A Hangover Sent Direct From The Hells Themselves.
Well, here he was again; Waking up in unfamiliar territory with a rhythmic pounding in his head, bloodshot eyes he could barely keep open, a pain like a dagger to whatever was left of his liver, and foggy memories of the night before.
But what else was new?
Signs of textbook acute alcohol poisoning aside, he was barely surprised and, less than that, worried about his current disposition; At this point in his life with the amount of liquid sunshine it took for him just to feel normal he could count this morning’s pain, discomfort and regret as a blessing that he was still alive and on top of that, still feeling something.
The truth was that by this point in his life his blood was probably toxic enough that a blood donation stood a good chance of having a higher alcoholic content than most cocktails; His breath... Hells, his breath could probably be bottled and double as an industrial paint remover.
To say his life here at Camden was better suited towards self destruction than self improvement was the understatement of the year.
When did he let things go so wrong?
It was apparent now that this place. That Camden. That everything he did here. For every reason he thought he had for doing them. For every time he had said yes when he should have said no. For every drink he’d used to dull the pain of his existence. For every drink he’d used to turn a frown upside down. For everything he was and, more than that, for everything he wasn’t; He realized now that every single thing he’d done here was probably going to kill him.
Then again, maybe he was only fooling himself with this latest epiphany. If he wasn’t killing himself with booze and liver failure here at Camden, he would probably be killing himself with back breaking labor and sober reflection back home. If the long nights he couldn’t remember were going to be the knives slashing his throat at Camden; What were the longer days he didn’t want to remember back home? Gentle kisses to his heart? Unreciprocated pats on the back he didn’t deserve? Thanks and cheers he didn’t need?
It seemed pretty obvious now that, if he was going to do anything. If he was going to move on. If he was going to get on with his life. He was going to have to do it without the use of liquid courage.
Twenty minutes into a hangover sent direct from The Hells themselves, and he was back on the road to a better life.
It was then and there that sobriety, or, at least sober situational awareness took reins. He took a moment to appreciate his surroundings and acknowledge them. He was here... in a stranger’s room. In a stranger’s bed. With a stranger’s naked body gently curled up beside him.
Twenty one minutes into his newfound sobriety and he already needed a drink.
All things considered, it had been a good idea.
The stranger’s body in bed stirred sleepily and gave a quiet groan. Aside from a grey coat and hints of a black mane, she was too hidden by the comforter wrapped around her body for Gentle Strokes to realize who he owed an apology too for his quick and up-coming abandonment.
Maybe it was better that he couldn’t remember most nights after five P.M., if this was how he was going to wake up from time to time?
The stranger in bed stirred again, this time rolling onto... his side.
Oh, Goddess no!
Sluggishly snoring, his mouth wide and open with his tongue hanging out was stupid Mr. Good Time Pony.
A thousand and one emotions coursed through his body in that moment; He felt broken. He felt hurt. Betrayed. Depressed. Suicidal. Ponicidal. Unclean. Uncouth. Shameless. Horrific. Monstrous... And then, oddly, warm and fuzzy inside.
He almost wanted to smile as he stared at Stormy’s unconscious body. Watching his chest rise and fall, as his body attempted a snore that came out lazily. He almost wanted to smile, until it dawned on him that if he was here, now. With Stormy. In a bed.....with a night’s worth of events he couldn’t fully remember and a hangover he could do without something must have gone horribly wrong last night.
That dirty feeling again. The kind you couldn’t get rid of with soap and a cold shower. This moment. Him. Stormy. Them. Right here. Right now. In this bed. This was years of therapy to forget. This was the start of an entire life’s worth of re evaluation. This was...
Words lost all meaning. The only thing he could think to do was make a quick and hasty retreat back to his dorm, shut the door, bolt it (Double bolt it.), hide away and pray to a higher power that he didn’t have to deal with this.
Yes: To deal with waking up next to a colt in bed.
Abandoning his newfound, and evidently unnecessary sobriety was looking more and more like a comfortable coat to wear.
He slighted in his mental conundrum for a brief second, and his body acted totally involuntarily. He ran his right hoof through Stormy’s mane. Why? He didn’t know. It must be the aftereffects of his lingering drunk from last night.
