• Published 31st May 2013
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The Unicorn with Fire on Her Flank - Noradora



When a troubled unicorn flees her home in Canterlot, what kind of life awaits her in Ponyville?

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Chapter 9: Hearts

"Yeah?"

Okay, so I guess it can't even be that easy.

Since Cloudchaser was still sitting at attention, Wisp could only assume she was at that stage where the implications were there, yet hadn't fully registered in her mind. That, or maybe it had to do with what had been said on the cloud yesterday. They'd both implicitly agreed that there had been nothing going on; just a special moment between friends. Of course, those had just been words, but Cloudchaser had been the one to say it was "simply a 'date' between friends."

As with many things, "both" seemed the most likely answer. Either way, Wisp still had to carry on the conversation. But the butterflies in her stomach were agitated and uncomfortable, and it felt difficult to breathe. At least she had already managed to take the first step... She couldn't really back down now.

Just one step at a time. One hoof in front of the other.

She swallowed.

"Yeah. Totally. And I was just thinking..."

Now she had the mare's attention. She just had to do something with it.

"I just... Erm..."

As her mind wandered just a little, Wisp suddenly felt Twinkleshine's eyes boring into her skull. That was a bit unnerving, but not what really mattered; the butterflies were growing angry, as was she. There was no need for it to be this difficult. Why couldn't she just say it? She was standing on the precipice and hesitating, even though she knew there was a mountain of pillows down below... Probably.

And then she thought of what it would mean, should the other pony say yes. A simple image flitted through her mind's eye.

Cloudchaser's hoof in her own.

And what would it mean if she said no? A few tears, maybe. Disappointment. But she had only been aware of her feelings for a day—she'd get over it. She'd done it before. She'd probably forget all about it in a week or two, and still she would have Cloudchaser as a friend. Just the chance to hold that hoof was worth a little disappointment, right?

She jumped.

"Alright, so after yesterday, I just... I-I realized how much I like you. So I was thinking, maybe we could... Go out, or something. On Hearts and Hooves Day. Or something."

You said "or something" twice.

I know. Shut up.

Realizing she had looked away, Wisp rectified the situation and found herself unsure what to think. Cloudchaser's purple cheeks were tinged a color she had become quite familiar with lately, but that didn't mean anything—even Twinkleshine blushed when a mare hit on her. She still wore a look of faint surprise, but that didn't tell her anything, either. Of course she'd be a little surprised.

But then she opened her mouth.

"'How much you like me,' huh? Sounds like that's a lot."

Her tone was hard to read, but at least she wasn't turning her down yet. 51/49 chance, maybe? Hopefully.

Looking once more into her drink, she simply nodded. The butterflies weren't so upset now, but they were still fluttering about enough to cause a little pain. The next few moments were probably going to be as much of a roller-coaster as the last several had been, but all she could do now was wait.

"Hm. Why don't you tell me just how much?"

Wisp almost choked on a butterfly that had rocketed up into her throat. These things were getting annoying. "Uhhh..."

Cloudchaser just looked at her. Despite how attractive she was, Wisp felt a sudden urge to punch her for having such a good poker face. This was not a good time for that.

She coughed. "I've hardly been able to keep you off my mind. You're beautiful, and you're funny, and... well, you're a good friend. I'd love to get to know you better."

The pegasus pony seemed more impressed by that. Once she thought to close her mouth, she propped her elbows up on the table and rested her head upon her forehooves, eyes closed and gently smiling. Thoughtfully rolling her head side to side, she said, "You think so, huh?"

This didn't sound like a mare about to deliver a rejection. Or did it? "Well, thanks but no thanks" wouldn't sound too out of place. Or maybe "I think you are too, but I don't think it'd work." Or...

She still had to answer the question, didn't she?

"Yes. Definitely."

After a few moments more, Cloudchaser stopped rocking her head and opened her eyes. Those warm, rose-colored eyes. "Alright, sure. I think you're pretty cool, too. And you'd be a lot cooler with me."

The insufferable insects in her gut sure were elated to hear that. Maybe now they'd calm the hell down. But despite her relief, something about that didn't sit quite right with her...

Feeling more like herself than she had in... a day, Wisp cracked a grin. "You know, after what I just said, that doesn't sound very romantic."

She got a similar face in response. "Hey, you're the one embarrassing yourself and getting all sappy. Who says I have to do that to myself, too?"

Deciding to mimic her friend(?)'s position, Wisp tilted her head, looking to all the world as a mare who was completely in control, and totally not stressed out of her wits by a simple question. Funny how quickly things could change.

"Well, if I'm going to be going out with some strange mare, I think I should know how she feels, too."

Cloudchaser snuck a glance to the side. Naturally, a certain other unicorn and pegasus pony were minding their business, and only their business. Nopony could ever prove that the white one had just been looking over her shoulder, or that she was now sharing a giggle with the purple one (persian blue). There was no evidence, there was no case, you can't prove anything!

She turned back to Wisp and shrugged. "Well, let's see: You're hot." She smirked. "Literally."

Eyeroll.

"You're one of the most upstanding ponies I know. If I had a problem, you're the first I'd go to. And like I said, you're the best friend I've had since Thunderlane. I think we mesh well. And besides..." She wiggled her eyebrows. "You're really cute when you blush."

And there it went. Just like that, she was a blushing schoolfilly again. Maybe if she looked away and hid her cheeks in her hooves, that would help. Okay, maybe not.

"Oh yeah, this is gonna be fun."

Shaking herself off, Wisp tried to ignore the hear in her face. She wasn't just being stubborn, she had an important question to ask. Honest.

