Twilight Sparkle beamed in great, horribly feigned delight.

“It’s so nice to see you, Princess! So… unexpectedly!”

From behind her, a squeal rang through the library. “Princess Luna?” cried a curiously sweet voice, and hooves clattered.

Into Celestia’s view rushed a spring-green unicorn, who screeched to a halt and stared in seeming astonishment.

Twilight turned her head. “No! It’s Princess Celestia, and I guess she’s come to share breakfast with us?”

Celestia bowed her head, but there was a twinkle in her eye. “Do you remember Mrs. Ditch, our cook? Who married the gardener, remember, when you were very small.. and who eventually retired?”

“Yeeeeesss?” said Twilight, warily.

“Well,” said Princess Celestia, “do you remember that special recipe of hers? I know I’ve never had a chef quite match it, which is of course only natural—I fear they just never had the knack. You remember! You would wrinkle your nose, Twilight, and without being too unkind about it, you’d say, ‘they’re just not like Mrs. Ditch’s sugared hay pops’! Isn’t that so?”

Twilight’s eyes widened. She bit her lip, laying her ears back.

“Guess what I have?” purred Princess Celestia, affectionately.

“Princess Celestia brings you snacks?” squeaked Lyra. Behind her, Trixie trotted into view, blanched, and promptly ran up to stand beside Twilight, slightly behind her, covering her right flank.

“I’m… not sure this is the time…” stammered Twilight.

The Princess’s face fell. “Really? I mean… really, Twilight? I am so sorry. I… may I leave this with you, then, dear Twilight? I shan’t be mysterious—yes, Mrs. Ditch has cooked you some sugared hay pops. I flew here as fast as I could. You know once they’ve cooled, you can’t ever re-heat them without losing some of that wonderful texture we so adore…”

Twilight gulped. “Uhhh… Please come in! Thank you so much! We’re just a little confused this morning, it’s perfectly all right, perfectly!” She shot a frantic glance at Trixie, who returned it in no more than an eyeblink—and the two unicorns moved together, backing into the room and allowing Princess Celestia entrance.

She came in, her magic bringing along a picnic basket behind her, and she looked quizzically at Twilight. “Is something the matter? I’m quite serious—I am aware I did not ask ahead of time, but I’d been visiting Mrs. Ditch, and she was making a batch when I visited. It was no trouble for her to make a second batch, and she was so happy to do so, she remembers you so well. I would have sent a scroll along, except that I thought it would be such a nice surprise…”

“It is, it is!” protested Twilight. “Oh my gosh, they smell so good!” She backed up a little more, hopping on one hind leg, Trixie staying close by her side as Lyra wandered forward, fascinated.

“Have you twisted your hoof, Twilight?” asked Celestia.

“Yes! I just stepped on it wrong, you know how it is. It’ll be fine!”

“May I see?” inquired Celestia.

“Oh, but I don’t want to wait any longer to have sugared hay pops again! Let’s not let them cool off one more moment. Can Trixie and Lyra have some?”

“Of course!” laughed Princess Celestia. The picnic basket opened, and little fluffy straw confections began to emerge, floating in front of the unicorns’ noses, only to disappear in quick, delighted bites.

“Ooooh!” crooned Trixie. “Those are good!”

“Told you,” said Twilight, smugly. “Lyra, what do you think? Good, huh?”

Lyra’s eyes were wide, but it wasn’t entirely from appreciation of sugared hay pops. She couldn’t take her eyes off Princess Celestia’s horn, and licked her lips, panting slightly. Trixie shot her a warning glance, whiffing a bit of her mood.

“Would you like another, Miss Lyra?” inquired Celestia, smiling fondly.

At this, Lyra reared up, holding her forehooves in a cute begging posture, and opened her mouth. Princess Celestia giggled, and tossed a sugared hay pop in a little arc, and Lyra snapped it out of the air, returning to all fours with a perky bounce. Not satisfied with this bounce, she squeaked and capered, bumping into Twilight’s left flank.

The bump knocked Twilight to the side a little, and she bounced gently off Trixie, her right flank bumping Trixie’s side… and Twilight’s eyes bugged out for just a moment, as she emitted the faintest hint of an agonized squeal.

Princess Celestia froze.

“Twilight, dear, are you well? Is something wrong?”

“Nothing!” squeaked Twilight, too strainedly, as Trixie glared, fear in her eyes.

Princess Celestia said nothing for a moment. She just gulped, her eyes not leaving Twilight’s. She said, “Perhaps… this is, indeed, not the time…”

Twilight began to hop backwards, Trixie sticking close beside her as she awkwardly retreated. “It’s fine! You’re always welcome here, Princess, it’s not your fault if I fell on my hoof or something, and thank you for the nice…”

Celestia’s eyes widened in alarm. She’d spotted the stray scroll that had been left on the floor.

Twilight hadn’t, and her one ‘good’ hind hoof landed squarely on it.

Her other hoof slammed down with perfect health and solidity, but had the bad fortune to also land on the scroll, and both rear hooves shot out to the side as Twilight’s body twisted and fell heavily upon her right flank.

