by Stereo_Sub

Chapter 1: RUN

There's only one rule: never stop moving.

"We're like sharks," Dripshine says, hoof tap-tap-tapping on the sandstone roof. "Land sharks. We're the top of the food chain, the best in the world, until we stop moving. Then we sink and fall and die. So all you have to do—" Those ice-glass eyes catch the rusty Manehattan sunlight, and for half a second they're almost too bright to look at. "Is never stop. Don't look back. Always have a goal and always chase it." He's shifting back and forth, tensing and untensing his hind legs. Like a nervous cat. He turns to me. "Give me a goal."

I let the skyline sink into my eyes, etching every detail somewhere behind my retina. Giants made of edges and right angles and chipped facades stare back, sunset-glazed monsters. The writers— they get it wrong. The city's not our playground. It's not a conduit or a jungle gym. The buildings aren't steps, aren't walkways, they're buildings, and they have no respect for flimsy flesh and blood. If you fall, you have no one to blame. It's their space; they were there first.

"Left," I say, flicking my forehoof out towards a double-decker storefront. "Left to the store, bounce the canopy onto the apartment facade, climb up, vault to the next block and go from there." Right now, 'go from there' means 'I'll follow you'. It used to mean 'catch me if you can', and before that it meant other things, warmer-softer-tangled-mane-flat-on-my-back-against-the-sandstone things, but that's past. Don't look back. Never stop moving.

Shine shakes his head. "Too easy. You're feeding me minnows, Scoots." His lips twitch out in a half-version of that gutpunch smile, the one that makes— used to make— my coat shiver and my blood turn to sparks. "Give me something I can sink my teeth into."

I don't want to think about the feelings so I focus on the words, and I give a little half-smile too, dangerously close to a laugh. Him and his similes. Today we're sharks. A week ago we were birds. Always anything but what we are. "Fine," I say, my smile melting as I concentrate. "How about—"

There. The route draws itself in the red-orange negative space in front of me, and the half-smile yo-yos back again. The run I've found is a work of art: a smooth, flowing line that bounces off walls, soars over alleys, ricochets between parapets and curls around spires. There's beauty in Manehattan, but you won't find it in the buildings or the ponies. It's in the movement. The pulse.

I look at him, and this time, it's a full smile on my face, a full half-moon-watermelon-slice-midsummer grin. "All right, I got it. Follow me." The challenge drips off the words like hot butter, pooling in the air as Shine's eyes narrow but I'm


gone, off the crumbling edge and into the air, riding that breath-catch-stomach-suck feeling as the next building races toward me. I feel my wings itch at my sides, ready to unfurl, but I ignore them—

"Gliding is a crutch," Shine says, shaking his head as his eyes rake across my wings. I take the moment to admire those eyes, again, like I have every day of the week— only a week?— I've known him. They're glimmering, iridescent, somewhere between sun-caught ice and glass, and right now they're staring at me and his mouth is set in a frown—

"—and if I don't need it, neither do you. You got that?"

I nod, bite back a sigh, refurl my wings, my pitiful, stunted, dead-weight-too-small-feather-lumps that even when I was a filly could barely maintain a hover, forget anything else—

And then there's a warmth on my neck and Dripshine's looking at me and his frown is gone and his forehoof is hooked around my crest and goddess, he's warm, so warm, like he's pumping fire under my skin, and then



And I'm back in reality as my hooves smack against the sandstone; I grunt and leap-roll-throw myself forward, coiling the shockwave around me like a spring. Another hoof-smack-grunt from behind me, and I can practically feel the sweat on the air as Shine vaults up from his roll, ready seconds after I am but I'm already off, the war-drum-rhythm of my hooves hitting between the beats of my breaths and my heart, thump-breath-thump, per-cus-sive.

There's a wall here, a stairwell block, twice my height plus a little more. I draw a line through it with my eyes before my muscles yank me up, onto, over and there's the stomach-suck feeling again, and I'm flying over sandstone only inches from my nose— pull your hind legs up, don't scrape, don't catch, don't fall, don't twist, now focus, brace


IMPACT; I land buttery-smooth, flawless, a sweat-soaked ballerina on a city-sized stage.