"Well, I'm glad to hear you feel that way. But..."

"Butts?"

NO!

"NOnotbuttshaveyoueverthoughtofmethatwaybefore!"

"Have I ever thought of you that way before?"

"Yes!"

"Hey, slow down. It's my question."

Wisp got the distinct feeling this would be happening more in the future. Already she was plotting her revenge.

"To be honest... Not really. I mean, the thought's occurred to me, but it's not like I've had a crush on you or anything. Most of the time it's been more... sexual."

Wisp didn't know whether to feel disappointed, embarrassed or intrigued. "Sexual?"

Cloudchaser gave one of her bigger shrugs. "Well, yeah. You're hot, like I said, and I know you well enough to say you're pretty cool. If you showed some interest, I'd be down for a quick roll in the hay anytime, but I can say the same for lots of ponies. Like Thunderlane, or Little Miss Twinkie Pie over there. If she were into that."

Alright, so it sounded like there was at least some basis to what Applejack had been saying. Wisp had been readily aware Cloudchaser was a flirty pony, but she didn't know it went that far. What she did know was that she might have to get a better read on the pegasus'... habits.

"Buuuut, now that you're asking me out," Cloudchaser murred with a wicked grin, "You're gonna have to work for it, little filly."

Wisp blew some hair out of her face. It wasn't actually in the way, but she wanted to blow some hair out of her face, okay?

"Is that so...?"

"Eeyup."

"Then I can say the same to you. Two can play at that game, Cloudchaser, and I'm the one from Canterlot."

The mare playfully winced. "Touché, touché..."

With that, the conversation died down, and Wisp was pleased with just how well it had went. She'd gone for it, and now she had a date! Or... something. It'd be a Hearts and Hooves Date, but that was a few days away. What about the meantime? Not much had happened, but it didn't sound like they were just friends now.

That's the thing though, isn't it? Things felt so natural just now... And that's good, right?

If only more ponies out there were like Cloudchaser.

...Then again, that thought was just as terrifying as it was comforting. One was enough.

Suddenly there was a pressure in the seat next to her, and the sound of shuffling as Twinkleshine and Flitter settled back into their seats... Empty-hooved, of course. Regardless of that, they had apparently deemed it a good time to make their return, and they both seemed quite interested in what their counterparts had been discussing. They simply had no clue, you see.

After a little banter, Flitter was the first to speak out. "So, Wisp," she teased, "What had you so red a few minutes ago? You looked like a teenager reading her first love letter."

And once again, the group shared a laugh at her expense. She groaned and huddled against her milkshake, quietly sipping on it for comfort.

Somehow, it tasted a little sweeter than she remembered.

—————————

Wisp had been quite happy, and relieved, to see Cloudchaser say "yes."

She didn't know how to feel about somepony else being so happy about it.

"Feel free to stop looking at us like that, Twinkleshine."

The other unicorn's eyes might as well have had hearts instead of pupils. This was one of those times...

"Oh no, I'm fine," she murmured. And then she wistfully sighed. "Young love..."

Annoyed as she was, Wisp couldn't help but blush at the insinuation. She had hardly asked her crush out ten minutes ago, but in spite of that... or maybe because of it, she felt the butterflies again.

As Cloudchaser reached over to poke and prod at her friend, though, Wisp was reminded of the all-too-innocent curiosity a foal might have when faced with a dead body. The similarity was not lost on her.

"Don't touch her. You might catch something."

"That's right. You should touch her."

"Twinkleshine!"

Back on her side of the table, Cloudchaser would have fallen on her side if it weren't for her sister blocking the way. Instead, she was beating the table, drawing unwanted attention. "Bahahahaha, I wasn't ready for that! I'm crying...!"

As Flitter joined in the mirth, Wisp fixed her dear friend with a glare, as she had done many times before. "How many times do I have to remind you that you're not gay?"

"Who says I have to like mares to support them being with each other? Any romance is beautiful."

"Yes, that is a lovely sentiment," Wisp agreed, "But that doesn't mean that you have to be so suggestive. We only just started dating!"

Her cheeks flared up yet again as she considered what she'd just said. Looking to Cloudchaser, who was still recovering from her laughing fit, she asked very quietly, "Um... We are dating now, aren't we?"

Wiping a tear from her eye, the pegasus replied, "Duh. I'm gonna give it a shot if you are."

Twinkleshine's eyes glowed with unholy light as she began to madly cackle and wring her hooves. "Eeeeexcellent..."

Seriously, her eyes really were glowing. Fitting with her name, well... she had a spell for that. It just wasn't unholy.

Dramatic breakups and life-shaking mistakes aside, Wisp's only regret in life was that her own penchant was for fire magic. If only things were a little different, she could just fashion some water out of the air and soak Twinkleshine's head. But alas, she had yet to grow proficient enough with water magic to do anything practical with it. Fire and water were just a little different from each other.

Oddly enough, ice magic was a little easier for her to work with, but it wasn't like she could just freeze the numbskull's head. That would kind of kill her. But oh well, shutting her up wouldn't be worth the exertion that would call for, anyway.

So for now, she settled for a bonk on the head.

"Hey!"

"If you're going to act like this, it's my responsibility to wake you up. As usual. Be glad I don't have a bucket of water."

The little unicorn harrumphed and mumbled to herself. "Love is beautiful..."

"I'm all for romance, but does she always get like this?" Cloudchaser asked, sounding a little concerned even through her ever-present grin.

Wisp sighed. "She calms down eventually, but every time I get a new marefriend... yes. Every time."

"I think it's cute," Flitter chirped.

