The sniffling catches her off-guard.
Crying isn’t exactly unheard of around the school, or any school, really. With these many students, young and old, with hormones flying everywhere—Starlight knows it’s bound to happen sooner or later.
Children are emotional, they are still growing and developing and learning, and at the School of Friendship, these children are learning to open up to complete strangers and hopefully form bonds that would last for a lifetime. So crying isn’t exactly out of the left field.
But it’s by the stairs, and the teacher in Starlight almost breaks into a gallop at the first hint of a breathy wail until—
There’s another voice, too. Much deeper and calmer, with a certain familiar, rumbly timbre that acts as a balm to her rushing pulse. She pauses by the door, hoof pressed to the sleek, painted wood, left open by just a crack, as the sound of the vice-headmare’s magic begins to echo.
Brow furrowed, Starlight pushes a little and peeks through the door.
Sure enough, there he is, sitting on the classroom’s dais, distracted from his official vice-headmare duties, juggling a bunch of classroom miscellanea in his magic. The sight is familiar to her, and while part of her feels like a nagging, exhausted wife because he’s supposed to be in his office right now—it’s not even lunchtime yet, what the hay Sunburst—there’s still a part of her that smiles fondly at him, at the broadness of his shoulders, the wild mess of his mane, and the way the tiny student next to him seems to soak up the magic around her.
She’s the youngest student in Apple Bloom’s class. A little hippogriff named Eventide, clocking in at a feeble eleven years old. Starlight swears they get smaller and younger every year, and she wonders if this is how her father felt, sending her off to school with nothing but her school bag and the ribbons in her hair.
With her mother long gone and her father busy with work, she learned at a young age to look after herself. And she hadn’t been entirely alone, living in such a small town meant that there was always a neighbor watching over the kids. She had always been independent, and when she moved out, being on her own hadn’t even fazed her. This was her normal. Part of equestrian culture, really.
Starlight bites her lip and cracks the door open just a bit more. But Eventide…Eventide wasn’t even born here. Heck, Starlight had been there when she’d stepped out of the train, holding the sign for the new students, because according to Ocellus and Trixie, she had an approachable face.
To be so young and thrust into the unknown…yeah, she could see how it’d be jarring—being away from her family at such a young, fragile age, it must be terrifying. And the thought of sending her own foal halfway across the world, before she even hit puberty was just—
Starlight lets out a breath, rubs her throat, blinking slowly.
(She doesn’t…she doesn’t have kids. She’s never even considered it.)
He says something to the tiny little hippogriff girl, she sniffles and nods, wringing her little claws in her lap. She’s so small, in her avian form, and it strikes a chord in Starlight. Sunburst says something else, makes a paper plane twirl around her, and she giggles, still teary-eyed, and nods, scrubbing her big brown eyes.
There’s something about watching him interact with her, something about her brainy, slouching friend-turned-husband that is so uncharacteristically open and soft, that it contradicts what her younger self had thought Sunburst would be like as an adult, that it makes her aware of the tiny crack in heart, and the door creaks as she steps in.
One of his ears turns towards her first, followed by his head over his shoulder. Busted.
“W-What?” Eventide squeaks, tiny shoulders bunching up. “Wh-Who is it?”
Starlight slips through the double doors and Sunburst shakes his head. “Ah, it’s just the Principal. Don’t worry, she’s cool.”
Eventide blinks and, oh…Starlight bites her lip as she walks over—her face is so pink, the feathers on her face still so freshly tear-stained, and it’s got to be the dedicated educator in her that wants to protect this little one. It has to be.
“Principal Starlight,” she says, straightening as Starlight approaches. “I…huh…”
Starlight bumps her chest gently against Sunburst’s back. He leans into her, head pressed to her neck, and she tries not to let it get to her, how easily they meld together—such a team, the two of them. A team, but Sunburst’s way better at comforting teary-eyed little creatures than she ever was. His eyes got this soft, warm-eyed look on his face that makes the tiny crack in her heart burn.
“I hope you two are behaving in here,” Starlight says. Grappling onto some sort of normalcy, trying not to focus on the way Sunburst’s magic still envelopes the room, still hums with warmth and sparkles into the space between Eventide’s breaths, so that she might forget to cry. “Professor Sunburst isn’t getting you into any trouble, is he?”
“Hey,” Sunburst huffs but it lacks any bite. “You’re the troublemaker in here, don’t feed her lies.”
She tugs at his hair, just lightly. Lovingly, really. He sighs again and drops the enchantment, the classroom going back to its ordinary gloom. “See what I mean? Friends stick to you like glue. It’s not so lonely when you’ve got someone around all the time.”
That’s…deceptively sweet. A rush of affection blindsight’s her, and Starlight stops tugging his hair out of surprise.
Tiny little Eventide nods again, pressing her claws into her lap. She looks up then, at Starlight, big brown eyes wide and longing, and who is she to deny her comfort? Starlight may not understand her displacement, might never understand the feeling of being so far away from home, in a world so alien, like her husband might. But loneliness—the fear of abandonment—well…it’s something she knows a little too well, like the shape of her cutie mark.
“I’m your friend, you can’t get rid of me that easily,” Starlight says. It’s an age-old answer, the same excuse she’d given for years, when explaining what, exactly, Sunburst was to her was too difficult. “He’s my best friend! Do you have a best friend, Eve?”
She nods, suddenly animated. “Coral!”
“Friends are important, but best friends are just a little more special.”
“Mmm. Coral lives in Seaquestria, though.”
“That’s okay, friends will always be your friends no matter the distance, besides you can have more than one best friend.”
This is, apparently, groundbreaking. The tiny little hippogriff presses her claws to her beak to cover her shock. “You can!?”
Sunburst shifts, huffing out a laugh. He drags himself to his feet, using Starlight as an anchor, and shakes his cape, despite it being as pristine as always. She thinks perhaps they’ve taken the friendship bond a bit too far—friends at first, then strangers, back to friends again, then partners, now spouses—but she still revels in the total trust he gives her. It fills her with a satisfying sense of purpose, one she hasn’t really felt since the days of rampant disharmony.
“Sure,” he says, stepping back to flank her slightly. It’s funny, for a pony so shy, he seems to have no problem literally hovering over her and pressing his shoulder against hers. “You can have as many friends as you want. Be like Principal Starlight and surround yourself with friends.”
