• Published 23rd Dec 2012
  • 1,621 Views, 73 Comments

Another Life - Ironwolves21



Years of killing; a hundred broken bodies, friend and foe, all leading to this point in time. The singular moment where every life Riot has ended comes back to haunt him. The moment when he stops being a soldier, and starts being a pony again.

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Chapter Nineteen


The past days of the week had been abnormally... Normal, for Riot. He spent the days shooting the breeze with the various ponies of Ponyville, reading, and making his new uniform inspection worthy. Of course, there wouldn't be an inspection, but the routine gave him some comfort in its familiarity. Most of his nights were occupied between watching over the patrons of the Horseshoe, and carrying an exhausted Vinyl to bed; he would often spend the night with her, which made the mare unexplainably happy. He would then subsequently wake up early enough to wander home to make Hunter breakfast, and take the colt to school.

As it turned out, working with a former comrade and his ex-junkie sister wasn’t as much of a pain in his ass as he’d thought. In fact, they made his job easier. The fresh food brought in a fairly cleaner crowd, and having an extra set of eyes watching his back was always a good thing. It gave him enough free time to relax. He could spend time with whomever he wanted. He could do what he pleased. The sheer ideal of actual freedom did wonders for his disposition. Of course, that kind of thing would be put on hold while he went back to Canterlot.


Riot finished buffing his combat boots; letting the last one thump unceremoniously onto the hardwood floor next to its identical siblings. The stallion let out a breath as he looked around the sparsely decorated home. Aurora had brought some things out of storage, and had dispersed them how she saw fit. Naturally, Riot rearranged EVERYTHING while she was out, much to her chagrin. Initially, sleeping arrangements had been difficult, seeing how there was only two bedrooms. Riot had suggested that Aurora could use the bedroom that wasn't occupied by Hunter when he was gone, but when he was there, she could sleep on the couch. Aurora didn't argue against his suggestion.

Relaxing on the couch as he stared out the window, and at the clock; Riot found himself without anything to do. He had some books he could read, but the mood hadn't struck him. Taking a second glance at the clock, Riot swore. He hadn't actually been paying attention to the time when he looked, so much to his surprise it was almost 2:30. So if he didn't hurry, he would be late to pick up Hunter from school.

Riot slipped on a pair of beaten boots; the ones he had been wearing for the duration of his time in Ponyville and his tour in Hoofington. Without ceremony, Riot slipped out the door and headed towards Ponyville elementary.

The walk was short and uneventful; a few ponies waved in his direction; he waved back with a smile and a nod. Soon enough, the bell tower of the school came into view. Riot trotted towards the bench that he had pretty much claimed as his. Any other parents looking for a good seat either had to put up with his broad shoulders and smoldering demeanor or find somewhere else to be.

As soon as his rump hit wood, the bell went off and a torrent of happy foals burst out the doors. Riot sighed lightly and forced himself up. He could see Hunter inside, but the colt seemed to be talking to Cheerilee. Riot grimaced visibly. His history with Cheerilee made any run-in tense at best. The talk seemed like it may take a turn for the long drawn, so Riot chose to bite the bullet, metaphorically. Trotting up to the doors, he could see a number of colts and fillies still trying to stow their things and get away. One of which was Sweetie Belle, whom Riot gave a small wave. In return he got an ear to ear grin and an over enthusiastic two-hoofed wave. Smothering a chuckle, Riot crossed the threshold and started towards the teachers desk, where Hunter was talking with Cheerilee.

The cheery mare looked up; her smile faltering noticeably, but she managed a small smile. Riot gave her a simple nod as he tapped Hunter on the shoulder. The colt whirled around and immediately clamped onto Riots foreleg.

“Dad!”

Riot hugged Hunter with his other hoof. “Hey champ, you ready to go?”

Hunter shook his head, then looked at Cheerilee. “Miss Cheerilee actually wanted to talk to you Dad.”

The stallion cocked an eyebrow as he looked up at the teacher, who nodded in confirmation. “I wanted to ask you for a favour, Mr. Venture.” Cheerilee smiled down at Hunter. “Could you go help Sweetie with her bag Hunter? It looks like she's having troubles. The colt nodded quickly before cantering off, muttering something about 'girly muscles'.

Riot leaned against one of the sturdy desks and focused on the teacher. “Good favour or?”

Cheerilee sighed, before taking a sneaky swig from a flask that had been hidden under her desk. “Tomorrow, is show and tell.” The mare straightened her posture. “Except the children are to bring a parent, and explain what that parent does for work.” Cheerilee smiled weakly at Riot. “You see my dilemma with little Hunter, yes? Aurora is...”

“She drives ponies to drink. I know.” Riot chuckled at the thought. “Yeah, and I read you loud and clear. What time do I show up?”

Cheerilee let out an audible sigh of relief. “You have no idea how heavy a weight that is off my chest.” The mare leaned forward, and slipped Riot a piece of paper. “That has all the information you need. And thanks for this, I owe you.”

“Yeah, you do.” Riot cracked an evil grin. “But we'll discuss that later. See you tomorrow.” Riot turned his attention to Hunter, just in time to see Sweetie plant a quick kiss on the colts cheek and bolt out the door after her friends. Riot smiled wryly and simply shook his head as the shocked Hunter turned towards him. “Ready to go Hunter?”

“Y-yeah dad.”

The pair exited the building with post haste, their heading set for home. Every so often Riot would catch Hunter stopping to rub his cheek. Eventually, Hunter spoke. “Hey Dad?”

Riot lifted an eyebrow as he glanced at Hunter. “Yeah Champ?”

“Did you feel weird whenever you were around Mom?”

The question caught Riot off guard. He had been expecting something like it, but not so blunt. He rolled his eyes; Hunter was his colt after all. “What do you mean by weird?” Riot hoped to avoid the birds and bees talk, at least for another few years.

“My tummy feels weird whenever I'm near Sweetie. I think I'm sick.” Hunter spoke quietly, with his face towards the ground.

Riot merely laughed. “Yeah, yeah I had butterflies in my gut too buddy.”

Hunter perked up at the statement. “Really?”

The stallion nodded. “Yup. Hard to see it now, but I think I fell in love with your Momma the second I got a good look at her. I think she felt the same, but you'd have to ask her.”

The colt seemed to become even more worried at his statement. “Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“I think I'm in love with Sweetie.”

Without a second thought, Riot changed course from home to Sugar Cube Corner. “It's time for a celebratory snack then, don't you think?”

The mention of food brought Hunters mood up through the figurative roof. “Yeah!” Hunter smiled broadly as he hurried to match the pace of his father. “Do you think she loves me back Dad?” Hunter smiled up at Riot.

The stallion pursed his lips, mulling the thought about in his head. “You know Hunter... I had the same thought when I realized the same thing about Aurora. I was so worried that she didn't like me. I was also scared that if I told her anything, she'd hate me.”

Hunter frowned at the idea of his father being scared of anything, let alone his mother's opinion. He stated as much. “But you're not scared of anything dad!”

Riot laughed lightly at his son’s words. “I'm not, but back then, I was.” He ruffled the colts mane. “But I took the chance. And I got you to show for it.” He smiled again, but this time it felt heavy; more real, almost.

Before Hunter had a chance to say anything, he was interrupted by the appearance of Sugar Cube Corner. The pair trotted through the door, only to be greeted by Pinkie Pie. The mare bounced out from the kitchen to the register. She smiled happily at Riot and Hunter as they approached. “Hiya!” She practically yelled. “What can I get you two on this super duper day?” She smiled broadly, but Riot could pick up on hints of something else.

Riot glanced into the glass case to his side and mulled the thought over. “Kid'll order first, I'm still thinking.”

Hunter was quick on the draw though; probably having already thought of what he wanted on the way. “I'll have a chocolate-mint cone please, Pinkie!” Hunter seemed to draw off the general energy of the mare.

Pinkie nodded happily, jotting down the order. “What about you Mr. Iron?”

Riot glanced up, then back down to the case. “Double whatever he ordered, I'm stumped.” The mare shrugged, seemingly stuffing whatever normal reaction she would have used down. Something was definitely different. Riot placed a few bits on the counter and she took them, then promptly disappeared.

