It was Monday morning, and Tabby was expected back. It had been five days since Thomas had last seen her, and he was looking forward to settling back into routine… unless he wanted to come out into the open with his feelings. Maybe he should talk to her, maybe he shouldn’t. But it felt like something should happen, either way. He just needed to find the right opening.
When Tabby slunk into the clinic around her usual time, Thomas noted that her face was pale with dark circles around her eyes. “You look terrible,” he said without a great deal of consideration.
“Thank you, and good morning to you, too,” Tabby replied with a frown, stashing her purse under the counter.
“Seriously, though.” Thomas scrutinized her face, wondering if it was travel fatigue or something else. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine,” Tabby said, halfheartedly picking up some folders from the counter. “Just waking up.”
“How was your vacation…” Thomas trailed off, his gaze landing on the ring gracing her foreleg. “That’s new,” he said, with a sinking sensation.
“Oh, uh, yeah…” Tabby looked down at the band as if it was going to bite.
“Tabby!” Strawberry bustled into the room from the front. “There’s a gorgeous bouquet of roses from Toby and–ooh!” she squealed upon seeing the ring. “Oh, my goodness! Did he propose?”
“Yes. Yes, he did,” Tabby said, a bit shortly.
“How exciting! I’m so happy for you!” Strawberry exclaimed, embracing her friend.
“Congratulations,” Thomas said, though he was certain that all was not well between the engaged couple. He thought Tabby looked very close to crying, and she wasn’t the type for sentimental tears.
* * *
Tabby rallied her spirits and got her head in the game of work, but kept her interactions with Thomas at a minimum. She felt her control on life crumbling. What could she tell Thomas–that she loved him, and–by the way–she was the reason he didn’t have magic? It was taboo, the worst thing one unicorn could do to another, and the guilt ate at her. The engagement to Toby couldn’t stand–she knew that–and that meant another difficult conversation she was putting off.
“Meadowlark just called. Her husband is on his way over with their pit bull who ate a My Little People doll and isn’t vomiting,” Strawberry said, popping her head through the doorway, near where Tabby was labeling test tubes at the bench.
“Well, that’s just great!” sighed Tabby. “As if we don’t have enough going on already with Lovelace’s chinchilla getting run over by a delivery cart, and two cats with blocked UTs, and little Lorna running a fever, all on top of the regularly scheduled exams!”
“It’s one of those days,” Strawberry agreed, looking a little haggard herself.
The drama did not let up all day. Emergency cases jammed up the already full schedule, and Tabby and Thomas found themselves doing critical surgeries until nearly nine o’ clock that night.
“Tabby, I told you that Biscuit’s IV bag needs to be changed,” Thomas said, rather accusingly, as their paths crossed in the hall.
“Yes, and I was kind of in the middle of something, like I told you!” Tabby snapped. “I’m just checking on the isolation patients and then–”
“Well, do it after that,” Thomas said irritably.
“That’s what I was going to do!” Tabby said, wanting very much to stomp her hoof on the ground at his impertinence.
“Fine!” said Thomas.
“Fine!” said Tabby.
It was a petty little argument, brought on by being tired and cranky at the end of what had been a very trying day. They stood in the hallway, stormy gazes locked.
* * *
Thomas knew it was really just low blood sugar talking, and this wasn’t even a fight, but he felt frustrated. Here she was, day after day, by his side, but he couldn’t touch her, couldn’t say how he felt, couldn’t be with her. It was absurd, keeping his distance, when he needed her like he needed air to breathe. Why was he tormenting himself, when she was here, and he was here, and the rest all seemed very inconsequential in that moment…
So Thomas reached out for her and kissed her.
And heaven help him, but instead of pushing him away and ringing a peal over his head for taking liberties, she returned the kiss in equal measure as she leaned into his embrace.
Thomas had a dim notion that there were reasons why they shouldn’t be doing this, but at the moment he couldn’t bring to mind what they were. They were together, and that’s where rational thought ended.
* * *
Toby quickened his pace as he approached the vet clinic, eager to see his fiance. His own schedule had held him up, and he intended to surprise Tabby at work as she had alluded to her own late work day. Finding the back door open–and noting that that was a security risk that he would take Thomas to task for–Toby nonetheless took advantage of the opening. He entered the building and peered down the hallway.
The distracted pair gave no indication of having heard him, and Toby found himself propelled forward with sure steps.
“Excuse me… am I interrupting?” Toby asked with deadly calm.
At his words, Tabby sprang back guiltily, whereas Thomas looked irritably smug.
“It was inevitable, I suppose,” Toby said with derision. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Maybe now that your curiosity is sated… Tabby, come with me,” he beckoned, holding out his hoof.
“No!” Tabby spoke, finding her voice. “Toby, I can’t–”
Toby laughed hollowly. “Do you really think you mean more to him than any of his other flirts?” he continued tauntingly. “He’s toying with you.”
