A Romantic Encore

by Spark of Inspiration

A Day of Surprises: Part 1

I would have thanked Celestia for not waking up with a headache if the rest of my body wasn't sore. As I stretched my legs out, a strange pinching sensation made itself known around the middle of my back, and I curled up into a ball again.

Somewhat futilely, I tried to snuggle under the top blanket on my bed. If I couldn't get up right away, I was going to try to sleep more.

About five minutes later, I flopped over toward the edge of the bed and sighed heavily. As tired as I was, it seemed like I couldn't sleep it off this morning. That probably wouldn't be good. Still, if I couldn't sleep, then I wasn't going to try to force myself into it.

I pushed myself out of bed and stumbled onto my legs. If I had to start the day, I was going to try to focus as much as I possibly could.

After a few more various stretches, I headed out into the hallway. My mood instantly picked up when I saw that the plain, white walls were still looking clean, not to mention the lack of holes. That had been an interesting experience that one time when Strato had one too many drinks in my apartment- especially learning how to fix the damage he'd caused.

By the time I was almost to the living room, I could hear snoring.

Oh please don't tell me this is happening...

When I peeked around the corner, my fears were confirmed. Strato had been laid out on my couch, and was still fast asleep. With his legs splayed out in the air, he almost looked like a puppy.

But I knew better. That 'puppy' had a mean buck, and a terrible attitude in the morning. At least, I thought he did. Everything had been appearing differently than I remembered it, so who knew what he would be like...

Either way, I wasn't going to take the risk. I'd rather be quiet than face off with him if he was going to react the same way he usually would.

.Then I realized how dry my mouth was. I turned back down the hallway and headed straight for the bathroom, if just to get some water without having to cross the living room.

I turned on the faucet and gulped down as much of the cold water as I could, straight from the tap. When I finished and looked up, something seemed off; I just couldn't put my hoof on it. My face just looked a little larger than usual today.

I must have still been too tired to think straight. Besides, it was still early in the morning anyway. The sunlight shining straight through the window proved that. It couldn't have been later than nine in the morning.

Why was I up this early? I had never been an early riser, and certainly not as of late back in the future. Not to mention I had just stayed up pretty late last night.

When I looked back in the mirror, I realized what looked strange. Something - or somepony - had cut the front of my mane short.

My usual wavy hair was now cut off at a flat line about an inch above my eyes. I wasn't really surprised, but at the same time, I hadn't expected it. But why hadn't I been expecting it?

The sound of smacking lips from outside the doorway made me tense up faster than anything else had. Strato could never have woken up that quietly in his life, or so I thought. When he trotted around the corner, he stared at me with his bleary, pink eyes. After a moment, he muttered, "Nope, must be the headache."

I backed away as he came into the bathroom, shut the light off, and checked himself in the mirror. From what I could see, he had managed to avoid any pranks that showed external signs. I couldn't help but be jealous.

"I'll just slip by here," I whispered as I passed him, trying not to touch him at all. I did remember how he reacted to being touched while he was recovering from a party, and it definitely wasn't pretty.

Somehow, I managed to make it to the door without bumping him at all. Though it was just my luck that he finally noticed I was real when I started walking away.

"Hey, Pizz... how much did I drink last night?", Strato groaned, slumping against the sink.

To be honest, I hadn't paid much attention to that. I think I'd been more focused on figuring out how to avoid drinking at all costs. Then again, he had probably been the main source of the punch disappearance.

"I honestly don't know," I answered, keeping my voice as low as possible. If he wasn't being a complete jerk, I wasn't going to push his limits.

"Ugh... it feels like I got hit by a train..." he moaned, bringing a hoof to his forehead. "Why didn't you stop me?"

"Well," I started, before I realized that I didn't really have an answer, "I... I guess I just wasn't paying attention."

What a great answer that was.

"Hey, do you mind if I use your bed? There's too much light out there."

"You sure you don't want something to eat first? That should help..."

Strato considered my answer for a few seconds, and shrugged. "I guess. If it can get rid of this thing..."

Well, it looked like I'd be adding cooking breakfast to my list of things to do this morning. While I was usually hungry this early, all I really needed was an oatmeal bar and I was good until lunch. If I remembered Strato's eating habits, I'd have to make a full three-course meal for him.

