I couldn’t sleep.
Desert nights in Appleoosa were generally freezing, but this was a whole other barrel. It was frigid. I couldn’t remember ever being this cold, but I certainly wasn’t about to go ask for another blanket. I needed to move around or get more blankets. I just couldn’t stay here.
It wasn’t just that. I had gotten home and AJ clearly hadn’t heard of what had happened between me and Rainbow. I’d come home eleven o’clock or so, entirely drunk and I’d fallen asleep on the couch promptly, curled up with some old quilt Granny Smith made years ago.
For whatever reason, the Apple family had always been, more or less, immune to hangovers. I hadn’t really known this from personal experience, but I’d seen plenty of ponies come home from the saloon, complaining of headaches and groaning at any loud noises. But my father, and even Applejack and Mac had never had those symptoms. I only felt a little fuzzier, but there certainly was no headache.
I was more concerned about what I’d said last night. Why had I said that? It wasn’t true by any means. I guessed I’d just blurted it out; after all, I hadn’t actually been attracted to her. I felt kind of disgusted by myself for kissing her. That’d been my first kiss. Of the few situations I’d thought of, that hadn’t been one of them.
It was definitely an excuse. I hadn’t wanted to hurt her. So, why did I get the idea that I had done more harm than good?
I touched a numb hoof to the wood floor and ran it through my tangled mane, clearing out most of the knots, but still leaving it messy. I shivered and grabbed my hat from the arm of the coathanger. I bent down and slipped my back hooves into boots as well.
Might as well get some work done. I grabbed one of Applejack’s scarves and draped it over my neck. The fibers tickled my nose, and I sneezed. I reached a hoof to the doorknob, worn with age, and swung it open, allowing the icy wind to roll through and I left, looking out at the sun, just barely beginning to peek over the edge of the horizon. Time to do some applebucking.
The constant murmur of casual pony conversation drifted lazily through one ear and out the other. Sunlight beamed around the welcoming shade of the blue umbrella. The pony citizen’s idle talk was of no interest to Soarin Windsong, except for one conversation in particular that he heard somewhere off to his left.
“Hey, wow! Is that Soarin? From the Wonderbolts?”
“… I think… it is!”
“Should I go say hi?”
“No, no. He looks like he’s trying to enjoy his lunch.”
The last statement distraught Soarin. He turned around and got to his hooves, scooting back the metal chair, which scraped across the cement foundation of the outside of the café. “I most certainly am not. I’ll always take time for a fan!” He turned and grinned. It was two Pegasus fillies. One with a cyan coat and piercing green eyes, complete with a disheveled purple mane that marked her at the epitome of foalhood: She simply didn’t care about her appearance.
Ah, to be innocent. The filly clearly cared little about judgment, and Soarin knew that would change in the next five years. The other Pegasus was white with a very light blue mane and large purple eyes.
Both of them paled
“R-really?!” The greenish one asked. “Can I have your autograph, then? Uh-“ She paused nervously. “Shoot,” she whispered under her breath.
The white one rolled her eyes. “You don’t have anything for him to sign, stupid!”
“Sorry.” The first one mumbled, frowning and looking at her hooves. “Anyway, I’m Cyan Skies.” She extended a hoof to him, and he shook it eagerly.
“Now, I’m sure we can find something for you to sign!” Soarin smirked. “And, who are you, may I ask?”
“Cotton Cloudy,” the foal admitted sheepishly, blushing. “But Cyan Skies has a crush on you!”
“Do not!” Cyan Skies protested, glowering.
Soarin spotted the waiter, a yellow earth pony, out of the corner of his eye, and raised a hoof to flag him down.
“Yes?” The waiter asked, raising an eyebrow. Clearly, he hadn’t recognized him.
“Can I get some paper or something? I need to sign autographs for two loving fans.” Soarin winked and flashed the waiter a smile.
The waiter nodded, and his eyelids drooped further. He looked bored, as though he’d been doing this all day. Clearly, this pony had no clue who he was. Of course, he wasn’t in his uniform, so he could see how somepony would make that mistake. He turned and kicked up small bits of dust as he did so.