Riot stood by the counter as Hunter wandered about, looking at various cakes and confectionery related things. Pinkie tottered out, two cones balanced in a tray with holes in it. Something definitely was different. “Your hair's straighter than usual Pinkie, new look?” Riot asked to the side.

The mare simply sighed, seeing that Hunter wasn't watching. “No...Not really. Just been kind of down lately. Everypony's been super busy, so I'm kind of alone.”

Ah, she's depressed.

Riot gave her a sympathetic smile. “Well, if you want, feel free to come by the Horseshoe tonight. I'll make sure you've got somepony to talk to.”

Pinkie brightened considerably, her hair actually becoming noticeably poofier. “Really? You-”

Riot nodded as he levitated the cones. “Yup, no questions Pinks. Just head over when you get the chance and let them know I sent you. Oh, and you may want to try and keep the straight mane, it's a nice look for you. Maybe a little long for my tastes, but hey.” He nodded his thanks for the cones, and left behind a beaming pink pony, who seemed very, very interested in her mane and a pair of scissors that sat behind the counter.

As the pair trotted out the door, Riot stepped out of the way as a familiar purple unicorn sped past him; she was too focused on the scroll that levitated in front of her to even notice his presence, let alone the door that she most likely would have run into. Riot didn’t pay much heed to Twilight, figuring she would pop up sooner or later.

Hunter had made it about two blocks before his cone was devoured completely. The colt burped loudly, then glanced up at Riot. “So I'm actually normal? I'm not a weirdo for liking fillies?”

Riot hoofed his half eaten cone over to Hunter. “You're far from ordinary kiddo, you're something special. But as far as mares and fillies go, you're in the clear.”

The colt went to work on the new cone, but his thoughts obviously laid somewhere else. “When are you going Dad?”

The question caught Riot on the blindside. Not so much the question itself, but the tone in which Hunter asked it. Riot furrowed his brow as he continued forward. “Saturday morning. I'll say goodbye before I leave buddy, you don't need to worry about that.” Riot fronted a loose smile as he ruffled Hunters mane. “I'll be back Monday.”

Hunter nodded quietly as he finished off the cone. “So, you're coming to show and tell tomorrow? Miss Cheerilee gave you the paper.”

The stallion nodded, his gaze drifting around the market. He spotted the Apple Family stand and waved to the orange mare running it. Applejack waved back, but quickly turned her attention to Applebloom, who had apparently jumped some poor stallion and was practically shoving the sale pitch down his throat. Riot chuckled, just before receiving a poke in the side. He glanced back down to Hunter and nodded. “Yup. I'll be there. Anything you want to bring?”

Nodding frantically, Hunter galloped to pass his father. The colt started trotting backwards while he spoke. “I wanna bring your helmet and your medals! The others will be soooooo jealous! Oh Oh! And your armour!” Hunter smiled broadly as Riot mulled the idea over.

“Yeah, I think we can do that.” Riot levitated up the slip of paper. “Says something about a report on your chosen parent.” Riot looked at Hunter as the colt waited by the house door. “Looks like you'll have to do some writing tonight kiddo.”

Much to his surprise, Hunter shook his head. “Nope! I already knew I wanted to bring you, so I wrote up the report a couple days ago.” Hunter smirked in victory. “I remembered everything that you told me about the army, and I found the list of places you went on your armour!”
He had to admit, Hunter had done his homework. That meant he was the only one who wasn't prepared. Riot pushed the door open with his shoulder and leaned to the side as Hunter bolted to his room. Riot could hear the heavy trunk being slid across the floor, and the clasps coming undone. His smile died slightly as Aurora peaked around the corner, but Riot managed to smile and nod at her. The mare pushed out an uneasy smile of her own as she ducked into Hunters room. Sucking in a breath, Riot followed her. He arrived just in time to see Aurora launch a surprise snuggle attack on the colt.

Hunter was caught off guard; having his fore hooves lifted up enough so his mothers hooves could clamp onto him. Knowing full well what was about to happen, Hunter let out a squeal of protest, which quickly broke down into high pitched laughter. Aurora had him in some kind of motherly full nelson, in which she had to poor colt at her mercy.

“AaahahaAHAH!” Hunter kicked and thrashed as Aurora blew a raspberry on his neck. “D-DADDY! HE-hahAHAH-HELP!”

Riot stood at the door, his weight pressed against the door frame. He smiled happily, but his gaze was vacant. He sighed as he watched Aurora hug Hunter tightly. The mare let out a squeaky giggle of her own as she released Hunter from her grip. “So, how was my baby’s day?”

Hunter scrambled to be free of her grip; still fearful of another assault. He soon cracked a smile and started relaying the news of the day. “Miss Cheerilee is having a special show and tell tomorrow, Dad's coming in to help me with my pres...Presen...”

“Presentation, Hunter.” Riot trotted in, lending his aid with the stubborn trunk. Hunter smiled his thanks as he flipped the clasps open.

Aurora lifted an eyebrow at the news. “Oh? A special show and tell? About what?”

Riot left Hunter to his task; choosing instead to answer Auroras question. “Cheerilee is having the class do a small presentation about one of their parents; from what I can tell. Hunter is showing the class my military gear and apparently already has his report already set up.”

The mares eyebrows went further up, and soon she realized the implications. She breathed a quiet sigh of relief and smiled at Riot. Motioning for the door, Aurora got up and left the room. Riot was quick to follow, leaving Hunter to his work. Once they were in the kitchen, Aurora turned to face Riot. “Thanks for taking my spot there. Things would have gotten awkward if you hadn't. I...” Aurora frowned for a moment. “I don't want to make things hard for Hunter because of my mistakes.”

Riot nodded as he leaned against the fridge. “Things will never be easy for any of us, all we can do is make the best of things.”

His anecdote earned an wistful smile from Aurora. “I missed your little bits of wisdom.” She glanced up at Riot with her bleary blue eyes. Riot felt a familiar tug at his heart, but he managed to hold it down. “I wish I could go back in time and fix what I did.... I was so stupid....” She hung her head in shame as her chest convulsed..

The stallion sighed as he pushed off the fridge. It wouldn't do if Hunter came in to see his mother crying. Aurora sucked in a surprised gasp as Riot wrapped a forehoof around her, dragging her into a hug. For a moment, she stood there, not sure as to what to do. Without much of a second thought, Aurora wrapped her hooves around Riots neck; burying her face in his shoulder. Riot rested his chin on her head; taking in the unique scent of her mane. It brought back memories, many of which hurt. Aurora let out a breath, breaking her hold of Riot; while Riot did the same.

The pair stood there for a moment, unsure as to where to go from there. Before things got awkward, Riot spoke up. “So Hunter's in love.”

Aurora smiled sweetly as she looked back towards the colts room. “Really? With who?”

“Sweetie Belle, Rarity's younger sister?” Riot sat down at the table, his hooves resting in his lap. “Asked me if he was weird for liking mares like that.” At Auroras tinkling giggle, Riot cracked a smile. “I had the same reaction. Managed to calm him down and explain that these feelings are completely normal.” And that, that was how I felt when I first saw you. Riot frowned inwardly at the thought, but kept it to himself.

“Well, I suppose we'll have to start keeping an eye on those two. They are reaching that age.” Aurora smiled as she took a seat at the small kitchen table, a cup of coffee before her. From Riots best guess, she had been drinking it when they came in. Nodding his response, Riot started trotting to Hunters room, but he found himself stopped by Aurora. “I...What are you doing tonight Ash?”

“Spending the night with Vinyl.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

At that, Riot trotted out of the kitchen, leaving Aurora behind. He meandered into Hunters room to find the colt struggling with his old set of Mk II B. armour. He could still see the rent plates on the shoulder and neck. Much to his surprise, Hunter managed to stand up and hold the weight of the armour up fairly well. Smiling his approval, Riot sat on the edge of Hunters bed. “You know buddy, if it's too heavy for you I can pull some of the ballistic plates.”

“I can handle it dad! See?” Hunter shuffled forward, only to fall on his face from the weight. Glaring up at the chuckling stallion, Hunter huffed quietly. “Maybe just one or two....”

