A Romantic Encore

by Spark of Inspiration

First published

I still don't know what happened that night... let's hope I don't ruin stuff from six years ago too.

I can remember the day she said those words I never wanted to hear like it was yesterday; sometimes it disappears, but it just pops up again. And no mare has ever lived up to her either.

But that was before the incident in the Doctor's basement. Now that I have the chance to do everything right, I won't let her slip through my hooves again- if I can make it to that night without screwing it up.

Launched Back

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"What'll ya have?" the dull orange unicorn bartender asked me, pulling the rag out of the clean mug floating in his magical aura.

I pushed myself up from the bar and groggily answered, "Just get me some Jura."

As he heads off to get my whiskey, and I lay back down on the bar. I can't really focus right now, but I'll try, just like the other times when I'm trying to get drunk.

It's strange, really. For whatever reason, I just have a high tolerance level. I actually found that out the night I met her. It was just a normal night after one of my friends dragged me off to a concert.

It was okay, but classical really wasn't my style. I preferred something along the lines of what was playing just a bit down the street. Even three buildings down I could hear the pounding bass coming out of those massive speakers. But then I remember the 'incident'... and the fact that I'm not allowed back there for another week. I could have sworn that he was a mare, but apparently the bouncers didn't take too kindly to that.

Either way, I was sitting at the bar - back before this place burned down the first time - when she trotted in. Gone was her accent, and her mane had frazzled a bit at the ends. Even better, the bright look in her eyes told me that she was going to enjoy the night with all of her heart.

That had been when Grape Vine had gotten the smart idea to try to hit on her. He had been at the concert too, and he thought he had the exact way to get her attention. Little did he know she didn't think the same way. I still laugh when I think about the massive red spot on his cheek after she slapped him.

Why did I have to admit that I hated classical? I could have just led her on for years without telling her I'd been lying about so much.

A voice with a heavy Trottingham accent pierced my train of thought. "Are you alright?" I tried to ignore the Doctor, but it just wouldn't work. "Also, are you alive?" he added, tapping me on the shoulder.

I glared at him with all my might, staring into his deep, pale blue eyes. He shrunk back away from me and weakly said, "I think your drink might be here."

Sure enough, the glass of caramel colored whiskey sitting in front of me was mine. I took a light sip, flavoring the smoky taste that only Jura had.

It's actually quite funny now that I think about it. Octavia was the one that introduced me to this stuff, and now I can't stop drinking it. I wonder if she still likes-

Oh Celestia, I can't stop thinking about her. Why can't I just forget it? And why did she have to come up tonight?

The Doctor set his hoof on my shoulder and asked me, "Is something wrong?"

"What made you guess that?" I quipped, setting my glass down again.

"I suppose it was probably the fact that you're strangely silent tonight, along with-"

I shoved a hoof in his mouth and went back to drinking my day-to-day life away. There just seemed to be nothing to do lately... nothing of importance anyway. I could always go buy something, but I don't have enough bits for anything good besides food.

"Oh... right," he muttered, turning his attention to the dimly lit stage at the end of the room. I could vaguely remember the night Octavia and I had left during a terrible performance on that very stage. Later that night, we had actually shared our first kiss. I really can't figure out how it happened, but it did. The memory of those sweet lips pressed against mine burned brightly against all my work-related stress. "So what's wrong then?"

"Nothing you'd understand," I replied. I stared off into the mirror behind the bar for a second and saw just how bad I looked. My dark green mane hung uncombed over my face, which was dirt-streaked. In fact, some of that dirt might just be stubble. I really needed to shave. For some reason, a beard just wouldn't look right against my pale yellow coat.

Before I could mentally insult myself even more, the Doctor interrupted. "Is it a mare?" He looked at me with those caring eyes that he could do so well.

I groaned back, hoping he didn't know that I meant 'yes'. Luckily, he didn't pick up on it. Instead, he leaned in close and told me, "You know, I think I have something that will cheer you up."

"Huh?" By now my glass was almost gone, and I had nowhere else to be. "What is it this time?"

I think he could pick up on my annoyance, because he pulled me up from the bar and almost yanked me off the stool. "Come on," he said teasingly, "it'll be fun. I bet you've never seen anything like it."

He dragged me across the empty flagstone street and up to the door to his clock shop. He fumbled with the keys a bit, but he managed to unlock the door, open it, and push me inside.

I threw up my hooves to defend myself from the onslaught of bright light from overhead as the Doctor flicked the switch on the wall.

"Oops, I should probably turn those down..."

"You think?"

He dimmed the lights and pulled me along toward the back room. We burst through the two windowless doors at the back of the store, but I pulled away before he could pull me down a flight of stairs. I didn't want to risk dying tonight, no siree.

He let go of me, and we headed down the stairs together. Thankfully, the room was relatively dark. The only light came from a series of amber lights overhead.

Then I saw it. I prayed to Celestia that it wasn't what he had dragged me down here to see.

He turned to me and smiled widely. "Pizzicato, meet Sally."

"Seriously? This is it?"

The hexagonal pillar of metal plating in the corner looked like exactly that- a pile of scrap metal. From what I could see, there was definitely some sort of control panel halfway up the side with tentacle-like wires sticking out of it, but it looked shattered and unusable. There was even a helmet with a cracked viewscreen trapped between the wall and the base.

The Doctor jokingly punched me and explained, "I know she's not in the best of shape, but she's still pretty interesting."

"I bet you could make fifty bits by selling that thing for scrap..."

"Oh come now, she's not that bad."

I picked up the helmet and put it on. I could actually see the Doctor from one of the larger holes in the viewscreen. I stood up on two legs and clumsily walked toward him groaning. "Aughhhh, I am a cyber zombie-pony. I've come to eat your technology."

"Really...", he explained, his voice full of wonder and excitement, "for it just showing up here one day, I'd say I've taken pretty good care of it."

The control panel sparked, sending a cascade of flickering embers and metal shards flying over the wooden floor. Both of us jumped back in surprise. Then I heard the click.

Electricity arced through my body, singing every nerve. Numbers flashed across the viewscreen faster than I could read them. Finally, the scrolling digits settled on something. A large green '03 17 6' flashed before my eyes. I frantically pulled at the helmet, trying to tear it off.

"What's happening?" I screamed.

Doctor Whooves threw himself at the control panel and tried pressing random buttons. "Hold on, I'm going to-"

Everything fell silent as the world began to spin around me in slow motion. I felt myself drifting away from my own body.

"Please don't let me die," I begged, to nopony in particular. "Please..."


I jumped to my hooves, expecting some sort of monster to attack me out of one of the corners of the room I was in. I relaxed when nothing came.

I tried to stand, but stumbled over into the metal shelf against the wall. An empty 'clang' echoed throughout the empty basement. Finally, I managed to push myself up onto all four hooves.

After a closer inspection, the shelf I had rather rudely run into was bolted to the wall, and was covered in a thick layer of dust. The other two shelves toward the corner were holding stacks of paper-covered vinyl records.

Just seconds after I noticed that, a muscular white unicorn stallion brandishing a three iron threw the door open and charged at me. I screamed and ducked behind one of the cardboard boxes behind the shelf to my right.

The stallion pushed the box aside and eyed me angrily. "How in the hoof did you get down here?"

I fumbled for the right words as he hefted the club again. "I-I..." I stammered, hoping I didn't get a club to the head within the next few seconds. His blow never struck.

A violet pegasus mare trotted in after him and scolded, "Dear, put it down."

He didn't take his eyes off me, but replied, "This is the third pony we've found down here in a week, honey. I'm getting tired of it."

"You could still be a bit more respectful." The mare offered a hoof to help me up. A good choice - especially considering her husband still looked really mad.

"Thank you," I sighed, still nervous about her husband. He watched me closely as I climbed the stairs back up into a store displaying what seemed like an obscene amount of records and disks.

"A music store?" I mumbled, wondering how I had made it into another building overnight.

She smiled and said, "Sorry about my husband; he can be a bit brash sometimes."

"It's fine," I replied, heading toward the door. "Just... where am I?"

"Three-thirtyfourth West Saddle street."

