Oh to be Old Again

by Minalkra

32 - Soap and the Flavors Of

"Bruce, you're being ridiculous," Rarity said despite the fact that she was holding me steady at the sink. I blew more soap out of my nose in an attempt at agreement. Turns out that running in a panic to the nearest bathroom - a mare's bathroom - and pouring liquid soap on your snout to 'scrub away the filth' is not a good start to a foster parent-son relationship. The wail of pain that followed and the pair of mares shouting after you as they burst in didn't help matters.

That poor nurse that tried to come in was going to be traumatized for life.

Rarity sighed and whispered softly to herself, "Bruce, what am I going to do with you?"

"'elp me get in touc' wit' da Brincess." Trying to talk with water still flowing out of your nose is hard. The taste of the stuff didn't help matters at all. I snorted and huffed, finally clearing my sinus passages enough to talk normally. "And I want to apologize for running off like that. The mental image startled me like you wouldn't believe."

I saw Spring in the mirror turn and shoot a smile my way as a neatly folded towel floated just behind my head. Cloth towels. In a restroom. In a hospital. I suppressed a shudder and reminded myself that ponies are still a few years away from paper towel technology. And disinfectant spray. No wait, there it was.

"Bruce ... thank you." Rarity shuffled a bit on her hooves. I couldn't see her face through the terry cloth but I heard the keratin hitting tile. She sounded relieved and I couldn't blame her that much. With whatever rumors had been circling the not-so-small town about me and the undoubtedly awful (if true) things Spring must have told her, I doubt that Rarity was looking forward to our relationship.

She continued as she dropped the cloth over my face. Ew! Bathroom cloth! "Though you ought to ask to use the restroom rather than hurry into the first you see. And a mare's room at that." I heard a feminine chuckle from one of the stalls and I blushed under the towel.

"Okay!" I wiggled a bit in Rarity's grasp and she let me down gently, whisking away the washcloth. My creepy wide grin and pinprick eyes must have said something I didn't want them to because Spring and Rarity both took a nervous step back. "Let's get out of here before I mess up any other mare's life."

With a nod towards the closed stall, I trotted just outside the door. And waited. I wanted to walk off to Spring's 'talking room' on my little lonesome but we had just had this conversation about 'proper behavior' and I figured I should at least put in the effort.

"Sooo, about the Princess ..." I said, trying to very subtly shift the conversation that way. Spring was finishing up the legalese paperwork that would put me in Rarity's hooves for the time being which left her and I to wait ... in the waiting room. I didn't really question where we were going. I had more on my mind at the time.

Rarity 'hmm'd politely at me as she levitated a pair of knitting ... things and did something with them. I think it was called knitting but it didn't look like any knitting I had ever seen. The 'needles' were these super small hooks with rings on them where the yarn sat. I yanked my eyes off the now still set of hooks and back to Rarity. Who was beaming at me.

"Quite good, isn't it?" She waggled some patch of yellow knitted thing at me. "I'm not done yet but I have high hopes for them."

"Yes, wonderful." I looked at the small tube thing for a moment and then back to her smiling face. "What is it?"

Her face fell a fraction of an inch. "A set of socks, silly."

"Socks?" The things were tiny! They might fit on my hooves but not ... hers. Then it hit me. She was knitting me a pair of socks. Rarity. Knitting me socks. Holy hells, Rarity was going to be my foster mother.

"Yes, socks." We looked at each other for a moment as my mind raced. Rarity. An OCD unicorn germaphobe was going to be my foster mother. On the down side, she was Rarity and I wasn't exactly the epitome of neatness and propriety. On the upside, however, Sweetie Belle was going to be my foster aunt (and that would hopefully end at least her schoolyard crush on me) and I was a half step closer to the Princess.

Rarity began to shift her eyes around the room as a smile grew on my face. A very wide smile. No it wasn't creepy, what are you talking about?

"And done!" Spring's voice from nearby jerked me out of my hopeful dreams of a quick resolution. She ignored my yelp of fright and 'winged' over a folder of documents to Rarity. "He is now in your care, Ms. Belle."

Rarity bit her lip as she looked at the folder in her aura. My heart started to sink as I saw worry and doubt creep across her face. If Rarity was having second thoughts ... she closed her eyes and I shared a glance with Spring. We both were having the same thoughts and I took a deep breath. No matter what happened, I would not panic. I would not scream. I would get home.

I would.

