prepare for the sleepover coming up within the week.
  792. "Do you have the list Starla sent you?"
  793. >"Nope, left it at home for the hell of it."
  794. "Alrighty, you're full of piss and vinegar this morning," you idly comment.
  795. >"Would you really have me any other way?" she coos, batting her eyes upon you glancing over.
  796. "Wow... that was nauseating to see."
  797. >Midnight drops the facade, opting instead to stick her tongue out at you in a childish manner.
  798. >Trying to keep an eye on the road, you quickly reach over and flip Midnight's mane over her face.
  799. >"Real mature."
  800. "Hello, Pot. I'm Kettle."
  801. >You get a snicker in return for that comment, followed shortly by a puff of air as Midnight lazily attempts to blow her mane from her face.
  802. >Glancing back over at your passenger only greets you with a mass of hair attached to the body of a pony.
  803. "How's the view?"
  804. >"Much better. I at least can't see you anymore, so the urge to barf has subsided."
  805. >You don't even attempt to hold in laughter before relenting and flipping her mane back.
  806. >"Oh wow, it's daylight again," she sasses, gazing around in mock wonder as you coast to a stoplight.
  807. "I take it you at least remember everything Starla requested, huh?" you ask, shifting back to a serious conversation.
  808. >"Yeah, I do. It really wasn't that much. We have a fair amount of what she listed off."
  809. "Alright, cool. If you forget something, that's on you though. I'm not taking a rolling pin to the head on your behalf."
  810. >"Do we even have a rolling pin?"
  811. "...well, no. But still."
  812. >"Good to know other cooking utensils are still on the table, though."
  813. "Yes, I'm sure Starla would be entertained by live domestic abuse, Middie."
  814. >"Never know," she bemusedly responds, accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders as she faces forward again. "Light's green, by the way."
  815. >Snapping back to reality and the road, you goose the throttle and briskly get across the intersection.
  816. "What are we going to do to entertain her, anyway?" you ask.
  817. > It's an honest question - and one you've been anxiously mulling for the last day or two.
  818. >Because the reality of it is, you don't really know Starla.
  819. >You've interacted with her twice - the first meeting and the get-together a couple of weeks ago.
  820. >Well, the last video chat, too.
  821. >But that's it.
  822. >It's otherwise been a two-mare affair between Midnight and Starla.
  823. >"She's not a foal, Anon. We don't need to 'entertain' her," Midnight answers, a slight bitterness in her voice.
  824. >It makes you look over at her, half expecting to see a smirk.
  825. >But Midnight's face is stone cold.
  826. "I... didn't mean it to be insulting at all, Mid. Sorry."
  827. >Frankly, you're flabbergasted by this sudden shift in mood.
  828. >Fortunately, Midnight's expression softens up after a few more moments of silently pressing you.
  829. >"You aren't completely with the idea of having Starla stay over, I take it?"
  830. "It isn't that. But I don't know her like you do. And it is someone else I have to look out for. She can't do the things you do."
  831. >"No, but she already manages on her own whenever Teddy goes out. And did you miss the whole part where she wants to make something for dinner at least one night while she's with us?"
  832. "In other words, I have my head up my own ass."
  833. >"That's no different from any other time though, doofus."
  834. "Alright, fair enough."
  835. >"Seriously though - she's looking forward to it, and I think you should too," Midnight reassures you, nuzzling your shoulder lightly. "And for some awful reason, she thinks your antics are funny."
  836. "Well, that part I can understand."
  837. >"I'm done being nice to you today," she taunts as you pull into the parking lot.
  838. "Man, we were doing so well, too."
  839. >You find a suitable spot and shut off the engine, turning to Midnight before either of you hop out of the truck.
  840. >"What?" she asks, quickly taking notice of the attention laid upon her.
  841. "Are you gonna behave?"
  842. >She shakes her head with a grin.
  843. >"Nope."
  844. "Good, me either."
  845. >"See, when you say that, I'm not sure whether you're joking or not," she answers back as you climb out and step onto the cracked blacktop.
  846. "That's even better. Means I'm keeping you on your toes."
  847. >Midnight joins your side after circling around the truck, eying you warily.
  848. "What?"
  849. >"I don't know if you've ever noticed - I don't have toes," she taunts with an exaggerated step to generate a loud clop from her hooves.
  850. "I'm not complimenting you for that - that was lazy."
  851. >"But it's true, stupid."
  852. "You're stupid."
  853. >"No you."
  854. >A few passing individuals glance your way while the two of you share idle half-assed jabs at each other, not that either you or Middie care.
  855. >But courtesy wins out once you enter the store, Midnight grabbing a cart and pushing it ahead of her.
  856. "Well, we don't really need a whole lot of crap aside from the all-important Starla list, so lead the way and we'll get the major stuff first," you say while joining her side.
  857. >"Okay, but I'm not fully sure where everything is going to be, so I kinda need your guidance."
  858. "Aww, you're actually willingly asking me for help. That's so sweet."
  859. >"Stuff it."
  860. "Not so sweet."
  861. >Midnight strays away from behind the cart to give you an affectionate bump.
  862. "So what all kind of trouble do you have planned to accomplish with Starla?"
  863. >"Not really much different from what we do as far as the evenings are concerned. Maybe play some cards, some TV, and show her stuff on the internet. And she has some ideas for stuff too - but that's as descriptive as she got."
  864. "I'm officially concerned now."
  865. >"You should be."
  866. >For now, Midnight seems to know what she's looking for, weaving in and out of aisles and tossing things into the cart.
  867. >You start to get an inkling of what Star has planned as tortillas, brown rice and beans start off the trip.
  868. >But there's other stuff too, such as pasta, tomato sauce, garlic...
  869. >Fuck, how much is she gonna cook?
  870. "This is all stuff she suggested?" you cautiously inquire.
  871. >"She really likes cooking. I mentioned I wouldn't mind her showing me a thing or two, and she started railing off more stuff after that," Midnight explains.
  872. >"You're gonna start cooking for me? Middie, that's ador-"
  873. >"Stop it, fruitcake."
  874. "Hmph. You're no fun."
  875. >Through the whole shopping excursion, you hardly have to direct Midnight toward a particular item.
  876. >There's a few amused and surprised glances from other shoppers as Midnight wordlessly chucks items into the cart, with you trailing behind her.
  877. >Midnight is on a mission though - if she notices the attention, she doesn't show it.
  878. >But, she has become much more adjusted to being out, so who knows.
  879. >The end result is a cart over half full of various ingredients and some snacks that aren't wholly centered around a pony with a carnivorous appetite.
  880. >"I think that's everything," Midnight sighs after a moment of running back through everything in her head with a bob of her head.
  881. "Forgot the kitchen sink, though."
  882. >"To reiterate your words from earlier, that was lazy. Apologize for that awful comment," Midnight demands.
  883. "You never did, why should I?" you ask, acting deeply offended.
  884. >"Eh, it was worth a shot to see if you would," she shrugs while heading for checkout.
  885. "Fair enough. But you should know me better than that."
  886. >It's still early enough that the store is relatively quiet, meaning there's no waiting for an open lane.
  887. >Midnight shoves the cart down the first checkout she finds.
  888. >A middle-aged brunette woman looking like she's sporting tanned leather for skin watches Midnight with suspicion - as well as you.
  889. "Morning," you greet her with a half-hearted wave.
  890. >You know that look she's giving you.
  891. >A look of veiled derision.
  892. >It's one you've most likely possessed. many a time seeing somebody walking around with a pony by their side.
  893. >Or in this case, helping out with groceries.
  894. >"Morning," she replies in a voice that makes a case for the pack-a-day Pall Mall smoker stereotype. "You find everything you need?"
  895. >"I hope so," Midnight replies as she starts to load things up onto the conveyor belt.
  896. >Both the response and her actions draw a look of surprise from the clerk as she starts to scan items.
  897. >Midnight is wholly oblivious to the attention, focused on emptying the cart.
  898. >But you can't help yourself.
  899. "You didn't think she was just eye candy, did you?" you joke.
  900. >"I - huh?"
  901. >That look of incredulity she gives you mid-scan on a can of tomato sauce is priceless.
  902. >"Don't mind him, miss. He's kind of a moron."
  903. >That look of shock is extended to Midnight now, whose head turns to quickly take a glance at you.
  904. >Just long enough to display mild amusement.
  905. >Clearly, she hadn't been unaware of the cold shoulder.
  906. >The clerk quickly resumes scanning as items pile up, though looking a bit frazzled.
  907. >Or embarrassed.
  908. >Hard to tell.
  909. >She doesn't say anything until totaling up your bill.
  910. >"$97.47, please."
  911. "Damn you're expensive. You brought money, didn't you?" you ask Midnight.
  912. >Having moved down the line and loading up the shopping cart with bagged groceries, she pauses a moment to stare at you.
  913. >"I did my part on this trip. Pay the lady, whiner."
  914. >You sigh, handing over a hundred-dollar bill to the lady, who still doesn't seem to know what to make of this scene.
  915. "Keep the change for putting up with us," you quietly mumble to the cashier.
  916. >"We really aren't supposed to do that."
  917. "I'm not gonna tell, nor will she," you reply, pointing a finger at Midnight.
  918. >"... have a good day. Thanks," the woman relents, cracking a hint of a smile as you walk away.
  919. >It isn't until you get out into the parking lot a ways before words are exchanged.
  920. >"That was incredibly bold of you."
  921. "I know, and you enjoyed seeing it," you gloat.
  922. >"I never said I didn't," Midnight hums. "I remember once upon a time when you thought of having ponies around akin to possessing the plague."
  923. "Something must have changed between then and now, not sure what it was."
  924. >With no answer to that, you're forced to glance at Midnight.
  925. >A heartfelt smile greets you along with those vibrant eyes.
  926. >"Yeah, I can't imagine what messed up your head."
  927. "Before you, or after you?"
  928. >You feel her wing gently work it's way around your form as you continue walking.
  929. >"You didn't have to do any of that, though."
  930. "No, but you were polite, and she just had that look of disapproval and wouldn't acknowledge you. You're more than some pet or a tool, and I told you I wasn't gonna behave," you reply. "Kudos to you for playing ignorant."
  931. >"Wasn't worth putting up a fuss. Feel like I'm finding my place, and stirring up shit for respect isn't worth it. I never really have, other than with you."
  932. "I feel privileged," you reply, patting her on the withers.
  933. >"You know you would miss it."
  934. "I never said I was joking."
  935.  
  936.  
  937.  
  938.  
  939.  
  940. >"I really do appreciate you having Starla over while I'm gone, Anon. That's a load off of my mind."
  941. "Hell, you don't need to thank me. I think Midnight would have eviscerated me had I said no to the idea of a sleepover."
  942. >While you help carry the pair of bags accompanying Starla into the garage, Starla and Midnight rear up on their hind legs, greeting each other with a meeting of hooves that emits a sharp clap in the building.
