Zipp, give me back my phone!
Nu-uh. No phones today, Pipp. You’re sick, and mom said it’s my job to make sure you rest since she’s busy. That means no phones, lots of blankets, and lots of watching cartoons with your big sister on the couch.
That’s not fair! I’m gonna be sick forever and a half! I wanna watch YouTrot before then!
Then I guess you should hurry up and get better by getting lots of rest. I won’t let mom down, Pipp, and I won’t let you down either.
Pipp Petals smiled weakly to herself as she shuffled along the corridors of the palace’s lower floors. Congestion and cold chills had robbed her of the spring in her step, but going at a slower pace had given her all the more time to reminisce.
The further she ventured, the more vivid her memory seemed to get.
Zipp, let go of me!
It’s the S-Regimen, Pipp. Soup, shows, sister hugs, and sleep. We’re three out of four now.
I don’t wanna sleep right now though, Zipp, and you can’t make me!
True, but I can hold onto you until you get tired. Step three doesn’t have a time limit, sis, and neither does looking out for you.
You’re not looking out for me, you’re being a pest! Let go!
What, you don’t wanna cuddle with your big sister? You’re hurting my feelings, Pipp. But that’s fine, I can do my job with or without appreciation.
Pipp stopped before a wide, metal grate. Carefully sliding it aside, she summoned the weighted basket elevator from down below with the flip of a switch. She scanned the dim, open chamber while she waited. Cool, stagnant air wafted up to meet her, carrying the itchy smell of dust and metal with it. She wrinkled her nose.
It wasn’t until she stepped into the lift and felt it sink that her sister’s vibrant mane caught her eye. Zipp was on the far side of the room, encircled by blackboards filled with equations, and hunched over a collection of books and papers.
Pipp frowned. Heat surged in her chest. She imagined sweeping the entire pile onto the floor just to see her sister’s face.
Alright sis, what’s up next?
Oh, oh! Can we watch My Petite Pony? There are new episodes!
Whatever you want, Pipp. I’m on big sister duty right now. You’re stuck with me no matter what you pick.
Two snowy ears perked right up. Zipp turned in her chair, setting down a book on aerodynamic friction.
“Pipp? What are you doing down here?”
Pipp exited the lift and stepped closer. She scowled at the haphazardly stacked books, notepads, and food cart wrappers littered across her sister’s desk. When she sniffed and let out a small cough, Zipp raised a brow.
“I just wanted to see what you’re up to, Zipp.”
“Really? That…doesn’t sound like you at all. Is there something you need?”
“No,” Pipp muttered, looking away. “I can be curious. It’s not like you ever talk about what you do down here, and you’ve never invited me down here before.”
“You’re right, I haven’t. I distinctly remember you saying you hated all the dust and didn’t want to come down here.”
Pipp’s head snapped up. “Well, yeah, but that doesn’t mean I don’t—”
Another cough cut her off. Zipp furrowed her brow and fully spun around in her chair.
“Pipp, are you feeling alright? You don’t look so good.”
Pipp, are you feeling better yet? You better be, or we’re gonna watch the next season, too.
“…am I feeling alright?” Pipp repeated. Her sister blankly stared back at her. The heat in her chest surged again. “No, Zipp, I’m not feeling alright, actually. I’ve been sick for two days and I’ve barely left the palace. Funny how you haven’t noticed. It’s almost like you haven’t been upstairs all week.”
“You know, I remember a time when my pain-in-the-neck sister was always around, making sure I got plenty of rest when I was feeling crummy. But nevermind that, I don’t even see her anymore. She’s always off in the mountains, or hiding away down here, working on hoof-knows-what.”
A shaken, teary voice made itself known, and it pulled Zipp out of her chair. She timidly lifted a hoof towards her sister, but retreated. The outburst had yet to finish.
“I’d like to, at least, see my sister at breakfast, or have her come into the lounge sometimes and watch TV with me like she used to. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for; to want to see her now and then.”
Pipp’s cheeks flared red as she sniffled and hiccuped through her tears. She hastily wiped her face with a hoof, but it did little good. Her sister’s face now reflected her distress, and it only made the tears come faster.
“What’s so important about all of this, Zipp? What could possibly need your attention this much? It’s like you don’t even live here anymore!”
She paused and stared down at the floor. Tear droplets stained an otherwise immaculate layer of dust.
“…is this about me or mom?”
“Pipp, no—” Zipp moved her body before her words, crossing the room in an instant. “It’s not like that at all.”
“‘Not like that?’ Well, what is it ‘like’ then, Zipp?!”
Zipp sighed. She sat back on her haunches and outstretched her wings, all the while offering Pipp a warm, inviting look.