"Cute is well and good, but it just doesn't seem healthy. Who gets off on other ponies' relationships this much?"

"You don't have to talk about me like I'm some kind of invalid, you know," the mare in question grumbled beside her.

"Oh, Twinkleshine, how nice of you to join us. How was your trip to the asylum?"

Wisp was cackling at her own joke, even after Twinkleshine punched her in the shoulder. "You know I can't help it," she said. "It's just so sweet. Yesterday you were saying all this stuff about her, and now you're already together."

The taller unicorn tried waving that off, but the little one had piqued Cloudchaser's curiosity. "What was she saying, exactly? Did she say anything embarrassing?"

Wisp deadpanned. "Don't you even."

Her and that cheeky grin. It was so cute, yet so unsettling...

"What, did you say something about wanting to see my plot? I can show you, if you want."

Wisp should have said something more like "No, of course I didn't," or "I've already seen it, blockhead." But unfortunately for some ponies, the words that left her mouth were "Maybe later, Cloudchaser."

To which said pegasus replied, with no small amount of satisfaction, "Alright. It's a date."

The table went silent. Flitter and Twinkleshine looked back and forth between themselves, silently mouthing "Ooh..."

Cloudchaser wore a great smirk, what she considered the spoils of her victory... Until she saw the look on Wisp's face.

Her mouth was twisting all about her into an evil, ruthless grimace. The pegasus before her wondered, feeling a chill in her bones, if she had ever seen a pony look more cruel.

"Alright then, Cloudchaser... But if you're so interested in a date, you'll have to do it properly."

"Uhhh..."

Before her victim had a chance to say anything, she primly turned up her nose and declared, "If this is going to happen, I expect a proper meal. No bars; you'll have to take me someplace sophisticated and classy. I have expensive tastes, so I hope you can afford it. Oh, and of course..." Then, with a flutter of her eyelashes and a seductive catch in her voice, she added, "I am sure you look oh so lovely in a dress, Cloudchaser."

Cloudchaser's mouth fell to the floor, dumbstruck. Twinkleshine looked on in awe, and Flitter giggled uncontrollably, managing to say between bouts of laughing, "Wow, she got you good!"

Cloudchaser still seemed to have no words.

"What's the matter, dear?" Wisp asked in that sultry, chocolate voice. She hadn't grown up in Canterlot for nothing, after all.

Nopony would ever know she had gotten it from her mothers.

Managing to catch her breath, Flitter continued, "Just wow... That's too good. You're on your own, 'Chase."

That finally broke her out of her trance. "What?" Looking between the other ponies, she groaned, "You're evil. All of you."

Wisp's smug grin lessened. Slightly. "You brought it on yourself. But, I suppose, if you're not up to the task of wooing me..."

Cloudchaser grunted in defiance. "You're saying I don't have to? No, I accept your challenge. 'Date.' I'm curious how you look in a dress, too, O Wispwillow of Canterlot."

Well, this was sure to be interesting.

—————————

Despite their tough words, the two ponies had to deal with the fact that Hearts and Hooves Day was several days away. Naturally neither of them wanted to have their little date before then, and it would be silly to go someplace fancy now, then someplace cheaper later. Best just to wait. Besides, it gave them something to look forward to.

Cloudchaser especially didn't mind waiting. She was going to have to dress up, and would probably be forced to speak in fancy. Although wearing a dress wouldn't be all that bad—some part of her had to admit that she liked looking nice sometimes—she had no experience with fancy talk besides a little joke here and there. There was no way she'd be able to match the sophistication Wisp would be expecting. She was out of her depth. But maybe...

"Hey, um... Rarity?"

"If you mean to ask again if I can just fit you for a suit," the unicorn tutted as she held the measuring tape against her leg, "The answer is no. I have no doubt you would look positively dashing, but you said yourself that your date is expecting a dress."

"Huh? Oh, it's not that. It's just... Uh..."

"Yes?"

Cloudchaser gulped. "I was just wondering if maybe you could teach me to... talk like you."

Rarity turned away from her work and gracefully slipped into view, her face the feminine picture of surprise. As her lip began to curl, the pegasus thought that Rarity must have longed for a chance like this, to bestow even just a little more culture upon humble Ponyville. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for her, though, the elegant unicorn seemed to be better than her petty desires.

"Oh, I would be delighted to, but why do you ask? Wisp doesn't seem like the type of pony to care how you speak."

Glad for the brief respite, she enjoyed the freedom to scratch at the back of her neck. "Well, it's just that when she turned my little joke around on me, she was saying I'd have to treat her to a proper dinner and stuff. Like, at a fancy restaurant. Fanciness seems like the entire point, and I want to get it right."

Something twinkled in Rarity's eyes as she walked away and got back to measuring. "Oh, I wouldn't say so. This is one in the same as the date you agreed to when you said yes to her, is it not? The point, then, should simply be to enjoy yourselves."

Cloudchaser's skin began to feel itchy. She'd been standing in one place for too long. "I don't know... That sounds right, but I don't want to mess it up."

The other mare chuckled as she tightened the tape around her client's barrel. "And why is that?"

Wait, why was that? It's not like this date was a big deal, right? Sure, it would be their first, and on Hearts and Hooves Day, but...

"She's just... a really cool pony. I want her to get her money's worth, you know?"

Should could hear Rarity grinning behind her. "You are impressed by her, then?"

She scoffed. "Hay, yeah. Have you seen her? She's as hot as her cutie mark, and she's almost as good at magic as your friend Twilight."

