• Published 1st Jun 2013
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Legend - Radiant Dawn

He was an average man in nearly every sense of the term, but his entire life is flipped upside-down when a push for a paycheck turns into something unexpected...something much more.

  • ...

Chapter 21: "...Round and Round"

Chapter 21: "...Round and Round"

One thing that I hadn't thought about much was the fact that ponies ate a lot of hay. Of course they could eat many of the same things as humans as far as fruits and vegetables went, but I had overlooked the fact that while ponies were about as different from traditional Earth horses as I was, some things did carry over between the two species. Like seriously, they have hay in almost everything that's pre-packaged, and for a healthy digestive system, they needed to eat a lot of it per day. There was even a restaurant called Hale and Hearty Bales of Barley, which in addition to barley and oats was known for its copious amounts of readily-available hay-themed dishes; most of the drinks even contained hay, which was a pain when Twilight or one of the other girls wanted to take me out somewhere, since it was one of the only restaurants around town that I didn't need to crouch just to fit without hitting my head on the ceiling.

Anyway, the amount of hay a pony needed in their diet was a problem for me because even after living in Equestria for such a length of time, I still hadn't quite gotten down preparing hay as part of a meal. More often than not, I included it on a separate plate that those I was preparing for (which, more often than not, was just Twilight) could add to their meals as desired. I also kept it separate since I was usually a part of said meals, and though I was approximately only half-human now, my digestive system still couldn't digest things like hay, grass, or flowers.

Let's just say that because of all that, I rather enjoyed Spike and I's scheduled days like today when we went out and hunted in the Everfree for wild game.

Speaking of the little dragon, as our morning together progressed (with Shudder sitting silently off to the side, reading), Twilight explained to me just how much Spike looked up to me as a sort of older brother figure. True that Shining Armor had originally taken that role, but with the prince-consort being away so often it was rare he was around Spike enough for them to really bond. Because of that (and, of course, the fact that I lived with him), Spike had slowly placed me in that position in his mind. I had never had a younger brother before, but I have to admit that the thought of a dragon looking up to me like that was pretty nice.

After breakfast I advised Twilight to gather all of our mutual friends together later on, though I wouldn't divulge to her why. She seemed a bit put off at my secretive request, but agreed before she left to handle her errands, while I prepared to go to work and hopefully give amazing service to one Fleur de Lis, which would make me look great to both her and ponies as a whole, which would make my life here better and easier and...

Well, you get the idea.

"Ugh, this is going to be so boring!" Shudder whined, breaking the character of what I assumed a high-rank royal guard should be like.

I rolled my eyes and playfully slapped the arm of the pony flying by my side. "Quit your bitching, Shudder. I'll give you a hoofrub if you behave." A smile grew on the face of my personal guard and she nodded ecstatically.

Apparently hoof rubs felt a lot better than I assumed they did, but it wasn't something I could really empathize on, having fleshy feet and all. I did know, however, that though I was expected to be thorough with my work, there were certain areas of a pony that, while not necessarily sex-oriented, were considered off-limits -- for example, a pegasus' wings and a unicorn's horn. I had learned said lesson the awkward way when I'd thought a certain shy pegasus would enjoy a good wing massage, only to have Fluttershy squeak and blush while jumping away as if I'd just slapped her ass.

Suffice to say I'd gotten the lowdown from Twilight that very day, and apologized profusely to my victim...but there was one thing Twilight had never actually answered for me:

"Hey Shudder," I began nonchalantly as we continued the short trek to the spa, "why exactly are pegasi so protective of their wings?"

The guard raised her brow and asked, "You mean besides the fact they're attached to us?" I nodded. "Well, most pegasi work very hard on keeping their wings clean and in good working order, and it takes a lot of time and effort to get them that way. Needless to say we don't trust just anypony with them, which is why it's considered such an intimate place on a pony's body, since for most of us at least, it's what makes us who we are as pegasi."

"And unicorn horns are the same, I imagine?" I half-questioned aloud.

Shudder nodded, flitting to my other side. "Yes, but they're also very sensitive to sensation when they have magic running through them. For most it can downright hurt if somepony touches their horn when they're casting a spell."

I nodded. "I see. I never really thought to question the why since I've simply learned that both are big no-no's." I chuckled a bit, shaking my head. "I honestly thought there was something intimate about it, really."

Shudder bobbed her head from side to side as she considered her answer. "Well...there is and there isn't. It's not intimate in the sense that touching a pony's wings or horn would immediately turn them on or something; it's more of a trust thing. As much as I think it's great that most ponies don't define themselves simply by the fact that they can fly or cast spells, they are still a large part of what makes a pony who they are."

I nodded slowly, biting my lip. "I think I did a bad thing then." Shudder glanced at me from the corner of her eye, silently requesting me to continue, so I sighed and did so. "About a week and a half ago I was spending time with Twilight in the open field near Sweet Apple Acres, just messing around for the most part. It was shortly after that whole thing with Twilight trying to spend some personal time with Cadence, but Discord kept screwing it up." I shrugged, remembering just how stressed out my alicorn friend had been that week. "Needless to say she needed to unwind, so I recommended we go out and spend some time just relaxing."