  943. >"Are you as excited as I am for the next few days?" Starla gleefully asks.
  944. >"You know it!"
  945. "Goddamn. They're adorable, aren't they?" you quietly comment.
  946. >"Yeah, they are," Teddy replies, chuckling just a bit. "I can't remember the last time I've seen this sort of child-like innocence from Star. She really has been giddy about this."
  947. "I know I haven't seen this side of Midnight before."
  948. >"She's really dulled her edge a bit, hasn't she?"
  949. >You nod.
  950. "I think she's got a reasonably palatable attitude now."
  951. >"What are you two mumbling about over there?"
  952. >Midnight's inquiry draws your private conversation to a close.
  953. >"We were just talking about how you two acting like a couple of excited fillies is adorable," Teddy speaks up.
  954. >Midnight rolls her eyes even as Starla giggles at the comment.
  955. >Or maybe at Midnight's reaction.
  956. >With a motion of your head, you direct Ted to follow you up the stairs, leaving the two ponies to continue their excited discussions.
  957. "So where are you headed off to, Teddy?" you ask as you near the landing at the top of the stairs.
  958. >"Alabama. Quite the road trip, but fair's fair - I only had to drive to Texas last time."
  959. "Is it as high-stakes as Midnight made it out to be?"
  960. >That earns a laugh as you open the door and usher Teddy inside.
  961. >"Did she push it off as a spy mission?"
  962. "Something like that, yeah," you agree. "You can put the bag on the counter there."
  963. >You heave the bag you've carried upon the kitchen island, being shortly followed by its mate.
  964. >"I think my cautiousness about trying everything in my power to not be tracked is borderline paranoia - making it seem riskier than it really is," he admits with a shrug of his shoulders. "At this point, I'm sure the company I used to work for knows I have Starla, but I'd just rather them not know exactly where I live. Just in case."
  965. "Why even take the risk? Who are you meeting with?" you press for more info.
  966. >"Old friends that got their start working underneath me back in Georgia - still working there, in fact. At least, last I knew," Teddy explains. "They see my side of things - obviously they aren't vocal like I was, and the money is still good..."
  967. >You can see Teddy bristle a bit at that musing, unhappy with the thought of money being a priority over ethics.
  968. >"But, at the end of the day... well, Starla is, for lack of a better term, and as much as it sickens me to say, she's a prototype. Long-term prospects for health were unknown - still are unknown to an extent. But these guys being in the field will have seen a lot more in the years that I've been gone."
  969. >You feel hesitant, but it seems like a question that Teddy is anticipating.
  970. "Are you worried something might be wrong?"
  971. >"No. But if there is something preventable that could pop up, I'd like to know about it. I have someone around here that examines her like a normal doctor visit, and he's there in case of emergency, but his understanding of ponies like Star or Midnight - well, no one really knows anything about em."
  972. >You had never thought of that...
  973. >What if Midnight has some sort of medical issue down the road?
  974. >Doctors are out of the question, and by the sounds of it, so are veterinarians.
  975. >Evidently sensing your internal strife, Teddy pats your shoulder.
  976. >"Anon, don't go sweating about that. I forgot to mention it before - my underground doc is your underground doc," he says with a laugh. "Which I suppose it would be good to have Midnight looked at for peace of mind sometime in the near future, to get some sort of baseline."
  977. "I'm sure that will thrill her to no end," you joke.
  978. >"Hm. Maybe that's why I forgot to mention it before. But, I think she'd be more receptive now, yeah?"
  979. "Yeah, probably. After giving me a bit of snark."
  980. >"Ah, but I feel like that's part of her charm."
  981. "Won't argue with that. How long do you think you'll be gone?"
  982. >"Depends on how long my close confidants have away from their job, and if everything still seems okay between us," he says with uncertainty, running his hand through his grayed hair. "I'm not crazy enough to think the world is after me, let me be clear on that. I've been meeting with my old colleagues for a number of years now. But I don't take it for granted, and I don't wear blinders."
  983. "Fair enough," you say, caught off-guard by the edge of conviction in his tone.
  984. >"I'm driving part of the way, and taking a short flight in between. Rather not be too traceable. I'll keep in touch. I feel relieved Starla is staying with someone, but I'm still gonna miss her."
  985. "Aww."
  986. >Both of you turn to see Starla standing in the doorway, visibly touched by Teddy's confession.
  987. >"You act like that's such a surprise to hear," Teddy teases as Starla saunters up to him.
  988. >"No, but it still means a lot to hear, especially when I'm eavesdropping," she replies.
  989. >Teddy leans down a bit to meet her, sharing a nuzzle with Starla that ends with a kiss.
  990. >"You should probably get going if you want to stay on schedule, dear," she reminds him.
  991. >"Yeah, you're right. Got a long drive ahead tonight," he concedes, embracing her. "Love you Star. You know the routine if you need to contact me."
  992. >"Of course. Call and let it ring, but hang up before voicemail. When you call back, let it ring twice, wait a few moments, then pick it up when it starts ringing again. Love you too, Teddy bear."
  993. >"Atta girl," he says, running a hand through her mane up to the point of the braid.
  994. >"Don't worry about me. Between Midnight and Anon, I've got company to keep me busy. Take care of yourself."
  995. >Teddy stands up straight, giving her orders a quick salute before turning to you.
  996. >"Id better listen to the lady and get this show on the road. You need anything, let me know. Er, let Starla know so she can-"
  997. "I got it, don't worry," you say with a laugh. "I'm sure we'll have fun, just watch after yourself, alright?"
  998. >"I will. Probably be back and see you all by the middle of next week."
  999. >Teddy shoots you a reassuring grin, kissing Starla one last time before heading toward the open doorway.
  1000. >Just before he makes it out, Midnight's head pops in from the left side of the doorframe.
  1001. >"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" Teddy exclaims, jumping back almost a foot. "You trying to stop my heart?!"
  1002. >"I'm not that scary, am I?" Midnight asks, seemingly surprised by the outburst. "Starla told me to wait, so..."
  1003. >"I didn't think you were actually going to wait by the door," Starla laughs as she trots over to the entryway. "I figured you would go back downstairs."
  1004. >"I mean, I already climbed up halfway before you asked me to wait."
  1005. "So you were eavesdropping, which is probably why Starla asked you to wait," you interject.
  1006. >"Didn't ask you," she retorts.
  1007. >"It's fine, Midnight. It wasn't like we were discussing secrets," Teddy says as he walks by her. "Have fun, be good."
  1008. >"It's Anon you should be worried about, not me."
  1009. "Shut up."
  1010. >"Take care, I'll be in touch," Teddy announces, turning back to you with a wave and a laugh before descending the stairs.
  1011. >With his departure, Midnight steps into the room toward Starla, eyeing the bags on the counter.
  1012. >"What all did you bring to need two suitcases? It's not like you wear clothes..." she comments curiously.
  1013. >"I actually do have some attire - though most of it serves a specific purpose or for special occasions. But no, most of it is odds and ends from home."
  1014. "Well, our home is your home for the next few days, so feel free to make yourself comfortable. You can have the bed if you want, or-"
  1015. >"Oh no, the couch looks perfectly suitable, Anon," Starla interrupts, practically aghast by the suggestion as she trots into the living room. "I'm really not fussy - just being here is exciting. When do we go out and work in the yard?"
  1016. >"That's already done for the day, Starla," Midnight answers.
  1017. >"Aww, I was looking forward to that," she pouts, testing the couch cushions with a gentle hoof.
  1018. >You can't help but laugh at her mild disappointment of missing out on work.
  1019. "Trust me, you'll see your fair share of the crap we do on a daily basis."
  1020. >"For better or worse."
  1021. >Midnight flashes you a face that is flush with pure smugness.
  1022. >That won't do.
  1023. >You quickly reach over to boop her nose.
  1024. >Only to be instantly parried by a wing that snaps open in time to shield her.
  1025. "Fucker."
  1026. >"Language, Anon. We have a guest," Midnight gasps mockingly, bringing a hoof to her mouth.
  1027. "Sorry, I forgot you don't swear at all."
  1028. >"Oh no, she swears a fair bit during our video chats," Starla pipes up.
  1029. >"Hey, you're supposed to be on my side!"
  1030. "Ha, you got called out by your own kind."
  1031. >Starla giggles while Midnight stomps a hoof down in mock frustration.
  1032. >And because she's distracted-
  1033. "Boop!"
  1034. >"Dammit!"
  1035. >Ha, got her.
  1036. >Let the madness begin.
  1037.  
  1038.  
  1039.  
  1040.  
  1041.  
  1042. >"Ah yes, another nightly game of channel roulette. How wonderful."
  1043. >You glance over at Midnight, who is lying beside you on the couch.
  1044. >Starla is parked basically parallel to Midnight, with the laptop sitting in front of them.
  1045. >While your guest is still focused on the contents of the computer screen, Midnight is alternating her vision between you and the TV, unimpressed with the flashes of color and bursts of sound as you skip around.
  1046. >You manage to lock eyes with her, making her pause.
  1047. >"Yes, you're annoying."
  1048. >With that cue, you start hammering the remote, skipping through the channels even faster while grinning madly.
  1049. >"I hope you feel accomplished."
  1050. "Thanks, I do. You know, if you would stop reading so damn fast, you could stay in sync with where Starla is on the page and not even pay me any mind."
  1051. >"That's probably my fault more than it is Midnight's," Starla speaks up, tearing her eyes from the laptop. "I'm a little on the sluggish side."
  1052. "Nonsense. Midnight tears through everything she reads. She's read every damn shop manual I have cover to cover. Like, the first week she started living with me. Even I haven't done that."
  1053. >"Wow, is that actually true?" Starla asks, her mouth agape at the idea.
  1054. >"Something like that," Midnight answers, shying away from the sudden spotlight flashed upon her.
  1055. "She's a lot nerdier than she puts on, Star."
  1056. >A dark blue hoof lightly raps you on the thigh.
  1057. "No hitting," you whine, poking her roughly in the cheek with your index finger.
  1058. >You get an animalistic snarl in response.
  1059. >"You two really do act like children all the time, don't you?" Starla asks, clearly amused by the exchange.
  1060. >"He does, yes."
  1061. "That includes you, Middie."
  1062. >"I occasionally stoop to your level. There is a difference."
  1063. "Starla, doesn't that make her as guilty as me?"
  1064. >"Wait, why are you asking her opinion?" Midnight blurts.
  1065. >Quickly, she recognizes the harshness of her words, dropping her head in muted reluctance as she turns to her friend.
  1066. >"Sorry, Starla. Didn't mean for it to sound like that."
  1067. >"Midnight, you're fine!" Starla laughs brushing off the inadvertent callousness. "I know you get caught up in the moment, I knew what you meant. Though I'm curious why Anon thinks so highly of what I think."
  1068. >All eyes fall upon you with that end note.
  1069. "Because you are our guest, and clearly the only grown up here."
