• Published 29th Nov 2012
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Polarity: A Tale of Two Sisters - Shinzakura

Prequel to All-American Girl. Derpy Hooves must face a number of sudden important life decisions

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Chapter Four: Promises and Lies

It was mid-afternoon, well after their scheduled arrival time, when the Serene Velocity approached the docking tower at Fort Appaloosa. Standing on the decks and watching as the sky and anchor detail tied the ship alongside the pier, the fleetponies gave a hearty cheer for their savior, without which they’d be dead.

Derpy blushed. “All I did was to get us back on track. You did the hard stuff, getting out there and putting the steam engine together.”

At her side, Silversteel smiled. “But none of us would be alive if it wasn’t for you.” He went and nuzzled her, and she nuzzled back, appreciative of the gesture.

As the ship was properly moored, Bowsprit, followed shortly by the ship’s company and a cadre of senior officers from the guard, marched up to Derpy and as everypony went to attention, the ship’s master approached. “Dr. Hooves, you saved both my ship and my crew – and me. When you first came aboard I thought you were nothing but another landlubbing paper pusher, but you have the heart of a fleetpony – and I dare anypony to say otherwise.” Bowsprit rendered a salute, followed in quick fashion by the ponies behind her. “Officer of the Deck, ring the lady offshore!”

“Aye aye, ma’am.” Mizzenmast, who currently stood as the Officer of the Deck, rang six bells and struck her off. Feeling a bit giddy from the attention, Derpy smiled and took a step…

…missing the gangplank and falling fifteen feet towards the ground. Forgetting for a moment she was a pegasus, she impacted painfully on the ground, bruising only her pride. She quickly got up, however, and shouted back, “I’m okay!”

The crew of the Serene Velocity turned slightly away from Derpy’s mishap; the ship had survived the day, so the errors of its savior were more than tolerated.

Silver shrugged. “I guess I should go get Sparkler, then,” was all he could say.

Twenty minutes later, Derpy, Silver and Sparkler (riding on the guardpony’s back) were walking through the civilian portion of Fort Appaloosa. Their luggage had been transported to the barracks and that gave the three a little time to walk around the town before they met with Shining Armor in the afternoon. The settlement seemed larger than would be expected for a fort this size, and Derpy noted that sooner or later, it was going to have to expand beyond the walls of the guard fort. “This seems small for a fort, though I’m not really sure,” Derpy began.

“Well, actually, Fort Appaloosa is one of the larger forts in the Guard service,” Silver explained, “but the settlement has well outpaced the expected growth. A few of the civilians here are forming a town committee and plan to recommend to her majesty that the fort be dismantled within the next five years or so and the remains be made just a regular town. The main purpose of the fort now is to sign agreements with the various bison tribes wandering through the area so the settlers can have peace.”

“Is it?” she asked, noting the recent incident with the Nightmare Army.

“That’s part of the reason why you’re here, right? To determine if that’s true or not?”

“True,” Derpy replied, her head catching the hustle and bustle of the town. While it was smaller than Berryville, it was also livelier, reminding her much more of Canterbridge, the city where MIT was, or her own hometown of Pransing. The marketplace bristled with life, various general stores and sundries plied their wares, catering to the desires of both the settlements and those of the nearby bison tribes. Not far from that, the town blacksmith seemed to be doing great business, not only taking care of the settlement’s needs, but if the one guardspony who walked out was any indicator, some military business as well.

Sparkler, however, noticed the candied apple stand, then asked, “Can I have one, Miss Derpy? Please, can I?”

Derpy bent down and nuzzled the filly, then reached into her satchel, pulling out a bit and placing it before Sparkler. “Here you go, but don’t get anything too big, okay?” However, the words were already lost to the filly as she picked up the coin in her telekinesis and galloped over to the stand.

Silver looked at Derpy as she watched the younger pony scamper off. She looked beautiful to him in that moment, a sun-kissed image of beauty and allure. He couldn’t pull his eyes off her; he was completely enchanted by the mare standing next to him. Finally with some effort, he turned and looked in the opposite direction, wondering what was suddenly in control of his heart, and as his heart ached he began to wonder if his decision not to date anytime soon after his recent breakup was a good idea after all.

Out of the corner of her eye, Derpy was completely aware of what had just happened – one of the few advantages of her strabismus. A part of her warmed inside, but she tamped it down slightly. She had to admit, Silver was an attractive stallion, and it was clear that she…no, you do not need that sort of headache right now! she reminded herself. Besides, do you really want to debase yourself like Ditzy? That was enough to snap her out of her reverie.

At once, Sparkler came marching up with a caramel chocolate-covered apple with nuts and sprinkles on it, all wrapped up in the sky-blue of Sparkler’s magic aura. “Miss Derpy? Would you like a bite?”

The gray pegasus shook her head. “No, but thank you for the offer, sunshine.”

The unicorn filly foisted it towards Silversteel, asking, “Would you like a bite, Mr. Silver?”

“Uh, no thanks,” he said, somewhat nervously. “I’ve already had enough, uh, sweetness for the day.”

Sparkler suddenly looked downturned. “You had candy and you didn’t share?”

“Sparkler, I didn’t…that is, I…uh, nevermind.”