Celestia visibly shuddered, her wings flaring out in sudden alarm, at the shriek of pain Twilight made.

“Twilight Sparkle! Let me help you! What is… is…”

Celestia trailed off. Trixie was staring truculently at her. Lyra seemed terrified, and Twilight’s lip was quivering as she awkwardly, wincingly got up.

With Trixie standing aside, it wasn’t that hard to see the shocking, savage welts on Twilight’s ass. She stood, trembling, wordless, gazing imploringly at Celestia, her ears back as if expecting a ferocious scolding.

Instead, it was worse. The Princess’s lip was quivering. She made a weak croaking sound, and then managed to speak, but it wasn’t to anypony present. She spoke as if in a dream—or as if to a memory—and her voice quavered.

“It will be all right, I promise you…”

“Princess?” said Twilight, in a tiny little voice.

“I’ll take care of her as if she were my own,” continued Celestia unsteadily. “I understand she is quite small, but I assure you, it is warranted with a child of this much promise and talent…”

“P… Princess…”

“And I understand your concern,” said Princess Celestia slowly, echoing things she had clearly said and meant, long ago. “But I… swear to you that while there is… breath in my body and sun on my wings, your… child shall come t… to… no harm…”

Twilight couldn’t even speak. She could only watch the tear growing in Princess Celestia’s eye.

Then, she couldn’t see Celestia’s face at all. Lyra squealed and scrambled away, for the Princess was huge, massive, and it was frightening to be next to her as she whirled and bolted for the door. There was something dreadful about her loss of composure, the panicking of a creature large and powerful enough to flatten all three unicorn ponies with her flying hooves.

Instead, they saw her fleeing rump—and heard the frantic flapping of huge wings, unfurling just outside Twilight’s door, clawing for the sky and the comfort of high Canterlot.

Twilight ran forward, the pain in her butt ignored. “Princess!” Out the door, into the street…


Trixie and Lyra ran up, to stand either side of Twilight—who stood, tears streaming down her face, gritting her teeth in rage and chagrin.


“Mistress…” said Trixie hesitantly.

“Shut up!”

“Is there anything I can…” began Lyra, trembling.

“You shut up as well!”

They did. They stood, faces twisted in woe, and watched as Twilight Sparkle steadily got control of herself again—heaving harsh breaths through those gritted teeth, glaring at nothing as she thought and thought and thought.

“Girls?” she said, at last.

They didn’t dare speak for a moment, then Trixie said, “Mistress?”

“We’re gonna get through this,” said Twilight. “I promise. We’re gonna be even more responsible…”

A whirring noise was heard in the distance.

“And we’re gonna control ourselves and not do anything embarrassing for a while…”

The whirring noise grew louder, fast.

“And if anypony, ANY pony in this whole fucking town thinks they’re gonna keep on being perverted and crazy right now…”

A cloud of dust burst into view around a neighboring house, and roared up to the three unicorns, and blew away, revealing a rakish figure on a scooter.

“Hi, Twilight!” said Scootaloo.

“Oh, hi, Scootaloo,” said Twilight. “This isn’t a good time, okay?”

“All right, then I’ll be quick,” said Scootaloo. “I emptied my piggy bank and here’s all the bits I have. Rainbow Dash said I could get a magic penis thing from you. Special order!”

Three unicorn jaws dropped in astonishment.

Scootaloo grinned up at them, her wings perked at a jaunty angle.

“It’s okay,” she said confidently. “It’s for a friend!”

“Breathe, sister!” demanded Luna, her imperious voice given the lie by the tenderness of her embrace.

Celestia snuffled, her wings flapping vaguely in dismay.

“No, you see, that’s sniffling, dear sister. You know the difference. Breathe! Give me a nice deep breath. Please?” coaxed Luna.

Obediently, Celestia heaved in a deep breath, and let it out, her body shaking.

“Again! And then, if thou canst, speak! What brings thy travail and distress?”

Celestia took another deep breath, and opened her mouth to speak, her lip quivering piteously. Then, she shut it, and drew another deep breath through her flared nostrils, letting it out slowly. She looked sidelong at Luna through tear-streaked eyes.

Luna nodded solemnly. “Good. Speak!”

Celestia began, “I…” and choked up. Then, as Luna watched, she gushed in a sobbing burst of bitter words, “I should have let you do what you were wont to do!”

Luna paled. “Oh, no…”

“But, yes!”

“But NO!” cried Luna, appalled. “What is this? What manner of despair is this, dear sister? How can you say that?”

“She has beaten Twilight bloody, until she cannot walk…”

Luna grimaced, her eyes squeezed shut, teeth bared in emotional pain. “But…”

“I saw it!” neighed Celestia.

“Cease!” barked Princess Luna, imperiously. “Did you mean to grant them freedom or not?”

This silenced Princess Celestia. She stammered for a moment, her eyes huge and vulnerable—and then she’d buried her face against Luna’s neck again, and her tears flowed freely.

