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Midnight [Part 6]

By Autopony
Created: 2023-04-19 11:11:37
Updated: 2024-04-06 14:48:14
Expiry: Never

  1. >The sound of raindrops incessantly pattering on the windowpane above you clues you in that today is likely to be a wash before you even open your eyes.
  2. >You're also aware of a weight on your chest.
  3. >Cracking open an eye, blue and violet hair obscures your view of the owner's face - not that it's a mystery.
  4. >While Midnight's head is turned to rest on you, the rest of her is snuggled up close beside you.
  5. >Just barely audible amidst the rain is her snoring.
  6. >Over the past month or so, you've noticed that she doesn't wake up with bedhead anywhere near the degree she used to.
  7. >Clear indicator she's been sleeping much more soundly - though you kinda miss the sight of her ruffled and wild hair in the mornings.
  8. >With great care, you brush aside her mane with a hand to reveal her face.
  9. >At the same time, you notice her ear twitch just a bit, along with a slight disturbance in her snoring.
  10. "You awake?"
  11. >The snoring halts at once.
  12. >"...No," comes a lethargic voice. "Are you?"
  13. "I'm not sure yet."
  14. >"That doesn't make any sense."
  15. "Neither does you telling me you're not awake."
  16. >"Maybe I talk in my sleep."
  17. >With great care, you use your thumb to raise one of her eyelids for a view of her peepers.
  18. >From the darkness appears a faint bluish glow that gradually intensifies, while her pupil adjusts to the sudden intrusion.
  19. >"Why?"
  20. "I don't know. But I'm not convinced you're asleep. By the way, did you know your eyes don't really glow that much when you... well, when your eyes are closed?"
  21. >"I can't say I've ever looked in a mirror while *sleeping*," she counters.
  22. "When you say it like that, my question sounds pretty damn stupid."
  23. >As she turns her head to face you, the ends of her mouth turn upward.
  24. >"Might be more than just the way it sounds."
  25. >Her eyes shift away from you and to the window above your head.
  26. >"Sure doesn't sound or look like we need to be in a rush to get up today," she comments.
  27. "No, not particularly. Best we can do is get orders boxed today."
  28. >Midnight nods - or at least as much as she can with her head still resting on your chest.
  29. >"I'm okay with that."
  30. "Yeah, I think I am too. That was fun having Starla stay with us, but having to keep up with the two of you is tiring after a couple of days."
  31. >"Aww, you poor thing," Midnight coos in a sarcastic manner, poking you in the ribs with her hoof. "But you're right, it's nice to be back to... us. Slow down a bit, back to our normal pace."
  32. >You reach up with your other hand and boop her nose, which Midnight answers back by blowing a raspberry in a lethargic manner.
  33. "So cute."
  34. >"Shut up."
  35. "Maybe someday you'll learn that isn't an insult."
  36. >"Nah."
  37. >Midnight straightens up her body, content to now lie beside you, her head resting upon a pillow now.
  38. >Her left wing opens up to drape itself over your form.
  39. "You really have warmed up to flaunting your wings as of late," you speak up, turning on your side to face her. "What's up with that?"
  40. >"I don't really see a problem with it," she replies with an air of uncertainty.
  41. "No no, I didn't mean it as a problem, just a curiosity."
  42. >"I guess I have em - why not use em? I don't really feel ashamed of them like I was before," she replies, shrugging. "Plus they are handy in a pinch, like scouting."
  43. "I don't think you should have ever felt ashamed of them to begin with, Mid."
  44. >"Yeah, yeah..." she sasses, trying hard to hide a hint of bashfulness. "Maybe I'm starting to kind of like who I am now."
  45. "What changed?"
  46. >"Well a lot of shit has changed."
  47. >You can't quite tell whether she's being purposely obtuse, or not quite comprehending your question.
  48. "I mean to get to thinking like that."
  49. >"Yeah, and where do I even begin to answer that?" she responds with her own question. "I honestly didn't recognize - er, accepting who I am, I suppose. I just feel comfortable, y'know?"
  50. >You don't have anything to say or add without making her feel more awkward, so you just nod.
  51. >"It's hard when you wake up and find something new has been added or changed on you. These wings - they aren't real like most of the rest of me," she continues, fully expanding her wing to the point the tip nearly touches the ceiling fan. "They're from a bot. A Princess Twilight Sparkle bot - not even who I was supposed to be. So yeah, it sort of fucks with you when you start becoming someone's after-school project made up of a bunch of odds and ends."
  52. "I'm not trying to stir up any sort of bad memories, Mid," you interrupt.
  53. >"I'm fine, Anon. I swear," she assures you, lowering her wing to blanket you again. "I view things a bit differently now that I have others to bounce my thoughts off. But to my point - it took a long time to figure out how to control these - so maybe I wasn't born with em, but I've adapted, grown more accustomed to having them - there comes a point where arguing about who you are is sort of pointless. And honestly, not using these is wasting all the effort I put forth to adapt. I guess I look at it now as squandering something that I could use to my advantage."
  54. "Good way to look at it. And they look good on you."
  55. >"God, you're just trying to make me feel embarrassed, aren't you?" she asks, hiding her face beneath a hoof.
  56. >You ease her leg away from her head to catch sight of the blush she's undoubtedly suffering from.
  57. >The red tinge in her cheeks is noticeable even in this rather dim light, aided by the glow from her eyes as she tries to shy away from you.
  58. "You blush anymore and you're gonna turn purple, Middie," you tease her.
  59. >"Stop being a queer," she mumbles, trying hard not to smile and failing miserably.
  60. "Nope, I got you where I want you now," you reply, closing in and rubbing your nose against her snout.
  61. >Midnight can't help herself, giggling just a bit even as you can practically feel the heat emanating from her face.
  62. >"You're such a jackass."
  63. "I aim to please."
  64. >Midnight relents just a bit, relaxing as she kisses you.
  65. >A fleeting moment, but you got what you wanted, so you give her a bit of space.
  66. >But she scoots back up to you anyway.
  67. "So you gonna start flying more?"
  68. >"Maybe. I'm out of practice - though I was never really *in* practice," she admits. "Kinda hard finding space to fly indoors, particularly when you're in a fish tank ninety percent of the time."
  69. "I could see where that might be an issue."
  70. >"But, maybe with some time and exercise - it won't be so tiring. That's the biggest issue. I doubt I'm very aerodynamic, either."
  71. "I dunno, you cut a pretty damn good-looking figure to me," you gush, tracing lines through the fur on her stomach with your fingers.
  72. >"God damn you."
  73. >She blushes profusely once again, making you laugh.
  74. >She puts in a half-hearted effort to shove you away with both front hooves.
  75. "It's just us here."
  76. >"It's just us here," she mocks you in a nasally voice.
  77. "Aww, someone sounds gwumpy. Maybe you need more sleep," you tease,  positioning your other arm to reach above her and run a hand through her mane.
  78. >Midnight snorts as her wing raises high enough off of you to come down with a decent whap.
  79. >"I'd probably still be sleeping if *someone* hadn't asked me if I was awake."
  80. "You were the one that answered."
  81. >"Yeah, that was stupid of me in hindsight,  knowing now you wanted to torture me."
  82. >That makes you scoff.
  83. "Turning you into a blushing mess is torture now?"
  84. >"Always was," she replies.
  85. "You know I only do it because I find it enjoyable. And you keep coming back."
  86. >"Stockholm Syndrome."
  87. "You got an answer for everything."
  88. >"I try," she answers, patting your shoulder with her hoof. "Maybe we could go get the engine block today, huh?"
  89. "Mm, maybe. Not quite the end of the week, which is when the shop said it will be done," you remind her. "Also, we haven't gotten the new crankshaft or main bearings yet - so I wouldn't be able to actually do anything with it."
  90. >"Hmph. Thanks for crushing my hopes," she grumbles in jest.
  91. >Midnight rises up to her hooves, before resorting to a few leisurely stretches.
  92. "Could you turn around before you do the face-down ass-up one?"
  93. >A pillow is quick to smack you in the face.
  94. "Ow."
  95. >"Dirty bastard."
  96. "We need to buy some new pillows, these are getting too violent," you mumble through linen.
  97. >The pillow peels itself away from your head, aided by metal wire cinched around the far end from your face.
  98. >That wire releases the pillow to let it flop back on the bed beside you before it slithers its way onto one of your wrists.
  99. >"Time to get up, your comments are getting pretty stale this morning," Midnight instructs, gently tugging you to sit upright by her metal ally.
  100. "Oh thank god. Here I was thinking you were going to do some really kinky shit to me," you answer back whilst pointing to the makeshift bracelet.
  101. >"Oh man, this is gonna be of those days, isn't it?" Midnight sighs as she climbs off of the bed.
  102. >Despite that sound of mild frustration, Midnight sports a pleasant grin to greet the dreary morning.
  103. > It's the kind that's wide enough to force her fangs to pop out just below her upper lip.
  104. >Midnight's wire slips off of your wrist and floats back toward the mare, weaving seamlessly back into her necklace.
  105. >With a grunt, you throw your legs over the side of the bed and climb out of bed yourself.
  106. "You aren't in a rush to get at it this morning, are you?"
  107. >"Pffft, hell no. But I don't want to just lay in bed all day, either," she replies. "Breakfast?"
  108. "Eh, unless there's something you want, I'm alright. Probably just a granola bar or something that doesn't require effort."
  109. >"I'm fine with some jerky," she replies while heading to the door
  110. "Please not the teriyaki - that just does not smell great so early in the morning."
  111. >"Aww, poor baby," Midnight coos, stopping just before walking out and turning her head.
  112. >She has a devious look on her face that only accentuates her elongated canines.
  113. >"I think that's a small price to pay for having your fun."
  114. "That just makes me want to do it again tomorrow morning when you say it like that."
  115. >"Well, I guess we both have to make sacrifices, huh?" she proposes before sashaying out the door.
  116.  
  117.  
  118.  
  119.  
  120.  
  121. >Rather than piss the whole day away lazing about, you started tackling a project that had languished for far too long.
  122. >Setting up new lights in the storage room.
  123. >Considering almost a quarter of the shop lights never came on when you flipped the light switch the first time, it was an upgrade to LEDs well overdue.
  124. >...and the lights you bought have sat in their boxes in a corner of the shop for over a month.
  125. >It's really something only *you* need - when Midnight is searching for a part in this room, she doesn't bother with the lights half the time.
  126. >As you unhook the last chain holding this fixture to the ceiling, it is taken by Midnight's ability, who stands beside you.
  127. >The new fixture is already on its way up before you even ask.
  128. "Man, this is going smoother than I thought."
  129. >"Did you really think it was going to be a pain?" Midnight asks.
  130. "I couldn't remember if the old ones were all wired in, or just plugged into an outlet," you explain. "I'll still have to do some wiring to add a few outlets for the ones that were wired in - but looks like most of em are plug and play."
  131. >"And there was a mix and match in here because..."
  132. "Hey, this wasn't my doing," you protest in response to Middie's challenging tone. "I've only ever changed bulbs in here - all of this existed when I bought the place."
  133. >She narrows her eyes, trying to discern whether you're being honest.
  134. "Don't look at me in that tone of voice."
  135. >Rather than answer, her eyes glow brighter as she continues to play with you.
  136. "Indoor voice, please," you add while stringing up the new light on the old hooks.
  137. >You don't warn her before plugging it in, the bright white LEDs making her recoil as she shut her eyes in an instant.
  138. >"Dickhead."
  139. "Play stupid games, win stupid prizes."
  140. >"That never stops you."
  141. "I like stupid prizes."
  142. >You get a snort from Midnight as you clamber down your ladder, moving it around a shelf while she takes care of the old fixture.
  143. >"Maybe we ought to reorganize the storage room today while we're at it?" Midnight suggests from outside.
  144. >Ha.
  145. >You don't answer her, choosing instead to wait for her to return with the next light as you unplug the next in sequence.
  146. >"I know you heard me."
  147. "I never said I didn't."
  148. >"Why must you be so obtuse?" she whines.
  149. "Because you're acute."
  150. >You get a deadpan stare for your efforts.
  151. "A. Cute," you reaffirm, pointing to her in time with each syllable.
  152. >"I can accidentally shove this up your ass when I pass it off to you," she comments, waggling the light fixture in a lazy motion.
  153. "Oh, you know how to start me up, don't you?"
  154. >"Aaanyway," Midnight spouts, sidestepping your idiocy for the time being. "I recall your bitching and moaning any time you have to come in here and stumble around - what else have we got to do today? As you said, this is going well - we'll be done in no time at this pace."
  155. "But this is supposed to be an easy day!" you whine in an exaggerated fashion.
  156. >Midnight can only roll her eyes as you drop the light down and off to her, while she passes you the new one.
  157. "Eh, if that's what you want to do, we can at the very least get started.
  158. >Midnight perks up at that before once again heading out of the storage room with the old fixture.
  159. >Now you just need to put both your heads together to think of the best way to organize.
  160. >Right now, everything is relatively sorted by make.
  161. >But the way the shelves have essentially been brought in and set up in an unplanned fashion means it truly is a bit of a maze to navigate.
  162. "Do you have any ideas on how this should be done?" you call out after her. "Other than moving shelving units? Or was that it?"
  163. >"Not... particularly," she responds, her voice hesitating again until she reappears in the doorway. "I figured you had an idea."
  164. "Huh. That might be a problem then."
  165. >Midnight frowns, disappointed by this abrupt setback.
  166. >"I guess that will wait another day then. I'll give it some thought."
  167. >As you gander at the shelves in a new and brighter light, it's apparent that this room isn't filled to capacity as it once was.
  168. >After all, the only reason this became such a useful storage room was a result of Midnight pulling apart engines during her first few weeks working with you.
  169. >Now - most of the time if you need an engine part, you and Midnight either find a car with the needed engine or the engine itself you occasionally purchase and pull the parts then and there if it isn't in the storage room.
  170. >There's no cycle of replenishment.
  171. "Should we just use this room to mark and sort orders as we bring them up and offload them from the truck?" you suggest. "Probably be a lot better than laying them in piles on the floor."
  172. >"Not a bad idea. You want to do away with tearing down engines in advance altogether?"
  173. "We haven't been doing that," you remind her.
  174. >"But we could. I could," Midnight chips in.
  175. "Yeah..."
  176. >You trail off, trying to consider what would be the best use for this room.
  177. >Some of the parts on the shelves haven't moved since they were placed in here ages ago.
  178. >That's not exactly purposeful use of space...
  179. >"Half and half, perhaps?"
  180. "Possibility. You wouldn't happen to know what we sell out of our inventory in here, would you?"
  181. >"Not in detail off of the top of my head. A lot of timing covers across most makes, oil pans, quite a few stock intakes. A few crankshafts, but much on other internals like camshafts, to be honest."
  182. >Funny, you happen to be staring at a bumpstick that's been in here a few years, judging by the blanket of cobwebs branching off of the geared snout.
  183. >"Heads seem to depend on the make - not much when it comes to Ford or Chevy considering what I've seen of the aftermarket supply, but Lincoln, Cadillac, some oddball niche parts or high flow performance parts like Chrysler 340 heads - those go pretty well."
  184. "I thought you didn't have details, nerd," you comment, turning to her.