Eventide looks down. “But…that’s scary. Everyone is so scary. And what if they don’t like me?”
“Hey now,” Sunburst says, very gently. Even leans away from Starlight and offers out his hoof to the young hippogriff. “Everyone’s scared. It’s scary. I’m scared all the time.”
Big, glassy brown eyes peer up at him. “Y-You are? But Professor, you know everything!”
It’s strange, watching it all go down. Strange, because while Starlight is quite intimately acquainted with this tender, sensitive side of her husband, most are not privy to it. He’s kind, he’s polite and friendly, but he could be quiet in a way that could come across as uncaring and somewhat emotionally unattached, especially when he hides away behind his books and knowledge. She, of course, knows this is all a front, mostly—deep down Sunburst cares a lot about others and has the biggest heart, he likes to be the little spoon, he collects small vintage toys because he thinks they’re adorable and he takes medication for his anxiety.
But it’s not a side he exposes to most. Certainly not to strangers. And sure, Eventide is one of their students, but Sunburst only popped into Apple Bloom’s class on occasion, to drop off some papers to the young teacher or remind her of a meeting later in the day—never long enough to get to know the little hippogriff.
It sort of melts her heart. Just a little. Just enough to thaw the pit in her chest she hadn’t been aware of, and Starlight presses her hoof to her heart as he crouches down to Eventide’s level.
“I’m smart, but I certainly don’t know everything. And I didn’t get to where I am by myself, you know. Principal Starlight helped me realize how important friendship is, it’s easier to be brave when you have your friends by your side.”
Eventide nods, her beak pressed into a tight line.
Sunburst tousles her feathers and she squawks. “C’mon, we’ll walk you back to the dorms. Nobody can pick on you with Principal Starlight around. She’s very scary.”
Eventide giggles and Starlight drops her hoof, stomping the ground in embarrassment. “Sunburst!”
She’s still mulling it over while Sunburst chops potatoes for dinner.
The steady thump of the kitchen knife hitting the cutting board helps punctuate her thoughts. A steady thud, thud, thud as Starlight melts onto the kitchen table, head propped up on her hooves, watching the rhythmic rise and fall of the utensil wrapped in his magic aura as he works. If she closes her eyes, she might be able to fall asleep, lulled into a sense of domestic security, warm and safe.
It’s been so quiet in the castle. It makes her horn itch.
Thud. “You’re good with kids, you know.”
He pauses. She watches, through heavy dark lashes, as he shrugs. His tail swishing behind him and then says, “If you say so.”
“You are.” Thud-thud. The chopped potatoes go plopping into the metal pot. “It’s cute, you know. Reminds me of the time you used to look after Flurry Heart.”
“I like them just fine.”
She sighs. Leans back into the old, rickety kitchen chair and stretches her legs out in front of her. She remembers when she first sat there, her first breakfast as a reformed pony, they didn’t creak like this when she lived here with Twilight. The memory makes her smile. It does nothing to lessen the yearning tugging at her gut. “You wouldn’t have sat there and used your magic if you didn’t like kids.”
Sunburst picks another potato and exchanges the knife for a peeler to work with. “She was crying, Starlight.”
“You used to cheer me up with magic when we were kids.”
Hook, line, and sinker. He turns to look at her, his expression arranged into careful indifference. Once upon a time, Starlight might have been fooled, might have cried and shouted and pointed and accused him of being careless and crass and indifferent—but she knows him too well. Knows him inside out, knows him long enough to realize that the look he’s flashing her is hiding something.
The potato floats carelessly behind him. “That’s not fair, you used to beg me for magic tricks when we were kids.”
She smiles, all sugar and spice and everything nice. “Because you would get all pouty if nobody was watching.”
“Careful,” he starts, waggling the peeler at her with as much ill-intent as a happy puppy. “Might take that ring back.”
Over her dead body. “It’s not a bad thing, you know,” Starlight says, carefully, tone weighed as Sunburst leans back over the counter and begins peeling into the trash can. “I think it’s cute.”
His beard does nothing to hide his blush. “Yeah, right.”
“You’re cute!” She lays it on thick. Getting Sunburst to blush is her guilty pleasure. He is cute, most of the time, with his dimples and half-smiles and the picture he keeps of her inside his brooch that he thinks she knows nothing about, but he’s a darling when he’s burning bright. The pink compliments his hair. Softens the look of crazy-sorcerer that he’s got going on.
Sunburst snorts. “Look in the mirror and then report back. I’m not the cute one here.”
“I think you’re cute.”
“You are biased and I love you for it.”
He’s stalling and she knows it, but it makes her smile. Why was he avoiding her question if he’s not worried about the answer?
She thinks she understands, in a way, and she stands up to make her way to the sink to wash her hooves. Maybe because they danced around their feelings for years, because Sunburst had thought she would never love him and the ghosts of her mistakes were always clamoring in the back of her mind. Perhaps because marriage had been such a big, scary thing for her, and he’d known it, and maybe he worries his luck had run out and she wouldn’t want kids—
Starlight turns the faucet off and shakes her hooves dry. Maybe he’s worried about something else entirely.
“…I like kids, you know,” she starts, gently. He seems unmoved as he flicks potato skin into the trash, he just hums in response. “I guess I have never given it much thought before, we were so busy with expanding the school, training the new teachers and stuff, but—”
“You were a counselor, a teacher and now the principal, you kind of have to like kids. Otherwise, you’d be miserable at your job.”
She bumps her side gently to his. “A love for knowledge can triumph anything.”
“I should know, my fellow nerd.”
He thinks he’s so good at playing it cool. Frustrating, pompous geek; for all his smarts he hasn’t fooled her in years. She knows what to look for now. The way his neck lights up in color underneath his fur, the way his ears twitch, and when he starts fiddling with his glasses. And for a frown, much like the one he’s wearing now.
He’ll peel himself into a frenzy if she lets him. The anxiety will tear him apart and he’ll peel every vegetable and fruit in the castle and they’ll be eating skinless veggies for days. She reaches out, gingerly, and rests her hoof on his withers, feeling the way his muscles flex and move as he fidgets, and the vegetable he’s peeling is skin free but he’s still working on it.
