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/bootleg/ Jacky Part Twelve

By BlondieAnon
Created: 2022-05-28 08:55:15
Updated: 2023-03-04 15:28:31
Expiry: Never

  1. "Duh... duh duh, duh duh duh... no, that's the wrong tune..."
  2. "Duhhh, dun duh duh, duh duh? Dun duh duh duh duh duuuuhh..."
  3. >That's the way that sounds
  4. >Ever since she started singing you to sleep, you haven't been able to get it out of your head
  5. >Between that and... other things, the latest harmony quest has fallen a little to the wayside
  6. >And by "a little", you mean almost two months
  7. >All it took was one lazy Saturday
  8. >Lazier than Saturdays usually are, actually
  9. >Rather than wake up, you decided to just lay there and sleep
  10. >You recall Jack trying to wake you up
  11. >And failing
  12. >And then Shine trying to wake you up
  13. >And failing
  14. >And somewhere in between all of that you ate a few biscuits
  15. >They were good
  16. >But not good enough to keep you awake for long
  17. "Gah... that's not right either is it..."
  18. >"Talking to yourself in the dark again, I see. Do the voices speak back?"
  19. >Of course, it is the only other nocturnal beast in the apartment
  20. >Not counting Prism
  21. >You aren't sure when exactly her sleeping hours are
  22. "Yeah, they tell me red pony hide would look bad ass as a set of chaps."
  23. >"You want me wrapped around your waist that badly, huh."
  24. >Her tongue is as sharp as ever
  25. "Maybe. I could go further about a stretching joke but I think we're both too tired for that."
  26. >"Speak for yourself."
  27. "Ok. I could go further about a stretching joke but I am too tired for that."
  28. >"Better."
  29. "Thanks."
  30. >The room is pitch dark
  31. >It hasn't been this dark in a long time, due to one of the computers being on at almost all times
  32. >Movie nights have made a comeback, but you've avoided them because they're all chick flicks
  33. >And you love Jacqueline enough to sit through exactly two of those
  34. >And boy howdy, were those two long evenings
  35. >Shine's horn starts to glow
  36. >Just enough to make it out in the zombie-infested abyss
  37. >She sits on a pillow and faces you
  38. >"Does the light help?"
  39. "Tiny bit."
  40. >Do you look like the sort of guy who needs a pony night light?
  41. >...
  42. >Better to not want an answer to that
  43. >"How you doing?"
  44. "Ehh..."
  45. >"Articulate, aren't we."
  46. "Hey, lay off. It's almost three AM. I should be sleeping by now."
  47. >"And I should be doing suspect things while you're sleeping."
  48. >Ever since those girls' movie nights, she's been getting notably more...
  49. >Herself?
  50. >You try to look for an excuse but the fact of the matter is that she's been getting increasingly personal with her banter
  51. >It has led to Jack getting some good comebacks in so you suppose you don't care all that deeply
  52. "Guess that explains the magical residue, huh..."
  53. >You lean your back against the wall
  54. >You can't see it but you've actually cleaned your room up a good deal
  55. >You keep thinking of getting outfits for them to wear but the topic never comes up
  56. >And they never press it
  57. >And you don't even know where to find pony-sized outfits
  58. >At least the room is clean
  59. >Ish
  60. "I'm... I'm kinda stuck."
  61. >"Do I want to sarcastically ask if you're actually sitting on sticky sheets or is this a real thing?"
  62.  
  63. "First off? Ew. You know I wash these sheets religiously, and they're new."
  64. >"They're not new anymore."
  65. "Yeah, because you spilled a bag of popcorn less than three days after they were put on."
  66. >"...ok. No comment."
  67. "So n'yeah."
  68. >You think Shine has a sixth sense for sniffing out your bullshit
  69. >She could before, but it seems like she hones in on it now
  70. >Jack does too but you tend to goof around with her so much that those issues tend to be forgotten
  71. >That is not a bad thing
  72. >Prism will ask if you're doing fine but she doesn't press it
  73. >Which is fine, you've come to meet some mutual agreement about keeping things at arm's length
  74. >Even if a drunk night did lead to you hugging her
  75. >Worse, she hugged back
  76. >It makes for good joke material to the other two but you know that was just...
  77. >Not a slip up
  78. >Maybe a temporary gate opening?
  79. >"Hey, no going silent on me. Speak up already."
  80. "About what?"
  81. >"I know you are constantly distraught by the heaven that is living with three ponies and that you mentally flog yourself over how much love and attention we give you. But you gotta have something else going on upstairs this time."
  82. "You're half-right. I just think about flogging said ponies and applying ginger for more lively reactions and added flavor."
  83. >Shine's horn flickers bright for almost long enough to be a split-second
  84. >"...you're a cruel man, Anon."
  85. "Thank you."
  86. >They aren't the only one learning anatomy lessons
  87. >You let out a sigh that's too heavy given how comfy your daily life is
  88. "I still feel guilty about the harmony quest pausing. And ever since we spoke about jobs and all that, I..."
  89. >You shrug and throw up your hands
  90. >Not that anyone can see your gestures
  91. "It's a lot to take in."
  92. >"At least you didn't forget my unboxing day this year."
  93. "Hey, I didn't forget. You said you wanted a pony, I got us Prism."
  94. >"I said I wanted you to act like a pony, not to get her."
  95. "Neigh."
  96. >She doesn't like to call it her "birthday"
  97. >You can get that
  98. >Neither of you say anything for a while
  99. >If it wasn't for the dim glow of red, you could believe that she just wandered off
  100. >Or maybe slept
  101. >...nah
  102. >She wouldn't do that
  103. >You can almost feel her eyes on you
  104. >The focus
  105. >The intent
  106. "I didn't want to say anything but I think I might swap to something I can bring you girls on."
  107. >"For work?"
  108. "Yeah. I mean, if you want to."
  109. >You hate even contemplating this topic
  110. >Are they freeloaders?
  111. >Technically, yes
  112. >Can they work?
  113. >Technically, yes
  114. >Do you want them to?
  115. >Not really
  116. "I... I don't want to talk about that."
  117. >"Mr. Motormouth still doesn't want to talk about it? You really are all choked up over it, aren't you."
  118. "No."
  119. >You squint at her glow
  120. "Yes."
  121. >You say both words with the same level of defensive aggression
  122. >"Alright. But can I sidestep the police line and at least ask why?"
  123. "Because I don't want you, or Jack, or Prizza to worry about it."
  124. >"...Prizza?"
  125. "Yeah."
  126. >"How does that even fit?"
  127. "Because the "R" is silent."
  128.  
  129. >"...huh. I guess that fits. You really aren't doing so hot if even your nicknaming is getting rusty."
  130. >Another sigh
  131. >You like that she doesn't give you much wiggle room
  132. "I guess. The other thing about the harmony quest stuff... I'm just worried, ok?"
  133. >"Anon, look at me."
  134. >You look around the darkness of the room and give the glow a hard squint
  135. "Do you know where we are?"
  136. >"Shut up, you know where I am."
  137. "Alright. Fine. I'm looking just below the red."
  138. >"Good boy."
  139. >Her dismissive yet amused tone has become more of a comfort than you'd like to admit
  140. >If Jack is who you can get all romantic and cuddly with, Shine is who you can fling shit the hardest at with no concern of the stench
  141. >"Now we had some rough times. I can admit that. But look around."
  142. "Dude, seriously?"
  143. >"Shut up, metaphorically speaking look at how we are."
  144. >She has a point
  145. >Much like before, it seems like you're the only one honestly concerned about someone crossing a line and things getting rocky
  146. >Or worse, breaking down
  147. >You can't help but feel like you've always had that concern around people
  148. >Your friends of back then
  149. >Your family
  150. >You huff hard to push those topics out of your head
  151. >"Yeah, exactly. This isn't like... other things. Prism gets mad but she doesn't say things like she used to. And trust me, she used to be very vocal. She's willing to get over herself and at least try to help, once she cools off. It's her way of burying the hatchet."
  152. >You haven't even seen her get that mad
  153. >Not lately, anyway
  154. >"And Jacky... good grief, I'm telling you I'm rolling my eyes hard because-ha ha dark room-because she is just so... freaking fairy tale princess sometimes."
  155. >That makes you smile
  156. >You can't avoid letting out a "heh"
  157. >"See? And I bet you embrace that silly crap too. But... well, it works. She has her one or three topics that she is kinda weird on but that's usually it."
  158. "Wait, which ones?"
  159. >"...you telling me there are more than three topics."
  160. "N-no."
  161. >You and Jack talk about so many things, both good and bad, to the extent that you can't think of only three things that she gets weird with
  162. >"...I'm just gonna pre-emptively go "ew" and move on from that."
  163. "Not all of them are gross!"
  164. >"Yeah, no. You sound guilty as all so again. Ew."
  165. >Whatever
  166. >It isn't like she's above going into "ew" territory
  167. >"I mean it though. I can feel like I'm going to blow a hole in the ground and she can still get me to smile. I don't know how she does it. It's like she has no shame."
  168. >You find yourself nodding
  169. >Yeah
  170. >She really is quite open with things, isn't she
  171. >"And then there's me and... well, I'm me. So of course I keep everyone together with my awesome personality, wit, creativity and understanding."
  172. "HA!"
  173. >Not even a second goes by and your gut instinct is to laugh
  174. "You play video games whenever you can, where is this "creativity" you speak of?"
  175. >"It's going to flood the inside of your head with wit. Besides, do you know how hard it is to find new ways to use magic?"
  176.  
  177. "...uh... no? I don't."
  178. >You hear a stifled Shiner noise
  179. >Like she had a comeback prepared but she lost it
  180. >"...ok well, neither do I. It kinda just... happens. I don't even understand how I had issues anymore."
  181. >This time she sighs
  182. >"But that doesn't matter for this, the fact is that we're all tougher than we used to be. And let's face it, whatever issues we have really aren't so massive. Thankfully none of us really wish we were back in the stink of living like sewer rats. You keep that sort of thing in mind and it acts like a good bullshit-detecting compass."
  183. "So in this case does the compass point toward or away from the sewer rat lifestyle?"
  184. >"Whichever makes for the more clever analogy."
  185. "Gotcha."
  186. >You bring up a hand to cover your mouth while you yawn
  187. >Which is silly because it's not like you care for manners around your mares
  188. >Least of all Shiner Sixtyniner
  189. "You know I think this is at least the third night you've talked to me about that."
  190. >"I know. You still think it is an issue worth worrying over too. So I have to spend my precious time around you and remind you that you're just being nutty."
  191. "You're welcome, by the way. I'm a very interesting guy."
  192. >"Oh yeah, clearly."
  193. >It is almost comical just how thick she'll lay on the sarcasm
  194. >It is a good sign
  195. >It means that she isn't taking it all that seriously
  196. >You really shouldn't either
  197. >But
  198. >You will
  199. >You're ok with that being a flaw
  200. >That relief washes over you from left to right until you feel like forty pounds of Chill landed on your head and didn't even bother to bring Netflix
  201. "Jack is still talking about the quest at least."
  202. >"Yeah, and she has like a dozen ideas now. See what happens when you don't keep her on a tight leash?"
  203. "Consider yourself lucky I never trained her with commands."
  204. >"I'm... not going to joke about that."
  205. "Smart move."
  206. >You emit a loud yawn
  207. >Short but forceful enough to hurt your sternum
  208. >You hear a yawn, mimicked in force
  209. >"For your information, I'm only sounding tired because you're tired."
  210. "Yeah, then be prepared to act like you're sleeping soon."
  211. >You bring up a pair of pillows and set them on your lap
  212. >It has been so lukewarm to cool that you haven't felt the need to bundle up
  213. >The horn glow begins to fade
  214. >"Hey Anon."
  215. "Hey J-er-Shine."
  216. >"Wow, ok."
  217. "Sorry, I'm blaming fatigue."
  218. >"Whatever."
  219. >You feel a pillow get thrown at your side
  220. >Then you can hear movement
  221. >Feel weight at your side, near the pillow
  222. >Or on top of it
  223. >"Don't zone out so much. Ok? None of us worry but sometimes it's a little obvious that you aren't paying attention to things."
  224. "Is it that bad?"
  225. >"Bad enough that you don't even have witty remarks half the time? Yes. Jacky thinks you're in a crisis if I don't make fun of her."
  226. "Don't make fun of the poor girl."
  227. >"Until you get out of your funk? You literally don't even know when I'm doing it."
  228. "That's."
  229. >Another yawn
  230. >You even felt the side of your jaw pop
  231. "Mean."
  232. >"It's ok, I make her pancakes so I'm allowed to be mean."
  233. "Good point."
  234.  
  235. >You close your eyes
  236. >Knowing that you aren't alone in the abyss helps
  237. >You certainly aren't afraid of the dark
  238. >But
  239. >Sometimes, you wonder
  240. >You would rather not look too deeply, because of what might be looking back
  241. >"Your breathing is off. Calm your butt and just relax already. Save the panic attack for the daylight."
  242. >She sounds wiped, doesn't she
  243. "Wouldn't most people consider that weird?"
  244. >"I don't care if I incinerate a thousand people."
  245. "Now you just sound worse."
  246. >"You're welcome. Go to bed."
  247. >A soft scoff
  248. >It makes you feel better, knowing that you actually have someone watching out for you like that
  249. >It feels good to know you have someone that has your back
  250. >You let the unorthodox warm feeling melt into your core, like a dollop of butter melting on toast
  251. "Thanks, Spar."
  252. >Her only answer is a nuzzle against your leg
  253. >Your ability to form thoughts fad, like a bubble bath going down a drain
  254. >One straggler of a concern refuses to sink like the rest
  255. >Or maybe it is just idle musing
  256. >Where would you even be without these girls?
  257.  
  258. >Movie night
  259. >The first in...
  260. >How long?
  261. >Far too long
  262. >Just you and Jack
  263. >It isn't any of the classics
  264. >Neither the theatrical classics or personal favorites
  265. >But something new
  266. >Something...
  267. >Bad
  268. >"So how do the six fingers make them advanced aliens again?"
  269. "No, no, it's not that. It's that they all have dreadlocks."
  270. >"What about their fancy guns?"
  271. "Nope. It's all the locks."
  272. >You've gotten barely more than a half hour in
  273. >With her draped over your lap and using your forearm as a head rest, she has no option but to look at the monitor
  274. >"...is it just me or is everything slanted a little to the side?"
  275. "That's because the way you're laying, dear."
  276. >"...you sure?"
  277. "No. It's also on that way on purpose."
  278. >"..."
  279. "..."
  280. >There is a little bit of tension
  281. >Not a lot
  282. >But enough for your animal instincts to pick up on, like the faint smell of smoke on the wind
  283. >"This movie sucks."
  284. >Jacqueline's words come out as a dull surprise
  285. "Y... yeah, it does. When it came out, everyone hated it but supposedly it was a big deal because Travolta was a big name back then."
  286. >"The thespian?"
  287. "Yup."
  288. >"When you were still learning to PET MY MANE!"
  289. >Her outburst leads to her spearing a hoof up into the air
  290. >"I... was being trained... to conquer GALAXIES!"
  291. >You snort at her apt flamboyancy and go to stroke her mane with your free arm
  292. >Jacky sighs
  293. >"I'm glad you didn't show me this for my first movies. What made you wanna show me westerns, anyway?"
  294. >You get the feeling that this isn't going to focus on just movies
  295. "You know? I don't know. I haven't watched any in a long while. I think we moved away from movies."
  296. >"I guess so. I'm... kinda really not feeling this one. So I'm gonna keep talking."
  297. "I wouldn't stop you."
  298. >Jackovich kicks her hind legs out, inhaling before letting out a relaxed sigh
  299. >You've still never seen someone get so completely relaxed
  300. >Not around yourself, anyway
  301. >"...do you remember when we used to watch movies every night, Anon?"
  302. "Yeah. Of course I do."
  303. >You go from stroking her mane to petting her from shoulder to flank
  304. "Two and a half years, and yet it feels like last week that Angel Eyes spooked you."
  305. >Her body tenses up
  306. >"...hey, you telling me that wouldn't scare me? I had no clue what humans were like. And then I see one shoot another in the face-twice-with a pillow over his head!"
  307. >Your petting leads to her side relaxing
  308. >"And all the while, I got someone who gave me food, a home, found my friends and..."
  309. >This seems like it is going somewhere
  310. >Maybe this is why she hasn't been speaking to you all that much lately
  311. >Depending on where she's going
  312. >"...I miss those days."
  313. "Being alone all day until I come home?"
  314. >"W... well. No. Not that."
  315. >She brings her front legs up and begins to knead against your leg
  316. >You've found that it's her method of petting you
  317. >"But I miss having you to myself. Things were simpler. A lot simpler."
  318. >The tone in her voice
  319. >She doesn't sound sad
  320. >You don't remember what a sad Jack sounds like
  321.  
  322. >"There were..."
  323. >The way she trails off
  324. >You know there is more to her thoughts than that
  325. >Specific examples?
  326. >Personal aspects that she isn't fond of?
  327. >"...just less to think about."
  328. "The good news is that you don't have to think more."
  329. >"But I gotta. When it came to you losing family. Us starting the quests. Our campaign. Our movie marathons. Trying out a ton of food..."
  330. "Do you wish you had less choice or memories?"
  331. >"...I don't know."
  332. >She stops the kneading and twists until she's laying on her back
  333. >Her eyes focus on you rather than the monitor
  334. >Her gaze is focused
  335. >More focused than you could see Shine give
  336. >The unicorn is one for scheming and looking for opportunity
  337. >But your Jack?
  338. >Her purpose is clear
  339. >>"Is that weird?"
  340. "Kinda. But I get you. I miss my earlier days too."
  341. >Whether this was her target or not, you shrug at the notion of sidestepping the conversation
  342. "I really miss them. They were a lot simpler back then. I had to worry about so little."
  343. >"That's how I feel."
  344. "What would you want to pull the clock on, then?"
  345. >"...I think Dashie and Sparky being here."
  346. >That's big
  347. >That's very big
  348. >"I should feel bad for saying that, but I don't. You know? Because it would mean that we would still find them, once again. And we had an easy time so we could just get them whenever we felt like it."
  349. "I don't know if that's how that works, Jay."
  350. >"I know... but I just wish we could do it all again."
  351. "Like a speed runner?"
  352. >Jack thinks it over...
  353. >And nods
  354. >"Kinda."
  355.  
  356. >"Get lost, we're having together time."
  357. >"Get lost, I have a superboss to kill."
  358. >"Get lost, I'm going to do unspeakable things."
  359. >"Get lost, I'm going to kill unspeakable things."
  360. >Five minutes of a constant back and forth
  361. >Five
  362. >Minutes
  363. >The gamer mare eventually won out, leading to you and Jacky taking a walk in the garage
  364. >At least it has turned into a win/win, because you still get to spend time with her
  365. >Things are not awkward
  366. >But they are...
  367. >Odd?
  368. >You get the feeling that something is off
  369. >The way she has been sticking to you like glue has helped both when it comes to your concerns and also when it comes to feeling relaxed
  370. >That gaze of hers, too
  371. >It almost feels like a light flipped in her head
  372. >It isn't just how she looks at you, of course
  373. >She speaks with more authority
  374. >She acts with pride
  375. >Of course, she was never shy but you can tell she isn't who she was
  376. >But she's still Jack-in-a-Pan
  377. >"I know it's been a bit but have you been thinking about the harmony quests?"
  378. "Of course. Sorry I was... unable to keep up with that."
  379. >"Nah, it's alright. Every one of us kinda wanted to take a break from it too. Being all serious and trying to play up being heroes and stuff like that... it's kinda silly, you know?"
  380. "Sorta. But it's still important to you, isn't it?"
  381. >"Sure is. That's why I'm ready the minute you are."
  382. "Antsy as all getout, eh?"
  383. >"You know it! I've already thought of everything. With my brains and your leadership, we can beat the tar outta any quest!"
  384. >You aren't sure which is more silly sounding, her brains or your...
  385. "Leadership?"
  386. >After walking a third circuit, you hold out your car beeper to unlock the doors
  387. >"Yeah. I don't know if you've noticed but... you kinda control the flow of things around the house. When you're kinda just doing things or not feeling so hot and social, we just do our own stuff. And it's nice."
  388. "It really is."
  389. >"And when you're more active and want to do stuff, we all kinda snap to attention and we do it."
  390. "Well-oiled machine, huh?"
  391. >"I guess so. I think it's funny. We never really used to fit that sort of thing."
  392. "Yeah, I recall. Could you imagine knocking over an entire city and making off with untold riches with me at the helm?"
  393. >You open the passenger door for your right hoof mare
  394. >With a short stretch of one of her hind legs, she leaps onto the seat
  395. >If you knew all of them back then
  396. >Knew her
  397. >...How much would have changed?
  398. >Would you be meeting her as you are now, or who you were before?
  399. >You certainly couldn't have made a difference if you met her before you did
  400. >And that's ok
  401. >It's a part of growth
  402. >Supposedly
  403. >You open the driver door and plop inside
  404. >Jack chomps onto a rag you tied to the door
  405. >With a quick yank, it is closed and secure
  406. >Deciding some privacy is better than none, you close your door as well
  407. >"Imagine us... robbing bakeries, delis, whatever farm we came across."
  408.  
  409. "Heh. Eating as many fancy things as we liked. But I don't think I would want to be known as a continental crook."
  410. >"No?"
  411. "Nah. Too much notoriety means copycats sullying our good, bad names."
  412. >Her cheeky grin is exactly the sort of expression a master cannoli burglar would have
  413. >"Oh yeah, no doubt we had a ton of humans lurching around. Just throngs of Anons hitting on poor, innocent ponies."
  414. "Innocent? Psh. Lady, you were a stone cold killer. Don't lie."
  415. >"I'm not! You have no evidence anyway."
  416. "Oh yeah?"
  417. >You take out your phone
  418. >You hardly mess with it these days
  419. >Snap
  420. >Yup
  421. >That one is definitely going into your mare compilation
  422. >Perfect that it captures a modestly surprised face
  423. >"What was that for?"
  424. "For keeping."
  425. >You take another picture of her
  426. >Seeing that you have no intention of stopping, she slinks up against the seat and smiles
  427. >It's less than sultry
  428. >It is attractive
  429. >But it's not overt
  430. >It's more than cute
  431. "A picture's worth a thousand words, you know..."
  432. >You take another
  433. >One of her face zoomed in more
  434. >She giggles at your nod of approval
  435. >"Want a new wallpaper or something to show off?"
  436. "Kinda. I think I just want something to help with memories."
  437. >"Memories?"
  438. >Her ears perk up at what had to be an odd choice for words
  439. "Yeah. You know how once upon a time she took a picture of us?"
  440. >"Who, Spark?"
  441. "Yeah. Check this out."
  442. >You lean together, shoulder to shoulder, so you can show her that picture from...
  443. >How long ago was it?
  444. >Your hair was a little different
  445. >Kinda
  446. >Jacky's smile is big and goofy
  447. >Shiner's smirk is downright wholesome
  448. >"Wow... look at us."
  449. "Yeah. It feels like it just happened."
  450. >"You're right. I didn't think about that."
  451. >You chuckle and double tap the screen
  452. >You look like a freaking dork
  453. >You weren't at all expecting that to happen
  454. >Maybe that's why it stands out so much
  455. "What do you think?"
  456. >Rather than reply, she watches the picture
  457. >Is there something specific she's wanting to find?
  458. >"I kinda wish I could talk to my past self. Just to send her a little message."
  459. "Time travel, huh. What would you say to past you?"