"Oh," she quietly laughed, "I don't think she's quite as skilled as Twilight... But yes, I have met her, and I have heard." Then the mare went quiet. Not for long, but long enough to make her feel tense.

"But is that really all you see in her? A... 'hot' mare who could lift you up into the air as easily as say hello?"

Cloudchaser frowned. "No..."

Rarity stepped back into view, apparently finished. "What, then?"

Knitting her brow, Cloudchaser took a moment to think about it. "I see... a mare with passion. Direction. She's made some mistakes, but she keeps working toward her goals. She doesn't half-ass anything, and she's still trying to do something with her life."

Looking into the mirror before her, she finished, "...Unlike me."

"You respect her, then."

She nodded. "A lot."

The unicorn smiled. "I believe it." Then she turned away from the platform Cloudchaser had been sitting on and gestured for her to follow. "Come now, let us see if I have anything you like."

As the pegasus obliged, she continued, "Trust me, darling, you don't need to change yourself to impress her. Your respect will speak for itself."

"I'm not saying I need to impress her," she objected. "It's just a little date, right?"

Rarity had another chuckle to herself. "Maybe it is, but your words betray you. Ask yourself, would you really be happy if she just walked away thinking, 'Well, that was underwhelming'?"

As she felt the weight drop in her gut, Cloudchaser followed Rarity into what looked to be the dressing room.

"...You're too perceptive for your own good, Rarity," she grumbled.

The other mare simply smiled.

—————————

"This is seriously what you do for fun? More bars?"

It had already been a day since she had asked Cloudchaser out, and not much had changed. Yet. Just more teasing and more blushing. Though Wisp held the honor of suffering the most blushing. She really hadn't needed her ear licked just then...

But she wasn't with Cloudchaser right now. The pegasus had cut and run earlier, for one reason or another. She hadn't really said why, and had already darted off before she could ask, but she had done the same thing yesterday. Maybe it has to do with our date, she had thought. Maybe she's looking for a dress or something. Wisp certainly hoped so.

But no, she didn't even have Cloudchaser on her mind at the moment. She was more focused on the fact that she had made the effort to meet up with Ginny outside of the bar... to hang out in another bar.

"What can I say?" the brunette said with an easy smile, as she took aim with her pool cue. "I'm in my element." She struck the cue ball, sending the other billiard balls scattering. Two of them rolled into pockets she had been aiming for, and she said something under her breath about playing highs. Then she stepped away for the next pony to take their turn.

"See?"

Wisp cracked a grin of her own. "Yeah, you definitely are. But isn't there something you like to do that doesn't involve the presence of alcohol?"

Smirking at the other players, she amended, "No offense, fellas."

The stallions at the table both gave a good-natured laugh, a unicorn and an earth pony. "None taken," said the unicorn, standing to Wisp and Ginny's left. "Celestia knows how I got this gut!"

The beer-bellied stallion began lining up his shot as everypony had a more hearty laugh. Fortunately for him and the other horned player, the earth stallion didn't seem to mind them using their horns. It was more a matter of convenience than anything, but many non-unicorns looked down on such a unique advantage, however small or superficial. This pony, for his part, seemed pretty confident.

"Sure," Ginny said. "But I figure, this was your idea, wanting to see more of me. Why not let you see me in my natural habitat?"

Scratching her mane, Wisp replied, "I guess so. But next time we're going to the arcade or something."

Something clicked in her mind a second later, reminding her of an earlier thought. "And speaking of seeing more of you, you look totally different without your clothes."

The barmare looked down at herself, then sideways at Wisp. "I do look pretty good in uniform, don't I?"

As the earth stallion cradled his cue in his fetlock and took aim, Wisp told her, "Yeah, You look really snappy in that waistcoat and bow tie."

A crack sounded across the table, and Ginny raised an eyebrow. "Thanks for the compliment, Miss I-Need-A-Dress-For-My-Date."

"H-hey, you know what I mean."

The other mare just chuckled as she took her next turn. "Oh, I suppose I do."

After that, Wisp was content to just watch for a time. She wasn't too familiar with the game they were playing—"Cutthroat," Ginny had called it—but the rules seemed simple enough. Since she had pocketed a low and mid ball with the break shot, Ginny was now assigned to the high-number balls, eleven through fifteen, and her goal was to be the last player remaining with one ball. Wisp found it disorienting at first, that the players were working to pocket others' balls instead of their own, but that was pool for you. There were lots of different ways to play.

As far as she could tell, Ginny was doing pretty well, but she was losing focus on the game and starting to think about something else. Not that she found the game disinteresting; the competition would have been fun, but right now she felt more like just watching. Ginny really was in her element—something about the way she moved made it clear this was where she felt most at home. Still, maybe they'd play some one-on-one if a table opened up later.

What she had on her mind now seemed... a little silly, maybe. At least, what she was about to say was silly, but she couldn't help it if she felt a little guilty.

"Hey, Ginny?"

"Yeah?" the dark red mare asked as she pocketed another of her opponents' balls.

"I want to apologize. For making plans without thinking about work."

Ginny scoffed. "What? Even if you'd made plans on any other day, I wouldn't mind so long as you told me about it. But it's a holiday, and your first date, too! You're going with my blessing."

That's not the real problem, though.

Trying to keep her voice down so the stallions wouldn't hear, she asked, "But you don't get the day off, do you?"

"No, and that doesn't bother me," she muttered back. "What are you getting at?"

Wisp tried not to look like she was pitying her, because really, she wasn't. She was just concerned. "Well, if it weren't for Cloudchaser, I'd still be going to work, too. But you, you're going to be all alone."

