After about a week, Soarin had adjusted to the feeling of waking up and having to regurgitate. However, as well as he appeared to adapt, he still didn't quite understand why having a foal required the mother to puke out whatever was in her stomach every morning.
Spitfire leaned up from her spot on the bed and happened to catch him that morning just after the process. "So," she taunted, "how'd dinner taste the second time?"
Soarin shot her a glare that would have shamed a cockatrice and replied, "Pretty good, actually. Gimme a big ol' smooch, would you?"
"You're not kissing me," she remarked, scooting over to the other side of the mattress so Soarin could get back into the bed. He didn't even consider it before he flopped back down onto his pillow and closed his eyes.
The next thing Soarin knew, somepony was poking him between his ribs. He swatted a hoof in the direction he thought it was coming from and found happiness when it stopped for a moment, even though a predominantly female 'ow' came out of it.
"Hey, Soarin..." Spitfire whispered, bringing her head right next to his ear, "It's time to wake up. Practice is in ten minutes."
At that remark, Soarin flipped over so he was looking right at her. "Nice try," he groggily pointed out, "but you've used that trick on me twice this week. Don't think it'll work again."
"It's not a trick this time," Spitfire pointed out, extending her hoof in the direction of the clock hanging on the wall. Contrary to what had happened the last two days, the hands were pointing to what would appear to be ten minutes before practice.
Though he didn't want to believe it, Soarin found himself panicking at the aspect of it being so late in the morning. Then a thought hit him: "Why aren't you already there if it's so late?"
"I was g-"
"No," Soarin said, cutting her off in mid-sentence as he reached a realization. "I know it's not actually ten minutes before practice, and you're just trying to get me to get up earlier. Don't try anything with me."
"Fine," Spitfire admitted, getting up from the bed and taking the clock off the wall, "I may have set it forward a bit."
"Figures. How much time do we really have?"
"I want to say... half an hour," Spitfire answered, heading toward the door while Soarin hopped out of bed. "But if you get up now, there might be a little reward for you."
He sat up and gave her an incredulous look. She had refused anything else for the last few days, and now here she was offering it? There had to be some sort of catch.
“What kind of reward?”
“One that you’ll love,” Spitfire answered, giving Soarin a sultry look.
Soarin almost couldn’t believe it. She was really offering something like that after her behavior a week ago?
“So help me, if you’re lying I-”
“Why would I lie to you?”
As much as he didn’t want to believe it, she had a good point. Trust was a major part of any relationship, and she certainly seemed just as eager.
Spitfire’s yell caused Soarin to bolt upright in the bed, throwing the sheets off to the side. When he realized that it was all a dream, he sighed and asked her, "What is it?"
"You were talking in your sleep. That's what it is."
He felt heat flush through his face, and he was sure his cheeks were a new shade of red that had never been seen before. "I-"
"Let's just forget about it," Spitfire suggested, visibly trying to forget what she had heard. "Anyway, I figured you'd like to get some breakfast before practice."
"Could we stop at Doughnut Joe's?"
Spitfire facehooved and muttered something to herself. "Fine, we can go there. I suppose some extra carbs would help with energy."
They remained in a state of tense silence as they left the room which was only broken when they reached the bottom of the staircase, when one of the ponies in the lobby of the hotel noticed them passing by. Before they could leave, he called after them, "So, how must it feel to still be a mare?"
Both of them stopped on the spot and looked over in the direction of the offending voice. They found the culprit when a burgundy unicorn stallion got up from the lounge he had been lying on and addressed them again. "Well, are you going to answer or just stand there dumbfounded?"
Before Spitfire did anything they would both regret, Soarin responded, "I guess it's okay... It definitely has its perks."
Now it was their questioner's turn to give a confused stare back at him. It was painfully obvious that he had attempted to make them react because it was the kind of thing to do in Canterlot: find something that wasn't normal and point it out the loudest.
"And why do you care?" Spitfire asked him, her tone slipping slowly toward the angry side. "What's so wrong with being a mare?"
The stallion chose to ignore Spitfire and asked again, "Doesn't it feel strange to not be yourself? To be a completely different pony?"
Soarin, as much as he hated to admit it, was getting tired of the seemingly endless taunting of this pony he didn't even know. "Personally, I can see you as a mare. I'm sure nobody would love you even if that happened."
The stallion snorted in disgust and threatened, "Take that back, ruffian! How dare you speak to me in such a manner!"
"Sorry," Spitfire interjected, ending the argument before it could start. "We have to go now." The two of them nudged the front door open and left him fuming behind.
