Two-Player Game

by mushroompone

Level Two

“It takes skill,” I instructed. “And focus. And you gotta have a good memory for the combos.”

“Mm-hm.” Starlight took a long sip of her milkshake. “And, like, really powerful forelegs, huh?”

“This is a sports-related injury!” I spat back, rubbing at my sore tendons.

It wasn’t.

It was from playing an arcade game for nine straight hours.

“I’m just taking some time to go over the combos and strategies,” I continued. “And rest my sports injury. From being a full-time Wonderbolt.”

“Sure, sure. And what part of being a Wonderbolt hurt your gamer hooves, exactly?”

“Why are you here?!”

Starlight shrugged. “You need me. I’m your coach. Like, uh…” She tapped her chin. “I’ll be honest, I can’t think of any famous coaches.”

What the hay are you coaching me in?!”

Starlight shrugged.

She smiled.

She sipped her milkshake.

“Spitfire…” I mumbled.


“She’s a famous coach!” I said. “My famous coach!”

Starlight snickered. “Oh, duh.” She shook her head. “See? We’ve been here so long, I’m getting punchy, and I haven’t even been playing video games.”

“Ha, ha. Hilarious.”

I went back to picking at my side-order of hay fries.

The Hayburger was not my favorite place to hang out. Not by far. It always smelled a little bit like the inside of an ear in here, and all the surfaces were just a little bit sticky, and all the food tasted a little bit exactly the same. That would have been fine if it was just between the savory dishes, and it would have been fine if the flavor was ‘grease’, but it was a completely unidentifiable taste that only the Hayburger seemed to be able to cook into their food, and even the apple hoofpies had it.

But this was the place that had the cabinet, so this was the place I was going to stay.

Just about the only thing this place was good for was pony-watching. At any given moment, there were about four different crimes against equinity occurring at the same time, which was either fun or horrifying depending on your personality.

Right now, I could spot a foal smashing fries into a thin sheet on the tabletop before peeling them off and hucking them at the wall, a family of six eating in emotionless silence while the parents played hoofsie under the table, and—somehow most disturbing of all—an adult mare shamelessly slurping at a cup of ketchup like any other drink on the menu.

It was hard to look at any one of them directly for more than a second or two. I mean, come on.

There was also the constant danger of catching someone’s eye directly while they were doing one of these terrible things. I saw it as more of a challenge than a possible consequence—until it actually happened, of course.

Luckily, it wasn’t the ketchup mare I ended up staring down. It was actually somepony guilty of my exact crime: gawking at other ponies doing obscene things in a public place.

Unluckily, I actually knew her.

I felt my cheeks go red-hot as I quickly looked back down at the table.

Starlight, always quick on the uptake, immediately turned to look over her shoulder. “Oh, hey. That teacher mare’s here again,” she said.

“I know,” I said.

“Must really like the hay fries,” she said. “Who would come here voluntarily?”

The foal sitting behind Starlight plugged his ear with a tater tot, and quickly started screaming when he couldn’t get it out.

Starlight’s face fell into a grimace. “Speaking of, I think I’ve hit my teasing quota for the day.”

I snickered. “What’s that? Can’t hear ya.”

The foal flailed his legs wildly as absolutely no one came to his aid. One rogue hoof caught Starlight squarely in the back of the head. This only made the crying twice as loud.

“Yeah, I can’t be here anymore,” she said. “Ready to go?”

I rocked back in the booth, folded my hooves over my chest, and heaved a big sigh. On the one hoof, I was getting sick of this place, too. On the other, though, I hated the idea of going home defeated.

“Excuse me? Tortured genius?” Starlight sat forward and slid her now-empty milkshake glass out of the way. “You wanna go home or what?”

“Uh…” I looked back at the game.

Then, all by themselves, my eyes drifted over to Cheerilee again.

She was blushing too.

Her eyes were turned down to the paper, but she was blushing fiercely. Her pen was still.

That kinda made me feel better, actually.

“I think I’m gonna stick around,” I said. “Just try a few more times. I’ll leave when I’m outta bits.”

“Do I need to leave you with the number for an addiction crisis center?”

“No…” I whined.

“Are you avoiding something I should know about?”


Starlight stared me down.

I forced a laugh. "No. I'm fine, I'm just trying to beat TMM."

“Good luck, then,” Starlight said, giving me a stronger-than-necessary pat on the shoulder as she trotted past me to leave.

I reached limply across the table to grab my soda and finish off the last sip of it.

I looked back over at Cheerilee again.

Her head was down, all hints of a blush gone as she went back to work furiously grading papers. She was holding a red pen in her mouth. Red pen seemed significantly worse than the pencil she’d been using yesterday.

Now that I thought about it, it was kinda weird that she’d choose to hang around the Hayburger to grade. There were, like, a million other places in Ponyville that were way better for nerd stuff like that. Twilight always did her grading at Cafe Hay—quiet, and good food. Win-win.

And Cheerilee was here.

That was weird.

I thought about going over to chat with her again, maybe see if she'd found the secret good-tasting food, but my stomach turned at the idea.

It was weird.

But it was also not my business.

I scooted out of the booth, gave my forelegs one last stretch, and headed for the cabinet again.

Hoof-to-Hoof Combat wasn’t a popular choice at this particular Hayburger. Maybe it was because the game takes some actual skill, unlike the very heavily and abusively used Pac-Mare machine next to it. Maybe it was because you couldn’t cream your friends in it, like the pegasus racing game Crosswind on its other side.

Didn’t matter. At least I didn’t have to loiter around waiting for foals to take a turn.

I slipped a bit into the slot.