“I did! I did… oh, I did…”

“Oh, sister,” breathed Luna, holding the larger alicorn close. “To think that I will have to explain after all. I had hoped this day would not arrive.”

Celestia twisted, delivering an accusing glance. “Some things don’t bear examination! You make excuses for your confounded Lulamoon, and she has hurt Twilight dreadfully!”

Luna did not flinch. “And yet you claim, now, you would fain deliver Trixie Lulamoon to me—knowing the special relationship I have had with her kin?”

Celestia was silenced.

Luna sighed. “Would that you had sent me to the moon again! I fear my influence draws upon them, calls them like they were little pony tides to be dragged in my wake. They should thrive with only you to guide them. I shall not appear next Nightmare Night. I’ll hope they forget me…”

Princess Celestia’s eyes were moist, but she slowly shook her head. “Nay… I cannot believe you truly mean them ill, sister. It cannot be right that you should exile yourself still further. There must be healing, somehow. I…” Celestia gulped. “I just don’t see the healing, in all this.”

“We do not seek healing, sister!” declaimed Luna, and then corrected herself, “Or, rather—I do not seek healing. We must help the ponies become more like you, as they once were. Your Twilight Sparkle… it seems she too must bear Lulamoon descent, the sheer power of her would seem to demand it, but at the same time she is so like you… so studious, so gentle, seeking balance and knowledge rather than the thrills of experience…”

Celestia narrowed her eyes. “I’ve experience, too, sister.”

Luna’s lip curled in a wry smile. “Not, I think, like I have.”

Celestia’s gaze dropped. “Perhaps not. Oh, Luna! Must I turn Twilight over to such cruel experience? What good could possibly come of it? It is all I can do not to hate Trixie Lulamoon over these things…”

Luna winced, and Celestia gulped. “I’m sorry. I’m trying. They are spending time with Rarity, the dressmaker—perhaps she will prove a moderating influence?”

Luna lifted a skeptical eyebrow. “Do you believe her white coat a symbol of purity, sister? I have seen ponies like her before.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“Nothing! I know nothing… only cautioning you not to place over-much trust in surface appearances… and this holds for your favorite, Twilight, as well. As much as you think you know her, you did not fight her, sister. It is easy to still see the innocent filly to protect, when you are not staring her down in battle. I fought her twice—once while possessed by Nightmare Moon, and once as myself. Sister, no-one beats that unicorn girl bloody unless she consents.”

Celestia frowned unhappily. “There was another—I believe her name was Lyra, if I remember correctly. She bounced like a puppy, giddy for sugared hay pops. I do not remember if she bore the signs of beatings, and now I am afraid to look.”

Luna blinked. “Bounced, you say? Named Lyra?”

“Oh, she’s done that before.” Celestia smiled in spite of herself. “Pops up at the rear of crowds, leaps into the air to see. Luminous green unicorn, with a harp on her flank. Seems cheerful. You’ve seen her?”

Luna’s eyes widened, as she remembered a frozen moment, sinking into wild golden eyes, eyes that seemed to shimmer with energy even as she stared, fixated…

Luna frowned.

“You should have sent me to the moon, sister,” she said. “Even my presence causes trouble. Can you find the gardener, Crystal Gaze?”

Celestia blinked. “I should think so. You wish to study meditation again? Or do you wish gardens planted in your room? If it is the latter, I approve, but you will have to draw the curtains and let light in. I remind you, sulking in the dark was never a condition of your punishment…”

Luna sighed. “It is the former. Mayhap she can teach me to meditate myself into such a peaceful state that I cease to stir up such passions in pony hearts. As for the latter—I do not wish light, or comfort. Must you demand it of me?”

Celestia gazed upon her younger sister with eyes still streaked from her tears. “Luna, there are things you demand of me in turn. If I must grow to accept such harsh actions from my little ponies, can you not also grow to accept a little mercy?”

Luna gave her a sulky look, which was met with an imploring one.

“Please, Luna. Please let me know there are some places where comfort persists.”

“One plant!” replied Luna. “I’ll accept one plant, and the light to care for it. I shall meditate upon it, and attend to its needs personally. Tell Crystal Gaze of that, as well.”

“I shall!” said Celestia, cheered.

“And yes, sister, I do demand things of you! Do not lose faith in your pony subjects, I beseech you! Though they are tainted by the darkness of my energies, though they act out on these dark passions, I beg of you to understand two things—one, that these things have always been part of the pony nature, and two, that things can grow from darkness toward light! It is love that drives them, even when the expressions of it are passing strange.”

Celestia bowed her head. “I will try to understand, sister. Shall I send Crystal Gaze up, now, with the plant for your room?”

At this, Luna looked stricken. Her eyes dropped, and she muttered, “One more night…”

“I beg pardon?”

Luna looked up. Her eyes glistened. “One more night of my darkness, sister! Please! Just one more! Leave me for now. Tomorrow I will comply with your wishes. Please allow me one more night to mourn…”

Celestia bowed her head, and departed without another word.