And as suddenly as the doubt came, it passed. Rarity's eyes snapped open and she smiled at the counselor. Who let out a held breath the same time I did. "Thank you, Spring. Now come along Bruce - let's get home."

"Huh?" Back to your old self again I take it, brain?

"Uhm, aren't I supposed to be in bed or something?" The cool night air made me shiver a bit as Rarity led me through the hospital doors. It was fairly late from the looks of things. The hospital was lit electrically (or magically) but the way the lights of the nearby town twinkled in the twilight hours told me that it was a special circumstance of some sort. The steady glow of the waiting room seemed so modern compared to the more rustic look of the surrounding buildings but for some reason, I was drawn more towards the town than the building behind me. No matter how much the hospital should have reminded me of home, there was something that didn't feel right about it.

The town winked at us in the distance and we both paused at the edge of the pool of light from the overheads. Ponyville was serene and peaceful and for a moment, I could forget. It was just me. Just me and a rustic little farm town ... and I just knew something bad was going to happen. I gave Rarity a questioning look and tried valiantly to suppress a yawn. "Ahhh-ya know, diphtheria and all that?"

"Oh no, Bruce." Rarity glanced in my direction before turning her eyes back towards the darkness. "The doctors' cleared that up - purging spells are wonderful when they are available. True, you'll be slightly contagious for a few days but the worst of it is over. And thank the Pastures. Hospitals are always so icky."

"Icky?" That was what I focused on - 'icky.' Not the unknown spells that these crazy doctors threw at me. Nope, 'icky.' Still on that ball.

"Well, the sickness and germs and such. Icky." Again with the mane-fluff. I was growing suspicious of her a bit - she seemed aware of her own quirks. Even slightly embarrassed by them. I didn't get the same 'off' feeling that Derpy had given me but it was a bit strange. She knew how silly she was being sometimes but couldn't help herself.

"Riiight. So, what was that about the doc-"

"Hey Bruce?" A familiar pink pony popped in from the darkness no more than two steps away - giving both Rarity and I a start. Ok, Rarity had a start, I had a yelp. A girly yelp. And I refuse to confirm or deny if I temporarily hid between her legs.

After the excitement died down - and my heart rate had returned to semi-normality - I could tell something was wrong. There was a tension. Rarity was standing a bit stiff and Pinkie's normal exuberance ... I couldn't help but focus on her. She looked a bit sad but the smile on her face was warm regardless.

"Pinkie, what ever are you doing out so late at night?" Rarity gave her a quick nuzzle which was returned a bit hesitantly. Pinkie shuffled on her hooves nervously before replying. Her posture was hunched.

"I was hoping to say goodbye to Bruce." The way she said that, it was like her puppy had died. Her hair wasn't as curly as it normally should have been and even Rarity's face fell a bit. She wasn't 'crushed' but she was sad. Pinkie Pie was sad. Again. Good job Bruce! "I hate it when I have to say goodbye to friends."

That would not stand! I joined the pair of mares, took a deep breath ... and hugged the pink party pony. "It's not goodbye, Pinkie." I felt her tense in my arms before going a bit slack and returning the hug. "It's 'see you later.'"

"Thanks Bruce." The thanks was much appreciated but the kiss on my forehead was a little much. And the scrubbing I was giving the area sent her into giggles. "I - I hate saying goodbye so much. I'm sor-"

"No." I pulled back from her chest and looked her dead in the eye with as much seriousness as I could muster. It wasn't much but it was there. "You didn't do anything wrong Pinkie - I did. And I'm sorry. Sorry that I hurt you, sorry that I hurt the Cakes, sorry th-"

I trailed off as Pinkie renewed her hug. And then Rarity joined in. No more mistakes, Bruce. These are pony's lives, not random characters in a bad fanfiction. We stood like that for a short time until Pinkie pulled away. Hey, I managed to hug Pinkie into submission! That's something off my bucket list. I looked up and while she still seemed sad, she wasn't so grim. She gave me another quick squeeze and Rarity a wave before pronking out into the night. For a pony so bright, she sure could blend into the darkness far too well. Her humming gave her away though.

I stood for a minute as the night breeze blew past me. It smelled like ... well, like dirt with a hint of grass clippings. But it was clean and it was pretty fresh. Rarity's voice pulled me from trying to wax poetic on the night again.