Wait... I remembered this. The store there had been broken into four times in a week. After that, the owner had left. But that would mean-

No, that was impossible. There was no way that could have happened.

"Are you alright?" she asked me, setting her hoof on my shoulder. "I don't need to take you to the hospital, do I?"

That would mean this was six years ago.

"I... I'm fine," I shakily said, still getting over the news. "I'll just get out of your mane now."

I headed out onto the street and saw the last piece of evidence I needed to prove my insanity. A crew of burly construction workers in bright helmets and vests were busy setting up the roof of the bar that I had just been in earlier that night.

Alright, I've got to go over the facts. Apparently I'm in the past, I have no way to get back, and... now somepony's about to run into me!

A green blur crashed into me, knocking all the wind out of my lungs. When I looked up, a bright pair of cheerful yellow eyes stared back at me. "Oh, hi, Pizz! You ready for the big night tonight?"

"Oh sweet Celestia..." It had to have been Grape Vine.

Old Times, New Drama

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"Hey... Equestria to Pizz..." Grape waved a hoof in front of my face and stuck his tongue out in a silly fashion. "You there?"

As much as I wanted to get out of there, there were only two ways to do that: run or talk. Running would probably end up getting me caught, but talking could be worse. What if I said the wrong thing? I didn't want to get carted off to some mental hospital.

He leaned in close to me and asked, "You didn't forget about Vinyl's party, did you?"

His wide smile would be the death of me one of those days, I swear to it. It was just impossible to say no to that face. Well, time to play along...

"Of course I didn't," I answered, hoping he couldn't tell I was on edge. "How could I?"

Grape almost seemed puzzled for a second. "Well Strato already forgot. I even hoof-delivered his invitation."

Oh, Grape Vine... even you should know Strato would forget his own hooves if they weren't attached to his body. That pegasus could be more ditzy than that other mailmare from Ponyville that came around sometimes... and that was saying something.

I was actually about to voice my monologue when Grape interrupted me. "I probably should have expected it, but it was one of Vinyl's parties. You don't just forget about them."

That was more true than anything I'd ever heard. In fact, even after so long I could still vividly imagine the first party of hers I went to. The fact that I came home with a massive headache might have had something to do with it, but that wasn't important.

Hold on... was that party the one tonight, or some other one? I rifled through what I could still remember about all the others, and it didn't seem like I'd attended more than two. Although, I did remember the occasion...

"What's it about?" Please please please don't say her new job at that club downtown.

"She got the DJ position at Nightshift."

What the buck was happening here? Why'd that stupid machine pick this day instead of all the other ones from this time frame? I really had to get out of here. "Well, I really don't want to distract you, so I'll just get going now.

Just as I was about to turn around the corner, Grape added, "We could use some help with setting up..."

Don't look! I wish I had paid attention to that little voice in my head, because I was struck full-on by Grape's pleading puppy dog face. No, not the eyes! Anything but the eyes!

Okay, he shouldn't mind if I just explain... um... What was I doing right now? There had to be something that was happening somewhere else.

Well, time to lie again. "Look, I'm sorry. I've got that thing at the place."

Grape sighed dramatically and turned away from me, staring off toward the horizon. "Alas, it seems that our society is no longer willing to provide assistance to a stallion in need... I must now go off on my own, helpless and un-cared for."

An offhoof glance revealed a pair of mares on the other side of the street trying to hide their laughing. Great, we had spectators for this.

Grape continued his melodramatic monologue with an overdone sigh and looked back at me over his shoulder.

I sighed and gave in to his pleading. "I'll help, okay?"

He smiled widely and lunged forward, wrapping his hooves around me in a death grip. I would probably have lost a few organs if he didn't let up, but he must have heard my strangled wheezing or something. He let go of me, and for the second time since I ran into him - or rather, he ran into me - I found myself out of breath.

Grape just seemed to have that way with ponies... although that probably wasn't a good thing. He hugged me again, but this time, it was a lot softer. "Sorry..."

"It's fine," I said, still heavily panting - mostly trying to get air into him starving lungs. "Let's get going."

"Sure..." Grape promptly turned around and headed down the sidewalk. Perfect... if I can just get away while his back is turned, I'll be out of here.

But, as the phrase goes, the best laid schemes of mice and stallions go often awry. This was no exception, mostly becuase of the fact that he caught me as I tried to sneak away.

"Hey, the store's this way."

Isn't that just great... My chances of escape had vanished right before my eyes. "Right behind you."


After two more attempts to escape, Grape Vine had made me carry his saddlebags. I never really understood why he did it until he started cramming things in until they were close to bursting.

With Grape's bulky saddlebags almost pulling to within an inch of the ground, we finally made it to Vinyl's house. It really wasn't anything very special on the outside - a white house with plain wooden siding and a few windown set into the front - but everypony knew that it was the inside that counted.

...Well, at least the ponies that knew the infamous DJ PON-3. Only the true club denizens could recognize her outside her shows.

Grape threw the door open and gestured for me to set the saddlebags on the kitchen table. Meanwhile, he headed downstairs for some reason.

I dumped the bags' contents out. Four donut boxes, a banner, three packs of multi-colored glowsticks, and a box of Carrot Cola tumbled onto the table... and that was only one side. What else had he packed in there? To my surprise, I found two packs of cookie bites, three bags of potato chips, a glass bottle of some clear liquid I wasn't going to ask about, and a large wooden box.

Despite my inner voice screaming for me to not open it, I had to see what made those bags so heavy. I pried the lid of the box open and stood there agape.

Rocks... Grape Vine had bought a box of rocks. How did that help with setting up a party? And why had he made me carry them?

Grape and Vinyl appeared in the hall just past the doorway to the kitchen, still in the middle of a hushed conversation. Even though I couldn't hear any of it, it almost seemed like their 'conversation' was more of a heated argument. Still, there were more important things to discuss... mostly why there was a box of rocks in Grape's saddlebag.

But just as I was about to ask my question, Grape violently stormed past Vinyl in a huff.

"What just happened?"

Vinyl trotted over to the table and sifted through the supplies we had brought. She picked up the chips and soda and levitated them over to the counter.

Now my interest was piqued. "What was that?"

Vinyl scoffed and answered, "I really don't want to talk about it."

She picked up the three bags of chips and ripped - and I mean ripped - them open. Then she poured them into some clear plastic bowls she pulled out of the cupboard beneath the sink.

Just as I had one package of glowsticks firmly grasped between my teeth, Vinyl finally talked on her own accord. Of course, her question sounded more like an order. "Take these down to the basement, 'kay?"


"I don't know, carry 'em on your back or something. Just do it."

The agressiveness in her voice was surprising. I'd never heard her sound so mad ever before.

"Well can't you see it's impossible? If I do, I'll just spill them."

Vinyl practicaly screamed at me. "For Celestia's sake, just do what I bucking say! Is that so hard?"

That was it. I couldn't do this anymore. But I had to be firm without sounding angry. "I'm not going to help you if you're just going to yell at me. Just tell me what's wrong."

Vinyl turned away form me and hung her head dejectedly. "Sorry, okay? I'll tell you later." She quickly added, "But that's only if I feel like telling you."

Well, at least it was progress. As Vinyl took the bowls downstairs, I picked up another two packages of glowsticks and followed to the basement.

In the style of one of her parties, the speakers and mixing table were already set up in the corner. Two tables had been pushed together against the far wall, and a punch bowl full of green liquid and strawberry slices had already been laid out. I broke the seals on the packages and dumped the glowsticks out on the first table. She had set the bowls down and was already three steps up when I caught her again.

"Look, I know you don't feel like talking about it, but maybe I could help." Maybe this time she'd respond.

Vinyl trotted back down to me and stared at me for who knows how long. "Promise you'll listen?"

Why wouldn't I listen? Something had to be wrong, and I wasn't going to leave a friend in need. Then she opened up.

"You know this morning? That was when I got the letter from the manager at Nightshift."

"M-hmm..." So far, so good.

"Well, I went to that plothole of a stallion Grape had hooked me up with. You know what he said?"

Whoa- that was unexpected. Vinyl had always seemed so happy around Glazed. Granted, I almost never saw them together, but... "What did he say?"

