• Published 1st Feb 2018
  • 2,090 Views, 90 Comments

Heteropaternal Superfecundation - Thornquill



When Sugarcube Corner burns down, Sunburst & Hoops are the last ponies that ought to be affected. But if the past can't be buried again, even Ponyville's model family may be shattered forever.

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Chapter 4 - Viva Las Pegasus

Two Years Ago

“The clamoring crowds! The lively lights! The clangoring coins!” Pinkie Pie rattled off sight after sight like she was playing some abbreviated, solo version of “I Spy.” One minute she was bouncing right beside Cupcake, and the next she had cleared the street in a single bound and was narrating her discoveries to whatever random pony happened to be in the way. Then she would be back again, piecing together sights and rhymes and, Cupcake had no doubt, putting them away for later use in an improvised song. “The suited stallions! The boorish bouncers!”

Pinkie suddenly stopped as she glanced into a wide, shell-shaped doorway big as a stage and bedazzled with enough light bulbs to blow out the Ponyville power plant. There was a calculating, almost predatory gleam in her smile. “The sexy showmares,” she said, her voice suddenly low and dragging huskily on the words like a cigar. Cupcake stopped and looked back at her, mouth agape in shock.

Pinkie!

“Just kidding!” Pinkie dropped the lascivious façade—if façade it had been—like a burned muffin and bounced along as if nothing had interrupted her.

Cupcake plodded along behind her. What Pinkie found intoxicating, Cupcake was finding nauseating. There were lights, alright. Even if she shut her eyes, it seemed like worms of every unnatural, dye-saturated color imaginable were tracing casino signs into her brain with burning mucus.

The noise was no better. Tartarus itself couldn’t howl with so many beleaguering, hollow conversations if Cerberus were running amok, and that was only the background of Las Pegasus’ chaotic soundtrack. Electronic tones spun drunkenly over themselves, imitating the dizzying tumble of the slot machines. Electric guitars raked their angry chords over the ears of the throng, and every few blocks, cheap microphones drizzled out sugarcane-sweet voices of pop-star impersonators.

Overhead, Cupcake could hear the dull, constant roar of the natural gas jets, the red light of their draconic maws illuminating the entire city in an almost demonic glow. Heated by those fiery monsters like so many lanterns, the ponderous, behemothic dirigibles that cradled Las Pegasus in its cloud bed floated overhead, holding them all in a gentle sway fifteen hundred feet above the desert. Purely Pegasus cities like Cloudsdale had no need of such clunky, fuel-hungry monstrosities. But a city like Las Pegasus, having evolved entirely for the pleasure of the itinerant, could not afford to cater solely to the winged ponies of Equestria. And so, the heavy stone roads and buildings Cupcake now walked on had to be suspended like a bridge with no destination over the emptiest part of the world.

Another pony jostled against Cupcake, almost pushing her into the gutter. She gritted her teeth and fought her way back to the middle of the sidewalk, straining to keep up with Pinkie as she flounced along. How their young ward managed to launch herself above the crowd and land without crushing somepony’s spine was a total mystery. What I wouldn’t give to have that kind of energy again. Failing that, just enough zest and eye for the crowds to keep up with Pinkie’s exhausting pace would be nice.

“What hotel is the convention at, again?” she asked when she finally caught up to Pinkie.

“Not sure!” Pinkie chirped. “I figure we’ll see signs for it eventually!”

Cupcake almost stood still, staring at Pinkie with an exhausted fury she could almost taste. It felt like swallowing a wad of dry, prickly fibers. Someone pushed bodily against her rump, however, and she forced herself to keep moving and ignore the grumbling behind her. “What do you mean, you don’t know?”

“I read it somewhere when I bought the passes, but I forgot,” Pinkie said, apparently ignorant of Cupcake’s discomfort. “I decided to just sightsee until we found it! And there’s soooo much to see! Come on!”