"Yeah, but I'm used to being alone on Hearts and Hooves. I'll be fine; The bar is my mistress."

"I guess. I just feel bad leaving you out to dry like that."

She felt a hoof on her withers. "Wisp, just calm down. You have nothing to worry about. Just go and enjoy your date for me, alright?"

"Hey, could you get your hooves off your mare and play, already?"

"Yeah, sorry," Ginny complied, returning her attention back to the table. "But she's not my mare. Just a friend."

"Oh, don't mind him, girl," Beer-Belly rasped. "He just gets cranky when he finds some decent competition. Ha!" he laughed, as only a friend could.

"Shut up, Randy."

"Love you too, Bill."

And so the game carried on. It could be easy to forget about some of the nuance involved in cue sports—the arrangement of balls on the table, a player's designated group of balls, and where the cue ball happened to rest, made things a bit more complicated than some ponies gave them credit for. Played right, there was plenty of opportunity to make things difficult for your opponent, all while maximizing your own advantage.

Wisp was more of a chess girl, though.

As the game grew more tense—there were only five balls left, two of them Ginny's—Wisp took to some lighter conversation to entertain herself.

"So how did you get a martini cutie mark, anyways?"

"Oh, that?" the mare grunted, licking her lips and eyeing the last low ball on the table. One more turn and she could get rid of it. "Eh, it's a long story. I got out, mixed some drinks, found I enjoyed it. Boom, cutie mark."

Wisp had to roll her eyes. "No cutie mark story is that simple, Ginny. At least not if it involves alcohol."

"Maybe I just didn't get mine until I was old enough to bartend, hm?"

"Yeah... or maybe you're just hiding something."

Her barmare grinned mysteriously as she lined up her cue, preparing to send Beer-Belly ("Randy") to his doom. "Get on my good side, and maybe I'll tell you sometime."

Crack. Bonk. Fwump. A grey-maned stallion covered his eyes and laughed. "Good game, young'un."

As Ginny readied for another shot, Wisp prodded, "Good side? Am I not there already, Miss Lots-Of-Reasons-To-Like-You?"

"I did say that, didn't I?" she laughed. "Well," she said as she gently tapped the cue ball, just hard enough that it came to rest between the 8-ball and a middle pocket, "I can't make things too easy for you, you know."

"Oh, you don't," Wisp responded. "But that's just the thing: you never really talk about yourself. I hardly know anything about you."

"Hm. I guess not."

The cream-colored stallion on the opposite end of the table grumbled something as he walked over and took position. Ginny smiled. She'd left him in a position where he basically had to give up a turn, and chances were she'd be able to down another of his balls afterwards.

"Well, I was born in Manehattan. Dad made horseshoes, mom drank. Didn't live in the nicest part of town."

Bill cursed as he saw just where he had sent the cue ball. There was nothing he could do.

"Mom liked having her daughter at the bar. Somehow managed to get free drinks out of it."

She lined up her shot. "Thing is, in that kind of environment I ended up with a few more noses up the skirt than I'd like." The 6-ball went into a corner pocket, leaving only the 8-ball, 11-ball and 15-ball. "So I left. And that's the story of how I came to Ponyville."

As Ginny's opponent grumbled something about unicorn mares, Wisp was frowning at the implications. "That sounds... less than pleasant. Makes sense that you wouldn't want to talk about that."

"I suppose. But that's all behind me now. I've got Sun's Flank."

Wisp scratched her chin, and came a little closer to the table when Ginny scooted the other way for her next shot. "How did you get your horn on Sun's Flank, anyway?"

"There's plenty of room for an enterprising mare to make it in this town," she heard in reply. "But I knew the last owner when she retired, and she thought I'd make a good fit."

Crack, bonk, bounce, fwump. The 8-ball had been sunk.

"So here I am."

Bill didn't seem very pleased over there, even with Randy trying to calm him down, but Wisp didn't really notice. "You really are something, Ginny," she smiled.

"Thanks."

The young mares found their not-conversation interrupted by a high, quiet voice calling to them over the din of the bar. Wisp couldn't tell what they were saying, but as she looked in the direction it was coming from, she was surprised to see Twinkleshine. She couldn't say that she minded her best friend showing up, but it wasn't like she had to be here, exactly. Maybe she'd just felt lonely back at the house.

The little mare trotted up to them and almost got out a "hi" when Bill shoved her on his way out, knocking her into the table. Wisp thought she heard a crack before Twinkleshine crumpled to the floor.

She looked up at the stallion. He was walking away, not even bothering to glance back at his handiwork. Randy said something about having a bit too much to drink, and then it sounded like he was asking the pony what his problem was, but Wisp didn't care. The room had turned red, and all she could see was the earth pony's oblivious, uncaring mug.

It would look very different by the time she was done with it.

In three strides she was upon him, putting one hoof on his shoulder. As he turned his head, he didn't have time to say "back off" before he ate a punch straight to the mouth, sending him crashing into the table beside him. She would hear later that she'd knocked out a tooth, and she would almost wish that she'd been seeing straight enough to notice.

She would also be told that she shouldn't have done that to begin with, but even if that were true, she'd have done it anyway. Wispwillow was a mare of action, after all.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?! She didn't do anything to you!"

For one reason or another, Bill—whose cutie mark, ironically, she only caught a glimpse of now (it was a pair of billiard balls)—was not in the mood for talking. As it turned out, the big, strong earth pony stallion may have felt a little humiliated, getting beaten down by a "weak" unicorn mare like herself. Wisp would never know that she had almost knocked him out.