The line tugs me to the right, to the Manehatten Daily building with its marble-dome top and sky-pierce-needle-spire, and I veer off, covering feet in seconds. Shine's behind me, close, and I can feel the cold burn on my neck; his eyes are locked on me, laser-focused. Blood in the water. Shark's hunting. I push the ground away, and the wind snatches at my mane with scrabbling fingers, throwing it around, tangled mess of sunset purple that I need to trim—

I only remember the words.

"You know, you could always cut it short. It'd get in the way less."

"You could always go to hell."

"Not quite a fair trade. Really. You'd look good with short hair."

"Maybe. Dunno. I'd have to think on it. Always had it this way. 'S easy. Free. Low-pressure. Not sure if I wanna change that."

"The mane makes the mare, huh? All right, whatever. At least tie it back."

"You know I've tried. Not worth the forty-five minutes it takes, not



TOO CLOSE— I can see the stone-pores inches from my muzzle as I'm inches from an almost-smear of blood, an almost-scream of pain—

I force my hooves down and they hit the ground first, jolting me, saving me, and then I STOP. Blood's humming in my ears, in, not spattered against the rooftop, and I relax, catching my breath. Only seconds, but they're l-o-n-g seconds, stretched by the backflow of time against me, me not-moving-not-running-not-living.

"Good?" The word comes from behind me, squeezed out between Shine's quiet, panting breaths. I nod twice, quickly and jerkily, up-down-up-down.

"Good." It's automatic, a safety check we've built into each other over years of almost-blood, almost-pain, almost-death.

"Go?" Will you?

"Go." How could I not?

The air rushes against my skin like a sigh of relief as I burst into a gallop and beat a path into the wind-smoothed marble, trespassing freely and easily through This Place I Should Not Be. I— we know the stakes: discovery means death, maybe not literally, but as good as. If we're found, if we're known, if we're public, we will lose the city and ourselves, or so he says—

Shine looks at me, disapproving. "Not selfish, self-preserving," he says. "It's not like we're stopping anypony from coming out and doing what we do, right?

I nod, slowly, doubtfully. "I guess." You're wrong but I'm too scared of breaking us to say it.

"Besides, do you really want all of this…" He steps forward, wraps one forehoof around my shoulder— tingling sparks shoot through my leg, my heart, my veins— and gestures out at the rooftops surrounding us with the other. "To belong to everyone? Imagine it: Popularity, recognition, fame. Our way of life would be the latest craze, and everypony and their mother would come swarming across these rooftops, making noise, getting themselves hurt and killed looking for a cheap adrenaline hit. Is that what you want?"

What I want is freedom. What I want is friends. What I want is something, anything other than you. Just for once.

I realize the silence has gone too long when Shine breaks it, half-concerned. "Scoots?"
I can't read his tone but I know it's not a happy one, so I nod more vigorously. We've been stretched thin already these past few days, the Couple's First Fight coming on slowly, years late. No point making it worse. "No. You're right. I like this. I like this… this…" I trail off, searching for a word, and Shine cracks a smile.

"Solitude?" Perfect. The word choice, not him. He's a long way from it. But I don't want an argument, not here, not now, so I give in.

"Yeah. That's how it should be. Just us. Solitude..."

I flip and spin all the way through my free-fall, wrap the humid-city-smog air around me like a quilt and making one, two, three revolutions as I depose that dictator gravity over and over again. But she's persistent as ever, and soon I find the ground, or the ground finds me— I've always wondered, are we running from or seeking it?— and hit in sequence, one-two-three, first front then back then the rest, tumbling. The world does a few flips of its own before I'm up again, looking ahead—


Every jump is a sliding scale between 'possible' and 'deadly' that can tip back and forth in half a blink. This one is already skewed hard towards 'bloody pavement smear': a l-o-n-g gap to a storefront roof even with this one— a sixty-foot drop at least— bridged by a billboard, Pony Joe's Fresh 'N Hot, perfect for wallrunning. I smile. Smile and look back at Shine, who's landed behind me, his face mask-like, unreadable. Calculating, considering.

