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The Long and Short of It (RGRE) Part 4

By SQA-non
Created: 28th November 2020 09:31:33 PM
1st December 2021 06:11:39 AM

  1. AKA A Guardsmare Of Half Height And Double Spirit Finds Love Twice As Tall And Thrice As Strong: A Reverse Gender Roles Equestria Story of Epic Proportions And Minuscule Stature
  2. Special thanks to Comfy, Uh-hmmm, Ephemeral, ScribblesAnon, APA, HotKinkajou, LaP, Rot, Editfag, and Shu for prereading/editing help.
  3. And and super special thanks to NigNogs for the top tier fan art, and de facto cover art, which can be viewed here: https://ponybooru.org/images/33009?q=artist%3Anignogs
  4.  
  5.  
  6. >Last night was pretty crazy.
  7. >Now you, Anonymous the Unicorn, have woken up in a unique position.
  8. >Namely, you’re now the meat in a snuggle sandwich.
  9. >You’ve got your hooves around Pike, and Cut’s got her hooves around you.
  10. >And honestly? This is beyond comfy.
  11. >So much so that you’re seriously reconsidering the prospect of getting up today.
  12. >Yeah actually... fuck it.
  13. >You’re going back to bed!
  14. >Closing your eyes once again, you allow the fuzzy bodies pressed up against yours to whisk you away...
  15.  
  16. >This time as you come to, you find yourself alone.
  17. >Leaning up in bed, you stretch your forehooves and take a deep breath.
  18. >Mmmmmm mmmm, smell that morning air!
  19. >Smells like waffles and eggs!
  20. >Leaping out of bed, you make your way into your happy home’s kitchen.
  21. >It appears while you were out, Pike went ahead and made breakfast.
  22. >The two of them have already started helping themselves, while there’s a third plate of waffles and eggs waiting at an empty seat, just for you.
  23. >Taking it, you see Pike is seated directly across from you, and Cut is to your left.
  24. “Good morning ladies!”
  25. >Pike, swallowing a bite of eggs, waves to you.
  26. >”Mornin’, Anon.”
  27. >While Cut just speaks around a mouthful of waffle.
  28. >>”Oh! G-good morning, Anon!”
  29. >You can’t help but chuckle and roll your eyes at the poor mare.
  30. >You just spent most of the night with your face between her honkers and she’s /still/ nervous!
  31. >Some things might just be incurable you suppose.
  32. “How’d the two of you sleep?”
  33. >>”Amazing!” Cut blurts out, ”I-I mean, good, thank you.”
  34. >Pike, swallowing another bite of her eggs, leans back against the back of her chair.
  35. >”Good, as always. Not to shlick myself off, but getting you to finally break your hay hang up was one of the best things I ever did.”
  36. >Oh yeah, that reminds you!
  37. >Cutting off a forkful of waffle, you hold off eating it just long enough to ask a question.
  38. “By the way, do you ever get hot? I can’t imagine it’d be comfortable both smushed in my fuzz while /also/ under the covers.”
  39. >Surprisingly she looks a little... embarrassed?
  40. >Shoving the morsel in your mouth, you eagerly await her answer.
  41. >Mmmmm, buttermilk.
  42. >”No, I get cold.”
  43. >Seriously? How?
  44. >She’s covered head to hoof in extra fuzzy fir!
  45. “What happened to all that stuff about how ‘Thestrals are the fuzziest race’?”
  46. >Your question obviously flusters her, she answers with just a touch of venom.
  47. >”We are!”
  48. >Although, that venom fades very quickly and is replaced by that embarrassment again.
  49. >”But fuzziest doesn’t necessarily mean the best insulated...”
  50. >Cut, having just swallowed a large piece of waffle, speaks up.
  51. >>”In early Equestria, Thestral communities would typically migrate south for the winter. Well, either that or rely on... others to provide body heat.”
  52. >Pike sighs, /very/ loudly, in a show of exasperation.
  53. >”And the other tribes STILL call us vampires for it. You ancestors give out a /few/ surprise hugs because they’re cold and even their /grandfoals/ aren’t allowed to live it down!”
  54. >What!? No way, that’s hilarious!
  55. “Pffft, hahaha! Home come you never told me about this before?”
  56. >Pike angrily crosses her forehooves and her face turns a brand new shade of red.
  57. >”Because its /stupid/.”
  58. >Oh you are SO remembering that!
  59. “Whatever you say... my little vampire.”
  60. >Her face visibly scrunches in annoyance, but she wisely holds herself back from verbally lashing out.
  61. >You’re ok with that, her scrunch is more than enough to put an early morning smile on your face.
  62. >Cut’s getting her fair share of amusement out of Pike's reaction as well, and is chuckling into her hoof.
  63. >Shooting Pike a cheeky smile for the road, you decide to let her off the hook after that, and instead focus on eating your breakfast.
  64. >Besides, you’ve got something you need to ask, and you better think about what you’re going to say before you do.
  65. >So, after most of your waffle and plenty of consideration, you turn to Cut.
  66. “Hey Cut?”
  67. >>”Yeah?”
  68. >Peeking around the table, you see she’s once again put on the (presumably) enchanted bra that hides her teats.
  69. >Having decided on the path of being direct, you point at the bra.
  70. “What’s with that anyway?”
  71. >Your question makes her flinch.
  72. >As she does, her eyes seemingly scrunch shut of their own accord, and she hides behind her forehooves.
  73. >Clearly this is not a topic she enjoys discussing.
  74. >>”M-my t-teats?”
  75. >Now that gives you pause.
  76. >Why would she assume you meant her teats themselves and not her bra?
  77. “No no, the bra. I mean, why go through such effort to hide your boobs?”
  78. >You can see Pike roll her eyes from across the table.
  79. >”Teats, Anon. TEATS.”
  80. “Right yeah, what Pike said.”
  81. >She thankfully lowers her hooves so you can see her face again, but unfortunately her head lowers as well as her posture sags.
  82. >>”B-because they’re ugly.”
  83. >Uhhhhhh
  84. >Hold the FUCK up.
  85. >You’d learned through osmosis that big teats were considered ‘unattractive’, but those deliciously fat teats!? Straight ugly!?
  86. >What the fu—
  87.  
  88. >You are Cut N. Paste, and while you understand why Anon’s asking these questions, that doesn’t mean you really like answering them.
  89. >Seeing the truth for yourself about Anon’s tastes last night was an amazing experience.
  90. >But that doesn’t make talking about other stallions not sharing his sentiments any less painful.
  91. >You start clopping your forehooves together as you stare at them, unwilling to meet Anon’s eyes.
  92. “I-it’s better if ponies don’t have to see them...”
  93. >*SLAM*
  94. >Ahhhh!
  95. >You're pretty sure that sudden sound made you physically hop out of your chair a little bit.
  96. >But it also had the side effect of getting you to look away from your hooves, and up at Anon.
  97. >It appears the sound was him slamming the hooves on the table.
  98. >Strangely his face seems devoid of emotion, a mask of neutrality to hide whatever he is truly feeling.
  99. >A sentiment reflected by his unusually monotone voice.
  100. >”Pike, it's no secret that ponykind does a lot of things better than my own people did. You’re happier, you’re generally more peaceful, et cetera. But this?”
  101. >He points at you with his hoof.
  102. >”THIS!? Ponykind is taking a /MASSIVE/ L on this one.”
  103. >>”Wha- hey! It's not our fault they look like balls!”
  104. >He shakes his head like a disapproving parent.
  105. >”Look like balls? LOOK LIKE BALLS!? Unbelievable. Shameful, even.”
  106. >You can feel your heart beating faster as he talks.
  107. >”Titties like that are like your flanks, Pike, exceptional. They deserve to be seen and appreciated!”
  108. >Oh Celestia please don’t say something stupid, PLEASE don’t say something stupid!
  109. >”In fact I’d say—”
  110. “Marry me.”
  111. >AaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
  112. >WHY DID YOU SAY THAT!?
  113. >YOU’VE BEEN DATING FOR ONE NIGHT WHY WOULD YOU—
  114. >*Mwah*
  115. >Anon just did something that brought an abrupt end to your eternal screaming.
  116. >While you weren’t paying attention he crossed the kitchen a-and... k-kissed you on the cheek...
  117. >Your COLTFRIEND just gave you a peck on the cheek!
  118. >A PECK on the CHEEK!
  119.  
  120. “I think you broke her.”
  121. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and you just witnessed a pony go from the lowest of lows, to the highest of highs.
  122. >Such a high high in fact, that Anon has been waving a hoof in front of Cut’s face for several seconds, and she hasn’t so much as blinked.
  123. >”You think?”
  124. >Come on Anon, the poor mare’s probably received more affection from a stallion this past week than her whole life!
  125. >You swat his hoof away from her face and give him a disappointed look.
  126. “Cut her some slack.”
  127. >Hopefully tha—
  128. >Oh no.
  129. >By the time you realized what you just said, Anon’s already slid past Cut and is advancing on you with a self-satisfied smile on his face.
  130. >”So you’re asking me to cut Cut some slack?”
  131. >...
  132. >Luna damn it...
  133. >You smile, despite yourself.
  134. “You know, jokes that bad are a legal offence. As an officer of the crown I could run you in for that.”
  135. >He leans back, hoof to his head in a dramatic pose.
  136. >”You wouldn’t! I can’t go back to prison!”
  137. >Before you can reply, something about that statement brings Cut back to reality.
  138. >>”Anon, you’ve been to prison?” she says, probably more alarmed than she needs to be.
  139. >He completely ignores the question as he spins back around to face her.
  140. >”Welcome back to the land of the living!”
  141. >>”I-It wasn’t that! I-I was just thinking really hard!”
  142. >”Oh yeah?” he says as he quirks an eyebrow, “Thinking about what, how hard you just got kissed?”
  143. >>”M-maybe.”
  144. >The three of you share a laugh as Anon returns to his seat.
  145. >By the time he does, the three of you have quieted down.
  146. >”Well, Cut, just to give my final thoughts on the matter: those tasteless cretin might think you’re ugly, but I think you look great.”
  147. >You can visibly see how that lights her up.
  148. >But surprisingly, she leans in toward you.
  149. >>”Psst, Pike, what should I say back?” she whispers to you.
  150. >Leaning in towards her, you whisper back.
  151. “Just, you know, compliment him back! What, have yo—”
  152. >You were about to ask, “what, have you never been complimented by a stallion before?” but you wisely reconsidered at the last moment.
  153. “Nevermind. Just compliment him on something you like about him.”
  154. >She nods, and returns to her normal sitting position before addressing Anon.
  155. >>”Th-thank you Anon. And I think... your balls smell really nice.”
  156. >The three of you sit in silence for a moment as what Cut just said sinks in.
  157. >Cut hasn’t moved a muscle since she said it, but you eventually hear a sound from her, something the air being slowly let out of a balloon.
  158. >Slowly she turns to face you, and you see the face of a pony who wants to die.
  159. >>”Pike? Did I just...?”
  160. >Her answer comes in the form of Anon’s sudden howling laugher.
  161. >”AHHAHAHAHA HOLY SHIT!”
  162. >He’s practically falling out of his chair as he does, the hoof he gripped onto the table being the only thing that keeps him upright.
  163. >“I’m sorry, Pike, but that has /got/ to be the best compliment I’ve ever gotten!”
  164. >WHAT!? THAT!?
  165. >There’s no way you’re letting /that/ show you up!
  166. >Nor are you going to leave your herdsister high and dry!
  167. “I’ll have you know I think your balls smell great too!”
  168. >That only makes him laugh harder, to the point where he does fall off his chair.
  169. >Thankfully that’s only a couple inches.
  170. >”Hahahahaaaa oh, oh man ahaha oh God. Gimme a moment. Hahahaaa”
  171. >Meanwhile, Cut looks like she just averted a heart attack.
  172. >Her hoof is to her chest, while she takes deep breaths in an attempt to calm herself down.
  173. >As she does though, she shoots you a very grateful look, and you smile in return.
  174. >”Ohohoh, oh God.”
  175. >Anon seems to have regained control of himself, and has returned to his seat.
  176. >”Oh man, I think my heart skipped a beat or two.”
  177. >Your face is almost certainly as snide as your tone of voice.
  178. “Because we’re such romantics, no doubt.”
  179. >You statement lets another round of chuckles wrack his frame.
  180. >”Hehe, if this is what it's going to be like every day, I don’t think I’ll survive the month.”
  181. >Since both Anon and Cut are looking for an opportunity to catch their breath, you give it to them, and the conversation trails off.
  182. >Eventually though, it comes time to ask the million bit question...
  183.  
  184. >”What do you two want to actually do today?”
  185. >Anon lazily swivels his head to look outside.
  186. >Today’s forecast mentioned ‘heavy snowfall’ but you don’t think any of you expected snowfall like /that/.
  187. >The storm is practically blocking out the sun as the winds whip snow past your view.
  188. >>”Well, clearly our best bet is something inside.”
  189. >He turns back to face you.
  190. >>”Cut! You’re essentially our guest of honor. What do you want to do?”
  191. >Oh no!
  192. >You hate being put on the spot to decide things!
  193. “Well since it's pretty cold outside. We could uh... we could... uh...”
  194. >Come on brain, think of something!
  195. >No matter how much you mentally scramble though, you find it no easier to come up with any ideas than when you’re alone.
  196. >Come on think, thiiiiiink, thiiiiiink!
  197. >Wait you’ve got it!
  198. “We could watch some movies!”
  199. >Anon hmmmms, gesturing towards Pike’s collection.
  200. >>”I dunno. Pike’s collection is a little lame, and the movie rental place is on the other side of town.”
  201. >”Not anymore,” Pike chimes in, “A new place opened up a block or two towards the castle. Block Buster’s, I think.”
  202. >Well that’s a good idea!
  203. >Good on you, Cut! You actually managed to contribu—
  204. >Why does Anon look like he’s seen a ghost?
  205. >>”Did you just say, Blockbuster?”
  206. >Pike rolls her eyes.
  207. >”Great. Don’t tell me Block Buster is /another/ mare you got in a fight with when you first got here.”
  208. >Oh no, like Silken? She told you all about that.
  209. >Something about how socks were viewed in his homeland?
  210. >>”No, no. It's... it's nothing. Just a weird coincidence is all.”
  211. >Aw, he sounds so sad when he says it.
  212. >You can tell Pike noticed it too, because she’s started looking pretty concerned.
  213. >Before either of you can ask about it though, he groans.
  214. >>”Oh come on don’t look at me like that. It's nothing. Today’s supposed to be fun anyway.”
  215. >”Yeah, but Ano—”
  216. >>”Cut!” he cries out, cutting Pike off, “What’s your favorite movie?”
  217. “Well that’s easy, its—”
  218. >You freeze, dead still.
  219. >The abruptness of his question almost got you to answer truthfully.
  220. >Oh gosh and that would have been so embarrassing!
  221. “It’s uhhhhhhh...”
  222. >You can’t actually tell them it's My Loving Husband and Our Lovely Home: Directors Cut with commentary from the voice actresses (the 990 one, not the 1002 remake of course)!
  223. >Even the girls at the Cyber tournaments called you a hopeless weeaboo when you said that!
  224. >Quick, come up with a believable lie!
  225. >Something like uhhhh uhhh uhhhh—
  226. “Batmare Begins!”
  227. >Pike’s face lights up like a hearth.
  228. >”No way, I love that movie! Although, I do like the sequel a little better.”
  229. >Phew, thank goodness you can rely on Thestrals to love bat related things.
  230. >”What part is your favorite? Mine’s the one where she hops off the roof and shouts, ‘I am the night!’”
  231. >Anon smiles, you guess it's a subject he’s happy to be off of.
  232. >>”Pike, doesn’t that describe half the movie?”
  233. >She blushes furiously.
  234. >”No it's not! It’s- wait, actually...”
  235. >She puts her head in her hooves, clearly trying to remember just how many times that actually happens.
  236. >Last time you counted it was 22 scenes, about half the movie, making Anon correct.
  237. >Which was something you actually noted in your review (truth be told, you thought the comic adaptation was much better).
  238. >But you can’t bring that up now, you’re in too deep.
  239. “So, movie night it is?”
  240. >Anon hops out of his chair.
  241. >>”Fine by me. Let’s go sooner rather than later though, I want to get walking through that mess over with ASAP.”
  242. >You nod in agreement, might as well get it out of the way.
  243. >”Ah!” Pike, suddenly cries, “The scenes she does that only take up an hour and FIVE minutes! That’s a whole fifteen minutes less than half the runtime!”
  244. >Her gaze shifts between the two of you, her triumphant look fading fast.
  245. >”Why are you two looking at me like that?”
  246.  
  247. >You are Anonymous, and the trip to “Block Buster’s”, while arduous, was short and uneventful.
  248. >As the three of you now stand amongst the maze of shelves, you find yourself reaching one inevitable conclusion.
  249. >It’s... a Blockbuster.
  250. >From wall to wall it's exactly like every Blockbuster you can remember from when you were a kid.
  251. >Yellow walls, only somewhat well lit, gray carpet as far as the eye can see...
  252. >It even /smells/ the same. God, how does it smell the same?
  253. >Sure you’re taller than every shelf now, but, it really is just like you remember.
  254. >Just like home.
  255. >
  256. >Come on man, get a hold of yourself.
  257. >It's just a Blockbuster, quit feeling so sad about it.
  258. >Thankfully, Pike and Cut were too engrossed in perusing the shelves to notice.
  259. >Speaking of, Cut’s standing on her hooftips to look over the shelf the three of you are currently looking at, and by the look on her face she sees something she likes.
  260. >>”The horror movie section’s over there. O-one of those could be fun.”
  261. >Peering over the shelf yourself, you see it is as she says.
  262. >Hmm, you and Pike haven’t actually watched any horror movies together.
  263. >Makes you wonder what pony horror movies are like.
  264. >Would they even be able to scare someone like you?
  265. >Ha! You doubt it.
  266. >Probably has a monster like ‘the mare that doesn’t like hugs’ or something.
  267. >Speaking of, it doesn’t take a genius to guess why Cut would want to watch a horror movie.
  268. “You just want me to get scared and fall into your hooves.”
  269. >Based on the way her face just turned red, you totally called it.
  270. >>”N-no!”
  271. >Oh yeah, that’s totally what she wanted.
  272. “Well, if you’d said ‘yes’ I’d have been into it, but since you said no...”
  273. >Aha, now you’ve completely thrown her off balance!
  274. >>”W-what!?!”
  275. >”Oooooh, that’s a good idea, Cut,” chimes in Pike, “we should get something that’ll really take the fur off of him!”
  276. >Oho, is that a challenge?
  277. “As if any of your SNORE-or movies could terrify a seasoned veteran like me!” you say while striking a defiant pose!
  278. >A pose that is met with two deadpan stares.
  279. >>”Anon... that was foul.”
  280. >What!?
  281. >That wasn’t that bad!
  282. “Come on, it was funny!”
  283. >Without another word, both Pike and Cut simply turn away from you and start to walk.
  284. “Hey! Where are you going!?””
  285. >They don’t even turn back, much less acknowledge what you said.
  286. “Come ooooooon!”
  287. >They continue on however, likely to the horror movie section to try to prove you wrong.
  288. >Hmf, fine by you.
  289. >They’ll be scarier if you don’t know what’s coming anyway, and they’ll need every advantage they can get!
  290. >But what to do in the meantime?
  291. >Scanning the store, you look for something interesting.
  292. >And something interesting you find!
  293. >In the back left corner, there’s a room separated from the rest of the store by a black curtain marked with three white hearts.
  294. >/That’s/ not something the Blockbusters back home had.