It was enough to make Cupcake want to cry. After fourteen hours on two connecting trains, it had been another four hours by coach through the sweltering Mo’Ponee Desert to get to the anomalous wasteland city. Of course, it would have only been four hours by airyacht, but who can afford the ridiculous airfares these days? Cupcake could have bought two or three new ovens and still had spare change with what that trip would have cost her. Now, all she wanted was to check into an air-conditioned hotel room, lie on the overlarge bed, and just let the monotonous, headache-filled journey bleed away. Then she could deal with Pinkie’s antics again.

What she did not want was an impromptu, unguided tour of the enormous city while the scorching heat of the day still swamped the streets. She could practically feel herself simmering in her own sweat, even though nothing remained of the sun but a blood-red band on the lowest edge of the horizon.

She took a long breath, trying to push the frustration down. The air felt hot enough to cook the moisture from her lungs, but she forced herself to keep a calm expression. There isn’t any reason to be mad at Pinkie. She’s just excited, and it’s good that she is. She can just be a little thoughtless sometimes, that’s all. Especially when she’s excited.

Just like Carrot could be a little thoughtless. Especially when he felt embarrassed.

She cleared the errant, biting thought from her mind. It was even worse to be dwelling on that than to get upset at Pinkie. “Listen, dearie, I know you’re excited to be here. But it’s been a really long day, and I’m really, really tired.” Pinkie needed things made extra clear, sometimes. It was good to use “really” a lot. She seemed to take notice the more someone said it. “I really just want to get to the hotel and rest. We’ll have plenty of time to explore, I promise. We can get settled first, just a little, can’t we?”

Pinkie stopped bouncing at looked at Cupcake as if she had never seen her before. Then, she nodded emphatically, her apology written clear as day on her face. “Sure thing, Mrs. Cake. I’m sorry.”

“No harm done, dearie,” Cupcake said, breathing a soft sigh of relief.

“Hey!” Pinkie called to the nearest bouncer. “You know where the Great Equestrian Party Convention is being held?”

The bouncer’s expression, hidden behind his enormous aviator sunglasses, would have been a model for a Royal Canterlot guard to look up to. Pinkie, undeterred by his stony gaze, received a slow nod in reply.

“The Rose,” he said. Cupcake could feel the bass of his voice roll through her like a small storm front. “Two blocks down Freemount street just ahead.”

“Awesome! Thanks mister!”

Freemount Street, Cupcake thought glumly. If that’s not a bad omen, I don’t know what is.

* * *

“Check it out, boys,” Breakaway said, waving expansively as the rest of the team crested the final cloud hill. “Las Pegasus, a.k.a. team Alkonost’s weekend Casa Fiesta!”

The whole team, having flown in a lazy and scattered formation for the past few hours, now came together in a loose huddle as they perched for a final short rest. Duffel bags briefly thudded onto the cloud as they stretched and trotted in place, and a few of the Pegasi simply rolled onto their backs for a quick power nap. Hoops, however, landed close to his captain and looked out over the city, beaming with a long, almost leering smile as he took in the sight. They couldn’t even see the shape of the city with how dark the night had already gotten, but that didn’t matter. The glow mushrooming into the sky in front of them told of golden pyramids, neon towers, and the bright, balloon-shrouded fires of Las Pegasus, beckoning them to nights that only came once in a lifetime.

This, Hoops thought, is what college is about. Good colts, pretty mares, and enough beer to keep everypony’s minds drifting in that pleasant golden haze that made life worth living. This was what made the whole game season worthwhile. The past two semesters had been building up to this, and now it was time to “viva Las Pegasus.”

“Don’t forget,” Breakaway said, turning a skeptical eye on Hoops, “we still represent the Alkonosts here, every bit as much as we do on the court. We’re here to have fun, but I don’t want to hear about anyone getting carried away and giving the Academy a bad name. Anyone. You got that?”

“Why are you singling me out?” Hoops asked, holding back a scowl as he turned to look at Breakaway.

“You know exactly why,” Breakaway grumbled. “You and your buddies have been on thin ice lately, Hoops. If your GPA doesn’t get a boost, you know coach is going to have to talk with you. And I don’t like what I’ve been hearing about you from the bar owners downtown.”

“Come on Breakaway,” Hoops drawled. “Save it for when coach is listening, yeah? This is Las Pegasus! The last thing we need to do here is worry about anything.”

