• Published 1st Feb 2018
  • 1,903 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.

  • ...

Chapter 6 - A Bitter Balance

Starlight was quiet, but Sunburst knew her thoughts most certainly would not be. He thought he could hear her consciously controlling her breathing. Her eyes were unfocused, but cast down and away from his. He shifted uneasily in his seat, waiting. He had said everything he could say. It was out of his hooves now. His only comfort was that, even though he had broken his promise to Cupcake, she and Carrot would be safe from the consequences. Starlight would never breathe a word to anyone else. On top of her integrity, she had no reason to talk to anyone about it. She wasn’t involved, and she wouldn’t be burdened by the crushing guilt of the secret like Sunburst had.

That crushing weight, at least, had been lifted somewhat. Sunburst knew he would never be free of the guilt. But knowing that Starlight might harbor growing feelings for him, and that those feelings could never be returned without knowing this part of his past, had intensified the pain of it beyond Sunburst’s ability to bear. He hadn’t even realized just how terrible the guilt had become until it was gone.

Now, Starlight knew. Now, he could go back to simply feeling awful about his past choices. All that was left was a kind of resigned anxiety. Starlight might be able to forgive him, at least as much as was her part to do so. She might even be able to overlook the fact that pursuing him meant a relationship with a stallion who already had a foal. Then again, she might not. He wouldn’t blame her if that was her choice.

“So…” she finally said. She still didn’t look up at him. “Pumpkin and Pound are your foals, not Carrot’s.”

“Not Pound,” Sunburst said, biting his lip. Starlight looked up at him in confusion. “Pumpkin is my daughter. But it turns out I’m not related to Pound. There had to have been… um… more than one stallion that night. Shortly before or after.”

Starlight gave a small grimace. Was it disgust at their choices, or just how complicated the problem was? Sunburst supposed it didn’t really matter. “Does… does Carrot know?” she asked.

Sunburst shook his head. “That’s why Cupcake is so adamant I… not be around. That was part of the deal.”

“What deal?” Starlight asked. “And how did you even find out about Pumpkin?”

“After we left Las Pegasus, I… I couldn’t live with myself,” Sunburst explained. He rubbed one foreleg over the other, an old nervous habit. “I kept telling myself, ‘what happens in Las Pegasus stays in Las Pegasus.’ It was just a fling. Everything was alright. But I just couldn’t convince myself, I guess.”

“You never did seem the type,” Starlight said. She finally met his eyes with a small, pained smile. “You always took your friendships with everypony so seriously.”

“I guess,” Sunburst shrugged. “But we hadn’t been… careful. And I think maybe, somehow, I knew. Unicorns sometimes have a connection to their foals, sharing magic and all that. So, about five months later, I managed to track Cupcake down. When she took me to her room in Las Pegasus, I saw her name on her luggage tags, and I noticed the address on them was for Ponyville. That made it easy.”

“You seriously remembered something like that? Wow. I mean, you’ve got one hay of a memory, but I’d think even you would’ve been a bit too drunk to remember details like that.”

“I wasn’t drunk,” Sunburst said.

Starlight’s brow knit in confusion. “But… wasn’t that how the whole mess happened? You said you had a few drinks.”

“A few. Literally, two. More like one and a sip, really.” Sunburst shrugged. “By the time we made it upstairs, I wasn’t even feeling it. I was completely sober.”

“But then…” Starlight’s face went pale. “Why didn’t you stop it?”

The accusation hit like another slap to the face, but Sunburst took a deep breath. It was a fair question. “I know. And I should have. I wanted to, but…”

“You wanted to?” Starlight’s eyes narrowed in a glare. “Sunburst… she didn’t—”

“No,” Sunburst said. He looked her firmly in the eyes. “No one forced me into anything, Starlight.”