Twilight stared at Scootaloo in horror. “She said WHAT?”

“Special order, she said! Is that enough money? Didja charge Rainbow Dash that much?”

“I didn’t charge her anything!” exclaimed Twilight. “Now listen…”

“Yay!” said Scootaloo. She then did a doubletake and informed Twilight, “Hey! You owe me a new piggy bank!”

“Never mind that!” demanded Twilight Sparkle. “Are you out of your tiny mind, Scootaloo? What’s got into you?”

Lyra blinked. “I think she’s just told you, Twilight.” She sniffed the air, curiously.

“Nah!” said Scootaloo. “Not into me, no way! It’s to use on… on a friend! What’s the big problem?”

“I’ll tell you what the problem is,” said Twilight, “you’re foals, and if you’re not out of here in about five seconds…”

Lyra chuckled, unexpectedly. “Nope.”

Twilight whirled to face Lyra, and Scootaloo’s eyes bugged out as she took in Twilight’s butt. “Whoa! What happened to you, Twilight?”

Twilight ignored the comment. “What do you mean, ‘nope’?”

“That’s not a foal,” said Lyra simply.

“That’s Scootaloo! Like Applejack’s sister Apple Bloom and Rarity’s sister Sweetie Belle, she is a foal, a school-kid…”

Lyra sniffed the air again. “Maybe a school kid, but not a foal. Use your nose!”

“It’s not as simple as that! Do you see a cutie mark? Do you?” demanded Twilight.

Scootaloo broke in. “That’s not fair! When did you get so mean? First you won’t sell me a magic bit special order, and now you’re making fun of me! Are you telling me a cutie mark is some kinda penis license? You’re gonna check my flank first?”

Twilight turned again. “I’ll do more than that. I need to have a word with Rainbow Dash, because I don’t know what she’s been telling you, but it stops right here! No, you do not get a bit. You shouldn’t even know what they are!”

Scootaloo had begun to glare the instant she worked out Rainbow Dash was in trouble, and her wings stood up in outrage—she looked quite fierce. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah!” said Twilight.

“Fine!” said Scootaloo. She turned up her nose—and she turned to face Lyra. “Twilight Sparkle is being totally unfair. How much to buy yours? Uhhh… or how about I rent it? You can have it back afterwards.”

Twilight’s jaw dropped. “How do you know that Lyra has a…”

“She showed me!” replied Scootaloo.

Twilight and Trixie gasped, and Lyra backed up a pace, glancing nervously between them, saying “I can explain…”

“Did you decide on a safeword?” snapped Trixie.


“You’re gonna need one…”

Lyra squealed, and made a break for it, galloping off in the direction of the Carousel Boutique.

Scootaloo took one look, and kicked up a cloud of dust that was transfixed by a ray of purple unicorn magic. Out of the cloud of dust rolled a scooter, following Lyra’s flight and coasting to a stop. The cloud of dust dissipated slowly, to reveal a little pegasus filly, dangling by the tail from a magical grip, thrashing and punching the air and flapping her little wings frantically.

Twilight took a deep breath. “Stop it!”

Scootaloo dangled upside down. She crossed her forehooves across her chest, and glared.

“You can’t have a bit,” said Twilight. “Don’t ask me, don’t ask Rainbow Dash, don’t ask Lyra. Got it? Especially Lyra. You’re not to talk to Lyra about this. We’ll have a word with her.”

“If you can catch her,” sneered Scootaloo.

“I caught you!”

Scootaloo pouted. “Stupid magic.”

“Promise! Promise you’ll do what I said! Or, er, not do. You know what I mean!”

“Or what? You’ll hang me upside down for the rest of my life? I got school tomorrow!”

“I’ll…” Twilight thought. “I’ll bring you to Carousel Boutique.”

“I was just going that direction!” said Scootaloo.

“No, I mean, I’ll bring you to Carousel Boutique… and let Rarity dress you up. And do your mane. And tail.”

Scootaloo’s eyes widened with each word. “You wouldn’t dare! My mom will kick your ass! And it would hurt real bad because somepony already did that to you, it looks like!”

“And it didn’t stop me!” said Twilight Sparkle. “I’m warning you, Scootaloo!”

Scootaloo gulped, and glanced at Twilight’s abused rump, and her wicked grin.

“My mane… and tail? And, like, dresses and stuff?”

Twilight grinned with still more evilness. “And… your scooter!”

Scootaloo thrashed, letting out a squeak. “FINE! I promise, okay? I’ll do what you said. Lemme go! I’ll be good!”

Twilight glanced at Trixie. “Do you think it’s legit?”

“She nearly wet herself when you brought in that scooter…” said Trixie, speculatively.

“DID NOT!” wailed Scootaloo.

“Trixie thinks it’s legit,” said Trixie.

Twilight lowered Scootaloo slowly, and the hapless filly scrabbled at the ground and flipped over, jumping to her hooves with a betrayed, appalled expression. She wiped her eyes with a tiny hoof, and glared, beside herself with rage.