He thinks too much.

"Go?" I ask, and back comes that melted-butter challenge, seeping into the air and soaking us in tension. He doesn't answer for a while, still lost in his own scale, letting it tick-tick back and forth. Worth the rush? Worth my life?

Finally, he looks at me and the mask shatters and his eyes are hot, not sexy-hot, wildfire-hot, bright and vivid and ready. "Go."

I clear the rest of the roof in a burst of adrenaline, throwing myself over the edge full-throttle. You can't half-ass life and death, especially not when death holds favor…

"You ever… think about it?" I suck all the emotion out of my voice before it leaves my mouth, letting the empty word-husks drift through the air. I don't like holding back, but if I don't my feelings will just get in the way.

"About what?" He doesn't do the same. His question is soaked in emotion, mostly confusion with a dash of concern like a shake of pepper. Concern for me. He's worried about me, the cripple— he hates that word but it fits— he's known for barely two weeks. My stomach flutters.

"Death. Dying." I let the word fall dry and heavy from my lips. No point in skirting around it.

Shine pauses for a while. Stays silent. Thoughtful. Then he shakes his head. "Honestly, no. Not really. No point in it. I guess when risk is just a part of your life, it sort of fades into the background, you know?" Another pause. Then he looks at me, frowning, and my stomach flutters again. "Why? Have you been…"

I nod. "Yeah. A little." More gutted words.

"Don't." More emotions. Gentleness and conviction, both at once. It's a heady cocktail. "Trust me, Scoots. It's so much better that way. Just live, and when you die, you die. Accept it and move on. Don't worry about something you stare in the face every time you wake up."

I nod again. "Right." A tiny bit of grateful confidence squeezes into the word, but he's not done.

"Hell, if I could die anywhere, I would want it to be while I was up here. It'd be almost peaceful, in a way. Just close your eyes and let the ground catch you." My jaw clenches a little at that, but I see more concern in his eyes so I force myself to relax.

"Would you scream?" It's a random, morbid thought, but I need something to occupy my mind, something to beat back the suffocating silence.

Shine chuckles. "My mom used to tell me that if you screamed before you died, your soul would leave through your mouth and you wouldn't return to the stars."

A half-smile pulls at my lips. "Your mom was a crazy salt-blasted bitch."

"True, but I still don't think I would. You only scream when you're scared, and I wouldn't be scared, I don't think."

I stare at him. "You say that now."

He shrugs. "Maybe, maybe not. We'll find out eventually, but for now,—" He cuffs me lightly on the back of the head with his forehoof, a good-natured 'get over yourself'. "Quit thinking about it. Don't worry,



In this second I am more alive than I have ever been.

I twist sideways, letting my hooves glide against the metal of the Pony Joe's board before I push, one-two-three-four off and up. The lip of the building shoots closer, closer— forehooves out GET READY— thump.

I'm hanging by my front legs, dangling over death, over infinity, for one-two-three-PULL, up and onto, and then I'm panting, gasping, swaying back and forth from my all-natural high, drunk on adrenaline and terror and freedom.

I hear Shine jump but again, I don't look back. It was a promise of ours, unanimous and unspoken: neither of us would ever watch the other die, to keep those final seconds alive and untainted.

The sounds are as good as movie frames: The sandstone-scrabble of the takeoff, the thump-metal-squeak of his hooves against the billboard, the half-grunt as he pushes out into the air, the silence…

The silence-silence-SILENCE-SILENCE, TOO-LONG-TOO-LOUD, DEAFENING. My stomach feels like it's folding in on itself but I push off, forward, faster, burning away the emotions with my body heat. I don’t acknowledge it, can’t acknowledge it, no-please-NO...

I'm half a building away when he hits the ground.

I blink and the world strobes bright-dark-bright, feeding my brain snapshots that I take in slowly, letting each one sink in.


