You Are Normal Too

by Never2muchpinkie

First published

When mother and daughter get into a fight over a misunderstanding their reconciliation leads to the reveal of Dinky's father, a cruel stallion who broke Derpy's heart. Can Derpy put her past regrets behind to find love and romance in the present?

Dinky has always known her mother was a little different from a lot of ponies she met. Her eyes went in different directions, but this never bothered the filly until class bully Diamond Tiara began to mock her mother, setting Dinky into a rage. Because of a misunderstanding both mother and daughter believe the other doesn't like them anymore, and they try to make amends towards each other. In doing so Derpy reveals her regrets from the past where a cruel stallion broke her heart and left her alone and pregnant.

Will Derpy be able to overcome the past to find happiness in the present?

Coverart taken from a comic by doubleWbrothers. http://doublewbrothers.deviantart.com/art/Normal-371395121

Chapter 1: Misunderstandings.

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Dinky walked into her house after school, slamming the front door behind her. Tears were coming down her eyes as she ran upstairs towards her bedroom.

Derpy, hearing the bang of the door, left the kitchen to greet her daughter. “What’s the rush, Muffin?” she asked as Dinky breezed upstairs. It was strange. Dinky always came to say hello after school. Something must have happened.

Letting out a little sigh she returned to the kitchen. She found it so difficult not to pamper her daughter and comfort her over every little thing. Dinky was getting to that age where trying to get answers before she was ready to give them was like pulling teeth. She didn’t like being babied.

She hummed a small tune to herself as she molded some dough with her hoof. She was in the process of making some chocolate chip cookies for both of them to enjoy. She thought Dinky would love them as an after school snack. As Dinky put it, “You can only eat muffins so much.” Derpy didn’t agree with that. She never grew tired of them, but she understood that other ponies have other tastes, so she strived to add in some variety once in a while to keep her daughter happy.

Her heart ached a little as she worked. She would have loved to have Dinky by her side helping out. She would have loved it but… she had to give her daughter her space. Her baby was growing up, after all. Some day she would leave the nest and begin her own family. Derpy wiped a tear away before it could fall in the dough. “Buck up, Derpy,” she said to herself. “She’s not that grown up yet. Her childish pride will fade in time, and then she’ll be right back by your side.”

She sprinkled chocolate chips over the dough after she separated them into twelve spheres, then took the pan and put it in the oven. Even by the time they were done and cooling Dinky still hadn’t come out of her room to say hello.

She aimed to fix that. Scraping cookies off the pan she put six of them on a plate. She poured a glass of milk in a cup and put them on a tray. Unfurling her wings she gently glided out of the kitchen and up the stairs to her daughter’s bedroom. As she landed she nearly tripped face first. She gasped, trying to steady herself as the tray looked like it was about to tip over. Thankfully the milk didn’t spill.

She let out a huff, feeling a pit in her heart. “Why can’t I ever do things right? Always tripping, or falling.” She shook her head, reminding herself that Dinky was in a bad mood. It wouldn’t do to come in also in a bad mood. She took a few deep breaths to settle herself, then opened the door. “Hello, Muffin!” she said brightly. “I brought you some-” She gasped, dropping the tray on the floor. The milk spilt all over the carpet but Derpy didn’t care at the moment.

Derpy looked at her daughter in shock. When she had opened the door Dinky had tried to turn away but Derpy saw exactly why her daughter hadn’t wanted to come see her today: Dinky had a black eye, so puffed up and swollen she could barely open it. There were also some bruises along her front legs.

Derpy growled, rage beginning to fill her brain. Flapping over to her daughter she yelled, “WHO DID THIS TO YOU?”

Dinky knew it was pointless to hide it. Her mother was too worked up. She patted the bed next to her. “Sit down.”

“I’m not sitting down!” she snapped. “Who attacked you? I’ll pulverize them!”

“SIT DOWN!” Dinky yelled back, her voice cracking. “Please!”

Derpy was breathing heavy, her wings in overdrive. After a few more seconds she landed on the floor and sat down. Dinky immediately jumped into her lap and hugged her tightly. Derpy held her daughter back. She had been longing for a time back when Dinky would sit on her lap for comfort as she talked about her problems. Now that it had come she found herself wishing it hadn’t. “What happened, Dinky?” Derpy asked in as calm of a voice as she could manage.

“I got into a fight at school with two of my classmates,” she responded, squeezing harder at the memory.

“Why?” Derpy asked sternly.

Dinky shook her head, beginning to shake in her mother’s hooves. Not out of fear, but out of raw anger. “I don’t wanna talk about it!” she said nastily. Her breathing shortened, feeling like she was having trouble getting oxygen in her system.

Derpy thought about pushing her daughter for answers, but she once more forced herself to be patient. Her daughter had come to sit on her lap for the first time in a long while. She was sure her child would open up with time.

Dinky expected her mother to continue asking. Even though she didn’t it still didn’t improve her mood. She was still tense and furious. The memory felt like a knife in her heart.

***

It was the end of the school day, and she had been about to walk home. All of her classmates were outside, saying their goodbyes. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon had walked by her.

“Is it really true?” asked Diamond Tiara.

“Is what true?” replied Dinky.

“I heard your mom got fired from the weather patrol for blowing up the top of town hall with a lightning bolt.”

Dinky just sighed. As terrible as it was to think she was glad the two snobs usually picked on Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle. They were no less horrible to her at times, but not as often. “It was an accident! She didn’t get fired. She just decided to get another job delivering the mail. What’s the big deal?”

“Oh, really?” said Silver Spoon. “She must be pretty bad if she can’t even do the job a pegasus is supposed to do. Are you sure she’s even up to delivering mail either? I think she needs something more her speed, like pushing rocks around, or being a paperweight.

“And what’s with your horn anyway? Your mom is a pegasus. What, was she dumb enough to think if she got with a unicorn she’d give birth to an alicorn?”

Dinky began feeling irritated, but she didn’t want to take their bait. She was about to walk away when Diamond Tiara gave Silver Spoon a shove.

“Knock it off, Silver Spoon! Derpy may be a little accident prone but she’s a good mother, always keeping an eye on her daughter.”

Both Dinky and Silver Spoon gave Diamond Tiara odd looks. “Um… thanks,” Dinky replied. “My mom always does look out for me.”

“No, I mean literally ONE eye. The other one is gazing at who knows what.”

Silver Spoon began cracking up. “That’s right. She’s always looking at you and a table.”

“You and her lunch.”

“You and the floor.”

“You and the fridge.”

They kept going on and on, seeming to find it more and more enjoyable.

Dinky tried to keep her cool, but she felt herself tensing up, her mind filling with rage. She forced herself to turn around and begin trotting away before she did something she’d regret.

“Byeeeeeee, Dinky,” Diamond Tiara said in a falsely cheery voice. “Say hello to the wall-eyed freak for me.”

Dinky froze in her tracks, her breathing shortening as furious tears began pouring down her eyes. She spun around and let out a fierce yell, and things became hazy after that. The only thing she could remember of the next few minutes was tackling Diamond Tiara to the ground and hitting her. She couldn’t hear anything but the roaring current of her anger, wanting to make the spoiled, entitled brat pay for what she said. She was lost in a scuffle of hooves and kicks, the two of them ganging up on her. The adrenaline pumping through her system made her more than a match for them. She couldn’t even feel the pain of their hits.

It only took a short while for the cheering of the crowd of students to get their teacher’s attention, and Cheerilee quickly ran to break up the fight.

Seeing the two ganging up on Dinky she grabbed Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara by the scruffs of their necks and pulled them off of the filly. The three of them were all panting. Silver Spoon’s glasses were broken, Diamond Tiara’s crown was dented, and all three of them had little bruises forming.

Dinky felt a sense of satisfaction having finally given those jerks their comeuppance for all the times they mocked everyone. As the adrenaline wore off her body started feeling sore all over.

“What is going on out here?” Cheerilee said sternly. All three of them started talking at once. “Silence!” she shouted after a few seconds. “Two of you ganging up on one filly is disgusting. Fighting is wrong, no matter what the reason.”

“Dinky started this fight,” Diamond Tiara said in an innocent voice. “She hit me first.”

Cheerilee gave Diamond Tiara a flat look, sure that the filly had done something to set her classmate off. “Is this true?” she asked as she looked over at the unicorn.

“Yes,” Dinky admitted. “The two of them spent a whole minute making fun of my mother and her eye condition. I was trying to walk away but when Diamond Tiara called my mom a freak I lost it.”

“Prove it!” Diamond Tiara retorted.

“I believe her,” said Cheerilee to Dinky’s relief. “You didn’t have a problem insulting Apple Bloom’s grandmother in front of the whole class. Why shouldn’t I believe you’d insult someone else's relative in a private conversation?

“You two are going to stay after school to help clean up the school house. Maybe a little manual labor will improve your attitudes.” Cheerilee overrode their complaints when they tried to get out of it, pushing them towards the schoolhouse. “Inside NOW!” she said in an authoritative voice.

Silver Spoon gathered the pieces of her glasses and the two fillies let out derisive “Hmph’s” as they went into the schoolhouse.

Cheerilee rolled her eyes as they left. She sat down on the ground as she inspected Dinky’s eye. “You better put some ice on that when you get home.”

Dinky nodded, sniffing.

Cheerilee raised her hooves, pulling Dinky close to her. “Listen to me, Dinky. You have a wonderful mother. I’ve known her for a long time. Don’t listen to those girls.”

Dinky let herself sink into her teacher’s hold, but didn’t respond.

Cheerilee sighed. “I’m really sorry to have to say this, but I have to punish you as well. They may have provoked you, but violence wasn’t the right response. You should have come to me and told me what they were saying. Do you understand me?”

Dinky just gave another small nod. “Yes.”

“If I let you off the hook for starting a fight it sets a bad example and may inspire others to do the same. I just don’t want you doing your detention with them. It would probably turn ugly.”

“Yeah,” she responded in a quiet voice.

“I’ll hold them until this schoolhouse is sparkling, but your punishment doesn’t have to be as bad as theirs. You can do it tomorrow.

“Are you alright to go home?”

“Yeah. Thank you.” She gave Cheerilee a quick hug back before pulling away and beginning her walk home.

Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle ran up to her, throwing congratulations her way, but she wasn’t in the mood. Pushing past them she started running for home.

***

Dinky closed her eyes, holding her mother tight. “I love you, mom!” she said in a strained voice. “I’m sorry I lost my temper.”

Derpy held her daughter tighter as she cried. “It’s okay, Dinky. I’ll always love you no matter what.”

“I have to stay after school tomorrow and do a detention.”

“Okay, my little muffin.” Derpy let out a little sigh. “You know that-”

“I know,” Dinky interrupted. “I deserve it for starting a fight instead of telling an adult.”

“Yes. That’s right.”

“Mom?” Dinky said hesitantly.

“Yes?”

“I know you don’t like to talk about it, but my classmate made me think of something. I’m a unicorn, while you’re a pegasus. So does that mean my dad was-”

Derpy’s attitude shifted immediately. “Dinky,” she said angrily, “how many times do I have to tell you not to mention him? He was scum! I regret everything to do with that stallion. He was the biggest shame of my life. Now just drop it, okay?”

Dinky winced a little. “Okay,” she said quietly.

Derpy was starting to breathe heavily. She took some deep breaths to cool off, not wanting to take her anger out on her daughter. In a gentler voice she said, “I’m sorry, Dinky.” She put her hoof on her daughters chin, pushing until their eyes met.

When Dinky saw her mother’s mismatched eyes she grimaced, hearing her classmates teasing words. She pulled out of her mom’s grip. “I can’t look at you right now, mom. Those eyes… it’s just… AHH!”

She went running downstairs to the living room, burying her head in a pillow and crying as she thought of what her mom had said. “She regrets everything to do with him? S-s-so does that mean my mom never wanted me?”

Derpy was similarly crying. “Oh, my daughter. We used to be so close. And now you’re ashamed of me. All because of these stupid eyes!”

The both of them lost themselves in their tears.

Chapter 2: Regrets of the past

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After maybe an hour Derpy left her daughter’s bedroom, a dead look on her face. She went to the kitchen and mechanically began taking out things for dinner. Her mind felt blank.

Dinner was a subdued affair. The two of them both sat at the table, eating in complete silence, neither of them looking up from their plates throughout. When it was over Dinky gave a muffled “Thanks” before heading to her room.

Dinky sat on her bed, feeling like she wanted to cry again. Getting under the covers she decided to go to bed early.

Derpy was still in the kitchen, washing the dishes. Gentle tears came down her face as her daughter’s words came back to her. “I can’t look at you right now.” “Those eyes!” She sniffed, her eyes closing as she let out a small sob before forcing herself to continue her task.

She wondered how long Dinky had felt ashamed of her. And now that Dinky had begun asking about her father again it only made her feel worse. She had always considered her daughter her closest supporter. No matter how tough things were Dinky made her days brighter. She had always strived to give her daughter the best.

She supposed it couldn’t be helped. She knew from her childhood how everyone tended to look down on those who were different. It wasn’t surprising that her daughter would start to dislike how her mother stood out so much.

When she finished the dishes she went upstairs to her room. On the way there she passed by her daughter’s room. The door was open a crack, and she looked inside to see Dinky was asleep already. With a sigh she pulled the door closed, hoping that Dinky was having nice dreams.

Derpy sat at the desk in her room, papers and a calculator in front of her. She held a quill in her mouth, writing down numbers and using her hooves to punch in calculations. The more she wrote the worse she began to feel.

After a while she dropped the quill with a big sigh. She rested her head on her hoof, tears forming in her eyes. “Ugh! Why does it feel like I’m always on the brink of disaster?” As her tears began to fall she suddenly swiped her hoof across the desk, knocking everything to the ground. “Darn it!” she yelled out as she slammed her hooves into the desk. “Darn it! Darn it! Darn it!” She punctuated each sentence with another pound. She sniffed, wiping her face. She made herself take some deep breaths to settle down.

She closed her eyes as she put her head on both hooves. “I hate this,” she said quietly. “Bon Bon and Lyra have been so generous to me in transitioning to my new job. I don’t want to ask them to borrow any more money.” Letting out another heavy sigh she continued, “I guess I’m skipping lunch again this week.”

“WHAT?” came a voice from behind her. “What do you mean “again?””

Derpy grimaced. She hadn’t intended for Dinky to find that out. She slowly turned around. “Dinky, what are you doing up? It’s past your bedtime.”

Dinky glared back at her. “I heard a commotion going on and I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” Her eyes narrowing further she repeated, “What did you mean? How long have you been skipping lunch?”

Derpy just shrugged. “A few weeks. No matter how much I budget and scrimp and save I just don’t make enough to run a household and eat three meals a day.”

Tears began to come down Dinky’s eyes. “You never told me that.”

“Because you didn’t need to know.” She turned away from her daughter, unable to meet her penetrating eyes. Setting her head on her hooves again she said, “I knew if I told you you’d just worry about me. Isn’t it enough you have your own problems with bullies?”

Dinky felt confused. “But-but-but you always make sure I have breakfast and pack me a lunch and have a good dinner. And you always buy me a nice gift each time you get paid.”

A sense of guilt came over the mare. “That’s because you’re a child. You shouldn’t have to suffer for my stupidity and mistakes.” She wiped her eyes as more tears came down her eyes.

“Mom…” Dinky was crying now too. “You can’t do this all on your own! You need help!”

“I’m fine, Dinky. I’m making things work. I’m not usually so emotional about money. I’m just still worked up because of the fight you had.”

Dinky felt a pang in her heart. “Am I… am I just in the way then?”

“Of course not.”

“Why bother lying?” Dinky sniffed, her eyes brimming with tears. “You already told me how you feel about me before.”

“What are you talking about, muffin?” she asked as she turned toward her daughter.

In a mocking tone she imitated her mother’s voice and said, “I regret everything to do with that stallion.”

Derpy felt annoyance at the mention of him but she replied in a calm voice, “Yes. I said that. What about it?”

Dinky’s face puffed up. “See? You admit it! You hate me!”

Derpy cocked an eyebrow. “What?”

“So you regret everything to do with my dad? Well, isn’t one of the things you did with him to create ME?” Dinky sniffed, tears starting to pour down her cheeks. “So I guess you wish I was never born then!” Turning around she sat on the floor and curled up into a ball as she began sobbing a little.

Derpy’s mouth hung open, horror in her eyes. Jumping up she said, “No! No! No, no, no, no, no, no, no!” Running over to her daughter she picked Dinky up, pulling her child to her. “No, Dinky! Not at all! That’s the furthest thing from the truth there is!”

Dinky pulled out of her mother’s hold. “Why should I believe you? If you’re really being serious than tell me the truth already! How long are you going to hide me from my dad? You never mention him. You never talk about him. I don’t even know what he looks like! What, are you afraid I’ll like him better than you?”

Dinky’s accusations stung. Derpy let out a heavy breath. “You want to know about your father? Fine! I knew I would have to tell you one day. I just never wanted that day to come. Maybe then you’ll understand why I despise him so much.”

Storming over to a file cabinet she pulled out a drawer so forcefully it went flying out of her hooves, slamming into a wall.

She went rummaging through some files until she came out with a photograph. She pushed it into Dinky’s hooves. She saw a unicorn stallion with his hoof around her mom’s shoulders. They were both dressed up in fancy outfits with their hair styled and slicked. Both of them were wearing crowns. There was a spotlight on them, and they looked to be on a stage. Derpy looked so happy, while the stallion looked cocky and self-assured. He had green eyes, a brown coat, and a light blonde mane.

After a few seconds she ripped the picture from Dinky and threw it on the ground. “I only keep that picture because I can’t completely throw him away. Hate him or not there’s still a piece of him inside you.”

Dinky was hesitant. She had never heard her mom talk with such venom before. “So… what happened between you two?”

“I first met him in high school. I was one of the unpopular ones. Everyone thought it was amusing to mock me for my eyes, like I was below them for something I couldn’t even help. Bon Bon and Lyra were my only friends, but they couldn’t always be there to stand up for me.”

Memories long locked away began surfacing, and she could almost feel herself back in time.
***
“Hey, there! It’s Derpy! What’s she gonna break next? Who knows?”

“Maybe it’s intelligent. We should try to communicate with it. DUH! STU-PID!”

“What a freak! I’ve heard of four-eyes, but never magnet eyes. That’s the only reason I can think of for why they never want to be near each other.”
***
“I started crying right there. The next thing I knew the one who called me a freak went flying.”
***
“Hey!” said the stallion, rubbing his eye. “Who in the he-he-he-hello.” He let out a nervous laugh as he saw the pony standing there.
***
“That’s when I first met him: Shooting Star. He had socked the pony making fun of me good, giving him a black eye.”
***
“So,” said Shooting Star, looking around. “You all saw that, right? Poor guy walked right into a doorknob. Riiiight?”

Everyone else quickly nodded.

“Now,” Shooting Star said, pulling the pony up to his hooves, “I think you should apologize to the little lady, or I’ll give you a matching set again.” He lifted his hoof, gently tapping the stallion’s other eye.

“Y-y-yes. Right away!” He bowed his head toward Derpy. “I’m very sorry for my comments. Please forgive me.”

“Does anyone ELSE here want to make fun of her eyes?” He lifted up a hoof. “Maybe I’ll let someone else experience what it’s like to have mismatched eyes for a while.”

A hush went over the crowd, everyone sweating. They all looked at the ground or each other or the ceiling, but no one dared to look at him. “That’s what I thought.”
***
“When the pony went to start a fight and he saw Shooting Star he quickly got over his anger. Shooting Star was the lead player in the Bucking Bronco’s, our school sports team. His father was one of the wealthiest in town, and so with those two factors he had a lot of influence and popularity. Going against him was asking for trouble of the worst sort. No one messed with him, and he basically ran the school. Even the teachers barely said anything to him.

“The crowd left soon after, not wanting to face his wrath if he changed his mind, leaving only me and him. I was so surprised. I really didn’t know what to say.
***
“Umm, thanks,” said Derpy, blushing. “I really appreciate it.”

He smirked, giving one of his confident looks. “No prob. Those guys get swelled heads if you don’t knock them down a peg once in a while.”

Derpy saw him staring at her, and she started feeling self-conscious. She turned her head away, looking at the ground. She let out a little squeak as she felt his hoof on her chin. “W-what are you doing?”

He let out a little snicker as they met eyes again. “So that’s what all the fuss is about? Because your eyes don’t point in the same direction? Sheesh. If you’re going to bully someone you’d think you could at least do it for something of more substance.

“I actually think they’re kinda cute like that. It certainly makes you more unique than all the other ponies I know.”

Derpy’s blush went from a little tinge to covering both her cheeks. Her face felt red hot. This was the first time anyone had ever complimented her eye disorder. She put her hooves on her face with an embarrassed giggle as she turned her head to the side.

“Come on,” he said with a laugh. “Stop turning away. Give me a smile and show them you’re not gonna let them get you down.”

Her face still flushed she forced a smile on her face. It felt like a dream. The most popular stallion in school was talking to her.

“That’s better. Don’t ever lose that smile. Those bums aren’t worth a single frown. I’ll prove that to you. Give me just an hour or two of your time and I promise no one will ever make fun of your eyes again.”

Derpy just blinked a few times, confused. She let out a sigh. “That would be lovely, but I don’t see how you’re gonna do that.”

He put his hoof out. “You wanna go out for a milkshake later?”

Derpy just blinked, sure that she had misheard him. “Excuse me?”

“After school let’s hit up Sugarcube Corner and get some milkshakes. What do you say?”

She heard it a second time, but she still didn’t believe it. In order to distract herself she asked, “Um, but what does that have to do with ponies bullying me?” She was still having a hard time believing the most popular pony wanted anything to do with the least popular pony.

He let out a mischievous laugh. “Once other ponies see you with me they won’t dare open their mouth to say anything bad about you. You just saw what happened a few minutes ago. Every single one of those ponies, including the one I hit, will swear he walked into a door until their dying day.”

Lifting his hoof he pushed a stray strand of hair away from her face. “So what’s your answer?”

Derpy looked at the ground, tears starting to form in her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Shooting Star asked, a concerned tone in his voice.

“I’m a loser and a washout. I appreciate you sticking up for me, but I just can’t accept that someone like you would want to go on a date with me. I’d only bring your reputation down. And,” she closed her eyes as a few tears dripped down, “I can just see it. I head to Sugarcube Corner and wait at the table, and then you never show up. And you and all your buddies get a laugh at how gullible and stupid I am.”

Shooting Star shook his head. “No way! Not at all. What kinda stallion do you think I am?”

Derpy looked up slightly. “Your dad is rich and you’re an athlete. Surely you can find a better mare than me.”

Shooting Star huffed, letting out a playful sigh. “Do you know why I’m asking you out?”

Derpy just shrugged, wiping away the tears coming down her face.

“Because I’m sick of all the shallow mares that surround me. Every day they gather around me, sucking up to me and hanging on my every word, but there isn’t a real one among them. They’re not actually interested in me as a pony, only for the prestige that comes with being close to me, and the hopes that they can get a life on easy street because of my family’s wealth. To be honest I’m getting fed up with it.

“So really I’m just looking for a change of pace. It’s a win-win scenario for both of us. All those idiots who like to mock you will leave you alone, and I get to know someone who has more on their mind than just what they can get out of me. Besides, once I show that I’m taken most of the phonies should back off. Well, even if I start dating you they’ll be watching like a hawk and hoping you mess up so they can flock to me again. All the talk of the popular ponies and the shallow mares gets really tiresome after a while. It’ll be nice to have a change of pace and really get to know someone who is a little lower on the popularity ladder.”

He lifted his hoof again, gently rubbing her face. “So come on. Stop those tears and give me an answer.”

Derpy looked at him, still feeling a little uncertain. She could still imagine it all being a big joke. She didn’t want to get her hopes up. “So what if I say no? Are you gonna strike me too?”

He let out a snicker. “Ah, see. This is why I need a mare like you. It’s nice to see someone not falling over themselves to worship me.

“How about this? I’ll meet you after school and we’ll walk to the sweet shop together, then you won’t have to be worried about me not showing up. At least that way the worst that will happen if I let you down is you have to walk home alone, hmm?”

Derpy took a deep breath. “Well… okay. I’d love to, um, go out with you.”

“Sounds great. I’ll meet you near the front entrance after school.”

***

Dinky looked up as her mom paused. There was a wistful look on her face. “Mom?”

“Huh?” She shook her head a bit to focus.

“If I was born I guess that means he showed up.”

“Yes… he did.”

“So come on!” She poked her mother, anxious excitement on her face. “Continue the story!”

Derpy closed her eyes and sighed. “Fine.”

***

After school Derpy was pacing restlessly back and forth. A part of her felt like just running home. It had to be a trick. There was something behind it. Maybe he wanted to play a prank on her. Was she about to be humiliated in front of the whole school? Wasn’t she mocked enough already?

Her heart was racing and each second felt like an eternity. She felt out of breath, even though she was barely moving.

Lines of mares and stallions were filing out. Some of them stayed around the school, chatting before heading for home.

Interrupting her thoughts was a derisive voice. “Move it, freak eyes!” A mare shoved her, knocking her to the ground. Derpy was so shocked she couldn’t react at first. Tears began forming in her eyes as the laughter and name-calling started. She really wanted to just crawl into a hole and hide.

As she looked the mare and her group of friends ran over to a stallion, fangirling. She gasped as she saw it was Shooting Star. He didn’t look happy. “Great!” she muttered to herself. “Not only do I look like an idiot in front of everyone else, but now I have to look like an idiot in front of him too.” There was no way he was going to want to lower his reputation in front of a fool like her.

Shooting Star pushed his way through the giggling girls, walking along the path.

Clop clop clop. She heard the sound of his hooves on the pavement as he got closer and closer. Derpy prayed he would just continue walking and not notice her.

When he was right next to her he sat down and used both his hooves to pull her back up. Rounding on the surprised girls he said nastily, “You want to tell me why you think it’s okay to shove a girl and mock her and then expect me to want you by my side?”

The mare looked speechless. “Um, I, um-”

“I’m looking for more than the shallow attention horses like you, so grow up and get a life. From now on anyone who messes with my mare will have to answer to me.” With that he put a hoof around Derpy and pulled her to him.

A hush went over the crowd as every head turned to him.

Derpy’s face burned at the crowd all looking toward her. The expressions ranged from surprised and shocked, to confused, and, most prevalent of all, outrage from the mares.

“Do-I-make-myself-clear?” He said each word slowly and deliberately.

“Y-y-yes, Shooting Star.”

“Good! Now let’s go, baby.”

It took Derpy a few seconds before his words penetrated her brain. “O-okay. Sure.” She began walking, her legs feeling shaky.

After they had left the school yard behind and were walking along the grass Shooting Star laughed and said, “Man, that felt great!” He looked over at her. “Wouldn’t you agree? Hmm? Are you crying again?”

Derpy wiped her face, bowing her head. “I’m sorry!”

His head tilted a little. “For what?”

“For not believing in you.”

Putting a hoof around her he mussed up her mane a bit. “Come on! I told you I got your back. Just wait until you see how they treat you tomorrow. So long as you got my backing they won’t have the courage to be disrespectful to you anymore. All the idiots who wouldn’t even give you a chance before will want to talk to you now.”

Derpy giggled, gently pushing his hoof away. He had really done it. Publicly, right in front of everyone, he had pledged himself to her. She couldn’t deny it now. He was being truthful. She let out a long breath, feeling like a ton of stress and pain was leaving along with it. He really was being genuine, and that felt like the greatest thing.

The two of them chatted about inconsequential things on the way to the shop. When they arrived they took a corner booth, ordering two shakes. Derpy was a lot more open in talking, leaving behind her shyness and suspicion. She laughed and joked and blushed, feeling like the luckiest mare in the world. Shooting Star was a fascinating pony to her. She certainly never thought she’d be worth more than a passing glance to a star like him, but he actually did value her.

The highlight of her date was seeing another one of her worst bully’s mouth drop when she saw the two of them together. The mare sputtered incoherently for a few seconds, and Derpy just waved hello to her, suppressing the urge to be cocky about it. Shooting Star had said that he wanted to get to know her better because she was different from all the other arrogant mares, so it wouldn’t do to get a swelled head over her position.

At the end of their date he paid for their shakes and walked her home.

“I had a lot of fun today,” Shooting Star said as they stood in front of her front door.

“Same here!” Derpy said in an overly excitable tone, her voice squeaking. She blushed, giving an awkward smile. “I’m sorry. I’m-I just… I-I-I-” She giggled, her cheeks turning a deeper pink. “Oh, I’m sorry. I just didn’t know life could feel this good.”

Shooting Star grinned back at her. “Well, I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s just like I thought. You’re different. You certainly don’t talk all the same garbage the so-called popular girls do. They’re all just carbon copies of each other.

“You wanna go out again sometime?”

Not trusting herself to speak she simply nodded.

“Great. I’ll see you at school tomorrow.” He gave her a quick peck on the cheek and winked at her before walking away. “See ya.”

Derpy blinked in surprise, putting a hoof to her cheek. She let out a squeal, hurrying inside to her room. “What a day!” she yelled out to the air. She looked at herself in the mirror and saw her cheeks were still flushed. She was used to blushing from embarrassment from all the jerks and bullies who relentlessly berated her. This was the first day that she could recall happy embarrassment. She took out her brush and began combing her mane, happy tears pouring down her eyes.

The rest of the day she was anxious and excited and nervous and joyful and so many other mixes of emotions she couldn’t comprehend them all. She had never felt like this before.

It seemed like this was a day of new firsts. When she went to sleep that night she didn’t dread going to school in the morning. She couldn’t recall the last time she had felt that way.

She woke up in the morning feeling refreshed. Going to school that day was just as glorious as it had been in her dreams. Just like Shooting Star promised not a single pony said a word about her eyes. Quite a few ponies engaged her in conversation, some of them even apologizing and admitting they had only done it to fit in.

The ponies who usually made fun of her gave her a wide berth. Everywhere she walked ponies finally treated her like an equal instead of as inferior.

It was like a dream. She just hoped she didn’t wake up soon.

***

“Mom?” said Dinky.

“Yes, honey?”

“I don’t get it.”

“Get what?”

“Dad attacked someone mocking you, defended you in front of the whole school, and helped make you sorta popular. He sounds like a perfect gentlecolt. So why are you so mad at him?”

“Over the coming months we grew closer and closer. I went from the school outcast to one of the most popular in school. I never descended to their level. I stuck around the others who weren’t considered hot stuff. No matter what I did none of the other students dared cross me. I actually felt a little bad how scared they were of me running to Shooting Star and telling him anything.

“He pushed me to laugh at my eye condition, insisting that they only went after me for it because I made it so obvious it bothered me. He bought me presents to let me know he was thinking of me, which always brightened my day. I cheered him on at his games and made him meals.

“Near the end of sophomore year is where things began getting complicated. He invited me to the school prom. I accepted, of course. Before I met him I probably wouldn’t have even bothered to go. He bought me the most lovely dress. I spent hours doing my hair. My parents were so happy for me.

“We danced most of the night away. At the end we were both announced as prom king and queen. With the spotlight on me and him I could hear the cheering of hundreds of students. I truly loved everything about life. In that moment I felt I knew that that was what life was all about. No matter how bad things get we all should live simply to experience that one golden time where everything feels right.

“When we get back to my place I invited him in for a bit. My parents left a note saying they were going out for the night so not to wait up for them.

“So there we were in my room. I slipped off my dress and let down my mane. I looked at the picture of the two of us, the one I showed you earlier, and…”

Dinky waited, but her mother didn’t complete her sentence. “And what?”

There was a profound sadness on the mare’s face as she said, “In the craziness of that night… the joy, the euphoria, the gratefulness and thankfulness I felt to Shooting Star for making it all happen… I wasn’t thinking right. He had given me so much, without asking for anything but my company. He had given me so much, and so I wanted to give him back something special to show him just how much he meant to me. I wanted to show him he was the most special stallion I knew, and that there would never be another like him. I decided to show him I loved him and no other by giving the gift you can only give once.”

Dinky’s eyebrow rose. “What’s that?” A tinge appeared on her mother’s face, but she didn’t answer. “Come on! What was it?”

After a very long silence she said, “I presented myself to him. After he asked and I confirmed that it was what I wanted… we mated.” Dinky’s eyes went wide. “It was an extreme experience for sure. Sometimes painful, but I didn’t care about that so long as he was happy.

“I think I must have passed out at some point because of the intensity of the feelings going through me, because it felt like the next thing I knew we were both in my bed under the covers. He asked me if I was alright. I felt a little sore, but it didn’t mean a thing to me. I snuggled up close to him, my heart full of my love for him. I held him close and closed my eyes. At the time I felt I could die happy. I had become a real mare and as I drifted off I thought of our future. Of marriage and foals and getting our own place.”

Tears came down her eyes as she recalled that night. Talking about it made her relive the feelings, making her feel like she had gone back in time to when it happened.

Seeing her mom crying made her reluctant to ask, but finally Dinky intruded on the silence. “Is… is that how I was created?”

Derpy wiped her face, giving a little nod. “In my recklessness I hadn’t thought to have either of us use birth control. “

Dinky could see the pain in her mom’s eyes and hear how quiet her voice had gotten, and she found she wasn’t all that interested to hear the rest. She knew something bad was coming. “It’s okay, mom. You don’t have to say anymore.”

Derpy just shook her head as another few tears came down. “No. You deserve to know the truth. I put it off for as long as I could, but now that I’ve started I’m not stopping. You’re the one who made me revisit all these memories, and I don’t want to have to ever think about them again after today.”

Dinky looked at the ground, her stomach churning and her heart beginning to speed up.

“When I woke up in the morning he was gone. He left me a note saying it was for the best, because my parents would surely flip if they caught us in bed together. He was right, of course.

“I rushed to the bathroom and washed up, trying to hide any evidence that a boy had been there alone with me.

“When I went to the kitchen and saw my parents I put on a big smile and acted like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

“Soon enough my dreams gave way to reality. Shooting Star had been distant from me all of a sudden. When I finally managed to confront him about it he claimed that it was a necessary thing because I was too young to be doing things like that. I accepted that.

“After a few weeks I began having odd symptoms. I thought I had a fever or a bug, so I went to the doctor. Imagine my surprise when I found out that I was actually pregnant. For some reason, up until that point, I never even considered the thought that I could get pregnant. It never crossed my mind. All my worries and concerns were about my parents finding out what I did and, yes, that I was too young to be mating with stallions.

“Looking at myself in the mirror I could see a scared mare on the verge of a panic attack. I had no idea what to do. I thought of all the stories that would be told about me. I thought of how upset and disappointed my parents would be. I was still in school with over two years left to go.

“The next day I went to see Shooting. I was freaking, crying my eyes out. When I asked him what I should do I couldn’t believe his response.”

***

“Pregnant?” said Shooting, a calm expression on his face.

“Yes!” said Derpy, tears pouring down her eyes. “I’m feeling so lost! I don’t know what to do. Shooting! Shooting!” She ran over and hugged him. “W-what should we do?”

“We? That’s YOUR problem.”

“Wha-what?” she said disbelievingly as she looked up at him.

He pushed her away from him. “Look, babe. It was a fun six months with you, but I got what I wanted so now I’ve lost interest in you.”

Derpy blinked repeatedly, unable to comprehend what she was hearing. “What are you saying, Shooting?”

He rolled his eyes. “Tch. Do I need to spell it out for you? Remember what happened after the prom? That was my end goal all along.

“I was being serious when I said I needed a break from all the idiots who surrounded me, but I already had a mare lined up who’s more my speed for a while now. She’s someone also of wealth and prominence who fits more into my social class than a rube like you. No offense, of course.” The last line was dripping with sarcasm.

Tears began forming in her eyes. “So I… I was just a fling for you?”

“Ding ding ding! But do you really have the right to complain? After all, because of me all your bullies have gone by the wayside, you’ve made a bunch of friends, and you had the honor of having me as your first.

“Of course, you’re always free to go around and talk about what a jerk I am. But, really, who’s gonna listen to you? You’ve seen how much authority I command first hoof. The only thing you’ll get in return for starting a hate campaign against me is losing every one of the perks you got from being my girl. You should be grateful for that much.

“I had my fun, but there’s no more entertainment to be had here. So, I wish you luck with the brat.” He patted her head and began walking past her without another word.

***

Derpy’s eyes were clenched shut. “Broken doesn’t even come close to describing the feeling in my heart. Shattered into a million pieces and scattered like dust is a more correct term. In the time of my life when I was at my most scared and most vulnerable… at the time when I most needed comfort and support… I was abandoned by the one I thought I was going to spend my life with. And just to kick more sand in my face he flat out told me he never truly cared about me. I was just someone to pass the time with before something better came along.”

Dinky cried and sniffed. She found it unbelievable that anyone could be that cold.

“Left alone with no one else to turn to I almost made the biggest mistake of my life. In my fear and panic and heartache I came close to solving my pregnancy problem in a permanent way. However, when I went to the hospital for the procedure and they were about to give me the stuff to knock me out I suddenly realized exactly what I was about to do. I was about to destroy an innocent life that had never done anything wrong. I was the one who made the mistake. Why should I take it out on my unborn child?

“I ran out of the hospital. When I got home I must have spent over an hour just rubbing my stomach and apologizing and crying my eyes out. I promised myself right then and there that no matter what happened I was going to have the baby, and I was going to keep it and raise it.

“When I finally calmed down a little I went and told my parents the news. Needless to say they didn’t approve. I lied about Shooting Star, though. He was right. He had too much power to try to make a move against him. I had to put on a smile and act like everything was alright, because I was afraid my dad would lose it if he heard what Shooting Star had done to me, and I was scared of what Shooting Star or his family would do to my family if we tried to go against him.

“School was basically the same. Shooting Star considered his good guy reputation too great to say he was only using me. He claimed that we both agreed to split apart, and I did nothing to dissuade that notion. We both put on an act whenever we saw each other. We pretended to be friendly when I’m sure he wanted to sneer and I wanted to cry.

“I couldn’t hide my pregnancy forever. My mom and dad flat out refused to let me stay home when I began to show too much to hide it anymore. I pleaded for them to home school me, but they told me that I had to be responsible for my choices. Whispers followed me around school. Because me and Shooting Star gave off the illusion we were both still on good terms no one would say anything to my face, but I’m sure a bunch of them realized who the father was. My closest friends were tactful enough not to probe into the matter. They could tell I was embarrassed enough by it.

“I lied a lot in the coming months. I always had an excuse for why Shooting Star wasn’t around anymore. I’d go out and meander around in some far off part of town where I knew I wouldn’t run into my parents so I could say I went to visit him. Even on the day of your birth I had to lie about Shooting Star. I claimed he was out of town playing another sports team, which is why he couldn’t be there for me.

“After a few hours of pain and discomfort out you came. The doctors cleaned you up, wrapped you in a warm blanket, and handed you to me.” Derpy’s eyes were closed again, but this time she had a tender smile on her face. “That was the happiest moment of my life. You were so cute… so beautiful. Your coat was so smooth, and you looked so peaceful. I held you to me like I’m doing right now, and all felt right in the world again.

“But of course, just like before, reality set in. I was a single mother still living at home and in high school. My mother had given me a bunch of instructions and the two of them had chipped in to buy me new baby supplies or gave me some of my old baby things they had stored in the attic. Mom graciously offered to foalsit you whenever I was in school.

“I always felt tired. Because I was so busy with school and homework and sleeping I didn’t get to spend as much time with you as I wanted to. It all came to a head when one day I heard you call your grandma “mom.” From that day on I resolved to make more time for you. As soon as I got home I’d take you from my mother and care for you until you went to sleep. Of course, depending on how fussy you were feeling it could be many hours. On top of that I would still have to finish all my homework and sleep. I tried to do everything by myself as much as I could, and I knew I would burn out sooner or later, but you’re my daughter, and I couldn’t bear to see you call anyone else your mom.

“The only truly smart thing I did with my life was decide to stay in school. I was so tempted to drop out so I’d have more time to dedicate to you, but I forced myself to stay. Like I said earlier I knew I’d have to tell you all this one day. I wanted to set a good example for you, so you couldn’t ever say I endorsed running away from your problems.

“Even after I graduated things didn’t get much easier. Pride got in the way of good judgment. I grew tired of burdening my parents with all my problems, so I got a job. The first chance I got I moved out. Shortly after that I lost them in an accident. Both of them had left me a sizable inheritance. Besides what I had to pay out for funeral costs and for things I was desperate in need for I put almost all of that money into an account for you for when you get older.

“At that point I truly think I would have broken for good… had it not been for you.” She pulled Dinky closer. “In the worst time of my life you always helped me get by. Whenever I felt like quitting you were always there to remind me why I had to keep going.

“A few years passed. When you were four years old I decided to contact Shooting for the first time in a long while. There were nights where I couldn’t sleep, where all I could think about was him. And because of you it’s not like I could ever forget what we wrought.

“I sent him a letter. All it really was was about four sentences and another envelope with some pictures of you. I told him that I was doing okay, and I thought he might like to see what his daughter looked like.”

Derpy began shaking, and Dinky could hear her growl. “M-mom? Are you okay?”

“No! He sent the letter back to me. The envelope was sent back in a bigger envelope, which means he opened it. However, the envelope with the pictures of you was still sealed.

“I’ve had a lot of time to reconcile a lot of facts about what happened between us. I can accept the fact that he used me. I can accept that he wanted a more wealthy and socialite mare. I can accept that he didn’t want to be in your life because he didn’t want a child holding him back from his career. All of those are things I’ve been able to get over. However, pretending he never had a child at all is beyond unforgivable. He didn’t have any interest in what you looked like. He never once asked if I needed money for you. He never once ever asked about you. It’s one thing if he didn’t give a fig about me, but he helped to create you. You’re one half of him. He didn’t have to love me, but he should have at least felt something for his own daughter!”

Derpy huffed, breathing heavily through her nose as she let out a snort. The anger slowly faded and she said, “Earlier… when I was talking about my regrets… I was talking solely about me. I regret being taken in by his act. I regret constantly lying to my parents. I regret giving myself to the first stallion that showed me some kindness. I regret getting pregnant before I was ready to be a mom. I regret these stupid eyes. I regret my klutziness. I regret my stupidity and dimwittedness. The list just goes on and on and on.” Derpy sighed. Picking her daughter up she set her on the floor. “Go back to bed now, Dinky. I need to be alone right now.”

Dinky didn’t want to leave. She could see her mom was in pain. “But I don’t want to go.”

“Dinky, I asked you nicely the first time. I don’t want to raise my voice.”

“Mom…” A tear came down her eye. “I’m sorry! If I hadn’t asked-”

“None of it is your fault, Dinky. Now please leave.”

Dinky looked at the floor, then back up at her mom. She repeated this a few times, then slowly turned around and headed for the door. When she got there she turned her head and said, “I love you, mommy! You know that, don’t you?” Derpy didn’t answer. Her mother appeared to be in her own world. With a heavy heart she left the room, shutting the door behind her.

It didn’t take long before Dinky heard it: Her mother let out a long, mournful wail before dissolving into uncontrollable sobbing. Dinky closed her eyes, collapsing against a wall as she put her hoof over her heart and began sobbing right along with her mother.

Chapter 3: The end of regrets.

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After a period of time Derpy found herself empty of feelings. Her mind was blank again. Her head hurt from her crying fit. Her throat felt parched, but she couldn’t muster the energy to get up. Reliving the regrets of the past only made her wonder how competent of a mother she really was.

With a groan she forced herself to turn over, flopping off the bed. The jolt of pain as she collided with the floor lent some strength to her, like the physical pain was leeching off of her emotional pain. Forcing herself up on her hooves she slowly walked towards her door. She opened it, and she let out a little groan as she saw Dinky sitting against the wall right next to the door. She was curled up into a ball, her little body shaking.

“Dinky.” She took a deep breath. “Why didn’t you go to bed? You didn’t need to hear that.”

Dinky looked up at her with her good eye, tears still leaking down her soaked coat. “You… you don’t have to do everything alone. I told you I wanted to help you. You always help me. So if you wouldn’t let me be right next to you I still wanted to share your pain, because I was the one who made you think about all those painful memories.”

Derpy let out a tired sigh. “It’s like I keep telling you, Dinky. None of this is your fault. It’s mine, okay? So just be the kid you are and stop worrying about all the adult problems.” She left Dinky behind as she went down to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water. She drank it down, but still felt parched. She had to drink two more glasses before she felt satisfied. Her head was still throbbing, and she couldn’t wait to go to bed. Maybe things would look better in the morning.

When she got back upstairs she saw no sign of Dinky, so she assumed her daughter went back to her room. That notion was broken when she went into her room and saw Dinky sitting on her bed. She let out an annoyed huff, not saying a word as she got under the covers and turned over on her side, away from her daughter.

Dinky started crying again. “So now you’re just going to ignore me?”

In a short voice she replied, “I promised when you were born that I would never make you suffer for my problems and mistakes. I told you what you wanted to know, so go to bed. It’s not your problem what dumb things I did in the past, alright?”

“Do you think I’m not suffering now because of how much pain you’re in?”

“I’ll deal with it! I always have! Alone! Without any stupid stallion by my side.” Her anger rose. Why wouldn’t Dinky just leave her alone? She flipped over, sitting up. “Besides, wasn’t it better when I wasn’t looking at you? After all, you didn’t want to look at me before. “I can’t look at you right now, mom. THOSE EYES!” Hmph!” She clicked her tongue. “Maybe you’re more like your father than I thought. At least YOU’RE normal, unlike a freak like me!”

Dinky’s mouth hung open, her eyes going wide for a few moments before they narrowed to slits and she let out a shuddering breath as her mind grew hazy with rage.

Derpy recoiled, seeing stars as Dinky slapped her.

“HOW DARE YOU!” Furious tears poured down her face. “I’m nothing like that jerk! I got into that fight at school to DEFEND you! Those two rich snobs made fun of your eye condition and called you a freak, and I lost it. I wanted to smash them into the ground for what they said. “Oh, your mom always has one eye on you. NO! I mean ONE… EYE! She’s always looking at you and the couch. You and the fridge!” It made me so mad.

“YOU’RE NOT A FREAK! YOU are normal too! You understand me? It doesn’t matter one bit to me if your eyes are lopsided. I never thought you were any different than the other mom’s and dad’s I’ve seen. I never cared that your eyes don’t point in the same direction. It doesn’t stop you from doing your best to raise me and teach me and be a good mom.

“I LOVE YOU! I’ve always loved you! And I wouldn’t want any other mare for my mom. You’re my one and only, and I’ll always be by your side. YOU GOT THAT? But you need to trust me too. I’m not just a stupid kid anymore! I’m growing up. I mean, I get that I won’t always understand what you’re talking about, but sometimes you just need someone to listen and give you a hug. I can do that!

“You told me about your mistakes, and now it’s time to get over it! It’s time to stop blaming yourself and punishing yourself. You don’t have to be so strong all the time. You don’t always have to try to make it by alone. It’s not gonna destroy me to let me see you crying. It destroys me much more to see you suffering and not asking for help when you need it the most.

“I’m here for you, mom, and I’m not going anywhere. Unlike that monster I defended you because I love you. I fought for you because I love you. I’m here, not because I want to use you or I’m expecting anything, but because I want to be here for you. Okay?”

It was quiet between them for a while. “Dinky,” started her mother. From the tone Dinky was sure her mom was going to start her usual spiel of her being too young, but before Dinky could voice her objections Derpy continued, “I need a hug.”

Dinky wore a small smile as she hopped onto Derpy’s lap. She held onto her mother, closing her eyes as she said gently, “It’s time to forgive yourself. You always forgive me whenever I screw up, but you need to forgive yourself too. Stop hiding away alone and trying to do everything by yourself. We’re a team, aren’t we? So I’ll share your pain, just like you always do for me, because seeing you happy makes me happy too.”

Tears poured down the mare’s face as she held her daughter close. “Dinky, I told you before that I have many, many regrets about the things I‘ve done in my life, but not a single regret I have is aimed at you. You… you’re the one and only thing I’ve never once regretted doing with my life, and that’s why I promised myself I would never let you suffer for my choices. That’s why I always made sure you eat well and get something a little special every paycheck, even if it means I have to make due with a little less. As a parent I felt it was my duty to sacrifice and suffer for you, but really… you’re right. I deceived myself into making myself believe that, when really I was only trying to punish and hurt myself for all the foolish decisions I’ve made.”

She gave Dinky a tender kiss on her forehead. “Thank you, Dinky. I’m sorry for taking things out on you. I guess, like you said, I’ve been suffering silently for far too long. I just… I didn’t want to burden you. It’s easy for me as your mom to listen to your childish problems because I’ve already been there myself when I was your age and I can offer my advice on the matter. But you don’t know anything about running a household, making money, and being a parent.”

Derpy took a deep breath. “I’ve made up my mind. I’m letting the past go as of tonight. I’ve told you the truth, I’ve felt the pain, and now it’s time to release it.”

Dinky smiled, kissing her mom back. “I’m glad to hear it!”

Derpy tilted her head a little, joy on her face at her daughter’s happiness.

“You know, mom, I wish you had just been more honest with me from the start. You always make me too big of a lunch. I usually wind up either giving some of it away or just throwing whatever I can’t finish in the trash.”

She let out a little sigh. “You’re right. I’ve been a fool. I just didn’t want you to worry about me. Now that it’s all out in the open I’m already feeling like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”

“Mmm.” Dinky snuggled into her mother, but her smile faded as something came to mind. “Mom?”

“Yes?”

“I don’t want to cause you any more pain, but you said you didn’t want to talk about dad again after tonight so this is the only chance I’ll have to ask.”

“Ask away. I’m done crying over him.”

“Well, I guess I just… want to know what he’s doing now.”