“You go home,” said Twilight, firmly.

“FINE!” yelled Scootaloo. She ran over, grabbed her scooter, and kicked up a huge cloud of dust again, but this time it wasn’t towards the Carousel Boutique—it was towards Sweet Apple Acres.

“Do you think Rainbow Dash really told her to go buy a bit from me, Trixie?”

Trixie shook her head. “Trixie thinks there is more to that story than meets the eye. Unfortunately, there may be more to the Lyra story than meets the eye, too…”

‘They don’t want me! They don’t!” sobbed Lyra.

Rarity hugged the hysterical mare, her eyes troubled. “Now, why ever do you say that, Lyra?”

“I can just tell! And, and, do you know the worst part?”

“No—can you tell me?”

Lyra’s face twisted in grief. “She… used to call me ‘Heartstrings’…”

Rarity considered this. “But darling! You told her to call you that. Remember?”

This, while true, didn’t soothe Lyra one bit. She sobbed harder, while Rarity tried to work out what had happened. “Can you tell me what gave you this idea, Lyra? I’ve known Trixie and Twilight for… well, actually I suppose I haven’t known them for that long, have I? Not nearly as long as I have known you, and Fluttershy, and the other ponies native to Ponyville. But I have scened with them, and I feel certain they would not repudiate you for no reason!”

Rarity gulped. “Moreover, if they would, I should like to know about it, for I could be next. So, what transpired, darling?”

Lyra sniffled. “Twilight got so angry with me…”

“Yes, yes, but why?”

“It was over that kid,” said Lyra, “the one with the scooter. He—no, wait, she—came and wanted to buy a magic bit from Twilight. Of course it’s a she, if it was a colt what would he want with one?”

Rarity boggled. “Scootaloo? Scootaloo wishes a penis? That is more than a little disturbing—though with her adoration of Rainbow Dash, I daresay I should have seen that coming. She is still a foal, though!”

Lyra shook her head. “Not really… well, sort of not really. That’s the trouble. I said, that’s not a foal, and then Twilight and Trixie were so angry. Twilight said there was no cutie mark, but I could smell her! That scooter girl is coming into season. Probably wanted to be rutted—is that so wrong?”

Rarity’s ears were quirked to the sides. “I am not sure ‘wrong’ is the correct word to use. Unsuitable? Appalling?”

Lyra pulled back and stared at Rarity in horror. “Oh, don’t tell me you’re going to back them up about the cutie mark! I remember when I was small—I came into season and didn’t know what to do, even after I got my cutie mark. I know a pony can want sex even as a blank flank!”

“That’s as may be,” said Rarity. “I developed a very clear idea of what I should do, particularly after I got my cutie mark. I was… mistaken, let’s just say. Even the cutie mark rite of passage should not be considered a passport to sexual congress! Not alone, at any rate!”

Lyra’s face fell. “…does that mean you’re angry with me, too?”

“Of course not. Darling! Darlingy-est darling of all possible darlings, why would I be angry with you?”

This time, it was Lyra’s ears that quirked. Something hinted to her that the exquisite white unicorn was trying too hard, though she couldn’t put a hoof on exactly what it was.

“Darling?” inquired Rarity.

It would probably come to her eventually… “So you’re not angry?” asked Lyra.

“Of course not! D… Lyra, there is much truth in what you’ve said. Scootaloo wanting to be,” and Rarity gulped, “rutted, is not ‘so wrong’. Or even wanting a penis… I simply wonder if you’ve been paying attention. If you know that child, I warrant you’ll spot the problem. I would fear for, not just the other little fillies, but also the livestock and possibly the rocks and trees!”

Lyra snickered, imagining it. “And is that so wrong?”

“The rocks and trees would be terribly shocked!” replied Rarity, with mock seriousness. “But I should not make light of it. You mustn’t encourage her, she hasn’t got the context to understand such things, even if she thinks the only context she needs is a fizzing, agitated love-hole. I know all about such feelings, believe me.”

“Oh!” squeaked Lyra. “You do? I can help with that, let me take care of it for you.” Her horn glowed, and her saddlebag began to open.

“I didn’t mean right now!” said Rarity. “I was talking about Scootaloo! Rather crassly, I fear. Hmph, it is so difficult to avoid merging the private and the public life any more. I must, must, MUST remember my decorum. There are so many things to attend to…”

She shook her head, dismayed, and Lyra nuzzled her alabaster cheek.

“Is there anything I can do to help, Rarity?”

Brilliant sapphire eyes blinked, took her in.

“Oh, Lyra! Your simple desire to do so means the world to me. I am so glad you’ll listen to my laments… Heartstrings.”

Luminous golden eyes caught the sapphire ones, sharing their look of fretful gratitude, offering comfort… and deep within those golden eyes, a spark flared, hint of a building stallionish hunger that offered—and demanded—more.

Rarity gulped again, but she couldn’t look away.

“They’re gonna bust us all!” cried Scootaloo, galloping into the clubhouse.