Yup. That must have been it. Cleary he, in a sober state of mind, would never have done that.
“Mornin’.” The body beside him moaned softly.
Panic; like being caught by his parents with a PlayColt magazine in the outhouse that one summer after harvest, crept over him.
Now he had to deal with the situation.
What else was there to say?
Stromy’s semi-conscious body stirred again; this time rolling onto his side and towards him. His left hoof lifted, straightened and landed on Gentle Strokes’ lower thigh, gently rubbing the extremely tense muscles.
It bothered Gentle Strokes how comfortable he felt in this position.
“I... I have to go.”
No statement sounded more reasonable. This was not the place for him, so he had to leave. He had to run away. He had to escape. To forget that this had ever happened and then to move on with his life like it never had.
Weak? Upset? Disappointed? (And perhaps, understanding?) All these emotions were carried in Stormy’s tone.
Even half way asleep and, probably just as hungover as Gentle Strokes was, Stormy still maintained that air of flighty.....gayness? There was the slightest tinge of acceptance in his tone, that made Gentle Strokes feel a little uncomfortable with his decision.
“I’ve got... a class." He grumbled. "Or... I...”
Ok, so a reasonable, logical, excuse was out of the question. Honestly though, who could blame him? Picture yourself in his hooves: harsh sobriety tearing through his veil of alcohol induced nirvana. Him, being a once, presumably straight colt waking up in the bed of an outspoken and promiscuous Colt Cuddler. With foggy memories of the night before.
It seemed pretty obvious that an exit was mandatory.
“But... it’s a Saturday?”
Stormy’s response came off more confused than it did needy, or hurt.
To Stormy, the irony of the situation; being the other colt -- the one who got abandoned after a steamy drunken buck session -- was certainly not lost on him.
“I’ve got... study hall.”
It was Gentle Strokes’s turn to offer an evasive lie. See, even if he were king egghead on campus -- Which he certainly wasn’t -- and, even if he was attempting straight ‘A+’s’ across the board -- Which again, he wasn’t -- study hall, on a weekend, at Camden, given out as an excuse to leave a romantic partner's room after waking up was, well, clearly just an excuse to leave his current situation.
To Stormy this was probably heartbreaking, but he'd survive...
To Gentle Strokes however, this was just another night to write off. The unfortunate end to an evening spent downing far too many drinks, at a party he’d wished he’d never gone to with too much sexual frustration.
Yup. There was nothing Freudian or psychological about sleeping with another colt. It was just a one big drunken, horny mistake that meant absolutely nothing about him as a pony. He was still straight. Stormy was still gay. The grass was still green. The sky was still blue. Life moved on.
Gentle Strokes slid out of the bed and headed silently towards the door. In brief moment of weakness, he paused with his hoof on the doorknob and stared back at Stormy. There was a look about him; his face sunken (Which could also have come from a night of liver abuse and binge drinking) his eyes dampened (It was awfully bright in the room, too) and his head hung low like a foal in the corner of his classroom wearing a dunce cap.
For the briefest second in his recollection, Gentle Strokes felt like a monster for what he was doing.
Here was Stormy, an innocent bystander caught up in his unresolved personal demons. It wasn’t fair to drag Stormy into his lifetime's worth of regret and shame. He didn’t feel good about it. In fact, he felt worse about doing it than he’d felt about any of the other poor decisions he’d made over the past three months of his life, but, at least he had the rest of the day/week/month/year/lifetime to feel like an asshole about it.
Without a word, he opened the door and slipped into the hallway.
After his quick and hasty retreat, Gentle Strokes found himself wandering aimless around Camden. He didn’t want to go back to his room. Not after whatever had happened last night. Not because it wasn't a safe haven for him to sink into. Because it was. But chances were if he did he'd be walking into the scrutiny and cat-calling of his roommate (Who he never really liked to begin with).
Truthfully, it wasn’t like Au Revoir hadn’t himself ever spent a night in the same metaphorical boat that he was on now. It was just that, that boat was flying different sails and was heading in a different direction, was all. The thing was; Au Revoir’s late night rendezvous were the stuff he would/could proudly boast about. Whereas, right now; Gentle Strokes didn’t exactly feel proud enough about anything that had happened over the last twelve-hours to do the same.
