The New Life of a Winning Pony

by Chengar Qordath

Chapter 1: An Inauspicious Morning

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Throwing up last night’s dinner is not the best way to start the day. In fact, I’d rate it as one of the worst ones I can think of it. It’s right up there with waking up in bed with a Diamond Dog.

Never. Again.

I groaned, pushed my mane out of my eyes, and made sure there wasn’t even a single yellow hair anywhere near my mouth. The last thing I needed was to spend the rest of the day with my head smelling like vomit. For the record, Fluttershy’s pasta had tasted far better last night than it did coming back up.

I groaned and rested my forehead against the toilet seat, waiting to see if my stomach was done flip-flopping or if I was going to be putting on a repeat performance. In my opinion, that’s always the worst part of vomiting: sitting over the toilet, waiting to see if the food’ll come back up again. It actually isn’t so bad coming back up, since at least once that happens your stomach starts to settle a bit.

Granted, a lot of my experience with that was from having a few too many ciders back in my college days, not ... well, whatever this was. It couldn’t have been something wrong with the food—otherwise, Fluttershy and Blossomforth would be in here with me tossing up the rest of last night’s dinner. Maybe it was some kind of stomach flu. Though if that was the case, they would almost certainly have caught it from me, considering what we’d gotten up to after dinner. In which case I probably owed them an apolo—


Phew. I felt better already. Granted, also a bit gross, and there was an absolutely terrible aftertaste in my mouth, but at least my stomach was settling down. Though it would be pretty hard for me to throw up again when my stomach had to be just about empty by now. At least, I sure hope so. Dry heaves suck. I decided to stick by the toilet for a little while longer anyway just to be safe. It’s not like an upset stomach usually listens to my opinion about whether it should settle down.

“Cloud?” I looked up from the toilet as a bleary-eyed, half-awake Blossomforth shuffled in. For a second or two she stared at me in sleepy confusion, until her brain put it all together. Then her eyes went wide and she immediately rushed to my side, gently rubbing my back. “Are you alright, Cloud? What’s wrong?”

“Dunno.” My stomach seemed to finally be calming down, but I still had no idea what had brought it all on in the first place. “Mind getting me some water to wash my mouth out with?”

“Oh! Sure, right away.” Blossom zipped off, and returned moments later with a glass of water and a washcloth.

While I rinsed that nasty vomit aftertaste out of my mouth she wiped my face and neck off. By the time we were done I almost felt like a normal, healthy pony again. “Have I mentioned you’re incredibly sexy when you’re being a nurturer?”

Blossom rolled her eyes. “Down, girl. No way I’m kissing you while you’ve still got barf breath.” She frowned a moment, then gently rubbed my stomach. “Any idea what brought this on? You seemed fine last night.”

“No idea.” I frowned and shrugged. “Probably nothing serious. I mean, I feel fine now.” I filled my cup of water up from the bathroom sink and washed my mouth out a bit more. “Probably just something I ate. Don’t tell Eepy, she’ll blame herself and I’ll be fending off her apologies for months.”

Blossom snorted quietly. “Oh come on, Fluttershy’s not that bad. It’ll be a week of apologies, tops.” She draped a warm, feathery wing over my back. “I’ll let Rainbow know you need to take a sick day, okay?”

“I don’t need a sick day,” I cut in just a bit hastily. “I mean, I feel fine now that my stomach’s empty. Probably just needed to get it all out. Besides, I don’t want to waste one of them.”

Her wing tightened over my shoulders. “It’s not wasting a sick day if you’re actually sick. That’s what sick days are for.”

I chuckled and stroked her cheek. “Oh Blossom, you silly, sexy thing. Sick days are for when you just don’t feel like going to work and you can fake being sick well enough to convince Rainbow.” My smile split into a devious grin. “Or have some other way to convince her to let you pass for being sick, like threatening to expose a couple of her favorite napping spots.”

Blossom chuckled and shook her head, throwing her hooves up in the air. “You’re terrible. You know that, right? I don’t know why I put up with you, sometimes.”

I knew the answer to that. “My amazing good looks, irresistible charm, and all the amazingly good sex we have?” I grinned and nuzzled up her neck. “Especially the last one.”

Blossom gently but firmly pushed me away. “Again, barf breath. Nopony’s sexy with the smell of vomit hanging over them. Not even you.” She put a hoof over my lips to cut off my objections. “And no, washing your mouth out isn’t enough to fix it. Or a breath mint. Or ... look, sex isn’t gonna happen until the memory of you spewing into the toilet is a little less fresh in my mind, so just ... don’t.”

I groaned and crossed my forelegs over my chest, pouting. “You never let me have any fun.”

Blossom smirked and poked me in the ribs. “That’s not what you said last night. I bet you thought I was quite a lot of fun if that mewing was anything to go by...” Her smile slipped a few moments later. “You sure you’re okay? You looked really sick. Even if you think you’re well enough to work, you need to take it easy. Should I let Derpy know you won’t be able to make it to dinner at her place tonight?”

“No, don’t cancel it. I’ve been looking forward to that all week.” I always loved going to see Derpy and her kids. Even if our relationship hadn’t worked out, we were still good friends, and her kids liked me. Plus, Sparkler was dating my cousin, Star. Thankfully, Dinky was still a bit too young to see romance as anything more than a source of the dreaded cooties.

Blossom frowned, putting a hoof on my forehead to check my temperature. “Well, it doesn’t feel like you’re running a fever or anything. I suppose there’s no reason you can’t go as long as you’re still feeling alright.”

“I’m so glad I have your permission to go,” I grumbled good-naturedly. “For the record, if it turns out that I am sick, you have to put on the nurse outfit while you take care of me. And stay here every night until I’m better.”

Blossom rolled her eyes. “I already spend so many nights here I’m starting to wonder why I bother keeping my old cloud-house. I mean, it’s not like I have a small zoo to take care of the way Fluttershy does.”

That caught my attention very quickly. “Wait ... are you saying you want to move in with me?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Blossom took half a step back, her hooves shuffling along the bathroom tile. She was blushing in the cutest way that really brought out her freckles. And, boy, whenever I saw that, I heated up again in a way that had nothing to do with the fever. “Well, we’ve been dating for a pretty long time now. To be honest, the only reason I didn’t bring it up sooner is that I didn’t want to make Fluttershy uncomfortable, since she needs to keep her old place.” She looked around my relatively small place, then grinned. “Well, that and I wasn’t sure there would be enough room for all my stuff. This makes a nice bachelorette pad, but it might be a bit cramped for two ponies living together full time.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” I pulled myself off the floor, stretching out my wings. “So much for that idea, then. Besides, it’s better that we all have our own places. Sometimes we just need our personal space and all that, right?”