“I’ll tell you, but you have to come here first.”
Pipp stubbornly held her ground, but Zipp’s smile didn’t falter. Her wings curled and flexed, beckoning the young pegasus over.
“Seriously? What makes you think I wanna hug you right now?”
“Well, I’d like a hug,” Zipp said quietly. “You’re stressing me out, Pipp. I can only take so much crying, and you know I’ve never been good at comforting with words. Your sister only has so many tricks up her wing.”
Zipp curled her feathers again, and Pipp’s lip quivered. Just like that, her facade collapsed, and she trotted forward. She hugged her sister tight, clutching her as if afraid she might disappear at any moment. Painted wings wrapped around her in response, pulling her into awaiting hooves.
“I love you and mom. That’s never been in question, Pipp.”
“Then why are you never around anymore?”
Zipp buried her muzzle in her sister’s mane. “I’m doing research,” she said. Her tone had grown fragile and quiet.
“Research? For what?”
“For myself, but also for everypony else. I feel trapped, Pipp. I feel claustrophobic all the time and I hate it. I’ve been looking for a way to stop that.”
“…you mean how you wanna fly?”
Zipp nodded. “And l guess I feel alone, too. I feel like I’m the only pegasus who can’t live without flight, the only one even bothering to search for it. It doesn’t help that you and mom are content to pretend like we already know the answer, telling everypony only we can fly.”
“Zipp, mom’s just trying to keep everypony from being upset that nopony can fly.”
“I’m not pointing hooves right now, Pipp. This isn’t about that. It’s just hard being around you and mom, faking something I wish I could actually do—that I wish we all could do. I’d rather spend my time looking for a real way to fly.”
Pipp sniffed again, and it drew Zipp’s wandering gaze. She smiled, and with a simple shake of her body, jostled her sister and prompted a laugh.
“But maybe I’ve been a little too absorbed in it lately if I’m making my sister miss me, huh?”
Pipp nodded. Her tears had subsided, but they’d been replaced by a dull headache. She pressed her face into her sister’s chest.
“Is that why you’re always going into the mountains? Are you gliding or something?”
“Parkour, actually. But, yeah, same reason you’re thinking of. For a few moments, it feels like I’m flying with every jump. Getting pretty good at it, too.”
They said nothing for a time. Pipp re-positioned herself in her sister’s hooves, wedging ever tighter between feathers and coat and wrapping her tail around them both.
“I’m sorry, sis,” Zipp mumbled. “I didn’t think you’d notice me being down here so much. I guess I should’ve told you what’s been going on with me sooner.”
“To be honest, I didn’t notice at first. Between the Pippsqueaks and all of my performances, I’m always so busy. But this is the third time I’ve been sick and you haven’t been around. I’ve gotten so used to us spending time together whenever I’m not feeling well…like we did all the time when we were little.”
Zipp donned a smirk.
“So as soon as you realized I wasn’t lining up to take care of you anymore, you panicked. Got it.”
“No, shut up,” Pipp giggled, nudging Zipp with her head. “We just had a ritual going on and I realized I missed it—and you—a lot. Watching stuff with you always made being sick so much more bearable.”
“The ‘S-Regimen’, right? How’d it go again?”
“‘Soup, shows, sister hugs, and sleep.’”
“Right. Well, you’ve got hugs now. Is this the part where you ask me to make soup for you, too? Or did you just wanna watch something together?”
“What, right now? Aren’t you too busy rediscovering flight?”
Zipp chuckled. “A day off won’t hurt. Besides, it looks like I started neglecting some big sister responsibilities somewhere along the way. I suppose I can give you an afternoon or two.”
“Aww, Zipp,” Pipp cooed. She hugged her sister tighter. “Some soup would be nice, yeah. Maybe some eggs and hash browns too, if you wouldn’t mind. Oh, and could you poach the eggs? They’re my absolute fave.”
“Hang on, where are these add-ons coming from? I didn’t sign up for this,” Zipp teased, tickling her sister with her multicolored feathers to elicit further giggles. “I see what this is. You just wanna get doted on and have me make food for you because the cooks aren’t back until dinner.”
“Zipp, I’m sick, of course I’m gonna ask you to do it!” Pipp did her best to fend off the assailing feathers. “And stop that! You’re gonna make me cough more!”
Shared laughter filled the room. For several minutes more, the two sat together in a long-overdue hug.
“…so do you think you can weather the trip back upstairs, princess, or do you need me to drag you up there? Fully on board for the latter, myself.”
Pipp scoffed. She spotted her sister’s blatant, almost hopeful grin and scoffed louder. They made their way towards the elevator together.