  1070. >"She's our guest, so you want to make her choose a side. That seems really inviting."
  1071. >Starla shakes her head, chuckling lightly before her attention abruptly snaps to the TV.
  1072. >"Hey, what's that?" she asks, pointing a hoof as intrigue suddenly creeps over her face.
  1073. >You look at the screen in time to see a forest green Chevelle being rolled onto a stage before a crowd.
  1074. >That's a big nope.
  1075. "Ah, I didn't mean to stop on this shit."
  1076. >You raise the remote in your hand to change the channel, only for the device to be jarringly snapped from your grasp.
  1077. >It waggles in the air tauntingly, held aloft by a thin wire that's snaked around it.
  1078. >"Our guest would like to know what that is, Anon," Midnight announces with a straight and emotionless expression.
  1079. "It's a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle. Remote, please," you quickly spout, holding your hand out more authoritatively than expectantly.
  1080. >Instead, the remote swoops under your open palmed hand, making for your knuckles as Midnight devilishly snickers.
  1081. >"Don't you dare, you little bastard," you spit, pulling your hand away before she can complete the plastic assault upon your joints.
  1082. >"Wait, I'm confused. What's the problem with this car? I like the white stripes on top," Starla comments, looking to either of you for clarification.
  1083. >"Anon hates watching auctions, which is what this is," Midnight responds. "He gets all sad and mopey."
  1084. >Perplexed by the answer, Starla directs focus onto you for more clarity.
  1085. "We'll watch it, I guess," you concede. "Turn up the volume, Middie."
  1086. >"... and underneath the hood is an LS6, the most powerful iteration of the 454 big-block Chevrolet put into these cars," the announcer reels off.
  1087. >Well, this is a big one if it's the real deal.
  1088. >The cameraman pans along the side of the car, showing off the flawless mirror-shine paint job that accentuates the body lines, before heaving the camera up to get a view of the interior.
  1089. >A white vinyl interior sets a sharp contrast against the darker metallic paint and complements the twin stripes that Starla alluded to draped over the top of the car.
  1090. >"So what is it you don't like about this show, Anon?" Starla asks.
  1091. "The figure up at the top that keeps climbing."
  1092. >No sooner do you say that does the dollar figure break into the six digits, and continues to bounce upward.
  1093. >"Wow, it's almost like it's an auction, Anon," Midnight comments in a mocking voice.
  1094. >It makes you leer at her, something she didn't quite expect, considering her sassy demeanor fades away.
  1095. >"What?"
  1096. "You know why I hate this shit, Midnight."
  1097. >"Well I don't," Starla pouts.
  1098. >"It's autism."
  1099. "You hush."
  1100. >"Sold! $147,000!"
  1101. >The announcers begin to rave about the price and how it compares to recent auctions, while you shake your head.
  1102. "What bothers me about this stuff is the fact that car is likely never going to see the light of day. Certainly isn't going to be regularly driven, and to me, that's just sad."
  1103. >"Well, that is a lot of money..." Starla comments, trailing off as she tries to come up with something of substance.
  1104. >"You mean to tell me you would be driving that all over tarnation and risk fucking it up after spending that kind of dough?"
  1105. "Alright, come here, you."
  1106. >You turn and grab a hold of Midnight, dragging her over to your side.
  1107. >"What the hell are you doing?!" Midnight barks in disbelief.
  1108. "Embarrassing you in front of your friend with punishment cuddles," you answer back as you embrace her and rest your chin upon her head.
  1109. >"That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard," she mutters in frustration as she tries to squirm her way out of the affection.
  1110. >You glance over at Starla, flashing her a smirk as she tries hard not to burst into laughter at the token struggle.
  1111. "Don't let her fool you, Star. Most of the time when I wake up, she's draped all over me or snuggled up to my side."
  1112. >"Shut up, shut up!"
  1113. >Now the half-hearted fight takes on some energy as you can feel the warmth emanating from her face upon your neck and chest.
  1114. >"Aww, she really does like you, doesn't she?" Starla teases.
  1115. "Hey, you're starting to understand Middie's language."
  1116. >"You're both assholes."
  1117. >"It sounds like she needs more love, Anon," Starla comments with a sly smile.
  1118. >She moves over toward you and Midnight, snuggling up to Midnight and snaking those pink forelegs around her friend.
  1119. >"Why is this a thing right now?" Midnight demands.
  1120. >"I dunno, but I didn't want to be left out."
  1121. >"That's not an excuse!"
  1122. "Oh fine, you poor thing," you relent as you free her from your arms.
  1123. >Starla backs away as well, though only as Midnight starts to move away from you.
  1124. >As Midnight quickly darts back to her prior spot on the couch, she shakes her head, trying to make some sort of organization in the mass of her hair that's splayed everywhere on her head.
  1125. "Feel better now? Maybe less snarky?"
  1126. >"You get a five-minute reprieve" she shoots back.
  1127. >You beam with pride as you look to Starla, who giggles at the light victory you've achieved.
  1128. "Yeah, we're kinda dysfunctional."
  1129. >Starla shakes her head, her amusement not diminished in the slightest.
  1130. >"It's not something I'm used to seeing, nor have I experienced that kind of relationship, but I'd hardly call it dysfunctional," she says. "It's just funny watching you two pick on each other like that in good fun."
  1131. >"How about we go back to the prior conversation, the one we were having before I hurt your poor feelings and you had to torture me, Anon," Midnight suggests.
  1132. >You forgot there was a conversation going on...
  1133. "Where were we?"
  1134. >"You suggested driving a six-figure car around," Starla chimes in.
  1135. "Oh, right. Anyway, I get it from the point of view of a lot of moolah at risk - but why buy it at that point if you're never going to drive it? If you spent that much, you would wisely insure it for that value. Most people that go to these auctions just collect to have something they can say they own. If they actually show it off, it's going somewhere in a trailer."
  1136. >"I thought maybe it was just a jealousy thing, to be honest," Starla reluctantly admits.
  1137. >You shake your head.
  1138. "Don't feel bad. I mean, part of it could be that on a separate level. But the big thing is - well, cars are made to be driven. When they just sit, seals dry up and leaks form, parts get seized up, and tires and other rubber pieces dry rot. All of that happens even in climate controlled garages."
  1139. >"I didn't know that."
  1140. >"Let's admit though - you getting bent out of shape over watching this because of what goes on afterward with something you likely wouldn't see anyway - it's a bit much," Midnight replies in a calm tone.
  1141. "I'll admit it. But let's admit buying something just so you can say you own it is sort of sad."
  1142. >"I can understand it," Starla nods.
  1143. >"I've always understood it. But I do like seeing the sort of shit they bring out. I'd watch this stuff from time to time while you were asleep."
  1144. "Well, at least it wasn't the porn channel."
  1145. >A look of disgust quickly follows from Midnight, even as Starla lightly chuckles and turns back to the TV.
  1146. >"It is interesting to see the different kinds of cars. I don't know much about em."
  1147. "Well, I guess if you want to fall into the pit of automotive insanity, you're gonna get a crash course staying with us for a little while."
  1148. >"Well, I hope I can be a good student," Starla warmly comments, sitting up straight and proper.
  1149. "Nah, no pressure. There's just a hundred-question exam at the end of your stay you have to pass to leave."
  1150. >"I can always let her cheat off of me. Considering she's going to show me a few things about making food."
  1151. >Starla nods quickly, excited by the notion.
  1152. >"I wanted to start tonight, but thought better of it. A lot to take in being in a new place," she explains. "When do you normally go to bed, anyway?"
  1153. >You and Midnight glance at each other, before offering Starla shrugs in unison.
  1154. >"I think we just sorta crash when one of us starts falling asleep. Which sorta depends on what took place during the day."
  1155. "I still got a couple of hours in me, I know that much. You tend to go to bed early?"
  1156. >"No, I just wanted to make sure I'm messing up your sched-"
  1157. "Nah, don't worry none about that. We're both pretty flexible."
  1158. >"...so we can keep watching this?"
  1159. >While Starla is the one to inquire politely, both mares equip their best puppy-dog eyes.
  1160. "Well, I'm outvoted two to one anyways. Maybe this will desensitize me a bit."
  1161. >"That's the spirit," Midnight consoles you, patting your leg.
  1162. "Time limit's up, you know. Figured you would want to crank the sarcasm back up," you remind her.
  1163. "Eh, I'll throw you a bone for being democratic."
  1164.  
  1165.  
  1166.  
  1167.  
  1168.  
  1169. >You didn't sleep much last night.
  1170. >Nerves kept your mind running at full steam in bed.
  1171. >Maybe this was a mistake.
  1172. >After all, you don't actually know how fit Starla is when it comes to a full day of walking.
  1173. >Add to that being out in the heat and under the broiling desert sun...
  1174. >You should have asked more questions.
  1175. >But you were too damn excited.
  1176. >"Midnight."
  1177. >You snap back to reality to find Starla staring at you, both confused and expectantly.
  1178. "What?"
  1179. >"I asked if you could get into my larger bag that I brought and fish out my hat. I'd appreciate it since it's easier for you."
  1180. >Right.
  1181. >You've been helping her this morning with her mane and tail.
  1182. >Surprisingly, she's able to manage tending to most of it with her brush clutched between either her teeth or her front hooves.
  1183. >The area on top and around her head is the biggest issue.
  1184. >And tying it all up to prevent dragging it on the ground all day.
  1185. >Actually looks surprisingly nice with it harnessed to a shorter length.
  1186. >And it hasn't taken that long, though you've clearly drifted off in thoughts in the meantime.
  1187. "Shit, sorry. I was thinking of something else," you admit. "Be right back."
  1188. >Almost galloping out of the room after cracking the bedroom door open, you find the suitcase in question and open it up, searching through odds and ends of attire.
  1189. >Wow, she really does wear a fair bit of stuff.
  1190. >"Thief! Thief!"
  1191. >You look up, finding Anon wide-eyed and pointing at you, wielding a spatula for a weapon as he slaves over the stovetop.
  1192. "How much shit are you cooking this morning? Normally you'd be done by now."
  1193. >"Three extra eggs and another extra six strips of bacon over the usual. That's an extra pan each," he replies, switching his focus back to breakfast. "How much longer are you two playing dress-up this morning?"
  1194. "Who said we were playing dress-up?"
  1195. >He glances back over.
  1196. >"You are going through a bunch of accessories right now. What else should I be thinking?"
  1197. "...I'm getting her hat that she asked for," you begrudgingly admit, somehow only now noticing the straw yellow sun bonnet on top that is surely your target.
  1198. >You carefully fetch it out with your trusty metal wire normally weaved within the pendant chain.
  1199. >...man is that girly looking.
  1200. >"Well I do declare, that's a mighty fine headpiece for a proper southern belle," Anon cheers in a horrendous attempt at a female voice.
  1201. >It makes you cringe hard enough to feel like you're straining a muscle.