  460. >Jack smiles
  461. >For a split second, you understand just how mature she looks
  462. >"That it'll be ok."
  463. >A lot of people would benefit from being told that by their future selves
  464. >You could have used that bit of advice
  465. "That would probably help. Were you worried?"
  466. >Jacqueline shakes her head
  467. >The way she exhales, she's comfortable
  468. >"I wasn't. But every little bit helps too, you know?"
  469. "Yeah... I get you."
  470. >This wasn't the sort of time together you were expecting but you really can't complain
  471. >You could never complain about the time you get to spend with your lame, awesome dork
  472. >"Hey, Anon. Turn the phone back on yourself. Let's take a few pictures of you."
  473. "Of me?"
  474. >"Yup. Non-negotiable."
  475. >You don't argue
  476. >Though it takes a little coordination, you tilt the camera the right way and make a variety of faces that are pleasing to her
  477. >These are for her
  478. >Just as the ones you took are for yourself
  479.  
  480. "And now..."
  481. >"Together."
  482. >A picture is taken, of you and her
  483. >Shoulder to shoulder
  484. "Come 'ere."
  485. >You pull back and she hops onto your lap
  486. >Compared to how she used to be, she's picked up a fine amount of finesse
  487. >Rather, she has just refined her technique to the point you don't fear for stray hoof stomps
  488. >More pictures are taken
  489. >Each one with a different set of faces
  490. >A pair of crooks
  491. >Derp-eyed twins
  492. >Soylent consumers pointing at something from behind
  493. >A duo, both strong and confident
  494. >By the time picture time is taken, both you and her are giggly about the results
  495. "Ahhh... that's a great one. Shiner's gonna get a giggle out of that."
  496. >"Nah, no."
  497. "No?"
  498. >"No."
  499. "Ha. Just for us then?"
  500. >"Yeah."
  501. >Jackernaut inhales and puffs out her chest
  502. >"Warm like this car, I feel your heart beat so hard."
  503. >The ease at which she slips into her singing voice brings a chill up your spine
  504. >You can tell she knows what she's doing
  505. >"And it belongs to me. Only me."
  506. >Her words are so smooth they could be scalpels
  507. >"Only me."
  508. >She crooks her head back, an inch away from your face
  509. >"Not even you."
  510. >She starts the kiss
  511. >Boy, does she start it
  512. >But you will help her finish it
  513.  
  514.  
  515. >Hours
  516. >Days
  517. >Entire weeks
  518. >That's all it took to set things into motion
  519. >It was so simple, all you had to do wa-
  520. >Clonk
  521. >Jacky's coconut of a head donks against yours
  522. >Whatever you were thinking, it was gone
  523. >Not the first time that happened
  524. >Both of you have been listening to the same song on repeat for the last few hours
  525. >The rhythm of it has led from everything to melodic head bobbing, to synchronized "doo"s and "da"s
  526. >For this last hour it has descended into wordless vocalizations
  527. >The lyrics have lost all meaning
  528. >You're sure you heard Prismantic calling for Jack earlier
  529. >Neither of you responded but you were prepared to call out that she was busy because you were Jacking it
  530. >Which was neither correct nor wrong at the moment
  531. >You hear some knocking on the door
  532. >Going from the ferocity of it, it has to be a unicorn
  533. >"Hey, it's pony protective services. It's dinner time and you've been blasting music all day."
  534. "Did you hear something?"
  535. >Jackenstein's answer is a vocalization that extends and escalates into a frenzied yawp of a yawn
  536. "Thought not."
  537. >"Ok, this is just-"
  538. >The entire bedroom door glows bright red, illuminating the dark room
  539. >You expect it to be torn off of the frame but it calmly opens
  540. >The magical mare huffs and stares at you laying flat on the bed with Jacky laying with the top of her head rubbing against yours
  541. >You'd like to see her laying on her back, but you're on your back too
  542. >Therefor
  543. >You can not see
  544. >"...is this a bad sign? Do we need an intervention?"
  545. "Nah, it's fine."
  546. >"Is it dinner time?"
  547. "Yeah, is it dinner time yet?"
  548. >It's an aural feast to hear how lax and lazy your mare is, compared to the barely contained irritation of the gamer mare
  549. >The gamemare, even
  550. >Your wit has sharpened this day
  551. >"One, yes. Two, what is going on? You two have been attached at the hip-"
  552. >"And the skull."
  553. >"And the sk-what? Ew."
  554. >She really seems wound up
  555. >"What is going on? Why have you been home all week and locked in your room?"
  556. "I quit."
  557. >You say what you've been hiding with such a casual tone you are almost as shocked as Shine
  558. >"...what?"
  559. "Yup. I did."
  560. >"He did."
  561. >Jack mirrors your aloof energy
  562. >Or lack thereof
  563. >Your eyes stay focused on the ceiling
  564. "I was talking to Jack about it and... well, it's for the best."
  565. >"The be-"
  566. >Shine interrupts herself with a sputtering that makes you wish you could see her
  567. >"The best?! How is that the best? What are you going to do now? What caused this?!"
  568. >You and Jack share a sigh
  569. >She takes the shared sigh as a sign
  570. >"Don't you... Jacky, what the hell did you do?!"
  571. >You're surprised she isn't reacting stronger
  572. >Maybe she's just in shock
  573. >You were a little in shock when you did it too
  574. >The last week and a half, specifically, the weight of your decision really stuck with you
  575. >Thankfully she's been with you for every minute
  576. >You needed it
  577.  
  578. "She didn't do anything. We were talking about stuff and decided-"
  579. >"Decided that you're going to just quit working?! I don't even care about the money thing but you decided to make this decision without telling me? What the hell am I to you? You didn't even tell Prism, Jacky?"
  580. >"Nope. I decided that we should tell you two together."
  581. >That makes you smile
  582. >It's such a simple thing
  583. >It's that sort of simple thing that has kept you from freaking out more at the worst
  584. "Guess we should tell them now?"
  585. >"Might as well, we got three days left."
  586. >"What happens in three days, Jacky?"
  587. >With another shared sigh, your hand finds it's way to the closest keyboard's space bar
  588. >With the brain worm of a song paused, you finally feel like you're back in reality
  589. >You sit up and look at the plain white wall
  590. >You really gotta go through with spilling the beans
  591. >You've slept so much this last week, it has been impossible to keep track of time
  592. "Alright, I'm up."
  593. >You awkwardly stand up and step off of the mattress
  594. >You've only had it for a few years but it's already beaten up
  595. >It almost always has at least one pony on it, and a human
  596. >Maybe one day you should get a new one
  597. >You step past Shiner, listening to her follow you close
  598. >With a "hup", Jackula wiggles to her front and rushes to keep up
  599. >With shots poured for every pone and human, the group assembles officially
  600. >"Going off of the shouting, I'm guessing we will need the alcohol. So, Jacky talked you into quitting your work?"
  601. "Nope."
  602. >With a bitter grimace and a dark stare, Sparkler downs her shot in record time
  603. >"So you quit without her words."
  604. "Nope."
  605. >With a shallow swallow, you take your shot
  606. "So after talking for a bit, we decided that..."
  607. >It normally isn't so difficult to talk about these topics
  608. >Maybe it's because it doesn't effect just you
  609. >"We got new jobs! And by "we" I mean Anon, me, and you two too!"
  610. "...well, if you want, I mean."
  611. >You don't think you've ever seen Faint "D-bash" Prism make that sort of face
  612. >It's the sort of face that says "oh shit" on the level of the soul
  613. >Shine, in comparison, just looks like she needs another drink
  614. >"...oh."
  615. >"...crap."
  616. >This is part of what you wanted to avoid
  617. "I should probably explain."
  618. >"I should think so too! What compelled you to make this sort of decision without discussing it with us?"
  619. >Despite her broken composure, she is making a genuine effort to sound stalwart
  620. >The slightest tint of panic doesn't convince you of her will
  621. "Well, Jack and I went out a few times and we kept talking about how..."
  622. >You shrug
  623. "Nice. It is. To just hang out and stuff. And I mean not just here but out there. It's a lot more comfortable and I think enough of the neighbors are used to it that it no longer makes me feel weird."
  624. >"Helps that I told them to get over it."
  625. "That you did..."
  626. >You sigh with a stare that goes only straight ahead
  627. "With colorful language, you did..."
  628. >"It worked, right?"
  629. >Just remember, Anon, they won't always be your neighbors
  630.  
  631. "Too well, I'm afraid. Anyway, you wanna explain the rest of it for me?"
  632. >Jack smiles
  633. >This is a new level of joy
  634. >"Anon's gonna be a library mechanic!"
  635. >You're lucky you resisted the urge to drink your shot while she was speaking
  636. "N...no, it's a technician."
  637. >"Aren't they the same thing?"
  638. "In this case? No."
  639. >"Oh."
  640. >You down your drink before you have the time to taste it
  641. "Keep going Jakatoa."
  642. >"Oh y-ok. Anon's gonna be a library technician! And weeeeeeeeeee're gonna help him! We're techs too!"
  643. >Bursting with joy, she hops up to her hind legs and poses in sheer triumph
  644. >Neither pegagus nor unicorn share her enthusiasm
  645. "Technically, the three of you are gonna act as receptionists and help desk. And sorta unofficial field trip wranglers."
  646. >Since the bottle is nearby, you pour another shot and down it
  647. >"Wrangling! Helping! Receptive to the core!"
  648. >Between the visible and audible shaking, Jacky is a pound of tannerite short of exploding into the lower atmosphere
  649. "The good news is that..."
  650. >You pour and down another shot
  651. >Nothing stirs confidence in others like needing alcohol before speaking
  652. "...that while I'm full time, you guys are all part time. Which means you can work as little as twenty hours a week, up to forty."
  653. >"And it pays a whole ton!"
  654. "Well, if all of us were to work full time hours for a month, it would eclipse my usual savings rate by... a factor of five almost?"
  655. >You fill-and take-another shot
  656. "And, of course, it doesn't need to be that way. I'm thinking if you can at least toss over a quarter-"
  657. >"Half!"
  658. "No, a quarter i-"
  659. >"HALF."
  660. >Bottle, reveal more of your secrets to Anonymous
  661. >This is so painfully awkward you don't know what to do
  662. "...Jack wants to give half of her pay to what we've been tossing around as a sort of... family coffers type situation. Something that is the usual of taking care of the monthly bills and all that."
  663. >Jack finally settles down enough
  664. >Enough to at least chug her shot without somehow swallowing the glass itself
  665. "And that by itself would help a whole ton. Say if it's only ten hours per pay period, that's still sixty a month."
  666. >"So you finally decided on it..."
  667. >Shine speaks up
  668. >Now that the mare is out of the bag, she seems less bothered by the situation
  669. >"Well... I guess I don't mind. I mean, we've all talked about wanting to help out before. Right?"
  670. >The one shot seemed to have enough of an effect on her
  671. >Only Prism is resisting the temptation of smooth brown fire water
  672. >"I guess I just wish that I could have been told sooner so I could prepare..."
  673. >She gives you a side glance
  674. >"Can I play games there?"
  675. "At the volume you do? No, not inside."
  676. >"Ugh..."
  677. >Prism clears her throat
  678. >More than enough to make it apparent she wants to be the talking one now
  679. >"You mentioned a thi..."
  680. >She trails off when met with a quick death squint from Jack
  681. >"...half... of our pay would go to help out with things. I trust that is food and other things. What... exactly are we supposed to do with the other half? Our own money...?"
  682. "Ahh..."
  683. >You scratch the back of your head
  684. "Whatever you want, I guess. You wanna order food, go for it. Wanna buy something nice for yourself? Make sure it's sent here or we know where to go. Save it up for a rainy day? It's yours."
  685. >Emboldened by the volume and strength of drink you've drank, you're comfortable in your own skin despite not yet being drunk
  686. "As Jack and I talked about it... you guys aren't pets or anything like that. You really aren't. And I've... maybe not treated you like animals, but I've kept things pretty dull and locked up. And that wasn't right of me."
  687. >"It wasn't right of you to protect us from a harsh, alien world?"
  688. >Her tone isn't aggressive, but it is argumentative
  689. "I don't know, man. I'm trying to figure this shit out as I'm going along."
  690. >Jacqueline clears her throat
  691. >Apparently that is the way of the day to make oneself heard
  692.  
  693. >"Think about it this way. We all know how much Anon has spent to keep us fed and warm and strong and other things, right?"
  694. >The "other things" leads to a slightly bitter glare from Shine
  695. >Jacky flashes her a quick shit-eating grin and continues
  696. >"And whether or not I want to live in movies or Sparky wants to live in her video games and as fun as it really is... we kinda gotta help out, you know? I remember when Anon would come home from work and just... lay there. And I know it wasn't all just work that piled up on him but it certainly added weight! And then he went and bled his savings dry for all of us to be together and to even have easier cooking stuff and even more than that!"
  697. "You really don't need to keep bringing that up."
  698. >"But I want to! And it's true! We ain't gonna go away anytime soon. I ain't, least of all. An' with that being the case, we gotta buckle down and learn some real world skills! Pronto!"
  699. >Oh boy, she's channeling the power of Ma
  700. >And to think that you once wanted any other type of pony
  701. >"My own money means I can buy a VR headset..."
  702. "Bruh, I'll split the money with you and we'll get the hardware to handle it on the highest settings."
  703. >"Deal. See, Jacky? Problem solved."
  704. >"No, not problem solved. Not yet."
  705. >The Winged One is the only resistance to this
  706. >"So... how do we know for sure our money is ours...?"
  707. >Her deliberate wording wounds but makes sense
  708. "Well, I already thought of that. Checks can be direct deposited, right? I just set up three new accounts, and then we split the pay whichever way we will and then. Bam, proof and tracking. I won't touch anything that isn't the pooled account unless you ask me to."
  709. >"Two accounts."
  710. "Eh?"
  711. >"I told you, I just want my check to go into the main account."
  712. "But what about your half?"
  713. >"I'll make you work for it if you really want to spend it."
  714. >The sly grin she gives is downright villainous
  715. >She ripped out that entire chapter from Shiner's playbook
  716. >But
  717. >Why does it work so much better when done by a goodie two-hooves?
  718. "You're going to make me drink a whole lot more, you know that."
  719. >The room finally descends to something resembling a calm
  720. >You are glad that none of them asked you about your now-last job
  721. >To be fair, you personally won't be losing or gaining all that much more
  722. >Which is not a proud point you wish to make
  723. >"So... what does a tech do, exactly? Will we be able to see you or ask you for help if we need it? Are we going to be safe there?"
  724. "Me? I'm just gonna be a paper pusher, basically. Helping out higher ups. You guys are more going to act as welcomers. Putting away books, helping people find books. Movies too, mostly DVDs."
  725. >You know that there are going to be some pitfalls
  726. >...
  727. >Because of their lack of social and professional skills
  728. >You hate to even think it, but those two sides are lacking severely
  729. >Thankfully you were able to bullshit your way into them all getting hired at almost minimum wage
  730. >Of course, it isn't that low
  731. >With even the three of them combined, it leads up to a pretty penny's worth
  732. >You may have also stretched the truth on their singing and reading aloud skills, to make them more of an entertainment package
  733. "I... I kinda still feel bad about it, don't get me wrong. But between her and I, it just seems like that maybe... two years is long enough to get acclimated. And maybe it'll all help us out. It'll help make sure that the world doesn't seem so scary and full of... less than nice animals."
  734. >Are pets allowed at libraries?
  735. >The sudden passing image of Shine igniting an annoying kid or Prism bucking a service dog does not sit well in your gullet
  736. >"Don't worry, it'll be fine! It's part time, and Anon is the only one paying for benefits so we get all of our checks!"
  737. >Another thing you don't want to admit
  738. >They're getting paid under the table
  739. >No taxes
  740. >No benefits
  741. >Just straight pay
  742. >As long as that doesn't lead to issues, everything should be fine
  743. >Should be
  744. >Hopefully
  745. >You take a hard swig from the bottle directly
  746. >God help you if this doesn't work
  747.  
  748.  
  749. >Yesterday, the apartment was quiet for the first time in a while
  750. >With the news dropped that you not only changed work-again-and that they were going to start working too...
  751. >Maybe everyone is just thinking about it
  752. >Jacky still seems happy
  753. >Though you wouldn't say it out loud, she and you are planning on maybe moving too
  754. >The apartment is good
  755. >Living has been good
  756. >But it is small
  757. >The amount of things finagled with to be pony friendly is a bit much, and it makes everything look slapdash and dangerous
  758. >The neighbors are another aspect
  759. >You aren't going to say that you're the loudest in the building
  760. >But some things are starting to get more difficult
  761. >It just isn't a sustainable place for a guy and three ponies
  762. >Normally, you wouldn't care
  763. >Normally, if you were still by yourself, you'd just keep chugging along
  764. >But her plans for the both of you
  765. >Her plans about everyone
  766. >You don't think they're bad
  767. >They're not bad at all
  768. >You
  769. >You...
  770. >You're putting a lot of trust into her
  771. >Into this plan
  772. >Just as they have all put a lot of trust into you
  773. >As much as you worry, you just need to-
  774. >"Hey, lone star. Scoot over and play me."
  775. >You must have been so deep in thought that you didn't notice Shiner open, and close, the bedroom door
  776. >She hops onto the bed and sits at your side
  777. "Play what?"
  778. >"I don't know. Something."
  779. >She looks at your monitor
  780. >"Ugh, you're still listening to that? It sounds like Christmas music."
  781. "Kinda. But Jackrobatic found it and it sounds nice."
  782. >"You're a special kind of whipped, Anon."
  783. "Am not."
  784. >"Am too."
  785. "Prove it."
  786. >The split second of hesitation in her answer doesn't bode well to you on a subconscious level
  787. >"I can't, because you're whipped."
  788. "Come on, that's not even legit."
  789. >"I'm making it legit."
  790. "You're far from legit."
  791. >Her gasp is loud enough to make you think she isn't actually offended
  792. >"Take that back."
  793. "I'm a giving man, I can't."
  794. >"You're whipped and that's that. Now pick a game so I can kick your ass and ask you questions."
  795. "In that order?"
  796. >"Sure, why not?"
  797. >Going off of her tone and the way she's sitting, she's pent up or excited about something
  798. >Given the last... long while, it's probably actually an issue that you haven't played anything with her
  799. >You've missed it too, to be honest
  800. >You end up choosing something more old-school: OG Smash Brothers
  801. >She takes her controller, and chooses Luigi
  802. >Thank God you found a 100% completed save when you downloaded the rom
  803. >You choose your main man, Link
  804. >"I win, you answer five questions."
  805. "Two. And when I win, you say I'm not whipped."
  806. >"Keep dreaming, pony boy."
  807. >Rather than trash talk each other, the focus is purely on fighting
  808. >There is no animosity in the air
  809. >Not even a tense vibe
  810. >Just focus
  811. >Out of five stock, she beats you with two remaining
  812. "Ah... crap."
  813. >"Your bomb game is weak."
  814. >She leaves the results screen up and clears her throat
  815. >"So, to start. You're totally whipped. And my first question is this."
  816. "Bah. Go for it."
  817. >She keeps her eyes on the monitor
  818. >"Did you really agree to this job change junk with Jacky or did something actually come up?"
  819. "No, I agreed to it. She's getting pretty ambitious, I think. To be honest..."
  820. >You sigh
  821. "What's said in the room-"
  822. >"Stays in the room. Yeah, I know."
  823. "I think she wants a home for us. And I... I want a home too. This place isn't a home."
  824. >"We're all together, how is where we are not home?"
  825. "I..."
  826. >How do you answer that?
  827. "Because I don't think we can really be ourselves here. Noise control aside, we don't have a ton of space to make any meaningful change. And I'll admit. I want to see all of you have your own rooms, or areas. Or whatever."
  828. >"You can get me a room but let's be honest, we'll all probably sleep on your bed anyway."
  829. >You snort
  830. "Probably. Is that a pony socializing thing?"
  831. >"Maybe. I would call it a "me" thing but let's go with the socializing excuse so you don't feel bad."
  832. "Freak."
  833. >"Geek."
  834. "Meek."
  835. >"Technique."
  836. "More like oblique."
  837. >"Next round, I want two more questions."
  838.  
  839. >You start up another round
  840. >This time, you win with three stock remaining
  841. >"...yeah, we're not playing that level again."
  842. "I don't know, I like it."
  843. >"That's because you kept throwing me into those freaking tornados."
  844. "Whine about it. Now tell me I'm not whipped."
  845. >Shine rolls her eyes and lets out a prolonged "ugh"
  846. >"Fiiiiiiiine. You aren't whipped. You're just a pussy."
  847. "Wh-how the hell is that any better?"
  848. >As bothered as you are, neither of you move from your spots
  849. >She grins
  850. >"You really want me to tell you?"
  851. "...no. That's alright. You're too creative sometimes."
  852. >"But I'm not wrong."
  853. "Whatever. I win, I get to ask two questions."
  854. >"Oh yeah? You're on."
  855. >You both swap characters
  856. >She decides on the pink puffball, Jigglypuff
  857. >You decide to pound her puffball in with Yoshi
  858. >Sadly, Hyrule Castle has been banned from selection
  859. >You win, but only with one stock left
  860. >Shiner greets the results screen with a fatigued sigh
  861. >"You're a little too eager to eat me, you know that?"
  862. "Never thought I'd hear you say that. More so, to complain about it."
  863. >"...whatever. Ask your questions."
  864. >As much as she tries to pout, the way she headbutts your side shows that she isn't that bothered
  865. "So are you... you know. You think you're ready to work?"
  866. >"What kind of question is that?"
  867. "A real one. If you don't think you're up to it, you can let me know."
  868. >"And let her down?"
  869. >Shine snorts, a bit like the way you do
  870. >"No. This is something real. Frankly, I'm happy I get to be included for once. I just want you to be careful."
  871. "Yeah? About what?"
  872. >"When I out-earn both Jacky and Prism combined, I won't apologize if my money wins you over. She's gonna have to deal with it."
  873. "Ha! Dream on."
  874. >"Oh I will. And that's your second question by the way."
  875. >What?
  876. >When did you...
  877. "God damn you."
  878. >"Come taste this firepower."
  879. >She chooses Samus
  880. "Let's-a go."
  881. >You choose Mario
  882. >You...
  883. >You lose
  884. >You make it a goal in your life to never remember how much she won by
  885. >"Man, the idea of a sugarmare really messed you up, huh?"
  886. "Shut it. I kept thinking he had a Side-B."
  887. >"Sore loser, huh? That's fine. We can't all be awesome."
  888. >Like a statue breaking apart, you put the controller down and finally stretch
  889. >You grab your nearby mug and chug half of it down in one go
  890. >It used to be ice water but even now it still has something resembling a cool feel
  891. "Whatever man. Ask your stuff."
  892. >Your mug turns red and goes down to Shine
  893. >She drinks the rest of it
  894. >A powerplay?
  895. >Who knows
  896. >You share so much of your food and drink with the dorks that you just can't see the problem in it anymore
  897. >They share just as much in kind
  898. >"So, about the money we'll be making. We don't have to report it or whatever, do we?"
  899. "I... don't know. None of you actually exist, as far as the government knows. And none of you are human so you guys probably don't actually qualify for stuff like that. The library guy. Or gal, I should say."
  900. >"It's a chick?"
  901. "Yeah. Some old lady. I think Jack might have kinda leaned into the sob story a bit much..."