“Didn’t she?” Starlight asked, aghast. Sunburst wasn’t sure why, but it annoyed him slightly. This wasn’t what she was supposed to be fixating on. “You just said you wanted to stop it, so—”

“It wasn’t like that,” Sunburst said, rubbing his forehead with a hoof. “I wanted to stop it because I knew what I was doing was wrong. It was stupid, unsafe, and worst of all, she was the one who’d been drinking. If anything…” he broke off, tapping his hooves together nervously. The well of hatred he felt for himself was threatening to overflow again. “If anything, Starlight… wasn’t it me taking advantage of her?”

That brought Starlight up short. Sunburst could see her clench and unclench her teeth, the muscles flexing beneath her cheeks as she thought. “That’s… Okay, that does complicate things. Though, she was the one who initiated it, right?”

“Yes. She was… very determined.”

“Well, then—”

“Even so, though, I should’ve stopped it. But… I didn’t even try. I never said no, and I didn’t try to leave, not once. I went along with it. I responded to her advances at every stage, and I even encouraged her by the end. Because I was young, I was stupid, and I decided to have a fling. I decided to stay there, Starlight. It’s on me.”

Starlight only stared at him for a few moments. The worry on her face never lessened. “I don’t know, Sunburst. Yeah, this is complicated, but I don’t know if I like how much of the blame you’re taking. Not with how you’ve described everything to me.”

What the hay is this? Sunburst thought, staring at her in exasperation. That’s the whole point, to get it out in the open how I’m to blame for all this. I have a foal out of wedlock, for Celestia’s sake! With a married mare! She should be telling me to get out of Ponyville by now.

“Look… we both decided to go through with it,” Sunburst insisted. “For reasons just as stupid as the other’s. When we met in Ponyville, we even managed to agree on that much before we started trying to figure out what to do. I’m just trying to own my responsibility for it. Whatever the consequences, I decided to accept them. Including…” his voice broke, and he had to look away. “…Including whatever you decide to do.”

“Whatever I decide to do?” Starlight asked. “What are you talking about?”

Sunburst grit his teeth. Is she still not seeing what all this means? “I have a foal, Starlight,” he said, stamping the cushion in frustration. “I slept with a mare I didn’t even know, and she was married!”

“Yes,” Starlight said slowly. Now she looked a little exasperated. “You were pretty clear on all those points.”

“So…!” Sunburst exclaimed, waving a hoof vaguely. “So… is that all you’re going to say about it?”

Starlight blinked a few times. “Just what exactly do you want me to say?”

Sunburst realized he had his mouth open to speak, maybe even to yell. He realized he was glaring at her. But there were no words. Everything in his mind had run together. The anger was now warring with the guilt so strongly, it was tearing him apart. And it was all because Starlight wasn’t listening to him. Why is she drawing this out?

Starlight raised an irritated eyebrow when he didn’t answer. “Do you want me to tell you that you were stupid? That you shouldn’t have slept with some random mare in Las Pegasus?” She leaned back and crossed her forelegs. “Do you want me to yell at you or something? Because I don’t really see the point. I’d just be telling you everything you already know. You’re the one who just told me, after all.”

“Well, I guess I expect some kind of answer,” Sunburst said desperately. “I mean, don’t you care about what I just said at all?”

“Of course I care! But what do you want me to do about it? You made a stupid mistake. Fine. You have a foal. Okay. So do lots of ponies. The foal’s mother is married. Yeah, that’s a bigger problem. What am I missing that you want?”

“Don’t you…” Sunburst burned with shame. “I need to know how this changes things. Between us.”

For a moment, Starlight only continued to frown at him. Then, “It doesn’t.”

The only thing that kept Sunburst’s anger from exploding was incredulity. “How does this not change anything?”

From the way she looked at him, she might have been someone’s professor, listening patiently while a student spouted an especially absurd theory. The long-suffering tolerance in her expression was too absolute to upset him further. “Look Sunburst, if you want me to yell at you, I can. I don’t know how many times each of us has to say it: You. Made. A mistake. Are we past that?”

