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Herd 10

By Hawkeye
Created: 18th December 2020 04:23:31 PM

  1. >Sitting in the locker room, you can hear the quiet roar of a packed crowd outside.
  2. >You knew every single pony who followed hoofball in Ponyville was out there.
  3. >Somehow the tension between you and Cloudchaser had become public knowledge.
  4. >And, of course, it had only fomented the excited talk building up to this game.
  5. >You could not deny that it bothered you that your personal life was somehow involved in this.
  6. >But you also cannot deny that your growing grudge against Cloudy made this game that much more important to you.
  7. >Applejack is talking, her own apple family version of your usual pep talk.
  8. >You regain focus just in time to follow the team out onto the field.
  9.  
  10. >Coming in at the half, you look around to see a tired and beaten team.
  11. >The speed of their offense is running your defense into the ground.
  12. >And running the score up on the board.
  13. >The two interceptions you've thrown haven't helped.
  14. >You know the team is looking to you for guidance.
  15. >Stepping into the shower, you douse yourself with cool water, helping to clear your head.
  16. >You're getting wrapped up in the drama, the tension.
  17. >And that sucks.
  18. >It isn't fair to your team.
  19. >And it's killing the fun of the game.
  20. >You aren't going to the end this season, and everyone knows it.
  21. >So why the pressure?
  22. >Because of Flitter?
  23. >She only comes to these games because of her sister.
  24. >Stop playing for her, or for Cloudy.
  25. >Time to play for your girls, your friends and for fun.
  26. >Yeah.
  27. >Let's have some fun.
  28.  
  29. >Waltzing back into the locker room, you wait for the team to reassemble before taking a knee.
  30. "First off, I want to apologize." you start, holding a hand up to silence objections. "I've been distracted. And I've been playing to impress, and that makes me a hypocrite. What do I always tell y'all?"
  31. >"Have fun." Applejack answers.
  32. "Exactly. And I'm not having fun, and I'm letting my personal headspace drag y'all down. That ends here." you explain.
  33. >You lay out a few changes, including a new plan for the offense.
  34. >Their pass defense was killing your team.
  35. >Long passes were impossible.
  36. >So you've got a new plan.
  37. "Everybody runs now. Their defense can barely handle Applejack on the ground. So what if we ground Rainbow and swap out Dusty for Caramel. Hell, I'll even run it if I need to."
  38. >"Ugh, like, I know you're right and everything, but running is totally lame." Rainbow sighs.
  39. "Well here's the choice Dash: you start outflying your guards, or we start running the ball."
  40. >"Yeah yeah, I get it."
  41. "Let's go have some fun."
  42.  
  43. >Another quarter done.
  44. >Your new plan is working.
  45. >Not quickly.
  46. >But it is gaining yards, and the light-duty high-speed pegasi defense is getting banged up trying to block your audible-run offense.
  47. >You had held Rainbow back, promising her there was a reason.
  48. >And with the fourth quarter about to start, you've got that reason on your mind.
  49. >Not yet though...
  50. >As the line forms up in front of you, a shout sends the ball flying into your hands for a quick handoff to Applejack.
  51. >Three yards.
  52. >Not yet, but soon.
  53.  
  54. >You've closed the gap to two touchdowns, but the clock only has two minutes left.
  55. >Rainbow is rapidly becoming insufferable as she begins to despair.
  56. >The defense is on the field, and that gives you time to plan.
  57. >There's enough time.
  58. >But just barely.
  59. "Alright Rainbow, we need to score and fast."
  60. >"Duh, Anon! We're gonna lose!"
  61. "Like hell we are." you shoot back. "We're going to line up like a run play again, but Rainbow, if you see clear skies in the backfield, you take off as fast as you can. I'll hold onto the ball until you get clear."
  62. >"We'll have to hope Mac can get us th' ball back awful fast if we're gonna score twice."
  63. "Right. We'll try for an onside kick. They'll expect it, but we have to try."
  64. >"It's a gamble, but it's all we can do." Rainbow sighs.
  65. >Your plan in place, you watch the line stop the Raiders on thirds down.
  66. >Not being even remotely within scoring distance, the Raiders line up to kick...
  67. >And a firetruck red blur knocks the ball clean out of the air as linemen scatter like bowling pins.
  68. >Pigskin in his mouth, Big Mac runs clear down the field, knocking a final defender over as he barrels into the end zone.
  69. "Hey Rainbow?"
  70. >"Yeah Anon?"
  71. "Onside kick is out. Just catch the damn ball."
  72. >"You got it."
  73.  
  74. >With only a minute left on the clock, your team lines back up.
  75. >Down by a touchdown, you've got sixty seconds to tie the game.
  76. >A big pass play from Rainbow has you only thirty yards from the goal line.
  77. >Hiking the ball, the teams lurch into motion and you hand off to Applejack...
  78. >Only 24 yards to go, but only 45 seconds to do it.
  79. >Repeating the play, you're down to 20 yards and twenty eight seconds.
  80. >Using your last timeout, you huddle up the line.
  81. "One last big play and we've got it in the bag. Here's how it's going to work-"
  82.  
  83. >Rushing to places, you quickly call the snap as soon as the Raiders are in place, leaving them as little time as possible.
  84. >Dropping back, you watch as Rainbow and AJ rocket up the sides.
  85. >As they near the end zone, the Raider's line breaks through your offensive line.
  86. >Turning across the field, you pass laterally to Dusty.
  87. >Dropping farther back, the Raiders defense turns point towards your teammate.
  88. >Rainbow turns and takes flight as Dusty laterals back to you.
  89. >Reaching back, you drill a straight-line bullet to Rainbow Dash, who tumbles triumphantly onto her hooves.
  90. >But you've got to make the extra point still, or you'll lose.
  91. >And Applejack quickly herds the team back into line, for a quick-snap on an audible play.
  92. >Taking a knee, you hold the ball for the kicker...
  93. >And look up just in time to see the kick knocked out of the air.
