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Bakery Slave

By sophosmoros
Created: 17th December 2020 07:37:14 PM

  1. >Be Bakery Slave.
  2. >That isn’t actually your name - your real name is Ginger Snap.
  3. >But since you were sold at auction three years ago and have spent your days baking loaves of artisan bread and desserts in the secret basement of Greenlove Bakery, essentially…
  4. >You are Bakery Slave.
  5. >You aren’t the only one.
  6. >Cinnamon Twist, Red Velvet, and Jelly Roll are Bakery Slaves #2, 3, and 4 so your workload isn’t too overwhelming.
  7. >You aren’t exactly friends with them and you don’t particularly WANT to be friends with them, but there’s a certain kind of solidarity in being “employed” by the Ivanova family.
  8. >You work side by side, your flanks all brushing up against each other’s in the sweaty, cramped space as you grind grain, measure out ingredients, and work the multiple industrial ovens.
  9. >Sometimes if it gets too hot Red Velvet will put damp kitchen rags in the refrigerator to place on your back.
  10. >Jelly Roll sneaks you lumps of sugar when he can.
  11. >In other circumstances it could be considered cozy.
  12. >And it would smell amazing if it wasn’t the scent of your enslavement.
  13. >“Careful now, hot tray!” chirps Cinnamon Twist as she squeezes behind you, lifting the giant fresh-from-the-oven cookie tray above your head with so it doesn’t burn you.
  14. >Her perpetual cheerfulness is annoying, but you can’t really blame her for being the way she is.
  15. >After all, she was born here; she never lived in Equestria.
  16. >You don’t know if she’s even felt grass under her hooves or seen the sun.
  17. >She certainly never had her parents sing her to sleep.
  18. >What she knows is the sunless, concrete basement where she learned to bake and the three other ponies who work there with her.
  19. >You grunt an acknowledgement to the young mare and continue to shape the sourdough on the long wooden table in front of you, pinching and prodding, folding and fitting until the giant mass of dough becomes 36 neat individual boules.
  20. >A dusting of flour later and you’re carefully scoring the surfaces to create the Greenlove’s famous flower cut.
  21. >Apparently it’s very popular.
  22. >Not that you know this firsthoof.
  23. >The only news you get from upstairs is when one of the family members pays a visit, usually the children Fyodor or Katya.
  24. >Everyone prefers Katya because she’s only fourteen and still thinks the idea of having baking ponies underneath the storefront is kind of magical.
  25. >She’ll stroke your noses and tell you that you’re doing wonderfully in childish admiration, even though her older brother has told her repeatedly to “leave those damn horses alone.”
  26. >It’s cute the way she crowds your tiny space and unknowingly stops you from getting work done, but the distraction is always welcome.  
  27. >Fyodor, on the other hand, is nineteen and well understands that you are property.
  28. >His property.
  29. >He lets the mares know this repeatedly.
  30. >Every time you hear his expensive shoes clack down the metal stairs your skin crawls.
  31. >Cinnamon Twist seems to like the attention though.
  32. >Today, however, you get Katya.
  33. >She’s probably bored from running the counter and has ordered some ethnically ambiguous pseudo-baker (they’re only for appearances; all the real baking is done by you ponies downstairs) to take her place while she goes to “see how the grain stocks are.”
  34. >You can hear her shove aside the heavy lock on the outer door to the basement, then pitter-patter down the stairs and undo the smaller lock on the kitchen door.
  35. >The way she slowly opens the door to the kitchen as if she’s a stranger intruding on your business makes you feel… almost like the room belongs to you.
  36. >“Hi ponies,” Katya murmurs with a smile, her grey eyes lighting up from the change in scenery.
  37. >Abandoning the unbaked loaves, you trot over to the young teenager, who greets you by cupping your warm face in her chilly hands and running her thumbs over your cheeks; you let your head sink into those comforting hands. >Cinnamon Twist squeaks in delight, hastily dumping the cookie tray onto the conveyor belt that brings goods upstairs into the storefront before bounding over.
  38. >“Hiya Ms. Katya!! Zdravstvuyte!” she says, nuzzling Katya’s hands until the girl removes them from your face, giggling, and scratches the tawny mare’s chin instead.
  39. >Jelly Roll is pouring a huge bag of rye into the grinder in the corner and can’t hear too well over the sound of grain being crushed, but he dips his head in polite greeting anyways.
  40. >Red Velvet calls over the noise, but stays by the oven where he’s monitoring a cast iron pot of caramelizing onions.
  41. >“Afternoon, Ms. Katya!”
  42. >The blonde teenager waves at the burly stallions before returning her attention to the mares in front of her.
  43. >Cinnamon Twist’s timer goes off again and she swears, rushing over to the oven, annoyed that her time with youngest Ivanova has been interrupted.
  44. >Katya studies the handmade cloth that ties back your mane as if noticing it for the first time.
  45. >You feel self-conscious for a second; is something wrong with your bandana?
  46. >“Can I braid your mane?”
  47. >You’re caught off guard by the question and you blink in surprise.
  48. >“If you’re not too busy of course.”
  49. >How are you supposed to answer this?
  50. >Why does she speak to you as if you have any choice in the matter?
  51. >You probably could say no and she would leave you alone, but there’s no reason to disappoint the one family member who shows you small kindnesses.
  52. “S-sure.”
  53. >Katya squats down next to you, hovering just above the filthy floor so as not to get her jeans grimy.
  54. >She pushes back the red bandana off your mane and ties it around your neck so that you don’t lose it.
  55. >Separating your thick ginger mane into portions, her hands gently and delicately begin to plait your hair, forming a heavy braid that keeps wisps of hair from falling into your eyes.
  56. >She finishes in mere minutes, clearly an expert.
  57. >“You look so cute!!” she gasps, beaming at her work. “I bet it feels so much better to keep all that hair out of your face.”
  58. >You blush and nod, looking at the floor.
  59. >You, cute?
  60. “It’s. Nice.”
  61. >Words are difficult for you.
  62. >You try not to speak very much so that what you say can never be used against you; sometimes talking feels a muscle having to perform again after so much inaction.
  63. “Thank you,” you add quickly, not looking to seem impolite.
  64. >Katya smiles.
  65. >“You’re welcome.”
  66. >There’s a loud metal slam and then a voice yelling down the stairs.
  67. >“Katya, get back up here!”
  68. >Fyodor.
  69. >You shiver involuntarily.
  70. >Katya rises and dusts her hands off on her pants.
  71. >“See you later, ponies.”
  72. >She exits through the kitchen’s only door and locks it on the other side before running back up the stairs, closing off the one way to the outside world.
  73. >Cinnamon Twist huffs in annoyance, glaring enviously at your braid.
  74. >“No fair that you got your mane done and I didn’t!”
  75. >You shrug in response and go back over to your sourdough loaves, placing them on a floured wooden paddle before pushing them into the awaiting oven.
  76. >They’ll be done in 40 minutes and in the meantime you have to help Jelly Roll grind some more grain in preparation for tomorrow.
  77. >You have to admit it IS nice to have your hair up and out of your eyes.
  78. >Maybe Katya can teach you how to braid manes some day.
  79. >If you had any free time.
  80.  
  81. >Be Bakery Slave.
  82. >After Katya left the kitchen the rest of the day seemed to drag on, your brain growing numb from the mindless,repetitive tasks you are performing.
  83. >Measure. Sort. Grind. Measure. Mix. Knead. Proof. Shape. Proof. Bake.
  84. >You do this literally every day.
  85. >On one hoof, the predictability of your life means that your existence is boring.
  86. >There is no “spice of life” even if half of you are named after spices.
  87. >On the other hoof, you don’t mind the constant business of your work; it prevents you from thinking, actually THINKING, about how fucked up your life is.
  88. >After all, if you start to touch upon how your life in Equestria should have gone, you’ll start to have the wrong kind of feelings and that could lead to trouble.
  89. >You don’t want to cause trouble.
  90. >It’s not that you are a particularly “good girl,” (the phrase that Fyodor uses to describe Cinnamon Twist,) but you know that humans are fully capable of committing atrocities.
  91. >You’ve witnessed this firsthoof with your parents.
  92. >Stop.
  93. >Don’t think of that.
  94. >In any case, you don’t handle pain too well.
  95. >If you can keep all of your limbs intact and live out the rest of your days as pain-free as possible, you could consider life to be okay.
  96. >At one point you might have wanted to have a foal or even a couple foals, but you know that the Ivanovas aren’t interested in owning more ponies or having to care for a pregnant mare.
  97. >Your stables, which branch off of the tiny hallway outside the locked kitchen door, are completely separated; the mares on one side, the stallions on the other.
  98. >There are no lights in the stables and you mares get a dose of medicine every morning with your hay.
  99. >You think it prevents you from going into heat because you haven’t been in heat for a long time.
  100. >You guess it’s been at least 2 years.
  101. >So no, having a foal is not in your future.
  102. >Celestia, you really have to stop letting yourself think.
  103. >This is not what you want to be occupying your mind.
  104. >Quick, give yourself a distraction!
  105. “Cinnamon, can I practice braiding your mane tonight?” you burst out of nowhere.
  106. >She seems surprised.
  107. >You’re surprised as well.
  108. >How was this is the first thing you leapt to in order to distract yourself?
  109. >You don’t even like Cinnamon Twist.
  110. >Usually you two are lead into your stable for the night by the Pony Handler, and you pretty much close your eyes immediately, met with a hazy, dreamless sleep.
  111. >It takes a second for her surprise to wear off, but afterwards a grin spreads across her freckled muzzle and her eyes crinkle at the corners.
  112. >“You know how to braid??? Wait. I mean, yes. Yes please!”
  113. >She pauses a second, trying to reconcile herself with you.
  114. >“C-can I try braiding yours too? Katya did your mane, but maybe I can practice with your tail, even if it is a little short.”
  115. >You roll your eyes and turn your back on her, suddenly regretting your decision and trying - but failing - not to get irritated with the younger mare.
  116. >Damn Cinnamon.
  117. >You busy yourself in sorting through the last bag of rye that Jelly Roll needs to grind.
  118. >You have to pick out the thick, dark pieces called ergot because they’re different from the rye berries and they make the bread taste bad.
  119. >Or at least that’s what you were told when you were first being trained.
  120. >“Ginger, this is going to be sooo much fun!”
  121.  
  122. >Later that evening, you’re settled down into the hay in your stable, legs tucked beneath you while Cinnamon Twist tries, in vain, to plait your tail.
  123. >Maybe it is cut too short.
  124. >Most of the hair on you ponies is cut short or buzzed to lessen the chance of any hairs being shed into the dough.
  125. >Fyodor had protested on behalf of the mare’s manes though, suggesting you could tie back your hair with a cloth instead of being given a buzz cut; your manes were too lovely to waste.
  126. >His parents had relented with a shrug.
  127. >Even though you don’t like him, in some vain way you’re grateful that he was able to let you keep your long mane.
  128. >Cinnamon Twist interrupts the silence.
  129. >“Do you think Fyodor will stop by tomorrow?” she asks brightly, trying to act nonchalant .
  130. >Ugh.
  131. “I don’t know.”
  132. > “I hope he does. And I hope he brings me an apple like last time.”
  133. >You don’t want to talk about this.
  134. “How’s the tail coming?”
  135. > She quiets down for a moment, sighing in frustration.
  136. > “I can’t do it like Katya. It looks ugly.”
  137. >She pouts.
  138. >You turn around to examine her attempt and even though it’s quite messy, you still think it looks pretty decent for a pony’s hooves instead of a human’s hands.
  139. “It doesn’t look that ugly.”
  140. > “You’re just being nice, but thank you anyway.”
  141. >You won’t sugar coat it, but you also won’t be a complete cunt.
  142. “I guess braiding challah bread and braiding pony tails aren’t so different, hm?”
  143. >A little smile from Cinnamon Twist.
  144. >“I guess not.”
  145. >She places her cheek to your cheek affectionately and tucks in beside you so that your sides are pressed against each other's.
  146. > “See you in the morning, Ginger.”
  147. “'Night Cinnamon.”
  148. >She didn’t even let you try to plait her mane before going to bed, but by now it’s too late and she’s twitching beside you which means she’s about to slip into a deep sleep.
  149. >You don’t know how she can sleep that easy.
  150. >A sudden surge of protectiveness rises within you and you rest your head on her back, wishing desperately that you could change her world while also being relieved that this is the only world she knows.
  151. >She can't be hurt by what she doesn't know.
  152. >You close your eyes and let sleep consume you.
  153.  
  154. >Be Bakery Slave.
  155. >This last batch of rye is particularly ergot-filled and you’re getting increasingly pissed off that humans have given a pony with clumsy hooves a task that could be completed so much faster with nimble human fingers.
  156. >Having to scrape each tiny dark piece to the edge of the tray and carefully lift it out without accidentally dropping back into the pile of rye is practically torture.
  157. >You put each piece of ergot into a small metal bowl and when you’re through sorting you chuck the contents into the trash bin.
  158. >It seems wasteful just throwing them out like that.
  159. >Somepony somewhere must have come up with a use for it, you think absent-mindedly.
  160. >And then a little voice at the back of your head responds: maybe you could be that somepony.
  161. >You freeze.
  162. >If you could come up with a way to use the ergot in a new baked good you might get rewarded.
  163. >Not being granted your freedom or anything, but your mind is already starting to wander into what rewards you could receive for your cleverness.
  164. >Maybe you should save the ergot, just in case.
  165. >Your heart starts to beat faster.
  166. >You don’t have any possessions except for your headscarf and the thought of HAVING something gives you a weird sort of thrill.
  167. >Especially because it’s something you aren’t supposed to have.
  168. >Well.
  169. >Are you really not supposed to have it?
  170. >It’s just going to be thrown away.
  171. >You’re just saving it for later.
  172. >Oh well, that’s your justification and you’re sticking to it.
  173. >Jelly Roll interrupts your thoughts by gently butting his big grey head against your shoulder.
  174. >“Want some help with that?”
  175. >He’s so considerate, but you wouldn’t want him to risk trouble by stopping his own work to help you with yours.
  176. “Don’t you have laminating to do?”
  177. >He shrugs.
  178. >“The puff pastry dough is in the middle of a freeze and my sweet potato loaves need a little more proofing. I got time.”
  179. “Thanks.”
  180. >Jelly Roll is the oldest of you ponies, though not by very much; you think the first streak of grey in his blonde mane is from stress rather than age.
  181. >He’s the biggest of you all, standing at least a head and a half taller than Cinnamon Twist who is the shortest, and also the strongest.
  182. >Obviously you have a favorite.
  183. >But that’s also because you went to school together back in Fillydelphia.
  184. >You weren’t friends or anything and you were barely old enough to remember him as a classmate, but it means that you share some memories.
  185. >It means there’s another pony who remembers how the school yard had crocuses in it, or how inside the building smelled like that one type of cleaning fluid, or how your teacher’s name was Dainty Daisy (Ms. Daisy to you.)
