• Published 8th Feb 2014
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Brothers and Sisters - Alphacat



To find a missing Princess Luna, Private Lucky Break, batpony soldier of the Night Guard, must breach the gulf of a thousand years of guilt to repair an all-too familiar bond between siblings.

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Chapter 8

Canterlot

Morning found Lucky snuggled up in bed, lazily enjoying the warmth of the thick covers and desperately trying to hold onto a few more minutes of sleep. With the weight of the journey to the Everfree forest already weighing on him, even the short flight back home from the castle had been exhausting. The badly needed shower that followed had threatened to put him to sleep on his hooves, but the thought of Rose waiting for him kept him going long enough to drag himself into bed.

In the morning, Rose slipped out of bed to start preparing the apartment for guests, careful not to disturb his rest. Among her many wonderful qualities was an understanding of his often-odd sleep schedule, and she was more than accommodating if it meant a happier and more functional coltfriend.

A little while later, a warm weight settled on top of him, and the sweet smell of roses filled his senses. Lucky smiled but kept his eyes closed. “Is it eight yet?”

Rose chuckled softly. “No, dear. But I have a special surprise for you.”

“You know I love your surprises, babe, but I’m pretty sure I heard my folks come in already.”

“Oh, they already know about it.” Rose nuzzled at Lucky’s cheek.

Lucky frowned and turned his head to kiss Rose, finally opening his eyes. “Rose, you know I need to get my sleep so I can stay up all day.”

“I know, hun, but trust me. You’ll want to see this.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll be out in a minute.”

“Good! Don’t take too long.” The weight lifted and Rose left, leaving the door open just enough for the light to keep falling on his face.

Lucky squeezed his eyes tight, trying to block the extra light. She doesn’t miss a trick. After a minute of futilely chasing sleep, curiosity got the better of him and he threw the sheets off, sitting up with a stretch. He inhaled deeply, the scent of hash browns reaching his nose. Well, if food’s going to be ready soon I might as well get up anyway. He ran a hoof through his hair to get rid of the worst of his bedmane, and stepped into the living room.

There, in middle of the floor, sat a stallion with a pale blue coat and gray mane. He was fully grown, but still lanky and all limbs. He was affectionately petting Blizz, the husky lapping at his face happily.

Lucky tackled the pony, squeezing him tight. “Slip!”

Slip laughed and hugged his brother back. “Good to see you too, Lucky.”

Blizz barked happily at the two, his tail wagging furiously. Lucky sat back up, giving the younger pegasus some space. “Sorry, it’s just really good to see you.”

“No need to get all moody.” Slip playfully punched Lucky’s shoulder.

“Yeah, yeah. Seriously though. Good to see you.”

Slip’s eyes studied Lucky behind his spectacles, one yellow, one orange. “You okay?”

Lucky idly pet Blizz as he thought on that. “You know, I think I’m doing just fine.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“Yeah. There’s… Well, I’ll tell you later.” Lucky shook his head to clear it. “Enough about me, how about you? I thought you were stuck on that project of your professor’s. And when did you get in? Did you manage the flight okay?”

“You know, it’s the strangest thing. We all got woken up in the middle of the night by a royal courier. Somepony wanted to fund our work, and on top of that, was very adamant that we all get home or wherever we wanted to go to see our loved ones. Included a huge stack of vouchers for travel and hotels.”

Slip grinned broadly. “I took a personal first-class sky chariot all the way here. It had a heating enchantment and a little ice box stocked with drinks. And super plush seats. I wish I could have enjoyed the view, but I ended up falling asleep on the ride over.” He stifled a yawn with his foreleg. “It was pretty early, after all. And dark.”

“I’ll bet. So who funded the research, anyway?”

“Somepony named… Midnight Song, I think.”

“Wonder how they found out about it.”

“Beats me.” Slip shrugged. “Seemed legit, though.”

“Well, however it happened, I’m glad to have you here. Happy Hearth’s Warming, buddy.”

“You too.”

“Who wants hot chocolate?” called Evengale from the kitchen doorway.

“I do!” called Slip.