  94. >It whistles past your head and you scramble onto your feet after it.
  95. >Chasing after it, Dash beats you to it.
  96. >As two pegasus charge down at her, you jump in for the block as Dash makes a break for it.
  97. >The impact of the two defenders knocks you off your feet, landing hard on your side and twisting your shoulder painfully.
  98. >Looking for Dash, you spot her in the end zone.
  99. >You'd sigh a breath of relief if that hit hadn't knocked the wind out of you.
  100.  
  101. >You savor the roar of the crowd as you lie there on the ground, air slowly returning to your lungs.
  102. >When AJ finally pulls you back to your feet, the elation really hits you.
  103. >With a big goofy grin on your face, you scan the crowd and wave to your girls.
  104. >You've only got two more games left.
  105. >But the season is effectively over for you now.
  106. >Making your way into the locker room, you retreat to the showers.
  107. >As the water washes over you, you consider the next game.
  108. >Not the worst team, but nowhere near the Stormers or the Raiders.
  109. >Then a bye week followed by your final match, against the worst team in the league.
  110. >You'll talk to Mac first, but you're thinking that at least one team practice this week is going to get cancelled.
  111. >It'll give the ponies a chance to rest, and free up an additional weeknight or two for you.
  112. >And maybe this week you can abscond to Canterlot again.
  113. >Hand deliver some of your work and meet with the ponies at the Academy.
  114. >Take one of your mares with you.
  115. >Aloe wanted to see some art exhibit, it's probably only there for so long.
  116. >That sounds like a good plan.
  117. >Turning off the water, you grab a towel.
  118. >You can plan more later, you have ponies waiting for you now.
  119.  
  120. >Coming out of the locker room, you scan the retreating crowd.
  121. >A small group of the team's fans throng around you bursting with congratulations and wishing you well.
  122. >You smile and nod, and wave and smile and nod, all the while slowly wading out into the crowd.
  123. >The game has been over for a while and most of the townsfolk are heading home.
  124. >Turning a corner, you manage to catch a glimpse of two purple pegasi near the edge of the stands.
  125. >Stepping into the light, and away from the few lingering ponies, something makes you pause.
  126. >Why are you doing this?
  127. >Flitter glances back and her gaze meets yours for just a second.
  128. >Turning away, she quickly takes to the air, following her sister into the night.
  129. >You can feel your brow furrow in frustration.
  130. "Cloudchaser."
  131. >"Nope. Guess again." a voice says, accompanied by a gentle bump to your side.
  132. >A smile quickly wipes away the hint of a scowl that was forming at the corners of your mouth as you turn to see Roseluck at your side.
  133. >Running a hand through her mane, you catch an ear and gently rub it between your thumb and forefinger.
  134. >Rose hums contentedly as you continue for a moment.
  135. >"You seem awfully quiet for how much you've been talking about this game."
  136. "Hm? Oh, just a little distracted." you say, shaking your head.
  137. >"Mhm. It makes a mare nervous."
  138. >Taking a knee, you quickly pull Rose in.
  139. "Don't you ever worry about that. I mean it." you say, wrapping her in a tight hug.
  140. >Before you can lean back, she hops forward to plant a quick kiss on your lips.
  141. >"Let me guess, you came looking for Flitter." Rose states quietly.
  142. "Yup."
  143. >"Did you find her?"
  144. "Well-"
  145. >"Not in time, then." Rose nods. "C'mon. The girls are looking for you and my parents are waiting. Don't you want to celebrate?"
  146. >You scan the now empty sky one last time.
  147. "Let's go."
  148.  
  149. >Festivities are in full swing by the time your little group arrives at the usual tavern.
  150. >While normally you'd join Rainbow and AJ, you've got company this time.
  151. >Four mares and Rose's parents plus you.
  152. >Y'all aren't going to fit at the already packed usual table.
  153. >So instead you take the big corner booth.
  154. >You find yourself pushed into the back corner, Rose and her parents on one side and Aloe followed by Lotus then Lyra on your other.
  155. >To your relief, Snap immediately dives into hoofball talk.
  156. >Rose and her mother are giggling about something to your side, but you're unable to lean in close enough to hear clearly.
  157. >Lyra jumps into talking hoofball with you and Snap, which is a surprise.
  158. >Lotus occasionally pipes up, when she isn't having a whispered argument with Aloe over the seating arrangements.
  159. >Aloe is glued to your left side, one hoof in your hand, the other fending off Lotus.
  160. >Sipping your whiskey sour, you settle in to savor the chaos.
  161.  
  162. >"Th' Eagles are gonna go all th' way this year. I'm tellin' ya, Anon!" Snap says, jabbing a hoof at you.
  163. "They have a good team, but they also have a tough schedule!"
  164. >"Who do they play that's so tough?" Lyra asks.
  165. "Dodge City-"
  166. >"The Chiefs!? Their quarterback is terrible!"
  167. "They have the best defense in the country to make up for it."
  168. >"Alright. Ya got me there." Snap says. "But just because it's gonna be low scoring doesn't mean Filly won't win!"
  169. "And you have to play the Giants. Their quarterback isn't anything special, but-"
  170. >"Yeah, they've got Buckham receiving." Snap grumbles. "To tartarus with Manehattan."
  171. "Here's to that." you say, offering a toast.
  172. >Snap meets your glass with his, and you both down your drinks.
  173. >You flag down the waitress and go to order another for each of you when Lilac intervenes.
  174. >"I think that's enough, Snappy. It's getting late, and we have a train to catch in the morning."
  175. >"Tch. S'pose you're right." he scowls. "I guess we're going then."
  176. >As the flower family slides out, you follow.
  177. "Heading in with your parents?"
  178. >"Of course." Rose replies. "You live a lot closer than they do, after all."
  179. >You take a knee and wrap her in a hug.
  180. "Are you coming to Lyra's concert tomorrow? I have an entire box purchased."
  181. >"I'll have to ask Lily and Daisy. I'll let you know."