The game booted up with its usual chorus of chiptune beats.

Choose your character!”

I always picked Wyldfire. She was six clicks to the right.

Wyldfire!” the cabinet confirmed.

The cutscene launched.

I skipped it.

Get ready!”

I whipped my tail and crouched down, ready to unleash my opening move.

Three! Two! One! Fight!”


“Wyldfire, huh?”

I made an utterly inequine sound, and my wings flared out at my sides as I did my best to hold my ground against the sudden presence on my left. “Some warning next time!” was all I managed to say to redeem myself.


I glanced to my left between punches. “Cheerilee?”

Cheerilee smiled guiltily. “I really need to stop sneaking up on you, don’t I?”

Duck, dodge, duck.

“It’s fine, I just—” quarter-circle-B and “—I just really get in the zone sometimes. Drop another pen?”

“Um… no,” Cheerilee said. “I’m just getting sick of—”

Critical hit!” the cabinet interjected

“—these essays,” she finished. “I figured I could come watch you play for a bit.”

I spared another glance her way. To my surprise, she seemed sincere. “Uh…” What was I supposed to say to that? “Okay. Sure.”

“You play as Wyldfire?” she asked again.

She was so polite.

“Yeah,” I replied. “I always have.”

“Why’s that?” she asked.

Why did I always play as her?

No one had really asked me before.

Why was she asking me?

“Well, I…” Dodge, dodge, punch. “When I was a kid, I picked her ‘cause she looked like me.”

Cheerilee giggled at that.

“Or. I guess she looked like how I wanted to look,” I said, noting the mohawk. “How do you know who Wyldfire is?”

“What, the schoolmarm can’t have hobbies?” she snarked back at me.

“N-no! I just meant—” What did I mean? “Well, do you play?”

Cheerilee shrugged. “Enough to know who Wyldfire is.”

“Cool,” I replied. Was that the only word I knew? “Did you, uh… wanna take a spin after me?”

Cheerilee made a weird sound. “Oh, I… I think I’m okay,” she said. “I should really keep working on this grading. As much as it’s killing me.”

I glanced at her again. “Yeah. I hear that. I hate grading.”


I snickered.

It was kinda funny to see her so exasperated.

“It’s so hard not to sound like a monster!” Cheerilee sighed and fell into the side of the machine. “I want my students to get better, but they’re not exactly at the age where they can take criticism and be constructive. I just have to praise them for the good and hope they eventually drop the bad.”

That sounded really smart.

Duck, duck, dodge.

"Yeah, I…" Quarter-circle-B. "I hear ya!"


Cheerilee giggled. It was a nice sound. Too nice for the Hayburger. "Beating the tar and feathers out of a pro wrestler sure is a good way to cope, isn't it?"


"K. O.!"

Half Pipe dropped his skateboard and slowly fell forward. A pixelated pile of dust rose around him as the screen faded to black.

I let out a tense breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding and rocked away from the cabinet as another cutscene began. “You said it, Cheer.”

Cheerilee smirked. “You’re not too bad at this game,” she said.

I scoffed. “Not too bad?” I puffed out my chest. “I’m the high scorer on this cabinet!”

Cheerilee didn’t say anything.

“Or… at least, I was,” I admitted. “Somepony knocked me off the top spot. I’ve been trying to win it back.”

Cheerilee’s brows furrowed. “Oh. I see.” She looked me up and down, then looked at the cabinet, then back at me. “That’s why you’ve been camping out here?”

“Look, I wasn’t gonna make a big deal out of it, but then my friends—”

“No, no!” Cheerilee paused to laugh. “That’s exactly what I’ve been doing!”

“Uh…” I looked Cheerilee up and down. “What?”

Cheerilee threw back her head and let out a frustrated sigh. “Oh, I hate it here. I hate the food, the smells, the, um… atmosphere,” she murmured, nodding to the seating area where several atrocities were still being committed. “I just figured if I put myself in a crappy place, I’d want to finish my grading faster. Plus I’d spend less on fancy coffees than if I was working at Cafe Hay.”


I looked out at the crowds of ponies.

Then at Cheerilee’s piles of papers.

Then back at Cheerilee.

“Is it… working?”

“Ha!” Cheerilee shook her head. “Not even a little.”

I cracked a smile.

Cheerilee smiled back.

Somewhere in the Hayburger a foal was screaming its lungs out, but it seemed a little quieter than it had before.

You lose!”

I stiffened at the sound.

A beefy stallion by the name of Ab Crunch stood over the crumpled pile that was once Wyldfire, flexing his muscles menacingly.

“Oh, shoot,” Cheerilee said, lifting a hoof to her mouth in embarrassment. “I did it again. I’m sorry.”

“N-nah,” I said quickly. I gave my mane a nonchalant flip over my shoulder, though that may have made me look stupider. “You snooze, you lose, right?”

Cheerilee giggled again. “Right.”

For a long moment, all she did was stand there. Her tail swished gently back and forth across the tile.

“Would you maybe, um…” Cheerilee nodded to the cabinet beside her. “Would you want to play a quick round of Crosswind with me? I could really use a break.”

I blinked. “S-sure!” I said. “Yeah! Let’s do it!”

Cheerilee beamed at me, then quickly whipped around and started plinking bits into the machine. “My treat,” she added with a wink.

I tried to respond, but only made a little awkward laugh. “‘Kay.”

Get ready!” The cabinet instructed us.

Cheerilee placed her forehooves on the controls, then looked at me expectantly. I trotted over and squeezed in beside her, my own hooves on an identical set of controls beside hers.

It was close.


She smirked at me.

I chuckled.