In that vein; Gentle Strokes found himself lost in thought and drifting through Camden. Hallway after hallway. Field after field. Building after building.
Totally and completely aimless.
For the time he was content following this endless path. It kept him busy. All he had to do was keep his head down, stare at the ground and focus on one thing: Putting one hoof in front of the other. He didn’t need to think about his morning. He didn't have to think about how if Au Revoir knew where and how he'd spent his night, that by now half of Camden probably knew.
Right now, it was just one hoof in front of the other. Right hoof. Left hoof. Back right. Back left. Right. Left. Right. Left.
Rinse. Dry. Repeat.
After a few hours of pointless questing he found himself in The Theatre Department’s auditorium: The Black Hole. A place where ponies of all creeds who were bitten by the acting bug came to life on a twelve-by-twenty foot solid oak stage, three nights a week during runs of plays, and every Tuesday, Wednesday between 2:30 and 5:00, and most weekends in their down time.
Today. Saturday. Weekend rehearsal of some classic (in the loosest sense of the word; age -- more so than talent -- it would seem) Shakes Spear play.
Many a pony would assume, and that many would be incorrect in that assumption, that because he was raised on a farm, and in Dodge Junction, he had no proper education in and appreciation for works of arts that didn’t involve Cowponies at war with Buffalo Herds over land. Or, a brave Cowpony saving his hometown from evil cattle ranchers. Or....well, generally anything Cowpony related. Again, they (Whoever they were.) would be wrong in their assumption. In fact, it was a curiosity with more modern works of art (Which, in his opinion far surpassed the overrated much beloved work of Shakes Spear) that had brought him to Camden.
Well, sort of.
In his personal opinion, the silver tongue (tightly hidden in cheek) of colts like: O’Scar Wild, or better than that the philosophical underlying issues brought from quill and ink, to the stage of authors like Or-Son Welles, (Who’s standing masterpiece was the play adaptation of a script he’d written called Citizen Cane) far outranked Shakes Spear in terms of not only intellect but, wit, charm, pacing, character development, plot and also set pieces.
Not that any of it mattered here. No one would ever ask him to compare these works he was fond of, and, he wouldn’t want to share his thoughts in a place like Camden anyway.
In the furthest reaches of the auditorium, far from any potential prying eyes, Gentle Strokes kicked his lower hooves up on the empty chair in front of him and took a seat and, for the first time that day he began to relax. That was, until he spotted an uncomfortably familiar face in the crowd.
Trotting around onstage. wearing an outfit ripped straight out of any Canterlot designer's nightmare was Stormy’s wannabe coltfriend; White Mane (or whatever his name was).
He felt that same pang of guilt, discomfort and shame rush up his spine. Cold sweat began to build up and dampen his coat. Of course it made sense that on a campus of thirty thousand registered students, four hundred active professors, two thousand plus staff members and a non-stop barrage of visiting townies he’d have to keep running into the same five or six faces over, and over, and over, and, always in the least comfortable time and place.
The phrase ‘Murphy’s Law’ entered his mind.
Thankfully, White Mane didn’t spot him. Apparently, he was too wrapped up prancing around on stage (perhaps, ad-libbing? Not too many Shakes Spear plays involved prancing, or, at least not the ones he’d skimmed through.) wearing some ridiculously pompous and overinflated outfit.
It was that moment that Gentle Strokes quietly decided to make a hasty, and stealthy getaway for the second time that day.
So, it seemed that indulging in his personal hobbies wasn’t something he could find solace in today, and it just made sense that the gallery would be as filled with as many pretentious, hipsters who hated his art as it was any other day of the week; it went without saying that he needed to find a new rat's nest to crawl back into.
Habitually, Saltee’s Tavern was that rat's nest for him but, he was now three hours off the sauce by the approximation of the clock atop the U.C. Building and he felt he should try to keep up with his sobriety.
At least for the day.