Wall. Dull-white. Stained.


Dresser. Oak wood. Scratched.


Window. Blinds shut. Closed.


Pillow. Next to me. Empty.


Shine. Not here. Gone.

I snap my eyes open and let the light hit them, taking in the apartment in all its shabby second-hoof glory. Everything's here, in its place, in the almost-neat way he had insisted we keep it…


My brain grinds to a halt as it hits that word, dousing me in a rapid-fire slideshow of memories. We had been friends, had been lovers, had been each other's only competition, had had had had, right up until a day—, no, not even, hours ago…

I flop back down against the sagging bed and resist the urge to shut my eyes and pretend everything will melt away. Not falling into that trap, that downward spiral. Not now or ever. Set a goal, meet a goal. I need a goal.

Coffee. I need coffee.

I get up. Slowly. My joints pop, crack-crack-crack, and I grimace. Didn't stretch last night. Paying for it now. Not that it matters.

The machine is in the corner of the tiny kitchenette, next to a few bags of rubber-banded Pony Joe's. I skim the labels:

Zebrican Harvest. My usual favorite, but I need something stronger.

PJ's Signature. Decaf. As if.

Manehatten Black. Sharp and dark and bitter…

"Like the ponies." He smiles at me, and I bounce it off my confused expression. Redirecting, so I don't have to deal with the fact that yes there is a cute earth pony colt with gorgeous eyes sitting across from me and yes, he is interested

"What?" Questions are blameless and effortless. No one can fault you for asking one, and with a few upraised syllables all the focus is off you again. Questions are the reason a lot of ponies confuse insecurity with curiosity.

"You know. Black coffee. Dark and bitter. I mean, Manehatten's not exactly sunshine and rainbows, right?" He pauses, shakes his head, and the smile turns embarrassed. "Ah, never mind. Dumb joke. Sorry."

"No, it's fine." My reply is so quiet he has to lean in to hear, and when I notice I flush and force the next sentence louder. "I liked it. Just took me a second. Dark and bitter, heh." It's almost convincing.

"Oh. Yeah, hah." His words fade, and the silence pours in to replace them. It streeeeeetches on, stifling, until finally he sighs out through his nose and locks his eyes— oh my Celestia he has pretty eyes— with mine. "So, uh…"

It takes me a half-second to realize he wants my name and another to decide whether I should let him have it. "Scootal— I mean, Scoots. Just Scoots." It's a knee-jerk correction, reflex, and I grit my teeth as I realize I've said it out loud, but he pushes on anyway, brushing it off with another smile. Smooth as silk to my sandpaper.

"Okay, Scoots." That's what his voice is, the voice that's made me search for a simile the entire conversation: Warm-silky-sandpaper. Soft and smooth with just the right amount of grit. I bask in it as he speaks again: "Look, I like you, but I can tell you're pushing me back— fuck, that sounds so cliché, doesn't it?" He half-laughs even as I frown, almost startled by the curse, the way it sounds coming out of his mouth. "But you're still uncomfortable here, I can see it, and honestly, so am I. So I want to show you something." He stands up, turns toward the door, looks back at me…

And this would be the point where I would coolly tell him that no, you're wrong, you can't tell, nopony can put emotions in my head, you arrogant prick, and then I would walk away but he's right, which makes it worse, and goddess-damn is he good-looking…

"Are you coming, or should I leave?" The question would've sounded prickly and irritated from anypony else, but the way he says it reshapes the words, rubs them smooth. Neutral.

I consider. He's a risk, I know, a walking-talking warning sign— UNKNOWN TERRITORY, DANGEROUS, STAY AWAY— but maybe risk is what I need. Maybe, but maybe's enough.

"Sure. But…" I pause and hate myself for doing it, because now I have time to backtrack and I'm almost certain I will if I take long enough— "I need your name." It's true, I do, but I also need a way to end the sentence, to close off the safe option before I take it.

