• Published 26th Mar 2012
  • 15,908 Views, 770 Comments

The Past is the Future - the_panic



A human escaping from a nuclear holocaust brings change to all of Equestria and a certain librarian.

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Wild Horses Couldn't Drag Me Away

Sam jerked awake as the train pulled into the Canterlot station. He noted in passing that the morning’s gray rain clouds hadn’t followed him from Ponyville. Slowly gathering his few possessions, he stood up stiffly and began shuffling off of the train, careful not to trip over any of the ponies exiting. Some of the other passengers were eyeing him suspiciously as if he were a predator, while others recognized Sam from the flyers and newspaper articles published about the nanomachine attack, and attempted to greet him as he stepped down onto the station platform. After seeing him politely brush off several would-be admirers, most of the other ponies more or less steered clear of Sam as he exited the station.

At the entrance to the station, he saw an unoccupied chariot; with its gleaming white coat of paint and bronze adornments, it could only be there to pick up a guest of the royal palace or to deliver one of the princesses to a destination of their choosing.

One of the white pegasus guards waiting near the chariot saw Sam approaching, and called him over.

“You there! You are Sam Mitchell, correct?”

Wow, royal pickup service. Cool. “Yeah, I’m Sam. I’m guessing Celestia sent you to wait for me?”

“That’s PRINCESS Celestia,” the guard growled, “and yes, she did send me and my associate here to pick you up.”

“About time you got here, too,” snorted the other, already-harnessed, guard, “get in so we can drop you off and get back to work.”

Not wishing to talk any further, lest he snap at the obviously-irritated guards, Sam complied, and was promptly whisked off to the castle. Once in the air, he found his mind slightly drifting from his foul mood and the previous day’s melodramatic turn of events as he caught sight of Canterlot’s magnificent skyline.

Man, how did I miss this view the last time I was here?! Right, I was a despondent, sulking wreck of a man. Funny how I only seem come to Canterlot under depressing circumstances... Granted, this is only my second time here, but I’m two for two so far.

As the chariot rose higher into the air, Sam’s eyes involuntarily squinted shut from the sun’s reflection off of the giant ornate domes at the top of each tower of the royal palace. Still, he tried to enjoy the sights and let his mind wander some.

After circling around the castle, the chariot finally landed at a balcony at the rear of the structure. Princess Luna promptly stepped out from inside the castle.

“Good day, Sam Mitchell. I assume your trip was uneventful?”

Carefully exiting the chariot, Sam gave a slight nod in lieu of bowing as the guards had done. “Yes, I slept through most of the trip. Good to see you again, Luna.”

“I must admit, mine sister and I are quite surprised at thy sudden decision to change locales, we thought thou were quite comfortably settled in Ponyville.”

“We can discuss that later,” sighed Sam, “but for now I’d just like to see what Celestia wants so that I can find an inn for the next few nights.”

Sensing that she had tread upon a sensitive subject, Luna dropped it altogether.

“Very well, though I am certain that Celestia will be most pleased to allow you one of the guest rooms until a more permanent arrangement is found for you. Follow me to the Royal Gardens, Sam. You may leave your bags here, they will be taken to your room.”

Wielding his cane, Sam slowly hobbled behind the Princess of the Night. Along the way, he saw several familiar sights, including the hallway that lead to the room in which he had stayed when he first arrived in Equestria.

The narrow, candle-lit stone hallway abruptly ended and was supplanted by a carpeting of lush, green grass. There, in the center of a large collection of flowers and other greenery, was Princess Celestia, sitting on a small pile of cushions in front of a tea table. She stood up to greet her sister and the human that was accompanying her.

Wearing her ever-present genteel smile, Celestia greeted her visitor. “Sam Mitchell, so good to see you again. I take it that your injuries are healing well?”

This time Sam opted to attempt a bow, only to find that his hip painfully protested such movement. “For the most part, yes. And thank you for the pick-up service at the train station.”

“Don’t mention it. I’m sure Luna has already told you I intend to let you stay here, at least until you find other arrangements if you wish to do so. Please, take a seat, both of you,” Celestia motioned towards two spare cushion piles situated near the table.

Sam and Luna both took a spot, prompting one of the castle servants to emerge from hiding to pour them both a cup of tea.

Celestia declined a refill of her own cup with a wave of her hoof. “Now, Sam, while I am not at all displeased to have you here, both on a personal and a professional level, I can’t say that I understand your sudden change of heart, given what you told me last month. Please, what brings you to Canterlot?”

Sam shook his head, trying to hide his emotions. “I started looking through my files again, and realized that I sent to your scientists several designs that should have never left my possession,” he took a deep breath before continuing with a certain stiffness in his voice, “and I decided that it would be best for me to be here and have as much direct influence as possible over further development of my technology.” I hope she buys that, I don’t feel like discussing... THAT... Right now.

Luna sipped her tea silently; she knew Sam wasn’t telling them everything, and if anyone could get the truth out of him, it was her sister.

Celestia slightly tilted her head, that serene, kindly smile still on her lips as her prismatic mane flowed in the gentle breeze. “Come now, Sam. Just three weeks ago you were convincing me to compromise and let you stay in Ponyville with Twilight,” she saw him cringe slightly at the mention of her star student, “Speaking of whom, how are things between her and yourself?”

After fighting back a few bitter tears, Sam sighed. “If you must know, Princesses, she and I had something of a fight yesterday.”

Luna nearly spat out her tea, and shot a glowering scowl towards Sam. If this strange ape has distressed dear Twilight Sparkle... Only the dead shall truly know peace from the fury I shall exact upon him...

Celestia looked towards her sister. “Come now, Luna, let him speak.”

Deciding to ignore the stare he was receiving from Luna, Sam continued, “It was a pretty bad one. Long story short, it gave me a few things to think about regarding my relationship with her, and she’s probably better off without me. Coming to work here would help me get my mind off of everything. The academy is probably the closest thing to the sort of work environment I’m used to.”

That sweet smile had vanished from Celestia’s face. “I see. I am sorry to hear that, Sam,” she cleared her throat, “But nonetheless, you are welcome here. Shall I send word to the academy that you will be joining them tomorrow?”

Sam nodded. “Yes, I feel like I have learned enough of the Equestrian language to get some work done now. I may try getting this translation spell removed and see how much more I can pick up.”

The white alicorn was smiling again. “Very well. As I said earlier, you may stay in one of the guest suites until you have found a permanent residence. If you’ll follow the guards at the garden entrance behind me, they will escort you there. You may join Luna and I for dinner at sundown, if you like.”

Sam stood up, massaging the bony part of his hip. “Thank you, Celestia, Luna. I will see you both then.”

As Sam left the premises with the guards, Luna leaned in towards her sister. “Tia, he just admitted to fighting with your prized pupil, and you are just dropping the subject? Are you not concerned that he may have harmed Twilight? Will you not at the least send her some advice or even see if she is well?”

The elder princess sighed. “Without knowing the full details, it would be wrong to assign blame. Lovers’ quarrels can be ugly, indeed, but I truly believe this will work itself out in time. It is best for us to stay out of the matter for now, and allow them both time to heal.”

“If you insist, dear sister...”

---

Twilight sat alone in her study, sipping a cup of tea in an attempt to calm her nerves. It had taken some convincing, but she managed to assure Rarity and Rainbow Dash that she was okay. Even so, they refused to leave until they had cleaned up the place while soundly rejecting Twilight’s offer to do it herself.

I’m glad my friends are there for me... Doesn’t make this whole situation any easier, but at least I still have them...

The thought brought a tiny, though short-lived, smile back to the unicorn’s otherwise depressed visage.

After finishing her tea, Twilight decided to clean herself up; hours of sobbing and uncontrolled emotional outbursts had taken a toll on her appearance. Her mane was disheveled and in need of a thorough brushing, her tail was riddled with split ends, and her eyes were bloodshot with circles as dark as Luna’s night underneath them.

As she stood up to head towards the bathroom, she spied a white envelope with her name written on it sitting on the edge of her desk.

That must be the letter Sam sent with Spike and Rarity... I guess this is Rarity’s way of insisting that I read it. Might as well, I suppose... Let’s see what he’s got to say to a wreck like me...

Twilight gingerly levitated the paper out of the envelope, carefully floating the folded sheet of paper away from her face as if it were soaked in a skunk’s spray. Unfolding it, she read slowly.

Dear Twilight Sparkle,

Before I say anything else, I just want to say I’m sorry. Sorry about the fight, sorry about leaving so suddenly for Canterlot as I’m sure you’ve heard by now.

But most of all, I’m sorry things with us didn’t work out.

I want you to know, regardless of what you may think of me right now, I do care about you. I meant those things that I said before I left your library. Ever since I first arrived here, you’ve been nothing but kind to me. You’re one of the most genuinely wonderful individuals I could have ever hoped to meet, especially given the circumstances of my arrival here, and one of the best friends I’ve had in quite a long time.

And I know, I didn’t have to leave Ponyville, but it’s obvious that I’ve hurt you somehow. That’s why I left, to spare us both the pain and trouble of dealing with each other any further. You deserve a normal life, and eventually I’m sure you’ll meet some lucky pony who can give you that.

At some point in the future, maybe we can forget about all of this and be friends again, but for the time being, maybe it’s just best that I’m not around anymore.

So again, I’m sorry. Take care of yourself.

-Sam Mitchell

Twilight crumpled to the ground as the felt the tears returning to her eyes, too emotionally and physically drained to do anything but weep in silence.

He really is gone... And this time, it really IS all my fault...

---

Sam was hunched over a cluttered workbench in one of the academy’s laboratories, using his bodyweight to hold a long, cage-like structure down on the table. “Alright Bunsen, just tighten that screw there... Oh for crying out- NO just turn the damn screw! The OTHER way!” In a fit of frustration, Sam slammed his head into the workbench’s surface, sighing, “If the Princesses hadn’t already explicitly forbidden me from doing so, I’d have you and Hoofstein’s hides adorning my bedroom by now. Just hand me the goddamn screwdriver already...”

It had been one week since Sam’s arrival in Canterlot, and he wasted no time in setting back to work. His first order of business was to attempt to build a brace for his right hip and leg so that he could walk without a cane again; Sam refused to sign off on any official projects until he could safely and reliably get around the lab. With Bunsen’s lingering nervousness over Sam’s threats during the replicator siege, the poor lab pony wasn’t doing much to ease the human’s consistently angry demeanor and short temper, a trait recently acquired since Sam’s arrival from Ponyville.

Struggling to keep at least some masculine bass in his voice, Bunsen managed to squeak his concerns to his new lab manager. “Sam, watch out, don’t tighten that screw so much, and watch out for that-” before Bunsen could finish speaking, a light blue flash erupted from the small motors on the leg brace’s hinges, burning Sam’s hands.

The human simply glared menacingly towards his lab partner.

“Eh heh heh... I’ll just go get the first aid kid...”

While he waited, Sam pondered which project to approve first. Upon first arriving at the academy earlier in the week and after warning everyone to be patient with his slowly-growing grasp of Equestrian language, he made sure to remind the researchers of Celestia’s arrangement with him and the fact that he had near-final veto over any proposed project. Bunsen, who had been stripped of his short-lived tenure after the replicator incident, had already forgotten about Sam’s short temper, and proceeded to try persuading him to restart the nanomachine generator project. Sam responded by coarsely mentioning how hungry he was and wondering aloud on the culinary qualities of horsemeat; the irony of the fact that he had spoken this threat in Equestrian was not lost on anyone.

The replicator project is right out, that was an incomplete product even in my time. I could approve the hydroelectric generator improvements, though; the ones they’re running on currently are horrifically inefficient, even for what limited uses of electricity they have. Of course, I could start running a course on semiconductor circuit development and get them away from using vaccuum tube transistors, but it would be quite some time before they could do anything beyond small circuits in the lab... Fabrication and lithography plants don’t exactly get up and running overnight... Eh, I’m leaning towards the hydroelectric generators; with a few wiring modifications, they make good electric motors as well. Either way, forcing them to help me build this brace was a great idea; I certainly didn’t have the tools or parts available in Ponyville...

Finally, the nervous blue stallion arrived back at Sam’s side, his green mane a stringy mess, and levitated from his coat pockets a few bottles of disinfectant and burn cream. Bunsen was relieved to see that his brief absence had been just enough time for the hairless alien’s temper to die down.

As he lathered the ointments onto his hands, Sam looked Bunsen in the eye. “Hey, look, sorry for yelling at you earlier.”

Bunsen was taken aback; the past several days of working under Sam’s supervision were collectively a week spent in hell for the beleaguered unicorn. All week, Bunsen had endured enraged reprimands for the slightest of things, and always in front of his colleagues.

“I-it’s okay, Sam,” the unicorn stuttered, “I know I screwed up, and a lot of folks, you included, got hurt. Trust me, you think I got off easy, just with losing my title here? Imagine getting dragged to the moon for a “private audience” Princess Luna; it’s not what you think, and you would NOT like her when she’s angry,” he shuddered.

Sam raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Damn, and here I was thinking that the Princesses were benevolent rulers.”

Bunsen shook his head in disagreement. “Oh, no, they really are. They simply have no tolerance for any pony, any threat, that might harm their subjects, and I was pretty directly responsible for such a threat. They were extremely apologetic afterwards; I’d like to think that they knew I meant no intentional harm, but they wanted to impress upon me the seriousness of everything that happened... I mean, horsefeathers, Sam! Chip had just started his internship with us a month beforehand!”

“Wow... How about we call it in for the day? And by the way, that’s ‘Mr. Mitchell’ or ‘boss’ to you, Bunsen.”

“Sorry,” Bunsen grinned sheepishly, “and no, I swear if we can just make that one last connection on the ankle servos, we’ll have you walking home normally in twenty minutes.”

Sam nodded. “Alright, let’s see what you can do. Get it working, and I’ll treat you and the other researchers out for drinks sometime next week,” he sensed Bunsen’s rising good mood and continued, “and no, this does not mean we’re friends or that I completely forgive you for nearly killing me and one of my closest friends. I have a habit of holding grudges.”

Bunsen’s ears drooped as he tucked into his work. “Okay...”

Sure enough, after twenty minutes Bunsen had proven true to his word. He helped Sam strap on the strange-looking brace, mentioning that it should fit under most pant-legs, since the brace was designed to be a close fit with the contour of a human’s leg.