  185. >"Eat a dick," she retorts, finishing off by sticking her tongue out at you in a childish manner. "So yeah, there's some stuff in here that maybe we shouldn't bother with."
  186. "But some is good to have on hand because we go through it."
  187. >Midnight nods.
  188. >"I don't think we should throw out what we haven't sold, but... well, I don't know. It takes up space that could be better utilized. I certainly don't like piling customer parts off in a corner of the shop."
  189. "Nor do I. Because someone ends up yelling at me when we have to search for something," you mumble, hanging your head as you pout - but making sure to keep your eyes locked on Midnight.
  190. >"It motivates you more than anything else, doesn't it?" she proposes, looking amused and just a little prideful.
  191. >Rather than wait for you to come up with a silly answer, Midnight trots past you, beginning to seize some of the aforementioned internal engine parts off of the shelves before turning and heading back out.
  192. "Put em on some junk carpeting off to the side somewhere, not concrete," you remind her.
  193. >"Please, you insult me. I'm not a rookie," Midnight answers back.
  194. >Taking her lead, you grab a couple of camshafts from nearby to begin sorting out this room properly.
  195. >Midnight is much more efficient than you, able to levitate several pieces away from each other, while even with the camshafts, you can only do one in each hand.
  196. >Too easy to nick the finish - which could potentially make them useless.
  197. >Even despite your comparatively feeble workload, all the parts that have been languishing for some time end up evacuated to a far corner of the garage within a half hour.
  198. >Of course, that was only part of the task - everything else still on the shelves needed to be condensed into one area to make room for orders awaiting shipment.
  199. >But with everything going so well, you decided to test your luck...
  200. "So, what's the big secret between you and Starla?"
  201. >"Hm?"
  202. >While she plays coy, it isn't hard to spot her jaw clench upon hearing your question as you both rummage through the remaining items on the shelves.
  203. "Something that she was going to discuss with you further at some point."
  204. >"We discussed a lot of things during her stay."
  205. >Dare you press further?
  206. >Of course you do.
  207. "Yeah, but she made the effort to shout out the truck window before leaving, so it must have been something major, y'know?"
  208. >"Mmm, nope. Not sure what it was," she replies in a carefree, dismissive manner.
  209. "Maybe I'll have to email her, pretending to be you."
  210. >"Really, you would be that petty?" she responds, still calm and collected as she awards you a glance.
  211. >You have to just relent at this point, your shoulders slumping in disappointment.
  212. "I've run out of tricks, haven't I?" you ask her.
  213. >"More that I can smell your bullshit from a mile out. You care too much to be that nosy and disrespectful," she explains.
  214. "Way to take the fun out of it. You could have at least pretended to get all upset and flustered."
  215. >"Oh, but you're doing that for *my* amusement now," she teases, flashing you a cocky smile.
  216. "I don't think I like you anymore," you pout.
  217. >Midnight cackles at your response before returning her focus to the task at hand.
  218. >"By the way..."
  219. "Hm?"
  220. >"If a package shows up addressed to me, don't open it."
  221. "You're really trying to aggravate my curiosity, aren't you?"
  222. >"Maybe," she comments, keeping her eyes averted from you.
  223. >You lean over and gently flick one of her ears.
  224. >A lack of attentiveness on her part means you get a slightly startled jump from Midnight, followed by a spastic twitching of her ear.
  225. >"Prick," she grumbles
  226. "Oh hush, that didn't hurt."
  227. >Mindful of her horn, Midnight cocks her head sideways and gives you a firm headbutt.
  228. >"You're still a prick."
  229. "Ow..."
  230. >You cradle your side, sniffling as if she's really injured you.
  231. >"C'mon, we got enough space cleared to bring it pulled orders," Midnight says, flaring out a wing to brush against you as she trots by.
  232. "Hey, you made you boss hoss?" you retort.
  233. >"Mm, no one. I just took the reins," she replies, cracking a wry grin at her own pun.
  234. "That was fucking terrible."
  235. >"So was your comment," she argues.
  236. "It was less shit. It sounded decently casual."
  237. >Rather than respond with words, Midnight raises her eyebrows and shakes her head sharply in defiance.
  238. >You do the exact opposite, widening your eyes as you nod your head at a fervent pitch.
  239. >"What a compelling argument," she comments. "But still, no."
  240. "Bastard."
  241. >"Dumbass."
  242. >She disappears out of sight beyond the door frame, but not before waving a hoof to beckon you to follow.
  243. >You really appreciate her motivation to try getting this garage to work more efficiently.
  244. >But damn - you might end up doing more work on a rainy day - which was traditionally a day off.
  245. >Nevertheless - she seems to really be enjoying this today.
  246. >As you round the corner and head toward the closest pile of orders...
  247. >Midnight is nowhere to be seen.
  248. >Uh...
  249. "Midnight?"
  250. >"Yes?"
  251. >You about jump out of your skin hearing Midnight's lazy response directly behind you.
  252. "You son of a-"
  253. >You turn around as you finally hear her hoofsteps, finding Midnight trotting in place with glee.
  254. >"Hah, I still got it!" she crows, coming off of her high as she takes a calculated, silent step toward you in demonstration.
  255. "You won't be laughing when you give me a heart attack sneaking around and spooking me like that."
  256. >"On the other hand, there's plenty of car batteries laying around to jumpstart your heart if need be," she responds, hardly missing a beat.
  257. "How the hell did you get behind me, anyway? I saw you walk out this way."
  258. >"Ah, I can't divulge my secrets," she muses with an emphasis in her voice, even as she ruffles her folded wings.
  259. "You're getting a bell on you whether you like it or not."
  260. >Midnight trots past you, emitting a short cackle of laughter.
  261. >"Now what would be the fun in that?"
  262. "Not pissing my pants?"
  263. >Midnight whirls around, rearing up to place her hooves on your shoulders.
  264. >"Shame. That sounds like a 'you' problem."
  265. "Not if I kick you out of bed," you threaten with a big smile.
  266. >"Come on, that's my go-to ultimatum," Midnight whines, her devilish grin disappearing.
  267. "Too bad, now I'm using it."
  268. >Midnight's nostrils flare as she exhales in mock frustration.
  269. >"Fine then."
  270. > It's the only words she utters before moving a hoof from your shoulder, up to your face and-
  271. >"Boop."
  272. >Her hoof gently touches the tip of your nose.
  273. >"Fair's fair, right?" she challenges.
  274. "It's not as cute as when I do it."
  275. >"Even though I don't do cute at all.
  276. "Of course."
  277.  
  278.  
  279.  
  280.  
  281.  
  282. >"You're screwing with me, right?"
  283. "No, why?"
  284. >Midnight exhales in obvious irritation as you toss the shifter into park.
  285. >"As if you really have to ask that question..."
  286. "Oh come on, you really think I pulled in here to get some cheap laughs or something?"
  287. >Midnight doesn't say anything as she stares out the window at the sun-worn sign.
  288. >Buckboard Bar and Grille.
  289. >The last time you were here, Midnight ended up very, very drunk by mistake.
  290. >And singing karaoke.
  291. >But dammit, they have good food, and you wanted a night out.
  292. > It's not like you have a ton of choices out in the middle of virtually nowhere.
  293. "Do you really think anyone in there tonight is going to remember what happened - hell, hasn't it been a year?"
  294. >"It's not been long enough," she sulks.
  295. "How long is enough time to come back here?" you ask, awaiting an unreasonable answer.
  296. >"A decade. Maybe two. And how could anyone forget?"
  297. "I thought it was a good performance, but that's just me."
  298. >Midnight whips her head around, glaring at you.
  299. "That's not what you meant, I take it?"
  300. >"You know, I could really go for some liver tonight. How's yours?" she inquires, leaning over to your side of the truck, honing in on your midriff.
  301. "I like that organ," you protest, shifting your hands down to your abdomen in a blocking maneuver. "You can't have it."
  302. >She snorts, but turns away and returns to her seat proper.
  303. "Where do you want to eat tonight if not here? The drive-in?"
  304. >"We were just there last week. And that's kind of the same old, same old now," she argues, letting up on some of the ire her voice has held since arrival.
  305. "Okay. McDonald's? Burger King?"
  306. >"No."
  307. "Neither you nor I want to make anything tonight, which is why we decided to go out," you remind her. "I'm not driving an hour beyond this town for food."
  308. >Midnight remains mum with your thoughts laid out for her to understand.
  309. "Sorry, I suppose I should have asked. I just didn't - I didn't think it really bothered you."
  310. >"It was embarrassing, Anon," she whines.
  311. "I get that, but - time heals all wounds, right?"
  312. >Midnight hardly looks fazed or amused by your feeble argument.
  313. >Having left the truck running this whole time, you're just about to move the shifter into reverse when the engine dies.
  314. >Startled, you scan the gauges before they all move back to their normal positions when the truck is off.
  315. >"Relax, I did that," Midnight speaks up, just as the keys in the ignition slide out.
  316. "Thank god for that. You about gave me a heart attack," turning to her.
  317. >She dangles the keys in front of you, and when you put your hand out for them, they're snatched away with a metallic jingle.
  318. >"If anyone says anything about that night or remembers me, we're gone. Right?"
  319. "Well, if we're in the middle of dinner-"
  320. >"We pack shit up and leave " she interrupts, her expression as steely and cold as her voice.
  321. >You nod, seeing as how this is the only acceptable answer.
  322. >Your keys are deposited into your hands, while Midnight pops open her door and hops out.
  323. >Following her lead, you lock up and join her around the front of the truck, where you both begin the trek up the sidewalk.
  324. >"No stupid comments either," she says in a rather gruff manner.
  325. "Outside of my normal stupidity, right?"
  326. >"Well, there's strike one."
  327. >At least there's enough emphasis and sass in her voice to tell you she's not completely bitter.
  328. Maybe there's hope for tonight.
  329. >But for at least the first bit here...
  330.  
  331. *****
  332.  
  333. "The food here is still awesome."
  334. >"Mhmm. And you're still kind of an asshole."
  335. >Well, that's a step above complete asshole, isn't it?
  336. >Definitely something better off thought than said.
  337. >After all, you do kinda get where Midnight is coming from with that sentiment.
  338. >But there has not been a single word mentioned of 'the last time' from anyone.
  339. >Other than Midnight.
  340. >As per the usual, some glances your way as you walked in, just out of pure curiosity and an unexpected duo dining in.
  341. >But Middie has gotten past that for a little while now.
  342. >No moonshine mistakes this time when ordering water - she asked for extra ice, too.
  343. >You offered to give it a sip for her, just to be sure.
  344. >In a serious manner.
  345. >Mostly.
  346. >But overall, tonight has been rather calm and uneventful.
  347. >If a little... quiet.
  348. >Try as she might, you can still tell Midnight is none too pleased to be here, or quite frankly, with you bringing her here.
  349. >But...
  350. >Well dammit, that was kind of an important night between you two, wasn't it?
  351. >You get her embarrassment, but if things hadn't fallen the way they did...
  352. "You know, if you hadn't gotten drunk, and hadn't teased me before doing karaoke to the point I decided to record you, we would have never..."
  353. >You trail off as your ill-advised musing brings a leer from those icy blue eyes that almost cut hard enough to draw blood.
  354. "I'm just saying. You know it wasn't my fault how it all began."
  355. >"We probably would have sort of figured things out later - and it was still sort of your fault," Midnight grumbles. "You really want to push your luck, don't you?"
  356. "No, I just think there's better ways to think about it, you know?"
  357. >Midnight has no response - merely staring at you.
  358. >With as much as it bothers her, and feeling desperate to somehow smooth out this pent-up animosity toward this establishment, you start to look elsewhere.
  359. >Somehow, you need to make it up to her.
  360. >You need something that will take the nonexistent eyes off of her and onto you.
  361. >And your eyes fall upon a stupid little stage off in the corner with a TV and microphone set up.
  362. >...really?
  363. >You just now thought of that?
  364. >Without uttering a word, you slide out of your seat and walk toward the bar.
  365. "Hey, you guys doing karaoke tonight?" you ask the bartender upon reaching him.
  366. >The man seems taken aback by your question at first, but quickly shrugs his shoulders as he finishes shaking a tumbler and serving it up.
  367. >"If you're feeling froggy, I guess. You don't look that drunk though," he jokes.
  368. "Nope, just stupid."
  369. >The bartender sets his mixers off to the side and beckons you to follow him as he makes his way over to the setup.
  370. >You glance back toward your table where Midnight sits.
  371. >Her eyes are glued to you, visible even from twenty feet away with their faint glow in the dim light.
  372. >"You know what you want?"
  373. "Nah," you reply to the man, scrolling through the songs available on the TV as he turns things on for you.
  374. >"Alright, well - just click on what you want, then hit play down at the bottom when you're ready to go," he replies, motioning to the points on the screen. "I gotta get back to the bar."
  375. "No problemo, thanks."
  376. >"You do know we don't get any sort of music producers or anything out here in the sticks, right?" he adds in jest.
  377. >You have to look up at him and laugh.
  378. "If there were, they won't bother coming back when I'm done. Bet on it."
  379. >Your quip gets a chuckle before you're left to your own devices.
  380. >Man, they have a lot of shit to choose from...
  381. >And a fair amount is shit.
  382. >"What the hell are you doing?"
  383. >Midnight's voice comes out as a quiet, terse hiss right behind you.
  384. >You don't turn around to face her.
  385. "Sit back down dear, I'll only be a few minutes."
  386. >"I'm not singing."
  387. "I know..."
  388. >Oh.
  389. >OH.
  390. >You haven't heard this song in forever - but you remember just enough.
  391. >This is perfect!
  392. >You finally turn your head to look at Midnight, who stands pensive and anxious just off of the stage.
  393. "Go sit down and enjoy the show."
  394. >"Anon, I swear..."
  395. >You click the song, and quickly hit play.
  396. >Midnight bolts off back toward your table, not wanting to be seen as the music kicks in.
  397. >You snatch the microphone from its stand.
  398. "Good evening everyone," you greet the folks who have taken notice. "I'm Anon, and I'm about to make an ass of myself."
  399. >There's a few laughs, but you swear you can hear Midnight groan in the back, sitting low in her chair and attempting to shield herself with her wings.
  400. >Showtime.
  401. "We had a life. We had a love. But you don't know what you got till you lose it!"
  402. >Alright, so maybe the lyrics aren't quite perfect for this, but...
  403. "But that was then, and this is now! And I want you back!"
  404. >You shuffle up to the front of the stage and hone in on Midnight.
  405. "How many times can I say I'm sooorry?"
  406. >Oh cool, so they do have the backup singers with this.
  407. "Yes I'm sorry."
  408. >You head back to the center of the stage.
  409. "How can something so good go so bad? How can something so right go so wrong?"
  410. >Midnight has slowly crept out of her protective cocoon - at least enough to look at you.
  411. "I don't know, I don't have all the answers. But I want you back!"
  412. >You repeat your prior motions back up to the edge of the stage.
  413. "How many times can I say I'm sorry?"
  414. >And now, the part you do remember.
  415. >Well you know, you can run, and you can hide.  But I'm not leaving 'less you come with me!"
  416. >A little bit more of Midnight's shield falls away - but she still keeps her head low to the table.
  417. >"We've had our problems, but I'm on your side! You're all I need, please believe in meee!"