He nods. "Right. I'm Dripshi— I mean, Shine. Just Shine." The words— the mistake are mine, but he takes them and makes them his own, and instead of being mocking, they're encouraging. Yes, you screwed up, and that's fine. That's more than fine. You are more than fine...

And in that moment I love him more than I've ever loved anything else.

I love the smell of brewing coffee.

Any kind, even the ones I hate, it doesn't matter. The rich, warm, earthy smell makes you alert-but-calm, bright, awake, vivid. Ready. I lose myself in it, close my eyes and breathe in, letting the drip-drip-drip of the machine count the seconds. When I exhale, my eyes open, and I don't feel calm, but close enough…

Close enough didn't save him.

I breathe in again, deeper, letting the sharp coffee-air fill my head until my eyes water. Forcing out the thoughts, thoughts I won't have, refuse to have—

There's a knock at the door.

I FREEZE. Period, full-stop, legs-locked-solid. The knock comes again. Three hits, not taps. Loud and urgent. Thunk-thunk-thunk. For half a second I'm choked, giddy and insane with impossible hope, and then reality hits like a brick to the muzzle. Why would he knock? And not that loud, anyway.

Thunk-thunk-thunk. Whoever's at the door isn't giving up. I pull my hooves up from the floor one at a time, like it's made of mud, and slowly walk across the kitchen. The door is inches away when I hear the fourth knock, and this time, I respond, quietly-but-not-quite-calmly: "Who's there?"

The answer is relieving and terrifying. "Manehatten Watch. Open up." The voice is low, gruff and masculine, the perfect match for a Grizzled Protector of the City. There's a pause, then it adds, "don't worry. You're not in any trouble. We just need to ask you some questions."

The stallion behind the door can't see my fake-indifferent shrug, so I try to put it in my words. "Then ask them." I need to tear the answers out of myself now, quick and clean, before they fester-spoil-rot into real emotions, ones I'll have to deal with.

"We will. Down at the Watch building. It'll only take a few hours." The voice isn't annoyed yet, but it's close and getting closer. "Open the door, please."

"I have coffee brewing," I reply, stalling with the first stupid excuse that I can think of. It's bad, but better than 'don't you need a warrant for this?' The Watch's integrity matches their paychecks: barely any, dropping every year.

"It can wait. Open the door." There's the annoyance. Slow and simmering, but there. I sigh, trot back to the coffee machine and flick the switch OFF with a wingtip— only thing they're good for— and before the guard can speak again I throw the door open and come face-to-face with a grim wall of grey and bronze. The colors of the Watch. Of the sky. Of the city. There are three of them, stallions, and I cycle through the usual panic-responses as I take them in. Fight or flight? Trick question, since I can't do either.

The guard in front— the speaker— gives me a curt nod and jabs his hoof down the hallway. His mouth says "follow us," but his voice says "don't push me if you want this to end well."

I hear his armor-plates clank as he pivots military-style and starts walking, just fast enough that I have to trot to keep up. He knows— he saw me, saw my height, saw that my legs were shorter, but he doesn't slow. Intimidation tactics. Pushing me down. 'Not in any trouble'. Right.

I grit my teeth and walk.

The name of the detective who's interrogating— interviewing me is Golden Glass. He's a unicorn, just about middle-aged, with dark eyes and a scruffy half-beard and a pelt that reminds me more of sunflowers than gold. I know his name because it's on a placard on his desk, engraved in the fake-silver on a backdrop of fake-wood, thin spindly letters that dip and curl in the usual too-perfect-to-be-hoofwritten way. Golden Glass, Police Detective. Me, Unwilling Suspect. Right now he's looking down, brow furrowed as he scans a stack of papers, so I sit, quiet, and look around.

His office is on the third floor, which means he gets a window: a scratched-smudged pane of glass looking out on the dirty rooftop next door, but it's still a luxury. Besides that window, the room is dull, almost bare. No pictures, no magazines, no pinned-up quotes, only the essentials: desk, chairs, cabinets, table. Nothing to look at but him and the window, but that's too far left to see without turning my head. It's intentional, I realize, more ways to get inside my head. Nowhere to rest my eyes. No distractions. No escape. Then Golden Glass speaks, and I look at him, grateful for something, anything, to focus on.

