Eyes Without a Face

by theycallmejub

Chapter 12: Daughters Without a Father, Part 2

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Chapter XII: Daughters Without a Father, Part 2

For the first time since the night I nearly bled to death in the back seat of her carriage, Dee gets sentimental on me. I think watching me torture Temporal got to her. She can't look me in the face as the two of us tear out Peachy's, carrying Temporal's limb body between us like some strange life sized doll. It's an awkward, crazy shuffle from the kitchen, out the back door, and across the street to where Dee's carriage is parked.

Dee gets sentimental on me. Doesn't want to leave Temporal to die alone on the floor of shitty hole-in-the-wall café in a shitty part of town. She gets sentimental. Goes soft. Squishy. Must have spooked her. Stupid. I told her to stay outside. Didn't want her to see what I was going to do to Temporal. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

We dump the unicorn in the back seat. I crawl in beside the poor bastard, and then all at once Dee is pulling away from the curb like a pony possessed. Suddenly the carriage is shooting over the slushy road, and the Kitchen is racing by, and the street signs and the other carriages and the homely shops and the chain restaurants are blurring and melting into each other, dissolving into a messy gray smear. I shout for Dee to slow down before she gets us killed, and she shouts back, telling me to shut the buck up. Telling me she needs to get to where she's going quickly or Temporal won't make it.

We shoot across the slushy road. Dodge traffic. Run lights. Every time we turn the cart skids. Tips up on two wheels. Dee nearly loses control about a dozen times; nearly sends us hurtling into oncoming traffic or into a stop sign or some unsuspecting pedestrian. We scare the living shit out of a lot unsuspecting pedestrians.

It's fun. The rush. The insane, reckless thrill of tear-assing down the icy road. Faster. Faster. In the back seat of Dee's carriage I experience a different sort of flying than the sort I'm used to. A new, horrifying sort that has my heart hammering as I brace myself against the seat in front of me. As I hold on like my life depends on it, secretly hoping for a few squad carriages to show up and chase us likes in those stupid action movies.

I laugh out loud at the thought. I imagine Sparkle leaning out the window of her squad cart, shouting for me to pull over, screaming bloody murder into her bullhorn; and me shouting back, telling her to go buck herself. Telling her that she and the rest of Manehattan's finest will never take me alive. I let my imagination run rampant, and I hold on, and I throw my head back, loving the feel of the frigid wind clawing at my face. I laugh out loud. Beside me Temporal is sleeping soundly, dying if she isn't dead already, but who gives a buck. I have speed and I have distance, and they are all I have ever needed to keep reality from touching me.

Outside of the carriage, the city is racing by. Changing. Shrinking and shriveling and seeming to age right before my eyes. Outside of the carriage, Manehattan shows me a side of herself I have never seen before. A side she hides behind her glitz and glam, her false promises and ugly powdered face and her hot, haughty laugh. Outside, the tall buildings are shrinking into small houses as we move away from the heart of the Kitchen and into a residential area. They shrink into small houses, and then the small houses shrivel into smaller houses, then wilt into crude shacks and flimsy, dusty tents and—

"Damnit, Dee! What the hay do you think you're doing?" I shout, jumping forward, grabbing hold of the reins and giving them a jerking tug. We stop so abruptly that I'm nearly thrown out of the carriage. Dee rears up on her hind legs, startled. Neighing furiously. She shakes her mane. Snorts.

"Relax," Dee says, looking at me from over her shoulder. "I got a friend who stays here. She can take care of the unicorn. You know, the one you tried to murder in cold blood."

The carriage stops. It takes reality all of two seconds to catch up and buck me upside the head as punishment for making it chase after me. I don't know if it's the sudden lack of movement that does it. I don't know if it's the way she says it, or if it's the look in her intense electric blue eyes, or if it's some combination of everything—but I hear the word murder slither its way out of her mouth and something in me snaps. Comes unglued. Dee starts trotting again. I give the reins another tug, stopping her cold.

“Tug on my reins again, and I swear I’m gonna—”

"I wasn't going to kill her!" I shout. The outburst comes from someplace deep in my gut and when it comes, it comes big and nasty. Dee's whole body clenches. She looks away. Doesn't say anything. I jump down from the carriage, scarcely aware of my legs as they stomp up to meet Dee where she's standing on the side of the road. She's cowering. Retreating into herself as I near her.

"You hear me?" ask her. She tries to turn away, but I grab her by the mane and force her to look at me. "I wasn't going to kill her."

"Okay," Dee squeaks. Quivering.

"I wasn't," I say, again, more in control of myself now.

"Okay." Dee's voice is small. She nods. Keeps her gaze pointed towards the ground.

A few heads poke out from the windows and the doorways of the shanties lining the street, watching us. The shanties are literally leaning against one another. Leaning against one another and standing on each other's shoulders and heads, and at each other's backs, so close you can hardly tell where one crude shack ends and the next dusty tent begins. The windows seem to have been cut out randomly. The doors too, giving the impression that some of the homes have two or three entrances while some have none at all.

A few heads poke out. Watch us.

I shove Dee before climbing back into my seat. Dee doesn't say anything else until we get to where we're going. Neither do I.

We're west of the Bad Weather Beat. As far west as you can go before you reach city limits. The carriage climbs a hill and in the distance I see the Golden Bit Bridge that connects Manehattan to her sister Hooflyn. If we were to cross that bridge and keep heading west through Hooflyn we'd find ourselves in Reinchester, and then in Little Foals, and then eventually we'd make it to the edge of New Colt State. From there we could get on the right train heading northwest and in a few days' time wind up on the pristine streets of Canterlot, all haggard, red-eyed and dressed in rags; the three of us looking like piles of trash that washed up on a white sand beach. Ponyville is just one train ride away from the capitol. One more train ride and I'd be home.

We go as far west as you can go without leaving the city. I'm closer to home than I've been in years, but somehow I know I've never been further. I look down at my burned, blood-flecked hooves and I think about all the awful things I've done and all the awful things that still need doing, and I wonder if Ponyville is even still there. If it was ever there—or if it was just something I dreamed up. Some false paradise conjured in a broken mind. Something I could pretend to lose so I'd have an excuse to be angry and break things and hate. A beautiful place. Perfect setting for the perfect tragedy. Daisy. Lily. I shut my eyes for a moment and watch them die, and I pray to a goddess who doesn't love me that I didn't dream them up too. They seem so far away now.

We climb a hill and Dee stops a moment to catch her breath. It's midday and the light from Celestia's ball of fire has a forlorn feel to it as it splashes down on Dee's mane and tail. She stops and for a moment she looks completely lost. Sad. Trounced. Beaten up and beaten down by loving hooves and by loveless hooves, both pairs treating her same. Treating her like the living, breathing, blinking ball of meaningless shit that she is. That we all are. She stops a minute to catch her breath. Stops on a hill. We are perched at the edge of Manehattan. Feels like the edge of the world.

The place is called Shanty Alley. It's the poorest neighborhood in Discord's Kitchen—in the entire city—and it's also home to the notorious street gang, the Daughters of Discord. The Daughters are the only uptown street gang because they're the only ponies crazy enough to make trouble for the uptown gangsters. Gangsters like Grift and Filthy Rich, though I suppose the latter of those two is no longer in the game. They've even picked fights with Manehattan's biggest, wealthiest, most organized crime family, the Oranges. The Daughters run Shanty Alley, all of the Kitchen and most of the upper west side. And they hate outsiders.

Dee's carriage rumbles to a stop outside of a shack that looks slightly less disheveled than the others. She takes off her harness. Tells me to stay with Temporal. Trots up to the shack and raps on a large sheet of rusted metal that I assume is supposed to be the front door. The metal sheet slides aside and a timid looking earth pony mare with an orange-cream mane and bright green eyes appears in the entrance. She and Dee talk for a moment. I don't hear what they say, but I see the mare's eyes flick left and right like she's worried somepony is watching her. Her eyes flick, bright and glinting like polished spring green mirrors. They remind me of Daisy's.