“Are you planning to see him?” Derpy asked in a serious voice.

“No! I don’t EVER want to see him. He doesn’t care anything about me. I guess I’m just curious.”

Derpy relaxed. Shooting Star was Dinky’s father, like it or not, so she couldn’t stop Dinky if she wanted to make the attempt to contact him. She just knew that the end result would be Dinky that would end up devastated. She felt relieved that Dinky was making the smart decision.

“Following him dumping me he got a scholarship for a university. He got with that mare he told me about, another pony with status, money, and authority. He became a sports big star. After school ended I didn’t see him anymore.

“Following that event where he sent back the pictures I was so furious I didn’t know what to do. As I said earlier I’ve come to terms with a lot of the mistakes I made in my relationship with Shooting, but that crossed the line for me on so many levels. I wanted to make him pay. I wanted to see him suffer. Anger and revenge were the only things on my mind for a while.”

Dinky looked up into her mother’s face. She couldn’t tell what her mother was feeling. “So what did you do? You said you never tried anything before because you said you were scared of him ruining your life.”

“Well, in the end I didn’t do anything. But I did have a big plan. I had an idea that would ruin his status, his reputation, and turn him into an even bigger outcast than I had been. And to top it all off he would have to be your father like he should have been at the start.”

“How were you planning to do all that?”

“I got a ticket to one of his games. Because of his massive ego whenever he played a home game in Ponyville he would let a few ponies come up and talk about how helpful he had been to them. I was planning to disguise myself a little bit and be one of the ones picked out. Then, in front of everyone around I would tell the whole audience exactly what kind of pony Shooting really was. I would tell them all about the pony who used a mare as a fling and then abandoned her when he found out she was pregnant. A simple blood test would confirm he was your father. He could try to deny everything else, but he couldn’t escape that truth.

“A scandal of that level would send his precious great guy reputation crumbling to the ground. He would become hated and scorned and possibly kicked off his team. And it wouldn’t just affect him either. His dad was wealthy and prominent. If his son was accused of something like that it would hurt his dad’s reputation as well, possibly leading to him losing the wealth he relied on. He, in order to preserve what little reputation he had, would have to leave behind the mare he left me for and come back to care for you. It gave me a savage pleasure. For once he’d understand exactly what he had done to me. He would lose everything just like I had.”

In a quiet voice Dinky said, “So… why didn’t you do it?”

“Because vengeance was only a short-term success. Even if it did work it would cause many more problems than it solved. If Shooting lost everything he valued and felt forced to live with me he would despise me. Then there was the fact that after the way he played with my heart and used me I didn’t want to be near him anyway. There was also the possibility that he could weasel out of my accusations. True enough he couldn’t disprove being your father, but there was no proof of anything else. All anybody saw in public were two ponies very much in love. Up until he dumped me so coldly I thought he was the greatest stallion ever. Only those that had been screwed over by him would know how heartless he could be.

“As for why he wasn’t around to be your dad? There were any number of lies he could have used. He could have claimed I never told him. He could have said that I broke things off between us. He could have said I refused to let you near him and that I was only doing it to be a jerk or to milk him for money.

“Above all else, though, was the single most terrifying thought: that he might try to take you away from me. Looking at things from a logical standpoint I was a struggling single mother, barely making ends meet, with no nearby family and only a few friends as a support group. On his side he was popular, well-known, and had more than enough wealth to ensure you would live comfortably without worries the rest of your life.

“After losing my parents and the love of my life I just couldn’t bear the thought of losing you too. So I did nothing at all. I chose to keep you close to me and just do the best I could.” Giving Dinky a tender smile she kissed her daughter. “In the end I think it makes the most sense that you took after your dad and were born a unicorn.” She poked her daughter’s horn. “Because you make my life magical every day. No matter how badly I feel just thinking about you fills me with love and peace and happiness.”

Dinky gave her mother a teary smile. “Well, right back at you. It only makes sense that you have wings, because you’re my guardian angel!”

Both mother and daughter cried as they embraced. “I love you so much, Dinky!”

“I love you too, mom!”

“You know something… those bullies at school may be right, but maybe I should consider myself lucky to have this condition.”

“Huh?” Dinky pulled back in confusion.

“What was it they said? “I can only keep one eye on you?” Well, these eyes allow me to pull double duty. I can keep one eye on you, and one eye on a world that might try to hurt my baby. So even if others want to see me as a freak or a weirdo I wouldn’t be where I am today without these eyes.

“And even if Shooting was a dirtbag he still helped me make it through school without all the other jerks and bullies coming after me. Things haven’t been easy for me, that’s for sure, but all the other garbage and pain and despair mean nothing to me so long as I have the best gift in the world: you, my little Dinky. So long as I have you I can endure anything. Even when you’re not right next to me I look forward to seeing you whenever you’re not around.

“So you’re totally right. It’s time to stop looking at the past as one big mistake I can’t take back, and time to start looking at all the good things that came of my life.”

“I’m so proud of you, mom!”

Derpy snickered, rolling her eyes a little at her daughter talking to her like a filly. Getting a little more serious she said sincerely, “Thank you, Dinky. There were so many things I was holding onto that were only holding me back. If you hadn’t pushed me to open up I might have held onto them forever.”

“You’re welcome, mom. I’d do anything for you.”

With a slight blush Derpy said, “Dinky, can I ask you for a favor?”

“Of course!”

“Do you think I can borrow some bits from you?”

“Well, um… I don’t really have any. I mean, I got my piggy bank. I wouldn’t mind breaking that open for you, though.”

“Oh, no. I’m not talking about that. You might not have been paying much attention earlier, but I told you I deposited most of the inheritance I got from my parent’s accident into an account for your future. Each and every paycheck I’d deposit about twenty bits or so into that account so it will keep growing as you do. I know that I chose to do it, but I consider that money yours and yours alone, so I would never touch that money without your permission.”

“Of course you can borrow that money. All of it is yours. Take as much as you need.”

“I’m not asking for much. I just want to do some food shopping. I’ve been pushing you to always have a good meal, while I tried to eat as little as I could while still being able to function. It would be nice to eat lunch again.”

“See, mom? I know it was hard, but doesn’t it feel better to ask for help?”

“Ah, Dinky. Just because I’m older than you and know more doesn’t mean that you can’t teach me anything. You taught me a valuable lesson tonight, and I’m not gonna forget it. Like you said, we’re a team. I kept trying to shield you from all my problems, not even realizing that I was still hurting you regardless because kids aren’t as unobservant as we think they are. So from now on I give you my word that I’ll try to depend on you where I can. I can’t promise I’ll tell you everything or I’ll come solely to you because it isn’t fair to force all my burdens onto my child, but on every occasion I can we’ll work together to improve. Okay?”

Dinky nodded hard. “Good, because I don’t want to see you suffering by yourself anymore. Even Miss Cheerilee knows it. You’re a fantastic mare and a wonderful mother.”

“Thank you, Dinky.

“Now, it’s late. Now that everything is settled what do you say you go back to sleep? You do still have school in the morning.”

Dinky got a deep flush on her face. “Mom?”

“Yes?”

“Do you… do you think… I mean, just for tonight… that I can sleep with you?”

A tender smile came to the mare. “I think that’s just what I need. Get over here, you!”

Dinky let out a little happy squeal as Derpy grabbed her and began tickling her. Dinky squirmed and kicked and squealed as her mother ran her hooves over her sensitive tummy.

When she was done the mare got under the covers. “Well, are you coming or not?”

“Yes, yes,” she replied with a huff, getting her breath back. She joined her mother, the two of them face to face as they held each other.

Derpy closed her eyes. “Goodnight, my little sun and stars. You shine brighter than Celestia’s sun, are more beautiful than the night sky, and are more valuable than all the muffins in the world. I love you so much, my precious little baby.”

Dinky grinned at the compliments. “I love you just as much.” Dinky couldn’t think of something as thoughtful as what her mother had said, but she still wanted to do something special in return. Her mind was blank for a short time, but then she got an idea. Beginning to sing she said, “Stars and moons and air balloons…”

Derpy heard her daughter’s voice, and she began chuckling. “Dinky, are you really…”

She stopped singing, and said, “Do you remember this?”

“Of course I do. That was the lullaby I always used to sing you to sleep.”

“Do you want me to stop?”

A few warm tears poured down the mare’s face as she squeezed her daughter tight. “No. Keep going. I could listen to your voice all night.”

Dinky started over. “Stars and moons and air balloons, fluffy clouds to the horizon…”

Derpy began singing along, her mind going back in time to when Dinky was still a little foal. “…I’ll wrap you in rainbows, and rock you to sleep again.”

More and more tears came down her face as the two continued singing together. “Teddy bears of pink. Ducks and lambs of white. Don’t you cry, dear, I’m here now. I’ll be your nightlight.”

After a short time Derpy stopped to just listen to her daughter’s voice, loving every second of it.

Her mind turned to Shooting Star, and she thought, “He has everything he could ever want. He has wealth, riches, popularity, a good career, and a mare of class. I am poor, single, barely able to get by, plagued with lopsided eyes, clumsiness, and others who mock me. And I wouldn’t trade it away for anything, because I have you close by. He chose to give up his daughter for the sake of his career and status.” She squeezed her daughter close, peace in her heart. “Heh! His loss.”

She continued listening to the rhythmic tone of her daughter’s voice, feeling so calm and peaceful, feeling like she had everything she could ever need right in her hooves.

Chapter 4: Starting anew

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Derpy blinked, the morning sunlight rousing her from sleep. With half-lidded eyes she looked towards the clock she kept next to her bed, her vision still blurry. When her eyes focused she gasped as she saw how late it was. “Oh, no!” she said, shooting up. “My alarm didn’t go off.” Before she could do anything else she heard the voice of her daughter.

“Morning, mom!” Dinky said cheerily, her horn glowing gold as she hovered a tray in front of her. “I shut your alarm off so you could sleep in a bit today. Here!” She set the tray of food down on her mom’s lap. “I made you breakfast in bed.”

Derpy smiled down at her daughter. “Thank you, Dinky.”

“Downstairs on the kitchen table I put your lunch in a bag for you. You better eat it all. No more going hungry, understand?”

Derpy giggled. “Yes, my dear. I get it.”

Dinky hopped up on the bed and leaned against her mother. “Well, go on. Eat up. I worked really hard on it.”

Derpy had to laugh. “Listen to you, Dinky. Growing up so fast.”

“No.” She shook her head. “I’m not too grown up yet. I still need you a lot, just like you need me. I just want to ease your burden. We’re a team, and that’s never gonna change. I know I was acting like a brat recently, but that’s over. I’m gonna let you be there for me, but you have to promise to let me be there for you too.”

“You have my word.” She picked up the toast on the plate, munching on it. As she ate a few gentle tears came down her face as she held her daughter close. “I’m so lucky to have a daughter like you.”

“Hey, I’m only so amazing because I had a fantastic teacher.” She patted her mother on the head. “I have to go to school, but I hope you have a great day. Like I said yesterday I have to do my detention, so I’m gonna be home late.”

Derpy turned to her daughter, pushing her head until they were face to face. “Hmm. The swelling has gone down since yesterday. Hopefully in a few days it will be all healed up.” In a solemn voice she said, “Please promise me you won’t get into any more fights today. I know it may hurt to hear others make fun of me but why burden yourself with their problems?”

“I’ll do my best.”

With that she hopped off the bed, grabbing her saddlebag from her room and heading off to school. Thankfully Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon had the good sense not to provoke her again, so she kept her mouth shut as well.

After school she stayed for an hour, helping to clean the chalkboards, wash off the desks, empty the trash, and sweep the floor. The work wasn’t strenuous, and she didn’t have any complaints. She had done something she wasn’t supposed to, so it was only natural that she make up for it.

When she finished her assigned hour she bid Miss Cheerilee goodbye and headed for home. On the way there she heard a voice call out to her.

“Hey, Dinky!”

Dinky looked over, seeing Doctor Hooves. He was an earth pony with a light brown coat and darker brown hair, with an hourglass for a cutie mark. “Hey there!” She trotted over to him, seeing him replacing some broken boards on his fence.

“Whoa!” he said as he noticed her eye. “What happened to you?”

“Um, I got into a fight yesterday.”

“Well, that’s no good. I’m sure your mom was happy to hear that.”

Dinky let out a small embarrassed giggle. “Not at all. I got a detention for it, but I feel they deserved it. They made fun of my mom’s eyes and called her a freak.”

Doctor Hooves’ eyes narrowed a bit. “I can understand your frustration. That would hurt me too.

“Well, I’m not here to judge you. I just wanted to know if you had any plans tomorrow night?”

Dinky began snickering. “Why? You wanna ask me on a date?”

Doctor Hooves let out a pained laugh. “No! The Apples are planning a charity event tomorrow. It’s gonna be like a small amusement park, with little rides and stands, and it’s gonna end with a big fireworks show. All the proceeds are gonna go to Ponyville Hospital. I thought the three of us could go, and maybe we can get Lyra and Bon Bon too. Every bit helps, and it’s for a good cause.”

“That sounds awesome!” Dinky hopped up and down a few times. “I’d love to go! I’ll ask my mom about it when I get ho-”

Doctor Hooves gave Dinky a questioning look as she suddenly paused, staring off into space. “Are you alright, Dinky?”

She looked up towards him, an idea on her face. “Hey, Doctor?”

“Yes?”

“You’ve been a good friend of the family for a long time, just like Lyra and Bon Bon.”

“Yes?”

“So, how do you feel… about my mom?”

He blushed at the question. “Oh, um, I think she’s a great mare and a wonderful mother.”

Dinky felt her heart start racing when she saw him blushing. That was a good sign. “So, is that all? I mean, do you think maybe you, I don’t know… might possibly consider her special somepony material?”

“Dinky!” Doctor Hooves cried out, his face turning crimson. “What kinda question is that?”

JACKPOT! “So you do like her that way.”

He looked flustered, stuttering out, “N-now come on. I-I-I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Hopping onto the bottom rung of the fence she rested her front half on the top, almost eye level with him. “Have you ever told her how you feel?”

He let out a small sigh. “No. I did ask her out one time, but she turned me down. She said she had too much to deal with to worry about dating. I don’t know if that was actually the case or she was just trying to spare my feelings, but I haven’t pursued the issue any further. I respect your mother, so I respected her wishes.”

Dinky’s throat felt dry and she had trouble swallowing. “Doctor Hooves?” she said in a small voice.

He noticed her change in attitude. She seemed like she was off in another world. “What’s wrong, Dinky?”

“Do you… do you think you can try again?”

“Dinky, I don’t want to make your mother uncomfortable. She said no, and I accept that.”

Tears began coming down her eyes. “But she needs you!”

His eyes went wide. “H-hey! Why are you crying?”

Dinky wiped her face. “Yesterday my mom told me about my dad. He was a popular wealthy jerk who only pretended to like her so the other mares would leave him alone. He stayed with her only until she decided to mate with him to show him how much she loved him, and then he abandoned her afterward even after hearing she was pregnant. Following that I don’t think she’s ever been on a date again. And then I heard that she hasn’t been eating lunch for over a month now! She keeps sacrificing everything for me, and I hate it!”

Sniffing, more tears trickled down her face. “She never does ANYTHING for herself and she’s miserable. She’s always struggling with money and hurting and sad. I mean, she promised that she wouldn’t hide things from me anymore and that we’d work together, but let’s face it. As much as I hate admitting it I’m still just a stupid little kid. I don’t understand everything she’s going through, and she won’t give me the full story anyway because she doesn’t want me to worry or be overwhelmed.

“She needs someone like you! Someone around her age who knows what it’s like to be an adult. She always tries to do everything alone, and she just can’t handle it anymore. So, please… can’t you try one more time? She told me that she was leaving her past regrets behind last night, so now is the best time to ask.”

Doctor Hooves let out a long sigh. “I never even imagined that was why she’s single. But, Dinky, I think you’re racing ahead a little bit. Even if she was interested it doesn’t mean we’re suddenly gonna get married and live happily ever after. These things take a lot of time, especially with her previous heartache.”

“I know that.” She wiped her face again. “But can you try anyway?”

“Are you sure it’s a wise idea? I heard the story of when your friends tried to play matchmakers.”

“Hey! That’s completely different. They used a love potion to force them to fall in love with each other. I’m just asking you to flirt with her.”

“It’s still not that simple. I mean, your mom always has to put you first. Assuming for a second everything goes as planned,” he paused as his eyes looked down at the ground before settling back on her, “would you even want me as a dad?”

Dinky smiled at him. “I wouldn’t mind at all. You’ve always been nice to me. I think it’s better this way. I mean, we’ve already known you for years, so my mom doesn’t have to worry about how you’ll get along with me, which would probably be her biggest excuse. The less excuses she can use the better, because I know her. She’s gonna try whatever she can to avoid it.”

“Dinky, I do have to remind you one of one important thing.”

“What’s that?”

“This is all about your mom. I may love your mother, and you may want us to be together, but your mom may not feel the same way about me. I’ll do my best, but if she doesn’t love me or feels uncomfortable that I’m trying to push our relationship from simple friendship to dating then I’m going to back off. I value your mother far too highly to risk losing her friendship by alienating her.”

“I understand.”

“So, about tonight. I think you should make it seem like your idea. If I ask her she might think of it as me asking her out again. We don’t want her to be on guard right at the start. We’ll go out, enjoy ourselves, and, when the right opportunity presents itself, I’ll make my move.”

“Sounds like a plan!” Hopping over the fence she ran up to him and hugged him. “Thank you!”

“No problem.” He tapped her head a few times before Dinky let go and went running, jumping and letting out a cheer before she was out of sight.

When she got home she ran to the kitchen, following the sound of her mom’s greeting.

“Whoa, Muffin!” Derpy said as Dinky nearly knocked her over.

“Hi, Mom!”

Derpy rubbed her daughter’s chin a little. “Well, you certainly seem to be in a good mood. I’m glad. Much better than yesterday.”

“Yeah! I got something for us to do tonight!”

“Oh?”

“Yeah! I heard that the Apples are having a big charity drive on the farm. They’re gonna have all kinds of games and activities and rides. All the proceeds are gonna go to Ponyville Hospital. I ran into Doctor Hooves on the way home and he’s gonna come too. We can get the rest of your friends and all go together.”

Derpy let out a heavy sigh, her joy draining. “Dinky, I’m sorry, but we can’t go.”

“Why not?” Dinky felt her heart sink.

“You know why! I’m basically broke until payday.”

“So what? You can just take some more money from that account you set up for me.”

Derpy let out another big sigh. “Dinky, I set that account up for your future! For the time when you became an adult and you were in an emergency situation. I didn’t spend all those years contributing to it just so I can start draining it dry at my every whim.”

At first Dinky looked upset, but then she started getting angry. “You just don’t get it!”

Derpy’s eyebrow rose. “What don’t I get?”

“We’re going, and that’s final!”

Derpy felt a little surprised at Dinky’s shift in attitude. “Excuse me?” she said, an edge in her voice.

“You heard me! You’ve been abusing yourself for far too long. You always focus on me and me and me and me and me and me AND ME! What about YOU? I understand that I’m your daughter and you want what’s best for me, but you never ever do anything for YOURSELF!

"You never go out, or really hang out with your friends or just go wild and crazy and have a good time. I’m sick of it! You say you want that money for my future? Well, I think this is the perfect investment. If you’re always cooped up at home because you refuse to spend any money on yourself you’ll make yourself sick from all the boredom and sadness.

"And then what? What if you don’t come home? I don’t want to lose you! All the bits in the world won’t be enough to save my future from a lot of pain if that happens.” A few tears came down her eyes. “It’s not always about ME. I don’t want to be selfish like that. That’s why we’re GOING to go out, and you’re GOING to have a good time for once. YOU’RE important too! I know that jerk made you feel like you’re not important, but you’re important to ME! I don’t always need some new thing on payday. What’s most important to me is to see you happy! OKAY?”

Derpy sighed, seeing she wasn’t going to emerge victorious from this battle. “Alright, Muffin. You win. Team Muffin will go to the Apple fair.”

“Good!” Dinky let out a sigh of relief. “It would all be ruined if you didn’t come.”

“What would be ruined?”

“Huh?” Her head shot up, and she forced a smile on her face. “Oh, don’t worry about it. I, um, I just really wanted to go, that’s all.” Dinky saw tears forming in her mother’s eyes. “What’s wrong, Mom?” she asked, concerned.

Derpy put a hoof on the back of her daughter’s neck, putting her forehead on Dinky’s. “Thank you, Dinky. Once again you’re teaching me. Shooting Star left a deep scar on my heart, worse than all the bullies combined ever did. I want to let the past go. I told you that last night. However, it won’t just go away overnight. I’m going to need your help through this process, to remind me when I’m still acting like I’m not worth anything. It’s so easy to slip back into bad habits, and I know I’m probably going to fall many, many times before I start truly believing in my worth.”

Dinky’s face clenched up as she threw her hooves around her mother’s neck, crying a little herself. “Of course! Together we’ll beat this! I’m gonna yell at you as many times as I have to until you believe it!” Her mind turned to Doctor Hooves and she thought, 'And if everything goes well today he’ll start helping you heal too.'

Derpy nuzzled her daughter’s nose before pulling back, a warm smile on her face. “I need to remember that today is a new day, and it’s time to start treating myself the way I deserve to be treated, and I deserve to have a good time once in a while like anyone else.”

“Yes! Yes! That’s right!” Dinky nodded her head hard. “Now you’re getting it.”

Derpy mussed up her daughter’s mane a little. “That lunch you made me was delicious. It really helped me get through my day.”

Dinky’s grin grew wider, and she blushed a little. “Thank you. I’m glad you liked it.”

Dinky set her saddlebag on the kitchen table, humming contentedly to herself as she did her homework. Today was going to be a great day. She could just feel it.

After eating dinner they stopped at the bank to get some money. They went to Lyra’s house to see if she wanted to come. Bon Bon answered the door, telling them that Lyra had come down with the flu and couldn’t make it. Bon Bon wanted to stay nearby her friend in her time of need, so she wasn’t coming either.

Following that they went to Doctor Hooves’ house to get him. He looked a little flustered as he saw her. “G-good evening, Derpy. Oh, and you too, Dinky.”

Derpy laughed a little. “You slicked your hair back for a change? Isn’t that a bit much for some carnival games?”

“W-well, you know… you gotta change things up every once in a while.”

Derpy just shrugged. “Let’s go, then.”

As they began walking Dinky elbowed Doctor Hooves. “Cool it!” she said in a sharp whisper. "This is supposed to be a casual outing.”

He let out a nervous giggle. “Well, I thought there were supposed to be more of us,” he whispered back.

“They couldn’t make it.”

After a small hesitation he said, “I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

“Well, if you’d stop acting like a total weirdo it will be a good thing.”

Derpy noticed the other two lagging behind, and turned around. “Hey, you two. What’s the holdup? What are you whispering about back there?”

“Nothing!” the two of them replied in unison, speeding up until they were next to her.

After a twenty minute walk they came upon Sweet Apple Acres. The cacophony of sounds reached them even from that distance. Bright lights lit up a large, treeless area of the farm. Stands were set up all around.

“Whoa!” Dinky said, her eyes lighting up. “This is so cool!” She tugged on her mom’s saddlebag, saying, “Come on, come on!” before she went running ahead.

Derpy snickered. “Ah, to be young again.”

Doctor laughed as well. “Yeah, but it’s still nice to watch other’s experience the kind of happiness we shared as kids.”

“I guess you’re right.”

As they reached the first set of stands they saw Granny Smith in her rocking chair. “Hello there, youngins. Welcome to the farm. Take this.” She held out her hoof, and they both took a piece of paper. “This is a list of the events for tonight. Have a good time now, ya hear?”

Derpy bowed her head a little. “Thank you, Granny Smith.”

The Doctor did the same. “Yes, thank you.”

“Such a sweet old lady,” she said as they continued walking.

“She really is.”

They caught up to Dinky before long. She was sitting there with an irritated look on her face. “Come on! You two are so slow! I wanna play some games!”

“Alright, Dinky. Just be patient.”

“Dinky!” came a voice from the side, and a filly ran up to her.

Dinky turned to look, and saw one of her classmates from school. “Hey, Tootsie Flute!” The blue unicorn’s face looked like a sunflower.

“Glad you made it! I just got my face painted.”

“I had nooooo idea,” Dinky replied with a laugh.

“You should come get yours done too. They have so many designs to choose from. Ruby Pinch is getting hers done too.”

“Cool! Can I go, mom?”

“Sure, Dinky,” said Derpy. “How much is it?”

“It’s only two bits,” said Tootsie.

Derpy handed Dinky a few bits and the two children ran off. Derpy and Doctor Hooves went to a game stand where you had to knock over a pyramid stack of six bottles with a ball. Doctor Hooves put two bits down and got three balls. Winding up he threw it, completely missing the first time. He let out an embarrassed laugh. Taking a deep breath he picked up the second ball, throwing it hard. He only wound up hitting the topmost bottle.

“Come on, Doctor!” said Derpy. “You can do it!”

His heartbeat went up. He picked up the last ball, his tongue sticking out the side of his mouth. He pulled his hoof back, throwing it as hard as he could. With a loud crash the entire stack of bottles went flying.

“Yes!” Derpy cried out, giving a cheer.

He picked out a stuffed dog, handing it to her.

“Thank you!” She hugged it close to her.

Doctor Hooves smiled. “We shouldn’t go too far from the face painting booth, so what do you say we go over there?” He pointed to a stand where Pinkie Pie and the Cakes were serving bowls of ice cream.

“Sure. I could go for some ice cream.”

Walking over, Doctor Hooves said, “One bowl of chocolate, please.”

“Vanilla for me,” said Derpy.

“Coming right up!” said Pinkie. “That’ll be six bits.”

Derpy went into her saddlebag, but Doctor Hooves said, “I got it.”

He set some bits on the counter, and Pinkie rang them up, grabbing two bowls and filling them up. “Here you go.”

“Thanks.”

As they began walking away Pinkie said, “Enjoy your date!”

The two of them both blushed heavily. Derpy turned her head and said, “We’re just friends! I’m here with my daughter!”

“Oh. Sorry.”

The two of them went to a table and began eating their ice cream, neither of them looking up toward each other until they heard Dinky’s voice again.

“Mom! Mom! Look!”

Derpy looked over, and she began laughing up a storm, breaking the tension between them. Dinky’s face was painted up like a muffin. “Really, Dinky?”

She wasn’t fazed in the slightest. “Hey, you always call me muffin. Why not embrace my heritage? I should be fine… just so long as you don’t try to eat me!” She began laughing too.

“I guess you really are my little muffin now.” She hugged her daughter.

Ruby Pinch ran up with Berry Punch, done up like a cat. “Hey there, Derpy… Doctor,” said Berry. “How are you enjoying this fine night so far?”

“Fine,” Derpy responded. “It’s been too long since I’ve had a good night out.”

“I hear ya. Being a single mother isn’t easy.

“Would you like me to take Dinky for a little while so you can finish your ice cream? We’re gonna go to the bumper cars.”

“Sounds great.” She reached into her saddle bag and handed Dinky ten bits. “Go play some games. I’ll give you some more when you run out.”

“Okay. Thanks, mom!” Ruby Pinch and Dinky ran off, leaving their mom’s behind and giggling up a storm as Tootsie Flute joined them.

Berry shook her head. “Kids. So full of energy.”

“I hear that,” Derpy said as Berry walked away after them.

Once it was back to the two of them Derpy let out a small sigh, aimlessly stirring her treat with her spoon.

“What’s wrong, Derpy?” asked Doctor Hooves.

She huffed defensively. “YOU WOULDN’T UNDER-”

She stopped, sighing again as Dinky’s words came back to her. She was so used to handling things by herself it was hard to talk about her issues, but she couldn’t really say she was leaving the past behind if she was still going to hide behind her usual excuses.

“Look, I’m just a little… down. Dinky pushed me to come out tonight. She yelled at me and pointed out that I needed to have a fun event for once. I was hesitant because I told her about the account I set up for her future last night, and now she pushed me to use the money I set aside for her.” Tears began pouring down her eyes. “I mean, how pathetic am I? I have to borrow money from my own daughter!”

“Derpy, you’ve always worked hard, supporting yourself and your daughter. You’re very independent, always giving Dinky the best you can.” Doctor Hooves took a steadying breath before getting up the nerve to put a hoof on her cheek. “Dinky told me about her dad.”

Derpy let out a small sob. “Oh, great! Now even more than before you know how pathe-”

“STRONG you are!” he said, cutting her off as he began rubbing her cheek. “You’re so strong I can hardly believe it. You always hold everything in and give it your all to make sure Dinky is happy, safe, and full. You’re a wonderful mother.

“You give everything to your child, but what about you? What have you done for yourself lately? Isn’t it about time someone helped you out and cared for you for a change?” He took another deep breath. “Derpy, I told you a long time ago I’d like to go out with you, and you told me that it was a bad time. I’ve been very patient, and I’ll continue to be patient, but what do you say you drop that pride of yours and let me foot the bill for tonight?”

Without intending to she pushed herself harder against his rubbing hoof, her eyes slowly closing. She hadn’t had this kind of intimate contact with anyone since Shooting Star. Sure, she was very intimate with her daughter, but that was a different kind of affection. The love for family was vastly different than the one a pony has for the opposite sex.

“Derpy?” he said after a while, but she didn’t respond.

When he pulled his hoof away she frowned, pushing her head forward as she sought out his touches again. It took her a little while to open her eyes again, looking like she was lost. “Wha-what?”

“I was asking whether you’d like to go on a date? It can be a 'just friends' date if you wish.”

Derpy felt her heart start racing. “Look, I already told you I can’t! Dinky is around and there’s so much to-” She stopped talking, sighing as she began shaking her head. “But that’s just another excuse, isn’t it? Fine, then. A date. On one condition.”

“Let me guess: Just keep things simple. I won’t push my suit with you any further than you’re comfortable with.”

She shook her head, a blush appearing on her face. “No, that’s not it. Would you-I mean-well… would you do that again?”

“Oh. Sure!” He grinned at her, rubbing her other cheek.

She closed her eyes again just like before, a smile starting to cross her face. “Now that you mention it I haven’t had anyone take care of me for a very long time. So sure. I don’t really know what kind of a date there is for 'just friends' but it sounds like you’re just trying to make an excuse to spend money on me.”

“Maybe so, but it’s money well spent.”

Derpy put her hooves up, pulling his away. “I really like that, but we can’t spend the whole night doing it. I accept your offer, but please don’t get offended when I say this will likely be a one night thing. Don’t expect me to suddenly fall at your hooves.”

“Of course not. I don’t care what we do. A date with you is a date with you.”

“Soooo… what do you wanna do?”

“Let’s go find Dinky and then we can see what other activities they have.”

“Sounds good to me.” Going into her bag she looked over the list. “It says that there are three spots for music. Octavia is doing classical, Vinyl Scratch is doing rock, and the Apple family is doing country. I’m in the mood for some upbeat music. Let’s go to the barn. I’m sure that’s where Applejack is.”

“Okay.”

After asking one of the ponies where the bumper car game was they headed off in that direction. They could see Twilight and a few other unicorns powering the vehicles so they’d move.

Dinky was just getting out as they arrived, having a friendly argument with Ruby Pinch and Tootsie Flute. “I got you way more!”

“No way!”

“I got you the most!”

“I did!”

“Oh, yeah? Did you count?”

“No, but I know I heard you a lot more when I’d slam right in the back of you.”

“Hello, girls,” said Derpy. “It sounds like you had fun.”

Dinky immediately broke off and ran up to her. “Hey, mom!” She threw herself at Derpy, hugging her.

Derpy hugged her daughter back before asking, “So, Tootsie Flute, where’s Shoeshine? I figured you’d be here with your mother.”

“She’s sleeping,” responded the filly. “She has to work early in the morning so she asked Miss Berry if she could take me.”

“Well, that’s nice of her. We’re gonna go over to the barn to dance a little. You all game?”

“Cool!” The three fillies said in unison.

Berry Punch laughed. “Well, I guess that’s where we’re going then.”

Just as Derpy expected she heard the sound of music getting louder as they neared the barn. Various members of the extended Apple family were there. Entering the barn they went up to a bucket near the stage, depositing bits in it.

At first Derpy danced with Dinky, but she quickly felt unsatisfied. This was her first night out in forever, and she wanted something more. She felt something awaken in her, a desire for something to set her soul aflame. “HEY, APPLEJACK!” she yelled out, not caring that everyone was now staring at her.

Even the band paused in their music. “What is it, Derpy?” asked Applejack.

“You’re putting me to sleep over here. Give us something more lively! I thought you Apples knew how to get down and dirty. Or is that all talk?” She smirked over at the earth pony.

Applejack returned the favor. “Is that a challenge?”

“You bet!”

Applejack turned to the band. “You heard her. Let’s show her what the Apples are made of, everyone.”

“RIGHT!” they replied.

“You want a hoedown, you’ll get a hoedown.”

The music began again, much more fast paced than before as Applejack sang vocals.

Derpy felt her hooves moving almost automatically. Turning to Doctor Hooves she extended a hoof and said, “May I have this dance?”

Dinky jumped up and down in joy. “Do it, do it!”

“Sure,” he replied, taking her hoof before going to the middle of the dance floor.

Derpy moved to the rhythm of the music, flourishing as she moved all around. She didn’t even care if she tripped and fell. She just didn’t want the music to end. She became more and more spirited, her body burning with fervor.

One by one the other ponies noticed her passion and zeal and simply began to observe, crowding around her as they began to stomp their hooves in time with the music.

Back and forth they went, spinning, twirling, their bodies close to each other before they’d do a move and split apart for a second before closing the distance again.

When the music finally ended a chorus of whistles and cheers erupted over them. Derpy was panting heavily, but she felt so alive.

Dinky ran up to her, amazement clear on her face. “Wow, Mom! That was amazing! I had no idea you were such a good dancer.”

“Me, neither,” she replied.

Applejack hopped off the stage, saying, “It’s not about skill. It’s about enthusiasm. Thanks fer entertainin’ us all. I hope that number was more ta yer satisfaction.”

“Yeah,” she said with a pant. Her legs felt like butter, and she nearly fell to the ground before she was caught by Doctor Hooves. “Sorry,” she said with a laugh. “It’s been a while.”

“No problem.” He held onto her, directing her to a seat before going to get her some punch.

She drank it down gratefully. She was hot and sweaty and a little tired, but more than that she felt exhilarated and full of life. As soon as she got her breath back and her legs felt a little more steady she got up and said energetically, “Come on! The night’s still young! Let’s find something else to do!” She began trotting out, leaving the rest of them behind.

“Wait for me!” Dinky cried out as she ran after her mom.

They all followed along until Derpy suddenly stopped, turning to them with a mischievous grin. “How about this one?” Pointing with her hoof they saw a fenced in area covered with various boxes and crates strewn about randomly. “Let’s play paintball.”

“Oh, what’s that?” asked Tootsie Flute.

“It’s real simple. You’re all given balls of paint and you have to throw them at each other. The one who walks away the least soaked wins. Well, technically there is no winner. It’s about having fun.”

“Does it hurt?” asked Ruby Pinch.

“Like getting hit by a pillow.”

“I’m in!”

Derpy began to reach into her saddle bag when she stopped and said, “Oh, that’s right, Mr. Doctor. We’re on a 'date,' aren’t we? YOU pay,” she said playfully as she gave him a little push.

He began chuckling. “Who are you and what have you done with Mopey? Oops. I mean Derpy?”

She started cracking up too. “She’s gone!” With that she took her allotment of paintballs and went to hide, giggling like mad.

Dinky went up to Doctor Hooves and hugged him, happy tears on her face. “Wow. You’re really amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mom like this, except maybe on my birthday.”

“It’s not too surprising. She knows she needed a special night out. She’s just getting into the spirit of things.”

The other five of them grabbed some balls and went to wait for the signal to begin. After about thirty seconds a whistle blew. Cautiously they walked around, looking for any of the others.

Dinky looked around a corner, seeing no one. Turning around she went around a box and nearly screamed as she saw her mother.

Derpy let out a relieved sigh. “Oh, it’s only you, Dinky. We shouldn’t fight each other.”

Dinky nodded. “Okay.” She started walking and then let out a scream as she felt an impact on her back.

Derpy laughed so hard tears started coming down her eyes. “That’ll teach you not to be so trusting. We’re all enemies here!” She went running before Dinky could muster a response.

“H-HEY!” Dinky said, her mouth going to one side of her face. She started to get mad, but then she got a devious smile on her face. “Alright, then. If that’s the way you want to play.”

Derpy ran around, pelting Ruby Pinch and Tootsie Flute with one ball since they had decided to team up.

Running around another corner she came face to face with Doctor Hooves, who was already winding up. Getting a shocked looked on her face she said, “Princess Celestia? What are you doing here?”

“Huh?” He turned around to look and only got a paintball to the chest for his troubles.

Off she went again, having a blast.

About ten minutes later they had all ran out of balls to throw and met up at the exit. Derpy was clearly the winner. She had only been hit twice. As they went to leave two unicorns cast spells on them to remove the paint from their coats.

“Ah, that was fun!” said Derpy in a relaxed voice. “What do you say we do something more low-key, hmm?” Going into her bag she pulled out the activity list again. “It says here that Big Mac and Caramel are doing hay rides around the orchard.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Berry. “I’m not used to all this running around. I usually leave that sort of thing to my husband.”

After getting directions all of them got in the short line for the hay rides. It took about ten minutes before Big Mac and Caramel returned with the latest group. Once they were all off the six of them hopped on, giving Big Mac a few bits.

Derpy sat next to Doctor Hooves, leaning against him as Dinky sat on her lap. As they got the tour of the farm they enjoyed the breeze and observed the animals walking around. The three adults and the three fillies got into their own conversations. Derpy was laughing and smiling away.

After about fifteen minutes they returned to the spot they began at. They played a few games, winning some prizes, until they heard it was almost time for the fireworks show to start.

Following the crowds of ponies they all headed to a relatively clear patch near the edge of the farm. At the top of a hill stood Applejack with a megaphone. “Good evenin’, Ponyville! Before we start the fireworks I’d just like ta thank all a y’all fer yer help tonight. We have a few 'special guests' here who have some words for you.”

A sickly looking colt came up to the megaphone. He turned away, coughing a little, before saying weakly, “Thank you. This money will go a long way towards my surgery.”

A hush went over the crowd as all of them felt themselves tearing up a little bit.

Other fillies and colts came up, some of them helped by doctors or nurses from the hospital, each expressing their gratitude for everyone’s donations.

Once the last one was done Applejack spoke up again. “Now, we have one more guest. She’s someone that I’m sure needs no introduction.” Gesturing with her hoof a blue coated pony came up. “The Great and Powerful Trixie!”

Several ponies gasped.

“Now, I know that she’s caused some trouble here in the past, but when she heard about our charity drive she felt that this was the best chance to repay past wrongs.”

Trixie came up to the megaphone. “Hello, everypony. When I saw an ad looking for a firework specialist Trixie knew it was her duty to come help out. THE GREAT-” She stopped, coughing as she caught herself starting to do her usual showboating. “Excuse me. So Trixie is now here, with a show that will mesmerize. Anything you can contribute to this final performance would be much appreciated. As you just saw a lot of little fillies and colts are in desperate need of that money.”

A lot of ponies were shocked. “Wow,” said Derpy. “I never thought I’d see the day that Trixie would sound almost… humble.”

“Me neither,” said Doctor Hooves. “I guess the third time IS the charm.” He stood up. “I’m gonna go donate all the bits I have left.”

“Mom!” said Dinky.

“Yes?” she replied.

“You should do that too. I know that you said you don’t like to spend the money that you were saving for me, but those kids need that money way more than I do.”

Derpy felt herself tearing up. “I agree, Dinky. You’re such a wonderful child.”

Actually seeing the children that needed their help made everything more real to everyone. It pushed them to open their hearts and their wallets. Pony after pony came up to the hill, dropping large sums of bits into the bucket set aside for the donations.

Once the last pony was done and seated again Trixie’s horn began to glow, pulling a cart full of fireworks over. “Watch, and be amazed, at the GRE… at Trixie.”

All of them “Ooh’d” and “Aah’d” as the sky began to light up at her will. The fireworks didn’t just make fancy explosions of color. They took all sorts of shapes: of the six ponies wielding the Elements of Harmony, dragons, and their mighty foes.

“These next ones are for our guests.”

As the latest firework went off the sickly colt from before gasped. “It’s me! It’s me! Look, Mom!” One by one each of them got their picture in the sky.

“And now for the grand finale!” Her horn grew brighter as the sky was wrapped in a cacophony of sound as countless fireworks shot off into the sky. For an entire minute explosions went off in every direction and every color. It was so bright that it felt like daytime.

When it finally stopped loud cheering went out through the audience. Trixie bowed, looking a bit smug, but she wisely kept her mouth shut.

Applejack took the megaphone again. “Thank y’all for comin’. Each and every bit you contributed will go a long way towards helping those least able to deal with the pain of illness. Fer that I consider all a y’all family. That’s all the entertainment we have for tonight. However, that don’t mean the night is over. Feel free to stay on the farm and chat and hang out as long as you’d like.”

The six of them just stayed by the tree they were leaning against, chatting away as the moon slowly rose over the horizon. As time passed more and more ponies began getting up and leaving for home.

Eventually Berry Punch threw in the towel as well. “Hey, it was great catching up, but Ruby’s falling asleep and Tootsie isn’t far behind, so I’m gonna head for home. It was nice seeing you, Derpy. We should do this again sometime.”

Derpy felt a void in her heart as Berry set her daughter on her back.

With a heavy sigh she said in a forlorn voice, “I-I guess I should get going too. Dinky’s falling asleep as well.”

Dinky immediately stirred from her stupor, hearing the shift in her mom’s tone. “You don’t have to go home yet!” She gestured to Berry and Ruby. “I forgot to tell you earlier, but Miss Berry said we could all have a sleepover at her house tonight.” She gave Berry Punch a teary, pleading look, not wanting to be the cause of her mother’s sadness.

Berry Punch got the hint immediately. “Yeah, sure. If it’s okay with you, Derpy?”

Derpy felt a little bit of relief. “Are you sure?”

“Of course.” Patting Dinky’s head she said, “She’s a little angel.”

“Well… alright, then.”

“Yay!” Dinky cheered, giving her mom a hug. “Thanks, Mom!”

“Be good, Dinky.”

“I will. Goodnight!”

After exchanging more goodnights the three fillies and Berry left.

In a guilty voice Dinky said, “I’m really sorry for putting you on the spot like that, Miss Berry. It’s just… my mom…”

“It’s okay, Dinky,” said Berry genially. “I get it completely. I’ve never seen your mother act so giddy and lively as she was tonight.”

“Thanks for not being mad.” Grateful tears came down her eyes. “Maybe now my mom will have some peace.”

“I sure hope so.”

Derpy gave a little look around. Besides the sound of crickets chirping it seemed almost unnaturally quiet. After just wanting the night not to end she began feeling anxious and nervous. She wondered if they were the only two left at the farm.

Doctor Hooves noticed her shaking. “What’s wrong, Derpy? Are you cold?” He scratched the side of his head with his hoof. “I wish I had a blanket or something.”

Derpy shook her head. “No. I’m not cold. I’m… I’m… afraid.”

“Of me?” he asked in a neutral voice.

Derpy had been leaning against him, shoulder to shoulder, for a while, but she suddenly got up and walked a short distance away, flopping to the ground as she curled up into a ball, hugging her knees. In a quiet voice she said, “You said Dinky told you about her father. How much did she tell you?”

“She said that he was a wealthy stallion who only used you and then abandoned you when he got what he wanted out of you.”

Derpy sniffed, taking shaky breaths as she tried not to break down crying. “You have no idea what that was like. It still hurts even now… even all these years later. The night I gave myself to him was prom night. We danced the night away, were crowned the king and queen of the dance, and I felt the happiest mare in the world. I was so full of love that night I wanted to show him just how much he meant to me. That night was perfect from start to finish… and then it was tainted... soiled... and I can’t ever look back on those times without remembering the ache in my soul.

“And now, tonight, I’m having the same feeling. This night has been almost magical. Everything is going right for a change. I’m happy, I’m free, I’m content, I feel full of life. I haven’t felt this way in forever.” Burying her head into her knees she clenched her eyes tight, almost breaking down again. “To think of having this night tainted like that one is more than I can bear.”

“Derpy,” he started, but was cut off.

“NO!” she yelled, not turning around. “You don’t understand a thing about how I feel. Did you know how badly his betrayal affected me? I came within a hair of ABORTING Dinky! She almost never had the chance to be born!” The anger faded away, and self-loathing was clear in her voice as she said miserably, “What kind of parent does that to their child? A parent is supposed to suffer for their children, not force them to bear the punishment for their parent’s mistakes.

“Whenever Dinky has a sleepover like tonight and the house is completely empty but for me I spend the night barely able to breathe. I keep thinking that that is what life would be like if Dinky hadn’t been born. I’d be all alone! I feel like such a wretched, terrible mare sometimes. So maybe I deserved a stallion like Shooting Star, because that’s all I was worth as a pony.”

Doctor Hooves was crying, anger on his face as he got up and walked over to her, sitting down in front of her before roughly yanking her head upward. “That’s enough, Derpy! I’m sick of hearing these lies! You’re not worthless, and you certainly didn’t deserve what was done to you!

"You are very precious to me. Look at the type of pony your daughter is. She’s respectful, she’s kind, she’s smart, she’s funny. The type of mare a filly grows into is majorly dependent on their upbringing. Even if you were struggling you always gave Dinky everything you could. Your decision to almost get an abortion is perfectly understandable under the circumstances. You felt lost and out of options.

"But you know what the most important thing of all is? YOU… DIDN’T… DO IT! That’s more than a number of mares can say. Those who just want to take the easy way out. You’ve made up for that near-error in judgment in spades. You’ve attacked and blamed yourself for years, and now it’s time to let it go!

“I love you, Derpy! You hear me? After you turned me down the first time I kept my distance and enjoyed your company as a friend, but I’ve always admired you and all that you’ve strived to do.”

“Why? Why do you love me? Why do you want… someone like me? I’m no prize. You can do so much better.” She looked down at the ground, tears dripping down onto the earth.

“How does one define love? Love is a gut feeling, a special moment in time in which your heart goes on full alert and tells you things are right. But I suppose if you want a real answer,” he put a hoof on her chin, gently pushing until they met eyes again, “there was a definitive time when you stole my heart. One very special moment that I’ve never forgotten.”

Derpy saw a tender smile on his face. “Yes?” she said, not trying to look away. “When was that?” She felt herself getting lost in those eyes. They were so comforting.

“It was after Berry Punch’s wedding. You were dressed up in a beautiful white gown, with a necklace of flowers around your head. We were walking home, just the two of us. It was a cloudy day. We were just chatting about unimportant stuff, and then you pulled away to go smell a flower.

"As you bent over and began to sniff a butterfly flew off the flower and landed on your nose. Most ponies would have panicked a little, but you just stood still and let it stay. You crossed your hooves, closing your eyes as it flapped its wings and tickled you, giggling just a little. Your face was scrunched up a little as you tried to keep as still as you could. You had the sweetest, most innocent smile on your face.

"Suddenly the clouds began to dissipate, a sunbeam landing on you and you alone. In that moment you looked like such a little angel. A perfect, pure little angel. Right then and there I knew. I knew I wanted to be with you.”

He began rubbing her cheek. “After that I couldn’t get you out of my mind. I wanted us to be more than just friends, but I respected you far too much to push things when you said no. I knew you had to put your daughter first. I’ve had several mares ask me out, but I always turned them down. No mare has captured my heart so completely as you, and no other one would satisfy. I never knew if the time would come when you would change your mind, so I didn’t even bother trying to date someone else just to pass the time.

“You may not think you’re a prize, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.” Tears began coming down his eyes as his heart filled up with all his affection for her. “I would fight Nightmare Moon, Discord, King Sombra, Queen Chrysalis, and her entire army of Changelings all together if it meant keeping you safe and happy.”

Derpy blushed, unable to meet his eyes. “Oh, come on. You’re just exaggerating.”

“No, I’m not. I mean every word. Come here with me.” Gently tugging at her she reluctantly let herself uncurl and was led back over by the tree. “I… well, I…” He reached into his saddlebag, saying, “I had no idea what would happen tonight, but just in case I… I got you this.” Pulling out his hoof he showed her what he had.

It was a beautiful daffodil. On top of it was a little plastic model of a butterfly. He used a hoof to push her mane aside, putting the flower behind her ear. “There you are. Now you look even more beautiful.” He looked up at the moon, once more thinking back to that moment. “When I saw that smile on your face there was one thing I promised myself. I said that if there ever came a time when you agreed to a date with me that I would make you smile again. Not just a regular smile, but the kind of smile you wore back then. That kind, carefree look, like a filly who’s never experienced the wrongs of this world. I’d do whatever it took to make that happen.”

Derpy slowly reached her hoof up, touching the flower. “It’s… it’s lovely.”

“Thank you.

“So I’m serious, Derpy! I love you and I-MMM!” His eyes went wide as she put her muzzle to his, a hoof around the back of his head to stop him from pulling back.

After a few seconds Derpy pulled away, her face feeling red hot. Her heart was racing, and she felt like a school filly again. She gave him an embarrassed grin, her hooves crossed. “Well… how was it?”

Doctor Hooves looked shell-shocked. “Wow,” he said, dazed. “And I thought the firework show was over a long time ago.”

Derpy felt like she was having trouble breathing. Nerves and doubt were racing through her again, but she ignored them. Little by little he had pushed his way past her defenses. The part of her heart that had been broken, shattered, and obliterated by Shooting Star’s betrayal was attempting to resist her, but she didn’t want to stop. It had been too long since she had felt this way. She didn’t want to start having second thoughts now.