  418. >Is that a slight hint of a smile you can see on her face?
  419. >You can't dwell too long, as you need the television to give you the next lyrics.
  420. "I only wanted someone to love. But something happened on the way to heaven."
  421. >You aren't getting the cheers and hoots Midnight got during her performance, but at least no one is hucking batteries at you...
  422. "It got a hold of me and wouldn't let go - and I want you back! How many times can I say I'm sooorry? Yes, I'm sooorry."
  423. >You launch back into the chorus, at this point finding this kind of fun.
  424. >Damn, maybe you should have given Midnight your phone to record this.
  425. >To make it fair.
  426. >As your eyes go back to the table, Midnight has vanished.
  427. >Scanning the room, you're dumbfounded to find her standing just a few feet in front of you.
  428. >"You're a faggot," she says, trying hard not to let the corners of her mouth tip upward.
  429. >You offer her the only response you can - a wide, cheeky grin.
  430. "You're all I need, let me show you."
  431. >Despite it clearly being part of the song, Midnight adverts her gaze to the floor, kicking at it with her hoof.
  432. "They say you can't take it with you when you go - and III believe it!"
  433. >Shaking her head, apparently defeated, Midnight looks back up at you, smiling.
  434. "But taking what I got, or being here with you - you know I - I'd rather leave it!"
  435. >You do some half-assed shuffle on the fake wood floor under your feet, waiting for the next bit to kick in.
  436. >When it does...
  437. >Still off stage, Midnight is mouthing the lyrics in tune with you during the reprisal and the repeated chorus, having thrown away her anxiety.
  438. >Maybe she figured out where she's standing, no one can see her singing.
  439. "You can run, and you can hide! But I'm not leaving till it's all over! We've had our problems but I'm on your side!"
  440. >You lean over just far enough to pat her on the top of the head.
  441. "You're all I need. Please believe in meee!"
  442. >There's a few claps as the music dies off and you set the microphone back in its place.
  443. >Whether the applause is due to the show or the thankfulness it's over...
  444. >Who cares?
  445. >Midnight is already trotting back to the table as you skip off the stage, saluting the bartender as you walk past.
  446. >He seems indifferent, but that's alright.
  447. >You think you might have done a thing tonight as you rejoin your mare.
  448. >"I can't believe you actually did that," Midnight murmurs as you take a seat across from her once again.
  449. >She's back to attempting a straight face.
  450. >And quite frankly, failing miserably.
  451. "Yeah well, to use your words - it felt right," you reply in a hushed tone.
  452. >Her hoof reaches over to lightly rap the back of your hand as you go back to what's left on your plate.
  453. "So... can we come back sometime? Or is this a one-time deal?"
  454. >"Hmm..."
  455. >Midnight pretends to mull this over like a serious debate.
  456. >For your part, you snap your head up to look at her, feigning a display of shock.
  457. >"You think you'll be able to handle the embarrassment of coming back here?" she finally teases.
  458. "I think I can stomach it. Maybe next time, we can pull a duet."
  459. >"Dream on, fucker," she scoffs.
  460. "I don't think I can pull off a Steven Tyler vocal, Mid."
  461. >Confusion quickly turns to exaggerated disapproval at your comment as she shakes her head.
  462. >"Terrible."
  463. "Aww, I thought I did good up there," you sigh, changing the subject.
  464. >"As for that... you're no Phil Collins."
  465. "Is that a good thing, or a bad thing?"
  466. >"It means if you shut up, you're forgiven and get an apology for me being a bit of a stick in the mud tonight."
  467. "Oh. Neat."
  468.  
  469.  
  470.  
  471.  
  472.  
  473. "Kick the AC back on, please."
  474. >Midnight strains to raise a hoof, stretching it toward the window shaker on the wall behind you.
  475. >"I can't," she groans.
  476. "Man, if only you had some sort of power that could allow you to manipulate the controls from here," you muse, poking the side of her horn with your index finger.
  477. >"Yeah, but you have legs."
  478. "So do you. And you're laying on top of mine."
  479. >"Not completely."
  480. >No, not completely.
  481. >She just happens to have the front half of her body in your lap, her legs nestled in comfortably while her head rests against your chest.
  482. "Alright, guess I have to get up..."
  483. >You don't even lift a finger before a stray piece of scrap metal soars over to the control panel of the air conditioner.
  484. >With a few frenzied motions, the appliance kicks on and begins wafting a welcomed cool breeze.
  485. "Huh, must be a threat-activated feature I didn't know about."
  486. >"I was going to have to get up for you to get up," Midnight speaks up.
  487. "Hey, you connected the dots of why I made that comment. Good job," you jab, patting the top of her head.
  488. >"Fuck you."
  489. "Maybe in a bit."
  490. >You feel her eyes dig into you at that offhanded comment, but focus on the TV as the commercial comes to an end.
  491. >It's funny how someone who has a potty mouth and only sort of modest based on the placement of her tail can be so uptight and prudish regarding comments about sex.
  492. >"I'm going for $137k on the split window '63," Midnight quickly calls out, her attention snapping to the TV.
  493. "We haven't even heard or seen the options on the car, dummy," you remind her.
  494. >"Don't need to - I feel it in my gut."
  495. >Ever since watching some auctions during Starla's stay, you and Midnight have made it a regular occurrence - with a spin.
  496. >You both guess where the final bid will end up and the closest one "wins" the car.
  497. >It's kinda stupid and has led to some odd moments where one of you tries to convince the other to trade for something else...
  498. >Okay, so this whole game is autism squared.
  499. >But you both get invested in it.
  500. "Have you been looking up values on your laptop in order to cheat?"
  501. >"How is that cheating?"
  502. "New rule I made up, can't do that now."
  503. >"Not my fault you're too lazy to inform yourself," Midnight chastises.
  504. "Fine. I'll say $129k."
  505. >"We haven't even heard the options on the car, dummy," Midnight mocks you.
  506. >You poke her in the nose, making her snort in response.
  507. "You're just full of piss and vinegar tonight, aren't you?"
  508. >Midnight doesn't respond - instead, she holds her head up high and smiles with pride.
  509. >Meanwhile, the silver Corvette coupe at auction is pushed onto center stage as bidding quickly proceeds at a blistering pace.
  510. >The starting bid was only $30k, though...
  511. >Do they make replica bodies?
  512. >That thought dies away pretty quickly as the price soars past the five-figure threshold and into the six digits.
  513. >It starts to slow down...
  514. >"I got this."
  515. "If you do, it's a technicality."
  516. >"Aww, you sound like a sore loser," Midnight gushes, sitting up straight and leaning toward your face.
  517. "I'll bite you," you warn her.
  518. >"I bite back."
  519. "...I'll just flick your nose or ear again."
  520. >Minor disappointment pokes through as the bidding putters past your guess...
  521. >...and as the gavel brings the back and forth to a close, Midnight's 'bid' is within a thousand of the final total.
  522. >You turn just enough to see the smarmy look on Midnight's face as she eyes you, waiting for you to say something.
  523. "Not giving you the satisfaction."
  524. >"I still got the split window, so nyah," she retorts, sticking her tongue out.
  525. >With that act of defiance, you reach behind her and fiddle with her mane, done up in a ponytail today.
  526. >"Hey, what the hell are you doing?"
  527. >Even as she puts up a token struggle against you, your fingers find the scrunchie tying up her hair and deftly peel it off.
  528. >"You fucking-"
  529. >She doesn't get to finish that thought before you've already finagled it into a weapon, stretching it taut between your thumb and index finger and letting it fly.
  530. "Pew!"
  531. >The dark blue missile beans her right on the forehead.
  532. >"Bastard!" she exclaims, more out of shock than any real ire.
  533. "That's what you get for being nasty."
  534. >Midnight tries to push you over with one of her legs on your side, while you resist and lean forward onto her.
  535. >The once tranquil atmosphere turns into a minor skirmish on the couch more akin to a shoving match than anything.
  536. >The auction on TV becomes an afterthought until something catches Midnight's attention.
  537. >"What the hell is that thing?" she mutters, pointing to the screen.
  538. "Dodge Coronet," you answer as the cool grey car with black roof rolls onto the stage.
  539. >"I gathered that much - but that's not normal looking."
  540. >She does have a point, considering the front wheels are practically up against the backside of the front bumper, while the rear wheels have also been moved forward significantly.
  541. >But it should be pretty clear by the injection stacks poking up out of the hood and the fat rear tires what it is...
  542. >Not to mention "Landy's Dodge" lettered on the side, interrupted by a bright red fratzog on the door.
  543. >You grab the remote and pause the program for the time being, coinciding with a good fullscreen view of the car.
  544. "It is odd," you agree with her, lining up your shot. "Would you say it is a funny car?"
  545. >Midnight eases into a reluctant stare at your purposeful pun.
  546. >"What the hell are you trying to get at here?" she presses.
  547. "A couple of weeks ago, you were watching drag racing on TV - remember the flop top dragsters?"
  548. >"The funny cars..." Midnight mumbles, the light going on in her head. "Is that what it is?"
  549. "More or less. That's where the name started, anyway. Originally, I think they were in the Factory Experimental class."
  550. >"You mean that's not custom work?"
  551. "It's... sort of a misnomer," you admit.
  552. >Midnight shakes her head before you can continue.
  553. >"That doesn't make any sense. How the hell can it be from the factory, but custom fabricated?"
  554. "Easy now - don't shoot the messenger here," you plead, putting your hands up.
  555. >Midnight stares, before jolting forward just a bit as a feint.
  556. >Having had enough of her nonsense, you use both hands you flip her recently freed mane over her face.
  557. >"Really?" she whines.
  558. "Figured I'd give you the pissy cat treatment - throw a blanket over your head to calm you."
  559. >"Uh huh."
  560. >You help her brush aside the mass of hair sitting between the two of you.
  561. >"Anyway, continue. Please."
  562. "Wow, I got a please out of you," you can't help but toss in before clearing your throat. "Anyway, they were built by the factory. They were normal unibody cars that were cut up and modified in a separate area away from the standard production line. Then they were sold to trusted drag racers or teams. I don't think they went into the double digits with building either the Coronet or the Plymouth Belvedere."
  563. >"Huh."
  564. >That's... all you get out of her.
  565. "You still think it's kinda ugly, don't you?" you prod.
  566. >"Kind of," she admits, low and rather hesitant. "I mean, at least there's some purpose to it rather than being some hillbilly's backyard custom like my initial impression."
  567. "You're not hurting my feelings. They're function over form - all about weight distribution."
  568. >"Well, you get a freebie if you want it," she answers back, motioning for you to resume the program.
  569. "Because you cheated on the last one, right?"
  570. >"Aw, you gonna cry all night?" she asks in a mocking tone, her face contorted into a pout.
  571. >You sniffle a bit just to stoke the flames.
  572. "No."
  573. >"Anyway - what else was there? In competition with these, I mean," Midnight asks, watching the television as the camera highlights sections of the car.
  574. "I don't think there was much. I think Ford put together a few Mustangs with the Cammer engine, but that's all I know of. General Motors was still very against factory racing, so they didn't put anything together, as far as they know."
  575. >"Cammer engine?" Midnight asks, cocking her head.
  576. >You smile at her.
  577. "Guess you get to do some reading in the near future since you want to be mean to me."
  578. >"Oh no! Reading is so hard!" Midnight shouts with an exasperated and desperate voice, obliging the sides of her head with her hooves.
  579. "Hm, thought you might have let up a bit for an explanation."
  580. >"Nah, I always need something new to read. Besides, I think you're talking about the overhead cam 427, aren't you?"
  581. >You nod.
  582. >"Took me a second to put that together, but yeah - glad I didn't let up on you just for that."
  583. "I feel so loved," you jest, leaning against her.
  584. >"You wouldn't know what to do if I didn't give you a healthy dose of attitude," Midnight suggests.
  585. "I'd be assuming you were incredibly sick."
  586. >"Mhmm. And I know you're always incredibly sick," she chides with a smirk.
  587. "What can I say, I make a good impression, huh?"
  588. >"Ha. Yeah."
  589. >The auction wraps up on TV - albeit short of the reserve.
  590. >"No sale - but you can still get it if you want."
  591. "Yeah, why not."
  592. >"You won't be winning the Lemon Twist '71 Barracuda with the 440 Six Barrel that comes next, anyway."
  593. >As you shoot her a look, Midnight bites her lip while focusing her gaze straight ahead, trying not to grin.
  594. "You fucker, you have seen this one."
  595. >"Maybe."
  596. >Midnight fidgets for a moment, glancing off in another direction of the room.
  597. >"Oh, by the way..."
  598. "What?"
  599. >She turns back toward you, her face twisted into a perverted and fiendish grin.
  600. >"Pew!"
  601. >Her hair tie from earlier zips through the air and smacks you in the face.
  602. "That's it!"
  603. >You bear down on her, snagging your arms around her neck and pulling her into your lap again.
  604. >"Hey, let me go!" she protests, putting up a token struggle as she pulls against you.
  605. "Nope, you're stuck here now."
  606. >"I'll turn off the air conditioner!"
  607. "That hurts you as much as it does me."
  608. >"...give me a bit, I'll come up with another excuse."
  609. "I'm sure you will," you agree, resting your chin on top of her head, amidst a soft sea of blue and violet hair.
  610.  
  611.  
  612.  
  613.  
  614. >"Come on, move your feet."
  615. >Midnight's muffled voice whines out her command as she presses her snout into your back.
  616. >Now, you aren't dawdling today...
  617. >Granted, that is a fun pastime, just to see and hear Midnight's surprising amount of impatience when she's really excited about something.
  618. >No, you've already got your few hundred pounds of iron on the cart you're pushing.
  619. >Sure, she could have carried it - and she really wanted to do so.
  620. >But it's one thing to explain away an eating utensil levitating in the air as a 'prototype feature.'
  621. >An engine block?
  622. >Yeah, that would be a bit much.
  623. "I can actually go slower, you know."
  624. >"I am aware. I'm also aware you could move faster," she mutters.
  625. "Even though we're already here?"
  626. >Midnight eases up on her pushing to step aside and glance forward beyond you, just in time to actually reach the back tailgate of the Trailduster.
  627. >"Okay, so I expected you to go slow, just to be an ass."
  628. "I probably deserve the skepticism, but no tricks today," you assure her.
  629. >It's been a couple of days since you were notified by the machine shop the Chrysler's Hemi block was ready for pickup.
  630. >A couple of days that seem to have been agony for Midnight, eager to get to work assembling it.
  631. >Well, eager for you to assemble it.
  632. >But you know full well she will help however she can.
  633. >Having already opened up the back of the truck before going inside, you take a cursory glance around for anyone with a set of eyes on you.
  634. >No passing cars, and there's no one walking the streets this close to the outskirts of town.
  635. >Coast is clear.
  636. "Alright, beam it up, Mid."
  637. >In one swift and efficient motion, the engine block and two-wheeled cart carrying it rise up and into the back.
  638. "Nice. Glad I installed that lift in this thing," you comment in jest while closing up the tailgate.
  639. >The stupid quip garners a slight snort from Midnight before she trots to the passenger side of the Trailduster, slipping from sight.
  640. >She's already hopped into her seat and waiting when you climb behind the steering wheel.
  641. >"So, you'll have the engine back together by this evening, right?" she asks with a smug expression.