Sore in a good way and happy, Ditzy left her cousin’s place after breakfast. It was fun spending time with her favorite cousin, she mused to herself, especially since she knew her favorite cousin’s favorite spots. But she had to work and Mahogany needed to sleep after being worn out by two mares and, urged on by Ditzy’s suggestions, Lily had found a new interest in exploring pregnancy. It would probably mean that she would get with foal for sure and then end their ‘romp in the meadow’ for once and for all, but it was great having one last time with Lily and Mahogany and if it meant they were happy, then so b—

“Ditzy.” The gray pegasus turned and found Cloud Kicker hovering by her, the look on the lilac pony’s unusually somber. “You and I need to talk.”

“Only if it’s just talking and nothing else,” Ditzy replied, a wide grin on her face. “Listen, Cloudy, I just had the most awesome night and I’m completely exhausted. Lily hasn’t lost her touch, an—”

Cloud Kicker dropped to the floor, flittering her wings before looking at Ditzy intently. “Ditzy, we’re friends, right? I mean, aside from the ‘with benefits’ part?”

Ditzy nodded. “Even if I didn’t know all the things you like, yeah, I’d say we’re pretty good friends.”

“So, friends always look out for each other, even when things don’t always seem like it, right?”

“Uh, yeah, of course,” Ditzy agreed, wondering what Cloudy was getting at. She found out a half-second later when Cloudy angrily spun and slammed her hard, the buck strong enough to knock her off her feet and into the air. Cloudy immediately rushed forward and air-tackled the dazed Ditzy before knocking her into a tree. Head still spinning, Ditzy felt herself being pulled to her hindlegs, facing an enraged and, at the same time, crying Cloud Kicker.

“How could you?” Cloudy said, her hushed voice a mixture of sorrow and rage. “Ditzy…how could you?”

“‘How could I’ what?” A lilac hoof immediately lashed out, slamming Ditzy back against the tree. She felt something wet, hot and salty in her mouth, and for once it wasn’t what she thought it was. She raised a forehoof to her mouth, then to her face, seeing blood drawn.

“Why? You have a husband and foals!” Cloud Kicker snarled, shaking. “What are you doing? Why aren’t you with them? Why, Celestia-damnit?”

“What’s your problem?” Ditzy said, wondering what was going on before something kicked in. “Oh, wait – those rules of yours.” She sighed. “Yeah, okay, I lied. I’m sorry. I know how you are about those strange rules of yours, but…we’ve got a good thing, Cloudy, and you’re one of my best gals. We understand each other; we want the same things, right?”

“You,” Cloudy snarled, “don’t understand a damn thing about me, Ditzy. I thought you did, but you never have, have you?”

“Look, I don’t know what I did to make you so angry, but…let me fix it, okay? You’re my friend, and I mean that. I was going to go to work today, and I’m a little sore from last night, but if you need me, I’m always there for you.” She leaned forward, ready to kiss Cloudy…

…only to be pushed away. “Your husband’s name is Autumn Mist. You have a pair of beautiful little fillies by the name of Flutterwonder and Orange Box. They’re adorable and beautiful. And yet, you’re here, banging away, when you should be home, cuddling them and holding them tight.” She let go of Ditzy, turning away as she mumbled something.

“How do you know about…?”

“Because I had to deliver some paperwork yesterday to Autumn for an upcoming coordinated hailstorm planning session between our two offices. I thought he was single at first and we talked a bit, but then he mentioned you – by name – and we talked a little more. I get the feeling that he knows that you and I bang, but that everything’s not really on the up and up. So I want the truth from you, Ditzy.”

Ditzy sighed. “Look…how I deal with my family is none of your business, Cloudy. And why should it matter, anyway? I’m not harming anypony by spending my free time the way I do.”

Cloud Kicker rolled her eyes. “And if you believe that, I’ve got a barn in Ponyville I’d like to sell you. Every moment you’re spending away from your fillies is a moment they grow up without a mother. And in the end, they’ll hate you for that.”

Ditzy wasn’t too thrilled about those words, so she threw them right in her friend’s face. “As if you know about having kids?”

A second later, Ditzy was about to eat those words. Cloudy’s eyes grew narrow with rage before she lashed out again. Ditzy paid the price, taking a hoof to the barrel, dropping her to her hindknees as she collapsed to the ground. For the first time, she was afraid that she was going to be seriously hurt; she’d gotten in trouble with the occasional spouse of one of her trysts, but Cloudy was different – the lilac pegasus had briefly served in the Guard before deciding her lifestyle didn’t quite fit the staid image of a guardspony. But like anypony associated with the military, she still kept in shape, which meant that Cloud Kicker could kick a lot more than just clouds – and Ditzy was now finding out the hard way.

So it was a surprise that she found Cloud Kicker suddenly embracing her and crying deeply, sobbing, “You stupid foal. You stupid, stupid, ignorant idiot.”

Ditzy realized that she’d somehow hit a nerve in Cloud Kicker and, romps aside, she did consider the other pegasus to be a friend. “Hey, you want to talk?”

“No,” Cloudy replied, “But I need to. Let’s go get some coffee.”

Sitting in his office at the weather facility, Autumn Mist was looking at paperwork, though it was something decidedly not involved with his job: specifically, Royal Court Document number D6: Petition to the Royal Court for a Divorce. The “document” was anything but: a small stack of papers, attachments and schedules, so much so that it seemed as if the design of the document itself was intended to suppress divorce itself through the sheer inanity of filling it out.