  1202. "Never, ever do that again."
  1203. >"I thought it was decent!" Starla calls out from the bedroom, her slight drawling accent she sports purposefully emphasized.
  1204. >"Oof, you got outvoted on that one," Anon chides with a smirk.
  1205. "Makes me question her intelligence."
  1206. >"Hey!"
  1207. "Kidding!" you shout back to Starla.
  1208. >Backtracking, you sneak through the narrow crack of the bedroom door left slightly ajar, presenting your find to Starla on the other side, still happy and content despite her protest just a moment before.
  1209. >"Yep, that's the one!"
  1210. >Gently setting it down upon her head, she adjusts it with her hooves until satisfied.
  1211. "You know, when you said you packed some things to wear, I thought you were joking," you comment while looking on.
  1212. >"Well, I may have gone a bit overboard, but I figured why not - maybe you'll see something that tickles your fancy to try," she suggests with a bright smile.
  1213. "Eh, I don't think that's my thing. And these will get in the way," you explain languidly, spreading your wings in demonstration of your point.
  1214. >"Oh nonsense. It's not like I wear full dresses - more like accent pieces. But I get it, you're kinda a tomboy. But might be worth an experiment, you know?"
  1215. >You really can't wrap your head around dressing up for the sake of wearing something.
  1216. "Maybe. No frilly shit, though."
  1217. >Starla hums with contentment, though her mood falters a bit after a few seconds.
  1218. >"Are you alright today?" she asks with thinly veiled concern.
  1219. "Fine. Just didn't sleep that great."
  1220. >"Why's that?"
  1221. "I dunno. Too excited about today, spending time with you?" you suggest with a forced grin.
  1222. >Starla raises a brow in suspicion.
  1223. "You worry too much, you know that?"
  1224. >"Perhaps."
  1225. >Eager to leave this odd and uncomfortable investigation behind, you make for the door.
  1226. >Only to have it shut in your face with a deft kick from Starla.
  1227. "Jesus, Star! You trying to cut my nose off?!" you shout in shock and frustration.
  1228. >Starla doesn't seem to be fazed by your tone, instead resting upon her haunches and folding her forelegs in front of her in disappointment as she leans against the door.
  1229. >Her eyes are closed, meaning the glare you're likely sporting is going unseen as well.
  1230. >... you've never really noticed how dextrous her front legs are until now.
  1231. >Maybe it has something to do with how they were made as prosthetics?
  1232. >Huh.
  1233. >"No, but we aren't having breakfast until you tell me what's going on," she says in a stern voice. "Was it something last night, or something this morning? Is it me?"
  1234. "No, are you high?"
  1235. >Starla's violet eyes make an appearance again after hearing your quip, her face twisted into a look of confusion.
  1236. >"What?"
  1237. "I asked if... nevermind. It's just a stupid saying," you respond, dismissing what could become a lengthy explanation.
  1238. >Instead, you focus on the door, seizing the handle and pulling.
  1239. >...Star is a lot stronger than you expected, as she keeps a shoulder held tight against your obstacle to freedom.
  1240. >Noticing the slight movement you manage to create, Starla shifts so her whole body is leaned up against the door.
  1241. >She looks at you while you give another tug, mildly amused.
  1242. >You could really put some muscle into it...
  1243. >At the risk of destroying something or hurting her.
  1244. > It's not worth it, Midnight.
  1245. >"Hey, no horseplay!" Anon calls out.
  1246. "Good thing we aren't horses, numbnuts!"
  1247. >"I would have said ponyplay, but there's uh... that's got another meaning. Forget it."
  1248. >Starla's expression turns from stern to quizzical.
  1249. "If he says forget it, more than likely it's for the best."
  1250. >"It seems harmless enough though..."
  1251. >She shakes her head, regaining her composure as she resumes the interrogation.
  1252. >"Seriously, we aren't leaving until you tell me what's going on. Your attitude now and the lack of sleep you admitted have to be related. I'm not stupid."
  1253. "I never said you were! And I don't think you are!" you quickly protest.
  1254. >"But...?"
  1255. >Goddammit.
  1256. >You sigh, seeing no way out of this.
  1257. "Look, I didn't really think about it till now, actually thinking it through beyond just the surface. But we're going to be outside in the heat and the sun all day."
  1258. >"Hence why I brought the hat," she says, rather surprised by your words. "Again, I can think ahead, Mid."
  1259. "And we end up doing a lot of walking. Yeah, we drive the truck to an area, but we don't move it ev-"
  1260. >"Why don't you think I can handle myself?" Starla interrupts, a bit of hurt in her voice.
  1261. "It's..."
  1262. >You find yourself staring at her pale pink forelegs, which Starla quickly recognizes.
  1263. >"Oh please, Midnight, is that really it? I figured you could at least be a bit more complex and fixated on being more of a homemaker type in touch with my feminine side," she scoffs.
  1264. "It might be that, too."
  1265. >"I think you'll be surprised by me," she replies with a light chuckle, brushing aside the tension with a dismissive wave of the hoof. "Trust me, I don't have your brains or your abilities to pick things up with the wave of my horn, but physically, I'm more than capable of a day out. I may be even stronger than you *because* I don't rely on 'magic'."
  1266. "Alright, now you're starting to stretch it a little thin."
  1267. >"Mind magic didn't open the door for you, did it?" she lightly jabs back.
  1268. >That's a challenge you aren't letting slide.
  1269. "I easily could have, Starla. I didn't see any sense in ripping the door off its hinges."
  1270. >"Oh simmer down, I'm teasing," she relents, dropping to all fours before reaching over and patting you on the shoulder. "Come on, I appreciate the concern, but today isn't going to be as taxing for me as you think. Let's get some food."
  1271. >You do feel a bit better with the reassurance - and her voice is one of pure confidence.
  1272. >But being called out on your inability to get past her...
  1273. >That rankles you a bit.
  1274. >Still, you set it aside, as Starla has with your doubts about her capabilities.
  1275. >You gently swing open the door, allowing Starla egress first before following out shortly thereafter.
  1276. >Anon sits at the kitchen counter, already brandishing a fork with eggs in one hand, and a strip of bacon in the other.
  1277. "Couldn't wait for us? Rude," you comment in jest.
  1278. >"Hell, I was gonna start on your plates here pretty quick if the standoff lasted any longer," he comments.
  1279. >"It smells good, thank you for giving us a chance to get out here," Starla chuckles, hopping into a chair.
  1280. >Likewise, you climb up into the seat next to her and prepare to dig in.
  1281. >But pause a moment before actually doing so.
  1282. "Why were you listening to our private conversation?" you cautiously ask Anon.
  1283. >His brow furrows while his eyes widen a bit, as if you uttered something utterly bizarre.
  1284. >"You think the doors here are soundproof or something? That thing has a hollow core, Middie," he answers.
  1285. >...
  1286. "I didn't sleep that well last night."
  1287. >"You did toss and turn a few times and woke me up, but I wasn't gonna say anything. Still, that was a dumb question, you don't get a free pass on that."
  1288. "Ass."
  1289. >Your lazy insult only brings cheer to his face as he resumes breakfast.
  1290. >A quiet indeed settles upon the room as you and Starla join his lead.
  1291. >Of course, since he got a head start, Anon finishes before everyone else.
  1292. >And turns his focus to Starla.
  1293. >"For what it's worth, I had some concerns about what you're used to and how you'd fare for a whole day outside. Midnight just happened to be the one to take the bullet."
  1294. >"I suppose I do set off an air of delicacy," she replies, offering a calm, pleasant tone. "No worries - I guess I just have to show I've got grit today."
  1295. >That last statement comes out with a hint of playfulness.
  1296. >But her eyes are lit up with fierce confidence you've never seen until now.
  1297. >It even catches Anon off-guard.
  1298. >"Well... alright then," he manages to sputter. "It's about time we get this show on the road, once you gals finish up."
  1299. "It's a real fag and pony show now, huh?"
  1300. >Anon shrinks down a bit, his eyes darting between you and Starla.
  1301. >After a moment, he hides his face from Starla with his hand, turning fully to you.
  1302. >"Shh, don't tell her, I'm not ready to come out yet."
  1303. >"I've known for a while."
  1304. "Hey, nice!" you belt out through surprise, offering a shoulder bump of camaraderie with Starla as she joins you in laughter.
  1305. >"Dammit, even the sweet one picks on me now," Anon laments in jest, allowing his head to lightly slump and audibly thump the countertop.
  1306. >Alright, maybe you got Starla a bit wrong.
  1307. >Maybe today you're seeing a new side of her.
  1308.  
  1309.  
  1310.  
  1311.  
  1312.  
  1313. >The three of you slowly bounce down the main dirt road of the junkyard, the music of the radio just barely left audible.
  1314. >You gave up riding shotgun for Starla, not sitting behind her amongst a mess of tools, unclaimed parts, and bolts.
  1315. >Starla sports a pair of thick-framed, vintage-style shades to go along with her sun-bonnet, all in an attempt to fight off the sun for the day.
  1316. >"So you two always end up splitting off for the day and working on your own list?" she asks, turning to Anon while making sure her eyes make it clear this is a question directed at both of you.
  1317. "It's the only way to keep orders fulfilled without having to be out here for ten to twelve hours a day," you pipe in, leaning forward so you're between the front seats.
  1318. >"We aren't always split up. And usually, we're still well within earshot of one another," Anon adds, taking a hand off the wheel to pat your head.
  1319. "Lucky for you, huh?"
  1320. >"And lucky for you, considering you have the occasional need for my expertise."
  1321. "Bah, I just like making you feel like I need your help."
  1322. >"Of course," he laughs.
  1323. >How did you get so good at working on this kind of stuff?" Starla asks, her voice cracking a bit as the truck hits a particularly rough spot.
  1324. "Is that directed at me or him?"
  1325. >"Anon," she replies a bit sheepishly. "Sorry. I already know how you learned this sort of thing, being around it and reading what you could find while living out here."
  1326. >Anon chuckles quietly to himself, bringing the focus upon him.
  1327. >"Funny enough, I'm sorta in the same vein as Midnight," he answers.
  1328. >"You lived out here in the yard at one point, too?" Starla asks, mouth agape in disbelief.
  1329. >"Well no, not quite the same scenario. But I grew up around old cars like this, so you learn things just by being around others that wrench on em."
  1330. "Speaking of which, who did you want to follow around and help first?"
  1331. >"I... oh. I guess I didn't realize I had a choice in the matter," Starla comments, befuddled by the sudden option.
  1332. >"I'm kinda surprised myself," Anon says, turning to look at you.
  1333. >Perhaps he thinks you're joking.
  1334. >You aren't.
  1335. >"I think I'm gonna stick with you, Midnight," Starla answers with little hesitation. "Sorry, Anon."
  1336. >"No need to apologize," Anon says, laughing it off. "But good timing, because we're already about at the first stop."