Apple Bloom stared. “Beg yer pardon, but what’re ya talkin’ about, Scootaloo?”

“Twilight Sparkle is being a big jerk! That’s what!”

“Did you spill juice on one of her books again? I tole ya, best to run for th’ hills when that happens…”

“No! It’s… well… it’s the secret project.”

Apple Bloom’s expression darkened. She glared at Scootaloo, and then she glared at Sweetie Belle, who sat on a napkin attempting to draw a still life, as part of the Cutie Mark Crusaders Artists Yay program that Apple Bloom was championing.

The bowl contained nothing but apples, yet Sweetie’s artistic interpretation stubbornly kept transforming them into bananas—with medial rings. And drips. Sweetie Belle sweated as she struggled to stay focussed.

“There ain’t no secret project, so you hush, Scootaloo,” said Apple Bloom. “We agreed to wait it out—and you PROMISED you weren’t gonna steal nothin’ from my sister. You promised!”

“Yeah, but… well, look at her!” demanded Scootaloo. “We’re gonna be down a Crusader if this gets any worse! I have to figure out something, some loophole!”

“Applejack says ta be patient.”

“Rainbow Dash says to be awesome!” retorted Scootaloo.

“Rainbow Dash ain’t here! And she’s fit to pop any day now, she got enough to think about!” said Apple Bloom. “Aw, for… Sweetie Belle! Apples do not squirt! I think we best take a break from things. Y’all wanna swing by Sugarcube Corner?”

Scootaloo blinked. “Free candy?”

“I reckon!”

“Maybe not,” objected Scootaloo. “I saw Pinkie Pie leaving there, going to Fluttershy’s house. You know Mrs. Cake almost never gives us free candy—it’s Pinkie Pie all the way.”

“Well then,” said Apple Bloom, “Fluttershy’s it is—we’ll pick up Pinkie Pie, and all go back to Sugarcube Corner together. We’ll all bust in and yell surprise. When has that ever failed ta work?”

Scootaloo nodded. “That always works! Come on, Sweetie Belle. Sweetie Belle!”

Sweetie shook herself and whimpered. Her eyes wouldn’t quite focus.

“Come on, we’ll get you some candy, that’ll take your mind off of things!”

Fluttershy’s house was dustier than usual, but all the same it glowed with light: both the light of the afternoon sun basking on dusty windowsills, and the light of Pinkie Pie’s adoration, as she fussed over her vastly pregnant mate.

“Wow, Fluttershy, you’re super fat!” cried Scootaloo, trotting in.

“Scootaloo! It ain’t fat, it’s with foal!” retorted Apple Bloom, following.

Fluttershy reclined on a creaking couch, centered in the living room. Pillows and blankets were arrayed around her, hinting at a truth that was only reinforced by dust on the stairs. The gentle pegasus barely got up anymore, and wouldn’t climb the stairs even to go to bed.

Sweetie Belle’s dazed eyes—which had developed an alarming twitch—focussed on a couch-side table, and widened. They wouldn’t have to go to Sugarcube Corner for candy. Pinkie Pie had brought Sugarcube Corner to Fluttershy’s house, and Fluttershy plainly was not just immobile from pregnancy.

“Oooh, is that fudge?” squeaked Apple Bloom. Scootaloo drooled enthusiastically, wings springing to attention. Sweetie made her way over to where her companions beamed huge smiles at their host.

“Please help yourselves!” said Fluttershy. “It would be doing me a kindness. Pinkie, why must you do that? You know I can’t resist that darn mint fudge, or the sugared salted oat cakes. Why do you continually insist on bringing me more?”

Pinkie blinked, puzzled. “Because you asked!”

Fluttershy pouted. “That is no excuse. You should know to refuse some of my demands. I am only taking advantage and deserve a spanking at such times.”

The Crusaders blinked at this, and their heads swung over to take in Pinkie’s response.

“I do that too, silly, and do you remember how long it takes for you to start wheedling me for sweets again? Remember, Flutterbutter?”

Fluttershy frowned, pretending to think. “Endless minutes of fudgeless purgatory. Is that right?”

“Three,” said Pinkie. “Three minutes. But that isn’t my excuse, that’s yours. You ought to know my excuse by now, nuttywuttyhobblewobblesons. Do you remember?”

Fluttershy blushed. “Maybe not in this company…”

“I like you SOFT,” crooned Pinkie Pie, in Fluttershy’s ear—heedless of witnesses.

“Oh, my!” squeaked Fluttershy, and her wings fluttered against her sides hectically, fluffing out as she blushed bright red.

Apple Bloom’s jaw dropped. “Wull… all righty then!”

Beside her, Scootaloo stared, biting her lip. Something about the way Fluttershy’s wings had moved hit her in the gut and made her own wings try to stand up higher, and she recognized it as more of that mysterious, unexplained stuff like when Applejack had bit down on Rainbow’s wing shank.

“Behave, Pinkie,” ordered Fluttershy, “we have company. Won’t you have some fudge? I apologize for my marefriend, she is incorrigible.”