His lips are sort of pressed together too tight for her to tease him about it. She hates it when the lines on his face are too sharp.
“Hey,” she mumbles. “Sunburst.”
“Do you…have you…ever thought about having kids?”
He blushes so brilliantly that it really honors his name. “What.”
Oh no, now she’s blushing too. The years hadn’t been able to tame her wildfire courage into something more tactful, there could have been a gentler way to break the news to him, dang it.
“I mean—!” She blurts, then blushes harder, then takes a deep breath and schools her features. “It’s okay if you have. Because I haven’t really given it much thought, but, I mean, we’re married and that’s…that’s a thing couples talk about, right? We should talk about things.”
He exhales. “You talk too much.”
“And you don’t talk enough!” She scolds. “Sunburst, please.”
He shrugs and tried to valiantly hide behind his walls, walls that haven’t worked since he finally worked up the nerve to kiss her, years ago. “…I’ve thought about it.”
Humming vaguely, he fills the pot with the shredded remains of the potato. “Yeah.” There’s a long pause, and she lets him collect his thoughts, rubbing a warm hoof over the soft fabric of his cape. “I just…didn’t want to pressure you.”
He finally looks at her, his eyes warm and shy. “At first, I…I didn’t think you’d ever agree to marry me, and then you did, and I was…you know,” he gestures weakly with the peeler, “just, really happy, you know?”
“Yeah,” she says, her smile small and loving.
“And it’s great. I love being married to you. I wouldn’t marry anybody else. It was something I never thought I would have, but…”
Her hoof slides down his shoulder and stops there. He’s warm, he has always been warm.
“…I don’t know,” he sighs, shaking his head. “I didn’t think I’d ever get married, that I would find someone that would look past my body...what I have, or more like, what I don't have that most stallions do...and then I did, so I didn’t want to…press my luck, I guess? And there was never any worry about accidentally getting pregnant, so we never really talked about it. I just sort of assumed you didn’t want kids, you are so independent, jumping into trouble and getting others out of trouble. I didn’t think you would want a baby to tie you down.”
She blinks at him. He stares back, expression open. His walls long gone, torn down, brick by heart-achingly honest brick.
“And I’m happy,” he continues, and it’s funny because he’s never been particularly eloquent, but he’s trying, just for her sake. Except that it’s not funny at all, and Starlight fights the urge to take his face in her hooves and kiss him until the worried frown on his face is smoothed out. “I’m really happy, Starlight.”
“But…you could be happier?”
Sunburst bites his lip. “I wouldn’t…” he sighs and drops the peeler on the counter, his horn dimming. “…you already make me happy.”
He’s told her at least three times in the past five minutes. He’s a nervous wreck. Starlight nods encouragingly.
“I love you,” he says, and she’s blushing more than he is. “And I would only want a family if you wanted it too. Plus, it’s…a long process, what if you end up regretting it? And, huh, it depends on how you feel, b-because there are sperm donors and stuff—”
Her brows knit together. “It’d be me?”
“Yeah, it’d be you,” he nods back. “I mean, if you’re okay with it, because…”
Sunburst stops, raising his eyebrows. It finally dawns on him, and he looks like a little colt again, with that look on his face—the same one he wore when she finally worked up the nerve to confess to him, right before he leaned over and kissed her silly. An eager, nervous joy.
“There’s…” he coughs, trying to school his features into something more serious and failing, “…other options. I wouldn't suggest magic, since those spells are still in clinical trials and highly controversial as they are, if it were that simple to change one's DNA to match their gender, I would have cast it on myself a long time ago...but the others are safer, though a bit expensive, but if you don’t want to surrender your womb for ten or eleven months, we could, huh, look into it. There are options if you want it.”
He’s animated, and as confused as she is, her heart warms as she watches him babble away. For as nonchalant as he is trying to play it—he’s thought of this, for a long time, it seemed. Weighed his options, thought through it so deeply about her needs and wants, like the secretive little darling that he is.
She only wishes he’d speak up about the things that he wants more often.
“…Let me think about it?” Starlight leans in and nuzzles his cheek, she pulls away and kisses his scruffy cheek and smiles when he nods and sighs.
His voice cracks. She grins. He blushes and turns away, picking up a potato and the peeler with a hasty air of seriousness. “Don’t you dare—”
“Cuuuuuuuute!” She squeals and he pouts like a petulant toddler. “Aw, Sunburst—your voice used to do that all the time! It’s been so long!”
Try as he might, no pony has been able to break away from a Starlight hug, and he’s no exception. “Gah! Starlight! I can’t breathe!” he whines, even as he breaks into a laugh, and she’s cupping his face and bouncing on her hooves to try and steal a kiss from him.
Two days later, it just sort of happens.
“…We could adopt?”
Even in the lowlight of his reading lamp, she can still make out the warmth of his eyes. The clearest shade of blue she’s ever seen that perfectly reflects the softest heart she’s ever met.
He blinks at her, groggily, looking away from his book, hair a mess. She’s already tucked away under the sheets, looking up at him while he reads. He started the night sitting upright against the headboard, but he had slowly sunk until he was lying awkwardly on the pillow and the headboard, book propped precariously on his stomach.
“Mmm…” He mumbles, barely coherent. She should have waited to drop such a bomb, but how could she, when he looks so sweet? “…that’s…”
She nods, biting her lip. He moves, slowly, closing his book and the blankets rustling around them, and then he’s wiggling down to look at her, squinting in the dark. His back leg hooks around her ankle, and he brings a foreleg to cup her jaw, staring intently.
“You should put on your glasses, Sunburst,” she says, grinning a little. “You’re straining.”
His grin mirrors hers, but it’s brighter; she can see the glint of his teeth, the way his lips pull unabashedly to frame his glee. “A-Are you serious? You’re sure?”
“About the glasses? Sure. Your eyesight is terrible!”
He pouts. “No, you silly mare, that’s not what I mean and you know it, the other thing.”
The other thing. Her tummy is flip-flopping and she feels butterflies trying to take flight within her, but she can’t stop smiling. Can’t stop basking in the sheer glee of his expression and soaking it up into her own. Like a sponge. Her cheeks are going to hurt in the morning with the strength of her smile and she doesn’t care. Totally worth it, just to see the look on his face.