Shudder nodded with a smirk. "I see...and I assume it was a pain to get her to do that without scheduling it a month ahead of time, right?"

I shrugged again. "Not really; I just picked her up and carried her out of the library while Spike laughed the entire time. I might not be as strong as a pony as far as the ratio of weight to power is concerned, but you all are really light -- like the weight of a medium-sized dog really, which is odd seeing as how you're all at least three feet tall." I chuckled at Shudder's pouted lip before continuing. "Anyway, I pretty much just packed a small basket of snacks and dragged her away from her books toward the field. Maybe I'm an asshole for using it against her, but I know Twilight wouldn't risk hurting me even to escape my grasp, so I knew there wasn't much she could do. After arriving, I made her sit her rump down and asked her to tell me about what she'd been researching the last week." I sighed and shook my head wearily. "Bad idea."

"She got mad?" Shudder questioned curiously.

I shook my head. "No, just the opposite. What I didn't know was that I'd basically jumped headfirst into a four-hour long conversation about a bunch of stuff I didn't even remotely understand, and it was all I could do to just nod and look like I wasn't bored. I actually think I blacked out at one point."

Shudder nodded a few times slowly before muttering, "So...you took Princess Twilight on a date then."

If I'd have been drinking or eating, I would have choked to death.

"W-what?" I sputtered, actually tripping over my own feet and almost falling.

Shudder glanced at me and smirked. "Well I'm no expert or anything, but here are the facts of what you've told me: you took her out to a secluded spot and actually asked her about her day, you spent hours with her and made sure she enjoyed herself, and even made her food." She moved forward and placed a hoof on my shoulder, which was easy for her to do since I had stopped in shock. "Jamie, that was a date. You, a male in Equestria, took Princess Twilight on a date...and I don't care how nerdy she may be, I'm pretty sure she realized it too after you two got home."

I stood completely still for a few moments, my mouth just hanging open before, "Why the hell didn't she tell me?"

Shudder shrugged. "You know the princess better than I do, but from what I've heard she has a tendency to freak out when she's surprised with something really important. My guess is that she either felt embarrassed about not realizing it herself, or didn't want to embarrass you. I don't know exactly how much she told you about courting practices in Equestria but it's extremely rare for a stallion to ask a mare on a date." Before I could ask another question Shudder waved a hoof at me and said, "But that's neither here nor there, and it's something we can discuss later. Right now, I want to know what this 'bad thing' you did was, and why you think it was bad."

While I wanted to thoroughly question the pegasus about how she would have felt in Twilight's situation -- if only to get some heads-up on how I needed to address this -- I sighed and prepared to continue my story, though I threw a glare Saiian's way since she was giggling at my misfortune. "Well, when we were sitting up on the hilltop watching Spike play with a few younger colts and fillies that happened to be in the area, Twilight was sitting next to me with her head on my knee as I leaned against a tree and read a book, just enjoying the calm atmosphere of autumn." I then stopped and went off on a bit of a tangent. "By the way, since I've never directly said it to you before, my kind is not nearly as affectionate as yours is. The whole scratching behind the ears, running my fingers through your mane -- those are things I would normally do to a pet if I had one."

"Did you just compare ponies to pets again?" Shudder grumbled. "Seriously, we're totally diff- oh Celestia, that's good."

Shudder was rudely (though pleasantly) interrupted as I began scratching behind her right ear, and she almost purred as she leaned into the touch. I restrained a laugh at just how unknowingly cute ponies could be.

Shudder lost herself to a good ear-scratch for a few moments before gathering herself and pushing my arm away. "Stop that! That's not fair and you know it!"

I shrugged, wiggling my fingers as I theatrically inspected them and held my hand in the air. "I swear by the stars that I will only use this power for good...mostly."

Shudder glared at me for a moment before asking, "So what was this bad thing you did again? I get the distinct impression you're deflecting."

I shook my head. "Not deflecting, I just have a degenerative condition that causes me to be unable to stop from jumping from one subject to ano-"

"ADD is not degenerative, Jamie." Shudder interrupted dryly. "It's a nuisance at best, and some of the best royal guards have it; get to the point."

My eyes widened in surprise. "Ponies have that condition?" A glare was my answer, followed by a rolling of her hoof as she encouraged me to continue. "Right, right...anyway, Twilight was chilling out and I was running my hands through her mane as we enjoyed the weather when suddenly her wing started twitching." Shudder's eyebrow raised, but she kept silent as we continued walking (flying, in her case) and talking. "I asked Twilight what was wrong and she said her wings were sore, so I slipped my hand under the base of the one not laid against me and worked my fingers against it."

Shudder suddenly circled around to my face, hovering just in front of me. "And she let you?"

I furrowed my brow at the guard. "If you keep stopping me I'm going to be late to work...but yes, she did."

"Did you ever try to touch Rainbow Dash's wings before?" Shudder asked, which didn't surprise me since I'd told her Dash and I shared a bed from time to time.

I shrugged. "One time my finger strayed while we were settling down for bed, and she freaked out. I just passed it off as the way she was though, because she's weird about ponies touching her hooves too."