And yet, if the lawyer I met with yesterday is correct, somehow there’s still an average of two hundred couples divorcing each year. The lawyer had said that couples split all the time and for a number of reasons; as an attorney, she’d said, she’d seen everything from couples cheating on one another to things as stupid as a pegasus married to an earth pony and simply no longer wanted to live on the ground. When he’d informed her about his wife’s ways, the mare was sympathetic…right up until she’d found out the name of his wife. She then gave him the paperwork and referred him to another attorney, a gryphon working in the same office.

“Conflict of interest,” she claimed. In other words…. A part of him wanted to scream, cry and rage, all at the same time. How deep did Ditzy’s betrayals run? Could he quite literally just stop anypony on the street and get a yes to a question he didn’t even want to think about? One of the marriage vows was to “ever be faithful and hold each other in unity.” Their marriage had ceased to be anything but at this point; both of them had cheated, but at least Autumn felt he’d been driven to that point – Ditzy could claim no such thing.

Thankfully, there was a knock on the door and before he could tell the knocker to come in, the door opened. An electric blue pony with a black-and-white mane poked his head in. “Hey, Autumn, got a sec?”

“Yeah, sure, c’mon in, Meteor.” Meteor Flash was one of his friends, and worked as part of the comet spotter division of the Royal Astronomy Service. Because the comet spotters were all pegasi, they had a satellite office here in the weather facility and the two stallions had become fast friends. “What’s up?”

“Oh, just need some advice; been trying to offload that home in Cloudsdale that I inherited from my grandmother when she passed on a few years ago, and checking with my friends to see if they knew anypony looking for a new place.” Meteor dropped into the seat across from Autumn’s desk. “Nice place, and if it wasn’t for my foal we’d move there in a heartbeat.” Meteor, like Autumn, was married to a pegasus, but unlike the olive-hued stallion, Meteor’s wife Daffodil gave birth to an earth pony colt. Also unlike Autumn, Meteor and Daffodil were happily married and the latter stallion probably knew without a doubt the colt was his.

“I’ll check around. There’s a lot of staff transfers coming up around this time every year, and I’m sure we’ll have a few headed towards Cloudsdale. I’ll ask around and see what I can do, okay?”

Meteor grinned. “Thanks, pal. You’re a lifesaver.”

“Don’t mention it.” At least I made somepony happy today, Autumn mused.

“Derpy!” Shining Armor moved as fast as he could to embrace his old friend. “You’ve no idea how much I’ve missed seeing you!”

She smiled as she embraced him warmly. “I’m glad you’re okay,” she said to him, noting his heavily bandaged flank.
“Just a flesh wound,” he admitted, “but the medics insist on me staying off it while it heals.” He led her to a seat before he noticed Sparkler. Hugging her as well, he asked, “And how are you doing, Sparkler?”

She giggled like the happy filly she was. “Mister Shining!” Hugging him, the diminutive unicorn squeed with delight.

Finally, he addressed the last of the trio. “Thanks for watching over them, Private,” he told Silver.

Silversteel saluted. “My absolute pleasure, Lieutenant,” the younger stallion replied, and Shining caught the enthusiasm and response in Silver’s tone.

Shining returned the salute and said to another guardspony in the room, “Corporal, please inform Pvt. Silversteel’s sergeant that I’ll be requiring his services for a bit longer.”

“Yes, sir.” With that, the pony departed on her assignment, leaving the others in the room. Now together, the group was all smiles at the moment, the harrowing adventures of the previous night now just a fading memory.

And then Shining dropped the bomb. “Derpy,” The unicorn stallion said as he sat back at his desk, “I’m a little disappointed in you. When were you going to tell me?”

Derpy looked at him oddly. “I thought you got the message that I was coming. Didn’t the OCP send you a letter?”

He shook his head. “Not about that. I’m talking about this.” He tapped an open letter on the desk. “Just got a flamefax late yesterday from Sconey. She’s worried about you and after reading what she wrote, I’m in complete agreement.” The stallion leaned forward on the desk and said, “If you’d told me that you were along three months, I would’ve insisted you not be here – this is no place for a pregnant mare.”

Sparkler looked at Derpy with a smile and chirped, “So you’re gonna have a foal like my Mommy?”

Silver, however, suddenly reacted as if he’d been stabbed, as a pit sank into his stomach. “You-you’re with foal?” He looked at her with surprise; in the short time he’d known her, she’d struck him as a friendly but wholesome mare, not the kind who’d be a tail-lifter.

Derpy, stunned at the way her friend had just outed her secret, looked as if she was about to cry.

Shining caught that and immediately went into damage control. “Derpy, I’m amazed that you even agreed to it, and it’s an incredible thing you did for your cousin. I just wished you would have told me about it sooner.”

“Shining, I….” she began, then paused, as if in thought. “I’m…sorry. It’s just that…sh—I mean, I was worried about you and so when the OCP said they needed someone, I jumped at the chance.” She didn’t know if Silversteel knew about her friend’s relationship with Cadance, but decided to play it safe; she’d already betrayed him with lies too many times to hurt him further.

“And I appreciate that, as well as certain others, I’m sure,” he replied. “But you have to think about your safety and that of the foal’s.”

“I’ll protect her, Mister Shining!” Sparkler said, moving closer to Derpy before yawning. “But maybe I need a nap, first.”

