• Published 7th Dec 2012
  • 3,798 Views, 273 Comments

Different Strokes - Guy_Incognito



Gentle Strokes is a cynical drunk from Dodge Junction. Stormy is the proud black sheep of a wealthy Manehattan family. College is a place for 'experimenting'.

  • ...
18
 273
 3,798

Love Minus Zero


Love Minus Zero.


Sweat stained his mane and his body ached. This had been Gentle Strokes’ day for the past eight hours and thirty seven minutes, and would be for the next hour and twenty three minutes ahead of him.

While he restlessly bucked cherry trees that stood as strong as concrete pillars and watched the fruit fall into strategically placed buckets, his mind was occupied with mathematics. Knowing that if he worked ten hours a day, five days a week at the going rate of twenty bits an hour, with paychecks coming in bi-weekly, his family would have roughly two thousand more bits to put food on the table, keep the house heated and most importantly, keep the smiles of comfort on their faces.

Camden was a thing of the past now, a fun little detour from his dull existence, but, one that had also caused a rift in his family and prematurely aged his father a good five years of his life. Stress could do that to a pony. While his father had been a proud and able bodied worker in his younger days, at his current age he was neither proud nor able bodied, and so the burden now fell on Gentle Strokes.

This was his life, but things could always be much worse.

***

In the distance, the sound of a clock tower bell chimed, signaling the end of the work day for all the busy bodies slaving in the countless acres of cherry trees and trampled grass paths. With a contented sigh, Gentle Strokes lifted the last wooden bucket of cherries onto the back of a cart which carried the product of his entire day of hard labour. A cart could carry as many as twenty buckets at one time and each bucket could carry as many cherries as it could hold. On average a bucket would weigh close to fifteen pounds. Multiply that by today’s load--twenty six buckets--and the weight of the cart itself and Gentle Strokes found that after uncomfortably slipping the hitch onto his aching back, he was hauling close to five hundred pounds through the half mile between him and the storehouse.

Sometimes knowledge wasn’t exactly power.

He didn’t sigh, or grumble or even mutter curses under his breath like other ponies did when they drew the short straw and got stuck with ‘cart duty’. He didn’t stop to catch his breath, or take a smoke break when he was half way. He kept his head high, his back straightened and followed the the mantra he’d adopted at an early age as a way of coping with life and all of its wonderful stresses; One Hoof In Front Of The Other.

When he reached the storehouse, Miss Cherry Jubilee herself graced him with her presence; she stood in the open doorway, her figure basked in the glow from the lanterns inside, giving her an otherworldly aura.

Miss Jubilee was like a character from an early frontier fiction; a southern belle through and through, who had inherited the land and business she now resided over from her late husband.

In quieter, more personal moments, his father would tell stories about the younger years of Miss Jubilee. Miss Jubilee had shown up in Dodge Junction one hot summer’s day and drawn the attention of every hot blooded colt in town the second after she stepped off the train. Blood had been spilt that night at the local watering hold while the town tried to decide who get the privilege of courting her first. Gentle Strokes's father himself had ultimately been the first pony to ask her to a mild west dance. It hadn't lasted a lifetime, and he'd met and fell in love with Gentle Strokes's mother not long after his break from Miss Jubilee, he still maintained that Miss Jubilee was the best dancer he'd ever met in his life.

There was something of a familiar relationship between Gentle Strokes and Miss Jubilee. They were more than employee and employer, they were close in a platonic way that bordered on maternal. This wasn’t to say that Gentle Strokes thought of her as a mother figure--he already had a living and breathing mother who was every bit the definition of the word--but, Miss Jubilee and him shared a bond that was friendly and comfortable.

Today was an example of this.

She approached warmly as he set the last load of the day in the storeroom, she was smiling and he smiled back by instinct. The greeting was a short and simple affair; him saying ‘Hi.’ and her offering back a polite head nod, before she spoke about what was really on her mind.

“It’s been great having you back, hun,” She said, moving closer to him and petting his shoulder gently. “That cousin of yours is a hard worker, but he has a way with words that’s going to get him into heaps of trouble one of these days.”

Gentle Strokes gave a laugh and Miss Jubilee smiled.

“Yeah, Huck’s not exactly subtle about expressing himself,” Gentle Strokes chuckled. “It’s a shame, too. He could be a great worker if he just knew when to shut up.”

Again the two shared a laugh at the expense of Gentle Strokes’ foul mouthed cousin. Then, the laughter came to a pause and Miss Jubilee again spoke about his father.