Trotting over, Riot started pulling open some of the carry panels of the armour. In theory, the idea of ballistic plates supported by high density steel worked like a charm with heavy fabric for the joints. Unfortunately, that was only in theory. The end product was around fifteen kilos dry, and when it was wet... Well needless to say, quite a few soldiers drowned when falling into puddles. The thought of it brought a blank frown to Riots face.

Hooves digging deep into the mud, finding purchase on buried bodies and helmets. Legs burning like an inferno. Can't stop. Sink like a stone if you stop. Find 'safe' ground, on the turret of a heavy tank that sits half a meter under the muck.

“Dad?”

Forcing his eyes to focus, Riot shook his head. “Sorry kiddo, got distracted.”

Hunter smiled happily as he strutted around the room in the now considerably lighter armour. “This is way better Dad!” The colt hugged Riot tightly. “Thanks!” Hunter tromped over to the trunk. “I can't wait to see the look on Featherweight’s face! He's gonna be soooo jealous!” Hunter pulled out the heavy ammo can that now housed Riots medals.

Riots thoughts went to Seafoam, Redheart’s Friend. She had called him a hero. Did a box full of stamped metal and fancy ribbon warrant that? Maybe. Maybe to somepony who hadn't been there. Shrugging off the thought, Riot craned his neck to see what Hunter was bringing. Needless to say, it was just about everything in the box.

Hunter plopped a small stack of papers onto the now closed trunk. A few things sat on his bed, but those were the things he wasn't bringing. Riot managed a quick glance at the report.

'My Dad, My Hero' By Hunter T. Venture.

Riot chuckled lightly at the title, just as Hunter snatched the papers away. “No looking! It's a surprise!” Hunter smiled broadly as he stuffed the papers into his backpack. Riot cocked his head, looking at the pack.

“Is that my old ruck?”

Hunter shuffled his hooves guiltily. “Yeah...It was in the trunk, so I thought it was okay to use it... You're not angry, are you Dad?”

Shaking his head, Riot gave his son a smile. “Of course not, I'm glad the old girl's getting some use. Just...” Riot grabbed the ruck, his hooves working a small hidden pocket. Smothering a sly grin, he saw that the pictures were still there. “Hey Hunter, look over there!” The colt whirled around, just in time to miss the dirty photos of his mother get stuffed into Riots pants pocket.

“What? What is it Dad?” Hunter looked about, then at Riot; who simply shrugged.

“Sorry, thought I saw Sweetie through the window. Guess I was wrong.” The sad groan from Hunter almost made Riot feel bad. Almost. But with the little extra prize in his pocket, his mood was high.

Maybe I should get Vinyl to do some posing... A sly grin spread over his features. “Hey Hunter, you didn't happen to find an old camera in my trunk did you?”
______________________________________________________________________________

Night was beginning to creep across Ponyville, and many ponies were on their way home. Riot couldn’t hear anything from the Horseshoe. He frowned ever so slightly; usually Vinyl had started her warm up sets by now. Riot shook his head, and mentally ran through his plan.

Let's see here... Tomorrow, wake up early enough to walk with Hunter to his school, have the little presentation, then wander off to the bus station. It was a simple plan, and that was why he liked it.

Of course, there was always a bump awaiting Riots plans.

Knocking lightly on Vinyls door, nopony answered. He grunted, trying the handle. He jiggled it several times before noticing the note taped to the door.

'The Horseshoe is closed for the weekend.’

Underneath was a second, smaller note.

‘Riot, You know where the key is.'

“Huh.” Riot kicked over a small fake rock, revealing the door key. Sliding the key into the lock, Riot pushed his way into the small apartment that sat above the club. He could hear the shower, meaning it was Vinyl who was taking it. Nopony else would be here if they were closed. After locking the door behind himself, Riot quickly checked the other rooms to make sure that he wouldn't walk in on one of her visitors. Once the house was clear, Riot brought out his little beaten camera.

The door to the bathroom was pushed open silently, and Riot found himself treated to the exact sight he had been hoping for.

Vinyl was humming a jaunty, bumpy little tune as she ran a hoof through her mane, making sure that the lather had been evenly distributed. She smiled as she enjoyed the warm water. Her train of thought was brought to a crashing halt as a bright flash filled the bathroom. Squeaking in terror, Vinyl slipped, falling onto her flank as water cascaded down from the shower head. The mare grabbed a towel and pressed it against her chest in a vain attempt to cover herself. She looked up to see a smirking Riot standing in the door, a small camera being set up for the next picture.

“Sorry Vin, forgot I had the flash on.”

Riot ducked just in time to avoid a flying bottle of body lather. “You ass!”

Peeking back in, Riot hoped to smooth things over with the soaked mare. He quickly found a pair of soaked hooves wrapped around his head, and he was pulled into a deep kiss. Vinyl pressed herself into the clothed stallion. “Now you're wet. Jerk.” She laughed, just before kissing his cheek.

Having avoided being pelted with personal care products, Riot shared her laugh. “Room for one more?”

Vinyl purred at the notion; beckoning with her head. “Hurry up then, before the water gets cold.” She blew a kiss at the stallion, then pulled the shower curtain closed. Riot practically tripped over himself as he pulled his combat boots off, along with his pants and light grey undershirt.
______________________________________________________________________________

Vinyl snuggled into Riots chest; her still-damp mane sticking to the couch and his fore hoof. She let out a satisfied sigh as she relaxed even further. The mare cracked an eye open and let out a mare-ish giggle. “You smell like strawberries.”

Riot frowned and twisted slightly so he could smell his fur. He shrugged, now playing circles in Vinyls belly fur. “Worth it.”

Sharing a laugh with Riot, Vinyl twisted in his grip so she could look Riot in the eyes. “So, when are you leaving tomorrow?”

“Not sure, after Hunter presentation for sure. Maybe around three or four.” Riot nipped at her neck, earning a smile of protest. “Why do you ask?”

The mare grinned slyly. “Oh, nothing..... Just was wondering when I should join you
at the bus station.” She nipped Riot back on the nose. “I got some time off this weekend, so I figured I'd get a look at this hospital for myself. Make sure the ponies there are treating my stallion right!” Riot lifted a hoof to protest, but Vinyl cut him off. “If it gets too weird, or something happens back here I'll be gone in a flash. I've got it all figured out.” She planted a kiss on his nose as if to seal the deal.

Riot mulled the idea around in his head, taking the unusual setting into mind. Eventually, he nodded. “Yeah, that'll be nice. Having you with me, I mean.”

“You bet that grey flank of yours it will be!” Vinyl laughed happily at his agreement. She then swung her hind leg over his stomach. The mare now straddled him as she leaned in to kiss his neck and shoulder. She spoke in a low voice, one filled with sultry tones. “Any place we need to be tonight?”

“No Ma'am.”

Vinyl smiled happily as she placed both hooves on his chest. “Good. Now-” The mare let out a cute gasp Riot placed both hooves on her hips, bringing her down from her high place. Her hooves tightened around the back of his neck as she bit into the shaggy fur on his shoulder. “Mmfff...”

Riot nipped the tip of her ears as he ran the edge of his hoof over her cutie mark. “We ain't goin' nowhere, cause I've got plans for you.” He smirked evilly as the mare let out another satisfied moan.

Vinyl pushed herself into his chest as the couch groaned in protest. “Aurora was an idiot to leave you.... But I'm glad you're mine.” She hugged Riot tightly, a sultry purr escaping her.
____________________________________________________________________________-

Rise and shine you sorry sacks of shit! Welcome to boot camp! From now on for the rest of your pitiful lives, you useless wastes of air will be awake and ready for inspection at oh-six-hundred! Do you maggots read me!?

SIR YES SIR!

Riots eyes fluttered open, just as Celestia was considering raising the sun. He yawned widely; jaw popping back into place as he sat up. Vinyl mumbled quietly in her sleep, drawing Riots attention. He smiled softly as he pushed a small strand of mane away from her face. The mare’s eye cracked open, revealing her vibrant red eyes. She let out a groan of protest and rolled over, stuffing her muzzle into the pillow. “By Celestia’s butt… What time is it?