The two of them trot back to the carriage. Orange-cream's pretty green eyes fall on me, then on the sleeping unicorn at my side. She takes a moment to assess the damage. Snorts. Mumbles something under her breath. Shakes her head, tossing her lush mane this way and that.

"You, h-h-help me get h-her inside," she says to me. "Dee, g-g-go inside and g-g-get the bed ready."

I help Orange-cream carry Temporal inside. She doesn't say another word. Doesn't ask any questions. Raise any protests. Just orders Dee to ready a bed, then orders me to help her with Temporal. She's calm. She's done this sort of thing before.

The inside of the shack is surprisingly large. To my left there is a couch, a coffee table in front of the couch, and a worn bookcase slouching against the wall like a tired old stallion. At far end of the room is a darkened hallway entrance, mysterious and gaping like the maw of some hungry predatory waiting for some unsuspicious pony to wander in. It doesn't seem to lead anywhere. Above us is a ceiling fan, its blades spinning lazily. A lamp on the coffee table provides the only light in the room. Both it and the ceiling fan must be battery powered because neither of them has power a cord, and even if they did, I can't imagine a place like this having electricity.

Together we lay Temporal down on the couch. An odd smell finds my nose. I look around in search of its origin and find several rusted shelves built into the wall opposite the bookcase. Sitting on the shelves are an assortment of medicines and other drugs I doubt cure anything. Bottles of pills. Vials of colorful liquids. Syringes. Needles. Boxes of bandages. Scalpels. In the corner of the room is a big vat full of bubbling liquid. Whatever's in the vat is what’s causing the smell.

Orange-cream must notice that I'm staring because she touches my shoulder and says, "Z-z-zebra voodoo. Learned a bit w-w-when I w-was with the relief e-effort." A proud smile graces her gentle face as she does her best to navigate clumsily through the sentence. "Stuff's d-d-dangerous if you d-d-don't know what you're d-doing."

"Hello, dying unicorn over here," Dee says, waving for Orange-cream's attention as she slides a pillow beneath Temporal's head.

Orange-cream mumbles something to Dee, and then Dee disappears into the predator's mouth. Orange-cream reaches underneath the couch and pulls out a plain white box with a red cross on the lid that makes me think of Redheart's cutie mark, and her shimmering pink mane, her lips warm against my forehead.

Dee returns with a large bowl of water and a few towels. I half watch the two of them clean the dried blood from Temporal's sleeping face, my mind preoccupied with thoughts of Redheart. They do their best to put Temporal back together, picking up her pieces and placing them where they belong. Orange-cream gives orders. Tells Dee to retrieve things from the shelves. Burn ointment. Strange-smelling herbs. A vial full of whatever is bubbling in the vat. She gives orders, her voice resolute. Hard with authority despite her stutter. She gives orders and Dee does her best to keep up. Half the time she doesn't know what is what, and she can hardly tell one drug from another, but she does her best to keep up. She grumbles and complains and whines the entire time, but she does her best to keep up, desperate to make right my wrong.

I watch the two of them, not sure what I should be doing with myself. I watch them. Watch Orange-cream's hooves work that special kind of magic that only healers know. She has hooves like Redheart's. Steady. Firm but gentle. Loving. Made for fixing things. I watch her hooves work their magic, and I watch her mouth work as she gives her orders, and I notice how full her lips are, how sweet her voice is, the rhythm of it soothing, the constant repetition of sounds melodic and song-like. Her mouth. Her lips. So full. So wet. Dripping with life and confidence and music.

Her lips…

"Rose! Wipe that stupid look off your face and grab that syringe off the shelf," Dee snaps. The sound of her voice whips me awake, pulling my focus away from Orange-cream's lips. I shake the fantasy out of my head and face Dee. She shrinks for moment. Retreats. Then, determined not to be bullied, she puts on a tough face and talks to me the way she usually does. "Not that one, you idiot," Dee snaps, "The one beneath it. Yes… Yes that one, shit for brains." She snaps and snaps and keeps on snapping. When I pass her the syringe she takes it and turns away from me quickly as if disgusted by the sight of me.

I don't like it. I know it's my fault, not hers. I know she has every right to be upset with me. Afraid of me, even. I know, but I don't like it. Dee keeps looking at me sideways, like I'm some dangerous animal she's been warned to stay away from. I'm not some animal. I'm not... I wasn't going to kill Temporal. I wasn't. I wish Dee could understand that.

"I'm going to pull my carriage around back," she says, making for the door. "Gotta make sure nopony puts it up on blocks or something."

I step in front of her. "You want some help?" I ask, trying to be nice. Trying hard to keep the anger swelling up in my chest at bay.

"No," she says dismissively. She tries to shove by me but I grab her shoulder. Stop her cold.

"You sure?" I try again, even forcing a small smile this time.

"I'm sure. Let go of me." Dee looks at me with those intense electric blue eyes. Judging me. Looking at me like I'm an animal. Like I'm going to hurt her—and if she doesn't stop looking at me like that, I just might. "Seriously, Rose." Her voice is solemn. Grave. "Let go of me."

I let her go. "I'm sorry about what happened back there on the road. That wasn't me. I mean…I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry." I let her go. She turns away sharply and I have to fight the urge to grab her again. "Hey, we're okay right?" I ask, sounding a bit more desperate that I would've liked. "You and me. We're okay, aren't we?"

"Yeah," she says, nodding. She blinks. Takes a short breath. "Yeah…of course we are."

Dee leaves. The door slides shut behind her. Shuts in my face. I stare down at the floor, feeling hurt.

"Your shoulder," says Orange-cream from behind. The sound of her melodic voice soothes away the tension still hanging in the room. "It's b-b-bothering you."

I rub my right shoulder reflexively. "How did you know that?" I ask, impressed.

"Y-y-your leaning all y-your weight on one s-sss-sss—" Poor Orange-cream has trouble with her "S" sounds. The effort it takes to get the word out seems to drain her. "—Side," she finally manages. "Here, let me ss-sss-ssssee-ssssee— let me look at it."

She leads me through the predator's mouth, and to my surprise it leads to short hallway. Orange-cream must see the bewilderment spreading across my face, because she tells me, in her stammering way, that her shack is connected to a few of the shanties. She says she and her neighbors are good friends and she likes to keep a close eye on them.

We head through a door that leads to a staircase. Climb. Despite going up the place has an underground feel to it. Trapping. Claustrophobic. The stairs lead us to another doorway, and the doorway opens up to a cozy bedroom barely big enough for the two of us.

Orange-cream asks me to please have a seat, stammering over the word 'seat' for what feels like a full minute. I sit at the edge of the bed. She sits at my side. Examines my shoulder for a minute. Asks me where it hurts. How badly. She gives me something for the pain, then begins bandaging my shoulder.

"T-that f-f-feel better?" she stammers.

"Yeah," I answer, my voice hollow. "Yeah, that's better."

"You're w-welcome to sleep up h-here in my room if y-you like." I thank her but decline. I tell her Dee and I won't be staying long. She nods. Seems upset.

Orange-cream goes to work massaging my shoulders. Her touch is soothing. Firm and sure and soothing. Feeling better, I paw absentmindedly at the collar around my neck and find myself looking around without really seeing anything. There isn't much to see in the little room. A few pictures of Orange-cream posing with ponies who look a lot like her. Family I assume. There's a nightstand beside the bed with a lamp sitting on it: same kind that was on the coffee table in the room downstairs. Beside the lamp is an odd looking alarm clock and beside that is…huh?

My eyes fall on a picture teetering so close to the edge of the nightstand, it looks ready to topple over the edge. I take a closer look at the photograph, and my breath catches in my throat. I suppress a tiny gasp as I reach for it. The picture is in a wooden frame. I reach for it. Hold it. Stare at it with disbelieving eyes.

"My h-husband," says Orange-cream, taking the picture from me gently but defensively. She looks down at it like she hasn't seen it in a long time. Like she's trying to remember what it is. What it means. "Back when h-he and I w-were with the relief e-effort. W-w-we were happy then, I think."