Logically, if he wasn't going to follow his normal habit of getting good and liquored midday to escape his problems, he was gonna have to find a new vice. Drugs were out of the question (File that under 'Sobriety'....and he also didn't know anypony on campus who would have any, either.) and the only other thing he could think of was nature's favorite hangover cure; Coffee.
And there he was. At Monk's Coffee Shop. Him. The barista before him and a short exchange before he found himself with his coffee.
“Good morning.” The Barista offered.
She smiled warmly. He returned it and offered a reply.
Today, the word of the day was 'Simple'.
“Oh, hey... I know you." She offered back excitedly. "You beat up that Colt from Las Pegasus last night, right?"
Gentle Strokes grunted his response.
"Wow," She breathed. "Ponies have been talking about you all day."
Word travelled fast around Camden.
“Oh, boy.” He offered back. His tone as dry as his mouth felt at the moment.
It wasn’t the best reputation to take pride in, but, it certainly beat being known as ‘The Yokel from The Boonies’ or ‘Au Revoir’s hick roommate.’.
“Look. I just want you to know that I think what you did. Standing up for your boyfriend and his roomate like that. Well... a lot of ponies wouldn’t have done that.” She spoke warmly and it sounded like she was being genuine. “It was really sweet of you.”
Maybe word travelled too fast around Camden.
“He’s not my boyfriend... ” He grumbled. The dryness in his tone replaced with defeat and detachment.
The Barista’s eyes lit up softly, then dropped.
“Oh..." She Paused. Her eyes squinted in what was probably disbelief and her right eyebrow lifted "Really?"
Gentle Strokes nodded.
The Barista frowned.
"I'm sorry, I just assumed that you two were... something. I mean, he did sort of jump your bones afterwards. And, you didn't exactly get dragged back to his room kicking and screaming, either."
She gave a sly grin after that. Gentle Strokes stifled a groan.
This whole sobriety thing was starting to feel like a stupid decision.
“I guess it was one of those nights, huh?” She kindly enquired.
“I reckon it looks that way.”
“This coffee’s on me." She offered. "That Colt from Las Pegasus is a total freak. I heard he got some filly in my Equestrian History class to choke him with a belt. In bed. I mean... who even does that?”
Suddenly, the nickname Choke ‘N’ Stroke made a lot more sense.
“Um... sorry, how did you say you took it?” She questioned.
There was no way she had just asked him that. Plus, his flank didn’t hurt so whatever had happened during his sleepover with Stormy was platonic cuddling at best (And, totally non sexual.) Although, if it had been anything more -- and that was really where he had to ask and answer the harder questions -- he would have most certainly been ‘The guy’ and Stormy ‘The girl’.
Not that, that was what had happened, though.
“Oh, geez!” She paused and slapped a hoof to her forehead. “Sorry. Phrasing. I meant your coffee? How did you say you took your coffee?”
This awkward moment brought to you by phrasing.
“Lots of cream. Lots of sugar.”
“Really?” she gawked, curiously “I would have figured somepony like yourself would be a straight up ‘blacker than black’ kind of pony?”
“Why’s? Because I have an accent?”
“Well... kind of, yeah.” She smiled softly and moved towards a trio of coffee pots.
“What’s your brand?” She asked, turning back to him. “Personally, I’d stay away from the Fair Trade stuff; I love supporting Buffalo Herds as much as the next liberal hipster, but those poor Buffalo cannot brew a decent cup of coffee to save their lives. Or evidently, their land. The Gryphon stuff is nice. It’s kind of strong, but you look like you could use that.”
“Yeah. Sure.” He offered in response.
She poured the coffee -- Extra large. Extra strong. Two generous scoops of sugar. Two strong spoons of cream -- Then gently slid it towards him.
“You know; you're the only customer I've had in a while." She paused. "While I have the time, do you wanna talk about it?”
Wasn't it obvious that he wanted to avoid it like when you ran into a former Royal Guard on the street who was missing a hoof and wearing an eye patch and begging for spare bits with a sandwich board that read something like 'Ned Bits 4 famlee.' or 'So Hungry.'?
“Sure.” He gave in solemn response. “Why not?”