“I really mean what I said,” she mused. “Before you came back, I just didn’t feel right making your father work so hard. That poor stallion. It really broke my heart to see him suffer like that. I even tried hiring an apple farmer from Ponyville for a few weeks to ease his burden, but it didn’t end up working out with her...”

“Hmm,” was all Gentle Strokes managed as a rebuttal.

He really didn’t like to be reminded of the last few months; more specifically, how much his family had suffered during them. He didn’t necessarily show it to Miss Jubilee, but the message came across, and the walk from the storeroom back into town was quiet between them.

***

The sun was setting as Gentle Strokes finally made it into town. He’d gone separate ways with Miss Jubilee a half hour ago when he set about his last task of the day before he could retire to the comfort of a worn down armchair, a drink with his father and maybe if there was some time even try his hooves at painting the recurring vision of a grey coated, black maned pony who filled his mind.

There were no two ways about it, Gentle Strokes missed Stormy. He could fight the urges he had to join the ranks of sad lonely drunks who hunched in bar stools and killed themselves with gin and tonics, but he would be stupid to pretend it wasn't there.Day in and day out, when he’d let his mind wander long enough, Gentle Strokes would imagine what Stormy was doing. Where he was. If he’d moved on. If so, with whom. Would it be White Mane again, or somepony new. Would they fall in love. Would Stormy just forget that they had ever had a thing together.

Had he made the right decision?

He told himself that he had. He told himself a lot of things; that when he got letters addressed to him from Camden in Stormy’s writing he was doing the right thing by ignoring them. That responding to them would be the wrong thing. That making Stormy see how much better he was without him in his life would help him cope. Make him move on. So that eventually, both of them could just forget it ever happened.

He told himself this, but he never believed it.

Life was much simpler before he met Stormy, but then again, he’d been a closeted homosexual who vented his frustrations at not being able to accept that aspect of himself--and every other fly in his ointment--by drowning his liver in cold Buckweiser and cheap Scotch before he met Stormy.

His days at Camden, with Stormy, were days he’d never want to forget. But, they were over now and he had the rest of his life to hate himself for buckling under pressure and letting the one good thing he had slip away.

That was all in the past, now. He’d been out of Camden for a month and a half, and Stormy’s letters were getting less and less frequent. He hadn’t gotten a single one this week in fact. It seemed odd but thinking about it only made it that much worse.

To remedy this, Gentle Strokes kept his head low and followed his mantra; he trotted briskly along the beaten paths of Dodge Junction on his way towards his cousin’s homestead with the simple goal of inviting his cousin, aunt and uncle, over for the usual weekly gathering with his own house as the venue.

One hoof in front of the other was going to get him where he needed to go.

***

He heard the shouting--an uncontained temper tantrum between two married adults--before he made it to the house. On the porch, sitting in the overhanging swing seat with a lit cigarette clenched in pursed lips and a bottle of unlabeled whiskey at his hooves was his cousin Hucklebuck.

If Huck’s family was anything it was strange; his parents were deeply in love with each other but, still fought like cats and dogs over minimal things in their lives. Fighting, in this sense, carried a strong definition as their verbal spouts most times turned into physical aggresion. Huck’s father had spent many nights behind bars because of this. Huck’s personality in this situation was a strong argument for the nurture side of the long raging Nature-Versus-Nurture debate.

When he spotted Gentle Strokes approaching from the dusty path, he gave a polite head nod. Strokes nodded back. The sound of something fragile shattering came from the house, followed by more shouting.

“How was work?” Huck asked. He smiled broadly, ear-to-ear, then exhaled a cloud of smoke through his nostrils.

Nothing was said about the war being waged in his home. This was Huck’s way: ignore it, wish it away, but never, ever, acknowledge it or imagine it had any impact on his life. That’s how it had been since he was a foal and that’s how it would always be.

“Work was fine,” Gentle Strokes responded. “My folks wanted to know if you and yours were free for dinner?”

Huck cradled the bottle of whiskey in his hooves and took two long gulps while Gentle Strokes made it up the stairs and onto the porch. When he lowered the bottle he offered it to Gentle Strokes who snatched it from him and took a more restrained swig. It stung his throat, burned his nostrils, but that was how it went with Huck’s taste in liquor.

“I don’t reckon my folks will make it,” Huck grimaced cocking his head towards the door to his home. “But, tell your ma and pa I’ll be there in an hour or two.”

Gentle Strokes passed the bottle back to Huck. Huck took another proud swallow of the foul liquid inside, coughed, and tossed his cigarette off the porch.