  186. >You two sit in silence, painstakingly picking out the ergot side by side, your shoulders brushing against each other.
  187. >Even though you have no desire to mate with him, (he feels more like an older brother to you) being so close to him right now and feeling the heat coming off of his body makes you disappointed that the stallion stables are kept separate from yours.
  188. >You would be more than happy to cuddle up to Jelly Roll and Red Velvet at night; they’re both far warmer than Cinnamon is and their presence makes you feel safe.
  189. >You know that Fyodor’s threats are mostly hollow - damaging property would slow bakery production after all - but if he ever did try to hurt you, you’re sure Jelly Roll wouldn’t let it happen.
  190. >He’s a good pony.
  191. >You’ve run out of rye to sort and have just started to reluctantly bring the ergot cup towards the trash when you hear the slamming of the outer metal door.
  192. >You prick your ears: which sibling is it?
  193. >Heavy, slower thumps down the stairs.
  194. >Fyodor.
  195. >Jelly Roll leaps to his hooves and scrambles back over to the industrial freezer, busying himself in the status of the puff pastry.
  196. >Red Velvet snatches a knife from the knife rack and starts frantically chopping up the walnuts from the giant bag he had just emptied all over the counter.
  197. >A couple of nuts fall to the floor in his haste.
  198. >You panic and tuck the cup of ergot underneath the counter, desperately turning around to try and find something to make yourself look busy.
  199. >You have a schedule of tasks to accomplish, but for some reason your mind has gone blank.
  200. >Find something, find something, find something!
  201. >Your gaze lands on the bag of clean rye and you dump some hoof-fulls of grain into the grinder and turn it on, trying to make it look like you were intentionally making flour.
  202. >You hear the kitchen door unlock and swing open.
  203. >In comes Fyodor.
  204. >Click. Click.
  205. >Then silence.
  206. >You look to him without making eye contact, bowing your head low.
  207. “Hello Master Fyodor.”
  208. >Jelly Roll and Red Velvet do the same.
  209. >“MISTER FYODOR!”
  210. >Cinnamon bounds towards the young man, skidding to a halt just before him and wiggling her whole body excitedly.
  211. >A wide smile breaks across his face.
  212. >“Hello lovely,” he croons sweetly, kneeling down to stroke the side of Cinnamon’s face.
  213. >She leans into his touch, hungry for it, and closes her eyes in pleasure.
  214. >“I’ve missed you.”
  215. >He laughs, reaching behind her ears to scratch her favorite spot.
  216. >“I missed you too. How have they been feeding you?”
  217. >Her ears prick up; this is a leading question.
  218. >“Breakfast oats and hay have been tasty, but not very sweet…”
  219. >He procures a bright red apple from inside his jacket pocket and holds it in front of her nose, watching as her nostrils flare in delight.
  220. >“Will this help solve your problem?”
  221. >“Yes, sir!!”
  222. >Cinnamon scarfs down the treat in just a few bites and licks her lips, savoring the last drops of sweetness running down her chin.
  223. >In other circumstances you would be jealous that she got an apple and you didn’t, but not now.
  224. >You keep your head down and stare into the large mixing bowl as fresh flour begins to fill it, trying not to watch what’s going on with Fyodor and Cinnamon Twist.
  225. >You glance over your shoulder and make accidental eye contact with Fyodor’s cold blue gaze.
  226. >Shit.
  227. >“You got something to say, Ginger Snap?” he barks, standing up and taking off his jacket, hanging it on the hook where you put your headscarves when you aren’t wearing them.
  228. >You jerk your head back towards the bowl.
  229. “N-no, Master.”
  230. >“Good, that’s what I thought.”
  231. >He’s rolling up his sleeves.
  232. >From the corner of your eye you see him stroke Cinnamon under the chin and she murmurs happily, though she doesn’t dare to press against him.
  233. >Yet.
  234. >He’s complained about people noticing the pony hairs on his suit so she keeps herself in place.
  235. >“Red Velvet quit making a fucking mess over there, you can do better than that.”
  236. >“Sorry, Master,” responds the stallion with a slight wobble in his voice as he kneels down to pick up the fallen walnuts with his teeth.
  237. >Cinnamon is still waiting patiently, looking up at Fyodor with blatant adoration in her deep brown eyes.
  238. >“Now all you ponies turn the fuck around, get back to work, and mind your own business.”
  239. >As if you weren’t already doing that.
  240. >Fyodor unzips his fly.
  241. >You grab the large scoop and empty several more loads of rye into the grinder, trying to focus on the loud gurgling of the machine doing its job rather than the other sounds coming from the opposite corner of the room.
  242. >For a split second you and Jelly Roll make eye contact.
  243. >There’s a mixture of sadness, pity, and fear in his blue-green eyes; you wonder if the same combination is reflected in your own.
  244. >You look away.
  245.  
  246. >Be Bakery Slave.
  247. >It’s a Katya day, thankfully.
  248. >For the past few days there haven’t been any visits, which is just as well because it’s almost Christmas and you’ve been working your hooves off.
  249. >Nobody’s told you that Christmas is soon, but you can tell by the increase in custom orders for winter treats; spiced gingerbread boys that are lovingly decorated by Cinnamon Twist, Jelly Roll’s marzipan-packed stollen, Red Velvet’s rich chocolate peppermint cupcakes, and your own krendl using the Ivanova family recipe.
  250. >You pretend to not see Katya sneak a pinch of the krendl dough today even though you know you really aren’t supposed to let anyone do that.
  251. >Oh well, any germs will bake off in the oven’s heat anyways.
  252. >The youngest Ivanova is complaining to you ponies about how a boy in her English class was messing up his lines today.
  253. >Her class is reading some old play out loud to try and “understand it better.”
  254. >“It’s like he can barely read English, I swear,” she snorts, rolling her eyes. “Russian is my first language and even I can read Shakespeare’s English better than him.”
  255. >She furrows her thin, dark eyebrows in annoyance.
  256. >“He was making us both look stupid!”
  257. >Cinnamon has conveniently finished her cookie decorating for the moment and is pressed to Katya’s side, her fuzzy chin nestled into the crook of the girl’s shoulder.
  258. >“He’s the stupid one, not you!” she says defensively with a swish of her tail and a bob of her head.
  259. >Katya smiles and strokes the brown mare’s chest.
  260. >“Thanks Cinnamon, I’m just mad. I got to be Juliet, which is the part that like EVERY girl wants to play and it was embarrassing to have such a bad Romeo.”
  261. >Cinnamon snuggles a little closer.
  262. >“Why do all the girls want to be Juliet? What’s the play about?”
  263. >There’s more work to be done, but your interest has been piqued and you .
  264. >You love hearing about Katya’s day; it’s almost like being read a story that updates every couple of days.
  265. >Even though there isn’t really a plot and it’s mostly character development, Katya is the protagonist and you’re there rooting for her through the social trials in her life.
  266. >It reminds you of those weekly stories that you used to read in the Fillydelphia Inquirer.
  267. >“Oh it’s a romance. But a tragic one because the two lovers die at the end. Juliet is the main girl character.”
  268. >Cinnamon’s big brown eyes light up.
  269. >“Tell me more!”
  270. >“Well there are two big families that hate each other, but Romeo, a boy from one family, falls in love with Juliet, a girl from the other family, when he sees her. They meet up  and a ball and she falls in love with him too. Their love is forbidden so they get married in secret, but then Romeo is banished from the city because he murdered Juliet’s cousin. Juliet’s dad tries to make her marry another guy and she refuses because she’s already married to Romeo, but she can’t actually tell her parents that. So she writes a letter to Romeo telling him she’s going to drink a sleeping potion that will make her look dead so that her family will put her in a crypt and she can escape to run away with Romeo. Romeo doesn’t get the letter in time and one of his friends tells him that Juliet has died. He decides to buy a potion to kill himself and drinks it over her dead-looking body, but just then Juliet wakes up and sees that her lover is dead! So she takes his dagger and stabs herself because she doesn’t want to live without him.”
  271. > Cinnamon sighs, clasping a hoof to her heart and swaying backwards in a fake swoon.
  272. > “How romantic!”
  273. > “Not really,” says Katya with a roll of her eyes. “If they had actually communicated and planned things out better they could have lived happily ever after.”
  274. > “I still think it sounds kinda romantic,” responds Cinnamon dreamily.
  275. >A little tinkling sound comes from within Kayta’s coat pocket and she pulls out her cellphone to check the caller.
  276. >“Ah, I’ve got to go, sorry guys. But I do have something to give you before I go. Call it a little Christmas treat.”
  277. >Suddenly every pony head has swiveled towards her, ears pricked.
  278. >She reaches into her other pocket and produces a crumpled plastic bag filled with a familiar red and white candy.
  279. >Peppermints!
  280. >You can’t help it; you release a little whinny of excitement and abandon your krendl without rolling it up, trotting over to Katya and snuffling at the delicious-smelling bag in her hand.
  281. >Red Velvet quickly follows you over and even Jelly Roll stops kneading bread dough in order to be by Katya’s side for a treat.
  282. >She distributes a piece of peppermint to each of you and soon you’re all quietly sucking on the sweet candy, letting out snuffs and huffs of happiness.
  283. >Its minty flavor spreads across your tongue and you close your eyes, basking in the warmth of old Hearthswarming Eve memories.
  284. >Katya giggles and leaves the kitchen, locking the door behind her.
  285. >Tip, tip, tap up the metal stairs.
  286. >The outer door locks.
  287. >It’s quiet once more, save for the slurping of peppermints.
  288. >The small herd dissipates, each pony returning to the tasks at hoof that they had left in favor of candy.
  289. >The mint and the visit from Katya have definitely improved your mood and you start rolling up your dough with renewed energy, trapping the cinnamon sugar and fruit pieces in tight rolls.
  290. >You even hum a little bit.
  291. >You reach under the counter to grab another bag of sugar and accidentally knock over a bowl that had been sitting open on top of other supplies, spilling its contents.
  292. “Horseapples!”
  293. >You rush to paw up the mess with your hoof when you realize that it’s the ergot you had saved a couple days ago.
  294. >Oh yeah.
  295. >You had forgotten it in your panic.
  296. >With a suspicious glance around to see if anyone is watching you, you sweep the dark pieces into your hoof and dump them into a glass mason jar.
  297. >You screw the lid on and tuck it underneath your work station counter behind some of the larger bags of flour and containers of whole grains.
  298. >Now it’s properly been saved for later.
  299. >Soon you’ll prove that you’re a clever pony who can make use of ingredients that other people waste!
  300. >Maybe you’ll even get another peppermint.
  301.  
  302. >Be Bakery Slave.
  303. >You’re supposed to be asleep, but Cinnamon has been fidgeting beside you all night and you can hear the faint thumping of a baseline vibrating from upstairs.
  304. >Which is to say you’re having a more difficult time than usual drifting off.
  305. >You assume the family Christmas party is going on; by now Katya should have snuck you ponies a treat as an excuse to escape the drunken revelry of her family, but this year she hasn’t come down.
  306. >Yet.
  307. >You hope she’ll come down with another peppermint.
  308. >You have a weakness for those.
  309. >Maybe the music isn’t from the Christmas party after all, but you can’t be sure since your usual indicator is Katya’s arrival with “gifts” and complaining about everyone else being drunk.
  310. >Cinnamon’s ears prick up and you can feel her crane her neck around to look behind her even though your eyes are closed.
  311. >It’s been getting colder and colder in the basement and you two have been huddled together for warmth every night for at least a week.
  312. >Your proximity to Cinnamon usually isn’t a problem because she’s surprisingly warm for a smaller pony, but tonight you can feel her every twitch and turn, which doesn’t make it easy to sink into nothingness like you’d like.
  313. >You have to bite your tongue to keep from hissing something nasty.
  314. “Something on your mind?”
  315. >You’re unable to prevent a little venom from seeping into the question.
  316. >Play nice, Ginger.
  317. >Cinnamon’s ears swivel towards you and she wheels her head back around.
  318. >“Don’t you wish you were up there with them right now?” she sighs, resting her head over your withers.
  319. >Not particularly.
  320. “What?”
  321. >She giggles, wiggling her haunches in excitement; she’s clearly not tired at all.
  322. >You’re trying to not be annoyed by it.
  323. >“I mean, wouldn’t it be fun to go to the party? We would get to see the upstairs and could eat as much candy as we wanted and spend the whole night dancing!”  
  324. >Wow. This just reminds of how long it’s been since you danced.
  325. >You’ve had no reason to here so it wasn’t something you’d ever thought of.
  326. “You aren’t too tired?”
  327. >You feel her shake her head over your neck.
  328. >“Not a bit!”
  329. >She pauses before admitting (not without a tinge of guilt and disappointment).
  330. >“Secretly I was hoping Fyodor would bring me upstairs tonight.”
  331. >WHAT?
  332. “You thought he’d take you upstairs?!”
  333. >Cinnamon startles at your sudden change in volume, jerking her head off your withers and shuffling a couple steps backwards.
  334. >“Well, he’s my coltfriend after all!” she responds defensively. “Don’t I deserve to go upstairs with him sometimes?”
  335. >The storm of emotions - outrage, pity, sadness, a twinge of envy - in your stomach rise into your throat and you feel like you’re going to be ill.
  336. >“I mean, I’ll have to meet his family at some point! Not just Katya.”
  337. >She’s delusional.
  338. >You have to be careful with your wording; Cinnamon may be ignorant, but you don’t want to crush her spirit completely or anything.
  339. “You think he’s your coltfriend?”
  340. >She gives you a weird look.
  341. >“Yeeeah…? I mean he visits me all the time and brings me gifts and we make love together.”
  342. >Make love.
  343. >Definitely going to be ill now.
  344. “Cinnamon, I don’t think he can ever bring you upstairs. The family… They wouldn’t like that.”
  345. >Her tail flicks back and forth in annoyance and she strikes one hoof against the floor.
  346. >“Well they’ll just have to get used to the idea! We’re in love… And they can’t stop us!”
  347. >They most certainly could.
  348. >You decide to drop the topic so as not to rile up Cinnamon any more.
  349. >Both of you are stubborn, but you have to be the bigger mare here.
  350. >And you don’t want to have this idea stick in her mind simply because you said it couldn’t work.
  351. >She senses you backing down and returns to your side once more, resting her cheek against yours in apology.
  352. > Forget about it, Ginger, it doesn’t matter. Fyodor probably won’t come down at all tonight anyway.”
  353. >There’s still a shred of hope in her voice.
  354. >“But…”
  355. >She gives a mischievous smile that you don’t often see.
  356. >Alright, your interest has been piqued; you lift one ear in questioning.
  357. >“That doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate on our own. Let’s dance!”
  358. >You let out a raspy laugh that sounds more like a bark.
  359. “You want to dance?”
  360. >Cinnamon seems unaffected by your cynicism.
  361. >“Why not? I’ve never done it before!”
