• Published 31st May 2019
  • 4,246 Views, 148 Comments

The Teacher - Flyingboat Boy



Houston has gone by many titles. The Star Player. The Courier. But to the ponies of Equestria he goes by a different name. The Teacher.

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Apologies

Houston stared at the scene behind the glass of the Lucky 38 cocktail lounge before him silently, watching the fires of Hoover Dam rage in the distance and choke the Mojave sky with its thick black smoke. It reminded him of Nipton, except larger, as if a statement to the very heavens was being made when the Bear and the Bull simultaneously tore each other's throats out. Their claim over the Dam and the Mojave. Futile to the end.

Ulysses was right in a sense, he had to admit that. They both held enormous potential as empires. The NCR with its democracy and the Legion with its Hegelian Dialectics. But both saw nothing beyond the Dam. And each other.

Both had waged war against each other for so long that they've become blinded to the noose around their necks, not until House pulled the lever at Hoover Dam. Both had killed each other as if it was second nature, bending the principles they so vehemently embodied to justified their ever-increasing brutality. Both offered the Mojave the same future, under a different coat of paint, sure, but the same nonetheless. A future of continued war.

Kimball and Caesar. Oliver and Lanius. Moore and Inculta.

Now though, their empires lie with its throats slit, bleeding and dying slowly. Whether or not they have the brains to put a hand to the wound or keep stumbling forwards towards Vegas is another story for another day.

Houston watched apathetically as the sun in the distance slowly sunk beneath the horizon. Dusk is settling in, soon it will be night and the smoke will not be visible anymore, shrouded by the darkness and watched only by the stars. But the darkness cannot hide the flames, nor the amount of human suffering constricted within those walls of that accursed Dam. NCR will be up all night collecting their dead and burning the bodies of Legion men that paint the walls red, only adding to the flames that already engulf those decrepit walls.

"Quite a sight. Isn't it boss?" A raspy voice came from behind him. Turning around, Houston saw the last of his companions, Raul Tejeda in his vaquero outfit, sitting on one of the bar stools and taking shots of tequila whilst smoking a cigarette. "When I was a little boy, I always heard stories of it from my papa back at the ranch. He told me of the man they named it after and how he expelled one million of my people from these lands for economic reasons. Papa was always resentful of that long-dead ghost, mainly cause my family lost so much as we were being deported, despite being registered citizens."

"Do you any of hold those resentments?" asked Houston.

"Perhaps a bit" replied Raul as he reached over and refilled his tumbler with more tequila, "But never to the extent of papa's. I never believed that I would see America for my own eyes, much less the Dam. Guess I was wrong"

"So you're departing?" Houston took notice of the travel pack lying next to Raul's feet.

"I'm afraid so boss" Raul swirled his glass slowly, letting those few precious ice cubes inside tumble around as they chilled his drink, "My time with you's been brief. But you gave me a lot to think about. You made me realize I can still do a lot of good in this world. And I realized the same thing about you"

"Boone, Cass, and Arcade didn't think so" mumbled Houston as he went up to shake the old ghoul's hand. Despite feeling like rotting flesh, there was warmth and strength in those tired old bones.

"Don't let them get to you, boss" The old ghoul gave him a genuine smile, "Considering the circumstances, I think we left on the best terms we could. A word of advice though, you should try the tequila behind the counter. It's as delicious as I remembered it as a boy"

"Sure...bye Raul"

"Bye, boss"

The doors of the elevator clicked shut, its familiar hum indicating the departure of the ghoul from the building. And his life.

< Beep. Beep. Bloop. Beep?>

"I'm fine ED-E" responded Houston as he threw himself onto one of the couch with a tumbler full of ice and a bottle of the tequila Raul said was behind the counter. How could Houston forget this bucket of bolts? Of all the companions he'd gathered for the final push at Hoover Dam, ED-E was the only one that stayed behind with him in the end. Rex went back to the Kings, Lily returned to Jacobstown as soon as they finished up at the Dam, Raul stayed until his last goodbyes just now. Boone, Cass, and Arcade...

Well, that was a complicated matter.

Boone and Cass weren't happy with him, Boone especially. Both had told him directly to his face that he had made the lives the NCR thrown at the Dam completely wasted. That it was his fault alone that the NCR lost thousands of soldiers to Caesar's Legion in a campaign that stretched for ten years. Years of tax money, resources, military equipment, and lives wasted. All because he decided to side with the ghost man of Vegas.

They left soon afterward. Houston didn't try to stop them cause he'd knew they wouldn't listen to him no matter what he said. Who knows? He may have made the situation worse if he tried to. It was better this way, better to depart as neither friends nor enemies.

Arcade was...much more difficult to rein in. The guy went on a rant the moment Houston stepped into the Old Mormon Fort to survey the damages to Freeside. He went on and on about how Houston had given New Vegas's freedom up to a dictator, that he had gotten rid of both the NCR and Legion and how Mr. House's army is now going to enforce totalitarian rule over the 'innocent' people of Freeside. At that point, Houston was so pissed off from being called a traitor by Boone and Cass that he gave Gannon a solid punch to the face. As Gannon sat there, stunned on the ground and holding his cheek, Houston told his party of companions to just leave.

So yeah, not the best of outcomes.

But hey! He still had ED-E. Once again, of all his companions. The only ones that came back to him, were his robots.

"Howdy partner!" came a robotic voice behind him.

"Victor" acknowledged Houston tiredly. "I trust you have my payment?"

"That I do. Say, is that the tequila you drinkin?"

