• Published 1st Feb 2018
  • 1,897 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 7 - More Than Meets the Eye

“It’s just so… wrong,” Rainbow said. Her lip was pulled back in a mildly disgusted scowl as she followed Applejack down the path towards Ponyville Park. Rainbow had just finished clearing the skies of the morning’s rain showers, and the air still smelled of freshly rinsed leaves and the living, dampened soil. The track was a little muddier than most ponies would have liked, but Applejack had already finished her shift at the market apple cart. Nopony would care if her hooves needed a wash.

She gave a heavy sigh. “Come on, Rainbow, how many times are we going to go through this?”

“I’m sorry!” Rainbow exclaimed, throwing a hoof dramatically over her head. “It’s just… seriously, AJ, you have to see how weird it seems. I mean, look, it’d make sense if it was a bad one-night-stand kind of thing. He’s attractive, I get it. He’s got great muscles, sure. But what more could you possibly see in him?”

“Isn’t that the point of dating? To try to figure that out?”

“Usually.”

“Well, why else would I be spending time with him?”

“Blindness. Bad ideas,” Rainbow said with a markedly casual shrug. Then, she couldn’t keep her eyes from wandering away when she said, “Sending messages to other ponies.”

“Messages?” Applejack asked, her brow furrowing in confusion. “What kind of—” her eyes widened as she finally understood Rainbow’s implication. “Is that what this is about, Rainbow? You don’t think I’d stoop to something so horrible, do you?”

“Well…” Rainbow looked away, hiding her hurt behind an angry scowl. “What other reason would you have for picking him, of all ponies? You know what kind of past he and I have.”

Applejack winced and instinctively started to move her hoof to take Rainbow’s. She managed to stop before it interrupted the pace of her walk, but even so, she hoped Rainbow hadn’t noticed. “Oh, sugar… I mean, Rainbow.” Another wince. They had gotten past almost all the awkwardness that had risen up between them, and now old habits had to go and start waking up out of nowhere. All the turmoil with Cupcake the other day had stirred up her own confused emotions more than she thought. “I never… I know things ain’t ever been friendly between you two, and there’s no one to blame for that but him. That’s a fact. I almost shut the door on it from the get-go on account of that alone.”

“So?”

“He’s…” Applejack paused, trying to piece together her own reasoning. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t asked herself the question. But how could she help Rainbow understand when she herself sometimes wondered if she wasn’t putting logic on the back burner in favor of feelings? “He’s got some rough edges, and he’s got some growing up to do. More than a colt his age ought to. I won’t try to pretend otherwise on that. But there’s… I don’t know,” she hedged again, rubbing the back of her neck out of irritation with herself. “I guess I feel like I see something more in him.”

Rainbow let out a bark of laughter, and she didn’t seem to be making much effort to conceal the bitter scoffing it carried.

“Yeah, go on, laugh,” Applejack sighed. “But I do. He acts like an idiot—”

“Worse than an idiot,” Rainbow countered, frowning.

“Sometimes he has,” Applejack agreed patiently. “But honestly, the more time I spend with him, the more I think there’s a good, solid pony in there somewhere, and the rube he walks around like is a sort of act. I mean, he started acting like this way back when y’all were little foals. It doesn’t really surprise me that he’s never quite figured out how to fit in without it. Kind of like he’s got this nasty dragonskin he’s learned to wear for everypony, and now since they all think it’s what he looks like, he just keeps wearing it to keep them happy.” She shrugged. “I think he’s built it so thick, even he doesn’t really think about what a good core he’s got. But I think it’s there. I guess I want to stick around and see if it sprouts true.”

“You reforming Hoops. Well, I guess if Fluttershy can tame Discord, nopony’s off the table.” Rainbow’s words were light, but she couldn’t conceal the frustration behind them, at least not from someone who knew what to look for.