After a few unsteady steps around the lab, Sam announced his verdict. “Nice work, Bunsen, looks like I owe you and the others a few rounds next week. It could still use a few adjustments, but it’ll do for now,” motioning towards the exit, Sam grabbed his bag, “see you tomorrow, Bunsen.”

For the first time in several weeks, Sam remembered what it felt like to be able to walk normally, or as close to normal as his new brace would permit. The only downside was that, without the cane to lean on, his full weight now rested upon his leg when he walked, causing him to involuntarily grunt with pain on almost every other step.

Maybe this idea wasn’t FULLY thought through after all... Oh well, maybe I can adjust it a bit when I get home...

On his way through the cobblestone streets back to the castle, Sam passed by several ponies closing up their shops for the night. He tried to avoid the awkward stares that some passersby gave him or at least give a friendly wave and smile.

I walk this route every day, and most of these ponies have seen me at least three times this week. One would think they’d quit staring at me. From what I understand, stranger things than me have appeared around here.

Shortly before arriving back at the castle, Sam opted to pick up a bottle of wine; he felt that a nice drink might calm his mind and help soothe the pain radiating out of his hip joint.

Even after a couple of months of living in a society built for and by ponykind, Sam still wasn’t completely used to having to stoop down to enter buildings. With the exception of Twilight’s library, Rarity’s shop, and of course the royal palace, Sam usually found himself with only a few inches of room between his head and the ceilings of most buildings.

After selecting a vintage and paying for his bottle, Sam stepped outside and continued on to the castle, stopping one more time to buy a sandwich from a small cafe. Once he arrived at the castle, Sam decided to go straight to his room rather than join the Princesses for dinner as he had the previous few nights.

Sam once again found himself marveling at the intricate details carved into the wood and marble used to decorate the room. Even the wardrobe and chest-of-drawers were ornately embellished with subtle inlays of opal and gold.

He sat upon the bed and gazed out of the glass double doors that lead onto a small balcony. How does Celestia honestly expect me to WANT to move out of the castle? Sure, I always did enjoy having my own apartment back before the war, but I could get used to this huge bed, and you just can’t beat the view... If only SHE were here to share it with me... No. Can’t think like that. What’s done is done, and that’s the end of it.

With a sigh, Sam stood back up and walked to his desk, where his sandwich, bottle of wine, laptop, and a relatively old book were sitting. He grasped the ever-burning enchanted lamp on the tabletop and opened the shutted, illuminating the desk surface.

Between bites of the sandwich, Sam slowly flipped through the aged tome, which was entitled “Advanced Medical Magic, Alchemy, and Biological Transmutation”. Celestia had recommended the book to him after hearing him express some interest in attempting to find some obscure spell or potion that might heal the muscle and nerve damage in his hip and leg, or at least help him deal with it better. Though many of the spells in the book required higher levels of magic than even Twilight Sparkle possessed, Celestia assured Sam that if he found a spell that could help, she would gladly cast it for him as her way of properly thanking him for his part in stopping the replicators.

As he skimmed the pages, Sam became increasingly thankful that he had had the foresight to write a program to aid him in translating the book; though his Equestrian reading skills had certainly grown over the past weeks, he still had a long way to go before he could properly read, unaided, a book as complex as the one before him.

Finally, a particular passage and illustration caught his attention; it appeared to be a spell capable of regenerating a leg. The more he translated, the more his hopes and excitement rose.

I can’t honestly say I expected to find something this quickly! Maybe I’ll be up and walking around painlessly in no time!

However, as he read on, and compared what he read with the results of the translator, it became increasingly clear that this particular spell actually healed cracked hooves, an apparently common ailment before the development of iron-smelting and horse shoes.

Exhausted, Sam downed his glass of wine, stood up from his desk, and promptly collapsed onto the bed.

Well, I’m only about a hundred or so pages into that spellbook, barely even an eighth of the way through it, and I’ve got all the time in the world...

---

Celestia and Luna were strolling around the outskirts of the castle, admiring Luna’s latest handiwork with the night’s stellar arrangements. They had just met to coordinate the daily setting of the sun and corresponding raising of the moon, before Celestia turned in for a night’s sleep.

Ever since her return from the moon, Luna had grown fond of their nightly walks. Seeing her sister once again treating her as an equal, as a friend, had helped her to adjust to life in a society in which most ponies had either forgotten her existence or still thought of her as a monster of the night.

After their usual circling of the castle grounds, the two sisters stopped in the gardens. Every night, without fail, Luna would continue on from there with her nightly duties, while Celestia would part from her company to get some well-deserved rest. However, sensing that her younger sister had something on her mind, Celestia paused briefly, before turning to go inside.

Luna spoke just as Celestia crossed the doorway. “Sister, wait. We have not seen Sam in quite some time, has he moved into a more permanent residence already? And without even telling us?”

Celestia turned back towards the gardens. “Oh, don’t worry, Luna. He’s still here. Apparently finding an apartment that will accommodate him is proving challenging. He’s only been here a little over two weeks now, give him some time.”

“We, er, I see. It merely strikes me as strange that he no longer attends dinner with us as is customary for our guests to do.”

Celestia nodded in agreement. “Yes, I have noticed his absences as well. Perhaps I should check in on him? His guest suite isn’t too far out of the way to my own chambers.”

“Very well, do let me know if anything is out of the ordinary.”

“Well,” Celestia giggled, “we do have a time-traveling, hairless primate in our guest suite... So...”

Luna facehoofed. “That is not what I meant, Tia.”

“Does your concern mean that you’ve forgiven him for his tiff with Twilight Sparkle?”

Luna sighed. “While I wish that had not happened, that is not my reasoning. I have seen his dreams, sister, or rather, his nightmares.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow in interest. “Nightmares? To have caught your attention, they must have been quite something.”

“Every night since his third or fourth night here. It’s almost always the same one, he’s on a beach with a group of creatures like him, I believe they were his family, and suddenly they are all obliterated by a large fireball from the sky precipitated by a cloud in the shape of a toadstool. I sense he has had this nightmare before,” Luna idly looked up at her night sky, “but he occasionally sees Twilight Sparkle being attacked by that mechanical beast that they defeated together.”

The Day Princess sighed. “I see. I will definitely check in on him then. Goodnight, sister.”

As Luna took to the sky for her nightly reign, Celestia began silently walking through the castle towards Sam’s room. Upon arrival, she lightly knocked on the wooden door.

“Sam? May I come in?”

She heard no answer. Fearing that Sam may have attempted to take his own life as he had done in Ponyville, Celestia decided to enter uninvited. With a small bolt of energy from her horn, she unlocked the door and rushed in, only to see Sam sloppily passed out over his desk with an empty bottle of red wine tipped towards his lap and the floor.

Thank the Sun...

The Princess moved closer to the sleeping human, and noted that he had the fruity, alcoholic stench of merlot covering him. She gently nudged him awake.

“Multicore environments... Require coherent data access across... Cache lines and... Can’t even fucking... Teapot orange...”

Celestia shook him harder. “Sam, wake up. Are you ok?”

Sam violently shook his head, as though he were shaking off water. “Wha-?” he rubbed his tired, dark-circled eyes, “Oh, hi Princess...”

The Princess shot him a look of disdain. “Sam Mitchell, are you drunk?”

“What?” Sam looked back at his desk, and saw the fallen bottle, “Oh. OHH, no, Princess, no! I just fell asleep reading. Must have forgotten to cork the bottle back up and knocked it into my lap when I nodded off. Only had one glass, I promise.”

“I’ll take your word for it for now, Sam, just know that I do not approve of alcohol as a coping mechanism.”

“Understood, but really, that’s not what this is. I just enjoy a little now and again. Now, before I ask ‘what can I do for you’, please tell me there is someone in this castle or city that can get red wine stains out of clothes? This is my favorite pair of pants.”

“Of course, there’s a great place in the city I can point you towards,” Celestia said with a smile, “now, as for what you can do for me... I’d say you have it backwards. My sister and I realized we haven’t seen you recently, and I decided I would see how you are doing. If you don’t mind me saying, you look terrible, Sam.”

“I’m just tired, Princess.”

“Is everything okay? How is everything at the academy?”

Sam placed his face in his hands, sighing. “It’s fine. I convinced them to abandon the replicator project, at least until I can spend some time fixing it,” he looked up to see a look of horror on Celestia’s face, “Oh, seriously, don’t worry. I have no pressing urge to start it back up SOON. It really does have safe, useful applications though. It just so happened that your star researchers managed to accidentally bypass every safeguard built into the design. Frankly, the design schematics they found weren’t even completed; my lab abandoned work on them, deeming the then-current prototype too unstable. For now, I think we’re going to work on an improved hydroelectric turbine to replace the horrifically inefficient ones currently used on the dam outside Ponyville.”

With a slight air of worry in her voice, Celestia responded, “Well, I will trust your judgement. After all, you do know how to destroy them when they go rogue...”

Sam shrugged. “Like I said, not in the cards for a long time.”

The Princess levitated a cushion over to the spot next to Sam’s seat, and sat down herself. “But really, are YOU ok? I hate to imply that we’re invading your privacy, but...”

Sam raised an eyebrow. “Buuuuut...?”

“Sam, know that Luna means no harm, but she has seen your nightmares.”

Sam’s jaw dropped open. “Come again?”

“Luna is closely attuned to the night, and she has some power over dreams. Apparently, between your close proximity to her since moving in here, and the intensity of your nightmares, she has been able to see them, and what she saw has the both of us worried,” Celestia hoped her expression conveyed her honest concern, “so I ask you again, are you ok?”

Sam slumped back in his chair. “Okay, you’ve got me, but I don’t appreciate having my subconscious eavesdropped on. I AM having some trouble sleeping... Come to think of it though, I haven’t had nightmares at all since shortly before the replicator incident... But yeah, that, the stress of managing the lab...” He looked up at the Princess, “Seriously, Princess, your so-called ‘top researchers’ are idiots, a bunch of bumbling, self-important, overly-confident IDIOTS. It’s truly a marvel of engineering that they managed to get the replicators working at all.”

“Sam! Be patient with them!”

“I am; they aren’t easy to work with. It’s like they think I’m here to replace them or make their own work obsolete or something. But anyway, it’s not just that. I’ve been flipping through this book you gave me, and I’m not getting anywhere. I thought I found a spell for regrowing legs, but it turned out to be a magical remedy for cracked hooves. Then, I thought I saw a spell for full-body regeneration, but after studying the translation, it was a spell to transform creatures into ponies, with no apparent way to change back. Finally, I actually did find a spell for regenerating one’s body, but it had a pretty creepy-sounding warning that it should ONLY be used on ponies. I’m just frustrated, you know? For crying out loud, I’m a twenty-four year old with the mobility of a seventy year old!”

Celestia nodded sympathetically. “I see.”

Sam continued his angry tirade in a voice dripping with frustrated rage. “It’s just the latest in a long series of events where the world further continues to painfully violate me for a cheap laugh! First, global god-damned nuclear war breaks out just as I’m beginning life on my own! Just when I think I’m getting away from that, I end up who-knows-how-long in the future, permanently separated from my friends and family. Then, as I’m coming to terms with everything, even making a few new friends, I get crippled by a bastardization of electronics and magic that nearly kills my new closest friend. Now, ALL OF THAT, I found hard to deal with, but I had Twilight, but even THAT went to pot, and she kicked me out,” he leveled his gaze at Celestia, his eyes squinting, “So pardon me for being a little short, I have a lot to handle, and not too many ways to effectively deal with it.”

Celestia flared her wings and raised a hoof in protest. “Sam Mitchell! I appreciate your candor, but don’t you EVER forget that you are speaking to royalty! I understand and respect your position, really, I sympathize with you, Sam. But, do not make me regret freeing you from Professor Hoofstein’s investigative custody by continuing this bitter, disrespectful attitude. It’s bad enough that things have soured between yourself and Twilight Sparkle, without you spreading a foul mood to everyone in Canterlot because of it.”

Sam sank down a little in his chair and averted his eyes. “Sorry, Princess. Like I said, I’ve got a lot on my mind, and it’s killing me. Honestly, I really am grateful for what you did for me, what you’re STILL doing for me. I realize you didn’t have to do any of it, and frankly I can’t say the scientists and government officials from my time period would have been so generous to you, were our roles reversed.”

“It’s okay,” Celestia sighed, before clearing her throat, “I may be all-powerful and borderline-omniscient, but even I have lost my temper from time to time. After all, I do have a younger sibling, something that I think you can sympathize with. I understand. Anyway...” her eyes drifted towards the book on Sam’s desk, “I will try to track down some additional books. I am certain that is not the only tome on obscure medical magic that we have.”

“Thank you, I’d appreciate that,” Sam looked back up at Celestia with a confused look on his face, “So, speaking of those spells I found... Why would you have a spell that permanently transformed someone, anyway? And what’s up with the warning for the healing spell?”

The white Princess looked away in thought, bringing a hoof to her chin. “Ah, I vaguely remember those spells now... We actually used the transformation spell as a sort of witness protection and an incentive for informants, long before Equestria was the happy, peaceful land that it is today. The Griffon kingdom wasn’t always such a peaceful neighbor; occasionally we would see griffons that disagreed with their rulers’ plans of violence, and they would come to us with information in exchange for asylum. By requiring a permanent change of species, it not only encouraged them to integrate with our society peacefully, but it helped us weed out anyone with false or insincere intentions.”

Sam cocked his head. “Not sure I follow. Couldn’t one of them just come up, give you bad intel, and then live comfortably as a pony here or even go back home?”

Celestia shook her head. “Back then, the ruling class of Gryphonia was quite... Racist. Their hatred for ponykind would have bordered on genocidal, had we not been able to diffuse our differences after that ruling group was removed from power. Basically, no griffon loyal to THAT crown would have dared become a pony, and thus forsake his homeland, just to deliver false intelligence.”

“Ah, I gotcha. Honestly, it’s kinda hard to believe that there was EVER any violence or international tension around here. But anyway... What’s the deal with that other spell’s warning?”

“Oh, yes, sorry. Well, when developing medical spells, our researchers try to keep spells as general as possible, which can lessen their effects at times. As for you, you’re so unique, it was a wonder than any of the hospital’s spells worked even slightly. This spell though, was specifically made with ponies in mind, and requires a massive amount of magical energy on the part of the pony casting it. If used on a non-pony, it would conflict with their biology. The best case scenario is that nothing happens, but the more likely alternative would be a gruesome deformation of the target’s body.”