His hoof brushes along her cheek. “Oh, that thing,” she says, playfully naïve. “What thing, the thing about adoption?”
He jumps and scoots closer. Presses his chin to her shoulder and his lips keep twitching up. He can’t stop smiling either. “Yes, that thing.”
“Oh.” He handles her so softly, touches her with a tenderness she never thought possible, and she wants to melt beneath his touch and kiss him silly. Such high energy is infectious, and she feels like a newlywed all over again—which is silly, since they have been married for two years, though he still looks cute when he fiddles with the wedding band tied around his neck. “I asked if you would want to adopt.”
He manages to wiggle closer. He’d been falling asleep moments ago, but now he was on top of her, his forelegs bracing around her face, muzzle-to-muzzle. She places her own hooves over his chest, feeling his rapid heartbeat. “You…you do?”
“Yep,” she hums. His skin is so warm and she wishes he would come closer; she wants to soak him up a little more. “I trust you.”
“This is more than just trust.” His breath is warm on her lips, and she wishes he would just kiss her already. “You’ve got to be sure, extra double, triple sure. It’s a big step.”
“But it’ll make you happy. It’s making you happy right now, you’re smiling.”
He leans forward until their horns are touching gently, but he still hasn’t kissed her, he’s such a meanie sometimes. She loves him so much. “I want to make you happy too. It’ll be a long process, and it’ll be stressful and—it’ll change everything, you know, and it’s—”
“Expensive,” she says, and takes matters into her own hooves, tilting her head just enough to graze his lips, his beard tickling her skin. It was just a peck. A hint of what she wants, but it’s clear that this is important to him, and she said so herself—they needed to talk about this. “It’s expensive.”
He nods, and bows down to kiss her again. “But we can manage. My mom would bend over backward if it meant she got a grandkid to spoil rotten out of it—”
“I thought you didn’t like using your mother’s money?”
“I’m not doing so bad myself, you know,” he says a little smugly. “I have this little pension from working for Cadance and Shining Armor, I’ve been able to save up a bit.”
She blinks. “How long have you been preparing for this?”
He leans back, rosy blush on his cheeks. “No, it’s not that—” He stops, brushing a lock of her hair from her eyes, and smiles, a little guiltily. “It wasn’t for that. This. It was for an emergency, just in case, you know? I thought that, maybe, if something happened it would be there, if not for a foal, then for like a house or—” he shrugs, still too excited to even be a little embarrassed about how blatantly excited he is. “A pet or something.”
“Sunburst, you’re allergic to most pets.”
“I know, good thing we have Trixie around.” He doesn’t bother trying to evade the pillow she throws at him, and it bounces harmlessly from his face. He leans in again and pressed his forehead against hers. “Starlight.”
“You want a foal? With me?”
It’s scary, and it’ll take a lot of getting used to, but it’s exciting as well. “There’s no one else I’d rather raise a family with, Sunburst.”
The glee on his face is palpable. Starlight can taste it in the eager way he kisses her, how he cups her face in his hooves and accidentally squishes her cheeks and pulls her hair. But it’s okay, she doesn’t mind a little pain, and besides, she sort of likes it when he roughs her up a bit, even if those occasions are rare. It was like he knew she’s strong and kickass and can take a little hair pulling, can take a line of love bites around her neck.
Speaking of which. Her lips are suddenly kissing the air. She blinks, lost in the dark, staring at the ceiling as he disappears beneath the sheets. “H-Hey, what the—?” Starlight squeaks, but he’s got his face buried in her chest and he’s leaving a trail of kisses as he goes down. “Aaaaah, Sunburst—!”
She can feel his smile pressed to her trembling thigh. “I love you.”
It’s hard to tell who’s more excited—Trixie or Stellar.
Upon reading the good news (“We’re adopting!” Starlight wrote in her letter, underlined the sentence with brilliant pink sparkly ink for emphasis) Stellar Flare forgot her disdain for the newly installed telephone in her house and dialed the castle’s number at least three times before she got it right. She didn't wait for two rings before she hung up. She dialed again and Starlight was the one to finally picked up at the first ring.
“BABY!” She shouts. From her side, Sunburst raises a brow, and Starlight jumps, holding the speaker away from her ear. “BABY! OR FOAL! GRANDFOAL!”
She uses her magic so Sunburst could hear as well. “Hi, Stellar.”
“Hello, Starlight. Is my son there? I have words for him. Many words. Immediately.”
Sunburst shakes his head and crosses his hooves over his face. She mock-kicks him and he kicks her back, pouting pathetically. “Yes, he’s here, he can hear you.”
“SUNBURST SOLSTAR ZENITH. YOU NAUGHTY COLT, YOU.”
He groans. “Nooooooooooooo.”
She can hear the smile in her voice. She can practically see it, even if it didn’t make much sense. Stellar Flare is halfway across the country but it’s like she’s in the room anyway, bouncing like a filly on a sugar high and shaking Sunburst’s shoulders. “I can’t believe you didn’t warn me! I didn’t know you were going to ask her! You were so anxious about proposing, I thought you would ask your mama for help on this one, too!”
Sunburst groans and melts back into the couch. His head leaning back and everything. “That was what the letter was for, mom.”
“You think something this important should be conveyed through a simple letter!?” She snaps and clears her throat. “Sunburst Solstar Zenith, I cannot believe you didn’t warn me that you were going to be a father! My son, my own flesh and blood, a liar!”
“S-She asked me first!” Sunburst blurts, his face as red as his hair. Starlight smacks him lightly with her tail and he holds it to his chest. “You know, lots of ponies don’t announce when they’re thinking about having a baby, so it’s not lying—”
“Lying by omission!” Stellar Flare says. “Foul play! I demand pictures, whenever they become available! I want to know who I’m going to be shopping for and spoiling. You are off the Hearth’s Warming list, Sunburst!”
“Starlight is fine, though I’m a little hurt she did not think to lean on her mother-in-law for this,” Starlight chokes back a laugh, pressing her hoof to her mouth. “I am here for you, Starlight, if you have something to share. Always. From mother to mother, I’ll help in any way I can.”
“Yes, thank you.”