Vinyl made a pair of air quotes and recited in a masculine voice, " 'Wow, Vinyl, I didn't know you were that kind of mare.' You believe that?"

By that time, I think my jaw was all the way to the floor. He said that? That was like bucking down a beehive and not expecting to get stung. Stallions like that almost made me want to kill myself out of sheer embarrassment of being the same sex as them.

Vinyl continued her rant, slipping out of her imitation voice. "So anyway, I said 'What's that supposed to mean?' and he said 'Nothing'. Complete bull crap, that's what it was." She sobbed weakly and elaborated. "And I really thought he was better than that. Shows how stupid I can be."

"Vinyl, you're anything but stupid." I brought her into a gentle hug. Even though I wanted to cut that stallion's tongue out, I had to be there for her first. "And you're definitely not like that." Still, I could probably free up my six o'clock tomorrow.


"So can I help with anything else?"

Vinyl scanned the room quickly and thought about it for a second. "Well, I still need to hook up the speakers... Coud you get the drinks down here?"


She winked at me. "Just be sure to grab both of 'em."

I brought her the twelve pack and that clear liquid Grape had put in his bags when I wasn't looking. Her face almost literally lit up when she saw the bottle. "For a scatterbrained idiot, he sure knows how to pick stuff out."

As she popped the lid off, the sweet scent of vanilla and hard alcohol filled the air. It may not have looked like much, but if the smell was anything to go by, it was strong. "What the hay is that stuff?"

Vinyl emptied the bottle into the bowl of lime-green punch and explained, "Gray Horse vanilla- the best stuff ever."

"That sounds disgusting."

"There's nothing wrong with it..."

"I'm not saying there is."

Vinly smirked and tossed the bottle - or at least what was left after it hit the cement wall - into the wastebasket next to the speaker setup. But the smashing sound almost sounded like a door opening too. That was-

The sound of hoofsteps from the main floor pulled our attention away from anything else that still needed to be set up. Somepony from upstairs called, "Vinyl, you seen Pizzicato?"

Vinyl was just about to answer when I brushed her aside and headed up the stairs again. "Yeah, I'm here. What's-?"

Cirrus stood there just inside the door, her wings fully extended and her mane covered with droplets of sweat. She scoffed at me. "Why the buck are you out here? You practically gave us a heart attack."

Uh oh... that wasn't good. "Huh?"

"We're not some moving crew you can leave behind. Besides, your little fillyfriend was freaking out." She latched onto my foreleg and dragged me out the door. I managed to catch a glimpse of Vinyl waving goodbye before Cirrus finally let go at the street corner.

Another three blocks later, we reached a brick building lined with curtained windows. I followed her into the lavishly decorated lobby. Those couches over in the lounge looked really comfortable...

"Hey," Cirrus called from the elevator. "This way." I stepped into the elevator after her, and she hit the button for the fourth floor.

I leaned against the bar anchored into the wall as the door slowly slid closed. This thing just didn't seem as fast as it had back in the future. It lurched to a start, and I barely caught myself as I fell. The ride was a lot rougher than I remembered it being. It almost seemed like the entire cart would drop every few feet.

"Better get used to it, scruffball," Cirrus joked, bumping her flank into mine in a vain attempt to knock me over again." You're the one that's supposed to live here."

"Who are you calling scruffball, candyplot?"

I immediately regretted saying that- and for good reason. Cirrus shot me a dagger-filled glare and scoffed. "Really? And after I didn't kill you for leaving..."



The rest of the ride up had been surprisingly boring, especially when I considered all that had happened to me today. Or was it today? It had been night back in the future, but now it was late afternoon. I wasn't even tired! How did that work?

Oh holy sweet Celestia... What if I met myself? Maybe the real me had come back while Cirrus was out. Buck me up the plothole with Luna's forehooves. If that happened, I may rip a hole in the space time continuum and destroy Equestria as we know it.

Okay... that might be a bit much. But still, what if I did meet myself? I couldn't weasel my way out of that if I tried!

Cirrus pushed the door open and led me into one of the messiest rooms I'd ever seen. A tacky blue flowered couch had been pushed up against the wall, trapping a lamp and a picture behind it. Not to mention the layer of clear plastic that crinkled under our hooves with every step. Then I saw the mess that they called a kitchen.

Even with the magnificent wooden floor and oak cabinets, it almost looked like a magical tornado had gone through the room and thrown the dishes and cookware in random places without rhyme or reason. I pulled a frying pan out from under a stack of plates and grumbled something I'd rather not repeat, just in case any foals were listening.

Somepony in the hall across from the living room grunted painfully - a cry which was followed by a muffled crash. Somepony other than the twins asked, "You okay, Strato?"

Well, time to see what a mess they'd made of that room.

Sure enough, Cirrus was pulling on the at the far corner of the bed in mid-flight, whereas Octavia was pushing at the other end. Through all this, a sky blue pegasus stallion with a snow-white, windswept mane crouching between the two solid objects. Upon closer inspection, Strato was literally quivering, probably for fear of being crushed. I wouldn't blame him... nopony wants to be stuck between a bed and a wall.

I pushed against the heavy wooden frame with all my might, and eventually, it budged- but only a little bit. Meanwhile, Octavia threw herself into the bed frame in one of the greatest acts of strength I'd ever seen from a mare. She might have shifted it about four inches.

The fact that Octavia was there finally registered. In fact, I think a lightbulb - or maybe some sort of exclamation point for whatever reason - may have actually appeared over my head. "What are you doing here?"

Octavia gave one final push, and Strato slid himself out from his precarious prison. She turned to me and said, "Is there something wrong with me choosing to help you move in?"

Cirrus was laughing again. Oh Celestia I hated that laugh. It was one of those really annoying things that just got... well, for lack of better wording, really annoying after a few seconds no matter how many times you heard it.

"Will you just shut up already?" I asked, if a bit harshly.

Cirrus sighed and turned away from me, still flapping in place. "And to think I was ever your friend."

Whatever... she'd always come back to me whether she liked it or not. It'd happened so many times in the past that I'd grown used to it. Every day we'd fight about something strange, and later that night, we'd make up as if nothing had ever happened. I was probably lucky that Cirrus even chose to talk to me after some of the stuff I'd put her through.

Then there was her polar opposite of a twin brother. Strato was probably the worst friend a pony could ask for on his own, but as long as Cirrus was there to keep him in line, there wasn't a problem. Sure he could be a bit arrogant, and then there was his insatiable desire for a good mare almost every night, but that didn't matter.

Cirrus flew back out to the living room, closely followed by Strato on hoof. And now I was alone with Octavia. The way she stood there was just so attractive. Now that I got a second look, I could see how I'd been so enamored of her. There was just something about the way she smiled, the way her eyes lit up at the tiniest of things, her perfectly curved flank, the way she was staring at me with a confused look in her eye...

"What?" I asked, shoving the bed frame back against the white wall.

She smirked and replied, "Were you just looking at my flank?"

"No no no no..." I had to defuse this bomb before it got out of hoof. "Of course not. I just really love your, um... cutie mark."

You just failed so badly. Octavia's smirk turned into a playful grin. "Oh sure... So my cutie mark is so amazing that you keep staring at it?"

"You know I didn't mean it that way."

Both of us broke into an uncontrollable fit of giggles. Then Strato charged back into the room. "You guys coming or what?"

"Could we just have a moment here?" I begged. I'd rather stay here and do nothing but talk with Octavia than keep moving furniture. Honestly, we could do this any other day.

"If we get this done now, we can get to Vinyl's early," Strato tempted, dangling a metaphorical bag of oats in front of me. "You know you want to..."

I checked with Octavia, and she flashed me a weak smile and nodded in agreement.

You know, now that I got a second look, it almost seemed like Octavia was just being pulled along for the ride. Maybe she didn't want to go.

Once we made it to the hallway, I pulled her aside and looked straight into her eyes. "Were you going with us tonight?"

"I suppose I could," she mumbled, just barely speaking loud enough for me to hear her.

She actually didn't. That was certainly new- and it meant that I had left her alone to go to Vinyl's party. Wow... I had been so naive back then I almost couldn't believe it.

