• Published 1st Jun 2013
  • 27,267 Views, 1,385 Comments

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 23: Adaptation

Author's Note:

Yes, I know it's been awhile. No, I haven't had ample time to come up with chapters. Yes, I know you all have been waiting for awhile. Apologies to you all, but I've had barely enough time to sleep let alone write. That said, I am continuing my stories, but now that I have a computer again, it hopefully won't take as long.

Now, before we get started, I want to warn all of you ahead of time that this chapter contains a borderline lewd moment, as well as a temporary change of personality. Again, temporary. TEMPORARY. Just wanted to get that out there to be sure I don't get blasted for taking an "easy way out" by changing a character's personality to better suit the story. In addition to that, this chapter is going to introduce the first bit of two-way romance, and while I realize it will seem sudden, there is a reason for that, and it ties back to the whole "personality change" thing.

After reading this, you all are likely to have a lot of questions, the most likely of which is: "Radiant, where in the hell are you going with this?" Well, dear readers, there is trouble on the horizon for our protagonists, as well as a few traumatic events and loss for our main focus. That's all I can safely say, but even with that, most of you will be able to connect the dots to at least see the most likely outcome of all this.

So, without further ado, enjoy.

Chapter 23: Adaptation

With bloodshot eyes and dark circles under them, I made my way to the library’s kitchen before dawn, as the new sensations and stress that accompanied such a large change had caused sleep to elude me all night. As a person that usually sleeps on my stomach, I found it distinctly uncomfortable now. Shudder followed behind, trying her best not to laugh at me and failing miserably. I could only hope Twilight had a more productive night than I did.

Already sitting at the center table and staring at that weird horsehead bust in the middle, was Twilight. She looked no better than I did, but she had thankfully already prepared some of the steaming morning nectar called coffee, as a large mug of it was sitting in front of her. She had that far-away look she always donned whenever she was thinking deeply, and I knew by experience that any attempt to get her attention would be useless, so I just made my way to the kitchen and poured myself a cup of black coffee. A mere sip of it caused a lot of the tension in my body to seemingly melt away, and I sighed happily before making my way back to the main room.

Twilight had continued staring blankly at the horsehead bust, so I pulled up a stool she kept around the library and sat next to her, snaking my arm around her shoulders and running my fingers comfortingly along her arm. While it’s true that Twilight hadn’t felt comfortable sharing sleeping quarters with me like Rainbow Dash or even Shudder, I had taken it upon myself to offer a reassuring presence whenever she seemed like she needed it, which was often. Twilight had a lot of good attributes, but she tended to become overstressed far too easily.

“I’m sorry, Jamie.” Twilight muttered suddenly, finally turning her head to look at me. “I don’t know what went wrong, and the only one who would know exactly what happened would be Discord himself.” She then sighed heavily, and leaned against me. “Unfortunately, I don’t think we can trust him to not make this situation worse.”

“I thought he’s supposed to be your friend now.” I prompted, causing Twilight to wince a bit and look away.

“I-I’m trying, but it’s hard to forget all the pain and suffering that ponies and my own friends had to endure because of him.” she answered disdainfully, as if the words themselves were causing her pain. “I know I’m supposed to trust that Fluttershy knows what she was doing when it came to befriending him, but…” She trailed off, unable to speak any further on the matter.

I nodded in understanding. “I can’t pretend I don’t agree with you there, Twilight; he’s a tough character to figure out. I mean half the time he seems to want to cause trouble, but the other half he actually seems like a decent guy.” I then shook my head and smiled softly at the alicorn in my grasp. “Still, I don’t think he directly had anything to do with this. Chaos magic might be his entire domain of power, but Discord isn’t the type of guy to play a prank and not own up to it.”

She nodded reluctantly. “Yes, you’re right. Still, I think eventually we might have to go and ask him his thoughts on this entire event. I’ve just about exhausted all my possible leads already, as the spell I cast can’t cause anything like this without outside interference. To put it simply, your chaos magic is what caused this to happen, though what’s unclear is how -- there weren’t any spell matrices built for transmogrification.”

I sighed and brought my hand to run my fingers through her mane in what I hoped was a comforting manner. “Look...I can’t say that I’m fine with it, because I’m not, but I’m also not angry with you. I just want this fixed, but I also don’t want you to rush things and make a mistake, so take whatever time you need to in order to get this handled.” I then grasped her chin and forced her to look at me. “But don’t burn yourself out either, Twilight. I want you to sleep tonight -- none of this ‘stay up all night and research-all-the-things’.”

She giggled weakly, but nodded. “Alright Jamie, I promise. Now,” she pushed away from me and stood, downing the rest of her coffee in the process, “I need to get as much research out of today as I can, and I think it would be a good idea for you to get out for a little bit. Spend time with your friends -- I’ll send a letter off to the princesses letting them know the situation, so stars-willing they’ll be by to see you later in the day after they’ve finished their royal duties.”

I looked down at the alicorn and frowned. “You want me to go outside like this?”

Twilight turned around and nodded as books began flying off the shelves and levitating to the table. “Besides the fact that I need to be free of distractions, I know you, Jamie: if you have to sit around in this place with nothing to do but think, you’re going to just get more and more stressed until you crack. Some fresh air and things to do will be good for you, and I’m sure Saiian would love to experience it all, as well.”

I raised my brow and started looking around. “Speaking of my elemental troublemaker, where is she? I would have thought she would join me in bed sooner or later, but she never showed.”

Twilight pointed to the stairs. “Curiously enough, she began to get fatigued as the night went on, so I offered my bed to her. She’s probably still upstairs, if you want to wake her.”

Shudder broke her silence with a smirk and, “That could be fun. I wonder how deep a sleeper an elemental is.”

I shrugged and made my way to the stairs, waving to Twilight. “All right then, we’ll find something to do today that hopefully keeps hijinks to a minimum...maybe. I promise not to cause too much property damage.” Twilight rolled her eyes before taking a seat at the table and beginning her work. With that, Shudder and I ascended the stairs -- her floating above my head -- and headed towards Twilight’s room. I only hesitated for a moment before pushing the door open and stepping inside.

Twilight was a rather open pony, but even so, I’d had reason to be in her bedroom only twice before; it was spacious, and crammed full of books. Her bed was up on a small balcony next to a window, to maximize the space in the room to allow more room for said books. Twilight was an alicorn now, but still just a simple pony, and so she had a bed that was only large enough for herself. Because of this, the haphazardly placed limbs of a certain elemental could easily be seen dangling from the sides of the bed as I approached.

Shudder chuckled softly, but said nothing as I stood over the sleeping form of Saiian, and I gave a grin and a thumbs up to her before turning back to Saiian and poking her in the ribs. She snorted in her sleep and slapped my hand away before going back to snoring. I giggled (yes, giggled) despite myself, and poked her again, eliciting the same reaction. Still, she didn’t wake, but slowly, a rather unorthodox way to wake up the deep-sleeper began to take shape in my mind. It would be a bit odd on my part -- and maybe a bit cruel -- but I wasn’t going anywhere without Saiian.

Besides, I owed her quite a bit of payback for all the teasing she’d given me.

“I apologize for what you’re about to witness,” I said aloud to Shudder, “but she had it coming, I promise.” Shudder had only a moment to open her mouth with a question ready before I unbuttoned my pants and jerked them down, kicking them to the side before I swung my leg over Saiian’s waist and mounted her in quite the compromising position. I unbuttoned my top and pulled it apart, revealing my resized undershirt that was straining against two orbs of flesh that shouldn’t be there. Next, after hesitating a moment, I whipped off my undershirt to bare my chest.

I should have felt strange and maybe even a bit nauseous, but all I could be at the moment was impressed at the perfection in front of me.

“...so those are-”

“Yep.” I answered Shudder quickly. “Don’t poke them like Vinyl did, or we’ll be fighting.”

I saw her nod out of the corner of my eye. “O-kay, but what are you…?”

I grabbed one of Saiian’s hands in response, and before I could chicken out, brought the open palm to cup one of the...things. I had to stifle a gasp at just how warm it felt, but knew that this was all part of the payback I was about to issue in spades. Holding her hand where it was, I leaned down over Saiian and opened my mouth before giving a firm, yet ultimately harmless, bite to her throat.