In the picture Orange-cream is standing beside a stallion. He has one of his forelegs around her neck, holding her close to his side like he never wants to let go. Orange-cream is looking at the camera, smiling bashfully; but the stallion is looking at her; and all around them, tugging at their pant legs and pulling their tails, is a small group of young zebras. Some of them very young. Only foals. Orange-cream is cradling one of the baby zebras in her foreleg. Everypony is smiling. It's a nice picture. Sight of it breaks my heart.

"Where were you when this was taken?" I ask.

"Z-z-ebrica. It's where we met. My husband and I were p-part of the relief effort. H-h-helped out a lot of s-s-ssss-s-ssss-sick kids," she says, almost choking on the word sick. "Lot of poor f-f-families." Then she pauses and looks away from the picture. She leans against me, perhaps seeking comfort as she remembers something unpleasant.

"Where is he now," I hear myself ask, already knowing the answer.

"Not around. N-not anymore," she says, sounding far away. "He was a g-g-good husband. W-weak, maybe, but a g-g-good husband. Had t-to many v-v-vices, though. Gambling. Drinking. P-p-partying. He always d-did have a taste for the f-f-finer things. He used to tell m-m-me he wanted to give me the w-w-world." I watch her lips as she talks. I can't pull my eyes away from them. So full and wet and melodious. They have to work so hard to articulate ideas. Harder than most. I watch them. Wanting them. Wanting them pressed against my mouth, and under my chin, and against my neck, and between my thighs. I watch her lips. Wanting them. Wanting her.

A bitter laugh plays on her perfect lips. Marring them. Stinging them. Hurting them and making me want them even more.

"He g-gambled away all our m-m-m-money. L-lost his job. Started w-working for the m-m-mob. He told me it would only be for awhile. Only until he g-g-got back on his h-hooves. But h-h-he couldn't control it. Couldn't control himself. He never really could…

"They found him w-w-with his throat cut in some apartment d-d-downtown. They f-f-found him there with a n-note. A joke," she says, suddenly angry. "Whoever k-k-killed him left behind s-s-s-s-some s-s-s-s-stupid knock-knock joke!"

She stops a moment to catch her breath. Puts a hoof to her brow and shakes her head. Closes her eyes and laughs her bitter laugh. "I w-w-wish I could say h-he didn't have it coming. W-wish I could say he d-d-didn't deserve it."

"He didn't," I say, wanting to comfort her. "Nopony deserves to die that way." She leans deeper into me. Her cheek is soft against my chest. Her mane plush and feathery under my chin. Her breath warm on my coat. Her lips… So close. Her lips…

"No, h-he did. He was w-w-weak. I knew he w-w-was weak but I l-l-loved him anyway. I l-l-love… I l-l-loved… I—" She pauses and takes a deep breath. Pushes it out slow and takes another.

"I loved him," she says, pronouncing each word carefully. I get the feeling she needed to be able to say those words without stammering. She needed them to be real, and she needed to sure of them, and she knew they couldn't be either if they were breaking and cracking. If they were wild and uncontrolled as they left her mouth. The effort of annunciation seems to drain her. She nuzzles deeper into me. Me. A perfect stranger. Suddenly it occurs to me that I don't even know her name.

"I'm Rose," I say plainly.

"J-j-junebug," she says morosely, as if upset that she was unable to articulate her own name without stuttering.

"'Junebug?' You're Redheart's friend." Junebug nods. She looks up at me and smiles weakly. I comfort her. Hold her. Hold her tight.

I hold her and she holds the picture. I look down at her and she looks down at it.

Junebug. Her name is Junebug and the stallion standing beside her in the picture has a deep blue coat and a gray mane, and his cutie mark is a scalpel, and the eyes behind his glasses are soft and beautiful and loving—and his haunches and hindquarters curve delicately like a mare's.


Dee and I spend the next few days living with Junebug. I sleep on the dusty floor of her dusty shack in the worst neighborhood in Manehattan. Probably in all of Equestria.

The first night is a rough one. Dee sleeps with Junebug in her bedroom. I sleep on the floor beside Temporal. I'm not sure if I want to be near her, or just away from Dee's judging eyes and Junebug's perfect, full lips. I sleep beside Temporal. Junebug brings me a pillow. A blanket. I fall asleep thinking about Scope. His soft, scared eyes. The gash in his throat, grinning like a second mouth under his chin. I fall asleep thinking about Scope, and about Junebug and all those cute little zebra kids, and when I wake up, I wake up screaming.

I must scream pretty damn loud because Junebug hears me and comes darting to my side. Startled. Flustered.

"W-w-w-w-what happened?" she stammers frantically. Her stutter is much worse when she's flustered. "A-a-a-a-a-a-are you o-o-o-o-o –"

"I'm fine," I say, sitting up. "I have nightmares sometimes. That's all it was. Just a nightmare." Junebug looks at me, confused. Then she lays me back down before lying down with me, encircling my waist in her forelegs.

"What are you doing?" I ask.

"What you did for me," she says without stammering. She pulls the blanket over us. Rests her chin on my shoulder. Presses her chest against my back. Holds me. Holds me tight. I spend the rest of the night trying not to think about her lips. I remember the promise I made to Redheart. That I'd come back to her in one piece. That I'd come back to her. To her. I remember my promise, and I try hard not to think about Junebug's lips, and when I fail I fight to keep my hoof from sliding between my legs and having a little fun with me. I fight. Thankfully I don't fail a second time. The first night is rough one.

In the morning, Dee wanders in. Finds me and Junebug cuddling on the floor. She doesn't say anything, just glares at me with those judging eyes. Those intense electric blue eyes. Then she slides the door open and disappears. Where she goes I don't know, but I'm glad she's gone. A few very violent thoughts sprint through my head, and I'm glad Dee’s gone before they grow bored of being thoughts and decide becoming actions would be more fun.

Junebug and I talk over breakfast. She tells me about herself. Tells me that she is a drug dealer working for the Daughters.

Junebug is a drug dealer. Before she moved to the city she was a physician working for a nonprofit organization called Helping Hooves. She was one of the good ones. Used to tour all over the world with Scope and bunch of other charitable types. Bleeding heart types. Touring all over the world. Rolling around in there convoys through poor neighborhoods. Passing out loaves of bread and boxes of bandages. Repairing damaged homes. Fixing old roads. Building schools. Hospitals. Bunch of bleeding heart types with heads full of ideas and hearts full of good intentions. Touring. Rolling around the ugly, ugly world in their convoys and letting themselves believe they could change it.

Junebug is a drug dealer now. The Daughters supply her with the raw ingredients she needs to cook drugs for the gang, and in return they leave her alone and they make sure everypony else does the same. Like Stephen Scope, Junebug is well known in the underworld, but not very well liked. She knows drugs. The stuff she cooks up in her little shack in her vat of zebra legend and lore is heads and shoulders above anything else on the streets. She claims to have cooked up at least three designer drugs, all them big hits in the clubs, uptown and downtown alike. She knows drugs and she's good at what she does. Too good. the competition hates her. There are a lot of ponies that want Junebug either on their payroll or in the ground, napping beside the earthworms. The Daughters protect her. They claim it's a business agreement but Junebug is no idiot. She knows she's being held hostage.

She tells me that every once in a while the Daughters like to drop in on her. Pay her a visit. Rough her up a bit. They never hurt her too badly, she says. They black her pretty green eyes, and they bruise her pretty cheeks, and they cut her pretty face. They bust her lips. Her perfect full, wet lips. They bust them. Make them swell and paint them red. They rough her up plenty but they never hurt her too badly, Junebug tells me. I want to believe her but Hooves taught me well. Taught me how to read ponies. I want to believe her but Junebug is a lousy liar. When she lies, she gets anxious, and when she gets anxious her stutter gets a lot worse. Lousy liar. I like that about her.