"Yes, it is. Strong, I must admit" Houston whistled lightly as he opened the briefcase Victor placed next to him and took in the sight of all those bottlecaps neatly stacked like casino chips, "How much is this?"

"5,000 caps. I've counted them myself" said Victor proudly. His cowboy monitor gave a cheeky grin to Houston as he closed the briefcase and handed it back to Victor to place in his suite, "Boss also wants you downstairs proto, somethin to do with another job"

"As long as the pay is consistent, then sure" Houston drained his tequila down and whistled to ED-E, the little robot squeaking in response as he floated to his master's side. Thanking Victor for holding the door open for him, Houston punched in the button for the penthouse and stood in silence with ED-E as the elevator descended the main body of the Lucky 38, the cheerful ambiance of Frank Sinatra's voice doing very little to soothe the screams in Houston's head. Staring at his blood-stained boots also did very little to set his mind at ease.


He blinked slowly as his vision returned to him, the vast expanse of the crystal ceiling above him slowly coming into focus. Confused, he wondered for a moment as to why he was staring at the ceiling of all places when he woke up. Then he realized.

Of course, he must have fallen asleep while the drugs worked their way through him last night. The fleeting images of last night's dream still plagued him, drilling themselves into his head as he pushed himself up and straightened himself on his armchair.

He's forgotten that mixing Mentats and Med-X would turn it into psychedelic anesthesias. Quite useful, as the Followers of the Apocalypse soon found out, for putting people under when surgeries require more...professional hands. The only downside was its tendency to reenact memories in the forms of dreams. Vivid and visceral dreams.

Houston licked his lips. For a moment there he thought he could taste the ashes in his mouth, just like he did when he returned from the 2nd Battle of Hoover Dam and watched its flames burn from the top of the Lucky 38 casino. Raul left him afterward, he got paid for his work, and then Mr. House wanted him for another job.

Heh.

Mr. House.

He must admit, NCR and Legion were very tempting options. Both NCR and Legion were rich, he wouldn't have minded working for either of them. But in the end, the only thing they would ever talk about is principles.

NCR was nothing more than a loose amalgamation of a recently failed state. Democracy, freedom, liberty. All very nice sounding things but so quick to push aside when your neighbor has better things than you. NCR is brutal like that. If you got something they want, they'll take it. Except they'll justify it under the guise of protection or civilizing barbarians. Bullying and sabotage are not completely out of their vocabulary. Not bad tactics, but just annoying how they keep denying responsibility or deflecting it on third party involvement. Always maintaining the moral high ground while crushing their enemies in brutal ways.

Speaking of brutal.

Legion is much more compelling than NCR in terms of effectiveness. Sure the slaves, and the crucifixions, and the bomb collars are quite off-putting. But compared to some of the shit he's seen in the Wasteland? Not the worst thing. They are honest. Unlike NCR who hides their malicious and selfish intents behind the illusion of morality and their philosophy, Legion conquers simply cause they are the bigger power, while not denying who they are or what they are. Legion soldiers actually gain and hold territory better than the NCR, culling all dissidents while instilling discipline in their conquered foes. Brutal and morally bankrupt? Absolutely. But this is the Wasteland after all. The only difference is Legion can maintain that peace with just one company of legionaries, unlike NCR whose constantly putting out the fires they themselves start and lack the logistical competency to allocate soldiers properly.

Too bad he never gave a shit about any of that.

Principles Houston thought disdainfully, What good is principles in the Wasteland? Would the merchant exchange principles for ammunition? Does it put food on your table? Can it keep you warm and safe at night?

No. It can't. Only hard cash can do that.

House can say all he wants about restoring Vegas, but as long as he is the man with the money, Houston will work for him. Fulfill his side of the deal and House will fulfill his side. Simple rules between the employer and the employee. Something as simple as that doesn't need principle or friendship. House doesn't need to pretend that he's Houston's friend.

Friendship. Houston's conversation with Twilight from last night came rushing back at him within an instant, most noticeable part being the distressed look on her face as she slammed the door on her way out. Houston bit his lips. He had to admit he might have taken his 'bad guy' performance a tad bit far there. He disagreed with their philosophy of Friendship and Harmony and he let her know that, so he will not take back the things he said about that. Lofty ideals of Harmony and Friendship have no place in Wasteland ethics.

But...

Maybe he shouldn't have been so quick to dismiss the pink one's party and her efforts to make him feel welcome. That part was unnecessarily cruel, no matter how much potential it may convince the horses that he wanted to be left alone. A small part of him, a very small part but a part of him nonetheless, may even be feeling regret for condescending her efforts. Still, he can't help but feel that he's leaving something out...

SHIT!!

Houston mentally kicked himself as the weight of his actions hit him like a mini-nuke. He just remembered something he said last night that was so critical to the contract he made. One that might even jeopardize the entire thing.

HE TOLD TWILIGHT ABOUT NATALYA!!

"Stupid. Stupid! STUPID!!" screamed Houston as he slammed his head into the table over and over against, ignoring the pain and splinters finding their way into his forehead. ED-E and B-6-RK watched from behind him with fear, and maybe a bit of worry, though not like he noticed them or anything.

Why the hell did he go and babble to Twilight that he purposefully severed Natalya's wings?!

Okay, so maybe she had it coming when she asked him about Natalya. But why the hell did he pretty much admit to Twilight that he severed her wings purposefully? He may still intend to fix her wings, but Twilight didn't know that! From her perspective, he may have well just tortured Natalya for fun. Combine it with the limited knowledge of what he knows about this world and their philosophy of Harmony.