Applejack leaned a little farther forward, trying to get Rainbow to meet her eyes again. “Come on, Rainbow. It ain’t just a matter of him being attractive, even if some of that was what first drew my eye. But as it’s gone on, there’ve been a few things he and I just… see eye to eye on. But one thing’s for sure: I’d never string along another pony just to get under your skin. I’d never do that to them, and I sure as hay would never, ever do something like that to you.”

“I know…” Rainbow sighed. “I’m just… I’m worried about it, AJ. I don’t want to see you get hurt. I had to grow up around him, and I never saw a feather’s worth of weight to any of this good stuff you supposedly see in him. Aren’t you supposed to speak up if you think your friend’s getting into a bad relationship?”

“You are,” Applejack said, giving Rainbow an earnest smile. “And I appreciate you worrying about me. Really, I do. And if you think he ain’t doing right by me, you’ve got every right to say so, either to him or me. But,” she straightened up a little, tipping her hat and giving a confident grin, “just remember who you’re talking to. I think I can handle myself.”

“Heh. Yeah.”

Applejack frowned at the sudden distance in Rainbow’s voice. She leaned forward again, fixing her eyes on Rainbow’s with a concerned frown. “Hey… It is just about it being Hoops, isn’t it? Because I thought… well. I thought we’d both moved on. You’ve been out with a few gals since then, so I figured we were alright, so to speak. But if there’s still something unresolved between us…”

“No,” Rainbow said. She shook her head firmly. “I mean, if you say there isn’t, then there isn’t.” Guilt pulled her eyes away, and she pretended to be examining the trees they passed instead. “You’re the one who got hurt, after all.”

“I’m over it,” Applejack said, not unkindly. “You made the right call, and we both knew it. I ain’t hiding any hard feelings over it, Rainbow. You got my word on that.”

“Heh. You’re about the only pony whose word I’d take on something like that. Still, it means I was right in the first place.” She gave Applejack an impish grin. “Your taste in rebounds just sucks.”

Rainbow left Applejack before they reached the park. As much as Applejack wished Rainbow and Hoops might be able to start mending bridges, she figured that probably wasn’t going to happen quickly. Even the mention of Rainbow still sent Hoops into an instant regression to his comfortable, competitive, sneering persona, and neither Applejack nor, it seemed, Rainbow Dash were in a mood to try to work through it today. As such, she continued on alone to the buckball courts. Hoops was there already, casually kicking balls through the air and into the stationary buckets at either end of the court.

“Hey AJ,” he said, looking up with a smile as he noticed her approaching. He was quick to cock his head a little more and try to sculpt the grin into something he probably thought looked more suave, but Applejack only chuckled and shook her head.

“Heya Hoops,” she said, her steps thudding with a more muted beat as she stepped off the gravel path and onto the dry grass of the court. She flashed him a cocky grin of her own and tossed her hat to the side. “You ready to get your flanks served to you again?”

“You keep telling yourself that, AJ,” he said, flaring his wings and snapping the ball between them a few times. “I won the last two games, as I recall.”

“Yeah, well, keep your hooves on the ground and play a fair game this time, and then we’ll see how long you’re smirking.”

Hoops rolled his eyes and folded his wings, then kicked the ball to Applejack. “Ladies first.”

One-on-one buckball was a much slower game than the six-player variant. No one moved the baskets around, or focused on intercepting the ball, or disrupted players. Instead, the two ponies harassed each other back and forth across the court, stealing the ball or blocking shots whenever possible, and otherwise simply trying to get the ball in the opponent’s basket. When ponies of mixed kinds played, the game almost always defaulted to Earth Pony rules. Hoops, however, had gotten into an annoying habit of using his wings to launch himself over Applejack’s head when he started losing, never actually flying but still flouting the rules. This time, however, she had a plan if he tried it again.