I steeled my will and asked again. "Were you planning on going with us?" Before she could reply I included one of the worst ideas I'd ever come up with. "If you don't want to, I could find something else to do."

She thought about it for a few seconds and answered, "You went to my after performance celebration that one time after I played in Canterlot. I could go if you want me to."

"Do you actually want to?"

"I suppose so."

That wasn't enough of an answer to base anything off of. "If you don't want to go, just tell me."

"I'll go, alright? It'll be a nice change of pace compared to some of the other things I've done."

Cirrus yelled from the other room. "Get your flanks in here, you two!"

For a split second, it almost seemed like Octavia wanted to move in closer to me... Hold on. The way her eyes nervously shifted around trying to avoid my own spoke whole volumes about how ignorant I'd been. She'd been begging to go farther than our hugging and quick hen-pecks for a while.

No! Keep track of what's already happened. As much as I wanted to kiss her sweet lips again, I had to keep myself restrained. There was no telling where anything would lead if I altered anything.

Before either of us could go out to assist the twins, I leaned in a kissed her cheek lightly. Nothing too serious, but still something. She sincerely smiled for the first time since I'd seen her again, and we both headed out into the living room, ready to take on even the heaviest of furniture, which was good considering the amount of stuff we still had to move.

This Friday Night

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It was totally unfair. For whatever reason, Octavia and Cirrus had gone off to the kitchen to clear up the 'tornado damage', and Strato had started hanging pictures using the special adhesive we'd gotten. That meant that I was on my own.

Now there was just over half an hour left before we had to leave to get over to Vinyl's, and we still hadn't moved half the large furniture in the living room.

I quit trying to push against the base of the couch and bit down on the wooden arm to pull it. Turns out that was an even worse idea, if the sudden pinprick of focused agony that I felt in my upper gum was anything to go by. Splinters in your mouth hurt a lot.

"Think I could get a little help over here?" I asked, hoping Strato could hear me. His lack of response told me that he didn't- and now I could see why.

He slowly reached out with his teeth and pulled at the thin layer of protective covering preventing the material from becoming sticky before its use. Nyeh, I wouldn't like the taste either. After he'd gotten it off, he gently stuck the clay-like stuff onto the picture frame and spit the plastic onto the uncovered carpet.

Once he had the frame hung up, I asked again. "A little help?"

This time, he finally heard me. "Sure," he answered, fluttering over to the other side of the sofa. We both braced ourselves for the force required to push the couch back against the wall.

With a forceful heave, we each threw our bodies into it. For the first time since I'd started pushing, it shifted. In fact, it almost went all the way there on the first shove.Turns out we were pretty strong when we worked together. Too bad we'd never do this again.

We managed to get it perfect - which was an amazing feat by anypony's standards, especially with us - and headed into the kitchen to check on the other two. But they weren't there.

It seemed like Strato was thinking the same thing I was. We both immediately went toward the extra bedroom- maybe a bit too quickly on his part. He literally shoved me into the paneled wall as he passed.

We may have been searching for his sister, but that was no reason to push me that hard. I was starting to hope she was back there, just to save myself from any more unnecessary pain. If Strato was going to be like that, I wasn't going to help him. Besides, there were still a few pans on the counter that needed to be put away.

I shoved the first one into an already packed cupboard just under the end of the sink. Holding it so that I didn't cause myself more pain might have been hard, but I was getting used to working around that little-

No, don't finish that sentence.

Either way, I couldn't possibly have fit anything more in that cupboard. I rummaged through three other ones on that level, only to find them the same way- with no way to get anything in. And to make things even worse, there were even more plates and glasses in the shelves above. I might be able to fit it in between that sauce pot and the strainer though.

"See anything up there, giraffe?"

I probably jumped about five feet in the air. Sure enough, Cirrus had snuck out of the back bedroom and crept up behind me. I took a moment to gather myself and replied, "Never do that again."

Cirrus chuckled and leaned on me. "You'll have a better chance than us. Hay, with that neck, you'll be able to work on the roof from here."

Oh, she did not just go there. I'd taken enough long-neck jokes from Strato over the years, I didn't need them from her.

But I just brushed it off and acted like nothing had even happened. I'd have my chance for revenge later. "I could say the same to you."

"Whatever." She pointed to the last pan on the counter. "See anything up there?"

"Do I eat meat?"

She smirked in that way that meant she was about to make what she thought was a witty remark. "Actually, you did." She winked at me and continued, "I still have the tape."

Oh sweet mother of Luna, she didn't record it. She wouldn't! All thoughts about anything else flew out the window like a brick in those slapstick comedy movies.

Apparently she picked up on my state of panic, because she shoved her hoof in my mouth and explained, "Relax- it was just a joke."

Alright, my reputation was still safe. If that got around - and it would - I'd never be able to show my face in Nightshift or any other club again. I'd be the laughingstock of the entire town. I'd have to go into exile!

"You'd better not have anything like that."

"Trust me, I don't. That's just disgusting."

An awkward silence pervaded the kitchen. Occasionally we would glance off in some random direction, waiting for the other to speak. I certainly wasn't going to start up a conversation after that.

But it was just too awkward. "So... how about that weather?"

Cirrus glanced out the window at the almost clear sky and answered, "I guess it's pretty nice."

Oh come on, bring up something else. Please don't make me do that again. Just saying something generic like that felt like walking into a manticore's den in a tutu... not that I would know what that was like.

Okay, here we go. "Did you know that the capybara is the largest member of the rodent family?"

Cirrus sighed and shook her head in what I could have sworn was embarassment. "You think of some of the strangest things sometimes, you know that?"

"You've got to be used to it by now."

"And I'm sure Octavia loves it too."

Oh, now she did it. That was the last straw. If she wanted a battle of disguised insults, I had an entire arsenal lined up. She might catch on, but that was just a risk I had to take.

"So, miss bunny, the new issue out yet?" I snarked. Yeah, suck on that!

"What are-... Oh hay no. You did not just say what I think you did."

Okay, that might not have been my smartest idea. I really shouldn't have used the PlayColt one.

She glanced up at the clock, and turned back to me. "As much as I'd like to kill you right now, we have to get going." Sure enough, we had less than twenty minutes to get out to Vinyl's. How had time gone by so quickly?

Then I realized we hadn't seen any sign of the other two yet. Strato had gone back there five minutes ago, and only Cirrus had come out. "Hey, where is he?"

Cirrus thought about it for a few seconds and answered, "He should be getting out of the shower pretty-"

Octavia stormed into the kitchen, shortly followed by Strato. He stammered, "Look, I'm sorry about that."

"Still, you couldn't have locked the door?"

Me and Cirrus gave each other matching questioning looks. Then we just chalked it up to Strato being himself.
"Come on," I said, heading toward the door, "You don't want to be late, do you?"

The four of us left together, off to one of the best and worst nights of my past life.


By the time we reached Vinyl's I could already feel the light vibrations that meant she was testing her speakers. Strato literally did what I could only describe as a joy-hop and ran up to the door. I swear, if he was any more excited, he's explode twice... if you could even do that.

The four of us headed downstairs, bouncing the entire way down. The bass was even louder down here. For a second, I thought I was going to lose my hearing. And sure enough, Vinyl was - as usual - behind the mixing table with her headphones.

... But not her glasses. Her trademark shades were nowhere to be seen. And here I was without my camera.

It didn't matter anyway, because the pounding beat fell away. She levitated her headphones off and picked up her glasses from behind the speaker setup. "Hey, guys. You ready for the night of your life?"

"Hay yes," Strato answered for most of us. Octavia just tried her best to stay quiet. Unfortunately, Vinyl noticed her before she could hide.

"Cat got your tongue?"

Octavia steeled herself and finally spoke for the first time since we'd arrived. "Not really. I've just never been to something like this."

Strato gasped, if a bit more dramatically than he had to. "You've never been to a party?" he asked, moving up beside her. "You haven't lived."

"Well," Octavia rebutted, "I've been to parties. They've just been more high-class than this."

Vinyl nodded in agreement. "But you definitely won't forget this one. Just sayin', there's a few new tracks coming out tonight."

A wayward glance to my left showed exactly what I was expecting. Strato was standing there with his mouth open like a foal that got what they wanted at Hearth's Warming Eve. In fact, was that drool right there?