Yikes. And this is not taking into the account that he said it whilst acting in his 'bad guy' persona.

Goddamn it. He really took his 'bad guy' persona too far there. Shit.

Houston looked around the room in a panic, making sure that he was actually in his room and not in a prison. His heart slowly calming down as he took in his surroundings. Robots? check. Terminal? check. Cables and wires? Definitely checked.

Okay, he's good for now. But that doesn't stop the possibility of a group of armed horses rushing through his door right now and taking him away. To be honest, he wouldn't mind prison. Not when there are worst things to be subjected to in the Wasteland. In prison, he would still get food, medicine and a place to sleep. The only trouble being his robots and his plane.

He had half a mind to go and trap the door with plasma mines at this point. It was then that he finally saw what's been in front of him this whole time.

Is that a slice of cake?

He rubbed and blinked his eyes multiple times, confirming to himself that what currently sat in front of him was real and not a trick of the light. No, it was true. There before him, with a small teaspoon, sat a little pink frosted cake, sliced neatly and decked with an unknown red fruit on the top.

Cake...

He vaguely remembered having cake, back when he was still a kid in Vault 18. Those were the days. You would get one cake, and one cake only, on your birthday and it was customed to share it with friends that you had. Not that Houston had may friends to share it with, to begin with. Most of the other kids avoided him like the plague and the only ones that actually bothered to acknowledge him were his sister, his two brothers, and two other kids named-

Crap. What were their names again?

...

Anyways, you stopped getting cake once you turned 18 years old, or a party in that regards. By that point, the Overseer didn't see the necessity of hosting a birthday party for an adult, considering how much of the Vault's population already consisted of an elderly population. It would have been considered a waste of the precious Hyperfood stocks. By that point, Houston's already forgotten the limited friends he had.

Houston pondered for a moment as he stared at the treat before him. The cogs in his head spinning as he wondered why there was a cake in his room in the first place. His little stunt last night was to affirm to the ponies to keep away from him, that he didn't want to be associated with any of their parties or anything. Yet, here in front of his very eyes, was a cake that looked like it had been sliced, and left for him specifically.

Was it laced with poison? Maybe, the princess was so terrified of him last night that she ordered a batch of poisoned cake to be delivered up to him, in hopes of wiping him out before he could cause any more trouble. But then...why didn't they just kill him while he was high up in his head?

Maybe it wasn't poison but rather a sedative. Knock him out and then cart him off to whatever prison these horses had in their land of peace and harmony. Would make more sense, considering this was a land of peace based on what Twilight told him. But then again, if that was the case then why bother putting it a cake? Like with the last theory, they could have carted him off while he spent the night stoned.

Houston reached forwards for the plate. He was thinking too hard into this. Whatever it may be, there was only one way to find out. If its a poison or a sedative, it wouldn't matter. As long as as the strain of Project Brazil is still slightly active within his body, a quick swig of Antivenom combined with a few pills of Fixer would be enough to quickly flush the chemicals out.

Using the spoon, Houston's eyebrows raised in astonishment as the metal instrument easily broke the layer of frosting and sunk deep into the fluffy yellow layer of sponge and cream underneath. It was completely unlike the Vault-Tec cakes made with Hyperfood proteins. Those things were so tough that you quite literally needed a Mr Handy's buzzsaw to penetrate the surface, much less divide it into equal portions. Funny, considering how Hyperfood stocks should've been able to fully replicate the formula for cake, but then again, it may just be improperly preparation on their part.

Scooping up a sizeable chunk of the cake, Houston plopped it into his mouth, quite convinced that he might drop dead or the familiar feeling of darkness would consume him. Instead, it did something he never expected. Something he'd hadn't done since Hopeville.

He froze up.

<Master? Are you okay?>

B-6-RK's question went unnoticed by Houston, who remained just as silent as before, the spoon hanging from his mouth and his body stiff with shock. Then the tears came rushing down.

At first, it started slow. A few drops of liquids dripped from his eyes and splattered on the oak wood table. Then the tears became a steady stream as Houston felt the foreign feeling of something stuck in his throat.

The cake...it was good.

No. Scratch that it was excellent. It was completely different from those Hyperfood cakes in every regard; taste and texture included.

It was so light, and despite the enormous levels of cream and frosting that went over the fluffy layer of sponge cake underneath, in no ways did it envelop it completely. Instead, they worked together like a fine cocktail. Each part distinguishable and impactful in taste.

Speaking of taste, it was godly. Unlike Hyperfood cakes which were tough as rocks and synthesized to imitate the blandest flavor of cake to preserve excess stocks, this cake went all in the flavor department. Cream, frosting, and the small fruit on top which Houston now remembers as a strawberry imploded together to create a symphony of sweet flavors. Honestly, he's surprised he could still remember how sweet things tasted, considering he mainly lived off a diet of desert plants and animal meats.

But that wasn't the source of his tears. No. There was something else within the cake, something that made it felt as if his heart was being squeezed with a particularly strong vice. It left him breathless and shocked, every vein in his body screaming with joy, yet his brain couldn't function well enough for him to pinpoint what it was.

Houston's vision became almost inoperable as he robotically kept shoving more and more cake into his mouth, determined to keep feeling that moment of joy. He never really ever felt happy after Hopeville and Ashton, the only time he could remembering something remotely like that was when he returned after the ordeal with Ulysses and dug A L P H A and B-6-RK from the rubble. Took months for him to clean out their servos and use his contacts to order the appropriate parts, but the moment life returned to those robotic eyes, there was a flicker of joy in his empty heart.