The result was instantaneous.

Saiian jerked awake, and I hid my face in her collar, faking sobs as I cried out, “I give myself completely to you, and you FALL ASLEEP?! You promised me an amazing night! How could you?”

A confused mumble was my answer, followed by her body shuffling and her hand testing what it was holding for a moment, the latter of which I grimaced at, but allowed to keep the ruse going. After a few moments of this, Saiian completely froze, and from my position I could quite clearly hear as her magically-constructed heart began racing madly.

I heard a strong gulp before she answered, “J-Jamie, whatever happened, I-I swear I never meant-”

The whole time I had been waiting, I had kept my eyes open until they burned, and blinked a few times to cause tears to appear. I sat up and theatrically flung her hand away from my chest, glaring down at her with glassy eyes. “You swore to me that if I trusted you, you would take care of me; how can you do that if you’re PASSED OUT?!” The grogginess from her first sleep in her new body still had Saiian completely confused as to what had happened -- which had been my plan all along -- which left her to lay there like a fool with her mouth hanging open. After a minute of watching her silently combing her brain for just how we had ended up in this situation, I could no longer keep a smile from coming to my lips. Her confusion grew as I leaned forward, only for me to whisper into her ear: “Gotcha.”

I pulled away, and watched as Saiian stared at me for a few moments. Then, she suddenly shook her head vigorously and pushed me away so she could sit up, chanting, “Why, WHY, WHY?!”

I was barely able to put my shirt back on because I was laughing so hard, but dressed before collapsing onto the small bed in laughter. It was the long, deep laughter that made your stomach hurt, and I realized just how nice it felt, because of all that had happened lately. Pinkie was right: a good laugh is sometimes all we need to brighten the day. What helped brighten my morning further was the fact that Shudder was laughing just as hard as I was.

It felt good to get one over on the flirty elemental, for once.

“All right all right, that’s enough!” Saiian grumbled in embarrassment. “You’ve laughed enough at my expense this morning, I think.”

My laughs petered out as I wrested control of myself from said laughter. After a few deep breaths and residual chuckles, I nodded to her. “Fine then, no more teasing...for now.” Her look of annoyance only prompted me to smile wider. “Oh, I think I have quite a bit of payback for you, and I aim to collect, now that you have a physical body to mess with.”

Saiian frowned -- a mild scowl, really. “I’ll admit it’s not as much fun from this end. And why do I feel so warm?!” The too-thin tank top she was wearing did little to hide her chest as she fluttered it to get some airflow, but I was still grinning like an idiot regardless. This caused the mild scowl to deepen as Saiian barked, “What the hell’s so funny?”

“You.” I answered simply, pointing at her face, which was becoming red-tinted in places. “Getting a little heated there, dear? I guess you can’t take it when it’s directed towards you.”

“What are you talking about?” she spat, frustrated that she was having a rapid increase in body temperature. I had to remind myself that Saiian had never experienced the joys of a body of flesh and blood; even when she was in her chaos elemental form, she didn’t have flesh as most people thought of it. That only made the whole experience more entertaining for me.

I was smirking like a fool at what was unfolding, and the whole experience was going to entertain me for some time, yet. “You’ve been teasing me for months with your body, and what you’re feeling right now is what I felt all those times you would brush yourself against me purposefully, or flashed skin, or did something else that you knew would rile me up. Payback’s a cunt, and I’m just the prick to take advantage of that.” Before she could fire off a response, I answered, “And yes, Shudder, I realize the innuendo I made there. You’re welcome.” The pony in question was hanging on to me, trying not to fall out of the air as she laughed off to the side.

Saiian just glared at me before rubbing her skin, and grimacing. “...Jamie?”

I was still smirking at the novelty of this whole experience, which included the new things Saiian was experiencing. “Yes dear?”

Her twisted expression didn’t abate as she mumbled out, “...I need you to show me how to shower.”

My smile fell away completely.

“I’m sweating.” Saiian explained, running her fingers over her skin. “What happens when you sweat and don’t wash?”

I nodded in understanding. “Right, you’ll stink.” I looked down at own borrowed body, and frowned. “Well, I guess it was inevitable anyway. Come on then, let’s go get this over with.” I held out my hand to Saiian until I felt hers rest in mine, and gently pulled her along with me toward the washroom.

Bathing as a female was...an experience.

Seeing as how I had the most experience with the human body out of the two of us, Saiian simply observed as I washed myself first, offering what little tips I could here and there for making sure everything was clean. I could say I would react differently if I had been in a similar situation with someone else, but that would be a lie, only because with anyone else, said situation would have never gotten past the bathroom door. That being said, one of the only reasons I didn’t feel all that bothered by Saiian was because, for once, she was being completely serious about the whole thing, and because I knew she already knew what my nude body looked like, from no direct fault of her own. The second reason I wasn’t really bothered was because I was, for all intents and purposes, a female now, but the body didn’t feel like it was mine; instead, it felt like a costume I couldn’t take off, that reacted the exact same way my body would to external stimuli. As long as I kept all that in mind, it wasn’t really a problem for me to bathe in front of the extremely attractive woman who regularly shared my bed.

The only issue that cropped up was when it came to washing my new gender swaps.

With a night for my brain to acclimate to the new body and the sensations it provided, said parts were far less sensitive than the day before. Nonetheless, I will readily admit that the new feelings were odd, to say the least. What normally would have taken 5-10 minutes took about twenty, as I had to be careful not to accidentally arouse myself just from washing, which turned a minor chore into an ordeal. After all, I hadn’t had any sexual contact since I had come to Equis, so let’s just say I was more than a little pent-up.

Then came the joy of getting Saiian cleaned up.

Any other time I would have accused her of being purposefully clumsy just to tease and pressure me into helping, but her facial expressions and tone of voice assured me she was genuinely not sure how to handle having a body of flesh and blood for the first time in her life. Nothing untoward happened, but there were a few times I had to directly point out places that needed attention, as well as quite literally hold her hand and show her how to massage shampoo into her hair and scalp. It took awhile, but I was confident in the results, and was pleased with myself for only spending about 30% of the time staring at her nakedness, instead of all of it. That didn’t mean I was going to allow this to become a regular thing, as Saiian was still a hot, naked woman, but I wasn’t going to let her fumble around aimlessly when she legitimately needed help. I’ll admit it was a struggle not to touch her, though, and I’m fairly sure the blush in my cheeks will never completely die down.

After getting ourselves cleaned, I’d had to go to Twilight once more to resize two outfits -- one for me, and one for Saiian -- before taking Shudder with us out into the town. Much like when I first came to Equis, I was the subject of stares, which gave me a feeling of negative nostalgia, since it just made me feel like a freak...again. In addition, I’d had to introduce Saiian to everyone as a “friend” of mine (which wasn’t strictly a lie, but neither was it the complete truth), while also reintroducing myself to the few ponies I regularly spoke to with more than just a passing greeting.

Eventually, we made our way to Sugarcube Corner for breakfast, which was a whole ‘nother thing altogether. First of all, the entire restaurant went dead silent when we entered, which made me want to melt into the floor. Then, once the novelty of two aliens and an unknown pegasus had worn off a bit, Pinkie glomped me and made sure to tell me how much more “soft and squishy” I was now. Furthermore, something that shouldn’t have been disturbing was: Saiian was completely silent the whole time. I would be sure to ask her about it later, but after breakfast, I couldn’t get out of Sugarcube Corner fast enough.

From there, we headed to the small field near Applejack’s farm to just enjoy the sunny day and get some peace and quiet as two of us (two guesses as to who) sorted through our recent changes to our lives. With the lack of sleep catching up with me and the comfort we all offered each other by sheer proximity, Shudder, Saiian and I all fell asleep on each other.

I was awakened sometime in the late afternoon by a firm object pressing on my stomach. Grumbling, I opened my eyes to see a certain solar alicorn looking down at me with concern clear in her expression. She leaned down close to my face and offered a comforting, silent nuzzle as I roused myself from my nap. I felt loads better after some sleep, though the obvious lack of a male body was impossible to ignore. Saiian was practically wrapped around me, still sleeping, while Shudder was already pulling her wing away from where it had covered my thighs while she rested. I pulled away from the sleep-snuggling Saiian and stood, stretching and popping a few joints as I did so. I then silently grabbed Celestia’s face in my hands and gently stroked her cheeks as I rested my head beside hers and let out a long sigh.