As Vector took off from the lifting platform and flew up to where the rest of the group was waiting for the after-practice review, Spitfire looked over everypony flapping in place in front of her. Aileron and Cross both seemed relatively energetic, especially after what she had put them through that day, and so did Updraft. She simply ignored the other two rookies and flashed a concerned look to Soarin, who diverted his gaze.
She had noticed his performance loss over the past week, and she could understand why, but to say it out loud might garner suspicion from the new recruits. And yet she wanted to prove to them that the current Wonderbolts weren't an impossible standard that couldn't be beaten.
"Vector, you're still slow on formation training. Find some way to speed up." She then turned to Aileron and noted, "You took slightly longer on the formation training too, but since your time was so quick in the first place, you're still in the running."
"Captain," Vector began, before he was cut off by a biting glare from Spitfire.
"Recruit," she chastised, gaining a critical edge to her tone, "you will promptly shut your mouth and wait until I am finished addressing the group, then ask permission to speak, to which my answer will be no. Do we have an understanding?"
After ending that potential firestorm before it started, Spitfire abandoned the idea of showing that the team wasn't perfect and let Soarin be. With the lesson she had just taught Vector, they would have enough to think about without knowing that the current flight team wasn't always the best.
In fact, she gave up on reminding him of something he undoubtedly knew already. If Soarin hadn't figured out that he was slowly losing speed, he would learn it soon enough.
She flew down to the lifting floor and replaced a bar that somepony had forgotten to put back into the rack while the rest of them went over to the showers. Soarin finally sighed in relief as he realized he would have a chance to make sure Cross hadn't told anypony about his issue.
However, as he followed Cross and Vane to the locker room, they kept shooting confused glances back at him the whole way. By the time they had reached the door, Cross turned to him and asked, "Sir, why are you coming with us?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Soarin inquired, extremely confused by what Cross had just said. He was still a mare, wasn't he?
"Well... it's just that... now that we're back, it's a little creepy."
"But I'm still a mare."
Vane, who had been holding the door open since they had arrived, waiting for the two of them to get the conversation over with, spoke up. "But you're a stallion on the inside, and since we're actually mares, who knows what-"
"Wait," Soarin interrupted, "you're telling me you don't want me in there because I'm not a real mare?"
Cross stepped in and set the argument straight in one quick statement. "Basically, yes. We don't know what you could be imagining. Just think about it from our view."
"But I can't go in with the rest of them," Soarin argued, gesturing in the general direction of the stallions' locker room. "What if I don't know what they'll be thinking when they see me?"
Vane tapped Cross on the shoulder and tried to get her to go into the locker room before the conversation got out of hoof, but she simply wouldn't listen. "Sir, I really don't care what they think. I just don't feel comfortable having a stallion showering with us just because he's in a mare's body."
"Fine, I'll just go inside myself," Vane exclaimed, throwing her wings back in a show of annoyance. As the door closed behind her, Soarin realized he had lost the only voice of rationalism and common sense in the entire conversation. He braced himself for having to do the unthinkable to get what he wanted because of a sensible concern.
"Recruit Current, as a higher officer of the Wonderbolt elite flying team, I order you to let me shower in the same room as you and Vane." It was only after it had come out of his mouth that he realized just how much trouble he could get into because of the way he had worded his command.
Luckily for her future career, Cross backed down from the confrontation and stepped aside to allow Soarin access to the door. He nudged it open and immediately took a hard right, trying to get as far away from Cross as he could.
He almost couldn't believe that she would have the nerve to say something like that. She had real gall to contradict her superiors that way.
Or were they right to? Vane was the one that brought it up in the first place, and she was usually the logical one of the group.
And Soarin had to order his way in, for good reason- aside from his dirty little secret, he really was a stallion on the inside. So what if he was still in a mare's body, she made a good point.
But he couldn't be in the same room as the stallions for the same reason. They would most likely stare lewdly at him and gawk at his body. While he hadn't looked at himself that way before, he had to admit that he was at least semi-attractive. Who knew what would greet him in with Aileron, Updraft, and Vector?
"So are you gonna tell me that thing you heard yesterday?"
That had been Vane, and Cross must have been with her. "Sorry. My lips are sealed- Captain's orders."
"Oh come on, I know you-" The rest of her words were cut off as one of them turned the water on in one of the shower heads.
Now Soarin had to investigate. If Vane was prodding Cross for information, she had to have let something slip the day before. While he didn't want to, he would have to take a shower with them to hear what she was saying.