And now that same feeling was coming back, over and over again. Except more intense, like the detonation of a mini-nuke in the distance.

<Master...are you okay?> B-6-RK gently nudged his leg with her nose and rubbed herself again it as if to provide him a sense of comfort. ED-E blipped and beeped in the back with concern, staying close unless his master needed something.

Seeing B-6-RK and ED-E, his robots, try to comfort him. It brought upon him regret.

A wave of shame hit him so hard that he almost felt like dropping the plate, falling to his knees and crying his hearts out. But he stopped himself, and with great difficulty, was able to place the demolished plate of cake back on his table and sit down gently on a part of the ground clear of wires and cables.

What if...what if I was wrong? Houston repeated the thought in his head over and over again, much to his annoyance, it did nothing to quell the sense of dread coursing through his veins nor the tears from his eyes. He brought his knees up and held them tightly in his armsWhat if I'm wrong? What if I'm wrong? What if I'm wrong?

B-6-RK slide between his arms and flopped her head down on his lap. Smiling sadly, Houston reached down and stroked his robot, appreciating her for what she was trying to do. He must have done something right as B-6-RK growled in content and continued to let him scratch her robotic ears.

Cold metal thought Houston. House said robots could never emulate the connection that a human could feel with another human. Robots, at best, are programmed to provide comfort. But it's not their own feelings of concern that was driving them, no it was their command scripts. That was why he built Jane. And a recently repaired Marilyn.

Yet, before Houston's very eyes was a living contradiction of that claim. Here was a robot that didn't need a command script or a line of code to provide comfort. It provided comfort to him just because it saw the sadness in him.

It was just like that pink one, Pinkie Pie if he remembered properly. She tried to help because she must have seen the cold exterior in his eyes, translated in his actions. So she made a party just so he could feel welcome.

And he crushed it all under his foot. Without so much as a second glance for what it may do to her.

And yet she left this cake for him despite that.

He was despicable. And above all, he finally realized now that he was wrong. He cannot apply Wasteland ethics in a world like this. He did it with Twilight last night, and even if she did what he intended for her to do, then the results have backfired immensely.

Friendship. Twilight's insistence on that word...it was still hard for him to understand it, but he could get a glimpse of its outline. Like mist on glass.

He can remember now. The ghosts of his past. The last ones that he shared a slice of cake with for Vault 18 blew itself to kingdom come.

Ben Kurtz.

Kira Mann.

"Goddamn ponies..." Houston clutched onto B-6-RK all the tighter, compressing the metal dog to his chest. He needs to find Twilight after all of this. Tell her he's sorry. But for now, though, he's comfortable with just sitting on the crystal floor and being comforted by his robots.


"How the hell did I end up in the exact same place for the third time?!" Houston gritted his teeth as he stared back at the same goddamn vase for the third time. This particular vase, or rather a pot plant, has a small cactus within in topped with a bright pink flower. Not an issue, but considering this was the third time he found himself in the same place since leaving his room, he couldn't help but feel extra irritated as he stared back at that cactus. It was like it was mocking him.

Or maybe because it reminded him of a particular incident back in the Mojave also containing a cactus. Either way, it made his blood boil!

Oh, by the way. His brain no longer takes control when he plugs himself into ED-E. Convenient, huh? Must've had something to do with the cake cause Houston was confused as hell when he plugged himself in and found that he still retained control of his body instead of being bathing in that familiar feeling of walking through a cloud of mist. A quick check on his terminal found that electrical activity in his brain was off the charts, most likely a result of that hormone explosion after he consumed the cake. A few times he ripped them out and plugged them in over and over again, only to find the same result every time.

Still can't talk with his mouth though. Either way, this makes speaking with the ponies much easier now. Now he wouldn't have to explain why he sounded different in different conversations. Shame about the brain, but that was a sacrifice he just had to accept.

Now...where the hell does he go now?!

"Yo, what's up Houston?"

A tomboyish voice called out from the hallway behind him, breaking from his little staring contest with the prickly plant. Turning around, Houston was greeted with the sight of a blue-furred and feathered pony with a vibrant rainbow-colored mane.

"Oh. Morning Ms. Dash" Rainbow raised a curious eyebrow as he uttered those words.

"Huh, you finally got that I'm a mare. Did my awesomeness get through your thick skull?" teased Rainbow Dash lightly, "Also, none of the fancy-schmancy stuff like Miss whatever. That stuff's for ponies like Rarity"

"I'll keep that in mind" for the first time since he plugged himself in, the echo of a chuckle came out from the translator installed in ED-E. Not only that, but his face made the motions too, instead of the usual blank expression. Something not lost on the mare in front of him.

"Okay. Now, this is creepy. Did you bump your head or something?"

"I had a...what's the word? Epiphany"

"What's an epiphany?" Rainbow Dash laughed as hovered in front of him to punch his shoulder with her hoof. Houston internally grimaced as he felt the flat bone of her hoof collide with the gap between his humerus and his acromion. "But whatever it is doesn't matter. I'm already liking this new version of you"

"So...why are you staring at that cactus" continued Rainbow Dash as she peeked over his shoulder and noticed the offending plant.

"I'm just lost. I've been trying to find my way around here for god knows how long, and I've been ending up in the same place three times now" explained Houston.

"What are you looking for anyways?" asked Rainbow Dash curiously.

"I'm looking for Twilight Sparkle," Houston said uneasily as he hoped Rainbow would pry into it any further, "I have something to say to her"

God. Please don't ask why.