Chuckling as he lifted himself up, Riot stretched his taunt limbs. “Zero Six Hundred.” The odd crack and pop sounded out within the small abode, along with the usual accompanying grunt from Riot. After a few moments of ensuring his bits were in the right place, Riot cantered over into Vinyls kitchen. Soon after, her coffee percolator was bubbling away quietly.

Soon enough, Riot was trotting back into the living room with two steaming cups of coffee in his wake. Plopping down next to Vinyl’s comatose form, Riot placed her cup on the coffee table. As he sipped at his, he could see the mare beginning to stir. Both of her eyes were clamped shut, but she couldn't ignore the smell of fresh coffee for long.

Sure enough, Vinyl let out a defeated whine as she pulled her legs over the edge of the couch. Grabbing the cup, she took a tentative sip. A satisfied sigh left her, and one of her eyes cracked open. “How do you do it?” She grumbled out, half asleep.

Riot cocked an eyebrow as he slurped his coffee back. “Do what?”

“Wake up at six on the dot without an alarm, and proceed to make the best coffee ever. It's not natural. You’re some kind of freak.” Vinyl slumped against his shoulder as she struggled to keep her cup at her lips. As if to answer a silent problem, Riot plopped a bendy straw into her drink and cocked it towards her. Vinyl took it immediately, grunting her thanks. She broke contact with the straw long enough to speak. “You're a robot. A crazy, sexy, misunderstood, robot.” She snuggled into his shoulder as she went back to sipping her warm drink.

Riot chuckled lightly at her ruminations as he finished off his drink with one last gulp. “That's unfair, I only have a couple metal pins in me. You can call me a robot when I've got a skull plate and some sci-fi shit poking out of my chest.”

Vinyl shrugged as she placed her cup on the table. “Fair enough. Do I really have to get up?” She whined. “I’ve never seen this godsforsaken hour…”

The stallion shrugged. “I don't think so, but I need to get home so I can get ready for Hunters school thing.”

“Mmm...Tell me how it went will ya?”

Riot nodded as he stood. “Will do Vin. Now-” He planted a kiss on Vinyls lips, leaving her practically fluttering about in her post-sleep stupor. “Be safe Whitey.”

“Mmm...Think I'm gonna go to sleep again...Sleep good.” Vinyl flopped to the side without Riot to support her deadweight.

Slipping out the door, Riot made sure to lock the door behind himself and to slip the key under the mat. The stallion turned about, gazing out at the new dawn. He started trotting towards home, where he assumed both Hunter, and Aurora would still be asleep. The walk went as expected; nothing of note. Nopony was up at this time, save for a few odd-balls like himself. Soon enough, his manilla coloured, government issue home came into view. It was a far-cry from his old home, but it served its purpose.

A small set of keys came jingling out of his coat pocket; quickly finding themselves jammed into the door lock. The door clicked open after two tries, and Riot trotted into the quiet house.

And so was his routine during a good portion of the week. He would slip in through the door, head for the kitchen, and start breakfast for Hunter. If he had time, it would be puff pie and hay bacon, but if he was running late, the most he could make was pancakes and chopped hay bits. Today felt like a day that required a full stomach.

Half-way through his cooking, Riot could hear someponies door click open. To his satisfaction, Hunter came wandering into the kitchen, rubbing his bright green eyes. “D-dad? What time is it?”

“Early.” Riot smiled as he brought a piece of hay-bacon near Hunters nostrils. The colts features sprang to life, and he chomped the floating food stuff out of the air. Riot smirked, turning back to the stove. “Is it good enough Hunter?” All he got was a swift nod as the colt hopped up onto his seat by the table. “I'll take that as a yes then.”

Plopping a full plate in front of Hunter, Riot was treated to the sight of a complete and utter massacre of innocent foods. The colt’s appetite was voracious to say the least. Riot kept that to himself though, as he divvied up a fair portion for his own craving. He also made sure to leave enough for Aurora. Sitting across from Hunter, the pair sank into quiet chomps and bites.

After every bit of food had disappeared from their plates, Hunter belched loudly, then covered his mouth. “M'sorry Dad....”

Riot shrugged as he belched even louder. “Don't sweat it bud.”

As Hunter started giggling in response, Aurora sauntered into the room, her eyes on the pair of stallions at the table. “I swear, it's like I'm living with a pack of dogs.”

“You'd like that, wouldn't you?” Riot shot her a look as she went to get her breakfast. The look he got in return more than justified the jab in his mind.

“I think I would, may get a bit more manners from them.” Aurora lifted her nose in the air as she placed her plate on the table.

Riot huffed indignantly as he picked up both his and Hunters empty plates and deposited them in the sink. After a moment, he trotted over to Hunter and rested a hoof on the colts shoulder. “Well Hunter, it's around seven now, want to head out?”

The colt pondered the thought for as he sat there, his eyes flitting between Riot and Aurora. Eventually, He nodded his head and hopped off the seat. “Sure Dad, I'll get my bag.”

The stallion smiled and nodded, then, as if a bolt of energy hit him, he turned his attention back to Hunter. “What time do you start presenting?”

The colt pulled back a bit from his fathers energetic question. “A-a little after eight.”

Riot clopped his hooves together as a broad grin spread over his features. “Good, now hold tight for a few. I've got a surprise of my own.” At that, Riot practically pranced out of the kitchen, leaving a curious Hunter and a fearful Aurora.

Hunter hopped off his chair and cantered off into his room to grab his bag and get the trunk ready for his father to haul. The colt trotted back into the hall, the trunk being levitated a few inches off the ground. Hunter plopped the heavy thing down on the ground and waited for Riot. After a few long minutes, Aurora joined Hunter, equally curious.

Shortly after, they could hear the tell tale sound of Riots old combat boots tromping through the hall towards them. Strange, considering that his ragged boots were sitting at the door, a small layer of mud still clinging to the thick treads.

Aurora looked up as the sound stopped a few paces before them. She looked up, and gasped through the hoof over her mouth. Riot stood at the end of the hallway, dressed in full parade regale. His boots shone like the morning sun, despite being jet black. His uniform was pressed to perfection, without a single crease or stain to be seen. His beret was positioned perfectly, and his beard had been trimmed. Of course, in Auroras eyes, he wasn't the forty-something stallion that she roomed with; no, he was the twenty five year old rough cut upstart giving her his love while they stood on a tarmac as the rain poured down.

“Not bad for an old Hell Hound, eh?”

His voice shook the mare out of her stupor. Aurora choked on her response as she pressed her hoof deeper into her mouth. Hunter on the other hoof...

“WOW!! Dad, you look so cool!” Hunter galloped about the tall stallion. “You look like the ponies in the royal guard posters!” Hunter squee'd quietly to himself as he looked up at his mother. “Doesn't he look awesome Mom?”

Aurora hiccuped as she stuffed her tears down deep. She nodded quickly as she ran a hoof over the edges of her eyes. “Yes, Hunter. He does look...” She smiled shakily. “He's quite the stallion.”

Seeing her pain, Riot felt conflicted. Taking a short breath, Riot stepped toward the door. “Well buddy, let's get you to school, hmm?” Hunter nodded quickly, his backpack already slung over his shoulder as he bounded out the door. Riot trotted after him, but stopped short of the shaking mare. He let out a long breath as she tried in vain to hide her tears. “Doesn't feel so great, does it?”

The mare let out a single sob as her attempts of stuffing her feelings down failed miserably. Aurora found herself surprised when Riot gave her a supportive squeeze of the shoulder. She sucked in a ragged breath and spoke to Riot as quietly as she could. “What happened to us Ash?”

Riot rolled his jaw in an attempt to answer her question to himself. “Life happened. We changed.” He sighed quietly as his hoof fell away from her. “I'm headed to Canterlot after Hunters presentation. Take some time to yourself to think about things.”

Aurora nodded as she spoke. “I'm glad you're my friend Ash.”

To me, coming from you... Friend is a four letter word.