I remembered which ones were the new tracks, but just barely. Looks like it would be as much of a guessing game for me as it would be for everypony else.

Somehow Cirrus had shifted over toward the snack table - or tables - which were more full than the last time I'd seen them. Or maybe it was just the fact that the chips were taking up half of the second one.

Either way, there was still a huge gap between the plate of arranged baked goods and the bucket she'd mixed the glowsticks in. Apparently she noticed where I was looking, because she asked us, "Hey, did any of you see Neon on your way here?"

"Who?" Cirrus, Strato, and I asked at the same time, all of us sounding extremely confused.

"Um..." Vinyl explained, rubbing a hoof against her chin, "unicorn, sunglasses, shirt and tie..."

"Don't think so," I replied, thinking about the few ponies I'd seen on the sidewalk during our short trip over here. Nopony fitting that description came to mind- but in all honesty, I wasn't really paying attention.

Cirrus and Strato agreed, and Vinyl cursed under her breath. "Knew he wasn't going to be back in time."

"What's he doing, anyway?" Strato asked.

"He was supposed to be getting the pizza I ordered."

So that was Neon. I don't think he'd been wearing his shirt and tie though; nah, that was probably just my memory acting up again. It did that sometimes. As much as I tried to fix it, I just couldn't.

Although if I remembered correctly, the pizza wouldn't get here for a while. I don't know what he was doing instead, but something deep down inside me told me I didn't in a million years.

Vinyl nudged me curiously with her hoof. "You alright, buddy?"

Oh Celestia, I'd lost focus again. I'd really have to stop doing that if I wanted to blend in. "Yeah, I'm fine. Why'd you ask?"

"No reason..."

Apparently they were tired of our casual conversation, because Vinyl slipped back over to her mixing table. Cirrus had firmly planted herself by the ping pong table I hadn't noticed before, with... So that's how I'd gotten so drunk. The ten plastic cups arranged into a triangle on either end were already filled with foaming cider. That certainly explained a lot.

As much as I hated to admit it, I was a big fan of cider pong. There was no better party game, so long as you were above the age limit. I still remember that one pony from my class at Madame Legato's music academy. As much as I'd enjoyed being roommates with him, he'd almost gotten me expelled after Professor Tremolo had found him wandering the campus alone- not to mention drunk out of his mind. Thank the sisters I hadn't been the one running that party.

By the time I checked again, two other ponies had arrived. As anypony could have expected, they gravitated straight toward the punchbowl. To make matters worse, the first one slugged his whole glass in one gulp. Reminder: stay as far away from him as possible.

It took what seemed like forever, but there was finally a good-sized crowd present. In fact, I'd had to abandon my spot by the snack table just to make room for some of the rowdier guests. And to think I'd only gotten one donut...

I didn't really need it anyway.

Vinyl finally switched the microphone on and asked the crowd, "So, you ready for this?"

Before any of us could even remotely attempt to reply, she shut off the lights. I stumbled around in the darkness for a second, desparately hoping I wouldn't run into anypony that was bigger than me. Not that I was small, but you know... just taking precautions.

As a solo - obviously female - voice came from the speakers, a pink light started to glow at the far right end of the light setup. Just as I feared, it brightened as the single note grew louder.

The first voice fell away, and a new, male one came on. A sickly green light matched the first one, except this one was shining right on me. Just my luck, eh?

"So this is what it's always like?" Octavia had come up behind me silently- practically scared me out of my skin too.

"Well, I'm pretty sure this is the only time it's going to be this dark," I replied, not realizing what I already knew. Of course it was going to stay this way... Vinyl must have some sort of night vision or a spell or something.

And just to prove how bad my luck today was, I'd totally missed the drumbeats that led up to the first drop. Bass pounded away at my currently unprotected ears. Today just wasn't my day, was it?

Octavia actually snickered at me. "What's so funny?" I asked, trying to get my bearings after I'd adjusted to the bass levels.

"Well," she replied, smiling at me, "I've never been to anything like this before, and I can stand the music better than you."

That was unexpected... even I was planning on her going straight upstairs when the music started. And now she could stand it without any visible force of will?

"I just wasn't ready for that drop, okay?"

"Fine, but don't make me show you up."

That was even more unlike her. She never been that forward with a challenge, or even challenged me like that before. Please don't tell me I caused this.

She quickly glanced off to her left and turned back to me. "I'll be back in a bit, alright?"

Alright, now is a perfect time to panic. With Octavia like that, it would be even harder to resist my urges. This was moving way too fast.

Strato - literally - danced his way over to me, somehow making it about two thirds of the way over on his back two legs. "Come on, dance." He pulled me back toward the even bigger crowd of excited fans eagerly standing just in front of the speakers.

I finally broke out of his grip and argued, "I'm not doing it. I don't care how much you've got on you right now." Just as I suspected, Strato had his bag of bits out, and was ready to toss the entire thing over to me. Some things just never changed.

"Pfleashe?" he begged, the bag in his mouth making him almost impossible to understand. "Fretty pfleashe?"


He put his bits away wherever he kept them, and grabbed me by the head. "Why not? It's a party! You're supposed to enjoy yourself."


A mare from behind me left her conversation and came over to ours. "Did you seriously just ask that?" she inquired, taking a curious step towarde me.

"Yeah," I answered, taking another step away. You know, personal space and everything...

"It's just wrong." By now, she was almost nuzzling my eye with how close she was. As much as I didn't want to do it, I pushed her away. "Besides, Vinyl's got the greatest special effects around."

"Look, I just don't really care what she does."

Both of them gasped so loudly I thought the entire street would hear them. They both stared icredulously at me as if I had just insulted their parents. She spoke first. "How could you say that?"

Strato mimed her as if they'd practiced this a million times over. "Vinyl's effects are amazing."

Then I realized the track had started. It was just a simple electronic beep interspersed with percussive beats, but Strato and the other mare ran up as close as they could and waited anxiously.

They're crazy. Everypony I used to know is crazy. There's just no denying it anymore. I must have been just like them though... That was certainly a scary thought.

My mind drifted off to Octavia's strange behavior. Why had she been acting so different? And why in Celestia's majestic mane was that mare storming toward me with an angry look on her face?

"You have a lot of explaining to do, Strato," she hissed, baring her overly sharp teeth at me. What the buck was happening here? I certainly didn't look like Strato, so how had she confused me for him?

"Look, I think you've got the wrong pony," I hastily replied in a desparate attempt to get her away from me.

And then she trotted right past me, and up to the muddy brown pegasus stallion playing cider pong, leaving his partner to drink the other seven cups. She bit down on his ear and dragged him over toward the door to the closet under the stairs.

Okay, scratch what I last said. This was now the weirdest thing that'd happened tonight.

Now that I looked back at what I'd seen from her, she'd almost acted as if he was Strato. As if she'd seen him instead of the struggling stallion trying to get away from her.

Why was everything so weird tonight? There was no way this could have possibly been right. None of this sounded familiar, and I'd already been through this!

Except that Octavia hadn't been there, and I'd probably have been out of my mind by now from playing too much cider pong. I really needed to focus more than anything.

Before I could even think of a million different out-in-left-field ideas for the sudden interruption, a crowd of excited partygoers were surrounding somepony at the bottom of the stairs. By the time a roughed up pale green unicorn stallion wearing a black shirt and sunglasses crawled out of the swarm, I knew Neon had finally arrived. And from the way he was shuddering, I figured he hadn't been expecting that reaction at all.

Amazingly, none of the pizza had hit the ground. Although there was a slice dangling off his left shoulder... Sadly, I couldn't keep myself from laughing.

"Yeah, laugh it up fuzz-face," he growled, probably assuming I couldn't hear him.

What do you know, I'd forgotten to shave. I really needed to do that sometime soon before I had a full beard. Why was I even thinking about that right now?

Great, I was confusing myself again. And this was the very worst possible time for that.

Now I just needed to keep Strato from losing control. If memory served - and I really hoped it did - he'd get in serious trouble with somepony else tonight. I certainly didn't want that happening.