Still, I couldn't stand to see him feeling like this and not attempt to help. Even though it was his own fault, I could see my first hangover in his reaction. As much as I wanted to see Strato learn a lesson about having too much, he didn't deserve to suffer all day.

While he went back to my bedroom, I turned around and headed into the living room. Blinding sun hit my eyes as I entered, making me realize just how terrible it must have been for him to wake up out here. In fact, I almost ran into the wall on the other side because I couldn't see where I was going.

For being a small window, that thing let in a lot of light. I added a mental note not to sleep anywhere near it and made my way into the kitchen.

If I knew how Cirrus would organize things, the pans would be in the bottom shelf next to the sink. Then the glasses would be in the one above that. But then I needed to find the ingredients. I honestly had no clue where she'd have put them.

Still, as long as I had the right cookware, I wasn't in that much trouble.

I threw open the cupboard and found a somewhat large griddle. After setting that on the stovetop, I went back to the cupboard that should have had glasses in it.

Imagine my surprise when I found stacks of plates, and nothing else to be seen. For whatever reason, I couldn't think of where they could possibly be off the top of my head.

I vaulted my front legs up onto the counter and nudged the next cabinet open. When the glasses and various other flatware appeared, I gave a sigh of relief. Now I just had to find the rest of the ingredients.

With a little searching - and opening another seven cabinets - I managed to find the pancake mix. About two cabinets in, I'd found the eggs, and the milk had been in the icebox. I flipped each one onto the counter, except the eggs of course, and pulled out a bowl from the first cabinet.

In less than a minute, I had a thick batter ready. By the time I was done adding some extra sugar for taste, the griddle had heated up to the perfect temperature.

The batter hissed and bubbled as I poured it onto the hot surface. Despite the shaky grip I had holding the bowl in my mouth, I'd managed to pour a relatively professional looking pancake.

Now I only had to make it edible.

When the bubbles stopped surfacing, I grabbed a spatula from the second cupboard and flipped it. Though it was slightly burnt on the edges, the rest of it was almost a perfect golden-brown.

The next four or five passed like nothing, all coming out in a similar way, though I could have sworn one of them was only half-done. In no time, I had at least enough food to keep Strato from starving all day.

Still, if I knew him as well as I thought I did, he'd want more than that. In fact, he'd probably want nine or ten. And in addition to that, I actually felt like eating more than a snack this morning, so that was about another three.

I guess I should have mixed more batter than I did. While it had been almost to the top of the bowl, it was over half-empty.

Oh well- if I had to, I could just eat what I usually did. I'd grown used to it after a while.

I picked up the bowl again, and tried to pour another one onto the griddle before the batter had a chance to settle too much. Unfortunately, as I poured it, some caught the edge of my muzzle. Before I could set the bowl down, some of it dribbled inside my nose.

I had to resist dropping it right away, and managed to set it down safely before I finally sneezed.

Apparently I bumped the handle of the griddle when I did, because the smell of something burning quickly filled the air of the kitchen. I shifted it over, only to find that some of the batter I'd just poured had fallen onto the heated surface.

And I had been doing so well too...

But I couldn't let that hold me back. I just had to power through it and finish cooking. Strato was counting on me for a good breakfast, and I wasn't going to fail him.


"Hey, you alright?"

A gentle shake jerked me out of my sleep, and I slowly sat up in my chair. "Habba... I swear I wasn't asleep, Miss (Name)!"

Strato gave me a confused look and leaned back to his side of the table. "Um... whatever you say," he mumbled, averting his gaze away from me. He turned back to me and said, "Anyway, those pancakes were great."

I suppose I shouldn't have been, but I was shocked when I looked at the empty plate and glass on his side of the table. I could have sworn there had been a full stack of about eleven pancakes there before.

When I looked back up, I could see the slight bulge in his midsection. I couldn't even deny it anymore; Strato was a full-grown earth pony stallion or something. I'd never seen a pegasus pack that much away and still be able to move normally.

"You seriously ate all of them?"

He blushed a little, but answered, "Well, I was hungry! You can't blame me."

And I'd only gotten halfway through my first pancake. I could probably just have my normal breakfast anyway. "It's fine. How much longer do you think you'll need to stay?"

"I don't know. But I think Cirrus might have left you a note," Strato replied, gesturing to the counter by the icebox. "At least, I think it's for you..."

Was there actually a note there? From my spot at the table, I thought I could see a piece of paper laying on the counter. I must have missed it somehow.