“Stay out of this,” Thomas said in a warning tone.
“Stay out of this!” Toby repeated mockingly. “You forfeited that right when you kissed my fiancee.”
“Look,” said Tabby, in an attempt at calming the waters, though it was clear she had no idea what to say next.
“And anyway,” Toby continued, finding it impossible to stop his tirade now that it had begun, “do you think he would be carrying on with you if he knew what you took from him?”
“Toby, don’t–” she begged, holding out a hoof.
“I’m not surprised he has no qualms about dallying with an engaged mare,” Toby said with a sharp look at the other stallion, “but he does have his pride, and what you’ve done…”
“No!” Tabby gasped.
“I could destroy you both, you know,” Toby spat, “with a word in the right ear…”
“Toby, I’ll go with you,” Tabby said, desperately seizing at air, “just stop–”
“No, let him talk,” Thomas broke-in cautiously. “What are you getting at?”
“Don’t you see?” Toby smirked. “She’s the one that took your magic!”
“You promised!” Tabby shrieked, turning red with rage.
“It’s true, she was behind the whole tryptophan ring,” Toby stated with authority, perhaps regretting now that it had come to this, that he had broken his pledge to remain silent on that part of her life–but hadn’t she betrayed a pledge herself?
Thomas’ eyes flickered between Tabby and Toby. “Is it true?” he asked quietly, his true emotion impossible to read.
“I was going to tell you,” Tabby murmured, unable to meet his gaze.
“But not before you kissed me,” Thomas stated flatly.
“You’re the one that kissed me,” Tabby snapped.
“You kissed me back!”
“It doesn’t matter,” Toby said sharply. “Tabby, come with me. You’re done here.”
“You think I would go with you, now, after what you did?!” Tabby cried, rounding on him. “It was my secret, mine, that’s what you told me! To deal with on my terms!”
“And what exactly were those terms?” Thomas challenged. “I told you everything, everything, and you had every opportunity to fill in your part in the story!”
“I didn’t ask to be your confidante,” Tabby snapped, turning her attention back to Thomas.
“No, and I’m the fool for trusting you.”
Here they were, falling apart, and Toby felt a perverse pleasure in watching the show. There was no way Toby would lose her to this bounder–Thomas would never have her.
“As long as we’re being honest,” Tabby huffed, “the tryptophan scheme was an obvious ploy, only meant to catch the most foolish, most naive!”
“You took advantage of well-meaning, though immature–”
“You could still have your magic and be saving lives if you hadn’t been such a moron!” Tabby cut him off.
“You yourself could have gone through approved channels and gotten licensed instead of giving up after one bad semester!” Thomas declared. “You’ll never be more than anyone’s assistant!”
Tabby stood and stared, wide-eyed, all the fight draining out of her. That had been the killing blow. She turned and fled, Toby in pursuit.
* * *
“We can move on from this,” Toby begged, grabbing at Tabby’s foreleg as he caught up to her down the block. “Just leave the clinic, leave him behind. We can go anywhere.”
“No!” Tabby swung around to face him. “I don’t love you, and you don’t respect me!”
“I made a mistake!” Toby blustered. “You’re not blameless yourself! Can’t we call it even?
“I could have made him understand, on my terms, not dropped like a bombshell!” she expounded, gesticulating wildly.
“Oh, really; and then what, you join his retinue of flirts?” Toby snapped. “Where did you think it could go?”
Tabby felt her color rise. “I don’t know what would have happened,” she cried out, “but that’s not for you to decide! Now I don’t have the chance, because he hates me for lying to him!
“He would never love you like I do,” Toby reiterated, holding her by the shoulders.
“That’s the problem; I don’t love you!” Tabby shouted, jerking away and continuing to walk.
“You’re angry, you’re upset,” Toby continued trying to placate her, “and we shouldn’t make any rash pronouncements just now–”
“It’s exactly what needs to be done,” Tabby cut him off, “to put an end to this farce!”
“I just don’t understand,” Toby said, with the look of an injured puppy. “We’ve been happy, haven’t we?”
“I have let you tell me what’s good for me, and I’ve gone along with it,” Tabby snapped. “You are so obsessed with me I keep letting you talk your way back into my life. You won’t let me go.”
“I won’t marry you!” Tabby said emphatically, remembering that she still wore the ring and tearing it off.
“That isn’t what you said when I gave you this,” Toby said, unwilling to take it from her.
“Well, what did you expect?” Tabby said with exasperation. “You put me on a stage, and I was playing a part! It’s over!”
She tossed the ring down at Toby’s hooves, and stalked off into the night.
* * *
What a rollercoaster of emotions, Thomas mused, unfolding over just ten minutes.
He finished all the outstanding busy work, hardly aware of what he was doing, unable to stop playing the scene over in his mind.