It sort of just happened, anyway, truly—they’ve been married for a bit, so she hadn’t even thought it that strange to ask him that faithful question. He’s asked her an equally life-changing question not too long ago, being so thoughtful and gentle and awakening things in her she hadn’t known existed. The thought warms her, makes her smile a shy, happy smile in his direction, and she’s floored when he grins back.
Goodness, they’re hopeless. A pair of lovesick, expecting idiots. She passes the phone to him and picks up the kite she had been working on.
“Do we have a timeframe?”
His grin only dampers slightly. “A while, mom.”
“…and how long is that?”
Sunburst sighs and lets go of her tail. “Could be a few years. These things take time.”
“That’s fine, just means more time to plan for all the things I want to do with my grandfoal!”
Her husband snorts and takes to brushing his hoof gently along the length of her tail like a cat on his lap. “Glad to know you’re okay with this, since it’s going to be such a big change in your life, and you know, OURS.”
There’s a sudden weight on her shoulders; Starlight oofs and lowers her kite, just enough to catch a periwinkle blue foreleg wrap around her neck. “Ha! Speak for yourself, this is huge!”
“Trixie,” Sunburst says, and Starlight reaches out and pats her hoof gently. “Don’t egg her on.”
“When would Trixie ever do that? She’s a model citizen!” she says pleasantly and jumps into the space between them, Starlight only has enough time to snatch her tail out of the way before Trixie lands on the couch. She wisely sets her kite aside; it’s not like she’ll be finishing it while there’s so much conversation going on. “Her friends are having a baby!”
Trixie’s smile is so genuine that Starlight can’t scold her for jumping in like that. “Yes, but good things take time.”
“Yeah-yeah, Trixie knows a thing or two about patience, great feats of wonder and illusion also take time to prepare!” Trixie says, tossing her platinum hair over her shoulder. “This kid is going to be the luckiest, especially since Trixie will be around to teach them how to be cool, Celestia knows that you two are hopeless in that department.”
From the speaker, Stellar hums in agreement, and Sunburst shoots her an exasperated half-smile.
Sunburst sets down his 1# Dad mug down on the table, Dad points a shaky hoof from the doorway, and Starlight realizes they’ve severely miscalculated.
How could Trixie or Stellar ever hold the title of most excited while Firelight, helicopter parent and enthusiastic father, existed?
He may be a grown pony in his sixties, but he completely bypasses shock and elation and speeds right into full-out sobbing; even Sunburst isn’t safe from her dad’s bearhug, and the two of them are squished, cheek-to-cheek, while Firelight absolutely blubbers. There’s a beat or two where neither of them can move, and Starlight eyes her husband’s mug with something akin to envy as it sits, untouched, next to his breakfast.
“Firelight—ow! When did you—?” Sunburst grunts, squirming. He’s hunched over awkwardly, and Starlight knows it must be uncomfortable; he hasn’t been her height in many years, not since they were foals, and yes, that’s his ear pinned against her temple, ouch. “Leggo!”
“MY LITTLE GIRL, ABOUT TO BE A MAMA, I JUST CAN’T BELIEVE—”
“The eggs are burning!” She tries to squirm away, but it’s fruitless. There’s nothing left in the world but greying-teal hair and the smell of her dad’s aftershave. “Dad, please!”
He relents, but only after planting a kiss on her forehead and a noogie on Sunburst’s. He clears his throat, straightens his suit, and fiddles with his tie, but there’s a distinct mistiness in his eyes that Starlight can’t be annoyed with. There are things she can fault her father for—his overbearing nature, being overprotective, his tendency to infantilize her still—but she cannot fault his supporting nature. Even if it’s a little…unorthodox, and kind of weepy.
She shakes her head, a smile on her face. Stupid dad.
“When did you get here?”
“Took the first train as soon as I read your letter!” He answers cheerfully, and she notices the small suitcase next to him. He glances at Sunburst and says almost begrudgingly. “…I like your mug.”
It’s funny, the “stern-father-act” he still insists on putting around Sunburst—funny because he’d just had his daughter’s husband locked in a very damp hug, because they’ve been married for years now (and known each other for longer) and they both got absolutely smashed at the wedding reception, waxing poetic about how much they adored her. Stupid dad, she thinks again, shaking her head. He should just come out and admit he likes Sunburst already, for Celestia’s sake.
Sunburst flops back into his seat and takes another sip, looking slightly annoyed. “Ah, yeah, thanks.”
Stallions. She rolls her eyes. And they say she’s the stubborn one.
“May I inquire where did you get it?”
“I don’t go out of my way to buy cheesy mugs,” Sunburst says, very much pouting. “It was a gift.”
Firelight looks at his daughter. “You got him one and not one for your own Papa?”
“Not me,” Starlight stabs her eggs with her spatula, further scrambling her ruined attempt at an omelet. “Trixie did.”
Her father hums and rounds on Sunburst again. Starlight turns the stove to a simmer, just in case, and Sunburst watches him suspiciously from the rim of his glasses.
“Well, Sunburst, if you’re going to use that mug, you’re going to have to earn that title.”
Sunburst and Starlight share a look. Where was he going with this?
Firelight sits on the chair next to him, folding his hooves seriously under his chin and giving Sunburst a look. Starlight thinks about stepping in, but she’s curious about what he has to say, so she keeps an eye on him, in case her father says something out of line.
Her father clears his throat and speaks. “A father is many things and needs to learn many skills…but above all: they need to be experts at making puns!”
“Dad!” Starlight yelps, stomping a hoof on the floor. Sunburst just sighs and slumps on his chair—though she’s not sure if it’s from relief or exasperation. “You said no more puns!”
“I know, but these are not for you, these are for Sunburst! A good father must have a dad-a-base full of them,” he grins at Sunburst, who tries in vain to hide his smirk behind his coffee mug. “And I have high hopes for him, with that big brain of his, he will come up with some brilliant ones in the future!”
“Dad, stop, you’re hurting me,” Starlight says, burying her face in the wood of the table.
“Sorry chipmunk cheeks, but I’m not sure if you noticed, but I love puns! It’s just how eye roll!”
Starlight groans. Stupid dad.
She’s excited, but sometimes she can’t help but worry.