She waited with a raised eyebrow until he gave an annoyed shrug in assent.

“Alright. So that’s that. You’re talking about this like you cheated on me or something, Sunburst. But it’s not like we were together then. We’re not even together now.” She gave another shrug. “As to whether that precludes anything more in the future… I’m not some doe-eyed filly looking for her first prom date, Sunburst. I’m not still living under the delusion that ponies lead pristine, scripted lives while they wait for the perfect mate to come along.”

She stood, walked over, and sat down next to Sunburst. She laid a hoof over Sunburst’s, and he tried not to flinch at the contact. “I don’t really have the privilege of expecting other ponies to have perfect pasts, Sunburst.” She gave him a wry grin, and he couldn’t help a small chuckle in response.

“That doesn’t mean I can expect you to accept me,” he said weakly.

“No,” she said, “But the fact that you care does. Ponies our age have baggage from their mistakes. Some ponies have foals they didn’t plan on having. Some have entire villages of ponies that used to be enslaved because of them.” She laughed, but she still looked away, and her smile was a strained one. “If Twilight’s taught me anything, it’s that all ponies are jerks sometimes. It’s the ones who care enough to try and change that are worth keeping around. So, I guess I would be a lot more upset if I thought you didn’t care. But it’s pretty clear to me that you do care about it. Deeply.”

“I do,” he said, his voice thin. “It’s not just that I have some responsibility for how things have turned out. I want to live up to that, yeah. But… she’s my daughter, Starlight. And she’s so, so beautiful.” Sunburst hung his head, feeling the hot tears burn the edges of his eyes as they fell. “She should have an honest mother and father, not this mess. But every night, I go to sleep knowing she’s growing up and doesn’t even know I exist. I hate myself for that.”

“You want to be part of her life,” Starlight said quietly.

Sunburst nodded vigorously. The lifted weight of finally being able to confide that truth to someone was somehow greater even than confessing his deepest shame. “I always dreamed of having a daughter, Starlight. I don’t even know why. Most stallions want colts, right?” He gave a shaky laugh. “I don’t know. Once I started thinking about it at school, I just… really loved the idea of a little filly I could teach about books and history. Visit old cities and ruins. Watch her graduate one day. Threaten her first coltfriend a little, just in a teasing sort of way.” He wiped a foreleg across his face, clearing some of the tears. “Stupid dreams, I know.”

“I don’t think so,” Starlight said with a gentle smile.

“It just seemed like… something I could do, I guess. I knew I was never going to be one of the world’s great wizards. But I could have a good family. I could do that.” He laid his ears back and gave a broken sigh. “Apparently I couldn’t even get that right.”

“Well, that’s in the past,” Starlight said gently. “It doesn’t mean there isn’t still something you can do for the future.”

“What future?” Sunburst asked. “Am I supposed to just forget about all of this? Even if I had more foals, how could I look at them and not remember the daughter I left behind? I don’t know that I can live with that, Starlight.”

“That’s something I still don’t fully understand,” Starlight said, knitting her brow. “What exactly was the deal Cupcake worked out with you?”

* * *

“When I woke up… I knew what I'd done,” Cupcake said. Her voice was hollow with regret and shame. “I was alone, but… I remembered enough. And I realized as soon as I thought about it that Carrot never came to Las Pegasus. And to this day, I don’t know… I don’t know what to believe. I don’t know if I really mistook a stranger for him, or… or if I just let myself believe that. Just for long enough. Just long enough to… to fight the loneliness? To forget?” She gave a bitter laugh. “To live out some kind of fantasy? I don’t know… But I know that, at some point, I realized what I was doing, and I convinced myself to do it anyway. And I know that I hate myself for it. I hate myself every minute of every day.”

Applejack sat staring at Cupcake. She wanted to look away, pay attention to the dregs of tea that had gone cold in front of her. But Cupcake was watching her too, waiting for some kind of response.