  362. >You can’t help but smile, even though you’re tired and your brain is trying to crush down a lot of emotions.
  363. >This is a cute distraction.
  364. “I don’t know anything special. But basically-”
  365. >You rear up onto your hind legs and balance yourself upright in a clumsy sort of way, holding out your hooves to Cinnamon.
  366. “You get onto your hind legs and hold hooves. And move to the music.”
  367. >Cinnamon watches and tries to copy you, her thighs wobbling with effort of holding the unfamiliar pose.
  368. >She almost falls, but manages to catch herself by throwing out her hooves in front of her so that they land against yours.
  369. >You nod encouragingly and then take a slow step backward, letting her take a shaky step forward to match your movement.
  370. >You don’t really have music to follow, but you can certainly hear the thumping bass from upstairs and you can follow that.
  371. >Another step, another step.
  372. >Cinnamon seems elated.
  373. >“Is this really what dancing is? It’s so nice and not that hard.”
  374. >As she says this, she stumbles and you catch her against your foreleg.
  375. "Careful."
  376. >She bounces right back up and you sway to the faint beat, both of you unable to hold back some giggles.
  377. >It feels weird to be dancing in this situation, but in all it's kind of nice.
  378. >Suddenly the music is punctuated by the sound of shoes on the metal stairs.
  379. >The steps are uneven and heavy; definitely not Katya coming with a gift.
  380. >You push off from Cinnamon’s hooves, sending her tumbling backwards onto her rump with an undignified squeak, before scrambling over to the furthest corner of the stable, closing your eyes and pretending to be asleep.
  381. >Your heart is hammering inside your chest.
  382. >You don’t think that dancing is against the rules, but the humans get nervous about seeing you do something new.
  383. >You don’t want to know what their reaction would be after consuming alcohol.
  384. >Cinnamon has just gotten back onto her hooves and is shaking the hay off her coat when the door to the stables opens.
  385. >“Hey sweetie,” slurs a familiar voice, “how’s my little pony?”
  386. >Fyodor?
  387. >You squeeze your eyes shut even tighter and start to let out little fake snores so that he’ll hopefully leave you alone.
  388. >Cinnamon whinnies in delight.
  389. >“You came!!”
  390. >You can hear her rear up so that her forelocks hang over the top of the gate to your stable as she stretches out her muzzle for pets.
  391. >He must be stroking her because she’s murmuring happily.
  392. >“Your little pony is good, just kinda jealous about all that fun you’re having. Are you going to bring me up to the party, too?”
  393. >Fyodor laughs, probably harsher than he realizes.
  394. >“Cinnamon, I can’t bring you upstairs. It’s too dangerous.”
  395. >Is that a note of worry in his voice?
  396. >“We’ve all been drinking anyways,” he continues quickly, stumbling over some of his words, “so you would probably get hurt, can’t risk our property getting hurt.”
  397. >“Property?” Cinnamon bleats, hurt.
  398. >“Well, you know I don’t think of you like that, sweetie, but that’s how everyone else sees it. If I tried to bring you upstairs they’d get mad at both of us. Not gonna risk it.”
  399. >She doesn’t reply, but her disappointment hangs tangibly in the air; you almost feel bad for her.
  400. >Fyodor seems to notice.
  401. >“Don’t look so sad. Here, I brought you some champagne from the party. Have a sip, a little celebration for us.”
  402. >Cinnamon takes an enthusiastic gulp from the bottle and then spits some out in surprise.
  403. >“There’s bubbles in it!!”
  404. >Fyodor cracks up.
  405. >“That’s what makes it special! It’s expensive stuff.”
  406. >“Oops…”
  407. >“Hmm. Maybe it will be to someone else’s taste?”
  408. >You can suddenly feel their both their sets of eyes on you and you continue breathing slowly and evenly to try to keep up the illusion of your slumber.
  409. >“Hey! Ginger, wake up.”
  410. >You ignore him, pretending to be asleep.
  411. >“Wake UP, stupid whorse.”
  412. >The comment bites even if it’s not true; you can’t help but flatten your ears and give yourself away.
  413. >You open one eye to see a disheveled Fyodor and an excited Cinnamon, both of them looking at you eagerly.
  414. >Uh oh.
  415. >“I knew you were faking. Come here and have sip of champagne, mm?”
  416. >You don’t want to move, but you force your hooves forward, slowly trotting over to the dark-haired young man.
  417. >He mashes the lip of the bottle against your lips and you cautiously let a little of the liquid into your mouth.
  418. >Cinnamon is right, it’s full of bubbles.
  419. >It’s an odd sensation, but not an entirely unwelcome one.
  420. >You swallow your sip and run your tongue over the hairs on your muzzle to catch any leftover drops.
  421. >It’s dry, but a little bit sweet.
  422. >Fyodor grins.
  423. >“Ginger seems to like the champagne. You’ve got expensive taste for a slave.”
  424. >You would have been just as happy with a cheap peppermint.
  425. “It’s nice,” you say dully, though honestly.
  426. >Fyodor is clearly amused.
  427. >“Have some more. My treat.”
  428. >You take a step backwards, fear rising in your gut. What’s his angle?
  429. “Th-that’s okay. I’d like to go to bed” you stutter.
  430. >Cinnamon nibbles at his sleeve for his attention that has been off of her for too long, whickering softly.
  431. >“Can I try some more?”
  432. >He ignores her.
  433. >“Ginger, I said have some more.”
  434. >You freeze, lowering yourself slightly to the ground in submission, unsure of what to do.
  435. >You would actually like another taste, but you don’t know why Fyodor is offering you some. You don’t have anything to give in exchange.
  436. >And you won’t give him what he gets from Cinnamon.
  437. >“Ginger!”
  438. >He doesn’t give you time to respond, impatiently stumbling into your stable, grabbing you by the mane and shoving the bottle towards your mouth.
  439. >Your fear response kicks in and you strike out instinctively with your hoof, trying to scramble backwards and out of his grip.
  440. >You knock the champagne bottle from his hand to the floor, where it shatters, spraying bubbly, sticky alcohol all over your face, mane, and chest.
  441. >Cinnamon squeals and rears up as the glass shards scatter across the floor.
  442. >Fyodor swears, something in Russian that you don’t know.
  443. >But it doesn’t sound good.
  444. >“Stupid, STUPID animal! I should hit you!”
  445. >His blue eyes are simultaneously icy and on fire and you quake, regret forming like a stone in your stomach.
  446. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!!”
  447. >“I’m not allowed to hit you,” he growls, “and even though I want to, I can’t leave you like this. Cuts on you would require gloves for work and a dirty mare could contaminate product.”
  448. >You dread the next words that come out of his mouth.
  449. >“You need a bath.”
  450.  
  451. >Be Bakery Slave.
  452. >Fyodor has got you by the mane and although he’s attempting to drag you roughly down the hallway towards the wash station, you’re more just following him, trying to keep pace with his uneven steps.
  453. >Maybe if you’re good he won’t be so hard on you.
  454. >He’s been muttering unintelligibly under his breath, half in English, half in Russian so you can’t understand what he’s saying.
  455. >But he’s definitely drunk.
  456. >You don’t need to be a genius to figure that out.
  457. >Which means if worse comes to worst you could probably outmaneuver him.
  458. >If you could get back to the stable and the boys, no, Cinnamon...
  459. >He might not be a total monster in front of Cinnamon.  
  460. >You’re silent, trying to be unnoticeable as possible as you enter the wash station room.
  461. >It’s through a wooden door that leads to a white tiled room with only a hose, a drain, and pony cleaning supplies tossed carelessly in heap in the corner.
  462. >Fyodor belches wetly and releases his grip on your sticky mane, kicking your rump with his shoe to send you stumbling into the room.
  463. >If you weren’t shaking quite so hard you might have caught yourself, but instead you land hard on your chin with a CRACK against the tile floor.
  464. >A lick of violet pain shoots upwards through your jaw.
  465. >You can’t help but gasp.
  466. >Fyodor flicks the lightswitch on, runs a hand through his hair and shuts the door behind you without a click.
  467. >“Stupid fucking animal,” he spits.
  468. >You rush to get back on your hooves and into a defensive position, wobbling as you try to ignore the stabbing sensations in your chin.
  469. >You keep your head lowered and don’t make eye contact with him - just be good, just be good.
  470. >“You’re so fucking difficult, Ginger. You wouldn’t get into this kind of shit if you just LISTENED for one goddamn second.”
  471. >His voice is pure poison.
  472. >“You should be more like Cinnamon. She knows how to be a good girl.”
  473. >The subtext is crystal clear through his slurring and you wince.
  474. “I’m sorry,” you manage in barely a whisper.
  475. >“Yeah you are. And you will be. Dumb whorse.”
  476. >You swear he’s getting off on hearing your heart practically pounding out of your chest.
  477. >Though fear grips you like a horrible, icy claw that numbs your mind, your fight or flight instincts combat it with electrifying waves of anxiety.
  478. >Swallowing hard, you take a step back and allow your gaze to flicker briefly Fyodor’s face to judge if what you think is coming next is actually coming next.
  479. >Rage is curved into his narrowed brows, but you also see the exhaustion etched into the lines under his eyes. You let your gaze drop lower and notice no bulge in his tight jeans.
  480. >Safe for now.
  481. >“You gonna be a good girl? Or do I need to get the bridle?”
  482. >You shake your head vehemently, your eyes once again lowered to your hooves.
  483. “No.”
  484. >“You’ll be good?”
  485. “I’ll be good.”
  486. >He seems to accept this and heads towards the hose while you take the remaining steps towards the drain.
  487. >The Pony Handler is the one who usually bathes you and it’s always a passable bath, though never particularly cozy.
  488. >Not like the baths you had in Fillydelphia.
  489. >But they still leave you feeling refreshed and a little bit freer from the flour that perpetually dusts your coat.
  490. >Before you can react, Fyodor sprays you full in the muzzle with the hose and you squeal in surprise.
  491. >And pain.
  492. >The water is FREEZING.
  493. >You take several rapid steps backwards, turning your head away from the blast so you can gasp in a few breaths of air instead of the water that has already penetrated your nose.
  494. >Fyodor adjusts the positioning of the hose so that the cold water continues to cover your muzzle.
  495. >You shake your head from side to side and rear up desperately trying to breathe as the young man snorts in amusement.
  496. >It feels like the cold is starting to seep deep into your bones and you begin to shiver involuntarily with short, shallow breaths.
  497. >He moves the spray to hit the rest of your body and you calm down, remaining still save for your shivering.
  498. >Finally, finally the hose is turned off and you’re unmolested for a blessed moment, dripping and shaking as the water trickles from your mane into your eyes.
  499. >Fyodor returns to your side with a bucket of soapy (cold?) water and a rag.
  500. >You have to force yourself to not flinch away.
  501. >He draws the cloth up your chest and sloppily scrubs out the stickiness, giving your coat a rough do-over with the soap.
  502. >It could certainly be better, but you keep your mouth shut; you just want this to be over as quickly as possible.
  503. >At least the water in the bucket isn’t as cold, although it isn’t warm either.
  504. >You close your eyes and attempt to try and detach yourself from your body to escape what’s happening.
  505. >You are nothing.
  506. >You are like air, rising above the pony in the washing station, observing this scene as an outsider, someone or something completely different.
  507. >The numbness, the dull nothingness at the back of your skull is like a drug.
  508. >You feel nothing.
  509. >You can ignore the bar of soap being brought up to the muzzle of the pale mare and the bitter, horrid taste of that seeps between her lips.
  510. >You feel bad for her.
  511. >A knock on the door causes Fyodor to freeze and you to snap out of your dissociation.
  512. >You are in Bakery Slave’s body once more.
  513. >After nudging the door open, (you guess it was never fully closed in the first place) Cinnamon trots in, curiosity and envy written all over her expression.
  514. >“Mister Fyodor, I think some of that champagne got in my coat too…”
  515. >She speaks coyly with her head lowered, but her eyes raised, beautiful, brown, and blinking.
  516. >She have to admit she has the nicest lashes except for Jelly Roll.
  517. >The easy anger withers from Fyodor’s face and he cracks a grin, successfully softened by the presence of the cute little mare and by the amount of alcohol he has consumed.
  518. >“Aww sweetie… Are you jealous?”
  519. >A slight flush rises to her cheeks.
  520. >“N-no! I just thought that if Ginger was getting a bath because she got dirty that I should probably get one too. Since I also got dirty.”
  521. >Oh Cinnamon.
  522. >Sweet, sweet Cinnamon must be sent from Celestia herself to rescue you even if she didn’t intend to.
  523. >She curves her lips into a little pout and swishes her curly bobbed tail at the man by your side.
  524. >“Besides, I didn’t want you to spend ALL your time on Ginger tonight. Sorry, Ginger.”
  525. >You just stare blankly in reply.
  526. >Fyodor stands up, sweeps over to Cinnamon and then squats down to scratch her chin with one hand while cupping her cheek in the other.
  527. >“You’re cute, you know?”
  528. >She giggles and rubs her muzzle over his hand affectionately, leaning into his palm.
  529. >“I try.”
  530. >She’s really pouring it on tonight; is she actually jealous?
  531. >You suppose she’s at that age where insecurity consumes her and she only feels in control when she’s physically got her man by the balls.
  532. >Which, at the moment, she metaphorically does.
  533. >He’s drunk enough that he’ll hand her the reins for once and allow her to use him instead of the other way around.
  534. >Which works to your advantage.
  535. >Your ears are pricked, alert and ready to react.
  536. >“Let me just spray Ginger off and then I can take care of you, sweetie.”
  537. >Relief crashes over you.
  538. >You should really thank Cinnamon, but she didn’t actually know what she was doing and you don’t want Fyodor to read your sense of deliverance and punish you more.
  539. >So you don’t.
  540. >One last spray of water that has been switched over to hot and is slowly warming while you’re still getting hit by it and you’re then done, replaced by Cinnamon.
  541. >You trudge into the corner, unsure if you should leave the room or not; you don’t want Fyodor’s attention to return to you.
  542. >What you want is to be back in the stables trying to sleep.
  543. >Fyodor tests the water with his hand this time, waiting until it’s warm enough before gently showering it over Cinnamon, who is absolutely beaming.
  544. >Steam billows off the floor and from the little mare’s coat as she bathes, sighing as her whole body sags with relaxation.
  545. >“Warm enough?”
  546. >“It’s perfect,” she purrs, eye closed in delight.
  547. >The water is turned off and she is scrubbed gently, lovingly with a clean rag, the soapy water reaching every fold of her skin except for her eyes and mouth.
  548. >Fyodor rubs horse shampoo into his hands and then combs his fingers through her mane, massaging her scalp.
  549. >She moans in response.
  550. >You didn’t even get shampoo.
  551. >Cinnamon takes a step closer to the young man and rests her head in his palm, eyes still closed.
  552. >“I’ve never had a bath this good…”
  553. >Fyodor kisses her soapy nose and smiles, wiping the trace of bubbles from his lips.