“That’s a good idea,” Derpy said, feeling ashamed. She’d embarrassed herself in front of one of her closest friends as well as Silver; neither of them w…. Something rose in her and she tamped it down again; she knew what it was in a heartbeat. You only met him just yesterday, she reminded herself, and now you’re going nuts over him? Just after thinking about Autumn, too? You really are your sister’s twin. She screwed her eyes shut at that; it was a self-loathing comment, but all too true. Her one moment of weakness brought her to her sister’s level and every time she lied to her friends, family and loved ones all she did was to add another layer of deceit and depravity. It was something that Ditzy would do in a heartbeat, and for Derpy to stoop to that….

“I think we should both go lie down for a bit, okay, sunshine?” she asked Sparkler, who nodded. “Do you mind if we talk again over dinner?” she asked Shining.

“Sure,” the stallion said, grinning. “Private, stay here for a second. Derpy, do you need an escort to your quarters?”

She smiled, masking her humiliation. “I’ll be fine. Meet you back here in a few hours?”

“I’ll send someone to come get you, say, about six?” When she nodded, he smiled and said, “Take care, then and I’ll see you later.” They waited at least until she was out of footfall before the smile fell from Shining’s face as he said, “I know what you’re thinking, Silver.”

“Permission to speak freely, Lieutenant,” was all Silversteel said.

“Granted, but…look, I’ll be honest, Silver: I didn’t send you with the intention of you getting smitten on one of my friends. I promised your brother that if you fell under my command, I’d look out for you. And with the 37th currently reporting to me, that’s my call.”

Silver suddenly grumbled. “Great, so this whole thing was because Diamondplate doesn’t trust me?”

“No, it’s not that at all. Look, you come from a military family, Silver. Your father is a retired captain of the guard, and your brother is one hell of a cornet – I’ll bet he’ll make lieutenant soon, just watch. But Diamond looks after you the same way I care about my kid sister. And I know that he keeps an eye out for Twily for me while he’s stationed in Canterlot, so the least I can do is the same while you’re here. No offense meant, okay?”

“Thanks,” he said, relaxing. A second later he caught his commander’s other meaning and said, “Wait…what do you mean ‘smitten on one of your friends,’ Shining?” The response to that was the older stallion merely looking at him. Finally, he sighed and said, “I…I’ve never met a mare like her before. I mean, I…we just met yesterday and….”

“She’s a special mare, Silver,” Shining told his younger friend.

“I think so as well. But she’s pregnant? I…I never would have thought her that kind of….” He saw the brief look of anger in Shining’s face, then decided it wasn’t the best road to travel down.

“It’s not what you think, Silver.” Shining then explained the whole thing to him, and as he did, the look of absolute wonder that settled on the earth pony stallion’s face was a sight to behold.

“She really did that?” Silver said aloud, unable to contain himself. Not only was she brave, but she was more generous than any mare he’d ever known. And she was beautiful as well; her eye problem, one that she was so worried about, was irrelevant as far as he was concerned.

“It’d be par for the course for her. I’ve never known her to let anypony down when they needed her, and although even I have to admit I never thought she’d do something like this, it doesn’t surprise me,” Shining replied. “She always looks out for others. And like I said before, she’s a special kind of mare.”

Silver nodded. “Eyup, tell me about it: she’s smart, mature, generous, brave.” A sudden thought crossed the earth pony’s mind and he waded into those waters: “Uh, don’t take this the wrong way, but...you’ve known her for a long time – why aren’t you dating her?”

“Easy – we never thought of each other like that,” Shining replied. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about her, which is why I’m going to say this: if you’re going to pursue her, treat her well, Silver. She’s been through a lot and she deserves a special somepony who can be there for her no matter what, are we clear on that?”

“Crystal,” Silver replied.

Cloud Kicker sat across from the table, looking at Ditzy. “Ditzy, how much do you know about my past?”

“Uh, you were in the Guard briefly but got out because you prefer banging,” Ditzy replied. “Other than that, the fact that you’ve got this cute dimple on your v—” Ditzy immediately shut up as a mother and her foal passed the table; while she was more than happy to wax poetic about Cloud Kicker’s interestingly-placed dimple, Ditzy was a mother and knew some topics weren’t for younger ears.

Cloud Kicker merely nodded, took a drink from her coffee, and then continued. “Well, at least I see you have some standards when it comes to foals, Ditzy.”

Ditzy sighed, waving her forelegs in frustration. “Look, Cloudy, I’m sorry about lying about being married. But I fail to see what my family has to do with ‘me time.’ Are you mad that we’re not spending enough time together? Yeah, I’ll admit, I’ve been playing with some other ponies as of late, but I’m always available for you.”

“I know. Truthfully, you’re one of the few friends I have now. My old circle…well, let’s just say they’re somewhat ashamed to know me now.”

“What, too much mare for them to deal with?” Ditzy said in a flirtatious tone.

Cloudy ignored it. “No, because of how far I’ve fallen. And because I’m letting myself fall until I hit bottom and it’ll never be enough.” Cloud Kicker’s voice sounded broken in that moment. Gone was her usual bravado and confidence, and if Ditzy didn’t know the lilac mare well enough, she’d swear that Cloudy in that moment turned into a variant of Derpy herself.

“What do you mean ‘fallen’?”

“Meaning that this is my fate. You might think I enjoy banging, and, true, I do. But the endless procession of one-night stands is no different than an alcoholic looking for her next drink or a salt junkie looking for the next hit.”

If Ditzy wasn’t confused before, she certainly was now. “Okay, stop beating around the bush and tell me what’s on your mind, Cloudy – you were certainly willing to beat the Tartarus out of me because it’s bothering you.”