“I do,” said Lucky as he stood up. “And I also want you out of the kitchen. You’re my guest, so I should be doing the work.”

“Not going to get your extra sleep?” Gale set a mug down in front of Slip, and then fetched a cup for herself and joined her husband on the couch.

“Who can sleep when they’ve got their family to be with?” Lucky slipped into the kitchen and put on an apron, giving Rose a brief nuzzle.

“Did you like your surprise, Lucky?”

“Couldn’t have asked for a better one. Alright. Let’s get this show on the road.”

* * * * * * *

Lucky didn’t put too much stock into the Hearth’s Warming holiday. He wasn’t the first nyctan to note the irony of celebrating harmony after his ancestors had been driven from the country. But even though he didn’t buy into all the trappings of the holiday, he had to admit that it had a few good ideas. Taking care of your loved ones was a very nyctan sentiment, after all.

And he had to admit that gift giving was pretty cool, too.

The apartment was cozy for five ponies and a dog, but nobody minded as they shared stories, swapped gifts, and enjoyed each other’s warmth and companionship.

Lucky’s parents slipped away for a private rendezvous, and Rose’s manager came calling with some urgent business to discuss. Rose apologized, but Lucky sent her off with a smile and a kiss.

That left Slip, and they took to the streets to enjoy the fresh air, fresh snow, and peaceful silence. Canterlot’s weather team was top notch, of course. The fresh snowfall blanketed the entire city in white, but wasn’t deep enough to prevent ponies from walking through it. The tranquility was only broken by Blizz’s intermittent barks, and Lucky occasionally pointing out some of the more interesting places they passed.

“…and then she teleported us back to Canterlot,” said Lucky. “That was kind of freaky.”

Slip gave a low whistle. “All the way from the Everfree?”

“Yep. And she landed right back in her court, too."

“Nice.”

“Yeah. It’s a nice trick, but give me a good pair of wings any day.” Lucky flexed his wings for a moment before tucking them neatly at his sides.

They walked along in silence, frosted breath hanging in the air ahead of them. Lucky contemplated the ground, but Slip watched his brother.

“So,” said Slip, “how are you holding up after all that?”

Lucky took in a deep breath and slowly released it. “I’m… okay. I think. Kind of dredged up a lot of old and uncomfortable memories.”

“Hopefully some good ones, too.”

A small smile appeared on Lucky’s face and then faded away. “A few, yeah. I just… I saw Princess Luna trashing that room and I just sort of knew what was wrong.”

“Takes a lot of guts to stare down an alicorn.”

“Yeah, or just being stupid. Honestly I’m not even sure which it is sometimes. Somebody falling in a river? Easy. Somebody killing themselves with guilt? I don’t know where to stop.”

Slip threw a wing over Lucky’s back. “Maybe bravery is being just smart enough to know what to do and just dumb enough not to consider the consequences.”

Lucky snorted, playfully giving Slip a shove. “You calling me stupid?”

“Nope!” said Slip with a grin. “I’m calling you just smart enough to do incredibly stupid things for all the right reasons.”

“I think that’s the weirdest compliment I’ve ever gotten.” Lucky considered that for a moment. “That is a compliment, right?”

“You better believe it.”

“Heh. Thanks, then.” They walked on, slipping into silence again for a few moments.

"So, Celestia's room. What was that like?"

"Kind of homey, actually. Nice rug, a fireplace. Phoenix by the fireplace is definitely different, but other than that… Kind of nice."

"I guess even princesses need a break from pomp and circumstance."

"I think… I think on some levels, they're just ponies too, like we are, you know?"

They turned onto one of the larger thoroughfares. A wagon clacked along on the cobblestone road, and there were a few more ponies around, but the city was still quiet, lacking its usual vigor.

“So how’s cloud college?”

“Really good, actually! I’ve got a paper being published next month, and they sent me the preview copy to look at already. I’ll show it to you later.”

“All right!” Lucky slung a foreleg over Slip’s neck in a one-legged hug. “Way to go, buddy. You’ll be the superstar of the meteorological world in no time.”