But the real trouble would be finding him. Over the course of about thirty minutes, the small crowd that had come in at the start had swollen to a massive sea of sweaty, excited bodies.

Although one thing was clear: if I'd have to go in there to get him, I was waiting until he came out. No question asked...


Thank Celestia I hadn't had to go back on my promise. As it so happened, he came out just a few minutes later. Granted, he thought I was a mare, but I'd done the same back in the future.

That just sounded weird every time I said it. I'll admit it would usually be strange to anypony, but for me, it had almost become what could possibly be considered normal over the course of a day. I still had trouble saying it though.

The only problem with finding Strato was the fact that I had to deal with him leaning over and stroking my mane like an idiot. In fact, I think he even sniffed me a few times.

And there he went again. "Will you stop that?"

He stared at me as if I was crazy and slurred, "But it's jusht so fuuuuuuuun."

Oh buck me. I needed to keep him away from any and all alcoholic beverages for the rest of his life... On second thought, I'll just promise to jump off the nearest cliff without a parachute and survive. It would still be easier than that.

Strato switched from playing with my mane to running his hoof down my back left leg. He leaned in close and whispered into my ear. "How 'bout you come back to my plashe tonight?"

How much longer was this going to last? "No way." Even though he wasn't serious, I didn't want the punch muddling his thoughts to convince him I actually agreed.

"No really," Strato explained, moving his hoof farther up my leg. "I'll show you a night you'll never forget."

I swatted his hoof away from a rather private area and glared at him with the fury of a thousand suns. "For the last time, I'm not a mare. Now stop joking." Just thinking about him making a move on me made me want to throw up whatever I'd already eaten, even if I wasn't male in his eyes.

"Awww, come on, Pizz. You're no fun anymore."

Was I no fu-... What did he just say? He knew I was male the whole time?! Oh please please please please don't let that be the case.

Thankfully, the girls came back just before I could attempt to beat him out of his drunken stupor.

Cirrus nudged Octavia toward me with her wing... then went the opposite way. For a second, I almost convinced myself to yell, 'Help me, your brother's trying to hit on me', but that would probably have made me sound crazy. Instead, I let Octavia slide in between us. Unfortunately, she scooted over as close to me as she could possibly get.

She flashed me an unavoidable set of the greatest bedroom eyes I'd ever seen. At that point, I completely lost control. By the time I came back to some sort of a normal state, she was giggling like a schoolfilly.

What had I just done? If I didn't find out now, it'd torture me for the rest of the time I'm stuck back here. But if I asked, I might make myself look like an idiot.

Why'd I have to be myself?

Strato pretty much answered my question before I could even ask it. "Dude, that your first kiss or something?"

For what seemed like the first time in my short life, I felt like somepony had hit me over the head with a pillowcase full of bricks. Sure I'd been surprised before, but this was a whole new level of shock.

I think I might have gone through the rest of the night staring off blankly into space. There were still the hints, like the overly comedic record scratch when Strato embarassed himself, and the point when I had to carry him up the stairs with his terrible breath right in my face.

Even after I got home, only one thought ran through my mind: We'd just kissed... a good month before we were supposed to.

A Day of Surprises: Part 1

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I would have thanked Celestia for not waking up with a headache if the rest of my body wasn't sore. As I stretched my legs out, a strange pinching sensation made itself known around the middle of my back, and I curled up into a ball again.

Somewhat futilely, I tried to snuggle under the top blanket on my bed. If I couldn't get up right away, I was going to try to sleep more.

About five minutes later, I flopped over toward the edge of the bed and sighed heavily. As tired as I was, it seemed like I couldn't sleep it off this morning. That probably wouldn't be good. Still, if I couldn't sleep, then I wasn't going to try to force myself into it.

I pushed myself out of bed and stumbled onto my legs. If I had to start the day, I was going to try to focus as much as I possibly could.

After a few more various stretches, I headed out into the hallway. My mood instantly picked up when I saw that the plain, white walls were still looking clean, not to mention the lack of holes. That had been an interesting experience that one time when Strato had one too many drinks in my apartment- especially learning how to fix the damage he'd caused.

By the time I was almost to the living room, I could hear snoring.

Oh please don't tell me this is happening...

When I peeked around the corner, my fears were confirmed. Strato had been laid out on my couch, and was still fast asleep. With his legs splayed out in the air, he almost looked like a puppy.

But I knew better. That 'puppy' had a mean buck, and a terrible attitude in the morning. At least, I thought he did. Everything had been appearing differently than I remembered it, so who knew what he would be like...

Either way, I wasn't going to take the risk. I'd rather be quiet than face off with him if he was going to react the same way he usually would.

.Then I realized how dry my mouth was. I turned back down the hallway and headed straight for the bathroom, if just to get some water without having to cross the living room.

I turned on the faucet and gulped down as much of the cold water as I could, straight from the tap. When I finished and looked up, something seemed off; I just couldn't put my hoof on it. My face just looked a little larger than usual today.

I must have still been too tired to think straight. Besides, it was still early in the morning anyway. The sunlight shining straight through the window proved that. It couldn't have been later than nine in the morning.

Why was I up this early? I had never been an early riser, and certainly not as of late back in the future. Not to mention I had just stayed up pretty late last night.

When I looked back in the mirror, I realized what looked strange. Something - or somepony - had cut the front of my mane short.

My usual wavy hair was now cut off at a flat line about an inch above my eyes. I wasn't really surprised, but at the same time, I hadn't expected it. But why hadn't I been expecting it?

The sound of smacking lips from outside the doorway made me tense up faster than anything else had. Strato could never have woken up that quietly in his life, or so I thought. When he trotted around the corner, he stared at me with his bleary, pink eyes. After a moment, he muttered, "Nope, must be the headache."

I backed away as he came into the bathroom, shut the light off, and checked himself in the mirror. From what I could see, he had managed to avoid any pranks that showed external signs. I couldn't help but be jealous.

"I'll just slip by here," I whispered as I passed him, trying not to touch him at all. I did remember how he reacted to being touched while he was recovering from a party, and it definitely wasn't pretty.

Somehow, I managed to make it to the door without bumping him at all. Though it was just my luck that he finally noticed I was real when I started walking away.

"Hey, Pizz... how much did I drink last night?", Strato groaned, slumping against the sink.

To be honest, I hadn't paid much attention to that. I think I'd been more focused on figuring out how to avoid drinking at all costs. Then again, he had probably been the main source of the punch disappearance.

"I honestly don't know," I answered, keeping my voice as low as possible. If he wasn't being a complete jerk, I wasn't going to push his limits.

"Ugh... it feels like I got hit by a train..." he moaned, bringing a hoof to his forehead. "Why didn't you stop me?"

"Well," I started, before I realized that I didn't really have an answer, "I... I guess I just wasn't paying attention."

What a great answer that was.

"Hey, do you mind if I use your bed? There's too much light out there."

"You sure you don't want something to eat first? That should help..."

Strato considered my answer for a few seconds, and shrugged. "I guess. If it can get rid of this thing..."

Well, it looked like I'd be adding cooking breakfast to my list of things to do this morning. While I was usually hungry this early, all I really needed was an oatmeal bar and I was good until lunch. If I remembered Strato's eating habits, I'd have to make a full three-course meal for him.

Still, I couldn't stand to see him feeling like this and not attempt to help. Even though it was his own fault, I could see my first hangover in his reaction. As much as I wanted to see Strato learn a lesson about having too much, he didn't deserve to suffer all day.

While he went back to my bedroom, I turned around and headed into the living room. Blinding sun hit my eyes as I entered, making me realize just how terrible it must have been for him to wake up out here. In fact, I almost ran into the wall on the other side because I couldn't see where I was going.

For being a small window, that thing let in a lot of light. I added a mental note not to sleep anywhere near it and made my way into the kitchen.

If I knew how Cirrus would organize things, the pans would be in the bottom shelf next to the sink. Then the glasses would be in the one above that. But then I needed to find the ingredients. I honestly had no clue where she'd have put them.

Still, as long as I had the right cookware, I wasn't in that much trouble.

I threw open the cupboard and found a somewhat large griddle. After setting that on the stovetop, I went back to the cupboard that should have had glasses in it.

