The quartet of acquaintances finally departed the side room. With the truce now in place, Zimmer sighed as he looked at his watch. It had taken the pair of string instrumentalists an hour to essentially tell one another to be quiet and play the notes. This job was too taxing for an elderly stallion. After his paycheck went through, he'd book a nice, permanent holiday to the beaches of Sri Llama.
Vinyl and Bonbon got comfortable in the seating area once again, while Lyra and Octavia reclaimed their space on the stage. Each found the sheet music they had scattered around in their standoff, and pored over it together. Octavia noted an interesting point in the notations scattered over the page, sparking her interest into the nature of the musical piece.
"Intriguing, he has your harp playing in lieu of a guitar. I imagine he couldn't find a guitarist to match your ability?"
"Nor a bassist to match yours. Hmm, I hope this is more than just a hashed together band, Octavia."
"I'm sure it will work. You have the notes in hoof?"
"But of course. I can argue with you, and learn at the same time."
Zimmer turned away from the quartet, before slugging the last of his drink, and taking up his place on the conductor's box.
"Alright, fillies and gentlecolts. Now that we have had time to gather ourselves, I'd like to begin. The songs will be light, ballroom melody music. Requested by Princess Celestia herself to fit the more casual nature of this year's plannings. If everypony is ready, I'd like to begin on my count."
He caught up his baton in his magic's aura, making it dance in front of the musicians. He counted from three, lightly tapping the stick against thin air as he counted.
Lyra began first with the pianist, creating a light, bright melody. Soon the saxophonist and Octavia were folded into the song, adding substance in the lower pitches. The entire ensemble rising and falling over another, yet remaining in unison.
Up above them in the seats, Bonbon found a little burst of joy in seeing Octavia and Lyra finally getting along.
"Our fillyfriends seem to be doing pretty well, don't you think, Vinyl?"
"Yeh, I'm amazed Octy closed her muzzle long enough to make up with Lyra. Hay, I was kinda hoping they'd fight, she's really fun to watch when she gets mad."
Bonbon smiled out towards the performance, watching her little, turquoise unicorn play. Eyes closed, hooves flowing across the strings. She could memorise sheet music in a heartbeat.
"Oh, don't worry. I tease Lyra all the time."
"Oh, it wouldn't be right of me to talk about it. But she has...eccentricities."
"Now I'm just more curious."
Bonbon pondered for a moment, before asking her next question.
"Okay. I ask something about Octavia, you ask something about Lyra."
"Won't Lyra be mad?"
"Yeh, that's the fun part. Only if she finds out, though."
"You remember when you said Octy would look cute in socks? She does."
"Ohh, you saucy, little pair! How'd that happen?"
"We got drunk on some of her booze a while ago. Woke up in bowties and socks, can't remember anything about the night itself, though."
Bonbon chuckled. The image of Octavia parading in a set of socks just blew away her dams, unleashing a flood of joyful giggling out of her mouth. It just seemed so fillyish for the uptight mare.
"Oh, we all have those kind of nights, Vinyl. I'm guessing you wanna know what Lyra's secret is?"
"Yes, go ahead."
"She...thinks that she can see...humans."
"Yeh. Celestia bless her, we're talking to therapists. But she says she keeps seeing them everywhere. Windows, mirrors, TVs, watching her. She's obsessed, but I've managed to help her calm down about it."
Vinyl turned back towards the performance, if only to avoid further awkward conversation. Down below, Zimmer waved the baton in a wide, sweeping arc, before stopping it dead, levelled straight at the ensemble. He quietly stowed it away as the quartet finished their piece, and cleared his throat.
"Well, despite some...altercations in the beginning, we are far ahead of schedule. You have all learned the piece faster than my already quite trying expectations, so you are commended for your ability there. In that case, being as we are ahead of schedule, I believe we can end this session here. We will practise this piece further next time, then continue on to learning the others. Good evening to you all."
Zimmer bowed as his musicians reciprocated the gesture, before stowing away his equipment and heading off to a small tavern at the Canterlot quayside he enjoyed frequenting. It served a special brand of barnbrew ale that was definitely what he needed after a strenuous day of work.