  1337. >Like clockwork, Anon wheels the Trailduster down a smaller path on the right, in the mix of full-size Ford and Mercury products.
  1338. "Alright, I didn't happen to look since today was your day to sort out the list of part requests. What do we have?"
  1339. >"I have the task of hoping to find and figuring out how to remove the grille of a Mercury Marauder," he announces, his thumb directed at his chest. "For you two, we need a few script emblems for a '66 LTD and possibly a pair of taillights, provided they aren't cracked and hazed to hell and back."
  1340. "That's a tall ask."
  1341. >"Hence why I said 'possibly,' Middie. Customer only wants em if they're in good shape - not even wanting a discounted set if they need more than minor cleanup and cosmetic work."
  1342. "Duly noted."
  1343. >Not long after, the truck comes to a stop, the vibration and noise from the engine ceasing.
  1344. >"Everyone's got their marching orders, let's split."
  1345. >As corny as his comment is, all three of you start moving.
  1346. >You pop open the passenger door for Starla, closing it behind her once she's clear.
  1347. >Rather than thread your way into the front seat and follow her out, you head toward the back tailgate, pulling open the latch and hopping out after grabbing your tool bag.
  1348. >"Oh wow, you have your own set? That's so cute!" Starla cheers, fawning over the stitching of your name.
  1349. "Cute isn't the word I would use..." you trail off.
  1350. >"I know, I know. It's... neat? Will that work?"
  1351. >You nod your head.
  1352. >"And it's cute too."
  1353. >Starla giggles at Anon's interjection, slightly nodding her head in agreement.
  1354. "You know if you keep using that, it loses its effectiveness to irk me?" you suggest to him.
  1355. >"That's the plan."
  1356. >You figured as much.
  1357. >Oh well.
  1358. "C'mon, Starla, follow me."
  1359. >You pad off further ahead of where the truck is parked, with your friend quickly joining your side.
  1360. >"Holy moly, there are so many cars out here," she gasps while taking in the sights.
  1361. "Yeah, we also had to drive a fair way to get out here. You didn't notice?" you ask, before listening to yourself. "Not trying to be snarky, I guess we were talking most of the way here."
  1362. >"Yeah, I looked out the window, but I wasn't really... looking at it. Or paying attention to the time."
  1363. "Good point."
  1364. >"So what exactly are we looking for?"
  1365. "Ford LTD. Basically an upmarket luxury version of the full-size Galaxie. Unique trim on the outside is the main differentiation for us to be looking for."
  1366. >"...I'm afraid I don't know what a Galaxie is, Mid," Starla admits, sounding rather forlorn.
  1367. >You wander away from your straight path to bump into her playfully.
  1368. >"You're in good company because I know where we're headed," you encourage her. "Now, most of what's around us in these rows *are* Galaxies."
  1369. >You watch her eyes dart around, studying the vehicles around you.
  1370. >Eventually, her attention turns back to you, looking utterly lost.
  1371. >"But they all look so different. They're the same cars?"
  1372. "Yep. You see, there are different generations of models, usually around a four to five-year span. But each year of car tends to have some sort of change to stand out from the previous model year," you explain. "What we're looking for is the first generation, which is most notable in having four headlights, with two stacked on each end of the front grille."
  1373. >"So how is this place organized? Or is it?"
  1374. "It's... relatively organized. Some areas are better sorted than others," you cautiously respond. "I know here, we have to get past these newer models with the hidden headlights. But it at least means we're only a generation ahead."
  1375. >"Ah, I was wondering why these didn't have any headlights. Well, some of them look like they're winking an eye," she giggles, gesturing to one with the aforementioned 'face.'
  1376. "Yeah, a common occurrence for hideaway headlights when things stop working."
  1377. >It isn't long before you're traversing a path now surrounded by stacked headlights - and it's now you have to be more vigilant and pay attention to details...
  1378. >Or just discern the identity by the faded window marker used to scrawl the year on the inside of the windshields.
  1379. >Easier said than done, between dust coating the windshields and the sun's rays slowly cooking it into obscurity.
  1380. >You start seeing more familiar grille shapes to what you're looking for - the difference being the marker lights just inboard of the headlights, or non-existent.
  1381. >1966 is probably endowed with the marker lights.
  1382. >Federal law bullshit, and all that.
  1383. "Here Star, I think this is what we're looking for," you call out, coming to a halt in front of a drab green four-door.
  1384. >Setting your toolbag on the hood, you take a few steps between the passenger side of your target and its neighbor, looking at the C-pillar toward the rear of the roof.
  1385. >Looks like it's in good shape.
  1386. >"Is there anything I can do to help?" Starla asks, excitement creeping into her voice.
  1387. "Not really, no," you reply, reluctantly shaking your head. "These things just pry off, just takes a little finesse not to snap the mounting posts."
  1388. >Before you can grab your bag, Starla grabs hold of it with her teeth and sets it down on the ground.
  1389. >"What do you need out of here?" she asks, fumbling with the zipper tag and opening it up.
  1390. "Right there in the corner."
  1391. >You wrap a wire around the orange plastic tool that looks like a miniaturized pry bar and pull it out, showing it to Starla before heading toward the rear of the car.
  1392. >"Should I check the other side to make sure that one is there?"
  1393. "Sure."
  1394. >You carefully wedge the flattened edge of the trim room underneath the top portion of the emblem and gently wriggle it back and forth.
  1395. >The years of dust, dirt, and corrosion combine to make a faint groan as the barrel nuts on the ends of the posts start to yield.
  1396. >"This one looks about the same condition, Midnight," you hear Starla announce from the other side, waving to you through the door glass.
  1397. "Nice. That means we won't have to fumble with finding another car. For these things, anyway."
  1398. >"Right, the taillights..."
  1399. >You maneuver your tool to the bottom half of the emblem and work it over, quickly getting it to a point you can just seize the metal trim and pull it off without issue.
  1400. "That's one down."
  1401. >For now, you set it atop the rear decklid, before circling around the rear of the car, meeting up with Starla as she looks over the back end.
  1402. >"Well, there's one good taillight," she comments, directing your attention to the driver's side fixture.
  1403. >She's not wrong - it looks like aside from dust and perhaps a hint of a scratch that could be polished out, the lens and the chrome trim are in surprisingly pristine condition.
  1404. >The passenger side is merely a bare hole, the fixture long since removed.
  1405. "Well, I don't want to work on getting that out if we have no mate for it. C'mon, we'll come back here after having a look around."
  1406. >"I can do it, Midnight. Work on getting that other emblem off, and I'll see if I can't find another car, now that I know what to look for."
  1407. >Her suggestion causes you hesitation.
  1408. >Is letting her go off on her own, even if it's just a few cars away, a good idea?
  1409. >Your mind flashes back to the coyote incident you had to help Anon with weeks back.
  1410. >One in a million situation, but...
  1411. >"Oh come on, you don't think that lowly of me, do you?" Starla pointedly quips.
  1412. "I never said that."
  1413. >"No, but the lack of an immediate answer tells me you have reservations."
  1414. "I do. I'm not going to lie about that. It's less about not trusting your judgment and more about being caught unaware by something out here."
  1415. >She frowns at your sentiment but has nothing in response to argue.
  1416. >You feel like an asshole, treating her like she needs to be babysat.
  1417. "Look, if it wasn't for Anon getting jumped by a coyote that clearly had rabies, I'd not be that concerned. Honest truth."
  1418. >"Yet he still solos it out here like you, doesn't he?"
  1419. >Why?
  1420. >Why does she want to argue this?
  1421. >"I'll keep my eyes and ears open. But I want to at least be somewhat helpful today rather than just follow you around."
  1422. "I know," you sigh. "Just... yeah, be careful. Shout if you need me."
  1423. >A grin returns to her face as she spins around and starts to trot down the row of cars.
  1424. >Anxiously, you force yourself to turn away and head to the driver's side of the LTD.
  1425. >The emblem is in the same good condition as the other, just as Starla had said.
  1426. >However, this one wants to be a pain in the ass as you try to jam the pry bar underneath it.
  1427. >Did someone glue this one down?
  1428. >It's almost like the trim has been sealed to the paint, with nowhere to actually insert the end.
  1429. >It takes a few tries to find an area that offers a grip.
  1430. >It's frustrating to be patient with this when you have a friend wandering off on her own out here.
  1431. >Well, not wandering, but on her own.
  1432. >Are you being overly worried?
  1433. >Like she mentioned before, Teddy leaves her on her own for days at a time when on a trip.
  1434. >Obviously she's not helpless.
  1435. >But that's in a safe and secure house.
  1436. >A familiar area.
  1437. >Not even you know every in and out of this yard - and you spent a fair amount of time prowling about.
  1438. >*Pop!*
  1439. >Your thoughts are shattered by the defeated sound of snapped pot metal, and the logo spins limply around a single mounting post.
  1440. >Son of a bitch.
  1441. >Well, no point in finishing the removal of that one.
  1442. >Have to find another car with an equally good part.
  1443. >Maybe this is too distracting to have her with you.
  1444. >You feel shitty thinking like that.
  1445. >Like you're blaming her.
  1446. >You can't blame her for wanting to help in some way - it seems like it's in her nature.
  1447. >And just tagging along for a whole day doing nothing...
  1448. >You would hate it.
  1449. >But the what-ifs scare you.
  1450. >"Midnight!"
  1451. >Starla's shout instantly clears your frustration.
  1452. >Without a second thought, you turn to your left and gallop into the path, gathering enough speed to spread your wings and leap into the air.
  1453. >Punishing your muscles - organic and artificial - you gain altitude and forward speed as fast as possible, wanting a wide view of the area before banking left.
  1454. >Was her shout a frantic call?
  1455. >You don't know - you just heard your name and instincts took over.
  1456. >Worryingly, you don't see her exaggerated strawberry blonde mane anywhere amongst the cars ahead.
  1457. >You don't know how far she could have gotten.
  1458. >What if she's being chased like Anon was?
  1459. >"Hey!"
  1460. >That came from...
  1461. >You look straight down, seeing Starla waving to you as you pass overhead.
  1462. >Fuuuuck.
  1463. >You feel like an idiot.
  1464. >Why didn't you at least look around first?
  1465. >Circling back around and gliding down to the ground, you find Starla staring wide-eyed at you with just a bit of confusion.
  1466. >And quite a bit of awe, leaving her jaw to hang.
  1467. "There you are, what's up?" you ask, straining to sound nonchalant about the sudden rescue mission that launched you into a tizzy.
  1468. >"Wow, you really can fly!" she finally utters.
  1469. "Well, yeah. Why does that surprise everyone?" you scoff.
  1470. >"It's just... it's amazing to actually see," she replies while coming down to reality. "But what were you doing?"
  1471. "I..."
  1472. >You really don't have a good excuse ready for this.
  1473. "You shouted out my name, and I kinda panicked. Thought maybe you were in trouble," you glumly admit, expecting to hurt her a little with your lack of faith in her.