  295. >Might as well take a look.
  296.  
  297. >Turns out it's the porn section!
  298. >You honestly did not expect that.
  299. >Although you aren’t complaining, nothing cheers you up faster than reading funny porn titles.
  300. “Unfaithful husband plumbs plumber’s depths like never before. Hehe.”
  301. >Putting the porno back on the shelf, you continue down the way.
  302. >Hmmm, the more you see, the more obvious it is that the shelves lack any sort of organization.
  303. >Maybe Block Buster herself was in some sort of a hurry?
  304. >Or, more likely, she figured no one would care.
  305. >Ooooh, that one looks interesting!
  306. >Grabbing the box off the shelf, you take a good long look.
  307. >The cover’s got two ponies standing on the set of a partially destroyed tiny city.
  308. >The stallion is in some magical girl looking get up, while the mare is in a full-body monster suit.
  309. >Well, almost full-body, her fat ass titties are hangin’ out!
  310. >’Teatzilla vs. Captain Colt!’ the cover proudly boasts.
  311. >Ha! This one might be worth checking the back of.
  312. >Flipping it over, you start reading the description.
  313. >’In a faithful adaptation of the best selling doujinshi, Captain Colt faces his most dangerous foe yet! Teatzilla is here, and the only thing that can sedate her primal rage is a virgin! Can Captain Colt protect his purity? Or will he succumb to the monster’s lecherous ways?’
  314. >You don’t want to look like a weirdo, laughing to yourself in a Blockbuster, but you do anyway.
  315. >Like, come on, look at that summary!
  316. >Honestly you kind of want to watch it, sounds like it’d be fun.
  317. >Ah well, you’re not bringing a porno to movie night that’d just be weird.
  318. >Might as well put it back and—
  319. >As you’re about to, the picture on the bottom of the back of the box catches your eye.
  320. >It’s got the mare and stallion out of costume, and huh.
  321. >You can’t really put your hoof on why, but something about that mare /really/ reminds you of Cut.
  322. >She’s certainly got similarly sized teats, if a little smaller.
  323. >Scanning for the actresses name, you find it just below the picture.
  324. >’Pictured: loving couple (and stars of the show) Barely Legal and Suck N. Buck.’
  325. >Suck /N./ Buck?!
  326. >Cut said the N thing was a family tradition!
  327. >And ‘loving couple’?
  328. >A little while after you met, Cut told you her parents were movie stars.
  329. >Was that not the whole truth?
  330. >Did she really mean PORN stars!?
  331. >Maybe you’re going back on not bringing a porno to movie night.
  332.  
  333. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and you think that you and Cut have finally found the perfect set of movies to put Anon in a scared snuggling mood.
  334. >Using your combined knowledge, the two of you have picked out the finest collection of fur raising spine chillers ever to hit the big screen.
  335. >The big guy won’t know what hit him!
  336. >Speaking of, after you left him in the action section he seemed to have wandered off somewhere.
  337. >A somewhere he is now returning from, with a DVD drifting in his hands.
  338. >”Hey gals, got something you think will make me scream?”
  339. >Cut clops her hooves excitedly, seemingly unaware of whatever surprise Anon is holding.
  340. >>”You bet! I hope you’re ready Anon! There’s no stallion alive that could handle these.”
  341. >It seems the poor mare just caught herself speaking without thinking, because the second those words leave her mouth she starts looking far more afraid then a movie could ever make somepony.
  342. >>”W-wait a second, th-that came out wrong!”
  343. >Something in Anon’s posture shifts.
  344. >He unsurprisingly doesn’t seem upset, instead looking even more excited.
  345. >As that happens, the DVD in his grip zips behind his head and out of view, leaving it a mystery.
  346. >”Is that so? Because I’ve found a little something that’ll scare the pants off of you! Wait, you guys don’t wear pants. Uh, scare the /socks/ off you, then!”
  347. >Iiiiiiiiiinteresting.
  348. >Clearly it's not actually a horror movie, you would have seen him in the horror section with you.
  349. >So what could it be that would scare the two of you?
  350. >No, not the two of you, he addressed that to Cut specifically.
  351. >>”Wh-what is it?”
  352. >”Not telling~!” he says in a voice both sing-song and smug.
  353. >Pah, as if he could actually hide something from you!
  354. >It would be foals' play to just fly around his head and spoil the surprise.
  355. >Ooooor, you could just let it happen and see what he’s cooked up...
  356. >That would probably be more fun.
  357. “So it's a scare off then?”
  358. >He smiles in the way only a stallion with a secret can.
  359. >”Oooooooh yeah. Ooooohoho yeah!”
  360.  
  361. >The three of you are back at the house now, and the excitement in the air is palpable.
  362. >All that was left was for the popcorn to finish popping and the marathon could begin.
  363. >Anon was insistent that his movie go first.
  364. >So insistent in fact, he didn’t even wait for the three of you to reach a consensus, he just shoved the DVD in the player as soon as you got home.
  365. >Neither you nor Cut /really/ minded, but that didn’t stop you from ribbing him for it.
  366. >He’s watching the popcorn pop now, while you and Cut wait on the couch.
  367. >You’re the one sitting closest to the kitchen, while Cut’s sitting on the other side of the space the two of you reserved for him.
  368. >A space perfectly sized so that the two of you are in the optimal snuggling positions for when the movies get to him.
  369. >And to be frank, they probably will.
  370. >Much like when he stubbornly insists on having some of your Thestralian hot sauces, he’s almost certainly bitten off more than he can chew this evening.
  371. >Although he’s surprised you before!
  372. >You hope he doesn't though.
  373. >How lame would it be to have a horror movie marathon where the stallion /doesn’t/ get all snuggly?
  374. >Might as well just have a regular movie marathon at that point!
  375. >”Aaaaaaand, done!” you hear Anon call from the kitchen.
  376. “Finally, let’s get this show on the road!”
  377. >As he trots over to the couch, bowl in his magic, you can tell he’s positively giddy.
  378. >Hopping into the allotted space, he briefly wiggles his rump to get comfortable for the long haul.
  379. >”Everyb-pony ready?”
  380. “Yep!”
  381. >Cut nervously nibbles on a hoof before she stops herself.
  382. >>”Any hints on what this is going to be?”
  383. >Anon just smiles.
  384. >”Nope!”
  385. >And uses his magic to hit play on the remote.
  386. >You had already dimmed the lights, so the mood was all set for this feature length presentation to begin.
  387. >And begin it did! The first thing you see is a shot of what was /very/ obviously a movie set meant to look like a tiny city.
  388. >Like, very very obviously.
  389. >What kind of budget did this thing have, five bits?
  390. >The set’s so cheap you could almost think its a porno!
  391. >...
  392. >Wait, wait!
  393. >Anon DIDN’T!
  394. >Whipping your head around to look at Cut, you can tell she’s getting more and more nervous.
  395. >Her fur is practically standing on end!
  396. >And she looks even more strung out when the narrator starts talking.
  397. >>>”This is Neighpon outpost one, come in base command! Come in base command, we’re under attack!”
  398. >Sounds like he’s just speaking into a fan and they thought it sounded like a radio.
  399. >As the narrator continues crying for help, the camera slowly pans over the city, until it comes to a stop on a mare wearing a monster costume.
  400. >Their back is to you, and they’ve managed to prop themselves up on their hind legs so you can’t see any of their features.
  401. >>>”Send Captain Colt! I repeat send Captain—”
  402. >In the middle of his statement the costumed pony brings her forehooves down, crushing one of the clearly foam buildings.
  403. >Now that she’s back on all fours, you know her identity instantly.
  404. >As between her legs is a pair of teats every mare is familiar with.
  405. >>>>”BRING ME VIRIGIN!” Suck N. Buck shouts.
  406. >This, of course, provokes a very strong reaction in Cut.
  407. >>”AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” she screams in a blind panic, onset by the realization she’s watching one of her parent’s pornos.
  408. >As you and Anon start laughing, she throws herself off of the couch and starts scrambling toward the DVD player.
  409. >As she desperately races towards it, a masculine voice starts playing.
  410. >>>>>”Halt Teatzilla! I Captain Co—”
  411. >But whatever he was saying is cut off by Cut slamming her hoof into the eject button, launching the disk out of the player and stopping the movie in its tracks.
  412. >You and Anon stay on the couch laughing until long after the movie has stopped, while Cut just stands there, hoof still on the eject, taking the labored breaths of a pony who just averted a heart attack.
  413. >Eventually, Anon hops off the couch and merrily trots over to her.
  414. >Leaning down to get a good look at her eyes, he asks...
  415.  
  416. “Well, did I getcha?”
  417. >The question is admittedly pretty rhetorical, Cut’s scream was evidence enough that she was terrified.
  418. >But, you wanted to drive home your little victory while you could.
  419. >”Y-yeah, you did...” admits Cut.
  420. >Woo hoo! Score one for you!
  421. >Plus, her reaction more or less confirmed what you were thinking.
  422. “So those /were/ your parents then?”
  423. >Before she can answer though, Pike makes a surprised sound from the couch.
  424. >>”Huh!? Parents? I thought it was just your mom?”
  425. >Cut, looks away embarrassed.
  426. >Weird, you’d have thought that was something to be proud of.
  427. >”Dad’s... just a regular actor now.”
  428. >Ha! Good for him.
  429. >Wait, does that mean he’s the Equestrian Marilyn Monroe?
  430. >While you ponder that, Pike hops off the couch and goes to reatrive the lost disk.
  431. >As she does, something about the picture on it (which if you’re not mistaken was just a still of the stallion) makes her pause.
  432. >>”Is this the same stallion from that one famous video?”
  433. >”Uh huh.”
  434. >Pike’s eyes widen.
  435. >>”You’re telling me the mare and stallion from 'Innocent Colt Gets Defiled By Pair of MASSIVE Sweaty Teats’ got married and are also your parents!?”
  436. >Cut, red faced, nods.
  437. >”Th-that’s where they met, actually.”
  438. >Pike does a double take between Cut and the stallion on the DVD, seemingly unable to believe it.
  439. >>”...aw, that’s kind of sweet.”
  440. >Kind of sweet?
  441. >/Kind of/ sweet!?
  442. “More like bucking awesome!”
  443. >You can tell Cut doesn’t feel the same by the look on her face.
  444. >But why, her parents were porn stars who met on set? That’s something anyone would have bragged about back home!
  445. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”
  446. >Despite how high energy you are, it seems Cut is not even remotely feeling it.
  447. >>”I-it's not what you think Anon... my mom’s not a star because she’s pretty...”
  448. >What?
  449. >Cut described them as ‘stars’.
  450. >How do you become a star in porn if you’re not hot!?
  451. >But as you wonder, the pieces start coming together.
  452. >Ponies thoughts on teats.
  453. >Cut’s self confidence issues.
  454. >The title ‘Innocent Colt Gets Defiled By Pair of MASSIVE Sweaty Teats’.
  455. >All these lead you to one conclusion.
  456. >Cut’s mom is the Equestrian ugly bastard.
  457. >Using your magic, you reach out towards the movie’s case and yank it over to you.
  458. >When it gets to you, to take a long hard look at Suck N. Buck.
  459. >And honestly? You don’t see it.
  460. >Sure, she’s not that much of a looker.
  461. >Her face is kind of angular, and she’s clearly more out of shape than Cut.
  462. >But you wouldn’t call her unfuckable.
  463. “Jesus, you Equestrians have /really/ high standards if that’s ugly bastard material.”
  464. >You hear Pike ‘ugh’ from the couch.
  465. >>”Oh come on, now you're just kissing flank!”
  466. >WHAT!?
  467. “Am not!”
  468. >She quirks her brow critically.
  469. >>”Oh yeah? Well what do ‘ugly bastards’ look like back in America then?”
  470. >Oh God, are you really going to force yourself to remember ugly bastard hentai just to prove a point?
  471. >Yeah you are.
  472. “They were like, morbidly obese goblin people! This mare does not look /that/ bad.”
  473. >”Really!?”
  474. >AAAH!
  475. >Cut’s surprise movement directly next to your face gave you quite a start.
  476. “Y-yeah! I mean, really she's not—”
  477. >Your cut off when Cut, positively beaming, lunges into a hug on you.
  478. >GAHHH!
  479. >She’s squeezing you with all of her earth pony strength!
  480. >You gotta get her to let go!
  481. >*Crack!*
  482. >W-was that your spine popping?
  483. >Actually, nevermind.
  484. >You feel great now!
  485. >”Th-thanks Anon...”
  486. >Uhhhh.
  487. >You feel like you really haven’t really done anything.
  488. “You’re welcome.” you say trepidatiously to her.
  489. >After that, still in Cut’s surprisingly iron grip, you turn to Pike.
  490. “What did I do?” you mouth.
  491. >>”Her looks got compared to her mom’s a lot.” Pike silently responds.
  492. >Ohhhhh, you see.
  493. >In that case, it makes sense she’d react that way to being told her mom doesn’t look that ugly.
  494. >Damn, what a fucked up legacy to inherit.
  495. “Alright, I think I’ve successfully gotten you back at you for that stallion comment back at Blockbuster. Let’s get the actual movie marathon underway.”
  496. >Pike was already on it though, as next thing you know she’s by your side with a different movie and a smug look on her face!
  497. >>”Wow, Anon, all this for one comment? How very colty of you.”
  498. >You resent that!
  499. “Hey! I’ll have you know I was going to try to get us to watch some of it regardless. Her comment just let me think of a more fun way to do it!”
  500. >Your comment does little to differ the chuckling that’s now happening at your expense though.
  501. >From both Cut and Pike!
  502. “Traitor!” you whisper in her ear.
  503. >Which, of course, only makes her chuckles into laughter.
  504.  
  505. >It is now much later, and the three of you are a good ways into the first movie.
  506. >You can’t believe Pike and Cut thought you’d be scared by this!
  507. >The “monster” is just a pony in a sheet!
  508. >Although, based on how neither Pike nor Cut are looking very scared themselves, this may just be a ploy to lure you into a false sense of security.
  509. >Best to keep your guard up for the next film.
  510.  
  511. >This next one, this one’s kind of getting to you.
  512. >It's some ‘lost in the woods’ type movie with a monster that seems suspiciously like a human werewolf.
  513. >A werewolf and a lot of long shots where the ponies are running from it, but the werewolf keeps an even pace with them.
  514. >It just keeps going and going and going!
  515. >They can’t get away!
  516. >It’s... admittedly starting to make you feel pretty anxious.
  517. >Cut’s clearly feeling it too, although she’s trying her hardest to look brave in front of you.
  518. >Your attention is yanked back to the screen though by the sound of its howl.
  519. >How does it keep coming!?
  520.  
  521.  
  522. >You’re on the fifth movie now, and you’re starting to sense a theme.
  523. >A theme that is /pretty effective/!
  524. >A lot of inescapable monsters pursuing the protagonists, and the monster itself spending a lot of time staring down the camera.
  525. >Something that your horsey subconscious finds very uncomfortable!
  526. >At this very moment, it's another chase scene with the two main characters.
  527. >And oh God, the red mare on screen just fell and there was a nasty snap!
  528. >”My leg!” she cries, “I can’t feel my leg!”
  529. >Damn this horse amygdala!
  530. >What does the idea of breaking your leg freak you out so much now!?
  531. >Come on Anon, keep it together.
  532. >Cut’s already tapped out and is clinging on to you, something she’s sure to be embarrassed about later, but Pike only looks mildly worried!
  533. >You can’t freak out before she does!
  534. >You’re no pussy damn it! These are just movies!
  535. >OhGodherecomesthemonsterhowisshegoingtorunaway?
  536.  
  537. >You’ve made it to the last movie, but not unscathed.
  538. >Were you of sober mind, this last movie would have been nothing to you.
  539. >But those last six movies did an exceptional job of rattling you, so of sober mind you were not.
  540. >So as it stands you, Cut, and Pike were all grabbing on to each other for dear life.
  541. >This last movie’s killer is on screen right now going in for the final kill.
  542. >And of course, she has to end it on a chilling line.
  543. >”There are no hugs when you’re dead.”
  544. >You all screamed. Very loud.
  545.  
  546.  
  547. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and things are going well. Great even!
  548. >A few days have gone by since Cut has officially joined the herd, and the three of you are living it up!
  549. [spoiler]>She’s even only questioned your unmarely hobbies once![/spoiler]
  550. [spoiler]>You completely ignored the question at the time, of course, and she hasn’t brought it up again. That means the matter is settled, right? Right!?[/spoiler]
  551. >Today you find yourselves the same way you start most days.
  552. >You as the acting chef, with Anon and Cut trying to help out.
  553. >To... varying degrees of success.
  554. >”Oh God, what spice did the teacher say went good with savory foods?”
  555. >>”I think I remember my mom always using Bay leaves...”
  556. >You roll your eyes at the culinary impotency of these ponies.
  557. “We’re making haybacon. Quick just pass me the garlic and thyme.”
  558. >Anon does just that, and you sprinkle liberal amounts of both on the strips.
  559. >There! That should be perfect.
  560. >Removing the strips of the skillet, you evenly distribute them amongst the three plates you got out.
  561. >Ah, bacon and eggs, a staple of any breakfast!
  562. >Turning around with your plates, you see a sight that makes you sigh.
  563. >Anon’s already got the hot sauce out.
  564. >It's not even the authentic Thestralian hot sauce, it's the extra spicy variant!
  565. “Anon, give yourself a break already. You are just not built to handle that kind of spice!”
  566. >He doesn’t so much as speak to you as he speaks to the bottle.
  567. >”Never! Besides, I told you if we’re visiting your family for the holidays I need to train myself until I can handle your dad’s home cooking!”
  568. >Giving him a plate, you watch with more than a little despair as he starts adding sauce to it.
  569. “And I told you we don’t use that kind of spice in /all/ our dishes! It's not like you’ll have to go hungry!”
  570. >Grabbing a forkful of the egged up sauce, he gives you a steely look.
  571. >”It's not about being hungry, it's about sending a message. A message that I /can/ hang with my ff’s parents.”
  572. >Shoving the eggs in his mouth, he begins eating in earnest.
  573. >And you turn to Cut, knowing that the only thing about to come out of Anon’s mouth for the next five minutes, are sounds of pain.
  574. “So, anything interesting happen to you and Anon at work?”
  575. >Cut, not used to just letting a colt hurt himself, bless her heart, is constantly shifting her gaze to check on Anon as she answers.
  576. >>”N-not really, but Aunt Jargon hasn’t said anything about how I smell like Anon and vice versa, yet.”
  577. >You can hear the sound of Anon jumping out of his chair and trotting in place behind you.
  578. >Anon, just let yourself start doing laps, all you’re doing by resisting is making it worse!
  579. “You think she’ll make a big deal out of it?”
  580. >Cut frowns, frustrated.
  581. >>”It's not what Jargon herself will do, it’s *sigh* what my entire family will do once Jargon tells them.”
  582. >You can hear Anon making a beeline for the fridge now, having once again lost the fight against the sauce.
  583. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
  584.  
  585. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and clutching a timer in your wingclaw, you hit the start button.
  586. “Aaaand, go!”
  587. >The mares take off, sprinting down the track.
  588. >Today’s the mile run, and you’ve got to make sure everypony’s up to snuff.
  589. >Normally you’d be out there with them, but the usual pony who keeps time is out sick.
  590. >Turns out standing out in the cold for hours on end makes you more likely to catch a cold.
  591. >Who would have thought?
  592. >Watching as the mares run around the (thankfully plowed) track, a few things are becoming apparent already.
  593. >For starters, Night Sky’s already falling behind.
  594. “You can do it poindexter!”