Octavia practically rammed her cello into her case, excitedly half-galloping up to Vinyl like an ecstatic schoolfilly during her lunch break. She soon noticed the complete and utter lack of composure, and reasserted herself, slightly.
"Well, Vinyl. Anywhere in particular you would like to head on to now?"
Vinyl scratched her head with a hoof, shifting awkwardly between her remaining ones on the floor.
"Umm, I've got...work, Octy. Sorry. I'll have to see ya tomorrow, alright? Really sorry, but y'know, it pays the bills."
"Oh, I could hardly expect you to skip work for me, of course! I...I just wondered if I could come."
"Oh, no. You really wouldn't like it, Octy, trust me."
"I...alright. I'll...see you tomorrow, then."
"I'm sorry, Octy, I just gotta get the wages, okay?"
Vinyl turned away, slowly strolling out the door before gaining momentum and departing. Octavia watched her go, at something of a loss for an explanation. To say she felt put out would be quite the understatement. Bonbon sauntered up to her side, leaning in while Lyra was still tidying away her instruments.
"You know, I never heard Vinyl mention any previous engagements."
Octavia whirled round to face Bonbon, eyes alighting on her concerned expression.
"What are you implying?"
"Well, she seemed to give you the cold shoulder there, Octavia. Might have other, more important things to attend to."
"Oh...you know these DJ types. They're quite...prolific."
Octavia watched as Bonbon trotted down to the stage to meet Lyra. Curiosity bettered politeness and trust, and she found herself cantering out the door after Vinyl. She quick-marched through the corridors of the performance hall, cello case bouncing off her rump as she exited the building proper. Having made good time, she spotted Vinyl trotting down the street, something of a hurried pace guiding the DJ's hoofsteps. Octavia was behind her now, switching from cover to cover like a character in an old style detective movie.
Vinyl happened to glance behind her, forcing Octavia to duck behind a cart, lightly trotting in time with it to keep its protective cover. She spied Vinyl turning down a street, and broke through to an alleyway to head her off, while remaining unseen. Vinyl's uncharacteristic secrecy worried Octavia. All forms of thoughts flowed through her mind. What if she wasn't the only pony Vinyl was with at the moment? Just another in a long line. She ducked behind a dustbin as the potential adulteress strolled past the alleyway's mouth, her pace now much more confident and forceful. Octavia peeked her head round the corner just in time to see her enter a large, grey building.
Octavia waited outside for a moment. The building offered no clues to its purpose. It seemed to be undergoing some sort of renovation, the signs had been taken down while the brickwork was being turned from grey to a more vibrant red. She swallowed her fears, bit the bullet, and opened the doorway.
A reception greeted her. Warm, cosy, but far from modern. It had the air of something that had run out of financial support in a time frame measured in decades. The receptionist greeted her warmly, as she approached.
"Good evening, ma'am, you appear to be lost. Is there any way I can help you?"
"I...I'm looking for a mare. White coat, blue mane, note cutie mark. Her name's-."
"Vinyl, yes. She's just in the hall there, I didn't know she'd gotten another musician to help her."
It was true, all true. Vinyl must have been in there with another pony, how could Octavia have been so foalish? Her heart vied for hope and trust while her mind cowed its words with callous ones of its own, claiming Octavia was a fool to ever trust such a pony.
The receptionist noticed the pause in Octavia's end of the conversation, circling the counter to stand next to her.
"I can show you, if you'd like. She's just in the hall over here."
"H-hall? Why is she in there?"
They reached the doorway before Octavia's question required a verbal answer. Inside the hall a basic set of brightly coloured lights pulsed and throbbed. Vinyl stood on a plain, wooden stage, doing that Celestia-awful act she called music. The floor was filled with some twenty or so ponies, colts and fillies, all very young.
"It's so kind of her to do this for us, the children look forward to it each week."
"I've heard she's quite the DJ. It gathers her a fair paycheck too, if her bragging is accurate."