Soarin rolled his eyes as the waiter entered the café. “I want to be just like you!” Cyan Skies gushed. “What is Spitfire like? Some day, I’m gonna be a Wonderbolt!” The filly stuck out her chest proudly and Soarin smiled, snatching a napkin from the waiter, who still looked uninterested, all of his features dragged downward.
There just was no changing some people.
Luckily, the waiter had brought him two napkins. On one, he scribbled, ‘To Cyan Skies,’ and on the other, ‘To Cotton Cloudy.’
On both, he wrote, ‘Follow your dreams!’ and signed them with his usual squiggle, and a tall, wobbly N to punctuate his name, and then he wrote Windsong with a curly G that looped out into a swirl. It looked remarkably feminine. He grasped one napkin in each hoof and handed them to both fillies. Cyan Skies squealed loudly, but Cotton Cloudy tried to perpetuate her calm demeanor.
“Th-thanks,” the white filly stammered, walking away stiffly and being led by Cyan Skies, her legs tense as though she were walking with toothpicks.
“Sorry I couldn’t get you a picture or something!” Soarin called, waving his hoof goodbye.
Soarin smiled and looked down at the coffee the waiter was pouring. It was in the middle of the afternoon, but Soarin was so used to sleeping or training, not lazily drifting between the two at a normal energy level. Spitfire would probably yell at him.
Soarin leaned over, grabbing a stirring straw and several small blue plastic containers of creamer that crinkled as they were lifted and tore them open, pouring them into the bitter brown liquid, stirring simultaneously. He stared down at the swirling mixture and wondered what Spitfire would do if she saw him like this.
She’d probably rant about caffeine and sigh about how he shouldn’t be drinking anything with that stuff, how it caused crashes. She was so high-maintenance.
Soarin sighed. Well, that was exactly why their relationship hadn’t worked out. She was hardworking, but… she had to have things a certain way, her way, all of the time. Sure, she was sexy. Many long-winded nights in bed had told him that much. Soarin exhaled with delight.
Spitfire certainly hadn’t been terrible, she was just so overpowering and in-control, high-strung; Soarin just couldn’t deal with that. He needed someone who could go with the flow and not flip out over everything, every little detail.
It didn’t really matter. They were friends, aside from some slight sexual tension every once in a while. An odd comment here or there. Whatever. He didn’t care. She was just his teammate, now. They might even be friends. For some reason, though, he still kept that 'crazy ex-girlfriend' mentality about her.
He looked up from the swirling abyss of his cheap diner coffee to see Braeburn approaching. He walked stiffly, and a vague pallor had overtaken his body. He looked tired; exhausted, even. It was like he hadn’t gotten any sleep at all.
As he approached down Mane Street and came closer and closer, his features gradually became more defined. His mane hung loosely around his face and slightly obscured his eyes, though most of it, in all of its orange and yellow glory, was hidden underneath a dusty old hat.
The muscles rippling underneath his flank made it obvious that he was well-built and hardworking, on par with most farmponies. His muscles were well-toned and his chest protruded slightly. His legs were built nicely, and his flank was absolutely perfect. Soarin licked his lips and smirked.
But, his most prominent asset was his eyes. Bright, bright green irises that looked like they were going to stare right through your soul. Though he appeared cheery, Soarin could tell by a certain tenseness in his face, with his nose screwed up and his eyes forced upward, that he wasn’t as happy as he seemed to be trying to convince everypony else.
Another closet case. Greeeeaatt.
Soarin had known from the moment he’d first seen Braeburn that he played for the opposite team, it wasn’t that hard to tell if you hung around them enough. However, you couldn’t just play these things outright. Some ponies were emotionally delicate; they had to be treated with care so that you wouldn’t hurt their feelings.
There were always that one pony who just didn't wanna accept who he was, whether it was because of his family or he was just a big coward. Sure, sometimes it was 'emotionally serious' or whatever. He just didn't understand. Why can't some ponies just loosen up and have some fun? In Cloudsdale, there were massive clubs dedicated just to people of certain sexualities.
Soarin had found himself very much so indulgent in those clubs, going whenever the Wonderbolts weren't on tour. He'd learned to appreciate the beauty of both genders, and why not? Both were fun to have a roll in the hay with, so long as the other pony understood he wanted to retain his masculinity.