I spend a few days with Junebug. Every morning she wakes up early and makes breakfast. Steamed vegetables. Fruit. Coffee. Same thing every morning. Reminds me of Redheart. When I tell her about Redheart and what she used to make me for breakfast, Junebug wrinkles her nose. She doesn't like eggs, though she tells me that she used to make them for her husband. She asks about her old friend. Tells me she and Redheart toured through Tarandroland, together. Reindeer country. Junebug tell me that Redheart was much younger then and that when they first met, Redheart had a little crush on her. The thought of a young Redheart blushing over an old crush makes me smile. As Junebug talks, I imagine the four of us, me and Redheart, Junebug and Scope, all sitting comfy around a dining room table enjoying a meal together. Junebug teasing Redheart about dating a mare who's so much younger. Scope and I laughing, exchanging knowing glances. I imagine the four us. Together. Enjoying meal. A small pleasure. Happy. In another life, maybe. In newer kinder, gentler, braver Equestria, maybe.

I sit with Junebug and I watch her mouth struggle to work through each sentence, watch her lips trip and stumble and slip up on nearly every word as the old memories of traipsing about the world with Scope and Redheart make her voice swell with passion for days long behind her.

When breakfast is finished Junebug fills a syringe with whatever is bubbling in the vat in the corner of the room, and injects it into Temporal's neck. I ask her if the liquid in the vat is what's keeping Temporal asleep. She's been out cold since the day we brought her here. Junebug shakes her head.

"It's for when s-s-sssshhh—when she wakes up," Junebug struggles to say. There's a small victorious glint in her eye when she overcomes the difficult 'S' sound. "It'll k-keep her from using her m-m-magic."

I never tell Junebug who Temporal is. She figures out on her own that the unicorn is no friend of mine or Dee's. That the two of us are hiding something. She's sharp. I never tell her what I do either, and she doesn't ask, though I suspect she might know something. My face is a forgettable one but it's been the paper before. I have a reputation, though it's possible I'm not as well known uptown as I am downtown. If Junebug does know anything, she doesn't let on. She never asks me questions about myself. In fact, she's happy to do most of the talking. Despite her stutter, Junebug is natural born talker. I can tell she enjoys hearing the sound of her own voice. She should. It's a good voice. Like music. Gentle and passionate and only a little off-key.

Later that same day, Junebug takes me with her as she makes her rounds. During her free time, she likes to go knocking on doors, checking in with some of the poorer families living in Shanty Alley. She treats them like patients. She warns a handsome older earth pony stallion to stay off his bad leg. Checks in on a young pregnant mare who's expecting soon. Rewards a foal with a lollipop for being brave and not flinching while she replaces an old bandage around the kid's head with a fresh one. The little colt's face lights up as she gives him the candy.

"Thank you so much, June," says the mother, leaning in the doorway of her shanty. It's much smaller and much more run down than Junebug's. "I promise I'll get you the money I owe as soon as I can. It's just…since I got laid off at the factory things have been rough, especially for little—"

"It's n-no problem, Ms. Blitz. Don't w-worry about it," says Junebug, smiling with her perfect lips. Ms. Blitz thanks Junebug again. Goes back inside. Closes the door behind her.

"That was a nice thing you did for that mother and her kid," I tell Junebug once the two of us are alone on the street, heading toward the next place on her list. She blushes. Looks away. Stutters something completely incomprehensible that makes me smile. Almost makes me laugh out loud. "You're one of the good ones, you know that?" Her blush deepens. Her stammer gets worse.

Junebug spends the rest of the day trying to impress me with acts of kindness. She glances my way to make sure I'm watching as she carefully wraps an injured foreleg or refuses to accept payment for her service. She glances my way. Blushes. Smiles at me with those perfect full lips. Lips made for sharing sloppy kisses. Made for sinning. I can't help but stare. Can't take my eyes off them.

It's late when we finally get back to Junebug's home. Dee's carriage isn't parked around back. Temporal is still sleeping soundly. Junebug tells me that since Dee is gone, I can sleep in the back room. Her bedroom. I tell her I'd rather stay beside Temporal. She could wake up anytime, and when she does the two of us will need to talk. At first she looks crushed. Defeated. Then she saunters over to me slowly. Runs an aroused front hoof through my mane. Asks again. Asks me if I'm sure I wouldn't rather share the upstairs bed with her. I tell her I'm fine, and I thank her for the offer but I'd really rather stay out front with Temporal. Junebug doesn't give up. She must have noticed me staring at her lips all day because she bites her bottom lip and gives me a pout sexy enough to excite a corpse. She bites her bottom lip. Pouts. Pokes me with a look like she wants me to take her right here and now. Take her every way you can take a mare.

I almost do it. She bites that perfect bottom lip, and she pouts, and gives me a look like she wants me take her right there in the doorway—and hell I almost do it. I almost push her down on her knees and force those full lips of hers between my thighs. I almost do it. Almost.

When I don't, Junebug stomps off to her room. Angry. Hurt. I sleep on the floor beside Temporal, wondering what the buck I'm doing here in Shanty Alley at all.


The next day Junebug is visited by three stallions dressed in odd provocative clothing. They are wearing fishnet stockings on their hind legs, and long boots on their hind hooves, and short skirts, and blouses, and piercings in their ears, and in their eyebrows, and in their lips and tongues. Their skirts aren’t long enough to completely cover their flanks. The initials D.O.D. have been tattooed over the cutie marks on their left sides, like graffiti on a street sign. They're Daughters, Junebug tells me. She says all the male Daughters dress in mare's clothing. I must have a stupefied look on my face when the three of them come sauntering in, swinging their hips and tossing their manes like runway models, because the three of them burst into hysterical laughter.

"What's the matter, lovely?" one of them laughs. He’s an earth pony, and he’s tall, and his mane is spiked and cut shorter than the other two.

"This one ain't never seen a prettier bunch of stallions, is all," laughs another, batting his eyelashes and blowing me a kiss. His lips are painted a summery yellow, and his eye shadow is the same color. He's a unicorn and his horn is longer than most. It seems to announce itself as he enters, drawing attention and robbing the stallion of his much desired femininity.

"I don't much care for mares but this one is cute, Juney," says the third stallion, addressing Junebug. "So butch. Bet her balls are bigger than mine. She yours?"

Junebug blushes. "Rose is just a f-f-friend," she stammers.

"Well if you don't want her," he says, moving closer. The hips partially hidden by his pleated skirt swing vulgarly as he circles me, licking the ring in his bottom lip and molesting me with his stare. Drinking in my figure. Tasting me. Giving me a long once over and liking what he sees. He runs his blue and white tail across my flank as he circles. Brushing my side. Circling. Caressing my neck. My face. Circling. Swimming around me like shark.

He is an earth pony. Tells me to call him Crest. Whispers his name in my ear and promises the two of us will have a good time together. I feel his breath tickle my ear as he whispers. Then I feel his tongue lap at my earlobe, and I have to stifle the urge to bite it and tear the disgusting, slithering thing out his head.

"Sorry. I don't much care for stallions," I say plainly. Controlling myself. Not wanting to make trouble with the Daughters on their turf.

"Oh pooh," he pouts. He has a silly face to match his silly clothing and demeanor. "Knew she was a dyke." The three of them giggle amongst themselves like excited school fillies. Hard to believe these three clowns belong to the notorious Daughters of Discord.

"Sisters, sisters, honestly now," says Crest. His voice is shrill and girly, but unlike the other two, he doesn't seem to be forcing it. His accent is Trottingham, I think. "We're here for business, not pleasure."

Junebug nods. Disappears through the predator's dark mouth, then reappears a moment later with a clear plastic bag full of blue-green powder. One of the stallions takes the bag in his mouth. Junebug tells them that there are more bags waiting for them in the back. Two of them trot off to retrieve them. Crest stays, his silly face suddenly hardening. Becoming stoic. Serious. He traces the curve of Junebug's cheek with his front hoof. Cups her chin.

"Sorry about this, lovely," he says in a low throaty voice.