"Oh, that must not be us, I'm afraid. We don't have the means to pay her, she volunteers...has done for years."
"Why is that? I never knew her to be the sort to do unpaid labour."
The receptionist cocked her head, confusion plastered across her face.
"Do you...do you not know where you are, ma'am?"
"No, the sign outside is gone."
"Ah, my apologies. Vinyl has been a long-time friend of ours since her own fillyhood. She even earned her mark here. It's best if I bring you to her and explain on the way."
* * * * * *
Vinyl flipped the record into the air, catching it into her magic and dissolving it into dust before the children arrayed in front of her. Oohs and ahhs were shared, followed by a light flurry of hooves clopping on the wooden dance floor.
"Well, that's that one done. Does anypony want more music?"
A chorus of young voices screamed to the affirmative.
"Aww, come on fillies and colts, these speakers are making me go deaf in here. C'mon, louder!"
The screams practically blew Vinyl's ears off. She shared a smile, nodding her head as she set another record on the turntable and started it off. A small cough from behind her caught in her the midst of her element, and she turned to see Octavia staring her in the eye.
"Why didn't you tell me, Vinyl? Why the secrecy?"
Vinyl could never really lie, and with the cat out of the bag, there seemed to be no point to. The music hid their conversation from the children, who continued to frolic in free happiness.
"Sorry, Octy. It's just...something I've always done. It's great to see the kids here smiling, even if it's not going to last. I know it doesn't get me paid, but, hey...I like doing it."
"When did all this start?"
"Years back, I had a brother, Bright Minim. We were pretty close, and one day...he got sick. So I used to come here, every day, to play to him, and make him feel better. Soon, I was playing for the whole group. After...after he went, I just kept on going. There's so many kids here who need a chance to smile, Octy. Sorry I kept it a secret from you."
Octavia smiled, wrapping her forelegs around Vinyl in a tender hug.
"You big, soppy, idiot. You're an idiot, did I ever let you know that, Vinyl?"
"Thanks, Octy. A hundred times a day."
"Why did you think I wouldn't approve...why did you hide this away?"
Vinyl slowly wrapped Octavia in her own embrace, the two shifting side to side in the lightest metronome.
"My dad didn't like the idea. He said that since Bright died, there was no need to go here. I was disgracing his memory and wasting time working for no money. I've just kept it as a side job alongside my normal one. I...I just...didn't want you to be disappointed in me, either."
Octavia planted a soft kiss on Vinyl's cheek, nuzzling her with a soft giggle.
"You know, you're so endearingly short-sighted, Vinyl. I'm not disappointed, I'm just amazed at the heart of gold you must have. And at the fact that you never asked me to help you out."
"You'd really want to? I...I don't wanna push you into it."
"Look. If it means a lot to you, it means just as much to me. You're making life enjoyable for these children."
"You know, Octy. I've been here ten years, and I've seen so many of them come and...go."
Octavia nuzzled Vinyl once more before breaking off the embrace, though she felt resistance from Vinyl before she eventually gave in.
"We can talk about it later, if you'd like? I think there's some colts and fillies watching us, though."
Vinyl turned around to see her little audience staring up at herself and Octavia, each one grinning ear to ear. She trotted to the edge of the stage, sitting down with her legs hanging over. After a moment, Octavia joined her, shyly greeting the poorly children. Up close she could see some with clumps of hair missing, others thin and weakly built. All of them, however, had an adoring stare as Vinyl laughed and joked with them.
All the time, Octavia sat and watched, before she joined Vinyl on the stage in a mock musical battle. The whole thing was incredulous and jovial, eliciting a lot in the way of joy from the children. Despite her role as the Arch-Cellist, though, whenever Octavia looked at Vinyl she felt the most powerful feeling she had ever experienced. A volatile combination of affection and pride for the other mare, who would devote her time to the joy of others, and shrug it off as if it were nothing.
Octavia marvelled at Vinyl Scratch's intricate little existence. Every day revealed another reason to spend a lifetime with her.