"Egghead stuff eh? Don't worry, I think I know where she might be. Follow me." Sighing in relief, Houston, and ED-E followed closely to Rainbow Dash as she led him down a different section of the hallways he didn't see before. B-6-RK decided to stay back at the room to recharge and A L P H A was probably at the crashed plane still going through the salvage.

"Shame you didn't come to the party last night. It was fun, as Pinkie's parties always are, but it would have been more so if you came"

"Didn't Twilight tell you all why I didn't show up?" Now was the moment of truth he's been waiting for.

"Yeah, she did. Pinkie was quite sad when she said you couldn't come because you were too busy planning your lessons" replied Rainbow Dash as she motioned for him to proceed down a flight of stairs, "But she cheered up once Twilight mentioned that you appreciated what you did for her"

She...did? But that means...that means.

She didn't tell them.

"Anywhoo, hope your lessons are going to be good. Seeing as how you skipped the party and all. Please, for Celestia's sake, don't make them boring though, cause us teachers are going to be watching too and I don't want to be bored out of my mind for two hours straight." continued Rainbow Dash while Houston pondered to himself about this latest revelation. "Pinkie left you a piece of cake. Did you like it?"

"What?" Houston broke out his thoughts and turned over to Rainbow Dash who looked at him expectantly. The memory of this morning's cake rampage was fresh in his mind as he responded, "Oh yes. Very much"

"Glad you liked it. Speaking of which, I think she'd be pretty happy to hear you say that, seeing as how she's the only one in right now. We usually come here to eat breakfast together" Houston watched as Rainbow Dash reach out and pushed a simple wooden door open. The pleasant smell of cooked food wafted out of the room and filled the air in which they stood, causing Rainbow Dash's stomach to growl loudly, "Sorry about that. No matter how times I taste it, Pinkie's food always gets to me"

Houston peeked his head through as Rainbow Dash trotted in enthusiastically, quite surprised to see the room not made completely out of crystal-like most of the main building. Instead, architecture similar to that of the Sierra Madre Villa made up this room, with stone walls imbued with uniquely colored rocks. A long red wooden table sat in the middle of the cramped room, underneath a massive green and gold lamp from which several pots and pans hung. Attached to the walls were coal-fired stoves and ovens, of which a single pink mare currently stood over a sizzling pan and a plate stacked with what Houston assumed was pancakes.

"Heya, Pinkie!" called out Rainbow Dash as she raced over to look at the pancakes Pinkie Pie was making.

"Mornin Dashie. Heyyy, Houston" She gave each of them a big grin before directing her attention back to the pan.

"Good morning Ms. Pie" greeted Houston.

"Awhh...shucks. You can just call me Pinkie! We are friends after all!"

"Yeah...sure. Friends" Houston swallowed nervously, "Listen...about the cake"

"Oh! Did you like it?! I made sure you got the best slice out of all of them! Shame you couldn't come, but that's okay cause I'll plan another party for you soon" Houston's heart felt heavy as the pink pony rounded towards him with genuine joy. Rainbow Dash in the background grabbed a plate, stacked a few of the pancakes on them and then squirted syrup on them with a bottle from the top cabinet, before flying over to a table by the wall to eat.

"It was delicious" Pinkie gave him an appreciative smile before turning back to her pan, scolding Rainbow Dash slight for grabbing the cakes from the bottom of the plate instead of the top ones, "Say, about the cake, what did you put into it?"

"Oh you know, the standard stuff. Eggs, milk, sugar, cornstarch"

"No way...there had to be more than just that. To you, what's the most important ingredient in a cake? Something that you absolutely cannot make a cake without"

"Well..." Pinkie Pie chewed her lips as she turned down the oven and grabbed her own plate of pancakes to join with Rainbow Dash, "Honestly speaking, I think the most important part in any cake, is passion"

"Passion?"

"Of course" replied Pinkie as if it was the most simple thing ever, all while dousing her stack with diabetical levels of whipped cream, sprinkles and fruits. "No matter how high-grade your ingredients are, or how much time you spend on the finer details, if there's no passion in the things you do then the cake will always come out tasting and looking bad. To me, my passion is knowing that the ponies that I bake my cakes for, will find some comfort, no matter how little, in every bite that they take"

Pinkie Pie's widened as the door behind Houston opened, "Morning Twilight! You look really bad today. Is there anything I could get you?"

Houston swung around and lo and behold, the mare he'd been looking for this entire time stood there at the door frame. She looked horrible, clear signs of sleep deprivation near her eyes and her cheeks and her mane was frizzled up in all the wrong places.

"Some coffee would be nice, thank you Pinkie. Good morning to you too Rainbow Dash" Her eyes narrowed coldly as she finally took notice of Houston in the room, "Houston..."

He shivered. Guess he should've expected that kind of reception from her. What was he thinking, acting the way he did last night?

"Twilight. I need to speak to you. In private"

"Yeah? Well, I want to go and enjoy my coffee. Alone. And without you" replied Twilight brutally as she accepted the cup of steaming beverage from Pinkie. Pinkie Pie gave her a confused expression as she watched the growing exchange between Houston and Twilight.

"Please Twilight...I have something I need to say" Goddamn he's pathetic. Who'd thought this was the guy the talked the 'Monster of the East' down at Hoover Dam.

"I think you've already made your intentions quite clear last night" She sipped her coffee haughtily and turned to exit out of the door. As Houston walked he slowly walk away, he pulled out his final card.

"I'm sorry..."