In a quiet voice she said, “So what about me? I haven’t seen any fireworks yet. Maybe yours are defective?” She giggled a little at his sly look.

“Oh, is that what you want now?” He had quickly recovered from his surprise at hearing she wanted more. He began kissing the side of her neck, hearing her let out little purrs and whimpers of enjoyment before he arrived at her mouth, pushing his lips hard against hers.

Derpy pushed back against him, her heart going a mile a minute. She had forgotten what this had felt like. She was ready to kiss a little longer, but he abruptly pulled away, making her pout. “What’s wrong?” She started feeling afraid.

He let out a contented sigh. “Nothing. It’s great. It’s wonderful. It’s amazing!”

“So why’d you stop?”

“Because I love you,” he said plainly, meeting her eyes. “The most I expected of tonight was to hear you say you wanted to spend more time together, and that I might be able to give you that flower without you getting offended. The kissing was a big bonus.

"However, I know what happened in your past. I know myself that I would never, EVER do what that stallion did to you, but YOU don’t know that. We’ve gone far enough for one night. Any more than that, and we run the risk of letting passions cloud our minds and we both wind up going further than we intended. You already have enough regrets, and I refuse to be your next one. I don’t want you to wake up tomorrow and freak out, wishing that you had never done this.

“I’m happy with what I got tonight: A few hours with a beautiful, special mare, and a few kisses to boot.” He nuzzled her nose a bit. “We can leave what comes next for another night. I don’t ever want you to think I’m going to break the trust you put in me. I value it far too highly. And even if we never have a romantic moment like this again I’ll still be happy with it.

“It’s like I told you before: I’m patient. I’m willing to wait for you. As long as it takes. So for now let’s just enjoy the night.”

Derpy wiped her face of the joyful tears coming down her eyes, taking his hoof in hers as they looked up toward the moon, feeling the gentle breezes pass them by. “Thank you. For everything. After Shooting Star threw me away I was so broken inside. I didn’t think I would ever get the chance to pursue another love, especially with Dinky to care for.

“For so long I’ve been alone. My parents died in an accident when Dinky was only a few years old, and I had no one to rely upon to help me get by. I’ve strained and done my best, always feeling like if I let up or dropped my guard for even a second I’d fall and never be able to get back up.

"There were some nights I’d feel so broken and lonely that I started to wish I wasn’t alive anymore, but then Dinky would remind me of how necessary I still was. She’d smile and laugh and hug me and kiss me and for a time I’d forget my sadness. Without Dinky I don’t think I would be alive today. If Shooting hadn’t gotten me pregnant I think I would have gone crazy with both him dumping me and the loss of my parents.

“This-” Her body clenched, and she squeezed his hoof hard as the tears poured down. “This has been the best and happiest night I’ve had since Dinky was born. I’ve gotten so used to putting on a brave face and never showing weakness that I buried all my pain into a box in the corner of my mind. I always put Dinky first, never doing anything special for myself.” She buried her head in his chest as she began sobbing a little. “Thank you! Thank you for everything!”

He put his hooves around her, closing his eyes as he rubbed her back. “Shhh. Shhh. It’s okay. Don’t cry.”

Derpy lifted her head a little, shaking it. “You don’t get it! I WANT to cry. I’m so tired of always holding everything inside. Please. I’m just asking you to listen and be there for me.”

“Of course!” he said immediately, going back to stroking her back. “Cry as much as you need to. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Over the course of tonight you reminded me of something I forgot a long time ago: I am special! I am valuable! And I deserve to be loved! I deserve love just as much as everyone else!”

“That’s right, Derpy,” he said gently, kissing her forehead. “I’ll be there for you as long as you need me.”

“T-t-thank you.” She set her head back on his chest, letting her emotions run free.

Doctor Hooves did all he could to help calm her down. Little by little she started to settle down until she was quiet again.

After a time, when her breathing was slowing down, she lifted her head. Her eyes were red from crying. She kissed him on the lips. “Thank you. It’s been too long since I’ve had a comforting hoof extended to me.”

“No problem,” he said, grinning at her as he returned her kiss with one of his own.

“So… you really like me, huh?” she asked with a sniff.

“More than you can imagine.”

“Alright.”

“Alright… what?”

“I’ll give it a shot. I’m opening my heart and risking the pain of rejection. Will you be my coltfriend?”

He had to stop himself from immediately saying yes. “Derpy, is that what you truly want?”

“Tonight was fantastic. I want more nights like this. I can’t do that if I go back to being alone. Dinky is a wonderful daughter, and I love her dearly, but I… I need a little more. I’ve been ignoring that for a long time, but I need a companion. Dinky just can’t get all my struggles. She’s too young.”

“She said something similar to me. To answer your question: yes. Yes, I will.” He grinned at her. “There it is. Your adorable smile is back.”

“Oh, hush up, you,” she said as she gave him a little push. She turned herself around so she could lean against him again. She could feel the warmth of his stomach on her back.

He gave her some gentle kisses, putting his hooves around her as he rubbed her stomach. “I love you, Derpy.”

She pushed herself more firmly against him, letting out a relaxed sigh. She closed her eyes, enjoying his touches.

For a short time he tried to make conversation, but her short monosyllable responses quickly made it clear she was more interested in the physical sensations than talking, so he shut up and just enjoyed her company.

After about ten minutes he felt her body go limp, and her breathing shifted as she let out soft snores. Doctor Hooves looked up joyfully at the stars in the night sky, thinking about how lucky he was to have Derpy as his own. He closed his eyes, resting his head on hers. “Goodnight, Derpy. Sleep well.”

Chapter 5: Anxious and restless.

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The early morning sun was rising over the horizon, and Applejack was heading to a part of the orchard to begin her morning work, gently humming to herself. Standing in front of a tree she started to lift her back legs to buck it when she noticed something that looked like the hoof of a pony behind a tree a short distance away. “Now who in the hay is trespassing on the farm?”

Walking over she felt ready to begin yelling when she felt her heart melt a little at the sight of both Derpy and Doctor Hooves sound asleep, resting on each other. She recalled the previous night, when Derpy had yelled at her to play some livelier music. “Well, ain’t that the sweetest thing?”

Going up to the pair she poked the both of them with her hoof.

Derpy slowly stirred, blinking in the morning sunshine. With half lidded eyes she slowly started to make out the form of Applejack. “H-huh?” she said, confused. Her eyes looked left and right, seeing all the trees and the open field. “Where am I?”

Applejack laughed. “Y’know, I DID say that ya could stay at the farm as long as ya liked. I just kinda expected ya ta go home at some point. I’m powerful sorry ta wake ya up, as ya both looked so peaceful, but it’s time ta get ta work, so I’m afraid yer gonna have ta leave.”

“B-both?” Derpy jumped as she felt something move behind her. As she turned around she let out a squeak as she saw the Doctor. She immediately jumped up, feeling wide awake as adrenaline ran through her body. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!”

“What’s wrong, Derpy?” asked Doctor Hooves.

Derpy was panting up a storm, throwing her hooves on her face. “What-what-what did I… when… how…” She shook her head a few times, before suddenly running off without another word.

Applejack looked at Doctor Hooves. “What was that all about?” Glaring at him she continued, “Ya better not have done anything improper to her or the first thing I’m buckin’ this mornin’ is gonna be you.”

“Of course not!” Doctor Hooves replied, meeting her eyes. “All we did was talk, and, well… we shared some kisses. She fell asleep on me, and I didn’t want to wake her so I let her be and I fell asleep too. That’s all!”

“Is that a fact?” An eyebrow went up. “Well, ya better go after her then and calm her down. Ya better believe I’m gonna ask her to confirm yer little story, so ya best be on yer best behavior. Ya got that?”

“Yes. Of course. I would never abuse Derpy.” He began trotting off in the direction of her home.

Derpy ran full out for a little while before opening her wings and flying as fast as she could to her home. She landed, folding her wings as she opened the door and ran to her room, throwing herself on her bed, panting up a storm.

“What did I do last night?” She felt terrified. “What did I do! Oh my gosh. This might be Shooting Star all over again! I fell asleep right on him. Wait, we didn’t… please tell me we didn’t…

“No! We couldn’t have. I don’t remember that. But maybe we did and I just don’t remember! What if I get pregnant again? I can barely afford one kid. This is terrible! What in Equestria did I do with him last night?” Her mind was in too much of a haze of panic to piece together her memories of the previous night.

Sometime later she heard a pounding on her front door. She wanted to ignore it, but freaked out as she was she needed something to distract her attention. Getting up, her heart still racing a mile a minute, she headed downstairs to her front door. When she opened the door she said, “Hellooohhh nooooo!” She slammed the door as she saw Doctor Hooves standing there. She quickly locked the door. Her legs felt like they didn’t want to hold her up, and she slowly slid down to the ground against the wall.

She threw her hooves on the side of her head. “Why? Why did he have to come here? What is it? What happened?” Frightened tears began coming down her eyes. “Oh, why didn’t I learn my lesson the first time? And after I just told Dinky about all my regrets!”

“Derpy!” said Doctor Hooves, hitting the door a few times. “Please listen to me. NOTHING HAPPENED LAST NIGHT! All we did was talk and share a kiss or two. I promise.”

Her head slowly turned towards the door, her racing heart slowing just a little. “Was… was that it?” she said to herself. “I… I do remember that.”

“Please open the door, Derpy. I really need to talk to you.”

Her face clenched up. She felt so unsure. Her memories were still hazy. She needed time to think.

She used her hoof, trying to push her mane back just to be doing something, when her hoof hit something solid. Curiously, she grabbed it. In her hooves was the flower he had given her last night. She saw the little butterfly attached to it, and she thought of the story he told her. It was a little ridiculous, but she pulled the butterfly free, setting it on her nose. She thought back to the day he had told her about. She couldn’t remember it that clearly, but she knew that she always liked butterflies.

She felt herself settling down a little. Slowly standing up she went to the front door and unlocked it before opening it. As she saw him again she felt a pit of dread.

Despite himself Doctor Hooves couldn’t help laughing as he saw her wearing the butterfly on her snout.

Derpy couldn’t even force herself to smile. She lifted her hoof, taking the butterfly off and setting it back on the flower. “I’m sorry for freaking out like that.”

Doctor Hooves could see how frightened she looked. He desperately wanted to hold her and comfort her just like yesterday, but he knew if he made any sort of physical contact with her she would run off in fear. “Listen, Derpy. We spent the night at the Apple charity drive. We went on rides, played some games, watched the fireworks show, and then, when it was just the two of us, we shared some intimate details and some kisses, and then you fell asleep on me. That’s all that happened last night.

“You see what I was talking about? This is exactly the sort of reaction I was trying to avoid you having. When we were kissing you were ready to keep going, but I stopped because I didn’t want us to do anything you’d regret in the morning.”

Derpy felt her hooves go weak again as she slumped to the ground, letting out a long relieved sigh as tears came down her eyes. “That’s… that’s right. I… I remember all that. So we really didn’t-”

“Of course not! How many times do I have to tell you how deeply I respect you before you’ll believe it? I’d never take advantage of you like that! I only wanted to show you a good time. You finally opened up, hungry for some love and affection. I wouldn’t push you for THAT. You didn’t do anything wrong last night. Trust me.”

She closed her eyes, taking long, deep breaths. She scanned her memories again and again, but she couldn’t recall anything out of acceptable boundaries.

“Listen, Derpy. I think things are moving way too fast here. You’ve been so love starved that I feel you’re walking right into the same trap you fell into the first time. How do I put this?” He looked up thoughtfully. “I want you to trust me, but… I also want you to distrust me. Give me time to earn your trust before you start wanting to make out and ask me to be your coltfriend.

“I think it would be for the best if we didn’t see each other for a while. You’re going to need some time to process last night. I think one full week should be enough time to think things through. As an extra security measure I think it would also be prudent to only have dates with the three of us.”

“Three?” Derpy said, confused.

“Dinky,” replied Doctor Hooves. “To make sure that things don’t go too far between us I believe we should always have Dinky along.

“As I said yesterday I already know I would never hurt you like he did, but words are cheap, after all. He told you he loved you and whatever other lovey-dovey garbage, and then threw you away. So clearly just saying things isn’t going to make things right. I don’t know where things are going to go from here, but I hope to see you again soon. I hope you’ll still be willing to give me a shot after that time.

“For what It’s worth though I had a blast with you. I’d love another “not-date” date. There’s no reason to rush. Just that little bit of what I got is going to make me happy for the next week until we meet again.

“Goodbye for now.” He smiled down at her and gave a wave.

As he began to walk away she found her strength at last. Hopping up she ran towards him. “Doctor Hooves!”

He turned around. “Yes?”

She put a hoof around him, putting her neck on his. “Thank you for last night. I… I just wanted to make sure I said that much.”

“You’re welcome.”

She let him go, going back inside, shutting the door behind her.

She went to sit at her kitchen table, her mind still in a daze. She set her head on her hoof, staring off into space. She felt a lot calmer now, but there was still so much to sort through. She went through her memories once again, taking them at a snail’s pace. She analyzed every part of the previous night in excruciating detail, starting from Dinky talking her into going in the first place and ending with her leaning against him and drifting off.

What had it been that had gotten her attention so much? She began thinking that Doctor Hooves was right. Things were moving at a lightning pace. One of the reasons she had fell so hard for Shooting Star was simply because he not only stood up for her, but took an interest in her. In retrospect she felt she probably should have seen his true nature coming. He didn’t say it in those words, of course, but he basically told her he was looking for a loser to hang out with to get away from all the shallow mares snapping at his heels. When a stallion with that kind of prestige wants an unpopular mare you always know something is off. She was just too young and foolish to see it.

Even more so she was seeing how little he contributed to their relationship compared to her. They shared kisses and conversations, he always paid for their dates and he held her close in the halls, never trying to hide his relationship with her, but that was basically it. She just never noticed because of how loved starved she had been in school.

He was also deviously smart. His first action that got her attention was striking the one making fun of her, defending her in front of everyone. It immediately left an impression. Being by his side made her cool by association, and no one wanted to make an enemy of him by insulting her. When his betrayal came about he ensured she wouldn’t try to ruin his reputation by threatening to rip her from her lofty position of being bully free.

She had been very stupid in regards to him, not giving any real thought to his actual character. And in the end she reached a point where she felt so full of love and joy that she gave herself away to him, and that in turn lead to the death of their relationship. After that he had no further use for her and threw her away like a piece of garbage.

She looked at the present with Doctor Hooves. In just one night she had danced with him, kissed him, cried in his hooves, and then asked him to be her coltfriend. She had gone from being reluctant to ever go to swept up in the night, and it reminded her of how it had gone with Shooting. To have to have Doctor Hooves himself point out how she was acting exactly like she had in the past was sobering. It was only a few kisses they had shared instead of going all the way, but he was the one who had to stop her. Even more discomforting was a simple question: what if he hadn’t stopped her? Would they have gone even further?

It was like a switch had been pushed in her mind. She had gone from not wanting anything to do with love to embracing it ridiculously quickly. Someone had presented themselves to her, offering companionship and affection and intimacy, things she had been denied of for a long time. Maybe it wasn’t too surprising that she threw herself into it under those circumstances, but he was right. Things had been moving too quickly, and she needed time to think them through. Even more so she agreed with his second idea. Dinky would come along on any dates they had. It would help stop her from making any more regretful decisions in regards to men. She didn’t want to ever felt the way she had before again.

She thought again of him kissing up her neck and ending on her mouth, and she felt a little tingle in her stomach. She could almost feel the sensations he had brought forth. She thought of his kind expression, of how she had just spent some time crying on him, and the warmth of his fur on her body as she leaned against him. She reached up to her ear, looking at the flower he had given her and recalling the story he had told her of how he fell for her. He had been so wonderful to her, and she had loved it all. She wanted more of it. She did. But… there was that lurking fear in her mind: what if he was being fake as well? What if he just wanted to use her like Shooting Star did? He had never done anything before to make her doubt him, but the possibility was there, and it was scary.

Back and forth she went, both positive and negative’s going through her mind. The only thing she knew for sure was that she needed more time. A week seemed like a decent amount to mull things over.

Sometime later Dinky walked in, feeling in good spirits. “I’m home!” she yelled out, waiting for her mother’s answer to see where she was at, but no response came. “Hmmm. That’s funny. She should be up by now.”

She went upstairs to her mom’s room, seeing it empty. She went to her room, throwing her saddle bag on her bed and going back downstairs. When she went into the kitchen she saw her mother sitting at the kitchen table. “Mom?” said Dinky, but she didn’t answer. “MOM!” she said again, louder, but still got no response.

Dinky didn’t know whether to be glad or upset. If her mother was off in her own world it was because what happened after she left was either absolutely amazing or an absolute train wreck. She almost didn’t want to find out, but she steeled herself and walked around the table before looking at her mom’s face. She still wasn’t sure what to feel. Her mom’s face was very contemplative, but she didn’t look upset.

She lifted her hoof, putting it on her mom’s shoulder.

Derpy let out a yell, jumping out of her seat and falling to the ground at the sudden touch on her skin. Her heart raced as she looked around quickly before settling on her daughter. She let out a sigh. “Oh. Dinky. You shouldn’t scare me like that.” She sighed again. “You almost gave me a heart attack. Say something next time, would you?”

Dinky let out a smug laugh. “I did! I called you three times.”

“You did?” she responded, confused. She shook her head a little. “I didn’t hear you. I’m just so confused right now.” Getting up she said, “Did you eat breakfast?”

“Yeah. Miss Berry made us pancakes.”

She went into a cupboard. “Well, I don’t want you to starve. How about some toast?”

“I already ate!”

“Yeah, that’s it. Some toast and a muffin. That sounds good.”

“Mom!”

Derpy didn’t answer, going about her business starting a breakfast. She suddenly stopped, turning around. She walked up to Dinky, looking at her eye. “That black eye is really going away now. I’d say another two days and it will probably be all gone.”

She turned around, going back to the cupboard and pulling out her lunch bag. “So what do you want for lunch?” She stopped rummaging, looking at the clock.

She rounded on her daughter. “Dinky!” she said angrily. “Why aren’t you in school?”

“It’s Sunday…”

She turned around again, going to the fridge. “Do you want some milk with your breakfast?”

Dinky was nonplussed. Her mom was never this scatterbrained, and she still couldn’t tell if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Her horn glowed gold as she began levitating a cup to the table.

“STOP!” her mom yelled, making Dinky jump and scream. The cup fell to the ground and shattered. “No, no, no, no, no! Dinky, no. You just sit down. You must be famished after your walk here. Relax. Just relax. There’s no reason to put yourself out.”

Derpy ran to get a broom and dustpan, picking up the broken pieces of the cup and throwing them out. She grabbed a muffin from the pantry, setting it on a plate as the toast popped up from the toaster.

She put it on the plate as well, grabbing some butter from the fridge and buttering it before setting it on the table. She sat down at the table and just stared at Dinky, a strained smile on her face. “Well? Eat up!”

Dinky just stared back at her mom, waiting for the next thing she was going to do. She wasn’t completely full, but she wasn’t much in the mood for more breakfast.

Just as she moved her hoof Derpy yelled again, making Dinky jump and let out a huff. “Drink! I forgot the drink!” She raced to the fridge, pulling out some milk and pouring it in a glass before setting it next to the plate.

“Are you done?” Dinky asked, starting to get a little annoyed.

“What do you mean?” Derpy asked, sitting down again.

“Why are you acting like this?”

“Like what?”

“Like something is wrong? What went on after I left last night? You can’t seem to sit still.”

“I’m perfectly fine!” She brushed her mane back behind her ear. She started to do the same to the other one when she stopped at the flower again. She pulled it out, staring down at it with a dreamy sigh.

Dinky’s head tilted just a little, but then a knowing grin came to her face. “So, I’d say you had a good time last night.”

“Huh?” Derpy finally came back down to earth. “Oh… that.” She looked deflated. She took a quick, shallow breath. “Well, we… we, um… kissed.” Her face turned red.

Dinky let out a little squeal. “Good for you!”

She put her hoof on the little butterfly, pushing on the tiny wings and seeing them flex. “I’m not so sure.”

“Why not? It sounds to me like things went really well.”

A tear streaked down her face as she restlessly pulled out one of the petals of the daffodil. “We both agreed not to see each other for a while.”

“WHAT? Why?”

“I guess I’m just… confused. Shooting Star was my first and only coltfriend. Following him I was too busy with you to worry about dating. And of course with what he did to me I really wasn’t in a rush to go out and try again regardless.

“We shared a few kisses, and I wound up feeling so comfortable with him and his kindness that I actually fell asleep on him and we both wound up spending the night against a tree at Sweet Apple Acres. It’s all moving too fast for me.”

She pulled out another petal. “I was happy with what happened, but at the same time it just feels like I’m an idiot, doing the same things that got me into trouble with Shooting.”

Dinky walked over, putting a comforting hoof on her mom’s shoulder. “I don’t think that’s the case at all.” As Derpy began to pull out a third petal Dinky threw her hoof on her mom’s. “And stop doing that! That was a gift, right?”

“Huh?” Derpy said, before her eyes focused. “Oh… right.” Setting the flower down she backed her seat up a little and helped Dinky onto her lap. Throwing her hooves around her daughter she began shaking. “I’m scared, Dinky! I’m so scared and I don’t know what to do!” She let out some sharp breaths, feeling the tears starting again.

“C’mon, mom! There’s no need to be scared. Think about it. There’s one big, big, BIG difference between Doctor Hooves and Shooting Star.”

“W-what’s that?” she asked, wiping her face.

“Time,” Dinky responded simply. “You only knew Shooting Star for a short time, but you’ve known Doctor Hooves for years. And the two of them are nothing alike. Doctor Hooves was the one who told me about the Apple fair, but I was the one who talked him into trying to flirt with you.”

“You WHAT?”

She let out a nervous laugh. “W-well, you said you wanted to put the past behind you, so I thought a nice guy would make you happy. I mean, when I asked him he told me he already tried asking you out once and he really liked you, so I just thought…”

“Dinky…” She let out a long, slow breath. “I understand you want me to be happy, and I thank you for looking out for me, but meddling in the love affairs of two ponies is going overboard. Have you already forgotten what you told me about those Crusader ponies?”

She looked up at her mom. “Doctor Hooves said the same thing, but it’s not the same. They used a potion to FORCE them to fall them to fall in love. I only suggested he try making a move on you again. Besides, we both know neither of you would have tried anything if I didn’t give you a nudge.”

Derpy narrowed her eyes a bit. “So that’s what you meant when you said that everything would be ruined if I didn’t go.”

“Well, yeah.”

“Hmph. You’re probably right that I wouldn’t have done anything without your help, but at the same time it’s still not right. I can’t just go from being single and distrusting to hitching up with the first boy who comes around… even if I did sorta do just that.” She let out a huff. “The point is that I need more time. Yesterday was fantastic, but do you see me today? That’s why we agreed to keep some distance for the next little while.”

“Okay, mom.” Looking down toward the ground she said in a small voice, “Are you mad at me?”

She took another slow breath, closing her eyes. “No, Dinky. I sorely needed a night out and some companionship. I just wasn’t ready for it so suddenly. You made your dent and gave things a nudge, but please from now on just butt out and don’t try to manipulate our relationship anymore. I can just see you going behind my back and telling him all the things I like and dislike so we’ll always get along great. Again, I get that you want things to work out between us, but a couple grows by learning about each other.”

“Okay, mommy. I promise to stay out of your relationship and let you work things out by yourselves from now on.”

“Well, I just asked you to not try to manipulate our relationship. You’re still going to be in it. The other thing we agreed on is that we want these to be family dates.”

“But a date is supposed to be between two ponies in love. Otherwise it’s not really a date. It’s just an outing.”

“We only kissed last night, but he had to stop me. I don’t think things would have gone much further if he didn’t, but this just ensures things don’t go too far before I’m ready. It would just make me feel more comfortable having you nearby, okay? This is difficult enough for me without me having to worry about making the same mistake I did with Shooting. If you’re right there the both of us will be on our best behavior. I know I keep saying this, but I can’t just erase the past right away, Dinky. I need more time and right now I just don’t trust myself being alone with him. Do you get what I’m saying?”

“Yes, mommy. I get it.”

“I want things to work out between us. I like the feelings I have with him, but at the same time they’re dangerous. My heart was so full of love with Shooting that I ignored common sense and just gave myself over to him without any protection and wound up pregnant while still in high school.

“Like I told you before I don’t regret what come of our union. I love you dearly, Dinky, but I only wish I had been about five years older. At least then I could have had more time to secure a good job and really buckle down with all the responsibilities that came with motherhood. I do trust Doctor Hooves, and I don’t think he’s ever going to have an ego like Shooting did, but for both our sakes it’s just a smart move to have the three of us only on dates until we’re more secure with each other. It’s not like I can’t ever talk to him alone. If I’m walking past him in town I’m not gonna run away from him just because I don’t have another pony next to me.”

Moving her hoof around Dinky she picked up the flower, getting that dreamy expression again.

“So what’s the deal with the flower?”

“He told me about why he fell in love with me,” Derpy said in a bit of a distracted voice. “He said that after Berry’s wedding I stopped to smell a flower and a butterfly landed on my nose and I made the cutest expression and pose and at that moment there was a break in the clouds that landed right on me, making him think of an angel.”

Dinky lifted her hoof, poking at the butterfly to make its wings flutter. “That’s really sweet. I hope things go really great between you two.”

“Me too, Dinky. Me too.”

Chapter 6: Second date

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The day seemed to pass by at a snail’s pace. Derpy had lost count of the number of times she had looked at the clock on the wall. If she didn’t know any better she would have sworn it was going backwards instead of forwards.

Over the course of the week she had spent a lot of time thinking. When she woke up in the morning; when she was at work; when she came home; while she was caring for Dinky; even when she went to bed. Countless times she had gone over every single detail of her date with Doctor Hooves, as well as everything she knew about him beforehand.

As she came upon the seventh day she felt she was ready to begin again. She went to his house in the morning, asking him if he’d be interested in going out. After asking her a few times whether she was ready and whether she really wanted it he finally accepted her answer, and the two made plans to go out for dinner and a movie.

She felt impatient, anxious, and excited. Maybe they could share another kiss or two. Maybe hold hooves. It might be a little much considering it was only their second date. All the same, she felt a little bit of romance couldn’t hurt. With Dinky coming along she wasn’t worried about things going overboard.

She still felt a little tingle in her stomach whenever she recalled him kissing her neck. Along with her thoughts about Doctor Hooves she also spent a lot of time comparing him to Shooting Star. Already there was no comparison. The differences between them were too numerous to count. She would give it to Shooting that he was a little more attractive, but the ugliness of his heart overshadowed any beauty he may have displayed on the outside.

All the same, that didn’t mean she should just drop her guard and give herself freely to the Doctor. That would only end in disaster just like with Shooting. She was going to do things the right way this time around. She was going to take things slow, and really get to know him before she committed herself to him.

That was the decision she had come to. She would give him a chance to prove himself, but if he tried to rush things or tried to force time alone with her she was going to pull away and break up with him. Love was more than just a word. It was also an action. Anyone could say they love you, but it’s the actions that go along with the words that made it real. And if he truly did love her and respect her like he said she would expect him not to try to push her beyond her boundaries. Given what she knew of him she didn’t think he would go that route, but it made her feel more assertive to simply have that plan in the back of her mind.

“He’s still not here?” said Dinky, coming into the kitchen. Her mane had been combed back and tied in a ponytail.

“Not yet, but it’s not even five yet.”

“Really? With the way you’ve been pacing and staring at the clock I thought he was supposed to be here an hour ago.”

“I know. I’m just a little nervous. Our first “date” wasn’t really a date. We were just two friends having fun. Now this is actually official and I know it’s coming.”

“You don’t have to be nervous, mom.” She walked over, straightening a few stray strands of hair in her mom’s mane. “Everything is gonna go great. Like you said before I’m coming along so that you behave yourselves, so it will still be more like two friends having a good time, right?”

Derpy let out a quick breath. “Yeah. I guess you’re right about that.” She suddenly grabbed her daughter and began shaking her. “BUT THIS IS MY FIRST OFFICIAL DATE IN OVER TEN YEARS!”

“Easy, mom. Easy.” She patted her mom’s shoulder and giggled. “I think I actually like this side of you. It’s nice to see something different once in a while. I think the butterfly hair clips are a really nice touch.”

“Yeah. I thought it seemed appropriate.” She lifted her mane a little behind her ear. “I’ve been keeping that daffodil in water every day, but it’s still starting to die. Even so, I still wanted to wear it tonight to show him I valued his gift.” Her head jerked towards the clock. “I’m gonna go check myself again.”

“Mo-om,” Dinky said exasperatingly. “You look FINE!”

“I know, but I need to do something. I’m gonna explode if I have to sit here staring at the clock until he gets here.”

She went to her room, sitting in front of the vanity. She looked at herself in the mirror, trying to see something. She stared at herself, seeing what she was used to seeing: a scared mare, worried about the future; one who didn’t particularly want to look at herself.

“These silly eyes,” she said to herself, a tear forming in her eye. “Why do they have to be like this? I want to be somepony important. Not to the whole world, but to him. How could anyone feel proud to have me? How could anyone want to show off somebody who looks like… like ME? I guess it figures that the moment he fell in love with me was a time when I had my eyes closed.” She frowned, tears welling up inside her.

Derpy let out a heavy breath, slowly shaking her head. “Stop it!” she said sternly. She pulled the flower out again, looking down at it and giving it a sniff. “He does love you for who you are, odd eyes and all.” She looked back up at the mirror. “Now enough with the bad talk. Smile, and show the world how happy you are to have someone who cares for you.” She hitched a small smile on her face. Looking closer there was a hint of something else in there, something she hadn’t seen in a long time: the prospect of hope. “That’s better! Now say the words we want to hear.

“I… I love you.” She winced, her heart immediately rejecting the phrase. Looking at the ground she mumbled out, “Maybe…” She caught herself, and looked back at the mirror with determination. “No! No maybe’s! I love you!” Her spirit faded again as she once more looked at the floor. “I guess…”

This time she wasn’t able to rouse herself from her stupor, her heart beginning to ache.

“I love you!” said a voice from behind her, making Derpy turn around. “And that’s never gonna change.”

Dinky came into the room, hopping onto her mom’s lap and hugging her. “I’m so proud of you, mom!”

“Proud?” said Derpy, feeling a little dazed. “For what?”

“Because you promised me you were going to let the past go. I know you weren’t able to keep at it, but you’re trying to forgive yourself and love yourself, and that makes me really happy. Like you said, though, you’re gonna forget a lot so that’s why you need me to remind you not to lose yourself. I won’t let you go. Together we’re gonna get the old you back, the one full of happiness and love.”

Derpy felt herself crying, Dinky’s words feeling so reassuring to the mare. “Thank you, Dinky.” She patted her daughter’s head. “It means a lot to me.”

“No problem.”

Derpy squeezed her daughter tight, so grateful to have her. “This is why I need you. You’ve always helped me keep going when I feel like giving up. It’s not so easy to let the past go. Now that I talked with you about all those things they don’t feel like they’re sitting so heavy on my heart, but…” Her eyes faded out, a few tears coming down her eyes. “I still have a lot of regrets and things I wish were different.

"I only want the best for you, Dinky. I know most of your classmates aren’t rich either but I just want you to be able to show off a new toy or game like they do. I want you to have a mom you feel proud of and can brag about. If only I’d had a few more years you could have been living so much better. I wish I could be a better mother to you. Why couldn’t you have been born to a better mare than me?” More tears came down.

“Mom!” Dinky said sternly. “That’s enough! Stop talking bad about yourself.”

“Huh?” She shook her head. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m doing it again.”

“Listen,” she said, much more gently. “Stop worrying so much about what everyone else thinks. I AM proud to have you as my mom. I always have been. I don’t need presents or toys to be able to brag about you, because I’m already rich in the best way of all.” Dinky’s eyes shined with tears as she smiled up at her mom. “You fill my heart with love and kindness, and you’re always there for me when I need you. Even when I started getting a big head you gave me my space when I tried to go it alone, but you knew I’d come back to you. You’re loving and kind and respectful and a hard worker. You hardly ever yell at me unless I deserve it. What more could I need to have a mother worth boasting about?”

Derpy couldn’t help smiling, the tears coming down her face much happier now. “Thank you, Dinky. I really needed to hear that. Please keep helping me on my journey to become a better mare.”

“I will!” she said with a joyful laugh. “I’ll always be nearby with some glue for that broken heart of yours.”

They heard the doorbell ring. Derpy now felt eager, her daughter’s comforting words washing her doubts away. “Come on, Dinky.” She set her daughter on the floor, a dreamy smile on her face. “Let’s go greet him.”

“Right!” She nodded.

The two of them went downstairs, Derpy opening the door. “Hello there, handsome.” A rosy blush came to her cheeks. “How are you on this fine night?”

Doctor Hooves blushed a little too as he took in her appearance. “Fine, Ms. Derpy. You look hungry tonight. I hope you’re beautiful.”

“W-what?” Derpy said with a snicker.

He blushed deeper, coughing. “I meant you look beautiful tonight. And I hope you’re hungry.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Me, too!” said Dinky. “Hi, Doctor!”

“Hello, Dinky. It’s nice to see you again.”

“Right back at you.”

They left, following along as they headed to the restaurant.

Derpy started as she saw the fancy restaurant. “We’re eating here?”

“Yeah. I got a reservation here earlier.”

Derpy’s face felt flushed. “Um, Doctor Hooves?”

“Yes?”

“Would it be alright if we, um, ate somewhere else?”

“What’s wrong with here?” said Dinky.

“It’s just, well, too much. An expensive place like this is more than I’m comfortable with.”

“Mom! You’re doing it again. Why can’t you just accept that you’re worth it?”

“Dinky,” said Doctor Hooves, “if your mother isn’t comfortable than she isn’t comfortable. We can go somewhere else.”

Dinky looked a little deflated as Doctor Hooves agreed with her mother. “But she’s always like this! She acts like she’s not worth the best when she is!”

“It’s… it’s not that, Dinky,” said Derpy. “I mean, I know I asked him to be my coltfriend, and we agreed to go out tonight, but this kind of high-class establishment is more for a romantic setting between two ponies. You’d be bored to tears, and if you’re coming along I want to show consideration for your feelings. Plus, I still want to take things slower than that. This is all still new to me, so I’d really just prefer it if we could go to a simple place like the Hay Burger. They have a ball pit and that play area with the tubes you can crawl around in.”

“Oh. I get it.” She felt more relaxed. “I thought you were just beating yourself up again.”

“Nope. Not this time.” She rubbed her hoof through Dinky’s mane.

“Sorry, Derpy,” said Doctor Hooves. “I wasn’t really thinking of Dinky when I made that reservation. I just choose that place because I wanted to show you I wasn’t afraid to spend money on you and was only going to take you to the cheapest places I could find.”

“It’s fine.” She gave him a peck on the cheek. “Thank you for thinking of me.”

His face turned crimson as he put a hoof to his cheek. “Well, that was the highlight of my night! To the Hay Burger it is!” He took off trotting with a giddy laugh.

“I’m too hungry to run,” said Dinky, but she ran regardless with a smile on her face.

“Wait for me!” said Derpy as she began running as well.

When the three of them arrived they put their order in and got a table. Dinky wolfed down her food, then ran off to the play area.

Derpy and Doctor Hooves ate their food more slowly, watching Dinky crawl around. “Ah, this is a good night,” said Derpy. “My daughter is happy, I’m happy, and I get to spend time with a great stallion.”

“Right back at you,” said Doctor Hooves.

“Close your eyes.”

“Why?”

“Just do it! I have a surprise for you.”

He got a big grin on his face, closing his eyes. He waited, puckering his lips in anticipation. He felt a little tingle on his nose, but that was all that happened as she told him to open his eyes again.

When he did he let out a yell and jumped backward, falling to the ground as he saw something sitting on his snout.

Derpy cracked up laughing. “Bad Doctor! You’d never be friends with a butterfly like that. Maybe you need to spend some time with Fluttershy.”

Doctor Hooves looked over at the ground, seeing the plastic butterfly he had attached to the flower he gave her. He picked it up, an inscrutable expression on his face for a few seconds, but then he looked up at her with a coy expression. “Funny.”

She stuck her tongue out at him. “What are you gonna do about it?”

“I’m gonna get you!” He hopped up.

Derpy began running. “Come and get me, tough guy.” She dodged around a few tables and jumped right into the ball pit, Doctor Hooves following along with her. The two of them playfully wrestled, laughing away.

“Umm, excuse me,” said a voice. The two of them looked up, seeing a stallion that was stifling his laughter. “The-hehe-the ball bit is for foals only. C-could you please remove yourself-hehe-from there?”

“Sorry,” the two said in unison, getting up and out, but suppressing their laughter as well.

As they headed back to their seats she gave him a playful shove. “Look at you. That’s twice now you’ve caused a scene.”

“ME?” He shoved her back. “You’re the who jumped into the ball pit first.”

“And you wanted to go to a stuffy hoity-toity restaurant.”

“Okay, I admit it. This was much more fun.”

The two of them sat back down at the table, ignoring the stares and chuckles from the other patrons who had just witnessed their display.

Dinky came up to them, shaking her head. “Look at you two. You’re acting more childish than I am.” She didn’t look bothered about it. She enjoyed seeing this playful side of her mother.

“She’s right,” said Derpy. “I think we should be a little more serious. Come on. Close your eyes again.”

He gave her a shrewd look. “What are you going to do this time?”

“Oh, just do it already. I promise you a kiss. Don’t you trust me?” She put her lower lip out, turning on the charm.

“Fine.” He shut his eyes and waited. Dinky began giggling hard and he heard whispering between the two of them but wasn’t able to make out the words.

After a few seconds he got a dainty kiss on the tip of his snout. He smiled. “Awww, thank you, beautiful.” He lifted his head and gave a kiss back.

“Oh, Doctor!” said Dinky with surprise. “Aren’t I a little young for you?”

His eyes shot open, and he saw Derpy holding Dinky up with her hooves, the two of them beginning to laugh uproariously as she set her daughter back down, Derpy slapping her knee.

As she began settling down she saw Doctor Hooves looking put out. “Aww, don’t pout,” she said, wiping her eyes of the tears that had formed. “Be a good sport.”

“That wasn’t funny,” he said, looking awkward.

Derpy sighed jokingly, rolling her eyes. “I’m sorry. I just wanted to play around with you a little.” She put her hooves on either side of his face, putting her lips to his as she closed her eyes, staying there for five seconds before pulling away. “There. Am I forgiven?”

The answer couldn’t have been more obvious unless little hearts appeared over his head. There was a carefree grin on his face and a deep blush suffused his cheeks. He nodded, looking satisfied.

The rest of the night went well. She gave him another quick peck on the cheek before going back inside, bidding him goodnight.

She went upstairs to her room, Dinky following behind her. She looked in the mirror, almost not recognizing herself. She was smiling, for one, and she didn’t have to force it, either. She found she didn’t care about her eyes not pointing the right way. She saw someone who looked satisfied with life.

Putting her elbows on the vanity she looked closer at herself, thinking of the kiss they had shared in the restaurant and sighing happily.

Dinky saw that her mother was content, and decided to leave. She didn’t think she had to remind her mother how important she was tonight.

In the coming months the three of them went on dates once or twice a week. Derpy always struggled to keep her self-esteem up. She looked forward to their nights out more and more, but along with her excitement and happiness she always had a period of doubt in the hours leading up to their date which Dinky had to help her get past. Gradually she was overcoming those negative feelings.

In their fourth month the two of the made plans for a solo date for their six month anniversary. They would mostly keep to public areas to be sure they still didn’t go too far, but they each wanted to show they trusted the other not to push things. Following that they agreed they’d go back to dates with Dinky if they felt it was too awkward or the heat of their passions was too strong.

Derpy was happy with that. She was pleased. She was glad. She was joyous. She had no problems with her decision, but something began to eat at her. Doubts and insecurities plagued her the closer the day came, and she didn’t know why.

At over five months they were only one week away from their half-year anniversary, and things felt very heavy for her. She had tossed and turned for hours, unable to find sleep for a long time.

She woke in the morning sunlight, hearing the sound of banging from downstairs. Forcing herself up she headed downstairs to see who could possibly at her door so early in the morning.

As she opened the door she let out a large gasp. “Shooting Star?”

Chapter 7: Ghosts of the past.

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Derpy could hardly believe it. The one who had chucked her aside like a piece of garbage was standing right in front of her after all this time. He still looked much the same, although a little taller and wider with age.

Getting over her shock Derpy glared at Shooting Star with all the contempt she could muster. “And just what brings you to my doorstep?” she said in a very composed voice.

“I just came… to apologize.”

Her eyebrow went up and she gave him a flat look. “I’m sure you did. What really brings you here?”

He looked towards the side, an awkward look on his face. “Listen… Bright Eyes…”

Derpy’s feelings immediately exploded, and she saw red. Lifting her hoof she backhoofed him so hard he fell to the ground, skidding a few inches. “YOU’VE GOT SOME NERVE!” she yelled. “How dare you? How dare you call me by that pet name after what you did to me!”

Shooting Star slowly rose. She was almost ready to strike again, but then he started laughing as he rubbed his cheek. It wasn’t an arrogant laugh so much as one that sounded genuinely amused.

“What’s so funny? Are you going to ruin my life now because I damaged “precious cargo?” You’re a joke!”

“Not at all. I’m laughing because you haven’t changed. You’re still the most refreshing thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“I don’t want to hear it. Do you have any idea what I’ve had to go through because of you? I lost my parents and have been struggling to make ends meet ever since. I’ve had to raise our- or rather, MY- daughter since the day she was born.”

“And that brings me to why I’m here today. I want to make amends for the past. I want to get this out right here and now so there are no misunderstandings. Back then I WAS exactly as I seemed. I lusted for power and authority. I got savage joy from making others bend to my will and the fear I instilled in them. I helped you because it made me look good, and to get you to fall in love with me. I did just get with you for that end goal I spoke of, and then threw you away right afterwards. I freely admit to all of that.

“But I’m not the same stallion I was back then. Just like with you I’m sure time has changed you as well.”

Derpy just stared at him, not responding.

“I thought I knew what I wanted. I have everything I could ever want, but still somehow I’m unsatisfied. Ordering ponies around grew tiresome. Seeing everyone cower and tremble and constantly keep themselves in check around me grew wearisome. I drove all the ponies I knew away. I had hoofball and my team, and won a lot of games, but even my own teammates were afraid of me. I had my rich, high class mare, but in time she was just like all the rest. She was boring and stale and was more interested in how much money I could spend on her than about me as a pony.

“Everywhere I looked was what I had always believed was right, but in the end that happiness only lasted so long before it lost the thrill it once did.”

“Good! Maybe you should be miserable! Maybe then you’d understand just a little of my pain.”

He gave her an odd smile. “You see? This is exactly what I’m talking about. In just the first few seconds of our meeting you gave me one heck of a backhoof. That was already the most refreshing thing I’ve had happen to me in forever. And now you’re telling it like it is instead of sugarcoating it.”

“Why are you here?” Derpy said sternly. “Stop beating around the bush. You expect me to believe you’re only here to apologize?”

“Of course that’s not the only reason. In the midst of all the boring, shallow, and empty life that has surrounded me I finally turned my mind back to the old days when you sent me that letter a few years ago.”

“SIX years is more than a few. And you sent it back!”

Shooting Star turned around. “What else was I supposed to do, Derpy? My dad was putting a lot of pressure on me to excel. At that time I couldn’t afford to let everyone know I had fathered a kid, especially with the way we parted ways. It would have been a huge blow to my dad’s reputation. And, really, after thinking about what I did to you I didn’t feel I deserved to be a father in the first place.”

She thought she heard regret in his voice. “Well, at least there’s a little honesty in you.”

“After that I began to watch you from afar. I would see you handling weather and delivering mail. From time to time I would see Dinky, but I didn’t know how to approach you.”

“So why now? Why after all this time?”

“Because I saw something different, and for the first time in my life I began to feel really scared.”

“Scared?” She let out a mirthless laugh. “You?”

His horn began to glow as a piece of paper came out of his saddlebag, floating in front of her. “I know this isn’t much, but I hope it can start to make reparations between us.”

Derpy groaned, wondering what could possibly be on a small sheet of paper that could ever help to make things right between them. She lifted her hoof, taking it out of the air. She turned it around and her eyes bugged out of her head. She blinked repeatedly, unable to believe what she was seeing. “Are… are you serious?” she asked, looking up at him with awe on her face.

“Yes.” He nodded. “I know it’s a little late, but that’s back foal support for all the years I wasn’t there to help.”

Derpy looked down at the check again, astounded at the amount of zeroes on it.

Shooting Star took a step closer. “I hope that helps to show you how serious I am about changing. That should last you a few years. You asked why now? Because I finally see how wrong I was. I began to see you with a stallion. As time passed you got closer and closer. If things had gone along at their current pace Dinky may have one day called HIM dad. And that was when I truly realized the value of what I threw away.

“I thought you were worthless, but I was wrong. It was all the things I accomplished in my life that were worthless. You were the best thing I ever had in my life… Bright Eyes.”

This time Derpy didn’t attack him. Her legs trembled a bit as he flashed her a dashing smile, the one he had given her plenty of times. Tears began to come down her eyes. “All of those special times were real to me, even if they were only fake to you. I never forgot about you. With a child I bore with you how could I forget about you?”

“I was a real dirtbag in the past. I realize that now.” He put his hoof on her cheek, gently rubbing it.

It once again made her think of the past. She had always enjoyed that. She knew she shouldn’t allow it, but she couldn’t bring herself to push him away. She sat down, closing her eyes as she enjoyed the attention.

She pouted when he stopped, but she pulled away quickly when she realized how easily he was getting to her. He had been the first pony she had ever fallen in love with, and he knew all her sensitive spots. She reminded herself of how much money he was giving to her. It wasn’t just empty words this time. He was really trying to take responsibility.

“Derpy, do you think we could, y’know, start over? I don’t care about my dad and his reputation and money and power and all that other crap anymore. The thing that was missing in my life this whole time was a pony that wasn’t afraid to be real with me.” He rubbed his cheek, snickering again. “That was the most refreshing thing I’ve had happen to me in years.”

He reached for her hoof, taking it in his. She just stared at it, not pulling away. “I’ve missed you. I’m sorry it took so long for me to realize what a fool I was. I know it’s been hard on you, but I want to be able to meet my daughter. I know that just throwing money at this problem isn’t going to erase the past and what I did to you, but I hope it’s a good start.” He put his other front hoof out towards hers.

She hesitated, turning away. “I don’t think Dinky would want to meet you. I told her about everything.”

“I understand, but maybe we can just… start with us?”

Slowly she turned back towards him, once more remembering the past. All those dates and loving gestures she had done for him. And, especially, her final act for him. The time that had passed had dulled those feelings of love, but they had never truly gone away. A part of her had never been able to accept that he was really that callous. As she met his eyes she felt herself flushing, her heart thumping. She yelled at herself to stop, but her body didn’t listen. Her hoof lifted, meeting his.

“Thank you, Derpy. You’ve proved how amazing you really are.”

She saw him approaching, and her heart started racing. Once more her body refused to listen to her voice. She was frozen, unable to move.

He gave her a quick, gentle kiss on the lips.

She smiled as a rosy blush came to her face, her eyes tenderly looking back at him just as he was doing to her.

“Derpy!”

The moment passed as she turned and saw Doctor Hooves standing there, letting out a little squeak.

“How could you? I thought what we had was special!” He ran off in tears.

“W-wait!” she yelled after him, but he didn’t stop. She pulled away from Shooting, running a few feet before coming to a halt.

Derpy turned around, tears in her eyes. “This is terrible! I… I don’t know what to do.”

“You’re despicable!” came a voice from behind her.

She saw Dinky standing there. “D-Dinky! You should go inside.”

Dinky glared at her. “I can’t believe you! How could you do that?” She walked up to Shooting Star. “You were right about her.”

“Huh?” Derpy said, confused. “When did you two ever talk?”

Dinky rounded on her. “He came to see me while I was walking home from school one day. I told him I had faith in you and that you would never cheat on the Doctor, but all he had to do was say a few nice words and that was all it took for you to start liking him again? Hmph!” She looked back at Shooting. “Fine. I agree. I lost the bet.”

“B-bet?” Derpy said, still trying to understand what was going on.

Dinky growled. “You still haven’t figured it out, you idiot? He hasn’t changed. He still doesn’t care about you. He just wanted to prove that you were just as horrible a pony as he is, and you proved it big time.”

“Dinky!”

“She’s right, you know,” said Shooting Star. “That’s some loyalty and example you just set for your daughter. You really are the most gullible mare ever.” He let out a derisive laugh. “Oh, well. I’m sure that stallion was only dating you because he pitied you. Or maybe he was just hoping your stupidity would mean you’d give it up easier. He would have just taken advantage of you too and left you like I did anyway.”

“Do you know what the stakes were for his bet?” Dinky said angrily. A mare came over, brown with a blonde mane and wearing glasses. “This is Legal Document. She works for Foal Services. If you had passed the test she would have dropped the case, but she’s determined you to be an unfit mother and she’s handing custody of me over to my dad.”

“W-WHAT?” Derpy sputtered out.

“You can keep the check,” said Shooting. “It’s a drop in the bucket for me. Come along, Dinky.”

“Goodbye, not-mother! I never want to see you again, you monster! I HATE you!”

Dinky stormed off, those last three words echoing in her ear.

Derpy’s eyes shot open. Her body was covered in sweat, and she was breathing in little gasps. Her breathing shortened.