She didn't know what she'd expected, but after pulling himself back up he lunged at her. She felt like a dunce for not being more prepared, but when his hoof struck her square in the jaw, she rolled with the hit and came back up in a fighting stance. Looking up at him, she snorted provocatively; she was ready now. The adrenaline was pumping. He wouldn't surprise her like that again.

Ginny yelled something, but she wasn't paying attention. He hurt Twinkleshine, she growled in her thoughts. He deserves it.

As he lumbered towards her, she noticed just how slow he was. He was no Big Macintosh in terms of size, but he was a bit larger than the average earth stallion, and had some muscle to throw around. But even with muscle, he had no speed to back it up.

This wouldn't even be fair.

He took another swing, but Wisp ducked under it and gave the underside of his chin some tender, loving care. His head snapped back, and as it came back down he tried to headbutt her. When his face swung through thin air, she was amused to see him lose his balance. He had swung too hard, and now he was having to deal with his own overcompensation.

You really aren't very good at this.

It wouldn't take him long to recover, but she had been expecting him to swing too hard, so it was easy to capitalize on the opportunity. So she swung a right hook at his reddened face and felt the satisfying impact of hoof against idiot jawbone. She hadn't had the time to put more weight into the swing like her first, but she counted another wound to the stallion's pride as he stumbled backwards.

He must not have cared for being made a fool, the way he growled and renewed his offensive. Now he was pressing forward, using his superior size to force her backwards. She was almost impressed when he blocked some of the jabs she threw at him—it seemed he did have a brain, after all—but it didn't do him much good. He was still slow, and it wasn't hard to fit in a good hit to the face here and there. However, he was still managing to push her back; he may have been slow, and she may have been tough, but Wisp didn't care to take any hits from a fully-grown earth stallion.

She realized she was backing toward the pool table where, for all she knew, Twinkleshine was still collapsed on the ground. She made sure to direct herself towards the other side of the playing area—the last thing she would allow to happen was causing Twinkleshine anymore harm. Or Ginny, for that matter.

Still, her mind was clear enoug now to realize that if she bumped into anypony, it could mean an all-out barfight, and the other last thing she could allow to happen was getting reported for starting one. Sure, she was probably already going to get in trouble, but... It would be in her best interests to get this over with quickly. It was a shame, too: she would really like to toy around with him, really humiliate him... but her friends were more important. Twinkleshine was more important.

I'll just taunt him until he charges me, and then I'll use his size to my—Ahhh!

Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a blinding light, turning everything to white and forcing her eyes shut. It was pretty inconvenient. How could she beat the crap out of somepony she couldn't see?

Shielding her eyes with an arm, she peeked a glance at the floor and saw that already the light was beginning to fade. It had only been a few seconds... Either whoever had cast it wasn't in top shape, or they had already gotten what they wanted.

Suddenly she noticed that the room had gone silent. She supposed that being blinded had a way of catching ponies' attention, but then she heard a quiet voice speak out over the... quiet.

"I said... stop... already..."

Pulling her arm away, Wisp turned around to look at Twinkleshine, who was being held up by Ginny. As she had thought, she was in pretty much the same spot she'd last seen her, and she didn't look good. If the way she was wincing was any indication, she was in a lot of pain.

"Don't... fight..."

As Wisp opened her mouth to object, Ginny silenced her with a sharp look. "She's right, Wisp. Some angry stallion isn't worth getting yourself in trouble over. Just let it go.

"And you," she said, turning her attention to the frazzled earth pony, "Does losing a game really mean that much to you?"

With every eye in the room trained on him, Bill had nothing to say to that.

Ginny sighed. "Anyway, we should get out of here. Your friend looks like she needs to go to the hospital."

"For the second time," Wisp solemnly muttered under her breath.

As she trotted over and looked Twinkleshine over, she cursed at her own weakness. She had gone through the trouble of looking deeper into first-aid magic, but there was no use for that here. There was no open wound to take care of, and even if there were something wrong that she were aware of on the inside, Wisp was no healer or surgeon. Even if she tried, she could mess something up bad. Taking her to ponies that could help was all she could do. But before she could float Twinkleshine onto her back, she heard a quick struggle behind her. When she turned around to look, she was shocked to see just who had decided to show up.

"...Wintergreen?"

The snow-white stallion, appearing out of nowhere, had apparently subdued dear old Bill and was now sitting on top of him, pressing his face into the floor. It didn't look very comfortable... The poor pony.

"He was going to hit you."

Wisp smiled. If it weren't for her coworker's timely appearance, she might have had a heck of a headache on her hooves. Or worse. "Thanks. Just... Take care of him, will you? I've gotta go."

Wintergreen nodded. He had it under control.

With that, she lifted Twinkleshine onto her back. The little unicorn's gasp of pain told her, however, that she would have to go with the other option.

Guess I'll just carry her, then...

Levitating her friend beside her, she looked apologetically to Ginny as they started on their way. Even despite the situation, she cracked a grin and asked, "Shall we?" and despite herself, Ginny grinned in return and rolled her eyes. That was all the time she had for that, though; As soon as they made it out of the bar, Wisp focused her attention where it belonged.

"Are you alright up there, Twinkleshine? How bad does it hurt?"

"A lot," she breathed. "Might have fractured... a rib..."

Great. Just great... I hope they're as good at healing bones as healing burns.

"Don't worry. We'll get you right to the hospital... again."

As they took off at a gallop, Wisp had to mentally smack herself for thinking she'd carry the pony on her back. When would she ever do that? In an emergency, considering her capabilities, the only acceptable option was to float an injured pony along so that she could run without fear of causing further discomfort.