  595. >You can see Night roll her eyes from your spot beside the track, but she does start running a little faster.
  596. >Nice.
  597. >As you continue to watch your subordinates, you become aware of a pony approaching from your side.
  598. >Turning to face her, but keeping an eye on your stopwatch, you see she’s a courier.
  599. >As she reaches you, she salutes.
  600. >”Sergeant Nocturnal Pike?”
  601. >You salute back.
  602. “Yes indeed, at ease.”
  603. >Putting her hoof down, she reaches into her saddlebags and pulls out a piece of paper.
  604. >”Telegram for you, it’s marked urgent.”
  605. >Oh buck.
  606. >There’s only one pony you know who still bothers to use telegrams.
  607. >As you take it, the mare chuckles awkwardly.
  608. >”I didn’t even know we still had telegrams.”
  609. >Tucking it under your wing, you sigh and turn back to the track.
  610. “I wish we didn’t... HEY! Don’t think I didn’t just see you trotting Astral! It's a /run/ not a frolic!”
  611.  
  612. >Only after all the mares had crossed the finish line did you dare check the telegram, and it was exactly as you feared.
  613. >”Nocturnal business is taking me to Canterlot in the next few days stop we’re getting breakfast on Saturday stop I’ll be staying at the castle inn stop see you at twelve pm sharp stop Star Mapper stop”
  614. >Sighing, you crumple the paper up.
  615. >Why can’t mom just call you like a normal pony!?
  616. >Then you could at least weasel out of it.
  617. >You like visiting your family... occasionally... but seeing your mom is always [spoiler]the part you hate the most.[/spoiler]
  618. >Although you suppose you could just pretend you didn’t receive the telegram...
  619. >No, she’d never go for that, and you’d never hear the end of it come Hearth's Warming.
  620. >Better to just go.
  621. >Speaking of parents, that reminds you of the chat you and Cut had earlier.
  622. >Wonder how things are going on that front...
  623.  
  624. >You are J. Jargon Justification, and it's been a slow month.
  625. >Lots of fluff pieces about ponies getting ready for the holidays these days, nothing nearly as bombastic as when the Kirin came to visit.
  626. >Such is the news you suppose.
  627. >If sales dipped too much you could always just have one of your mares make news out of /something/.
  628. >That, or have Anon write another piece on winter fashion, you know he’ll whine about that though.
  629. >Speaking of, as you sit at your desk and look out the glass walls, you can see the very colt chatting away with your niece.
  630. >You’ve noticed they’ve been spending an awful lot of time together as of late.
  631. >Did she finally...?
  632. >HA! No way.
  633. >You love your niece, but the idea she would ask somepony out? Absurd.
  634. >Although, Anon is definitely the type of firecracker that might have asked /her/.
  635. >Hmf, look at you spinning yarns like a bored househusband.
  636. >No reason to speculate when you can just do /this/.
  637. “CUT!” you shout, “GET IN HERE!”
  638. >You chuckle to yourself as your nervous niece leaps off of her chair and makes a mad dash for your office.
  639. >As she runs in, she gives you a mock salute.
  640. >”Yes, Au- I mean, Chief?”
  641. >Something already smells different, but you want to be sure.
  642. “Close the door.”
  643. >She does, looking confused the whole time.
  644. >And ooooh filly, the moment she does you know it's exactly as you thought.
  645. >You smell not one, but two extra ponies on that mare!
  646. >Somepony’s been snuggling!
  647. >You plant your forehooves on the desk and put on the most serious face you can.
  648. “Cut, I need you to answer me honestly. Have you been snuggling that colt?”
  649. >Her alarmed look only further supports you.
  650. >”Y-you know, Chief, I-I’m an adult so I don’t see how—”
  651. “AHAHA, I KNEW IT!”
  652. >Your shout makes her jump, but you don’t care.
  653. >This is the best news you’ve heard in months!
  654. “Does your mom already know? No, she doesn’t, does she?”
  655. >You don’t even give Cut the chance to answer, the guilty look on her face tells you all you need to know.
  656. “You’ve got to give her a- no actually I want to hear the sound of her voice when /I/ tell her!”
  657. >You’ve gotta get on the phone ASAP!
  658. >You can already imagine her reaction, and it's going to be great!
  659. >Out of habit you call out, projecting your voice through the closed door.
  660. “CUT! I need you make a call to—”
  661. >And then you realize what the problem with that is.
  662. “Wait, you're standing in front of me. Nevermind.”
  663. >The poor mare looks thoroughly befuddled, and is now just standing there in dumbfound silence.
  664. >Is it weird you rely on your chief editor to make your calls?
  665. >Nah. At least until you actually get yourself a secretary.
  666. >Picking up the phone, you start punching in your sister’s number.
  667. >Hopefully her and Barely aren’t busy.
  668. >”*Ahem*.”
  669. >Oh, Cut’s still here.
  670. “Well, wait are you waiting for, permission? Get back to work!”
  671.  
  672. >“We’ll be on the next train out.”
  673.  
  674. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and it’s Thursday.
  675. >A very annoying Thursday.
  676. >Turns out the mares in charge of records forgot to tell you that half your squad’s First-aid certifications had expired.
  677. >So guess who got told she had to find a first aid instructor to teach them before the week was out?
  678. >That’s right, you did!
  679. >Oh well, at least you were actually able to find one.
  680. >You went ahead and signed the whole squad up, just in case.
  681. >Except for yourself of course, all the squad leaders have their own that they do every year.
  682. >Hence why you were going to spend the day in your office, checking every one of your squads file’s personally.
  683. >Keyword there being ‘were’.
  684. >What you’re actually doing is making your way to the conference room, apparently some Day Court petitioner had ‘demanded’ to speak to you personally.
  685. >Great, as if you needed that today.
  686. >Reaching the door, the guard at it salutes and pushes it open to let you inside.
  687. >It's a small room, with only a circular table, about 6 chairs, and one window.
  688. >Seated in the chair opposite the entrance is an Earth Pony, and an older one at that.
  689. >Her coat’s a charcoal grey color, with a black mane that’s starting to turn silver at the roots.
  690. >Her first reaction upon seeing you is to simply grunt, and extinguish the cigar she had in her mouth.
  691. >As you actually enter the room and make your way around the table, she extends a hoof.
  692. >”So you must be Pike.”
  693. >Meeting the hoofbump, you decide to gently correct her.
  694. “/Sergeant/ Pike.”
  695. >As you take the seat next to hers, she leans back in her own chair, like she owns the place.
  696. >”You’re a lot shorter than I expected.”
  697. >...off to a bad start, are we?
  698. >EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!
  699. >Pushing away your first instinct to sock her, you answer back toward gritted teeth.
  700. “Might I ask why you’re here, miss-?”
  701. >”Oh right, of course! Forgive me, J. Jargon Justification at your service.”
  702. >The name jogs your memory instantly.
  703. >This is the chief of Anon’s paper!
  704. >What the buck could she want?
  705. >”Listen, I’ll cut to the chase. Tomorrow at one pm, I need you at the Canterlot Canterer office.”
  706. >Well, you can at least appreciate the frankness.
  707. “Why?”
  708. >”Can’t tell you.”
  709. >You briefly check around the room to see if your squad is going to jump out and yell ‘surprise!’
  710. >Unfortunately it seems like you’re in no such luck.
  711. >Is this mare for real?
  712. >Does she /seriously/ think you can just walk out and spend the day milling about somewhere just because somepony asked?
  713. >”So, you’re going to be there, right?”
  714. >Oh sweet Luna she does.
  715. >You’ve had a long career of dealing with annoying civilians, and this mare is triggering all those warning bells and then some.
  716. >What will be different this time though, is the fact that you can’t just tell her to buck off and leave it at that.
  717. >She has direct power over your stallion and your herdsister, so you need to approach this with tact.
  718. “Ma’am, I can’t just spend the day off doing... something on a whim.”
  719. >Surprisingly she adjusts her posture, leaning in to be more attentive toward you.
  720. >Seems like she’s now interested in negotiating.
  721. >”You’re not just doing ‘something’! You’re doing something vital! Listen, I need a guard at my office tomorrow and that guard needs to be you!”
  722. >Just what is she getting at?
  723. “If need be I can see about sending a detachment—”
  724. >She pounds her hoof on the table.
  725. >”I don’t need some guards, I need you!”
  726. >You resist the urge to rest your forehead on your hoof and sigh.
  727. >It's like talking to a wall.
  728. “Look, this would be a lot easier if you’d just tell me what you needed me for! Was there a threat? Are you in danger?”
  729. >”Why? Shouldn’t the fact a respected citizen is requesting your presence be enough?”
  730. >Okay, this time you don’t resist the urge.
  731. “No, no it is not.”
  732. >Jargon looks perplexed, and somewhat offended, before she glances around the room in thought.
  733. >She does this for about a minute or so, a minute you simply abide by.
  734. >”Aha!” she says suddenly, “Let’s say, I have evidence of a snuggling syndicate, right here in the guard!”
  735. >She accents each word with a wave of her hoof, like she’s framing a headline.
  736. >But the pauses make it sound like she just came up with that on the spot.
  737. “And?”
  738. >”And I need your help to confirm it before I blow the whistle! There’s a reason we haven’t had to print a retraction in twenty years!”
  739. >Does she /really/ think you’ll buy that?
  740. “Ma’am I—”
  741. >”Look.”
  742. >She leans in, hushing her voice slightly.
  743. >”It’s about Cut, okay? And it’s really important that you be there.”
  744. >Suddenly you flashback to what Cut told you a day ago.
  745. >He worries about how her family might react.
  746. >”Now, either you can agree to this horseapple story now, or I can take it to the Princess and bombard her with it until she orders you to come by.”
  747. >Pah, as if Princess Luna would buy tha—
  748. >Wait, Princess Luna isn’t on duty right now.
  749. >The same sap that got fooled by that oversized gnat is.
  750. >She’ll probably actually have a formal investigation launched, even /when/ Jargon’s story just turns out to be that, a story.
  751. >A formal investigation you do NOT want to bucking deal with.
  752. “Alright, fine. I’ll be there.”
  753. >She smiles, and leans back again.
  754. >The smug satisfaction radiates off her like heat off the sun.
  755. >”I knew you’d see reason.”
  756. >Yeah ‘reason’.
  757. >Hoping to the Stars that’s all she wants, you get out of your chair.
  758. “If that’s all, then I’ll be going. I have some paperwork I need to file for tomorrow, and Jargon?”
  759. >She makes a sound akin to “Hmm?”
  760. “If this is a waste of my time, the /best/ you can expect to face is a fine for wrongful use of guardsmare time.”
  761. >She smiles and lets out some kind of half laugh, half wheeze.
  762. >”Haha! Good thing it’ll be well worth it. See you at one!”
  763. >You leave the room without a second thought, closing the door behind you.
  764. >Somepony will come to see her out, you’re sure.
  765. >Bucking unbelievable, this /better/ be important.
  766. >As you start making your way down the hallway, you’re stopped by a voice to your left.
  767. >>”I thought for sure you were going to bite her head off, Sarge.”
  768. >Hey, that sounded like...
  769. “Specialist Mulberry!” you sternly greet the mare as you turn to her, “Why aren’t you with the others? I distinctly remember ordering the /whole/ squad to get recertified.”
  770. >The mare, colored the same as her name, salutes.
  771. >>”Ma’am, I got my certification last month, so Sepulcher put me on assignment, ma’am.”
  772. >Grrrrr.
  773. >You don’t like Sepulcher going around you like that, but you suppose in this case it’s fair.
  774. >Mulberry is your field medic, of course her first aid certificate was extremely up to date.
  775. >You relax, glad she’s not just playing hooky.
  776. >>”For a moment I thought I was going to have to make use of my first aid training.”
  777. >Why? Was there an incident?
  778. >You look around for any sign of the altercation she could be talking about, but you see no sign of it.
  779. “What for?”
  780. >Mulberry points behind you, and following her gesture you see a departing Jargon.
  781. >>”I heard most of what you two were talking about, I thought you were going to start a fight when she called you short. And then /again/ when she accused us of hosting a snuggle syndicate.”
  782. >You shrug.
  783. “Eh, didn’t seem worth it.”
  784. >Mulberry looks taken aback by your comment.
  785. >>”Heh, no offence, Sarge, but I’d never have thought I’d hear you say that.”
  786. >Hm, you were about to deny it, but the mare had a point.
  787. >Jargon not only attacked your pride as a mare, but also as a leader.
  788. >Even though it was a fabrication, she still implied a snuggle syndicate could run under your nose without you noticing it.
  789. >Which is something past you would have absolutely at least cussed her out for.
  790. >Huh, you suppose you have mellowed out some.
  791. [spoiler]>You’re going soft.[/spoiler]
  792. “Things change, Specialist, things change.”
  793.  
  794. >24 Hours Later.
  795. >You are still Nocturnal Pike, and you’re making your way downtown.
  796. >Specifically toward the Canterlot Canterer office.
  797. >You told Jargon you’d be there, and you certainly don’t want her making good on her threat of taking her bogus story to Celestia.
  798. >So here you are, walking down the street, Anon and Cut to your right.
  799. >Anon is standing in the middle of course, the stallion should be protected from as many sides as possible after all.
  800. >”So Jargon basically blackmailed you into coming?” he asks.
  801. >You sigh, still annoyed this even happened.
  802. “That’s the short version.”
  803. >Cut nervously titters.
  804. >>”I’m really sorry... again.”
  805. >You shake your head.
  806. “It's not your fault you're related to a weirdo.”
  807. >The office is in sight now, and it looks strangely... dark.
  808. >All the windows are closed and the lights are off.
  809. >You don’t like this.
  810. >Looking to Cut and Anon, they both notice it too.
  811. >”Well that’s not right. Are we early?”
  812. >Cut briefly checks the sun’s position.
  813. >Apparently Jargon had also told them to specifically come at one.
  814. >>”No. If anything we’re late. Oh Celestia WE’RE LATE!”
  815. >She breaks into a gallop, intending to rush the building, but is stopped in her tracks when Anon grabs her tail.
  816. >As her tail pulls taught she stops in her tracks, and a small blush breaks out on her face.
  817. >Anon doesn’t seem to notice that though.
  818. >”Hold on, Cut, something’s up. We should go in at the same time.”
  819. >Cut coughs into her hoof, hoping to disguise the blush, and the two of you catch up with her.
  820. >>”R-right.”
  821. >He turns to you.
  822. >”What do you think, is Jargon trying to assassinate us?”
  823. >You snigger.
  824. “Anon, don't be ridiculous.”
  825. >Leaning in, you whisper in his ear.
  826. “My bet is...”
  827.  
  828. >You are Cut N. Paste, and the three of you are standing at the top of the stairs, at the door to the office floor.
  829. >The other three floors were dark and empty, so whatever’s going on is on the other side of this door.
  830. >Steeling your nerves, you put your hoof on the bar and push the door open, allowing the three of you to walk inside.
  831. >It’s dark on this floor too, you can’t see anything.
  832. >”Pike, you got night vision, what do you see?” asks Anon.
  833. >She just chuckles.
  834. >>”Called it.”
  835. >Suddenly you’re blinded as the lights come on, and deafened by the shout of a large group of ponies.
  836. >”SURPRISE!”
  837. >Your heart jumps into your throat.
  838. >As your eyes adjust, you see the office has been cleared and turned into a setting for a surprise party.
  839. >A party who’s attendance consists of most of your family.
  840. >You parents, their herd, a lot of your siblings, aunt Jargon, and even some of aunt Jargon’s herd.
  841. >All of them gathered to celebrate one thing, a thing they had a custom made banner to proclaim to the world.
  842. >’Congratulations Cut on not being lesbo!’
  843. >Oh Celestia NO! THEY DIDN’T!
  844. >You gotta get Anon and Pike out of here before your family makes a fool out of you!
  845. >It's much too late though, as before you can even shout a warning, your dad has you wrapped in a tight hug.
  846. >As he squeezes you, he gives you a big kiss on the cheek and... are those tears in his eyes?
  847. >>>”Oooooooh! Look at my little Cookie-cutter, all grown up!” he weeps.
  848. >Desperately wriggling, you manage to pry yourself out of his grip.
  849. “D-dad, I’ve had my cutie mark for years!”
  850. >Suddenly you're slapped on the back.
  851. >>>>”Yeah, but that doesn’t matter half as much as what we’re here to celebrate today!” says the gravelly voice of your mother.
  852. >The other gathered ponies cheer in agreement.
  853. >Oh Celestia, strike you dead...
  854. >You’re dad’s full on bawling now and throws his forehooves around you again.
  855. >>>”Oooo-hooo-hooo to think my little filly has finally found love after all this time!”
  856. “D-dad please!”
  857. >You desperately look to Anon, praying him and Pike aren’t laughing too hard.
  858. >Surprisingly... they’re not.
  859. >Sure, they’re both occasionally chuckling, but their smiles are far from mocking.
  860. >In fact, Anon’s almost looks sad.
  861. >Oh Celestia now mom’s looking at him too.
  862. >>>>”So you must be the lucky stud!”
  863. >Anon walks over to her, offering his hoof.
  864. >”That I am.”
  865. >As he gets close to her, she seems taken aback by how tall he is up close.
  866. >T-to be fair, you were too.
  867. >Running her gaze from his head to his hooves, she meets his hoofbump.
  868. >>>>”Well you’re quite the big fella, aren’t you?”
  869. >Oh no.
  870. >Anon’s smile just turned evil in a very familiar way.
  871. >”It’s funny you say that, cuz that’s exactly what Cut said last night!”
  872. >A beat of silence passes through the whole room as the collected ponies process what Anon just said.
  873. >Then, two ponies break out into laughter: Anon and mom.
  874. >Ok, Pike chuckles a little bit too, but she’s rolling her eyes so it doesn’t count.
  875. >>>>”/And/ he’s funny!” shouts your mom in between bouts of laughter.
  876. >The other gathered ponies, including your dad, all let out several variations of “ehhhh” and pointedly choose not to look at the duo.
  877.  
  878. >After that, the party entered full swing.
  879. >Ponies were mixing, mingling, catching up, and generally no longer focusing on you, thank Celesta.
  880. >After making all the necessary introductions, Pike of all ponies ended up chatting with your dad, leaving you and Anon with your mom.
  881. >This, unfortunately, has emboldened her change to even racier topics.
  882. >>>>”So, was your first teat smothering everything I told you it would be?”
  883. >Come on, mom!
  884. >Sure not everypony is listening but you’re still in public.
  885. >Looking away from her, you hope it hides your grimace (and your blush).
  886. >”It was certainly everything /I/ could have ever wanted!” Anon boasts.
  887. >You mom guffaws for the upteeth time.
  888. >>>>”You may pick ‘em late, foal, but when you do you really knock him out of the park!”
  889. >As if that comment wasn’t bad enough, she leans into your ear to continue.
  890. >>>>”You know he’s here for the long run too. When a stallion built like /that/ lets you rest your teats on his face, you know he /likes/ it.”
  891. >Oh please mom for the love of Celestia!
  892. >>>>”So I gotta know, did practicing on that pillow with the stallion on it help?”
  893. >AHHHHHH!
  894. >She promised she’d never bring it up again!
  895. >Oh no.
  896. >Anon just turned to you with a distinctly inequine look.
  897. >R-reminds you of a predator going in for the kill.
  898.  
  899. ”What’s this about a pillow with a stallion on it?”
  900. >You are Anonymous and you smell blood in the water!!!!
  901. >Well not really.
  902. >Sure, it /sounds/ bad
  903. >The first thing you think of when you hear ‘pillow with a stallion on it’ would be an anime body pillow, and Cut knows this.