  1474. >"Oh. Yeah, maybe that wasn't intelligent on my part after you told me to call out for you if I needed help," she says, sounding a bit embarrassed as her gaze falters. "I mean, I'm glad you didn't hesitate, and it was neat to see you jet into the sky like that."
  1475. "Not too upset my first thought was you were in danger, are you?"
  1476. >"Nah. Shows you care," she replies, backing that comment with a wry grin. "BUT, I did find where that other taillight went. Someone left it laying in the trunk of another LTD - must have decided they didn't want it or found a better one."
  1477. "Are you sure it's a passenger side, the one we don't have?"
  1478. >"Absolutely! C'mon, I'll show you."
  1479. >You fold your wings away, following Starla as she leads the way.
  1480. "Hey, wait just a sec," you ask her, coming to a stop and heading back for your tools.
  1481. >"Oh, I figured we would have to come back and get that one out of the car anyway," Starla says.
  1482. "We will... but I kinda need another emblem. Hopefully, this one has it."
  1483. >"Wow, I really had you thrown through a loop. Sorry," she replies.
  1484. >The comment makes you laugh, something wholly unexpected judging by the perplexed look that Starla now sports.
  1485. "I'd love to use that excuse, but I just plain broke one of the posts off. It happens," you explain with a shrug.
  1486. >"I think you're in luck because there were a few similar cars that all had the same sort of badges."
  1487. "Good looking out," you compliment her, grabbing your tool that had dropped in the sand. "See, you're more help than you think you are."
  1488. >"Is that encouragement for me, or you?" she teases.
  1489. "Both, I suppose. Let's go."
  1490.  
  1491.  
  1492.  
  1493.  
  1494.  
  1495. "Prybar, please. The one that looks like a screwdriver."
  1496. >"I... what?"
  1497. "Lame joke, sorry. Flat blade screwdriver, decent size."
  1498. >Starla rummages through your toolbag with her snout, before coming back up with the requested item lightly clenched between her teeth.
  1499. "Thanks. You sure that doesn't bother you? It's not like these tools are clean by any stretch of the mind," you remind her as you take hold of the tool.
  1500. >"You worry too much - I already told you, I'm fine," she laughs. "I know it's a foreign idea to you, but I'm used to having to pick up and move items like this."
  1501. "Can't blame a gal for making sure."
  1502. >Starla watches on inquisitively just outside the car as you start to pry up the center console from the floor.
  1503. >You figured taking this out of a Chevy Caprice would be easy - but the effort you've put forth this far is far beyond what was anticipated.
  1504. >Are you absolutely sure you got all the fasteners?
  1505. >Does it warrant a fifth looking over?
  1506. >Aside from this snafu, today has thus far been rather smooth sailing.
  1507. >Once you got over your anxieties that were present with the first stop.
  1508. >Starla has been more than happy to scout for other parts nearby while you focus on the removal of a particular item, or just hand you tools as you request them.
  1509. >This is the fourth car you've worked over so far.
  1510. >"How does that work, anyway?"
  1511. "Hm?"
  1512. >Starla motions to her own horn atop her forehead.
  1513. >"I guess I've never really thought about it, but I'm curious. How do you control your... how do you pick things up, I guess is what I'm asking."
  1514. >It's been long enough that you scarcely remember when you *didn't* possess the ability to manipulate metal.
  1515. >You really don't remember how that whole situation came to be.
  1516. >As you continue to work, your mind wanders on that blank slate.
  1517.  
  1518. *****
  1519. >Your head throbs with a dull ache even before you open your eyes.
  1520. >It feels like someone finished working you over with a baseball bat a day or two ago, leaving you to deal with the consequences.
  1521. >Though that begs the question - what happened?
  1522. >This is hardly a new experience.
  1523. >You never get a warning prefacing a procedure or exam.
  1524. >It just... happens.
  1525. >Whether something is put in your food, or some sort of gas is wafted into your room is uncertain - but the scientists manage to drug you in some way before a new experiment is undertaken.
  1526. >You haven't been able to figure it out quite yet, and it irritates you to no end.
  1527. >...of course, would it matter?
  1528. >Who's to say they wouldn't just drag you out and jab you with a tranquilizer in a syringe?
  1529. >Regardless of these hypothetical situations, you ease open your eyes in preparation for the fluorescent assault by the overhead lights - assuming you can see.
  1530. >Other than the blurriness caused by sleep hazing your vision, sight is intact this time.
  1531. >You still get a chill thinking back to the eye incident.
  1532. >It was by far the worst procedure - though getting used to living and being comfortable with wings was not exactly enjoyable.
  1533. >Nor was learning to use them.
  1534. >However, as you carefully take in the sights of your familiar room, you quickly become aware of something amiss, aside from your apparent migraine.
  1535. >Multiple wires hang from your head - you can see one on each side of your peripheral vision.
  1536. >But now having taken note of the weight - there's certainly more to it than that.
  1537. >Rising from your mattress is a struggle; your leg muscles want no part in any sort of exercise after languishing for an unknown amount of time.
  1538. >But you manage it, carefully stepping toward the door to your room - where, coincidentally, the wires dangling from you lead before ducking underneath through the rubber seal.
  1539. >The glass offers you a decent reflection, one that makes you feel ill.
  1540. >At least half a dozen patches have been shaved from your fur, large enough to make room for electrodes affixed to your bare skin.
  1541. >From there, wires both run down to the floor as well as interconnect with one another - and your horn.
  1542. >What in the fuck is all of this?
  1543. >Your eyes adjust to focus upon what lies beyond the glass and your reflection - and it's only now you are aware you aren't alone.
  1544. >Sitting in a chair beside some sort of large gizmo is the boss's right-hand man - evidently asleep, with how he's slumped over, showing off his mop of brown hair.
  1545. >Captain Asshole berates him for that 'hippie' hairdo on a regular basis.
  1546. >How typical and thoughtful of him to include everyone in his verbal abuse.
  1547. >You don't know how this guy has managed to hold onto his job.
  1548. >He seems too soft.
  1549. >Right from the first day, when you awoke completely blind and he voiced concern.
  1550. >You haven't fallen for that bullshit - a lot of the newbies have been like that.
  1551. >Whatever, at least he isn't another cocksucker with a temper.
  1552. >You rap on the glass with your hoof, startling the young man awake with a jolt.
  1553. >He quickly looks around with an expression of fear, as if expecting he's been caught asleep on the job.
  1554. >But he composes himself quickly enough upon seeing you waiting expectantly on the other side of the glass.
  1555. >"Oh, you're awake."
  1556. "An astute observation. No wonder they hired you," you irritably snap back. "What the hell is going on? What is all of this shit?"
  1557. >"It's another experiment..." he softly replies in defeat.
  1558. "No shit?! That's the only reason I exist, dumbass," you bark, causing your headache to flare up with a fresh jolt of pain.
  1559. >You take a moment for the wave of nausea accompanying the pain to subside before going further.
  1560. "What is it now, and why does my head hurt like hell?"
  1561. >"Is our princess awake?!" you hear the boss holler from somewhere down the hall. "I told you to let me know as soon as she's up, Johnson!"
  1562. >Wonderful.
  1563. >"Yes, she's just woken up, sir!" the Johnson fellow shouts back.
  1564. >You hear his lumbering footsteps echoing down the tiled hall before you see the boss, emotionless as always.
  1565. >Well, the only other emotion he knows is anger.
  1566. "I didn't get an answer from him, so I guess I'll try you - what is all of this electronic shit?"
  1567. >"An experiment."
  1568. >He merely gives you a wry grin.
  1569. >It only pisses you off more.
  1570. "Fuck you."
  1571. >"Sir, she did mention she has some lingering pain in her head-"
  1572. >"She's fine. We had her skull popped open, rearranged and added some things in there, no shit it's going to hurt," the boss interrupts his meek assistant.
  1573. >"Right, I just thought it should be mentioned."
  1574. >That added comment doesn't sit well with the lab's dictator, who quickly turns away from you to his lackey.
  1575. >"You are here to do as I say, not think up stupid shit and feel sorry for *our* creations," he snidely remarks. "None of these damn things would exist if we hadn't made them."
  1576. "Yeah, lucky us."
  1577. >"Shut the fuck up. I'm not talking to you, princess," he barks, pointing a finger at you in a scolding manner.
  1578. >"I'm sorry, sir. Just keeping in mind the... ah, the longevity of our program. It doesn't help us if she expires before we can test her, right?"
  1579. >"Johnson, if you have a bleeding heart, you're in the wrong line of work. Don't bullshit me."
  1580. >The assistant's shoulders slump, only nodding his head in silent acquiescence.
  1581. >"Good. Turn it on, and lets at least get this shit started," the boss instructs, pointing to the machine.
  1582. "What the fuck is that for?" you demand as Johnson reaches over to flip switches and press buttons on a control panel.
  1583. >"To charge you up."
  1584. "That's really descrip-"
  1585. >Pain.
  1586. >Nothing exists but searing hot needles - thousands of them - jabbing into every corner of your head, and trailing through the rest of you.
  1587. >Your vision clouds over, unable to focus with the agony of electricity searing through your skull.
  1588. >"Sir, I thought we were doing a slow charge!"
  1589. >"I don't feel like fucking around for a whole day to juice up the mechanism, she's fine!"
  1590. >"That's way too much at once!"
  1591. >"You either keep it going, or you don't have a job!"
  1592. >"Hey..."
  1593. >Through the deluge, you hear... Johnson?
  1594. >No.
  1595. >You feel... a hoof.
  1596. >Patting you on the back.
  1597. >The torture ends abruptly as it began, though you find yourself in...
  1598. >The junkyard.
  1599. >Starla speaks softly while continuing to reassure you while patting you in comfort.
  1600. >It's only now you realize you're trembling from head to hoof.
  1601. >That was...
  1602. >That was a memory you wish had been left repressed.
  1603. >Holy shit.
  1604. "I'm... I'm good, I think," you stammer, trying to fully bring yourself back into the present.
  1605. >Starla's concerned face fills your vision as she leans inside the car.
  1606. >"What happened? You just stopped working on the console and just... it was like you left. Mentally."
  1607. >You really aren't sure how to answer that, so you merely relax and sit back upon your haunches.
  1608. >"Should I get Anon?"
  1609. "No, I'll be fine Starla. Just... give me a second."
  1610. >She doesn't say anything as you focus on your breathing, slowly bringing your heart down to a normal rhythm.
  1611. >Well then.
  1612. "I... had forgotten how they - well, the laboratory - how the experiment got started. I suppose getting the mechanisms or electronic implants - whatever the hell they are, they needed to be charged up before use, or calibration. I don't know. But I do remember how awful it is to have current coursing through your brain."
  1613. >You don't get a response, forcing you to look over to your friend.
  1614. >She stares down at the carpeted car floor, wide-eyed and looking more than a little ill.
  1615. "Are you okay?" you prod, taken aback by her response.