“Long day, Jamie?” Celestia whispered quietly, accepting the affection I gave her without complaint.

Again I sighed -- there didn’t seem to be any shortage of those for today. “The longest so far. Yesterday, I gained a freaky mark on my body; today, I’m a woman. Maybe tomorrow I’ll find out I’m pregnant with this world's savior.”

“I’m just glad you’re whole and healthy.” Celestia answered, her large wing brought up around my back to hold me closer.

I chuckled and moved her head over my shoulder to hold her closer to me as well. “I think ‘healthy’ is a relative term. Losing my penis and growing a vag isn’t exactly what I’d call normal by any measure, even in Equestria.”

Celestia giggled softly, pulling away to look at me. Her face morphed into a frown then, as she chastised, “You worried us yesterday, Jamie. I wish you wouldn’t push others away when you’re upset.”

“We all have our own ways of coping, Princess.” I answered, shaking my head as I explained, “I’m surrounded by friends every day, so once in awhile, I just need to be off on my own to think things out. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the support -- because I do -- but I’m still not exactly the most social guy…” I then glanced down at myself and grimaced, “...girl.”

She nodded and released me, stepping away to give us some space. “Twilight sent a message late last night advising me of what had transpired after we left. I must admit, I am stumped as to what could have caused this particular change.”

“I have a theory.” Saiian’s voice groaned out from behind me, only for the elemental to appear beside me a moment later. She looked me over briefly before turning to the princess and asking, “You have the ability to perform minor transmutation, right?” Celestia nodded, a brow cocked in interest. Saiian pointed to me and said, “Change the color of my hair and eyes to match his.”

Celestia’s brow climbed a bit higher, but she nodded before lighting her horn up and covering Saiian in a golden glow. As I watched, Saiian’s fiery hair and eyes cooled until they matched mine, but I still wasn’t quite sure what she was getting at until I heard: “By the stars...you’re identical.”

Shudder floated over from off to the side, and ran a scrutinizing eye over me and Saiian. After a few moments, she backed off and nodded firmly. “The princess is right: physically, you look exactly alike. I think I know what Saiian is getting at, since I’ve been observing your behaviors today.” Saiian’s hair and eyes faded back to their natural colors, but the frown on my face did not abate.

I gulped, mildly worried at what this all meant. “And?”

Shudder pointed to me first. “That stunt you pulled this morning was something you would have never done normally,” I blushed at the memory, but was thankful she had kept the details quiet, “regardless of how upset you were. I think I know you well enough that you actually tend to avoid anything of that nature with anypony. Furthermore, your responses to the ponies around you -- from friends to mere acquaintances -- have been far more...colorful, than normal. At first I thought it simply because of lack of sleep or different hormonal effects, but after observing Saiian as well, I’ve come to a conclusion of how I believe the change is affecting the two of you.” I kept silent and just nodded to Shudder, prompting her to explain further. “In essence, the spell took attributes from both of you and swapped them equally between the two, which is causing changes in behavior. Princess Luna told me a bit about the Saiian she remembers, and the way this one has been acting,” she thrust a hoof at Saiian, “is not what I was prepared for at all.”

I chewed on my lip at the explanation, not liking how much sense it made. “That’s...surprisingly astute of you.”

Shudder’s brow furrowed as she sent a soft glare my way. “I told you: I’m Princess Luna’s best -- the best isn’t stupid, Jamie. I’ve studied magic extensively as part of my training, as well as psychology, and your behavioral changes were severe enough that I noticed them immediately.”

All was quiet for a few moments before I finally voiced, “So I’m losing myself…”

“Adaptation is what helps us survive, Jamie, and oftentimes, our core personalities can change because of mental or emotional trauma.” Celestia explained soberly. “You have done well to overcome the changes and challenges brought upon you by your journey to Equis, but it stands to reason that chaos magic -- whether it be internal or external -- will affect you the same it would a pony. Discord showed Twilight and the other Element-bearers just how powerful chaos magic can be when worked on the mind.”

I glanced to Saiian briefly, who had a blank look on her face, before looking back to Celestia. “Can it be reversed?”

“Of course it can. However…” she began, swallowing thickly, “...we would have to remove the chaos magic from your body.”

“But my chaos magic is…” I looked to Saiian again, who finally brought her eyes to mine. In those eyes, I saw an apology, but also fear. After thinking it over for a moment, I realized why, and could only answer with a firm, “No.”

Celestia moved into my field of view, a worried frown on her face. “Jamie, are you sure?”

“Saiian’s influence alone is what keeps this planet’s gravity from crushing me, and there’s no telling what your natural bacteria or viruses would do to me.” I explained flatly, realizing just how much I actually needed Saiian. However, my desire to have Saiian with me was not only for survival. “Besides: even with her quirks, she’s a good friend, and I can’t do that to her. There’s no telling what it might do to her, and I can’t risk something bad happening.”

Celestia stared at me for a few moments before she spoke again. “This isn’t transmutation, Jamie: a personality change of this nature may be permanent. I have no doubt that Twilight will eventually find a way to give you your true body back, but to fiddle with the mind would be unnecessarily dangerous.”

I shrugged, secretly surprised at how okay I felt with that. “I still feel like me, so I’ll make due.”

“What you feel regarding your sense of self is biased, Jamie.” Celestia warned. “I can confidently say that the previous ‘you’ would be extremely upset by this.”

“A branch that refuses to bend will eventually break.” I replied sagely.

Shudder raised her hoof to retort, only to close her mouth for a few moments. Finally, she stammered out, “D-did...did you just quote Zen Master Bodhi?”

I raised an eyebrow at the statement, again surprised at the parallels between Equis and the world I came from. “Did I? On my world, that’s a simplified version of a teaching from zen buddhism, which is a religion on my world.” I shrugged and hummed to myself. “Interesting that there are so many parallels between us.”

Celestia broke in to get us back on track. “Regardless, I need you to think seriously on this, Jamie. You have changed as a person, and I want to be sure that-”

“If this is what I am now, I’m not going to kill Saiian to get the ‘old’ me back.” I interrupted firmly. “Besides, all my friends have told me that I need to loosen up a bit.”

“This isn’t what they meant, Jamie, and you know it.” Saiian finally spoke, her expression showing clear regret. “I promised you -- just a day ago -- that who you are inside would not change, and I’m still not sure you were completely comforted by it. You were just barely holding yourself together, and now you claim you’re fine with it.”

I shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know any different, at this point. I remember all that, and I remember freaking out about becoming a woman, but besides wanting to be a man again...well, maybe a bit of a personality change wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I was kind of difficult to be around sometimes, and everyone knows it. I was broody, temperamental, and far too serious.”

“But you were you, Jamie, and we wouldn’t want you to be anyone else.” Celestia assured.

I shrugged again. “Does that mean that I’ve suddenly lost you as a friend?”

Celestia bit her lip and shook her head slowly. “Well...no, but-”

“Then all’s well.” I concluded resolutely. “If I get my old thought processes back, I’ll freak out then, but right now it would be pointless to make myself upset simply for the sake of being upset. Right now, all I really feel wrong about is the fact that I’m a woman, as well as being strangely calm about it. I mean, granted, there’s nothing I can do about it on my own, but last night I was freaking out. I can tell that from last night to today my thoughts on the whole thing have changed, but that doesn’t really bother me as much as it should. At the moment, all I can do is go with the flow; that’s the only way I’m going to get out of any of this with my sanity still intact.” Before anyone else could say anything, my stomach let out a loud roar, which prompted me to rub my stomach with a frown. “Right, I haven’t eaten anything since this morning.”

“Well,” Celestia began, leaning forward to give a quick nuzzle, “I must return to Canterlot -- the day is nearly over, and I am sure my advisors would like to know where I am.” I watched as she stepped away, her horn lighting up briefly as a shimmering bubble appeared around us. She gave me one last smile before stepping away and taking to the air. I felt the magical bubble pass over me as she pulled away, at which point she vanished into thin air.