Riot merely nodded as he trotted out the door with the trunk in tow.
___________________________________________________________________________-

Hunter trotted next to Riot with his head held higher than usual. The colt smiled brightly as Riot trotted next to him, the heavy green hooflocker floating behind them slightly. A few more ponies were out at this time, but each took notice of the spit polished soldier marching through their little town. Riot noticed a few whispering to themselves. Normally, it would make him feel angry and self-conscious; but just this once, he felt empowered by it. The township of Ponyville had been conquered by a lone soldier and his indomitable will to go the distance.


Soon, the bell tower of the school came into view. Hunter stopped dead in his tracks; the lines of doubt and regret filling his youthful face. “D-dad...”

Riot trotted up next to the colt and glanced down at him. “What's up buddy?”

“What if they don't like my presentation?”

“Fuck ‘em.”

“Dad!” Hunter pulled back from the use of rough language.

Riot sighed as he placed the trunk on the ground and crouched down by the colt. “Listen Hunter, you know what I did when I was in the field and I started to doubt myself?”

The colt looked up at Riot with eyes filled with wonder. “What?”

“When things looked their worst, and I thought I was going to die, I told myself that no matter what, I wouldn't die lying down. I told myself that whatever I sacrificed was for you.” Riot sighed quietly. “What I'm trying to say, is that no matter what anypony else said or did, you were the only thing I fought for. It didn't matter what happened, I made you my rock.” Riot gave the surprised colt a strong hug.

Hunter nodded in understanding. “I think I get it dad... I'm not supposed to care about what other ponies do or think, so long as the ponies that are important to me, are with me.”

Riot stood again, giving his uniform a quick dust off. He smiled proudly down at the colt. “Exactly Hunter. You'll be quite the stallion when you grow up.” Riot chuckled to himself as he ruffled the colts mane. “Come on champ, let's knock the roof off this dump.”

The pair approached the door, and Riot could see a few of the foals and their chosen parent/ older sibling. Immediately, He spotted Rarity with Sweetie Belle. The younger of the Belle sisters waved happily at them, While Rarity simply stared at the oncoming pair with wide eyes. Hunter gave his father an eager grin and galloped forward. Inwardly, Riot swore.

Hunter and Sweetie were neck deep in a light speed conversation. Rarity had her eyes set on the stallion carrying the box. “My, that looks like a heavy load Mr. Venture.” Rarity batted her eyelashes at him. “But you do look very dashing today.”

Riot nodded at her as he rested the trunk on the ground. “Yeah, figured I wouldn't get a better chance than this to give the new uniform some air.”

Rarity nodded in agreement. “Yes, I have to say, you look...” She rolled her hoof. “Younger.” She smiled up at him.

The stallion merely shrugged as the bell rung loudly. “I got that from the ex too.” He lifted up the trunk and motioned towards the door with his head just as Hunter bounded towards him.

“Come on Dad! School’s starting!”

The novelty was not lost on either of the older ponies as they both chuckled and followed the steady stream of foals and older ponies. At some point, Rarity broke off to talk to somepony else, leaving Riot alone for the most part. Cheerilee nodded at him, her smile honest and kind. As the foals took their seats, Cheerilee spoke.

“Thank you everypony, for coming today.” She smiled over the fairly large crowd. “I'm glad to see such a great turnout this year.” Cheerilee trotted to the front and brought out a sheet of paper. “Would anypony like to go first?” She held up a pen and the paper.

Riot could see Hunter getting up in a hurry as he attempted to reach the sheet first. Despite his best efforts, he was cut off by a pink foal with a little tiara. The filly stuck her tongue out at Hunter as she scrawled her name on the sheet. A few other foals slipped in when Hunter cast a glance over his shoulder at Riot.

The stallion groaned under his breath as the chances of his early escape slid down the drain. The heavily muscled pony next to him let out a chuckle. “First time show and tell huh?”

Riot nodded as he leaned against a spot on the wall. “Yeah.” He cocked his head towards the larger stallion. “I’m Riot, Hunters Dad.”

The other pony offered his hoof and Riot shook it. The other stallion smirked, his eyes going back up to the front as an obviously well off stallion started talking about fiscal quarters. “I’m Snowflake. Featherweights older brother.”

Nodding his head, Riot scanned the room slowly. “You come to these often?”

“When I can. Say, Hunter’s been coming to this school for about two years now-”

“Yup.” Riot cut the other pony off, already sensing the line of questions.

“-And I was wondering why I’ve only seen you now.” Snowflake glanced at the taller stallion. “I mean, I would have remembered you if you had.” He looked over Riot, gauging him fully.

Riot frowned , having already berated himself about it enough. “I was on duty for the most part, and I spent a fair amount of time in the hospital. Trust me, I wanted to be here...”

Snowflake nodded, seeming to understand. “That’s alright, me and Feather never knew our father all that well.” The pony chuckled. “And he was still at home.”

The frown on Riots muzzle increased. “I try my best. That’s all I really can do now.”

A jovial laugh brought Riot out of his thoughts. Looking over at Snowflake, he couldn’t help but chuckle himself. Snowflake shook his head as he smiled. “You, I like you. You’re alright.”

Riot smirked in kind. “Like I said, I try my best.”

___________________________________________________________________

Several long presentations later.

Riots head bobbed up and down as he fought to stay conscious during an explanation of different dress types from Rarity, but he was robbed of any chance at a nap by a light tapping on his forehoof. Glancing down, he smiled lightly. “Hey Buddy, what’s up?”

Hunter smiled back. “We’re up next Dad, so get ready. Rarity is almost done!”

A hoof bumped Riots shoulder. Snowflake grinned at the older stallion. “Good luck buddy.”

The Belle sisters finished their presentation, trotting back down the aisle of desks, Rarity smiling daintily as the eyes of most of the elder males were on her. Cheerilee smiled, looking out at the stallions and mares at the back of the class.

“I think we have just enough time for one more, so if Hunter could come up with his father?” She said brightly.

Hunter bit his lip nervously, before getting to his hooves, and slowly making his way up to the front. “O-okay Miss Cheerilee.” The colt trotted up to the front, a wad of loose-leaf paper held shakily in his magic. Riot pushed off of his spot on the wall; lifting the trunk as well as he trotted up to the front. He gave Hunter a nod of support as he placed the trunk on the ground.

The young stallion smiled anxiously out at his classmates, and cleared his throat. “I decided to do my presentation on my favourite pony in the whole world, my dad, Iron. He is a soldier. Not a lot of ponies do that, at least not any more...” He says, frowning a little, before catching himself. “He’s seen a lot of bad things, but him and his friends have kept equestria safe for us. From the griffons, with their huuuuge claws, and wings, and even dragons!” He said. At this, the class gasped, and there were a few mutters. “He’s gotten pretty hurt sometimes...” He says, before hopping up on a stool. “But he’s still managed to keep going, and always come home to me.”

Hunter hopped off the small stool he had been standing on, and went for the trunk. Popping the latches, the colt levitated out a hoofful of medals and Riots helmet. The colt held up the medals one by one. “My dad was given a whole ton of medals from the princesses because he’s really brave!” He held up one of Riots Silver Stars. “This one is called a Silver Star; it’s the third highest award in aaalll of Equestria! It’s awarded for gal....gall...”

“Gallantry.” Riot smiled at Hunter and the class. “The medal Hunter’s holding right now, I got during my first campaign. That was on the Plains of Westrock.” Hunter nodded eagerly, holding up another one. Riot frowned slightly at the Lance of Equestria, and motioned for Hunter to grab another one.

Hunter cocked his head for a moment, before grabbing the one next to it instead. “This one is the Order of the Celestial Shield. He got it for rescuing another pony when in extreme danger. He saved my uncle Sunshine.” He said. The class sniggered a bit at the name, and Hunter glared. “Hey! Uncle Sunny went through almost as much as he did!” The class quieted down, and Hunter gave a nod of approval to the class.

Riot held back a laugh of his own. Wild did have a silly name. “Hunter, think the class would want to try on your helmet and armour?”

The clamour that arose was nearly deafening. Nearly the whole class, aside from two particular fillies were trying to crowd up to the front of the room. Cheerilee tried to restore order, but it was nearly impossible.