Blossom thought it over, and a smile slowly spread across her face. “Well, I do have some bits saved up. Between that and what I could make from selling my cloud-house, we could probably get enough to do some remodeling on your home. Add a workshop for me, maybe a new, larger bedroom and bathroom. You know—make the place big enough for two ponies.”

“Oh.” My ears drooped, but I quickly tried to hide it. “Er, yeah. That’s an option too.”

Don’t misunderstand, it’s not that I hated the idea of Blossom moving in with me. She’s great. I wouldn’t be dating her and having lots of wild sex with her if she wasn’t. But having her move in with me ... well, that was a big step. About the biggest step a pony could take, short of the dreaded M-word. Blossom and I were happy together, and everything was going just fine for us. I was just getting used to being in a committed, long-term relationship. We had a really good thing going. Why mess that up by changing our relationship and living together?

It’s like all those farmponies say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

An hour later I headed into work, feeling perfectly fine once more. I’d gone a little light on breakfast just to be safe, but I was pretty sure the worst of it was over. That’s usually how it goes when you eat something that disagrees with your stomach. Once your body gets whatever it doesn’t like out of its system, you’re fine again.

I stopped by the office to see what was on the schedule for today and was treated to the rare sight of Rainbow Dash actually sitting at her desk and going over some paperwork. She tended to shuffle that off on me or Blossom as often as she could get away with. We didn’t really mind, since Rainbow’s not exactly great at dealing with the bureaucratic side of her job. At least her office didn’t look like a tornado went through a paper factory anymore.

I trotted in, a relaxed smile on my face. “Hey, Dash. Is my eyesight going, or are you actually doing your own paperwork for once?”

Rainbow looked up and me and snorted. “Ha ha, Cloud. You’re hilarious. See how much I’m laughing?” Her face remained completely flat until she felt she’d made her point. “Anyway, I'm just redoing today's schedule—didn't think you were gonna be in.” She went back to staring at the schedule for a second longer, then blinked, crumpled it up, and tossed it across the room and into a trash can with a tiny basketball hoop attached to the top of it. She made the shot, of course. She leaned back in her squeaky leather armchair and crossed her hooves behind her head before turning to face me completely.

I frowned at her response. “Why wouldn't I be showing up for work today?”

“Blossom told me you blew chunks all over your toilet this morning.” She chuckled and smirked at me. “Figured you'd be using one of your sick days to get over a nasty hangover.”

“I-have-a-hangover-itis is a well-known disease throughout Ponyville.” One I’d suffered from more than once in the past. Not this time, though. “Nah, I wasn't drinking last night. Just seems to have been something I ate. I'm doing fine now.”

“You sure?” She frowned and critically looked me over for any signs of illness. She was trying to be all brusque and businesslike about it, but I know Rainbow well enough to get when she’s worried but too tough to admit it. “I don't need to hear complaints that you got sick on the job and somepony beneath you got rained on in the worst way possible. Yeah, it’d be kinda funny in a gross way, but then if they file a complaint it’ll turn into a big ugly mess. And I can’t make you run an official complaint about yourself.”

“And Blossom probably counts as having just a slight conflict of interest.” I mean, she was my long-term fillyfriend who wanted to move in with me now, even though things were going perfectly fine and there was no need to change anything.

Okay, maybe that Blossom thing was bugging me a bit.

I doubt Rainbow wanted to hear about my love life, though. “Relax, I'm completely fine now. You know how it goes: my stomach settled down pretty quick once I emptied it out.”

Rainbow nodded, then stepped over to my side and tentatively poked me in the belly. “If you're really sure you’re good to go ... just, it’s no big deal if you had to take the day off or something. You’ve got plenty of sick days left, and I could handle your shift and mine in ten seconds flat.”

I rolled my eyes. “Sure you could.” Rainbow was pretty fast, but I don’t think she was that good. Still, I didn’t recall there being anything too major on the weather schedule for today, so she was probably right that they’d get along just fine without me.

“Besides,” Rainbow continued, rubbing the back of her head. “I don’t want you making yourself sicker or anything. Especially over work.”

I smirked, and my tone turned teasing and just a little flirty. “Have I ever told you that you're really cute when you're being all sweet and caring?”

“Slanderer,” Rainbow shot back. She raised her head slightly, shut her eyes and nodded sternly with her forehooves crossed—obviously going for the priggish businessmare image. Ever since that one mare from the Equestria Games committee sent her off on a big professionalism streak she’d had occasional moments of acting more like an actual boss. “I’m not being sweet, I’m just being your boss. I’d rather have you take a sick day to get over it now than have you end up getting so sick and missing a week of work. See? Pure, cold-hearted business logic.”

We both knew that was a load of horseapples, but I didn’t call her out on it. I knew she cared, and that’s the most important thing.

Rainbow poked my belly again, then frowned. She tilted her head to the side, leaned in a bit closer, then poked me a couple more times. I wasn’t sure what to make of that, but clearly something had caught her attention. “Something up?”

Rainbow poked me again, then finally turned her attention back to me. “You been chowing down more than usual? Got a bit of a pudge thing going on.”

I scowled and flicked one of my wings out, catching Rainbow on the nose. “Did you just call me fat? Low blow, Dash.” I craned my neck around to get a good look at my stomach. Much to my annoyance, my stomach did look a bit bigger than I remembered it being. Not by a lot, but enough that I noticed now that I was checking it. “Well, I guess I have been eating more of Fluttershy's home-cooked meals lately...”

Rainbow grinned and slapped me on the back. “See, that's why having too many fillyfriends is bad for your health. All those treats go right to your flank until you've gotten a Derpy-sized bubble butt that destroys everything it touches.”

I gave my rump a quick once over, just to make sure it was as perfectly proportioned as ever. It was, which was a relief. “I've got a ways to go yet on that front. And as far as complaining about butts go, you’re in no position to talk. What with your tiny, muscley little thunder-butt that’s far too small to have any real fun with.”

Rainbow frowned at me. “Thunder-butt?”

“Well, it has thunderbolts on it.” I helpfully pointed out her cutie-mark.

Rainbow rolled her eyes and gently swatted my hoof away from her rump. “I'd whap you for talking about and staring at my butt again, but you kinda just proved my point. I'm all muscle. You're letting yourself go.” She paused a moment, then added, “I mean, beyond barfing all over the place.”

I did my best not to let her teasing get to me, but I’ll admit I was a bit annoyed over it. Not annoyed at Rainbow for teasing me so much as annoyed at myself for not noticing that my gut had started growing. “I'll schedule some more practice sessions with Storm to burn this extra bit of flab off.”

