• Published 2nd Jul 2018
  • 2,080 Views, 126 Comments

Menace to Propriety - PatchworkPoltergeist

As part of their joint effort to grow closer, come together as a family, and comply with their therapist, Diamond can choose a new pet. Any pet at all. (Terms and conditions may apply.)

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You Can't Hurry Dove

As the newest member of the Rich family, Menace II Society deserved only the best. How would he know much they loved him, otherwise? Stuff by itself (as Dad liked pointing out every Hearth’s Warming) didn’t directly correlate to love, but ponies ought to give their loved ones all they were able. Money meant action, and action spoke louder than words. What good did money do just sitting in the bank if you never used it to make other ponies happy?

For Menace, love meant a custom-sculpted marble birdbath with a fountain and his name engraved in gold. Unfortunately, love also needed six to eight days for delivery. Six to eight days they didn’t have.

Randolph knitted his snowy eyebrows at the soggy little bird in the middle of the candy dish. Menace sat in the water and stared back at him. Neither had moved for the past fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, Menace knew he deserved top quality too, and wouldn’t accept anything less.

Any other day, Diamond would have been proud of him. Today, though… “Look, it’s just a little emergency bath. You’ll be in and out in like, ten seconds. The new birdbath will be here in a couple of days, I promise, but Dad’s coming home in an hour.” She splashed his wings to get him started. “It’s the best dish we have—genuine crystal, see? It’s a limited edition all the way from the Empire.”

The fancy logo and I.D. number stamped on the bowl left little impression. Menace puffed his feathers when droplets ran down his wingtips, and he shook himself once, but that was all. He’d gone from a raggedy cake terrorist to a heap of waterlogged feathers. The last remnants of icing washed off the moment he hit the water, but gunk still stuck to his tail, and stains marred the white feathers around his legs.

One of the maids coughed discreetly and cracked a window. Somehow, water only aggravated the bird poop stench, and now the bathroom smelled like a Manehattan train station on the wrong side of town. A ring of shedded feathers floated on the water in slow orbit; the bald patches on Menace’s chest had doubled in size. The last few prickly wet feathers poked out of his skin like somepony had smacked them on with glue at the last second.

The book Diamond bought said that pigeons loved baths. Did that not count for all breeds? Maybe pedigrees needed special rosewater rinses or something. She tried giving him another little splash. “I don’t get it. If I’d had the day you had, I’d jump in a bathtub the first chance I got.”

Menace couldn’t have been tired because he’d slept the whole ride home. He’d been clean in the wedding cage, so he must have known how to bathe himself. Dainty didn’t seem the type to spoil her doves to the point of hoof-washing them, and even if she did, she wouldn’t have bothered hoof-washing Menace.

Stubbornness. That’s all it could be. Pure stubbornness.

“Dad’s gonna be home soon. You don’t want to meet him like this, do you?” Not that Menace wasn’t perfect already, but nopony held a grand opening without wiping down the counters first. Menace had to come at this swinging. Whatever bad press Spoiled fed to Dad would have the whole walk home to simmer. “You only have to use the dish once. It’ll be marble and gold every single day after that, I promise.”

Tightlipped, Randolph watched the process from the sidelines. He blinked slowly at Dusty Trails, the maid who’d opened the window. She nodded and fetched a small pitcher of warm water from the sink.

Diamond stopped her with a hoof. “No, give him a sec to do it himself.” Steepling her hooves, she tilted her head in thought. Menace reached to nip at her mane, slipped on the glass, and flopped onto his side. “Do you think he wants to soak first? Is our bubble bath safe for pigeons?”

Randolph considered it and shook his head. He tapped Diamond’s shoulder, then his pocket watch. Ten-thirty. Dad came home in twenty minutes. Twenty-five if he stopped for Ponyville small talk.

“Come on, Menace. Please?” Diamond sat him right side up. At least he’d gotten himself good and wet all over.

Menace sat in the water like a rubber duck with a hole in the bottom. A rubber duck with a floppy neck and moth-eaten sweater from a donation bin.

“Okay, I’ll do it for you this one time. Deal?”

Menace drank some of his bathwater.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” She reached for the pitcher, but Randolph shook his head while the maid moved to the opposite side of the candy dish. “I don’t mind, I can do it myself.” The pitcher raised out of reach when she tried to grab it again. “I want to—hey!”