  902. >The long story short with that was that Jacky more or less just told the old bat about her history and other things
  903. >You sometimes forget that her background is one of petty crime
  904. >And other things
  905. >You still feel a little off but it's for a good cause
  906. "But anyway, yeah. I think, the way she's going to do it, she's going to cut you guys a separate check. I mentioned how you can all get your accounts, and you will. But it's effectively going to be a single payment just split up."
  907. >You bring up your hands to make nebulous motions while you speak
  908. >It almost works as a visual aid
  909. "So while you'll be working there, you'll all be billed as a... a third party contractor. She said that she would look up some stuff and make it all official."
  910. >"Sounds dirty. I like it."
  911. "And because I'm not a dick satchel, I'm not going to count that short question as an actual one so what's the second?"
  912.  
  913. >"You say that like I am and we both know that is not the case."
  914. >You choose the high road and do not respond to that
  915. >"Be real... how was our-uh-your financial situation looking before she cooked up this plan?"
  916. "Legit?"
  917. >"Legit to the max."
  918. "I was kinda pulling in maybe a few hundred at the end of everything."
  919. >"That's not so bad."
  920. "Maybe. But it would take around a decade to recover what I spent on D-bash. If I'm careful enough."
  921. >The face she makes is rather sour
  922. >"...right. And... remind me of how much I cost you."
  923. "I... I don't remember? I wanna say I got you for free."
  924. >That adventure there was such a blur
  925. >You and Jack
  926. >Prepared to kick in doors and treat the rescue mission like a beat-em-up stage
  927. >Instead you ended up being given a half-packaged pony
  928. >You still have no adequate answer as to what the deal is with that Nona chick
  929. >At least it doesn't really matter
  930. >Those were the days
  931. >"Hey."
  932. "...huh?"
  933. >"I said... ah, forget it. It was a quip about how I'm the MVP and yet I cost you the least amount."
  934. "Ah. Yeah. I..."
  935. >You can't help but shrug
  936. "Well, you can make that argument."
  937. >Shine shrugs too and leans away from you
  938. >That's not the usual
  939. >"Hey, how about new stakes. I win, you bring the others and we have a little powwow on this thing. No more surprises and no more secrets kept about how well we're doing."
  940. >That is oddly specific
  941. >Your thumbs tap across your controller
  942. "Alright. And if I win..."
  943. >Is there anything you want?
  944. >You kinda want to throw the match just because it would be good to get that sort of stuff cleared out
  945. "If I win, let's just cook a pizza and keep playing stuff. Not gonna lie, you look pretty pathetic when you're stuck playing games solo."
  946. >"Wow. I say a lot of things but that's sort of a low blow."
  947. >She looks almost hurt
  948. "I'm just saying, it's one thing to try to talk to Prism and get nothing in response. It's another to consistently try to talk to her and get nothing in response."
  949. >The way you emphasis on the "consistently" makes her cringe
  950. >"...don't make fun of me for trying to make friends, Anon."
  951. "I'm not."
  952. >You chuckle and ruffle her mane
  953. >You leave your palm on her horn
  954. >With the red aura, it makes your hand sorta tingle
  955. >Like a mix between it being stuck in an oven and being asleep and having that needle sensation
  956. "I'm glad you are. But after this long... I don't know. I'm kinda starting to think that she's really just the way she is."
  957. >You can feel what she wants to ask
  958. >There's enough of such a small sound coming from her throat that you interject
  959. "And she doesn't hate you. She doesn't hate me either. She's just a goof. Like Jackrabbit. And like you."
  960. >Shine exhales hard
  961. >It isn't a sigh
  962. >More like it's a hard push to readjust herself
  963. >"Whatever. You're better company I am. Now let's play, I feel like starting a shitstorm."
  964. "You got it hopscotch."
  965. >This time with Mario, you're gonna
  966. >...
  967. >She SDs
  968. >All five stocks end with her just walking off the stage
  969. "Hey, what the hell was that?"
  970. >Sparking "I win or you lose" Shine sticks her tongue out at you and winks
  971. >"Oops. Looks like I lost. Better preheat the oven, we're gonna be busy."
  972. >She sure looks proud of herself, huh
  973. >You scratch the side of your neck
  974. >Do you allow such blatant cheating?
  975. >...
  976. >Nah
  977. >You're hungry for pizza too
  978. >And maybe you just want to play stuff with her
  979. "Fair enough. But I'm adding cracked pepper and you can't stop me."
  980. >"Oh trust me, I won't stop you from doing anything."
  981. "Yeah? Then I'm adding broccoli to your half."
  982. >You get up, stretch your legs, and start to head to the kitchen
  983. >"Ha, very funny Anon. Very fu..."
  984. >She must remember that Prism got a few bags of weird vegan shit a few days back
  985. >She stumbles up and trots behind you
  986. >"Don't you do it, I swear I'll burn your half if you even attempt to put that rabbit crap on there."
  987. "You said you won't stop me."
  988. >"Jacky, over here, help! Anon's trying to do something bad to me with his hands!"
  989. >"Nope he's not!"
  990. >Both of you hear Jacky call out from the living room in record time
  991. >Like a Disney supervillain you cackle all the way to the oven
  992.  
  993.  
  994. >Apparently, pizza alone wasn't enough
  995. >Whether through your own will or the will of the gods
  996. >Or Shiner egging you on
  997. >You decide that now is the proper time to pop open a new bottle of The Good Stuff
  998. >The only downside is that it is a very narrow, tall bottle
  999. >Which means you see it go down far faster
  1000. >At least you swapped to Smash Melee after the first few hours
  1001. >And added a bag of Cheez-its
  1002. >Consumption of any and all kinds are not regulated when, in less than 48 hours, things will be new and
  1003. >...
  1004. >Interesting
  1005. >At least Shiner's having fun
  1006. >You forced at least a little bit of intoxicating liver poison into her face
  1007. >Maybe that's why she's having a bit more fun
  1008. "Dude, you fucking suck. That's the third time I beat you with Link and he's not even that great."
  1009. >You find that the more you imbibe, the less you mind telling her that she should go back to the kitchen
  1010. >She is, unironically, the best cook in the house
  1011. >So it is technically a compliment
  1012. >"Oh shut up already. I'm just trying characters out, you're the one acting like some bigshot."
  1013. "You know me, I always shoot big."
  1014. >The two of you share a mutual look
  1015. "Yeah. That's right. I said it."
  1016. >"Oh I know, I saw it."
  1017. "You saw that I said it?"
  1018. >Another mutual look
  1019. >"...yeah. Let's go with that."
  1020. "...huh. Weird."
  1021. >You don't know when but apparently the sun has gone down
  1022. >With the door closed and the fans on, this summer hasn't been nearly that bad
  1023. >"Hey Anon."
  1024. "Hey Sparkly Shoeshine."
  1025. >"If Jacky and I... say if we became one pony. Would you consider that a good or bad thing?"
  1026. "I'd say I would probably lose my shit, do terrible things for a few days, and then probably proceed to further do things. Only to end up a victim of your maniacal, egotistical ways. Because between you and Jacky, the confidence levels would spike and there are a lot of things that she's always wanted to do with magic."
  1027. >You turn your head to focus on the red mare
  1028. >She's been successfully caught off guard
  1029. "And, for reference, while her endurance is quite something to behold, I hunger for a greater Jacky-related challenge."
  1030. >You smack your lips
  1031. >That vodka does indeed have a positive aftertaste
  1032. >But you can't help but think that the action had another meaning
  1033. "And I am not one to stop."
  1034. >For the short moment she maintains eye contact before turning away, you could swear that you saw her eyes dilate to saucers
  1035. >You could swear
  1036. >But you're among present company, God damn it
  1037. "But since that isn't likely... well."
  1038. >You shrug
  1039. "...to be honest, I would usually say far more but without a Jackenstein to define, refine and mine I can't help but feel like it's inappropriate."
  1040. >Another lick of the lips
  1041. >It really did burn the tongue the first few gulps but it's growing on you
  1042. >Maybe that's a sign that your body is adjusting
  1043. "But anyway, pick out another character so I can spank her next."
  1044. >Your confidence appears to be her weakness, this night
  1045. >It helps that she's likely inebriated as well
  1046. >"Hey, if I win I want something."
  1047. "If you win, I'll give you something. But you're not."
  1048. >You pull back and hold back a hiccup
  1049. "There's no way you can win."
  1050. >You wait for her to decide her character on the selection screen
  1051. "What do you want, anyway?"
  1052. >"Get Jacky in here but keep her quiet and just as a way to stop you from getting too freaking talkative."
  1053. >You scoff and follow such an audible gesture with a pair of mocking "ha"s
  1054. "What, you can't handle one piddly human when he's very slightly intoxicated?"
  1055. >"More like that crap you forced on me slows me down to your level and it's hard for me to keep up on dominating you both in game and through words."
  1056. "Ha!"
  1057. >Another hearty laugh
  1058. "As if you could be so eloquently verbose as I in even under the best of conditions."
  1059. >"...yeah."
  1060. "Alright. But if I win. When, I win."
  1061. >"Big if."
  1062.  
  1063. >You smirk at her
  1064. "I make you drink. And I demand you tell me why you've been jealous."
  1065. >You hold up one of your index fingers
  1066. >Thankfully you still have all three of them
  1067. "Lately. Because I know you have been and I will agree that it was probably wrong of me but I still find it funny that you care."
  1068. >Straight to the heart because it makes her face even more red
  1069. >"I demand Jacky comes in as collateral."
  1070. "You demand nothing, foolish mortal. Let's go."
  1071. >She decides on Samus
  1072. >While she does technically play better, you're on the oversized Zelda map and eventually win through sheer attrition
  1073. >It helps that any killing shot she lands sends you pinballing all around without a way to get knocked out of bounds
  1074. >It's close
  1075. >Closer than you would like for bragging purposes
  1076. >But you do win, with two stocks remaining
  1077. "Ha ha! Victory is mine, frail red pony. Come get some."
  1078. >With a gleeful smile, you pull the cork of a top off the bottle
  1079. >Averting your eyes the best she can, she opens her mouth and gives a frustrated sigh
  1080. >Rather than drown her in half the bottle, you reach for your empty mug
  1081. >You pour just enough to cover the very bottom of it, and stop
  1082. "Glug glug, my little pony."
  1083. >You tip the mug over and pour just enough booze to coat her tongue
  1084. >It really is not something you're taking advantage of
  1085. >You know that she's a lightweight
  1086. >But her capacity has increased since the first time she drank
  1087. >You will gladly argue that you are a good influence despite this
  1088. >You nod and smile
  1089. "Better?"
  1090. >Rather than answer, she shudders at the taste
  1091. "You know, the first night Jack was here, we drank. Hard to believe she was so alright with it."
  1092. >"Well she likes you so she has shit taste."
  1093. "Ah ha. Well, you're not wrong."
  1094. >You sigh and take the bottle for yourself
  1095. >You are not puny pony
  1096. >You are strong man
  1097. >You prove this to yourself, and no one else by taking another swig and letting the acidic liquid sit in your mouth
  1098. >It still burns your tongue
  1099. >You are no masochist but the way it almost sizzles
  1100. >It reminds you of
  1101. "Gah."
  1102. >You violently shake your head and exhale
  1103. "Fucking burnt my nose hairs out with that one."
  1104. >....
  1105. >Where were you?
  1106. "Oh yeah. So. Speak to Anonymous. I'm starting to have fun with the whole thing of you being jealous and saying things, now that Jack is learning from your playbook and starting to adopt some of your mannerisms."
  1107. >You clear your throat and nod at her
  1108. "Much appreciated, by the way."
  1109. "But the last few... uh... weeks? Days? I don't know. We've been kinda isolating. Why has that been bugging you?"
  1110. >Your repeated pokes do little to stir her up
  1111. >To the contrary, she seems almost... muted?
  1112. >Certainly not demure
  1113. >"Because you're like... my best friend. You're almost like a big brother."
  1114. >Her genuine answer is not what you expected to hear
  1115. >She almost sounds different
  1116. "You're kidding me."
  1117. >That almost perpetual little spike in her voice
  1118. >That borderline sarcastic tone
  1119. >It's gone
  1120. >It almost makes it harder to tease her
  1121. >"No. Not really. And keep in mind that I said "almost"."
  1122. "Yeah, naturally."
  1123. >Shine shrugs
  1124. >"Whether or not I like to admit it, you're really the only male that has never looked down on me. Boo hoo, same story as everyone else, you don't treat me like trash. But you recognize my achievements. You've even praised me!"
  1125. >The smile on her face
  1126. >What a smile
  1127. >She really could be Jacky's sister, there is a lot of subtle resemblance
  1128. >"And that... it's nice. I thought something bad happened. And I felt a little betrayed that you didn't tell me. Because you're supposed to tell me big things like that too."
  1129. "Well we did... but yeah. It wasn't as quickly as it could have been."
  1130. >You reach for the bottle
  1131. >Not to drink, but to check how much was taken
  1132. >Maybe...
  1133. >Not even a full fifth yet?
  1134. >Not drinking has made it far more potent a substance
  1135.  
  1136. "And... I don't know. I don't have any excuse for it. For a bit, I thought I was just quitting my job and that the plan would fall apart. And then my mis-step would have screwed us all. It sucks to fail. And it really sucks to disappoint people, whether or not you know them. But especially if you know them really well."
  1137. >You smile at the passive pony
  1138. "But, after talking it over and doing some other stuff... I'm feeling kinda good about this. It's gonna work out."
  1139. >You pat her on the head
  1140. >Maybe a little too hard from how her head is lowering
  1141. >At least she doesn't have a hollow noggin
  1142. "I sure hope so, anyway. If this doesn't, we're kinda fucked."
  1143. >Docile and sloshed enough for it to make a difference, Shiner grimaces
  1144. >"...what if Jacky led you into a mistake? What happens to all of us, if she made you do something wrong?"
  1145. "Then we'll make fun of her, I'll figure something out, and... we'll skate by. Trust me, I've lived this long. Not all because I wanted to, but because I had to for others. I'll figure something out."
  1146. >"I don't like that answer."
  1147. "Oh yeah?"
  1148. >You aren't sure why but you are a little intrigued
  1149. "Why, you aren't there to save the day and make me wear you like a Santa hat?"
  1150. >The direct comment makes her purse her lips and turn away
  1151. >"Come on, be serious."
  1152. "I'm as serious as I'm gonna be tonight, hot'n'spicy. What's wrong with that backup plan?"
  1153. >"Well. I would rather be a part of the process. You and Jacky get to cuddle up and make plans, and we're supposed to just go with it like we're your kids? Prism may not care that much but I sure as shit do."
  1154. >You wanted to tease her about saying the S word but you decide against it
  1155. "Yeah... and that's more on me. She talked about you guys like you might just get money and split. And I guess I could kinda see that because... well, if you had income, would you still be here?"
  1156. >You pick up the bottle again
  1157. >You're gonna need another swig for the follow-up commentary
  1158. >You pop the cork out and hold the bottle in your hand
  1159. "You see, uh..."
  1160. >You take another swig
  1161. >Rather than let it sit in your mouth for a fiscal year you swallow it in slow, consistent gulps
  1162. >You have no clue how many shots you've had, or shot-equivalent drinks
  1163. "Jacky and Prism have been talking. And she let me know that Prism may..."
  1164. >You only just now realize that you swallowed all of that without a single shake, shiver or cough
  1165. "She has brought up that she may want to move out. Not because of her own goals of making it in the big world but because she said she knows she doesn't fit in. And, you know."
  1166. >You breathe in through your mouth
  1167. >Even the air is flavored
  1168. "That... I don't want that. Jacky doesn't want that. I don't know if you rightly care but I would hate to imagine you guys splitting up. My friends and I, we..."
  1169. >You pet Shine's shoulder
  1170. >Less a hard pat like before
  1171. >Your eyes focus on the monitor
  1172. "You know we drifted apart. And I don't want you guys splitting up too. Even if money isn't an issue, it's safety I worry over. Even if safety isn't an issue, it's happiness I worry over. Even if it's happiness, it's any little thing I worry over."
  1173. >Shine seems
  1174. >Vulnerable?
  1175. >Maybe that's the word for how she looks
  1176. >Maybe it's the alcohol speaking
  1177. >Or the alcohol making it so she isn't speaking
  1178. >It's one of the two, surely
  1179. "And... ah... ah crap. Where was I?"
  1180. >The unicorn furrows her brow at you
  1181. >"Saying Prism wanted to move out."
  1182. "Oh! Yeah. See, I knew you were a good listener."
  1183. >What a topic
  1184.  
  1185. "You see, it... it feels like a dream. To think that you guys might split up. I wouldn't know what to do if you three drifted apart. It's incredibly depressing to think about. And that came up shortly before we made the decision to find work for us all, so it kinda added to it. Because whether or not she or I, or both of us, want to give her that chance... we have to. For socializing and ease of life and all of that goof stuff. We have to. We have to risk it. And... man, as much as we don't really hang out-she and I-it really is distressing to think that Jackonomicon is gonna be deprived of her big sister like that."
  1186. >It feels like a difficult topic but you really don't have the capacity to hide it anymore
  1187. "I just want you guys to be happier and better off. We've had time to get you guys acclimated to the world, and around... well, at least one human. And it seems right, like she said, that you guys maybe start to figure out how to earn money. But if that means you're gonna just head out and then we won't even know what will happen next..."
  1188. >You sigh
  1189. >Quick bottle check
  1190. >Is it down a full third or a half at this point?
  1191. >Maybe another sippy isn't required at the moment
  1192. "I'm... I'm rambling. I'm sorry, Starshine. There's a lot to say about the last few weeks. I am worried. Not because I don't think it will work. I think it will. But I can't help worrying over that less than one percent that something may go wrong. Or that it goes too well and we're left alone."
  1193. >"...wouldn't it be better if you two were left alone?"
  1194. "No way. If it were just us, she would be lonely. We would be lonely. We wouldn't be a..."
  1195. >You bring up your arms and are immediately amazed at how they weigh more than a feather
  1196. "A... you know. A family sort of deal. As..."
  1197. >A heavy sigh follows
  1198. "A... an inorganic as we may be."
  1199. >You simultaneously felt like you overwhelmed her with words yet you don't remember what you said ten second prior
  1200. >"That's dumb."
  1201. >You scoff and smile
  1202. "Yeah? Tell me about it."
  1203. >"Well what makes you think I would leave you behind? Jacky, I guess I wouldn't hate it if I talked to her every other day at most. I mean, we sometimes do that as is anyway, right? But if I had to actually travel to see you..."
  1204. >You shrug
  1205. >It is really all you can do, as meager as it may be for the gravity of the situation
  1206. "I know. And I know we have this weird... quasi-weird dynamic. I don't know for sure how healthy that is. Not really."
  1207. >To that, she seems to make a face
  1208. >It's a complex face
  1209. >Like how a fancy booze has a more complex taste
  1210. >It lingers in the air rather than on your tongue
  1211. >"To be honest... I kinda like it. Jacky used to be worried but now she doesn't care. I kinda get to do stuff and she... I guess trusts me? To not do the wrong things. And I like that. And I want to abuse that."
  1212. >"And you certainly do."
  1213. >"Wrong. I've certainly TRIED."
  1214. >The head-tilting quizzical look you give is met with a matter-of-fact scowl
  1215. >"Be honest, if I were really a home wrecker, or some sort of... bitch. Wouldn't I have done something that crosses the line by now?"
  1216. "I... I don't know?"
  1217. >You give her a wide grimace
  1218. >She's certainly pushed the envelope for a hard while now
  1219. >The few times you've had real talks with Jacky about it, she's learned to shrug it off and counts it as lessons to learn
  1220. >Not in how to somehow protect you
  1221. >But to one-up her
  1222. >You're sure, at least to an extent, that Shine has been teaching by example
  1223. >You think
  1224. >"Well no. I wouldn't. You're... I'm not interested in anything else. If you're gonna keep doing dumb crap and, by that, I mean Jacky..."
  1225. "No comment."
  1226. >"...then... I guess I gotta get over it. And I have. I will continue to. But what's that phrase you liked using a few times?"
  1227. "Where's the beef?"
  1228. >"No, the other one."
  1229. "I.... uah... make it Mac tonight?"
  1230. >Another scowl
  1231. >"No. It's "you can't stop me"."
  1232. "HA! Ahhh... yeah. Yeah, I really did enjoy using that one."
  1233.  
  1234. >"Exactly. You can't stop me. And neither can she. If it's futile, then I don't care. I still get to see and enjoy a side of you she never will. If it isn't futile... then that's an entirely new world to explore, isn't it?"
  1235. >This talk of hers is almost enough to make you sober
  1236. >Almost
  1237. >You pet her shoulder
  1238. >It's hard to not take notice of how soft her mane is
  1239. "Listen, Starshine... if it means anything. Without going into detail. I'm sorry I wanted an Applejack instead of a Twilight. If I did... I think I would have gotten you first."
  1240. >Are these treacherous words?
  1241. >Or is it more an apology at her and her given lot in life?
  1242. >She never asked for this
  1243. >She never asked for any of these situations in her life
  1244. >That strength
  1245. >That hard-nosed view on what matters
  1246. >You know that isn't truly her
  1247. >It's more the consequences of her history that has led her to drink from the bitter pool of pragmatism
  1248. >You feel like you need to hug Jacky
  1249. >You do not, in any way, mean anything by it in that way
  1250. >You wish you were two of you
  1251. >You wanted to say that
  1252. >But that wouldn't work, would it?
  1253. >That would be borderline flippant
  1254. >"You shouldn't be. If you met me first, you'd probably be so content that you wouldn't even bother to look for those two dorks."
  1255. >Shine pushes a smile
  1256. >It's real
  1257. >You can tell
  1258. >But it's not all joyous
  1259. "Maybe. Maybe...and to be fair, who I am now isn't who I was then. Same with you. With how much you've grown these last few years to now. If you ever met the old you, you'd be surprised."
  1260. >That smile warms up
  1261. >She really is a sweet mare, underneath the spikes and thorns that she surrounds herself with
  1262. >"I probably would be."
  1263. >You lean back until you're practically laying on your back
  1264. "It seems like either the booze or the talking is tuckering me out."
  1265. >Shiner pushes back until she flops onto her back
  1266. >She keeps her legs up, smiling
  1267. >"Same."
  1268. "Yeah..."
  1269. >"Yeah."
  1270. >You wipe your eyes with your index finger and thumb
  1271. "You got one more day of freedom, after tonight. After that, you'll be a working stiff."
  1272. >"That's ok."
  1273. "Even if it means no more video games?"
  1274. >"I can play them with you."
  1275. "You won't have that much time to laze around anymore either."
  1276. >"It just means that I'll be getting better."
  1277. "You'll have to deal with more humans."
  1278. >"You'll help protect me if they aren't good. Right?"
  1279. >You chuckle
  1280. "Of course. Just as much as I would protect Prism. Or Jack."
  1281. >"I guess that'll have to do then."
  1282. "It will. Because you know how far I'll go for her."
  1283. >"Yeah..."
  1284. >Starshine closes her eyes
  1285. >"I'm not as much as a desperate booze mare as Jacky... I'm gonna get some sleep. Let's call it a draw. That one time I let you win didn't count."
  1286. "Those two wins you let me have, you mean."
  1287. >"Oh screw you."
  1288. "You wish."
  1289. >The magical mare lets out a melodious yawn
  1290. >"Next time I win... I want a kiss."
  1291. "Ha. Sure."
  1292. >Though the menu theme of Melee isn't perfect, you find yourself dozing off
  1293. >Just a little
  1294. >In this little moment
  1295. >You're sure that Shine will not fail
  1296. >Not you
  1297. >Not Jacky
  1298. >Not Prism
  1299. >And not herself
  1300. >Even if she sucks at Smash
  1301.  