  904. >There’s no way that’s what it actually is though.
  905. >No parent would ever just casually mention their child’s anime body pillow.
  906. >”So when Cut was younger she used to read these... oh Celestia what were they? Mangos?”
  907. >Oh my God.
  908. >>”M-manga, mom.”
  909. >”That’s it! Manga!”
  910. >OH MY GOD!
  911. “Cut,” you ask before Suck can continue, “did you have an anime body pillow?”
  912. >At the phrase ‘anime body pillow’ she turns as white as a sheet.
  913. >...
  914. >HOLY SHIT SHE TOTALLY DID!
  915. >You're trying not to laugh, you really are, but it's a battle you’re rapidly losing.
  916. >”Oh you’ve heard of them? Ha! No wonder Cut went for you.”
  917. >You’re grinning ear to ear.
  918. >Cut /is/ the kind of mare that would own a dakimakura.
  919. >Speaking of, she looks like she’s about to die of embarrassment!
  920. >Her face is beet red and she’s doing that cute thing where she’s hiding her face in her hooves.
  921. >Awwwwwww.
  922. >Alright, time to loosen the noose a little bit, you don’t want her feeling insecure about this for the rest of the day.
  923. >Giving her a little side elbow in the ribs, you give her a smile that’s more earnest.
  924. “Sooooo, who was your husbando?”
  925. >Her mood seems to lift instantly.
  926. >It appears in the horror of being outed as owning a body pillow, she had forgotten an important fact.
  927. >A fact she was reminded by your proper use of ‘husbando’.
  928. >The fact that you, deep down, are also a massive nerd who watches anime.
  929. >Cut is hesitant to answer, blushing a completely different way as she looks away.
  930. >Which you understand.
  931. >It would be strangely intimate, and awkward, to share your anime waifu with a real life significant other.
  932. >But eventually, she works up the nerve to answer.
  933. >>”Tatsu from Way of the Househusband.”
  934. >Undoubtedly your expression reflects how owlishly you feel.
  935. >>”Although you probably know it as something stupid, knowing how your home treats media.”
  936. “It's about a Yakuza boss that gives up his power to become a househusband, right?”
  937. >Cut is stunned.
  938. >>”Y-you’ve seen it? Do you... like it?”
  939. >Based on her reaction, it sounds like you have seen it.
  940. >Why on earth is /that/ something that’s remained constant!?
  941. “Yeah, it’s funny.”
  942. >Cut practically explodes in joy.
  943. >>”It's so cool isn’t it!? Tatsu using his bad-flank skills! And he’s so handsome! I just want to scoop him up and tell him his troubles are over and he can be my house husband t—”
  944. >Her gushing abruptly cuts off, likely because she realized she’s gushing about a manga character to her mom and coltfriend.
  945. >>”*Ahem* yes. I like the series a lot.”
  946. >Suck, with an amused look on her face, chooses now to speak up.
  947. >”Hehe yeah she does! There’s an imports shop a few blocks from our place in Las Pegasus, Cut used to go there every first of the month to buy the new volume and anything related to it they had in stock. So many posters...”
  948. >Ah, that explains how she’s mainlined so much anime without the internet.
  949. >”And one day I’m going there because I want to get a little something for her birthday, and what do I see? The colt she had so many posters of, on a pony sized pillow! I knew I had to get it the moment I saw it!”
  950. >It's at that moment something occurs to you.
  951. >Does Suck not understand what kind of people own dakimakuras?
  952. >What people /think/ of people who own dakimakuras?
  953. >”Figured if she loved this colt so much, she’d appreciate being able to practice snuggling and smothering him, but noooooooooo! If she had had her way, the most this filly would have ever done to that pillow was sleep next to it ‘respectfully’.”
  954. >Haha what!?
  955. >WHAT?
  956. >Looking to Cut, expecting to see an embarrassed look that would confirm Suck’s statement, but instead she looks inflamed!
  957. >>”Because Tatsu is a PURE husbando who’s smile needs to be PROTECTED! You wanted me to shove my teats in his face like he was a common hussy!”
  958. >No FUCKIN WAY!
  959. >She didn’t even fuck the pillow!?
  960. >That’s-! ...actually... you’re not sure if that’s better or worse.
  961. >Suck just rolls her eyes, clearly this is a conversation they’ve had before.
  962. >”You needed the practice. Practice that paid off, eh?” she asks as she elbows Cut in the ribs.
  963. >An action that makes Cut cross her hooves and start grumbling.
  964. >Wait, is she saying practicing on a pillow /actually/ helped? How?
  965. >While Cut continues to grumble, Suck leans in to you and whispers to you.
  966. >”I tell ya, the only way I got her to put her teats on that pillow’s face was by threatening to put /my/ teats on it if she didn’t! She was not happy.”
  967. >But Suck didn’t whisper it well enough, because the fire is immediately put back in Cut’s eyes.
  968. >>”MOM!”
  969. >”She still isn’t! Ehehehehe!”
  970.  
  971. >Meanwhile, just a few feet over...
  972. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and by chance you found yourself talking to Cut’s dad instead of her mom.
  973. >He left you a little star struck, honestly.
  974. >The stallion is a movie star and he /looks it/.
  975. >Despite being practically the same age as your dad, he doesn’t look nearly that old!
  976. >His emerald coat is luminescent and you don’t see a hint of grey in his seafoam green mane.
  977. >His face is also free of the wrinkles that mar Suck’s visage.
  978. >Makes you wonder how he ended up with a mare that looks like her.
  979. >And if what some mares say about certain unicorns is true, he’ll still be looking like this for awhile.
  980. >Oooooh, maybe Anon got that same gene and he’ll look 25 forever!
  981. >You certainly wouldn’t complain, hubba hubba.
  982. >”So Cut still can’t cook?” he asks, pulling you back out of your head.
  983. “No way, not unless it's ramen.”
  984. >He shakes his head, tutting all the while.
  985. >”I told that filly that if she wanted to get a stallion she needed to learn how to take care of herself! *Sigh* oh well. At least it seems to be working out.”
  986. >You shrug.
  987. “I can handle most of that stuff anyway.”
  988. >Your statement visibly surprises him.
  989. >”Really? I’d have thought a macho guard mare like yourself would have thought such things unmarely.”
  990. [spoiler]>They are.[/spoiler]
  991. >You start rubbing the back of your neck nervously, why are you doing that?
  992. “It’s not a big deal, r-really.”
  993. >Barely doesn’t start berating you though, he only smiles approvingly.
  994. >”Good to hear. I’m happy to know my Cut is in the hooves of a good alpha.”
  995. >W-what?
  996. >You just admitted to doing something decidedly unmarely.
  997. >W-wouldn’t that make you a [spoiler]bad alpha?[/spoiler]
  998. “You’re not disappointed Cut isn’t the alpha?”
  999. >Barely chuckles.
  1000. >”Even in her teen fantasies when she was gluing pictures of herself onto her comic posters, she was a beta. So I’m just happy she’s a beta to an alpha who cares.”
  1001. >Aw, that’s sweet, and entirely fitting for Cut.
  1002. >The mare /really/ was born to be a bet—
  1003. >Wait, what was that part in the middle?
  1004. “Did you say, ‘gluing pictures of herself onto posters’?”
  1005. >Barely strikes you as much too blasé about something like that.
  1006. >”Oh you know, just the normal stuff fillies who are into those comics from Neighpon do. That’s how she got her cutie mark, actually. If I hadn’t seen the poster before she edited it, I never would have realized she’d even done anything!”
  1007. >Does Barely not understand how weird that sounds?
  1008. >Because, no offense to Cut, but that’s kind of bucking weird, and he does not sound like somepony who thinks that’s weird.
  1009. “Isn’t that a little... you know... odd?”
  1010. >He looks like he never even considered the notion.
  1011. >”No? Isn’t that what most ponies do when they really like one of those books?”
  1012. >Oh no this poor stallion.
  1013. >”I’ll admit Suck and I never really... understood it, but she always looked so happy. And I’m sure she’s told you how rough school was on her, so *sigh* we wanted to be supportive.”
  1014. >No wonder Cut ended up so awkward.
  1015. >Her parents who wanted to support her, just ended up enabling her, what a shame.
  1016. >”It /wasn’t/ that unusual, right?”
  1017. >You keep your face neutral, but inside you’re screaming.
  1018. >Your options here are either lie, or shatter this stallion’s perception of how good of a parent he was.
  1019. >Definitely think the former is the wise option here.
  1020. “No, no. I mean, /I/ wasn’t into that stuff, but I’m sure it's fine.”
  1021. >Barely breathes a sigh of relief.
  1022. >”Good, good. She always looked so nervous whenever we’d bring it up when she came to visit, so I was starting to worry.”
  1023. >Oh Luna, are you going to Tartarus for such a bold faced lie?
  1024. >No, that was totally the right call.
  1025. >Hoping to move on, you open your mouth to start a new topic of conversation.
  1026. >However you’re interrupted by the sound of Cut’s voice.
  1027. >>”MOM!”
  1028. >Followed by laughter, which you assume is coming from Suck.
  1029. >Glancing over at them, it appears they’re having some sort of disagreement.
  1030. >A big one too, considering Cut is actually fired up.
  1031. >After observing the scene herself, Barely “tut-tuts” once again.
  1032. >”Come on, let’s go save your coltfriend from ‘trough talk’.”
  1033.  
  1034. >You are Anonymous, and after Barely butted in to, as he said ‘rescue you,’ you decided that that was as good a time as any to excuse yourself to take advantage of those refreshments.
  1035. >That’s where you find yourself now, looking over the table with a little paper plate floating in your magic.
  1036. >Hmmm, let’s see...
  1037. >Will rot your teeth out, will rot your teeth out, will rot your teeth out, /might/ rot your teeth out...
  1038. >Did these mf’s not bring anything savory? Like cheese?
  1039. >Maybe you won’t get anything.
  1040. >But as you’re about to turn away, you hear Pike’s voice echo in your head.
  1041. >’Anon, you know that if you want to use that much magic, you’ll need more sugar in your diet.’
  1042. >Drat she’s right!
  1043. >Alright, looks like it’s a cupcake covered in a solid chocolate shell for you.
  1044. >As you take the treat, a familiar voice speaks up from behind you.
  1045. >”Well look at you, Anonymous!”
  1046. >That’s a mare you haven’t heard in a long time.
  1047. >Turning to face the voice, you see Tender Care, the social worker Celestia tasked with assisting you when you first came here.
  1048. “Tendies! What are you doing here?”
  1049. >She chuckles at your use of the nickname you gave her.
  1050. >”Jargon invited me, wanted me to see your progress first hoof.”
  1051. >Oh! Well how surprisingly thoughtful of Jargon.
  1052. >Celestia had asked you to keep the mare updated yourself, but with everything that’s been happening you’ve been sort of... not doing that.
  1053. >”And might I say what progress you’ve made! You’ve really come a long way Anon.”
  1054. >You really have, haven’t you?
  1055. >Gone from a complete maladjust who spends his time either at home or drinking alone, to an actual member of society!
  1056. >You beam, just a little, as you give yourself a mental pat on the back.
  1057. >”You even went and got yourself a herd with two exceptional mares! Ha, I remember way back when you told me you would never have a herd.”
  1058. >Right... you did say that.
  1059. >You found the idea of dating more than one person absurd.
  1060. [spoiler]>So how can you live with yourself?[/spoiler]
  1061. [spoiler]>You’re practically leaving Pike in the dust you piece of shi—[/spoiler]
  1062. >You... you need to talk to Pike about that.
  1063. >After you recently realized how much more time you’ll be spending with Cut, due to you both working at the same place, your conscience hasn’t been kind to you.
  1064. >You tried to find some solution (teleportation, astral projection, cloning) but nothing seemed like it’d work long term.
  1065. >And what will it mean if you spend so much more time with Cut?
  1066. >Will Pike feel neglected?
  1067. >Will Cut feel stifled?
  1068. >Will they both lea—
  1069. >Crushing that train of thought before it can ruin this pleasant event, you look over to the subjects of your anxiety: Pike and Cut.
  1070. >Despite how you think they should feel about sharing a boyfriend, they both look so... happy.
  1071. >What would you do without them?
  1072. “Yeah, the two of them are quite something, aren’t they?”
  1073. >There must have been something about the way you said that, because Tender starts laughing.
  1074. >”I should think, considering they tamed such a wild spirit like you!”
  1075. >You don’t really see what’s funny about that, but you laugh along.
  1076. >The mare did, or at least tried to do, so much for you, that you can at least pretend she’s funny.
  1077. >But how forced your laughter is serves as a great reminder why you’re not just dating anypony.
  1078. >Mares can say some really weird shit sometimes.
  1079. >’Taming’ your ‘wild spirit’?
  1080. >Yeah you’ll pass.
  1081.  
  1082. >It is now much later, and the party is winding down.
  1083. >Now that the three of you have met and spoken with most of the attendees, Anon, Cut, and you were planning on heading out.
  1084. >However, you still had a piece of unfinished business.
  1085. >You weren’t leaving here without talking to Jargon.
  1086. >At least she wasn’t avoiding you, so finding her on the outskirts of the party was easy.
  1087. >As you approach her, she smiles, looking much too pleased with herself.
  1088. >”Well Sergeant, am I going to the dungeon?”
  1089. >You don’t like this mare.
  1090. “You’re looking much too happy for a pony who just committed a felony.”
  1091. >Her smile falters for a fraction of an instant, just long enough for you to catch it.
  1092. >”But was I right? Was this worth your time or what?”
  1093. >It was, but you don’t want to give her the satisfaction of you saying it.
  1094. “Blackmailing a guard is a serious crime Jargon, don’t do it again.”
  1095. >Turning away from Jargon, expecting that to be the end of it, you find yourself coming face to face with a furious Barely.
  1096. >Guess he was eavesdropping.
  1097. >Stomping past you, he immediately starts shouting at Jargon.
  1098. >>”YOU DID WHAT!?”
  1099. >Jargon's smile completely vanishes off her face.
  1100. >”Oh, Barely! Well, I had to make sure she came to the party, so—”
  1101. >>”UNBELIEVABLE!” he shouts, “What is wrong with you!?”
  1102. >Spinning one hundred and eighty degrees, he’s suddenly facing you again, with a completely different mood.
  1103. >>”Pike honey, I am SO sorry. Please let me make this up to you later.”
  1104. >You dumbly nod, stunned.
  1105. >Out of the corner of your eye, you notice Jargon trying to sneak away.
  1106. >Something Barely notices too, despite currently facing away from her.
  1107. >Whirling back around so he is, he’s immediately back to being furious.
  1108. >>”And WHERE do you think YOU’RE GOING?”
  1109. >Jargon stops in her tracks and shoots you a pleading look.
  1110. >A look you ignore as you turn and walk away.
  1111.  
  1112. >The rest of the party was relatively uneventful for you, Anonymous.
  1113. >Cut got to cut the cake, you and Pike got to chat with Cut’s parents a little more, and one of Cut’s sisters only tried to look at your balls once!
  1114. >As the three of you tried to leave though, Cut’s parents revealed the surprises weren’t done yet
  1115. >They gave you an all expenses paid dinner at some super fancy restaurant, and a promise to come by the apartment tomorrow night with a scrapbook full of Cut’s foalhood photos.
  1116. >So of course, as the three of you sit at a VIP booth at “Ne Me Blesse Pas, Je Ne Parle Pas Poney”, Cut has already ordered a bottle of wine.
  1117. >And is most of the way through it.
  1118. >”Are you sure they meant /anything/ we want?” asks Pike, “Some of this stuff would be a sizable portion of my paycheck.”
  1119. >Cut downs another glass of wine like a champ before answering.
  1120. >>”*Urp* Yep. Even if they weren’t already swimming in bits, Dad just got a new movie deal so they’ve officially got more bits than they know what to do with.”
  1121. >Since the booth is circular, and you’re sitting in the middle, again, Cut is able to drunkenly drape herself over you.
  1122. >>”You can get anything your cute butt desires...”
  1123. >She was obviously saying that to you, but the fact that Pike was the one who asked...
  1124. “So was that to me, or Pike?”
  1125. >She instantly shoots upright, seemingly sobering up a little bit.
  1126. >>”*Ahem* You of course!”
  1127. >You and Pike chuckle as the fear in her voice.
  1128. >A chuckling that causes her to sigh and push the bottle away.
  1129. >>”M-maybe I should lay off the wine a little.”
  1130. >”I don’t know,” says Pike as she grabs the bottle and pours herself a glass, “if I knew my parents were coming with a scrapbook, I’d want to get trashed asap too.”
  1131. >That surprisingly doesn’t lift Cut’s spirits.
  1132. >She starts slowly nudging her wine glass, spinning it in a circle while she looks quite melancholy.
  1133. >>”No you wouldn’t...”
  1134. >A confused passes between you and Pike.
  1135. >”Whaaaat do you mean?”
  1136. >Cut sighs.
  1137. >>”You wouldn’t need alcohol to deal with anxiety of your herdmates, who’ve been nothing but understanding, seeing your embarrassing foalhood photos. It wouldn’t even faze you.”
  1138. >You try to come up with something you can say to the contrary of that, but you can’t.
  1139. >She’s right.
  1140. >Looking at Pike, she’s clearly thinking the exact same thing.
  1141. >Oh God, Cut’s looking really sad now.
  1142. >Quick! Come up with something comforting.
  1143. “And there’s nothing wrong with you being different!”
  1144. >But she looks unconvinced, still quietly turning her glass.
  1145. >You gotta find a way to salvage this.
  1146. >Maybe you can—
  1147. >>”P-Pike, can I ask you something?”
  1148. >Pike doesn’t hesitate.
  1149. >”Of course.”
  1150. >Cut takes a deep breath, likely trying to steel her nerves.
  1151. >Then, with a great deal of effort, she speaks.
  1152. >>”Can you teach me to be more confident? More... marely?”
  1153. >Oh, that’s a great idea!
  1154. >If anyone could do it, it’d be Pike.
  1155. >But she looks like she disagrees.
  1156. >She’s looking about as down as Cut was.
  1157. >”Are you sure? I-I’m not sure I’m the best pony for the job...”
  1158. >Excuse you?
  1159. >Where’s this coming from?
  1160. >A question you were going to vocalize, but whatever had a hold on Pike, she quickly snapped out of.
  1161. >”Wait, what am I saying? Oh course I can help! I’m the mareliest mare in Canterlot!”
  1162. >In a classic Pike move, she puffs out her tuft.
  1163. >”Just leave it to me, Cut! I’ll have you bold and brash in no time!”
  1164. >Cut doesn’t seem to register what Pike said before she starts talking, still keeping her head lowered in depression.
  1165. >>”Okay, I underst—”
  1166. >Then her head shoots upright so violently it knocks her empty glass aside.
  1167. >>”Wait really!?”
  1168. >Pike also shoots up, propping her forehooves on the table in an attempt to look as tall as Cut.
  1169. >”Buck yeah!” she shouts.
  1170. >Cut, lost in elation, throws her hooves in the air.
  1171. >>”WOO!”
  1172. >>>”*Ahem*.”
  1173. >Just like that, the appearance of a fourth pony brings their celebration to an abrupt end.
  1174. >That fourth pony being your waitress, who serves as a keen reminder that they are in fact, still in a fancy restaurant.
  1175. >Settling back down into their seats, Cut immediately hides behind a menu while Pike adopts a stone cold look to pretend she didn’t just shout in a five-star restaurant.
  1176. >>>”Have you all come to a decision?”
  1177.  
  1178. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and as dessert is placed in front of you, you take a look at the collection of empty wine bottles that Anon and Cut have accrued.