Twilight Sparkle froze in place. Shock visible through every strain of fur on her body as they stood erect. She then turned slowly back and looked at him with an incredulous, and slightly suspicious look The silence was palpable throughout the entire room, with neither Dash nor Pie speaking as they watched the silent staring contest between Twilight Sparkle and Houston.

"Come with me" The silence was finally broken as Twilight spoke out in a measured and calm tone. Grabbing Houston by the arm when he walked over to her, her horn flared up and in a bright flash of light, she, Houston, ED-E completely vanished from the kitchen.

"So...what do you suppose that was all about?" asked a nervous Pinkie Pie to a stunned Rainbow Dash.

"I...I don't know. And I think I'd rather focus on my breakfast instead" She looked down at the two remaining pancakes on her plates, still doused in a thick layer of maple syrup. Apart from that, it did look rather bland. "Mind sliding over the whipped cream?"

"Sure Dashie" smiled Pinkie, passing over the pressurized can.


"So what is this about?" demanded Twilight as she clamped down on him and charged her horn up threateningly, "Is it money? Do you want to be paid before you've even had your first lesson? Is this about some unspoken rule that you just so happened to leave out of your contract until now? Spill it!!"

Houston gulped. He had to admit he didn't expect this kind of response from Twilight. Considering the world that he found himself in, and the philosophy of harmony that these ponies keep talking about, it's hard no to assume.

Speaking of which, he was tackled to the ground by Twilight just as the teleportation spell waned, so he couldn't tell exactly where she took him. But based on how loudly the wind was roaring, and the cold crystal floor which she pinned him to, it was safe to assume that they were somewhere high up on the castle.

"I wanted to apologize, for what I said" he flinched as she laughed out loud. Rather sarcastically might he add.

"Oh that's rich, coming from you" She glared at the human underneath her, "Do you have any idea, of the gravity of your actions"

"Lay it on me?" She snarled in his face getting off him and flaring her horn up to life her coffee cup. As Houston propped himself up, with the help of ED-E, he noticed Twilight looking over the ramparts with her levitated cup of coffee, sipping it in massive gulps.

"You insulted me, that's a start" She turned back to give him the stink eye, "But I personally don't care about any of that. Being a ruler means there are some things that I just have to let go, your insults towards me being one of them. What I cannot let slide is the fact that you insulted Pinkie for all her efforts! You insulted the philosophy that saved my people from the brink of war and has hence so far, kept us at peace for the last thousands of years! And worst of all, your actions towards Natalya now threatens to drag Equestria into a war!"

"Wait, what?" Houston wasn't expecting that. Were the consequences of his actions really as big as...a war?

"Oh, you forgot that little detail about her, didn't you?" Twilight shook her head in disappointment, "Natalya is not a registered citizen of Equestria. She's part of Griffonia, which already considering how unstable the region is, could unite under the banner of revenge and declare war on Equestria if they find out that we've been harboring an alien that pretty much mutilated one of their citizens!"

"So why didn't you order me thrown in a dungeon then?" asked Houston with a little more tone this time. This was a question he's been wanting to get to the bottom of ever since he woke up, "Why lie to the pink one and say that I appreciated her efforts? Why did you let her sent a cake up to my room? Why haven't you terminated the contract now then, if I've fucked up this badly already?!"

Twilight glared back with just as much intensity as he did to her. After a while though, she drained the rest of her mug and then teleported it off to god knows where.

"Before we continue," said Twilight in a more calmed and controlled voice, "I want you to promise this for me. No more lies, no more manipulations. Transparency. Can you promise me that? Cause if you can't...then our conversation is over"

"I promise" His words weren't empty this time. He, at this point, wouldn't lie anymore if he's to get the truth of why she did what she did. That, and the fact that his hormones were going completely to shit after the incident with the cake, so he'd have a hard time lying even if he wanted to.

She gave him a long hard look, staring into his eyes as if scanning him with an x-ray machine and trying to determine if there were any lies or malice at all. Eventually, though, she capitulated and turned away to hang over the balcony and stare outwards. Feeling rather awkward standing behind her, Houston slowly walked up and stood at a comfortable distance beside her, relaxing slightly when she didn't protest.

"You've changed. Haven't you?" asked Twilight.

"What gave it away?"

"Your body language for one" replied Twilight, "Also the way you speak. While the tone is still flamboyant, how you project your voice doesn't capture the zest that was once there"

She sighed loudly as she stared at the horizon of Ponyville, bathed in the yellow glow brought upon by the rim of the early morning sun just peeking over the horizon. Their simple straw-thatched roofs came together to create a sea of gold.

"I come up here sometimes. To think" Twilight's ears folded as she gazed at the town longingly, "Sometimes, I wish I could go back to how things were before. It used to be so simple back then. There wasn't a castle, and I wasn't a princess"

"You weren't a princess before?" But if she wasn't a princess before, that must mean...

"I guess you are smart enough to figure it out by now" Twilight opened her wings and gave them a slight flap to accentuate her point, "You probably noticed that I'm an alicorn. Alicorns are very rare in Equestria. We exhibit traits of all three pony races and as such, being an alicorn almost certainly guarantees you a position of power"

"So does that mean..." The gears in Houston's mind clicked as he remembered what Twilight told him yesterday, "The other princesses are alicorns too aren't they?"

"Correct. But unlike the others, I wasn't born as an alicorn. I guess you could say I was...transcended into one"

"Transcended?"