  642. >You chuckle, knowing the real question behind that cocky suggestion.
  643. >'How long do you think it will take to get it together?'
  644. "More like a week or two, assuming I have all the parts we need," you reply, nothing the hint of disappointment Midnight exudes as her perked ears falter a bit. "I want to get it back together and running as much as you do, but rushing through assembly is a plan for disaster."
  645. >"Anything in particular that's gonna take a long time? I read that first startup of a fresh engine is a tense time, because of break-in," Midnight comments as you get the truck headed for home.
  646. "That's where my call for patience comes from, yeah," you agree. "All the clearances between moving parts are at their tightest when brand new, and they have to wear in a bit. So taking extra time to make sure the clearances from bearing to camshaft, crankshaft - all that is important."
  647. >"So, have you ever had one die during break-in?"
  648. "They usually don't blow up - just kill a bearing or eat a cam lobe. But no."
  649. >Maybe it's a vibe you're giving off, but Midnight doesn't seem particularly satisfied with your answer, judging by that cold, inquisitive stare.
  650. "The answer is no because I've never actually built one."
  651. >"Oh..."
  652. >That is a very uneasy-sounding response from your companion.
  653. "Hence why I'm taking a lot of time to make sure everything is right," you add, freeing a hand from the steering wheel to put an arm around Midnight's form.
  654. >"Hell, now I kinda feel like an ass for joking about you throwing it together quick," she concedes.
  655. "Well, you are an ass - but you're my ass."
  656. >"Annnd there goes the guilt," she shoots back, moving your arm away from her playfully with a minor extension of her wings.
  657. "Which part did it, calling you an ass, or the sappy bit at the end?"
  658. >"You've given me a really tough choice if 'all of the above' isn't an option."
  659. "Lucky for you, that was secret door number three."
  660. >"I'll be honest, this gameshow sounds pretty damn lame."
  661. "You win and you still whine. Jeez."
  662. >You feel Midnight rest her chin upon your shoulder, her breath tickling your ear as she scoots up close.
  663. >"Maybe we can at least get started on the engine this evening?" she croons.
  664. "It's cute how you're trying to butter me up when I already had planned to work on it," you muse, tilting your head and curling your arm up and around her neck, in a relaxed and odd combination of a hug and a headlock.
  665. >Of course, Midnight focuses on the likeness to the latter, making a cacophony of muted gagging noises.
  666. "You're very distracting, you know that?" you tease.
  667. >"I'll take that as a compliment."
  668. >You can't see her face with the current positioning and the fact you're navigating town streets, but you can sense a prideful grin accompanying that remark.
  669. "I could get pulled over for distracted driving."
  670. >"Don't be distracted - simple."
  671. "Yeah," you chuckle. "Simple."
  672. >Hey, she didn't object to being called cute for once.
  673. >You're just gonna let that go unmentioned.
  674. >"Any plans for the transmission, then?" Midnight asks as you release her.
  675. >You shake your head negative on that one.
  676. "Torqueflites are hardy transmissions - I'll try flushing out as much of the old fluid as I can, but that's about it. I've got no worries about that."
  677. >"So it sounds like we're on the home stretch," Midnight perks up, though after a slight hesitation, adds, "Relatively speaking, of course."
  678. "In relative terms," you agree. "Still gotta make sure the brakes are good before we try it out on the road. We haven't flushed those out yet, either."
  679. >"And brake fluid is hygroscopic, so even out in this climate - it's probably been bad for quite some time," Midnight chips in.
  680. "Hygroscopic, huh?"
  681. >"Attracts water, for a simpleton like you. I'll also add I brought up the brakes again when we dropped the fuel tank to dump that out - you forgot."
  682. "Neeerd!" you antagonize in a drawn-out howl.
  683. >"I'd hit you, but you're driving. Slowly, might I add," Midnight grumbles.
  684. >You goose the throttle, just to make Midnight flop back in her seat a bit with unexpected acceleration.
  685. >It doesn't faze her one bit - probably was anticipating it.
  686. >Not your first time doing those kinds of shenanigans, after all.
  687. >"By the way, if you're thinking of slamming on the brakes, you have a car behind you," she states, putting on a serious face. "And I'll kick your ass regardless."
  688. "Do you promise?" you croon, batting your eyes.
  689. >Midnight shakes her head, turning away to prevent you from seeing her stoic expression break.
  690. >"You're sick."
  691. "Yeah. Got a bad case of lovin you."
  692. >Midnight's attention snaps back to you, cocking her head as she tries to discern what the hell you just said.
  693. "Doctor, doctor - give me the news..."
  694. >>With the realization comes a roll of her eyes as Midnight points out the windshield ahead with a hoof.
  695. >"Shut up and drive, Robert Palmer."
  696.  
  697.  
  698.  
  699.  
  700. >As truck tires come to a gentle rest against the concrete parking stop, you finally take another look at your passenger in the fading evening light.
  701. >Midnight is still brooding over this arrangement as expected, hunched down in her seat while she stares out the passenger window.
  702. "It's going to be fine," you assure her.
  703. >"I still don't like this," she reminds you in a gruff and short manner.
  704. "I know you don't."
  705. >You took up Teddy on his offer and suggestion to have Midnight see the doctor he has check-up on Starla from time to time.
  706. >Nothing wrong - just a good idea to get a baseline, so to speak.
  707. >It had been mentioned in passing a couple of times to Midnight before you pulled the trigger...
  708. >Evidently, she either didn't give the idea much thought or wholeheartedly believed you would go through with this.
  709. >Regardless of the reasoning, the last day and a half has featured Midnight in a rather pensive and anxious mood.
  710. "Do you need a hug?"
  711. >"Shut up."
  712. "That wasn't a joke."
  713. >"You can still shut up."
  714. >Headlights briefly flash through the back window, illuminating the interior before a pickup truck pulls up along your side.
  715. >A familiar face waves a hoof from the passenger window, looking perky and positive as always.
  716. "Look, Starla came along just for you, I bet," you mention, thumbing Midnight's attention to your window as you see Teddy lean forward in the truck to offer a friendly wave and smile as well.
  717. >You turn back as Midnight leans forward to look past you and into Teddy's truck, offering the faintest smile before resuming her rather dour posture and expression.
  718. >"I'm sure I'm gonna hear all about 'How nice the doc is and how there's absolutely nothing to worry about!'" Midnight sasses in a mocking manner, complete with a hint of southern drawl in her voice.
  719. "...I don't think you fully understand what power you wield over me doing that voice."
  720. >The comment forces Midnight into a stern scowl.
  721. >"You talk an awful lot of shit for someone in biting distance."
  722. "Come on, just try to relax. I'll feel a lot better with you having a checkup, and I think you will, too."
  723. >"I'm not worried about my health. I feel fine," she argues.
  724. "Okay, then just do it for me."
  725. >"You think I care?"
  726. "I know you do. You're just anxious and stubborn."
  727. >"... shut up," she mumbles.
  728. >Amidst the backdrop of your bickering, Teddy has left his truck and gone inside the quaint little veterinary hospital where you've parked.
  729. >He reappears now through the glass double doors waving you in.
  730. >First to respond is Starla, who exits Teddy's truck through the still-ajar driver's door, disappearing from view briefly as you hear the door thump shut behind her.
  731. >As she circles around to meet up with Teddy at the building entrance, she too beckons to you and Midnight to join them.
  732. >Before you make a move, you once again turn all attention to Midnight.
  733. "Ready?"
  734. >Her ears flatten against her skull as she emits a sigh of resignation.
  735. >"No, but I guess this is the best I can do."
  736. >Rather than embarrass her, you reach over and grasp her hoof, out of sight for anyone else.
  737. >Midnight looks down at your gesture, then at you with a bit of uncertainty.
  738. "This is something completely different than the lab, Mid," you reassure her.
  739. >You know that's what is really eating at her.
  740. >And you would be willing to bet she looked up what a veterinary hospital looks like out of curiosity, what they do...
  741. >That probably didn't alleviate any concerns.
  742. >You know her too well.
  743. >It's hard to make the past just disappear.
  744. >"I'll be fine."
  745. >There's no snark in her voice.
  746. >Nor fear.
  747. >It is a statement of quiet determination.
  748. >It's a fleeting moment, quickly followed by normal you.
  749. >"Try not to embarrass us all," she muses while popping open her door.
  750. "You know I can't make any sort of guarantee on something like that."
  751. >"Still doesn't hurt to remind you."
  752. >Teddy props the door open for Starla to enter along with you and Mid, a few steps behind.
  753. >"Hiya, Midnight? How are you doing?" Starla turns and greets her friend once in the brightly lit lobby.
  754. >You don't hear the response, as Teddy motions you close as you pass through the door.
  755. >"Needed a little bit of a pep talk, I take it?" he whispers to you. "I didn't think nothing of a doctor visit until today, how that would be like for her..."
  756. "Nothing too major. She's got this. Just had to remind her."
  757. >The old speckled tiles under your feet and the faint hum of fluorescent lighting let you know this place has been around for a while, even if the outside looks to have been freshly painted a forest green.
  758. >The faintly off-white walls only add to the sterile brightness of the interior, broken up by worn wooden chairs in the waiting area, where your party halts.
  759. "It's like a trek back to the eighties," you quip, more out of amusement than negativity.
  760. >"A little bit - but that's only because Keith focuses his funds on patient care, where it should be," Teddy speaks up with a slight chuckle, lightly ribbing you.
  761. >"Dr Patterson is a really good doc," Starla adds with enthusiasm, both in direction to you as well as Midnight, with whom she gives a shoulder nudge. "He's a gentle and super sweet guy."
  762. >"You know a lot of doctors, huh?" Midnight proposes, audibly lacking in the same enthusiasm.
  763. >"Well, no," Starla admits, allowing her voice to falter for just a moment. "But you'll see - there's nothing to be worried about."
  764. >"Not worried. Just wary," Midnight mutters.
  765. >Seemingly on cue, footsteps clatter the halls beyond the door separating offices from the reception area, followed by a slight squeak as it swings open.
  766. >A portly man with a gentle smile greets you all, wearing a seemingly standard-issue white coat that looks just a bit too long on his shorter frame.
  767. >"Good evening," he starts, quickly focusing on Starla, who waves excitedly. "Starla, this is quite the surprise!"
  768. >She trots up to him and gives him a hug, a foreleg wrapped around his waist.
  769. >"HI Doctor Patterson, good to see you again!" she cheers.
  770. >"Likewise, my dear," he agrees, hugging her as well. "You're doing well, I hope?"
  771. >"Mhmm. I just wanted to tag along to see you, and in support of my lil sis," she explains, stepping back for the other mare in the room to take center stage.
  772. >Midnight stands wary and looking rather uncomfortable being thrust into the spotlight by Starla.
  773. >"And you must be her little sister, Midnight," the doctor says quietly with intrigue.
  774. >"It's either me or him," Midnight replies, unfolding a wing to point a primary feather at you.
  775. >"Oh wow - Teddy, you didn't say anything about her having functioning wings," Patterson gasps in awe.
  776. >"I thought I did - my bad, I guess."
  777. >He quickly looks over to you and puts out his hand. "Anonymous, right?"
  778. "Just Anon, thanks," you reply, shaking his hand. "And I take it you're Doctor Patterson."
  779. >"Oh please, just Keith," he says with a wave of his hand and a laugh. "Technically, we're closed and I'm off the clock. Plus, let's not get it too uptight and stuffy in here."
  780. >"He's only Doctor Patterson to his patients," Starla chimes in, giggling.
  781. >"Even though I told you there's no need to be formal," he replies, booping her on the nose. "Follow me back and we'll get started."
  782. >Your group traverses the otherwise quiet halls into an exam room near the back.
  783. >"So what all are you - what's this 'checkup' all about?" Midnight asks, still audibly guarded with this whole excursion.
  784. >"We're just trying to get a baseline of your health - nothing invasive," Keith speaks up, closing the door once everyone is inside. "From what Teddy has told me, you and Starla share a..."
  785. >The doc looks over at Teddy, evidently unable to find the right word or phrase.
  786. >"They're both part of the same created genetic makeup, from what I have gathered," he chimes in.
  787. >"That's right - the little sis I never had," Starla adds once again.
  788. >She's clearly not tired of that idea one bit since the notion popped into her head during the sleepover.
  789. >However, Midnight has to silently roll her eyes.
  790. >"Anyway, I just hope to get a baseline, which I can compare with Starla and some of the notes Teddy has managed to gather for me over the years."
  791. "He wrangled you in this, huh?"
  792. >You get a nod with an accompanying laugh in response.
  793. >"Hop up here and lay down Midnight," Keith instructs her, patting the hard surface of the nearly waist-high exam table in the middle of the room.
  794. >She hesitates as her eyes scan what lies behind the doc.
  795. >You follow her gaze, spotting a glass cabinet, showcasing various bottles and utensils of the medical sort.
  796. >Forceps, gauze - and syringe needles.
  797. "That stuff has nothing to do with why we're here," you mumble to her.
  798. >"I know that," she snaps, tearing herself away from the sight to leer at you.
  799. >"I didn't get the full story, but I'm guessing my appearance and this place don't bring up good memories," Keith speaks up, still cool as a cucumber.
  800. >"I can tell you I wasn't born with these or these," Midnight shoots back with a dose of snark, ruffling her wings and forcing a brighter glow from her blue eyes. "And stop acting like I'm some dumb animal that belongs to Anon. I bet I'm smarter than everyone in this room."
  801. "Mid, no one has said or implied anything on the contrary," you speak up, frustrated by her mild outburst. "The doc's been directly asking you questions and talking to you, not me."
  802. >"Yet we're at a veterinary clinic. It's insulting," she huffs.
  803. >Come on, Midnight...
  804. >You really thought she was going to be calm and collected.
  805. >While she's not given anyone a tongue-lashing like in the past, you're still disappointed things have not gone smoothly.
  806. >"Midnight, you have to admit, we are closer to... well, animals. At least physically. That's why we're here instead of a human doctor's office," Starla explains in a gentle attempt to defuse the awkward situation. "Don't take offense to it - there's nothing implied by being here."
  807. >"Trust me, you make my job easier that you can talk," Keith adds. "It may be after hours and off the books, but you are the easiest patients because you can tell me what's wrong if anything."
  808. >Midnight clenches her jaw but remains mum with those comments.
  809. >You try to think of something to say to encourage her without embarrassing her, but you're stuck.
  810. >Fortunately, Midnight bounds up onto the exam table on her own accord.
  811. >"It's nothing against you. But no, I don't like the idea of being prodded," she clarifies, laying down on her stomach as directed.
  812. >Atta girl.
  813. >"And I have no intentions but the simplest exam. Scout's honor," the doc replies, raising his hand. "You're likely helping Starla by agreeing to this as well - someone to compare her to."
  814. >That notation draws a visible reaction from Midnight, as some of the tension in her face softens.
  815. >Shit, you should have just led with that the whole time.
  816. >If you had thought of it.
  817. >But...
  818. >Midnight turns her head and locks eyes with you.
  819. >You don't know how, but you understand.
  820. >You can see it in those beautiful blue eyes.
  821. >Fear.
  822. >She's internally struggling to keep calm.
  823. >This is legitimately hard for her, just to be in a setting like this.