It’s a long process. Adoption isn’t as simple as deciding they want a baby and then just…getting a baby. Even pregnancy—which takes, what, ten, eleven months?—is over and done with more quickly than this, she thinks, chewing her lip as she tucks her things into her bag. And it’s stupid, getting so antsy over this; it hadn’t even crossed her mind until he brought it up those four months ago, but as her students file out of the classroom, laughing and elbowing each other out the door, her heart feels heavy.
They don’t hand out babies to just anyone. They look for good homes. For good ponies. Ponies who are model citizens to raise perfect model citizens. And Starlight sometimes wondered if she fits the mold at all.
She slings her bag over her withers and sighs.
She doesn’t think that any pony decides to be evil one day. It’s a process. All it took was a moment of weakness, a bad decision, maybe a few, and suddenly you were on a dark path, and your eyes are so used to the dark that you don’t realize that what you’re doing is wrong, not until someone shines a spotlight and screams at your face. And sometimes that’s not enough.
No one wants to hear that they’re wrong, no one wants to admit that they did wrong. She almost didn’t, even with the evidence thrown at her face again and again like stones. She almost broke the parchment, she almost pushed Twilight’s offer aside…
She almost destroyed the world a few years ago.
Her stomach turns.
But she didn’t. That’s no longer the life she leads. She’s changed, she made up for it…right? Starlight stares absently at the corner of her desk, chewing her lip. She accepted long ago that she would never make peace with her past, at least in its entirety, and she had been okay with that. It served as a reminder of just how far she could go and how much she needs to be careful.
But should someone like her—with her record and her short temper and brash nature—be raising a family in the first place?
“…Do you think I’ll be a good mother?”
“Huh?” The rumble of his voice feels funny against her back, but it’s soothing in its familiarity.
Bathwater sloshes and splashes around them. She squirms a little between his legs, his knees poke out around her, back legs too long to fit comfortably in the tiny bathtub designed for one. She focuses on them instead—on the line where golden fur met alabaster—to keep herself busy.
“No,” he starts, sliding her damp hair from her neck. “What was it?”
Starlight sighs, popping bubbles anxiously, nearly melting beneath each gentle graze of Sunburst’s hooves. It feels silly to bring this up now—they’d been so happy snuggling, Sunburst so content to coil himself around her—but it felt big and important, and it ate away at the excitement that practically glows from him, inside and out.
“Do you…” she takes a big breath. “Do you think I’ll be a good mother?”
He doesn’t answer right away. He’s probably letting it sink in, collecting his thoughts, but without the instantaneous validation, she runs cold. She fidgets, and as Sunburst leans over to turn down the radio playing sappy jazz, Starlight has half a mind to dunk her head underwater and never resurface again.
But she doesn’t, she couldn’t even escape if she wanted to. He’s much too cuddly these days, and slides his foreleg around her waist and tugs her back to him firmly, hooking his chin over her shoulder. They fit together, like pieces to a puzzle, and it’s hard not to find comfort in it; that somehow, despite the screw-ups and the mistakes that she made, there’s still someone there for her. Someone who completes her, who compliments her.
“…Do you not want to do this?” He asks.
“No!” Yes? “No, that’s—that’s not what I meant,” she says, wriggling, sliding against him. She pivots, slips and slides until she’s finally sitting up and facing him, knees tucked underneath her, and only blushes a little when she sits a little taller and her snout is practically shoved to his face. This bathtub is really too small…
Sunburst is blushing too. “Are you afraid?”
“I’m never afraid,” she says, stubborn and very much afraid. “I just…I wasn’t raised the way you were.”
His hoof slides and rests along the small of her back. “What, by stuck-up teachers?”
“No! Like…” Her hooves drop, making a small splash between them. “I didn’t have a mother figure growing up…and with my track record, what if it…triggers something? What if I become awful again? What if we are denied because of me? I don’t know how to be a mother Sunburst, all I know is how to do magic, and run a school…I can barely make friends as it is, so…”
There’s a beat of silence, and his brows raise and disappear behind his bangs. “Ah.”
“Don’t you ‘ah’ me!”
He tugs, and they lose half of their bathwater over the edge as she slides and molds herself to him instead, chest to chest. It’s impossible to hide anything when they’re skin to skin—when nothing can physically get between them. She can feel his heartbeat, can feel the way he laces his forelegs around her and holds her tight, even as her knees cram awkwardly at the foot of the tub.
“Give yourself a little credit Starlight,” he mutters, and…oh, his lips are so close. She can feel every breath he takes, every brush of his mouth on her skin. “You’ll be fine.”
“Sometimes I think it’s pure dumb luck that Twilight didn’t toss me to Tartarus.”
“And you don’t how thankful I am that she didn’t do that.” Sunburst kisses the corner of her mouth and she melts. Just a little. Dang it, she’s weak for his kisses. “If you can manage to travel through time, save Equestria a couple of times and solve a fair number of friendship problems, you can raise a baby no problem. You’re the strongest mare that I know, Starlight.”
He plays dirty. He cannot say such sweet things and not expect her bones to become pudding. Especially not while they’re literally naked and on top of each other. For a mare who had scarcely felt sexual attraction, there’s something about Sunburst that seems to check all of her (admittedly few) boxes and really get her going.
She sighs and shakes her head. Not now. This is not the time to get frisky.
“I had no choice Sunburst,” she says. “Being magically gifted it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.”
He leans his head back and looks at her, sort of moony-eyed. “I think you’re all kinds of strong.”
She’s not. She cries at cheesy plays and lifetime novels and when Sunburst so much as raises his voice at her. She’s Starlight Glimmer, and she hasn’t had a mother figure in her life for years, and the closest she can think of is Cadance—who acts like everyone’s mother, out of necessity and sheer kindness—and Twilight, who’s more like a big sister than teacher these days.
Starlight bites her lip and says, “I don’t want to mess them up. I just…magic is all I know, all that I’m really good at that’s useful. I don’t know how to be soft and gentle or how to warm bottles. I can teach them how to summon a shield and where to land a blow to do the most damage. I can teach them how to teleport out of danger, but I don’t know how to burp a baby.”
“And you think I do?”
“Well yeah!” she says, incredulous. “You’re Flurry’s crystaller! You probably have more of an idea than I do!”
He snorts and rubs his hooves up her back. “I spent my childhood in a boarding school, Starlight. I was more invested in my books than anything else back in the Crystal Empire, and when I came here, I was preoccupied with keeping the school running.”