“Y’know,” I said, shaking my head with a grin, “I don’t think I’ll ever get over just how great magic is. So...pub?”

Shudder glanced to me and shrugged, after thinking for a moment. “Pub.”

Equis was a world of olden times -- for me, at least -- which meant smaller towns had thatched roofing, candles instead of electric lighting, and quills and inkwells instead of ink pens. Because of this, there weren’t many actual restaurants around; instead, every town had 2-3 pubs, which served as a place to get drinks of all kinds, as well as good, hot food and a friendly atmosphere. Most of said pubs were family-owned establishments, where everyone was welcome, and no one with bits left with an empty stomach. Needless to say, I had spent a lot of my early time on Equis in said establishments, trying to drink the pain away, but they were much more important to the community than simple “watering holes”. Pubs were a place to cast off the stress and titles of the day and just enjoy oneself, where a complete stranger could become a best friend, and even enemies could deign to share a drink as a token of goodwill to bury the hatchet.

I had spent a lot of time in a specific pub -- named The Wise Guardian after one of Luna’s constellations -- with Vinyl, getting to know the local populace, as well as the local drinks. Because of this, many of the regulars to the establishment knew me by name, or at least by sight (the latter of which wasn’t too hard, mind you). It was because of this that, while my body’s shape had changed radically, it wasn’t difficult for the owner of the establishment to recognize me with a gasp.


I looked over at the petite, chocolate-colored earth mare, who was staring at me from behind the bar counter. “Afternoon, Chocolate Stout. How are things going?”

The small pony looked me over again, shaking her head. “...u-um, o-okay, I guess. What about you though?” She gestured generally, then wrinkled her muzzle as she sniffed the air and stared at me for a moment. “...a-are you a mare now?”

“Woman.” I corrected blandly, taking a seat on a stool next to an open table close to the bar. “Whip us up some drinks, Stout. I’d also like to get three of your veg pies, if I could.” Well aware of what I liked to eat and drink after my visits to the establishment, Chocolate Stout nodded and whispered to one of her workers before ducking behind the bar counter, the sound of wooden tankards clonking together accompanying her movements.

“Spent a lot of time here, have you?” Shudder commented off-handedly.

I shrugged. “I went on a bit of an alcoholic binge for the first week or so of my stay here. Vinyl was good company, but the true reason for my outings was this place and its ale.” The memory of those first few times caused a chuckle to bubble up in my throat. “We found out pretty quick that hay-themed drinks did not agree with my digestive system, but ethanol works just fine.” I then frowned as I thought of something. “I always noticed Vinyl sprinkling salt in her drinks, though; is that a pony thing?”

Shudder nodded to me, pointing to the bar. “When the barmare brings the drinks over, you’ll notice her also bring a small bowl of salt with it. Ethanol doesn’t get us drunk like it does you; instead, it’s the dehydration that does it. Alcohol is just a drink that happens to be able to dissolve salt quickly, and in large quantities.”

I hummed to myself, remembering something I’d heard months before. “It makes a lot more sense now, I guess: I remember Octavia commenting that Vinyl liked her salt a bit too much. Didn’t make much sense to me until right now, though.”

At that moment, Chocolate Stout brought three mugs of what I assumed was cider, as well as a bowl of salt for the table. She then looked up at me and bit her lip for a moment, looking nervous. “S-so, umm…” she motioned to me generally, “what the hay happened?”

“Magical mishap.” I answered plainly, taking a long draw of the sweet alcohol and enjoying the good burn that came with it. I couldn’t help but see the action of Shudder sprinkling salt in her drink differently, now that I knew the reason for it.

“I see.” Chocolate Stout answered with a frown. “Is it permanent?”

At the thought, I felt my body freeze for a moment before I brought tankard to my lips and took a much longer pull from it. I nearly slammed the mug onto the table as I answered, “It better fucking not be. I want my dick back.”

Chocolate Stout nodded to me. “I’d imagine so. Stars, I can’t even imagine what this is like for you.”

“It sucks.” I concluded blandly, holding up my now-empty tankard for a refill. Chocolate Stout frowned worriedly, but took the empty mug and went to the bar to fill it up again. It was then that I looked to Saiian, who was just staring down into her own tankard, a cautious look on her face. “Just drink it.”

Saiian looked up at me before sniffing the liquid and shrugging, taking a tentative sip. The sip was small enough that she only had to clear her throat instead of coughing like a newbie. “It’s...interesting.”

I shrugged, turning back to my own drink as Chocolate Stout placed it on the table. “After the second mug, you won’t even taste it. Besides, it’s what the alcohol does that’s important, not necessarily what it tastes like.” I took a large gulp of my cider, enjoying the fact that on Equis, alcohol’s taste didn’t necessarily coincide with its strength; Sweet Apple Acres Special Reserve, for example, tasted almost like common apple cider, but could knock a pony off of their hooves if they weren’t careful, even without salt. Alcohol was still a diuretic, after all.

“Aaaand three vegetable pies, fresh out of the oven.” the serving mare chimed in, using her nose and no small amount of natural dexterity to slide three small pies on plates to Saiian, Shudder and I, before she smiled at us. “Will that be all?”

I nodded and reached in my bit bag, pulling out three of them and placing them in the small pouch that hung around her neck. “Yeah, that’ll be all. Thanks for the quick service, miss.”

The earth pony mare flashed me a wide grin and nodded, trotting back toward the kitchen and leaving us to eat and drink in peace. I mentally thanked the mare’s professionalism, as I didn’t want to focus on anything but getting as much food and drink into me as I could, and then passing out in a soft bed, preferably with a warm body to cuddle with.

I was feeling emotionally drained and vulnerable; don’t judge me.

“Y’know,” Shudder began, pausing to drop some salt into her drink before taking a long swig, “it’s been almost three years since I’ve been able to sit down like this and just relax in a pub with friends. Last time I did this was with my sister, before she became pregnant.” She let out a soft chuckle and poured more of the salted drink down her throat, audibly smacking her lips. After setting the tankard down onto the table, she let out a long sigh and stared blankly at the table for a long few moments. “I miss this, sometimes. The life of a guard is demanding, and I don’t get much time anymore to just...be a pony.”

I reached around the suddenly-morose pony and scratched behind her ears, joking, “Don’t go all ‘boo-hoo’ on us now, Shudder. If you’re the First Lieutenant, you got there because you’re the best, so be proud of what you’ve done.”

Shudder accepted the ear-scratch with only a slight rolling of her eyes into the back of her head, but composed herself a moment later to look to me and shrug helplessly. “I just wanted to protect the ponies I care about, which is why I joined the guard in the first place. As the years passed, things just got more and more demanding, and suddenly I realized that I rarely even see the ponies I joined for in the first place. Sometimes I wish I could just quit and go home, y’know?” Shudder then grabbed the mug with both hooves and upended it, chugging the half-full mug before slamming it down and motioning to the bar for another. “But...at the same time, I worry about what could happen if I weren’t where I am. I’ve prevented assassinations, watched over the princesses themselves while they slept, and have foiled more than a few coup attempts on the crown, but sometimes I wonder if it’s all worth it.”

“I couldn’t see you doing anything else, Shudder.” I answered with a smile, petting the mane of the unarmored guardspony. “You’re great at what you do, and I’ve seen you -- you love what you do.” I pointed to her cutie mark, which was a shadowy figure looking out over a moonlit field. “You’re the ‘Night-Watcher’, the very idea that protects ponies when they rest. Because of what you represent and the work you do, ponies across Equestria can sleep at night with just a little less fear of the dark, because they know that along with the beasties in the shadows, you and yours are there as well, to fight them off.” I patted her on the neck gently as she glanced up at me, a curious look on her face. “Your niece feels safer knowing that Auntie Shudder is chasing away the monsters before they can even get underneath her bed, and that’s something to be proud of.”

A faint smile spread across her lips, and Shudder bumped her shoulder into me as she muttered a “thank you”. I then took the odd, fabric-looped spoon that ponies used (similar utensils were often all that were available to me) and broke the crust of the vegetable pie given to me. Steam billowed out of it, along with the enticing scent of roasted vegetables and a thick gravy, the latter made from some kind of root that ponies used for a more “meaty” taste. Saiian followed suit, fumbling with the spoon as she did so, while Shudder strapped the utensil to her hoof before following our example. After a few quiet minutes of waiting so that we wouldn’t burn our mouths, the three of us took our first bites of the roasted pies.