  1179. >You didn’t want to get trashed because being hungover during breakfast with your mom would be a nightmare.
  1180. >Cut and Anon however, have no such commitments, and are therefore both trashed.
  1181. >After her eighth glass, Cut draped herself over Anon again while stroking his chest.
  1182. >He then proceeded to drape himself over her, creating a sort of snuggle triangle.
  1183. >For a while Anon was looking content to just sit there and enjoy her ministrations, but after a while he started doing something rather odd.
  1184. >”Are you /sure/ you don’t want in on this?” he asks.
  1185. >Something that is starting to annoy and worry you in equal measures.
  1186. “Anon this is the tenth time you’ve asked. I’m fine. I’m not drunk enough for sloppy PDA.”
  1187. >He looks completely unconvinced.
  1188. >”Are you sure sure?”
  1189. >Alright, he’s clearly hung up on this for some reason.
  1190. >Sighing, you decide you might as well humor him if it's bothering him so much.
  1191. “Okay fine.”
  1192. >Your answer brings him visible relief, and he opens up a space in between him and Cut for you to slide in.
  1193. >Oh come on, is he really going to make you sit in the middle?
  1194. >You just wanted to hug him from the side, this’ll make you look so small!
  1195. >Oh no, he’s giving you that pleading look stallions do.
  1196. >Alright, fine.
  1197. >Slipping past him, you settle in between him and Cut.
  1198. >As you do, the triangle collapses, leaving it more like a sandwich with you in the middle.
  1199. >Cut seems surprised by your sudden appearance at first, but quickly adjusts.
  1200. >As she settles in, she ends up with her head in a position that looks suspiciously like she's staring at your tuft.
  1201. >Actually, she might just be staring at your tuft.
  1202. >>”How do you get one so big...”
  1203. >She’s definitely staring at your tuft!
  1204. >Well, far be it from you to turn down an opportunity to show off.
  1205. “Superior Thestral genes!” you say with more than a little bit of pride.
  1206. >Suddenly her forehoof that wasn’t stroking Anon finds its way to your tuft.
  1207. >>”No t-tuft enhancers?”
  1208. >Tuft enhancers? Ha!
  1209. >As if!
  1210. “You know those things don’t work.”
  1211. >Judging by the way her face just fell, she /really/ knows.
  1212. >>”Yeah...”
  1213. >Pulling her hoof away from you, she runs it through her, admittedly pretty pathetic, chest fluff.
  1214. >>”*Sigh*, so many kinds of snake oil...”
  1215. >Aw poor mare.
  1216. >As stupid as it is to fall for those things, you can’t really fault her.
  1217. >If your fluff was that small, you’d probably be pretty desperate too.
  1218. >As she sighs again, in a shocking twist, Anon reaches over and runs his hoof through her tuft.
  1219. >”Well, it's a good thing Pike’s got more than enough tuft for the both of you!”
  1220. >Cut’s expression shifts, becoming something more akin to awe as she drifts further and further away from sobriety.
  1221. >>”Wow, she does, doesn’t she?”
  1222. >Okay, now this is starting to make you uncomfortable.
  1223. >You try to extract yourself, but Anon has other plans.
  1224. >You feel him press you tighter against Cut, making it harder for you to escape.
  1225. >Looking over to him, you see him drunkenly smile that same scheming smile.
  1226. “Anon what are you—”
  1227. >”Hey, Cut,” he cuts you off, “Is Pike looking awfully cute down there or what?”
  1228. >Cut, now clearly lost in a drunken haze, drawls out, “Y-yeah... n-no dyke though...”
  1229. >You scrunch at being called cute.
  1230. [spoiler]>Even if it does make you feel kind of nice....[/spoiler]
  1231. >You’re still NOT cute!
  1232. >”Do you know what she’s missing?”
  1233. >>”Nuh uh.”
  1234. >Oh no, what’s Anon going to do?
  1235. >With lightning speed, he leans down and kisses you on the cheek.
  1236. >That wasn’t so bad.
  1237. >You were expecting something much more emareculating.
  1238. >Surprisingly, Cut follows his lead and does the same.
  1239. >Aw, th-this is kind of nice.
  1240. >Anon goes in for another kiss, putting a blush on your cheeks.
  1241. >In all your relationships before Anon, you almost always were the one who /did/ the kissing.
  1242. >But he seems much more keen than the average stallion on being the kisser instead of the kissee.
  1243. >Another strange quirk of his homeland you suppose.
  1244. >Suddenly they both kiss you at the same time.
  1245. >Despite yourself, your blush deepens.
  1246. >You’re really starting to enjo—
  1247. >Ack!
  1248. >Now they’re both kissing you at the same time, and they’re not pausing between them!
  1249. >It's just kiss after kiss after kiss!
  1250. >You start trying to escape again, but they’ve both got you in an iron grip as they pepper your face.
  1251. “Arg! Stop! Too many!”
  1252. >Your pleading seems to only redouble their efforts.
  1253. >The air begins to fill with a mix of the sounds *mwah mwah* and *ack*.
  1254. >At least until you hear a stallion’s voice from a nearby table speak up.
  1255. >>>”Honey, look at the couple with that bat filly! They’re so cute, quick get a picture!”
  1256. >That stops the both of them in their tracks.
  1257. >The three of you are clearly all thinking the same thing, and as all of you simultaneously turn to the voice, your suspicions are confirmed.
  1258. >There’s a middle aged stallion seated at a table across from you, with a camera aimed right at you.
  1259. >>>”No no, please don’t stop on my account. The three of you look so precious!”
  1260. >...
  1261. “eeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE””
  1262. >>”REEEEEEEE! How dare you! She’s twice the mare you are!”
  1263. >”Cut he’s a stallion that doesn’t even make sense!”
  1264.  
  1265.  
  1266. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and as much as you hate to do it, you’ve left your companions behind in bed.
  1267. >By the end of last night they were both completely out of it, so they needed their rest.
  1268. >Besides, you told them where you’d be today, and if they forgot, you left a note on the kitchen table.
  1269. >As you make your way downtown, your mind is galloping a million miles a minute.
  1270. >The familiar nervousness that creeps in when your Mom comes to visit seems to be hitting you much sooner and much harder than usual.
  1271. >Thankfully you’ve been planning since you got her telegram.
  1272. >As she is with many things, your mother can be very /particular/ about restaurants.
  1273. >Since you do not want to disappoint her, you’ve been mentally searching for the perfect location that would fit her criteria.
  1274. >Which you’ve found would be the cafe on Seventh Street.
  1275. >A conclusion you reach with perfect timing because as you do, you reach her hotel.
  1276. >And it appears she was waiting for you.
  1277. >”Nocturnal!” shouts Star Mapper, your mother.
  1278. >It looks like she’s been waiting outside, braving the cold in a display of mareliness.
  1279. >Drawing closer to her, you notice her mane is a different color than when you saw her last.
  1280. >Her once midnight blue hair has turned a much brighter and tacky shade, one that contrasts much more harshly with her fading teal coat.
  1281. >A tacky shade that reeks of a poor dye job.
  1282. >It was greying a bit last time you saw her...
  1283. >But that’s absurd! Your mom is way too marely to do something like dye her mane because it was graying!
  1284. >Dad must have twisted her hoof to get it done, and poorly at that.
  1285. >Reaching her, you go in for one of the hugs you’ve grown so used to over the past few months.
  1286. >Only for her to lean back and affix you with a disapproving gaze.
  1287. >”Nocturnal, what are you doing?”
  1288. >Oh! Right! Silly you.
  1289. >Mares don’t hug other mares!
  1290. >Awkwardly pulling back, you cough into your hoof, hoping to make it look like you weren’t doing what you were just doing.
  1291. “*Ahem* Sorry, Mom,” you say as you reach out your hoof for a hoofbump.
  1292. >Seeing the shift, your mom smiles approvingly and meets your bump.
  1293. >”Ah, /that’s/ more like my favorite daughter!”
  1294. >Despite yourself you sharply inhale.
  1295. >EEEEEE! If only filly-you could see you now!
  1296. >You’re more successful than she could have ever hoped to be!
  1297. >Nonetheless, her words put a strange tension in your frame.
  1298. >Some... fear.
  1299. >Oh well, all that matters right now is that the mare you once looked up to as much as the Princess herself, is here before you.
  1300. >You’d better put your best hoof forward!
  1301. >”So where are we going?”
  1302.  
  1303.  
  1304. >>”Your food will be out in just a moment.”
  1305. >You are still Nocturnal Pike, and you and your mom just placed your orders at the cafe on Seventh street.
  1306. >It's a quaint place, looking more like a bakery than a restaurant.
  1307. >You asked for one of the tables near the back, and that is where the two of you are sitting.
  1308. “You know, Mom,” you say as the waitress walks away, “we actually have telephones at the guard offices now. You can just call me if you want to meet up.”
  1309. >Your statement pulls her attention from the stallion a few tables over, and she scoffs.
  1310. >”What, you mean on that gizmo your father got me last Hearth’s Warming? Bah, you know it's just a fad he saw in one of his magazines.”
  1311. >She leans back, rolling her eyes.
  1312. >”Only reason he even bought one is because the family next door got one too.”
  1313. >You’re fairly certain he explicitly said he got it to, “make it easier for you to stay in touch with your own family,” but your Mom is a stallion expert.
  1314. >”I’ll stick to the tried and true methods of staying in contact, thank you!”
  1315. >You’re tempted to roll your eyes at the insinuation that telegrams are “tried and true” but you force that feeling down.
  1316. >Show a little respect! This is your Mom you’re talking to.
  1317. >Seeing that your Mom’s mind was made up though, you decide to shift the conversation.
  1318. “Speaking of staying in contact, did you get my last letter?”
  1319. >The pride on her face is plain as the moon.
  1320. >”We did! Your father read it aloud to the whole herd while he was bawling his eyes out.”
  1321. >You chuckle a bit at the mental picture, your dad always was a bit of a drama queen.
  1322. >”I didn’t of course. I knew it was only a matter of time until a mare of your caliber found a stallion worth keeping around.”
  1323. >She casts a disgusted look towards a stallion at another table, you’re not sure why at first, but then you notice his shield cutie mark.
  1324. >”I am proud of you though, Nocturnal. It’s sad to say, but it's no easy feat these days to find a stallion that’s not either just a slut worth a quick stick and kick or one of these new age /stallionists/.”
  1325. >You chuckle a little more awkwardly than you would have liked.
  1326. >”So, is he a better cook than your father?”
  1327. “Ha! N—”
  1328. >Your first instinct was to answer truthfully, this is your own mother after all.
  1329. >But you don’t want her to think you’re dating a /stallionist/!
  1330. “—ot exactly. I mean, how could /any/ stallion beat dad’s home cooking?”
  1331. >She guffaws at that, leaving you to breathe a sigh of relief.
  1332. >”Haha! I’ll tell him you said that!”
  1333. >Phew, dodged an arrow there.
  1334. >”Your letter made it sound like things were going well. So, when are you making it a herd?”
  1335. >Her question makes you grin ear to ear in satisfaction.
  1336. “We already have!”
  1337. >Your Mom’s look turns much more scrutinous.
  1338. >”With you as the alpha, right?”
  1339. >Her look triggers a reflex, installed by years of foalhood scrutiny, that makes a part of you want to wither away under her gaze.
  1340. >But, you resist!
  1341. >After all, you’re going to say exactly what she wants to hear.
  1342. “Of course!”
  1343. >Reaching around the small table with her impressive wingspan, she claps you on the back in a rare show of affection.
  1344. >”That’s my filly! See, this is why you’re my favorite daughter! You’re the only one actually /living/ up to my example.”
  1345. >Your heart soars.
  1346. >This is everything you could have ever wanted, everything you hoped it would be.
  1347. >The doubts that have been lurking in the back of your mind are pushed aside by the approval you’ve been constantly chasing since you were a filly.
  1348. >But as the initial euphoria starts to fade, you realize there’s a massive inconsistency in what your Mom just said.
  1349. >How can you be the only one following her example if you’re not the only alpha?
  1350. “What happened to Lucky Night?”
  1351. >The sound of your sister’s name puts a look of disgust on your Mom’s face that you’re /very/ glad isn’t aimed at you.
  1352. >”Don’t remind me, her prissy coltfriend demoted her. Something about how she was, “too emotionally distant” or some other nonsense.”
  1353. >She shakes her head disapprovingly.
  1354. >”I told her what she /should/ do is leave him in the dust. It’s obvious that he just can’t handle an /actual/ mare, and wants some sissy’s shoulder to cry on. But no. Lucky’s insisting they’re going to make it work.”
  1355. >She punctuates her story with a long sigh.
  1356. >”I thought I raised that filly better...”
  1357. >Aw jeez, your heart goes out to Lucky.
  1358. >But is it really that big a deal that she’s not leaving her herd over that?
  1359. >Seems like a fairly easy thing to work through, all things consi—
  1360. >”Absolutely shameful.”
  1361. >You mentally bite your tongue.
  1362. >C-could you leave Anon over something like that?
  1363. >No... No!
  1364. >That’d be absurd!
  1365. >You could never!
  1366. >”That’s why you’re my favorite daughter. I don’t have to worry about YOU doing something like that”
  1367. >That strikes a blow right to your heart, and those doubts you chased away crash back into you with the force of a dozen guardsmares.
  1368. >J-just power through it, Pike!
  1369. >Put that perfect poker face of yours to use!
  1370. “Thanks, Mom,” you force out.
  1371. >By your own design though, your Mom smiles, completely oblivious to your thoughts.
  1372. >”Well, you’ve earned it.”
  1373.  
  1374.  
  1375. >Little of note occurred after that, you and your Mom finished the meal, said your goodbyes, and the two of you parted ways.
  1376. >And as you, Nocturnal Pike, enter your apartment building’s main floor, you’re reminded why you don’t like it when she comes to visit.
  1377. >You practically collapse as muscles that had been tense for hours, finally relax.
  1378. >All you did was eat a nice meal and you feel like you just ran a marathon.
  1379. >This is no surprise to you though, you always feel like this after she comes by.
  1380. >Starting to slowly climb the stairwell you find yourself wondering...
  1381. >Why /do/ her visits always leave you feeling like this?
  1382. >You’ve met every expectation she set out for you since you were a filly!
  1383. >Every bit of resolve you needed to be a mare among mares, a sergeant of the guard!
  1384. >Even today, she just spent your meetup showering you in compliments.
  1385. >So why do you feel so... bad?
  1386. [spoiler]>Because it's a hollow victory, and you know it.[/spoiler]
  1387. [spoiler]>You’re a hair’s breadth away from that pride vanishing like dew in the afternoon sun.[/spoiler]
  1388. [spoiler]>And you’d deserve it.[/spoiler]
  1389. >”Hahahahaha! That’s how you got your cutie mark? That’s amazing!”
  1390. >The sound of Anon’s voice causes you to perk up.
  1391. >It appears you were so lost in thought that you climbed the stairs near automatically.
  1392. >You’ve already reached the floor your apartment is on.
  1393. >>”You shoulda seen the look on her face!” answers the voice of who you believe is Suck.
  1394. >Hm, it seems Cut’s parents didn’t want to wait and came by early.
  1395. >Not that you mind.
  1396. >They seem like good ponies.
  1397.  
  1398.  
  1399. >You are Anonymous, and you can barely believe what you just heard!
  1400. >When Barely and Suck showed up, you knew you’d be in for some good stories.
  1401. >But /that’s/ how Cut got her cutie mark!?
  1402. >If it wasn’t for the photobook open in front of you, and Cut’s beet-red face, you honestly wouldn’t have bought it.
  1403. “I love it!”
  1404. >Although she’s deliberately avoiding eye contact with you, you still see her smile.
  1405. >*Click*
  1406. >The sound of the door latch turning directs your attention to the door.
  1407. >It must be... Pike!
  1408. >You wave to the mare as she walks in.
  1409. “Welcome home, hon!”
  1410. >Patting the spot on the couch to your left you gesture for her to come over.
  1411. >Which she does, hopping next to you and leaning up against you with a sigh.
  1412. “How was breakfast?”
  1413. >”Not bad, Mom’s the same as usual.”
  1414. >>”Aw,” Barely pipes up from his chair, “She didn’t want to join us today?”
  1415. >You can /feel/ Pike’s muscles tense.
  1416. >That’s... an odd reaction.
  1417. >Despite the tension you can physically feel though, her face seems unmoved.
  1418. >”Nah, she’s only in town for business. Had to get to a meeting.”
  1419. >>>”Darn shame, I’d like to meet her,” says Suck.
  1420. >You can tell she wants to get off the topic asap, so you lend her a little helping hoof.
  1421. “Hey, has Cut told you how she got her cutie mark yet?”
  1422. >She nods lazily.
  1423. >”Yeah, Barely told me about it yesterday.”
  1424. >>>>”Wha- Dad!” cries Cut from beside you.
  1425. >Barely, who was in the process of sipping some tea you put out earlier, proceeds to choke on it.
  1426. >>”*cough* *cough* Anonymous, sweetie, why don’t you *cough* tell us how you got your cutie mark?”
  1427. >Dang, you’re handing out helping hooves left and right today!
  1428. “Well, back when I was a young b- *ahem* colt, I—”
  1429. >...
  1430. >Oh no.
  1431. “I... um...”
  1432. >Oh fuck no.
  1433. >You forgot the stupid cutie mark cover story you made up!
  1434.  
  1435.  
  1436. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and something has become incredibly apparent to you.
  1437. >Anon completely forgot his cutie mark story.
  1438. >He’s currently floundering, desperately trying to either remember or come up with something believable on the spot.
  1439. >Since he was kind enough to help you out earlier, you ought to do the same for him.
  1440. “How about I tell my cutie mark story while you go look for a visual aid?”
  1441. >Anon breathes a sigh of relief.
  1442. >”That’s a great idea, honey. You know how hard it is for me to tell this without something to demonstrate with.”
  1443. >Without another word, he hops off the couch and disappears into the bedroom, leaving you with Cut and her parents.
  1444. >Time to really sell it.
  1445. >You strike a cocky pose with a grin so smug it's practically dripping off your face.
  1446. “Leave it to a /stallion/ to need a demonstration to go with his cutie mark story!”
  1447. >Suck starts laughing uproariously, while Barely looks like you just said something revolutionary.
  1448. >”Why /didn’t/ I think of that?” he says under his breath.
  1449. >>”So how did you get your cutie mark?” asks Cut.
  1450. >Allowing yourself to drift back, you allow the memory to take over you.
  1451. “You see, it was a little after my tenth birthday...”
  1452.  
  1453.  
  1454. >You are Nocturnal, the definitely-not-small and mighty!
  1455. >You’re being extra quiet right now, your parents are upstairs, playing by the sound of it.
  1456. >As long as you stay quieter than those thumps, all will be well.
  1457. >After all, you’re doing something Mom always said not to!
  1458. >Play in the kitchen!
  1459. >Dad made something really good for dinner earlier, a sof-... a soffl-.... Whatever.
  1460. >It doesn’t matter what it was called, all you know is, it was so tasty!
  1461. >So tasty that you wanna try to make it yourself!
  1462. >But Mom always says, “Mares don’t work in the kitchen, that’s a colt’s place!”
  1463. >That’s why you’re trying now, in secret!
  1464. >If she doesn’t find out, you won’t get scolded for being “unmarely”, and that means it's ok!
  1465. >Hmmmm, let’s see, what did Dad do...
  1466. >Allowing your memories to lead the way, you begin to prepare the dish.
  1467. >Eggs, butter, milk, some spices...