“You care a lot,” he interrupts, and he’s got this serious look on his face, thoughtful. He’s really concentrating, and she stills, staring at him with wide eyes. “Like, more than anyone I’ve ever met, and…I think that’s all a parent really needs, to love and to care. We can learn the rest as we go. But learning how to love unconditionally is a lot harder than figuring out how to swaddle.”
He’s serious. Dang it, she wants to smush his cheeks, because such kindness and honesty shouldn’t be allowed.
“…You’re blushing.” He’s grinning and Starlight squeaks and tries to slip away, but escape is futile. “Staaarlight!”
“You’re the worst!” she whines, flailing around. He’s got a good grip on her, and when she tries to turn away, he laughs and cradles her in his hooves, pressing his cheek against hers. He’s going to be the death of her, she should put this on her tombstone “Here lies Starlight Glimmer, who died of cavities and sugar overdose,”—he’s just too sweet! It’s illegal, it should be illegal, coming from a stallion who shies away from physical contact. She’s created a monster. A snuggle monster!
He blows a raspberry to her cheek. “You’re so soft, Starlight.”
“And you’re gross!”
“My wife is so soft,” he singsongs, grinning like an idiot. “My wife’s going to be the cutest mommy in all Ponyville!”
(She loves him.)
Good things come to those who wait.
But it’s easier said than done.
The process is frustrating and sometimes downright disheartening, between the long waiting periods and home inspections—watching Sunburst sitting stiffly with an equally stiffed but styled mane, clearly trying very hard while also trying to look like he wasn’t trying very hard—it all feels very hopeless. The excitement wanes and it’s exhausting, being interviewed and judged about every little aspect of their lives.
“It’s for a good reason,” Starlight tells him (and herself, as well). “They don’t hand out babies to just anybody. We have to pass the test.”
Sunburst sighs and flops onto the couch. His mane is stiff as a board with all the product he put into it, but he does look handsome with his hair brushed so neatly, and she sort of stares a second too long at the exposed skin of his belly as he raises his forelegs. “I’m terrible at test-taking.”
Well, she thinks, climbing on top of him, that’s why you have me.
They have ways of keeping their spirits up.
It’s not all for nothing, though. The castle is huge, but a few spells and locks make it baby-proof, and while the social worker eyes their eccentric roommate oddly, Trixie charms her soon enough. It’s the nerves that really get to them. Sunburst more than her.
A year later, it finally happens.
Sunburst literally kicks down the front door, breathless. She’s expecting him to smile, or shout, or something—give her some sort of clue, but he’s got this shellshock wonder look on his face and it’s hard to read him when he’s like this. There’s always something ticking, cogs always working behind those sky-blue eyes of his, but he’s just—he’s here. The letter floating in his magic and he’s here, hair windswept from running.
Starlight’s heart leaps into her throat. She carefully sets her papers down. “…Sunburst?”
He swallows thickly. “I…” He holds the letter with his shaky magic. “We’ve been selected. Starlight. Starlight! We’ve—”
He doesn’t jump in happiness. He’s not even smiling.
He sorts of staggers to her, and she’s definitely grinning and babbling in her excitement, as Sunburst wraps his hooves around her and sort of just…falls into her. And she bounces there, in his embrace, linking her forelegs around his neck and jostling him until he leans enough for her to kiss him.
And if his lips are a little damp, and if she tastes a hint of salt, she doesn’t say a word. Grown ponies don’t cry after all, and who is she to take that away from him?
Their baby girl is a unicorn.
It makes sense, she thinks. There was no safer place for a pony with potential magical abilities than the home of two adept magic users. Their full potential wouldn’t manifest until later in life—or never at all, there is always the chance of that—but at least it is something that Starlight is comfortable handling. She lived, breathe, and ate magic her whole life. This she can handle.
And…okay, maybe she can handle foals now. She’s taken classes, they’ve taken classes, they both held babies before and this—this is doable. Maybe one day, their daughter will be able to cast powerful spells—or use her magic for more mundane talents, or whatever her little heart desired—and they’ll be more than prepared to guide and love her. And even if she doesn’t, and she’s a perfectly happy normal filly—and even if she doesn’t want to pursue her magic further than what’s necessary, and she doesn’t make the same choice she did and become a sorceress—well, that’s okay too. Because they love her.
And children should be allowed to make choices. Make their own decisions. Shouldn’t be forced to lead a life they don’t want, just because it’s what their parents know.
Sunburst squeezes her hoof in his. “You ready?”
She thinks her stomach might fall out of her butt. If she doesn’t barf first. “Yes.”
“Cool.” His hoof is a little clammy, and it’s weirdly comforting. “Me too.”
They’re not taking her home yet. It’s just a visit. The first visit. They’re meeting their possible/probable daughter for the first time and Sunburst’s hair is so stiff with hairspray that it’s as hard as a helmet, and Starlight tied her mane into a sensible bun and put on a string of pearls around her neck. She laughs, just a little, at the sheer absurdity of it—of the two of them, being nervous of meeting a five-month-old, HA!—and Sunburst catches her eye and grins.
They have been through so much together. They can do this. There’s strength in numbers after all. And who better to take on this challenge than her best friend? They’ve been through it all together, through thick and thin—she trusts Sunburst with every fiber of her being, loves him with everything she has to give, and he’s the only one she could ever do this with. She can’t think of a greater force than the two of them, hooves held tight. Just the way it was meant to be.
What a dweeb. “Courage…and everything in between.” Starlight says and yanks him down to smooch his cheek.
“Yuck,” he whines, rubbing his shoulder over the area she’d kissed like a complete brat. As if it didn’t bring such adorable color to his cheeks or deepen the dimples in his smile. “You’re lucky you’re cute.”
“You should take a good look in the mirror,” she says and reaches out for the doorknob. “Shall we?”
A few months later, Luster Dawn is finally home.
It’s almost funny, watching Sunburst interact with her. Funny, because he always made fun of her when her father doted on her in public, but he can’t seem to leave the poor kid alone for even a minute. He hovers, gingerly, going as far as to crawl onto the floor with Luster for tummy time, sprawled out on the blanket Yona knitted for them, chin propped up on his hooves.