“I think I’ll manage. Besides, I have to let somepony get started on making soup, don’t I?”
“Oh, is it just soup again? What happened to the three-course breakfast?”
“Hmm, cancelled, for now. There’s actually something else I want you to do while I find a show to watch.”
“And that is?”
“To get the big, fluffy comforter off my bed and bring it downstairs.”
“Pipp, that thing is as big as the couch, if not bigger.”
Pipp grinned. “Um, yeah, it’ll be fantastic, Zipp. We’re gonna be so cozy.”
Zipp forced a laugh as she stepped into the lift. “Horsefeathers, what have I gotten myself into?”
“Oh, this is so much nicer,” Pipp purred, swimming in the folds of a lilac blanket now dominating the lounge sofa. “And the soup was heavenly, bee-tee-dubs. Thank you, Zipp! Love you!”
“Yeah, yeah, you too,” came a voice from down the hall. Following the sound of a fridge door closing, Zipp reappeared from a side hallway. “I’m surprised you’re still hunting for something to watch. It took me five minutes just to get that comforter downstairs, let alone then make you soup and have you eat it.”
“Don’t remind me,” Pipp lamented, still flipping through channels and TV guides. When her sister leapt onto the sofa, she bounced. “There’s never anything interesting on Thursdays. I could’ve sworn the new season of Is It Cupcake? was marked on my calendar for this week, but it’s not on.”
White hooves wrapped around Pipp from behind, fitting her beneath an awaiting chin.
“You don’t get bored of that stuff? Seems like every episode is the same thing.”
“Spoken like an uncultured mind, Zipp.” Pipp sighed and leaned back into her sister’s coat. “Oh well. Is there anything you’d like to watch?”
“Yes, you. Obviously the sofa doesn’t have a preference.”
“I don’t know,” Zipp replied lamely. “I came upstairs to fulfill a few sister duties, Pipp, not choose shows to watch. Besides, I’d probably find some documentary you can’t stand.”
Zipp paused for a moment. Her eyes glinted.
“On second thought, though, maybe that’s not such a bad idea. I suppose if the goal is to get you to sleep, that documentary about space on channel fifty-eight might be just what we need. Passing out from boredom counts too, right?”
Zipp skillfully stole the remote away with a curve of her feathers. Pipp gasped. Within moments, she was struggling to get it back. Zipp playfully held it just out of her reach.
“Ugh, no, not some mathumentary, Zipp! Can’t you pick something else? Literally anything else?”
“Nope,” Zipp said smugly, tightening her grip on the pegasus while her wing navigated to the proper channel. “Look, it’s about star formation, Pipp. You should know all about that.”
“Wow, you’re so funny,” Pipp deadpanned, sinking into the comforter’s depths and closing her eyes. She wore a crude little smile. “You know what, I’m feeling awfully sleepy all of a sudden, Zipp. I guess I’m not gonna need your show after all.”
“Aww, alright sis. Enjoy your nap. Lemme just turn this up a bit. I can barely hear it.”
The TV volume skyrocketed. Pipp opened her eyes and scowled.
“Stars are the most widely recognized astronomical objects, and represent the most fundamental building blocks of galaxies. The age, distribution, and composition of the stars in a galaxy trace the history, dynamics, and evolution of that galaxy.”
“Zipp, you can’t be serious.”
“Stars are born within clouds of dust scattered throughout most galaxies. Turbulence deep within these clouds gives rise to knots with sufficient mass that the gas and dust can begin to collapse under its own gravitational attraction.”
“Zipp, are you for real?”
“Three-dimensional models of star formation predict that the spinning clouds of gas and dust may break up into—”
“Zipp, that’s too loud! You know I have a headache.”
Zipp muted the TV. She was still smiling.
“What do you want from me, Pipp? You couldn’t find a show so you told me to find one. I did, and you immediately started complaining about it.”
“Well I thought you’d find an action movie or something I could just listen to while we cuddle, not some dull lesson on space.”
“Dull? You know, your cold hasn’t put a damper on your catty attitude, princess. I could always leave and take the blanket with me, Pipp. Always more research to do, and it gets cold down there in my study space. Cold and dusty. A death sentence for fabrics, really.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
Zipp gripped the blanket, tugged it, and stood up.
Pipp gasped, affronted.
“No! Get back here!”
Two determined hooves wrapped around Zipp’s neck and pulled. She lost her balance, tumbling over Pipp and face planting the sofa.
“You’re so needy!” she laughed, playfully smothering her sister’s head beneath the blanket. “How do your fans even handle this much neediness in one little pony?”