  1302.  
  1303. >Less than twelve hours until the new job
  1304. >Less than twelve hours until you load up your car with your dorks
  1305. >Go to a new place
  1306. >And deal with what they'll do
  1307. >Or not do
  1308. >Whether or not it is a good idea, it's happening
  1309. >Starshine has been sticking to you like glue
  1310. >She hasn't said it but you think that she's worried
  1311. >You would be too if you were her
  1312. >Since she dropped off for the night, you took the chance to slip out to talk to Tweedle D and Tweedle Jack
  1313. >You hear the movie they're watching before you see them laying side by side
  1314. >It's an old western
  1315. >But it's not a good old western
  1316. >"Jacky, this one really isn't that good..."
  1317. >"Yeah but it has Angel Eyes in it."
  1318. >"But his name is Marv."
  1319. >"This time."
  1320. >You sit behind them, suddenly more interested in the movie than actually talking to them
  1321. >Jack can tell that you're behind her and flicks her tail upward as a personalized greeting
  1322. >Prism doesn't move
  1323. >You were wondering where that one blanket went off to, you didn't know they were using it
  1324. "Huh. Did you recently get that one washed?"
  1325. >"Yes. We did laundry yesterday while you and Spark were shouting at each other."
  1326. >Prism is curt as always
  1327. "Well, that's good. Mind if I join in?"
  1328. >"Come lay with us, cowboy, it's just getting good!"
  1329. >You sorta wanted to check out how they were doing but this is fine too
  1330. >You lay beside Jackenstein, resting your head on her shoulder
  1331. >You can still see the movie well enough so you aren't missing out
  1332. >It is interesting too
  1333. >The protagonist is...
  1334. >Man, there's a lot of talking
  1335. >Maybe you just need to pay attention to what's going on better
  1336. >...
  1337. >...
  1338. >...
  1339. >Your head jerks up
  1340. >What were you doing?
  1341. >With a fuzzy mind, you strain your eyes to pay attention to the...
  1342. >...movie?
  1343. >That's no movie, that's the Crypt Keeper
  1344. "Whoa. Audie Murphy got decrepit."
  1345. >Prism chuckles
  1346. >She's no longer laying near Jacky
  1347. >And Jacky somehow flopped over to the point that your head is on her chest
  1348. "Jack asleep?"
  1349. >"Yes. She's pretty excited for tomorrow."
  1350. "Nice."
  1351. >You nod and rub the side of your face into the pony
  1352. "You are too, I hope."
  1353. >"Excited enough to do it."
  1354. "You know, I kinda wanted to pick your brain."
  1355. >"About?"
  1356. "What you think about this. What did Jacky sell you on?"
  1357. >"Not much. It'll help you, her, me. All of us."
  1358. >She's doing a good job at talking while not looking at you
  1359. >This isn't going to work
  1360. >It never has
  1361. >It probably never will
  1362. "So when did you get into Tales from The Crypt?"
  1363. >"A few weeks ago."
  1364. >The episode in question involves a pair of Siamese twins
  1365. "It's good stuff. I didn't peg you for a spooky sort."
  1366. >"I'm not."
  1367. >You want to just sleep
  1368. >But something compels you to try to at least socialize with her
  1369. >If she can't socialize well with you, what hope does she have with random humans?
  1370. "What do you like about it then? The cheap effects, or the actors tend to be pretty noticeable nobodies?"
  1371. >She doesn't respond for a bit
  1372. >"I suppose I like both of them. And the plots. A lot of them are just about thieves and conmen pulling schemes until they get their just desserts."
  1373. "That sounds pretty heinous. Did you see the episode with the guy who got paralyzed?"
  1374. >"I did, that one was good."
  1375. "I grew up watching that sort of stuff, you know."
  1376. >"That's amusing. Did little Anon have nightmares?"
  1377. "From the episodes? Nah. It was always the opening of the Keeper bursting out and laughing."
  1378. >You chuckle
  1379. "I used to change the channel for a few seconds so I wouldn't see him do that."
  1380. >Those were the days
  1381. >Not really
  1382. >But some childish nostalgia refuses to let the moment go
  1383. >It's one of the few things you even want as proof that you were once a kid
  1384.  
  1385.  
  1386. >"I bet that took a lot of practice to nail down. It kinda scares me too. But once you see that he's just a puppet it's more clever than anything else. Why aren't puppets used like that anymore?"
  1387. "It's a dying art, D-bash."
  1388. >You let out a long, low yawn
  1389. >Jack is out like a light but even then your yawn makes her yawn
  1390. "A lot of old stuff just isn't used anymore. Everything has to be CG, 3D, over-produced and all sorts of silly things."
  1391. >You'd like to watch more but you'll have to settle for listening
  1392. >Your eyes are just too heavy
  1393. "Make sure you get some rest, man. We're gonna need you tomorrow."
  1394. >...
  1395. >...
  1396. >...
  1397. >You can hear the Crypt Keeper make bad puns
  1398. >How did that joker ever spook you?
  1399. >You were such a coward back then
  1400. >But how could you have known better, or been braver?
  1401. >"Hey, are you awake?"
  1402. >Of course you are
  1403. >Though you say nothing
  1404. >You don't think that you can reliably talk back
  1405. >"Your breathing changed, you're awake."
  1406. >Damn
  1407. >Caught
  1408. >"Jacky's really happy about tomorrow, you know that?"
  1409. >You can guess so
  1410. >"Going by how Sparking is when she comes out with you..."
  1411. >You don't like that slight inflection
  1412. >"She seems happy too."
  1413. >You're listening but the breathing of your PillowJack is a little too comfortable to give her your full attention
  1414. >"I'm not going to tell you anything you don't already know."
  1415. >Is that right?
  1416. >"But I still think you're too close to her."
  1417. >That's nothing new
  1418. "...it's not that bad."
  1419. >"What happens when it does get that bad?"
  1420. >"I'll buck her face and then we'll watch a movie."
  1421. >That was Jack
  1422. >You weren't expecting that
  1423. >She wasn't pretending to sleep, you recognize that breathing pattern
  1424. >"...Jacky, you need to-"
  1425. >"Nah."
  1426. >You're staying out of this one
  1427. >"Do you really think this can keep going?"
  1428. >"It's fine, Dashie."
  1429. >"Jac-"
  1430. >"I said it's fine, Faint Prism."
  1431. >Not only are you laying on a mare with your eyes closed
  1432. >Not only are you effectively in the middle of this argument
  1433. >You don't think you've ever heard Jackunaut speak in that sort of time
  1434. "...should I still try to be sleeping here?"
  1435. >"Yes."
  1436. >You feel Jacky's legs fold toward you
  1437. "Sounds good. You guys better be ready for tomorrow."
  1438. >"Super ready."
  1439. >The short squeeze of her legs on you convince you of that easily enough
  1440. >"...Sorry, Anon."
  1441. "It's alright. You're just a bit of a fruitcake sometimes."
  1442. >Jacky snickers
  1443. >"Needs more lemon."
  1444. "Oh you know it."
  1445. >No commentary
  1446. >You exhale
  1447. >Why is everything so jagged with her?
  1448. "Hey D-bash. I gotta ask you something."
  1449. >No reply
  1450. >But you hear her shift enough
  1451. >You have no clue if your pillow is awake and listening in but you don't want to open your eyes
  1452. >You were so ready to doze off but now this had to go the way it did
  1453. "Do you not like it here? What's up?"
  1454. >No reply
  1455. "You know there's no beating Countess Jackula."
  1456. >Nothing
  1457. >Not from her, anyway
  1458. >From the sound of the episode going on, it's about to reach the fatal climax
  1459. "You used to be more sneaky but now it just seems like you want to start something."
  1460. >You reach up to grab Jackonovich's foreleg
  1461. >You aren't going to worry over it
  1462.  
  1463. "Hey there, we're celebrating so I'd like for, ah... uh, four of the main combos. Extra coleslaw on one, replace the coleslaw with extra breads on two, and then replace the coleslaw with extra fries."
  1464. >"Wow, congrats then! What would you like for drinks?"
  1465. "Just two of the gallon teas you guys have, if you still have some."
  1466. >"Sure thing! Sweet or unsweet?"
  1467. "One of both is the name of the game."
  1468. >"Alright! So, four combos with..."
  1469. >The pleasantries are nice
  1470. >The three mares in the car with you are quiet
  1471. >For a first day, they...
  1472. >Well
  1473. >It was a first day
  1474. >When you get back to the apartment, Shine frees your hands up by using her magic to hold up the bags and tea
  1475. >Only after everything is divvied out does everyone take a seat in the living room
  1476. >D-bash prefers the extra coleslaw
  1477. >Shiner digs the extra fries
  1478. >You won't lie, everyone likes the extra fries
  1479. >But you sometimes arm wrestle SnackJack for the extra bread if you're hungry enough
  1480. >She doesn't always win
  1481. >Rather than decide on sweet or unsweet, everyone has two cups
  1482. >It's not much of a feast in the traditional sense
  1483. >But it is still something of a celebration
  1484. >"We're so screwed."
  1485. >Shine's voice is so devoid of hope
  1486. >"It... it's ok. This sort of thing happens in movies too, right?
  1487. >Your dork in chief at least seems a little more hopeful
  1488. >"...I really didn't mean to."
  1489. >Prism finally speaks
  1490. >Her poise is well and truly broken
  1491. >Even her mane is less than flawless
  1492. "I... it's ok. Sometimes the first days are the worst."
  1493. >You didn't have all that hard a time
  1494. >It was largely one of those useless orientation days where you're told a dozen things, remember nothing, and end up goofing around
  1495. >The library is a lot smaller, once you get the general layout
  1496. >But
  1497. >It also means less places to run to
  1498. "I think what... might help. Is to not really try to panic."
  1499. >You gulp down your sweet tea fast enough that you can only vaguely taste the delicious syrupy mostly-liquid
  1500. "And... to not scream for help. Or to buck. Bucking is definitely a no go. With me, it's debatable. But..."
  1501. >You need to be careful to not name names
  1502. "...make sure you just keep a good distance from the random people."
  1503. >You don't want to make any pony feel bad
  1504. >But between the three, one has been taken out enough to be somewhat comfortable, one remained near you like a starved, stray cat
  1505. >And one tried to show off her feathers as a way to impress
  1506. >And dealt with a kid trying to pluck one of her feathers
  1507. >You keep your eyes on your food box
  1508. >If the panicked pony wasn't enough, an angry parent quintupled the strain
  1509. "The good news... is that I was told that she's a bit of a pain anyway, same with her kid. So if they don't come back, that's going to be a good thing in the long run."
  1510. >"...at least I didn't use any magic."
  1511. "Yeah. You're not wrong. The last thing we needed was a scorched earth policy including actual scorched earth."
  1512. >"...did your day go good at least, Anon?"
  1513. >As hopeful as she sounds, Jacklevania is hardly above a whisper
  1514. "Yeah... yeah, it wasn't bad. I had a bit of a talk. Before and after."
  1515. >You finally bring your eyes up
  1516. >To the only winged pony of the party
  1517. >She looks like she's three seconds away from bawling her eyes out
  1518. "And it's alright."
  1519. >She's quick to break eye contact
  1520. >Your eyes go to The Shining
  1521. "It is. It's the first day but next Monday? It'll feel like you're a thousand times better."
  1522. >And finally, to your Jack knife
  1523. >You can't help but frown at her
  1524. "...did you know that kid's mom was going to be a bitch?"
  1525. >She smirks
  1526. >"Tiny bit. She looked like that one woman from our first date."
  1527. "You... wait, Ihop or the trail?"
  1528. >She looks like she's disappointed but it passes after a second
  1529. >"Which one counts as the official first?"
  1530. "I... I don't know."
  1531.  
  1532. >For a moment, she seems as perplexed as you
  1533. >"You're both idiots. I hope you two can refine your act and take it on the road."
  1534. >Shiner speaks in her usual flat, sarcastic tone between stuffing her face with fries
  1535. "Yeah well it would help smooth things over."
  1536. >You pluck a fry from Sparkler's box, much to her dismay
  1537. >Your eyes go back to Prism
  1538. >...
  1539. >Crap
  1540. >None of your usual antics are causing even a smile
  1541. >The weight of the room increases back to where it was before anyone spoke
  1542. "If you wanna talk about it, you aren't going to find a better audience."
  1543. >You do your best to give a shrug that shows her that it isn't a big deal
  1544. >Even though it kinda is
  1545. "And if you wanna rant instead, we're all for it."
  1546. >The red on her face
  1547. >It's easy to notice
  1548. >Very easy
  1549. >From the way her eyes are avoiding yours...
  1550. >You get the feeling that it isn't sadness that's trying to drown her
  1551. >But shame
  1552. >...
  1553. >...
  1554. >Nothing
  1555. >You won't force it out of her
  1556. >Even if it means that she'll have to stew in things
  1557. >Hopefully she'll choose to join the sortie tomorrow
  1558. "Good first day, girls. Tomorrow's gonna feel just as short but it won't be nearly as bad."
  1559. >You hope
  1560.  
  1561.  
  1562. >Saturday morning
  1563. >What a first week
  1564. >You can't help but feel like you were a pity hire
  1565. >There are many things you already have a vague understanding of, sure
  1566. >And learning the newer things haven't been difficult at all
  1567. >But you're pretty sure that you spent most of your first week just goofing off
  1568. >And watching over the girls
  1569. >Though you fell asleep with Jack, you woke up with Shiner in your arms instead
  1570. >You thought she was your pillow but apparently the two swapped at some point
  1571. >Even Prism has taken up space in your room, though she brought in a few pillows to sleep on while the unused portion of the bed
  1572. >After that first night, you decided against having little group huddles
  1573. >You swooce your way out of bed and fix two bowls of cereal, a crunchy peanut butter and apple butter sandwich, and leftovers from last night's pizza
  1574. >You kinda thought that everyone would want to celebrate their first week of work
  1575. >Instead, you had three drop dead exhausted mares that just wanted to lay down, eat fresh peetzer, and watch a movie
  1576. >And even that descended into merely listening to the music in the background for the most part
  1577. >You set down the pizza and sandwich first
  1578. >Sandwich for the geek
  1579. >Pizza for the dork
  1580. >Cereal for the nerd
  1581. >Said geek spreads her wings, apparently woken up by the smell of the peanut butter
  1582. >"Morning already...?"
  1583. "Yup. Got tired of sleeping alone?"
  1584. >"I just knew that if I cried to you like Sparking does, you'd get me anything."
  1585. "...fair point."
  1586. >You sit with both bowls
  1587. >Shiner's still sleeping
  1588. >You can't eat if you're stuck holding them
  1589. >You set it down on her flank
  1590. "Hey, my hand's cold. Warm it up."
  1591. >Almost by reflex, the bowl-and your hand-are stuck in red aura
  1592. "Ha, I lied. Breakfast time nerd."
  1593. >Shine lifts up her legs and kicks them out and as far as she can
  1594. >You'd wonder if this was some sort of brain damage but you've picked up on her doing that more lately
  1595. >Jackrobatics lets out a mewl of a yawn and immediately follows it with an unflattering sigh
  1596. >"Anon... I quit."
  1597. "Quit? You quit when I say you do."
  1598. >You adopt a southern plantation owner's twang
  1599. "Now git to eatin'. Those books ain't gonna stack themselves and thems peoples ain't gonna greet themselves!"
  1600. >That really is all Jacky did for the first week, was be social
  1601. >She took book returns
  1602. >She greeted visitors
  1603. >And she generally looked lost when she was more than ten yards away from you
  1604. >"This is pony slavery... I have my rights."
  1605. >She pouts and rips into the pizza
  1606. "You have yo right... to git ta work!"
  1607. >This sort of low-energy banter is nice
  1608. >The room is so drained that anything more would be tapping into emergency energy reserves
  1609. >"I didn't mind it... but why is it so boring?"
  1610. >Customary to her, and to her only, she tilts the bowl up and drinks all of the milk before even touching the cereal itself
  1611. >The Cap'n wouldn't appreciate such treatment
  1612. >"I never thought I'd see so many books and care so little about them. I tried reading one of those "classics" and it took a whopping four pages before I lost all interest."
  1613. "That's because you're a plebian."
  1614. >"I'll plebian all over your face."
  1615. >"I'll allow it."
  1616. >Jacky adds in with just barely enough energy to lift her head to eat
  1617. "How about you, Faye?"
  1618. >Her ears perk up at the name
  1619. >"Me?"
  1620. "Yeah, you."
  1621. >"What is it?"
  1622. "Bah... dropped the ball. Oh well, two to three in favor so pleb it up."
  1623. >"Ha... awesome. You better be ready, I'm springing it on you when you least expect it."
  1624. >This sort of disorganization and workmare's fatigue tells you that any of them will be hard-pressed to do anything more than limp to the bathroom
  1625.  
  1626. >With everything eaten with bowls and plates retrieved, you leave them to languish in comfort and somewhat middle-class luxury
  1627. >The plates are paper so into the trash they go
  1628. >The bowls get a quick rinse and scrub before getting set on a kitchen rag to dry
  1629. >This...
  1630. >Was this a good idea?
  1631. >You think you'll squeak by
  1632. >You were asked to come back on Monday, so that isn't a bad sign
  1633. >The same was said to the trio too
  1634. >And especially to the princess of the group
  1635. >But that doesn't mean much
  1636. >Is it sustainable?
  1637. >They were all more reliant on your words than the head honcho's
  1638. >That didn't seem to be a problem, but you want to say that you're getting the feeling that some sort of line should be drawn, when it comes to closeness
  1639. >At least when it comes to being there
  1640. >There are too many real factors to count
  1641. >They at least accomplished their goals for the week
  1642. >Four hours a day, Monday through Friday
  1643. >Four long, painful hours of them sorta-kinda working, and then bumming around for the rest of the day
  1644. >You don't even remember what you did, if you actually did anything resembling work
  1645. >Is that a good sign, or bad?
  1646. >Or just an indicator that you're really not there to truly do anything of value?
  1647. >You did sort of imply that you're all a package deal, for safety's sake and otherwise
  1648. >"Anoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooon."
  1649. >You kinda joked about it in the past, maybe you do need some sort of collar or GPS tags for them
  1650. >"Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooonnoooooonammouuuuuuuussaaaaaaaaaa?!"
  1651. >...would a leash work?"
  1652. >"HUMAN, WE REQUIRE YOUR ATTENTION AND ARE WILLING TO PAY."
  1653. >Oh yeah
  1654. >That reminds you of something
  1655. "You think my attention can be bought, foolish pony!?"
  1656. >You bellow with a practiced huff
  1657. >They're going to have money soon
  1658. >Surely nothing bad will come of that
  1659. >"YES!"
  1660. >You pretty sure you can hear all three of them answer
  1661. "Oh God damn it, fine..."
  1662. >You grumble to yourself and stop at the door
  1663. "So what's going on?"
  1664. >Yellow mare goes from laying on her side to being entirely on her back
  1665. >"Pet me."
  1666. >Red mare sits up and takes hold of her controller
  1667. >It's hers because the clear plastic has cracks in it from her magic
  1668. >"Hold me."
  1669. >White mare smirks, glad to join in
  1670. >"Brush me."
  1671. >It's going to be one of those days
  1672. "You all do realize that I only have two hands, right?"
  1673. >You refuse to listen to their assorted answers
  1674. >You suppose maybe they deserve it for a week of hard work
  1675.  
  1676.  
  1677. >Less than twelve hours
  1678. >In that short amount of time, you'll be at work again
  1679. >They will be at work again
  1680. >Of course, it's only going to be for a few hours
  1681. >But it's still work
  1682. >Pony roll call
  1683. >Jacqueline is sleeping in...
  1684. >The hallway?
  1685. >Well that's weird
  1686. >She has a trio of blankets and a pair of pillows set up
  1687. >You suppose you see them sleep and laze around every which way
  1688. >Maybe it puts her at the middle between your room and the living room
  1689. >And the kitchen
  1690. >Little Red
  1691. >Sleeping in bed and curled up like a defeated Yamcha
  1692. >That just leaves one
  1693. >You tiptoe through the apartment while paying mind to the YouTube videos playing in both living and bed rooms
  1694. >It seems like everyone has adopted the white noise of random gameplay and essays
  1695. >Going off of the video essay, it's about...
  1696. >Horror?
  1697. >Well that's neat
  1698. >But who's your resident spook?
  1699. >You don't see player four in th-
  1700. >Nevermind
  1701. >There she is, out on the patio
  1702. >As dark as it is, you can make her out easy
  1703. >You gingerly step outside and sit on the bare wood beside her
  1704. "You know, I'll be honest. I used to hate this thing. Nothing but a few wooden planks keeping you safe, with holes so wide you could lose a phone through them... for some reason, I always thought these planks were as strong as wet paper."
  1705. >You don't get a reply
  1706. >If you were her, you'd have no clue how to react to that either
  1707. >"Tomorrow morning is Monday, isn't it..."
  1708. "Yeah."
  1709. >She sounds so dejected
  1710. "That's right. You're gonna be sleepy if you don't get some rest."
  1711. >"I suppose... Anonymous."
  1712. "What's up?"
  1713. >She refuses to move
  1714. >"...do I have to go back?"
  1715. "Honestly?"
  1716. >"Honestly."
  1717. >You can only be honest
  1718. >You've never not been
  1719. "No. You don't have to."
  1720. >You scratch your eyebrow with your thumb
  1721. "But... you're gonna be the only one here for the entire day."
  1722. >Because it's about work, you have to be serious
  1723. "Jacky's alright, I think. She's learning some good things but her main thing I worry about is that she kinda listens to me but not the guys signing our checks. So... personally, while I enjoy that, she's gonna have to learn to step outside of her boundaries."
  1724. >You really don't know where to go from this but you started, so you aren't stopping
  1725. "Our Sparkler is doing well. I think she's motivated. I guess it's natural because she has her magic. And she's already our resident cooker and... well, to an extent, cleaner too. I think the pay this Friday is also going to keep her motivated... even if it isn't going to be a full one."
  1726. >If you can trust any of them with this sort of stuff, it's her
  1727. >You know she knows it too
  1728. "And you..."
  1729. >Here comes the rougher news
  1730. "You did well, given what you're used to. And that little shit deserved a kick to the head."
  1731. >But that's not all
  1732. >Of course it isn't
  1733. "But... you're kinda just being eye candy. And while I think that's the idea, you gotta help out. And I mean that, it's not fair that they're giving it their all. You know Jack, she's happy to do stuff. But I don't know if you've noticed but she really enjoys her quiet time after."
  1734. >You don't think she's antisocial but she really seems drained after work
  1735. >Hell, you can tell that everyone has been too drained to do much
  1736. >No real movies
  1737. >No video games played
  1738. >You hope that they can both adjust
  1739. "And you think Shiner's a people pony? No way. She likes putting away and sorting books because it means she doesn't have to actually talk to anyone. Remember that pair of families? Nowhere to be seen."
  1740.  
  1741. >"...I suppose it is best that we don't see her show off her magic. I don't think she would stick to parlor tricks."
  1742. "Yeah... nah. Probably not."
  1743. >"Anonymous."
  1744. "Faye."
  1745. >"If I don't go back. Am I a failure?"
  1746. >You sit on this question
  1747. >For this being her first attempt at a job, it's hardly important whether or not she washes out
  1748. >But she should know how to adapt
  1749. >Of course, she isn't dainty
  1750. >...