Having my cousin in Ponyville was a nice change of pace—with most of my family still in Canterlot, I’d always felt a bit cut off from the rest of the clan. Sure, Canterlot’s not that far away, but there’s a big difference between seeing your family every day and having them a train ride away, even if it’s a relatively short ride.

Thankfully, once Twilight had hit princess-dom the powers that be had decided that she needed a bodyguard, and Storm was the mare for the job—which was nice for me, since it meant I got to spend more time with my cousin, and I’d become her unofficial sparring partner. Though that particular honor still came with a few downsides. “I still can't believe I let my little cousin get better than me...”

Rainbow snorted out a laugh. “I can. I mean, I am Storm’s hero and all, so it’s not a surprise she turned out awesome. I mean, imagine what she would’ve been like if she only had you to look up to.” She grinned and gave me the shadow of a wink.

Considering the fact that Storm had admired her cool older cousin back when she was a cute little filly, Rainbow’s latest attempt at a joke bugged me a bit. “Yeah, yeah, whatever.” I opted for a quick change of subject before I got too grouchy with her. “So what's the word on the work schedule for today? I think that one thunderstorm up in the northeast sector is the only complicated thing, and that’s only a small cell.”

“Yeah, kid stuff,” Rainbow confirmed. “You're gonna be covering midtown today. They need a light shower for some of the gardens. Lily, Rose, and Daisy have been bugging me all week about how their flowers need watering. From the way they’ve been carrying on, you’d think that Equestria would be doomed or something if their plants didn’t get any rain.”

The three of them could be a touch melodramatic. Though that quality had led to one really fun foursome I still looked back fondly on. Granted, foursomes aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. More often than not it’s just a pair of twosomes with a couple bits of crossover fun (not to mention a lot of limbs getting tangled up on one bed). Still, that one worked out pretty well.

Now was no time to get lost in the past, though. “So, make it rain. Sounds pretty simple. That it?” I frowned and lightly poked Rainbow in the chest. “You're not sticking me with some baby job just because Blossom told you I was sick, are you?”

Rainbow’s hooves shuffled, and for a moment she couldn’t meet my eyes. “What? No, come on Cloud. You're being ridiculous.” Then she made one of the classic Dash mistakes and oversold the lie. “That’s, like, the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, and you’ve said a lot of ridiculous stuff. S'practically your middle name. Cloud Ridiculous Kicker.”

Unfortunately, pushing Rainbow when you catch her in a lie almost never works. Usually she’ll just double down on it and stick to her story no matter how ridiculous that might be, so I opted for a different way of handling it. “Okay. Fine. If you’re not sticking me with a chump job, then put me on managing that storm. I’ve never met a storm I couldn’t handle.”

Rainbow hesitated, her eyes flicking around the room. “I ... yeah, I guess you could do that, but I was just thinking that since you were barfing and you’re kinda fat and stuff that maybe...”

“Maybe what?” I growled, starting to lose my patience with her. “C’mon, Rainbow, I’ve never let you down in the past, and I’m not about to start now. Is there some reason you don’t think I’m up to taking care of this job? I thought you trusted me.” I put on a false pity show, flattening my ears and letting my tail droop. Dash was a sucker for the kicked dog act.

Rainbow flinched back, hissing in a breath and flicking her eyes around in the room as if searching for a way out. “No! Geeze, it’s not like that, Cloud. I know you can totally handle that, and of course I trust you. In fact, I trust you so much that I’ve got this really special project, and you’re the only one I can count on to get it done right! It’s... er ... cloud writing! Right up your alley! We need you, to uh, write this...” She reached behind herself and grabbed a sheet of paper off her desk. “Yeah, here we go. I need you to write this. In the sky. Y’know—with the clouds!” She awkwardly thrust the paper towards me.

I quickly looked it over, and my frown deepened. “You want me to write Sasaflash's expense report in the sky?”

“Gyah, wrong one!” Rainbow snatched the paper out of my hooves and replaced it with another. “Twi’s always telling me I need to do more organizing. Maybe the egghead’s right about this one, if I’m giving you the wrong papers and stuff. Silly me.”

Rainbow’s second try wasn’t any better than her first, but it was infinitely more amusing. “You want me to write this? That’s gonna be a little hard, because there’s not even any text on it. It's just a picture of you in a Wonderbolt outfit with a Daring Do helmet on. That looks like it was drawn by the Crusaders after they broke into Big Mac’s secret cider stash.”

Rainbow’s cheeks immediately turned bright red. “S-shuddup!” She snatched the picture out of my hooves, grumbling under her breath about how I just didn’t appreciate the awesomeness of her drawing skills.

I temporarily set aside the job issue, mostly because I couldn’t resist when Rainbow was making such a clear target of herself. “Aww, you drew that? That’s so cute! Rainbow wants to be a cool exploring performer, just like her heroes!”

Rainbow grumbled several distinctly unfriendly things about me and got busy tidying up her office, mostly so she would have an excuse to not look at me anymore. As long as I was looking at her back, I couldn’t see those cherry-red cheeks of hers.

Of course, that just encouraged me to push her even more. I can never resist an easy target. “Such a cutesy-wootsy little Dashy-poo...”

Rainbow whirled around, though the furious glare she delivered lost most of its impact due to her flaming cheeks. “Gyah! Knock it off! There're still ponies nearby! If you keep talking like that somepony’s gonna hear you!”

I answered her glare with a teasing smirk. “Can I get that storm duty?”

Rainbow hesitated. “Well...”

That wouldn’t do. I took a deep breath, then spoke as loudly as I could without shouting. “Hey, everypony! Go get your cameras and hurry over here! You have to come take pictures of Rainbow while she's being really adorable and blushy!”

What?!” Rainbow yelped, her blush intensifying even further.

I grinned and met her eyes. “Oh, did you not hear that? I better repeat it again, but louder. And maybe outside, where the acoustics are better. Unless there’s a storm you really need me to take care of right now...”

“Alright alright!” Rainbow threw up her hooves with an exasperated groan. “Fine! Go stick your plot in a thundercloud, see if I care! I hope it zaps you so hard your butt ends up as red as those monkeys with the really red butts! And then I’ll laugh and take pictures and not even worry about you a little bit!”

I answered her surrender with a smile and friendly pat on the back. “Thanks, boss. I’ll get right on that.”