“I’m serious, Hoops,” Breakaway said with a frown. “I don’t want to see your standing with the team jeopardized. You need to be bringing your behavior up a few notches. And if you want to move up in the leagues, you need to start working harder than you have been, too. You’ve only got one season left here. It’s do-or-die time.”

“And I always do,” Hoops insisted. “Trust me, scouts are gonna be lining up for me next year. Even you haven’t racked up stats like mine this season.”

“It’s not just about stats when it comes to scouts,” Breakaway said. He looked like he wanted to say more, but he just shook his head and sighed. “Look, just don’t embarrass any of us while we’re here.”

“Not to worry,” Hoops said, mocking a sagely tone. Because when Score and I get up to the real fun, I’ll just make sure you’re not nearby to watch.

* * *

She should have realized she wouldn’t get any rest. At least, not if she wanted to keep an eye on Pinkie Pie. She had been allowed a grand total of ten minutes in her hotel room before she heard Pinkie galloping down to the convention hall, and with a pained groan, had dragged herself out of bed to follow.

She’d probably be fine, she complained to herself, repeating the now-familiar refrain. But Las Pegasus was a dodgy place for any mare alone, and Pinkie was still very young. It had been out of the question for her to attend the Great Equestrian Party Convention by herself. Cupcake didn’t want to think about what Igneous and Cloudy would have said if they knew the Cakes had allowed their daughter to travel hundreds of miles alone, and to Las Pegasus of all places. It would have driven Cupcake herself mad with worry no matter what city it was. So, she had insisted on chaperoning Pinkie to the event that, the enthusiastic pony had sworn, would be the gathering of her lifetime.

Now, Cupcake sat alone at the hotel bar, trying to keep an eye on the convention hall but barely able to muster the energy to do so. Pinkie almost certainly wouldn’t leave the hotel, at least not tonight. As soon as they had come down, a bombastic Unicorn on stilts had bellowed out a welcome to the GEPC pre-party, the party to get everypony warmed up for more partying. At that, Pinkie Pie’s eyes had dilated to a nearly terrifying darkness, and her smile had been wider than Cupcake had ever seen.

“I have found my ponies,” she had whispered, and then let out a jubilant squeal that Cupcake’s ears were still ringing from.

The music was loud, and the ponies were louder. At least the lighting in the bar was tolerable. In what she could only assume had been an aberration into good sense for the hotel’s designer, the bar was brightly lit in warm, homey tones that almost made up for the insane quantities of gold everything was embellished with. It had an almost Europonean Renaissance look to it. And anyway, anything was better than neon.

“You’re with the GEPC?” the bartender asked. He glanced meaningfully at the badge Cupcake wore on a cheap, itchy lanyard around her neck. She jumped a little, surprised at being noticed, then nodded hesitantly. “Just chaperoning a friend of the family. Partying’s not really my thing,” she said, giving him a sheepish, but mostly tired, smile.

“Ah, sure, sure. It’s always hardest for the ponies that get dragged along to these events,” the barpony said sagely. The bow tie of his tux moved a little with his chin as he nodded. “It’s hard to know quite how to fit in or what to do with the spare time. If there’s anything we here at the Rose can do to make your stay more comfortable, though, don’t hesitate to ask. No matter who you are, you can always forget your troubles in this city. Here,” he added, and a tumbler of glittering crystal seemed to appear in his hoof from out of nowhere. A steel shaker spun through the air over it, and he filled the glass with something thick, creamy, and with a tint of orange to its glowing white color.

“First drink’s on the house for all GEPC attendees,” he said, giving a little bow. “Welcome to Las Pegasus.”

On the house, Cupcake thought, staring down at the thick, ivory drink. I wonder if that’s why these badges cost three hundred bits each?

The bartender had been right about one thing, though. She did not feel like she fit in here, not remotely. These were Pinkie’s kind of ponies, after all. And as fond as she and Carrot Cake had grown of her, there were times when it was obvious that Cupcake would never fully comprehend her. While they both lived to help other ponies, that was where anything they had in common ended. Unlike Cupcake, Pinkie’s ambitions were as big as her smiles. Bigger, even. She wanted to organize parties across the face of Equestria, even around the world, if she got her way in life. At the very least, Cupcake would not be surprised if she were running the Grand Galloping Gala in less than a decade.