A blood-curdling shriek rent the air, instantly waking Dinky from sleep. She jumped, falling off her bed. Adrenaline rushed through her body as she heard another scream, recognizing it as belonging to her mother. She immediately raced out of her room toward her mothers, throwing the door open and lighting up her horn as she looked for an attacker.

Derpy was shaking like a leaf, her mane a mess as she sat there holding her hooves on both sides of her head. “No, no, no! No!”

Dinky didn’t see anyone else in the room, so she jumped on the bed and ran over to her mother. “Mom! MOM!” She shook her mom hard, but Derpy didn’t seem to feel it.

Dinky started to cry, not knowing why her mom was so freaked out. Her mother was shivering like she had just come out of a frozen lake in the middle of winter, and gasping for air like she had just spent five minutes holding her breath. Her eyes were so small they were almost invisible, and sweat was pouring down her face, a look of absolute terror on her features.

She shook her mom harder, yelling her name, but still Derpy didn’t react. She didn’t know what to do. A thought came to her. She remembered her mom had taken her to a movie where someone was going crazy with worry and someone hit them to shock them out of it.

She lifted her hoof, feeling reluctant to hit her mom. However, her mother was being completely unresponsive to her, lost in whatever terror the night had shown her. She was still gasping for oxygen, her breathing so short and sharp it seemed she might make herself faint.

She took a deep breath, saying, “I’m sorry, mom.” Steeling herself, she struck her mom hard across the cheek.

Derpy let out a long gasp, the sudden explosion of physical pain starting to drown out her emotional pain. She started taking in deeper breaths.

“Mom!” said Dinky emotionally, hating what she had to do.

“D-Dinky?” said Derpy, blinking as she kept taking in deeper breaths.

“Yes, mom,” she said gently, rubbing the cheek she had hit. “I’m here.”

“Dinky? DINKY!”

Dinky let out a grunt as her mom threw her hooves around her, squeezing her so tightly it hurt.

“Dinky, I’m so sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Please… please don’t say it again! I never meant for that to happen! Please don’t hate me!”

Dinky tried to pull away from her mom’s iron grip but she was held too securely. “W-what are you talking about, mom?”

Once more she was thoroughly ignored, Derpy only repeating her words for a while before she descended to sobbing, still squeezing strongly.

Dinky was having trouble breathing, but she could tell her mom must have had one heck of a nightmare. Luckily one of her hooves was free. She grabbed onto one of her mom’s ears and gave it a hard tug. When her mom gasped in pain her grip loosened and Dinky pulled away, gasping in oxygen. She jumped back as her mom tried to hug her again.

Derpy reached futilely for Dinky, finding her out of reach. In her state it didn’t occur to her she could get up to pursue her child. “Please don’t leave me,” she said, sounding like a lost child, tears streaming down her eyes. “I need you.”

“What happened, mom?” said Dinky, maintaining her distance. “I’m here for you.”

“You… you are?” she said, sounding confused. “Why are you here? How did you escape? I thought you hated me.”

Dinky was starting to get really worried. She had seen her mom go through a lot of changes over the past half year but she couldn’t recall her mom sounding this out of it her whole life. She took a deep breath, knowing it was probably going to be her last one until her mother settled down. Approaching, she threw her hooves around her mother. Though she expected it her mother didn’t immediately do the same. “I don’t know what you saw in your dreams, but it certainly wasn’t me. I could never hate you no matter what happens. I love you, mom! I always have and always will! And I’m never going to leave you! Understand?”

Derpy began shaking again, beginning to sob again as she put her hooves around her daughter. “Oh, Dinky! Diiiiinnnkkkkyyyyy!”

Thankfully she wasn’t being squeezed quite as hard as before, so Dinky just let her mom hug her. “There, there. It’s okay. It’s all okay. I’m not going anywhere. Never! We’re a team, remember? We’ll always be together, even when we’re apart. I love you.”

Derpy closed her eyes. “Say it again, Dinky.”

“I love you!”

Trembling, she said, “Again, please.”

“I love you!”

Her breathing becoming erratic again she said once more, “Again!”

“I LOVE YOU!” Dinky yelled.

Relief washed over the mare. “I love you too, Dinky. I love you and I just couldn’t live without you. In my nightmare you told me that you never wanted to see me again and I was a monster and you hated me.”

“That’s right,” said Dinky, crying now too. “It was just a nightmare. That’s all. I would never say that to you.” Ever at her worst, when the two of them would be at each other’s throats and shouting at the top of their lungs she had never once said those words to her mom, and she never had any intention to.

When Dinky started to pull away again Derpy said helplessly, “Where are you going?”

“Relax. I’m not going anywhere. I just want to be more comfortable.”

Derpy felt Dinky leave her hold, and she instantly felt lonely even though Dinky was just a few feet away.

“Lay down, mom,” said Dinky, tapping the pillow.

“Why?”

“Just do it. Trust me.”

It took her a little while to comply. She had this nagging fear that if she lost sight of Dinky her daughter might just vanish.

Once Derpy finally laid down Dinky crawled up onto her stomach. She forced a smile on her face. “There you go. Now I’ll be right here all night. We can sleep together again so you don’t have to worry.”

Derpy put her hooves around Dinky, letting out a heavy breath. “Thank you, Dinky.”

“No problem.” She nuzzled her mom’s stomach, resting her head. “You’re really warm. I forgot how much I enjoyed this. It’s been so long.”

“Yes, it has. Too long.”

“Let’s sing again. I really liked when we did that the last time. I’ll start!” She began to sing her old foalhood lullaby, doing the first verse and chorus.

Derpy loved the sound of her daughter’s voice, and she found herself gently bobbing her head.

“Your turn!” said Dinky. “I want to hear you now.”

Derpy was starting to calm down now. This was the Dinky she knew and loved. Not that nasty, angry one from her nightmares.

“Stars and moons and air balloons, fluffy clouds to the horizon. I’ll wrap you in rainbows and rock you to sleep again.”

Dinky started again. “Smiles to cure the frowns, twirling and tumbling in laughter.”

“Someday life will always be, happily ever after.”

The two of them continued alternating every other line until the song was over.

Dinky nuzzled her mom’s stomach again, yawning a little as she asked, “Are you feeling okay now? You know that wasn’t really me, right?”

“Yes, Dinky,” she replied, feeling much more relaxed now. “It was only a fake Dinky. You’re my real one. The sweetest, most beautiful foal I know.”

“Good. I don’t want any fake ruining my reputation.” She yawned again, closing her eyes. “In that case I’m gonna go to sleep.” Opening her eye a crack she asked, “You promise to protect me from nightmares?”

Derpy let out a little giggle. “Only if you do the same.”

“I promise,” said Dinky, giggling as well.

“It’s a deal then, my little muffin.”

The two of them closed their eyes, holding onto each other as they drifted off to sleep.

Derpy awoke in the morning sun, blinking sleep from her eyes as she heard banging on the front door. She saw Dinky fast asleep on her chest. She gently lifted her daughter up, setting her next to her on the bed as she placed a kiss on her forehead.

As she got up she twitched as she began to get a sense of déjà vu, and fear began coursing through her. She looked over at Dinky, and she started to feel short of breath. “No, it can’t be. It’s impossible. I won’t let it happen.”

The knocking began again, and Derpy once more felt herself trembling and sweating. “Please tell me this is just a bad dream. I can’t lose Dinky. I can’t!”

Walking slowly to the window she looked outside to her front door. Her rapidly beating heart slowed down a little when she saw it was Doctor Hooves at the door and not Shooting Star. Opening the window she said, “Good morning.” It truly was. Her ex wasn’t coming to take her daughter away from her. That was enough to make the day good.

He looked up at her and said, “Good morning to you too. I know I’m a little early but I just couldn’t wait.”

“Wait for what?”

He looked a little disappointed. “Don’t you remember? We’re going out for breakfast this morning.”

“Oh? Oh! Right.” She let out a nervous giggle. “I’m sorry. It, uh, it was a rough night last night. I only just got up and Dinky is still asleep.”

He laughed. “Oh, I’m sorry. I knew I was coming too early but I really just couldn’t wait to see you again. One date a week isn’t enough for me, but I know it’s just right for you.”

She grinned down at him. “I love you too. I’ll be down in a minute.” She shut the window, going to shake Dinky awake.

Dinky mumbled something as she opened her eye a crack. “Hmm?”

“Wake up, my little muffin. Doctor Hooves is taking us to breakfast.”

Dinky blinked a few times. “Gimme five more minutes, huh?” She closed her eyes again.

Derpy put on a wicked grin. “What was that? You want five more tickles?”

“What?” the sleepy filly said. “Don’t you dare-EEEP!” Dinky squealed as Derpy began tickling her, rolling around and trying to get away from her hoof until she fell off the bed.

“Are you alright, Dinky?” said Derpy, concerned.

Dinky rose up, a sour look on her face. She jumped on the bed, hopping towards her mother. “Oh, you’re gonna get it now.”

“You can try!”

The two of them wrestled on the bed, laughing away as they each tickled each other.

“Alright, alright!” said Derpy after a minute. “The Doctor is waiting.”

Dinky was in good spirits as the two of them walked downstairs. She hadn’t forgotten last night either, so she was glad her mom was happy.

Opening the door Derpy said, “Sorry it took so long.”

“It’s okay,” he replied, giving her a light kiss on the snout. “I like your mane. It’s so natural.”

Derpy frowned, realizing she hadn’t brushed it before she came out. She self-consciously lifted her hoof to try to push it down.

“Oh, relax, mom,” said Dinky with a laugh. “He said he likes it.” Turning to him she said, “Good morning!”

Bending over he gave her a little kiss too. “Good morning to you too, Dinky.”

Despite his words Derpy still felt awkward she hadn’t freshened up first before going to greet him. “I’ll be right back,” she said. “Make yourself at home.” She turned around and trotted toward the bathroom.

Pushing the handle on the sink she splashed some water in her hair, grabbing her brush and fixing up her untidy mane. Alone again her mind turned towards her nightmare. “It was only a dream. It was only a dream,” she repeated to herself. “Or was it? Maybe I’m dreaming again.” Taking her brush she slammed it down on her other hoof, wincing as pain shot up her leg. “Ow! Okay. Definitely not a dream.” She began to brush her mane again. “That’s right. Why would Shooting Star be watching me after all this time? It makes no sense. Why would he want to take Dinky away when he’s “so valuable?” He wouldn’t have time for her. And Dinky wouldn’t ever treat me that way.

“Just a dream.” Looking at herself she found herself once more staring at the same mare she was in the past. “Dinky is happy and loves me. Doctor Hooves is crazy about me and can’t wait to see me again. Everything is normal. So why do I feel so afraid?” Foregoing her usual style she put her mane in a ponytail, wanting to try something new.

“It’s going to be okay!” she said sternly to herself. “That was the past. You’re not that same mare anymore! You have someone to share good times and bad times with. You have two ponies on your side who both think the world of you. Now stop being scared. You don’t want Dinky to get worried over nothing. You already terrified her last night.”

She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. When she opened them again she saw she looked more relaxed. “That’s better. We’re gonna get through this. It’s no big deal.” She wasn’t entirely convinced, but she at least felt ready to greet him properly.

Leaving the bathroom she followed the sound of voices into the kitchen. “Hello, handsome!” she said in an upbeat voice.

He gave a little cat purr and smiled at her. “I swear you look more beautiful every time I see you.”

“Thank you. So let’s head out. I’m starting to get hungry now.”

As they walked along the path they saw other early bird ponies walking around.

The three of them talked, and Derpy began to laugh at herself for getting so worked up. Obviously this was reality, not that crazy scene from her dreams. What was the likelihood of that ever happening? After all, even if a court wanted to find her unfit to be Dinky’s guardian it couldn’t just be sprung on her out of nowhere like that. She would have to be told there was a case against her and they would have to investigate over a period of time. There was a zero percent chance of things happening like in her dream.

As they passed a stallion Derpy’s heart started racing, and her head whipped around as she saw the brown-coated, blonde-maned pony. After a few seconds she noticed the cutie mark was completely different.

“What’s wrong?” asked Dinky.

“I, um, nothing. I thought I saw… well, never mind. Sorry.” They kept walking, but Derpy just couldn’t get into the conversation again.

“Gullible.”

Derpy’s head shot around to the other side, hearing Shooting’s voice. She looked around but didn’t see him.

“What is it?” asked Doctor Hooves.

She didn’t answer, looking around for the source of the voice.

“He’s only using you,” came his sing-song voice.

“No! Stop it!”

From the other side she heard his mocking laughter. “You’re a fool. He’s just going to abandon you too.”

Derpy felt her heart racing again. “Stop it!” she cried out, shivering.

“Derpy, what’s wrong?” said Doctor Hooves, worried.

As he went to put a hoof on her she pushed it away. “Don’t touch me!”

From left to right it was like she could hear him, see him everywhere. Mocking her. Taunting her.

“What are you expecting, fool? You know he just wants what I want. And you’re planning on being alone with him? You truly are the biggest idiot in Ponyville.”

Tears began to come down her eyes. She spun around to the Doctor. “I’m sorry! I’m really sorry! I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I know it’s crazy. I’ve told myself that so many times. You’re nothing like Shooting Star. You’ve made me feel more loved than he ever did right near the start.

“And I think that’s the problem. You’re so wonderful and smart and funny, just like the stallion I’ve always dreamed of meeting. But I thought the same about Shooting Star, and look what happened with him. I can’t be alone with you. I don’t want to be near you right now. I… I almost want to just end things right now while all my memories are happy, and just hold onto this picture perfect image of you, rather than risk you hurting me like he did.”

“Mo-om!” said Dinky.

Derpy shook her head. “I thought I was past all this, but it hurts so bad I can’t stand it. I’ve never felt so afraid in all my life. I’m not going to go through what I did in the past! I can’t! I won’t! Never again! I refuse! I’d rather die!

“It’s over between us! I give up! I’m done! Now just leave me alone!”

Turning around she ran off in tears, leaving the two shocked ponies speechless.

Chapter 8: Unable to let go.

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Dinky and Doctor Hooves both stood completely still, rendered mute by Derpy’s shocking statement.

After about a minute Doctor Hooves gulped, tears coming down his eyes as he walked away without a word.

Dinky watched him go, crying as well. She slowly walked home.

When she got in the door she heard the sound of her mother crying from upstairs. She walked upstairs, going to her mom’s room.

She saw her mother sitting on her bed. “Mom?” Dinky said quietly.

Derpy turned toward her daughter, her crying easing up a little. “What do you want, Dinky?” She got up, approaching the filly. “I know what it is! Oh, I’m crazy! Why would I say that? “I thought you were letting the past go.” I get it! And it’s none of your business! I don’t want to hear your silver tongue right now. IT’S MY CHOICE WHAT I DO WITH MY LIFE! NOT… YOURS!”

They were face to face, and Dinky backed up a step. “I don’t have anything to say. It IS your choice. I think we should both just drop it for now and just go have some breakfast.”

Derpy snorted a few times. “Oh, yeah? Well, I-what?” That wasn’t the reaction she expected at all. She was ready to get into a shouting match, but Dinky’s response threw her off.

“I’m hungry. Can we have some pancakes?”

Derpy had a very confused look on her face now. This wasn’t like Dinky. She had expected to have to defend herself but Dinky wasn’t even trying to fight. “Uh, sure. I guess.” She took a few deep breaths, feeling her tense body relaxing a little because she didn’t have to argue.

The two of them went downstairs, Dinky lagging behind a little. She knew her mom wasn’t in any condition to have a discussion. She would bide her time and wait for her mother to calm down before she tried to breach the topic.

So began a normal morning for the pair, but they were clearly going through the motions. There was heaviness in the air as they both tried being their usual selves, but it just didn’t come off that way.

In the middle of cooking the pancakes Derpy felt pain go through her, tears coming down her eyes. Trying to keep her composure she finished the batch and put them on a plate, setting them in front of Dinky.

“Here you go,” she said emotionlessly.

“Thanks,” Dinky replied in the same tone. She poured herself some syrup, and began to dig into her meal. She actually was pretty hungry and for the moment she forgot her sadness as she quickly cleared her plate.

Derpy saw her daughter devouring her meal and she couldn’t help letting out a little chuckle. Her brief bit of joy was immediately replaced with guilt. “Come here, Dinky.”

“Okay,” she said. “One second.” She went to the sink and washed the syrup off her hooves and mouth.

When she walked over Derpy picked her up, setting her on her lap. “I’m sorry, Dinky. I just feel terrible right now. I’m the adult, but I feel like I keep ruining things for you. You’re a child but you have to keep acting older than you are every time I start being foolish.”

“Don’t be silly,” said Dinky. “Every pony gets sad sometimes. Even Pinkie Pie, the happiest, party crazy pony in Ponyville, gets down every once in a while. No one can do everything themselves, and since you don’t have anyone else most of the time I have to be there for you when you are down. Most of the time you handle everything yourself, so don’t be so worried about me not being a kid. I mean, I just slept with you last night. That’s something only kids do, right?”

“Point taken,” said Derpy. Taking a deep breath she said, “Fine then. Come with me, Dinky. There are things I have to tell you.”

She set Dinky on the floor and hopped off her chair, walking towards the living room and up the stairs.

Dinky followed her. When she got to her mom’s room she saw her mom rummaging in a drawer. After a few seconds she climbed up onto the bed and put her hooves in her lap, waiting for whatever it was she was going to be told.

Derpy sighed as she found what she was looking for. Tears welled up in her eyes as she looked at the picture of her and Shooting Star from their prom. She walked over to the bed, sitting down next to Dinky.

Dinky looked over, seeing the photo. “Why are you showing that to me? I’ve already seen it once.”

“Because there are things I need to tell you. The first of which is that I’ve been lying to you the whole time.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, confused. “Lying about what?”

Derpy didn’t answer immediately, staring at the photo. After about half a minute she finally said, “I lied about letting the past go.”

“But you have been doing that! You’re dating again. Isn’t that enough proof?”

Derpy took a shuddering breath as her heart began to ache and the tears she had been holding back began to come down her face. “No, Dinky. No, it’s not. The truth is, the whole truth is… somewhere, in my heart of hearts, I still love Shooting Star.”

Dinky’s first reaction was anger and the desire to start screaming, but more than rage she felt confusion. “Why?” she asked, unable to understand it. “How could you still love him after everything he did to you? Didn’t you spend my whole life snapping at me every time I tried to ask any questions about him?”

“Dinky, I didn’t tell you about my whole dream last night. It started with Shooting coming back in the morning. I yelled and snapped and I hit him, but he was apologetic and remorseful. He gave me a check for more bits than I can count as back foal support for all the years I could have used the money. He said that the years had changed him. He found that life had become stale, the exact reason he began to date me in the first place, and all his wealth and fame and power just weren’t making him happy anymore, and he couldn’t bear the thought of you one day calling another pony “dad.”

“I grew weak. I took his hoof, wanting to start things anew, and he gave me a little kiss. Until then everything was perfect. But as soon as I did that Doctor Hooves showed up, getting offended and hurt. And then you showed up, angry that I had betrayed him. And you revealed that you had already met Shooting Star once. Apparently he bet you that I was just as horrible as him, and I proved it by letting him kiss me.

“A pony showed up, and you said that she had found me to be an unfit mother and she was taking you away to have you live with your dad. And that’s when you said… you said…” She shook her head, unable to say the words.

Dinky felt a few tears came down her own eyes. She knew her mom’s biggest fear was being alone. “It was only a lie, mom. I love you! I could never hate you.” She hugged her mom tightly. “I love you with all my heart. The two of us are a team, and I’m never gonna leave you!” Her breathing sped up, feeling like she was gonna break down as she remembered the sound of her mom’s screams from last night, now fully understanding why.

Derpy put her hoof around her daughter, pulling her closer. “I know, Dinky. I love you too. With everything I have. I couldn’t live without you either. Don’t cry, my little angel.”

Dinky let go of her mom, climbing up onto her lap and hugging her again. She sniffed a few times, still feeling like sobbing. Her mom began to rub her back, this time taking the initiative to begin singing first. Dinky gently bobbed her head to her mom’s voice. She had always enjoyed the sound of her mother’s singing. Her raging emotions began to subside and her grip began to loosen as her body started to relax.

“How was that, my little muffin?”

“Good,” replied Dinky with a smile. “See? I am still a kid, aren’t I?”

Derpy let out a small laugh. “Yes, you are.” She sighed, her smile fading. “Can we get back to the main issue, Dinky?”

Dinky felt tense, a little afraid of what her mom would say next. “Okay. So you had a dream where Shooting Star came back like he was sorry, but he was only acting again and tricked you just to rub it in your face?”

“Yes.”

“But why does that matter? It was a dream, remember?”

“It matters, Dinky, because it’s not far from reality.”

“What do you mean?”

Derpy looked at the picture, once more hesitating before answering as she looked at the happiness on her face. “Both halves of my dream were a part of me. The first half was my greatest wish. The second was my greatest fear. What I fear is obvious. I told you that I never went after Shooting Star out of fear they would take you away from me because his home situation was obviously a lot better than mine.

“My greatest wish is more complicated. After he broke up with me I threw away a lot of things connected to him, but I didn’t throw away this photo. When he sent back those photos of you I was furious and decided to completely erase him. Everything else went in the trash, but when it came to this photo, once again I just wasn’t able to bring myself to throw it away. Over the years I’ve tried to throw it away or tear it up or burn it several times, but each time I went to try I just couldn’t.”

“Why not?” Dinky asked, genuinely interested. “You know he didn’t care about you. He told you that himself.”

“I guess… it’s because I can’t completely throw away Shooting Star. There’s too much of a history there. It wasn’t his intention, of course, but he saved my life.”

“How?”

“School was a nightmare every day. Everywhere I looked ponies mocked me constantly for my eyes. It hurt so badly. As I found out later a few of them only participated to be “cool” and so they wouldn’t be the next targets for bullying.

“It all came to a head one day, when I felt I couldn’t take anymore. I had endured as much as I could, and I had reached my limit. In my pain and despair… I tried to take my own life.”

Dinky immediately went tense. “WHAT?” she cried out, her voice cracking. Her breathing sped up.

“I tied my wings to my body and jumped off a cliff. Almost as soon as I jumped I found that I wanted to live. I should count myself fortunate that I don’t know how to tie a good knot, because I managed to get my wings free before I collided with the ground.”

“M-m-mom!” Dinky began to shake like a leaf. “P-please don’t-”

“I know, Dinky!” Derpy said quickly, holding her daughter with both her hooves and her wings. “I know. I don’t care what happens. I know what I said to Doctor Hooves, but even if he broke my heart I will NEVER throw my life away, because you mean more to me than my own life. I love you more than anything else, and I would never hurt your heart that way.”

Dinky held her mom again as she began sobbing. “G-g-good! D-don’t ever leave me! I-I-I need you! I love you so much. You’re… y-y-you’re much too precious to lose.”

“There, there.” Derpy began rubbing her back again. “See, this is exactly why I have to be thankful to Shooting Star.”

Dinky looked up, her coat soaked with tears. “W-what?”

Still continuing her gentle rubbing she said, “The bullying was out of control, but when Shooting Star made that school wide declaration that I was his mare it all stopped. ALL of it. Not a single pony had the guts to say a bad word about me anymore. You can’t understand what a relief that is. It was like becoming a different pony. I began getting treated with respect instead of condescension. And then of course I began to get some friends out of it.

“During those months we were going out I was the happiest I had ever been all my life. School was good. Home was good. I had a coltfriend who was interested in me and wanted me more than the popular mares. Our connection grew stronger and stronger as time passed, and I began to love him more and more.” Her eyes faded out as she looked at the picture again. “It all came to its peak at the prom. I danced and partied without care. Getting crowned the queen, having him by my side, I had never felt more content and full of love in my life. And that’s why I gave myself to him.

“He broke my heart with his callous disregard of my feelings, especially telling me the child I was carrying was my problem, but in losing him I gained something else just as precious.” She gave Dinky a loving squeeze. “And you carried on what he started, making me feel loved and always there for me when I need you.

“I didn’t just make excuses to my parents, you know. I also made excuses to myself to try to justify what Shooting had done, and those all sparked in my dream last night. Even through all my anger and heartache I still wanted him to come back. I loved him. I loved him with all my heart.

“Some of the excuses I came up with are that he really did consider me just someone to pass the time with, but he hadn’t actually intended things to go that far, and he had to break up with me to spare me from loving someone who he didn’t love back. So my pain was inevitable. It was only when he would tell me. Now, right after he heard, or later, when I dedicated years and years of my life to him.

“Or that because our differences in social class his father didn’t approve of our relationship and was pushing him toward getting with someone more his speed. Or he was just young and doing what stallions do. Too immature to be ready to settle down and be a dad.

“I kept this photo all these years because I’m immature too. Like a silly filly who has a crush on a celebrity I keep hoping that if I want it bad enough it will happen. I hope that by staring at our happiest moment that it will somehow cause him to return, hope that he’ll realize how rotten of a pony he was and that he’ll come back to apologize and want to start again.

“It’s stupid. I KNOW that. I know that very well, but I just can’t completely hate Shooting Star. He helped me make it through the roughest years of my life, through making the bullies back off of me and helping to create you. I know how offended you got when you thought my hating your dad meant that I wished you had never been born.”

Dinky sniffed, nuzzling her mom’s chest. “I remember that. It really hurt.”

“You are half me and half your dad. To express complete hatred and disgust for him IS saying that I feel the same way about you. I love every part of you, Dinky. I love you through the good times and the bad times. I love you when you snuggle up against me and when you pull away because you’re too big for it. I love you when you tell me you love me and when you’re shouting at the top of your lungs at me. I love you when you’re honest and doing the right thing and when you lie to my face and hide your wrongdoings. I love you from head to hoof, from your appearance to your personality to your heart, so I have to keep a little bit of love for Shooting Star because if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have you. There are times you remind me of your dad. Sometimes you get that cocky look he has. Sometimes you have his laugh. Sometimes you act the way he does. And, even when you’re at your worst, yes, I love you even then.

“So now that brings me to the point where my dream became a nightmare. Me and Shooting Star were only together for a little over six months. Six months. Next week is my second six month anniversary with the second stallion I have ever loved. I’m comparing the past to now, and that’s why I feel so afraid. Even though in my mind I know it doesn’t make any sense, my heart is still scared to death of things ending the same way they did with Shooting. After all, our plans for that day are to have our first date without a chaperone. I don’t want to make the same mistake I made with Shooting, and that’s why my dream scared me so much. What if we stumble upon a place that’s more private and we get too romantic? I don’t want to just be used as a mate and thrown away again.”

Dinky kept nuzzling her mother, still feeling disconcerted about the knowledge that she had once tried to commit suicide. “I don’t want to lose you, mom. I still need you. I’ll always need you. I can’t be Team Muffin alone. I don’t care what you do so long as you stay with me.”

“I promise you, Dinky. I won’t ever leave you willingly. So long as I have you I’ll always have a reason to live. Team Muffin will stay strong together.”

“G-good!” She sniffed again, a few tears coming down her face as she continued her nuzzling.

Derpy squeezed tighter, nuzzling her daughter’s face. “I’m not going anywhere, Dinky. I promise. I’ll always be there for you when you need me.”

“You better be! You’re the one who makes my life sunny. You scared me when you said you’d rather die than go through that heartache again.”

“It was just the heat of the moment.”

Dinky looked up after a while. “So, are you really breaking up with Mr. Hooves?”

“I… I don’t know yet. I still need time to decide. I’m feeling really confused, and I don’t know how to face him right now. The aftermath of that nightmare is still affecting me. I need a few days to process things.”

Dinky’s mind began racing of arguments for why she should go to him right now, but it was quickly replaced with her selfish desire to have her mom to herself at the moment. She was also still reeling from the revelation her mom told her. The mental image of her mom being so depressed she tried to jump off a cliff to end things was terrifying, especially with what she had said just a short while ago.

Crying again, she said emotionally, “I won’t ever let it happen! I’ll always be there for you too! I won’t ever let you feel like that again.” Her voice began to crack as she continued, “I love you! I love you! You hear me! I’ll say it as many times as I have to, but I don’t ever want you to try to kill yourself again! You’re way too important. You got that? My life would never be complete without you!”

Derpy began to cry too. “I love you too, Dinky! You’re my everything! You’re my sun and stars, the light bursting through the clouds in my heart. You’re my rain on a hot day. My first snow of winter. Life wouldn’t mean anything without you by my side, and I know you feel the same way as I do. Team Muffin will always be together, no matter how far apart we are.”

“I love you, mommy!”

“I love you too, Dinky!”

It was quiet again for a time, the two of them holding tight to each other, neither wanting to let go as their hearts filled with their love of the other.

Chapter 9: Foolishness and anger.

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Doctor Hooves was traipsing around his house, making himself some morning coffee. Each step he took was slow and plodding, a lost look on his face.

It had been three days. Three whole days since Derpy had given up on him. He had left her alone as she wanted, but he was still hurting deep inside. He couldn’t figure out what had happened. One minute he was waking her up to go to breakfast, and the next she began to have a breakdown and told him she wanted to break up.

He sighed as he poured the mix into the coffee machine, feeling unsure of what to do. He wanted her back, but he didn’t know what to say. There had to be something behind her sudden freak out. He thought maybe he should talk to Dinky again. He knew the two of them were extremely close, so Derpy had surely told her daughter what was troubling her. Dinky wanted her mom to be happy, so she wouldn’t have any issue telling him what was wrong so he could fix it. At least he hoped so. Maybe things really were over between them. A quiet tear came down his face.

***

Derpy was on the job. With her mail cap and bag of deliveries she walked from house to house placing the right mail in the right mailboxes. As she went on about her deliveries she came as she always did upon the house of Doctor Hooves. And just as she had the past few days she always began to feel bad as she placed his mail in the box. Taking off her cap she picked up the letter she had written for him and also put it in the box. It was only a few lines long, telling him she wanted to talk later on after her shift ended.

With a few days to think she now felt ready to speak with him. She still wasn’t sure what she wanted, but she owed him an explanation after the way she had parted from him. It wasn’t his fault, after all.

As she walked away she did feel a brief desire to run back and take her letter back, a little afraid of what might come of their conversation, but she forced herself to keep going. Needless to say the rest of her shift she felt restless, both wanting the conversation to come as fast as possible and to never happen.

When she got to the last house she felt grateful it was over with, and she flew home. As she neared her house she felt a jolt in her heart as she saw he was sitting down in front of her door. Angling her body to head lower she landed about a hundred feet from her house to avoid scaring him.

He turned around as he heard the sound of hoof steps. “Derpy,” he said emotionlessly, an impassive look on his face.

“Doctor Hooves,” she responded. “Won’t you come in?”

His eyes narrowed. “Are you sure you want to do that?” Angrily he continued in a sarcastic voice, “Because Celestia knows I’m just a heartless monster waiting to prey on you, right?”

“I deserved that. And you deserve a reason. Something came up that day. Something I wasn’t expecting.” She walked up to the door, getting her key from her bag and unlocking the door. “And it gave me quite a fright. I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”

She walked into the house, turning her head to make sure he was following. He came in, closing the door behind him. She headed to the kitchen, him behind her. She sat down at the table, and he took one across from her.

“Well?” he said, crossing his hooves. “So after three days you leave a note in my mailbox? What, did you not have the guts to ask me for a meeting face to face?”

“Look, Doctor, I know you’re mad. I get it. I didn’t want that to happen either. I… I need to talk with you about what set me off.”

“Fine, then. Talk.”

***

“I see,” said Doctor Hooves a few minutes later as Derpy finished her story, recounting her dream turned nightmare. “So you still hold feelings for Shooting Star…”

Pushing out his chair he got up. “I can’t believe this!” he said furiously. “I really expected better of you!”

“Doctor… I…”

“No!” he said sharply, rounding on her. “You’re free to love who you want. I understand that Dinky was the result of your union and that he was your first so there will always be some degree of affection there. I’m not mad about that.” He began pacing back and forth. “I’m mad that you dumped me on a vague hope that not only will he return, but he’ll be the dream stallion you always wanted. You’re not a kid anymore, so why don’t you grow up and get over it? If you want to sit here and be all alone the rest of your life hoping your little dream will come true that’s your business, but I don’t deserve to be treated this way!

“I gave you everything I had. I was patient and loving and understanding, never pushing past the boundaries you put up. And apparently none of that means anything. All I am to you is Shooting Star number two? ARE YOU KIDDING? I’m only an arrogant jerk who just wants to use you then throw you away like a piece of trash? Really? REALLY?”

Derpy could hear the pain in his voice as tears began to come down his eyes, and she felt her heart began to ache as well. “Doctor,” she started as she got up, but she was cut off again.

“No!” he snapped at her. “If that’s what you want than FINE! I’m gone! Enjoy your lonely life.” He began walking towards the living room.

Derpy ran after him, getting in front of him. “Please stop!” she said, crying hard too now. “I’m sorry!”

At first he ignored her, walking around her but then he stopped. “Why should I stop?” he said in a quiet voice. “So you can compare me some more to the guy who ruined your life with no remorse? Do I really seem like that kind of stallion to you?”

Derpy walked until she was in front of him again. “No. You don’t.” She put her lips to his, kissing him. After a few seconds she pulled away, saying, “I don’t want to lose you. I really do love you, and I think you’re the best thing that has ever come into my life. I’m sorry that I hurt you. It was never my intention. I still want to be yours. That is, if you still want me?” She lifted a hoof toward him, giving him pleading eyes.

He looked down at her hoof. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. Absolutely.”

After staring at her hoof for a while he finally took it. “You’re a fool, you know that?” But he said it with a smile.

She returned the gesture. “Only a fool for you.”

“And that’s the best kind of fool there is.”

The two of them moved their heads toward each other, kissing each other a few times. He put the hoof not holding her around her neck, rubbing it gently.

She moved her head to his neck. “I still want to go out for our six month anniversary, but I’m still not ready for a solo date. Please understand. I’m not trying to put you down. I want to trust you, but I’ve carried this pain for ten years. It’s not just going to go away overnight. If you want to prove yourself to me then just keep doing what you’ve been doing this whole time: being your fantastic self. My patient, kind, loving stallion.”

“Okay, Derpy.” He kissed her ear, making her giggle. He slowly kissed down her face until he reached her neck, hearing her let out some content sounds.

Derpy closed her eyes, enjoying the sensations. She nuzzled his face as he continued kissing her. She kissed his ear too, then gave it a little nibble. He gasped a little, and she pulled back, kissing him aggressively on the lips.

“Whoa!” she cried out as he suddenly jumped away from her, and she nearly fell to the floor. “W-what?” she said, looking around for the source of his distress. “What happened?”

“I-I gotta go,” he said with a blush as he turned around, heading towards the door.

“What happened?” she said again. “Are you still mad at me?”

“No,” he replied quickly. “Dinky isn’t here, and we’re home alone. I’m not taking any chances.”

“Huh? Oh… right.” He seemed to be walking in slow motion as he continued toward the door. After a few seconds she said, “No!”

He turned his head toward her. “No… what?”

“I don’t want to stop!” She had a tingle in her tummy and she could still feel the warmth of him against her, feel her skin buzzing from where he kissed her. “You can’t just start and then stop like that.”

Doctor Hooves tilted his head a little, feeling confused. “But didn’t you just say-”

“I don’t care what I said before. This is what I want now.” She took a few steps toward him. “I’ve missed you. I want to be near you. I want to kiss you and hold you close to me. I want to feel your love. We were just having a good time. How can you tease me like this?”

“Derpy,” he said warningly, “you’re not making any sense. I should go now.”

She frowned, tears beginning to form in her eyes. “Why? You said you love me. What’s wrong with showing me that it’s the truth? It’s not like you’re gonna do anything inappropriate to me. We can just kiss some more.” She fluttered her eyebrows at him. “Pleeease?”

Doctor Hooves felt his stomach tensing. His body was starting to react to her flirting and her innocent voice. His mind felt a little hazy. It would be so easy to give in. She was asking for it, and he had no intention of hurting her. All he had to do was say yes. Just say yes. Just say… yes.

He took a deep breath, looking her deep in the eyes and saying firmly, “NO!” At that declaration he felt his mind clearing.

Derpy began blinking, the tears that had been forming before starting to come down her eyes. “Why not?”

“Because you’re not in control of your actions right now. I said from the beginning that I wasn’t going to be your next regret, and I’m not going to take advantage of your desire to be loved just so you can feel satisfied in the moment and regret it later on. You said not even a minute ago you weren’t ready for a single date, but now you’re asking to have a make-out session while we’re alone? Nothing doing! I do love you very much, and that’s why I’m leaving: To save you from yourself. You’ve being a slave to your own body and I don’t feel safe being here. When you began chewing on my ear I started feeling a little… ah… frisky.”

“What’s the big deal?” she said angrily. “Me and Shooting Star used to make-out all the time without things going that far.”

“And we both know how well that turned out for you in the end.”

She winced, the truth of that statement impossible to ignore.

“Goodbye, Derpy. I’ll see you on the anniversary.”

She felt like sobbing as he continued walking toward the front door. “So that’s it, then?” she said emotionally, her voice coming out shaky. “What’s wrong with wanting to be loved? After having my heart broken I’m finally trying to love again, and I chose you. What’s wrong with it? HUH?”

He stopped, but he didn’t turn around. “If you can’t understand what the problem is than its all the more reason I can’t stay here. You’ll see it later. I’m sorry for getting you worked up. I do love you, Derpy, and the best love has to wait for the proper time.

“You’re love starved after all those years of being single and trying to do all you can to make it by alone. But you can’t seem to find a happy medium, given how quickly you shifted gears from dumping me to taking me back to telling me you weren’t ready to be alone to trying something you know will lead to trouble for both of us. I told you before I have a lot of respect for you and who you are, and I won’t allow you to ruin your own opinion of yourself like this when you’re letting your heart and body dictate your actions and not your mind.” Without another word he continued walking, shutting the door behind him as he left.

Derpy took several hiccupping breaths, her eyes beginning to fill with tears. “Jerk. Jerk. Jerk! Jerk! JERK! JERK!” She hit a wall as she let out a wail and fell to the ground, curling up into a ball as she began sobbing.

About ten minutes later Dinky came home from school. “Mom! I’m home!” she yelled out, throwing her saddlebag on the couch.

Her joyful demeanor faded as she heard a sad whimpering sound coming from behind her. She turned around, seeing her mother curled up and shaking. “Mom!” she said, running toward her. “What happened?” She put a hoof on her mother’s shoulder, shaking it.

Derpy looked up, her eyes red from crying. She didn’t have any words at the moment. It hurt too much. Pushing her legs down until they were flat on the floor she grabbed Dinky and held her close on her lap, shaking and sniffing as tears poured down her face.

Dinky didn’t know what was wrong, but she put her hooves around her mom anyway, rubbing her back. “It’s okay, Mom,” she said gently. “I’m here.”

“Of course you are,” Derpy replied, her voice hoarse. “You always are. You’re there for me whenever I need you. And that’s why I’m still alive today.”

Dinky grunted as her mom’s body tensed hard, making it hard to breathe. After a few seconds it passed, and the iron grip around her loosened. “What happened, Mom?”

“That jerk!” she said angrily. “Stupid Doctor Hooves! He really is just like all the rest!”

Dinky felt a pit in her stomach. She didn’t like the sound of that. “Don’t say that.”

Anger began to wipe out her sadness, and her body tensed again. “How could he do that to me? Shows how he really feels about me!”

“What did he do?” Dinky asked, hoping it wasn’t as bad as she thought.

“I invited him over to talk things out after the way I just ran out on him the other day. So I told him about my dream and my fears and at first he felt mad because he felt I was abandoning him for no good reason, because Shooting Star may never come back, but then I told him that I still wanted to go out with him on our anniversary, but with a chaperone like usual. It would just make me feel better.

“We sealed the deal with a kiss and played around a little bit, and then all of a sudden he bails, barely saying a word.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s an idiot! He thinks I’m just some cheap girl who wants to shack up with any stallion that comes around.”

Dinky gave her mom a questioning look. That didn’t seem like Doctor Hooves at all.

“All I wanted was to be romantic and enjoy each other’s bodies a little. I wasn’t looking to mate, but he was under the impression I was oh so eager for it. Moron!”

Dinky was losing track of the conversation. Things were delving into an area she had no expertise or experience in, and she wasn’t quite sure what to say. “Well… what do you mean, “Enjoy each other’s bodies?””

“I just wanted to kiss and snuggle and maybe sit on his lap as we said loving words to each other. That’s… all! But he’s trying to tell me I don’t get it and I’m being foolish! Does he think I’m really that stupid that I would do the exact same thing I did with Shooting Star? I don’t want to go through that ever again. I wouldn’t have let things get to that point.”

“Mom?” said Dinky quietly.

“Yes?”

“Don’t you already do that now?”

Derpy sighed. “Let me put in a way you’ll understand. Have you ever had a time when Cheerilee left the classroom for a short time?”

“Yeah. Some stallion needed to talk with her about the school.”

“And how did everyone else act while she was gone?”

“Well, we all got wild, I guess. Ponies were throwing paper at each other and laughing and talking and roughhousing.”

“That’s the exact difference I’m talking about.”

“Hmm?” she said, not getting the connection. “What does that have to do with Doctor Hooves?”

“The difference is in who is watching. If the teacher was standing right in front of you and looking at you are you going to be passing notes or making fun of anyone else?”

“No.”

“But once you know that no one is there to stop you then you feel free to get a little wild and crazy.

“Yes, me and Doctor Hooves kiss, and we sit next to each other and all that, but we have to be restrained because you’re there. Does he really think I’m that juvenile? I just want to be loved! Why is that a bad thing?”

Dinky felt a little insulted at first, but once more she felt like she was trying to comprehend something beyond her reach. “I love you… but I guess that’s not the love you’re talking about. You mean like a mommy and daddy love?”

“Right. Love takes many different forms. There is parent and child, and brother and sister, and all sorts of family loves, but they’re entirely different from a romantic love. You feel a warmth in your stomach when you look at them, your body activates in newfound ways you can’t even imagine, and for the moment they’re the only thing in your world. And Doctor Hooves has been that kind of pony to me.”

“Just like Shooting Star was?”

Dinky had asked it innocently, but Derpy began getting defensive as if it was an accusation. “Yes! And so what? I know better now, don’t I?”

“I’m only asking.”

“Shooting Star was a good actor, but I can’t deny we had a lot of enjoyable times while it lasted. One time we had a picnic in the middle of the night, out by a patch of trees near the edge of town. It was silly, but it was fun. We ate under the light of the full moon, but the food wasn’t the main reason we were out there. We teased each other and fed each other, chasing each other around like foals playing tag. Once we got winded we went back to the blanket to look at the stars until we caught our breath, and then we turned to look at each other. I kissed him. He kissed me back. And then the two of us went at it, kissing like there was no tomorrow as we rubbed each other’s backs and necks.

“There was nothing raunchy or inappropriate about it. His hooves didn’t stray anywhere they weren’t supposed to, and even with that high level of passion we didn’t go all the way. And we used to do stuff like that once a week during our last three months together. Prom night was just such a time of extreme happiness for me that I ignored common sense. So I don’t get why the Doctor is being such a stick in the mud about it. I just want to see some passion out of him.”

Dinky could hear the wistful tone in her mom’s voice, just like when she had told her about her dad, as if she had gone back in time to that moment. Before that fight they had her mom never wanted to talk about her dad. Now that they had talked about him she had seen her mom bring him up a lot recently over the past few months. She actually sounded a little happy now, which confused her all the more.

She wished she could understand things better so she could give a better opinion. She had only just started going through the changes that would turn her from a filly into a mare, and she hadn’t yet found herself attracted to any colts yet, so she had no idea what this other type of love was all about. She wondered if she would feel the same way if she had experienced it first, but at the moment she couldn’t get why her mom was acting like she wanted to be back with Shooting Star, talking as if she wished Doctor Hooves would act like him. Nonetheless, she didn’t think it would be a wise move for the Doctor. He just didn’t seem like that type of stallion to her.

“I’m sorry, Mom, but I think I’m gonna have to agree with Doctor Hooves on this one.”

The joyful look on Derpy’s face faded instantly as she glared down at her daughter. “What?”

“I get that you want to have thing be more romantic, but that would probably be best if you went out somewhere to do adult things that don’t involve kissing and cuddling. You kinda sound like you wanna be a teenager again and you’re trying to do things over the right way with Doctor Hooves. He’s not a replacement for Shooting Star, you know.”

Derpy immediately began seeing red. “You too, Dinky? I thought I could trust at least YOU to always be by my side, but I guess I was wrong AGAIN! LIKE I ALWAYS AM, RIGHT?” She pushed Dinky off her lap, getting up. “Fine, then! I’ll just do everything by myself, as usual! Just forget the dating! I’m done! I’m just a stupid teenager who doesn’t know anything, right?

“Find another team to join, traitor, because I don’t want you on Team Muffin anymore!” She stomped up the stairs, slamming the door to her room as hard as she could.

Dinky blinked tears from her eyes. “I-I-I was only trying to help,” Dinky said to the air. Taking the spot her mother had just occupied now she curled up into a ball as she cried, her mother’s words cutting to the bone.

Chapter 10: Team Muffin reunites.

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Some time passed before Dinky could bring herself to move. She stood up on shaky legs, plodding towards the stairs. Each step seemed to take forever. Slowly she made her way to her room, shutting the door behind her as she flopped onto her bed.

She sniffed, letting her tears fall freely onto her pillow. All she could hear were her mom’s scathing words, calling her a traitor. The two of them had always been together. They had been Team Muffin since she was born and had been just learning to talk. Muffin had been one of her first five words, right behind words like “Mom” and “love you.”

The two of them had gotten into fights before. Plenty of them. It was only natural, but just like she had never told her mom that she hated her, her mom had never told her that they weren’t a team anymore. That was the worst thing she could have ever said. What did that mean? Was her mom never gonna speak to her again?

She hadn’t intended to make her mom angry. She only wanted to point out that her mom didn’t seem like she was making a smart choice. That was what her mom did for her all the time. Shouldn’t she do the same for her if she had the choice? Wasn’t it only right?

She dissolved into sobbing again, squeezing the pillow tight as she wailed. Every time she began to calm down she would hear her mom’s hateful words, and her heart would ache so bad she would begin bawling again.

Sometime later she heard a few gentle taps on the door. She lifted her head as she then heard the sound of something slithering along the ground. She saw a folded piece of paper right under the door.

It took her a while to muster up the energy to get up. Even though she didn’t feel the strength to walk she wanted to know what it said. She crawled the whole way there, rolling off the bed when she reached the end of it.

When she finally got to the piece of paper she lifted her hoof and picked it up, unfolding the paper. She immediately noticed it was covered in tear stains and the mouthwriting was very shaky.

“Dear Dinky,” she read, wiping her face, “I sent this letter to inform you that a spot just opened up on Team Muffin. Please hurry up and enroll now because you’re the only one that can fill that spot, both on my team… and… and…” She took a shaky breath “And in my heart.”

Dinky wiped her face, giggling just a little as the rainclouds began to clear away and strength returned to her limbs. “She wants me back!” she said happily. Getting up, she opened the door and ran over to her mother’s room.

Derpy sat on the edge of the bed, a sad look on her face as she saw Dinky come in.

Dinky immediately ran to the bed, hopping up onto her mother’s lap as the two of them hugged each other.

“I’m sorry, Dinky,” said Derpy, tears flowing down her face. “That was horrible of me to say. I didn’t mean it. Team Muffin always has a spot for you. You’re the only one I always want on my team.”

“I forgive you,” said Dinky, nuzzling her mother as she felt relief go through her. “I love you, mommy.”

“And I love you, Dinky.” Sighing, she said, “I heard it from him and then from you. Both of you were against me, or so I thought. But really, both of you were trying to help me when I was being stubborn. I didn’t want to hear the truth, even though it was so obvious. When it’s staring you in the face that’s when you should realize it, but I didn’t want to. My pride got in the way. I thought I knew what I was doing, but you were right. I was acting like a kid. I was so sure of myself that I could handle things, and I didn’t like having to admit that I probably couldn’t. I especially didn’t like to hear that I was trying to turn Doctor Hooves into Shooting Star number two, but again you were right. I keep trying to tie the past to the present and “fix” my first mistake, ignoring the reality that it won’t work because they’re two entirely different ponies.

“Lately he’s been on my mind a lot. And I’m not just talking about that dream. Ever since I told you that story it feels like that mental block in my mind is gone, and he comes out to visit whenever he feels like. That’s why my mind is so topsy-turvy lately. I want to have the same kind of good times I did with Shooting, but at the same time I’m afraid because of what happened at the end.”

She put a hoof on her face, starting to cry again as she shook. “I… I don’t know what I’m doing anymore! I’m happy then sad and I’m all over the place. One minute I’m afraid and pulling away, the next I’m happy and throwing myself at him and now I’m yelling at you and taking things out on you and putting too much pressure on you. I’m so confused and uncertain and I don’t know what to do!”

Dinky felt a few tears come down her own face. “Come on, mom,” she said as pulled her mom’s hoof away, wiping away her tears before kissing her. “It’s gonna be okay.”

Derpy looked into her daughter’s eyes, feeling her emotions going numb. “This isn’t working out,” she said quietly. “I don’t feel like myself anymore. How am I supposed to care for you like this? If I’m going to keep hurting you like this…,” she gulped, closing her eyes tight, her body tensing as a few more tears came down and she forced the rest of the words out, “…then maybe I should put you in foster care for a few months until I get my act together.”

“WHAT!” Dinky yelled, her heart immediately beginning to race. “No! NO! Don’t say that, Mom!” She took hiccupping breaths. “Don’t ever say that!” She squeezed her mom tight. “I’m not leaving you! I won’t! We just got Team Muffin back together, and-and-and now you want to split us apart again?”