She smacked herself again, and it would have been for real this time if she weren't busy sprinting through the streets. She had something to apologize for.

"I'm sorry, Ginny."

"What? What for?"

"For ruining our little get-together. I—"

"Save it," Ginny called out to her. "Even if you hadn't started kicking that pony's ass, I'd still be coming with you. Besides," she laughed, "That was fun to watch. See why I enjoy bars so much?"

Wisp felt bad for letting herself smile again while Twinkleshine was hurt, but she couldn't help it. And they said ponies laugh as a way of dealing with hardship, right? It certainly did help her feel a little better. Just a little. And if she knew anything about Ginny, that may have been the intention.

But, turning her mind back towards more pressing matters, she wondered why this had to be happening now. Couldn't she just be allowed to focus on her impending date?

~ ~ ~

Ring ring!

The doorbell rang out as Wisp tentatively stepped hoof into Carousel Boutique. With the things she had heard since moving into Ponyville, she knew this was where she wanted to go if she needed a dress. She did already have one or two back in Canterlot, and could easily make a quick trip to pick them up, but... she was ready for something new. That icy blue one she had, in tribute to her mother, would no doubt blow Cloudchaser away; But beyond just wanting something new, she didn't want to rely on things from her "old" life. Besides, she had seen some of the proprietor's work. She had no doubt she would be satisfied with her purchase.

However, as she slowly walked into the main room, Rarity was nowhere to be—

"Just a minute~", a muffled voice called from upstairs.

Maybe she's busy with something else. Maybe I should come back later?

Perhaps she would, but Rarity already knew she was here, so she couldn't just leave now. Wisp idly tapped a hoof against the floor as she waited, but fortunately it only took about half a minute before she was seen to.

"Why hello, Wispwillow, darling," Rarity called as she came down the stairs. "I haven't seen you since Pinkie Pie's party. How do you do?"

The much darker unicorn fought the urge to politely bow in respect. She's not a noble, she reminded herself. She just sounds like one.

"Hi, Rarity," she smiled, "I just have a date coming up, and was wondering if you could hook me up with a dress. But if you're busy..."

Rarity's eyes lit up as soon as she heard the word date. "Nonsense, dear. I was just working on something for a friend, but I have all the time in the world for that. Come, let us get started... I would be honored to contribute something to a budding romance."

Before going anywhere, Wisp raised an eyebrow. "Budding romance? How do you know it's anything new?"

"Well, you certainly were single when you first came here. Any date you're going on now must be with somepony new."

"Fair enough," she conceded. "And it is pretty new... We just got together today, in fact."

"Oh my, it really is. Who, might I ask, is the lucky mare?"

Wisp had to catch herself. She had almost missed it that time.

"Who says it's a mare?"

Rarity looked her in the eyes, her own empty of accusation or shame. There was only a quiet understanding. "I saw the way you were looking at me when we met. It's not hard to miss when a pony finds you attractive."

Wisp almost gagged on... air. If she tried hard enough, she could pass off her blush as being due to lack of oxygen or something, right? "I, uh... Ahem... Didn't mean to stare."

"Oh, think nothing of it," was her reply, always the professional. "I don't mind. It is little surprise when one puts the utmost of effort into their appearance as I do."

Clearing her throat, the mare continued, "Anyway, who is it?"

After anxiously clearing her own throat, Wisp told her the answer.

"Cloudchaser? Ah, yes, you've been good friends with her the past couple weeks, haven't you? Oh, I'm sure you will look positively lovely together."

"Heh, thanks... I hope so."

Suddenly Rarity's face lit up again. "Oh, you must be meaning to have your date on Hearts and Hooves Day. I may have just the thing... But first, come, let me take your measurements over here."

Wisp was guided over to the platform near the center of the room, facing a mirror. Oh, how familiar this was... And uncomfortable. If she was lucky, though, having to stand around having measurements taken would be the worst she would have to suffer; She could handle this just fine, but it was when she started getting poked with pins and needles that she would really have a problem.

Rarity had already procured some measuring tape and was flitting from one measurement to the next. One of the benefits of unicorn magic, if one were dextrous enough. As she watched the fashionista's mane bouncing around behind her in the mirror, Wisp heard her say, "If I may ask, what is it about her that strikes your fancy, specifically?"

It hadn't been very long, but Wisp smiled as she remembered being asked virtually the same question quite recently.

"I'm not entirely sure. I think I've had these feelings for a while, but I only first noticed them yesterday. She flew me around for a while, to make up for wasting my time with the cider line, and especially once we rested up on this cloud, something just... hit me. She was acting so serious then, and I couldn't stop thinking how romantic it all was. I guess it kind of just... exemplified whatever I like about her."

Rarity was wearing a smile of her own. "I don't know her very well, but she does seem quite chivalrous."

Chivalry... Was that it? Beneath all the joking and everything else, had Cloudchaser not always been earnest with her? Sure, she didn't hold back when she felt like teasing, not one bit. But ever since they had met, Cloudchaser had always been considerate and understanding. It wasn't quite right to simplify Cloudchaser down into just one trait, but... Maybe that part of her had something to do with it.

Pausing in her work for just a moment, Rarity scratched her chin. "Perhaps 'gallant' is a better word." She smiled at her client's reflection and added, "Much like you are."

Wisp snorted. "'Gallant?' Me?"

"Don't play dumb, now. You should be just as aware as I am the kind of things you do for Ponyville."

"Yeah, I kick ponies out of bars and lift cats out of trees."