"So, miss…" There's a pause as he skim his notes, picking out the biggest pieces of me from the black-and-white and filing them away for later. I am not a Pony. I am not a Victim. I am Evidence. "Scootaloo?"

He knows he's said the wrong thing from the way my jaw clenches, and before his frown is even finished forming I've spat out, "Scoots. Just Scoots, please." The last word is fake-polite, forced-annoyed-polite, but Glass— credit to him— doesn't miss a beat.

"Scoots, then. I understand you were close to Dripshine—"

"Shine." No politeness this time. Not out of respect for the dead— lifeless tissue clinging to slow-dissolving bones— but out of respect for him. Who he once was, who we once were…

Was and were. Past tense. They feel so strange.

"Right, of course. My apologies," Glass says, blinking. He's not sorry, I can tell, but I don't blame him. Empathy is probably difficult when you're dealing with a Murder Suspect. "But you were close to him, correct?"

"Yes." No hesitation, no avoidance, no 'you could say that' or 'I guess' or 'maybe'. Give them the answers they want to hear and they won't hear anything else.

"All right. Could you tell me what happened yesterday afternoon?"

"Yes." Not 'I could'. Not 'I'd rather not'. Just a confirmation. Freeze them out with cold compliance.

"Please do. Take as long as you need." He leans back in his desk chair and his horn lights up, wrapping a quill pen in shimmering almost-sunlight. I watch him dip it in his the inkwell, wetting the nib one-two-three times, and when his eyes are back on me, I speak.

"And, that's what happened?" Glass says, quill still scratch-scratching on the second— or was it third?— sheet of parchment. I nod, not fast or slow, neutral.

"Yes." No emotion. No emphasis. Just agreement. The lie had been easy— believeable, I wasn't sure— but definitely easy. Alcohol and bravado and stupidity and heights, and me as the grieving marefriend, forced into sullen near-silence by the shock. It wrote itself.

"I see." He sighs through his nose, and my blood freezes. That sigh was doubt. Suspicion. I am not Evidence. I am a Suspect.

"You said he was drunk?" he asks, keeping his voice just as neutral as mine. I nod again. No words this time, not when I'm being hot-frozen from the inside out. "You do know there were autopsies, correct? Blood tests? There wasn't a drop of alcohol in his system, Scootal— sorry, Scoots. Are you sure that's the story you want to give?"

My blood is winter-dirt-slush in my veins around a stomach like a chunk of concrete. I open my mouth but I can't form words, so Glass fills the silence with his instead.

"Were there any altercations between the two of you before the incident? Any fights? Disagreements? Even small ones."

The memories flood back, still sharp-prickly-clear, and they hurt but at least now I'm feeling something, the numbness is gone, and so I nod. "Yes. There was a fight."

"When?" Still neutral. He's good at this. I try to match him.

"A few weeks ago." Close but not close enough.

"And what was it about?"

"It was…"

Watching Shine get angry is like stoking a fire: his voice doesn't lose any of that warm-bladed-honey edge, it just flares up. Gets stronger. Right now it's coat-singe-hot, and I'm standing in the inferno, quiet and defiant.

"They saw you."

"And?" No hiding this time, no bitten-back emotions; I let the anger-irritation-contempt flow free, firefighting with fire.

"Don't bullshit me, Scoots." I blink, half-surprised at the curse, but he plows on, oblivious: "you know why we can't do that. I've told you. Again and again and—"

I cut him off, my flames leaping over his, smothering them. "What about what I told you? About not being so goddess-damned scared of other ponies, no, of the whole fucking world? What about friends, the ones I've never had? What about keeping it alive after we're gone?" I stop to glare, and he glares back, eyes bright, furious.

"Who says we need to?" Calm and quiet, like he's speaking to a tantrum-throwing filly. My stomach coils itself over and over, twisting into rage-filled knots. "Why do we need to leave a mark, Scoots? Why can't we just live?"