  182. "Okay then. Goodnight."
  183. >Letting go of Rose, Lilac moves in for one of her own.
  184. >"It's been so nice to meet you! You'll have to come out to Filly sometime to meet Laurel and the girls!"
  185. "Absolutely." you agree. "I'll leave it to Rose to plan that with you."
  186. >Getting to your feet, you turn to Snapdragon.
  187. "Snap." you say, offering a hand.
  188. >He takes it and shakes with a nod.
  189. >The group heads for the door then, and a nudge at your waist pushes you back to the table.
  190. >Looking down, you smile at the insistent periwinkle mare and move to take a seat.
  191. >"Anon? I'm going to go too. I need to be well-rested for the concert." Lyra says, getting to her hooves.
  192. >Putting a gentle hand on the pushy mare at your side, you step away from the table and take a knee again.
  193. >Lyra comes around for her hug, and you plant a kiss on her forehead.
  194. "Alright. Will I see you before the concert?"
  195. >"Probably not. I'll be super busy."
  196. "Okay. Where should we meet afterwards?"
  197. >"I can just come up to your box! That'll be way easier than you trying to find me backstage!"
  198. "Sounds like a plan. See you tomorrow."
  199. >"Goodnight Anon, 'night girls!" Lyra says with a smile, before turning and disappearing into the crowd.
  200. >With your numbers thinned, you wave Aloe and Lotus over to the main table.
  201. >Ordering a fresh round for the group, you settle in for the night.
  202.  
  203.  
  204. >The morning sun on your face breaks you from sweet, sweet sleep.
  205. >Stretching, you find one of your arms pinned under a snoring ball of blue.
  206. >Rolling onto your side, you pull her in close.
  207. >And in doing so learn that your right shoulder is seriously sore.
  208. >You should have tucked and rolled with that hit yesterday.
  209. >Absentmindedly petting Lotus's mane, you consider what you need to accomplish for the day.
  210. >You need to get to Rarity's to pick up your new shirt and tie.
  211. >She'll probably scold you for not doing it yesterday, but you were busy.
  212. >Aside from that, you'll probably soak in the tub to rest your sore shoulder and, of course, there's the concert tonight.
  213. >A yawn alerts you to the fact that Lotus is now awake.
  214. >"Mmm good morning, Anon." she groans, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
  215. "Good morning, pretty pony."
  216. >"So what are you doing between now and the concert?"
  217. "I just have an errand or two to run. Nothing exciting."
  218. >Her tail swishes as she looks into your eyes.
  219. >"You mean to tell me that I have you all to myself? All day?"
  220. "Only if you want to be bored." you shrug. "Your call."
  221. >She leans forward for a kiss, and crawls forward to press deeper.
  222. >And to step straight onto your shoulder!
  223. "Mrph!" you grunt through the kiss, causing Lotus to pull back.
  224. >She looks at you with concern.
  225. "Shoulder. Please."
  226. >Lotus takes a few steps back.
  227. >"Are you okay?"
  228. "I just fell a little hard on my shoulder yesterday. No big deal." you assure her, rolling out of bed.
  229. >Lotus follows you into the bathroom, where you pop a couple of aspirin.
  230. >She leans up against your leg, and stares up at you.
  231. >"You know, I happen to have a skill set that could help."
  232. >Laughing, you run your fingers through her mane.
  233. >"Anon, I'm being serious." she frowns. "Come to the spa with me."
  234. "I don't think Aloe would appreciate us taking up customer space."
  235. >"I think you forget that you and Aloe are also dating." Lotus counters. "She won't mind."
  236. "Well at least let me shower and get dressed. Then we can get breakfast and head to the spa."
  237.  
  238. >Cleaned up and on your way, the two of you stop by Sugarcube Corner to pick up some pastries.
  239. >A croissant for Lotus, a Bear Claw for you, and a cherry danish for Aloe.
  240. >And three cups of coffee, of course.
  241. >Too bad you can't irish this up, that'd help your sore shoulder.
  242. >Or at least take your mind off of it.
  243. >Soon enough you arrive at the spa, and you follow Lotus inside.
  244.  
  245. >Aloe isn't at the desk, but you can hear Rarity's voice coming from one of the rooms.
  246. >Leaving the coffee and pastry at the desk for her, you and Lotus move farther down the hall.
  247. >"First a soak in the hot tub." she instructs. "Hopefully it's just a bit sore, and not something more serious."
  248. "Cheers to that." you offer, raising your coffee before following Lotus into a side room. "A private room, just for me? You shouldn't have."
  249. >Lotus beckons for you to lean down.
  250. >"Two things, Anonymous. First, someone didn't bring a swimsuit-" she says, firmly tapping your sore shoulder. "-and therefore will not be decent for the public pools."
  251. "And the second?" you ask, rubbing the spot she jabbed.
  252. >Lotus shuts the door before replying.
  253. >"Second, you have mares now. And we want to take care of our stallion, even if he is stupid and insists on taking care of us and wanting nothing in return."
  254. "That is an oversimp-"
  255. >"Anon. I should warn you now that both Lyra and Roseluck have started dropping in." she interrupts you. "Sometimes for the spa, sometimes just to talk."
  256. >Well then.
  257. >It's perfectly reasonable, and on one hand you're happy that the four of them are getting along.
  258. >Life will be easier if your mares are all friends, after all.
  259. >But the way Lotus talks about it...
  260. >You like smart mares, but your spidey-senses are warning you that you're being outmaneuvered here.
  261. >Not sure how.
  262. >Just that you are.
  263. >"Anon? Are you going into the tub with your clothes on?"
  264. "Oh! Right, sorry."
  265. >Stripping down, you sit on the edge and dangle your feet in the hot water, adjusting to the heat.
  266. >"Anon, just so you know, you've got a fairly large bruise on the back side of your shoulder."
  267. "No surprises there, at least it wasn't my throwing arm."
  268. >Sliding into the tub proper, Lotus turns on the jets before climbing in across from you.