I’ll admit, it would be better with some chicken or beef in it, but ponies did a damn good job for just using vegetables.

“I went for longer than I can remember without being able to eat or taste food.” Saiian commented upon swallowing her most recent bite of food. She shakily held another spoonful up into the air, looking over it critically. “It’s a wonder that I can’t accurately put into words, and ponies and other creatures of flesh and blood take it for granted every day. From the time you all are born, you’re eating and drinking -- smelling and tasting -- while I was created only with the ability to feel and see magic.” She shook her head with a gentle smile, taking another bite of the pie and chewing with a blissful look on her face. After swallowing, she looked to me, happy as could be. “I don’t think I’d mind having a fleshy body, if it means experiences like these.”

I nearly choked as I laughed, pounding my chest in an effort to dislodge the chewed food that had been halfway swallowed. Saiian and Shudder looked at me with concern, only for me to cough a few times and wave my hand dismissively at them, letting both know I was okay. Still, if Saiian thought a pub pie was great…

“I can still hear you, Jamie.” Saiian whispered, just close and quiet enough that only I could hear. “I think I can assume where your mind was heading, and I must say that I’m up for it if you are.”

“Not doing it.” I grunted, frowning and turning my face down, trying to hide the fact her suggestion caused blood to congregate in my cheeks from embarrassment. I wasn’t embarrassed by the fact that she was teasing me, again, regarding sex -- or, more accurately, my lack of it; rather, I felt ashamed at the fact that her suggestion held quite a bit more feasibility now, with her having a real, physical body. One of the problems with the whole thing was, “You’re an elemental, and this is your first time having a body of flesh and blood; you have no idea what you’re even asking.”

“I know what procreation is, Jamie.” her voice answered in my head, the echo-ey tone reminiscent of the time before she “showed” herself to me that first time, so long ago. As I glanced to her, she went back to consuming her pie and sipping her drink, but her eyes were still shooting to me periodically. “Besides: I built the image of this body from your memories, and I know everything you do regarding human biology, the stimuli it can detect in the world, and how it reacts to said stimuli. Granted, you had no idea how a female body worked from the perspective of having one, but recent events have changed that, haven’t they? Physically,” she made a subtle show of “accidentally” brushing her hands over her chest before going back to her food and drink, “I am a living, breathing human, complete with everything that comes with such a state...and I do mean everything.”

I was never exactly sure how to respond, so I just thought the words without saying them, hoping that would work. Even then, I silently went back to my meal, determined to get something inside me to sate my hunger and…

I just realized how that sounded.

“You’re still a chaos elemental, which means that there’s a good chance that when Twilight fixes all this, you’ll cease to be ‘real’.” I thought, hoping the words would get to her somehow. “Even if I were interested -- which I’m totally not -- I can’t do that to myself...or you.”

I saw as Saiian glanced at me out of the corner of her eye, but said nothing as we continued our meals in silence.

I’m ashamed to say that I drank quite a bit more than I should have, and was barely able to walk home without stumbling every few steps. Shudder was even worse off, and while I was sure she would still be able to dominate in a real fight, somehow, she wasn’t going to be walking or flying much of anywhere, which was why I had her on my back, receiving a piggy-back ride from yours truly...which was likely part of the reason my balance was so inconsistent.

Saiian, by comparison, was much better off. Contrary to what I had expected of her, she had been very conservative when it came to drinks, and the only indication she was intoxicated at all was a faint blush on her cheeks, and a smile that wouldn’t leave her face. I had been worried that I would have to drag a rambunctious elemental around town, but I was surprised to find her the one with the most sobriety out of the three of us. A part of me was a little disappointed -- a drunk Saiian could have been fun to mess with.

We arrived back at Twilight’s library a little after the moon had reached its highest place in the sky, which meant it was around midnight. The roads had been mercifully empty, which made the stumble back to Twilight’s much quicker, as I didn’t need to explain to anyone what had happened to me, let alone who Saiian was.

With a brief moment to pull out the key and unlock the door, I tromped into the library, mentally cursing for making so much noise in the process. Still, if what I knew about Twilight and Spike proved to be true, nothing short of a bomb going off would wake either of them up before they were ready. I wasn’t at all surprised to see Twilight herself snoring beside an open book at the main reading table (thank goodness; she’d have a conniption if she’d drooled on the book), and the absence of Spike told me he was likely upstairs, already asleep in her room. I kneeled and let Shudder slide off my back, then pointed to the hallway that housed my room, ordering her to get to sleep while she could still walk.

I made my way over to Twilight and shut the book, smiling down at the cute little alicorn bookworm. I then reached down and gathered her in my arms, lifting her off the ground with the intent of taking her to bed. Twilight’s wings flapped weakly in her sleep, but quickly relaxed and hung limply as I turned on my heel and began the slow, unsteady trek up the stairs.

“Are you sure you should be carrying her?”

I glanced back at Saiian briefly, who was thankfully just behind me. I then looked back toward the other half of stairs I still had to climb, and frowned. “Just...have your hands ready to catch me in case I fall.” After only a moment, I very clearly felt as two hands settled on my… “I meant my back, not my a- you know what? Fuck it...just don’t let me fall.” With two hands now settled on my behind, I resumed my journey up the stairs, trying the best I could to firmly put one foot in front of the other without taking an unplanned stair-dive, with an unwilling alicorn passenger.

Thankfully, I was steady enough to make it to the second floor without any incidents, and Twilight was still asleep. Granted, I had to turn my head and raise a curious eyebrow to Saiian when her hands didn’t immediately leave me. After catching my eye, the elemental snatched her hands away as if she’d grabbed a hot coal, and turned away from me mumbling a “sorry”. With that out of the way, I bumbled my way to Twilight’s bedroom and knee’ed the door open to the moonlit room. I was thankful for the longer steps she had leading up to her bedroom, and opted to take them instead of the ladder Spike used to quickly get up and down from Twilight’s window nook. Finally, I reached Twilight’s bed and took a knee on it as I tried to pry her off of me, as she had wrapped all four hooves around me as I carried her, and there was no getting around the fact that ponies were strong. Unfortunately, I knew of only one surefire way to get her to let go of me...but it was a little underhanded.

Slowly, I brought one of my hands up from her rump -- where I’d been supporting her weight -- and began to run two fingers between the wing joints on her back. Immediately, her wings began to straighten from their hanging position into a wide flare, and Twilight’s hooves went completely limp as she let out a faint hum in her sleep. With my task completed, I laid Twilight on her back, and gently coaxed the now-relaxing wings to close until they were tucked safely at her sides. However, to my surprise and mild shock, Twilight’s eyes opened as I pulled the blanket up to her chest and tucked it in. She seemed to still be half-asleep, since she only smiled softly, and craned her neck up to give a soft kiss on my cheek and a mumbled “thank you” before she closed her eyes and laid onto the pillow. Within only another moment, she was letting out quiet snores, so I pulled away and stood from the bed.

“...did that just happen?” Saiian whispered from beside me, and in doing so, voiced my own confused thoughts.

“Twilight’s never done that before.” I mumbled, completely in shock from the sudden gesture of affection.

Twilight hadn’t ever been distant with me, but she tended to show her affection with words and actions in her day-to-day life, rather than with direct physical acts, such as hugging or even nuzzles. So, the question was: what did I make of it? Well, if she was only half-awake at the time, it was likely she thought I was someone else -- someone she really cared for -- and...wait, no that wouldn’t work. Twilight was able to wake up out of a dead sleep and recite all sixteen lines of the Thaumatic Principles before her eyes even opened, so “sleep-goggles” couldn’t be a plausible conclusion. Well, maybe she saw kisses differently than most ponies did. Granted, it was a kiss to the cheek instead of the lips...but then again, Twilight seemed very connected to everything it meant to be a pony, so that wouldn’t make sense either.