“With lots of love and tolerance!” Pipp protested through muffled giggles, fighting to find the blanket’s edge. “You could learn a lot from them, Zipp!”
“Oh yeah? I’ve got your love and tolerance right here, Pipp.”
Pipp popped her head out just in time for a throw pillow to collide with it. Zipp fell into hysterics.
“Zipp, I swear, if you mess up my mane, you’ll find a new way to fly real quick.”
“Oh please, no, I can only laugh so much, Pipp! You couldn’t lift me up and toss me in a million moons. You, on the other hoof, are quite petite. Here, look, all I gotta do is sit up and—”
Pipp squeaked as she was gripped around her middle and heaved up and off the couch. Her cotton wings flapped desperately.
“Zipp, what are you—put me down!”
“Target spotted: a particularly open section of couch just a couple yards to the southeast.”
“Zipp, no! If you toss me, I will never forgive you!”
“Wind conditions seem just right. She lines up the toss…she’s going for it…”
The wind-up was made, but it never followed through. Pipp’s scrambling paid off, knocking Zipp off balance again just enough to fall over. The sisters laughed in tandem as Pipp readily assaulted her sister with every pillow within reach.
But even this setback was short-lived. Zipp tanked a pillow smacking her in the face and tackled Pipp to the sofa. Pipp squirmed away, but squealed when she was dragged back just as quickly.
“C’mere, sis,” Zipp chuckled, effortlessly trapping the smaller pegasus in a hug. “None of this is helping you rest. If anything, it’ll just exacerbate that cold.”
“Excuse me? This was all your idea!” Pipp giggled back. She flapped her wings in her sister’s face. “You’re the one who just spent the last two minutes antagonizing me! I was happily curled up until you started stealing my blanket and being a pest!”
Zipp simpered. “Yeah well, what can I say? Even I struggle with sticking to the plan sometimes, especially when you always opt to be whiny and difficult. But, per your request, I still have a job to do, so let’s reign this in, alright?”
Zipp pulled herself up against the back of the couch, turning her chest into a more angled pillow. Pipp readily pressed into it, and the comforter found its way over them both, guided by Zipp’s hoof.
The room grew comfortable and still. Pipp hummed as softness pressed into her from all sides.
Pipp nodded. “I’m calling for a truce, okay? I’m tired for real, now.”
“Fine by me. I could use a nap, myself. The wave functions and I were not seeing eye-to-eye last night.”
“A mathematical description of a given quantum state within a quantum system.”
“…okay, a follow-up question: do you come with subtitles?”
Zipp grinned. “Afraid not. Maybe listening to science jargon is the price you pay for sister hugs, Pipp. Maybe I’ll start teaching you math whenever you’re trapped like this.”
Pipp scoffed and looked away. She concealed a blush in her sister’s coat.
“Maybe I’ll just bring along noise-canceling headphones next time, then.”
“Great idea, Pipp. We can get some audio lectures set up. Mom will be so impressed.”
Pipp groaned in defeat. She tucked herself beneath the edge of the comforter and kneaded her sister’s coat with her cheek.
“Thanks for indulging me a bit. I know you’d probably rather be doing other things right now. I never realized what you’ve been doing downstairs was so important to you.”
It was quiet for a moment. Then there was joyous protesting when Zipp’s hoof began rubbing along her sister’s head.
“You’re important to me too, Pipp. And I’m glad you came and said something to me. It’s kinda sweet to hear that my pop star sister still wants me to take care of her when she’s feeling lousy, y’know?”
“Well, you do give the best hugs.” Pipp labored a yawn. “And I don’t have to put on a face around you like I do with the Pippsqueaks. That’s so important when I’m sick and don’t have the energy to be charismatic.”
“Right, your sister will pay attention to you whether you’re charming or not, given enough crying.”
Zipp nurtured a smirk, but Pipp ignored her. She withdrew within her shell of fabric and coat like a hermit crab. There, Zipp couldn’t see that she was smiling back.
“Mom will be home in a few hours from the town hall, by the way. I think she said she’s gonna take me out to get another spa treatment. They feel so nice when you’re all stuffy. Would you mind staying out here with me until then?”
The question hung in the air. When expectant emerald eyes came looking for Zipp, she beamed.
“Yeah, sure. I told you I’d like to take a nap too, remember? I’m not going anywhere, Pipp.”
Pipp made an adoring sound, and Zipp chuckled as the space under her chin was suddenly filled with a violet mane.
Zipp, aren’t you afraid you’ll get sick too?
Nah, all you ever get are head colds. I’m not afraid of a little sneezing or coughing. Besides, my priority is to make sure you’re okay. Can’t do that without keeping you company, y’know? I’m not going anywhere, Pipp.