  269. >Turning, you recline and let your shoulder submerge in the warm waters.
  270. >Sitting in silence for a while, you take stock of life.
  271. >And honestly, life is pretty good.
  272. >Stressful at times, but good.
  273. >"What are you thinking about?" Lotus asks.
  274. "Hmm?"
  275. >"You look lost in thought." she explains, sliding next to you. "What are you thinking about?"
  276. "Oh, everything and nothing."
  277. >"That's not very helpful." she frowns.
  278. "But it's accurate." you reply. "I was just contemplating the big picture, you know?"
  279. >"Tell me about this picture. Where am I?"
  280. "Aha, the real motive comes out." you say with a grin. "Alright, just stop me when I start to ramble."
  281. >You pause to break out your finest words.
  282. >A base of carefully selected nouns, forming the base shapes of the picture.
  283. >Nouns like Home, Family, and Wife.
  284. >A vibrant splash of adjectives for color.
  285. >You're careful to only use 'large' to describe the Home and the Family.
  286. >Really the overall theme you're pursuing is 'comfort'.
  287. >You want your mares and children to never want for anything.
  288. >That seems about right.
  289. >It'll be a lot of work, but you can make it happen.
  290. >You find yourself nodding along as you speak, reasserting your convictions, when Lotus puts a hoof on your (still sore) shoulder.
  291. >"Anon. You're rambling." she interrupts. "It's kind of cute, and kind of neurotic."
  292. "Hmm, I'll have to work on my technique."
  293. >"Rose is right though. You'll make an excellent husband." she muses "If you don't work yourself into a heart attack."
  294. "Don't worry about it. I've been assured that having seven mares won't be stressful at all."
  295. >"It's not us that you need to worry about." she quips.
  296. "Oh really? Because I think that sometimes the four I'm dating right now are already too devious for my own good." you reply, leaning back.
  297. >"We are very devious." she agrees. "But just devious enough for your own good."
  298. "What does that even mean?"
  299. >"It means it's time to move to the massage table." she answers, throwing a towel at your head.
  300.  
  301. >Laying facedown, Lotus begins slowly feeling her way around your shoulder.
  302. >You have to give her credit, it can't be easy working on a body that is literally alien to this world.
  303. >After a little prodding and poking, she settles into a pattern of massage and stretching.
  304. >It doesn't feel great, or like it's helping at all, but it does seem like the right thing to do.
  305. >It's almost like she knows what she's doing.
  306. "So tell me, oh devious one, what visions do /you/ have for the future?"
  307. >"...me?"
  308. "Yeah, you." you smirk, turning your head to look at her. "I want to kno-ow ow ow!"
  309. >"Sorry!" Lotus yelps, releasing your overextended arm.
  310. >You lie down, arm hanging by your side, your shoulder throbbing.
  311. >"I was so busy thinking about what you asked, I lost focus! I'm sorry!"
  312. "Ha, yeah, no biggie." you assure her. "But let's lay off the shoulder for a moment. Maybe just answer my question instead."
  313. >"Oh, okay." she says.
  314. >A few moments of silence follow, and just as you're about to speak up, you feel Lotus climb onto your back.
  315. >"Would it be horrible if I said I don't know?"
  316. "Hmmm, of course not." you answer slowly "But it sure doesn't sound the crafty little Lotus that I know."
  317. >"I just-I don't know. Sometimes I just want me and my special somepony, with a little house away from everypony else. But I could never leave Aloe, so I don't know, Anon."
  318. "That told me a lot, even if it didn't seem like it."
  319. >"It did?"
  320. "It did."
  321. >"You're not going to tell me what you're thinking?"
  322. "Nope."
  323. >She huffs, and the two of you lay in silence for a while.
  324. >The quiet is nice, and after a few seconds together like that your breathing starts to sync.
  325. >You feel a pony nuzzle the side of your head.
  326. >The softness of these ponies defies logic.
  327. >"Anon?"
  328. "Yes, Lotus?"
  329. >"You mentioned taking me someplace once..."
  330. "I remember that. I think we ruled out Canterlot, put Vanhoover in the 'maybe' pile."
  331. >"I've never been swimming in the ocean."
  332. >You sigh dramatically.
  333. "I suppose I can do that."
  334. >She says nothing, but you can still hear a barely supressed *squee*.
  335.  
  336. >Half an hour later, your therapy session has made no marked improvement.
  337. >In fact, you actually feel worse.
  338. >Aloe is actually quietly scolding Lotus in the hallway.
  339. >You mostly can't hear the details, but sometimes she raises her voice enough to make out a few words.
  340. >It's difficult to imagine Aloe angry.
  341. >She's always so quiet and cheerful.
  342. >Deciding that it would be best to intervene, you begin to dress yourself.
  343. >You're pulling your shoes on when Aloe pushes the door open, Lotus close behind her.
  344. >If it weren't for the look on Lotus' face, you'd never know that Aloe had been anything less than her usual self a moment ago.
  345. >Lotus is clearly upset, but stays silent as Aloe approaches you.
  346. >With both shoes on, you start to rise from your chair, but Aloe holds up a hoof to stop you.
  347. >Placing her hooves on your legs, she propels herself up onto your lap.
  348. >Aloe offers a small smile and leans in close.
  349. >"Anon, you know that I love you, right?"
  350. "Of course."
  351. >"Good. And I'm glad you trust Lotus to take care of you. I hope you trust me too."
  352. "Naturally." you chuckle, rubbing the pink pony's back.
  353. >Aloe nods, then looks briefly over her shoulder at the sulking Lotus.
  354. >"Anonymous, I just want to let you know, that both of you are dumb."
  355.  
  356. >En-route to the hospital, you get to hear more about how dumb you are.
  357. >How Lotus should have picked up on the fact that you're more than 'just sore' from the game.
  358. >How you should have known to ask the medic about your shoulder /at/ the game.
  359. >How Lotus should have told Aloe what was going on instead of trying to keep you to herself.