Shudder moved to the side to allow us to continue our short journey, bud fixed me with a skeptical eye. "And she didn't explain to you why she freaked?"

I shook my head. "Nope, she just said be careful not to touch her wings. Twilight didn't say anything other than that it felt good, so I figured it was just a weird thing that Dash has with her wings -- which I can understand, considering flight is so important to her."

Shudder shrugged and glanced away into empty space. "Which means Princess Twilight either knew what it meant to pegasi and still trusted you enough, or she didn't know and was just enjoying the attention." She glanced to me with a smile. "I wouldn't worry about it; the whole thing with a pegasus' wings is cultural more than genetic, so if she doesn't feel uncomfortable about it, don't worry."

I raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure? I don't want to be seen as a pony molester or something."

Shudder nodded, her smile more comforting. "Positive. I wouldn't do it just randomly or something, and you should probably ask her directly how she feels about it, but ponies are usually pretty open with how they feel; if she disliked it or it made her feel uncomfortable, she would have told you." She glanced to the spa we were approaching and smirked. "Speaking of fondling ponies, how has your job been?"

I nearly tripped from her comment, but continued walking as I replied, "J-just fine, thanks. I'm getting plenty of business and my two bosses seem pretty pleased, so I think I'm doing good. Besides, it's nice to have money of my own -- maybe sometime soon I can buy or build my own place." When I explained to Twilight how Earth's economy worked, she was astonished to find just how expensive it was to live somewhere. The conversion rate of bits to USD was roughly 3:1, but Twilight almost fainted to find a house from Earth would cost the equivalent of 83,000 bits...which was more than most ponies made in a decade. Even after explaining that humans didn't pay for it all at once, she still found it atrocious that the people of earth could be found homeless simply because they couldn't pay enough to live somewhere. Twilight advised me that while there were such things as rent and house payments in Equestria as well, they were vastly lower in price and even if a pony couldn't pay outright to have their own home, there were programs in place to ensure no pony was homeless.

If only humans were so privileged.

"I'm so bored!"

I rolled my eyes as I continued working, trying best to keep my eye from twitching. I'm not entirely sure I succeeded. "If you don't stop your whining I will drown you in the hot tub, Shudder. I swear you're worse than Dash sometimes -- you two might as well be sisters." I pointed to the schoolteacher mare, whose name I had forgotten. "You're lucky she's not a light sleeper, because if you ruin any of my clients' time here I will ruin you."

"Tou-chy." Shudder retorted with a snort.

I shrugged, working my hands deep into the sleeping mare's flanks. "When you mess with my job, we have a problem. Customers don't come here to have a whiny pegasus nearby at all times as part of a relaxing day."

Shudder eyed me working and smirked as she snarked, "Yeah that's right, get in there. Work that flank like a...what did you call it?"

"Guitar," I grunted, doing my best not to blush when the pony at hand moaned in her sleep, "and don't knock it 'till you try it. Hell, even Dash enjoys a good massage every once in awhile because it loosens her up and allows her to fly better." I shrugged, standing straight up and pulling briefly away from the ma- Cheerilee; that's her name. I pulled away from her and shrugged to Shudder. "I'll offer you a free personal session tonight if you want to give it a try."

Shudder considered my offer for a moment before slowly nodded. "You know what...yeah, that sounds good. I'll hold you to that."

I nodded with a smile before glancing to the clock, noticing it was just before Fleur de Lis' appointment. "Well, we'll let Cheerilee rest for a bit while we go and meet my next client up front."

Shudder hopped off of the seat in the corner and followed me through the spa as we made our way to the lobby. Much to my surprise Fleur de Lis was already there, waiting patiently and chatting with Lotus. I approached and nodded to the spa pony before gesturing to the back, which prompted Fleur de Lis to follow silently as we made our way to a free room. On the way I advised Aloe that Cheerilee was resting, but otherwise kept my stride.

As I opened the door to allow Fleur de Lis to enter the room I couldn't help but notice how her tail brushed against my leg as she did so, and how it seemed to linger just a moment as she stepped by. I raised an eyebrow and looked to Shudder, but either my guard didn't notice or didn't think it was important, as she shrugged before fluttering into the room behind me.

After entering I introduced the two. "Fleur de Lis, this is First Lieutenant Shudder of the Lunar Guard. Shudder, this is Fleur de Lis."

"How do you do." they both answered at the same time...which was creepy, to be honest.

Fleur de Lis then looked to me and smiled. "It appears the princesses wish to protect Equestria's only one of your kind, hm? I'm honored to do business with you; not just anypony would be so important to our rulers."

"It's not all rainbows and butterflies, I can tell you that." I mumbled before moving to the massage table and patting my hand on it. "Hop on up and we'll get started. Is there any place you feel needs a bit more attention?"

Fleur de Lis reached back and touched her neck (something that proved how different Equestrian ponies were from horses, since it would normally be impossible). "My neck is very stiff, so I would like some focus there."