Sam’s face was expressionless. “Sounds pretty counter-intuitive.”

Celestia nodded. “Yes, it is. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll find something eventually. I’ll see if I can’t think of any other books to recommend. But, if you need anything, please let my sister or myself know.”

“I appreciate your concern. I’ll be fine.”

“I don’t mean to overstep any personal boundaries but,” The Princess hesitated, “have you considered writing Twilight? Perhaps see if any apologies or amends might be made?”

Sam gritted his teeth. “No, I haven’t done so, and I really don’t intend to. I know you’re just looking out for your favorite student, but this is for the best.”

“I see,” Celestia said, disappointed, “well, regardless, do at least try to go out more often, I’d hate to see you become a bitter recluse. I’ve heard that you got on well with Shining Armor and my niece, perhaps you might take some time to visit them?”

“Princess, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I think given the circumstances, Shining is probably the LAST pony I’d want to speak to right now.”

Celestia shook her head. “Fine, fine. But my point still stands. Staying cooped up like this isn’t healthy. How is your apartment search coming?”

Sam looked away in thought. “Eh, I’m having a hard time finding anywhere decently large enough to fit me. In most places I’ve looked at, the ceilings are too low for me, and the ones that ARE large enough, I can’t afford them,” his mouth curved into a slight smile, “I knew it would be tough to fit in living in a civilization of ponies, but this has just been ridiculous.”

Celestia moved a hoof to her mouth to stifle a laugh. “I was afraid you might have difficulties like that... As I have said, you may stay as long as is necessary. I feel that I owe one of Equestria’s heroes at least that much. If you need anything, please do let Luna or myself know. Good night, Sam.”

“Goodnight, Princess. And do me a favor, tell Luna to stay out of my dreams, will ya? Every now and then I dream of a big steak dinner, and I really don’t want her to think I’m some sort of ravenous beast; I can tell she’s already stiff enough towards me over me fighting with Twilight... On that note, this all-vegetarian diet is killing me.”

“I will see what I can do, on both accounts,” Celestia giggled.

As Princess Celestia exited the room, Sam moved towards the showers to clean the smell of alcohol from his body.

After removing the brace from his leg, he grabbed his cane to hobble into the walk-in shower, thankful that a sort of bench had been carved into the white marble walls. As the hot water poured over him, and steamed up the air, his mind began began to drift as he sat.

Here’s hoping I can actually sleep without waking up in a cold sweat tonight... Heh, a spell to transform someone into a pony... If it weren’t for the permanence of it, I could change, use the healing spell, and change back. I’d be healed and back to normal. How weird would it be to be a pony, though? Couldn’t eat meat, couldn’t use delicate tools... That last one would suck, no more electronics work, not to mention hooves on a keyboard would be ridiculous... But unicorns seem to get by well enough using their magic to manipulate things. Don’t think I could get used to eating hay though, heh.

Sam continued absent-mindedly pondering how ponies managed to function on a day-to-day basis, until he noticed that his skin had become pruned, and he had still not washed himself properly. He quickly finished up the task, dried off, and redressed.

After climbing into bed, and extinguishing his lamp, he fell asleep with two questions on his mind.

Why hasn’t the Princess had the castle upgraded for electricity? And back to my thoughts in the shower... What if I did actually use THAT spell? Nah, that’d be ridiculous...

---

With the sun hanging directly overhead, Twilight glumly plodded along the path back to her library. She had been trying in earnest to get back to her normal routine once the initial shock and depression resulting from her fight with Sam had subsided.

Twilight groaned slightly as she mentally reviewed her purchases from her trip to the market earlier in the day. Got some apples... Stocked back up on hay, daisies, and elderflower... Oh what’s the use, I’ve barely been hungry lately. I doubt I’ll finish most of this before it goes bad... I don’t even really want to eat lunch; I just want to go back to sleep, but I need to reshelve some of the books first... Sounds like a party.

In her depressed state, Twilight scarcely noticed the bouncing blur of pink that had appeared at her side.

“Hiya, Twilight! How’re ya doing?”

Though she was surprised to see Pinkie, Twilight showed no sign of it. “Oh, hey Pinkie. I’m fine. Thanks for lunch last week, by the way. It was nice to get out of the house for a while.”

Pinkie was beaming as she replied, “Don’t mention it! It’s been, like, FOREVER since we had hung out like that! We should totally do it again sometime! OH I KNOW, maybe we could get Rarity and Fluttershy and the others and have a spa day! Wouldn’t that be super-duper fun?! And then we could get some party games and music and icing, put it all in my party cannon and...”

Twilight folded her ears against her head in an attempt to block out Pinkie Pie’s rambling. I love Pinkie like a sister, but can’t she see I’m not in the mood for this?

“...And then we all take a bow! The talent agent will look at us and ask us what we call our act, to which we all respond, THE ARISTOCRATS! Won’t that just be hilarious?!”

After hearing no answer, Pinkie looked around and realized Twilight was no longer beside her, and had left her standing outside of the library, confused and just a bit hurt at the way she’d been brushed off.

And I was sure that would have gotten a laugh, or at least a smile out of her... Ohhh Pinkie, what are you gonna do about THIS?!

Pinkie Pie nervously bounced in place in front of the door. She knew Twilight was depressed, but the true extent of the situation had been hard to discern. After all, the bookish mare had scarcely been seen outside of the library in the two weeks since Sam’s departure, and when she had ventured out, her demeanor was so downtrodden that even Pinkie, the ever ebullient party pony, seemed to deflate when she was in sight. Even more telling was the slight, but noticeable, loss of weight that Twilight was exhibiting, a direct result of her now-nonexistent appetite.

As if trying to come up with a plan to rid Twilight of her depression, Pinkie began pacing in front of Twilight’s door.

It’s just not right for somepony to go TWO WHOLE SUPER LONG WEEKS without smiling! I mean that’s just crazy! Like... Like... Not BREATHING! Or not eating cupcakes! Yeah! I mean I can see somepony going a few minutes without smiling, maybe even an hour or two TOPS but... Two weeks?!

Falling back on her haunches and raising a hoof into the air, Pinkie angrily announced her determination to an audience that wasn’t there. “Not smiling?! NOT ON MY WATCH!”

Suddenly, Applejack came galloping in from town looking more than a little panicked. “Pinkie! What’s wrong?! Ah heard somepony hollerin’ from Twi’s place and...” Her expression shifted from worried to annoyed, “There’s actually nothin’ wrong, is there Pinkie?”

The pink mare’s face contorted into a display of disbelief. “Nothing’s wrong? NOTHING’S WRONG?! AJ, Twilight has barely been out of her house in two weeks! I haven’t seen her since like... Three days ago! She’s hurting, and she needs us to make her smile again!”

“Whoa there, Pinkie Pie, maybe ya’ll shouldn’t talk like that right outside her house. But look here sugarcube, Twi’s got a broken heart ta deal with, an’ that ain’t easy. All we can do is be there for her while she heals.”

“I know! But normally when I see somepony feeling sad or blue, I gotta do something to cheer ‘em right up or else I feel all empty inside! So when I heard what happened, I invited Twilight to have lunch with me at Sugarcube Corner, and she actually came! I mean I suppose she couldn’t stay cooped up in the library forever, but I guess she could if Spike made sure to go out and bring her food, but how boring would that be! You’d have to have everypony come to the same place for parties, every time, and don’t get me wrong, I like the library and all but-”

“Pinkie! Ya’ll are gettin’ off topic. What happened when she met up with ya?”

Pinkie giggled bashfully, before regaining her serious appearance and tone of voice. “Sorry! So, about a week after Sam left, Twilight finally came out and took me up on my offer for lunch. She looked bad, AJ, like you when you wore yourself out applebucking, or when I thought you guys hated me and my parties! Her eyes were all dark and dull and kinda puffy like she’d been crying again. I asked her how she was, but she didn’t talk much. She gave real short answers when I asked her stuff, and she barely touched the ginormous chimi-cherry-changa I made her.”

Applejack pawed worriedly at the ground. “Shucks, Pinkie, Ah didn’t know she was THAT bad...”

“I know!” Pinkie exclaimed as her eyes opened wide, “How could anypony only take ONE BITE of a chimi-cherry-changa?! You know, my original slogan for it was ‘Chimi-Cherry! Once you pop, the fun don’t stop!’, but some ponies thought it was too strange to be a pastry slogan...”

Applejack facehoofed. “Pinkie Pie,” she muttered, “Ya’ll are beyond crazy... So, why don’t we drop in an’ see if she feels like chattin’ a bit?”

Pinkie nodded solemnly, and knocked at the door. A few seconds later, Spike answered, looking as if he had just competed in the Running of the Leaves marathon.

“Hey AJ, Pinkie, I’m guessing you’re here to check on Twilight?”

Applejack nodded. “Eeyup.”

Spike sighed and shook his head. “Good luck trying to get her out of her room. She’s been holed up in there for the past two days. She won’t talk to me or let me in her room, except to bring her something to eat when she finally can’t stand being hungry anymore. Even then she’s hardly touching anything I bring her.”

Pinkie’s eyes lit up. “I know just how to fix that,” she reached into a bush next to the door and pulled her hoof out, holding a large, ornately-frosted chocolate cupcake, “I keep these stashed all over Ponyville, in case of cupcake emergencies! Nopony can frown with one of these in their mouths!” she began making loud, exaggerated slurping noises.

Spike shrugged. “Go for it, but I doubt she’ll even crack the door open; when she’s like this, she won’t talk to me. She just cries herself to sleep... She was reshelving the books, and saw a book she used to give Sam his language lessons, and that set her off again... It’s not as bad as what happened when Rarity tried to drag her to the spa under a week ago...”

The farm pony cocked her head. “What happened, Spike?”

Spike pressed a claw to his temple. “Rarity made the mistake of saying a good make-over would leave her looking ‘so wonderfully radiant’ that she could forget about Sam and have any stallion she wanted. Twilight nearly had a small meltdown, but she managed to hold it in long enough to get back home... Anyway, come on in, guys.”

Applejack and Spike followed close behind Pinkie as they entered the house and quietly made their way upstairs to Twilight’s room.

Pinkie carefully and cautiously raised a hoof to Twilight’s bedroom door, and with all of the tact and subtlety of an atom bomb, she began pounding away at the wooden barrier. “HEY TWILIGHT, CAN YA COME OUT AND TALK FOR A SECOND? I GOT YOU THIS SUPER DUPER AWESOME CUPCAKE! IT’S GOT CREAM CHEESE FROSTING WITH SPRINKLES AND CHOCOLATE CHIPS AND OH MY GOSH I FORGOT, IT’S CHOCOL-HEY!!”

Pinkie’s sugar-fueled tirade was cut short as a purple aura engulfed her and shoved her away from the door.

Applejack brought a hoof to her face in displeasure. “Why don’t ya’ll let me handle this one, Pinkie?” she lightly rapped her hoof against the door, “Twilight? It’s me, Applejack. Spike an’ Pinkie Pie are with me, and we’re all worried ‘bout ya. We ain’t seen ya’ll in a while, and... Well... We just want ya to know that we’re here for ya. Please come out.”

The trio waited in silence, but got no answer.

Inside the room, Twilight was quietly curled up on her bed, staring at the framed picture from Pinkie’s party and remembering the sensation of Sam’s arms around her.

What I wouldn’t give to have him back here with me... He was trying to tell me he loved me, and I didn’t believe him. I kicked him out! Oh Celestia... I am a terrible pony. I deserve this. I let my doubts and insecurities get the best of me, eat away at me, and drive me to ungratefully chase away someone who saved my life...

In the hallway, Applejack had an idea, and motioned Pinkie and Spike to followe her downstairs. “This is lookin’ hopeless... Ah knew she was a mite depressed about this whole thing with Sam, but Ah didn’t know she was shuttin’ herself in like this. It’s time ta bring out tha big guns. If we can’t get Twilight ta come out an’ talk, Ah think Ah know somepony who CAN.” she turned to look at Spike, “Spike, mind takin’ a letter to send to Princess Celestia? We need some advice on how ta help Twi, and not too many ponies know Twilight better than the Princess herself.”

With a nod, Spike immediately grabbed a quill and pen, and set to work taking dictation as Applejack described the series of events that had let to Twilight’s current state of being. Satisfied that all the necessary details were there, Applejack gave the young dragon a nod, signaling him to incinerate the letter, sending it on its way to the Princess of the Sun.

---

Princess Celestia sat in her usual place on the royal dais in the Grand Hall of the palace, tending to a typical day’s work. As she skimmed through one of her scrolls, an official request from one of her Fillydelphian subjects for an audience concerning a new tax for municipal improvement, a swirl of green smoke gathered several inches from her face, leaving another scroll in midair.

Celestia’s mind immediately reawakened from its paperwork-induced trance, and she immediately unrolled the parchment.

“A letter from Twilight! Oh I haven’t heard from her in a while now. I do so enjoy reading her ‘friendship reports’...”

As the Princess read, it became quickly apparent that this was not a friendly letter, nor was it from Twilight. Though she did not show it, the news of Twilight’s emotional state was most upsetting.

“Excuse me,” Celestia shifted her attention from the letter to one of the guards at the entrance, “would you mind taking this letter to the palace courier? Have him deliver it to Shining Armor immediately with the explanation that it was just sent to me, and that he should make a point to talk to Sam Mitchell about it soon.”

Still held in her glowing white aura, the letter floated from Princess Celestia’s seat towards the guard.

“Yes, Your Highness,” the guard flashed her a quick salute, and galloped out.

Celestia was worried. I’ve been content to sit on the sidelines and hope that either Twilight and Sam might reconcile or that they both might be able to handle this in a healthy manner, but it appears outside intervention is necessary... I suppose I should have foreseen Twilight’s reaction; after all, she was a loner until I pushed her to make friends in Ponyville, and she certainly has never been involved with anypony romantically before. I suppose it only makes sense that she would retreat within herself in the face of pain as severe as first heartbreak... Even Sam is affected, as much as he tries to protest otherwise, her expression turned sour and angry as she visualized him, He isn’t sleeping, he isn’t talking to anypony except to rant at them, and his temper is as short as my sun is bright. He won’t even admit that he misses Twilight, even though it’s as plain as day to anypony else! He’s acting like he did when I first met him. For a being as supposedly advanced as he is, he’s behaving like a dumb ape...