Applejack couldn’t help it. She looked away, then covered the failing with a rough clearing of her throat. “Well, er, hm. That’s… whoa nelly. That’s a story, Cupcake.”

“You’re telling me,” Cupcake said, hanging her head.

“And Pinkie… she don’t know either?”

Cupcake shook her head. “She never came back to the room. She was with the con goers all night. By the time she came back, I had… straightened everything up. She knew something had gone wrong, but I managed to convince her the city just made me uncomfortable.”

“Wow. I suppose… I guess you got lucky on that.”

“Luck,” Cupcake spat. “Maybe if I’d been lucky, she would have caught me. Maybe she would have cracked to Carrot by now and this nightmare would be over. Maybe she could have stopped me, and I wouldn’t have these foals to—”

She choked on whatever she had been about to say. Her lips trembled, and she buried her face in a hoof. “No. No. I don’t wish that. I really don’t. I decided that as soon as I knew. And no one could ask for foals so… so beautiful. None of this is their fault.” She took a deep breath, then straightened to face Applejack again. “So… you understand why Carrot can’t ever know about any of this. You can imagine what it would do to him. Especially now, when we’ve already lost almost everything. I just… I just need to get Sunburst out of here so we can go back to rebuilding.”

“That’s something I don’t get,” Applejack said, seizing on a way she could keep the conversation going until she could process everything she had heard. “What exactly did you two work out? And what’s he doing here? Land sakes, why does he even know?”

“He tracked me down a few months after,” Cupcake sighed. “Celestia knows how. But by that time, I was already visibly pregnant. He knew from the moment I opened the door. I’m fairly certain there was a lot of panicking on both our parts. If Carrot hadn’t been out making a delivery, everything would have been over there and then. And If I had been thinking more clearly, I would have just told Sunburst I’d already confirmed the foals were Carrot’s. But he asked outright, and I was too stunned to deny it.” Cupcake fiddled with the empty cup in her hooves, tilting it back and forth.

“So… what happened?”

* * *

“I offered to move to Ponyville,” Sunburst said. “I said I didn’t want to make any trouble… I didn’t want to upset the family. But I figured I ought to have some part in raising Pumpkin. I’d help with the money, take care of her some days… whatever arrangements families usually work out when… things like this happen. But she said no. And a lot more besides.”

* * *

“He wanted to know if I’d hold him accountable for foal support,” Cupcake finally said, meeting Applejack’s eyes again. “I told him no. I told him all I cared about was keeping my family together. So long as he kept our secret, then as far as I was concerned, we would go our separate ways and never worry about each other again. I only asked that he keep as far away from Ponyville as possible.” She shook her head in disbelief. “I think he took me a little more seriously than I thought he would. After the twins were born and the Empire reappeared, he left everything behind and went there. He grew that nasty beard, too.”

Applejack furrowed her brow. “And that was enough for him?”

“I thought so,” Cupcake said, a bitter note creeping into her voice. “I mean, isn’t that what they’re always after? A quick roll in the hay and getting off scot-free? I know most stallions would be thrilled to tuck their tails and run, that’s for sure. But… he kept in touch.” Cupcake shook her head, an enraged disbelief showing that, Applejack was realizing, had been with her for years. “He was discrete, at least. I only heard from him twice. But it was always the same thing, offering to move back and help take care of Pumpkin. Celestia’s sake, Applejack, can you imagine?”

Cupcake set the teacup down and fixed Applejack with a stare so intense, it would repel Tirek himself. “What kind of stallion keeps threatening to come back and break up a mare’s family, just to keep her promising she won’t demand foal support?”

* * *

“And that’s why you’re here now,” Starlight said. “Sugarcube Corner.”

Sunburst gave a miserable nod. “She wrote to me. She asked if I would help for Pumpkin’s sake, but that all the other terms still had to apply. I still wasn’t allowed to see her.” Sunburst held up a hoof, grimacing at Starlight’s outraged expression. “She… worded it a lot better than that. She wasn’t demanding anything. But I had to at least know Pumpkin was alright.”