  360. >How you should not have played along with her schemes.
  361. >How the breakfast, while delicious, was a dead giveaway that something was awry.
  362. >On and on she goes.
  363. >As she leads the way, you fall in beside Lotus.
  364. >Initially, she attempted to rebut Aloe's accusations.
  365. >But now she just dejectedly accepts them.
  366. >Subtle petting has done nothing to cheer her up.
  367. >More drastic measures are clearly needed.
  368. >With a swift motion, you scoop Lotus up with your good arm, leaning her against your shoulder.
  369. >She settles in, and slowly she stops sniffling.
  370. >"Thank you." she whispers, and you can't help but smile a bit.
  371.  
  372. >It takes a while, but just as your arm is beginning to wear out you spy Ponyville General.
  373. >"Anon? Girls?" a familiar voice calls out from behind you.
  374. >Moving in your direction is none other than Roseluck.
  375. >Of course, Aloe also turned around, and is now accosting your shins for carrying Lotus.
  376. >Aloe's firm but gentle beating moves up your legs as she rears up, now trying to swat her sister (who has wisely pulled her tail up and out of reach).
  377. >Rose stops a few feet away and just watches you with an amused expression.
  378. "A little help?"
  379. >She just shrugs and smiles.
  380. >You level your gaze at her, with your best 'are you kidding me?' look.
  381. >Her smile grows a little wider.
  382. >These ponies.
  383. >Ridiculous.
  384. "Okay you two, that's enough."
  385. >"But Anon-"
  386. "Nope." you say, pressing a finger to Aloe's lips as you crouch down.
  387. >You release Lotus, who reluctantly returns to her hooves, and lean in to keep Aloe quiet with a kiss.
  388. >A long, soft kiss.
  389. >With a hand caressing her face.
  390. >It's easy and natural to linger a moment on her lips.
  391. >When you straighten up, all three mares have a fierce blush on their faces, though Aloe's is certainly more pronounced.
  392. >You throw a smirk and a wink in Roseluck's direction, then turn to resume your trek to the hospital.
  393. "Y'all coming or not?"
  394.  
  395. >After some inane small talk in the waiting room, a nurse leads you into the back.
  396. >"Mister Anonymous, I'm Nurse Redheart and I'll be taking care of you today."
  397. >You nod, and she goes about the usual rigmarole -height, weight, diet, exercise, etc...
  398. >It reminds you that, if you're going to really stay in Ponyville, you should write to your Canterlot doctor and have your files sent down here.
  399. >"Okay Mister Anonymous, with that out of the way why don't you tell me why you came in today?"
  400. "Simple enough." you reply "Like I said before, I play hoofball, and in the last game I took a hard fall on my left shoulder. Normally I wouldn't worry about it all that much, but it's sore to the point that I can't really use that arm now."
  401. >"Oh, I knew I had heard about you somewhere! You're friends with Rainbow Dash, aren't you?"
  402. "Guilty as charged." you smile "What's Speedysnooze told you about me?"
  403. >"Mostly talking about hoofball. She was really disappointed that you weren't going to be able to play this season, but it seems something changed?"
  404. "Yeah, I'm in Ponyville for the long-term, it seems."
  405. >"Well welcome back. Now, let's look at that shoulder-"
  406.  
  407. >An hour later, Nurse Redheart has put your arm in a sling with the weight supported by your good shoulder.
  408. >It was a bit awkward for a while, as she had you take your shirt off and felt you up.
  409. >She assured you that it was only to try and understand your alien physiology, of course.
  410. >You can only imagine the reactions the others would have had if they had been there.
  411. >Rose wouldn't have offered more than a raised eyebrow, but Aloe and Lotus would probably have said something.
  412. >Assuming Aloe didn't throw her sister under the bus in front of Nurse Redheart.
  413. >Those two have already been a handful, and it's only noon.
  414.  
  415. >Several hours later, the day has not gotten any better.
  416. >The twins are still at odds.
  417. >Roseluck went back to work for a bit.
  418. >Rarity was less than amicable about how late you were in picking up your shirt and tie.
  419. >Overall a less than stellar afternoon.
  420. >But now Aloe and Lotus are at home, getting ready before you all went to the auditorium.
  421. >Leaving you alone to get dressed.
  422. >And enjoy a Churchill martini.
  423. "Pouring a cold glass of gin while looking at a bottle of Vermouth" you say to yourself as you adjust your tie.
  424. >Taking the glass in hand you collapse into your favorite chair and raise the glass to your lips.
  425. >Drinking deeply, the cold liquor feels as if it is washing the stress out of you.
  426. >Staring out the french doors leading to the balcony, you can see a few pegasi crisscrossing the skies over Ponyville.
  427. >It is a nice change of pace, to be able to simply let your mind unfocus, and you savor the quiet emptiness of your precious alone time.
  428. >But inevitably it must come to an end.
  429. >Which it does with the particular patter of hooves on your door that means the purple pony princess is looking for you.
  430. "Come in, it's unlocked." you call, unwilling to leave your chair.
  431. >You hear the door open and the soft clopping of hooves on carpet as (the pony you assume to be) Twilight trots over to the couch.
  432. >Your suspicions are confirmed as your friend carefully lowers herself onto the cushions across from you.
  433. >She's wearing a Rarity original after all.
  434. >And it would be a mistake to ruffle it right before the concert.
  435. >Especially since she's going with Rarity herself.
  436. >At first glance you could mistake it for her most recent gala dress, but quickly realize that it is far less ornate and likely much more comfortable.
  437. >Practical fashion, really.
  438. >"You look lost in thought."
  439. "I'm trying very hard not to be."
  440. >"So...you're trying to focus on something?"
  441. "No, I'm trying to avoid thought."
  442. >"That doesn't really make sense."
  443. "You've never just needed to just let your mind shut down?"
  444. >"Well of course I do. It's called sleeping."
  445. >Nodding in agreement, you take a long draught of the now diluted gin.