Derpy began crying harder, hating seeing her daughter’s pain. “What else am I supposed to do, Dinky?” she said helplessly. “You need a more stable environment where you won’t have to worry so much.”

Dinky looked at her mom, her face puffing up. “NO!” she yelled. “Do-do-do you think I’m going to worry about you less if I’m living somewhere else? I’m only going to worry even more! How many times have you told me that I’m the only thing that keeps you going when you’re sad? Just a little while ago you said if it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t be alive today.

“I KNOW you! If you’re all alone you’re just gonna think bad things like how terrible a mom you are and how terrible of a marefriend you are and attack yourself and yell at yourself. And without anyone to stop you from saying those bad things to yourself… what if… what if… wha-wha-wha-what if-if-if you decide t-t-to…” She began to get a mental picture of her mom heading towards a chair below a noose, a hopeless look on her face as she looked around her empty house. She began bawling in her mom’s hooves, unable to finish the sentence.

Derpy began bawling too, unable to keep her emotions in check as she joined her daughter,

Through her sobs Dinky said, “I don’t want A mom. I do-don’t want to be part of team Lyra… or Team Bon Bon.” She squeezed as hard as she could. “I want to be part of Team Muffin! I’d never be able to-to-to forgive myself if I lost you.

“Please! Let me stay with you!”

Derpy was silent, not knowing what was the right thing to do. “I… I don’t know, Dinky. I just don’t know!”

“Why not?” Dinky said angrily. “We’re a team. We always have been since the day I was born. You think that me being with you is bad for me? I would rather see you crying and have you yelling at me than to have to see you in a coffin!” Derpy winced hard. “How do you think THAT will make me feel, when I could have done something to stop it if I was here? It’s too much to take! YOU’RE my mother, and no one else! I don’t care how hard it gets or how much it hurts. We’re a team, and the two of us need to stick together! So please don’t send me away. I need you. And you need me.”

Derpy gulped, tears pouring down her eyes as she pulled her daughter close. “We’re a team. Yes. The best team there is. We fight, we argue, we split apart. But within an hour we’re back together like nothing ever happened. Team Muffin will stay strong together, just like we always have, because I know that I can’t live without you nearby. You give purpose and meaning to my existence, my ray of sun bringing me joy and comfort when I’m at my lowest.”

Dinky began sobbing again, relieved that her mom wasn’t going to send her to live with some other family. The two of them nuzzled and kissed each other, their love filling each other up as they began to settle down.

How long they stayed that way Derpy wasn’t sure, but neither of them was anxious to split apart anytime soon, not wanting any distance between them.

Eventually Derpy heard the light sound of snoring. A tender look came to the mare. “Poor thing. She probably tired herself out with all that crying. It’s been a rollercoaster of a day, for sure.

“Thank you, Dinky,” she said, giving her daughter a kiss on the forehead. “Thank you for everything you do for me.”

She thought of Doctor Hooves, and how he had had the maturity to back off and leave when he felt things were getting too out of control. She couldn’t see it before, but now she could see how dumb she had been earlier, and she felt her love for him filling up her heart. “Thank you, Doctor Hooves, for saving me from myself. I’m very fortunate to have my two biggest supporters.”

Carefully moving so as not to disturb Dinky she laid down on the bed, stroking her daughter’s mane. She closed her eyes as she felt like taking a nap herself.

Chapter 11: Public declaration of love.

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Dinky gently hummed to herself, happily moving up and down on the chair in front of the mirror. Today was the big day. The six month anniversary of her mom and Doctor Hooves.

Derpy giggled. “Come on, munchkin,” she said, laughing. “Settle down so I can do your mane.”

“Sorry, mom,” she said, laughing back. “I’m just excited.” She made herself sit still, but she only stayed that way for a few seconds before she began kicking her hooves, a bright smile on her face.

“Sheesh, Dinky. I feel like you’re more excited about this than I am.” Taking a spray bottle she spritzed Dinky’s mane a few times before running it through with a comb over and over until it laid flat, and then she combed it backwards and put a hair band in it. “Are you sure I can’t tempt you with the one that has bunny ears on it?”

“No way!” Dinky said, snickering.

“Awww, but you would look so adorable in it!”

“No!”

“Killjoy.” She put a few hairclips in Dinky’s mane that had flower tops. Next she put a little bit of blush on both of her cheeks. “There you go. Now you look so pretty!”

“My turn!” said Dinky.

“Yes, dear. Your turn.” She rolled her eyes with a smirk, saying, “Oh, brother. Here we go. Maybe I should get Rarity to do it.”

“Hey!” Dinky replied, playfully mad. “I can do it.”

“Alright.”

With a little bit of work Dinky began to comb her mom’s mane in the same style as hers. She took a little longer because she wasn’t as experienced but in the end she managed to get it to look right after a few little errors. Along with the blush she carefully put some eye shadow on her mom’s eyelids.

Going to the bed both of them picked up the dresses they had worn to Berry Punch’s wedding. They each picked up a necklace of several different kinds of flowers, placing them around each other’s necks.

When that was finished Dinky sat on her mom’s lap and looked at the two of them in the mirror. “Heh heh. We almost look like twins!”

“Well, you are my daughter, after all.”

“We look really good, don’t we?”

“Irresistible and lovely, my little darling. You should watch out. You might catch the eye of an interested colt on your way to the restaurant.”

“Yuck!” Dinky said, sticking out her tongue in disgust, but then giving a big toothy smile. “Well, I know you’re gonna have the highest standards for any colt who is interested in me.”

“You bet I will.”

“Besides, this night is all about you and Doctor Hooves. I think it’s going to be fun to go to a fancy restaurant.”

“You better behave yourself in there, Dinky. It isn’t often we get to do high-class things like this.”

“I know, Mom. I will. I wouldn’t want to ruin your date. This is a big night for you two. Half a year already. It feels like it’s gone so fast.”

“Same here.” Derpy felt a tender tear come down her face as she looked at the two of them in the mirror. She almost never had a chance to fancy herself up. That sort of thing was reserved only for special occasions like this one. “Thank you, Dinky. I couldn’t have done all this without you.”

Dinky moved her head back, nuzzling her mom’s chest a little. “Hey, give yourself some credit. He never would have noticed you if you weren’t pretty and smart and amazing and a good pony. I think you two are perfect together.”

“I appreciate it, Dinky, but you’re gonna mess up your mane if you keep doing that. We want to make a good impression when we get there.”

“Oh, right. Sorry.”

Derpy grabbed the hairbrush as she pushed her daughter forward a little, combing her mane back into place. “There we go. Perfect again.” She looked at the clock. “He should be here soon.”

As if on cue they heard the sound of knocking on the front door.

“Well, Dinky, let’s go blow him away.”

Dinky gave a mischievous giggle. “One last finishing touch first.”

“What’s that?” she replied.

“Wait right here.” She ran from the room. About twenty seconds later she came back, holding a small bottle.

“What’s that, Dinky?”

“I’ve been saving up my allowance because I want this night to go perfect for you. I got you some really nice smelling perfume. I’m sorry it doesn’t smell like muffins, though.” She snickered.

“Perfume?” Derpy said, surprised. She hadn’t even considered that. “Aw, Dinky. That money is for YOU, to get what YOU want.”

“And I WANT to make you happy! The guy at the shop was so nice. When I told him I wanted to get something nice for my mommy’s special date he gave me a twenty five percent discount on it. Being young and adorable does have its perk, you know.” She did a fancy mane sweep and posed before breaking off into hysterical giggles.

Derpy couldn’t help joining in. “You’re the best, Dinky.” Walking over to the filly she took the bottle, opening it and giving it a quick sniff before spritzing herself a few times. After only a few seconds a soft, flowery aroma filled up the room. Derpy took a deep sniff of it, and it made her feel calm and relaxed. “Wow,” she said dreamily. “This smells wonderful.”

“Why wouldn’t it smell great? Did you think I was gonna give you “aroma of outhouse” or something?”

“Point taken, muffin. Now, let us go. He’s waiting.”

The two of them walked downstairs, opening the front door.

When Doctor Hooves opened the front door his jaw dropped as she saw how beautiful the pair looked, the flowers he was carrying dropping out of his hoof. He caught the aroma of daffodils and roses, and inhaled it eagerly. “Wow…” He shook his head slowly. “Derpy. I… I don’t know what to say. You… you look so beautiful tonight. Beyond my wildest dreams.”

Derpy blushed deeply, grinning at him. “Thank you.” She looked him up and down, seeing him wearing a tuxedo that covered the front half of his body and a small top hat. “You don’t look too bad yourself.”

He continued staring at her, enraptured by her beauty, until he realized how rude he was being. Giving a nervous giggle he said, “I’m sorry.”

Derpy’s face was beet red, but she still couldn’t suppress her smile. “I’m flattered,” she said as she gave him a light kiss, “that I’m so beautiful you can’t keep your eyes off me. I worked hard for this look.”

“And I helped!” Dinky said joyfully, jumping up and down a few times.

Doctor Hooves patted her head. “Well, how could I forget about you, Dinky? You look just as beautiful as your mother. Give or take a few years and you’ll have to be beating colts off left and right.”

Dinky shrugged. “I’ll just tell them my mom won’t allow me to date until I graduate high school.”

“High school?” Derpy said sternly. “More like never! I’ll lock you in the basement until you’re an old hag and no one will want you.”

“Yeah, okay. Suuuure, Mom.” Dinky rolled her eyes before chuckling. The other two joined in.

When they stopped Doctor Hooves took one of Derpy’s hooves and lifted it up, giving it a kiss. “This is going to be a great night. I can just feel it.”

“Well, I think it’s great that I get to try fancy dining for once. I can’t wait to see the selection. I bet it’s gonna be out of this world.”

“I sure hope so.”

“So what tastes good there?” she asked as she headed toward the door and the two of them went outside, Dinky following behind them.

“Well, I’m not too sure. I rarely go out to fancy dinners myself. I just want this to be a really special occasion for a very special mare.”

“I’ve got you by my side,” Derpy said, nuzzling his face with hers. “That already makes this a very special occasion.”

He grinned at her. “Flattery will get you nowhere.”

“Fine, then.” She gave him a peck on the cheek. “How about that?”

He grinned. “Well, that will certainly get you one back.” He pecked her on the cheek.

The three of them arrived at the restaurant a few minutes later. They went up to the pony at the entrance. “Hello,” said the Doctor, “I have a reservation for Hooves.”

The pony looked down at the list. “Very good, sir,” he said in a dignified tone. “Follow me.”

“Whoa!” said Dinky, taking in the restaurant. It looked completely spotless, full of ponies of class and status. Potted plants were scattered around, along with statues, a fountain, paintings, and beautifully colored walls. A band was playing soft, classical music in the corner.

“Mind your enthusiasm, Dinky,” whispered Derpy. “We don’t want them to think we’re simple already.”

“Oh, right,” she responded. Putting on a regal voice she said, “What a charming little establishment, mother dear.”

Derpy had to put her hoof over her mouth to stifle a laugh. When the moment passed she said, “Quite, Dinky.”

The three of them all took a seat at the table. “Your waiter will be here shortly,” said the pony, giving a bow of the head before taking his leave.

As they were going through the menu another pony put a platter of bread and butter on their table.

“That looks good,” said Dinky, beginning to butter some bread.

“Don’t fill up on that,” said Derpy. “You’ll ruin your appetite.”

“Aw, I’m only having one piece.”

“I know, but this is our first time at a fancy restaurant. We should make the most of it.” She blushed and said in a quieter voice, “Especially with how much this is going to cost him.”

“I heard that,” said Doctor Hooves.

Derpy squeaked a little, blushing deeper. “I… I didn’t mean…”

“Derpy, Derpy, Derpy,” he said, shaking his head. “Stop worrying about the price tag so much. You and your daughter are worth every bit. Alright?”

“Okay.”

Dinky looked at her menu, an eyebrow going up. “Um, Mom?”

“Yes, Dinky?”

“Can you read this? Is this really our language?”

“It’s a fancy restaurant, Dinky. I’m not surprised their menus would be a little, um… fancied up.” She could barely read the writing herself. The letters were written with so many flourishes and embellishments they were almost unrecognizable.

Doctor Hooves felt himself sweating. They were already hitting a snag. He wanted everything to go right today. He had something really special planned later, and he wanted Derpy to be in the best of moods first.

When the waiter finally came the three of them were still more or less lost on what foods they were actually serving.

“Good afternoon,” said the gray earth pony. He was wearing a tuxedo shirt and a monocle in his eye. “Have you decided yet?”

Not wanting to look like idiots they each decided to just pick something at random.

As the waiter walked away Derpy said, “I wonder what I just ordered.”

“Same here,” said Dinky.

“Me three,” said Doctor Hooves. “Maybe fine dining isn’t our thing.”

“Well, we’re here now so let’s make the best of it. I’m so hungry I could eat just about anything.”

A short while later the waiter returned with their drinks. Dinky looked at it, wishing it was a strawberry shake like she always got at the Hay Burger. But this wasn’t about her tonight, so she wouldn’t complain.

The three of them mostly just stared at each other while they waited for their dinner’s to arrive. A part of them still wondered what kind of food they were about to have, but mostly they felt a bit diminished by the high class settings. They had no idea of what to talk about that fit that kind of establishment so an awkward silence reigned over the table.

They all felt relieved when the food finally arrived. The waiter set down three plates for them, bowing his head before saying, “Enjoy your meal.”

Derpy saw that she had gotten what looked like spaghetti and a salad. She could certainly deal with that. Picking up her fork she twirled it around, taking a bite. “Mmm!” she said in delight. “This is delicious! The best spaghetti I’ve ever had.”

Doctor Hooves gave a sigh of relief. So far so good. He began to pick at his own meal, finding it to his satisfaction as well.

Dinky saw her mom and Doctor Hooves were enjoying their meals. She looked down at her own plate and looked at the bowl of what looked like some really thick, goopy soup. The smell wasn’t very appetizing, and she found herself just staring at it.

She didn’t look up until their waiter returned a few minutes later. “Excuse me, young miss, but is something wrong with your soup?”

Dinky looked up at him, then towards her mom and Doctor Hooves. They were both halfway done with their meals, and now they were staring at her. She didn’t want to waste food, and especially when Doctor Hooves was going out of his way to pay for her as well.

Sticking her spoon into the bowl she said, “Not at all. Just, um… waiting until it cooled.” She jammed the spoon in her mouth and swallowed without a thought.

“Dinky, are you alright?” said Derpy. Her daughter had a look of disgust on her features, and she began dry-heaving.

“Young miss, are you ill?” As he saw the filly put a hoof over her mouth he felt a sense of dread. “Young mi-AHH!”

***

Twenty minutes later the trio left the restaurant. Dinky was holding her stomach as she walked. “That… was the worst, most horrible thing I ever tasted in my life,” she said with a groan.

“Well, I hope you’re feeling at least a little better,” said Derpy, holding onto Dinky.

Dinky looked up at her mom, tears forming in her eyes. “I’m sorry, mom. I didn’t mean to ruin your date.”

“It’s not your fault you couldn’t stomach that stuff. Besides, it wasn’t ALL bad. The look on that waiter’s face when you upchucked all over him was priceless.” She giggled.

Dinky tried to laugh too, but she was still feeling a little queasy. “I’ll be alright, but I doubt they’re ever gonna let us in there again.”

“Well, maybe that’s for the best. It certainly wasn’t as glamorous as I thought it would be. I guess we are just simple folks after all. Let’s go home and get out of these dresses, and then we can go to the Hay Burger. I think it’s appropriate. It is where I had my first official date, after all.”

Dinky perked up a little. “I could sure go for a nice shake right now to get the taste of that garbage out of my mouth.

“Doctor, are you up for it?”

“I guess so,” he said with a sigh. “I just wanted everything to go perfect today, and I ruined it!”

“Don’t say that,” said Dinky. “You and mom both had delicious dinners. I was the only one that got a dud.”

“Well, it’s not your fault either. Maybe if we could have actually understood the menu better you could have gotten something you enjoyed too.”

“At least they didn’t charge you for my meal.”

Doctor Hooves sadly plodded along, wondering if his plans were ruined already. How was he supposed to put his scheme into motion now? If he wanted any chance of it working Derpy had to be in the best of moods, but now she was worried about her child and thinking about how much of a simple pony she was.

Arriving at Derpy’s house the two females went inside. Doctor Hooves waited outside, sitting against the wall of the house. They were going to the Hay Burger. There was still time to salvage their date. Yes, there was nothing to be worried about.

Mother and daughter came out of the house a few minutes later, and Doctor Hooves got to his hooves. They had taken off the dresses and makeup, but kept their hairstyles. “Better now?” he asked, trying to sound cheery.

“NO!” said Dinky. “I want my shake. I need to wash that awful goop down with something delicious, so can we hurry up?”

“Oh, sure,” Doctor Hooves replied, snickering a little. “Fine, then. How about a brisk trot to the restaurant? Let’s get that blood pumping.”

“Sounds fine to me,” said Derpy. “Nothing wrong with a little exercise.”

Dinky nodded. “Let’s do it.” She took off running, Derpy and Doctor Hooves not far behind.

The three of them all kept pace with each other, their heart rates going up as the memories of the restaurant washed away. By the time they arrived all three of them were panting and a little sweaty but they felt so alive.

Dinky finally got her shake, and began to spoon it down gratefully. “Mmmmmm! Now that hits the spot.”

Derpy wasn’t feeling that hungry, having finished most of her meal at the restaurant , so she just got a shake as well. The Doctor followed suit. Each of them got a different flavor. Dinky got strawberry, Derpy got vanilla, and the Doctor got chocolate.

As Derpy spooned bits of ice cream into her mouth she looked over at Doctor Hooves, a dreamy smile on her face. “You know, I don’t care one bit about the 'fancy' life. I don’t see what’s so special about it. What’s the most important thing to me is being happy, and for that the only 'things' I need aren’t things at all. They’re my two most favorite ponies in the whole world: you and Dinky.

“This is where it all began: You and me; my desire to begin changing. All of it started here, on our first official date together. If you hadn’t invited us to that Apple charity event, and if Dinky hadn’t used her little silver tongue to convince me to go, I might have still been lonely and miserable.

“Close your eyes, Doctor. I want to give you something.”

He complied, eager for his reward. He pushed his head up, waiting for her kiss. He squealed like a filly when he felt something ice cold on his nose. Opening his eyes he saw a nice glob of ice cream sitting on his snout.

Derpy laughed her head off. “Oh, boy! I can’t believe you fell for that AGAIN! I thought you would have learned after the last time I got you. I mean, it was right here in this very restaurant.” She wiped away the tears that had formed from laughing so hard.

Doctor Hooves dipped his spoon into his own shake, flicking a spoonful at her. It landed near the top of her snout, near her eyes.

Dinky was having trouble not bursting out loud. “You two are acting like children! How many times did you tell me not to play with my fo-AH!” Dinky recoiled a bit as a glob of ice cream hit her in the forehead.

“Oh, lighten up, Dinky,” said Derpy with a huge smile. “I’m having fun.”

Dinky grabbed her spoon, ready to get into a food battle right there if that’s what her mom wanted, but she changed her mind. She didn’t want to waste her shake. It was too delicious. Grabbing a napkin she wiped her forehead off. “The next thing I know the two of you are going to jump into the ball pit again.” With a loud slurp she drank the melted portion of her shake.

“I might be up for that,” said Derpy with a wicked grin. “But first things first.” Leaning over she kissed Doctor Hooves before sucking the ice cream off his snout.

It was certainly an odd sensation, and he backed off after a second before returning the favor to her, making her laugh.

“Ah, it’s so much fun being here. Who cares about those uptight 'fancy' establishments? I’d rather be able to play around with my two favorite ponies.” Leaning over to both sides she gave both Dinky and Doctor Hooves a kiss.

“Here, here,” said Dinky. “I never wanna eat there again. I’ll take a shake any day over whatever was in that soup.” She gave her mom a kiss. “I love you too, mom.”

“Sad to say, but I guess I agree too,” said Doctor Hooves. “Sometimes the simple things are best. Fine dining doesn’t seem to be our thing.”

He began laughing. “I got a good idea.”

“What’s that?” asked Derpy.

He dipped his spoon in his shake, pushing a spoonful toward Derpy’s mouth. “Come on. Open up for the choo-choo train,” he said in a baby voice.

“Excuse me?” she said, in a fake offended voice.

“If you’re going to act like a child I’m gonna treat you like a child. Now open up for your num-num’s.”

“Nyeh!” Derpy cried out, whining like a foal as she moved her head from side to side. “No! I no want it.”

Dinky buried her head in her hooves, blushing like crazy and hoping nobody was looking, but at the same time she couldn’t help laughing at how ridiculous the two of them could be when they were together. “Oh, come on!” she finally said. “What kind of kid would refuse ice cream?”

Derpy moved her eyes over to Dinky. “Spoilsport,” she said with a giggle before opening her mouth and eating the spoonful. “Your turn.” She dipped her own spoon into her shake and he ate his without any fanfare.

As he swallowed he jerked with surprise as Derpy kissed him hard on the lips again. “So wasteful,” she said happily. “Leaving all that yumminess behind.”

He smiled coyly at her. “I think you left a few spots behind as well. I better take care of that.” He began kissing her cheeks before winding up at her mouth.

When they broke apart the two of them just looked into each other’s eyes lovingly. Taking his hoof in hers Derpy said in a serious voice, “Thank you, Doctor. I know the beginning was a bit of a disaster, but I’m really having a lot of fun just being here with you. Thank you for being so patient with me.”

“Of course,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here either.” The two of them met lips one more time. This time it wasn’t about desire or passion or fun, but simply out of sheer affection for each other.

“Awww,” Dinky said quietly, warm tears coming down her eyes as she saw the two of them. She just loved to see her mom happy.

When they broke apart Derpy had a few tender tears coming down her own eyes. “Thank you,” she said again, rubbing his cheek. “I mean it from the bottom of my heart.”

“You’re welcome,” he said, rubbing her cheek as well. “I also mean that from the bottom of my heart. That’s why… I can’t wait anymore.”

“Wait for what?” she asked, her head tilting.

“I’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity, and now is the best time. If I let this chance pass me by I don’t know when the next one will be.”

“What are you talking about?”

Doctor Hooves stared at Derpy, his mind churning and his heart burning. He was more scared than he had ever been in his life, but the date was almost over, and Derpy was clearly in a great mood. If he didn’t do this now who knew when the next opportunity would come.

He jumped up onto the table, summoning up all the courage he had as he put his hooves over his mouth and yelled out, “Attention! Attention, everyone! I have an important announcement to make!”

Derpy felt a bit confused, wondering what he was up to. The twenty or so customers in the restaurant all turned to look at him.

Mumbled whisperings went through the crowd as he jumped down.

He felt his face getting hot. He felt the sweat forming on his body. But most of all he could feel the stare of Derpy, curiosity on her face just like the other ponies.

“Miss Derpy,” he started, “there is something important I need to discuss with you.”

“Now?” she asked, her eyes going to the crowd. “Can’t it wait until we’re alone? Why are you putting us under a spotlight?”

“Because I can’t wait anymore!” he said strongly as emotion colored his voice. “That’s why it has to be right here, and that’s why it has to be right now!”

Derpy looked around at the crowd of ponies again, feeling uncomfortable at all of them. “Why are you making a big production out of this?” she said, gulping. “If there was something you needed to say to me it isn’t the town’s business.”

“There is a reason I had to do it in a crowd. A very important reason.”

“And what would that be?” She sounded annoyed, but she was more anxious about where all of this was headed.

“So that I can’t escape.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’m not like Shooting Star. I don’t have a bunch of money and influence and power to hide behind to escape the consequences of my deeds. I’m just an ordinary pony, so everything I say here today needs to be said in front of witnesses, so that you know I’m telling the truth. If it got out that I lied and I broke your heart I would become the most hated pony in town.”

Derpy glanced around at the crowd of ponies again, seeing even the employees behind the counter as well as the children were all looking at her and him. “W-well, just get to the point, then! I don’t want to be part of a public display!”

“I know that, Derpy, and I’m sorry for it, but this was the only way I could think of… to show you just how sincere I am.”

She saw a tear come down his face, and for some reason it started to pull her attention away from the crowd and onto him. There was obviously something big he wanted to say, but she couldn’t imagine what.

“I’ve been with you for six months today. Six months. And just like you’ve said to me these have been the happiest months of my life. We’ve gotten very close over the past half year. I’ve shared your pain and gotten to know all the things that plague your heart. We’ve had spats and disagreements, but we’ve always come back together.

“You like to tell me that I can’t understand what you’ve gone through, because I haven’t experienced it myself. I have to agree with you on that… at least until last week.” A few more tears came down his face.

“When you had that nightmare where your ex came to take you back and then revealed it was only a cruel joke to hurt you a second time you were so freaked out you told me you wanted nothing more to do with me as a coltfriend. I can’t even describe that pain in words. It was like my soul was being crushed from the inside out. I was a mess the next few days. I could barely sleep. Unlike you I didn’t have a sweet little girl to distract myself with, so all I was left with was me and my sadness over the thought of losing you.

“When you came to me and told me about your dream and how a part of you still felt love for him I was mad, until you told me you still wanted us to be together. I was very happy about that, but it was also a very sobering moment, because I knew that at any time, at any point, you could leave me, and there would be nothing I could do to stop it. Because it is your life, and it is your choice.

"I’ve strained my brain over and over until it hurts, trying to figure out a way to help you get over what ails you, but in the end I could only come up with one thing. And that’s why I’m here today. That’s why I’ve been a nervous wreck all throughout the night: because everything was leading up to this moment.

“I’m scared, Derpy. I love you! I love you so much! And I don’t want to lose you. I know you feel the same. I know you’re scared too. So… so why don’t we just stop being scared?”

“You talk like it’s so easy!” Derpy sniffed, a few tears coming down her eyes now. “I’ve tried! I’ve done my best with what I have. What more do you want from me? I can’t do any more. I thought you understood that.”

“Still, I’d like to try. I’m hoping that with a single question… I can put an end to both our fears.”

“What?” Derpy said emotionally. “What could you possibly ask that could help me now?” She threw her hooves around the sides of her head. “I can’t take anymore. Just ask your stupid question.”

Doctor Hooves lifted his hoof, going to the pocket of his tuxedo. “Miss Derpy?”

“What? What is it?”

Pulling his hoof out of his jacket he took out a small box. Leaning down on one of his back legs he opened the box, revealing a ring with a topaz jewel in it. “Will you marry me?”

A gasp went throughout the crowd. Dinky just blinked in surprise.

Derpy’s eyes went wide, her hooves falling from her face, then her back half falling to the ground, unable to keep upright. That was the last thing she expected today. “Do…d-d-d-d-do you r-really mean that?” she asked in a croaky voice.

“Yes! That’s why I had to do this in the crowd. Right here and now I’m pledging myself to you. I promise you all I have. I will always strive to make you happy and give you the best life ever. And if I ever fail to live up to my vows there’s a whole crowd of witnesses who can ensure I won’t get away with it.

“Derpy, I’m not the best with words, but I want you! I want you and no one else. You scared me. You’ve made me feel more afraid than anything else I’ve ever felt in my life. The thought of you leaving me is terrifying, because no mare has captured my heart like you.”

Tears came down his eyes again. “The thought of you being all alone again hurts, because I want to be there to fill up that void in your heart. The thought of you returning to the ex who abandoned you when you were pregnant hurts, because I don’t think he could ever make you happy like I could. When I began to think of you finding happiness with another stallion, laughing and joking and doing the things we used do… that’s when I felt I finally understood… understood just a little bit of how it felt when you were dumped. I don’t want any other mare for my own. I want you, and only you.

“I never cared that your eyes don’t point the same way, or that you’re a little clumsy. We all have our faults and make mistakes. It’s a part of being a pony. However, you’re perfect in my eyes. You’re beautiful and smart and charming and a hard worker and a fantastic mother. You’re modest and honest and strive hard to do what you can to make a good life for your daughter. You have all the traits I’d ever want in my dream mare, so here I am, offering my heart to you in front of everyone.” He lifted the box with the ring up a little higher. “Please, Derpy. Let us both put the past and our fears to rest. Will you be mine, and make me the happiest stallion in Equestria?”

Derpy turned away, walking a few steps before stopping. “I certainly wasn’t expecting this on our anniversary. You make a grand gesture after getting everyone’s attention on you, doing something to make yourself look like a great stallion? This reminds me just like when I first met HIM.” She stomped her hoof on the ground. “Why do there have to be so many darn parallels between you and Shooting Star?”

“Derpy, I’m not doing this for attention, or to make myself look good! I told you already that I’m doing this in front of everyone so I can’t escape from my pledge. Anything I say in private I could deny later on if I ever broke your heart. Not that I want to in the first place, but you don’t know that.

“You’re afraid of me and of love somewhere in your heart because he abandoned you when you needed him the most. He told you to your face he was only using you and then left you when he had no further use for you. That’s why you’re so reluctant to trust me. That’s why you’re so scared to give yourself completely to me.

"After thinking about things I knew that there was only one way that I could earn your complete trust, and that was to publicly show my commitment to you in front of everyone to prove to you that I’m not a phony. I’m not going to run away from this. I want us to be together forever, and I don’t want to see you with another stallion. I don’t want to share your love with another guy. I want it all for myself. In the same way I know you feel much like I do. You don’t want me to leave you either. We’re both afraid, and I can’t bear the thought of a life without you by my side.

“I don’t care what anyone says. You’re not worthless. You’re not ugly or stupid. You’re not weak. You’re not a freak. You’re beautiful, and I want to show how much I love you every day. Please be mine, and I’ll never let you regret it.”

Derpy still wouldn’t look at him. His heart was going a mile a minute as he waited for her response.

Dinky held onto Doctor Hooves. This was what the past half-year had led up to. Now her mom could be happy all the time. She knew the Doctor was perfect for her mom.

Seconds passed by, and now everyone was looking at Derpy, eager for her response.

“No,” came the quiet voice of Derpy.

“N-no?” Doctor Hooves said, his heart sinking.

“Isn’t that exactly what you said to me a few days ago, when I was begging you for love and affection and you just walked away?”

Doctor Hooves winced. “Yes, Derpy, but that was because-”

“I’m speaking!” she said, interrupting him. “After I took things out on you because of a nightmare I told you we were breaking up, but a few days later I wanted to make things right between us. Even though I was a little scared of you I still wanted our reunion to be special. I wanted you to still love me, and I wanted to do something romantic with you. I was enjoying myself a lot, but you pulled away. You left me when I wanted you to stay, when I wanted to continue what we were doing.”

Dinky couldn’t understand what her mom was going on about. Her mom had been grateful before that he had stopped, and now she was flip-flopping. Either way, she didn’t like where this was going.

Doctor Hooves felt his heart breaking. Not only was she turning him down it sounded like she was about to dump him on top of it.

Derpy finally turned her head, tears pouring down her eyes, a warm smile on her face. “I never did thank you for that, did I?”

“Huh?” came his confused response.

Turning her body to face him she began walking back towards him. “It was your perfect opportunity. I was weak… I was vulnerable… I wasn’t thinking right. I was throwing myself at you and eager to push our relationship further than we had before. You were the one with the good sense to pull away and tell me no. You didn’t just give in to your own body like I was doing. You knew me better than I did. All it would have taken was to give in. With a few choice words and a few kisses on my most sensitive spots I would have melted in your hooves and probably done anything you wanted.

“It was your best chance. If what you wanted was to take advantage of me you sure did a terrible job of taking such a prime opportunity. So I guess there are only two possibilities. Either you’re overly cautious… or maybe you truly are the stallion I’ve dreamed of my whole life. Everything I’ve ever wanted I’ve found in you. You make me feel safe. You’re patient with my wacky mind and my hectic life. You’re loving without ever pushing things or making me uncomfortable. I saw it as your friend, and even more as your girlfriend. Time and time again you’ve proven yourself to me, and that was the biggest one of all.

“I thought it was what I wanted at that point, but it really wasn’t. I was being foolish, and you stopped me because you knew I’d regret it later. You didn’t just give in to me, because you knew it wasn’t the right time for it.”

Standing in front of him now she placed a kiss on his forehead. “To think… t-t-to think that one day a mare like ME would ever get married.”

“Derpy!” he said happily, finally perking up again. “Do you really mean it?”

Putting her hoof down she lifted up the ring, placing it around her neck. “Yes! Yes, I do. I love you, Doctor Hooves, and I’m honored to be your fiancé.”

He got up quickly, happy tears coming down his face as the two of them hugged.

Cheers went out through the crowd, all of them stomping their hooves on the ground.

Derpy began sobbing. “I-I-I’m going to be a bride!”

Doctor Hooves couldn’t contain it either. He was sobbing too. “And I’m going to be a husband!”

Dinky could barely see through the tears. Finally! Finally her mom was heading towards the true happiness she had always deserved. She put her hoof over her heart, joy radiating through her being. “Way to go, Doctor! You finally did it.”

Chapter 12: DADDY!

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Dinky opened her eyes, putting a hoof over her face as she adjusted to the morning light. After a few moments she put her hoof down, resting her head on both her hooves. Just like the past few days she immediately felt a sense of joy meeting her as she woke up. She sighed contentedly as she thought of the Doctor’s wedding proposal. At first her mom had thought he was just being showy, but she came to see his real reason soon enough. He wanted to show he wasn’t embarrassed to have her. He wanted to prove how much he really loved her.

As she thought of the two of them crying over each other and the euphoria the two of them felt she could feel it filling her own spirit up, and tears came to her eyes just like they did when it first happened. She had been worried for a while about how things with the Doctor would turn out, but now she felt certain that at last things were finally settled. Soon they would get married, and then they could start living together, and then her mom wouldn’t have to be so worried about money all the time.

She had seen over and over how much her mom always sacrificed for everyone but herself. Now there was someone who was willing to sacrifice for her. She knew her mom was still getting used to the idea of letting someone take care of her, but she knew in time her mother would come to see it was how she should have been treated all along.

She giggled to herself as she thought of the past three days. Her mom was always a little clumsy, but she had really amped it up lately. Her mom’s head was in the clouds, lost in her own world of love. She had lost count of how many times her mom had lifted the ring around her neck to look at it and began crying in happiness.

“This is the way things should be,” Dinky said to herself. “My mom is happy, with someone special who knows the right way to treat her. He wants to be there for her forever. All those years of holding onto that jerk Shooting Star will be over.”

A sour look came to her face, tainting her bliss. She shook her head. “NO!” she said harshly. “He already did enough to ruin HER happiness. I’m not gonna let him ruin mine too.” She forced her mind back to her memories of her mom and Doctor Hooves, thinking of how their relationship had evolved, and soon enough she forgot about Shooting Star, capturing that happy feeling once again.

Feeling invigorated she hopped out of bed, ready to attack the day. She ran out of her room and towards her mom’s room. “Wake up, sleepy-head!” she cried out excitedly, but she saw her mom wasn’t there. “Hmmm. She usually always sleeps in on the weekends.”

“Down here!” came a voice from downstairs.

Dinky felt confused. The voice certainly didn’t sound like her mother’s. It sounded more like a male. “Oh, great. I hope she isn’t sick.” She sighed. “Can’t she ever catch a break?”

She raced downstairs. “If she is sick I’ll just have to take of her until she feels better.” As she reached the kitchen she yelled out, “GOOD MORNING, Maaaaaaa-ma Hooves.” It wasn’t her mother there, but Doctor Hooves.

“Good morning, Dinky,” he said cheerfully.

“Oh! Good morning, Doctor. How are you?”

“Great! And yourself?”

“Same here.” She let out a relieved sigh. “No wonder I thought my mom sounded like a dude. Are we going out for breakfast today?” She looked around. “Where is she anyway?”

“I don’t know.”

Dinky blinked in surprise. “You don’t know? What, did you just decide to pop in or something?”

“No.” He sat down at the table. “It’s the strangest thing. About an hour ago she woke me up and begged me to watch you today. When I tried to ask what was wrong she wouldn’t tell me. She only said it was extremely important and that she couldn’t bring you along where she was going. I tried to ask a few more questions but she just hurried me over here because she didn’t want you left all alone for too long and she said she didn’t want to miss her train."

Dinky felt a bit disconcerted. “She left town?” Her eyes drooped, that sunny feeling starting to evaporate as some tears came down her face. “Why would she leave without telling me?”

Doctor Hooves left his seat, walking over to her and wiping her tears away. He put a hoof around her as sat down, saying, “Don’t cry, Dinky. Whatever is going on I know your mother has her reasons. My best guess is that she got news that a relative was seriously injured or dead so she had to leave as soon as possible.”

Dinky sniffed. “I don’t know. She told me that she lost her parents in an accident, and she lost her grandparents already before that. I don’t remember her ever mentioning any other relatives she keeps in contact with. That’s why she’s been so reliant on me to help her through the bad times: because she didn’t really have anyone else to lean on.

“Maybe… maybe she just needs to get away from everything for a day. My mom is ecstatic that you proposed to her, but you were only at six months. Maybe she just needs to get away from the two of us for a little while so she can sort things out. She probably woke up panicking and decided some time away was what she needed, and she didn’t wake me up because she knew I wouldn’t let her go easy. I’d insist she talk to me about everything.”

He shrugged. “Well, whatever the reason we won’t know until she returns to us.”

Dinky felt more tears coming down her eyes. “D-Doctor Hooves?”

“Yes?”

“Y-y-you… you don’t think my mom ran away, do you? Because she’s scared of getting married?”

“Now you hush, Dinky,” he responded, pulling her close. “We both know that’s just nonsense. Even if she wanted to run away from us getting married there is no way anything but death itself would make your mother leave you. Your bond is strong enough you should know that very well.”

“O-oh. You’re right. My mom wouldn’t leave me.” She hugged him back, nuzzling his chest a little.

“That’s right, Dinky. Now stop making trouble where there doesn’t need to be any. We don’t have to know right now where your mother is going, because we know there is no place she’ll ever return to except right back by your side. You’ll see. The first thing she’ll do when she comes home is call out your name, and you’ll run right to her and share a big hug.”

Dinky found herself grinning. “I’d like that.”

“That’s better. I like to see you smiling. No more tears now, okay?”

Dinky nodded, enjoying the contact. “Thank you, Daddy.”

“WHAT?” he said in surprise.

“Ah!” Dinky cried out as his body tensed, squeezing the oxygen out of her. She pulled out of his grip, gasping in breath.

“Oh, gosh!” Doctor Hooves said, rubbing his hoof on the back of his head. “I’m sorry. You just… I wasn’t expecting that.”

Dinky’s head was down, but her eyes were looking up at him. “W-well, you and mom are getting married, right?” Dinky pushed her hooves together, moving them around each other in small circles. “I know it hasn’t happened yet, but-but I never had a daddy. I mean, I know you don’t love me like you do her, but you’re not just getting a wife, right?”

Dinky’s eyes joined her head in looking at the floor, tears beginning to form again. “Well, you’re also getting me, you know? Because me and my mom are a team.” The tears began falling onto the carpet. “I’ve only ever had a mom all my life and I was okay with that, but now that she said yes to you two getting married I don’t want to wait until the wedding to start treating you like part of the family.” Her eyes going up again she asked, “Aren’t I worthy of your love too, or do you only care about my mom?””

“Oh, Dinky,” he said, tears forming in his own eyes. “Don’t be silly. Of course I love you too.” He sat down, putting his hooves out. Dinky immediately came to sit on his lap and he put his hooves around her. “I owe all of this to you in the first place. If you hadn’t pushed me to try again with your mother than none of this would have happened.

“I, well, I guess I just forgot I was getting a two for one special.

"Wow! I’m going to be a dad.” He slowly shook his head as he let out a big breath. “This is a lot to take in. But, Dinky… I know that we’re getting married, but that doesn’t mean you have to call me daddy. And I’m not saying that because I don’t want you to.”

Rubbing his hoof across his forehead he asked, “I mean, have I even earned that right? All I’ve done so far is try to take care of your mother. You’ve just came along for the ride because your mom didn’t feel comfortable being alone with me. This is really the first time I’ve ever spent any time alone with you.”

Dinky looked up at him. “W-well, this is the perfect time for us to really get to know each other then. You’re so wonderful to my mommy, and so I know you’ll be great to me too. You already started out good by holding me when I was sad and calling me over to sit on your lap.”

She gave him a big hug, nuzzling him again. “I don’t care that we haven’t done anything with just us. I love you because you make my mom happy. She’s been so joyful ever since you proposed to her. So I want to call you daddy, because I hope you’ll be perfect for me too.”

“I’ll do my best, but I wouldn’t expect much. I’ve never had any kids myself, so I don’t have any experience.”

Dinky looked up at him. “You’ll do fine! I know it. It doesn’t take much to make me happy. So long as I’m fed and I have someone I love nearby that’s all I really need.”

“Speaking of, I should probably make you some breakfast.”

“Sounds good. I’m hungry.” Dinky got off of him.

He stood up, asking, “So what are you in the mood for? I don’t know where you keep everything.”

“Pancakes!”

“Pancakes? Umm, are you sure I can’t tempt you with some cereal, or toast?”

“No! I want pancakes!”

“Umm… ooooookay.”

“What’s wrong?” Dinky asked. He was just standing there with a lost look on his face.

“Well, this is embarrassing.” He awkwardly rubbed his head with his hoof, blushing a little. “I, um, don’t really know how to cook.”

Dinky gave him a sly look, sure he was just messing with her. “Yeah. Sure. Okay.” She kept looking, but he didn’t crack a laugh. The smile on his face was strained and self-conscious. “Wait, you’re serious?” He nodded. Dinky snickered. It was just a small one at first, but then it erupted into full-bellied laughter that made her full to the floor, kicking her hooves in amusement.

When she got her laughter under control she stood up and walked over to him. “Okay-hee hee-then. That will be our f-first-heh heh heh- father-daughter activity. We can make some pancakes together. It’s really easy.”

“You didn’t have to laugh at me. It’s not that funny.”

“Aw, don’t be upset at me, Daddy. I-” She stopped, letting out a little squee as she jumped in the air. “Daddy! I really like saying that. DADDY!” She squealed again, hopping in the air. “Dad-dy! Dad-dy! I have-a-dad-dy!” She jumped in circles around him, chanting her happy sing-song tune. “Dad-dy! Dad-dy! Dad-dy! I-have-a-dad-dy!”

Doctor Hooves felt tears coming to his eyes again as he saw how happy Dinky was to have him. His embarrassment faded as he smiled down at her. He felt he was beginning to understand what was so magical about children. Those with pure hearts, untainted by the evils of the world, were truly a wonder.

When she stopped her jumping she looked up at him, happy tears in her eyes. “Now I have a full set of parents, and you can come to my parent teacher meetings, and I can make you a special picture and breakfast in bed for father’s day. OOH! And I can brag about you to all my friends! Oh, this is going to be so AWESOME!” She was shaking with excitement, rapidly stomping her hooves up and down.

Doctor Hooves blushed deeply, a bit overwhelmed by her praise. It seemed being a parent truly was a wondrous thing. He swore to himself that he would do his best to be just as worthy of her love and respect as her mother. Dinky was just a child, but she needed love just as much as her mother to grow up right.

He didn’t know why, but it never really occurred to him that he was getting the both of them at once when he made his proposal. He had put all his thoughts and planning onto Derpy and how best to make her happy. Same with his plan to propose to her. He hadn’t given Dinky much thought since he knew that all she really wanted was her mother’s happiness. Now, though, he understood that Dinky was already looking to him to be the father figure she had never had.

The weight of the responsibilities already falling onto his shoulders humbled him. He had the chance to shape the way her life would go, and it went far beyond just his relationship with her. Dinky would also learn as she observed him with her mother. She had watched their relationship from the beginning, and if she saw their marriage go over well it would give Dinky confidence that, even if her first few relationships didn’t work out, that there was always another opportunity to find happiness if she only gave it another try.

The choices he made from here on were going to have a big impact on not just his own life and Derpy’s, but on Dinky’s as well. That knowledge made him feel like he understood just a little bit what being a parent was all about. That knowledge only increased his respect for Derpy, for she had taken full responsibility for the choice she had made that led to her getting pregnant.

Way back in the beginning he had asked Dinky how she would feel about him being her dad if everything worked out, and she had said she wouldn’t mind him at all. Now he was seeing it firsthoof. He owed it to himself and to Derpy to give everything he had to Dinky as well. After all, neglecting Dinky would only make Derpy upset, and would break his vow.

He still wasn’t quite sure how to be a father, but he thought it wouldn’t be all that different from his relationship with Derpy, just with less romance. He would start by learning about her and getting to know her better, being playful in the good times and stern during the bad; holding her when she was sad; talking to each other about their days. Gradually earning her trust. He had known Dinky for a long time, but he didn’t really know her personally. It was time to change that.

He only had one choice. He couldn’t have Derpy without Dinky. They were a package deal. This was the perfect time to get in some practice in learning about how to be a dad. He didn’t want to be like Shooting Star, who ran away from his responsibilities of ensuring his girl and his kid were well taken care of. He wanted to run towards his new family, and embrace what that would bring.

“Dinky,” he said, putting a hoof on her shoulder.

“Yeah?”

He sat down again, pulling her back onto his lap as he put his care for her into a hug and said tenderly, “I love you, Dinky, my beautiful daughter.”

Dinky melted into his hold, feeling a lump in her throat. She had been excited to have a stallion to call her daddy, but hearing him return the favor by calling her his child meant the world to her. It meant he wanted to be her dad. She sniffed a few times, her lip quivering before she hugged him tightly and broke down crying. “O-oh, Daddy! I love you, too!”

Doctor Hooves could feel her love through her hold, crying right along with her. Even more than before he understood how Derpy had stayed sane despite all her heartache and pain if having a child felt like this.

“There, there,” he said gently as he rubbed her back. “You don’t have to cry. You should be happy.”

“I-I-I AM happy. I-I always wanted a dad, but mommy never went looking for a mate. Now I have YOU, and I already know I don’t have to look anywhere else for a perfect dad. E-e-even though you weren’t a parent before you know just the right things to say.” She began nuzzling him again. “Me and my mom are both lucky to have you.”

“And I’m lucky to have you too. Now come on. I thought you were hungry.”

Her stomach began rumbling, and she giggled. “Yeah, you’re right! All that jumping made me hungry. Let’s work together, because together we can do anything.” She pulled away, full of energy once more.

Dinky’s horn began glowing, and several cabinets opened. She began pointing out where everything was, and he took the things out of the cabinet.

After they mixed up the batter Dinky went to the stove, turning the knob until the fire burst into life. While they were working Dinky just couldn’t sit still.

Getting out a pan she set it on top of the burner, and she poured out an equal mixture of the batter into the pan. “See. Pretty simple, right? Now you wait a little while until the top stops bubbling and you flip it over. Then you wait a little while again and you scoop it into the plate.”

“You’re pretty knowledgeable about this.”

“Well, me and my mom usually cook together. We usually make cookies, and that’s a whole lot of fun. It’s even more fun when we make cakes, because then I get to lick the bowl. Mmmm!”

He looked down at the pan, holding the spatula and just waiting for her signal. “Now?” he asked as the top had settled down.

“Not yet,” she replied, putting a hoof up. “You have to wait for it dry first.”

“Dry?” he asked, feeling more confused than before.

“Yeah. Once it stops bubbling you’ll see it start becoming a darker white. That’s the perfect time to flip it. If you try to do it before that when it’s not hard you’ll just wind up getting a goopy mess on the spatula.”

“Well, if you say so.” After about ten more seconds Dinky put her hoof down and gave him the go-ahead. He dipped the spatula into the pot, but he found the pancake tenacious. “Now what?”

“Silly. Let me show you.” She took the spatula from him, and did a back and forth motion and hit the pancake from multiple sides before it released its grip on the bottom and she flipped it over, then did the same with the other three in the pan. “Easy. Right? You really should learn to do this yourself, you know. I can’t believe you don’t know how to cook anything. I’m a filly and I know this stuff.”

He started feeling embarrassed again. “Well, I just never learned. It wasn’t high on my list of priorities. I can at least make toast.”

Dinky grinned up at him. “I think it’s wonderful you can’t cook.”

“And why’s that? So you can mock me?”

“Nooooo!” she said, giggling. “Because it gives us something to do together. The whole point of today is for us to get closer to each other, so I don’t really care what we do, so long as I get to do it with you.”

He was momentarily lost for something to say, so he just kissed her forehead and said, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Daddy.” She enjoyed the thrill in her tummy every time she said the word. It was really real. She had a dad, and he was there to stay.

After a little while passed Dinky scooped up the pancakes, putting them on a waiting plate. “I’m hungry,” she said, her stomach rumbling again as she smelled the food. “Can I start, or do you want me to hold your hoof through the next batch first?”

He let out a little groan, his face getting hot again. In as dignified a tone as he could muster he said, “I can handle it. It’ll be a cinch now that you showed me the knack.”

“Good.” Dinky rushed to the table, setting her plate down. She poured some syrup over her pancakes and began devouring them as Doctor Hooves made the next batch.

“Gotta get Derpy to give me some cooking lessons,” he muttered utter his breath. “I’m being schooled by a filly less than half my age.” To his relief he managed to flip the pancakes and serve them without any incidents until the batter was used up.

He couldn’t believe her appetite. She ate more than he did. He wondered if all kids had such strong appetites in the morning, or if Dinky was just special.

Once she polished off the last bite she let out a content sigh as she rubbed her tummy. “Mmmm! Now that was good.”

As she ran over to him he backed away. “Whoa there, sticky hooves!” But it was to no avail. She jumped up at him, giving him a big hug.

“Thank you, Daddy! That was delicious.”

“You’re, um, welcome, Dinky.” He gently pulled her away, feeling a few of the hairs of his fur come out. “Why don’t you go wash up before you go around giving hugs?”