Cupcake had never wanted such incredible things. It was overwhelming just to be there in Las Pegasus, that strange, buzzing hive of a city. She couldn’t imagine actually living or working there, not for anything. She had grown up in Ponyville, and when the time had come to earn her own living from her trade, she had stayed. Finally, she had been married there. Ponyville was quiet, comfortable, and predictable. That was enough for her. It was only after Pinkie came to stay with them that Cupcake had started to feel like a dull provincial for being happy with what she had built.

No. For whatever reason, she had never had either Pinkie’s energy or her dreams, not even when she had been younger than Pinkie. She had been happy to drift with life, enjoying the quiet journey. Six years ago, she had even been one of the last in Ponyville to get married, though she had still been in her early twenties. She had certainly never been interested in Las Pegasus. All I ever wanted was my own bakery and maybe some foals to send to the same little schoolhouse I grew up in. Was that so wrong?

Wrong or not, she thought bitterly, pushing the glass back and forth between her hooves, I might not even get that. How can it be wrong to want little things when even that much is so hard to get?

She had the bakery. She had Carrot. She had waited a long time for him, but by Celestia, they had found each other, and that was something to be grateful for. They even had Pinkie, who for all her strangeness was like a daughter to them. Even though she had come to live with them as a teenager, Cupcake had doted on her and watched over her as if she were her own. It was close to what she wanted, and it felt wonderful to have her around.

And now, with what she and Carrot had learned not two days ago, it looked like that was as close as she was ever going to get. In the face of that, how could she have denied Pinkie the chance to get closer to her own dreams? A little discomfort was a small price to pay.

Might as well enjoy what life brings us, she thought, feeling a painful stab of grief and uncertainty. We only get so much.

She picked up the glass and took a tentative sip.

* * *

Sunburst was fairly certain they had chosen the loudest casino in the entire Las Pegasus historic district. It was not to his liking. His opinion, however, hadn’t exactly counted when the class of ‘99 announced he was still coming with them on their celebratory road trip; why would his opinion on the specific casinos matter?

“Once a Celestial, always a Celestial,” Mercury Dream had said to him. He hated how she had looked at him when she said it. It’s bad enough everyone knows why I’m leaving. Why couldn’t they just let me slip away quietly? Instead, one after another of his classmates seemed compelled to do him favors, as if to go out of their way to let him know they didn’t think any less of him. All it did was remind him constantly of how great the differences between them had grown.

He took another long pull from the old fashioned he had been nursing for the last ten minutes. This bartender has a heavy hoof with the bitters, he reflected with a scowl. Still, maybe that’s fitting for tonight. He wasn’t even sure where his former classmates had gone. They probably figured they had done their duty. They had brought him there, and they had bought him a drink. A pity drink. Now they were released from the obligatory showing of their formal friendships, and they could enjoy their graduation celebration in earnest.

Without him.

Another drink left the huge sphere of ice spinning lazily in the bottom of his glass. He watched it twirl, then gave it prod with a hoof to keep it going when it slowed. Too much trouble even to use magic on a bit of ice. He sighed, wondering if he looked as pathetic as he felt, sitting alone at the end of the bar with an empty drink. End of the bar, end of the semester… end of career.

Ten years ago, he hadn’t even dreamed he would ever be one of the Unicorns able to call themselves a Celestial. He had known about Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, obviously. What Unicorn foal didn’t? But they were the elite, either aristocracy or so brilliant and powerful as foals that they were almost another race of ponies. They were not the kinds of fillies and colts that grew up in Sunburst’s little village. And then, admission had practically fallen into his lap, unasked for and unsought. Suddenly, he was one of those upper-one-percents of ponies. What else could he do but devote himself wholeheartedly to the role life had put on his shoulders?

It had been one prolonged downhill slog after that. He went to tutoring sessions after class. He spent entire nights in the practice rooms and library. He tried study groups and remedial teams and even dubious potions marketed to increase a Unicorn’s spell power. In the end, it had all been for nothing.