  446. "More sleep probably wouldn't hurt me."
  447. >"I know you said you only need six hours, but didn't you tell me that most humans need eight?"
  448. "Alright mom, jeeze."
  449. >"Hey, I'm just trying to make sure you're okay."
  450. "I know, I know." you say, waving it off. "I just get enough of that from Roseluck."
  451. >"I should really invite her over sometime."
  452. "Or not. I don't need that kind of collusion in my life."
  453. >Twilight giggles.
  454. >"Oh Anon, you're cute when you're paranoid. Nopony can create more work for you than you do, even if we work together."
  455. "I resent that. I take work to pay the bills. It isn't cheap being the only human in Equestria!"
  456. >"You resemble it, more like."
  457. "Alright, alright." you concede, waving your empty glass to shush her. "I already got this lecture with Rose's family."
  458. >Twilight hums in approval.
  459. "So how about you, Oh Great Princess of Friendship? I bet all the stallions in Canterlot are a-flutter over you. Any prospects?"
  460. >"Anon!"
  461. "I mean, c'mon. You're telling me that the mare who tracks down friendship problems all over the country can't track down a nice colt for herself?"
  462. >"It isn't that simple..." she grumbles.
  463. "Isn't it?"
  464. >"No! I mean, it's just- there's a lot of rules about being a princess!"
  465. >You straighten up in your chair.
  466. "What do you mean?" you ask, cocking your head.
  467. >"I mean a princess can't just marry anypony! You think building a herd is complicated, trying arranging a royal marriage! Ugh!"
  468. "I told you that you should have found a guy way back when we first became friends." you smirk. "Of course, that was simply because I thought you needed some romance in your life."
  469. >Twilight simply glowers at you.
  470. "So how does this work? Do you just run ideas past Celly and Luna, or is there a flowchart or something?"
  471. >"I mostly ask Princess Celestia...I don't understand all the rules well enough to make a flowchart."
  472. "Well Twilight, I think maybe that's something that would help. It would certainly speed up the process."
  473. >"It isn't even that. I haven't met anypony worth running through a flowchart."
  474. "Really?"
  475. >"Well, one, but I already have a hunch that he won't be approved."
  476. "Have you asked?"
  477. >"N-no..."
  478. "Do it." you reply flatly. "You'll never know for sure until you do."
  479. >She seems unconvinced.
  480. >You'll have to talk to Rares about it.
  481. >Twilight will keep avoiding it if no one pushes her along.
  482. >And you have too much to do these days to be that person.
  483.  
  484. >Eventually the two of you depart the castle together.
  485. >You had agreed to drop the coltfriend questions if she would drop the herd questions.
  486. >Instead you discussed the seasonal flood/drought cycle in Appleoosa.
  487. >Spitballing ideas to better stabilize the river, and talking about the last time Twilight and the girls were down that way.
  488. >It was nice, even if it was tangentially work related.
  489. >That project was years away if it even happens.
  490. >As you near the spa, Twilight mentions Fluttershy's party next weekend.
  491. "That reminds me." you inteject "I need to find some time to talk to Cadence. Mano a mano."
  492. >"What?"
  493. "It's a human expression. I need to speak to her by myself."
  494. >"Oh, well they're getting in on Thursday, and the party isn't until Saturday, so you should be able to find some time if you let them know."
  495. "Perfect. I was afraid they were only going to get in the day of."
  496. >"Anon, did you really think my brother would come to Ponyville and not stay to visit?"
  497. "You've done that to him like, a dozen times."
  498. >"Hey! Not my fault!"
  499. >You lift a brow and cast a sidelong glance at her.
  500. >"Okay, mostly not my fault."
  501. >...
  502. >"Alright! Maybe a few times it was my fault, now stop that!"
  503. "I didn't say anything."
  504. >"Arrgh."
  505. >"Princess Twilight?" Aloe asks from the door "Will you be joining us tonight?"
  506. >"Oh! Hello Aloe, Lotus. No, I have my own booth with Rarity and Fluttershy." Twilight explains.
  507. >Unlike Twilight, the twins haven't bothered with dresses opting instead for simple white shawls with matching while lilies tucked behind an ear.
  508. >You wonder if they always plan to match, or if it's just force of habit for them at this point.
  509. "She's walking with us to the Auditorium since, you know, we both live at the castle."
  510. >Locking their door behind them, the twins join you and Twilight and the party ventures forth.
  511. >Aloe and Lotus take up positions to either side of you.
  512. >It's ideal for surreptitious ear scratches.
  513. >And also means that they don't have to see each other.
  514. >Glad to see that still hasn't resolved itself.
  515. >Sighing, you follow Twilight as she leads the way to the venue.
  516.  
  517. >The Ponyville Auditorium is a surprisingly well appointed hall.
  518. >You hadn't really noticed the last time you were here, simply because the entire time you were here your focus was split between sneaking a note to Lyra and humming the Mission: Impossible Theme.
  519. >A plaque on the wall tells you that it's one of the town's most historic buildings.
  520. >Which makes sense, this place was probably the most exciting thing in town back then.
  521. >"Anon?"
  522. >A sharp jab in the side turns your attention from the building to the ponies around you.
  523. "Ow! God, what was that for!?"
  524. >The offender is a perfect primped marshmallow you happen to know.
  525. >"Eyes off the building, mind off work, Anonymous."
  526. "I can't help it if I happen to like old buildings."
  527. >"You can always come back later." she replies. "Now go take your girls to their seats like a gentlecolt."
  528. "I can't yet-oh, nevermind. Roseluck just walked in."
  529. >"Mhm! Now off you go!"
  530. "Remind me that I need to talk to you about something later. We'll get lunch or something."
  531. >"I shan't forget!" she says as she walks off to join Twilight at Fluttershy.
  532. >You, in turn, go to meet Rose.
  533. >She's wearing a simple green dress.
  534. >You don't know if green is her favorite color or what, but you do know that she knows how to wear it.
  535. >With a few quick strides you're beside her.