Three strong coffees, a decent caffeine buzz and an eye jittery sugar high later, and Gentle Strokes felt comfortable enough with the conversation to break down at least a few of his emotional barriers.
“Do you even like him?”
The Barista had been asking him these kind of intrusive questions over the past hour like she were some kind of Dime Store Detective interrogating him. 'Do you think he likes you?' 'How does he make you feel?' How do you feel about him?'
When did it become mandatory to have a Psyche Degree to make a latte?
“I know it’s kind of silly to ask but you two did spend a lot of last night......uh....you know? Being....close.”
He hardly hesitated with his response.
“Yeah. I do. Maybe not that way, but he is a really nice guy. I just don’t want to hurt him.” Gentle Strokes gave with a grumble as he dropped his head onto the table.
The Barista smiled at him.
“He comes in here a lot. We’re not really friends or anything but, he’s nice enough to me." She paused and gently swiped a lock of her mane away from her eye. "It’s the customers who leave decent tips, like him, that make this minimum wage crap worth it.”
They shared a quiet and simple laugh. Gentle Strokes gripped his coffee cup a little tighter, and picked his head up.
“I’m not very good at this kind of stuff.” He admitted softly. “I mean even with mares.”
“Well,” She took a pause; ran a hoof along the table while the other rubbed her chin, then spoke again. “if you’re really not interested in him you kind of owe it to him to let him know.”
“Yeah...” Somber response from Gentle Strokes.
The Barista gave a quiet laugh.
“I’ve taken one psyche course this semester and it’s already paying for itself.”
He gave a soft chuckle and felt resolution shine through. Once aimless, at least now he had purpose: Find Stormy and, do whatever it was he was going to do. Granted, it wasn’t a very good plan. In fact, it was hardly any good at all. Still, it was something more than what he'd started off with and he could just play it by ear like he usually did.
His muscle memory -- unlike his actual memory -- was clear enough from last night that he could most likely backtrack his way to Stormy’s dorm. It was about a stone's throw from his own building and about a twenty minute walk from Monk's. Now all he had to do was find Stormy.
The hunt was on.
Staring at the door of room twenty one twelve, Gentle Strokes felt choked. What was he going to do? Knock? (Well... that much was obvious.). Then what? Invite himself in and try to explain how a lifetime of self loathing had led to his alcoholism (Which, he’d kind of cured himself of) and then, how that alcoholism had led him to completely and totally disregarding his apparently insecure heterosexuality long enough for a totally gay one night stand? And, on top of all that, that maybe he might also like Stormy as more than a friend? Or, that maybe he didn’t?
Maybe he should just start with knocking?
So he did, and, like what usually happens when you knock on a door, seconds later it opened. Only, he wasn’t staring at a -- he could only imagine, bloodshot eyed, tear dampened, grey coated Earth Pony -- but, well an equally bloodshot eyed, apple red coated Pegasus. Jagged Horn. Stormy’s roommate. Only, he could imagine that his bloodshot eyes weren't from a day of crying into a pillow.
Gentle Stroke's nostrils pilled up with a distinctively skunky aroma as a billowing smoke cloud slowly escaped through the open doorway.
“Oh, shit...” Jag droned out. His eyelids were slacked halfway shut and there was a doped smile on his face as he stared at Gentle Strokes. “You’re pretty early, bro.”
Total and complete mental paralysis. Gentle Strokes could practically feel the contact high radiating off of Jag’s body.
“You’re dropping off the ounce of Trottingham Hay, right?” Jag questioned. “‘Cause I’m down to my last quarter of this Bud Light and that’s not gonna last me much past the rest of this album.”
Ok. One of the two of them was definitely missing something here? Jag had mistaken him for a drug runner. That much made sense. What didn’t make sense, was how Jag hadn’t recognized him as the pony who had saved his flank no more than eighteen hours ago. He wasn't that stupid.
“Oh, wait. I know you!” Ok, now it was sinking in. “You’re uh... Gentle Slaps, right? Stormy’s butt-buddy?"
Gentle 'Slaps' nodded.
"Oh, shit dude. You totally made Choke 'N' Stroke your bitch last night!"