Dusty Trails offered an apologetic smile. “I know you do, Miss, but Madame Rich prefers it otherwise. Don’t worry, I know my way around birds. My sister kept parrots.”

Diamond rolled her eyes. As if a ten-pound hoof-chomping noise machine is anything like my Menace.

Water drizzled around the pigeon’s wings while Dusty’s free hoof massaged his feathers. He flicked his tail and shook himself a bit. Not exactly bathing himself, but close enough.

Can’t argue results, though. Which just made it worse. Diamond rested her chin on the counter in what Spoiled would have called a sulk. “I’m not gonna catch anything from him. He rode on my head all day yesterday; a bath’s not gonna matter. Randolph already put the cage together, so I should get to do something. He’s my bird.”

“You might get your lovely pink coat wet,” Dusty told her.

“So? That’s, like, why we have towels?”

“I’m sorry, Miss, but I’ve got my instructions.” Meaning that was that. Unlike Randolph, Dusty Trails had come packaged with Spoiled’s wardrobe, potted plants, and bad interior design opinions. She wouldn’t budge.

We don’t even need maids in the first place. Randolph’s been here since before Dad was born, and we always did fine. Okay, maybe Diamond used to leave the living room a little messy sometimes, but a lived-in space had charm. He could still manage the mansion on his own without anypony else. What a waste of bits.

Diamond felt eyes upon her. Above her head, the butler smiled and winked; one of his silent little signals that everything would turn out right in the end. It did make her feel a little better, but Diamond flicked her tail and held onto her sulk anyway. “Getting on in years,” my hoof. He doesn’t look a day over ninety.

Something dripped on her nose. Menace had waded over to investigate, water sliding off the tip of his beak. His head twisted upside down to blink at her.

“You know, wild pigeons take baths in puddles. You’re lucky you even have a bowl to—HAY!” Water splattered Diamond’s face in a spray of feathers. “I’M not the one who needs a bath!”

Dusty Trails bit back a laugh and apologized. “At least he seems to feel a bit better now. Come here, you.” Before the bird could scramble away, she gathered him in a tea towel and held him up for inspection. Menace pecked her eyebrow.

“Do you think he’s nervous? Like stage fright?” Diamond wouldn’t really blame him. If she’d been through a crowd of shrieking socialites all day and then got dunked in a new house full of strangers, she might not want a bath either.

“It could be that he’s never been indoors before, Miss Tiara.” Ignoring the beak biting at her apron, Dusty slicked Menace’s raggedy tail feathers into something semi-presentable. “It’s a good thing you’ve done, you know. Not everypony would take in a bird like this.”

“Yeah, I know. Most ponies have awful taste.”

The tea towel patted off the rest of the excess water and Dusty let him loose on the sink counter. Menace twirled in a circle, fluffed himself, and perched on the faucet. He blinked twice and promptly fell into the sink.

“Their loss, Miss Tiara.” Dusty flipped Menace upright, then tugged the lace of her apron out of the pigeon’s beak. Randolph’s eyebrows scrunched up again, and the two servants exchanged another glance.

Menace tilted his head at his wobbly reflection in the coin, following the other bird’s identical movements in the gold. A loose down feather curled in the reflection’s feet. Twitching his wings, he peered at the feather between his own toes and picked it off.

Satisfied, Menace hopped on Filthy’s leg and snatched the bit from his hoof. The thin feathers on his neck raised in a defiant little ruff. With a flick of his tail, he jogged back across the bench to Diamond’s side, still nibbling the coin.

Dad laughed. “Well, he knows the value of a bit! Can’t fault him for that.” He settled in the crook of the bench cushion, smiling at the rest of the room.

Diamond Tiara waved her legs over the opposite side of the bench and smiled back. Spoiled Rich made an effort to do the same, though she never quite got there. She leaned against the game room wall, perched on a stool beside the soda bar. Close enough to be part of the action, but still a safe distance from the bird.

The bit twinkled in Menace’s beak. He pressed against the bench backboard, watching Dad’s hoof creep across the upholstery. The second it reached for the coin, Menace smacked it with a wing.

“Fine, keep it. Got more bits where that’s from, anyhow.” Rubbing his fetlock, Dad glanced at the rest of his family. “Have to admit, I’m a little confused. I thought you said we were getting a dog.”