"It's complicated. Don't worry about it" Twilight waved a dismissive hoof at him, "What I'm trying to say is...I was a unicorn before I was an alicorn. I was also a student. Life...it was simple. I lived and learned about the magic of Friendship with my friends by my side. But once I learned everything and became an alicorn, the responsibilities just kept pilling up. First as Princess of Friendship, then as headmistress for the School of Friendship. Now with Celestia and Luna stepping down...I have to face the prospect of being the ruler of an entire country. As such there are times where I have to make hard decisions..."

"And I'm one of those, aren't I?" Houston was starting to see where this conversation was going.

"Exactly. You have to understand that you are an abnormality" explained Twilight, "I've seen humans before. In another world. But no creature in this world has even heard of what a human is, let alone seen one. You share biological features with the humans I know, especially your hands. But in terms of culture, language, and technology? No, you are completely different in that regards"

"I should've had you thrown into Tartarus for what you've done" continued Twilight in a low tone, "Not because you insulted me but because you freely admitted that you tortured Natalya. Such actions like that in this world are completely unacceptable"

"So why didn't you?"

"Because of Pinkie's party" replied Twilight, "The party was already underway. And if I had told everyone there what you had told me, how do you think they would have reacted? Personally knowing them, I believed they would have panicked before running you out of town"

"Twilight...I can't see the problem with that" Houston interjected, "It sounds bad for me, of course. But wouldn't that have been the most logical thing to do?"

"You don't get it, do you Houston?" Twilight chittered and gave a shake of her head, "You're right, it would have sounded logical in the moment. But I then considered what might happen afterward"

"Such as...?" He had to admit he was rather impressed at what the princess was telling him. His initial thoughts of her only sparing him because of friendship quickly faded away as he admired her for her ability to think beyond such flowery thoughts.

"Must I remind you, that you are an abnormality? What would have happened if we ran you out of town? Would you have retaliated by attacking us? Based on how you acted back at the Ghastly Gorges, I could tell that you had experience using violence. I'm not sure about the rest of my friends, but I noticed the subtle hints of power you displayed. The stunt with the knife. The rabbits. The constant presence of your robots wherever you went" Twilight huffed and took a deep breath before continuing, "And then there was the problem of your plane and every bit of technology that was crammed into it like a treasure stash. I noticed that whenever I asked about your things, you would only ever give a brief explanation or deflect the conversation onto something else. What would have happened if we ran you out of town without your plane and your gadgets? Would you have returned to reclaim it from us? Would you have attacked us to destroy them? Any scenario was a possibility"

"So you lied and kept the information from everyone else to prevent them from doing anything stupid. To prevent me from retaliating if they did. Clever..." Houston was liking this version of Twilight already. This was a person (pony?) that was thinking like someone he knew very well. However, there was one thing missing from her explanation, "What about the contract? Why didn't you just terminate it?"

"Do you want me to?" Houston shook his head slowly in response to her question, "I figured as much. If I had terminated the contract, then there would've been nothing to hold you down. Nothing to prevent you from going and wreaking havoc on the rest of Equestria. As much as I don't like placing my students in harm's way but you interacting with them would've given me a place to keep a closer eye on you. To intervene if anything went awry. Everything I did was to protect every creature. Or as best as I thought I could"

"My turn now" Twilight turned towards him and gave him a piercing glare, one he found rather hard to turn away from, "Why did you do the things you did? Talking to you now, you are not as disrespectful nor evil as you made yourself out to be last night. What purpose would it have served acting like...like a monster?"

"I...I" Houston bit his lips but eventually gave in to her pressure, "Do you want me to explain the whole thing or in simplistic terms?"

"Well, we have all the time, for now," Twilight motioned to the landscape once more, which still had the sun slowly rising in the horizon, "Depends, how long are you going to make it?"

"Point taken" Houston leaned forward on the railings of the balcony and got comfortable with his forearms as a pillow, "As for the reason why. I guess it was to keep you ponies away"

"But what kind of purpose would that serve?!" yelled Twilight exasperatedly, "And no, this is not coming from me as the Princess of Friendship. There is absolutely no benefit in trying to alienate yourself from the rest of society!"

"And I'd agree with you, looking back on it now" Houston smiled sadly into his arms, something not lost to the irritated princess next to him, "To understand my reasoning, you must understand first where I come from. But I can't convince you now because that stuff takes hours to explain. No, just know that I agreed with you when you said I cannot completely isolate myself from this world of ponies. But at the same time, you ponies come off as nosey, which I don't mind, and suspiciously friendly, which I really do mind"

"So? What's wrong with trying to make a good impression? What's wrong with being friendly?" asked Twilight.

"The problem is where I come from most of the friendly people are dead" Houston could see she visibly froze at that comment, "The rest quickly wised up or else ended up just like the rest of them in the bottom of a grave. To be honest, the extent of friendliness where I come from is a mutual agreement not to interfere with one another's businesses. Overly friendly people, often have something to hide. You ponies, with how nice you acted, put me on high alert. I didn't want your attention cause I feared there was another reason behind it. But at the same time, I couldn't completely avoid you. So I found an equilibrium, I acted like a jerk to let you ponies know that I wanted to be left alone. At the same time, I made contracts with you to maintain a stable, but a mutually beneficial relationship. All together it created a wave of mediocracy"

"And you would've been able to ride it" mumbled Twilight as she came to the same realization as he did, "But what was the end goal of it all?"

"What else?" rebutted Houston as he turned to her and opened his arms out as if inviting her to answer it herself, "Survival"

"Survival?" Twilight stared at Houston dubiously, "That's it?"