“Still,” Starlight growled. “I understand why she’s scared to lose Carrot. But that’s a twisted move, asking for money without even letting you see your own daughter.”

“And I don’t care about the money!” Sunburst cried. “She’s been holding that over me like it’s some sort of threat, like she’s rewarding me for helping her keep up her lies by letting me go on being a bachelor. But I’d give every bit in the Empire’s coffers to be a part of Pumpkin’s life. I stay away because… well, she’s right. If Carrot learns the truth, it’ll tear their family apart. And I won’t do that to Pumpkin.”

“So… where does that leave you?”

“The same place I’ve been,” Sunburst said, giving a long shrug. “Not much else I can do. I’ll just go back to the Crystal Empire.”

“What about… will you help, I mean? With Sugarcube Corner?”

“I can’t. I already explained it to Cupcake. I can’t give out any money because of my attachment to the Empire.”

“But Sunburst,” Starlight said, “You’re Princess Cadence’s court wizard! Maybe she can’t just give money out to every disaster-stricken family in Equestria, but money’s not the only way to help. Cadence has enough liberty to take some time to help a friend’s family. Twilight does it all the time!”

“Cadence can not become involved in this,” Sunburst sighed wearily. “First off, I think the stress of it might actually kill Cupcake. But more to the point… Cadence is the Princess of Love, Starlight. She still sees it as her personal mission to resolve relational disputes. But she’s… she’s very idealistic. She thinks every problem can be solved if everyone is open, honest, forgiving, and a little push from magic. That’s not going to work here.”

“But… it’s her special talent. Surely she can help, even if it’s a bit more complicated.”

“Complicated doesn’t begin to describe this, Starlight. Cadence is talented, but she’s also not as experienced as ponies usually take for granted. She’s never had to deal with something this messed up. Remember, she’s only a few years older than Twilight.”

“Or you,” Starlight interrupted. “Sunburst, you’re so determined to prove that no one can help, but you don’t have any more qualifications than anyone else. Why do you need to fix this?”

“Because I helped start it. I have to see my part through. Whatever… whatever that part has to be.”

* * *

“Are you sure it’s a threat?” Applejack asked. “I mean, I don’t know him too well, but Sunburst’s a good pony. Shining Armor and Cadence sure think the world of him. Maybe he just genuinely wants to help.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter,” Cupcake said. “It’s how I remember it. But if he gets involved, we lose everything. I’m right about that much, aren’t I?”

“Well…” Applejack said slowly. She knew she had to be careful. An entire family’s lives were at stake, including those of two very young, innocent foals. Pumpkin and Pound didn’t need to grow up with a bunch of ponies fighting over them. But one thing at least was clear to Applejack. “I don’t know how long that can work, Cupcake.”

Cupcake’s face went a few shades paler. “What do you mean?”

Applejack gave a nervous shrug. “I sure don’t blame you for doing what you’ve done so far. You’ve put your family first, and you’re trying to work through a real nasty mess. But… well. This is just my thinking. But maybe it’s time to consider trying something else. I’m scared for you, sugarcube. When I came in here, knowing what I knew, that alone just about killed you. How much of this stress have you been buckling under, carrying it around every day?”

“I’ve gotten by,” Cupcake said stiffly. “Applejack, I’m not looking to fix this. Some things, you fix. Others, you just have to endure. And that’s what I decided I’d do. This was my mistake. I won’t let Carrot or the twins be hurt for it.”

“And that’s right noble,” Applejack said gently. “But what if enduring ain’t enough? I’m worried a secret this big might not keep. Cracks are already showing, aren’t they? Sunburst’s walking around injured, and now I know too.”

Cupcake was breathing hard. Applejack didn’t even want to think what her heart rate could be at that moment. “And just what are you saying I should do?”