  1751. >Ok, she is, but she's not fragile
  1752. >Not from everything you've ever heard about her
  1753. "Kinda."
  1754. >You hold up your hands and shrug
  1755. "In the big scheme of things? It isn't that big a deal. But in the immediate? You're letting both of them down."
  1756. >You think you can hear something coming from her
  1757. "I think the key Loony Tune moment is that it's only five half-days. It's a bit hot but I could let you chill in the car, once you're done. Or see if there's a break room for you to hang out in. Or you can just hide out under the desk once you're done. The choice is yours for now, you know?"
  1758. >More noises
  1759. >More sad noises, specifically
  1760. >Deciding you've already crossed a few lines, you reach out and pat her shoulder
  1761. >She doesn't flinch or pull away
  1762. "I won't stop you from staying home... but if you do that. You are admitting that you can't handle it. I don't mind, my top priority is the safety and happiness and yadda-yadda. But I can't talk you into wanting to work. You're gonna have to figure it out on your own."
  1763. >Simply talking about work is exhausting
  1764. >Maybe sleeping in the hallway is a better experience than going with the flow
  1765. "Don't stay up too late, alright?"
  1766. >"...yes. Thank you."
  1767. "Don't thank me. I'm expecting you to do the option that sucks."
  1768.  
  1769.  
  1770. >You're awake
  1771. >Pretty early, for a Saturday
  1772. >You'd like to say that you're still tired...
  1773. >But you're not
  1774. >You feel fairly alert
  1775. >The only thing keeping you from moving is the trio of carry-size talking horses
  1776. >One nestled between your legs and using your knee as a pillow
  1777. >One laying near your hip
  1778. >And the one laying on your freaking face
  1779. >You remember last night as well as you remember everyone's first pay day together
  1780. >Ordered pizza, raucous merrymaking with just enough alcohol, and a handful of old horror movies
  1781. >You think Faye may be turning into a horror movie fan
  1782. >Not sure why but they're the more cheesy sorts than something that shows evisceration or concise narratives
  1783. >To rest your memory, you drag your hand up to where the head of your would-be smotherer should be
  1784. >...
  1785. >...
  1786. >...
  1787. >Yup
  1788. >It's Shiner
  1789. >You remember mouthing off to her and she just flopped onto your head
  1790. >You were willing to test her on "trying something else" to keep you quiet but apparently unicorn belly is kryptonite to humans with low inebriation and high fatigue
  1791. >You don't even remember what you were arg-
  1792. >Wait
  1793. >You remember now
  1794. >It was about how you praised only Faye
  1795. >Payday night, between the drink and pie-in-the-sky thoughts of rolling in dough, you were praising Jackening for her work efforts
  1796. >She was outright jealous, refused to admit it, and then even refused to admit that she was a "vidya addicted species of horse called the "dare" because it was a mix of "dork" and "mare"
  1797. >Then everything went black and apparently that was enough for you to call it a night
  1798. >Your hand wanders around the red mare's face
  1799. >With a good mental image in mind, you begin to tap at the corner of her mouth
  1800. >You're too tired and/or lazy to use your words right now
  1801. >Besides, you wouldn't want to give her the satisfaction of sonar transmission
  1802. >After...
  1803. >Probably a thousand hours
  1804. >Or thirty seconds
  1805. >You decide to stop
  1806. >You flex your legs instead to hug the pony between them
  1807. >You hear a yawn
  1808. >Movement
  1809. >Jacksauce, to the resc...
  1810. >...
  1811. >Nope
  1812. >She isn't waking up
  1813. >She just flopped from one side to the other and threw her head onto your lap with a hard enough nuzzle to let you know that she's not done sleeping
  1814. >Well
  1815. >Crap
  1816. >Good thing you don't have to use the bathroom
  1817. >You sigh under your admittedly warm cranium prison
  1818. >Maybe it's your imagination but every day feels like you...
  1819. >It isn't that you can't find a moment to yourself
  1820. >But a lot of things feel more like they're done as a group
  1821. >Hungry?
  1822. >Usually everyone is at the same general time, or willing to wait until the next big mega munchie mixer
  1823. >Tired?
  1824. >Due to work, everyone tends to wind down
  1825. >Even Feinter and Shiner forgo their usual antics or tendencies to at least lay down and try to relax
  1826. >It's hardly a clockwork militia in terms of finesse
  1827. >But the shared work schedule has really whipped them up into...
  1828. >Certainly not in shape
  1829. >But it has given them some sort of purpose
  1830. >You think
  1831. >Twice now, you've had to effectively carry Jackrophobia to the car so she can sleep on the way
  1832. >Sparky-Horn, every day this week
  1833. >Prism is always able to drag herself up but hasn't stayed awake once for an entire drive to work
  1834. >Part of you feels bad
  1835. >But you know that structure, in almost any capacity, is new to them
  1836. >You don't have faith in them
  1837. >You certainly trust them
  1838. >But you... know their limits
  1839. >What are probably their limits
  1840. >You begin tapping at Starshine's mouth again
  1841. >...
  1842. >...
  1843. >...
  1844. >"Nla-yeap. Wha..."
  1845. >The tip of your finger goes to tap but instead goes into the corner of her cheek
  1846. >Aaaaaaaand now she's chewing on your finger
  1847. >Great job, Anon
  1848. >...
  1849. >...
  1850. >...
  1851. >Screw it
  1852. >It's supposedly Saturday
  1853. >You can deal with having only nine fingers left later
  1854. >With a defeated sigh, your body goes slack
  1855.  
  1856. >Lunchtime
  1857. >Shiner and Jackenstein have been taking over lunch duties
  1858. >Mostly because they see lunch as a daily celebration to end their "work"
  1859. >Jacky has taken to welcoming people and helping out with questions
  1860. >Sparkler seems to enjoy sorting and placing books and archaic VHS tapes
  1861. >And Prism...
  1862. >Faint Prism
  1863. >Is eating under your desk
  1864. >You usually push yourself back so you won't kick her or anything
  1865. >She isn't really adjusting
  1866. >At least the boss man you report to is pretty easy going
  1867. >To be honest, you aren't sure what her responsibilities are
  1868. >Hell, you don't even know your responsibilities
  1869. >You can troubleshoot and fix up workstations and the visitor computers
  1870. >But you really do feel like you're just here out of a pity hire
  1871. >At least you're getting paid
  1872. >As are they
  1873. "How you doin'?"
  1874. >"Are they done with lunch yet?"
  1875. "Jacklicious ate in maybe eight seconds and is getting chased around by a few middle schoolers."
  1876. >"Is she ok?"
  1877. "Yeah they look familiar so I'm sure she's fine."
  1878. >You clear your throat as you see them all zoom by
  1879. "And they are girls. So. You know."
  1880. >"...that's good at least."
  1881. >This place really seems to be more lively compared to when you first started
  1882. >Have the girls been gaining some level of local fame with the educational crowd?
  1883. >"And where is Sparking?"
  1884. >"Annoyed you're stealing my new spot, move over."
  1885. >Like a pair of huddled kittens, the two rub shoulders yet somehow insist on staying under the desk
  1886. >"Anon."
  1887. "Red horse."
  1888. >"Get me a skirt or something to wear."
  1889. "...Ah..."
  1890. >You were worried about that
  1891. "Comments?"
  1892. >"Yup."
  1893. "...Surprised it took this long."
  1894. >"Oh shut up."
  1895. >The venom in her voice is enough to warrant concern, funny as it may be to you that she has a record of refusing to hide herself at home
  1896. "I'll look into something. For Jack too."
  1897. >"I think we should all be wearing things if we're working."
  1898. "What sounds good?"
  1899. >You lean back and fold your leg so your risen ankle rests on your knee
  1900. >You can look at them with this pose and it only looks like you're muttering to yourself like a madman
  1901. >"Pants."
  1902. >"Skirt."
  1903. >"Armor that keeps our manes safe and clean."
  1904. >"The license to give some of these twerps a flash tan."
  1905. "I'll look into the fantasy RPG armor but no hostile magic."
  1906. >Safe to say that the social aspect is not what they're savoring
  1907. >At least Jacqueline seems at home
  1908. >You've seen her give some visitors some guff but that hasn't led to anything worse
  1909. >You know you're on lunch...
  1910. >But it feels like you spend the entire first half of the day just watching them before you get around to anything
  1911. >You asked about that but you were told it's fine
  1912. >Is it?
  1913. >Jacky races by again, still energetic enough to outrun anything in the building
  1914. "...Was she always the most social one?"
  1915. >"Yes."
  1916. >Two miserable voices answer at once
  1917. "Makes sense from what I've been told..."
  1918. >She races by again
  1919. >You're pretty sure running isn't allowed in a library
  1920. >Eh, screw it
  1921. >Her chasers seem to be having fun, even if they can't keep pace
  1922. >This is quite the...
  1923. >Well
  1924. >It's a life
  1925. >For now
  1926. >But is it sustainable?
  1927. >Jack eventually loses the gaggle of followers and leaps up onto your lap
  1928. >As big a landing pad as you made for her, you still meet her impact with a grunt
  1929. "Well now."
  1930. >"Quick, pretend I'm not here."
  1931. "Eh?"
  1932. >She lays completely flat, collapsing on your crossed leg like a deflated balloon animal
  1933. >Taking her cue you grab an old newspaper near your keyboard and fold it up
  1934. >"Aw man, you lost her!"
  1935. >"It wasn't me, you tripped me up to begin with!"
  1936. >"I really like her mane!"
  1937. >Thankfully they lack the good sense to ask you where she went
  1938. "Having fun yet?"
  1939. >Chest huffing and visibly spent she grins with a nod
  1940. >You really still can't believe this is paying the bills and then some
  1941. >Oh Well
  1942. >Lunch is almost over anyway so once you let her rest you'll let them hang out in the car
  1943. >Between the three of them, they're safe
  1944. >Safe and with a laptop to argue over regarding who gets to drive it
  1945.  
  1946. >Another productive day
  1947. >...is what you'd like to call it
  1948. >Like clockwork, dinner is has pretty early then everyone disperses to their own realm
  1949. >Tonight, you've decided to hang out with Prism and Jackoholic
  1950. >Another spooky night of watching Tales from the Crypt too
  1951. >The puppet used to scare the bejesus out of you
  1952. >Now you just wish you could sound that creepy on command
  1953. >The current episode focuses on a guy who, through the power of SCIENCE, gained the ability to come back to life a handful of times
  1954. >So what does he do?
  1955. >The obvious of kill himself multiple times for only a few thousand dollars per life
  1956. >Of course, he loses track of just how many lucky breaks he still has
  1957. >As soon as the ending theme starts, Jack hurls herself against Prism
  1958. >Thankfully, she squishes herself down to the floor low enough that the chunkhead flies right over and crashes into a pillow
  1959. >"That was so lame! If I could die nine times, you think I'd waste them at a sideshow?!"
  1960. >"You can't really blame small mines for having small imaginations..."
  1961. >With Jackenstein now on her back, Prism gives you a slight glance and a smirk
  1962. >"But what he did made sense too. He didn't really have any other skills, so the only thing he could do was get creative with dying."
  1963. >"Bleeeah... I guess. But why not at least try to do something like be a bounty hunter? Or a mercenary?"
  1964. >"If he isn't good at those, he might waste all of his lives in a single day."
  1965. "Not to mention if he got zipped up and packed off, he might not even be able to collect his pay."
  1966. >Jacky flails her legs like a fish out of water
  1967. >If a fish had pony legs
  1968. >She goes limp and ends her fit with a sigh
  1969. >"...I'm bored."
  1970. "Really?"
  1971. >You don't think you've ever really heard her say that she was bored before
  1972. >Of course, she's been bored
  1973. >But she never really announced it
  1974. "I thought you always had something schemed up."
  1975. >"I do. But after going to work and all that, I realize just how fun it is to do stuff. Like, what kind of lives do those guys lead? Did they really dress themselves? Why can't they use tissues like the rest of us normal people?"
  1976. >You don't want to know
  1977. >Jacky points to the ceiling, aiming at invisible patrons
  1978. >"You, stop looking at me funny. You, I know for a fact you rented two books last week and I didn't hear that they were back. You..."
  1979. >She squints and growls
  1980. >"Don't think I forgot that you lied about sharing those chips..."
  1981. "You really dig that place, huh."
  1982. >"Totally. I get to help out with a lot of things. People like me and don't think I'm weird. Plus we get paid enough where we can live like royalty."
  1983. "That... we're a long ways away from that, Lemon Drop."
  1984. >The new nickname makes Jackuzi wriggle until she ends up off the pillow and on the floor
  1985. >"Well... we're paid enough to live like royalty on a painfully small budget."
  1986. "...yeah, I'd allow that."
  1987. >"Good. Speaking of royalty, I have a vizier to harass. Come see me later."
  1988. >You salute her as she gets up and trots to your room
  1989. >Oof, going by her hind leg she may have pinched a nerve or something
  1990. >You don't notice that you're watching her leave until after she rounds a corner away
  1991. >And you hear a polite "ahem"
  1992. >"Are you really that shameless?"
  1993. >Almost expecting her to peek back around the corner, you nod
  1994. "In my own lair and with that sort of energy that could make or break a lesser man? Shyeah."
  1995. >You shrug and re-adjust yourself to focus on the pegasus
  1996. "So, what about you? All work and some play makes Jacky a dull girl. But you..."
  1997. >Do you even need to pretend otherwise?
  1998. "You're kinda acting like you can't stand it."
  1999. >Her expression melts into one of moderate disgust
  2000. >"I don't like it. Too many kids. Too many questions and offers for pictures."
  2001. "Wait, hold the mare. They're offering you money for pictures and don't just stare?"
  2002. >She furrows her brow
  2003. >"Did you just try to rhyme at me?"
  2004. "Maybe. But answer the question too."
  2005.  
  2006. >As visibly uncomfortable as she is, she puffs out her wings like she's somehow too good to be a local something
  2007. >"Yes. I'm not some... show pony, for people to take pictures with."
  2008. "Sure but you're being kinda egotistical about it too. I hardly think they view you as some sort of side show attraction."
  2009. >Given who you're talking to, who knows what her angle is
  2010. "...is it because you aren't being offered enough money?"
  2011. >The bitter look evolves
  2012. >Or devolves
  2013. >Whichever way means she's getting more offended
  2014. >"Do you think that matters to me?"
  2015. "I don't know. Maybe. When's the last time you had a few hundred bucks to your name? Or whatever the equivalent in pony dollars is."
  2016. >The disdain vanishes with a quick, almost haughty huff
  2017. >"...never."
  2018. "I get that you're kinda trying the whole..."
  2019. >You wave your hand at her in some nebulous pattern
  2020. "Thing that says that I'm the peasant guy who refuses to think deeper than how he can go in a mare, so I can't possibly comprehend your ways."
  2021. >"Anon, don't include me when you go into that sort of topic."
  2022. "Too late, Banana Slamma. My point in this is... I guess, what are you still sore about?"
  2023. >She doesn't immediately answer
  2024. >You half don't expect anything out of her
  2025. "Because let's be real... does it kinda suck to be there? Yeah, and no. Yeah, because I get your worries. And there are worries that I have too. But also no, because I think we're gonna have an easy time there."
  2026. >"And what makes you think that?"
  2027. "Because..."
  2028. >You worm your way into an unsure shrug
  2029. "I think... we're getting paid to be expensive entertainment. I keep asking about how to run things and I've been told a few times to not worry about it. And none of you have actually done anything more technically difficult than put things on shelves."
  2030. >Given their pay rates, it's not like they're actually making out like bandits
  2031. >And to put it politely, they have next to zero marketable skills that would help with a job
  2032. "And I don't honestly know how long that's gonna last. It could last for a few years, it could last until... shit, next month. And then we'll be running on borrowed time until I find something again."
  2033. >You pause
  2034. >Inhale
  2035. "I had a point with this, I swear."
  2036. >"Yeah, you have that weird look in your eye. I believe you."
  2037. "Bah. Either way. Where we are right now? It's pretty good. So what's your deal?"
  2038. >Your half-assed attempt bears some fruit
  2039. >Or maybe she's just looking for an excuse
  2040. >"Anonymous, I hate working."
  2041. "Well I could have told you that."
  2042. >"I don't like being around strangers."
  2043. "Yeah, that tracks too."
  2044. >She stops
  2045. >Her eyes dart to the corner, as if she were expecting Jacky to come back out
  2046. >From what you can hear, she's being a proper pain to a particular gaming mare
  2047. >"...What's the point of this? What are we building up money for?"
  2048. "Building up money?"
  2049. >"Yes. It's apparent you can support us on your own, without us helping. And it's obvious what we're adding isn't enough to change the way we live."
  2050. "It's not obvious to me."
  2051. >"And there's no way we'll be able to hide enough money to do something like... buy a house. Or get a second car."
  2052. "A second car?"
  2053. >"For Sparking. She talks about how she can drive."
  2054. "Dude, I ain't letting her drive. She's liable to crash not just that, but every vehicle along the way."
  2055. >Trying to keep a stoic face, she does her best to indirectly stare
  2056. >"...You need to tell her that, then. She's been talking about it a lot."
  2057.  
  2058. "...ah... crap. Well, guess I gotta pop that balloon sooner or later."
  2059. >As lightly as you're taking the topic, she has... a few good points
  2060. >Even if they do seem negative
  2061. "I guess we're just building up money for whatever we want. If we want to eat fancier and better, we can. If you want anything, you can save up and afford it. Or we'll chip in and constantly poke you about how you owe us. I don't think it matter too much."
  2062. >"Exactly, Anon. It doesn't matter."
  2063. "Well alright then, tell me what you want."
  2064. >"I want to be left alone."
  2065. >The force in her voice and the emphasis on that particular word...
  2066. "Is it because of the other humans?"
  2067. >"No. they're strangers. They're not friends. I don't want more people in my life, I barely even count you as a friend."
  2068. >The "you" is tainted with just enough vitriol to be a purposeful insult
  2069. >Only after a second does she retreat and shrink away
  2070. >"...I don't mean it like that."
  2071. "...you actually count me as a friend?"
  2072. >"What?"
  2073. "Don't you "what" me, buddy. We're making friendship bracelets whether or not they color coordinate and you can't stop me."
  2074. >The difficult expression you forced her into is proof that while she's seen how goofy you are, she still isn't used to dealing with you directly
  2075. >To be honest though?
  2076. >It does actually suck that you're only "barely" counted as a friend to her
  2077. >The way everything has fit together, you've been fine with considering them all...
  2078. >Family?
  2079. >It certainly feels that way with the other two, for all of the faults-of which there are many-and good times
  2080. >Maybe it's just wishful thinking that you could be at least more amicable with her after having been around each other for so much
  2081. >"...you're joking but I mean it. Just... let me continue to exist. At least for a little while longer. I'm ok with being around you. I'm ok with being around Sparking. I like being around Jacky, still."
  2082. >She's just a bundle of love and feathers
  2083. >"But I don't want to get to know others. I don't want to "play" with them. I don't want to "help" them more than I absolutely have to."
  2084. "So why do you drag yourself to the car every morning with us? We're all having our own ups and downs when it comes to adjusting but you're gloomy enough to bring down a birthday party and wedding anniversary happening at the same time."
  2085. >She looks almost insulted by the question
  2086. >Keyword being "almost"
  2087. >"Because you would all be disappointed in me otherwise."
  2088. >That...
  2089. >Puts a bit of a stop to your shenanigans
  2090. "Faye, if you're worried about failing, or the worry of being a failure... everyone fails. I don't want to plant the idea in your head but it might be good to quit while you're ahead. Before they-and I-get more comfy with being able to rely on you."
  2091. >"...I don't think you're supposed to be that blunt."
  2092. >It's an attempt at humor
  2093. >The bitter smile tells you so
  2094. "If it's about work, I hope I dash your hopes and dreams as soon as I can before you screw us up."
  2095. >You don't say that with a smile
  2096. >But you do make yourself smile just a little at the end
  2097. "Remember what I told you when we first started? I don't mind if you admit that you can't handle working right now. To be honest, I'd be surprised if you even remember me saying that."
  2098. >"I do."
  2099. >The borderline whisper of her voice is maybe the perfect sign that you should let off
  2100. >But...
  2101. >You can't
  2102. >Something isn't letting you just back off
  2103. >That sound of defeat might not yet be genuine
  2104. "Jacky's doing well. Spark's doing good. Even I'm somehow managing to make myself useful. If you drag this out and don't quit, it may look bad on them. On us."
  2105. >That's right
  2106. >This isn't about her
  2107. >It's about everyone
  2108.  
  2109. >"I..."
  2110. "You may have been the mastermind before, but you're gonna have to stop being that high horse and..."
  2111. >Do you say it?
  2112. "Get over yourself."
  2113. >You do
  2114. >Maybe part of this is venting because you're only barely considered a friend
  2115. >Probably petty, on your part
  2116. >But you let it out all the same
  2117. >Maybe it seeps into your tone
  2118. >It feels almost liberating to say
  2119. >It feels like you could stand to repeat yourself at least twice more but you would disgust yourself to be so cruel
  2120. >You've felt tense for over five minutes now
  2121. >At least two more episodes have come and gone by now, not that either of you have paid attention
  2122. >A part of you wants to pounce on her the second she speaks up
  2123. >To just slap down any self-righteous indignation that she always seems to default to
  2124. >To mention, with some form of borderline glee, that it's almost always one step forward and one immediate jump backward with her
  2125. >But she doesn't say anything
  2126. >She sticks with a practiced stone faced expression
  2127. >But the weakness in her eyes and the repeated clenching of her jaw shows how much she's proverbially chewing on
  2128. >The twitch of her lips are failed attempts to speak up
  2129. >Maybe the tension is enough to form a genuine wall between her voice and her mouth
  2130. >"...have you told Jacky about any of this?"
  2131. "No. Sister talk is between sisters. And this is... definitely a sister matter."
  2132. >You sigh with the "definitely"
  2133. >It's almost enough to lower the tension completely
  2134. >It's a pleasant enough sigh that her lips curl into a quick, albeit faint, smile
  2135. >"...so what do you recommend?"
  2136. >Her voice isn't cracking but it's strained
  2137. >Why is that poise so important to her?
  2138. "Depends, you asking me as an almost-friend?"
  2139. >"I'm asking you as my sister's... whatever you are to her."
  2140. "I don't know, man. You make me glad that the other two are either goofy or a complete nerd because this girly girl shit of yours drives me batty and I can't make heads or tails of what your shtick is supposed to be."
  2141. >With that, any serious intent you have with the conversation is just dead
  2142. "Talk to her about it. And I mean it, seriously. She's starting to bug me because she keeps hinting at those harmony quests but she refuses to tell me what's up with those."
  2143. >"She's still going on about that?"
  2144. "Yes, and while I don't mind it, I'm getting bothered by what else she's scheming. I can only make so many lifestyle changes on a whim."
  2145. >You certainly haven't lose any feelings for her
  2146. >Not at all
  2147. >But even she can be a pain
  2148. >Sometimes
  2149. "So... I don't know. It's getting late and I apparently have an obligation to follow through with and it's going to make me even more tired."
  2150. >For once in the last... how long, you look at the current episode playing
  2151. "...wait, is this the one where the guy fakes his brother being all but braindead?"
  2152. >"...oh. I think it is. I like this one."
  2153. "...alright, Jack can wait just a little while longer."
  2154. >Surely amused by your presumed simpleton human ways, she actually laughs
  2155. >It's dry
  2156. >And quiet
  2157. >And probably not even a real laugh
  2158. >"In that case, I can at least be so useful and reset the episode."