For the first round, she casually wove around him, keeping the ball dancing around her forelegs and around her back as she forced him to retreat, then flipped it easily around to her hind legs with her tail and sent it flying in a high arc into his basket. As soon as it rebounded to the ground, he was charging her with it, keeping the ball balanced firmly between his shoulder blades as he tried to power past her using sheer speed and bulk. Applejack only smiled and gave him the ground he so clearly wanted. When he thought he was in range, he tossed the ball into the air, turned, and struck out with his hind legs in a kick that would have sent it smashing through the wooden basket.

Except he never connected. His legs snapped out behind him as he overextended, and Applejack laughed aloud as she saw his eyes go wide with shock. By the time he hit the ground, his breath going out of his burly chest with an audible grunt, she had landed from her sprinting jump over him, the ball firmly gripped in the crook of her left foreleg. “Gotta be quicker’n that!” she called with another laugh, trotting across the court as he struggled to his hooves.

“No fair!” he yelled as she tossed the ball into his basket. He glowered at her from behind his long mane as she returned to center court, but she could see the calculating gleam flaring up behind his eyes.

“You Pegasi,” she said, shaking her mane as he plucked the ball out of his basket. “You’re so used to being the fastest. You never know what to do with somepony faster and more agile than you.”

“Faster, maybe,” he said. “Only reason you can keep up is ‘cause I’m stuck on the ground, though. Out of courtesy, remember. Game’d be over already, otherwise.”

“You think so?” She turned her back on him and flicked her tail dismissively. “You just try it, see how well it works out for you.”

She hoped she hadn’t overplayed her cards. If she made him suspicious, he might just start flying out of spite to prove his point. A second later, however, and she didn’t need to worry anymore. He was already too focused on the goal in front of him, his head completely in the moment and blind to the bigger picture. She heard his hooves thundering on the grass behind her, and she hid her smile as best she could as she whirled and crouched into a wide, defensive block.

He carried the ball in his teeth, a sure sign he was in all or nothing. His mane was blown back from his face with the speed of his charge, flowing and rippling behind him and giving Applejack a rare glimpse of his green eyes. Such athletic charges were about the only time the manestyle actually worked like Hoops probably intended it to. In that moment, he went from looking cagey, calculating, and sloppy to clear-eyed, focused, and startlingly strong. His bulk, which would have made him stand out even among Earth Ponies, let alone Pegasi, went from shapeless and slouched to channeled lines of muscle, tightening his body into a honed instrument, a javelin bearing down on Applejack with the force of a hurricane.

The transformation was almost enough to make Applejack hate to ruin it for him. Almost. Indeed, if he kept to the rules, she might just let him barrel her out of the way and claim his goal.

But… nope, she thought, her smile widening just a smidgen as she saw the muscles around his wings tighten. She had goaded him too far, stirred up his competitive edge too easily, for him to try anything else except a clear proof of his superiority. As he drew near, he ducked into a running crouch, and one step later, launched himself at Applejack in a tackle that would have flattened a hoofball quarterback. At the last moment, though, he flared his wings alongside his head and flung them back in one clean sweep, a motion so quick Applejack barely had time to see it. It was enough, however, to give him more than a yard of altitude over Applejack.

The last time he had tried it, Applejack had barely seen what he had done. She didn’t buy his claim that he had simply managed to jump over her. That his wings had fluttered out of instinct from jumping so high, and hadn’t helped him get over her in the least, she had also taken to be a lie. And if she hadn’t been waiting for it, he would have bewildered her just like last time, landing his basket before she had time to turn and pursue.

Not this time. Even as the tips of his hooves were clearing the grass, Applejack was already flattening into her own leap. As he soared over her, no longer even looking down as he fixed his eyes on the prize of the basket, she was leaping up beneath him, body twisting as she turned herself upside down and brought her hooves up above her head. Then she lashed out with a single kick, driving her hind hoof in just below Hoops’ ribs.

That, at least, was how she had imagined it happening. As it was, the grass was still slippery from the rain, and when she leaped, her hooves slid beneath her, and she left the ground an instant later than she had intended. Thus, when she twisted around and delivered the kick, she realized with horror that it struck much lower between his legs than she had aimed for.