I knew very little compared to a pony about pony anatomy, but I could reason to myself that a longer neck meant it took more strength and stronger muscles to hold up one's head, much like a tall girl with a big chest had to have strong back muscles to compensate for the shift in body equilibrium. Either way, both sets of muscles would often get sore from the strain, so I could understand Fleur de Lis' reason for her request.

I offered my hand and assisted my client up the small step-ladder to lay on my specially-made massage table (Aloe and Lotus had been kind enough to order a taller table for me to work with so that I didn't have to kneel to use theirs) and waited patiently as Fleur de Lis settled herself. It was only as she laid down that I truly realized just how much taller than other ponies this mare was, making her a veritable giant among other mares; a pretty giant, but a giant all the same.

She flinched slightly as my fingers descended to her withers before she let out a deep sigh as I began to work. Shudder watched silently as I began to work my fingers deep into the tight muscles, and by her expression, I felt the distinct impression she was a little jealous.

Seems ponies just can't get enough of my magic digits...and I mean that in a completely non-sexual way, you perv.

Ponies, by comparison, were much more heavily muscled for their size than humans were, so I will admit that it took some practice to apply the right amount of pressure to get the job done, and that was overlooking the fact that it was an entirely different body structure that I was dealing with. Still, I was pleased with my choice of job, since it allowed me good pay and good hours, as well as the opportunity to meet new ponies and get my name out into the world. While it was true I had come across one or two clients that felt the need to flirt here or there (one of them was a stallion, to my endless embarrassment), the workplace was otherwise very professional.

I will admit, however, that a few coy mares' compliments had left me blushing.

Mentally shaking myself from my thoughts, I continued my work on Fleur de Lis, taking great pride in reducing the prim and proper-looking mare to a groaning, moaning pile of pony. It was pretty entertaining, I must admit, and I couldn't help but chuckle quietly as I continued my work.

"Yeah, get in there and play that pony like a flute." Shudder taunted, snickering quietly.

"Don't *groan* comment on that which you mmm..." Fleur de Lis attempted to respond, only to dissolve into a puddle of bliss as I worked my expert fingers into the base of her neck. After a few moments of happy sighs and unladylike grunts here and there she finally continued. "Don't comment on that which -- ooh, right there Jamie -- that which you haven't experienced."

Shudder shrugged from her perch. "I'm just observing at the moment, and I think it looks like he's enjoying this more than he should is all."

I shot Shudder a glare before answering, "It's something I'm good at, the company's nice, and I get paid well for it; what's not to like?"

"And the fact you get to work your hands into the flanks of mares all day long has nothing to do with it?" Shudder shot back, grinning like an imp.

I tilted my head since I couldn't shrug. "Yep, that's definitely jealousy I hear there. Wouldn't you agree Miss Fleur de Lis?"

"Jamie please, just call -- ooh -- call me Fleur." the model replied with a smile. "And yes, it most *grunt* certainly is."

Shudder sent us both a expression that made her look as if she'd just sucked on a lemon, but remained silent. Ah, is that the sound of victory I hear? Why yes, I think it is. Jamie: 12; Shudder: 10.

"So," I began, moving my hands in long sweeping rubs across Fleur's back and sides, "I hear that you come from a big family of all males."

Fleur seemed to wake up from a sort of daydream as she mumbled, "Hmm, wha? Oh, y-yes...yes I do." She didn't move except to turn her head and look at me with one eye, smiling in a dopey manner. "I suppose such a thing is uncommon, but I found it very enlightening for many reasons. How have the ponies of Ponyville treated you?"

I head-shrugged again. "Good for the most part, though there are a few issues here and there. I don't know if you've heard or not, but my society was patriarchal for much of our history, and a lot of that has forever affected our culture. Needless to say that it's strange for me to see a lot of what I consider to be masculine behaviors in mares, and some of you are really feminine otherwise. Still, my friends have all made things much easier, and I think part of the reason I haven't been directly accosted has been because the ponies are afraid Rainbow Dash will find out."

"Ah yes, your pegasus marefriend." Fleur commented with a teasing grin.

I rolled my eyes and continued my work, moving to her haunches and digging deep into the tight muscles there. "We're not together, and I don't care who says we are. I'm not saying we're not friends, but it doesn't go any further than that." I thought for a moment before adding, "With any of my friends, for that matter."

Fleur raised her eyebrow curiously. "So, you like colts?"

I barked a laugh and shook my head, trying desperately to keep my laughter under control. "N-no, I don't; I definitely enjoy the company of females as much as most of the rest of my gender."

Fleur still held her brow high. "So then why...?"

"You're ponies." I stated simply. Recognizing by her slightly offended expression that I needed to elaborate, I added, "Humans are the only intelligent beings where I come from, so culturally, we're in no way accepting of romantic relations -- emotional or otherwise -- with another species."

Fleur's offense seemed to bleed away, but she still looked confused. "But you're not-"

"On Earth anymore," I finished for her, sighing softly, "I know. A lifetime of a certain culture isn't lost so easily though, so it's not like I can just suddenly decide, 'Okay, I like ponies now!' It's more complicated than that -- hell, it took almost two months for me to be completely comfortable with ponies touching me. Luna and I have already talked about all this and have come to the conclusion that any sort of further acclimation into society -- no matter the way it's done -- has to be natural." I stood back for a moment and shrugged my shoulders before beginning my work on Fleur's legs. "I won't pretend that the thought of dating a pony hasn't drifted through my head from time to time -- and to be honest, I have a few in mind I would ask -- but when it comes to the physical aspect, there's very little there."