  554. >“Oh the things I’d do for you. Give you a bath at 2 in the morning while everyone else is drinking upstairs. Lucky girl.”
  555. >“I think you’ll be glad you did.”
  556. >They have eyes only for each other.
  557. >You stand, dripping, alone, shivering in the corner as the warm water on your coat rapidly cools.
  558. >You don’t want to see this progress.
  559. >Fyodor is too distracted by Cinnamon to be focused on you anymore, so you slip quietly out the door and back to your stable.
  560.  
  561. >Be Bakery Slave.
  562. >The cooling water that drips down your sides and onto the floor makes you even chillier as you leave the washing station, plodding back to your stable.
  563. >The stable where Cinnamon will not be around to help you warm up.
  564. >You pass the boys’ stable and rear up to peek over the gate for a moment, curious to see if anyone is as sleepless as you are.
  565. >It appears that you are alone in sleeplessness; both Jelly Roll and Red Velvet are fast asleep, emitting snorts and snores as they snooze.
  566. >Just like you and Cinnamon, they’re cuddled together for warmth, their strong, wide flanks pressed close to each other’s side.
  567. >A spark of jealousy hits you and you wish you could be snuggled between them right now.
  568. >They’re both really warm ponies and you could use a little extra body heat.
  569. >How did everypony else here manage to get the genes to retain heat and you didn’t?
  570. >A blast of wintry air hits you and you shudder, half tempted to try and sneak into their stable just to stop yourself from freezing.
  571. >You’re sure neither of them would mind, even though they might grumble at the presence of your damp flanks.
  572. >Wait a minute.
  573. >Is it just the drying water that’s making you so cold?
  574. >You cautiously sniff the air and suddenly your nostrils are filled with a dozen new scents that you haven’t experienced in awhile.
  575. >You pull another big breath of air in through your nose, with notes of car fumes, vomit, and salt water hitting the back of your throat.
  576. >Your heart beats faster.
  577. >You rush towards the metal stairs, heart leaping into your throat at the sight of street lamp light pouring in through the open metal door.
  578. >The open metal door.
  579. >The freezing air from outside hits you full in the muzzle, sending you a step backwards with a huge shiver.
  580. >You take a tentative step up the stairs, careful not to let your hoofsteps fall too heavily and alert Fyodor.
  581. >Even though you’re sure he’s… too occupied at the moment to hear you.
  582. >Your head peeps out of the open door and you get a hurried look at your surroundings; the metal door opens into the sidewalk and is overlooked by the giant bakery window and forest green awning. Greenlove sits on a small city street that branches off of a larger, busier looking street where only one woman walks, coat clutched tightly around her.
  583. >The big street is filled with writing you can’t read.
  584. >You’re proud that you’re able to read English and something about the script you can’t comprehend makes you uneasy.
  585. >Ah, there’s something you can read.
  586. >Brighton Express Food Market.
  587. >The almost painfully bright yellow awning is dusted in a light coating of snow that also decorates the sidewalks and the trees.
  588. >Lime-colored bins with labels for fruit (in both English and the unfamiliar script) on them clearly tell you that it’s a grocery store across the street from the bakery.
  589. >Another breeze blows a little bit of the snow down the stairs and onto your coat and you pop back down below the ground once more.
  590. >You shake the snow off your back and try to make sense of what to do next.
  591. >Your instinct is to run through the open door and never look back.
  592. >But Jelly Roll, Red Velvet… Even Cinnamon.
  593. >Would you really leave them behind?
  594. >It gives you pause.
  595. >But yes, you think you would leave without them.
  596. >The more pressing problem is that you are still a very wet pony.
  597. >Just the small gusts of wind from outside are enough to send you shuddering back down below to where it’s warmer; could you even survive the night?
  598. >Would your freedom be worth your potential death?
  599. >And if you were caught…?
  600. >Well, you wouldn’t be killed, but your life would certainly be made even more miserable at the bakery.
  601. >Who knows what kind of horrible punishment Fyodor would be allowed to perform if the Ivanova parents allowed it.
  602. >You heave a sigh, slowly turning tail before slumping, defeated, back towards your stable.
  603. >On one hoof, your heart is screaming at you to flee, to find freedom in this new and scary world; but on the other hood your head tells you to stay where you can be kept warm and fed, where at least you won’t die and have ponies who understand your situation.
  604. >Your head wins this time.
  605. >You fear death just enough that you’ll give up the chance for freedom.
  606. >This time.
  607. >Fyodor made the mistake once; he could always make it again.
  608. >Your heart beat has finally started to slow as you nudge the unlocked gate to your stable open, trotting inside.
  609. >The faint sound of moaning makes you flatten your ears to drown out the unpleasant noises and you curl up in the hay, trying to make yourself as comfortable as you can.
  610. >You’ve closed your eyes, but your jaw is still radiating pain from your earlier fall and it’s keeping you awake.
  611. >Not unusual for you, but you’d like to have at least a little bit of sleep to help you forget what happened tonight.
  612. >It seems like only a couple minutes later there’s a fuzzy warm body snuggling beside you.
  613. >“Hi Ginger,” Cinnamon whispers gently, “Don’t worry, he’s gone now.”
  614. >You respond by placing your head onto her back, a silent thanks for her interruption in the washing station.
  615. >“Geez, you’re so cold!”
  616. “Sorry” you mumble, nuzzling your spotted muzzle into her soft coat.
  617. >You want to suck every molecule of warmth from this silly little mare who just happened to get a really good bath.
  618. >And a towel dry apparently.
  619. >Envy swells inside you once again, but is stamped out after Cinnamon speaks.
  620. >“I’m sorry you got such a shitty bath.”
  621. >Shitty.
  622. >Her use of human swearing catches you off guard sometimes; she really isn’t from Equestria.
  623. “It’s okay.”
  624. >“It’s not. I don’t know why he was being so mean. You could have gotten sick or really hurt…”
  625. >The fact that she cares about your wellbeing is a little surprising and makes you wonder if all you ponies care a little more about each other than you let on.
  626. “My jaw hurts. And I’m really cold. But I’m okay.”
  627. >“That’ll have to do I guess.”
  628. >She presses close to your side and takes a deep breath of your scent in.
  629. >“You should have just taken the other sip of champagne, though. I think you harmed yourself more by refusing it.”
  630. >Obviously you understand that now.
  631. >But you had reason to fear his reasons!
  632. “I couldn’t give him what you do, Cinnamon.”
  633. >She looks shocked and her ears flatten in annoyance.
  634. >“Well duh! We’re together, you know, and totally exclusive. He wasn’t asking you for sex - he just wanted to give you a treat. He goes about it in a different way than Katya does. I think he’s a little sensitive.”
  635. >Sure, sensitive enough to nearly drown you when you didn’t accept his alcohol.
  636. “He was drunk. I was just being careful.”
  637. >She sniffs. “He still wouldn’t have given himself to you. Like I said - we’re exclusive. And I trust him to stay that way.”
  638. >Oh Celestia.
  639. “You trusted him so much that you had to sneak out and ask for your own bath?”
  640. >You can feel her blush even if you can’t see it well.
  641. >“Maybe I was a little jealous. I thought he was coming to see me and he was spending so much time on you. But I did…”
  642. >She pauses.
  643. >“I mean, I was a little bit worried about the way he was dragging you. I didn’t really need a bath, but I thought I could maybe take some of the heat off you if I asked for one.”
  644. >So she wasn’t being totally one-minded.
  645. “Your intuition was right. I’m grateful that you, um… Interrupted.”
  646. >“I’m just glad you’re okay. And it was a nice opportunity for us to get a little intimate,” she giggles.
  647. >You have to stop yourself from saying something awful.
  648. >‘Maybe your name should have been Cream Pie instead of Cinnamon Twist,’ comes to mind, but you can have your own private giggle at that later.
  649. >You can’t be mean with Cinnamon after she helped you out.
  650. “Thanks.”
  651. >“You’re welcome.”
  652. “I’m glad my favorite stable warmer is back.”
  653. >She snorts out loud this time, her thin sides shaking with a laugh.
  654. >“Don’t I know it! Come closer, you.”
  655.  
  656. >Be Bakery Slave.
  657. >You’re still thinking about the outside door being open last night; in the morning regret chews at your stomach like a worm but at this point the cold water has dried off your coat and you’re cuddled up to a very warm little pony.
  658. >It’s easy to think about escaping to freedom when imminent hypothermia doesn’t seem like a real possibility.
  659. >You can hear the Pony Handler descend the stairs and you greet him with a dip of your head as he comes into view over the stable gate.
  660. >The Pony Handler is a quiet man who rarely speaks and treats you more like the horses from his world than like magical talking ponies from another dimension.
  661. >Which you don’t mind because it means he’s a neutral force in your life, which there aren’t many of.
  662. >He wakes you up in the morning, fills your feedboxes, leads you to the kitchen, and then does the reverse in the evening.
  663. >He also gives you the occasional bath as needed.
  664. >After all, you still need to follow health and safety protocol, which would not condone filthy ponies handling food.
  665. >You don’t use gloves, firstly because they don’t make food handling gloves for ponies, but secondly because the heat that bakes the bread kills any germs that might be living on your hooves.
  666. >You ponies also don’t handle any finished product; you just place the trays on the conveyor belt that leads to the bakery upstairs.
  667. >AND you wash your hooves at the start of every day and before you get to work on a new baked good.
  668. >Technically, you’re following New York Food Protection law!
  669. >But when enough flour starts to stick to your coat, you need to get washed off so that you don’t contaminate product.
  670. >Hence why the Pony Handler was hired.
  671. >Even though everypony here is capable of taking care of themselves, you suppose the Ivanovas didn’t want to leave anything to chance.
  672. >After all you had heard some horror stories back at the auction house from one mare who was being resold after her stallion counterpart starved himself to death.
  673. >The baths are hasty, but at least the Pony Handler gives you the kindness of warm water and gentle scrubbing away from your eyes and nose.
  674. >He’s not bad, but he doesn’t bring peppermints like Katya.
  675. >Mm. Peppermints.
  676. >You hope she visits soon.
  677. >The Pony Handler returns your nod and enters the stable, bending over to give Cinnamon’s shoulder a little shake.
  678. >“C’mon Cinnamon. Up.”
  679. >She raises her head from off your back sleepily, mouth opening in a wide yawn.
  680. >“Already?” she murmurs blearily, eyes adjusting to the light.
  681. >The Pony Handler doesn’t respond, already moving on to wake the stallions up before putting out everyone’s feed.
  682. >Cinnamon stands up and stretches, her eyes squeezing shut until her stretch hits the right spot and she relaxes with a happy sigh.
  683. >“Good morning, Ginger. Sleep okay?”
  684. “Yeah. You?”
  685. >“I’m still kinda sleepy…”
  686. >Cinnamon hasn’t reached peak chattiness yet so when the Pony Handler returns with breakfast you can eat in silence, side by side so that your flanks brush against each other in the confined space.
  687. >It’s actually a really pleasant time of day. There isn’t any morning light in the basement, but the breath of fresh air carried in by the Pony Handler brings a fresh scent to your nostrils; you’re still warm from cuddling with Cinnamon and your body heat is still shared as you eat together; the quiet that sits over the stable is marred only by the snuffles of eating. It’s peaceful before the chaos of the work day starts.
  688. >Morning is probably your favorite time of day.
  689.  
  690. >Once in the kitchen you get to work scribbling down your to-do list to help direct your day; your work is significantly lessened now that Christmas is over and most humans are spending the day sleeping off all the food they ate the day before.
  691. >The slower pace is a welcome relief. You’re exhausted from last night and could have used another two hours or more of sleep this morning.
  692. >Maybe you can let yourself melt into your routine and let your mind rest for a bit. It’s not a nap, but it’s as close as you’ll get.
  693. >Jelly Roll trots purposefully over to your station with his ears pricked, blowing softly through his nostrils in greeting.
  694. >“Morning Ginger. Are you… alright? I thought I heard Fyodor’s voice last night.”
  695. >You nod numbly, setting down your pen.
  696. “He came down with champagne for Cinnamon, but decided to bother me instead. Got a miserable bath, but I’m not hurt. Cinnamon… Distracted him for me so I could get away.”
  697. >Jelly winces, but also nods his head in understanding.
  698. >“Well I’m glad you’re okay. Just wanted to see how you were doing.”
  699. >How sweet.
  700. >In other circumstances, you would have allowed yourself to get indignant. After all, Jelly Roll was awake to hear Fyodor drunkenly yelling at you and dragging you off for unknown punishment and he did nothing about it?  
  701. >But you understand him completely. If the situation had been switched you would have done exactly as he did; kept your head down, kept your eyes closed, and tried your best to ignore whatever awful thing was going on outside your stable.
  702. >You’re a slave, survival is just what you do.
  703. >If you were unfairly being beaten to death then perhaps Jelly Roll would step in. If he was being beaten within an inch of his life you might plead with his attacker to stop however you could.
  704. >But for small moments like last night…
  705. >Well, that’s on you to avoid punishment. It isn’t anypony else’s responsibility to keep you safe and unharmed at their own expense.
  706. >It doesn’t mean you can’t still check in with each other, though.
  707. >Suddenly Jelly Roll is inspecting your chest and lowering his muzzle to sniff at the sticky clumps of fur.
  708. >“Guess that bath didn’t do much to clean your coat, huh?”
  709. >You can’t help but crack a little smile.
  710. “Guess not.”
  711. >He takes a step closer and starts to nibble at your coat, gently working the sticky spots between his lips, teeth, and tongue.
  712. >Your green eyes widen and a touch of heat rises to your cheeks.
  713. >It’s a very kind gesture, but almost a little too intimate for you; only coltfriends do that kind of thing!
  714. >But Jelly Roll has always felt like more of a brother to you, so perhaps this is just his fraternal kindness shining through. You know there aren’t any romantic feelings between you two.
  715. >You resist the urge to take a step back and instead rest your chin on top of his head while he grooms you, his blonde-starting-to-turn-grey mane ticking your nostrils. It feels nice to be cared for.
  716. >Just a couple minutes later and he’s licked your chest to cleanliness.
  717. “Thanks,” you murmur, pressing your cheek to his. “You didn’t have to do that.”
  718. >“Gotta have you up to health code after all!” he jokes, rolling his eyes with a grin.
  719. “Sure.”
  720. >You two part ways, each heading back to your work stations to properly start the day now that you’ve checked in with each other. You can finish your checklist now.
  721. >You push back the scarf on your head that’s already started to fall forward because you didn’t knot it tightly enough at the back.
  722. >Stupid head scarf.
  723. >You almost wish that your mane was buzzed like Velvet and Jelly just out of convenience, but on the other hoof… You know that your mane is sexy. It’s nice to still feel pretty sometimes.
  724. >Bread making today makes you feel like you’re in a dream, each weighing of ingredients, folding and proofing of the dough, shaping and cutting blending together into the blur of daily life. Each recipe is memorized and so you simply move from task to task to task without even having to really put thought into it.