Jag paused and ducked his head out of the doorway. He searched the hallway for a few moments, then with his head still ducked stared up at Gentle 'Slaps' with a foal-like smile.
"Wanna help me finish this quarter?"
Just because he’d sworn off alcohol, didn’t mean he had to swear off all intoxicants.
Twenty minutes into a Pinks Floyd album -- Dark Side Of Nightmare Moon. The B-Side with the heavier stuff -- and two grams short of a quarter. That's where they were now. Both of them on the futon. Neither of them speaking. Not in a rude way or anything like that. It was just... the moment felt nice enough as it was.
Wait, what was happening again?
Gentle Strokes was no stranger to fine herbs. Back in Dodge Junction any farm hoof worth his weight needed a little something to help start their day, carry them through it and then, end it off. Most ponies used booze (and he wasn’t ‘not’ one of them) but, the ones from out of town. The ponies from places like Ponyville -- or where ever -- they mostly used herbs. Only, they mixed it with tobacco in hoof rolled cigarettes and it was never as powerful as this stuff.
“Hey, Slaps?” Jag broke the silence.
The entire room looked like a team of arsonists had been perpetually lighting, extinguishing, relighting, extinguishing and relighting fires for the past half hour. The towel under the door was hardly air-tight and it seemed odd that no one had--An R.A, or some Egghead from across the hall--had called them out on it. Yet.
“What’s up with you, and Stormy?”
“I mean, I kind of think I know what happened between you two last night." Pause to pack a bowl. "You bucked, right?"
"But Stormy was all like... 'Time Of The Month' moody, all day." Jag sighed. "So, what happened; You couldn't keep it up or something?"
"You know, for a colt cuddler, Stormy is pretty cool. We don’t always see eye to eye, and I like to rip on him for being gay. But it's to rustle his feathers, you know? I’m pretty sure he’s been stealing lighters from the convenience store on campus, which, isn’t like a personality flaw or anything. I think he just likes to do weird stuff sometimes...”
“Nah man. He’s really not as bad as I’m making him out to be. I mean, he smokes a bit, and he’s kinda bucked a lotta colts... well, not like a lot of a lot. Just a few. Or, like, actually, none! Well, I guess you guys hooked up so there’s you. But no pony else! Seriously. He's not that kind of colt cuddler.”
“See the thing is...”
“He’s got a good heart. I don’t know what his family’s like or anything but I’ve kinda... well, read a few of the letters his pop sent him, and that guy seems like a real douche. He’s always telling him he ‘Should have gone to Coltlumbia’ and that he’s a disappointment and stuff. Total douchebag, really.”
“Yeah see, that’s kinda why...”
“I think he likes you, dude. I mean, of the small population of colts that he’s brought home, he’s never been this upset about one of them leaving in the morning. Plus, he was totally eye banging you at the party last night. He never does that. Ever.”
“...And, you know, for your sake, he’s also really into, like, poetry and stuff. Which is kinda lame, but, I mean you know. I think that’s his major, actually. Hey, now you have something to talk about, right?”
“...Well, I mean, that is if you two do anything. Shit, I dunno. I don’t even know if he’s the ‘dating’ type. I think he went out with this colt a while ago. But, that was like first year, and I’m not exactly sure how that ended...”
An abrupt pause and Jagged Horn seemed to piece together how moronic his rant had been.
“Did Stormy say where he was going?”
“Ugh. Sorry. Just, ignore me. My 'whole thing' is that I crave attention..."
“Huh?” Jag paused, then his eyes widened in realization “Oh, yeah. My bad, dude. Uh, he said something about some bar: ‘Salters’ or, ‘Stanlee’s?” I don’t know if that helps?”
“Yeah.” Gentle Strokes lifted himself, which took a mild bit of effort present situation considered, and moved towards the door. “And, uh... thanks?”
“No problem.” Jag grinned. Paused to think, then spoke again. "If you see a Zebra with a fat saddle bag in the hallway just tell him to knock before he comes in?"
It was only a matter of time before he’d end up back at Saltee’s tavern. Only, this time he wasn’t here to drink himself numb. No. Today he was at Saltee's wearing the coat of a brand new pony. He'd reinvented himself in the past howevermany hours and he wanted to show Stormy.