"Very little?" Fleur questioned lazily, still under the effects of my massage. "From what I've heard, the answer to whether or not you had physical attraction to ponies was 'not at all'."

I shrugged, rubbing my thumb in circles as I slowly worked up and down the lithe muscles of her front legs. "Well I hope you don't take this the wrong way when I say this -- because I'm not coming onto you at all or something-"

"Oh come off it, Jamie." Fleur interrupted with a light, airy giggle. "I am a model, so I am quite familiar with others complimenting my looks or casually admiring my assets. I can guarantee you that nothing you say in regards to my physical attributes will offend me, even if it's downright lewd." Fleur then gained a thoughtful look on her face as she added, "In fact, I would consider it an accomplishment to receive praise from Equestria's only alien being."

I chuckled good-naturedly as I rolled one of Fleur's wrists around, eliciting a few pops and appreciative sighs. "Alright alright fine, I'll talk." As I stood up to get a full view of the mare before me, I couldn't help but try and look at her as a pony would; what did ponies look for as far as attraction? Well, I knew that someone like Fleur was considered beautiful, but what was harder for me to pinpoint was why, but I had picked up a few things here and there from Twilight and the others -- enough that I felt I could do a decent analysis of the model before me.

One of the things I had heard mares offhandedly remark about was the flanks of ponies. From what I understood by casual (and accidental, mind you) eavesdropping, stallions were considered attractive if they had firm, hard flanks that were powerful and lean, while a mare was considered the same if her flanks were toned and taut, with a bit of feminine curve. When I really thought about it, judging the behind of a pony was a lot like judging the same on a human, though ponies were much more open about it than humans were; it was commonplace for ponies to quite blatantly "check the goods", and it wasn't frowned upon so long as it wasn't open gawking for long periods of time.

Another thing I knew about unicorns in particular was that their horns were their pride and joy, and were as much an aspect of beauty as they were a conduit for magical power. Unicorns that cared about their appearance regularly filed their horns to give them a smooth, polished look, while mares that couldn't be bothered often ended up with horns that were a bit more rough by comparison. Still, I knew that longer horns were considered more attractive, and not all horns had the same amount of grooves. The groove was an entirely different prospect altogether, and was "graded" by frequency, or "tightness" of the spiral -- a tighter spiral groove was more attractive than those with a more loose pattern. I also didn't know if it was coincidence or not, but unicorns more magically talented tended to have a tighter groove pattern than those that were less powerful; a bit of food for thought.

I didn't know what else ponies -- or unicorns in particular, in this case -- used to determine physical attractiveness of an individual, but it was by these few categories alone that I could complete an accurate enough on-the-spot analysis of the pony standards of physical attractiveness regarding Fleur.

Fleur, by these rules, was absolutely beautiful, with her tall, lithe form and firm flanks, as well as her tightly-spiraled horn and amazingly soft fur. Even from my limited perspective of not really knowing much concerning how ponies judged beauty, I could tell that her career as a model was well-chosen.

"You're gorgeous." I answered after finishing my inspection, smiling at her. "I'm sure you already knew that, but now you have Jamie Smith telling you that." I shrugged, leaning back in and working the kinks out of her other foreleg. "I can tell that you're very beautiful, but I when I look at you, I just can't think the word 'sexy' without shaking my head."

Fleur nodded a few times, but remained alert despite my ministrations. "I think I might understand, Jamie. Would you permit me to speak my mind on the matter of your lack of attraction?"

I shrugged again, rolling the other wrist before moving toward Fleur's rear legs. "Fire away, Fleur; I'm all ears."

Fleur nodded as she prepared her explanation. "As I'm sure you've heard at least once or twice, inter-species couples are not necessarily common in Equestria, but they do happen from time to time. Do you know what most of said couples I've met told me when I asked them 'how it works'?" I shook my head, silently prompting Fleur to continue. "Well," she began, smiling gently as she did so, "nearly all of them said the same thing in regards to it: the love came first, and the lust came later."

"Really?" I questioned with clear interest.

Fleur nodded once again, sighing as I worked on relaxing her hindlegs. "Mmm...yes. Love the person inside first, and love the body last. After all, it's the being inside the body that makes them who they are, not how they look on the outside."

You ever have that moment where you think, "Fuck...how have I never thought of that before?" Well...yeah, that's pretty much how I felt at that exact moment. It was honestly so simple, and I can't imagine how I'd never thought of it before. While it's true I hadn't really felt it for ponies anyway, most of that had been because I had walled myself off on purpose, reasoning that because the physical attraction wasn't there, it was pointless. After all, how could you love someone you couldn't make love to?

It seemed that even with all I'd learned about friendship from Twilight and the others, I still had so much to learn when it came to my own heart and life as a whole.

"You look as if you've just discovered something, Jamie." Fleur quipped with a knowing grin.