“Hey there, honeycomb,” he says, for what must be the fifth time. “Hey.”
Funny is not quite the right word. It’s…humorous, maybe, probably, just a little, and it certainly brings a smile to her muzzle, but the warmth in her chest doesn’t feel much like laughter. It’s brighter. Sunnier. Fills her to brim and makes her feel like she might blow up like Pinkie Pie with happiness, but it’s a more sated, comfortable sort of joy. Actually, she likes the way it feels. She can’t remember the last time she felt this free…or really, truly, completely happy.
Sunburst opens and closes his mouth. Almost goes cross-eyed. Makes popping noises with his lips, and Luster garbles and reaches out with her clumsy little hooves.
“If you’re not careful, your face is going to stay that way,” Starlight says, sitting next to him.
He blows a raspberry and Luster giggles. “Worth it.”
Keeping herself from leaning over and kissing him is impossible. His cheek is warm, and even after she’s leaned back and sat up straight, she still scoots closer to him until their sides are touching. It’s hard not to touch him, not to seek out physical contact, even as he babbles right back at their daughter (their daughter!) and makes silly faces.
He’s happy. So happy he can’t contain it. So happy that his shyness and self-consciousness falls to the wayside—he’s practically glowing, and knowing him so intimately makes it all too easy to read his joy. It sorts of chokes her up. Makes her a little misty-eyed.
Sunburst sighs and rests his cheek against his foreleg. “She’s perfect.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you call something perfect before.”
“Yeah, well,” he blinks and his eyes are a little wet behind his glasses, too. Oh, Sunburst… “Miracle of life and all its synonymous, you know…”
“Sap,” she says, fondly.
His lips press together as if he’d tasted something sour. Scowling, sunny colt, caught so red-hoofed, feeling soft, squishy things. “Don’t project, Starlight, it’s not cute.”
She sticks out her tongue.
Scooting closer, he offers his hoof to Luster. She stares, blinking up at him with those wide, golden eyes—such doe eyes, Starlight thinks, really pretty eyes, curtained with dark lashes too. Those eyes could get away with murder and she’d be none the wiser, there’s such unfiltered, untamed innocence in those eyes, such bright curiosity.
They’ll be in trouble someday if they can’t say no to those eyes.
The little filly stands on unsteady hooves and makes her way over and pounces onto Sunburst’s hoof like a newborn kitten to a toy. Her husband gasps, smothering a smile. “Good grip. Just like her mama.”
Laughing, Starlight flexes a foreleg. “She learned from the best.”
Sunburst waggles his fetlock and Luster garbles some more. “You’ve got to be smart too, okay? You can wrestle and fly kites with your mother all you want, but we’ve got to bond over something too, in our own time. Like books. Or antiquing.”
He exhales. “Maybe, we won’t push it.”
“Her special talent could be magic.”
“It could,” Sunburst shrugs slightly. “But even if it isn’t, that’s fine too. We’ll find something. Whatever she wants to try she can.”
They’re quiet for a while, merely watching her, taking her in. It’s different, having another body in their home, another entity. It breathes new life into the castle, life these walls haven’t contained for years and years—it has come to a full circle in a way. Starlight’s new life as a reformed pony started here, with all its ups and downs. And his new life started here, too, using his skills and knowledge to pursue what he loved and free to be himself.
And now there’s new life again. Quite literally. There’s an infant, eagerly nibbling on her husband’s hoof.
“We’ve gotta get her some teething rings,” she says after a beat.
“She’s got some teeth alright.” Even with his hoof being chewed and slobbered on, Sunburst seems more in awe of it than bothered.
Starlight runs her hoof through Sunburst’s hair, pushes his bangs from his face, and smiles, too, as he plucks his hoof from their daughter’s mouth. “Let’s hope she doesn’t take after you in that aspect.”
Sunburst laughs then cocks his head like a bird to grin at her. “What, you don’t want some crooked chompers coming after you while you’re feeding her?”
“I should be thankful that I’ll never get to breastfeed those bad boys. Your poor mother.”
He mock-bites her. “You like them.”
She does. Very much. But she likes so many things about him that it’s hard to rank them on a list. She likes his crooked teeth just as much as she likes the way he hugs her, just as much as she likes the look he gives her—as if she’d given him the world. As if this hadn’t been a group effort, shared between the two of them.
Starlight boops his snout lightly and Luster giggles. “Your face is going to freeze like that.” She’ll never be able to keep a blush from rising on her face again, and that’s just not fair. She has a reputation to uphold, alright? She cannot rival the sun at all times. There are students to teach. Bad guys to intimidate. Future preteen to mother. A pesky roommate to scold when she drinks all the milk and forgets to tell anyone about it.
He doesn’t stop, though. Doesn’t even snap out of it for a little bit. “Thanks,” he says, quietly, very seriously.
“I really didn’t do much—”
“No.” The expression irons out, just a smidge, and there’s such blatant, thawing honesty there it sucks the teasing from her voice. “Really, thanks, Starlight.”
Such a weighted gaze. But she is not afraid, not of this, never of him or his feelings. Starlight wears her courage like a cloak and her heart on her sleeve and shakes her head, smiling. As if it’d ever been hard to love him. The hard part had been trying to find a way to put it into words, trying to find a way to share all of the joy he’d given her.
“What are friends for?” She asks, sliding her hoof to cup his cheek. She’s thrilled to find heat there. “I’m your best friend, you know. I want whatever makes you happy, for it makes me happy, too.”
“Friends,” Sunburst scoffs, shaking his head. “I think we’re a little more than friends, silly.”
But he’s smiling so softly that it takes the bite his words might have had, if any at all, and pushes himself to sit so that he may kiss her, his lips soft and his mouth warm against hers. It’s a quick kiss, a simple I love you, and even if they wanted it to be deeper, they couldn’t; they’re both smiling much too wide to get tongues involved anyway.
Plus, it’s kind of stinky in here. They blinked at each other, confused.
Trixie opens the door to the living room, a bundle of letters on her hoof and gags before she even speaks a word.
“NOT IT!” Trixie yelps, tossing the letters to the nearest surface, and darts down the hall like a bat out of Tartarus. “PARENT’S HONORS!”
Well, they’ve dealt with their fair share of disasters. They can probably change a diaper.