He entered the bar and drank in the scenery. It was a Saturday -- almost a quarter past six -- and Saltee’s was as hopelessly deserted as it ever was. The same sad old drunks filled the same sad old bar stools and booths. Only, this time, in their midst was the newest addition to the fold.
Slumped over a duo of empty tumblers, idly twirling the ice cubes in his third, was Stormy. His mane was a mess. Loose strands of black clung to his face with a combination of fresh and dried sweat. Deep black/purple raccoon rings had set under his eyes, and the dead somber look in his eyes led Gentle Strokes to believe that he looked about as bad as Gentle Strokes felt.
This wasn’t going to be easy.
Then again, anything in life worth doing the proper way never was.
He approached wordlessly. He would like to have said something to add some kind of melodramatic effect but the truth was he didn’t exactly know how to approach Stormy.
Drunk or, at least drunk-ish Stormy could be victim to any number of extremely irritable emotions seeing Gentle Strokes. He could explode in his face with anger and malice. Drunkenly venting to a company of equally broken ponies about how Gentle Strokes was the reincarnation of some demon for abandoning him like he had. Or, he could just as easily create a makeshift knife out of a tumbler smashed against the bar counter and make repeated stabs at his throat until he felt relieved enough to sit back down and light a cigarette.
Either way. Gentle Strokes deserved what was coming to him.
On his way to Saltee’s he’d come to a decision. About himself. About Stormy. About the two of them. About how he felt about them being ‘the two of them.’ He wanted -- on top of apologizing profusely -- to make Stormy happy and he had an idea about how to do that.
It wasn’t a comfortable idea at first, and he was a little more than worried that based on everything that had happened over the past six or seven hours Stormy might be a little less receptive to what he had to say than he might have been if Gentle Strokes hadn’t callously abandoned him. That seemed pretty clear.
At first it seemed totally out of the blue. He'd started the day uncomfortably, and all he wanted to do was get as far away from Stormy as he possibly could. Then, the more he thought about it, and reflected on it the more he realized he was only lying to himself; Not once did find the idea of sleeping with a stallion so revolting it made him ill. Just uncomfortable, and even then, that might have been more the ‘shock and awe’ of a one night stand. For all he knew, if he’d woken up in bed beside Crimson instead of Stormy he could have had the same reaction.
He didn’t have to fool himself any more. He didn’t need to stare at his reflection in a mirror and say it out loud to himself a hundred and one times to accept it. He didn’t need to be reflective and attend support groups to come to terms with it. The plain and simple truth was, after everything was said and done, and the dust settled: He liked Stormy.
He was attracted to Stormy.
He was gay for Stormy.
Now, all he had to do was make that as clear to Stormy as it was to himself, and then, see where it led from there.
Still silent when he finally reached him, Gentle Strokes took a seat beside Stormy and softly offered the first and only thing that came to mind.
Stormy turned to him and smiled, softly.
An air of awkward silence filled the bar. It wasn’t like there were any lively or spiritually uplifting conversations happening between one sad old drunk to the other around them. More of the same “I should have told her how I really felt....” or “You know, I really could have been a somepony?” sad, melodramatic, murmurs that could be heard in any other bar, in any other town in any other part of Equestria.
The same thing could be said about the conversation they were about to have.
“Can I buy you a drink?” Stormy asked, taking his turn to break the awkward silence. His smile brightened a bit and he waved for The Bar Mare.
“Um,” Gentle Strokes stopped to clear his throat (Yeah, try doing that about a million more times and see if it makes this situation any less awkward.) “I’m actually trying to dry out a bit, so maybe just a soda or something?”
Stormy’s little smile sunk a bit, and he returned his gaze to his drink, then back to Gentle Strokes.
“That makes sense.” Softly. Almost a whisper. That same fake smile growing wider. “I guess after the morning you had and all...”
Thank Celestia the bar mare came with a glass of ginger ale when she did. Celestia bless her supernatural knowledge of which drink the customer wanted to be served, and when, without ever having to have been said a word too. Apparently Unicorns weren’t the only ponies with natural magic; portly looking bartenders outside of Camden seemed gifted in it as well.