As I trotted out of her office, I heard Rainbow groaning and slamming her head against her desk.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the last I saw of Rainbow Dash that day. Not that I would normally mind hanging out with Rainbow, but today she was in full worrywart mode. I take back everything I ever said about how Fluttershy can be a little overbearing when she feels the need to nurture; she has nothing on Rainbow. Especially since Fluttershy is at least honest and direct about her concerns, while Dash...

“Hey, Kicker.” Rainbow flapped over to my side for the third time in the last hour. “Just, y’know, passing by and stuff. Thought I’d check in, see how work’s going.”

“The same as it was the last five times you were here,” I said with as much civility as I could force between my teeth.

“Cool.” Rainbow smiled and gave me a pat on the back. “I knew you’d take care of it. But if you want a break or something, I’m right here. Sit down, relax a bit, have some water, and I’ll handle those lightning clouds over there.”

“I’ve got it handled, Rainbow.”

“‘Course you do,” she assured me with a too-wide grin. “I’m just helping out a bit, ‘cause I’m awesome like that. Sure, generosity’s more Rarity’s thing, but there’s no reason I can’t try it out for a bit too. Go take a nap or get some lunch, and this’ll all be taken care of by the time you get back. In fact, just take the rest of the day off. You earned it.”

I clamped down on the urge to throttle my well-meaning boss, and politely but firmly told her to get the feather out of my way and let me run my damned team. She did.

For about fifteen minutes.

After an entire day of being micromanaged by Rainbow Dash, I was on the verge of exploding. And not the good kind of exploding, like that one night when Blossom and Fluttershy got really into featherplay. Thankfully, I had dinner at Derpy’s to look forward to.

I pounded on Derpy’s front door as if it had done me some grievous personal wrong. Considering it was Derpy’s front door, I didn’t need to worry about hitting it too hard. Her house is built pretty sturdy, simply to survive ... well, her. Anything that hadn’t been sturdy had long ago lost the war of attrition.

The door flew open, and light-purple blur shot out and attached itself to my chest, doing its best to crush my ribs with sheer adorableness. “Hi Cloud Kicker!”

I grinned and returned the hug. After this much time I was pretty much used to the obligatory Dinky-glomp whenever I walked in the front door. “Hey, little muffin. How you doing?”

“Really good!” she chirped, giving my ribs a squeeze that would’ve made Pinkie Pie proud. “Even better now, since you're here!”

“Oh yeah?” I ruffled her mane and gently removed her from my chest. “It sounds like you’ve been looking forward to seeing me.”

Dinky grinned up at me. “I always look forward to seeing you, silly.” She turned her head and called back into the house. “Mommy! Sparky! Cloud Kicker's here!”

I fixed Dinky’s ruffled mane, then grinned as she scampered off towards the kitchen. A moment later Derpy called out, “Come on in, Cloud! I'll be right there.”

I trotted on in, taking a look around the place. I was a little surprised that I didn’t smell anything burning, and there was no smoke coming out of the kitchen. Derpy’s cooking has always been a little prone to mishaps. Well, not so much her cooking as her ... everything. “Did you get take-out tonight? Pizza actually sounds pretty good.”

I headed on into the dining room to find Derpy setting the table with some of her cheap but nigh-indestructible plates. She smiled when she saw me. “Sorry, no pizza tonight. Sparkler had something special she wanted to try.”

Sparkler waved to me from the stove, where several utensils were suspended by her magic over a large pot. “Hey, Momma. I'll come over for hugs in a minute—just busy slaving away over a hot stove to feed my family right now.”

“Gotcha. No rush.” I helped Derpy finish setting up the table. “Whatcha making anyway? Smells different from the usual fare in Doo central.”

“Yeah, I figured the lack of muffin-baking smells gave that away.” Sparkler turned away from the stove to shoot a quick grin at me. “Grandma and Grandpa just finished up another one of their big buying trips, and they sent us a few souvenirs. I’m curious to see what this breadfruit stuff tastes like, especially with the date-and-plum sauce I’m working on.”

“Huh.” I glanced over at a certain wall-eyed muffin-lover. “I thought Derpy had some very clear rules about cooking meals that don’t include muffins.”

“It was more like a strongly worded suggestion than an ironclad rule.” She looked towards the kitchen and sighed dramatically. “Not a muffin to be seen anywhere. I tried so hard to raise my daughter right...”

Dinky giggled as she clambered up into my lap to obtain her obligatory share of snuggles. “It's okay, Mommy—I made some for dessert.”

Derpy grinned at her daughter and I gave her a quick pat on the head. “Nice to know you’ve got us covered, Dinky.”

I’ve never been all that adventurous as far as culinary delights. Well, unless you count mixing food in with banging, which has all kinds of fun possibilities. But when it came to food for eating, I liked to stick with what I knew. Nothing’s worse than spending a couple hours working on some brand new meal you’ve never made before only to have an inedible mess at the end of all that hard work.

However, I was cautiously optimistic about Sparkler’s cooking. Or I at least, I wasn’t going to give it up as a lost cause before I’d actually tried some. I found an open seat cushion and plopped myself into it, sitting back and relaxing. “Oh, I've been looking forward to this. Especially with what a pain in the flank Rainbow was all day.”

Derpy set out some glasses and filled mine up with water, glancing my way with a curious little frown. “Everything going alright with you two?” Despite the casual tone of the question, I caught a hint of serious concern underlying her question. Ever since that one really nasty fight Dash and I had back when we were kids, Derpy’s always been a bit nervous when she hears we’re not getting along.

I gave Dinky a quick hug, then eased Derpy’s fears. “Don’t worry, it’s nothing serious and we’re both getting along just fine. It’s just Blossom told her I had a bit of morning sickness, and that got Dash into her mother hen mode. I had to spend all day dealing with Dash hovering over me and doing that whole 'I'm too cool to admit I care, but I'm worried about you' thing. When she happens to be ‘just passing by’ every five minutes...”

Derpy’s ears perked up, while Sparkler dropped one of her utensils into the pot, staring at me in shock. “You had what now?!”

“Oh no!” Dinky exclaimed. “That's almost as bad as Monday sickness!” She focused her hugging on my stomach, as if hugging it hard enough would keep me from ever having another problem with it.

I realized what I’d just said and hastily corrected it before anypony got the wrong idea. “Just ... y'know, I was a little sick this morning. I got over it, and I was fine later on. It was probably just something I ate last night.”

“Or somepony,” Sparkler snarked from the kitchen. Derpy immediately hit Sparkler with the best glare of maternal disapproval she could manage with her wall-eyes, then shot a pointed look back at Dinky. Sparkler answered her mother’s displeasure with a chuckle and a sheepish little wave. “Sorry. Couldn't resist.” A moment later she suffered her karmic retribution, groaning loudly and smacking the side of her head. “Darn it, brain! I don’t need those kinds of mental images while I’m working on dinner!”