---

Shining Armor was sitting at his desk in the barracks, re-reading the letter forwarded to him by the Princess for the third time. Finally, he set the parchment down; the dim light of the sun filtering through the windows and the weak candlelight reflecting off of the stone walls weren’t doing his eyes any favors.

The white stallion stood up from his seat, stretching his limbs before beginning to pace around his office in a manner not at all unlike his younger sister.

On one hoof, I want to go track down Sam and make good on the threat I made when I warned him about hurting her... But, that letter makes it sound like it was at least as much Twilight’s fault as it was his, and let’s face it, it wouldn’t be the first time my sister’s neurotic tendencies have gotten the best of her. I don’t know. I need to talk to Cadance about this...

Shining exited his office, and locked the door behind him. On his way out, he pulled his second-in-command aside, a gray pegasus guard in silver armor, and instructed him to take command for a few hours.

Having left the barracks in proper order, Shining proceeded to trot down the cobblestone streets of Canterlot towards the generously-sized house that he and Princess Cadance called home. The fragrant aroma of his wife’s cooking filled his nostrils before he’d even fully opened the door; once inside, he could see that she was in the midst of preparing a large pot of a thick vegetable stew.

Cadance was so wrapped up in her cooking that she didn’t notice her husband entering the kitchen until it was too late; he wrapped a field of magic around her, and quickly pulled her away from the stove into the embrace of his forelegs.

“EEP! WHO IS THAT-” Cadance managed to turn her head to face a mischievously-grinning Shining Armor, “Oh, haha, very funny, you got me, dear.”

Shining let go of her, laughing. “You always squeak when you’re surprised. It never ceases to make me laugh.”

Cadance lightly shoved him away, her face held in a mocking frown.

“Have I ever told you,” Shining continued, still laughing, “how cute you are when you’re mad?”

“More than a few times, Shining,” Cadance replied, shaking her head, “So what brings you home so early? Don’t you usually eat lunch in the chow hall with the other guards? Not that I’m not happy to see you.”

“And don’t you usually have lunch in the castle with your aunts?”

“Oh, yes, usually. But I had a few things to do today, and I thought I’d get an early start on tonight’s meal.”

Shining chuckled. “Being a princess, I’d have thought you’d rather let servants do the cooking.”

Cadance raised an eyebrow. “Aunt Tia and Aunt Luna never did understand my fascination with cooking, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard you complaining, though, dear.”

“Nope, not at all!” He walked over closer to his wife and nuzzled her, “Kind, beautiful, and an amazing cook. I’d say I got the good end of the bargain when we got married; you got cheated!”

Cadance giggled, and returned his affection. “Think what you want, Shining. Anyway, you didn’t answer my question.”

“Oh, right,” Shining levitated Applejack’s letter out of his uniform’s pocket over to Cadance, “read this, and tell me what you think.”

Cadance grasped the letter in her own magical aura, holding it in front of her face as she read; her expression growing increasingly worried.

Finally, she lowered the parchment from her face. “So... Little Twiley and her special somepony had a tiff?”

Shining nodded. “Yeah, and Celestia wants me to do something about it. You read in the letter how badly Twilight is dealing with it. I don’t know whether to go chew Sam out or what.”

Cadance brought a hoof to her chin in thought. “Hmm... Well, the way Applejack put it, Twilight sort of admitted that she let herself get too worked up about something, and you and I both know that’s not terribly out of the ordinary for her...” Cadance shuddered as she remembered some of the legendary obsessive-compulsive fits Twilight had thrown during her foalsitting days. She certainly was a high-strung little filly...

Shining nodded in agreement. “That’s exactly what I was thinking. I’m just not entirely sure what to do.”

“Well, here’s my suggestion. We aren’t sure really which one of them is at fault, so rather than going straight into ‘Big Brother Protector’ mode right away, go find Sam and see if you can’t talk it out with him. If his side of the story matches this letter, and it really is all just a big misunderstanding thanks to Twilight, maybe you could convince him to go back and work things out with her? After all, it seemed like you got on well with him when we last visited Ponyville with your parents.”

“Sounds like a good idea. He did say he owed me a drink the next time we met... I’ll at least have to give him a hard time for not letting us know he was in town, though.”

“Don’t be too rough on him now,” Cadance giggled, “he was a strange sort, but he made Twilight happy, and because of that, I’d love to see them back together again. She’s done so much for all of us, you and I in particular, and she deserves to be happy. In the meantime, since you’re already here, would you like some lunch before you go back to the barracks? The stew is almost done.”

Shining sniffed the air again, taking in the scent of the various spices and seasonings his wife had added to the mix. “That sounds wonderful. And I’ll go track down Sam for a drink tonight, probably see if I can’t catch him coming out of the academy; you should go have dinner with your aunts tonight, since we’re already having the stew for lunch. I’ll meet you in the gardens afterwards and tell you how it went.”

“I did need to ask Celestia about the plans for the next gala... Sure, that should work out nicely.” Cadance turned her attention back to the stove, “Now you go have a seat, lunch will be ready in a minute!”

---

Having taken the academic portion of his officers’ studies at the Royal Academy, Shining Armor was all too familiar with the esteemed establishment’s schedule. As the clock tower looming over the austere brick building struck six times, a slowly increasing stream of weary students and bespectacled professors trotted out of the building.

Shining was beginning to wonder if Sam hadn’t taken to doing his research from the castle’s library, until he finally he saw a thin form standing taller than the rest of the ponies making their exit from the school building.

Sheesh, the Princess wasn’t kidding, he looks awful! Has he even eaten since he got here? Maybe it’s not such a good idea to grab a drink with him, after all.

“Hey! Sam Mitchell! Long time, no see!”

As Shining approached the haggard human, he caught a glimpse of shock and apprehension in Sam’s eyes. He extended a hoof in greeting; Sam nervously grasped it and shook.

Please tell me Celestia didn’t send Shining after me, I really don’t wanna deal with the pissed off older brother of an ex-girlfriend, let alone a pissed off older brother who can use magic and command armies to trample my crippled ass...

“H-hey, Shining, how are you?” Sam tried to mask his unease, in the event that Shining really was just meeting him on friendly terms.

Shining put on his friendliest smile and laughed. “Judging by the looks of you, I should ask you the same thing. Anyway, I heard you were in town, figured we could catch up. One of us owes the other a drink, but I don’t remember who.” Maybe if I keep things totally genial, he’ll be more open to talking about what went down with Twilight... What would Cadance do, right?

Sam shrugged. “Sure, I’m down.” Just one drink, we’ll have a friendly chat, and that’ll be it, I hope.

“Great! By the way, I hope I’m not out of line, but didn’t you need crutches or a cane to get around last time we met? And your speech sounds... Different. New translation spell?”

Sam reached down and pulled up his right pant-leg to reveal the mechanical brace on his leg. “Bunsen and the other lab coats helped me make this so I could walk with my hands free. As for the speech, no, no more magic, I’ve been learning your language. Probably sounds a bit off to you, since my computer has been helping me practice at home.”

Shining scratched his chin as he considered the military applications of Sam’s exoskeleton brace. “Interesting. Anyway, follow me, there’s a place a few blocks off of the main path that has the best beer; it’s all brewed on site.”

Sam did as he was told, and awkwardly limped along beside the blue-haired stallion, as passersby in the street looked on in confusion, wondering why the Captain of the Royal Guard was associating with such a bizarre creature.

A few minutes later, they arrived at the pub, a rather nondescript building with bare wooden support beams and stucco walls, not unlike the cottages of Ponyville; they got there not a minute too soon, according to Sam’s hip. The sign read “The Saucy Mare”, almost leading Sam to expect a pony strip club were it not for the lack of both tacky lighting and drunken jeering.

As Sam ducked down and followed Shining Armor inside, he noticed how quiet it was, especially for a pub. While in most places Sam’s entrance would have drawn a few curious stares, the occupants of the various tables in the bar continued as they were.

The two took a seat at the bar, and waited for the bartender to take their order.

Shining decided to be the one to break the awkward silence. “So, Sam, how goes everything at the academy?”

Sam’s eyes flicked upwards absent-mindedly. “Eh, I could take it or leave it.”

“That bad, eh?”

“Oh no, not at all, it’s just wonderful working with a group of ponies who think they constantly have to prove to the almighty mathematical monkey that they aren’t REALLY as backwards as they appear to be. Really, I just wish they’d stop trying to one-up each other around me and actually do some work. They’re like kids.”

“Reminds me,” Shining chuckled, “of my days of officers’ training in the academy. It’s good to see their attitudes haven’t changed much, I suppose.”

Sam gave an exasperated sigh. “That’s just the problem, Bunsen and Hoofstein ALMOST get it, but the others just don’t understand that hubris and world-changing, and potentially world-ending, technology just don’t mix. That’s the sort of attitude that caused them to nearly kill me!”

The bartender, a grey-maned stallion in a black vest, interrupted the conversation to take their orders. “What’ll ya have?”

Sam looked at Shining and shrugged.

“Two of the oak stouts, please,” Shining said to the barkeeper.

“Sure thing, comin’ up.”

Shining turned back towards Sam. “Anyway, yeah I can’t say I envy your job.”

“And,” Sam raised an eyebrow, “I can’t say I envy yours.”

The barpony slid two filled glasses towards Sam and Shining, prompting both of them to take a swig.

“Ahh,” Shining sighed, “Haven’t had this stuff in ages. Whaddya think, Sam?”

“Not bad. Never been big on stouts, but this is different. Can’t place my finger on it though.”

“Yeah...” Shining trailed off. Horsefeathers. Can’t think of anything to talk about besides my sister. Screw it, I’m a guardspony, not a guidance counselor, buck subtlety...

Another awkward silence fell upon the two friends as they both looked down at their drinks.

“Eeyup,” Sam replied. Damn, who am I, Big Macintosh? Well, looks like big brother ran out of small talk... “Alright, Shining, let’s cut to the chase.”

Shining levitated his mug up to his lips, and took another gulp of the heavy brew. “Sounds like a plan to me.”

“Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind hanging out with you,” Sam said with an accusatory glare, “but how did you know I was here, and what made you want to meet up with me?”

“Celestia told me. Sam, I know all about what happened with you and my sister. Or rather, I know something happened. Twilight’s friends sent a letter to the Princess explaining everything, or rather, everything from their limited knowledge and what Twilight told them,” Shining Armor fixed an eerily calm stare on Sam, “but I’d love to hear your side. Really, I just want to know what happened so I can help my sister.”

Sam felt his heart drop slightly at the implication that Twilight might not be well, despite his brain’s stern commands to ignore the feeling. “How about this, tell me what you know, and I’ll tell you if I have anything that fills in the gaps or is contradictory.”

Shining sighed. “Alright, sounds fine. Basically, you and Twilight had a fight; she let her guilt over your replicator injury get the best of her, and started to think you didn’t like her or something. There was also something about you acting uncomfortable around her, I didn’t really understand that part. Anyway, she kicked you out.”

Sam just stared at the counter, watching the condensation from his mug collect on the varnished wood of the bar. “Sounds like you know everything then.”

“Great,” Shining shook his head, “honestly I was afraid of that. Twilight’s always been a little high-strung, a little high-maintenance, so I kind of wondered how she’d handle the trauma of the attack followed by the sudden excitement of finding her first romantic interest... In a way this is good news, though.”

Sam looked from his mug towards the stallion. “How so?”

“Well,” Shining chuckled nervously, “whenever she stresses out over things, usually all she needs is somepony to firmly remind her of how things really are and a little time to work things out in her head. If you were to go back now, and basically make her sit down and talk to you, she’d likely hug you to death and apologize until she was out of breath.”

Sam sighed. “Sorry, Shining, not gonna happen.”

Shining nearly spat out his beer. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me, Shining. I hate the way things went, but I think this is for the best,” Sam stared down the stallion, “look, I really do care about your sister. She’s done more for me than I could ever hope to repay her for, but it wouldn’t be a normal relationship with me. The ponies in Ponyville were really understanding and accepting of us, as were your parents and yourself. But, just on my own around here I get enough strange looks, and I can hear them whispering about the ‘two-legged freak’ when I pass by.”

“What, so you’re going to ignore my sister just because you’re afraid of what other ponies think?”

“No! Well, not exactly,” Sam rubbed the back of his head as he looked away in thought, “I just don’t want to subject Twilight to that.”

Shining Armor felt his pulse quickening as he fought to keep his temper down. “Sam, let me ask you a question. Do you think Twilight is stupid?”

Sam tilted his head in confusion. “Uhh, no, I don’t.”

“So, wouldn’t you think Twilight had considered that sort of thing as a possible consequence of being with you? And, do you think she cared? Don’t worry about answering; if you’re going to base your decision to leave her like this on the concern that she might get laughed at, don’t you think should at least ask her about that before you cut her off for good?”

Sam held his face in his hand and groaned. “You don’t get it! It’s not that I don’t care about her, Shining. I loved her, and I tried to tell her that. It’s obvious to me that being with me is just too... Ugh, I don’t know. I just want her to have a normal life, ok? She deserves someone, somepony, rather, who can give her that and all the things that go with it, like a family of her own, or the chance to have a relationship that doesn’t require her to constantly explain all the ins and outs of your society!”

Shining Armor was slowly losing control of his temper, and it showed in the way his voice was raising. “Sam! You listen to me and get your sorry primate ass back to Ponyville! Twilight Sparkle, my sister, is letting herself waste away, if her friends are to be believed. She’s depressed, not eating like she used to, for Celestia’s sake, Sam, it sounds like she’s doing worse than you, and let’s face it, you look like you’re half dead.”

Once again, despite considerable effort to ignore it, Sam felt his heart breaking; struggling to force down his tears, he looked back up at Shining. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Shining, even though I know you will, but she’ll get over me,” he forced out the words in a cold, mechanical tone, “now drop the subject.”

Shining glared at him. “No, I don’t think so. Twilight needs you.”

“Shining, wild horses couldn’t drag me back there,” Sam sneered.

“Why you callous son of a-”

“Can it,” Sam dropped a few bits on the counter before chugging the rest of his beer, “that should cover our drinks. Take it easy, Shiny. I’m going home.”

Sam coolly stood up, and limped out of the bar back towards the castle, wincing with every step. As he traveled, he couldn’t keep his mind off of what Shining had said, and wondered if he was doing the right thing by not returning to Twilight. If she’s really that distraught... Maybe I should go back... No. She couldn’t be patient with me, wouldn’t believe me, and kicked me out. As pleasant as the idea of a relationship sounds, I should’ve known it wouldn’t work out. I’m too different, I’m an alien, and the only such alien in the world, now...