“Yeah, yeah. I still have to graduate, though. And survive another year of being in Cloudsdale.”

Lucky searched Slip’s face. “Something wrong?”

Slip shrugged. “Not really. Just a little homesick, I guess.”

“Missing the family?”

“Actually, I kind of miss the ground. There’s barely any plants, let alone a nice park. Hearth’s Warming doesn’t even give us any snow.”

Lucky rolled his eyes. “Only my brother would be a pegasus that misses the ground.”

Slip elbowed him playfully. “Yeah, and that’s why you’d say hi to all of us and then immediately take Blizz to the park for an hour whenever you came home, huh?”

The mention of his name drew Blizz’s attention, and he turned away from a scent he was investigating to run over to the two brothers. “Woof?”

“Yeah, well…”

Blizz jumped up at Lucky, planting his forepaws on the pegasus’ chest and licking at his cheek. Lucky laughed and gave the dog a playful growl and a nuzzle before pushing him down.

“Okay, okay. You both made your point. Geez.”

Blizz just barked again, his tail wagging furiously behind him.

“So, we’ve got a few hours to kill. What do you wanna do?”

“How about a tour of the castle?”

“Yeah, sure. I think we can do that.”

Slip stopped and turned to face Lucky. “Oh, and Lucky?”

Lucky looked over his shoulder at his brother. “Yeah?”

With a powerful downbeat of his wings, Slip blasted him with a spray of snow and took off flying towards the castle. “Race ya!”

“I’ll get you for that!” Lucky shook the snow from his mane and chased after his brother, their laughs ringing out into the clear and open sky.


Manehattan

Lucky stared at the morning sky. It was clear and bright, but for once it held no answers for him. The small backyard around him was still and silent.

His heart was still tied in a knot. The weight of it filled his chest. At times he could barely breathe.

It had been a week, and Lucky hadn’t returned to the hospital since the accident. He had holed himself away in his room, only coming out to eat at the insistence of his mother and friends. Today Lucky had spent the morning in thought with only Blizz to keep him company, but the puppy had long since retreated to his bed inside.

Gale had sent an urgent letter to Jetstream, who had temporarily returned to help with family matters.

The back door creaked open, and the large white stallion stepped through. “Hey, kiddo.”

“Hey, Dad.” Lucky gave a half-hearted wave without looking back.

“You’re up late.”

“I’m still on my school schedule, and I haven’t been sleeping well anyway.”

The deck creaked as Jetstream settled down next to his son. “How you holding up?”

Lucky shrugged. “Fine, I guess.”

“Your mom’s been sending me letters about the things going on around here.”

“Oh. Sorry I haven’t written.”

Jetstream slipped a foreleg around his son’s shoulders. “Don’t worry about it. I know we don’t talk as much as you and Gale do.”

Lucky rested his head against his father’s side. “Yeah. I don’t really talk with Slip a lot either.”

“Yep. Sometimes things get a little weird in houses like ours.”

“Do you ever get upset that Mom and I do things differently from you and Slip?”

Jetstream chuckled, ruffling Lucky’s mane. “You kidding me? I wouldn’t have you two any other way. Your mom being the way she is the reason I fell in love with her.”

Lucky looked up to his father. “Really?”

“Really. I met her when I was a fresh recruit, and… Well, she wasn’t afraid to tell off my buddies and me when we were goofing around and screwing up her work. And then later I ran into her at a bar and she drank me under the table. Found out she had a mean kick, too.” Jetstream rubbed his jaw thoughtfully.

“She kicked you? She got on my case for punching Stormcrasher!”

The stallion laughed. “Yeah, well, my buddy had it coming. I just got in the way.” Jetstream glanced around the yard conspiratorially and dropped his voice. “Don’t tell your mother I told you this, but she was very proud of the way you managed to hold your own against all those other colts.”

Lucky stared agape at his father. “Then why did she ground me?!”

“She wants you to be able to handle yourself, but she also wants you to not need to.”

“This is one of those confusing parenting things, isn’t it?”

“You’ll understand someday,” said Jetstream with a grin.

Lucky rolled his eyes. “And another one.”