  1468. >Oooo, he put spinach in right? That would be really good!
  1469. >You go on like this for a while, oblivious to the passage of time.
  1470. >Eventually though, you finish mixing the ingredients to the point where you think you’ve replicated what he did, mostly.
  1471. >With a smile on your face, you place it in the oven and get ready to wait.
  1472. >Only for your heart to jump into your throat.
  1473. >You were so lost in your work you didn’t notice that the thumping coming from upstairs had stopped.
  1474. >And now a familiar set of hoofsteps is making her way to the kitchen.
  1475. >Oh no, oh no, oh no!
  1476. >If your Mom catches you in here, you’re dead!
  1477. >S-she’ll call you a wimp and not love you anymore!
  1478. >Oh Luna what do you do what do you do?
  1479. > At that moment though, the answer comes to you from deep within your being.
  1480. >Something primal reaches out from within your soul, and you react on pure instinct.
  1481. >Stretching across your ceiling are several large beams that your parents would one day tell you were ‘load-bearing’.
  1482. >You’d never given them a second thought.
  1483. >But tonight, your soul knew the distance between those beams was just your size.
  1484. >Without any conscious effort on your part, your legs launch you into the air, at the perfect speed.
  1485. >A speed that slows down enough so that when you reach your apex, you can kick all your legs out and brace yourself in between those same beams.
  1486. >Which you do, leaving yourself perfectly hidden on the ceiling as your Mom walks in.
  1487. >The sudden exertion left you winded, but you resist the urge to pant.
  1488. >That would give you away.
  1489. >Your filly muscles strain to support your weight as you stick to the ceiling, making only barely aware of what your Mom is saying.
  1490. >”Hmm, let's see what we’ve got to snack on...” she says as she walks around the room.
  1491. >Your breath hitches as she notices the oven is on.
  1492. >”What’s this?”
  1493. >Keeping your breath steady becomes an alicornean effort as the strain of your muscles mixes with the abject terror at the idea of getting caught.
  1494. >”Hm, he’s making another souffle? Ha! That stallion. Alright, better not snack ‘till it's done or he’ll whine my ear off,” she mutters to herself.
  1495. >Much to your relief, she moves to exit the kitchen after that.
  1496. >”What a strange thing to make for an after-sex snack.”
  1497. >As she vanishes from your view, it takes all you’ve got not to drop down right then.
  1498. >You force yourself to stay up until you’re certain you’ve heard her hoofsteps retreat up the stairs.
  1499. >Only once they have, do you let out the breath you were holding and allow yourself to drop.
  1500. >As you do, your wings expand, allowing you to drift silently back to the ground.
  1501. >Once you've actually landed, you immediately collapse.
  1502. >The burn in your muscles exhilarates you as much as it pains you.
  1503. >That was so cool, and you got away with it!
  1504. >It was just like you were in one of those spy books you stole from your older sister!
  1505. >Wow, you had no idea you could do stuff like that.
  1506. >Imagine if you could be that cool all the time!
  1507. >The thought puts a smile on your face as you lay there on the ground.
  1508. >A smile that only grows when you realize a flash of light just appeared on your flank.
  1509. >Weakly craning your neck up, you see what every filly wants to see one day.
  1510. “My cutie mark...” you say breathlessly.
  1511. >It’s taken the form of the shadow of a pony doing a backflip in front of a full moon.
  1512. “So cool...”
  1513. >Wowee! You can’t believe that just happened!
  1514. >The fear that filled your heart disappears as the fact you finally got your cutie mark sets in.
  1515. >First you got to play in the kitchen, then you got to perform a super cool spy movie, and then you got your cutie mark!
  1516. >Best night (well actually it is day right now, you are up past your bedtime) ever!
  1517.  
  1518. “...and that’s how it happened.”
  1519. >You, the Pike of the present, have just finished telling that same story to the gathered ponies.
  1520. >With some details omitted of course, but generally, it was the same.
  1521. >”Now why can’t /you/ do anything like that?” Barely asks Suck.
  1522. >While Suck lets out a deep belly laugh.
  1523. >>”Ha! Come on babe, you knew exactly what you were getting into when you married THIS,” she says as she slaps her gut.
  1524. >Barely rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling the whole time.
  1525. >>>”Okay, okay I’m ready!” says Anon from the other room.
  1526. >You and all the other gathered ponies turn your head toward the bedroom in anticipation.
  1527. >As you do, Anon steps out.
  1528. >He’s dressed head to hoof in his reporter gear, he’s even wearing that funny little hat he got.
  1529. >As he steps into the main room, he makes an exaggerated show of reaching into his saddlebags.
  1530. >A show that serves to signal you to close your eyes.
  1531. >>>”Say cheese!”
  1532.  
  1533. >You are Cut N. Paste, and your parents just left the three of you for the evening.
  1534. >Now that they’ve gone, it's time to bring up something you’ve been wondering about for most of the day.
  1535. >The cutie mark story Anon told your parents today, and the story he told you back when you first met, were /completely/ different.
  1536. >Why?
  1537. >It's such a strange thing to lie about.
  1538. >He seems completely unbothered by it too, happily trotting about the apartment without a care.
  1539. >Half of you wants to let it go in favor of not crossing any lines.
  1540. >However, you need to put your hoof down, you’re an equal partner in this relationship, dang it!
  1541. “Hey, Anon?”
  1542. >He doesn’t even look over, picking up some stray cups to take to the sink.
  1543. >”Yeah?”
  1544. >Don’t chicken out, Cut!
  1545. “D-did you lie about how you got your cutie mark?”
  1546. >He stops mid-step, freezing dead still.
  1547. >He turns to face you opening his mouth to say something.
  1548. >”Well...”
  1549. >Only to be cut off by Pike.
  1550. >>”Bwahahahahaha! She’s caught you red hoofed!”
  1551. >She hops from her position across the room and glides over to you.
  1552. >As she lands she elbows you in the side.
  1553. >>”What was it originally? Something about solving a mystery in a haunted house right?”
  1554. >What?
  1555. >Did Anonymous lie about his cutie mark to her too?
  1556. >She doesn’t seem very bothered by it, if so.
  1557. “N-no, he wrote an article for his school paper about how his teacher was giving worse grades to colts.”
  1558. >Now she looks appropriately shocked.
  1559. >>”What? That definitely wasn’t the story he told me...”
  1560. >Suddenly, she makes some connection you haven’t been able to.
  1561. >>”ANON!” she shouts, “Don’t tell me you were telling different cutie mark stories to different ponies!”
  1562. >That’s ridiculous!
  1563. >There’s no way a pony would do that!
  1564. >...
  1565. >Anon’s looking awfully sheepish.
  1566. >D-did he...?
  1567. >”I-In my defense,” he stammers out, “I had stopped doing it by the time I met you, Pike.”
  1568. >What the heck!?
  1569. >Pike, who seems to have much more of the story than you, facehooves.
  1570. >>”Why in Equestria would you /do/ that?”
  1571. >”It was funny!” he shouts as he stamps his hoof, “ Besides, it's not like anyone hung around me enough to fact check it.”
  1572. >Pike’s face makes something similar to an “O” and she settles into a more neutral posture.
  1573. >Seems his answer was enough to placate her, but no you.
  1574. >It just left you with more questions.
  1575. “So why’d you lie to my parents today then?”
  1576. >He pauses, clearly considering his next words carefully.
  1577. >Only to heavily sigh.
  1578. >”Alright, it's time I told you anyway.”
  1579. >The frustration that had been gradually mounting instantly evaporates at the solemnness of his tone.
  1580. >Now in its place, is worry.
  1581. “T-Tell me what?”
  1582. >You feel Pike’s hoof on your shoulder.
  1583. >Turning down to face her, she gestures toward the couch with her head.
  1584. >>”You’re gonna want to want to sit down.”
  1585.  
  1586.  
  1587. >They were right, you’re glad you were sitting down.
  1588. >Anon just spent the last half hour standing in front of you explaining his whole life story, while you listened from your spot on the couch.
  1589. >Pike only occasionally chimed in when he started to get worried that his story was becoming too unbelievable.
  1590. >Which wasn’t as often as you would have expected, considering the core of the narrative.
  1591. >To think that this whole time, Anon was an [spoiler]isekai protagonist!?[/spoiler]
  1592. >NO! You bucking sperg!
  1593. >This is definitely NOT the time for manga references!
  1594. >Although, Anon might actually appreciate something to lighten the mood right now.
  1595. >This is the saddest you’ve ever seen him.
  1596. >And honestly? You completely understand why.
  1597. >”Now you know why my localizations were all fucked up. Haha!”
  1598. >You can tell his heart wasn’t in the joke, that was the most forced laugh you’ve ever heard out of him.
  1599. >Seeing that his attempt to lighten the mood fell flat, he dips his head.
  1600. >”I really killed the mood, huh?”
  1601. >Oh no, now he’s officially sad!
  1602. >Sh-should you hug him? Is this the kind of sadness that hugs can even help with!?
  1603. >Wait, why are you even asking?
  1604. >Anon is /your/ husbando now, and it's your job as a mare to protect his smile!
  1605. >With Pike nodding approvingly in the corner of your eye, you throw yourself onto Anon and hug him with all your might.
  1606. >He makes a sound similar to *hurrk*, which you choose to believe is a sound of love and affirmation.
  1607. >As you nuzzle his neck, Pike joins you at his side.
  1608. >>”Was it a little easier this time?” she asks him.
  1609. >”A little.”
  1610. >He lets the two of you squeeze him for quite a while, something you’re more than content to do.
  1611. >After awhile though, he starts prying himself out of your grips.
  1612. >”Alright, alright. Enough of me being a sad sack.”
  1613. >He looks at you dead-on, something that admittedly makes you a little uncomfortable.
  1614. >”Well... what do you think?”
  1615. >You look between him and Pike, confused.
  1616. “What do /I/ think?”
  1617. >”Yeah,” he says, “You just got told your coltfriend is an alien. What do you think?”
  1618. >Oh buck.
  1619. >This is like one of those major moments in one of your Dad’s romcoms!
  1620. >Better think of something good to say, something inspiring.
  1621. >Something like...
  1622. “I think it doesn’t matter where you came from, Anon, wh-what matters is that you’re here!”
  1623. >He holds a straight face for a few moments, before a *snirk* slips through.
  1624. >A few more chuckles slip out before he looks you in the eye and smiles.
  1625. >”Bullshit.”
  1626. >What!?
  1627. >>”Oh come on, Anon,” chides Pike, “that was sweet!”
  1628. >He rolls his eyes.
  1629. >”It was, but it wasn’t what she really thinks.”
  1630. >He leans in toward you.
  1631. >”What do you /really/ think, Cut?”
  1632. >Oh he is asking for it!
  1633. >And if he’s asking for it, you’re going to give it to him!
  1634. >Crossing your hooves defiantly, you answer.
  1635. “/I’m/ happy I get to be a main character in your real-life Isekai manga!”
  1636. >That puts a genuine smile on his face.
  1637. >”Hahahaha hell yeah! That’s what I love about you, Cut!”
  1638.  
  1639.  
  1640. >The longer you, Nocturnal Pike, spend with your herd, the more you begin to notice something.
  1641. >The stress of the earlier visit seems further and further away.
  1642. >The tension has well and truly left your body, and all your doubts and fears seem far away.
  1643. [spoiler]>...Isn’t that how visiting your parents is supposed to make you feel?[/spoiler]
  1644. >As the night’s gone on, Anon’s clearly feeling a similar effect.
  1645. >He seems to have left the melancholy behind and is reveling in your and Cut’s company.
  1646. >Now the three of you have gathered under a blanket on the couch, snuggling in defiance of the wind and snow blowing outside.
  1647. >As you are, the combined efforts of Cut and yourself have actually managed to get Anon to talk at length about some of the stranger aspects of his home.
  1648. >So between sipping hot cocoa, you find yourself listening to Anon’s tales with rapt attention.
  1649. >His current topic de jure are these strange items called ‘computers’.
  1650. >”And they can connect to this thing called the internet and —”
  1651. >Cut, who up until now has been following Anon’s story with rapt attention, speaks up.
  1652. >>”Before you move on Anon, how do you make these ‘computers’?”
  1653. >This brings Anon’s explanation to an abrupt end.
  1654. >”I uh... I don’t know.”
  1655. >Oh, that just gave you an evil idea.
  1656. >Cocking an eyebrow, you give him an expression of utter disbelief.
  1657. “These things basically permeated every aspect of your life but you don’t actually know how they work? Sounds fake to me.”
  1658. >His face scrunches and turns a delightful shade of red at your accusation.
  1659. >”They’re real! I just wasn’t into tech!”
  1660. >Thankfully, Cut picks up on the bit.
  1661. >>”I don’t know Anon. Sounds a little far fetched to me!”
  1662. >That only makes him redder.
  1663. >Despite both your desires to keep the bit going, the two of you start laughing.
  1664. >Hers some minor chuckles, while yours is a loud guffaw.
  1665. >Which makes him pout adorably.
  1666. >”Laugh while you can! You won’t be laughing soon!”
  1667. >Lighting his horn, one of your DVD zips off the shelf and flies over the three of you.
  1668. >”You’ve already got digital media, it's only a matter of time before your world will have them too!”
  1669. >Well, he’s partially right, that does put a stop to your Cut’s laughter.
  1670. >But more out of confusion than anything.
  1671. >You lean past Anon to look over to Cut, she’s a nerd after all, she should know what he’s talking about!
  1672. >At the same time though, she leans forward to look at you, clearly hoping that you knew what he was talking about.
  1673. >Seeing the distinct lack of knowledge in each other’s eyes, you both turn back to Anon.
  1674. ”Digital?” the two of you ask in sync.
  1675. >He holds the DVD a little higher as if that is the answer to your question.
  1676. >”You know, digital!”
  1677. >His statement goes unanswered as the two of you continue to sit there.
  1678. >”...Like the D in DVD?”
  1679. >Ohhhhhhhhhh!
  1680. >This must be one of those fucking/bucking things!
  1681. “So your people called diamonds ‘digital’?”
  1682. >His eyes widen to the size of dinner plates.
  1683. >”Wha?”
  1684. “Here, the D in DVD stands for diamond. What, were your DVDs /not/ made out of diamond?”
  1685. >>”There’s no way,” Cut chimes in, “No other kind of gem has the lattice to accurately hold and cast a spell as complex as the movie projection spell.”
  1686. >Anon seems completely unable to process this though, simply continuing to stare wide-eyed at the DVD case.
  1687. >”/Diamond/?” he repeats in disbelief.
  1688. “Yeah, what else would they be? Ruby?”
  1689. >You can hear Cut groan from the other side of Anon.
  1690. >>”Oh Celestia don’t remind me about that.” she says as she leans into your view, “My Dad /totally/ bought into those.”
  1691. >Now it's your turn to widen your eyes in shock.
  1692. “You actually owned a RedRay player?”
  1693. >You remember back when those “RedRay” ruby disks and players hit the market.
  1694. >All those ads that preceded its release claiming that, ‘RedRay is the future!’
  1695. >How half the ponies in Canterlot were scrambling to get one the day it came out.
  1696. >And then how they all were recalled within a week.
  1697. >>”Yep,” she says while shaking her head, “And halfway through the only movie we ever watched on it, the player miscast the spell and teleported the disk into my sister’s mattress two floors up. Took us a week to find it.”
  1698. >Holy buck!
  1699. >If that was the kind of stuff that could happen with them, no wonder they all got recalled.
  1700. >>”Dad threw it out after that.”
  1701. >You chuckle at the mental image.
  1702. “I’ll bet.”
  1703. >You elbow the, up until now, silent Anon in the ribs
  1704. “What do you think of /that/? Could your computers do something like that?”
  1705. >He doesn’t answer though, and when you look at his face you see he’s become transfixed by the DVD case.
  1706. >He’s staring into it, completely mesmerized.
  1707. >”How much would a disk made of solid diamond even be worth?”
  1708. >Snorting to yourself, you (with more effort than you’d like to admit) pull the DVD out of his magic with your wing.
  1709. “I didn’t know you had dragon in your blood, Anon.”
  1710. >The spell broken, he blinks owlishly a few times before scoffing at you.
  1711. >”Hey, owning a disk of solid diamond would have been a big deal back home!”
  1712. >Rolling your eyes, you toss the DVD back over to the shelf.
  1713. >Your aim was a little off though and it ends up slapping into the shelf itself.
  1714. >...maybe you should take Astral up on those precision throwing lessons...
  1715. >Watching the DVD tumble to the ground, you just shrug.
  1716. “Here they’re only worth about twelve bits.”
  1717. >He chuckles as he watches the results of your failed throw.
  1718. >”I guess so.”
  1719. >You can hear Cut whine a little from across the couch.
  1720. >>”Aw, I wanted to watch that one.”
  1721. >You know she can’t see you from where she is, but you roll your eyes anyway.
  1722. “Oh come on, diamond is one of the hardest minerals out there! I’m sure it’s fine.”
  1723. >Anon awkwardly coughs.
  1724. >”That’s uh, that’s not what they mean when they say diamond is hard, Pike.”
  1725. “Wait really? Aw buck. I liked that movie too.”
  1726.  
  1727.  
  1728.  
  1729. >Today is Sunday, and that means something very special to you, Nocturnal Pike.
  1730. >Today is the first day of your regiment to make Cut more marely.
  1731. >You had intended to wake her up early and do the whole drill sergeant routine, but you were held back by one simple fact.
  1732. >While the shift you’ve worked for so long has allowed you to wake up before most Thestrals could even dream, the fact of the matter is that Cut is diurnal and you’re not.
  1733. >While she is adjusting faster than most could to your and Anon’s sleep schedule, she still typically wakes up at what most ponies consider a “reasonable hour”.
  1734. >”Most ponies” in this case, not including a single Thestral.
  1735. >So, waking up to find her having already departed the bed, you make your way toward the kitchen for a morning cup of coffee.
  1736. >”Good morning, Pike!” she says as you exit the bedroom.
  1737. “Mornin.”
  1738. >You hop into a seat at the kitchen table as Cut, very helpfully, pours you a cup.
  1739. >”So, uh, today’s the first day of my “training”, right?”
  1740. >You nod affirmingly, taking the cup and taking a sip.
  1741. >”What are we going to start with then? T-talking to stallions? Working out!?”
  1742. >Now you shake your head in denial.
  1743. “No, Cut, the first step to you being more marely is to make you more confident.”
  1744. >She opens her mouth to ask a question, but you cut her off.
  1745. “And the first step to that is making you more /self/ confident.”
  1746. >Now you lean in toward as far as you can over the table.
  1747. “And the first step to /that/ is teaching you to actually take care of yourself.”
  1748. >She balks, red in the face and with a little incredulity in her voice.
  1749. >”I know how to take care of myself! I’m not a filly!”
  1750. >You give her a disbelieving once over.
  1751. “The basics, sure. But tell me, have you completed your morning routine by now? Would you be comfortable going outside right this minute?”
  1752. >The little defiance she had is rapidly disappearing.
  1753. >”Y-yes.”
  1754. >In that case, you lean back and begin to dissect her appearance.
  1755. >Right off the bat, her mane is a mess.
  1756. >She’s got the same messy bun she always has, meaning about a fourth of her mane is sticking out in random directions.
  1757. >It looks improperly washed too, it's a little greasy and you can see the split ends.
  1758. >Speaking of greasy, her coat itself is already greasy too!
  1759. “You took a shower this morning, right?”
  1760. >”Yes!”
  1761. >Hmmmmm, maybe she needs a better brush.
  1762. >Oh! You’ve still got some coat conditioner leftover from your spa day, that could help.