Spoiled’s half-smile twitched. “No, Fil, you’re the one who said we should get a dog.”

Not to mention all the other hints. Luxury dog beds, water bowls, and leashes had been gathering dust in the store’s backroom for weeks. According to Dad, they were overstock items from the Canterlot branch. Nopony believed him.

“As it happened,” Spoiled said, “Diamond decided to pick out a bird all on her own.” The sentence held no malice, but Diamond’s hackles rose anyway.

Dad’s left ear flicked up. His gaze ricocheted between Diamond and Menace, then Spoiled, then back to Menace. The pigeon’s neck lolled backwards, the bit still in beak.

The mood of the room shifted.

“Oh, I see.” Nothing changed in Dad’s face or his tone or his posture. Twenty years of salespony experience had sculpted a poker face perfect for mediating peace talks and boardroom negotiations. He didn’t acknowledge his wife’s pointed look, nor his daughter’s bristling coat, and pushed on as if nothing had happened at all. “Any particular reason, Diamond?”

“Uh.” A shadow passed across the bench. Diamond twitched her ears and tried to ignore it.

Out of Diamond’s periphery, Spoiled had shifted out of her sullen little corner and into the conversation. She met Dad’s eye for a second and muttered something under her breath.

The poker face wavered. “I’m sure,” Dad gently said, “that’s not the reason, Spoils.” He kept it quiet, but still audible. Meant to be heard by everypony in the room. From the way Dad frowned at Menace’s bare feather patches, though, he wasn’t a hundred percent sure—ninety, ninety-seven, tops.

So she did get to him first. Of course she did. A hot bubble swelled in Diamond’s throat. Rainbows shimmered through Menace’s neck feathers. It gave her eyes somewhere to look besides up. Spiteful glares would only prove Spoiled’s case.

The bubble in her throat burned too hot to swallow. “I got him because I LIKE him.” No. Wrong thing to say. Too defensive. Too mad. Too childish and stupid and it just dug her deeper. The room got quiet. She felt Dad looking at her without the poker face. Concerned. Concerned was worse than mad. Diamond didn’t know why, but it was.

Diamond swallowed hard, counted to ten (she only got to seven, but Doctor Belfry would’ve still called it a good try), and finally brought her head up.

No sign of Spoiled. One thing Diamond Tiara could say for her, the mare at least knew when to give her space. Usually. Fifty bits said she was lurking in the hall with her ear to the door, but whatever. Space was space.

With some coaxing, Menace wobbled onto Diamond’s hoof. His little feet kept slipping off her horseshoe and couldn’t stay balanced. Diamond shifted to the side and put him on her withers instead. His head dangled off the edge of her collarbone, still holding the coin he’d snatched.

Quieter, Diamond said, “I just like him is all.” Cooing rumbled in her ear. “Do I need another reason?”

“No, darlin’, that’s a plenty good reason. It’s just that I wonder…” Dad paused to fish for the right terminology, shook his head, and tried again. He curled his legs under him and edged closer, now at eye level. Take two. “Okay. Now, we all agreed to try and talk more honestly about our feelings, right?”

“Right. And I honestly gave you the reason: I like him.”

It didn’t take. “Ponies can have more than one reason for doing something, Diamond. They almost always do, even though they don’t always know it.”

Meaning one of two options: talk now, or clam up, wait it out, and talk later. If she said she didn’t want to talk about it, then Dad would drop the subject without another word. That meant a postponement, not a cancellation.

A train of pinball machines lined the back wall of the game room, with the bench placed square in the middle. Diamond Tiara rested her chin on the backboard, examining the closest one: the one Mom bought on her last business trip with Dad. Melted faces of Marshian zombies snarled and moaned across the cabinet, their jaws attached by thin strings of muscle and sinew.

The subject would crawl back to them eventually, and when it did, it could be worse. Hiding only let it fester and gave Spoiled more time to build her case against the “cake terrorist”. Besides, silence looked guilty. Adults said it didn’t, but Diamond knew better.

“Mother told you I got Menace just to spite her. Didn’t she?” Diamond glanced back at her father already preparing a rebuttal and met him at the pass. “Fine, maybe she didn’t put it in those words, but it’s what she meant.”