“No, actually I went easy on you because you’re someone I care about. If you were just another gal in the scene? I’d have hospitalized you, I swear.” Cloud Kicker’s voice went deep and dangerous at the moment, enough so to make Ditzy shiver from the imbalance in tone. But just as quickly as it had appeared it went away, and Cloud Kicker went back to that gray, sterilized voice. “Have I ever told you I was married before?”

Ditzy looked at Cloud Kicker as if she’d just gone insane. “Yeah, and I’m Princess Celestia’s secret love child. Want to tell me something actually true?”

“You mean like you told me about your husband and foals?” the lilac pegasus countered. Ditzy shut up about that and, feeling vindicated, Cloud Kicker continued. “I had a husband, a wonderful stallion named Rainsprinter. We met while we were both stationed with the Starclimbers. We fell in love, and though I’ve always been a wildmare, I gave it all up just for him. We got married and we were happy together. Then I got pregnant, and we agreed that I’d get out of the Guard; I wasn’t happy about it, but it was our first foal and I always had the option of returning once the foal was old enough. Soon enough, though, I didn’t care. I was going to be a mother, and it was the most wonderful feeling a mare could ever have.

“As for Rain, he was looking forward to being a father. He didn’t care if it was a colt or filly; he was just so happy that we were starting a family.” The tears began trailing down her violet-hued eyes, as the memory came. “Then came my personal hell…do you remember the Dragonslayer incident from a few years back?”

“Don’t tell me….” Ditzy began. She remembered it well; her father, a doctor, had been called in as part of the medical assistance in the aftermath of a fugitive convict dragon that went on a rampage in downtown Norflank, destroying the place just because he could. Dozens of ponies had been killed or wounded and the guardsponies who went in to arrest him had been almost entirely decimated. In the end, it had taken a couple of warden dragons from Draconia to stop him, much to the embarrassment of the Royal Guard. Six years after the incident, the memorial to the fallen was still being built in the middle of the seaside town.

Cloud Kicker nodded. “I was told it was painless for Rain: he was vaporized in a blast of dragonfire, and that only a couple of scattered feathers remained. But when his commanding officer presented them to me along with the widow’s flag and his posthumous service medal, I lost it. Two days later, I woke up in the hospital, and I’d lost more than just my sanity.”

The gray mare immediately knew what her friend had meant. Her forehooves went out to grab her counterpart’s; not a gesture intended to initiate anything, but one of friendship. “Stop – you don’t have to say anymore, Cloudy,” Ditzy pled.

The lilac mare ignored her, as if unable to stop herself. “In the span of just days, I lost both my husband and my unborn foal. And if you thought I’d lost it after I was told about Rain’s death, then…” She paused as the sorrow, buried for so long, stabbed its way up through her and made her bleed emotionally once more. “There’s a mental health facility down by San Caballo. I was admitted there for about six months. When I came out…other ponies told me I wasn’t the same pegasus they knew going in. I was broken, empty. Destroyed.

“A couple of weeks later, I got drunk, hoping I could just dull the emptiness I was feeling. I met a couple – don’t even remember their names, really or anything else about them, other that they were on vacation – and the next morning I woke up next to them. I was terrified at first, but then I realized it made me feel alive. And then I did it again, and from there, well…eventually I met you. Probably would have been nice to know your name before we banged, but….” Cloud Kicker shrugged.

“Why are you telling me this?” Ditzy asked.

“Because you have what I don’t – and I don’t want you to lose it like I did. This…this bucking and sucking and licking and tickling…this is all that’s left of me. But you still have ponies to cherish and hold. You still have a husband that loves you. You still have foals that need you.” Cloud Kicker leaned forward and the look in her eyes was one of desperation. “Don’t become like me. I’m dead to everything now. You still have loved ones, Ditzy. Don’t become like me.” Now it was Cloudy’s turn to take Ditzy’s forehooves. “Ditzy, because I care so much about you and what you’re going throw away without realizing…I’m going to be strong for you.”

“Huh?” Ditzy took another drink of her coffee and said, “C’mon. You’re down in the dumps and I forgive you for beating me up. Let’s go find a hotel room and I’ll make you feel better, okay?” The gray mare flashed the lilac one a soft smile and said, “Let me take away your pain, Cloudy.”

Cloud Kicker looked at Ditzy with a sign of weakness, before her eyes grew hard. “I…I’m doing this for you,” she began.

“Good,” Ditzy said, a coquettish look coming into her eyes. “There’s a hotel just down the stree—”

“No.” Cloud Kicker’s voice was firm. She walked over to Ditzy’s side and kissed her – but it was a gentle kiss on the cheek, the kiss of a friend. “No more. Not from me. And believe me, right now I want you enough to do you on this table. But…you need a friend to be strong when you’re weak, just like I needed back then and never got. So I’m doing to do this now.

“Ditzy Doo,” Cloud Kicker said in a firm-but-breaking voice, “We’re through. No more. No more sex, no more lies. And when you finally go back to your family and be the wife and mother you need to be, then I’ll always be there for you as a friend. But I won’t be a tail-lifter just to drag you down with me.” And with that, Cloud Kicker started to walk away.

“Cloud Kicker!” Ditzy leapt to her feet and chased after her friend, grabbing her and stopping her. “Look – you’re not acting like yourself. Let’s just get to a hotel, okay? We don’t even have to do anything. But you’re not acting like yourself.”