  824. >But she's doing good, despite it all.
  825. >Talking the step to get up next you her, you put your hand on her side and stroke one of her folded wings.
  826. >"What-"
  827. "You had a couple of messed up feathers bothering me. That's all," you tell her.
  828. >"Oh. Thanks," she answers, trying to portray an air of nonchalance as usual.
  829. >It sounds like her usual self, but her wing shifts to basically snatch your hand beneath its plumage and clutch it tightly to her side.
  830. >You make no note of it, nor to the slightest tremble you can feel coming from her.
  831. "No problem."
  832.  
  833.  
  834.  
  835.  
  836. >For the better part of an hour, Midnight has endured.
  837. >And you're proud of her.
  838. >After the initial stonewalling, it seemed like she was able to relax, going through questions, examinations, and measurements the doc sought for a baseline and a comparison to Starla, as well as documenting her 'unique' attributes - clarifying what was natural and what was decidedly cybernetic about her.
  839. >One thing is for sure - no MRIs for her.
  840. >But overall, there were no surprises for Midnight or you.
  841. >She's in good health, all things considered.
  842. >Every once in a while, she would start to tense up or start... looking off into space, kinda?
  843. >You would find some reason to touch her and bring her back.
  844. >Odd, but hardly anything serious.
  845. >A final round of thanks and goodbyes from everyone, and it's time to go home.
  846. >Night has fully engulfed the desert as you step outside, the clear sky making the air have just a hint of a nip to it.
  847. >"Gnight you two!"
  848. >"See you again soon, Midnight!"
  849. >Okay, one more round of goodbyes from Teddy and Starla as you get into your respective vehicles.
  850. >"Yeah, hopefully we'll actually do something enjoyable," Midnight wisecracks.
  851. "Take care of yourselves."
  852. >Doors close - leaving you and Midnight in the first sort of one-on-one in the truck since this little endeavor began.
  853. "Well, that wasn't fun by any means, but it's done and over with, huh?"
  854. >You don't get a response as you key the ignition and start the truck.
  855. >Tonight's gonna be like this, huh?
  856. "You didn't bite me or anyone else, so that was a plus," you joke.
  857. >Still nothing.
  858. >Oh boy.
  859. >Maybe she was saving the physical assault.
  860. "Midnight," you call as you release the ignition and sit back in your seat.
  861. >You turn your head toward h-
  862. >Just as you sight her, she lunges.
  863. >Recoiling with nowhere to go...
  864. >You thump your head against the window.
  865. >And now have her form draped atop you.
  866. >"That was fucking horrible!" she cries out.
  867. >You...
  868. >You are absolutely befuddled.
  869. >What the hell just happened in the last thirty seconds?
  870. >Everything was relatively normal before you got in the truck...
  871. >You can't even look at Midnight because her snout is nestled up underneath your chin.
  872. >While your heart rate has picked up from the outburst, you can feel Midnight's heart pumping at a thousand miles a minute, matching her rapid breathing.
  873. "Hey, relax. Relax," you console her, putting your right arm over her. "Breathe with me. In and out - slow and steady."
  874. >You coach her for a few moments like this, just focusing on breathing.
  875. >Her reaction is scaring the everloving fuck out of you - but you gotta keep a level head.
  876. >To get her under control.
  877. >It's only as Middie starts to come off of this episode that you note your truck's engine isn't the only one humming at idle.
  878. >You turn your head just enough, the light from the vet office being just enough to see Teddy's truck still parked nearby.
  879. >Starla gazes at you with sad eyes and a solemn expression.
  880. >It's hard to make out anything beyond Star's face plastered to the window, but Teddy's silhouette is evident, peering past her.
  881. >You feel a bit of anger well up knowing those two have been watching this whole time - even if you understand the reasoning.
  882. >With your free hand, you gesture an OK and wave them off in a hurried manner.
  883. >Unwilling to divest any more time or attention from the one who needs you right now - you turn and stare straight ahead, focusing on...
  884. >Nothing.
  885. >Just Midnight.
  886. >Her breathing is back to a level you would consider normal, but you give her a few more minutes before opening your mouth.
  887. >Mainly because what do you even ask or say?
  888. >Where to begin?
  889. >Everything seemed fine...
  890. >"I'm okay."
  891. >Midnight's mumbled announcement brings you from your thoughts.
  892. >At the same time, she pulls her head back enough to where you can finally view her.
  893. >Worn out and weary is the best way to describe her expression.
  894. >With your left hand you brush away a stray tear that has snuck away from the corner of each eye.
  895. "You're okay," you repeat back to her, affirming in support.
  896. >A deep exhale follows - from both of you.
  897. >You feel like you have been holding your breath for too long.
  898. "Are you all right?"
  899. >Weariness is overshadowed by confusion as Midnight's brow furrows, trying to discern your meaning.
  900. >"That's the same thing, really," she speaks, almost in a careful and concerned tone.
  901. "It is. Kinda," you admit, also finding it better to tiptoe into the delicate discussion you want to have. "I really did think you did well tonight."
  902. >"And I did. You helped a bit at the start," she admits.
  903. "That was all I did, other than be there, right?"
  904. >"Yeah."
  905. "And you didn't seem like it bothered you much after that..."
  906. >Midnight casts her gaze down to the floorboards as you trail off.
  907. >"Sometimes you just gotta grit your teeth, bottle it up, and push through, you know?"
  908. >Fuck.
  909. >She doesn't sound proud of it - more or less, her tone is just sharing flat facts.
  910. "Yeah, that's great until the cork pops on the bottle you're shaking," you answer, brushing a wild strand of her mane back into place. "You could have said something. Taken a breather."
  911. >"I don't want to look like a bitch," she mutters, shaking her head.
  912. "Are you shitting me?!"
  913. >You can't help as exasperation raises your voice.
  914. >"Well fuck, everyone else acts like it's no big deal to be here!" Midnight charges back in her own bout of frustrated feelings. "Starla's sitting there chumming up with the doc while I'm-"
  915. >Without a thought, you grab Midnight with both hands and shake her.
  916. "You aren't Starla, you stubborn ass!"
  917. >While her eyes widen at your actions and mild tongue-lashing, she doesn't do or say anything else.
  918. >Just stares at you.
  919. >"I know that," she mumbles after a moment, before remembering to tack on a retorting "Dickhead."
  920. >You let go of her, forcing yourself to relax and regroup as you reach to the steering column and cut the engine.
  921. >The truck shifts as Midnight returns to her seat, offering a few creaks from the chassis.
  922. >Then...
  923. >Silence.
  924. >Absolute silence.
  925. >The lights in the building flip off, leaving you both in the embrace of the dark.
  926. >"I didn't feel like I was going to..." Midnight starts, hesitating mid-thought. "I figured I would push through fine, being my normal hardass self and not... what I did when we got back in the truck."
  927. "I thought you were mad at me, and honestly, I wish that had been what it was," you reply, leaning back in your seat.
  928. >"You wanted me to be mad at you?"
  929. "Midnight, you scared the shit out of me. You know that, right?"
  930. >With no response, you're forced to turn your head to look at her.
  931. >Likewise, all she can offer is a stare back.
  932. "How else should I feel when I have someone I care about who might be having a full-on mental break in my arms in full-fledged hyperventilation?"
  933. >"It... wasn't that bad. I thought," she mumbles, sounding like an attempt to convince herself.
  934. "It was for someone that has no idea what's going on or how to stop it. I promise you, it was that bad."
  935. >"Again, I thought I could do it."
  936. >You leave that feeble excuse to hang in the air for a moment.
  937. "What did this place remind you of? What did it bring back?"
  938. >"Isn't that kind of a silly qu-"
  939. "Midnight. Please. Lean on me."
  940. >Another round of tight lips forces you to emit a sigh of defeat.
  941. >You're... not mad at her.
  942. >Not really.
  943. >It's just frustrating.
  944. >You start up the truck again, deciding to just head home rather than sit here any longer.
  945. >Or you would, if the keys were there in the ignition instead of thin air
  946. >You know you didn't take it back out.
  947. >The missing keys suddenly plop up onto the dash, followed by the weight of something on your shoulder.
  948. >A mare's head with her voluminous mane on your shoulder.
  949. >"I know what you meant," Midnight mutters as if reading your thoughts.
  950. "Okay."
  951. >Midnight clears her throat after a brief pause.
  952. >"There are things that I remember that I don't want to remember, just based on words. Or sights. Or sounds."
  953. >You nod your head.
  954. "Yeah."
  955. >"Pictures don't mean much on a laptop. I thought it would if I was really going to be bothered by tonight."
  956. >Well, you guessed her curiosity and search habits on the nose.
  957. >Still, you just nod, sensing that's all she wants from you right now.
  958. >"It wasn't even seeing the inside that was so bad... it's that sound. That sound of an empty hallway, the way it echoes with footsteps. With hoofsteps," she continues in hushed tones. "Concrete in a brick garage doesn't replicate that. Supermarket shelves don't echo nearly as much. Nothing is so hollow, so quiet, and yet so loud as the sound of steps on tiles lining an empty plaster hall."
  959. >Another nod, urging her to push forward.
  960. >"It's the sound of a new idea, a new test, a new examination. A new operation. You won't be told what it will be, you'll just find out when it happens."
  961. >You feel her shudder just a bit.
  962. >"Everything is so bright, so painfully bright and white. And the sheen of stainless instruments, the way they reflect fluorescent light - reminding you they're close at hand. Reminding you of the ache or pain you woke up with, dulled by painkillers. Taunting you, making you wonder if they were the exact culprits. What they could do."
  963. >Rather than nod, this time you circle your arm around her and squeeze.
  964. >"And the smell. That chemical smell. To clean, to sterilize - that's the worst part. So overwhelmingly strong and artificial. A fake sense of security, because you know the real reason it's like that is to keep the test subject alive. To not taint the results. So they feel clean, even after what they have dug into for 'science'."
  965. >Another hug as her voice shifts.
  966. > It's not bitterness or sorrow.
  967. >It's fear.
  968. >"I forgot about all of that. I thought I did. I thought I had put to bed everything. But all of that - those sights, that sound, that smell - all of that came back, and not all at once. Just an IV drip. Little by little. Second by second. I remember that sense of dread every time I was taken out of my room, and ushered down that hall. Remembering waking up from... something new they decided to try. That pain and nausea, forced to wait for those footsteps to echo closer."
  969. >Jesus Christ.
  970. >Even as she apparently finishes, you don't sense any sort of emotion.
  971. >No hitched breath.
  972. >No heaving.
  973. >No sniffles.
  974. >Maybe those expressions would be better.
  975. >At least you can comfort that.
  976. >Dry her tears.
  977. >Give her a big hug.
  978. >This is different.
  979. "You're okay, Midnight."
  980. >"I am okay."
  981. >It's not a question posed aloud by her, and it leaves no doubt to hang in the air.
  982. >That's something... right?
  983. >You feel her weight shift as she gets closer to you.
  984. >"I'm scared of what else I can remember. Because every time I suddenly remember something - it feels like I'm reliving it."
  985. >Midnight's voice betrays a new feeling alongside those stabs of fright.
  986. >Helplessness.
  987. >Pure and utter helplessness to what lies in wait in her own mind.
  988. >It makes you feel ill - and your own sense of helplessness.
  989. >Why is this happening?
  990. >She's left her past behind - buried it in the junkyard.
  991. >She's shed her tears and moved on to brighter days and a brighter life.
  992. >And yet twice now, past memories have flared up to haunt her in apparent excruciating detail.
  993. >And you can't do anything about it.
  994. >You're no psychologist.
  995. >You can't take her to one.
  996. >A bot with mental trauma?
  997. >Does that even exist?
  998. >No way she could pass off with what she has to share regardless.
  999. >How long both of you sit there, in the dark, just...
  1000. >Sitting there.
  1001. >Absorbing it all.
  1002. >You don't know how long it's been.
  1003. "Midnight, I need you to promise me something. Right here, right now."
  1004. >"What?"
  1005. "What happened tonight? We aren't going through this again."
  1006. >"...the doctor?"
  1007. >You prod at her side, knowing she's not that obtuse.
  1008. >Typical Midnight - trying to hardass or joke everything away that was just shared.
  1009. >Not like you aren't guilty of the latter, but...
  1010. >Not tonight.
  1011. >You won't let her do that for her own sake.
  1012. "We aren't bottling shit like that up. Or like the junkyard a month ago with Star, where you had a flashback and dwelled on it the whole day. I don't care if you think it makes you look like a bitch - because what you did looked way worse than coming to talk to me when something isn't sitting quite right."
  1013. >"So it's... 'lean on me' squared?"
  1014. >Another attempt at a wall, though this one is a bit more shaky.
  1015. "Midnight, I'm serious."
  1016. >A stern tone escapes your lip that you didn't mean to belt out.
  1017. >"I know," she replies, pulling her head off of your shoulder so you can look her in the eye.
  1018. >And you're sure to do just that as you wait for what you want to hear.
  1019. >"I promise," comes the response.
  1020. >A quiet, reserved response.
  1021. >But through that - genuine sincerity.
  1022. >You nod in approval, which Midnight matches, albeit in a slower, fatigued motion.
  1023. >As you watch your keys slip off the dash and inevitably find their way to the ignition switch again, your phone dings with a notification.
  1024. >You fish it out of your pocket and see who it is - which is probably Teddy.
  1025. >'Ids mifdnioght ok? :('
  1026. >Well, it seems Starla's gotten a hold of Teddy's phone.
  1027. >And autocorrect somehow couldn't sort things out.
  1028. >You hand the phone off to Midnight.
  1029. >She needs to know this is something that goes beyond you - even if you would have rather it been private.
  1030. "Your big sis is worried. Better answer her."
  1031. >"...I guess I didn't hold out as long as I thought I did," Midnight comments with a bit of hesitancy. "I guess it looked worse than I thought it did, too."
  1032. "It wasn't pretty, Middie. Do you believe me now?"
  1033. >To be frank, you're shocked she isn't all spun up about having that breakdown seen amongst more than just you.
  1034. >But that's hardly a concern as you pull out of the parking lot, setting off for home.
  1035. >"Autocorrect just decided to hell with fixing her message, huh?"
  1036. >It's such a stupid innocent comment.
  1037. >But it doesn't matter.
  1038. >Not after what you have seen and heard tonight.
  1039. >You get a much-needed laugh out of it.
  1040. >Maybe a bit too much.
  1041. >But Midnight is quick to follow with her own giggle, tired but equally as excessive.
  1042. >Maybe you've both gone crazy.
  1043. >Well...
  1044. >So be it.
  1045.  
  1046.  
  1047.  
  1048.  
  1049. >Another quiet evening relaxing on the couch.
  1050. >Both you and Midnight have been busy with work, scurrying around the junkyard faster than a cat burying shit on a hot tin roof.
  1051. >It's a good thing.
  1052. >Aside from making little headway in rebuilding the engine of the 300.
  1053. >It's at least up on the engine stand, with the new crankshaft installed...
  1054. >That's about it.
  1055. >But Midnight hasn't objected to the lack of productivity.
  1056. >She's currently content with watching another automotive auction on the TV, flopped down on her side next to you on the couch.
  1057. >You've pilfered her laptop for yet another night.
  1058. >Well, it's technically yours anyway.