Before I could even think of getting up, Strato had pushed his chair back, practically jumped over to where the note was, and grabbed it. By the time I'd started to get up, he'd already sat back down and was offering it to me.

I grabbed the note from his outstretched hoof and brought it over to my side of the table. It was definitely for me, if the first line was anything to go by.

Pizzicato, I know this probably seems really weird. If Strato isn't there when you read
this, just check to see if his medicine is still on the table. If it is, make sure you tell me.

If he's still there, please don't let him try to come back on his own. Knowing how he
wakes up after those parties, he'll probably be lost in a few minutes. I'll be there to help
him get home around noon.

And whatever you do, don't bring up anything that he did at Vinyl's. I don't think he wants
to remember what happened toward the end.

- Cirrus

The note only brought up more questions. Considering I'd been out of my mind for what seemed like the last third of the party, I actually wanted to know what had happened during that one scenario that I thought Strato had started. And what medicine was she talking about?

I was still contemplating everything when Strato pulled the note from my hooves. He read it over quickly and gave what I could only describe as a low growl. "Ugh, she always does this..." he hissed, crumpling the paper up and throwing it in the general direction of the wastebasket by the doorway.

"What?" I asked, trying to make my tone as nice as possible.

He must have either ignored me, or hadn't thought about how I said it, because his response came through clenched teeth. "She never trusts me to do anything. Every time, it's," he brought his hooves up to his face and tried to do a female impression, "do this for him. Help him remember this. He can't do anything on his own!"

The last bit came out in his usual, angry tone that I thought I'd have gotten earlier today. "It's impossible to live with her!"

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Sure, Cirrus wasn't the best friend a pony could have - or the nicest for that matter - but I never thought she'd have been that way to her own brother. What had I been missing this whole time?

"Look, I'm sure everything will be fine. Just-"

"No! I've even tried telling her I don't need help, but she never believes me."

If I didn't get him calm really soon, something bad was bound to happen. Things never went right when he was like this. But what could I say to him that would get his mind off the subject?

"How'd you like to play a game?"

Oh wow. Please tell me that didn't just come out of my mouth. Now he'd think I was just as bad as Cirrus, and I was actually here for him to yell at.

Strato gave a heavy sigh, and I tensed faster than I did earlier this morning. If he was going to injure me, I didn't want to be unprepared.

"Fine," he responded, relaxing onto the table. "What were you thinking about?"

So... he wasn't still angry? That was more surprising than anything that had happened at the party last night, and that was certainly saying something.

"I think I have something around here. You like Cloudgrid?"

His annoyed gaze told me that I might have hit a sensitive spot. "Was it something I said?"

He replied, "Is it just because I'm a pegasus?"

That was what he thought I meant? I must have worded it wrong or something. But I'd been silent for way too long; he'd assume I actually meant that.

"I just figured it was easy."

His tone switched from accusing to downright angry in seconds. "So now I can't handle hard games now?"

Come on, think! There has to be something you could say that can't be taken the wrong way. Just think already! Thought raced through my mind, blending into various sentences that I immediately threw out. If he got worse, he might physically hurt me. Then it hit me. "It's just easy to set-up and it doesn't take very long to play."

"Hmm..." Strato seemed to consider my answer for a moment, and when he spoke again, he was much more calm than before, and maybe even a bit uneasy. "I guess I kind of like it. It's not my favorite though."

"I do have some other games we could play, if you want to try those." If he didn't want to play that, I still had one or two more. Granted, most of them were easy, but Cloudgrid was the easiest to set up and play in a short amount of time.

"What else do you have?" Though I could see through his stoic expression, I could tell something was wrong. But there was no reason to push the envelope when I had avoided the painful outcome twice in one day.

"I think I have Block-In and Jango, but that's it."

His expression turned into one of perplexed wonder. "Why do you have Jango? I thought that was a unicorn game."

And yet another friend of mine had noticed that. Now he wouldn't stop bothering me until I told him the truth.

"That's a crazy story actually. I might tell you later." And it really was a long story. Of course, when I figured out that my mother was disappointed with the race I was, I never really got over it. I still didn't think she liked me, even after she put up with me for that many years.

"You sure about that?"

Random thoughts of one encounter I'd struggled through surfaced in my mind before I could suppress them. I had to get off this topic before anything else came to mind. Otherwise, I might reveal what I never wanted anybody else to know.