“Take control. Whatever happens, at least you’ll have had a hoof in it. Otherwise, you’re just waiting for whatever comes next to hit you like a prairie dog on the train tracks.”

“How can I take control?” Cupcake asked, her voice rising. “I tried that already. I tried to get Sunburst’s help so the foals would have a home again. It made everything a thousand times worse! What else can I even change?”

“You know the truth of most everything that’s happened. The truth’s a powerful thing to be able to work with, Cupcake. But it doesn’t work if it gets out without you.”

“…You want me to tell Carrot,” Cupcake breathed. “Are you insane?”

“I ain’t telling you to do one thing or the other.” Applejack stood up slowly. “I only know things tend to go pretty bad when secrets get out. And it seems like things are pretty risky right now. It’s something you could do to keep the worst from happening. And besides, you and Carrot love each other. Ain’t no one questioning that, not before, and not now. Isn’t it what couples do? Face problems together. Even if one of them might have helped cause the problem. Maybe that’s what you need to do now. With him.”

“And if it’s the last problem we face together?” Cupcake’s face was ash, and her eyes were unfocused. She wasn’t looking at Applejack, and Applejack couldn’t tell if she was even entirely in the same room anymore. The terror was petrifying her again.

Applejack took a deep breath before answering. She hoped Cupcake wouldn’t hear how her own voice was breaking with fear. She needed to be strong now for her friend. “Then you still won’t be alone. You’ll have friends for whatever comes next. But telling him is the only way forward that I see.”

She turned and started to head to the door. There wasn’t anything more she could say. It was Cupcake’s choice to make now, and she needed to think. It was time for Applejack to get out of the way. At the door, however, she paused. “I meant what I said, though. This ain’t my secret. Personally, I really do hope you won’t decide to carry it any longer than you already have. But I won’t take it from you, either. You’ve got my promise. And no matter what happens, you’ll have the Apples as friends.”

She heard the words as she let herself out the door. “…thank you, Applejack.”

Applejack shuddered from the sheer breaking of tension she felt as she walked out of the guest suite. She could feel herself trembling a little with every step. Well, I sure as sugar didn’t expect that to happen today. Land sakes, though… I hope I didn’t just make a huge mistake.

* * *

“Hey Hoops, you coming to McClint Hock’s tonight?” Score called, hanging his scuffed white helmet in his locker.

“Not tonight,” Hoops answered, pulling his own hard hat off his head and shaking his long mane out of his eyes. The white coat followed. The weather factory uniforms were some of the dumbest-looking things he could imagine wearing, and that was counting the cheap flight school uniforms he’d had to put up with all through college. Still, a job was a job, and something had to pay his share of the rent.

“Aw, come on,” Score whined. “Don’t tell me you’re still mooning over that mare. Is it even the same one this week? What’s-her-face? Or was that the who dumped you a few months ago?”

“That was Candy,” Hoops grumbled. “And I left her. She was getting really clingy. It was creepy.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Score laughed. “Come on, you’re just going to get dumped by this one in a few weeks. You haven’t hung out with us in ages! We’re starting to worry you’re going all, you know…” he waggled his eyebrows in a manner he probably thought looked clever. “…‘domestic.’ ”

“Hey, come on, it’s not like that,” Hoops said, shaking his mane again. “It’s just… I got a good feeling about this one.”

“Sure, sure. You let me know when I need to bother remembering this one’s name. And if you bring her back, remember, hang the dang jersey on the door this time, alright?”

Hoops opened his mouth to argue, then settled for a sigh and an eye roll. “Yeah, whatever. Tell the guys I said hi, yeah?”

“Tell ‘em yourself one of these nights!” Score shot back with a challenging grin, then trotted out of the room. Hoops turned back to the small mirror in his locker and frowned at his reflection. Grabbing a comb, he started smoothing out the mess the hard hat had left of his mane. He didn’t know why Score’s banter seemed to be annoying him more lately. They knew each other well enough to diss each other’s fillyfriends, even if Score’s were always the sleazier picks of the lot.