I shrugged, doing my best to work high up on the pony's inner thigh without touching anything off-limits. "Maybe. I definitely have some things to think about."

"And perhaps a pony or two to think about?" she questioned mischievously.

I cleared my throat nervously at the thought. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves here."

Fleur considered my words for a few moments before laying her head back down, no longer looking at me. I barely heard her speak when she wisely stated, "Don't ever stop moving forward, Jamie. If you stop, you stagnate; do it long enough, and you die. It matters not how long it takes or how difficult it will be, because as long as you keep learning and growing, life will always be worthwhile."

I attempted to make eye contact with my client, but it appeared that she was finished saying all that needed to be said, so I continued my work in silence as I pondered the words of wisdom I had been given.

Not to sound full of myself or anything, but Fleur was quite pleased, as I expected. While it was true Aloe and Lotus had more experience in the spa world than I did, my hands were capable of things that their hooves were not, and it was that advantage that allowed me to bring in more clients than they'd ever had before. I actually overheard the two talking about possibly hiring some extra employees to handle the increasing customer volume, and without ego I knew it was probably because of my employment at their establishment.

Fleur, as a pony, was very worldly, which made sense since she had likely experienced much more in Equestria than I could likely ever dream of. I hoped I would live long enough to experience all the amazing things this world has to offer, but even as much as I have and would continue to adapt to my new home, I knew I would forever see things and experience them differently than ponies did. Not that I really minded of course, as I had friends to assure my life would still be a good one, however long it was.

I never had many friends back on Earth. It wasn't so much that I was antisocial (though I could readily admit I was), but rather I was isolated because unlike ponies, it was not commonplace for complete strangers to reach out to those they found in need of a friend, even if it wasn't readily apparent there was anything wrong. But, in Equestria, there were ponies like Pinkie who lived by the creed that "everypony -- no matter how young or old, big or small -- needs a friend." It was ponies like Twilight that had brought me out of my shell, and ponies like Ditzy that showed me "different" didn't mean "less".

The more I thought about my new life though, the more I realized just how much I had been missing because of my inability to see past the physical form of a pony.

Romantic inclination, as rare as it had been in my past on Earth, was still a part of life. While it was true that I hadn't actually been a part of many relationships, the random thoughts of "she would be nice to be with" still popped up from time to time, even for me. I had thought the same thing about ponies as well, but that thought also ended with, "...if she were human."

I could readily admit to myself and others that I was a simple man when it came right down to it, and I often thought in simple terms -- black and white, if you will. It wasn't so much that I wasn't intelligent, but rather I didn't see the point in complicating things if they didn't need to be complicated. By this logic, I had not thought any further on my inability to view ponies as possible romantic partners, and simply passed it off as a "case closed" scenario.

Now, it seemed because of my straightforward thinking, I had overlooked something glaringly obvious.

What about them -- not as cute little ponies, but just as people? What about their personalities; did I find myself attracted to them? Because of how easy it was to focus just on what my observation of the physical world showed me, I had long discounted there could be anything else possible...but now, I found myself seriously considering them not as technicolor equines, but as people. I considered their personalities, their quirks, and everything else that made them who they are...and came to a rather surprising conclusion:

Had they been human -- or humanoid, even -- I would have at least considered asking at least one of them out a long time ago.

Suddenly I felt rather shitty and very narrow-minded; blind, even.

"You alright there Jamie?" Shudder questioned from beside me, concern clear on the guard's face.

As much as I wanted to answer with an immediate affirmative, I didn't want to lie to a friend...especially not one that had saved my life and given me the skills to survive, should I ever need them. "No...I'm really not."

Shudder tilted her head in confusion as her brow creased further with worry. "What's wrong, Lanky?"

I let out a long breath before answering, "For a long time now I haven't been treating or thinking about the ponies I know the same as I would other people. I was so afraid for a long time that I would be discriminated against simply because I was so different from you all, but I was welcomed with open arms for the most part." I chuckled dryly, the sound humorless and flat. "But I purposefully chose to relate to ponies as different creatures, while you all welcomed me as one of your own."

Shudder sighed and shook her head. "It's not your fault, Jamie. You've told us just how different of a world you come from, so it makes sense that you see things a little differently than-"

"But that's not the point!" I interrupted angrily, mostly at myself. "Even where I'm from, it's considered extraordinarily rude treat someone differently just because they look different. I'm on your world breathing your air and eating your food, but I'm treating ponies as if they're the aliens instead of me; tell me how that's not completely wrong." I watched as my guard opened and closed her mouth a few times -- looking much like a fish, to be honest -- as she attempted to come up with a response. When she lowered her head and sighed, I nodded sadly. "Exactly."

"Hating yourself won't solve the problem, Jamie." Saiian's voice whispered into my ear as she appeared by my side.

Knowing that our conversation would be private I replied, "But I can't stop it either. I'm grateful to Fleur for bringing me a new point of view, but it's made me realize just how bad of a friend I've been to the ponies that took me in, fed me, clothed me, and made sure I wasn't lonely. All I've done for them is show them how not to be."