He traces the curve of her cheek. Cups her chin. Then he slaps her. Hard. The force of it turns her head. Wobbles her. She touches her cheek where Crest's hoof landed. Without thinking, I take a fighting stance. Junebug touches her cheek. Looks down at the floor. The stallion sighs. Shakes his head.

"Afraid it's gonna be a bad one this time. Big Sis don’t much like you being chummy with the locals. She wants us to send a message, you know how it goes."

Junebug looks down at the floor. Nods. The stallion reaches into the saddle bag on his hip. Pulls out pipe wrench. Mumbles the words "I'm so sorry," through a mouthful of steel.

Sorry is right. Sorry is definitely the right word.

I step between him and Junebug just as the other two Daughters are coming back in, their mouths full of plastic bags. The bags full of blue-green powder.

I step between him and Junebug. "Drop it and walk away," I tell him, my voice low. Threatening. He shoots me a confused look. The unicorn spits the plastic bag from his mouth.

"The buck you think you're talking to like that, lovely? Don't you know who we are?" he says. He spits out the bag. The other one does the same. Crest inches closer.

"You sure you want to get your pretty face mashed up for some drug peddlin' whore?" one of them taunts. Before I make my move, I feel Junebug's hoof on my shoulder.

"It's okay," she says calmly, her stutter gone, if only for the moment. "This is how it is. It's just their way of keeping up appearances. Feeling in control. It's okay. It's never too bad." Her perfect lips form a perfect smile. A perfect lie. She doesn't stutter once.

"Well then beat me too," I say, surprising myself. "If it really isn't that bad, then beat me too. I don't want Junebug to go through it alone."

The stallions hesitate for a second. A few short, sideways glances skirt across the room as the three of them discuss the matter without speaking. Communicating with their expressions. Their body language.

They hesitate for a second, and during that second Junebug is smiling at me, and I am smiling back—and then the wrench is bouncing off my skull, and some mischievous god is giving the room a playful buck, making it twirl fast and frantic like a graceless dancer. My ears are ringing. The floor jumps up and plants a rough kiss on my temple.

The wrench bounces. The room twirls. Dances. The floor jumps, and then flat, living hailstones begin raining down on my head and stomach and limbs, and one of them is longer than the others and colder and heavier and crueler.

The hailstones rain down on me—living, cold and heavy—before bouncing up toward the ceiling and raining down again. The pain is dizzying. Maddening. Intoxicating. The last sane part of my mind tells me that the hailstones are hooves, and that the longer one is a wrench, and that the wrench is in Crest's mouth. The last sane part, the last little cog in my head that's still working tells me that it's just hooves and a wrench, and it tells me to protect myself. To shield my face. My head. But the last sane part is small, and the other parts driven mad by a life of violence, of breaking and breaking and breaking—those parts of me are bulbous. Swollen. Pregnant with sweet, sweet nightmares, and they've been gorging on the mean-faced, wide-grinning suffering of others for so long they can't tell which way is up anymore. They can't tell what's real and what isn't, and they couldn't care less if they tried. It's all the same to them. The dark parts. The swollen mad parts. It's all the same to them. Pain. Pleasure. Rape. Sex. A blow to the temple or peck on the cheek. Doesn't matter. It's all the same to them.

I look for Junebug through the storm of hailstones and falling metal and stomping hooves, and when I find her I find her still smiling, her perfect lips puffy and painted red. She's lying on her back or on her stomach or on her side. Or maybe she's rolling around like a foal playing in the snow—I'm so disoriented I can't tell—but she's there, on the floor, lying still or rolling around, and her eyes find me she blushes.

Our eyes meet. Gazes lock. She blushes. Her cheeks are a warm red, and then a blistering hot red, and then a blood red. Dark and sloppy and wild with a strange sort of arousal. She smiles at me. Or maybe she frowns. I'm so disoriented, so hurt and so madly in love I can't tell. A surprisingly timid front hoof kicks her face, and her nose bursts, wetting her cheeks. Deepening her blush. Making her pretty face that much prettier. She moans. Whines. I watch her, waiting with my breath in my throat for the hoof kick her again. Wanting it. Needing her moan and her whine. Lusting for her destruction. Waiting on baited breath for the hailstones to fall on her, and to black her pretty green eyes, and bruise her pretty cheeks, and cut her pretty face. To break her and take her all to pieces.

The hoof kicks her again. She moans. I squeal. Something digs into my midsection and a wonderfully soothing agony flounders through my gut in great lapping waves.

The hoof kicks Junebug. Her lips burst and she turns, puckering at me and blowing a kiss made of dripping rubies. A gritty, bloody kiss that drifts across the room like the wet, matted feather of a bird brought down by a hunting rifle. It finds my cheek and settles there. I try to return the kiss, but Junebug turns away as another blow scrapes across her mouth. She turns away. Rolls onto her side and laughs out loud.

"Come on! H-h-harder!" she shouts between great whooping hysterical laughs. Something blunt crashes into my side. A hailstone drops onto the crown of my head. Blood rolls down my face and into my eyes, painting the room a murky red.

"Is that all you got!" I shout, liking the way I sound when I shout it. I shout the way a vault door would if vault doors could speak. Resolute. Unbreakable. "Harder, you bunch of candy-ass faggot bastards!"

A hoof lands on my neck that makes me choke. I squint against the blood flowing into my eyes and see the wrench sink into Junebug's soft underbelly. She sputters. Rolls. Clutches her stomach. I can't tell if the tears in her eyes are from the beating or the feverish, hysterical laughter.

"Is that y-y-your best, faggots," she jeers right before another hoof finds her smiling mouth. The blow rocks her. She turns over slowly. Spits blood. A tooth.

And then suddenly the blows grow in mass and weight and volume. The ceiling opens up like a fresh wound and the hailstones come down like an avalanche. The blows stop stinging and start really hurting. The mean-faced mocking pain begins dancing his little jig. Having his fun. Having his way with me.

He has his way with me. And me—I'm a cheap whore and the pain's a big hard throbbing cock and I want him in my ass, and in my mouth, and between my thighs. I want him anywhere he'll fit and everywhere else he won't. I'm a cheap whore, and he's got me screaming his name, and moaning, and begging him to punish me.

And Junebug—Junebug's lying right there beside me, face down and ass up, and she's been bad, and the pain has enough cock for the both of us. He rides us long, and he rides us hard, and when he finishes, he finishes inside of us; between our thighs, and in our asses, and in our mouths, and all over our faces.

It's amazing. Painful and sexy and loving and hateful, and just bucking amazing. Junebug and I lose ourselves. It's amazing. I love it. The freedom of being taken. Not fighting. Bending over and for once in my life just letting it happen. Not fighting. Just letting all the pain and the ugly shit in, and letting it have its way with me. It's amazing. I feel amazing. Free and unbreakable and alive.

I'm alive! Ha, ha, Celestia damnit, I'm alive!

Eventually the Daughters leave. Leave me and Junebug lying in shallow pool of our own blood. Giggling like idiots. Intoxicated. Drunk on our own suffering. On sheer hateful craziness of it all.


I was born and earth pony, and we earth ponies are built tougher than unicorns or pegasi. Our bones are stronger, and our hides are thicker, and our tolerance for pain is much, much higher. We heal faster too. Might not seem like much compared to magic or flight, but when you get your ass kicked as often as I do, you learn quick that a strong back is worth more than cheap parlor tricks seven days out of the week. I've snapped unicorns like they were twigs. They're such fragile things. If I had been born a unicorn I might never walk straight again after what happened last night, but thankfully I was born an earth pony. I come away from the beating with some nasty bruises and a right eye so swollen I can hardly see out of it and a very sore upper body, but nothing I haven't shaken off before. Not too bad. Fun, even. Most fun I've had in awhile.