Jetstream poked Lucky’s stomach. “You’ll say it to your kids someday.”

“As if.”

Both ponies fell silent. Overhead, a cloud lazily drifted by.

“Dad? Do you think it’d be better if Slip and I were closer?”

Jetstream thought for a moment. “Do you want to be closer to him?”

“I dunno.” Lucky shrugged. “I was thinking maybe it could have helped? It’s just… We’re so different. I’m nyctan, he’s meran. I love to fly, but he likes books and reading. We don’t even have anything in common.”

“Well, you could always try taking an interest in what he likes. Or share some of your interests with him.” Jetstream gave Lucky a gentle squeeze. “You’ll probably never completely agree on everything, but making an effort to understand him more couldn’t hurt.”

The back door squeaked open. Both ponies turned to look.

Lucky’s ears fell back, his voice wavering. “H-hey, Slip.”

The smaller colt stood in the doorway, bandages wrapped around his head and covering his right eye. The trail of burnt fur down his chest had been snipped away, showing bare skin. “Hi.”

Jetstream gave Lucky another squeeze before standing. “I’ll give you guys some time to talk.” He ruffled Slip’s mane gently as he passed, leaving the two colts alone on the back porch.

They stared at each other. Lucky cleared his throat and scratched at his mane. Slipstream shuffled his hooves along the worn wood of the porch.

“So… you’re out of the hospital.”

The younger colt nodded. “Yeah.”

“How was it?”

Slip shrugged. “Kind of boring. Kind of lonely. Some of the nurses were nice though.”

Lucky slowly nodded. “Yeah, I didn’t like being there when they were patching up my wing. Or my leg.”

The smaller colt traced a groove in the wood with a hoof, staring down. “Lucky?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you hate me?” Slip’s gaze flicked upwards briefly, then settled back on a knot in the wood.

Lucky sighed and moved to sit next to his brother. “No, Slippy. I don’t hate you.”

“You said I ruined your life.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t mean it.”

Slip kicked at the porch. “You sounded like you meant it.”

Lucky’s chest tightened. “Okay, at the time I meant it. But I was wrong, okay? You did not ruin my life. I was just mad about… Well, a lot of things.”

“Like what?”

“Well… All the stuff at school, not getting to hang out with my friends as much, losing the race…”

Slip sniffed. “But if I wasn’t here—”

“Hey!” Lucky shifted, lowering himself to the deck. He lifted Slip’s chin, meeting his gaze. “Don’t blame yourself for any of that. I’m the one that wrecked my wing by flying with it. It’s my fault I screwed up the race. And I still got to see my friends some, so it wasn’t all that bad.”

Slip blinked softly. “Are— are you sure?”

Lucky gave his brother a small smile. “You bet I’m sure.”

Slipstream’s gaze dropped again. “I wish I could be like you, Lucky. You’re not a wimp like I am.”

The older colt stared. “What?”

“If I wasn’t a wimp, I could’ve fought those bullies, or gotten out of the storm, or—”

“Oh, buck me.” Lucky grabbed Slip and pulled him into a tight embrace. “You stop thinking that right now.”

“But Lucky—”

Lucky squeezed him tighter. “No buts. I was wrong about that too. You are not a wimp.”

Slip pushed his way out of Lucky’s grip, stepping back. “I am too! You fought six colts all at once! I couldn’t even do anything… You weren’t afraid of the colts, and you weren’t even afraid of the storm. You’re not afraid of anything!”

“Slip, I don’t know if I’m brave or just stupid sometimes.” Lucky hung his head. “But there’s stuff I’m afraid of, you know.”

“Nah-uh!” Slip shook his head. He spread his still-developing wings and pointed at his older brother. “You’re never afraid of anything! You got your cutie mark for being fearless!”

Lucky laid down, keeping his gaze trained on his brother. “Sometimes I’m afraid I can’t be myself or that I look like a freak. I was afraid of losing you the night of the storm. And right now I’m afraid that I’ve made you think that you need to be something you’re not.”

Slip dropped his hoof. “You’re afraid of all that? Really?”

The older colt simply nodded.