  1059. >It just... sorta became hers...
  1060. >She's been more productive with it, for sure.
  1061. >But you've gotten tired of headaches trying to read small text on your phone.
  1062. >If Midnight has gotten curious or suspicious about what you got going on, she's kept it under arrest.
  1063. >For now.
  1064. >As much as you hate to admit it, last week's events following Midnight's check-up have stuck with you.
  1065. >Even though she's promised to open up rather than bottle her thoughts - well, old habits die hard.
  1066. >You don't want to see her in a breakdown like that again.
  1067. >So much of your ambition has been directed toward trying to get some understanding of psychology.
  1068. >Or something.
  1069. >...okay, you're fucking clueless about where to start, and just dipping your toes in the water on the subject based on any number of web pages hasn't done much good.
  1070. >"I can't believe you aren't at least starting to suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome."
  1071. "Eh?"
  1072. > You break your eyes away from the laptop screen to gander over at the peanut gallery.
  1073. >Midnight has likewise pulled her attention away from the TV, laying her head against the back of the couch to focus on you.
  1074. >"I didn't think that was hard to understand," she says, making a haphazard up-and-down stroking motion with a hoof.
  1075. >You can't help but roll your eyes at that barely passable joke.
  1076. "You realize this is sitting on my lap, right?" you ask, pointing to the computer with your left hand while your right closes off the open browser tab.
  1077. >"I could see you sneaking a game of pocket pool. You aren't that big," she responds with a jab.
  1078. "If I had a pillow, I'd hit you with it," you threaten half-heartedly, glancing over to your left for said pillow that doesn't exist.
  1079. >When you turn back, a pillow levitates just in reach, while Midnight sits at attention, throwing her hair back and presenting a side of her face for targeting.
  1080. >"Alright, here you go," she gushes, amused.
  1081. "I think I would feel bad about hurting that pretty face," you tell her.
  1082. >"That sounds like the excuse of a bitch," she teases further with a boastful smirk.
  1083. "Do you really want me to hit you? I can, I just... you know, didn't know you were into that kinda thing."
  1084. >Midnight's smarminess falters with your shot back, though she merely points her nose up in a snobbish manner.
  1085. >"Of course, you just have to make it weird," she chides.
  1086. "Me? You're the one insinuating I'm over here flogging my dolphin while you watch TV."
  1087. >Midnight can't help but snrk at that remark, taking a moment to recompose herself, likely to continue her playful charades.
  1088. >"I don't think you actually find psychology *that* interesting. But why the sudden vested interest?" she asks in a sweet voice, batting her eyes and plastering on a wide smile that just exposes a glimpse of her upper canines.
  1089. >Oh.
  1090. >Well, the jig is up there, slowpoke.
  1091. >You got that just from a short glance?" you tepidly ask, closing the laptop.
  1092. >But she shakes he head, letting the exaggerated facade upon her face falter to something more calm and balanced.
  1093. >"No, I got that from going through your browser history," she replies, not missing a beat nor emitting any shame.
  1094. "Huh. Guess I should have learned when you went through my finances on the computer downstairs during the first weeks you were here," you comment.
  1095. >"Never took you for one to hold grudges," she jests.
  1096. "It's fine. I'll heal in hell," you quip back, huffing as you cross your arms.
  1097. >"Yeah, I'm sure," she chuckles, sitting up in order to scooch up next to you.
  1098. "You don't seem particularly irritated. You just decided to let me have my little pretend secretive research project?" you inquire.
  1099. >She shrugs as you drape an arm around her, having to navigate beyond the waterfall of hair free of any sort of restraint tonight.
  1100. >"I think you would still be going through that stuff regardless," she admits.
  1101. "It's not that I don't trust you," you quickly chime in, aware of how she may view her earlier promise to you.
  1102. >"Relax, I'm not looking to butt heads," she says, tapping your thigh with one of her front legs in reassurance. "I'm well aware that I don't exactly have a great track record of being open."
  1103. "I wouldn't say that," you start. "I mean sure, there was the whole pretending to be a robo-pony at the start, and where you came from..."
  1104. >"Oh, you're so helpful," Midnight sasses in response, leaning over to thump her head against yours in a sort of headbutt.
  1105. "Besides that, and on a serious note-"
  1106. >"I know, I scared the shit out of you when I... well, let's call it what it is. I cracked. And you would rather not be in that situation again without knowing what to do."
  1107. >You nod, having nothing to add.
  1108. >"I don't want to do it again, either. I've-"
  1109. >Midnight pauses, shuffling about until she sits on her haunches right next to you.
  1110. >"I've gotten far on my own. Dealing with... all of it on my own. The ups, the many, many downs. But I don't have to anymore. I shouldn't do that anymore. Because I got others that actually give a shit."
  1111. >She leans into you, while you pat her other side.
  1112. >"It's hard to adjust to that, you know? I guess that's what I fight with. Trying to get out of the habit of shouldering everything in my head."
  1113. "And trying to seem like a hardass doesn't help."
  1114. >"Goes hand in hand, I guess," she says with a slight shrug. "And I know what you're thinking."
  1115. "What's that?" you ask, unclear on where your train of thought is supposed to be.
  1116. >"No Starla influence on this. This is me," she explains. "I actually haven't had a video chat with her since that night."
  1117. "You should probably do that sometime soon. She was pretty worried."
  1118. >"Oh - no, we've messaged back and forth. Just not face to face - but that's getting away from my point. You are right - I need to be open. I've lived these memories in real time on my own. Having to relive it again when they pop up - I don't need to solo again."
  1119. "Opening up and leaning on me doesn't make much of a difference anyway. You're still the toughest, scariest, most badass mare I know."
  1120. >Midnight snickers at that, but pulls away for a moment.
  1121. "What?" you ask, turning to meet her gaze.
  1122. >"You know me and Starla. That's not a large pool," she comments with a wry grin.
  1123. "There was that Twilight pony bot at the store," you remind her.
  1124. >"Oh, my mistake. That changes the whole game, doesn't it?" she jokes.
  1125. "Good enough for me."
  1126. >"You have low standards."
  1127. "Do I? Look who I'm shacked up with," you announce, moving your hand up to her head before running it down the length of her neck.
  1128. >"God damn, you're full of it," she mumbles, trying her damnedest not to seem bashful about the comment.
  1129. "I am. But I'm not wrong, either."
  1130. >"Never technically said you were," she concedes, finally getting a hold of herself and plastering on a more serene and content smile.
  1131. "So no hard feelings about trying to help you behind your back?"
  1132. >A chuckle is the initial response, followed by a shake of her head.
  1133. >"Nah. But it was fun making you think you were sneaky."
  1134. "How long did it take for you to start investigating?"
  1135. >"First night."
  1136. "You fucker."
  1137. >You lower your shoulder and shove her aside with a token amount of force.
  1138. >"Ow," she responds, keeping her voice flat and monotone.
  1139. >Knowing where this is headed, you pick up the laptop and plunk it down on the coffee table.
  1140. >Just in time, for Midnight only waited that long to shove you back, with just a bit more force.
  1141. >"Don't push me, you bastard," she hisses, trying to play up a semblance of ire toward you.
  1142. "You hurt my feelings," you shoot back, actually using your hands to shove her this time.
  1143. >"You don't even have feelings."
  1144. >One of her wings snaps open in a flash, using it to whap you on your head and back.
  1145. >You exaggerate the force behind it, leaning forward.
  1146. "I'm pretty sure those are illegal. You got a concealed carry for those weapons?"
  1147. >"You can see em even when they're folded up, dumb-dumb," she giggles, tucking the appendage away again in demonstration.
  1148. "I'm pretty sure that's still assault with a deadly weapon."
  1149. >"Oh? And what are you going to do about it?" she challenges, with a face just daring you to try something.
  1150. >You raise up a hand, preparing to quickly boop her on the nose, but the predictable gesture is halted by one of her hooves upon your arm.
  1151. >"Nah, you're just a one trick p-"
  1152. >Midnight doesn't get a chance to finish that sentence, as you reach around her with your free hand and goose her on her lavender flank.
  1153. >Her eyes widen just a bit, apparently having been genuinely a bit surprised by your move.
  1154. "Boop?"
  1155. >Midnight moves wordlessly aside toward the front edge of the couch before one of her legs snatches you and tosses you into a lying position on the couch.
  1156. >That accomplished, she spins around and lays atop you face to face.
  1157. >"You're the bed for tonight for that move," she announces, stretching out fully while draping her front hooves over your shoulders.
  1158. >Shifting around a bit is the biggest struggle you're willing to put up.
  1159. "Damn. How horrible," you bemoan in a quiet, emotionless voice.
  1160. >You put your arms around her form and embrace her close to you, enjoying the soft warmth of her furred underbelly and the rhythmic beating of her heart.
  1161. >"Thus was the choice you made," she crows, ruffling her wings to get you to release her.
  1162. >You do so - only to have your arms pulled back onto her when her wings fold back up and sandwich them to her sides properly.
  1163. >"There's no escape," she croons, emitting just the slightest hint of a sinister laugh.
  1164. "This is terror on another level, you monster."
  1165. >A genuine light cackle erupts from her as she presses her snout to your nose, her icy blue eyes locked on yours.
  1166. >"Not a monster. A nightmare," she teases.
  1167. "Nightmare, or *night* *mare*?"
  1168. >"Stop trying to be smart," she says, giving you a smooch on the lips before laying her head on your chest.
  1169. >Yep.
  1170. >This is the worst punishment ever.
  1171. >Absolute torture, really.
  1172.  
  1173.  
  1174.  
  1175. >Alright, time to go through one more time and recheck the torque...
  1176. >*ping!*
  1177. >...Oh shit.
  1178. >"Shit!"
  1179. >You turn around, surprised by the thought in your head being spouted in words almost simultaneously.
  1180. >Just a few steps away, Midnight has her eyes on the concrete floor, scanning for... something.
  1181. "Was that you?"
  1182. >"No, that was the Chrysler talking. KITT's older sister has a potty mouth," Midnight sasses, briefly looking up at you before resuming her search.
  1183. "No, I meant the noise."
  1184. >"Oh. Yeah, I launched a brake shoe spring into oblivion. Not sure if I broke it or what happened."
  1185. "At least that's all it was. Thought I broke or dropped something in the engine."
  1186. >"How's that going?" Midnight asks as she pads up to the engine stand.
  1187. >She scans the rotating assembly you have been piecing together bit by bit this afternoon, offering a nod of approval.
  1188. "Good, at least the supervisor is okay with the work," you joke.
  1189. >Midnight bumps into your side before departing, heading back to the lift where the Chrysler resides.
  1190. "Hey, I'm guessing I forgot to mention I have new hardware for the drum brakes, huh?"
  1191. >Midnight halts mid-step, whirling around to face you again.
  1192. >"Uh, yeah. You sort of forgot that. Until I'm starting to reassemble everything, of course."
  1193. "Sorry, I'm retarded."
  1194. >"Can't apologize for something you make me suffer with every minute of every day."
  1195. >You set aside your torque wrench on top of your toolbox and head around the shop counter, doing a visual scan for the package of parts on one of the shelves lining the wall...
  1196. >It's somewhere here in a sea of boxes.
  1197. >Why the hell didn't you mark it?
  1198. >"I'm guessing this is the start of a scavenger hunt," Midnight sighs, following your lead as she joins your side.
  1199. "Sorry-"
  1200. >"Retarded. Yeah, got it," Midnight finishes for you. "You can't use that more than once an hour."
  1201. "I didn't know that, Sorry, re-"
  1202. >"You're cruising for a bruising."
  1203. >Coinciding with Midnight's warning, you spot the package you were looking for, just about waist level.
  1204. "Here," you announce, plucking the white box free from the shelf and tossing it in her direction. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
  1205. >You get a deadpan stare in response.
  1206. "With that kind of attitude, I should have pretended to search longer."
  1207. >"If you didn't get attitude from me, you would feel deprived."
  1208. "Shh, not so loud! I don't want anyone else to know that."
  1209. >Midnight shakes her head, popping open the box as she heads back to the rear of the Chrysler.
  1210. >She's doing things the smart way - while both rear wheels are off, only the driver's side brake drum is stripped of parts, those pieces lying on the floor by the tire.
  1211. >Atta girl.
  1212. >Learning from your prior fuck ups... which you didn't tell her about.
  1213. >Luckily that car had good front brakes.
  1214. >"I thought I was whipping you into shape getting better organized. What the fuck happened?" Midnight calls out.
  1215. "You happened. Had a lot of parts come in the past week, and I've been too sidetracked to really care where I set stuff."
  1216. >"Guess that shows you're worrying too much about me."
  1217. >You happen across a bolt lying on the shelf just before heading back to your prior project - and just after Midnight sasses back.
  1218. >Snapping it up, you wander back to the engine assembly, then chuck the bolt at Midnight.
  1219. >Unfortunately, she dodges it in a swift side step.
  1220. >"Hey, fucker! I was joking!" she protests.
  1221. "Just making sure. Plus, you always get to throw things at me."
  1222. >"That's because you deserve it, more often than not."
  1223. "Only sometimes," you protest.
  1224. >You really did get sidetracked after that whole debacle with the doctor's visit - the discussion last night really helped to alleviate your mind and get back on a normal routine.
  1225. >Hence the work on the 300 this afternoon.
  1226. >Midnight tackling brakes, you getting the engine further.
  1227. >The bottom end is just about done, with all the pistons and connecting rods in with their respective caps and bearings.
  1228. >Finish with the oil pickup and the pan, then it's off to the valvetrain and heads.
  1229. >Surprisingly, you haven't heard one specific inquiry from Midnight yet today.
  1230. >But the day isn't over, either.
  1231. >"Looks like that's been going together pretty smoothly, huh?"
  1232. >There's the soft intro...
  1233. "Yeah, it's been smooth sailing thus far. New parts certainly help with that."
  1234. >"Hell, it keeps going that quick, we'll have this running by the end of the week."
  1235. "Nah, we got at least another month before the engine is ready."
  1236. >"What?! How?!"
  1237. >Midnight's exclamation draws a chuckle from you despite all attempts to arrest any sort of response.
  1238. >"This is why *you* get things thrown at you," Midnight mutters.
  1239. "It's kind of worth it to hear you pout."
  1240. >"I guess I need to come up with another punishment, then."
  1241. "Oh no, not cuddles - I mean, pinning me on the couch."
  1242. >Midnight shakes her head before returning to her work in earnest.
  1243. "Guess that's gonna be a surprise for later, huh?"
  1244. >Midnight turns her head for a quick glance back at you.
  1245. >There's a distinct gleam in her eye like she already knows what to do.
  1246. "Don't look at me in that tone of voice."
  1247. >Midnight shrugs her shoulders but otherwise remains mum...
  1248. >...is that what this is?
  1249. "Really? We're gonna stoop to grade school level bullshit and give me the silent treatment?"
  1250. >She sticks her tongue out at you after briefly mocking a face that matches your disappointed tone.
  1251. "I thought you would come up with something better. Go back to the drawing board, Mid."
  1252. >A fervent shake of the head and a smirk tells you she's finding enjoyment in this.
  1253. >Whatever.
  1254. >You resume your final check of rod cap bolt torque.