“Alright kids, one at a time!” Riot closed the trunk until the foals calmed down to the point that he could manipulate them. “Alright Hunter, It’s your show.” Riot looked up, and found himself surprised that a couple of the older ponies had come to the front as well, and were standing in line looking sheepish.

Hunter smiled brightly at the fact that so many ponies were waiting to try it. He began passing out little bits of memorabilia to try and calm down some of the rowdier folks, making sure that they were being handled properly as the armor and helmet made it down the line. Cheerilee was smiling, nodding slowly as the young colt kept order. She wrote something on her clipboard with the pencil in her mouth.

One of the ponies lifted up a hoof. “Did you see much action?”

Riot nodded. “I’ve seen a lot. Most of my career was spent on a base, at least a third of it. Another third was on tour. The rest was spent on call.” The pony nodded, his curiosity sated.

A small filly with a mess of a red mane jumped up and down as she waited for the armour. “Did you make loth of friendths?”

The stallion chuckled, hiding his frown. “Yes, I met a lot of great ponies in the military. I’m still friends with a number of them. I miss them.”

She cocks her head. “You mith them? Where are they?”

Riot sighs. “Somewhere better.” The filly makes an ‘o’ face as she looks down.

Snowflake stepped forward, hoof raised briefly. “I was wondering what your thoughts were on the use of Magical Weapons of Mass Destruction in armed conflict? I mean, wouldn’t you consider them morally ambiguous at best? Seeing as how they are primarily intended for civilian population centers.”

Blinking, Riot scratched his beard in thought. After a moment of everypony staring at him, he finally spoke. “First off, we haven’t used a MWMD in over seventy years. As per that, if they hadn’t been used, the cost in lives would have actually gone up, both military and civilian. The use of such weapons aren’t taken lightly, which is why there’s countless overrides for such an event.” He pauses. “I don’t think this is the kind of discussion for the classroom however. If you want, we can talk later, and discuss it.” Riot nods to the stallion, who smiles, and nods in kind.

Everyponies attention is brought up to Cheerilee, who had clopped her hooves together. “Sorry fillies and gentlecolts, but that’s all the time we have for today. Please say thank you to Hunter and Mr. Venture.” The magenta mare said, looking to the ponies. After a groan of disappointment from those who hadn’t gotten to try on the armor, they did say ‘thank you’ and Hunter returned to his seat, giving his father a hug, before beginning to retrieve the bits of military paraphernalia from the crowd.

After tucking everything back into the trunk, Hunter returned to his seat. Riot picked up Hunters trunk and returned to his spot just as Cheerilee started speaking. “Thank you all for coming out today, and for those of you who didn’t get to present, please come back Monday. Now, everypony have a very nice weekend.” She placed her clipboard down on her desk as foals and ponies filed out.

Hunter started putting his work into his pack, but then ran up to Cheerilees desk; planting his report on it. The mare smiled happily at the colt as he turned and went back to packing. The colt trotted back to his desk with a massive smile on his face, throwing his backpack on with a short burst of telekinesis. “How do you think we did, Dad?” He asked the large grey stallion

“I think we did pretty well. That, and your presentation wasn’t putting ponies to sleep.” Riot chuckled at the thought, just as Sweetie and Rarity passed by. The filly seemed quite upset about something.

Rarity cough politely into her hoof to draw the pairs attention. “Excuse me, but Sweetie-”

“I didn’t get to try on any of your cool stuff Hunter!” Sweetie sniffed back a tear.

As Riot lifted a hoof to respond, Hunter pulled the rug out from under him. “That’s alright Sweetie, you can come over and try on all of it!” The colt put out his best smile as he looked up at Riot. “Right Dad?”

Riot nodded his head. “Sure, I don’t see why not. As long as Rarity’s alright with it of course.”

The white mare smiled a bit. “Well, I don’t think you’d wear it for the fashionable qualities, but it is rather....Cool...To use the common term. Of course you can go, Sweetie.” She says, patting the filly on the head.

Both foals grinned eagerly as they walked ahead of the adults. Riot chuckled to himself. “Personally, I was a fan of the mark three winter wear.”

Rarity shook her head playfully at waved off the larger stallion. “Have a good evening, Mister Venture, I would like to hear some of your stories of gallantry some day, and your rather well formed opinion on the morality of equine kind.” She says, a small whimsical sigh leaving her lips at the talk of gallantry.

Riot nodded. “I’ll bring a flashlight for dramatic effect.” The stallion shook his head. “I’ll see you later Rarity, take it easy.”

She returned his nod with one of her own, and she trotted daintily down the dirt road toward her boutique, leaving Riot with the two foals. Sweetie apparently couldn’t wait, and was now wobbling about, the helmet too big for her, covering her eyes. She leaned on Hunter so he could help her find her way, and the young stallion looked to Riot, a blush on his cheeks.

He was gonna have to keep an eye on those two. Or rather, Aurora would have to. A coy grin spread across his muzzle as he realized that he wouldn’t have to deal with any of the problems. A quick glance at his watch told him he had to meet Vinyl fairly soon. Letting out a breath, Riot caught up to the pair of foals. “Alright Kiddo, I’m gonna have to leave pretty soon so I can get to the bus on time.”

“Aww... Do you have to Dad?” Hunter pouted a bit as they approached the door.

Riot nodded as he took out his little cluster of keys and started rifling through them. “F’raid so lad.” He sighed quietly as his key slid into the lock and the door swung open near-silently. Hunter simply nodded as he led Sweetie into the house. Feeling guilty over his earlier thoughts, Riot stepped inside, bringing the trunk with him.

A flop of bluey-purple mane from the kitchen door saw Aurora staring at the ground for a moment before ducking back into her hide-away. Hunter cocked his head towards his father. “You can just put the trunk in my room Dad, I’m gonna go bug mum. Come on Sweetie, let’s get some food.” The little filly nodded quickly as she followed close behind.

As he placed the heavy load down on the floor, Riot could hear voices in the kitchen. Biting his lip, Riot trotted into his room and started changing out of his uniform into something a bit less constrictive. By the time he had started stripping down, Aurora ducked into the room. She closed the door quietly behind herself and turned to face the stallion.

“So you’re going today?” She looked away as he changed.

“Yeah. It’s Friday.” Riot pushed his uniform into the corner; he’d deal with it later. “I have responsibilities in Canterlot.”

Aurora frowned as she stared at her hooves. Shaking her head, she approached the stallion. “You have responsibilities here. couldn’t you just stay for a bit longer?”

Riot set his jaw as he exhaled. “If I’m ever going to heal... If I’m ever going to get better, they’re the ones who’ll help me.” He turned, facing Aurora. “I need to get better, for Hunters sake.”

The mare nodded. Without warning, she clamped her hooves around the back of Riots neck as she hugged him tightly. Riots eyes went wide, but when the lack of choking or knives in the spine became apparent, he wrapped a hoof around Aurora and hugged her back. For a moment, all was quiet.

Letting his hoof drop, Riot stepped away. “I need to finish packing my things.”

Aurora nodded quickly as she turned away. “I’ll go check on Hunter and Sweetie, see if they need a snack.”

Watching Aurora trot out of the room, Riot went back to packing; doing his best to ignore the wet patch of fur on his shoulder.
_____________________________________________________________________________

Riot stood at the doorway, his beaten boots hugging the sides of his hooves like they were supposed to. His duffel was slung across his shoulder.

Hunter pulled away from the leg he had clamped onto. “You’re coming back, right dad?”

Riot chuckled as he ruffled the colts mane. “Of course, I’ll only be gone for a couple days, I promise.” He smiled broadly as he turned towards the door. “Hunter, keep an eye on these two.” He motioned towards Sweetie and Aurora.

The colt saluted quickly. “Yessir!”

Smiling as the door closed behind him, Riot was left to his own devices as he started towards the bus stop and Vinyl.
__________________________________________________________________________


As Riot approached the covered stop, he could already see the white flanks and vibrant blue hair of a certain somepony. Moving his approach off to the side, Riot snuck up on Vinyl with ease. She was wearing her mane down and had clad herself in a grey hoodie. Vinyl let out a loud sigh as she leaned back against the bus stop. Her moment of boredom was shattered as a pair of hooves wrapped around her waist and somepony held her from behind. Vinyl let out a stifled scream as she pulled away from the hooves and hit the dirt.