He had at least made a name for himself in the academic circles of the school. He had paid his way through with his job at the library, and by the end of it, he had reached two levels of promotion higher than what students were usually allowed to work at. Whether it was Arcane History, Castulus, Theoretical Organic Alchemy, or Conceptual Manafysiks, he left every other student in the dust—and even, on occasion, a professor or two. As long as it could be done with a quill and paper, Sunburst had a reputation as a borderline genius.

But that wasn’t the point of Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. CSGU wasn’t another pile of bricks and mortar for scholars to lock themselves away in. CSGU produced practitioners. The spellcasters graduating from CSGU went on to bring the most powerful spells in the world to bear for the good of Equestria. They transmuted spidersilk steel for use in airyachts. They cured the most cryptic and mystifying diseases life could develop. They tamed the chaotic magic of the wilderness for new settlements, turning jungles and tempestuous ravines into fertile grottos and valleys.

Celestials moved metaphorical and, sometimes, literal mountains with their magic.

Sunburst, it was decided, had been misplaced. Some of his professors had been certain they could bring out his full potential, find the magical punch to back up his gift for managing information. But it never manifested. He scraped by years longer than he should have, taking as many theory-intensive classes as he could to balance the practical courses he would inevitably fail, but the imbalance had caught up to him in the end. There were just too many courses he could not pass, that he could not graduate without. Then, one month ago, the dean had invited him to her office to tell him, in as gentle and encouraging a tone as possible, that he would be leaving CSGU. Never to return.

I should have left years ago, Sunburst thought with another bitter sigh. I should have just enrolled in Ox Ford or Berkneigh or Marevard. His own parents had suggested, time and again, that he might be happier at a university where he could just focus on the academic side, rather than CSGU’s holistic approach. But how could he have done that? He had been placed in the most prestigious school in the world! How could he just choose to leave that behind? No. He had to live up to the goals they had set before him. He thought he could do it. He could become the kind of pony that could do all these things if he just spent another hour in the library, went to another study session. He could do it.

Apparently not.

He pushed the glass away and glanced around. Where is that bartender? He would’ve thought the booze at least would be plentiful in Las Pegasus. It didn’t seem likely that alcohol would make him feel much better about the total collapse of all his ambitions, but it also could hardly hurt. Maybe I should just go, he thought, giving the raucous room behind him a dull look. Who am I kidding? None of this will help. He couldn’t just go back to the dorms in Canterlot; his former classmates, unfortunately, were his ride back. But his friends didn’t want him around. It was hard to celebrate how successful they were if it meant remembering the failure among them.

Mercury didn’t want him. Not anymore.

He closed his eyes, fighting the sudden, furious wave of tears that seemed to rise up from the depths of his heart. No. None of that. Won’t do any good. No. He wouldn’t burden them with his company. Maybe he could find a library to hang out in until the day came to pull the coach back to Canterlot. That, at least, would be tolerable.

Sunburst spotted the bartender down at the other end of the bar, swapping out an empty glass for a full one in front of a bright blue mare with pink hair. He pushed himself back from the bar and started trotting over. At least he would have another drink or two before secluding himself away for the remainder of the trip.

* * *

The drink was called a “Golden Dream,” Cupcake now knew. Now that is ironic if anything is, she thought. By the fourth glass, her heart was aching for her real golden dream. She thought of how his yellow coat shone so deep and rich in the morning sunlight, how ruddy and warm it looked when he was pulling something out of a hot oven.

How pale and sickly, instead, the color of Carrot’s coat had turned under the dispassionate, fluorescent lights of Dr. Stable’s office. Why have such foul lights in a doctor’s office, Cupcake had wondered. Blue and green, the colors of bruises and corpses, not anything hopeful or living.

Cold and hard, like Carrot’s eyes when he had started shouting at Dr. Stable.

Somepony sat down next to her and said something to the bartender. She didn’t bother turning to look. This wasn’t Ponyville, where any stranger could turn into a friend in a matter of hours. The was Las Pegasus. Ponies’ faces didn’t matter here. They came and went, and none of them were the face she wanted to see.