“I think you mean in-de-ta-fudgeable!” corrected Pinkie.

Fluttershy waved this comment away with an impatient hoof. “Never mind. How are you children today? Is your world a happy, precious place? Please say it is!”

“Sure!” said Apple Bloom, while Scootaloo sulked and Sweetie trembled.

Fluttershy blinked. “Scootaloo? Sweetie? Whatever is the matter?”

At this, Pinkie suddenly laughed. Suddenly the focus of four shocked gazes, she didn’t lower her eyes or act the slightest bit embarrassed. She grinned, gave Scootaloo and Sweetie a saucy wink, and said, “Nothing you or I can help them with, lovey!”

“Oh,” said Fluttershy. “Should you be mentioning that? I thought we’d better ignore it.”

“You could bring a skunk in here and have him spray them!” suggested Pinkie. “Then we’d be able to ignore it, but I bet you they’d still be stuck with the itchy trots!”

Fluttershy gasped. “Pinkie!”

“Well, they ARE,” said Pinkie. She gave the three shocked fillies a sympathetic look. “How many of you is it? Pinkie’s personal guidance tracking systems indicate probably more than one non-neuter cooter, but I’m not sure it’s three, either…”

“Pinkie Pie, you can’t say things like that! These are little foals!” protested Fluttershy.

“Take it easy, flappyhappylappy! Your trouble is you’re too shy about things. It’s not going to do them or us a bit of good to sit around pretending they aren’t cross-eyed with poon doom, and I hope you don’t consider them unwelcome guests just because of that!”

“Well, but, I, you…”

Pinkie sighed. “Neither am I going to provide any sort of assistance with that, before you insult me by fretting over it. Except perhaps in lecture form. Hey, kids! Which of you is it, and have you had the talk yet? ‘Cos you have to have had The Talk. That’s the rule!”

Scootaloo stammered, and said, “It’s Sweetie. Okay? And maybe me, ‘cos sometimes I feel really weird about things now. We’ve had lots of talks, especially Sweetie.”

“Oh, good!” said Pinkie. “Then have some fudge. You’re always welcome here, just don’t do anything that would shock Fluttershy, okay? We have to be very gentle with her and get ready for the new arrival!”

“She’s so big!” exclaimed Apple Bloom—but then she glanced suspiciously to her side, for Scootaloo had raised a hoof. “Yes, Scootaloo? You best be askin’ somethin’ nice.”

Scootaloo gulped. “How much more of The Talk could we have if we needed more of it?”

Fluttershy blushed, but Pinkie’s ears perked up. “More? Do you mean you haven’t been told everything you want to know?”

“Exactly!” said Scootaloo. “Please can we have more of The Talk? There’s important stuff we still don’t understand!”

Pinkie sat bolt upright, her eyes going wide. “What? Well then!” She set her jaw, a grim and heroic look upon her face. “Ask away! Everything will be explained, plus also there’s fudge.”

“You mustn’t show us anything,” said Sweetie, “just only tell, okay? You’re a grown-up.”

“There isn’t nearly enough pudding here to show you anything useful,” said Pinkie dismissively. “Tell, it is! That’s all I was going to do anyway, before silly Fluttershy says anything. What’s on your mind?”

“Okay, so… I’m guessing that you made Fluttershy pregnant and that is your foal in there, right?” said Scootaloo.

Fluttershy blushed, but Pinkie looked right back at the pegasus filly unflinchingly. “Yep!”

“Well then… How did you work the magic penis?” said Scootaloo.

Pinkie just stared for a moment, then guffawed.

“HA! I didn’t need one, you silly filly!”

“You didn’t?” squeaked Scootaloo, astonished.

“Nope! I left it on the shelf! Dumb thing! Why do mares keep on demanding penis? I ask you!”

“Well, I don’t know!” said Scootaloo angrily. “That’s why I was asking you about it!”

“Sorry. That was a hypothetical I-ask-you,” said Pinkie. “You wouldn’t know. Or maybe you would—are you kids demanding penis? You’re not going to find any here. We don’t need ‘em!”

“You don’t have magical penises? We’ve seen them. AND we’ve seen what the bit thing looks like,” challenged Scootaloo, “so don’t try to fool us!”

“Oh, that,” said Fluttershy, and winced.

“Aha! You do have one! Just like Lyra and Applejack and Twilight Sparkle!”

“Scootaloo, you stop yellin’ at grown-ups right now!” demanded Apple Bloom. “What is wrong with you?”

“We should go,” whimpered Sweetie Belle. “We’re sorry…”

Pinkie waved a hoof. “Settle down! If that’s the question, then it deserves an answer! I did say I would answer her question, so pipe down, all of you! The answer is just what I said, Scootaloo. We don’t need it. I’m not sure, but I think Fluttershy might be mad at me if I explain exactly why we don’t need it…”

“Uh-huh,” muttered Fluttershy, darkly.