To her surprise, Cloud Kicker started to cry again. But this time, it was accompanied by a smile. “No, Ditzy, you’re wrong. This time I am acting like myself. For the first time in a while…I’m myself again. And I won’t ever hurt a friend or let her get hurt.” Cloud Kicker embraced Ditzy, the tears of joy continuing to fall. “Do the right thing, Ditzy. I know you can.” And with that, Cloud Kicker launched into the air, rocketing away as fast as she could, leaving a perplexed gray mare behind.

Dinner was at a nice little restaurant in the center of the settlement. The four of them sat, enjoying the food and each other’s company. The dandelion and bluegrass bisque was delicious, as was the four-flower salad and the main entrée, the eggplant steak medallions in a béarnaise sauce. Accompanying the dinner was a flavorful apple cider brewed locally (with a sweet apple juice for the little filly) and a tart apple ice cream for dessert.

“That was great!” Silver said, wiping his mouth. “Tastes a billion times better than food in the chow hall!”

Shining grinned. “Which is why I always stop here when I can. It’s a great restaurant, and the owners are part of the Apple clan, so you know it’s quality. Plus, it’s always fun talking to the oldest son, Braeburn. Half the time he sounds like he’s interested in the Guard, but I don’t think it’ll happen.”

“Why not?” Derpy asked. It wasn’t like Shining to discourage anypony’s dreams, especially when it came to the Guard, so there had to be a more concrete reason.

As expected, the unicorn stallion explained: “With the occasional exception here and there, the Apples are pretty tied to the land more than most farming families. I wouldn’t be surprised if in about five or six years when the town is formally established, they’ll want to start a new orchard. It’s kinda like Silver’s family; they’ve been in the Guard for generations, so it’s unusual for one not to be. That being said, if Braeburn’s serious about it, I’ll recommend him for boot camp, but if he’s like just about every Apple there is, it’ll be forgotten soon enough.”

Sparkler, however, caught a portion of the conversation that interested her and she asked, “So your family’s been in the Guard forever and ever, Mister Silver?”

He nodded. “Absolutely. My father, Silver Hammer, was captain of the guard before the current captain. My older brother, Diamondplate, is a cornet with the 28th Combined out in Las Pegasus. My sister, Golden Sun, is a pegasus with Star Song squadron. Really, the only member of my family who isn’t in the military is my mother, Sandalwood – she’s a perfume-maker. I also have aunts and uncles in the Guard as well, but I won’t bore you with that,” he told the filly, winking.

“But I’m not bored!” Sparkler insisted. “Maybe if I hear it, I can get my cutie mark in listening to stories!”

“Well, we should probably talk about some of the stuff you’ll probably need to do while you’re here, Derpy,” Shining began.
Silver caught on that. Turning to Sparkler, he said, “Well, why don’t I tell you about the time I faced a vicious pack of evil Diamond Dogs?”

“Really?” Sparkler immediately perked up at that.

“Sure. Let’s move over to another table, because I’ve told Shining so many times that he’ll probably fall asleep hearing it.” The filly turned to look at the older unicorn, and he in turn gave her a reassuring smile. With that, the younger two moved to the table so Silver could regale the six-year-old with tales of complete invention.

As the two walked away, Shining looked at Derpy and said, “I think she likes him.”

Derpy nodded. “Yeah, he seems to have a way with foals. He’s probably going to make a good father someday, I’m sure.”

“Personal hope or just observation?” Shining inquired.

The gray mare sighed. “Shining….”

He waved his forelegs. “Derpy, you know I’m just looking out for you. I just want you to be happy, and not become some old, loveless gray mare – well, grayer than usual.”

She smiled. “Thanks, Shining. I appreciate it.”

“What do you think of Silver, by the way?”

“I think he’s nice…and I think you and Cadance need to stop worrying about fixing me up with ponies.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Really, I appreciate it, but…I don’t think I’m in a good position for a relationship right now,” she commented, looking down at her barrel.

“He doesn’t care, you know. I told him about it. If anything, it’s enraptured him more than anything else.” She looked surprised, as if she’d been shot. He chuckled and said, “Derpy, you sell yourself short. I think you listen to your sister’s taunts too much. You’re twins, and aside from your eyes, you’re as beautiful as she is – and to be honest, no one really notices your eyes, and I daresay you’re even more beautiful, because unlike your sister, you’re beautiful on the inside as well.”

She blushed. “Small wonder you won the heart of a princess.”

He grinned. “Actually, she chased me, but that’s a different story.” His horn glowed magenta, and a small binder appeared in front of her. “Anyway, this is all the information that my staff was able to come up with. I’ve arranged for some interviews with a couple of bison scouts, some of our frontline troops, and I’ve already written a report down…though half of it is just a letter to Cady, so I’d appreciate it if you can give that to her directly.”

“Of course,” she said with a nod as she took the binder in her mouth and placed it in the saddlebag she’d brought. She was just about to say something further, when a soldier approached Shining. He bent over discretely, whispering something in his commander’s ear; Shining merely nodded and then the soldier took off.

“Got something else for you,” he replied, “Apparently, one of the Nightmare Army’s senior members knows you’re here, and she’s surrendered to our forces on the condition that she speak to you. She’s a unicorn, so we’ll have our resident Guild mage on hand for safety. Plus, I’m sure Silver will want to be there for you.”

“Sure, I’ll do it,” Derpy answered. “If there’s any way we can get them to surrender peacefully, I’ll be more than happy to do so.”