“Okay, Dad.” She pulled a chair to the sink, standing on it as she washed her hooves off, using her magic to put the dishes in the sink. Humming a gentle tune to herself she started washing the dishes and silverware before drying them with a towel and putting them back where they belonged in the cabinets and drawers.

Doctor Hooves just quietly observed her. “It’s good to see you’re responsible.”

Dinky turned back to him, looking a little confused. “Why wouldn’t I be? If my mom was here she’d normally wash them, but since she isn’t I have to do it. Mom said that even if she didn’t have a lot of money she was going to make sure I at least know how to take care of myself for when I get my own house and my own family.”

She hopped off the chair and put it back in its spot under the table. “I used to fight her when I was smaller about doing these things, but I understand why she pushed me so hard to learn it. I feel like the way I act is a reflection of how other ponies will see my mom, so I try real hard to be on my best behavior so they won’t ever think she was a bad mother. I slip up sometimes, of course. All kids do that, though.”

“I see.” He gave her a tender smile. “You’re very mature for your age. Your love for your mother is obvious.”

Dinky hopped up onto his lap. “Why shouldn’t I love my mother? Even though we have our disagreements and got in tons of fights over the years she’s still been fantastic to me my whole life. I just think the best way to show my gratitude is to be the best I can be so she doesn’t have any extra things to worry about.

“And I guess I am a little more mature than most of my classmates. But you know my mom. She has a lot of problems and for the most part I was always the one she had to come to when she was down. Like I told her though I AM still a kid at heart. My mom is the adult most of the time, but when things get to be too much for her and she cries and feels depressed than I step up to be the adult for a little while until she gets past whatever is troubling her, and then I turn back into a kid.

“Hey!”

“Y-yes?” he said, jumping a little at her sudden outburst.

“Speaking of being a kid, do you think we can go to the park to play on the playground?”

“Well, I don’t see why not.”

“YAY!” She hugged him quickly before hopping off his lap onto the floor. “I’m going to the pa-ark. Going to the pa-ark.”

He laughed at her jubilance as she did some weird moves that might be considered dancing.

When he got up out of his chair she jumped into it, then climbed onto his back. “Come on, Daddy! Let’s go! To the park! Away!”

He rolled his eyes, smirking as he asked, “When did I become your taxi?”

“Since you told me you loved me. You wouldn’t want to make me cry, would you?”

“That’s a dirty trick.” He laughed as he went to the front door, opening it and heading outside, closing the door behind him. “Alright, then. Hold on tight!”

“Okay, Daddy!” She tightened her grip as he reared back and then started running, giggling like mad all the while.

As they neared Ponyville Park he had to slow down as he began running out of breath. He panted as he took the rest of the trip at a walk. He was grateful to spy a water fountain close by, and he greedily drank down a few gulps of water, satisfying his parched throat. He wiped his forehead. “Phew. That was an adventure.”

“You said it! That was great!”

“We’re almost to the playground. Would you like to get down?”

“NO!” she said sternly. Adopting a regal tone she continued, “You would doth make thy princess walk? On this barren, parched desert path? How could thy heart be so cold, noble stallion?”

Doctor Hooves rolled his eyes again. “My apologies, milady. I would bow to you in reparation if I wasn’t afraid you’d fall off.”

“Very good, dear Father. Your heartfelt sentiments of regret are enough for me. Now let us hurry. Your princess grows dreadfully bored. That won’t go well on your performance review.”

“Oh, so now I’m being judged?”

“Are you questioning your princess?”

“Perish the thought.”

“That sounds like sarcasm. I don’t appreciate that.”

“Well, then. I guess if you fire me you’ll just have to look for another dad then, princess.”

It was quiet for a few moments, before Dinky finally responded, “Your princess forgives your error. She will give you more time to prove your dadly tendencies.”

“I am overwhelmed by your kindness, princess.”

“You should be. I don’t do this for just anyone.”

A few minutes later they came upon the playground. It was still early, so there weren’t any other foals hanging around just yet.

Dinky hopped off his back, dropping her princess shtick. “Come on, Daddy!” she said excitedly. “Push me on the swings.” She went off running, climbing onto a swing and grinning expectedly at him.

“Coming.” He got behind her, sitting down and using both hooves to pull her as far back as he could before pushing hard.

Dinky was a bundle of joy as he continued to push her every time gravity brought her back toward him.

When she got bored of that she went to play on the jungle gym, crawling around and doing little stunts as he clapped his hooves for her.

For over an hour she played around until she told him she wanted to go back home. As they made the trip this time Dinky walked next to him, telling him about her friends and school, and he got to know the side of her he hadn’t gotten to see. He had seen her school friends when they had all gone to the Apple charity drive, but he didn’t really know them on a personal level.

When they got home Dinky told him to sit down on the couch. She had something planned for him. She came back a short while later with some paper and a box of crayons. “Let’s draw stuff!”

“Draw?” he said, sounding a little bored already.

“Oh, don’t be a wet blanket. Bring out your inner colt. Drawing is a lot of fun. Or… maybe you don’t want to do stuff with me?” She put her lower lip out, pouting.

“Okay, okay. Just stop that.”

She opened the box, pouring out the crayons as she sat on the floor.

“Um… wouldn’t you rather do that at the table in the kitchen?”

She shook her head. “Nope! It’s more fun to do it on the floor. Just put a magazine under it to sturdy it up and it will do just fine.” With a glow of her horn she brought a few magazines over. Picking up a crayon she began making some lines. After a few seconds she looked up at him. “Well? Are you coming down here or not?”

After a couple more seconds he sat down on the floor on his stomach like her. He scratched his head, not knowing what at all to draw. He finally picked up a crayon and began doodling. Despite his initial reluctance he actually found it to be a fun experience once he loosened up and stopped being so concerned about making a masterpiece.

“See, you’re getting it,” Dinky said, noticing it when he perked up.

Minutes passed, and they were mostly quiet, nothing but the scratching of crayon on paper being heard. “Look, Daddy!” Dinky said after a while, lifting up her paper.

He grinned over at her as he saw it. Though it was crude he could make out the two images she had drawn. The first was of him proposing to Derpy, and the second was of the three of them together as a family. “That’s lovely, Dinky.”

“So what did you make?”

He felt suddenly shy, and his face became flushed. “It’s nothing. You’re probably gonna start making fun of me again.”

“I won’t laugh. I promise.”

“Well, just remember that I didn’t get a cutie mark for art.” He pushed his page over to her.

Dinky had to suppress the urge to laugh. He had drawn a car, some ponies, her mom, him with a crown and a scepter, and what looked like an alien. His drawing actually looked even worse than hers, and she understood his reluctance.

Dinky hopped up, grabbing the unwritten papers and using her magic to put the crayons back in the box. “I got another idea!”

“Hey! I was just getting into that. Can’t you do anything for longer than five minutes?”

“Time is time, and we don’t have a lot of it. I’m making the most of today. Now go sit on the couch. I’ll be right back with the stuff.” She ran out of the room, taking the paper and crayons with her.

Following her instructions he went to the couch, letting out a small sigh as he sat down. “Do all kids have such a short attention span?” he asked himself.

A minute later Dinky returned with a small saddlebag. “Are you ready?”

“Ready for what?” he asked as Dinky approached.

She set the bag down, reaching into it and pulling something out. “MAKEOVER!” she said excitedly, her voice trilling.

His eyes went wide, a look of horror overtaking his features. He hopped up as he saw the makeup in her hoof. “Nope! Nope! Nope! Uh-uh! Not doing it. No way, no how!”

Dinky pouted. “Please?”

“No!”

“Pleeeeease?”

“NO!” he said firmly,

“PLEEEEEEEEEEAAAASSEEE?” she begged, her hooves together as she gave him her best pleading look.

Doctor Hooves gritted his teeth, sucking on his cheek for a while before he said with great reluctance, “Allllrright.”

“Hooray!” Dinky cheered, pushing him back toward the couch.

Doctor Hooves groaned loudly. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

“You’re gonna love it. I promise!”

“Why me? Can’t you do this with your mom?”

“Yes, but I wanna do it with you.” Dinky grabbed her bag, sitting on the top of the couch with her comb and spray bottle. Dinky sprayed his mane over and over until it was soaked, and then she began to comb it so it laid flat, beginning to style it.

Doctor Hooves groaned under his breath again. He had always felt that most parents seemed weak. He had thought parenting looked pretty simple from the sidelines, and he couldn’t believe how many times parents gave into their children when they put that certain pleading whine into their voice when they really wanted something. Now that it had been turned on him he understood just how hard it was to turn it down.

She hummed to herself, picking up some hair clips and barrettes. “You’re gonna look so pretty when I’m done with you.”

He let out a tortured laugh. “I don’t want to be pretty.”

“Not listening!”

Bit by bit he could feel his masculinity vanishing as she moved over to her bag when she was done with his mane. He didn’t even want to imagine what his mane looked like. She took out a bottle of hoof polish, and he had to fight the urge to run as she began to paint his hooves red. “Fitting,” he mused in his mind. “It matches my cheeks right now.

“It’s for her. It’s for her,” he kept telling himself, seeing how happy she looked. His mind turned to Derpy, and he began to wonder how she was doing. “I certainly hope you’re having a better time than I am right now.”

***

The train raced along the tracks, headed to its eventual destination. Derpy had no idea when it was going to arrive, but for her it couldn’t come soon enough and it couldn’t arrive slow enough. She looked down at her hooves, staring down at the picture she hadn’t been able to take her eyes off of since the train had taken off.

A voice came over the intercom. “We will be arriving in Fillydelphia in about five minutes. Repeat. Five minutes until arrival in Fillydelphia.”

Lifting her hoof she put it on her engagement ring, squeezing it tight as she closed her eyes. “It’s almost time,” she said in a strained voice. “Please, Doctor, give me strength today.

“It’s time to confront you.” She opened her eyes, once more seeing the picture of her prom night. “Shooting Star.”

Chapter 13: Mixed feelings.

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A few minutes later the train pulled into the station. As the train slowed down Derpy put the photo away.

Derpy continued sitting there for a few moments after the doors opened. There was still time to go back. She didn’t HAVE to do this. She put her hoof on her engagement ring again, her hoof shaking a little. “No,” she whispered to herself. “If I don’t do this now I’ll never be able to face myself. This is for our future.” She felt strength welling up, and she got off the seat, heading out the door.

She had only been to Fillydelphia a few times when she was just a child. As she plodded down the street she knew she could just use her wings to get where she was going easier, but she felt in such a haze of multiple emotions she didn’t trust her ability to stay airborne.

She passed by pony after pony, not paying anything any attention but the path she had to take. As she walked along she thought of the ticket stashed inside her bag.

Following Doctor Hooves’ proposal Derpy had found herself the happiest she had ever been. Someone wanted to marry her! That was the most unexpected thing for her. She never even began to imagine things would come this far when she first agreed to date him.

She felt her heart fluttering as she thought of him declaring his love for her and proposing for all to hear. There was one thing in particular though that had taken the wind out of her sails. One specific thing he had said to her made her realize that she wasn’t at his level. He had told her that he didn’t want to share her love with anyone else. He wanted it all for himself. She wasn’t so dumb as to not realize he meant that only in a romantic sense. He certainly didn’t want her not to love her daughter or her friends. He had pledged himself to her, promising everything he had to make her happy. How could she call herself his wife if she wasn’t willing to do the same for him?

A few days before their anniversary, when she had had that huge freak out, her night was plagued by that nightmare of Shooting Star returning, a changed stallion who wanted to start things over. She had to squash those feelings inside her. That being the case she had to shut the door on this aspect of her past, and she knew that in order to do that she would have to see HIM again.

She stopped to ask for directions, and headed where she was pointed to. As she continued on her way she thought about her decision to come out here. Shooting Star was a decently famous hoofball player, so all she had to do to find him was look up when his next home game would be. Luckily it had only been a few days away. She wanted it to be over with as soon as possible.

About ten minutes later she reached the stadium, seeing the big crowd of ponies waiting to be admitted. Derpy went into her bag, grabbing her ticket when she reached the ticket-taker. She had bought the cheapest ticket possible, so she was seated up in the nose-bleed section. She didn’t mind that. She wasn’t much of a sports fan anyway.

She climbed step after step towards the highest seats in the place and sat down, putting her head on her hoof as she waited.

After what felt like an eternity ponies came out one after another, all of them wearing their distinctive team uniforms. The announcer talked about the players and other gibberish she didn’t particularly care about. She couldn’t make Shooting out very well from up so high but she thought he didn’t look much different than he had in school.

He came to the mike, pledging to win the game for all his adoring fans, making cheers go out through the crowd.

She couldn’t deny his talent. Looking at his team’s record they had only lost one game this season out of thirty games.

The game began, but Derpy didn’t pay much attention to it. She didn’t care about who had the ball. She only had eyes for Shooting Star. She glared at him the whole time, knowing that the time was soon to come. He was going to talk to her whether he liked it or not.

The game felt like it was over in no time at all, ending with the victory Shooting had promised. The cheering and hoof-stomping was almost deafening.

When things finally settled down Shooting came up to the microphone again. “Thank you, everyone! I couldn’t have done this without your support and the support of all my amazing teammates. I hope you continue to watch over me as I strive to win every game I can.

“Of course, since my fans all give me so much I, of course, want to give something back to them. For the next hour I’m giving out free autographs!” The cheers and whoops now had a younger tone to them. She guessed it was every colts dream come true. She hopped off her seat, knowing that she couldn’t afford to miss this opportunity.

Derpy flew down to the stadium floor, getting in the rapidly expanding line.

Shooting Star signed autograph after autograph, waving as the little colts all showered him with praise.

He suddenly paused as the latest photo was pushed into his hooves, his eyes going wide. His head shot up, an odd look on his face as he looked into the eyes of his former marefriend.

Derpy gave him a lighthearted grin. “Sorry,” she said innocently, “but I didn’t have any other pictures of you.”

The two of them stared at each other for a short while before Derpy said, “Well? Don’t I get an autograph too? You should hurry up.” She jerked her head toward the crowd. “You don’t want to keep your devoted fans waiting, do you? You wouldn’t want to snub the ponies who have supported you throughout your life.”

For one of the few times in his life Shooting Star felt completely unprepared for something.

Derpy didn’t fail to notice how uncomfortable he looked, and she felt immense satisfaction at it. “Don’t be afraid, Shooting. I’m not planning to make a scene. I’d just like a little bit of your time when you’re available.”

He finally stirred, penning a hurried signature before shoving the photo back into her hooves. “Okay,” he said suspiciously.

“Oh, thank you!” she said in an overenthusiastic voice. “I’m sure my daughter will just adore this. I’m sure you would have just LOVED to meet her.” With that she moved off to the side, thoroughly enjoying the grumpy look on his face as he went through the rest of the line. She could clearly see he was just pretending his enthusiasm as he continued.

Derpy felt a hoof on her shoulder, and she turned around to see a security pony. “Let’s go, miss. You got your autograph, and we don’t want you to obstruct the area.”

“Take your hoof off of her,” Shooting said without looking over at her. He sounded annoyed. “She’s an old friend, so don’t mistreat her.”

“Apologies, sir,” the pony responded, backing off.

She saw him basically rushing to finish up, and wondered what was going through his head. He clearly was having a reaction to seeing her again, but of what kind? Was it fear because he was worried about her blackmailing him? Was it annoyance because he had to deal with a country bumpkin? Was it sadness because he felt some regret about the past? She couldn’t tell, and she wouldn’t be able to until she got him alone.

When he gave away his last autograph he walked over to some of his other teammates and talked with them for a short while before he came back over to her. “Let’s go,” he said in an even voice. “We usually go out to celebrate after we win a game, but I told them an old friend popped up so I’ll be a little late.”

Derpy followed him, walking down a hall until they reached a door. He pulled it open, revealing a locker room.

As the door shut behind her Derpy felt her fear return. Out in the crowd where she knew he couldn’t say or do anything bad without risking his public reputation she had felt smug, but now he had the advantage.

He went to the corner of the room where a barrel sat next to some cups. He set a cup under it and pulled the knob, making juice pour into it. He swallowed it down in a few gulps before giving a gratified sigh.

“Sorry,” he said. “If we were at my place I could offer you something much more rich, but all we have in here is some crocade. You thirsty?”

Derpy shook her head.

“Suit yourself,” he said as he threw the cup out. He sat down on a bench, looking more relaxed. “So… what brings you here?” He put his hooves behind his head, leaning against the locker behind him. “Please don’t tell me this is some petty revenge scheme. That was real cute what you did out there, but with all those years of planning that’s the best you could come up with? At the least you could have made a public accusation. However, I gather that’s not what you’re really after. Otherwise, why would you even wait this long? So then… what is it?”

Derpy stared at him, not responding as multiple conflicting emotions came out. Her legs felt cold and weak, while her stomach felt hot and rigid. She felt angry and sad, but she couldn’t help but feel a sense of happiness and joy as she thought back to their days together.

“So, did you come here just to stare at me?" he asked when she didn't speak. "Oh. I get it. You finally plucked up the courage to chew me out, and you’re scared I’ll crush you with my influence for it, right? I did do you dirty, so the least I can do is allow you to get all those feelings off your chest so you can move on.”

Derpy’s whole body was tense. The words she wanted to say just wouldn’t come out.

Shooting got up. “Here. Let me help get you started. I know just what to do to help you loosen up.”

Derpy backed up a step, unsure what he was talking about as he approached.

As he closed the distance he asked, “So speaking of what you said before how is our kid doing?”

That question instantly pushed her over the edge. She spun around, and bucked him as hard as she could, sending him flying into a locker. “HOW DARE YOU?” she yelled. “How DARE you even think of saying OUR? You ran away from me, leaving me to raise her all by myself, and you have the gall to ask how OUR child is doing? There is no OUR about it. She’s MY daughter!”

Shooting Star got up, giving a few weak laughs. “There you go. Isn’t that better to get that out?”

His casual attitude only made her angrier, and she socked him in the face, making him recoil. “You’re a monster! You know that? You are the lowest of the low, and you disgust me with your very existence. I’m done running and hiding from you. I’m here to speak my mind, and you are going to listen.”

Shooting Star put a hoof to his snout, feeling the wetness of blood. He grabbed a paper towel, setting it on his snout. He sat down on the bench. “So talk away. I’m not gonna run either. I owe you that much.”

“Owe me?” She laughed. A hysterical, high pitched laugh. “You owe me much more than that.”

“So why now? After all this time why choose now to come forward? Did you not have the guts before this?”

Derpy smirked at him. “You can find me pathetic if you want, but I have come for revenge. The best kind of revenge.” Lifting her ring she said proudly, “I’m getting married.”

He blinked. “No kidding?” he said in an amused voice. “And that is revenge… how?”

“Because I can finally put you behind me. All this time I’ve been holding onto the memory of you dumping me, and it’s held me back. Chance brought me to a real stallion that treats me the way I should be treated. Even after you weren’t a part of my life I couldn’t just forget about you. Your influence has been dominating my life for far too long, and I’m tired of it. So I’ve come here to settle things with you for good.”

“What do you want from me, Derpy?” He pulled the paper towel away, checking his nose. It had already stopped bleeding. He chucked it into a garbage can and walked toward her. “I was young and immature then. I didn’t want to be a dad.”

“Is that really the case? Or is it that you were ashamed to have a child with the freak-eyed wonder? Walking around with your head so swelled I’m surprised it even fit into the stadium’s you played in. It was all about making yourself look good.”

“I didn’t see you complaining when I made your bullies back off of you. What would your life have been if I hadn’t helped you out? It was a win-win for both of us.”

“Fine! I admit that you were helpful to me. The constant bullying took a toll on my spirit, and I nearly committed suicide once over it, so you helped to brighten up my school life.”

“Glad to hear it. Well, about the brightening up part, not the attempted suicide bit, of course.”

“Hmph! Are you trying to tell me you’ve grown up a little since I last saw you?”

“Haven’t you? The years change everyone in some way or another. In school I floated around in complete control with the influence of my father behind me. After school ended I found that I still had quite a bit of pull when I brought up who I was. However, the one who really changed me is my current marefriend.”

“Current, huh? And just how many dozens of mares did you dupe and father children with after me?”

“Believe it or not: zero.”

“Huh!”

“Well, you might not believe this, but you were the first mare I ever mated with.”

Derpy rolled her eyes, letting out a heavy sigh. “And I should be honored, right? Getting to mate with the greatest stallion who ever lived?”

“That’s not where I was going with that. The point is that I didn’t particularly care who I did it with. I just wanted to have fun. I figured it was best to just do it with someone of lowly status like you.”

“Because if it was someone who also had status they actually could get revenge, right?”

“You got it in one. I realized the danger of impregnating mare’s and not expecting any of them to get revenge in one way or another. All it would take was one willing to take the risk of exposing me, and then the others might step forward and there would go my reputation.”

“You truly are a dirtbag. I can’t believe I never saw your true colors up until the point you dumped me.”

“I never said I was good back then.”

“And you think you’re good now? So what is so special about the mare you’re with? Who was it that got your attention after the high class girl you dumped me for?”

“It’s still the same one.”

“I find that hard to believe.” She sat down, roughly pushing her back against a locker and crossing her hooves. “You seem like the type to always want the newest thing, flitting around from mare to mare whenever you got bored. What could possibly make someone like YOU be with someone for ten years?”

He put his hoof to his nose, pushing gently and wincing. “Man, you sure can hit hard when you put your mind to it.”

“Don’t avoid my question.”

“I’m not.” Looking up at her he said, “She’s an odd specimen.”

Derpy huffed. “Well, isn’t than an absolutely gorgeous way to refer to your mare, as nothing better than a science experiment.”

Ignoring her outburst he continued, “Even though her parents were also wealthy she lived little better than a pauper. She had a menial job, earning her own money. My dad had pushed me to go out with her, and at first I found her rather dull. After all, who does work your servants should be doing?

“I kept asking what exactly would push her to work so hard when her parents were wealthy businessponies. She kept telling me that if I didn’t get it then I wasn’t ready to know. Boy, did that tick me off. And that annoyance kept me interested when I felt like giving up on her for acting so out of character.

"As I continued to observe her she irritated me even more, but she still wouldn’t answer me when I asked. It was a mystery I was determined to unravel. I tried to woo her, and she snubbed all my efforts, instead focusing on charity work and her own business plans.”

Derpy looked toward the ceiling, her hooves now resting on the bench. “And being that you’re oh so great you couldn’t stand the thought of there being something you couldn’t obtain, hmm?”

“Yes. Month after month went by, and my progress with her was minimal. The more she ignored me the more I wanted her. And the more I wanted her the more time I tried to spend with her. Thus, I got to observe her. Bit by bit I began to understand her. She talked to everyone like they were equals, and was generous to those below her station. Even though her parents were wealthy she never talked about them as such, and seemed to avoid bringing them up. When she dressed up for formal events her dress was very modest. Instead of working for her parents business she elected to open up her own.

“I finally asked her what would make me more attractive to her. She called that progress, even though I didn’t see it at the time.”

“Even if you only wanted her because of the challenge you finally gave a little ground and asked about what she wanted from you, instead of you just thinking about yourself.”

“That’s right. Because of that she finally answered my question, and boy did it wake me up. Her reason for being so independent is that she wanted to pave her own greatness. She said the reason she wasn’t interested in me was that I was a thief.”

“A thief?” Derpy said, genuinely curious. “With how much money you can throw around what could you possibly have to steal?”

“Well, she meant it metaphorically. She was saying I was incompetent. I was stealing my father’s prestige and using it to pump myself up. I was milking my father’s name and reputation to make myself feel important, when I had never done anything myself to earn it.

"As I went through school throwing power around I made quite a few enemies. As she so bluntly pointed out, the only thing stopping them from enacting revenge was one bad decision. If my father made a blunder and lost his fortune I’d be brought down from my perch in the sky, with all the ponies I’d stepped on waiting for me. No one else would want to help me.

“What had truly drawn me to her was her strength. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. She possessed great inner strength because she wanted to strive to make her own name for herself and be known on her own merits. Compared to her I began to understand how small I really was. I had my skill in playing sports, but that was it. Everything else I just borrowed from my parents, giving back nothing in return.

“I strove to be kinder from then on, my head starting to deflate. And as I began to change and strive towards my own status I saw her attitude towards me change as well. She stopped being so distant and began to close the gap between us. The more I worked for it the more attention she paid to me.

“I’m not perfect by any means, but I’m not the same stallion I was when you last saw me, and I don’t think you should treat me as such. I’ve been very respectful towards you today, but you’re too blinded by your own feelings of the past to see that. You can still only see the me of the past, not even realizing that you’re not the only one who can change.”

Derpy met his gaze without flinching. “You can claim that you’ve changed, but it’s not enough. I’ll admit you’re not being as arrogant and haughty as I’d expected you to be when I came here today, but that doesn’t change the fact that you still never took responsibility for your choices.”

Shooting hopped off the bench. With an edge in his voice he said, “And what about your own choices, Derpy? I used you as a mate and then dumped you afterward. I did that solely for me. I’m not denying that, but I think you’re forgetting something. While you stand there thinking you’re taking the moral high ground I’d like to remind you of something.”

Turning around he put his front half to the ground, pushing his back half at her. In a girly voice he said, “Take me, Shooting Star. I’m all yours. Make me a real mare.” With a couple of quick wiggles he stood back up, turning to her again. “YOU were the one who offered yourself to me.”

Derpy couldn’t believe he was trying to go that route. Glaring at him she roared, “AND THAT’S WHAT YOU WANTED ALL ALONG!”

“That doesn’t matter.”

“It doesn’t matter?” She growled.

“My motivations are irrelevant. Whatever my reasons for dating you it doesn’t change the fact that YOU were the one who knocked down that final barrier. When, when we were together, did I EVER bring up mating? We would kiss, and stroke each other, but my hooves never strayed down below. I never asked for it or pressured you in any way for it.

“And there’s something else you’re forgetting. Dating is optional. A pony only has to date another pony so long as they want to. Again, whether my motives were good or bad isn’t important. I could dump you anytime I wanted, with or without a good reason, and you can’t complain because we weren’t married. I didn’t owe you ANYTHING.”

The two of them looked angrily at each other for a while. Derpy was the first one to look away. “You’re right,” she finally said. “You are absolutely right on both counts. You were only in it to use me, but I let myself be used because I was young and immature and I was too in love with you to really see what I was doing when I asked you to mate with me. That is true.

“And you are also correct that you didn’t have to date me any longer than you wanted to. So, yes, you didn’t owe me anything.” Meeting his eyes again she said nastily, “But you owed your DAUGHTER!

“You know, it was your choice if you didn’t want to raise your child or deal with custody issues, but you helped to create a new life, and you didn’t do a damn thing to help her! If you didn’t want to have your daughter be a part of your life because it was the result of a union with someone far below your greatness the least you could have done is pay some foal support. Celestia knows that it wouldn’t have been any strain on your bank account.

“Without your support I’ve had to struggle all by myself. I was so freaked out with everything that I nearly got an abortion. But you know the big difference between you and me? I realized that I was doing something wrong, and I took responsibility for my choice. I kept my child alive and cared for her the best way I knew how. I sacrificed my time and energy and always put her first.

“I’ve had to raise Dinky all by my lonesome. When she was only two I lost my parents in an accident.”

Shooting averted his eyes, saying quietly, “My condolences.”

“Thank you.”

For a short time neither of them said anything, the feeling in the room heavy. When Derpy spoke it was like the interruption never happened. “Don’t even try to play this “I’ve changed, I’ve changed” game with me when I tried to give you a second chance. I sent you photo’s of Dinky when she was four years old, and you returned them without even opening them.”

“What was I supposed to do, Derpy? Just pop back in, and pretend nothing ever happened? It was something from my past. I was in the process of changing who I was, and I didn’t want to face what I had done. So I just ignored it. I sent them back, so I could tell myself it never happened.”

“And it’s been six years since then! Are you still not ready? Why did I have to come all the way down here to you for you to admit you were wrong?”

“Why would I expect you’d want to see me again after what I did to you?”

“Good point! Why WOULD I want to see you again? You shattered my heart and ran away from your duty. I don’t care how much you’ve changed or if you’re not that same stallion today. You’re still a colossal prick!”

Shooting took a deep breath. “I know that. And that’s why I didn’t want to see you again. I thought it would be better that way. I do owe you, though. I can’t deny that. I’d like to give you something.”

“Like I’d want anything you have to give. You already gave me a broken heart. Isn’t that enough?”

He walked to one of the lockers, spinning the dial a few times as he put the combination in. When he got the lock off he opened the locker and went into a duffel bag. He pulled out a pen and a small pad. Opening it up he began writing. When he was done he ripped it out and put his hoof out to her. “Take it.”

Derpy eyed it suspiciously. “And just what is it?”

“Think of it as your wedding gift.”

She put her hoof out, taking the paper. Her eyes bugged out as she saw that it was a check, written out for twenty million bits. “I… I-I-I can’t take this!” she said, sounding panicked.

“Why not? You just said you don’t mind if I’m not in our child’s life so long as I helped pay for her expenses, right? Besides, forgive me for being presumptuous, but given that you just said how much you’ve been struggling do you think you can afford it?”

“Afford what?”

“The wedding. Do you have the bits for a new dress? To rent out the wedding hall, the catering, and the reception?”

Derpy mentally slapped herself. She was so hung up on the thought of getting married she hadn’t taken into account the considerable expenses involved. “No, I really don’t. But…” Derpy’s hooves were shaking. She knew she could really use that money. “I’m sorry, but I can’t accept this.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not out to bankrupt your father. I don’t want his money. This was your problem, so why would I want him to pay for it?”

“Hey, hey! Don’t sell me short here. This is all my money. I told you I’m trying to take responsibility for the way I’ve been. I make quite a bit of money as an athlete. That’s basically pocket change for me. It’s for a good cause, after all. That will cover your wedding expenses, and the rest you can devote to... Dinky, was it?”

“That’s right.” Her child appeared in her mind. She didn’t like the idea of funding her wedding with someone else’s money, especially from the stallion that had thrown her away, but she wasn’t going to be so prideful as to reject it. With this kind of leeway she wouldn’t have to be concerned about money for a long time. With one less thing to worry about she could devote more time to her daughter and future husband.

She hesitated for a bit before opening her saddlebag and putting the check inside. She looked over at him, gratitude shining on her face. “Thank you. This is going to ease my burden considerably.”

“Listen, I know I was a jerk in the past,” he said as he patted her cheek twice, “and I’m sorry for hurting you, Bright Eyes.”

She gasped, tears forming in her eyes. “You’re… y-y-you’re… sor-sor…”

“Hmm?” Shooting felt confused. Her whole attitude had just shifted. Before she had looked furious. Now she seemed happy and gentle.

A memory came to Derpy, and she felt herself leaving the present.

***

“We’ve been dating for a month now. I think I need a special name just for you.”

Derpy blushed. “You don’t have to do that.”

“You have beautiful golden eyes, like a summer sun rising over the horizon. I think I’ll call you Bright Eyes.”

Derpy frowned, shaking her head. “No! I hate my eyes!”

“Too bad, Bright Eyes.”

A few tears came down her eyes. “I don’t like that name.”

“And that’s why I’m not going to stop calling you that until you stop reacting.” Putting a hoof to her face he gave her one of his famous smiles. “The only reason everyone goes after you for your eyes is because you make it such an easy target. You can’t help the way your eyes are, so embrace them. After all, they helped lead me to you, didn’t they?”

Derpy blushed again, smiling back at him. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“Together we’ll get you through this dislike of your eyes. After all, they’re your most distinguishing feature. The more you react to the teasing the more they’ll do it. Of course, with me by your side they won’t dare mock you, but I’m not going to be by your side all the time. You need to learn to stop responding to their teasing.”

“I’ll try.”

“Glad to hear it, Bright Eyes.”

Derpy winced, finding it hard to believe anyone could find her eyes attractive.

He gave a playful sigh. “There you go again, trying to hide. You can’t hide from the world, so embrace how special you are, Bright Eyes.”

She winced again, putting her hooves by her face.

He pulled them down, giving her a kiss. “I love you, Bright Eyes, you and those eyes of yours.”

She gave him a tender smile, tears coming down her eyes. “Thank you.”

***

Derpy found it hard to swallow, her breathing erratic and her tears starting to pour down. She put a hoof on her eye, rubbing it. “You still remember,” she said, her voice thick with emotion.

“Remember what?” he asked, confused.

“You called me “Bright Eyes.” That was the pet name you had for me when we were dating. With your help I stopped being so self-conscious about these mismatched eyes. Even after ten years you still remember such an intimate detail of our time together, even though you claimed that I meant nothing to you.

"So I did mean something to you, after all. It… it makes me so happy.” She tried to swallow, but it felt like there was a lump in her throat. She wiped her face, but more tears just replaced them.

Shooting Star felt unnerved by her shift in attitude, and wasn’t sure how to deal with it. Things were moving in a direction he wasn’t comfortable with. He felt it was time to end things, and he knew just the way.

“I guess you’re right. Maybe you were someone of value to me. After all, what drew me to my current mare was the way she didn’t act like everyone else in her station. Maybe I like her because she reminds me of you.” He began walking towards her, closing the distance between them. “The time we spent together was fun… Bright Eyes.” He tilted his head a little as he said it, flashing a smile at her.

Derpy felt her heart thumping as he approached. With the check and calling her by her pet name her anger had faded away completely at that point, and tender memories ran through her. “It’s too bad I couldn’t have been rich, then we really could have stayed together. But here we are, together again.”

He put his hoof out, taking hers in his. “Yes, we are. Maybe this can be a new start for us.” He kissed her hoof. “What do you say?”

“I… I don’t know.”

Putting her hoof down he used his hoof to push a few stray strands of hair behind her ear. “I’m starting to remember what drew me to you in the first place. You’re so kind and forgiving.”

Derpy didn’t back away. She found herself getting lost in his eyes. Her body felt paralyzed as he put his face near hers, her breathing going up as her heart began racing. She felt like her legs were going to give out. She muttered something incomprehensible. Everything felt weird and she was feeling lightheaded as emotions flooded her being.

Almost mechanically she puckered up, starting to close the distance.

Chapter 14: Unorthodox apology

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As she got close to him she felt a curious sense of déjà vu, like she had been here before in this exact same situation. Her mind felt hazy as her feelings from the past took center stage. ‘I can’t believe it,’ she thought. ‘This feels just like a dream.’ She felt something was off. ‘A… dream.’

Like a bolt of lightning three images flashed through her mind: a heartbroken looking Doctor Hooves, a furious and disappointed Dinky, and a cocky, smug Shooting Star.

Her thoughts cleared and all she saw was Shooting Star about to kiss her. “NO!” she yelled, shoving him away. She put her hoof to her neck, feeling the ring as she panted, freaked out at how close she had just come to cheating on her future husband.

She suddenly realized where her sense of familiarity was coming from: things had been shaping up just like the nightmare she’d had shortly before her six month anniversary with Doctor Hooves. The apologetic Shooting Star, giving her a check for a lot of money as repayment, talking her into loving him again. As soon as she gave in she had lost everything. The Doctor was disheartened and sad to see his mare kissing another stallion, Dinky was angry at her for breaking his heart, and Shooting revealed he was only playing her once again.

She shook her head, forcing herself to focus as the last of her romantic feelings drifted away. “NO!” she yelled again. “I’m not doing it! I’m not playing your game so you can just mock me again.”

He let out a derisive laugh. “So you grew a brain in that head of yours, after all. Honestly! For a second I thought I had you. I was about to pull away myself just before you did. It would have been funny to see that you haven’t changed a bit. It’s so easy to pull the wool over your eyes. Nice to see I can still play like you like a fiddle when I want to.”

“I’m NOT the same mare I was back then. I’m not going to spend years mourning over you. I have a fantastic stallion that is better than you could ever be. I just got caught up for a minute in nostalgia and I let my guard down.”

He got a smug look on his face. “Heh! And isn’t that exactly why you wound up in this situation in the first place?”

“You’re right! It is! But I learned from the past. I stopped myself this time from making a big mistake.”

“Whoop-de-doo.” He clapped his hooves sarcastically. “It only took you how many years to learn not to be stupid, and you were about to throw that all away? I wonder what your stallion would think if he saw what you were about to do. It wouldn’t be difficult to figure out who he is. Maybe the two of us should go have a nice chat so I can-”

Derpy slapped him hard across the face, making him recoil. “Shut your mouth! I told you I’m not that same crybaby coward I was back then. I’m not scared of you anymore. If you try to take me down I’ll make sure you’re coming with me! All it would take is a public announcement of what you did and your reputation would come crumbling down. No matter what you tried you can’t lie with a blood test. I’m sure all those fans that look up to you as their hero would run far away from you for abandoning the mare you impregnated.”

Shooting rubbed his face, looking annoyed. “Well, look at you. Openly trying to blackmail me and assaulting me. I see you really have grown some backbone over the years.” Adopting his arrogant look again he said, “Your daughter must be so proud of you. Mother of the year right here!”

Derpy saw red. She ran over to him, shoving him up against a locker, raising her hoof. “Don’t you EVER-how dare-jerk-monster-”

“Come on, then,” he said cockily. “Hit me again. I know you want to. Erase me from this world. Add murder to the list of crimes you’ve committed today. I’m sure your daughter will be happy to visit you in prison. Hey! Maybe you can even have your wedding in there too.”

Derpy was panting hard. She wanted to sock him until he stopped moving. She wanted to do something to get rid of that conceited sense of self-superiority he walked around with. Her body was tense as a guitar string, her body shaking.

For a while they stared at each other. Derpy finally grabbed him and flung him to the ground before punching the locker as hard as she could over and over, screaming through each hit until she burned out some of her rage.

Because of the thickness of her hoof it didn’t hurt at all, but the heavy impacts reverberated up her leg, making it feel sore.

Rounding on him she yelled, “I HATE YOU! You’re the worst! I can’t believe I ever thought you could be different. I had hoped so much you might someday return, ready to start over, but I know for certain now that it was just a fantasy of a stupid little girl. I better not ever see you again, or I’ll pound you into the dirt! Got it?”

Shooting got up, sitting on the bench and casually putting his hooves behind his head. “It was YOU who came to see me, remember? I think those words would best be saved for yourself, don’t you think?

“Well, hey, good luck if you have another kid with this new guy. Hopefully he won’t chuck you away too. Of course she won’t turn out as awesome as the first kid. After all, if he’s marrying you he’s clearly desperate and couldn’t find anyone better. And, hey, nothing plus nothing equals nothing, so I feel bad for the next thing that comes from your loins.”

“ARGH!” Derpy yelled in frustration, storming out of the room, mumbling curses under her breath the whole way, not even seeing the mare she passed by as she left.

Once Derpy left Shooting let out a big sigh, his conceited look giving way to a frown as he stood up. “Well… it’s done,” he said quietly. He slowly plodded out the locker room. “Ahhh!” He let out a scream as his body went flying into the air. He landed with an impact that knocked the breath out of him.

“Well, well, well,” said a female voice. “Today has been an interesting day. I learned something new about you.”

Shooting Star opened his eye, gasping in oxygen as he saw who it was. “Dream Catcher, I-AGH!” He cried out in pain as she twisted his leg.

“Huuush,” she said in a gentle tone that belied the look on her face. “Unless you want that leg to come off. You do remember when you thought I was just a joke and you missed a few games because I gave you a bad sprain, don’t you?”

“Y-yes,” he said meekly to his marefriend.

Dream Catcher was an earth pony with a white coat and a mix of light blue and light pink mane that ended in a ponytail. “I learned something big about you today, didn’t I? You went and fathered a kid, then dumped her with all the responsibility of raising it.” She ran a hoof slowly up his stomach toward his face. “To be honest that doesn’t surprise me a bit, given the hopeless dimwit you were when I first met you. That sounds just like the stallion you were years ago.

“I come over, curious as to why you’re going somewhere private with what I thought was a random fan, and this is what I have to hear. I am not pleased by this. While it doesn’t surprise me that you did that a long time ago, I really didn’t expect this of you in the current time.”

Shooting Star felt afraid as she ran her hoof in small circles over his chest. Her face looked calm now along with her words, but he knew she was angry.

“Now, I thought I taught you a long time ago that the power you kept trying to throw around was just an illusion. You thought that money would always be there to solve your problems, but it isn’t going to save you now, is it?”

“Dream Catcher, I-OW!”

She twisted his leg again. “It isn’t your turn to speak, DEAR!

“There is nothing you can do to save yourself with money or influence. From what I heard you got reunited with someone you took advantage of in the past, and having her come before you again it gave you the urge to hurt her again because you felt she was weaker than you. I’m truly disappointed in you. However, I am not a monster. I didn’t hear everything you were saying, so I’ll give you one chance to give your side of the story.

“I’m going to give you one minute to give me a good reason not to do what she didn’t want to and cause you pain. Maybe that will remind you just how weak and powerless you really are compared to me. After all, our fathers pushed us together because he saw how big your head was and he wanted me to teach you how a proper pony acts, regardless of wealth and circumstances. I thought I made a lot of progress with you, but this ghost of the past seems to have reignited the arrogant side of you.”

Shooting tried to pull his leg out of her grip, but he only got another painful twist for his efforts.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Dream Catcher said. “This leg is mine until you give me a good reason why I shouldn’t break it right now.” As she saw his horn glow she slapped it, disrupting his concentration. “Don’t even think of using magic. That will only make things worse for you in the end.

“So now… what made you think your behavior was a good idea? This was the perfect chance to make amends for the past. I would have expected you would apologize for your behavior and attempt to get to know your own child. However, you treated her poorly and aggravated her, pushing her away.”

“That WAS my apology!”

“Oh, really?” she said with sarcastic wonder. “WOW! That was some apology. Next thing I know you’ll beat her up too. Really get that apology across. You’ve got thirty seconds now to make a good argument, because the urge to remind you that you’re a small, inferior creature is becoming overpowering.”

“You said that you didn’t hear everything, so did you miss the part where she said she was getting married?”

She eased up the pressure on his leg. “Married, hmm?”

“Yes. I assumed she only came here to tell me off for what I did to her. Through our conversation she was very hostile and angry, hitting me and yelling at me. It was exactly what I was expecting. As she heard me taking responsibility for it she began cooling off. I gave her a check for a lot of money to help her get through things, and then I did give her an honest apology. However… things got complicated right after that.”

“Complicated how?”

“I called her by my pet name for her, and her attitude completely shifted. Now she was acting like she was as a teenager when she was in love with me. I saw that she still had some feelings for me, and I knew the only thing I could do was to ruin those feelings. She’s about to start a new life. I simply didn’t want her to still live in the past. I made her think I was still the same guy so she can have peace as she moves on.”

Dream Catcher stared down at him for a while.

He didn’t avoid her gaze and eventually she released him and he got up, wincing at the pain in his leg. He had gotten a lot of abuse today. He pointed his head, saying, “Come on. Let’s walk a bit.”

“Sure, but I’m still not satisfied with your answer.”

As they walked out towards the stadium Shooting said, “So what do you think would be the correct thing to do?”

“Well, not to make a total mule of yourself, obviously.”

“No… this is right.”

Her eyebrow went up. “Is that so?”

Heading out to the stands he rested his top half on the bars. “Life is complicated. I was good to her, having a good conversation where I thought she was just going to tell me off and leave. I never would have imagined she would still love me. Honestly, I think it was a surprise to her as well.

“Should I have gone ahead and tried to encourage that spark, in effect causing her to cheat on the stallion she loves? Should I have cheated on you too?”

Dream Catcher followed along, resting her front half on the bars and looking out over the field. “Well, I can’t say I would want her to cheat on her future husband. That would certainly not be the best way to kick things off. However, don’t act like you couldn’t talk with her without wooing her.”

A profound sadness came to his face. “She saw something in me when I played the part of the model coltfriend to earn her trust. Even after I revealed my true colors and told her she meant nothing to me she still had some lingering feelings. She even said it to me directly that she hoped I would one day return to her.

“I don’t get it. Why would she still love me after the way I toyed with her heart?”

“So… how do you feel about her now?” she asked, a note of curiosity in her voice.

“Does it matter? She’s taken. She’s not a threat to you.”

“That’s not what I mean, and you know that.” She turned to look at him. “Assuming for a second both of you were single…” She blinked, her head tilting. “Hmm? Are you…”

A tear came down his cheek. “She was kind and gentle and had a great sense of humor. She was a breath of fresh air in a world of high class snobs. Until I met you all I knew were mares that were interested in money. Just a bunch of gold-diggers. She cared about me for who I was. She supported me by coming to all my games even though she cared nothing for hoofball. She always prepared me homemade lunches even though I could buy them myself. She was very dedicated to me, but all I really wanted in the end was a break from the tedium and the chance to have her body.”

He buried his head in his hooves. “I can’t believe how much of a dirtbag I was back then.” He slammed his hoof into the bar, shaking a little. As he emerged more tears came down his face. “It’s too late now. I had my chance, and she’s given her heart to another. It’s not surprising. I’ve had more than enough time to right that wrong, and I kept avoiding it because I didn’t want to face myself or my actions. I wanted to pretend it never happened, so I just kept lying to myself. She even gave me a second chance, sending me some photos of the child we beared. I sent them back unopened, because it gave me less of a reason to see her if I didn’t know what she looked like. Even today she showed that she was ready to give me another chance. And that’s why I had to break her heart again.

“I don’t know who this guy is that she’s going to marry, but he’s clearly the best candidate for her. He was dedicated enough to work through all the garbage I left behind in her soul to win her heart. He’ll love her right and treat her the way she should be treated and give my child the dad she needs. I truly believe that.

“Even if Derpy was willing to leave him for me and I was willing to leave you for her things would never work out between us. Besides breaking the heart of the guy who she was supposed to marry she would never trust me. A part of her would always wonder how honest or real I’m being with her no matter how much heart and soul I put into it.

“In other words, me being in her life is only going to cause her more heartache and pain no matter what I do or don’t do. So that’s my apology to her: to make her hate me so she doesn’t have any regrets about staying with this guy. It’s nothing less than I deserve after what I did to her.

“It’s too bad that things couldn’t have worked out between us, but maybe now she can forget about me. I guess my main regret now is that I never opened those pictures. I know I don’t deserve a mare like Derpy now, but I’ll always wonder what my daughter looks like. Hopefully now with the money I gave her she’ll never want for anything.”

Dream Catcher’s eye’s finally softened. She had never heard him in such pain. She had never seen him cry either. It was a day of new firsts for him. She began to rub his back, saying in a gentle tone, “That was a very noble thing you did.”

He shrugged. “It wouldn’t have to be that way if I had only learned these lessons earlier.”

“Ah, but this is what life is all about. We often only learn the important things when it’s too late, our mistakes helping to shape us into our best selves as we learn from them and overcome them.

“I’m sorry that things didn’t work out between the two of you, but it takes a lot of courage to realize it’s not safe to be in your child’s life. It’s one of the hardest things for any parent. Self-sacrifice for the sake of your child is the very essence of kindness and love for them. Going by what you said I understand now why you don’t want her to be around you.

“It’s a shame that you won’t be able to meet your daughter, but, well, it’s not too late to try again. Now that you’ve proven to me that you’ve really grown up I think the next time you ask me I’ll say yes.”

His head spun, looking towards her. “Y-yeah?”

She gave him a tender smile, nodding.

He gave her a teary smile back, pushing off the railing and heading back to the ground. “Well, I don’t have my ring with me at the moment, but I think now is as good a time as any.” Kneeling down he bowed to her, saying, “Will you marry me, Dream Catcher?”

“Yes. Yes, I will.”

He threw his hooves around her, saying, “Thank you! That makes me so happy.” Releasing her he said, “I think this calls for a celebration. My treat.”

“I think for now I’d just like to be alone here with you.” She sat down in a seat, patting the one next to her.

He quickly sat down, giving her a kiss.

She giggled. “Oh, you’re impossible. Nagging at me over and over, hoping that if you simply asked enough I would give in and marry you. I told you, didn’t I, that I wasn’t going to do it until you proved yourself to me?”

Kissing him back she continued, “After we get married I think you’ll finally get your second chance to do things right. I think it would be nice to see a little me running around. I can’t be the only one without a kid.”

“I’d be happy to deliver.”

She gave a derisive laugh. “Oh, please! With your weak disposition I’m sure you’d pass out at the sight of a birth.”

“You know that’s not what I meant.”

“I know, but I couldn’t resist messing with you.”

The two of them held hooves, kissing each other as they began to think of their future.

***

Derpy got off the train back to Ponyville. “What a day,” she said with a sigh. “It was a total disaster, but at least I got what I wanted. I spoke my mind, and that’s the most important thing. I nearly slipped up, but I managed to recover on time.”

As she walked home her thoughts returned once again to the check sitting in her saddlebag. She so wanted to rip it into a million pieces. She didn’t want his help for anything, especially not to help finance her wedding. But, once again, her counterargument wouldn’t let her do it. If there was some kind of emergency and Dinky or her were seriously injured that money would be invaluable. Angry or prideful she wasn’t going to put her daughter’s well-being at risk.

She felt in a daze again, barely paying attention to where she walked. “Home, sweet home,” she said gratefully as she arrived.

As she put her hoof on the door she flinched as she heard something break inside the house and the voice of an angry Doctor.

“Dinky! Get back here this instant!”

“Come and get me!” she replied.

“You are so finished when I catch you.”

“I can’t wait to show EVERYONE in town!”

There was another bang, and Derpy quickly opened the door to see what was going on.

“You little brat!” he yelled. “Give me that photo!”

“No way!”

Out of the kitchen the pair came, the both of them pausing as they saw her standing there.

Derpy’s mouth was hanging open as she took in his appearance. His mane was styled up with hairbows, and his hooves were painted red.

“Uhhhh,” both Derpy and Doctor Hooves said at the same time as they saw each other.