“But you should take my word for it. I don’t want or need any such magical thing. I’m my own magical thing. And Fluttershy doesn’t want it either, and that is still my foal in her because of a little pegasus magic of another kind—and,” said Pinkie with a wink at Apple Bloom, “a little earth pony magic to round it out.”

Apple Bloom blinked uncomprehendingly.

“So you can’t tell us how to work the magic penis to make a foal,” said Scootaloo.

“I’m not sure it’s a good idea to be telling you things like that!” said Fluttershy. She had that sulky, determined look on, the one that made the fillies shrink back, expecting The Stare. She continued, “Before I tell you anything of the sort, I want a note from Rarity and Applejack and—and whoever Scootaloo’s mom is, saying it is okay to tell you girls such things.”

“A note?” said Scootaloo.

“And not in crayon!” added Fluttershy, narrowing her eyes.

Scootaloo’s wings drooped, and she pouted.

“We should go,” repeated Sweetie.

“Can you at least tell us which of you acts like the stallion?” begged Scootaloo.

Fluttershy heaved herself up into a sitting position, the better to stare formidably down on the fillies. “We are both mares, Scootaloo, and we will not be answering more questions without a suitable note!”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah!” insisted Fluttershy. “We don’t know anything about magic penises and stallions and we don’t want to know! So there!”

Scootaloo bridled, comparing that attitude to the fascinating horrors of Applejack and Rainbow Dash, and snapped, “You probably can’t even make a stiff one anyway, so there!”

Fluttershy gasped, and gasped again when Pinkie Pie retorted, “That is the most boring and unimaginative use of a tongue ever! We call it Such A Waste Mode for a reason! How’s that for a So There?”

This stopped Scootaloo. “What the heck are you talking about, Pinkie Pie?”

In reply, Pinkie stuck out her tongue at Scootaloo, blowing a raspberry to express her disdain, and she did not think to be cautious. To Fluttershy’s horror, she stuck out a shockingly huge expanse of tongue, and wriggled it like a snake while expressing her displeasure—hinting all too clearly at the secrets she and Fluttershy shared.

Apple Bloom squeaked in alarm, and Sweetie Belle fell over with a squelch, her little legs buckling on the spot—and Fluttershy had had enough. “That is it! I have had it! Go and be good somewhere else, or you know what will happen!”

All three fillies gasped, and backed up a step, wide-eyed.

Pinkie blinked, startled by the reaction. “What happens?”

“Go!” ordered Fluttershy.

All three fillies whirled and ran—though Scootaloo darted forwards to grab a big piece of fudge, before turning her attention to the flying tails of her fleeing companions.

Had she been less distracted by the rapid succession of obscene tongue-writhings, delicious fudge, and the need to catch up with Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo might have studied the windowsill nearest the door, and the forgotten knick-knacks that cluttered it. She did not—it got only a hurried glance and subconscious attention, before she was out the door and running down the path after her friends.

“H’y! I g’t fudge!” she called, as she ran.

“No way!” came Apple Bloom’s voice. “Slow down, Sweetie, come back! We can split some candy after all!”

Fluttershy stared out the door, exasperated. “This won’t end well. I am sure they are up to no good. I should have kept them here, and made them promise to behave.”

“What happened? I was trying to give them The Talk,” said Pinkie, “and tell them useful things they need to know, and then it all went wrong…”

She fell silent, for the fillies were talking, still within earshot.

“Yeah,” said Apple Bloom, “bite off a piece, Sweetie, there you go…”

“N’w y’u!” said Scootaloo.

“Erg… mph!”

There was a gulping noise, and then Scootaloo’s cocky voice was heard again. “Glad to be of service, girls!”

“There was spit on mine,” complained Sweetie Belle. “It’s not hygenic!”

“Wasn’t me! I was holding it in my teeth, so there!”

“Well,” argued Sweetie, “who else could it have been?”

Apple Bloom’s voice quavered. “What if it was… Pinkie Pie’s… TONGUE?”

Pause, for a moment’s memory and reflection.

Three high-pitched filly screams rang out simultaneously, and then there was nothing but the sound of galloping tiny hooves as the Cutie Mark Crusaders fled a scenario that would haunt their nightmares, especially as those nightmares became pubescent.

Pinkie Pie’s ears drooped, and she could barely meet Fluttershy’s vexed eyes as she said “Sorry, flippylippy. I guess I kinda let the cat out of the bag?”

“Shut the door after them, please,” said Fluttershy. “It’s still rather cold out, and Angel Bunny will complain if I make the house too chilly.”

Pinkie Pie obediently went and nudged the door shut, first the bottom half, then the top. She turned, and walked humbly back to where Fluttershy still sat up imperiously, wings flared out and eyes stern.

Pinkie bowed her head just a little, and kissed Fluttershy’s nose, and yellow wings folded forward to caress her face tenderly and enclose her in a feathery bower of love and forgiveness.

Behind her, on the windowsill nearest the door, a magic bit glinted softly beneath a heavy coat of dust, but neither Fluttershy nor Pinkie Pie spared it a thought.