The days dragged on and on and on. It seemed like every last little thing burned—the sunlight, the silence that seemed to fall throughout the homestead wherever she stepped, the endless words she couldn’t share with Sofia now that she was asleep, the endless words Sofia hadn’t shared with her before going to bed, the few yet entirely too many words that Coyote had.
Moe needed a release, something that would blow the lid off this boiling energy and allow it to steam away into the air. But there was no music to let herself be carried away by. And she could almost feel Coyote’s eyes on her every time she began to steal away to the nearby lake for some privacy or every time she lay awake on her bedroll—could almost feel his smug sense of satisfaction at watching her feathers being ruffled. That thought alone was enough to stay her hand, to regard her own fingers with a burgeoning sense of repulsion.
So instead she washed clean dishes, chopped vegetables hours before she needed them for lunch and dinner, swept the floor in the kitchen, paced around circles about the homestead. This only made her sweatier, more miserable.
More than once Moe’s eyes flicked to the scratched-up, well-worn bottles that surrounded the walls of the stove. That would ease her restlessness for a little while—at least through the night—calm the demands being made of her by every last muscle. But just thinking of the liquid fire blazing down her throat and burning in her stomach, thinking of the sharp, bitter scent of Brendan’s alcohol sweat, set her gut roiling.
She needed to get away, she decided. Far away. But even that thought was almost as unbearable as this restlessness. She’d be utterly alone. Even if everyone had been avoiding her lately, they were still around, little noises of life echoing through the halls of the homestead. If that were gone, the loneliness would siphon her strength trickle by trickle until it finally snuffed her out entirely.
Wait. The thought held her knife, sparing the cucumber under her other hand. The fortress cities. With so many people around, there was bound to be music. If she could just find her way to one of the cities, maybe she could finally be free of this constant frustrating, infernal cycle of awful. All she needed was a little bit—one day or one night away. Then she could go back to living life as usual.
She just had to know where one was, and how to get there. Without the others noticing she was gone. And without attracting Titanspawn, of course.
The pegasi. She could take one of them.
Tlanextli. Sofia was asleep, so he hadn’t been taken out for a good ride lately anyway. Plus he was dark, which would help conceal her from any observers. Not to mention he was a fierce bastard who’d discourage even the most persistent Titanspawn.
For the first time in weeks, Moe found herself smiling.
Quickly she stifled it and looked around the kitchen, as if her smile would reveal her whole plan. No one was around, of course, not even the boys whose blitheness was her only sporadic company since the last time she’d smiled.
After the sun set (Lugh sure took his sweet time with that, the magnificent motherfucker), Moe climbed up to the aerie with a pocketful of sugar lumps. She scanned the area—four large, pegasus-shaped shadows present and accounted for, curled up on the ground. She furrowed her brow and scanned the night sky for anyone flying about in the midst of a nighttime joyride. The sky was still, the moon bright and the stars spilled all over like an overturned glass of milk.
Well, at least there was no one else around. Worse came to worst, she could ride Epona. Though she wasn’t as fierce as Tlanextli, the poor sweetheart was probably missing having company something awful.
Moe approached the sleeping pegasi at a half-crouch. Her steps navigated the aerie smoothly, quietly, not once faltering. It wasn’t long before she was among them. Not so much as an ear flicked.
Damn, she was good! She’d never really practiced being sneaky before. Despite having lived in the Titanspawn-infested wilderness for years, it wasn’t a much-needed skill for Moe.
Of course, as Moe examined the sleepers more closely, she found that Tlanextli wasn’t one of them.
Epona it was, then.
Carefully Moe drew closer. She kneeled beside the quietly breathing shadow and reached out to gently pet her nose and coax her to waking.
Suddenly, something pulled at the hair on the top of her head.
Moe flipped herself over. Her stifled yelp was already echoing across the landscape before she realized it had escaped her throat.
Towering over her was a tall, dark, horselike figure, the moonlight striping dark brown fur. Tlanextli.
“Gods, you asshole, you nearly launched me to the moon,” Moe hissed.
Something pressed against the back of her shoulder, sending her heart flying into her throat for the second time in as many moments. This time, though, Moe only hissed a breath in and flinched away, looking over her shoulder.
It had been Epona, nosing her inquisitively.
Tlanextli tossed his head back and whickered in unabashed mirth.
Moe sighed in relief and gently patted her. “I’m all right, baby.” She rose quickly and snatched Tlanextli’s ear between her thumb and forefinger. “If that’s how it’s going to be this evening then maybe I won’t share this sugar with you, huh?” To punctuate her point she released his ear to pull a lump out of her pocket and pop it in her mouth. “Mmm. Too bad. You think Epona would like one? She’s been nothing but a dear to me.” Moe offered the second lump to Epona, who gently pressed her nose into her hand, snatching it up with her soft lips and tickling breath.