"Because I'm not a selfish fuck." The words are choking me, forehooves-in-my-throat, but I spit them out before I suffocate. "Because there's something in making another pony happy." I'm on a hair-trigger, on the verge of— screaming, sobbing, running, I don't know what—

"You make me happy… "


"You. You you you, it's all fucking about you, isn't it?" I say in a half-whisper, hoarse and guttural. It's worse than a scream, low and grating and horrible, and I feel a burst of savage-animal-joy at the look on his face when he hears it. "Nothing's worth it unless it makes you happy, huh?"

"It's not about me, it's about us!" He's shouting now, and the words are treacle-smooth-fireballs echo-bouncing off the buildings below us. "It's always been about us!"

"Maybe to you, it was," I snarl back, then I spin around and begin to stalk away, half-angry-triumphant, half-frozen-shattered—

"Wait! Scoots!" Desperation. It's an ugly fit for his voice, but it catches my attention, makes me stop, slow. "Please! I don't care if you hate me, but think of the city! Think of this!" I turn— on impulse— and see him pointing out over the rooftops, sandstone bones under a blood-and-fire sky. "Is everything we've done— everything we love— is it really worth destroying, just for your selfish revenge?" The word 'selfish' stings me like a slap, but it pushes me forward, too, one last time. "Is it worth it?" he asks again, and this time, I have an answer, even as I feel the hot-angry-helpless-tears prick at the corners of my eyes…

"It's worth you," I choke out, and the teardrops spatter on the stone as I turn and run from the best years of my life.

Golden Glass is staring at me. His eyes are sharp and dark, so dark I see my reflection in them, my pupils in his, and then I blink away the memories and I can speak again. "It was nothing. We wanted to go different places for dinner and it blew up from there. But that was it. Just a fight. We made up." The lies stack like bricks, my cool impassiveness is the mortar. Building my wall. They'll never touch me, never touch us.

He nods. "I see." Silence for a while, then he sighs one more time and stands up from his desk, motions for me to do the same. "That's everything we need from you right now, but don't be surprised if you're called in again over the next few days. Inconvenient, I know, but it's just the way the system works."

I bite down on a bitter-hot reply, nod, and turn to leave. As I'm walking out the door, his voice stops me, and this time, I read it like a billboard: sympathy, thick and cloying.


I don't turn, don't speak, just nod. Yes?

"I'm sorry for your loss." The needle-prick-words sound sincere, but that doesn't make them hurt any less. I nod again, trusting my muscles over my mouth, and walk out the office door, the lobby door, the building door— so many, entranceways to entranceways— and into the warm-muggy-afternoon sun. It soaks through the clouds and sloshes on the pavement in shimmering waves of— not half-light, it's brighter than that, three-quarter light, maybe— and I bathe my hooves in it as I walk, washing them clean.

The days fall into a rhythm, strange but predictable:

Wake. Half-glance at the empty pillow. Turn away.

Rise. Coffee. Breakfast if I can stomach it.

Wait. Some days the guards come later, but they always come.

Walk. No words, just hoofsteps and tension.

Sit. Listen to Glass. Talk when I need to. Build my wall.

Leave. Drag out the trip back so I don't have to deal with home, with empty, with alone.

Eat. The cabinets are emptying one by one, but they're not empty yet. I don't fill them. Don't plan on staying much longer anyway.

Sleep. Restless. Taunting. Soaked in what was and what could've been.

Wake-Rise-Wait-Walk-Sit-Leave-Eat-Sleep-Wake… they start to blur together after a while, and soon the only thing that's clear are the memories, but goddess are they still clear, bright and sharp like sunlight off a razor. I hold them, trap them, live them over and over, like rivers carving canyons through my head, but then they melt into the rhythm too, smudging and fading, bad photographs, cracked mirrors, murky water, and the days-minutes-hours go on and on and on and on…

It's been a week— maybe more, less— when it all



Golden Glass is staring at me. His eyes are sharp and dark, so dark I see my reflection in them, my pupils in his…

I realize he's speaking so I tear my gaze away and listen.