Hard to believe this is only the third time I've woken up beside Junebug on the dusty floor of her dusty little shack all the way at the edge of Manehattan. I wake up, and my whole body aches, and Junebug is still sleeping soundly beside me, and Temporal is still sleeping soundly on the couch. Idly, I glance over at her and wonder if she'll ever wake up. Junebug told me that she was able to stabilize the poor unicorn, and that she's been out of any real danger for days. But looking at her now, I just don't know. Looks like she could just go on lying on Junebug's couch forever.

I look down at Junebug and for the first time since I arrived it occurs to me that I could just stay. I could just hide out at the edge of Manehattan with Junebug for the rest of my life. I could stay. I look down at Junebug; then around the little shack, wondering if something as immense as time can touch a place as small as this one. Wondering if the passing years or the shifting seasons even know we're here. This place seems to hide from the hours. It's been three days and so much has happened…but I don't know. I can't shake the feeling that I'm standing still. That the world beyond Manehattan's edge is still spinning towards oblivion, and the city and her criminals are still chasing and fleeing but inside of Junebug's shanty, down here on the floor beside the couch and under this blanket none of that seems to matter. Everything is still. Unbreakable.

…Huh? In the past I've always needed speed and distance to get away from all the messiness of the city. Of life. I've always needed my heart in my throat and my hooves shaking to get away before. But up here, perched on a hilltop at the edge of the world, I escape into quiet stillness. No speed. No distance. No need for such things. I look down at Junebug and allow myself to believe it could just go on forever.

When Junebug wakes up, she wakes up in much worse shape than me, though she tries not to let on. She doesn't complain. We spend the whole morning joking about it. Laughing. Flirting. After last night we can't keep our eyes off of each other. Our hooves either. We shower together. The plumbing in Junebug's shanty is awe-inspiringly horrible. The water pressure is shit and the stuff slopping lazily out of the rusty shower-head is cold enough to drink. We shower together. Wash each other's backs. Wash the caked blood out each other’s coats and manes. Towel each other off. I can't keep my eyes off her. Hooves either. I give her flank a playful smack as she limps out of the bathroom. She blushes. Smiles. Her perfect lips are busted. Swollen. Makes me want them even more.

After our shower Junebug does her best to put the both of us back together. She cooks up a healing potion in her vat of zebra myth and lore. Smoke leaps from the pot as she goes to work, filling the tiny room with strange smells. When she's finished she spoons out the potion and begins rubbing it on my face, over my cuts and bruises. It stings. She tells me not to flinch. Tells me the tonic will help close the cuts and reduce the swelling and ease the pain. Then she checks for any broken bones. Fractures. I come away with a few cracked ribs. She comes away with a lot more. She bandages me, then shows me how it's done so I can do the same for her. I take my time, liking the feel of it: Rubbing the lotion like tonic into her coat. Wrapping her midsection in bandages. I take my time, enjoying it. Liking the feel of it. The feel of healing. Of fixing rather than breaking.

Our flirting gets worse during breakfast. We sit on the floor in front of her medicine shelf, feeding each other strawberries from a large bowl. I ask her what all the herbs do and what's in all the bottles and jars and things. Junebug tries to explain but the medical jargon goes over my head. I keep asking her questions though, if only so I can watch her mouth move and listen to her voice maneuver around her words. Clumsily. Passionately.

"And this one. What's this called," I say reaching for a potted plant, an elegant blue flower on one of the lower shelves only a little ways from where we're sitting.

"D-d-d-d-d-don't!" Junebug shouts, startling me. She spits the half eaten strawberry in her mouth back into the bowl and reaches forward, swatting my hoof away. "D-don't touch t-that one. That's a Poison J-j-joke. It's dangerous."

Junebug tells me all about the Poison Joke. Where it grows. What it does. I don't hear a word of it. I watch her mouth and I listen closely to the texture of her voice. I pick up the strawberry she failed to finish and feed it to her. Her lips part, then brush against my hoof as her mouth closes around the piece of fruit.

"Your voice is beautiful," I say without thinking. "Your stutter is sexy. Your lips are perfect."

Junebug squeals my name. She blushes. I must have her flustered because my name comes out of her mouth several syllables longer than it is. I love the sound of it: my name stretched long as it fumbles clumsily out of her mouth.

I press my forehead against Junebug's. "Say it again," I whisper.

"R-r-r-r-r-r—Rose…" she says slowly. I listen to my name glide out from between her lips and float up toward the ceiling. Airy. Weightless.

The door slides open with a taunting, metallic scrape just as I'm about to kiss her. Take her right there on the floor. Dee blows in like a quiet storm. Me and Junebug turn away from each other hurriedly. I turn away from Dee too, unable to face her accusing glare.

"How's our patient doing?" Dee asks, trotting over to the still sleeping Temporal. "Wow, she's still out huh?" A guilty look comes over her face.

"Hey Junebug, don't you have to…ya know…run out today and get that one herb or something," Dee says, trying and falling in her attempt to sound nonchalant. Junebug stares at her, not understanding what Dee means. She tilts her head. "That herb. The one we talked about. The one you needed to go out and buy today. Now."

"R-right," says Junebug, playing along now. She gets up. Leaves. I watch her tail drag across the floor as she goes, counting the ripples she leaves in her wake. Feeling them.

"What do you want, Dee?" I ask, a surge of anger bubbling in my chest.

"Really, Rose? Really," Dee begins. "You really think this is okay? I mean, I knew you where selfish piece of shit, but this is just—I mean this is a new low even for you."

"You're hardly one to lecture somepony on selfishness," I say. I stand up straight. Dee trots up to me and stands so close I can feel her breath on my muzzle.

"You might think it's cute, jumping off rooftops and 'fighting crime' or whatever stupid bullshit you've convinced yourself that you're out here doing. And you might think it's cute leaving Redheart to slum it with that old fart Storm Chaser—who is a disgusting buck, by the way—while you're out in the streets taking advantage of lonely widows. And you might think it's cute to do that," she fumes, pointing at the still unconscious Temporal lying on Junebug's bed, "to ponies. But it's not cute, Rose. It's not cute at all."

"Make your point, Dee," I growl, staring into her judging eyes and wanting to tear them out of her head.

"It stops now, Rose. I know you hate yourself and everypony else, but Redheart…" Dee sighs, "...Redheart loves you. I don't know why, and I think she's crazy for it, but she loves you. She's my friend, and if you think I'm just going to stand here and let you hurt my friend, well then you've got—what? What the buck is so funny?" She stops, realizing that I've started chuckling at her. "You sick bucking sack of shit, what the hay are you laughing at?" Dee stomps her hoof. Glares. I keep chuckling.

"Come on, Dee," I say, shaking my head. Then all of the humor drops out of my voice. I go deadpan. Monotone. "What are you going to do to me?"

Dee doesn't back off. Doesn't flinch.

"I'm not afraid of you. I know what you are. Redheart told me all about it," she says, zapping me with that electric blue glare. "About how you let your friends die. How you did nothing, just hid and watched some sick bastard have her way with them. I'm not like you, Rose. I'm not afraid to fight for the ponies I love. You're nothing but a chicken-shit bully. A coward."

The word 'coward' comes out slow. Digs into me like a knife.


I feel my hooves start to tremble for the first time in a long while. Not with fear. With rage. Hot and raw and violent.

Coward… Let them die… Hid…

I see red. I grab Dee by the collar of her jacket. Slam her into the medicine shelf. Pill bottles burst against the ground. Strange liquids spill. A harsh cacophony of odors rise up from the mess on the floor.

I grab her jacket collar. Push her into the shelf. Pin her.

"Take it back!" I roar. Dee smiles at me. Laughs in my face.

"I bet you liked it too, huh? Bet you were nice and cozy in your little hiding place getting yourself off the whole time."

"Shut up! You shut your bucking mouth right bucking now, Dee!"

"The one with the pretty green eyes—what was her name?—Daisy, I think. She was cute. I bet you liked watching that noose slip around her neck."

I feel the air leave Dee's body and splash against my face as I slam her into the shelves.