  1763. >Her tuft is pathetic, so there’s no need to comment on how she marescapes it.
  1764. >Ducking under the table you get a look at her hooves.
  1765. >Luna, they look awful.
  1766. >All those years of exclusively biting them seems to have taken their toll.
  1767. >Mare, the only thing on her immaculately kept is her bra.
  1768. >No doubt she’s worried that letting the bra get sullied would compromise the enchantment and let her teats out for the world to see.
  1769. >Straightening back up to look her in the eyes, you share your conclusion with her.
  1770. “Cut, would it be fair to describe the effort you put into your appearance as ‘bare minimum’?”
  1771. >She hangs her head in shame.
  1772. >”...yeah. Why put in effort if nopony wants to look at me anyway? It’s just a waste of time...”
  1773. >In that instant something inside you clicks.
  1774. >Looks like you’ll get to use that drill sergeant but after all.
  1775. “WHAT THE BUCK DID YOU JUST SAY TO ME MAGGOT!?”
  1776. >Cut is so startled she nearly falls out of her chair.
  1777. >”AAAH!”
  1778. “I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ANY OF THAT MAMBY PAMBY I FEEL SORRY FOR MYSELF CRAP! THIS IS NOT THE PLACE FOR THAT! NOW DROP AND GIVE ME TWENTY ‘I AM AN ATTRACTIVE MARE AND I DON’T NEED OTHERS’ APPROVAL TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT MYSELF!”
  1779. >She very clearly does not understand.
  1780. >”Wha-”
  1781. “I SAID DROP AND GIVE ME TWENTY ‘I AM AN ATTRACTIVE MARE AND I DON’T NEED OTHERS’ APPROVAL TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT MYSELF!”
  1782. >That time seems to get through to her, and she hops off her chair.
  1783. >She isn’t really standing tall when she says it, but at least she’s standing.
  1784. >”Uhhh I am an attractive mare and I don’t need others’ approval to feel good about myself?”
  1785. “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”
  1786. >She stands up a little straighter.
  1787. “I am an attractive mare and I don’t need others’ approval to feel good about myself!”
  1788. “LOUDER!”
  1789. >Now she’s standing proud!
  1790. >”I AM AN ATTRACTIVE MARE AND I DON’T NEED OTHERS’ APPROVAL TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT MYSELF!”
  1791. >>”What the FUCK is going on out here?”
  1792. >A voice coming from the short hallway running to the bedroom causes you to whip your head around.
  1793. >There you see a disheveled and very unhappy looking Anonymous.
  1794. >Oh, riiiiiight. He was still asleep. Whoops.
  1795. >Cut meanwhile, is seemingly too lost in the feeling of getting herself pumped up to notice.
  1796. >”I AM AN ATTRACTIVE MARE AND I DON’T NEED OTHERS APPROVAL TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT MYSELF!”
  1797. >Anon, recovering from his initial confusion, gives her a steely look.
  1798. >>”You’re goddamn right, babe.”
  1799.  
  1800.  
  1801. “Alright, let’s start with mane care.”
  1802. >The first step on this journey to getting Cut to care for herself better, is undoing all those horrible habits she’s undoubtedly picked up over the years.
  1803. >To do that, you, Nocturnal Pike, have taken her to one of the local apothecaries.
  1804. >Anon elected to stay behind, citing he needed to work on an article he’s fallen behind on.
  1805. >Which, while unfortunate, isn’t much of a setback.
  1806. >You are the resident expert on marely, you could do this job in your sleep!
  1807. “Ooooh, this one has tea tree oil! This should help with the grease!”
  1808. >Cut, who’s strapped into the shopping wagon (they didn’t have any in your size, grrrr) nervously speaks up.
  1809. >”Pike, i-isn’t this the /stallion’s/ section?”
  1810. >Hm?
  1811. >Craning your neck up to the sign above the shelf, you see it is as she says.
  1812. >’Stallion’s Manecare’ says the sign.
  1813. >Oh... right.
  1814. >You may have started shopping at this end of the shop as of late.
  1815. >Definitely not because you liked the shampoos Anon used on you during that spa day, no ma’am!
  1816. “*Ahem* Well Cut, uh tell me. What do you usually use to wash your mane?”
  1817. >She scrunches her face in thought and keeps it that way far longer than a pony ought to when remembering the kind of shampoo they use.
  1818. >Eventually though, she blushes in shame.
  1819. >”W-well sometimes I sleep in too late so I’m in such a rush that I forget...”
  1820. >Oh no! Cut!
  1821. >She quickly jumps to her own defense though.
  1822. >”But only sometimes! Usually, I use Original Oakley A’s fifteen in one.”
  1823. >Oh Luna, that’s worse than not washing it at all!
  1824. “Cut!” you chide, “The fifteen in one is for your coat! It’s basically just /body/ wash!”
  1825. >Poor Cut looks so confused, and you don’t blame her.
  1826. >”B-but then what are the fifteen things it's for then?!”
  1827. >You pat her on the shoulder comfortingly.
  1828. “Not your mane.”
  1829. >Reaching back to the shelf you start pulling bottles off.
  1830. “We need to start undoing that damage. Here’s a good shampoo for that, here’s a conditioner... oooh and this moisturizer is really nice! Anon loves the smell too.”
  1831. >Out of the corner of your eye you can see Cut watching in awe.
  1832. >”How do you know all this? I can’t tell any of these apart.”
  1833. >Pausing briefly, you think back to how you actually learned all of this.
  1834. >Sure, in the past you took great care to make sure your look was peak at all times.
  1835. >But that never included using stuff from the stallion’s section.
  1836. >...you suppose most of it must come from the time you spent rereading that spa pamphlet that came from the gift basket.
  1837. >Both the “section for stallions” and the “section for mares” of course.
  1838. >A-and that library book you read a few days ago on break called ‘turn your home into a spa, a guide every stallion should have’.
  1839. >N-not because you found it interesting or anything!
  1840. >Haha, that’d be ridiculous!
  1841. >You just want to pay back the favor to Anon is all!
  1842. >Plus, he /really/ likes how those shampoos make your mane smell.
  1843. >S-so do you, but that’s beside the point!
  1844. “Because it’s uh... it's my job to know! As the alpha, the health of the herdmates is my responsibility!”
  1845. >Cut, once again, looks confused.
  1846. >It's obviously an innocent confusion, but for some reason it still makes your fur stand on end.
  1847. >”I thought that usually fell to the stallion?”
  1848. >You nervously shuffle your wings.
  1849. “*Ahem* Well, since Anon’s a... you know... he doesn’t know a lot about pony health. So that means it falls to me to pick up the slack!”
  1850. >The confusion vanishes off Cut’s face.
  1851. >”Ohhhh! That makes sense.”
  1852. >Phew, that was... wait, what’s got you so worried?
  1853. >That’s not even false!
  1854. >Sure you should be encouraging and teaching Anon these things instead of just learning them all yourself, but you’ll get around to that eventually!
  1855. >Yeah, totally.
  1856. “Aaaanyway, you can switch to something like Original Mane N’ Tail after using these for a while,” you say as you pat the assortment of products you’ve amassed.
  1857. >An assortment that Cut is staring wide-eyed at.
  1858. >”I-Is that everything?”
  1859. >You laugh, quite hard.
  1860. “Are you kidding? We haven’t even gotten you some new coat wash yet!”
  1861.  
  1862.  
  1863. >You are Anonymous, and while the gals are out and about, you need to get some work done.
  1864. >Your typewriter is still in the office, so unfortunately you can’t do any actual writing.
  1865. >What you can do, however, is the important first step to writing anything good!
  1866. >Research!
  1867. >There were a couple of topics you could write your next piece on, but you’ve yet to decide which one to go with.
  1868. >That’s why you’ve gathered a range of supplementary materials, organized into stacks based on which topic they’re related to!
  1869. >You figure as you read all this stuff, if something jumps out at you you’ll just go with that topic.
  1870. >Let’s see, then, where to start...
  1871. >Eenie meenie minie mo!
  1872. >Alright, reaching out with a hand you snatch the top paper off the chosen pile.
  1873. >Looks like your first topic is...!
  1874. >Aw, some gossip crap.
  1875. >On the plus side, with these you can just rehash the information others already complied and add in your ‘stallion’s opinion’ and that’ll be enough to make it sell like hotcakes.
  1876. >Kind of a cop-out? Definitely.
  1877. >Easy as pie? Absolutely.
  1878. >Taking a look at the article beyond a grazing glace, you see just what ‘Creep Shot’ was writing about.
  1879. >’Songbird Serenade’s Star Powered Herd Goes Critical!’
  1880. >Aw jeez, you hate to see it.
  1881. >’Songbird claims she felt neglected! Love not shared equally!’
  1882. >Okaaaaaaay!
  1883. >/That’s/ a little too related to your current anxieties for your comfort!
  1884. >You’ll pass.
  1885. >Placing the article back, you turn to the next pile.
  1886. >Already this one is looking much better.
  1887. >’Race of superponies on the way? How Stallionism may be metaphysically strengthening ponykind.’
  1888. >Alright, now that sounds like it's worth writing about!
  1889. >Thoroughly enticed, you read further.
  1890. >’Mages have debated for years over what makes a pony’s magic pool stronger. Is it bloodline? Celestial intervention? Well, in recent years the prevailing theory is that the strength of one’s spirit determines the strength of one’s magic.’
  1891. >Hm, that’s an interesting idea.
  1892. >And if it's true, you can see how stallions becoming generally more productive and proactive could positively influence their magical prowess.
  1893. >Putting the paper down, you check the next one in the pile.
  1894. >’Why Stallion’s Liberation Will Only Erode the Pony Race, /Not/ Strengthen It!’
  1895. >Right, you remember picking these two articles out.
  1896. >They were right next to each other at the library!
  1897. >Welp, it's safe to say you won’t find a better topic than this!
  1898. >Time to get reading.
  1899. >Picking that first essay back up, you dive in.
  1900. >’When one looks at it objectively, it's easy to make the connection that the mares who have performed the greatest magical feats in recent times come from liberated...’
  1901. >As you absorb the presented information, however, you can’t help but feel something nagging at the back of your mind.
  1902. >Something about that first article, Songbird’s herd.
  1903. >Something that makes you want to pick it back up instead.
  1904. >You still would rather write about how Stallionism is creating the master race, buuuuuut...
  1905. >Maybe if you can figure out what that stallion did wrong, you can avoid it!
  1906. >Yeah... yeah!
  1907. >Putting the Stallionism article back, you once again grab the article about Songbird.
  1908. >You’ll read this one, and just this one, and take some advice from it.
  1909. >Then you’ll switch back to the other topic so you can do your job.
  1910. >Perfect! A flawless plan!
  1911. >Now let’s see what the trouble with Songbird’s stallion was...
  1912. >’Songbird herself claims the trouble began after the addition of the newest herdmate...’
  1913.  
  1914.  
  1915. >”Alright, one of these has got to have the manestyle for you.”
  1916. >You are Cut N. Paste, and after leaving the apothecary, Pike brought you to the library.
  1917. >She said that you’d want to go to the next stop with ‘an example of what you wanted your mane to look like.’
  1918. >So that’s brought the two of you to this table near the back of the library with a dozen mane styling books and magazines scattered atop it.
  1919. >After her statement, Pike immediately picked one up and began leafing through it, only occasionally stopping to hold up whatever page she was on to compare it with your head.
  1920. >”Hmmm, no that one’s too flashy.”
  1921. >Begrudgingly, you sigh and pick up a magazine yourself.
  1922. >You don’t see what the big deal is.
  1923. >It's /just/ your mane after all.
  1924. >By your estimations, only a fourth of it is sticking out of your bun.
  1925. >And that’s perfectly acceptable for a pony like you.
  1926. >Not like changing it will matter, nopony wants to look at you anyway...
  1927. >Wait, this is exactly what Pike was talking about!
  1928. >You’ll never feel more confident if you let yourself think like that!
  1929. >You’re going to find a nice manestyle for yourself, and not because it’ll get you approval from other ponies!
  1930. >But because taking care of yourself is important!
  1931. >With that in mind, you dig into the magazine in earnest.
  1932. >No, no, too flashy, no, perms aren’t really your style...
  1933. >A great deal of time passes like this, combing through publication after publication looking for the perfect look.
  1934. >There are a few points where you and Pike think you’ve found something good, but each time something pushes you to keep searching.
  1935. >You’re on the tenth magazine yourself when something catches your eye.
  1936. “It’s... perfect!”
  1937. >On the page before you is the bun you’ve been trying to emulate for years, done perfectly.
  1938. >”What did you find?”
  1939. >You show her the picture.
  1940. >She chuckles as she sees it, realizing that it's just the neat version of what you already had.
  1941. >”You know, that is perfect for you.”
  1942. >Smiling, you tuck the magazine into one of your saddlebags.
  1943. “Where’s our next stop?”
  1944. >Pike looks off into a thousand-yard stare.
  1945. >”Somewhere neither of us will like.”
  1946.  
  1947.  
  1948. >”You’re right, I don’t like this,” says Cut.
  1949. >And really, you, Nocturnal Pike, do not blame her.
  1950. >After all, the two of you are standing outside of a salon.
  1951. >’Clean Coat’s All-Encompassing Salon!’ the sign boasts, ‘For all your whimsical needs!’
  1952. >”Are you /sure/ this is going to help me become more marely?”
  1953. >Normally your answer to that would be ‘absolutely not’, but today it is a necessary evil.
  1954. >Cut’s mane, tail, coat, hooves... dang near everything about her needs a professional’s touch.
  1955. >A lot of that could usually be done at a barber’s, but not hooves.
  1956. >That’s where this place comes in, and if you’re going here for hooves, might as well get the complete package.
  1957. “On this rare occasion, yes.”
  1958. >Cut solemnly hangs her head.
  1959. >”I was afraid you were going to say that.”
  1960. >As you stand there yourself, you find yourself reconsidering your own words.
  1961. >Sure, going to a whimsy salon is definitely unmarely.
  1962. >However, just earlier you were telling Cut not to rely on the opinions of others for validation.
  1963. >Makes you wonder, which is more marely.
  1964. >Avoiding a whimsy salon because it's for colts?
  1965. >Or going to a whimsy salon because you don’t care what others think?
  1966. >Well, you at least know what your mom would say here, and that is definitely the former.
  1967. >So you suppose that’s the answer you’ll go with.
  1968. >”Come on, let’s go in! I don’t want anypony who knows me to see me out here!”
  1969. >That is a good point!
  1970. >Nodding your head, the two make for the building’s entrance without wasting another minute.
  1971. >Reaching the door first, you pull open the door.
  1972. >And immediately you want to start gagging.
  1973. “*Cough* *Cough* Oh Luna!”
  1974. >Cut, only a few steps behind you, isn’t hit by the smell for a few moments.
  1975. >”Pike what’s- *Cough* Celestia protect me! What is that smell?”
  1976. >You narrow your eyes.
  1977. “Whimsey products.”
  1978. >And not even good ones by the smell of them!
  1979. >They just smell like chemicals, eeeeeug!
  1980. >>”Can I help the two of you?” comes an unamused voice from within the salon.
  1981. >Oh right, you are standing in the entrance to a store, where ponies work.
  1982. “Haha, hello!” you awkwardly say as you step into the lobby, “Yes actually, you can!”
  1983. >Grabbing Cut and pulling her up to the front desk, you show the receptionist exactly what the stylists will be working with.
  1984. “My herdmate here needs the full treatment. Hooves, coat, everything.”
  1985. >The stallion gives her a once over.
  1986. >>”I see, I see-”
  1987. >But he stops dead when he gets to her hooves.
  1988. >>”BY LUNA’S MILLENIA OLD INGROWN TOENAIL!”
  1989. >At the sound of his shout, a gaggle of galloping stallions has emerged from the woodwork, collectively surrounding Cut and hoisting her off the ground.
  1990. >Still collectively holding her up, they start dragging her into the salon.
  1991. >As they do, a chorus of their voices rings out.
  1992. >>>”Have you /ever/ used a hoof clipper before?”
  1993. >>>>”I think she just bites them.”
  1994. >>>>>”We need the diamond file! Somepony get me the diamond file!”
  1995. >>>>>>”So many split ends!”
  1996. >As she slowly grows further away from you, she shoots you one last horrified look.
  1997. >”PIKE HELP!” she cries.
  1998. >Which snaps you out of the state of shock you were in.
  1999. >You’ve got to follow them!
  2000. >After all, Cut just got dragged into a socially awkward mare’s worst nightmare.
  2001. >Being forced to interact with multiple stallions!
  2002.  
  2003.  
  2004. >Mare, you should bring the recruits here.
  2005. >This place would make for excellent hostile environment training!
  2006. >Following Cut into the depths of this establishment is bringing you face to face with all sorts of smells that you could have had a long happy life without ever smelling.
  2007. >”Oh hey! A mare! Quick, tell me how this smells!” cries the stylist in the stall you’re currently passing.
  2008. >Without even waiting for your consent, he blasts something in your face.
  2009. >*Bleh*! Oh, Luna, that is foul!
  2010. >Your only answer to him as a gag as you pass him by.
  2011. >”Ah, less beaver anus oil, then.”
  2012. >His statement really tests your stomach, but you force yourself onward for Cut’s sake.
  2013. >Rounding the corner that you saw Cut get dragged around only a moment prior, you feel a keen sense of relief.
  2014. >You can see the stall they’ve plopped her down in, and that means you’re in the home stretch!
  2015. >It even looks like the preceding stalls are empty, thank buck.
  2016. >Adopting a more leisurely pace, you contentedly trot toward Cut.
  2017. >Which brings you right into the crosshairs of a stallion you didn’t see.
  2018. >>”Mind telling me what you think of this?”
  2019. >The statement instantly activates your flight response.
  2020. >Unfortunately though, leaping into the air just lines up the stallion’s shot.
  2021. >*Pchit*
  2022. >The cloud of gas nails you right in the snoot, its scent flooding your nostrils.
  2023. >And it's... IT’S-!
  2024. >It smells pretty good actually.
  2025. >Coming back down, you turn towards the stallion.
  2026. “That wasn’t half bad actually. What’s in it?”
  2027. >He smiles like the castle blacksmith does when somepony compliments the gear she makes.
  2028. >>”You like it? It's my secret blend of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate.”
  2029. >That’s... quite the combination.
  2030. >You can’t argue with the results though.
  2031. >In fact, Anon would probably smell pretty good with some of that.
  2032. >Looking back toward Cut, you see they’ve only just started preparing to rinse her off.
  2033. >That gives you a few moments before they start asking her questions.
  2034. “How much for some?” you ask the stallion.
  2035. >He thinks for just a brief moment.
  2036. >>”You’re my first taker actually! So let’s call it, twenty bits!”
  2037. >For that TINY bottle of COLOGNE?
  2038. >Anon would laugh you out of the room if you spent that much on cologne, even if he ended up liking the smell of it.
  2039. >Chuckling at the audacity of this stallion, you turn away from him to resume your trip toward Cut.
  2040. “I’ll pass.”
  2041. >As do though, he desperately calls out.
  2042. >>”Wait wait wait! Fifteen!”
  2043. >You cast a sideways glance back at him.
  2044. >>”Come on, it’ll last your stallion over a year! Sure, the bottle looks small, but you’re only supposed to use one squirt at a time!”
  2045. >Hmmm, fifteen?
  2046. >It did smell pretty good.
  2047. “Make it thirteen.”
  2048. >He lets out a sigh and slumps his shoulders, but he also holds out the bottle to you.
  2049. >>”Fine, thirteen.”
  2050. >Yes!