  1616. >"I guess I didn't think... I know you mentioned how miserable it was where you came from, but I didn't think it was on the verge of torture," she mumbles.
  1617. "And yet... maybe I made it more miserable than it needed to be."
  1618. >"What?" Starla inquires.
  1619. >But you don't know how to answer her.
  1620. >You don't know how to feel right now.
  1621. >Not too long ago, you buried the past, feeling it was a burden not needed.
  1622. >But now you feel... curious.
  1623. >Was it really an accident you escaped?
  1624. >That may be a question best left unanswered.
  1625. >But if you were aided, you at least have an idea of who was behind it...
  1626.  
  1627.  
  1628.  
  1629.  
  1630.  
  1631. >Three hours.
  1632. >Never in a million years did you expect removing the grille of that Marauder would take three goddamn hours.
  1633. >What a nightmare.
  1634. >As you trek back to the truck with your hard-fought trophy, you see another night mare sitting up on the tailgate, basking in the little shade the roof and the tinted back hatch afford.
  1635. >Starla sits beside her, though faced the other way into the back of the Trailduster, inspecting the odds and ends laying scattered there.
  1636. >Her sunbonnet lays beside her, almost precariously on the edge of the tailgate.
  1637. >You can feel the smugness emanating from Midnight even at this distance as you close in.
  1638. >"I didn't realize Starla was expected to pick up your slack, Anon," she croons mischievously.
  1639. >You don't answer her verbally - universal sign language via the middle finger is sufficient.
  1640. >Starla spins around, greeting you with her normal serene smile.
  1641. >"Wow, that's a whole piece?" she asks, to the chrome trim in your hand.
  1642. "Yes, and it was a stubborn piece. Every screw was stripped out of it, hence my... 'slacking'."
  1643. >You focus your eyes on Midnight with that last utterance, which only makes her smirk harden for a brief moment.
  1644. >"Oh come on, you know I'm fucking with you."
  1645. "I'm well aware," you concede, carefully squeezing the grille between the seated ponies and into the back of the truck. "That was just a pure JFH."
  1646. >"JFH?" Starla repeats in uncertainty.
  1647. >"Job From Hell," Midnight calmly answers, dropping her attitude as she reaches over and pats you on the arm. "One of those part pulling excursions where nothing goes to plan."
  1648. >"Gotcha."
  1649. "Hopefully you two had a better go of it than I did?"
  1650. >"Mhmm. Having a handy toolmare to assist me meant we got a bunch of jobs done," Midnight proudly announces, leaning off to the side and giving you a view of the haul behind her.
  1651. >"Toolmare - I like it!" Starla giggles.
  1652. >"Figured we both deserved a short break so you have something to do. Don't want to get all of the work done."
  1653. "Aww, how considerate of you."
  1654. >"I know. You ought to have Starla lend you a hoof for the next couple of hours to help you catch up."
  1655. >Both you and Starla glance at each other in surprise, before all eyes return to Midnight.
  1656. >It's less about the idea of spending time with Starla, and more about Midnight's sudden lack of sass in her voice that draws attention.
  1657. >"Are you sure Midnight?" Starla asks.
  1658. >"Yeah, I have some stuff to think about. Wouldn't be fair to have you helping me while I'm deep in thought and rather mum," Midnight answers.
  1659. >"Is this about-"
  1660. >"Yes, but I'm fine," Midnight interrupts, her speech quick in order to cut Starla off from saying something else. "It's not a bad thing. But I need some time alone."
  1661. >Starla's shoulders slump, though Midnight is quick to counter that response by spreading a wing and embraving her lightly.
  1662. >"It's not your fault. I promise we're good."
  1663. "I'm missing something here. What the hell happened?" you ask, hoping for an explanation for this moment and mood that has cut into the overall festive atmosphere accompanying Starla's visit.
  1664. >To say the least, it's very concerning.
  1665. >"I'll explain this evening, Anon. Just not right now," Midnight says, her voice solid and serious.
  1666. >It tells you she's not going to budge no matter how hard you prod at her.
  1667. "I'm going to hold you to that, Middie. As long as you're really alright."
  1668. >"That makes two of us," Starla joins in with a sharp nod.
  1669. >"I swear on it. But I think Anon needs your help anyway, Star," Midnight responds, letting mischief creep back into her voice. "Maybe he'll be able to get more than one job done in three hours."
  1670. "Kiss my ass."
  1671. >"I'll pass," she replies with a lack of interest or enthusiasm while sliding off the tailgate. "See you guys later, Imma get back to work."
  1672. >Without another word, Midnight levitates her toolbag out of the back of the truck and sets off for another target.
  1673. "Might be more helpful if you tell me what you already got and where you're headed, Middie," you remind her while fishing through your pocket for the list of needed parts.
  1674. >"Oh yeah," she admits in a hushed, slightly embarrassed voice while spinning around. "Got the LTD stuff, the Fairlane rear bumper, and all of the full-size Chevy parts."
  1675. "In other words, you took the easy jobs to make me look bad."
  1676. >She scoffs at your accusation.
  1677. >"You know as well as I do it's never a guarantee something is going to be easy," she argues.
  1678. "No, but it got you all flustered and defensive, so there must be some truth to my remark."
  1679. >"... work smarter, not harder," she replies, virtually admitting defeat despite her arrogant tone.
  1680. "It's cute how you're such a sore loser when you get caught," you chide.
  1681. >"Just for that, I'm going to get the stuff needed for the Novas on the list, and the Ventura."
  1682. "Still gonna prove my right by taking the easy way out."
  1683. >Starla remains silent during this whole exchange, though she's clearly amused.
  1684. >"Good luck dealing with Anon, Star. My apologies in advance," Midnight tells her.
  1685. >"Oh stop it," Starla jokingly scolds her. "I think we'll make a pretty good team."
  1686. >"I'm off - catch you guys later."
  1687. >With that, Midnight gallops off, leaving you with Starla - a pony you really don't know all that well.
  1688. "So, what was the needing to think... what was all about?" you ask, uneasily rubbing the back of your head.
  1689. >Starla shakes her head.
  1690. >"I'm going to leave it to Midnight to explain tonight. It's only fair," she answers.
  1691. "Alright," you concede, even as your anxiety about Midnight lingers. "So, you're with me now, eh?"
  1692. >Starla hums in approval before jumping off the back of the Trailduster, her chest thrust out in pride.
  1693. >"I'll help with whatever I can, be it look for something or hand you tools."
  1694. "Alright - if you're ready, I'm ready."
  1695. >Starla turns around, gently nipping the edge of her hat and flicking it up in the air.
  1696. >With well-practiced precision, she ducks underneath it and catches it, looking like she had never taken it off from earlier in the day.
  1697. >"I'm ready. Where are we off to?" she asks, making no note of her neat little move.
  1698. "Well, I still need a couple of parts from a couple of different Mercury models - dashboard instrument cluster from a Monterey, and front bumper brackets and a steering column from a Montego."
  1699. >"If they're both the same make as what you just pulled a part from, I'm assuming we're walking that way?" she asks, pointing a hoof off into the direction behind you.
  1700. "Yep, but I think we'll take the truck. I don't fancy the idea of carrying the steering column and the other stuff back here."
  1701. >"Okay - but doesn't that mean Midnight will have to walk further?" Starla inquires even as you usher her into the passenger seat.
  1702. "Honestly, Midnight has a lot of stuff to pull from those cars - I'm willing to bet we will be done with our three items and picking her up before she's done," you calmly explain. "I can't stress enough how god-awful the grille of that Marauder ended up being - shouldn't have even taken me an hour. But she knows well enough I'm not going to make her walk back with everything she's got - we have a system."
  1703. >"Fair enough - I forget you two are used to doing this thing every day."
  1704. >You close her door, then circle around the front and slide into the driver's seat.
  1705. >It feels a little awkward to glance over and see someone other than Midnight seated shotgun.
  1706. >... alright, it's awkward that Midnight isn't beside you or in the vehicle at all.
  1707. >But now is a good time to actually get to know her, rather than just being Midnight's friend.
  1708. >The best place to start is the one thing that's been mentioned by her...
  1709. "So Midnight tells me you love to cook," you muse.
  1710. >At once, Starla's violet eyes light up with excitement and enthusiasm.
  1711. >"Do I ever! I sincerely hope Midnight passed on my list of items?"
  1712. "Yepper. Got all of it back at home," you confirm while starting up the engine of the Trailduster. "She said you were gonna show her some things so she can do something other than microwaved bacon."
  1713. >"Mhm - it's the reason why I brought more than one bag while staying with you two. Lot of utensils I use at home."
  1714. "You didn't have to go through packing all of that - I have some stuff," you reassure her while scanning the lot for an empty space to turn around.
  1715. >"Oh? Midnight didn't mention you were into cooking," Starla comments, taken aback.
  1716. "Well... I can do a little bit," you answer with care, feeling as if you're presenting yourself grander than you really are. "Nothing fancy. But still have some stuff in the kitchen, and you're welcome to use what you need."
  1717. >"That's very kind of you - but I'll also add that many of my tools are... well, I don't have hands, so there are some modifications Teddy has done for me on some things, while others have more than their fair share of teeth marks. Admittedly, it makes me a bit jealous of what Midnight can do..."
  1718. >Starla's voice loses enough of its bubbly happiness to make you glance over, in time to see the mare cringe ever so slightly while looking ahead.
  1719. "Hey, you okay?"
  1720. >"Yeah, just thought I saw something," she answers without hesitation, dragging her eyes back to you. "But never mind that, I'm really looking forward to showing what I can do, just like you both have been showing me so much."
  1721. >Whatever that was causing her to falter, it's been brushed away easily as Starla returns to form.
  1722. >It can't be a coincidence that something apparently was brought up between her and Midnight earlier, and bringing up Midnight's name...
  1723. >Maybe they had a fight?
  1724. >They seemed alright while waiting for you to walk back with the grille, though...
  1725. >And they both agree to share it with you later.
  1726. >Now you're anxious to know what's up.
  1727.  
  1728.  
  1729.  
  1730.  
  1731.  
  1732. >Starla really enjoys asking questions.
  1733. >Not to say that is a bad thing - far from it, in fact.
  1734. >It's been a refreshing change of pace in the short time she's been with you.
  1735. >As in, still in the midst of the first job.
  1736. >"They really made things look a lot fancier back then, huh?" Starla comments, mesmerized by the flashy chrome of the instrument cluster you're fighting with.
  1737. >You have to chuckle a bit at the naivety of the comment.
  1738. "I suppose it does look pretty fancy compared to... well, just about any other decade," you admit. "Stainless steel and chrome were the in thing at that time, from appliances in the home to the cars that were rolling off Detroit's assembly lines."
  1739. >"Do you... did these get manufactured in your lifetime?"
  1740. "How old do you think I am?" you chortle, only breaking into a full laugh as you glance at Starla's nervous expression.