"I've had just about enough of your shit," I tell her. She squirms in my grip but I keep her up on her hind legs, pinning her back uncomfortably against the shelves. "You get one more chance. Take back what you said, or so help me, I will…"

"You'll do what exactly? You gonna hit me? Hurt me?" Dee jeers. Her face is the picture of triumph. "Go ahead, Rose. It's the only thing you know how to do anyway. Only thing your good for."

"Take it back," I say, wanting to hurt her.

"Hit me."

"Take it back, Dee."

"Hit me. Come on. Do it. Do it!"

"I said, take it back."

"And I said hit me! Hit me, Rose! Hit me—"

Dee freezes. Goes stiff as a board and pale as a ghost as my front hoof shoots by her head and crashes into the wall, missing her face by hopes and prayers and dreams and thinner, frailer things than even those. Dee freezes. There are tears in her eyes. In mine as well.

"I'm not a coward," I say. Needing the words to be true. Needing them to be real enough to touch, and hard enough to lean against, and sure enough to stand on. "I'm not a coward…I'm not…" I say again, wishing I was stronger. Wishing I didn't need to lean on repetition to cement my shallow claims.

I let Dee go. She sniffs. Wipes her face with a jacket sleeve. Takes a moment to regain her composer.

"She loves you, you idiot," Dee says after a long pause. "Prove to her what you just proved to me. Show her that you're not empty. That you know how to do more than just break things," she says. Her intense electric blue eyes bore into me and I see something in them that is almost sympathy, but not quite. "She loves you. Don't screw it up."

It's hard for Dee to say anything kind to me. I can hear it in her voice. It's hard. She's afraid of me. She hates me. I hear it in her voice.

"Thank you, Dee," I say, sounding hurt when I say it. Dee doesn't say anything in return. She steps over the spilled medicine and then she's gone. When she leaves this time, I get the feeling that it's for good.


It's late when Junebug and I finally finish cleaning all of her wasted drugs and herbs and medicines up off the ground. Junebug forgives me too easily. I want her to be upset with me. To shout at me the way Dee did. Reprimand me. Instead she just smiles her perfect smile, and says that's it fine. Insists that it was an accident. That it's okay so long as I didn't mean to.

"I w-w-wanted to thank you f-for what you did, R-Rose," says Junebug timidly. She's standing up on her hind legs and looking down at the head of the broom in her hooves. Her face morose. Tired.

"Thank me for what?" I ask as I absentmindedly paw at the collar around my neck.

"For w-w-what you did when the Daughters c-c-came. You m-made it easier f-f-for me. Thank you."

"No problem…" I answer, remembering the punch-drunken fiasco and smiling. "What was that stuff in the bags you gave them? I've never seen any drug like that before?" At this, Junebug brightens and I spy something mischievous stirring behind her eyes. Junebug knows drugs, and though she doesn't show it often, she's very proud of her work.

With new energy in her limbs she wanders off into her bedroom then wanders back with a bag of the blue-green powder.

It's called Shard, she tells me. She's excited when she tells me, and she has trouble with her "S" sounds. The sentence is only three words, but it nearly strangles her.

It's called Shard. A few gemstones ground into a fine powder and then soaked in a powerful potion she learned from a mystic in Zebrica. The potion, she tells me, is basically a poison. It slows brain functions. Heart rate. Dulls the senses. Causes intense migraines and in some cases, lucid nightmarish hallucinations. It does just about every bad thing you do to a body other than kill it.

"And ponies take this willingly?" I ask. Junebug chuckles.

"They d-do once I a-a-add the s-sss-s-sss-sssss—secret ingredient," she says, gesturing toward the Poison Joke plant, its ceramic pot still in once piece. "That f-f-flower produces nectar that reverses the p-p-potions effects. It plays a little j-j-joke on the poison. Turns it into an amazing high."

"Did you come up with that yourself?" I ask, impressed. She beams.

"My h-h-husband helped," she says modestly. "W-we tried to use it as a p-p-panacea while we were still in Z-z-zebrica. Thought we c-c-could cure most any d-disease with the stuff. Turns out the acidic p-p-properties of the p-p-poison dissolve too much of the n-n-nectar to cause any permanent effects. Guess the j-joke was on us," she laughs weakly.

"That's too bad," I say, placing a hoof on her shoulder. Her expression dims. She looks down, suddenly unable to meet my gaze.

"M-my husband was v-v-very upset. He thought our m-m-miracle drug could c-c-cure the one thing he always hated about me," she says.

"Your stutter…" I almost whisper. "He wanted to cure your stutter." Junebug looks down. I touch her face. Trace the curve of her cheek. Cup her chin. "Your stutter is a part of you. It's beautiful. You're beautiful."

Her lips work noiselessly for moment. Stuttering and stammering and not making a sound.

"…Do you want to try some?" she finally manages to say.

"I'm not really one for drugs use," I admit, a bit taken aback by her forwardness. "I don't even drink."

"No wonder you're so serious," she laughs, opening the bag. "Trust me, it'll be amazing," she says. It's the most I've ever heard her say without stuttering.

She opens the bag. Sprinkles the blue-green powder onto the coffee table. Shapes the powder into two neat lines with the edge of a coin. Covers one nostril with her front hoof. Leans forward. Shuts her eyes.

"Wait," I practically shout. "Is it really safe to ingest crushed gemstones?"

Junebug looks at me like I'm an idiot. Laughs. "Of c-c-course not," she says. Then she drags her face across the flat surface and the blue-green trail disappears into her nostril. A second later she falls back on her haunches, blinking furiously.

"Junebug? Junebug, are you okay?" I grab her shoulders and shake her. Her head moves side to side like it's on a swivel. "Junebug?" My voice grows frantic. She answers by pointing toward the nightstand. To where my own line of Shard is waiting for me.

I don't think about it, I just do it. I cover one nostril, and I close my eyes, and the noose slips easily around Daisy's neck, and I drag my face across the flat surface, sucking the line of blue-green powder into my nose with one powerful sniff. I sit down beside Junebug. Unconsciously touch my nose. My whole face. At first I'm not sure if it's working. At first I'm sitting beside Junebug, and she's looking at me, smiling stupidly, her eyes dull, and I'm wondering if maybe I did something wrong.

And then I hear light.

I hear light, and the light is coming from inside my head, shooting out through the holes in my face. Through my eyes and mouth and ears and nose.

I hear light, and then I hear the orange-cream color in Junebug's mane, and it's singing or playing some string instrument, and the music tastes like cotton candy, sweet and fluffy and light in my mouth. Dancing on my tongue. I blink and make out an intricate pattern carved into the inside of my eyelids. I try to close my eyes, try to read the pattern more closely but my eyelids keep flying back open. I'm blinking. Blinking furiously and I can't stop.

And then it hits me. Suddenly all my cuts and bruises and scrapes turn into little pools of fresh water and evaporate. I feel electric. I feel like I'm on fire, and the fire is ice cold, and I'm floating away from the ground. Away from the Junebug's little shack. Away from the city. From every trouble the world has to offer. From it all. I float up, up and away. I fly. Without hook or wire or wings or magic, I fly. I was born and earth pony but tonight I fly like a pegasus.

"I'm never coming down," I hear somepony say with my voice. "I'm never ever coming down. Not for all the bleeding hearts in Equestria."

"Rose, you're talking nonsense," laughs somepony else. "It's your first time, though, so I guess that's expected." I squint in the direction I think the voice is coming from, and slowly the high starts to wane and things gradually begin making sense again.

I'm not floating. I'm lying on my back in the center of the room with my front and hind legs spread wide, staring up at Junebug's smiling face. Her perfect busted, swollen lips.

"How do you feel?" she asks, giggling.

"Like I'm dying a glorious death," I hear myself say, only vaguely aware of what I mean.

"You're still talking nonsense. Don't worry, it shouldn't last too much longer. Though, I kind of like you as a babbling twit. It's cute."

"Junebug!" I exclaim. "Your stutter. It's all gone! Did you lose it? Shit, we better find it!" I exclaim. I try to get up and help Junebug look for her missing stutter but the task is beyond me. I stay on my back, staring up at the ceiling and wondering what a disembodied stutter would even look like.