  725. >When you have to stop to grind more grain you feel a little more awake, a little bit refreshed, almost like you’ve had a nap during work.
  726. >But the feeling is fleeting, as exhaustion, your eternal companion, settles into the back of your skull once more. The sound of the grinder tearing away at the red fife wheat lulls you into feeling dozy and your eyelids start to droop.
  727. >With each passing moment it requires more effort to keep them pried open and you stomp your hoof to try and keep yourself energized...
  728.  
  729. >You aren’t sure when you fell asleep, but the grinder has been turned off and a hand is gently prodding your shoulder.
  730. >“Ginger, girl, wake up!”
  731. >Katya?
  732. >You force your eyes open and blink as your world swarms into view. Katya’s grey eyes are looking at you with concern as she clutches an old book to her chest.
  733. “Sorry. Zdrav-zdravstvuyte, Miss Katya.”
  734. > “Someone’s sleepy today, mm?” the young girl teases, laying the book on a table and placing her hands under your chin to cup your face. “Maybe the loud music was keeping you up last night?”
  735. >You don’t respond, but close your eyes and relish the presence of her cool, soft hands on your face. She continues,
  736. >“I have no treats today-”
  737. >Your ears flatten (as do Red Velvet’s, you notice from the corner of your eye).
  738. >“-but I brought you this cookbook. My father wants you to start working on a prototype of a Slavic welcome bread called hleb-sol - it’s a soft enriched bread served with salt on the top. Here, see a picture.”
  739. >She picks the book back up and opens it to the marked page; you’re met by a picture of a golden, circular loaf with fat braids on the bottom and top as well as a pile a salt placed inside the topmost braid ring. It has some beautiful decorations covering the rounded sides as well that Cinnamon will probably have to fiddle with.
  740. >You glance over the recipe, which is in the same script as the ones on the street; you can now safely assume that this is what Russian looks like. You still can’t read it, though. Thankfully, you notice that Katya has written out each ingredient and each instruction in English alongside the original recipe which means that you can do your job.
  741. >“Father bought Fyodor his own apartment finally, so he’s having a housewarming party in a week after he’s moved in. The hleb-sol is for him to present to his guests.”
  742. >One of Cinnamon’s ears has been raised unobtrusively to catch what Katya was saying to you, but after hearing this news her attention is now fully on the young teenager.
  743. >“Fyodor has his own place?!” she squeaks, voice breaking.
  744. >Her eyes are gleaming in a dangerous way.
  745. >Uh oh.
  746. >“Yeah, father said a young man shouldn’t have to live like a child any more. Plus Fyodor will be entering university next year after his gap year and he won’t stand to live in one of the school dorms.”
  747. >Cinnamon is just barely containing her excitement, tippy-tapping her hooves and wiggling her rump so that her curly bobbed tail swishes around her flanks.  
  748. >“Good for him!” she chirps.
  749. >“I’m so jealous, although I would miss Mama’s cooking very much. I don’t know if Fyodor even knows how to cook.”
  750. >Katya shrugs and places the open book on your counter space, turning towards the door.
  751. >“I have to go, but I’ll be back later. I can even bring you ponies a treat if you like.”
  752. >All pony ears are suddenly raised in interest.
  753. >She laughs and exits the kitchen, locking the door behind her before running up the stairs.
  754. >You turn back to the cookbook and quickly skim the recipe. It seems simple enough, just a regular enriched dough with some folksy decorations. You WILL need Cinnamon for that, though.
  755. >The wrench in your work day isn’t unappreciated, but it means that you can’t just sail through the day any more.
  756. >It’s time to focus now.
  757. >Time to bake for Fyodor’s guests.
  758.  
  759. >Be Bakery Slave.
  760. >Even though you’re still sleepy, the challenge of a new recipe acts as an energizer, giving you the strength to blink away any last lingering clouds of mind-crushing exhaustion.
  761. >Plus the promise of a potential peppermint (Katya wasn’t specific - the treat could just be a carrot after all) in your future never hurts your motivation.
  762. >You delicately place your hooves on either side of the cookbook page to smooth it out, careful not to damage its well-loved pages. The various stains, tears, and scrawls of handwritten notes alongside each recipe indicate its value to you without a price tag.
  763. >You would hate to be the one to ruin it, so you’re treating it very gingerly.
  764. >Katya’s handwriting is neat and deliberate on the worn pages that crackle with use, so you can understand what ingredients need gathering without much difficulty.
  765. >The recipe is fairly straightforward. There’s nothing tricky except making sure that the timing works out between several proofs and getting the decorations ready, and part of that is on Cinnamon.
  766. “Hey Cinnamon.”
  767. >The little brown mare glances up from her work of balling up pieces of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.
  768. >“What’s up?”
  769. “I need your help. The bread’s got some decorative bits.”
  770. >The prospect of being useful quickly captures her attention and her ears perk up, a smile spreading across her muzzle.
  771. >“Of course! What do you need?”
  772. >She trots over to your side to peer over your shoulder at the picture in the recipe book. Using your hoof, you point at the photo where intricate decorations of little birds, ribbons, and leaves adorn the outside of the celebration bread.
  773. “You think you can copy this?”
  774. >She studies it for a moment, her eyes narrowing in thought.
  775. >“Totally. But is it just dead dough, or…?”
  776. “It’s a sweetened dead dough with egg white. Like a kind of lousy cookie.”
  777. >Cinnamon giggles, swishing her tail.
  778. >“Well that’ll be easy then! Let me just finish up with these not-so-lousy oatmeal cookies and I’ll get on it. Does the dough need chill time before I start turning it into decoration?”
  779. 15 minutes.”
  780. >“Okay, no worries then since you’ve barely started. Shouldn’t take me long!”
  781. >Humming softly, she heads back to her station to let you start mixing the supplies you’ve gathered for the enriched dough.
  782. >You love working with enriched dough. It’s incredibly alive and springy, and all the butter makes it smell so so good. Sometimes if nopony else is watching you’ll sneak a little piece to taste, mentally justifying your actions by convincing yourself that this is just quality control.
  783. >A thought strikes you; could you use the ergot you’ve been saving as part of the decoration?
  784. >Part of you would love to show off a new skill to surprise everyone. They wouldn’t expect you to have been so clever by using something that you usually throw away!
  785. >But the other part of you likes to have something secret, something that is totally yours. Other than your banada you mean. This growing jar of ergot is Ginger’s alone.
  786. >With a quick look over your shoulder, you crouch down to open the jar and inspect your stash. You don’t actually know how to use ergot. You know it grows with the grains, but doesn’t taste like them - maybe it ruins flour? It could perhaps change the texture of a bake?
  787. >Or maybe it just tastes really bad.
  788. >Horrified at the thought of ruining the celebratory bread, you scoop out a single piece of the ergot and let it rest on your tongue, trying to catch a flavor profile.
  789. >The first thing that hits you is bitterness, followed by a slightly nutty taste. Just the one piece doesn’t tell you much because you could have easily swallowed it in one gulp, but the bitterness is certainly off putting.
  790. >Alright, so it probably shouldn’t go in the hleb-sol.
  791. >But you’re sure you can find a use for it soon. Maybe you’ll ask Katya about ideas when she comes back next.
  792. >The sound of the outside door opening makes everypony raise their ears, but instead of Katya’s returning paces, you hear her brother’s; everypony’s ears flatten except for Cinnamon’s.
  793. >“He’s here! This is it!” she whispers feverishly, scrambling over to one of the big pans hung up on a peg on the wall to examine her reflection in the base of the pan.
  794. >She tilts her head left, right, raises a hoof to tousle her dark curls, bares her teeth to make sure there isn’t any stray hay stuck there.
  795. >“He’s going to ask me to live with him in his new apartment and OF COURSE I’m going to say yes, but I want to make sure I look good. Oh my gosh, Ginger, my heart’s beating so fast, this is everything I’ve been dreaming of!”
  796. >She’s starting to rattle on now, giddy with anticipation for a future that will never come.
  797. >Oh Cinnamon.
  798. >From the corner of your eye you see Red Velvet snort through his nostrils, and stomp his foreleg, ears pinned back.
  799. >Jelly Roll judiciously elects to amble on over to his side to start washing dishes, blocking the path to where Fyodor will enter; Jelly is bigger than Velvet and the younger stallion won’t challenge him on this. He settles for a few mumbled curses under his breath and an irritated flick of the tail.
  800. >Fyodor unlocks the lock, shoulders the kitchen door open, and strides proudly into the room with a toss of his head.
  801. “Seems like you ponies will be seeing less of me pretty soon, mm? Katya said she already told you the news about my new place.”
  802. >Cinnamon was pressed to his side as soon as he stepped foot into her sphere of influence in the kitchen and now she’s the only pony that responds to him.
  803. >“She did tell us! We’re so proud of you, Mr. Fyodor.”
  804. >Her entire face is glowing and she stretches her neck out, pursing her lips for a kiss, which Fyodor gives obligingly.
  805. >“Moya kroshka, will you miss me? I know I’ll miss you.”
  806. >He leans down and rubs his nose against her, kneeling down so that they can be closer.
  807. >Cinnamon’s expression is torn between confusion and delight in the displays of affection she’s being given, but she quickly regains her composure.
  808. >“It would be harder for you to miss me if I just lived with you,” she chirps with a naughty grin.
  809. >You can’t help but freeze after her boldness, lifting an ear to hear how Fyodor responds to Cinnamon’s loaded tease. Would he actually…?
  810. >The oldest Ivanova child merely laughs.
  811. >“I suppose it would, milaya. But I can’t just take you away from my parents, could I?”
  812. >She presses on, not allowing him to give her another non-answer this time.
  813. >“But you could buy me from your parents, right? Then we could live together like we’ve always wanted!”
  814. >The affection drains from Fyodor’s face, replaced with a nervousness.
  815. >“Really Cinnamon, I can’t afford to buy you. Do you know how much my parents paid for you?”
  816. >She pauses.
  817. >“But I’m worth it right?”
  818. >His responding smile is tight, tense.
  819. >“Of course you are, sweetie. But the truth is, I can’t afford you right now and you can’t leave the bakery since you’re owned by my parents. It’s… Not the right time.”
  820. >“What if you waited? You’re supposed to take over the bakery someday right? You could just wait until you own the bakery, which means you own me, and then you can take me home to be your marefriend! Maybe even your wife…”
  821. >“I can’t marry a pony, for God’s sake,” he snaps, his cocky demeanor starting to crack.
  822. >Cinnamon takes a step back, her eyes wide in fear and surprise.
  823. >“Wh-what?”
  824. >Fyodor runs a hand through his dark hair, trying to regain his composure. It’s clear that he regrets letting himself get pissy with his naive basement fuck toy.
  825. >Sorry, his naive basement MAREFRIEND.
  826. >“Cinnamon, I didn’t mean to say that. I’m just stressed about the move and the party, okay?”
  827. >She seems unsure, but she steps back towards him and presses into his side, wrapping a forelock around his lower leg like a sort of hug.
  828. >“It’s okay, I’m sorry to get carried away with daydreaming. I’m just… Excited for our future together.”
  829. >Another tight smile from the young man.
  830. >“Yeah me too. It will be nice, mm? You can make me that cinnamon toast on the weekends and I’ll let you sleep in my king size bed.”
  831. >She sighs longingly, her eyes misty with dreams of the future. She looks back to Fyodor, who has risen back to his full height.
  832. >“Someday, huh?”
  833. >“Yeah. Someday. Look, I’ve got to go get stuff ready for the move. I’ll check in with you tonight maybe.”
  834. >“I can’t wait to see you. I’ll be waiting.”
  835. >He brusquely turns on his heel and exits through the door he came in just moments before. Cinnamon seems slightly shell shocked by the rapid changes in emotion, but otherwise seems unbothered by the exchange.
  836. >Which… She should be.
  837. >As soon as the outside metal door is slammed shut, Red Velvet whips around from whatever he had been messing with on the stove. Probably cooking off sweet potato.
  838. >“Cinnamon, he’s not worth a second of your bucking time,” he swears, snorting.
  839. >Again, surprise flashes across the little mare’s muzzle.
  840. >“You mean Mr. Fyodor?”
  841. >“Yeah.”
  842. >Red Velvet straightens himself to his full height, which is enough so that he can be seen clearly over Jelly Roll’s broad grey back. He shoves past the gentle stallion so that he’s able to glower down at Cinnamon without anypony to block him.
  843. >“Cinnamon, grow UP. Can’t you see that he’s using you like a bucking toy?”
  844. >Cinnamon lowers herself to the ground, the gaze of her deep brown eyes unable to face the burning amber stare of the red stallion.
  845. >“Wh-what?”
  846. >“Celestia save us… Cinnamon, he doesn’t love you!! He’s a horrible man who likes that fact that he can have free sex any time he wants with a cute mare who can’t say no! He’s never going to bring you back to his apartment because he probably already has an ACTUAL girlfriend that he’s dating at the same time and he’s going to fuck her in his apartment like a regular man. You aren’t getting married because his parents would probably keel over and die if they thought their son was going to marry a slave pony, especially one that they bought to work in their own bakery.”
  847. >Cinnamon’s eyes are rapidly filling with giant tears, her lower lip trembling.
  848. >Jelly Roll shoulders Red Velvet aside and forms a protective barrier around the mare with his body, shielding her from the roaring of the furious stallion.
  849. >“That’s enough, Velvet,” he growls, resting his nose against Cinnamon’s cheek.
  850. >She jerks her head back with a snarl, suddenly lashing her hoof out to hit Jelly Roll square in the chest.
  851. >“Get off me, I’m not a foal anymore and you’re not my dad!! I can make my own decisions without you always judging me behind my back!”
  852. >The tears have started to spill from her eyes and down her cheeks as frustrated sobs wrack her thin frame.
  853. >“You just don’t understand!”
  854. >Wincing, you take a cautious step forward, unwilling to get totally entangled in the argument, but also wanting to support Red Velvet who has just said everything that you Equestrian ponies have been thinking since Fyodor took an interest in Cinnamon.
  855. “Cinnamon, he’s right,” you say quietly, forcing yourself to make eye contact with those confused, angry brown eyes. “Fyodor… He’s using you for his own amusement. He won’t ever take you out of the basement.”
  856. >“Shut UP, BITCH!” she howls, stamping her hoof with rage. “You don’t understand anything about me and Fyodor! I don’t even think you’re capable of love, so just keep your stupid know-everything muzzle out of my business!”
  857. >Short, shallow gasps keep interrupting her speech as she cries, the hot tears now dripping from her cheeks onto the kitchen floor. She whirls around, turning her back on her fellow ponies and collapsing to the floor, burying her head in her hooves and sobbing.
  858. >“I just don’t understand why none of you trust me with my own future. I’m n-not a foal...”
  859. >The guilt has already worked its way into your belly and you decide to let her cool off before approaching her again. Regret, regret; maybe you shouldn’t have said anything at all.