Thankfully, Dinky remained oblivious to what her older sister had meant, and instead reached the only logical conclusion for a filly her age. “I gotta get outta here! Cloud's a zombie cannabis pony who’s gonna gobble me up!” She hopped off my lap and scrambled away, giggling madly the entire time.

I suppose I should’ve chased after her to keep the game going for a bit, but to be honest I was a bit too tired from work. The work itself hadn’t been so bad, but dealing with Rainbow’s constant hovering and worrying had worn me down. Derpy noticed I didn’t have my usual level of pep and trotted over to my side, looking me over. “You just started feeling sick this morning? We can reschedule if you're not feeling one hundred percent.” She shot me a lopsided grin. “The last thing I need is you bringing some bug in here and turning this into a plague house.”

I rolled my eyes and waved her concerns away. “I'm fine—really. I don’t know why everypony’s making such a fuss. It’s not a big deal.” I thought it over for a moment, then added, “I think I even know what went wrong. There was this one really old potato I used in last night's dinner. The thing had reached the point where the eyes were sprouting so much I was halfway tempted to plant it instead of eating it.”

Derpy kept her eyes on me for a while longer—and she was using both eyes, so I knew she was pretty worried—before she finally let the matter drop. “If you're sure...”

“Yeah, I'm fine. Really.” I downed the rest of my water, then groaned and leaned back in my chair. “I already had Rainbow and Blossom fussing over me, and Shadow knows Eepy's going to once she finds out. It’d be nice if somepony actually believed me when I said that everything’s okay and they don’t need to worry.”

Derpy snorted out a laugh. “Point. All right, then.” She grinned at me. “Though it’s really your fault for dating Fluttershy and being best friends with Equestria’s biggest mother-hen-in-denial.”

I chuckled and conceded the point. “I really know how to pick ‘em.”

Conversation came to a brief halt as the rather tempting smells of Sparkler’s work in the kitchen wafted into the room. A moment later we heard Dinky’s strident voice echoing out of the kitchen. “You're doin' it wrong again, Sparky! You gotta cook it until it’s black on the bottom, the way Mommy does!”

Sparkler trotted in, levitating along several plates as Dinky followed behind, insistently tugging on one of her hindlegs. Spark sighed, extricated her leg from her little sister’s hold, then looked over her shoulder at the filly. “Dinks, we’ve been over this before. It doesn't have to be slightly charred to be properly cooked.”

Dinky stubbornly set her hooves and grabbed her sister’s leg again, trying to drag her back into the kitchen to finish the job properly. “Yeah, but ya gotta make sure it's cooked better so Cloud doesn't get barfy again. ‘Cause that’d be really gross, and I heard that sometimes when one pony gets barfy it makes other ponies get barfy, and if that happened then we might all get barfy, and that’d be so messy!”

I couldn’t help laughing at Sparkler’s plight as her little sister continued her struggle to make her burn the food. Still, I figured she needed a rescue, especially since the food might get cold if Dinky slowed her down too much. “I'll be fine, you guys. Really, there's no need to make a fuss.”

“‘Kay.” Dinky released her sister’s leg, and Sparkler got to work serving up dinner. I still wasn’t sure about this breadfruit stuff, but the food certainly smelled good. Dinky trotted back to my side and unleashed the cute filly eyes. “But is it a'kay if I still hug you anyway?”

I repeated her earlier sentiment back to her, trying not to let too much of my melting heart into my voice. “It’s always okay, silly.”

Dinky promptly acted on that, and Sparkler joined in on it once she was done dishing out the food. Hug-time didn’t last too long though; everypony was eager to chow down. I have to say, fried breadfruit in plum and date sauce was surprisingly good. A bit sweet and weird tasting, but I think the weirdness was mostly due to it just being stuff I wasn’t used to eating—anything new is gonna be a bit weird at first. Just like how most of my kinks were an acquired taste.

I pointedly moved my brain away from that subject and over to something a bit more family-friendly. “So Sparkler, how goes the college search?”

Sparkler finished off her slice of fried breadfruit before answering. “S’going pretty good so far. I've knocked on wood and applied for the college-level classes at Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, but Star's still wanting me to try for West Hoof too. Plus a couple of the lower-down colleges, just to make sure I’ve got a backup plan.”

Well, she was certainly aiming high. “If you want my opinion, I am a bit biased towards West Hoof. It's a really good school.”

Sparkler rolled her eyes while slicing up more of her breadfruit. “You, biased? I never would've guessed.”

“Well I did get my degree there.” Sure, I’d missed the actual graduation ceremony due to the whole panic attack thing, but you technically don’t have to show up at the ceremony. As long as you finish all the required coursework, you’ve got your diploma.

“Yeah, yeah...” Sparkler speared another piece of breadfruit with her fork. “I kinda like the idea of it, but by the same token ... Celestia's School. I know s'a long shot, but I'd have to flip a coin if I actually got it.”

“Yeah, everypony always says it's the best school there is for unicorns who wanna focus on their magic.” Granted, most of what I knew about said school came from talking to Twilight, and she tended to be a bit ... enthusiastic about her education. Anypony who’s good enough to graduate from college a couple years early and then stay in school anyway to earn more degrees is gonna have a bit of a unique perspective on the education system. Even after she got good enough at magic to turn herself into a princess, she was still taking a couple correspondence courses in her spare time.

I decided to get an opinion from somepony who was a bit more down to earth than our local Princess of the Library. “Hey, Dinky. Where do you think Sparkler should go?”

Dinky’s face screwed up in fillyish ponderance. “I dunno. Miss Twilight really liked goin' to Celestia's School, an' she's taught me an' Sparky both a lotta stuff—but Star's really cool too, an' she really liked West Hoof. But either way she’d be in Canterlot, so she wouldn’t be here anymore.” She crossed her forelegs over her chest, pouting. “And since Star lives over there, they’d both be getting all gross and cootiefaced with each other.”

“And any exposure to cooties is terrible,” I swiftly agreed, trying to bury my snigger under a faux-serious tone. Sure, I was a huge fan of activities that most kids would consider cootie-ish, but let she who has never been a raging hypocrite for the sake of harmless teasing cast the first stone. However, I moved on to a different track, smirking at Sparkler. “Let’s look at the practical results of all that education, shall we? Now, when Twilight got dragged into the middle of that prank war between Star and Storm, I think we all remember how it ended.”