“She does have her doubts, yes. Which is why—Diamond, honey, look at me.” Dad gently tilted her chin around. “Which is why it’s important we try to be honest with each other; that way, we’ll all know where we stand. Can’t move forward if you don’t know where you already are, right?”

“I guess.”

“You and Spoiled aren’t in competition against each other, and I’m not here to take sides. I want to understand what’s happening, that’s all. Fair enough?”

Diamond’s hoof traced the wood grain along the edge of the bench. Menace hopped off her shoulder and followed it. “We got mad at each other at the wedding. She didn’t like Menace and tried to find a way out of the contract and—“

Dad sat up. “Wait. Wedding?” He frowned. “The Lace-Snapshot wedding?”

“Yeah, he’s one of the wedding doves.” Had nopony mentioned that part? “So I don’t get why she doesn’t like him—he’s got papers and breeding and all that fancy stuff, and he’s part of a wedding ceremony. Spoiled loves all of that stuff! Like, I get that she’s mad at him for falling in the cake, but I wanted him before any of that stuff happened.”

Bored with Diamond’s hoof, Menace wobbled along the bench. He had only two directions to go (four, counting the floor and the ceiling) but he still couldn’t seem to choose one. Menace took a few steps to the right, pivoted, and stumbled in a circle. Six steps to the left, another circle. After a few tries, it dissolved into just circles within circles. Twirling around that way, no wonder he fell over all the time.

“Menace. Hey.” Diamond clicked her tongue. The pigeon turned to look, but his neck couldn’t keep up with his head and flopped over. His body went on without it, dragging his head along like a rolling suitcase.

Dad blinked. “Um.”

“And really, who wouldn’t pick him?” Diamond gently tipped her bird’s head right-side-up so Dad could see his big white eyes and all the oil slick rainbows in his neck. “He’s like no other dove in the cage—no other dove in Equestria, probably. Menace is an exclusive one-time-only limited platinum edition. Why would I want some lame off-the-rack canary or whatever when I can get a designer dove for free? Look at him!”

With a slight tug at his collar, Dad watched while Menace tripped over his own feet and fell backwards with a surprised little coo. “Y-yes, he sure is something, all right. Very… uh...” He glanced at Diamond’s slight frown. “Unique!”

Menace jumped at the sudden noise and rolled off the bench in an inelegant synthesis of flailing wings and scrambling legs. A generous pony might have called it a break-dance. Falling with style, perhaps. He righted himself, shook himself off, and pooped on the plush carpet.

“I can train him not to do that.” Probably. “He’s not just a pretty face, he’s smart, too. Maybe we can get him to only poop in his cage and on ugly buildings. He’s…” A slow frown drew across Diamond’s muzzle. Unique.

Wasn’t that one of Mom’s “loser words”? One of those terms used by parents of ninth and tenth placers to make their foals feel better about going home with a participation ribbon instead of a trophy. A word to shelter failures from their own mediocrity. A cushion for the truth.

“Daddy? Do you mean ‘unique’ like a specially tailored Carousel Boutique dress, or like how Miss Cheerilee calls Scootaloo’s singing voice?”

“Like a serial number at the bottom of a paycheck.”

Diamond fought back a smile. “Good answer.”

“Thanks, I thought so too.” Under the bench, flashes of black and white jumped to bite at Dad’s tail dangling off the edge. Dad pulled it up and out of reach. “So, does—Menace, is it?—does he know how to fly?”

“He flew right into a giant cake,” Diamond pointed out, “and he flew around in his old cage, too.”

“I mean since then.”

“Oh.” Diamond Tiara thought about it. “No, not really. He tried it in my room for a second, but then he decided to take it easy instead.”

Actually, Menace had managed about a foot of air before crashing into Diamond’s walk-in closet. He’d been spiraling and looping the way Rainbow Dash did that one time she drank half a barrel of Apple cider by herself. Dad didn’t need to know that part.

“He didn’t move much after the crash; falling in a cake in front of all those ponies at the party freaked him out a lot.” The poor guy had been too scared to move for almost an hour. “Maybe he’s got that past-traumatic thing? You know, like the books we saw on Doctor Belfry’s shelf?”

“It’s not impossible.” Dad offered the pigeon the tip of his hoof. Menace puffed his wings and grabbed Dad’s cufflink. He kept his grip on the shiny little metal even as Dad’s foreleg lifted into the air. The tips of his toes barely scraped the carpet as Menace dangled by his scrawny neck. Dad laughed. “You know, I can’t help but get to thinkin’ that you’re somethin’ of a hoof-full, mister.”