The wings slowly folded. “But you’re always brave.”

“Yeah. When I’m flying, I am. It’s easy when you know it’s your talent. The other stuff isn’t that easy.”

Slip took a step closer. “Were you really afraid of losing me?”

“More than anything else I’ve ever been afraid of.”

The younger colt stared at Lucky silently. Finally he asked, “You really mean that?”

“You bet.” Lucky sat up and patted the porch next to him. Slip sat down by his brother’s side, and Lucky reached over to tousle his mane. “Look, sometimes there’s gonna be ponies who call you a wimp, or tell you to be something you’re not. Don’t listen, okay? Not to anybody else, and especially not to me.”

“Okay.” Slip leaned against him. “Hey Lucky?”

Lucky wrapped his brother tightly in a wing. “Yeah?”

“I never thought you were a freak. You’re just Lucky. And Mom’s just Mom.”

A fleeting smile tugged at Lucky’s lips. “Thanks. That means a lot.”

They sat together in silence, listening to the calls of morning birds.

“Slip, I’m sorry for all the things I said and did. I’m gonna try and do better by you, okay?”

“Okay. And I’m sorry I was bugging you so much.”

The older colt shook his head. “Thanks, but you don’t have to apologize for that. I was way out of line.” Lucky gave Slip a gentle squeeze and stood up. “Since Hearth’s Warming is tomorrow, I’m gonna spend the day doing whatever you want.”

Slipstream leapt to his hooves. “Really? You mean it?”

“Yeah. We’ll call it your Hearth’s Warming present from me.”

“Weelll…” Slip tapped at the porch thoughtfully. “Do you have any books about the Nycta? I wanna learn more about them.”

“Sure.” Lucky started for the door. “I’ll get Mom to make some hot chocolate.”

“Awesome!” Slip ran after him. “Oh! And you should come to the pageant tonight.”

Lucky froze in mid-stride. “The pageant? I dunno, Slip. That’s a daypony thing…”

“You promised!”

Lucky hung his head. “Okay, okay. But I’ll have to take a nap if I’m staying up that late.”

“Okay! I’ll go tell Mommy you’re coming!” Slip ran ahead into the house.

Lucky watched his brother vanish inside, and slowly shook his head.

“Geeze,” he said with a smile. “What a pain.”

* * * * * * *

Honey Hays Theater was a stately old building, located in the heart of Manehattan’s theater district. It was one of the city's landmarks, its facade built from brick and wrought iron. Carriages let out their attendees in front of the building, while a few pegasi flew in under their own wingpower.

Lucky let his parents fly ahead, hanging behind to guide his brother safely through the night sky. They carefully descended in front of the theater, touching down to where their parents were waiting.

Jetstream was wearing his military dress uniform, a crisp white jacket with gold trim. Evengale was draped in a sleek but elegant black dress, accented with a few pieces of simple silver jewelry.

Lucky and Slip were both wearing their best suits and ties; Lucky still thought it was too constricting, despite months of wearing a school uniform.

Gale smiled and stepped forward, straightening Lucky’s tie. “Have I mentioned how handsome my boys are?”

Lucky rolled his eyes. “Only about a million times.”

The mare stepped back, and Jet sidled up beside her, draping a wing over her back. “Well, my gal is the most beautiful one here.” He planted a soft kiss on her cheek.

Gale smiled and returned the kiss. “Flatterer.”

Jet grinned. “It’s not flattery if it’s true.”

Lucky nudged Slip with a wingtip and pantomimed a gagging motion. The smaller colt giggled.

Together they entered the theater. Evengale presented her invitation, and the doorpony admitted them with barely a glance.

Inside, the atmosphere was lively, with swarms of ponies socializing and rubbing shoulders. The hall itself was decked in festive greens and reds, an ornate holiday tree proudly displayed in the lobby.

“What’s everypony doing out here?” asked Lucky. “Shouldn’t they be sitting in the theater?”

“The pageant doesn’t start for another hour, Lucky,” replied Jetstream. “There’s a little soirée for everypony to socialize before then.”

“An hour?”