Dinky displayed the sort of bratty grin that only appears when a little sister sees a chance to mess with their old sibling. Sparkler knew the warning signs and tried to cut her off before she could get started. “Dinks, if the next word out of your mouth is 'Hey!' or 'Listen', I’m gonna noogie you until you're bald. N'then I'll noogie you some more.”

Derpy hid a laugh behind her hoof, then joined in the fun. “Hey, be nice to your sister, Sparkler.”

Listen to your mother,” I chimed in.

Sparkler glowered at both of us, though the effect was rather spoiled by the tremble that passed across her shoulders. “Okay, I give. All m’saying is that while Miss Twilight did kinda outclass us at pranks once she really got going. She's an alicorn. S’not exactly a fair contest, and considering what we were up against, I think Star and I did pretty good.”

“You did alright.” I make a policy of not getting in the middle of the eternal low-level sibling warfare between Star and Storm. I love both my cousins, but getting in the middle of their weird sibling rivalry was just asking for trouble. However, I saw no harm in giving Sparkler’s ego a bit of a break. “And from what Storm told me, Twilight had some outside assistance, just like how Rainbow was being the prank consultant for you two.”

Sparkler’s expression darkened. “She got help? Oh, that little—”

Derpy cut in before Sparkler could build up any momentum and/or possible profanity on her rant. “I think you should choose based off of what you want to do in life, sweetie. Both schools are great, but each one will set you on a different path.”

“She's right about that,” I quickly chimed in. I knew enough about teenagers to realize that if she felt she’d been wronged we’d spend the rest of the night listening to her rant. “A West Hoof education does kinda put you on the fast track for the Guard. Especially if you take that deal where you don't have to pay tuition, but have to serve in the Guard for a while to make up for it.” Which would be the smart thing to do since Sparkler’s grades were fine but not good enough for big scholarships. Derpy wouldn’t have an easy time paying for college out of pocket on a mailmare’s salary either. That cut Sparkler’s options down to student loans or Guard service.

“Yeah, not ending up with a couple decades' worth of student loans would be nice,” she agreed. “Star laid out how that whole deal works pretty clearly. It's...” She sat back and ate a piece of breadfruit while she thought it over. “I dunno. The Mage Corps sounds like it has a lot to offer, and West Hoof does sound like it'd be great, but Celestia's School is kinduva unique opportunity. And we’ll find a way to pay for it if push comes to shove.”

“Yeah, I imagine you will.” Derpy’s parents were pretty well-off financially, so she could always go to the bank of Mom and Dad if things got too tight. Not to mention that Derpy was a good enough friend that I wouldn’t mind chipping in a few spare bits to help her out, and I was pretty sure Rainbow would do the same. Sparkler would still probably end up with a big chunk of student loans, but plenty of ponies deal with those. “And Celestia’s school keeps your post-college options open. You can always enter the Mage Corps from there if you still want to go that way. I mean, there'd be some extra lessons after you got your degree, but...”

“What kinda extra lessons?” she asked, her ears perking up. “'Help the civilian not die' stuff, or just PT and whatnot?”

I shrugged helplessly. “I dunno exactly what it is, I never did any mage training.” I tapped my forehead. “In case you didn’t notice, I’m rather lacking a horn. But I think it's mostly stuff to make sure you know military rules, how to work with Guard units, making sure all your combat magic is up to snuff—things like that.”

Sparkler frowned in thought, rubbing her chin. “I guess I'll have to see if I get accepted, then.”

I nodded along, feeling a bit more sure of my advice now. “Yeah, if you wanna know what I think, I’d say that Celestia's School is the better pick unless you're sure about going into the Guard. You don't wanna end up like me, with a degree in military science isn't good for many jobs outside of the military.” Especially when I couldn’t claim any veteran benefits to back that up.

Sparkler thought it over while she finished off the last of her breadfruit. “When you put it that way, I guess the only other thing is being able to defend myself in the field if push comes to shove. I don't wanna wait to be rescued again.” She frowned, then grabbed a glass of milk and quickly downed it. “Though I could probably find some non-magical self-defense stuff easy enough, right?”

“Yeah, easily,” I agreed. “I’d be surprised if the School for Gifted Unicorns doesn’t include some classes on combat magic. The Mage Corps does plenty of recruiting out of there. You should ask Twilight exactly what classes they offer, since she actually went there and everything. And I'm sure Star could teach you a few tricks.”

Sparkler grinned across the table at me. “She's been doing that off and on pretty much since we hooked up. After the whole changeling thing, really.”

“Figures she would be.” The changeling attack on Canterlot had been something of a wakeup call for a lot of ponies. But I really didn’t want to focus on that whole mess right now, so instead I grinned over at Derpy. “So what do you think of your daughter learning to become a certified flank-kicker?”

Derpy frowned and thought it over for several seconds before answering. “Well, it's good exercise, and I know Star's careful about how she teaches her.”

That was a very carefully neutral answer, so I probed a bit deeper. “So you're okay with her becoming a guardpony?”

“Well...” Derpy hesitated poking at her food for a while. “It’s really her decision what she wants to do with her life. I’ll love and support her no matter what she picks. If she wants to go into the Mage Corps, I’ll do everything I can to make sure she has the best training and education available.” She sighed and finished off another slice of breadfruit, chewing and swallowing it very slowly. When she spoke again, her voice had dropped down a barely audible whisper. “It’s just ... I can’t help but think about what happened to Cirrus.”

My ears went flat against my skull. Derpy’s brother was in the Guard, and he’d gotten badly hurt during the changeling invasion. He’d pulled through, but the doctors hadn’t been able to save one of his wings. I could barely even imagine how that must have torn up Derpy, and the thought of something like that happening to her daughter...

Sparkler grunted, waving her mother’s concerns away. “I know, I know. S'another thing that's been in the back of my mind. S’just ... well, that’s part of the job, right? Sometimes ponies get hurt. But imagine how bad it’d be if nopony was there to protect everypony the next time the monsters show up? I don’t wanna be stuck waiting behind the lines while somepony else goes out and risks life ‘n’ limb just to keep me safe. Again.”

“Sparkler, can we not talk about this right now?” Derpy’s tone was just a little sharp—not enough to say that she was angry, but definitely tense. I had a feeling that Sparkler’s plans on going into the Guard had come up before, and the talk hadn’t gone all that well.

My presence probably wasn’t helping either. I mean, it’s a pretty safe bet that if not for me becoming a part of her family’s life, Sparkler wouldn’t be nearly so interested in the military. The kid did look up to me, strange as that was, and I’d gone to West Hoof. Not to mention she never would’ve hooked up with my cousin Star if not for me. I’m not saying it was all my fault or anything—Derpy was right when she said that this was ultimately Sparkler’s choice—but I couldn’t deny that I’d played a part in making the idea seem more attractive.