She heard him give a strangled screech, far higher in pitch than any sound she had ever heard him make. She lost sight of him as she fell back to the ground, the momentum from her blow slamming her back against the damp earth and knocking her own breath out with a loud “Oomph!” A second later, she heard something heavy tumble down just beyond her. The thuds of rolling, limp limbs sounded several times, and then there was nothing to be heard but the sporadic chirping of birds in nearby trees.

“Oof…” Applejack groaned. She hadn’t expected to be thrown back down quite so hard. “Hoops? You okay?”

“Oooooohhhhhhhhhh…” Hoops’ voice sounded more like the lamentations of the dead than a single, healthy pony. Applejack rolled to her side and raised her head. She saw him curled up on the grass a yard or two away, wings splayed and limbs tucked up beneath him. The ball had bounced away and come to a stop a few yards from the basket, completely forgotten.

“Hoops?” Applejack asked again, struggling to her hooves. Aw hay. Don’t tell me I actually hurt him…

“I call foul,” Hoops croaked in a small voice.

Applejack couldn’t help but crack a small grin. “You do see the irony of that, don’t you, you cheating bird?”

“Puns,” came the next wheeze. “I lie broken on the field, and all my fillyfriend has to offer is puns. This is what I get for dating an Earth Pony.”

“Heh,” Applejack chuckled. “Sorry, Sugarcube. I didn’t mean to hit you, er, below the girth, so to speak. You need me to get some ice or anything?”

“I think I’m good,” Hoops hiccuped in response. “But I might throw in the towel a little early today.”

“Yeah, I suppose that’s fair,” Applejack said, giving another chuckle as he started to stagger upright. “Though, you know that means I win.”

“Not a chance!” Hoops cried. “You incapacitated my team’s best player!”

“Wouldn’t have happened if your team didn’t cheat. But fine, you get a penalty goal. I’m still ahead by one.”

“Cripes, AJ, can’t we just call it a draw?”

“Nope,” she said airily, turning away and trotting to pick up the ball. “Rules are rules.”

“Sweet Cirrus,” Hoops grumbled, hobbling towards one of the benches at the side of the field. “You Earth Pony mares are merciless.”

“I did warn you I played rough.”

“Rough, yes,” Hoops said, sprawling onto the bench with a pained grimace. “Nopony said anything about getting gelded going up against you.”

Applejack couldn’t help but laugh again, earning a dark glare from beneath Hoops’ bangs. “Seriously, Sugarcube, you okay? I only meant to poke you out of the air.”

“I’ll be fine,” he said, shifting his legs and wincing again. “Wasn’t a direct hit, thank Celestia. Not the first time I’ve been hit like that in a game, though normally we’re wearing a little more protection.”

“Occupational hazard, I suppose,” Applejack said, sitting down on the ground beside the bench. “How’d the last few matches go, by the way?”

“Eh.” Hoops gave a long shrug, his shoulders scraping the weathered wood of the bench. “Monday was good. We won by three points. They thrashed us Wednesday though, and Friday’s game…” Applejack could hear him grind his teeth, then give a long sigh. “We should’ve had it. We were up two points from the first quarter, and they came back in the last thirty seconds with a pair of cheap one-pointers. Score was right on the guy for the second shot too, had a perfect setup to steal from him and just… bungled it. They managed to score the winning point in overtime.”

“Shoot,” Applejack said. “I’m sure sorry, Sugarcube.”

“ ‘S’okay. It’s how the game goes. I don’t think many scouts are paying much attention anymore. We’re basically locked out of the playoffs at this point, so it’s just playing the games until the season’s over.”

Applejack didn’t need to know Hoops well to know he was playing the stoic. She could practically feel the frustration radiating from him. It was a feeling she herself was all too familiar with, especially after a bad rodeo season. In hindsight, maybe shouldn’t have pushed so hard today… Might be he could’ve used a win to pick up his mood.