He continued his slow walk down the dimly-lit cobblestone path, trying not to dwell on the idea of Twilight pining away for him. It’s like I said, it’s for the best. Even if she did lose her mind on me, she deserves someone better than me, someone more like her. Though, if I did decide to go back to her, there is the transformation spell... NO. That’s... No, that’s retarded. I am who I am. I’m a human, not a pony. Besides... Wouldn’t that be like converting to a different religion just to impress a girl, but on a much larger scale of stupidity? No, it’s for the best that I stay here and make sure Bunsen and Hoofstein don’t unleash a scourge of cyber zombies or something...

Sam had been so lost in his thoughts, he scarcely noticed that he’d arrived back at the castle grounds. He ambled down the corridors back to his room, the strong beer serving to both keep his mind off the pain in his hip as well as slightly dull it.

He sat down at his desk to begin his nightly routine of poring through the medical magic spellbook, giving up after half an hour due to his swimming mind and the mixture of rage and sorrow he felt over the conversation he’d had with Shining Armor.

Giving up for the night, he marked his place, and flung himself onto the bed. After what seemed like an eternity, his mind finally stopped racing, and he began drifting off to sleep. His eyes were almost totally shut, when a clap of thunder nearly blew the bedroom door off of it’s hinges.

Sam bolted upright, and frantically looked around to see if he could spot the intruder; the room was oddly silent.

“Who’s there?!” he cried out.

In response, a blur of pastel blue appeared and shoved him back down on the bed, immobilized by an aura of cerulean light.

“WHAT SORT OF HEARTLESS ANIMAL ARE YOU, SAM?!”

Sam blindly fumbled his hand around on the side table, and managed to hit the switch on the lamp, showing him clearly who his assailant was.

“Princess Cadance?!”

“Yes, and I think we need to have a little chat,” she released Sam’s upper body from her magical grip and allowed him to sit up while still pinned to the bed.

“I’m guessing Shining told you about our conversation?” A light nod from Cadance prompted him to continue, “Look, I’ll tell you like I told him, I’m not going back to Ponyville.”

Cadance leaned down, leaving her muzzle only inches from Sam’s face. “And just why is that?”

“It’s for the best. She deserves somePONY more like her, and trying to deal with someone, someTHING as different as me, it just wouldn’t work out.”

Cadance cocked her head slightly, and fixed Sam with a stare that almost seemed inquisitive. “Oh, is that so? Is that what you keep telling yourself?” she intoned, almost mockingly, looking away, “I didn’t know you were omniscient. Maybe I should tell Celestia and Luna that they can take some vacation time.”

“Look, I’m done talking about this Cadance, as much as I hate what happened, it happened.”

“Yeah?” Cadance looked back at Sam, a few tears flowing from her eyes, “Well I’m NOT. Sam, Twilight loved you. Still does, if her behavior says anything... You two managed to find a soulmate in each other; the most amazing unicorn mage of our time, and an equally brilliant scientist from practically another world. If you two can't see that you are meant for each other...” She fully released Sam from her aura, and sat down on the bed next to him, “Look, I’m sorry if I kind of overreacted when I came in. See, I’ve known Twilight since she was just a tiny filly, and I’d do anything to protect her and make her happy. Believe me when I say you mean more to her than you could possibly know, and I can tell, even if you’re trying to hide it from yourself and everypony else, how much you miss her. Please, give her a second chance.”

Sam sighed. “Cadance, I’m not going back. As much as I hate how Twilight must feel, she kicked me out. I tried to calm her down, explain to her how wrong she was about me, but she wouldn’t listen. She just kept fighting.”

Cadance placed a hoof on Sam’s shoulder. “If there’s one thing I learned from foalsitting her, it’s that that’s when you have to fight back and just hold her as tightly as you can until she calms down. Worked when she would get fussy or frustrated as a young child, and I don’t doubt it would work as an adult, especially coming from somepony, or some weird, bald ape, that she cares about.”

Sam slowly pulled away from Cadance’s hoof. “I’m sorry, I just can’t deal with that. I don’t think I can deal with our differences if this is how it’s going to be. Before the fight, I almost thought I could, that’s the ironic part of it all.”

Cadance looked Sam in the eye, a look of genuine concern on her face. “But don’t you care about her at all? Do you really not feel worse off for not having her around you?”

“I don’t really feel much of anything, except for this damned hip of mine... Please, just leave me alone, it’s for the b-”

“NO, SAM,” Cadance roared, jumping back to her feet and once more pinning Sam to his bed in her aura, “no more of that pesudo-selfless garbage. I’d hoped that my husband might have been able to talk some sense into you, stallion to stallion, or, stallion to monkey...”

“Stallion to man,” Sam corrected.

“Whatever! I don’t really care. Point is, when Shining told me you weren’t listening, I figured I might be able to reason with you, make you understand how Twilight must feel, but I can see now you’ve got your heart hardened against making things right. I’d hoped that I wouldn’t have to resort to this, but I’m going to MAKE you remember why you loved her...”

Cadance’s horn began to glow even brighter, along with her eyes, as she brought it down and touched Sam’s forehead.

Immediately, Sam found himself reliving simultaneously every moment he’d shared with Twilight; their first few “interviews” in the library, his suicide attempt and Twilight’s subsequent attempts to comfort him, their time spent together working in the library basement, cuddling together watching movies whose humor often eluded Twilight, Sam’s sacrifice to save her from the replicators, waking up to see her smiling and crying next to him in the hospital, their first kiss together, and every date night they’d had together. All at once, these memories came crashing into him like a tsunami of simultaneously boiling and freezing water.

After what felt like an eternity of reliving the best and worst memories of his time with Twilight, Sam’s consciousness finally returned to reality. The shock of the experience left him disoriented and nauseated; he fell to the floor from his bed, sobbing uncontrollably, barely able to sound out the phrase, “I’m sorry.”

Cadance once again surrounded Sam in her aura, but this time to gently lift him up and back onto the bed. She again sat down next to him on the bed, and stretched a wing out around him.

“I’m sorry that I had to do that, Sam...”

Sam sat silently in the embrace of the Princess of Love, as he attempted to regain control of himself. “No, no, I’m the one that should apologize,” he said, in between ragged breaths, “I acted like a real jerk. You’re right, you, Shining, Celestia, all of you. I’ll do it. I’ll go back and try to make things right.”

Cadance allowed a tiny smile to form on her face. “I’m glad to hear it. Will you need any help getting back to Ponyville?”

Sam shook his head. “No, I can’t go yet, I need another day or two.”

“Why’s that?”

“I need to think about a few things. If I’m going to patch things up with Twilight, I want to make sure I do it right, and leave no doubt in her mind that I meant absolutely everything I said to her.” Sam looked up at Cadance with an expression of determination, “If you and Shining Armor are right, then she’s already realized her mistake, and is probably beating herself up about it. I want to make damn sure she understands that I forgive her, too.”

Cadance was beaming, and a few more stray tears were flowing down her face. “You have no idea how happy I am to hear that, Sam. I’ll leave you be, goodnight.” She started for the door.

“Princess? Cadance?”

The pink alicorn turned back to face Sam. “Yes?”

“One more thing,” Sam cleared his throat, “do you really think it’ll work out? Between Twilight and me, that is. How can I be sure that it will?”

Cadance laughed softly. “That’s just it, Sam. You really can’t be sure. I can tell you this, though; if you resolve to do whatever it takes to put love first, you’ll be surprised at what can happen. Given what you’ve done for Twilight already, I would have thought that you already knew that. Goodnight, lab monkey.”

“Goodnight, and thanks. Seriously though, quit it with the monkey jokes,” Sam replied, rolling his eyes as he dried them on his shirt sleeve. So much for getting a good night of sleep.

Doubting his ability to return to sleep anytime soon, Sam opted instead to get some fresh air. He clasped his leg brace back on, laced up his shoes, and limped out of his room, ignoring the painful protests of his hip.

Every few minutes, as he walked to the nearest exit, he passed by a few guards on patrol; they eyed him suspiciously, but only out of a desire to be diligent in their duties.

Sam decided to wander around through the gardens; even during the day they were usually completely devoid of visitors, and the serene quiet that pervaded the fragrant flowers and hedges made the gardens an ideal place in which to get lost in thought. He painfully limped around, until he found a bench located in a small alcove in the hedges.

He sat down, and looked up at the stars, wondering what exactly he was going to do to clear the air and restore his relationship with Twilight. After considering the old standby of a gigantic bouquet of flowers, chocolates, and any other romance cliches, he decided the best route would be to simply go back to her, and lay it all on the table; Sam felt she’d appreciate a direct approach. He could always save the flowers and such for a happier occasion.

Having settled that matter in his mind, Sam let his thoughts wander to more long term issues.

Sighing as a cool breeze drifted through the bushes, Sam thought aloud, “So... Let’s say she and I fix things up happily forever after... Or we don’t. The only difference between the two is that I live out my life as an alien creature either alone or with someone who cares about me and can help me deal. Regardless, if I can’t find something in these old books to help my leg, I’m going to be one uncomfortable cripple for the rest of my life...”

Sam sat quietly, staring at the clear night sky. He shivered as he felt the cool air against his skin, a sign that Autumn must be coming soon.

Have I really been here that long?

Soon, Sam found his thoughts turning to the transformation spell; the idea of actually using it had entered into his mind a few times throughout the day, especially right after lunch when he had to introduce himself to a new scientist that had joined the team.

He half-heartedly laughed as he remembered how the new pony had reacted; once the initial shock of seeing a creature as foreign as a human had worn off, the poor stallion made the mistake of constantly staring and startling at Sam’s slightest movement, and in doing so had earned himself a slot on the human’s list of emotional punching bags. This came at much conflicting relief and guilt for Bunsen, as it lessened the attention he himself received.

Still, despite his efforts to understand the new scientist’s position, Sam couldn’t help but feel hurt over the reaction. Will everyone else I meet from here out treat me that way? Like I’m some sort of freak attraction?

As much as he hated to admit it, the idea of using the spell was becoming a bit more attractive. I’d finally be free of this pain; sure I could wait around and maybe find some medication here that could work for me, but best case scenario, I stay on painkillers for the rest of my life. Worst case, I stay on painkillers for the rest of my life and become a junkie. Transforming... It’d be an easy way out, and it would certainly have its benefits; being able to heal myself would just be the beginning... I’d be able to live just like any other member of society here. I wouldn’t have to worry as much about my diet, I could actually fit in most buildings comfortably, and I wouldn’t have to constantly explain to everyone what I am and how I got here. I’m tired of reliving that memory.

Sam stood up from the bench, and paced around slowly, unable to believe what he was thinking. And... If I’m going to seriously try for a relationship with Twilight... Maybe letting myself get turned into a pony would work out for the best; there’d be no more reason for me to feel odd about the situation. And, if I could ever get comfortable with the idea... I could even have a normal family of my own someday... Well, normal by Equestrian standards, and even then as normal as ‘my daddy used to be a bald monkey’ can be. Hell, I could even go on to meet someone else, if things fell through with Twilight, not that I am hoping for that, though. Bottom line, I could fit in, lead a ‘normal’ life... But would I still be me? I’d obviously still have my memories, but would having a new body change who I am? How I think?

His pacing sped up. “Brain, I swear to whatever gods may be out there, if you keep going in the direction you’re going, I’m going to go get a lobotomy by headbutting Luna. With my face.”

Sam shrugged. Whatever. I’m just talking to myself. I’ve come up with several positives of changing, but negatives? No more hands. That means, my laptop is useless, I’ll have to learn to write all over again, and my job will become much harder... Unless I was a unicorn? Hey, then Twilight could teach me magic; she certainly seemed to enjoy just teaching me Equestrian language, and I’d ALMOST have hands again... Suddenly, he felt as though a lightbulb had lit up inside his mind, Speaking of Twilight, offering to do this could be a sure-fire way to prove to her that not only am I not uncomfortable about her being a pony, but that I really am not holding any grudges about our split... It almost makes sense...

After ten minutes of pacing, the adrenaline from his encounter with Cadance was finally wearing off, signaling Sam to attempt to get some sleep.

Walking back inside, Sam gave a sigh of exhaustion, “I can’t believe I’m honestly considering that. I need to talk to Celestia about this tomorrow... I get the feeling I’m about to have a long day...”

---

“You’re considering WHAT?!” Celestia hastily levitated a lacey handkerchief to her snout, dabbing away at the bit of tea she’d nearly sent spraying out of her mouth onto the unnerved human seated on a cushion in front of her.

“Yeah, believe me, you’re as shocked as I am,” Sam groaned, hearing his voice echo through Celestia’s throne room, “but it’s an idea I can’t shake out of my head, and I really just felt the need to talk to someone about it.”

“I see,” Celestia floated her teacup safely away, in case of further shocking revelations, “I am glad to hear that you will be returning to Ponyville to make amends with my student, but... Are you sure that THIS is how you’ll do it?”

Sam absentmindedly reached behind his head, “I don’t even really know if I’m serious about this. Ever since I asked you about the transformation spell, the idea has been just kinda sitting in my mind, but it wasn’t until Cadance spoke with me about Twilight that my brain really went into overdrive on it.”

“I certainly understand how it could sound attractive, Sam, and I’m not just saying that out of bias towards my own form. But, are you sure you could deal with that level of change? You’ve barely been here but a few months, and by your own admission you don’t feel very acclimated to our society,” the Princess tilted her head slightly, “not that I’m trying to convince you one way or another, though.”

Sam sighed. “You’re right, I don’t feel fully comfortable out and about. But, that’s mainly due to how different I am from everyone else here. You ponies are a really accepting lot, but it doesn’t necessarily make me feel any less out of place. Nor does it mean that folks won’t still stare and glare a bit,” he looked down at the cushion beneath him, “frankly, the only time I really felt even close to truly accepted around here was among Twilight and her friends.”

A slight smile played across Celestia’s face. “Yes, that is indeed a quality of theirs that has so endeared them to me. But, Sam, if you are serious about even POSSIBLY making the change, I want you to consider the ramifications of that action.”

“Such as?” Sam replied, raising an eyebrow.

“For starters, are you prepared to deal with the fact that you’ll be voluntarily removing the last human being from existence? You’ll be exchanging your body for a totally new one; can you handle the challenge of adjusting to that? We never developed a counterspell, as we never needed one; as you already know, the transformation is permanent.”