And most mares like to hear their coltfriends joke about them, right? That made him grimace, though. Somehow, he knew this one wouldn’t much care for hearing the way Hoops bantered with Score about her. Maybe that was why he had been doing it less and less.

He laid the comb down and admired his efforts. Nice and wavy, just the way they love it. He winked at himself in the mirror, even though he could barely see his own eyes. That was another perk of his expert manestyle, he figured. A bit of a mysterious look was always a good thing for a colt. It made him look a little dangerous. He finished off his efforts with a few splashes of cologne on his neck, and a little below the wings for good measure. He paused, glanced at the bottle with a thick, raised eyebrow, then shook his head and set it back in the locker. Maybe Score’s right, though. When did I ever bother with this kind of stuff?

Still, he liked how it made him feel sharper as he walked out of the factory. And he liked that it seemed to have an effect on others, too. Anything that bolstered his already-incredible appearance couldn’t hurt. He gave himself a long, luxurious stretch as he balanced on the edge of the cloud, arcing his wings to their fullest, impressive extent as he worked his body down, then up again.

These longer shifts are really doing a number on me. He missed the days when he was only working a few hours a week, leaving plenty of time to keep an eye on the pro hoofball players and practice his own moves. Lately, however, the apartment he shared with Score and Dumbbell had been feeling not only cramped, but somehow… dingy. He’d taken plenty of mares back there, but lately, the thought of it made him cringe a little. It was a long way off, but if he could get his own place, that would give his status an enormous boost. Plus, he wouldn’t have to deal with Dumbbell’s snores shaking the walls.

He spread his wings, wincing a little at the sore muscles, and stepped off the cloud.

He didn’t let himself fall for long, just enough to get some lift under his wings. He didn’t want to fly too fast and muss his mane any more than he could help it, and even from this height, his destination was only ten minutes away. He cut through the night air at a steep angle, the air rumbling past him like cold butter. Already, he could feel some of the fatigue from the workday falling away from him as he glided down. It didn’t matter that the cloud-spinner had jammed again; he had a date, and it was more than enough to give him a second wind for the night. He smiled a little wider, anticipating the night ahead of him.

Lights started to shine out below, and he leveled off his descent. He picked out the spot easily and angled sharply towards it. As he swept down into the circle of light spilling from the windows onto the ground, he killed the last of his momentum with a quick upward leap and then fell heavily to the earth. A quick dusting with his wings cleared any dirt he might have picked up.

He glanced up and down the road, but it was empty. Smiling, he walked up the steps and let himself in through the door without a sound. I’m a little early, so I’ll give her a surprise. That’ll be fun. Quietly, he made his way through the warm house as he searched for his new fillyfriend. The air was so warm inside, it was already loosening his muscles and relaxing him more. Oh yeah, I needed this after a day like today.

That was the thing about her. No matter how hard a day he’d had, she always seemed to make him feel like it had been worth it. It was strange, but she made him feel proud to be putting in more time at the factory and the practice court instead of spending all his time at the bar or watching games at home with Score and Dumbbell. He hadn’t ever felt proud to be working such a stupid job before, but she seemed to like that he did. So, strangely, he liked it too.

Maybe Score was right. Maybe he was changing. The strangest thing about it, though, was that he didn’t mind.

He spotted her as he snuck into the living room, sprawled with her back to him on the sofa. He could just see her over the top of the couch, her long legs stretched out behind her. A fire was burning in the hearth across from her, and its light danced off of her in golden waves that nearly made his heart stop. He cleared his throat. “Hey.”

She turned, and the entire room seemed to glow when she laid those shining emerald eyes on him and smiled. Celestia help him, but somehow, that smile always made him feel like almost a different pony. She looked tired, even more so than usual. But that was fine. He knew he certainly needed to unwind, and he realized he would be happy to return the favor. She tipped her hat back a little and scooted over to make room for him.

“Hey, sugarcube.”