What was there to say? How could he start a conversation like this off naturally? How could he tell the pony that he’d less than ten hours ago woken up too next in bed, after a gay one night stand, who he then coldly abandoned without a proper reason, or excuse, that, despite all the above, he’d actually spent the better part of his Saturday coming to terms with his feelings, and now wanted to share them with him?
Now seemed as good a time as any to launch into a long winded monologue about his life.
“When I was a still a foal, back in Dodge Junction; My dad... Well, he used to push me to be the best pony I could be. Because, in Dodge Junction you need to be the best pony you can be to survive. I spent the first fourteen years of my life training for what I thought was going to be my life. I worked ten, sometimes twelve, hour days from the day I could buck a tree until I came here, working, sweating, and bleeding. In the cold. In the heat. Day in and day out. I did it because I thought that’s all my life would ever be: Work. The farm. My family and Dodge Junction.
I never thought I’d look at a sunset one evening and think to myself that it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and that I wish there was a way I could hold on to that moment forever. I never thought that the general store would have paints brushes and easels hidden away in the back, or that I’d get a Cutie Mark in something other than farming, either.
I never even thought that I’d like painting. It was just... some stupid idea I had in my head. Just a little hobby to take my mind off of things at the end of the day. I never thought about applying to an arts school. I never even thought about going to college, hells, I barely made it through high school. But, I tried and, I got accepted to Camden. I earned enough money working twice as long and hard as I’d ever worked before, for an entire year just to get here. And, I did it all because I thought it would make me happy.”
He paused, briefly to take a sip of his soda. He glanced at Stormy, whose sullen and drained look had been replaced with one of interest and intrigue. It brought a smile to Gentle Strokes’ face.
“When I came here I was just a stupid yokel from the boonies. No one knew where Dodge Junction was on a map, even my geography professors had a hard time pointing it out. All these art students would laugh at my hick accent, and, all these mares would go out with me for a week until the thrill wore off and they moved on to the next exotic pony. My roommate was... well, my roomate is a total jackass. He doesn’t try to understand me and, I don’t try to understand him; We’re not even friends. I don’t even think that I have any friends here. I spent the better part of the last three months just....being alone. I had no one. No drinking buddies. No eggheads to copy notes off of. No one to talk too. All I had was my family back home. I wrote to them, and they wrote back, but it wasn’t the same. I never used to drink, at least, not like I did here. I just needed something in my life.”
Eyes wide and brows raised in interest. Stormy was clinging to every word wrapped in history, lore and misery that came out of Gentle Strokes mouth.
“And then I met you. And you forced yourself into my life. Not to poke fun at the dumb hick, and laugh at him and his stupid accent, but... because you cared. I needed that. I needed a friend. I needed somepony and you were more than that pony. I just didn’t know it... then.”
Gentle Strokes paused and turned to Stormy. Their eyes locked and he felt himself do something that three months ago -- Hells, three weeks ago -- he wouldn’t have ever done before in his life. But, now, sitting here and staring into Stormy’s soft gentle eyes; it felt right.
He placed his hoof gently atop of Stormy’s and cupped it, softly.
It wasn’t even that romantic. It wasn’t a passionate kiss that would sweep him off his hooves like in some bad romance novel his mom would read. It wasn’t a confession of love shouted from the rooftops of the tallest building. It wasn’t even all that much...
But, it was a start.
“Sometimes," He stopped, licked his lips and continued. "Sometimes you tell yourself a lie for so long that you start to believe it.”
Stormy. The look on his face was absolutely absurd. He looked like a foal getting an early Hearts Warming Eve present. His eyes were wide. His pupil’s looked like a cat getting a belly rub and a smile that was so soft and genuine built up that it made everything Gentle Strokes had said, and done seem so worth it.
“Would you... like to have dinner with me, Stormy?”
Every single drunk, The Bar Made and, maybe even Saltee himself were all probably knocked a few octaves deafer as the victims of the loudest (And happiest) ‘YES!’ ever shouted in Saltee’s Tavern.