“That first bit is pretty heavy, Princess... But I think coming to terms with that kinda came with the territory of realizing that all the others like me are gone and,” Sam laughed bitterly, “as my people once said, when in Rome, do as the Romans... But as long as I’ve got Twilight, and I hope I still do when I return to her, I think I can deal.”

“Ah, you see, that brings me to my next point; make sure that if you do it, you do it for the right reasons.”

“And those are?”

“I think you already know, Sam, but if you still feel any doubts, I would make certain to discuss this matter with Twilight before making a decision. After all, if you have any intention of repairing this mess into a lasting relationship, you can’t just act as if major decisions like, say, changing species, only affect one of you.”

“Right. I see where you’re going with this; I should see how Twilight feels...” Sam’s tone turned glum, “... Something I shoulda done early on, before I basically let her drive herself crazy...”

Celestia reached down and placed a hoof on Sam’s shoulder. “Don’t beat yourself up about it. The important thing is that you’re going to try to right this. And,” she continued, smiling, “if I know my student, and I certainly do, she’ll be overjoyed to see you and forget that any of this ever happened. Now, please do go get packed. I would like to hear very soon that Twilight is out of her depression and that you are over your issues,” she continued, grumbling, “you certainly have a multitude of them.”

Sam slowly stood up, and stretched.

“That’s the plan, Princess,” he said with a bow, “and thank you for the advice. You gave me a lot to think about.”

“I should hope so. Meanwhile, I will be reading up on the transformation spell, as well as the healing spell, in case you should decide to avail yourself of them.”

“Thanks, Princess. Don’t let the Academy do anything stupid while I’m away. Hopefully I’ll have good news to write to you about soon. And... Would you mind sending a letter to Spike to have him meet me at the train station? I’d do it myself but you’ve got that whole magical, instant mail thing going with the little guy.”

“Certainly, Sam,” Celestia nodded, “have a good trip, and please, take care of Twilight.”

Sam returned to his room, and began preparing for his travels, feeling optimistic for the first time since his arrival in the city.

---

A few hours later, Sam had finished loading up his bags, and was beginning to make his way outside, where he had hired a chariot to wait for him.

On his way out of the stone corridors, he passed by none other than Shining Armor.

“Hey,” the Captain spoke, “I hear you’re going back to Ponyville.”

Sam dropped his bag. “Yeah... I’m guessing your wife told you all about everything then, eh?”

“Yeah,” Shining replied with a smirk, “there’s a reason I volunteered to talk to you first, because I knew I’d go easier on you than she would, heh. She had to use her ‘Power of Love’ on you, didn’t she,” he chuckled.

Sam smiled weakly. “Yeah, she did, and obviously it got the point across. Well, all the same, I’m really sorry about the way I acted and handled all of this.”

“Let’s just forget this ever happened. You’ve been through a lot from what I understand, I suppose I should’ve tried to understand your situation better. But the important thing is that you’re gonna take care of my sister.”

“Hopefully,” Sam nodded, “I just hope she’ll listen to me this time instead of driving herself crazy.”

Shining shrugged, “Just remember what Cadance and I told you, and you’ll be fine.”

“I suppose. I think I may have an ‘Ace in the Hole’, though.”

The white stallion cocked his head in confusion, “What do you mean?”

“It’s an expression; I’ve got something secret that might help me out.”

“Care to explain?”

“Can’t right now, but don’t worry,” Sam said with a wink, “Anyway, gotta get going or else I might miss my train.”

“Alright then. Tell Twiley that Cadance and I said hello, once you two are finished making up,” Shining leaned over, inches from Sam’s face, with a menacing look in his eye, “and don’t let me EVER hear of you running out on her again.”

Sam nodded, and hobbled out to the waiting chariot.

Shining Armor turned around and walked down the hall in the opposite direction, rounding a corner where his wife and Princess Celestia were waiting and smiling.

“Sheesh, honey, you really did a number on him, didn’t you?”

Cadance blushed slightly, “Oh, you know, it was nothing. The thoughts and feelings were already there, I just had to remind him.”

“Well,” Celestia sighed, “I suppose if anypony could have changed his mind, it would be the Princess of Love, wouldn’t it? I’m just glad he’s going back. Those two need each other.”

---

“Ponyville station! Thirty minute stop!” The conductor cried out, prompting Sam to haul his backpack up onto his back.

Sam ambled onto the platform, stretching his arms. Can’t believe I’m back so soon... I really thought I’d never come back. Funny how things work out.

He continued through the station and saw Spike waiting at the steps.

“It’s about time you came back, you jerk,” the little dragon sneered.

Sam laughed bitterly. “I suppose I deserve that...”

“No, I actually think I oughta flame-broil you right here," Spike chuckled, "but then we’d never be able to console Twilight.”

“I get it, I get it, I screwed up,” Sam dropped his bags and stooped down to meet Spike on his level, “believe me when I say I regret what happened, and I’ve already dealt with far worse than you over it. Ever dealt with Princess Cadance when she’s pissed?”

Spike gulped audibly. “Uh, no, but I can imagine.”

“Good, so I’m sorry. But cut it out with the joking, Spike. I don’t need it, especially not today.”

“Okay, okay, but remember, it’s not me you gotta apologize to.”

Sam stood up. “You don’t have to tell me twice, now let’s go.”

“Alright, already got a pony-cab waiting for us around the corner, figured you wouldn’t wanna walk all the way back,” Spike said, eyeing Sam’s leg, “by the way, where’s your cane?”

“Oh, the lab guys at Canterlot helped me build a special brace for my leg. Still hurts like hell, but at least I can walk somewhat normally. And thanks, about the cab. Why are they called pony-cabs here, but chariots in the city?”

“Beats me. Now let’s go, Twilight should be out of her room right now. Once she goes back to sleep, good luck dragging her back out. She’s learned how to hold the door shut with magic in her sleep because she got tired of me trying to cheer her up.”

“Sheesh,” Sam picked his backpack up, “I suppose we really should get going then...”

The ride back to the library was awkwardly quiet; neither Sam nor Spike felt like talking much. They both had one thing in common weighing on their minds, though: Twilight Sparkle’s emotional well-being.

Eventually, the cart arrived in front of the library. Sam disembarked first, but stopped Spike before he could get off as well.

“What gives, bro?” Spike inquired.

Sam placed a hand on the dragon’s shoulder, “Look, if you want me to fix this, you’re gonna need to give Twi and I a little time to ourselves. We’re going to have a lot to talk about. I’ll pay the driver to take you wherever else you’d like to go. Just meet me at Sugarcube Corner tomorrow with the rest of Twilight’s friends, okay? You’ll either get to smile with Twilight or punish me however you see fit.”

Spike looked concerned. “Okay, if you’re sure, but,” he glared at Sam, “next time I see you, Twilight better be back to her old self again or else I’m gonna make good on my threat to fire-roast you.”

“Alright, alright, take it easy.”

Sam watched as the cart pulled away, with Spike giving him the evil-eye until he was out of sight.

He hefted his bag back onto his shoulders, and began walking towards the door. He hesitated before going in.

Well, here goes nothing...

Sam didn’t bother knocking; the door was unlocked, as it usually was during the day. Once inside, he was surprised to see Twilight in the middle of reshelving a few titles, almost in a daze.

The sight of her condition drove a jagged spear of pain through Sam’s heart. He could tell that, though she had been ‘sleeping’ more than usual as of late, she wasn’t getting any rest. Her eyes were dull and listless, with deep, dark circles underneath them. Her usually precisely straight mane was tangled and unkempt, as was her tail. She also seemed several pounds lighter.

Without looking away from the shelf, Twilight called out unenthusiastically, “If you’re looking for any title in particular, I’ll be with you in a minute...”

Sam dropped his bag and slowly walked towards her. “Twilight?”

At the sound of his voice, she quickly looked up, her expression one of extreme shock. “Sam...?”

He responded by nodding.

Twilight began walking towards him, nervously. She stopped a few feet short of where Sam stood, still staring him in the eye, unsure of what to make of the situation.

Sam stooped down, bringing himself down to her eye level. They stayed there, just looking at each other, for what felt like an hour. After a few minutes had slowly crept by, Twilight took a few more shaky steps towards the crouched human, jumped up, and wrapped her forelegs around him so tightly that Sam felt as though she were strangling him.

Finally, her grip loosened as she began sobbing uncontrollably, only able to get the word “sorry” out. Sam just returned the embrace, held her tightly, and ran his hand through her mane as she cried on his shoulder.

Once Twilight’s tears had slowed, she pulled away slightly to face Sam. “I’m so sorry, Sam... I... I didn’t... You...”

Sam tightened his arms around her, rubbing her back and failing miserably to choke back his own tears, leading to another few minutes of the two of them simply sobbing in each other’s embrace.

After they had both calmed down again, Sam spoke. “Twilight, don’t apologize. I shouldn’t have just left like that. You must have thought I was terrible for that... Please forgive me for it.”

Twilight shook her head. “No, I’m the one that has to apologize! After the way I flipped out, I couldn’t blame you for leaving... I deserved it... I don’t deserve for you to come back... You, Applejack, everypony tried to tell me after we got out of the hospital that you took that hit for me because you cared, but I couldn’t shake the guilt...”

Sam gently pulled her head close until his nose was pressed against hers. “Twilight, of course you deserve for me to come back... Frankly, I feel like you deserve better than that... But I’ll get to that later... It was unfair of me to decide to start a relationship with you when I wasn’t sure how I felt about us.”

Twilight took a ragged breath, as if she were about to cry again. “Are you saying... That... You don’t want to come back to stay?”

Sam’s eyes grew wide as he shook his head. “Oh, no! No, everything that I said before, I meant it. That’s the sorta stuff I was trying to tell you before we had our fight...”

Twilight’s ears drooped down even further. “Oh... Oh my gosh... I really am an idiot Sam...”

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not! I should have been more patient with you!” She sniffled, “You told me early on that this was different for you, but I guess I just didn’t realize exactly how right you were...”

Sam laughed weakly. “So it sounds like we both have a lot to apologize for. How about we forget it, and promise to actually talk to each other about stuff like this? You know, instead of letting it drive us crazy?”

Twilight stepped back and dropped onto all fours again, her tear-streaked face adorned with a smile for the first time since Sam first left. “Sounds like a good deal to me... I’m glad you’re home... And,” her eyes began watering again, “you really meant what you said before you left?”

Sam reached out and pulled her close to him, causing her ears to perk up. “Of course, Twilight. I really meant it; I love you.”

Twilight’s smile stretched from ear to ear, and she choked back a few tiny sobs before replying, “I love you, too...”

They stayed that way for a few more minutes, happy to be back in each other’s company.

Eventually, Twilight broke the silence again. “But what were you talking about earlier, when you said I deserved better?”

Sam sat down, easing the pain in his hip. “Well, one of the ways I justified leaving was that you deserved a relationship with someone normal, more like you,”

“Normal? Sam,” Twilight scoffed, “have you even met me?”

“Yes, now let me finish,” Sam chuckled, “I just meant that not everyone, er, everyPONY as you say, would be as tolerant of you and I being together. You should have seen some of the strange looks and comments I got from folks in Canterlot, just on my own.”

“I can’t say I’d care about that,” Twilight responded, matter-of-factly.

“I’m almost done. I just got to thinking, there would be many things you’d miss out on if you insisted on a long-term relationship with me, I’m assuming that’s what you want, right?”

Twilight nodded, confused as to where Sam was going with this.

“Well, one big one is that we wouldn’t be able to have our own family down the road, you know? I mean, I’m already well aware of the fact that that’s an impossibility for me, but why should you deal with that too?”

Twilight blushed slightly at the implications. “I... Uh... I mean, one day, that’s something I had looked forward to before I met you, but that’s a situation that we could have dealt with together!”

Sam shook his head. “I know, I know, I never said this was a GOOD justification.”

“So...” Twilight tilted her head in confusion, “What are you getting at?”

“Well,” Sam sighed nervously, “I still want you to be able to have that sort of normalcy. So, I’ve got a proposition for you. You may not like it at first, but you gotta hear me out, okay?”

“Okay...”

Sam stood up and began pacing. “So, a large part of my free time in Canterlot was spent-”

“Sam! How are you walking without your cane?!”

Sam groaned, and pulled up his pant leg, revealing, for the hundredth time, the brace he was wearing. “The lab guys helped me build it, and yes my leg and hip are still quite painful. Anyway, that’s kinda related to what I was doing in my spare time, looking for spells or potions that might fix me, or at least help me really control my pain,” he glanced down to Twilight, “Which, would you mind using that spell on me again? My colleagues helped me with it a few times, but not often...”

Twilight nodded and obliged, prompting Sam to continue.

“So, I never found anything, except two spells. One looked promising, but after more carefully translating it, and talking to Celestia, it turned out to be a very powerful spell capable of changing any creature into a pony. A second spell turned out to do exactly what I need; it is capable of completely regenerating the body and healing most injuries.”

Twilight scratched her head in confusion. “So, why haven’t you used it?”

“Well, it only works on ponies. It had an explicit warning that use on non-ponies would at best do nothing, but the Princess tells me that it was more likely to horrifically disfigure and mutilate me. Plus, like the transformation spell, it requires an intense amount of power; by Celestia’s estimates, only she, her sister, and possibly yourself would be capable of such energy.”

“Right, and it’s likely a complicated spell, too...”

Sam nodded. “So, that all brings me to this. I’m considering letting Celestia use the transformation spell on me.”

“WHAT?! Sam, you... You can’t! You don’t have to change for me or anypony else! I care about WHO you are, not WHAT you are!”

“Whoa, calm down,” Sam said, waving a hand in front of himself, “like I said, you gotta hear me out.”

“Okay...”

“Everyone who knows us seems to think we’re meant for each other somehow. And, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Still, I think you deserve to have someone more like you. You honestly can’t say you wouldn’t want to date a nice, handsome stallion, would you?”

“B-but...”

“Twilight, it’s okay if you want to say yes.”

She looked down at the ground, her ears drooping again. “Okay, yes, but I already told you that I don’t care that you look different!”

Sam smiled. “I know, and that means a lot to me. But, this would make our relationship just a little more... Normal.”

“You don’t get it though! I don’t want you to change for me! I don’t want to be responsible for the last human on earth disappearing. You’d be extinguishing your species... Again!”