Diamond smiled at that. Normally, Dad just brought out the southernisms for playful dogs and foals small enough to ride in shopping carts. “See? I know a key investment when I see one, and so does he. Right, Menace?”

Menace sneezed and plopped on the carpet.


Diamond gathered her bird into her hooves so he could sit on her lap. He looked sleepy again, and she wondered if Menace’s old home had been too loud or busy for a decent night’s rest. “The birdkeeper pony didn’t want him after he fell in the cake, but I don’t think she ever wanted him.”

Dad’s cufflinks glinted as he readjusted them and watched Menace rest against Diamond’s leg. Instead of tucking in his wings, he let them hang at his sides with the feathers all fanned out. “Hm. What makes you say that?”

“You should have seen the way she looked at him—like he belonged in a garbage can… like a problem instead of a bird. She kept joking about feeding him to a cat and acted like every little thing he did was part of some scheme to ruin her life.” Diamond lashed her tail with a snort. “Right, like her life’s just so important. It’s HER fault Menace crashed in the first place because he shouldn’t have been at a wedding anyway, and then he didn’t want to get up after he fell, and she never bothered looking for him or anything. She was just gonna leave him to rot, Dad! For something that he couldn’t even help! I mean, would you let someone go back to somepony who didn’t treat them right?”

For a little while, Dad sat in the empty game room and didn’t say anything. He scratched the fur under his sleeve cuffs, watching the flashing lights on the pinball machines. Then, “I wouldn’t feel right about it either, no. And if we’d already come to be friends, I expect I’d feel obliged to do right by them.”

At least somepony in this house got it. Feathers rubbed against Diamond’s neck. The pigeon’s little nails dug into her coat as he climbed over her legs, staring at the tiara glimmering above him. He gladly accepted Diamond’s offer to give him a lift up to her head.

Black tail feathers poked out of the side of the tiara and brushed against Diamond’s ear. “Anyway, that’s—cut it out, that tickles—that’s why Menace lives here now. I think he’s glad to have his own place.” She rose slowly to keep him from losing his balance. “Do you want to see it?”

“The cage? Why, I’d love to.”

“Awesome, come on.” Diamond grabbed his hoof, rounded the billiards table, and led the way into the hall, and almost ran right smack into Spoiled Rich.

“Oh!” The watering can she’d been holding dropped from her mouth. (Randolph caught it before it hit the ground and silently assumed the mantle of watering the hallway plants in her stead.) “I didn’t notice you there, dear.” Spoiled smoothed her mane and cleared her throat. “I thought the ficuses could use some water.”

Menace bobbed his head at Spoiled’s gold necklace. He cooed and stretched for it.

“I see your father’s become acquainted with the new…” Clearing her throat, Spoiled shifted out of pecking range. “…member of the family.”

“I have, yes. Interesting little fellow, isn’t he?” Dad slipped between Diamond and Spoiled as they eased into a lazy stroll down the hallway.

The glittering necklace bobbed out of range. Menace stretched his neck over Dad’s withers, cooing his disapproval.

“As I hear it, you two found him at the Lily Lace wedding, Spoiled.” The easy pace and soft voice said Dad wasn’t mad, but the fact that he had to soften it in the first place meant that he wasn’t happy either. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t think that weekend was supposed to be a work trip.”

The fur around Spoiled’s cutie mark prickled. “It wasn’t, but try telling that to Carat I’m-Invited-To-The-Gala-And-Need-To-Bump-The-Ceremony-A-Week Cut. She switched the whole thing and didn’t think to tell me until three days before the fact. It’s a miracle the wedding went through at all.”

“What an exotic middle name. Do you suppose Ms. Cut’s part Mustangian?”

“After all that fuss over her filly marrying into a mixed family? I highly doubt it.” Spoiled lashed her tail and shot Dad a glance. “And no, she wouldn’t reschedule, fee or no fee.”

The calm strained. “Alright.” Dad’s tone never changed, but the syllables began to clot together. Came shorter and faster. Frustrated. “But wouldn’t it have been easier to leave Diamond with your sister for the morning instead?”

The air weighed heavy on Diamond’s withers. Her eyes flicked between both parents.