  2051. >Snatching it with your wing, you leave a bundle of bits in his outstretched hoof.
  2052. >Score!
  2053. “Thanks!”
  2054. >You’re about to question him about it more when you overhear an alarming exchange coming from the station Cut’s at.
  2055. >>>”Can we interest you in a mane dying while you’re here, Miss?” asks one of the stallions surrounding her.
  2056. >>>>”W-well, uh, actually I uh, w-well...”
  2057. >Oh Luna, you better get over there before they dye her mane purple or something.
  2058. >Galloping away from the stallion, you close the short distance fairly fast, thankfully.
  2059. “That will not be necessary,” you Cut in.
  2060. >The collected stallions all “aw” in unison.
  2061.  
  2062.  
  2063. >You are Cut N. Paste, and filly are you glad Pike caught up with you.
  2064. >You did not have the nerve to say no to any of those stallions.
  2065. >Most of which have left you now, leaving you with a ‘senior stylist’ named Acrylic Polish.
  2066. >A stallion whom a very vulgar part of your brain wants to call a DILF.
  2067. >”So, you have an idea of what you want the final product to look like, honey?” he asks while gesturing to your mane.
  2068. “W-well, it’s uh, it’s in—”
  2069. >>”I’ll get it,” Pike chimes in as she walks over to your saddlebags.
  2070. >Acrylic chuckles.
  2071. >”What are you, her interpreter?”
  2072. >Pike bristles a bit.
  2073. >>”Hey, give her a break. She’s had it rough.”
  2074. >He puts up a forehoof as a placating gesture.
  2075. >”I meant no disrespect, honey, I was just wonderin’.”
  2076. >Pike wordlessly hoofs the stallion the magazine, already open to the page with your desired style on it.
  2077. >”So I’m giving her the full treatment?”
  2078. >Pike goes to answer for you, but you cut her off.
  2079. “Yes, p-please sir.”
  2080. >Acrylic just smiles as he grabs a showerhead off the wall.
  2081. >”Wonderful! Stand over the drain please.”
  2082.  
  2083.  
  2084. >Watching Acrylic got to work on Cut was impressive.
  2085. >He’s only an earth pony, but he’s deftly switching between shower head, shampoo, brush, comb, scissors, and everything in between.
  2086. >Credit where credit is due, Cut at least did a very good job of disguising how shaggy her coat had become.
  2087. >She /definitely/ needed a trim.
  2088. >Cut’s also clearly been swept away, all she can muster up is the occasional nervous “Aaaah!” as the stallion goes to town on her.
  2089. >”If you don’t mind me askin’,” the stallion addresses you, “did you get your hooves done here, honey?”
  2090. >You shake your head.
  2091. “Nah, our coltfriend did them.”
  2092. >Taking a look down at your hooves, you see they’ve admittedly become quite worn since Anon gave you that pedicure.
  2093. “Surprised you could tell they’d been done at all.”
  2094. >He “Hmmm’s” as he lops half an inch off Cut’s mane.
  2095. >”I know my hooves, honey.”
  2096. >He suddenly leans in to look Cut in the eye.
  2097. >”Just like I know /you’ve/ been biting them, missy.”
  2098. >Cut just ‘eeps’ and takes advantage of the fact her mane is loose to hide her eyes behind it.
  2099. >>”O-only when I’m nervous!”
  2100. >Acrylic then takes advantage of that to lop another half inch off her bangs.
  2101. >”Well, then honey, you’re probably the most nervous mare I’ve ever met!”
  2102. >He turns back to you.
  2103. >”Anyway, tell your colt he didn’t do half bad. For an amateur.”
  2104. >The mental image of Anon reacting to that makes you laugh out loud.
  2105. “Ha! I’ll be sure to let him know.”
  2106. >Honestly, speaking of Anon, watching Acrylic go to town on Cut makes you think back to your very own spa day...
  2107. >Hmmmm, it shoots a spike of unmarly shame through you but it really was divine.
  2108. >Oooo! You should see if they sell those kits here!
  2109. >That way Cut can experience what those magic ‘hands’ can do once they’ve got a brush in them.
  2110. >Maybe you’ll even get Anon to join you in the tub this time...
  2111. >”Honey, have you ever even used a hoof trimmer before?”
  2112. >>”N-not since I was a filly.”
  2113. >”*Sigh*, Hoooo boy, I got my work cut out for me.”
  2114.  
  2115.  
  2116. >You are Anonymous the unicorn, and you’ve blazed through every piece of reference material you had related to Songbird and her herd.
  2117. >As you did, you had a massive breakthrough!
  2118. >Songbird’s herd didn’t go critical! All they need to do is—
  2119. >”Do you think he’ll like it?”
  2120. >Hey, that’s Cut’s voice!
  2121. > The two of them must be back from their errands.
  2122. >Leaving the bedroom (where you ended up moving your research materials), you return to the living room just in time to hear Pike from the other side of the front door as well.
  2123. >>”Ah-ah! What did we talk about?”
  2124. >”R-right, what matters is: am I happy with how I look.”
  2125. >There’s a brief silence before Cut speaks up again.
  2126. >”B-but do you think he’ll-”
  2127. >>”Of course he’ll like it! Now come on.”
  2128. >With that, the door swings open and Pike walks in.
  2129. >>”Tah-da!”
  2130. >Followed by a brand new Cut!
  2131. >Well... not that new really.
  2132. >She still looks the same, same mane, same glasses, but everything’s so much neater!
  2133. >Hardly a hair out of place!
  2134. >And her hooves! They’re so neat and shiny!
  2135. “Wow, Cut, you look great!”
  2136. >She lights up like a Christmas tree.
  2137. >”REALLY!?”
  2138. >>”*Ahem*” Pike interrupts.
  2139. >The unfettered glee on Cut is replaced with a more mellow joy.
  2140. >”R-right. I mean, uh, thank you, Anon, for noticing!”
  2141. >Awww look at her trying to be all self-sufficient!
  2142. “Looks like today was a success?”
  2143. >>”I’ll say,” says Pike, “I’ve just got one more thing I want to show her and we’ll be all done.”
  2144. >You quickly pull the two of them into a hug.
  2145. “Excellent! I’ll get dinner started why my two lovely mares, whom I love equally, finish up.”
  2146. >You closed your eyes as you hugged them, so you didn’t see the concerned look they shot each other at your word choice.
  2147. >>”Uh, thanks, Anon. It's good to be loved.”
  2148. >”Y-yeah.” echos Cut as you let them go.
  2149. >Wonderful!
  2150. >Prancing over to the stove, you grab a pot and start filling it with water.
  2151. >>”Alright, this shouldn’t take long,” you hear Pike say, “we just need the stuff I’ve got in the bathroom.”
  2152. >Alright that’s enough water.
  2153. >You’re thinking of making a ravioli pesto, presuming you don’t burn the sauce again.
  2154. >As you put the pot on the boiler, you can hear the two of them enter the bedroom, and then stop for some reason.
  2155. >>”Anon?” Pike calls.
  2156. “Yeah?”
  2157.  
  2158.  
  2159. “What the buck is all this?”
  2160. >You are Nocturnal Pike, and you are deeply concerned.
  2161. >The walls of your bedroom have been covered with an assortment of pictures, newspaper clippings, notes, and strings linking them all together.
  2162. >What in Tartarus?!
  2163. >None of this was here this morning!
  2164. >Is this what Anon spent all day doing?
  2165. >”Oh, right!” comes his voice from behind you.
  2166. >Both you and Cut pivot to face him in sync, as he stands in the doorway to the bedroom.
  2167. >”Well I was doing some research for an article and—”
  2168. >>”What’s the article?” asks Cut.
  2169. >He looks around at the various things stuck up the wall.
  2170. >”Well it /was/ going to be about the theory that Stallionism is making ponykind stronger...”
  2171. >Wait, he’s not just ‘looking around’, he’s following the strings!
  2172. >”...but I got kinda sidetracked.”
  2173. >Side tracked?
  2174. >You’d never seen him do anything like this for any of his previous articles.
  2175. “Sidetracked by what?”
  2176. >The sound of shuffling hooves brings both your attentions to Cut, who’s walked over to one of the eye-level articles.
  2177. >>”Songbird Serenade’s Star Powered Herd Goes Critical,” she reads.
  2178. >Without even seeing him move, Anon’s by her side.
  2179. >”And I can tell you EXACTLY why!”
  2180. >Cut, who was more than a little startled by that, meekly responds.
  2181. >>”Uhhh wh—”
  2182. >”I’m glad you asked!”
  2183. >He starts wildly gesturing around the room.
  2184. >”According to most of the gossip pieces, it all started when Coloratura joined, but that’s not true!”
  2185. >Rushing to the polar opposite side of the room, he lights his horn illuminating several strings.
  2186. >”See when things actually started going wrong was about three months later!”
  2187. >Sprinting to another corner of the room, he starts pulling papers off the wall.
  2188. >”It was when their schedules started conflicting. Songbird, Sapphire, and Coloratura all went on tour, Fluer had to go abroad for a fashion show, and Fancy started touring the country opening franchises!”
  2189. >He lights several more strings up, some of which cross the entirety of the room.
  2190. >As he does, you notice his speech is growing more and more manic.
  2191. >”During this time the only one of his mares Fancy was with was Coloratura, by complete chance! The cities they were in just happened to line up!”
  2192. >A large group of strings converge on one article, placed near the center of the room.
  2193. >Luna, how many of these things did he put up!?
  2194. >”And here’s where the trouble REALLY began! This interview is the KEY! In it, Fancy talks about how great having Coloratura with him is, but he doesn’t mention the other mares AT ALL!”
  2195. >He pauses in his rant, standing shock still as he points to the article with his hoof.
  2196. >After a couple of moments of awkward silence, you realize he’s waiting for either you or Cut to answer.
  2197. “And that...?”
  2198. >”THAT’S when the other mares started thinking he didn’t care about them! That’s when it all went wrong!”
  2199. >Launching back into motion he essentially starts running circles around the room.
  2200. >”See, in an interview Songbird gave just one month later, she states—”
  2201. >Alright, at this point you’ve stopped trying to follow his logic.
  2202. >It's now very clear what's going on here.
  2203. >Something is bothering Anon and it’s allowed whimsey to consume him.
  2204. >Sparing a glance at Cut, you see she’s too dumbstruck by what she’s seeing and hearing to take any action.
  2205. >That means it up to you to break him out of this fit of whimsey.
  2206. >Fine by you, you’ve got a heaping helping of the cure for whimsey that mares have used since the dawn of the equine species.
  2207. >You’ve just got to wait until he’s in range...
  2208. >”And here, an interview by Songbird says the same thing!”
  2209. >He’s still making laps around the room, so it only a matter of time until he passes you.
  2210. >”And /here’s/ where Fancy made his biggest blunder! He—”
  2211. >NOW!
  2212. >Just as he’s about to rush past you, you leap into the air and put yourself directly in his path.
  2213. >Which causes him to run face-first into your tuft.
  2214. >”MMMMF!”
  2215. >As he does, you wrap your hooves around his head, ensuring you’re locked in place.
  2216. >He stumbles confusedly for a brief moment before he comes to a stop and visibly starts relaxing.
  2217. >A sight that makes you breathe a small sigh of relief.
  2218. >Ahhh the classic remedy of putting your stallion’s face into your tuft, it never fails.
  2219. >Especially on Anon!
  2220. >Feeling his breathing return to a much more relaxed rate, you decide to let go and return to the ground.
  2221. >Which allows you to see your hoofiwork.
  2222. >Gone is the expression of maniacal whimsey, and in its place is naught but a dopey smile.
  2223. >”Heehee, fuzzy...” he, almost drunkenly, slurs.
  2224. >Cut approaches, awestruck, and waves a hoof in front of his face.
  2225. >He doesn’t even flinch.
  2226. >>”Woah!”
  2227. >You beat your chest a little in pride.
  2228. “A combination of how fast he was breathing, his weakness to scents, and the naturally calming smell of a mare’s tuft! Works /every/ time.”
  2229. >As a testament to his willpower, and due to the relatively brief exposure, he’s already starting to come out of it.
  2230. >Blinking blearily, his eyes eventually focus on you.
  2231. >”Wha- hey! You did the tuft thing to me again!”
  2232. >Reaching up, you reach just high enough to affectionately pat him on his withers.
  2233. “You were in the throes of a fit of whimsy, Anon. It had to be done.”
  2234. >He rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling as he does.
  2235. >”You mares and that stupid word.”
  2236. >>”Anon?” asks Cut from his side, “You should probably sit down. One of the side effects of whimsey fits can be some pretty extreme dizziness.”
  2237. >Well, well! Look at Cut busting out the medical knowledge.
  2238. “Where’d you learn that?”
  2239. >She blushes.
  2240. >>”W-well there was the one manga I really liked that took place in a hospital—”
  2241. >Anon clears his throat, cutting her off.
  2242. >”I am going to sit down, not because I think any of what either of you said is true, but because all that running tired me out.”
  2243. >You and Cut both chuckle at that.
  2244. >He, meanwhile, sighs as he takes a seat on the bed.
  2245. >”Sorry about that gals, I guess I just got way too into it.”
  2246. “But why?” you ask as you hop up next to him, “This is the most I’ve ever seen you get into an article, and it's a /gossip/ piece.”
  2247. >He idly taps his hooves together as Cut takes a seat on the other side of him.
  2248. >”I figured that if I found out what Fancy Pants did wrong, I could avoid it. You know?”
  2249. >Cut looks like a light bulb just went off in her head.
  2250. >>”Is that what the ‘my two mares whom I love equally’ thing was about?”
  2251. >He winces at the question.
  2252. >”You make it sound like that was weird. Was it weird?”
  2253. “Yes,” you and Cut answer simultaneously.
  2254. >”Oh.”
  2255. >Suddenly some of that same mania returns.
  2256. >”But that was Fancy’s problem! He wasn’t explicit enough!”
  2257. >You and Cut both look around the string covered room.
  2258. >>”I-I thought it was a distance problem?”
  2259. >That thankfully takes the wing right back out of his sails again.
  2260. >”W-well that was part of it, but I’m serious! It can all be traced back to that first interview!”
  2261. >You shake your head.
  2262. “It sounds like that had a /lot/ more problems than that, Anon.”
  2263. >He gestures to the room with his hooves as if that’ll make the point.
  2264. >”It's all a snowball effect and-!”
  2265. >He holds his hoof up for a moment more, taking in the web of conspiracy around him, before letting both his hoof and his head fall.
  2266. >”-and you gals are right.”
  2267. >Hoping to be of some comfort, you drape your hoof over his back and pull yourself close.
  2268. >Now it's all starting to come together.
  2269. “Still anxious about herds?”
  2270. >He nods his head as he grabs Cut and pulls her close to him as well.
  2271. >”Still anxious about herds.”
  2272. >Cut, clearly worried by this, leans into him.
  2273. >>”Is there anything /I/ can do?”
  2274. >”No, Cut,” he says while giving her a nuzzle, “you’ve been perfect.”
  2275. >Leaning back around, he does the same to you.
  2276. >”You’ve /both/ been perfect.”
  2277. >Quickly shooting Cut a look, you confirm she’s feeling exactly as you are.
  2278. >This is a perfect hug moment.
  2279. >Using the fact you are on either side of him, the two of you synchronize your motions to wrap him in the near-illegal double-sided hug.
  2280. >Which as it often does (which is why it’s nearly illegal) almost squeezes the life out of him.
  2281. >”*Ooof*”
  2282. >He still smiles though.
  2283. >”Thanks gals.”
  2284. >You had a good idea for a great statement to cap off the hug, but Cut looks like she wants to say something, so you let her.
  2285. >>”Un... aw jeez. *Ahem* U-Unlike that herd was, we’re in this together! So, uh don’t just bottle the feeling up and let yourself be anxious. I-I know how that turns out...”
  2286. >Not bad, she could use some work on the delivery, but her heart was in the right place.
  2287. “Well said, Cut! Remember, you can always talk to us about these things, Anon. And please don’t stress about these things so much in the first place.”
  2288. >You can’t tell if the breath he lets out is relief or the last bit of air leaving his lungs, so you let go, which prompts Cut to do shortly after.
  2289. >Considering the size of the breath he takes after you do, it may have been the latter.
  2290. >”I will,” he says solemnly, “but that’s just something I need to work on, I guess.”
  2291. >He awkwardly rubs his foreleg.
  2292. >”It still feels a little like cheating...”
  2293. >Empirically, you understand why he feels that way.
  2294. >But that doesn’t mean you’re going to stand for it!
  2295. >His eyes cross as you boop him straight on.
  2296. “Unless you’ve got a secret second herd hiding behind all that string on the walls, it's not.”
  2297. >The joke makes him chuckle, and before long those chuckles have turned into a full laugh, that you and Cut both participate in.
  2298.  
  2299.  
  2300. >”Alright Cut, what I show you here does not leave this room.”
  2301. >After helping Anon clean up the bedroom, Pike pulled you aside to the bathroom to show you something of ‘great importance’.
  2302. >”Nopony can know. Not even your own mother, got it?”
  2303. >Wowee, whatever this is must be really important!
  2304. “You can count on me!”
  2305. >She smiles and points to her tuft.
  2306. >”You see this, then?”
  2307. >Her... tuft?
  2308. >How could you not see it?
  2309. >It's so big! And voluminous! And soft-looking...
  2310. >Okaaaay, not following that train of thought!
  2311. >”There’s a secret to it.”
  2312. >Wait... there is!?
  2313. “Is there a tuft enhancer that actually works!?” you shout.
  2314. >That makes her face fall a tic.
  2315. >”Well, no. But I do have a secret Thestral technique that makes what you got pop just a little bit more!”
  2316. >You glumly gaze down at your own tuft, so small Acrylic didn’t even trim it.
  2317. “Do you think it’ll actually help?” you ask as you run a hoof through it.
  2318. >Pike reaches under the sink and pulls out several vials of oil and a specialty comb.
  2319. >”I think it won’t hurt to try.”
  2320.  
  2321.  
  2322. >You are Anonymous, and thank God the pot didn’t boil over while you were occupied in the other room.
  2323. >The ravioli are in it now, and you’re hard at work making some sauce.
  2324. > Let’s see, what goes in pesto.
  2325. >Uuuuuh, is it rosemary? Yeah you think it's rosemary.
  2326. >”*Ahem*, hey Anon.” comes a voice to your left.
  2327. >It’s unmistakably Cut’s, but it sounds like she’s trying to sound more... husky?
  2328. “What’s up?” you ask as you turn your head away from the pot.
  2329. >”Notice anything... different?”
  2330. >Uhhhhh.
  2331. >Looking her over, you kinda don’t.
  2332. >Well, nothing that didn’t already look different when she got home at least.
  2333. >Wait, there is something different.
  2334. >Her chest!
  2335. >What’s normally flat as a board now has the barest hint of volume to its fluff.
  2336. “I like what you did with your tuft, it looks cute.”
  2337. >Cut looks like she’s about to explode.
  2338. >”WoooaaaaaaaaaaAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
  2339. >Jesus, she actually jumped in the air with glee!
  2340. >Got some pretty good air, too.
  2341. >She immediately lands into a dance, a dance that continues long after Pike leaves the bedroom and joins you in the kitchen.
  2342. “How’d you do it?” you ask her.
  2343. >She chuckles as she floats up to survey the pot.
  2344. >>”Not telling~! Wha- why’d you put rosemary in this but not basil?! This is a /pesto/ right?”
  2345. >Aw, rats!
  2346. >You knew you were forgetting something.
  2347.  
  2348. Continued in part 5--> https://ponepaste.org/4295

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