The three of us continued walking back toward the Golden Oaks -- two of us talking, one of us watching me walking in silence -- as I tried to accept what Saiian was telling me.

"What does self-blame accomplish, hm?" she questioned rhetorically. "It doesn't solve the problem and neither does it make anyone feel better; it just serves to place fault on yourself, which will only make you feel worse. All you can do is apologize to those affected and resolve to not make the same mistake again."

I nodded as we approached the library, which was only a dozen or so paces away now. "I'll try, Saiian." I then glanced to the elemental and smiled. "Thanks for your help."

I'd come to rely on Saiian a lot more as time passed, and while I couldn't claim to completely accept everything she said all of the time, I often found myself asking Saiian for her wisdom, or a different viewpoint. Besides all that, Saiian quite literally knew me better than I knew myself, and had offered tips on how to overcome things I had been dealing with. I valued her for her assistance, and though I at first found her presence an annoyance at best, I now couldn't imagine my life without her.

Who was I and what ever happened to Jamison Smith?

I pushed open the door to Golden Oaks and nervously smiled as I saw the eight ponies that lived around Ponyville gathered along with...

"Celestia? Luna?" I blurted with surprise. "W-what are you two doing here?"

The two princesses of Canterlot were sitting separate from the rest of the group, though it was near impossible to miss them. I was able to nearly see the tension in the air between the two of them and Twilight, which only made me more nervous about this whole situation.

Celestia inclined her head to me and smiled. "We received a letter from Princess Twilight that you had something to disclose to your friends."

I raised an eyebrow and looked to Twilight, who only answered, "They're your friends too, Jamie; they deserve to know whatever it is you're going to tell as much as the rest of us, even if I haven't quite forgiven them yet." She shot a conflicted look to her fellow princesses before turning back to me. "They care about you as much as we do, so they have a right to know what's going on as well."

I nodded slowly as the surprise wore off, but still felt a nervous knot in my stomach. "A-alright then. So," I cleared my throat loudly, walking to the empty seat left for me between Rainbow Dash and Twilight (which I'm quite sure was no coincidence), "I'm sure you're wondering why I've brought all of you here today." I snickered despite myself before clarifying, "I've always wanted to say that."

Vinyl clopped her hooves loudly to get my attention, though she was smirking. "C'mon Jamie, stay focused."

I cleared my throat once again and nodded, briefly looking over the ten ponies and a dragon that were all gathered. "Well, I think it's time all of you know a bit more about me; more specifically, I think it's time I told all of you about my past."

Twilight placed a hoof on my arm and focused on me with a concerned expression. "Jamie, are you sure?"

I nodded. "Yeah...I am. I've been too secretive for too long, and you all have proven to me that I can trust you enough to know about my past. I'll warn you ahead of time that some of it isn't pretty, but it's still what made me who I am today."

Rainbow Dash's wing extended around my back, and I felt a feeling of utter security suffuse me. I looked around the room to see that all those gathered were only concerned for my well-being, including the guard that originally was only tasked to teach me to defend myself. It brought to light just how many lives I'd touched without meaning to, which only steeled my resolve and assured me I was now doing the right thing.

"We're ready whenever you are, Jamie." Octavia spoke with a comforting smile, holding Vinyl's hoof in her own to offer support to her not-so-calm friend.

I took a deep breath as I felt Saiian's fingers lace in mine as she draped herself over my back, and I have to admit the gesture was very soothing. After composing myself enough to not immediately yell, I began my story.

"I was an orphan;" I began, starting with the most basic attribute of my life first, "I never had a real family. The earliest memory I have is of some foster mother speaking to me -- I can't even remember her name." I smiled briefly as I remembered. "The only person who ever really made time for me was Samantha Smith, my caseworker -- she's who I consider my mother, and she allowed me to change my last name to hers once I grew old enough."

"So the mother's day gift you were going to get..." Fluttershy murmured in understanding.

I nodded. "It was for her." I chuckled humorlessly and shook my head. "Life in the foster care system was hell for me. Most of the families I was placed in already had kids of their own, and while they made sure I was clothed, sheltered and fed, I was never their child -- I was just 'the trouble kid'. I didn't really see Mrs. Smith much until I was around ten, so I spent most of my young childhood crying myself to sleep, wondering why no one wanted me."

I felt Rainbow Dash's wing tighten around me, and Twilight placed her hoof on my arm with a sullen expression on her face. Even the Canterlot princesses were struggling to keep from approaching and coddling me, and I couldn't help but mentally sigh. 'Things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better.'

"A lot of the children were downright mean, telling me I was worthless and that's why no one wanted me." I muttered, unwilling to bring my eyes from the floor. "Doesn't sound all that damaging to an adult, but to a kid who has no one in the world, it's extremely cruel."

"B-but it got better, right?" I heard Pinkie whimper, and I almost wished I hadn't looked at her tear-streaked face. "Y-you smiled later, right?"

I took a deep, steadying breath to keep from crying myself just at the pink pony's expression. "Not for years, Pinkie. The verbal barbs weren't all that I received, and it soon graduated to physical attacks from the other kids and sometimes, even the foster parents."