  1255. >The silly little bout of silent treatment means only the clicks of the torque wrench and the tink of small metal parts Midnight is working with offer any sort of soundtrack besides the low volume of the radio behind the counter.
  1256. >How long does she plan on playing this stupid little game?
  1257. >What was even the point, again?
  1258. >Somehow, you're gonna make her talk.
  1259. >But the silence is broken by a loud buzzing.
  1260. >Been a while since you've heard that - someone is at the front gate.
  1261. >Needless to say, you weren't expecting visitors.
  1262. "I'll be back, gonna go see who's a-knocking, Mid."
  1263. >The response is a simple nod.
  1264. >It's a short jaunt from inside the shop to the front gate - but by the time you crack the lock to the small man door beside the vehicle access, no one is there.
  1265. >Instead, a brown cardboard box lies beside the gates, large enough to require both hands.
  1266. >Picking it up, you find the shipping label...
  1267. >And it's to Midnight.
  1268. >From Starla.
  1269. >Oh boy.
  1270. >This is perfect.
  1271. >You can hear some things moving inside, but it isn't too heavy.
  1272. >With renewed vigor, you take the mailman's gift and head back off to the shop, only hesitating to lock the man door once again.
  1273. >Turning the corner, Midnight has her back turned, focused on the brake job.
  1274. "Wow, looks like we got a package today I wasn't expecting. For some reason, it's addressed to Midnight," you comment aloud.
  1275. >Midnight freezes, turning her head to look at you with wide eyes.
  1276. "But it is still my address, and I'm sure she wouldn't mind me checking what's in he-"
  1277. >"Give me that!" Midnight cries, galloping toward you even as you feel her ability latching onto whatever lies inside and pulling the box away from your grasp.
  1278. "Ha. You talked."
  1279. >"Shut up, tard."
  1280. >Midnight turns and trots away, heading toward the stairs.
  1281. "Hey, I want to see what's in it!"
  1282. >"Absolutely not. This is what I've been waiting for from Starla. Not for your eyes," she replies, stern in her conviction.
  1283. >You are well aware of that - and have no ideas of invading her privacy.
  1284. >But it's fun to pick.
  1285. "You have to sleep sometime..."
  1286. >"And you might sleep permanently if curiosity gets the best of you."
  1287. "Contents are that dangerous? I don't know if I want that upstairs in our living space."
  1288. >"Ugh, you're fucking terrible today," she laments, keeping her developing smile to a minimum.
  1289. "Even more than normal? Should I be taking notes?"
  1290. >Midnight shakes her head and heads up the stairs at a brisk pace, pausing only to open the door and slip inside your living space.
  1291. >You almost forgot about that odd little promise Starla made to Midnight at the end of the sleepover - so you haven't given it much thought.
  1292. >But what the hell did she send Midnight?
  1293. >And why is Midnight so damn secretive about it?
  1294. >There's only one proper way to find out - and that's gonna be on Mid's terms and timetable.
  1295. >Before long, Midnight reappears at the top of the stairs and trots back down, ready to resume her work as if nothing happened.
  1296. "So where did you put it?"
  1297. >"Why do you want to know? Gonna be nosy?" she asks without missing a beat.
  1298. "So I know to avoid it if I stumble upon it and somehow don't notice the label. Give me some credit here."
  1299. >"Fair enough. Back of your closet."
  1300. "And am I ever gonna know what Starla gave you?"
  1301. >"Eventually."
  1302. >You head over to your parts stash to resume work on the engine now, feeling at least a little satisfaction.
  1303. >Particularly now that Midnight isn't playing her silly quiet game.
  1304. >You have to make sure to never, ever mention how much it bothers you to get the silent treatment.
  1305. >It would be her secret weapon.
  1306.  
  1307.  
  1308.  
  1309.  
  1310. >Midnight was adamant you take a shower this morning when you woke up.
  1311. >Normally you do, but she was quick to remind you.
  1312. >Even though you cleaned up before bed last night.
  1313. >Odd.
  1314. >...well, not really odd, since the bedroom door closed behind you, with Midnight still inside.
  1315. >Must be time for her to venture through whatever Starla shipped her again.
  1316. >At least once every evening, she's either shuttered herself away in your room or down in the bathroom for some time.
  1317. >She can come and go as she pleases, but this little charade is becoming quite comical.
  1318. >Midnight has to know this is suspicious, right?
  1319. >Well, so be it.
  1320. >But one shower and quick microwave breakfast sandwich later, Midnight is still playing hooky - and you both have a lot to get done today.
  1321. >With no other recourse, you knock lightly on the bedroom door.
  1322. "How long till you finish doing you hair?" you joke.
  1323. >"...are you shitting me?"
  1324. >On the other side of the door Midnight sounds aghast by your quip.
  1325. "Uh. Yeah. I thought the hair thing was no big deal now. Since months ago," you answer back, not quite understanding the issue.
  1326. >"Oh, it's not! Sorry, thought you said something else!" she's quick to exclaim.
  1327. "What did you think I said?"
  1328. >"...I don't know. Something not good. "
  1329. >You are... utterly fucking lost.
  1330. "You sound paranoid."
  1331. >"I can never be too sure with you, Anon. Could you... go downstairs? I won't be much longer."
  1332. "With what?"
  1333. >Yeah, you're gonna push this now.
  1334. >"...stuff?"
  1335. "And things?"
  1336. >"Yeah."
  1337. "Kinda curious why you got so worked up over mentioning your hair, by the way."
  1338. >"... you aren't gonna leave me alone, are you?"
  1339. "Not now, no. Not after a week of playing coy."
  1340. >"Eugh. I hate you."
  1341. "I know you do. That's what makes our little thing so special."
  1342. >"Our 'little thing'?"
  1343. "I didn't know if you wanted me to use the R word."
  1344. >"I don't care if you used the word retard. Retard."
  1345. "So you thought I was trying to say 'that's what makes our retard so special'."
  1346. >It's only after you say that out loud that both parties on either side of the door bust out laughing.
  1347. >It takes a bit for the absurdity of it all to subside before Midnight speaks again.
  1348. >"I know what word you meant. You act like we've never used the word relationship before."
  1349. "Hell, you're being jumpy and secretive right now despite that, how should I know what you're thinking?"
  1350. >Now, utter silence rules.
  1351. >"...no laughing or comments?"
  1352. >It comes out in a subdued, concerned voice.
  1353. "What if it's a positive comment?"
  1354. >"Just... no comments. Please."
  1355. >You don't know what has her so skittish.
  1356. >Another hairstyle?
  1357. >Why would that be bothersome?
  1358. "Alright."
  1359. >The door creaks open, Midnight popping her head out from beyond and staring at you.
  1360. >From what you can see, nothing is different with her mane.
  1361. >"I will maul the shit out of you if you lie to me," she pouts.
  1362. "I know."
  1363. >With that, the door swings open.
  1364. >Even now that you see her whole form... you don't see anything amiss.
  1365. >Leaning to one side, you catch sight of the dresser top right around the corner of the door frame.
  1366. >You can see power cords.
  1367. >What looks like a handle to...
  1368. >"Starla suggested if we ever went out on a double... a double date - maybe I should try something."
  1369. >You nod, now making out at least one object being a curling iron.
  1370. >Well then.
  1371. >This is unexpected.
  1372. >"I've been trying... working on this stuff with my tail. Because It's easier to hide."
  1373. >On cue, Midnight seizes said tail with one of her metal tools, flipping the hair around to show the underside-
  1374. >One section of the majority blue canvas has been styled into gentle waves that seem to highlight the violet hues of her hair with every crest, with the very tip of her tail with these hairs ending in a bit tighter curl than normal.
  1375. >While Midnight normally takes care of her mane and tail, this is the look of someone focused on making it pop, rather than just neat and tidy.
  1376. >Midnight never ceases to surprise.
  1377. >But she doesn't want comments here.
  1378. >You just nod your head and flash a slight smile.
  1379. >"What?"
  1380. >Midnight suddenly looks concerned.
  1381. "Nothing."
  1382. >"You didn't say anything."
  1383. "Because I'm not supposed to, remember?"
  1384. >She hesitates at that, yet looks just a bit frustrated.
  1385. >"Even though you have a point, you're an asshole."
  1386. "I'm well aware and expected this to be a lose-lose situation," you comment with a chuckle.
  1387. >"What do you really think?"
  1388. "More than anything, I'm impressed. You're really set on us having a proper date night in the future, aren't you?"
  1389. >Midnight damn near turns violet with the level of blush on full display right now.
  1390. >"Yeah well - Starla really wants to do a double-date, and it sounds like Teddy is receptive to getting out more with her," she deflects. "I thought it was an interesting idea."
  1391. >Ah, some things never change.
  1392. "So you don't have interest, but you'll go along with it."
  1393. >"Well, we've never had a proper date sort of thing either, and you said you would do that at some point," she explains.
  1394. "I guess I did. So this whole thing was supposed to be a surprise?"
  1395. >"Not...really? I just didn't want to look funky while learning how to do this. It isn't hard, just takes time."
  1396. "And I ruined it."
  1397. >"You ruined it," she whines in exaggerated fashion, stomping a hoof and turning her nose up at you.
  1398. "I guess I shouldn't say that it looks like you're doing a good job. I'll just keep that to myself."
  1399. >"Yeah, you probably should."
  1400. >Despite the comment, Midnight beams with pride and accomplishment upon hearing your comment.
  1401. "We really should get started on the day. You can always hide yourself away again tonight if you wanted to work on your hair."
  1402. >"I think I've gotten the hang of it - next time I do it, that will be for the main event."
  1403. >The main event.
  1404. >A date with Midnight.
  1405. >A double date with Teddy and Starla.
  1406. >Wouldn't that be something?
  1407. >Sounds like a plan if you ever heard one.
  1408. >Probably ought to discuss that with Ted sometime - unless the gals have already got it all figured out.
  1409. >You frankly have no idea what would be an ideal date spit around these parts.
  1410. >And what of the looks you would be getting?
  1411. >Two guys with their pony gals?
  1412. >...actually, you don't think you really give a damn about that possibility.
  1413. >Some things are more important than funny looks or gossip.
  1414. >...though being high profile isn't ideal either.
  1415. >It's been months with Midnight, and you've both gotten out more and more, but there's still that tinge of worry of the boogeymen come calling...
  1416. >Also known as her creators from the place she came from.
  1417. >There is also the issue thatTeddy is perhaps overly protective of Starla.
  1418. >Though he has agreed to loosen the reins a bit, last you talked to him.
  1419. >But this is concerns and issues to work out later.
  1420. >Midnight is takingnStarla's idea serious and to heart - and she seems eager to perfect a look.
  1421. >...what little you've seen of her work makes you wonder what exact look Midnight is going for.
  1422. >You never took her for a fancy girl, and she isn't...
  1423. >But the idea means enough to her to learn how to style her hair.
  1424. >Spiff up her looks for a night out.
  1425. >Somehow, some way, you're going to work out this double date idea.
  1426. >"By the way, since I'm done fiddling with that stuff, it means more time to work on the Chrysler, you know?"
  1427. "You sure do have a one track mind," you tease her.
  1428. >"Oh come on. I know you're eager to get it done too. And it feels like we're getting close," she protests.
  1429. "We are, no doubt. Once I get the valvetrain done and the internals completely sealed up, I want to paint the engine. So there is a speedbump there. And once we get it in the engine bay, since *someone* wanted exhaust headers, we'll have to modify the exhaust pipe connections underneath."
  1430. >"*You* bought the headers. I didn't," Midnight shoots back, sticking her tongue out.
  1431. "Yeah, I know. Think I still have the receipt, maybe I can return them..."
  1432. >As you turn around and head out of the room, you feel yourself halted by something that hooks into your shorts.
  1433. >"Nuh uh. Not even a good joke," she scolds you.
  1434. >Apparently having used a bit of metal in a belt loop, Midnight decides to start lifting up to give you the beginning of a wedgie.
  1435. "Hey, it was a joke! Don't bully me!"
  1436. >"Just making sure," she answers with a mischievous snicker.
  1437. >At once, she lets you go.
  1438. >You have to make a quick readjustment of your shorts after that...
  1439. "Not nice."
  1440. >"You don't like nice."
  1441. "I've never had it before."
  1442. >"It's overrated. You wouldn't like it."
  1443. "Can I at least try it once?"
  1444. >"Nope."
  1445. "I knew I should have made comments when you told me not to. I bet you would look cute with your hair all done up."
  1446. >Midnight brushes past you and through the doorway.
  1447. >"We have stuff to get done, remember?" she reminds you gruffly.
  1448. "Oh, glad you said something. I had no idea."
  1449.  
  1450.  
  1451.  
  1452.  
  1453.  
  1454. >As you open up your laptop, you're already starting to regret this.
  1455. >But what exactly are you regretting?
  1456. >Doing this now, or delaying it for so long?
  1457. >You don't have an answer for that.
  1458. >But what's done is done.
  1459. >As the system boots up, you already see a chat notification popping up, as if waiting to see signs of life from you.
  1460. >To be fair, you have emailed back - just no video chats in a couple of weeks.
  1461. >With a sigh of resignation, you click the video chat program on the desktop and open it up.
  1462. >A moment later, you're set up with Starla on the other side.
  1463. >"Midnight!" she cries, excited to see you. "It's been too long, where have you been?!"
  1464. "I've been around. Busy working on stuff. Sorry, Star."
  1465. >"How have you been doing? Last I saw you—"
  1466. "I know. It wasn't a very graceful look," you interrupt.
  1467. >It's still uncomfortable to think about...
  1468. >Well, cracking.
  1469. >Having a panic attack.
  1470. >You're better than that.
  1471. >That should all be in the past now.
  1472. >"I'm not worried about looks, sis," Starla continues, shaking her head. "I felt bad for you. I wanted to know what happened. I've still been a bit worried because we haven't really..."
  1473. >You knew the discussion was going to turn to this pretty early.
  1474. >It doesn't make it any easier.
  1475. >Yet, it's less about you now.
  1476. >Starla actually sounds beaten up about the lack of communication.
  1477. >You've been avoiding her because you don't want to talk about it.
  1478. >You want it to just go away like it didn't happen.
  1479. >Maybe it isn't as big of a deal as you're making it out to be...
  1480. >But it's the thought of being open about your failures.
  1481. >Maybe it's not really a failure, but it's...
  1482. >Vulnerability.
  1483. >Something that remains bothersome to reveal.
  1484. >Old habits die hard.
  1485. "I know. I've been fine. Better, I mean. I just didn't want to talk about it. And I knew you would want to know what happened."
  1486. >Starla's ears droop almost as quickly as her expression.
  1487. >There is no way to make it sound nice, but it still feels shitty to say it and see the response.
  1488. "I have a hard time... opening up. That's why. It isn't you, sis."
  1489. >"I get it, I suppose I expected that might be why I hadn't heard from you," she replies, flashing her best attempt at a grin.
  1490. "I'm sorry about that. Really. With every day I've been... I've felt worse about it. Did Anon tell you anything about what happened?"
  1491. >"He said you had some flashbacks - something like that. He kept it vague, which I understand."
  1492. "The doctor's office brought back a lot of memories. There are a lot of sights, smells, and sounds that were very similar to before. Going through everything. And I just tried to tough it out rather than admit I needed a break."