“Twilight, the human race has been gone for a long time. It doesn’t matter if I die as a human or a pony,” Sam’s expression turned grim, “one day, the last human IS going to vanish. The question is, am I going to die after living a life as the strange, exotic creature that doesn’t quite fit in, or will I die after living a comfortable, somewhat normal life?”

“I guess that’s a good point...”

“Plus,” he continued, “if I can get comfortable with the idea, and making that change will help, the idea of having a new family of my own someday is... Well, comforting. Besides, if I do let Celestia change me, I can use the other spell, and finally get rid of this pain. I could be my old self again! Well... As close to my old self as a ponified-me could be, heh...”

“I think I see where you’re coming from, Sam,” Twilight conceded with a sigh.

Sam nodded. “Yeah, so I want this as much for myself as I do for us. It’s getting tough to keep a decently fulfilling diet around here as a human, anyway, and I literally don’t fit in most buildings since I’m twice the height of the average pony... But don’t worry, if you don’t think this is the best way to go, I won’t do it.”

“Well,” Twilight said pensively, “how about another deal? Before our fight, I’d said I had a few ideas of my own for a date night... Let’s do one of them, and I’ll let you know how I feel about it...”

Sam reached out and hugged Twilight again. “It’s a deal.” Before releasing her, he let her sit back just far enough to look him in the eye, before meeting her lips with his in a kiss that Twilight hoped would never end.

Twilight let go of him, unable to make a sound save a sort of squeak-sigh, and looked back up at him, her smiling eyes once again showing that same spark of life that Sam had once been so accustomed to seeing. Oh he wasn’t kidding when he said he was over his hang-ups...

Finally, the pleasantly bewildered unicorn regained her senses enough to speak. “Before we do anything else, Sam, I think we could both use a shower and a nap... I don’t think either of us have slept well in ages. Just promise me you’ll still be here when we wake up...”

Sam chuckled quietly. Don’t do it! Cheesy line incoming! “Twilight, wild horses couldn’t drag me away.”

Twilight tilted her head in confusion, smiling nonetheless. “What’s so funny?”

“Oh, nothing... Last time I said that... Well it’s not important now,” Sam grinned sheepishly.

Sam followed his favorite unicorn up the stairs, realizing just how much he’d missed feeling her cuddled up next to him in bed. It’s good to be home...

---

A few hours later, Twilight and her human companion found themselves on the balcony of the library, wearing their best formal clothes, enjoying the cool night air and both looking as though they’d had new life breathed into them.

They sat on a thick quilt, huddled together as they gazed at the stars. Twilight had originally wanted to make the evening into a picnic on the outskirts of town, but she had quickly recognized that it would be too much to ask to have Sam walk all that way out there with her, even with her pain-killing spell.

So there they sat, having finished the simple meal they’d made together; Twilight couldn’t remember the last time she’d actually been hungry, but her appetite had returned with a vengeance.

Sam looked down at the unicorn snuggled under his arm. “So, not that I’m against seeing you dress up now and again, but why all the trouble for a nighttime picnic?”

Twilight grinned, pulled herself to her feet, and motioned for Sam to stand up before levitating a small record player from one of her nearby windows.

“It seemed appropriate for dancing,” she said, blushing, “I never went to my class dances as a filly, but I kinda want to make up for lost time...”

Sam clumsily stood up, scratching his head. “That’s a sweet thought, but... How do you ponies dance, anyway?”

Twilight seemed puzzled. “Um. Well... Two ponies would kinda stand shoulder to shoulder, but... I dunno how we’re gonna do that... I guess I didn’t quite think of that...”

“I’ve got it, rear up on your hind legs and rest your forelegs on my shoulders.”

“Okay...”

Twilight awkwardly stood on her rear pair of legs, bringing her face level with Sam's neck, and leaned forward to embrace him, nearly hitting him in the face in the process.

“Sorry! Sorry!”

“I’m okay,” Sam laughed, as he placed his hands on her sides, “now, hit the music, and follow my lead.”

Twilight’s horn glowed, sending a burst of energy towards the record player’s needle, filling the air with a slow, gentle strain of violin music.

Sam began slowly moving to the side, causing the pair to gently sway. This is actually going pretty well, even without my injury, I’m already clumsy enough as it-

“BWAAH!” They cried out in unison as they toppled over onto the quilt.

Sam sat up and extended a hand over to help Twilight untangle her four legs from his two. “I guess it’s been a while since I’ve done that, heh... Take two?”

Twilight nodded, blushing from both embarrassment over the fall and the intimacy of dancing in the manner they had just attempted.

Back on their feet, the couple once again began to gently sway, taking it much slower this time to account for Sam’s injury and Twilight’s lack of experience on only two legs.

Once they’d built up a comfortable rhythm, Twilight finally relaxed, leaning her head in against Sam’s chest, smiling serenely. He really is here to stay... He really meant everything he said to me.

Sam looked down, and considered saying something, but it was obvious that nothing he could say could do anything but detract from the perfection of the moment; Twilight was in heaven.

A few yards away, on the path approaching the library, Spike was returning from Sugarcube Corner, where he had been spending his time informing Twilight’s friends of Sam’s return and imminent attempt to make up with her. The little dragon had finally become impatient, and decided to return home without waiting on Sam’s signal.

However, he stopped short of the door as he noticed two forms slowly moving about together on the balcony above; from the dim light of the candles on the ledge, Spike could just barely make out the happy faces of Twilight and Ponyville’s resident human.

“Well I’ll be,” Spike said aloud, to nobody in particular, “he actually did it! I bet Princess Celestia would be happy to hear this... I should send her a quick letter!”

With that, Spike quietly snuck inside the library, grabbed a quill and piece of parchment, and quickly wrote a short note describing what he’d just seen, and that it was no longer necessary to worry about Twilight Sparkle’s emotional well-being.

Mere moments later, Spike received a reply, thanking him for his help, as well as an envelope and two faintly glowing vials, one red and the other blue, all addressed to Sam.

I’d better leave these in his room...

Spike crept up the stairs, careful not to disturb his two friends, and left the items on the bed, before once again departing the library, taking advantage of the excuse and opportunity to stay at Rarity’s house again.

Back on the balcony, Sam’s hip was finally getting the better of him. “Twi, let’s sit back down for a while. This was really nice, though.”

Twilight nodded in agreement, smiling.

Once Sam was comfortably seated, Twilight took her usual spot of laying against his chest, her blue, star-marked dress spread across the floor behind her.

The lavender mare looked up at Sam, the stars reflecting from her eyes. “Sam... I’m so glad you’re back... I love you...”

Sam placed his arm around her, and gently squeezed her before tilting his head forward to kiss her forehead. “I love you too, and it’s good to be back.”

“So, Sam...”

“Yes?”

Her purple eyes began to mist slightly, though her smile did not diminish. “My answer is yes.”

Sam’s eyes grew wide. “You mean... You’re okay with it? If I make the change?”

She nodded lightly. “I really do love you, and that means I want you to be happy and healthy. If that means you change completely on the outside, I don’t care, as long as you’re still you.”

Sam felt his own eyes beginning to water. “Thank you, Twilight...”

“Besides,” she giggled, “I bet you’d make one cute stallion. One thing though... How will you do your work without your hands?”

Sam sighed. “I’m sure I’ll figure something out, but I’m kinda hoping I come out of this as a unicorn. Think you’d be up to the task of being my magic teacher?”

Twilight was almost speechless at the prospect. “Really?! I’d love that! Just remember though... It’s tough to learn magic...”

“Well,” Sam laughed, “All I’d need is the ability to manipulate objects. I wouldn’t necessarily need your advanced course right off the bat.”

Twilight was beaming. “All the same, I’d love to be your teacher again.”

They sat that way a few minutes longer, before the chill of the night air began to drive them back inside.

“I guess fall is coming soon, Twi,”

“Yeah... Let’s go back inside, I’m getting sleepy,” Twilight replied with a yawn, “I guess the last two weeks are really catching up with me.”

Instead of letting Twilight stand up, Sam instead scooped her up as he climbed to his feet, prompting a surprised yelp from Twilight as she felt herself get turned onto her back in his arms.

She responded by shifting and nuzzling against Sam’s arm as he awkwardly stepped down the hallway back to the bedroom.

“Hey, Sam? What’s that on the bed?”

He gently sat Twilight on the foot of the bed, picked up the scroll, and sat down next to her. “Looks like a letter...”

Sam unrolled the scroll, eyeing the two vials it was wrapped around, and read silently.

Dearest Sam and Twilight Sparkle,

I have heard from a very reliable source that you two have revived your relationship beautifully; I cannot express how glad I am for the both of you. Sometimes it takes great trial to test the worth of a relationship, and if you both continue on the path you are on, I am certain that you will prove just how strong a bond you share with each other.

Sam, as I’m sure you may have noticed, today was a particularly bright day, though not completely due to the upward swing of your attitude. Today marks the beginning of a few days of solar flares, and I have been feeling particularly energetic today, so I took the liberty of preparing the spells for you in the form of enchanted potions.

The blue one will provide the transformation, as well as a mild sleeping aid; while not exactly painful, the process is not one most would want to be awake for.

The red vial contains the regeneration spell. The liquid is just punch; I knew you enjoyed it from your meals at the castle, and the red color makes it easily distinguishable. Make sure not to take it until you’ve awakened from the first spell!

I’ll be expecting letters from the two of you on what you’ve learned from this in the near future!

Best of luck,
Princess Celestia

Sam finished the letter, laughing as he shook his head.

“What is it, Sam?”

“Your mentor thinks of everything,” he replied, handing the letter to Twilight.

She quickly skimmed the paper, her smile never diminishing as she read the words of praise and well-wishing from her teacher and idol.

Twilight floated the parchment over to the dresser, and looked at Sam intently. “So... Are you sure you want to do this? I mean... You don’t have to do it tonight. Encapsulated spells like that last for several days...”

Sam held the blue vial carefully in his hands. “I know I don’t, but I’ve had time to really think it through. Really, it’s now or never...”

Twilight jumped to the floor. “Well, if you’re going to do it now, there’s two things I want to do first...”

She grasped Sam in a purple aura, pulling him to his feet as she got back onto her hind legs and stood against him, as she did when they were dancing.

Her horn still glowing, she levitated her camera out of the closet, and clicked the shutter, capturing a final moment of Twilight with her human. “I just want to remember this, it’s not every day some lucky pony like me gets to dance with the one and only human!”

Sam smiled at the sentiment. “We’ll have to try that again once I’ve used the spell. A before and after picture! So, what’s the second thing?”

Twilight magically removed her dress and replaced it on the hangers. “I want another one of those massages... Hands are so much better than hooves for that, and if you’re about to give your hands up, well...” she giggled mischievously.

An hour or so later, Sam’s hands were finally beginning to cramp a bit; Twilight would have protested the end of his ministrations had she been any less relaxed. All she could do was groan slightly, and continue wearing that sweet little smile that Sam had come to love.

“If you become a unicorn, you had better learn how to replicate that with magic, Sam...”

“Heh, I’ll see what I can do... Meanwhile...” He uncorked the blue vial, and stared at it.

Twilight’s ears perked up as the cork popped, and she lifted her head to look at him. “You’re really ready to go through with this?”

“Yep,” Sam said, taking a deep breath, “bottoms’ up!” He chugged the blue liquid within, and began taking his suit off. I probably won’t be able to wear it again, but it’d be a shame to ruin it...

“Well,” Twilight sighed, “come on into bed before you pass out... You know, one other thing I’m going to miss is how much bigger than me you are when I cuddle up next to you,” she giggled, “you always make me feel so safe and warm.”

“Yeah? Well here’s hoping you still feel the same afterwards.”

She smiled. “I’ll always feel safe as long as you’re around.”

Growing drowsier by the minute, Sam slid underneath the sheets. He smiled as he saw Twilight moving close to him, her eyes softly reflecting the light of the single candle remaining lit near the door. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her tightly against him, glad to once again feel the soft warmth of her fur against him. The couple shared a brief kiss as Sam fully drifted into unconsciousness.

“I love you Sam,” Twilight said, before planting another kiss on his cheek.

She held out from sleeping as long as she could, the ever-present scientist in her wanting to witness Sam’s transformation. However, the stresses of the past two weeks coupled with the relaxing euphoria of the past few hours to quickly drag Twilight into a deep slumber. All the while, she clung to Sam as tightly as she could.

---

Twilight’s eyes slowly fluttered open as the sunlight began streaming through the window panes. She realized that she must have shifted and turned in her sleep, as she recalled falling asleep facing towards-

Sam!

She groggily lifted her head to look around before noticing a slight weight across her midsection. Looking down, she saw a light brown leg draped over her, ending in a hoof.

Twilight jerked around to face the other side of the bed, and was greeted by the sight of what appeared to be a young, tan-colored stallion, roughly her own age, with a chestnut-brown mane strongly resembling Sam’s eternal bed-head with the addition of a faint, brick-red streak on one side.

For several minutes Twilight laid there, mouth agape and cheeks ablaze. He certainly turned out nicely, didn’t he...

Finally, the tan pony stirred from sleep, groaning as he stretched his legs and opened his eyes, revealing two large, dark blue eyes. Before he could say anything, Twilight quickly tackled him in a warm embrace, playfully kissing his snout.

Having weathered her attack, he groggily spoke, “Morning, Twi... What’s with the welcome party?”

Twilight was nearly beside herself, giggling like a schoolfilly. “It worked, Sam!”

Her horn glowed faintly, causing a small mirror to float over in front of Sam’s face.

“What are you talking about,” He yawned lazily as he sat up, rubbing his eyes as he examined the reflection. “Man, I could use a haircut or-” his eyes shot open and his pulse doubled as he realized what he was looking at, “WHOA, HOLY HELL!”

“Calm down, Sam,” Twilight cooed, sliding closer to him until she could see her own reflection as well, “it’s alright, you used the transformation spell last night, remember?”

“Right, I did, didn’t I,” Sam said with an embarrassed grin, calming down, “hard to think clearly when you’re still half asleep, I guess. Even expecting it, it’s sort of a shock to wake up to, heh...”

Twilight nodded, still giggling and ogling him as she held a hoof over her mouth.

Sam held his forehooves in front of him. “I think I’m gonna miss my hands,” he said with a sigh, still inspecting his changed appendages, “Huh... I always imagined they’d feel... Less soft...” he looked back into the mirror again, focusing on his forehead, “Nice, a horn! Looks like you’ve got yourself a new student, Twilight, and,” his eyes caught on the streak of red in his mane, “Oh you’ve got to be kidding me...”