Junebug laughs. She lies down on the floor beside me.

"My stutter always goes away when I'm on Shard. How do I sound?"

"Like everypony else," I say, finally regaining my senses. I sit upright and look Junebug in the face. "I liked you better when you sounded like nopony else. When you sounded like Junebug." Junebug blushes. Then she turns away from me and stares at the ceiling. I do the same. There are stars twinkling inside her shack.

"My husband always liked the way I talked when I was on Shard…" she says, sounding far away. "It's on nights like these when I miss him most… Hey, you want to see something cool?" she asks, her new voice bursting with excitement. I nod. "Follow me," she squeals, taking me by the hoof and leading me through the backroom, and then through a back door that leads into another small shack, and then out onto the street. We run up the hillside, giggling like drunken lovers.

Junebug leads me up to the top of the hill at the edge of Shanty Alley. At the edge of Manehattan and the entire world.

"Ta-dah!" she exclaims, pointing out toward the city in a grandiose gesture.

I look out at Manehattan and can hardly believe what I'm seeing. She is beautiful. Her corners and rough edges are gone, replaced by sexy curves, and her hideous face is gorgeous, and her hot, haughty laugh is easy and genuine and full of love. Manehattan is beautiful. She's a young filly, not an old mule, and she is beautiful.

"Is this really the same city?" I wonder aloud.

"Cool huh? Me and my husband used to do a few lines and then find someplace really high up where we could see nearly all of the city." Junebug beams. I look out and see the Golden Bit Bridge, all aglow; a distant promise of safe passage to a better tomorrow, outlined by the dazzling city lights. Looking peaceful. Hopeful. Maybe someday I'll cross it, I think I to myself, feeling small and fragile standing on the hilltop beside Junebug. Maybe someday I'll cross it, and I'll ride all those trains, and I'll see Ponyville again. Somehow I know it's still out there, waiting to welcome me back.

Time stands still. I stand still. No speed. No distance. No chasing or fleeing or falling. Just quiet stillness. Real peace.

In the distance I hear the familiar sound of ambulance sirens and the thundering of hooves racing down poorly maintained Manehattan streets...or maybe I only imagine it.

"I knew him," I say looking Junebug square in the eyes. A puzzled expression comes over her. I don't know why I choose now to tell her. Maybe it's the drugs or maybe it's the otherworldly impossibility of gazing out at a beautiful Manehattan, but I choose now to tell her. I paw absentmindedly at the collar around my neck, and I tell her.

"I knew him. I tried to save him but couldn't," I say.

Junebug's voice comes out hollow. "You're talking nonsense again, Rose."

"No, really. I knew him. He was being chased by some thugs. I ran into him up on a rooftop downtown. I saved him then, but in the end the city took him. There was nothing I could do." I don't say his name. I don't need too. Junebug understands, though the hurt expression on her face tells me she wishes she didn't.

"Then you're…you really are the pony from the papers," Junebug gasps.

"The vigilante. Yeah, that's me."

"I thought you might be, but…wow. I mean…wow…"

"I'm so sorry, Junebug; I couldn't save him."

"It's alright," she says, tears rolling freely down her face now. "He was weak. The only pony he needed saving from was himself, and he was too weak for that."

Junebug presses her forehead against mine. "But you're not like him. You're strong, Rose. I love you." She says it plainly. Without her stutter the words seem less than real.

She leans forward, and she kisses me, and I let her. She opens her mouth and so do I, and I let her tongue slip past my teeth and find places to have its fun. She kisses me and I kiss her back. I lean into it. Into her. She kisses me and I kiss her back, and it's sloppy and sinful, and it's hot and wet, and she tastes like longing and loss and rhythm and old love songs and mistakes. Like a bitter drunken mishap in the back of a dimly lit bar made by a couple of lonely hearts.

She kisses me. I lean into it. Into her. Into those perfect busted, bruised lips. I lean into it. And then I lean away.

"I'm sorry. I can't," the words come out as whispers. I'm scared to give them volume. Scared to make them any realer than they already are. "I can't. There's somepony waiting for me back home." I lean away and I hear Junebug's heart break. It might just be the drugs, but I swear I hear it splinter and snap under the weight of few whispers.

"Yeah…yeah, okay. I understand," she says. Somehow without her stammer, Junebug seems frailer. Lighter. Like the wind could pick up and carry her away at any moment. "Okay. Let's get down from here, I'm freezing."

Back inside Junebug's shack the two of us do one more line. Junebug tells me that the Shard will help me sleep. She remembers the night I woke her with my wailing, and she tells me the drug will help me sleep.

We do one more line, then we lie down on the floor beside the couch and the still sleeping Temporal. We crawl underneath the blanket and drift off to sleep wrapped in each other's forelegs.

I close my eyes.

I close my eyes the noose slips easily from around Daisy's neck. It is the color of sand and the contrast it creates lying harmlessly on the floor at her hooves is muted. Her eyes are bursting with new life. She is standing upright on her hind legs, her forelegs outstretched, reaching for me. The noose is lying at her hooves, and her eyes are bursting with new life, and she is standing upright, unharmed, reaching for me—and we are so close that I see myself in her eyes, my visage glowing with unknowable joy. Free. Forever reflected in a pair of perfect spring green mirrors.

Lily shouts. She is so happy to see me, she shouts. Runs to me. Embraces me.

Daisy is alive.

Lily is alive.

Rose is alive.

We are alive, and we are together, and we are holding each other, and we are happy.


When I wake, I wake in tears. It's a cruel joke. I wake up on the floor of Junebug's shanty, and Daisy is still dead, and Lilly is still dead, and I am still alive. It's a cruel joke. Mean-faced. Mocking. Then I roll over and find Junebug lying beside me, and I realize I haven't even reached the punch line yet.

"No," I whisper to nopony but myself.

I roll over. Stand up straight. Stand up slowly.

I roll over. Stand up. Look down at Junebug. Her eyes are still open, and her nose is bleeding, and sitting on the floor a little ways away from her is a half empty bag of the blue-green powder. The coffee table is sprinkled with the stuff. Her eyes are still open. Her lips are parted in a smile. Her lips. Perfect and full and busted and frozen to her lifeless face.

"Why?" I wonder aloud. "Why?"

I allow myself to wonder but in my heart I know exactly why. Because in the end Junebug wasn't strong enough either. She held on longer than her late husband, but in the end she wasn't strong enough. In the end, one more heartbreak turned out to be one more than she could take. One more too many. I try to convince myself that this isn't my fault. That I didn't kill her. Didn't fill her body with poison. She did that, I tell myself. She did it to herself because she wasn't strong enough.

But that isn't true. I broke her heart. Broke her. I touched her, and I kissed her, and I loved her, and that was enough to do it. I touched her and everything I touch breaks. Goes to pieces in my hooves.

Her eyes are still open. Lips still parted in a smile. Her perfect, full lips. I shut her eyes for her, but I don't touch her lips. I leave them alone. Leave them as they are. It's how I want to remember them. Stuttering and stammering and smiling. It's how I want to remember them. How I want to remember her.

Goodbye, Junebug. I don't say it. I can't. I close her eyes. Start to leave. I don't know what else to do so I make for the door, skirting away like a water fly. Afraid to leave any ripples.

I start to leave. There's nothing left to do but leave. I slowed down. Thought I could escape into timeless stillness. Should've known better. Speed and distance have always been the only way. Should've known better.

I start to leave, but as I go a hollow sound catches my ear and a light flashes in the corner of my eye. I turn around. I am at the door, and it is sliding open, and a hollow sound is resonating and behind me a light is flashing. I turn around. Am turning around. Slowly. Hesitantly.

I turn around. Temporal is awake. She is standing beside the couch and her horn is glowing.

Next Chapter: Daughters Without a Father, Part 3 Estimated time remaining: 3 Hours, 2 Minutes
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Eyes Without a Face

Mature Rated Fiction

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