“Leave her to Honeymilk’s servants, you mean? Absolutely not. I promised we’d spend the day together, and that’s what I intended to do. We planned this for months, Filthy.”

“Exactly, which is why it would have been better to have a day to yourselves instead of trying to balance it with a wedding. There’s a difference between quality and quantity time, y’know.”

This discussion was riding a fast track to a Discussion. A Discussion they didn’t want to have in front of her because it was a Discussion about her. Diamond felt herself shiver. Just like all the other fights about her.

You wrecked it, Diamond.

The room shrank to a pinprick and all of a sudden the walls and rug and furniture and her own body felt miles away, and that was so STUPID because she was sitting right here in the middle of it.

Diamond Tiara’s ribs clutched her lungs tight. So tight she couldn’t breathe. You wrecked it and you didn’t even mean to. It’s just what you do. You ruin ponies.

Discussions never stayed Discussions. Soon, there’d be shouting. Crying. Bad words. Slammed doors in the middle of the night. Broken dishes in the kitchen. Noise and noise and silence louder than all that noise put together. Courthouses. Separate bedrooms. Separate breakfasts. Separate everything because she—

Stop. Her throat squeezed shut. No. NO, you don’t get to cry about it. Winners don’t cry. Diamond swallowed hard. She did it again and again until her eyes weren’t blurry anymore.

Deep breaths.

You made this mess. You fix it. Now. Before it gets worse.

Another breath. Okay, time to put that crown on her flank to work. “Actually, I’m glad I went to the wedding.”

The tension clapped out like a bad dream. Spoiled and Filthy frowned in synch, looked at each other, then at Diamond. “You are?” they chorused.

“Yep!” She clutched the spotlight with both hooves, beaming. Nopony could stay mad around a smiling little filly, and Diamond had the best smile in the kingdom; her trophies said so. “Maybe I didn’t like it at first, but it got better. After all, if we hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have met Menace.”

“Diamond?” Dad studied her face carefully. “Are you feeling alright?”


Spoiled furrowed her eyebrows. “You sure?”

“Sure I’m sure. Come on, Dad, you still need to see the cage.” She felt Menace start to slump against the tiara. Diamond shifted him into her hooves, tucked safely against her chest. “Do you want to see it too, Mother?”

It still counted as quality time when it happened inside the house, right?

“I—why... yes.” From the look on Spoiled’s face, one would think Celestia had asked her to the homecoming dance. “Yes, I would. Um, lead the way, Diamond.” Not that Spoiled had to see it, as she’d been there for the construction plans; the birdcage had been the only part of the pet exercise they’d actually collaborated on.

In the center of Diamond’s room, the cage stood roughly the same width as a large armoire and stretched two feet shy of the ceiling. Instead of the traditional iron bar design, Diamond had opted for white gold lattice, and it had been Spoiled who suggested the wooden frame to integrate it with the rest of Diamond’s furniture. From a distance, it could easily be mistaken for an elaborate wardrobe. A spiral staircase of shelves led the way to a velvet and fleece nest at the top, with toys and mirrors waiting on every level. With the pull of a lever, the door dropped and converted into a little staircase to the floor. Menace never had to fly another day of his life if he didn’t want to.

Right now, Menace didn’t even want to walk there. He padded across old pages of The Stall Street Journal that lined the cage bottom, fluffed his wings, and settled in the corner.

“It’s been a long day,” Diamond said to nopony in particular. “I took him on a tour of the house and gave him a bath. He’s exhausted.” Menace had sat and watched through most of it, but quiet observation could take a lot out of a creature.

Dad idly stroked the cage’s velvet curtains, watching Diamond cup her pigeon and put him in his proper bed. “Got to say, this is high living for a little bird.”

“Mm. For the time being.” Spoiled’s gaze traveled from the sleepy pigeon to Diamond, who watched her with a curious frown. “Depreciation—we bought it for five thousand; it’ll be four by the end of the year. I’m thinking out loud, that’s all.”

Something didn’t smell right. If Spoiled had a problem with the cage value going down, she would have said something when commissioning it. On the ride home, she would have grumbled over Menace messing up the wires or pooping on the fancy wood. It wasn’t in her to bottle up a financial complaint for a whole twenty-four hours, especially not when said complaint had been Diamond’s call.