"Well what else is there?" rebutted Houston, "Maybe to you it's a horrid excuse for everything I've done. But where I come from, survival is the language of the day. People can spout all the philosophy they want but it won't mean anything if they don't live long enough to see the sunrise"

Twilight fell silent, so too did Houston, as the two of them just stared out into the horizon of Ponyville, their thoughts clouded with the arguments that the other had put forth. The only thing that could be heard around them was the chirpings of birds as the sun finally broke over the horizon. Off in the distance, Houston could see the outlines of ponies, just as vibrant and in multiple colors, leave their homes and wander off to where ever they needed to get, completely unaware of the two figures that watched them from atop the castle.

"Look, Twilight..." started Houston as he broke the silence, "I don't understand Friendship. Or rather I can't bring myself to take it seriously enough anymore. But please, understand that I truly do mean it when I say that I'm sorry for what I said last night"

"Apology...not accepted" was her response. Damn, that was brutal. But not unexpected.

"No?" Houston tested the waters a bit here.

"No" reaffirmed Twilight as she gave him a pouty face. Still...it was better than her enraged face before, "Do you any idea what kind of emotional roller-coaster you put me through last night?! If there is anypony you should be apologizing to, it's Pinkie Pie for everything she's done for you"

"I..." He clamped his mouth shut as he thought about that. It was a good point, now that he thought about it, "I'll tell her the truth...in time. Just not now"

"You'd better" huffed Twilight as she directed her attention back to the scenery before them, "So where does this leave us?"

Of all the questions she had to ask, this was the only one that he had no response to. On the one hand, a part of him still wanted to ride the wave of mediocracy and keep his contract. On the other hand though, after his enlightenment this morning with the cake, he felt disgusted with himself for considering carrying on as he now.

"Honestly...I don't know" replied Houston.

"Do you still want your contract as a teacher?" asked Twilight without looking at him.

"Are you still offering it to me? After everything, I've done? Cause I won't blame you or do anything against you if you decide to tear it up right now. After how I acted, for the first time in my life, I feel too ashamed to take on another contract" admitted Houston. At this point, he didn't even have a clear goal for what he wanted anymore.

There was a paused silence between the two of them as Twilight thought to herself, Houston twiddling with his thumbs as he awaited her response.

"I'm willing to maintain your contract as a teacher for the school...on one condition," said Twilight slowly.

"Name it" responded Houston as he gave her a questioning look.

"I want you to give friendship a try" She raised a hoof to silence him before he could interrupt what she was about to say next, "Now I understand that you might not believe in it. But whether you like it or not, you are now living in our world that abides by it heavily. I will not force you to accept Friendship, what I'm offering is that you at least give it a chance. I've seen people who've done worse than you and some of them were able to accept Friendship in the end. This conversation that we're having right now, convinces me that you've changed from the last time we've talked and that you've become much more reasonable than before"

Houston stayed silent as he let Twilight's words sink in. Seeing as how he wasn't saying anything, Twilight decided to continue.

"Houston, you said to me that you had friends before" stated Twilight matter-o-factly, "So why wouldn't take this chance to start again?"

"My friends..." They were but a fleeting memory at this point. Some of them, he could barely remember their faces anymore. However their names...

Ben Kurtz. Kira Mann. Jenn Hail. Yetti Hail. Eric Campbell. Jamie Campbell. Johnny Matheson.

"I killed them all" whispered Houston quietly. Twilight, in his surprise, did manage to hear him and maintained a respectful silence as she allowed him to keep speaking, "I'm scared. It's as simple as that. The circumstances of my world...makes it hard to make friends, or rather it makes the pain even worse when you inevitably lose them. I can't...can't explain it all now. It's too convoluted and complicated for you to understand"

"Then help us understand" For the first time since all their interactions, Twilight reached forwards with one of her wings and patted him reassuringly on the back, "How can we help you if you never let us try to understand you in the first place? I have an idea. Why not use your lessons as a teacher to teach us about your world? Maybe then we can start understanding how you think and how to change your mind"

"Wouldn't that undermine your own students?" asked Houston. The things he'd seen. The things he'd done. The things he'd learned about. They did not belong in a world like this and he was afraid to show it to them, "What if they start to question your philosophy as well? What good would I do then?"

"Part of the learning experience is to challenge yourself" explained Twilight, "My students...I'm proud of them. I believe that they will have to face things in this world that will challenge how they see Friendship. But if they can overcome it, then it would only enrich their understanding and value for Friendship even more. I could ask the same for you. Why not let yourself be challenged? Perhaps then, you may even find that equilibrium you seek for"

She got him there. Teaching these students...as much as he didn't want to show them the realities of his world, these lessons could be the perfect outlet for him to explain the things he'd done. He wouldn't have to lie anymore. The topics began to trickle into his head like water from a bucket. The Atomic bomb, The Great War. The NCR, Legion, and House. All tragics...but if his dream about Raul and his experience with the cake told him anything...perhaps he could still do some good. Not in his world anymore, but this world.

Perhaps it's time he donned that coat the Followers gave him. Wear the symbols of healing with pride as Julie told him to.

"Alright..." said Houston slowly as he turned to her and brought a hand out to shake, "I...I'll accept your offer"

"This is what humans call a handshake, isn't it?" Twilight also turned to him and raised a hoof to shake with his. He must admit it felt rather weird to grip her hoof, instead of the usual appendages of a human hand. However as she gave him a small smile, a genuine one this time around, he couldn't help but feel at ease. This didn't even feel like the signing of a contract anymore. It felt...nice.

Heh. Goddamn ponies.

Her smile must've been infectious, cause he gave a small, and just as genuine one, back to her.