The only two logical conclusions were either: a)she knew who I was, meant to do it, and knew what it meant to ponies, or b)she was half-inside a dream, and thought she was looking at -- and kissing -- someone else. And so, because of that, I responded in the most logical way: I leaned down, brushed aside her pink-streaked bangs, and planted a kiss of my own just below her horn. Twilight smiled in her sleep, muttering something indecipherable, but went right on sleeping.

“I think you have an admirer.” Saiian teased quietly.

“More than just one, from what I’ve seen.” I corrected, brushing Twilight’s head once more before turning and leaving the room. Once the door was closed behind us, I slumped with my back against the wall, closing my eyes and letting out a long breath. “I really hope she’s not in love with me, or something. It’s enough already with Vinyl and Rainbow Dash pining after me, but I really don’t want to complicate things with my landlord.”

“You may not have a choice.” Saiian advised blandly, taking a seat beside me. “Regardless of what you may think, you’re not exactly an unlikable...person.” I opened my eyes and noticed Saiian looking intently at me, and felt as she took my hand in her own. “You have quite a few good qualities that have gained you quite the following of friends; friendships don’t happen for no reason, and neither does attraction. I can nearly guarantee that, just like you, ponies would find it hard to be physically attracted to you, simply because your body is so different. It makes sense, then, that your personality is what draws them in.”

“As well as manipulating their minds unknowingly.” I corrected, pulling my knees up and resting my forehead on them.

“It was the best I could do to assure your survival at the time, Jamie; I’m sorry.”

I gave Saiian’s hand a squeeze to get her attention before answering, “I don’t blame you for that, Saiian. You did what you felt was right at the time, and it gave me at least thirteen good friends, unless I’m being presumptuous at counting you among them.”

“Of course not.” Saiian answered immediately.

I brought my face up and smiled at her, leaning my head against her shoulder and enjoying the support she offered -- both physical and emotional. “I never had that many close friends on Earth -- maybe one or two at any one time -- so more than ten is…” I let out a soft giggle and shook my head, “It’s probably more than I deserve, but I’m not complaining. It feels nice to know so many care about me for me.”

We sat silently for a few moments before Saiian abruptly stood, pulling me up by the hand she still held. Her orange eyes then stared into mine for a moment before she ordered, “Time for bed. Much longer on the floor there and you’re going to fall asleep.” She then briskly turned away and headed down the stairs to the main room of the library.

I watched her go, confused at her recent behavior. What was her problem lately? If we traded some mannerisms, I guess she got my sulk-ey attribute while I got her mischievousness. Or maybe it was just the alcohol having an effect on her...or something. Whatever...I needed sleep, and tomorrow was going to just be one more day off before I went back to work, as a woman.

I headed to my room, intent on getting some well-deserved rest, only to find the door half-open with a very irate pegasus standing outside of it, glaring at the closed washroom door.

“I don’t know what you said or did, but you better fix it.” Shudder commented, turning her head to me afterward and pointing her wing toward the washroom. “She’s crying right now.”

I furrowed my brow in confusion. “I didn’t say anything that could have caused that.”

“Well, you better find out what the hay is going on.” Shudder countered, again thrusting her wing at the door. “Your charge -- one of Princess Luna’s only living friends -- is in there, right now, crying. Find out why, and fix it.”

I recoiled at the order, and snarled at the pegasus in front of me. “My charge? I didn’t ask for her to be given to me, and I’m pretty sure she can take care of herself. She’s got some miles on her, that one, so she’s quite able to handle herself.”

Shudder looked up at me, not even a little intimidated by me when I advanced on her. She shook her head and let out a long sigh before she spoke. “You have Princess Twilight and the other Element-bearers as friends, as well as two of Ponyville’s resident musicians, a dragon, me, and the two Celestial Sisters. It’s more than likely that this body of Saiian’s will not last forever, which means that she’ll wind up back in your head, and only able to communicate with you.” She reared up on her hind legs and poked me in the chest. “You have a good number of ponies that care about you, Jamie; in the end, who does Saiian have?”

It only took me a moment to realize what Shudder was saying, and I felt mildly ashamed I didn’t pick it up quicker. “...just me.”

“Just you.” Shudder echoed in a softer voice, dropping back to the floor and nudging me toward the washroom with her nose. “Maybe she’ll never actually say it, but you’re everything to her. Without you, she has nothing -- she is nothing. You mean more to her than you could ever imagine, and she needs you right now; she needs you to support her, for once.”

I stared at Shudder for a moment before turning away and heading to the washroom...only to stop and praise, “Thank you, Shudder. Those psychology lessons sure made you a hell of a mare.”

“The. Best.” she answered smugly. The silence that followed was only broken by my sandaled feet on the wooden floor leading to the washroom.

I stepped up to the closed door and knocked firmly. The sound of what sounded like a shampoo bottle dropping in the shower answered me, followed by a muttered curse and an irritated, “What?”

“It’s me.” I returned, which caused the washroom to go completely silent other than the sound of water from the faucet. I waited a few moments before I added, “Can we talk?”

Another few moments of silence drifted between me and the closed door, until I finally heard, “...let me finish up; it’ll just be a few minutes. Meet me in the bedroom.”

I found it strange that she didn’t just invite me in, but then again, she was already acting differently today. So, with a nod to myself, I headed toward the bedroom and made myself comfortable on my bed, kicking off my shoes and socks. Shudder raised an eyebrow to me, but I placated her with a wave of the hand and confirmed, “She told me to wait for her, so here I am.”

Shudder’s brow seemed to climb even higher as she hopped on the bed and laid down in front of me. “She didn’t just invite you in?”

I shrugged. “I find it strange too, but most of today has been strange. Here’s hoping this resolves the most recent issue.”

As she promised, Saiian entered the room only a few minutes later, covered only in a towel. She looked down at her feet as a bright blush overtook her face and she mumbled, “Um...I-I don’t have anything to wear.”

I popped out of bed and rummaged through the dresser, looking for- “Here we go.” I turned around and held out the pair of drawstring shorts and a tee shirt to Saiian. “This will do for tonight, as I don’t really had much else for either of us, and sleeping in day-clothes isn’t going to be all that comfortable.”

She took the clothes from me and stared at them for a moment before looking up at me, twirling her finger. “Could you turn around please?”

I raised an eyebrow at her, grabbing my clothes and a towel of my own. “Actually, I’m taking a shower as well. Just wait here for me and I’ll be back in a bit.” Thankfully the decision got me out of the growing awkward situation in the room, but I couldn’t help but wonder how strange things were going to get before the night was over for me.

Showering for the second time as a female was noticeably less-strange, as I focused on simply getting it done quickly and efficiently, instead of the individual sensations it brought about. However, I will admit to standing in front of the mirror for a bit, and admiring my new body. The odd thing was that I found myself thinking that I needed to start exercising again if I wanted to keep my figure...only to have to actually remind myself that I was supposed to have a male figure.

Whatever...a thought for another time.

As I made my way back to the bedroom, simultaneously having a good laugh at just how baggy my clothes were now, I idly wondered what Saiian would have to say in regards to what she was thinking and feeling recently. It made a strange sort of sense, when I really thought about it: three people -- two ponies and Saiian herself -- had confirmed that my behavior and even the way I thought about things had changed, just since the previous night, so it made sense that Saiian would be changed as well. I found myself questioning, however, just how much she would change due to my own mannerisms being traded with some of hers, as well as having a physical body, complete with all the sensations and hormones that came with it. Much as humans liked to think they were above the flesh, the fact remained that our own bodies’ chemical signals could change the way we behaved and thought, and it was likely Saiian was right in the thick of it.

Without hesitation, I pushed the bedroom door open and stepped into the room. I found Saiian sitting on the bed next to Shudder, the former of the two looking rather rattled, while the latter looked amused.

I stood silently for a moment in the doorway before closing the door behind me and asking, “Did I miss something?”

“Talk and I’ll pluck every one of your feathers out, one by one.” Saiian warned, which caused the words Shudder had been about to voice to die in her throat, and her mouth to snap shut with a click of teeth. After a moment of glaring at Shudder, Saiian turned to me and patted the spot next to her. “Sit. I’m sure you have questions.”

I hung my towel on the hook on the door and tossed my day-clothes into the hamper in the corner before hopping onto the bed, reclining against the pillows provided. “Yeah, I have a few. Let’s start with this one: why were you crying?”