A circle of gasps answered me before Celestia questioned, "The parents abused you?"

I nodded, gently shaking off the ponies around me as I began to pull up the hem of my shirt. "I bet you've all wondered why I don't expose my bare back to you, well..." I pulled the shirt up and over my head, exposing my bare skin to the air. I turned around to allow all to see, and heard a chorus of gasps and muttered words of shock as they now clearly noticed the small, circular scars that dotted most of my upper back and behind my shoulders. "One of my foster parents was a construction worker and a drunk who took a bit of sick pleasure in exerting his control over me. If I ever talked back, this is what happened; he was a smoker, and thought he'd 'teach me a lesson' by putting cigarettes out on my skin." I flinched as I felt a few hooves touch me, but continued nonetheless. "There aren't that many, only because I learned pretty quick that it was better to stay silent and do what I was told -- even if it was unreasonable -- rather than question him and be burned."

"How could anyone do this to a child?" Luna muttered from behind me, her voice cracking a bit.

I shrugged. "There are a lot of truly good people on Earth, but there are just as many, if not more, sick, sadistic people that only want to cause others pain. Besides that, the city I lived in wasn't necessarily the nicest place even at the best of times. So," I began, turning back around and pulling my shirt over my head before sitting down, "I ran away. I spent four years on the streets, trying my best to survive, until I was fourteen. I got a job at a local food mart that let me work in the back, stocking merchandise and things, and that kept me afloat for a few more years. I met Mrs. Smith again when I was sixteen, and for the next two years, she became the person I trusted more than anyone else in the world. She was technically my caseworker, but instead of passing me off to another foster home, she helped me emancipate myself and become self-sufficient so that I could live on my own."

"Emancipate?" Twilight questioned in confusion.

I nodded. "It's the act of making a minor a legal adult; where I'm from, it's illegal for someone under eighteen to live on their own. Anyway," I continued, settling myself back into my "zone" to make sure I didn't break down or something, "my life as an emancipated minor wasn't perfect either, and I could expect to be beaten and threatened by some of the local gangs if I didn't do or pay what they said. Because of my previous condition regarding weakened bones, I often ended up in the hospital."

Shudder furrowed her brow from atop a bookcase. "Earth has gangs too?"

I nodded, absently running a hand through my hair. "Quite a few, actually; more in cities like New York and Oakland. Needless to say they tend to prey on those that are isolated, which made me an easy target. I didn't know anyone where I lived, and was broke as all get-out." I glanced to Twilight, who had worked so hard to help me fit in and open up. "It's why I was so reluctant to get close to anyone, because I didn't know if I could trust any of you. I learned really quickly in life that trusting the wrong person can get you hurt, and unfortunately, it seemed I was almost always surrounded only by the wrong people."

I felt Saiian again drape herself over me, hugging me tightly as Rarity asked, "And what about now, dear? Do you trust us enough to let us in completely?"

The direct question fully brought to light the severity of the situation -- of our situation -- and I felt fearful tears pricking at corners of my eyes. Slowly, and whispered like a secret, I asked, "But can I trust you?" The confused and slightly offended faces that were turned to me prompted elaboration, so I gestured to the two Canterlot princesses. "What they've done is forgivable, since I know they truly only had my best interests in mind, but a malicious betrayal is not something I would be able to survive again. I..." I choked on my tongue, attempting to keep from breaking out into stressful tears as the tension built from the absolute terror of letting these ponies know all of me. I knew that by revealing everything, I had left myself vulnerable, and...I'm honestly not sure how I refrained from bolting and running away to parts unknown at that very moment.

It must have been the loving hooves (and hands, in Saiian's case) of those offering me support.

"Jamie," Vinyl began, her voice cracking as she struggled to reign in her emotions, "if you believe we would ever willingly hurt you or betray you, then you clearly don't know us well enough." She sat up a little straighter, freeing her arms from Octavia's embrace as she gestured with a hoof to the whole room. "Everypony --" she paused and looked to Spike, "and dragon -- in here loves you, Jamie. You've touched all of our lives in one way or another, you're there for us when we need you, and beyond that you're fun to be around once you got your head out of your ass." She sniffled a bit, but offered me a small smirk at her statement before adding, "You're important to all of us, Jamie -- too important to hurt you on purpose for any negative reason. I think I speak for all of us when I say that you can trust us to always be on your side, no matter what." A chorus of muttered affirmatives followed her words, which only made my heart wrench with happiness.

I'd been crying too much lately; it's a good thing gender roles are reversed here, because I'd feel like a bitch if I was supposed to act like a man.

I sighed happily as I felt hooves, arms and wings encircle me from every direction, smiling and -- by all that's holy -- giggling from just how joyful I felt. I had found friends, I had found my purpose, but finally, after months, I had found a deep peace for the first time in my life. I could trust not just one, but twelve people -- I would have counted myself blessed with only one.

Suddenly, I heard twelve gasps of surprise before Twilight's voice broke in with, "J-Jamie, look at your hand!"

I pulled back from the multicolored mane of Celestia to glance at my hand, my eyes widening as only one sentence came to mind:

"What. The fuck. Is that?"