The idea made her bite her lip in distaste, however. Throwing a game just to boost anyone’s ego never sat well with her, and she knew how she would feel if Hoops or anyone did that out of pity for her. That wasn’t why they met to play a few one-on-one matches every week. If anything, Applejack appreciated that Hoops gave her an honest, hard game every time.

Well, mostly honest, she thought with a wry smile. But she knew he had only been fooling around by breaking the rules. As much as he despised losing, he had never once stormed off the field or been a sore loser on any count. Whatever coaches he had learned to play with over the years had apparently drilled that behavior out of him. The little bit of flying he had done was just to tease her, and maybe show off a little. That, Applejack had noted, was something he never missed an opportunity to do.

“Still, I’m sorry the season didn’t quite pan out like you wanted. I know you were pretty gung-ho about some the scouts that were hanging around this year.”

“They’ll be back next year,” Hoops said with a dismissive wave of his hoof. “If I even… I don’t know.”

“Something bothering you, sugarcube?”

Hoops shifted, scooting a little closer to Applejack. She could see his wings twitching, though whether out of restlessness or irritation, she couldn’t tell. “AJ… do you think I should even bother signing on next season?”

“Now where the hay did that come from?” Applejack asked. She turned sideways to face him and raised a questioning eyebrow. “Why wouldn’t you?”

“You don’t think I’m wasting my time with all this, do you?” Lying on his back the way he was allowed his mane to fall away from his face, leaving his eyes clear again. Applejack still couldn’t quite figure out why he left his mane so unstyled and hid his face behind his hair so much. His eyes were a little small for his face, giving him a very earnest expression whenever his mane didn’t get in the way. Now, he was staring listlessly up into the clouds, the edges of his brows turned down in a worried frown that almost looked sad. “Maybe I shouldn’t be spending as much time on the field as I do, instead of just keeping my head down and working at the factory.”

“ ‘Course I don’t think that. Why would I?”

Hoops shrugged again. “I don’t know. I guess it’s just that most colts who make it into the pro leagues have already been drafted by my age. I’m starting to feel like if I was going to get picked, they would’ve done it years ago.”

“That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself. You’ve only been out of school a year or so, Hoops.”

“That’s my point, though! Most colts get drafted while they’re still playing for their school teams.”

“But you did get drafted!”

“By a journeycolt league,” Hoops grumbled. “Not even the minor league. And I should have moved up by now, but I just feel… stuck. A lot of the players around me have moved up.”

“Score hasn’t,” Applejack offered, but Hoops only snorted derisively.

“Score barely puts in any effort for the team. He shows up, that’s about it. I’ve been working outside of official practice five times as much as him. Not that it’s done any good.” He sighed. “I don’t know. I’m asking what you think. Do you think I should just stick with the amateur leagues for fun and start full time at the factory?”

“I think it’s a little early to call it quits,” Applejack answered slowly. “I know you wanted to play in the big leagues since before you could walk.”

Hoops snorted. “Doesn’t mean it’ll happen though, right?”

“It still could. Besides, it’s your special talent, ain’t it?”

Hoops tilted his head back, looking at her upside down, and gave her a sour grin. “AJ. There’s less than five hundred ponies in the EBA. There are probably more ponies with a talent for sports in one city than get to play in the top leagues, I promise you that. Talent doesn’t really have anything to do with it at that level.”

“Well, still. I think you’ve got just as good a shot as anypony else. So it’s been a few years longer than you thought. Until you’re the oldest journeycolt-league player left, I don’t see how that needs to mean much. Rainbow sure didn’t have the shortest path into the Wonderbolts, but she made it there in the end.”

“Ha, you mean Rainbow Crash?” Hoops snickered. His voice instantly took on a slightly whinier tone, and he brushed up a bang to lay across his face. “Is it true they actually started calling her that on her first day? That’s a cheap move, if you ask me. I ought to get credit for coming up with the name.”