I frowned down at my plate, not sure what to make of that. I mean, it’s one thing to know that a kid looks up to you, but it’s something else when you know they’re making major life-changing decisions based on your influence. I’m really not the kind of adult kids should look up to.

I decided that a quick change in topics of conversation would be the best way to get my mind off that particularly uncomfortable subject. “So ... um ... how's school, Dinky?”

Dinky’s ears perked up and she enthusiastically grinned over at me. “It’s been really good! We had a career day, an' the firepony who came in knew my name!”

Sparkler snorted out a laugh, while Derpy chuckled sheepishly and rubbed the back of her head. “Oh, he did? Well, I guess Hotshot has been by a few times...”

“Yeah!” Dinky agreed, quite oblivious to her mother’s embarrassment over the fact that she was on a first-name basis with the fire department. “He told us about his job an' stuff, but I kinda already knew a lot of what he was talkin' about.”

“You do have a lot of first-hoof experience,” I agreed. Life with Derpy involves accepting that crazy, improbable accidents are just going to happen sometimes, and all you can do is try to contain the fallout.

“Yeah-huh!” Dinky nodded enthusiastically. “He said I might get a firefighting cutie mark one day, and I think that’d be really neat!”

“Had he heard about the Firenado?” How Derpy managed to set a tornado on fire, I’ll never know. Twilight tried to research it once, but when I asked her about it she started twitching and muttering something about how her notes on that were sitting next to the Pinkie Pie ones. I wasn’t sure, but I suspect that meant she’d destroyed them in order to preserve the collective sanity of all ponykind.

Some things are not meant to be known.

“Oh yeah, he heard all about the Firenado!” Dinky chirped happily. Her smile faded a moment later, though. “He didn't think it was all that cool, though. I dunno why.”

Derpy groaned and slammed her forehead on the table. Or rather, her plate, splattering herself with breadfruit and plum sauce. “One time. One time! You set one tornado on fire and have it rampage through Ponyville, and you're branded for life.”

Sparkler sighed and passed her mother some napkins. “Hey, if I can pull off something half as amazing as that when I'm done with college, I'll be happy.”

I helped Derpy out a little with the cleanup. “I have to admit, it was pretty cool once we got it away from everypony’s houses.” Fun as it was to tease her, I figured it might be time to give Derpy a bit of a break and focus on something a bit more positive for her. “Hey, how's work at the post office treating you anyway?”

“Pretty well!” she announced with a grin. “Tool Time's visiting his brother's family out in Appleoosa soon, and he’s asked me to keep an eye on things while he's gone.” Her smile widened. “If it all goes well, I might get an assistant manager job. I love working there, but I really wouldn’t mind being off the beat.”

“Go Mom!” Sparkler cheered.

“Yay, Mommy!” Dinky joined in.

Derpy actually blushed just a tiny bit at her daughters’ praise. “Now now, let’s not count our chickens before they’re hatched. There were way too many ifs and maybes in that last sentence for us to start throwing a party just yet.”

“Better tell Pinkie Pie to wheel the party cannon back to Sugarcube Corner, then.” I’d been joking, but a moment later I could swear I saw Pinkie slinking away from the window and back over to the bakery. Maybe I was just imagining it, but I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that Pinkie actually did lurk outside ponies’ homes, waiting to hear about potential parties.

Trying to understand the ways of the Pinkie only ended in madness. Besides, Derpy was still waiting to hear what I thought about her big news. “For what my opinion’s worth, I think you'd make a good manager. I mean, you managed to raise two crazy kids—how bad could a post office be compared to that? So congrats on the promotion.”

“Exactly!” Sparkler chimed in, giving her little sister a hug. “If you can handle a pair of brats like us, you can take on anything.”

“Hey! Sparky!” Dinky wriggled out of her big sister’s grasp and scrambled over to me. “I'm notta brat!” She looked up at me and unleashed the biggest, most adorable set of sad puppy eyes I’d ever seen on a filly. “Am I?”

I’ve always been a sucker for a cute kid, and Dinky has cuteness down to an artform. “No, you're not a brat, Dinky.” I ruffled her mane. “Sparkler's just counts as two brats because she’s so extra-bratty.”

Dinky grinned, took a deep breath, and launched into song:
She’s a brat, she’s a brat—she’s a big ol’ brat!
She’s a brat, she’s a brat—well how ‘bout that?
She’s a brat, she’s a brat—an’ she wears a hat.
She’s a brraaaaaaaat---…. Um…... somethin’ that rhymes with ‘brat’!”

Sparkler rolled her eyes and stole a slice of breadfruit off of Dinky’s plate. “Regular DJ P0N3, you are.” She waited until Dinky noted the theft, then slowly and deliberately ate her stolen food while her little sister watched.

“Girls.” The barest hint of displeasure entered Derpy’s voice, and she used her unique eyes to give them both her disappointed mom look at the same time. “Behave.”

“Yes, Mom,” they chimed out in near-perfect unison.

I chuckled and gave up one of my own pieces of breadfruit to fill Dinky’s plate back up. “Still running the house with an iron hoof, I see.”

“Luna knows somepony has to be in charge,” she agreed with a grin. “One thing I always liked about having you foalsit over Rainbow or Cirrus; the kids may have more fun with Rainbow, but that’s because she lets them stay up late, eat too many sweets, and never bugs them about making sure their homework’s done.”

“Sounds like her.” Since Rainbow had hated all those rules back when she was a kid, she’d never been all that firm about enforcing them when she was in charge. That’s not to say she let them run completely wild or anything, but she was a long way from an iron-hoofed disciplinarian.

I tended to be a lot stricter on the rules. Probably because that’s how I was raised—they do always say you learn most of how to be a parent from your own parents. My mother was big on absolute enforcement of the rules. Do as you’re told the instant you’re told to do it, or else there’ll be tartarus to pay. Not that she was ever cruel about it, just ... stern. She expected the best out of me, and wasn’t shy about letting me know that almost perfect was just another way of saying not good enough.

I loved her, and I still miss her, but she wouldn’t have won any Mother-of-the-Year awards.

“Hey.” Derpy reached over and gave me a pat on the shoulder. “How about I show you how it's done if you ever get around to having some of your own?”

I chuckled and gently waved her hoof away. “Thanks for the offer Derpy, but that won't be happening anytime soon.”

Sparkler leveled an accusing hoof at me. “Oh, I see how it is now, Momma. You just wanna come over and see me, then hoof over all the 'responsibility' stuff to Mom. You're worse than Rainbow; at least she’s honest about only being here for the fun parts.”