Imagine my surprise when I found stacks of plates, and nothing else to be seen. For whatever reason, I couldn't think of where they could possibly be off the top of my head.

I vaulted my front legs up onto the counter and nudged the next cabinet open. When the glasses and various other flatware appeared, I gave a sigh of relief. Now I just had to find the rest of the ingredients.

With a little searching - and opening another seven cabinets - I managed to find the pancake mix. About two cabinets in, I'd found the eggs, and the milk had been in the icebox. I flipped each one onto the counter, except the eggs of course, and pulled out a bowl from the first cabinet.

In less than a minute, I had a thick batter ready. By the time I was done adding some extra sugar for taste, the griddle had heated up to the perfect temperature.

The batter hissed and bubbled as I poured it onto the hot surface. Despite the shaky grip I had holding the bowl in my mouth, I'd managed to pour a relatively professional looking pancake.

Now I only had to make it edible.

When the bubbles stopped surfacing, I grabbed a spatula from the second cupboard and flipped it. Though it was slightly burnt on the edges, the rest of it was almost a perfect golden-brown.

The next four or five passed like nothing, all coming out in a similar way, though I could have sworn one of them was only half-done. In no time, I had at least enough food to keep Strato from starving all day.

Still, if I knew him as well as I thought I did, he'd want more than that. In fact, he'd probably want nine or ten. And in addition to that, I actually felt like eating more than a snack this morning, so that was about another three.

I guess I should have mixed more batter than I did. While it had been almost to the top of the bowl, it was over half-empty.

Oh well- if I had to, I could just eat what I usually did. I'd grown used to it after a while.

I picked up the bowl again, and tried to pour another one onto the griddle before the batter had a chance to settle too much. Unfortunately, as I poured it, some caught the edge of my muzzle. Before I could set the bowl down, some of it dribbled inside my nose.

I had to resist dropping it right away, and managed to set it down safely before I finally sneezed.

Apparently I bumped the handle of the griddle when I did, because the smell of something burning quickly filled the air of the kitchen. I shifted it over, only to find that some of the batter I'd just poured had fallen onto the heated surface.

And I had been doing so well too...

But I couldn't let that hold me back. I just had to power through it and finish cooking. Strato was counting on me for a good breakfast, and I wasn't going to fail him.


"Hey, you alright?"

A gentle shake jerked me out of my sleep, and I slowly sat up in my chair. "Habba... I swear I wasn't asleep, Miss (Name)!"

Strato gave me a confused look and leaned back to his side of the table. "Um... whatever you say," he mumbled, averting his gaze away from me. He turned back to me and said, "Anyway, those pancakes were great."

I suppose I shouldn't have been, but I was shocked when I looked at the empty plate and glass on his side of the table. I could have sworn there had been a full stack of about eleven pancakes there before.

When I looked back up, I could see the slight bulge in his midsection. I couldn't even deny it anymore; Strato was a full-grown earth pony stallion or something. I'd never seen a pegasus pack that much away and still be able to move normally.

"You seriously ate all of them?"

He blushed a little, but answered, "Well, I was hungry! You can't blame me."

And I'd only gotten halfway through my first pancake. I could probably just have my normal breakfast anyway. "It's fine. How much longer do you think you'll need to stay?"

"I don't know. But I think Cirrus might have left you a note," Strato replied, gesturing to the counter by the icebox. "At least, I think it's for you..."

Was there actually a note there? From my spot at the table, I thought I could see a piece of paper laying on the counter. I must have missed it somehow.

Before I could even think of getting up, Strato had pushed his chair back, practically jumped over to where the note was, and grabbed it. By the time I'd started to get up, he'd already sat back down and was offering it to me.

I grabbed the note from his outstretched hoof and brought it over to my side of the table. It was definitely for me, if the first line was anything to go by.

Pizzicato, I know this probably seems really weird. If Strato isn't there when you read

this, just check to see if his medicine is still on the table. If it is, make sure you tell me.

If he's still there, please don't let him try to come back on his own. Knowing how he

wakes up after those parties, he'll probably be lost in a few minutes. I'll be there to help

him get home around noon.

And whatever you do, don't bring up anything that he did at Vinyl's. I don't think he wants

to remember what happened toward the end.

- Cirrus

The note only brought up more questions. Considering I'd been out of my mind for what seemed like the last third of the party, I actually wanted to know what had happened during that one scenario that I thought Strato had started. And what medicine was she talking about?

I was still contemplating everything when Strato pulled the note from my hooves. He read it over quickly and gave what I could only describe as a low growl. "Ugh, she always does this..." he hissed, crumpling the paper up and throwing it in the general direction of the wastebasket by the doorway.

"What?" I asked, trying to make my tone as nice as possible.

He must have either ignored me, or hadn't thought about how I said it, because his response came through clenched teeth. "She never trusts me to do anything. Every time, it's," he brought his hooves up to his face and tried to do a female impression, "do this for him. Help him remember this. He can't do anything on his own!"

The last bit came out in his usual, angry tone that I thought I'd have gotten earlier today. "It's impossible to live with her!"

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Sure, Cirrus wasn't the best friend a pony could have - or the nicest for that matter - but I never thought she'd have been that way to her own brother. What had I been missing this whole time?

"Look, I'm sure everything will be fine. Just-"

"No! I've even tried telling her I don't need help, but she never believes me."

If I didn't get him calm really soon, something bad was bound to happen. Things never went right when he was like this. But what could I say to him that would get his mind off the subject?

"How'd you like to play a game?"

Oh wow. Please tell me that didn't just come out of my mouth. Now he'd think I was just as bad as Cirrus, and I was actually here for him to yell at.

Strato gave a heavy sigh, and I tensed faster than I did earlier this morning. If he was going to injure me, I didn't want to be unprepared.

"Fine," he responded, relaxing onto the table. "What were you thinking about?"

So... he wasn't still angry? That was more surprising than anything that had happened at the party last night, and that was certainly saying something.

"I think I have something around here. You like Cloudgrid?"

His annoyed gaze told me that I might have hit a sensitive spot. "Was it something I said?"

He replied, "Is it just because I'm a pegasus?"

That was what he thought I meant? I must have worded it wrong or something. But I'd been silent for way too long; he'd assume I actually meant that.

"I just figured it was easy."

His tone switched from accusing to downright angry in seconds. "So now I can't handle hard games now?"

Come on, think! There has to be something you could say that can't be taken the wrong way. Just think already! Thought raced through my mind, blending into various sentences that I immediately threw out. If he got worse, he might physically hurt me. Then it hit me. "It's just easy to set-up and it doesn't take very long to play."

"Hmm..." Strato seemed to consider my answer for a moment, and when he spoke again, he was much more calm than before, and maybe even a bit uneasy. "I guess I kind of like it. It's not my favorite though."

"I do have some other games we could play, if you want to try those." If he didn't want to play that, I still had one or two more. Granted, most of them were easy, but Cloudgrid was the easiest to set up and play in a short amount of time.

"What else do you have?" Though I could see through his stoic expression, I could tell something was wrong. But there was no reason to push the envelope when I had avoided the painful outcome twice in one day.

"I think I have Block-In and Jango, but that's it."

His expression turned into one of perplexed wonder. "Why do you have Jango? I thought that was a unicorn game."

And yet another friend of mine had noticed that. Now he wouldn't stop bothering me until I told him the truth.

"That's a crazy story actually. I might tell you later." And it really was a long story. Of course, when I figured out that my mother was disappointed with the race I was, I never really got over it. I still didn't think she liked me, even after she put up with me for that many years.

"You sure about that?"

Random thoughts of one encounter I'd struggled through surfaced in my mind before I could suppress them. I had to get off this topic before anything else came to mind. Otherwise, I might reveal what I never wanted anybody else to know.

"Look, I really don't want to talk about it right now." For whatever reason, I'd added a sharp edge to my voice that I had never used before.

Strato shrunk away from me and backed toward the exit before assuring me, "Fine, let's just go get that game then. Where is it?"

If I put it in the closet I thought I did, he would never be able to find it. In fact, I wasn't even sure which closet I put it in. This might take longer than I thought to find, much less play.