Her terror was quickly replaced by embarrassment as the culprit started laughing his ass off. The mare whirled around and glowered at Riot. “You! You...You-”

“Sexy beast?”

“BASTARD!”

Riots laughing increased, and Vinyl couldn’t help but be infected by it. Giggling to herself, she trotted over to the grey stallion who was half over the benches back. “You scared the colour off me!” She swatted his ear for emphasis.

“You just looked so bored, I had to bring some action into your life!” His statement gained him another swat. Riot pulled back to save his stinging ears. Plopping his duffel down next to the bench, he took a seat next to Vinyl, who snuggled into him almost immediately.

“I missed you this morning.”

Riot cocked an eyebrow. “Oh? I made coffee, and you drank it.”

Huffing her indignation, Vinyl placed her head on his lap. “It got cold when you left. It’s not my fault you’re a furnace.”

“Oh, so first I’m a robot, and now I’m a furnace? Why can’t I be a pony?” Riot rubbed the spot behind Vinyls ear, earning a coo of approval.

“You are a- Ooooh right there.....You are a pony; my big robot furnace pony.” Vinyl stretched out next to him on the bench

Riot shrugged as he continued the ear rub. “I suppose I can live with that.” He smiled lightly as he looked up at the horizon. “I think that’s our bus.”
______________________________________________________________________________

The bus ride was uneventful, and much of it was spent staring out the window at the countryside. Coming into Canterlot however, was more interesting than usual.

Riot gazed about as the bus approached its stop. Not much had changed, but there did seem to be a certain tension in the air. As he got off the bus, Riot caught a guardscolt pushing a pony away out of the corner of his eye.

A small frown crossed his muzzle just as Vinyl stepped down next to him. “Well Tiger?” She smiled innocently at him, and Riot couldn’t help but smile a bit.

“Alright, let’s get going. The hospital is just over this way.” He grabbed her hoof and pulled her out of the way just as a cart full of goods rolled past. “Keep an eye open alright?” He spoke with a grin.

Vinyl nodded quickly. “Sorry, I’ve only been here a few times to visit Octy… I should visit her!” Vinyl clops her hooves together. “Oh man, she’ll be super stoked to see me!”

Riot shrugged as he crossed the street. “All the same, folks here are a bit more.... Eh, you’ll get what I mean when we get closer to the noble district. Maybe We’ll run into her up there.”

The mare cantered up next to Riot as a pair of identical mares plied their flowery wares to anypony who got close. Vinyl did her best to stay at Riots side as he weaved through the crowd like a pro. “You spend a lot of time in cities like this Tiger?”

Riot yelled something over the crowd, but Vinyl didn’t hear it. She let out a surprised squeak as he pulled her down a side alley. “Like I was saying; yes. My folks owned a small flat near the center of Cork. At the time, Cork was one of the biggest cities in Equestria, being the only town between the far flung towns like Dublin and Stalliongrad. It was the only stop on the way of Canterlot, so by default it got big, fast. we had trade coming in from all directions at all times.”

The mare smiled as Riot spoke. “Sounds like a fun place to be. What was your home like?”

She could see Riot scowl, but her concentration was broken when somepony bumped into her from behind. She turned, just in time to see a wiry looking stallion with a door for a cutie mark look up and apologize profusely. “Shit, sorry bud, didn’t see you there!” The green stallion smiled as he started walking away before Vinyl could speak. “Wow, what an ass-”

Riot grabbed the other stallion by the back of the neck and threw him to the ground like he was a ragdoll. He pressed a hoof against the other stallions chest and kept his other one pulled back as if waiting to strike “Give it back.”

The green stallion whinnied in terror. “What are you talking about you maniac!? Get off me before I call the guard!!”

Riot pulled the stallion closer. “Give it back or I get angry.” He snarled, his pupils narrowing. The smaller stallion gulped loudly as he nodded. Vinyl thought she saw the glint of metal, but it had to be her mind playing tricks on her.

“Okay! Please, for the love of Celestia just don’t hurt me! It’s in my bag!” Riot stuck a hoof into the stallions saddle bags and pulled out a pouch of bits.

It was then that Vinyl found her voice. “Riot what are you doing!? You can’t rob this guy!” She placed a hoof on his shoulder, just as Riot levitated up the bag of bits.

The bag had her cutie mark embroidered into it.

Vinyl blinked, then took the bag and pulled her hoof from Riots shoulder. The grey stallion stood up and glared down at the green pony. “Find another line of work. Or I’ll find you.” The other stallion nodded rapidly as he bounced up and galloped away.

Riot rolled his shoulders and lifted his duffel back over his head and around his neck. As Vinyl pieced together what had happened, he beckoned her forward as if nothing had happened. “Come on Vin, we’ve got a bit of a walk still.”

Silence reigned over the pair as they exited the small alleyway and continued out past the market quarter. Vinyl had shifted her bits bag over to an inside pocket. She was still unsure as to what she had seen. In the distance, they both could see the tall structure of the hospital over the smaller medium income homes and small businesses.

Vinyl sighed and bumped Riots side with hers. “You okay?”

He glanced over at her with a cocked eyebrow. “Hmm?”

“You... You didn’t look okay back there.”

Riot frowned as he turned his head back to the front. “I’m fine.”

Vinyl simply nodded and leaned against him as they walked, but her mind was muddied by a worrisome thought.
______________________________________________________________________________

The pair trotted through the front doors, and were greeted with organized chaos. Doctors and orderlies cantered about, each with a mission in mind. What surprised Riot was how clean everything was. He saw several fatigue wearing patients cleaning, alongside the janitor crew.

As he approached the front desk, Riot was intercepted by Doctor Stuart. “Captain! Good to see you made it!” the doctor trotted over and smiled at the pair. “And you brought a friend? Interesting.”

Riot nodded, and placed a hoof on Vinyl shoulder. “Yeah, this is Vinyl Scratch. She’s managed to keep me sane, more or less. Scratch, this is Doctor Stuart.”

Vinyl smiled at the doctor, but was quick to fill in the extra bits. “We’re also dating, remember?”

“Right, knew I was forgetting something!” Riot smirked at her.

Before their banter could continue, Doctor Stuart cleared his throat. “I’m sorry to leave so soon, but we have a very important pony coming by to inspect the facility, so I have to get all of my paperwork sorted.” The doctor shuffled through a pile of papers on the front desk, before he lifted his head. A thought seemed to cross his mind in an instant. “Actually, Miss Scratch, I would like to talk to you for a moment.” He smiled at Riot. “Don’t worry Captain, I’ll send her your way once my question is answered, for the moment, I believe Sergeant Crumpets has some papers you need to fill out ASAP.” With that, the doctor about-faced, and trotted behind the reception desk to grab a sheet of paper and pen.

Riot simply shrugged and gave Vinyl a quick kiss. “You behave alright? I’ll be back in a moment.” He gave her a smile of support as he started trotting away..

Vinyl sighed, accepting the fact they couldn’t be together 24/7. As Riot cantered away, She turned to face Doctor Stuart. The stallion motioned towards a small table and a pair of chairs. “I just need to ask you some quick questions about Riot and his condition.”

“His condition?”

Doctor Stuart nickered as they sat down. “Surely you know about post-traumatic stress disorder?”

The realization hit Vinyl in an instant. “Yeah… What’d you wanna know?”

Mirian closed his eyes and rolled his hoof for a moment. “I need.... To know whether or not his condition is decaying when away from the facility.”

Vinyl smirked and shook her head. “I’m keeping him on the straight and narrow, he been doing great! Well except-” She bit her lip as she remembered the incident from earlier.

“Except what Miss Scratch?”

She sighed sadly. “Today, in the market. A pickpocket got my coin purse and was making off with it. Riot got a hoof on him before I even realized what was going on.”

“I see.” Stuart scribbled onto the sheet of paper. “Can you tell me anything else?”