“Sounds good.” Gentle Strokes smiled. Huck smiled back. He tapped his hooves on the edges of the swing, contemplatively, then cocked his head towards Gentle Strokes.

“I owe you an apology,” he said without much in the way of any verbal prompt from Gentle Strokes. “I treated you kinda foul that night at The Great Ball of Fire and it’s been buggin’ me for the past few days.”

Gentle Strokes thought back to that night, more importantly, he recalled his cousin’s actions and choice words towards him. Huck had been many things that night; drunk, excited, filled with testosterone and less than savoury in his behavior. He’d said things, many of them in anger, about Gentle Strokes, about his family, about Camden and about how they all affected him, himself. He’d been an asshole, and so this apology was certainly appreciated.

“It’s fine,” Gentle Strokes lied. “Really.”

“Well, I just want you to know; dropping out of Camden probably doesn’t seem like the right choice now, and I’m sure it smarts something awful that you had to leave that pretty girl you were seeing in the dust, but, you’re doing it for all the right reasons. I ran into your Pa in town and he’s looking all kinds of healthy.”

“Yeah...” was really the only thing Gentle Strokes had to reply with.

“I know it’s been a rough patch, these last few weeks. But, family comes first, right?” Huck asked. He leaned forwards in his seat and cocked a single brow curiously. Begging some sense of confirmation from Gentle Strokes that, indeed, he’d felt abandoning higher education to support his family was the proper move to make.

Gentle Strokes nodded.

Family. That was what this was all about; his family; his mom, his dad, Clementine, the twins. They were all the most important, influential ponies in his life and they were all better off with him begrudgingly selling his dreams for their happiness. The whole notion left a bittersweet sensation in his mind, but it wasn’t anything a couple more swigs of cheap bourbon and a flighty, tipsy walk home couldn’t cure.

Gentle Strokes grabbed the bottle from Huck and swallowed down as much as he could handle. Huck just laughed.

“You’re some kind of special, Gent,” he said with a giddy sense of pride in his cousin. “But, I’ll be damned if there wasn’t a pony in Equestria more noble than you for doing what you did.”

It didn’t necessarily fill him with the same sense of pride that Huck probably intended it too, but, the compliment was nice enough to hear. It felt kind of alright to know that him suffering was making the ponies around him not.

“Mhmm,” He mumbled back. “Dinner’s at eight.”

Nothing extremely important or interesting was said after that, and a short conversation about cherry farming, how Miss Jubilee looked remarkable for her age and an admission from Huck that he often fantasized about her in a private dance late at night between himself, a box of kleenex and the outhouse. After that Gentle Strokes decided to head home.

***

Home at last. Gentle Strokes wasn’t even a hoof in the door when the smell of the finest southern cooking in all of Dodge Junction hit his nostrils and brought a smile to his face. If there was one good thing about being back in Dodge Junction, it was coming home from a day of work to a proper home cooked meal and the ponies he got to share it with.

“Gent, is that you, hun?” his mother’s voice beckoned from the kitchen.

“Mmhmm,” was his response.

His mother poked her head out of the doorway to greet him, her gaze was almost as warm and inviting as the smells coming from the kitchen itself.

“How was work today?”

“Fine.”

“That’s good.” Pause. Her eyes grew wide and excited, then she spoke again. “You have a visitor. He says he’s a friend of yours?”

This was interesting.

“He’s in the living room playing with Duke and the twins, I think.”

That wasn’t very specific, but, then again aside from Huck his body of friends in Dodge Junction was pretty limited; it could be Tucker asking to borrow some money for a night on the town that he’d never pay back, and therefore Gentle Strokes would never give him. Or, it could be Saddlesore asking if his sister was eighteen yet--which she wasn’t--and if he’d mind if he tried courting her.

He moved towards the living room.

Or, it could be...Stormy?

He was kneeling on the floor, his back towards Gentle Strokes with his hooves running affectionately through the golden coat of Duke’s belly. In front of him, the twins and on the couch beside him; Clementine.

Gentle Strokes hoof pressing into the floorboard caused a stir that drew the attentions of the ponies in the room, who all turned to face him--in particular, Stormy, with a well intentioned smile on his face.

“Hey,” he greeted, cheerfully. Almost as if there was nothing abnormal about him showing up, entirely unannounced at his house in the midst of Dodge Junction, a place that as far as he knew, Stormy had never any intention of ever stepping a hoof in his entire life.

Gentle Strokes tried to smile back, but it faltered.