Chapter 15: A complete heart

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Doctor Hooves felt his face getting red hot. This certainly wasn’t how he wanted to greet Derpy when she got home.

“Mom!” Dinky said happily. Ripping the photo up she shoved it into Doctor Hooves’ chest, the pieces falling to the ground as she ran to her mother and gave her a hug. “I’m so glad you’re home.”

Derpy pulled her eyes from the Doctor and gave her daughter a hug. “It’s so good to see you again, Dinky.” Sniggering a bit she continued, “I see you and Doctor Hooves had an interesting day.”

Going to his mane he pulled roughly at one of the hair clips, not even caring that he ripped some hairs out as he did. “Your daughter insisted on giving me a makeover.”

“I-I-I see that.” She put her hoof to her mouth, trying not to completely burst into laughter. She could see how humiliated he felt.

“Yeah, yeah!” he said, annoyed. “Yuck it up! After having to go through that she wouldn’t let me go back to normal, then she thinks it’s funny to take a polaroid of me and threaten to show it around town.”

Derpy’s disciplinary side tempered her amusement. Looking sternly down at her daughter she said darkly, “Dinky, is this true?”

Dinky looked up at her mother, chuckling. “I wasn’t really going to do that. I was only messing with him. I thought it was funny.”

Derpy suppressed a laugh. She found it funny too, but given how embarrassed Doctor Hooves was she didn’t want to mortify him any further. Giving her daughter a push she said, “Be that as it may, you still hurt his feelings. Go apologize.”

“Yes, Mommy!” She walked over to the doctor, hugging him as well as he continued taking out the myriad of hair accessories Dinky had put in his mane. “I’m sorry. I really was only joking. You forgive me?”

She gave him a pleading pout, and though he was still annoyed her childish charms were ensnaring him again. He looked down at the ripped up photo, glad that he didn’t have to worry about it anymore. “Alright, Dinky. I forgive you, but no more makeovers. I think you just destroyed my masculinity.”

“Okay.” She giggled, nuzzling his chest. “I love you, Daddy!”

“DADDY?” Derpy cried out, shocked.

“Why so surprised?” asked Doctor Hooves, a touch of pride coloring his voice. “You’re not jealous that you have to share my love, are you?”

“N-no. That’s not it. I just wasn’t expecting it.”

“Well, neither was I. She reminded me that I wasn’t just getting a wife; I was also getting a daughter when we get married. Since it was just the two of us today we got the chance to bond. Besides…THIS-” he gestured to his mane “-today was great. We never got to spend any time together without you, and I think I can handle this fatherhood gig.

“Now, I’m gonna go throw that photo out, and I hope we can never speak of this again.”

As Doctor Hooves turned this time Derpy couldn’t help it. She let out a flurry of laughter. “Awww, that’s so cute! You even got a bow for your tail.”

Doctor Hooves stamped his hoof, taking a deep breath as he grabbed the photo pieces and walked upstairs. “I’m gonna go wash up and fix my mane. Ugh!”

When he was gone Derpy gave Dinky a flat look. “Really, Dinky? Why would you do that to the poor guy?”

“I wanted to see if he passed the dad test,” she responded. “A good daddy does stuff they don’t want to to make their kids happy. I had to beg a little bit but he finally said yes.”

Happy tears formed in her eyes as she hugged her mother again. “Isn’t it great, Mom? We’re finally gonna be a real family! I’ll have a dad at last. I don’t care if you’re not married yet. I want a dad now, and he’s it.”

Derpy felt tears coming to her own eyes. “I’m so happy for you, Dinky. I guess, like him, I forgot that this was a team venture. If he only loved me but treated you like dirt when I wasn’t around than it doesn’t matter how perfect he was for me. The stallion I marry has to be a good fit for the two of us. Now more than ever I know what the right choice is.”

“So where did you go? You didn’t tell me you were leaving today.”

Derpy pushed Dinky away, taking a deep breath. “Dinky, there’s a problem.”

“What problem? Can I help?”

“No, you can’t. It has to be settled between just the two of us. If I know him like I think I do there is going to be a big fight between us in the next few minutes.”

Dinky felt her heart sinking. “Why? Don’t tell me you really do want to run away from getting married?” Tears came down her eyes. “I want a daddy!”

“Shhh,” Derpy said gently, rubbing Dinky’ cheek. She took another deep breath. “I went to see Shooting Star today.”

“WHAT?” she yelled, her head snapping up. “WHY?”

“I have my reasons, but things didn’t go quite as planned, and that’s where the issue comes in. If things had gone as I thought he wouldn’t be happy but he wouldn’t be all that hurt. However, because of that snag he is going to get mad, no doubt about it.”

Dinky stared up at her mother, wondering what had gone on between the two of them. “You… you told me last week that you still loved Shooting Star because he was your first mate and because of me. Did… did you go because you wanted to give him another chance? After you get married you wouldn’t have the option anymore to see how things would work out with him again.”

Derpy patted Dinky’s head. “You’ll find out everything soon. This is going to be difficult enough without having to explain it twice.”

Dinky continued staring at her mother for a few seconds before looking at the ground. “I guess you want me to go to my room, then?”

“No. I’d like you to be there too.”

More tears dripped down, falling onto the carpet. Dinky looked back up at her, eye brimming with tears. “You’re not gonna break up, are you? I really, really had a great time with Doctor Hooves. I was messing with him before, but I really think he’s perfect daddy material and I don’t want him to leave.”

“He loves me enough to propose to me and told me that no one has captured his heart so completely as me. He’s going to be upset. He’s going to yell. However, our love will endure. No relationship is perfect all the time. If we can’t go through some rough patches then we can’t call it a lifelong commitment, can we?”

Doctor Hooves came down the stairs a few minutes later, taking a relieved breath. “Man, does that feel better.” He noticed Dinky staring at him, a scared look on her face. He walked over to her, giving her a big hug. “Oh, don’t be afraid, munchkin. I’m not mad at you anymore. I know you were just playing with me.” He pulled back, expecting her to be smiling, but far from looking reassured he saw she was crying now. “What’s wrong?”

She shook her head, pulling out of his grip and sitting on the couch, an uncertain look on her face. Her stomach was churning painfully, like someone had tied it in knots. She wasn’t sure if she was happy about being forewarned or not, but she didn’t want to see her parents fighting. Her heart was pounding like crazy, and she felt terrified that their happy family life was going to be over before it even began. She curled up into a ball, quietly crying on her knees.

Doctor Hooves looked at Derpy. “What’s wrong with her?”

“We need to talk,” Derpy responded.

Doctor Hooves glanced at Dinky then back to her, wondering if there was a correlation. At any rate he knew any conversation prefaced with the words “we need to talk” was never a good thing. “Okay, so what do you want to talk about?”

“Sit down, please.”

Walking to the armchair he sat in it, his mind burning with questions. ‘First “We need to talk” and now “You need to sit down for this,”’ he thought. ‘The two statements that mean something really bad.’

Derpy took a deep breath. “I’m going to be completely honest with you. Today I took a trip to Fillydelphia and I went to see Shooting Star.” She could see his body tense up immediately, his eyes narrowing.

“Why?” he said, an edge in his voice.

“Because with your proposal I knew it was finally time to put the past to rest and give him what for. I grew tired of always feeling his shadow hovering over me. Your support and this ring around my neck made me feel strong, and I knew together with you I could handle him no matter what he said or did.”

Doctor Hooves let out a long breath, feeling his body relaxing. “So you gave him a few slaps and called him out for being a dirtbag to you? That’s wonderful news! I’m proud of you!” He noticed that her expression didn’t change. Dinky as well was watching them like a hawk, like she was expecting something bad to happen. “What?” he said, feeling uncomfortable. “What’s wrong?”

Derpy continued to stare at him, wanting to put it off for just a little while longer. Taking a big breath she said, “He played me, and got me good.”

“What do you mean?” He looked over her body. “He didn’t hurt you, did he?”

“Yes. Yes, he did. But not my body.”

Doctor Hooves growled. “He said hurtful things to you, didn’t he? Maybe I should go find him and knock some sense into him.” He smacked one hoof into another.

“It’s more than that. He’s still a master manipulator. I wasn’t expecting anything out of him when I went there. I thought he was going to be the same pompous jerk he was in the past. I just wanted to speak my mind and tell him just how I felt while thinking he was just going to stand there with an amused smile on his face the whole time and making sarcastic comments once in a while. He took another route though.

“He perfectly played the part of a noble stallion, acting like he was taking responsibility for the past. He talked to me respectfully as an equal, with none of the condescension. He apologized, giving me a check for back foal support and to help out with the wedding expenses. I started out furious, giving him a hit when he provoked me, but as he talked calmly to me and didn’t deny the wrongness of his actions I slowly began to calm down myself. Then when he gave me the check I was too surprised to be mad.

“From there things began to spiral out of control. Just like the skillful manipulator he is he waited until I was at my most vulnerable to strike.”

Doctor Hooves gripped the sides of the armchair hard. “He told you the check was a fake, right?”

Derpy sadly shook her head. “He called me by his old pet name for me, taking me by surprise given that he had said I had meant nothing to him. Just like when he got me pregnant and then dumped me right afterward he saved the reveal of his true nature for the time when it was the cruelest and would do the most damage. As my emotions grew more positive I began to think of the past. He closed the distance between us, planning to expose the truth… right after I kissed him.”

Dinky let out a squeak. She knew that was it. She buried her face in her knees, waiting for the explosion.

Doctor Hooves’ eyes went wide, his mouth hanging open for a few moments before his eyes narrowed and a few tears came down his face. His body began to shake, and she could see the eyes of betrayal. “You WHAT?” he yelled, hopping out of the seat. “I can’t believe you! After everything I’ve done for you, after all we’ve been through, you went and kissed the one idiot that you knew couldn’t be trusted?

“Are you STUPID or something? Did you not learn ANYTHING from the last time?” He pointed his hoof angrily at Dinky. “Isn’t it enough you have a constant reminder of how idiotic you were in the past? I really expected better of you!”

Dinky clenched her body tighter. “Stop,” she said into her knees.

“WHY? What in the world made you think that was a good idea? Did my proposal mean nothing to you? I bared my heart and soul in front of everyone to earn your trust, and you repay me by STABBING ME IN THE BACK?” He grabbed a vase, throwing it against the wall, making it shatter into a million pieces.

Dinky shuddered at the sound of the impact. “Stop it.”

“What is the matter with you? HUH? Look at you, standing there looking at me like you even have the right to right now. You make me sick!”

“Stop it!” Dinky said, a little louder.

“Why even bother wearing that ring right now? Why don’t you go be with the royal jerkwad? You two deserve each other. You both know how to destroy someone’s heart. You clearly don’t know how to control your hormones, so when should I expect the pregnancy announcement?”

“STOP IT!” Dinky yelled out, uncurling herself and heading to the pair.

“Huh?” Doctor Hooves turned to her, his voice fading out. He had forgotten she was there listening.

“STOP IT!” she yelled again, lightly sobbing and sniffing, her vision blurry from the tears coming down her face. “This isn’t you! You’re better than this. You know that Mom didn’t mean for anything to happen, and I know she regrets it.

“No more!” She hugged his leg. “Please, Daddy! Please stop yelling. We’re going to be a family soon. I want us all to be a family. I’m tired of only having a mom. I’m finally going to get the chance to have a set of parents. I had so much fun with you today, and I don’t want you to go away.

“Please no more! I can’t take it. I don’t want our family to break up before we even get the chance to live together and do stuff as a family. Please… p-p-please stop.”

Doctor Hooves tried to turn away, but he couldn’t escape her pleading gaze. There was so much pain in her eyes. He took a long, deep breath. Even though he was still burning up inside he just couldn’t bring himself to add to her burden.

He picked Dinky up, holding her to him as he sat back down on the armchair. As his anger faded it was replaced by sadness and pain, and he began to break down right with her. “W-well, what am I supposed to say, Dinky?” he asked tearfully. “Go ahead? Kiss whoever you want just because we’re not married? We’re still in a committed relationship.”

“I know that,” she replied, hugging him hard. “But you know she wouldn’t throw you aside for just anyone. He only got to her because of their history together. She wouldn’t go kissing just anyone on the street, and you know that.”

“Doctor,” said Derpy hesitantly.

He felt a flash of irritation and pain at her voice, but he forced himself to remain calm for Dinky’s sake. “What?” he said coldly.

“I never actually kissed Shooting Star.”

He looked at her suspiciously. “Either you lied before or you’re lying now.”

“It’s neither. You misunderstood my words. I told you that he was saving his reveal that he was only playing me again for after I kissed him. I didn’t say I actually went through with the deed.”

Dinky was looking at her too now. She really hoped her mom was telling the truth. While she wasn’t happy that her mom had given in to her romantic feelings she could understand it because she’d been told of those lingering emotions. All the same, she didn’t want them to break up because of it.

“He played the part of the apologetic one to perfection. Once I stopped being so angry he slowly stirred up my old feelings from the past, wanting to cause strife between us before our marriage just because he could. Or maybe it was because I basically made a fool of him in public. Showing up out of the blue I took him by surprise, and I can bet he didn’t like that. I pushed the photo of our prom night into his hooves, talking about how my daughter would have just loved to meet him as I asked for an autograph. Of course no one else got the significance of my comments, but I got a victory over him, and he had to make sure he evened the score before I left.

“As he got close my heart was fluttering and I recalled the feelings I had for him in the past. As I got close to him I thought of the nightmare I had shortly before our anniversary. He acted just like he did in my dream. What was the result? He never meant his apologetic words, your heart got broken, and Dinky was disgusted with me. When that came to me I left my world of nostalgia and I shoved him away, refusing to be his puppet again. I went back to yelling at him, and he dropped the act, going back to his cocky, smug demeanor and insulting me. In the end I left because I knew if I didn’t there wouldn’t be anything left of him by the time I was done with him.”

“S-so,” Doctor Hooves said hopefully, “you never actually did anything with him?”

“No! This time I faced him as a grown-up. He stirred the childish side of me for a short while, but my adult side pushed her away before she fell into the same pit I had in the past.”

Doctor Hooves relaxed, the tension easing out of his body. “Thank goodness.”

“Mom?” said Dinky.

“Yes, muffin?”

Getting angry she said, “If you didn’t actually cheat then why didn’t you just say that from the beginning instead of letting him think you did and getting him all mad?”

Doctor Hooves looked at Dinky for a second before looking at her. “She has a point. I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as mad if you had just made that clear from the start.”

“There’s a simple explanation for that,” Derpy said, turning away. “It’s because I WANTED you to scream and yell and be mad at me.”

Both Dinky and Doctor Hooves gave her strange looks. “WHY?” Dinky said.

“Because even if I stopped myself in time I still feel that I cheated on you by getting that close to it in the first place. I KNEW his true character, but I still let him manipulate me. As he himself stated he played me like a fiddle. I fell for his words just like I did in the past. What I did was wrong, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter what fancy words or excuses I use. The fact of the matter is that if I hadn’t had that dream I likely would have gone through with it, and had to deal with the reality of what I had done later.

"I feel disgusted with myself for not acting as I should as your fiancée. You gave me a ring and asked me to be your life partner. The time for looking at other stallions is over, no matter who they are. I wasn’t going to hide this from you, because hiding the truth from each other is a horrible way to begin a new life together, but I also told you precisely because I wanted you to scream at me.

“However, I made yet another mistake in doing that. I forgot about the effect it would have on Dinky to see you so mad. It just feels like no matter what I do I can’t ever leave the stench of failure behind.”

She turned her head toward him, walking back toward the pair. Reaching up to her neck she unhooked the ring around her neck, putting it in his lap. “I don’t feel worthy of wearing this right now, so I’m returning it to you.”

“Mom, no!” Dinky yelled. “Stop it! Don’t break apart our family.”

“Derpy, we can get past this!” said Doctor Hooves.

Derpy put her hoof to her neck, feeling odd without the familiar weight around there. She shook her head. “I may not be worthy right now, but even so there is one thing I can do for you. One very big, important thing that I should have done ages ago. Years ago, really.” A weighty sadness came to her face. “It’s time.”

“Time for what?” asked Doctor Hooves, looking mournfully at the ring on his lap.

“I need a promise from the both of you. Until I call for you I want you to stay right where you are. Because… because this is something I can only do on my own. It’s my own choice, and no one else’s.”

Doctor Hooves couldn’t read her emotions. “Derpy, I trust you,” he said firmly. “So I’ll wait. But do I have your promise back that you’ll still be mine today?”

She turned away, feeling some tears begin. “I want to answer yes, but I don’t know. I want to be strong. I have to be strong, but I’ve always failed before. Why shouldn’t I expect to fail this time?”

“Because you’re not alone anymore!” Dinky said strongly. She didn’t know what her mom was talking about, but anything she could do to help her mom and dad stay together was worth it to her. “You not only have me, but Doctor Hooves. Both of us give strength to your heart, even when we’re not right next to you. So do what you have to do, knowing that we’ll be waiting for you when you’re done.”

“Thank you, Dinky, but things go deeper than that. The real reason I gave the ring back is that I know I’m going to be having thoughts for the next while that are distinctly not worthy of a future wife. I can’t explain more right now, but hopefully soon I can.” She walked away to the couch, grabbing her saddle bag. She opened it up, pulling out her prom night photograph.

Sitting down on the floor she stared at it, tears coming down her eyes. “It was just a fantasy,” she said miserably. “It was always only just a dream. The dream of a little girl who just couldn’t grow up. No matter how much I wished and hoped for it there was no way it was ever going to come true.

"The past is the only truth there is, and I knew that. Still, I couldn’t let it go. I held onto it in the corner of my mind, mostly forgotten, but always hoped for. With what happened today even my eyes have opened. I’m not a baby anymore, so it’s time to cut the umbilical cord.”

Neither of them was sure what she was talking about. Dinky, going from her mom’s story, figured that it was the picture of her and Shooting Star on prom night.

Derpy put both hooves near the top. Her hooves began shaking as she gave one of them a little tug, seeing a tiny rip appear. Her mind was immediately assaulted with memories of the past, just like all the times before she had attempted to rid herself of that memento.

“NO!” she yelled. “It’s over! It’s done! It’s not gonna happen! You’re not a child anymore, so grow up!” She looked up at Doctor Hooves, at the ring still lying on his lap.

“It’s for him,” she said quietly. “Because he deserves it. Because he deserves me in my entirety. Isn’t that enough of a reason, Derpy?” Her eyes clenched shut, the tears still pouring down her cheek. “Yes. Yes, it is.” Her body clenched, her heart racing and sweat coming down her face. Her breathing became sharper and shorter before she let out a loud scream and pulled her hooves in opposite directions.

She gasped in oxygen, looking horrified at the two separate parts, at the distance between them. “NO!” she yelled again. “Not yet.” She overlapped both halves of the photo, tearing them in half again so they were squares, the sound of the ripping feeling almost physical to her body.

Letting out yell after yell she continued ripping up the picture until it was too small to easily rip anymore. Her hooves fell uselessly to her sides. “Is… is it over?” she said in a whisper. She looked down at the pieces of the photo scattered about. “No, it isn’t. Nothing can remain. It all has to go. Every last piece.”

Forcing herself up she grabbed all the pieces, walking toward the kitchen. She set the pieces on the pan in the kitchen, turning on the flame. She stared down at her happy face as it began to melt. “Goodbye,” she said painfully.

Soon enough all the pieces had melted into mush, becoming unrecognizable. She shut the flame off. “Now… now it’s over,” she said, her eyes clenching shut again. “It’s over! He’s finally gone! I did it!”

But far from feeling a sense of happiness despair washed over her in powerful waves. It was truly the end. She was finally forced to accept that her dream was never going to come true, and that hurt more than anything.

Her legs lost the strength to carry her as she fell to the floor, wailing like a child as she hugged herself, feeling like the biggest fool in the world.

“Mom!” Dinky said worriedly, going to hop off the chair and run to her mother, but Doctor Hooves stopped her.

“No, Dinky. You can’t.”

Dinky went to yell at him, sure that he was doing it because he was still bitter, but she could see the pain in his eyes and it wasn’t anger. “B-but, Daddy…”

He held her close. “Your mother has to deal with this on her own for now. That’s what she asked of us. The past has no room for visitors. But when she can’t handle it anymore she’ll ask for us, and that’s when we’ll run to her and help her out. Okay, Dinky?” He rubbed her cheek for a moment before holding her close again, the two of them squeezing each other.

Time ticked by slowly for the three of them. When Derpy cried herself out she looked up with blurry eyes. She couldn’t feel any strength at all. She put a hoof to her neck, once more missing the ring around it. “Doctor,” she said weakly, no louder than a whisper. “Doctor.”

“You hear that?” said Dinky.

“Hear what?” said Doctor Hooves.

“Listen.” After a few seconds Dinky said, “She’s calling you.” Quickly hopping off the chair she pulled at him. “Well, go on! Go to her! She needs you.”

Getting up he walked to the kitchen, seeing Derpy laid out on the kitchen floor. “Derpy.”

Derpy smiled for a second, glad to see him, before her eyes filled with tears again. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Please forgive me! I never meant for this to happen.”

“Shhh,” he said in a kind voice, walking over to her and helping to pull her back up. She couldn’t stand under her own strength so he got down to her level. Lifting her mane he placed a kiss on her forehead. “It’s okay, Derpy. I understand. I still love you, and there’s no one else I would rather have by my side. Dinky still needs a father figure in her life, and you still need a proper coltfriend to help you through the rough times like right now.”

Lifting her hoof Derpy pulled his head closer, putting their foreheads together. “I love you! Thank you for being so understanding.” Kissing him on his snout she said tearfully, “I knew this had to be done. You made a public declaration of your commitment and love for me. You were fully prepared to do whatever it took to show me that you truly loved me and were never going to leave me.” Feeling a little strength in her limbs she scooted herself so she was next to him, feeling the warmth of his side against hers as she rested her head on his neck.

“How could I call myself yours and yours alone when a piece of my heart yearned for another? How could I look forward to our future together if my eyes were still looking toward the past? That’s why I had to settle things with Shooting Star before we got married.” She intertwined her hoof with his, giving him little kisses along his neck.

“I didn’t want to ever be sitting alone and start thinking, “What if?” “What if Shooting Star had changed?” “What if he had matured with age?” “What if he had learned to be more respectful?” “What if he actually did have an interest in his child now?” If we were ever going to be married I wanted to come to you with the same level of love and dedication you gave to me. I wanted my mind to be filled with thoughts of you and how much I love you, not have my heart compete with different loves for different stallions.

“I know you’re upset with me, but I hope we can move past this together. It’s finally gone, the last thing connecting me to him. I’m finally free of his influence. I’m not going to lie. It does hurt knowing that things will never be alright between us, but I’m not going to cry over him anymore.

“With that photo gone the only thing I have left of him is the part of his DNA inside of Dinky. But honestly, she takes much more after her REAL daddy, don’t you think?” She nuzzled his face. “Someone who is sweet and kind and knows how to treat others right. Someone who is understanding and knows how to have fun but be stern when the occasion calls for it.”

Doctor Hooves smiled over at her, kissing her on the cheek. “Thank you, Derpy.”

Dinky had some mixed feelings. On the one hoof she was glad her mom and dad had made up, but on the other hoof she was feeling really left out. She wanted to be part of the group too. Dinky slowly walked over to them, saying quietly, “Can I join you?” She felt embarrassed disturbing their time together, but she still wanted some comforting from their arguing before.

Derpy got up, walking over to Dinky and giving her a big hug. “Don’t be upset, muffin. You’re always free to join us. However, I think we could do better than the kitchen floor. Let’s go to the couch.”

“Okay, Mommy!” Dinky said happily, hopping towards the living room.

“Are you coming?” Derpy asked, a smile coming to her own face.

“Wherever you go I will follow, my sweet,” he responded, walking after her.

Dinky was sitting on the couch, waiting for them. “Let’s go, slowpokes!

“Hold on a moment, Dinky,” said Derpy. “There is still one last thing that needs to be done.”

“Oh, come ooonnn!” Dinky whined. “I want some hugs and kisses too.”

“This is super important, so be patient for just a moment longer. Doctor?”

“Yes, Derpy?” he responded.

“I’ve made my choice, and my choice is you. Now that I’ve finally thrown out that worthless lump from my life my heart is now fully ready to commit to you. That being the case I’d like you to ask again, so I can give you a proper response this time.”

“Hmm? OH!” he said, understanding. He went to the armchair, picking up the wedding ring. Bowing down onto one knee he presented it to her, saying, “Will you marry me, Ms. Derpy Doo?”

“Yes! Yes, I will,” she said happily, putting the ring around her neck. She put her hoof to it, feeling so relieved to have it back. It was like a good luck charm, making her feel strong and full of courage.

Dinky clapped her hooves. “Hooray!” she said impatiently. “Now get over here already!”

Derpy rolled her eyes. “Let us go. Our daughter needs us.”

“Yes,” he said, a tear coming to his eye. “Our daughter.”

Almost as soon as they sat down Dinky jumped onto his lap, nuzzling his chest. “I’m so happy you guys made up. I love you, Daddy!”

“And I love you too, my little darling Dinky.” He put a hoof around her, Derpy on his opposite side.

Dinky closed her eyes, letting out a contented, “Mmmm.”

Derpy held on to Doctor Hooves, giving him a kiss. “If Dinky can steal her after-marriage reward early than I want to too.”

He gave her an odd look. “What does that mean?”

“Even though we’re not married yet there is something I’m supposed to get afterward that I want now.”

Doctor Hooves felt his face going red. “Dinky’s right here,” he said out of the corner of his mouth.

Derpy facehoofed. “Men, I swear.” She laughed, kissing him again. “I’m not talking about THAT. I don’t want to go by Derpy Doo anymore. From now on you can call me Derpy Hooves. It has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?”

“O-oh! Of course! Right. Obviously that’s what you meant.”

Derpy rolled her eyes. “You’re lucky you’re handsome.”

He kissed her. “I’m much more than just a pretty face, you know. And you’re right. It does sound perfect on you. Derpy Hooves. I like it.”

“Me too.”

“So I guess I’m Dinky Hooves now,” Dinky said sleepily.

“That’s right, muffin,” said Derpy, rubbing her hoof through her mane.

“No more fighting,” she said with a yawn. “At least for tonight.”

“We won’t.”

“Good.” Soon enough Dinky was out, resting peacefully on his lap.

“We truly are fortunate to have Dinky,” said Derpy warmly. “She’s an excellent peacekeeper.”

He looked down tenderly at her. “She’s mine now, so I have to do my best to make up for those eleven years she had no father. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’ll do my best to make sure the both of you never want for anything.”

Derpy put her head on his neck. “Do you remember our first not-date at the Apple family charity fundraiser?”

“How could I forget?”

“Well,” she let out a yawn, “I think I could go for the same ending now that we had then.”

“You mean you running away screaming at the top of your lungs from me?” he said teasingly.

She gave him a light smack. “Don’t be a prude.”

He giggled. “I know what you mean.” He put his head on hers, a hoof around her stomach. “Goodnight, my two beautiful angels.”

“Goodnight, my big strong protector.” She nuzzled him a few times, feeling content and peaceful as she closed her eyes and let sleep overtake her.

Finale part 1: Unified hearts and a huge surprise

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A huff. A sigh. Not one of stress, but of relaxation. With all the wedding preparations taken care of Doctor Hooves sent me to the spa to unwind before the big shebang. One would think it would be hard to chill out knowing that I was getting married in just a few hours, but it came surprisingly easy.

Things had been falling into place ever so nicely since the day I returned from seeing Shooting Star. Accepting the truth was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, but just like most unpleasant things we put off it feels infinitely better once it’s done. That photograph, the last memento of our time together, was gone, ripped into pieces then burned into mush and chucked in the trash. With that the last of my feelings for him faded. Of course there would always be a tiny degree of affection remaining. I couldn’t get away from the fact that Dinky was made from half of his DNA and that she shared some of his characteristics. There would always be times she reminded me of him.

However, going to visit Shooting had truly opened my eyes. Two chances to fix what he did was enough. I was done. In the future I would know that I had given it my best shot to make peace with him, and he had thrown it back in my face, tricking me once again. So I wouldn’t mourn over things. I wouldn’t ever have to wonder “What if?” because I’d know that he was still the same as he was in the past, and I didn’t think that would ever change.

It was a bit sad. Even knowing to be on my guard he got me again. He had seemed so genuine with his story. Ah, well. I’ve got the most important thing from him: the child we beared together. I’ve also got his money.

I did cash that check he gave me. I had a strong expectation that it wouldn’t go through, but it cleared without a problem. Stubborn and angry at him as I am I wouldn’t be so blind as to spite him by tearing it up if it meant that I couldn’t help Dinky out when she needed me the most. I deposited over ninety percent of it into Dinky’s bank account, wanting her to have a good starting point for her future. The rest I put into my savings account, as a backup in case of an emergency.

I ABSOLUTELY REFUSED to use any of the money he gave me towards my wedding expenses. THAT was something I was adamant about. I didn’t care what I had to do. I’d work another job, or take out a loan, but I wasn’t going to use that jerk’s hateful money to furnish the love bond between me and Doctor Hooves.

Thankfully, our problems were solved by his parents. Up until our engagement I hadn’t met his family. I guess it was just short sightedness on my part. Not having any blood relatives left (well, ones that I knew anyway) it just never occurred to me to ask him about his.

His mother was Ocean Breeze, an earth pony with a deep blue coat and a light blue mane, while his father was Celery Stalk, also an earth pony with a green coat and a brown mane.

They were really nice ponies. When they heard their son was getting married and that we didn’t have the funds they offered to pony up the dough. They thought it was about time their kid got married. I have to say I quite enjoyed the embarrassment on his face when they began talking about wanting grandbabies. I can’t say I wasn’t blushing a bit myself. That was a big next step, after all.

Of course I didn’t begrudge Doctor Hooves that his parents were still alive, but hearing them talk about aunt this and cousin this that they wanted to invite to the wedding filled me with a sense of sadness. I could only imagine how the wedding would play out. His side of the family would be all over one side, while my side would be completely empty. It never occurred to me just how alone I really was. Dinky really was all I had left.

I have to say I really underestimated the ponies of this town. Heh heh heh. Silly me. With our resident Princess of Friendship how could I have also forgotten that family is more than just blood ties? It took me a little while to see it, but the whole town was getting stirred up by our impending wedding. Doctor Hooves' very public proposal had left a big impression on the patrons, and by word of mouth the news had spread quickly. A wedding was considered the ultimate union between two ponies, so it only stood to reason that it was a big deal.

I had to open my eyes and stop focusing so much on myself and my feelings to see it, but everywhere I went around town when I was doing my mail job I had ponies congratulating me on having such a dedicated fiancé. The more I paid attention the more I could see the ponies smiling and waving or giving me compliments.

It went a step further when it came to the wedding preparations. I was, frankly, overwhelmed by the amount of support I got. I went to Sugarcube Corner for the catering and reception reservations. Of course I expected no less than an ecstatic reaction from Pinkie Pie, Ponyville’s self-proclaimed Super Duper Party Pony, but it felt like the mood of the other ponies I ran into seemed almost as elevated as hers.

Countless ponies offered me assistance and aid in preparing for the upcoming wedding. Lyra, Octavia, and Fluttershy with her bird choir all offered to perform music during the wedding, while Vinyl Scratch offered to play for the reception. Rainbow Dash, always one to show off, offered to kick off the conclusion of our vows with a sonic rainboom. Applejack offered to bring apple-based treats as appetizers. Cheerilee, knowing that kids get bored easily, offered to help keep the children occupied. Roseluck, Daisy, and Lily offered to help with the flower arrangements. I was reluctant to ask Twilight for anything, given she was a princess and all, but she said she’d be delighted to come. She said something enigmatic about how she wasn’t going to be the only one of her friends who didn’t do something special for my wedding, but as far as I saw she didn’t do anything at all.

Rarity was the most difficult. I would have been happy with just some modifications to my bridesmaid dress but she insisted that I needed to look my best and practically begged for me to let her make me a brand new dress. When I gave in I asked her to just make me something plain, but she wouldn’t let that pass either. She just had to make something with flourishes and flowers and bubbles.

When I tried to protest, talking about how I didn’t have the money for something really elaborate she said something that shook me to my core, and it made me realize I was STILL holding back.

“Is it actually about the money, Miss Derpy? After all, this IS the biggest event of your life, so I would be more than happy to offer payment plans or even discount the price if that’s not good enough for you. I can see it in your eyes that this isn’t about money at all. You’re protesting so much because you don’t believe you’re WORTHY of a fancier dress, right?” She slammed her hoof onto the table. “Well, that’s just plain wrong! I’m going to create a dress worthy of you, and you’re not going to stop me! I wasn’t there for it, but I’ve heard enough about it. Doctor Hooves poured out his heart and soul, craving you and only you as his life partner. He gave his all, doing it all for you and your happiness.

“When you go into that wedding hall you should present yourself at your best, not looking like you just came off the street. A lady is not her apparel, but I am going to create a dress worthy of his love. After all, if he is going to give it his all than why shouldn’t you?

“No more arguing now. This is a dress for a dear friend, so I’m not going to hold back either.”

She was right, of course. I guess I was still feeling a little guilty over my near kiss with Shooting Star. I had discarded the picture and put him behind me, but I know that Doctor Hooves had never laid eyes on another mare, so I was feeling a little inferior. Even though, in the end, I had gone to visit Shooting so I could let things go.

She was right. As I’ve been told countless times by Dinky and the Doctor I was still keeping a grip on the past and my past mistakes, letting them weigh on my conscience and my self-esteem long after the debt had been paid.

I had to remind myself that the Doctor had chosen me out of every mare in the world. He could have anyone in Equestria, but he picked me specifically, and he had never strayed from that. He loved me with all his heart and he wanted everyone to know it. And now everyone would.

I sighed contentedly as Aloe and Lotus gave me my treatment. Chilling out in the sauna, giving me a mud bath, giving me a hooficure. It was certainly a new experience. I had never been to a spa before. I really enjoyed it. Rarity was there as well, to help finish me up when I was done with the spa. She sat me in front of a mirror, styling my mane and making me presentable. A little bit of blush here, some makeup there, some accessories to add to the mix.

As I sat there in front of the mirror I looked at my reflection, and I hardly recognized myself. As I stared at the me in the mirror the only word that came to mind was… beautiful. It was a word I, well… never associated with someone like myself. After all the time I spent being bullied and picked on and put down by the students at school I finally felt real acceptance when I first met Shooting Star, up until he revealed he was the cruelest one of all. My opinion of myself since then took a huge dip, and I’ve always felt I was just barely hanging on, working tirelessly to make a future for Dinky where she wouldn’t repeat my mistakes. All the time I was living for her. Living for her and her alone, dismissing myself as just someone who was there because I needed to be.

It wasn’t until I began to air out the past and told Dinky the truth that I began the process of letting it go. Doctor Hooves' unceasing support and Dinky’s love has helped to change me. As I look at myself today I see a calm smile. I see a joyful mare. I see someone who is anxious and excited about what’s to come. I see someone who is happy and content with who she is, and that is what is most important to me. As Rarity said I am worth all this. I deserve this joy and happiness. I deserve a stallion who wants to be there for me always.

I closed my eyes, letting her do her work, joyful anticipation searing my spirit and making me feel as alive as I’ve ever felt. I know I should feel afraid. That would be so me. Something could happen to the Doctor on the way to the church. I could have an allergic reaction to the makeup. I could catch my dress on something and rip it or fall flat on my face walking up to the altar. So many things could go wrong, but… I wasn’t afraid of it at all. I know that no matter what happens, whether I make myself look like a fool or I don’t look my absolute best, that Doctor Hooves will always be right my side to lift me up when I’m feeling down. I believe that with all of my heart, and so I also believe that today will go perfectly. Nothing will disturb my happiness today, no matter what may go wrong.

Time passed, and Rarity finished up with me. I took another good look at myself, feeling a sense of euphoria and wonder, loving who I saw in the mirror. I saw reflected back at me the kind of gentle, tender looks Dinky and the Doctor have given me.

Walking up to the mirror I wiped away a tear that had formed and put my hoof on it. “You look gorgeous, Derpy. You’re gonna knock ‘em dead. The stallions will all regret I’m unavailable after today.”

I saw Rarity approaching, putting a hoof on my shoulder. “That’s right, Derpy. Now THAT’S the attitude you should have all the time. You’re a strong, empowered mare. Now let the whole world see it!”

I bowed my head a little bit and said, “Thank you, Rarity, for everything. I needed to hear that, both now and when I first asked for you to make me a dress.”

“Oh, you’re welcome, darling.

“Now come on. You have to go to the library.”

“The library?” I asked, tilting my head a little. “Why there? I have to go to the wedding hall.”

“I don’t know, darling, but Twilight said that when you were all done over here she wanted you to go to see her before you headed over. She didn’t tell me why, but she said it was of vital importance.”

I shrugged. I couldn’t refuse an order from a princess. I remember her telling me a while ago she had something special planned for my wedding. I guess now she was ready to surprise me with it. The library was only a few minute walk from Rarity’s boutique. I could certainly spare the time.

On the walk there I tried to picture what she had planned for me. Knowing Twilight it was probably a book or something. Maybe about married life and how to be a good wife, or how to resolve disputes. While I could certainly appreciate the gesture I couldn’t understand why it was so important it couldn’t wait until after the wedding. I mean, I wouldn’t be able to hold onto the book while I was getting married or dancing at the reception.

When I arrived I knocked on the door a few times. “Hello? It’s me, Derpy!”

A few seconds later the door opened, revealing Twilight standing there, a big smile on her face. “Hello, Derpy! It’s nice to see you.”

“Same here, princess.” I gave a small bow. “Rarity said you wanted to see me?”

“Yes, indeedy. Come in. I have in here something to ensure you have a wedding you’ll never forget.”

I hesitated a moment before walking in, closing the door behind me. My eyes scanned the room, but all I saw were books and bookshelves. I didn’t see any sign of a present or that something was different than what it usually was.

She directed me to a chair by a desk, telling me to sit down. When I did she turned her head toward the overhang where her bed was and said, “SPIKE! You can send it now.”

Spike poked his head out. “Gotcha.” Holding up a piece of parchment he blew green fire over it, and it disappeared in a burst of magic.

After a few seconds I asked, “What was that?”

“You’ll see.” Twilight gave a mischievous giggle. There was a knock at the door after another few seconds, and now Twilight had this superior grin on her face as she said, “Come in!”

The door opened, and a pony walked in. “Hello there, Derpy,” came the kind voice.

“Hello, Princess Celestia,” I responded distractedly. I suddenly realized what I just said, and my head whipped back over. “PRINCESS CELESTIA?” I jumped out of my chair, hastening to bow.

“Please rise, my little pony.”

I looked up into her calm face, feeling my heart racing. “W-what brings you here, Princess?”

“Twilight called me here.” She smiled down at me, and it was such a kind and benevolent smile that I found myself relaxing. “So I heard you’re having a wedding today.”

“Y-yes.”

She walked over to me, putting a hoof on my shoulder. “That’s wonderful to hear. Would you mind if I attended?”

Just like when Doctor Hooves proposed to me I just felt all the strength in my legs fail me, and my back half hit the ground. “W-wha-wha-” I muttered out. “Y-you w-wa-want to co-come to MY wedding?”

“She’s not the only one,” came another voice.

Turning to look I could feel myself freezing up as Princess Luna and Princess Cadence walked in as well. I sputtered incoherently for a few seconds, unable to process that I was in the presence of all four alicorn princesses.

“I told you I had something big planned for your wedding, didn’t I?” I heard Twilight say.

In a fit of panic I ran to Twilight, shaking her and feeling myself start to cry. “TWILIGHT! WHAT DID YOU DO?”

Twilight laughed. “Oh, I have a few connections with my fellow princesses.”

I rapidly glanced at the other three princesses, feeling like I was going to faint. “T-T-Twilight,” I said fervently in a whisper. “I can’t have a bunch of alicorns at my wedding. I mean, they’re so important and big and powerful, and I’m… I’m just… I’m… not.”

Twilight put a comforting hoof on my shoulder. “Relax, Derpy. I didn’t do this just to show off, you know? I’ve only been in Ponyville for a year, but I’ve grown to know all my fellow townsponies. Not as well as Pinkie Pie, of course, but I’ve heard about the kind of heartaches and hardships you’ve gone through, so I just wanted to make sure that your special day was as amazing as I could possibly make it, and what better way could it be to make it unforgettable than to have royalty attending?”

Princess Luna walked up next to Twilight. “If it makes you feel better you can view this as being more than about you. Twilight may have asked this request of us, but all three of us came because we can appreciate what today signifies, and it means something special to each of us.

“When I first returned from my banishment I couldn’t fit in. I was so used to my old ways that it was difficult to account for the way things had changed in my absence. So I know the pain of feeling like an outcast, and how wonderful and beautiful it felt when I earned the acceptance of Ponyville and other ponies stopped fearing me.”

Twilight spoke up again. “It was my lessons on friendship that helped mold me into the mare I am now. I would never have come as far as I did without them by my side, so I want to help ensure a long and peaceful union between you two.”

Princess Cadence was up next. “Marriage is the ultimate form of friendship, forming a lifelong bond between two ponies. As the Princess of Love I can certainly appreciate that. And I have to say I’m a little curious to see what kind of pony you are. Twilight told me about how the stallion you chose as your mate publicly declared his love and proposed to you for all to see, vowing to give his all for you. Given that it was the great love that Shining Armor had for me that gave Queen Chrysalis so much strength as well as how it allowed us to overcome her in the end I certainly wouldn’t want to miss seeing the love between you two.”

Finally Princess Celestia walked up, all four of them side by side now. “It was the power of the Elements of Harmony that has allowed us to defeat the most powerful of foes. As you are aware, the Elements are powered by the love and harmony between ponies who ponify their virtues. The more love and harmony and togetherness that is felt between all the ponies around the more powerful ALL of us become, so it only makes sense that we be there to ensure everything runs smoothly. After the havoc of the last wedding it will be nice to attend a wedding where we’re not expected to be attacked by an army.

“This is about you, but it is also about so much more. A wedding is a most joyous occasion, and that love is power. Bringing others together in happiness and harmony molds our hearts into one, reminding us that we always have someone nearby to help us even when we feel alone. You have a daughter, so I’m sure you understand that feeling well.”

I thought of Dinky, of how she was always there for me when I needed her. But more than that I began to think again of how the whole town seemed to be as excited for me wedding as I was. The countless ponies who had offered their help and special talents in some way. Tears began to come down my eyes. I could see what she meant. My blood ties were thin, but I had a bunch of family in this town. I only had to open my eyes to it.

“If this is too much for you than please speak up. I wouldn’t be offended if you’d rather us leave.”

I shook my head. “I could never insult you by refusing to have you at my wedding. It’s a great honor.”

“In that case I would like to be the officiator of your wedding. Nobody will forget this day when you’re being joined by one of the rulers of Equestria.”

My body tensed as the tears flowed. My fear left me, and I felt overwhelmed as I ran into her hooves, hugging her. “Thank you! Thank you!”

She put a comforting hoof around me, her head over my neck. “You’re very welcome, my little pony.”

I just kept crying in her coat as she held me close, my mind whirling with this unexpected development.

Finale part 2: Twilight's speech

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Derpy walked towards the wedding hall, still feeling dazed at the thought of being surrounded by royalty on all sides. Four alicorn princesses, all coming to attend her wedding. Twilight wasn’t as big a deal. She had started out as a unicorn, and Derpy had seen her often enough. Her personality hadn’t changed after her ascension, and she mostly asked everyone to treat her like any other pony, uncomfortable with the thought of others bowing down to her. However, having the rulers of the entire continent be there, the ones who controlled the celestial bodies of the cosmos, was mind boggling.

They only saw a few scattered ponies on their way, the majority of them already at the wedding hall. Derpy tried to make conversation, but every time she opened her mouth nothing came out. She was too intimidated at saying the wrong thing, so she just said nothing.

Arriving at the hall Derpy and Twilight went in first. The entrance hall was empty of ponies with the exception of one of the staff and Dinky, dressed up in her flower girl dress. “Mom!” Dinky said happily, running over to her and hugging her. “You look so pretty. Like amazingly pretty.”

Not being in the presence of the other alicorns she finally found her voice again. “Are you saying I don’t usually look pretty?”

“Oh, you’re always pretty to me.” She nuzzled her mom. “So what took you so long to get here?”

Derpy felt her throat getting tight again. She hugged Dinky back, saying, “Twilight arranged for a few extra wedding guests.”

Dinky glanced over at Twilight. In a whisper she said, “I know she’s a princess, but isn’t it pretty rude to just invite guests to your wedding?”

“W-well, they’re the kind of guests that you wouldn’t dare refuse.”

Dinky got a sour look. “Like who?”

While they had been talking Twilight told the staff member to go inform them that Derpy was there. Once he left she gestured, the other princesses walking in.

“Like THEM.” She pointed with her hoof.

Dinky looked over, and her anger evaporated, her eyes going wide. “W-w-whoa! Mom! How did you score such high class guests? No wonder you wouldn’t say no. Cool!”

Twilight said, “Well, I’ve got to go. I’m going to start the ceremony. I’ll call you in soon.”

Going through the door Twilight walked up to the podium, addressing the crowd of ponies. “Quiet, please. Quiet.” When the noise settled down Twilight said, “We are here today to celebrate the wedding of Doctor Hooves and Derpy Doo. However, before we begin the ceremony proper I have an announcement and some things I need to say. We have a few extra guests that I brought along to celebrate this celebration of harmony and friendship.” Gesturing with her hoof she continued, “Please come in.”

As one the three alicorns walked into the hall, eliciting gasps of surprise. Everyone rushed to bow down as they walked up, none of them rising until they had completed their trip to the podium, standing on either side of Twilight.

“Please rise, everyone,” Twilight said. When they complied she could see the awe and surprise still filling them up. It gave Twilight a sense of satisfaction, but not out of smugness. She knew this would leave a lasting impression on the townsponies, and so much the better for Derpy.

“I’m sure you all are wondering why Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, and Princess Cadence are here for this wedding. I invited them all here, as a favor to a dear friend. We may not be the bestest of best friends, but I’d like to say a few words and speak my mind. I know that some of this I already said at my coronation, but it has no less value now than it did then.

“As you’ll remember, when I first came to Ponyville I was a brat. The only thing I was interested in was my studies. I was arrogant, smug. I was dismissive of others, only feeling true respect for Princess Celestia. Being not only raised in Canterlot, but personally taught by the most powerful pony in Equestria as well as royalty gave me a swelled head, and I only saw other pony’s as below me. Of course at the time I wouldn’t have said it quite that way, or been willing to acknowledge it.

“I first came to Ponyville to help prepare for the Summer Sun Celebration, the thousandth one since Nightmare Moon had been sealed away in the moon. Princess Luna felt sad that her night was shunned and ponies slept through it, as though the night was unimportant.

"Letting that jealously and despair overcome her she succumbed to a dark force, transforming into Nightmare Moon. Claiming that she would make the night last forever the two fought for supremacy. With no other course of options available she was forced to use the Elements of Harmony on her sister, sealing her away in the moon for one thousand years. I can’t personally speak for Princess Celestia feelings, but in a way Nightmare Moon succeeded in her objective.”

Both Princess Luna and Princess Celestia looked at her, curiosity on their faces. “I can only imagine the pain both of them suffered through those thousand years. How must Celestia have felt every night, doing the job her sister should have been doing? Being forced to move the object of her sister’s banishment every single night for the lifespan of ten ponies. For her, I’m sure it must have felt like every night DID last forever, alone without your closest sibling by your side.”

Celestia looked over at Luna, a tear coming down her eye.

“Facing down Nightmare Moon by myself, the Elements of Harmony seemingly shattered and broken, I lost all hope, sure that Equestria was about to fall into her hooves. But then I heard the voices. The voices of my friends. That ignited the spark of friendship inside me, and hope and joy filled me up, restoring the power of the Elements and allowing us to dispel Nightmare Moon’s power, turning her back into Princess Luna. And for the first time I got to see Princess Celestia cry. Following their long separation the two of them embraced, love and harmony restored between them.”

Her horn began to glow, and her memory of that event played. Celestia leaning down and offering her friendship again, Luna jumping to her and apologizing.

“I’m so sorry! I missed you so much, big sister.”

“I missed you too.”

As the memory faded she continued, “I know some of you may be wondering, “Well, what does this have to do with a wedding?” I know it may feel in bad taste to bring up bad memories, but the point is that no night lasts forever. Though darkness may cloud the land, though we may all go through rough times, the day will always come, sunshine bursting through the blackness and bringing the light of hope.

"As with the royal sisters we saw that very well with Princess Cadence, who faced back to back threats both from the Changelings as well as King Sombra. When things were bleak and all seemed lost it was the strength of their love that gave Cadence and my brother the strength to banish Queen Chrysalis from Canterlot, and the spark of hope from finding the Crystal Heart that gave the crystal ponies the strength to power it and banish King Sombra. Now she is living peacefully with her husband, ruling over her land benevolently.

“When Discord escaped from his stone prison he corrupted all of my friends in an effort to break me and render the Elements of Harmony useless. It was only through Princess Celestia sending my friendship letters back and reminding me of all that I had learned that inspired me to persevere and reminded me never to give up, on myself or my friends.

“Each and every time disaster has struck it was the power of togetherness, of friendship, that has allowed us to prevail. Even the Elements of Harmony themselves rely on the power and strengths of multiple ponies to be used to their full effect.

“So now we come down to what all of this is leading up to. Just because the fate of Equestria isn’t lying in the balance on Derpy’s actions, just because she isn’t an alicorn princess or fighting the greatest threats that Equestria has to offer… it doesn’t make her problems inconsequential. Ponies may not bow at her hooves when she walks by, or ask her for autographs, but she is a great asset to Ponyville despite her faults.