But we couldn't just sit around and do nothing for the next two or so hours. With the radio out of commission - and my entertainment value at an all time low - it seemed like that was all we had left to do. Despite the words of concern going through my mind, I forced them down and led him back to the closet where I thought I'd stored them from yesterday.

As it turned out, I had guessed right. The three board games I'd managed to bring were stacked on top of each other under a few sheets and things in the linen closet.

Though now that I thought about it, it seemed weird that they'd be there. Why had I put them under things in a place that didn't even seem to make sense?

My contemplation was broken as Strato nudged his way past me and grabbed the Cloudgrid box. For a second, I wasn't sure why he had grabbed that instead of Block-In, but then again, Strato had never really done many things that made sense.

When we got back to the kitchen table, I started to pick up the dishes that were left over while Strato set up Cloudgrid up wherever he could find open space. When I turned back to the table after placing the last glass in the sink, he was already sitting there and staring at me like I'd taken hours to finish.

When I finally sat down, I placed all five pieces onto the six by six board. And as if he had planned it, I saw a pad of paper and a pen hanging from the upright part of the game when I looked back up.

"What are you planning?"

Strato almost looked confused for a second before replying, "This is how we normally play."

Needless to say, I was worried. I hadn't played this game in a long time, and I didn't really remember any of the special rules that might have required paper and pens. In fact, I didn't think there were any. "Okay then... you start."

Strato bent over and stared intently at his upright board. To my surprise, he moved his face closer and farther from the board, and squinted every once in a while as if he was trying to focus. He eventually added a sideways direction to his strange 'dance', but it still looked weird from my perspective.

"Sky five, altitude three."

I stopped myself in mid-sentence, just before I was about to tell him he'd missed all of my pieces. If he'd said an altitude, then I would probably have to move some of my pieces up. If there was one thing I knew, Strato didn't like cheating any more than being woken up after partying.

Sure enough, when I looked at my board, I saw that I'd placed all of them on the first level. And to make matters worse, Strato had guessed the altitude two 'blocks' about my seagull.

I made a quick mental note to write down some random altitudes on the pad - which is probably what I was supposed to do in the first place - and tried to play off the nervousness that was running through my mind.

"Nope," I answered, shaking my head for added effect. "Good guess though."

Strato's smile fell almost immediately, leading me to think I'd done something wrong. But what could I have said? It wasn't like it was that bad to miss on the first guess.

It must have been my turn then, because Strato stared at me with a combined look of curiosity and wary distrust. After quickly scanning over my board, I picked a spot and guessed, "Cloud two... altitude one."

I could have sworn that my later words came out as a high-pitched squeak, but he seemed know what I meant. "Nope. Cloud six, altitude two."

When I glanced down to the sheet, I tensed up. One of my pieces was on that spot, and he'd hit it on a random guess. "Yup, you got my bumblebee," I told him, taking it off the board and setting it aside.

I couldn't help but notice the quirky little victory dance he did, waving his hooves from side to side along with the rest of his body. "Are you done yet?" I added on, winking in his general direction, to which he blushed to the point where I thought his coat was bright red, at least around his face.

I think we went on like that, guessing random spots for what felt like about half an hour before he hit another one of my pieces. This time, it had been my cumulus. And for the second time that game, his expression fell from a hopeful smile to a depressed half-frown.

"Okay... sky three, altitude..." What was I going to go with? I'd practically ruled out altitude two over most of my guesses, but that still left me with two other choices. "... three."

Strato's angry look definitely wasn't what I wanted to see. With a shake of his head and a dejected sigh, he picked up his weather pony and took it off the board. "I... nice game," he almost whispered, turning away from me.

So I won? I hadn't even thought I was anywhere close. Then again, there was probably some sort of special rule for that kind of thing. "Want to play again?" I genuinely asked, extending a hoof to show Strato that I wasn't just trying to rub it in.

I took his pieces being put back on the board as a sign that he wanted to. I did the same, and made sure to spread out my pieces evenly over the different altitudes this time. Maybe my luck would hold out for once.

That notion vanished with Strato's first guess. "Cloud two, altitude one."

When I looked down, it just happened to be the exact location of that little pony-shaped figurine that symbolized my defeat. "And you just got my weather pony..."

"Yes!" Strato exclaimed, slipping back into his victory dance. "I knew I could still do it."

How had... no. I wasn't even going to bother trying to figure out how he did that. If I did, there was the possibility I that I would drive myself insane- and that could never end well.

"Best two out of three?"

Since the clock showed that it was only nine-thirty, we still had a lot of time to wait. Unless I wanted to listen to static, I'd be forced to try to face off against his 'skills'.

Meh, I liked this game. So what if it was specifically made for fillies and colts ages ten and up. And since Strato enjoyed it too, it seemed like the most efficient way to pass time anyway.

Of course, as usual, Strato's first guess in the next game found that little pony-shaped figure that I'd grown to hate over the course of the last few rounds. If this was going to be the way the next two and a half hours passed, this would be boring for me.


Just as I predicted, I'd lost almost every game since that first one. The strange thing was that laughing about it made me feel better up until the last five rounds. Having him guess the right location of the piece that caused me to lose by the first or second turn really wore down my spirits.

The good news: we still had Block-In. Though it was somewhat harder than either of us wanted, it provided a real challenge- and a challenge was really what we needed to take our minds off the pure, concentrated boredom that filled the air.

But just as we had all the short, rectangular blocks out, there was a knock on the door. And since there wasn't much that it could have meant, that probably meant that Cirrus was here early.

I wasn't even close. I don't know why I was nervous to see Octavia standing outside the door, but for some reason, I was flat-out surprised. "So... why are you here?"

Wow, way to be almost as blunt as a hammer. Nice going...

Though I thought my words were a bit accusing, Octavia seemed to move on as if I'd just been talking normally. "I thought we had a date set up for later tonight. I just wanted to make sure you remembered."

Strato poked his head around the corner and started, "So, Pizz... are you-" I was pretty sure he had been expecting Cirrus too. "Wait, what are you doing here?"

And with that remark, I was sure Octavia would have wanted to leave right then and there. After all, two ponies - and stallions nonetheless - had just rudely asked her what she was doing visiting her coltfriend. If that wasn't the single worst thing we could have done, I didn't know what was.

"Sorry about that," I mumbled, trying to find the right words to say what I really meant. "So you mentioned something about a date?"

When Octavia sighed, I knew something was up. "If you want, I could always reschedule it." Her slight frown was enough to tell me that I should do something quickly.

"No, you-"

Just then, Strato barged past me and took over where he'd cut me off, or so I thought. "You can stay! I'm sure neither of us mind."

I nudged him out of the way - slightly harder than I needed to - and took over before he screwed anything up. "Like he said," I began, shooting Strato an accusing glance, "I'm sure neither of us mind. Would you like me to get the radio out or something?"

Strato shot me a pleading look, and I sent one back that hopefully told him no. I had to hope he got the message, because everything could go straight into a hole if he didn't. It was just one of those drawbacks of dealing with a pony that didn't know when to keep quiet.

"That would be nice," Octavia admitted, trotting through the doorway as I stepped aside. She took another uncertain look at Strato and asked, "You were the one that was flirting with Vinyl last night, weren't you?"

When Strato's face turned a shade of red I didn't think it could, I started to panic. That must have been what Cirrus had mentioned in her note. And if she was right - which she usually was - Strato would get really emotional for a really long time.


Amazingly, that was all he said. Still, that one word seemed to create more guilt in me than anything else he could have said.

"What's wrong?" Octavia asked, shying toward Strato as he awkwardly shifted from one hoof to the other. She flashed me a concerned look, and I shook my head.

"Don't try it," I mouthed.

As she backed away, I took her place by his side. "Look, let's just forget about that and do something else." It was the best offer I could give him, especially in these circumstances. "I can break out that radio, and we can just relax for a while."

"Could we listen to dubtrot?"

And there was the Strato I always knew. "Sure."

Together, the three of us went into the kitchen and cleared off the table for something to do.

By the time I brought the radio out, it didn't take long to find the signature signs of wobble bass. And just to torment me, Octavia offered, "Would any of you like to try Buck Euchre?"

Well, this was going to get interesting...