Saiian glanced away at my words for a few moments before she answered, “...I-I’m not really sure.” After a deep breath she turned back to me, only to shake her head. “I don’t know what’s happening to me, Jamie. Shudder has a theory, though, and I think it makes sense.”

I glanced to Shudder, who looked to Saiian for approval before explaining, “Her body is nearly completely human, right down to the electrical impulses her body uses to communicate. I say ‘nearly’ because of the fact that she is still the conduit for the magic inside of you, which explains why the marks on her body still behave the way they do. However,” she grinned at Saiian, “with the true body of a human, she is also being subjected to the same chemical hormones we all are, and without the childhood or adolescence to learn to control those emotions drawn from what she feels and experiences, she’s getting them all at once, and her mind isn’t sure what to make of it. The only explanation for how ‘complete’ her body seems to be is that your own body was used as a template, and the rest was made from the change you both took yesterday.”

“Well,” I answered, since it actually made sense now, “she’s missed out on about fifteen to twenty years of acclimating to a human body.”

“All my life, I’ve been able to feel every emotion all living things can.” Saiian commented, crossing her arms as a faint dusting of pink crawled over her cheeks. “Now, all of the sudden, they’re so intense, and they hit without warning; it sucks. I mean,” she then looked to me and poked me in the chest, “you started talking about how you don’t feel like you deserve what you have, and you’re so happy to have those who care about you for who you are, and…” she trailed off as tears began to gather in her eyes, and she wiped them away before scoffing. “See? This is what I’m talking about: I think about something sad, like that, and water starts falling out of my face. And then I start thinking of all of the other things that have happened to you, and…” Now the tears were coming faster, and Saiian started sniffling quite obviously. Suddenly she grabbed onto me and pulled me into an awkward hug -- because of the position, not the hug itself. “You didn’t deserve all that stuff, Jamie. You were a good kid, and you turned into a good guy despite it all, and you really didn’t deserve any of it!” Her sniffling had graduated to full sobs now, and I pulled the crying woman into my lap and held her as she wept.

I couldn’t say I knew what she felt -- not all at once, anyway -- but I knew what it was like to feel an empathetic sadness for the misfortune of someone close to me. I hadn’t had many people in my life that I could honestly say were extremely important to me, but even I felt empathy for my newfound friends, which means said empathy had been within me all along, but simply didn’t have a target before now. Saiian knew me inside and out, however, and so she couldn’t help but be empathetic to my issues in life. A part of me wanted to laugh at how strange it was for Saiian to be so removed from her normal character, but another part of me just wanted to hold her close and enjoy the fact that I had another friend, now, that cared enough to cry on my behalf.

“B-but…” Saiian choked out between sobs, taking a few moments to compose herself before continuing, “...I-I don’t want to die.” The sheer brokenness and fear in her tone bought my full attention, and I could only watch in interest as Saiian further settled herself, finally pulling away from me enough to look me in the eye. “For the first time in my life, I know what fresh, clean air smells like, and I can taste food and feel the grass beneath my feet...and I don’t want to lose this.” She held up a hand in front of her face, turning it around and scrutinizing it with a long stare. “I don’t want to lose this body, and I don’t want to lose the ability to experience the world this way.”

“Her body is flesh and blood for the moment,” Shudder broke in, “but only because the residual magic of the spell is holding it together. Once it completely fades, the body will break down into free magic again, and it will cease to be.” I turned my head to see Shudder pointing a slightly wobbly hoof at Saiian as she explained, “It’s true that she is your magic, but nearly all the energy she generates is being given to you, leaving little to none left for her. To put it simply: the body she has is using that energy up faster than she’s creating it for herself.”

I furrowed my brow, looking back to the woman in my arms. “So just re-route some of the magic coming to me and sustain the body. As it is, I have to bleed it off at regular intervals out in the forest, because I’m generating too much.”

Saiian was still sniffling, but she shook her head and looked up at me. “It wouldn’t be enough. All it would do is extend the time the body exists by a few weeks -- maybe a month, at the most. The rest of your magic, you’re using to keep yourself safe from Equestrian diseases, as well as the planet’s gravity.”

I thought for a moment before nodding to Saiian. “We’ll figure something out. Do it: route my excess energy to you.”

Saiian’s mouth dropped open for a moment before she nodded and closed her eyes. After a few moments, she opened them again and announced, “It’s done.” She then looked to me and gave a soft smile of gratitude. “Thank you, Jamie.”

I returned her smile, nodding to her again. “You’re welcome. Now, I think we could all use a good sleep. Tomorrow will prove...interesting.”

“That’s right, Princess Twilight is supposed to be leaving in the morning.” Shudder commented, just before tossing two pills into her mouth and swallowing them with a grimace. “Guess that means it’ll be the three of us around here, for the most part.”

I nodded, standing and moving to my side of the bed, lifting up the sheets to let myself in as Saiian did the same on the other side. After we settled ourselves under the thin sheet, Shudder hopped up onto the bed -- nearly falling over in the process, due to her body’s water levels taking time to equalize -- and settled herself at the foot of the bed, giving Saiian and I plenty of room on the large mattress. After everyone was settled, I reached over and turned the knob on the oil lamp, the flame lowering until is sputtered out completely, shrouding the room in darkness.

Now that Saiian had a physical body, I couldn’t hold her with both arms anymore, as one of them would fall asleep from resting under her all night. Instead, I slid my right arm under both pillows, and as I turned, draped the other over her form, before finding her hand and grasping it in my own. She gave my hand a soft squeeze and muttered a “good night” before she released it, and I relocated my now-free hand to her hip, pulling her flush against me and using her body heat to keep me warm in lieu of a blanket. I tried not to think about how nice it felt when she wiggled her bottom a bit as she got more comfortable, but after a few moments she settled, and sleep began to creep over me.

I woke sometime in the middle of the night, though I didn’t know why at first. All I knew was that I couldn’t see the moon in my window, and there was no no lightening of the sky, so that meant it was somewhere in the middle of the night. Sleeping on my side with Saiian was more comfortable than sleeping on my back, but my recently grown breasts meant it was still distracting.

This was when I realized that Saiian was conspicuously absent.

I rose from the bed, reaching over to give Shudder a brief pet to silently let her know everything was all right, since she had awakened.

Before I could ask, however, she whispered, “She left a few minutes ago -- told me to let you sleep.”

I nodded to her and stood, quietly making my way into the hallway and towards the main room of the library. I got lucky on my first try, however, and saw Saiian leaning against the doorway to the kitchen, sipping a glass of water.

“You know,” she began before I could even question why she was up, “in some ways, life as a sovereign elemental was much easier than this one. Since I've become a part of you, life has become exponentially more complicated.”

I actually felt guilty to be someone else's burden, and I couldn't stop myself from muttering a subdued apology. “Believe me when I say I never wanted to be anyone's burden to bear. For what it's worth, I'm sorry.”

Saiian shook her head, her fiery locks tousling ever so slightly. “Don't be. I consider it an honor and a privilege to actually be of use to someone after so long in the aether. You might find this unbelievable, but some of my most treasured memories have taken place in the short time I've spent with you.” She ended her explanation with a warm, caring smile, looking at me for the first time.

Despite all the flirting and teasing Saiian had thrown my way, her honest words actually made me start to blush a bit, and my tongue didn't seem to want to work right. “W-well, um, you sure know how to flatter a guy...girl...person.”

Saiian smiled at my response in a coy manner before pouring out her glass in the low sink and setting the glass on the countertop. She then made her way over to me and grasped my hand, pulling me with her to one of the windows and sitting down on the little nook built into the room. Saiian glanced out over the night sky as she continued to hold my hand, so I took the seat next to her and did my best to wait patiently for her to speak.

“I was exaggerating a bit when I said I was capable of all the same emotions in my previous life.” Saiian commented in a near-whisper, her eyes remaining on the clear night sky. “As a chaos elemental, my mind simply wasn’t built to feel some things, and I was quite incapable of feeling them. Now though,” Saiian paused, turning to me and grasping my hand with both of hers as she looked down at them, “I can feel everything, and though it’s been only a scant few months since you came to the world, I’ve experienced more in that time than I have in the several millennia I’ve existed.”