“I wasn’t there when Doctor Hooves proposed to Derpy, but what I heard of that event filled me both with joy and happiness as well as sadness and despair. For those few who might not have heard the story, when Derpy was still in high school she had a coltfriend who pretended to love her, when all he really wanted was her body.

"Once he got what he wanted he threw her away, leaving her to raise the child they bared all alone. One doesn’t have to be a princess or have a ton of friends to understand the kind of mental devastation such an event would cause.” Her throat felt tight, and her voice quivered a bit as she continued. “It’s not that I am extremely close with Derpy, but I’ve seen her from afar, and I’ve heard of her plights. I know there have been some accidents, and I can only imagine the pain and hardship she’s had to go through since that time.

“There is nothing sadder than someone who doesn’t know the joys of true friendship. I’ve been there myself. Looking at myself I’m ashamed of the egotistical snob I used to be. But today I’m not that mare. I’ve grown since then and I have a bunch of friends.” Her eyes began watering, and she wiped them away before more tears formed.

“That is why her story touched my soul and hurt so much. It sounded like she lost the ability to trust others, locking herself away. After all, if the one you gave your whole heart to could callously discard you like it was nothing, the one who got your pregnant and you expected to spend your life with, than how could you trust anyone else with less emotional impact. I had no idea how much she was suffering inside, or I, and most definitely Pinkie Pie, would have been there to help her.”

A warm smile came to her face. “But just like all the tales before this story doesn’t end there. The night didn’t last forever. A stallion came forward who was ready to bear the brunt of her pain, who was sturdy enough to take all the yelling and shouting and reluctance and forge through, pushing through the barriers in her heart one by one. By showcasing his determination and love by making a public declaration he ensured that his words had the weight they needed to break through that final barrier, to let the light in on a heart that had long expected nothing but darkness.”

Her smile grew bigger as she looked out upon the audience of ponies, a few more tears coming down. “Even though we didn’t know all the pain she hid inside until now, we all made up for it in spades, didn’t we? I feel honored that I didn’t ever have to suggest it. Each of you in some way helped to contribute to her wedding, whether it be by arranging for music or food or decorations.

"All of you used your own special talents, in the hopes that today would turn out perfectly for her, to help set off her new life on the right hoof, because just like you we all value our Derpy. That is why I invited my fellow princesses here, and why it likely will only be a one time occurrence: because after all she’s gone through, Derpy needs a little bit more help than most.

“After being abandoned in such a heartless way it seems she’s been questioning her worth as a pony for a long time. So now I call out to you, my fellow Ponyvillians, to help show Derpy how we all REALLY feel about her. Let us all show her how much we really care, and welcome her into this hall with a fanfare worthy of a princess, our hero of the day. Because she is special, and she is loved, so let your heart reach out to hers. Let’s show her how many friends she really has here in the town of Ponyville, so she never has to wonder again how much value she really has!”

A deafening noise went throughout the crowd, all the ponies cheering and whistling and whooping and stomping their hooves.

“Well said, Twilight,” said Princess Celestia, putting a hoof on her shoulder.

Twilight just grinned

Derpy was sobbing her heart out, overwhelmed by the show of support. Dinky was rubbing her neck comfortingly, grinning as well.

“T-t-thank you, T-T-Twilight,” Derpy stuttered out, feeling the light of love flooding through her being.

Finale part 3: Unbreakable bond

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My body was shaking, and I was unable to stop the tears flowing down my eyes like a river. I was nervous about ruining the make-up Rarity had put on me, but the tears kept coming regardless. With all the bullies and Shooting Star’s betrayal Twilight had pegged me pretty well. I often thought of myself as the one off to the side, the outsider, the one who didn’t belong.

I had never wanted much in life. I only wanted to provide for my daughter, and have a few friends. And I thought I was okay with that, because I could never picture that I would have anything different.

But here… now… I finally see something that I never expected. Something that I never could have imagined. I have way more friends than I thought. By hiding myself away and keeping my pain a secret all I had done was delay my healing. I have a bunch of friends who all came to celebrate my happiness and joy; who came to help me out and ensure today went smoothly.

I never in a million years expected this, but it’s so beautiful I can barely arrange my thoughts or stand up. Twilight’s words spoke to my heart, inspiring everyone to further show their companionship. “We all love our Derpy.” I think I loved that line the best. It really showed me how blind I was being, and how much love had been surrounding me all along, only waiting for me to breach the protective bubble I had placed around my heart, and it was Doctor Hooves who continually pushed through, to remind me what it felt like to be loved, what it felt like to be hugged and kissed and nuzzled and rubbed.

More and more and more I could tell that those dark days of my past were over, and that I was right in my belief that everything was going to go right today. I felt no fear at all as I had the love of an entire town backing me up.

Composing myself I looked over at Dinky, joy radiating off of me, and told her it was time for her part. She grinned back at me, the biggest one I had ever seen on her. Like me, she was feeding off of the spirit of the day, the magical, whimsical power that suffused the entire hall with love and friendship and the spirit of togetherness.

Dinky picked up her basket of flowers as the music began to play; .a soft, classical wedding tune entwined with the whistling of birds. Heading through the door she began sprinkling flower petals all over the place, having a blast.

I followed in behind her, taking my time as I approached where Doctor Hooves stood, Princess Celestia standing behind him at the podium. On the way there I looked over at all my supporters. They were a lot quieter now so as not to disrupt the sacredness of the ceremony, but I could hear little whistles and whispers of support and well-wishing.

I could see Doctor Hooves waiting for me, love in his eyes. I had to struggle not to run full out up to the platform, tradition be damned. As my eyes took in the four alicorns standing around the altar I found my patience. They all come to watch over my ceremony, and the ruler of Equestria was performing the service. I didn’t want to look like a fool in front of them nor disrespect the sacrifices they had all made to make time to be here today.

I took a deep breath, reminding myself that today was not just about me, nor Doctor Hooves. All the ponies here today had opened their hearts, making a spot for me there, so all of them were sharing my joy and feelings, so I owed it to them to do things the right way and not make a scene.

As I continued my slow walk up I reined myself in, taking a step back in my mind to just enjoy the little things. I listened to the music and the sounds of the birds. I turned my head to the crowd, saying thank you to those who spoke their encouragement. The walk there became much more pleasant.

As I neared the small incline leading up to the altar I saw Dinky standing there, a huge grin on her face. She gave me a quick hug and whispered, “Knock ‘em dead!”

I winked at her, peace in my heart as the music hit a peak and I finished the walk, standing across from the Doctor.

Princess Celestia cleared her throat, and the music faded out. “Greetings, one and all. As my faithful student Twilight has said, we are here today to celebrate the union of these two ponies: Doctor Hooves and Derpy Doo. There’s been a lot of buzz going around town about this special day, and it’s a privilege to be able to attend this celebration of the magic of friendship, the greatest friendship there is.

“The power of harmony fuels all that we do. Truly, I know that better than anyone else. I only told this to Twilight before, but I’ve had to put on a brave face and hide my pain at times, especially when it came to the Summer Sun Celebration. It always served as a reminder of how I had failed to stop my sister before her jealously spiraled out of control. And, yes, in a way every night did last forever. I’ve endured, helping others wherever I could, but no other pony could fill the void left behind when I was forced to seal my sister away. Now that she has returned and reintegrated into pony society I couldn’t be happier for her.

“Knowing the pain of having to fight with someone you love dearly, someone you always expected to be there for you and you never expected to betray you, is something I can identify with, and it struck a nerve with me when Twilight told me the story of what happened with Derpy. Being here now to see her being reborn, ready to start again and commit to another, fills me with boundless joy, and it is a great honor to preside over this ceremony, to tie that knot that will bond them as partners forevermore.

“But enough about tales of the past and the bad memories that followed. Let us return to the present, and the true reason we are all here today: to send Derpy off on her new journey toward a better life.

“Doctor Hooves?”

“Yes, princess?” He bowed his head a little as he said it.

“What is it that you intend to bring to this marriage? What makes you feel that you are worthy of Derpy’s love and deserve to be her one and only?”

“That’s easy,” he replied, lifting his head as he turned toward me, love in his eyes. “I said it once already, but I intend to bear her pain as she continues to recover from the pain of being left behind. I promise my whole heart to always be there for her whenever she needs me. I promise to always be faithful. If my eyes should ever stray, whether intentional or not, I promise to be honest and upfront about it, just as she did for me when she nearly came close to doing the same. I promise to provide for my new family, and do my best to make sure that they never want for anything. I promise to be forgiving when we inevitably fight, after we’ve cooled off. I promise to be there forevermore, and never to leave her side until one of us dies. And, on the off chance that ghosts are really real, than maybe not even then will I stop watching over her.

“As I was reminded some time ago, though, in this marriage I am not only getting a wife and a partner. I can’t forget about the other half of my commitment. Besides Derpy, who was in desperate need of love, there was another who was also in desperate need of something, and that’s another role that I intend to fulfill to the best of my ability.” He turned away from me, looking out toward the audience. “Aside from a wife I’m also getting a daughter, my darling little Dinky. Though she is not my biological child I intend to love her and raise her and treat her right as if she were of my own flesh and blood, because I love her as well. I promise-”

“I love you too, Daddy!” Dinky said in a raised voice. It was scarcely louder than her regular speaking volume, but it almost sounded deafening in the relative quiet.

I looked over at her, seeing her flushed cheeks, bright with delight. Ordinarily I would have been mortified, but all I felt was content.

Doctor Hooves didn’t look bothered by the interruption, nor did all our guests, a large number of them letting out little, “Awww’s.”

He giggled a bit before saying, “I love you too, Dinky.” He turned back to me, saying, “I promise to protect both Derpy and Dinky to the best of my ability if they’re in danger, even if it ends with my death. It would be enough to know that I lost my life protecting the two girls who mean more to me than anything in the world.”

His eyes began to tear up, and I found mine starting to as well.

“I promise all of this to you, Derpy, if you will accept me this day.”

“Derpy,” said Princess Celestia, “Do you accept his terms of marriage?”

I nodded my head. “I do, Princess Celestia.”

“Very good. And what of you, Derpy? What is it you’d like to add? What do you intend to bring to your union?”

“To start off with, I want to express my gratitude for all that he has done for me. I know you said we should be focusing on the greatness of today, but it only means so much to me because of the trauma and hassle’s I’ve gone through in the past.

“For the longest time I’ve felt I was alone. I was relentlessly bullied in school, the only friends I had in other classes that I rarely got to see. Today I found out that I have a lot of friends, so I don’t need to hold back anymore and keep everything inside. I want to lay everything out on the table. I’m not doing this for pity or because I want sympathy and everyone to show me special treatment, but because all of you opened your hearts to me, showing me your friendship, so it’s only right that I return the favor. I can’t think of any other occasion where Ponyville’s eyes will be on me like this to listen, so it has to be now.

“Twilight wasn’t too far off in her assessment of me. Up until now I’ve kept all of this inside my heart, faking my smile even when I dearly wanted someone to be there for me. Recently I finally opened up and told Dinky about it, but that was it. Now, I don’t have to hide anymore. Even if everyone else betrays me I’m not afraid anymore, because I have the love of my life in front of me, the symbol of his love around my neck for all to see." I lifted my hoof to my engagement ring.

“There were two times in my life where I was at my lowest. Back in school every day I had to endure taunts and mocking about my eyes. The most common nickname I got was “freak eyes.” It was considered “in style” to go after me, because I was such an easy target. With very few friends to defend me every day felt like a giant hill in front of me, the end of school like paradise. Month after month, year after year, I had to endure those hurtful comments. And it all came to a head one day.

“I was lost in thought, a light drizzle coming down. All of a sudden I went flying. A stallion was annoyed I was blocking his path, so instead of going around me he shoved me out of the way. I landed right in the middle of a big mud puddle, getting covered from head to hoof in mud. Everyone else thought it was hilarious, cheering and laughing and slapping his hoof.

“I ran away crying my eyes out. The rain helped to wash away some of the mud, but it did nothing for the ache in my soul. I had reached my limit. I took a length of rope, tying it around my wings, heading to a cliff in the hopes of ending it all.”

I could see the Doctor’s mouth hang open. It occurred to me that I hadn’t told him this story before.

“In that moment life held no light for me. That time was just pitch dark, utter blackness with no hope of ever improving. I jumped, wanting the pain to just end, no matter what I had to do."

“Obviously I didn’t succeed. As I headed toward the ground I found the will to live spark inside me, struggling to remove the ropes. I managed to get my wings free, saving myself before I crashed. I never told anyone about it, not even my parents. Although I continued to live on, inside my heart was still dead. I went numb, trying not to feel anything anymore.”

I could hear the mumbled whisperings of the ponies, but I didn’t want to see their expressions. I kept my focus on Doctor Hooves, some strange feeling of freeness from talking about all these things I had kept secret for so long. I saw him crying, and though I was upset at hurting him, I knew that all this needed to be said.

I put my hoof to my engagement ring again, taking a deep breath. Just like when I told Dinky about the past I didn’t want to stop now that I had started. “The second part of the story you already have the gist of. In high school during sophomore year I was being bullied as usual, when a pony named Shooting Star came out of nowhere and socked one of the ponies who was making fun of me. He made the stallion apologize, and threatened to hit anyone else who wanted to open their mouth against me. It made a big impression, as Shooting Star was the biggest pony in school. He was rich and popular, a sports star, and very influential.

“He asked me out, saying he wanted to try dating someone below himself on the social ladder, as the other mares around him only cared about getting the prestige of his money and status. After defending me publicly once he did it again later that day when a mare shoved me out of the way to go moon over him. He picked me up, snapping at the mare who pushed me, and declared me his girl for all to hear.

“My life took a huge upturn after that. The bullies left me alone, afraid of his wrath, I began to make other friends, and, best of all, I had a sweet coltfriend who valued me. We grew closer and closer as the months passed, and I finally found true joy, life finally feeling worth living.

“Around our six month anniversary he invited me to prom. At that time it was the happiest moment of my life. I felt special. I felt important. I felt beautiful. Even though I didn’t have the kind of money he did I did my best to look like someone worthy of a stallion like him.

“At the end the two of us were crowned the king and queen of the prom, and the ovation and cheers filled me with such magnificent radiance. It was beyond my wildest dreams. When he took me home I was so overwhelmed with how high he had lifted me up that I made the foolish decision to sleep with him.

“After that he gave me the boot. He had gotten what he wanted from me, so he had no further use for me. He coldly told me that the child he had helped create was my problem and that I was just a fling to him.”

The memories floated over me, but they weren’t razor sharp like they had always been before. I put my hoof to my ring again, proud that not a single tear came down. I stayed strong.

“That was the second time in my life where things the light left me, and I felt hopeless. I was so devastated and unsure of what to do I nearly got an abortion, but just like with my attempted suicide, I came to my senses in time and I didn’t go through with it.

“Both of those events were my lowest points and the points at which my regrets were at their greatest. Following Shooting’s betrayal I did wonder about who I was. When Dinky was only a few years old I lost my parents in an accident, leaving only me alone with my child, and I’ve limped on ever since.

“I don’t want to sound insulting to Dinky, but her love wasn’t enough for me. She has been an absolute gem. She’s been by my side and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. She’s always pushed me to be my best, and at times she’s much more grown up and more mature than I am. She’s helped me keep going even when I’ve wanted to give up, because I know she needed me.

“However, while her love kept me going, it wasn’t enough to change me. After all, your child is supposed to love you. You live with your parent most of your life, being taken care of by them until you can start your own life, so it’s expected to be loved by your child. I do have to thank Dinky, though, as she was the one who started the ball rolling for me and Doctor Hooves, setting us up on a date on the pretense of just having a night out with a friend at the Apple family charity event a while ago. Having finally told Dinky the truth about her father she now wanted to see me do better.

“Over the course of that night he got me to open up, giving a chance to the things I never expected to have again. He watched over me with the protectiveness of a big brother, while being a gentle partner and understanding of my reluctance. We shared romance and stories and love, with Dinky always nearby to ensure things didn’t go too far.

"His love filled me up, soothing the aches and pains like a bandage around my hurt, finally starting to remind me of the old days. At times I would feel afraid and back off, but I always returned to him, because I needed him more than I can say. His never-ending persistence and love made me long for the joy I had felt in the past.

“I almost ran away from it all, a terrible nightmare of all these happy things that had been building up came crashing down upon me, making me terrified again. Of my ex returning, faking me out again, and hurting those I loved the most. But just like always we couldn’t stay apart for long.

“He came to me once again and we made up, leading up the new best day of my life: the day he proposed to me. When he jumped onto a table and demanded everyone’s attention I couldn’t have prepared for what he would say next. I was so focused on the eyes on me, afraid of being put under the spotlight, but then he came out, asking the question that blew my doubts away, leading up to now, the true best day ever.

“Doctor Hooves was one thing, but the overwhelming support and help that all of you have shown throughout these wedding preparations, having four princesses at my wedding, hearing Twilight’s inspirational speech and everyone giving me “a welcome worthy of a princess,”” I could feel myself starting to tear up as I finished, “truly, I can feel the light of friendship obliterating the darkness and the hard shell I had placed around my heart.” I sniffed, swallowing through the lump in my throat. “The long night is finally over. Now I’m ready to take my proper place, proud of the mare I see in the mirror.

“In a strange sort of way I’m grateful for what Shooting Star put me through. Looking back I can see now the signs that I missed that he didn’t truly care about me. Without knowing the darkness how can we come to truly appreciate the light? In that same vein, all the fake love and the easy way outs Shooting took can’t be replaced with the patient love of the Doctor, who has been perfectly responsible and respectful to me in the year we’ve been together. He always matched pace with me, never trying to skip ahead. When I’ve pulled back he waited for me, and if I took too long he came to me, always letting me make my own choices. When I tried to rush things he made sure to pull back and tell me no.

“There is no way I can ever repay him for all the affection he’s given, opening up my world to a possibility I had long though was just a dream. I’m no longer alone. I’ve found my missing piece, the one who makes me feel complete. The only stallion I would ever want by my side, and I pledge not to hold back either, giving him all that I can, to repay the love he gave me with all the love I can return to him, so that he never looks backs and wishes he had chosen someone else.”

He was crying and smiling just like me, and I was growing weary of talking, the distance between us, though just a few feet, seemed like a few feet too much.

Princess Celestia finally spoke again. “Thank you, Derpy, for sharing your story with us. I think we can all understand you a lot better now, and for what you’ve gone through I offer my heartfelt condolences. I can see it in your eyes, though, that all your guests aren’t in your field of attention right now. Doctor Hooves, do you accept Derpy’s words of faithfulness and caring?”

“Yes, Princess, I do.”

“Does anybody object to this union of Doctor Hooves and Derpy? Speak now or forever hold your peace.” A few seconds passed, but no one said anything. “Very well, then. Derpy Doo, Doctor Hooves, I hereby declare you mare and colt. You may kiss the bride.”

“With pleasure!” my beloved said, and I moved at the same time he did, sharing my impatience. We kissed, a long slow kiss. Cheers and whoops and stomped hooves followed suit. Overhead, I heard a loud bang, and the glass ceiling rained a rainbow light down upon the chapel. For a split second I raised my eyes, seeing a magnificent sonic rainboom, but at that moment even that impressive sight meant nothing to me as I returned my attention to Doctor Hooves, kissing him passionately.

I never wanted it to stop. I felt my heart on fire with adoration. I was a bride now! And that was never going to change. I opened my eyes, looking at him tenderly with all the love I could muster.

My dear friend, my partner, my lover, my protector... my husband.

Finale part 4: Alone at last

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I don’t know how long our kiss lasted, but time seemed to stop in that moment. After what felt like an eternity we broke apart, happy tears streaming down my face. I picked up the bouquet, throwing it behind me. Turning around I saw it was Bon-Bon who had managed to grab it.

Rainbow Dash flew up onto the altar. “How was that, huh?” she asked in her usual cocky attitude. It dropped a second later, as she put her head around me, hugging me. “I’m sorry you had to go through all of that, Derpy. I wish I had known sooner. I would have given that guy what for!”

I hugged her back, nuzzling her face. “Thank you, Rainbow Dash. I’m sure you would have.”

Pulling away she looked me in the eyes, before turning to Doctor Hooves. “You better take good care of her. I’m not afraid to try my hoof on you.”

Doctor Hooves laughed. “Don’t you worry about that, Rainbow Dash. I’ll never do to Derpy what he did."

Pinkie came up next, looking sad. “Awww, I feel like a bad friend now. I never figured out you weren’t as happy as you looked.”

I threw her a hug. “Oh, don’t be sad, Pinkie. I fooled myself too into thinking I was okay. It feels beautiful to finally open up with all those things. Now I can put them behind me. I can’t wait for the reception. You do have everything ready at Sugarcube, right?”

“RIGHT!” Pinkie said strongly, pulling away and saluting. “Balloons and streamers and cakes, oh my!”

I turned to Princess Celestia, bowing my front half to her. “Thank you, your majesty, for doing this for me.”

“It was my pleasure, my little pony,” she responded.

I bowed to Luna and Cadence in turn, thanking them as well. I didn’t bow to Twilight, though, because I knew she was uncomfortable with it. “So, are all of you coming to the reception as well?”

“Why not?” said Cadence. “Sounds fun. If Pinkie Pie is throwing the reception I know it’s gonna be amazing, just like mine.”

I heard Pinkie squee behind me, making me giggle.

“So it’s settled, then. Let’s all PAR-TAY!”

We all headed to Sugarcube Corner, Doctor Hooves by my side the whole way there. I kept nuzzling him as we walked, and he kept returning the favor.

When we got there I could see it was decked out like I had never seen before. A banner hung on the ceiling, saying “Congratulations, Derpy and Doctor.” Right next to it was a crude drawing of the two of us, right about to kiss, with a few hearts above our heads and a big wedding cake to our right.

Vinyl Scratch put on a fast paced song, and I took the Doctor’s hoof as I led him to the dance floor. I let myself go, immersing myself in the festivities as I spun and twirled and laughed and smiled and just danced for a couple of songs. At the end I was panting and starting to sweat, but I felt so good inside.

I went to sit down for a short time, the Doctor bringing me some punch and some cookies to munch on. After munching on the goodies and drinking a few cups of punch I felt ready to get back out there.

Standing up I headed to the floor, going to talk with other ponies. All of them treated me nicely, and I loved it.

After about an hour Pinkie Pie pulled out the mother of all cakes, white and yellow and green and red, with various toppings all over it. It was a five layered cake, the biggest I’ve ever seen, and at the top were two figures of me and Doctor Hooves, about half the size of Dinky. I cut the cake, taking the first piece and giving it to Dinky. The second piece went to Doctor Hooves and the third one for me. After that Pinkie told me to get back on with celebrating and she would take care of the rest.

The three of us sat down at a table, and me and Doctor Hooves giggled as we each fed each other cake. “I wonder if you’d yell like a filly again if I shoved this cake in your face.”

He snickered at that. “You don’t have a ball pit to hide in here.”

“Darn! You win. I am vanquished.”

Vinyl put on a slower song about the time we finished the cake, and me and Doctor Hooves headed back to the dance floor. I took his hoof as we moved in slow circles, my love for him filling me up. I didn’t care about anything else at this moment. My lover was there, right in front of me, and that was all that mattered.

For the next few songs they opened up a karaoke portion. Twilight and Cadence did a duet, followed by Berry Punch. Me and Doctor Hooves went up third. I felt strangely comfortable singing, even though I know I didn’t have a pitch perfect voice. It was probably because I wasn’t the first one up.

After the song was over the two us bowed to the audience as they clapped for us and we went to chat with Bon Bon and Lyra.

I don’t know why, but I began to feel really uncomfortable. One minute I’m sipping punch and talking to my friends, and then out of the blue my heart began hammering, and I started to feel afraid. The room began to feel small. So small.

I ignored it at first, thinking that maybe I just needed to sit down again. Maybe I had danced too hard before and it was catching up with me. However, even after I sat down for a few minutes I didn’t feel better. I looked at Doctor Hooves, and I felt a burning feeling in my stomach. I saw him talking to a female, and I felt ashamed that I was jealous. Even stranger still that jealous feeling persisted when he began to talk to a male.

Today had been too crazy; too perfect. Everything had gone right, and now I didn’t want to share Doctor Hooves anymore. I wanted him just for myself, the same way he said he didn’t want to share my love with any other stallion. I wanted to just be alone with my new husband, and make the most of our first day as a married couple.

I felt horrible for thinking that way. I knew it was selfish. I knew all of them had pitched in and done so many incredible things for me, but I felt like I was at my breaking point.

I quickly walked up to Doctor Hooves, pulling at his tuxedo. “Doctor Hooves, I need to go.”

He laughed, not looking over at me. “Well, Derpy, don’t you know where the bathroom is?” Both he and the stallion he was chatting with broke out laughing.

That really hurt. “D-D-Doc-t-t-tor!” I felt the tears coming, and was afraid I was about to make a scene.

When he heard the crack in my voice he quickly looked at me, and he could tell I was serious. “What’s wrong, Derpy?” he said, closing the small gap and putting his cheek on mine.

“I-I-I need to go. Please! I wanna go home.”

“Home?” he asked, perplexed. “But what about all our guests?”

“I need to get out of here. Now! Please.”

“Listen, Derpy. Why don't the two of us go for a little walk? We’ll get some fresh air, and in like twenty minutes-”

“No! I don’t want to come back.”

“Listen. We’ll go for a walk, and if you’re still feeling rattled then we can go home, okay?” He rubbed my other cheek with his hoof.

“O-okay,” I replied, wiping away a tear.

I pulled him roughly along as we headed for the exit, grateful when we made it outside. It was like a breath of fresh air. It was just the two of us, and the oppressive atmosphere of the hall was gone. Not caring about the dress I unfurled my wings and took to the sky, making a few loops around Sugarcube Corner before landing back next to him. I let out a heavy breath, feeling some of my stress evaporating.

“What’s the matter, Derpy?” Doctor Hooves asked. "You were having a great time earlier. What changed?”

I looked down at the ground, tears falling to the grass. “I know you’re gonna get mad, but today is so out there. I’m married. I’m a bride. Nothing has ever gone this right for me, and I feel afraid. Afraid that all of this was some kind of sick joke, or that I’m just having a very realistic dream that I’m going to wake up from soon. I’ll be all alone again when I woke up, with nothing but that old prom photo of Shooting to keep me company through the lonely days. I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t shake the feeling. I needed to get out of there, or I was going to freak out.”

Doctor Hooves pulled me close, putting his lips to mine and kissing me hard. After a few seconds I tried to pull back, but he wouldn’t let me. He just kept kissing me and kissing me, and my heart began to soar with love. “Do you really think I’m not real, you silly? Six months is quite a while to be dreaming. I proposed to you a long time ago, you know.”

He pulled away, and my good mood tanked immediately. I closed the distance, rubbing up against him. “I guess you have to be real,” I said in a quiet voice. “I can feel you here. Feel your fur against my face. But when I stop I can feel fear waiting for me. I’m terrified because I want all this to be real.

"This isn’t me. At least it’s not the me I’d ever thought I’d be. The me I know is usually alone, expecting bullies to mock her for the things she can’t help. I just don’t know if I’m worthy.” I gulped, sniffing. “I’m sorry. I know I should be happier, but all of this feels like the sort of thing that would only happen in my wildest dreams. A bunch of alicorns at my wedding? Almost the whole town of Ponyville coming to the wedding, helping out and supporting me? Nobody mocking me or putting me down or insulting me? It’s too big… too much all at once.”

Doctor Hooves lifted my head, and I could see him crying. “Derpy, what you just described is the magic of friendship; the foundation of unity. I only wish I could have met you sooner, so I could have spared you from your world view. You’ve been alone for so long, stuck in your high school days, that you’ve basically come to expect bad treatment from others. That’s not the true spirit of Ponyville.

“You know what the difference is between you and a bully? False courage. They can’t stand themselves, but rather than look inside to fix the issue, they attempt to rise above by attacking others. Rather than attempting to remedy their own issues and insecurities to lift themselves up, they artificially rise their esteem by dragging someone else down. You were just an easy target, but your eyes were never the issue.

"I’ve always loved you regardless of what direction your eyes point. I don’t love you because you’re beautiful, although you are and I do love that about you.” He winked at me “I love you for who you are beneath the surface. I dedicated my life to you, Derpy, and that’s never going to change. I know that life has been hard to you, but I’m here to make it better.

“I can see you’ve got it real bad, so we can go home if you want. Your happiness means more to me than alienating a few guests. However, they did go out of their way to be of assistance to you, and it would be rude to just leave without thanking them for it.”

I let out a relieved sigh. I didn’t fancy going back inside to the crowd, but just knowing the two of us would be alone again afterword was enough for me. I turned around toward Sugarcube Corner, my heart starting to hammer. It felt a million miles away. My body felt frozen. “D-Doctor, I don’t think I’m strong enough for this.”

He took my hoof in his and kissed my cheek. “You have me. I’ll be your strength, always there to lift you up when you feel weak.”

I looked over at him, a grateful smile coming to my lips. “Stay by my side.”

“There’s no place else I’d rather be.”

Taking my hoof away from his I lifted up my ring, taking a deep breath. Just like it usually did it made me feel more at peace. “Give me strength. For just a while longer.”

The two of us walked inside. I felt a little short of breath as I saw all the guests. I pushed myself closer to him and we continued walking toward the DJ stand. Taking the microphone I said, “Excuse me. Excuse me! I have an announcement to make.”

I winced as the music lowered and all eyes turned to me. My breath caught. I know I was imagining it, but the eyes of the ponies seemed piercing. I felt like running away, when Doctor Hooves nuzzled up against me.

I put a wing on Doctor Hooves for comfort and the impulse passed. I just wanted to go home! “Um, hello there, everybody. I hope you’re all having a great time.” Cheers and affirmations followed. “That’s, um, that’s… that’s great. Um, I-I, um, I just want to thank all of you again for all the help you provided and for being here to support me on my big day.” More cheers followed. “Unfortunately, I have to go now, so I’ll… just… be going, then.”

I could hear the confused murmur of the ponies.

Twilight made her way through the crowd, saying, “Is everything okay, Derpy?”

The concern in her voice made me squeeze my eyes shut, having to force myself not to break down, but my self-control was rapidly evaporating. I decided to just tell the truth. That was the quickest way to settle the matter.

“T-today has been a marvelous day, but I’m just way too overwhelmed at everything. I can’t take anymore.” I could feel a few tears come down. “I-I-I just want to go home and spend some time with my husband.

“I’m sorry! I know it feels selfish to just bail on my own wedding reception, but I just feel like I’m gonna freak out if I stay any longer. You can all stay and live it up, though, if you want.”

I jumped as I felt a weight on my back. I turned to look and I saw Princess Celestia had draped a wing over me. She gave me a quick nuzzle, saying, “I understand, my little pony. Rest with no worries, and we’ll all be waiting tomorrow if you need us.”

Just like earlier she radiated a feeling of kindness and sincerity that made me feel calmer, but I was still eager to get out. I got a few hugs from Twilight and Pinkie Pie as I walked toward the exit. When I was halfway there I suddenly remembered Dinky. Just as I thought of her she came up to me.

She threw her hooves around me. “I’m sorry you’re feeling down, Mommy.”

I pulled her to me, hugging her back. “I’ll feel better when we go.”

Dinky pulled away, shaking her head. “Don’t be silly. I’m staying here.”

I was temporarily distracted by her statement. “What?”

“You said that you wanted to have some time alone with your husband, remember?”

Now I was shaking my head. “Of course I didn’t mean you, Dinky.”

“Hey, I had you my whole life. Now I have to share you with Doctor Hooves. You two should have some alone time together. Today is about the two of you and your happiness, not mine.

“Go on. I already talked to Miss Berry and she said I could sleep over with Ruby Pinch, so you two don’t have to worry about me.”

I looked down at her, trying to find the words to say. Part of me wanted to dissuade her, to insist that she come along with us, but that jealous feeling popped up again, and I found I didn’t want to share him with Dinky either. I sure hoped that feeling was going to pass soon. Dinky was already calling him dad. I couldn’t just keep her away from him.

“Okay, Dinky. You win. Thank you.” I gave her a kiss on the forehead. “Be good for me.”

“I will!” she said, flashing her teeth at me. “You just worry about yourself.”

The two of us exited Sugarcube Corner again, and it was a load off my mind to be free of the noise and crowd, knowing I didn’t have to go back.

I felt clingy again as we walked toward my house. Every time he got a little distance from me I pushed myself against him so our bodies were always in contact.

“Derpy?” said Doctor Hooves.

“Y-yeah?”

“Do you still think I’m gonna disappear if we’re not in contact? That I’m just a ghost who will vanish if you can’t feel me?”

There was a trace of humor in his voice.

“I’m sorry. I’m sure I’ll feel better by tomorrow. Right now it’s still just hard to accept all of this.”

“You’re not that kid in high school anymore, Derpy. You broke free of that filly when you confronted the stallion who broke your heart and tore up the photo.”

“I know that. I do. But… it’s just so different than everything that I just keep feeling afraid.”

“Hmm.” Doctor Hooves looked up thoughtfully at the sky, before his eyes lit up. “Aha! I know just the remedy to settle those nerves.”

“What’s that?”

“Forget acting more grown up. Up until you met me, or more specifically when we began going out, you came to expect the worst of life. Your high school years to the present came with a lot of disappointments that made you give up trying, so why don’t we try going back in time?”

“Back in time?” I said flatly. “Even if there is such a spell neither of us are unicorns, as you might recall.”

“I didn’t mean it literally. I mean, you had a happy childhood at least, right?”

“Yeah. I had some really great parents. Just like you and Dinky they never cared about my eye condition and were very supportive of me throughout the years.”

“So there we are. Your fillyhood was happy, so instead of tapping into the memories of your painful teen years let’s go back further and tap into your foalhood memories.”

“And how do you propose to do that?”

“Hey, some of the most fun we had was when we acted like children, remember? Like our first date where we chased each other and you jumped into the ball pit. Let’s see if doing something childish can spark the inner foal inside you.

“Stay still for a second.”

I came to a stop, my eyes following him as he walked behind me.

“No, no,” he said as I started to turn. “Stay right where you are. Don’t move.”

I stayed put, wondering what he was up to. At first my fear began to rear its head again as I heard his hoofsteps receding, but then I heard him running toward me. I kept my body still, but I turned my head to see him at a full gallop. “What are you do-EEEP!” I squealed as he lowered his head, getting it under my stomach and he flipped me onto his back.

He kept on running with barely a break in stride, looking back at me with a smug expression. “Now how’s THAT for being childish? When’s the last time you got to ride on another ponies back, huh?”

It had all happened so fast I hadn’t been able to process it. I gave him a smack to the back of the head. “Oh, you! You scared the life out of me. Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”

“Oh, come on! You know you love it.” He slowed down, saying, “You said you didn’t like us not being in contact because it’s the only way you know that I’m real. Well, if you’re on my back then we’re constantly in contact, aren’t we? And we get to do something fun. I don’t care if my suit gets a little ruffled. It doesn’t pay to be stuffy. You’re more important than a dry cleaning bill.”

I let out a small laugh. “I guess you’re right.” I leaned over him, putting my hooves around his neck. “I can feel you. Feel your warmth. This is actually pretty nice.”

“Okay, then. Hold on tight!” When I tightened my grip around his neck he reared back, saying “Let’s go!” before he went galloping away.

Once my initial shock wore off I began to really enjoy myself. It had been a long time since I had let out my inner foal. I stopped caring what the other ponies who saw us might say. “Faster, faster!” I said, indifferent to anyone who might be watching.

“Now that’s the spirit!” he said as he increased the pace.

I could feel the wind whipping past me, see the sights of Ponyville Park pass by in a near blur. I saw birds flying away to avoid us, chittering their displeasure at being disturbed. I could hear the crunching of leaves and the pounding of the path.

There was something about it that was almost majestic. It did pull my mind into the past, when I used to do this with my dad. He liked to take me for runs around the park. I rested my head on his neck, remembering the fun the two of us used to have.

Doctor Hooves got winded eventually, so he slowed his run down to a walk, but that was okay. It was still just like when I was a kid, the two of us just talking about our days after elementary school and his job were over.

A feeling of serenity washed over me, a complete absence of fear and sadness, replaced with comfort and calm. My mind went into that strange state of semi-consciousness, where you’re not quite asleep, but your mind begins to pull away from reality and starts showing you dreamlike visions.

I could hear Doctor Hooves voice, but it felt far away. Too far away to find. I didn’t want to leave my happy place yet. The voice stopped, and all I knew at that point was just the simple up and down, the natural movement caused by his walking. It was almost hypnotic.

I think I might have fallen asleep for a short time. I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that one minute we were walking, and the next he was loudly calling my name. I resisted his voice again, but he was persistent, and I finally opened my eyes, blinking in the light. “Y-yeah?” I said, sleepily. I could see we were in front of my house.

“I hate to disturb you, my sweet, but we’re here. I saw how peaceful you looked, so I put it off for a while and just drifted around the park to let you rest, but you’re starting to get heavy and I don’t think I can carry you much longer.” He lifted one hoof, putting it under the mat where I kept my spare key. He opened the door and we went inside.

“Hold on tight,” he said. Once I tightened my grip he walked upstairs, me still on his back.

I was slowly starting to come around. “Thank you, Doctor. Thank you for everything. I did enjoy my trip into the past. It was very relaxing.”

“Glad to hear it.” He walked into my room, heading next to the bed. “Last stop!”

I squeaked as he bent his knees and then thrust his body to the side, throwing me onto the bed.

He let out a groan as he stretched a bit. “Oh, man. My back hurts a little. I’m gonna feel that in the morning.”

“I can’t believe you just launched me off your back!” I said, trying to sound angry.

“Oh, and what are you gonna do about it?” he asked , smirking down at me.

Getting up on my hooves I pulled my dress off, throwing it on the floor. “Bring it!” I said, throwing myself at him.

He caught me easily, kissing my nose. “Now, now, dear. Play nice.” He spun around, throwing me back on the bed, jumping up himself. “Do you want to play, little Derpy?” He pulled off his tuxedo, throwing it next to my dress.

“Ladies first!”

“Oh, ouch!”

I hopped over at him, bringing him down on to the bed. The two of us play wrestled for a few minutes before I got bored and called a stop to it.

Sitting on the edge of the bed the two of us looked at each other for a while. “You feeling all better now, Derpy?” he asked.

“Yes. I think so. Now that I have you all to myself.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Good husband from day one.” He winked at me.

I shifted position so I was turned toward him, sitting on my knees. I took his hooves in mine. I looked deep into his eyes, seeing them full of love. “Thank you, Doctor. Thank you again. You truly are better than any dream I could come up with. With you I’m not afraid to face reality.”

He kissed me on the lips. “And you never will be. I can’t be there for you twenty four seven, but I’ll be by your side as much as I can. I meant every one of the words I said when I proposed to you. I’m yours for eternity, however long that may be. At the very least, until the end of this life I promise to you. After all, that’s what a husband is supposed to be.”

My heart began to fill up with love as well. I got a strange tingle in my stomach, and I knew what I wanted to do. “Doctor, we’re now married. You promised me everything without reservation. I threw away the last of Shooting Star so I could do the same. And now, after waiting so long, there’s something I owe you as your wife. I’m just sorry it’s “used.””

I saw recognition on his features, and then he looked sad. He pulled a hoof free, rubbing my cheek. “Derpy, please don’t say that. That’s just plain wrong. I don’t mind that I’m not your first, but that’s not what’s upsetting me right now. You don’t “owe” me that, just because we’re married now. You’re not my slave. You’re not my property. We’re partners, two halves of the same whole. I don’t want you to offer yourself to me because you “owe” me it. I want you to do it because you genuinely want it, not out of a sense of obligation. I don’t want it if you’re trying to force yourself into it. I’m not that kind of stallion.”

I used my free hoof to ruffle up his mane a little. “I’m sorry. I guess I worded that badly. I want us to celebrate our union together. I gave myself to Shooting because my heart was so full of love and emotions that I wanted to give him something special to show how much I cared. I want to give myself to you for the same reason.

“I had a lot of fears and regrets pop up as our relationship grew closer, but I’m not scared anymore. I know I’m not going to wake up and find you gone. I know you’re never going to abandon me. I feel safe with you, so there’s no reason to be afraid.”

“Derpy, are you absolutely sure about this?”

I nodded. “Yes. I’m ready.”

Epilogue: Goodnight

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I was on my side, facing away from the Doctor. I couldn’t look at him at the moment. I felt too embarrassed. I was okay with it. I had chosen to do it, and I didn’t regret it, but we had just been through the most intimate of things a couple can do. I had fully exposed and given myself to him, so I was just feeling a little self-conscious at the moment.

He began to stroke my mane. “Are you okay, Derpy?”

I heard his voice, but it felt so far away, just like before. I was too lost in thought. My mind felt all scrambled.

“Derpy?” Again his voice. Although I heard his words I still couldn’t respond to them yet.

With his other hoof he began to rub my stomach. I liked that. He kissed my neck up and down, making me shiver, before he put both hooves around me and hugged me to him. “Helloooo? Anybody home in there?”

I pushed myself more firmly against him, enjoying the contact, but I still couldn’t face him. I still needed some time to think. I was still coming down from the emotional high of what we had just done.

I could say one thing about it, though. It was definitely a much different and better experience than the one I had with Shooting Star, and for that I was truly grateful. Shooting was very rough with me, treating me like an object instead of a lover, not caring about making the experience enjoyable for me. It was only about himself. At the time I didn’t care about that, because I loved him so much I wanted him to have the most of me, but it had hurt a little, and I was sore the next day.

Doctor Hooves, just like always, didn’t go right for the kill. He was very patient, as he always was, slowly warming me up. Kissing me and tickling my ear and rubbing my stomach, never rushing ahead of my comfort zone. He waited for me every step of the way, making sure the both of us got the most out of everything. It was an amazing experience. I’m happy I did it but, well, I was just discomfited. I wondered whether it had been good for him, if I could have done more. As he continued his rubbing and gentle kisses that question seemed to become unimportant. I pushed a little harder against him, maximizing the contact.

“Hold me tighter,” I said, the first words I had spoken since we had finished up.

“Of course, my love,” he replied, giving me a big squeeze. He kissed my ear and the back of my neck, and I let out a big sigh. “Are you okay, Derpy?” he asked again.

I nodded. “Yeah. I… I think I am.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Fine, I guess. I still need a little time to process things.”

“I understand. Take as much time as you need. You know I have no trouble with waiting.”

“I know.”

The two of us sat there unmoving for a while, his big, strong hooves around me, my protective warm blanket surrounding me. He just held me tight, planting kisses all over my neck.

“I-I’d kinda like to… to-to-to turn around to kiss you too. I’m so, so sorry, but I’m starting to feel afraid again.”

“Of me?”

I felt a tear come down my eye. “I’m sorry!” I said again, starting to shake a little as some tears came down my face. “I’ve done my best to rid myself of the past and what happened, but it’s still affecting me. Even now. I’m scared that when I turn to look I’ll be looking into the cold eyes of Shooting Star. I trust you. I do! I trust you enough to give myself to you and marry you, but now that we’ve done it there’s no going back, and I just feel scared that things are going to end the same way they did with him.

“Please don’t be mad at me! I don’t want to feel this way.” I started feeling disgusted with myself that I STILL couldn’t completely let go. “P-p-please… don’t stop loving me. I’m sorry…”

His only response was to hold me tighter and just continue his gentle kisses. He let out a little laugh. “Oh, Derpy, you little sillyhead. What am I going to do with you? Did you think THAT was going to rattle me? I know those feelings are just temporary. I was expecting you to have some sort of negative reaction when we were done.

“Just keep in mind how much support you really have. I told you six months ago I proposed to you in public on purpose, so I couldn’t escape the consequences if I ever went back on my word to you. If I wasn’t prepared to weather the storm I never would have committed myself to you. And after having our vows witnessed by a princess and having all four alicorns attending do you really think I’d be crazy enough to abandon you? All of Equestria would be after my head.”

He kissed around my ear, saying, “You know, Dinky told me there was something you told her that always makes her feel better when she’s down. She said you told her you love her no matter what happens. Through the good times and bad, when you’re loving and cuddling up, or when you’re yelling and arguing. Even when you don’t want to talk to each other and you’re both at your worst you still love her beneath it all.

“And that’s the way I feel about you, Derpy.” He stopped his gentle kisses and slowly nuzzled his face against my cheek. “When I proposed to you I was determined to take it all the way. Specks of your past are still clinging on to you, weighing your spirit down, but I’ll be there every day to apply some wax and cleaner so you stay shiny and bright. Of course there will be points where we’ll be at our worst, but just like with Dinky we’ll always come back together with some time.

“I understand your fear and pain, and I’m not going anywhere. Short of sleeping with another stallion I don’t think there’s much of anything that would cause a lasting wound to our relationship. So don’t beat yourself up, Derpy. My heart is with you, always and forever, until the end of time. That was my vow to you today, and it didn’t stop being valid just because we’re no longer at the hall.”

I took a few deep breaths. Trust was a tricky thing. I always felt so wishy-washy lately, never knowing if I wanted to head towards it or away from it. I lifted my hoof, putting it on my ring. There was just something relaxing about it, carrying around a symbol of his love I could show the world. He trusted me and understood me better than I did, prepared for my reaction. He never faltered or shrank away from our love, and I knew I had a ways to go to match his level of commitment. The very least I could do was to show him I trusted him too.

I closed my eyes, taking a few more deep breaths, and then I forced myself to turn around toward him. My heart fluttered in that instant as I opened my eyes, hoping that I wouldn’t see my deepest fears come back to haunt me, see that cocky condescending smile looking down on me.

I let out a long deep breath as I gazed into his eyes, seeing the same loving expression I had seen so many times.

“Hello, beautiful,” he said, giving me a peck on the nose.

“Thank goodness,” I said in a croaky voice. I put my hooves around him as well, pulling him close to me as I kissed him on the lips. “Thank goodness.” I sank into his hold, snuggling in close. “You’re really my hero, you know?”

“I know, Derpy,” he said gently, rubbing my back. There was no ego behind his agreement. He just took it in stride. “I’m your hero, here to protect you in your lowest moments. I know I said this out in public, but as you know a public display can also be just a ploy for attention. You’re my one and only, Derpy. I won’t let anyone hurt you as long as I’m alive. I’ll do my best to be a father figure for Dinky, and to make sure you never want for anything. And I don’t just mean material things like food. I mean the important things too, like love and support and being a dear friend. I know it may take years to fully and completely earn your trust and for you to truly leave your self-image of the bullied filly in school behind, but it’s time well spent.”

I felt another stab of pain. “Doctor, I DO trust-”

“Shhh.” He put a hoof on my mouth. “I told you already I understand. We just mated, and I know that has been a sticking point in your fears. Shooting abandoned you at six months, so you assumed I was going to do the same. He left you for the same thing we just did. We’ve been friends for a long time, but we’ve only been a couple for a year. I know you’re going to need more time, and that’s okay. So long as you don’t give up on me again I don’t have a problem being patient. Your hesitance doesn’t bother me, because as more time passes you’ll see with your own eyes that I’m not going to leave you just because I was able to have your body. Like I told you before I do think you’re beautiful, and I love your body, but it’s not what drew me to you.”

He lifted his hoof, putting it on the back of my head and pulling it towards his. Forehead to forehead now he said lightly, “Are you feeling alright now, my darling?”

I looked into his eyes, so close to mine, and I said, “Yes.” Lifting my hoof I continued my usual habit of touching my wedding ring. “You’re here now, with me, because you choose to be. You’re the other half of my heart, and I couldn’t imagine life without you. I don’t think you’ll ever hurt me like Shooting did. You’re so kind and gentle and slow, always making sure I’m comfortable before moving yourself."

I let out a sigh. “I just wish I could be as committed as you are.”

He ruffled my mane. “No more of that, Derpy. No more putting yourself down. I don’t have all the trauma and drama in my past that you do, so it’s only natural that it will take you a little longer than me. So smile for me, Derpy. Let me see that beautiful face light up like the sun.”

I couldn’t help it. I giggled. He was just so easygoing. He never made me feel pressured to do anything, which allowed me to be myself around him. I flashed my teeth at him, then said, “I WILL get there one day. That’s my private vow to you. I can’t do it right now though. Like you said before I’m still scraping off the rust of my bullied fillyhood, but I’m not that same teenager I was back then. I’m a mother of a wonderful girl, and now I’m a wife, the luckiest mare in the world.

“In a way that bit of sadness was good. No day is perfect. That’s why I was on the verge of a panic attack at the reception. I kept waiting for that certain something to go wrong. Now that something bad finally happened I can rest with no worries.” Pulling back a little I yawned. I rubbed my eyes a little, but it didn’t help much. “I’m getting sleepy. Watch over me?”

He put his hooves around me, pulling me closer once more. “Of course, sweetheart.”

“Will you still be here in the morning? I don’t want to start worrying.”

That got me a hard squeeze. “Yes, Derpy, I will. There’s no place else I’d rather be right now than right next to you, making you feel safe as you drift off to sleep.”

I nuzzled his chest a few times before putting my head around his, closing my eyes. “Good. You make a nice pillow. Nice and warm… and comfy.” I let out another big yawn.

“Goodnight, Derpy,” said Doctor Hooves, giving me one last kiss before snuggling in closer.

I could feel him around me, his big strong hooves keeping me safe. I felt so protected, so cozy, snug up against my lover. I wasn’t afraid anymore.

“Goodnight, Doctor,” I said as I closed my eyes, drifting off to sleep in the hooves of my lover, ending the best day of my life.