He pulled his sweat-stained uniform off and laid it out on the bench in front of the lockers so the cleaning staff could pick it up. Then he grabbed a plain, white towel off the rack at the end of the row and draped it over his back.
In less than a moment, Soarin entered the shower area, causing both mares to go silent. They both stared at him awkwardly as he set the towel on the overhead rack with a skilled flick of his primaries and turned his own shower head on.
Soarin caught their surprised looks and asked, "What? Can't a mare take a shower without being stared at?"
Vane let out a barely audible snicker, and Cross gave a dramatic 'humph'. The latter turned around shortly after and said to Vane, "You know, I could always tell you without anypony knowing."
"But I thought you said-" Soarin had taken as much as he could from Cross that day. "And if you do, so help me, you're getting assigned to the bottom of the reserves."
She seemed to be in a similar situation, because she whirled around, water flying everywhere off her wings and mane. "So you try blackmail now? What kind of leader are you?!"
Vane stepped in, nudging Cross back a bit with her forehoof. "If it's that important, I don't really want to know."
"Recruit Current, if you so much as yell at me one more time, I will have you removed from the Wonderbolt roster and..." Soarin trailed off, realizing that he had let his emotions get the better of him once again. Unfortunately, Cross wasn't quite done with her raving argument.
"You can just shove your head up your plot!" He could barely hear her normal voice through her impossibly loud yelling. "Do you have any bucking idea how hard it is to keep a secret like that? How am I supposed to not tell somepony else that the captain is expecting!"
Vane gave a muted gasp, and Soarin felt extremely conflicting emotions. He almost wanted to scold her for yelling at him and facehoof at what he had heard her assume. He didn't get a chance to do either before a new female voice said, "Both of you, outside. Now."
Soarin looked over at where Spitfire was standing, alternating her gaze between the two of them. "Come on, I said outside!"
Cross followed her superior closely as Soarin left the shower area and went over to the door leading back to the training field. Spitfire trailed behind, making sure both of them went directly outside.
Once they were out of earshot, Spitfire turned to Cross and chastised, "So help me, if you yell at your superior in that way again, I actually will have you taken out of the roster. Are we clear?"
"Yes, ma'am," she answered with a quick nod. Once Spitfire turned away from her, she relaxed a bit and gave a relieved sigh.
"And you," Spitfire addressed Soarin with a demeaning glare, "If I ever, and I mean ever, catch you using your position like that again-"
"Spits, I swear it'll never happen again. I just let my emotions get th-"
"You're to address me as Captain, Mister Windsong. Now I repeat, if I ever catch you using your rank in that fashion, you're going to be on track repair duty for a month. Do you understand?"
Finished with her rant, she looked at both of them and said, "Alright, now you two make up. I don't need fighting in the ranks, especially after everything that's gone wrong today."
After she flew off, Soarin looked over at Cross and offered, "Sorry about doing that. I swear it was just my-"
"Yeah, your emotions. Got it."
Soarin only became more confused than before. Cross had never been like this as far as he could remember, and now she was being a mule. (No offense.)
What had changed?
By the time Soarin and Spitfire arrived back at the hotel after practice, the unicorn stallion behind the counter greeted them, "Ah, the happy couple. A letter arrived for you this morning from the castle. Quite the honor, if I do say so myself."
"We'll just take the letter," Spitfire growled, obviously still angry over what had gone down at practice. At the stallion's hurt look, she added a grudging "Please?"
He pulled an envelope out from behind the desk with his magic and Spitfire grabbed it out of the air in her mouth.
She waited until they were safely inside their hotel room to rip the flap open and tear out the surprisingly simple looking letter inside. Both of them read it at the same time.
Ms. Spitfire and Mr. Windsong,
Let me be the first to apologize for everything that has happened lately. I'm sure it has been quite difficult adjusting to the idea of having a foal so early in your careers. As such, I cordially extend an invitation to join the Princesses in a private session with the other ponies affected to discuss the services that will be offered. It will start at three o'clock, but please arrive at least fifteen minutes early.
Your ticket is enclosed within this letter. Please do not misplace it, as it is required to enter the meeting.
~ Gilded Scroll
"Well, you can't say they don't care," Soarin joked, nudging Spitfire. "Still, we'd better show up."
She took a few seconds to respond. "We'll have to call off practice early for it though. Won't that give something away?"
"You heard Cross today- she thinks it's you. The most they'll think is that something came up."