  1493. >"Midnight... oh, I wish I could hug you through the computer," Starla whines. "You know none of us would have thought anything different of you if you had spoken up, right?"
  1494. >You believe her - and you know she's right.
  1495. >And you've already had this discussion with Anon - and agreed to lean on him.
  1496. >But...
  1497. "It's hard to open up about that, Star," you protest. "It's not even that I don't trust you or Teddy or Anon it's just - how do I admit I can't handle it? I went through it once, the memories shouldn't be an issue... right?"
  1498. >Starla looks troubled by your spiel for a time.
  1499. >There's a pall that hangs in the air, forcing a silence between the two of you.
  1500. "I've already told Anon I'm going to be more open with him. And I will. But it feels like I'm doing something wrong. Like I'm going backward."
  1501. >"Or toughing it out to get through the surgeries and experiments... maybe that wasn't really dealing with it? And now you are dealing with it? I don't think you're going backward, though."
  1502. "Maybe not. But suddenly having horrible flashbacks flooding in without warning sucks."
  1503. >"I get that. You know I'm always open to listening as well - and it sounds like you're open to talking about it now. I think that's a step forward."
  1504. "I think it's the only thing I can do. I don't see any other options so..."
  1505. >"Well, I'm glad you finally reached out to me and told me what happened. Like I said, I've been worrying about you ever since that night," Starla reiterates. "But on another note..."
  1506. >You note how Starla perks up with a tinge of excitement like someone just flicked a switch in her head.
  1507. "I'm guessing you have news that's much more enjoyable, huh?" you quip, unable to help cracking a bit of a grin at her sudden shift in attitude.
  1508. >"Mhm. Teddy and I are planning on taking the Cutlass out to a little car show at the end of the week. More significantly, my first foray out in the public in quite some time."
  1509. "Wow, no wonder you're excited, Star. Done anything to prepare for that?"
  1510. >"It's... I don't know if I can really prepare for it. I'm trying to not get too excited, first of all. After all, the one thing that concerns Teddy is my openness. I have to... I basically have to think of what I'm saying before I say it."
  1511. "So what I had to do for a while to be relatively pleasant to talk to."
  1512. >"Oh stop. You were never that bad," she scoffs.
  1513. "Well, there was the time I nonchalantly called you stupid. I'd say that was pretty bad," you remind her.
  1514. >"Okay, you had some rough instances. And I completely forgot about that until now when you brought it up."
  1515. "There's also the swearing like a sailor bit. That took some time to tone down."
  1516. >"From what I heard during the sleepover, that flares up whenever you have a job going bad," Starla giggles.
  1517. "Maybe a little."
  1518. >"Anyway, That's what I have to work on. The hardest thing is if someone brings up my mismatched legs. Really worried I'm just going to blurt out the truth."
  1519. "That shouldn't be too bad I wouldn't think. Just tell em you're originals broke and you had to settle for replacements from another model. That's not really even hiding the truth, you know?"
  1520. >Starla nods, though her exuberance fades away just a bit.
  1521. >"That was Teddy's suggestion as well. It's just hard for me to be anything but open. When I met you and Anon - well, I laid everything bare. And that's just how I am. I don't feel like hiding things is... it doesn't feel natural."
  1522. "To be fair, we aren't natural. Nothing about us is - and I don't mean that negatively. It's just the facts."
  1523. >"Sort of depends on how you look at it. We're more natural than robots," Starla challenges with an accompanying giggle.
  1524. "Point taken. But is there any way I can help? I can't think of anything, but-"
  1525. >"That was why I wanted to talk to you. I don't know what you and Anon have going on, but would you like to tag along? I think it would help if I had someone sort of... I don't want to say the exact opposite of me, but you're much more reserved. Kind of be the angel on my shoulder. Does that make sense?"
  1526. "Heh. I don't think I can pull off a good angel look."
  1527. >"True..."
  1528. "You weren't supposed to agree with that!" you joke.
  1529. >It garners a laugh from Starla.
  1530. >"But anyway, it was just a thought I had. I'll already be with Teddy obviously, so it's not like I'm going it alone."
  1531. "Hey, I'm always game for a car show. I don't think it will be too hard to twist Anon's arm to be there. I can always just threaten to jack the Trailduster or fly there."
  1532. >"I think we could probably pick you up if Anon was alright with that too. Teddy feels like he owes him one anyway for the sleepover."
  1533. "Also a very good idea. One way or another, I should be able to make it. I know *I* owe you for helping me out."
  1534. >"Aww, that's just what sisters do," Starla gushes.
  1535. "Regardless, I gotta repay the favor," you say, sticking out your tongue in defiance.
  1536. >"I'm glad things are working out. And it sounds like I have been worrying a bit too much - but I wouldn't have had to worry if you had spoken to me earlier," she reminds you playfully.
  1537. "Yeah, I guess I feel better letting you know what's going on after all. It's just hard to admit I couldn't deal with something."
  1538. >"Teddy nor I think anything different of you, and I know Anon doesn't. We all have our quirks, Middie."
  1539. "I'll try to keep that in mind, Star."
  1540. >"We all just want the best for each other in this little group. Just like you want to help me, I want to help you. But we have to talk in order to get anywhere."
  1541. "Yeah, yeah - now you're getting weird and preachy. Stop it," you joke.
  1542. >Starla chuckles, pointing a hoof at you.
  1543. >"If my little sis wasn't so stubborn, I wouldn't have to preach!"
  1544. "I like to think my stubbornness is an endearing trait, thank you very much," you scoff, turning your nose up for a brief moment. "But anyway, yeah, I'll see what Anon thinks of the little outing. You said at the end of the week?"
  1545. >"Mhm. Friday evening, next town over in the main square."
  1546. "Cool. I think one way or another I'll be there. Let you know when I know."
  1547. >"Sounds good! Glad to finally hear from you again Midnight, take care of yourself."
  1548. "You too, sis. And thanks."
  1549. >With a nod and a click, Starla's end of the connection blanks out.
  1550. >And with that comes a sense of relief.
  1551. >A weight off of the shoulders.
  1552. >You didn't think it was bothering you that much but filling in Starla on what happened felt...
  1553. >It was sort of liberating.
  1554. > There are still no answers as to why you're dealing with some of this past pain all of a sudden, but having someone else concerned and offering an ear makes it feel not as awful or embarrassing.
  1555. >Certainly not near what you dreaded.
  1556. >Maybe...
  1557. >Maybe you're starting to get a better understanding now.
  1558. >Everyone is here for each other.
  1559. >Leaning on each other.
  1560. >No one is perfect.
  1561. >No one pretends to be perfect.
  1562. >It makes more sense.
  1563. >Now that you have a goal to help Starla...
  1564. >It's time to share what you can to aid Starla in healing her vulnerabilities.
  1565.  
  1566.  
  1567.  
  1568.  
  1569.  
  1570. >"That looks like dogshit."
  1571. "Well thank you. I worked very hard on making it look like dogshit."
  1572. >"Don't they make proper stuff for this kind of job?"
  1573. "Mhmm."
  1574. >You've been waiting for Midnight to speak up about the current paint masking job just about complete on the engine.
  1575. >Most everything is put together now - it's time for a nice coat of bright silver paint.
  1576. >With virtually everything sealed up internally, there isn't too much to actually mask off - mostly just openings for the carburetors on the intake, exhaust - shit like that.
  1577. >So the weapons of choice for masking?
  1578. >Newspapers and trash bags with masking tape.
  1579. >It's funny how Midnight is sharp as a whip, but can't see how the look of the masking material doesn't matter.
  1580. >But you finish up the last bit of tapework before popping her bubble.
  1581. "So you know what happens with the proper masking materials when I'm done painting?" you ask as you turn to her.
  1582. >"I don't know. Probably throw em away.... wait-"
  1583. "And the last horse crosses the finish line."
  1584. >"Oh shut up. You can at least admit it looks like you raided the trash can to accomplish this work."
  1585. "I did. For the newspaper at least."
  1586. >Midnight's nose wrinkles as she stews in her own embarrassment.
  1587. >Perfect.
  1588. >It means you can start figuring out how to mix up the paint and put it in the spray gun.
  1589. >You went out and bought the spray gun and other painting supplies specifically for this job - other than rattlecans, you've never done something like this.
  1590. >But after watching some videos online and seeing how cheap a gravity-fed gun could be bought...
  1591. >Hell, why not?
  1592. >Should last a lot longer than a rattlecan, that's for sure.
  1593. >Just gotta do it right...
  1594. >"What happens if you don't end up mixing this correctly, anyway?"
  1595. >Gee, thanks...
  1596. "Heat death of the universe, I think."
  1597. >"...what?"
  1598. "I dunno, first thing that came to mind."
  1599. >Midnight shakes her head as you set to work shaking up the quart of paint.
  1600. >"Starla told me she and Teddy are taking the Cutlass out to a little car show at the end of the week. Guess he's got the car pretty much buttoned up now."
  1601. "Oh? That's pretty cool."
  1602. >You already knew that - Teddy texted you yesterday about his plans.
  1603. >It's less about taking the car to a show, and more about loosening up.
  1604. >More specifically, not keeping Starla so sheltered and under wraps from the world.
  1605. >You understand his caution, and from Starla's own admission, she can be a bit too eager to talk with strangers - possibly letting out a bit too much information.
  1606. >But Teddy also admits he's gone too far - what you and Midnight do together, Starla and he should try to mirror and get out at least a little bit.
  1607. >Again, you figured Midnight would hear it from Starla and bring it up with you...
  1608. >But you gotta see this face when Midnight asks to join in.
  1609. >"Yeah, she's going to finally get some experience being out in social situations. First time in a long while."
  1610. "How do you think she's going to do? She nervous?"
  1611. >"No, she's looking forward to it. Unlike me, she likes the idea of talking to lots of people," Midnight explains with a short chuckle.
  1612. "Well, that's good."
  1613. >The little discussion stalls out as you wait for Midnight to start prodding forward with a proposal.
  1614. >Oh crap.
  1615. >While getting all the paint, chemicals, and solvents around to start spraying, you realize the reducer to thin the paint is incorrect for the application.
  1616. >Midnight picks up on your sudden hesitance.
  1617. >"What's wrong?"
  1618. "I'm done for the night, I guess. I don't have the right chemicals. Either I messed up and bought the wrong thing, or they shipped the wrong thing - but I can't paint without it."
  1619. >"Dammit. So what now?"
  1620. >Before you answer her, you grab your smartphone to start a search.
  1621. >While you bought everything online, there's probably a paint supply store somewhere nearby...
  1622. >The nearest one is an hour away. There's no way you can make it before close.
  1623. "Have to wait at least until tomorrow to get the right stuff.- and I don't know if the weather will cooperate to paint. Chance of rain tomorrow evening."
  1624. >Midnight growls her frustration out loud.
  1625. >"Why didn't you notice that before?"
  1626. "I - look, I've never done this before, Mid. I don't know if I ordered it wrong or if the company shipped me the wrong thing. But at least I noticed before starting. Who knows what kind of a mess I would have created."
  1627. >"Fine, fine," Midnight relents, though still disappointed. "In other words, the night of the car show is probably gonna be when this will finally get some paint on it."
  1628. "Well... primer. And then paint," you admit with a sheepish grin.
  1629. >Midnight sulks just a tad more with that information.
  1630. >Tonight hasn't gone to plan in the slightest.
  1631. >But there is a silver lining here...
  1632. >After all, Midnight can't do much if anything to help with the painting process.
  1633. >And you already know Teddy is more than happy to stop by and pick up Midnight to accompany him and Starla to the car show.
  1634. >A couple of days late, but maybe it all works out in the end?
  1635. "Hey, chin up, Middie. To tell you the truth, I already knew about the car show plans."
  1636. >"And you made me jump through hoops because..."
  1637. "It was one hoop at most," you correct her. " And I wanted to see your pleading face when you asked if we could go."
  1638. >"I don't have a pleading face," Midnight argues, sticking her nose up at the suggestion.
  1639. "Okay, should we go with a pouting face? Or a begging face?"
  1640. >"Shut up. What's your point on this, anyway?"
  1641. "My point is - I got a night where I'm preoccupied with this project, while I know you want to go to that car show with Star. Wanna keep an eye out for her, don't you?"
  1642. >"Yeah!"
  1643. >Midnight appears to already catch your drift, judging by how quickly her mood perks up.
  1644. "I can tell Teddy to come on over and pick you up that ni—"
  1645. >"Already on it! I'll go let Star know right away!"
  1646. >In a flash, Midnight's excitement takes over as she bolts away and up the stairs in a clatter of hoofsteps.
  1647. >Alright then.
  1648. >Lemons into lemonade, and all that jazz.
  1649. >You have to admit, it's going to be weird not having her here.
  1650. >Knowing she's outside the gates without you...
  1651. >The thought starts to create a small pit in your stomach.
  1652. >...it's a very strange thought, too.
  1653. >After all, she is an adult.
  1654. >She is more than capable of dealing with anything thrown her way.
  1655. >You view her as an equal.
  1656. >You don't need to protect her.
  1657. >... yeah, that all being said, this is clearly the right thing to do.
  1658. >You will manage, and Midnight will have a great time helping Starla out - not to mention explaining all the cars she can.
  1659. >Teddy had suggested paying you back in a sense for watching over Starla during his trip.
  1660. >You refused any sort of payment.
  1661. >But yeah, this works.
  1662. >While not trying to steal Modnight's thunder, you fumble through your phone to your messages and shoot Teddy a text.
  1663. 'You think you can handle two mares and a Cutlass on Friday night?'
  1664. >It isn't too long before your phone dings with a notification - a laughing emoji.
  1665. >'Starla just bolted off hearing the PC with a notification. I figured you weren't too far behind! We'll be glad to have Midnight along!'
  1666. 'Sounds good, just let me know when you're heading over Friday.'
  1667. >You get a thumbs up in response and leave it at that.
  1668. >Forced to end the project for tonight, you set about putting away all of the tools and chemicals you have scattered about nearby.
  1669. >It isn't too long before Midnight glides down from the top of the stairs unannounced.
  1670. >Fortunately, you see movement out of your peripheral before she can spook you.
  1671. "Nope, not this time."
  1672. >"Dammit."
  1673. >While Midnight stomps a hoof down with a tinge of disappointment, it doesn't diminish a grin that displays eager anticipation.
  1674. "I take it all systems are go for Friday?" you inquire, playing dumb for her sake.
  1675. >A fervent nod of Midnight's head is the response, her mane bouncing about with energy.
  1676. "I can't believe you're gonna leave little old me all alone at home," you whine in an exaggerated, upset voice.
  1677. >"You'll be fine, wuss."
  1678. >While Midnight gives you a bit of attitude, she extends a wing and hooks it around you - a short, feathery embrace that feels like more than just a simple expression of thankfulness.
  1679. >It seems Midnight senses the slight uneasiness you thought you were keeping under wraps.
  1680. "Oh, I know. You can handle yourself. Just kind of an odd position for me to be in."
  1681. >"How do you think I feel suddenly becoming a mentor of sorts?"
  1682. "Well... you make a fair point there. But I think you're the mare for the job."

Changing Lanes 01

by Autopony

Night Princess vs Superbird

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Changing Lanes 2

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Friendship is Mandatory

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Changing Lanes: Dream Taming for Dummies

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