“We thought it was just bad luck, the first few years,” Cupcake continued to the bartender. She tilted the glass slowly back and forth, watching the way the thick liquid languidly trailed after her movements. Are my words slurring? Not possible. The drink was way too sweet to have much alcohol in it. She couldn’t even taste the telltale medicinal burn most cocktails gave.

Belatedly, she remembered she was still talking. “Then, after we kept trying, and nothing happened… I started to worry, you know? You never think about these things until you wonder if… if it might be you.” She took a long pull from the glass. The bartender was levitating another drink, this one dark with liquor, to the pony next to her, but he kept his eyes on her attentively. Bartenders really are the best listeners. He’s already making another drink for me. So thoughtful.

“We didn’t talk to anyone about it,” she said, continuing to spin the remnants of her current drink. “Some questions you just… you don’t want to know the answers to, you know? I just kept telling myself it would happen, when the time was right… things would work out.” She drained the glass, and it seemed the next one was in her hoof without her even feeling the exchange. Early on, she had started to get suspicious the bartender was just trying to sell as many drinks as he could. But that couldn’t be true. He was such a good listener. He was just being kind. The first kindness she had been given in days, it seemed like.

“What am I going to do when I get back?” she wondered aloud, letting her head rest on a raised foreleg.

“I’m sure I don’t know, ma’am,” the bartender said evenly. “But things have a way of working out.”

She could only snort in answer to that. “You didn’t see Carrot when Dr. Stable told him my… my oven works just fine. That it was Carrot who… I mean...” her words wound lazily away, followed by nothing more. She had lost her train of thought. “You don’t know Carrot like I do,” she finished at a guess.

“It does sound like he gave in to a bit of temper,” the barkeep said, still in that same quiet voice, low and level as the bar. “But no doubt he will come around when you go home. Time heals many wounds.”

Cupcake shrugged. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever known him to get riled up about. He’s always been sensitive about… anything he thinks questions his worth as a stallion. There’s so much pressure on us Earth Ponies, you know, that I don’t think other ponies get. He never lets on, but I know he’s always been worried about how thin and gangly he is… his brothers teased him too much growing up, they really did.”

“But of course, none of that matters to you.”

“Exactly!” she exclaimed, banging the glass emphatically on the bar. “Carrot loves me for who I am. I wish he could see I feel the same about him. I know he believes me, but… I know he doubts, too. So when the results came back…”

The bartender nodded knowingly. “Stallions do feel a great deal of pressure to maintain a certain… virility. Any question of his performance would be sure to bring hard memories and questions to the fore. And to face such sudden and final proof…” He left another drink in front of Cupcake. “I am sure he just needs time.”

“I’m scared,” Cupcake admitted, her voice suddenly small. She hadn’t even realized it until that moment, but the drinks seemed to be letting her thoughts flow more quickly and easily. “If… if we can’t have a family… will he still want me?” She gulped back a sudden sob. “We both wanted a family. It was our dream. But if he can’t have that… what if he just goes away? What if doesn’t want any of what we have anymore?”

“I’m certain that won’t be the case. It will be difficult to adjust for him, no doubt. But given time, everything will go back to normal.”

There was something hollow about the bartender’s words, Cupcake thought. In fact, when she thought about it, a lot of his responses had sounded very formulaic. But that’s just because we don’t know each other very much. He meant well, that was for sure. And he was probably right. She just wished Carrot was there, that he hadn’t been so angry as to bail on the trip at the last minute; that he hadn’t said he needed time alone to think about things; that he hadn’t looked so cold and distant, something Cupcake had never seen in his face before; that she wasn’t so scared to go home and learn what conclusions his lonely thinking might have brought him to.

She wished for another drink to distract her from the drowning tide of anxiety.

She looked down at the bar and blinked in surprise, then gave a sad little smile. At least Las Pegasus can grant one wish or two.

When she lifted her glass, she frowned as she noticed her face was wet. Confused, she wiped at her eyes with a napkin, and was surprised to realize there were tears streaming from her eyes.