“Thanks,” Shining replied. “I knew I could count on you, Derpy.”

“Yes, I know,” she purred, “which is why you’re going to explain to me now why you already set things in motion before I agreed to do this?”

The look on Shining Armor’s face grew ashen. “Uh, you, er, found out about that, huh?” When she nodded, he replied, “Can I get you to believe that it was Cady’s idea?”

“Not on your life,” she grinned.

It was evening when Ditzy landed at her house. The lights were dim, and it was a quiet, warm evening. The night sky was a beautiful blanket of diamonds, though the moon seemed somewhat sad. The Warden Stars twinkled, each of the prismatic balls of fire in place around the nocturnal orb. The neighborhood was quiet, with some residents in their homes and some houses darkened. It was perfect, normal.

For Ditzy, however, it was terrifying. This is your family – you can do this, she told herself. Walking up to the house, she opened the door and went in. As she entered, she heard Autumn’s voice call out to the foals, “Girls, it’s time for dinner, an—” He suddenly looked at her, shocked. “Ditzy?”

She looked at him, nervous. “Autumn…I’m….”

“MOMMY!” A pair of pegasi fillies rushed the gray mare, and Ditzy scooped them up as they bounced up and down with happiness, holding them close to her as tears of joy welled in her eyes.

“I’ve missed you so, so much,” Ditzy said, holding her daughters close. Part of her wondered where the third one was; probably asleep, she decided.

“What are you doing here?” Autumn said, his tones careful and neutral.

She then let go of her foals, then walked up to him. “Autumn, I want you to know something: no matter what problems we have or differences between us, I will always be thankful that you love our foals. And I will always love you for that,” she said, leaning forward to kiss him. “And no matter what, I love you.”

He looked at her as if she’d suddenly gone insane. “Ditziduella, I….” He trailed off, unsure of what to say. This was Ditzy, right? Her mane was slightly longer than Derpy’s, and the eyes were normal, but…she wasn’t acting like herself.

Ditzy sighed. “Look, Autumn, can’t I spend time with my husband and foals? Let’s…discuss this later, okay?”

“Mommy?” Flu…Flurp…Fluffernutter…her oldest daughter – great, some mom I am; I can’t remember her name! – looked at her with beautiful green eyes. “Are you home from business for good?”

Ditzy didn’t know how to answer that, but thankfully Autumn did. “I hope she is, Fluttsy. Will you and Orange go set the table so we can eat? Your mother and I have to talk for a moment.” The older filly nodded happily and went off to get her sister and left the room, leaving a sober Autumn to look at his wife. “I should hate you,” he said, simply.

“You should. And I should hate myself, Autumn.” Her eyes started to water again, and she shook her head in shame. “You may not believe this, but I never meant to hurt you – any of you.”

“Then why even bother coming back? Don’t you have something…or is that somepony to do?” he said, the words thick on his tongue. He wanted to scream, snarl, and just throw her out of the house for good along with the divorce papers, then to find Derpy and convince her to change her mind.

“I know I haven’t been the best of spouses,” she began, unsure of what to say.

“No, you haven’t. And frankly—” Autumn started to say, his voice rising despite his best efforts to keep calm but his words died off when he saw the fear in her eyes. Fear. Terror of losing something elemental and critical to one’s life. The fear of knowing how badly one screwed up and how the sword’s blade of inevitability was about to come painfully and brutally crashing down.

He sighed. “Ditzy…how can I trust you?”

Her response was to lean forward and kiss him. With so many others, it had felt fun, good. But with Autumn…she wasn’t sure how it felt. She knew she loved him, but when it came to the physical portion of their relationship, it was so conflicted. She looked into his eyes, seeing his anger, sorrow and pain and she whispered, “I don’t know if I can trust myself anymore, Autumn.”

“Will you stay for dinner, at least? Your daughters need you.”

Our daughters have never needed me, because they have such a wonderful father,” she told him, an acknowledgement of his status as their father even if not of his sireship.

“Then maybe, I need you? Or maybe…it’s you who need us.”

“Mommy? Daddy? Table’s ready!” Fluttsy called out from the other room.

Autumn looked at her for a few more seconds before asking, “Look, will you at least stay for dinner? I made spaghetti and hayballs in a butternut squash sauce, and Fluttsy baked some of her favorite garlic bread.”

Ditzy smiled winsomely. “Sure,” she said, leaning against him. She would try. Just one more time, she’d try. And maybe…just maybe…she could be better in something than her sister ever was.

Watching from the bushes across the street, Cloud Kicker watched as the gray mare sat down next to her husband and across from her foals. They look like a family, Cloudy thought to herself, crying tears of sorrow and joy as she watched the scene. And then she closed her eyes and said a quick prayer to Holy Celestia. Don’t ever come back, Ditzy. Don’t come back to our world. You don’t belong here. You belong in the world of a family’s love, not the hell of a stranger’s thighs. As Celestia is my witness, don’t ever come back.

Hoping for the first time that tomorrow would actually be a brighter day, the lilac pegasus carried herself into the night.

As the trio entered the VIP Guest Quarters on the base, Derpy moved gingerly to avoid waking the sleeping filly on her back. “She’s had a long night,” the gray pegasus said to her companion.