"Look, I really don't want to talk about it right now." For whatever reason, I'd added a sharp edge to my voice that I had never used before.

Strato shrunk away from me and backed toward the exit before assuring me, "Fine, let's just go get that game then. Where is it?"

If I put it in the closet I thought I did, he would never be able to find it. In fact, I wasn't even sure which closet I put it in. This might take longer than I thought to find, much less play.

But we couldn't just sit around and do nothing for the next two or so hours. With the radio out of commission - and my entertainment value at an all time low - it seemed like that was all we had left to do. Despite the words of concern going through my mind, I forced them down and led him back to the closet where I thought I'd stored them from yesterday.

As it turned out, I had guessed right. The three board games I'd managed to bring were stacked on top of each other under a few sheets and things in the linen closet.

Though now that I thought about it, it seemed weird that they'd be there. Why had I put them under things in a place that didn't even seem to make sense?

My contemplation was broken as Strato nudged his way past me and grabbed the Cloudgrid box. For a second, I wasn't sure why he had grabbed that instead of Block-In, but then again, Strato had never really done many things that made sense.

When we got back to the kitchen table, I started to pick up the dishes that were left over while Strato set up Cloudgrid up wherever he could find open space. When I turned back to the table after placing the last glass in the sink, he was already sitting there and staring at me like I'd taken hours to finish.

When I finally sat down, I placed all five pieces onto the six by six board. And as if he had planned it, I saw a pad of paper and a pen hanging from the upright part of the game when I looked back up.

"What are you planning?"

Strato almost looked confused for a second before replying, "This is how we normally play."

Needless to say, I was worried. I hadn't played this game in a long time, and I didn't really remember any of the special rules that might have required paper and pens. In fact, I didn't think there were any. "Okay then... you start."

Strato bent over and stared intently at his upright board. To my surprise, he moved his face closer and farther from the board, and squinted every once in a while as if he was trying to focus. He eventually added a sideways direction to his strange 'dance', but it still looked weird from my perspective.

"Sky five, altitude three."

I stopped myself in mid-sentence, just before I was about to tell him he'd missed all of my pieces. If he'd said an altitude, then I would probably have to move some of my pieces up. If there was one thing I knew, Strato didn't like cheating any more than being woken up after partying.

Sure enough, when I looked at my board, I saw that I'd placed all of them on the first level. And to make matters worse, Strato had guessed the altitude two 'blocks' about my seagull.

I made a quick mental note to write down some random altitudes on the pad - which is probably what I was supposed to do in the first place - and tried to play off the nervousness that was running through my mind.

"Nope," I answered, shaking my head for added effect. "Good guess though."

Strato's smile fell almost immediately, leading me to think I'd done something wrong. But what could I have said? It wasn't like it was that bad to miss on the first guess.

It must have been my turn then, because Strato stared at me with a combined look of curiosity and wary distrust. After quickly scanning over my board, I picked a spot and guessed, "Cloud two... altitude one."

I could have sworn that my later words came out as a high-pitched squeak, but he seemed know what I meant. "Nope. Cloud six, altitude two."

When I glanced down to the sheet, I tensed up. One of my pieces was on that spot, and he'd hit it on a random guess. "Yup, you got my bumblebee," I told him, taking it off the board and setting it aside.

I couldn't help but notice the quirky little victory dance he did, waving his hooves from side to side along with the rest of his body. "Are you done yet?" I added on, winking in his general direction, to which he blushed to the point where I thought his coat was bright red, at least around his face.

I think we went on like that, guessing random spots for what felt like about half an hour before he hit another one of my pieces. This time, it had been my cumulus. And for the second time that game, his expression fell from a hopeful smile to a depressed half-frown.

"Okay... sky three, altitude..." What was I going to go with? I'd practically ruled out altitude two over most of my guesses, but that still left me with two other choices. "... three."

Strato's angry look definitely wasn't what I wanted to see. With a shake of his head and a dejected sigh, he picked up his weather pony and took it off the board. "I... nice game," he almost whispered, turning away from me.

So I won? I hadn't even thought I was anywhere close. Then again, there was probably some sort of special rule for that kind of thing. "Want to play again?" I genuinely asked, extending a hoof to show Strato that I wasn't just trying to rub it in.

I took his pieces being put back on the board as a sign that he wanted to. I did the same, and made sure to spread out my pieces evenly over the different altitudes this time. Maybe my luck would hold out for once.

