“Well, so much for that.”
Carefully poking her head out an alley, Zipp surveyed the Zephyr Gardens from a safe distance. Normally a serene collection of hills, flowerbeds, and crafted marble statues, the gardens were now infested with pegasi. Around and around they trotted, their noses in their phones. Every so often, a startled head would rear up and look around.
Hitch’s head peeked out above Zipp’s.
“Are they all watching your sister look for you?”
“Some of them. A lot of them are probably playing Hoofmon Go. Forgot there’s some event going on.”
With a decisive turn, Zipp trotted back into the alley. Hitch was left to stare after her.
“Hold on. Where are you going, now?”
“To find Plan C,” Zipp replied, crouching to the ground before doing an impressive series of leaps up the wall. An abrasive clang signaled her touchdown on a fire escape.
“And that would be?” Hitch asked, watching the pegasus let loose a connecting ladder for him.
“First, use the rooftops as a vantage point to find our next spot.” Zipp stretched her legs and back while she waited. “Pipp probably gave up on looking for me from the air already. She’s always been the impatient type. That city-wide announcement was probably her attempt at speeding this up.”
“You sure seem to have this down to a science,” Hitch muttered, mostly to himself.
Hoisting himself up, Hitch glanced around at his new surroundings and whistled. The skyline of Zephyr Heights sprawled out into the distance, much of it made up of skyscrapers that towered over them. The royal palace crowned the whole display, shimmering in gold and white marble and watching over the city with powerful iron wings.
“Sightsee later, dude,” Zipp said, playfully smacking the stallion in the side as she passed. Hitch frowned, yet followed her dutifully.
“What about the other pegasi? Won’t they be flying around, too?”
“Well, yes, but by the numbers, there’s going to be fewer pegasi flying than walking, so rooftops are still the advantage.”
“Really? Even with functional wings?”
“No restaurants or shopping centers in the sky. As for my sister’s fans, only the real tryhards will actively look for me. It’s a big city. Most of them are only gonna shout me out if I fall in front of them.”
Hitch came to a stop.
“Huh. Again, down to a science. But that only makes me question even more why you’re going to such lengths to avoid your sister. If she’s this determined, then she must keep it up even if you do wait the day out, right? Why put in all this effort?”
Zipp stopped as well, and Hitch waited for an answer. That telling silence had returned.
Hitch cocked a brow. “That’s even vaguer than before. Zipp, what’s going on here? Are you purposefully playing along with all of this for some reason?”
Zipp sighed. She rolled a nearby pebble back and forth with the curve of her hoof.
“Sort of. Look, it’s hard to explain. Sibling stuff. It’s just that I’ve been doing this for a while now, and dealing with my sister’s fans and drama is getting to be too much. It feels like it gets harder to deal with every time.”
“Alright, so let her know how you feel, then,” Hitch reasoned. “I don’t know what your relationship with Pipp is like, but it should be a two-way street, right?”
Zipp smacked the pebble off the roof.
“I’ve already put in several years of doing this, Hitch. I don’t think I can just one-eighty this. It’s not that simple.”
“Isn’t it? You’re allowed to change your mind. Your feelings matter, too. Wouldn’t Pipp respect that?”
A comforting hoof politely rested on Zipp’s shoulder. She chuckled weakly.
“I’ve given myself similar pep talks before, and yet here I am. My relationship with Pipp is hard to navigate, even for me. It might always be easier to say that one more year of playing along won’t be such a big deal. It might not. I really don’t know.”
The two sat down and watched the cityscape for a time.
“Don’t you owe it to yourself to try? Owe it to Pipp?”
“…You’re awfully committed to this, aren’t you?”
Hitch beamed. “Well, you did invite me along to help. I’m helping, aren’t I? Maybe just not in the way you wanted.”
“Maybe,” Zipp answered. “Or maybe your peacekeeping tendencies just don’t have an off switch there, sheriff. You could be stirring a pot for all you know, and you don’t know what’s inside.”
Zipp winked. Hitch blinked.
“Hold on, are you—we’re still talking about your relationship with your sister, right?”
Zipp snorted and began to crack up. Hitch merely ogled her, confused by both his blush and lack of context.
“Zipp Storm? Is that you? Whoa, to think I’d be the one to find you!”
Zipp got to her hooves and wheeled around. As if planted there by the universe itself, a thin, teenage stallion wearing a battered janitorial uniform had come trotting through a rooftop door. He grinned.
“Oh, right, hold on! Let me tell Pipp, she’ll be so excited to see you!”
The stallion pulled out his phone, and Zipp leapt.
“Whoa, wait wait wait. Was that taken just now? Oh, is that—Hitch is here? Oh my gosh, why didn’t he tell me? That jerk! Now two ponies owe me a hug today.”
Reading through her chat box, Pipp pouted, and adoring emotes poured in. More images quickly followed the first one; dramatic close-ups of her sister pouncing upon the camera in three progressive takes.
“Ooh, that looks like it hurts. I’m sorry about that, Window Titan Forty Five! Looks like Zipp is not making things easy this year. I’ll be sure to scold her for you.”
A phrase and an address followed the sent photos, and Pipp’s face lit up. With an exuberant shout, she launched herself high into the sky, spinning as she did so. At her peak, her wings outstretched, and in the unobstructed light of the sun, she smiled wide for her camera.
“We’ve found Zipp, everypony!” she proclaimed. “Thank you so much for all your help, you guys! Cute sister hugs incoming soon to a livestream near you!”