I had to defend my own honor after that remark. “That’s not how it is, Sparky. I do some of the responsibility stuff, but Derpy’s got the final say.”

The smartflanked teen waved her concession. “Okay, fine, you do alright. Homework gets done, sugar is withheld, and bedtimes are enforced with a reasonable margin of error. That’s probably why Dinky and I like Rainbow more.”

I immediately turned to her mother. “Derpy, your daughter’s being a brat. Can I spank her?”

“No, Cloud.” She smirked over at Sparkler. “If she got a spanking every time she was a little smartflank, she wouldn’t have any flanks left to be smart with.”

“And that would be awful,” I agreed. “Just awful.” I quickly set my hooves over Dinky’s ears to preserve what innocence she had left. “I know Star would be devastated. And all those talks I had with her about safe sex would’ve wound up being a complete waste.”

Derpy treated me to a dose of her maternal glower. “Cloud. Time and a place. This is not the time, nor is it the place.”

I pointedly looked down at Dinky’s ears, still covered with my hooves. She was starting to squirm impatiently, but she wasn’t to the point of trying to remove my hold yet. “Hey, I took precautions. Innocent ears were covered.”

Derpy’s frown deepened. “There are topics for dinner and topics for after dinner, Cloud. This one is one of the latter.”

“Fine, fine...” I didn’t think I’d crossed any lines, but Derpy’s house and Derpy’s kids meant it was Derpy’s rules. “My bad, then.”

Derpy closed her eyes, then took a couple deep breaths. “It's alright. It's still an important subject to talk about, and one that’s a bit easier for you to handle instead of me. Thank you.”

I uncovered Dinky’s ears, allowing her to rejoin the conversation. “Anytime.”

Now that Dinky could hear again, she wasted no time chattering out the first thing on her mind. “So when's Alula gonna come back to Ponyville? I gotta sleepover all planned an' stuff. We’ll have muffins and cookies and cupcakes and read stories and—”

If I didn’t answer her question, she’d keep going on about all the things she wanted to do with Alula for the rest of the evening. When Dinky starts chattering, she can keep on going for hours at a time. “Probably not too long. I'll ask Dad.”

“Yay! Thanks!” Dinky latched onto me again and tossed in a kiss on the cheek for good measure. “You’re the best, Cloud!”

Derpy grinned, taken in by her daughter’s sheer enthusiasm. “I love having Alula over, so that won’t be a problem. I don’t even mind that she and Dinky always seem to bring out the worst in each other.”

I had to say something in Alula’s defense. “Oh come on, the two of them at their worst only add up to about half of a Cutie Mark Crusader.” I’ve never known three little fillies with such a raw talent for causing accidental chaos. I’m a little surprised they hadn’t gotten any cutie marks in that. “Dinky and Alula just do more ... well, kids will be kids kinda stuff, like late-night raids on the cookie jar.”

“And then trying to find a way to pin the blame for said cookie jar raids on me,” Sparkler chimed in, playfully scowling at Dinky, who did her level best to look sweet and innocent.

“Oh yes, they’re a hoofful alright.” Derpy smiled and shook her head, gazing lovingly at both her daughters. “Any plans to find out about kids firsthoof, Cloud? I know Fluttershy would love being a mother, and I’m sure Blossom would love to have a family of her own.”

I chuckled and waved her question away. “What, me have kids?” I thought that over for a moment and shivered. “Oh, not for a long, long, long time yet.”

I woke up next morning to the sound of somepony bustling about in my kitchen. Since I hadn’t had anypony over last night that should’ve worried me, but for some reason it didn’t. Once I had a few seconds to wake up, I recognized those soft, quiet hoofsteps and the barely audible clank of dishes as she worked. Only Fluttershy can be that quiet in the kitchen.

I quickly freshened up to make myself semi-presentable, then trotted into the kitchen. “Morning, Eepy. How you doing?”

Fluttershy looked up from my stove and beamed at me. She was using my ‘Kiss the Cook’ kitchen apron, so I decided to follow orders and do exactly that. It was nice. “Good morning to you too, Cloud. I heard you weren’t feeling well, so I decided to come check on you”

“Aww, that’s sweet.” I nuzzled her. “But you really didn’t have to. I’m fine now.”

“Oh.” She glanced over at my kitchen table, which was already loaded down with a bunch of breakfast-making supplies. “Well, since I’m already here, how about if I make you something? I already have some toast going in case you're still feeling nauseous—or we could do eggs and toast for a little protein, or eggs and toast and haybacon if you want the full meal. Oh! Or eggs, toast, haybacon, and some hash browns. Or Phrench toast if you want something a little sweeter. Or crepes! I can do regular crepes, or strawberry-banana if you want some fruit with it, or chocolate sauce and powdered sugar. Ooh, or chocolate chip pancakes, I know Alula loves those when she's over. Or—”

“Eepy.” I gently put my hooves on her shoulders. “You really don’t have to go all that trouble. I told you, I’m fi—”

And that’s when my stomach decided to do a couple backflips. Before I even realized what was happening or had time to pull away, I was emptying out what was left of last night’s dinner all over my sweet, caring fillyfriend. Eepy went rigid, her back and wings covered (for the second time in her life) with somepony else’s sick; the soft, downy feathers and velvety fur, results of weekly spa pamperings, would need a thorough scrubbing before she’d be so much as passably clean, and she’d probably have to rinse her feathers half a dozen times before she’d be brave enough to preen them.

That thought went right to my gut, and everything that hadn’t gone onto her back the first time came up to join it.

My jaw hung open in shock, a few bits of upchuck dribbling out of my lips as I struggled to think of something, anything I could possibly say to even begin to apologize for this. I was so stunned that Fluttershy beat me to it. “I’m sorry!” she squeaked out. “I shouldn’t have talked about all that food when your stomach was still feeling sensitive.”

I carefully patted Eepy on the back, and tried to tell her not to change when my stomach clenched a third time.

Shadow’s teats, feeling like this sucked. I hoped I got over it fast.

Author's Notes:

Welcome to the much-requested sequel to The Life and Times of a Winning Pony. As always, thanks to the many awesome member of my pre-reading team for smoothing out the wrinkles in this chapter and catching my numerous spelling and grammatical flubs.

Also, I would like to thank all my dedicated Patreon supporters. You guys are awesome.

Click here if you want to join the list of awesome people who support my writing.

The Accidental Brony
Benjamin McLaren
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Deep Cover
Dixie Daley
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Emlyn Costilow
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Steven Ilten

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