  860. >Red Velvet opens his mouth to add something else, but Jelly Roll silences him with a withering glare, sticking out his chest and towering over him.
  861. >The lanky stallion stares right back, but shuts his mouth in compliance, stalking back to his work station. You can smell the bottom of the potatoes burning; he must have had the heat too high and left them unattended too long.
  862. >It’s hard to continue your work with Cinnamon snuffling and crying in the background, but you’ve blocked out worse sounds before.
  863. >The hleb-sol still needs its decorations, though. Maybe she’ll come to her senses and start getting them ready for you.
  864. >Or maybe you’ll just have to reconcile with her later tonight.
  865.  
  866. >Be Bakery Slave.
  867. >After Red Velvet’s sudden outburst, an awkward silence has settled over the kitchen like a tangible fog.
  868. >The only sounds that pierce the heavy veil of quiet are Velvet’s hushed curses as he scrubs the burnt sweet potato from his pan and Cinnamon's occasional pitiful sniffles.
  869. >Her eyes are still rimmed red with tears at this point, but she didn’t allow herself to wallow in a sobbing heap for more than two minutes, instead collecting herself with a deep breath before returning to work.
  870. >To her credit, she did start the decorations for the hleb-sol, so you don’t have to worry about trying your hoof at it yourself. If she had abandoned that task you know for sure that you would have struggled to finesse the tiny pieces and ended up making a less than satisfactory prototype. Shuddering, you decide you’re fine with a little emotional discomfort so long as it doesn’t get you in trouble with the family.
  871. >Having completed the dead dough decorations just as you’re pulling out the giant loaf from its first proof, Cinnamon picks her tray up in her mouth, stalks over to you, and dumps it onto your work station carelessly.
  872. >You can’t make eye contact with her right now, but you’re still able to feel her furious gaze boring into you.
  873. >You cough out a stiff
  874. “Thanks.”
  875. >She doesn’t reply.
  876. >She merely whisks around, flicking her bobbed tail at your face before trotting back to her own work station.
  877. >You know that this realization about Fyodor is difficult for her to take - though she absolutely needed to be made aware of the true nature of the situation - but it doesn’t mean that you enjoy having to witness her swallow such a bitter pill.
  878. >It could take a while for things to return to normal.
  879. >She might even continue to delude herself at the expense of damaging her relationships with her fellow ponies, which is a worrisome thought. You personally won’t bring this up with her again, choosing to offer as much comfort as you’re able to give (which isn’t much to begin with) in order to maintain a peaceful work environment. Jelly Roll would always look out for her, but it’s Velvet who is the real concern.
  880. >He probably wouldn’t get physically aggressive or anything, but to have half your coworkers feuding would make life that just much more difficult. And you certainly don’t need that.
  881. >When you’re sure Cinnamon’s focused on the remaining cookie dough balls in front of her, you sneak a glance over her way to see if she’s still crying and/or glaring at you.
  882. >Not crying.
  883. >Not glaring.
  884. >And the sniffles have begun to subside already.
  885. >Okay this is progress.
  886. >Part of you wishes that Fyodor truly was in love with her and that someday he would buy her to be his companion, (or bedmare, whatever,) leading her to the sunlight of the world above without a bridle on, with the full knowledge that she would be his treasured, spoiled darling for the rest of her natural life. Cinnamon would have made the perfect pet with her unquestioning loyalty and endless affection.
  887. >She’s such a good pony and she deserves to be treated with genuine tenderness and care.
  888. >For that matter, so should you. Don’t you deserve love? A hoof to hold, lips that press tenderly into your unkempt mane in the middle of the night?
  889. >Or at the very least, someone to care for you who genuinely cares for you?
  890. >Dangerous thoughts.
  891. >Not something to focus on. Better to not imagine your future as anything other than working in this bakery until you die so that you don’t get your hopes up.
  892. >In any case, Fyodor is not about to steal Cinnamon away to let her live in luxury with him; he’s the heir to a wealthy family with a reputation to uphold and is far too conservative to break the mold by freeing his pony slave and bringing her to live with him. And that’s not even addressing the whole marriage thing that Cinnamon must have been thinking about.
  893. >Do people even do that these days? Marry ponies?
  894. >You have to wonder.
  895. >Your exposure to the goings on of the outside world is incredibly limited and you have no idea what’s considered appropriate relations between humans and ponies these days. Maybe everyone is marrying their pony.
  896. >Even if their ponies are slaves?
  897. >Hmm. Maybe not if they’re slaves. Humans would probably free them beforehand, you assume. Something about the definition of property or some such…?
  898. >If you had more courage you’d ask Katya how that all works, but you’re sure the question would come off as really weird. So you won’t ask.
  899. >All this thinking has consumed your attention and when you reach for another decoration on the tray to adorn the bread with, you come up empty-hoofed.
  900. >Wow, done already.
  901. >The hleb-sol looks beautiful, heavily ornamented with tiny dough vines, flowers, and birds, as well as some other symbols that you don’t recognize, but are apparently traditional. Cinnamon really did well with her part and you have to admit that you’re proud of the way you’ve arranged all the decorations. A showstopper for sure.
  902. >You pop the heavy loaf back into the proofing drawer and glance over your shoulder to see how Cinnamon is doing, one ear raised in curiosity.
  903. >She seems to have fully collected herself now - no more tears or sniffles - but she’s scowling at the cookie dough in front of her, lips pressed tightly together in anger. Every so often she lets out an angry snort through her flared nostrils.
  904. >Looks like she doesn’t care to speak to you for awhile. Tonight could be a rather chilly night without your personal heater, but that’s Future Ginger’s problem.
  905.  
  906.  
  907. >Be Future Ginger.
  908. >As the Pony Handler lead you mares back into your stable at the end of the day, Cinnamon continued to stay quiet, blatantly ignoring you and refusing to make eye contact.
  909. >You yourself weren’t too keen on starting up conversation so the two of you ate dinner side by side in silence, the only interruption a small hiccup from your stallmate.
  910. >As soon as the last oat was in her mouth she brusquely turned around and curled up in the straw with her back to you, letting out a deep, dramatic sigh.
  911. >Whatever.
  912. >You continue to finish your meal and when you’re done, you trot over to the opposite corner and gently stamp the straw into a more comfortable nest before settling down.
  913. >Cinnamon isn’t asleep yet; you can tell by her constant shifting and sighing.
  914. >It doesn’t take a genius to know that she thinks she deserves an apology from you, but you aren’t going to appease her with one right now. She’ll have to start this, not you.
  915. >“Why did you guys turn on me like that?”
  916. >And so it begins.
  917. >Her voice is so full of hurt that you can’t help but wince.
  918. >You hear her roll over in the hay so that she can face you, but you don’t return the gesture, preferring to speak to the darkness instead.
  919. “We didn’t. We just… You needed to know how things really are.”
  920. >“Did it ever occur to you that I might know what’s best for me?”
  921. >You don’t have a response for that. She continues.
  922. >“I know that you’re just trying to look out for me because I’m the youngest and I wasn’t born in Equestria like the rest of you. But I’m not a foal and I’m not stupid. I’m just... trying to make the most of my situation here and I don’t need you guys telling me how to do that or trying to protect me or anything.”
  923. >It seems you’ve been underestimating her once again and fresh guilt heats your cheeks; maybe you shouldn’t have said anything at all earlier today...
  924. “We didn’t want you to be hurt.”
  925. >“I know,” she snaps, “but you can’t use that as an excuse to belittle me. I want to be treated like everypony else here rather than some sort of delicate idiot. Who you simultaneously protect and then look down upon for not knowing how things ‘really are’.”
  926. >Ouch. Your ears flatten, but there’s nothing you can say to dispute that.
  927. >So you give in and offer the apology you know she wants to hear.
  928. “Sorry.”
  929. >Cinnamon breathes a sigh of relief and you can practically feel her body sink into the hay as she stops tensing.
  930. >“Thank you, but that’s not enough. Promise me you won’t treat me like a foal any more.”
  931. >Fair enough, but she’ll always be a little bit of a foal in your mind - not that you’d tell her that now.
  932. “I won’t.”
  933. >“Thank you.”
  934. >She doesn’t immediately come over to you like you had sort of hoped, but eventually, just as you’re starting to sink into sleep, she stands up with a stretch before making her way to your side. Curling up, she presses her back against yours and nuzzles deeper into the soft straw to sleep, snoring soon after. You weren’t shivering or anything, but the sudden warmth against your body is incredibly welcome and you murmur happily in your half conscious state.
  935. >You dream for the first time in moons.
  936. >You dream of being pregnant. Even though you have never carried a foal inside you, never had to push new life into this world, your body is keenly aware of how it would feel.
  937. >It isn’t clear who the father is, but in this dream that isn’t important; what is important is that you are practically paralyzed with fear. Terrified that you have broken the rules of your enslavement by becoming pregnant and terrified for the future of tiny life inside you, you desperately search for a way to escape the basement.
  938. >You buck wildly at the heavy metal door that leads to the outside until your panging uterus begs you to stop and then you scrape at the crack between the two metal panels until your hooves chip in places. Every time you hit at the door you can briefly smell the outside world and you flare your nostrils, curling your lip to drink in the cool, acrid scent that would mean freedom for you and your foal.
  939. >But your efforts are fruitless.
  940. >Fyodor finds you waiting at the door and kicks you down the stairs, sending you crashing into a heap on the floor. You scramble to your feet and try to run, but you can’t seem to run as fast as you can in real life which only increases your panic.
  941. >You can hear him laughing behind you, his grasping fingers just barely grazing the fine auburn hairs of your tail as he attempts to catch you. The walls of your uterus seize and then start to push and you can’t stop, can’t stop now even as your foal begins to enter the world, sending screaming pain through the whole lower half of your body.
  942. >With a gasp you startle yourself awake and lay silently in the darkness, your heart still beating loudly in your ears.
  943. >Just a dream.
  944. >Stupid brain, what the buck was that for?
  945. >You’ve only had a few foal dreams in your life and they’re always stressful, unpleasant occurrences. Why can’t you have regular nightmares like other ponies?
  946. >Stupid brain...
  947. >You look over to see if Cinnamon was bothered by your sudden movement, but the little brown mare is no longer by your side. Lifting your ears, you squint into the stall around you to see if she’d moved away while you were sleeping.
  948. >She isn’t there, but the gate is open.
  949. >That doesn’t bode well.
  950. >You stand up and slowly trot over to the gate, making an effort to keep your hoofsteps light in case anything’s wrong out there.
  951. >Peeping around the gate, you can dimly see the shape of Cinnamon and a crouching Fyodor just before the staircase. You can’t hear what they’re saying, but by the looks of it it isn’t a joyous conversation.
  952. >Cinnamon ducks her head defeatedly and Fyodor gently picks her up before sitting on the bottom step, cradling her in his arms and stroking her mane. He plants a tender kiss on her forehead every so often and when he does Cinnamon leans her muzzle up to breath in his warm breath. Together they sit silently in the night, pressed against each other like this.
  953. >Having not detected any danger, you decide to let them have this intimate moment alone and return to where you had been sleeping, stamping down the straw again before settling down.
  954. >A short while later Cinnamon returns to the stall and snuggles against you, this time pressing her back to your belly as the little spoon. She’s curled herself into a protective ball and without opening your eyes you instinctively place your head over her back and wrap your forelocks around her.
  955. >She quivers against you and draws in a shaky breath.
  956. >Is she crying?
  957. >You don’t really want to ask and you feign sleep to avoid setting the other mare off into a fit of sobbing like earlier.
  958. >For once sleep finds you rather quickly and you drift off to the sound of Cinnamon’s restrained crying, guilt lurking at the corner of your mind.
  959. >Oh well. That’s Future Ginger’s problem.
  960.  
  961. >Be Bakery Slave.
  962. >Breakfast with Cinnamon Twist the next morning is subdued. Even the Pony Handler seems to pick up on the fact that your stallmate isn’t her usual self and gives her mane an affectionate stroke for comfort. She leans into his touch with a little sigh, choosing to pick at the morning hay and oats in her feedbin after he moves away to go feed the stallions.
  963. >Cinnamon’s brown eyes are rimmed red again, but you feel awkward admitting that you saw her and Fyodor wrapped up in each other last night so you don’t ask about what happened. Instead you lean against her slightly to be supportive and even take a break from munching breakfast to gently groom her back with your lips.
  964. >You know she’ll tell you soon enough; Cinnamon can’t keep her mouth shut to save her soul.
  965. >Gratefully the little mare leans into your weight, lapping up a couple of oats before opening her muzzle and then shutting it abruptly. You can see the struggle on her scrunched up snout as she debates whether or not to let you in on what’s bothering her.
  966. >“Sorry if I’m not myself this morning,” she apologizes, looking down at her hooves with a flick of her tail.
  967. “S’fine.”
  968. >You pause before adding,
  969. “You okay?”
  970. >She shrugs, ears flattening before shaking her head.
  971. >“Not really. But… There’s not much I can do about it.”
  972. >In truth you have a pretty good idea about what happened last night, but you don’t want to assume since she’ll pretty much tell you the whole story in a minute. No need to get her more worked up if your guess is wrong.
  973. “Fyodor-related?”
  974. >“Mmhmm,” she replies, voice wobbling as more tears threaten to spill out over her cheeks.
  975. >Again, you rest your head over her back as a gesture of comfort.
  976. >She continues.
  977. >“L-last night he came to visit me and he told me that he was sorry for snapping earlier but that what he said was true; that we c-can’t be together because he could never afford to buy me from his parents and they would never just give me up to him. Because they’d never allow him to have even a pet pony, much less a-”
  978. >She’s able to choke out “marefriend” before dropping her rump to the floor and burying her face in her hooves, letting loose a flood of hot tears.
  979. >The first feeling that hits you is pity for the crumpled mare in front of you who, even in slavery, has experienced her first heartbreak. You know the first time is always miserable and even though you never had the chance to experience romantic love for another pony before your life changed, you’re at least aware of how crushing this all must be. Cinnamon doesn’t deserve this.
  980. >The second feeling is rage. How dare this young man tease such a good-hearted creature with love and affection, with promises of a future together, only to grow up and leave her behind? Being treated like a giant, fuckable toy when you were promised never-ending love is no life for a young pony. You knew that Fyodor never really intended to take Cinnamon away with him when he moved out, but you wish that he didn’t lead her on like he did and just hit her with the truth up front.
  981. >Cinnamon might have even taken that better than this fake break up kind of crap.
  982. >You kneel down beside the weeping mare and press close to her side, placing your hoof on hers and rubbing it gently. You hope you’re coming off a comforting; you’ve never had to console another pony like this before.
  983. >“And then when I asked him why we couldn’t just run away together he told me that if his parents ever found us that they would PUT ME DOWN!! Because they’re the type of people who don’t even tolerate Catherine the Great jokes - whatever that means.
  984. >“S-so he’s really just trying to protect me by ending things now, but… That doesn’t really make me feel any better about breaking up...”