Rarity blushed. "Speaking of which, thank you again..." But one prim cough later she was back to business. "But come now, you're being too modest. You patrol the streets and help ponies with various odds and ends..."

"Patrolling is my job, and odd jobs don't amount to much."

"But everypony knows there isn't much for you searchponies to do. You patrol because you want to, not because you have to," Rarity said as she squeezed in some final measurements. "And it is the little things that can mean the most. You make ponies feel safer and happier, and you choose to do it. I'm sure your parents are proud."

Safe? she thought, seeing two ponies lit aflame. Proud? she thought, remembering the looks on her parents' faces as she left. Her sister's.

Her skepticism must have shown, because Rarity was clicking her tongue. "You really don't see your own worth, do you?"

She shrugged and looked away. "I've just had a lot going on in my life recently," she said. "And I've made many more mistakes besides."

"It is not our mistakes that make us who we are," Rarity cited, "but how we deal with them."

Wisp didn't know what to say to that. Fortunately, she didn't need to, as Rarity was already walking away and beckoning her to follow. "Anyway, nevermind all that. We have a dress to find."

As Wisp trotted after her into the dressing room, Rarity hummed thoughtfully as she sifted through the racks of dresses sitting around.

"Incidentally, what do you think of a mare in a suit?"

—————————

The door was shoved open as two unicorn mares finally returned home for the night. One looked tired, the other angry. The latter had been like this the whole way home, and the former was as tired of that as being awake.

"For the last time, Wisp, I'm not going to start avoiding bars just because you want me to."

The other mare snorted and gave the couch a dirty look. "You don't belong in a bar, Twinkleshine. You're too—"

"Weak?"

She forgot about the couch and glared back at her friend. "I was going to say 'innocent.' If somepony decided to take advantage of you—"

"This is Ponyville," Twinkleshine groaned, "I doubt that's going to happen anytime soon. And even if it does, I have magic, too, in case you've forgotten. I kind of used some today? If anypony tries to mess with me, I can just blind them and run away."

"But what if you don't get the chance? What if running away isn't an option? What if—"

"What if you stop saying what if and learn to have a little faith in me? I can take care of myself..."

"Could you have gotten yourself to the hospital if I weren't there?" Wisp asked quietly. Twinkleshine didn't like when Wisp got quiet.

"Well, no... But—"

"But you would have been out of luck. If I hadn't been there and you actually HAD broken something, you would have been rolling around in pain until you passed out or something. And then who knows what could have happened?"

Twinkleshine rested her hindquarters on the cool wooden floor and rubbed the bridge of her muzzle. "Somepony could have helped me. This is Equestria, remember? Ginny isn't the only nice pony to spend time in a bar."

"Yes," Wisp grumbled, "But that's still relying on chance. The only way to be sure you don't get hurt—"

"Just stop, Wisp. If I played things as 'safe' as you want me to, I'd never even get to go outside. I'm my own pony and I'm going to live my life how I want. How many times do we need to go over this?"

Wisp joined her friend on the floor and leaned back against the couch, sighing and closing her eyes. "I don't want to dictate your life, Twink, but I worry about you. You're lucky you didn't lose a rib and puncture a lung or something."

Twinkleshine's brow furrowed. It always came down to this, didn't it?

"Just because I have brittle bones doesn't mean I should just stay inside where the big bad world can't hurt me. You know what I used to go through with my family." Her frown deepening, she whispered, "But at least they learned their lesson..."

Wisp had nothing to say to that. Of course she didn't... She never did.

"Just... Try and be a bit more careful. Please?"

Rubbing at her tired eyes, Twinkleshine sighed. It was never fun arguing with a dear friend. "Yes, in the future I'll try to be more aware of drunk stallions throwing hissy fits."

Wisp scoffed. "That guy was an ass..."

That much was something they could agree on. And it was nice to be in agreement—it meant the fighting was over, at least for now. Twinkleshine clopped over and joined Wisp against the back of the couch, trying to enjoy the peace for a few minutes. Just a few... Because she was afraid that she was about to reignite the flame all over again.

But she had to say it.

"Wisp?"

"Yeah?"

Nuzzling a little into her shoulder, she said, "While you were out looking for a dress yesterday, I looked into getting a new house. I'm moving in tomorrow."

As expected, Wisp tensed up, but she didn't say anything.

"It's not right next-door, but it is just across the street. I won't be far."

The lean mare next to her relaxed. A little.

"Fine. But as soon as you get settled in, I'm enchanting the whole place."

Twinkleshine lifted her head up to look up at her, but Wisp kept her face forward. "Enchanting? What for?"

Now she did make eye contact. "You still don't know what caused the fire, do you?"

"Well... No. I'm sure I didn't leave anything on when I went to bed..."

"And the only reason you're still alive is because I just happened to wake up. I'm going to cast a spell that'll alert me if anything does catch on fire, so that I can be absolutely sure you stay safe. I'm not going to take any chances." Then, turning her head to fully face her, she said, "And you should invest in a fire alarm."

She blinked. "Well, okay... There's no good reason not to, I suppose."

"Exactly." Wisp turned her face forward again and heaved a deep sigh. "I can't lose you, Twinkleshine. I'd be lost without you."

Nuzzling back into her friend's side—her oldest friend, and whether she liked it or not, her protector—Twinkleshine closed her eyes.

"I know."

Author's Note:

I'll just put this here so everyone can be informed: chapters 1 and 2 have been improved (as of July 20) and changed a bit, especially chapter 2. I recommend rereading both, if you care enough, but chapter 2 has 2.3k new words and a fair bit of new information (including a vague telling of Wisp's cutie mark story). So go look at those if you want.

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