He didn’t have the story, not really. He needed to get that from Tabby. She hadn’t woken up one day and decided to steal magic on a lark–there were other characters at play. Thomas had let himself be goaded into a fight, when what he needed was a level-headed conversation.
Tabby could have told him earlier, that was true; and that’s what had really hurt–the realization that he trusted her more than she trusted him, when he was coming to realize that she was his whole world.
Toby had gone after her–had he succeeded in talking her around? Were they together even now? But Thomas couldn’t sit and do nothing. Conscientiously locking the door behind him, he headed in the direction of Tabby’s house.
* * *
Tabby was packing her bags. She had to leave. There was nothing here for her. Her bad decisions had seen to that. She wildly tossed items in a suitcase, then tossed herself down on the bed and indulged in a fit of tears.
The doorbell rang, and she immediately clammed up, her heart racing. Whoever it was, no good could come of a visit.
Next there was insistent knocking, and a muffled call of her name. It was Thomas’ voice, and her heart leapt. Why had he come here? To berate her more? He wouldn’t be outright cruel, though–would he? Did he want to hear her story before cutting her out of his life?
Tabby walked cautiously to the door and, bracing herself, opened it a crack. “Hi,” she managed huskily, her voice affected by crying.
“I think we should talk,” Thomas said. “If you don’t have anything else going on.”
Tabby nodded, grimly accepting her fate; she had to relive everything, even as it felt that all the life had drained out of her. It was the least she could do. She opened the door further and mutely stood there as he entered the house.
“Can you tell me what happened in New Pony?” Thomas asked softly as they settled into seats in the living room.
“I had already pieced together the circumstances of you losing your magic, you know,” Tabby mused, staring off into space. “I’ve known for months. You gave me the perfect opening, but I was too cowardly to take it.” She cleared her throat. “Anyway, it was after I started work in the molecular biology lab,” she admitted. “One of the researchers, he, uh, recruited me.”
“What did he do?” Thomas asked, reading between the lines.
“It’s stupid,” Tabby sighed. “He fed me some sob story about lack of funding, and I swiped supplies for him. That’s how it started, anyway.”
“He was abusing his position of power,” Thomas said with a frown.
To his credit, Thomas was trying to downplay the seriousness of her involvement, but that wasn’t fair. “Oh, I knew what I was doing and it was of my own free will; don’t make me out to be a victim,” Tabby said bitterly. “I wasn’t adjusting well to New Pony academic standards, and I believed we were fellow misfits being misused by the system. The tryp scheme felt like getting payback.” She shrugged. “There were no noble ideals at play. I started making the potions for him, and passed them off to another student who worked for him; she was responsible for distribution.”
“He was using both of you to do his dirty work,” Thomas said quietly.
“Toby came across me at my workbench, and figured things out. We started hanging out. He wanted me to get out of it, go to the police, but I… I wouldn’t. At the end of semester,” Tabby continued, “Dr. Gordon told me to destroy everything, that he was moving on. He disappeared, and I left the campus.”
“You haven’t heard from him since?”
“No, nothing.” Tabby shook her head. “I’ve lived with myself this long by telling myself it was only the washouts that fell for that scheme, and I was just getting them to drop out sooner. But you–you–could have been extraordinary.”
“It was my own folly that brought me to that point,” Thomas said. “If it hadn’t been you, he would have found another fall-pony, and things would have turned out just the same for me.”
“Aren’t you angry with me?” Tabby asked in a small voice.
“Listen…” Thomas took her hoof in his. “I may not have known you back then, and maybe you made some bad decisions–so did I–but I know who you are now, and that is who I fell in love with.”
Tabby quavered at the intensity of emotion she saw in his eyes. It was hard to mistake his intentions as he leaned closer.
“Wait, wait,” Tabby protested, sitting up straight. “Is this the treatment Athena and Moonglow and all the others get? Because if it doesn’t mean anything, I… I’d really rather you didn’t.”
“The only reason I gave them any consideration at all, I think,” Thomas said, turning her head to face him, “was to make it less apparent that I was pining for you.”
“Oh,” said Tabby, noting that she had forgotten to breathe.
“Since I came to Misty Hollow, I haven’t kissed anyone but you,” Thomas admitted. “Before that… well, I haven’t always been so circumspect, but I wanted the next time to be special. And it was.”
“It doesn’t have to be the only time,” Tabby said, a spark of spirit returning.
“Is Toby very much out of the picture now?” Thomas asked.
“Yes,” she whispered.
“I was wrong earlier,” Thomas said, drawing her closer. “You can do anything you want. You won’t be an assistant forever.”
“And I don’t think you’re a moron. Not really,” Tabby confessed. “A bit hard-headed, but not a moron.”
“I’m hard-headed!” Thomas echoed.
Eyes twinkling, she kissed him.