  985. >She quiets down, taking in a gulp of air before rubbing at her eye with the hoof that you aren’t holding.
  986. >“It’s just… It’s not fair! Why would they deny our true love just because I’m a pony?”
  987. >Did Fyodor really say that his parents would put Cinnamon down? It sounds a bit extreme, but not entirely out of the question; the Ivanova parents scare you even though you’ve only had a few short interactions with them. You stifle a shudder.
  988. “It’s a status thing. The Ivanovas are rich and they want their son to have a rich wife who people will envy him for. They’d rather Fyodor have a wife who is rich, beautiful, and a social equal than somepony he actually loves. Even if you were a human you might still be in the same situation.”
  989. >Cinnamon’s eyes are wide in shock and you are reminded just how many social norms she missed out on having been born here on Earth and raised in slavery. Even as a filly you heard rumors about couples in Canterlot who were only together for their money or to make their families financial allies. It’s not as if this is such a novel concept only happening here; it’s been going on for moons before any of you were born.
  990. “I know it doesn’t uh, sound very romantic. But this kind of thing used to happen back in Equestria, too.”
  991. >At the mention of Equestria her expression darkens, the younger mare annoyed with the word that usually means her exclusion, but her sour face disappears with the dismissive flick of one ear. She seems to understand what you mean without you having to say it yourself, and for that you’re grateful.
  992. >“So you’re saying that I… Let myself fall into a romance that was always doomed to end in heartbreak?”
  993. “We did sort of try to tell you.”
  994. >She wipes a hoof at the remaining tears dripping off her cheeks, hiccupping after such prolonged irregular breathing.
  995. >“I mean, I guess… You guys were just really demeaning about it. And you didn’t understand what was going on between us anyways. I know you were worried about power dynamics and stuff like that, but our love was - IS - real. It’s just that our situation was different and now it’s keeping us apart for good this time. But I… I don’t want to be apart.”
  996. >Another sniffle and another hiccup prove she’s about to have another cry.
  997. >Celestia, you wish you were better emotionally equipped to deal with this kind of thing. Admittedly you’ve pretty much coped with your enslavement by turning off most of if not all of your emotions, but you still wish you were able to navigate this situation with grace and tact. Maybe you could have in another lifetime.
  998. >You opt for another comforting “hug” in which you bring your head over Cinnamon’s neck and rest your cheek against her soft hair.
  999. “Sorry, Cinnamon,” you offer lamely.
  1000. >She buries her face in your auburn mane, but to your surprise she doesn’t burst into another round of bawling; she merely presses close, nostrils flaring as she breathes in your scent.
  1001. >“Me too,” she whispers back.
  1002. >By the time the Pony Handler returns to put your rope leads on and bring you ponies into the kitchen, you two have risen back to your hooves and finished your breakfasts, even though most of Cinnamon’s oats have remained untouched.
  1003. >And most of the tears are gone, too.
  1004.  
  1005. >The kitchen is quiet today, though not in an awkward or tense way.
  1006. >Even though they haven’t talked to Cinnamon yet, the stallions seem to know that something is off with her and they’re treating her gently; perhaps as an apology for the outburst yesterday.
  1007. >Jelly Roll slips her a sugarcube or two in between rounds of pounding out black rye bread and Red Velvet approaches her apologetically with a freezer-chilled towel that he tosses across her back.
  1008. >“Yesterday was weird. Sorry I got mad at you,” the scarlet stallion snorts awkwardly, turning around with a flick of his tail and whisking back to his work station before the little brown mare can even respond.
  1009. >She opens her mouth, but gives up and goes back to piping the delicate swirls of ganache inside macaron shells with a tiny smile.
  1010. >Stallions. About as emotionally equipped as you are.
  1011. >At least Cinnamon seemed to accept his apology though.
  1012. >The sound of Katya’s light footsteps tapping down the staircase isn’t necessarily a relief on a calmer day like today, but it is a wholly welcome sound to everypony in the bakery basement. All heads are raised, ears pricked, work paused for the brief moment as Katya enters the room.
  1013. >“Hello ponies!”
  1014. >The sight of the smiling young girl brings a grin to your muzzle and you feel safe enough to abandon your puff pastry to cool in the freezer in favor of trotting over to see if those pockets are holding any treats today.
  1015. >Cinnamon is right alongside you, sniffing at her snow-dusted coat pockets and lifting her chin for scratches that Katya is more than delighted to give.
  1016. >“Zdravstvuyte, Ms. Katya!”
  1017. >“Privyet pretty Cinnamon girl,” she coos, pulling a dark leather glove off from one hand so that she can let her nails give the mare a good scratching.
  1018. >Momentarily lost in the absolute bliss of a good chin scritch, Cinnamon closes her eyes, sinking down with a sigh so that Katya’s hand is practically holding her head up.
  1019. >Not one to be left out of a good scratch, you shyly approach the teenager and nibble at the fingers on her gloved hand with your lips, attempting to pull the other glove right off.
  1020. >Katya giggles.
  1021. >“Oh, I’m sorry Ginger, did you want something?”
  1022. >She feigns innocence at your not-so-subtle request before giving into your pleading green eyes, removing the glove and lightly dragging her nails along your chin.
  1023. >If there’s a heaven then this has got to be it: unlimited scratches from kind hands.
  1024. >A sharp scent suddenly hits your nose and you snap to attention; peppermint!! Snuffling around at her pocket, you work your nose between the cloth and take in another deep, minty breath. There are definitely peppermints in there!
  1025. >Katya laughs again and teasingly shoves your head away from the treats, placing a hand over her pocket in a mock protective way.
  1026. >“Oh you thought these were for you? Silly pony, these are Katya’s mints!”
  1027. >You know better and press your cheek to her side, still snuffling at her now covered pocket. The girl finally tucks a hand in and pulls out a candy, the crinkling plastic making your ears twitch with anticipation.
  1028. >The crinkle of the plastic wrapping has now caught the attention of even the stallions, whose heads are raised in interest.
  1029. >Suddenly Katya is surrounded by ponies quietly huffing in excitement, tails flicking eagerly and soft lips working around her hands, begging to be the first for a treat.
  1030. >“One at a time, one at a time!” she giggles, as if she didn’t love every second of being overwhelmed by eager ponies.
  1031. >One by one you receive a peppermint from her, each sucking on your minty prize and retreating back to your work stations, pausing from your job to enjoy the rare sweet.
  1032. >Even though technically you’re all surrounded by sweets all day.
  1033. >When everyone is satisfied, Katya stands back up from her pony-level squat and approaches you, stuffing her gloves into her now empty pockets.
  1034. >“Ginger, I wanted to tell you about the hleb-sol. Cinnamon, you too.”
  1035. >A mixture of dread and excitement flares in your gut at the thought of what the Ivanovas have to say about the special bread you made.
  1036. >You can hope it’s only good news and throw Cinnamon a nervous glance before Katya continues.
  1037. >“The texture was just right and the bake time was perfect; don’t change that. Papa suggested adding a little bit of lemon zest - just one lemon, lightly grated. It helps to give the flavor a little more depth. Also,”
  1038. >She turns to face Cinnamon.
  1039. >“My brother doesn’t want any of the religious symbols on the bread. In his words, ‘none of that religious shit.’”
  1040. >It’s as if the tawny mare has been physically slapped by the light criticism and she takes a step back, breathless. Even Katya notices.
  1041. >“Cinnamon?”
  1042. >Tears prick the corner of her eyes, but she gulps and shakes her head quickly.
  1043. >“Izvinite. It’s nothing.”
  1044. >If you weren’t so caught off guard by your stallmate’s weird behavior, you’d be impressed that she was able to pick up on so much Russian. You know from pieces of conversations between the Ivanova siblings that there is a formal way to address people more important than you - such as a pony addressing her master - but you don’t really know the difference. And you haven’t really been able to recall many of the words that you’ve been able to hear. You recognize that there are two different hellos, but you can only remember the shorter, informal one that you really shouldn’t use with your masters; the other one is longer and it’s hard for your tongue to comprehend curling for that buzzy ‘zdr’ sound.
  1045. >They seem to be fine with a physical hello and you’d much prefer to stick to something safer that you know than take a risk.
  1046. >Cinnamon, though, has definitely been listening more closely to the language that sounds like a mixture of hissing and purring. Maybe her extra time with Fyodor gave her more time to learn and practice.
  1047. >“Khorosho. Anyways, the florals, leaves, and a bird or two is fine. Just none of the crosses or the little books, okay?”
  1048. >A nod.
  1049. >“Alright ponies, I have to go now - I have stupid English homework to do because winter break is about to end.”
  1050. “Wait!”
  1051. >Katya turns back to face you, surprised at your cry. In truth, you’re surprised by it too.
  1052. >“Yes, Ginger?”
  1053. >You flush at the sudden increase of attention on you; everypony in the basement is looking at you inquisitively.
  1054. “Um. I had a question…”
  1055. >Your volume decreases with each word in shyness and you flatten your ears in embarrassment. It’s a little bit awkward having to shift the melting peppermint around in your mouth to speak, but you need answers about your “secret stash.”
  1056. “About something in the cookbook.”
  1057. >The young girl follows you over to your work station where you pull out the family cookbook, gently opening its worn cover and delicately flipping its cracked pages to the illustration you wanted to ask about.
  1058. >You point your hoof to the depiction of a piece of ergot, surrounded by rye grain. The symbols you know to be Cyrillic are part of the original text, not a handwritten note, but that doesn’t mean it makes it any easier for you to understand.
  1059. “I can’t read what this says, but we have some of it in the rye. W-would you mind translating?”
  1060. >The concern on Katya’s face evaporates and she glances over the writing.
  1061. >“It’s just a note telling you to remove any ergot you might find in the rye - which you ponies already do. Too much can make someone very sick or even kill them.”
  1062. >The sweet peppermint suddenly tastes sour in your mouth, heavy like a rock.
  1063.  
  1064. >Be Bakery Slave.
  1065. >It’s been fifteen minutes since Katya went back upstairs, but your heart is still hammering away in your chest, your throat squeezed so tight that you feel like you’re having trouble breathing.
  1066. >The phrase “even kill them” bounces around your skull unendingly, echoing over and over until your head feels like it’s about to burst.
  1067. >You could have killed the Ivanovas.
  1068. >You could have killed the Ivanovas!!
  1069. >All Tartarus would have rained down upon your head when the rest of the family figured out who had screwed up the hleb-sol and murdered their parents, no matter how well intentioned you had been. You could have been tortured, even killed; who knows with Fyodor. And Katya hasn’t shown any violence towards you yet, but you’re suddenly sure she could easily turn on you when placed in the right situation.
  1070. >These panicked thoughts only increase your distress and you can’t help but gasp for air, suddenly claustrophobic in the steaming basement space.
  1071. >Thank Celestia you were able to hold yourself together until Katya left.
  1072. >Swaying before your work station, you plop your rump down on the ground, staring hard at your hooves and desperately sucking in breath after breath to steady yourself.
  1073. >Without a word Jelly Roll is suddenly by your side and you instinctively lean into his thick grey barrel, panting as you close your eyes.
  1074. >“Ginger?”
  1075. “Mm?”
  1076. >“Y’alright?” the large stallion asks, pressing his nose to your damp forehead in concern.
  1077. >You open one eye and swallow hard.
  1078. “Mmhmm.”
  1079. >Having seen you plop down, Cinnamon abandons her macarons and trots over to join you, dark eyes glistening with worry.
  1080. >“Ginger, are you okay?”
  1081. >She lightly pushes Jelly Roll’s soft nose away from your head so she can place a hoof there.
  1082. >“You’re pretty warm.”
  1083. “I’m fine,” you rasp, “Just um. Got overheated.”
  1084. >Jelly Roll nods sympathetically, but Cinnamon gives you a dubious look, furrowing her eyebrows and flattening her ears.
  1085. >“But it’s not that hot this time of year. Plus you haven’t even worked with the oven at all today.”
  1086. >A flush crosses your speckled cheeks as she calls your bluff and you look away, breaking your eye contact with the younger mare.
  1087. “O-oh?”
  1088. >Lame response.
  1089. >Jelly Roll flicks his bobbed tail and swings around to put himself between you and Cinnamon defensively, keenly aware of your distress. He places a feathery-fetlocked hoof on your shoulder.
  1090. >“If Ginger says she’s not feeling well, then she’s not well,” he states matter-of-factly. “Leave her be.”
  1091. >Cinnamon narrows her eyes, glaring defiantly up at the much bigger stallion. She opens her mouth to challenge him, but pauses, closing her mouth as she decides it isn’t worth the fight.
  1092. >With a shrug and an annoyed flick of her tail, she returns to her station, occasionally throwing you pointed looks that say ‘this conversation isn’t over.’
  1093. >You might tell her why you freaked out later tonight when you’re in the stable, but you don’t want everypony in the basement to know how badly you could have messed things up right now.
  1094. >And also…
  1095. >In a way you don’t want them to get the wrong idea about what they can do with the ergot.
  1096. >Cinnamon would probably be just as horrified as you were to learn that it can be poisonous; Jelly Roll wouldn’t hurt a fly; but Red Velvet is young and hot-headed enough that he might do something dangerous that could end badly not just for him, but for all of you ponies.
  1097. >It’s not as if the thought of vengeance didn’t strike you immediately when Katya told you about the power of ergot. The vision of the Ivanovas falling face first onto their dinner plates and being carried out of their fancy house; how you ponies would run up the basement stairs and out into the world, free; how you would watch Cinnamon react to everyday things like sunlight and grass; it’s intoxicating.
  1098. >But merely a fantasy.
  1099. >In reality you would either face execution or be sold off to some other slave owner, merely passed from handler to handler.
  1100. >And you might not be hired for bakery work the second time around; half the other mares at auction with you were sold to underground brothel owners no matter what their cutie mark was.
  1101. >You shudder at the thought of being one of those ponies.
  1102. >In any case, you’re here now and you have to decide what to do next.
  1103. >You hold such power in your hooves - such unwanted power.
  1104. >You have to get rid of it somehow, but not while the other ponies are watching. There’s no way you can keep this stuff without it giving you a constant anxiety headache.
  1105. >You’ve made up your mind.
  1106.  
  1107. >The rest of the day drags on and all you can think about is whether or not you’ve made the right decision about what to do with the ergot.
  1108. >Although distracted, you refuse to let this affect your performance as a baker and you fastidiously double-check everything you do to make sure you haven’t made a mistake.
  1109. >The croissants turn out beautifully.
  1110. >You inhale their warm, buttery scent and wish you could have just one, but instead you place the hot tray onto the conveyor belt that leads up to the bakery upstairs, watching them disappear with a tinge of disappointment.
  1111. >Hopefully they’ll make somepony upstairs happy who will recognize your handiwork.
  1112. >It’s not as if slavery has taken away your ability to be proud of your work.
  1113. >Evening finally comes around and the Pony Handler opens the basement bakery door, leads in hand to bring you ponies back to your stables.