The young star took off, a pink comet of affectionate intent.
Caught up in her excitement as she was, however, Pipp failed to notice a number of concerning comments flaring up throughout her chat box.
@WindowTitan45 Um you just posted Zipp’s location address to the entire chat, not Pipp’s PM window. How dumb do you have to be?
Lol. East side is about to be blasted. RIP.
“Hey, hey, Zipp Storm! Can I have a photo with you and Pipp?”
“Hey, Zipp! ‘Parkour experts wanted’! …It’s, uh, funnier with context, trust me.”
“Zipp, do you have a Ponistream account like your sister? I’d love to follow you!”
“You guys haven’t hugged yet, right? I don’t want to miss the cuteness!”
Zipp ground her teeth together as she ran. Fan ponies continued to pop out from doorways, window frames, and alleyways with flawless choreographic timing. She glanced at Hitch, galloping alongside her with a stern, albeit frazzled look.
“Just let her find you!”
“No! Do you see all this?” Zipp shouted. “I will not encourage this!”
“Tell that to Pipp directly, then!”
“No, Hitch, I—”
“This will never end if you don’t say something, Zipp! You two have to communicate!”
Zipp bit her lip. On her next step she crouched and rocketed into the sky, luring the mob after her.
“Okay fine, just stay here! One way or another, I’ll deal with it!”
The two shared a final look before Zipp was obstructed by a veritable mass of excited pegasi.
Left alone in an empty street, Hitch trotted to a stop. He gawked at the growing mass of ponies now rising from the surrounding streets. As their forms and voices grew fainter, Hitch stamped his hoof in frustration.
“Great. Now what, Hitch? How are you supposed to help from down here?”
A bell chime caught Hitch’s ear, and he turned. It was the sparkling crown of Zephyr Heights, emerging from a small shop a few dozen yards away. While Queen Haven herself exchanged pleasantries with the shop’s owner, Hitch found his jaw dropping.
“Oh, charmed, I’m sure. Thank you again, Kernel Pop. I’m sure she’ll adore them. My little Pipp just loves your snacks, and a happy Pipp is a successful Pipp.”
“‘Look, Pipp, we found her’?”
Fluttering in place, Pipp repeated the message aloud. She watched it rise and fade from view. More photos of Zipp flying followed after it, some of which showed her face. It was cold and agitated, and Pipp couldn’t stop the knot now forming in her stomach.
“How did you guys even—”
Pipp gasped, nearly dropping her phone.
A flicker of movement out of her peripheral vision caused Pipp to turn. There, darting between rooftops, was her sister, being dogged after by a cloud of pegasi. They grew closer by the second.
“What is going on here, you guys?” Pipp demanded to her phone screen. She scrolled up her livestream messages. To her surprise, there was no private message from WindowTitan45 to be found.
The knot in Pipp’s belly grew heavier. She looked up just in time to find Zipp halting right in front of her.
“Can you call your flying monkeys off, please? I’ve just about had it with this!”
Vexation clawed out from Zipp’s eyes and tone alike, blind to her sister’s surprise.
“Zipp, I’m sorry, this wasn’t supposed to happen! I didn’t know they’d do something like this.”
“You ‘didn’t know’?” Zipp repeated coldly. Pipp shook her head.
“They were only supposed to let me know if they saw you somewhere, but I think somepony accidentally put your location in the—”
“‘They’ don’t need to be involved, in the first place! I don’t see why something as simple as giving your sister a hug needs to involve anypony but you and me! On Siblings Day or any other day!”
“…But, Zipp, you’ve never—”
“Complained before?” Zipp interjected. “Well, first time for everything, right? Sorry to disappoint. I’m over this whole thing, Pipp.”
The air squirmed in awkward silence. Hundreds of chat messages and emoticons continued to flood Pipp’s screen, but she didn’t glance at it. All of a sudden, the thin collection of metal and wiring felt too heavy to hold.
“Zipp, I—” Pipp began, only to pause again. This time, she did look at her phone. “…Sorry, Pippsqueaks, but this is a Hashtag ‘Real Sister Moment.’ I’ll be back later.”
The phone turned off, and so too did Pipp’s timid face. She glared at the group hovering just behind Zipp.
“Chasing Zipp around was not what I wanted. All I asked for was help finding out where she was, and that’s it. Don’t harass my sister, please.”
More awkward silence. Mouths opened, but Pipp shut them down with a disapproving cross of her hooves. Before long, the crowd retreated and dispersed, granting the siblings a place in the sky to themselves.
Pipp looked at Zipp. Her look had softened, but she avoided Pipp’s gaze all the same.
“Zipp, I’m sorry. That wasn’t my idea.”
“We need to talk, Pipp. At home.”
“At home? Why does it need to be at home? Aren’t we talking now?”
“Just come with me, okay?”
Zipp turned away, and Pipp watched her. Her frigid tone was gone, but there was something else there in its place. It was exasperation, discomfort. It flattened Pipp’s ears. Suddenly, she didn’t feel like arguing about it.
Pipp obediently followed her sister’s lead, back towards the royal palace. She nervously fluttered around Zipp as they flew.
“Zipp, you believe me, don’t you? I would never ask them to chase you like that.”
“And… Why are you so angry all of the sudden? The livestreams, they—you’ve always been okay with them. At least, I thought so. The hide and seek thing was your idea, wasn’t it? It made things more fun. Isn’t that what you said?”