“Is something wrong, dear?” asked Gale.

Lucky quickly shook his head. “No, no. It’s fine. Just didn’t realize the pageant would be so involved.”

“Dear, some of our friends are waving us over,” said Jetstream, waving back.

“I know you two probably don’t know a lot of ponies here, so if you’d like to stay with us—”

“Hey Lucky!” exclaimed Slip, tugging on his jacket sleeve. “They’ve got a bunch of food!”

The older colt chuckled. “I think Slip wants to go check out the food. We’ll catch up?”

Gale leaned down and kissed Lucky and Slip’s foreheads. “All right. You look after your brother now. We’ll come find you in an hour.”

I won’t be hard to miss in this place. “Seeya, Mom. Bye, Dad.”

Jetstream and Evengale forged into the sea of ponies, greeting and chatting with the other attendees.

Lucky watched the throng of ponies, a roiling unease growing in his stomach. Here I am. Playing at being ‘civilized’ like a trained animal for all of these aristocrats. How does Mom do it?

Something tugged at his leg, and Lucky looked down to the smiling face of his brother.

“Lucky, if someone says something mean, I’ll stick up for you!”

The older colt laughed and ruffled Slip’s mane, the tension beginning to fade. “Hey, I think you got it backwards, bro. But thanks. Wanna get something to eat?”

“Sure!”

They made their way to the refreshment tables. Lucky lifted Slip onto his head, and they both looked at the dizzying array of foods on display. A uniformed unicorn waiter in a crisp vest watched the two colts as they tried to take it all in.

“Hey, Lucky?”

The colt lifted his head a little higher. “Yeah?”

“Do you know what any of this is?”

“Not a clue.”

A soft voice spoke up behind them. “This is a selection of cheeses.” Rose stepped up beside them. She was wearing an simple red dress, and her mane was done up in an elaborate bun.

Lucky smiled. “Hey, Rose. You look great.”

“Hi, Rose!” said Slip, giving a small wave from atop Lucky’s head.

Rose smiled back. “Thanks, Lucky. And hello again, Slip. Goodness, what happened to your eye?”

“Well, it’s a long—”

“It got hit by lightning! And Lucky saved me!”

Lucky scuffed a hoof against the floor. “Long story. I’ll tell you later.”

Rose nodded. “Well, I never expected to see you here. This doesn’t seem… um…” She winced. “Like your kind of thing?”

“Oh, our mom’s one of the nighttime weather supervisors. And our dad’s in the guard, so they both know people. So… yeah. Here we are. Hey, Rose?”

“Yes?”

Lucky rubbed the back of his neck. “Look, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and I don’t think I’ve been fair to you. If you wanna talk to me at school, or whatever, well… I’m fine with it. If you’re okay with it, I mean.”

Rose leaned against him briefly. “Thanks, Lucky.”

The server cleared his throat impatiently.

“Hey, guys? I think we should pick something.” Slip leaned forward to examine the food more closely.

The filly straightened and cleared her throat. “Of course. Do either of you see something you’d like?”

Lucky shrugged. “I’m not big on all this fancy stuff.”

“What would you recommend?” asked Slip.

“Well, let’s see…” Rose quickly scanned over the tables. “Do you feel like experimenting a little?”

Slip nodded eagerly. “Uh huh!”

“Okay. Sir? May I please have a plate with… Some Roquefort, Gryphonian Camembert, caviar, starfruit, and a couple of the robin’s egg quiches, and then a second plate with some of the chocolate-dipped fruits?”

The waiter bowed. “Of course.” His horn lit up as he started to put the two plates together.

“Chocolate? Now that’s a word I understand,” said Lucky.

“It’s probably richer than you’re used to, but you should give it a try.”

The server returned. “Shall I take these to your table?”

Lucky gave his head a small shake. “Oh, we don’t really—”

“Take it to my table, please,” interrupted Rose. “Come on, Lucky. I’ll introduce you and Slip to some of my friends.”

Lucky fidgeted with his hooves. “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea, Rose.”

“Lucky, I’m asking you to trust me.” Rose placed a hoof on the colt’s shoulder and gave him an earnest smile. “Just give it a try, please?”