"That was rather nice of you Bruce." I didn't turn to look at her but I could hear the smile in her tone. I shrugged back, still wanting to go on about how fresh everything seemed. That and I didn't want to ruin the moment by opening my mouth - though a yawn escaped for the second time that night. Eventually, she walked over and nudged me. "Come along, it's rather late."

With that, we both trotted into the darkness - the darkness of a fresh, new start. Of potential and unending possibility. Of a new chance. Of the sky right before dawn.

"Ow! Sonnuva-" And apparently of hard-to-see fences.

The walk from the hospital had been slightly awkward. I hadn't had time to broach the subject of the Princess again. Well, I had the time but no idea how to do it after my string of invectives. And it didn't help I was in hot water for my language once again.

"I already said I was sorry." I was pouting and I knew it. After my 'little stumble' and the string of colorful language that followed, Rarity had insisted I turn in as soon as we got to her Boutique. It wasn't that bad really. She didn't yell, she didn't get upset - though her face did turn a delightful shade of pink at the 'son of a whore' part - she was just forceful and insistent.

I just didn't want to go to bed yet. As I said, pouting.

"Yes, and I appreciate that Bruce. But you must learn more self-control." Rarity shook her key a few times in my general direction before she turned back and resumed her search for the keyhole.

We were standing outside her Boutique and man was it dark. I would have loved to go on about what it looked like but without street lights it just looked like an indistinct blog of slightly-more-dark. That and I was just a wee bit tired from all the excitement that had been happening lately. After a few mumbled words - some of which I'm sure I had used in the 'fence incident' - Rarity 'ah-hah'd and pushed open the front door.

"Welcome to Chateau du Belle!" A flick of a switch and .. was that gas I smelled? Another click and lights burst into being around the periphery. Gas lights. Shaped like prancing ponies. That should set the tone at least.

As close to the show as this place had been, Rarity's Boutique was something ... else. It was larger than the show ever tried to display, that much was certain. The main room was a combination showroom floor and living area - a set of fitting rooms (WHY?! Ponies are naked ALL THE TIME!) and a raised dais looked a bit off near a set of plush overstuffed chairs positioned just so near a fireplace. Mannequins (ponnequins?) with very frilly dresses intermixed with cabinets displaying various bric-à-brac from a busy life, posters and photos showing obvious models next to those old time-y half-color photos of Rarity and her family together on the same shelf ... it was strange. The place where Rarity's work stopped and her home-life began just wasn't there. It all mixed together - her life and her career were one and the same. I lifted a hoof to step in and-

"Ah-ah-ah! Remember our rules, Bruce." Rarity pointed with a hoof at the colorful 'Welcome' mat ('Bonjour' mat, properly) I was standing on and smiled. "Four times on both mats to ensure a clean and happy home!"

I wasn't even in the door yet and already I could smell the trainwreck a'comin'.

I didn't get a good look at the downstairs as Rarity bundled me upstairs as soon as I was 'properly cleaned.' Which meant about a minute of me flailing at the welcome mat. I can walk just fine but trying to do some kind of weird two-step on a small mat ended up with me flat on my face about a half dozen times. Rarity's encouragement didn't help.

Ok, it helped a little.

There was little to the tour - it amounted to 'downstairs, facilities and your room' - and as soon as we had entered 'my' room, I winced. The upstairs matched the ground floor in color and decor - lavender pastel-y walls, white trim, fainting couch. Couches. In fact, it seemed to be-

"I do apologize for the decor, Bruce." Rarity was busy levitating a stack of bed linens out of a closet but she turned to face me as her magic neatly unfolded a set of unfitted sheets. "I know it's not a 'colts room' but this was a bit sudden for the both of us. I promise we'll get something more suited to your tastes soon and we'll turn this old sitting room of mine into a room fit for a proper colt."

"Rarity, the entire town is covered in hearts and pastels," I stepped back as a pillow set floated a bit too close to my head, "it's not that big a deal. I haven't lost my diii-"

"What was that darling?" Everything stopped in mid flight. She knew what I was going to say but I hadn't said it yet. I swallowed my normal word-choice down and tried again.

"I, uhm, I can get used to it." And as suddenly as everything had stopped it all started back up again. The twin couches and coffee table were floated over against a wall - one at a time as Rarity grunted a bit with the effort - while a fold-out bed was set up and covered in lace-trimmed satin sheets.