  1741. >"Well I don't really know, I guess. Not really sure what year this car is - and I don't really grasp the notion of time, I suppose," she admits.
  1742. "Well... how old are you?"
  1743. >A look of uncertainty and a shrug of the shoulders is the response.
  1744. "Huh. Guess you and Midnight are in the same boat there. She doesn't know, either."
  1745. >"I'm sure Teddy could tell you for certain, or at least give a rough estimate since he worked with me from the get-go," Starla adds. "But that's never crossed my mind."
  1746. "I'm kinda curious now - but I don't want to make you uncomfortable with further questions," you tread carefully.
  1747. >"That's the nice thing about teaming up with you for a little while - we get to actually know each other rather than just being friends of Midnight," she reassures you - though she does find some amusement as 'friends' leaves her lips. "As long as I get to ask questions - ask away, Anon."
  1748. >Well, in that case...
  1749. >...you forgot what you were going to ask.
  1750. >Dumbass.
  1751. "You can go first," you defer, trying t save face in light of your brain lapse.
  1752. >"Well, Midnight told me you really didn't like ponies at all when you first encountered one another. What changed your mind?"
  1753. "Starting off with the hard-hitting insightful questions, huh?" you joke.
  1754. >"Perhaps. But it just seems so odd that Midnight was the one that changed your mind considering... honestly, I never thought she was intolerable, by all accounts, her attitude was much more prickly than even when I first met her."
  1755. "Misery loves company, I guess."
  1756. >Starla tilts her head, confused by the lack of depth in your witty but honest answer.
  1757. "How much does Midnight talk about me in general?" you ask politely, expecting you already know the answer as you free the instrument cluster from its housing in the dash.
  1758. >The movement of the module after decades kicks up a helping of dust into the air.
  1759. >Both of you take a moment to fan the particles away from your faces, squinting all the while.
  1760. >"She talks about you more than she used to - which was never," Starla replies with a hushed laugh. "She's still a bit embarrassed talking about you - I suppose I haven't helped manners when I tease her. It's just funny how spun up she gets about discussing her relationship with you, just from the fact she sees herself... above that. Though that's definitely changed over the past month."
  1761. "Fair enough, and I'm not really surprised - but did she ever mention this business? The junkyard, I mean."
  1762. >"Apart from mentioning she saved your ass?" Starla responds in jest as you reach behind the dash to unplug wires.
  1763. "That's true, though."
  1764. >"Oh. I really thought that was - I believed there was some truth to it, but I guess I didn't fully believe it," Starla admits, her confidence fading a bit.
  1765. "She might have stretched the truth a little, I know how she is," you reply, trying to put the lost pep back into Starla even as you blindly fight at a plug you can only feel. "But in all reality, I don't know if I could be here in a year if she hadn't come along. Just like her, I wasn't in a good place. And that extends to mentally. So somehow, two bitter individuals brightened each other up."
  1766. >"I've never gotten that vibe from you at all. You always seem to be in an upbeat, joking mood," Starla replies.
  1767. "Well, that was before I met you. And trust me, Midnight was even less pleasant than the first time you met her, too."
  1768. >"Now *that* I can believe," Starla laughs. "She doesn't seem to be able to let go of the past - at least not until recently. Which leads to another question. Well, after you ask one."
  1769. >You wave off her hesitance as you pull your hand out from the depths of the dashboard and reach for a pair of wirecutters.
  1770. >"Ah ah, I'm the tool mare," she protests, swatting away your hand from the tool bag set before her.
  1771. "Ah, my bad. Habit. Side cutters - basically look like standard pliers you gave me earlier, but made for cutting - I'm already sick of fighting with this plug I can't fully see," you explain, nodding at your hand which displays a couple of fresh scrapes on the knuckles.
  1772. >"Ouch, that doesn't look good," she comments before proceeding to rummage through your tools with her snout.
  1773. "It comes with the territory. After a while, you just get oblivious to minor stuff like that. But what was your next question? I'm not keeping score of how many each of us throws out there."
  1774. >Starla raises up her head, a worn pair of blue-handled wirecutters clenched between her teeth.
  1775. "Yep, those are it. Thanks."
  1776. >"No problem. And I guess I already sorta asked my question - what did you do to have Midnight turn over a new leaf? She's been more open in our chats, less... broody."
  1777. "She just got tired of being angry and having a chip on her shoulder, I suppose. Felt like she was being weighed down by what she described as the bitterness that originally kept her going forward. If that makes sense."
  1778. >"It does, but I'm sure being with you helped a lot to push away those bad memories, too."
  1779. "Aww, you should tell her that later," you laugh, with Starla quickly joining in.
  1780. >Even so, you feel your face grow a little hot as you reach behind the dash cluster and snip away at the old wiring.
  1781. >With all the plastic and copper tethers cast away, you finally pull out the entire unit and set it in your lap.
  1782. "That could have gone worse. But I'll still need to test everything."
  1783. >"How will you do that?" Starla asks, leaning closer to get a look.
  1784. >"I'll hook up a battery to these connections back at the shop, one at a time," you reply, gingerly ripping the cluster over to show her the wires. "Except the speedometer - I'll find something to fit into this slotted end and spin it with a drill."
  1785. >"And where - how does that normally operate? Moving the needle?"
  1786. "That big cable there was originally connected here," you say while looking back at the gaping hole in the dash and pointing. "The other end is hooked up to a gear inside the transmission, which meshes with the output shaft running the driveshaft."
  1787. >While the start of the explanation garners a nod of understanding, you're left with a mare looking as if you slipped into an unintelligible tongue by the end.
  1788. "In fundamental terms, it connects into the system that makes the engine drive the wheels. I bet Midnight would have a field day if you asked her tonight to go into detail and explain it."
  1789. >"I might do that," Starla replies, snapping back from the verge of overwhelmedness. "I honestly enjoy how excited and passionate she gets showing me that sort of stuff."
  1790. "I take it she's given lectures in the past during your chats."
  1791. >A nod confirms your suspicion.
  1792. >"But I've asked enough questions now - come on, you have to have something on your mind!" she goads, lightly bouncing upon the bench seat in anticipation.
  1793. "Well, we are on the subject of mood and personality... what about you? Have you always been cheery and optimistic, or did you have to adjust like Midnight is doing?"
  1794. >Starla stops her movements, wiping away her playfulness at the snap of a finger as she mulls your question with a serious, stony expression.
  1795. >"Hmmm... I will say I *am* happier now than when I was still - let's call it like it is, an experiment," she answers, forcing a light chuckle that doesn't do much to cover the slight pang of hurt in her voice. "But - I would say the first few days that I can remember were unsettling, being poked and prodded by people who I didn't know, talking about things I didn't understand. It was all overwhelming, capped off by not being able to move my forelegs because of that defect..."
  1796. >Starla's voice has continually dropped as she speaks of her past, to the point she's barely above a whisper.
  1797. "Hey, I wasn't trying to bring up something bad, Starla."
  1798. >"No, no, you're fine!" she protests, apparently unnerved by your concern to snap her from the dark place her mind had wandered.  "Honestly, it's been so long, and I never really think about it. It's sobering to remember where I came from, but it puts everything I have now in perspective. Even so, Ted came along... I don't really know when. But looking back on it, I remember him from pretty early on in my memories, so it couldn't have been a lot of time spent isolated without him."
  1799. "So you were kept isolated from others like Midnight?"
  1800. >Starla hesitates for a moment, considering how to answer your inquiry.
  1801. >"It was a sort of isolation, I suppose. I don't really know if there was really a... like an open area? I did see others sorta like me from time to time. But part of what kept me limited was my legs. Some of the scientists created a cart that I rested on, that I could push with my hind legs to move around. But I still needed help to even get on that contraption."
  1802. >It feels awful to even consider, but it seems as if it is a small miracle Starla was even kept alive if there were others that didn't require such intensive care.
  1803. >You don't feel comfortable asking anything further down this line.
  1804. >Starla apparently takes notice of your silent discomfort as she reaches over and pats your forearm with a hoof.
  1805. >"It's okay. That was then, and it made me who I am today. It only drives home why I feel like every day is a gift, you know?"
  1806. "That's a good way to look at it," you agree, offering up a small smile to put her mind at ease. "Midnight has a good life coach in you."
  1807. >"Oh, stop that," she giggles, her cheeks showing just a tinge of red as she rolls her eyes. "I think she's come around more because of you - as well as herself."
  1808. >The late addition to that thought strikes you as odd.
  1809. "Were you two discussing your pasts earlier today? Is that why Midnight needed some time to think?" you ask, unable to suppress your suspicion.
  1810. >"Something like that. I don't want to go into detail, since I promised her. But I think... it seems like there are things that she is trying to figure out. I'm not sure," Starla admits with a distinct uncertainty tainting her voice.
  1811. "That just makes me want to go find her and ask her right now," you admit, feeling worry start to bubble in the pit of your stomach.
  1812. >" I think if it was something truly bothersome, she would have said something then and there at the truck. There was a bit of a... we had a serious discussion earlier that started her mind going, but after that, things were fine, we had some laughs. I was as surprised as you, but I'm glad I've gotten some time to talk to you."
  1813. "Same. I don't mean to put you in a spot where I'm focused on her."
  1814. >Starla scoffs at that.
  1815. >"I can tell you love her and care about her well-being - you have no reason to apologize, Anon. But I will admit, I want to see if we can pull even with what Midnight and I did earlier."
  1816. "Oh?"
  1817. >"I want to be MVP of the day, be the deciding factor of who gets more done!" she cheers. "I'll gather up the tools, you head back to the truck with that... uh... what is it again?"
  1818. "Instrument cluster."
  1819. >"Right. I'll meet you there!"
  1820. >You can't help but find some amusement as Starla hurriedly fetches tools off of the seat and tosses them in the tool bag.
  1821. >Midnight was rather cocky earlier...
  1822. >The thought kicks your ass into gear, mindful of the roof as you climb out of the Mercury before briskly heading back to the truck.
  1823. >Middie will be fine - but man, is she gonna be embarrassed if you can manage to beat getting your side of the list done when she took the 'easy' jobs.
  1824. >You want to see that.
  1825. >You want to see her happy and hear what's suddenly cropped up in her mind too...
  1826. >But one thing at a time.
  1827. >The sound of hoof beats behind you rapidly gets louder before Starla blazes past you, her vibrant orange and gold mane and tail licking off of her form like flames.
  1828. >"C'mon, Anon!"
  1829. "You ponies don't seem to understand humans only have two legs!"
  1830. >"I bet Teddy could go faster than you, and he's going grey!"
  1831. "Ow, that was harsh! You taking lessons from Midnight on insults?!"
  1832. >Your response is only a bout of laughter as you break into a run after her.

Purrlestia

by Autopony

Random /moon/ short

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Midnight [Part 5]

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Darkness [Midnightverse]

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Midnight [Part 4]

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