“I don’t know…” Lucky watched Rose’s expression carefully, brow furrowed as he thought.

“Don’t worry Lucky. I’ll watch out for you,” said Slip, leaning down to gently pat Lucky’s muzzle.

The older colt laughed, playfully rolling his eyes. “Okay, okay. I’ll give it a shot.”

Rose led the two brothers over to her table. There were several colts and fillies already seated, but their conversation quickly petered out as Lucky approached. Lucky recognized all of them; they were in his class, but he’d barely spoken to them outside of class assignments.

He leaned down to let Slip scramble onto a chair, then turned to face the other youths.

“I ran into Lucky and Slip and invited him to our table,” said Rose. “I hope that’s not a problem.”

The seated fillies and colts exchanged several glances, and Lucky took a deep and slow breath. Come on. They’re kids just like you are. It’ll be okay.

One filly leaned forward. “May I ask you something?”

Rose gave him an encouraging smile, and Lucky slowly nodded. “Sure.”

“Is it true you drink blood?”

“Windy!” said Rose sharply.

Lucky rolled his eyes. “It’s fine, Rose. No, I don’t drink blood. I also don’t eat meat, insects, or souls.”

A colt spoke up next. “How did your wings get like that?”

“I was born with ‘em, same as you.” Lucky rubbed the back of his neck. “There’s, um, a myth we have about how that happened originally, but I’m not sure if it’s true or not.”

A second filly raised a hoof before speaking. “Did you really blow up that table?”

Lucky couldn’t hold back a bark of laughter. “Not really. I just blew all the stuff off of it, but yeah, that was totally me. I guess all the lightning got people confused."

“But why?” asked the second filly. “Don’t you know who Stormcrasher is?”

Lucky shrugged. “He took a grudge he had with me and sent someone to beat up my brother. I don’t care who he is, I wasn’t going to let him get away with that.”

The other ponies at the table dropped into hushed whispers amongst themselves. Lucky reached over to give Slip’s mane a soft tussle, snatching a chocolate-covered cherry from his plate and tasting it. The chocolate was soft and creamy, but the cherry flooded his mouth with a burst of sweetness.

“Mmm, oh wow. You guys know your chocolate. This is really good.”

“’Us guys?’” said Rose in a playful tone. “Just who are you talking about?”

Lucky hastily swallowed another mouthful and stammered, “You, uh… I mean, maybe this party won’t be as bad as I thought?”

Rose giggled and playfully poked Lucky’s side with a wingtip. “Relax, Lucky. We cater our parties one platter at a time, just like anypony else.”

“Okay, okay,” said Lucky with a laugh. “You’ve made your point.”

“See?” said Rose, smiling brightly. “I knew you’d like it.”

Lucky flashed Rose a grin. “This almost makes up for getting all dressed up. Almost.”

“Slip, was it?” asked the first colt.

Slip looked up from his plate, nodding. “Uh huh. My full name’s Slipstream, but you can call me Slip.”

“My little brother is in your class, I think. Red mane with a white stripe?”

“Oh! Yeah! I know him.”

“If anybody gives you any trouble, let him know. We’ll take care of it.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

“Thanks, guys. I appreciate it,” said Lucky. “But I can’t ask you to solve my problems.”

The second filly shook her head. “Nonsense. That goes for you too, Lucky. Stormcrasher’s always had… an over-inflated view of himself.”

“Thanks.”

Rose leaned against him, and Lucky leaned back, smiling.

“If you don’t drink blood,” asked the first filly, “then why aren’t you ever in the dining hall at lunch?”

“I usually just go and find a cloud outside.” Lucky looked at his classmates, who had started to frown. “Wait, is that why all of you thought—”

“I see they’re letting the rabble in.”

Lucky resisted the urge to sigh as he turned around. “Hello, Stormcrasher.”

Stormcrasher glared intently at him, dressed in a suit jacket that Lucky dimly recognized cost much more than his own. “What are you doing here?”

Lucky shrugged. “I’m here to see the pageant. But the food’s good too.”