Yes, satin. Real silk satin, not that polyester crap that passes itself off as satin. I ran a hoof over it as Rarity busied herself in tucking away some odds and ends behind me. It was soft, light and really well made. As an aside, feeling things with a hoof is super weird. They're like giant fingers except harder and the nail is on the bottom instead. No, I still don't know how it works. Magic.

"Yes," Rarity said, making me jump slightly in surprise at her sudden voice, "a very nice set of clean sheets for the tired little colt."

I tried to protest but a yawn caught me off guard at the 'But' part. And without a second thought, Rarity ... magicked me up to lift me into bed. I got half an inch off the floor before I could react. I have to say, it was perhaps the most calm and gentle reaction known to pony-yes, I panicked!

"AHHH!" With flailing hooves and a scream of terror I panicked. There was much panic. Not only was I being hefted above the ground but I didn't even have the comfort of a nose in my crotch to let me know I wasn't in danger of plummeting to my death! All of ... an inch to my death but still - I might be a little scared of heights. Just a bit.

Thankfully, my terrified scream broke Rarity's concentration and I fell the small distance to the floor. I managed to catch myself gracefully with only a small stumble but me bolting under the bed was entirely unintended. I blame instinct.

"Bruce!" Rarity yelled, her head peeking under the bed and her face full of concern. "I am so sorry!" I looked back at her with a perfectly normal and cautious face. A bit wide eyed but normal regardless. Rarity clucked her tongue at me and she sighed.

"Are you okay Bruce?" I nodded as well as I was able, taking a deep breath to calm my racing heart. Stupid unicorns grabbing things willy-nilly - haven't they ever heard of personal space? Before she could continue, I waved her back a bit and crawled out from under the cot-thing.

"Warn me next time please, Miss Rarity." I may have been a bit colder than I should have been - but in my defense she startled the living daylights out of me. The way her face fell a bit at my tone didn't even register in my mind. "I don't like being manhandled -er, 'ponyhandled' without being warned."

Rarity sighed and nodded. "Marehandled. And I will do my best, Bruce. I cannot promise I won't snatch you out of danger's way without warning, however."

"Well, that's fine I suppose." I shook like a dog - ponies do that I hope - and cleared my throat. "I might scream again but I can't blame you for that."

We stood there in awkward silence for a bit - me pointedly not looking at my new foster mother and her fluffing her mane and not looking at me. A perfect end to a perfect day.

"C-can I help you to bed, Bruce?" Rarity's question was expected but I didn't know how to respond. I kept my face turned from her as I thought, 'hmm'ing to let her know I wasn't saying no. Beds had given me trouble since the first day I had been in Equestria and I had no reason to believe this cot was going to be any different. But Rarity's help would involve me flying through the air under her power and I was still really nervous about that. You know, being completely and totally under someone else's control and all.

I swallowed a strange lump in my throat.

"Be gentle." Ok, that sounded a lot better in my head. Actually, with that, I managed to make an already awkward situation just a tad bit more creepy. I snapped my eyes to her wide-eyed and shocked face. "I mean, the magic! And - floating. Not, no. Not that! I didn't mean it like that!"

We both lapsed into silence again. I pawed at the ground nervously while in the background, I heard a clock somewhere give a long series of happy chimes. Ten o'clock. It was later than I had realized. The sound was accompanied by a slow exhalation from Rarity.

"No magic, Bruce." Before I could wonder about why she specified that, she tucked her nose up under my barrel and pushed me up off the ground. Again with the sudden 'marehandling' but I was more ready for it then I had been for magic-floaty-adventure. She grunted a bit - rather unladylike - but between an instinctual twist from me and her freakin' weirdly strong neck muscles, she managed to get me deposited safely on the cot. A flurry of mouths and hooves later and I was tucked under the sheets.

"Comfy Bruce?" I nodded at her question, though my front hooves seemed to have a mind of their own as they clutched and released the precisely folded edge of the sheet. Nervousness tinged with fear. My mind was cataloging my own body language - perfect. She noticed but said nothing, motioning towards the door with a soft smile. "My room is further down the hall to the left outside of your room. Come get me if you need anything."

And then she leaned down and kissed my forehead before walking out the door and flicking the lights off as she left. She stood at the door, framed in the hall lights for a moment - a grey pony shape against a bright lavender backdrop.

"Good night Bruce. Sweet dreams." She had closed the door and was gone by the time my mind had started again.

"And we are off to a fan-fucking-tastic start. And I'm not even all that tired."

I was asleep within minutes.