There were words that formed sentences that he wanted to say to Stormy. Sentences that made up ideas along the lines of what exactly he was doing here in Dodge Junction? When had he got there? How long had he been alone with his family? How much--if anything--had he told them?

Nothing came out of his mouth.

Stormy gave Duke one last pet underneath the dog’s proudly raised chin and stood.

Two months. That was how long it had been since he’d last seen the colt who now stood smiling in front of him. Two months since he’d smelt that charismatic mix of smoke and whatever fancy Manehattan cologne he wore gracefully. Two months since he’d last held him close. Two months since he’d last kissed him.

Two months seemed like a lifetime now.

The world around Stormy drifted away and became bleak and uninteresting. Those soft grey (Had they always been that wonderfully subtle shade?) pools staring at him; that handsome, charming little semi-smile playing across his lips. Everything he’d spent cold nights telling himself he didn’t miss, now right in front of him.

It took every ounce of strength he had in his body to fight the impulses he had to do silly, unspeakable things to Stormy right there in the living room.

“We need to talk,” Gentle Strokes demanded. “Now.”

Stormy turned to the twins, Clementine, Duke the dog, who all looked just as curiously at him as he did at them, then shrugged and followed Gentle Strokes’s lead.

***

“What the buck are you doing?”

It was an angry enquiry that Gentle Strokes shouted at the pony staring blankly at him. They were in his room, and, under less serious circumstances Gentle Strokes would most certainly taken the time to appreciate Stormy’s curious studying, but, this wasn’t the time for that.

There was a much more pressing issue to deal with; and he was glaring right at him.

“You can’t just...show up here.”

“Well, obviously I can...” Stormy defended.

“Don’t try to play this off as a joke, Stormy! This is serious! What the hells are you even doing here?”

“First off, calm down.”

“Oh, calm down? Calm down? I feel I’m in an absolutely appropriate mood to deal with this situation, Stormy.”

“Hey, sarcasm isn’t going to help here, Strokes.”

“Help? Stormy, you-can’t-be-here! That’s the problem! You’re the problem! This...this is my family, okay? This is Dodge Junction! This isn’t Camden! Or Manehattan! They’re not going to understand. I don’t even understand! What the buck are you doing here?”

“I’m here to see you...”

“Just like that? Just out of the blue?”

“Hey, I tried to tell you. In fact, I wrote to you like a hundred times! It’s not my fault you decided to be a prick about it and never get back to me.”

“So, you just decide ‘Oh, Strokes isn’t interested in me anymore, better hop on a train and publicly humiliate him in front of his entire family’?”

“I told Mocha it was a bad idea...” Stormy mumbled to the floor.

Gentle Strokes, staring down at Stormy, who in turn stared down at the floor, his hoof nervously running against his leg, perhaps too hurt, or ashamed, to stare up at him, felt suddenly monstrous in his actions.

“...I’m sorry.” He sighed. Stormy stared up at him. “It’s just..you don’t get it. My family isn’t like your family, Stormy. They’re not gonna understand...us.”

“You think my family...” Stormy coughed an exhausted laugh, then continued.

“What do you know about my family, Strokes?”

Gentle Strokes stopped dead in his tracks. This came as a verbal groin kick to the older colt, simply because, Stormy was absolutely right; what did he know about Stormy and his family? He knew that they were from Manehattan. That they were wealthy. That... Honestly, after that it was all just a mental image he’d created for them, and, clearly he’d been wrong to assume that it was a pleasent one.

“Yeah...” Stormy grunted. “Exactly.”

A terribly painful silence came for the two colts who stood feet apart from each other and staring intimately into the eyes of their opposite. Then Stormy spoke and Gentle Strokes listened.

“Did you know that my dad beats the piss out of me when he gets too drunk? Or, that he used to introduce me as ‘his daughter’ after he found out I like colts?” He paused here. He tried to continue, but his voice cracked and his eyes grew damp. He must have found the strength, because, after a minute he managed to continue. “Or, that when I was five my mom got sick. Really sick.” He began, swallowing his hesitation, then trudged through and kept going. “, and she had to go to the hospital a few days before my sixth birthday?”

Gentle Strokes stared solemnly at his companion, but Stormy didn’t stop there. The gears had changed now, no longer was he angrily rebuking Gentle Strokes claims to understand who he was and where he came from, now, something different was motivating his speech. Something far more personal.

“...I don’t even remember her.” He sighed. “I mean, all I really remember is that me, my brother and my dad went to visit her every day. I remember how dull the walls of the place was and how it kinda just sucked the life out of you just being there. I remember how every time I went to visit she looked thinner and thinner. But I don’t...remember her. All I can remember is coming in one day and she was just gone, you know? After that everything kinda just...stopped being right...”