  2159. "See? I knew you weren't useless."
  2160. >Maybe things will get better with her
  2161. >Give or take another few years of wallowing
  2162.  
  2163.  
  2164. >Another pay period
  2165. >Another check
  2166. >And another weekend
  2167. >Maybe it's just you but the girls seem more...
  2168. >Is "lazy" the right term?
  2169. >No, of course it isn't
  2170. >They're more productive now than ever
  2171. >But working also really has had an effect on them
  2172. >Rather than goofing around more, they seem content on simply laying around
  2173. >It's a subtle change
  2174. >"Come on, Anon, I'm payin' you good money for this!"
  2175. "It's five bucks an hour, Jack."
  2176. >"Exactly! Do you know how hard I've been working for that five bucks?"
  2177. >As a half-joke, you've offered extended petting and massages for pay because there have been complaints of being tired or sore
  2178. >You don't actually charge them but you say you do
  2179. >"You're probably getting a discount, be more thankful."
  2180. >Shiner is laying near you, focusing on her game of the week
  2181. >Jackenstein is splayed out across your lap
  2182. >"I'll discount you."
  2183. "Oh, burn."
  2184. >"I'll burn you."
  2185. "Oh, discount."
  2186. >Red pony is jealous, you can tell
  2187. >While she requests it, Jacky acts like it's a matter of life or death
  2188. >Because of that-or because you're a first come first serve sort of guy-she tends to get the first round of amateur pretzel bending
  2189. "So... how's it been going with you two? I've heard surprisingly few complaints about things."
  2190. >Prism has gotten you to be a little more sensitive to their working mare woes
  2191. >Not that you've talked to her all that much
  2192. >"I like it. It's just tiring... I never had to do so much so consistently."
  2193. "That right, huh? I guess you have gone from a goon to a homebody to a productive society pony."
  2194. >"A goon?"
  2195. >"He's calling you dumb muscle."
  2196. >Shine's flat delivery is as welcome as ever
  2197. >"You wanna see muscle? Check this ou--aawh ouch... ok, no that just tweaked it..."
  2198. >Jacky flexes her leg, just for you to feel her hind quarters spasm
  2199. >Even after she relaxes, you can feel a part of her leg twitching
  2200. "You good, Lee-mon?"
  2201. >"Y... yeah... no. Nope. I can't move that leg. Need extra tenderizing, stat."
  2202. "You got it."
  2203. >You methodically chop and knead at the dumb muscle's flank, watching the gameplay
  2204. >"Once you're done with her, I need massaging too."
  2205. "Is that right?"
  2206. >"Sure. Using magic deletes my internal MP meter. That means I get sore easy too."
  2207. "That doesn't sound like that's how that actually works."
  2208. >"Maybe but you can't prove that it doesn't."
  2209. >You watch a creeping smile grow on her face
  2210. >"Anon told me that for you, it's twice the rate."
  2211. >Madjack gives you a wink, thinking that might cause a reaction
  2212. >"That's fine. If I pay twice as much, that means it's going to feel twice as good. Isn't that right Anon?"
  2213. "Technically you are correct, yes. I wouldn't half-ass anything."
  2214. >Jack puffs out her cheeks and gives you a death squint
  2215. >"So if I pay you twice as much, you're gonna do it twice as good?"
  2216. "Presumably."
  2217. >"I can't believe that you're skimping out on me..."
  2218. "Who said I was?"
  2219. >"Because you could be doing it twice as good right now!"
  2220. >As stimulating at this conversation it, it is something of a comfortable norm
  2221. >They all talk about money now, which is a good and bad thing
  2222. >Good because it can be interpreted as them learning to be financially responsible
  2223. >Bad because it now means that you're getting bribed for things you really don't need money to do
  2224. >To play along, you have been "charging" them
  2225. >You even show them receipts
  2226. >But it really is just you moving money back and forth without them actually losing anything
  2227. "You know that I've done this sort of stuff for a while now without ever bringing up pay."
  2228. >"I know. But it helps you to help me now."
  2229. "What, I wasn't helping myself by massaging cute dorks?"
  2230. >Both Jack and Shine react positively to that comment with their own smiles
  2231. "...don't take that out of context now."
  2232. >"No, we both know the right context. Isn't that right Jacky?"
  2233. >"Heheh... yeah. I'm the cute and you're the dork."
  2234. "You're both the dorks and I'm the cute, deal with it."
  2235.  
  2236. >After a time, you roll Jacky off of you
  2237. >Like a fainting goat, she remains stiff throughout the entire action
  2238. >Once you reposition her to lay at your side, she visibly melts and molds into place
  2239. "Alright, Magic Mare, you're up."
  2240. >The game's pause screen pops up
  2241. >"...wait, seriously?"
  2242. "Yup, come on."
  2243. >With a giddy giggle that sounds just plain goofy, Shiner circles around to your unoccupied side and unceremoniously falls onto her side, into your lap
  2244. >"This is awesome."
  2245. "Not that awesome. I'm guessing MP is stored in the horn, so it's more just going to be shoulder and mane massage."
  2246. >"You think that's where it's stored."
  2247. "Unless you can show me your horn is, in fact, in your ass I am going to keep to the shoulder and head."
  2248. >As subdued as Jacky is, she still manages an entertained snort
  2249. >"Hey, I'm a magical talking pony. My MP could be stored anywhere. It could even be charged by affection, it sounds like that is possible when you look at the old show."
  2250. "Nah, I remember a lot of things. And I remember you using magic out of spite more than a handful of times."
  2251. >As you argue, you start on her shoulders
  2252. >It's a mix of a pet, and an attempt to grip and squeeze
  2253. >Her coat is just a hair more appealing to feel, but it's due to the hair length difference
  2254. >The texture is also different but you can't quite articulate it
  2255. >"No, spite also works. But not as well. Remember the ice?"
  2256. >"I remember you going insane when we had to do that button thing."
  2257. "I remember that too. You did sound like you were having too much fun."
  2258. >You administer your first therapeutic karate chop to the unicorn
  2259. >Right between the shoulder blades
  2260. >The action causes quite the...
  2261. >Interesting sound
  2262. >The magical aura surrounding her controller blinks out a few times, like a flashlight that's running on dead batteries
  2263. "You good?"
  2264. >"Hm?"
  2265. "I said, you dead yet?"
  2266. >"Oh. Yeah. Yup. Just like a phone being plugged in."
  2267. "Riiiight..."
  2268. >You continue to knead at her without any real aim
  2269. >Given how late it is, you half expect her to fall asleep on your lap
  2270. >Jackonaut seems to have dozed off already
  2271. >Or if she's still awake, she's resting her eyes pretty hardcore
  2272. >She's entered that state where her breathing has deepened
  2273. >Maybe that massage really did work
  2274. >"You know... if you actually do need it, you can take more of my pay."
  2275. "I'll be fine."
  2276. >"Well... yeah. Obviously, you've handled everything else without ever whining about it."
  2277. >Shiner kicks out her legs and nuzzles your knee
  2278. >She seems comfortable now
  2279. >Which means you'll be sleeping sitting up again
  2280. >Probably
  2281. >"But... you know. You don't have to do that alone."
  2282. "I know. And thanks to Jack's scheming, we're all pitching in. It's easier now than ever, especially since I can start to rebuild some semblance of savings."
  2283. >"Think I should start saving up?"
  2284. "Sure. It never hurts to have a rainy day fund. Or to save up for something big, like that VR headset."
  2285. >"We were already planning on buying that. And that really wasn't that expensive."
  2286. "Then you can save up for other stuff. Or just hold onto it just in case."
  2287. >The massaging has gone from her shoulders and upper legs to her neck
  2288. >You've never thought about it before but you're surprised so much of the pony body is pure neck
  2289. >It almost feels like you could stretch it out until she looks like a giraffe
  2290. >"Easy there."
  2291. "Eh?"
  2292. >"Too hard."
  2293. "Oh. Sorry."
  2294. Going from the back of her neck to the sides is apparently not somewhere you can attack so casually
  2295. >Jacky didn't seem to have an issue with it
  2296. >But there could be many reasons for that
  2297. >"We gotta go to work tomorrow too, don't we."
  2298. "It is going to be a Monday, sure."
  2299. >"How are you liking that place?"
  2300. "Me?"
  2301. >"Yeah. You don't look like you fit in that well."
  2302. "Why's that?"
  2303. >"You just look too focused."
  2304.  
  2305. "Well I do focus on you lot. I can't not."
  2306. >"Why, think we'll screw up?"
  2307. >A purr escapes her throat
  2308. >Apparently the side neck rubbing is a good thing
  2309. >Quite an odd noise for a pony to make though
  2310. "No, not really. I just don't trust other people I suppose. Safety is my key priority. And it'll probably take a while before I can let you three run amok without being paranoid."
  2311. >"You allowed that when we went to the fantasy knight place."
  2312. "That ren faire?"
  2313. >"Sure."
  2314. "Yeah but that was different."
  2315. >"How was it different, Anon?"
  2316. "That place is full of nerds and larpers that are often as drunk as they are smelly from essential oils and incense sticks. They could see a talking pony and wouldn't think twice."
  2317. >"Pft."
  2318. >Sparkler bends her neck back, letting you scratch and pet the front of her throat
  2319. >"So nice to hear that you care about us."
  2320. >At least she didn't specify "me"
  2321. "You think I don't?"
  2322. >"I know you do."
  2323. >The conversation stops there
  2324. >You gradually go up from her neck to her ears and her temples
  2325. >The weekend went by so quickly
  2326. >They all do, but since they started working with you, it feels like time has been flying by
  2327. >Is this maybe a sign of something greater?
  2328. >When every day used to be something new or eventful, things have entered a routine lull
  2329. >It isn't boring
  2330. >It is just a new baseline
  2331. >A new standard of life
  2332. "Hey, Sparkplug."
  2333. >"Mmm?"
  2334. >Going off of how her character is just running in circles and battles are being mashed through, it isn't surprising to see that her eyes are closed
  2335. "Can you do me a favor?"
  2336. >"I'm pretty sure I can do you a lot of things if you focus behind the ears."
  2337. "Noted. Can you kinda... I guess keep an eye on Prism? We have that clothing coming in but she just doesn't seem like she's taking this stuff well."
  2338. >Her first answer is a deep exhale
  2339. >"Are you really surprised she's shellshocked because she can't just lie and scheme her way through things?"
  2340. "I'm not surprised she has to deal with routine and the boring safety that comes with gainful employment."
  2341. >Another deep exhale
  2342. >"You've already asked Jacky to do this?"
  2343. "She's doing what she can, independent of me."
  2344. >"And you think I can really change her mind?"
  2345. "I think you can try to be there for her. It's all any of us can do. I don't like that she's just stuck in purgatory. If it's some complex or something else, we can at least make it easier to deal with."
  2346. >"You owe me a better massage if I do."
  2347. "I'll owe you a lot if you can make a difference."
  2348. >"Me too."
  2349. >Though a mumble, Jacky's comment causes Shine to flinch
  2350. >"...I thought you were sleeping."
  2351. >"Mmm... I am. Just remember that I got ears on the back of my head."
  2352. >You furrow your brow and watch the mare
  2353. "...do you mean eyes?"
  2354. >"No. My eyes are closed, silly."
  2355. "...Right... silly me."
  2356. >Yet another long exhale
  2357. >This time one you initiate
  2358. "Find a save spot, eh? Let's put something nice on to sleep to."
  2359. >"You got it."
  2360. >Tomorrow is yet another Monday
  2361. >Not much is going to change
  2362. >Not much is going to happen that hasn't happened before
  2363. >But it will mean that you're one step closer
  2364. >You can't say where you're going
  2365. >But you're getting closer to it
  2366. >They are too
  2367. >How many can say the same?
  2368.  
  2369.  
  2370. >For a Monday, it feels pretty pleasant
  2371. >Maybe it's because there's another payday coming up
  2372. >Prism is out on the patio, with a pair of pillows
  2373. >Outside of heavy rain, she seems to just favor sleeping outside
  2374. >She's still wearing her skirt
  2375. >Between all three of them, you've spent too many hours at a clothing store
  2376. >Thankfully it was one of the local places that don't question you poking around the women's section with three talking ponies
  2377. >Last week they all wore clothing for the first time
  2378. >You haven't felt more proud
  2379. >And...
  2380. >Other things
  2381. >Shiner's in the living room, playing some sort of offline poker game
  2382. >Apparently she's an eager, but terrible player
  2383. >Jack is laying on her side with you
  2384. >Rather than a movie, it's a YouTube video
  2385. >...that is discussing a movie
  2386. >With pillows under your head, your right arm under her head and your left arm lingering around the hem of her skirt, you're pretty comfortable
  2387. >Jackenstein's skirts are either dark blue or bright green like her eyes
  2388. >They all got matching sizes, so they all cover everything that could be pointed out in a less than appropriate manner
  2389. >Shiner's are yellow or some funky lime
  2390. >To be honest, the lime is growing on you
  2391. >Prism's are black or white
  2392. >"You've been fiddling with that thing for like an hour now. We ain't at work, you can pop it off if you want."
  2393. "Hm?"
  2394. >Your hand stops
  2395. >For a few seconds
  2396. >Your index and middle finger slide under the waist and tug on it
  2397. >It certainly fits well
  2398. "Nah. I kinda like it, actually. It feels nice. You look pretty good in it."
  2399. >"Heh, glad you like it. I knew I was onto something. Sparky talking about wearing shirts and all that... that doesn't really cover much, does it?"
  2400. "Not the important bits, no. I think she just liked wearing that shirt."
  2401. >"...yeah, is it obvious that I don't like buttons because of that?"
  2402. >You don't want to say anything
  2403. >But that particular shirt mysteriously lost all of the buttons on it
  2404. >Good thing it was just a backup that never saw use
  2405. "Tiny bit...?"
  2406. >This video is six hours long and you're only an hour in
  2407. >You refuse to feel any guilt for not paying attention at all to it
  2408. >"This movie looks kinda lame... wanna watch it some time?"
  2409. "Nah. Well, I guess I wouldn't mind watching it with you. But it's one of those goofy things that require you to watch at least five movies prior to even catch up on what's going on."
  2410. >"That's a thing?"
  2411. "Sadly yes."
  2412. >"It gives us an excuse to be locked in a room without interlopers."
  2413. "..."
  2414. >She nuzzles your arm with the side of her face
  2415. >Your arm is numb but you recognize the vague sensation
  2416. "Wanna watch at least five movies full of too many quips, special effects and CG?"
  2417. >"Yes but I'm gonna make fun of them."
  2418. "What a coincidence, I was too."
  2419. >For some reason, Shiner's words come to mind
  2420. >A few days ago you and her had a little verbal sparring
  2421. >Jacky was making fun of her for being a sore loser
  2422. >While she isn't one for video games, she kicks all kinds of ass when it comes to D&D PVP
  2423.  
  2424. >Custom made characters
  2425. >One arena
  2426. >Prices and clout with actual rewards
  2427. >Needless to say it is a pony pleasure
  2428. >Speaking of, this skirt is...
  2429. >Focus, Anon!
  2430. "G-gah... alright, hold on."
  2431. >With a bit of a rough grip, you undo the skirt buckle after enough yanks
  2432. >Jacky gives you a sultry chuckle that sounds all too natural
  2433. "Alright, better."
  2434. >With the skirt undone, your hand rests on her side
  2435. >"Feels a ton better."
  2436. >With that out of the way, you feel more liberated than the mare actually wearing the article
  2437. "I gotta say, you need to be careful when it comes to wearing this. At work, I can stay distracted but otherwise it's..."
  2438. >"Reminding you of the time I spent with absolutely no covering?"
  2439. "...maybe."
  2440. >Focus Anon
  2441. >"Hey Anon?"
  2442. "Yup."
  2443. >"You're doing that thing."
  2444. >Oh crap
  2445. >She doesn't mind that, does she?
  2446. >You aren't even rocking against her that hard
  2447. "...what thing?"
  2448. >"What's on your mind?"
  2449. >That gets you to...
  2450. >Well, you don't stop
  2451. >But you do calm down
  2452. "Something's on my mind?"
  2453. >"Yeah."
  2454. "Well..."
  2455. >You trail off
  2456. >"Focus, man!"
  2457. "G-gah."
  2458. >If even she's telling you that you're losing track, that can't be good
  2459. "Sorry. I'm not really thinking too hard on anything-"
  2460. >"I'll say."
  2461. "Jacky."
  2462. >"Mmm?"
  2463. >As flustered or otherwise distracted as you are, you can tell that she has a big smile
  2464. "Look for something to go with the skirt. Friday let's go out."
  2465. >"Dinner date?"
  2466. "Yeah. Fancy dinner date. Something where we can go out and show everyone how well off we're getting to be."
  2467. >Another chuckle
  2468. >Deciding to ignore the video as well, she works to roll over to face you
  2469. >You grab one of her front legs and help her rotate
  2470. >Now face to face, you can see just how brightly she's beaming
  2471. >"What's the occasion?"
  2472. "Do I need one to see you dress up even more? I'll be honest, I'm pretty sure you wearing stuff does something for me."
  2473. >"Good thing I could tell that at least three hours ago."
  2474. >She yawns
  2475. >A loud, distinctly... silly sounding yawn
  2476. >Certainly nothing a usual classy lady would do
  2477. >Somehow that doesn't dispel whatever effect she has you under
  2478. >"So how fancy are we talking? Do you have to extend your pinkie when you drink?"
  2479. "Maybe not that severe. But yes, this includes manners and overpriced alcohol that is stronger than a beer but weaker than our usual bottles."
  2480. >"Overpriced, huh..."
  2481. >She sticks her tongue out at you
  2482. >"Occupe-toi de ma faim."
  2483. >The downright uncanny shift in her voice is difficult to get a read on
  2484. >She sounds tired
  2485. >Or comfy
  2486. >Or maybe it's something a bit subtle
  2487. "...say that again, but this time with a heavier tone."
  2488. >She sighs and rolls her eyes
  2489. >"You know, I used to worry that you were too smart for me."
  2490. >As much as a tease as it is, you can only nod
  2491. "I was too smart for you, if you genuinely thought something silly like that."
  2492. >"Glad I know better."
  2493. >Jacky shifts and flops in place
  2494. >"Just so we're clear... I actually did say something there. It wasn't just noises to get you excited."
  2495. "Oh, I know."
  2496. >"You do?"
  2497. "Yeah. But even listening to those lesson videos are exhausting."
  2498. >Between fatigue and pre-existing thoughts, your eyes finally start to wander from her face downward
  2499. >Rather than sigh, she laughs
  2500. >"Be honest, how much if this is from the skirt?"
  2501. "Like seventy percent."
  2502. >"Oh God... for the record, if Sparky ever learns of this, you come to me. Period. Got it?"
  2503. "Yup."
  2504. >You promise that you are listening
  2505. >You just...
  2506. >Are too tired to focus right
  2507. >Yeah
  2508. >Let's go with that
  2509. >...
  2510. >Why did you have Shiner in mind again?
  2511. >It couldn't have been that important if you were distracted so easily
  2512.  
  2513.  
  2514. >"Dress."
  2515. "Check."
  2516. >"Scarf."
  2517. "Check."
  2518. >"Skirt."
  2519. "Check."
  2520. >"Hoodie."
  2521. "Check."
  2522. >"Shorts."
  2523. "Check."
  2524. >"Hmmm..."
  2525. "Hmmm...?"
  2526. >"I think we're all set, cap'n."
  2527. "Ha. Alright. Aye-aye and all that."
  2528. >Your clothing is folded up and ready for work in the morning
  2529. >Jacky has her dress ready
  2530. >She wears clothing now
  2531. >For some reason your first instinct is to undress her
  2532. >Thankfully she's normal at home
  2533. >Starshine has decided to stick to a skirt and scarf
  2534. >You want to bring up how she should wear glasses to complete the look
  2535. >But you don't want to give her that sort of power over you
  2536. >Nevermind who knows how human glasses work on ponies
  2537. >Prism has chosen the hoodie and shorts look
  2538. >More accurate to say what used to be one of your hoodies and a pair of spats that allow her tail to be free
  2539. >How did you get to this point?
  2540. >Not only is everyone organized, but they're even dressing like responsible members of society
  2541. >"Penny for your thoughts?"
  2542. >Jacky beams at you
  2543. >Her dress is rather plain but she loves it
  2544. >Every new thing that makes her smile is a new high
  2545. "What the hell have we been doing, Jack?"
  2546. >"Making sure we're ready for tomorrow morning?"
  2547. "Yeah, but..."
  2548. >Rather than look down, you bend over to scoop her up
  2549. >She's in sync with your motions to the point she flops up onto her hind legs and onto her back
  2550. >Just in time that her plot meets your palm
  2551. >Perfect scooping action
  2552. >You rise and squeeze her into a tight hug
  2553. >"You have a full wardrobe. Shiner's busy with her computer. Prism..."
  2554. >She bought a new, fancy, expensive, surely worth it
  2555. >Bird feeder
  2556. >That and spats
  2557. "You ever think you'd be at this point?"
  2558. >"Which part? And hey, carry me to the fridge, I'm thirsty."
  2559. "Lemonade?"
  2560. >"The blueberry one."
  2561. "Roger."
  2562. >You re-hug her to keep your arms strong and step to the kitchen with a little bounce in your step
  2563. "This point. Owning a lot of things. Working. I mean, I see you do stuff and you're a natural. This is your first job too."
  2564. >"Heh, you're easy to impress."
  2565. "For the record, I'm not. But you really have taken to it. Alright, so..."
  2566. >You nudge the bottom of the fridge door with your foot and squat down
  2567. >Keeping a hand pressed against her belly, Jackenstein leans over and chomps down onto a refilled water bottle
  2568. >Rather than stick with the single large container, you just grab her stuff and reuse those cheap water bottles
  2569. >You stand up and watch her gnaw on the bottle lid
  2570. "You want some help o-oh. Alright, that works too."
  2571. >She squeezes the bottle with her front hooves and somehow has worked the lid off with her mouth
  2572. >There's a joke in here somewhere about how you're holding her and how she's nursing h-
  2573. >Nevermind
  2574. >She just drank it all
  2575. "You good?"
  2576. >"Mm. Yeah. Thanks."
  2577. >She spits the bent up plastic cap into the sink
  2578. "Nice."
  2579. >She chucks the bottle into the sink too for good measure
  2580. "You know those bottles don't grow on trees."
  2581. >"But we get like a hundred of them for a few bucks."
  2582. "Point."
  2583. >Your dorks do go through a lot of water throughout the day
  2584. >You never put any thought into it but they do move around a lot
  2585. >You haven't dared ask them about the logistics of how well they use the toilets
  2586. >Just like you don't ask how they style their manes without magic
  2587. "Hey, wing pony! Come take your sister."
  2588. >"You know where I am, Anon."
  2589. "Oooof course."
  2590. >She's on the patio
  2591. >Maybe it was a lie to say she only got a bird feeder
  2592. >As you approach the patio with mare in hand, the overly ornate stone bird bath comes into view
  2593. >Along with a pair of bird seed blocks held up on a wire frame plate
  2594. >You refuse to ask if she's ever taken a bite out of those blocks for herself
  2595.  
  2596. "You know it's getting colder outside, right?"
  2597. >"I know."
  2598. "You gonna stay out here when it starts to snow too?"
  2599. >"Probably not."
  2600. >"We're thinking of getting one of those waterproof heated blankets and building a kind of igloo on the patio."