  536. >Taking a knee, you plant a chaste kiss on her muzzle before wrapping her in a hug.
  537. >"Miss me much?"
  538. "Oh it has been horrible." you sigh dramatically.
  539. >Rose rolls her eyes as you let her go, taking the time to bump you as she moves further into the lobby.
  540. >"Come on, we need to get to our seats."
  541.  
  542. >Following Rose, you wave the twins over and hand your tickets to the colt at the doors.
  543. >He directs you to a staircase, and you herd the group along.
  544. >Upstairs you easily find your booth (the place only has four of them) and quickly drop into a seat.
  545. >Two rows of five seats.
  546. >You take left of center, front row.
  547. >Instantly Lotus is on your left and Aloe on your right.
  548. >Looking to Rose for help, she just shakes her head at the sight.
  549. >So much for your last best hope.
  550. >Ah well, just roll with it.
  551. >Your hands are pulled into hooves as the lights dim and the curtain rises.
  552. >The conductor walks onstage and give a short speech.
  553. >He introduces Octavia -their featured soloist- and gives a short biography of her work, then talks the audience through the set list for the evening.
  554. >Aloe and Lotus are each trying to pull you closer to them, though Lotus is at least taking care to be gentle with your bad arm.
  555. >Eventually you pull both arms away from them and stretch them across the backs of the seats.
  556. >The conductor concludes his speech, turns to the orchestra, and with a flick of his baton the concert begins.
  557.  
  558.  
  559. >As the concert rolls along, the two sisters begin their silent squabbling again.
  560. >They've both put a hoof on one of your knees, and occasionally one will try to shoo the other away.
  561. >Frankly, it's childish and irritating.
  562. >Inhaling deeply, you slowly release it.
  563. >It's fine, this is why you have a private booth.
  564. >Okay, it isn't fine, these two are really getting out of hand, but no one else has to see it at least.
  565. >The batting of hooves across your lap continues to pick up tempo as you pointedly fold your hands and lean forward.
  566. >Instantly the twins push up against you.
  567. >With a grunt, you reflexively pull your bad shoulder away from Lotus, who gently rubs it before settling back in.
  568. >This is...actually kind of cozy.
  569. >If nothing else, it is an improvement over the little spat they've been having.
  570. >Looking over, across Aloe, you see Rose frown just slightly.
  571. >You shrug at her, and she shakes her head.
  572. >You return your focus to the music.
  573. >Damn, you missed an entire piece!
  574. >A short piece, but still.
  575. >This next one was "Jupiter" from Colt's "Planetary Suite".
  576. >One of your favorites.
  577.  
  578. >Applauding loudly, you lean back in your chair as the conductor announces a fifteen minute intermission.
  579. >Stretching, you rise and excuse yourself to use the restroom.
  580. >Three mares is proving too much for you.
  581. >Three!
  582. >And you're supposed to have seven?
  583. >You can't help but feel that maybe, for once, you'll get Candyass to relent.
  584. >Quickly brushing that bit of optimism away, you sigh.
  585. >Next weekend was that shindig at 'Shy's.
  586. >You need to walk into that party prepared.
  587. >A list of questions, and instructions for the Elements to find a way for you to meet with the Pink Menace one on one.
  588. >You need to ask questions.
  589. >Questions like: What the hell were you thinking?
  590. >And: Have you lost your goddamn mind?
  591. >But, until then, you need to deal with some out of line fillies back at your booth.
  592. >Finishing your business, you make a quick stop at the bar for a glass of whiskey on the rocks before you head back upstairs.
  593. >Plastic glass in hand you make your way back toward the booth, pausing at the top step as you catch a whispered argument taking place.
  594. >You tilt your head to listen as you sip quietly on your bourbon.
  595. >"...can't you see you're upsetting Anon?"
  596. >That's Aloe, probably.
  597. >"Me!? You're the one who...."
  598. >Yeah, because that was definitely Lotus.
  599. >"...start this, but I won't...." Aloe mumbles.
  600. >"...both of you are behaving..."
  601. >Ah, Rose is there. Good.
  602. >"...just because you were first..."
  603. >"...not the alpha yet!" Lotus spits.
  604. >Before anything gets too heated, you down the rest of your drink and take the final steps out into the open, tossing the cup neatly into a bin as you pass.
  605. >The three of them immediately fall silent as they watch your approach.
  606. >Taking off your coat as you step back into the theatre area, you drop into a corner seat and pointedly toss the suit coat onto the seat next to you.
  607. >After a moment, you hear more hushed bickering.
  608. >Finally Roseluck enters, sliding into the second row, finding the seat directly behind you.
  609. >Eventually the end of the intermission quells the quiet quarrel and two rather miffed mares return to the booth, quite pointedly not looking at each other.
  610. >Your eyes roll at the idea that you are the cause of this and will likely have to be the solution to it as well.
  611. >It occurs to you that in your irritation you failed to actually address the issues, but as the curtain rises you remind yourself that you aren't here for them.
  612. >You're here for Lyra.
  613. >Leaning forward, you intertwine your fingers and focus your attention on the stage.
  614. >With a flick of the baton the orchestra comes to attention.
  615. >And with a wave he launches them into a collection of folk songs featuring Octavia on a wide variety of string instruments.
  616. >Closing your eyes helps you to really appreciate the quiet complexity of the orchestra supporting a seemingly simple solo melody.
  617. >The music conjures images of the countryside, and ode to a way of life oft overlooked as ponies increasingly move to the cities and newly formed suburbs.
  618. >It is as if the composer spent a summer writing this collection while renting a room from the Apple Family.
  619. >But, unmerited nostalgia for rural life aside, you pay particular attention to this song because it really brings the lyre to life.
  620. >More than once Lyra is among only a handful of ponies playing.
  621. >You had always assumed that the Lyre was a plucked instrument -a one note at a time sort of affair- but this piece has Lyra strumming away as if it was a guitar.
  622. >A learning experience.