“Being in my school wasn’t enough? Making me a laughing stock wasn’t enough?”

They were already too close. Stormcrasher stepped into Lucky’s personal space, and the nyctan colt quickly stepped back, bumping into the table.

“I didn’t mean to make you a laughing stock. And I overreacted when I came after you. I’m sorry. Honest. Bygones?” Lucky extended a hoof to shake.

Stormcrasher smacked the hoof away and pressed in close again. His hot breath washed over the other colt’s muzzle. “You think ‘sorry’ is going to cut it? That it’ll make up for what you’ve done to me?”

Lucky stood firm. “Look, I’m tired of fighting with you. It’s pointless. Can’t we just leave each other alone?”

The noblecolt suddenly reared up, brandishing his forehooves. Lucky quickly leapt back. Plates and dishes clattered and shattered behind him. Stormcrasher smashed into the ground. The sharp crack of hoof on marble rang out into the air.

“Lucky!” cried Slip.

Stormcrasher’s gaze slowly shifted to where the smaller colt sat. His face twisted, and as his hoof rose, Lucky was already in motion.

Lucky snapped his wings open with a leathery crack. He leaned forward, all four knees growing tense as he fell into a ready crouch. Everything but the other colt fell away from his vision, and the pounding in his ears drowned out the crowds.

Stormcrasher’s hoof jerked to a stop. A soft yellow glow wrapped around it, pulling the hoof back. The colt grunted and pulled, but it remained steadfastly stuck in mid-air. “Let go!”

“No, I think not,” said the second filly as she slowly walked around the table. Her horn glowed brighter as she pushed the trapped hoof down to the ground.

Lucky quickly slid in front of his brother. Rose and the other foals surrounded Stormcrasher, who thrashed against the magic pinning his foreleg to the ground.

“You’re all making a big mistake protecting this freak!”

“The only one acting like a freak is you,” said Rose. “Please leave. We’re trying to have a nice night with our friend.”

“Let him go,” said Lucky.

“Are you sure?” asked the second filly.

“I’m sure. Let’s just ignore him, like I should have done to begin with.”

The filly nodded, and the glow around her horn and Stormcrasher’s hoof vanished.

Stormcrasher scowled and rubbed his ankle. “This isn’t over.” He snorted in disgust and slunk away.

Lucky turned and grabbed the tablecloth with his teeth, tugging it gently to straighten it out. He spotted the small crowd of attendees watching the spectacle and waved. “Sorry folks. Got a little excited and bumped the table. Nothing to worry about.”

Rose and the other fillies slowly broke away from Stormcrasher, leaving the brooding colt by himself.

A server was already present, discretely tidying up the broken dishware. “Is there anything I can fetch for you? More drinks, perhaps?”

“Just some water, please.”

The server nodded and slipped away, broken dishware hovering beside him.

After the waiter left, Lucky looked around to the assembled colts and fillies. “Hey, if you guys ever need anything, I’m there. Count on it.”

“You know, Lucky,” started Rose, “you never elaborated on how you got your cutie mark.”

“I told you the day we met. Flying in a thunderstorm.”

“And you just happened to be outside in a thunderstorm as a colt?”

“Well, not really. It’s kind of stupid, really.”

Rose playfully prodded his side. “Stupider than divebombing a table?”

Lucky was silent.

“Well?”

“I’m thinking!”

“Go on, Lucky. Tell them! I really like this story,” said Slip.

The other foals nodded their agreement.

“Okay, okay.” Lucky looked around the table. All of the colts and fillies were leaning forward, ears perked up in interest.

“It all happened one rainy night in class. We had to stay inside for P.E., and I was upset because I liked doing the flight exercises, and I hated being stuck indoors. I said I wish I could be outside flying, and this other pegasus, Comet, says that nobody could fly in a storm like that. And of course, I said that I could. So he dared me to run the obstacle course in the thunderstorm.

“Now, we’ve always competed with each other for the title of best flier, so I knew this could be my chance to take it from him.”

Lucky looked around at the attentive faces of his audience, grinning as he continued his story.

“So of course, I go outside…”