He bowed his head to the floor, sniffed, then raised it to stare back up at him.

“You’re...” His voice cracked again as he spoke. “You’re the closest thing I have to a pony who loves me in my life. Your family might be the most important thing to you, and I understand that you don’t want to hurt them, but, they’re good ponies, Strokes. And, they’re probably going to love you more than mine ever will with me. I’m not saying you have to tell them, you can do that when you feel ready, but, don’t think they’re gonna chase you out of town for being in love with a colt!”

The pause that came after Stormy’s impromptu speech gave Gentle Strokes enough time to wrap his head around what Stormy had just said; he wasn’t wrong; his family did love him. Unconditionally, it seemed. It would be a huge step--more of a leap if he were being honest with himself--to tell them that the girl he had been seeing was in fact a colt who was actually with them in present company, but, would they react as poorly as he imagined?

The answer remained to be seen.

“Strokes...You’re the only pony alive that I care about,” Stormy muttered to the still astounded colt. “More than Jag, or Mocha. More than my dad or my brother. I love you, Gentle Strokes.”

Stormy stood confident, proud of his admission and, seeing this, something inside him switched on. An impulse overtook him. He moved towards Stormy, slowly, until his hooves were wrapped tight around his body and Stormy’s head was being tilted towards his face by way of a soft hoof on his chin. Hungry, powerful lips were being pushed against Stormy’s, and a tongue was invading his mouth.

Stormy, still being held by Strokes, was forced backwards until he tripped and fell onto the soft sheets of a bed. Their kiss and the passionate embrace they held was broken, momentarily, while Strokes climbed atop of him, nipping his way from his navel, up his belly, his chest, throat, then again, their mouths met and this time Stormy threw his hooves around Strokes’s back, pulling their bodies together.

The outside world didn’t matter to either of them; this needed to be done. This had been a long time coming. Months of nothing between them, months of pent up anger, longing, lust, whatever. This was happening and not a damn thing in the world was going to stop it.

Stormy, underneath Strokes, panted and groaned. The occasional “Oh, buck.” slipped out of his mouth, along with desperate urgings of “Faster.” and “Harder.”. Hooves and the cold touch that came with them, found themselves tracing every inch of his body. Gentle Strokes and Stormy, together, intimately, warmly.

This had been a long time coming.

Time took a pause for them and a passionate embrace took it’s place. It could have lasted minutes, or hours, but to them it was just right. When they were finished, and both colts were as satisfied with the outcome as they had been in what felt like eons, they relaxed into a cuddling embrace. Stormy, little spoon, pressed himself into Gentle Strokes’ chest and relished the familiar feel of the older colt’s hot breath tussle his mane.

“That was really...” Stormy stated, but couldn’t seem to finish his thought. Gentle Strokes just grinned and kissed his cheek.

A knock at the door startled both ponies back into the harsh reality of their situation; there they were, two males, cuddling in bed, post coitus, in a town that shamed and hated colts like them for the actions they had just performed.

“Oh, shit...” Gentle Strokes grunted as he leapt up out of the bed and rushed to the door. Stormy waited, in bed, the covers drawn over his frame and staring impatiently. “Just...keep quiet, okay?” Gentle Strokes urged.

Stormy nodded.

“Gent, hun?” He heard the soft feminine voice of his mother through the door. “Everything okay in there? It sounded like you were wrestling with that nice friend of yours?”

Stormy fought hard the urge to burst out laughing, but, Gentle Strokes glared at him and he kept his mouth shut.

“Nope. I was just showing Stormy...my artwork,” He lied.

“Oh, okay. Well, dinner’s in twenty minutes, and you boys better bring your appetites.”

A sigh of relief escaped from Gentle Strokes’ throat and he turned back to Stormy.

“Your mom seems nice?” He chuckled. His body rose in the bed, sheets draped softly around him as he stretched himself out. “What’s for dinner, then?”

Gentle Strokes shook his head and smiled. Stormy was back in his life, for better or for worse stood to be found out, but at the very least he had his comfort to rely on.

This was when a new, more present and concerning fear overtook his mind; Huck was going to be present at dinner. Huck, who was both an unabashed homophobe and an outspoken hate monger towards anti-zebra/unicorn/pegasus mentality was about to have dinner with the colt that Gentle Strokes was very much gay for.

He couldn’t have pictured a more perfect storm if he tried.