Tlanextli’s ears turned forward and his nostrils flared. He dipped his snout towards Moe’s pocket, but she pulled away.
“Ah, ah, ah,” she whispered, shaking a smug finger at him. “Only if you play nice.”
He tossed his head, disgruntled, then reluctantly lowered it to Moe’s level. She pet his snout. He didn’t move but for a backwards twitch of an ear.
“There,” she murmured soothingly. “That wasn’t so hard now, was it?”
“All right, buddy,” she began, “you and me are going for a little joyride, okay? Just for the night. We only have to put up with each other for that long. Then you can go back to being the shameless bastard we all know and love.”
He flicked his ears at her in what looked like a curt affirmative. At that, Moe obligingly pulled out another lump of sugar.
“A token of my good will,” she said before holding it out to him. “No more funny business and there’ll be more where that came from.”
He briefly buried his nose in her palm, and then pulled away once the sugar was secure in his mouth. As Moe circled around him, his wings unfurled slowly and drew forward, revealing his back. He continued to stand there placidly (but for an impatient dig of his forehoof in the grass) even as Moe rested her hand on him. She slid up and easily kicked her leg over, then pressed her knees into her sides and leaned forward to hang onto his neck.
He was warm, his flesh solid but still yielding somewhat to her. It was nice, actually, being pressed so close to something alive in the dark. Now Moe could understand why Suze spent most of her free time with the pegasi. It certainly explained why she seemed to have no inclination to… well… act like a Greek.
“Okay, all set,” Moe said.
And then, suddenly, he bucked.
First, Moe’s chin smashed into the back of his neck, sending numbness singing up her jaw. Then, he was suddenly yanked free from her hands. As she desperately groped for a new hold, his front end dipped and his back end jumped.
And then Moe was flying, except without a pegasus.
And then she was yanked from the air, settling smoothly but suddenly into a pair of arms.
Blinking away her daze, still trying to process the last couple of instants, Moe found herself looking up into Sofia’s face.
“Moe! You alright?” she asked. Quickly she amended herself. “You need Susan?”
In the distance was a quiet, mirthful whickering.
Moe carefully opened her jaw and rolled it around a little. Still numb, but there was no grinding noise, unusual shifting, or flash of pain. She ran her tongue along her teeth. All present and accounted for. Nothing loose or chipped.
“No,” she said. “Don’t think she can heal injured dignity yet.” Her words were softened with a slight lisp to mind her jaw. Anger sizzled through her again. “That fuckin’ beast of yours is such a little shit.”
“Can’t really say he’s mine. He’s kind of his own beast.” Sofia carefully set her feet down, but kept an arm across her back, just in case. Moe waved her off. “What were you doing trying to ride him, anyway?”
If her tone had been anything other than curious, Moe would’ve told her to fuck off. But Sofia sounded… well, like her old self. And Moe couldn’t stand to have Sofia angry at her, especially not after these torturously lonely past couple of days.
She sighed forcefully, trying to blow out some steam before they could fuel her words.
“Sofia, I’m…” Moe paused. Exactly how was she supposed to explain the confused, chaotic boil of sheer feeling? “Everyone just… frustrates the shit outta me. Brendan’s piano is broken. I haven’t danced in over a week. It’s like my whole body is… is…” She huffed as the words weren’t forthcoming. “I don’t know if I’m pissed off or restless or horny or what. But it’s so bad I can’t sleep. And when I do, I have these dreams, they…” Her face heated up. What was there to be embarrassed about, anyway? She could share anything with Sofia… Oh, right, except that. “… and Coyote won’t leave me the fuck alone.” Anger sang so suddenly through her limbs that Moe just couldn’t stand still. She clenched her fists and stomped the ground. It helped, a little. She turned back to Sofia. “I just… I need to get away from all this.”
“So you were just going to… fly away, on your own, to some random place in the middle of nowhere?” Sofia asked, giving her a dubious look.
Moe sighed again, sharply. She wasn’t about to lie to Sofia, especially not after all that. “No. I was gonna fly to one of the cities and try to sneak in. Just for the night.”
Sofia stared at her, stunned.
“Look, I know it’s fucking moronic and immature, but I had to do something, all right?”
There was no response, not even a shift in expression.
That was it, the jig was up. Moe was going to be on Sofia’s watchlist for the next year or so before she had to go to sleep again.
Moe turned away, flicking her hand dismissively. “Pff. Forget it. I know it’s a pipe dream.”
“Let’s go,” Sofia said.
Moe paused, mid-step. She waited, to let her brain process Sofia’s words forwards and backwards. She couldn’t have heard what she just thought she heard.
She turned towards Sofia. “What?”
A daring smirk was gaining ground on her sister’s face. “Let’s go. You and me. Right now.”
For a moment, Moe was speechless. Then a slow smirk began to grow on her own face, to mirror Sofia’s.
“Well, since you’re twisting my arm about it…”