He knew that the Apples were conservatives, but with how defensive Braeburn had been at the Solstice, it’d gotten him to worry. Was this kid really that uptight? Hell, did he even know what a coltcuddler was?
Soarin trained his eyes on Braeburn’s docks, where a simple red apple sat plainly. How boring. The rest of him, though? Might be a nice night… Of course, he'd never get the earth pony, the closest he'd get was to get Braeburn to admit his sexuality and be done with it.
He only hoped it'd be that simple. It occurred to him that, Braeburn probably was in self-denial, something that Soarin never had to deal with. He'd always figured, if he was having fun, what was the issue? He wasn't hurting nopony else.
Braeburn continued holding his façade, a grin that was painful to watch still plastered onto his face. His brow waffled. “Hello,” he hissed through gritted teeth.
“Hello!~” Soarin called, resting his hooves dramatically on the table in mock cheer. “How has your day been?”
Braeburn paused and grinned further. “Good. Ah woke up this morning and the sun was shining!”
“Great.” Soarin examined his hoof and leaned forward. “So, was it true?”
Soarin watched the color drain from Braeburn’s face as his mask faded. “W-was what true?” He asked, his voice low. He leaned back slightly in his chair on the back legs, his shoulders suddenly tense.
“What you said last night.” Soarin grinned, smirking to himself. Yep, just a closet case. It was so painfully obvious.
Ponies, just like any other sexually reproducing creatures, had courtship systems. Many of these were subconscious. Telling if somepony was a coltcuddler went beyond the pitch of their voice, the sway of their hips, the way they dressed. It was so much more than that, though it was easier to tell if they were the same gender, but someone experienced could notice there was just something different.
With ponies, oftentimes, these courtship systems are often subconscious. Braeburn was certainly no different. The glint in his eye. The way his voice became slightly more gravelly when he spoke to Soarin as opposed to Applejack or Rainbow Dash. Even little, minute things he couldn't pinpoint. It was like evolutionary flirting.
“What do you mean, ‘What I said last ni-“ Braeburn’s dialogue was interrupted when his chair, (which he had been anxiously leaning back on.) tumbled backward, sending him flying back as he yelped. He landed, still seated, more or less, with a loud thud. He groaned and pushed himself to his hooves.
The total of five other people sitting on the outside deck turned momentarily in shocked silence but descended back into their previous strings of conversation after several moments.
Braeburn, now coated with a thin film of dust, got to his hooves with a grunt, and Soarin chuckled. “You didn’t seem nervous or anything.”
Braeburn rolled his eyes. “So, what was it you were asking?” he mumbled, dusting himself off. Soarin could swear he could hear the farmpony growling, and he laughed uproariously, slamming his hooves down on the table. Ripples ran through the coffee.
“What you said last night.” Soarin finally calmed enough to say that with even cracking a smile.
Braeburn looked stunned. “Uh, what did Ah say last night?”
“You like colts?” Evidentally, Soarin had said it much louder than Braeburn would have liked. His ears pressed down and he winced, paling further.
“Wha- That’s not true.” He was on the cusp of screaming, his eyes filled with terror, pleading for Soarin to shut his mouth. Soarin cocked an eyebrow.
“You’re making a huge deal out of it, bro. Calm down.” The Pegasus stared at him. “Listen, I get that with your family and all, but come on, dude. You just ooze coltcuddler." He lowered his voice. "Listen, it's not a bad thing." He sighed. "Try to understand what I'm getting at, I know you're an earth pony and all, but this doesn't mean anything's wrong with you." Soarin smiled, in a moment of tenderness.
“Wh-what?” Braeburn’s voice went up several octaves and his eyes widened. “N-no! I love mares! Mares are awesome!”
Soarin examined his hoof, sighing. The other hoof resting against the dusty, worn metal table under the umbrella. The corners of the table were shockingly hot, occasionally burning his elbow. “You know, I’m not sure, but I think you mayyyy be proving my point, dude. Getting all defensive doesn’t help anything. I mean, pft, come on. You turned down what nice piece of flank last night.” He grinned at the memory. Rainbow was just so… lean. Her body was curvaceous but she was muscular, definitely not anywhere near masculine, though. Soarin would have had no problems taking her home. She was almost like Spitfire.