Vinyl frowned. “Riot... I don’t know, but it looked like he would have killed the other pony if I hadn’t been there. I think he...I think he had a knife. I’m not sure though.”

Doctor Stuart frowned as well. “I see. Is there anything else going on with him?”

Vinyl shook her head. “Not that I could tell you. He smiles a lot more now.” She smiled as well, enjoying the thought. “But... He worries me sometimes...”

The doctor cocked an eyebrow. “Oh? Do tell.” He scribbled another line into the pad.
______________________________________________________________________________

Riot trotted into Crumpets small office; nearly having to duck through the door. The mare sat behind her desk, a stack of papers in front of her. She looked up at the intrusion. Her eyes went wide for a split second, then she was back to normal. “Hey Cap’, the Doc send you?”

Nodding, Riot leaned against one of the counters in the office. “Yeah, what’s up with all the cleaning and paperwork?”

Crumpets frowned as she looked back down at her workload. “Don’t pretend like you don’t know; your new uniform came with a notice.”

“A notice?”

The mare looked up at Riot in surprise and fear. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

Riot shook his head. “No, really. What notice?”

“Shit!” Crumpets’ head bounced off the stack of papers on her desk. “You were supposed to have your uniform ready for inspection! Princess Luna’s due in a matter of minutes!” The mare groaned into her papers.

Riot let out a snort. “Well, I suppose it’s a good thing that I got my uniform ready for inspection anyway and brought it along.”

Her head shot up; smiles all around. “Really!? Oh thank Celestia!” She let out a sigh of relief. “That’s one thing off my plate.” The mare frowned sadly. “Now I just need to deal with this...”

“Deal with what?” Riot straightened out a bit.

Crumpets tried to force a smile, but failed miserably. “Some of the soldiers here aren’t doing so good... “ Crumpets let out a breath. “We’ve had a rash of suicides lately.”

Riot closed his eyes, saddened by the news. “How many?”

“Twelve.”

Grimacing, Riot shook his head. “Damn shame… If you need any help, just let me know. I’ll do what I can.” Riot stepped away and back in front of the desk. “So, the Doc said you had some papers for me to sign?”

She nodded slowly, a couple papers being slid across the desk by her hoof. “Yes, could you just quickly sign...” She sucked in a breath and steadied herself. “Here, here, and here.”

“Okay, and what are these for?” Riot glanced over the forms as he scribbled a hasty signature. “There’s a lot of small print.”

Crumpets shrugged as she took his signed forms and stuffed them into a pile. “Just some paperwork that we didn’t have time to do last week. Thanks Cap’.” She manage a sad smile as the captain retreated from her small office. “I’ll see you later, okay?”

Riot nodded, and trotted through the door. He exited out into the hall, and started toward Mirian Stuarts office. As he approached the door, he could hear voices coming from within. While Riot knew that Vinyl was talking with the Doctor, he felt the niggling need to hear it for himself. Leaning against the wall next to the door, Riot strained his ears to hear the pair on the other side of the door.

First was a muffled mares voice. “-times I worry that he might do something crazy and violent-” Riot blinked, then scowled. Maybe he shouldn’t have listened in after all.

Before Riot could decide whether he should leave, the doctors words brought his attention to the forefront. “What I need to know Miss Scratch, is if he could be a danger to anypony else if the worst were to happen.”

There was a momentary pause. “Normally, I’d say hell no, but.... But I don’t really know. He kind of just lost it at the christmas party. I don’t even think he knew what he was doing… What scares me more, is the thought that he did.”

Not wanting to hear another word, Riot pushed off the wall soundlessly and started down the hall. He suddenly had a lot to think about.

Barely a minute later, Vinyl came trotting down the hall towards Riot as he sat on a little bench, writing in his little notepad. The mare suppressed an amused giggle at how disproportionate Riot was compared to everything around him. Her hoof steps seemed have no affect on his attention though, as he barely glanced her way when she stopped in front of him. Vinyl peered at him, then sat down next to him and rested her head on his shoulder.

Normally, that alone would have elicited a reaction from him, but his muzzle was scrunched up in concentration. As he jotted down a few barely legible notes, he glanced at her and closed his notepad. “Ready?”

She smiled at him and nodded. “Yup! So do you have a place where you stay in town or-”

“I stay in the compound.”

His abruptness caused her to frown a bit. “You stay in the hospital? Why?”

Riot sighed and looked over at the mare with a weak smile. “Compound, not hospital.” The stallion stood, and motioned towards one of the sets of heavy double doors that lined the hallway. Vinyl trotted after Riot, curious as to what he meant. The stallion pushed a pair of doors open, revealing a fairly large, open courtyard.

Riot led Vinyl across the grounds, towards the building that was marked as ‘Barracks’ on the little sign posts that were stuck in the ground every now and then. The mare looked about, clearly surprised at the place. “This....This place is huge...” Vinyl looked about, taking in everything. “And in Canterlot of all places... It’s not like there’s a ton of space here.”

The stallion merely shrugged as he nudged open a door and waved out a pair of uniformed ponies. Vinyl smiled at them as they passed, but couldn’t help but let her eyes linger. The place was starting to feel more like the Wonderbolt training camp she had visited in a field trip many years ago.

“You coming?”

Shaken from her thoughts, Vinyl looked up at the grey stallion as he stood in the doorway. Nodding her head, Vinyl followed Riot to his room.

Once inside, Riot tossed his duffel onto the bed and started kicking off his beaten old boots. Vinyl looked around the small room, taking in her surroundings. “Wow, this is actually kind of nice Riot.” She smiled at him.

The stallion simply smiled as he sat down on the bed. “Yeah, Officers get some pretty nice digs.” He let out a sigh and started pulling off his few bits of clothing.

Vinyl cocked an eyebrow at him, seeing as how he only took off his clothes for.... Activities. “What are you doing?” She asked as the niggling burn of a blush worked its way up her cheeks. Riot shrugged as he kicked off his cammies. Vinyl coughed lightly as she set her own small bag down onto the bed and trotted over, just as he pulled on a pair of crisp uniform pants. The mare let out a barely audible whine as she sat down next to him. “What’s up Riot? You seem...”

Riot looked at her as he sat there in nothing but the pants that he had just pulled on. “Seem like what?”

The mare snuggled up against him; her hooves wrapping around his stomach. “You seem sad...”

He frowned sadly for a moment, before replacing it with a soft smile. “As long as I’ve got you, I’m good to go.” He stuffed dark thoughts down deep, bottling them tight.

Vinyl smiled happily as she kissed his cheek. “You big softy... You’re a special stallion. My special stallion.” She rested her head on his lap for a moment, the thought running through her head.

Riot pulled on his uniform top over a clean grey undershirt. After a moment, he hopped off the bed and onto his hooves. “Could you watch my back while I tuck my shirt in? The mirror in here sucks.”

The mare smiled coyly. “You want me to look at your butt? Sure thing tiger!”
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After a few minutes of work, Riot stood once again in full parade regale. Though, he wasn’t sure exactly what he was supposed to do, or why he had to wear anything nice. Shrugging off the questions, Riot tilted his head in the mirror and adjusted his beret and pin. “There. How do I look?” He looked at Vinyl for an answer.

She bit her lower lip as she spoke. “Damn.”

Riot chuckled lightly. “Thanks, let’s hope that Princess Luna thinks the same.” He shook his head at the thought and started towards the bed just as the intercom crackled to life.

”All Personnel, prepare for inspection. All officers please report to the main lobby poste haste.”

He sighed to himself as he turned towards the door, and Vinyl hopped off the bed. The mare cantered up next to him. “Mind if I come and watch?”

Riot shrugged, then nodded. “Sure, though you will prolly want to stay out of the way, before they find something for you to do.” He winked at her, just before pecking her lightly on the lips.

As the pair exited into the hall, they were surrounded by various service ponies who trotted to and fro as they all got ready for inspection in the main courtyard. Riot threaded his way through the crowd with Vinyl in tow.

Coming up to the main building, Riot took a deep breath in, and let it out slowly. Vinyl placed a supportive hoof on his side as she smiled at him. “Go get em’ Tiger.”
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