That notion vanished with Strato's first guess. "Cloud two, altitude one."

When I looked down, it just happened to be the exact location of that little pony-shaped figurine that symbolized my defeat. "And you just got my weather pony..."

"Yes!" Strato exclaimed, slipping back into his victory dance. "I knew I could still do it."

How had... no. I wasn't even going to bother trying to figure out how he did that. If I did, there was the possibility I that I would drive myself insane- and that could never end well.

"Best two out of three?"

Since the clock showed that it was only nine-thirty, we still had a lot of time to wait. Unless I wanted to listen to static, I'd be forced to try to face off against his 'skills'.

Meh, I liked this game. So what if it was specifically made for fillies and colts ages ten and up. And since Strato enjoyed it too, it seemed like the most efficient way to pass time anyway.

Of course, as usual, Strato's first guess in the next game found that little pony-shaped figure that I'd grown to hate over the course of the last few rounds. If this was going to be the way the next two and a half hours passed, this would be boring for me.


Just as I predicted, I'd lost almost every game since that first one. The strange thing was that laughing about it made me feel better up until the last five rounds. Having him guess the right location of the piece that caused me to lose by the first or second turn really wore down my spirits.

The good news: we still had Block-In. Though it was somewhat harder than either of us wanted, it provided a real challenge- and a challenge was really what we needed to take our minds off the pure, concentrated boredom that filled the air.

But just as we had all the short, rectangular blocks out, there was a knock on the door. And since there wasn't much that it could have meant, that probably meant that Cirrus was here early.

I wasn't even close. I don't know why I was nervous to see Octavia standing outside the door, but for some reason, I was flat-out surprised. "So... why are you here?"

Wow, way to be almost as blunt as a hammer. Nice going...

Though I thought my words were a bit accusing, Octavia seemed to move on as if I'd just been talking normally. "I thought we had a date set up for later tonight. I just wanted to make sure you remembered."

Strato poked his head around the corner and started, "So, Pizz... are you-" I was pretty sure he had been expecting Cirrus too. "Wait, what are you doing here?"

And with that remark, I was sure Octavia would have wanted to leave right then and there. After all, two ponies - and stallions nonetheless - had just rudely asked her what she was doing visiting her coltfriend. If that wasn't the single worst thing we could have done, I didn't know what was.

"Sorry about that," I mumbled, trying to find the right words to say what I really meant. "So you mentioned something about a date?"

When Octavia sighed, I knew something was up. "If you want, I could always reschedule it." Her slight frown was enough to tell me that I should do something quickly.

"No, you-"

Just then, Strato barged past me and took over where he'd cut me off, or so I thought. "You can stay! I'm sure neither of us mind."

I nudged him out of the way - slightly harder than I needed to - and took over before he screwed anything up. "Like he said," I began, shooting Strato an accusing glance, "I'm sure neither of us mind. Would you like me to get the radio out or something?"

Strato shot me a pleading look, and I sent one back that hopefully told him no. I had to hope he got the message, because everything could go straight into a hole if he didn't. It was just one of those drawbacks of dealing with a pony that didn't know when to keep quiet.

"That would be nice," Octavia admitted, trotting through the doorway as I stepped aside. She took another uncertain look at Strato and asked, "You were the one that was flirting with Vinyl last night, weren't you?"

When Strato's face turned a shade of red I didn't think it could, I started to panic. That must have been what Cirrus had mentioned in her note. And if she was right - which she usually was - Strato would get really emotional for a really long time.


Amazingly, that was all he said. Still, that one word seemed to create more guilt in me than anything else he could have said.

"What's wrong?" Octavia asked, shying toward Strato as he awkwardly shifted from one hoof to the other. She flashed me a concerned look, and I shook my head.

"Don't try it," I mouthed.

As she backed away, I took her place by his side. "Look, let's just forget about that and do something else." It was the best offer I could give him, especially in these circumstances. "I can break out that radio, and we can just relax for a while."

"Could we listen to dubtrot?"

And there was the Strato I always knew. "Sure."

Together, the three of us went into the kitchen and cleared off the table for something to do.

By the time I brought the radio out, it didn't take long to find the signature signs of wobble bass. And just to torment me, Octavia offered, "Would any of you like to try Buck Euchre?"

Well, this was going to get interesting...