Applejack turned away and scowled. She should’ve known better than to bring up Rainbow. He was going to be insufferable for hours if she didn’t somehow distract him again. “Was just an example, Hoops. What brought all this up, anyway?”

Thankfully, the return to the topic at hoof seemed to sober him again. “I don’t know. Just thinking about the future and stuff, I guess.” He tilted his head back again to look at her. “Not going to lie, you’ve been making me feel kind of lazy. I still don’t put in half the hours at the factory that you do on that farm. Making me look bad!”

“I think hours spent practicing count towards that,” Applejack said, blushing a little. “You work plenty hard, Hoops.”

“More so now than before. I think that’s why Score’s been bugging me so much lately. I didn’t even realize how much time we just spent lying around until I started putting in the extra hours at the field and the factory. Makes me wonder if I didn’t sabotage myself these past few years, not working hard enough.”

“You do what you can now,” Applejack said. “That’s all you can do.”

They fell into a companionable silence for a few minutes. Applejack didn’t know how long Hoops might need to recover, but the chill from the rain was almost gone, and the sun was just reaching the perfect level of pleasant winter warmth. A few foals were playing a game of kickball in the distance.

“So,” Applejack said, breaking the silence. “What else have you been thinking about the future?”

“Hmm? Not much, I guess. I don’t know what I’d think about, outside of the team and the factory.”

“You ever think about where we’re headed? The two of us, I mean.”

Applejack could feel him stiffen a little on the bench as she leaned against it. For a moment, he seemed to forget to breathe. “Uh…”

“I’m not testing you or nothing, sugarcube,” she said with a laugh. “I’m just wondering. I don’t have any grand plans, if that’s what you’re worried about. Far as I’m concerned, I’m just content to enjoy the days and call them good. You just said the future had you worried, so I thought I’d ask.”

“Heh, I guess I hadn’t really thought ahead that much. Like you said, just enjoy the present and all.”

Applejack let the silence hang for another minute or two. Then she felt a devious grin creep over her face. “You ever think about having a family one day?”

That did the trick. He went so rigid, Applejack thought his heart might have actually skipped a beat. Then he shot her an exaggerated glare. “Well, I’m pretty sure my odds of that went down a little bit today, if you know what I mean.”

Applejack burst out laughing. “Oh, you’ll be fine!”

“I’m serious!” he said, faking a long, pained frown. “I may never have foals now! All the hopes of my family line, crushed over a bent rule!”

“Well, the game is called buckball,” Applejack retorted.

“That doesn’t mean you have to take it literally!” Hoops cried, breaking down into a fit of laughter. “Tartarus, you’re horrible, AJ.”

“You’ve put up with me so far.”

“Oh! Speaking of foals, that reminds me,” Hoops said, sitting up and digging into his saddlebags. “I forgot to show you this last time I flew down.” He pulled out a sheet of crumpled stationery and gave it to Applejack. “Get a load of this. Score wrote it up to try to scare me the other day. Could the guy get any more lame?”

Applejack smoothed the paper and ran her eyes over it, holding an amused smile as she waited to understand what kind of prank Score had tried to play. As she read, however, every ounce of mirth drained out of her, replaced by a new block of ice dropping into her stomach with every paragraph.

“Like I’d fall for something like that,” Hoops chuckled. He glanced at Applejack, and his smile grew fixed as he saw the color draining from her face. “Uh… AJ?” He gave a nervous chuckle. “Applejack. I swear, it’s fake. Score made it up. I don’t even know where he got the name, but that’s why it’s so stupid. If he wanted to scare me, he should’ve used your name or something.” The wavering grin finally fell from his face as Applejack continued to stare, frozen, at the letter. “AJ? You okay? Geez, say something, you look like somepony died.”

Applejack felt a panicked lump as large and dry as a red delicious form in her throat. She swallowed painfully, trying to clear her voice. “Uh… Hoops…”

“Yeah?”

“Have you ever been to Las Pegasus?”