“What is it?”

“You go through one punk rock phase,” he chuckled, “and the mystical forces of the universe decide that your pony form will have the same dye-job as you had during your freshman year of university...”

Twilight laughed. “Well... I think it looks good on you...”

Sam carefully climbed off of the bed, stumbling over the now loosely-fitting shorts and tshirt hanging from him before shakily standing on all four legs for the first time. “Alright, walking... Can’t be that hard, right? More stable on four legs than on two...”

He took only three steps before falling flat on his face, much to the not-so-hidden amusement of Twilight Sparkle, who was still looking on from the bed. “Why don’t you try taking those clothes off, Sam?”

Climbing back to his hooves, Sam carefully examined his situation. “That might help... It’s gonna feel pretty weird going around unclothed now, though...”

He began awkwardly shaking his legs in the air, trying to maneuver the ill-fitting garments off of himself. Rather than successfully stripping, Sam became further entangled within his clothes.

“A little help, Twi?”

With a nod, Twilight’s horn began to glow, prompting the shorts and shirt to easily slide off. “There you go!”

“Thanks. Okay... Take two...”

Once again, Sam began a series of awkward steps, making it a few feet further before collapsing to the floor again.

“Are you okay? You looked like you almost had it there... Was it your injured leg flaring up?”

Sam gingerly stretched his right hind leg. “Yeah, it’s still painful alright. Maybe I should take that other spell now, don’t you think?”

Anticipating his next question, Twilight levitated the vial from the dresser and in front of Sam’s face. “There you go, I hope it works!”

Sam stared at the vial, deep in thought. “Ok,” he muttered to himself, “How am I gonna do this... Do I just grab it with my mouth? Or...”

Twilight tilted her head. “Um, you just grab it, Sam. With your hoof.”

“How the bloody hell does that even- Oh. OHHH,” he found that the vial somehow held itself to his outstretched forehoof, “Okay, that’s really weird.”

“Sam, you just turned into a pony. I don’t think anything else should phase you at this point,” Twilight giggled.

“Fair enough,” he replied, before downing the vial of red liquid.

Seconds later, light began to emanate from his body, progressively growing brighter and brighter. The intensity grew past blinding, prompting Twilight to turn away her already-closed eyes.

Finally, the light faded, and Twilight turned back to face Sam, still sitting in the same pose as when he drank the vial.

“That was anti-climactic,” he stated.

“Well... Your injury wasn’t external... Try walking around again.”

Sam clambered back onto all fours, and carefully, slowly, began walking in a small circle around the room. “Ya know, this is much easier when all four of your legs are healthy,”

Twilight sat up straight, pricking up her ears in excitement. “So your leg is healed? You don’t hurt anymore?!”

Sam nodded, grinning like an idiot.

Twilight dove from the bed on top of him, wrapping her forelegs around his neck. “Oh, Sam, that’s wonderful!”

Sam laughed, and returned the embrace. “This is gonna take some getting used to, but I think it’s gonna work out great in the long run...”

Twilight nuzzled into his neck. “Human, pony, I don’t care, I’m just glad I have you,” she smiled sheepishly, “though you definitely make one handsome stallion!”

Sam responded with a quick kiss, before returning to his hooves. “Flattery will get you everywhere, pretty miss.”

Twilight’s face flushed again at the compliment.

“So, Twi, are you gonna sit on the floor all day, or can we go tell your friends the news? I told Spike to have everyone meet at Pinkie’s so that they could be there to either celebrate the end of your depression or kill me for causing so much trouble. Besides, I’m suddenly craving an insane amount of sweets for breakfast. Odd.”

“Oh, gosh, my friends! Yes! They probably think I’m still moping around!”

Twilight jumped to her hooves, and began quickly brushing her mane to get ready to leave.

A few awkward minutes of Twilight coaching Sam on how to descend stairs on four legs later, the couple found themselves walking down the path into town towards Sugarcube Corner. Sam opted to have Twilight go in first, to prepare them for the surprise of his recent change in appearance.

Sure enough, Spike, Rarity, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie were all waiting inside, with everyone except Fluttershy and Pinkie displaying expressions of utter impatience and boredom.

Applejack was the first to greet Twilight as she entered, barely beating Pinkie to the entrance. “Well howdy, sugarcube! Ya’ll are lookin’ a mite better today! I’m guessin’ things went well with Sam, eh?” She said with a wink.

Twilight smiled as she looked each one of her friends in the eye. They were clearly happy to see that she was back to her old self.

“Yes, everypony, I’m feeling like myself again,” Twilight said, “and I’m incredibly grateful that you all stuck with me. Sam and I had a good long talk, and learned a lot about being open with each other about how we feel and what we are thinking. I think everything is going to be just fine from here on out.”

Pinkie immediately pushed in front of Applejack and attacked Twilight with a nearly crushing hug. “OMIGOSH I’M SO GLAD TO SEE YOU ALL SMILEY AGAIN, BECAUSE BEFORE YOU WERE ALL FROWNY-FACED AND THATS JUST NO GOOD, BECAUSE EVERYPONY SHOULD SMILE ALLLLLL THE TIM-”

Rainbow quickly cut her off from above. “Uh, yeah, what Pinkie said. So where is that jerk, Sam, anyway? I swear, he ever pulls a stunt like that again, I’ll drop him off the edge of Cloudsdale...”

Twilight laughed. “He’s right outside. We have a bit of a surprise for you...”

Taking that as his cue, Sam shakily stepped through the door, still getting used to walking on four legs. “Hi girls!”

Rarity stepped over to inspect the newcomer. “So sorry, darling, I don’t mean to seem rude, but ah, do I know you? You do seem somewhat familiar...”

Sam chuckled. “Yeah, Rarity, it’s me, Sam.”

Applejack quite nearly choked on her slice of apple pie. “Uh, come again sugarcube?”

Twilight nodded. “Yes, it really is him, girls.”

Fluttershy tilted her head in confusion. “Oh my, I, um, I don’t mean to contradict you Twilight... But Sam isn’t a pony, and he walks on only two legs, or I thought he did, anyway...”

Sam took a few more clumsy steps into the middle of the group, and began explaining his transformation. A few minutes, and some confused expressions, later, he finally finished recounting his tale.

“... And then I woke up this morning with a horn on my face, and the ability to walk slightly better than a newborn foal.”

Spike and the rest of Twilight’s friends just stared at Sam blankly, processing his tale.

“If you don’t mind my asking, Sam,” Rarity chimed in, “does this mean you may be needing a new set of clothes soon? Or perhaps you would like your old ones altered a bit?”

“Maybe later, thanks though, Rarity, but I don’t think I’ll be needing another monkey suit anytime soon.”

Rarity facehoofed. “Oh, yes, it’s him, alright...”

“So, um, Sam,” Fluttershy murmured, “I noticed that you don’t have a cutie mark yet...”

Almost out of nowhere, three small fillies appeared, sticking their heads in the doorway of the pastry shop.. The pale yellow one, her red mane covered by a pink bow the size of her head, quickly tumbled from atop her two friends, an orange pegasus with a pink mane, and a white unicorn with a curly white and pink mane.

Sam turned to look towards the door. "Hey Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom, I don't think I've met your friend before."

“Did sumpony say somethin’ ‘bout cutie marks?! And how did ya'll know our names, mister? Ya'll sound kinda familiar though...” the yellow filly blurted out, her head cocked to the side.

Applejack facehoofed, and began chastising her sister before Sam could respond. “Gosh darnit, Apple Bloom, you’re supposed ta be helpin’ Granny Smith today!”

“But AJ, she said I could go crusadin’ with Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle,”

“Yeah! I thought Rarity was going to tell you, Applejack,” the white filly said.

“Oh, I am so sorry Sweetie Belle,” Rarity replied, “I simply forgot.”

The orange pegasus trotted over to Sam, and looked him curiously in the eyes before noticing his unmarked flank. “Hey girls! This stallion’s all grown up but he’s a blank flank like us! I've never seen an adult without a cutie-mark before...”

Apple Bloom nearly squealed in excitement over the discovery. “No way, Scootaloo! Lemme see ‘em!”

The three fillies continued inspecting Sam, who awkwardly stood there, unsure of what to do. He noticed that every time he turned around, the trio of young ponies seemed to follow his rear end.

Sam sat back on his haunches, in an effort to partially obscure the view of his flank. "Can I help you girls with something?"

Before the fillies could respond, Twilight stepped a bit closer to Sam. "Come on, now, give Sam some space."

"It's okay," Sam chuckled, "but I can't help but wonder if I'll end up with one of those marks on my backside."

"Hmm, I don't really see why not," Twilight looked up as she pondered the question, "you know what your own special, unique, defining abilities are, right?"

Sam brought a hoof to his chin in thought. “Yeah, I kinda do, my skill and knowledge in electrical engineering, computer architecture, circuit design, and other topics in that general field...”

Sweetie Belle suddenly slammed a hoof down, yelling out in surprise. “OH COME ON!”

“What? What is it?” Sam looked down at the filly, who was yet again staring at his flank, which now had a strangely familiar marking on it, an arrow on a blue background pointing upwards with another arrow indicating a circular path around it.

Suddenly, everypony in the room was staring at Sam’s rear.

“Um, girls, this is getting creepy. My eyes are up here,” he motioned upwards towards his face.

Twilight averted her gaze. “Well, that was certainly easy. What does that mark mean, though?”

Sam turned to examine his new marking again. “Oh, I remember this! This symbol was used by an old professional engineering group in my time; the arrows represent electrical current and its spatial relation to the magnetic force. Cool.”

The three fillies stomped out of the building in frustration, muttering something about the “unfairness” of the situation.

Sam looked at Rarity and Applejack. “I hope they aren’t mad at me...”

Applejack chuckled. “Nah, they’re just a mite obsessed with earnin’ their own cutie marks. They’ll get over it eventually.”

Pinkie immediately shoved herself in between Sam and Applejack, staring the former human in the face. “So, Sam! You’re a pony now! That means that technically, we have a new pony in town! Which means I gotta throw you a welcoming party, again, I think...” she paused to seriously consider her logic, before shaking her head, “Oh well! I was gonna do something anyway to celebrate the two of you getting back together and being all happy again so... LET’S PARTY!”

A deafening crack filled the air as Pinkie fired her famous party cannon, covering the room with decorations and all of Pinkie’s favorite party favors. Save for Sam and Twilight, everypony present shrugged, and began enjoying the spontaneous festivities.

Twilight sidled up to Sam and looked at him as if to say, “Eh, why not?”

“Oh yes, please, do enjoy yourself, Sam, it is wonderful to see you again,” Rarity said jovially as she stepped towards Sam, stopping only inches from his face and glaring at him, before stepping back again.

“Thanks, Rari-”

“Now,” the white unicorn began in a nonchalant, almost singsongy voice, “if you ever break Twilight’s heart again, darling... Well, you know I’m quite skilled with a needle! Use your imagination, dear," she finished, tittering softly.

“Oookay, thank you Rarity!” Twilight chimed, pushing in between her friend and her special somepony, shoving them apart.

“Oh, terribly sorry Twilight,” Rarity said, her expression becoming more genial, “I suppose that was in rather bad taste,” she replied apologetically, “all that aside, Sam, it’s good to have you back here and with Twilight, really.”

Sam just laughed faintly, shaking his head. These mares will be the death of me, I just know it.

The momentary spectacle over, the party resumed normally, with random ponies filtering in to see what the commotion was, many of whom accepted the story of Sam’s change without a second thought. They had long learned that when it came to matters surrounding Twilight and her friends, it was best not to ask questions.

As the spontaneous party hit full swing, Sam found himself idly watching Twilight’s clumsy attempts at dancing to the music with her friends. He’d have gladly embarrassed himself by joining her, but as he took a few steps towards the group, his shaky, uncertain gait reminded him of why he didn’t take part initially.

Instead, he opted to sit down at one of the tables. Twilight ceased her spastic twitching and trotted over to him.

“You know, Sam, this party is as much for you as it is me, why aren’t you joining in?”

Sam responded by looking down at his legs. “I wanted a break from trying to get used to these. That, and,” he turned his attention back to the lavender mare before him, “I’m just not in the mood for something like this.”

Twilight’s smile weakened slightly. “I see. Want to step outside for a minute? I love Pinkie’s parties but sometimes, I have to take a break,” she giggled softly.

Sam nodded, and carefully followed her outside into the sunlight, taking a seat on a bench just outside the bakery.

Twilight settled in next to him. “What’s on your mind?”

“Oh, nothing in particular, just kinda processing everything, you know?”

“Everything okay? Anything you wanna talk about?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m great,” Sam chuckled, placing a foreleg around Twilight’s shoulders, “like I said, I’m just taking it all in. I mean, I know I made the choice to change voluntarily, but it just... I don’t know how to put it...”

“...Like it doesn’t seem real?”

“Yeah, pretty much. The last few days have just been such a blur,” Sam sighed, “in less than forty-eight hours, I’ve moved back here, reconciled with you, changed species, and been completely healed. It’s surreal.”

“But... You’re happy, right?” Twilight asked hopefully.

Sam slowly looked around, taking in the calm, rustic scene of the town around him. As his gaze turned back towards the store, he noticed five mares and a dragon peering curiously out of the window, watching him and Twilight. He grinned deviously, before turning back to face Twilight. They want a show? Let’s give ‘em one...

Sam moved his hoof from Twilight’s shoulders up to her face, and pulled her closer until her lips met his in a kiss that he didn’t intend to end anytime soon.

Her eyes closed, Twilight slid over closer on the bench, throwing her forelegs around his neck.

After what seemed like hours to them, they finally broke the kiss, both barely able to breathe.

“Does that answer your question?” Sam asked, still grinning, “By the way, seems like we have an audience, look back over at Sugarcube Corner,” he raised a hoof towards the store.

Twilight turned her head and saw Spike acting like he was going to be ill, Fluttershy looking away as if she were embarrassed, Applejack looking on bashfully, Rainbow stifling a laugh, Rarity giggling into her hooves, and Pinkie rolling in the doorway giggling like a caffeine-addled child.

The couple turned their gazes back to each other, taking in the warmth of the sun and each other.

“Yeah Twilight,” Sam sighed contentedly, “for the first time in a long time, I feel like everything is just right.”

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