"They're finishing the documentation right now, and releasing the story tomorrow." Late. As usual. No death gets in the papers before it's been wrapped-up-scrubbed-clean-sucked-dry by the Watch. "You're in no trouble, free to go, actually, but they…" He glances around, looking almost— is that guilty?— and leans in close, close enough I can feel his breath on my skin and it's all I can do not to scream-shove-leap-bolt…

"They're reporting it as a suicide."

My breath catches. Stuck on the words, they're a wall, a pit, a trap, ropes, binding, crushing…

"Why?" I whisper, so soft he almost leans in closer. "Why?" Questions are blameless and effortless. "He didn't…"

Glass shakes his head slowly, sadly. "Easier to believe. What's more likely? A healthy, sober, mentally balanced earth pony— the most sure-hoofed of all the equine races, no less— just happens to be alone on the roof of the Manehatten Daily building, nowhere near where he lives, and then just happens to think climbing the Pony Joe's billboard near it is a good idea…" He stops, leans back, sighs. "Or a depressed earth pony, devastated over the breakup with his marefriend, decides to end it all in a single jump. It's just more plausible…" His eyes narrow, hardening to glittering specks of coal. "Assuming what you told us is true."

I am paralyzed. Can't-move-speak-can't-think, but if I don't, this will be his legacy: fake-words, fake-sadness, a half-paragraph in the Manehatten Daily, no photo, and they'll shake their heads and sigh, 'such a waste of a life' and then he will be GONE.

He wanted a quiet death, but— no. Not like this. Not cleaned, shined, shackled to lifeless ink-on-paper. He deserves better. Anyone deserves better. I deserve better. If he fades away, dust-to-dust, what am I left with? Empty pillows, empty sunsets, empty city. No movement, no rhythm, no life.

Selfish, maybe, but it's a sin I can live with.

"Scoota— er, Scoots?" Glass says, mouth twisting, half-concerned-still-suspicious.

I smile at him, teeth-baring-burning-ember-hot. My blood hums in my ears, pulsing alive with that runner's instinct, and now, suddenly, I am clear. I have a goal. Time to chase it.

The line traces itself through the room, through my lips-hooves-heart-head, and I follow it, clean and easy, effortless, buttery-smooth. "It wasn't true," I say, and a laugh— how long has it been since I laughed?— coats my voice as I see his coal-glint-eyes widen. "None of it's true. He didn't fall, he was pushed. I pushed him. I killed Dripshine." More lies, mixing, layering, but this time they'll save-not-cage me. I'll be a Convict, but I'll have a Reason To Live.

Glass is standing up, mouth wide, ready to yell— let him yell, let him tell them all, let them follow, oh please goddess let them follow— and I'm already at the window, hooves under the clasps, screech-sliding it up and open, shoving out the screen—

And there's Glass behind me: eyes hard, face grim, hooves around my hind leg, and I laugh— a verge-of-death-nothing-left-can't-stop-won't-stop whooping-scream of joy— and twist away, kick him back, pushing off hard,



The next rooftop twists with my confidence, fades in and out, far-close-far; I barely remember my hooves until they almost miss the lip, then I grab-tense-pull and gasp with joy, fear, relief, all of those and more. Here, now, I'm untouchable, a sun-hazed shadow dancing on twisted walls— never-here, never-there, always-in-between, moving-shifting-flickering— and here, now, as long as I'm breathing, I have a purpose: Escape. Evade. Survive. RUN.

I burst into a sprint and the sun-kissed sandstone warms me until I could be glowing, bright and flickering, a fading sun, a dying star, and there's a yell from the window behind me, rough-scabbed with rage, and I don't look back but I do smile wider. Let them rage, let them scream, let them hunt-me-chase-me-curse-me-hate-me, let the city sink and collapse and crumble to dust, let be what will be, let come what will come, but no matter what comes, they will never touch us...

And we will never, ever stop running.

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