  623. >It's a surprisingly up-tempo piece, and sadly it races along to its conclusion all too quickly.
  624. >For the next several pieces, Octavia leaves the stage and Lyra returns to being merely one part of a large ensemble.
  625. >You find yourself surreptitiously checking on the others.
  626. >It's impossible to tell how Rose is doing since she is directly behind you.
  627. >But the other two are off to the side, and you can see them both easily enough.
  628. >Aloe is focused intently on the orchestra, the corners of her mouth pulled into a subtle frown and her ears twitch irritably every few seconds.
  629. >Lotus is less focused on the music and more on the ground.
  630. >The orchestra winds down its second to last song, and you quietly stand up.
  631. >Putting your jacket back on, you take its place with your arms stretched out across the backs of the two seats to either side of you.
  632. >Having gained the attention of both Aloe and Lotus, you wave them over, and they eventually move to join you.
  633. >Octavia returns to the stage for the closing song, an arrangement of Nessun Dorma.
  634. >You drape first one arm, and then another, across the backs of your companions.
  635. >It doesn't take much effort to pull them against you.
  636. >Lotus is sniffling again, but then again, this song makes you a little teary-eyed too.
  637. >You close your eyes and tilt your head back to focus on the serenading strings of Octavia's cello far below onstage.
  638. >It isn't a very long song, and soon it comes to a close.
  639. >The curtain drops momentarily as you reclaim your arms to join in the applause.
  640. >When the curtain rises again, the conductor dismisses the orchestra section by section, allowing for them to take their bows.
  641. >As Lyra rises, so do you.
  642. >And when she leaves stage you drop back into your seat.
  643.  
  644. >The crowds below are dispersing
  645. >The lights are back up
  646. >The curtain is closed
  647. >But you are still in your seat
  648. >Aside from the two apologetic mares in your arms, there's Roseluck behind you still that you'd like to talk to.
  649. >And, of course, you told Lyra to meet you here after the concert.
  650. >Aloe has already offered a whispered apology.
  651. >Lotus isn't quite that composed yet.
  652. "Aloe, can you give me a moment with Lotus?"
  653. >"Oh. Yes, I'll just-"
  654. "Just scoot over a seat or two. You don't have to leave."
  655. >As Aloe moves, you turn to Lotus.
  656. "Lotus."
  657. >Nothing.
  658. "Lotus, look at me."
  659. >Nothing.
  660. >Setting your hand beneath her chin, you lift her gaze to meet yours.
  661. "Lotus. I'm over it, okay?"
  662. >She nods.
  663. "You want to prove that you're sorry?"
  664. >Another nod.
  665. "Go make up with Aloe."
  666. >Lotus hangs her head, but she does get to her hooves...slowly.
  667. "Oh, and Lotus?"
  668. >She looks over at you.
  669. "It's her fault too. And she knows it." you assure her.
  670. >Planting a kiss on her forehead you send her to go talk to her sister.
  671. >Heaving a small sigh of relief, you maneuver around the seats to join Rose a row back.
  672. "Hey princess."
  673. >"And here I thought you forgot about me."
  674. "Never. I just know you can handle not having me hold your hoof at all times."
  675. >"I still like it once in a while."
  676. "And that's why I'm here now."
  677. >"I suppose I can forgive you."
  678. "Love you too."
  679.  
  680. >Wrapping an arm around Roseluck, the two of you watch the twins have a hushed conversation.
  681. >Both of them are clearly upset.
  682. >Hopefully with themselves as well as each other.
  683. >You have great faith in their bond as sisters.
  684. >They'll make up, they have to.
  685. >Right?
  686. "You've never held a grudge against your sisters...have you?"
  687. >"Maybe for a few days at most."
  688. "Unfortunate."
  689. >"This is a little thing." Rose assures you, letting out a tiny yawn. "They'll be fine."
  690. >You hope so.
  691. >The last thing you need is for those two to go after each other because of you.
  692.  
  693. >Eventually the two sisters share a hug and make their way over to you and Rose.
  694. >Assessing the seating arrangements, you quickly scoop up Rose with your good arm and set her in your lap.
  695. >"Anon!" she whines "We're in public!"
  696. "No one is here to see." you shush her, pulling her against you.
  697. >The twins quickly hop into the seats to either side.
  698. >Hooves hold your arms to the seat, they stand to either side of you.
  699. >Lotus speaks first.
  700. >"I'm sorry, Anon. I wasn't thinking and I could have really hurt you! We all know how much you enjoy hoofball, and I would have felt terrible if i ruined that for you..."
  701. "But you didn't, so-"
  702. >"But she could have." Aloe interjects. "And she's sorry. And I'm sorry too."
  703. >The pink mare affectionately nuzzles the side of your head.
  704. >"I was so worried about you that I started a fight with Lotus, and then that fight distracted you through the whole concert."
  705. >"Not all of it." Rose offers.
  706. >"Still, we were rude to Anon." Aloe insists.
  707. >"And we're sorry." Lotus agrees.
  708. >Closing your eyes, you bury your face in Rose's mane for a moment.
  709. >Carefully you think about what to say.
  710. >You nod to yourself, as you lift your head.
  711. "Alright you two. You're forgiven this time." you reply, earning a smile from them. "But! But tomorrow I expect you both to apologize to Lyra. I came here for her, and instead I spent quite a bit of time dealing with the two of you."
  712. >"O-oh. We hadn't really considered that..." Lotus mumbles.
  713. >"Yes...tomorrow we will find her and apologize."
  714. >Carefully letting go of Rose, you gingerly wrap your arms around the twins and give them a light squeeze.
  715. "You girls drive me nuts sometimes, you know that?"
  716. >Leaning your head back you release a sigh.
  717. "But I love you anyways."
Herd Herding Hawkeye

Auction Pony Scenes

by Hawkeye

Herd 18

by Hawkeye

Herd 17

by Hawkeye

Herd 16

by Hawkeye

Herd 15

by Hawkeye