Dad’s ears went up. “Five thou—” He swung around in a harsh whisper. “Five thousand? But we’re not even going to use it that lon—”

Spoiled stepped on his hoof.

Now it really didn’t smell right. Dad liked Menace, so why would he be thinking about getting rid of him? Diamond rubbed the thin patch of feathers in the bird’s cheek. “He’s not like a street pigeon. They live longer when somepony’s there to take care of them; Menace is going to live here for another twenty years. It’s a lot of money, but it’ll pay off in the end.”

“Oh,” said Dad. “I see. Uh, S-Spoils? Honeywallet, does… uh, does she…” He pressed close and whispered a rapid set of words into Spoiled’s ear.

Spoiled jerked away from him. “Me?!” Her ears flattened. “But I thought that you—I mean, with all that time in the game room…”

Diamond’s little hoof waved between them. “Excuse me? What’s going on?”

They froze. Spoiled recovered first, slowly tugging Dad into the hall by his jacket sleeve. “One second, sweetheart. We need to have a grownup talk.” After a second, her head poked back in to add, “You’re not in trouble.”

At least they didn’t sound angry. If anything, it sounded like a minor market crash.

Diamond shrugged. “Okay.”

Menace opened a squinty little eye and closed it.

The clock on the desk ticked once. Ticked again.

There, that’s one second. Diamond pressed her belly to the ground and nudged the door a crack.

Dad and Spoiled’s silhouettes huddled on the far side of the hall. Too far to hear anything besides scraps and snatches of conversation: “...wouldn’t listen to…” and “…taking it too well…” and “…quality of life…”. Diamond’s name a few times. Menace’s once.

“Well, why can’t you?” Spoiled’s shadow broke the huddle to pace back down the hall. “The second quarter doesn’t start for another week; you’ve got nothing but free time.”

“I did until the Manehattan branch manager ticked off the union. They’re threatening a strike.” A pause. “Hey, it’s not like I planned it this way. Anyhow, I can probably get it squared away in a few hours. With travel time, the whole thing will take a day—two, max.”

Spoiled said something too soft to hear.

“I’m not sure the bird can wait that long. This way, at least you can brace for it.” Dad’s voice lightened. “Who knows? Maybe it’ll bring you together a little.”

“Maybe.” A strong maybe, from the sound of it. “I don’t suppose Belfry could...?” Spoiled shook her head. “No, she’s not available until next month.”

A maid’s shadow passed theirs on her rounds through the house. Diamond ducked back inside before she could notice her. Menace—still awake after all—pressed against the side of the cage, watching her.

In a quiet room, Menace’s rumbling coo filled the walls. “I think they’re talking about you,” Diamond told him. The pigeon blinked curiously at that, but when she didn’t elaborate, he chose to nibble her fetlock through the bars instead. She thought of how it tickled and absolutely nothing else.

The door opened behind her. Moments later, Dad’s face appeared at the opposite side of the cage. “He’s not sleepy after all?”

“Guess not.” When Diamond turned back to Menace, his head had completely rotated upside down. He’d fit right into one of Dinky’s ghost possession books.

“Not hungry either?” Dad examined the small pyramid of seeds and chickpeas stacked in the crystal bowl on the middle shelf. Pristine and untouched. “Out of curiosity, Diamond, when did you feed him last?”

“This morning. I think the dovekeeper gave us the wrong diet, though, because he didn’t eat any of it yet.” She’d tried offering some of her own organic oats at lunchtime, but he hadn’t even looked at them. “He must’ve eaten sometime recently, though.” Diamond gestured to the white splotches on the newspaper. “That had to come from somewhere.”

“True.” Spoiled leaned (slouched?) in the doorway, her head turned in Diamond’s direction without actually looking at her. “But to be safe, we’ll take him to Fluttershy’s tomorrow.”

Diamond bristled. “Why? His papers say he’s fine.”

Physically. Dainty Dove’s ugly faux-Canterlot accent rattled in Diamond’s head. He’s perfectly fine, physically.

One of the uneaten grains cracked underhoof. Diamond reminded herself to clean that up before anypony complained. “But we could still go. Fluttershy knows a lot about animals; she’ll know what he really likes to eat.”

Spoiled clapped her hooves together. “Exactly. We’ll leave first thing in the morning, you and me.”

Because they could always use more “quality time,” couldn’t they? Diamond faked a smile. “Great.”