  1114. >You try to hang back a bit so you can toss the jar of ergot in the trash, but the Pony Handler calls you over with a sharp whistle that sends you scrambling to his side.
  1115. >Maybe tomorrow.
  1116. >Cinnamon has been looking at you the whole time that you two were led to bed and given dinner. You can feel her stare burning into you as you nibble at your hay and oats.
  1117. >“So what the heck happened today?”
  1118. >You swallow your mouthful of oats and clear your throat.
  1119. “Um.”
  1120. >She prods at your side with a hoof.
  1121. >“Well?”
  1122. “Can you keep a secret?”
  1123. >She tilts her head to the side in confusion, but then nods eagerly, hungry to hear what you have to say.
  1124. >“Uh huh.”
  1125. “I’ve been, um. Saving some of the ergot that we’re supposed to throw away. In a jar under my work station.”
  1126. >You blush deeply, ears hot as you admit your secret.
  1127. >“The little brown stuff in the rye?”
  1128. “Yeah.”
  1129. >“What’s wrong with it?”
  1130. “Katya told me that they’re poisonous in larger quantities.”
  1131. >“So? We remove them, what's the deal?”
  1132. >You hold back a frustrated snort.
  1133. “So… The Ivanovas would freak out if they saw me collecting something poisonous. What if I had put it in something without them knowing and I accidentally KILLED them? What if I didn’t, but they saw the jar and assumed that was my plan?”
  1134. >Your voice rises alongside the freezing panic in your stomach, and you take a deep breath to keep yourself calm.
  1135. >There’s a sudden flicker of understanding in Cinnamon’s eyes and she nods slowly, nibbling on her hoof in thought.
  1136. >“Okay, okay… So you just have to get rid of it right? Then nobody knows? Wait. How much do you have?”
  1137. “A whole quart mason jar full.”
  1138. >“That’s a lot - how long have you been saving this?!”
  1139. “Like. A moon or two?”
  1140. >“A month?”
  1141. “Yeah I think something like that.”
  1142. >“Still though, it’s not going to be too hard to get rid of the contents of just one jar.”
  1143. “I just don’t want the boys to see it. I… I worry about Red Velvet.”
  1144. >“That’s fair, he’s pretty obnoxious,” she sniffs, ears flattened.
  1145. >So she’s still sore at him.
  1146. >“Alright so all you need is a distraction. What if tomorrow morning you distract them and I sneakily put it in the trash for you? If someone sees me with it they won’t suspect a thing.”
  1147. >You mull it over, tracing circles in the straw on the floor with your hoof tip while you think.
  1148. >She’s right that nopony would suspect her of anything if they saw her with a jar full of ergot. You’d rather get rid of it yourself, but you’re also terrified of the repercussions if you were seen.
  1149. >Perhaps you have to rely on Cinnamon this time around.
  1150. “Okay...”
  1151. >“You don’t seem convinced,” Cinnamon smirks, smiling drily, “Don’t trust me?”
  1152. “It’s not like I have a million options to choose from,” you snap back.
  1153. >She sighs and rests her head over your back in a comforting gesture, rubbing her soft cheek against your side.
  1154. >“It’s gonna be okay, Ginger. I promise.”
  1155. >You exhale, releasing most of the tension that’s been growing between your shoulder blades for most of the day and give Cinnamon a quick, responding nuzzle.
  1156. >This is just going to have to be good enough.
  1157.  
  1158. >Be Bakery Slave.
  1159. >Even though you have a plan for getting rid of the ergot, your stomach won’t unknot itself until you’re sure it has left the building undetected.
  1160. >As the Pony Handler leads you ponies into the bakery the next morning you’re thinking hard about how to distract the stallions while Cinnamon ditches your secret jar.
  1161. >Normally stallions aren’t hard to distract.
  1162. >But it’s not in your character to act like that so you’re sure your attempts at “flirting” would only end up looking pathetic and forced.
  1163. >Besides, you haven’t had your heat since coming to the Ivanovas and you can barely remember what feeling sexy is like. The boys are probably in a similar boat.
  1164. >Maybe showing off wouldn’t even work on them.
  1165. >Okay, okay, think Ginger, THINK.
  1166. >Your eyes scan the bakery and land on the pile of clean dishes sitting on the drying rack; yesterday Red Velvet had spent a good hour scrubbing, scraping, and wiping out all the pots, pans, and tools you ponies had used while the rest of you finished up your last bakes.
  1167. >They are perched precariously on top of eachother and awaiting use for another day. Internally you wince with guilt, but what needs to be done must be done.
  1168. >Sorry Velvet...
  1169. >Jelly Roll and Cinnamon are washing their hooves over at the first sink and you make your way over to the second sink with the dishes, turning the tap and letting the steaming water run over your hooves, eyes darting around to see that nopony is watching.
  1170. >Unfortunately Red Velvet sidles up beside you and offers a friendly squirt of soap from the bottle, which you accept, trying not to let your ears fall from disappointment. Timing, timing...
  1171. >In the cramped corner you wash your hooves together and after a moment the red stallion bumps against you with his flank unintentionally. It’s nothing out of the ordinary - you ponies gently bump into each other about a thousand times a day - but in this split second you are offered a chance and you grab it.
  1172. >With a tiny yelp you stumble to the side, knocking your full weight into the counter holding the pile of clean dishes.
  1173. >The first silver mixing bowl at the very top teeters and then clatters to the floor, starting an avalanche of clean dishes crashing to the floor in a cacophony of metal clanging on metal and tile.
  1174. >Velvet leaps backwards out of range of being buried in the avalanche, eyes widening as his previous work is ruined in just seconds.
  1175. >“What the-?!”
  1176. >With their ears raised in alarm, the attention of everypony is now on you, giving Cinnamon her chance to grab the jar and toss it.
  1177. >You barely managed to escape being buried by the pile, but cannot escape the last mixing bowl that hits off your forehead with a dull ‘ting’.
  1178. >You rub at the sore spot on your head with a hoof, wincing.
  1179. >The big red stallion glares daggers and you try not to wither completely under his gaze, swallowing hard as you avert your own gaze to the floor.
  1180. >“What the buck was that? I didn’t hit you THAT hard!”
  1181. >You know, you know.
  1182. ““I-I’m sorry, Velvet! I was just off balance… I-”
  1183. >“Whatever,” he snorts dismissively, “but you have to clean it up this time.”
  1184. >Guilt washes over you in a wave, but this is all for your own good. Perhaps washing the enormous pile of scattered dishes will be your penance for the day.
  1185. >Jelly Roll trots over to you, carefully avoiding the path of the storm cloud that is Red Velvet.
  1186. >“You okay?” he asks softly, gently placing a hoof to the goose-egg forming on your head.
  1187. >The fact that he cares so much for you makes your heart ache a little and you wish you could snuggle up onto his broad grey side and be quiet together for a bit. To just… Be, together, side by side.
  1188. >Drinking in his scent - hay, and flour, and sweat - you rest your cheek against his affectionately.
  1189. “I’m okay, Jelly. Don’t worry.”
  1190. >He pulls away and looks at you with kind concern, raising an eyebrow in question.
  1191. >“Do I need to be worried?”
  1192. >You shake your head and look back down to the floor again.
  1193. “I’m fine. Really.”
  1194. >Or you will be when you know that your secret is safe and you can go back to being a normal slave instead of an anxious, bad-girl slave.
  1195. >You mentally promise yourself that you’ll be a good girl from now on who follows orders and doesn’t try anything different or special. Just another bakery pony.
  1196. >Ruffling your auburn mane with his hoof, Jelly shoots you a final smile before plodding back over to his work station alongside everypony else.
  1197. >You cast a glance over to Cinnamon who gives you an almost imperceptible nod - the signal that the ergot has been thrown out.
  1198. >Relief floods your system and you try not to heave a huge sigh to release all the tension you’ve been holding inside; for the first time in a while you smile, almost giddy.
  1199. >“Gee Ginger, I didn’t know having to do a million dishes could make a mare so happy,” Red Velvet calls from across the room with a smirk.
  1200. >Let him snicker.
  1201. >Right now you’re letting yourself revel in relief.
  1202.  
  1203. >The rest of the day passes by in a blur as you rewash dishes, test another hleb sol, and pound out dozens more loaves of dark rye bread. As the bread bakes, the sharpness of caraway fills your nostrils and you drink in its familiar scent, almost a comfort at this point.
  1204. >You even hum a little bit, tunelessly and quiet enough that nopony else except you can hear it.
  1205. >The Ivanova children seem to have better things to do today than interrupt the bakery ponies and you all are left in peace to complete your work. By the end of the day, you’re covered in flour that has caked onto your drying sweat, leaving dusty streaks across your cream-colored coat.
  1206. >It’s satisfying really.
  1207. >To see at the end of the day just how much you’ve accomplished, how productive you’ve been; if only you could see how many people (and maybe even other ponies?) enjoyed your handiwork.
  1208. >For a moment your good mood sours. After all, the best part of baking is watching friends, family, even strangers delight in your talents, their tongues swiping crumbs from their lips as they praise your hard work. It is - or was - immensely satisfying.
  1209. >In Equestria you were one of the first fillies at school to get her cutie mark. The school had a junior baking contest and you were absolutely determined to win it, spending hours at home testing different recipes with the help of your mother, tasting and adjusting until you had what you thought was the perfect chocolate cake recipe.  
  1210. >When the judges didn’t award you first prize, you couldn’t help but burst into tears, certain that you were a failure.
  1211. >The comforting embrace of your gentle mother eventually calmed you down and you spitefully vowed to never bake again through your sniffling. She was good enough not to laugh at your childish defiance.
  1212. >About a week later she asked you to join her in the kitchen to help bake cookies for her book club meeting that evening.
  1213. >You sulkily agreed, wanting to sabotage the dessert in order to prove your worthlessness as a baker, but not having the heart to ruin someone else’s treat.
  1214. >It didn’t take long before the joy of being in the kitchen rekindled in your chest as you measured, mixed, and scooped out the spice-filled gingerbread onto the baking tray. With a wink, your mother even let you steal a pinch of the dough before it went in the oven; it tasted fantastic, with the rich molasses and warm ginger root flavors dancing across your tongue. Enough to lift anypony’s spirits!
  1215. >After the cookies had cooled, you shyly offered one to your mother, who split it in two and gave you the other half.
  1216. >Sitting there beside a loved one, sharing in your hard work as you quietly munched on the treat you had made with your own two hooves made you realize that there was more to a talent than simply being the best.
  1217. >Sharing it to make other ponies happy was a far more worthy cause.
  1218. >As you silently resolved to continue baking, a familiar cookie, cracked down the middle in order to be shared, spread across your flanks.
  1219. >You blink and the memory dissipates into thin air, leaving you with a distinct bad taste in your mouth, your previous relief somewhat dampened by the reminder that your reason for baking has been taken away from you in this life.
  1220. >The Pony Handler lets out a low whistle upon seeing your dirty coat, laughing something in a language you don’t understand - it isn’t English or Russian, but the r’s roll like a beautiful stutter.
  1221. >“Dirty girl today,” he says in English with a smile.
  1222. >You return the smile hesitantly.
  1223. “I guess so.”
  1224. >Before he lets you into the stable for the night he rubs you down with a thick, damp cloth, gently wiping away the evidence of the day’s hard work. Even though his hands seem large and clumsy in comparison to Katya’s delicate ones, he is careful and even affectionate with the quick wipe down.
  1225. >It makes you feel good and you practically prance into your stall after he gives your mane a little stroke.
  1226. >Cinnamon smiles at you, pushing over to make space for you at the dinner trough.
  1227. >“Feeling better now?” she giggles, licking a piece of stray hay into her mouth.
  1228. “For sure,” you reply, eagerly digging your head into the fresh hay.
  1229. >Cinnamon goes back to nibbling at her meal and you swallow your mouthful, realizing that you’ve forgotten your manners.
  1230. “And thanks. For earlier today I mean.”
  1231. >She flicks her tail dismissively.
  1232. >“No worries, Ginger. It wasn’t a problem at all.”
  1233. >She pauses for a moment.
  1234. >“I’m only sorry you had to do that mountain of dishes all over again!”
  1235. >A faint grin plays across your muzzle.
  1236. “You gotta do what you gotta do. Dishes aren’t the worst thing.”
  1237. >“Well I still felt bad for you.”
  1238.  
  1239. >That evening sleep starts to come easily to you and for once your eyelids droop almost as soon as you snuggle down into the straw bedding. You’re interrupted by a soft whisper from Cinnamon, who is pressed tightly against your side like a newborn foal to her mother.
  1240. >“Hey Ginger?”
  1241. >You want to groan. You want to groan SO BAD, but you keep the annoyance locked deep inside your gut for the time being.
  1242. “What?”
  1243. >“Is this it?”
  1244. You blearily blink your eyes and can feel the ease of sleep rapidly slipping away as you bite back your frustration.
  1245. “What do you mean?”
  1246. > “I mean… Is this all I’m ever going to do? Just be some replaceable unknown bakery mare in the basement?”
  1247. >Her voice becomes increasingly shaky.
  1248. >“I think a machine could probably do my job and nobody would notice.”
  1249. >She gulps hard to try and steady herself.
  1250. >“I mean… I just… I want more from life. Is it bad to want more? To hope for more?”
  1251. >Something is definitely up with her, but you aren’t suited to be having this kind of existential conversation at this time of night.
  1252. “I don’t think it’s bad really… But it might not help you survive your own mental state here.”
  1253. >She sighs and turns from you, scooching a few inches further away.
  1254. >Noooooo, not your personal bed heater! And - let’s admit it - your friend.
  1255. “Come back, Cinnamon.” You snuggle after her, trapping her to your side by resting your head across her back in an almost aggressive act of affection. “I mean, I’ve had to come to terms with how my life is going to be and how to make peace with it. Of course I could dare to want more, but if all I thought about was what I wanted and couldn’t have I’d be miserable. You just have to,”
  1256. >You sigh, frankly depressed by the words coming out of your own mouth.
  1257. “You just have to accept your role even if it doesn’t make you happy. Otherwise what else are you going to do?”
  1258. >“But is mere survival worth your long-term unhappiness?”
  1259. >You wrinkle your nose in distaste, troubled by the question that you yourself haven’t been able to answer. You open your mouth then shut it, unable to come up with any kind of satisfying response.
  1260. >“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you all down,” Cinnamon apologizes, turning around to give your cheek a quick nuzzle. “My brain just wouldn’t stop going tonight.”
  1261. “It’s fine - I know the feeling.”
  1262. >A yawn breaks through your lips that is mirrored by Cinnamon as you try to coax your body back into sleep.
  1263. “Just try to get some rest, okay?”
  1264. >She nods, but you can already tell that it will take her longer than you to find the respite of restfulness.
  1265. >“I’ll try. Don’t worry.”
  1266. >You open one eye.
  1267. “Do I need to be worried?”
spg

Becoming a Bedcolt

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