My throat seemed to dry up a bit at the simple, yet powerful words she was speaking, but I was still able to utter out, “W-what do you mean?”

Saiian glanced up at me for a moment before she turned her eyes again to the sky, seeming to use the vision of Luna’s night as a way to focus herself. It took a few moments of silent pondering on her end before she finally seemed to organize what she was thinking into anything I could easily understand. “The best way I can explain it is simply this: I was blindfolded. In much the same way that a blindfolded person would experience, I knew there was more happening than I was able to observe, but I was unable to pierce the veil to experience it. However, instead of sight or any of the other natural senses, my veil was over emotions and how I perceived the world with them.” She let out a long breath, followed by a readjusting of the night clothes she wore. “In many ways, life as a pure chaos elemental was so much simpler than my new life.”

“How is it different?” I found myself asking, genuinely interested in the answer.

Saiian smiled before turning to look at me again. “In my past life, I was unable to feel the heart-wrenching fear of death, nor the warm joy of time spent with someone who cares for me. Even when I knew Luna, before her banishment, the concept of friendship was diluted to me: I understood the relationship on a basic level and can say that I enjoyed the time I spent with Luna, but not to the extent that I am capable of, now. Also,” Saiian paused briefly, clearing her throat in what I could only assume was a nervous manner, “never before have I been capable of feeling attraction to another in the sense that beings of flesh and blood can. It is a confusing sensation, most of the time, but not altogether unpleasant.”

Any other time I would have denied the bait, but whether it be because of the lack of adequate sleep or the minor amount of inebriation remaining, I found myself compelled to ask, “Who are you attracted to?”

“You seem to make a habit out of making queries for which you already have the answer, Jamie.” Saiian snarked, pulling away from me and standing. At my blank expression, she elaborated, “Some people can and will flirt with complete strangers -- even if they don’t find said stranger attractive -- simply because it’s entertaining; I’m not one of those people, Jamie.”

I suppose I should have been more surprised -- or even a little disturbed -- that my not-so-imaginary friend was practically admitting she was attracted to me, but in honesty, I found myself intrigued more than anything else. Besides the fact that this was entirely new territory for me (on at least three different levels, mind you), it was rather flattering to know I had caught the eye of someone who was quite possibly older than dirt (there was also a part of me that shouted that it was also creepy, but I ordered that bit to shut up).

For a long few moments following that, there was silence, until…

“...so what now?” I questioned, eager to know exactly where Saiian and I stood, now.

Saiian stared at me, her softly glowing amber eyes boring into mine. After a short eternity, she answered with a simple, “Nothing.”

Where I had been mentally sitting on the edge of my seat, I now felt as if the wind had been taken out of my sails. “What do you mean ‘nothing’? How can you say something like that and just say that it’s nothing?”

Saiian shrugged helplessly. “I was bestowed upon you to keep you safe, and nothing else. I can’t risk letting personal feelings affect my purpose. It would be unwise to do anything else.”

I suddenly found myself standing, unable to stay seated any longer, and looking directly into Saiian’s eyes from only a foot apart. At the time, I couldn’t specifically pick out just why what she said had such an affect on me, but I knew I couldn’t just sit silently and accept it. As the months passed, Saiian had become far more to me than just a protector and confidant, and beyond her stunning looks, her complex personality drew me in as much as anything else. I realized at that moment that I had been ignoring something for months, on the premise that Saiian was not of the physical world:

I wanted her.

Anyone who knew me -- Saiian and my pony-friends among them -- quickly found that I had a rather unhealthy habit of forcing myself to completely ignore certain things, in more severe cases even going so far as to deny their very existence; I had done it when I had first arrived, ignoring even the possibility of not being able to return to Earth, and I did it again regarding Vinyl and Rainbow’s affections toward me. The reason for my bad habit was debatable, but the reason was meaningless, as it didn’t change the fact that I had an avoidant personality, and I purposefully shut out things and/or people that made me uncomfortable. Because of that, I had pushed aside my own desires regarding Saiian, simply because I convinced myself that there could never be anything between two people when one of them technically didn’t exist, and I had become so good at avoiding the issue that, after the initial influx of desire I felt for Saiian, I forgot I even wanted her that way.

For the first time in a long time, I found myself wanting Saiian in a way that had nothing to do with her magical utilities, and, bit by bit, moved closer to her until we were only a few inches separating us. I could feel her warm, sweet-smelling breath washing over my face as I held her gaze, and it took more than I’d care to admit to keep me from pouncing on her like a fool.

“Why?” I whispered, just loud enough to where she could hear me.

Saiian shrugged again, though she seemed to be losing a bit of her seemingly-calm composure, since her eyes darted over my face, and she seemed to be blinking quite a bit more than normal. It also took a few seconds for her to finally formulate a reply. “J-Jamie…” she stopped, and swallowed before attempting once more. “Jamie, please don’t tease me like this. I have lived far too long to be reduced to a rabbit chasing a carrot on a stick.”

“Well,” I answered, taking her two hands in my own as I smiled to her, “what if I want more than that? What if I decided that Saiian, one of my best friends, just so happens to be someone I wanted to spend my time with? What if I find a way to make this,” I nodded to her body as a whole, “permanent?”

Her face twisted a bit, and with her shining eyes and barely-noticeable quivering lip, I could tell she was struggling to keep herself composed. “Jamie, don’t make a girl a promise if you know you can’t keep it.”

Releasing her hands and closing the last distance between us, I snaked my arms around her waist and held her close against me as I pinned her with a look of determination. “You’re right, I can’t promise this will be permanent...but I promise to do everything I can to make it a reality. Would that be fair, then?”

Saiian just stared at me, seemingly struggling to understand just what I was saying to her. It took a few more moments before she finally uttered out a quiet, “Why?”

I shrugged, my smile widening. “Because the Saiian I’ve come to know the past few days is a much deeper and complex individual than I could have ever imagined, and she just so happens to be the one I’m closest to. And, it helps that she’s taken a shine to me. To be honest, I’ve reached the ‘fuck it’ line here, and I don’t see why I should deny this.”

Saiian furrowed her brow at me. “You do realize that, biologically and magically, ponies are more similar to you than I am, right?”

I nodded in understanding. “They may be, but they also can’t understand me like you can. They’ve been raised in such a way that the things I’ve experienced and how I see the world are two things that they may never completely understand. Perhaps in time that will change, but for now, you are the only one I can confide in that will understand me and what I have to say, and that seems like a pretty good match, to me. You know as well as I do that relationships on Earth have been forged with far less than that.” Before she could retort with another argument, I did what I had secretly wanted to since the third week Saiian had been in my life: I kissed her.

Compared to the kiss with Luna, it was mundane, but that’s what made it special: there was no crazy magic involved. Instead, it was an act purely of the physical world, and I could easily focus on the way Saiian initially tried to jerk away, only to press into me aggressively a heartbeat later. Saiian’s hands traveled up into my long hair, and firmly grasped two handfuls as we continued the oral battle. I couldn’t stop the pleasured moan that bubbled up in my throat as pleasurable bolt seemed to shoot down my spine, even as I pressed our bodies closer together, almost as if I were trying to merge our forms into one. Even through our clothing, I could feel her generous curves, and had I been just a tiny amount less sober, I would have began removing those clothes. Instead, I found myself perfectly content, for now, with enjoying the feeling of her pressed against me, squirming with delight as my hands roamed over her supple figure.

As all good things do, however, it had to end, as neither of us were able to hold a breath indefinitely, and the nose didn’t seem to provide enough airflow to the lungs. As we pulled apart with a soft ‘POP’ of suction, we both found ourselves staring at each other. I was unsure what Saiian was thinking, but on my end, I had two warring factions in my mind: one side was repeatedly screaming, “WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT,” while the other was fist-pumping the air with a triumphant cry of, “IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME!” For my part, all I could do was grin like an idiot, which was a smile Saiian soon returned.

This time, when we leaned in simultaneously, the connection was much gentler, with more affection than desire put into the kisses, nibbles, and pecks. I had never understood describing time seeming to stand still until that moment, as it felt like each second was an hour, but in a good way.

Long story short, it was a pretty good night.