  2601. >"...no we're not."
  2602. >"Yeah we totally are."
  2603. >Almost as is customary, she would rather look out into the tree line than you
  2604. >You squat and set Jack down
  2605. "An igloo, huh?"
  2606. >She raises an eyebrow and hops outside
  2607. >"You betcha! We might not be able to stop it from snowing on it but you know how it gets super high up? We were thinking of making a big wall of stuff and make it so we won't even feel the wind."
  2608. "Nice. D-bag, you're up for music selection tomorrow. Want me to pre-load anything?"
  2609. >"Papa Roach."
  2610. >"Who?"
  2611. "Ew. You're kidding."
  2612. >"I am. Just go back to what I had last time."
  2613. "Alright... well, doesn't bug me. Gonna grab a snack and turn in for the night. Either you want anything?"
  2614. >"Dashie wants a hug!"
  2615. >"I want a what?"
  2616. "You got it."
  2617. >You join them on the patio and sit down between the ponies
  2618. >Rather than simply grab her, you sit there
  2619. >The calm before the storm
  2620. "You know you can't escape it."
  2621. >"...Jacky?"
  2622. >"Yeah?"
  2623. >"You're gonna get it."
  2624. >You lurch over and yank her over
  2625. >She tries her best to maintain her footing but ends up stumbling onto your lap
  2626. >She ends up half-laying on your lap, legs curling up into themselves
  2627. >"...this really isn't appropriate."
  2628. "Sure it is, I'm wearing shorts."
  2629. >"For now."
  2630. "Yeah, for now."
  2631. >That doesn't seem to work for her as an answer
  2632. >But when Jackonovonovich adds fuel to the fire?
  2633. >Works for you
  2634. >"That does not make me feel any better."
  2635. "So what would make you feel better?"
  2636. >"...compliment me."
  2637. "Yeah?"
  2638. >No reply
  2639. >Even Jack knows better to interrupt when she finally plays along
  2640. "I'm proud of you, P-wing."
  2641. >"Why?"
  2642. "Because you're doing better at being social. The kids don't seem to bother you as much. You aren't always the first out the door, which means you're getting less spooked. And you haven't missed a day."
  2643. >Her ears flicker and twitch to listen to you
  2644. >Jack's ears do the same
  2645. >You don't bother joking
  2646. >With her, you really can't go that far
  2647. "You've also spent the least amount of money. Shows that you're still preparing. Still expecting something to go sideways."
  2648. >"That's something worth praising?"
  2649. "It shows that you just know how to be more... responsible. It's a good trait to have."
  2650. >"Thank you."
  2651. "Sure."
  2652. >The moment is almost kinda nice
  2653. >"...Got anything else?"
  2654. >Jacky snickers
  2655. >And the moment is gone
  2656. "You're not kidding, are you."
  2657. >"Out with the words, manimal."
  2658. "Excuse you but I'm a planimal."
  2659. >"Planimal?"
  2660. >Jacky seems out of the loop
  2661. "She convinced me to eat some vegetables. And because you are what you eat, I'm not longer an animal or a plant."
  2662. >"Definitely planimal."
  2663. >"Oh... I see."
  2664. >You don't think she sees at all
  2665. "Jacky gets a lot of her cutes from you. You're actually a bit smarter than Shiner, and believe it or not? I think if I left you in charge, everything would go fine and not at all tits up."
  2666. >Nothing
  2667. >Jacky turns her head to gawk at you rather than the trees
  2668. >"Thanks Anon. It feels good to know that."
  2669. "But my recommendation is that you continue to lead from the back lines. Leave the heavy lifting to the magic mare."
  2670. >"Gladly."
  2671. >This sort of ego stroking really isn't your bag
  2672. "...this is getting a bit awkward for me. Mind if I give you that hug and then call it a night?"
  2673. >A victorious giggle
  2674. >"Of course."
  2675. >You lean forward and give her a double-armed bear hug
  2676. >You sigh and maintain the hug
  2677. >After a few seconds...
  2678. >She doesn't really fight it
  2679. >You don't either
  2680. "I mean it, though. Thanks for sticking through this for us."
  2681. >You can feel her head lean against your arm
  2682. >This
  2683. >This is nice
  2684.  
  2685. >You let go and feel her head move with your arm until it's completely free
  2686. >"You guys look like you had a moment."
  2687. >Prism rolls off of your lap and onto her hooves
  2688. >She seems content enough that she melts into a cat loaf
  2689. "Have a good night, girls."
  2690. >You get up to a pair of voices giving their own variation of "good night"
  2691. >She's really not so bad
  2692. >Last, but far from least, you have Shiner to check up on
  2693. >You can hear her muttering to herself
  2694. >That is usually a good sign
  2695. >Believe it or not, you've found her doing that more
  2696. >Maybe it's just a way for her to help keep her thoughts clear
  2697. >You drop like a rock onto the bed
  2698. >She shrieks and bounces off of the floor
  2699. >Your face is full of pillow but it the noise is all you need to be content in life
  2700. >"Dammit Anon! I could have broken the computer!"
  2701. "Nah, it's fine."
  2702. >"It's..."
  2703. >She sounds like she's rearing up for something
  2704. >"NOT fine!"
  2705. >Though she's almost tied to being the smallest of the trio, you still certainly feel her when she jumps onto your back
  2706. >Rather than continue to mess with her, you remain laying
  2707. >She starts to knead her hooves into your back
  2708. >You're sure she started to do that as a way to bother you but it seems like she enjoys it
  2709. >"You think I'm going to go easy on you? Think again!"
  2710. >She's been kinda fired up for some reason
  2711. >"You always mess with me and get in the way of my challenge runs! And y-you distract me, too!"
  2712. >Now it just feels like she's stomping on your back
  2713. >But she's kind of a weakling so it's ok
  2714. >You lift your head up
  2715. "...huh? You're doing a challenge run?"
  2716. >You haven't been paying attention
  2717. >She sits down as hard as she can, pushing her flank down into your spine as hard as she can
  2718. >Which feels rather nice
  2719. >Maybe you should see about getting them to learn some chiropractor skills
  2720. >"...yeah. Don't you remember? Lord Ochu?"
  2721. "I... remember playing a game while you were also playing one. Was it the one where you were using only two characters?"
  2722. >To be honest, she's tried-and given up-on so many overly painful challenges that you've only started encouraging her if she goes past a certain point
  2723. >"...really?"
  2724. "Yeah. Really."
  2725. >"Oh."
  2726. >"Oh" is all she has to say?
  2727. >She just sits there
  2728. >"...I guess it was a dream then."
  2729. "What was?"
  2730. >"That we..."
  2731. >She gives a harsh snort
  2732. >"Agreed to not play Virtua Fighter anymore because you kept losing and got bitter."
  2733. "Hey, VF isn't my strongest game! You can't hold that against me."
  2734. >You try not to, but you do get defensive over such an exposed weakness
  2735. "You know I'm a DoA guy."
  2736. >"Yeah, I know you're dead-on-arrival."
  2737. "Wrong Dee-oh-ayy variation."
  2738. >"Shut up, loser."
  2739. "Whatever dude. How's your new computer going, anyway?"
  2740. >You ignore her little tantrum and look at her desktop
  2741. >Fancy
  2742. >Full of RGB lights
  2743. >And has a full paragraph written on the glass with a permanent marker
  2744. "Did you sign your name on that or are you making a book?"
  2745. >A hoof thrusts into the back of your skull and makes you eat pillow
  2746. >"Neither, it's instructions."
  2747. >The muffled noise you make was supposed to be understood as "you need instructions to turn on a computer?"
  2748.  
  2749. >The angry pony kneading and stomping lasts until you're nearly asleep
  2750. >It feels nice
  2751. >It's technically hostile action
  2752. >But it just doesn't bother you
  2753. >And it at least it tuckers her out
  2754. >By the time she's done dancing on you, she flops down
  2755. >She's your blanket for the night, presumably
  2756. >"You suck."
  2757. "Thanks."
  2758. >"I mean it."
  2759. "I mean it too."
  2760. >"No, not that."
  2761. "Oh... well, you're welcome anyway."
  2762. >Another grumble
  2763. >"I had a weird dream and it felt real."
  2764. "...oh."
  2765. >Given who's telling you about the dream, you are not going to ask
  2766. >"You suck."
  2767. >She repeats her catchphrase for what has to be the... sixth time?
  2768. "I know."
  2769. >"You're lucky I don't drag you into my dreams like I let you do with Jacky."
  2770. "Sounds like a real threat."
  2771. >"You better believe it."
  2772. >She sounds more tired
  2773. >Obviously spent
  2774. "I'm not much of a dreamy sort but how about you chill for the night and get some rest? I'll even keep an arm available for you."
  2775. >You try to lift your right arm
  2776. "Jack'll be back later so don't get too comfy."
  2777. >"Hmph."
  2778. >She slithers off of your back and immediately makes her spot under your arm
  2779. >A solid cover of warmth envelops it
  2780. >Must be her magic
  2781. >She makes you squeeze your arm tight around her
  2782. >A lot tighter, like you're trying to crack a rib
  2783. >You're glad that your face is still mostly full of pillow
  2784. "You're a weird one."
  2785. >"I know. I'm just going through some stuff."
  2786. "I'll do what I can to help."
  2787. >"You better."
  2788. >That frustrated tone
  2789. >You aren't the brightest bulb in the box but these femoids have a very select variety when it comes to actual issues
  2790. >"I'm going to hold you to it. And nothing's gonna stop me."
  2791. "Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere."
  2792. >"Thanks... but don't skimp out on me."
  2793. "Wouldn't..."
  2794. >You yawn
  2795. "Dream of it."
  2796. >"Don't worry... I'll dream it for you."
  2797. "Just don't abandon reality. As soon as you win three matches in a row, you know you're dreaming."
  2798. >"Screw you."
  2799. >At least she's mad about dreams and other stuff
  2800. >It means that all's right in her world
  2801. >No stress
  2802. >No pain
  2803. >She's exactly in her zone
  2804. >All of them are
  2805. >This is what a real home feels like
  2806. >Who cares if you're still in the little apartment you never felt attached to?
  2807. >The magic veil hasn't left your arm, you've noticed
  2808. "No funny business with the arm."
  2809. >"If you're sleeping it doesn't count."
  2810. >Oh God
  2811. >She's a little too much at times
  2812. "Just remember that Prism gets music tomorrow."
  2813. >"If I let go of your arm, you let me choose music instead."
  2814. >"No deal."
  2815. >"Then you aren't getting this arm back."
  2816. >Whatever, man
  2817. >You're tired
  2818. >She can do whatever, as long as it doesn't end up broken and in pretzel form
  2819. >You just hope you won't sleep-clean the inside of her tower
  2820.  
  2821.  
  2822. >Finally, the best part of the work day
  2823. >Lunch
  2824. >Shiner and Prism already skedaddled to the car
  2825. >You bought one of those cheapo DVD players that have their own screen
  2826. >Between that and handheld games they are in no rush to leave
  2827. >Jacky has taken up residence under your desk for a mid-day nap
  2828. >It is a little odd but given how big the desks are, it would take another library employee to see her
  2829. >Or a particularly curious visitor
  2830. >"Hey, are you Mr. Jacky?"
  2831. >Eh?
  2832. "Eh?"
  2833. >That sounded like a kid
  2834. >You peek over the desk
  2835. >It is a kid
  2836. >You have no clue how to age the little mooks
  2837. >Not a highschooler yet
  2838. "What's up?"
  2839. >"I said, are you Mr. Jacky?"
  2840. >Mr. Jacky?
  2841. "Excsqueeze me?"
  2842. >"Huh?"
  2843. "Baking powder?"
  2844. >Your only answer is confusion
  2845. >Damn kids don't understand
  2846. "I am... uh. Yeah. That's me."
  2847. >When did you get that title?
  2848. >"Is she gone for the day?"
  2849. >A quick glance down shows that she's still napping
  2850. "She is, I think she finished up a little while ago."
  2851. >"Oh...she said she was gonna help me out after lunch."
  2852. >Why would she say that?
  2853. "I can ask her next time I see her. What was she gonna help you out with?"
  2854. >"A history book. We were gonna play an old game called Oregon Trail too. She said she's watched a ton of movies and stuff about it so she knows a lot about those days."
  2855. "That right, huh..."
  2856. >What in the world has she been telling these poor kids?
  2857. "Well, when I see her next I'll ask. I'd be surprised if she comes back today but I'll let her know."
  2858. >"Yeah, thanks!"
  2859. >He seems pretty happy with your answers
  2860. >"Since I'm waiting here, can I ask you something?"
  2861. >Your position doesn't explicitly involve you having to talk to kids but whatever
  2862. >It would be pretty rude to say "no" since apparently she has a positive reputation
  2863. "What's up?"
  2864. >"Are you two really married?"
  2865. "Wh-huh?"
  2866. >What the hell
  2867. "I-I mean, yeah. I mean, it's been kinda... somewhat planned."
  2868. >Somewhat
  2869. >"So you are?"
  2870. "We are, yes."
  2871. >"Why?"
  2872. "Because I love her. And I believe that she loves me too."
  2873. >"Isn't it weird?"
  2874. "Isn't what weird, love?"
  2875. >"No, that she's a pony."
  2876. >He doesn't sound accusatory, and you see no need to be defensive about it
  2877. "Well she's weird but don't hold that against her. I don't."
  2878. >Your humor doesn't seem to connect with him
  2879. >Judging from the look on his face, it seems like he's genuinely attempting to suss it out
  2880. >"Did your families care? Way back then, being from the north or south really separated people."
  2881. >Acute little guy, ain't he
  2882. "Yeah, that's true. Lot of cultural differences. For her and I..."
  2883. >This is going to be a story, isn't it
  2884. >Not like you have much else to do
  2885. "Well. For her. She has her sisters. You've seen them around."
  2886. >"Sure, Ms. Spark and Ms. Prism."
  2887. "Right. For them... they're kinda the only family she has. And I don't think they were against it."
  2888. >"What about yours?"
  2889. >"What about them" was your gut answer
  2890. >You have to be deliberate, the kid looks like he's maybe one card short of a full poker deck
  2891. "I... don't know. They aren't really around anymore."
  2892. >"Oh..."
  2893. >He sounds dejected
  2894. >"They're still alive though, right? You can ask them?"
  2895. >You shrug
  2896. "Sorry guy, most of them are gone. We're both going to have to go without answers."
  2897. >Going by your tone, you you're done with the conversation
  2898. >Supposedly he is too
  2899. >You sit back down, left to your own devices once more
  2900.  
  2901.  
  2902. >"Psstpsstpsst."
  2903. >"That won't work."
  2904. >"Sure it will. Hey."
  2905. >Everything is nice and warm
  2906. >Despite it getting colder, your room is ideal
  2907. >Beloved pillow, bring the infinite abyss that is the dreamscape
  2908. >"Psstpsstpsst."
  2909. >What is that
  2910. >"Psstpsstpsst."
  2911. >"...oh wow, his nose twitched. Do it again."
  2912. >Giggling
  2913. >Pillow, this is not infinite dreamscape
  2914. >This is a rather finite sound
  2915. >"Psstpsstpsst."
  2916. >"P...pesss...?"
  2917. >"No, not like that. Psstpsstpsst. You gotta do it three times in a row so it sounds right."
  2918. >"...you do it instead."
  2919. >"Fine, lazy."
  2920. >Pillow, why have you betrayed Anonymous
  2921. >What are they paying you?
  2922. >If only you had a mallet you co-
  2923. >"PSSTPSSTPSST."
  2924. >The sound is right on your lips
  2925. >You give a distressed grunt
  2926. >Tim Allen would be proud
  2927. >You feel a flicker of tongue dance over your lips
  2928. >"Psstpsst.. hey. Hey-hey."
  2929. "Eh."
  2930. >"Heheh... see that? You gotta get closer as you do it."
  2931. >"Ok. I'll admit, I'm impressed. If I do the same, can I lick him too?"
  2932. >"...no."
  2933. "N't work."
  2934. >"Heheh... you aaaaaaaaaaaaare awake."
  2935. >A lazy set of mare lips slide over your own, leading you into an almost one-sided kiss
  2936. >You feel more weight shift onto your chest until the kisser is laying flat on you
  2937. >Right now, you don't even care who is kissing you
  2938. >You raise one hand up just enough to grab onto the kisser's hind leg
  2939. >You mumble something in between the smooching action
  2940. >No dice
  2941. >Even you don't know what you tried to say
  2942. >"Muah! Et viola, monsieur Anon iz awake! Give us your company, s'il vous plaƮt."
  2943. >The mare breaks the kiss and pulls her head back
  2944. >That tone
  2945. >That voice
  2946. >...that accent
  2947. >You are far more awake
  2948. >But not enough to open your eyes
  2949. "...Is it still late?"
  2950. >"Oui oui, mon copain. Tu es le sleepy sleepy! And poor little Sparky and I... we had to get into ze bottle of, how you say..."
  2951. >"...It's the merlot, Jacky."
  2952. >You hear something that sounds like a mix between a hiccup and a throat clear
  2953. >"Andddd I'm not gonna lie? It tasted pretty good. But if you were here doing that, I would be doing that but more and different."
  2954. >You thought that was going to be left for a special occasion
  2955. "Why am I le awake? I was... le, SLEEPING."
  2956. >Now you can't even remember your dream
  2957. >It felt so familiar
  2958. >It had...
  2959. >It wasn't Jacky
  2960. >It was her
  2961. >Way back then
  2962. >Miss...
  2963. >A nuzzle against your collar bone leads to your train of thought dissolving
  2964. >"Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee were talking."
  2965. >That's a dangerous thing
  2966. >The second body that's snuggling up between your legs has to be Shiner
  2967. >She makes an effort to put her chin on top of your knee
  2968. >"I was talking, and you were listening."
  2969. >"That too! Anon, she was talking!"
  2970. "I'm amazed. Really."
  2971. >A yawn
  2972. "Why am I amazed?"
  2973. >"Bbbbbbbbbecause it's about work! And you're super all about work now."
  2974. >Are you?
  2975. >"So. You're Mr. Jacky."
  2976. >A delirious giggle
  2977. >"And I'm Mrs. Jacky. But. What if..."
  2978. >This is gonna be good
  2979. >You asked her about that Mr. Jacky thing but it only led to pillow talk
  2980. >A lot of pillow talk
  2981. >She's far more open to initiating that sort of thing
  2982. >"When I'm... around the kids, you're Mr. Jacky. But when Sparkyler is doing stuff... you're Mr. Shine!"
  2983. "Veto."
  2984. >"Told you..."
  2985. >You can hear the sorrow in the unicorn's voice
  2986.  
  2987.  
  2988. "Mr. Spark or bust."
  2989. >"...Mr. Spark?"
  2990. >Incredulous tone at the most charitable
  2991. >"Mr. Spark! That's awesome, that'll make you... like, a science teacher! That's so cool, Mr. Spark!"
  2992. >Jacqueline's sweet spot seems to be merlot
  2993. >Or maybe it's just drinking with Sparkler that caused this
  2994. >"...well that sounds good. Hey, Mr. Spark."
  2995. >A long, drawn out sigh
  2996. >Did they really wake you up for this?
  2997. "Yes, Mrs. Sparky?"
  2998. >"...no, you gotta do it the right way."
  2999. "Do what the right way?"
  3000. >"If you're Mr. Spark, I'm Mrs. Spark."
  3001. >Another distressed noise
  3002. "Come on... what do they call you already?"
  3003. >"Miss Sparking shine."
  3004. "Why?"
  3005. >"Because I asked them to."
  3006. >Why are you the smartest one in this situation?
  3007. "Then why is your name changing?"
  3008. >"Because Mrs. Jacky sounds nicer and I want to be nice too."
  3009. >Her borderline pout is enough to make you want to give her a hug
  3010. >But you're still tired
  3011. >And Jacky is on your chest
  3012. >And she's curled up between your legs
  3013. >And you don't want to move
  3014. >But the hug too
  3015. >It will happen
  3016. >Just not later
  3017. "How am I Mr. Jacky and Mr. Sparking Shine?"
  3018. >You can hear the gears in their heads turning
  3019. >"HEY, PRISM!"
  3020. >A loud screech from Jackonobonobo
  3021. >Christ, why is she capable of being so loud?
  3022. >When she has her normal drinks she's such an angel
  3023. >She still is one, even now
  3024. >But you near earplugs
  3025. >No answer
  3026. >"Bleaaaaaaah. She would know what to say."
  3027. "Would she?"
  3028. >"Probably."
  3029. >Jacky drops her head on your shoulder multiple times
  3030. >She raises it high enough then lets it drop like a lead weight
  3031. >How can she have no brain but have such a heavy head?
  3032. >"How about we just go by Mrs. Anon?"
  3033. "Yeah. Sure. Alright. Can I go to sleep now?"
  3034. >"Not yet."
  3035. >It's Shiner
  3036. >Why does she sound so...
  3037. >Demure?
  3038. >Subdued
  3039. >Quiet, even
  3040. >"Can you call me Mrs. Anon?"
  3041. >If you do this, will you be able to return to...
  3042. >Wherever you were?
  3043. >You don't even remember where you were anymore
  3044. "Mrs. Anon, help me to go sleep."
  3045. >"Heh... of course, Mr. Anon."
  3046. >Sparkler shuffles her way to stand up
  3047. >"And don't you mean help you go to sleep, not to go?"
  3048. >Your answer is a defiant yawn of magnitude
  3049. "Whatever, man. Do it or there's no ceremony."
  3050. >Things blends together until Jacky is half laying on your chest and curled up to your side
  3051. >Sparkler has taken up residence on the opposite side, her head nuzzling yours
  3052. >One last yawn to set things off
  3053. >"Hey... Mr. Anon."
  3054. "Mrs. Anon."
  3055. >"I... l..."
  3056. >She's trying to say something
  3057. >She can almost use her words
  3058. >Thank God she's at least potty trained at this point
  3059. >"lo...v...?"
  3060. "Yeah. Yup. You too, Starshine. G'night."
  3061. >You curl your arm around the red mare with an authorative flex of the arm
  3062. >"Heheh... psstpsstpsst."
  3063. "Oh for the love of-"
  3064. >"Sorry. Just thought of something."
  3065. "That's wonderful, Jack."
  3066. >"That kid you told me about. What do you think he's gonna say now?"
  3067. "I don't care."
  3068. >You sound almost insulted
  3069. >Or maybe temperamental
  3070. "The kid asked why I married a pony, how much worse does this make things?"
  3071. >"I guess so... but no funny business, alright?"
  3072. "Sure."
  3073. >"Alright."
  3074. >You expected something more cheeky from unicorn face
  3075. >Another squeezing hug
  3076. "Something something, I do, something something gas station."
  3077. >"Mrs. Anon gas stations you too."
  3078. >From her tone, Sparks sounds relieved
  3079. >Maybe they actually will come home
  3080. >Or no...
  3081. >They're already home
  3082. >Your last conscious thoughts revolve around dipping in more techs and trying to remember your last dream
  3083.  
  3084.  
  3085. >You knew that you had gas stations on the mind
  3086. >But you didn't know why
  3087. >Until now
  3088. "Ah crap..."
  3089. >Empty gas tank
  3090. >Very nearly empty
  3091. "Hey, we're gonna have to make a detour before breakfast. Message Jack, will you?"
  3092. >"You ask the world of me sometimes, Anon."