Almost. She was so much more laid-back than Spitfire ever would be, he could see that from the few times he had met the filly. Talented, too. Sonic Rainbooms had just been myths, until she’d done one. He’d heard the rumors of a filly doing one, but no one had taken it seriously. But, at the Best Young Flier’s Competition? That had been for the whole world to see. Soarin had tried to get Spitfire to offer her a place on the team, but having an even number of team members would have thrown them off.
The most Soarin had ever pulled off was a Sonic Cloudboom, and that had only been one time, with the rest of the team, practicing a routine for the Grand Galloping Gala for him to lead a V formation.
He’d been flying at the tip of the V, leading the group. The choreography was to have him lock his wings and nosedive while the V split off into two lines of five. He’d pulled his wings close into his body, experiencing a moment of weightlessness before gravity jerked him downward. He’d gained enough altitude at this point to hit terminal velocity if he wanted.
He continued gaining speed. His eyes would have watered furiously if not for his the thin film of plastic on his goggles preventing the wind from blinding him. Even so, a biting chill took root, starting in his nose. He couldn’t feel his muzzle any more.
Desperately fighting against the wind resistance, Soarin had extended both hooves forward as opposed to one, in an attempt to try something new. The skin on his face began to pull back, his cheeks flapping about noisily and he groaned, pressing forward and narrowing his eyes behind his flight goggles.
Sweat gathered on his brow and disappeared immediately in the drying wind, but he felt a familiar wetness under his latex uniform, where the air didn’t hit. Soarin knew that he would have to painstakingly peel the irritating thing from his skin.
Though this routine was generic, something about putting two hooves in front of him as opposed to one changed everything. He hit terminal velocity. He was rocketing toward the ground now, his hooves were stinging, his mane and tail whiplashing around wildly, feeling as though they were cutting deep wounds in his skin, and he screwed his eyes shut. A Mach cone had formed around his two front hooves.
An electric shock wracked his entire body, making him shudder and scream as his body flailed without his control. Suddenly, he felt heavier. The smell of singed hair and burning flesh filled his nostrils as he flailed helplessly in the air.
Soarin forced his eyes open, only to find he was still barreling toward the ground in a spiral. This was a situation he was familiar with. He felt a slight burning on his scalp, but with adrenaline coursing through his veins and blood pounding in his ears, he tightened his body into a ball, fighting gravity still while he rolled forward.
He landed with a thud and he rolled forward as a loud crack sounded and the ground reverberated while he still rolled forward, bits of dirt and shrubbery. The ground trembled. The impact had knocked the wind out of him. He scrambled to his hooves and looked behind him, every nerve of his body on fire.
He watched greyish-back stormclouds roll and billow around, dissipating from existence with lightning bolts shooting out and zip around, illuminating every crevice in the surface of the clouds. In his wake, he’d left tarry black storm clouds that were already beginning to blow over.
His heart was still pumping and blood was still rushing loudly through his ears. He felt incredibly lightweight, like he only weighed a few pounds and would float away at any moment. The large mass of charged water vapor still oscillating with occasional flashes of light. His mane was crinkled and he shook his head to try to clear it.
Soarin was brought back to reality from his reverie by Braeburn. Only a few seconds had passed. “She just…” He’d evidently been pondering it for the past few seconds. “She just wasn’t that special someone.”
Soarin laughed uproariously, banging his hooves obnoxiously on the table. “SPECIAL SOMEONE?” He chortled. “Please, man. Tell me you’re kidding. That’s the most pathetic thing I’ve ever heard,” he grinned.
Braeburn, however, was offended. His eyes darkened. This pony, who’s genuine personality seemed rather cheerful, had just snapped. He slowly scooted out of his chair, green eyes narrowed. He got to all four hooves. “I think I’ll go,” he hissed, his voice low. Soarin strained to hear.
“Hey, man. Listen, I’ve dealt with your type before. I know you think you get it, but come on,” the Pegasus rolled his eyes.
“My type?” spat Braeburn. “You don’t know anything about me, or who Ah am, or… or… or anything!” His voice trembled with a mixture of terror and anger. Braeburn turned on heel, his hat now covering a good portion of his face, and began to walk away.
Soarin narrowed his eyes. If he wanted to play it that way... Soarin might just have to convince him, then... He called, “You can’t hide from yourself, Braeburn!”