Silver laughed. “Well, you wanted to dance until the wee hours.” And it was true: Derpy loved to dance; as a general habit, most pegasi did. But she always felt free when doing so, unrestrained and happy. And when she did, it was infectious: after dancing with Shining for a bit, Silver and Sparkler joined them and the whole place was moving and jumping. She got a laugh in particular when one of the other patrons, a pony she recognized as part of the Serene Velocity’s crew, got up on the table and started to do a jig. Enchanted, she jumped on the table and joined him, the crowd clopping their hooves along in time.

“And it was great!” she said, walking over to the bedroom. Then, while maneuvering her wings, she flicked her left one gently even as she fully unfurled her right one; Sparkler, still asleep, rolled gently down the slope of Derpy’s wings until she ended up on the bed. Derpy went and got the covers, covering the slipping filly and kissing her goodnight before going back out to sit with Silver.

“Well, you’re one amazing dancer,” he told her, and he was being honest. The more and more he looked at her, the more and more he saw, quite literally to him, the perfect mare. Even her eye condition was cute in a way, less “ugly condition” and more of an equalizing one, bringing her down from untouchable to simply amazing.

“Thanks; you’re not so bad yourself,” she said, plopping down on the couch next to him. He leaned back against the couch, tired but more relaxed than he’d been in a while. She then leaned back as well, sinking into the softness of the cushions before the natural drift of its shape ended up sliding her right against him. The two leaned against each other for quite some time, just relaxing in each other’s company. Finally, she looked up at him, her heart beating a bit faster. “Silver?”

He looked down and her and she’d never been more beautiful. “Yes?”

“I….” Derpy was lost for words. Her conscience one again reminded her that this was a very dangerous place to be in. She drew closer to him, even as he seemed inexorably pulled towards her by the gravity of attraction. The smart thing to do would be to pull away, the rational side of her mind reasoned, she didn’t need this headache. Her heart, however, assured her that this was perfect.

Their muzzles came within a fraction of an inch of each other before the cushions on the sofa slipped again. Her left wing, reacting to the movement, involuntarily arched out to protect her from the sudden “thermal”; the end result was that her involuntary reaction ended up pushing her off the couch and towards an embarrassing landing on the ground.

“Derpy, you okay?” Silver said, getting off the couch and offering her a hoof up.

She took it, her face flush with embarrassment. “Uh, slipped there. Well, I should get going – long day ahead. Gonna go to sleep so I’ll see you in the morning, okay?” Before he could say anything, she beat a hasty retreat towards the bedroom.

Silver could only look at where he was, then where she’d been and where they’d been just a second before. “Oh, buck,” he whispered before lying back down on the couch, alone.

Ditzy woke up in the bed, next to Autumn. It was an unusual circumstance, to say the least. And part of her hated that. She should be here all the time. She should be here for her daughters. She should be here to give Autumn another foal – she knew he wanted a colt to go along with their duo – or was that trio? – of fillies. And she hadn’t lied when she told him she loved him.

But at the same time, she felt empty. Rising from their bed, careful not to wake him, she looked out the window. This isn’t me, she realized. I’m not a housewife, a mare who can just go to work, then come home and make dinner for her family. I like having fun, spending time with other guys and gals, frolicking in the meadows. Images came to her automatically: her cousin Lily and her wing trick. Her body rubbing against Cloud Kicker’s. Tender Sighs moaning her name. Blue Ocean rhythmically moving with her, his breath hot against her body. All of it was transient and wrong.

Don’t come back to this world. She could hear Cloud Kicker’s voice sternly, as if the lilac mare was standing next to her. Don’t ever come back, Ditzy!

But this…this isn’t me, she said, looking at the house and its surroundings. She loved her family, she knew, more than she could ever say – but she wasn’t a mother and she wasn’t a wife. Far easier to ask a Diamond Dog to earn a four-year-scholarship to RCU or to find a zebra with a plain coat than to ask her to change.

Her eyes became wet with tears as she realized something elemental about herself: she wanted to be a wife and mother – but she could never be. That part of her was probably stripped away before birth and given to her sister…just like everything good, leaving Ditzy’s sole saving grace to be her looks.

"I’m sorry, everypony," she whispered to herself as she left the house. Part of her knew she wouldn’t be back this time. While Autumn helped the girls wash the dishes, she’d seen the divorce paperwork on the desk in the living room, something he’d hadn’t thought to hide them. And why would he? She was never home, so any time she’d shown up was nothing short of amazing to him. But as she took to the skies, she knew somehow this would be the last time she’d ever see the place. Leaving now was an inexorable break.

But I’m glad we had the chance to sleep together, she thought to herself. At least in her own way she could show him how much he meant to her.

As she flew on, she eventually ran into another pony she knew, a stallion by the name of Opal Burst. “Hey, Ditzy, up for a fun time?” he asked.

She stopped on a cloud, blatantly showing him her flank. “Take me home, then do whatever you want to me. Do it until I’m unconscious and can’t remember anything other than you in me.”

“Wow, you must really want it bad then,” he said, figuring he was the luckiest stallion in the world that day. “We’re not far, so follow me.”

“No,” she said under her breath as she followed. “I just want to be punished for my sins.”

Author's Note:

Well, new cover image attached. Hope you like.

A special thanks goes to Chengar Qordath. I was originally going to borrow his version of Cloud Kicker for this story, but eventually I decided she wouldn't mess with anyone like Ditzy. So I created a new version based on his one and while she's very similar, this version of Cloudy fits in the AAGverse a lot better. But thanks go to him all the same.