  3093. >Sparkler catches the phone you limply fling over her way
  3094. >The initial goal was to go grab some morning grub but you didn't pay attention to how you needed to fill your tank
  3095. >Between your shorts and loose button shirt, you aren't the model looking customer for outside situations
  3096. >Whatever
  3097. >Your laziness can only go so far
  3098. >Pulling out into the main road, you head opposite to the store
  3099. >Hopefully they will still have donuts after the largely minor amount of time it takes to stand at a pump
  3100. >"Hey, Anon."
  3101. "Sup."
  3102. >"I didn't want to bring this up with Jacky around but... what happened last night?"
  3103. "...huh? What do you mean?"
  3104. >"I mean I remember drinking that wine and next thing I knew, I was drooling on your shoulder and in a death grip so nice I could have died and been fine with it."
  3105. >Except when she woke up, she nearly broke your arm to escape to the bathroom
  3106. "You serious? You never had that sort of reaction before."
  3107. >"I know. I guess I don't mind it but that spooks even me you know."
  3108. >You aren't fully buying that this is genuine
  3109. >It probably is
  3110. >But is it?
  3111. "Alright. Well, apparently you're now Mrs. Anon, publicly."
  3112. >Shine's face turns an even more vibrant red, to the point you could probably see steam if you looked close enough
  3113. >"...what does that mean?"
  3114. "It means work is going to get weird and I'm probably going to get asked even more weird questions."
  3115. >"What's Jacky...?"
  3116. >You nod with pursed lips
  3117. "She's Mrs. Anon now too."
  3118. >"Woah... is that something we should really be doing at work?"
  3119. "See? I knew one of you had a level head."
  3120. >"Hey, I'm always level."
  3121. "No, you're always trying to level up."
  3122. >"Same thing."
  3123. "It is no... whatever, man."
  3124. >At least the gas station is in sight
  3125. >You pull into your usual spot and after a few flicks of plastic, you're filling your tank
  3126. >Shine peeks out the car, standing on the driver's seat
  3127. >"So did you like me when I was drinking that?"
  3128. "What kind of question is that?"
  3129. >"Well you must have, since you agreed to the name change."
  3130. "More like I agreed to your name change."
  3131. >"It's the same thing!"
  3132. >Sometimes
  3133. >You worry
  3134. >Either your brain is turning to mush through their logical leaps or they're just plain silly
  3135. "I... yeah. You were a lot less like your usual self. A fair bit more downtrodden, without the ego to be your pillow."
  3136. >You honestly don't recall much of last night
  3137. >Maybe if you were allowed to sleep, your head would be on more straight and your temper would be less short
  3138. "Why did you even start drinking that?"
  3139. >"It was on sale and I thought if I found the right stuff, I'd find a way to do things that would lead to me becoming Mrs. Anon."
  3140. >The blunt force of her words are enough to stupefy
  3141. >She's serious, isn't she
  3142. "Is there ever an "off" button to you?"
  3143. >"There is but you don't want to reach and hit it."
  3144. >Christ
  3145. >You need to find a way to fortify yourself against this
  3146. >The alternative is to just flow through on their pace
  3147. >And their pace...
  3148. >What would that even include?
  3149. >Jacky's always getting into something new
  3150. >She's been dropping a lot of things, almost as often as she picks up something new
  3151. >It has only become pronounced since she started working
  3152. >She isn't a busybody but she seems to revel in having things to do
  3153. >Dealing with kids brings a new kind of smile to her face
  3154. >Those sorts of reasons are why you're fine with being Mr. Jacky at work
  3155.  
  3156. >But for home...
  3157. >It just doesn't fit quite yet
  3158. >You watch the numbers creep up on the display
  3159. >You didn't realize how many gallons you go through
  3160. >The drive to and from work is long but at least you get to sing and listen to the girls sing
  3161. >It keeps up that morale
  3162. >But is it draining...?
  3163. >...
  3164. >That's a negative view to have on it
  3165. >The better way to describe it is that you simply miss your alone time
  3166. "Fifteen-point-six... man, we really were down to fumes, huh."
  3167. >You miss the days of gassing up once a month, if that
  3168. >You close everything up and reseat yourself
  3169. >Shiner's already back in her spot, seatbelt included
  3170. >"Hey, don't look so bitter. I'm only joking. Mostly."
  3171. "Mostly, she says..."
  3172. >You creep out back onto the road to the brick and mortar castle that houses the mystical donuts
  3173. "...so. You know that what's said in the car stays in the car, right?"
  3174. >Without much hesitation, she nods
  3175. >"Sure, I can abide by that."
  3176. "Lately you've been seriously laying it on thick. I don't know why but Jack seems to fluctuate between caring, not caring, and then using some of your lines for her own benefit."
  3177. >"And they sure seem to benefit."
  3178. "What's your aim? What shifted in that goofy head of yours?"
  3179. >"I had a dream."
  3180. "A dream."
  3181. >You aren't one to belittle the impact of dreams but surely that one couldn't have been so special
  3182. "What about the dream?"
  3183. >"It felt real. And it felt like it happened to the point I remember Jacky glaring at me and telling you to "get her"."
  3184. "Jacky was included too, huh?"
  3185. >"Yeah. The morning after things took off, she seemed like the evil one and told me how your mornings require a lot of energy spending."
  3186. >That does sound like a dream
  3187. >Depending on the day, it takes full mare support to even sit up
  3188. "And then what?"
  3189. >"She watched it happen and acted like I was some court jester getting punished for trying to be the queen."
  3190. >That was a
  3191. >...
  3192. >Colorful explanation
  3193. "So is she the queen?"
  3194. >"She's gotta be. You're the king, Anon."
  3195. >The casual tone in her voice says that she means it
  3196. >"It's not that I don't know who has what throne to sit on. But in that dream especially? I was the queen."
  3197. >She inhales hard and shivers on the exhale
  3198. >"And boy, I don't know how Jacky could survive if she wasn't built so stern."
  3199. "...well."
  3200. >What is said in the car stays in the car
  3201. >Right?
  3202. "A tough shell doesn't matter when you can still get inside and swirl things around. Her main benefit is that she's just had more time to learn how to endure."
  3203. >Shiner's nervous giggle tells you that this is getting weird
  3204. >And that's saying something given what your life has turned into
  3205. >"Yeah, I bet."
  3206. "...Starshine."
  3207. >"What's up?"
  3208. >You find a good parking spot
  3209. >You know you're set when you can park just at the right way so you can just drive forward to leave
  3210. "Did that dream involve anything to do with that whole little thing about using your magic to help with pregnancy?"
  3211. >"Yes. Yes it did."
  3212. >Of course it did
  3213. >Some things still feel awkward or uncomfortable, no matter how few barriers there are between everyone
  3214. "...you really think it might work?"
  3215. >"Well. I mean I haven't tried it yet."
  3216. "What would you even do? You hardly know how many stomachs Jacker has, nevermind where the key location is."
  3217. >"Well, I thought about that. And rather than focus on the receiving end, I would rather focus on..."
  3218. >Her eyes travel over your body
  3219. >A slow smirk shows
  3220. >You question whether or not you need a spray bottle to attack her with
  3221. >"You. Because obviously you're the weird one in the equation."
  3222. "I, am the weird one? You three are four of the only ponies I've seen!"
  3223. >"Yeah, and in our little crack shoot home, you're the odd one out."
  3224. >Her noncommittal shrug shows how little she's worried about the details
  3225. >"So, my focus would be on you and your area instead. Ponies are all naturally magical and awesome so if I can find a way to make you magical and awesome..."
  3226.  
  3227. "You telling me I'm not awesome?"
  3228. >"Not enough to the point you're capable of making Jacky a mommy."
  3229. >Ouch
  3230. >That hurt more than you wanted to admit
  3231. >You want to reply to that but you remain silent
  3232. >Holy hell
  3233. >That actually took the wind out of your sails
  3234. "...that's brutal."
  3235. >Her pleased face shifts
  3236. >"H-hey, I didn't mean it like that. If she were a human you'd be on kid number, what, five? I'm just saying that we're gonna have to... cross a few wires?"
  3237. "Ouch! That sounds even worse."
  3238. >"No, not physically! But just..."
  3239. >She rolls her head back and forth
  3240. >"Like... magically. Get some sort of common thread sort of thing going. I don't know, you're talking to the mare that turned fire into ice because the reward was some guy and my sister undoing buttons on my shirt with their mouths. Apparently I work well on horned up energy."
  3241. "First off, that was my shirt you were wearing."
  3242. >"And I still wear it, loser."
  3243. "Second..."
  3244. >You don't have a second
  3245. >But you can't concede
  3246. "That... was still a neat trick."
  3247. >"Thank you. But I still have no clue if that was how it was supposed to go. I think if I ever went to magic school, I'd have a better grip on this."
  3248. >She leans back in her seat, hind legs kicking up
  3249. >You choose to believe that the way she's sitting and showing herself is incidental to the topic at hand
  3250. >"And don't think I'm being lazy either... I know that if I mess this up, I could do some serious harm to you. Or her. Or both of you. Like, the sort of harm that could kill you."
  3251. >You don't deny that at all
  3252. >If she does screw up, in that area, you may as well be good as dead
  3253. "If it helps, neither of us have brought it up all that much."
  3254. >"Jacky has."
  3255. "Yeah?"
  3256. >"Yeah."
  3257. >You're going to regret this
  3258. >But...
  3259. "Well, let's walk and talk."
  3260. >You reach over to click her seatbelt off
  3261. >A sly grin on her face, paired with her sitting arrangement, tells you the sort of mood she's in
  3262. "...have I mentioned I'm glad you wear clothing at work?"
  3263. >"Trust me, I am glad too. Makes me feel so much more free otherwise."
  3264. >With that said and done, you wait until you have a shopping cart to resume the conversation
  3265. >So there's no shouting over rather intimate talk, you scoop Shiner up with ease
  3266. >She doesn't expect it but rather than remain in a certain shape like Jack, she goes limp
  3267. >That's a sign of trust if there ever was one given you could just dunk her on her horn
  3268. >You put her onto the upper basket, where purses and stolen sodas usually go
  3269. "So, what has she been going on about when it comes to that sort of thing?"
  3270. >"Well, her "little humans" certainly like her. Most of them aren't so bad, actually. They listen and they don't seem to mind when she tells them wrong things."
  3271. "Like what?"
  3272. >"Like anything? She doesn't know crap about the world but she thinks her movie lore is enough to sound impressive."
  3273. "Does it work?"
  3274. >"I don't think so."
  3275. "...oh."
  3276. >That can be a bit harsh
  3277. >But she seems to enjoy herself
  3278. >"But that's not my point. It's that she has really taken to being around little humans. And she's getting excited to have little Anons running around."
  3279. "She hasn't told me much about it."
  3280. >"Yeah, I know. Because when I said that exact thing she wilted and said something about timing."
  3281. "Timing, huh..."
  3282. >You haven't even thought about that sort of thing
  3283. >Your work has been more computer-based than anything else
  3284. >You still don't know what it is you do, but you do it well enough that you're still getting paid
  3285. "Alright, pick your stack."
  3286. >"Buttermilk."
  3287. "You got it. Grab them. We're here so we can load up on other things too."
  3288. >You aren't trying to ignore the topic at hand
  3289. >You just want to make sure you don't step out and immediately realize you forgot to grab something
  3290. >"You know, the look on your face tells me that Jacky wasn't wrong to have the right timing."
  3291. "What's wrong with my face?"
  3292.  
  3293. >"Nothing. You just look like you're... not pleased."
  3294. "No, I am. It's just... I worry that the apartment is too small. And a pregnant Jack would need to stay safe."
  3295. >You feel just a bit of bitter bile rise up
  3296. "And I'll be honest. If any of those little twerps did anything, I'd probably end up going to prison."
  3297. >"Jesus, Anon. You really think that might happen?"
  3298. "No. But I'll still be worried."
  3299. >By the time you reach the dairy section, your thoughts shift
  3300. >For no particular reason at all, you clear your throat when you grab a gallon of milk
  3301. "I think..."
  3302. >"You do?"
  3303. "Sometimes."
  3304. >Once you say this, there's no taking it back
  3305. "I think, if I worry about excuses for it to not happen, I'll never run out of "what if"s. So."
  3306. >"So?"
  3307. "I think it should happen. And I suppose I don't particularly care when it happens. It's something I want."
  3308. >Five items later and you think you're set for frozen items
  3309. >Namely, ice cream
  3310. >Once it gets too cold outside, you won't care to have any
  3311. "Everything will fit into place, because it'll have to. And I guess that means the same with you."
  3312. >Your words come out deliberately
  3313. "As is your price..."
  3314. >Shine gives a sheepish half-smile
  3315. >"To be fair... if it is a bridge too far. You don't have to."
  3316. >For no particular reason at all, both of you seem to be greatly interested in the various items on sale that are just not that interesting normally
  3317. >"I mean, let's be real. None of us were wanted. It's why... well, you know our history. And I would be kinda selfish to keep that going."
  3318. >Her tone is dry
  3319. >You feel like you're falling into the back of your head
  3320. >That is true, isn't it
  3321. "We're a family already, aren't we?"
  3322. >That is a thing to pay attention to
  3323. >It's an aspect that just can't be ignored
  3324. "Jack said it'd be fine. And if it helps."
  3325. >Random pack of peanut butter cups?
  3326. >Why yes, you'd love to examine them for ingredients and grab three even though they aren't on sale
  3327. "If it helps, I think you would be a great mom. And you should be one."
  3328. >You said that
  3329. >And you can't unsay it
  3330. >That would be a problem if you didn't mean it
  3331. >But you do mean it
  3332. >Should you be worried?
  3333.  
  3334.  
  3335. "Move my tank two spots below that forest, and once to the left."
  3336. >"You suck, you know that?"
  3337. "It's fine, I'm only zoning you out."
  3338. >"Zone it out your ass, wait until my winter fury."
  3339. "Oh no, the winter furry."
  3340. >Another week of work
  3341. >Another paycheck
  3342. >And another night of...
  3343. >Absolutely nothing
  3344. >Shiner and you have been focusing on the computer screen for the last two hours
  3345. >You stumbled across an old handheld war game and ended up getting challenged to war
  3346. >But because you're lazy, you're making her move your units for you
  3347. >No fog of war, so no reason to try to be sneaky
  3348. >To sweeten the deal, she's been sitting on your lap like a little red humanoid nerd
  3349. >Your arms are around her chest in a hug, your head on top of hers
  3350. >Because you've been too lazy to turn on the heat, the faint aura of warmth eminating from her has been keeping you warm
  3351. >You and Jack
  3352. >She decided to buy a bottle of high alcohol content rum
  3353. >You don't care for the stuff but it turns her into a cuddle bug
  3354. >Rather than complain about the casual unicorn hugging, she's just been going between nuzzling you and nuzzling her in between shallow gulps and requests for water and pizza
  3355. >Her capacity for alcohol in a tiny pony body is sometimes concerning
  3356. >You haven't had the heart to tell her that if and when she has a bun in the oven, she'll have to go cold turkey
  3357. >Your kids are going to be autistic, dammit, not have FAS
  3358. >"I love you guys."
  3359. "We love you too, Captain Jack."
  3360. >"I don't know if I love you but you're pretty cool sometimes."
  3361. "Shush, you love her."
  3362. >"...you said it, not me."
  3363. >You tried explaining the units to Jacqueline but even when the booze wasn't caressing her insides, she didn't really seem to care
  3364. >She acted more as morale support in the form of a secretary trash talking the opposing army whenever you took out a unit
  3365. >It was working at distracting Shiner but those days are long gone
  3366. >Fifteen days, at least
  3367. >It's Day Twenty
  3368. >...
  3369. >...
  3370. >...
  3371. >Neither of you are particularly good at pushing and maintaining ground, so it's almost just a way to kill time at this point
  3372. >"Hey Anon."
  3373. "Hey Flint."
  3374. >"Flint?"
  3375. "Flint sparks."
  3376. >"Clever."
  3377. "Thanks."
  3378. >"...are we boring?"
  3379. "What do you mean?"
  3380. >"I mean everyone at work seems to have a life they lead and going to work is just a thing they do. By the by, I hope you like this recon."
  3381. "Are you seriously going to stop my capture?"
  3382. >"Yup."
  3383. "You suck."
  3384. >Your mutual monotones do little to transfer the red hot action that is moving pixel caricatures over a grid
  3385. "I... don't know. I mean, we have fun."
  3386. >"I love the fun you guys give me."
  3387. "We love you too Bottle Jack."
  3388. >"I love that you stopped trying to get onto his-and my-lap."
  3389. >She is proper sloshed
  3390. >The strong slur in her voice says that she is down for the count
  3391. >Sadly, you're too busy to take advantage of her at the moment
  3392. >"We do have fun but... it seems like ever since we started working, we're just doing less. We have that D&D campaign, but I've been taking naps more. Everyone has. It feels like our entire lives are focused on showing up there. Anything else is just filler time."
  3393. >Big words for a part-time filly
  3394.  
  3395. >But her point is concerning
  3396. >For the last few months your surplus has shot through the roof
  3397. >The girls have their own fun funds
  3398. >But at what cost?
  3399. >Whenever you came home, there would always be something going on
  3400. >Some sort of scheme or mischief
  3401. >Or they were at least doing something
  3402. >Now everyone is more or less on the same page
  3403. >More naps are taken
  3404. >There's less...
  3405. >Is "chaos" the right word?
  3406. >You release your lower arm from the hug to rub Jack-o-lantern's ear
  3407. >She pushes hard into it, twisting her head like a dog
  3408. >Man's best friend for sure
  3409. "Well, we do things together, right? It was kind of the same before I got you guys. I just worked, slept, and had little meaningful time sinks."
  3410. >"How are time sinks meaningful?"
  3411. "Well every hobby is a time sink. By the way, you're moving my guys without me saying anything."
  3412. >"I know."
  3413. "You know?"
  3414. >"Yup."
  3415. "Cheater."
  3416. >"Not really. I still don't have an answer for that mountain alley you locked off. And those rockets freaking suck."
  3417. "Thought you'd like that."
  3418. >Jack shifts her head up and chomps down on your hand
  3419. >Or maybe it's more of a nom
  3420. >She looks up at you with the sweetest eyes, gently squeezing your palm with her teeth
  3421. >You smile at your lemon dork
  3422. "Are you enjoying yourself, boozehound?"
  3423. >Her nod is slow and deliberate
  3424. >...
  3425. >You recognize that look
  3426. >That nod
  3427. >"I am... going to try the best I can to ignore what is going on over there and will instead say that you're half-ass hugging me."
  3428. "Then you better continue to ignore and screw you for that anti-air. I hope you like my tank."
  3429. >"Your tank is like your other hand: out of range for at least a day and of subpar quality otherwise."
  3430. >You give a heartfelt gasp
  3431. "You calling my hand subpar?"
  3432. >"Just that one because it's hers."
  3433. >Shine looks at Jack
  3434. >Their eyes lock
  3435. >It only break when Jacky's eyebrows waggle up and down
  3436. >"Ugh. Fine. She can have that one. I bet she gets to do that anyway."
  3437. "You know, not once has she and I ever sat down and talked about what one could or couldn't do."
  3438. >"And how has that worked out for you?"
  3439. "Well it led to you. And a handful of other things, like how now I know to dump rum down her gullet when I want to see her like this."
  3440. >Said gullet bites down on your hand and gives it a soft jerk
  3441. >You've heard stories that different types of booze can bring out different types of drunkards
  3442. >You didn't actually think it would be true
  3443. >To scratch your chin, you rub your face against the back of Shine's head
  3444. >From her shiver, it isn't unwanted
  3445. >"H-hey, no backseat shenanigans."
  3446. "You're the one sitting on my lap despite my hand circumstances."
  3447. >You can feel Jacky's tongue flex over your palm
  3448. >It is not
  3449. >A bad thing
  3450. >With your chin satisfied you plop your head right on your war opponent's again
  3451. "I guess the main question is... what do you want to do after work?"
  3452. >"This."
  3453. >That was a quick answer
  3454. "Really? You just want to sit like a human and play video games?"
  3455. >"You mean sit on your lap, have you hug me and slowly whittle your ass down until you're my prisoner of war for me to exploit until I let you go to your original pony in exchange for big bucks?"
  3456. >Her giggle isn't malicious but it comes from a dark place
  3457. >"Oh, I'm quite happy with this."
  3458. "...ok, first off you're dealing with the consequences of that and I am absolved of all responsibility. Right Jack?"
  3459. >Jacky attempts to speak but it is all blocked off from her jaw refusing to let your hand go
  3460. >If she bit down completely, you'd lose two fingers
  3461. >But it's more like she's just talking with too much food
  3462. >By the time she finishes with it, she lets go of your hand and pushes her face against it
  3463. >"And when I mean "hard", I mean hard. Right Anon?"
  3464. >Why do you get the feeling that she isn't talking about the topic at hand?
  3465.  
  3466. "...right."
  3467. >"...how much was that rum again?"
  3468. "Thirty bucks."
  3469. >"I'll buy her a bottle."
  3470. "That's manipulative."
  3471. >"Manipulate this bomber."
  3472. "You suck."
  3473. >To stop Shiner from slipping, you redouble your hug
  3474. "So you want to just play shit and hang out. Why are you worried if that's boring?"
  3475. >"Because everyone in this world seems like they're always doing things."
  3476. "And would you rather be out there, enjoying the world?"
  3477. >"Well... I mean, I guess I already am. You're an asshole that is spamming tanks-"
  3478. "It's called reinforcements."
  3479. >"It's called being an asshole. But, I was gonna say that while you're doing that, I guess I don't care what we do. I like hanging around you guys."
  3480. >You're glad she didn't specify you
  3481. >If only because the mare nuzzling your hand like a fiend would find an issue with it
  3482. "Then I guess it doesn't matter if we're boring. If you aren't bored, then it's all good."
  3483. >"I guess. But that makes me think. Isn't Prism extremely boring?"
  3484. "Why is she extreme?"
  3485. >"Because she can fly and all she does is watch birds, mope around and not join in on any of our awesome games."
  3486. "To be fair, you're a bit of a clingy nerd, so getting smack talked by me is your form of Nirvana."
  3487. >"I'm insulted. But only because I don't know what Nirvana is."
  3488. "It's the look on your face when you realized you're one rum gulp away from being like Jacky."
  3489. >"...that's low."
  3490. >"Low but I still love you for it, Sparky!"
  3491. "We love you too Jack."
  3492. >"Oh God. As if I would go so far as to get intoxicated for brownie points."
  3493. >"I have."
  3494. "And it's why you're number one Power Jack. C'mere."
  3495. >Jacky lurches up and takes dominion of your face
  3496. >A rum-flavored kiss isn't so bad, even if it isn't your drink of choice
  3497. >"For the record, listening to you two say things like that makes me think I'm listening to my parents. It's embarrassing."
  3498. >"You're just jealous."
  3499. "I choose to leave no comment."
  3500. >Jack's hind hooves are apparently made out of rum ham with no bone because she shortly flops over
  3501. >That stuff is really kicking her ass
  3502. "I don't know what Faye's thing is. I don't know what is "fun" for her. And I kinda don't think she knows either."
  3503. >"Sounds boring to me."
  3504. "Maybe. Maybe she's saving herself by not being around our dumb asses."
  3505. >"I would buy that."
  3506. "You would because you're a dumbass, dumbass."
  3507. >"The one time I hope you'd talk about it, and you're calling it dumb. That's it, eat snow and two global damage. I'm taking the center and you aren't going to stop me."
  3508. "You sit there and I'll give you a kiss."
  3509. >"Ha!"
  3510. >That was the most dry, unexpected "ha" you've ever heard